13 mars 2009

The pros & cons of European wine-blends

One novelty included in the European Commission’s Wine Reform Plan is the possibility to blend wines from different countries within the Union. This has recently been advocated in Brussels by Michael Mann, the Agriculture Commissioner’s spokesman, as a means to counter the growing success of New World wines.
Australians producers do not hesitate to mix wines from zones thousands kilometres apart within the country, or even with New Zealand wines. So the EU, under pressure of big European wine groups, wants to give its producers the opportunity to do the same, so that they can compete on the international markets.

Opposition from without and within

Of course, this “europinard” (europlonk), as its opponents call it, is not welcomed by the appellation wine producers. Their representatives say it will cause a decrease in the global quality level, and endanger the image of European wine, as a whole, in the public. They also point out that this kind of products should not be able to bear a vintage year or variety name on their labels (indeed, European wines which are not produced within an appellation cannot, today).
Christian Paly, president of the French Confederation of AOC wine  producers (CNAOC) recommends that the European exporters fight with their most efficient weapons: quality and differentiation, instead of “lowering” their offer.
Big operators (cooperatives, shippers) are not convinced by these arguments and call for a more liberal approach, stating the new opportunity does not prevent AOC producers to go on selling their wines. The “two tier system” they defend is nothing new: table wine and vin de pays (which is nothing else than table wine with an origin) have been playing the “liberal approach” for years. The new, less restrictive regulations would only give them more flexibility.

In this new system, national Vins de Pays (Vin de Pays de France, Viñedos de España) would be legal (which they are not today), and the next step – blends of Italian, French, Spanish, German wines – would be the next step. Only if there is an economic advantage in doing so, of course. For some elements have to be taken into consideration like taxes, excises, and transportation costs…
More surprisingly, perhaps, opposition to the euroblends also comes from within: all Vins de Pays producers are not encouraging this move: Vin de Pays d’Oc, for one, fears euroblends, or even French blends, will bring a new, unwelcome competition to them, not only on the international market, for the end products, but also at the production level: some Oc producers could prefer to sell their wines to “euroblenders”, especially if their wines do not meet the standards of Vin de Pays d’Oc. A new demand for very basic (and interchangeable) varietal wine could emerge and destabilize the vin de pays markets.

Quality and origin

This debate should not be phrased in philosophical terms, between supporters of “good” (read: appellation) or “bad” (read: blended) wines. Rather in consumption terms.
First, the Appellations have never been able to prove they could guarantee the quality of their production. To do so, they should expel so many plonk producers within their ranks that the whole system would fall down to pieces.
Second, quality is a very subjective thing – what Jancis Robinson, Robert Parker or Michel Bettane advocate as quality wines is often terra incognita to the majority of wine drinkers, whose notion of “good wine” simply means “easy to drink, no hang-over”.
Supermarkets (that sell roughly 60% of all wines consumed in Europe) know this phenomenon and use the quality wines, the prestigious labels as attracting elements on their shelves, expecting them, not so much to sell, but to reassure their customers as to the overall “relevance” of their selection. As one Belgian buyer says: “No one buys our Clos de Vougeot, but it surely helps selling the Passe-tout-grains, and even the table wine. People think that if we are able to select such great, expensive bottles, they will take advantage of our expertise, even when they buy cheap wines, more adapted to their means, but also to their relation to wine. Many people still see wine as a complicated world, and welcome simply marketed offers – which does not mean they want the old fashioned world of Appellation wines to disappear, for it has a reassuring effect on them, and they have not abandoned all hope of being able to integrate it”.

“All begins with the consumer”

Some may think this debate is already exhausted, out-of-date. That we must take the world of wine as it is, and not as it should be. Offer and demand do not always meet – hence the stocks of unsold wines, both in the Appellations or outside.  Origin and quality are only two parameters in a broader matrix.
I remember talking with Mark Schiettekat (Mafribel/Winco), some years ago.
This cunning Belgian agent, purveyor of wine to the on-trade as to the retail trade, had set up a new business under the Mare Nostrum label, with which he tried to find out and market the best available qualities from Mediterranean region, and should the need arise, to blend them, to answer their clients’ respective demands: “All must begin with the customer, with a good identification of its needs. Recently, we have found very good garnachas in DO Campo de Borja and DO Calatayud, but the quantity we needed we could not get from one area alone. Also, our oenologist thought mingling the two would add more complexity to the final product. So we decided to blend them. Same varietals, same country, same region (Aragon), we did not expect so much resistance from the authorities and the cooperatives we were working with. But they just could not admit the concept. It had never been done before. And the idea of marketing a good product as table wine (which it had to be, because of the blend) did not fit in their mind-frame. The fact that our oenologist was right, that the product gained in being blended, the fact that we opened a new market for them, that we knew it was what our client wanted, all this did not seem to count.”
Of course, that was several years ago, and the need to sell is bigger, so the reaction might be different today. But resistance there surely still is.
Tradition, how many bad wines have been made in your name… and how many have been distilled and subsidised by the EU?

Anyway, the Commission seems poised for liberalisation, a partial dismantling of the legal “straightjacket”. And who can tell what pleasure the customers will get from a “tempranillo-melnik” from Spain and Bulgaria, or a “veltliner-alvarinho” from Austria and Portugal? The proof of the “Europlonk” will be in the drinking, then in the selling, not in the thinking.

Hervé Lalau

14:01 Écrit par Hervé Lalau dans Vins de tous pays | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) | | | |

12 mars 2009

Etude CANCERALCOOL: les résultats

Les résultats de l'étude CANCERALCOOL ont été présentés hier par Domlnique Lanzman dans le cadre d'un colloque organisé par l'INRA et l'Association Nationale pour la Recherche.

Voici la conclusion générale de cette étude - très bien documentée -  qui porte sur la consommation de boissons alcoolisées (vin, bière et alcools forts) et la mortalité par différents types de cancers sur une cohorte de 100.000 sujets suivie depuis 25 ans en région Lorraine.

"A dose modérée, < 0,7 g d’alcool/kg poids chez l’homme : nous ne mettons pas en évidence d’augmentation significative du risque de mortalité par cancer; pour les hommes qui préfèrent le vin, nous observons une diminution significative du risque de mortalité par cancer des voies aérodigestives supérieures et du poumon.

Chez la femme, nous ne mettons pas en évidence d’augmentation significative du risque de mortalité par cancer <0,3 g/kg de poids sans avoir pu mettre en évidence de relation avec la préférence vin."

Voila qui tranche sur les résultats de la "méta-étude" diffusée récemment par l'INCa!

Et encore, comme le remarque notre ami Pierre Leclerc, dans l'étude CANCERALCOOL, les écarts de résultats observés entre "vin" et "alcool" (c'est à dire toutes boissons alcoolisées mélangées) sont écrasés par le fait que  le groupe "vin" inclue des Lorrains qui consomment jusqu'à 49 % de leur consommation d'alcool sous forme de bières et/ou alcools forts. Et chez lesquels la proportion de blancs (pauvres en polyphénols) dans la consommation de vin est particuliérement élevée.

On peut raisonnablement penser qu'une étude du même genre effectuée sur des sujets pour lesquels le vin rouge représente une plus grosse part de la conosmmation totale d'alcool permettarit de mettre en évidence des effets plus favorables.


C'est bon à savoir... et à faire savoir autour de vous.

08:06 Écrit par Hervé Lalau dans Vins de tous pays | Tags : vin, cancer | Lien permanent | Commentaires (1) | | | |