It’s one of those debates that will probably carry on forever.
Is varietal labelling a good thing or a bad thing and is region of production, or even producer, more important?
I even have arguments with myself over the question. On the one hand, labelling a wine ‘Chardonnay’, can perhaps convey some message to the consumer as to what the wine may possibly taste like. On the other, a consumer that has had a bad experience with a Chardonnay – a cheap, over-oaked Australian, or an even cheaper, bland Californian – may be put-off trying any other wine with Chardonnay on the front label. Hence, the oft heard exclamation “I hate Chardonnay. I always prefer a Chablis”!
Chablis is, of course, made from 100 percent Chardonnay, but the label normally doesn’t say so. This illustrates the point that wines made from the same grape variety, may be very different in style and hence taste.
But keeping the name of the grape variety off the main label, does require the consumer to be much more informed about whatever information or name is on the label. To me, this is much preferable, but predisposes a higher degree of knowledge, or wine education, on behalf of the consumer.
Nowadays, this is becoming easier, with a whole host of media to inform the would-be wine drinker, including TV programmes, newspaper articles, websites and wine schools. Some supermarkets now even have a so-called ‘virtual sommelier’ – an interactive computer screen in the wine department to help with your selections.
Having established that one Chardonnay is not necessarily like another, the same being true of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or any other ‘varietal’, education or knowledge then has to kick in. This is particularly true when it comes to some wines where the names on the labels can be very similar and, with some French wines, difficult to pronounce also.
Such is the case with two French whites named ‘Pouilly’. There is Pouilly Fumé and Pouilly Fuissé, two very different wines. The former is made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape variety and the region is in the central Loire Valley. Similar to Sancerre, it is one of the top-quality Loire whites and has a dry, flinty, herbaceous character, with citrus and gooseberry notes.
Pouilly Fuissé comes from the Maconnais region in the south of Burgundy and is made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes. It is full-bodied and often oaked to enhance the Chardonnay flavours. Deeper flavoured and fuller than Chablis at the same level, it is an elegant wine with hints of buttered brioche and white peaches, dry and satisfying. Great quality wines, representing very good value white Burgundy.
Two other French white wines, which can easily be confused by their names and even more difficult for English speakers to pronounce, are Reuilly and Rully. Curiously, these wines are also from the same two regions as the Pouillys and from the same two different grape varieties. Both can represent very good value for money, since they are generally very well-made, flavoursome, characterful wines from lesser known regions. Reuilly is a small appellation controlée region quite close to Sancerre, but little known outside the immediate area, even in France. I am a fan of these wines, which are stereotypical cool climate Sauvignon Blanc in character. They are expressive with fruity aromas and dry gooseberry and citrus on the palate. Majestic stocks a Reuilly 2016 from Henri Beurdin at £10.99 a bottle at their mix 6 rate, or try some of the specialist online merchants such as Yapp Bros.
Turning to Rully, we are back in Burgundy, in a small lesser known appellation in the Cote Chalonnaise part of the region. Although the appellation includes red wines as well, the whites are 100 percent Chardonnay and the better wines are classified as Premier Cru. Just south of the famed vineyards of Chassagne Montrachet, they are high quality wines, but without the prestige of the top village names of the Cote de Beaune.
Gently rolling hills are covered in vines and the whole of this region is a beautiful place to visit and taste great quality burgundy. Try the Joseph Drouhin Rully Premier Cru Blanc 2015, £18.29 from Waitrose.
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.
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