Tinkering with wine classification – is there any benefit?
Seduction, style, classic, gran selezione … what do they mean to the consumer? Are they useful? I argue that rather than overloading the consumer with additional labelling terms, resources would be better applied to education. In some cases plain facts might help to eliminate often unfounded bias against a style, region, or even a whole country, as in … “I don’t like Spanish wine” …
Several regulatory bodies have launched new quality levels and terms, with the aim, one assumes, of reinforcing a message to the consumer and improve sales. However, many are open to interpretation, eg selection, style, seduction – these rank alongside unregulated terms such as special cuvée, collection privée, prestige, founder’s reserve, grand vin, old vines …. and seduction for example, does not translate well into all markets.
The authorities, I think, assume too much of the consumer, burdening them with vague labelling. The outcome is uncertain, ranging from neutral at best, to at worst the unintended consequence – where a consumer switches to a familiar or more accessible wine label.
Such tinkering may be targeted at undoing damage incurred by historic, yet memorable practices. For example sugary German riesling from the 1970s – though some of the same trade names from that era have recently reappeared on the supermarket shelves, these really ought to be Wein, as with Italy’s Vino, or Vin de France; cheap Cava – traditionally seen as cheap and by extension of poor quality, and Chianti in that raffia packaging. These memories can be handed down through the generations as selective bias. The chain needs to be broken.
Here are four contemporary examples of tinkering:
German still wine – classic and selection. A consumer might ponder, does classic refer to a traditional style or traditional method used by antecedents? and who makes the selection, based on what criteria? Better to market dryness to the UK market, where German wine is still considered by many a consumer to be noticeably sweet. Better to use dry prominently on the front label, as espoused by Ernst Loosen, with a dryness bar on the back label. But even then not all have a feel for what off-dry, medium dry and so on mean in terms of taste – more in-store tastings are needed.
Chianti Classico – gran selezione. But this is really gran reserva by another name, the market has already decided pricing, and reading the small print eg what single estate actually means, then it seems to be a term that flatters the producer, rather than the consumer. Better to educate the consumer with informative marketing on Chianti and Chianti Classico, to banish thoughts of raffia wrapped flasks, which have sadly, in my view, re-entered the UK market in the last year or so.
Pays d’Oc – collection, style and seduction. These vague terms are eminently interchangeable, with absolutely no clue as to where they are in a hierarchy of quality. Wines from this region have a growing reputation for quality at decent price points, why complicate the matter?
Cava – single estate. Cava’s association with poor quality has led some producers to label with Spanish Sparkling Wine (Decanter November 2012), perhaps noticing that the comparatively recent English Sparkling Wine has stood up to the test alongside the branding of Champagne. Reserva and gran reserva Cava already exist, but sadly, are little seen. The recent effort in introducing a new top level single estate wine, might be better spent in educating the consumer about what is already available. For example, be emphatic that all Cava is bottle fermented like all other top shelf sparkling wine, and not made in bulk in tank like most Prosecco.
How did Prosecco gain such a foothold at the same price point as NV Cava? Marketing. There are lessons to be learned there. The Champagneois, such was the strength of their messaging, that they overcame the revelations that in the 1970s to late 90s, they mulched their vineyards with the refuse of Paris and Reims. So why cannot Cava, which produced cheap stuff for a time, deliver a message that quality is to be had now? It is all very well that the Cava Institute and Consejo Regulaldor have great websites, but that is static marketing, what is needed is an in your face approach, taking the message to the consumer.
And finally German Sekt, a case where nothing has been done, and so no reputation to be rescued, except the sugary barrier, above, to overcome. There are lots of bottle fermented dry examples around in the German domestic market. I am unsure of volume availability, there is little on the market in the UK, but certainly potential to compete. Again, why let the often sugary Prosecco have all the fun?
In summary, whilst it is not easy to introduce new quality levels, it is relatively simple in comparison to setting up and maintaining an active marketing programme. I believe that the solution to relatively poor demand is not tinkering at the edges, but what is rather less tangible and more of a commitment – education through marketing to the masses – use the media to tell it how it is. For example, show Pinedes vineyards, let producers talk, show hand harvesting, show second fermentation in bottle, show the existing quality levels, say why they are different, say where they can be found.