Thursday 19 July 2012

New World…or is it Old World? – Stone Rock Bordeaux

Here we have a lovely bottle of New World Sauvignon Blanc, stylishly presented and modestly priced at £8. Except that it’s not. It’s a bottle of white Bordeaux.

Now, my beloved Bordeaux has been going through some extraordinary success, with its status rising along with its prices. And not just the claret; Jancis Robinson said that dry white Bordeaux was “a category that was exceptionally exciting in 2010”. 

So perhaps not surprisingly, there are many New World wines nowadays furiously marketing themselves with reference to the reputation of Bordeaux. We’ve got wines described as “Bordeaux-style”. We’ve got Chilean wines, looking as if they come from Bordeaux. I noticed some online retailers recently offering 3 “uniquely South American interpretations of Bordeaux”. I have even encountered (and mocked before) such wines as the St Francis Claret, from, er, California. “This is a true Sonoma County Claret”, they declare, surely a contradiction in terms.

Yet here we have the intriguing phenomenon of a 2010 Bordeaux, from that “exceptionally exciting category”, trying to look as if it comes from Marlborough. A French wine, pretending it comes from New Zealand. Oh, how are the mighty fallen.

Presumably the assumption is that a New World wine is altogether less grand, less complicated and probably less expensive than its Old World equivalent. All of which might lead the average punter to grab this modern-looking, £8 bottle from the shelf, before considering the traditional, drypoint-labelled, corkscrew-demanding, inconsistently-produced and unprounceably-named wines of Bordeaux.

What makes this appear to be a New Zealand wine? There’s the screwcap, still a relative stranger to Bordeaux. There’s the label, with its modern, minimalist design, printed on trendy butchers’ paper; the very word “Bordeaux” is relegated to the small print of the back label. There’s the announcement of the varietal, Sauvignon Blanc, something a traditional Bordeaux would never do. There’s the vintage, ironically a great year in Marlborough as well as Bordeaux. And then, as there’s so little else on the label, there is the name. Ah, the name.

One would not wish to accuse our Commonwealth cousins in New Zealand of a paucity of imagination. But in their search for names for their wine, they clearly left no stone unturned. A brief search for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc turned up the names of 3 Stones, Stoneleigh, Field of Stones, Secret Stone, Stoneburn, Stone Paddock, Stone Bay, Little Black Stone, Stone Creek, Runestone, Overstone, Stoney Range, Heart of Stone and Kidney Stone. Only one of those have I made up.

Perhaps they have all slavishly followed the notion that Sauvignon Blanc has a flavour reminiscent of wet stones. Presumably, then, like Beckett’s Molloy with his pebbles, they have been sucking them to find out. Personally, I would prefer to put the wine itself in my mouth, and say that this is crisp, clean, light and grassy, completely delicious, with a slightly citrus edge, flavours of peach and scent of matchbox. Thoroughly recommended as a summer white, and infinitely preferable to licking walls.

But, I wonder, which of my esteemed guests is going to be pleased to see on my table a wine presenting itself like this? Fine if you’re buying for yourself; but “less grand, less complicated and probably less expensive” are surely not encouraging thoughts when you see the label of a wine that a host has provided. 

There’s an air of reassurance when you see a bottle of Bordeaux on a dining table, as opposed to the adventure which is a New World wine. Or, indeed, an unlabelled decanter. 

And the problem is compounded here because I’ve always hated decanting white wine. Primarily because I’ve found that decanted, the flavour of white wine often evaporates rather than improves. But also…am I alone in thinking that white wine in a decanter looks like a medical sample? The yellowish tinge, the bubbles winking at the brim… Don’t let me put you off that carafe of white, but now that I’ve said it… don’t you think…?

Beneath this modern exterior lies a classic French wine. But it’s like repackaging the Pléiade editions  in embossed foil covers. I never imagined Bordeaux of all places would hide its imprimatur, and bring us wines with names like Stone Deaf. 

Does Bordeaux really want to join the New World market? Well, perhaps it has done so already. The map on the retailer’s website presumably draws its co-ordinates from a reference in the descriptive text. So, when I checked, it appeared to have completed the repositioning exercise, by moving Entre-Deux-Mers.

To New Zealand.



  1. Not far off thinking it as being like a Kiwi; it certainly has a lot of verve and its at jolly great price.

    Incidentally this is one of the wines picked by the bloggers for the Oddbins Wine Bloggers Case.

  2. Loving the idea of a wine called Kidney Stone ... and I wouldn't put it past some hotshot to suggest it as a "great marketing opportunity". As Andrew says above, a group of bloggers picked this as a great bottle of wine from Oddbins' current range; we were going on taste rather than packaging - although I have to say that I like the clean, crisp label and wouldn't worry about preconceived ideas from my guests on Bordeaux.

  3. Interestingly I was involved in the conception of this wine about 3 years ago - we were faced with the problem of not being able to sell white Bordeaux for love or money, so designed the bottle to look like a NZ wine in order to see if the barrier was simply the packaging of white Bordeaux. We then blended the wine to be of a fruit forward style closer to that of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The result was we went from selling less than 50 cases a year to selling over 1,000 cases a month. My conclusion is clearly the packaging for Bordeaux although superb for selling red wines, is not conducive to selling white wines and therefore changing the packaging of the whites was (and is) necessary in order to encourage as many people as possible to enjoy white Bordeaux.

    1. Fascinating - thanks for that, as it underlines the serious story behind my somewhat mocking post!


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