Was it only yesterday I was on holiday in Cahors in south west France’s Lot Valley? So it seems, but it was in fact 10 years ago that I took myself there on holiday with a case of Châteauneuf-du-Pape just to be on the safe side. The local plonk might be ok for washing down everyday fare, but what when my friends and I fancied something decent to drink? In the spring this year, I returned to the scene of my criminal lack of confidence in the local wine to attend something rather grandiosely called the Journées Internationales du Malbec.
July’s first light dusting of white over the Andes in signals a change of season as winter brings its annual charge of snow and a guarantee of irrigation for next summer’s vintage from the snowmelt waters of the Andes. The drought-inducing effects of La Niña in 2008 brought the driest vintage to Chile since 1999, but thanks to its copious supply of mountain waters, Chile isn’t crippled by drought like Australia.
If Kwik Save was once the supermarket that did exactly what it says on the tin, the discount mantle has now passed to Aldi. The pennies really count for Aldi customers who value its no-frills approach. According to Daniel Gibson, Aldi’s wine buyer, when the price of the summery thirstquenching rosé, the 2007 Vina Decana Rosada, slipped from £2.99 to a grand total of £3.29 after the budget, the company lost an immediate 40 per cent of sales, even though there’s no disputing the value of the wine, even at £3.29.
How green is your garden? If you’re stuck in the city this summer and fancy a bit of stroll in a vineyard, you might give Liverpool Street a try. Following a similar stunt in Sydney, the Australian wine producer McGuigan has been busy constructing a ‘city vineyard’, an installation that lets you meander amongst the vines, try the wines at the cellar door and chat to its winemakers. Not that London can compete with Europe’s more vinecentric capitals.
If you think of German wine as cheap, sweet and basic, you’re in excellent company. When the go-ahead German company ZGM commissioned market researchers to find out what UK consumers thought of German wine, ‘cheap, sweet and basic’ came the response. 10 years ago, it looked as if Germany was starting to turn a corner. With unlovely lieb at an average price of £2.75 and shock horror hock at £2.19, Germany’s big producers created New World-style brands like Devil’s Rock, Fire Mountain and Northern Star for the new drier styles.
At a time when French wine is regrouping in the wake of Australia’s retail success, it must have come as yet another body blow to find that it has just been elbowed out of pole position by no less a wine power than the United States. Yes, the US, more specifically California, has kicked France out of the nest largely thanks to the performance of monster brands like Gallo, Echo Falls and Blossom Hill. American rosé in particular is A Big Thing with British consumers for whom life seems just a little bit sweeter when a dollop of sugar helps the medicine slip down.
I suspect that the TV personality and wine writer Oz Clarke either had tongue in cheek or foot in mouth with his recent claim that chardonnay’s recent decline was down to a lovelorn Bridget Jones bolstering her lack of self-esteem with yet another balloon glassful of the stuff.
When the French ex-rugby player Gérard Gauby disinfected his vineyard with a chemical and found it strewn the next day with dead birds, he knew it was time for a change. When Dr. Robert Gross of Oregon’s Cooper Mountain Vineyards saw that his chemical sprays were causing vomiting in the local birdlife, he wondered: ‘what the hell are they doing to us human beings?’ Both stopped using chemicals and switched to biodynamic viticulture. In California, it was the flavours of the fruit and veg from their organic garden that turned the Fetzer family into organic and biodynamic winemakers.
Two in every five bottles of French wine sold in the UK last year were vins de pays. Not constrained by the appellation contrôlée (AC) rules that allow wines to be made only from specific grape varieties and within strictly controlled boundaries, vins de pays also benefit from being able to mention the grape variety on the label, allowing smaller producers to get across to the consumer, à la New World, what the style is. As a result, vins de pays often offer good value and a more subtle alternative to the generally bolder flavours of the New World.
I think the May issue of Wine & Spirit magazine had it about right suggesting that wine buyers in search of a bargain are best to wait for next year's French supermarket Foires aux Vins to buy their Bordeaux 2007s. I didn't attend this year's tasting circus in Bordeaux last month because the weather conditions and subsequent reports made it clear that there was little mileage for consumers to buy en primeur now. Even the normally enthusiastic UK wine trade, which stands to make easy money from sales of the new Bordeaux vintages, has been a little quiet.