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Thursday Thorns
Stop The Music—I Can Name That Clone In Three Numbers

By Charles Olken

Here are four directions in wine that I would like to see stopped before they get out of hand.

I absolutely agree that choice of clone in many varieties is essential, and, for those in the know, being able to have the clone or clones identified is of great interest. If you push me, I will admit that I happen to like Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon and Old Wente Clone Chardonnay. I would love to tell you which Pinot Noir clones I like but there are too many to remember and so many wines are blends of clones that knowing the names of the multiple choices named on the back label is simply beyond my need to know.

So, please, winemakers, keep experimenting with clones, but also please, stop telling me that your single-vineyard, terroir-driven this or that is the product of six clones and expect me to care.

Is this too curmudgeonly of me? I like the look of old head-trained vines. And I like the empirical evidence that suggests such vines produce reasonable but not excessive crops and ripen their grapes to physiological maturity at lower sugars. Lower sugars mean better balance and less dried fruit. Paul Draper explains that Ridge will only use this pruning system for its grapes because he likes the results. The fact that he also insists on old vines adds to the chances that his winery will continue to lead the Zinfandel quality tables.

We taste wines blind, but these days, when we smell a wine with excess sulfur dioxide, the gassy preservative added at bottling to almost every wine, we then find that most of them have been bottled with screwcap closures. The idea of screwcaps for wine storage does not offend intellectually. Any closure that protects the wine, mostly does not mess it up and allows it age as gracefully as the base cuvee permits is 100% acceptable. Cork is not perfect, and for a period of time, it was so imperfect that folks invented plastic imitations, glass and silicone alternatives and resorted to the very screwcaps that were once reserved for inexpensive wines. Our findings are totally anecdotal. We don’t keep track of preferences, but we do notice that screwcapped wines, and we are not tasting cheap wines, tend to be more possessed of chemical off-notes than cork-finished wines. It is time for a handful of wineries to run longitudinal experiments to determine once and for all which is worse—cork taint at the rate of 1% or excess sulfur dioxide at a much higher rate.


I can guess the clones in a Pinot Noir a lot faster than I can find the alcohol statements on labels these days. Wineries will tell you that they are just following the law in the various forms, styles and placements of the alcohol statement. And I agree. For the most part, they are.

Your government allows the required alcohol statement to be printed in tiny print and to be placed sideways on labels or on the back label or almost any place the winery wants. Most wineries are fairly straightforward with their meeting of the law and in their attempts to be up front with their customers.

But, there is a reason why one of our tasters shows up with a magnifying glass. It is not to read any other part of the label but the alcohol statement. And, folks, it is getting worse out there because the anti-alcohol forces have scared some wineries into levels of subterfuge. I can name the clones of Pinot Noir when they are printed on the label because the wineries do so when they want me, and you, to know. It is time for alcohol labeling to come front and center and be as easy to read as the clonal nomenclature. Otherwise, it might as well be tossed out altogether. Come to think of it, maybe that would stop the “if it not under 14%, I won’t drink it” crowd dead in its tracks. They would have to taste wines, not read labels to know what they like.



by Steve Heimoff
Posted on:1/12/2012 10:40:33 AM

I'm going out to buy a magnifying glass right now! You'd laugh out loud watching me try to find that ABV number on the label. Turning the bottle upside down, sideways, squinting. It's like Where's Waldo.

the fine print
by John
Posted on:1/12/2012 5:00:40 PM

TTB is actually very specific about the alcohol statement. It does have to be on the front label. On bottles 375mL and larger the type has to be at least 2mm high. Admittedly that's less than 0.10" but it is about 10pt in most fonts, and bigger than the font I'm typing this in just now. Incidentally the mandatory text can be no more closely-spaced the 25 characters per inch (including spaces).

What's changed is that TTB is no longer checking labels submitted for approval for compliance with the type size requirement. I've seen some labels that are so ludicrously far out of compliance that if the producer ever runs foul of TTB on any other matter their entire production will have to be pulled from shelves and re-labeled.

Fine Print
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:1/13/2012 9:56:05 AM

I was pouring at our tasting yesterday and upon being asked the alcohol on two of the wines I had to search....and search and they were both on the back label mushed up with the government warning stuff.

Alcohol MIA on labels
by Laura Ness
Posted on:1/15/2012 4:42:08 PM

Charlie - thanks for bringing this up. It's a bane of a wine writer's existence! Even with glasses on, it's like searching for keys at the bottom of my purse. I'm going to remind people that alc belongs on the front labels, period.

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