Bordeaux's new controversial classification

June 26, 2020

Bordeaux are trialling a new way of talking to customers. Due to declining sales, the Bordeaux Wine Council are promoting a newer generation of winemaker offering lesser-known styles. So far, so good.

The problem emerged in one of their new classifications. According to The Times, they're going to start promoting wines as one of these four categories:

  1. fresh and crisp
  2. smooth and fruity
  3. rich and complex
  4. ethical (by which they mean organic)

There's two problems here. My inner-data-head side is frustrated by such an abuse of a category system. "Ethical" is not equivalent to the first three, which are all descriptors of aroma & flavour. (it'd be like asking what your favourite food category is: veg, meat or Cadburys milk chocolate).

Far more importantly, this creates a bad precedent for understanding organic wine.

Not all wine is created equally. Some wine can be very bad for the environment and some wine minimises that impact. Some wine is artisnal, and some wine is a product. There are environmental impacts at every part of the supply chain in wine.

There are no black and white answers. You could be a fully organic vineyard, relying wholly on nature – but once you put your wine in a glass bottle to be shipped around the world, you have a footprint.

At the other end of the spectrum, a bulk wine producer – someone making tens or hundreds of millions of litres of wine per year – might very well be using chemicals, but they're shipping wine in the most environmentally sensible way.

By separating 'ethical' from the other aromas removes that cohort's aroma and flavour identity, and instantly signals that non-organic is unethical. For wine drinkers tasting their way into organics for the first time it says these aren't going to be wines you like in the usual way. It will stop people from trying organic wine if what they're looking for is something fresh and crisp.

The wine world has a huge impact on the environment, and it's important we collectively consider how to best improve our own footprints. And given that, I can't believe such a prominent wine authority created such a classification system which will have such adverse effects.

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