I don’t do well my first days arriving in Europe, preferring to take some down time to regulate my sleep pattern, be a vegetable and do local stuff with locals preferably in local bars, down local old side streets and alleys.
But Sud de France had a full day of vinous activities scheduled and I am always supportive of all the opportunities they plan out for us. After all I am their guest and to do otherwise would be rude. And I’m probably going to say it about 20 times throughout my Vinisud reporting, but this organization is so top notch, so well organized. Doing these events is like herding cats with keeping so many importers knee deep in wine producers and French hospitality.
So, Saturday morning after a fitful nights rest, I stumbled into the Mercure Centre breakfast room and slugged down two espressos and sauntered downstairs to see the group. And what a group we had. Previous times the most I’ve ever traveled with is about 20 people. We were now about 100, two full coaches worth from all over the world. This year I was with Japan, China, Germany, Canada, Russia, Mexico, UK, and representing the states was California, Washington State, Washington DC, Virginia, Hawaii, Arizona and Texas plus probably someone else I left out.
I found out later the US contingent, normally together was split this time as there were other things going around France with wine in different regions and I think scheduling and timing made it impossible to have us all together. I prefer I’m with all USA importers because we form working relationships with each other and our portfolios, but I was pretty jazzed to be around so many different nationalities and for the opportunity to see how the rest of the world selects and imports wine.
So we piled into the busses, lots of languages buzzing in the air and set off for Cite de la Vigne et du vin Gruissan which the direct translation is “City of the Vine and of the wine of Gruissan”. This is the INRA or French Agronomical Research Institute based in Gruissan, France and a living museum for wine.
Gruissan the town is a very old coastal resort. Reminds me a little of Catalina Island, well except it’s a really old settlement and has an 800 year old watch tower to protect nearby Narbonne and it’s down from the AOC of La Clape and it’s all so very lovely and French.
It’s a really neat place. Sort of a natural history museum but for all things vinous and they have test rows of all sorts of grapes grown in the region plus examples of all the different types of trellising used in the region and inside lots of interactive displays where you can see/feel/touch/smell the good and the bad of wine making. I have only seen it in winter and to see this museum/research facility while the vines are in leaf would be amazing.
This was my second trip there and can’t say when I snagged where we were going I was all that thrilled as it was not in the good side of my memory bank. Nearly a year ago on January 24, 2009 I was on another trip to Languedoc and was caught up in a terrible winter storm at Gruissan. We endured 100 mph winds, were moving trees out of the road to get our van through, once we got to Narbonne we had to run through the streets to the CIVL with trees crashing and wind slinging huge clay roof tiles at our heads. I had tucked into a bar I saw was open (I thought most sensible at the time) and the locals are telling me, while I’m looking at the poor TV satellite of a serious storm with a good sized eye in the middle all the while 100 year old trees across the square were being ripped up and completely totaling cars to the thickness of baguette, that it’s just the winter storms. Which of course I reply, I don’t know where you come from but where I come from, if its got 100 mile an hour sustained winds, and it’s got an eye, it’s a hurricane.
Needless to say I didn’t see much of it and didn’t realize its significance the first time I visited. Anyway, so, we arrive at the Cite and Sud de France gave us a presentation about what to expect the next few days at Vinisud. Plus a brief talk about the new VDP rules now to be IGP and at the mercy of Brussels? In my first entry about this trip, I said I would attend some seminars and unfortunately they were entirely in French and while I can understand a bit, it was over my head.
We had some fine talks from the Sud de France group. It was a bit chaotic during the presentation because some were presenting in French or English and it all had to be translated in various languages by interpreters following our group. Looking back at the videos it was quite funny at the verbal chaos. The highlight of the presentation was the very charming Matthew Stubbs, MW who was the wine buyer for Safeway and is now a proponent of the region and now is running a wine school in the Languedoc. He didn’t go specifically into the terroirs of the region, but highlighted the 10 reasons why Languedoc-Roussillon is the place to be for wine in this day and age for France. I have this presentation on video and once we are up and running with video, I’ll do a highlight of Matthew.
We then retired to lunch, with such a large group, I decided to wander outside first, something I was physically unable to do my first visit and look at what the Cite was all about. I have to say I really was impressed. It’s not a huge place, but they have rows after rows of test grapes. Unfortunately it’s February and the pruning has just begun, so I am staring at gnarled sticks in the dirt, but the whole site is so interesting.
At lunch I met the lovely Henri Cases, a vigneron and president of the Carcassonne wine growers association. I forget the proper name. He was taking the group next to Carcassonne to visit the medieval walled city. This place is so famous. It’s been a settlement in one form or another for the past 5000 years and features proximately with the holy grail stories and saga. It was famously forced to surrender by Simon de Montfort in the 1200’s. Upon our arrival to Carcassonne a rainbow fell onto the lower town and it was a perfect afternoon strolling around the battlements. Though I’ve been there a few times, I get away from the center with all the tourists and shops and meander around imagining all sorts of fairy tale princess and handsome knight scenarios in my tired head.
Then Henri gave us all in the group a lovely bottle of wine which was so appreciated and off we set by coach to Boutenac. On the way we encountered terrible accident where a car was turned upside down. Luckily the driver was okay and after a very well managed rescue by the local authorities we were only delayed 45 minutes.
We arrived at Le Chateau home of Syndicat de Cru Corbieres-Boutenac and before us were multiple tables of producers to show us their products. Still a bit stunned by the accident I sat around and people watched for a while. Tasting in big crowded groups is difficult for me. Besides the wine being good, it’s very important for me to develop a relationship with a producer and when it’s very crowded it’s next to impossible to get a feel for someone. Not that I pick bad wines, but if I had to choose between a good wine to sell where the producer is a jerk and a wine that wasn’t so good, but the producer was wonderful and fun, I have to go for the latter every time. The relationship is what gets you through the hard times and creates stories to tell in the good times.
Anyhow, Corbieres Boutenac is an AOC from the Corbieres region specific to the town of Boutenac. Small low lying appellation of about 1400 Ha (about 2800 acres). It’s got rolling rocky hills with a soil structure mainly of molasse. It has 18 private producers and 4 co-ops. In writing this I realize I need to go into some serious geek stuff for everyone which I’ll do later in this series.
This was a rough tasting for me. This was shocking as there were some pretty heavy hitters in the room. One quite famous wine everyone gushes about wasn’t so good and was very expensive. Would it appeal to the big California lover palate? Yes. Do I think 90% of wine drinkers could finish an entire glass? No. And it definitely was a meal on its own. So heavily extracted it reminded me more of prune juice than wine. It was seriously thick, just not in a good way. Anyway, I’m not here to name names of the bad, I’m here to highlight the good.
I did find one wine in the room I got excited about. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name (dork), and why it’s not written down I don’t know. Exhaustion is the only excuse I can think of. I’m making inquiries and I’ll let you know if I find it. It needs to be imported, and drunk, a lot. I think the retail price would have been about $21 which I think is an insane bargain. I’ll keep you posted and you guys do your bit by bugging your local merchants and together we’ll land this wine.
I then retired early into the dining area and scanned the room and chose a table at the back with a lone figure sitting at it, ask if the seat is taken next to her and was invited to sit. Engaging a conversation I am sitting with Lauren Buzzeo who covers Languedoc for Wine Enthusiast magazine. I have to say she was the trooper of the day and had flown in that day from the US and it was now 10pm at night and we were just sitting down to start eating. She was a real delight to talk with over a lovely dinner.
During dinner, a magician did slight of hand tricks for each table to keep us entertained and vignerons roamed talking about their products. It went well into the wee hours of the morning. We returned to the hotel around 1:30am and just as I staggered into the coach for the days events that morning, I staggered with half-shut eyes back into my hotel room, where after I got settled in the bed for a few hours sleep, my internal alarm clock woke me up. Ugh.
The irrepressible Donna writes:
Everyone who knows me, knows I love wines from the South of France. They are near and dear to me and I’m a firm believer it is the future of France as we see all the named and historically famous wines become prohibitedly expensive and disappear out of the hands of the regular wine drinker into the very wealthy and increasingly the Asian market.
Here you find amazing value to price ratios unlike most wine regions in the world, save for Spain, which is slowly creeping up and less the value it once was. Unfortunately as successful as the region is, there still is a wave of vine pull schemes which tug at my heart every time I see another report.
The Trade Office of France and Sud de France have very generously brought me to the Languedoc to experience Vinisud, the largest wine trade fair for wines from the Mediterranean. I have to give props to Marie-Helene Courade of the Houston France Consulate who never forgets how I love going on these trips, making fantastic connections and putting up with my indecision when making flight reservations. Also thanks to Sarah Nguyen the Director of the Wine and Spirits for the French embassy trade office in NYC,
The Sud de France organization gave us all a wonderful welcome gift with our itineraries plus small gifts and samples of regional foods. One really neat gift and excellent for quick reference in a fun way is a sampling of wine tubes. Each tube contains a sample of the different styles of wines from the region. The AOC’s are for each style are printed on the back of the tubes along with the authorized grapes of the regions. As a wine educator, I kinda feel like Martha Stewart when I say “It’s a good thing”.
There’s a very busy schedule at these events. Frequently there’s a different hotel every night in a different city, dinner until 1 am, back up at 6 am, on a bus by 8am, repacking every morning, bodies fatigued, palates broken down, livers distended no matter how much wine you spat out but the opportunity to be in an organized visit schedule to meet producers and potentially bring their products to the United States, is gold. This trip I am thankful to be stationed in one hotel and I was able to completely unpack my garment bag and take account of all the things I need which I forgot to pack, but I did remember my Dansko clogs and will decline competing with all the very fashionable French women so I can cover as much of Vinisud as possible instead of moaning about hurting toes.
In addition to all the wines from the South of France at Vinisud I understand there are some wines from Corsica (very excited), Italy and Greece to also be included. I also saw they have a blind tasting room which I’ll be sure to visit and find out what that is about to see how badly I can humiliate myself. For those of you wondering why I’m disparaging my decent palate, I’ll fill you in about two weeks what that’s about.
There is going to be about 12 Halls in total and I received the book on only Hall 1 which is about 350 wines. And looking at the map of the event, Hall 1 is one of the smallest. So potentially, looking at about 5,000 wines? It can’t be that many, although I was looking at the pictures from last years regular Languedoc trade tasting and yes it could be.
Here’s the video from the 2008 Vinisud to see how large this trade fair is.
There is so much to pack into 3 days. They are also doing 3 full days of conference programs. I have signed up for 3, including the International Federation of Wine Journalists and Writer’s roundtable and a course on the new quality labels which I just don’t understand why it’s been changed. I’ll let you know if I’m still cranky about the change after learning about it more from those who really know. I know I want to go to Ryan O’Connell’s presentation about using the internet as a marketing tool on the last conference on the last day. He gave me a shout out on Twitter and I want to see what this young gun and his family are doing to make their wines successful. First look at his website impressed me.
The schedule for February 20th tells me we’re going to Cite de la Vigne et du Vin Gruissan which is on the coast near La Clape and then Carcassonne in the afternoon and for the evening visiting Corbieres de Bourtenac.
Schedule for February 21st has me going to Montagnac then visiting area wineries and then dinner at the Restaurant Le Sequoia with wines from Perpignan hopefully including the famous vin doux naturels from the region. I understand 3 groups of importers are going to enjoying this even on 3 separate evenings and I’m thrilled to be included.
Then finally 3 days of the main event which I have no idea how I’m going to get it all in, plus hopefully do some interviews’ in the time allowed and then home. I still wonder if I turned my hair curler off before I left.
I was participating in a lively discussion on Jancis Robinson’s website on fraudulent wine and auctions and I commented on some caricatures of the different types of wine investors. Using the term investor loosely including collectors, I wanted to expand the types.
I’m not trying to poke fun, well maybe a little, but I see these people everyday and I love them. They are all good for the industry. The one thing all these “collectors” have in common, one way or another, they really like wine.
The Pure Investor: Never seeing the bottles they purchase, the wines go straight to climate storage, complete provenance, insured. Or they participate in a wine investment fund. Waits until the time is right and off loads for a good profit and they have absolutely no emotional contact with the wine, because they really don’t like it that much. It’s just a commodity to them.
Normally drinks beer, cocktails. They drink Champagne after a particularly successful sale in a hot club, preferably with some eye candy hanging on their tales of wine trade dominance.
The Ego: Buys nothing but names, the more expensive and harder to get the better. Doesn’t know a much about wine except what they hear second hand from others. This is a busy business person who wants to make more money to buy more big bottles. Only knows one grape varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Thinks large format bottles are the Holy Grail. The smart Ego’s hire a professional cellar manager, sommelier, or other expert to do their purchases, but fight them a lot.
Food is sustenance; eats a lot of beef. Harder to get regular fakes through this buyer especially with personal consultants, but the rare wine fakes are really easy because none of their friends/contemporaries have these bottles and they start obsessing about getting that wine and ultimately will override their own judgment and consultants advice.
Once they realize they’ve been had, hell hath no fury. They want everyone to feel and know about the pain they are in.
The Romantic: Is in love with being in love with wine, usually also a “foodie”; covets the bottles they buy, brings out bottles cradling them like babies, and is avid about “supposed” wine manners. Is passive-aggressive and has a heart attack when someone pours more than 4 ounces or 125 ml into their glass. They attend every wine dinner possible to meet winemakers or wine celebrities and will pout if they don’t get to sit next to them, but this is rare since they are good clients of all the restaurants in town.
Frequently has “Iron Chef” foodie challenges with pairings at their homes. And when they open the wines they regale their friends with stories of meeting each producer, how each wine was made from the soil to the bottle and frequently brings out little jewel boxes each holding a magic rock or soil from vineyards around the world for show and tell at the dinner table.
Owns every decanter and glass Riedel has ever produced. Is extremely opinionated and lyrical about which wines they love and hate. Unfortunately they can be limited in their range, and get stuck and prejudiced about specific wines or regions because they have learned about wine only via other people’s words. Has a complete library full of wine books but 90% of the spines have never been cracked. Usually prefers red wine to white. Easy to pass fakes off to because buys emotionally. Would never admit having bought a fake and would sulk for a long time if anyone found out.
The Vacationer: Buys a few big and important bottles on vacation every year. Doesn’t know a lot about wine, but likes to drink it in abundance, preferably at French country cafes out of a jug in the back of the cafe. Invests in the bottle their friend “The Romantic or The Ego” tells them to buy. This collector never gets a fake because they buy their bottles directly from the wineries while on holiday.
Highly complex and expensive wines really aren’t their thing, but buy them anyway because of peer pressure, and then are told off by the Ego ten years later that they can’t sell their wine because they kept it on top of the fridge or a warm area of the house, upright. And the corks are dried out.
Finds someone to buy them off cheap (usually the 24 hour party person, see below) and takes the few dollars from the sale and invests in some Charles Shaw which is what they would have rather had to begin with. When listening to other wine friends gush, gawp and gawk about the details off a bottle, they drift into a lovely daydream and soon their eyes glaze over with boredom.
The Drinker: This person doesn’t really invest, they consume. They love wine, spirits and beer. They study it, are laid back about it and are very generous. They buy great wines from around the world and share them with their friends, even the ones that don’t know much about wine. Believes they can convert everyone into a wine drinker.
Loves good, unfussy fresh food. Many wines in their collection are under 10 years old, because they drink them instead of storing them for long time periods. Makes the Romantic and Ego crazy because they drink wines younger than what “they should”. Doesn’t have a favorite wine, loves them all. Great with sourcing high quality but low priced unique bottles from obscure regions and producers. If ever got a fake, would laugh it off and hold a party so everyone could sip their folly.
24 hour Party People: This brand of wine collector is normally employed in the wine/beverage industry. Wine consumes their life. They work hard and play harder. A complete enabler, their friends who are normally mild, they become animals when with this collector. Always brings home dregs of customers’ and sample bottles to blind taste with friends. Has fantastic after-hour parties at their house when the bars close.
They eat amazing food every day and are always broke. Their cellars consist of broken down converted refrigerators, and they usually have two or three. They know exactly what to buy. And they have no problem taking a risk on wine because they consider bad bottles an adventure and even educational. If they get a fake, they are thrilled; they call their friends to come over and taste it. Usually the wine fridges get opened soon after and a party ensues.
Most take advanced wine accreditations and study wine professionally. Always takes vacations that involve wine. Has no hesitation in making mischief and their adventures can be heard for many years, handed down as folklore to newbie wine professionals who will listen in awe.
The Professor: Is the know it all. Takes every thing about wine incredibly serious. Reads every book they can find about wine. Is enrolled in multiple wine forums online and expresses incredibly opinionated views and dares anyone to contradict their statements; those who do risk a complete and utter thrashing.
Despite thinking this person is an expert on wine, they have no accreditations because they can’t take the stress of being wrong or failing an exam. Every wine they purchase is meticulously documented with leather bound ledger inventory or online storage programs or both. All their wine is in offsite storage, so it gives them an opportunity to be around the Ego and Romantic so they can pick an argument. Never has a fake; no matter if they did, it’s never happened… period. Normally has food in their beard and wears suspenders, but not cool enough to wear a bow tie.
The Blogger: No need to worry about the Blogger getting a fake, they are too broke to even think about buying such wines. They have lots of wines from their travels around the world, (purchased with their OWN money) the more bizarre the better, are friends with all the wine types and frequent every wine tasting within a 100 mile radius of their location. As a result they wish their dentists would give a discount on teeth whitening and that there was a way to regain enamel.
They know a fair bit about wine, and what they don’t they learn from their fellow Bloggers and friends and wine institutions. There’s a little bit of each collector in them. They walk about with a laptop, iPhone, Flip video, a Moleskin notebook (looks really cool) and digital voice recorders with specialty microphones sat in a pocket protector ready for action. Talking endlessly to winemakers about biodynamic-beneficial bacteria retrieved from a buried cow’s horn gives them wood.
Germany’s Appetite for Destruction
Monday, November 30, 2009 will be the last day the world puts their protests in for the building of the High Mosel Bridge. I am hoping my blog will be one of many posted Monday regarding this grave action by the Rheinland/Pfalz government.
Many articles from mainline and bloggers have been written cross referencing previous articles to raise awareness of a project that originally was conceived back in the 1960’s. It was considered folly then, raised back in the 70’s and stopped again because it was seen as a waste, but the past couple years, politicians doing what they do best, creating projects that will give them some sort of recognition for future votes no matter their costs have put the bridge through.
This quarter of a billion dollar bridge only cuts 30 minutes of travel time. Not only is it destructive, it’s a waste of German taxpayer’s dollars.
It is going to upset the delicate eco system of the middle Mosel and some of the greatest heritage vineyards will be ripped up. The bridge is being built as any other bridge without consideration of the land it is spanning.
It is hoped at the last moment, on December 1st, Chancellor Angela Merkel will grant clemency and stops the bridge. But even though she was the Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation & Nuclear Safety under Helmut Kohl’s administration, she appears to have little interest in the preservation of her countries environmental heritage.
I can only hope this fiasco will bring awareness to the preservation of other world heritage vineyards. It’s a shame when humans have something precious, we are so eager to destroy it.
Please sign the petitions and write Chancellor Merkel and make your voice known.
Below is a listing of famous vineyards that are going to be grubbed up and affected during and after the bridge is built with the producers who are directly reflected.
Ürziger Würzgarten: J.J. Christoffel, Dr. Loosen, Merkelbach Zeltinger Sonnenuhr: J.J. Prüm, Selbach-Oster, Markus Molitor Zeltinger Schlossberg: Selbach-Oster Graacher Himmelreich: Dr. Loosen, Selbach-Oster, Willi Schaefer, Markus Molitor, J.J. Prüm, Heribert Kerpen Graacher Domprobst: Selbach-Oster, Willi Schaefer, Markus Molitor, Heribert Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr: J.J. Prüm, Dr. Loosen, Selbach-Oster, Heribert Kerpen*
*(copied from Slate, Mike Steinberger, September 10, 2009)
— Twitter Petition: Angela Merkel: Stop the Mosel Bridge
— Protest the Mosel Bridge in English and German
— Chancellor Angela Merkel’s email: email@example.com
— Great speech by Stuart Pigott regarding the bridge first spoken in German then he speaks in English. Stuart Pigott at the ‘Last Chance Wine Forum’ against the High Mosel Bridge.
— The planned bridge that could ruin Germany’s cherished Mosel wine region. – By Mike Steinberger – Slate Magazine
— Open letter to Angela Merkel concerning the High Mosel Bridge
— Please fight Mosel madness | Tasting Notes & Wine Reviews from Jancis Robinson
— YouTube – Hugh Johnson’s speech against the High Mosel Bridge
— Linden Wilkie
— Wine Anorak
My husband called me a few days ago to tell me about a newspaper article in the UK newspaper Daily Mail. The article from the 18th of December told about how Chinese scientists from the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou invented a treatment to convert cheap wine into premium wine.
Reportedly they have been working on this technology for the past 10 years. The procedure is to pump wine through a pipe between two titanium electrodes at 600 volts per centimeter (V/cm) current for a period of 3 minutes. Resulting in wines that had softer acidity, were more aromatic and palatable. The test wine was a 3 month old cabernet sauvignon from Suntime winery in China and went through a professional tasting panel as well as chemical analysis showing the wine indeed improved with this technology.
After reading the article I got fixated on what 600 V/cm exactly meant. Just how much energy usage is that? I researched online trying to equate it in layman’s terms.
In my research, I found a reference that a household appliance such as a hair dryer, coffee maker, TV’s etc. had an average electrical field of 30-60 V/m (volts per meter). Next, I found a voltage converter which transcribes V/m into V/cm and places the household appliance’s range at point 3 (.3) to point 6 (.6) V/cm.
Then I converted 600 V/cm stated in the article and the resulting number is 60,000 V/m. That’s twice the amount needed to create the phenomenon St. Elmo’s fire. So, if my layman’s analysis is even remotely correct, those are very powerful currents to use simply for accelerating the age of young, cheap, unbalanced wine into something palatable and ready for market in 3 months versus the average 6. Could that much power be correct with my analogy? I don’t think so.
So I’ve asked a number of people regarding my dilemma and I’ve gotten a bunch of different replies, so I’m going to have to post an update in the future when I better understand the voltage used.
So why am I writing about it at all? It’s really intrigued me and the mad scientist that dwells within wants to figure it all out.
There were more questions to be asked:
1. What does the machine look like?
2. Is the machine scalable, by the few articles I found it appears to be a large machine.
3. Who were the “experts” who tasted the wine?
4. Why was a Chinese wine used? Why weren’t samples of Cabernet Sauvignon used from different regions throughout the world?
5. What’s up with a Burgundy wine professor endorsing it? Burgundy is birthplace of terroirists!
So after looking REALLY hard, I found the paper.
The machine looks relatively simple. It has 3 sections, a high voltage generator, pump with a flow rate controller and a treatment chamber. It uses 220 V power supply. The treatment chamber has two titanium plates of unknown size separated by 20 cm of space. That undetermined space houses Teflon pipes with inner diameter of 20mm of unknown length where the wine passes through between the plates. The wine enters the machine and the flow is controlled by the pump.
The paper advises 50 L (I assume that’s liters) of wine was used for each sample and timed at 1 minute, 3 minutes and 8 minutes at various electrical field strengths of 300, 600 and 900 v/cm. So with 50 liters for each sample, it appears to be a decent sized piece of machinery to be able to pump that much wine through 20mm diameter tubing in 1 minute. 50 L is about 66 regular bottles of wine. With the data given it’s impossible to work out the tubing length.
Then the paper discussed the sample used. They used Cabernet Sauvignon from the Suntime Winery Company in northwest China. Aged 3 months after it went through malolactic fermentation. For those who don’t know what malolactic is, it’s a secondary fermentation all red wines go through converting malic acid into lactic acid (think milk) which is softer. A few white wines such as Chardonnay go through this second fermentation to add body and softness. With white wine it’s much more noticeable as the lactic acid lends a buttery taste.
What was interesting about the wine sample is it went through 2 fining and 3 filtering processes before being subjected to the test.
I’m surprised there was anything resembling wine left after all that. Fining and filtering are common in the wine industry, but I haven’t knowingly drunk any that has been put through all those processes.
Then a panel of 12 experts in wine sensory evaluation was given the samples to rate on a 100 point scale following O.I.V recommended methods which are quite scientific and detailed. There were no details on who the experts were or their qualifications. The graph on the study shows the optimum sample given a 600 V/cm for 3 minutes treatment received a full 15 points higher score than the untreated sample. 15 points is a remarkable difference in wine quality.
What is interesting is the wine wasn’t subject to temperature increase during the procedure. It maintained 25C as it exited the machine. Although the tasters noted the sample that went through the procedure for 8 minutes at 900 V/cm had a burnt taste.
But only Chinese wine was used. I would think such an amazing discovery would also see a selection of Cabernet Sauvignon samples such as California, France & Australia used. It poses the question: Does it only work with cheap wine or can fine wine be made even better? As well as wines that were not fined or filtered prior to going through the procedure? I would have liked to have seen a sample of MD 20/20 go through the process as well.
So while this machine appears quite remarkable, I’m amazed 5 wineries in China have invested in the technology to produce facilities enabling them to immediately ship new wine to stores and decrease storage expenses. I understand electricity is subsidized by the government so it’s cheaper for them to use this aging method versus the storage requirements for an extra 3 months before a wine can be sold on the market.
I couldn’t find any documentation on the shelf life of wines that went through the procedure, but I figure in my own personal opinion if wine is artificially accelerated to be at its prime when it hits the shelf, it would have a 6 month window for drinking before it began its decline. Its decline should be quite rapid compared to a traditionally aged wine.
Ultimately while it’s a very intriguing process that can boost the flavor compounds of wine to taste better, are we going to see wineries readily adapting this method?
The current trend for winemakers is to create wine using sustainable and traditional methods versus manipulating wine with strange processes, chemicals and additives. Instead of subscribing to such intense technology, I hope they continue on this path, making wine as it was intended, a reflection of its place, its Terroir.
One of my great joys in life is studying about wine. This year I’ve not been able to spend much time with my books and this week things slowed up for me and I took out one of the untouched dozens of volumes purchased this past year with good intentions to study.
Today I picked up “Champagne, How the Worlds Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed over War and Hard Times”, by Don & Petie Kladstrup. I was thumbing through the pages and my eye was caught by a brief description of how fighting stopped between the Allied and Germans on December 24, 1914. This really intrigued me and I started doing more research on the internet and military books I have at the house.
It was 5 months into WWI and already half a million had been killed in the fighting. Champagne’s fields were carved up vast trenches housing Allied and German soldiers, fighting for position to push each other back into retreat. The fields surrounding them held the bodies those that had fallen.
On evening of the 24th of December, Allied soldiers saw lights glowing from their enemy’s trenches. Then they hear Christmas carols being sung in German. With great hesitation, they began singing carols back and the book said a German soldier appeared through the mist holding a very small decorated Christmas tree and was unarmed.
The Allied soldiers left their weapons in the trenches and went to meet the German soldier, the Germans in their trenches also joined. They shook hands, embraced helped each other bring their dead back from the fields and drank Champagne, toasting each other to the early morning hours when at the days light a football (soccer) game was played.
After this wonderful evening of friendship and fun, the soldiers retreated back to their trenches and the fighting and death began again.
I can’t imagine the trust and bravery of those soldiers to lay down their weapons for a few hours and push aside their prejudice for a brief moment to be good to each other.
It’s remarkable how the holidays, in spite of our beliefs encourage us to reach out to each other and share the joy of these special days with each other.
This story gave me so much hope during this time of war and destruction. I encourage you all to lay down your arms, be brave, and trust yourself to reach out to your enemy and share wine and hope for the future, if only for a few hours.
Donna writes: Screw it or Cork it?
Oh yes, I’m going to open that old mess back up. I figure everyone else has talked and blogged about it, I don’t want to be left out.
The past year our entire portfolio had 14 bottle returns for cork taint. Versus the volume we do it barely registers a percentage. I personally have not had one bottle I’ve opened be bad, and about 30 cases of bright eyed hopefuls wanting to join my portfolio the past two weeks also brought no cork taint.
So is the cork industry getting better at removing tainted cork during its processing, are wineries doing more tests when receiving new cork supply? Or am I just lucky? I think a bit of both. I would say 80% of my portfolio has cork closures. I’m not offended by screw caps; I love them, for wines meant to be drunk young. Otherwise, cork has no equal in my humble opinion. Yes, I know the heartbreaking ordeal of opening that special bottle we’ve been saving for decades only to find it corked. My answer is I always buy in two’s. If I can’t afford two, I shouldn’t be drinking the first.
But on the other hand, is the public conscious of what corked wine smells like and are my bad bottles just not being returned? What if their comment at the wine bar or dining table, “I don’t like such and such wine” because they got corked bottles and didn’t realize it?
I personally have never met a wine I didn’t like except those corked in the past few years. I’ve favoured some over others, but I wonder if people really didn’t like it or was the wine bad? People frequently ask me what my favorite wine is and my reply is always “The one in my glass right now.” They look at me in disbelief and protest, and I’m always “no, every wine has it’s place and what it’s supposed to be and you have to compare it within the rules of what is, not what you want it to be”. But I’m drifting now….
Back to corks. What I can’t stand is those plastic corks. I really want to get on the phone and call the producers and ask them what they are thinking. Well, I can’t lie; I do call them and ask why they are doing it. Hate them.
#1: They have broken 3 of my wine keys. Not my Laguiole, which I would be berserk if it did, but I liked those keys, some were gifts.
#2: Because a lot of plastic corks have food grade oil smoothed on them so you can get the corks out. Nothing like pouring a glass of wine and the cork manufacturer was a little too generous with the oil and there’s a faint coating of oil on the surface of the first glass poured; while it’s not an oil slick, it’s not attractive. I also think I can taste the oil, which of course is probably my prejudice, but all the same, hate it.
#3: They smell like plastic. Cause they are.
#4: Depending on the product it leaks and it’s less oxygen proof than natural cork. Ever put one on its side in your fridge and then when you get it out the next day, there’s a puddle of wine on your shelf? Then you have to clean it up, then you realize the shelf next to it needs a wipe, then the next thing you know, you’re doing a complete hose down of the fridge’s insides instead of drinking wine. Sacrilege!
I’ve refused to accept wines into the portfolio unless they were closed with Stelvin or natural cork. In this day of economic strife do I have the right to do so? Yes, I think I do. I certainly don’t want my wine to have the cork that breaks the favorite corkscrew of a customer. They aren’t going to remember the cork broke it; they are going to remember my wine broke it, and that gives me economic strife.
Of course I don’t believe in long term aging in Stelvin either. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found some old aluminum screw cap products hidden in a shelf that hadn’t seen light in 8 years and they were corroded. Ever climb into your attic and see your grandmother’s old Mason jar collection? Lids and caps are a little nasty. I can’t imagine pulling out a forgotten bottle from storage and unscrewing a corroded bottle cap only to see little bits of white oxidation particles falling in the wine. Ew.
Something that’s recently come onto the market, that I got jazzed over, was the glass stopper. It’s a glass stopper with a flexible o-ring, so no plastic touches the wine, just glass. It’s sterile, preventing contamination or oxidation. Nice. It’s pleasing to the eye. It’s fun to play with, a conversation starter at a dinner party and it’s got the tin capsule giving us a formal opening of the bottle which makes us love natural cork so much. Only drawback is you can’t throw them at your friends like you can real cork. Well, I did, until I embedded one into the drywall.
One closure I really like, which I’ve seen a few wines bottled, is the crown cap. We already know due to its use in the Champagne region of France it works quite well for aging purposes with recently disgorged selections, but esthetically it’s probably worse than plastic corks to the wine drinking public. But it’s the most cost effective option out there right now and it’s not unpleasing to me for some reason.
I’ve been contemplating writing this article for a while. I’m a wine buyer for an importer/distributor. The only buyer, I say what is bought, what isn’t, pricing and when, where and how. I have an entire portfolio to build within a budget to find new and exciting wines for our market to purchase. So I kinda run a thin line doing an article about pricing.
The reason I wanted to bring this up is the wonderful wine consuming nation that is the USA doesn’t often really know what an effort it is get good wines to you at fair price. Being in the wine industry isn’t for everyone, very competitive, you must know a lot about your products and the overheads are high. We really do it because we love wine and want to be around it, and to say the least: I get a lot of cool points when people find out what I do.
Now I’m not trying to host a sad violin party for myself, but I have read a number of forums, blogs, etc where there’s a lot of moaning about the price of a bottle of wine compared to what it cost to make it. But it’s really not a big mystery why wine has markups.
Let’s run it down, and this really is the short version of what’s required, it all depends on your state, the states liquor sales system, as they are all different, local, regional and state legislation, and a thousand other different factors. So for the experts out there analyzing what I’ve about to say, it’s just a rough speculation, so to speak.
First you have to apply for an importer or distributor license, which depending on the state runs $2,000 to $10,000.
Then you have to have a licensed warehouse to house your stuff, license costs around $5,000 plus around $2,000 for monthly rental. Now if you live in California or New Jersey or another large wine distribution state, you can buy warehouse space. Cost depends on how much space you’re using monthly.
That set up, you gotta hire sales staff, sales manager, bookkeeper (who can do books and keep track of all the continually changing legislation). And whomever else you need.
At this point without buying any wine, you’re out about $120,000.
Then if you aren’t qualified to be a buyer you got to find one, someone who’s market savvy in the industry, can maintain a portfolio of hundreds of wines, keep them ordered and in stock, and appease the sales staff by continually bringing in new products for them to sell, maintaining a minimum net percentage off sales and steadily monitoring the market for pricing. There aren’t many buyers who can do it all, and they’re not cheap. I know, I am one.
Ego aside, okay, you got your foundation in place, but you still need wine. You then have to go find products one of two ways. Either through importer’s collections that aren’t being carried in your market. With the exception of Bordeaux, most distributors have exclusives on the products they carry in the market. It’s done so as not to be undercut and have your brand go into a pricing war, which is disastrous. Or if you’re lucky enough, you have enough cash and you’re an importer, you can ship your products directly from overseas. You wonder why Bordeaux doesn’t go into pricing wars with having market exclusives? Bordeaux is a chateau based market system, they maintain the prices themselves, and they don’t let them go crazy. Bordeaux likes to make money and they’ve had the system for hundreds of years it, so it works pretty well. It’s a lot more involved than that, but that’s the short version.
Most distributors buy from known importers first and then graduate to containers from overseas or domestically. Profit margins are much less when purchasing locally (locally meaning within the USA) then buying full containers. However, you can buy just a few cases locally to sell or a container of 10 to 20 pallets.
Let’s say you weren’t affected by Wall Street this year and you want to buy a container from overseas. Average cost of a container is about $80,000 for $15 retail product. Plus $20,000 in shipping and taxes to bring it into your warehouse. Domestic shipping ranges from about $500-$4000 depending of the distance and quantity of your shipment, plus extra for refrigerated shipments during the summer. Besides sales costs, transport and taxes are the highest costs associated with the price a bottle is sold for.
So you get all this glorious wine you have your markups and then you give it to your staff to go sell. Well, they need marketing materials, so if you’re not savvy, you got to contract a graphic designer if your producer doesn’t give you any material. Lots of times, you’re finding unknowns and they don’t know what a graphic designer is, they just want their wine sold in the states. So you will give your contract person about 20 hours of month work. They’re not cheap.
Now your sales team is set. It takes about 3 months to introduce a product into your market. All the while you’re sitting on existing product you’re ordering new products to keep a balance in your stock levels. The absolute worst thing you can do is run out of stock. So you end up keeping a minimum of a months worth at any time so your staff doesn’t freak out when they lose sales.
And lastly, when you buy that wine, it’s yours, you can’t return it. You have to make it work, it’s a heavy burden and mistakes in predicting what the market is going to like is quite costly. It’s quite risky.
Of course then you say why do restaurants have high markups? I personally don’t believe in the 3 times markup and I don’t frequent restaurants that have it. When I do, I make sure it’s an expensive restaurant and I buy a high dollar bottle because I get more value because the markup isn’t 3 times on expensive bottlings. I’ve actually found some bargains even compared to what a retail markup would be. But you say I have an advantage being in the industry; that’s true, but I was a “civilian” at one time and I learned pretty quickly what I liked to drink and what is cost retail versus in the restaurant.
I don’t begrudge a 1 or 2 times markup though because, the same as a distributor, if they want to have a good wine list, they have to build a cellar which can cost upwards of $30,000, plus training for staff, sommelier on staff or more than one sommelier on staff, that is preferred. Then they have all the time dedicated spending with various distributors finding products that meet their image. It costs a lot of money a year maintaining a good wine list. I mean a lot, anywhere from $30,000 to millions. And many of the bottlings need aging, so they aren’t making any money with the bottles waiting in the cellar waiting to be ready to drink. But they know better customers drink wine and spend more money. So a wine program is a must for any decent restaurant serving entrees $13 and over.
Retailers for the most part are pretty good with their markups, however, there are some I would never buy from. In order to make sure you are getting a fair price, fair is within 15% of the market price, you can find out on wine search engines like www.winesearcher.com. If the wine isn’t listed, then bargain; your retailer might have an exclusive and it shows they look for rare and unique products. I’d keep them if I were you as they obviously dedicated the time, energy and money into looking for interesting products. From my perspective, I look for cool stuff for these guys. I love them. Gives me a chance to find some super neat stuff and there’s a lot of neat stuff out there.
So I’ve given you a peek at my world. The next time someone grumbles at a wine costing $$$, once they know where came from and that upfront costs are half that price, they might now understand why it does. Keep it in perspective! Compared to the real costs, it’s still pretty cheap.
I am very happy to welcome Donna back after too long a hiatus! Admin
When you read an article or a book about people involved with wine ever wonder about the initials after their names or a specified qualification? You have probably seen the references Master of Wine, Master Sommelier, CWE or CSW etc.
But what do those all mean and more importantly if you want to advance your wine education where do you start? I get this question all the time. So I’m laying it all out. How do you get a qualification or classroom study in wine?
I have a number of wine qualifications. ISG Advanced, CSW, WSET, Certified Bordeaux Educator, Certified Spanish Wine Educator. These may not mean much to you but it tells others in the industry where I am in my studies and my approximate level of knowledge.
So where do you start? Where’s the jumping off point? It all depends on where you want to take your knowledge. Do you just want to learn how to taste, do you want to learn more about regions and countries, do you like the technical side of winemaking or want advanced knowledge including wine service?
There are many avenues available to you. Just depends on how far you want to take it and what you want to spend on it. They all require a lot of study in the beginning to understand the basic information, but it’s incredibly rewarding.
Lets start by highlighting the “bigs”. By “bigs” there are the three organizations that have a long history and passing their exams put you in a group of the top wine professionals in the world.
Master of Wine: One of the oldest wine organizations, based in the UK, who’s roots date back to the “Worshipful Company of Vintners” whose own roots date back before Chaucer’s day. They first started organizing exams in 1953 to award the title of Master of Wine to those who passed. Today there are only 253 in the world.
There are many famous Masters of Wine we’ve all heard of, Jancis Robinson, Michael Broadbent, Clive Coates, Hugh Johnson who write many of the books available on wine. But how do get there?
You start out with the WSET, which is also based in the UK and has a worldwide network of educators giving the foundation qualification which leads you on the path to a Master of Wine. You can take courses via classes or home study. Just locate your area and see who is available for education courses. I ended up taking home study out of the International Wine Center in NYC as there wasn’t a course available in Texas. Copia in Napa also has extensive course for those on the West Coast . Just check out their website and there should be an instructor close to where you live.
The time frame to become a Master of Wine is about that of a PhD program. This is the program I am on and will start taking the Diploma levels next year. About two years after starting that, I’ll apply for the Masters of Wine program. They provide most of your learning materials in the class, although some additional books for reference are recommended.
The emphasis of Master of Wine is more on fine details and technical aspects of the industry in all areas including production, marketing and regions. I highly recommend this program.
Court of Master Sommeliers: This is the go-to for a Master’s qualification with an emphasis on the restaurant industry. Also originating in the UK, only 167 have achieved the Master Qualification.
This group is a bit harder to achieve as they don’t have as much classroom study as the Master of Wine and more emphasis on regions, producers and vintages. However accessibility to the courses they offer and the tests are better and they have schedules posted of where they are giving tests throughout the country. It is recommended you are employed in the wine and beverage industry to achieve this qualification.
Personally I haven’t started this avenue, as wine service and food pairings don’t interest me. Well, they interest me, but are not my main focus. However, I do know many people with this organization and it is top notch.
Estimated time to become a Master Sommelier is about 6 years.
Certified Wine Educator: An accreditation given by Society of Wine Educators. The emphasis on this group is to promote wine education They are a US based organization out of Washington DC. In addition to their qualifications of Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Wine Educator they host many other organizations and courses throughout the year.
Like the Court of Master Sommeliers they have a full listing of courses available all over the country throughout the year. I do consider this easiest of these three, but that’s just my personal opinion, I have used this organization more often than the other two with additional courses such as the Certified Spanish Educator and Bordeaux Educator and networking. Their emphasis is on regions and varieties. They encourage those who pass their courses to promote the education of wine in your area.
Estimated time to achieve the qualification of CWE about 3 years.
There are also many other qualifications you can achieve, such as the ISG, the International Sommelier Guild, which promotes their sommelier credentials with classroom study only. They have courses offered all over the country and if you are new to wine study, although a bit pricey, here is a very good foundation into the world of wine with their fundamentals I and II. They are based out of Canada.
This is the group I started my education with. I originally thought to do Sommelier work in the industry and then found out my interest lay in the fine details the WSET and MW promotes, thus I concentrated my study with those organizations. As far as an base of learning about wine, their fundamentals I and II are excellent. They also provide your study books.
Sometimes organizations such as the Wine Academy of Spain make a tour throughout the states promoting a country’s wine industry. I highly encourage anyone who has this Academy coming through your city or country to participate. A base knowledge of wine is required to take these types of courses, but the in-depth knowledge and people you meet with similar interests is priceless. I’ve taken this course and have gotten to know Pancho and Javier over the past year and they are incredible people with a passion for wine and promoting education. Very good value for the knowledge you receive.
UC Davis – Mack daddy of enology in the states. Offers online correspondence courses.
Culinary schools: Most culinary schools have a structured wine course or academy in addition to their culinary courses. Check out online who locally is available.
Local Wine Events Online: this will tell you everything that’s going on in your local area or, if you’re traveling, if something elsewhere is being offered. Classes, Wine Dinners, Meet and Greets with famous winemakers etc. Definitely sign up for this website.
There are tons of local schools around the country with various affiliations, these are just a few after doing a simple web search:
Denver’s International Wine Guild
Wine Spectator’s search for courses
Wine Spectator online wine school
Copia in Napa who also gives daily classes.
Gary Vaynerchuk has a good online daily video tasting wines. Although all the wines he goes through are mainly for promotion for his store, he places an emphasis on developing your own palate and has a lot of excellent lighthearted and laid back videos on how to taste and develop your palate. Not a lot of technical info, but an emphasis on tasting wine.
You’ll notice the prices for many of the programs are expensive, the most expensive in classroom courses teach while tasting about 8-10 wines or sometimes much more a session which increases the cost dramatically. However, I do recommend these courses despite their price as it enables you to taste a wide range of wines you would not normally try or have access to. It would costs you a lot more to buy all those wines yourself, and the instructor ensures they are typical of their region to give a comparison to other wines in their class.
Finally if you just want to study at home, I recommend Jancis Robinson’s wine course. I also recommend buying Hugh Johnson’s Atlas and Jancis’ Oxford Dictionary of wine. They go everywhere I do; and they aren’t light. In my opinion they are the go-to reference books.
A very detailed home book is the University Wine Course by Marian Baldy. Very detailed, maybe a little advanced for a novice, but a lot of good info as well.
Now that I’ve answered many of your questions, you probably have 100 more. Check out these institution’s websites and see what’s going to be best for you, but do take at least one class. You’ll be shocked how much more you’ll understand about this gorgeous drink we all love so much.
Finally the more courses you take the more people you meet, and you find at about more courses. I recommend you expose yourself to tastings and opportunities to meet those in the industry as they know first hand how to expand your wine world.
Your journey starts now. You never know, you might end up like me. I left a very lucrative career I despised and joined an industry I have such a passion for as the result of one course I took 4 years ago.
Did you ever wonder how some wine professionals can look, smell and taste a wine and deduce the grape, country, region and year produced without knowing what the wine was in advance? Some even can tell the producer or the winemaker. The name for such sleuthing is called Blind Tasting. It takes years of practice and lots of skill to be an accomplished blind taster. Especially in today’s wine world where modern winemaking has blurred the traditional typical designators that indicate where a wine is from.
All the major wine education programs, the WSET & Master of Wine program, ISG, Society of Wine Educators and the Court of Master Sommeliers, have designated tasting rules to train palates for blind tasting. The Court of Master Sommeliers is unique in the respect they deduce the wine origins orally whereas most the other programs the blind tasting is written. To pass the certifications within their program you have 4 minutes to individually give an oration on the different aspects of the wine to come to a decision of where a wine comes from and its detailed components that tell you what it is. They call the process “The Grid”.
I brought a bottle of wine to Chef Peter Garcia (PG), Certified Sommelier and Cathy Nguyen (CN), Certified Sommelier of El Meson Restaurant in Houston to blind taste. Instead of the customary “double blind” where they know nothing about the wine in the glass in front of them, they did know the theme was Cabernet Franc, but they had to figure out where in the world the wine came from and what year it was produced. They know I write about Bordeaux for WWW.ReignofTerroir.com, but they also know from previous experience, I’m likely to throw them a serious curve ball, so nothing could be certain. They still haven’t forgiven me for switching an inexpensive lean California Chardonnay into a Premier Cru white Burg bottle a couple years ago. True to form, I threw them another with this tasting.
Instead of doing the tasting as the quick 4 minute grid, and giving their results, we still followed “The Grid” rules, but we audio taped the entire detailing all their thoughts. So we have for you all the intricacies of the deductive reasoning skills of finding out where the wine came from. So, if you ever wanted to know how wine professionals amazingly blind taste wines, this is how they do it:
Donna (DCT): To start, I’d like to talk about people taste wine, but they don’t taste it like professionals do, they understand professionals blind taste, but they aren’t exposed the processes and the reasoning behind those processes, paying attention to “The Grid”. The grid is rigid in it’s processes, but I’d like to display for the readers what goes on in your minds while your working your way through a blind tasting.
PG: I’d like to say, it’s a 4 minute procedure and instead of quickly running through it, we’ll detail it and footnote it as we go along. Immediately we’ll jump in and look at the appearance. And right away I see this wine color it is of high concentration, in other words as I’m passing my hand underneath the glass, I can’t see my hand, so it gives me a full concentration. If you see half your hand or a part of it, that’s medium and then if you see your hand clearly that’s light concentration. That could either be an indication of a variety of things, of the varietal or the youth of wine. This is a red wine of course, it should be said, right now I can see the rim to core variation and that’s the difference between the density in the center of the appearance as you tilt the glass away from you to the rim and the appearance of the rim. Right now I see a light color on the rim, but it’s very dense in the center so the variation is minimal, an older wine would show much more variation, more graduation of hues and colors. This wine is not that old. We’ll see what “not that old” means in a moment, we’re going to put that in our back of our mind, because not that old could be 7 years, 3 years or 1 year.
PG: Also the brilliance of the wine will give you an indication to the varietal of the wine and even how it was made. Right now I say the brilliance is moderate plus, this wine is not exceptionally brilliant, but it’s not lackluster wine by the looks of it. The color is say dark coffee to red cherry color, this is not a garnet wine, garnet is more ruddy more rusty colored to that direction, this wine is more ruby red. That immediately takes care of the appearance, there’s no gas or unusual things you should be concerned with, it’s clear in all respects, from the appearance, well made.
PG: (smelling the wine) on the nose, immediately you note it’s not defective, it has a wonderful aroma. Strawberries and Cherries. Cherries primarily, big cherries, it has a lot of zing. It has fennel, cocoa, (smelling again) once again, cherries, herbs, some dill, cinnamon, baking spices, that leads me to believe this wine has been aged in oak. Cassis! Currants, the Crème de Cassis behind any American bar. Take a whiff of that and it’s what you get. But the aromas are highly pronounced, they come at you, they don’t have to be coaxed out. That also leads me to believe this wine is relatively young.
I get vanilla, definitely vanilla, dill, not so much dill, but vanilla.
DCT: I’m getting that dill aspect on it, it’s like whenever you open up a package of Gravalax salmon, it’s like popping out at me. (Laughing) Minus the fish smell of course!
PG: The vanilla is workin’ it. Dig out the vanilla. This is all oak footprints here.
What I like about these aromas is they are welded together nicely; it’s a nice one perfume. It’s got some floral characteristics as a secondary.
DCT: Cathy, what would you add to that?
CN: Like the herbs, I mean, I’m getting a lot of herbs, like rosemary, eucalyptus.
PG: It’s definitely highly complex; immediately you’re elevating it in your mind, this is a wine of quality. Because you’re smelling a lot of different things on many levels.
DCT: I agree.
PG: There’s no defects in the nose, we’ve identified our descriptors, fruits…..
CN: Combination of red and black fruits…..
PG: Have we discussed minerality?
CN: We haven’t?
PG: Yea, we haven’t. I’m definitely getting wet pebbles and wet river stones.
CN: Well, I mean, definitely as far as minerality is concerned, it’s dark soils, there’s a wetness to the stones, you don’t get the damp clay, it’s got a little bit of that funk like in after its been raining and kind of mildewey. After it’s been raining all night and it’s really humid out, that funk after you walk past fresh cut grass.
PG: After it’s been raining?
CN: (Laughing) It’s got that kind of funk after its raining and really humid…….
PG: Slick streets in the city of New York (Laughing), yes. Yes its wet pavement, wet slate, if you grow up in Catholic school, which I did, and you’re told to clean the black board and you get a wet cloth, you can smell the wet slate and chalk. I find that a lot in good quality wines. It takes me back to my elementary school days.
CN: It’s like on the exhale after taking a drink; it has that dry sense if you’ve been inhaling wet chalk.
PG: Speaking of more fruits, I’m getting big blueberries here. What do you think?
DCT: Hmmmm, (smelling deeply) but it’s not cooked fruit for me though.
PG: That’s another dimension, is it cooked or fresh?
CN: It’s pretty ripe though.
DCT: It’s ripe, but it’s more like where the berries are sagging on the vine and they haven’t been picked, but they haven’t gone over the edge to the cooked stage yet.
PG: Another distinction is whether the wine is very winey in the smell or fruity.
CN: At first it was winey, but as it’s opened up, it’s fruitier. Nice vinosity.
PG: I think here it’s a perfect balance, it gives you the best of both worlds, if it’s overly fruity in the nose, I tend to fear it’s flabby in the palate.
CN: I feel the longer it opens up, the more fruit showing, but at the same time it’s not losing any of its mineral or earth characteristics.
PG: I failed to mention viscosity or it’s “tears”. By looking at how the tears run or how the color of the wine attaches itself to the glass. Shiraz is classic for that. It’s going to give you an indication of high alcoholic content, indicating a warm climate, warm climate of course, providing more sugars in the fruit, providing more alcohol in the wine because of the heat. On the other hand it could be highly viscous wine as a result of residual sugar.
We all taste the wine with lots of rolling and slurping noises.
PG: Let’s confirm our nose experiences. Strawberries.
CN: Bing Cherries.
DCT: Screaming bing cherries. It’s like when you open a bag of those Chilean cherries and you’re sitting there munching in the supermarket….those big huge suckers that paint your mouth…….
CN: And then on the finish you get that nuttiness from the pit of the cherries.
PG: Yea! Now you’re getting the tannins, is that the tannins from the skins or of the barrels? Now, I wasn’t overwhelmed by wood on the nose….and the tannins I’m feeling on my palate, now there’s some wood there… but …
DCT: I’m getting more tannins from the woody stems versus the oak barrels. It’s not that upfront tannin from oak. I don’t think it’s going to be a really long ager, but a really graceful ager. It’s really elegant.
PG: Like one of the things….sometimes I look at a wine and I get the sensation of a bloody mary with a celery stick in it except it’s not a bloody mary, but it’s a wine and it’s got a 2×4 in it.
PG: It’s a pity, this wine though shows elegance in the way it balances the tannins of the wood and the fruit. So that’s interesting and it’s got that cherry pit thing going on.
DCT: It’s like rolling those cherry pits around in your mouth.
PG: Can we confirm any baking spices in the wine?
DCT: Big on the vanilla, but no baking spices….no cinnamon…..there’s absolutely no heat on this wine.
PG: I don’t get any white or black pepper on the back palate.
CN: There’s no cloves or anything like it. But at the same time, the fruit, I’m not saying it’s a fruit forward wine, it’s standing up to the wood, we were smelling dill, but the fruit is standing up to it, so I’m debating whether this is a higher alcohol or warmer climate….
PG: So lets call it. Is this a high alcohol wine?
CN: Oh no, I would call it medium. If it was high alcohol it would be filling the cheeks of my mouth.
PG: The acid really balances it out. If the acid could mask the high alcohol level, I think it’s around 13% or 13.5% alcohol. So this wine has higher acid than what you would expect, but it matches the alcohol and balances it out.
Now the minerality,……..it’s all there, the rocks we talked about earlier.
CN: It’s dusty though…..
PG: Dusty tannins…that indicates some age….
CN: It’s just a little bit….
PG: Well I mentioned earlier the colour led us to believe it’s not that old, but the finer the tannins get the older the wine is, so I think we’re in the 3-7 year range.
CN: I agree with that….
PG: Not younger than three, at least 5, not more than 7, after 7 years of age, you’re going to see more rim to core variation, more ruddy color in the rim.
Now we know it’s from a continental climate at least. We know this wine has a high quality, it has an excellent finish, it’s balanced, high minerality, we’re not talking new world here. This is certainly not Napa Valley; this is a little cooler than Napa. Besides Bordeaux where else do they make Cabernet Franc?
CN: Washington State.
PG: Maybe you’re on to something……
CN: But Washington is not gravelly.
PG: You’re right……
CN: Washington is new world, but it has that volcanic minerality.
PG: Are you getting any Bret?
CN: No, but there’s that after the rain funk.
PG: We’re eliminated California, Washington is on our radar scope, but not really considering it. What about Australia?
CN: I don’t have a 2×4 in here.
PG: What’s in New Zealand…..??
CN: Definitely not that….
CN: This has more acid, Chile, unless you’re talking top of the peaks, you’re not getting acid from Chile.
CN: Same thing as Chile and the 2×4 is not there.
PG: Where does that leave us?
CN: Not Spain, it’s not cooked.
PG: Spain would have more intensity…. South Africa
CN: Not funky enough, doesn’t have that dirty feet smell…. What about Italy?
PG: Okay, let’s consider Italy. Where are they making Cabernet Franc in Italy?
CN: You’re right. Point taken.
PG: So we’re back to France, go back to the nose, smell the nose and the aromas and see if you can plot out any bicycle tire.
CN: Its not as potent a bicycle tire. A new sneaker.
PG: Converse Chuck Taylors!
CN: Yes, that rubber, vulcanized rubber, no glue, smells like an ointment.
PG: These chemical odors, you see them a lot in Bordeaux, iodine etc. This strengthens my case for Bordeaux.
DCT: So name it.
PG: It’s not St. Emilion, it’s too masculine for that, it’s Pomerol, 2004.
CN: Pomerol, 2002 or 2003.
PG: So what is it?
DCT: Chateaux Vieux Certan 2003. 80% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot.
PG : A Pomerol with 80% Cabernet Franc ?
DCT: Remember the vintage of 2003?
CN: The summer was really hot so more Cab Franc was used in the blend.
The debate on the wine then went on another 20 minutes. 2003 was called the California Vintage in Bordeaux. Ripeness levels were a record high. While the right bank of Bordeaux is made primarily from Merlot, on very warm vintages, the Cabernet Franc begins to shine and you see more of that grape used in the blend, with the winemaker balancing the higher acid of the Cabernet Franc with the over ripe Merlot. If a traditional blend was used of 80% Merlot to 20% Cabernet Franc, the wine due to the ripeness levels of the Merlot would have probably been on the flabby side.
This is case in point of why Bordeaux blends their red varietals, maintaining the consistency of the wines. When one year a varietal doesn’t perform as well due to weather conditions another may perform very well with those factors bringing a consistent and excellent product regardless of vintage. Chateaux Vieux Certan has a very clever winemaker.
I’ve been critical on the 2003 vintage, even though the critics have been lauding it. I’ve found quite a few wines ready to drink now and that’s been a good thing, but I personally don’t think they have the aging power of a traditional vintage. Chateaux Vieux Certan shocked me with how excellent this wine was. Can’t speak highly enough about its elegance.
Though it was a tough year for France, this is a wine that shows careful decisions made with the blend. And it’s case in point why Bordeaux blends their wines versus bottling single only varietals. Cabernet Franc performs exceptionally well in soil of Chateau Vieux Certan. This Chateau is well worth collecting.
Alexandre Theinpont turned what for others was a difficult vintage for Bordeaux into something truly extraordinary. He should be very proud of this vintage.
This past weekend, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo ended. It’s the largest and richest rodeo in the world, with people coming from all over the world to attend this institution held every year for the past 75 years.
It officially ran from March 3rd to the 22nd this year; however leading up to the rodeo there are many events to kick off the rodeo in style. One of these is the Roundup and Best Bites Competition. Houston’s best restaurateurs serve delicious food paired with the winning wines of the Houston Livestock Show’s International Wine Competition. Four thousand foodies converged February 18th, 2008 into the now sadly unused Astrodome to eat, drink and make merry.
The actual wine competition was held November 10, 2007 where 1,969 wines were awarded 1,544 medals in various categories. The wines are presented at the Best Bites Competition on February 18, 2008 and culminate in a giant wine auction on March 3rd which raised $1,115,800 for the Houston Rodeo Scholarship Foundation.
This years Best in Show was Stag’s Leap Winery 2004 California Cabernet, Reserve Champion was Orogeny Vineyards 2005 Green Valley Pinot Noir and the Texas Champion was Brennan’s Vineyards 2006 Viognier.
This is also the yearly kickoff for the wine industry in Houston. Following the busy holiday season, the wine sales industry experiences a slow down in the month of January as the buying public sobers up a bit after the heavy drinking holiday season the year before ends. At the Best Bites Competition, distributors, importers, sommeliers, buyers, collectors all gather with the local foodies for a bacchanalia of food and wine and recharges everyone for the year ahead. All the champion medal winning wines are served and it’s a great time to see old friends and meet new ones.
The most important people in the Rodeo are the volunteers who give their time and energy to make its running a success. Two of the most important volunteers that make the wine competition such a popular event are Bear Dalton, the head wine buyer of SPECS warehouse and Guy Stout, Master Sommelier, CWE who is the director of beverage education with Glazer’s distributors. I’m quite proud to know these fine gentlemen and their unselfish contribution to the wine industry of Texas needs to be acknowledged.
So, whether or not you are a cowboy or cowgirl, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is definitely a destination everyone should experience once in their lifetime as it has something for all to enjoy. Especially wine lovers.
In my previous article, I discussed the foundation of why Bordeaux exists, ending with its transfer back to French rule after the first 100 years war. It sounded like a happy ending, but in truth, it was just the beginning of the formation of the region.
France and England remained at war on a regular basis. In reality after the end of the first 100 years war in 1453 they didn’t really stop warring against each other until around 1815. There was an official peace of about 120 years between 1559 and 1688 but when you look back in the books, not really. Henry VIII was chopping off his wives heads and giving Pope Clement VII the two finger salute whilst destroying monasteries, ending whatever wine production England had at the time wasn’t exactly what the English public would have called peaceful, maybe normal, but not a happy time. Fifty years after that England was in Civil War for fifteen or so years (I’m sure the French had their fingers in all that unpleasant mess unofficially) ending in 1652 and 30 years later France and England were officially back at it.
During those 400 years of war and peace the English ‘discovered’ modern Bordeaux as we know it. On April 10th, 1663, a young Samuel Pepys wrote in his fine diary about “A sort of French wine, called Ho Bryan that hath a good and most particular taste that I ever met with.” Pepys chalked one up for phonetic spellers.
Wait, did I say discover? No, it was hardly discovered, it was the first known documented and marketed wine brand. A brand wine in the 1600’s? Todays image of brands brings to mind names like Yellow Tail, Antinori, Mateus and Mouton Rothschild. They are made popular with exclusivity or market penetration and a lot of advertising dollars are spent on maintaining their reputations. In today’s world if you want to make something famous, you just have to have enough money to sustain a large multi media advertising campaign. Case in point, the Yellow Tail phenomenon. But in the 17th century during Pepys lifetime, newspapers were only about 30 years old, printing presses about 120 years and the local news report was in the form of some poor bastard standing on a box, ringing a bell, screaming the town’s taxes just got raised by the King to pay for whatever war they were in at the time, and praying he didn’t get stoned by the townspeople upon hearing the news.
So how would a vigneron in France make his wine the most famous in England, create heavy demand and escalate its price during the 17th century without modern advertising tools? By building an exclusive pub in the wake of chaos.
During the great fire of 1666 a pub called The White Bear Tavern was destroyed. In its place on Lombard and Abchurch was built The Pontack’s Head, from which the finest French food and the finest claret from a single source called Haut Brion was served. The tavern was a hit in the City of London, very popular and very expensive.
But why am I writing about pub in London? There were hundreds, maybe thousands of alehouses, taverns and public houses during that time. What made it special as it was the first known pub to be built by a Bordeaux chateau or any other producer to exclusively sell its wine. For example, its common today for breweries in England to own pubs to exclusively sell their products. It’s formally called a “tied-house” as opposed to a “free-house” which can sell whatever brands it chooses. Would the Pontack be the first of its kind? Technically no, alehouses made and sold their own named brew on site, but domestically England only produced wine for sacramental purposes, so it was the first exclusive fine wine brand to be documented and sold as such.
The Pontac (Pontack) family of Bordeaux were wine exporters and wealthy with vast holdings throughout what was the Graves region. They primarily produced red wine from sandy gravely soil not suited for anything else other than wine production. Though the estate was in wine production for 150 years previous, it took the Dutch to give the family an opportunity to turn their claret into something in demand.
In 1635 the Dutch became allies with France. It’s not generally known, but the Dutch purchased much more wine from the Bordeaux region than any other country at the time and in 1647 formed a committee to establish the wine prices for the region. This is but one of many formal and informal lists that took place before the famous 1855 classification, however, until 1855 some of these classifications were made to bend prices more favorably in the interested parties direction. The new classification by the Dutch distributors detailed the sweet wines of Bordeaux and the “palus” wines.
The sweet wines were popular in Holland and the classification used to raise market prices, and the Dutch transported the palus wines to the New World. Claret was not included in the classification. It wasn’t included because it had no market in Holland. Claret was king in England, but too many wars and trade restrictions were always in the way. The current owner, Arnaud de Pontac, had to find a way to sell his fine “unclassified” wine called Haut-Brion (Ho Bryan) and increase the family fortune.
By the 17th century, wine production was becoming more advanced. Pontac began using viticultural practices to ripen his grapes, deepen the colour of his wine, separate its style from the common claret of the period. What he produced was the predecessor to the modern red Bordeaux we enjoy today, and unique and popular enough to garner many written references (first tasting notes?) of its finesse.
The diaries I’ve researched show Haut-Brion selling for around 7 schillings a bottle around 38 pounds or $76 at the Pontack’s Head around 1663. It was cheaper to just to buy your bottles and take them home instead of drinking at the Pontack as dinner cost about one pound or 108 pounds or $216 in today’s exchange, but it did include a beaker of Haut-Brion wine. The Pontack’s Head was very popular and one of the best places to be seen at. Vanity has always been easy to capitalize on and though it seems London has always been an expensive destination, fine dining does appear to now be a bargain. Given the current rate of inflation that same dinner would cost about $1500 today and I doubt any dinner by Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller or Ferran Adria could garner those prices for a single person’s supper.
Such expense, you say? This was an era without a lot of regulation and any business that anyone could walk into and be assured the food would always be the finest quality and the best wine served full strength, not watered down with polluted, brackish water from the Thames, would be in great demand. The outrageous prices formed the most exclusive club in town. The Royal Society had their annual dinners for nearly 100 years at the Pontack’s Head. The Royal Society is England’s oldest learned society for science and its presidents while the Pontack was in operation were Christopher Wren, Charles Montagu, Lord Somers, Isaac Newton and our good friend Samuel Pepys. What illustrious patrons the Pontack had!
But how did Haut Brion maintain its consumption demands and sales in England when every other day they were or were not at war? A bit of smuggling. Of course a blind eye would be turned for the most famous tavern in London so image and status could be maintained for its patrons. It was common to sell the wine to a country not at war with England to get the goods through. Of course smuggling also avoided the hefty taxes and there are invoices for small French and Channel islands habitants supposedly consuming absurd amounts of wine that would easily kill a human in a week.
Today, wine production and pricing has always been about supply and demand. When a famous wine like Haut-Brion has a huge demand for its luscious and hedonistic style, it gets huge prices to match, no matter the era when it’s sold.
Once upon a time there was a beautiful girl named Alienor who was the daughter of the powerful Duke Guillaume of Aquitaine and Poitou. She lived during the 12th Century and became the Queen to the King Louis VII in 1137 and then annulled the marriage on the basis they were 3rd cousins only to marry the future King of England, Henry II who she was even more closely related. Actually they all were related quite closely, but Henry was 13 years her junior and you have to give Eleanor as she was now known her due, she made off with a royal toy boy. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but I like my version that she got tired of one King and exchanged him for a much younger King. I mean, who does that? Completely awesome!
The 12th century was the time of the great crusades, the court of Thomas of Beckett’s murder, and two very famous sons of Eleanor’s, Richard otherwise known as “Lionheart” (ringing a bell now) and John, both Kings of England. This was a time of dangerous politics and Eleanor was no wallflower. She tried to overthrow her husband and place her children on the throne of England. Why would she do this? Henry was having a very public affair with a courtier and there was talk of divorce. With the possibilities of new heirs and the bitterness of being cheated on, I think Eleanor took care of her business. Gives a new meaning to that old saying “Hell hath no Fury like a Woman Scorned” doesn’t it? She was placed under house arrest by her husband for 15 years and separated from her children. Henry died during a jousting tournament and Richard the Lionheart ascended the throne and immediately freed his mother and made her Regent during his 3rd Crusade. When Richard died, John was named heir. Eleanor had a lot to do with that too, but we’re just hitting high points.
So what does all this ancient medieval history have anything to do with Bordeaux? Everything. Without England having the Aquitaine as part of its lands, we would not have Bordeaux as we have it today. Aquitaine was an independent duchy (think Luxembourg) when Eleanor inherited it after her fathers’ death those lands encompassed what is now 1/3 of modern France.
Now you see how Eleanor married two Kings. In the heart of those lands are the Gironde and the port of Bordeaux and La Rochelle. She was a powerful woman during this age of men, war and crusades. Eleanor’s father was clever and insured his daughter’s independence; because only until Eleanor’s heir advanced to the throne could the duchy be incorporated into the country the heir ruled. Until the heir ruled, the Aquitaine remained Eleanor’s.
Bordeaux didn’t become important as a wine port until after Eleanor’s death in 1204. Eleanor didn’t favor Bordeaux; she, like her father gave favor to the port of La Rochelle. Salt was one of La Rochelle’s main commodities and from Roman times to her day salt was expensive and valuable. It was King John who opened the port of Bordeaux to royal favor by allowing access to the English market. But it wasn’t until 1224 when Louis VIII captured Poitiers that Bordeaux’s fortunes really changed. La Rochelle sided with France, Bordeaux with England. La Rochelle stayed with the Kingdom of France, the Aquitaine was reduced in size and Bordeaux entered a golden era with the rise of the merchant class, known as the Bourgeois. Yes, it was much more complicated than that, but you get the idea.
With Bordeaux remaining loyal to England, it gained tremendous favor and power and Bordeaux wine (there was other trade as well) began to flow into England. During this time, the Medoc didn’t have many vines nor was it the size it is today. The wines produced from the area around the city of Bordeaux were from Graves, Entre deux Mers and Blaye. But this was only a small segment, most of the wines came from the surrounding areas including Cahors and Bergerac and further down into the Languedoc and Perigord. But Bordeaux wanted to promote the local wine, restrict the outsiders and improve the coffers of the city, so trade restrictions were set forth specifying when the outlaying regions were allowed to bring their wine to Bordeaux for export with many other conditions.
The newly active Bourgeois (Merchant class) devised rules and regulations to promote Bordeaux and formed a easy to collect tax system that was favored by parliament. Many of the rules were very unfair including barrel regulations which other regions shipping through the port of Bordeaux could not have as many hoops securing the seals of the wood staves creating leaks and accelerating the aging process. Many wines from the outside areas were never sold being allowed to sour and be dumped before finding a buyer. Subsequently Bordeaux wine flourished in England and approximately 40,000 tonneaux a year was imported. 1,000 tonneaux is equal to approximately 1 million bottles; the bottles were of equitable volume to today’s bottles. All the wine was shipped in barrel; chateau bottling didn’t arrive until the 20th century.
So, that is how England came to own a big chunk of France for 300 years. It was only until the end of the 100 Years War and the defeat of Bordeaux’s governor, John Talbot, the first Earl of Shrewsbury, at the Battle of Castillon (just outside St. Emilion) in 1453 was the duchy removed from English rule. Bordeaux remained mostly independent and was annexed to the Kingdom of France in 1653 when Louis XIV entered the city. As a side note, the Earl lost his life during the battle, but his name lives on with the famous St. Julien property he owned while Governor. Chateau Talbot has been consistently producing beautiful wine since the Earl owned it. We’ll have more on the rise of Bordeaux in the next installment. Oh! And a Pope who made wine enters the scene.
Bordeaux is an enigma; or is it? True, it’s many things to many people but fundamentally, what is it about Bordeaux? Why is it so sought after and enjoyed throughout the world? Bordeaux is most famous for its rich and pricey reds, but fortunately, within its boundaries one can also find tremendous wines for every palette and budget. You may not know this but Bordeaux is the biggest fine wine region in the world. The region contains over 280,000 acres of vines farmed by 13,000 grape growers, producing 800,000,000 bottles of wine annually. Yes, you read that correctly, eight hundred MILLION bottles.
Lemme give you a few reasons why I’m involved with Bordeaux. When I was 17 I was introduced to a little wine called Chateau Margaux (lucky teenager eh?) and it began a life long love of the region. I studied privately and collected a bit here and there but upon my father’s death a few years back it made me realize how much I love wine and especially Bordeaux, so I changed careers, became a poor student again working on a number of certifications, including International Bordeaux Tutor. So, I guess I am now a wine professional.
As a Professional, I see many people who gushingly exclaim “I love Bordeaux!”, and yet know nothing about it. They mentally group Bordeaux as a type of wine rather than the end product of its geographic source. When I ask what they love about it? The answer is usually because it simply tastes good. Now that is an absolutely great reason to drink Bordeaux, it’s how we all start drinking wine, but we never ask ourselves, why did it taste so good? And how do I apply that knowledge to purchasing other bottles? The main question is can you mix advanced knowledge with enjoyment of drinking wine? Well, of course you can and in forthcoming articles here at Reign of Terroir give you the knowledge to make you better Bordeaux drinkers and buyers.
To understand any wine region, especially Bordeaux, you have to have a basis of where it originates and its history. The need for instant gratification creates wine drinkers who take critics at their word and instead of finding wines to their own tastes they just buy what is recommended because it’s easy. Have you ever brought home $200 of critic recommended wine and found yourself surfing the internet that night looking for vinegar jars or sangria recipes to dump the undrinkable remains of bottles you just didn’t like? Having a bit of knowledge about the wine you are buying can save a lot of heartache on your pocketbook and taste buds.
In future articles at Reign of Terroir I’m going to give you a lot of fine details regarding the region. I will include the discussion of vintages in detail and not just give you some chart. Don’t you end up hating vintage charts because they never seem to work they way you think they are supposed to? I will give you the information to develop the ability to know which Bordeaux is going to be right for you. For example did you know when the critics crow about how wonderful a specific vintage might be for Bordeaux most of the time they are referencing the left bank? But it could be a poor year for the right bank and bargains to be had as a result. We’ll enjoy a number of Cabernet versus Merlot smack downs along the way.
I’m not a wine critic. If ratings are your gig, you’re going to need to get a subscription to a critic. I’m here to give you the reasons why they get the ratings. We trust in people we’ve never met to make recommendations and hope and pray its good when we open the bottle and it just shouldn’t be that hard. Bordeaux really isn’t all that complicated once you have basic facts and its history under your thick old noggins. Now, how completely jazzed are you going to be when you walk into intimidating wine stores armed with nothing other than your brain and when they ask you if you need help you can say no and mean it!
So, take this journey with me, and together, we’re going back to hundreds of years of history, through war, peace, pestilence, tradition and discover what is arguably the most famous wines in the world…..Bordeaux.