Monday, January 19, 2009

My Approach to Wine Naming Conventions

While reading Alder Yarrow’s recent post on Croatian wines at Vinography the other day, I had a bit of an “ah-hah!” moment. It had nothing to do with the part about Croatian wine. Rather, it was in response to his (re)iteration of the standardized format he uses when writing wine names. Though his logic doesn’t match mine, his post made me realize that I’d never explained my own standardization protocol and told you why I do it the way I do.

Here’s my format:

Place of origin (including cuvée and/or vineyard name and/or grape variety, as applicable) – Estate/ProducerVintage

It’s a style that lends itself most readily to the widespread practice in Europe of naming a wine after its place of origin. For instance, here’s an example of a wine that I wrote up recently: Vouvray “Cuvée de Silex,” Domaine des Aubisières (Bernard Fouquet) 2007.

Things can get a bit awkward when applying the same structure to wines from the New World, as a wine that many people might refer to simply as “1999 Caymus Special Selection,” for instance, would become: Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Special Selection,” Caymus Vineyards 1999. I admit it doesn’t roll off the tongue in quite as easy a fashion. But it works for me.

My profile picture is a shot of a vineyard called "Runcot," a subset of the the Gavarini cru in Monforte d'Alba, one of the districts where Barolo is produced. It's owned and farmed by Elio Grasso and his son, Gianluca. I've yet to write up the details of my visit there in February 2006. And their Barolo "Runcot" from '06 has yet to be released. (Photo appears courtesy of its photographer, Tino Gerbaldo, and the Elio Grasso estate.)

Wine names written in this manner, even though they may appear to include an awful lot of information, really present only three basic elements: place, person and time. This construct is meant to convey, in all cases, three points that I feel very strongly about.
  1. Place of origin is – or at least should be, in my view – the single most important factor in determining the overall character of wine.

  2. It’s the person or people making the wine that nurture the wine – from vineyard to cellar – and allow it to express its place of origin as they interpret it. I like to think of the winemaker as a servant to his or her vineyards, as less important than the place but more important than the vintage in determining the overall quality of any given wine.

  3. Vintage is very important in the context of any single wine. All things in parts one and two being consistent, it’s the qualities of a given growing year, and the human decisions based around the vagaries of that year, that make that wine different from year to year. Vintage becomes important to understanding wine, however, only after an understanding of the wine’s place and people have already been formed.

This is obviously a big topic, one that’s open to a wide range of viewpoints. While I could go into much greater detail, I’d rather stop here, encourage questions, feedback, commentary, criticism – even outright bashing – and see where the discussion leads.


Peter Liem said...

It's an interesting debate, and one that few people think about. (To be fair, it's of relatively minor importance in the grand scheme of things.) It's something that I've thought about a great deal, however, as I was formerly the tasting director for Wine & Spirits magazine, a publication that has a readership wide enough that one needs to think about these things. As tasting director, I was the one organizing all of the critics' tasting notes, and therefore responsible for what was to wind up in print to tens of thousands of readers. What I ultimately settled on was to abandon standardization, no matter how much logical sense it might make to you at the time. I kept a general house format, but certain regions of the world simply don't conform to it (as you have pointed out), and it's less unwieldy to simply switch formats (as long as switching makes it more legible or more clearly understood) than to stick to a rigid standard and end up with strange things like leading with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

David McDuff said...

Perhaps I am making more of this than its importance merits, Peter. It's not so much the naming format itself that I find important as it is the reasons behind my selected format. Given those reasons (which I do as mentioned feel strongly about), I'll most likely stick with my rigid standard, even if it does lead to the occasional awkwardness.

Richard A. said...

Hi David!
I have awarded you a One Lovely Blog Award. You can check it out here
and feel free to award some other deserving people if you wish,

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