Indigenous names for European styles

platter 2014-bAn 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.

KWV pale dry1I 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.

14 thoughts on “Indigenous names for European styles

  1. Hi Tim,

    You may be aware of the horrendous attempts Australia has made to deal with this issue.

    Tokay now is known as Topaque.

    Sherry is now Apera.

    Both are disasters.

    Cheers, d.

  2. Dear David, thanks for this enlightenment. I was blissfully unaware of this development. It's now a little clearer why you've moved to Cape Town. Australians, I'm told, are good at cricket and "opaque" is what I thought they prided themselves on their shirazes as being. Topaque. Yes, well, how did they come up with that? Not to mention Apera. I don't know if these are what Mr Rowe, himself of the Australian persuasion, thinks of as great alternatives. But I'd stick with "sherry-style" for the time being.

    • Dear Timothy,

      I believe the process was very similar to the one just undertaken by your beloved city’s council to redesign and launch their logo.

      Over-funded, under-researched and poorly communicated.

      Got to love a committee.

      Wonder if you’d be so accepting of a Spanish brandy labelled as “South African Pot Still-style”? Or of an inferior wine blog being referred to as “Tim James-style”?


  3. MY beloved council? Huh? (Or do you mean my beloved city, which has a little more point to it.) And come on David, be realistic, your examples are nonsense. Even an Oz should be able to come up with better than that. 🙂 What you been drinkin’ or smokin’? Anyway, I’d be too flattered to object if anyone thought my blog had a distinctive style, let alone one worth explicitly copying. More to the point, I don’t much believe in intellectual property. And the struggle over these names is not, I fear, about integrity – it’s about property, capital, control, money.

    • Of course they are nonsense! That is exactly my point.

      I agree that it is about control and cash. But I also think that (whether you “believe” in it or not) intellectual property and perceived integrity is being defended.

      A top producer based in Jerez, should not have to compete with a product coming from elsewhere that doesn’t adhere to the same rules of production, labelling, etc. being sold as “Sherry” (a name, among other things, tied to a place). And yes, I understand that you can easily see the difference between “Sherry” and “sherry-styled”, but I fear most do not.

      Granted, not an ideal situation, and one for which I sadly do not have a remedy.

      cheers, d

      ps. also, please read what is written: “your beloved city’s council” and not what you think is written: “your beloved council”.

  4. How did they come up with Apera? Think of having a glass of Sherry as an aperitif!
    Topaque has a similarity in sound and look to Tokay. They spend a long time finding alternative names and, though strange at first, we’ll come used to them. Actually, it was strange to me to call the sweet fortified muscats from Rutherglen ‘Tokay’ because – apart from sweetness – there isn’t a similarity to Hungarian Tokaj with which I am more familiar.

    • Yes, they tell us it was a play on “aperitif”.

      I think they thought it more like Tokaji than Sauternes – possibly the only 2 sweet wine “styles” known at the time. Guessing really.


  5. We can surely think of many suitable expressions to replace Sherry style wines in SA :
    Flor-driven, ullage style, Perpetual non-vintage etc.

    Whether “Jerez-style” or “non-ouille” style I assume that we will be seeing quite a few of these, in small production…

  6. I love the phrase “perpetual non-vintage”, whether or not it’s useful! (One can get vintage sherry, though it’s rare.) Very few such wines these days, Cristini (there were hundreds in the 1960s). And none of any seriousness. Even the real thing, some of the world’s greatest wines, is a shrinking category.

  7. Agreed, although with people like Antonio Flores, Jesus Barquin and Peter Liem turning the desire for vitamin B into somewhat of a frenzy in some parts, it is bound (hopefully?) to infect some of SA’s Mavericks. Not to mention that it is great for keeping volatile acidity to a minimum.

    Much of vintage Sherry is made in oxidative & sweeter styles as opposed to non-vintage biological & dry styles, we could classify any local examples in the dessert/fortified wine category, could we not?
    Conversation about an ever shrinking category indeed.

  8. You’re right about the local mavericks, Tista. Adi Badenhorst has been infected, and already made some flor-influenced wine, and would love to do full-blown sherry styles. Let’s hold thumbs!

  9. Just to be a pedant, can I add that if a sherry is vintage-dated, it has to be in the oxidative style, as a fino requires constant refreshment of new alcohol via a solera in order to maintain the flor. On another note and if we’re going to whinge about SA sherry-styles, I really wish we could lose the legislation which allows us to label a wine as an Oloroso if it has (and I quote) ‘discernible flor-yeast character’. Which is just plain nuts (probably with some toffee and coffee notes as well). SA sherry/sherry-style wines/whatever are so far away from the Spanish versions, it is always a source of amazement and then revulsion and disgust when my students taste a proper sherry for the first time. If we can’t get it closer to what it is meant to be – should we even bother trying?

  10. Thanks Cathy. Your pedantry is of course correct – though of course a vintage sherry could have started its life under flor, and developed into an amontillado, thus showing both biological and oxidative characters. And of course the local legislation is absurd. As to quality, I disagree slightly. Essentially, I think, a few “Cream Sherry” styles are now made here, and are reasonably good of that type (and made approximately correctly) – certainly not worthy of “revulsion”, unless you think all Cream Sherries are worthy of revulsion. Anyway, hardly anyone bothers trying.

    • Actually, the revulsion and disgust is for the Spanish sherries!! Youngsters raised on Old Brown Sherry have a heck of a time getting their tastebuds around a Lustau Fino or even an Oloroso!

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