|July 05, 2006|
|Why organize wines by country or region?|
|Why not by grape variety, style or price?|
Every two weeks the LCBO publishes a catalogue of wines to be released at Vintages stores. Until recently, the catalogue was easy to follow. It listed the new wines mainly by country and/or region, with the exception of separate categories for fortified wines, sparkling wines, and so on. In other words, the catalogue pretty much mirrored the way wines are organized in the LCBO and Vintages.
Recently, though, the catalogue has taken on a post-modern look and organization. For example, the catalogue for the June 24 release starts with a feature on Portuguese table and fortified wines, then has a feature on international white wines that include Chardonnay and Riesling as well as obscure varieties like Arneis and Falanghina.
Most of the rest of the catalogue is ordered by country/region, in this order: U.S.A., Argentina, Chile, Australia, South Africa, Austria, France, Italy. I guess the principle is: The Americas, The Rest of the New World, and finally The Old World.
I suppose any ordering is open to question, but why not just list these countries alphabetically?
A broader question is how wine ought to be arranged, whether in the catalogue or on shelves. The country/region of origin seems an obvious choice, but there's nothing natural about it. Wines could be arranged by grape variety or blend. Or they could be presented in terms of style: light-bodied whites over to your left, full-bodied reds to the right.
You can see the options if you look through a few restaurant wine lists. Some list by country/region of production, others by grape variety. "Progressive" lists rank the wines by weight and texture, generally starting with the lighter styles and moving to heavier. Others seem to be entirely random -- at least, I can't see any order in them -- although no list I've seen integrates white and red wines. That, it seems, is a more fundamental distinction than place of origin.
There are also wine lists that show wines by price, starting with the least expensive. Now that's a method the LCBO could play with: shelves for wines up to $9.95, shelves for $10 to $11.95 bottles, and so on.
The big question, I suppose, is how people shop for wine. What's in the mind of the average customer at the LCBO? I suspect they know whether they want a white or a red, a sparkling or a still, a dry-ish wine or a sweet fortified or dessert wine. But do they come in with a particular country or region in mind? If not, why organize the wines that way?
I suspect there really is no "average" customer, that they range from the brand-loyal people who buy the same wine time after time, to the adventurous who try something new every time. In the middle are the fans of a particular country, region, or grape variety.
No single organization of wine will accommodate everyone, but I wonder how you feel about the current country-based system. Let me know your approach to buying wine (e-mail address below), and I'll report the findings in a later column.
Four wines today: two whites, two reds; one from Spain, one from California, one from Australia, one from South Africa; one single varietal, three blends.
Campo Viejo Rioja Crianza 2003 A blend that's mainly Tempranillo, this Rioja delivers very nice aromas and flavours of red fruit (plums, cherry) with some spiciness and a hint of vanilla. It's medium-bodied and well-balanced and goes well with pork tenderloin. Alcohol 13 per cent; $13.95 (620997).
Delicato Merlot 2004 If you like reds that are chock full of ripe dark fruit, almost to the point of jamminess, you'll like this California Merlot. Sweet ripe fruit, nice structure, and a good partner to grilled lamb chops. Alcohol 13.5 per cent; $11.95 (520148).
Kumala Chenin Blanc Chardonnay 2005 Light-bodied and fruity, this South African blend is an excellent summer sipper or partner to grilled white fish. Look for sweet tropical fruit flavours and a clean, refreshing texture. Alcohol 12.5 per cent; $6.45 (572867).
Peter Lehmann 'Weighbridge' Semillon Chardonnay 2003 The aromas are all lemon-lime, and they come through as flavours with added layers of peach and grapefruit. Nicely structured, medium-bodied, clean and crisp, this is great with grilled seafood and a squeeze of lemon. Alcohol 12.5 per cent; $11.95 (610717).
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