A trade agreement with the EU is about to take hold, imposing a ban on the use of geographic names of some producers. Ben Canaider investigates what it means for us.
Most of us are used to referring to our obligatory celebratory bubbles as ‘sparkling white’ or the more mysterious ‘fume blanc’—unless we can afford the real French version, of course. But it was a traumatic change for many champagne drinkers when the new labelling requirements for generic wine varieties were introduced in the mid-‘90s.
Now, it’s happening again, with a new trade agreement looming that stipulates we will not be able to call port ‘port’ anymore. See, port belongs to the Portuguese—where it originally comes from. Therefore, this and other fortified wine styles that Australia has now been so long making under previously generic monikers will have to find a new tag. We’ll also soon have to say goodbye to sherry. And tokay—thanks to a last-minute deal done by recent EU members, Hungary. Hungarian tokay is a classic wine. Australian tokay is a classic wine, too; but now we have to re-name it, because it’s just not “tokay”, tokay. Tokay is a noun belonging exclusively to Hungary. So, it’s the Champagne argument all over again.
Sommeliers think these exacting standards of nomenclature are good; your average drinker in the street or bar thinks it is confusing. Frankly, I’m more interested in what we are going to do next.
Our federal government has stepped in to help, granting $500,000 to a new names committee. This committee represents the entire wine-making nation, and the first thing it did was appoint a marketing and research company to find out what people thought might be good new names for port, tokay and sherry. It’s important to remember that at the same time as these wines styles need re-naming, they are also suffering ever-dwindling sales and consumption figures.
So the committee is using the opportunity not only to re-name the wines, but also re-launch them. It is a good double-use of $500,000.
The new names need to not only sum up what these wine styles are about, but also ones that are appealing to an all-too-quickly disappearing drinking audience.
Up until now, we’ve only really had a single suggestion: one big national wine company offered ‘Fortified Dry Australian Red Wine’ as the new and incredibly sexy name for port. Clearly there is some work to be done. So, for what it is worth, I’ve outlined some of my own suggestions…
Drinks like port have not been so popularly consumed in Australia now for some time. Their heyday was back in the 1930s; by the mid-‘60s their consumption had dropped to the same levels of the still relatively undiscovered drink called table wine. So in trying to revive the spirits of fortified wines in this country, I think it only proper to rename with respect and reference to their glory years.
One way to do this might be with use of old currency denominations. Sherry styles such as fino, amontillado, and oloroso would become Halfpenny Clear, Thrupence Amber, and Six-Penny Gold, for example. Port could be given back the name it used to wear so shamelessly in Melbourne’s dodgy 1930s wine saloons: Two-Penny Dark. The use of the old money monikers brings with it a sense of local time and place, particularly if we were to try and incorporate some of that currency’s colloquial usages. ‘Zac’, for instance, was the nickname for a sixpence.
More colloquial and certainly more quaint Aussie appellations could include the use of popular pre-war names.
These loveable old names will bring a sense of tradition and informality to our favourite wines, so that fino might be renamed Edna; amontillado could become Elsie; and oloroso would be known as Euna…
Of course, other linguistic and cultural signposts could be employed in the renaming game—I’ve long wanted to rename Vintage Port ‘Vee Pee’, for example. Tokay screams out to be renamed ‘Okay’, which would really stick it up the EU Fun Police. And why couldn’t—excluding copyright provisions, of course—muscat be called the Magic Pudding? Similarly, sherry, as a general term, could hint at our own early geographical names, in the form of ‘Australixia’.
An obvious advantage of this historical and social angle is the need for explanatory back labels. This should be educative—
not just with regard to wine, but also to our country’s recent drinking history.
Anyway, that’s my tuppence-worth. Meanwhile, stock up on a few of the best old generic names before all our beloved fortifieds go quasi-decimal.