Wednesday, June 17, 2009

TTB Follies

The federal TTB agency is supposed to be our government's experts on wine. This bureau is responsible for all aspects of regulating it, and it approves -- or denies -- every single new wine label design sold in the US.

So you'd think that if a winery started making the first US wine from a European fine wine grape, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau would just look up that grape on a big list and say, OK.

You would be wrong.

Bokisch Vineyards just started making a Garnacha Blanca from Vista Luna Vineyard in the Borden Ranch subappellation of Lodi -- first vintage 2008. But the winery had to hold off on releasing it while the TTB considered some unusual, previously unverified words on the label.

Did you know Borden Ranch was a legal AVA? I didn't. The TTB allowed that on a label without question.

Not so Garnacha Blanca.

Garnacha Blanca is the Spanish name for what the French call Grenache Blanc, a wine we've been able to buy in California for several years. And if you didn't know that, geez, you could guess. Or you could look it up in the Oxford Companion of Wine. Or even wikipedia. It might take you up to 2 minutes, if you got a phone call while you were googling it.

Not our federal wine experts, though. Liz Bokisch told me the TTB demanded that Bokisch submit paperwork proving that Garnacha Blanca is a real grape.

"You would think they could look it up, but no, you have to show supporting evidence," Bokisch said.

Eventually the label was approved, and that's a good thing, because it's an excellent wine, with crisp flavors of lemon and pepper. Markus and Liz Bokisch lived in Spain for a while, but I usually find his wines obviously Californian. This is no exception, in that the 14.5% alcohol gives it some heft, but it's well balanced. I liked it better than the more famous 2007 Curran Grenache Blanc from Kris Curran, former winemaker of Sea Smoke. (I did like Curran's Grenache Gris and Tempranillo.)

Fortunately the next winery to make Garnacha Blanca shouldn't have to provide supporting evidence. Especially if they're from a well-known, previously approved area. Like Jahant.

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