This problem - if such it is - relates to a chemical which is widely used in the dairy industry in tiny quantities as a mould suppressant on cheese. Under EU rules because natamycin is not permitted in wine it is therefore illegal. (It is not legal in winemaking in Argentina either!) A new German system of analysis first spotted it and ever since Argentinean shipments have been delayed trying to get the only laboratory in Argentina with the capability of such analysis to certify that there is no natamycin in the wine... The most likely source of contamination is, it seems, oak chips where small quantities may have been used by a supplier to ensure the chips remain biologically 'clean'. Meanwhile all Argentinean wines destined for the EU are subject to lengthy shipping delays. Hence please understand that our stock levels do not currently accord well with demand...
Champagne Heidseick Monopole has, it is alleged, complained to the tiny Old Dairy brewery in Kent about an infringement of the trade mark 'Red Top' - which seems an entirely appropriate name for a beer from an old dairy, yet also seems to indicate a remarkable lack of confidence by the Champagne company in their own product. Is it really something that would get confused with beer? It is true that the champagne is now part of the Remy Cointreau empire, but even so surely noone is going to confuse Champagne Charlie - or are they?
Some encouraging news from Chile
Despite continuing aftershocks - though of reducing intensity - Chilean wineries are giving their full attention to the 2010 harvest. Many point out that, as the main event occurred at the weekend and with fermentation tanks already standing empty and ready to receive the new vintage, damage both to personnel and equipment has been less and recovery has been easier than was first feared. It seems that it is probably the infrastructure of roads and services - and housing in the worst affected areas - that will take longest to recover.
A fino moment
We wonder if it is the start of a trend with the UK's first sherry bar opening this month. Certainly sherry sales do not seem to be as buoyant as we are always told they are. Yet it seems somehow appropriate that this sherry bar should be opening in - Islington.
South Africa Moves up
For the twelve month period ended 23 January this year. AC Nielsen the marketing research agency shows South African wine sales grew by 20% in volume to 12.27 million 9-litre-cases. In contrast, French sales fell by 12% to 12.266 million 9-litre-cases. So South Africa has moved to third in the UK supply league table, after the USA and Italy. Although France appears still to retain its leadership in the on trade here too they are feeling the pressure.
The Portuguese cork industry is branching out in a bid to find new markets for its declining cork stopper business, where the screwcap has made painful inroads. Of course there will probably always be a place for a good unblemished long cork in a bottle of vintage Port or Claret, which is designed to mature in the bottle. But most wine is consumed in the month after purchase and in this market the cork share is only about 70% (down from over 90%). The industry needs to consider the long term - the cork bark is first harvested when the tree is about 20 years old and then again about every 10 years for the next two centuries. The future plan is to make aircraft wings out of carbon fibre and cork instead of PVC, whilst resistance to fire (and oil prices) will be used to advantage inside the aircraft too. But they may have some unexpected competition in that land of the screwcap: Australia is considering planting the Quercus Subur to exploit its resistance to bushfires. At least the Portuguese know they have to give a minimum of 20 years notice...
Scottish Wine at last?
A vineyard has been planted in Perth and is due to give its first vintage in 2010. Jokes about global warming seem inappropriate this year but as anyone who has spent a winter in Burgundy will know, it's not the winter but the summer that's important. So here's to a blistering Perthshire 2010 vintage!
Brand New Red Bicyclette
What is it with bicycles? Various wineries and co-ops in the South of France are being prosecuted by the French authorities for selling cheap Pinot Noir, that wasn't, to Gallo for its 'Red Bicyclette' brand. One might have thought Gallo should have been able to smell and taste the difference but, as one wag has already pointed out, probably the overwhelming aroma was that of a nice fat, high margin...
Make Mine A Swimming Pool - continued
Making derogatory remarks about lager has - of course - prompted a 'friend' to point out that you can bathe in red wine too. At Kanagawa in Japan there is a health resort where bathing in red wine is said to be a rejuvenation treatment for the body. Well perhaps, but the last time this writer so much as trod grapes for half an hour it took two months for the legs to tone down from bright pink to pallid white. If it had been total immersion there would need to be a racial type created. Closer inspection of the spa does reveal - doubtless to the relief of passport authorities everywhere - that there is quite a lot of water with it - so it is more of a dark rosé colour. Just enough probably to put you in the pink..
The Tractor Factor in New Zealand
Grove Mill, the world's first Carbon Zero winery, has modified a tractor to run on vine prunings, which as a tractor is often going six hours a day they consider well worth the cost. Although we had visions of this new tractor looking rather like Stephenson's rocket it turns out that the vine prunings undergo gasification first and the result can then be used as fuel. But the real pity is that those steaks grilled over the vine cuttings will loose that unique tangy flavour that is so delicious... Still, perhaps that's progress, perhaps not.
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...
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!
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.
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!
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!
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 happen, Southern Britain is likely to be a major beneficiary of this particular bit of climate change...
Record price for Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon
It is true that we do not unfortunately have stocks of Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1965 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!
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 attractive 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 Carmenère" says the university. Hear, hear - a clone but not cloned!
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 working on the complete picture!
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 such as 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%, in Italy - 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, because French consumption is declining..?
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..
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...
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.
From Prohibition to McMerlot in less than 80 years
In what one American wag has christened the arrival of the McMerlot a 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?
Please contain your excitement...
On the 1st August 2009 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 alright 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!
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...
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 not know too much about Bolivian Wine either but it is apparently much appreciated in the Czech Republic. No wonder..