Bordeaux “Style” vs. Bordeaux

Remember that agreement that was brought together last year between the U.S. and E.U. in which a variety of semi generic place names were finally declared off limits? This is the agreement that no longer allows most use of the following names for wine on an American label:



The idea is that if the wine you’ve made isn’t produced from grapes grown in Chablis, it shouldn’t be called "Chablis". Reasonable.

However, I just got word that one of my clients labels was turned down. And here’s why.

The wine they were looking to get label approval on was a Malbec. The front label simply said "Malbec", have the vintage and the appellation. The back label, in part, read this way:

"Malbec is one of the five red varieties traditionally used in Bordeaux wines."

The label was not approved because it was an inappropriate use of a place name from which the grapes that went into this wine did not originate.  Does this seem a little stringent? A little anal? A little over the top, even for a regulator? It does to me.

But hears the really wacky part of the story. Having spoken with a very knowledgeable compliance person I discovered that the label would have been approved had it read this way:

"Malbec is one of the five red varieties traditionally used in Bordeaux-style wines.

In neither case could the wording even approach the inference that the wine in the bottle is FROM Bordeaux. The version my compliance expert friend suggested was likely to be approved changes the meaning from Malbec being a grape often used by those who make wines from Bordeaux to Malbec being a grape often used by those who make wines they want to taste like traditional Bordeaux wines.

I’m guessing the folks who approve labels are pretty busy. I was on hold with the TTB today for 20 minutes waiting to talk with someone before a recording came on telling me to leave a message. I’m guessing they might be involved with really pressing matters over there. Yet, they have time to look closely enough at a back label and write up a denial of approval on these grounds.

I think some real clarification is in order.

8 Responses

  1. Randy - March 13, 2007

    It does smack of splitting hairs, doesn’t it. I can appreciate the paranoia about abusing the “trademark” of an appellation (such as Champagne, Chablis, etc.), but at the same time, these “old world” wine regions still benefit (however slightly) from the mention as the “inspiration” for the wine sitting in front of you.

  2. ozzie - March 13, 2007

    Think they’ll be ok with my Chickens-do-Poop?

  3. Per - March 13, 2007

    I guess it depends on what way you look at it.
    Malbec is a rather insignificant grape in Bordeaux so you could reasonably ask “what’s the point of putting that info on the back label?”.
    Malbec certainly is not a grape that is part of the typicity of Bordeaux wines, nor is it a grape that most people would connect with Bordeaux.
    So, why then does the producer want to put it on the label (or back such)?
    My guess is that the producer wants to benefit from the high reputation that Bordeaux wines have (deservedluy or undeservedly, as you wish). To put it in a different way – the producer wants to get a free ride on Bordeaux reputation. A wimp producer who cannot stand up for what he does himself perhaps?
    I think that it is poor judgement and poor marketing from that producer and I cannot say that I feel much pity for him – or the label designer.

  4. ken - March 13, 2007

    Roll with the punches and move on.

  5. Mary Baker - March 13, 2007

    Per, your comments are very judgmental. Do you know anything about this producer or his customer base? In the U.S. many, many customers still do not know what ‘malbec’ is. I believe this producer is simply trying to convey some background information on the grape.

  6. ken - March 13, 2007

    I simply cannot wait for Napa wines from China.

  7. katherine - August 24, 2007

    We got an approval for ‘the grape is a Bordeaux varietal’, which cannot, I argued, be called ‘Bordeaux-style’ varietal. The blend or final wine however is a Bordeaux-style blend.

  8. Peter May - August 22, 2008

    Mary says “I simply cannot wait for Napa wines from China”. She will have to wait.
    As I recall a Chinese wine company did call a wine a name in Chinese that was supposed to sound, when spoken, like napa valley. A law suit from California jumped on it like a ton of bricks. I guess that Chinese company is feeling as agrieved as many Americans seem to be on being told they can’t call their wines champagne or chablis etc.
    As for this back label… Why didn’t they say that Malbec is the signature grape of Argentina, eh? Or say it is a red grape with these characteristics, why mention Bordeaux??
    If the winery wanted to export its wines to Europe it would not have been allowed to use the word Bordeaux at all. Since we are working to having wine labels acceptable world wide, e.g. labels approved in the USA can be used in the EU asis and vice versa, I think the TTB were correct.
    Whether the use of Bordeaux-styled would be accepted is not known — its just the opinion of an anonymous ‘compliance person’ — so getting all in a lather about the difference in wording between a phrase not allowed and a phrase that someone thinks might possibly be allowed is a waste of energy.

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