Bloody back labels!

The label on the front of the bottle Sibella and I are halfway through tells me it’s a 2007 Merlot from Patagonia, Argentina, with a strength of 14% alcohol by volume. I’m also informed that the wine is a ‘Reserve’ – a term, I’m afraid, that’s virtually meaningless. In certain regions of Europe the term ‘reserve’, ‘reserva’ or ‘riserva’ does indicate that the wine has been subjected to mandatory treatment, with regard to oak-ageing, grape selection or to the length of time held before release. Alas in many parts of the world the ‘Reserve’ tag is utterly imprecise or indeterminate. It could be that the grapes are specially selected. It could refer to a period spent in oak casks. Or it could mean bugger-all except it’s a great marketing ploy.

Turn the bottle around and things get worse. The back label of a wine bottle is all to frequently just a licence to exude persiflage and bullshit. There are 5 sectors on this particular back label. First off, the wine ‘contains sulphites’. Fine so far, but then we move on to talk ‘Style’. Leaving aside absurdities like “almost meaty vanilla-like aroma” I read “black cherries, damsons, raisins with a bitter-sweet after-taste of plain chocolate.” Hey, what if the reader doesn’t like raisins? Or doesn’t do bitter-sweet? Worse, if he buys the wine and doesn’t find these sensations doesn’t it kill credibility? I’ve warned before about taking this gush on board; never forget, one person’s “honeysuckle on a summer’s evening” is another’s ”three-year old Nike trainers”.

Then I learn the wine is “best appreciated at room temperature”. Shame they never tell you what ‘room temperature’ means. The ambient of a centrally-heated, ecologically-insulated, shag-pile carpeted, low-ceilinged living room is not what any winemaker would call ‘room temperature’. This is so misleading. If they mean “serve at 16-18 C” why don’t they just say so?

“Guests will be surprised by its provenance” reminds me of James Thurber’s It’s a naive domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption. What the marketing guys are telling you in this instance is ‘Your guests are gonna say “Argentina? You’re kidding? I’d have sworn it was Cheval Blanc.”’ And, of course, I believe them. Not.

Finally, I learn that “careful oak aged (sic) gives the wine added depth of flavour”. As I’ve said before, there’s ‘oak’ and ‘oak’. Are we talking barrels? Staves? Oak chips? Sacks filled with sawdust? Liquid extract? Give us a clue.

Is there a Society for The Abolition of Back Labels? If there was, I’d join today. Divorced from all the blather, Canale Estate Reserve Merlot 2007 (€12.39, Marks & Spencer) is rather good well-made wine. Solid, impactful, rich, flavoursome and exempt from that gloopy soup mouthfeel of your average New World merlot, it came to the rescue last night after yet another bottle of very expensive Aussie Shiraz proved to be corked, third time in two weeks.* No wonder they believe in Stelvin down under.

* The three, all top dollar gear, were from vintages 1998/1999/2000 – a bad period for cork?