Friday, 30 December 2011

Bordeaux Dinners

I am back in France now having spent an extended time in the Uk visiting customers, doing wine tastings, dinners and lectures etc.
Here are a couple of dinners that I showed various wines:

This was some delcious venison at Bordeaux Quay restaurant in bristol. I showed a vertical of Chateau de la Riviere in Magnums and bottles....2004,2005,2006,2007,2008.

This was an elegant dining room in Stamford. A fun evening.

Richard McCraith helping pour in Bristol. This was an evening for the West of England Wine & Spirit Association. Great fun people and the wines were delicious too.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

UK Wine Trade 2011

I am currently in the UK waiting for 165 cases of wine to be delivered tomorrow to a warehouse in Cirencester. I will then check the cases and split them in to different deliveries for customers in Bristol, Gloucestershire, Stratford upon Avon, Aylesbury and London. These are wines from two excellent Languedoc producers. The logistics for this order have been challenging as there are 9 different destinations for the 165 cases. One customer has been waiting too long, which I am embarrassed about, but the other customers will welcome the stock in their shops and warehouses with plenty of time to sell the wine before Christmas. I'll be doing a very similar job next week when I have another 200 cases of Bordeaux wines arriving in the UK.

The logistics are always challenging at this time of year. There is an immense pressure to get wine in the shops in time. An estimated 40% of trade is done in the last month of the year. UK consumers still know how to party.....even in the midst of a recession.
Last year England was severely hit with snow and bad weather in the crucial trading period two weeks before Christmas. This wiped out some sales and also made the actual Christmas week the most congested sales week ever.
The UK wine market is still strong. There is a diversity and vibrancy within the independent retail sector and fine dining. The problems have arisen in the 'squeezed middle', IE the chains such as Threshers, Oddbins, Bottoms Up, Peter Dominic and Wine Rack have mostly disappeared either due to faulty business models, fluctuating exchange rates or having the wrong product for the wrong clientele.
I am always optimistic, whilst also being realistic to understand that it is challenging for many people if you do not have a job or have suffered financially.

My concern is the polarisation of the UK wine trade. The supermarkets (by their scale) demand bland, uniform 'industrial' produced wine that can neatly fit in to a price promotion. The supermarkets have been great to bring people in to wine, but they channel people in to branded commodities rather than make people open their minds and explore further.
We need vibrant, quality independent merchants such as DBM Wines, Oeno Wines, Woodwinters Wines, Raffles Wines, Vin Neuf Wines, Cellar Door Wines, Adnams Wines,Lea & Sandeman and The Vineking. These are just a few (you can google their contact details). They are all run by passionate people who are keen, enthusiastic wine lovers. People who care about what they are doing and they care about the customer. These wine merchants want to engage with their customers and they want loyalty. That loyalty comes from offering quality, interesting wines. Cheers!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Canal du Midi, tree crisis.

We recently popped down the road to the lovely little village of Le Sommail to try out a restaurant that had been strongly reccomended. Le Comptoir Nature. It was a fun lunch with the family, whilst the food was local and organic and the service was very friendly, the real appeal is that the restaurant is right on the banks of the Canal du Midi.

The Domaine Delmas Cremant de Limoux was exceptional. This is a biodynamic wine from the cooler areas of the Languedoc region. Quality fizz at an affordable price.

The delightfully positioned Le Comptoir Nature restaurant.
Plenty of ducks to feed and boats to watch!

The Canal du Midi was built in the 17th Century and was designed by Pierre-Paul Riquet, a salt tax collector for Louis XIV. Monsieur Riquet dedicated his life to the construction of this incredible Canal that links the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea. He died in 1680 one year before the Canal was opened.

Nowadays the Canal has many barges, houseboats and fun boats. The Canal is a hive of activity in the Summer months, while holidaymakers enjoy a relaxing pace of life.

The Canal du Midi is lined with magnificent Plane trees that cast shade on to the canal, whilst also re inforcing the bank with the root network as well as reducing water evaporation.

Unfortunately in the last few years there has been an ugly, virulent, microscopic fungus called Ceratocystis Platani that has attacked the trees. This is believed to have been transmitted during the Second World War by American GI's and their sycamore ammunition boxes. This may be extremely hard to prove but nevertheless it is a great tragedy that over the next few years many of these plane trees will be cut down and the atmosphere of the tranquil Canal du Midi will be transformed. Perhaps a disease resistant tree will be planted instead.
The trees are already being marked for chopping.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Wine in Paper bottles!

One of the key aspects facing all industry and business at the moment is our carbon footprint. I must admit that I drive approximately 60,000 kilometres per year and fly within Europe at least 12 times per year and further afield (Australia/South Africa/China)once a year. Modern life dictates that to do business on a global scale...even with Skype, conference calling, video links, email and need to travel and see clients. I have not assessed my carbon footprint but it would be an interesting project!
My issue that I would like to address is within the wine trade: Bottles and packaging.
I use glass bottles for all the wines that I sell from Bordeaux, Rhone and the Languedoc.
The 'established' wine drinker likes glass bottles; Whether this is through habit, custom or just through not knowing anything different. But we are in changing times and we all have a duty to address our carbon footprint and look at recycling and re using. The irony with wine is that usually a heavier bottle indicates a higher quality wine....the glass is much more expensive and therefore more money spent on packaging usually means better quality. One of the leading UK based wine journalists, Jancis Robinson has highlighted the heavy bottle issue recently.
When I see people arrive at Cave CoOperatives in the south of France with their own bottles or plastic containers and fill up direct from the pump in the wall, I can see the efficiency of recycling packaging.
It would be great to introduce this concept in to a retail environment in the UK, USA or China. The customers could buy a branded or unique wine vessel and they could re fill from a central location/store.The only issue is that we all would need to adapt, change and re think our attitude towards wine and packaging. Change can be slow, it can be costly. But if the statistics for landfill are correct we will have nowhere to store all the planets waste within a few years. With the population hitting 7 billion last month, we all need to take more responsibility.
I want to work with more wine boxes, wine pouches, wine bags and I really like this idea of a paper wine bottle. A couple of years ago I promoted the idea to restaurants buying 5 litre or 10 litre wine boxes for their house wine. The ratio of quality to duty and quality to packaging can be very good. If there is an investment in a smart carafe or decanter on each table, then the decanter can be re filled direct from the 5 litre or 10 litre box. The customer gets good quality, the restaurant can still offer a very good wine and possibly even increase their margins, but most importantly less glass is used and it is more efficient.
Innovation might mean more education. It might take time. But we need to do something urgently.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Wine Future?

There has been a conference in Hong Kong which has finished today where various global wine experts have been discussing wine and the future of wine, Wine Future. Unfortunately I have not attended, but I have been picking up snippets from Twitter and several commentaries from respected wine people. Robert Parker hosted a magnificent tasting of 20 Bordeaux 2009s as well as many other tastings and chat. It seems to have been a successful event. Jancis Robinson, Jeannie Cho Lee, Kevin Zraly, Robert Joseph, Randall Grahm and many other well know wine folk all seemed to have contributed.
Last week I presented a lecture at the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester in England to Wine MBA students. We discussed the global wine industry, the current state of affairs and potential opportunities. One key aspect is that nobody can predict the future. We can base our opinions and judgements on current knowledge and trends, but we do not know what the wine world will look like in 5 years time.
The respected wine journalist Stephen Spurrier apparently mentioned 3 key issues for the next 5 years:
1. Vermentino
2. Cabernet Franc
3. English Sparkling wine.

So I emailed 21 UK wine trade customers to get their feedback. These are all wholesalers and retailers of wine, so they are in contact with customers on a daily basis.
This is the question asked:
What do you think are 3 key interesting areas, grape varieties, styles for the next 12 months?
And here are a few responses:
Response 1
1. Verdicchio
2. Cabernet France especially Loire
3. Garnacha/Grenache Areas maybe Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia –anything out east! Maybe a move back to using oak on white wines too.
Response 2
Vermentino: Overrated and out of step with the leading varietals. Far too few make the grade. Cabernet Franc: Underrated – in the right hands and soils – EPIC! .
English Sparkling Wine: Very interesting but pricing needs to stay under control.
Response 3
1. Grenache – particularly Spanish
2. Portugal, principally Touriga Nacional
3. German Pinot Noir
4. Eastern Europe dominates cheap wine market Four for the price of three ! Bargain !

Response 4
1 New World Wines of Terroir.
2 How to manage greed and it’s place in the Bordeaux market place in particular.
3 Overproduction.
And the topic which I think should be discussed as a priority is ‘lying and its place in the marketing of wine’

Response 5
Its not a bad shout.(referring to Spurrier's 3 choices) But pricing of those is all high, so will not be mainstream - bit like whats happened with riesling. I would suggest those grapes that can be made to a lower alc.
1. Carmenere
2. grenache
3. English Sparkling

and a later comment from response 5: 'at a tasting with 150 consumers....Vermentino was the favourite wine!'

Response 6
Vermentino will never be big unless they get it to taste like ripe Sauvignon. It remains too sour for the modern palate, which has been bought up on the fruit bombs of NZ SB. Cabernet Franc possibly, but my knowledge is that it is very difficult grape to get right each year. English sparkling wine, Er no! It will remain a novelty.
1. Eastern European wines.
2. Pinot Gris
3. South African £10-£20 they are only just finding their feet in this area, the recent WOSA tasting showed some excellent wines.

Response 7
The problem with wine critics is that they feel they should always be writing about something new but it can take years to get this through to the general public. For instance a customer came in last week and said " I read an article in the Guardian about the "new in grape" Picpoul de Pinet.........I've been buying it from you for four years!!!)

1. yes English wines in general (keep the money at home, less air miles etc)
2 Iberian regions rather than varietals ... Douro, Duero, Rias Baixas etc
3. wines of 13% rather than 14%+

Response 8:
English fizz (I would agree)

Response 9:
Well I have to agree with 2 of those.(referring to Spurrier's original 3 choices)
Certainly rolle\Vermentino both from france and sardinia as well as cool climate southern hem. Sales have been good.
At the same time we are adding to english sparkling wines.
Cabernet franc a harder sell!

Response 10:

1: Riesling 2: Pinotage 3: Arneis

Response 11:

1: Pinot Blanc 2: Riesling 3: Pinotage

Thank you very much for everyone who replied. I welcome further comments here on the blog.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Guest Spot: Jane Anson, Decanter

Our second guest at Bella Wines blog is the charming, elegant and very interesting journalist Jane Anson. Jane is based in Bordeaux, where she writes regularly for Decanter magazine as well as contributing to the South China Morning Post and amongst others. Jane had a large contribution to probably the heaviest wine book ever....The Wine Opus, published October 2010 (Dorling Kindersley) and she is frequently charging about the Chateaux and listening out for the latest hot news from the key players. Jane's website New Bordeaux is well worth exploring. Her Twitter feed (@newbordeaux)is often from the library at Chateau Haut Brion or the cellars of Chateau Margaux, whilst Jane is researching her latest up to date and undoubtedly fascinating book on Bordeaux First Growths...due for publication October 2012.

So Jane, tell me why you ended up working with wine?
I came to wine through writing, rather than the other way round. I have been a journalist since I graduated - after one year teaching English for the JET programme in Tokyo (and even there I edited the JET Tokyo newspaper!). I then moved to Hong Kong and began working on newspapers and magazines until the Handover in 1997. Back in England, I did a masters in Publishing and continued working as a journalist, working as managing editor of websites as the Internet opened up. All the while, my interest in wine was growing... mainly Italian, rather than French, at first! That 'moment with wine' that all wine writers seem to have came for me in South Africa, when I visited in 1996, and interviewed one of the first black managers post-apartheid, who was then working at Spier in Stellenbosch. I realised that wine could be a subject that encompassed history, geography, politics and personality, as well of course as taste and pleasure. That was when I started to study it more seriously, first with WSET, and later other courses in Bordeaux. I moved to Bordeaux in 2003, and have been writing full time about wine ever since, so coming up to nine years now.

Was your family involved in winemaking, wine, food or restaurants?
No. My mother has always been an excellent cook, and prepared a wide variety of different types of food - even in the 70s we were eating Mexican, Chinese, Japanese etc - and we would be given some wine (and water) with our meals from a young age. But never any professional involvement.

Did you have a specific inspirational person or mentor?
When I arrived in Bordeaux, Jean Michel Cazes was one of the first winemakers to be truly open and welcoming, and armed me with various books about Bordeaux that were invaluable (such as Pijassou's Medoc). Equally Jean-Claude Berrouet, who took the time to taste with me when I first arrived, and was so generous with his time and knowledge. But I have found so many people in this industry to be inspirational, from Jancis Robinson and Jeannie Cho Lee, who both work incredibly hard and have enormous depth of knowledge and yet manage to maintain successful families and be thoroughly nice people, to legendary winemakers such as Charles Chevallier, Peter Gago and Jean-Claude Berrouet. You taste some of their wines and are just in awe.

You live in and have written extensively about Bordeaux, which relies on a classification system mainly from 1855 and operates a multi layered (often criticised) archaic distribution system. In 2011 who do you think embraces modern technology, social media and communication the best in Bordeaux?
Increasingly, Bdx chateaux are getting to grips with the possibilities of new technology (although far too many still never answer emails). Some of the best I would say are Chateau Palmer, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Coutet (particularly on twitter) and a smaller property called Chateau de la Vielle Chapelle.

Who is the best female/male winemaker currently working?
Difficult to say, particularly if you leave to one side the recognised, world-famous talents I mentioned above (Chevallier, Berrouet, Gago). Personally I am always excited by the Domaine Brana wines from Irouleguy, and think Etienne Brana makes wonderful things happen with the cabernet franc grape. Same grape, but up in the Loire, I love Gerald Vallee at Domaine de la Cotellaraie. For Loire whites, which I also love, I am closely following the work of Eric Morgat at Domaine Eric Morgat (formerly Ch de Breuil). And here in Bordeaux, turning out brilliant wine each year in a quiet manner, I would have to say Jean-Philippe Janoueix over in Saint Emilion. And lastly, there is some brilliant white winemaking going on in Pessac Leognan - an area which still doesn't get the recognition it deserves for throughly grown-up, classy white wines.

In your opinion which wine journalist (global) is the most interesting to read and which wine journalist has the most power?
I always love reading both Jancis Robinson and Andrew Jefford. Clearly Parker still wields enormous influence. And I hope I can add that the best wine news is clearly on!!

Which vinous area is the NEXT BIG THING?
Plenty of Spanish regions are still 'up and coming', producing wonderful wines, and we too often forget about Eastern Europe, particularly Croatia's Istrian region and Slovenia, along the border with Austria. But France is my speciality, and I would say Beaujolais is ripe for another look, especially the 2009/2010 vintages (and I hear 2011 was another success, although haven't tasted any yet). Plenty of wine writers already know about the excellent quality coming out of the Villages, but too many consumers will still suppress a smirk when you say you like Beaujolais wine. Producers such as Potel-Aviron, Villa Ponciago and Jean-Marc Burgaud are all worth looking out for.

Thank you Jane Anson.
If anyone would like to pre order Jane's forthcoming book on Bordeaux First Growths, or if you would like to stock this book as a retailer/re seller, please contact me and I will pass on information.

Wine Cave CoOperatives

I made my first wine at a Cave CoOperative in Saint Emilion over 20 years ago. The Cave CoOps were built up in the 1920s and 1930s when it was a difficult economic time....has much changed!?
The idea is to share wine making equipment and tanks and for the many thousands of smaller growers to be able to have somewhere to make their wines.
Many of the CoOps in the south of France are merging or closing down. They are trying to be more efficient and reducing their production costs and driving a harder economy of scale. This makes sense for reducing costs, but does not necessarily improve quality.
Jane Anson wrote about the changing face of Bordeaux Cave CoOps in Decanter magazine here.
Cave CoOps offer some great value and interesting wines. Soemtimes they are the mainstay of the village and the real heart of the community. It is a frequent sight to see someone walk in to the local CoOp in the Languedoc with an empty 2 litre plastic bottle of Evian and fill it up with Rose from the 'petrol pump' like tap on the wall. The price paid per litre.......75 cents!!!
Like all business in this recession and financial crisis CoOps have to shake up, wake up and become more efficient.
If more and more of them close down in the south of France one of the lasting tragedies will be the amazing architectural buildings, which will be left behind and abandoned.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Where I live!!

I live deep in the countryside of the Minervois in the south of France.
Today has been a beautiful day. Unfortunately I have spent most of it at my computer screen connecting with clients in the UK, USA and Hong Kong. But I managed to get out of the office at 5pm to take these photos of the hills and countryside around the house.
Our house is nestled in the country with the Montagne Noire behind and the villages of Saint Chinian and Saint Jean de Minervois in the distance.

The garrigue ....wild rosemary, thyme, garlic, fennel, gorse and wild oak is in fantastic condition.
The vines are just turning in to their magnificent Autumn colours. We will be treated to yellow, gold, red and crimson vineyards before the leaves drop off for the winter hibernation.

In one direction we are very close to the Pyrenee mountain range. It will soon be ski season!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Narbonne Market 'Les Halles'

French markets are great fun. Every town has a market at least once a week. There are markets for flowers, clothes, food and wine. It seems to be part of the French way of life that is fantastic.
Here are a few random photos of my favourite market in Narbonne. It is a permanent market inside 'Les Halles' on the banks of the Canal Robine.
A wonderful place to grab a strong coffee and fresh croissant first thing in the morning.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Fires in the Minervois

I recently returned home to the Minervois after a very busy week in the United Kingdom. The drive through the centre of France takes about 11 hours, so by the time I get home I am usually quite shattered.

I went for an early evening walk through the vineyards before planning an early night.
The countryside around our house is magnificent.

At about 9pm I took the bin out and thought that the sky seemed rather bright!!!

The reality was that I could also see flames above the tree tops.....too close to my house. The countryside was on fire and our house was directly in the wind path.

On closer inspection the fire was raging on the hilltops. There must have been at least 50 fire engines and many fire fighters trying to control the blaze.

At one stage we started to pack our bags and plan an evacuation!

Fortunately the wind calmed down and the fire was contained, but the loss of wildlife, the devastation and the general destruction was immense.
Apparently ...according to local gossip....the fire was started by local hunters who had a grudge against another local hunt. I find this totally reprehensible. If a hunter has any respect for nature and the beauty of the land he would never ravage the countryside like this.
There were over 300 hectares of wild garrigue, vines and forest land that were wiped out. Fortunately nobody was hurt.

Sometimes it is difficult to understand humanity.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Food and Wine Matching in South of France

We recently had a delightful group of 8 clients on a Bella Wine Tour.
This trip was a day trip to explore the wine and food culture in the south of France.
The clients were local characters who have homes in the area, so they know a bit about the history and life here. So I wanted to show them some 'off the beaten track' producers and wine and food experiences.

First of all I had to get some excellent fresh goats cheese from the herd of goats at Combebelle, high up in the garrigue hills near St Chinian.

I also got some ripe Roquefort (blue cheese) some Scottish wild smoked salmon, some strawberries, some Comté cheese (hard cheese) and various milk and dark chocolates.

We started by tasting a superb range of wines made by the charismatic couple John and Nicole Bojanowski at Clos du Gravillas.
The wines develop and extend your sensory perceptions as soon as you try different food types. It was great fun.

We then popped in to see Pascale Frissant at Chateau Coupe Roses in the charming village of La Caunette (the village is built in to the hillside).
Pascale and his wife Francoise run this immaculate property in the hills of the Minervois. They have 40 hectares under vine, 10 hectares are located within the La Liviniere Appelation. The wines are good fruity styles, with excellent depth and minerality, which seems to come from the varying vineyard sites. The main problem for Pascale is the abundance of wild boar crashing through his vineyards and scoffing all his grapes.

The beautiful labels of Chateau Coupe Roses.

After all this hard work tasting and chatting we adjourned for a delicious lunch in the stunningly beautiful village of Minerve at Restaurant Chantovent.
It was a great day of food and wine matching.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Is this innocent?

Why would a big wine tanker lorry from Bordeaux(with '33' number plates indicating the Gironde department) be filling up with wine from a large Cave CoOperative in the Minervois, Languedoc? Click on the picture to see it clearer.
This picture was taken on Wednesday this week.

It would be disappointing to think that wines were blended from the Languedoc with wines from Bordeaux. Bordeaux had a big harvest this year and would not need to bolster their wines.
It is illegal to label a wine as coming from one region, when the juice has been sourced from another. Unfortunately this kind of thing has been going on for many years. I just hope that this situation is innocent!

The weird thing is that the front of the lorry had Bordeaux number plates, whilst the back of the lorry had '11' plates for the local Aude region.
Maybe they were covering both eventualities?

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Guest Spot: Will Hargrove, Corney and Barrow

This is a new venture for this blog....a guest slot.
The first guest is the smartly dressed Will Hargrove, who heads up the sales team at one of the oldest and well connected wine companies in England, Corney and Barrow.
Will and I know each other mainly through Twitter. Our links with rugby, horse racing, wine and cigars seem to be common ground.
Will is worth following on Twitter @DuvaultBlochet

Here are a few questions for Will Hargrove:

So Will, tell me why you ended up working with wine. You seem to be as equally passionate about horse racing, rugby and cigars..........why wine?

Finished a degree in Sport Studies back when it meant even less than it does today and didn’t know what I wanted to do except that I didn’t want to work at the weekends because I wanted to play Rugby (still do). Ended up selling advertising, hated it, so looked for something I was interested in as I promised myself I wasn’t going to do something I wasn’t into. My interest in wine was increasing so I made a few calls and was just about to join Majestic when a son of a friend of my mother (tenuous I know) said the Corney and Barrow needed a driver for the West London wine shop for Christmas with potential to stay on. That was November 1998. Love all the other things but they are hobbies I guess, wine still is too but the balance of having hobbies works for me and the scope and variety of the wine world probably beats even those things.

Was your family involved in wine, winemaking or restaurants?

Not really, my dad and grandfather have/had an amateur interest. First proper wines I had with them were Beychevelle and Cos d’Estournel, both 1986’s, we finished both cases years ago which was a bit premature but I wasn’t complaining at the time!

You work for a prestigious London wine merchant and therefore you taste some exceptional wines on a regular basis. Which is your favourite and most exciting wine region currently?

I think the quality of wine generally is as good as it has ever been. I am lucky in that respect. My own favourite, and what I buy most, is the wines of Piedmont, mainly Barolo but also Barbaresco and a few Barbera’s. I just think there is Burgundian like complexity and the pricing in the most part is reasonable. I love the ability the wines have to age and the food from the region too. Otherwise Burgundy for red and white and Mosel (not that knowledgeable there just love the wines!).

Who is the most attractive female/male winemaker currently working?

Good question. Sandra Tavares da Silva of Pintas sets a high standard.

In your opinion which wine journalist (global) is the most interesting to read and which wine journalist has the most power?

I always think that Andrew Jefford writes very well and in a way I enjoy. I like Antonio Galloni on Piedmont as he “gets the region” and is positive. Robert Parker has the most power and has been amazingly consistent but as he relinquishes regions, to others on the Advocate this wanes. You can’t blame him for his power but I think it isn’t generally a positive thing to have one dominant voice.

Which vinous area is the NEXT BIG THING?

Piedmont should be, I am buying what I can now. In seriousness I think the number of new areas and countries is slowing which means everyone can just get on and do the best they can where they can, I think this is positive.

What would your work colleagues say about you?

That I am grumpy….I don’t disagree I am happily grumpy

Many thanks to Will Hargrove.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Diversity of Languedoc Roussillon

Whenever I describe the Languedoc Roussillon I always mention the diversity, the beauty, the countryside, the dynamism and generally the fact that the area is at the crossroads between many different influences. The nearby town of Narbonne is known as the crossroads historically as it was the meeting place for the Via Domitia and the Via Aquitania (which linked to the Atlantic coast via Toulouse and Bordeaux).
We live in the stunning countryside near the village of Minerve. The Canal du Midi is 8 km down the hill. The Mediterranean beaches are 35 minutes away at Gruissan. The Spanish border is less than 2 hours. Within 4 hours travel I could be in Avignon, Bordeaux, Barcelona, Carcassonne, Montpellier, Toulouse, Nimes, Perpignan or Lyon. Therefore this area has so many influences and outsiders (like my family and I) who invade the area often bring their cultures, their styles and their make up.
In the world of viticulture this cross over of style and influence can add to a massive diversity, whilst also negating any sense of true identity. Yes, the world is changing all the time, but sometimes the known known can be safe rather than a risk. The vineyards of Burgundy mainly work with one white varietal (Chardonnay) and one red grape variety (Pinot Noir). The northern Rhone is mainly Syrah, Bordeaux is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon in the Medoc and mainly Merlot in the Saint Emilion and Pomerol areas.
So it was quite a shock to see some weird and wonderful grape varieties that are planted in this area today. I took these photos at the local Cave CoOperative in Aigne. These are some of the grapes planted in the local area.

Have you ever heard of these grape varieties that add to the diversity of the Languedoc? Auban. Aramon,, Caladoc, Carignan Blanc, Chassan, Chenanson, Clairette B, Listan, Terret Blanc, Terret Gris and Terret Noir, Egiodolan, Marselan and Portan.

Next time you are having a glass of Sauvignon Blanc just remember that there are quite a few other grape varieties waiting to be explored.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Minervois Harvest 2011

Harvest time in the Minervois!!!

Everything is looking very good for the grape harvest for 2011. I was out in the vineyards at 7.30am on Sunday morning picking some delicious ripe Syrah grapes with my children and the team of 8 assorted pickers from the nearby town of Beziers.

We then had a go later on Sunday on the grape harvest machine with Eric Mari, the owner at Domaine La Prade Mari

According to Eric Mari this year is looking very good. The warmth in Spring time advanced the vegetative growth on the vines and the rain was even and constant, whilst the Summer was warm enough without being excessive. The conditions for harvest are very good. Fresh crisp early mornings followed by clear bright days.

We also taste the result of our hard work!!
Here young Max Wakes-Miller is tasting some Syrah grape juice (pre fermentation).

Monday, 12 September 2011

Chateau Falfas, Cotes de Bourg....a hidden gem in Bordeaux

Zooming around the big name Chateaux of Bordeaux one can easily forget that there are in fact over 8000 Chateaux producing wine across the 60 different Appellations. Many people recognize Bordeaux by the big names such as Chateau Margaux, Lafite, Latour and Haut Brion. But there are many hidden gems tucked away in the hinterland. The areas such as Moulis, Listrac, Castillon, Premieres Cotes, Blaye and Bourg can selectively offer great value for money wines.
That is not even mentioning the vast area of Entre Deux Mers, where there are rolling hills, forests, lakes and many different soils and aspects with contributions from the soils of the Dordogne river area as well as the Garonne river.

One of my favourite examples of quality winemaking from one of these less well known areas are the wines from Chateau Falfas in the Cotes de Bourg area. This magnificent Chateau was built in the seventeenth century. However winemaking and viticulture has taken place in the Bourg area since the 2nd Century AD. The Romans cultivated this land extensively as well as mining the tin and fishing. The Bourg Appellation lies about 30 minutes drive to the North of Bordeaux. It is on the East side of the Gironde river. In fact the Bourg area is very close to the very wide part of the Gironde where it splits up in to the Garonne and Dordogne river.

Chateau Falfas has 20 hectares of vineyards on these beautiful rolling hills close to the river. The vines planted are 55% merlot, 40 % Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc and 5% Malbec. The largest parcel of vines is near the Chateau, so it benefits from the magnificent bio diversity of wildlife which is lurking in the woodland behind the Chateau. The rolling hills also benefit from the active air from the river. The tides are changing every 6 hours, which adds movement and life to the area.
Veronique and John Cochran bought the property in 1988. They have been farming the land using biodynamic principles since that time. Unfortunately John Cochran passed away recently and Veronique is now ably running the wine estate. In fact Veronique has a stronger link to biodynamics as her father was Francois Bouchet, who was one of the main pioneers of biodynamic grape growing in France. He, in fact taught many of the most famous winemakers and wine estates the biodynamic philosophy.

Today the wines are exemplary. I tasted a selection last weekend at the Chateau with Veronique Cochran:

Les Demoiselles de Falfas 2010
More merlot soft fruits on the nose. A real explosion of red summer fruits and straberry jam. A delicious soft wine with lighter tannins for early drinking.

Chateau Falfas 2009 (just been bottled one month previously) An awesome fresh nose of dark dense Autumnal fruits. The 55% merlot is balanced with the 40% Cabernet and dash (5%) Malbec. This is a fitting wine for their main wine. A true identity of fresh clean fruit and balanced oak ageing. This wine will develop 10-15 years.

Le Chevalier de Falfas 2006 This extraordinary dense wine has 100% new oak and is mainly from the very oldest (70 years plus) Cabernet vines. The wine has a dark damson character and a toasted richness. Delicious with steak or cheese.

I am commercially linked to these wines, as I want to help Veronique develop more distribution in the UK. She exports to 20 different countries around the Wold and many prestigious Michelin starred restaurants list her wines.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Wine Forums or Fora!!

A new phenomenon in the last few years has been the plethora of wine fora (yes I studied Latin a long time ago!). These fora are opportunities to share wine information, to learn more, to make new friends and generally to open your mind and your palate to new flavors. Many of these fora have 'Off Lines' where you can share wines and be convivial. Most of the meetings/tastings are in good restaurants and the wine is matched to the food. I have only explored the web side of fora so far, but some of the 'Off Liners' look fantastic.
The internet is certainly a great window for this kind of information sharing. I must admit that some of these groups are more interesting than others. Sometimes there are more things in common with certain groups than others. And sometimes there are idiots, bigots, looneys and subversives lurking.....but I suppose that is a break of society in 2011.
The forum platform is often a side part of a main website. The journalist, winery or blogger wants to promote traffic to the main site and feels that conversations and discussions are helpful. However sometimes the forum can be more popular than the main site!
Here are a few websites that I occasionally contribute to:

Wine Pages is the website of the Scottish journalist Tom Cannavan. Tom was one of the original wine web journalists having started in 1995. Tom is regularly on Scottish television and writes mainly for UK based wine magazines. The UK Forum is part of Tom's website.

Cellar Tracker is the website of the American wine geek, Eric Levine. Eric is an ex Microsoft programmer who turned his passion of wine in to a phenomenal wine sharing, wine tracking, portfolio management website. There are over 2 million tasting notes on the site and there are over 160, ooo users of the site. The site has strong links with Jancis Robinson, Allen Meadows, James Halliday, John Gillman and Stephen Tanzer for professional tasting notes and reviews.
The forum aspect of the website is mainly American, but has characters who contribute globally.

WineBerserkers started up in 2009 after Robert Parker started charging people to access his website. This is an American based forum, with a lot of American content. It is rapidly growing and worth looking at.

Wine Lovers Page is Robin Garr's website and forum. Robin has been writing about wine for many many years. He is also an early adopter for having a wine website (since the early 1980's). His views and contributions are 'snob free'.

I know that Jancis Robinson has a forum for Purple Page subscribers (which I am not), but if there are any other forum, fora or wine discussion groups that you think are relevant and fun please write them in the comment section below.

I have even started a forum on Bella Wine Tours but as yet nobody has seen it!! And nobody has feel free to contribute in the conversation...

My only advice on these kind of sites is to be polite and be truthful. There will always be bigger, better, richer etc etc. There is no point deceiving or being rude.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Frenchman pays damages to ex wife for lack of sex.

Sometimes this wonderful country of France lives up to all its stereotypes. I saw this article in The Daily Telegraph this morning.
The French women certainly have a healthy appetite!!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

What is Wine???

A couple of weeks ago I sold a case of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2010 for €12600. The wine was sold 'En Primeur' ie it is still in a barrel and will not be bottled until next year, then transported to the customer.
In the same week I sold 56 cases (12 bottles in each case) of Domaine Moulin Gimie Merlot 2009 for €1545.60.(for 672 bottles) The wine is an excellent award winning merlot (Gold Medal in Paris for the last few vintages).
The one case of 12 bottles Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2010 costs eight times the pallet (56 cases) of very decent, ready to drink Merlot. They are both red wines, they are both created from quality vineyards and cared for by people who actually give a damn. Put it this way the Lafite Rothschild is 456 times more expensive than the Domaine Moulin Gimie Merlot.

I love wine and I love the wine trade. I have worked in and around the wine business in Australia, South Africa, Germany, Portugal and France for the last 24 years. But the gap between the rich and poor is becoming even larger. Perhaps this is a reflection on global society in 2011? Perhaps the top Chateaux in Bordeaux are being too greedy?

The reason for this post is that I live in the wild hilly countryside of the south of France. An area called the Minervois within the Languedoc Roussillon. We are close to the beautiful Mediterranean sea, we are surrounded by magnificent olive groves, vineyards and wild aromatic garrigue. We benefit from over 300 days of sunshine per year. We are very lucky.
But the vignerons and wine producers are finding it very tough here. There are constantly mergers between the large un viable state supported Co Operatives. Some of the smaller growers have to find a very specific niche to sell their wines. There are more and more patches of vineyards that have been abandoned, which is a great shame.

Whilst I live here in the Minervois with my family I seem to do more and more work in the Bordeaux region (a 4 hour drive). Bordeaux has the historical connections with Northern European trading markets. Bordeaux has the old advantage of the port (unfortunately no longer used for wine). Bordeaux has many many beautiful Chateaux that produce stunning wines that will age for 20,30 or even 50 + years. Bordeaux has the class and structure to support their existing market and to further develop this market.

I adore both areas, but it is increasingly evident where the money is!

Friday, 26 August 2011

Vendange 2011

Comme les caravanes sortent; les tracteurs arriveront!!
Le rythme du sud de France varient avec les saisons. Maintenant nous attendons le vendange des raisins autour de France (et Europe). Au moment le promis pour qualité est la. Mais nous dégusterons les vins après fermentation en printemps 2012 et nous ferons nos assemblages des cépages a fin d’année et en janvier.

J'ai la chance d'habiter dans les vignes du sud de France. Ce saison est beau. Nous espérons pour qualité et quantité!
Cette année nous avons profite du printemps très chaud et sec. Mai et Juin etaient chaud aussi. Peut etre Juillet etait un peu moins chaud et variable et nous avons quelques bon jours pendant Aout. Le vendange est tôt (peut être le plus tôt depuis 1893 a Bordeaux). Mais le plus tot ne devint forcement le meilleur qualite. Nous attendons les avis et les dégustations avec impatience.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Horseracing and Wine

My two big passions in life wine and horseracing (apart from my wife and children) are entwined, when in 2009 Libourne horseracing track stopped staging their 3 or 4 race meetings a year.
The Libourne Horseracing Society, led by Stephane d'Arfeuille made the historic decision to sell off the land for vineyards rather than for property development.
An interesting financial decision, as they could probably have got more money for property. The price per hectare for Pomerol vines is c £180-200,000.
When I visit Chateau Haut brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion in Pessac it really highlights the urban development in and around Bordeaux. These historic estates are now engulfed in the suburbs of Bordeaux. They have the University, Hospital and houses edging up to the vines. The obnly consolation is that the micro climate is supposed to be 1 degree warmer due to the city warmth.

Anyway back to Libourne race track....the area of land has been sold off to 6 different existing Chateaux. They have extended their holdings and it has increased the total Pomerol surface area to 793 hectares.
It will be interesting to taste the wines from this new part of the Pomerol appelation. I presume many years ago there were specific reasons for having a horse racing track on this land.
Maybe the vines will flourish due to the extra nutrients provided by the horses!!

There are more details in this article.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Vineyards of France: Test your knowledge.

I came across this rather frustrating but addictive game on the UK Wine Pages forum. Jamie Hutchison from The Sampler is the man to blame!!
Click on the link and test your luck/knowledge.
If you get a score of more than 70K you will feature on the scoreboard.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Kreydenweiss in the Rhone

Marc Kreydenweiss has been making some sensational wines in Alsace for many years. In fact his family has been working the land near Andlau for over 300 years. More recently he converted to biodynamics and embraced a respect for the earth.

In 1999 Marc sought a new challenge and he bought 14 hectares of vines in the southern part of the Rhone valley, just near Nimes.

Since then Marc Kreydenweiss has rebuilt the winery and expanded the vineyard to 19 hectares. He has also converted this estate to biodynamic principles of viticulture and winemaking.

The soils around the estate are a deep dark red, with rich iron content(ferrugenous), which adds an extra dimension of minerality to the wines. Marc is very fortunate to have inherited some amazing old vines at the estate. He works these 100 year old vines very carefully, as they contribute incredible depth and complexity to the ‘Perrieres’ blend as well as to the special ‘Ka’ wine.

Marc Kreydenweiss uses very little new oak barrels for his wines. He wants the fresh, bright, elegant fruit to express itself. However he uses a few older oak barrels just to enrichen the wines. The old barrels are in fact from top quality producers (Domaine Leroy in Burgundy and Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf in Bordeaux)

Marc also has a small 2 hectare plot of vines in the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation. He adores this land, as it was previously only worked organically, so the land has never been treated by pesticides or heavy spraying. This is the perfect opportunity to create some fantastic wines.


Kreydenweiss ‘Perrieres’ 2008 approx UK retail = £12.75

A blend of 25% each of Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Mourvedre.

Kreydenweiss‘Ansata’ 2007 £15.75

100% Syrah

Kreydenweiss‘Ka’ 2009 £29.00

100% old vine Carignan’

Kreydenweiss Chateauneuf du Pape 2007 £38.00

When I tasted these wines in January in the south of France I was amazed at the quality. I visited the estate and re tasted the wines as well as various barrel samples. The wines have an elegance and a lifted purity on the fruit. Whether this has come from the skills of a winemaker who has been making fabulous white wines in Alsace or whether it is the vineyard management and the biodynamics philosophy. These wines are exceptional.