Anson: Wetherspoon vs Champagne

Decanter News - do, 21/06/2018 - 09:56

Jane Anson looks at recent comments by Wetherspoon owner Tim Martin as the two-year anniversary of the Brexit referendum approaches, and concludes that his words will do little to soothe wine producers' nerves across the English Channel.

brexit and wine

It’s approaching two years to the day since the EU Referendum in the UK, and this Saturday June 23rd will see the biggest march in London since 2016, asking for a ‘people’s vote’ on the terms of whatever deal is agreed between the EU and the UK.

It’s no surprise where I stand on this, as a British person living in Europe (Lord Lawson perhaps being the exception that proves the rule) and luckily writing about wine does its own job of proving the benefits of open borders and cultural exchange. But every now and then one of the Brexiteers claims something so outlandish, and that so directly impacts the wine industry, that it’s impossible not to comment.

You will have read, I am sure, about Wetherspoon owner Tim Martin and his plan to stop serving Champagne at his 800 pubs as of July 9th 2018.  He will instead focus on English sparking wine as well as those from Australia and New Zealand – basically sourced from outside of the EU.

Wetherspoon currently sells around two million bottles of sparkling wine a year, most of it Prosecco (Champagne makes it to only 100,000 bottles a year in the chain and a spokesperson has been a little more circumspect on its sales of the Italian sparkling wine, only saying that they expect ‘within two years’ to look at an alternative).

The company is planning to do the same thing with beer, swapping out its current German range to beers from the UK and non EU-countries.

The news has not just received widespread coverage in the UK press but in France also.

Among the papers that have covered it are the financial newspaper Les Echos (‘the extremely Eurosceptic owner Tim Martin has decided to banish Champagne from his list…’) and national magazine Le Point (‘Wetherspoons pubs to renounce Champagne, Brexit oblige’).

Brexit and GIs: Erode protected names at your peril, says Andrew Jefford

So far the Champagne bureau in the UK has been upbeat in its response, commenting to the BBC, ‘UK consumers have clearly voted [Champagne] their sparkling wine of choice, making the UK the leading export market’.

But, back in France, the country’s annual wine and spirits report sounded a note of caution, noting that Champagne exports to the UK are down 9% due to devaluation of the sterling post-Brexit.

Martin of course has the right to decide which drinks to stock in his own pubs, and it is hard not to support any country championing their own wine industry (Denbies and Whitedowns are among the beneficiaries). I should also point out that, in a recent Esquire profile of Martin, they made the reasonable point that, ‘Martin is not a typical Brexiteer. For starters, he is pro-immigration. When Wetherspoon’s repeated its beer mat stunt in November last year, distributing 500,000 printed with a ‘Wetherspoon Manifesto’, he called for Britain to ‘unilaterally and immediately’ grant citizenship rights to legal EU immigrants’.

But his suggestion that Wetherspoon’s new selection of non-EU alcohols will be cheaper because trade post-Brexit to non EU countries will ‘reduce prices in shops and pubs’ is more than a little hard to swallow.

‘The EU’s customs union is a protectionist system which is widely misunderstood,’ he commented in the press release accompanying the announcement. ‘It imposes tariffs on the 93 per cent of the world that is not in the EU, keeping prices high for UK consumers. Tariffs are imposed on wine from Australia, New Zealand and the US, and also on coffee, oranges, rice and more than 12,000 other products.’

He has further written in a blog post on the pub’s website that, ‘Wetherspoon has calculated that leaving (the EU) without a deal would result in food prices in our pubs falling by an average of about 3.5 pence per meal and bar prices falling by about 0.5 pence per drink. Similar reductions are likely for supermarket purchases too.  For example, the current EU tariffs on popular Aussie wines would come to an end… Ending tariffs will not result in any reduction in government income, since tariffs collected in the UK are sent to Brussels’.

There were plenty of incredulous reactions to this, one of which came from Gavin Quinney, owner of Château Bauduc in Bordeaux.

He sends the majority of his wines to the UK (to Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein’s restaurants, among others, so one of the 1.3 million Brits who live and work in the EU) and caused something of a minor Twitter storm with over 1,500 Retweets and Likes by suggesting that the Wetherspoon ploy was ‘a classic bit of Tim Martin propaganda, who at the same time as banging the drum for English wine (nothing wrong with that), had a little jab at EU tariffs.

‘He knew exactly what he was doing – despite lots of people commenting that he was being dim. He mentioned Australia, New Zealand and USA but left out Chile and South Africa who already have Free Trade agreements with the US.’

I caught up with Gavin this week to ask him to more fully explain the background. ‘What Martin failed to mention was that UK wine duty is £2.16 on still wine, so that’s *27 times* more than the cost of the EU tariff on non-EU wine, while UK duty of sparkling wine is £2.77, and there’s still VAT to pay.

‘The tariff on Australian wine works out at around 6.5-8p per bottle in contrast. Wine consumers in Britain pay 63% of all wine duty levied in the EU across all 28 member states.

‘Incidentally, most New World producers are saying how much the weakness of sterling has increased their prices in the UK, or has led them to be pushed further on the cost price by importers. The 8p EU tariff is almost a side issue, and the EU is anyway negotiating Free Trade Agreements with Australia and New Zealand, which sadly won’t benefit the UK consumer post-Brexit.

‘It was, though, a brilliant and calculated bit of marketing by Martin. The press lapped up the ‘English sparkling beats Champagne’ part, as expected. [There was] less focus on them carrying on with Prosecco, which is a bigger seller at Wetherspoon.

‘As for English sparkling wine at Wetherspoon, it might fit for Denbies to be supplying them but how many producers can compete at that price, and at what volume? What price in a Wetherspoon pub for Nyetimber, Camel Valley or Rathfinny, which retail for around £30-£40?’

What all this does underline is that wine producers in the EU who have a market in the UK, especially those who sell bottled wine that goes to the England via the Channel, need to be wary.

‘To assume it will all be fine is wishful thinking,’ says Quinney, whose own wines take the Channel route regularly.

‘The probability, we hope, is that any trade or customs barriers will be shunted down the road during a period of transition, but we don’t know yet. Can anyone hand on heart say that there won’t be long queues of lorries at the Calais-Dover crossing after 29 March next year? For how long would our wine have to sit in a stationary truck in the sun – and let’s not forget it was 28°C as early as the first May Bank holiday this year.’

He adds, ‘We have no plans at all to reduce the shipments to the UK but we need to be mindful of the pitfalls of having too many eggs in one basket. We also have many England-based customers collect their wine from Calais, especially for weddings, just as many English wine lovers bring back cases from holidays in wine regions.

‘The current EU arrangements mean that private customers can take back as much as they like if it is for private use and not for resale. We don’t know how that will change and it would be a crying shame for that drawbridge to be hoisted up.’

What’s for certain is that as the deadline approaches, temperatures are rising and these hypothetical questions have become impossible to ignore.

Martin’s intervention will not have helped to soothe the nerves of wine producers across the continent.

Read more Jane Anson columns on Decanter.com and Decanter Premium

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Bordeaux Château Prieuré Sainte-Anne sold to Belgian investors

Decanter News - wo, 20/06/2018 - 15:03

A deal for Château Prieuré Sainte-Anne in Pauillac has countered a trend for Bordeaux estates being sold to buyers outside of the EU.

Chateau Prieuré Sainte AnneA trio of Belgian investors will take control of the historic Côtes de Bordeaux estate, Chateau Prieuré Sainte Anne.

Château Prieuré Sainte-Anne, an AOC Côtes de Bordeaux producer near to Capian, has been bought by Belgian private investors Mr and Mrs Herwig and Annelies Callewier-Corne.

The trio have acquired the 8.15ha hillside estate overlooking the right bank of the Garonne river with 4.45ha of vines, plus the historic château residence complete with tennis courts and swimming pool. A fee was not disclosed.

Most of the estate’s wines are exported to Germany and Austria and the property is ‘commercially viable’, said estate agency Vineyards-Bordeaux, affiliated to Christie’s International Real Estate.

The deal counters a trend for Bordeaux châteaux to attract buyers from outside the EU; in April this year Château Vieux Paquillon was sold to a mystery Australian buyer and Château de Lagorce joined the ranks of estates to be bought by Chinese investors.

The sellers are French winemakers, Hervé and Suzanne Flipo, who bought the estate 20 years ago. It was they who replanted the vineyards and built a new winery in 2005.

‘We have poured our heart into Le Prieuré Sainte-Anne over 20 years and we are delighted to have been a part of its long history,’ they said.

‘It is the end of a rich chapter for us and we are looking forward to supporting the new owner for the next year while they transition.’

Buoyant Bordeaux market

‘The Bordeaux vineyard market remains buoyant with enquiries up on last year and increasing interest from France and European investors,’ said Vineyards-Bordeaux CEO, Karin Maxwell.

‘We are averaging about one vineyard transaction per month in 2018 so far.’

Figures from September 2017 put the number of Chinese-owned Bordeaux estates at around 160, although Bordeaux correspondent Jane Anson also warned against over-hyping these sales, pointing out that many can end up back on the market.

See also:

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Top supermarket wines: DWWA medal winners

Decanter News - wo, 20/06/2018 - 13:47

At the Decanter World Wine Awards 2018, wines available in UK supermarkets proved that they're not only excellent value but also worthy some of the highest accolades. Here are the Gold and Platinum medal winners you can find at the supermarket...

top supermarket winesDWWA 2018: Top supermarket wines

From almost 16,903 wines blind-tasted by our expert judges, the wines below fought off tough competition to win Gold and Platinum medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2018.

All were under £20 and available in high street favourites such as Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer.

Scroll down to see the top supermarket wines

Waitrose Cellar came out on top this year, supplying seven of the wines below, including a Platinum medal winning sweet Riesling from Nelson in New Zealand. It’s named ‘Sweet Agnes’ after the winemaker’s mother and received high praise from DWWA judges for its ‘lush, vibrant and rich’ character.

Other highlights came from Morrisons, who supply two Platinum Value medal winners –Workshop Wine Co’s Mastercraft Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and their own brand of Ruby Port.

There’s also plenty to satisfy Sherry lovers, with three great value Gold medal winners stocked by Waitrose – from Bodegas Hidalgo’s beautifully saline single-vineyard Manzanilla Pasada, to classic Palo Cortado and Oloroso styles from Gonzalez Byass.

Plus if you’re hunting for the perfect red to compliment a meaty summer barbecue, this year’s awards turned out two star buy Malbecs from Argentina’s Uco Valley.

Look out for Marks & Spencer’s aptly named ‘The Party Malbec’, full of elegance and flavours of cherries, violets and wild herbs. Or Morrison’s Viñalba, Reservado De La Familia Malbec, boasting dark cherries, spices, violets and plums – good for opening this weekend or cellaring.

Great value DWWA 2018 winners available in UK supermarkets


Morrisons, Ruby Port, Port, Portugal Marks & Spencer, Uco Valley, The Party Malbec, Mendoza, 2017 Morrisons, Wairau Valley, Workshop Wine Co Mastercraft Viñalba, Uco Valley, Reservado De La Familia Malbec, 2017 Stellenrust, Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2017 Waitrose, Grüner Veltliner, Niederösterreich, Austria, 2017 Santa Julia, Uco Valley, Reserve Malbec-Cabernet Franc, 2017 Stellenrust, Stellenbosch Manor Cinsault, Stellenbosch, 2017 Bodegas Hidalgo, Pastrana Single Vineyard Manzanilla Pasada Gonzalez Byass, Apostoles Medium VORS, Jerez, Spain Gonzalez Byass, Matusalem Cream VORS, Jerez, Spain Seifried, Winemakers Collection Sweet Agnes Riesling, 2016


DWWA 2018 results out now: search for top medal winners here


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Categorieën: Wijnnieuws

Tommasi Amarone Classico: A tasting full of surprises

Decanter News - wo, 20/06/2018 - 13:00

Michaela Morris tastes eight vintages of this classic Amarone, stretching back to 1995, and finds a few surprises along the way.

Tommasi Amarone ClassicoTommasi's La Groletta vineyard, which provides some of the grapes for their Amarone Classico.

I have tasted many vintages of Tommasi’s Amarone Classico, on countless occasions, yet this was my first opportunity to compare vintages side by side.

During the frenzy of Vinitaly in April, I escaped to the family’s nearby spa hotel, Villa Quaranta, where I sat down to a civilised vertical of this wine going back to 1995.

Leading the tasting was Giancarlo Tommasi, who officially took the reins as oenologist in 2000 after hanging out in the cellar with his Uncle Ezio since his childhood.

You might also like: Amarone: a buyer’s guide Dal Forno Amarone: 1988-2010



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Osteria Francescana reclaims ‘world’s best restaurant’ title

Decanter News - wo, 20/06/2018 - 10:29

The 'world's best restaurant' title has returned to Italy. Reporting by Julie Sheppard in Bilbao and Chris Mercer in London.

Osteria Francescana, world's best restaurantOsteria Francescana is based in Modena.

Modena-based Osteria Francescana, run by chef Massimo Bottura and with three Michelin stars, reclaimed the number one spot that it won in 2016.

It replaced Eleven Madison Park in New York, which dropped to fourth place in the latest edition of the ‘World’s 50 best restaurants’ awards.

Winners were announced at a ceremony in Bilbao last night (20 June), following voting by more than 1,000 restaurant owners, chefs and writers and critics, according to organiser William Reed Business Media.

There were many familiar names in the top 10 and El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona north of Barcelona, was awarded second place.

There was also an award for the ‘best female chef’, which went to Clare Smyth, who opened Core restaurant in London.

Smyth said, ‘The role of a chef is not gender specific, but we all know that we don’t see enough women at the top of our industry. We must make a conscious effort to remove barriers. We must listen to each other and support each other… and make sure we clear a path for the next generation. I for one can’t wait until we achieve equality.’

More copy to follow

World’s 50 Best

1 Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy
2 El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain
3 Mirazur, Menton, France
4 Eleven Madison Park, New York, US
5 Gaggan, Bangkok, Thailand
6 Central, Lima, Peru
7 Maido, Lima, Peru
8 Arpège, Paris, France
9 Mugaritz, SAN Sebastián, Spain
10 Asador Etxebarri, Axpe, Spain
11 Quintonil, México City, México
12 Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, USA
13 Pujol, México City, México
14 Steirereck, Vienna, Austria
15 White Rabbit, Moscow, Russia
16 Piazza Duomo, Alba, Italy
17 Den, Tokyo, Japan
18 Disfrutar, Barcelona, Spain
19 Geranium, Copenhagen, Denmark
20 Attica, Melbourne, Australia
21 Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, Paris, France
22 Narisawa, Tokyo, Japan
23 Le Calandre, Rubano, Italy
24 Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet, Shanghai, China
25 Cosme, New York, USA
26 Le Bernardin, New York, US
27 Boragó, Santiago, Chile
28 Odette, Singapore
29 Alléno Paris au Oavillon Ledoyen, Paris, France
30 DOM, São Paulo, Brazil
31 Arzak, SAN Sebastián, Spain
32 Tickets, Barcelona, Spain
33 The Clove Club, London, UK
34 Alinea, Chicago, US
35 Maaemo, Oslo, Norway
36 Reale, Castel di Sangro, Italy
37 Restaurant Tim Raue, Berlin, Germany
38 Lyle’s, London, UK
39 Astrid Y Gastón, Lima, Peru
40 Septime, Paris, France
41 Nihinryori Ryugin, Tokyo, Japan
42 The Ledbury, London, UK
43 Azurmendi, Bilbao, Spain
44 Mikla, Istanbul, Turkey
45, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London, UK
46 Saison, San Francisco, US
47 Schloss Schauenstein, Furstenau, Switzerland
48 Hiša Franko, Kobarid, Slovenia
49 Nahm, Bangkok, Thailand
50 The Test Kitchen, Cape Town, South Africa

Read wine bar and restaurant reviews on Decanter.com here

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Categorieën: Wijnnieuws

Champagne bubbles mystery: Where’s the sparkle? – ask Decanter

Decanter News - di, 19/06/2018 - 15:13

Why would one glass of Champagne not be as effervescent as another? It could be to do with the cleanliness of the glass, says our expert.

Printemps de Champagne

Claire Foster, Hampshire, asks: We recently opened a bottle of Champagne Doyard, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2007 that we’d cellared, having brought it back from a visit to the vineyard some years ago. The first glass was far less bubbly than the second, and we were both stumped as to how or why.

Champagne expert Michael Edwards replies for Decanter:

Doyard is an excellent producer of very fine blanc de blancs from top Vertus vineyards.

The probable cause for this discrepancy between the two glasses is that one of them was not perfectly clean and/or had a residue of soapiness.

This has a marked negative effect on the mousse. Perhaps the second glass was washed in the dishwasher?

With really fine wine, particularly Champagne, it is preferable to handwash your glasses, then rinse thoroughly with water before drying and polishing with a clean, dry tea towel.

This question first appeared in the July 2018 issue of Decanter magazine. Read more Decanter magazine articles online here.

Got a question for our experts? Email us at editor@decanter.com
More articles that you may enjoy What generates a fine mousse in Champagne? Ask Decanter Champagne bubble size: Does it matter? Ask Decanter Farewell to Champagne flutes? 

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Categorieën: Wijnnieuws

Roero 2015 & Riserva 2014: Latest releases

Decanter News - di, 19/06/2018 - 13:00

Stephen Brook takes a look at the latest releases from Roero, including tasting notes & scores...

Roero 2015The rolling Roero hills around Canale, with the alps in the distance.

Roero, being just the other side of the Tanaro river from Barolo and Barbaresco, enjoyed – or suffered from – similar climatic conditions as the two better known zones.

Back to our Piedmont new releases homepage

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The changing face of Vega Sicilia Valbuena

Decanter News - ma, 18/06/2018 - 16:26

Sarah Jane Evans MW looks at 'little brother' Valbuena, from one of Ribera del Duero's leading estates, Vega Sicilia...

Vega Sicilia Valbuena Vertical

Valbuena 5° may be seen as the little brother of Vega Sicilia’s flagship wine, Único, but it’s not actually little at all: in the years that Único isn’t made, the fruit will go to Valbuena.

Named after the nearby village of Valbuena de Duero, the ‘5°’ refers to the age of the wine, released after five (quinto) years of barrel and bottle age. There was formerly also a Valbuena 3, now discontinued.

You might also like: Priorat in-depth and great reds to try Vega Sicilia’s new releases, including Único 2006 Premium California wines to buy in 2018

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Dom Pérignon cellarmaster Geoffroy to hand over reins in 2019

Decanter News - ma, 18/06/2018 - 13:24

Dom Pérignon has announced that its long-standing chef de cave, Richard Geoffroy, will formally hand over to Vincent Chaperon at the end of the year.

Richard GeoffroyLong standing chef de cave Richard Geoffroy captured in the Champagne vineyards with his successor Vincent Chaperon.

After 28 years as chef de cave at Dom Pérignon Champagne, Richard Geoffroy will pass the baton to his assistant winemaker, Vincent Chaperon, from 1 January 2019, the house announced today (18 June).

It means that, from next year, Chaperon will take charge of shaping the style and quality of Dom Pérignon’s future vintages.

Chaperon joined Dom Pérignon’s parent Champagne house, Moët & Chandon, in 1999 and became an assistant winemaker a year later.

He has been working alongside Geoffroy for the past 13 harvests and they have declared four vintages together.

Richard Geoffroy, a former doctor of medicine, took up his role as Dom Pérignon’s chef de cave in 1990, crafting and declaring 15 vintages between 1990 and 2009.

‘His job description may say “chef de cave”, but really he’s the brand’s incarnation. He is ultra-visible, ultra-knowledgeable, ultra-approachable,’ said Margaret Rand in her 2013 interview with Geoffroy for Decanter.

Geoffroy created Dom Pérignon’s ‘Plénitude’ Champagne concept, which involves disgorging and releasing the wine during different stages of its development on the lees.

During his long reign as cellar master Geoffroy has collaborated with artist Jeff Koons, filmmaker David Lynch and, most recently, Grammy Award-winning musician Lenny Kravtiz. He has also worked with world-famous chefs Ferran Adrià and Alain Ducasse.


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Brexit and GIs: Erode protected names at your peril, says Andrew Jefford

Decanter News - ma, 18/06/2018 - 10:36

Andrew Jefford briefly considers the implications of treating Champagne and other protected terms as simply 'common-name products'.

open NV Champagne

Most mornings, before dawn or after, I tune into Farming Today on BBC Radio 4.

A recent interview with Shawna Morris, vice president of trade policy for the US Dairy Export Council, made me choke on my tea (Twinings Vintage Darjeeling, 92 points, note on application).

She brightly suggested that one of the advantages Britons might like to seize, on leaving the EU, was the chance to abandon European name-protection legislation. ‘Our issue is, frankly, overreach,’ she complained of the existing system.

Champagne and Cognac (as well as Parma ham and what she called ‘Parmegian’) were, Morris suggested, examples of ‘common-name products’ whose names should be free for all to use, claiming that protection of such names by the EU was akin to someone ‘trademarking the name “sausage” or “oyster’”.

Post-Brexit, English sparkling wine producers, in other words, could call their wines Champagne. Julian Temperley might consider renaming his Somerset Cider Brandy as Somerset Cider Cognac.

Almost as dismaying as her argument was the fact that the interviewer dozily failed to challenge these suggestions, or to ask whether she accepted that there was a difference between a common noun and a place name.

During a year in which Britain’s proposed disengagement from Europe kicks other political challenges into the outfield, and in which the US President vaunts tariffs and protectionism as a means of righting trade imbalances, it’s worth considering the value of European-inspired geographical name protection (PDO or Protected Designation of Origin, and PGI or Protected Geographical Indication).

This notion came into being in the wine world first of all – after decades of abuse and the destruction of livelihoods caused by passing off one product as another with an intrinsic, quality-based reputation. If you’d bought a bottle of ‘Champagne’ in the first decade of the 20th century, you might have been consuming fermented juice pressed from Languedoc, German or Spanish grapes – even, if rumour is to be believed, from English rhubarb. The riots that ensued from this fraud, in what was still a miserably poor area of France, saw Aÿ burnt in 1911. Finding a legal framework for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) was subject to many false starts and revisions; the first (A for Arbois) was awarded in May 1936.

The system has been so successful that, in terms of the basic tenets of geographical indication (rather than production legislation), it’s now almost universal in the wine world, and a creator of value for producers everywhere. It’s revolutionised food production, too, helping quality producers maintain the margins for survival and protecting vulnerable local specialities.

I’m (just) old enough to remember a little of what the British wine trade was like prior to Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community in 1973. I still have a wine label from one of the bottles I trustingly bought in Norwich in 1972. It says ‘Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Grand Vin de Bourgogne’ – and was probably neither. Today’s Chinese consumers suffer in much the same way, though in this case it’s fraudulent brands rather than fraudulent GIs that tend to be the cause.

At root, the issue is about truth-telling in commerce. The only route to value (for the producer, for the consumer; value both pecuniary and moral, objective and affective) lies in truth, legally supported and policed. Once you start to tell lies about a bottle of wine or piece of cheese, value begins to erode and will, sooner or later, be entirely lost.

That’s why the cheese casually called ‘Cheddar’ around the world is often a ghastly purchase: we failed long ago to protect this geographical name, and it surrendered all meaning and value. (Not so for West Country Farmhouse Cheddar, whose PDO has helped it retain savour.) Rather than disengaging, as suggested by Morris, in 2018 Britain should reinforce its engagement to this precious European achievement. Will it?


See more Andrew Jefford columns on Decanter.com Read more magazine articles from our July 2018 issue


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Sauternes second wines: Why they’re worth a look

Decanter News - zo, 17/06/2018 - 10:00

Accessible and affordable, second wines offer the chance for a wider audience to experience the unique sweet character of Sauternes. James Lawther MW explores how these second wines are made and recommends bottles to try...

Sauternes, Sauternes and food pairing The first thing I was offered at La Chapelle, the recently opened restaurant at Château Guiraud in Sauternes, was a tasting glass of the estate’s second wine, Petit Guiraud. It arrived with a tiny, savoury amuse-bouche, a delicious concoction made with Bayonne ham. This was all part of the new charm offensive that Sauternes is currently laying on for visitors to freshen the traditional image of this sweet wine appellation. Forget the age-old ‘pudding wine’ concept and think aperitif, appetiser, wine by the glass, wine bar, relaxed atmosphere and immediate gratification via the more accessible second labels. Scroll down for Lawther’s pick of second labels from Sauternes Sauternes has long been accused of being dusty and outmoded, but there’s a shake-up going on. Down the line, second growth Château d’Arche is set to complement its hotel with a new spa. Simultaneously, an increasing number of châteaux, including Yquem, are now open to the public by appointment. Further afield the problem is persuading consumers to take the plunge and experience the delights and complexity of this great wine – and that’s where the second labels play a part. This is not to say the grand vin is being sidelined. All producers agree that their ultimate goal in any given vintage is to make as much of the top wine as possible.

And with the increasing sophistication of viticultural and winemaking practices (pruning methods, selective harvesting, control of sulphur dioxide, barrel fermentation, ageing), as well as the botrytised potential of recent years, this has become more and more feasible.

But these are great wines that need time to open and develop in bottle. They also have the potential to age for a considerable length of time. The product of a natural phenomenon, botrytis cinerea or noble rot, they require skill, patience and experience to produce, so naturally there is a price to pay. Enter the second wine. New intentions

Until the new millennium most Sauternes classed-growth second wines were what Pierre Montégut, technical director at first growth Château Suduiraut, describes as ‘a typical Bordelaise second wine, made without a clear guideline to production and style, from young vines and batches that were unwanted in the grand vin’.

Most producers look to their second wines as a more open interpretation of their top wine, but these days extra thought goes into the shape and form and how it is achieved. The second wine, after all, serves as both an introduction to Sauternes and a stepping-stone to the top wine.


Château d’Yquem in Sauternes.


Château Suduiraut even has two second labels – Castelnau de Suduiraut and Lions de Suduiraut.

Montégut explains: ‘As the selection for Suduiraut became increasingly rigorous from 2001 onwards, our tastings began to identify batches of wine that expressed themselves earlier than those for Suduiraut.

‘Some were more classical in style so are now aimed at Castelnau, while others were fruitier and flattering which is the style of Lions. The batches were then traced to individual parcels, which enabled us to draw up a map identifying the plots for each of thethree wines. It doesn’t always work 100% this way, but gets us very close.’

Castelnau, which was originally created in 1992, evolved like this, with Lions taking on a separate identity from 2009. As Montégut points out, it’s not necessarily a question of young vines but terroir, as there is a parcel of 60-year-old vines on sandier soils which is usually destined for Lions.

Nor is it a question of residual sugar: the three cuvées from 2013 all hover around 143g/l to 150g/l of sugar. ‘You need a certain concentration to allow the botrytised aromatics of Semillon to develop,’ he argues. Length of barrel-ageing and the percentage of new oak do, however, vary for the three wines.

In a structured way Suduiraut has created three cuvées for three different profiles:

  • Suduiraut for the connoisseur with deeper pockets who is willing to bide his or her time;
  • Castelnau for the eager, classical palate;
  • Lions for the freewheeling, debutant consumer.

The last two are half the price of the grand vin. In a certain way this democratises decent Sauternes, allowing the first-time buyer a taste of good botrytised wine.

Style choices

While Suduiraut and Château Rabaud-Promis, with its second wine Promesse, have opted for a more full-blown, richer style for their second wines, Château Guiraud has taken the opposite tack.

‘We wanted a wine that was more spontaneous in style, something sapid and aromatic, which gives instant pleasure and is limited in its concentration, the idea being that it would bring new consumers into the fold,’ explains Xavier Planty, manager of Guiraud for the past 32 years and co-owner since 2006.

Consequently, the previous second label, Le Dauphin, was abandoned and Petit Guiraud was introduced in 2011. The 2013 version, which is presently being poured from magnum at La Chapelle restaurant, weighs in at 76g/l residual sugar.

As at Suduiraut, certain parcels at Guiraud have been identified for making the second label. But two other factors are brought into play when it comes to the balance of the wine.

Guiraud has more Sauvignon Blanc planted than many estates and the blend of 65% Semillon and 35% Sauvignon Blanc in the 2013 reflects this feature.

The other characteristic is that the search for concentration is less extreme. ‘Whereas we will never harvest grapes for the grand vin under 20% or 21% potential alcohol, those for Petit Guiraud are picked at 17% or 18% when the botrytis offers aroma but less concentration,’ explains Planty.

There are, of course, other factors such as pH and acidity that have an influence when it comes to judging the balance and concentration of a Sauternes.

Vintage, too, plays a part, with years like 2013 and 2014 offering greater acidity and perceptive freshness than richer, ‘solar’ years like 2015 and 2016. That being said, the majority of second wines I tasted from a range of vintages had a residual sugar level of between 113g/l to 127g/l and came across as balanced, with just the right degree of sweetness.

‘Our style is one of lightness and finesse with less residual sugar and our second wine, Lieutenant, mirrors this character,’ says Laure de Lambert, owner of first growth Château Sigalas Rabaud.

Fresh approach

Another tip, if you are searching for a little more freshness, is to take a look at the second wines from Barsac, one of the five Sauternes communes.

Located on a lower-lying plateau, Barsac – which has the right to label its wines as Barsac or Sauternes – has a reputation for acidity and freshness, a feature provided by the red, clay-like sand and limestone soils found in this part of the appellation.

Château Climens is the leading estate here and its second wine, Cyprès, is as good as it gets. Calling it a second label is almost abusive.

Created in 1984, the name Cyprès (‘cypress’ in English) was inspired by the fact that way back in the Middle Ages a cypress branch was issued as a receipt to prove that the tax for shipping wine from Barsac to Bordeaux had been paid. These days cypress berries have a more practical use as they are included in a preparation used to spray for grapevine moth at the biodynamic-certified Climens.

The production of Cyprès is based uniquely on tasting, with both the grand vin and second wine receiving exactly the same treatment when it comes to vinification, maturation, percentage of new oak and time of bottling.

The quality of the harvest is the fundamental factor at the outset. ‘There are no flying winemakers in the cellars tweaking the wines, as it’s all down to nature,’ says technical director Frédéric Nivelle. Thereafter the various batches of wine (between 15 to 25 batches, which is the equivalent of 150 to 200 barrels depending on the year) are tasted on a regular basis and the blend for the two wines is made gradually during the period of maturation, dependent on how each batch evolves.

The eventual result gives an average in terms of volume of 60% grand vin, 40% second wine – and on the evidence of tasting the 2015s side by side, it produces a Cyprès that is open and expressive early on, compared to the more intense but reticent Climens.

Of course, there is no second label at the great Yquem, but in a way this is just as well, as it would probably be another vehicle for speculation.

Essentially, the second wines being produced by the classed growths today are for drinking, the objective being to encourage a new clientele.

And with a slight change in mindset and the comprehension of quality and value they could help win the day for Sauternes in its battle for viability and global appreciation.


Sauternes at a glance

Area under production: 1,978ha (2016)

Communes: Barsac, Bommes, Fargues, Preignac, Sauternes

Production: 43,178hl or 5.8 million bottles (2016)

Yield: 21.8hl/ha (2016)

Growers: 142

Classed growths of 1855: 26 (45% surface area, 40% volume)

Grape varieties: Semillon (80%), Sauvignon Blanc (17%), Muscadelle (3%)

Soils: Sand, gravel, clay, limestone


Lively, fresh with good acidity and citrus notes (still with botrytised concentration): 2014, 2013, 2011, 2007.

Richer, rounder with tropical fruit notes: 2016, 2015, 2010, 2009.

Lighter and more uneven: 2012 (sometimes no grand vin made), 2008

See Lawther’s pick of second labels from Sauternes


Château Climens, Barsac, Cyprès de Climens, Bordeaux, 2013 Château Doisy-Védrines, Sauternes, Château Petit Védrines, Château Suduiraut, Sauternes, Castelnau de Suduiraut, 2013 Château Rieussec, Sauternes, Carmes de Rieussec, 2013 Château de Malle, Sauternes, Les Fleurs de Malle, 2016 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sauternes, La Chapelle de Château Coutet, Sauternes, La Chartreuse de Coutet, 2014 Château La Tour Blanche, Sauternes, Les Charmilles de la Château Rabaud-Promis, Sauternes, Promesse de Rabaud- Château Sigalas Rabaud, Sauternes, Lieutenant de Sigalas, Read more Decanter magazine articles online here

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Top Barolo Riserva 2012 wines

Decanter News - za, 16/06/2018 - 10:00

Stephen Brook takes a look at the latest vintage of Barolo Riserva to be released. Read on for tasting notes and scores...

Barolo Riserva 2012The farmhouse of Franco Conterno overlooking Monforte d'Alba.Barolo Riserva 2012

Drink or keep

Sunburn and hail were just some of the problems this year, and growers had to respond adroitly in the vineyards. Some fine wines, but others are soft and forward.


2012 was an inconsistent vintage, complicated by a cool and rainy spring, sporadic summer hailstorms, and rainfall in late August and early September.

Variable weather in the spring had led to an uneven flowering, which complicated the vintage and required growers to be vigilant and attentive in the vineyard. There were periods of intense heat, and there were reports of sunburn in some exposed vineyards.

Quick link: See all of Stephen’s Barolo Riserva 2012 tasting notes Back to Piedmont new releases: Full report

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What is Chianti Rufina? Ask Decanter

Decanter News - za, 16/06/2018 - 09:55

A brief introduction to this high altitude, Chianti DOCG sub-zone.

Chianti RufinaWhat is Chianti Rùfina? Ask Decanter

Chianti Rùfina is one of the smallest DOCG sub-zones in Chianti, Tuscany.

There are seven Chianti sub-zones, including Rùfina – but not including Chainti Classico DOCG.

Chianti Classico is it’s own DOCG, generally with vineyards planted at higher altitudes than Chianti, and the wines must be aged for at least 12 months before being released on to the market.

‘Chianti Rùfina is arguably the most famous of the Chianti sub zones,’ said Peter McCombie MW in his masterclass at the Italy Fine Wine Encounter, held at the Landmark hotel in London on 2 June 2018.

‘People think only Classico is where the really good wine is made, but I want to show that other areas can [do this as well].’

For Premium members: Full report and tasting notes on Chianti Classico new releases 

Published April 2018

Rùfina’s high altitude

Chianti Rùfina is known for its high altitude sites, and it is a very small sub zone.

‘It’s a continental climate almost, it’s much higher and it’s the smallest zone in Chianti around the town of Rùfina. It’s in the foothills of the Apennine mountains,’ said McCombie.

‘The high elevation means the Sangiovese can ripen slower, this makes more enjoyable tannins, and allows the wine to age more slowly,’ said Cesare Code Nunziante from Colognole.

‘Also, Rùfina is a small area. It feels exclusive – there are only three million bottles [produced each year]. ’

Rùfina is also the furthest from the coast, and the highest, of the Chianti appellations, said McCombie.

The high altitude is significant because it means a big diurnal temperature difference, he said.

‘It helps to retain acidity, freshness and give more intense fruit aromas and perfumes.’

What to eat with a typical Chianti Rùfina wines

‘In Italy people don’t drink wine without eating food. Remember, when acidity can seem a bit much, think about having it with food,’ said McCombie.

‘Because it’s Tuscany, I’m thinking a slow cooked wild boar ragu. And really good quality beef.’

‘I’d argue beef is more delicate than we give it credit for – and then throw something big at it. I think something more delicate works well, like this Sangiovese.

‘Wild game bird would work well too.’

From the Decanter archive

Stephen Brook wrote of Rùfina wines in 2010:

‘The wines, overwhelmingly Sangiovese, tend to be quite austere in their youth and well structured. As a group, they probably age better than many other Chiantis, and bottles from the 1960s are, apparently, still enjoyable.’

Find more wine questions answered here

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The World Cup wine quiz – Test your knowledge

Decanter News - vr, 15/06/2018 - 17:28

The Russia 2018 World Cup is inescapably here, whether you enjoy football or not. Can you use your wine knowledge to pick your way through our World Cup-themed quiz?

world cup wineCan you win our wine World Cup?Start the World Cup wine quiz below 


More wine quizzes here

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Hugel Schoelhammer: The first three vintages compared

Decanter News - vr, 15/06/2018 - 13:00

Stephen Brook tastes all three vintages of Hugel's new single vineyard Riesling, Schoelhammer, including the new 2009 release...

schoenenberg vineyard, alsaceWhere Schoelhammer Riesling comes from. Credit: Hugel.Grand cru or not grand cru?

Ever since Alsace established its grand cru system, some of its leading producers, such as Hugel, Trimbach and Leon Beyer, have resisted it, refusing to bottle their wines under the grand cru labels to which they are entitled.

Scroll down for Stephen’s Schoelhammer tasting notes You might also like: Producer profile: Hugel Alsace Riesling: Comparing grand cru sites Dry German Riesling Grosses Gewächs: Panel tasting results


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Sotheby’s launches ‘instant wine cellar’ service

Decanter News - do, 14/06/2018 - 15:49

Fine wine lovers can buy an instant wine collection and have bottles delivered within 24 hours in New York and Hong Kong as part of a new service launched by Sotheby's.

sotheby's instant cellarSotheby's launches advice and cellaring services.

Starting at $5,000 for 50 bottles, Sotheby’s said that its new ‘Instant Cellars’ service offers an immediate, curated wine collection.

Wines have been hand-picked by it experts, the company said, adding that it has also launched a collection management and advisory service.

Bottles within the Instant Cellars scheme will be available for delivery within 24 hours in New York and Hong Kong, said the auction house and retailer, pitching the move as ‘just in time for father’s day‘ – 17 June in the US and UK.

New York edition

As well as the ‘introductory cellar’ for $5,000, there is also a 72-bottle ‘intermediate’ cellar for $10,000 and a third option for more ambitious collectors that offers 168 bottles for $25,000.

A fourth cellar contains 90 bottles specially curated for investment and is also priced at $25,000.

In the $5,000 option, each bottle has an average price of $115 and collectors will get 25 different wines; so, two bottles of each wine, Sotheby’s said. Highlights include Malartic-Lagravière 2010, Napa’s Ulysses 2013 and Dom Ruinart blanc de blancs 2004.

Hong Kong edition

For wine lovers in Hong Kong, the introductory cellar comprises 46 bottles for HK$33,000, while an ‘intermediate’ cellar has 62 bottles for HK$70,000.

Purchase of cellars a free consultation with a member of the Sotheby’s collection management and advisory team, or a senior specialist from the auction or retail teams, the firm said.

Jamie Ritchie, global head of Sotheby’s wine, said, ‘As the wine market continues to rapidly evolve, it has become clear that there is a growing need for additional services that provide advice and guidance, both for those who are just beginning to enjoy wines and wish to build a collection, as well as for those who want to refine their existing cellar.

‘To address this demand, we are delighted that Julia Gilbert will lead our collection management & advisory service.’

The service will include customised tastings, portfolio analysis and installation of wines.

Gilbert is a Sotheby’s vice president and senior wine adviser, who joined the group in 2017. She has been involved in the fine wine auction industry since 2005.

Find exclusive wine reviews on Decanter Premium


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Piedmont new releases: Full report

Decanter News - do, 14/06/2018 - 14:03

Stephen Brook provides individual reports on the latest releases from Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero, with tasting notes and scores for more than 170 wines...

Piedmont new releasesSunset over Serralunga d'Alba.

The great Nebbiolo wines of Piedmont have an avid following, so the release of new vintages always generates some excitement – and occasionally some disappointment.

The starting gun is triggered at an event in Alba now known as Nebbiolo Prima. It’s not an official launch, but is the first opportunity for the press and sommeliers to taste the new releases of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero at a leisurely pace.

 Scroll down to see Stephen’s Piedmont reports
Other articles you might enjoy: The cru-isation of Barolo Barolo 2013: Top wines and vintage review Brunello di Montalcino 2013: Report and top wines

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Barolo 2014: Vintage report and tasting notes

Decanter News - do, 14/06/2018 - 13:41

Stephen Brook reports on the tricky 2014 vintage in this renowned appellation. Read on for his top recommendations, plus dozens more tasting notes and scores...

barolo 2014, cuneoAutumnal sunrise in Barolo, Piedmont.Barolo 2014 at a glance:


After a stormy summer, a fine September saved the vintage, although hail did much damage. Yet top growers produced fine, elegant wines. Better in Barbaresco.


For growers in the Barolo zone, 2014 would offer a summer of anxiety. Although spring was early, there was little frost. Temperatures were normal in early summer, but there were some spells of localised rain.

In late July, when rainfall was particularly fierce, some vineyards were drenched, while a couple of kilometres away the vines received a mere sprinkling.

Quick link: See all of Stephen’s Barolo 2014 tasting notes
On high alert Barolo 2014 preview

Looking out over the vineyards of Boscareto (foreground), Ornato and Briccolina. Better autumnal weather helped to combat a cool summer in Barolo country in 2014. Credit: James Button / Decanter, 2017.

An update of Stephen’s Barolo 2014 preview, published in late 2017

Back to our Piedmont new releases homepage

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Discover Katnook Coonawarra

Decanter News - do, 14/06/2018 - 12:18

Promotional feature

An odyssey of history and heritage

Katnook Coonawarra Cellar DoorKatnook Cellar DoorPromotional feature Katnook Coonawarra

It is no wonder that the Ferrer family fell in love with Katnook. As a family with a strong sense of the importance of tradition, they were attracted by Katnook’s long history. It is the oldest existing winery in Coonawarra – one of Australia’s foremost wine regions, an extensive estate, and with two icon wines, Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon and Prodigy Shiraz, at the pinnacle of its portfolio and listed on the prestigious Langtons classification. Katnook also produces its flagship Katnook Estate wines and contemporary Katnook Founder’s Block range.

The winery dates back to 1861 when the entrepreneurial Scottish immigrant John Riddoch arrived in Penola and began to purchase extensive parcels of agricultural land, recognising its exceptional quality. In 1890 he established the Penola Fruit Colony, selling 10 acre blocks of land to encourage others to invest in the settlement. He planted 140 hectares of vines. His first commercial vintage was made in the woolshed in 1896.

Katnook’s contemporary history begins in 1971, with extensive planting of new vines and a new strategy to develop and enhance the wines. Initially wine production began in the original historic woolshed, but with the reorganisation the woolshed was transformed into what is now the barrel room.

In June 2001, recognising the need for strategic global alliances, 60% of the shareholding was sold to Freixenet Spain, the world’s biggest sparkling wine producer and 10th largest wine company. In January 2008, Freixenet purchased the remaining shareholding and has since then facilitated the investment of A$8 million in renovating and improving Katnook’s vineyards, winemaking facilities and heritage buildings.

Katnook stables building

Katnook’s historic “The Stables” building

Starting a new chapter

Winemaker Tim Heath joined Katnook in June 2018. He worked at Mountadam in the Barossa before moving to Cloudy Bay in New Zealand, where he has spent the last 14 years. Heath takes over from the award-winning Wayne Stehbens, who died suddenly in 2017. Wayne Stehbens joined Katnook in 1979, and went on to become one of Australia’s longest serving winemakers. He established the character and style of Katnook as it is today and won many accolades for his achievements, including two highly coveted Jimmy Watson trophies. In taking on the mantle, Tim Heath brings a wealth of international expertise and creative flair that is certain to build on Wayne Stehbens’ great legacy and take Katnook into an exciting future.

Katnook and Coonawarra

When it comes to terroir in Australia, then Coonawarra with its terra rossa is the textbook example. This well-draining, very distinctive red-brown topsoil over limestone is what attracted the first farmers, John Riddoch among them. (‘Katnook’ is the Indigenous word for ‘Fat Land’ referring to the fertile character of the soil.)

Coonawarra, one of Australia’s smallest regions at only 20km long and 2km wide, is 370km south-east of Adelaide and 450km west of Melbourne. Importantly, it is south of latitude 37 degrees, and only 60 metres above sea level, with a maritime climate cooler than many of Australia’s grape-growing regions. With its long warm summers and cool autumns it has been compared to Bordeaux in climate. It’s this cooling character that guarantees the elegance and natural acidity of the wines.

The Katnook vineyards are in the heart of Coonawarra, within the Limestone Coast geographic indication. Senior viticulturist Chris Brodie manages 200 hectares, divided into 100 separate parcels. The terra rossa is 20-60cm deep. Below that is a calcrete layer – a hard calcium rich layer – which forms a distinctive boundary between the terra rossa and the limestone below. It’s this limestone which holds the freshwater aquifers.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the king in  Coonawarra and the main variety (56.5%) grown at Katnook. The three Cabernets in the portfolio are all available in the UK – Odyssey and Katnook Estate (www.Auswineonline.com) and Katnook Founders Block Cabernet (Waitrose and Ocado) The two dominant white varieties are Chardonnay 9% and Sauvignon Blanc 5.8% with some Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Semillon. Amongst the reds there’s a good proportion of Shiraz and Merlot with a little Pinot Noir, Malbec, Pinot Meunier, Tannat and Tempranillo. The vineyards have Entwine accreditation, which is Australia’s official sustainability programme.

Katnook coonawarra terra rossa soil

Coonawarra’s distinctive terra rossa soil

Visiting the Cellar Door

It’s well worth making the detour to Katnook, especially if you are doing a trip along the Great Ocean Road. The welcome is especially warm, and it is fascinating to step back into the days of John Riddoch, to learn the early history of wine in Australia, and to see what terra rossa is all about, and just how red it is. With wine tasting and local cheese platters on offer, it’s not surprising that Katnook’s Cellar Door won tourism awards in 2015 and 2017 from Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine.

Katnook CabernetKatnook Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

This 20th vintage release is Wayne Stehbens’ last vintage in his 39 years as Katnook’s winemaker. This benchmark ‘Coonawarra Cab’ is only made in the very best vintages, and is a hand selection from specific rows in specific blocks. The first vintage was 1991, released in 1996 to commemorate the centenary of the first vintage made in the Katnook woolshed. Odyssey has won many international awards and is listed in the ‘Outstanding’ category of the prestigious fine wine Langton’s Classification of Australian Wines. It is aged for 37 months (two thirds in French oak, half of which was new) and one third in older American oak. The wine shows an alluring interplay of typical Coonawarra dark berries and plums interwoven with notes of mocha and cedar from the barrel ageing. This will mature gracefully for 20 years.


Distributed in the UK by Berkmann Wine Cellars www.berkmann.co.uk

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The greatest Bordeaux vintages that never were

Decanter News - do, 14/06/2018 - 10:01

How Bordeaux came to embrace the idea of vintage wines.

mouton rothschild barrel roomThe Mouton Rothschild barrel room.

The idea of vintage in Bordeaux has been fetishised slowly but surely over the years. It’s easy to see why.

It suits everyone to have a simple route in to such a big, complicated region.

An oceanic climate means producers are ecstatic whenever there are years with very little rain. And merchants are happy to find a simple message to go to market within a region populated with thousands of estates and dozens of different terroirs – even if (or perhaps especially because) they don’t all react in blanket fashion to changing weather conditions.

Like the 1855 classification with its five easy steps, selling the allure of an individual vintage is both smart and powerful.

But it wasn’t always this way. Until the 1970s, many châteaux would only bottle the best plots of the best years.

The rest would be sold to négociants in bulk, who did their own labelling, bottling and blending – and often chose to sell the wine without specifying the year.

Instead, the notion of a Bordeaux vintage was similar to that in Champagne or in Port – which means it was a reflection of excellence, not something that was seen every year.

I caught up with Jean-Claude Berrouet, one of the true historians of Bordeaux, to talk about this evolution. He’s a man who has known the vagaries of an oceanic climate intimately, having made some of the most beloved wines of Bordeaux for close on 50 years while at JP Moueix, and whose personal archives at his Vieux Château Saint André in Montagne-St-Emilion are full of details heading right back through the 19th century, alongside his winemaking notes and memories.

I always love visiting here. His front room is exactly as you would expect. Warm, welcoming, well-cluttered with books and family photographs, the odd original art work suggesting there’s a little bit more than your average home going on.

‘Certain years were bottled for historical reasons,’ he tells me, ‘so in 1945 nearly everyone bottled their wine because it was the end of the war. It was particularly good on the Left Bank, and Mouton is rightly recognised to have bottled an historic wine with an historic label in an excellent year – although you will find lots of different bottle shapes because of shortages of glass after the war.

‘In contrast it has always been extremely difficult to find any bottles from 1946 (the year that Christian Moueix was born coincidentally), because the vintage was less good and because most importantly it was less celebrated as an historical moment so châteaux didn’t go to the trouble of bottling it’.

The same thing was true even with what was perhaps the best run of vintages of the 20th century – 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1950.

‘This was an exemplary series of harvests,’ Berrouet says, ‘and if it happened today would be huge deal. But back then no one could believe that there would be interest in even two good vintages in a row. So a lot of châteaux bottled their 1947, which was particularly good on the Right Bank – particularly Cheval Blanc and Petrus – and then took a break when 1948 arrived, even though it was again an excellent vintage.

‘They simply sold it on to négociants, because they just couldn’t imagine that there were enough clients to buy a ‘vin millesimé’ for a second year running. This was followed by 1949, which was the heatwave vintage with the huge forest fires that raged across Les Landes in August (they killed more than 80 people, and destroyed 52,000ha of pine forest).

‘In the vineyards, despite this, it was an abundant year and the quality meant that everyone put a lot of wine in bottle. You can still find some today if you’re lucky, But when 1950 came around and delivered yet another excellent year in terms of quality, once again nobody bothered to bottle it.’

We can only imagine what treasures have been lost this way, but it did mean that vintages were inexorably associated with quality, as they still are in regions such as Champagne. Berrouet remembers his grandfather asking for ‘a Pauillac millesimé’, or a ‘St Julien millesimé’ when he wanted to buy a good quality bottle from a local wine shop, never mind which estate or even which particular year it came from.

It was only really in the mid 1970s, when château bottling became far more systematic, that the idea of a specified year changed from being the mark of exception to the reflection instead of a specific character – so both good and less good. Perhaps, global warming aside, this is one reason why vintages of the century were a little less commonplace in the past century than in this one?

Things began to really change in the 1970s. The oil crisis bankrupted a lot of négociants, meaning there were simply less of them to take large quantities of wine, and the Châteaux began widespread bottling themselves (this also converged with the region making more and more red wine, that could age in bottle).

From here on, vintages became the thumbprint of a year. Inevitably that meant that there was more diversity in quality, and the notion of climate became more important. It also arguably meant that quality began to rise, because if châteaux put their names to vintages year in year out, they needed to take greater responsibility for quality.

‘Even so, until 1982 there was less external pressure,’ remembers Berrouet.

‘Wine writers such as Harry Waugh didn’t talk about comparative quality. There were no scores, no competition really and facing the challenges of a vintage was much more of a collaborative effort between winemakers. The 100 points scale that Parker introduced inevitably had the effect of increasing competition. Steering your wine through the vagaries of each year became more of a personal challenge.’

Today, because the idea of vintages referring to character as well as quality is so widespread, examples of châteaux choosing not to bottle them is rare. But it still happens – and not just in clearly disappointing years such as 2013.

‘One of the more unusual side effects of the frost in the 2017 vintage,’ consultant Thomas Duclos told me recently, ‘was that it was suddenly more profitable for many estates to sell their wine off in bulk rather than bottling it. This was particularly true on the Right Bank, where the extremely low yields meant that the price of bulk wine doubled, and at the same time the quality for many across St Emilion was not good enough for them to see added value by bottling in-house’.

It was a reminder that even today there are certain conditions when a château will still say to itself, ‘you know what, I’d rather sit this one out’.

More articles like this:  Wine Legend: Mouton Rothschild 1945 Tasting 150 years of Lafite Rothschild wines

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