Tried these three at The Sampler. Guigal’s single-vineyard Côte Rôties, known colloquially as the La Las. These are often thought of as the ultimate expression of Côte Rôtie, and they certainly attract the highest prices at auction. I’ve had a few in my time – not all that many, though – and while they have invariably aged impressively, they don’t seem ever to be ready. And they don’t show as much expression of place (in my own opinion, of course) as the likes of Jamet and Ogier. It’s so hard to review wines like these which come with such a big reputation. They’re certainly good wines, but if you’d bought them ($$$) you might expect a bit more, I reckon. But credit has to go to Guigal for the prestige they have brought to this region. They put it on the fine wine map.
Guigal ‘La Mouline’ 2001 Côte Rôtie, Northern Rhône, France
Taut and focused with bright raspberry and cherry fruit, together with some spicy, tarry notes and fresh acidity. Powerful, structured and fresh with grippy tannins and a bit of caramel and spice from the oak. Linear, focused and polished. 93/100
Guigal ‘La Landonne’ 2001 Côte Rôtie, Northern Rhône, France
Fresh and lively with raspberry and cherry fruit backed up by nice acidity. Quite dense and focused with some earth and spice adding savoury notes. Dense and still quite primary. 92/100
Guigal ‘La Turque’ 2001 Côte Rôtie, Northern Rhône, France
Earthy, spicy nose leads to a dense, grippy palate with some citrus peek notes and a bit of earth. Firm and grippy but with some good acidity. Quite savoury and drying on the finish. 91/100
Today, the UK government has controversially published revised guidelines on safe drinking levels which see the recommended limits for men fall to 14 units a week, down from 21. The recommendations for women stay at 14. [You can access the report here.]
As wine lovers, we should be angry about this. Not because it’s telling us something we don’t want to hear, but because it is based on a highly questionable interpretation of the data. It seems as if the scientists and civil servants at the Department of Health are on a crusade to stop us drinking. They have an anti-alcohol agenda and this has led to a particular interpretation of the scientific literature on drinking and health which is, to put it bluntly, unprofessional and veering towards incompetent. In essence, we are looking at neo-prohibitionism manifesting itself in the guise of public health.
Drinking, when not to excess, is pleasurable and life-enhancing. Sharing a bottle of wine with a meal is a great pleasure. Drinking a negroni with a friend is a joy. Having a beer with a mate is life-enhancing. Alcohol, used correctly, is one of nature’s great gifts to humanity. Wine is deeply embedded within European culture, and it’s a rich, engaging part of life.
Alcohol abuse is terrible. Sharing a bottle of wine with a meal every night is not alcohol abuse. But this message from the government is evil in its intent: it wants to strip us of this joy, and make us feel guilty about doing something that is part of the pleasure of life. For no good reason. It smacks of control. Why would you want to take away fun from people, and then lie to them about why you are doing it? Can the government scientists really stand behind their conclusions as professionals? What is their real motivation?
So, let’s look at the science. The thorn in the side of neo-prohibitionists is the consistent observation that in Western populations moderate drinkers live longer than non-drinkers, who in turn live longer than heavy drinkers. This is called the ‘J-shaped curve’. It’s a consistent finding in what is known as “epidemiological” studies—those that look at the incidence and distribution of diseases, and their causal factors.
The J-shape refers to the curve on a graph you get if plot mortality (the risk of dying) against alcohol consumption. Moderate drinking increases life expectancy, mainly through its protective effects on the cardiovascular system—your heart and blood vessels. Heavy drinkers also enjoy this benefit, but their risk of death starts to increase because they are more likely to suffer from the various conditions related to heavy drinking, such as cirrhosis of the liver, stroke, certain cancers, and increased risk of accidental or violent death. It is a pretty robust finding that has been replicated in countless studies to the degree that it is no longer controversial.
It’s also quite a significant effect: one large study looking at research spanning back 25 years on the subject indicates that moderate drinkers cut their risk of heart attack by as much as one-quarter.
This message was reinforced by two papers published in the British Medical Journal in 2011, both from William Ghali and colleagues. These papers represented what is known as a meta-analysis, which is a study that attempts to bring together all published evidence on a particular subject from the medical literature in order to draw a more robust conclusion. In the first paper, Ghali carried out a review of the literature looking at studies that had examined the effect of alcohol consumption on biomarkers of coronary disease. They screened almost 5,000 articles, and included the results from 44, which were the relevant studies that met their criteria for suitable data. Overall, 13 biomarkers were included in the analysis. Alcohol was shown to significantly increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, with a dose–response relationship, and it decreased fibrinogen levels. It didn’t change triglyceride levels but it increased adiponecting and apoplipoprotein A1. All of these changes are reported to be cardioprotective. The authors noted that these changes are “well within a pharmacologically relevant magnitude,” meaning that alcohol is acting as a prescribed medicine might. They point out that the degree of HDL cholesterol increase is better than can be achieved with any single therapy. Alcohol, consumed moderately, seems to be acting as a good drug.
The second paper looked at selected cardiovascular disease outcomes. It examined 4,235 studies, and 84 turned out to be suitable for inclusion in the meta-analysis. The results examined the relative risk of dying for drinkers versus nondrinkers, and once again came up with some significant results. A moderate drinker has 0.75 risk of dying of cardiovascular disease compared with a nondrinker, and 0.71 risk of incident coronary heart disease. An alcohol consumption of 2.5–14.9 g/day (roughly one or two drinks) results in a 14–25% reduction of risk of cardiovascular disease compared with abstainers. Both studies together suggest that alcohol may be having a causal role here: there is a dose–response relationship, and the association is specific, in that alcohol is not uniformly protective for other diseases, such as cancer.
I don’t drink because I think it’s healthy. But to deny this body of scientific evidence in order to produce a simple public health message is dishonest.
The other issue is risk. All drinking, we are told, carries a degree of risk. But as the evidence shows, the risk of dying only increases once you pass a certain consumption level. This is where the public health guidelines on healthy drinking should be focusing. And this point will differ for each individual: age, sex, weight, physical condition, psychology and biological make-up will all be factors here. But it is a much higher limit than 14 units.
So we should be angry about this report. We should be angry about being lied to. We should be questioning the motives of people who want to strip others of joy and make them feel guilty about doing something that’s more than just harmless – it’s actually a good thing. And there must be a lot of people within the department of health who realize that this latest set of guidelines are flawed, but who are scared of speaking out against the crazy neo-prohibitionist agenda.
For the last few years, a feature of new year’s eve has been a blind Champagne tasting with my brother in law Beavington. This year we couldn’t meet up, but anxious not to break the continuity I did a slimmed-down, sawn-off version with three Champagnes. So here it is!
This is interesting. It’s a Chardonnay from Canada’s Niagara wine region, made by the talented and slightly controversial Francois Morissette of Pearl Morissette. I’ve reviewed his wines in the past here. He is a thoughtful winegrower who works quite naturally, and has come unstuck with tasting panels for VQA status where the tasters don’t seem to get what he’s trying to do. Yes, these wines aren’t for everyone, but I really like them. And I love the labels with their elegant fonts and embossed paper.
Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix-Neuvième Chardonnay 2012 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
13.8% alcohol. Slightly lifted nose with lovely ripe apple, pear and peach notes, with fine spiciness and hints of hazelnut. The palate is rich yet fresh with ripe stone fruits and a mineral, spicy core. There’s a richness and ripeness that is more new world than old, but there’s also a nervous tension and an acid core that speaks of the old world. A multidimensional, characterful wine of real appeal. 92/100
There’s been a lot of discussion on changes to the rules on planting new vineyards in the European Union. For as long as I have been alive, there have been restrictions on planting new vineyards in Europe. The system of planting rights that stood until the beginning of this year was first introduced in 1976 (if you are interested, you can read all about it, and the way that it has changed with time here).
For ages, there were plans to abolish this set of restrictions, in order to make the EU wine sector more competitive. But they have been put off, and then put off again. Why? Because producers are worried about the dangers of over-production.
So, for the last couple of decades, you couldn’t plant a new vineyard in the EU without buying an established vineyard and ripping it out, and then transferring the planting rights. Or you could buy the planting rights when someone else has ripped out their vines. For an ambitious young (or old!) producer who wanted to make great wines from a potentially great unplanted terroir (or a great terroir that had been abandoned) this was a frustration.
Also, in the New World, no such rights exist. Anyone can plant vines. If they make great wine and can sell it: brilliant. If they fail, then they’ll have wasted a lot of money and they will probably go out of business. It keeps the wine industry in New World countries lean and competitive. So over recent years, the acreage under vine in Europe has declined, while the New World has kept growing.
So why have planting rights? Why pay people to rip out vineyards (as happened in the past)? It’s a different way of thinking. The idea is, if there’s a surplus, then the price will go down. So keep the price higher by trying to match demand and supply quite carefully, always making sure that there isn’t more wine than the market wants. This is something that Champagne, as a region, has managed very well: the non vintage model helps here. Monitor how much wine is entering the marketplace, and sit on stock rather than damage price by over-supply.
With the rest of the EU’s wine regions, it is not a strategy that has worked terribly well. It is essentially protectionist, and it fosters and shelters mediocrity. Too many European winegrowers feel they are owed a living. While I understand that there’s an argument in favour of buffering changes in the market place that occur on a faster scale than the wine industry can manage (for example, it takes three years after planting a vineyard before you get your first grapes, and market changes can occur on a shorter timescale), insulating the wine sector too much creates a culture of dependency and allows poor performers to hitch a lift, or hide.
Some buffering is justified, chiefly because of the lag phase: it takes a long time to produce more wine once you’ve taken vineyards out. It’s just once you start interfering in the market, there’s an internal pressure from within the industry to keep doing it.
Meanwhile, while the EU has soldiered on with a policy that maintains the status quo, the rest of the world has been busy planting vineyards with abandon. Cut free of regulation, and with no alternative than to be commercially successful and relevant or die, the New World producers have begun to snatch market share that used to belong to Europe. This is pretty bonkers, because Europe has some amazing terroirs for growing top quality wine grapes. At the fine wine end of the market, Europe is doing wonderfully. At the very commercial end, it’s a bit of a disaster, and this is the end that needs tightening up. Even within individual regions, there’s often a big discrepancy between the fortunes of the top producers and those at the bottom.
So, on 1 January 2016, the de-regulation of planting rights came into play. From what’s been written in the press you’d think that anyone was now free to plant vines wherever they want. But this isn’t the case. Until 2030 there is a ‘relaxation’ of planting rights, but within strict limits. Vineyard surface area can only increase 1% per annum, which means France will have the potential for planting another 8000 hectares in 2016. It’s not exactly a free-for-all.
I don’t think this continued protectionism is the best way of dealing with the woes of the bottom end of the wine sector. Making better wine, and being better at selling it would help. At that end of the market, there’s the need for stronger brands. But limited success (staying in business while performing badly) is often the enemy of true success (making wines that people enjoy and want to buy). The real future for the EU wine sector is to respond to competition by making more interesting wines and hence winning new customers, rather than squabbling over divvying out a declining market share.
For those innovative producers who want to plant new vineyards – after all, it costs a lot, so no one is going to do it without a sense of vision and purpose – and who are lucky enough to get planting rights, they could be doing some really cool things. For example, wouldn’t it be fun to scout out potentially excellent vineyards next door to Champagne with good soils, and start making some top notch sparkling wine? Or buying apricot orchards on potentially stunning terroirs in the Northern Rhone and planting them to Syrah? Now you can do that, as long as you label your wines VSIG (vins sans indication géographique). Scattered throughout France are some brilliant vineyard sites that never got replanted after phylloxera, or which are now viable because of global warming. There’s a lot of fun to be had out there.
Ultimately, these first baby steps in liberalization of the wine market in the EU are to be welcomed. But they are too cautious, and may not make much of a difference in practice.
I’m not a massive Zinfandel fan. It tends to make the sort of wines I dislike: very rich, jammy and obviously fruit dominated. But I’m open minded and I’ll always be curious to explore. I had a cracking Zinfandel a while back from Broc, and here’s another I really like. It’s made by Precedent Wine from a remarkable old vineyard, 10 foot by 10 foot plantings, head pruned, 125 year old vines, and unirrigated. And these vines are on their own roots! The vineyard is an old alluvial sand bar, with the granite and quartz sands going 30 feet deep. At harvest the grapes had a pH 0f 3.2 and 7.6 g/litre of acidity, which is a fabulous analysis.
Precedent Evangelho Vineyard Zinfandel 2013 Contra Costa County, California
13.9% alcohol. This is from a dry-farmed vineyard planted in 1890 on its own roots, and as well as Zinfandel there are a few vines of other varieties in there: Mataro, Carignan, Palomino, Chasselas and Muscat. It has a sweetly aromatic nose of fresh, slightly jammy cherry and raspberry fruit: it’s really perfumed and pure with lovely fruit quality. The palate is juicy and intense with lively cherry fruit and a grippy raspberry quality. So distinctive and really lovely. Fruit-forward, as you might expect from Zinfandel, but really fresh with zippy acidity. 94/100
What do I know? I’m a wine journalist who travels the world, asks lots of questions, and has a slight obsession with interesting wine. But my love for wine means I’m seeing things from a particular perspective, and I can’t claim to understand all the segments of the wine business equally well. For example, I’m not in the business of selling wine. People who actually flog the stuff have insights I couldn’t hope to gain. But I’m bold and foolish enough to issue some predictions for the wine world in 2016. My predictions for previous years are here and here (I didn’t make any last year).
Segmentation of the market is so critical when we are discussing wine. This is because wine isn’t just wine. There are different rules and constraints for different segments, and our conversations will quickly become silly and frustrating if we talk across segments. So, with this caveat in mind, here are some predictions:
It’s been a big year for English Sparkling Wine, and I think 2016 will see further growth in and excitement about this category. I’ve heard trade murmurings predicting disaster scenarios of over-supply and falling prices, but there’s a sweet spot of pricing at £20-30 where good Brit fizz can sell enough bottles and also preserve its high-end image. I think the future is bright.
Natural wine is supposed to have died. Many of the famous wine journalists have predicted this. But it’s thriving. Outside the wine trade no one really cares that natural doesn’t have a definition, and far from it being a ‘scam’, outsiders see this movement as composed of genuine, dedicated people with a good story to tell. Expect ‘natural’ and ‘authentic’ wines to continue to thrive, even if they will never be mainstream.
Allied to the increased interest in natural wine, there’s the rise of lighter-coloured reds. I wrote about this recently. In 2016 this currently geeky interest will become more mainstream. Even Jacobs Creek are working on a lighter-coloured red wine project it seems.
Gamay is going to hit the mainstream in 2016. A variety for our times, and with red Burgundy so out of reach, there’s increasing focus on the best terroirs in Beaujolais. So is Chenin Blanc. Interest in Chenin has been a slow burn with consumers, but I think it is coming.
If you love good Chablis (who doesn’t?), then start stocking your cellars. Top Chablis is currently affordable, but it won’t be forever.
2015 has been a bad year for supermarkets in the UK when it comes to wine. The major UK supermarkets have responded to the discounters by cutting their prices and reducing their ranges. It’s no huge loss, actually, because there was massive duplication and an illusion of choice before. It has been a long time since wine lovers were able to find any real joy on supermarket shelves, anyway. But that’s not where they should be shopping for wine, so I’m not knocking the supermarket buyers here. For the normal punter, supermarket wine ranges offer some clean, drinkable wines at good prices. I’d expect to see a continuation of this theme of offering smaller wine ranges in supermarkets with every day low pricing replacing the once-ubiquitous and often deceptive promotional mechanics. Wine writers might hate this, but I think we’ll see ranges that are better tuned to the needs of customers.
Elsewhere in the UK, I expect that Majestic Wine – a very important retailer for this country – will begin shifting its range towards private label/own brand. I really hope not, because this isn’t in the interest of wine producers or consumers. And they’ll probably issue lots of press releases telling us how well they are doing which the trade press will publish unedited.
It’s going to be a good year for high-end Bordeaux. The wine trade has been bitching about Bordeaux – and specifically the failed primeur campaigns of the 2012, 2013 and 2014 vintages. But 2015 is looking a promising vintage, and a hungry wine trade is less fussy than it might otherwise have been. So I reckon the wine trade and Bordeaux are going to make friends this primeur campaign. The Châteaux’ pricing will be more realistic, and the trade will forgive, after having flirted with other options. After all, what is the fine wine scene without Bordeaux? I hope I’m right, because the alternative scenario could be a disaster.
2016 will be a good year for Chilean fine wine. Chile has always done good commercial wines, and now it’s starting to make some more interesting high-end wines too. There are a lot of smart, curious winemakers in Chile, and they have some good raw material to work with, including Pais grown in interesting terroirs.
2016 will be the year when the rest of the world realizes that there’s more to Canadian wine than just ice wine. Riesling, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and even Syrah – there are great examples of all these varieties emerging from Canada’s diverse wine regions.
Sparkling wine – of all kinds – is on fire at the moment. It’s a category that will continue to grow. People love bubbles.
Wine by the glass – including alternative delivery systems – is going to continue to grow in 2016. It just makes so much sense, and the technology for keeping wine fresh when it is served this way has improved a lot.
And, finally, don’t expect the rosé revolution to slow down in 2016. Rosé in magnum: it’s a thing.
OK, there are some predictions. I could go on with another 40 quite easily, but this will do for now. Let me know what you think – and your own predictions for this next year in wine.
Just before Christmas I had one of the most enjoyable dinners of the year. Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew of Noble Rot invited Neal Martin and I for dinner at their relatively newly opened gaff. We had some lovely food and some super wines, as you might expect. Noble Rot is such a good addition to the London wine scene. It’s just got so much character. And the food is lovely too (see the menu here ).
I really liked the Rock Oysters Raveneau, which are designed to go with said Chablis. Seaweed powder, brown butter and apple granita add the flavour, and they’re delicious. I also really enjoyed the slipsole and smoked butter. Just beautifully done, with amazing flavour.
The wines were pretty cool.
Coche Dury Bourgogne Aligoté 2011 Burgundy, France
Lovely matchstick mineral edge to the nose. Flavours of lemons, minerals and spices: zippy and taut with real precision. This is a brilliant Aligoté. 93/100
Domaine Roulot Meusault Les Tessons Clos de Mon Plaisir 2007 Burgundy, France
Subtle creaminess here with lovely pear and white peach fruit, as well as a mineral character. Textural, fine and detailed with a hint of ripe apple. Quite lovely. 94/100
Domaine Bachelet Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 1996 Burgundy, France
Rich, supple, meaty black cherry and blackberry nose with hints of pepper and tar. Lovely freshness and a hint of green, with some olive too. Structured and quite powerful but also pretty floral black cherry notes. Still has a lovely density of fruit, even at 19 years of age. Proper red Burgundy., 96/100
Jacques-Frederic Mugnier Clos de la Marechale 1er Cru 2007 Burgundy, France
Quite rich with lovely black cherries, plums and spices. Concentrated sweet black fruits. Bold and textured with lovely richness. A powerful red Burgundy. 95/100
Quintarelli Alzero 2005 Veneto, Italy
Made from Cabernet Sauvignon (40%), Cabernet Franc (40%) and Merlot (20%) grapes that have been dried on racks for 60-100 days. It’s then aged in barrique followed by further ageing in larger Slavonian oak. This is a cult wine, and we were served it blind. We didn’t like it very much, but we may have liked it more if we tasted it sighted first. Very rich and intense with coffee, spice, cocoa and chocolate notes. It’s quite sweet and porty, but there’s nice grip and a fine, grainy structure. Too rich and ripe for me. 87/100
Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2007 Veneto, Italy
This is a much cheaper wine than the Alzero, but it’s pretty nice. 6 years in large oak, no drying of grapes, 15% alcohol. Sweet and fresh with lush black cherry and blackberry fruit. Smooth and has some brightness. 92/100
Clos Rougeard Les Poyeaux Saumur Champigny 2001 Loire, France
Fine cherries and spices with nice supple raspberry and cherry fruit. Supple and fine with real finesse. So fine. 94/100
Clos Rougeard Les Poyeaux Saumur Champigny 2002 Loire, France
Supple and a bit sappy with nice cherries and plums. Elegant and precise with lovely focus and warm spiciness. 93/100
This wine is from France Gonzalez, who works in Beaujolais. Even though it’s labelled Vin de France, it isn’t. She uses Vin de … France because of her first name, and she’ll probably get in trouble for it one day. It’s actually Beaujolais Villages. I bought it from The Sampler after trying her Nouveau 2015 on one of the enomatics (it’s really good). She started off in 2008 with half a hectare of vines and now has four.
G Spot Vin de…France 2014 Beaujolais-Villages, France
12% alcohol. Lifted red cherry and plum nose. Warm with some spicy notes, and quite natural. Complex, lively palate showing raspberries and red cherries with notes of tea leaves and herbs, and attractive grainy, grippy structure. Super-drinkable with some warmth, and lovely focus. Natural but nice, this just leads you back to another glass. 92/100
March: my first ProWein. Telling the world about NZ Sauvignon Blanc and Canadian wine was my task.
March: back to St James, Cape Town. Fifth year in a row, judging the Top100 South African Wines competition.
April: a few days in Franschhoek, exploring the real heart of this misunderstood wine valley. Here, with Basil Landau in his ancient Semillon vineyard. Kevin Swart is also in shot: it was his idea to bring me to visit this lovely place.
April: the view from SushiSamba, where I was at a Bruno Paillard event. London is a wonderful city. I’ve lived here all my adult life and I’m still getting to know it.
May: Canadian wine tasting at Canada House, with dudes like this (Norm Hardie)
May: RAW Fair was brilliant. Such a good bunch of wines
May: London Wine Trade Fair was excellent this year. Bumped into two of my favourite Saffers, too (Adi Badenhorst, Duncan Savage)
May: super-proud to be showing some Canadian wine peeps around some of England’s finest sparkling wine producers. This is Nyetimber. We also did Hambledon and Coates & Seely. 2015 was a big year for English sparkling wine.
June: Washington State. In in-depth exploration of Washington State (and here, in Walla Walla, I think we may have been just over into Oregon) with Treve Ring, Richard Hemming, Kevin Pogue (who was explaining some terroir to us) and Kate Sweet.
June: Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State
July: visiting Niagara wine country again. Including this dude: Thomas Bachelder
July: In South Africa again, to judge the Standard Bank Top 10 Chenin Blanc
July: In Portugal for a Lallemand conference in Sintra, and to do a talk on the future of natural wine in Lisbon
August: had a beautiful time in Tampere, Finland, lecturing to a group of Sommeliers. Thank you Heidi and Matti for inviting me!
Late to the game, 2015 was the year when I really got into Grower Champagne. This beauty courtesy Francis and Bronwen Percival.
It has been a year filled with good lunches. Most of the best have involved these two fellas. Keith Prothero and Master of Lunch Greg Sherwood.
September: Cape Wine was epic. Lots of amazing wines. Here are two of the dudes: Donovan Rall and Peter-Allan Finlayson.
September: while in South Africa, had a beautiful time at the Sanbona game reserve.
September: It’s been a big year for Noble Rot. Mark and Dan opened their wine bar at last. And the triumph of the year was probably this well publicized blind tasting that put English Sparkling Wine firmly on the map.
September: Napa Valley. Memorable trip. Included a face plant at Mayacamas, which was my least favourite moment but my favourite visit. This is one of their replanted vineyards.
September: the view from Cain, another mountain vineyard in Napa
October: in the Douro with the Douro Boys. Super trip.
October: in Champagne. I definitely need to spend more time here.
November: in Hong Kong for the first time, taking part in the wine fair
November: Rugby World Cup Final. Quite an event.
November: off to Italy. Watching grapes dry at Masi, Veneto.
November: visiting Poli, amazing grappa producer
November: watching more grapes dry, this time at Maculan
December: Rootstock Festival, Sydney. Here with Amber and Taras Ochota.
December: had an amazing time visiting some of Australia’s new wave producers. Pictured here, in the Barossa, Fraser McKinley (Sami Odi), Abel Gibson (Ruggabellus) and Tom Shobbrook.
So that’s a brief glimpse of 2015. It has been eventful, fun and also very complex. I’m so looking forward to 2016.