Typicity – is not a word in the Oxford English Dictionary, rather a rough translation of French or Italian, but anyone can discern its meaning. Jancis Robinson uses typicality instead. When related to wine, it is a comparative concept to assess whether a wine is representative of a set of characteristics, which have been developed over a long time, and so gained acceptance, and so are regarded as traditional descriptors of a particular wine of a demarcated place.
For example a Chablis Grand Cru, to pass the appellation’s tasting panel, must have a particular aroma and taste profile and abv, resulting from application of appellation regs, moderated by the weather. That is, grape variety(ies), and all practices from vineyard through to bottling and ageing. As soon as a panel is mentioned then subjectivity comes along too, different tasters have differing sensitivities to certain compounds, and may have personal prejudices. Importantly, there are financial implications.
Consider, for example, an ostensible AOC (or now AOP) wine fails the official tasting panel for typicity, then it cannot be marketed as such and must be declassified. From one viewpoint this is a financial loss, from another it makes for some real bargains.
But wine is a living thing, and to arrive at a required typicity at a point in time goes against individuality of the producer. Should all wines in a locale taste very similar, does that make sense? At producer level, questioning, reflection, innovation, improvement and change are stifled, in the Old World. But, not so in the New, unfettered by close regulation, they experiment, which is exciting.
In previous decades and centuries viticulture and vinification practices changed slowly, this is now not the case. Consider these relatively recent factors:
- Wider use of organic and biodynamic methods – this has gone full circle.
- Low sulphur or no sulphur added.
- Low or zero dosage.
- Use of naturally occurring yeasts – full circle again.
- Improved control of oxidation where undesirable.
- Experimentation with oak.
- Effect of climate change on weather and ripeness – picking at the same time of year will on average increase ripeness, change organoleptic attributes, and increase alcohol level.
All these, and others, impact on a wine’s characteristics, which is why I do not strictly consider typicity. One one should keep an open mind and look out for those declassified wines.