Thursday, January 21, 2010

Appellation New Zealand?

The geography-based classifications of French wine are generally seen as among the best in the world (Italy is certainly up there, too). And though the intricacies do cause a bit of natural confusion when a consumer is just learning them--place-names can be daunting, after all, especially in a language that’s not necessarily spoken by the consumer--they ultimately lead to a far deeper level of understanding not just when it comes to the individual wines, but to the national wine firmament as a whole.

Within the French AOC breakdown, Burgundy stands apart as a thing of particular beauty. It can be devilishly confusing, sure, but the level of specificity it achieves contains something of the miraculous--wholly appropriate considering its early-on reliance on the work of local monks.

Indeed, Pinot fans the world over still look to Burgundy as the benchmark of quality and site-specificity in a wine world ever more planted to their favorite grape variety. Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne-Romanee, Aloxe-Corton: These appellations, and the great vineyards within them, indicate holy ground of sorts among followers of the cult of Pinot.

Now, according to at least one report, New Zealand is considering getting into the game, too. reported this morning that “a New Zealand equivalent of a Burgundy Grand Cru may be closer to reality than we think, according to wine writer Oz Clarke.”

Clarke continued: “New Zealand is entering into the next stage of its development in contemplating and legally recognizing its terroirs,” he said.

Whether or not this happens--and whether or not this is a good idea to begin with--is still uncertain. ( notes that Master of Wine Simon Field made the point that “the appellation systems required 'minute levels of detail' and that the Burgundian system had taken 'several centuries to establish,’ he said.”)

Still, even if New Zealand doesn’t enshrine the differences between adjacent vineyards in, say, Marlborough, quite as exactly and minutely as the Burgundians have with their land throughout the Cote d’Or, it seems to me that the fact that they are even considering such a system is a good sign. It implies that they have moved on to the next phase of their national wine life. And while this next step is bound to be difficult, fraught with frustration and occasional rancor, and hard to pursue, it seems necessary and, ultimately, likely to be beneficial to both those in the New Zealand wine industry itself and to consumers: A tasty victory for everybody.


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