It’s the name game

Wine reviews – By Michael Wolsey

Judging a book by its cover is a relatively reliable practice compared to judging wine by the label.

The most prominent word may be the variety of grape – Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc, for instance – or it may be the region where the wine is produced, such as Bordeaux or Rioja.

It may also be the name of the producer: Barton & Guestier or Michel Lynch, for example.

A label that stresses the variety of grape, does carry some guarantee of what is inside. All the big European wine countries insist that at least 85% of what’s in the bottle must come from the grape named on the label. For new world wines the standard is usually 75%.

If you don’t know or care what grape is which, you probably won’t be much wiser for knowing the region.

I once overheard a debate between a very patient Spanish waitress and a customer who insisted that the wine he wanted was Rioja, not Tempranillo. The waitress explained, several times, that Tempranillio is a Rioja but there was no persuading this man and, in the end, the waitress gave in and returned with what he wanted to see, a bottle on which the biggest word simply said ‘Rioja’ – although all that proved was that the wine came from the Rioja region of north central Spain.

If you know and like the wine of a particular producer, then that name may be your best guide, although this falls down when it comes to new world wines which often go by some silly generic name such as Spotted Dragon or Mud in Your Eye.

If you like an unusual wine, take a picture of the label – then let your phone be your guide.