Posts in the Category: Research

Peter Dry’s varietal egalitarianism

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.

Posted in - Australia & Blog Posts & Italy & Research & wine on February 12th 2012 0 Comments

Ladybirds in our wine

Is that rancid peanut butter in my wine?

No, it’s ladybird taint.

But ladybirds are so cute. How can they taste so bad?

These cheeky things love a damaged grape to feed upon and with cool climates getting warmer, these pests are moving into regions previously too cool for them. Kevin Ker of Brock University told the International Cool Climate Symposium, “It’s a hitch hiker that we really don’t like but it will find a way to spread.”

It has been found in the US, Argentina, the UK, Czech Republic, Italy and Denmark, and it is thought it is more widespread but no-one’s owning up.

When the ladybirds inadvertently get harvested along with the grapes they emit a methoxypyrazine that smells of rancid peanut butter or bell pepper. Not something you’d want in your glass.

What’s worse, it’s pretty potent – as little as 1200 beetles per tonne can taint the batch. The sensory threshold is just 1 part per trillion.

“One the wine has been made, cleaning up the wine is virtually impossible,” said Ker.

So what to do about these pesky ladybirds?

Brock University researchers have discovered that potassium metabisulphite, which is used as an antioxidant in the winery has been found to be relatively successful.

Ker added, “If used pre-harvest, the wines made from vines treated with potassium metabisulphite seemed to be fairly successful. It can be used pre harvest to reduce the number of lady beetles below the sensory threshhold levels.”

However, anything that’s added to the grapes so close to harvest could be an issue.

Posted in - Australia & Blog Posts & blogging & Organic & Research on February 8th 2012 0 Comments

What future for Wine Future?

Wine Future is over for another two years.

Did things improve after the car crash first day?

Well, it didn’t get any worse. And there were some interesting insights worthy of a news story from Prosecco estimating it will quintuple in size by 2035 to one billion bottles plus some revealing statistics: Wine Intelligence’s Lulie Halstead revealed social media was relevant to just 13% of regular wine drinkers in the UK but 62% in China. Food for thought

On the last afternoon, I did a tour of the conference, getting folks’ opinions. The main benefit of the conference? Networking. How often do you get Jancis Robinson, Robert Parker and co. in the same room? It was a great opportunity to reconnect with contacts and old friends and meet new ones.

I am also much more knowledgeable about the Asian markets thanks to Jeannie Cho Lee, sommelier Yang Lu from the Peninsula, Shanghai and Don St Pierre Jnr of ASC.

The conference finished with a final debate on the ‘future of wine’ with an illustrious panel. Yet it failed to deliver any excitement. The conference should have gone out with a bang with the high profile names on stage but instead ended with a fizzle, with many shuffling out before the conclusion.

If there is to be a future for Wine Future (and there’s plans for Brazil 2013), exhibitors and other delegates have to speak out about the issues they had, not just confide that they agreed with what I said in my blog in a private moment (although thanks for the support)!

I want more debate, smaller break off seminars and less time allowing the biggest players in the industry to tell us about their company. What do you want?

Posted in - Blog Posts & Research & twitter & wine on November 10th 2011 0 Comments

Climate change and alcohol in the Napa Valley

After rains all week in the Napa, the sun finally came out to dry out the fruit and hopefully ensure the 2011 crop isn’t riddled with rot. It was a particularly unseasonable week when I visited but the rains seem to follow me wherever I go. Perhaps drought-ridden areas should call me in…

So, a seminar on climate change between downpours seemed relevant. What is going on with the weather?

Napa Valley Vintners supported a study published this year breezily entitled ‘Climate and Phenology in Napa Valley: A Compilation and Analysis of Historical Data’ (!) in response to growing concerns about climate change.

Rex Stultz, industry relations director a the NVV, explains, “We started to see reports on USA today and NBC tying climate change to agriculture, saying that if the climate continued to change we might not be able to grow grapes in the Napa Valley.

“It created a bit of a stir in the community, asking if it was true.”

A two-year project followed to study the historical weather trends in Napa, and how this change affected wine grape growing.

Using 12,000 data collection points through the county, the study found that the Napa Valley had experienced warming but not to the degree that had been originally suggested.

Perhaps the problem was that the previous studies had been based on just two temperature collection stations.  The first at the Napa state hospital, a facility for the criminally insane (not that that had any effect on the study but it’s a piece of trivia), which was positioned next to a road. The other station, in St Helena, was on the top of a fire station roof – not exactly representative of the county.

After studying some complicated-looking graphs, the results show that the average temperatures in Napa Valley have increased 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past several decades, but considerably less warming than the fire station and mad house station had suggested.

Christopher Howell of Cain Vineyard & Winery said “Globally, the years 1998, 2005, 2006 and now 2010 were the warmest years on record, but they were some of the coolest for the Napa Valley. There is a suggestion by some climate scientists that, as the interior areas warm in the future, Napa temperatures may actually remain relatively moderate, or even cool as maritime air gets drawn further up the valley.”

But this doesn’t explain why so many wineries have alcohols into the high 14s and 15s. Winemakers claimed canopy management, lower hanging fruit, more efficient yeasts in the winery, rootstock selection and lower yields have resulted in higher alcohols.

However, in my opinion, late picking seems to be the main factor in these higher alcohol styles in Napa. There’s a bunch of producers that don’t have these high alcohols like Clos du Val and Corison, who pick a little earlier than most, proving that top Napa Cabernet doesn’t have to be horribly high in alcohol, and these producers are making some of the most attractive wines. So it’s not the climate; it’s all to often a human decision.

Posted in - Blog Posts & Cabernet Sauvignon & California & Research & wine on October 16th 2011 0 Comments

Consumers rightly concerned about lower alcohol wines

New research suggests the wine industry needs to address concerns about the quality and taste of lower alcohol wines if it is to attract more consumers to the category.

According to the study, commissioned by the UK’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), consumers are reticent about buying low alcohol wines, and I can’t say I blame them. The majority of low alcohol wines, German Rieslings excluded, are lacklustre. The consumer wine media has bagged most of them so it’s not surprising drinkers aren’t keen to try them.

The key findings were: 55% of red wine drinkers (51% of white wine drinkers) said they had concerns about the taste of lower alcohol wines while 41% of red wine drinkers (36% of white wine drinkers) had concerns about the product quality of lower alcohol wines

Jeremy Beadles, WSTA chief executive, says “While there’s plenty of evidence to suggest consumers are interested in lower alcohol drinks these findings suggest there’s work to do to convince drinkers about the taste and quality of products coming onto the market.”

I have not yet found one exciting wine that has been through an alcohol reduction process such as spinning cone or reverse osmosis and, winemakers need to address this problem. I suggest you either drink one glass fewer or drink Moscato d’Asti, German Riesling, Hunter Valley Semillon or Vinho Verde if you want to reduce your alcohol consumption.

Unfortunately, these wines are deeply unfashionable, and not particularly easy to understand for the average wine drinker. Residual sugar (Asti, German Riesling) or searing acid (Hunter Valley) makes most gluggers turn their nose up at them. But until the standard of the ‘low alcohol’ products coming on to the market improves, that’s the best low alcohol solution.

The findings emerge from the YouGov Omnibus Panel (August 2011) and are based on a sample of 1,693 British adult drinkers.

Posted in - Blog Posts & low alcohol & Research & Riesling & trends on September 14th 2011 0 Comments

More to Marlborough than Sauvignon Blanc?

Consumers know Marlborough makes high quality, easy to drink Sauvignon Blanc but if you asked consumers to point to it on a map, it would be a pin the tail on the donkey exercise.

The latest research on the significance of region of origin by Wine Intelligence shows that at mainstream price points (£4 to £4.99) Marlborough, the Barossa Valley and Napa all feature in the top five regions from which UK consumers say they are likely to buy wine. Marlborough and the Barossa are still among the top choices when the same question is posed for purchases of £8 and above. So far so good.

Although prompted awareness of Marlborough is relatively low, consumers have a favourable view of New Zealand and say Marlborough wines are high quality, easy to drink and often recommended by friends. They are also more likely to be available in casual restaurants.

Research director Jean Philippe Perrouty said:  “Bordeaux and Burgundy are known by 90% of UK consumers but only one in four or less say they would buy it. UK consumers say they are more willing to buy Marlborough, Rioja or Barossa – if they have heard of them – than Bordeaux or Burgundy. These wines have been able to create the perception of affordable quality.”

Still so far so good.

However, when it comes to knowing where Marlborough is or what the region is like, you’ll get a blank look. Many US consumers associate cigarettes with the region. How positive.  Nevertheless it’s a similar story for Chianti, which conjures up images of Italy, red and Hannibal Lector.

Beyond country of origin, it seems most regions are failing to portray an effective image.

So where now?

Tourism is key. If you can get people to visit, they become ambassadors for the region. And it just so happens 85,000 people are heading this way for a few rugby matches in September.

Longer term, Marlborough should be shouting to the rooftops about tourism and food. The Marlborough Sounds are breathtaking, tell people about them. There’s great walking, mountain biking, and fishing on your doorstep. Plus, there are a wealth of artisan producers, from oyster farms, to pine nut orchards and cheese makers.

The Barossa has employed the skills of Paul Henry, ex general manager Wine Australia, to educate consumers that there’s more to the South Australian region than burly Shiraz. Perhaps Marlborough should be doing the same.

Posted in - Blog Posts & Marlborough & New Zealand & Research & Sauvignon Blanc & trends on May 19th 2011 0 Comments

Big Brother goes to Bordeaux

The MW seminar week is a Big Brother social experiment. Put 50 students from 13 different countries in a Bordeaux chateau for a week to eat, sleep and study together 14 hours a day (not counting the beer drinking and table football time) and it’s no wonder you leave feeling doo-lally.

My brain hurts and body pleads for no more wine and no more food. Luckily I have a week in the Alps snowboarding to recuperate!

Bordeaux is known for its foie gras, lamb, and duck as well as its world-class wines but instead we were served some typical British pub fare including gammon and pineapple on the first evening, which set the scene for the rest of the week. We were also treated to a pimped up version of a 1970’s classic party dish: remember cheese and pineapple on sticks in a tin foil covered orange? Think bigger. Much bigger. A foot high gold paper-wrapped cone with tropical fruit. What a treat! (If anyone has photographic evidence of this, let me know)

We were also lucky enough to taste a blend of red wine and sodium chloride. Mmmm, salty wine. And that was only one of the 24 wines the AWRI’s oenologist, Geoff Cowey, subjected us to. He managed to redeem himself on the bring-a-bottle evening, however.

So, it was an assault on the brain and the palate – and sometimes not for the right reasons.

However, I now have new friends in Washington DC, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Carcassone, Hungary…Whatever happens on this course, these social experiments are worth your participation. 

Posted in - Australia & Blog Posts & Bordeaux & Master of Wine & Research on February 13th 2011 0 Comments

“Pass or play” in the 2009 Bordeaux bun fight?

The people at The Wine Investment Fund have stuck their necks out and claimed that the fine wine market is going to surge by as much as 18% this year. Of course they would say that wouldn’t they? But they don’t want egg on their face, so perhaps there’s something in it. 

After the market plummeted in late ‘08, the fine wine market has indeed started to pick up again. Lafite ‘05 is now back up to £7,995 at Berry Bros and Rudd and sales director Simon Staples believes it’s going to continue rallying this year and should be up to £10,000 a case by the summer. It’s a pretty tempting prospect.

In its monthly newsletter, the gents who run TWIF, say, “in the second half of 2009 the main indices were up 11-14%. We expect this to be the start of a prolonged and rapid upturn which makes today an ideal time to be investing.”

But what to invest in? The much hyped 2009s will be on the market in May/June and it seems the world and his wife wants a case of Lafite and Mouton. London merchants Bordeaux Index reports the waiting list for the 09s is the longest on record (although I’m not sure that records began so long ago but it sounds impressive, doesn’t it?)

Perhaps it is time to get in and buy up lesser vintages. When the last ‘great’ vintage was on the verge of release (the 2005s, in case you’re not a fine wine geek), Liv-ex analysed the market and looked at unfashionable vintages. It reported first growth wines from lesser vintages had been overlooked and were a good investment prospect, particularly the 2001s and 2002s.

Interestingly they did the same thing in December 2009, asking whether we should “pass or play” on the 09s. From the data, it appears the 05s weren’t such great value for money after all…

“It is the comparatively lesser years of 2001 and 2002 that have shown the greatest returns, with both showing a price rise of 89% over the period. Indeed, the average price increase of all other vintages in the chart equals 63%; 18% higher than that shown by 2005,” said the Liv-ex report.

“In essence, the high price of the 2005 vintage sparked price rises among its lower priced peers. If the trend of four years ago is repeated, then 2006 and 2008 are likely to represent the best opportunities for investment.”

Maybe I should go out and get my hands on some first growths from lesser vintages rather than jumping into the 09 frenzy – it would certainly be a lot more civilised than entering the Bordeaux bun fight.

Posted in - Blog Posts & Bordeaux & Cabernet Sauvignon & Investment & Research & wine on February 24th 2010 0 Comments

Wine Future, felt tips and a safety pin

The wine world is descending on Rioja this week for Winefuture, a conference asking: what are the major challenges and opportunities facing the wine industry in 2009?

Big names including Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson MW and Constellation’s Troy Christensen will be speaking at the event so I’m heading along with more than 900 others to see what they have to say.

The technical director of Winefuture, Kevin Zraly, said:  “Not many events in this industry focus on global sales and marketing of wine. Moreover, not only the event will bring together the most important wine industry professionals but also the most prestigious wine writers in the world.”

Does that “prestigious wine writers” bit include me Kevin?!  I don’t think so. There was a bit of confusion over my press accreditation yesterday. The organisers couldn’t find any trace of me despite sending confirmation of my place by email back in July. Luckily I still had the official email and the conference has happily found me again. Confusion caused by a changeover of staff, they said.  I will wait to see if I get a name badge or I’ll have to make my own. Perhaps I should take some card, a felt tip and a safety pin to Rioja with me, just in case.

Posted in - Blog Posts & blogging & Research & Rioja & Spain & trends & wine on November 10th 2009 0 Comments

JP Chenet says yes to cross-regional wines

If you’re not already sick to the back teeth of me harping on about the EU wine reform, here I am again with more updates.

Les Grand Chais de France group claims to be the largest exporter of wines from France, representing one in every five bottles of French wine sold abroad.

I’ve just spoken to Tim North, UK director of Les Grand Chais as part of my research for an article in Meiningers. Following the EU wine reform and the creation of vin de France, the white wines of France’s biggest brand JP Chenet, will be voluntarily downgraded from vin de pays to vin de France so it can blend across regions this year. North said, “At JP Chenet we think that there are big quality advantages of being able to blend from different regions especially for whites. For example Sauvignon Blanc is not aromatic in the Languedoc Roussillon; it is in the Loire but it can be a bit thin in cool years and we can also take some fruit from Gascony. We think that we can offer a great price to quality ratio by cross regional blending.”

While smaller producers oppose this sort of cross-regional blending, as it goes against all notions of terroir (or sense of place), this will enable the brand to compete with the New World’s big boys without previous restrictions.

“We were able to do this with vin de pays du vignobles de France previously but it was so complicated. We had to go through a bureaucratic process in each region before blending. We did this with our Kiwi Sauvignon in 2008 for the first time. We went through the whole rigmarole but we no longer have to get the ‘agrément’, we can please ourselves.”

“It’s what the Aussies had been doing for ages and we can do it now.”

The producer’s reds look likely to remain unchanged at least for this vintage, claiming there is little benefit in sourcing wines from outside the Languedoc with so many grape varieties and growers to choose from.

Posted in - Alsace & Blog Posts & European Union & Languedoc & Research on October 6th 2009 0 Comments