Despite producing less than 1% of total world wine production, New Zealand wines attract a lot of admiration from wine drinkers. Talking to Clive Donaldson, wine sourcing manager for Morrison’s, he confirms that New Zealand wines are amongst the most appreciated by their customers, offering exciting flavours and inspiring consumer confidence. It is true that the success is driven primarily by the eternal Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – as it claims 85% of all NZ wine sold in the UK. But as Jancis Robinson says there is more to New Zealand than just Sauvignon Blanc.
New Zealand Winegrowers released their 2012 and 2013 vintages and several lucky Londoners had the chance to try over 150 wines from all regions yesterday. There was much ‘mmm’ and ‘ahhh’ around the Rieslings and Pinot Noirs and my guess would be that these two grape varieties have a particularly promising future.
About 2012 and 2013
The 2012 vintage was a very small crop year, 28% less than 2013, thanks to a very cool spring and summer which was only saved by warm dry days in April delivering the weather the grapes needed to ripen fully.
The 2013 vintage is described as “a vintage to remember” by Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, “with an outstanding summer providing near perfect conditions for growing grapes”. Sir George of Villa Maria agrees “15 years of advancement in winemaking technology paired with perfect growing conditions means this year is set to exceed all previous vintages”. However, Duncan McTavish, winemaker of Man ‘O War, admits that as it was a very hot and dry year, particularly in the North Island, it will affect yields and quality.
Ones to remember:
Felton Road Riesling Bannockburn, Central Otago 2013 (9.5% abv / RS 55 g/l / RRP £15)
Felton Road Block 1 Riesling Bannockburn, Central Otago 2013 (9% abv / RS 65 g/l / RRP £18)
Don’t get put off by the level of residual sugar. Riesling’s vibrant acidity tricks your palate to hardly noticing its sweetness. These wines are bursting with fresh, juicy peach and tropical fruits and are very enjoyable and comforting with that delicate structure and gracefulness of Mosel Riesling.
Pegasus Bay Riesling Canterbury 2010 (12.5% abv / RS 26 g/l / RRP £16.50)
Priceless racy acidity matched with vibrant citrus orchard fruits. Reminded me of zesty orange marmalade margarita, minus tequila of course.
Brancott Estate Flight Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2013 (9% abv / RS 13 g/l / RRP £10.50)
This wine is due to be launched in the UK very soon and I have a feeling it will do very well. Low & lower alcohol wines, despite their healthy credentials, tend to be boring. But not this one! Naturally low in alcohol (no reverse osmosis), it has bags of typical green grass and gooseberry fruit. Off-dry (to be technical) but I dare say the majority of casual drinker will not pick up on that and will just enjoy the fruity flavours of this crisp clean Sauvignon Blanc.
Staete Landt Viognier Rapaura, Marlborough 2012 (14% abv / RS 4.5 g/l /RRP £ 18)
Very fresh and crisp aromatic Viognier, Very enjoyable.
Seresin Rachel Pinot Noir Marlborough 2010 (14% abv / RRP £ 25)
Cherry cherub flavours with distinctive reduced balsamic notes and earthy spicy finish. Rather seductive and a real crowd pleaser.
Plenty of articles have been written in the last couple of days reflecting on and mainly disputing the original and rather naive Morgan Stanley piece warning us that the world is facing a wine shortage. Here is a summary of some of the more eloquent responses:
BBC – World faces global wine shortage by Morgan Stanley’s analysts Tom Kierath and Crystal Wang
Time Business & Money - How China Became the Wine World’s Most Unlikely Superpower by Kharunya Paramaguru
Reuters – There’s no global wine shortage by Felix Salmon
Wine Industry Insight – Wine shortage is bull: Here’s why by Lewis Perdue
SFGate – Experts dismiss prediction of global wine shortage by Stacy Finz
Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin (OIV) – World wine production has increased significantly in 2013 while consumption is stabilising
The Telegraph – Have no fears about a world wine shortage – the glass is still half full by Victoria Moore
Wineanorak – My take on the global wine shortage story by Jamie Goode
Jancis Robinson – The phantom global wine shortage
Decanter – Global wine shortage fears exaggerated, say analysts by Chris Mercer and Ivana Lalovic
If you believe in magic, fairies and Wikipedia then I advise you not to read any further as you will just be disappointed. Wine making is full of mysteries – some are the beauty of nature, some are just unanswered questions we have and some are created by people for pure amusement. Palo Cortado, the trendiest and the most loved sherry style by wine aficionados, is somewhere between all these.
Ever wondered how Palo Cortado is actually produced?
It is true that Palo Cortado used to be developed accidentally but now any skilled winemaker can also set out to make this style. Romantics may protest but I think it is great. The more consumers enjoy this style, the better for producers as these are the only wines that afford sherry producers anything like a premium price.
Jan Pettersen, director of Fernando de Castilla, predicts a great potential for Palo Cortado. He has already seen noticeable interest in London and New York, despite the overall decline in sherry sales. The business model for Palo Cortado is different to widely distributed Finos and Creams that tend to collect dust at the bottom of the supermarket shelf or our drinks cabinets. The strategy for Palo Cortado is to stick to small quantities, premium price and memorable quality that challenge our preconceptions – and it works.
Palo Cortado used to be rejected Fino (light-coloured bone-dry sherry) which accidentally lost its flor (a film of yeast on the surface of wine) and could no longer be protected from oxygen. It was treated as an untypical style and due to its sporadic occurrence it was consumed only amongst bodega family members, never released to the public. The name is based on a cross that a cellarmaster or ‘capataz’ would make on any such cask, indicating its recognition. It would then be fortified a second time to at least 17.5% abv in order to kill off the protective waxy cap and essentially allow the wine to age oxidatively, similarly to Oloroso.
The distinctive clarity, freshness and flavoursome intensity of Palo Cortado has earned renowned respect. Its success led to the recreation of this style. Montserrat Molina, the oenologist of Barbadillo, reveals her secret. In order to develop the best Palo Cortado (or Jerez Cortado as it’s called when produced in Sanlucar de Barrameda), she chooses the lightest Palomino base wine which is then fortified to a high level and aged oxidatively, as if to produce Oloroso. To ensure this light and delicate base, only free run juice is used. Oloroso, in contrast, is a blend of both free and more flavourful pressed juice to produce very rich opulent sherry. The key point is that Monserrat ‘s Palo Cortado does not undergo biological ageing, which is very different to what you may read about Palo Cortado in books or on the internet.
Similarly, for Gonzales Byass to create Leonor Palo Cortado is a conscious decision. Martin Skelton, the managing director, explains that a delicate base wine is chosen and after a few months developed under flor it is fortified to 18% abv and then aged and blended through solera for at least 12 years. The final product is 20% due to the concentration of flavours and alcohol during the extended ageing, resulting in an extraordinarily complex sherry.
Palo Cortado can also be produced intentionally “by blending Amontillado with Oloroso”, according to Wikipedia, in order to produce look-a-like at lower price. However this method seems unpopular. In fact it goes against everything we know about Palo Cortado. No single producer has admitted to this method and there are no branded examples in the market. The price of Palo Cortado is one of the highest of all sherry styles and its production is very minimal. It is estimated that only 20,000 bottles are made out of total 60 million bottles of sherry produced annually.
It is the lack of or a minimal flor influence that is the key difference between purposefully created and accidental Palo Cortado. Mirabel Estevez, the winemaker of Groupo Estevez, tells a story of her latest Palo Cortado discovery. On the 17th of September 2013, the day of her mum’s birthday, she was tasting through the Fino solera and suddenly she comes across a cask that contains a liquid of unique richness and fragrant intensity. Palo Cortado is somewhere between rich Oloroso and light Amontillado in flavour, she explains. It is neither straight as Amontillado nor is it round in the mouth as Oloroso. It touches your cheeks, she continuous, as she puts her two index fingers in her mouth and stretches her mouth apart. Do you understand what I mean? she whispers.
So why do some casks develop this way and others don’t?
Even after years of experience of tasting and discovering these accidental Palo Cortados, Mirabel is still unsure. It is a mystery that has not found scientific explanation, yet. I found one possible explanation which talks about a batch of wines that have an unusual high content of malic acid which leads to a malolactic fermentation (secondary fermentation that never happens during classic sherry production). But this does not explain why one cask is different from another despite having the same base wine. I guess search goes on.
You may ask – what is the difference between Palo Cortado and Amontillado?
The biggest difference is that Amontillado undergoes full ageing as Fino and then is fortified again and aged oxidatively as Oloroso. Palo Cortado, on the other hand, has no biological ageing if produced intentionally or only a minimal if developed accidentally. The flor dies on its own accord for Palo Cortado whereas Amontillado undergoes purposeful second fortification in order to kill the flor.
So why the mystery?
It is difficult to talk about sherry and not mention its falling sales over the last 40 years. Many producers have taken the attitude of denial or defeatism but I believe there is potential that many are missing. In fact, Jerez as a tourist destination has not realised its unique possibilities yet. Change is needed but it does not come naturally to those who have depended on tradition for so long. Just look at Gonzales Byass’s boom, one meeting with the ambitious Martin Skelton and you will understand why their sales are so healthy. Palo Cortado used to be made accidentally but as Skelton says “the mystery continues and wineries have all developed their own ways of making this style of sherry. Everyone presumes to have the best Palo Cortado as there is no real fixed definition for its production. And of course we have the best one with Leonor.”
Mystery sells. And it works for Palo Cortado. It will not make you rich but may make you famous. The time of sherries is coming as Robert Parker has just discovered its treasures and awarded three sherries 100 points for the first time in September this year. One of these was a Palo Cortado from Barbadillo Reliquia while Equipo Navazos La Bota de Palo Cortado n. 41 was given an amazing 98 points. Sherry rocks!
Things are looking up again for the Australian Wine Industry in its international markets – or are they?
Australia is not only the second largest bottled wine exporter to China with a 15% market share in value and 13% in volume but exports “are expected to rise by 50% over the next three years” (The Drinks Business, Oct 2013). This projection would make it surpass the current biggest export market, the US. Annual Chinese consumption growth (+59%) is way ahead of its production (+24%) and China is expected to become the sixth largest consumer of wine in the world by 2014. With a growing middle class interest in premium wines in particular and decreasing demand for EU imports, Dean Person the National Australian Bank’s head of industry analysis is predicting a huge potential for Australian winemakers. Australia’s First Families of Wine visited China this year in a bid to highlight the quality and diversity of Australian wine and Mitchell Taylor, AFFW chairman proudly announced “Our Chinese launch was an overwhelming success”.
Opening high-end tasting rooms and cellars in China has proven to be a successful way to engage and penetrate this new market for wineries like Yabby Lake. This Mornington Peninsula winery has a presence in eight provinces with five cellar doors offering wine education experiences. Having a cellar door in the current market saturated with cheap and often counterfeit wines, offers confidence to the consumers. “There is a lot of scepticism about wine in China… that cellar door base gives the wine some credibility” says Duane Roy, winemaker of Glandore Estate.
Despite the love-hate relationship with the UK, Australia knows it can sell volume here.
The UK with its discount culture and consumption driven by brands is an opportunity and challenge for Australian big brand owners, if they are willing to listen and invest. Paul Schaafsma, UK and European head of Accolade Wine with its number one UK brand Hardys, believes that producers need to “closely engage with retailers and understand what their consumers want to drink” (Harpers, Oct 2013) to succeed. Accolade Wines has just signed a three-year deal with the UK’s largest retailer, Tesco. This may well bode well for Accolade, but it raises questions for that company’s Australian competitors that have yet to sign that kind of agreement.
Australians know how to throw a party.
Savour was one of the biggest marketing initiatives undertaken by the Australian Government and Tourism Australia. The event attracted 750 of the world’s leading wine trade professionals offering a potential economic benefit to Australia of AU$2.8 million according to The Advertiser. It demonstrated two key things. Firstly that Australian producers are aware of the current unprofitable situation. Exports have dropped visibly from AU$3 billion in 2007 to AU$1.8 billion in 2012 according to the Winemaker’s Federation of Australia. Secondly they are committed to innovation and willing to listen to the world. Paul Schaafsma praised the event’s “appropriate focus on Australia’s regional and premium wine offer” and highlighted its necessary balance. One of the positive outcomes was a three-year joint food and wine campaign between Tourism Australia and Wine Australia. The fact that both small and big producers got together to promote their wines shows an important commitment to the Australian future as a whole.
The weakening Australian Dollar is helping to stimulate sales again in the US.
The fact that “the single most important economic factor in the last 20 years affecting Australian wine has been the exchange rate” as suggested by wine economist Mike Veseth, shows how fragile both margins and retail prices can be. Prayers for exporters were answered early in 2013 when the Australian dollar started to depreciate. No one was more pleased than Casella Wines, whose brand Yellow Tail has 75% of its sales in the US. They experienced their first ever-financial loss (AU$30 million) last year due to the exchange rate after 20 years of trading. According to The Drinks Business, Yellow Tail is now looking to regain its lost profit. Yalumba from the Barossa (Australia’s oldest family-run winery) has already achieved 300% sales growth in the US after the favorable exchange rate enabled the retail price of its Y Series to be lowered by $2 to $10.
However Australia is finding it tough to make a come back in the US.
Despite the promises of growth and restored quality reputation, there remain some doubts. Will Australia be able to grow its market share in the US? Will it be able to reclaim its profitability yet again? According to The Drinks Business, Treasury Wine Estate anticipates shipments to the US will fall by up to 2 million cases in its 2014 financial year. Further more, Paul Rayner, the chairman, suggested “the company may look to offload its US business after chief executive David Dearie was shown the door over a AU$160 million loss” (The Australian, Sep 2013). The business also revealed a 53% drop in profit, down to AU$42 million in 2013, causing the shares plunge from AU$6.50 to $4.45. Larry Gandler, a Credit Suisse analyst, echoed this saying that “The underlying problem in the US is the health of the brand because of underinvestment in marketing” (The Australian, Sep 2013). Mike Veseth also pointed out during his Savour speech that “US market is so fragmented with at least 52 wine markets and the consumers are so diverse with more than 40% of adult Americans not drinking any alcohol at all, it is a maze to find your consumers and the right distribution.”
The real test is whether Australia can learn from its mistakes.
Overproduction and overreliance to selling the volume through the UK and the US are still haunting the Australian Wine Industry. Treasury Wines Estates was forced to pour AU$35 million worth of excess wine down the drain in the US (the equivalent of 500,000 cases) in July 2013. According to Bloomberg, a bumper grape crop this year is threatening to encourage further price cutting that could damage Australia’s quality image abroad (The Drink Business, Aug 2013). This calls for a review of Australian strategy.
Despite the fact that the industry has observed that the commercial grape oversupply causes distortion of the price and potentially the image, no effective solution has been find to tackle this issue. Muray Valley Winegrower chief executive Mark McKenzie lashed out after the outcomes of the Expert Review of the Wine Industry and said “It is ironic that the wineries blame fruit oversupply from independent growers for much of their woes, but they have not advocated any direct action to reduce excess production either through cool climate commercial wine grape production, or through the removal of excess wine production capacity” (Sunraysia Daily, Oct 2013). Whereas Mike Veseth spins more positive view and suggest that “Australia has come a long way toward alighting supply and demand in the markets and removing its excess capacity which various by regions yet there is still work to be done.”
Combination of all these thoughts justify the conclusion that yes things are, for many producers, looking up. Growing markets such as China are opening doors to Australian premium wine producers. UK thirst for promoted big brands will guarantee sales, even if margins will remain poor, for big brand owners. Savour has demonstrated that Australia has a good story to tell and is engaging with its customers. Yes exchange rates cannot be controlled, are hard to predict and have crucial impact on the margins but the current weakening of Australian dollar is stimulating sales. However, changes and strategy reviews are also due in order to tackle the wine surplus and falling prices. With the global consumption of wine exceeding global production of wine for the last 6 years, the new world is full of rising opportunities.
Maddox Street is the newest addition to the 28-50 family with other restaurants at Marylebone and Fetter Lane A brain-child of visionary Xavier Rousset and top chef Agnar Sverrisson who have created a relaxing place to enjoy fine yet affordable food and wine. The main room has a bright and airy interior with a chic wine bar displaying tempting seafood and an aficiado cigar humidor. The side-wall made of classic French wooden boxes is a neat way of storing bottles of wine while giving you the impression that this place means business. There is also a cosy underground space with polished wooden tables and a view of the kitchen, creating a perfect hide-away for those long boozy lunches.
Talking about lunch – ours was fair, but nowhere near as good as the last couple of times I dined at 28-50 at Fetter Lane. The starter (ranging £7 – £9) of baby beetroots, goat’s cheese curd and salad leaves was simple but delicious. Our main (around £15) chicken spatchcock was average, lacking taste and a bit dry unfortunately.
While this was bit of a let down on the day, a rare opportunity to try older vintages of Tahbilk, one of the oldest and most beautiful Australian wineries, more than made up for it. There are two things that you should know about this unique producer.
Their famous 100-acre (40 ha) Marsanne vineyard is the largest single holding of the variety in the world with 16 acres (6 ha) of vines dating back to 1927. The current release of 2011 (Armit £78 per 6) is delicate, pure and floral with lemony vibrancy and green apple freshness. By the time you start sipping the 1995, the wine is unrecognisable. Dark in colour reminiscent of an aged Sauternes, this is an aromatic infusion of orange peel, honey and dried fruits with a spicy, resiny finish and still with mouth-watering acidity. The 2004 vintage was a great balance between the two wines, perfect drinking now and my personal favourite.
The second fact you should know is that Tahbilk’s 1860 Vine Shiraz is one of the great 25 vineyards in the world and amongst the oldest Shiraz vines in the world with less than one hectare left. Many of these 153 years old vines did not survive the difficult 2006 frost and it is predicted that the remaining vines have only about 20 years left in them. So now is your chance to try these still affordable and available wines before they become a mere memory. Only 80 dozen were produced of the current release 2006 vintage but luckily Armit still has some in stock (£600 per 6). At the moment the 2006 vintage tastes like a young Hermitage but give it another 8-10 years (if you can) and nervy intensity with bright black pepper and sweet oaky notes will mellow to a rich, deep and complex delight. The 1999s were my favourite showing that these wines definitely shine with moderate ageing.
Let’s hope that Xavier will add some of these treasures to the wine list so that everyone gets the chance to try them. They should be a great addition to what is already a pretty interesting offer with many rarely seen wines. The fact that the majority are served by the glass, in a carafe or a bottle, is a great way to give people confidence to try and discover something new.
“Elegant palate with good minerality and the potential to develop. Nicely understated with firm, fresh fruit and good acidity. Well crafted.” Domaine Jean Bilaud-Simon Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir £35, Decanter
“Firm, stony mineral nose. Tight-knit palate with a mineral backbone. Powerful and understated.” Domaine Wiliam Fevre Bougros Cote Bouguerots Chablis Grand Cru £40, Decanter
“Accesible, fresh quaffer with bountiful amounts of fruity appeal. It’s elegant, also, with delicate peach aromas and quite a long, mineral-tinged finish.” Sainsbury’s Taste Difference Gavi, Piedmont £7.99, Decanter
“This is classic, zesty Sancerre with a deliciously refreshing structure supporting vibrant, grassy aromas and textbook minerality.” Waitrose In Partnership with Joseph Mello Sancerre, Loire Valley £10.99, Decanter
“Well balanced Douro red at an attractive price, with subtle, spicy oak, good minerality and acidity and tarry, brambly fruit.” Tanners Douro Red, £7.95, Tim Atkin MW
“Subtle, flinty, yet ripe, with good almostGraves-like concentration and notes of gooseberry and minerals.” Reuilly Les Coignons, Denis Jamain, Loire Valley £14.25, Tim Atkin MW
“Lively, bracing, pure mineral nose. The Palate is dry with lovely mineral, citrus, pear and baked apple character. Very precise with a spicy, mineral core. Generous and ripe but with good acidity and a dry finish. Weighty but precise, showing beautiful poise.” Van Volxem Saar Riesling Mosel £15.95, Jamie Goode
“Very bright and fresh, this is a lean, lemony, mineral style of Chardonnay with keen acidity and some subtle toasty notes… There’s a little bit of matchstick minerality here. Tight, fresh and precise with some waxy, pithy complexity. Quite Chablis-like.” Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay Tasmania, Jamie Goode