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."

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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)

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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."

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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.

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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."

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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..."

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