Appellation or Brand?

Back in March I was party to a very interesting discussion among the wine trade which was trying to determine if France’s wine future lay in brands or in its system of ‘appellations’. I wrote about it here.

Now I think the case is pretty clear cut when it comes to famous names, such as Champagne, Chablis and Chateauneuf-du-Pape to name but a few. Those names roll of the tongue easily and almost act like brands in their own right. With some of the lesser-known appellations it may not be so straightforward. Sometimes I feel France’s strength, it’s appellation system, is also its weakness. It is difficult to understand, complex and full of names that give little clue as to what the wine will taste like to the average consumer. And, although it has been getting better, a distinct lack of information on a back label is making the purchase of a bottle a bit of a gamble. Granted, the internet is helping to provide additional information and many people still read the words ‘Appellation Controlée’ on the label and feel reassured the wine will be of good quality. But unless you know the style of the wine from a particular appellation, will you know what it tastes like and more importantly, are you going to like it?

1753 Campuget – Costieres de Nimes 2009

It may be a bit random but I picked up a wine from the lesser known Costieres de Nimes, an appellation that came into being just over 20 years ago and falls somewhere between the Languedoc and the Rhone Valley. Since 2004 it aligns itself with the Rhone Valley to which it owes much of its style. Similar stony soils and Syrah and Grenache as its main grapes means you can compare it to Cotes du Rhone. A look at Chateau Campuget’s website shows they market themselves as part of the Rhone Valley ‘brand’, probably because the Rhone Valley is better known internationally. Shame about that sound file that ‘welcomes’ you to the site. My French isn’t great so it becomes a bit annoying. I would also have wanted a bit more information on the specific wine, my main reason to visit the site. The back label tells me the name ‘1753’ refers to the date on the earliest document found at the Chateau. Nice, but what did the document say? Anyway, the wine is really rather good. Lots of blackberry and plummy flavours and dark chocolate. It gives the wine a nice richness, not too dry, which means you could drink this on its own but it would be much better with a nice meaty stew, which is exactly what I’ll be having tonight.

 

Malbrontes – Malbec and What?

A red wine made with white grapes. Sounds unlikely? White grapes have long been used as part of red wine production. It may be pretty obvious that to make a red wine you need the colour from the red grape skins but there is nothing stopping you from adding a little white too. This used to be common practice in Chianti but the choice of grapes impacted the quality so the practice is no longer so common. In the Rhone valley in France the white grape Viognier is often added to Syrah to make the famous wines from Côte Rôtie. In Australia they even make a point of it and put the blend on the label and I’ve heard of many wine producers who experiment with different ways of introducing white grapes into their red wines. One Australian producer put some of his Shiraz into a barrel that had formerly held Chardonnay. He left the fine lees (deposit) in the barrel and the result was an added richness and creaminess to the Shiraz.

It is important to state that this is not about blending red and white wine together, that would mean ending up with a rosé or very light red. Making a red wine this way means you have to ferment the red and white grapes together. The idea is to get plenty of colour and extraction during the fermentation, but combined with a lightness and freshness from the white grapes. Malbrontes is just such a wine even though it does sound more like a long-forgotten character from Jurassic Park. It combines in more than name two of Argentina’s best known grapes. The fragrant Torrontés adds a fresh and floral element to the juicy, rich spiciness of the Malbec. I was sceptical at first but this wine quickly won me over. It has the chunky blackberry fruit from the Malbec but the Torrontés makes the whole thing seem fresher and softer and it’s seriously easy-drinking. You can even chill it down slightly and make it a perfect partner to a barbecue.

Wine Searcher gives an up to date list of where you can get this wine.