Making Tastings Great Again! Last week saw the California Wine Institute’s prestigious Collectible California tasting return for a second helping in London to great s...
The World Wine Web
When you think about the fine wine trade, you may have an image of a bunch of old men sitting around a table in a cavernous French chateau. With an eye-wateringly rare red wine sloshing around their glasses, they spend their days furiously discussing vintage variation, critic scores and prices, while deciding which of the wines from their seemingly endless cellar is the most valuable. Well maybe not. That may have been how things were done before (or maybe that’s just how I used to imagine it), but modern day wine trading is a whole lot different. Having a hand in setting up our new fine wine trading website recently, and sitting on tenterhooks every morning for the past few weeks waiting for the furious flurry of emails about the latest en primeur releases, the whole process got me thinking about how integral the internet now is for anyone looking to buy fine wine. Gone are the days of the traditional courtier, travelling to and fro from negociant to chateau by horse and carriage, carrying messages of prices and deals and facilitating agreements between the two parties. Now, everything is instantaneous. If I want to find out the price of a particular wine I’m interested in buying, in a few clicks I can compare every merchant from here to Timbuktu, how much it costs, and even how much it used to cost - if I want to berate myself for not having bought it 6 months ago when it was a fraction of the price. I can even see if buying in a different currency would be more beneficial, which at the moment unfortunately is truer than I would like to admit. So I know how much a wine costs, but is it any good? My knowledge of fine wine is strong, but unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to spout off the top of my head if the 1971 Branaire Ducru is going to be show-stoppingly brilliant and a wine to tell my kids about, or if it has gone the way of the dodo and would be more like drinking a bottle of vinegar that’s been left out in the sun too long. No problem, a few clicks onto a critic’s website and I can tell you everything you need to know about it from its aromas, how it tastes, when you should drink it, if it has any ageing potential, how it compares to any other vintages of Branaire Ducru and whether I should look out for the 1975 instead. You can sit back on the sofa with your feet up, and, prepared with your newly acquired wine and market expertise, order a case of fine claret from one of France’s most revered chateaux, safe in the knowledge you got a slap-up deal for it. The vintage is exceptional, it’s perfect to drink now (because you don’t have the patience to store it), and you can imagine yourself to be the Wolf of Bordeaux Street for a few hours.
Changing Tastes in 25 Years of Fine Wine
We're celebrating Roberson Wine's 25th anniversary this week with a series of blog posts. In this post, Lee looks at how Fine Wine has evolved over the last 25 years. As it’s Roberson Wine’s 25th anniversary, I thought it would be interesting to take a brief look back and see how tastes have changed in Fine Wine over the last quarter century. 25 years may seem like an eternity to some, but in the world of Fine Wine this isn’t always the case. If you think that some wines are bought with the intention of being aged, tucked away and almost forgotten in a warehouse or a dark cellar for 25 years before they come to see the light of day, it puts things in a different perspective. You can’t talk about recent decades in Fine Wine without mentioning the enormous effect of critic Robert Parker. Parker is responsible for the proliferation of the point rating system; his 100 point scale causing huge fluctuations in prices, with a ‘perfect’ 100 score prompting the value of a wine to skyrocket. His influence spread to growers and producers alike, who saw his scores as an easy route to high prices and easy sales. Consequently, the 1990’s and early 00’s were in part saturated by hugely ripe, oaky, powerful and very high alcohol red wines as per the supposed preference of Parker. Vineyards the world over – but especially seen in California, Australia and South America – were uprooting local grapes in favour of the popular French varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay that dominated the market (I’m sure most of you will have gone through the ABC, Anything But Chardonnay phase at one point or another). We have since seen a ‘counter-movement’ to a lighter, more expressive and refreshing style, where geographical influences and terroir driven wines are increasingly important to the tech-savvy, environmentally engaged ‘Millennial’ drinker who places more weight on the story of a wine and its vineyard, rather than just its winemaking techniques. Indigenous, rather than purely international grapes are again growing in popularity. California has emerged as one of the world’s great wine producing regions. Cult wines in California such as Sine Qua Non and Screaming Eagle, able to boast some of the highest prices in the world, have become a staple part of the Fine Wine market in the last 25 years. These ‘cult’ wines tend to be very big, tannic and high alcohol wines - akin to some of Parker’s preferences perhaps - some with strong Bordelais roots and influences such as Opus One - founded by Robert Mondavi and Baron Rothschild who recognised the region’s great winemaking potential. California has experienced a very quick evolution in terms of its winemaking style. While still young in regional terms, many producers wanted to take a step away from the 15+% alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon’s of 20 years ago, towards a ‘new wave’ California Fine Wine. Pinot Noir and Syrah are again rightfully finding their place in the Fine Wine market, as more elegant wines are being grown from the cooler climate areas of California in this ‘new wave’ revolution. Elsewhere in the last 25 years we have seen both the emergence and diminution of the Super Tuscans as key Fine Wines. In the early 2000’s the Super Tuscan brand became diluted by too many producers jumping on the new bandwagon, devaluing the brand. However the likes of Masseto, Ornellaia and Sassicaia are still some of the most sought-after wines on the market. All that being said and done, looking at the very top of the Fine Wine market in the last 25 years, we still see the same familiar French faces – the Bordeaux First Growths and the likes of Pétrus, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Cheval Blanc (to name a few) dominate. Burgundian wines are now more popular than ever. With huge demand for top vintages and with Asian pallets maturing, their terroir focused wines and more delicate style are highly coveted. However this growing demand, coupled with the short supply, has driven prices up drastically in recent years. Despite the mini-revolution we see in California, South Africa, Australia and other wine producing regions around the world, it still remains the ‘traditional’ wines that drive the Fine Wine market; the pinnacle of the Bordeaux classification still provides that assurance of quality and leads the way in the market. After the market crash in 2008, the growing Asian interest in Fine Wine helped pull the market out of recession. Bordeaux wines are seen as very prestigious in the East, and completely dominate the growing Asian market. While it is exciting to see this new breed of winemaker pushing the boundaries with modern winemaking, when it comes to the world’s most expensive and traded wines the traditional regions still dominate. Tastes in Fine Wine have changed over the last 25 years, but slowly. Much like the wines themselves, peoples tastes have gradually matured in bottle, developed new flavours, changed nuances and characteristics, but have still maintained their roots and traditions. Tastes are broadening however, and while traditional wines still dominate, people are questioning the status quo more and more. On an interesting side note, while Roberson Wine celebrated its 25th anniversary on November 25th, I was celebrating my 25th birthday the day after. Parties all round then!
Ribera del Duero - An evolving region?
The Ribera del Duero is now one of Spain’s premier winemaking regions, boasting powerful and complex red wines crafted from the high altitude, plateaued landscape in northern Spain, but recently there seems to be a stylistic shift. Master of Wine Tim Atkin led a small group through a Masterclass held at the Westbury Hotel in London which I had the pleasure of going to last week, looking at the evolution of oak use in the region and the bodegas’ growing commitment to avoid an overly extracted style of wine in preference for a more delicate and purer expression of Tinto Fino (Tempranillo). The evening began in a very relaxed manner - an open-pour tasting of 30 or so Ribera wines, a great cross section of wines dating back to 2007. My personal highlight was the prestigious Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° 2011, an intense and nuanced wine, boasting complex red and black fruits on the nose that give way to sweet spice, toasty and smoked aromas. A velvety mouth-feel compliments the balance and complexity on the palate, and a finish that just went on and on. Another highlight was Dominio de Pingus’s second wine Flor de Pingus 2013, a fresh and vibrant wine with lively acidity showcasing a different profile to its bigger and bolder older brother. The only thing missing was a Pesquera – described by Robert Parker as “the Petrus of Spain”. Well if Pesquera is the Petrus, then Pingus is the Romanee-Conti! Of course I am going to choose the most expensive wines as favourites I hear you say, but they are more premium for a reason. Of all the wines on show, these were head and shoulders above the others in terms of quality, structure and depth of flavour - they really did live up to the hype. After tasting a cross-section of the wines, Tim led us through a brief seminar on the Ribera region, running through its climate and aspect, history, grapes and winemaking styles to name but a few. Tim admitted that high oak levels and over extraction has been a criticism of the region’s wines in the past, only producing big inky wines, but that the winemakers had begun to turn a corner to a lighter and more delicate style. We then tasted Tim’s 13 favourite wines from the selection and went through how some of these demonstrated the lighter and less extracted style. Our first wine, a 2015 Joven style, brilliantly showcased this – organically produced and with only 6 months in barrel, a very fresh, approachable and easy-drinking style, far removed from the oak-heavy inky wines of previous vintages. The tasting continued with wines showing a mixture of French and American oak, some very rich and punchy, and while brilliant, had fruit flavours slightly dominated by excessive oak ageing and extraction. Other wines, while having similar levels of oak ageing, had a much lighter and more elegant style, with greater finesse and elegance complimented by higher levels of acidity. Many of the producers are now moving away from the heavily oaked ‘Bordeaux’ style of wine, towards a lighter more Burgundian approach, with good acidity and balance producing a freshness that makes the wines very approachable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive fan of a big, powerful, hedonistic Ribera wine, but the elegance and finesse produced in the newer vintages has got me very excited to try more. If you are interested in buying fine wine by the case, please visit our fine wine website.
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