I was flicking through the February edition of Meininger's and became engrossed by a fascinating article about the creation of a new cultivar-specific DOC in northern Italy. I'll quote here a few of the more intriguing snippets.
A silent revolution took place in the north-east of Italy in 2017 when a new denomination was born... Called Prosecco delle Venezie, it includes the three regions of Triveneto - Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia - and cultivates just one grape: Prosecco.
This next bit is really crucial, so sit tight!
One of the significant problems the DOC faces is that there is no exclusivity in the name "Prosecco". Armani explains: "As nobody can claim a grape variety as his or her sole property, we could not lock it down. The Prosecco grape is part of planet Earth's collective heritage."
A revolution like this is nothing short of breathtaking, especially in the largely conservative domain of Italian wine regulation. It demonstrates a mature understanding that the only meaningful and sustainable way to beat off perceived or true competitors is to make your products better and more attractive to consumers.
Except - finally the mask slips - this article was about Pinot Grigio, not Prosecco. The above excerpts are quoted nigh-on verbatim, but wherever it says "Prosecco" revert to "Pinot Grigio".
The new Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC is a blueprint for what the Prosecco authorities could have done in 2009, before they unilaterally altered the official grape name from Prosecco to Glera and created the spurious Prosecco DOC.
Mr Armani could just as easily have been speaking about Prosecco, which like Pinot Grigio is (to some quislings, unquestionably was) an accepted name for a grape planted in Italy and abroad, but at the same time a commercially important product with justification for its protection.
After all, Pinot Grigio is planted all over the world, as is Prosecco to a far smaller extent. Australia's Prosecco pioneers Dal Zotto make a very good Pinot Grigio that sells stupendously well. Elsewhere you have Pinot Grigio planted for those consumers loyal purely to the grape, not where it was grown. As mentioned in Harper's this month by Tim Atkin, "When Copestick Murray did some consumer research for its I ♥ brand, it found that origin was very low on respondents' list of priorities... [so] I ♥ Pinot Grigio doesn't come from the expected source, it's Hungarian."
For those who care about origins - and there is a passionate minority of wine lovers who do - the new Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC is a grown-up attempt to compete with imitations by promising a better product, not a form of subterfuge.
Except regrettably those making the decisions in 1999 could not accept the facts for what they were, and instead we have a fudged and fundamentally bankrupt solution that may go some way to protecting whatever claim those in the Veneto have over the Prosecco grape, but could not be said to have guaranteed a better wine.
Because in the incessant pursuit of commercial motive, with every moving of goal posts and double standards - and despite the efforts of some more quality-minded producers to avert this, it should be said - the authorities behind the creation of the Prosecco DOC are only serving to weaken faith in their wine, not strengthen it.
Country Life magazine carried an editorial last week on the ramifications of Brexit for British farmers, rightly stating there are possible pros as well as cons involved.
One upside, I suspect tongue in cheek, was the looming opportunity of describing our homegrown sparkling wines "British Champagne". Let's hope that nobody with influence believes this a good idea.
Firstly, it presupposes that we would want to opt out of recognising genuine, regional protections for food and drink, which British farmers and producers themselves rely on, such as Jersey Royal potatoes, Cumberland sausages, Stornoway black pudding, Dorset Blue cheese, Kentish ale or Scotch whisky. The initial cut-and-paste job of putting European Union legislation on to our statute book will presumably carry over the recognition of these and other products, but how they're to be affected by leaving the single market or customs union is anyone's guess. It's surely not worth our while to abrogate these protections. For what gain? Cocking a snook at Champagne producers, who send more of their wine to us than any other country? It's madness.
Secondly, it misses the point our own industry has been trying to make for years: our sparkling wines are homegrown, they are not Champagne imitations. They may use the same traditional method, most of the better examples use the same trio of grapes, but there is enough excellence and differentiation for English sparkling wine to stand proudly on its own. Hence the (pretty ponderous) attempts to come up with a new "brand" for English sparkling wine. Hence the genuine and growing global interest in our leading producers. We are, I sense, turning something of a corner when it comes to public recognition of English sparkling wine. Fewer hosts at gatherings where English wines are being poured now proffer "another glass of Champagne" [sic].
Thirdly, and pertinently, regional protections such as Champagne make perfect sense. Champagne is an ancient, recognised region of France going back to Norman times, its wine production more recent but still Medieval. And it produces a distinctive sparkling wine, universally known by the name of the region whence it came.
It would also shoot in the foot the well-intentioned and correct efforts to modify or simply nullify the illogical sort of EU-level protectionism, such as efforts by Italian Prosecco producers to stop Australian Prosecco producers from so describing their sparkling wines.
THE CHANCELLOR of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, has today announced a freeze on excise duty for all but the cheapest, lowest quality drinks.
Nik Darlington, founder of importer Red Squirrel Wine, responded to the news by saying it's a "heroic boost for an industry that's already been kicked in more sensitive areas than we'd care to mention", while welcoming other policy announcements that could be a big help to the trade, finishing by saying ”if the Chancellor does want to swap his water for something stronger next year, I’d be more than happy to answer the Government’s call and do my duty!”
"The Chancellor opened his speech with a quip about swapping his water for something more alcoholic, but for once the joke isn’t on the UK drinks trade.
"Increasing alcohol duty for the second time in the space of a year would have been a kick in the teeth for an industry that's already been kicked in more sensitive areas than we'd care to mention.
"A hammered exchange rate, extortionate business rates rises and increasingly fragile consumer sentiment are putting enough of a squeeze on importers, distributors, restaurants, bars and independent merchants.
"We are well aware how important the drinks trade is to the UK in terms of jobs, general economic activity and, rightfully so, tax receipts. But the point at which ever-increasing duty becomes counter-productive has long passed. A freeze is a heroic boost at this point in time, but let’s never relent from making the case that duty is already too high.
“The important subtext is the Chancellor linking duty rises to health concerns, and explicitly now separating those drinks that are identified with causing the greatest harm. We all have a duty in this trade to be responsible about the effects of alcohol, and I would be the first to admit there’s more we could do, but this recognition is welcome.
"I also welcome the allocation of another £3 billion to prepare for leaving the EU, while strongly calling for funds such as these also to be considered for easing the inflationary pressures on businesses from fiscal tightening.
“Bringing forward the change in indexing of business rate rises from RPI to CPI by two years should be invaluable to colleagues especially with this inflationary backdrop, as shall extending the discount for pubs for another year.
“We should also welcome the help companies are getting on taxes for diesel vehicles, given how important our logistics networks are to getting great wine into and around the UK. We’ve all seen how currency flux and rising fuel costs have ramped up freight charges, which distributors like us have continued to absorb in recent months.
“Ultimately we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that however much some people want to talk down the economy, and however needlessly damaging the Brexit process is, Britain remains a brilliant place to do business and our wine trade is the greatest in the world.
“Finally, if the Chancellor does want to swap his water for something stronger next year, I’d be more than happy to answer the Government’s call and do my duty!”
You've probably never heard of Fanakolo, but chances are if you're a fan of South African wine you've seen plenty of their work. These guys design some of the best wine labels in the business, including Alheit, Thorne & Daughters, Porseleinberg and of course our very own De Kleine Wijn Koöp, a project they began a few years ago with a bunch of friends.
This year we collaborated with them on a brand new wine, Eekhoring, a white blend based on Chenin Blanc, from vineyards around the Swartland and Voor-Paardeberg. Naturally, they designed a sensational label to stick on it.
Here's how they did it...