The shelves of our wine shops look so much more interesting these days, thanks to the trend towards brightly coloured labels, some featuring portraits, animals or artistic splashes. But are these and other wine labels helpful to you, the wine drinker?
I love pronouncing the Gemischter Satz below simply because my rudimentary knowledge of German allows me to. But add in the full title, Wiener Gemischter Satz Ried Ulm 1er Nussberg 2019, Wieninger, and you can see why many people are put off wine by the difficulty in understanding the label.
The one thing they don’t have is a list of ingredients detailing the additives, processing agents and other treatments that are used to make wine. We like to believe that wine is a pure and unsullied drink, but, like many things we eat or drink, the majority of wines go through a series of manipulations that most producers would prefer not to discuss and certainly not place on the label.
Visit a winery and you will be told all about the noble history, and see the pampered vineyards, and beautiful barrel room, but you will hear nothing about how the winemaker routinely adds sugar, ascorbic acid, sulphur, sweeteners, yeast nutrients, colouring, tannin and a host of other products to make the wine. Somehow it takes away from the romance.
The website jancisrobinson.com posted a fascinating series of reports by trainee winemaker Samantha Cole-Johnson, who detailed her experiences making wine in Australia and the United States. The wineries were anonymous. The diaries certainly dispelled the romantic notion that wine is simply the product of fermented grape juice. Given that an entire year’s income is riding on it, it is understandable that a producer would want to play safe, and most of the interventions are harmless. However, do we not have the right to know?
The increasing interest in organic, biodynamic and low-intervention wines suggests the modern consumer wants to know more about what they are drinking. At the moment, a wine label does not have to include the standard information that appears on many food products, such as levels of sugars, proteins, fat, saturates, carbohydrates and salt.
Change could be coming. For many years the European Commission has been debating the issue of ingredient labelling, and now, under the banner of Common Agricultural Policy reform, it seems very likely that it will become mandatory in two years’ time. Given the length of the list, it may be provided off-label through a QR code, although critics say consumers are less likely to use this. The commission has still to decide if the addition of rectified grape must (from the same grapes) and the various processing aids used to clarify (which drop out of the wine) should be included as additives.
Porta 6 2019, Lisboa, Portugal
13.5 per cent, €10 down from €12.95
A colourful label with a story. Medium-bodied with very moreish, rounded soft ripe fruits and an easy, tannin-free finish. Perfect with a wide variety of white meats, or tomato-based pasta dishes.
From O’Briens, Obrienswine.ie.
Matsu El Picaro 2019, Toro, Spain
14.5 per cent, €15.99-€16.99
Muscular, youthful sweet berry fruits with a savoury edge and light, spicy tannins on the finish. Drink it with a cocido or other substantial stew.
From Deveney’s, Dublin 14, deveneys.ie; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; McHughs, Dublin 5, mchughs.ie; Ardkeen Quality Foodstore, Waterford, ardkeen.com; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 2, fallonandbyrne.com; 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Mortons of Galway, mortonsofgalway.ie; thenudewineco.ie.
Air Carrots of Pagnol 2018, South Africa
14.5 per cent, €35
With a map of Marseilles and the name Pagnol, you might suspect a Provencal wine. In fact it is a South African blend. Layered, fleshy and textured with apricot and nectarine fruits, this is a wine with real character. Try it with a rich, herby seafood casserole.
From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; Sweeney’s, Dublin 3, sweeneysd3.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; Wine Upstairs, Forest Avenue, Dublin 4, wineupstairs.ie.
Wiener Gemischter Satz Ried Ulm 1er Nussberg 2019, Wieninger, Austria
14.5 per cent, €40
Big and powerful, almost oily, with textured honey, peaches, mango and spice finishing on a mineral note. Try this with a wiener schnitzel or grilled pork chops.
From 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Clontarf Wines, D3, clontarfwines.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; wineonline.ie.