Friday, April 26, 2013

The mystery of Cava and Prosecco

How much would you pay for a bottle of Cava, produced using the same method as Champagne and according to rules laid down by the Spain’s DO authorities?

Well, if you’re prepared to buy enough of the stuff - say 100,000 bottles - you could have it for €1.15 per bottle, complete with cork, label and foil.

Take away the costs of those necessary incidentals, and what’s left has to cover a year’s work in the vineyard, harvesting, pressing, bottling and the relatively complicated - even if automated - Champagne-method process plus nine months of mandatory ageing on the yeast.

Sheer lunacy.

A musical ode to inexpensive white wine...

It has been suggested that this blog might be improved by the addition of the occasional piece of spiritually uplifting music.

So here goes...

(I love the lyrics, by Guardian writer Tim Dowling)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Of wine and cricket

The final hour of Middlesex v Hertfordshire at Lords,
April 19, 2013

Every so often, in exchanges with people on Facebook and elsewhere, I get comments like "I know about what wine drinkers think. I frequently host tastings for groups of them...". I thought of the people who attend those tastings on the final day of the International Wine Challenge at Lords, as I walked past the stands on my way to enjoy a post-competition beer.

As many of the hundred or so other wine professionals who'd spent their day sniffing, sipping and spitting began to make their way home, a hundred yards away, a group of men in white were doing what one is supposed to do at Lords: playing cricket.

The match in question was between Middlesex and Hertfordshire. It was a Friday afternoon, so most people of employable age were probably at work, but one might reasonably have imagined that rather more fans of both teams might have made their way to north London than are visible in the stands in the photograph above.

If you look carefully, you'll see the players on the pitch, taking the game very seriously: the equivalent of wine industry professionals. Watching, there are the small numbers of devoted fans: the equivalent of the enthusiasts who read wine books and columns and attend tastings...

What's the value of a Parker point?

What's the value of a Parker Point? I suspect that to answer this correctly you might need to use a variant of the kind of slide rule I struggled with as a kid, way back in the dark ages of BC (Before Computers). I might be wrong but I can imagine that a five-point hike from 85 to 90 for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc might, for example, be worth a little less than a similar leap by a Napa Cabernet.

Thanks to an excellent article by Victoria Moore in the Daily Telegraph, I do now have one fairly clear idea of the difference in the value of a 95-point and a 100-point version of the same wine in Bordeaux. When Robert Parker tasted the 2010 vintage of le Dome, a new wave "extremely full-bodied" (Parker's words) St Emilion in barrel in 2011, he rated it at 94-96. On re-tasting it in bottle, he made it one of his nine 100-point Bordeaux of the vintage.

While waiting for the publication of Parker's verdict (a tense period well described by Ms Moore), Jonathan Maltus, the British creator and owner of le Dome was apparently contacted by a local broker wanting to know the impact each extra point might have on the price of Maltus's last 150 cases if Parker were to upgrade his mark.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

We know what we want you to want...

Shock! Horror! According to the California Wine Institute, Moscato now outsells Sauvignon Blanc in US retail chains and is only two percentage points behind Pinot Grigio. Moscato sales apparently rose by a third last year - not quite as quickly as sweet red blends which saw their sales grow by 43%.

This news will almost certainly be greeted by most European, Australian and New Zealand wine professionals with groans of dismay - and condescending comments about the way US producers and retailers pander to the appalling sweet tooth of US consumers.

There is no denying that Americans do tend to favour sweeter fare than their counterparts elsewhere, but when it comes to drinks, a taste for sugary stuff is undeniably global.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A taster of a little parable about appellations - and eggs...

Once upon a time, in the little village of Arse-Ende-of-Knowhere, in the county of Generallydullbutlovelyinpartshire, there was an elderly farmer called McDonald whose hens laid unusually tasty eggs. These eggs were so good, in fact, that local well-informed chefs and gourmets sought them out. No-one could say precisely why Old McDonald’s eggs were so good. Some suggested that it was because of the cool weather in his bit of the valley. Others credited his particular breed of hens or the quality of his corn. And then there were those who said that it was simply to do with the loving care McDonald devoted to his flock, especially after the departure of Mrs McDonald with a handsome Japanese chicken sexer. Whatever the explanation, it did not take long before McDonald’s neighbours - some of whose eggs were nearly as good as McDonald’s - decided that they wanted a slice of the action... 

To find out what happened next, you'll have to go here to

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Roger Deacon on what makes a great critic

Incisive comment on criticism of all kinds - and the value of the finest, best-informed critics - from Michael Deacon in the Telegraph

Roger Ebert: a critic of rare brilliance

Roger Ebert’s death is a reminder that writing, not opinion, is at the heart of a great review

Roger Ebert was America’s best-known film critic, and the first to win a Pulitzer Prize Photo: AP

Pearl Harbor, wrote the late Roger Ebert, “is a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle”. Here he is on another cataclysmic blockbuster, Armageddon. “No matter what they’re charging to get in, it’s worth more to get out.”

Friday, April 05, 2013

Roger Ebert: the passing of an era

The death of Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer-winning leading movie critic in the US - and thus, arguably the world - will sadden many film fans. Anyone who has read any of his 7,000+ reviews will have been struck by the combination of passion, knowledge and thoughtfulness that shone through the words.

This is an example: a 2008 review of Synedoche, the debut directorial effort by by Charlie Kauffman, the man behind movies like  Being John MalkovichAdaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

"Here is how [life] happens. We find something we want to do, if we are lucky, or something we need to do, if we are like most people. We use it as a way to obtain food, shelter, clothing, mates, comfort, a first folio of Shakespeare, model airplanes, American Girl dolls, a handful of rice, sex, solitude, a trip to Venice, Nikes, drinking water, plastic surgery, child care, dogs, medicine, education, cars, spiritual solace -- whatever we think we need. To do this, we enact the role we call 'me,' trying to brand ourselves as a person who can and should obtain these things.

Further thoughts on the Wine Investment Association

Peter Shakeshaft, founder of the Wine Investment Association whose website describes him as former "chairman of a financial services group based in the City of London, which grew to a turnover of more than £100million" . This presumably refers to Wills & Co, a London based stockbroking firm censured by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) for "poor sales practices and not monitoring its advisers properly despite a fine and a previous requirement to take remedial action." For more details of Wills & Co, read this

If I achieve nothing else this year, I'll be pleased to have been involved in the March 27th BBC Radio 4 You & Yours programme piece on the new Wine Investment Association (WIA). The producer called me after being contacted by a PR company working for the WIA and after reading my December post on the subject. He thought it might be interesting to have both myself and Peter Shakeshaft of Vin-X, the man behind the new organisation, in the studio together.

In the event, I was due to be overseas when the programme was scheduled, so had to make my contribution in the form of a recorded comment, and ended up listening to the final result in my hotel room in China.

Given the easy, unquestioning ride the WIA has received elsewhere in the media, I was particularly gratified to hear the robust way in which the programme presenter questioned Mr Shakeshaft about his previous business experience (see above and this article by Tony Hetherington in This is Money), and his support for cold calling by wine investment companies.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The increasingly profitable US model of selling direct

Nearly one bottle of wine in every 11 drunk in US homes is now bought direct from the winery, according to last year's very complete Wines & Vines/ShipCompliant report.

Most interestingly, this proportion is growing faster than the rest of the market (by 10% v retail growth of 7% between 2011-2012) and now represents nearly $1.4bn. 

The figure that will give most Europeans reason to pause, though, is the average value of the nearly 36m bottles: $37.69.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Why online wine trading platforms are sure to fail. Or are they?

Over the last few weeks, two trading platforms have been launched that will allow UK wine drinkers to sell each other wine without recourse to auction houses or merchants. As reports,

"One wine merchant, who wished to remain anonymous, dismissed the chances of survival [of CAVEX and Wine Owners], let alone prosperity.
‘Firstly, if [these trading platforms] expect support from the trade, they’re deluded. Secondly, Liv-ex makes most of its money from data rather than trading, which suggests the model is fundamentally flawed. And thirdly, people may try it for a while, but they just won’t stick with it. I’m afraid the pair of them are doomed.'"

That unnamed wine merchant may be right. After all, new business models do fail. On the other hand prophets of doom don't always get it right.

Self-improvement in New York...

These pictures were all recently taken in the same A (Eighth Avenue Express) subway train carriage on the same trip.

Which other city could offer up a train carriage with this number of children-and-education-focused advertisements?