Seems nothing is ever easy, particularly when you are dealing with winemaking in an Old World country, like France.

As you know, there is a hierarchy, a wine ranking system, whereas certain wines are considered to be of higher quality levels, and therefore commanding higher prices, than other wines. These “classifications” are taken quite seriously in Bordeaux, with two rankings, one in the Medoc and another one in the St. Emilion region.

In the Medoc, which runs, in general, from just outside the city of Bordeaux to the north along the Gironde River, the classification of 1855 is still considered to be generally correct. Although many quality changes have occurred in the 150 years since, the ranking of the wines and their respective chateaux continues to be referred to and

Off to the east, in the completely charming area of the village of St. Emilion, along the Dordogne River, is a classification system that must, by law, be updated every 10 years. That allows for an estate or chateau to make changes to their quality and style and be rewarded, or it can go the other way too.

The classification process in St. Emilion of 2006 took a number of winemaking operations and elevated them to a higher status and, as can happen, took a couple and demoted them. The folks who were demoted were not happy, to say the least. They claimed that “politics” and personal agendas were at work on the evaluation committee and took the whole enchilada, or better yet, crepe suzette to court.

The courts reviewed the new classifications and said it was a flawed process so the entire classification was made mute and all chateaux were ordered to revert back to the way things were, dating back to 1996.

Of course, the decision was not handed out with expediency and it took the courts over a year to consider the “stay” order.  Meanwhile, the wine business has to go on. Labels were printed, as were promotional materials, denoting the new Classification of 2006. And those operations who were rewarded with a higher designation were stuck with a lot of printed material, and bragging rights, and forced to duplicate all communication efforts, not knowing which information to use when their wines are released.

Just last week, no less an august political body than the French Government itself decreed that those chateaux who were rewarded with a higher classification could indeed use their new status on labels and promotional materials. And those who were demoted were allowed to maintain their old status dating back to the classification of 1996.

Solomon would have been proud to see such a result. Elected officials pleasing everyone, kissing babies, and promising a coq au vin in every pot.

Ahh, but in the process they could not just gut the classification system. That too needed attention and respect. The new ruling only extends to 2011, so in just a few more years the process begins anew and I will no doubt have further material for a future column.

Let’s Do the Twist

Screw caps, a lovable development for most sane people, and the bane of every wine snob’s existence, now account for 15% of all wine closures of any type.

Of the more than 17.5 billion closures manufactured annually worldwide, more than 2.5 billion are screwcaps. And the number is rising in every wine-producing country around the globe.

Sending the Juice Your Way

France, that perennial winner of all things wine, has fallen to third place among wine exporting nations, being bested by both Italy and Spain.

Italy has long been numerare un, but the rapid rise of Spain has been somewhat of an interesting development.

And it looks like France is not going to regain the second place spot anytime soon. More than 15,000 hectares under vine in France has been dedicated to other uses, as New World wines continue to accumulate market share in their respective regions and in France’s traditional destination turf, such as Great Britain and the US.

Keep It Straight

A quote that many of us see with some regularity is, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

A kind thought and one that brings a smile to parched lips.

But the author, one Benjamin Franklin, in 1779, writing in French to Abbé Andrè Morellet, actually said, “We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes.

“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine – a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”