Why "traditional" wine is inherently bullshit

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/11/18/why-traditional-wine-is-inherently-bullshit.html


That’s interesting; I’ve often wondered why there’s no red champagne type wines just pink & white. So it’s just a fashion thing then? Figures.


Came for the champagne, only got to try the sparkling isolation. Was not disappointed.


I’ve had more than one bottle of Australian sparkling shiraz, which is lovely. Trouble is, it goes down like sparkling white, but packs a red-wine hangover.


Huh. I’ve not seen those. Mind you, I’m not generally a fan of most Aussie wine. It all tastes like it’s had cheap ice cream stirred into it. The fancier ones are good, mind, but they’re fancy prices, innit?


A lot of it is: Prosecco, Saumur, Blanquette de Limoux, Asti …

But you could extend that argument beyond wine. Why does Scotch have to come from Scotland? Why is it only bourbon if it’s American?

Part of the answer is, of course, protectionism for the producers. But another part is that people, rightly or wrongly, enjoy having things from particular places because they’re from those places, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that it’s wrong to deceive them about the origin of their purchases.

Champagne is from Champagne. Californian sparkling wine is from California. If you prefer the latter, and you can get it cheaper because it doesn’t have the fancy name, more power to you.


Thing is there are. Italy makes a bunch of different sparkling reds, there’s Red Cava, and New World wineries like to make sparkling reds especially anywhere that’s good at growing red varieties of grape.

The fashion end comes in with why those aren’t more popular and why other sparkling wines don’t have the cache of Champagne. Champagne was known as a white region going pretty far back, so there’s a practical root for why Champagne itself tends to be white or pink. But the rest of it is all glitz and glam. It’s not any better than other sparkling wines from France or other nations, though it is significantly more expensive.


Another aspect of this that the post kind of missed, is that those particular products developed based on regional agriculture (and the land and weather’s impact on quality) local taste and custom and the technology available at the time they were “snapshotted” into broader cultural awareness. Champagne became synonymous with quality and eventually protected because the grape varieties used and the manner in which they were grown and handled were unparalleled in quality and taste. The same is true for Camembert Cheese, Tellicherry Pepper, the Czech Pilsner and the Baguette du Perche.

The fact that salespeople and “connoisseurs” manipulate or misunderstand the information doesn’t discount the fact that many of the things we know by place name got their reputation by merit. They were then commodified and adulterated because there was money to be had. However, that doesn’t mean that there is no merit in these terms, it just means you shouldn’t trust salespeople.

ETA: … or bloggers! (except for bOing bOing crew, of course :wink:)


I have two kids who have been home-schooling for months.

The whine in my house is typically of the “I’m tired”, “I don’t want to log into my Chromebook”, or the very, very rare but amazing variety of “Okay, I’ll do the dishes” vintage.


I mean, kind of. The reason champagne is well known is because they developed the techniques necessary to effectively bottle a sparkling wine (and they made fantastic wines). Sparkling simply means that the CO2 developed during fermentation was preserved via temperature control (methode champanoise) and bottled in a way that would allow it to retain that carbonation without spoiling (ie leaking past the cork and allowing oxygen to enter).


I thought this would be more about the production more than the categorization. Sure, categorization has effects that marketers and companies protecting their brands/territory use to create or increase product value. That the history is complicated and exclusive isn’t a surprise.

In the realm of criticism and competitions, that carries more weight. In regions where the number of new wineries has been increasing in the last 20 years, the focus is less on what’s labeled “old” vs. “new” and more about methods being used and how they affect the end result.


Sainsbury’s are currently selling one for £7.50.


Sure, if we’re being technical, then “champagne” is specifically sparkling wine from Champagne. But why? And who decides that that arbitrary technicality actually means anything of value? Why isn’t all sparkling wine named for its region of origin?

As other’s mentioned above, plenty of it is labelled that way. There’s no small amount of protectionism involved, but I think it’s also good for the consumer to know what they are getting and where it’s from. I’m sure there’s lots of bullshit (and money) involved, but there’s also a lot more to the appellation system than just geography, there are often rules about methods, processes and varieties, etc.

Living in France, it was funny to see things like AOC/AOP butter or chickens or sea salt (nevemind all the cheese…). I don’t know if the traditions they’re protecting are BS or not, but at least you know what you’re getting (those cows have this much springtime grass to munch on, or whatnot).

fun side note: I was lucky enough to drink a nice quantity of prosecco in a vineyard in Italy a few years back, and buying a couple of cases the owner told me if I wanted them with the appellation stickers on them, they’d be a couple more euros a bottle (I laughed and said I’d happily take them with no labels at all).


Aaaaah, that’d be it; Sainsbury’s is aaaaalllll the way over there and Morrisons is over the road :wink:


Yeah, I used to hear people say to me quite often “I don’t like Chardonnay, it’s too sweet”. I guess it was because Australians marketed wine by cépage rather than by region. Ironically Oz is too hot really for single varietal wines in my opinion and they should mix. Also NZ showed that you can break into marketing wine on region of origin even if you aren’t from Europe. Anyway chardonnay (in a Burgundy for example) is bone dry, and a brut blanc de blancs champagne is as dry as it gets.


Especially since they used to age the distilled product in sherry casks from France or Portugal. Personally I prefer the Japanese variant.


Champagne was well know before (deliberately) sparkling wine was made there, and the early history of it is a lot more complicated than the monks and only in Champagne story we usually get. Its also a hell of a lot more modern than we usually hear, with a concerted industry effort to develop practical, reliable ways to produce and package it. The British were the first to start working on the issue and developed the quality of glass and closure that made it possible, and the Italians and Spanish developed and adopted approaches pretty much in tandem with the French.

Champagne wasn’t even the only French wine region to go whole hog on it at the time.

Our associations of Champagne with class and expense come mostly from early fads for sparkling wine, and Champagne specifically among Royal Courts and landed nobility in the 19th century and similar subsequent fads like that of the American Golden age. It’s rooted in an emulation of wealth and class at specific points in the past.

And I don’t need a definition of sparkling wine or the Champagne method (which isn’t unique to Champagne, wasn’t developed in France, and isn’t called that outside Champagne). I’ve been a professional in the alcohol business for over a decade.


The fancy pants booze shop near me sells ‘scotch’ from India. It’s 200 quid a bottle.


Scottish distilleries will sell complete barrels bulk to blenders in other countries and this can often legally be labeled “Scotch Whiskey” since it is produced in Scotland. The Scottish have moved to ban or restrict the export of full barrels for that reason, though it does not seem to have stuck or been very effective.

India does distil whiskey locally, and some good ones. But the tendency is to label them “single malt” and use the Scottish spelling (Whisky) rather than labeling it “Scotch” in accordance with trade agreements, local laws and just respect for/industry stand off concerns about the EU protective designations.


Yeah I was just trying to explain the crux of Sligh’s argument. As a sommelier, he clearly understands and appreciates the actual regional histories and contexts that lead to these wines. But he also recognizes that there are some artificial barriers and categorizations that derive most of their value and meaning simply from the fact that they exist at all. I think it’s a good example of “learn the rules to break the rules.” Sligh is obviously not suggesting we ignore ALL geographic distinctions about wine. But rather, that there’s a history as to why these wine categories came up in the first place, and that “tradition” is not as immutable as we like to think. There’s certainly value in understanding the tradition, particularly as it relates to regions (and the many complexities that involves). But if you just uphold those barriers of tradition so that you can claim some secret knowledge, well, that’s not really helpful. Grapes and terroir DO make a difference, but people are people, no matter where they live.