June 5, 2007
Help for Wine Buyers

1869Amador Zin B.jpgLongtime Northern California winemaker Scott Harvey is stepping up with a way to give consumers a better idea of the style of wine they are thinking of buying when they pick a bottle from the shelf and start to read the front and back labels.

For all the verbiage on most wine labels today, they don't provide much insight into whether a wine is light or heavy, dense or supple, and so forth. The alcohol content on most labels will give a clue, if you can find it and read it. But poetry and jokes are more prevalent than helpful information concerning a wine's style.

With the release of his latest round of wines under the Scott Harvey and Jana brands, however, Harvey is adding to his back labels a graphic scale to show whether a wine is stylistically heavier or lighter. One end of the scale reads "100 Point Judging Style" to indicate that the wine is big. The other end says "European Style" to indicate that the wine is lighter and more refined. Harvey's emblem of a griffin will settle somewhere between the two extremes, depending on the style of the wine.

On one of the first wines to bear the scale, the Scott Harvey 2005 Amador County "Vineyard 1869" Zinfandel, the griffin is pretty close to the right or "European Style" end of the scale, indicating that grapes that produced the wine were harvested before they got overly ripe and that pH and alcohol levels are restrained. Had the griffin been closer to the left or "100 Point Judging Style," the wine would be higher in alcohol and jammier in flavor, says Harvey.

The inspiration for the scale grew out of Harvey's three decades of making wine in the Sierra foothills and Napa Valley and his equally long tenure on the wine-judging circuit. "As a judge I know what it's like to judge 100 wines a day, and I know that the overpowering wines get the best-of-show awards, but they aren't the wines that go best with food," says Harvey.

Thus, he will slide the griffin toward the "100 Point Judging Style" side of the scale when he makes a heavily extracted and high-alcohol showcase wine, and toward the "European Style" end when the wine is more lithe and friendlier with food. Think of the former as the modern style of winemaking, the latter as the "yesteryear" style, says Harvey. He notes that he'd be delighted to see other wineries adopt the scale for their own labels.

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