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)