August is a quiet month for the wine industry – most of France, Italy and Spain go on holiday. Yet, there’s been plenty to write about this week at Decanter.com, where I’m acting as news and commissioning editor. So here’s a digest of the main news stories in the wine industry this week…
The Champenois have announced the yield for the 2011 vintage – 12,500kg – which is approximately 20% more than last year due to increased demand for bubbly. The Champagne houses wanted a higher yield with their sales up 13% last year but the growers weren’t so keen, and this was the compromise.
The Champagne region is now recovering from a blip during the economic crash of late 2008 and if sales continue on the upward curve it is now on, they’ll have a shortage. The industry is currently undertaking research to figures out a way to manage supply and demand. With a restricted area that is planted to bursting point, they will struggle to make more, so it will be interesting to see what solution they come up with.
In Burgundy, five grands crus vineyards are banning the use of machine harvesting from the coming vintage. I spoke to president of the Union of Burgundy Grands Crus, Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, during his holiday in Tuscany to ask him why they’d done this. There are 5% of the grands crus that use machines and it gives us a bad image. Hand harvesting does cost a bit more but the quality is much better,’ he said.
At the end of the week, Domaine de l’Arlot’s winemaker of 13 years has also left to establish his own domaine down in the Ardeche. More on that next week, I hope.
Over in the US, there have been acquisitions aplenty. At the start of the week, Fiji water billionaire, Stewart Resnick bought Chardonnay specialist Landmark Vineyards of Sonoma. It’s the second purchase for his company Roll Global in eight months.
Roll Global is one to watch, as is Alejandro Bulgheroni. While most magazines reported his acquisition of Renwood Vineyard from the company’s press release, there seemed to be more to this one. A 20-minute chat with Alejandro, revealed he was not only a charming businessman that has made his millions in oil and gas, he’s also got grand designs for a wine empire, aspiring to run six wineries, including what’s thought to be the world’s southernmost vineyard.
London rioters stormed Michelin-star restaurant The Ledbury at the start of the week, smashing windows and stealing personal items from customers. The Ledbury’s kitchen staff managed to chase away the rioters, armed with a variety of kitchen items. While it must have been terrifying for diners, The Ledbury offered them all Champagne to ease their anxiety.
Further restaurant news in London: Spanish chef Jose Pizarro will be opening a Cava bar at his new restaurant Pizarro. It is in Bermondsey Street – the same road as his newly-opened tapas and sherry bar. It should open in October. Should….
There’s nothing new about a Shiraz/Viognier blend but what about Malbec/Torrontes? And why haven’t we thought of this before?
At Decanter’s Argentina tasting this weekend, I tried a Malbec which had an attractive yet unusual orange blossom/flora character that I’d never experienced before. Does it have some Viognier in, I asked? No – Torrontes. Argentina’s two signature grapes in a blend together equals genius idea.
Tapiz’s new 08 Bicentanario is a blend of Malbec, Bonarda and Torrrontes. It was interesting and bloody delicious. The Torrontes really lifted the wine aromatically and provided freshness. But Tapiz was not the first to have come up with the idea…
Mauricio Lorca claims to be the first to release a Malbec Torrontes under the name ‘Malbrontes’! It seems like an obvious idea now it’s been done but why has it taken so long to someone to do it? Lorca says, “I don’t know. The general mentality of the commercial guys is that unusual things don’t sell so this kind of things has to come from a small producer.”
“When I first did the blend I showed the wine to my friends and they thought it was such an easy and friendly wine.”
It is a soft, juicy wine without much complexity but that’s what it’s meant to be – and at £8.99 in Harrods, it’s probably one of the cheapest things you’ll find in the store.
The Tapiz is a bit more serious, which you’d expect for £18.
Both producers ferment the varieties separately and then blend them together. Tapiz ages both the Malbec and Bonarda in oak before blending with the Torrontes while the Malbrontes sees no oak. Interestingly (if you’re an MW student, winemaker or geek), Lorca takes the Malbec juice off its skins after just 3 days of fermentation to minimise tannin extraction and then completes the ferment like a white wine in stainless steel at 18C. This maximises the aromatics giving blackberry, violets and lovely juiciness. For the Torrontes part of the blend, Lorca picks some of the fruit slightly underripe to give more acidity. Malolactic fermentation is avoided to maintain freshness.
So, are we going to see some more Malbrontes or Torronbec in the future? I hope so.
Crikey, who’d have thought it would be so difficult to get a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand?
I am currently searching for a South African, Chilean and Loire Sauvignon for a Master of Wine tasting practice with Lynnette Hudson, winemaker at Pegasus Bay. But it is proving rather difficult. I called respected merchant Vino Fino in Christchurch and they could only help me out with the Sancerre – but it will cost me $52 (Â£23) for the privilege. When you’re such a strong Sauvignon player, the assistant told me, you can’t sell Sauvignons from the rest of the world. I guess it’s the same in most wine-producing countries. New Zealand’s wines are of an enviable standard but it’s a shame people aren’t able to try styles beyond their borders.
I was clearly spoiled for choice in London where the local independent merchant would always have something from Leyda, Stellenbosch and Touraine on the shelves. Unfortunately you don’t realise how lucky you are until you move away.
Now I am horribly aware that trying to do tasting practice for the MW in the UK is a) less hassle and b) cheaper than doing it elsewhere – although living costs and exorbitant travel fares add up (Â£4.10 for a single on the tube is a joke, Boris).
So, if anyone from the UK is coming over to Auckland, could you stick a bottle of Rueda/Argentine Torrontes/anything from South Africa in your luggage for me?
Itâ€™s less than three weeks until I move from London to New Zealand. Now, I know itâ€™s a long way away but youâ€™d think I was going to disappear off the face of the earth! Whatever happened to the wonder of email, telephone and Skype?
Iâ€™ll keep you updated with general news â€“ and the latest from the New Zealand and Australian wine industry plus Iâ€™ll still be writing for the UK publications including Harpers, Decanter and Food & Travel so youâ€™re not rid of me yet.
Thanks to everyone who came to my leaving do on Tuesday. There were lots of familiar faces including the former head of Wines of Argentina, James Forbes. Itâ€™s just been announced heâ€™ll be the new head of buying and marketing at Stevens Garnier in the New Year. Good luck to him in his new role.
Expect to be reading about Tescoâ€™s autumn press tasting in the nationals in the coming weeks â€“ the big names had turned up to taste through some of the 150 wines at the tasting.
What will be their verdict? Well, I canâ€™t predict that but take it from me, Tim Atkin MW will not be enthusing about the Â£3.74 White Merlot.
Personally, I struggled to find any gems in the pack. I admit I didnâ€™t taste all 150 wines as fatigue kicked in and my enthusiasm waned half way through the reds but my black teeth are proof that I put my time in today.
The whites were generally of a good standard â€“ you get what you pay for. Iâ€™d be happy to drink most of them and they are varietally correct but there was nothing that I would rave about. Picks of the bunch would include Tescoâ€™s Finest 2008 Gavi (Â£7.49), Finest Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 2009 (Â£6.98) and Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling 2008 (Â£8.99).
Unfortunately the reds I tasted didnâ€™t leave me feeling very cheery either. Its Finest Hermitage 2005 costing a cool Â£19.99 was not up to scratch in my opinion nor was its 2004 Rioja Reserva from Vina Mara. I think I would feel rather cheated if I had paid Â£8.98 for this brett-central Tempranillo.
Anyway enough doom and gloom. On a positive note, I must be turning into a bargain basement wine taster because its Finest Mendoza Malbec 2008, made by Catena, and costing just Â£4.24 was a bit of a stand out. This inky purple wine has classic Malbec flavours â€“ ripe blueberry, blackberry and a lick of dairy vanilla on the palate. The concentrationâ€™s pretty good at this price. Ok, the tannins are pretty drying and the alcoholâ€™s a little warm but I can forgive that at under a fiver.
Are we guilty of not listening to the consumer? Probably, yes. Working in the wine trade every day does tend to take over your life â€“ itâ€™s not just a job â€“ you drink, sleep, breathe the stuff. Inevitably that tends to mean we are removed from the wine-buying public. No matter how many Wine Intelligence studies or in-house market research we read, can we really remember how we felt about buying wine or what we were drinking before we got into the trade? Tricky, isnâ€™t it?
In my last blog, I praised London restaurant Lâ€™Anima for putting its wine list in the hands of the twittering public. Great publicity and a great way to involve your customers.
Days later, Iâ€™m interviewing Naked Wines boss Rowan Gormley who has come up with the genius (albeit brave) idea of getting his customers to choose the wine. Heâ€™s already got his customers, affectionately known as â€˜angelsâ€™ to do this back in June and aims to do it again in the autumn.
The price of getting Naked
As I explained in my article on decanter.com, Naked will stump up US$100,000 on wine at this year’s Wines of Argentina trade tasting and do the same at Wines of South Africaâ€™s tasting in October.
Heâ€™s asking fifty of his â€˜most activeâ€™ customers to attend the London event. Theyâ€™ll taste 100 wines and select 10 for the list.
Customer empowerment goes furtherâ€¦the angels then state a price they would be prepared to pay for the selected wines against the prices set by the wineries. The wineries are online â€“ or at the tasting â€“ and see the price comparisons and are able to adjust their prices if they wish. If the customers donâ€™t believe the wine is worth as much as the producer does, the producer can then reduce its price to secure a larger order â€“ or not.
Gormley believes enfranchising the customer is all-important. â€˜We have tasted with consumers and if you say Robert Parker has given it this mark or this critic said this it doesnâ€™t mean much but the most powerful view is fellow consumers.â€™
Is there anybody out there?
Only 50 wines have been submitted by the Argentineans thus far and Gormley expressed surprise and disappointment the response had been lacklustre when thereâ€™s such a decent prize at stake. Come on senors and senoritas, get your Argentinean fingers out.