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This is why we don’t have to panic about running out of wine!

Screen Shot 2013-11-01 at 23.02.39 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

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Myth Behind Palo Cortado

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 22.59.50 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!

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in Spain

 

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Things are looking up again for the Australian Wine Industry in its international markets – or are they?

AustraliaChina is a lucrative market for Australian premium wines.

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.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Australia

 

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Tahbilk vertical tasting and lunch at 28-50 Maddox Street

Tahbilk 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.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Australia

 

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The Myth Behind Minerality in Wine

id_2013_by_myth_dragon-d5vyn6p “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) –

http://cadair.aber.ac.uk/dspace/bitstream/handle/2160/10840/minerality_in_wine.pdf?sequence=1

Andrew Jeffford (2013) –

http://www.decanter.com/news/blogs/expert/529708/jefford-on-monday-a-fashion-for-stones

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) –

http://www.livingwines.com.au/Articles/Minerality-in-wine-Part-2.pdf

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Small thoughts after a grand tasting…

Eagle THE GREAT RHEINGAU RIESLING REVIEW

LONDON – 19th SEPTEMBER 2013

When leaving the grand halls of the German Embassy where the VDP Rheingau tasting was held yesterday, I could not help but feel sadly frustrated. I’m very fond of these fine, if pricey, Rieslings, don’t get me wrong. But bringing them to a dinner table is another matter.

It is not often you get to try so many exceptional wines in one tasting. The wines were pure, energetic and achieved the ultimate balance between acidity and sweetness. Not a single wine showed weakness or disappointment. There is no doubt in my mind that the quality of the wine is of the highest. But the rest is a mystique worthy of less praise. The labels, the names, the classification, you name it. Will this ever change?

Looking across the room there are eagles staring back at me everywhere. Some have sharp beaks and striking wings.  It is difficult to imagine bringing any of these bottles to your friends for dinner.  It may be true that wine experts can happily overcome these dated designs but I am doubtful about consumers. I also wonder how many would feel confident enough to present these tongue twisters at the party. “Oh hello I hope you enjoy this bottle of Randersackerer Teufelskeller Riesling….that I brought” Even if you get past all that how do you know how your bottle of Riesling will taste. Should you serve it before or after your meal, as an appetizer or a dessert wine?

I guess the wide range of wines from dry to sweet is both an advantage but also the biggest challenge. However, German producers seem unable or unwilling to simplify German Riesling for consumers. Volume sales are sinking year on year with a 13% reduction in volume in the UK market last year. As one of the producers nervously joked, “we were crap in marketing so we invented classification”. I rest my case.

Producers to watch:

Weingut Künstler

Weingut Leitz

Schloss Johannisberg (2011 Riesling Goldlack TBA aus dem Holzfass No. 173 that has just recently been auctioned for €1,040 per bottle is divine)

Weingut Josef Spreitzer

Weingut Robert Weil

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Germany

 

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Could these be the most expensive wines from New Zealand?

Sherwyn Veldhuizen & Marcel Giesen

Sherwyn Veldhuizen & Marcel Giesen

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.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2013 in New Zealand, Uncategorized

 

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My 10 Best Australian Wines from Liberty

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)

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Australia, Uncategorized

 

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Wine tourism in Italy is as developed as life on Mars!

blue-moon-wolf-fullWine tourism in Italy is as developed as life on Mars

“Buongiorno – it was rather tricky to find your place – no signs or directions”

“Oh well to be honest we don’t do visits and do not really want people coming to our winery”

Not the kind of welcome you expect when you drive over 1,000 miles across Europe keen to learn and thirsty to discover new culture and wines. Nevertheless, too often we faced this direct yet honest greeting while visiting wineries in Piedmont and Tuscany this summer.

Whereas the New World is successfully attracting visitors while generating nice income, Italians are still living in the past. I was shocked by the lack of thought given to wine tourism here. Once you pass the doorstep, it is a totally opposite experience and you are likely to be treated with genuine friendliness.

Luckily some producers are slowly realising the benefits of cellar door sales and the power of communicating with their consumers. Anna Savino @winesavi is one of the passionate people to watch out for as she plans to develop visitor-friendly experience at Vajra in Barolo. Similarly, Manfred Ing @bottleofgrapes, the winemaker of Querciabella in Chianti, is happy to share his wealth of knowledge and is a great ambassador for his wines.

So if you are planning a trip of your own, here are top places to stay, eat, shop and  some amazing wines I tried and enjoyed.

Places to eat:

Antica Torre in Barbaresco (www.anticatorrebarbaresco.com) – great food, must try Barbaresco risotto

Enoteca Fuoripiazza in Greve in Chianti (www.enotecafuoripiazza.it) – fantastic Italian bistro full of locals, very friendly service, must eat in Greve, wine shop

Bar-Ucci in Volpaia, Chianti (www.bar-ucci.it) – rustic but delicious Italian food, recommending panzanella and crostini

Enoteca & Osteria Osticcio in Montalcino (www.osticcio.com) – brilliant views of the Montalcino countryside, good food (rather large portions), wine shop downstairs with wide range of Brunellos and French wines (not the best place to buy wine if you are looking for a bargain – prices are €5 higher per bottler then Enoteca di Piazza (see below)

Places to stay:

Hotel Ca’del Lupo in Montelupo Albese, Piedmont (www.cadellupo.it) – modern, clean cheap place, with wi-fi, swimming pool and a decent restaurant just across the yard that makes delicious pasta primi

Villa Bordoni just off Greve in Chianti (www.villabordoni.com) – luxurious place with great garden, swimming pool and top-notch mini-restaurant (some of the best food in Italy)

La Pieve close to Montalcino (www.lapievedimontalcino.it) – great location amongst the vineyards with large swimming pool, but no wifi and rather overpriced, great little restaurant with fantastic food and very well-priced wine list

Places to shop for wine:

Enoteca Fracchia & Berchialla in Alba (www.fracchiaeberchialla.com) – great Italian wine selection from Alto Adige to Sicily, competitively priced, some snippets of European wines

Enoteca di Piazza in Montalcino (www.enotecadipiazza.com) – based in the heart of this medieval town, equipped with enomatic machines, great selection of Italians wines, competitively priced, ship worldwide

Producer to try

Details

Where to find

Bruno Rocca in Barbaresco

http://www.brunorocca.it

http://www.libertywine.co.uk

Giacomo Fenocchio in Monforte d’Alba

http://www.giacomofenocchio.com

http://www.armitwines.co.uk

Renato Corino in Pozzo

http://www.renatocorino.it

http://www.swig.co.uk

G.D. Vajra in Barolo

http://www.gdvajra.it

http://www.libertywine.co.uk

Renato Ratti in La Morra

http://www.renatoratti.com

http://www.marksandspencer.com

Beni di Batasiolo in Barolo

http://www.batasiolo.com

Tricky to find

Poderi Aldo Conterno in Barolo

http://www.poderialdoconterno.com

http://www.libertwine.co.uk

Conterno Fantino in Barolo

http://www.conternofantino.it

http://www.enotria.co.uk

Vietti in Barolo

http://www.vietti.com

http://www.bibendum-wine.co.uk

Querciabella in Chianti

http://www.querciabella.com

http://www.armitwines.co.uk

Petrolo in Arezzo

http://www.petrolo.it

http://www.libertywine.co.uk

Riecine in Chianti

http://www.riecine.it

http://www.tanners-wines.co.uk

Isola e Elena

Not available

http://www.libertywine.co.uk

Pian Dell’Orino in Montalcino

http://www.piandellorino.com

http://www.lescaves.co.uk

Sn Giusto a Rentennano in Chianti

http://www.fattoriasangiusto.it

http://www.wineraks.com

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2013 in Italy

 

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Work experience with a difference?

ImageWork experience with a difference? Who wouldn’t be tempted!

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.

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

 
 
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