Category Archives: Uncategorized
Have you seen the new Virgin America flight safety video? No? Well 6 million people did through YouTube, 430,000 shared it on Facebook and 17,000 on Twitter, in less than two weeks. All this without even stepping on a plane!
In-flight safety demonstrations are desperately boring. Few of us pay attention and even fewer find them entertaining. They have loads in common with wine talks and presentations. Finding ways to connect with people and the achieving the right tone (whether humorous or aspirational) that will resonate with them is not an easy task.
The wine trade is failing constantly while being routinely blamed for not communicating with their consumers. Frankly, this issue is not new. It has been talked about for years and not much has changed. In fact, it is as bad as ever despite all the communication tools we have available now.
Inside the trade bubble, we all seem to be quite comfortable, boasting of lavish dinners with winemakers, drooling over old vintages and eagerly discussing terroir and minerality. Just mention TCA and twitter will go ballistic. I think we have sucked the marrow out of natural wines, from both viewpoints. What’s next? I can see trunk disease or methoxypyrazines spurring animated conversations for days to come. But as soon as we are asked to engage with punters we get wobbly knees.
The biggest challenge is to see both perspective and there aren’t many so blessed. Let’s hope that John Atkinson MW is wrong in tweeting that “The geek is always a geek. He can never be transformed.”
So why is it that we have not been able to capture the audience as many other industries have done so successfully? Look at spirits for example. With their rapidly growing global consumption – by close to 9% in the last two years – they are literally changing our drinking behaviour.
This success is primarily driven by innovation, creative advertising, digital marketing and celebrity endorsement in spite of the weak global economy. The problem, as I see it, is that many wine professionals focus on changing and educating those new to wine. In fact, what we should be doing is interacting and connecting with them.
In the UK, the highest portion of wine is sold at £4-5 price bracket, the average price of bottle of wine is at £5.15 per bottle, nine in ten will be sourced from the major supermarkets and 60% will be on some type of promotion. If you want to inspire people to drink better wines, this is what you are up against, people not wanting to spend much and discounts offering the strongest incentive.
Talking to consumers at the recent London-based wine fair organised by Spirited Wines/Nicolas, it became very clear that people are just not that interested in wine. Something that Robert Joseph, the ever-controversial wine critic, has been warning us about for a while now.
So there was me equipped (optimistically) with a large-format map of Burgundy and ready with details of soil and oak management for each wine. After all, I was presenting prestigious Albert Bichot wines including Grand Cru Moutonne. As an MW student I was ready for any wine-related questions coming my way.
Well, guess how many people asked me about the Burgundy? How the wines were made? Who made them? Count the fingers on both hands and you would not be far off.
Instead, people were eager to find out about me. Now I am not a particularly exciting or interesting person but many were keen to know why I study wine and what I do. What wines I like and what wines should they buy. We talked about everything and anything – sharing our holiday experiences, comparing our top dining encounters and gossiping about the latest TV shows.
What I learned that people like to talk to wine experts but only if they make them feel comfortable and communicate on the same level in a fun and engaging way. Not trying to blow my own trumpet too much, and mainly based on the punters’ feedback and enthusiasm around my stand, I think I did ok. I guess there was that gorgeous Grand Cru that probably had something to do with it too.
To get that perfect balance between being down-to-earth yet at the same time delivering an aspirational message is a tough nut to crack. A great recent example is the Berry Bro & Rudd ad at the Telegraph. It manages to connect to the reader in a down to earth way and yet be aspirational.
“As well as the odd wine for £9,000 and quite a few wines for £90, we also sell Good Ordinary Claret for £9. It is not the greatest wine ever made, but it is a great wine for £9. For us, wine is not about the price tag, but about passing one simple test: Is it good to drink”
So clever on many different levels. It pricks the pomposity of wine with the £9 price tag but also subtly it says that BBR sell wines that are far more exclusive. It simultaneously appeals to people with a sense for value but also those who aspire to finer wine.
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
“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
Minerality is a romantic tasting descriptor. Its popularity is driven by our obsession with terroir. Its puzzlement follows the same mystique of making wine, or as many marketers would have us believe. It is a magical word that describes a sacred quality and makes the wine taste better whenever anyone mentions it. It is more than just a tingle on the tongue.
With ever-changing trends, we also change how we talk about wines. Look at tasting reviews and you will find that chalky Chablis, gravelly Sancerre and slatey Mosel Riesling are being replaced by the minerality phenomenon. With huge success appearing even in some ‘lucky’ New World regions. Its noticeable overuse in the last couple of years, for any style, any price, any wine has spurred the flood of prose trying to unravel the mystery behind it.
Despite its mystique, minerality is a very unique concept universally understood to be good, indicating a specific provenance. Yet casual wine drinkers still have no idea what we are on about. In fact even wine experts cannot seem to agree on a simple definition or explanation. Tasting notes of wines with restrained aromas are glittered with it. More upfront and fruit driven wines less so. Marketing catchphrase or not, we seem to be obsessed with it. I am as guilty as anyone.
What do we actually mean by it? Ask any wine expert and you will receive a different answer. It is impossible to define. And this is one of the reasons why there is so much debate about it. Some describe it as a zingy & acidic sensation or wet pebbles & chalky flavours, some speak of a smoky or salty taste, and a small few associate it with complex sulphur compounds and reduction. It is almost as controversial as biodynamic or natural wines and similarly difficult to explain (scientifically at least). In fact it is a very misleading concept because it is so subjective.
My experience tells me that it is the acidity that reinforces minerality in our minds. Both Bevan Johnson from Newton Johnson and Manfred Ing from Querciabella describe it as a perception of liveliness and freshness that is not just acidity. If you look at the type of grape varieties and the type of cool climate that minerality is associated with (Mosel Riesling, Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir etc.) then this seems a very plausible explanation. Too often have I found myself hedging between high acidity and minerality and in my opinion they both are very closely knit.
UK wine writer Andrew Jefford is more sceptical. He argues that low acidic wine can express more minerality than high acidic wine. US wine critic Chris Kissack also believes that acidity and minerality feel very different on the palate.
Randall Grahm, winemaker and founder of Bonny Doon introduced an idea that minerality may be confused with reduction or mercaptans/thiols. Flavours such as that well-known appealing scent of cat’s pee and passion fruit, or less favourable characteristics of a struck match or flintiness. Sam Harrop MW points out that yes you can get a flinty smell from two rocks rubbing together but you can’t rub this smell into the final wine. His view is that sulphides produced during fermentation are responsible for this aroma.
How many times have you heard wine critics describing the smell of wet stones as minerality in wines? There is actually such a smell. What happens is that rocks covered with organic matter and plants release a volatile compound petrichor after rain, which is responsible for this unique kind of earthy smell. In fact, it is not the smell of the rock but the organic matter that we associate with minerality. But none of that is relevant to the sensation on our palates.
So how is minerality produced? Despite digging deep, there is no scientific explanation and therefore no solid answer on offer. However, let’s be absolutely clear about one aspect. Minerality in wine and whatever this represents to us, is irrelevant to the geological minerals in the soil despite its literal suggestion. As Alex Maltmam, geology professor confirms “ Whatever minerality is, it cannot literally be the taste of minerals derived from the vineyard geology.”
Vines do absorb minerals but only in the form of dissolved ions (not the actual geological rocks) together with essential water and nutrients through their roots. It is then unlikely that any amount of rocky minerals (feldspar, quartz, gypsum, graphite) or nutrient minerals (ions of calcium, sodium, potassium, aluminium, silicon, manganese) is transferred to the grapes. No matter how rocky or nutritious the soil is. After all, almost all mineral nutrients are flavourless and odourless. Their concentration is so low we just aren’t able to taste them.
This is not to say that soil does not influence the flavour of wine. For example, alkaline soils such as limestone and chalk predispose high acidity and low ph in wines. It is also essential to have mycorrhizal fungi and humus present in the soil in order for the roots to transfer nutrients to the plant. It is logical to conclude that a fertile soil is the pre-condition for minerality sensation as well as having an influence on wine taste, balance and quality, even if indirectly. However, in practise it is the poor rocky soil with deep roots that we associate with minerality.
Anyway going back to our search for the source or cause of minerality. Neither can we claim that it is produced during fermentation despite some minerals such as aluminium, calcium and iron being present during this conversion. While it is true that some minerals influence the metabolism of yeast and therefore the outcome of fermentation flavours. Two Czech scientists observed that minerality “was more to do with the relationship between the nutritional stress of yeasts and succinic acid production, which can result in a final difference in the taste of wine. The more succinic acid the greater the perceived minerality there was in the wine”. (Dyson & McShane) Succinic acid is produced during fermentation and we perceive it as a salty or bitter taste in the final wine. But this is very rare. Similarly it is very rare to have traces of sodium chloride which gives the sensation of saltiness.
Fining with bentonite, that can leach earth elements to the must, doesn’t present sufficient grounds to be the source. The amounts are miniscule, cannot be tasted and not all wines that are described as having minerality have been fined by this method. Neither does it develop during ageing. In fact, both potassium and calcium are transformed to potassium bitartrate crystals during ageing and therefore reduced even further.
As minerality comes in so many guises and with no convincing pattern, we are unable to define or explain it. The only answer is the fact that minerality sensation has several pre-dispositions. Whether it is cool climate, grape variety, high acidity, level of pH, composition of soil, production of mercaptans or succinic acids during the fermentation or something totally different and as yet undiscovered. The question is, should we search further for the most credible answer? Or alternatively we can just continue using it metaphorically in the same way as we describe lemony notes of Riesling or pencil shaving flavours in Claret.
SOURCE & USEFUL READS
Alex Maltman (2013) –
Andrew Jeffford (2013) –
Chris Kissack (2013) – http://thewinedoctor.com/blog/2013/09/minerality-is-confusing/
Jordan Ross (2012) – http://www.enologyinternational.com/articles/Minerality_reprint.pdf
Sally Easton MW (2013) – http://www.winewisdom.com/articles/describing-minerality/
Sue Dyson and Roger McShane (2013) –
BELL HILL VINEYARD TASTING AT POLLEN STREET SOCIAL
LONDON – 17th SEPTEMBER 2013
It is always a great pleasure to taste exclusive wines of older vintages. It gives you a foresight into how the current releases may develop and age. But it’s also heart-breaking to know that none of us will be able to buy and enjoy these wines again. Aged wines from New Zealand are just not available. Bell Hill wines from North Canterbury are no different. The industry is relatively young, producers sell out of any age-worthy wines upon release due to the minimal production, holding back stock for producers is financially unreasonable and for consumers very rare.
Marcel Giesen (one of the famous three Giesen brothers) and Sherwyn Veldhuizen are the owners of Bell Hill vineyard. They were thought to be crazy when they bought 2.5 hectares of old lime quarry in the Weka Pass in North Canterbury back in 1997 with the aim of planting vines there. However, no-one is laughing now. Their wines have become some of the best and the most exclusive in New Zealand. The price tag follows the success. A bottle of current release Chardonnay 2010 will set you back round £80 and Pinot Noir 2010 close to £100 (retail price).
Production is minimal and I really mean minimal. Only 1,400 bottles were made in total of the 2010 vintage which will be snapped up before you can sneeze. If you want to get hold of any for your wine stash, you had better talk to Armit – the UK agent. There are one or two bottles of Bell Hill Chardonnay 2009 left on Providores wine list, so I am told, but Tim Atkin MW has his beady eyes on them so hurry!
So what is so special about these wines? Growing vines on limestone soil is no walk in the park. The high pH & high risk of chlorosis demands a specific French rootstock 161-49 which is tolerant to active limestone. However, Marcel and Sherwyn have chosen this vineyard particularly because of this. The high pH helps to preserve a vital acidity and freshness that makes these wines unrecognisable from Cote d’Or. What is amazing is that the focussed and long acidity is consistent across all the wines we tasted from 2003 to 2011.
Another challenge is the annual frost. This is not uncommon in the South Island and temperature programmed wind machines seem to take care of the worst. However, Marcel and Sherwyn told us that it is actually getting the right staff with commitment and passion that is the hardest job for them. They manage their vineyard with great attention to detail, hard work and just a hint of unorthodox thinking. No use of irrigation once the young vines are established, high density planting 11,363 vines per hectare to reduce yield, and limiting soil access forcing the roots to grow deeper.
But their work is not done yet. They are only just starting to realise the fruits of their hard labour and as they are working towards biodynamic certification, there is still much they have to learn about their babies, as they call their vines.
LIBERTY WINES PREMIUM AUSTRALIAN TASTING
LONDON – 4TH SEPTEMBER 2013
There is no doubt that the strong Australian dollar is a double-edged sword on all producers’ minds. Rarely have export margins been squeezed so much due to exchange rates. Talking to several winemakers, it appears that having a strong bond and trust in your importer is crucial in times like this. In fact, having a good importer can be the key reason for sticking with a mature market rather than shifting focus to emerging markets. Investing & making the time for such tastings and talking about their wines directly to their customers is exactly what needs to happen if they want to prosper. Those winemakers in the room – seem to get this.
Here is my shopping basket from the tasting:
Plantagenet Museum Riesling 2005, Great Southern, Western Australia – £18.99 (Cath Oates, winemaker since 2012)
Dawson & James Chardonnay 2010, Tasmania – £46.99 (Tim James, winemaker)
Dawson & James Pinot Noir 2010, Tasmania – £54.99
Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2012, Clare Valley – £17.99 (Stephanie Toole, winemaker)
Grosset Alea Off-dry Riesling 2012, Clare Valley – £19.99 (Jeffrey Grosset, winemaker)
Innocent Bystander Moscato 2013, Yarra Valley – £7.49/375ml (Steve Flamsteed, winemaker)
William Downie Pinot Noir 2010, Gippsland – £48.99
By Farr Chardonnay 2011, Geelong – £46.99 (Nick Farr, winemaker)
By Farr ‘Farrside’ Pinot Noir 2011, Geelong – £52.99
Greenstone Vineyard Shiraz 2010, Heathcote – £23.99 (Mark Walpole, viticulturalist)
Now I always thought it would be fun to become an apprentice. Watching multi-millionaire tycoon Lord Sugar mercilessly grilling his flock of pompous and cocky candidates and then crushing their hopes by delivering his trademark verdict “You’re fired”! Indulgent entertainment when observed from a comfy sofa but would I cut the mustard so to speak, I always wondered.
I thought that this competitive yet entertaining challenge might work well in the wine industry. When you work in the wine trade you have pretty limited options. You are either involved in production, in selling or in marketing wine. Only very few entrepreneurs are able to cut across the professions successfully. And even fewer are lucky to be involved in rewarding and varied opportunities.
When Robert Joseph (a widely recognised opinionated wine thinker and original public speaker) announced that he is looking for an apprentice I just could not resist. Offering challenge, innovation, off-the-wall ideas and originality. Just tell me where to sign! If you know Robert you will probably not be surprised that in his search for the right apprentice he has thrown in a couple of curve balls. Selling Bordeaux at Glastonbury? Launching chocolate-flavoured wine in Britain? Persuading Frenchwomen to drink Australian Riesling? Whatever theme was chosen, the apprentices-to-be were asked to flaunt their imagination and to show what they are made off.
Luck has it I got the job! Sorry Lord Sugar but it wouldn’t work with us…
So if you are ready to share new ideas and feel that the still inaccessible wine world needs shaking up with a good dose of enthusiasm and fun – please feel free to follow me on twitter @danigongoozler. I follow back.