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)


Monsieur Robert Parker, Welcome on board of this EP2010 Bordeaux First Class flight! Please Fasten your Seatbelts, Turbulence ahead…

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) (This is an executive summary from an exclusive VitaBella Luxury Wine report - From Guillaume Jourdan)

Version française: Cliquez ici.

Raising the price of a wine is not enough to make it a "luxury wine". Chateaux should also add a strong support to reach their ambitions. To my knowledge, I do not know any area in the luxury industry, except wine (excluding champagne), which strongly raises its prices but does not add any significant support to its brand. If the bottles of those famous chateaux are sold en Primeur at record prices, they will then have to go through the whole process (including all the considerations about margins) to reach the tables of wine lovers who will finally say to the sommelier: I want that bottle. With prices as high as those announced in recent days, this process is likely to become longer and longer. And some bottles may never find consumers... An exclusive VitaBella Luxury Wine Report analyzes three possible types of crisis and some measures chateaux should consider now.

"Bordeaux guru" Robert Parker recently said "it would be a mistake" to increase prices again. "If they come higher than 2009, we're going to have a big, big crisis" he said. He recommended to sell the 2010 vintage 10 to 20 percent lower than the 2009 vintage. He also said he was sad to see in his country, with a "weak dollar", the loss of market share for Bordeaux wines on restaurant menus and in wine shops as the prices seem too high."Bordeaux is the epicenter of the best wines in the world and I hate to see the image damaged by the fact people tend to think it's too expensive"."Bordeaux is focused too much on the wealthy Asian market" Parker said. "Despite the fact that China has so many wealthy people, it's a very dangerous game if they raise prices, because the world economy is very, very fragile."

How could we analyze this situation?

1) "The emergence of a bubble" : Will an increase in the price of 2010s lead to the emergence of a bubble or are we already "in the bubble"? In fact, in my own experience, when I start reading articles from experts who explain the emergence of a bubble, this usually means that the existing bubble will burst very soon... My personal view is that we are already in the bubble Robert Parker is talking about. This bubble developped over the last few years with the strong price increases and with the speculation on some big names (Lafite Rothschild...). In fact, I believe the emergence of the bubble is not in front of us, but behind us.

2) "If they come higher than 2009, we're going to have a big, big crisis." Crisis, but what crisis ? Three types of crisis could be defined:

- The crisis of the "mid-range price" wines: Unfortunately as we can see in many industries, the mid-range market is suffering terribly. Many Chateaux, which are part of this mid-range market, have increased their prices dramatically. The crisis described by Robert Parker will have a direct impact on those wines. Regarding the few top wines, adding 100 euros to the final price won't make any difference.

- The "transition" crisis : The world of wine is changing with an increasing volatility and uncertainty on this market. Chateaux must adapt. There will be turbulence as in any industry that is experiencing significant changes in its own environment. If, on one hand, there has never been so much uncertainty, on the other hand there has never been so many opportunities. New markets open and they are buoyant. Faced by this apparent paradox, top chateaux must now consider that uncertainty is a constant and will have to change how they plan for the future. Change is a continuous challenge in the corporate world. Top Bordeaux wines are now experiencing the same and should prepare for turbulences. Financial markets have seen a tremendous increase in volatility over the last 20 years. It will now happen for top Bordeaux wines. What did financial markets do? They adapted to volatility. Top Bordeaux wines will have to do the same and adapt to this new environment.

- The "counterfeit wine" crisis: With soaring prices, counterfeit art has been around for centuries. With the rising prices of wines in the 70s, counterfeiting has grown. The recent price boom may lead to an explosion of fakes. And like in art, the ones which will be mostly impacted will have all the ingredients to appeal to counterfeiters: volume, international recognition, rated among the highest. And like in art (art counterfeiting generates an illicit trade valued at about € 6 billion per year), fake wines will be increasingly difficult to detect. Think about it: over half of the art deco furniture (sold at high prices) in circulation could be false...

3) Some ideas to be successful in this new environment

- Lowering prices as would recommend Parker with a drop of 10% to 20%? It is actually too late. And if, in fact, we are facing a big, big crisis, I would have some doubts about the significant impact that a reduction from 10 to 20% on the 2010 En Primeur prices could have.

- Thinking beyond scores and supporting the brand like champagne houses have done for 30 years. At these price levels (unheard of in Bordeaux), only referring to the score of a renowned expert is not enough to explain the price of a wine. It is a fact that a great score confirms the exceptional quality of the wine according to the expert's point of view. But at the price levels achieved in recent days, the wine lover expects something else that is still rarely proposed today. Champagne houses are doing this very well and great champagne can be sold at high prices (with a high volume) through an effective marketing and communication approach.

- Acquire new competencies : The world we live in today is more volatile than ever. What the future will bring appears to be anybody's guess. In fact, the future is taking shape around us and by taking a closer look at the changes in action today, we can predict what the world of tomorrow will be like. Top chateaux must have a look at the forces that are dramatically reshaping the world of luxury wines and consider what to plan ahead to reinforce their positions globally and build stronger brands. Mastering global communication and brand marketing is part of the skills they need to gain if they want to adapt to this new volatile environment.

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) (This is an executive summary from an exclusive VitaBella Luxury Wine report - From Guillaume Jourdan)


Vinexpo 2011, Brand Strategy, Usher…An Interview with the CEO of Champagne de Venoge

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) From 90 to 97/100 in Wine Spectator and with many other top scores in international wine magazines, Champagne de Venoge collected honours from wine experts over the last ten years. Let’s come back on this success story with four questions adressed to Gilles de la Bassetière, CEO of the Champagne House de Venoge.

Champagne de Venoge recently published "Noblesse Oblige". Could you tell us more about this book?

"It was important for Champagne de Venoge's lovers as well as for the brand itself to come back on a such long and beautiful history. From Sarah Bernardht to the American singer Usher, including Bo Derek, the history of Champagne of Venoge is summarized in a magnificient book signed by the historian and writer Patrick de Gmeline. It is related to the women and the men who built the great history of our House and also describes the extraordinary life of an exclusive Champagne brand. This book gives a beautiful vision of the singular style of our champagnes and more specifically of the Cuvee des Princes and Cuvee Louis XV. So many stories and photographs which remind us that, since 1837, Champagne de Venoge always enjoyed a contemporary life without forgetting its noble origins."

How would you explain the success of Champagne de Venoge since its creation?

"At the beginning, a family decided by passion to create a champagne which would set up new standards. Recognizable by the blue ribbon called "Cordon Bleu", our champagnes played a major model role in the 1930's for all our competitors. Then, over the years, people became more and more knowledgeable about Champagne and de Venoge pursued its efforts to improve quality and maintain the House style. We developped in Europe, in the USA and in Asia but our clients are looking for the same great experience and great taste that de Venoge brought to the first customers. Consequently maintaining traditional methods in our daily work may be a major part of our success which is confirmed each time I share a bottle of Champagne de Venoge with a group of connoisseurs."

How would you see the brand in the next few years?

"Maintaining the de Venoge's style and the high level of quality are the two major objectives we are focusing on. So considering this high level of expectations, we do not intend to dramatically increase our production. Moreover, in those times when people tend to switch from one brand to another, Champagne de Venoge has a rare chance to have faithful customers. Noblesse oblige, de Venoge is a brand which built a strong relationship with professionals and private consumers. We appreciate this confidence but we never should take it from granted and will continue to offer top cuvées such as Louis XV Rosé or Blanc de Blancs Vintage to show how great the potential of our Champagne House is."

What do you expect from Vinexpo 2011, the international wine fair in Bordeaux that will start next Sunday?

"Noblesse oblige, Champagne de Venoge will celebrate the launch of the new vintage of Cuvée Louis XV at Vinexpo. After having spent 15 years in the cellars of Epernay, this 1996 vintage will be finally presented in a beautiful packaging and in its famous «carafe» bottle. This moment in history will remind us that, on the 25th May 1728, Louis XV of France made viticultural history by issuing a decree allowing only the wines of Champagne to be both shipped and marketed in bottle. In celebration of the ‘founder’ of Champagne, Champagne de Venoge have named the release of the prestige cuvée ‘Louis XV’. A blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay, this wine is a beautiful symbol of the great and long history of de Venoge Champagne House. Another intense moment will be the celebration of our prestigious oenotheque located in the heart of Epernay. We will open the doors of our cellar at Vinexpo with a tasting of some prestigious vintages that became references in the world of fine wines. Some Extra-Brut 1983, Extra-Brut 1985, Vintages 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1990 will be presented to reveal the unique style of this house founded in 1837."

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Jean Merlaut, Chateau Gruaud Larose : « I do not want this moment of pleasure to be overshadowed by the price. »

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) As announced by Decanter magazine, Chateau Gruaud Larose, "a second-growth and the highest-profile property to declare its price in the slowest en primeur campaign for at least ten years" has released its price for the 2010 vintage on Tuesday 7 June. "Le Vin des Rois, Le Roi des Vins", as defined by Abbe Gruaud in the 18th century, has indeed a special place in the heart of wine lovers who look for Saint Julien with an extraordinary aging potential. Jean Merlaut, owner of Chateau Gruaud Larose, discusses the 2010 En Primeur campaign.

Version française: Cliquez ici.

Could you tell us more about the 2010 En Primeur campaign for chateau Gruaud Larose?

Jean Merlaut: ""The 2010 vintage of Chateau Gruaud Larose has been proposed en Primeur to international buyers on June 7th and I can already tell you that it is a success for several reasons. Firstly, the entire Gruaud Larose team considers that this 2010 vintage is exceptional. Its quality is a continuation of the recent vintages we have done. We must recognize that the work done in the vineyards and the rigorous selection of grapes has given outstanding results. I look forward to tasting this 2010 in hundred years as we do from time to time with our older vintages..."

What is your view on this 2010 En Primeur campaign for Gruaud Larose wines?

JM: "The En Primeur campaign for our wines is doing very well for several reasons. First, the 2010 vintage at Chateau Gruaud Larose comes in small volume. There are 30% cases missing compared to an average year, due to a small crop in 2010. Concentration was excellent but grapes gave very little juice. It's hard for us not to offer more wines to the market but this is actually the case for 2010. But at no point, I wanted to increase the price of our wines because of this loss. Every year, all our efforts combine to give pleasure to wine lovers and I do not want this moment of pleasure to be overshadowed by the price. I always wanted Chateau Gruaud Larose to be an exceptional wine at an acceptable price. By "acceptable", I mean first acceptable for the people, particularly in Europe and the United States, who have always bought Gruaud Larose bottles for their cellars and who open them regularly. By this term "acceptable", I also mean I want to give to the largest number of fine wine lovers in the world a chance to open a bottle of Gruaud Larose and appreciate it. For me, this is the definition of what a great wine should be."

At what price was it released?

JM: "At 45 euros, up 15% on last year, you would agree that Gruaud Larose 2010 was released at a decent price. At this price, I know that the cellars in France, England, Germany, Belgium and in the United States, where Gruaud Larose was always prominently displayed, will continue to receive some of our 2010 wines. And it is also true for the "new cellars", including those in China. In this region, Gruaud Larose is successful and buyers are particularly fond of our old vintages."

What conclusion could you draw from this excellent 2010 En Primeur Campaign?

JM: "As a conclusion, I would simply point out that not only the exceptional wine but also our second wine, Sarget de Gruaud Larose, were successful. At 12 euros per bottle, I let you imagine the success met by this second wine. With the qualitative efforts that were made over the last twenty years, Sarget de Gruaud Larose has reached in 2010 the level of quality of the Gruaud Larose wines made twenty years ago. So Gruaud Larose as well as Sarget de Gruaud Larose will continue to be appreciated, which makes us happy every day at Chateau Gruaud Larose."

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Chateau Latour, Mouton Rothschild, La Mission Haut Brion and Quinta Vale Dona Maria performed brilliantly...

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) Chateau Latour, Mouton Rothschild, La Mission Haut Brion and Quinta Vale Dona Maria performed brilliantly in the blind tasting "Best of Portugal against Best of France" held in Hong Kong. On the 24th May 2011, The Sovereign Art Foundation hosted a special blind wine tasting to showcase the best of Portugal against the best of France in the 2007 vintage. A judging panel was set up and chaired by Simon Tam, Hong Kong’s foremost wine critic who sat alongside Charles Curtis MW, head of Asia wine sales for Christie’s, Nigel Bruce, publisher of several wine books and member of The Hong Kong Wine Society, Filipe Santos, President of the Wine Society in Macau, Paulo Pong from Altaya Wines and Benoit Allauzen, head sommelier from L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Hong Kong.

Guests purchased tickets to attend the event that evening with the proceeds going to The Sovereign Art Foundation. The money raised will go towards supporting the programmes in Cambodia, India and elsewhere which use art as therapy and rehabilitation for disadvantaged children. Each of the 13 wines were scored out of 20- as in the original Paris tasting. The Paris Tasting of 1976 (now the subject of the Hollywood film “Bottleshock”) will forever be remembered as the event that transformed the wine industry.

The judges ranked the wines in the following order: 1. Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Lynch Bages (score: 110) 2. Chateau La Mission Haut Brion (score: 107) 3. Chateau Latour (score: 106.5) 4. Quinta Vale Dona Maria and Chateau Leoville Barton (score: 106)

On the excellent blog www.agoodnose.com, you can find some detailed information about Cristiano Van Zeller (picture), owner of Quinta Vale Dona Maria : "As a Douro Boy, Cristiano van Zeller is no Third Man. He was the original catalyst for gathering together like-minded friends in the mid to late nineties, and by design, it was he who formed an occasional unified force to effect joint winemaking promotion. This informal association created a springboard for enlarging and consolidating a mutual team effort, ultimately leading to formation of the Douro Boys with families Roquette, Olazabal and Ferreira, and more latterly, the burgeoning New Douro movement..."

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Too Much Alcohol in Wine or Too Many Wines with Imperfect Balance ?

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) Fine wine and High-alcohol. Wine journalists consider it is time to write about this subject. Jon Bonne from San Francisco Chronicle decided to print the listed alcohol levels of each wine he recommends in the Food & Wine section. Britain's Decanter magazine also started to publish alcohol levels beginning in May. Why did they decide to do so ? SF Chronicle explains this move by suggesting "Our decision comes at a time when it is harder than ever to understand the implications of alcohol in wine."

This move confirms a general concern from consumers who ask for more information on the wines they drink. Giving more information about what's in the wine is very useful. Starting next year, some wines in Canada will carry a warning label with the words “Contains Eggs, Fish, or Dairy". In fact, some customers would like full nutritional information on the bottles - calories, sodium, carbohydrate, protein, fat and alcohol. Why not? It is on practically every other food and beverage. So, in that sense, knowing about alcohol content is a good information regarding wine. But does it say much about the wine itself ?

Sometimes I taste wines that contain 13.5 % alcohol and I find them burning. Then I taste a wine with 15% and alcohol is perfectly integrated in a fresh wine. Finding the balance of a wine, that is the key role of a successful winemaker. Without artifice. Take the example of the 2010 vintage in Bordeaux, a year that the world celebrated as one of the greatest vintages. This special year brought concentrated grapes, with full flavors and degrees that exceeded 15% for some vineyards. After tasting en Primeurs, the world realized that the greatest wines, even if they had a high alcohol content, had succeeded in keeping a perfect balance. The best successes in 2010 showed that alcohol was beautifully integrated even if its presence was important. However, some chateaux have found the balance of their 2010 wines at a lower level of alcohol. It was the case, for example, of Chateau Margaux with a surprising 13.5%. The choice of the winemakers was paramount.

Each year and everywhere in the world, the greatest winemakers have the extraordinary ability to find the ideal balance for their wines. In California, a Ridge Montebello Cabernet from Paul Draper or a Pinot Noir from Ted Lemon's Littorai are delicious wines. Their owners have found the perfect balance with alcohol and those wines often reach 13.5% - 14%. It's a fact! For a consumer, choosing a wine based on its alcohol level would be too simplistic. Especially since the wine is not made for tasting immediately. Each wine has its own life that sometimes gives an extra chance to alcohol for a better expression. Consider two examples. For some wine lovers, alcohol can interfere with Port. I feel so when I taste unbalanced Ports, with the unpleasant feeling that this alcohol burns my palate. But a great Port, such as a perfectly balanced Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994, delivers a silky feeling on the palate, even at an early stage. And, after tasting old vintages, we understand this alcohol gives a great pleasure after a few decades. Second example: Let's consider Chateauneuf du Pape, some of which are unbalanced and reveal a particularly disturbing alcohol. But others (with the same level of alcohol as the former ones) reveal great balance and get an extra dimension which could have never been revealed without the presence of this alcohol. Moreover, that alcohol becomes of a rare subtlety when those balanced wines have the chance to spend some 10-15 years in a cellar. In fact alcohol, balance and aging make up a whole.

Gone are the days for strong in alcohol, intense jammy, fruit forward wines. Very seductive in the beginning with overripe flavors, these wines are now boring for most wine drinkers. In fact, this trend is international and does not only concern mature markets. So, will it be helpful to print in magazines the listed alcohol levels of each wine recommended? Certainly, but not only for consumers. I am convinced that this will also result to raise awareness to the whole wine industry that we enter a new era in wine consumption. The message is clear: consumers want better food pairing wines and not those old fashioned, over-concentrated, over-oaked, burning wines strong in alcohol.

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


An English Wine in New York, Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo, London…

Version française : "A nous les petites bulles anglaises !".

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) New York, Paris, Shanghai, New Delhi, London ... Let's all celebrate the English Wine Week which just started this Saturday. Let's drink English and let's open our mind to places that some people are unfortunately still considering of minor importance. "What an idea to drink English?" could you ask me. "But what an idea to drink French, Australian or American" I would answer...Wine has no frontier, even if it is true that wine has a long history and tradition in some specific countries. But we can make wine all over the world. Lebanon, Thailand, China, India, France, Italy, Spain...In all these numerous countries, I discovered vineyards, new tastes, different stories and great visions about wine. Always different and always amazing. But still a common point in all these countries: you meet crazy and passionate vignerons who only think about making people happy, giving pleasure to those who drink their wines.

These vignerons exist in England like anywhere else in the world. Have a good english sparkling, have a Nyetimber or a Ridgeview. Delicious, these wines give a real pleasure and I invite you to celebrate this week by discovering those sparkling wines. Of course, English are not the only ones to produce good sparkling. Enjoy a sparkling from Tasmania, like an old vintage from Jansz - in the early 90s - and you'll be impressed. Have a Franciacorta from the italian winemaker Lorenzo Gatti, particularly his Saten 2006 from Chardonnay and Pinot noir, and you will have a wish: taste it again. But I feel England is not enough recognized as a country producing excellent sparkling bottles and some other wines as well. This English wine Week is an excellent way of promoting this country and those wines.

The world of the English wine is bubbling. Michel Chapoutier, who heads the largest biodynamc wine estate in Europe and who is also winemaker in Australia, recently told the British magazine Decanter he was looking for land to make wine in England. England moves and can now be proud of its production. With some friends, our choice has already been done for this English wine Week. Let's drink English bubbles! Let's have fine and delicate UK rosé wines! Go on England!


Loire Valley Wine, Count Henry d’Assay : « I decided not to bottle both cuvees 101 Rangs and Haute Densite in the 2009 vintage »

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) Loire Valley: Count Henry d'Assay, owner of Chateau de Tracy in Pouilly Fume, gave us an interview about the three consecutive vintages 2008, 2009 and 2010.

How would you define those three years in Pouilly Fume?

Count Henry d'Assay: "2008, 2009 and 2010 are three consecutive vintages with different and clearly identifiable characters. Of course, considering our two cuvees Haute Densite (100% limestone) and 101 Rangs (100% flint), 2008 and 2010 are the wines that I love for their purity, focus and outstanding aging potential. As I considered not to have reached this exceptional achievement in 2009, I decided not to produce those two cuvees. The Grand Vin du Chateau de Tracy has the great privilege to benefit from these rare cuvees for the final assemblage of the 2009 vintage."

Let's come back to 2010. How would you define 2010 at Chateau de Tracy?

"The 2010 vintage is a great balance between concentration and distinction. A concentration both in terms of structure and aromas. For the structure, mature grapes gave us a good alcohol level together with a fine and long acidity. It gave to the wines a lot of freshness and a very long finish. Regarding aromas, from the beginning when we started harvesting, grapes were very tasty with aromas of exotic fruits. The juices, straight from the press, were already full of strong aromas of guava and mango. After fermentation, the elegance, the power and the precision of those wines were very evident. We are particularly impressed to have a high level of quality on both terroirs, I mean chalk and silex soils. Chalk soils are showing wines with a rich and round structure. The acidity gives them, in 2010, a supplementary hint of light, I would say. Silex soils show particularly expressive aromas this year. Tense and powerful, the wines tend to express themselves like in any great year. Ageing potential will not be a problem at all for those wines."

Why did you decide not to bottle your two cuvees in 2009?

"Definitely Haute Densite, our wine made from high-density planted vines on chalk soils, and 101 Rangs, our very limited wine made from old vines planted on a spectacular silex soil, always show the impressive potential we can get at Chateau de Tracy. But my expectations for those two cuvees are very high. And in 2009, after long tastings and discussions, I decided to have them in the final assemblage of our Grand Vin and not to bottle them separately. Regarding 2008 and 2010, I really consider both cuvees exceptional."

2008, 2009 and 2010...What vintage do you prefer?

"It is really difficult to say...The 2010s are focused, aromatic, classic, fresh and rich at the same time. The 2009s are big, silky and creamy. I am particularly amazed by the great differences between these three vintages. And 2008 is currently showing the great potential we could notice from the beginning. Since we harvested, we understood we had an impressive power in these wines. They are full bodied and at the same time very fresh. Some aromas like truffle remind me of the great 1996s we are serving now at the chateau. In 2008, ageing potential for both Haute Densite and 101 Rangs is impressive. There is always a specific tension in Chateau de Tracy and 101 Rangs which makes the wines very long and pure. so it is difficult for me to choose a favourite one between those three vintages. But 2010 reinforces our conviction that blending both grapes coming from chalk and silex soils is a great opportunity to make powerful, complex, elegant and long ageing wines with a lot of distinction."


Bordeaux 2010 en Primeur: Should Wine Investment Funds buy Yquem and Sauternes?

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) Fine wine fund managers, private collectors...I received a great amount of e-mails concerning my recent editorial "Fine Wine Investment Funds: What should they learn from the past to make Great Returns over the Next 10 Years?". In fact, I understood there was a huge reflexion nowadays on that topic and directions taken by decision makers were not all the same. Of course, results will differ over the next few years (when I write results, I mean return on investment here) but there were some very convincing ideas including a suggestion recently made by a wine fund management specialist: buy the exclusive and underpriced Chateau d'Yquem.

Chateau d'Yquem, the next Lafite? Lunzer Wine Investments predicts rapid rise in value of investments in Chateau d'Yquem. In fact, Lunzer analyzed the impact expected on the wine investment market place less than six months since the announcement that the sweet wines of Bordeaux can be imported into China officially. This fine wine fund management specialist predicts the change means Chateau d'Yquem will become the next big winner for the wine investment market. Wine expert Peter Lunzer, who invented the concept of the Wine Price Ratio, is tipping it could even outperform the current favourite wine in China - Chateau Lafite.

"Chateau d'Yquem is probably the best known of the sweet Bordeaux wines which have not been allowed to be officially imported into China due to their large amounts of natural, residual sugar when compared to other wines which exceeded the limit set by the Chinese authorities. However, now these rules have been relaxed, we believe that demand for these sweet Bordeaux wines will skyrocket. From our experience, Chinese wine buyers have a massive appetite to acquire top quality brands so given Chateau d'Yquem's heritage, and the fact that it has a very limited production with an average of only 60,000 bottles produced each year, we believe it can only get more expensive," said Peter Lunzer, Chief Executive and Chief Investment Officer of Lunzer Wine Investments. Lunzer continued: "I expect the price of the good vintages - including 1990, 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2007- to double over the next few years and that this wine could challenge the high prices of other fine wines such as Chateau Lafite."

Interestingly, the 2004 remains un-scored by renowned wine critic Robert Parker and so, despite its exceptional quality, languishes below the radar. With such an interesting potential for the future, they have been including a greater than normal proportion of Chateau d'Yquem in the portfolios they have acquired for recent investors.

In May 2010, the "Liquid Gold Collection" from Chateau d'Yquem became one of the most expensive lots of wine ever sold in Asia during a Christie's auction in Hong Kong. This collection of 128 bottles and 40 magnums was the largest collection of Chateau d'Yquem ever to come to auction. In fact, if what Lunzer says proves to be right, this phenomenom will have a larger impact on the Sauternes market as a whole. Considering depreciated prices for current vintages of top Sauternes wines as well as for old vintages currently sold at auctions, there could be a strong leverage effect that could boost prices and make this market alive again, after decades of "quiet evolution". In Finance, we call it contrarian and in history some contrarians made huge gains by investing, before others, in underrated company shares. Right time to bring a contrarian strategy into your wine portfolio holdings to boost overall performance?

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Naked Wines and Ryanair : Rethinking the whole Value Chain and Leveraging on Digital

In UK, Online retailer Naked Wines announced at London wine Fair it was launching a scheme to put winemakers directly in touch with wine drinkers. In fact, what Naked Wines are doing is about changing a business model that has been successful over the last decades or more. Naked Wines want to be the low cost wine provider for all customers who want to drink wines at an affordable price. Affordable or more precisely at a more adequate price as an increasing range of the population is complaining, sometimes feeling "ripped off" and having difficulties to find good values.

So what Naked wines decided to doin UK is just simple as that: Rethinking the entire value chain of the wine selling business with a new point of view. Through its online marketplace, winemakers will be able to pitch their wines direct to the company's 150,000 members at a price the producers decide. For example, they may offer to sell a £20 wine for £15 a bottle, provided 1,000 people buy a case.To keep costs down, Naked Wines will take just 10% of the commission compared with the usual 40% or more. This is exactly what "rethinking the value chain" means: Rethinking margins on wine sales, mark-ups; Reconsidering the impact of increased pricing transparency and fierce international competition; Innovating with affiliate marketing, online promotion plans...To make it short, rethinking the way we are currently buying/selling wine.

With this new approach, consumers and wine producers are put at first in terms of priority. To make it work, Naked Wines have to make sure these people gain dramatically from this new value chain. Wine producers should get higher margins than they get in their current day to day operations and buyers should get a better offer & price. Rethinking the whole value chain is not new. Many businesses which started a few years ago from scratch have built their success on this approach. Naked wines may dream about being the Ryanair of the wine business in UK. It will take some time to understand how successful Naked Wines will be, but both companies leverage on the same platform to make it real: The Digital World.


A Bubbly Glocal Strategy for Moet: Well done Monsieur Arnault !

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) Moet, 66 percent owned by luxury goods group LVMH, has just announced plans to grow grapes for a "high-end sparkling wine" in Northwest China together with farm operator Ningxia Nongken. Moet Hennessy, makers of the flagship bubbly Moet Chandon and Dom Perignon champagne, the world's biggest champagne maker, said it will produce the bubbly at a winery it plans to build nearby the 66-hectare farm. This announcement was made just 3 months after Moet said it was buying grapes in India's wine heartland Nashik.

"Nothing new!", some would say. Roederer or Moet have already done the same in the USA about 30 years ago, and now sell their bubbles under US brand names (Roederer Estate, Chandon). True... but those champagne producers were already selling their bottles for a long time in US. Regarding Asia, it seems that this "glocal" strategy starts at a very early stage on both markets. In fact, in terms of sales progression, much earlier than in the United States of America. In Asia, Moet understood that a glocal approach was necessary to develop sales, more particularly in China or in India. And selling to chinese or indian consumers does not mean only selling on their national market. Think about all those who are living outside their country and who are eager of national products.

This strategy reminds me of Hermes, the successful luxury company in which Bernard Arnault has recently invested. Hermes' strategy to reach a bigger market share of the promising chinese luxury market is simple: Going glocal instead of going global. A few months ago, Hermes has launched a new brand, called Shang Xia (meaning “topsy-turvy” in Mandarin), in the lucrative Chinese market. Shang Xia includes ready-to-wear and decorative arts inspired by Chinese culture and traditions of craftsmanship. They are made using Chinese raw materials and artisanal know-how. This new brand is tailored for the Chinese market where Hermes lags behind its competitors. This move is not a matter of producing and offering cheaper products to the chinese markets. In fact, this move is about offering an alternative for chinese consumers to Hermes products. As China's tradition is anchored into a long history of talented artists who are appreciated by the entire nation, this move will certainly make Hermes even more successful in the future.

Moet adopted the same glocal strategy by investing locally to produce bubbles in two huge markets. But size is only one aspect as India and China share a same cultural aspect when it comes to wine: both have a tradition of growing grapes and making wine. For luxury wines, selling globally is essential and having your wine brand marketed internationally is key. This is the Global approach. Moet, like Hermes, decided to go differently and have set up plans for a powerful glocal approach. In fact, some Chinese consumers for luxury products have developed a taste for Champagne. A locally produced alternative thanks to a joint venture by leading French producer Moet Hennessy with a Chinese agricultural company will certainly attract a new range of consumers. A same approach was defined in India. Global luxury group LVMH's company Moet Hennessy has crushed about 150 tonne of grapes as it looks to come out with locally produced sparkling wines. With Moet, the glocal or "Shang Xia" approach is making progress in the world of fine wines. And it will certainly prove successful. Well done Monsieur Arnault !

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Interview Michel Chapoutier: « Young Riesling wines should not have a dominant petrol aroma »

Interview Michel chapoutier: You recently said to UK magazine Decanter: The ‘petrol’ characteristics in Riesling are undesirable and constitute a fault in the wine. Could you give more details?

Version française: Cliquez ici.

Michel Chapoutier: "We should perhaps begin by defining what is termed "petrol". One can observe an important gradation among the family of these aromas. Great Rieslings can have aromas with age that some consider from the hydrocarbon family. I would call it more often a "dominant mineral development" and more importantly would define it as aromas of chalk (the memory of the school with the smell of the brush used to erase the blackboard). And for these chalk aromas, typical of the great Alsace wines as Clos St Hune or the great Rieslings from Mosel and the Nahe, I find it degrading and reductive to characterize this minerality with petrol aromas. When I talk about petrol aromas in some Riesling wines (which some consumers love and regard as characteristic of the grape), I really mean this dominant hydrocarbon (neither chalk nor mineral) that can dominate the wine aromas in its youth . When this part takes a dominant role, we can absolutely say that we are facing a defect in the wine. In the past, when the winemaker did not have the technical means and knowledge to master the pressing and racking (probably a significant portion of these Riesling wines had a petrol character), this aroma could be considered characteristic or typical. But through technical advances, this dominant aroma can become a hint and petrol can become chalk and minerality."

What conclusion would you draw from this comment?

MC: "It is interesting to ask the following question: if some characteristic taste of some wines are historically typical from this wine, do they do part of its tradition and typicity? If these tastes are the result of instability or a bacterial degradation, should they be considered part of cultural heritage of this wine?When I taste a delicious Jura "Vin jaune", I actually taste a wine for which oxidation and ethanalisation has been domesticated. But here, the alleged defect was so unanimous that winemakers sought to master it, make it into a rule which is now undeniable. I would not consider hydrocarbon aromas in young Riesling wines in the same category. And it is the same problem for those aromas of leather in red wines, which too often merely illustrate a contamination of brettanomyces. The same applies to the aroma of "cooking water of peas" in sweet wines which insinuate that "grey rot" was perhaps a little too present in the middle of the "noble rot". The generation of my grandparents were fond of "hot" cheeses and rancid sausages. The methods of vinification evolve to be more and more accurate and therefore the taste is changing and some so called typicities tend to be marginalized. As I am primarily a gourmand consumer, passionate about wine, I can confirm and maintain my point of view. So yes to this touch of mineral and chalk in riesling wines when they start ageing. But I confirm that young riesling wines should not have a dominant petrol aroma. Thanks again to the Decanter team who helped to launch this discussion and after reading comments from all over the world, I understand that unlike Vin Jaune, we are very far from finding a consensus on this issue. If some, following my comment on this defect in young riesling wines, understood that I was talking about old riesling wines: it has never been the case. And to celebrate this great discussion, we ​​will open tonight a 1992 Clos Saint Hune with my wife... Cheers!."

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Luxury Wine and Palace distinction… A 5 star hotel is a 5 star hotel. A Palace is a unique experience.

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) Palace distinctions were announced this week in France and 8 luxury hotels were honoured. Critics arose and said that creating new distinctions beside the "1 to 5 star system" made it too complicated for international clients. This controversy immediately reminded me of the time when it was said that international consumers were demanding for a better readibility of wine labels especially on the high-end part. A change was needed in a way to make, for example, burgundy wines' names more approachable and understandable. Let's forget about Chambolle Musigny 1er cru Les Amoureuses or Chambolle Musigny 1er cru Les Cras and let's name them Chambolle Musigny 1er cru 100% Pinot Noir. But history tells that Luxury needs to take a different approach to avoid standardization.

Hotel du Palais (Biarritz), Les Airelles (Courchevel), Le Cheval Blanc (Courchevel, owned by Bernard Arnault), Le Bristol (Paris), Le Meurice (Paris), Park Hyatt (Paris), Plaza Athenee (Paris) and Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat (St Jean Cap Ferrat) are actually the first 8 palaces in France. In fact, I should write "in the world", as this distinction is only used in France. 'French Excellence" or "French Arrogance", this "appellation" pushed some experts to criticize the new system saying that luxury hotels do not need this category in a world where the internationalization of the clientele is increasing dramatically and also where "brand" counts first by far.

When I lstened to these critics, I could not help thinking of what was said about the "too complicated French appellation system in a world where international consumers need brands". The two subjects are very much related when we are considering the luxury market. Regarding luxury, there is a large diversity of consumers and some are now looking to get access to something different than only a luxury international standard.

The difference is huge and we could make it as simple as this statement: A 5 star hotel is a 5 star hotel. A Palace is a unique experience. And only when you have understood this difference, can you understand why it is so important for some luxury wine lovers to choose a Chambolle Musigny 1er cru Les Amoureuses rather than a Chambolle Musigny 1er cru Pinot Noir. Then they start talking about the differences between Les Amoureuses and Les Cras, then they explain the history of those places, then they talk about the different tastes...All of this makes the experience unique and memorable. And some clientele needs this luxury identity based on many different aspects including a sense of both cultural and national roots. This is what makes the Palace distinction unique in the world and very much sought after. This is what makes the complicated Appellation system (not only in France but also in Italy...) so unique and very much sought after by a clientele who loves luxury wines.

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Unsold this week: One third of lots at Christie’s International’s Wine Auction in Hong Kong

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) Hong Kong may start looking twice at fine wine prices...From Saturday to Sunday, 9 to 10 April, 2011, Christie's International offered a "Tour of Bordeaux" with exceptional Wines from The SK Networks Collection and a "Superb Collection of Rare Pétrus and Mature DRC".

This auction of "Finest & Rarest Wines" went unsold for around one-third of total lots. For the first time, in a recent period, unsold lots of fine wines reached a level which may signal a downturn in the chinese buyers' appetite. Is it a sign that the chinese market is giving a break to the spectacular strong demand recorded over the last 2 years? Or are chinese buyers becoming more selective? Or is it a first sign that luxury in china is entering a new era? In fact, in the world's second largest luxury goods market, a new ban on some luxury themes in outdoor advertising takes effect from April 15th, according to an announcement on the website of Beijing's industry and commerce bureau.This move could prove authorities' willingness to have more control on luxury products' promotion and consumption in order to avoid showiness which could arouse popular resentment. Social stability may be at stake in this new policy of controlling more strictly the promotion of luxury goods. Fine wines are entering this category and chinese buyers may have already anticipated a move which could have an impact in the future consumption of expensive wines. At this stage, the trend is not clear but scrutinizing next auctions' results should give more insights on which direction the market takes.

David Elswood, Head of Christie's International Wine Department, said, “The sales in Hong Kong over the two days of 9 and 10 April demonstrate a growing diversification in Asian buyers’ collecting tastes and buying habits. In addition, the New York sales on April 9th show a healthy comeback for the U.S. market. Together these overall results prove that demand for wines of the highest quality and provenance remains very strong around the world, and Asia remains a fast-moving and increasingly sophisticated market.

Charles Curtis, MW, Head of Wine for Asia at Christie's, commented, “Our sale on April 9th and 10th saw continued growth in demand for older vintages, such as the superb collection of 60 years of Château Mouton-Rothschild from 1945 to 2005 (estimate: HK$400-600,000, sold HK$960,000), and an emerging interesting in the rarest Burgundies, in particular vintages from Romanée-Conti and La Tâche. While Asian buying made up the majority of our top lots, the extensive worldwide bidding, especially for the very top end of the spectrum, signals a welcome recovery of the global wine market and the attraction of Christie's Hong Kong wine sales as an important platform for international buyers to acquire the finest and rarest wines.”(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


The future of Bordeaux en Primeur: Are you ready to taste buds and score them?

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) Bordeaux Primeurs 2010 was an exciting time for those who took part to this event. Great dinners as usual with Chateau Gruaud Larose offering the most unbelievable experience to a few privileged ones with a vertical tasting from 2001 down to 1831 (yes, you read it right, we are talking here about wines from the nineteenth century). As Jeannie Cho Lee, a famous asian journalist, mentionned it, vintage 1921 was magnificent and 1961 gorgeous.

We also tasted great 2010s. A splendid range at Chateau Latour (Pauillac, Forts de Latour, Grand vin de Chateau Latour): this year, the gradual increase was so evident and reached such a high level! Also a delicate Chateau Margaux, with a "low level" of alcohol for the vintage (13.5% compared to the regular 14.5%), certainly due to a concern with the sensation of alcohol that we can feel in their 2006 and 2007. A very elegant Chateau Mouton Rothschild that may have reached, this year, the highest level of precision and complexity in a different style from precedent vintages (a more delicate and voluptuous style). There are many great wines inculding chateau Montrose, which is so classic and so "Montrose" that you wonder why they do not make such a wine every year. The answer is quite evident: 2010 is both exceptional and singular.

Bordeaux Primeurs 2010 were also exciting as a "polemical" point was suddenly raised by some. When should samples be tasted? How should this tasting be organized? Can some privileged ones taste the wines before others? Should an organization define an "embargo" date before which wine critics can not disclose any score?

In fact, what we see now is a race to be the first to disclose wine scores. First problem is that wine is a natural product and, as such, it needs time to reveal itself. It was particularly clear for 2010s and many chateaux declared they would have preferred to have those wines tasted at vinexpo in June. Second problem is that it is difficult to avoid some persons to set up meetings with chateau owners at a very early stage to write and score the new vintage. This situation, which was recently described, analyzed and criticized by some renowned jopurnalists reminds me of a situation, ten years ago, when financial analysts, after having pushed to get public companies publish their earnings on a quarterly basis, were starting dreaming of a monthly earning report. Dreadful! A nonsense if you consider that an analysis (here I am talking about shares as well as fine wines) should be supported by a long-term view to avoid making a decision too fast. Such a race to score fine wines at an early stage could simply lead us to a scenario like this one:

- First score at harvest time: critics would give scores to the grapes they tasted.

- Second score for juices: How promising are the juices? Splendid..let's go for a 99 points!

- Third score after fermentations.

- Fourth score when blend is done: the structure of the wine would be scored.

- Fifth score : Right before bottling the wine.

- Sixth score: The wine is released, offered on the market. Let's tatste it and score it!

At this point, if someone follows this score assessment model (let's call this person "Speedy Bob") it would be difficult to imagine another wine critic who could deliver more detailed scores at an earlier stage. Difficult but not impossible...Anyone ready to taste buds and score them? (More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Peter Lunzer : « I expect the price of the good vintages of Sauternes Chateau d’Yquem to double over the next few years »

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) Fine wine fund managers, private collectors...We received a great amount of e-mails concerning the recent editorial "Fine Wine Investment Funds: What should they learn from the past to make Great Returns over the Next 10 Years?"posted on www.vitabella.fr . In fact, there is a huge reflexion nowadays on that topic and directions taken by decision makers are not all the same. Of course, results will differ over the next few years (when we write results, we mean return on investment) but there were some very convincing ideas including a suggestion recently made by a wine fund management specialist: Buy the exclusive and underpriced Chateau d'Yquem.

Chateau d'Yquem, the next Lafite? Lunzer Wine Investments predicts rapid rise in value of investments in Chateau d'Yquem. In fact, Lunzer analyzed the impact expected on the wine investment market place less than six months since the announcement that the sweet wines of Bordeaux can be imported into China officially. This fine wine fund management specialist predicts the change means Chateau d'Yquem will become the next big winner for the wine investment market. Wine expert Peter Lunzer, who invented the concept of the Wine Price Ratio, is tipping it could even outperform the current favourite wine in China - Chateau Lafite.

"Chateau d'Yquem is probably the best known of the sweet Bordeaux wines which have not been allowed to be officially imported into China due to their large amounts of natural, residual sugar when compared to other wines which exceeded the limit set by the Chinese authorities. However, now these rules have been relaxed, we believe that demand for these sweet Bordeaux wines will skyrocket. From our experience, Chinese wine buyers have a massive appetite to acquire top quality brands so given Chateau d'Yquem's heritage, and the fact that it has a very limited production with an average of only 60,000 bottles produced each year, we believe it can only get more expensive," said Peter Lunzer, Chief Executive and Chief Investment Officer of Lunzer Wine Investments. Lunzer continued: "I expect the price of the good vintages - including 1990, 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2007- to double over the next few years and that this wine could challenge the high prices of other fine wines such as Chateau Lafite."

Interestingly, the 2004 remains un-scored by renowned wine critic Robert Parker and so, despite its exceptional quality, languishes below the radar. With such an interesting potential for the future, they have been including a greater than normal proportion of Chateau d'Yquem in the portfolios they have acquired for recent investors.

In May 2010, the "Liquid Gold Collection" from Chateau d'Yquem became one of the most expensive lots of wine ever sold in Asia during a Christie's auction in Hong Kong. This collection of 128 bottles and 40 magnums was the largest collection of Chateau d'Yquem ever to come to auction. In fact, if what Lunzer says proves to be right, this phenomenom will have a larger impact on the Sauternes market as a whole. Considering depreciated prices for current vintages of top Sauternes wines as well as for old vintages currently sold at auctions, there could be a strong leverage effect that could boost prices and make this market alive again, after decades of "quiet evolution". In Finance, we call it contrarian and in history some contrarians have made huge gains by investing, before others, in underrated company shares. Right time to bring a contrarian strategy into your wine portfolio holdings to boost overall performance? (More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Chateau Grillet: Why regional players like Guigal or Perrin did not close the deal and why Pinault's offer was the most attractive?

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) Maybe the most delicate and precious wine for a luxurious aperitif, Condrieu is unique and, at its best, Chateau Grillet got its reputation for fine minerality that was a perfect pairing for food served at the once 3 star Michelin restaurant La Pyramide from Fernand Point. Those times are over and finally, French billionaire Francois Pinault, through his group Artemis acquired the 3.5ha monopole in the Northern Rhône.

During Chateau Grillet's "down period", Coteau de Vernon from Domaine Georges Vernay took the lead

After Jaboulet - acquired by Frey Family - an other family owned estate (since 1830) has been bought by a non regional investor. A 10,000 bottles production a year, Chateau Grillet is a very small domain which has unfortunately made some very disappointing wines over nearly 20 years (in the 80s and 90s). Sometimes oxydized, sometimes with a lack of precision, Chateau Grillet wines were not delivering what experts could have expected from viognier grapes planted in parcels as prestigious as those from Coteau de Vernon. After Bordeaux consultant Denis Dubourdieu joined in 2001, we perceived the strong efforts made to deliver the best expression of viognier grapes and a work done more particularly on the "reductive side" with a focus on fine minerality gave a renewal to those wines since the 2004 vintage. During Chateau Grillet's "down period", Coteau de Vernon from Domaine Georges Vernay took the lead and got the best scores in Condrieu from the most respected international wine critics.

Luxury comes to a price. Monopole too....

On sale for now some time, we could assume that some big names from the region were keeping an eye on this deal. Next door to the Condrieu AOC, Chateau Grillet forms its own wine-growing AOC and Pinault, who owns and heads the French retail group PPR, was certainly attracted by this monopole status. Investment group Artemis S.A., headed by son François-Henri, has always been keen on building a portfolio of unique wine estates. After first-growth Château Latour in Pauillac and Domaine d’Eugenie in Burgundy, here is Chateau Grillet in Rhone Valley.

Why big regional players did not close the deal?

But why regional big players like Guigal, Perrin or Jaboulet did not close the deal and why Pinault's offer for Chateau Grillet was the most attractive? Simply because potential acquirers did not share the same point of view when they had to consider the valuation of this estate. Regional players are into the Rhone wine business for long years and perceived Chateau Grillet as a key investment for its great terroir to make Condrieu. Roughly, they considered the value of the estate and the parcels. Pinault, who is more into the international luxury business, considered Chateau Grillet as a key investment to acquire a monopole estate that makes a unique wine but also took into account current undervalued intangible assets such as brand asset. And in luxury, brand is key and experienced marketing teams can easily bring value over a couple of years to any wine business with a great history and potential like Chateau Grillet. At this point, the different views of potential acquirers on the future business make a big difference in future sales expectations and profit margins written in 5 years' business plans. This, of course, impacted directly the Net Present Value (NPV) calculated by bidders to make an offer to the family. Looking at Chateau Grillet with "luxury business" lenses while others have "Rhone Valley wine business" lenses can simply make the difference at the end. Well done Monsieur Pinault! (More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Potential acquirers for Champagne Piper & Charles Heidsieck may include LVMH with Thienot Group or Lanson BCC with Investors: Two « Best Fits »?

(This editorial is the executive summary of an exclusive VitaBella report)(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) At the time when COFCO Wines & Spirits, a subsidiary of COFCO (chinese largest food processor, manufacturer and trader), is announcing a new acquisition in Bordeaux and global luxury group LVMH's company Moet Hennessy, in a first-time move, has crushed about 150 tonnes of grapes in India, Champagne makes its slow revolution with the soon-to-come announcement of the Piper & Charles Heidsieck acquisition deal. After a first analysis - on December on www.vitabella.fr - of potential non-French acquirers, let's now focus on two French collaborations (LVMH with Champagne Thienot and Lanson BCC with investors) which could finally make the deal. Should we consider it as a "French Affair" or as a perfect strategic and financial match? In fact, both associations would make sense but sometimes for different reasons...

LVMH / Thienot Group

1) Makes sense as LVMH is looking for new grapes sourcing contracts. In fact, listed company LVMH has recently prepared the financial market and said that there could be a "Champagne shortage". So it's high time to buy new parcels and get more grapes to secure the next sales made by a powerful distribution network.

2) This association makes sense as LVMH is mostly interested in securing grapes sourcing contracts and less in acquiring new brands. LVMH"s Strategy is about strengthening an already large brand portfolio and not broadening it. Prices and margins are key focuses in the future.

3) The historical roots of Thienot Group are in Champagne. Thienot Family has already developped a brand portfolio with Canard Duchene, Marie Stuart and of course Champagne Thienot. Financially, the group recently invested heavily in CVBG to get access to grands cru wines from Bordeaux. Strategically, in terms of image, it is crystal clear Thienot group wants to go more up-market either in Bordeaux or in Champagne. Consequently, after the clever acquisition of CVBG, it would make sense that "A grand house of today " - as they name themselves - invests in a widely recognized Champagne brand. And in this particular situation they would get two, with the "up-market boutique" Charles Heidsieck champagne brand and the globally renowned Piper Heidsieck brand which is currently quite successful in terms of image with the top Rare Cuvee.

Lanson BCC / Investors

1) Association would make sense as an "investors only deal" would rapidly may be confronted to a lack of a strong "Champagne related support" that would secure and strengthen existing grapes sourcing contracts, make the day-to-day operations work properly and also sell bottles through an existing distribution network.

2) Also makes sense as listed company Lanson BCC has a great experience in integrating big companies (The management team worked on the Lanson integration into the entire group and this can certainly be considered a major achievement when we look at the excellent future prospects for Lanson BCC).

3) Makes sense as Lanson BCC continues its expansion and is always interested in considering new opportunities for strengthening sales and developping new markets.

Any non-French company could acquire Piper and Charles Heidsieck, but it appears that both French associations look very attractive and "well fitted". Now let's think about "what's Next?". After the acquisition, those who buy parcels and get grapes sourcing contracts will get prepared for a future "champagne shortage". And those who buy assets and liabilities will have to focus on value maximization which is first of all a matter of achieving great results on a day-to-day operational level. Just considering brand assets, the new marketing team will have to play without the "third Heidsieck key", the Heidsieck Monopole brand owned by Vranken. It will certainly make future brand marketing plans for Piper and charles Heidsieck more complicated. Confusion among consumers may continue to exist. And, for this reason, the future repositioning of both brands may be at risk. (More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


QR Code or Microsoft Tag…Wine Estates take to Mobile Devices for Social Media but what Technology should they use?

(This editorial is the executive summary of an exclusive VitaBella report)(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) QR Code, a strange name for wine promotion...You may already have seen these 2D bar codes, a black-and-white industrial look of a standard bar code. They can be found on shelf-takers, bottle-neckers or wine list stickers and consumers with smartphones can quickly and easily scan a bottle of wine that catches their eye to get more information about the wine, the winery, recommended food pairings and much more. In fact, it is a very good idea to promote a winery and its wines with this new technology and there will certainly be competitive initiatives in the future.

PSFK, a marketing trend service, has recently released a report on “The Future of Mobile Tagging.” They analyzed the future use of technologies that include QR codes, barcodes and Microsoft Tags in branding activity and communication campaigns. They mentionned mobile tags offer a unique opportunity for brands to interact with potential and existing customers. "The two dimensional barcodes can be applied to almost any surface and the information contained within them can be leveraged to create incentives and drivers that lead consumers along the purchase path. By bridging the online-offline divide with a click of a mobile phone button, mobile tags can drive a brand or product’s awareness."

And Microsoft is getting into this market with a powerful new offer, Microsoft Tag. Microsoft Tag is a dynamic and no-cost solution to enhance marketing campaigns. Wineries can create a unique personality and customize interactive experiences with customers. Wineries can also create standard or custom Tags for brochures, ads, catalogs, in-store displays, posters, business cards, or just whenever they want a unique design. With Microsoft Custom Tags, the code can be integrated into the look and form of the messaging itself.

In fact, Microsoft is pitting its Microsoft Tag technology against the QR Code, which is an open industry standard, originally created in Japan. USA Today is using this technology and readers can scan a tag to be directed to online videos, photo galleries or updated financial and sports news. Universal Pictures also adopted the Microsoft's version of the QR code, the "3D barcode" for the launch of a new film. Smartphone users can interact with full-page ads in magazines and have access to a large content.

A number of publishers have been looking at the use of these kinds of tags for some time. Mostly, mobile barcodes have been pretty successful in Japan, but have been slow to catch on in the rest of the world. But as smartphone (Apple’s iPhone, BlackBerry and Android devices) penetration increases, the use of tags will certainly become more prominent. Wineries should leverage on this new technology ang get a modern approach in their marketing strategy. But before choosing between QR Codes or Microsoft Tags, they must get prepared to invest some time and money before getting any return on this new technology...(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


Tignanello and Solaia, a Pure Definition of Luxury Wine by Antinori

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr). Tenuta Tignanello, with its famous Tignanello and Solaia vineyards, is situated between the Greve and Pesa valleys in the heart of Chianti Classico exactly between the little villages of Monteridolfi and Santa Maria a Macerata, 30km south of Florence. Tignanello covers 350 hectares of land, 147 of which are planted with vineyards, These are divided into small plots: the Tignanello vineyard covers 47 hectares with the 10-hectare Solaia alongside. These lands derive from Pliocene marl, with shaly, chalky elements, and are situated at an altitude of 350-450m, enjoying warm days and cool nights during the growing phase.

The native Sangiovese variety and the non-native Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc varieties are planted at Tignanello. There is also a small quantity of white grapes - Malvasia and Trebbiano - used in the production of Vinsanto. Other non-native varieties grown at Tignanello include small quantities of Syrah, Pinot Nero and Merlot, planted experimentally in the Seventies. Antinori initially experimented with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in the Twenties, but these varieties were then abandoned during the Second World War; they were replanted in the Sixties and began to be used commercially in the Seventies. The grapes are picked in about three weeks, between the end of September and early October and crushed and fermented on the estate. Afterwards the wine is aged in the old cellars below Villa Tignanello.

The 16th century villa on the estate was built on the foundations of one dating back to 1346, when the land belonged to the Buondelmonti (like much of the Val di Pesa). The estate was later taken over by the Niccolini who renamed it Poggio Niccolini, and in later years it was purchased and resold by various local aristocratic families. In the 17th century it passed to a cadet branch of the Medici family, who named it Fonte dei Medici, and subsequently to the Antinoris in the mid-19th century.

In this beautiful environment, Tignanello and Solaia are grown, made into wine and aged at Tignanello while other grapes grown on the estate are used in the production of Santa Cristina, Villa Antinori and Tenute Marchese Antinori. In his artistic-historical guide of the town of Sancasciano Val di Pesa (1892), Carocci describes Tignanello (now a large estate with extensive vineyards) as one of the highest and most picturesque points of the whole area. On the top of the hill, a scenic position rich in plantlife, stands a small group of houses, some of which are very old indeed. A splendid tuscan scenery for a beautiful wine story recognized internationally. (More wine news on www.vitabella.fr).


Champagne Pol Roger 1914: What makes a Luxury Wine...Extraordinary?

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) At first, you may say that a champagne is extraordinary because the taste of this luxury wine is just...extraordinary. "Taste is the one sense that brings the greatest enjoyment" great food-lover Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said. But Taste is very relative, controlled by the cerebral cortex and strongly influenced by culture. Therefore, taste varies enormously from each person. On the day I tasted Pol Roger 1914 with champagne experts, we all shared the same enthusiasm: " It's fresh, elegant, intense with delicate bubbles. How can it be so lively after 97 years?. This champagne is really extraordinary."

What makes this champagne so lively is not only its taste. Hubert de Billy, from the owning family, made it lively when he explained that "it was disgorged in 1934 and that it can age for long years still." Yes, you read it right, this champagne was disgorged around 80 years ago and does not go into this fashionable category of RD champagnes (RD meaning Recently Disgorged) that we can find now on the market. This is an OD Champagne (OD does not mean "Oh my Dear" even if Winston Churchill could have said so if he had put his nose in the glass but OD would mean literally Old Disgorgement). In fact, tasting a RD 100 years old champagne is by itself unique but tasting a 100 years old champagne disgorged in 1934 makes the experience even more extraordinary.

How can Pol Roger still have these old vintages in their cellar?

"After 1924, the economy in Champagne was much better" commented Hubert de Billy. "Pol Roger developped its business and in 1934 we opened our new celliers at 34 Avenue de Champagne, still a landmark building in the town. It was the right time to disgorge these bottles and stock them. Most of our current business being based on selling the more recent champagnes, we took the opportunity to cellar these 1914 bottles."

Even for experts, guessing the vintage and disgorgement year for this bottle would have been simply impossible. The champagne was so fresh, vibrant and lively. We could easily feel the power of chardonnay grapes in this champagne, maybe sourced from vineyards around Epernay (Chouilly...). But nobody knows exactly and who cares as long as the champagne is superb...In fact, secrets kept in this bottle made the champagne even more extraordinary.

Even with a little knowledge of history, we all know that 1914 was the beginning of the first world war. So we can easily understand that making champagne during this period was complicated. "Maurice Pol Roger, mayor of the city of Epernay at this time, was looking for opportunities to develop the economic situation of his town. Men had to go to war and Maurice said to the women to go and harvest. The town decided to print bank notes in order to pay for each volume of grapes harvested.." said Hubert de Billy.

This is the end of the story and, at this stage, you may have the anwer to the question asked at the beginning of this article. Like it says on each bottle of Chateau Gruaud Larose "Le Vin des Rois, Le Roi des Vins", Pol Roger 1914's label should mention “Harvested to the sound of guns. To be drunk to the sound of Trumpets”. On the other day, there were not only trumpets but a full orchestra playing a symphony. In our glass, aeration made this wine even more complex in terms of aromas and intense on the palate. The champagne, by itself, was superb. Superb but the rest made it just....extraordinary.(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)