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The Big Feastival

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at The Big Feastival on Clapham Common. The event was presented and put together by Jamie Oliver and his team and was positioned as the only food festival where all the proceeds go to charity. The primary charity was The Jamie Oliver Foundation while 25% of the profits went to the Princes Trust. In typical Oliver fashion, The Big Feastival was laid back and family friendly. There were cooking demonstrations from chefs including Gennaro Contaldo, Georgio Locatelli, Levi Roots and Michael Caines MBE in ‘The Big Kitchen’ tent. Live music, childrens rides and fairground activities and a range of stalls selling some awesome artisanal produce were spread around the common. The food area brought a number of leading restaurants outdoors to offer small portions of their own selected dishes for the day. The format has become increasingly popular and at £5 a plate (which was a reasonable size) it was not too harsh on the wallet. The bar was busy as you would expect, with cold beers on tap and ciders from sponsors Kopparberg keeping everyone cool on a warm afternoon. There was some wine available at the bar, but I thought that there was a great opportunity to have an English wine producer involved, or an area where there was a little focus on wines as part of food culture. This may have been a conscious decision not to emphasize alcohol at a family focused event. But I think that a trick was missed. With the relaxed approach that Jamie Oliver takes towards the enjoyment of good food, it could have been great to have wine as a part of that – an opportunity to emphasize that wine and food pairing doesn’t need to be stuffy or follow rules. Anyway – the event was pretty fun, although I am not sure I would have been too keen to pay the full £35 ticket price. (We bought on a group offer.) I hope that the foundation raised the funds that they were hoping too, and that The Big Feastival becomes a regular on the Clapham Common... read more

DeLille Cellars Doyenne Aix 2008

I recently had the chance to share a bottle of the 2008 Doyenne Aix from Washington producer DeLille Cellars. It’s marketed as a Provence-style blend, comprising 61% Syrah, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Mourvèdre and 1% Cinsault. The wine is big and bold but is not over the top. The tannins are not too aggressive, making the wine approachable. The Syrah brings a whack of dark fruit and cedary spice and the classic cassis that you’d expect from the Cabernet is very evident. There was a herbal, fresh edge although the 14.8% alcohol did show a bit on the finish. The label is a depiction of the Red Mountain Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, by ZZ Wei.... read more

WOSA workshop: Can South Africa do Reds?

Yesterday was the London leg of the Wines of South Africa Wine Workshop tour, held at Vinopolis. The event was split into four sessions, one of which was titled Can South Africa do Reds? I’d like to think that it is generally accepted that SA can, even though a lot has been written about whether the country’s white wines are in fact the real stars of the show at the moment. But with most red wines being consumed within a few years of production the discussion was probably more along the lines of whether South Africa is producing ‘classic’ reds that show have complexity and ageing potential. Not trying to make wines that taste like famous appellations, but wines that are great, red and from the tip of Africa. Can you answer that question in just over 60 minutes? Probably not, but you can make a very good impression. The wines (and winemakers) that were in London to make the case were from Kanonkop (Abrie Beeslaar), Le Riche (Christo le Riche) and Stark-Condé (José Conde). The tasting focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux style wines, with each producer showing three vintages of the same wine. WOSA communications head Andre Morgenthal was quick to point out that the choice of varietal was not a suggestion that this is the premium red wine category from the country. Rather that WOSA had invited submissions which were all tasted blind and based on availability of the winemakers to travel at the time and the aim of presenting a compact tasting showcase these wines were selected. I don’t envy the task of putting together a program like this as you are never going to keep everyone happy! There were around 50 people at the workshop and we tasted through the 2004, 2005 and 2007 Kanonkop Paul Sauer, while Abrie chatted about his philosophy on winemaking and the approach at Kanonkop. Paul Sauer is approximately 70% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2007 was awesome. Next was Christo le Riche, who is following in his father Etienne’s footsteps, showing the 2000, 2005 and 2007 Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. The cellar is unique in South Africa (I think?) in that they only make one wine (along with a small separate bottling for the Cape Winemakers’ Guild auction). Christo talks about them as blends, even though they are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Grapes are sourced from 2 or 3 different vineyard sites and in his opinion the terroir of each is so... read more

Are single varietal wines actually blends?

One of the topics that gets debated in wine circles (albeit less frequently than screwcaps vs corks, plastic bottles and wine list mark-ups) is a bit of legislation that relates to how South African wines are labelled. In this case I am talking about the allowance for up to 15% of a different grape to be included in a wine without having to mention it on the label. So a bottle of 2008 Malema’s Reserve Pinotage (complete with back label calling for the nationalisation of all Pinotage vineyards as this is South Africa’s own grape) could include up to 15% Shiraz, for example. Of course this is a bit of a wine geek discussion and most wine drinkers may find it of very little relevance. But a bottle of single malt ceases to be so if it is blended with another whisky. Would you mind your barman topping up your pint with 15% of another beer without telling you? It may not have a huge bearing on how much you enjoy the pint, but there’s something not quite right about it. Tim James touched on the point in his recent post on Grape and after chatting to Cathy Marston on Twitter I thought I’d put down a few thoughts and in the process try to form an opinion of my own! Essentially the question is whether producers should be allowed to include another grape in a wine labelled as a single varietal, without having to mention it on the bottle. There is an argument that at less than 15% the other grape doesn’t alter the character of the labelled varietal. But then why add it? When you read about blended wines, the producer will often mention that there is a small percentage of grape XYZ which adds a little something to the overall wine. The 3% that they have chosen to include is motivated and by implication has an impact on the style of the wine that you’re drinking. Adding a bit of Shiraz to Pinotage may make it a bit more appealing to the international palate, with a bit of spiciness or bold fruit. A bit of Semillon can add body and texture your Sauvignon Blanc, while a small percentage of Nouvelle injects that pyrazine packed grassy edge that some find appealing in New Zealand Sauvingon Blanc. The merits of Merlot and Cab Franc in Bordeaux style blends is no secret, so is a wine labelled Cabernet Sauvignon that... read more

What’s wrong with the wine trade?

The basic idea for this post first popped into my head while sitting in an industry briefing at this year’s London International Wine Fair. The briefing was titled ‘It is the best of times, it is the worst of times’ and included a panel of UK industry experts who aired their views on the current situation in the market. The panel was made up of some seasoned wine industry heavyweights. When asked to give their opinion on the title of the briefing, Kevin Shaw (owner of packaging design studio Stranger & Stranger) drew a little gasp from the assembled audience when he categorically stated that it was the worst of times. He qualified his opinion with comments on the lack of real new ideas that he was seeing at the show, a depressing attitude from the increasingly squeezed producers and an retail structure in the market that was alienating as opposed to incorporating consumers. His view was strongly opposed by the rest of the panel, including Tesco buyer Dan Jago. The expected reasons for claiming it was the ‘best of times’ (although to be fair there was not really a middle ground option!) was that (Tesco) own brands are doing well, consumers have a huge choice of products on the retail shelves, they can get them at great prices blah blah blah. Judging by the expressions on the faces of many of the producers at the show, I would suggest they share Mr Shaw’s opinion. But this is not the motivation for this post. That debate just made me frustrated. However, contrasting the approaches from the various groups at the LIWF, as well as having been reminded this week through a number of articles that I have read online, a key challenge to the progress of the wine industry seems clear. There are too many ‘wine people’ in the wine industry. What do I mean by this? The people who are in the positions of power or who have the ability to initiate change in the broader sectors of the wine market have become ‘winified’ by years of hearing the same stuff from those who came before them. Wine lovers have often been written off as being snobs and unwilling to be swayed from their point of view. Are we not facing a similar situation when it comes to the decision makers? As in any any industry, you need to bide your time and earn your stripes, fair enough. But... read more

Wine prices: retail vs restaurant

One of the things that you often hear from wine marketers and salespeople is that wines that are available on the high street are very difficult to sell to restaurants. The reason cited is usually that the patrons are not willing to pay the markup that restaurants place on bottles (which can be upwards of 300% at times) if they can compare the price to their local Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Waitrose. “I’m not paying 25 quid for that! I can get it for £6.99 at ASDA!” Chatting to friends and fellow wine drinkers it seems that the trade sentiment is a fair reflection of general opinion and the rise of BYO culture in the UK during the tough financial times further testifies to this. But why is this approach so pronounced when it comes to wine as opposed to other alcoholic drinks? Walking into my local Tesco store this week I was welcomed by a beer promotion. Three cases (15 x 275ml glass bottles) for £20. This works out to about 45p per bottle. At normal price they’d still work out to just 66p each. A thirty second walk  from the store is the Pizzeria on the Green. This popular local serves great value pizza and pasta and I usually have a bottle of San Miguel to accompany my meal – the same beer that is on promotion at Tesco. The pizzeria’s beers are priced at £3 which is a fairly reasonable price by restaurant standards. But that is still almost 5 times the regular price in the supermarket up the road. Why is it that consumers are evidently so quick to complain about the markup on wine, but are happily coughing up for the same beer and cider brands that are stocked in every high street retailer and supermarket? That logic doesn’t seem to stack up. Is it because the markups are more noticeable on a higher priced product? £25 opposed to £7 is a lot tougher on your chip-and-pin than £3 opposed to 50p. Are beer drinkers are more loyal to their brand and are quick to order their regular? Perhaps Lulie Halstead at Wine Intelligence could shed some light here… Has the discounting associated with supermarket wines (by association to those that don’t discount) cheapened the image of  these brands, making them unwanted on a restaurant table when you’re trying to impress? Does all the promotion and advertising that beer (and spirits) brands elevate them above the same... read more

3 more wines from WOSA stand

Here are three more wines that I enjoyed the opportunity taste at the Wines of South Africa stand at the London International Wine Fair. The first two I had never heard of and the third I had read about in a number of blogs by those who attended its launch. Howard Booysen Riesling 2010 I attended the Riesling & Co event organised by Wines of Germany a week before the LIWF and this South African Riesling really reminded me of some of the wines that I tasted on that day. It’s clean and fresh with a just a little fleshy sweetness. Really delicious, and made in a kabinett style. The last time I saw Howard Booysen it was in Justin Bonello’s reality style show Exploring the Vine, following the antics of three young winemakers. According to the back label, Booysen apparently “trailblazed the highest aspects of the Cape’s mountainous vineyards to the coolest coastal regions and hand picked the blocks from which to source these grapes.” Ok. But never mind that, the wine’s really great. David & Nadia Sadie David – Aristargos 2010 51% Chenin Blanc, 39% Viognier and 10% Verdelho Although I enjoyed the Elim Sauvignon Blanc / Semillons that I chatted about the other day, this is the style of blend that I would probably choose to drink 8 times out of ten. It’s beautifully balanced, with freshness in sync with rounded fruit flavours and a little oak influence courtesy of 12 months in older French oak barrels. All grapes are from the Swartland. The bottle had just been opened when I tasted it and was very cold and a bit shy. But thanks to a chat, I had it in my glass for a little while and it was delicious as it opened up. It will probably develop some interesting character with a bit of time in the bottle, but personally I like it as it is right now. Jordan The Prospector Syrah 2008 Gary Jordan’s victory in the fight to prevent mineral prospecting in the winelands was well documented in the press a couple of months back and the Stellenbosch producer was on the ball in releasing a wine (well two wines in fact) to mark the events. The Prospector Syrah received a lot of blog and online coverage when it was launched at an event at the farm; a thank you to all those who helped to raise awareness of the cause. The majority of these... read more

Ancient soils in the Rheingau

This is a picture in the wine brochure for German wine producer Altenkirch, from near the town of Lorch in the Rheingau. I love their way of highlighting that their site has some really old soils.   read more

Selling wine through social media?

The Access Zone at this year’s London International Wine Fair built on it’s introduction in 2010 and the presentations and networking opportunities seemed popular throughout the event. It is the brainchild of Gabriella and Ryan Opaz of Catavino and Rob McIntosh of Thirst for Wine. The three have recently joined forces to launch Vrazon, which was the umbrella for the Access Zones activities this year. One of the questions that was inevitably raised during one of the talks that I attended (and in many others no doubt) was how wineries can make money out of their social media activities. I was glad to hear that my view on that question was the same one held by the experts, when Ryan Opaz quite simply replied: “You don’t”. That has always been the challenge, as the assumption is that because you’re talking to people online you should inevitably be trying to sell them something at the same time. Ryan’s response echoed a comment that I read in the Sunday Times last weekend, an an interview with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. In it he claimed that Starbucks is the number one brand on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare and mentioned some of their strategies around social media. But what stood out for me was this simple comment from the CEO of one of the world’s most successful brands: “The mistake firms make is using these channels to try to sell stuff. They are not designed for that but to add value and build trust. We understood that from day one.” Something important to bear in mind when wineries get into a conversation with your customers... read more

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