Jun 24, 201012:00 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

But I Read It Right Here on the Label

Wine is not beer.

That’s an obvious statement, but to many Americans, the let’s-just-drink-the-stuff-now mentality means wine is way too much work.

To begin, you often need a special tool just to open the package. Then there’s the whole swirl, see, sniff, sip ritual that takes time and concentration. What a pain in the butt. Add to that the “language” of wine, which means that a thesaurus has be employed so some level of intelligent conversation about the wine and its aroma can be shared with others who are also working hard to create verbal descriptors that impress and amaze.

It can be confusing, at the least, and on a grand scale, way too much trouble and much too much pretension. “You get the ripe fruit of a fresh cantaloupe from the Salinas Valley in this wine? Have you gone stark-raving mad? This is obviously the bouquet of honeydew melon from Belize.”

Then there’s the whole issue of trying to decipher, maybe even translate from another language, a label. A label, for crying out loud! All we want to do is understand, in plain language, what it is the label is trying to tell us. Where is the wine from? When was it harvested? What kind of grape is in the wine? Who did all the work? Were any animals harmed in the making of this wine? Etc., etc., etc. The king of Siam himself would be pushed to the brink.

Because simplification is not the alternative and wine will remain an overcomplicated pursuit for many, maybe the best we can hope for is transparency. Yeah, that’s the ticket. We’ll take a page out of the political candidate’s notebook and promise transparency. That whole transparency direction is certainly working well for government. Our elected officials are “all up in that” because they promised it to us.

The best place to find all evidence of what is in a product, and the other endless questions we seem to ask in our consuming society, is to check out the label. Truth in labeling is the direction most products have moved toward, either because they really want to have an open and honest relationship with their consumers or because the government has mandated it. Either way, the consumer has the information about most dietary products necessary for an intelligent purchase.

Wine is very different, and you have to bring a previous knowledge of wine to the party. On many wine labels, particularly those from Europe, you will not find the name of the grapes used to make the wine. They will instead list the name of the area or the town or the commune where the grapes were harvested and the wine was made.

You will have to know that wine from Italy’s Chianti region is made from Sangiovese grapes. You will know this because “everyone” knows that Sangiovese is the only grape varietal allowed in the red wines of Chianti. –– unless the red wine is designated Indicazione Geografica Tipica, IGT, and in that case you may find other grapes in the wine, such as cabernet sauvignon or merlot. “Everyone” knows that.

In many cases, winemakers from every corner of the globe will not disclose to you on the label what grapes are in the blend or the percentage of which grapes were used. Often the term “none of the above” applies to label disclosure information. 

Let’s say you feel a celebration coming on, and you decide to splurge and pick up a bottle of champagne. You, being an informed consumer, know that the only three grapes allowed in the Champagne region of France are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. You also know that only sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France are allowed under international agreements to be called champagne on the label.

But if you pick up a bottle of “champagne” from Sonoma County, California or the Finger Lakes area of northern New York state, then the labels clearly state in big letters “champagne.” And the grapes are not limited to just the three varietals allowed in Champagne, France. They can be whatever the winemaker deems acceptable to his/her desires.

Are you seeking nutritional information from a wine label? It’s easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle, just to be biblical for a moment. No winery will tell you anything on their label about the level of sugars, carbohydrates and other dietary items present in the wine, either through direct addition of a component or as a byproduct of the winemaking process.

Wineries will tell you that the wine contains sulfites, an added preservative, as well as a natural byproduct of yeast used in the winemaking process. But how much? And what is the government standard for minimum daily requirements of sulfites?

Wine labels will also tell you the alcohol content, but it only has to be accurate up to 1.5 percent deviation from actual. That’s a broad range. A wine labeled 14 percent alcohol could be 12.5 percent or 15.5 percent. These last two items, sulfites and alcohol, are noted on the label because the U.S. government says it has to be there. Otherwise, I wonder if the winery would have disclosed.

Did you know that many wines are “fined,” filtered for impurities, with egg whites? Are you allergic to eggs? Even though the egg whites pass through the wine, wine is a magnet. Everything that a wine touches has an effect. Obviously there are no eggs in wine, but many wines were touched by eggs. Do you know which ones? There’s no way of finding out from the label.

Part of the problem is that wineries are happy to provide information, but what information would that be? What do consumers really want to know? There’s a lot of story not being told, but what part of the story is important to whom? And where do you tell it? A wine label does not provide a lot of real estate for disclosure purposes.

Instead wineries have opted not to open the Complete Transparency Box of Pandora, preferring instead to let the current state of affairs be what they are.

The concern in the wine industry is that some government bureaucrat is going to build a career on writing new labeling regulations. And if the past is prologue, those regulations will not please curious consumers –– or even inform them.

In the meantime, drink what you like and trust Bacchus. But don’t ask too many questions.
 

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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

about

In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.

 

Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; the Executive Editor and monthly features writer for Gulf Coast Wine + Dine Online; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.

 

Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.

 

Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.

 

They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.

 

Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.

 

Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

 

Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.

 

It’s a good gig. 

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