Wine Fundamentals: French Generic Wine Labeling vs. Australian Wine Labeling and the Impact of Grape Variety Disclosure on Restaurant Success
Introduction to Wine
The world of wine is exceedingly complicated, and to a layman, can appear equally overwhelming. Regardless of one's own proficiency with wine, a relative fact remains true to anyone who wishes to drink it -- the bottle's label provides a gateway into what the customer is purchasing by providing the relative information necessary for a consumer to make a purchase choice. With so many options between red and white, still and sparkling, vintage and reserve, choosing a wine, especially for a casual buyer, can become a bit daunting. It is essential, then, for as much information as possible to be provided to that buyer.
Generic wine labels in France have no grape varieties printed, while varietal wine labels in Australia include the grape variety printed on the label. In viewing the differences between each kind of wine, one can better understand how this disclosure in labeling could negatively or positively affect guests and staff in a restaurant. Further, in viewing the discrepancy in labeling, there are certain steps a restaurant manager can take to address the issue and better provide accurate labeling and information regarding the wines served in a restaurant to patrons. In viewing the differences in each wine and the disclosure methods found in France and Australia, one can better understand what information is essential to the customer as well as how this information's disclosure can do nothing but benefit both the restaurant serving these wines as well as the customer alike.
French Generic Wine Labels
Throughout most of Europe, including France, wines are identified only by the bottle's regional name and not by the names of the grape variety used in them. These wines are known as generic wines, and they include such noted varieties as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beajolais, Rija, Rheingau and Mosel (Kohn, 1988, pp.1). French wines, known by their geographical location or "appellation," despite their lacking information regarding grape variety, are known for their standard of quality across Europe, and each bottle and its standard of production excellence are controlled by the Appellation d'Origine Controlle or AOC, which sets standards for the quality of wine in Europe, ranging from Vins Delimtes de Qualite Superieure (VDQS, the best quality) to Vinsde pays (country wines), to Vins Ordinarires (ordinary wine) (Brown, 2011, pp.1). With this system widely used throughout Europe, European consumers benefit from a knowledge that comes with living in a certain geographical area and engaging in its practices. However, for consumers purchasing outside of Europe, this understanding of "local wines" is no longer local and leaves these consumers at a disadvantage.
As such, it is essential to understand the basics of generic wines beyond their standards and basic definition and into what defines them. The generic wine label and its basic understanding related to geography is its "Terroir." According to the AOC system, terroir is the interaction of soil, topography, growing conditions and climate that give wine grapes their unique character which are specific to a particular region (Robinson, 2006, pp. 693). This basic information provides consumers the opportunity to delve into the backgrounds and intricacies of the wine they are drinking in order to fully immerse themselves into the experience of that wine back to its roots, which provides a richer educational experience than what usually stems from drinking varietal wine.
Australian Varietal Wine Labels
In the realm of wine, "variety" simply refers to a type of grape, and "varietal" wine is one that is made up primarily of a particular variety of grape, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot (Wine Pros, 2011, pp.1). Varietal wines, and their respective labeling systems, eliminate the need for further education and depict in a straightforward manner exactly the types of grapes that are being used in any bottle of wine. Countries who employ this type of labeling, such as Australia, have carved a niche in the market in terms of varietals in that each respective country sees a large consumer market in this area of wine distribution. Australia, for example, has virtually completed a three-decades long transition from labeling by wine style to a varietal system (Wine Larder, 2012, pp.1). While this has been done, presumably in response to pressure from the EU and France in particular, this transition has paved the way for growing interest among Australian consumers for specialized alternative varietals like Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo (Wine Larder, 2012, pp.1).
Varietal wines reach a considerable market of newcomers to the world of wine, in that they offer specific details that generic wines do not, making the experience of delving into wines less of a risk. For individuals who are looking to purchase a bottle of wine, understanding the grape variety has a considerably more straightforward quality than being given solely information regarding a wine's geographical location of production. As such, varietal wines maintain a considerable base in the realm of newcomers to wine, as with any new experience comes the desire for new information.
Negative and Positive Impacts of Labeling
As the wine label is essentially the only source of information that a restaurant patron has in order to make an educated decision regarding a purchase, the label is the most important resource that a customer has in order to make their choice and subsequent purchase. In viewing generic wine labeling, one can understand that the producer of these wines expect that customers can and will identify the grapes contained in a wine by simply viewing the wine's respective geography. Just as "Champagne" evokes a mental image in the minds of many individuals, including those who do not drink, producers implore consumers to educate themselves in a way that allows for this type of mental image to evoke certain regions simply through basic labeling. This experience is far different than the effects of reading a varietal wine label, which provides a more straightforward experience to the consumer.
While the maintaining of both generic and varietal wines in a restaurant can positively affect both guests and staff in the realm of variety, without the proper knowledge-base of the entire restaurant staff in terms of wine selection, a generally positive restaurant quality could turn sour. In order to maintain a positive quality in terms of wine distribution within a restaurant, staff must be not only educated but experienced in the realm of the wines which are offered. For instance, a new customer who is looking to try a new type of dry red wine, will likely look to the restaurant's menu for a suggestion, and not gleaning much information from the menu, will then look to the restaurant staff for the final word. Should a member of the restaurant staff not be able to answer a customer's questions or steer them in the right direction, that restaurant stands to lost business. Overall, regardless of the wine's labeling, staff must maintain consistent and relevant knowledge regarding the restaurant's selection.
As a restaurant manager, it is essential to design the wine menu in a way that fully explains to the customer what he or she will be purchasing and subsequently consuming. Further, in understanding the discrepancies that exist between labels and knowledge, it remains the manager's duty to educate his or her staff as well as the customers.
While a wine list could provide merely the information contained on the bottles' labels, the listing of a wine's geography, grape variety, and basic qualities, provided by the restaurant, can likely boost sales and increase customer satisfaction. In doing so, a manager must ensure that his or her staff is fully acquainted with the wine list in a manner that is just as thorough as an understanding of food preparation and menu selection. A…