Monthly Archives: February 2013

Whining about Wine Labels

Wine glass splash

Posted by Alex Poe on February 28, 2013

Wine, as a drink, is a wonderfully complex thing.  The tastes and smells that emanate from a wine glass can be endlessly debated.  Wine, as a set of laws, is also incredibly complex.  Everything from the wine making process to the shipment of the wine is regulated by both federal and state governments.  Of particular relevance to producers, though, are regulations on wine labeling.  Labeling laws protect high-end producers who carefully source their grapes—often drawing solely from a particular geographic area—by restricting which wines can be labeled with certain terms.

In 2006, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) signed the “Agreement Between the United States of America and the European Community on Trade in Wine.”1  As the name suggests, it dealt with the trading of wine between the US and the EU.  One of the main provisions of the Agreement outlined specific rules for wine labels and semi-generic names.2  Semi-generic names use terms that originally designated a wine-producing region.  For example, a bottle labeled as champagne was to be made entirely of grapes from Champagne, France.3  However, wine makers in America began labeling their wines with semi-generic names following the place of origin, like “California Champagne,” to suggest the type and style of their wine.  This labeling practice did not meet the EU’s regulatory standards, so the Agreement now prohibits this practice in order to limit misleading labels and to further facilitate trade.4 Continue reading

Madeira: A Fortified Gem

MadeiraCC image courtesy of Porto Bay Hotels & Resorts Events.

Posted by Jon Underwood on February 25, 2013.

Sherry is one of the greatest wines known to mankind.  For aroma, flavor, complexity, price, quality, and longevity it is hard to find an equal to the delicious drink from Jerez.  It is on par with Claret and Champagne, and I urge you to try sherry, or revisit it if it has been a while.  But this post is not about sherry­—did I mention I like sherry?—but rather its less well-known cousin, Madeira.1 Madeira is another fortified wine, produced on the  Portuguese island of Madeira in the North Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Africa.

Although Madeira may be underappreciated now, it has a special place in U.S. history.2  John Hancock, a leading Bostonian political figure during the revolutionary era, was also a businessman who imported foreign goods.  On the evening of May 9, 1768, his ship Liberty arrived in Boston Harbor carrying a shipment of Madeira.  The ship was inspected by customs officials just the next morning, but they found that the hold contained only one quarter of its total capacity of wine.3  When a report indicated that Hancock had secretly unloaded the majority of his Madeira shipment to avoid paying a duty, Liberty was seized by the customs officers.  Tensions between the local Bostonians and Royal Navy were already running high because of the Navy’s habit of press-ganging,4 and a riot broke out when customs officers began towing Liberty to a nearby Royal Navy warship.  Customs officials then started two lawsuits: one in rem against Liberty, and one in personam against Hancock.  The suit against Liberty was successful and the ship was confiscated.  The suit against Hancock eventually petered out, and the charges were dropped without explanation in March 1769.5  The end result of the Liberty affair was to galvanize anti-British feeling (and exacerbate later tensions over another excellent beverage, tea). Continue reading

Coors’ Real Silver Bullet: The First Amendment


Posted by Matt Hasvold on February 21, 2013

While many consumers today take for granted that they can look at the alcohol content on a beer label, this wasn’t always so.  Following the repeal of Prohibition, Congress found it necessary to strictly regulate the country’s newly-legal vice with the 1935 Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAAA).  Among the Act’s rules was a provision that prohibited the printing of alcohol content on beer labels.1  Brewers were limited by this rule for several decades until 1987, when Coors Brewing Company finally raised a challenge.  Coors applied to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) for approval of proposed labels and advertisements that disclosed the alcohol content of its beer.  When the ATF denied the application, Coors brought suit seeking injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment that the labeling ban violated the First Amendment’s free speech protections.2 Continue reading

Understanding Champagne

Posted by Lesley Underwood on February 18, 2013

Champagne has been produced for hundreds of years, and despite a few modern variations, it is still primarily made using the same process devised by Christopher Merret in England in 1662 and improved in the 1700s by Dom Perignon, a French monk.  Champagne is the name of a cold continental region of France and the sparkling wine made there.  Although sparkling wine is produced around the world, Champagne producers strictly enforce laws and international treaties that prohibit labeling a wine “Champagne” if it is made in any other region.1  Despite this labeling restriction, other regions strive to emulate the quality of Champagne by following the traditional method used to make this wine, Méthode Champenoise.2

This labor of love starts by hand picking whole bunches of three types of grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay.3  The grapes are first pressed very gently to extract the juices, making sure there is no contact or minimal skin or stem contact to avoid astringent flavors.  Juices of the different grape varieties are fermented separately, then blended together.  This usually produces a neutral wine, like a blank canvas before a work of art.  Crafting the end product of each Champagne will depend on winemaker trade secrets and techniques, length of time in barrels, sourcing premium grapes, and personal touches at each step of the wine making process. Continue reading

Liquor Licenses: A Drinker Rethinks Larkin v. Grendel’s Den


Posted by Matthew Cavedon on February 14, 2013

In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Massachusetts statute that gave churches a veto over liquor licenses granted to establishments within five hundred feet of their premises.1 In Larkin v. Grendel’s Den, Inc., a Harvard Square pub brought suit after its license request was vetoed by its then-neighbors at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Armenian Church.2  The Court ruled in the pub’s favor, holding that the statute violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by unconstitutionally creating a “fusion of governmental and religious functions.”3  At first blush, Larkin looks like a triumph for drinkers over puritan busybodies.  Reasonably enough, Grendel’s Den celebrates it as one—a newspaper clipping from the day of the decision is framed on their wall.  The Court found it troubling that Massachusetts “delegate[d] to private, nongovernmental entities power to veto” liquor licenses4—a concern that could reasonably be shared by drinkers across the land, from Mormon areas of Utah to the dry county in Tennessee where the Jack Daniels distillery is located.

But like beer goggles wearing off, Larkin gets worse for drinkers as one’s thinking gets clearer.  Its denial of veto powers for churches ultimately meant that places hoping to serve alcohol could no longer negotiate with churches over their rights, even though states and cities can still have laws banning alcohol near churches altogether.  By kicking alcohol licensing back directly to the government, Larkin stopped churches and drinkers from reaching decisions together.  As is true enough for the aftermath of many alcohol-related decisions, Larkin is not as helpful a case as it seemed at the time. Continue reading

Round Nine: France sans Bordeaux


1/25/2013 @ Annie’s Place

1) Henri de Richemer, Piquepoul; Cotes de Thau (IGP), 2011

2) Guilhem & Jean-Hugues, Goisot, Aligote; Bourgone Aligote, FR, 2010

3) Thierry & Guy, Fat Bastard, Chardonnay; FR, 2011.

4) Noel Bougrier, Chenin Blanc; Vouvray, Loire Valley, FR, 2011

5) L’Onciale, white burgundy; Petit Chablis, Burgundy, FR, 2010

6) Cave de Prisse, white burgundy; Macon-Villages, Burgundy, 2011

7) Louis Jadot, Gamay; Beaujolais-Villages, Burgundy, 2011

8) Chateau de Briante, Gamay; Cote de Brouilly, Beaujolais, Burgundy, 2010

9) Bouchard Aine & Fils, Pinor Noir; Burgundy, FR, 2009

10) Nicolas Potel, Pinot Noir; Burgundy, FR, 2010

11) Red Bicyclette, Syrah; Vin de Pays, FR, 2009

12) Chateau Pech-Latt, red blend; Corbieres, Languedoc-Roussillon, FR, 2011

13) E. Guigal, red wine; Cotes du Rhone, FR, 2009

14) Famille Perrin Reserve, red wine; Cotes du Rhone, 2010

15) Jean-Luc Colombo, Les Abeilles, red wine; Cotes du Rhone, FR, 2010

The Best of Australia

sydney harborYalumba Riesling by the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Posted by Tom H. on February 11, 2013

Many Americans’ familiarity with Australian wine begins and ends with “critter wines” like Yellow Tail.  These wines attract attention for their cute labels and low prices, but they are generally unexceptional in quality.  Although critter wines continue to permeate retail shelves, serious wine drinkers should not forsake the Australian section of their local wine shop.  Much of the country continues to produce high-quality wines at affordable prices.

The Australian wine market has been shaped by its focus on exports.  Although Australia is only the seventh largest producer of wine by volume, it is the fourth highest in wine exports, with domestic consumption only accounting for forty percent of production. 1  This need to export has required Australian wineries to compete aggressively with established Old World producers like France, Italy, and Spain on both price and quality.  As a result, the Australian wine industry is among the most sophisticated in the world, adopting new technology and branding techniques to maintain a competitive advantage.  While good wine is produced in all of the Australian states, two regions are worthy of particular note for American consumers: the Barossa Valley in South Australia and the Margaret River in Western Australia. Continue reading

The Legacy of 3.2% Beer

We Want Beer

Posted by Russ Heller on February 7, 2013

Beer is on the upswing.  A quirkily-curated beer list is now a must at any respectable restaurant, and craft beer is exploding.  Indeed, craft beer sales revenues jumped 14% in the first half of 2012 alone.[1]  Along with this rise in sales, there has been an increase in the number of breweries.  According to the Brewers Association, there were 2,126 breweries in the U.S. in June 2012.  That is more than the 2,011 breweries that operated in 1887 (when New York State was the world’s #1 producer of hops) and way up from the meager 89 breweries and 44 brewing companies operating in 1979.[2]  Today, thanks to the number of breweries and the vast varieties they produce, we beer enthusiasts have countless events to attend[3] and even our own version of the sommelier, called the “Cicerone.”[4]

But while the U.S. beer industry has come far, there are still reminders of our less-than-enlightened past.  One of those reminders is 3.2% beer.  A relic of the days just after Prohibition, 3.2% “non-intoxicating” beer is still with us today.  In an attempt to limit the availability of higher-octane beverages, 3.2% is currently the only beverage allowed for sale at grocery stores in Colorado,[5] Utah,[6] and several other states.[7] Continue reading

Wine Lovers Without Representation: The Future of Massachusetts Wine Shipping


Posted by Ryan P. Mulvey on February 4, 2013

While the bench and bar may claim a monopoly on legal expertise, you don’t need to go to law school for three years to know that it’s wrong to ignore the ruling of a federal appellate court.  Once you’ve lost your case, you conform to the law.  But in Massachusetts, legislators continue to abridge the rights of wine enthusiasts and their suppliers by dragging their feet on a First Circuit mandate to reform the state’s wine shipping laws.

Massachusetts is known for its proclivity to tax, spend, and regulate.  Nowhere else in the Union has there been as remarkable, if not paradoxical, a fusion of liberal progressivism and puritanical culture.  In the Commonwealth, you can only buy beer, wine, or liquor in a designated liquor store, and it has to be carried out in a package or box.  Alcohol can never be discounted — ergo, no happy hour — and don’t even think about ordering a round of drinks for your friends after that Red Sox victory, because state law limits bar purchases to two drinks per person at a single time.  Forget bottle service, too.  Suffice it to say, the list goes on. Continue reading