Wine sales at the latest Sotheby’s auction smashed pre-sale estimates, making more than US$2.2 million,
Initial estimates for the 25 February Finest and Rarest sale in New York were set between $1.3 and $1.9m. A 99% sell through rate was far more encouraging than its London sale three days earlier, where 77 lots – or 13% of items – remained unsold.
The sale was led by a case of Château Pétrus 1982 which fetched $58,188 nearing the high estimate.
There was also more evidence of Asian collectors going beyond Bordeaux and Burgundy with a rare nebuchadnezzar (15 litres – sounds like a good night in) of Italian wine, Masseto, which sold to a private Asian buyer for $49,000, several times the $12/18,000 estimate.
Duncan Sterling, head of Sotheby’s wine auctions, New York said: “We were pleased with the $2.2 million total achieved in our February sale. There was enthusiastic bidding from Asia and Latin America as well as a resurgence in the American market. A packed saleroom and spirited bidding from online buyers confirmed the market’s concentration on Burgundy including selections from DRC, Hubert Lignier and Jean-Marie Fourrier.
“Italian wines continued to be much in demand with stellar results for Masseto, Brunello from Gianfranco Soldera and Solaia,” he added
Sotheby’s claimed the sale was particularly notable for the renewed demand from American collectors alongside Latin America and Asia.
Have you heard of Erbaluce? Or Manzoni Bianco? No? Nor me.
But Peter Dry, a viticulture expert at the AWRI, suggested that these two varieties should be considered by cool climate producers, instead of the usual suspects. Indeed international varieties have gained a rather superior status, and he is championing ‘varietal egalitarianism’. Let’s face it there are thousands of varieties out there and we are rather limiting consumers’ choices.
Dr Richard Smart added, “It’s rather insulting to consumers to limit varieties to half a dozen varieties.”
So, why should we be considering the likes of Erbaluce and other so-called alternative varieties?
“These varieties may be better suited to climatic conditions including drought tolerance,” said Dry. “There are cool climate areas with low growing season rainfall and high aridity.
“During times of drought our cool climate areas have sufered because they rely on water stored in dams and the dams are empty.”
As well as it being more suitable to increasing temperatures and lower rainfall, people might actually prefer to drink something other than Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. “They may provide a greater range of flavours suited to the Asian palate. According to a CSIRO study, alternative varieties including Lagrein and Fiano may be better suited and may offer a competitive advantage.” said Dry
So, what is Erbaluce? An Italian white variety, that reaches maturity relatively early, is tolerant of botrytis, has good acidity and elegance. Manzoni Bianco, another Italian grape provides “good wine quality with structure and floral characters,” he added.
Should you have an Italian Barbera or a Chilean Chardonnay with your pizza? It’s a big decision but don’t fret – help is at hand! Staff at online wine trader Virgin Wines have partnered up with multinational pizza chain, Domino’s, to help hungry customers select the best match with their takeaway.
Wine Advisors at Virgin have matched each pizza from the Domino’s new Gourmet Range with one white and one red wine ‘to offer customers a luxury dining experience in the comfort of their own homes.’ The Rustica pizza has been paired with a Barbera and a Sauvignon Blanc ‘to bring out the flavour of the smoky bacon and sweet sunblush baby plum tomatoes’ while a Shiraz Cabernet Sangiovese or a Gewürztraminer are recommended for its ‘spicy Firenze’.
Domino’s customers are also offered six bottles of Virgin wines for £25 when they purchase a pizza. That’s £4.16 a bottle, so I’m not sure about the quality of the booze although Domino’s pizzas aren’t exactly the best I’ve ever had either.
Simon Wallis, sales and marketing director at Domino’s Pizza, gushed about the new promotion in a press release: ‘Our new Gourmet range has been developed to appeal to a wider pizza eating audience. This promotion will enable us to reach out to more potential pizza eaters, while also offering added value for our existing Gourmet customers.’
In addition to its venture with Virgin Wines, Domino’s is also the official partner on low-brow reality TV show Big Brother’s eviction night. Customers get a free bottle of Coca-Cola with their pizza on those evenings. Excuse me if I don’t rush out and order…
There are currently 638 Domino’s outlets in the UK and more than 9000 worldwide.
In July 2009, the EU ruled that producers making Prosecco outside of the DOC and new DOCG area in the Veneto region would be forced to use the new grape name Glera on their labels instead of Prosecco.
So, on my return to New Zealand from Blighty, I was a little puzzled to be presented with a bottle of Toi Toi ‘New Zealand Prosecco’. What the….?
It’s not made from the grape formally known as Prosecco (‘Glera’) but a blend of Riesling, Muller-Thurgau and Pinot Gris. The sparkle is not created by the tank method, used in the Prosecco region but carbonated. So, I am curious as to why the front label clearly states Prosecco on the front. The accompanying press release claims it is “produced to broadly reflect the origins and style of the Italian wine”. Well, it’s 11.5% alcohol, which is about right, medium-dry with apple and pear characters but I’m not sure the Venetians will be overly impressed by the quality of the contents.
John Barker, general counsel for New Zealand Winegrowers shed some light on the matter. If this wine is only sold in New Zealand, there should be no problem, as there is no agreement with the EU on this law.
Barker says, “It’s a bit of a funny position the Italians have taken. There’s no geographical area called Prosecco if you look on a map – the GI is an artefact of EU law. There’s no grape variety called Prosecco either because the grape is Glera.
“It’s absolute nonsense,” he adds.
So, the only domestic stumbling block comes from if the label is considered to be misleading – and that’s a personal matter. Personally, I think it’s misleading but you can make your own mind up.
Barolo is not a wine for the elderly or terminally ill. It takes a good 20 to 30 years before the tannins become approachable and you’re going to have to stick it in the cellar (or under your bed) until it comes around.
And if you don’t like tannins or acidity, you’d better walk past the Barolo section.
At an Ascheri dinner with Squisito Fine Wines, we were treated to a vertical of Barolos as far back as 1996 and cor blimey, they are still babes in arms. Most wines are dead as dodos by the time they hit 5 or 10 years but not these bad boys.
The likes of Ascheri are from the ‘traditional’ school of Barolo, leaving the wine on its skins for up to 40 days after fermentation completes (that is a loooooong time) and then putting it in oak for 2 ½ years. The modernists take it off the skins much earlier and like plenty of new oak to give more fruit and vanilla flavours.
Wine of the night has to be the 1996 Ascheri Barolo. It’s still as tight as a pair of speedos with lovely mid palate weight, incredible concentration and drawn out, finally-woven tannins. A really elegant wine that’s got lots of life left in it.
I took a moment out from tasting Barolos with MD of Squisito, Alberto Cenci, who tells me about his Italian-Kiwi romance and his love of Aerosmith….!
I’ve been researching lower alcohol wines lately and it just so happens, Wine Intelligence has too.
The UK wine trade is really trying to look responsible at the moment and a raft of new ‘lower alcohol’ wines were launched at the recent London International Wine Fair.
But it’s not clear whether the consumer actually wants lower alcohol wines. So, we might have some more white elephant wines gathering dust on the shelves. Alternatively, if the products are available, it may create demand. Let’s face it, before iphones were launched, we didn’t have a burning need for them either.
Happily for those wineries launching a lower alcohol wine this month, it seems that consumer acceptance of wines under 11% is on the rise, according to Wine Intelligence research in partnership with the WSTA.
The percentage of consumers who say they ‘may buy’ wine below 9% (on a scale of 1 to 5,‘may buy’ was 3) has increased from 47% to 54% since the survey was last conducted in April 2007. No massive change there then,
Younger drinkers also increased their acceptance of lower alcohol wines with 66% claiming they may buy wine below 9%, compared with just 51% in 2007.
‘May buy’ and ‘Would definitely buy’ are quite different, however.
Surprise, surprise, wines between 11 and 14% abv remain the preferred wines with regular UK wine drinkers. Well, strike me down. I’m worried that we are blowing this low alcohol thing out of proportion.
I’ll very happily drink a 9% Mosel wine or 5.5% Moscato d’Asti (particularly Vigna Vecchia’s Caâ€™ da Gal Moscato at Terroir in London) any day of the week but I’m struggling to find a decent wine that has had its alcohol level reduced by human intervention ( i.e. reverse osmosis/spinning cone). Thus far, the early harvest attempts aren’t much better either. There’s a reason why people don’t pick early and we should remember that.
If you get to the Elqui valley and keep driving for another couple of hours, youâ€™ll hit the fringes of the Atacama desert. Itâ€™s hot and arid, cacti pepper the stark mountainsides that tower above the road and without irrigation nothing would grow here. The sun shines 340 days a year so my chances of catching some rays, after our Baltic picnic with Ventisquero the day before, were pretty good.
The Elqui valley is a true valley unlike others like the Maipo valley, which is actually a region. The UV light is incredible and companies are legally obliged to provide sun tan cream and protective clothing for their workers. So, as you can imagine the grapes need a bit of protection too. Winds whistling down the valley from the sea also mean many vines (mainly table grapes) on the valley floor are protected with netting.
Itâ€™s mostly table grapes and Pisco production, and wine is fairly new to the scene. Falernia is the major player in the region but other major companies Concha y Toro, San Pedro, Santa Rita are seeing the potential of the region and buying grapes from growers based here.
While most of the vines are on the valley floor near the small town of Vicuna; there is certainly ambition here and theyâ€™re planting a new vineyard up at 2000 metres in the Huanta valley. Itâ€™s a 45-minute drive from Vicuna up a precarious goldmining road and into the Andes. While it was hot on the valley floor, a cardi was called for up at Huanta. The poor old llamas in one of the fields are going to be homeless when the vines are planted.
Reds will be mainly planted up here â€“ particularly Carmenere and Syrah. Thatâ€™s not because Cabernet wouldnâ€™t do well here. The companyâ€™s Italian winemaker Giorgio Flessati said, â€œCarmenere and Syrah are our focus because there are too many Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots in the market.â€
The winery makes a dry white PX for Marks & Sparks, which is a quirky idea but a forgettable wine. However, its top Syrah and its Carmenere made in an Amarone style are the stars of the show. Amarone fans should get hold of a bottle and a bar of dark chocolate and enjoy: Â£10.95, Great Western Wines.
One of Soaveâ€™s best-known producers, Pieropan, is following in the footsteps of Venetian neighbour Allegrini, bottling its Classico level wine under screwcap and forsaking its â€˜Classicoâ€™ status.
Under Italian law both Valpolicella producer Allegrini and Soave’s Pieropan were forbidden from bottling their Classico wines under screwcap.
However, the Pieropan family have decided to drop Classico so they can move to stelvin with the 2008 vintage.
â€œThe UK, the US and Australia will take their entire allocation of 2008 under screwcap,â€ said Andrea Pieropan. â€œWeâ€™ve taken this step to improve the quality of the wine drunk by the final consumer. Our wine is unoaked, and its charm lies in its perfume and elegance, so we need a closure that captures these characters in the bottle.â€
Liberty Wines imports both producersâ€™ wines and managing director David Gleave MW has been a vocal proponent of bottling Italian wines under screwcap for some time. I’m sure his close relationship with these two Veneto producers and his views on dragging Italian wine law into the 21st century will have played a part in their decision.
He said: â€œIn our opinion, Italyâ€™s tardiness in adapting this new technology is having an adverse effect on the competitiveness of their wines in the U.K. market. Over the past 30 years the image of Italian wine has been transformed, largely due to the willingness of many producers to embrace new technology and techniques in response to market trends. Yet these same producers, who see the benefits of adopting screwcaps for their wines, are now being held back by the law.â€
While these two renowned producers are likely to suffer from the loss of their Classico status, lesser-known Italian producers are unlikely to be abandon their Classico status readily. Classico and cork still mean quality in Italy. Consumers in the UK, Australia and New Zealand now readily accept screwcaps but other markets, including the US, still see screwcaps as fit only for lower quality wines. While the switch by these top producers and others including Laroche in Chablis will improve its image, it still has a long way to go.
Any producers making Prosecco outside of the DOC and new DOCG region in Veneto will be forced to use the new grape name Glera on their labels instead of Prosecco. Apparently, Glera is an ancestor of the Prosecco grape but I think it sounds as naff as ‘Topaque’ – the new name for Aussie Tokay.
In a press release, Franco Adami, president of the Consorzio per la Tutela del Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene explained: â€œIn 1969, when we obtained the DOC, the grape variety was grown exclusively in the 15 communes lying between the small towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. However in the last few decades, due to the quality of the wine and the winemaking skill of the producers its cultivation has gradually spread. Given this situation, we had to take action to protect the name Prosecco and to preserve the value created by this area and implement clear regulations that could guarantee a minimum level of quality.â€
From the 2009 vintage the name of the new DOCG will be Conegliano-Valdobbiadene and the sparkling wines will be labeled DOCG Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore.
Adami added: â€œThe term Superiore helps the consumer to understand right away that this is an example of the original and best quality Prosecco from the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG.â€
The DOCG will not change the production rules and the production per hectare will remain the same. Director of the Consorzio, Giancarlo Vettorello said: â€œI would like to reassure both producers and UK importers that as production rules in our region will not be affected by the new DOCG status, the total number of bottles produced will not be reduced and consequently prices will not increase.â€
Right that’s enough from me, two posts in a day makes me need a cuppa. Ah well, the weekend is upon us.
Think of Piedmont and you automatically say Barolo and Barbaresco. You might even say Gavi di Gavi if youâ€™re a bit leftfield but Roero and Langhe? Their wines donâ€™t immediately spring to mind, do they?
However, one of Italyâ€™s most successful white producers, Ceretto, is based in the Langhe. While it makes classic reds, it also produces Blange â€“ a wine made from the white Arneis grape. The Ceretto family first made the wine in 1984, producing less than 3000 bottles from its 1ha of Arneis vines. Today it has 62ha planted â€“ around one-fifth of all Arneis in Piedmont, according to Federico Ceretto and produces more than 600,000 bottles of the stuff.
Theyâ€™ve had to extend plantings from the Roero denominazione into Langhe but this has had its drawbacks. In 2006, Roero was awarded DOCG status â€“ the top of the tree in Italian wine law. Federico says: â€˜We had to plant 12ha over the river in the Langhe so we had to become Langhe DOC instead of Roero. I would like to be part of Roero as it became a DOCG last year but I have to cut my production by 100,000 bottles if I did. And Iâ€™m not going to do that.â€™
When they did that, they elevated Roero Spumante to DOCG status as well. Now I donâ€™t know about you but Iâ€™ve never tasted Roero Spumante and am unlikely to come across it any time soon. Federico isnâ€™t impressed by the promotion: â€˜It is a DOCG with about three producers. Hardly anybody makes it and there is no history to it.â€™ Itâ€™s just another sign of the Italian authorities being in touch with the consumer. You may remember top producer Allegrini had to declassify its Valpolicella Classico because it bottled its wine with a screwcap and Italyâ€™s crazy rules restrict what type of closure you can put on a wine.
The Blange is fermented at 4-6Â°C. At these sorts of temperatures, yeasts struggle to convert the grape sugars to alcohol and it takes an epic three months to complete the ferment. However, they say it requires only one-fifth of the sulphur dioxide to prevent against spoilage or oxidation.
2007 Ceretto Langhe Arneis Blange: â€˜As weighty as Vanessa Feltz in the mouth. Clean and fresh with a bit of spritz on entry. Aromas reminiscent of bruised apple and moderate acidity on the finish. Pretty decent but Â£16.49? Ouch.â€™ 15.5/20. Fresh & Wild, Wimbledon Wine Cellar, Bibendum
2007 Ceretto Barbera dâ€™Alba
â€˜Vibrant raspberry colour. Lots of fresh red berry fruit. It is silky with lovely concentration. Soft tannins and mouthwatering acidity on the finish. I could drink a whole bottle of this’ 18/20. Â£16.49, Wimbledon Wine Cellar, MW Wines, Bibendum