Today I want to scratch the surface of something that has been on my mind for a while about the way wine is marketed. A few years ago, with my embryonic wine knowledge, I noticed that in the US and more generally, in any non-European wine region, the prominent feature on a label is the grape variety. Most of the time, the variety does not even appear on a French wine label.
I said scratch the surface because I’m sure there is more to it than 500 words worth and I’ll probably get back to it later but let’s start with the basics, or at least some basics. In Bordeaux and Burgundy, you never see the grape variety on the bottle, mostly because well, it’s illegal. Labeling laws are very strict in those regions, in Burgundy they are location based and in Bordeaux they are producer based. You will never see wines from there showing Chardonnay or Merlot on the labels.
It’s not like producers have a choice then, it’s not a marketing choice but a marketing constraint, they have to work within set boundaries. That is not the case of producers in other regions like the Loire Valley. This region attracted a generation of young producers that brought a more modern approach to wine marketing, there are a lot less regulations about labeling there and, to be honest, they can do pretty much whatever they want. You’ll get fantastic original labels there; a personal favorite is the Cuvee SO2 by Domaine de l’R, based near Chinon, proudly flying the skull and bones.
SO2 is sulfur dioxide’s chemical notation; it’s often added to wines in order to protect wines from bacteria and oxidation. The “contain sulfites” message on the labels comes from there. Frederic Sigonneau’s the wine producer wanted to produce a wine without any sulfites, and he decided it to call it after SO2. No conservatives, no sulfites, no quarter.
This sort of label is unimaginable in Burgundy or Bordeaux where people do thing one way because they have always done it this way. That’s why I tend to look at them as “old” regions and places like the Loire Valley as “young” regions where anything can happen, kind of a far-West approach to winemaking. Now, I’m not going to lie to you, I did this post mostly because I wanted to show that skull and bones label !