Sunday, June 04, 2023
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Wine Sets of the Ungabunga

Wine Industry

Restaurant Wine Lists and Retail Wine Sets.

Wine lists are generally organized regionally, varietally, by progression, color coded, by price, or a blend of the bunch. Organizing the retail wine set by varietal could very-well be the future for retail. Currently, this is common in restaurants.

Most of the restaurant lists I’ve helped have been set by varietal (I don’t expect the consumer to be fluent in wine geography) or the progressive, by the body weight of the wine (which I’m not that big a fan of). I believe that both of these options equalize the playing field. Ordering wine from a list can be risky. Taking advice from a waiter or retail wine steward can be, as well. Like a good butcher, your experience and expense might just rely on them.

On the retail side, organization usually reigns in geography, followed by varietal. My question is whether the future of retail wine sets will be organized by varietal. It appeals to the ungabunga side of U.S. shopping. Though not traditional or classic, it’s probably smart.

Pick pinot noir on a restaurant list, for example. Instead of having California pinot noirs separated from other pinot noirs on the list, maybe having California, Burgundy, Oregon, and New Zealand all mixed together under “pinot noir” spreads the wealth. If anything, it tends to hurt California pinot noir sales. It helps Burgundy. It helps Oregon. It helps New Zealand.

A wine list is essential and the presentation is extremely important. It can overwhelm or educate. A good one will sell you wine without much intervention. The current trend on restaurant lists is for more “by varietal”. Retail continues to stay aligned with “by place of origin”. For many consumers the crossover from California Pinot to French Pinot can be a big valley to cross. Some may say that placing all pinot noirs in the same pile dilutes the respect Burgundy deserves. I understand that and mostly agree. But, let the juice speak for itself.

After all, many “by varietals” are actually blends disguised as single varietals.

Let’s pick on “single varietals”, use pinot noir as an example, and consider the differences in wine laws. Notice the following discrepancies in labeling

When a pinot noir is from a Burgundy Village, it must be 100% pinot noir. By law. (wink.wink.)

When a pinot noir is from Oregon, it must be minimum 90% the varietal listed.

When a pinot noir is from the south of France, it must be minimum 85% the varietal listed.

When a pinot noir is from California, it must be minimum 75% the varietal listed.

This means that the remaining percentage can generally be whatever. Syrah anyone?

Sounds dishonest, doesn’t it? Who wins here? It’s a marketing game.

Obviously, education is the key. But, does everyone want to be educated?

More to come, but I’ve got to go right now. J

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