Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Make Mine A Swimming Pool

Word reaches us from Starkenberg in Austria that a health spa is offering a recuperative break where the spa's bathing pools are filled up with - er beer. Apparently bathing in beer has health benefits such as improving skin tone and blood circulation. Pure prejudice leads us to suggest that this must be the proper use for lager and is for certain miles better than drinking the stuff...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

PET Beaujolais Nouveau in Japan

Japan has for some years now been Beaujolais Nouveau's largest market but recessionary pressure and declining sales has led to what the trade will doubtless call 'packaging innovation'. Many retailers are to sell Nouveau in PET plastic bottles, which are both cheaper and -allegedly- more environmentally friendly than glass. It is certainly true that nobody is looking to buy Beaujolais Nouveau to 'lay down' so part of the objection to plastic bottles is immediately overcome. As the largest Burgundy negociant supplied the USA with Beaujolais Nouveau in plastic last year, we are left wondering whether this light, fruity and easy to appreciate wine might be the forerunner for a major packaging change for other wines. If Australia and New Zealand can champion the screw- cap perhaps France will be the PET champion? At least if we are selling our Beaujolais Nouveau next year in PET you'll know they are!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Wine (not just Guinness) is good for you

At the World Wine Symposium in Italy Jean-Robert Pitte, ex President of the Sorbonne University, lamented the fact that the French state did not separate alcohol from wine. That sounds rather like being able to get alcohol out of the wine but being unable to get the wine out of alcohol. This is entirely logical and nor should they be separate. Where he does have more force is when he pointed out that L'Association Nationale de Protection contre l'Alcool et les Addictions (French quangos seem to have even longer names than British ones) has an annual budget of 66m Euros and 1,400 employees! What on earth do they all do? We trust they don't drink at lunchtime.. Yet Dr NK Yong, a Singapore wine enthusiast, seems rather to hope they do - "anyone who tells you wine is not good for you is lying. If the politicians don't understand this, you should change the politicians." This has rather more impact when you realise that Dr Yong is 80 years young.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

White wine attacks tooth enamel shock

We were unsurprised to discover that the acidity in wine is bad for tooth enamel and the acidity in white wine is generally higher than red. According to the German University study that made this earth shattering discovery, eating cheese with the wine helps (full of calcium - like our teeth). The British Dental Association has replied that "If you're going to have a glass of wine do so with your meal and leave a break of at least 30 minutes afterwards before you brush your teeth." What they don't mention is that if you brush your teeth before drinking the wine you might never drink wine again...Please don't try this at home!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Paternoster Lift

This lovely phrase (referring to one of those lifts that goes on continuously without ever actually stopping at a floor) has been used by a report in the American 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences' to describe the way the bubbles in Champagne act as a flavour delivery system! It is not unique to Champagne but also found in 'good' - for which read bottle fermented - sparkling wine. By using mass spectometry it was discovered that the aromatic compounds were present by a factor of up to 30 times more in the bubbles rather than the wine. Their continuous rising and bursting delivers the flavour. (Shades of "every bubble has passed its fizzical" which was an advertising campaign of old for a soft drink.)

However, to anyone who has ever tasted still 'Champagne' before it passes through its bottle fermentation this will certainly come as no surprise. Without the improvement brought about by secondary fermentation it is doubtful if it would be drunk at all!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Some like it hot

French wine lovers - and Greenpeace in particular (though it is unlikely many of us had them marked down in this category) are warning that global warming may see off the wines of Meursault, Montrachet and Volnay. If global warming continues at is current rate the temperature will be six degrees warmer on average by the end of the century. Already between 1996 and 2008 the time taken for grapes to mature in Burgundy has reduced by ten from fifty to forty days. This is distinctly serious for such a prestigious area, where the length of time taken to fruit maturity is very important for finesse and complexity. France loses this at its peril! No wonder a group of chefs, sommeliers and winemakers wrote to 'Le Monde' in August to insist that Nicolas Sarkosy push for a strong agreement on climate change. He would probably be all the more motivated if they were to mention that, should it come to pass, Southern Britain is likely to be a major beneficiary of this particular bit of climate change...

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Record price for Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon

It is true that we do not unfortunately have stocks of Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon1965 and 1967, which achieved record prices at the recent South African Nederberg wine auction, but we do have stocks of a rather later but almost as delicious 2004 vintage at just £7.29 a bottle!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Bring on the Clones

Carmenère is the grape that may well have originated in the Médoc. After the phylloxera outbreak the 1880s it was not replanted. Chile however had been supplied with vines earlier in the century and had no phylloxera problem (indeed still doesn't) and is now the home of far and away the largest quantities of Carmenère vines, such that it is now considered a (so called) signature variety for the country. Even so it is remarkable how it can add an attracrive depth to a Cabernet Sauvignon as in the Terra Mater version. Perhaps this should be unsurprising in view of its Médoc heritage!
With a view to improve quality - some single variety Carmenères can be a bit 'grassy' or 'herbaceous' the Chilean government is funding the University of Talca to try and discover the best clone. But again the attitude is very wise "We don't want to completely lose the green or peppery character, otherwise it won't be Carmenere" says the university. Hear, hear - a clone but not cloned!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Chilean Sustainability

The University of Talca in Chile is attempting to put forward a programme for sustainability, which is "more than organics". Although Chile is a country admirably suited to organic viticulture, being protected from pests and pestilence by both the Pacific Ocean to the West and the Andes mountains to the East it is admirable that there is a realisation that producing organically grown grapes can count for very little, particularly if, say, the vineyard contributes to soil erosion, intrusive irrigation or large energy use. Hats off to the Chileans for some good work on the complete picture!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Seriously folks..

A professor of oceanography and statistics (an odd combo - but at least the second is relevant) who also happens to own a small winery in California's Humboldt County decided to study wine competitions after seeing his own wines win in some events and yet get no awards in others. He has upset many by discovering that this alarming inconsisitency in the way his own wines were rated was the norm. His suggestion that the competitions were pretty self serving has not gone down well in the sunshine state!
It is interesting to compare with the UK's own International Wine Challenge, where not only is it the world's biggest competition but anecdotally is fairly consistent. The stupidity is that the long embargo on the results often means that the wine has changed considerably since it was judged and in one or two cases sold out! The add- ons of Wine Merchant of the Year are though similarly self serving, indeed companies propose themselves in true unbiased fashion! The panoply of competitions is however likely to be much enhanced if the BMA get their way for a ban on alcohol advertising. This would be one of the minor drawbacks of what would otherwise be a very good thing. Alcohol probably needs to be made more serious..

France back as top dog

It seems that France after faltering last year, is set to be the world's number one wine producer again. Spain's production is well down this year, by 4%, Italy's - last year's top producer - production will be little changed whilst France's production is scheduled to increase by 12%. According to a study by the Milan based Italian Wines Union, France is due to produce 48.1 million hectolitres of wine. Can the world keep up?

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Gloomy View from Australia

No this is not a recessionary new wine from Australia, but a summary of the economic outlook given by Fosters, the brewer that now owns the famous Australian names of Wolf Blass and Penfolds. It has announced that its global wine volumes are down 5%. It is scrapping 37 wine brands and disposing of 36 vineyards. It also has started selling its vineyards in California. The bright spot? Beer sales are strong... Penfolds Grange drinkers may be pleased that more potential investment is on its way from beer drinkers' profits..

Saturday, 22 August 2009

You heard it here first..

Well actually no - we are indebted to 'The Guardian' for bringing this to our notice. Italian banks are likely to take wine as collateral for loans. And it is not as crazy as it at first sounds because they won't be accepting cases and cases of plonk de plonks so you can max out on the holiday money, but good wine that matures and improves. So it should be perfectly safe as long as they ensure they get repayment before it has turned into vinegar. Could put a whole new slant on the idea of taking the bank manager for a drink...

Friday, 21 August 2009

Drinking not smoking..

News reaches us from Canada's Niagara that old kilns once used for drying tobacco leaves are to be used by a winery to dry grapes so they can make their own version of Amarone - but not by drying the grapes over a couple of months or longer but just a fortnight! More intriguingly they are going to use another old kiln to blast the harvested grapes with humidity and botrytis cinerea, which is the mould responsible for the sweet concentration of Sauternes for example. But in European vineyards the mould attacks the grapes on the vine and they are late picked so the juice is highly concentrated. Although it will be an intriguing trial, factory kiln production is unlikely to be any great threat to Château Yqem just yet...

Drinking not smoking..

News reaches us from Canada's Niagara that old kilns once used for drying tobacco leaves are to be used by a winery to dry grapes so they can make their own version of Amarone - but not by drying the grapes over a couple of months or longer but just a fortnight! More intriguingly they are going to use another old kiln to blast the harvested grapes with humidity and botrytis cinerea, which is the mould responsible for the sweet concentration of Sauternes for example. But in European vineyards the mould attacks the grapes on the vine and they are late picked so the juice is highly concentrated. Although it will be an intriguing trial, factory kiln production is unlikely to be any great threat to Château Yqem just yet...

New Zealand feeling the squeeze

Gisborne grape growers are facing difficult times as Pernod Ricard, the French drinks conglomerate, seems to have cut back its grape requirements by as much as 25%. This is predominantly destined for its Montana label, New Zealand's biggest (but not its best) wine producer. Constellation - another conglomerate, this time American- has not helped by following a similar course for its Nobilo label. Chardonnay is the predominant grape of the area and the one most out of favour with the consumer now touched by the so called ABC view (Anything But Chardonnay). Some producers are vowing to go back to growing avocados... Certainly fashion and farming are uneasy bedfellows and probably it is also prudent to beware of exclusive supply to enormous conglomerate wine companies.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

From Prohibition to McMerlot in less than 80 years

In what one American wag has christened the arrival of the McMerlot one fast food chain (not in fact that one) in North America has decided to sell wine with its burgers - in order to move up into "fast food premium" according to their spokesman. Whatever that means. Still don't they know that if there really is beef in those burgers McCabernet McSauvignon is likely to be a better choice?

Monday, 10 August 2009

Why We - along with an increasing number- no longer accept Maestro over the Internet

We can now take Maestro cards over the phone but not over the internet. Maestro will only now authorise an internet transaction undertaken with something called 3d secure, which is effectively yet another password to remember, which has certain minimum requirements – something like must be 10 digits, include at least two numbers, four capitals and four lower case letters and so it goes on...Such that it is an instantly forgettable password. (Apparently Google has – interestingly - recently stopped accepting Maestro.) This 'system' allegedly allows greater protection but it is ill conceived; if your computer is compromised then you are just as likely to have your 3d secure password stolen as you are to lose the rest of the card details. Then beware! you have a hell of a job telling the card issuer that it was not you who ‘authorised’ that transaction. It is also the case that most, if not all, remaining British Maestro cards will be rebranded within the next couple of years.

So if you prefer to keep using Maestro you’ll need to order by phone Free during office hours 0500 708 007.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Please Contain your excitement...

On the 1st August the EU introduced new Wine Regulations. Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée(AOC or AC) becomes AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protegée) and Vin de Pays wines, often referred to as Country Wines, will now be known as IGP (Indication Géographique Protegée). So that's allright then. At least any wine is now, legally, able to put its constituent grape varieties on its label, which is how most of us start to consider the style of wine that is likely to appeal to us. This should certainly help Europe to compete a little more easily against the New World. Money to subsidise distillation will now also be phased out to encourage wine producers to be more market orientated. However this writer laments that the addition of sucrose (one lump or two?) has at the last minute been permitted - concentrated grape must would be much more honest!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

When is a Burgundy not a Burgundy?

A recent Wine & Spirit Association survey has found that most UK wine consumers think that, whilst the country of origin is probably of consequence, region is unimportant. It is intriguing in this context to see that the Burgundians are locked in dispute with their Beaujolais colleagues further South, who are planting Chardonnay apace. Beaujolais has always been counted as part of Burgundy even though their red grape is Gamay rather than Pinot Noir. But a mature Beaujolais Cru such as Moulin à Vent is often indistinguishable from mature Pinot Noir from further North. Yet it is the Chardonnay - the same white grape that is grown throughout Burgundy that is really causing the problem. The Burgundy winemakers' association considers that the Beaujolais producers should be calling all this production Beaujolais Blanc, whereas in fact it has the right to be called Bourgogne Blanc. They consider it is not Burgundy.. Surely their time would be better spent on ensuring the quality was indistinguishable from the posher stuff further North. But on second thoughts this is probably what is worrying them...

Times Still Hard

The enormous wine group 'Constellation' has announced that, having failed to sell it, it is to close one of Australia's oldest wineries, Leasingham in the Clare Valley. Meanwhile the French think production will be down 600,000 hectolitres in the Languedoc Roussillon and Bordeaux sales are declining in both value and volume. South America seems to be surviving better though in Chile some US buyers are rumoured to be looking over one or two wineries that have fallen on hard times, but at least Argentinean wines are up all round!

The Real Thing

Apparently a consignment of Bodegas Kohlberg wine from Bolivia has been found to offer rather more than was expected. The Bulgarian authorities have discovered that over 90% of all bottles contained just liquid cocaine. We did no know too much about Bolivian Wine either but it is apparently much appreciated in the Czech Republic. No wonder..

Friday, 10 July 2009

Contemporary Beverage Closure Anyone?

This is the new Zork (that's not a Cork -geddit?) that in similar form already closes cheap still wine in America and Australia but is much hyped as the next big thing - sorry the next 'contemporary beverage closure' for sparkling wine. It is basically a plastic stopper which 'unzips' to become free and which has a button on the top that you can reseal your bottle of fizz - very similar to newer Champagne 'savers'. The advantage is that this stopper does it all in one. It hails from Australia and they have high hopes of setting up European production 'within months'. It has, I think they say, the spin of the screwcap with the pop of the cork. That's certainly some spin - and whilst Champagne is unlikely to take the plunge (as it were) Prosecco and Sekt well might.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

American Taste

It is interesting to see that the USA's best selling Sauvignon Blanc is no longer Californian but the Constellation owned 'Nobilo'. Designed by the Marketing Department at Constellation especially for US tastes it is sealed a cork. That is what Americans prefer. Is this the only NZ white wine to be still using corks?? Apparently it also comes in a white glass bottle because the US doesn't like green.(And we thought that was just George Bush - remember him?) The ruder amoung us would say that 'Nobilo' also has to be the blandest NZ Sauvignon Blanc that was ever produced. Still we are all different. But it is a surprise to learn just how different!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Glass Case

Penfolds have revealed that they are undertaking trials of glass stoppers for their flagship wine 'Grange'. Although of the opinion that cork "cannot be beaten" except for the tricky problem of cork taint, it had originally been thought Penfolds would opt for screwcap. Certainly whilst they have bottled a proportion of their wine for many years under screwcap, it is clear that they have come to the conclusion that this closure is not ideal for the proper ageing of the wine particularly for export (from the days when we were the UK importers, wine that does not leave the Grange cellars was considered to show no significant difference whether closed with cork or screwcap!)
This glass stopper is not the vini-lok (pictured) but one of their own design which is made without a silicone seal but entirely of glass - complete with a microscopic weave to mimic the cork's ability to allow the ingress of tiny amounts of oxygen over a long period. As glass is inert this is the holy grail for wine stoppers...It remains to be seen whether Penfolds' new owners, Fosters, a brewery, will further finance this development!

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Message From the Director of Consumption

No we didn't know there was one either - but the EU has everything! One Robert Madelin, who was holding a conference at this year's Vinexpo wine fair in Bordeaux. He has at least said there are no plans for an alcohol free Europe (which if he had had it would probably not have been the right place to announce it!) He naturally wants member states to be more active in their anti-alcohol strategies, but we feel they are pretty over-active already. Surely the elephant in the room - though admittedly not in France where the loi Évin is pretty strict - is that throughout most of Europe there is little or no control on advertising.. We'd be relaxed about a loi Évin for the EU. Must have a word with the Director of Consumption...

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Australia loses some old friends

Under a recent agreement with the EU Australia has undertaken to phase out the use of some interesting names: Burgundy, White Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Manzanilla, Marsala, Moselle, Port, Sauternes, Sherry, Spatlese and Tokay amoung them. No mention of Kanga Rouge, but apparently Australian Sherry (as was) will now be called "apera" (short for aperitif in case you were wondering as we were..ironic really that apéritif is a French word)while Vintage Tawny and Ruby substitute, simply enough, for Port. Australian Tokay however becomes "topaque" - for a reason we can only consider, well, opaque. Ironically again these regulations come in just as the first Australian investment arrives in the original Hungarian town of Tokaji. It will be interesting to see what other replacement names are chosen. Any suggestions?

Vodka Europe Going Down

It used to be said that there were three Europes: Wine Europe, Beer Europe and Vodka Europe. Now we learn that wine sales in Poland, previously reckoned to be a veritable anchor of Vodka Europe, increased last year by 15% by volume and the majority is red wine from the New World - particularly Chile. It is reckoned by some to be a purely urban phenominon, but that is where the majority of the population live anyway..Down the hatch takes on a rather different meaning..

Thursday, 18 June 2009

American Worries

We understand there has been an article in the New York Times recently pouring scorn on the idea that moderate drinking may be quite good for you. The trouble is, they say, that there is no cause and effect - noone can say categorically that a little drink is good for you (though Guinness famously was!) - only that moderate imbibing is what healthy people happen to do.

This may be true, though the 'Mediterranean diet' would seem to make you more healthy when you move there, but of course it may just be that looking at the sea is good for you...

For us at WineDrop we tend to feel that there is no truth in the idea that Hamburger restaurants' 'supersize me' makes you fat. It is just that fat people tend to want to eat a lot...

Could it be that America's Puritan heritage is getting the better of them? It is true too that some alcohol companies have paid for scientific research which seems to come out in favour of 'a little alcohol', but surely if the piper were properly calling the tune they would have come out in favour of 'an awful lot'? When, however, you get down to the biochemistry of Dr Roger Corder of Queen Mary College London, and his research that the procyanidins present in grapes (particularly those varieties in Gascony and Sardinia which undergo long fermentations) are the most active polyphenols limiting the production of a protein that causes constriction of the arteries, there is less to argue about.

It doesn't prove that alcohol doesn't do you harm but it does prove that a constituent of an alcoholic beverage does you good! For us - net effect: happiness! Or as the Aussies would say "No worries".

Monday, 15 June 2009

Champagne Maestro stopper

First unveiled at the recent London Wine Trade Fair this invention is really a crown cork (though the French nomenclature 'capsule couronne' just sounds so much more refined!) with a built in opener. This is all camouflaged with a plastic protective cap or 'dome' all surrounded by foil (again the French 'coiffe' is more prestigious) to finish and look as much like the traditional shape as possible. Its particular advantage is alleged to be that it is much easier to open than a traditional cork and was especially convenient to women (perhaps this had something to do with the fact that the first taker was Champagne Duval Leroy, which happens to be run by Carol of that ilk). Comparisons with opening a beer bottle are entirely correct but little mentioned. Unless this is behind the reason it is currently not allowed to be sold - seemingly because the stopper doesn't have 'Champagne' written on it!

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Australian faults versus French pleasure

It is interesting that The Australian Wine Research Institute's Advanced Wine Assessment Course is getting an airing at the upcoming Australia G'Day celebration. 'The course covers how to detect wine taints, and a number of wine flights are tasted to help guests build their tasting consistency in a judging context.' Should be interesting to attend - yet and yet there is a nagging fear that the seeking out of faults is what Australian judges do. Where as the French in a more latinate fashion seek out just what gives them pleasure.

Perhaps it is all a symptom of what Peter Sichel used to say, "Australian wines are made for competitions; French wines are made for food."

Anyone attending the course please tell us...

Friday, 12 June 2009

Wine Sales Going Down - Taxes Going Up

In 2008 duty on wine increased by 17%, meaning the British are now among the most heavily taxed wine drinkers in Europe. The wine market also declined by 2% - a remarkably resilient performance in the circumstances..Perhaps as a result of it being one of the few drinks categories where people tend to mature into it when they might have been in the five pints of lager or luminous green alcopop category in their youths. And when people get into wine they tend to remain into it for life (according to a recent report by Mintel). Who said things don't ever get better?

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Rosé by another method

The plan by the EU to facilitate an easier response to competion with the New World by allowing Rosé wine to be made by blending Red and white wines together has been withdrawn. This follows heavy lobbying from parts of France and Italy - rather ironic really in that Champagne Rosé is normally made by this system. But although it was permissive rather than obligatory, it was felt by some producers that it devalued rosé wines in general. As Champagne is easily the most expensive rosé on the market we had hoped that some devaluation might be no bad thing...

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Champagne news

Champagne exports are rumoured to be down 40% of late and Champagne sales in France itself are certainly down 9% even though what the Champenois did manage to sell - poor things - was at a higher price than the previous year. What is surprising it that the French market for imported sparkling wine increased by 12% and these wines now represent almost 4% of the entire French Sparkling wine market (including Champagne). Britain still remains Champagne's most important export market but things are not easy here either as is clearly reflected in Bollinger's 'promotion', which seems to have a surprising degree of permanence and which we are already reflecting!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Changing face of France

When the Brits first joined the EU it used to be said that the most noticeable effect was that the French were drinking more beer and the Brits more wine. Now we learn that not only are French wine exports down by an average of 8% but The French are drinking less and less wine. Consumption seems to be going the way of those other stereotypes - the stripey top and the string of onions. Annual consumption per head has declined from the giddy heights of 120 Litres per year in the 1960s to 47 Litres in 2007 and only 43 Litres in 2008 - with the younger generation drinking least!
The major success story for everyday French wine of recent times is a wine which uses reverse osmosis (broadly filtering - to you and me) to reduce its heady Languedoc strength of 13% down to a more user friendly 9%. English wine producers of course have the opposite problem - but perhaps there is an untapped export market accross the Channel? In any case English Sparkling wine , made albeit to a French recipe is generally now considered world class. Well that is Europeanisation for you...

Friday, 5 June 2009