Feb 3, 2014

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Slam of the Month #3

It’s essential thatapera I declare my hand before I take this matter any further, given that I actually haven’t started yet. A few years ago I was paid by an industry institution (I can’t remember which one) to present a short TV program on the renaming of Australia’s fortified wines. I did it because I was brimful of well-intentioned zeal to help the trade. I felt a little uncomfortable at the time, but I thought I would get over it.

But I haven’t.

The issue is this. Thanks to the very formal relationship between the European Union and Australia, Australian winemakers can no longer use the terms ‘sherry’ and ‘tokay’ for their fortified wines. This is despite the fact that they had a history of more than a century of using them. Of course they can and will continue to make and sell the same wines they always did, but this is where the problem begins. They now have to call them ‘Apera’ and ‘Topaque’ respectively.

It is obvious within milliseconds to any thinking being that these names are simply appalling. And I expect there was a swinging train of parties from Barcelona to Budapest on learning this news.

I have no issue with the principle that Australian wines should not be labelled with names of styles and places with strong historical links to other regions (which incidentally is NOT the case with Prosecco), even if in reality there is very little Spanish sherry sold in Australia, and even less Hungarian tokay (or more correctly, tokaji).

Surely, I suggest, we might have done better with these names? It’s only become an issue for me of late because I have been engaged in introducing some of Australia’s finest fortified wines to some great international palates and I’ve found the experience nothing short of extremely embarrassing.

This is despite the fact that the new names were apparently the result of almost $1 million research over a 10-month period. In case you’re wondering how on earth they were chosen, here is the actual list of finalists. For the sherry replacement the alternatives given to those engaged in the selection process were: Apera, Solzay, Solperi, Aperire and Alphrette. Who on earth could have come up with such a list? A Spanish double agent could hardly have done better!

The choice for the tokay replacement was hardly any better: Topaque, Millifera, Russet, Muscadelle and Allirea. Incredble. They take me right back to the days when virtually every Australian girl born was give a name ending in ‘ette’.

None of these names suggest anything remotely Australian. Or tasteful. Most people can’t even say them without thinking it through first. They have a sort of apologetic European tone to them, as if we’re not fully prepared to cut the umbilical cord. Frankly, they’re terrible.

Surely we can do better. We can sit down again, get some top minds on the job and reinvent the process. Or else we can say good-bye to a century-plus heritage of great wine.

And if you’re one of the myriad who can’t actually pronounce them without a tutorial, here’s how:  a-per-ah and tow-payke. Easy!

  1. Hi Jeremy,

    I have just published the latest edition of the Essential Wine Tasting Guide which incorporates these new names, and feedback has been unanimously in agreement with your article.
    Without knowing the legal requirements of the European agreement, I believe it was one that Australia should have fought harder on. However, upon that quarter being given, a couple of sensible ‘roll-off-the-tongue’ names could have surely been created.
    If marketing these wines was hard before, it’s almost impossible now (until people taste them of course – but then they have to remember the names to buy again later).

    Best Regards

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