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Snooth User: Philip James

60th percentile

Posted by Philip James, Aug 6, 2007.

If you walk into a store and pick up a bottle of 2004 California Cabernet Sauvignon, you'd rather expect that to represent the contents. Well, following on with this blog's recurring theme of how the wine industry is so obfuscated by obscure rules and a lack of transparency, that need only be 60% true.

For a California wine to claim a Varietal on the front label (ironically the front label is technically the back label, but I'll get to that another time) the wine must contain at least 75% of that grape. The remaining 25% can be anything (so long as its grapes). For that matter to even claim that the wine's Californian, you only need to have 85% of the grapes from the state. The exact percentages do vary by region, and some designations around the world do actually require 100% adherence. For example, Chianti Classico DOCG in Italy requires that 100% of the grapes used be grown in the Chianti region.

The same play occurs with vintages, but in California at least the bar's higher (95% when I last checked). Although there was talk of lowering it to bring it more in line with South Africa and Chile's 75% requirement. You can even put white grapes in a red wine (the aromatic white grape, Viognier, is commonly mixed in with the fleshy red, Syrah) or red grapes in a white wine (Champagne uses two red grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Munier, along with Chardonnay to make all its sparkling whites).

It's really confusing, and might not actually be that important to the overall taste of the wine. But, if you stack these percentages together (75% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, of which only 85% are from California, and 95% from the vintage on the bottle) you find out that the wine you're holding may only be 60% what you thought it was. And...if you replace California's vintage requirement with the 75% level that is used in Chile, then you've actually dropped below 50%. At that point, I'd like to be informed.

Next time you see a wine's label claim 100% Cabernet Sauvignon or 100% Estate Grown you'll know why they bothered to highlight that fact.


Blog comment by Sandra Chang, Aug 15, 2007.

Federal regulations require wine to be made from at least 75% grapes grown from the region declared on a wine label (except multi-state or multi-county regions). However, there is a separate California law that requires 100% of the grapes to be from California if any California region is used on the label. For official designated Viticultural Areas designated on the label, 85% must be from that area. For multi-state and multi-county designations (think Walla Walla, et al.), it's gets a little more complicated.

This is a good document for federal regulations regarding varietal content:

As for vintage labeling laws, up until May of 2006, 95% of the wine had to come from the vintage declared on the label. Since then, the law has been amended so that only 85% of the wine had to be from the vintage year. However, if the region declared was an AVA, the 95% rule applies.

Hence, your example of California Cabernet would be minimum 75% Cabernet grapes, 100% from California, and minimum 85% from the vintage declared.


Blog comment by Snooth Blog Drinking Grape Juice (really), Oct 1, 2007.

[...] Chardonnay, and Zinfandel rose. They are 100% varietal juices, which is more than a lot of “varietal wines” can claim. The grapes are mostly from Lodi and the Coastal counties in [...]

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