Degree of the pedigree

Written by Magandeep Singh Sommelier | Updated: Sep 30 2007, 07:45am hrs
There was a time when the origin of a wine was the most important thing. It was like pedigree: if you didnt have it, you couldnt even enter the contest, or walk down the road really. Sadly, those times havent exactly passed. We still live in a bleak era when people buy for brand and region rather than for quality.

Well I dont blame them really. Little has been done to simplify wine and make it accessible. The cult-like nature of this creed continues as those who know try to keep those who dont know well on the side of ignorance.

And then many discard the whole idea of origin, saying that it is marketing eyewash and little else. Well, let me dispel that right from the start. Wine origin is truly an important factor, both to tell good and bad wines.

We must remember that all land is unique. They all have a mix of climate and soil that is their identity and gift, or sometimes, curse. So, all regions or land compositions are not suited for growing grapes. Some places are not only suited better for grape cultivation but even the grape to be planted can be specified. The French were the first to see this as vital to winemaking.

So how did they go about deciding which grape for where It was the good ol science of hit and trial! They planted all the grapes all over and gradually, over years, decades, centuries, they saw how the different varieties performed. This was long back and at that point they didnt even have names for all the grapes. They could tell them merely by looking at the leaf, the bunch clusters or by their ripening cycles. This intuitive knowledge was gradually documented and soon the statistically weaker grapes were weeded out and the stronger, more suitable species were left in. A Darwinian evolution if you may, where man adapted the best grapes for the climate and soil. Consequently, hundreds of years later, the name of a grape had become synonymous with the region or conversely, the name of the region was all the information needed to know the grapes planted there.

It is not very different from the markets of medieval times. There is little guessing as to what was sold in the Potato Market in Manchester, or the Butcher Street in Brussels. Wine appellations are a very similar system, just that regional names being in different languages make it more confusing.

You have to remember that back then winemaking wasnt as advanced hence the stress on having ideal grapes was high and laws were put in place so that people didnt waste resources growing grapes that yielded poor results. Today however with so much technology at hand, the rules could be eased but then tradition need not always be instantly rational.

And then, it gets even simpler if you have a little Latin insight as many names of regions were derived from Latin. Hence a region called Faedo in Italy comes from Latin for rocks, which was the typical relief of the area. Similarly, Petrus mean stones, and that is exactly what we find in the vineyards of the winehouse of that name.

For me, wine origin is about all this and one more thing. I buy a wine for its ability to represent the region it comes from. No point tasting a wine from Chile that tastes like anything from South Africa or Australia. For me origin of a wine goes beyond the region and soil: it also encompasses the style of making the wine. I do not in the least mean that winemakers should have no leeway to express themselves through their wine. Au contraire that is exactly what I want that each wine be different and remind me of the region, the grape, the village and the winemaker with his eccentricities. When a wine can evoke emotion and teleport you to where it came from, that for me is the true certificate of its pedigree of origin.