The Discerning Lush- Kiwi Cuvee
Out in a French restaurant a couple of evenings ago, my dining companions were tucking into a plate of Gillardeau oysters and had ordered a bottle of French Sauvignon Blanc. The menu didn’t specify which French Sauvignon Blanc but we had assumed it would be basic table wine, probably a standard Loire Sauvignon Blanc. I was pretty astounded when this particular bottle landed before our eyes. I was just about to call the waiter back “hang on, we didn’t order New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc” when the label flashed before my eyes “Kiwi Cuvee, Product of France”. Really ?!?! Yes, it calls itself Kiwi Cuvee, with a little blurb on the front label describing itself as a “range of fresh, fruity wines”. The label emphasis “aromatic” and “full fruity flavours” produced using “modern techniques”, expressing the character of the grape variety- all the classic descriptors of the style of Sauvignon Blanc which New Zealand has become world famous for. With the label unmistakably antipodean in content and design, and to top it off- topped with a screw top cap- you could easily mistake this wine for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. That is, until you realize it is actually from France and made by a Loire-based producer, Lacheteau. If calling yourself “Kiwi Cuvee” with this label isn’t overtly trying to associate yourself with wine from New Zealand, I don’t know what is ! This particular bottle, the label declares, is from “Bin 086”- whatever that means- I struggle to imagine Lacheteau labelling its batches of wine “Bin 086” in the Loire. The wine itself is pretty inoffensive, table-ish type of wine. It is, as the label says, fresh, fruity and aromatic, and quite peppery, not the usual restrained French style sauvignon blanc. It is not however, as crisp and pure fruity as the average kiwi sauvignon blanc. What irony that a French winemaker from the Loire heartland of sauvignon blanc would seek to blatantly associate itself with a New Zealand product. The New Zealand Winegrowers Association has protested against the association and Lachateau is not permitted to market the wine as “Kiwi Cuvee” in Australia due to the risk of confusion for consumers.
As a casual drinker, you don’t really associate French winemaking with seeking to create pure varietal expressions of a grape variety especially with the aid of technology. French wine is marketed in Asia as a product of land, history, culture, i.e. the obsession with terroir and the pride that comes with associating one’s wine with a particular region, village, and vineyard. French wine labels are often undecipherable except to those who have studied the wines of the region. For example, how many casual wine drinkers know that a white Cheverny is a Loire wine made from predominantly sauvignon blanc grapes ? Simplicity of labelling is one of the key reasons why wines from Australia and New Zealand have gained popularity, especially amongst new wine consumers, and perhaps Lacheteau is simply trying to piggy back on the success of wines in that segment.