Thursday, March 6, 2014

Texas Kneecaps (with Bonus Lesson on Semi-Generic Labeling!)

I recently came across a cocktail recipe for a “Kneecap” at The Kitchn, one of my favorite cooking sites.  The drink is simple: equal parts bourbon and ruby Port, shaken over ice.  Lately my go-to bourbon is Lone Star 1835 Texas Bourbon (available from Spec’s for $27 per 750 ml bottle).  I picked up the Haak Texas Port to go with it ($18 per 750 ml bottle), so I could make a 100% Texan Kneecap!  

The Texas Kneecap is definitely a drink for bourbon (or whiskey) fans, and it's strong.  The Port adds sweetness and fruitiness which combines well with the caramel notes in the bourbon.  I threw in an ice cube because I was too lazy to shake it properly.  I am obviously not a cocktail purist. 

But, you may ask, doesn’t bourbon come from Kentucky?  And doesn’t Port come from Portugal?  And for that matter, why are some bottles labeled “California Champagne” when Champagne is in France?  I’m glad you asked!  The answer, in a (hyphenated) word, is “semi-generic.”  We’re about to traverse some dry, legal territory, so I recommend you pour yourself a Texas Kneecap before proceeding.  

U.S. wine label regulations divide geographical names into 3 categories:  generic, semi-generic, and non-generic:  

  • Generic means that in the past the name referred to a place, but now refers to a style of wine.  A generic name can refer to any wine of that style, no matter where the wine is from.  (Vermouth is one of these.)
  • Semi-generic means the name refers to a specific place, but the name is so closely associated with a particular style of wine that producers from anywhere are allowed to use the name to refer to the style.  However, if the wine doesn’t come from the place the name refers to, another regional name MUST be placed in front of the semi-generic name.  (Hence Port comes from Portugal, but we can have a “Texas Port.”  This is also how we get “California Champagne.”)
  • Non-generic means that the name can ONLY be used to refer to wine from that place, and does not refer to a wine style.  (Bordeaux wine can only come from the Bordeaux region of France.)

Here are some examples:

* The U.S., per European Union request, has agreed to work to change the status of EU semi-generic names to non-generic.  If/when the law is changed, new labels will only be able to use these names in reference to these specific wine regions.  However, producers outside these regions who used the names (legally) as semi-generic on their labels prior to a certain date would be “grandfathered” and able to continue using the name, providing that no other wording on the label changed.

Clear as mud?  If you're a masochist and want to read the full law, click here.  These regulations apply to wine.  Bourbon has its own set of regulations, but for now let’s stick to the 2 most important ones:  1)  it must come from the U.S. and 2)  the grain used to make it must be at least 51% corn.

Now you understand the basics of generic vs. semi-generic geographical names on wine labels!  I think you deserve another Texas Kneecap.

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