Tuesday, June 26, 2012


On the 4th June, BBC Radio 4 did a section on the London International Wine fare discussing the latest market trends.

The major talking points were low-alcohol wines and emerging wine countries such as Canada, Mexico, Croatia and Lithuania. Incidentally Canada is number 32 on the world's list of total wine output. Croatian wine succeeded by getting Marks and Spencer's to stock it's Pilato Malvazija Istarska. Another country to 'up' it's game in the wine market is Georgia, although there is some debate as to whether this is an emerging wine producer. Evidence says that wine producing in the country goes back 8,000 years. Georgians use a Qvevri to produce wine, which is a giant clay, egg-shaped pod which is inserted into the ground. Using red or white, the grapes are placed into the Qvevri (see image below) with absolutely everything included (the pip, stalk, skin, the lot) to give a more natural wine taste. A hole is then dug out and the Qvevri is then placed into the ground.

There has been this small increase in the amount of wine with a lower ABV (alcohol by volume) content, which was partially spurred by the increased duty on wine (with a higher alcohol content). CJ and PK authors of the @SedimentBlog were at the London  International Wine Fair and weren't too keen on this notion of having lower ABV wines (quoted on BBC Radio 4). Paul Keer (the PK in CJ) believed that the trend still remained for full bodied reds, thanks to American critics such as Robert Parker:

"There's been a tremendous fashion for much more full-bodied red wines over the last few years, partly driven by the American critics. A lot of the world's been trying to produce this much richer and more powerful red wine"

Mascarto from Australia is a notable low alcohol wine label. His partner Charles Jennings wasn't overly keen on wines with a lower ABV. He felt that Brits shouldn't have anxieties over the alcohol content in wines.

"I think concentrating on the amount of alcohol in a wine makes me nervous. I think it prays on a basic anxiety that the British have about drinking "...this is a sort of fake way of saying you can carry on 'tippling' but it's not going to be so bad for you. It's not addressing any larger issues about why we drink wine, and I think to highlight it in this way really points out the problem rather than providing much of a drinkable solution"

These emerging wine countries may well be on the horizon, but a traditionalist would still argue that the established French wines of the Bordeuax and Burgundy still acquire much more prestige, and can grow in value over time. There is little evidence to suggest that wine purchased from these emerging countries provides significant returns. Much of this demand recently has been fueled by India where wine consumption is expected to reach 14.7 million litres by the end of 2012 according to the Associated Chamber if Commerce and Industry of India - registering a growth of 35 per cent over the last 4 years! India has become the 10th largest growth nation for wine consumption. France retains it's title for world's leading exporter of wine, ahead of Italy and Spain having delivered consignments abroad worth $9.731 billion (source: indianwine.com/blogs). This surge in demand from India is why French wine still remains attractive to sellers. 

Building on from the emergence of new wine producers, Chris Jennings also said that he was concerned British supermarkets were overwhelming consumers with choice.

"The shear profusion of wines available from so many different countries & so many different takes on wine... "then feeds back to the consumer's experience which becomes just a muddle. Supermarkets will tend to say 'well we have this wide variety on offer because it educates people, they can learn more' but they don't! The way you teach somebody is not to deluge them with potential information and difficult choices (which they are not necessarily able to make), but to simplify things. There should be fewer wines in the supermarket, not more!

Choice at the supermarket does have it's pitfalls, particularly if consumers aren't informed enough to make a best decision. Paul Keer added, "I'm bewildered [by the wine fair] there's so much on offer here. When I go to buy a chicken I like to have 3 to choose from , when I go to buy wine I'm now presented with 300 [at my local supermarket], it's completely bewildering."


Champagne is not just seen as a drink for special occasions but as an asset.

Fine art, wine and even stamps are often featured in the collections of wealthy clientele all over the world, and can grow in value over time - but what about Champagne?

Demand for Champagne has rocketed, helped by the Diamond Jubilee and anticipation of the London 2012 Olympics. Buyers are recently favouring big brands, such as Armand de Brignac, and even celebrities such as Jay-Z and city traders are getting in on the act. Some use it to toast a good day at the office, others choose to collect it and hope for a return on their initial purchase. Enquiries have reached record levels among other brokers, with more and more seeing it as an attractive asset. The price of King Brut '96 has jumped to £2,200 in the past 5 years - an increase of nearly 50 per cent (source: The Independent, June 12th 2012)! Furthermore one bottle of a rare Champagne vintage, Dom Perignon Rose 1959 fetched $84,700 (£54,200) at auction. 

The country's oldest wine merchant recently stated on FTadvisor.com that "Sales of vintage and deluxe Champagnes are often the first to take a dive in tough times but also the first to make a recovery. The fact we've seen an increase in sales [in 2011] after a drop [in 2010] may indicate that there could be more to celebrate in 2012 than the economic pundits would have us believe. 

"People have been spending more and this is partly due to a number of our discerning customers appreciating the quality of the 2002 vintage which many top Champagne houses have released over the past year or so.

"Many customers have been wooed by this extraordinary vintage from the big houses such as Dom Pérignon and Bollinger to the lesser-known but increasingly fashionable growers such as Pierre Peters, Paul Bara and R&L Legras."

English sparkling wine and Cava might be on the horizon, but Champagne is still seen as the ultimate 'special-occasion drink' and one which is certainly used to make bold statements. R 'n' B singer Chris Brown even sent his ex-flame Rihanna a bottle when their paths crossed in a New York nightclub (NY Daily News, 12th June 2012). 

Like many collectibles, you have to choose wisely, do your research and select prestigious brands that are in short supply. In the wine market, Chateau Latour's recent announcement that it will not offer en primeur prices from 2013 will have interesting long term investment implications (source: FTadvisor.com 25th June 2012). The Chateau may drift out of the spotlight as a result of this but on the other hand it might gain greater prestige from being less accessible. 

The same too can also been said of Champagne, unlike Cava it's Spanish equivalent, certain brands of Champagne still hold their prestige because they follow the same age old French tradition: short supply, high demand. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012



A recent article in the Financial Times (19th July 2012) will come as a relief to many buyers and sellers of fine wine. The last 12 months have been a bit of a whirl wind in the fine wine market; the Greek debt crisis, recession and rising unemployment across Europe have played their part but more significantly, there were concerns that first growth prices had been slightly over-valued. The Liv-Ex 100 index was reported to have risen by a staggering 76 per cent.

Much of this price rise was caused by increased demand from Chinese investors, headed by Chateau Lafite. However, the Chinese economy suffered a blimp half way through 2011 leading to a fall in demand. Many analysts concluded that many wines were being over-priced. Many markets such as, Hong Kong, had even reached saturation point and were put off buying any more. The 2010 en primeur campaign did not help Bordeaux as it had been mismanaged and grossly over priced. This fuelled resentment amongst investors and collectors, who simply did want to pay too much for wine that hadn’t even left the barrel. Lafite was hit hard, followed by Latour, Haut-Brion, Margeaux and Mouton who were hit modestly.

But here’s the good news, merchants in the market learnt from the mistakes made in 2008 and didn’t rush into selling off their stock. Wine does after all, increase in value once it is matured. Many merchants held onto their stock and were prepared to weather the storm until the market conditions improved. Rather than under-cutting their prices merchants opted for ‘price-correction’, which meant giving their stock a more realist price. Whilst this price correction proved effective in preventing the kind of panic-stricken mass selling witnessed in 2008, it was nonetheless serious and prolonged. In the last six months of 2011, the Liv-Ex fell 21.5%, finishing the year on 286 points, a 15% reduction on last year.

But every cloud has a silver lining, and some second growth Chateaux actually benefited from the price undercuts, these included: Pontet-Canet, Beychevelle, Lynch-Bages and Pichon Baron.  During the same period in 2011, demand for ultra-fine Burgundy shot up. One variety, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), along with de Vogue, Leflaive, Roumier and Rousseau saw demand rocket and replaced Lafite as the ‘must-have’ commodity of the secondary market. This Burgundy revival saw massive improvements in the market and saw the Liv-Ex grow another 2% in May 2012 and is now up 19% on last year’s values (source: FT.com).

China and India’s wealthiest may well have had taste for Burgundy (and Tuscany of Italy) of recent but as the Financial Times has stated the quantities are simply too small and modish to satisfy a demanding international market in the long run. Financial Times also states “it would be foolhardy to write off Bordeaux for too long. Great Bordeaux is like the timeless ‘little black dress’ which never goes out of fashion”.  Early signs seem to be positive, not only did many wine merchants report more European buyers returning to the market but that the amount of buyers were outnumbering sellers by two to one. Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong saw growth of 40.9% year on year. Furthermore a recent report in Decanter (http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/530063/eurozone-crisis-may-trigger-wine-bubble-say-experts) found many investors are seeking refuge in fine wine, in light of the uncertainty surrounding the European single currency. This law in economics can be attributed to “Gresham’s Law”, said Joe Roseman, on Decanter. Joe is a former hedge fund economist and author of SWAG (Silver Wine Art Gold) – a book on alternative investments who is also quoted saying:

“Stated simply, it means that bad money drives investors to seek good money. In this instance, the bad money is the euro currency and the good money is an asset like wine.”

Slightly more cautious advice has come from Henning Thoresen, CEO of Bordeaux Winebank Group and manager of the €50m Wine Growth Fund, he reckons that despite many Asian investors questioning the Euro’s validity it shouldn’t affect the image of fine wine as a good long-term investment.

“We are advising them to stay calm,' he said. 'We have a ten-year horizon and I don't think the eurozone situation will affect wine as a long-term investment.”

Andrew Della Casa, Director of the Wine Investment Fund, is very upbeat on the other hand. He is quoted as saying in the Financial Times that the market should grow at “a steady 10 per cent” by the end of 2012.

“Falls such as those in 2011 have generally been followed by strong returns for those investing at the right time” adding that “We believe this could be the right time and predict double-digit growth this year”

This cautious optimism exists on the basis of new money flowing into the market. Robert Parker also helped to provide a timely boast to prices with his revised scores for 2009 vintage. With 2012 being the Chinese year of the dragon, it is hoped that the Chinese love affair with fine wines (including Bordeaux and Burgundy) should continue to flourish. Most of this recovery does however depend on consumer confidence. Some wines did benefit from an expensive en-primeur campaign and some wine investors predict that the economy should grow between 14-18 per cent by the end of the year. Buyers and sellers may well be taking a more long-termism approach but the future should remain strong for the wine market.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012



A Sommelier is designed to take away much of the stress and guess work out of choosing a fine wine. As Ernest Hemmingway once said “Wine is one of the most civilised things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

To appreciate this truly marvelous natural drinking wonder, you need someone who appreciates it and can advise, educate and bring their own personal touch. This is not a structured sale, nor is it about ticking a few boxes but about developing a mutually beneficial relationship. Nothing beats experience and practical application as learning from a textbook has its limitations. A sommelier should be a bargain-hunter whilst remaining approachable and open-minded. A good palate accompanied by an encyclopedic knowledge of wine is great but not essential, the key to success is developing that rapport.  You often meet salesmen that are extremely knowledgeable, but don’t have the customer service to compliment it. People like that leave you with a sense of inferiority rather than the satisfaction of getting a good deal. 
Whether it's buying a new TV, Kitchen or Car, we’d all like to think that the person we're consulting has extensive knowledge of and passion for their product, but it must be complimented by good people's skills. A good sommelier should never ‘upsell’ for the sake of it, no consumer wants to feel like they are having every last penny squeezed out of them therefore it is pivotal to establish the customer’s budgets and tastes pretty early on in the conversation. Sometimes they may suggest alternatives to the wine you’ve got your heart set on, not necessarily because the wine you want is not in stock, but because it may compliment your meal better.

That point about food pairings is key, as wine and food is a marriage made in heaven. Wine and good food go together like, Torvill and Dean, a horse and carriage, Marks and Spencer, Tea and Biscuits.  Describing food in a similar fashion to describing wine, should help to merge the wine with the dish, for example: Fresh Oysters, Light, elegant flavour enhanced with a touch of lemon (acidity), medium after taste, clean palate.  That description should help people understand the type of wine, which it can be served with. 

As a general rule of thumb: white with fish, red with meat. The wine shouldn’t just tolerate the dish it’s served with but be collectively better than the wine and food eaten separately. It’s commonplace to see many Brits just drinking the wine on it’s own at a social function, this is less common in France where they only tend have wine with their meals.

Each should enhance the other whilst maintaining its fundamental vibrancy and character. The only way a sommelier can figure this out is through a simple but under-appreciated method: Taste the wine, taste the food and only then taste the wine and food together. Some combinations are well renowned classics: Sauternes with Roquefort, Chablis with oysters, Bordeaux with roasted lamb, champagne with scallops. Very few would dispute these combinations.

Third, a lifetime of eating and drinking will inevitably take the sommelier on a journey and there really is no substitute for good record keeping. A sommelier can dramatically deepen his or her experience of wine by maintaining a logbook and recording the wines they've enjoyed, with particular emphasis on the wine-and-food combinations that have tended to work best. This can be in conventional notebook form, or stored electronically on a Smartphone device. Hand written notes are the preferred choice as they are more easily assessable (as apposed to waiting for the Smartphone device to load up), more sophisticated and won’t lead to eye strain caused by squinting at a small screen. A hand written book of your own personal notes also looks more sophisticated and there’s no battery that needs constant charging.

An individual should feel refreshed after a chat with their sommelier and there is no better feeling than the feeling of having learnt something new. The best sommelier is an educator but doesn't talk down to the customer. They could be advising anybody from long-time connoisseurs of wine to the nouveau riche ‘wine virgin’.

Finally many agree that a sommelier who involves the individual is the best kind. They provide the customer with an experience not just a discussion. There’s nothing worse than being interested in a product without sampling it. A sommelier should use their time with the consumer as an opportunity to pour, taste, compare and discuss.  The meeting then becomes a miniature wine-and-food matching seminar, one which guests will treasure and remember as an intellectually stimulating evening. This could even be used it as a chance to experiment and try out new combinations.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


What will the appointment of Francois Hollande mean to the French wine industry?

We already know that France’s new president, Monsieur Hollande, is apposed to the austerity measures and plans to reduce the retirement age (from 62 to 60) but what does he plan to do for the wine industry?

Well initial projections are pretty good, Hollande is much more ‘pro-wine’ than his predecessor (Sarkozy was even quoted as saying he preferred Coca-Cola to wine) and is never afraid to be photographed drinking it. While he was running for president, Monsieur Hollande visited several wine growers and seemed genuinely interested in strengthening the French wine industry. He wanted more exports to the far east and he listened carefully to what Chateau owners had to say. He does however believe one of the country's main ways out of recession is through heavier taxation on the rich - which won't go down well in many quarters of wine trade.

Many members of the wine lobby still haven’t forgiven the socialists, for passing the Loi Evin in 1991, named after the then Health minister Claude Evin. His measures imposed huge restrictions on the advertising of alcohol and tobacco. France has always placed huge significance on wine, yet bans the advertising of alcohol - ironic wouldn't you say? 

The new French president has no intentions to abolish Loi Evin, but he does want to promote wine as an integral part of French culture. However, this is something he has to balance with his social conscious, as he also set out to promote 'responsible drinking' in his manifesto. ‘Binge-drinking’ may not be as widespread in France as it is in the UK, but France does nevertheless have one of highest alcohol consumption levels in Europe per person. Hollande's view on the Loi Evin is that the law has its virtues, its limits and its constraints, but believes it is better to promote wine through gastronomy, terrier, image, etc. That way people view wine not as alcohol, but as an element of French savoir-vivre and tradition.

Hollande reached out to the wine industry and connoisseurs by stating in Revue du Vin that “like many Frenchmen, I am seduced by the excellence of the wine our country produces. I enjoy wine tasting with friends and family… and I often open a good bottle to celebrate big events.” Last year the wine industry contributed €7billion to the economy, making it one of France's key industries.

The French wine industry is vehemently opposed to deregulation of plantation rights. Owners of French wine estates like to keep the stock low and prices high, steering well clear of the mass production model that Australia has adopted. It will come as a relief to them that Sarkozy is no longer in office, as he planned to liberalise rules governing wine plantation. Hollande should however consider revising the Loi Evin as would enable vineyards to promote their wine more freely. In the long term, what everyone really needs is for the economy to bounce back as a whole, something which few economic experts can predict with any degree of certainty.

Thursday, June 7, 2012



With the Diamond Jubilee now over, we can only begin to imagine the amount of wine that was consumed over the 4-day bank holiday weekend not just by her majesty, but also by all the royal family members, her court and guests. Monarchs both past and present have embraced the fine chateaux of Bordeaux.

Looking back over history, the first major jubilee was held in 1809 to celebrate 50 years of King George III’s rule (1760-1820). The celebrations were held at Windsor Castle, which featured a grand fête and firework display at Frogmore. Afterwards the celebrations proceeded to St Paul’s Cathedral for a service of thanksgiving before holding a dinner at the Mansion House. 1760 Royal cellar records show that whilst his majesty enjoyed Claret, he had a soft spot for German Hock (a German dry white wine which originated from Rhine Valley). He also loved a good bottle of Port.

The monarchs that proceeded, George IV and William IV, were not on the throne long enough to have a jubilee, although George IV, who was instrumental in establishing the Brighton Royal Pavilion, remodelling Buckingham Palace and of laying the foundations of the National Gallery, did have a taste for Sherry. In fact his cellar held 1213 bottles of Sherry to be precise along with 805 of Madeira, 510 of Marsala and 335 of Port. Today’s Prince Phillip might be a 'loose cannon' at times, but at least wasn't an resident drunk like George IV was (on occasions). In contrast King William IV was a very moderate drinker preferring a kind of medieval lemonade. His court enjoyed Port, Sherry, Madeira, Burgundy and a sweet and dry Champagne. King Edward VII detested Sherry favouring Claret, Brandy, Cognac and Whiskey.

Before Elizabeth II the only other Queen to have had a Diamond Jubilee was Queen Victoria. The Victorian era was not only one of great innovation but also one in which the monarch embraced the fine wines of Bordeaux. As well as Sherry it is well documented that she ordered 16 hogsheads of 1834 Chateau Lafite, Latour, Grand Larose and Margeaux. King George V on other hand was reportedly celebrated his silver Jubilee in 1935 with a nice Cognac and Whiskey. At his coronation in 1937 he was served a 1929 Chateau Latour Martillac.

At this year’s 2012 Jubilee, our very own Queen Elizabeth II is said to have served and indulged in Champagne, Burgundy Loire, fine red wines along with 3 home grown English wines. Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2007(a sparkling wine from West Sussex), Stopham Pinot Blanc 2010 (a dry wine,from the pinot blanc grapes of Pullborough, West Sussex) and some Albury Vineyard Silent Pool Rose 2011 are among the English wines that were featured.

The Queen still orders the ‘Kings Ginger Liqueur’ from the much-esteemed Berry Bros wine merchant, a relationship that dates back to King Edward VI. Not only does the company have premises in St James’ Street, but managing Director, Simon Berry has been clerk to the Royal Cellars for the past four years. As clerk he also chairs the committee which organises wine tastings in order to establish which wines should be served at state banquets. These tastings take place at Buckingham Palace Cellars and are often blindfolded for greater objectivity.

“A wonderful Victorian wine store with iron bins to store champagne at the right angle”, Berry says. Inexpensive New Zealand sauvignon blancs and basic red Bordeaux often feature. “The wines must be good, but theydon’t need to be show-stoppers,”

Whilst the committee chooses the wines, it’s Robert Large,yeoman of the Royal cellars, who selects what will be drunk at specific engagements, making sure that each of the Queen’s Warrant holders gets a chance to showcase.

It’s good to see the Queen embracing home-grown wines but many will agree that you cannot beat the clarets of Bordeaux, and at this year’s Jubilee her majesty served Chateau Latour à Pomerol; Chasse Spleen, Fonroque, Meyney, Phélan Ségur, Montrose,Ducru Beaucaillou, Gazin, Léoville Barton, Léoville Poyferré, and a little Haut Brion, Margaux, Mouton andd’Yquem. These are all high-grade investment wines, 6 of which fetched 90+ points from top wine critic Robert Parker.