Today I gave a talk on social media and the wine industry at a conference in Logrono (Rioja) organized by DIAM, the closure company. Also speaking was José Penin, author of the respected wine guide, chosen to represent the existing media. I was chosen because I have made a reputation with more modern media.
As well as the talks, there was a panel discussion that we both took part in, and a tasting. This was conducted by Antonio Palacios, an enologist and wine scientist, and consisted of five rather different wines from around the world that were all sealed with DIAM.
La Scolca Gacvi 2012 Piedmont, Italy
Great concentration of flavour, this is fresh, tight and crisp with fresh apples and lemons, and a hint of anise, as well as some stone and herb notes. A good example of Gavi 88/100
Le Domaine de La Cave du Village Raoul Cruchon Viognier 2011 La Côte, Vaud, Switzerland
Fresh, crisp and rounded with smooth texture and nice weight, showing lovely pear and white peach fruit. Great precision, with a subtle herbal edge to the smooth bright fruit. Quite serious. 92/100
Bergolt Merlot Cabernet Dorio Trocken 2010 Pfalz, Germany
13 months in oak, one-third of which is new. Sweet, creamy and slightly oaky on the nose with some vanilla. But the dominant theme here is bright, vivid berry fruits with some spiciness. Lively and berryish with cherry freshness and a bit of peppery bite. Fabulous fruit quality. 92/100
Levet L’Amythyste Côte Rôtie 2010 Northern Rhône, France
Two years in oak. Quite powerful and backward with subtle notes of roast fruit, mint and medicine alongside the spicy, peppery, vivid berry and black cherry fruit. Some warmth from the oak, but overall a tight, dense, quite youthful wine with a good future ahead of it, currently in the vice-like grip of firm tannins. 92/100
Clos de Los Siete 2009 Mendoza, Argentina
Sweet, ripe, perfumed nose with some slightly jammy berry fruits but also some pleasantly fresh violet floral characters. Ripe, supple palate has well balanced fruit but also a bit of warmth and some distinctive, firm, rather drying tannins. 90/100
I’m in Logrono, Rioja, where I’m giving a talk about the role of the internet in wine communication for wineries, as part of a conference organized by closure manufacturer DIAM. Penin, the well known Spanish wine critic, is also taking part.
Last night the speakers and organizers had an informal dinner at an egg-themed restaurant, Manda Huevos (location here). It isn’t a high-end place, but it is fun, and it’s certainly the first egg-themed restaurant I have eaten in.
The main dishes were served in frying pans. You get some chips, you choose your topping (I chose a salt cod-based one) and then they whack two fried eggs on top. There’s a bit of table theatre, as they chopp up the egg and topping together (this is optional). The result is surprisingly delicious.
There are other things you can eat here, but I do like the way that this place dares to be unique. It’s unusual, informal, inexpensive and fun.
I visited Hedonism Wines for the first time today. You can see a report, mostly pictorial, on my visit here. Some thoughts:
- It is an amazing retail space. Beautifully planned and perfectly executed. It’s a bit like a museum of wine, where a wine lover can gain a good deal of pleasure from just wandering around and looking at all the amazing bottles.
- But I can see why some object. There’s a focus on the rich and famous of the wine world, which isn’t always in strict correlation with what’s interesting and worthwhile in the wine world. And I don’t much care for prestige wines.
- However, there are interesting, well chosen wines here. I didn’t search extensively, but I came across a really good Portuguese selection, and the South African whites were brilliantly chosen, with current knowledge and not just a reliance on old classics.
- Yes there is a Sine Qua Non room. But while I don’t like the wine style, I admire the packaging and brand cohesion here. The room is remarkable.
- There’s also a Penfolds room. Grange is an ‘icon’, but it’s not the most interesting, compelling Aussie wine out there. The marketing, though, is spot on. The wine is good enough. We just have to look on and gasp at the prices Penfolds are getting for this wine.
- Yes, this is a retail outlet that is irrelevant to most wine drinkers. But isn’t it GREAT that wine has this sort of bling factor. Wine is pappable. It’s ‘A’ list celebrity. How cool is that?
- I think that Hedonism Wines is great for wine overall. Of course, I don’t think many of the celebrity wines are worth the money, and that you can have much more fun elsewhere. But many people buying celebrity bottles aren’t looking for value for money. Quite the opposite. If a wine is affordable, it loses some appeal. We shouldn’t despise this shallowness of the marketplace; rather, we should be positive, and think of the benefits for wine overall that comes from people willing to drop $$$$ on a bottle of wine brings.
- Overall, the profile of wine is raised by retail outlets such as Hedonism Wines, and this is a good thing.
This is an amazing wine. It’s from a now extinct Quinta in Carcavelos, Quinta da Bela Vista. The last crop from this vineyard was in 1969, and Carlos Fonseca (of Companhia Agricola do Sanguinhal, who bottled the wine in 1991, and holds the remaining stock) reckons that this particular wine, which is a non-vintage, has an average age of 70 years. They looked back at the records and found that 400 litres were produced in 1969. The total amount of wine in the cellar was 14000 litres, hence the calculation.
The reason Carcavelos has pretty much disappeared is because the vineyards were located near Cascais, next to Lisbon, and the value of the land for development far exceeded that of vineyards. There is just one 10 hectare vineyard remaining, owned by the state, in Oeiras. The grape variety here is Galego Dourado, aka Loureiro.
This wine is fortified, but it’s not sweet – it reminds Carlos of a Sercial from Madeira, and I see where he’s coming from.
Quinta da Bela Vista Carcavelos NV Portugal
Deep yellow in colour with some bronze hints, this has a lively aromatic nose of spice, raisins and casks. It smells sweet, but it’s not. The palate is rich and powerful with some fresh, spicy, citrussy notes counterbalancing the nutty, slightly figgy richness. The key facet though is an incredible length: the flavour persists for ages. A lovely, beautifully balanced fortified wine of real interest. 95/100
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com
Tried this today: it’s a brilliant Austrian skin-contact white. Just beautiful: one of the best examples of an ‘orange’ wine that I have tried.
Schell Mann Achtung Wine 2007 Thermenregion, Austria
From Fred Loimer, this is a skin-contact white (an ‘orange’ wine) made from Grüner Veltliner, Muskateller, Rotgipfler, Traminer, Zierfandler, all grown together in a mixed vineyard planted in 1936. It’s amazingly fresh and aromatic with lovely peach, melon and citrus aromas, as well as some spice. The palate is fresh, vital and quite grippy with lovely fruit chartacters and a nice spicy, dry finish. It’s actually a full yellow colour – not orange. A remarkable wine of real precision and interest. 94/100
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com
So, after two day’s judging, today was the Balkan wine festival here in Sofia, where a number of producers gathered to show their wines. I just wanted to report on a few particular highlights.
First of all Borovitza, from northwest Bulgaria. This is a brilliant winery, making small quantities of wine from some really good vineyards. It’s owned by Dr Ognyan Tsvetanov (above), who is a very smart, thoughtful winegrower with an interesting story. I was particularly struck by three of his wines. The first was the cuvee Americano, a white blend aged in Bulgrian oak with no added SO2. Its very richly textured and intense.
The second was the Orange Garden 2008, an orange wine made from Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier with fermentation on skins and then just under 4 years in oak. It’s powerful and really smoothly textured with lovely complexity.
Finally, the Gamza 2009. I pointed out that this elegant, cherryish red reminded me of Kadarka, a Hungarian variety. It turns out that they are both the same variety. It’s a bit Pinot-like, but with more body. Such a beautiful wine.
I was also really impressed by the Heaps Good Wine Company, which is run by Kiwi Nick Gee in Slovenia (he has a Slovenian wife). He’s making superb wines. The Pinot Gris is rich and textured, with lovely ripe fruit. The Pinot Noir is super-elegant with some sweet cherry fruit and a reassuringly light colour, and it is a nice contrast to the special selection Pinot called the Gambling Priest, which has more stems and a bit more structure. Both are really compelling and elegant.
I also liked Nick’s Blaufrankisch, which is a really elegant black cherry fruit expression of the variety.
Finally, Vina Caric from Croatia. Really convincing wines including a white blend called Cesarica, that’s fresh and textured, and the Plovac Ploski 2008, a warm, medium-bodied red wine with amazing savoury complexity alongside sweetly aromatic fruit. It’s really elegant.
I am currently in Sofia, Bulgaria, where I am judging the Balkans International Wine Competition, along with a merry band of excellent judges from different Balkan countries, plus three of us from outside the region.
We have spent two days judging and we have just finished. The competition was flawlessly run and this afternoon – where all of the judges got to retaste the gold medal-winning wines to decide the trophy winners – showed just how good some of these wines are. I’m really eager to find out the names of some of the winners.
Last night we had dinner at Kotileto restaurant. It’s owned by a Bulgarian, but the chef and cuisine are Serbian. The Bulgarians put a greater accent on vegetables, while the Serbians place more on meat, and especially barbecued meat. The key meat is pork, with veal and lamb second, apparently.
The food was hearty, rich and enjoyable. The wine was all Bulgarian, with a couple of very nice bottles.
This fresh, intense white was a blend of four grape varieties, made by Marash winery.
A convincing Gewurztraminer
These are lovely, lovely wines. I followed them over the course of a few days, so I’m fairly confident in my recommendations, too. They are made by Jeff Coutelou, in France’s Languedoc. Jeff works naturally, using very little sulfur dioxide at all. All are young, dense and grippy, and I think that you’d be safe cellaring them for a few years (maybe 3?) even though they have minimal aded sulphites.
But I just love drinking these wines in their vivid youth, and despite their youthful structure, they show some complexity and good balance between the sweet pure fruit and more savoury flavours. They are stunning value for money.
Mas Coutelou 7 Rue de la Pompe 2012 Vin de France
A varietal Syrah from the Languedoc. Wonderfully vivid and meaty with peppery raspberry and cherry fruit on the nose. The palate is grippy and firm but has lovely purity and focus. Brooding, spicy, meaty and backward. Lovely structure and purity. 92/100 (£9.95 Roberson)
Mas Coutelou Le Vin des Amis 2012 Vin de France
A blend of 75% Syrah, 25% Grenache. Rich, dense, vivid and pure. Quite backward with real grip under the vivid black fruits. Powerful and structure with amazing fruit quality, dominated by fresh blackberry and black cherries. 93/100 (£12.95 Roberson)
Mas Coutelou Paf La Syrah 2012 Vin de France
A special single-plot cuvee of Syrah. Wonderfully floral, sweetly fruited cherry nose with some pure liqueur-like notes. The palate is fruity and vivid with raspberry and cherry fruit as well as some acid bite. Very pure, fruity and silky with some tannic grip. Incredible fruit purity here. 93/100 (£18.95 Roberson)
Apologies for the slight slowing down on my blog. I haven’t been posting every day, as I normally do, because I have been fiendishly busy, revising my Wine Science book.
The original was really good, and I was happy with it (even though I was plagued by self-doubt as I sent it out into the world). But it is 8 years old, and needs updating.
My biggest problem is that I could make it three times the size, and rewrite it completely. But then I think it would be less good as a book. So I’m doing a selective rewrite. There will be enough in it that’s different to make it a COMPULSORY purchase even for someone who already has a copy. But I’m trying to keep it the same sort of size.
My deadline is Thursday, and as I’m off to Bulgaria tomorrow afternoon, it leaves me relatively little time to complete the task.
Still, despite the pressure, I am really excited, and thrilled that Mitchell Beazley (who have practically stopped publishing wine books) have agreed to pay £££ for a revision. In the USA it will be published by University of California Press.
Have you ever tried to buy a mobile phone on contract? Or choose an energy supplier? The pricing structure is deliberately complicated, making direct comparisons incredibly difficult. And the various suppliers NEVER compete on price.
This is, from their perspective, a sensible choice.
As soon as one player comes in with simple, understandable pricing, and begins to compete by offering lower prices than the others, then all profitability will be sucked out of the market. They all realise this.
And while I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that there’s a cartel arrangement, all the major mobile phone companies seem to offer deals that are pretty similar. (The only people who compete on price seem to be minor resellers of SIM-only deals.)
Across lots of industries where barriers to entry are high, there seems to be a sort of gentleman’s agreement not to compete on price. Airlines are interesting in this regard, because low cost carriers have broken through what was a rather complacent industry. When they started out, though, the response of the mainstream carriers was to drop their prices to unsustainably low levels on certain routes where they were facing competition, in order to try to squeeze the competitors out, so they could then raise their prices again free of these pesky competitors. The other strategy – one that seems to be taken by ISPs – is to buy out smaller companies who are offering competition, both for customer acquisition purposes but also to avoid the wrong sort of competition.
What about wine? I don’t think cheap wine will ever be profitable. There are lots of producers in the game, many of whom have written off their large capital cost of vineyard ownership years ago. And there are more producers than are needed to fulfil the needs of the modern retail market, so the main route to market – the supermarkets - have all the power in their hands. The producers need them, but from the retailer’s perspective any producer will do, so there’s little reciprocity in the arrangement. And cheap wine is caught up in an attritional price war. There’s always someone with wine they are desperate to shift, and so they will sell at a very low price.
The quality of cheap wine is now better than it has ever been. For the target market, therefore, there is infinite substitution. If one wine becomes too expensive, then there’ll be another ready to take its place. Cheap wines are all packaged the same way, and they all taste pretty similar. There are very few strong brands in wine, so producers of cheap wine have no competitive advantage that they can leverage. It’s just a straight price fight, and I can’t see this changing any time soon. This means it’s never going to be profitable playing at the bottom end of the market in the off-trade.