Thursday, March 04, 2010

Q2). What grape is Pinot Noir made from?

Stupid question? Hmm, well, you might not believe the answer, depending on which brand you have been buying! For example, in the case of Red Bicyclette your pinot noir has, until now, been made of a blend of pinot, syrah and merlot! Produced for the wine giant E&J Gallo in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, the authorities became suspicious when they discovered that the volume of pinot noir being sold to Gallo actually exceeded the total production for the region.

The actual numbers were fairly spectacular - Between 2006-08, Sieur d’Arques apparently sold 135,000 hectolitres of the vin de Pays d’Oc labelled pinot noir to E&J Gallo at a value of 4 million Euros. Yet the total actual Pinot Noir production from the winemakers supplying the distributors was just 15,000 hectolitres a year, so even if the region’s entire Pinot Noir acreage was devoted to making Red Bicyclette for E & J in the States, it would still be impossible.

To make matters worse, this was the defence offered in the ensuing court case: The pinot 'manufacturers' claimed that "Pinot Noir could be considered as a brand, expressing a taste and given qualities and not a particular variety"! Imagine the possible consequences if this wisdom was to be widely adopted...... Chateau Cheval Blanc made from a blend of cinsault and gamay, Batard Montrachet from reichensteiner and muscadelle? The entire wine world would be turned on it's head.

The other defence argument was that “personne n’a été trompé, puisque tous savaient.” No one was conned, they say, because everybody along the chain knew about it, and nobody was harmed - except of course the poor end consumer who was paying for his pinot noir in good faith.

Apart from being totally unscrupulous and beyond belief, it does actually raise some fairly serious questions about the origins of wine, and it's authenticity. Even in our own region rumours abound as cheap wines appear on shop shelves despite the rising price of grapes, but of course this might be just petty jealousy or hearsay - you just never know.

The only thing that I can guarantee our own customers is that every bottle that leaves our cellar is 100% Albariño (our regulations dictate that it has to be 100% to mention the Albariño variety on the label). I therefore challenge anyone to carry out whatever tests, or tastings that they wish to prove otherwise.


  1. Hopefully that is true of Martin Codax also because their deal with E&J Gallo requires them to supply albarino in record quantities for that bodega.

  2. in NZ (and possibly Australia too) there can legally be up to 15% of another varietal in te wine without having to disclose it. doesnt seem right really...

  3. Two replies here - firstly to Steve at the Spanish Table in Seattle.
    There is no doubt that the volume requirements of Gallo have put an enormous strain on grape supply in our denominacion. The first effect is quite simply that grape prices have been forced up, perhaps artificially.
    Secondly, if grape supply is short, this could potentially encourage unscrupulous producers to source from elsewhere....

    To Kirk at Sandihurst.
    I agree that it does not seem right, but from who's point of view?
    From the point of view of the producer as he is forced to disclose even a small percentage of a second grape variety? Or, unfair for the consumer who should be given all information about the varieties used?
    My own thought is that the system we have here in Rias Baixas is not bad - if the wine is 100% Albarino, then put that on the label. If it is made from a blend of grapes, then simply inform the consumer.
    I guess the question is, where do you disclose details of the blend? In the 'headline' variety on the front label, or is it sufficient just to mention it in the small print of the back label?
    Certainly I believe that the consumer should be informed, after all, we now disclose every single ingredient in food, so why not in wine?