Tasting Climate Change, in Montréal: the impact of warming on wine

tasting climate change montreal

Yesterday was the Tasting Climate Change conference https://www.tastingclimatechange.com/en/   , organized by Michelle Bouffard and held in Montréal, Canada. It was a half-day event looking at the impact of climate change on wine.

Stephen Guilbeaut

Stephen Guilbeaut

Stephen Guilbeaut, CEO of Équiterre, began by presenting an overview of the situation globally. CO2 concentrations are currently highest than they’ve been for 800 000 years, and this rise is through human activity. The trends are very clear: our planet is getting warmer and warmer.

So what are the implications if the planet warms by 3 C in the coming years? This is the projection by scientists of the sort of scale of change likely over the next century. This level of change would likely have dramatic impacts on the life on planet. Let’s remember that when Canada was completely covered in ice, the average temperatures were only 4C cooler. He pointed out that 1976 was the last time that average global temperatures were below average.

Risks include increasing drought, especially closer to the equator. But they also concern wine regions: in Napa, the severe droughts have meant that if you look at the fire hazard severity map, there are lots of areas with a huge risk. Such severe droughts in California have resulted in legislation to cut water use by 35%. Overall, globally there has been a severe increase in the cost of natural disasters.

Fortunately, people have started paying attention to this problem. Steven described how he recently attended the Paris Agreement, where there were three rooms meeting simultaneously each with 5000. The world is starting to recognize the severity of the situation.

How bad are things? Current policies take us +3.6 C in the next 100 years. If pledges made in Paris are kept, then temperatures should rise by +2.7 C. It’s not enough of a change but it is significant. All the modelling shows that if we pass the +2 C mark, the climate will probably get out of hand, so this is a good first step but we need to do more.

What’s happening? There have been investments in renewable energy production, that since 2010 have surpassed those in fossil fuel. And while fossil fuel is still the dominant source of energy, the prospects aren’t good for them (fortunately). As an example, the value of coal companies in the USA was $63 billion in 2011, but this had fallen to $4.7 billion in 2016. Even the Kentucky coal museum is switching to solar power (this is where the coal industry started in the USA).

It might surprise many to hear that China is a solar power giant. They are responsible for 70.5% of the world market of solar energy, and this is in just a decade after they began with it. They are shutting down coal plants and replacing them with renewables.

What about cars? China will force car companies to produce 8% zero emission vehicles if they sell in China, and in Quebec, car companies will need to produce 3% of these. We are witnessing the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine.

If we are to move away from cars, then we need to change our thinking about how we organize our cities. Pedestrians in modern north American cities have a hard time, because most of these cities developed in the age of the car. The road has to be shared by different users.

The building sector is also going through changes, with more energy efficient designs

We have gone through many technological and social changes over the last 50 years, and responding to climate change will require some more changes. The good news: we already have the tools needed to address these challenges. We just need more willingness to make it happen.

Gregory Jones

Gregory Jones

The second speaker, Dr Gregory Jones, is well known for his work on climate change and wine. He began by pointing out that the wine map is changing. China and Russia, for example, are planting more vineyards. There are also a lot of fringe cool climate producers, in latitudes we wouldn’t have dreamed about a few decades ago.

These changes are in response to growing demand and changing demographics, with new markets and styles of wines emerging. There are also new purchasing trends, such as vending machines. There are changes in the tastes of writers and critics. There is a large movement in the production of bulk wine. There is a keen interest in organic and biodynamic production. But most of all, underlying these changes is climate change.

Greg went on to explain that all the grape varieties we know and love have climatic thresholds. Each can only be produced successfully in certain climatic ranges. Pinot Noir, for example is a narrow climate niche variety. You can grow Pinot Noir outside these climatic bounds but it either isn’t economically viable, or the wine isn’t stylistically suitable. He showed the spatial climate envelope for Burgundy: if this is compared with another Pinot Noir region, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, we can see that the envelope for Oregon overlaps that of Burgundy, but is broader. If we look at the envelope for Bordeaux, we can see that it is warmer than that of Burgundy. If we compare Napa with Bordeaux, we see that it is wider, and also warmer. Using these climate envelopes, it’s possible to see the impact of rising average temperatures on the world’s wine regions.

One of the effects of climate change is that the dormant periods have got warmer in many regions, so the same cold hardiness doesn’t develop, yet the winter freezes and extremes are still present. And warmer soil temperatures result in earlier budbreak, but the same frosts still occur. There aren’t dramatic changes in flowering, but cloud cover and rainfall can be more frequent affecting fruit set. Another observation is longer growing seasons and higher heat accumulation, but with high temperature variability. Also, lower diurnal temperature ranges occur during the final stages of ripening.

Greg explained that on average phenology has shown a shift 5-10 days, and the phases between these stages of growth have been compressed too.

There have been climate-related changes in soil fertility and erosion. CO2 levels are higher, but Greg says that there’s not enough research to say anything about this and its impact on viticulture. Other issues are water availability, and altered disease and pest susceptibility.

The +1 C change over the 1950-2000 period has changed the viticultural map. For cool climate wine production, some regions are now too warm whereas others have become suitable that weren’t before.

Looking to the future, Greg used the example of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. A +1 C warming causes the climate envelope to move, and the capability for other varieties increases, while still allowing the region to grow Pinot and Chardonnay. But a 2 C rise pushes the envelope completely out of the spectrum of what can be grown today.

Continued warming of the world’s wine regions is highly likely: the next century will see 1.5-4.5 C warming. If this was a straightforward rise in average temperatures, then playing to the averages is easier to deal with. But it’s the fact that there are more extremes that makes things much harder. If it was simply a question of rising average temperatures, then planting new varieties or moving to cooler areas would be an answer. But the variability we are likely to experience makes confronting change much trickier.

Altered ripening profiles creating challenges in managing timing of acid, sugar and flavour. There are also altered irrigation needs, and altered disease and pest issues.

Greg outlined some ways that the wine world can adapt to changing climates. Wine grapes have a huge genetic pool of potential for adaptation. There’s also the landscape potential – we need to understand where we plant grapes and how we manage the vines. There are alterations to canopy geometry and even the use of shading materials. Scion/rootstock combinations need to be understood better, and we also need a better understanding of grape vine water use efficiency and irrigation management.

Alberto Antonini

Alberto Antonini

As a consultant, Alberto Antonini has had some weird experiences of late. For example, in 2017 the vintage in Australia was the latest and coolest ever, while in Chile it was the earliest ever by a month. In Tuscany, 2017 was the driest and earliest ever, with picking in mid-August. He also mentioned Mendoza, where he’s been working for 22 years. It’s a desert, with 50-100 mm rain a year, but two years ago rainfall was six times more than average. Last year, it was three times the normal. ‘We had no experience of spraying for downy mildew,’ he says. ‘But two years ago we had to spray 12-14 times, when we normally spray 1-3 times.’

All he can do, he says, is make sure the vines are strong, healthy and fit. Healthy vines are much better at dealing with climatic variation, and the key to this is the soil. Soil is the most important part of vineyard management, and is critical for wine quality.

Alberto says that at wine school people are taught the wrong methods of vineyard management, using herbicides. ‘The soil is dead with compaction and no life or biodiversity.’ He showed pictures of a conventional vineyard that he had the task of reviving. The soil pit showed compaction, with no air or water going through, no biomass, and no microbiology. The root system is superficial in this compacted soil, and the roots are big. ‘Superficial roots are the worst because they live in the least interesting part of the soil, and they can’t go deep because of compaction,’ he says. And drip irrigation spoils the root system by encouraging the superficial roots.

In this Tuscan farm he started regenerating the soil in 2012, removing compaction by deep ripping, developing cover crops generating some biomass. After 3 years of this, the soils were totally transformed, with more porosity, more fine roots, and the root system has gone down deeper.

At university they were taught to use synthetic chemicals. ‘With the arrival of all these miracle chemicals we have lost the relationship with the soils, plants and climate,’ says Alberto. ‘The farmers have lost the wisdom they had 70 years ago.’ He points out that what we now call organic or biodynamic farming is nothing new: it’s how things used to be done. ‘To me, the major problem is not to regenerate the soil (this is quite fast)’ says Alberto. ‘The problems is farmers have lost wisdom that will take many decades to rediscover. This is a major concern.Lots of young people are committed to doing the right things, but they just don’t have experience.’ He adds: ‘We need wise experienced red necks, not oriental gurus.’

The answer to climate change isn’t straightforward, but one way forward is to plant sensible varieties and manage vineyards properly. ‘In Sicily this year there was a big drought, but the vineyards that survived best were planted with local varieties, not the international varieties that the market had forced on growers. The local grapes performed well. Part of the solution is there already: stay focused on what was there already.’

The best performing vineyards were those planted on the traditional 140R rootstock. These did much better than more vigorous rootsocks, and drip irrigated vineyards did poorly. ‘In Europe, we need to stay focused on the local grapes.’

‘Irrigation is quite an issue these days,’ says Alberto. ‘In some circumstances it is needed, such as in Mendoza. But I don’t think it is the answer. It is like an addiction: the vines just need more. Try hard first to see what people have done in warm regions. Have fewer vines per hectare and try other techniques that allow them to dry grow.’

‘Study botany, plant physiology, microbiology and soil science. Not viticulture and enology. Understand how mother nature works.’

‘In the new world the scenario is different. It’s important to identify the best grapes. The new world has developed grapes because they were asked by the market. But it is important review this and focus on developing what is really doing well in every wine region.’

‘Don’t make the wine for the market but find the market for what you do.’

Pedro Parra

Pedro Parra

The next speaker was Pedro Parra, who was entertaining and quite controversial. ‘I wanted to be a musician or a movie director,’ says Pedro, ‘but I ended up with terroir.’ He added, ‘there is no book on terroir. If you want to know what is making Burgundy great, nobody knows.’

‘Terroir is a global concept. You need to be old to have experience,’ says Pedro. He acknowledges that over the years he has changed his understanding, and learned new things. ‘Many clients should be paid back because every year I realise I was wrong.’

He’s not keen on a quantitative approach, and he finds much of the talk about soils meaningless. ‘I don’t want to look at numbers – when you travel and ask people about terroir they might say silty clay – this means nothing. Is is silt from limestone or granite?

What kind of clay? We need way more information to start talking.’

He then outlined the sorts of soils he looks for to make high quality, mineralic wines.

First of all, is the soil stony or not stony? ‘If it’s not stony it will be very boring to me and I will advise people to sell the property!’ he says. Then, for stony soils, is it limestone, granite, schist, gravels or basalt?

There are then a set of key factors in separating good from bad soils.

First, weather. Then stress. ‘This is a major problem today, every year I am seeing more stress.’

Another factor is the ratio of flesh/bone. ‘A good wine has flesh (soil) and bone (stones),’ he says. So there might be 1 m of soils and then stones or 2 m then stones. ‘A very bony place is Priorat, where you might get 200 g grapes per vine. Then you go to other places and they make 2.5 kg/vine.’

Then there is the ratio of alteration (rock is very hard, eg chambolle) to alterite (more fractured, more water holding capacity). The alterite is the bit at the top, over the alteration.

Clay quality is important. Pedro’s PhD was funded by Don Melchor. Their vineyard had stones, silt and clay. The vines struggled. Then over in Mendoza 20 minutes away by plane, there were vineyards with the same soils but the vines were so vigorous. It was the clay was different. 10% montmorillite clay is so much more efficient than 40% of kaolinite clay in terms of storing water and making it available to the vine.

The type of fracture of the rocks is important. Each fracture of limestone means some food for the vine, so the number of layers is important, but there’s no way we can measure this: it is a mystery forever.

The percentage of stones is important, as is drainage and water-holding capacity.

Across the world the superficial part of the soil is largely the same: what matters is what is under it, and this is where the fractures are important. Pedro has been looking deeper down in soils. ‘The results are amazing – we shouldn’t don’t take samples in the superficial soils.’ He says that if the roots are in the superficial soils you will be making MacDonald’s wines.

One of his strategies is to identifying the best parts of vineyards, which he calls polygons, and manage them differently and harvest them separately. He also talked about slopes. In the typical slope, the upper part is too dry and bony, resulting in dry tannins and higher alcohol. The middle is the ‘grand cru’ area. And the bottom bit tends to have better water holding capacity – so this will react better to global warming, and it might be that the village level might be the best wine. He says that these days, in Tuscany the deep clay soils are the best at the moment, with better vigour, no sunburn.

In Burgundy, Chambolle will suffer more than Vosne-Romanee, because it has just 40 cm of soil and then no soil in the underlying rock, just in fractures, and so the wines can end up with dry tannins in warm years.

As to climate change, one easy solution is to change the rootstock, but it will take 50 years. Another solution is to work the soils better, but how do we learn to do this? A recipe doesn’t work. If you have different clay or soil it will need to be worked differently. ‘We agree that working the soil is a great solution but we need to understand soils.’

Irrigation is a dangerous solution, he says. A drip irrigation of 8 h sends water just 40 cm deep, resulting in a superficial root system. He suggests irrigating for longer: a 40 h irrigation might be needed in order to mimic rain. But this all depends on the vineyard. He recalls when he worked in Chile with John Duval, in a warm climate with granite soils. They did just one long irrigation in one season for this reason.

I was the final speaker. I talked about my experience with wine regions worldwide, and which were the winners and losers when it came to climate change, as well as the sorts of challenges that the wine world was facing with rising temperatures and increased variation in weather. But more on that another time.

We finished with a lengthy Q&A session. Overall, it was a great set of speakers and a really good conference. Michelle will be repeating it in two years’ time.

Catching the tail end of vintage at Norman Hardie, Prince Edward County, Canada

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After some fun in Montreal (more to come on this), I headed down to Prince Edward County to catch a couple of days of vintage at Norman Hardie (I was here for four days during vintage last year). It’s a very late vintage here: there are still grapes coming in and it’s November 2nd. But the quality seems to be really good.

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Norm is very happy with the wines. We tasted through quite a lot of stuff that had fermented to dryness and it looks to be a pretty successful vintage here. This year Norm has a new property where he’s moved all the reds. It’s a 125 year old barn, on a block where he was previously leasing some vineyards, and there’s also room here to plant more.

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This is a good move because space has always been at an absolute premium in the winery. A lot of work has had to be done outdoors, including all the red wine ferments.

This fermentation has finished and the cap has fallen, and it's ready to be pressed

This fermentation has finished and the cap has fallen, and it’s ready to be pressed

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This morning I had a look round with Norm at what was going on. It was pressing time for some Pinot Noir lots that had finished fermenting, and where the caps had dropped. The reds are all fermented in blue plastic bins that take c.800 kg of fruit. These can be moved around easily, and it seems to work well. The basket press can take about one and a half of these bins – first the juice is taken off, then the skins and the remaining juice is dumped into the press, and the pressings are added back to the juice. These will settle for a day or so, then the clearer juice goes to barrel.

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We also looked at the white ferments, which are usually started off in dairy tanks. These are very convenient to work with, and have high lees to juice contact area because they are flat. It’s very easy to walk round and have a look at how things are simply by sticking your head in.

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This afternoon, there’s some Cabernet Franc to destem. Some is destined for rose, so this will be crushed, too, and when the colour is right, it will be pressed.

 

Cabernet Franc ready for processing

Cabernet Franc ready for processing

Gamay 34, Edmunds St John Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir 2015

edumnds st john bone jolly gamy noir

This Californian Gamay comes from Barsotti Ranch, a high-altitude (1000 m) vineyard in El Dorado County, with decomposed granite soils. Vines were planted in 2005, but there are also some newer plantings here too. It’s made by one of California’s authentic wine heroes, Steve Edmunds, and it’s really delicious. The wine is fermented in open top fermenters, with punch downs, and then goes to stainless steel. No oak is used.

Edmunds St John Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir 2015 El Dorado County, California
13.5% alcohol. Juicy, fresh and delicious, with rounded berryish fruit and a lovely supple character. Stony and pure with a hint of black tea complexity. A super wine. 92/100

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

My top wines from the Argentina Wine Awards

argentina wine awards
I’ve just finished writing up the notes from judging the Argentine Wine Awards in Mendoza last month. These are my personal notes and scores on the wines I liked the best out of those that I tried (I’m guessing just over a quarter of the entered wines, because we were split into four teams of judges). 73 of the 203 I tasted scored 90/100 or higher, and these are the wines here. [I will soon publish all of the notes on wineanorak.com.]

The judging panel I was on - Martin Kaiser and Peter Granoff are my fellow judges

The judging panel I was on – Martin Kaiser and Peter Granoff are my fellow judges

You can find the official results here.

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Just seven shared my top score of 94/100. Within each score grouping these wines are in no particular order. It’s always interesting to see the scores you give to wines in a blind tasting, which is a great leveller.

94

Bodega Zuccardi Valle De Uco Tito Zuccardi Paraje Altamira 2015 Mendoza
Vivid, bright, forward and structured with nice density and freshness to the fruit. Very lively with cherries and blackberries, as well as some blackcurrant freshness. 94/100

Bodegas Fabre Viñalba Patagonia Malbec 2016 Patagonia
Lovely stuff: very fresh and pure with vivid black cherry and backberry fruit. So expressive and detailed with nice freshness and good tannin. 94/100

Benegas Single Vineyard Malbec 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Nice pure fruit here with lovely freshness and balance. Has good structure and acidity under very expressive fruit. Lovely stuff. 94/100

Trapiche Terroir Series Finca Laborde Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Lively and pure with lovely linear, structured blackcurrant fruit. Very convincing and varietally true. Quite lovely. 94/100

Terrazas De Los Andes Reserva Chardonnay 2016 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Stylish, fresh and focused with a lovely citrus core as well as some spicy apple and pear detail. Subtle hints of cabbage here complement the pure fruit. Very stylish. 94/100

Melipal Supernova Limited Edition I 2015 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Malbec/Cabernet Franc. Ripe, sweet, berryish and lush with a sleek, smooth palate and lots of berry fruits. There’s a nice texture here: it’s ripe but also really fresh with fine grained structure. Polished and expressive. 94/100

Bodega Aleanna Gran Enemigo Single Vineyard Agrelo Cabernet Franc 2013 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
This is pretty serious, with good structure and weight. Ripe berry fruits with some fresh cherry character, and good structure. This has the potential to develop really nicely. 94/100

 

93

Riccitelli & Father 2014 Mendoza
80% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Franc. Concentrated and intense, yet with freshness. Bold with some sweetness to the black cherry and blackberry fruit. There’s some silkiness and prettiness to the fruit, with good tannins adding structure. 93/100

Riccitelli Wines Republica Del Malbec 2015 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Dense, concentrated, ripe and generous with rich, bold sweet black fruits, with a bit of raspberry freshness. This is very attractive and polished with a bit of grip. A big wine but really well made. 93/100

Fabre Montmayou Reserva Malbec 2016 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Vivid and sweet with nice density to the structured black fruits. Has some fine spiciness. Very polished but also retains freshness and interest. 93/100

Zorzal Eggo Tinto de Tiza Malbec 2016 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Open, supple, slightly green-edged cherry and blackberry fruit. It’s fresh and fruity with really keen acidity and a freshness to the fruit. There’s a liveliness here and a beautifully expressive acid structure. 93/100

Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Malbec 2016 Patagonia
This is so fresh and floral with lovely structure and acidity and beautiful precise, sweet cherry fruit, together with some floral overtones. Lovely freshness and very focused, with a slight saline edge. Joyful but with a hint of seriousness. 93/100

Solocontigo Colección Blend 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
75% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Syrah. Sweet, ripe and seductive with more-ish lush black fruits. Smooth and polished with a very ripe, generous personality. Big but good. 93/100

Andeluna Cellars Pasionado 2014 Uco Valley, Mendoza
47% Malbec, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot. I like this: there’s a nice combination of sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit with some freshness and notes of gravel and fine herbs. Very stylish. 93/100

Bodega Aleanna Gran Enemigo Single Vineyard Gualtallary Cabernet Franc 2013 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Fresh, concentrated and sweetly fruited with a lot of richness but also some good balance. Sweet but balanced with a nice grainy structure under the smooth fruit. 93/100

Bodega Aleanna Gran Enemigo Single Vineyard El Cepillo Cabernet Franc 2013 Mendoza
Fleshy and bright with some structure under the sweet black fruits. Has real intensity with a fine-grained structure to the sleek, sweet fruit. Very attractive. 93/100

Corazon Del Sol Cabernet Franc 2013 Uco Valley, Mendoza
This is ripe and powerful with nice density of sweet berry fruits. There’s good structure and acidity under the polished, expressive fruit. Good weight. Ripe but balanced. 93/100

Mascota Vineyards Big Bat Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Uco Valley, Mendoza        
Lovely freshness and structure here with ripe blackcurrant fruit and fine juiciness. Has a nice savoury edge with some spicy structure and a touch of fine herbiness. 93/100

Trapiche Gran Medalla Pinot Noir 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza        
Very attractive compact sweet cherry and berry fruit with good density. Ripe but balanced with lovely structure under the sweet fruit. Has a fine spicy undercurrent. 93/100

Casa Montes Don Baltazar Malbec 2015 La Rioja
Coffee and spice on the nose from the oak. Lovely sweet fruit here that’s concentrated and well balanced with nice polish and power. Very classy. 93/100

Enrique Foster Firmado Malbec 2011 Mendoza
Fresh and supple with good concentration of sweet red and black fruits. Has good structure and an attractive texture. Shows balance, weight and power, with some tannins on the finish. 93/100

Proemio Gran Reserva Winemakers Selection 2014 Maipú, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
50% Malbec, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Syrah, 5% Garnacha. Vivid and intense with powerful sweet dark fruits. Concentrated and yet quite fresh with bold, intense fruit. 93/100

Trivento Lejanamente Juntos 2013 Mendoza
60% Malbec, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Fresh and vivid with great definition to the concentrated black fruits. There’s quite a bit of structure here under the polished black cherry and blackberry fruit, with some spiciness and a hint of tar. 93/100

Luigi Bosca De Sangre 2015 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mandoza
85% Cabernet Sauvignon,  8% Syrah, 7% Merlot. Distinctive stuff: very ripe and lush, but with notes of pepper, herbs and tar. Really expressive. Despite its ripeness and richness, there’s some real appeal to this. 93/100

 

92

 

Atamisque Assemblage 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
50% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot. Quite peppery and lively with a spicy edge to the focused black fruits. Good concentration and depth with some structure. Finishes lively and quite tangy. 92/100

Susana Balbo Wines Benmarco Expresivo 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
83% Malbec, 17% Cabernet Franc. Sweet, polished, ripe and lush with sleek open blackberry and black cherry fruit. Very smooth and ripe. Lovely immediacy and pleasure from the fruit, with some structure on the finish. 92/100

Melipal Blend 2014 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
60% Malbec, 30% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Franc. There’s real density and substance to this wine, with its bold, intense black fruits. Quite sweetly fruited, but this fruit is supported by notes of spice, gravel and tar. Finishes spicy and salty. Bold stuff. 92/100

Malma Finca La Papay Malbec 2016 Patagonia
Lovely fruit here: has sweetness but also freshness with a nice stony edge to the floral black cherries and plums. Nice fruity freshness. 92/100

Finca Flichman Dedicado Gran Corte 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
85% Malbec, 9% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot. I like the freshness here. The fruit is ripe and expansive with a lush cherry and berry character, but there’s a nice spiciness, too. Fine grained tannins here with a bit of grip. 92/100

Bodega Aleanna Gran Enemigo Single Vineyard Chacayes Cabernet Franc 2013 Mendoza
This is powerful but very fresh with good acidity supporting the sweet ripe blackberry and black cherry fruit. Vivid, floral and intense with just a hint of tar.  92/100

Luca Beso De Dante 2014 Uco Valley, Mendoza
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Franc. There’s a bit of structure here under the bold, rich blackberry and cherry fruits. Has real density and focus. Fruit driven and vivid. Rich but still in balance. 92/100

Atamisque Malbec 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Fleshy and ripe with a lovely open sweet, fresh raspberry and cherry character. Slightly jammy and sweet, but still fresh with nice grip. 92/100

Sophenia Synthesis Malbec 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Fresh, grippy, a bit tannic and meaty with lovely fresh, bright fruit characters. Juicy and vivid with nice freshness. Very pretty and structured. 92/100

Bodegas Fabre Hj Fabre Barrel Selection Malbec 2016 Patagonia
Concentrated and dense with nice sweet berry and cherry fruits. Has a richness on the mid-palate, and also a bit of saltiness. Quite structured: this has more extraction and richness. But it’s still fresh. Finishes tannic. 92/100

Andeluna Altitud Chardonnay 2016 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Very lively and pure with good acidity and nice stony citrus fruit, with a bit of pear richness. Lovely brightness and transparency, with good acidity. 92/100

Luis Segundo Correas Valle Las Acequias Malbec Oak 2014 East Mendoza
This has good concentration and freshness with sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit, coupled with a bit of spicy structure. There’s lushness but no over-ripeness, and it’s very successful. 92/100

Dante Robino Gran Dante Bonarda 2015 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Really pretty and floral with nice sweet cherry fruit, and a bit of spicy grip. Lovely brightness and freshness here. Shows nice purity and brightness. 92/100

Nieto Senetiner Bonarda Partida Limitada 2013 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
This is dense, vivid and spicy with sweet cherry and berry fruits underpinned by some polished new oak. Impressive density, richness and freshness. Modern and ambitious. 92/100

 

91

Pascual Toso Finca Pedregal Single Vineyard  2015 Mendoza
53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Malbec. This has concentration but also freshness, with lovely sleek, sweet black fruits. Has a bit of structure on the palate, and is a tiny bit drying, but there’s appealing sweet fruit here. Lots to like, even though it is a tiny bit hollow in the mid-palate. 91/100

Pascual Toso Alta Malbec 2015 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
This is smooth, textured and lush with generous, slightly jammy fruit and a slight salinity in the mouth. Has breadth and depth. Ripe but still in balance. 91/100

Auge Malbec 2015 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Vivid and expressive with lovely sleek ripe black fruits. Has good structure with very pure, slightly silky fruit. Subtle meat and herb notes add interest. 91/100

Bodegas Fabre Viñalba Reserva Malbec/Cabernet Franc 2016 Uco Valley, Mendoza
80% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Franc. Very fresh, supple and chalky with lovely red fruits. Has some sweetness and quite a bit of freshness. Such lovely supple fruit. Beautiful for the price. 91/100

Zorzal Gran Terroir Malbec 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Lovely freshness here: bright raspberry and cherry fruit with some juiciness and nice spicy depth. Fresh and vivid with a sweet but focused fruit profile. 91/100

Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Vivid and quite dense but with some warmth and spice as well as juicy black cherry and blackberry fruit. Has good structure and also some blackcurrant freshness. Quite convincing. 91/100

Negocios Y Emprendimientos Zorzal Piantao Cabernet Franc 2013 Uco Valley, Mendoza
90% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon 2% Syrah. Great concentration here with sweet, bold blackberry and cherry fruit. Has a very ripe, tarry, seductive quality with lots of sweet fruit. A big, showy wine that’s initially very seductive, but then feels a bit over the top. 91/100

Bodegas Salentein Numina Gran Corte 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
68% Malbec, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot. Great concentration with bold sweet black fruits combining with some spicy oak. Very rich and intense. So plush and silky with lots of sweetness. 91/100

Bodegas Salentein Primus Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Concentrated blackcurrant fruit with some spice and tar. Has nice acidity. Rich and warm with some nice spiciness. Polished and forward. 91/100

Millán S.A. / Bodega Los Toneles Sapo De Otro Pozo 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
80% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Syrah. Dense and spicy with some earthy, tar notes under the sweet berry fruit. Concentrated, generous and plush. 91/100

Riccitelli Wines “The Apple Doesnt Fall Far From The Tree” Pinot Noir 2016 Mendoza
Very attractive cherry and plum fruit here: sweet with nice density. Juicy and lively with lovely acidity and a very pure, vibrant, ripe, joyful personality. 91/100

Mevi Chardonnay 2016 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Subtle toast and ripe apple richness here alongside some nicely weighted pear and citrus fruit. There’s a trace of nutty oak that fits in very well. 91/100

Bodega Los Toneles Fuego Blanco Cabernet Franc Malbec 2015 La Rioja
60% Cabernet Franc, 40% Malbec. Ripe, supple and balanced with sweet cherry and berry fruits. Very supple and drinkable with nice freshness and weight. 91/100

Fabre Montmayou Gran Reserva Malbec 2015 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Lush and sweet with concentrated, compact cherry and berry fruits, with some firmness and good acidity. Structured and quite primary with potential for development. 91/100

Budeguer Tucumen Reserva Ancellotta 2016 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
88% Ancellotta, 12% Malbec. Sweet and appealing with really pretty ripe raspberry and cherry fruit with lovely grip and density. There’s a freshness and an expressive quality to this wine. Pretty, pure and beguiling, but also has some density. 91/100

 

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Susana Balbo Wines Crios Red Blend 2016 Uco Valley, Mendoza
73% Malbec, 22% Syrah, 5% Petit Verdot. Supple raspberry and red cherry fruit here with an appealing spiciness. Nicely vivid and fruity with great balance. Very drinkable. 90/100

La Rural Rutini Malbec 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Fresh and ripe with bold, concentrated black fruit character and some fine spiciness. It’s fruity and dense with some savoury, tarry spicy notes. Warm and ripe. 90/100

Luigi Bosca-Familia Arizu Luigi Bosca Grand Pinot Noir La Consulta 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Supple and juicy with nice fruitiness. Good balance with a bit of spice on the finish. Has sweet and savoury characters with appealing cherry and plum fruit. 90/100

Bodegas Salentein Callia Malbec 2017 La Rioja
Open and supple with nice weight to the fruit. Very juicy and lively with a bit of spice. Drinkable and quite delicious. 90/100

Sottano Vicentin Maldito 2013/2014/2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
100% Malbec. Concentrated and dense with bold, sweet black fruits. Quite warm and polished with a very ripe personality. The alcohol makes its presence known. 90/100

La Rural Rutini Apartado Gran Malbec 2014 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Concentrated and sweetly fruited with ripe cherries and raspberries as well as some black fruit depth. Warm and sleek, in a very modern style. 90/100

Bodegas Caro Amancaya 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
85% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweetly fruited, ripe and quite seductive with lush black fruits. Generous and polished, this is a nice modern wine. 90/100

Bodega Del Fin Del Mundo La Poderosa Malbec 2017 Patagonia
Very fruity and expressive with sweet cherries and plums. Bright and lively with nice clean, fresh, expressive fruit. Very drinkable. 90/100

Terrazas De Los Andes Reserva Malbec 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Dense and juicy with bold black fruits and good structure. It’s tarry and spicy with a bold personality. Nice but a tiny bit baked. 90/100

Luigi Bosca Malbec Los Miradores 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Spicy and dense with some oak evident. Has some cedar and herb notes as well as fresh, structured red fruits. 90/100

Salentein Single Vineyard Finca San Pablo Pinot Noir 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Nice sweet fruit here, with ripeness and nice weight, but also quite a lot of savoury, spicy oak character. This gets in the way a bit at the moment. 90/100

Bodega Santos J Carelli Carla Chiaro Malbec 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Supple, bright and sweet with lovely fruit. Very fresh and has a raspberry crunch as well as the bright cherry fruit. Very nice. 90/100

Finca Flichman Dedicado Tupungato Malbec 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Open, floral and quite exotic with nice, supple, sweet fruit. Has a lovely juicy quality. Fresh and pure. 90/100

Trivento Golden Reserve Chardonnay 2016 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Lovely freshness here with pear and citrus fruit, and a touch of pineapple, with nicely integrated oak. Stylish stuff. 90/100

Ruca Malen Brut 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza
75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay. Fruity and approachable with some attractive toasty notes and nice pear and citrus fruit. This has lots of fruit, with some richness. Very appealing. 90/100

Bodega Aleanna El Enemigo Bonarda 2014 East Mendoza
Supple, ripe, berryish and clean and very drinkable with fresh cherry and berry fruits. Has some spicy complexity and good texture. Very appealing. 90/100

Dante Robino Gran Dante Robino Malbec 2015 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Lush, sweet and floral with nice open cherry and plum fruit with good structure and acidity. Quite pretty and open with good freshness. 90/100

Decero Syrah Remolinos Vineyard 2013 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Some cocoa and spice here hiding under the attractive, lush, sweet berry fruits. Quite ripe and inviting with a bit of pepper spice on the finish. Very attractive in a ripe, lush style. 90/100

Fabre Montmayou Reserva Cabernet Franc 2016 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
This is very ripe and sweetly fruited with intense raspberry and red cherry fruit, with bright acidity on the finish. Pure and quite intense with a very modern personality. 90/100

Pascual Toso Chardonnay 2017 Maipú/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Fresh, complex and quite mineral with some stony undercurrents to the bright citrus and pear fruit. Nice freshness and weight here, with good balance. 90/100

 

Two lovely Languedoc wines from Gayda

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Had a look at some samples yesterday after getting home from New Zealand, and these two, from Domaine Gayda, stood out.

Gayda Figure Libre Chenin Blanc 2015 Pays d’Oc, France
13.5% alcohol. Organic farming, sandstone soils, 200 m altitude. Harvested in two tries, with 10% botrytis, and fermented in concrete egg. Full yellow colour. This has a lovely detailed, complex palate of stone fruits, fine herbs, spice and pears. There’s a bit of that Chenin straw-like quality too, and an appealing stoniness. There’s also a trace of baked apple sweetness on the finish. A thought-provoking wine with appealing fruit but also a savoury side, this is pretty serious stuff that should age well. Has a lovely stony, mineral mouthfeel and good acidity. 93/100

Gayda Figure Libre Cabernet Franc 2015 Pays d’Oc, France
14% alcohol. Organic farming. This is a really convincing expression of Cabernet Franc, with fresh, slightly chalky/gravelly raspberry and blackberry fruit. It’s a bit grippy and savoury with nice balance, and a really expressive fruit quality that’s not at all overripe. Really satisfying. 92/100

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What determines your taste? Why I disagree with Tim Hanni

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Tim Hanni MW has become well known in the wine trade for his work on separating people into different groups according to their taste preferences. He has some interesting things to say. For example, there’s this recent interview published in Meininger’s. This isn’t the first time that consumer segmentation has been applied to wine, but Hanni goes further in terms of his claims about sensory physiology and neuroscience.

I agree with some of what Hanni says. There’s some interesting work on taste preferences, and quite a bit of interesting evidence has come to light over recent years that suggests that there are some significant biological differences that lead us as individuals to prefer certain flavours over others (there’s a discussion on this in my latest book, I Taste Red).

But it’s in his application of this research to wine that I have some problems with what Hanni has to say. And I find his recommendations to wine producers based on these findings a bit alarming.

Hanni’s main point is that people have innate taste preferences and that you can separate people according to these preferences. He suggests that by selling mostly dry wines, the wine trade is ignoring the taste preferences of those who prefer sweeter styles. His thesis is that 25-40% of wines would be sweeter styles if the wine industry recognised the real taste preferences of people.

He mentions, but is somewhat dismissive, of acquired tastes (indeed be puts the word ‘acquired’ in parentheses as if to suggest that it isn’t real). But I think this is a mistake. The fact that most of our tastes are actually acquired, not innate, is the fly in the ointment of Hanni’s thesis. It changes everything, and makes much of what he says redundant.

Our preferences are extremely malleable, for good evolutionary reasons. Innate preferences for nutritious, high calorie foods are pretty universal. But we possess the ability to acquire novel tastes. Our sense of flavour combines with our memory, allowing us to explore novel, possibly nutritious food items, and these then become new flavour preferences (the memory bit is important, because we need to reject quickly things that have made us sick in the past).

Think about some of the flavours you enjoy today. I like strong cheese, but 15 years ago I wouldn’t eat cheese at all. The cheeses are still as pungent and extreme as they were 15 years ago: it’s my response to the cheese that has changed. I now love strong cheese. When I started drinking coffee as a teenager I had it with two sugars and milk. Now if you put sugar in my coffee I would find it unpalatable. I still find espresso quite bitter and a little bit aversive, but I enjoy it. When I was a kid I used to like fast food restaurants. I admit that they can sometimes make tasty food, but I’m glad that I moved on to more challenging flavours, which are much more compelling and interesting. And with wine, I began with richer, sweetly fruited reds that were easier to understand, and moved to more interesting wines over time. Now I wouldn’t find the wines I loved at first all that interesting, and I wouldn’t want to drink them. This sort of journey is not unusual.

Most of the things I love now, when it comes to flavour, were tastes that I found challenging when I first experienced them. Experience has largely trumped biology. This is what Hanni has to say:

We are all genetically pre-programmed with attractions and aversions. Changes in preferences, from about four years old to very late in life, are largely reorganising what certain sensations represent. So, with observation, culture, peer pressure, and learning we adapt to associate things we didn’t like with aspiration or attainment – something we often refer to as an ‘acquired’ taste. We also equally associate things in a negative light, ‘disposing’ of tastes as well, such as the current hysteria over sweetness in wine for those who have become more ‘sophisticated’…

…Dry wines are the new fad (in relative terms) not the historical standard; the 1947 Château Cheval Blanc had over 30 g/L (3%) residual sugar. Most prized white Rhône wines were vins de paille – dried on mats and made into sweet wines. Countless sweet wines, including Château d’Yquem, were thought completely appropriate with fish, beef, or oysters. Montrachet, in the greatest vintages, was very sweet, not dry. Champagnes, as consumed in France, often had 140 g/L (14%) residual sugar – a lot more than American Coca Cola which has 108 g/L (10.1%) residual sugar. The global sweet wine opportunity was, and still is, about 25% to 40% of the total available market. Things have just gotten out of control with the dry wine fashionistas. And keep in mind that as wine has gone dry, consumption in France and Italy has plummeted.

Where do I start? This last sentence is just silly. To suggest that the reason behind reduced wine consumption in markets such as Italy, France and Spain is connected to the fact that wines there used to be sweet but have become drier is absurd, and that’s the clear implication to what he is saying. The reduced consumption in these markets is because of social changes, and the baseline was very high to start with. In no sense has the wine got drier in these countries. If anything, it’s got a little more palatable at the bottom end, and sweeter in terms of flavour.

In terms of the ‘genetically preprogrammed’ line, it just isn’t as simple as this. We are genetically pre-programmed, if you will, to have malleable, adaptable tastes.

Hanni seriously thinks that the fact that most wines are dry these days is a push from the wine industry rather than pull from consumers, and that ‘dry wine fashionistas’ are to blame. I disagree. There’s very little market for off-dry or sweet wines not just because they are unfashionable, but because they don’t work so well with food (although there are some notable exceptions).

Another problem is created by Hanni’s refusal to segment the market. This is a common problem in these sorts of discussions. If there is a market for sweeter wine styles, it is at the bottom end. And it’s there that the sweet blush rosés of California, and the Moscatos, are doing well already. A lot of commercial reds have a bit of sweetness, too, with some grape juice concentrate added at the blending bench. Just a bit of sweetness rounds them out and covers over some of the tannin. But this is for the most commercial wines. And there’s also a market for very expensive sweet wines (some of the wine world’s great bottles are sweet), but this market is tiny and unlikely to grow.

The fact that most wines are dry, more-or-less, is because this is what the market wants. The market for mid-price to expensive wines with significant residual sugar is precisely zero. People who pay a bit more for wine want their wines dry. The market for fully sweet wines is also tiny: this is why Sauternes is having such a hard time and so many producers are struggling, while the market for high-end dry Bordeaux wines is surging.

I think it would be a huge mistake for producers to start sweetening up their wines because this is, according to Hanni, what people prefer. Once we are away from commodity wine, sweetened-up wines are usually not authentic, interesting wines. This is not the direction the wine industry should be heading. To pander to perceived biological preferences of consumers like this takes wine into the realm of manufactured alcoholic beverages. This would be a disaster, because it would mean joining the race to the bottom in terms of pricing. Profitability is a huge issue at the bottom end of the market, and in order to escape this ruthless price competition, a wine has to have authenticity and a sense of place, and not just be a wine of style.

Wine isn’t like other drinks. You get one vintage a year. You have a big winery lying unused most of the year, waiting for vintage. It’s an expensive way to make a fruity, semi-sweet alcoholic beverage of the sort that Hanni thinks we need more of. Much better to aim at producing something more sophisticated, that has some flavour characteristics that are derived from the combination of place and grape variety. This is the way out of the race to the bottom.

Adventures on New Zealand's West Coast

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I’ve always been fascinated by what I’ve heard about New Zealand’s South Island’s West Coast. People have told me that it is incredibly beautiful, remote and sparsely populated, and also incredibly wet. I think that these factors may be related. Rainfall here is measured in metres, as the moist air from the ocean deposits its wetness as it rises over the mountains that string along the side of South Island.

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This week I got the chance to visit the West Coast for a few days. One day was just solid rain, but the days either side were lovely. And it really is a beautiful place.

We stayed in Punakaki, which is found between Greymouth and Westport. It’s very close to the Paparoa National Park, and this is where the region’s biggest attraction, Pancake Rocks, is found. This is a series of eroded limestone cliffs and blowholes, and it’s very impressive.

Pancake Rocks

Pancake Rocks

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We also really enjoyed the Porarori River Track, which is some of the most stunning scenery I’ve encountered. The benefit of so much rain is that everything is green and lush. And plants grow all over other plants, too (these are known as epiphytes).

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Intricate mosses growing on a tree trunk

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Liverworts, with spore capsules

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We also visited Hokitika, the town that’s the setting for Eleanor Catton’s brilliant The Luminaries. It was very rainy and bleak. And we also popped into the Shanty Town, a historical recreation of a gold mining town from the late 19th century. This was also quite rainy and bleak.

This is a film of our West Coast adventure:

A couple from Hawke's Bay: Craggy Range and Sacred Hill

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These impressed the other evening.

Craggy Range Te Kahu 2014 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. 68% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc. This is beautifully fresh and focused with sweet blackcurrant fruit together with some black cherries and plums. There’s lovely balance: it’s ripe, but really well balanced with good acidity. This is tight and unfurled and has lots of potential for development. Classic and digestible, I’d love to see this in five years’ time. 94/100

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Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah 2014 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. Cork sealed. Nice density to this, with robust, sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit with some black pepper spiciness adding framing. There’s some polish and ripeness, but also brightness and freshness. Well structured, this is a half-way house between new and old worlds in style. It has the distinctive pepper and clove of Gimblett Syrah, but it’s not overpowering. 93/100

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Ce Qui Nous Lie (Back to Burgundy): a film about wine

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Was glad to catch this film on my last flight. It’s a French film set in Burgundy, and it’s probably the most gorgeously wine-focused film I’ve seen: even more so than Sideways. And Jean-Marc Roulot, winegrower and professional actor, is in it!

The main characters are three siblings, Jean (the oldest), Juliette and Jérémie. Frustrated by the life as a vigneron’s son, and experiencing a difficult relationship with his father, Jean leaves for the new world, eventually settling in Australia where we learn later he has a son with his partner Alicia. We meet him as he returns to the family domaine during his father’s final illness. He reunites with his two siblings (who are surprised to see him: they haven’t heard from him for years) and together they have to decide the future for their domaine: they need to pay €500 000 in inheritance taxes, money they don’t have. But their vineyard holdings are worth €6 million, so do they sell part or all of their land?

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But first, there is vintage to deal with. Jean joins in, supporting his inexperienced but strong-minded sister who was expecting to have to make the wine on her own. They go through the vineyard, tasting the grapes. This is an example of some of the wine detail in the film: it’s an exchange between the main characters, when Juliette suggests they should pick in 8 days’ time.

Jean: In 8 days?

Juliette: Yes, in 8 days.

Jean: Taste the sun side. I’d say Thursday.

Juliette: In 4 days?

Jean: Yes. If you start in 8 days you will be too late for the reds. It will be sweet by the end. They taste good already, don’t they?

Juliette: But the skin is tough, and shouldn’t it be thinner and juicer? The seeds are barely brown. I’d wait till they are fleshier.

Jean: So you want to make an easy wine? Like Dad’s? Don’t you want a taut, acidic wine?

Jérémie: Why not wait for the lab results. By 3 o’clock we will know what we are talking about.

Jean: Taste it again.

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This is a really wine-focused film, exploring family dynamics with the wine domaine at the centre of it all. There’s some lovely footage of the growing season, the harvest, tasting in barrel cellars and the winemaking process. There’s even discussion of the proportion of stems in Pinot Noir.

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This is a trailer of the film:

So, does Jean decide to stay, or do the three decide to sell the domaine and take the money? How do they resolve their difficulties? And is the wine they make, in a new style – picking earlier with more stems – any good? It’s well worth watching.

Japan eating: Omi beef sukiyaki at Restaurant Moroshima

Omi beef, thinly sliced

Omi beef, thinly sliced

Another great meal in Japan; another stop in this great gastronomic journey. This time, Omi beef sukiyaki at Restaurant Morishima, in Omi-hachaman in the Shiga prefecture not far from Kyoto.

Omi beef sashimi

Omi beef sashimi

This is a restaurant devoted to Omi beef. This is one of the top three types of Wagyu beef, along with Kobe and Matsusaka beef, and it’s an incredible looking meat, bright red with abundant fatty marbling running all the way through it.

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We had Omi beef sukiyaki, and it was remarkable. We started off with a bit of Omi beef sashimi, and then the attention was on the main dish.

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The beef, thinly sliced, is cooked at the table with other ingredients, and these are then eaten after dipping them in raw egg that you beat yourself with your chopsticks. This was a sensational experience, and the beef was beautiful.

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I know this is a wine blog, but if you love wine, then you are probably a lover of flavour, and flavour experiences are interesting. And as we are now realising, the visual, cultural, multisensory aspects of a meal contribute to its flavour, which is one of the things that the Japanese have understood for a long time.

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A short film of the experience: