Kiwi winery Villa Maria were sponsoring the wine at tonight’s preview showing of The Hobbit, so I got to go.
Pictured above: Warren Adamson (Craggy Range), Kate Sweet (PR person and significant other of Warren), Sarah Shepherd (NZ Winegrowers), me, and Penny Fear (Villa Maria UK).
Good bits: lots of action and incipient peril (if this is your thing); serious cgi (if this is your thing); the sequence involving Golum (just brilliant); the Goblin’s underground city, with its rickety wooden structure; the stunning Kiwi scenery; the fact that despite all the fighting and dangerous scrapes, no dwarves, wizards or hobbits are injured.
Bad bits: the 3D was rubbish (this may have been a problem with the cinema, who were showing the film at 48 fps) and almost ruined the watching experience; the licence taken with cgi to the point of absurdity (the escape from the goblin city is just silly); the utter maleness of the whole thing; Richard Armitage as Thorin; James Nesbitt as Bofur; the 1950s style painting that is the backdrop for the Elfin kingdom; and the fact that this isn’t a stand-alone film because of the ending, which is very abrubt.
I’m not surprised the New Zealand trade commission got behind this film: it just makes you want to visit New Zealand. Which I shall do, next month.
This is, dear readers, the best sub-£10 wine I have consumed this year. It’s a Pinot Noir from the southern Loire region of the Auvergne, which is a story in itself (I hope to visit next year), and it has been unearthed by the talented Richard Kelley MW of ABS Wine Agencies. It comes from volcanic soils, at an altitude of 350-570 m, and the region sits on the 45th parallel, like the Rhone.
The wine is made by the Cave St Verny, who also make a very good Gamay, which is very tasty but not quite in the same league as this Pinot.
Cave St Verny Puy de Dôme Pinot Noir 2010 IGP Auvergne, France
13.5% alcohol. Fresh and aromatic with sappy green notes, hints of herbs and ripe cherry fruit on the nose. The palate is elegant and textured with smooth, sappy red cherry fruit. Beautifully expressive and elegant. A pure, lighter-style red wine with no harsh edges. So drinkable. 92/100 (£9.95 The Sampler)
Cave St Verny Gamay 2011 AOC Côtes d’Auvergne, France
14% alcohol. Very juicy and bright with raspberries and cherries. Supple and sweetly fruited with nice texture. Essence of Gamay, uncomplicated and enjoyable. 88/100
It seems a while ago now, but back in July 2010 I visited New Zealand with the sole purpose of interviewing researchers who have been working on all aspects of the science of Sauvignon blanc.
It’s probably the world’s most thoroughly researched grape variety, and with New Zealand Winegrowers I discussed the possibility of trying to distil all the research work on Sauvignon into a short book that brings the science to life, making it accessible to the wine trade without dumbing it down.
Two years later, the book is finished and printed, and there’s even a kindle edition.
For the last few years, scientists in New Zealand, France and Australia have been busy working on the science of Sauvignon. What are the key aroma and flavour molecules in Sauvignon blanc wines? And what is it that makes Sauvignon blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region so distinctive?
To answer questions such as these requires a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together chemists, plant biologists, molecular biologists and sensory scientists. New Zealand in particular has invested a lot of money in attempting to understand the roles of terroir, viticulture and winemaking on the way that Sauvignon blanc wines taste.
This research is ongoing, but it has already provided some important insights as well as a few surprises. In this book, I have worked in collaboration with New Zealand Winegrowers to tell the story of the science of Sauvignon, and examines what we know now about this important grape variety, with particular emphasis on the ground-breaking research work carried out by researchers in New Zealand.
The impact of this research stretches beyond Sauvignon: in effect, Sauvignon has become what scientists call a ‘model system’, in that this heavily researched variety provides information that is relevant to all grape varieties, and wine more generally.
I like Graciano. It’s a red grape variety, grown principally in Rioja, where it is used as a blending component. It’s a high quality grape capable of making ageworthy wines, but it’s low yielding, and so not so popular with the large factory-like bodegas.
This example is from Navarra, and it’s deliciously fresh and lively, with good acidity. I love the freshness and structure here, and the oak is present, playing a supporting role only. Great value at £12.
Ochoa 8A Serie Mil Gracias Graciano Single Vineyard 2008 Navarra, Spain
Very fresh and vibrant, with supple black cherry and blackberry fruit, supported by good acidity, some structure, and a real freshness. There are undertones of herbs, tea leaves and chocolate, plus a bit of supporting oak, but it’s not at all jammy or over-ripe, with lovely definition and focus. 91/100 (£11.99 Hennings Wine, UK agent is PLB)
When I started out drinking wine, supermarket wine ranges were extremely variable. There were some terrible wines: wines that made you gag. As a student, and thus a bottom-feeder, the challenge was to find something cheap and drinkable. It was hard.
Then, as I got to know a little about wine, I started buying more expensive bottles. At this time, the supermarket wine aisles did have some interesting things at the high end.
Now, things have changed. The wines are much more consistent, and it is rare to find a really bad wine in a UK supermarket. Quality has got much more consistent, particularly at the bottom. But it’s also true that at the middle and high end there are fewer genuinely good wines, of the sort that interest a geek.
And it is easy for wine writers like me to put the boot into supermarket wine buying for championing consistent but bland wines, or favouring big brands, or using price promotion as a sales mechanic. We do it all the time.
What we should ask ourselves is this: how good a job would we do if we were parachuted into a buying job with a major supermarket? My predictions are as follows.
First, we’d try to reshape the wine offering. We might try to cut it down in size, to offer a smaller, well chosen choice of wines, to try to lessen the confusion the customer feels when faced with the wall of wine. Then we’d notice a drop in sales as the consumer loses confidence in our reduced offering. While the wall of wine is confusing, it is reassuring: this is a supermarket that takes wine seriously.
Then we’d try to get rid of some of the big brands. We’d find that there’s a reason they are big, when we looked at our figures and saw that overall sales were falling.
We’d try to introduce some interesting wines, of the sorts that we like: perhaps from new countries, or made with interesting varieties. And we’d list a few more £10+ wines. Shortly we’d find ourselves sitting on unsold stock, because our customers aren’t interested in more expensive wines from lesser known regions or varieties.
Time for a buying trip. We have to source some new wines from the range, but we suddenly find that the choice of good wine at the 90 cent per bottle price point we have to hit to be able to list it at £5 and in the volumes needed to supply all our stores isn’t that great. A reality check.
By this stage, we’d be in danger of losing our job because our department wasn’t making enough money.
Very soon, we’d realise that: (a) there is a reason that supermarket wine ranges look the way they do; (b) supermarket buyers aren’t stupid, and are doing a pretty good job; and (c) you and I are not the customer base they are aiming for – there are relatively few with a real interest in wine and if they tried to target us they’d go broke.
Look at the major supermarkets and their wine ranges. They look pretty similar. That’s because they are run by smart people who know how to sell wine, and whose jobs depend on them being able to make money from those aisles. We may not like it, as wine lovers, but this is what the majority of customers want: the supermarkets have researched this extensively, and they are working in a very competitive industry.
[So how does this square with my assertion that 90% of all wine is crap? Perhaps, as has been pointed out, crap is a harsh term and dull might be better. What I mean is that from the perspective of a wine lover, 90% of all wines are uninteresting, and not worth bothering with. To me, they are a bit crap. That’s fine, it leaves 10%, and I am lucky in that I know where to find them.]
I have a soft spot for Egly-Ouriet – they used to be the favoured grower Champagne of La Vigneronne, the now defunct South Kensington wine shop that I used to visit a lot when I was starting out.
The house style is lower yields than normal, fermentation in oak, and a low-ish dosage of 5-6 g/litre. This wine comes from Grand Cru vineyards in d’Ambonnay, Bouzy and Verzenay, and is three-quarters Pinot Noir, having spend an admirable 46 months on lees. Disgorged May 2012.
Champagne Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru NV
12.5% alcohol. Warmly aromatic with hints of apricot and toast, as well as ripe apple and almonds. Taut, fresh, powerful palate with apple and pear fruit, as well as some warm toastiness. Very fresh, precise and dry. An intellectual Champagne of great appeal. 93/100 (£42.50 Lea & Sandeman, Roberson)
I love the wine trade. It’s fun, full of interesting people, and it’s incredibly open and friendly.
But it is a bit of a bubble. We talk to each other all the time. We assume everyone is like us. And as a business, it’s not so sharp. It’s more like a group of hobbyists.
The chief problems: (1) we fail to understand the perspective of normal people, who like to drink wine, but have no special interest in it; and (2) we fail to segment the market, and assume that the rules that apply in the fine wine segment also apply further down the feeding chain.
The segmentation issue is a big one. Now, for a site like this, I am communicating in a way that – while I hope is accessible – is really for the converted. I don’t expect my friends, who like drinking wine but who are not wine geeks, to read this blog. Reading about wine is quite an abstract activity: we are using words to describe tastes and smells, and words are not very good at this.
You could criticize me for being elitist, but I am writing for my market segment, and my web stats show that there are enough wine nuts around to make this worthwhile (and I thank you for reading). Others try to popularise wine – a noble goal, indeed. The problem with this popularisation is that even though you are trying to broaden your readership, you actually end up writing for a very small constituency of readers. The sorts of people who drink £4 supermarket wines don’t want to read about wine. They just want a wine that tastes OK at a good price. I love communicating to wine newbies, but I find the best way to do this is to share the experience of wine with them.
Back to the bubble concept. I think the Champagne houses are the best at escaping the bubble. They have brands that have reasonable volume and which sell for enough that they have a proper marketing budget. With these marketing $$$ they are able to reach beyond the trade bubble, get brand recognition, and tell a story.
Wine brands find it trickier. One of the problems with wine is that there are just so many different brands. It is a highly distributed market, and a complex one. At one level, this complexity is the strength of wine. At another (in another segment of the market), it is a big problem for normal people who are utterly bemused by the diversity on offer. Also, my impression is that big Champagne brands are often better quality than equivalent big wine brands.
But in all these discussions, the golden rule is this: segment. There is not just one wine market. There is no such thing as ‘the’ consumer.
Remarkable dinner last night at the Krug Institute of Happiness. It’s a pop-up restaurant idea based around Krug Champagne, with cooking by Nuno Mendes of Viajante (pictured above), and held in a stunning property in Highgate, 85 Swains Lane.
After lots of Krug Grande Cuvee and canapes, it was time to sit down. We began with cured lobster, spring onion and consomme with spruce bark. Lovely flavours, but they were inhibited a bit the the serving temperature, which was very cold. This was served with 1998 Krug.
Champagne Krug 1998
Rich, taut and dense with notes of apples and toast, as well as some pear. Lifted aromatics. Quite a rich style, with lively, precise lemony acidity acting to anchor the bold flavours. Bold and rich, and drinking brilliantly now, although it is quite structured and will last. 96/100
Next up, halibut with seaweed sofrito and a seafood rice broth. Very Japanese, and utterly delicious. This was served with the 2000.
Champagne Krug 2000
Creamy, toasty and bold. Quite rich, but very fine, linear and stylish, with lovely purity and bright citrus notes. Quite a contrast to the richer flavours of the 1998. Real precision here, but quite backward and in need of time. 95/100
I asked Olivier Krug about the difference between ageing on lees and ageing in bottle. His response: ‘It’s bullshit, and you can quote me on that.’ Krug don’t put disgorgement dates on bottles, but they do have a new device, called a Krug ID. The number on a bottle of Grande Cuvee that we were drinking from was 411046. You can go to the website, type in the ID, and get information on your bottle. Here’s a screenshot:
The next course was, for me, the finest of a very fine bunch. Aged pigeon, buried under autumn leaves, served with Krug Rose.
Champagne Krug Rose
Bold, toasty and fine with citrussy fruit, and a very subtle hint of cherry. Power and elegance combined, and tasted blind I don’t know if I’d have spotted this as a rose. Spicy, complex and fine, showing great finesse. 94/100
The final course was a remarkable dessert based solely on milk:
We had a great time. Joe Wadsack even joined in by singing alongside the talented pianist who was providing musical entertainment. You can see this, and more, in the following short film of the event.
One of Italy’s great wine estates. Soldera, making some mindblowing Brunello di Montalcino, in the south of Tuscany. I reviewed these rare gems a few years ago, after a fantastic lunch at The Square (here).
Apparently, Soldera’s winery has been vandalized, with the loss of six vintages (these are wines that age for a long time in large barrels). If this is confirmed to be true (I will update this post as I get more information), it is a tragedy.
Speculation is that (a) it is an organized crime job, for the failure to pay protection money, or (b) it is the work of fellow Brunello producers, after Soldera was thought to be one of the sources that exposed wine fraud in the region (Brunellogate).
This wine hits my sweet spot for a number of reasons. First, it’s really nice: a precise, subtly aromatic, fresh white wine with some personality. Second, it’s Portuguese, and I have a soft spot for Portugal. Third, it’s priced within my range, and I can afford to enjoy it without having blown a significant slice of my disposable income. Fourth, it’s versatile and will work in a number of dining situations.
Valle Pradinhos Branco 2011 VR Transmontano, Portugal
13.5% alcohol. An unusual blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Malvasia Fina from the Tras-os-Montes region in northern Portugal. Odd though the blend may be, it works: this is fine, fresh, aromatic and floral, but quite discrete and not too showy. Very fresh in the mouth with some citrus notes and lovely pure fruit focus. A lovely fruit-driven white with real freshness. 89/100 (£10.95 The Wine Society)