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A Post-EU Referendum Analysis of the Fine Wine Market

It appears as though 2016 has been an eventful year in that Brexit was voted in favour, Trump was hailed in as the USA’s President and Italy’s Matteo Renzi’s constitutional referendum was defeated. These developments have repercussions and it appears that these repercussions also have knock-on effects in the fine wine market. In regards to the UK, Brexit was the biggest democratic decision and the largest voter turnout in the past 20 years. It was from this referendum that the UK chose to revolutionise its current relationship with the European Union (EU), which looks to completely transform the UK’s future trading activity.  Since the result of the vote, prices within the fine wine market as a whole shot up by 15.07% (cumulatively, from 06/2016 – 11/2016) which when compared with last year’s performance (06/2015 – 11/2015) is a whole 15.47 Basis Points greater. With London being the global epicentre of the [secondary] fine wine market and the UK wine sector, as a whole, employing 270,000 and generating £17bn (in economic activity, annually), the effects of Brexit look to be extensive and intensive.

The aggressive uptick in prices looks to be the biggest wine investment news in the past 5 years, though, surprisingly, there has been little explanation for what has recently happened and its causes. With this sudden market change, there has been a renewed interest, but also a befitting concern for the future; inducing a cross-road for stockholders (buy, sell or hold?) and expectations of the UK fine wine market. These concerns, essentially, give rise to questions concerning the future source of demand, the future performance of the fine wine market and the effect of the UK’s financial-economic conditions (i.e., inflation, currency value, etc.) on the market, while the insistent price rises seem to have conjured an air of suspicion of a market bubble.

brexit-eu-referendum-fine-wine-market1

The Good Old Days

Prior to the EU vote (23/06/2016), the fine wine market was clawing its way back in a very sedated manner at an average rate of 0.28% (between 01/2015 – 05/2016) and 4.85% cumulatively, coming off of a ~40% bursting of the market bubble in 2011. The bursting of the bubble was a result of reduced demand from China (due to national regulatory changes), the ever growing overinflated prices, the sequential production of several great vintages and the erosion of the financial incentive to buy en primeur, which all contributed to the inability of buyers and sellers to stomach the upward price pressures.

 From January 2015 to May 2016, the market had seen a low but welcoming growth of 0.41%, which can be attributed to several things; firstly, the demand from China managed to grow as Hong Kong and its preferable wine import tariffs were being utilised as an entry strategy (or proxy) into China and the associated business channels were being established. Secondly, wine merchants and traders reduced in quantity during the years after 2011; since a fall in industry profits induced a greater squeeze on individual businesses and their profits and this meant there was more market share available to merchants and traders that were able to withstand the depressive pressures. Lastly, the digitisation of the wine industry led to the availability of instantaneous information and resulted in a more connected industry (buyer and seller) as well as a more knowledgeable consumer, effectively increasing trading activity but also increasing frugality with transactional decision making.

 Positivity and confidence had been gaining little, but some ground up until the Brexit vote; there was, however, an apprehensive sentiment in markets across the economy. Since the vote, there has been a level of precariousness which can be revealed by several economic indicators. More telling was the talk amongst the wine industry where there was a preference for remaining within the UK-EU’s current configuration, [see the WSTA]. Many commentators, such as the Bordeaux Index (BI), correctly predicted that if we voted to leave then there would be a knee-jerk reaction in the currency markets. Corney & Barrow and Armit both made similar assertions, in that although we may face increased uncertainty, subsequent trends and alterations would be felt more over a prolonged period of time. With the mentioned differences between timeframes it is useful to inspect the past and check out the future(s); short- and long- runs.

The Unexpected Surge

The ‘shock’ Brexit vote resulted in an immediate reaction from the international business, economic and financial communities. Plagued with sudden uncertainty, diminished confidence and windows of opportunity, individuals and institutions shuffled their money in different directions and new areas, with fine wine being one destination. Some lost out and others took advantage of the sudden shifts in market dynamics and currency values. Not only that but the saga continues with Trump and Italy, and looks to continue into 2017 and beyond with Italian, Dutch, German and French elections as well as the continuation of Trump.

 The chart below compares the growth rates of the fine wine Liv-Ex indices against the growth rates of several market benchmarks, such as the FTSE 250, UK inflation and UK gold prices. The chart shows the wine market’s performance and reaction to changes in economic conditions.

Graph: How the market reacted to the EU referendum news there and thereafter. The [above] graph exhibits the following:

 

+ Since the EU referendum result (between 06/2016 – 11/2016), the fine wine market as a whole (represented by Live-Ex 1000 Index) grew by a total of 15.07%. During the same period the Liv-Ex index 50, 100, and 500 grew by 16.46%, 15.52%, and 14.67%, respectively.

+ The FTSE 250 was stunned, with the FTSE 250 falling 5.32% (06/2016). However, it subsequently recouped its losses in July 2016.

+ All indices had inflation-beating growth even though inflation has now reached 0.9%, the Bank of England (BoE) cut interest rates to 0.25% and plugged an additional £70bn into a new monetary stimulus program (corporate & Government bond purchases AKA Quantitative Easing)

+ This graph highlights the change in behaviour of investors and buyers because of the vote. Both gold and fine wine acted similarly, with demand increasing under similar economic conditions, acting conversely to stocks. The rising inflation could push an alternative investment tactic and contributed to the increase in prices; with wine acting as a safe (or safer) haven for funds.

+ From 11/2015 – 04/2016, the Bordeaux wines have seen the greatest growth of 6.78% (out of the global wine regions), though the market still remains 7% lower than 5 years ago.

+ The next graph looks specifically at the changes in the currency market against fine wine and reveals how sudden changes in the value of the pound can have such a drastic effect on the fine wine indices. The graph (if looked at long enough) may be indicative as to where the influx of demand stems from and could give some hints to a formal relationship.


EU Referendum - Fine Wine - Currencies - Change

The [above] graph exhibits the following:

+ Between 06/2015 – 06/2016 we saw the market get back to significant and positive growth rates despite the market failures of 2011. However, since the sharp decreases in GBP, where the pound now sits at a 31-year low, against the US Dollar, the Euro, and the Hong Kong Dollar, the wine indices have shown spectacular growth.

+ The pound slid against all major world currencies after the result of the referendum was announced; sliding 8.06%, 7.84% and 8.21% against USD, EUR and HKD. And, the pound has on a whole lost 14.11%, 9.06% and 14.28% against the USD, EUR and HKD from 06/2016 – 11/2016. What was witnessed was an international run on the pound.

+ By looking at 06/2016 and 11/2016, we can see that there does, in fact, seem to be a relationship between the weakness of the pound and the strength of indices (i.e., price growth) – as such, I feel it plausible to infer that there is an inverse relationship between fine wine and the pound.

+ The growth in prices can be predominantly attributed to an increase in demand which is then further fuelled by an increase in availability of supply, as dormant stockholders resume their activity and engagement with the market.

+ All three indices are an average 9.74% lower now than the market peaks of 07/2011, but 22.69% higher than the belt-tightening troughs of 10/2011.

+ Growth rates fell in November by an average (across all three indices) of 70.49% from the peak growth rates in 07/2016 and 69.55% a month on from October’s (2016) growth rates.

+ As a result of recent news surrounding Brexit, the election of Trump and the defeat of the Italian referendum, the pound has managed to regain some of its lost value, gaining 2.13%, 5.93% and 2.16% against USD, EUR and HKD (at the end of November 2016). Consequently, the average growth rate across the three indices sits at 1.03%, with the top 100 wines boosting the average.

brexit-eu-referendum-fine-wine-market2

Back to the Future

There are now grounds for determining what may (or may not) happen in the future, in respect to the fine wine market. It is a mixture of historic and future business and economic factors that describe my outlook of the market. The macroeconomic conditions have an influential effect on the behaviour of buyers and sellers within markets and economies.

The Economic Conditions

The general macroeconomic conditions of the UK are constantly changing. Rising inflation, a weakening of the pound, the redeployment of monetary stimulus and a reduction in interest rates all look to change the purchasing behaviour of businesses and consumers as yields are eroded on a real (net) basis for pension funds, savings and government bonds (Gilts), which may incentivise consumptive or hoarding behaviour. Not only that, but the changes to Britain’s external economic climate (the global economic environment) is swiftly altering. We have already seen the chancy and ambiguousness of Western states’ politics and we will most probably see more of the same, as similar feelings and forces harbour and feed off of the changeful nature and current softness of the global economy. There are definitely turbulent times ahead that look to upset the prevailing status-quo.

 One of the ambiguities that may alter the future of the wine industry is the goings on in the USA. So, with Trump selected to be the next president, what does this mean for the wine industry? One would assume that there would be a greater focus and push on American exports (i.e., American wines). However, this may be counteracted by a FED interest rate rise and an unwanted strengthening of the U.S. Dollar; with which the Hong Kong Dollar will closely follow in tandem. Hong Kong would be negatively affected by this strengthening and rate rise and it would dampen the competitiveness of its exports (i.e., wine). However, the Chinese Renminbi’s depreciation against the U.S. Dollar and the Hong Kong Dollar may well maintain some form of positive, upward growth in the wine indices. Both Trump and the FED rate rise looks to spell bad news for China and thus result in a more timid demand stemming from both China and Hong Kong.

 The big unknown concerns the stability of Europe as a union. Trade not only rests upon the external economic climate of Europe but also the internal state of the European Union. With doubts developing over the future strength of the EU, one can be led to believe that volatility is here to stay for a while and as a result, internal and external trade relations hang in the balance. The Euro is experiencing a weakening and looks to be further affected by political sideshows that damage the stability of the Euro and could stir some greater interest, but not against the backdrop of a slowing China and a struggling EU bloc, though it may be that EU producers take a hiding from the economic conditions in the form of rising production inputs and increased costs in their supply chains in spite of the depreciating Euro, reducing supply and demand of wine. The furthering, albeit tapering, of the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing programme looks to further ease the pressure on highly indebted European states (i.e., Italy), but with increasing bond yields, confidence is temporarily fading and funds are finding elsewhere to sit (opportunity for wine investors?).

 In respect to the UK, though the pound has and may recoup some of its value, I perceive the pound to have found a new international purchasing power (benchmark) for the short-medium term. The aforementioned factors may increase interest and activity in the fine wine industry, producing further price rises; if anything history shows us that we could see greater polarisation or diversification in both the retail market and the investment market, with second tier Bordeaux, Rhone, Burgundy and New World wines garnering greater interest, a trend which was seen during 2011-2014 when the most highly sought wines ridiculously escaped both their perceived and underlying value and the Bordeaux chateaux kept en primeur prices high. However, I think a likely potentiality is a gradual, long-term divestment away from French wines and into wines that carry shorter, yet favourable returns on investment.

Stability, Volatility, and Risk

The UK’s economic health and subsequent external investor confidence, post-EU Referendum, presents a threat to the profits and successes of merchants, traders, logisticians, storage facilitators, and producers, globally. It’s possible that we might see a hollowing or thinning of the aforementioned and the consolidation of particular businesses, as seen during 2011-2014. The most obvious but extreme example is that further contractions in the pound and rapid growth of inflation may decrease industry profits creating a harsher, more competitive environment, causing some firms to go out of business. Future successes and profits are dependent on a mixture of windows of opportunity and stability, though medium- long -term stability is the riskier bet.

 Touching on the external climate, the fast approaching European national elections present such an overwhelming level of instability on the horizon, for the wine market, through currency fluctuations. Besides Europe, the interaction between Trump and China looks to also create some friction, in the form of trade. The long-term outlook for the wine market is not necessarily bleak, but unforeseeable, as it rests upon so many probable eventualities and presents a grand risk for UK stockholders – that level of uncertainty is a crux for wine owners. Recent data presents a picture of what has happened and helps forecast the possibilities and the reactions of buyers and sellers within the industry.

 After the initial period of growth, we seem to be witnessing the stabilisation of price growth which is partly due to businesses adapting to new economic conditions but predominantly acts in accord with the currency markets; as the pound regains ground the growth stabilisation has occurred. Even though the drop in the pound caused this spike in interest, future plummets in the value of the pound may not necessarily prompt a replicated rise in demand, as the economic and market conditions would have changed and the arbitrage opportunities diminished or exhausted and businesses acclimatised. I am, in fact, dubious as to whether the market could stomach a similar price surge without there being negative repercussions on the international fluidity of stock and behaviour (i.e., trade interactions) between businesses and consumers. Talk of a market bubble can currently be dispelled as the price rises were not severe enough, nor were they sustained over a prolonged period of time. In addition, it does not appear that stock has ridiculously escaped its perceived value as there is still fluidity in the global wine market, though this could eventuality become so if growth continues at the aggressive rates seen or if we see more acute price spikes. The price rises appear to be fuelled by increases in demand, though where future increases in demand will come from is unknown; with some pointing at the return of China’s appetite or to new emerging markets – such as India.

The Changing Face of Demand

There are several more immediate threats to the UK fine wine market; one being that London’s competitive advantage as the optimal secondary market could be challenged from the likes of France (and Hong Kong) as storage legislation for bonded warehouses are changed and trade tariffs are altered. Another slightly more medium term issue is the reinvigoration of Chinese demand. China (and Hong Kong) remains one of the largest export destinations of fine wine, but the volume remains below that of pre-2008 levels. I find it difficult to envisage a return to such volumes (in the short-medium term), as China goes through its very own macroeconomic adjustment, though they may return once purchasing, sales, logistics and information channels have been firmly established; when consumers acquire enough information; and when economic optimism returns to full capacity.

 Interestingly, research published by Faye, Massett and Weisskopf (2015) is more indicative of the possible future demand. The research notes that the Hong Kong fine wine auction premiums sat at an 8-year low in mid-2014, exhibiting a fall in Chinese demand (indirectly). However, there has been an upward tick in premiums emerging from late-2014. Overall, it is unlikely that we will see the highs and composition of demand similar to its previous forms, i.e., demand will be different in location, preferences, quantities, technology and so on. On 9th September, TMall, the subsidiary of Alibaba (A.K.A., the Chinese Amazon), held a wine & spirits festival in China, to develop the consumer market of wine enthusiasts. However, TMall’s sales figures have not, to this date, been released, which provokes rumours of disappointment and failure; this could be indicative of the time ahead for growth in demand. Resultantly, we should not possess sky-high expectations for the Chinese New Year; i.e., we should not expect a complete surge in demand and hold it to pre-2008 standards and pre-2011 prices. As a footnote, the USA is very unlikely to pick up any of the ‘demand slack’ in the wine market, neither is anyone else for the foreseeable future.

Windows of Opportunity

It isn’t all doom and gloom. Opportunities still exist and exist because of change. Opportunity could emerge from a more polarised market and enable all folk (and newbies) to partake in the wine market. Or, as previously mentioned, it could come in the form of New World and Second Tier Bordeaux, Rhone and Burgundy wines gaining renewed interest and acquiring market share, in both the retail and investment circles. The obvious opportunity for UK stockholders is to profiteer from the price rises that work in their favour and sell their stock; this is the clearest window of opportunity since 2011 (5 years), although that window is slowly closing, if it hasn’t already closed. The opposite is true for sterling-based wine enthusiasts looking to acquire particular stock – mainly first growths. However, there are good buys to be made; buys where demand has not risen for certain Tier One wines (i.e., the top 100 Bordeaux wines).

For investment and collecting types, this may be a suitable time to diversify into different, well-performing regions or experience the joys of different wines from alternative countries. However, both parties may want to take advantage of the current climate just in case prices dip, the pound continues to recover, disposable incomes fall or prices further steepen. If one is an investor with a sizeable portfolio, a strategy would need to be devised to realise the wines that would be optimal to sell and the wines that would be optimal to keep; key factors would concern the drinking opportunity, the public opinion on the wine (e.g., the critic ratings), the historic performance (i.e., its market price) and its return on investment.

 On a more macro level, the UK may be in a more agile position to better its current position and improve its competitive advantages (e.g., its storage facilities or logistics providers) – as it is said, “pressure produces diamonds” and could maybe even initiate trends of divestments. Alternatively, this could be the chance for the UK to assert itself as a significant wine producing country or at least devise a strategy for doing so. In addition, there is scope for a regulatory or self-governing body, at an industrial level, to organise so as to have an agent to protect the international interests of the UK fine wine industry.

With Great Volatility… – Summary

Some organisations and institutions reacted negatively towards the result of the EU referendum. However, wine has gained from foreign-denominated demand of fine wines, which I believe to be mainly attributed to the weak pound and opportunism from atomised, foreign currency denominated traders. I am personally sceptical of the reinvigorated performance of the fine wine market as I believe it to built upon an arbitrary incident – it wasn’t organic growth, per se. Volatility is a very probable outcome in the short-medium term in the UK and global economy as well as the fine wine market, thus, I believe consumers, wine merchants, and fine wine prices will have ups and downs – here’s to a volatile beginning! The recent performance (i.e., growth rates) of the wine indices over the have been great, though the last month (November) has seen a sharp reduction in growth across all wine groups (indices). Further reductions in the value of the pound may induce price spikes and/or have negative consequences on the global fluidity of stock and on the profits of UK merchants, though changes elsewhere (Hong Kong, USA and China) look to have a more significant impact on the fluidity of stock and profits of merchants.

 Trump, the FED interest rate rise and strengthening of the USD against the Chinese Renminbi looks to change the behavior of wine traders and negatively impact the activity in the global wine trade (fluidity and profits), either resulting in a maintaining of small, yet positive growth or a fall in prices across the board of fine wines. Rumours of a wine bubble are simply just that, rumours, yet we cannot rule out the future possibility if price rises continue. We must expect regulatory changes to European fine wine practices, to which London’s historic position may have to alter to suit an altered global supply chain. In relation to China, we cannot expect a return to pre-2008 levels of demand and should not anticipate such in the short term – in addition, I do not believe another market (i.e., India) could pick up the demand slack at the moment. On a lighter note, the level of uncertainty and volatility poses insecurity, but also paints an opportunity; with great volatility comes great risk and reward [for some]. However, one should watch out for the not-too-distant future as greater change may be on the horizon.

Future Events to Watch Out for:

+ Article 50 – ETA: March 2017

+ Trumps instatement and inauguration

+ Coming French storage regulations and trade tariff developments

+ Irexit – An Irish exit from the EU? Further European exits? Or the remedying of Brexit?

+ French, Dutch, German and now Italian elections – coming 2017

+ Rising inflation (see oil & Opec and Central Bank Stimulus)

 

About the Author

Burhaan joined JF Tobias in August 2016 and is the new Data & Systems Analyst – with his professional interests being big data and information systems. Prior to his current role, Burhaan filled several positions in Investment Banks, working in analytical capacities within regulatory environments. Graduating from Economics in 2014, Burhaan holds interests in philosophy, sociology and political economy. Besides work and academia, Burhaan enjoys sport, predominantly amateur boxing, rock climbing and swimming.

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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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  • The World of Sparkling Wine

    Let’s face it, we all love bubbles. Whether they are in a glass, bottle, can; even floating in the air, sparkling wine has fascinated us for many years. There is an undeniable sense of ceremony to both opening and drinking sparkling wine, and yet, as a whole, we understand relatively little as to how it is made. Or indeed about respective cork-poppers around the world.

    Champagne – the original sparkling wine

    First let us consider the original perpetrator and undeniable ‘Grand Seigneur’ of fizz: Champagne. Having stood the test of time, the ‘Méthode Champenoise’ is protected to be called so just in the region and the particulars of each champagne house are a closely guarded secret. A general overview (for a more in-depth account please see our Guide to Sparkling Wine) of events would be as follows: grapes are harvested early to retain acidity and first fermentation happens in tanks. The resulting ‘cuvée’ is then blended and bottled with additional sugar and yeast for secondary fermentation. This involves being left ‘on the lees’ where the bottles are systematically turned and tilted to as to collect all the yeast deposits in the neck of the bottle. Once these have been removed the bottle is topped up with a special ‘liqueur d’expédition’; a blend of the original cuvée, a small measure of sugar and sulphur dioxide.

    Given the variances in each Champagne house style, blend, cuvée, and taste; not to mention the harvest from year to year, you can begin to imagine why sugar levels vary so much from one bottle to another. Whilst we may not tend not to over-analyse exact sugar quantities as consumers, we inevitably gravitate towards styles that suit our own tastes, sweet-toothed or less so! With the growing global interest in the sugar content of what we consume we thought it would be interesting to have a look at the different classifications of champagne (from ‘Brut Nature’ through to ‘Doux’) and their corresponding sugar amounts.

    Sparkling Wine and Champagne's Sweetness Levels

    Being made from grapes, champagne, or indeed any fizz or wine will, of course, contain residual sugar. The variance in champagne is better defined than with other sparkling wines: the sugar additions, both before secondary fermentation and in the final ‘liqueur d’expédition’ may well be closely guarded Maison secrets, but they, alongside the final grape blend, allow for the 7 different classifications above. Champagne’s penchant for classification is all part of their armed protection, given the rise in sparkling wines from elsewhere and that their 3 chosen grapes are not specific to the area.

    In fact, the Champagne blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir is used in both the UK and Australia for their sparkling wines.; they even use the same method to produce it, although outside of Champagne it is called the ‘Traditional Method’ as ‘Champenoise’ is protected. These grapes work particularly well in cooler climates as they retain the all-important acidity at harvest, and whilst the blends and end products may be different, there is no denying the Champagne influence on both UK and Australian sparkling wines. The UK soil is even created by the same fault line, ensuring mix of chalk, clay, and sand: ideal for the grapes in question. What is interesting is Champagne houses recent interest in vineyards in both Hemispheres: both in terms of quality and quantity of sparkling wine globally and how climate change will affect vineyards moving forward.

    Champagne vs sparkling wine from other regions

    But not all sparkling wines follow the Champagne holy grail when it comes to grape varieties used: in fact most countries now produce their own sparkling wine, be it sweet, dry; delicious or less so. Even within France there are plenty more offerings, ‘Crémant’ being the predominant name used for sparkling wines from other regions. Crémant is limited strictly to 8 appellations and handpicks from a specific selection of grapes: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc.

    Given the technicalities and extended processes needed to make wine sparkling, it tends to suits particular grapes more than others, those that can retain acidity but with residual sugar for the fermentations – a fine balance to strike. If you also consider the variance in climate and soils, the difference and restrictions in use of grapes globally, country by country, becomes a logical conclusion.

    Sparkling wine grape blends

    Over the border to Spain heralds an interesting story – with most vines of the Penedès region wiped out by phylloxera in the late 19th Century, white grapes were introduced to the region as a bit of an experiment. The resulting Cava has stood the test of time with those local grapes, save for the addition of Chardonnay to the blend in the 80s. Portugal too favours local varietals for its sparkler: grown all over the country, Espumante varies region to region thanks to the Portuguese policy of localisation but is predominantly made from a blend of 3 local grapes: Gouveio, Arinto, and Bical.

    Keeping within Europe the Italians also favour local grapes although all three pinot grapes (blanc, grigio, and noir respectively) are allowed in the blend. What is interesting is the 85% minimum quota of the Glera grape, which gives Prosecco its distinctive palate and ensures it is seen as a bit of a safe bet alongside the more complex Champagne. It also means it is subject to Glera thriving of a given harvest, hence the recent “Prosecco drought” headlines.

    German Sekt is made predominantly from a blend of Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir: it tends to be bottled and named at the local level, so by village and producer rather than anything more controlled. 90% of the grapes used are sourced from fellow Europeans, so Italy, France or Spain: this evidently is enough of a journey for the grapes as the end product is barely exported!

    Last but by no means least we look at 2 new world offerings, USA and South Africa respectively. Whilst the USA follows the Champagne blend (with the addition of Pinot Blanc being allowed), production is not regulated and tends to cater for a rather sweeter palate, therefore is not a huge success outside of the US. South Africa on the other hand, regulate their Cap Classique assiduously with growers having formed their own organization, complete with its own trademark, to protect both quality and production. Sparklers stamped with the Cap Classique mark are made from Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc traditionally with the inclusion of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the up.

    Sparkling wine consumption

    With all this growth and increasing regulation within the world of Sparkling Wine, the next logical question is surely who is drinking it and how much? We teamed up with The IWSR (International Wine & Spirits Research) who have the world’s largest wine and spirits’ database and who kindly supplied us with global consumption data. First, we consider how much of the country’s Sparkling Wine is consumed in the country itself vs abroad alongside the consumption of Sparkling Wine within that country – how much of it is home fare vs imported bubbles made elsewhere. This provides the 2 pie charts as seen in the infographic below: red donating the domestic figure (percentage and volume respectively) and blue the foreign or abroad figures.

    Sparkling wine consumption

    Immediately there are some interesting observations to be had: France, Spain, and Italy predominantly drink their own fare and have strong export figures. This tallies with Champagne, Prosecco and Cava being the most widely available and recognized sparkling wine offerings. This almost matches up to the overall market share figures as shown by the colour-coded ring next to our world map, although interestingly both the US and Germany hold a larger chunk than Spain! The Germans certainly drink the most bottles per head a year (at 8 and a quarter bottles): they barely export their Sekt and certainly opt to predominantly drink local too. The Americans share similar export figures and have a more even-handed approach when it comes to what they drink at home. Given the size of the US population, their relatively low bottle count a head is not surprising!

    Closer to home, the UK is evidently the smallest market: no export to report on as yet and predominantly drinks import, sitting discreetly within the other category on the Market Share representation. Portugal similarly barely exports and yet drinks predominantly it’s own fare: each area’s Espumante a reassuring staple both in restaurants, bars, and at home.

    However, when you consider the UK’s growth, both in volume and value over the last 5 years, a different picture is painted. With volume up 35.4% and value 40.8%, the UK sits high and dry (or indeed less so!) above its European counterparts. All the more so if you consider that this growth is entirely driven by domestic consumption… and with the likes of the US and Asia sniffing around our sparkling fare, we should have plenty more cause for celebration. This becomes all the more interesting when you compare with what’s happening in France: whilst the French evidently dominate the overall market share, but in fact the volume they produce has scarcely (0.2%) moved over the past 5 years. With the value up 1.9%, nearly 10x the rise in volume, it is clear that the price is going up whereas yields are not.

    Growing market Australia may be also on the up but still has some way to go until it starts competing with Old World offerings. Australians do drink most of their own fare and their 2 pie charts are fairly evenly matched, meaning their export and import figures are reassuringly proportionate to what they consume at home: definitely one to watch for the future. All the more so with the gap being left by Champagne: smaller yields at increasing cost could lead to their pricing themselves out of the market.  Across the Southern ocean, South Africa may not be big players on the market share front as yet, but they do export as much as they drink. When you consider they consume the least per head out of all the countries detailed, this perhaps feels less significant, but Cap Classique is a bit of a hidden gem – those in the know are stocking up.

    With this growing market, both in terms of consumption and production, showing no sign of slowing down, and the increase in offerings from countries far and wide, we can only feel there are exciting times ahead for Sparkling Wine. The UK, Australia & South Africa especially have some big and promising boots to fill. Not to mention local fizzes as yet to be detailed: from South America, Russia, and the Baltics – everyone is at it! With Prosecco allegedly in shortfall this year; Champagne with another reduced (yet spectacular, or so we hear!) harvest, the next 10 years could see some very interesting progression and diversification within the world of sparkling wine. Let’s just hope we have plenty of cause to celebrate!

     

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  • Month Ahead: October

    After the rainy flurry of new starts & moons that was September, October comes as a welcome sigh of sunny relief.  Events in the wine world echo our sentiment, with ample intimate & relaxed options to pepper days & evenings with.  Alongside some pretty fascinating tastings, from Champagne to Rhone to Bordeaux, we have dinners, pairings & musical all sorts.  Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen hosts a wine & cheese pairing night, which promises to be fun, straight up &, of course, delicious; OR, for those with sweet teeth in our midst, head to Whole Foods in Kensington for a evening of wine & chocolate.. We feel it might be wise to cover both, for full palatial research purposes. Enjoy!

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    Thursday 1st
    Guigal Cote Rotie & Condrieu Tasting
    West London Wine School, Fulham

    Friday 2nd
    Golden Age of Bordeaux Dinner
    Milsoms, Dedham Essex

    Sunday 4th
    Sunday Specials – live music & wine tasting
    Bedales, Borough Market

    Wednesday 7th
    ‘The Lost Grapes’ – tasting
    Bedales, Borough Market

     Wine Chat – Supermarket Sweep, Tasting
    Unwined, Tooting

    Thursday 8th
    Autumn Lunch
    Le Gavroche, London

    Cheese & Wine Matching Masterclass
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     Bottle vs Magnum vs Jeraboam Tasting, Jancis Robinson
    67 Pall Mall, London

     Friday 9th
    World of Wine: Chile & Argentina
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     Saturday 10th
    World of Wine Tasting Day
    St John’s Chophouse, Cambridge

     World of Wine Tasting Day
    Café 21, Newcastle

     Monday 12th
    Intro to Wine
    Unwined, Tooting

     Tuesday 13th
    WSET Level 1 Course
    South West London Wine School @The Mitre, Greenwich

     Fine Wine Rhone: Chateau de Beaucastel Vertical
    West London Wine School, London

     Wednesday 14th
    Grapes Deconstructed: Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay
    Unwined, Tooting

     Celebrate Chocolate Week: Chocolate & Wine Pairing with Amelia Rope!
    Whole Foods Market, Kensington High St, London

     Handford Super Second Bordeaux 1989 v 1985 v 1982
    Handford Wines, London

     Friday 16th
    World of Wine: USA & South Africa
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     Discovering Wine with Monty Waldin
    Hawkwood College, Stroud

     Saturday 17th Oct
    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Sam’s of Brighton, East Sussex

    World of Wine Tasting Day
    The Midland Hotel, Manchester

     World of Wine Tasting Day
    Old Bank Hotel, Oxford

     Wednesday 21st
    Wine Heroes: Cullen & Margaret River, Australia
    Unwined, Tooting

     Discovery Wine Tasting & Antipasti
    Jamie’s Italian, Bristol

     Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Wine & Cheese Night
    Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, London N1

     Thursday 22nd
    Humble History of Wine in London
    Haciendas Club, EC4V London

     An Evening with Les Vignobles Foncalieu
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     An Evening of Fine Wine with MOW Matt Flemming
    Avery’s Cellars, Bristol

     Friday 23rd
    World of Wine: Sparkling, Sweet & Fortified
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     Saturday 24th October
    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Bank Restaurant, Birmingham

    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Apex Hotel, Edinburgh

     Wednesday 28th
    Passport of Wine: ??? vs ???
    Unwined, Tooting

     Italy Showcase Tasting
    Avery’s Cellars, Bristol

     2014 Loire = Pure Awesome!
    Vagabond Wines, Fulham

     Thursday 29th
    Discover Italy: North & North-West
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     Saturday 31st
    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Radisson Blu, Glasgow

     

     

     

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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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  • Month Ahead – September

    Annnnd the heaven open once again to welcome us into September! (for those still holding out for an Indian Summer, don’t lose faith. Just yet.)  We are all feeling in a relatively glass half full frame of mind. As is the industry, it transpires.. From Turkey to Portugal; Chile to New Zealand – we’re trotting into Autumn in a most global manner. (& should the aforementioned seasonal sunshine not descend, perhaps some tastebud-teleportation will)

    The wine world is bursting with options this month.  So much so, we’d be hard-pressed to list them all – feels like a good month to expand respective wine knowledges in earnest. Good thing cellars are well-protected against the elements..

     

    Tuesday 1st

    Destination: Portugal, tasting & nibbles
    Bedales, Spitalfields

     

    Wednesday 2nd

    Beginners Guide to Wine
    Vagabond Wines, Fulham

     World of Wine: Burgundy & Loire
    Fulham Cellars, West London Wine School

     

    Thursday 3rd

    4 week Course – Introduction to Italy
    Fulham Wine Cellars, West London Wine School

     

    Friday 4th

    Wine Tasting: Loire & Burgundy
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     

    Saturday 5th

    Wine Advisor Masterclass
    Averys, Bristol

    Wine Tasting with Jancis Robinson
    Southbank Centre

     

    Monday 7th

    New Zealand Wine Tasting: Craggy Range
    New Zealand Cellar, POP Brixton

     

    Tuesday 8th

    Tech Tastes Wine
    The Collective Elevator, 14 Bedford Square

    Grape debate: Grenache based blends
    West London Wine School, Fulham

     

     Wednesday 9th

    Wine Workshop: The Next Big Thing
    Bedales of Borough

     Wine Tasting Evening & Antipasti
    Brasserie Blanc, London

    Wine Tasting Evening & Antipasti
    Jamie’s Italian, Bristol

     World of Wine: Bordeaux, Rhone & South
    Fulham Wine Cellars, West London Wine School

     

    Thursday 10th

    ‘Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy’ tasting
    Victualler Wine Bar & Wine Shop, E1

     Turkish Wine Tasting
    Swirl London at Clerkenwell London

     

    Friday 11th

    Wine Tasting Bordeaux & Rhone
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     

     Friday 11th to Saturday 12th

    Festival of Chilean Wine
    Mercardo Chileano, Old Spitalfields Market

     

    Saturday 12th

    Discovery Day Tasting
    Bosworth Hall, Warwickshire

     

     Tuesday 15th

    New Zealand Wine Tasting – Nautilus Estate
    New Zealand Cellar, POP Brixton

     Ar. Pe. Pe Wine Dinner
    Percy & Founders, Pearson Square W1T

     

    Wednesday 16th

    New Arrivals September Tasting
    Avery’s Bristol

    The Dirty Dozen Importer Tasting
    The Landsdowne Club, W1

     

    Thursday 17th

    Discover Central Italy Tasting
    Fulham Cellars, West London Wine School

     

    Friday 18th

    British Beer Tasting (& food pairing)
    Fulham Cellars, West London Wine School

     

    Tuesday 22nd

    Discovery Day & Tasting
    The Milestone, Sheffield

     New Zealand Wine Tasting: Seifried Estate
    New Zealand, POP Brixton

     A dinner by Gary Foulkes of The Square
    76 Tetherdown. Muswell Hill

     

    Wednesday 23rd

    Wine Workshop: Wine & Travel
    Bedales of Borough

    New Wave South Africa Tasting
    The Vinyl Factory, Soho London

     

    Friday 25th

    Champagne & Sparkling Wine Evening & Antipasti
    Brasserie Blanc

     New Zealand Wine Tasting: Coopers Creek
    New Zealand Wine Cellar, POP Brixton

     

    Saturday 26th

    Andrew Jefford presents weird & wonderful wines
    HIX Mayfair

     

    Monday 28th

    A journey through the senses with Georg Riedel
    Vinopolis, SE1

     New California Arrivals
    The Lockart, W1

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  • A guide to… Harvest

    With fingers, buckets & grapes a-quiver; or indeed machines all of a-whir, we take a look at how the harvest actually works. And why it’s such a nail-biting time for producers, viticulturists & consumers alike.

     

    First things first, when?

     

    The exact time of year chosen for harvesting grapes is perhaps the most crucial in the end result. Whilst many of the timely factors could be considered as variable, there is an undeniably fixed influence that sets some steadfast parameters: hemisphere. Wine growing regions in the Northern Hemisphere tend to harvest their grapes in-between August & October; Southern Hemisphere counterparts tend to run in-between February & April. There are, of course, exceptions to rule – things can kick off as early as July in California for that extra bit of acidity & as late as June in cool-climate New Zealand for the sweeter wines.

     

    But what dictates the process kicking into action, & why?

     

    The ripeness of a grape is dependent on its balance between sugar, acid & tannin. This is of course an inconsistent beast: different grapes become ripe in different ways (& at different times) depending on what kind of wine is being created & indeed the personal style and flourish of the winemaker. Throw varying grape blends into the equation & you begin to see just how much rides on the aforementioned flourish & the levels of skill involved.

     

    Previous trends (& indeed this is still current in some Domaines) saw the use of a ‘refractometer’ to guage the acidic levels & properties before they were deemed ready to pick. Now the move is to increasingly more by eye, taste & feel. A more personal & indeed subjective approach vital to ensuring the quality & balance of the end product.

     

    However for grapes to simply ripen at the same time, year on year, is a physical impossibility. Mother Nature, as we all know, does not play her merry dance as such. Climate & weather play huge roles in determining when grapes are harvested & are largely responsible for the variance we see between years, hence the significance of a wine’s vintage.

     

    Ideally grapes benefit from a cool but moist winter, moving into a warm & dry summer. Too much moisture in the summer & grapes can over-ripen, or rot; too little moisture in the winter & sugars can struggle to form. Hail or rain the summer which can destroy ripe grapes, not only paving the way for disease, but decimating that year’s harvest along with. The only time rot is seen as a positive affliction is in the case of noble rot, or Botrytis, creating sweeter wines from certain grapes which have the right properties for the disease to spread. Again this is a timely affair & needs exactly the right moisture/heat balance to spread exactly the right amount. No one said simple.

     

    Which grapes when..?

    As we’ve touched upon, there is no such thing as a clockwork regularity when it comes to making wine, but there is a logical order to things. First off we have the grapes destined to make sparkling wine which need to maintain low sugar levels & a high balance of acidity for their two fermentations. Next come the white grapes: this of course depends on the grape, climate, region & wine they are destined to make but earlier harvested grapes will generally be more acidic & with lower sugar levels, the balance shifting the longer they are left to ripen.

     

    Next come the red wine grapes, these take a bit longer to ripen & need that all-important balance of tannin, acid & sugar, the acidic properties of the grape acting as mediator between the two. And last but not least we have the sweet wines as mentioned above: the grapes need longer for the botrytis to set in, concentrate the sugars & yet not too long to lose all of their acidic properties.

     

    The logical question now is how?

     

    Grapes do not simply drop off their vines as & when ready to make their way to be crushed. Although perhaps if they were feeling particularly user-friendly they could then gently roll their way down a hill, forming neat little piles of good & bad grapes at the end of each vine row. Perhaps Mother Nature would entertain a discussion at least..?

     

    For now, grapes are either harvested by hand or by machine, processes which are the source of continual debate within the wine world. Whilst machines make for speedy & cost-efficient (80-200 tons / 24 hours vs our fair hands’ 1-2 tons in the same period) work, they are also far more rough & don’t benefit from the precision of harvest by hand. By hand may be slow & comparatively costly, but the human eye can be selective upon picking & safeguarding quality & saving on further rounds of sifting.

     

    Machine work in two ways: either by slapping the vines with a paddle or shaking them as they drive by. Grapes are then caught by the machine & drawn through a de-debris’ing process into trailers. If the grapes are delicate, or indeed terrain rough or steep, machine harvesting simply isn’t viable, hence many vineyards opting for the more gentle yet laborious hand-harvest. However in really hot & flat climates, machines can be vital as they can be run overnight when the air is cooler & less humid, for transportation back to the winery in the morning.

     

    Then what..?

     

    Once the grapes have made their way back to the winery, by whatever mode & in whatever form has been decided for them, they are sorted by hand or machine, destemmed & prepared for their primary fermentation. This involves removing the skins for white wines, or leaving on for red & then crushed (or just enough skin contact for maceration for rosé), either by foot/hand for the traditionalists, or by a wine-press. They are then ready for their initial fermentation tanks, perhaps with the addition of a little yeast, where they will rest undisturbed the next 1 to 2 weeks. And SO the magic begins…

     

     

     

     

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  • Month Ahead – August

    Annnd August is upon us!  Like a swoosh Summer (doused with its inevitable rain) – calendars clear & all the sensible Europeans go on holiday. High-time we all followed suit aside from obvious school holiday connotations. Luckily the wine world has more European influencers than most, so if you ARE actually away, you’re not missing a huge amount.  That said, there are little gems in & amongst the quiet (& rain).. From Saturday tastings nationwide courtesty of Wine Unearthed; to some vinous island hopping (Sicily to Sardina. Alliterative too) at Soho’s Ape & Bird; to a 2 day wine festival hosted at the Oxford Union.  Suddenly being quiet feels rather nicely busy…

     

    Saturday 1st

    Wine Unearthed Cambridge Tasting Day
    St John’s Chophouse, Cambridge

     Wine Unearthed Manchester Tasting Day
    Old Midland Hotel, Manchester

     

    Wednesday 5th

    Summer Wine Workshop
    Bedales, SE1

     West London Wine School English Wine Tasting
    The Cellars, Fulham SW6

     Eno-Club Rebooted – The Islands
    Ape & Bird, Soho

     Tech Tastes Wine
    14 Bedford Square, London
    Saturday 8th

    Wine Unearthed Old World Wine Tasting Day
    Old Bank Hotel, Oxford

     World of Wine Liverpool Tasting Day
    Radisson Blu, Liverpool

     Wine Unearthed Edinburgh Tasting Day
    Apex International, Grassmarkets Edinburgh

    Saturday 15th

    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Bank Restaurant, Brindley Place Birmingham

     World of Wine Tasting Day
    Café 21, Newcastle

     World of Wine Tasting Day
    Greigs Restaurant, Mayfair
    Wednesday 19th

    Wine Workshop: The Rebels
    Bedales, SE1

     

    Friday 21st – 22nd

    Oxford Wine Festival
    Oxford Union, Oxford
    Saturday 22nd

    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Goldbrick House, Bristol

     World of Wine Tasting Day
    Radisson Blu, Glasgow
    Wednesday 26th

    Americans Tasting
    Avery’s, Bristol

    Bluffers Guide to Burgundy
    Vagabond Wines, Fulham SW6
    Saturday 29th

    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Radisson Blu, Leeds

     

     

     

     

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  • Wine Words 6

    Big wines need big descriptors & here we have just that.. Whereas one word feels like an obvious compliment, the other is guised, or perhaps I should say weighted: the strong undeniable tarry connotations of asphalt need something less manmade & caustic to soften & fill it out.  If balanced well it is a treat to behold & make for a memorable wine.  Both words are bandied about regularly for big-hitting reds & both give an idea of the overall body & feeling of a wine.   Read on for a more in depth look at them in individual use..

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    Asphalt |ˈæsfælt |

     

    Referring to all sensory points: smell, taste & feel of a wine, asphalt is that strong, smokey & slightly sweet distinctive punch that can either define full-bodied red wines or destroy them depending on how well it is balanced with fruit. In this case, it defines!

     

    Like: BBQ leg of lamb

     

    For example: “Another 2009 that exhibits over the top extravagance and richness, and one I can find no fault in, the 2009 Cote Rotie La Landonne offers a colossal and full-bodied profile that carries incredible aromas and flavors of roasted meats, smoke, asphalt and assorted meatiness that’s all grounded by a massive core of fruit. A huge wine, it stays perfectly in check, with notable freshness, a deep, layered mid-palate and masses of fine tannin that carry through the finish. Hide this beauty in the cellar for another decade and enjoy.”

    (Robert Parker reviewing Côte Rotie Landonne, Guigal 2009)

     

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    Opulent |ˈɒpjʊlənt |

     

    Refers to the style of a wine; a generosity throughout the whole drinking experience. Oplulent wines are generally viscous in the glass; give strong, characterful noses; warm & full in the mouth & leave you feeling sated & yet like luxuriating in a little more.

     

    Like: Chocolate fondant

     

    For example: The single vineyard wines begin with the 2007 Shiraz Barney’s Block McMurtrie Road in McLaren Vale. It was aged in 50% new French oak for 20 months. Opaque purple-colored, it offers up a captivating nose of sandalwood, incense, lavender, bacon, and blueberry. Velvety-textured, layered, and opulent (a rarity in this vintage), it has enough fine-grained tannin to evolve for 3-4 years. This lengthy effort has a drinking window extending from 2013 to 2027.

    (Robert Parker reviewing Barney’s Block Shiraz 2007)

     

     

     

     

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