An interesting renewal of an old discussion point emerged on Twitter recently. Richard Rowe of the KWV said it is “Disappointing to see the South African Platter Guide referring to Sherry, for our own grown wines”. It was accompanied by a photograph of Platter 2014 with a sticker on it saying “now with brandy and sherry-style wines”. There is, of course, a world of difference between referring to “sherry” and referring to “sherry-style wines” – but it seems that Richard (and later Harry Haddon, and possibly a whole lot of others whose tweets I didn’t see) don’t approve of any invocation of the S-word.
Harry says it shows the “industry’s lack of imagination”, and points out that the local bubbly industry uses MCC rather than “champagne-style”. It’s a valid point of course, though I’m pretty sure many bubbly producers would still be keen to indicate “champagne-style” if they were allowed to, and many still do refer to the champagne method “unofficially” to make clear what they are doing.
Local producers of “Sherry” and “Port” are similarly debarred from references to the European areas which were originally associated with those fortified wines, but they are allowed to use traditional sub-stylistic names, prefixed by “Cape”: Cape Tawny, Cape Vintage, Cape Medium Cream, etc. I don’t know if the patriotic purists would like to see that practice abandoned too.
Of course, there are very few “sherry-style” wines in South Africa (forgive me, until something better is offered I don’t know how else to characterise them), and they have little prestige, I’d say, so it doesn’t seem an urgent matter to dream up some new generic name that probably would never catch on anyway. On the other hand, there are hundreds of classically-produced sparkling wines, so the chance of a meaningful new generic name was made rather easier. What the producers of “port-style” wines (a medium-sized category, but with plenty of prestige) have done is to stick to the rules on the labels, but elsewhere refer to the style of wine as, generically, port. They remain, for example, the SA Port Producers Association.
That seems to me entirely acceptable, and evidence of a sensible recognition of the realities of the market rather than evidence of a lack of imagination. I think, given that those European areas did invent internationally-know styles, producers (and wine guides!) should be allowed to invoke them, even if potentially misleading labels are outlawed.
I was, in fact, rather bemused by Richard Rowe’s apparent suggestion that it was Platter which was at fault for invoking the S-word, soI went to see how his company, the KWV, handles the matter of their fortified wines other than jerepigos/muscadels. Rather confusingly, to my mind, in fact. Ports and sherries (my words, please forgive once more) are given the now customary designations: Cape Ruby, Cape Tawny, Cape Medium Cream, Cape Full Cream and Cape Pale Dry (I don’t think “Cape” is legally necessary for the sherry styles). However, at the bottom of each of the pages describing those last three is a paragraph about sherry. So it seems that even Richard’s own company finds it necessary to refer to the original stuff, and that there’s more good work for him to do there, to add to what he’s already achieved!
Incidentally, there’s actually even stranger stuff about the KWV trio. All three are prominently referred to on their labels as “dessert wine” (I’d have thought “fortified dessert wine” would be a more useful categorisation). They are all sweetened – by the addition of a good whack of jerepigo, rather than by sweet sherry as would be the traditional method. The Medium Cream has nearly 100 grams per litre of residual sugar, the Full Cream has 134! But at a mere 14g/l, it’s hard to see the Pale Dry as a dessert wine, surely? Though, frankly, it’s even harder to see it as “dry” (although sugar levels up to 30g/l are allowed for this category by the strange Regulations attached to the Liquor Product Act).
The case of brandy
An interesting variation on the generic naming thing is a possible new name for South African pot-still brandy. This is in the context where most “brandy” in the world is not even made from grapes (molasses would be more common). Let alone has most brandy been made in the traditional alembic still (this latter aspect is true also in South Africa, and everywhere except Cognac). It would be very useful for building the international image of South Africa’s world-class pot-still brandies if it could have a recognised name distinguishing it from the rubbish that (outside Europe and South Africa) is the dominant user of the name “brandy”.
Much as Cognac is not called brandy – and has even managed to get itself judged all by itself in most international competitions. So, South African producers would like to solve this problem more fundamentally than just by invoking the “pot-still” prefix. I’m sure it would be preferable to work internationally on this, for the sake of impact, and come up with a term that could be used by non-Cognac producers of Cognac-style brandy in Europe, as well as the ambitious makers of pot-still grape brandy in other countries round the world. But I daresay that would be too tough a proposition, so we’re more likely to see a home-grown, home-specific term invented. When? Who knows, but I hope it’ll be sooner than later.