I love the wines of Alsace, and one of the leading producers in the region is Marcel Deiss. He takes an interesting approach. For the lesser terroirs, he makes varietal wines. But for his top sites, the wines are blends. This is in discord with the rest of the region. He thinks that good sites have terroirs that express themselves fully through blends of varieties: the varieties themselves are secondary to the soils.
The ‘Angel’s Garden’ vineyard has gravel soils and is found near Bergheim. The soils are free draining and subject the vines to water deficit in September, allowing fully mature grape skins to develop with a reduced yield.
Domaine Marcel Deiss Engelgarten 2010 Alsace, France
Richly textured, lively and complex with notes of melon and pear, as well as fresher lemony notes. Off-dry and rich yet lively at the same time, this youthful wine has real intensity. 92/100 (£25.50 Lea & Sandeman)
Just back from Belgrade, where I have been having a lot of fun judging wines, eating, drinking and staying up too late.
On Friday, we judged 160 wines; on Saturday we retasted the 33 highest-scoring wines to sort out the gold and silver medals. This was followed by a fun session choosing the trophy winners, and the overall wine of the competition. The quality was really high.
The best of show winner. Really lovely wine.
The talented young consultant winemaker Mladen Dragojlovic, who made the winning wine.
This gold medal winner was lovely. Serbian variety Prokupac is one to look out for.
Top sweet wine: a Traminer. It was quite beautiful.
Then I had a chance to look round Belgrade. It was a perfect November afternoon, with temperatures in the 20s C and lovely low sunlight. I took some pictures.
Bomb damage still evident from 1999.
Lunch at the question mark restaurant, Znak Pitanja, the oldest tavern in Belgrade. Amazing to sit outside in November.
I’m in Serbia. It is my first time here, and I’ve come to act as a judge in the Serbian wine awards competition Great Serbian Wine Tasting 2013, which is organized by online magazine www.vino.rs and Vino & Fino magazine.
It is being held in Belgrade, but so far I haven’t seen much of this famous city: it was dark when I arrived, and we have used up the daylight hours today with our judging. Tomorrow I should put that right.
Last night’s dinner was held at a restaurant near the atmospheric Kalmegdan (fortress), which looks great lit up.
Today was spent judging. Two panels of five each, tasting 80 wines each. The quality was much higher than I was expecting, with a lot of well made wines, and a few pretty serious ones. Tomorrow we taste the 33 best to decide on the silver and gold medals. And then it’s the results ceremony, a gala dinner, and party time.
For more than three years I have been complaining about the fake half price wine offers in supermarkets. See here, here and here. What’s wrong with a deal? Nothing, it’s just that these deals are illusory. The wines – known in the trade as tactical brands or trade drivers – are designed with discounting in mind. Say a £5 wine on the shelf is bought by the supermarkets from the producers at 85 Euro cents a bottle (this would be a typical price). These wines would be bought for say 85 Euro cents and then end up on the shelf at £9.99, only to be ‘discounted’ to £5 in a ‘half-price’ offer. It isn’t very honest.
Recently, this issue has been picked up by the media. BBC’s Watchdog ran a story a while back, and The Guardian did one last week, followed by several other nationals. Website www.mysupermarket.co.uk has proved to be a useful tool for exposing the dishonestly priced tactical brands. You can see which wines are on offer in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Waitrose, and then look at the historical pricing of each of the wines. It’s very revealing.
Since this coverage, Sainsbury’s – one of the worst for these ‘half price’ deals – has stopped doing them altogether, in store and on their website. They won’t say that this is because of the negative coverage, nor will they shout about the move (people would ask why they were doing them in the first place if they now think they are a bad idea). Their official statement, after I phoned several times, was:
“Customers enjoy a good deal and we’re always looking at new ways of offering great value. Half price deals are sometimes a good way to do this, but customers increasingly tell us they are looking for greater simplicity in wine promotions and so we will be looking to offer quality wines priced or discounted at consistently attractive levels.
There are currently no half-price promotions in store or online but we would certainly not rule these out in the future where they are appropriate.”
This is encouraging, but there are still too many 1/3 off deals of a similar style in store, involving these tactical brands. And when the media storm eases off, will the half-price deals reappear?
Tesco still do lots of these half-price wines. I asked them whether they had any plans to drop them, in light of the step that Sainsbury’s have taken, and the response was, predictably, ‘I’m afraid at the moment we are not able to discuss commercial strategy.’
What about Waitrose? It used to be by far the best of the supermarkets for wine. But it seems that commercial pressures are causing it to lose its way. Their range is increasingly littered with tactical brands, and deep discounting. It’s a real shame. As examples of overpriced wines on 1/3 off or half price see here, here, here, here, here and here.
Too much ‘varietal thinking’… may inhibit and shackle wine appreciation. If we were to regard place and the cultural traditions of place as the primary translators of wine flavour, and variety as secondary and anecdotal, we’d be wiser wine lovers.
Wine grape varieties has become a hot topic, as the success of the remarkable Wine Grapes shows. Personally, I’m right behind the quest for unusual or near-extinct varieties. But I also think Jefford has a very good point.
What makes a wine interesting? The grape variety? Not really. It’s the soil. Of course, you need a reasonably good match between the climate and the grape variety (there aren’t many places in the Languedoc that can do Pinot Noir well), but beyond this it’s the soil that is the limiting factor in wine quality.
Interesting soils make interesting wine. Couple a grape variety with the right soils and climate, and suddenly you have something worth drinking.
Certain vineyards seem to have a talent for particular varieties. I remember chatting to Tim Kirk of Clonakilla, and he put it well: Clonakilla’s vineyard can grow a number of varieties well, but it has a special talent for Syrah.
Or lets look at Cabernet Franc. It’s a bit-part player in Bordeaux, but in the Loire, it’s a star red variety in its own right. It’s also one of the star red varieties in Canada’s Niagara wine region. The soils and climate dictate this.
A grape variety cannot make interesting wine in the absence of soils and climate. A vineyard with good soils and climate can make interesting wine from any one of a number of varieties (even though, as we have discussed, it may just have a special talent for one or two). It’s the vineyard – the place – that is so critical for fine wine.
There are two ways to learn about wine; two routes into this engrossing subject. The first and easiest is the grapes. Learning about varieties simplifies the world of wine, but it’s only a stepping stone onto the second: the geography. It is the geography of wine – the place, the vineyard, the soil, the climate – that leads us to a proper understanding of the subject. It’s more complicated, but it’s much more satisfying and profound.
Jeffrey Grosset is widely regarded to be Australia’s top Riesling producer. Based in the Clare Valley, in South Australia, he makes two premium Rieslings from different sites, and they are both brilliant. I had a chance to try the recently released 2013s and here are my verdicts.
Grosset Springvale Riesling 2013 Clare Valley, Australia
Lively, precise, very pure and bone dry. Mineral with a hint of spice and some talcum notes, as well as lemon and lime fruit. Laser sharp focus, but there’s a bit of richness here providing balance. Such precision: a lovely wine. 93/100
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2013 Clare Valley, Australia
Very fine and fresh; limey and precise. There’s a bit of grapefruit, too. Lean, fresh, dry and so mineral this has lovely weight. Lively, bright and with great acidity, it avoids being austere. Less showy than the Springvale, but with more substance and mineral depth, and a bit more concentration. 94/100
Popped round for lunch at brother-in-law Beavington’s pad yesterday, which usually means that between us we’ll have something decent to drink. (In the process, I also very nobly assist him with his cellar over-stock issues.) All the wines showed really well yesterday.
Champagne Pol Roger NV France
This is showing really well: toast, peach and nuts, together with citrussy freshness. Fresh but quite rich with lovely complexity. 93/100
Champagne Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV France
Fine, fresh and precise with ripe, sweet pear and citrus fruit with hints of melon. Lovely purity and precision, showing lots of ripe fruit. Very stylish. 93/100
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is fabulous. Amazing aromatics: beautifully perfumed with fresh grapefruit and passionfruit. Fresh, expressive palate is transparent and delicate with great precision and some lychee and passionfruit richness. 93/100
Domaine Bachelet-Monnot Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Referts 2010 Burgundy, France
Amazing nose of nectarine, toast, quince and pineapple. The palate is dense and rich with quince, pineapple, toast and minerals, as well as hints of marzipan and almond. A fabulously rich white Burgundy, showing great concentration. 94/100
Bruno Clair Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2004 Burgundy, France
Lovely grapefruit, citrus, peach, pear and nut characters here, along with some minerality. There’s a bracing freshness as well as a hint of matchstick. Beautiful poise and complexity. Thoroughly delicious now at 9 years old. 95/100
Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2009 Beaujolais, France
This is showing very well now. Lovely fresh cherries and plums with brightness and elegance. Really pure fruit: great precision and finesse. And so easy to drink. 93/100
Jamet Cote Rotie 2002 Northern Rhone, France
A terrible vintage, but the wine is OK. Supple, fresh black cherry fruit with a citrussy edge. Notes of iron, blood, meat and spice, as well as some minerals. Drink now. 90/100
There’s a new red wine that’s becoming a bit of a hit. But the wine writing fraternity are up in arms. It’s Apothic red, from California, and leading UK critic Tim Atkin has described it as ‘undrinkable’.
The problem? It’s sweet. It has 16.4 grams per litre of residual sugar. It certainly isn’t the first red wine to be sweetened up like this: over the last decade, residual sugar levels have been creeping up, and producers have found that regular punters quite like reds that are marketed as dry, but which taste a little sweet.
Winemakers will produce a dry wine, and then at the blending bench they will add some grape juice concentrate: sticky gooey stuff made by evaporating down grape juice (see my blog post on this). Yellowtail, the famous Australian wine brand, was a big hit in part because its reds contained around 10 g/litre of sugar.
I bumped into the Apothic red, which is made by Gallo, at the Tesco press tasting. I then opened a sample bottle that I had at home. Here are my considered thoughts.
It has a sense of deliciousness. In its style, this is a well balanced wine. The fruit is ripe (sometimes these sweeter reds can have a sickly combination of sweet and green), and there’s nice, seductive vanilla, mocha coffee and spice as well as the sweet berry fruits. It is the sort of red wine that people who have a problem with most reds may well like. There are many wine drinkers who simply don’t drink red wine at all, because they just can’t get on with the bitterness and astringency of the tannins. This could act as a bridge wine for non-red-wine drinkers. The branding and packaging is very clever: wine needs more strong brands. I remember the first wine that really grabbed me; that I found delicious. It was a Berri Estates Shiraz Cabernet back in the early 1990s. As a student I was used to grotty European reds (I was on a budget), and the sweetly fruited Australian actually tasted nice. This wine tastes nice, unless you are a wine nut who has become sensitized to sweetness in reds. Most people wouldn’t think of this as a sweet wine unless it was pointed out to them; they’d just think it was tasty.
It’s not a reflection of the vineyard. It’s a ‘made’ wine. It appeals to those with a sweet tooth; generally speaking, there’s too much sugar in our diets these days, and we should wean our palates off sweetness. I wouldn’t recommend it to my readers here, but having said that, I don’t think this is a bad or evil wine. In its style it’s very well made.
Here’s a film of me tasting the wine, with an illustration of exactly what 16 g of sugar looks like:
Wine is in the news again. Apparently there is soon going to be a global shortage. More people are drinking wine while vineyard area is decreasing. At the moment, consumption is higher than production, but we aren’t feeling the pinch yet because there’s still plenty of wine from previous vintages in the pipeline: remember, it wasn’t so long ago that we had a surplus.
So this is bad news for us consumers, apparently. We’ll soon have to be paying much more for wine.
And good news for producers, who have been struggling to make a living in many cases? No doubt producers have been licking their lips, thinking that suddenly they will be able to ramp up their prices.
Not necessarily. What no one seems to be factoring into this equation is that demand is outstripping supply at current price levels. The assumption is that when any excess inventory is used up, then prices will rise, because of demand outstripping supply. But demand is in large part dependent on price. Raise prices, and demand softens.
The only people who will be able to raise prices without demand softening are those with wines where demand isn’t terribly price dependent. They have already successfully raised their prices over the last decade or so, to the point that many wines I used to buy are now beyond my budget. That’s old news.
For more commercial wines, there is simply no market for some of them at significantly higher prices. If you raised the price of every wine in Tesco by £2, Tesco would see wine sales fall off a cliff (and I am assuming that other supermarkets impose similar price increases). Wine is already losing ground to beers, ciders and spirits in the UK (it lost 3% last year), largely because of price rises.
It would only take a small increase in wine prices to see this supply demand imbalance corrected.
I posted a few days ago on an article in a trade publication based on an MW dissertation by Alison Eisermann-Ctercteko that examined the extent of screwcap damage in the retail chain, and the implications for wine quality. This caused quite a storm, because it claimed that 26% of all caps showed some physical damage, and over 8% of screwcapped wines showed sufficient cap damage to cause significant chemical changes.
The IMW kindly sent me a copy of the dissertation so I could see the data, and after having spent some time examining it, I think this figure of 8.2% is misleading.
Eisermann-Ctercteko examined over 10 000 bottles for damage, and then purchased 600 bottles of a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc for chemical analysis. She did a formal trial of 444 bottles with increasing cap damage, which she classified from A-D in ascending severity. There was also a class E which was where the cap was undamaged but hadn’t been applied correctly.
There were 84 controls and 72 wines in each category, with the damage inflicted artificially on each damaged bottle to the appropriate level. The wines were stored for 10 weeks, and a number examined chemically at two week intervals, with the largest sample being at the end of the 10 weeks when the remaining bottles were tested. The chemical analysis was for absorbance at 420 nm (looking at browning, a marker of oxidation) and free and total sulphur dioxide (SO2, again a marker of oxidation). Sensory analysis was also carried out.
Now let’s look at the data. Damage categories B-D all result in significant chemical changes, which is where the figure of 8.2% comes from (8.2% of bottles in retail have damage levels in these categories). But while these changes are statistically significant by some statistical tests, they are not very large, with the exception of damage category D.
Looking at the error bars (and let’s focus on the results at week 10, the most important because of the large sample size and because the analysis was by the AWRI), the only striking result is at damage level D.
Let’s now look at free SO2.
Let’s concentrate on week 10. The free SO2 levels are 33.9 (control), 32.8 (A), 32.7 (B), 32.6 (C) and 33.4 (E). D is the only significantly different level at 29.65. However, the technique used to examine the statistics, REML, does show significance for A-D at 10 weeks, apparently. I find this hard to see from the graph. Irrespective of this, the differences in free SO2 in A-C and E are nothing at all troubling. Even the level for D is pretty healthy, and not a cause for alarm.
The conclusion I would draw from these data is that damage level D is the only one I’d be worried about, and even then, I wouldn’t be too upset. Screwcaps in this setting seem pretty robust. And even D isn’t as bad as cork taint. In the sensory analysis, no significant differences were found by the panellists for any of the damage categories.
Here’s a picture illustrating just how badly damaged level D is:
From Alison’s data on the incidence of level of damage found in retail stores, that figure of 8.2% now becomes 0.06% (the incidence of level D damage found). It’s a much less alarming figure.
It should be added that this work forms just part of the dissertation, and while I disagree with the interpretation on this point, the experimental method and the work involved is very impressive, and cost a good deal of money (she wasn’t funded in any way). The survey data on the number of damaged screwcaps in retail stores are important, and while this doesn’t seem to be resulting in many sensory changes in the wine over the short term, it points out a potential issue that the supply chain and retail trade needs to address.