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The grape that dares not speak its name

Posted by Stephen Meuse  December 9, 2008 04:49 PM

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Samples of Clayhouse Adobe White and Adobe Red recently came my way. They're made by David Frick at the Clayhouse Vineyard winery in California's Central Coast. They're nicely put together and -- at around $15 -- represent very good value. I really enjoyed them.

It was only later while thumbing through information about the wines that I read the saga of princess, an odd little grape variety used by Frick in the blend (there's a parcel of it on Clayhouse property) that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), knowing full well that it is present, refuses to allow him to list on the label.

Princess, it seems, is not an approved wine-making grape in the U.S. But that doesn't mean you can't use to make wine, it just means that if you do use it you can't say you did on a wine label. Feeling dizzy yet?

I trooped down to the recycle bin to have another look at the bottle. The label names four grapes in the Adobe White cuvee (chenin blanc, chardonnay, roussanne, viognier) and tells you what percentage each contributes. Add up the percentages and you get . . . 88. No mention whatever of princess, which apparently makes up the missing 12%.

Who's the scofflaw here? Not Clayhouse, which had every intention of making full disclosure. It seems rather to be the TTB which, despite rules that certain grapes cannot be used to make wine will turn a blind eye so long as the consumer is kept in the dark.

Clayhouse has petitioned the TTB to add princess to the list of varietal names allowed to appear on a wine label. The TTB responded with a letter indicating they were inclined to approve princess as a grape variety name for American wines, but since the word is already approved for use on brand labels -- though not to refer to a grape variety -- they are holding it up for now

Princess, apparently, has become a royal pain.

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Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

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