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Jefford on Monday: The fullness of wine

Decanter News - ma, 16/07/2018 - 11:22

 Andrew Jefford meets the Burgundy and Châteauneuf specialist Mounir Saouma...

saouma wine cellarThe Saouma cellar at Vieux Bouigard near Orange.

“I was born in 1967.  That’s what it says on the paper.  But in reality I was born in 1867.  They just put me in the Frigidaire and took me out again 100 years later.”  The time traveller is Mounir Saouma: one of the most original thinkers working in French fine wine today.

He’s obsessed with a return to past ways of working with wine – though he has nothing to do with the ‘natural wine’ movement, and indeed derides “the ayatollahs, the fanatics of everything” who produce zero sulphur wines “which stink of the shit of a horse.  I’m sorry, it’s natural, but I cannot drink it.”  He doesn’t have much time, either, for the “biodynamic blah blah blah.  Is it yummy?  Are you enjoying? Are you finishing the bottle?  Will you drink it the day after or not?  Will you feel tired or not?  Will you feel like a butterfly the next day?”

These are his desiderata, and his means of achieving them is by ensuring “that all the things that nature gave us are still in the wine.  The proteins, the vitamins, the yeasts, the bacteria, the skins: everything that nature gave us is still inside the wines.  They are digested.  They help your system digest other things.  The wines are full, not empty.”

I’ll tell you how he achieves this fullness in a moment; first, though, a little background.  He and his wife Rotem established a Burgundy business (Lucien Le Moine) in the late 1990s – buying newly fermented wines from growers, raising them, then finally bottling them and selling them.  If you think this is a straightforward matter, just wait.

In 2006 or so, the couple, who work unaided, decided they wanted to own land.  Not in Burgundy, where it is dissuasively difficult to buy and where they would be competing with their growers and friends, but in Châteauneuf.  Why there?  I’ll tell you that shortly, too.  “Impossible,” said friends, “to buy good land in Châteauneuf.”  Cue more original thinking (yes, it’s coming).  Now they have 8.4 ha in Châteauneuf, and more in Côtes du Rhône-Villages.  Winemaking rather than raising and finishing has given Mounir and Rotem even more opportunity to burrow back in time.

Let’s return to the concept of ‘full’ wines.  “When I arrived in Burgundy, I tried to guess how people made wine in the past.  I have no knowledge; I have no pretension.  I’m patient.  I like to observe.”  In particular, he noted the super-cleanness of modern juices, pneumatically pressed followed by settling and racking; he noticed the great attention paid to reductive handling … and he noticed the premox problems the region had with white wines.

It could not have been so in the past, he reasoned.  Juices must have been more turbid, and given more exposure to air; wines must have remained with their lees during ageing, and been bottled later.  So, at no small risk, the couple set off in this direction.  Radically: if one of their growers produces six casks of a top Premier Cru, they will buy two – but ask for the lees of all six.  The wine then remains on this profusion of lees for up to 36 months without racking.

“In my sixteen years at Lucien Le Moine, I have racked less than ten barrels, and rejected maybe four or five.  And we have bottled more than 1,500 wines.  We now raise 84 Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines every year with the totality of lees, with all the purity of nature.  We start ageing with around eight litres of lees per barrel.  By the end, only three are left.  The other five are in your glass.”  That, he says, is where the fullness comes from.

In the Rhône, he makes his own wines, and these methods have consequently gone much further.  For white wines (and he’s enthusiastic about white Châteauneuf), he wants hard pressing (using a 1970s Vaslin) and hyper-oxidation of the juice.  “Let’s go back to the roots.  People used continuous presses, then sent the wine to the vat, and then they went off and did other things.  So that’s what I do.  With a continuous press, you put in two tonnes of grapes and you end up with a cake which is like concrete.  Everthing else is in the juice, which is thick and viscous.”  And brown – because of exposure to the air.  It then ferments slowly and gently on the lees.  In spring 2011, Saouma remembers, other growers were bottling their 2010 whites. His 2009 white was still doing its malolactic.

Mounir Saouma in the vineyard.

Mounir Saouma in the vineyard. Credit: Andrew Jefford.

He tells me a story about that wine.  “At harvest time in 2016, two other winemakers rung me up and said they wanted to come to see me.  I said ‘Fine – come round.’  ‘We’re interested in white wines,’ they said.  ‘We did a blind tasting – three bottles of white Châteauneuf, yours and ours.  One bottle tasted fresh, but the other two seemed tired and old.’  Both growers assumed the fresh wine was their own – but it was the Saouma wine.  They asked him to explain.

“I can’t,” Saouma said, “but please turn around and look away.  I will then show you something and you will tell me the answer.”  He gave them three glasses of wine.  One was so brown he claims it looked like Guinness; another was pale, and the third one paler still.  The brown one was his just-pressed 2016 juice, and the other two cask samples of the 2015 and 2014 white – hard pressed and juice-oxidised, then fermented and aged on lees.

For me, he takes a sample of the white 2017 from the barrel.  Using a pipette, he then blows through it so violently that it bubbles and froths.  He then sucks it up into the pipette and dumps it down into the glass with more frothing and seething.  Finally, he lets it be.  It settles.  At the end of the process, it is paler than it was to start with, and has an attractive scent of blossom: an astonishing demonstration.

Reds, of course, are a different matter.  “I found myself putting the grapes in a tank, no sulphur, no punching down, cold maceration, fourteen days, then fermentation for three weeks, no pumping over, then to barrel for three or four years; one has been five years in barrel, and never racked.”  Eventually the journey back into the past led him to amphorae – unwaxed, of course.  “I grew up in a village in the mountains of Lebanon where we took an amphora made in the village to a spring to get the water.  That was the tool.  No wax.  So I just put the clusters inside.  When it’s full, we close it. We leave it for a year, untouched.  When we open it, we pray.  And it works: extreme purity.”  He is also experimenting with fermenting single-vineyard wines in vessels containing washed galets roulés taken from the vineyard from which the fruit has come; and he shows me different samples of his Omnia wine being aged in new foudres, in 500-litre casks and in concrete eggs.  The experiments never stop.

But why Châteauneuf?  “I compare Grenache Noir to Pinot Noir.  They are both complicated varieties with white juice, and they can both make superfine wines which express the vineyard.  Syrah tastes like Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc tastes like Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier tastes like Viognier, but Pinot Noir and Grenache taste like neutral fruit, like grapes.  So do Chardonnay and Grenache Blanc.  These neutral, empty varieties are the ambassadors of terroir.  Because they are neutral, because they don’t have their own personality, they pump everything around them.  If you want to send a message to someone, you don’t send a talker.  You send a neutral person who will just say what you want him to say.”

The couple managed to acquire their nine parcels of land by working with the local SAFER (a government-backed sales intermediary in local land transactions) and then deliberately standing at the very end of the queue, behind the locals, taking only the parcels which no one else wanted.  To their delight, this often included parcels of land in high-quality areas which were in a pitiful state, or which came with an obligation to buy poor quality land, buildings or superannuated machinery.

The very first parcel they acquired, thus, was in Pignan – but it contained one-third of dead vines, had suffered chronic erosion and draining problems and came with stocks of low-quality bulk wine.  “Nobody wanted it because it was in a bad state but come on!  It was Place Vendôme, the day after a Sunday market.  OK, it’s dirty everywhere but it’s still Place Vendôme.”  The couple replaced the eroded land, redrained the whole vineyard and replanted it.  “Now we have two super hectares of Pignan, which is the king of Châteauneuf, the best terroir for finesse, facing north.  When you are exposed north in Châteauneuf you are the luckiest person in the world because the Mistral will be crossing your vineyard more than 100 days a year, making you super maturity but keeping you a lot of vivacity, a lot of freshness.”

The limestone soils of Esquiran.

The limestone soils of Esquiran. Credit: Andrew Jefford.

They also now have land in high-sited La Pointue; in the astonishing limestone-soiled Esquiran “where you walk on pieces of yoghurt”; at Pierre Redon; in the galets roulés of La Bigote, and indeed in all of the five villages with land in the appellation.  “Châteauneuf du Pape is the biggest mosaic in French wine,” says Saouma.

The aim behind his Omnia wine is to convey the mosaic itself (five villages, nine soil types and thirteen varieties), whereas the amphora single-site wines are sold unblended (as a collection), and the Arioso is made from the old-vine material in Pignan alone.  Le Petit Livre de A.M.Bach (Bach’s St John Passion was playing in the cellar when I called) is a free-run-only version of Arioso bottled exclusively in magnums; the white wine is called Magis.

Best value of all, though, may be the Inopia, which comes from the ‘Clos Saouma’ vineyards sited in the Côtes du Rhône-Villages zone of Vieux Bouigard near Orange, surrounding the winery.  The couple have nine hectares planted in this less expensive land – yet its soil potential is outstanding (clay over deep beds of river-rolled pebbles), and the wines – one third white, two thirds red – are made according to the same lees-nourished, unhurried principles.

A taste of Saouma Rhônes arioso wine

Arioso in its vineyard of origin in Pignan. Credit: Andrew Jefford.

Rotem & Mounir Saouma, Inopia, Côtes du Rhône-Villages Blanc, 2014

This wine’s majority component of Grenache Blanc is complemented by Bourboulenc, Marsanne and Roussanne; like its red counterpart, it sees 18 months on lees in both 500-l casks and concrete eggs (though not foudres).  There’s great aromatic presence here: milled grains and grain dust, crushed aniseed and fennel and apricot juice, too.  On the palate, the wine is supple, soft, glycerous and rich, the sweet fruits blended with something faintly salty and green, a smack of seaweed.  Deep, firm, long: clearly over-achieving white Rhône.  92 (14%)

Rotem & Mounir Saouma, Inopia, Côtes du Rhône-Villages Rouge, 2014

This blend of Grenache with smaller amounts of Mourvèdre, Counoise, Cinsault and Syrah, given 18 months’ ageing on lees in 500-l casks as well as foudre and concrete eggs has ample sweet spice, herb and aniseed scents.  After this copious aromatic charm, the wine’s volume, command and sheer authority comes as a shock.  Stony finesse underpins the volume and weight of fruit.  “We want to be out on the boundary between serious and enjoyable,” says Saouma.  The serious, of course, has to be enjoyable too.  This is.  91 (14%) 

Rotem & Mounir Saouma, Magis, Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc, 2014

Light gold in colour, with a rich, mealy yet pretty scent of forest mushrooms, flowers and crushed seeds.  The palate is soft, chewy, banquet-like and gratifying, full of late-summer allusions.  This generous, dense and reverberative mouthful has a gathered force which contrives to suggest freshness despite the rich, layered style.  A white Châteauneuf entirely unafraid of its own nature.  94 (14%)

Rotem & Mounir Saouma, Magis barrel sample, Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc, 2016

This wine is work in progress – but everything suggests that it will be a majestic Magis.  At this stage, it is a kind of engine of blossom, hurling spring-fresh fruit-tree petals out in every direction.  On the palate, it is hyper-expressive and articulate; blossomy for now, but with plenty of marrow packing its bones, too.  Look out for this exceptionally promising wine in a year or two. [96] 95-97 

Rotem & Mounir Saouma, Omnia barrel samples, Châteauneuf du Pape Rouge, 2016

I had the chance to look at three different components for this wine: samples from a concrete egg (powerful and explosive fruits and grainy textures), from 500-l cask (dryer, firmer and more ‘serious’) and from foudre (intense and juicy, with a just-pressed freshness).  The fruit mass, drama and power is hugely impressive here, but there’s a stony residuum, too: surely a great Omnia in the making.  [95] 94-96

Rotem & Mounir Saouma, Arioso, Châteauneuf du Pape Rouge, 2014

In Burgundy, Mounir Saouma is not a big fan of red wines made with stems, but he says he loves the effect of stems on old-vine Grenache in Châteauneuf (though other red varieties are destemmed).  This pale wine is fresh, graceful and lifted: a haunting combination of sweet woodland strawberry fragrance with something much stonier, denser and meatier. The 36 months on lees have left the wine textured, juicy, full and savourous – indeed grippy under analysis, yet the tannins are so well-clad that they don’t perturb.  It’s an ample, searching and fine red wine, proving that width and finesse can go together in Châteauneuf.  95 (15.5%)

Rotem & Mounir Saouma, Le Petit Livre de A.M.Bach Barrel Sample, Châteauneuf du Pape Rouge, 2014

There’s still two years of ageing to go for this wine – and it’s had four years on its lees already, without racking.  For the time being, it seemed to be in a quiet stage, gently nourishing, entirely unreductive, purring gently, watching a rain of strawberry fall beyond the window pane.  On the palate, it is complete, refined, resolved, its tannins fine-milled by comparison with the more sinewy Arioso, its quiet fruits poised, feline and graceful.   (93) 92-94

Read more Andrew Jefford columns on Decanter.com

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Future wine legends: Decanter 100-point wines

Decanter News - zo, 15/07/2018 - 11:00

We've rounded up a selection of wines awarded the full 100 points by our experts. A few older vintages have already featured in our Wine Legend series, but the rest are all contenders for a future place in Decanter's hall of fame.

rayas, Châteauneuf-du-pape 2016Rayas shone particularly brightly in 2016, says Matt Walls.

Since Decanter’s adoption of the 100-point scale for wine reviews – done in the magazine’s buying guide for the first time in 2012 – we’ve seen our experts give maximum marks to several wines, including those in the Rhône, Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Barossa, Tuscany, Burgundy and Champagne.

Below, you can find a selection of wines that have made the grade, plus an explanation from Jane Anson on how tough decisions are made.

 

See these other tasting collections, exclusive to Premium members: How Bordeaux 2008 tastes now Brunello 2013: Full report and top wines

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Tackling climate change in Bordeaux

Decanter News - zo, 15/07/2018 - 10:00

Temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns look set to increase in Bordeaux. Elin McCoy reports on the latest research and the measures being taken to address the problem

bordeaux 2017 frostFires lit in the vineyards of Bordeaux to prevent frost damage on 27 April 2017.

Last June, at Bordeaux trade fair Vinexpo, Harvard University environmental scientist Professor John Holdren and a panel of winemakers discussed the impacts of climate change on wine before a large – and rapt – audience.

The charts Holdren showed painted a glum picture. In the future, higher temperatures, hotter heatwaves, torrential downpours and hailstorms, as well as more pests, he observed, will challenge the wine industry everywhere, including Bordeaux.

So far, global warming has been

Elin McCoy is an award-winning journalist and author who writes for Bloomberg News

You may also like: Jane Anson tastes Léoville Poyferré back to 1961 Pessac-Léognan: Then and now – the story of an appellation

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Climate change is biggest risk to World Heritage sites – former UNESCO chief

Decanter News - vr, 13/07/2018 - 14:59

The former head of UNESCO has called on the wine industry to support proposals to create a new index that can measure climate change risk in World Heritage sites, from the slopes of Douro Valley to the vineyards of Burgundy.

Symington douro winery, douro valley

A view across Douro Valley.

Climate change is the biggest risk to UNESCO World Heritage sites, yet the United Nations body needs help to research and measure its impact, according to Irina Bokova, director-general from 2009 to 2017.

Speaking at a climate change summit in Porto that was co-hosted by wine trade members, including Taylor’s Port, Bokova called for wine industry support to develop and implement a recently proposed Climate Vulnerability Index for World Heritage sites.

Wine regions feature prominently on the UNESCO World Heritage list, with Alto Douro, Bordeaux, Piedmont, Champagne, Burgundy and even the tiny Italian island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily, all enjoying protected status.

This celebrates not just the wine industry ‘but a very close link between wine, climate, identity and tradition’, said Bokova.

She said the proposed climate index would help to prioritise ideas for making areas more resilient to climate change.

‘The Douro Valley can be a very good example of how this new index can be created and implemented,’ she said.

Bokova’s comments are timely given increased extreme weather events in the Douro.

Summoning up disaster movie images of desertification and destruction, Adrian Bridge, CEO of The Fladgate Partnership, reported that ‘last year the source of the river Douro dried up because the whole of 2017 had been dry…then we have had rain since the third week of February’.

This May, a flash flood and hail severely damaged Alto Douro roads, vines and terraces in the Pinhão Valley, with an estimated 80% production loss at Fladgate’s Quinta do Junco.

Related: Extreme weather becoming the new normal, warns major study

Paul Symington, CEO of Symington Family Estates (SFE), told Decanter.com, ‘We are facing an existential threat and, without an ambitious and rapid global response, the Douro’s viability as a wine-growing region over the coming decades is in question.’

Last year SFE formed a company-wide sustainability working group and publicly raised the controversial issue of irrigation in the Douro with the Ministry of Agriculture.

Whilst Symington agrees about securing commitments from the wine and wider business community to adapt to climate change, he added, ‘the challenge is too great to be left solely to voluntary pledges by the business community’.

A follow-up event, the Climate Change Leadership Solutions Conference, will be held in Porto in March 2019.

Related articles that you may like:  Travel: UNESCO World Heritage wine sites to visit Obama urges wine industry to collaborate in climate change fight

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Gaja Barbaresco crus: Costa Russi & Sorì San Lorenzo verticals

Decanter News - vr, 13/07/2018 - 11:00

Stephen Brook recently visited Gaja's estate in Barbaresco, where he tasted verticals of their Costa Russi and Sorì San Lorenzo crus...

Gaja Barbaresco crusHigh inter-row plantings in Gaja's vineyards.

Angelo Gaja has never had much time for conventional wisdom. He introduced barriques to age part of his Barbaresco in 1978, some years before a group of Barolo modernists followed his example.

At about the same time, he began planting international varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon out of curiosity to see whether they worked in the Langhe, and because he thought it would help him to penetrate the American market, which knew little about Barbaresco at the time.

Scroll down to see Stephen’s tasting notes & scores from two vertical tastings at the estate You might also like: Barbaresco 2015 & Riserva 2013: Latest releases An interview with Gaia Gaja Great value Nebbiolo wines from Piedmont – Under the radar

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English winemakers praise ‘near perfect’ conditions in heatwave

Decanter News - vr, 13/07/2018 - 10:08

Decanter.com spoke to English winemakers about this year’s vintage, following the heatwave across the UK…

English wine 2018, NyetimberNyetimber vineyard in Sussex.

Several English winemakers have said that a summer heatwave has provided ‘near perfect’ conditions so far in 2018, helping to bury memories of damaging spring frosts in 2017 and also a cold start to this year.

‘The flowering has been completely uninterrupted and early, the bunches look superb, and the future warm forecast is very promising,’ Frazer Thompson, CEO of Kent based winery Chapel Down, told Decanter.com.

‘This year we’ve had the right weather, in the right order – which doesn’t often happen. The sustained warm weather after a period of rain and colder months, means the quality of grapes on the vine is unprecedented.’

Excessive heat can be problematic in vineyards; if too hot, grapes can struggled to retain acidity and subsequent wines can have an over-abundance of ‘jammy’ flavours. Prolonged high temperatures can also cause vines to shut down, effectively suspending the growing season.

Acidity is an important quality in sparkling wines, but English winemakers have been very positive about the vintage this year so far.

‘Higher day time temperatures coupled with wet spring soil profiles were near perfect conditions for vine growth in spring,’ said Cherie Spriggs, winemaker at Nyetimber, in Sussex.

There is still plenty of the growing season left, and weather during the harvest period will be crucial in deciding the end result.

‘At the moment it looks as though we are going to have a fantastic harvest in terms of both quality and quantity,’ said Simon Bladon, owner of Jenkyn Place, in Hampshire.

‘There has been very little rain and no wind during this crucial flowering period, which is as near to perfect as it gets!’ said Charles and Ruth Simpson, from Simpsons Wine Estate in Kent.

Whereas in other parts of the UK, there has been concern about the lack of rain, this does not appear to be a problem for the vineyards.

‘We will do a few things differently this year as a result of the lack of rainfall in the vineyard but it is England – it will rain soon!’ said Spriggs.

‘It would now be useful to receive a little rain, but we are not currently concerned due to the moisture retaining qualities of our chalk terroir’ said Simpson.

A strong vintage is particularly welcome as the weather last year meant a small crop for English vineyards.

‘Regardless, it is looking like a fantastic and much need harvest after the frost England suffered last year,’ said Simpson, who lost 60% of their crop last year.

‘We had taken the precaution of purchasing two huge frost fans from Turkey.’

‘Last year’s crop was very small and this one should be three times the size of 2017 and probably about twice the size of an average harvest,’ said Bladon.

Cold Spring

However, the UK was hit by a cold Spring this year, with snow storms called ‘the beast from the east.’

‘The cold spells earlier this year all happened when the vines were still dormant so they did not cause any problems,’ said Spriggs.

‘We had a few sleepless nights from cold spells in late April and early May this year but the frost conditions were not so bad – and the delayed budburst from earlier cold spells did assist in mitigating this damage.’

‘As an industry we rely very heavily on the weather, it’s our greatest influence and is totally out of our control. This heatwave is the best we’ve seen in 18 years’ said Thompson.

 

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Signed bottle of 1966 World Cup Champagne to be auctioned

Decanter News - vr, 13/07/2018 - 09:37

A bottle of the limited edition 1966 World Cup Champagne, signed by eight members of that year's winning England team, is to go on auction next month.

1966 World Cup ChampagneThe bottle is signed by some of the winning team.

Humbert & Ellis, auctioneer in Northampton, England, has said it will be auctioning the magnum of Champagne on 2nd August.

The opening price is £1,800, although it is estimated that the wine will sell for between £3,000 – £4,000.

It is a magnum of Champagne Jacquart NV, signed by eight members of England’s triumphant 1966 World Cup team, including Bobby Charlton, Nobby Stiles, Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks, George Cohen, Ray Wilson, Martin Peters and Alan Ball.

As no England fan will need reminding, particularly after this week’s loss to Croatia in the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final, the 1966 World Cup was the last time the England team got through to the final, in which they beat West Germany 4-2 after extra-time.

See also: World Cup wine quiz – test your knowledge

Only 1,966 of these bottles were produced, and this bottle is number one of the 1,966, according to the auction house.

You can find the lot and bid on the Champagne here.

Another lot in the same auction comprises five souvenir bottles of wine from the 1990 Italia World Cup.

The bottles are in the shape of the World Cup trophy, and there are two Chardonnay, two Castel del Monte Rosato and one Barbera d’Asti.

1966 World Cup Champagne

The 1990 Italy World Cup wines. Credit: Humbert & Ellis.

Football wine auctions

In 2002, Sotheby’s auctioned the last remaining bottle of Heidsieck Dry Monopole Champagne, from a case given to the winning team in 1966 for their victory.

In 2014, ex-Manchester United manager, and avid wine collector, Sir Alex Ferguson auctioned off hundreds of bottles of wines at Christie’s.

 

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DAWA Vice-Chair: Sarah Jane Evans MW

Decanter News - do, 12/07/2018 - 15:20

Sarah Jane Evans MW is a vice-chair at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards 2018.

Sarah Jane Evans MWSarah Jane Evans MWSarah Jane Evans MW

Sarah Jane Evans MW is an award-winning journalist who began writing about wine in the 1980s. She started drinking Spanish wine as a student of classics and social and political sciences at Cambridge University.

This started her love affair with the wines, food and culture of Spain, leading to her appointment as a member of the Gran Orden de Caballeros de Vino for services to Spanish wine.

In 2006 she became a Master of Wine, writing her dissertation on Sherry and winning the Robert Mondavi Winery Award.

A Past Chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine, Evans divides her time between contributing to leading wine magazines wine education and judging wines internationally.

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Comment: ‘Modern humans relish “dangerous” bitter flavours’

Decanter News - do, 12/07/2018 - 15:07

Andrew Jefford explores the perception of bitter flavours in wine....

Bitter wine‘Modern humans relish “dangerous” bitter flavours’

Unpleasantly bitter and sour: that’s how new drinkers tend to find their first glass of red wine. Since most of us reach wine via soft drinks and fruit juices, we’re used to acidity: the strangeness of red wine is that it comes unaccompanied by any balancing sweetness. Semi-sweet wines provide an access route – and it’s not long before we come to appreciate ‘dry’ acidity, especially with food.

Bitterness is more intriguing. In evolutionary terms, we have only recently ceased being hunter-gathering omnivores, and bitter flavours were a warning signal that plants or animal parts might contain toxins. A sensitivity to the bitterness of the anti-thyroid drug propylthiouracil or PROP was identified (by psychologist Linda Bartoshuk in 1991) as the key test for distinguishing so-called ‘supertasters’ from the rest of the population; such individuals are also said to find the taste of cabbage or broccoli unpleasantly bitter.

They would struggle to like red wine. But, out in the primeval forests, they might have survived long enough to reproduce. The science of taste sensitivity has moved on since 1991, and differing sensitivities to substances including salt, citric acid, quinine and sucrose suggest that ‘supertasting’ is a complex picture. It’s not necessarily a winetasting advantage, by the way, since it may simply result in extreme pickiness.

What interests me, though, is the ability to override such sensitivities. PROP does taste bitter to me, given the standard test – yet I was a strange child who, when asked by indulgent strangers what my favourite food was, used to reply ‘Savoy cabbage’ (it helped that my mother never overcooked it). I drink copious quantities of black and green tea daily; I adore intensely hopped bitter ales and ‘peppery’ olive oil. A ristretto, in Italy, is a treat.

Tastes can be acquired. Indeed the ubiquity with which coffee, beer and bitter-sweet aperitifs and cocktails (think of Campari, or gin and tonic) are enjoyed by people around the world suggests that modern humans relish ‘dangerous’ bitter flavours. It’s a kind of cultural appurtenance.

Those flavours might also, paradoxically, do us good. ‘Tonic’ water (note the name) contains quinine, an anti-malarial, and at least some of the bitterness of tea and of wine derives from the tannins present in the leaves and stalks of the tea plant Camellia sinensis and the fruit skins and stems of Vitis vinifera. Plants produce tannins to dissuade predators from destroying them, so they are meant to taste unpleasant. But studies have shown that tannins can be anti-carcinogenic and are a useful antioxidative, as well as having the ability to accelerate blood clotting, reduce blood pressure and reduce serum lipid levels.
They also have preservative, anti-microbial properties – which might be why they found their way into grape skins. (Nature intended grapes to be eaten by birds, who don’t taste much anyway: parrots have just 400 taste buds, whereas humans have 9,000 or more.)

My contention, then, is that wine drinkers come to understand that bitter flavours in wine are in some sense tonic, since they are associated with some of the health-bringing substances which wine, and particularly red wine, contains. ‘Bitter’, though, is a wildly unsatisfying term in wine-tasting terminology (as is ‘acid’), since it is descriptive only in the most primitive sense. Any kind of extraneous or ‘chemical’ bitterness in wine is repellent.

This, though, has nothing to do with the rich, affirmative bitterness which is a feature not merely of tannic red wines such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Bordeaux, Madiran, Bandol, Napa Cabernet, Bekaa Valley reds and others; but also of less tannic reds whose flavour profile includes a bitter component. These include most red wines from the Veneto and the Languedoc – that herbal ‘garrigue’ character, careful tasters will note, is a distinctively nuanced bitterness. What matters is that the bitter flavours themselves should be saturated and informed with other flavours – not naked and uncovered. The same thing applies to acidity in wine, which is why additions are usually a mistake. Richness is all.

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DAWA vice-chair: Li Demei

Decanter News - do, 12/07/2018 - 14:28

Li Demei is a vice-chair in the Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA) 2018.

Li DemeiLi DemeiLi Demei

DecanterChina.com columnist Li Demei is an associate professor of wine tasting and oenology at Beijing Agriculture College, invited teacher at ESA Angers in France and consults for several vineyards in China.

Training at Chateau Palmer, he holds a masters diploma for Fruit Tree Science, and was an engineer for Viti-Oeno-Economie from ENITA in Bordeaux. He was the first chef winemaker and technical director for the Chinese-French project Sino-French Demonstration Vineyards and is a member of the Chinese Wine Technique Committee, and National Wine Judge Board.

Previously named RVF’s Man of the Year in the Chinese wine industry, in 2012 Demei received the Wine Intelligence 10 for 10 Business Award. He started writing for the Wine Review of Singapore 10 years ago and today writes for several publications, as well as authoring Wine-Communication from a Chinese Winemaker and Wine Grapes Varieties.

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DAWA vice-chair: Andrew Jefford

Decanter News - do, 12/07/2018 - 13:49

Andrew Jefford is a vice-chair in the Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA) 2018

Andrew JeffordAndrew JeffordAndrew Jefford

Andrew Jefford contributes a column every month to Decanter magazine, and writes the widely-followed Jefford on Monday blog for Decanter.com.

Jefford has been writing and broadcasting about wine (as well as about food, whisky, travel and perfume) since the 1980s, winning many awards for his work. After spending 15 months as a senior research fellow at Adelaide University between 2009 and 2010, he now lives with his family in the Languedoc, close to Pic St Loup.

Andrew Jefford has been a judge and vice-chair in the Decanter Asia Wine Awards since the launch of the competition in 2012. In addition to his Vice Chair role at DAWA, Andrew is also a Co-Chair for the Decanter World Wine Awards in London.

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The Bordeaux barometer: Cool vs hot vintages

Decanter News - do, 12/07/2018 - 13:12

As technological advances make it easier to deal with variable weather conditions, Jane Anson assesses the impact of hot and cool vintages in Bordeaux and offers advice on what to buy – whatever the weather...

Bordeaux 2017 weatherThe Bordeaux barometer: Cool vs hot vintages

When you first learn about Bordeaux, you are told one very simple rule: this may be southwest France but it’s also a port city close to the Atlantic, and so has an oceanic climate. This fact governs the next rule, which is: because of the climate, Hot Years are good, and Cool Years are challenging.

Jane Anson is a Decanter contributing editor, Bordeaux correspondent and author of the book Bordeaux Legends.

 

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DAWA vice-chair: Gerard Basset MS MW

Decanter News - do, 12/07/2018 - 11:23

Gerard Basset MS MW is a vice-chair in the Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA) 2018.

Gerard Basset MS MWGerard Basset MS MWGerard Basset MS MW

Gerard Basset MS MW qualified as a chef and sommelier in his native France before moving to England in the mid-1980s, where he embarked on a career as a sommelier. Currently owning Hotel TerraVina in the New Forest with his wife Nina, Basset has an obvious flair for business and previously co-founded the Hotel du Vin, which was sold in 2004 after having successfully opened six additional hotels.

Basset was named Decanter’s Man of the Year 2013, holds the prestigious title of Best Sommelier of the World 2010, and is the only person in the world to simultaneously be a Master Sommelier, Master of Wine and hold a Wine MBA, more recently adding the MSc in Wine Management from the OIV.

In addition, he has been awarded Best Sommelier of the UK several times, as well as Best International Sommelier for French Wines in 1992 and Best Sommelier of Europe in 1996. Basset has been named Personality of the Year by both IWC and Harper’s, Industry Legend by Imbibe magazine, and in 2011 he received an OBE by The Princess Royal at Windsor Castle.

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DAWA vice-chair: Shinya Tasaki

Decanter News - do, 12/07/2018 - 11:23

Shinya Tasaki, a renowned and award-winning sommelier from Tokyo, is a vice-chair in the Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA).

Shinya TasakiShinya TasakiShinya Tasaki

Shinya Tasaki is the President of the Japanese Sommelier Association and the A.S.I. Best Sommelier of the World 1995. He is the only non-European national ever to win the title of the Best Sommelier in the World.

His victory lead the sommelier profession to become widely known throughout the nation and he greatly contributed to the popularization of wine in Japan.  Since then, he has been training young sommeliers, giving lessons to wine amateurs, working extensively in seminars and wine dinners, writing more than 50 F&B related books, and consulting and making appearances on television & radio.

He is also a publisher of one of the well-read wine magazines in Japan. He received numerous awards and accolades over the years in his country and abroad, including the Yellow Ribbon Medal of Honor from the Emperor of Japan (a decoration given to individuals who, through their diligence and perseverance in their professional activities, became public role models).

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DAWA vice-chair: Poh Tiong Ch’ng

Decanter News - do, 12/07/2018 - 11:16

Poh Tiong Ch'ng is a vice-chair in the Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA) 2018.

Poh Tiong Ch'ngPoh Tiong Ch’ng

A lawyer by training, Poh Tiong Ch’ng published the world’s first Chinese Bordeaux Guide in 2000.

Ch’ng also writes columns in Wine Life and RVF China. For nearly 20 years, he has been consultant to FairPrice and Finest, Singapore’s largest supermarket chain. Ch’ng is also a senior judge of World of Fine Wine’s Best Wine Lists in the World competition and contributes to the China, Japan & India sections of Hugh Johnson Pocket Wine Book.

Holding a certificate in Chinese art from the University of London’s School of Oriental & African Studies, Ch’ng is an ambassador of The European Fine Art Foundation or TEFAF Maastricht.

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DAWA Vice-Chair: Jeannie Cho Lee MW

Decanter News - do, 12/07/2018 - 11:16

Jeannie Cho Lee MW is a vice chair in the Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA) 2018.

Jeannie Cho Lee MWJeannie Cho Lee MWJeannie Cho Lee MW

Jeannie Cho Lee MW is an author, wine critic, judge and educator as well as the first Asian Master of Wine.

A contributing editor of Decanter, she is also a Professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, a columnist for Robb Report China and Forbes, and has been a consultant for Singapore Airlines since 2008.

Lee’s love for Asian cuisine and wine inspired her to write the award-winning book, Asian Palate, and to found AsianPalate.com as well as JeannieChoLee.com.

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DAWA Vice-Chair: Michael Hill-Smith MW

Decanter News - do, 12/07/2018 - 11:16

Michael Hill-Smith MW is a vice chair in the Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA) 2018.

Michael Hill-Smith MWMichael Hill-Smith MWMichael Hill-Smith MW

Michael Hill-Smith MW became the first Australian to pass the rigorous Master of Wine examination in 1988.

He is a wine producer, international wine judge, wine consultant, occasional wine writer and lapsed restaurateur. In 2008, he was awarded an Order of Australia (AM) for his contribution to the Australian Wine Industry, and he has featured in Decanter‘s Power List in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

He believes passionately in the future of Australian fine wine, and is part of the international tasting panel responsible for the selection of all wines served on Singapore Airlines.

In addition to his Vice Chair role at the DAWA he is also Co-Chair of the DWWA.

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Tasting Léoville Poyferré wines from 1961 to 2016

Decanter News - do, 12/07/2018 - 09:00

Read an in-depth report on the evolution of this St-Julien estate's style with tasting notes and fresh ratings for more than 25 vintages; published exclusively for Premium members.

Léoville Poyferré, bordeauxLéoville Poyferré: St-Julien's 'non-conformist' winery...

There are certain estates across Bordeaux that come with an unshakeable personality, whatever the vintage.

Léoville Poyferré is undoubtedly one of them, and it is more than happy to play up its non-conformist image.

It chose Michel Rolland as consultant in the mid-1980s (his second consultancy gig in the Médoc after the CVBG properties I believe), has always harvested on the later end of the scale and with lower yields than you normally find in the Médoc; usually 35hl/h compared to the usual 45hl/h.

It also blends at the end of ageing, rather than the beginning, and generally includes an unusually high proportion of Merlot compared to its neighbours, while also

More recent articles by Jane Anson for Premium members that you may like: How Bordeaux 2008 tastes now Tasting 150 years of Lafite Rothschild wines

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What is white Port? – ask Decanter

Decanter News - wo, 11/07/2018 - 15:03

How it differs from other styles and expert advice on how to make an alternative version of a gin & tonic.

white PortWhite Port and tonic at Bar Douro. What is white Port? – ask Decanter

White Port is made from white grapes, such as Códega, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho.

‘Most are bottled young but some whites are capable of wood age and may now be bottled with the same age indications as tawny Ports or as a colheita,’ said Richard Mayson, in his guide to Port styles.

It is a refreshing and light style, making it ideal for summer drinking. It tends to have flavours of apricot, citrus fruit and peel, and nuts.

‘The dry style is a versatile style of port which can be served chilled as an aperitif, mixed with tonic or as a base for cocktails,’ said Max Graham, owner of Portuguese restaurant Bar Douro.

Latest: Tasting notes decoded How to make a white Port and tonic

White Port can be used as a lower-alcohol alternative to gin, mixed with tonic.

Graham recommends mixing ‘50ml of Churchill’s dry white Port, 100ml of tonic water [he prefers Fevertree], orange peel and a sprig of mint to garnish. Pour all into a glass with ice cubes and stir well.’

Other citrus peel works well, but ‘the orange peel is reminiscent of the orange grove at Churchill’s Quinta da Gricha in the Douro’, said Graham.

Clement Robert MS recommends fortified wines in wine cocktails because ‘they are lighter than liqueurs and spirits but they have the necessary strength to give the whole drink a delicious lift.’

More wine questions answered.

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Best wine waistcoats for the World Cup 2018

Decanter News - wo, 11/07/2018 - 12:55

We've searched the web for some of the best wine waistcoats, inspired by England manager Gareth Southgate.

waistcoatEngland manager Gareth Southgate celebrates as England beat Colombia in 2018 World Cup. Best wine waistcoats for the World Cup 2018

England manager Gareth Southgate has brought the waistcoat back in to fashion, after being seen on the touchline wearing a navy blue one from Marks & Spencer for each of the World Cup 2018 England matches.

If you want to follow suit for the England vs Croatia match this evening, we’ve rounded up our favourite wine-themed ones – for either yourself, or your bottle…

wine waistcoat

Can you spot some of your favourite bottles in this waistcoat? Credit: eBay

Why not wear a waistcoat inspired by some of the wine classics, while you watch the match this evening?

US$ 19.99 eBay

 

waistcoat

A dapper look of wine bottles and glasses. Credit: eBay

A sharp waistcoat with a matching bow-tie, packed with a pattern of wine bottles and glasses.

  US$ 139.50 eBay

 

waistcoat

Give your wine bottles the waistcoat look. Credit: eBay

If you don’t fancy wearing the waistcoat yourself, find one for your bottle instead.

  £6.50 eBay

 

wine waistcoat

Another option for your wine bottle. Credit: eBay

Another smart look for your favourite bottle of wine – also available in navy blue to match Southgate’s style.

  £7.95 eBay

waistcoat

From the original trend setter, Marks & Spencer. Credit: Marks & Spencer

For a more subtle nod to your love of wine, go for this Burgundy-coloured option from Southgate-approved, Marks & Spencer.

£29.50 Marks & Spencer

If you’re from the UK, will you be drinking English wine to support the team? Or perhaps you’d rather have a Croatian Plavac Mali or a French rosé. Let us know what your world cup wine is…

See also: Decanter’s World Cup wine quiz

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