I write often about wine labeling because it continues to be a confusing topic for many consumers, particularly with European and European-style wines.
In Europe, many wines are identified by region and with this comes a reputation. For example, Burgundy and Chablis are highly regarded as fine French wines. It is understandable that when mass producers label large, inexpensive jug red wines Burgundy and white wines Chablis and those grapes are also grown elsewhere, it causes a ruckus. Many wine regions and consumers around the world are working together to find solutions.
Champagne is an ideal example. Many people refer to anything that sparkles or bubbles as champagne. But in fact, “It’s only Champagne when the wine is from Champagne, France,” explains Sonia Smith, director of the Champagne Bureau.
The Champagne Bureau is the U.S. representative of the Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, a trade association which represents the grape growers and houses of Champagne, France. Champagne is actually one of the most regulated wine regions, yet according to the organization more than half of the sparkling wine sold in the United States is mislabeled Champagne, under a loophole in the U.S.-EU European Union Wine Accords signed in March 2007.
In September, Australia adopted the EU’s Geographical Indication System. Among other things, this means Australian winemakers will phase out the use of “Champagne,” “Port” or “Sherry” on their labels by September. The agreement also grants protection to more than 100 of Australia’s geographical indications.
Many other wine regions are working toward region protection: Napa Valley, Sonoma, Oregon, Paso Robles, Walla Walla, Long Island and Washington state in the United States and seven international regions (Jerez, Porto, Chianti Classico, Tokaj, Victoria, Rioja, Spain, and Western Australia). They signed the Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place and Origin, which advocates the importance of protecting a wine’s location and name.
While labeling regulations may seem complicated and the uproar over the use of a place name on a bottle of wine a bit trivial, these protections and regulations are important for consumers as well. These ensure consumers actually get the wine they think they’re buying.