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Behind Mouton Rothschild's Chinese label

Date: Thu, Dec 9, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

As has been widely reported, Chateau Mouton Rothschild last week confirmed that its wine label for the 2008 vintage has been produced by a Chinese artist - namely Xu Lei, artistic director of Today Art Museum, Beijing’s leading contemporary art gallery, and a graduate from the prestigious Nanjing Academy of Fine Arts.


I wrote the story for Decanter ( http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/508516/xu-lei-confirmed-as-mouton-2008-artist ) but thought I would go into a little more detail about how the artists are selected, and why Mouton is very much not jumping on the 'must get to China' bandwagon'.

Most importantly, the label was not chosen by the management committee of Mouton, but entirely by Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, as she does every year - and as of course her father did before her. I spoke with her on Saturday (by telephone) about her selection process, and she is very clear about her reasoning. 'I would never put an artist on the label unless I very much like their work, that is first and foremost my reasoning for selecting an artist. For this year, I was helped by the very charming Michael Goedhuis (an art dealer based in London and New York who specialises in Asian contemporary art www.goedhuiscontemporary.com) who suggested several suitable artists to me, and I made the decision from there.'

It is worth pointing out that this is not the first time Mouton Rothschild has featured a Chinese artist on the label . Way back in 1996, before many of the classified growths of Bordeaux were even clocking up their Cathay Pacific airmiles getting over to Hong Kong and China, Baroness Rothschild asked renowned Chinese calligropher Gu Gan to create the label.

Mouton Rothschild bouteille 1996 HR

Gu Gan has several works on display in the British Museum, and several of his paintings are reflections on the political and economic reforms in China over the past few decades. He now lectures on modern Chinese calligraphy and is president of the Society of Modern Calligraphy and Painting. During a long period spent in Europe, he visited Mouton in 1996 and created, in the Baroness' words, 'a beautiful, rather sombre calligraphic label. I felt, 15 years ago now, that it was the right time to ask a Chinese artist.'

The 2008 label by Xu Lei is a figurative reworking of the classic Mouton emblem with a delicate ink drawing that depicts the famous ram standing between two halves of the moon. 'I like that is is figurative and abstract' said Baroness Rothschild. 'You can't be sure exactly what he wanted to express, and that gives it a haunting quality.' Unlike Gu Gan, Xu Lei did not visit Mouton in person, but studied the previous labels that had been created, and learnt about the wine through drinking it, and understanding the role that art has played in its character. Interestingly, Madame de Rothschild says, 'By looking at all that, an artist will understand what Mouton is. For me, the link between creating art and making wine is obvious. It is as important to me as it was to my father ever since 1945.'

Etiquette Mouton Rothschild 2008 specimen MD

The Mouton Rothschild Artists label series began in 1924, and has seen a new label created every year since 1945. Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol and Prince Charles have all featured. And, however noble the reasoning behind the selection of artist this year, it has certainly had an effect on prices. When speculation of a Chinese artist first surfaced in late 2009, the price immediately moved upwards from the opening £1800 per case to around £2200. Right now that seems like a bargain – recent weeks have seen the 2008 vintage trading at between £8,000-£10,000 per case.


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Identifying Wine Faults

Date: Mon, Nov 8, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

I went to an excellent seminar on wine faults at the Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux this morning, given by one of the fellow tutors who is also an oenologist. We went through the theory, then did the tasting. I always find these fault seminars (they are held once a year for all the tutors at the wine school) really fascinating and useful, so thought I would share it here.

Most of the major wine faults found in past decades have nearly all been eradicated - particularly the visual ones - but it is still important to be able to identify potential issues to know how to resolve them. The main fault categories are:
0. Faults from grape growing and harvesting
1. Visual and physio-chemical faults
2. Microbacterial faults
3. Oxidative and reductive issues
4. Ageing and barrel faults

Grapes and Harvesting
Vegetal Aromas
Causes: Usually this comes from havresting too early before the grapes are fully ripe.
How you can tell: Vegetal aromas, Green pepper, asparagus, herbaceous tastes. The threshold for most tasters to identify this is from 8-15 nanogram per litre (the chemical molecule responsible is 3-isobutyl 2 methoxpyrazine)

Moisi terreux
Causes: Presence of grey rot, also can come from dirty equipment used during vinification,
How you can tell: can get a mouldy, rotted aroma and smell, of wet earth. The threshold for this is 40-50 nanograms per litre, so again can discern it at low levels - although sometimes confused with brettonmyces.

Causes: The must has not been protected against oxygen, vinification has taken place without temperature control, and so there is an oxidation of the phenols in the wine - specifically, an enzyme called tyrosinase quinone combines w other phenols
How you can tell: The wine takes on brown hints (it is particularly obvious with a white wine) and loses its fruit aromas

Protein deposits
Causes: Lack of filtering and fining, especially common with white and rose wines, leading to the formation of insoluble complexes of tannin-protein or protein-protein. There have been lots of advancements made in this area and understanding of which graoe varieties are most at risk. Known as La Casse Proteique in French.
How you can tell: Cloudy, milky turbidity in the wine that affects above all its visual aspect

Iron or copper deposits
Causes: Use of copper in the winery (this was far more common in previous decades, now winery equipment is almost never made out of this substance) or iron rich soils excess of sulphite use or even from light. La Casse Metallique in French.
How you can tell: The copper combines with phosphorus acid in the wine, causing a white precipitation in white wines, or blue in red wines

Tartric precipitation
Causes: Not cold enough during ageing, lack of effective filtration. This can cause the precipitation of the tartaric acid as potassium bitartrates or calcium tartrates, which then form tartric cyrstals,
How you can tell: These crystals - that look like small lumps of sugar or salt - are visible in the bottles of neck, or the base. No quality problem for the wine, but consumers don't like it, and most producers know to cold stabilise to avoid it

An essential component in winemaking, but if too much used during bottling, or when wine has just been bottled, can get the bad eggs smell. Very rare, but unpleasant if you experience it. A wine without sulphur is very fragile, susceptible to oxygenation. Many oenologists have looked at what can replace it but its antioxidative, anti bacterial, antiseptic... It is highly useful!
NB: EU levels 160mg per litre for red, 260mg per litre for sweet 180 mg per litre for dry whites ( there might be slight difference depending on appellation, some up to 210mg per litre for dry white)

Microbacterial faults
Microbacterial faults we do still come in to contact with. They often can be subtle problems, but the taster just dont feel the wine is clean or pure.

Causes: Comes from unclean hygiene in winery, or insuffuciant sulphur, or temperature of the elevage (warm cellar conditions encourage it), detectable at 570 micrograms per litre. Brettanomyces is the transformation of phenolic acids to brettanomyces, found in the yeast.
How you can tell: This is the horsey, stables aroma more common in red wines, that some people identify as 'terroir'. Coinnoculation has grown as a result of fears of this, certainly a fault that people are very aware of now
This is a fairly controversial fault, and is well explained here: http://www.aromadictionary.com/articles/brettanomyces_article.html

Acetic spoilage
Causes: Lack of anti-oxygenation protection, lack of topping up carefully during ouillage, or stocking the wine at too high temperature. All of this case cause an oxidation of the ethanol (alcohol) into acetic acid, which then is turned (by a acetic bacteria) into ethyl acetate. Usually discernable at 150mg per litre for acetic ethyl
How can you tell: The wine will smell and/or taste of nail varnish remover, vinegar. It will also be enormously dry and bitter on the finish.

Lactic spoilage
Causes: Usually winemakers like lactic bacteria! But here it can stop the fermentation, and transorm the residual sugars in the grape must into to acetic acid and lactic acid.
How you can tell: A sour, sharp taste in the wine. More of a concern in hot years

La tourne
Causes: Usually from bad hygiene in the winery, not following vinification, leading to the spoilage of tartaric acid, so the wine loses too much acidity.
How you can tell: This again is rare nowadays, but completely unbalances a wine, making its PH levels too high and can be limp, flat wine, plus gives an unpleasant yoghurty aroma

Maladie de la graisse (roundness)
Transformation of polysaccharides by lactic acid to small amounts of aceitic acid, but more importantly loses the viscosity , so it is more of a visual fault, but can lead to limp, flat wine.

Maladie de l'amer (bitterness)
Causes: Transformstion of glycerol into acetic acid, comes from harvesting too early, but rare today
How can you tell: bitter finish to the wine, detectable at 10mg per litre

Le gout de souris (mousey taste)
This is more common with white wine, comes again from brettonomyces, and from lack of sulphites

Oxidation and reduction
Causes: Certain wines such as madeira or rancio this is looked for, otherwise it is a fault. Problems can come from badly managed pumping over, often found in sample bottles but any badly controlled bottling can be a problem.
How can you tell: Green apple, bitterness

Causes: From transformstion of yeasts intomethanethiol or ethanethiol
Not giving the wine enough potentisl for oxygen exchange, or fermenting the must in complete absense of oxygen w azote, using certain phytosanitaires products etc.
Slight amounts can be corrected by decanting etc, nut if it goes too far, the wine is spoilt
How can you tell: Onions, garlic, cauliflower, rotten eggs

Ageing faults
Corked wine

Causes: This is the TCA, can come from bad quality ccorks or from use of bad hygiene practises
2-5 nanograms per litre can begin to detect it, and sparkling wines even less. If a winery is infected, the only option is to replace everything w stainless steel
How can you tell: Musty smell, mouldy smells, generally dampening of the fruit.

Causes: Can arive from bad storage facilities, too much light or vibrations, 8 micrograms per litre can begin to detetct it.
How can you tell: Curry, nut smells, mainly in white wines

How to get rid of bad smells
Charcoal fining (must filter afterwards)
Using lees of yeasts to diminish reduction aromas
Oak chips are sometimes used to help mask minor odour issues without marking the flavour of the wine too much, can help mitigate, eg, some green aromas
But of course best way is to protect in advance - prevenir pas guerir!


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Make your own Bordeaux wine

Date: Fri, Sep 3, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

I had a piece in the South China Morning Post yesterday in Hong Kong on making your own Bordeaux wine. It looks much better in the original of course, but I thought I'd share the web version here:


Non-professionals are getting chance to make their own Bordeaux wines
Jane Anson
Sep 02, 2010

If you were given the chance to make your own wine, without the risk and expense of buying a vineyard, would you take it? Judging by the crowd in the cellars of Chateau Teyssier, it's a pretty irresistible idea. At first glance, this is a typical open day at a beautiful estate five minutes outside the medieval village of Saint Emilion, on the right bank of Bordeaux. The difference is the guests are not here to taste the chateau's wines, but to sample the first results of their own take on the acclaimed 2009 vintage.
Various nationalities and ages are gathered around tables bearing bottles marked merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc - grape varieties they have chosen, grown in plots they have selected, and are now being blended and aged. Most of the wines will be bottled a year from now, under names and labels invented and designed by each participant.

These amateur winemakers - taking a break from their day jobs as lawyers, teachers, IT consultants, even actors - are making a minimum of one barrel of wine each (which works out at 300 bottles or 25 cases) with Crushpad, an American company that has recently set up in Bordeaux. The cost of a barrel starts at €6,600 (HK$65,000) or €22 per bottle, and the opportunity is open to anyone who is willing to sign up. This is citizen winemaking in action - pretty revolutionary for a region whose most famous winemakers are often descended from aristocratic families who have made wine in the region for centuries.

This weekend is the annual Client Mashup, an opportunity for barrel owners to head to Bordeaux, often for the first time, to check on the progress of their wines, which, until this point, they have just been following online. The grapes were picked about six months earlier (clients are welcome to help with harvest, but most don't have the time), and this is the chance to check that the flavours are on track and to make any tweaks to the blends before the wine begins its final ageing process. The mood is lively. "I never expected winemaking to be so emotional - it really is like creating your own baby," says one client, from Ukraine.

Maybe not entirely surprisingly, there are few French participants. "We just had two Parisians this year," says Stephen Bolger, CEO of Crushpad Bordeaux, "and nobody from Bordeaux." Rather, the mix seems mainly to be American, British and northern European, mostly young professionals making wine with friends who share the barrel costs between them. Among the crowd is Bernice Liu, Chinese-Canadian actress and singer who is known not only for her extensive work with TVB (SEHK: 0511), but also for films such as The Legend is Born: Ip Man.

"I first heard about Crushpad through the internet," Liu says. "Not knowing anything about the process other than what I did and didn't like [to drink], I started surfing the Net.

"Someone like me who isn't a professional wine connoisseur bases taste on instinct. But the guys at Crushpad were great - you have the say as to how involved in the process you want to be."

Liu started making wine with Crushpad in California, which is where the concept began in 2004. At first it was based in San Francisco, with grapes from Napa Valley vineyards and with the aim, in the words of founder Michael Brill, of "enabling anyone with a serious interest in wine to participate in the magic of winemaking".

Today, it has moved base to Napa and has a global list of clients making their own "custom crush". Although most are wine enthusiasts with no previous experience, many of the wines have received scores of 90+ from critics such as Robert Parker and theWine Spectator. In 2008, Crushpad opened its outpost in Bordeaux and the temptation proved too much for Liu to resist.

"In wine, the ultimate thing is Bordeaux, so to travel here and to experience winemaking has been amazing," Liu says.

In Napa, she made a single varietal chardonnay and merlot, while in Bordeaux she's making a white and a red blend. "I just kind of go with what I feel like."

More than 90 per cent of Crushpad clients have no previous experience of winemaking, and the vast majority have no intention of giving up their day jobs. They can follow the progress of their barrels throughout the year either by visiting the vineyards and cellars - based at Chateau Teyssier but using grapes grown at nine selected plots around the region, or by logging in to Crushnet, an online tool that allows clients to make key decisions about the style of wine they want at each step of the process. The fruit (with a choice of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc) is sourced from high-quality partner vineyards such as Pey Labrie in Canon-Fronsac, Le Ruisseau in Cotes de Castillon, Grand Pontet in St Emilion, Grand Cathelie in Pauillac and Chateau Le Coteau in Margaux. The resulting wines will be bottled as AOC Bordeaux or, in some cases, AOC St Emilion.

Inexperience is not an issue - the company has put together a detailed guide to winemaking that explains what effect each of your choices will have on the final wine starting from the basics, such as getting a round, fleshy flavour from the merlot grape, or a more elegant, tannic and masculine edge from cabernet sauvignon; to the more subtle decisions such as the toasting level of your barrel and the amount of time you want to keep your grape skins in contact with the juice.

To help clients define their wine style, Stephen Bolger has assembled a team of leading local winemakers and consultants. Jonathan Maltus, owner of Chateau Teyssier, where the Crushpad facilities are based, is a renowned winemaker who has won acclaim for his micro-cuvees such as Le Dome and Les Asturies. Clients also have access to the expertise of consultants Eric Boissenot and Stephane Derenoncourt. Between them, they make wine for some of the most illustrious names in Bordeaux, including Clos Fourtet, Chateau La Gaffeliere, Domaine de Chevalier, Chateau Lafite, Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

With this expertise as back-up, clients piece together the type of wine they want. "Our vineyard list is like a puzzle," says Bolger. "Each vineyard we select must have different characteristics to offer clients, depending on whether they prefer a left bank or right bank style, or anything in between."

Bolger is visiting Hong Kong this month to meet his growing client base from the region. "For once, we are followers, not leaders, here. More than most markets, Hong Kong and Chinese consumers have four key hallmarks of the typical Crushpad citizen-winemaker - one of the world's deepest appreciations for Bordeaux red wines, an intense entrepreneurial spirit, a deep curiosity and a continuing thirst for experience. With that profile, the jump to creating your own premium Bordeaux is not that difficult."

Most Crushpad clients are making wine just for fun, or for a special event such as an anniversary or wedding, but some choose to sell their bottles. So will we be able to buy the Bernice Liu Bordeaux blend?

"I thought about incorporating the wine I make with a local charity ... but I want to try it first to make sure it really is `me' before I start sharing it with the world," she says.

She might find it's a difficult decision - London friends Adrian Chopin and Richard Perris had intended to sell half but say, "Now we're tasting it, it's just too good to part with."

Crushpad is organising tasting events in Hong Kong in the week of Sep 13, including Sep 17 and 18 at Cipriani, hosted by Stephen Bolger. As all tastings are limited to 15 people per session. To book, please contact Stephen@crushpadwine.comor call +33 6 26 01 57 69


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Vertical of Raymond Lafon: a Sauternes to know about

Date: Thu, Jul 15, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

July seems to have consisted so far of very little Bordeaux wine, as I have spent a week at the beach at Cap Ferret, and most consumption has been of Provence roses (Chateau Pibarnon from Bandol I was pleased to know makes just as good a rose as it does red), and Loire whites.

But I am now getting round to writing up a few recent tastings I have done, and one of the most enjoyable was at Chateau Raymond Lafon in Sauternes towards the end of June. This is a property that I have long championed, and is so much the 'insider's choice' of Sauternes wines that I am constantly amazed they are not beating clients away from their doors. But it is not classified (because its vines had only been planted for five years 1855) and is therefore not included in the UGC en primeur tastings - perhaps this is why itis sometimes missed out in roundups of the appellation. The wines are also aged for three years in barrel instead of the more usual two, which can make commercial purchase decisions a little tougher from the buyers' side; I was not entirely surprised to learn that from this year they are planning to bring it down to two (as Yquem also did a few years ago).

Today Raymond Lafon (I know I've said it before, but this is just a great name, should be a seedy Soho strip club and screams decadence) is owned by the Meslier family and is run by brothers Jean-Pierre and Charles-Henri, and their sister Marie-Francoise. Their father Pierre was cellar master at Chateau d'Yquem for most of his career, and this vineyard overlooks the vines of Yquem.

I met up with Jean-Pierre, who used to live in Napa but has been back working with his family for almost a decade now. He still speaks perfect English and is an enormously warm and welcoming host. They have received a publicity boost this year - as their fellow Sauternes properties took the opportunity of the great 2009 vintage to raise their prices, Jean-Pierre came out at just over 22 euros, a drop of 12% on the 2008 price and of 24% on the 2005 price. And for a wine which was one of the best I tasted from the appellation. I asked him if he regretted it now, 'No. Whatever people might pretend, there is still a recession on. And we are not owned by a big corporation, so can not afford to wait a few years to sll our wine, we need to put bread on the table now. We will keep some back for later sale, but we hope that even if we could have got more per bottle, this will help us gain market share.'

I tasted a barrel sample of the 09, plus a vertical down to the 01.

My notes (in the order they were tasted, which was :
Chateau Raymond Lafon 2009 - A lovely pale gold but still vibrant glow, with lovely fresh acidity but still oozing with sweetness. 70% of the harvest will go into Raymond Lafon this year, a very high percentage (the rest goes into Les Jeunes Pousses de Raymond Lafon, the second wine). 80% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon, with 50% new oak. After 30 minutes in the glass, I retasted, and it had exploded in taste and complexity - easily one of the most balanced Sauternes that I have tasted this vintage. 95-96.

Chateau Raymond Lafon 2008 - The sugar is more prevalent here, don't quite get the same bite on the finish. The frost was not so bad at this property as elsewhere in Sauternes, so they lost just 50% of their crop (compared to La Tour Blanche, for example, which lost nearly everything). 90.

Chateau Raymond Lafon 2007 - Due to be bottled in a few months (and Jean Pierre believes it often takes a further year after bottling for his wines to really start expressing their full potential). This is beautiful. Soft but determined and incredibly well defined. Lemon and lime gently playing with your tongue, absolutely delicious wine. 95.

Chateau Ramond Lafon 2004 - The colour is getting richer as the wine ages. This was a difficult vintage, with rain and sun during harvest and again lost around 50% of the crop. A good wine though, with an attacative sour note, a thick-cut marmalade served on brioche! Again, it is the length that is so inpressive with these wine. 92.

Chateau Raymond Lafon 2006 - Very deep in colour, the richest of the line-up. Botrytis was particularly rich this year for Raymond Lafon, and the texture looks viscous and clings to the glass. They harvested around two weeks later than many of their neighbours, and so lost some volume but gained in botrytis richnes. A grogeous concentration and is very silky and textured. it's a rich one, so not my personal favourite, but very impressive. 93-94.

Chateau Raymond Lafon 2002 - A cool summer with even maturing. Aromas and acidity are good -in fact acidity soars in places (4.5 instead of the more typical 3.5). This is delicate, really a pleasure and again has that playful feeling that makes you want to linger over the glass and enjoy the subtleties. Maybe not one for did-hard Sauternes fans, but a great wine to convince sceptics that there is more to this area that 'luscious syrup'. 93-94.

Chateau Raymond Lafon 2005 - Quality and quantity in this vintage - double the normal production with wonderfully healthy grapes. This is a classic Sauternes (in fact a classic Raymond Lafon, because it has the sweetness and exuberance of Sauternes but never loses the twist of definition that comes with clean acidity). Very good - but perhaps surprisingly not my stand-out wine of the line up. 93.

Chateau Raymond Lafon 2001 - A classic, much lauded year for Sauternes. This has fabulous russety colours tinged with apricot, and is so soft, with gentle flavours that float along your palate. Not all all intrusive and yet all-envoloping. Truffles are just starting to form on the palate, but grapefruit and candied lemon are still paramount. Mmmm! 95+

Chateau Raymond Lafon 2003 - Of course left to the end, because this is the humdinger of residual sugar (at 177 g/l compared to a usual 135 g/l - only 1893 had similar levels apparently!). Had to pick as quickly as possible before acidity disappeared completely. Many were not fully botrytised but had such high sugar that they had to rush. This is caramel, toffee, some liquorice. So different from the others here. Far lower acidty of course (although still was 3.3 but hard to tell). Wonderful richness, truly dessert in a glass. 91.



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Jacques Boissenot named Winemaker of the Decade

Date: Thu, Jul 1, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

Jacques Boissenot, wine consultant to four of the five First Growths, was named Winemaker of the Decade last night in a ceremony at Chateau Rauzan Segla, Margaux.

The award was given by Ch’ng Poh Tiong of the Chinese Bordeaux Guide to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the publication.

Poh Tiong, also author of a just released book on pairing Chinese food with wine www.108chinesepairings.com , said on giving the award, ‘Winemaker of the decade may be a bold award, but I feel very confident because have tasted his many wonderful wines again and again. And it is impossible to achieve greatness if you are not genuine, and nobody would doubt that about M. Boissenot.’

Boissenot, who today works alongside his son Eric, has been a consultant in the Medoc for over 40 years, and trained under Emile Peynaud. He works with around 180 properties (90% on the Left Bank of Bordeaux) including Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Leoville-las-Cases, both Pichon Longueville and Pichon Comtesse, Leoville Barton, Gruaud Larose, Cos d’Estournel and Rauzan Segla. Despite having played a role in many of the most celebrated wines of the past four decades, he is renowned for his low-key, understated approach, and is little known outside of Bordeaux.

Jacques Boissenot said afterwards (understated as ever) ‘It’s a great honour, and very moving, for an old man on the verge of retirement.’

I have just written a profile of both Eric and Jacques for the July issue of Decanter magazine, in the Bordeaux supplement. I have also written a shorter profile of him on http://www.newbordeaux.com/documents/jacques_boissenot.html


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Tasting wine with modern legends

Date: Sun, Jun 27, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

I was enormously lucky over the past two days to attend two of the sessions from the Masters of Wine Symposium, which has been held in Bordeaux since Thursday. Even my brief visits have shown just what a fantastic event it has been, and I am looking forward to being able to view the videos of all the panel discussions of the www.mwsymposium.com website in two weeks.

Yesterday saw a fascinating discussion on the Asian market (and more accurately the Asian mindset towards wine), of which more later, but this morning was the real standout for me - a wine tasting with Modern Legends of the industry, where Paul Draper of Ridge, Peter Gago of Penfolds, Alvaro Palacios of La Faraona (and of L’Ermita in Priorat) and Paul Pontallier of Ch Margaux talked us through specific vintages and had a general discussion about their approach to wine. The enjoyment was further deepened because I had sat with Peter Gago on Christian Seely's table at the fete de la fleur on Friday night, so already knew what an engaging and open speaker he was going to be.

I'm sure that even the room full of highly qualified and extremely experienced MWs were thrilled to see the wines that were lined up:
1995 Ridge Monte Bello, Ridge Vineyards (stunningly rich nose, some gentle black truffles beginning to come through. 'We like to think that we learn something in each vintage that will move us forward just a little'. He said that for this particular wine, they were just getting the balance right of extraction so as not to have to fine later to remove tannins).

2006 La Faraona, Descendientes de J Palacios, Bierzo (plenty of crushed raspberry, pepper and liquorice, from the Mencía grape, this is young, intense and stole up on me as I kept retasting, gorgeous. 'this vineyard represents for me the summit of what I have been looking for since I came to bordeaux to study wine in 1995, and since I have been back in Spain. Tis represents my happiness.')

2004 Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet, Penfolds, Barossa (possibly the purest expression of cabernet sauvignon that I have ever tasted, I was blown away by this wine. These are cabernet vines planted and continuously farmed since 1880s, one of world's oldest continously producing vineyards. Taken off the skins 2/3 of way thru fermenting.

1996 Chateau Margaux, Margaux (gentle white truffles, still rich and with a firm backbone of fruit, but with tertiary aromas just starting to gather force. 'This is a special year for me because my only daughter was born in this year. We had a rainstorm in August, and i said to my wife sorry it will not be a great vintage, but it in fact was. This year taught me a lot about controlling the ripeness of the grapes.'

The discussion began around what these wines meant to them, and widened out to cover a wider look at their successes and failures through their careers, and how they would like to be remember (Gago's particularly succint 'as someone who didn't make too many mistakes'). Of the many fascinating points that were made, here are a few highlights:
'To make great wine... be passionate about your pursuit of happiness, and expect the unexpected' (Jean Michel Valette MW)

Draper 'I did a degree in philosophy... but you can learn practical winemaking by listening to what a piece of ground is telling you. I grew up on a farm, and loved the idea that something grown from the earth could be transformed with a little help from its friends into this, it just blew me away.'

Palacios 'I hope I will be remembered as a humble winemaker who tried to rescue some grand crus from Spain'

Palacios 'Quality is timeless, all great wines share a link with the eternal'

Gago 'Bad wines might bother you, but they are also a time capsule, there to remind you what can go wrong as well as right'

Pontallier said he believed demanding consumers can push winemakers towards excellence, and said very honestly and bravely I thought that he doesn't entirely regret the prices Bordeaux can reach. 'It has and will allow us to go much further in that eternal search for excellence.'


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Sauvignon Blanc takes over Bordeaux...

Date: Sat, Jun 26, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

This weekend I've retasted the 2009 Lafite (awesome), and had the Pape Clement 1995, the 2001 Cantenac Brown and the 2004 d'Agassac at Fete de la Fleur. But the weekend has really been about white rather then red wine, which always makes a pleasant change in Bordeaux.

I have a New Zealand sauvignon blanc tasting coming up up Monday at Brane Cantenac, but until then, have been judging yesterday and today at the inaugral Concours Mondiale de Sauvignon.


Organised by the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles (but helped here by the Syndicate de Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur), the competition has gathered examples of Sauvignon Blanc from around the world. Grand gold (ie Trophys), gold and silver medals will be awarded to the best wines, with a maximum of 25% of award-winning wines. In addition to these medals, the SAUVIGNON CONCOURS MONDIAL will also provide trophies for special products having obtained the highest score in the following categories:
Dry Sauvignon, non woody (85%+)
Dry Sauvignon, woody (85%+)
Sweet Sauvignon
Sauvignon blend (min 51%-84% Sauvignon)
Sauvignon blend (min 51%-84% Sauvignon) woody

Tasters from Chile, South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand and the UK were over here, including David Cobbold, JD Pretorius (frrom Steenberg vineyards in SA), Harshal Shah (from Sommelier India magazine) Benoit Roumet (from Sancerre, and the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins du Centre) and Jean Christophe Bourgeois (from Domaine Henri Bourgeois, also in the Loire). Around 500 wines were presented for this first edition.

‘The aim is to highlight this increasingly popular and well loved grape variety,’ said Thomas Costenoble, director of Concours Mondiale. ‘It is clear that Sauvignon Blanc deserves its own competition, to sit alongside the other varietal competitions of the world, and we intend to make this a regular event’.

To further break down the award-winning wines, 25% will receive medals, and about 10% gold and 15% silver. The best of each category were then rejudged for the Trophys. The competition rates the wines out of 100 points, with points taken away for faults rather than added for successes.

A consumer study held in the lead up to the competition looked into the qualities that most consumers want from a sauvignon - and the words most used were‘vivacity and freshness’ - so we were directed to bear this in mind while judging.

The results have not been announced yet, but among my own favourites over the two days have been:
Chateau Reynon 2009 Bordeaux
Chateau Mirambeau 2009 Bordeaux
Lomond Pincushion Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Western Cape
Tokara Reserve Collection Elgin Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Weingut Aufricht Sauvignon BLanc 2009 Baden
Lownherz Sauvignon Blanc Spatlese Trocken 2009 Pfalz
I also tasted a very good flight of Touraine Sauvignons, but don't have my breakdown of marks on those, so will have to wait until official scores are calculated!



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Anti 2009-pricing sentiment

Date: Wed, Jun 23, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

Online feeling against the Bordeaux 2009 pricing has become increasingly outspoken over the past week, led by the influential Francois Mauss, founder of the Grand Jury European.

Mauss wrote on his blog this week, ‘What is happening with the 2009 en primeur market is catastrophic for the future reputation of the region... It’s not going too far to say that the spirit of Madoff, Kerviel and Lehmann Brothers has entered Bordeaux.’

He continued, ‘(...) these producers (...) are taking the real risk of finding themselves fatally cut off themselves off from their customers in the near future (...) through this short term profiteering, or the adrenalin rush of naming a price higher than their wildest expectations a few months ago.’ http://gje.mabulle.com/index.php/2010/06/20/197422-bordeaux-primeurs-2009-evolution-des-prix-2

In France, the mainstream media has also reacted with dismay, with Bernard Burtschy in Le Figaro highlighting ‘the vintage of the century... for the fourth time in ten years’ and asks ‘Is there any justification for such extreme price rises? None.’

In Bordeaux itself, the prices (now standing at an average rise of 15% on 2005, according to Tastet & Lawton brokerage firm) have highlighted the increasing discrepancy between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in the region. The price for a tonneau (900 litres, or 1,200 bottles) of AOC Bordeaux red has dropped to around EUR600 per barrel – less than the opening price of one bottle of Latour.

‘Bordeaux wine merchants spend half of the year on the en primeur campaign, promoting the top wines of the region, while the rest of us get forgotten about,’ said winemaker Regis Chaigne, speaking at a conference held by Millesima wine merchants on the marketing of Bordeaux wines. ‘And this is not just true in Bordeaux – merchants around the world have to wait so long for en primeur prices that our wine shipments get put on hold.’


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Anti 2009-pricing sentiment

Date: Wed, Jun 23, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

Online feeling against the Bordeaux 2009 pricing has become increasingly outspoken over the past week, led by the influential Francois Mauss, founder of the Grand Jury European.

Mauss wrote on his blog this week, ‘What is happening with the 2009 en primeur market is catastrophic for the future reputation of the region... It’s not going too far to say that the spirit of Madoff, Kerviel and Lehmann Brothers has entered Bordeaux.’

He continued, ‘(...) these producers (...) are taking the real risk of finding themselves fatally cut off themselves off from their customers in the near future (...) through this short term profiteering, or the adrenalin rush of naming a price higher than their wildest expectations a few months ago.’ http://gje.mabulle.com/index.php/2010/06/20/197422-bordeaux-primeurs-2009-evolution-des-prix-2

In France, the mainstream media has also reacted with dismay, with Bernard Burtschy in Le Figaro highlighting ‘the vintage of the century... for the fourth time in ten years’ and asks ‘Is there any justification for such extreme price rises? None.’

In Bordeaux itself, the prices (now standing at an average rise of 15% on 2005, according to Tastet & Lawton brokerage firm) have highlighted the increasing discrepancy between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in the region. The price for a tonneau (900 litres, or 1,200 bottles) of AOC Bordeaux red has dropped to around EUR600 per barrel – less than the opening price of one bottle of Latour.

‘Bordeaux wine merchants spend half of the year on the en primeur campaign, promoting the top wines of the region, while the rest of us get forgotten about,’ said winemaker Regis Chaigne, speaking at a conference held by Millesima wine merchants on the marketing of Bordeaux wines. ‘And this is not just true in Bordeaux – merchants around the world have to wait so long for en primeur prices that our wine shipments get put on hold.’


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Marketing the wines of Bordeaux, from a New World perspective

Date: Fri, Jun 18, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

I went to a very interesting talk this week at Millesima wine merchants given by Johan Bruwer, a South African wine consultant who is currently head of the Wine Business Group at Adelaide University. The event was organised by Millesima and Ertus Consulting (and in fact the whole presentation can be seen on their website http://www.ertus.com/actualites.html ) and was attended by a variety of Bordeaux chateaux owners, negociants and marketing people - I spotted both Christophe Chateau and Pascal Loridon in the audience, both of whom work in marketing Bordeaux wines at the CIVB.

I’m not sure how much of the contents of the presentation were truly ground-breaking, but it was morbidly fascinating to hear the views of this clearly very talented marketing guy telling the Bordelais where they were going wrong, and what could be done to fix it – and then judging the mood of the room as he spoke. At one particularly painful moment he said, ‘The creation of appellations is all about ego, not about what consumers need.’ Perhaps true, but heresy to the Bordelais! However, as Bruwer said afterwards, ‘My job is not to be liked; it’s to tell them what they need to hear.’ Apparently 70% of all publications in wine research and wine business are out of Australia, and it is clear that they have put time, money and expertise into learning about what makes the wine consumer tick.

As I said, the whole presentation can be seen on Ertus’ website, but I will distill a few highlights here. One of the most important things Bruwer stressed was that the traditional wine supply chain is fatally flawed, and that marketers and producers need to stop the supply-orientated, production-orientated approach that has been paramount for so long. (‘And if you don't believe me,’ he said, ‘I see tough times ahead...’). Instead he was advocating a wine value chain that was consumer-driven – an approach long used by Australia (‘Australia may have many problems in its wine industry, but this is not one of them’). A lot of the figures we had heard before, but still important to give context to the talk: in 1988, the New World had 3.3% of world wine market share. Today 30.8%. In 1988, the Old World had 94.7% share, today it has 67.3%. ‘The message today is bitter. I understand that. You know this already, but it is hard to see it in black and white’.

For me, the most important thing about the talk was not what was said, but that it happened at all. Against the backdrop of the overheated prices of the 2009 campaign, at least some people in the industry were discussing what can be done to help the smaller wines, where the vast bulk of Bordeaux production lies. As one audience member pointed out ‘Bordeaux spends half of the year - at least from March to July - on the en primeur campaign, so focusing on, and effectively marketing for, the top 300 wines of the region. But all that does is shift focus away from the rest, that get forgotten about entirely.’

Among Bruwer's key points were:
1) Bordeaux is really a highly unusual place. It has a highly regulated, very complicated system with huge price variation between top and bottom that is confusing for consumers.

2) He spelt out a few things that were obvious, but perhaps needed to be spelt out, such as how to balance supply and demand. He looked at how Europe is responding to its vine pull programme, and how France compares badly with Spain and Italy. He pointed out that to date Spain has pulled up 3.94% of its vines, France 1.13% - and Bdx is about one third of france’s total. He doesn’t think this is enough. In terms of simplifying the offer for the consumer, he saw Italy as making clear progress - 470 DOCs are due become 182 PDO and PGI - so they are taking advantage of the new European regulations. He thinks France (and Bordeaux) should do more in a similar vein.

3) He acknowledged that the New World marketing success came partly because it needed to. Australia exports 62% of its wine. Chile even more so, meaning that neither country can afford to lose market share abroad, and are therefore very hungry to do well. He used an illustration of the Australia 2025 Marketing Plan (an old example, but I again wondered if this was new to the Bordelais?). In contrast, Bordeaux sells 68% of its wine in France, and exports 32% of it (and of the exported 56% is within the EU) – but the French market is dropping, so it needs to be far more aggressive in marketing itself abroad.

4) He gave concrete examples of the dangers of being too fractured: Hawke’s Bay is cutting itself up into five sub-regions. For him, as a marketer, that ‘is suicide’. Canada, equally, has split Niagara Peninsula into 12 different appellations. ‘Suicide – until the main brand is recognised, why throw more into the mix?’ Sonoma now in 13 different appellations. And Paso Robles wanted to subdivide into 11 appellations – but its request was turned down because it would confuse American consumers.
5) He saw Italy as putting up a better fight in the US market. France had 30.7% US market share in 1997, today has 9.2%. Italy has gone from 34.1% to 23.8% - comparatively far better. Big problem in 2003 with Iraq war of course, but saw that France didn’t fight hard enough to stay in there.

6) He pointed out that Germany, Belgium, and the UK are the top three Bordeaux wine export markets. ‘Are these optimal?? They are traditional, yes, but are they optimal?? Germany prices in off trade are terribly low and difficult to make any margin with. Average price per bottle is 1.88 euros! UK we know the margins in the off-trade are very tough, and the market is supremely competitive, so it is a tough market to make money from.’

7) He didn't see China as the answer. And can China save Bordeaux? ‘China growth 97% in past year for Bdx imports. Up 99% for reds, 57% for whites. But be careful. China wants to export wines. Their production costs are lower than any other country, and they mean business. They import around 18% of their wine, France has number 1 position there right now, but don’t bargain on that always going on, because their own industry is coming on stream very fast. Probably at least 400,000 acres of vines already, and they are planting very fast. They are not like the uk and Sweden etc, they will be a major producing country also. It has grown sevenfold in 14 years (959,527hl production in 2010). Their intention is to be a world power in wine. Perhaps real potential only for high end imported wines.’ He cited the example of Australia, that has seen big leap in volume of wine exported to China, but huge drop in average price.

8) Where he identitifed the ‘weak spots’ of Bordeaux: oversupply, high production costs, fragmentation, too few brands, tourism underdeveloped, non fashionable wine styles, packaging and marketing obsessed with chateaux (‘I know that some people will be angry with me now!!’), lack of collaboration, high price gaps, merchants not geared towards international game (‘I hope I’m not offending!!! Thinks they lack market analysis required for international game), low level marketing orientation, low education and training...

9) He did at least offer a few suggestions... suggested focusing heavily on wine tourism, on getting a better understanding of margins and going in at the right price to allow for discounting (ie not to just ignore that it is now a fact of life in the industry), and to make better use of cooperatives. He belives in regionality ‘but not too much of it’. He saw the value in the bigger village appellations (margaux etc) but not the smaller ones, and felt they should join together. This, as you can imagine, caused a big stir. Someone asked how that could work when Bordeaux is all about terroir, and he said (I paraphrase but this is what he meant I am certain) ‘To most consumers, just the name Bordeaux ‘is’ terroir, and so you don’t need to over-specialise and over-complicate – you are in fact not correctly exploiting the consumers’ belief in Bordeaux terroir by overcomplicating things.’

Hmmm, overall, there was plenty there to argue about, and I think a lot of it over-simplified the problems, but then short talks have to do that, and are intended to stimulate discussion.


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Is Bdx 09 pricing aimed at shifting unsold 08s and 07s?

Date: Thu, Jun 10, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

I did a ring round of several merchants in England and the United States yesterday for an update on 09 pricing for Decanter magazine. As we are now pretty much halfway through the campaign, and a number of big names have started to come out (the best source for keeping track of this, by the way, is @livex on twitter.com), it's a good time to see if momentum is now switching up a gear. Generally, merchants are saying that despite pricing, most wines are finding homes (although see this story http://www.decanter.com/news/news.php?id=298994 for a few warning signs).

What is undisputed is that the prices coming out are higher than most people expected at the beginning of the campaign, even with the undoubted quality and scores. So I would share the particularly interesting opinions of Shaun Bishop at JJ Buckley Fine Wines in San Francisco, as to the motivation behind these high prices.

'I would say in general, the customer frenzy is less than it was in 2008. In 08 there was a compelling reason to put up your cash immediately for what was preceived as an above average vintage that had critical acclaim but the prices were very good. It's harder for us to make a commercial argument for the 09s because although the critical reaction was of course great, the prices have more than matched that.'

'The 09 campaign has been governed by the motivation from the chateaux owners, and their motivation is not to sell the vintage out, but to price it so that us merchants, and ultimately our consumers, will buy older vintages. Clearly there is a lot of back wine in the system in Bordeaux, and the primary motivation of this pricing is to help clear out out these back vintages. The 09s can sit in Bordeaux without a problem, because the quality of the wine is only going to improve; but the prices are making the 08s look appealing, and that is having an effect on purchasing. And as the 08 vintage goes up in price, the 07s may start to look better value.'

'08 pricing has now started to go up, and some wines have sold out that only three weeks ago were available (such as Pontet Cantet, Montrose, Haut Bailly, Larcis Ducasse, Leoville Las Cases) - all the wines that people know are going to be high priced with their 2009s.'

'Before the campaign, most people expected prices of this vintage to be somewhere around 2006 - somewhere between 08 and 05. What has happened that it is significantly above 08, but also at least 10% above 05 in the majority of cases. I don't believe the Bordelais care that the wines won't sell out this year, because this is one of those few exceptional years when the press say 'vintage of a lifetime'. They are taking the opportunity that has been given to them.'

'They know who their customers are ultimately, and that is the negociants. And they know that if negociants don't have the cash to bankroll their wines, they need to sell through the unsold 08s, 07s and 06s. The system is somewhat fragile at the moment, and credit is more valuable than ever, and the Bordelais understand that, and have to make sure that businesses within the Bordeaux system are making money. In 2005 we saw the same thing; price the wines high and sell through back vintages.'

'In the US, I do think they will buy the expensive wines, but in 08 they wouldn't hesistate on buying a case. This year they still don’t want to miss out, but probaly want only 3 to 6 bottles. The recovery in the States is happening more at the high end, which will help the desire for these wines. The middle class hasn't really recovered yet, but those with more money are leading the recovery, and things are looking more stable than they did a year ago. The fascinating wines to watch will be will be those who were awarded 97-100 but are usually around 40 dollars - where will they go with their pricing?

'From what I have seen, Asia hasn't yet come through in this campaign to the extent that people expected. They may well buy 20 key wines, but that is not going to help the health of the Bordeaux marketplace.'

'The Bordelais are not afraid to take prices up and down, because they have decades of building brands so they are able to. The rest of the world’s wines have a much more stable price market because the brand are not as strong.'


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Bordeaux Varietal Wines

Date: Tue, Jun 8, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

Bordeaux, as we always teach in the wine school, is a blended wine. That's what gives its best bottles such balance and complexity, and it's a skill that has been built up over generations.

Recently, however, more and more chateaux have been bottling (or perhaps more accurately, made a point of talking about) 100%, single-varietal wines. I have followed a few of them on this blog, namely a 100% Malbec from Blaye (Chateau Magdeleine Bouhou) and of course several 100% Sauvignon Blancs - the most famous being Pavillon Blanc at Chateau Margaux.

So I was thrilled to receive an invitation to a 'Mono-Cepage' lunch last Sunday with Alex and Christine Rychlewski. Alex is a translator and wine expert who has lived in Bordeaux for the past 25 years, and he very gamely drove up and down the region collecting nine different examples of 100% varietal Bordeaux for us to try over lunch. And Magdeleine Bouhou wasn't one of them!! (nor, not surprisingly, was Pavillon Blanc...).

We had a fascinating discussion over each one, with the conclusion being that often, in less than perfect years, there is a good reason why Bordeaux blends its wine (to smooth out any ripening problems in one variety with the soothing blanket of another, for example). But there were also some wonderful wines, and almost all came in at under 15 euros.

The wines were as follows:
Chateau Bertranon 2008, Bordeaux Blanc
100% Muscadelle (12%ABV)
An interesting wine, one of the only 100% Muscadelles that I have heard of in Bordeaux (although I have since found out that Vincent Lataste makes one in his 'Bordeaux Cepage Collection'). This has a naturally low alcohol level, and was served as an aperitif, well-chilled. Typical dominant flavours of this grape are apples and white peaches, and the nose is always very fragrant, but for me this example was quite round and rich, with lots of apricot alongside the peach, perhaps because it was aged on sauvignon lees, with lees-stirring.

Cave des Hauts de Girond 2009, Bordeaux Blanc
100% Sauvignon (it didn't specify whether Blanc or Gris on the label. Again 12%ABV)
A slight blush colour, like a Roussanne. We wondered if this meant it was Sauvignon Gris, although apparently not. This was the least interesting for me - perhaps because there really are some fantastic examples of 100% Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux, so it was up against far stiffer competition. Among the obvious (good) competitors are Dourthe No 1, Divinus (de Chateau Bonnet) and Chateau Rochemorin. Still, not faulty in any way, and a good price at around 5 euros.

Chateau Memoires, 2007, Bordeaux blanc
100% Semillon (12.5%ABV)
A really ejoyable wine, with plenty of texture and rich mouthfeel, wiht lemony zest (with some cashew nut) of Semillon, but also a good lift of acidity on the end of the palate. You tend to find 100% Semillons more frequently in Australia (at least displayed as such on the label), and of course in Bordeaux the few that are 100% are invariably sweet, such as Château des Mille Anges from Cadillac. This is a dry version, and successful.

Chateau d'Osmond 2006, Haut-Medoc
100% Petit Verdot (13%ABV)
I'm a big fan of Petit Verdot, and love its spiciness and depth of flavour, but was a little disappointed with this wine. I just think that, in Bordeaux, you need a truly hot year to get the best out of PV because it is so tough to ripen up fully, and 2006 didn't quite deliver the goods - a little heavy and overly tannic. Still, good to see these being made (I still remember a lovely version from 2003, made by Ch Le Luc Regula in AC Bordeaux Superieur, called Max after the chateau owner).

Chateau Perayne 2005, Cuvee Artemis
1005 Cabernet Franc, Bordeaux Rouge (13%ABV)
This worked better than the Petit Verdot, perhaps because it's a more forgiving grape, and perhaps because of the vintage. Enjoyable mouthfeel, with soft red fruits but also plenty of personality. Again, this is a grape that I really enjoy (I'm thinking of some wonderful examples made down in Irouleguy by Domaine Brana). In Bordeaux, Cuvee Damnation by Chateau La Roque Mauriac makes an almost 100% (around 80% I think) cabernet franc, as does Jonathan Maltus at Le Dome - but both of these are more 'gourmet' and powerful than the Perayne example (both use oak, wheras Perayne is all stainless steel). Pretty, charming and easy drinking.

Le Coeur de Castenet 2005, Bordeaux Superieur
100% Cabernet Sauvignon (14%ABV)
There are lots of single varietal cab sauvignons from Napa, Australia, Argentina, Chile, South Africa... but surprisingly few from Bordeaux. After a little trepidation, this turned out to be one of the best of the lunch. From Chateau Castenet, and winemaker Francois Greffier, there was plenty of evident oak, but overall this was a smooth and enjoyable wine that costs around 12 euros.

Les Malbecs de Tire Pe, 2007 Bordeaux
100% Malbec (12.5%ABV)
This is a grape variety that keeps getting more and more attention in Bordeaux, of course fuelled by its boom in Argentina and to some extent Cahors. This was of course not the easiest vintage, and the wine lacked some bite (at least compared to the Cab Sauvignon beforehand), but there was still some attractive spice and depth of flavour, and I'm sure there is plenty of potential for a few smaller producers to carve out a niche here. Aged in large(ish) wooden barrels of 300 and 400 litre from owners David and Helene Barrault.

Chateau la Croix Taillefer 2001 Pomerol
100% Merlot
Lovely to head to a Pomerol towards the end of lunch, and to an older wine - the colour was far more advanced, with soft russet red (interesting also as a way of showing how quickly merlot evolves compared to some of the other red grapes on display here), and gently ageing summer fruits on the palate. Very pleasurable, a wine to sink into. As with Sauvignon Blanc, this is the most popular of the single-varietals in Bordeaux, and it's not hard to find good examples (without having to head all the way up to Petrus).

Chateau Climens 1998 Sauternes
100% Semillon (14.2%ABV)
Back to a single varietal Semillon, this time served with a slice of apple pie, as befits a gorgeous glass of richly scented, beautifully sweet-sour Sauternes. Definitely showing what can be done with this grape, Climens produces here a very impressive glass of wine, with honeyed richness and toffee hints, but with carefully-placed lemon and lime, bringing it to a point on the finish that was far more savoury than sweet, just as you want.

All in all, a fascinating lunch, very kindly organised by Alex and Christine.


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The Bordeaux cow parade sets off...

Date: Wed, Jun 2, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

Starting June 7 and running through to September 14, Bordeaux is due to become a pasture for over 60 cows, that will be grazing at strategic points throughout the city, and with a few in chateaux in the surrounding vineyards.

cow parade

These art exhibits of life-sized cows are all owned by various public and private institutions and companies, including around a dozen from the wine industry, and have been painted by a variety of artists.

This weekend (Saturday June 5 from 11am to noon) there will be a preview, when the cows are going to board a boat and take a cruise along the Garonne river around the Pont de Pierre, before being driven to their final destinations.

CowParade is the largest public art event in the world, and has been staged in over 50 cities worldwide since 1999 including Chicago (1999), New York City (2000), London (2002), Tokyo (2003), and Brussels (2003). Dublin (2003), Prague (2004), and Stockholm (2004), Mexico City (2005), Sao Paulo (2005), Buenos Aires (2006), Boston (2006) Paris (2006), Milan (2007, and Istanbul (2007).

This is the first time in Bordeaux (it has also been in Margaret River this year, good to see two wine regions getting on board!), and wine-related cows to look out for include:
- Château Fombrauge, who chose Florent Poujade as their artist, and who will be showing their cow on cours de l'Intendance.

- Millesima wine merchants, also on cours de l'Indentance, who have two cows from artists Vincent Richeux and Pascal Péris.

- Château La Lagune : their cow will be on show at the chateau itself, up in the Medoc, paintked by Delphine Frey.

- Château Lafon Rochet also have their cow installed at the chateau in Saint Estephe, painted by artists Fabrice Bittendiebel and Julien Bonnard

- The quays, not surprisingly, will have a number of "Wine Cows". In the Jardin des Lumières (Quai Louis XVIII, near the Miroir d’Eau),

Château Marsau, Francs Cotes de Bordeaux, painted by artist Sophie Pigeon.

Domaine Rollan de By, painted by an illustrator known only as Suki!

Laboratoire Oenologique Michel Rolland, painted by Marie Rolland.

Château AD Francos with a cow painted by artist Alain Verbier.

Just opposite the quays, on cours Xavier Arnozon, is cow painted by Solange Leuret and owned by François Lévêque, President of the Syndicat Régional des Courtiers, Fréderique Rudebeck, owner of Beyerman wine merchants, and Hubert de Bouard, owner of Château Angelus.

logo cow parade

According to the founders:
• It is estimated that over 100 million people around the world have seen the cows.
• Over $20 million have been raised through worldwide charitable organizations through the auction of the cows, which take place at the conclusion of each event.
• Over 5,000 artists worldwide have participated in CowParade – professional and amateur, famous and emerging, young and old.



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Vinexpo Hong Kong

Date: Mon, May 31, 2010 Wine Tasting Wine Business

Last week at Vinexpo Hong Kong was exhausting, excellent and illuminating.

It was the fourth time that Vinexpo Asia-Pacific had taken place in Hong Kong, and received nearly 900 exhibitors from over 32 countries (with no doubt that France was the major presence, and Bordeaux the majority of that). Around 12,000 people visited the wine fair over three days, an increase of around 40% since Vinexpo Hong Kong 2008. Of the visitors, 42% of the visitors were from Hong Kong and Macao, 58% from the rest of Asia, primarily China, then Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Singapore.


It was also the first time that I had been back in Hong Kong since I left in 1997, after three years living there. It had exactly the same energy and buzz, even if it had grown a little, with the new airport, new bridges, new exhibition centre and lots more reclaimed land and building work going on in the harbour.

The exibition was fascinating (I was there for two of the three days, as on one day I visited Crown Cellars wine storage, and met up with a few wine collectors for interviews). In Asia, wine consumption is growing four times faster than the world average (this comes from a fairly robust base aswell, as the same region already consumers just over 50% of the world's spirits), and at times the stands were like rugby scrums, with lines of people waiting to taste. One of my favourite tastings was of Grace Winery in Shanxi Provinc, China, where I interviewed the Australian winemaker and tasted eight wines from their (ever-increasing) range - the Chairman's Reserve was particularly good. They are currently constructing a new winery which promises to be their flagship, with vast wine tourism facilities, and this is a company which looks likely to produce some of the first cult Chinese wines. I also learnt how tough it is to make wine there - in winter, temperatures drop so low that they have to cover not just the feet of the vine (as they do in Bordeaux), but the entire vine plant, that is covered up by hand with earth by workers who are using shovels. The Grace estate in Shanxi has over 150 hectares of vines, and has 500 farmers each working a few rows of vines. These farmers are based in four villages located around the estate, and the wine director has to manage each of them, getting them to follow a quality charter for grape cultivation and harvest. www.grace-vineyard.com

Other than that, one of the most striking lessons from the week was how at almost every stand, no matter what the wine or region, the conversation would turn back to Bordeaux and 2009 pricing. I guess it goes without saying that the producers who travelled out there will have been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm for this vintage, and I am betting that this week plenty of them get carried away with their pricing 'strategies'.


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