The 100 point rating system is dead. Vive the 100 point system !

(This post is a summary of an exclusive report from VitaBella Luxury Wine)

Early April, the "En Primeur" Week will begin in Bordeaux and very soon wine critics will release their comments on the top Bordeaux 2011. For many reasons it became very fashionable to criticize the 100 point score system and I would not detail here in this post as you could easily find articles that mention some of them (Read here an article). In fact I feel things have already changed and if the old 100 point score system is definitely dead, a new 100 point rating system has emerged that shows the change in the way critics are celebrating the best wines now.

The old 100 point rating system: Do you remember? I was recently reading an interesting post from Bruce Palling (read here: Over the Barrel ?) in which Stephen Browett, the Chairman of Farr Vintners, said: “I would say that the fashion is certainly away from over oaked and high alcohol wine as well." In fact, some of the wines that scored over 90 points in the old score system was a caricature of this style. "But how is it possible some undrinkable wines got high scores?" some would ask today. Why? Because their powerful style was appreciated in opposition to the diluted wines - with no fruit and no structure - that were on the market at this period of time. Two opposite styles, in fact, and one was much celebrated 20 years ago: the powerful style. This old score system helped much the wine industry to understand that diluted wines were not welcome anymore on the market.

The old 100 point rating system proved its limits :
1) After years of tasting powerful white wines with strong alcohol or overextracted and oakey red wines, critics were finally fed up with this style. What they now want is a delicate and elegant wine that could be paired with food. They want a wine that makes them ask for another glass and not a wine that makes them sleep.
2) After years of having said that this particular 98 point score wine would age for 20 years at least and should be tasted in 10 years' time, now has come the time to drink the wine. And sometimes we get disappointed by this wine. Why? When young, it was said that this 98 point wine had so much power that wine lovers would miss the most interesting part if they did not wait for at least few years. After years, this wine would reveal a smooth and complex mouthfeel with some tertiary aromas that only a unique wine could offer. Now is the time to open the bottle and sometimes...disapointment. The wine has oxidized or has not developped in the sense it should have. I am always amazed by the number of those high scoring wines from the 1990s that are still on top restaurants' wine lists: no wine lover wants them anymore because the expected excellence never showed up...

Vive the new 100 point system ! A score is a photograph of the critic’s reaction at a particular moment in time. Changing the score system may not be the best way to say "the old style" is dead. In fact, I feel that a new 100 point score has already emerged over the last few years. When you have the chance to taste the best wines that both "new world" and "old world" can offer, you understand that there was a major shift in the way wine critics are scoring fine wines. Strong alcohol, overextracted and oakey red wines are not anymore making the top scores as they used to make in the past. Overripe grapes that make unbalanced white wines are not welcome anymore in the top 100 wines. Elegance, finesse, balance are now celebrated. In fact, this new 100 point score system is revealing treasures from the New World that were hidden in the past. Great balanced wines from both Old and New World are now reaching top scores. Even a red wine with a light colour has its chance now: Have a look at Rousseau wines in Burgundy. Even a delicate red wine from US has its chance: Have a look at Pinot noir wines from Littorai. The rating system has not changed, quality scale is still based on 100 points or 100/100. In fact I do not think the scoring system with the 100 points mechanism should change. But mentalities have changed and the evolution of the 100 point rating system is clearly showing this trend over the last few years. The old 100 point rating system is dead. Vive the 100 point system ! (Read more on www.vitabella.fr)


Why Low Alcohol Wines still have a Long Way to go : A Brainstorming with Wine Industry Professionals

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) I was recently reading an interesting article in The Drinks Business that said : "The poor quality of the majority of low-alcohol wines in the UK is preventing consumers from making repeat purchases or trying other brands, according to Banrock Station." In fact, making wine has never been a simple thing. Get wine industry professionals around a table and start a brainstorming session to find a way to generate further revenues in new profitable niches.

"What about the low alcohol wine niche? "

"Great idea ! I read some articles about it and people are fed up with too powerful wines with strong alcohol content. It's a great idea!" said Eddy, the Chief Marketing Officer. "John, on the production side, how can we achieve this?"

John : "I have to ask my guys to make some tries but we already have contacts with technology companies that can help on that. It's not a problem. How many bottles to you want to sell?"

Eddy: "We have to make some plans, I have to report to our MDs on different markets where there may show an interest. I have to come back to you on that. I will write a docucument for each country to let them understand that we are able to make and see their interest. I will ask them what colour they would prefer: white, rosé or red? I will then define a pricing strategy for each country."

"OK guys, well done, great idea, I think we go into a new market that many consider as a niche but that could be a terrific market for us. Let's do it ! See you next month."

""May I just ask a question" said Martin. "What does it taste like a low alcohol wine?"

"Don't worry Martin on that point, we have many studies. We just have to make sure it tastes like our end consumers want. I am sure John with his team will do his best to achieve this."

Martin: "No I just tell you this because my wife and I are fed up with too strong and powerful wines and we are very interested in tasting a low alcohol wine because we finally can't do without the magical part that brings a bottle of wine."

John: "Martin, do you like 9.5% german rieslings?"

Martin: "Yes we love them so much, so many different tastes, the ageing potential is spectacular and the balance is always magic."

Eddy: "And apart from the too strong alcohol content, do you like the aromas of some powerful red wines?"

Martin: "Yes of course but at the same time we are keen on some red wines with strong alcohol content from Australia or South of France because, in these specific wines, we do not feel this alcohol. When the balance is great, it is only when you get to the label that you understand the wine has a strong alcohol content."

John: " So low alcohol wines are exactly that. You get the aromas you like but you do not suffer from a burning alcohol. Does that answer your question?"

Martin: "Yes, regarding the aromas but I still miss the points regarding Balance and Magic..."

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Darling…Be Natural, take your clothes off ! Show me your Terroir.

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) I was recently reading a comment regarding the new documentary "Wine from Here" about Natural Wine in California. The title of this article was: "Wine From Here documentary proves terroir doesn't matter" (read here). In fact, I find that all these very interesting interviews put on the website that promotes the film www.winefromhere.com are telling a completely different story. What Paul Draper (Ridge Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains), Ted Lemon (Littorai, Sebastobol) and many others say shows us that natural winemaking enhances taste and pleasure because it enhances the major assets of each vineyard such as soil and grape varieties' expression. As Shawn Robinson (Renaissance, Sierra Foothills) and Mike Dash (Dashe Cellars, Oakland) put it : "Natural wines give more back in terms of individuality (...) the composition of the flavours is more complex" or "Natural wines are more interesting, distinctive, more complex ".

The sense of Place is not dead, The sense of Place has a new life. And Terroir is not dead, Terroir has a new life. Are natural wines the only ones to express the Place and the Terroir at their best? Not at all but they will help the producers who used to put too much "make up" and "clothes" in their wines to understand if their own place is excellent, good or bad. At a first stage, with a new "natural" approach, winemakers will get a better sense of their place. But the second stage will be about Terroir. What is terroir in fact? It is the meeting of Soil, Climate and Weather – that will shape the vintage- and of Savoir-Faire. So, if we consider for example France, Italy or Germany - where this notion is very important - each appellation is made up of a terroir or a multitude of terroirs. It took centuries to define those terroirs in these countries and it will take time to find all the terroirs that exist in the world. For sure, California can boast about great terroirs but will certainly find many others with a more "natural" approach. Like everywhere in the world.

So, in my view, the point of this documentary is not that terroir doesn't matter. In fact, Terroir matters and has never been so important since the "natural winemaking" approach started to develop. My point is not to say that Natural wines are the best. Why? Because, before saying that "natural" wines are the best, we should know what we are talking about...What "Natural wine" means exactly? Is "Natural" the best adjective to define these wines or should we prefer "naked", "organic" or any other name? My point is that after having put so much "make up" and "clothes" in wines, there is a time when we would like to see (and drink) them "naked" or "natural". And maybe some naked (or natural) ones will be impressive. In fact, this is already the case: Just try Littorai wines (young or some 10 years old) and you will understand that these wines are among the best in the world.

In fact, those interviews show that natural winemaking helps winemakers to get a better definition of "their OWN place in their OWN wine". As Gideon Beinstock, Winemaker at Clos Saron (Sierra Foothills) puts it: "I don't care if it's better or worse or different than Romanee Conti (...) but it does express the special life and the special meaning of this place." In fact, naturally working does not make your wine "terroir oriented", it just makes it "place oriented". If your vines are planted in a poor location, natural winemaking won't help you. Or, at least, it will help you to understand that your place is not as good as the one a few miles away. But winemakers need time to reveal the most beautiful terroirs as it also requires a savoir-faire that some "natural" winemakers are still learning. Soil, climate, weather and savoir faire make a terroir. Everywhere in the world. For too long, Make up and clothes have just hidden this to make standard wines. Darling, be Natural, take your clothes off! Show me your Terroir. (More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Chateau Palmer, Domaine Leroy…Farce and Deception at Fauchon Paris

When a wine expert at Fauchon recommends a 500 euros wine, should you trust him? This is the conclusion we could draw from the documentary "The trouble with experts " that will screen on CBC in Canada on Thursday 29. I only watched the 2mn presentation but I can figure out the full content for one simple reason: I was part of this group on that night at Fauchon. (click here to watch the presentation)

This documentary from Josh Freed will show that "experts" can not tell the difference between a wine at 30 euros and another at 500 euros. Being the only person in the group to have constantly repeated that the wines we were served did not correspond to the label they were showing us, I would like to clarify a few points about this tasting held at Fauchon a few months ago.

1) Fauchon invited us in Paris (place de la Madeleine) to enjoy some great wines including a first growth classified Bordeaux wine. We never saw a first growth being poured into our glasses.

2) Camera, sound ... Everything is recorded, the team makes us sign a document to get the full image rights.

3) Fewer people than expected showed up, so we had to sit closer to each other. Some people from Fauchon were called at the last moment to fill empty spaces. No renowned wine expert at sight: wine professionals (but that does not make you necessarily a wine expert), wine lovers and people who were keen on discovering this wonderful world.

4) An explanation of the tasting was given by a wine expert (Frederic Brochet) from Fauchon. Two glasses will be served: the first will be a 30 euros wine and the second will be a 500 euros wine. So a first glass of red Burgundy was proposed. This expert (in fact he was presented as an expert and might be the only wine expert from the group) introduced shortly this wine. Rapidly we were invited to taste it. Immediately, the Canadian reporter asked us : "So What do you think? ". I replied that, of course, it was good, elegant, delicate, it was the kind of red Burgundy I really appreciate. Then came the second glass and the expert from Fauchon continued: "Here is a great red Burgundy from Leroy that comes from a highly reputed area and has an exceptional ...". This speech continued for several minutes to explain the uniqueness of this wine. And then immediately at the first sip, the second glass had much less elegance, complexity and refinement than the first one. This second wine was good but did not show the same complexity. The camera focused on some of us, including me: "So which one do you prefer?". "Both are good" I replied, and indeed I explained what I considered good in each of these two wines. But I also explained to the reporter and my neighbors that I felt the two wines had been swapped. Indeed, as seen in the short presentation for the documentary, the wine expert from Fauchon had poured the Mercurey into an expensive bottle from the famous wine estate, Leroy. The reporter replied to me that what I was saying was really weird and that we should not waste too much time and should continue to taste other wines.

5) After tasting the next two wines (a chateau Palmer bottle was filled with an unknown red bordeaux wine), the deception was clear and it was easy to understand that the 2 new wines were also swapped. My neighbor, who was discovering great wines, told me she preferred again the first wine and we started a long conversation about this. We were reported to lower our voice as maybe the reporter was feeling that around us people started to have some doubts. The reporter continued: "What wine do you prefer? The first one or the second? "At this point, how can we imagine a single individual in a group of ten people that he/she does not know at all - and which fully trusts the wine expert from Fauchon - to speak in front of the camera and say: "Well the 500 euros wine is not the one you served in the second glass! "The wine lover must have a real courage to speak up and say these words in a group who has been told "This 500 euros wine is unique and exceptional for such and such reason".

Till the end of the evening, I told the reporter that the wines had been swapped. I got no answer and, for me, it was a real deception. But I realized with the short video of the documentary that there are two deceptions actually. The first one is that it was organized at Fauchon, a renowned place for gastronomy and wines. The second is about the title "The trouble with experts" because real wine experts were absent on that night...

After having contacted the head of communication at Fauchon, it appears that they are the first victim of this farce. The wine expert, Frederic Brochet, who conducted this farce is not working at Fauchon anymore. But the image of Fauchon may be tarnished by this documentary which shows bottles that are being swapped and also shows regular Fauchon customers being trapped in this ridiculous farce.


Bordeaux-based négociants start delivering their 2009 Bordeaux. And also Hommage à Jacques Perrin 2009 from Chateau de Beaucastel.

On James Molesworth's blog, the Bordeaux and Rhone Valley wine specialist from the U.S. magazine Wine Spectator, we recently discovered a big news: "Château de Beaucastel's Hommage à Jacques Perrin Grande Cuvée Cracks the Place de Bordeaux: The Rhône wine becomes the first non-Bordeaux French wine to be offered by Bordeaux-based négociants."

This is a very important news in a market place that was generally closed to only wines from Bordeaux. In fact, if it is the first time for a French but non Bordeaux wine, this is not the case for some other great international wines in recent years : Chile's Viña Almaviva and Opus One from California, both joint ventures of Château Mouton-Rothschild or both super Tuscans Masseto and Solaia are already offered by the same pool of negociants.

In fact, if Hommage à Jacques Perrin can not, in any way, deny its noble and great origins from Chateauneuf du Pape, it is true that the famous Chateau de Beaucastel has much in common with Bordeaux greatest Chateaus. Its history dating back to 1697, the uniqueness of its terroir located at the northern limit of the appellation, the quality and fabulous ageing potential of its wines... all these remind us of the essential qualities of Bordeaux greatest wines. We should also note that Robert Parker has been covering Beaucastel for many years and gives the best scores as he does for Bordeaux most coveted wines.

As James Molesworth puts it, "The system typically favors the biggest names with the longest histories and tends to insulate the top châteaus from the rigors of working the marketplace themselves." It is in fact part of the answers given by the Perrin Family: "The main reason we decided to put some Hommage on the place is because we are always saying 'no' to people who are asking to buy Hommage, as demand for the wine is always much more than we have," said Marc Perrin. "The place de Bordeaux's job is to allocate wines, so it frees us from that. Instead of spending time on the phone saying 'no' to people, we can concentrate on the vineyards and wines."

With 6000 bottles produced - only in great vintages - Hommage à Jacques Perrin is a much coveted wine
. As a conclusion, James Molesworth mentions the words of Perrin on the secondary market: "Also, on Hommage there has historically been a secondary market as some people don't drink the wine, but sell it again. This is very unorganized and provenance becomes an issue, which can be damaging for the reputation of the wine and for customers. The place has a way of cleaning that up."


England, don’t be shy, be proud of your bubblies, go your own way ! (Why « Britagne » may not be the right generic name for an english " champagne ")

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) Finding a name is not that evident. Take the example of a group. A bunch of people are brainstorming for names. The band members are already so deaf they keep saying, "The who?". Finally, someone suggests the Who as their name. And the legend of the Who band was born. When it comes to choosing a generic name, you may think twice before promoting it. The recent release of a sparkling wine from the British producer Coates and Seely as ‘Britagne’ has already started a debate in England to find a generic name for the British bubblies. The clever marketing approach of Christian Seely, Managing director of the wine division of AXA Millesimes and also the co-founder of Coates and Seely, was to bring out the ‘Britagne’ name and to see how the english community would react. In fact, this debate is necessary if english sparkling producers want to be recognized for producing high quality bubblies. But the road is still long if you consider generic names such as Cava or Spumante that already have some history but still suffer the comparison with Champagne even if, in terms of quality, tremendous progress has been made over the last 20 years.

Is "Britagne" the right generic name for english bubblies? The answers to a few questions could help drawing a first quick conclusion:

1) Is this name easy-to-understand ?

2) Is it hard to pronounce ?

3) Is it meaningful?

4) Is it similar to competitor’s names?

5) Is it emotional ?

6) Is it visually evocative, does it create a mental picture?

7) Does it carry the product qualities and values?

8) Does it empower, engage or enlighten?

A great name is a strong asset for a powerful organization. When you select an uncommon name, it’s unlikely that consumers will confuse your product with something similar. In the industry, most companies don’t focus enough attention on choosing a memorable name. Typically in the industry, people closest to the product development effort are the ones proposing the candidate names. This usually leads to overly "technical" names focused on what a product does. In our example, the estate came up with the "Britagne" name because, in their mind, the wine could be compared to Champagne even if it is "Brit". Great product name in fact for this estate that gained and will certainly continue to gain much PR from this name. But a great product name does not mean a great generic name. "Britagne" will make the Coates and Seely's production recognizable among the rest of the competition but "Britagne" may not be the right generic name that english bubblies need. "Britagne" will always be seen as a play on a French word giving the image of English imitating the French. Unlike the drug industry, where finding a generic name means finding a name for a low cost version of the more expensive brand name product, english bubbly producers must find a generic name that should help them to reinforce the image of a high quality and a unique production. Distinctive from the Champagne name, this generic name needs to create its own environment. English bubbly should not be a "me too" wine, it must be a singular wine with a specific origin and taste. The generic name "Britagne" may fail in that attempt.

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Andreas Larsson, Best Sommelier of the World: « First Growth Bordeaux Wines are just a Memory »

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) The international Wine Fair Vinexpo 2011 came to an end and First Growth Bordeaux wines have not yet disclosed their En Primeur 2010 prices. This interview with Andreas Larsson, Best Sommelier of the World, gives a unique opportunity to get his opinion on this En Primeur Campaign as well as his view on the future of Bordeaux wines.

What do you think of the prices for En Primeur 2010 Bordeaux wines ?

Andreas Larsson: " Bordeaux delivers some of the best value in the world, such a treasure of great wines at moderate price levels. Unfortunately first growths are just a memory. The last vintage I bought was 2004. Today nor I or my restaurant or my clients can afford these wines. I am sure those chateaux would love to see their wines being drunk in restaurants. However there are only two kinds of clients who can buy these wines: the Very Rich and the Ultra Rich people. "

What do you think of the 2010 Vintage ?

AL: "It is too early to me. I do not consider myself capable of judging unfinished wines, six months after the harvest. I prefer to taste the wines when they are finished and available on the market. But I am sure it will be a very good vintage overall. The importance of the vintage is less evident than 20 years ago as good chateaux can produce excellent wines every year. And my job is to find the best wines from the best producers regardless of the vintage. I am not a wine critic, I am a wine lover.".

What is your view on the future of Bordeaux wines ?

AL: "It is a wonderful region with an unlimited potential. So many talented people and such an unlimited potential! It is one of the few regions in the world where you can make modern and concentrated wines and yet retain a good deal of freshness, a moderate level of alcohol with a unique quality of tannins. I simply love Bordeaux and apart from its historical reputation, I regard it as young, dynamic with so much to discover."

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)