Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ripley-esque truth is stranger than fiction

A vineyard has been located in the little known Gers region of southwest France with vines believed to be at least 190 years old. There are apparently 20 varieties, including seven unknown to authorities. The seven unknown varieties have been named Pedebernade 1 to 7 in honour of the family which has tended the vineyard for eight generations. Judging by the photograph, these are indeed extraordinarily old vines.  The question is why phylloxera didn’t leave its calling card.  It may be sandy soil, but it’s also possible the remote location and lack of awareness of the vineyard may have meant that no infected material was brought to the site in the 19th/early 20th centuries. This is in turn consistent with the grapes having never been made into a discrete wine; rather, they have been sold to the local co-operative. Plans are now afoot to make a wine from the vineyard, but whether it will be from the unknown vines or from tannat and fer servadou (both red grape varieties) isn’t known.

The head of the Ger region cultural affairs department has honoured the vineyard as a historic monument, of slightly less importance than the moves for UNESCO recognition of the historic (and ongoing) importance of Burgundy and its appellations.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hunter Valley Wine Show

The full results of the trophies awarded at the Hunter Valley Wine Show have been posted on the website.

Two awards which might slip through the net were the Iain Riggs Wines of Provenance Awards for both white and red wines. The idea comes from the Adelaide Wine Show, which pioneered the concept some years ago. To enter, a winery has to provide three wines, the youngest commercially available for sale, plus two wines respectively not less than five and 10 years old. The wines are judged as triplets, although individual assessment of each wine will of course be part of the ultimate decision by each judge, at which point the normal discussion takes place until a full consensus is reached.

It is tempting to say that from this point on it was business as usual.  But the not-always-easy-to-please Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW said ‘Having judged a number of Australian wine shows by now, I have to say that in my experience the Hunter Valley Wine Show 2012 ranks amongst the best organised and judged. But a show can’t be great without great wines, so I’d like to particularly thank the Hunter producers for making some very impressive wines in recent years. The unique styles of Shirazes, Semillons and Chardonnays have especially been a pleasure to judge, and believe me I don’t say that at every show. The best wines demonstrated purity, perfume and elegance as only the Hunter Valley can achieve.’

There were 20 trophies, and all but two (Vintage Fortified Wine and Best Chardonnay) all went to Semillon or Shiraz.  The arrival of screwcap will see ever more trophies going to aged semillons, which start hitting their straps when five years old, but which will go for much longer. Just how long we still don’t know,  but it easily could be well over 20 years.

What is not understood by consumers who don’t live in Sydney is the elegance and perfume of Hunter Valley shiraz. The quality of these wines has improved enormously over the past 10 to 15 years, as winemakers have got rid of brettanomyces and sulphide derivatives, moved to the judicious use of French oak, and have thought carefully about the potential alcohol in the wines.

Just as semillon in the Hunter achieves phenological ripeness around 10 to 10.5 baume, resulting in the majority of wines having an alcohol content of between 10% and 11.5% (with more in the former than the latter level), so does shiraz reach phenological ripeness in most years plus/minus 12  baume, with resultant alcohol levels of between 12.5% and 13.5%.  They have a freshness which is totally enjoyable when the wines are young, but progressively gain complexity over the next decade.  That said, De Iuliis Wines won the Trophy for Best Dry Red of Show with its 2011 Steven Vineyard Shiraz, underlining the ability of young shiraz to outpoint its far older siblings.  Mike De Iuliis is one of the many graduates from the Len Evans Tutorial, and while it would be drawing a long bow to suggest that this was the reason for his achievement, he certainly has an international perspective on quality.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wine Intelligence Report - China

Wine Intelligence ( has come up with a further in-depth study of the structure of the Chinese wine market. It took two years to come up with the full report, which is aimed at medium to large winery operations around the world, with a cost of a cool $4000.

Some of its headline findings will not surprise China watchers. However, the numbers and percentages will undoubtedly add to the overall understanding of the market. The high end is a by-product of business and gift-giving activities, and make up 22% of the wine drinking (assuming the bottles are actually opened) but over 40% of the total spend in the market. Wine Intelligence observes ‘These individuals are typically purchasing top end Bordeaux and Burgundy for business dinners and gift, but are unlikely to venture beyond prestige wines to buy more everyday brands for their own consumption.’

At the other end, middle-aged couples and younger social drinkers account for nearly half of the current wine drinking population, but only a third of sales by value.

The conclusion that the market is still at an early stage of development certainly comes as no surprise.  Maria Troein, Wine Intelligence Country Manager for China, tantalisingly says ‘Nonetheless, there are encouraging signs that there are sections of the market who find wine interesting and appealing for reasons that go beyond social prestige. As the market evolves, the big question for us will be to see whether this remains a niche group of enthusiasts, or whether we begin to see a larger segment of consumers picking up a bottle of wine as a natural, everyday choice.’

I personally have no doubt that the market will evolve, but the unanswerable question is whether this will take one year, five years, or longer. Even this has unspoken questions and assumptions. How do you measure the rate of change and the volume of change. This will vary substantially between exporters in the market, and their ability to hang in there despite frustration and the difficulty of piercing the veil of the Chinese mind.