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Fancy a glass of Wine Fraud? Safety when selling wine.

Wine fraud over the last decade has become a huge problem for the wine industry, and buying and selling wine has become increasingly more difficult when trying to ensure you’re getting the stock you’ve paid for. This issue has become so big, that even traditional wine merchants and wine auction houses are not exempt from its greedy clutches – in fact, a counterfeit case between New York wine auction house Acker Merrall & Condit and a famous wine collector took over 6 years to settle.

So, what’s the first step you should take? Luckily the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) have compiled this useful PDF detailing some common pitfalls along with a thorough checklist of what to avoid.

WSTA is an industry body that campaigns for transparent and fair industry practice, offering support and advice. Given that, almost three-quarters of the UK trading standards investigations are concerned with illegal alcohol, they have a tough and important role to play.

Their wine investment advice is both thorough and wise: KNOW your product – what you want, its market value. KNOW your source – who are you buying from, where has the wine been. KNOW your logistics – paperwork, transport storage, tax, dates.

With bodies like the WSTA pushing for increasing transparency and regulation, things are certainly moving in the right direction when buying and selling wine.

You can also read our blog on ‘Key factors to consider when deciding how to sell wine online‘, which will guide you through what you need to think about when selling wine.

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  • A guide to Wine Storage

    Buying wine, for investment or consumption, is a process that lends itself to great care – especially when considering the wine storage.

    What is often then overlooked, or perhaps lopped on as an afterthought, is where that carefully considered investment is going to be stored.  Under the stairs?  In the boiler cupboard?  Perhaps the garage feels a safer bet?

    So much of wines’ value, whether the end game is drinking or selling, is wound up in its provenance and the condition it was stored in. Storing wine in an official government bonded warehouse can protect exactly that. Above all, wine needs consistency. As a living organism, it is of course affected by surrounding conditions – heat, light, humidity, movement and ventilation are all massively important. As a perishable asset, that can become devalued if stored incorrectly, it’s worth getting the basics right.

    TEMPERATURE – The singularly most crucial of all factors of wine storage. The optimum temperatures to store wine is in-between 10 – 15 degrees, but deviating slightly from this is not the end of the world, as long as it isn’t subject to huge fluctuations. Most professional wine storage facilities keep the cases at a cool 12 degrees and won’t vary from it by more than half a degree either side.

    As a liquid, wine contracts and expands with its surrounding temperatures. Temperatures over 30 degrees will start to significantly change the structure of the wine, with the colour, clarity and flavour compounds within it all becoming detrimentally affected. Anything below -4 degrees and you run the risk of the wine freezing, again changing the compounds of the wine, and also potentially forcing the cork out of its bottle. This can also happen if the temperatures are too high, which can lead to premature oxidisation.

    LIGHT – is also an important influencer when it comes to wine storage. Not only does light bring provide heat, it is also magnified through glass, especially clear or lighter bottles. Sparkling wine is particularly susceptible and UV light is even more penetrative than its regular perpetrator, so your wine storage facility needs to be dark.  The most diligent of collectors would also suggest using incandescent or sodium vapour lights in a cellar/storage facility. Just in case.

    HUMIDITY – Too little and the cork will dry out, lose its elasticity and let air in; too much and the actual liquid will remain intact, but the labels and cases can disintegrate.  Not only are they important for identification, but if you are planning to sell your wine, damaged labels and cases will seriously affect its value.

    For the perfectionist, wine is best kept at 70% humidity, with an acceptable range being 50-80%. A standard fridge comes in at 20% which will dry out the cork, even if the wine is laid flat. A good reason not to leave your wine in the fridge for too long! If conditions feel a bit dry, a good way to humidify matters is a big bucket of water in proximity to the wines. Sounds basic but can have a remarkable conservatory-complex effect.

    VENTILATION – It may sound obvious, but stow away your loot in a musty basement and you will know about it. Corks are not air-tight, so any lingering smell of anything, savoury or less so, will work its way in and tarnish the wine.  And no one wants ‘hint of mothballs’ on their tasting notes. Wine likes well-aired, controlled environments, with consistency being the key and a few well-recommended optimums for perfection’s sake.

    MOVEMENT – The less of it, the better. Any kind of vibrations from noise, machinery, even transport, is damaging to wine.  The waves disturb the sediment, not to mention liquid itself and can seriously affect the wine’s ageing process and natural composition. Bottles need to be kept flat with the label facing up, so that the wine comes into contact with the cork, keeping it moist, any sediment will form in the bottom of the punt.  Minimal disturbance means minimal bits floating around the glass when it finally comes to drinking time.

    SECURITY – Crime within the wine world does not limit itself to fraudulent bottles in Asia.  It is seen as an easily tradable commodity – ie. Easy to shift and tricky to trace. Closer to home (should your wine be there), you don’t want to come back after a week away to find someone has tucked into your prized case, only to have had a couple of glasses and thrown the rest down the sink because ‘it didn’t taste very nice’. Security works at all sorts of levels, most of all for your own peace of mind.

    Having scrupulously covered what environmental influences need to be factored into your storage plan, it feels important to check-in with why all of the above are so important.  And it all boils down to PROVENANCE. Not only protecting the quality and ageing of the wine itself, but also the accreditation that surrounds its history. Which is where storing your wine in a bonded warehouse really comes into its own.

    Whilst you might be lucky enough to have access to a perfectly conditioned cellar, the reality of buying wine for any kind of investment purpose, be it financial or personal, is the necessity to make sure its history is traceable.

    BUYING WINE When buying wine, there are so many things to think about and it can often feel rather daunting. From deciding what, when, how much and who from, the bit after the buying is easily forgotten and yet arguably the most important part of your purchase. Where are you going to keep it? Professional storage facilities are by far the best options. As a fully-accredited, government bonded warehouse your wine cases remain duty and tax exempt until you decide to delivery it to your home. If you’re selling your cases to a wine merchant who has a bonded warehouse, or who are based abroad, the logistics are simplified and you still won’t have to pay the tax.

    Depending on where you’ve bought your wine from, bonded warehouses like London City Bond or Octavian Vaults can help with the movement of your wine, and also with its certification and insurance. You are also guaranteed optimised and constant conditions for the safe-keeping of your liquid assets, until such time as you choose to move it on. You may also find the wine is already stored there (as the 2 most established and respected warehouses in the UK, many merchants hold their stock with them) which makes for an easy transfer via accounts and very little, or no movement of the actual stocks. It also means they will already have all the existing paperwork, authenticity reports and condition reports, on file.

    With such an array of options, you’ll soon be able to view our resource on Bonded Warehouses, which outlines the best available warehouses in the UK and their contact details.

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  • A Guide to…Wine Tasting

    A wine tasting is one of those events that either fill people with joy or dread… or perhaps a healthy alternation between the two for trade-folk. Joyous or quaking with fear, it is undeniable there feels like a lot of social pressure around a event that essentially allows us to try something we like, or indeed might like.

    But why? It all boils down to confidence – the wine world can appear full of pretentious rituals and arm-waves, how can you possibly affect the right glass swill if you haven’t grown up on an châteaux estate; or spent a lot of time with people who have. Luckily things are changing, and an informal wine tasting should be seen as being a good symptom of this change. With events popping up all over the country, from the more serious to light-hearted; an increasing amount of shops heralding enomatic wine tasting machines and the good old world wide web making it all the more accessible, the wine world suddenly feels like a far more democratic one.

    However, it does help to have a few things in mind, an internal set of pointers if you will, before skipping into the room, head held high. Herewith a few suggestions that we feel lend to a more enjoyable and productive wine tasting experience…

    Remember you’re there for YOU. Yes, you. Whilst it’s important to talk to others and listen to any experts who might be lurking around, how you taste wine, and even why you’re there, is all ultimately very personal.

    Enter with an open mind… maybe you know what you like, maybe you don’t, the important thing is to try as much as you can, especially anything new or rife with preconceptions. This is best way to educate your palate.

    Talking to people makes the whole experience all the more worthwhile, and infinitely more enjoyable. Find the hosts; let them know what you like and listen what they suggest. Are there any sommeliers? They’re there for a purpose: to help and guide. Chat to fellow tasters. It’s interesting and there might be something that you’re struggling to define that they just so happen to have pinpointed. It also helps find personal descriptors for wine terms that might have previously felt a little too arm-wavy for comfort.

    Nibble away. Empty stomachs at a wine tasting are a dangerous thing; no one wants to be the one who trips on their shoe, launches into a table of glasses and upturns a plant pot for good measure. (Although if this does happen, it makes for a great story). The food is also there for a purpose (and that’s not to line empty stomachs. Eat before) – to cleanse your palette in between different wines. Tastebuds can be susceptible to influence too, so do your best to keep them fresh.

    Drink water too. Not expecting it to turn into wine, but to keep everything fresh, and hydrated. Your tastebuds, notes and head later on/the next day will thank you. And it rinses your glass.

    Make notes. However you like. They’re for your own recollection and development, not anyone else. Perhaps take pictures of labels. Number them off in your notes. Gone are the days where labels had to be soaked off into scrapbooks, let your smart phone be just that.

    Take your time. There’s no point in blustering in, gulping down and exiting… First off there’s far too much glassware around for that kind of behaviour, but also there’d be no benefit to you – to really taste a wine takes time, and checking off of the senses:

    First – LOOK. What colour is it? how viscous (thick) is it? can you glean any initial smells without moving the glass?

    Then – SWIRL. Start of slowly and see how the wine moves. Are there any legs? (residual wine on the inside of the glass that dribbles down a bit like brandy sauce on a Christmas pudding) Swirling in itself can feel a bit of a rigmarole, but you don’t need to necessarily have the perfectly attuned flick of the wrist. Swirling is designed to open out the wine, to release aromas and let it breathe a bit more before it’s sipped upon. Keep the bottom of the glass on a flat surface if need be and move its contents as you choose. Smell again and notice any difference; how has it opened out and is there anything it reminds you of?

    After, and only after – SIP. Let those smells move into your mouth…Do they grow into something else? or close off slightly? Play with the wine in your mouth, swill it around, and carefully breathe air in through the wine. There should be no tastebud left untouched. Try without the swilling and breathing. Notice the difference?

    Now comes the conundrum: to swallow or not to swallow, that is the question. Well, the good news is (noble musings notwithstanding)… it doesn’t matter; you choose. Want to drink the wine, then do (mindful of how much you’ve already drunk and how long you’re going to be at the wine tasting for)… Or rather spit, then do. Spitting is traditionally how the trade operate as this is their job, and they might be off to another 2 or 3 tastings that day alone and need to keep wits and energies up. As a consumer, you decide depending on how you feel (and maybe how delicious the wine is, sometimes)… Just keep a bit of a tab on things and remember when you last ate.

    Holding your glass. Now this can feel weighted in social norms – how to hold, where to put (especially when taking pictures and notes), do I need to keep hold of the same glass, even? All of these concerns are valid, but for the most part become apparent from wine tasting to wine tasting. Sometimes you’ll be encouraged to keep hold of your glass, sometimes you won’t. And there’ll always be some sort of surface to place it down on either way. The important thing is when it’s in your actual hands, hold it properly by the stem. Holding by the bowl not only makes it dirty, but also changes the temperature of the wine. The stem also makes for an easier swirl. Self-styled as it may be.

    So there we are – go forth and taste! With a view to expanding your knowledge, moving out of a few comfort zones and meeting a few like-minded souls. Who knows you might even enjoy it, and if not, learning something new can never be a bad thing.  Especially when the finer juice of the grape is involved.

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  • Top 10 Wine Upcycles

    Lots of wine paraphenalia lying around from some enthusiastic toasts to Summer? Want to give them a new lease of life? From attainable to ambitious, here’s our round-up of some of the best upcycling options out there. A worthy reason to drink more if ever one were to be created.

     

    Lamp

    The most obvious, yes. But with beauty being in the eye of the beholder, it’s all about the interpretation. From Lightbulb to fairy lights; simple candle to precariously balanced candelabra; painted stencil to full-blown jeweled embellishment, the humble wine bottle is the most wonderful vehicle for your (or someone elses) creative license.

     

    Door stop

    Another master of simplicity. Fill your favourite bottles with water, or sand & prop that door with a certain fondness & finesse. Magnums work best, or heavy punted champagne bottles. Combine the 2 & you’re onto a winner both sides of the consumption equation!

     

     Box shelves

     So perhaps a slightly more voluminous consumption ask, but collecting wooden boxes is never a bad thing, even if it just equates to some kindling. Or sturdy boxing. From simple stacking to a more complicated structure, boxes make for wonderful shelves, both practically & aesthetically. & ups the sourcing bar. Ahem, what bottles are distributed solely in wooden cases…?

     

    Coat/Hat stand

     

    Ladies & Gentleman, as you come into the hall, please be so kind as to leave your coats on the… bottles. Just makes sense. In a reassuringly cyclical kind of way. Simply cut the bottles & affix to whatever board you choose; OR leave as it & embed them into whatever stand you choose. I mean, its SOUNDS simple, right!? (we opted for the less arts & crafts version)

     

    Cork bathmat

     Absorbent, easily collectible AND I would say a relatively nice thing to step out of the bath onto. Corks are an under-used by product of a wine-enthusiast. Rescue them from the dog and/or fire; or pop round a few local bars & restaurants. Before you know it a wealth of options will be at your creative fingertips. Face up in a frame, or woven together as more of a traditional mat. Those delicate post-bath feet will be ever so grateful.

     

    Wineglass chandelier

    Arguably you may want to keep your wine glasses to, well, drink from. But die-hard upcyclists may well just want to given them another lease of life. And they do look ever so pretty. Bottles work too, reasurringly. Corks will just have you a cricket field down-under, although never say never.

     

    Hanging plant pot

    Flowers love bottles almost as much as we do. Either cut the bottle & make a little bed, or drop seeds & soil in. And wait! Or affix to wall & use as a decorative receptacle for cut flowers. Many an inspired idea & many a happy plant.

     

    Garden edging

     In keeping with the green-fingered theme, why not set your garden beds with upturned bottles. A neat way of keeping everything in check; & a slightly less conventional bottle-count. For fully immersive greener than thou fare, imagine what microclimate you’re creating for sundry bugs & soil dwelling types. If they’re lucky there might even be some dregs to boot. Happy worms indeed!

     

    Cork board

     Maybe obvious. But for good reason. And why not use something obvious to remind you of all those oh so obvious nitbits that regularly get forgotten. Precisely for that reason. Go small, or BIG & set the whole wall up.. A well-stopped reminder of forgetfulness.

     

    Wine clock

    Not for the DIY faint hearted, but ever so worth it’s labour of love. AND a timely reminder of when to open the next bottle, set old (preferably cleaned) bottles around a clock for an at once timeless & timeful upcycle. Deciding which bottle corresponds to which hour of the day best left to the artist’s discretion.

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  • Wine Words 4

    Now to look at 2 different kinds of descriptors, both (ironically) rather hard to describe.  The first has risen in popularity over the past decade, whilst the second might feel more resonant of times past, but most definitely translates to a very of-the-moment sensation.

     

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    Minerality | mɪnəræləti |

     

    Refers to both taste & aroma of a wine & very much a reflection of what soil the vines are planted in. Can be salty or flinty & with a lively essence, mineral wines dance on your tastebuds & feel of the earth.

     

    Like: a fresh oyster

     

    For example: “The wine exhibits an intense minerality along with a blue/purple fruit character as well as both the terroir’s and vintage’s tell-tale floral notes. More showy and denser than some recent vintages, it possesses sweet tannin, full body, and admirable richness as well as length. It will require 3-4 years of bottle age, and should drink well for two decades.”

     

    Robert Parker reviewing Beausejour Duffau 2008

     

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    Sumptuous bouquet | səmptʃwəs buke |

     

    Refers to the aroma of a wine – a smell that affects all your senses with a rich, deep & sometimes emotional resonance. This sensory overload often translates into how you will taste the wine as tastebuds have already been sufficiently tantalised.

     

    Like: the first lift of the tagine lid before serving

     

    For example: “One of the finest under-the-radar estates in Pessac-Leognan, Haut-Bergey’s 2005 (a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot) offers up aromas of scorched earth, wet stones, burning embers, charcoal, and copious black currant and cherry fruit. The sumptuous bouquet is accompanied by a full-bodied wine displaying dazzling purity, sweet tannin, and a long, opulent finish. This beauty will be drinkable at a relatively early age for a 2005. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2025.”

     

    Robert Parker reviewing Haut Bergey 2005

     

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  • Top 10 Wine Quotes

    As one of languages great looseners, it should come as no surprise that there is no shortage of wise wine words in our world.  From the Greeks to the Romans, religious leaders to writing greats, leading pioneers to, ahem, Basil Fawlty; it appears that most of the worlds greatest thinkers & creators just so happened to like doing so with a glass of wine in their hand (Mr Fawlty perhaps came a cropper in not drinking enough of the stuff).

    Herewith a round-up of the Top 10, which could easily have been a Top 20+..

     

    “Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever”

    Aristophanes (c. 446BC – c.386BC)

    A great Greek wit, also known a the ‘Father of Comedy’, Aristophanes was pretty good at saying clever things. And now we have an authentic testimonial as to what provided his cerebral inspiration.

     

    “In wine there is truth. (in vino veritas)”

    Pliny the Elder (AD 23 – AD 79)

    One of the most famous wine quotes & with good cause; Pliny the Elder, like any good straight-roaded Roman, has left a legacy that works in most languages & is ever used by other authors, merchants & even growers themselves.

     

    “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried & with fewer tensions and more tolerance.”

    Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

    If it’s good enough for a man who is considered one of the founding fathers of the American state & could list inventor, diplomat, author, political theorist & printer among his many achievements/roles, then it’ll do for us. And that’s one busy mind to calm.

     

    “Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.”

    Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895)

    French chemist & microbiologist Pasteur’s progressions in the prevention of disease & infection has saved & continues to save lives all over the world. High falooting praise indeed.

     

    “In victory, you deserve champagne. In defeat you need it.”

    Napolean Bonaparte (1769-1821)

    Luckily Napoleon’s feuds generally left him deserving of his tipple of choice, but it’s good to think that he had a good 6 years of quaffing to toast off his final defeat in 1815.

     

    “God made only water, but man made wine.”
    (“Dieu n’avait fait que l’eau, mais l’homme a fait le vin”)

    Victor Hugo (1802 – 1855)

    Wise words from a man many considered God’s gift to French literature, or the West-End at least. Unfortunately the Euro curtailed his permanent deification when it ousted the Franc (on a 500 note, no less).

     

    “Be careful to trust a man who does not like wine.”

    Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

    As one of the most influential thinkers in the history of humankind, not to mention sporter of one of the best beards, Marx clouts in with a not insubstantial amount of trustability.

     

    “Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.”

    Pope John XXIII (1881 – 1963)

    Given his ripe old age of election, one might assume Pope John XXIII knew a thing or two about how men should age. How much he knew about wine only those lucky enough to receive communion from him will know, although one suspects he was very wise about both.

     

    “Language is wine upon the lips.”

    Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941)

    If Woolf’s wine was poured with as much lyrical abandon as her words, she was a very lucky lady indeed. Perhaps we should all take a leaf out of her book; or indeed sip out of the glass.

     

    “I can certainly see you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the different between Bordeaux & Claret.”

    Basil Fawlty (ran 1975 – 1979)

    John Cleese’s iconic Basil Fawlty trumps in with a faux-pas, yet again, as he tries his best & fails to charm the very class he loves to hate in the ramshackle & ever-choatic Fawlty Towers. We suspect Manuel was dispatched to do some hefty head-scratching in the cellar once the order was taken.

     

    So there we have it, & with ample in reserve, but somehow it feels apt to let Basil Fawlty wallow a little longer.   Here’s to opening a bottle & stumbling across great ravines of our minds as yet undiscovered!

     

     

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  • News: Robert Parker – Bordeaux En Primeur


    What will it mean for the industry?

    Last Thursday globally renowned critic Robert Parker announced his handover of tasting (& of course scoring..) Bordeaux En Primeur to British Wine Advocate taster, Neal Martin. It was a move that many knew was inevitable, most of all Mr Parker himself who, back in a 2012 Liv-ex interview, revealed this had been his intention since employing Neal.

     

     

    Parker’s influence on the world of wine is undeniable: the creator of the 100 point rating system who made his name through recognizing the brilliance of 1982 has, ever since, dominated the market of wines he scored. He cites it being the “perfect time for me to hand over” En Primeur, although he will keep tasting from the bottle as “I love the wines”.

     

    Speculation around the timing of this news will, of course, circulate. The hugely inflated En Primeur prices from 2011-2013 that caused prices to fall from barrel (where En Primeur is tasted & sold) to bottle have tarnished the reputation of the system, & indeed Bordeaux as a whole. These over-inflated prices were seen as a result of a combination of Bordelais’ greed & Parker’s scores.

     

    So what will this mean for the industry, & specifically En Primeur? Neal Martin is a well-respected critic & writer, known to be a more conservative scorer & to favour a more delicate wine style to Parker’s big-hitters. This could, as many hope, make for a more sensibly priced system. And perhaps a greater diversity of blends within Bordeaux.

     

     

    However, with Parker still scoring wines from the bottle, this could pave the way for score-savvy Bordelais’ to preempt how the two will work together & be more selective as to what is tasted en primeur vs the end blended result.

     

    Bordeaux wines have always led the fine wine market, & will continue to do so. Huge pressure is now on the Bordelais for 2014; change being a great leveler, especially for the chateaux who rather played the system both in terms of style & pricing.

     

    Either way, change is afoot in a region that arguably needs it, & having a range of critics, rather than everything hanging off one score can be no bad thing for the industry as a whole. We wish all parties, critics & wine-makers alike, the very best for the 2014 vintage.

     

     

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  • Calendar month ahead – March

    March sees a wide range of workshops & masterclasses spring up across the country.. From Bordeaux to Austria to the Tuscan Hills, there’s always space to learn.

    It also just so happens to be Comic Relief month, with the industry’s Wine Relief launching it’s first consumer tasting up in Edinburgh (in the form of a Wine Fare, 12th March) & a very special charity gig down in London (see Skin Contact Live on 9th March).. so something for everyone AND for a good cause!

     

    Sunday 1st March
    Newcastle Wine Fare
    Assembly Rooms Newcastle

     

    Monday 2nd March
    Pol Roger Champagne Tasting
    Vivat Bacchus, 47 Farringdon Street

     

    Tuesday 3rd March
    Armit Italian Wine Tasting
    LSO St Luke’s, Old Street, London

     

    Wednesday 4th March
    French Classics Wine Tasting
    Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, Edinburgh

     

    Thursday 5th March
    Chateauneuf-du-Pape & Satellites
    LSE, London

     

    Saturday 7th March
    Decanter Inaugural Mediterranean Grand Tasting
    Landmark Hotel, London

    Meet the Cru
    Fulham, London

     

    Monday 9th March

    ‘The Odd Bods’, Grape School
    Divine Cellars Clapham

    Skin Contact Live in aid of Wine Relief
    Vinopolis, SE1 London

     

    Wednesday 11th March
    Spanish Classics Masterclass
    Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, Edinburgh

     

    Thursday 12th March
    Comic Relief Wine Fare
    Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh

    Meet the Cru
    Fulham, London

     

    Saturday 14th March
    ‘World of Wine’ Experience tasting day
    Princes Dock, Liverpool

     

    Monday 16th March
    ‘Sweet & Fizzy’, Grape School
    Divine Cellars Clapham, London

    Bordeaux 1996 Horizontal
    West London Wine School, Fulham

     Wine Pairing with Food
    Vivat Bacchus

     

     Tuesday 17th March
    JancisRobinson.com tutored tasting: Alternative Varieties
    Quality Chop House, London

     

    Thursday 19th March
    Fine Austrian & German Classics
    Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, Edinburgh

     

    Monday 23rd March
    Rhone Valley Masterclass
    West London Wine School, Fulham

     

    Tuesday 24th March
    Artisan Spanish Wine Tasting
    La Raza, Cambridge

    Wine Tasting & Antipasti
    Jamie’s Italian, Bristol

    France under One Roof
    Royal Horticultural Halls

     

    Thursday 26th March
    Fine Italian Classics
    Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, Edinburgh

     The new Douro
    Residence of Portuguese Ambassador, Belgrave Square

     Meet the Cru
    Fulham, London

     

    Saturday 28th March
    ThirtyFifty One Day Wine Course
    Brasserie Blanc, London

     

    Tuesday 31st March
    JancisRobinson.com tutored tasting: Riesling
    Quality Chop House, London

     

     

     

     

     

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  • A guide to.. Labels – Burgundy

    The role of a label is ostensibly product information.. & no more so in the world of wine where they hold a wealth of what can be very precise (& potentially confusing!) information. They can also be beautiful & alluring, especially by dint of what is held within the glass. A personal touch & marker of origin.

     

    And here’s where things get complicated; a wine’s origin is like an in depth astrological chart with all sorts of names, classifications & acronyms. What means what. & where. & how? And of course, there is no such thing as a standard. Wouldn’t sit well with all things vinous allure.

     

    We will do our best to demystify area labels with some regular overviews as to what it all means. Starting with the most famously complex of all..

     

    Burgundy, France

     

    For an area that predominantly uses 1 white grape & 1 red (chardonnay & pinot noir respectively), the Burgundy or Bourgogne region is alarmingly complicated. Delve a bit deeper & you soon see how this wonderful wine-growing area is brimming with subtle nuances: soil, slope, compass point, altitude; you name it, that makes up its complex terroir system & dramatically effects the end product. In fact, SO important is the appellation (specific area the wine comes from) that often there is no mention of what grape the wine is at all on labels; geographical origin really is paramount.

    For ease (& hopefully clarity!) of explanation we will aim to go through things systematically, but this doesn’t always hold true as there are no rules!

     

    Producer name:
    (ie Aubert de Villaine, Jean Grivot, Domaine Leroy)

     

    This is generally at the top of the label & is whoever made/owns the land on which the wine was made. This can be a ‘maison’ or cooperative, where growers have passed on their grapes.

     

    Village:
    (ie Beaune, Gevry-Chambertin, Meursault)

     

    This is (as the title might suggest) the village or town that the vineyards sit around. If it is just the name of the village & there is no mention of any other classification (Premier Cru or Grand Cru), then it means that it’s contents are of high quality, but not classed into the two superior categories. Which brings me neatly onto..

     

    Classification:
    (ie Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Villages)

     

    Because of the dramatic changes in soil type & climate, the exact position of a terrior creates very big differences in the end result; namely its quality & therefore how it is classified. The three main distinctions are Grand Cru – the crème de la crème with 32 allocated terroirs; Premier Cru – top but not quite Grand Crus with over 600 allocated; and then finally ‘Villages’ which is still classified & origin specific fare, just not deemed to be in the same league as the other two. Villages are also not necessarily all from one vineyard..

     

    Vineyard:
    (ie Domaine de la Romanée Conti – Grands Échezeaux, Domaine Leflaive – Chevalier-Montrachet, Comte de Vogüé – Chambolle Musigny)

     

    However IF the wine is from one specific terroir, which it definitely will be for Grand & Premier Cru wines, the vineyard will (most likely) be detailed next. Burgundy is a bit of a patchwork quilt of terroir-specific ownership, so one producer will bottle under lots of different vineyard or terroir names.   However, much of burgundy’s grapes are sold on to negociants (like Maison Bouchard Pere et Fils who then bottle cooperatively & distribute the fare under their own brand.

     

    Appellation:
    (ie Chablis, Cote de Beaune, Beaujolais)

     

    Burgundy or Bourgogne is an enormous area, thankfully sub-divided into 6 appellations, or areas: Chablis, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, Beaujolais, Côte de Nuits & Côte de Beaune. Each appellation makes distinctive wines depending on soil, climate & predominant grapes. For example, Chablis in the Auxerre region right in the north is predominantly Chardonnay, cooler & a more mineral soil; Maconnais right down in the south-east is predominantly Gamay, warmer, flatter & mainly sandstone-based soil.

     

    Appellation Classification:
    (ie. AOP, IGP, Vin de France)

     

    By law, all French wine has to be classified, so the appellation classification will be found on every label. Unless it’s illegal which I’d probably steer well clear of. Appellations are divided into 4 different classes: “Appellations d’Origine Protégée/Contrôlée” (denoted AOP, since 2009 or AOC) which is highest classification & applies to most areas; ‘Vin Delimité de Qualité Supérieure’ (VDQS – the waiting room for AOP, only applies to a very small number of areas); Indication Geographique Protegée (IGP) or Vin de Pays (increasingly being replaced by former – from a given region, ie Cote d’Or but less strictly regulated); finishing off with ‘Vin de France’ (formerly ‘Vin de Table’ – the most basic classification – both titles do what they say on the tin; a “French wine” needs no further introduction!)  In Burgundy producers will often put the appellation or village name in the accreditation too, so “Appellation Beaune Contrôlée”, for example.

     

    Bottling detail:
    (Mis en bouteille…)

     

    This will either state “Mis en bouteille au domaine” which means by a producer who owns his own land & bottles there (as the best wines are); or “Mis en bouteille par/pour..” which means the gapes have been sold to a negociant.

     

    Producer Location:

     

    This will be the address of the Domaine; good for Google Maps if you want a better idea of where a given appellation is. Especially given how complicated the whole system is!  However, true to form, the Burgundians often just give a rough village & area associated with their Domaine as vineyards can be scattered, so best look up all the information on the label for absolute precision’s sake.

     

    Alcohol Content:
    (ie. x%)

     

    A given & legality – anything between 12% & 14% depending on colour, area & grape.

     

    So, there we have it.. sometimes there is good reason for a product’s information to be complicated, especially when that end product is something as rich & rewarding as a glass (or 2!) of burgundy. And as much as label content will jump around a bit depending on personal tastes & redesign, the information required is ever-regulated so once you start to get to grips with it all, can go a long way into helping understand one of the most traditional & wonderfully complex wine growing regions the world has to offer.

     

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  • Wine Words 2

    Round 2,  time to get slightly more abstract..

     

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    Impressively endowed | ɪmˈpresɪvli ɪnˈdaʊd |

     

    Refering to a style of wine: rich, full-bodied & oozing luxury.

     

    Like: unctuous chocolate praline

     

    For example:  “This is a very strong effort from this estate, which sits just adjacent to Petrus. In fact, they sold part of their vineyard to Petrus in the early 1970s. This is a full-bodied, powerful 2006 with the oak more restrained than it normally is in a young Gazin. Copious quantities of sweet plum, fig, and black cherry fruit are intermixed with cedar and dried herbs in a medium to full-bodied, rich, long, impressively endowed style. This is an outstanding wine, with enough stuffing, structure, and density to age beautifully over a 20- to 25-year period.”

    (Robert Parker reviewing Gazin 2006)

     

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    Forest floor | ˈfɒrɪst flɔː |

     

    Earthy & alive foraging fare. So, fruit, shrubs, nuts & pinecones.

     

    Like: Mum’s best fruitcake

     

    For example: “Rauzan-Segla’s finesse-styled 2004 offers raspberry, cherry, forest floor, and dried herb-like characteristics in its deep ruby/purple-hued, medium-bodied personality. With excellent purity, freshness, and precision, it is not a blockbuster claret, but rather a stylish, elegant, accessible effort with sweet tannin. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2022.”

     

    (Robert Parker reviewing Rauzan Segla 2004)

     

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