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A fresh take on wine events could supercharge industry diversity

Diversity is a complex and multifaceted subject. Though there remains work to be done, the wine industry should proceed optimistically. The most recent diversity survey, albeit not rigorously controlled, places the share of white employees in the UK wine trade at around 86%, slightly below the population total as of the 2011 consensus. However, the remaining 14% is not split according to representation in the wider population, suggesting further examination could be of value. While both existing and historic racial prejudice account for a percentage of observable disparities between racial groups, less insidious variables can help us understand a considerable portion of these disparities. One of these variables is age. An individuals age correlates strongly with their level of education, work experience, seniority, income, and more. The way people connect with the world also varies depending on age, not simply because younger folk differ in their interests and expressions compared to their seniors, but also because preferences evolve throughout generations. The average age of black brits is 30, Asian brits 29 and white brits 41. 65.6% of the black British community is under 39 compared to just 47.5% of the white british community. Hate it or love it, wine events are generally stuffy affairs suited more to older wine drinkers than existing or prospective younger enthusiasts. A fresh take on events post-COVID may well prove key to achieving long-term diversity goals and improving the accessiblity of the wine industry as a whole.

biodynamics-steiner

Biodynamics’ dirty secret: ecofascism, karmic racism and the Nazis

Though shrouded in overtly-romanticised metaphysical and spiritual notions, biodynamics offers little in the form of practical, measurable benefit. Touted as progressive, tolerant, enlightened and ecologically-sound, its roots can be found in anthroposophy. Second, only to Waldorf schools, biodynamics is the most widespread example of applied anthroposophy. A worldview invoked by Rudolf Steiner in 1912, anthroposophy is patently racist, it’s origins found at the intersection of nationalism, right-wing populism, and esoteric spiritualism. Having found philosophical affinities with National Socialism, the 1930s saw biodynamics, a practical byproduct of Steiner’s karmic racism, exert a powerful influence on the ‘green wing’ of German fascism. Steiner’s racial and ecological concerns, centred around re-energising the mystical connection between soil and man, were arguably a byproduct of his concern with the wellbeing of what he considered to be the superior race. These racial concerns, compounded by his mystical outlook on soil and land, resonated firmly with the Third Reich’s infamous ‘Blood and Soil’ slogan. Facing increasing political polarisation, a resurgence of extreme right-wing populism in Europe, and a heightened need to tackle climate change, the wine industry must acknowledge the perils of pseudoscience and reflect on the political susceptibilities of romanticised esoteric environmentalism and reactionary ecology. In this piece, I explore the need for a move away from mysticism and a shift toward robust and rigorous ecological agricultural practice.

delayed-malo

Delayed malolactic fermentation: exploring the stylistic and practical impacts

Though almost universally referred to as malolactic fermentation, the process through which tart-tasting malic acid is converted to softer tasting lactic acid and carbon dioxide released is not technically a fermentation. More accurately it is a conversion or transformation. Though likely as old as wine itself, practical understanding of malolactic is a relatively recent breakthrough. As early as 1837 German oenologist Freiherr von Babo described a “second fermentation” which resulted in increased turbidity. Von Babo’s advice to winemakers was to immediately rack their wines and add sulfur to stabilise. Following a string of influential breakthroughs in the late ’80s, in 1939 the French wine scientist Émile Peynaud outlined the importance of malolactic in making great Bordeaux. By 1960, following work by scientists in California, France, and Portugal, isolated strains of lactic acid bacteria were successfully used to carry out malolactic fermentation in the winery. Nowadays winemakers have a range of malo-centric variables at their disposal. Some choose to inoculate with bacterial cultures while others opt for spontaneity, some experiment with particular cultures of bacteria while others negate warming with site-specific blocking of malolactic. And though not often discussed, there are those who consider delayed malolactic fermentation as being amongst the most impactful of these variables. In this piece, I explore this topic in more detail with the help of some of the worlds most-lauded winemakers and writers.

wine-book-review

A trio of wine book reviews: from outer space to Southwest U.S.A.

Book sales surged to record highs in 2019 with sales up 20% from 2015. Though the popularity of e-books and audiobooks has grown substantially in recent years, physical print still dominates in excess of 80% of total book sales. Physical books are particularly popular in the case of books where the content is either educational, visually immersive or both. Interestingly a recent study by the Guardian found that readers recalled information conveyed to them in a printed book better than those reading the exact same book on an e-reader. Wine lovers are particularly fond of books, wines body of literature is rich, expansive and expands with admirable pace. Though a great deal of this body is dense and specific, of late a number of new releases find themselves at an interesting intersection between being alluring to both fanatics and casual drinkers, those amongst us whose interests may well be somewhat piqued by wine. With Christmas fast approaching and my review pile mounting, now seems the perfect time to share with you a trio of diverse recent releases. Noble Rot’s no-holds-barred guide to wine, Raul Diaz’s simple guide to wine and food pairing, and Jessica Dupuy’s exploration of Southwest U.S.A. These are the books that have piqued my interest in recent months.

ideal-wine

My 5 best Christmas Champagne picks that you probably haven’t tasted

For so many of us, this year has been one of the most turbulent and chaotic in recent memory. Our individual, collective, and familial loss and sacrifice is on a scale incomparable for all but the eldest amongst us. In years of both prosperity and despair, Christmas is an opportunity to reconnect, reconcile, recharge and reimagine the year ahead. Although both regional and national regulations in much of the Western world mean that this year’s festivities may not match their predecessors in scale, there may never be a better reason to double down on their exuberance. For large families with many extended members, restrictions on the numbers of households able to spend Christmas day together may mean a day usually spent together must now be split amongst households. While they have their downsides, small gatherings also present opportunity, and in light of a rather disastrous year offer more than ample opportunity to toast with something special to an altogether more positive year to follow. In this article, you’ll find my five best Champagne picks for Christmas, all available via iDealwine. I’ve steered clear of the usual suspects, opting for a more exploratory selection that you can share with your nearest and dearest over this years festive period.

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Returning to Champagne Paul Launois: crafting a vision

I first visited Champagne Paul Launois in 2019, since then I’ve watched tentatively from the sidelines as Julien and his partner, Sarah, iteratively crafted what is a considered, artistic and exciting project. Their winery, once a press house belonging to Billecart-Salmon, can be found nestled among the tightly-packed ruelle of grand cru village, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, a stone’s throw from Krug’s iconic Clos du Mesnil. Having traditionally sold their grapes to the village cooperative, three generations of the Launois family have tended to a little over 6.5 hectares of Chardonnay vines. Following nine years working abroad, in 2015 Julien and Sarah completed their first harvest together. A year later Julien began working on the single-barrel project, a personalised and intimate expression of Champagne shaped together by winemaker and wine lover. Following my first visit, it was the nature of their project that had left me enthralled. In a contracting market of growers, Julien and Sarah stood out to me as being among a small number who may well buck the trend. Though the project had impressed me in 2019, this time around the wines took centre stage and Julien’s evolution as a winemaker was clear. Though growing in volume, their range of 4 cuvée is each year entirely outstripped by demand with strong interest from keen buyers the world over. I spent a late-summer morning with Julien tasting from his single-barrel library and discussing the future.

english-chardonnay

Simpsons Roman Road: the very best of English Chardonnay

Following the unsuccessful expeditions of Julius Caesar in 55 and 54BC, in AD43 Emperor Claudius set in motion a successful conquest of Britain. Over the next 400 years, the Romans expanded their empire north through Britain, founding Colchester, London, Bath, and many more towns and cities. The evidence for Roman Canterbury, known to the Romans as civitas Cantiacorum, is rich and varied. From Richborough, where a marble-clad arch was erected overlooking the harbour, the Romans established roads. Known now as the A2, the Old Dover Road was one of a number of these roads used by the Romans to march north. Its name a nod to its parallel planting to the Old Dover Road, Simpson’s 10 hectare Roman Road vineyard was Ruth and Charles Simpson’s first foray into English wine. Planted to Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, the site is a collage of carefully-considered clones, rootstock, and precision viticulture. Bringing a wealth of knowledge from their award-winning southern French estate Domaine de Sainte Rose, the Simpsons are producing what many, including myself, consider to be benchmark still English wine. Recently awarded a Platinum Medal and “Best in Show” at the Decanter Awards, the pairs flagship Roman Road English Chardonnay is the focus of this article.

cloudy-bay

Chasing 3MH thiols with Daniel Sorrell of Cloudy Bay

In 1770, during his voyage to New Zealand, Captain James Cook would discover a stretch of land spanning New Zealand’s South Island, to the south of the Marlborough Sounds and north of Clifford Bay. Cook’s discovery coincided with regional flooding, which washed large amounts of sediment into the sea. Noticing the water’s opaque appearance, Cook christened the area Cloudy Bay. Cloudy Bay’s name was later officially altered to Te Koko-o-Kupe / Cloudy Bay, with the Māori name a nod to the early explorer Kupe. 215 years later, seasoned winemaker David Hohnen, convinced of Cloudy Bay’s potential to produce great wine, invested in the best land the region had to offer and established Cloudy Bay Winery. Now under the ownership of LVMH, many consider Cloudy Bay to be amongst the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc, including wine writer, George Taber. Defined in part by mouthfeel, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc also boasts intense, concentrated fruits, namely grapefruit, passionfruit, and guava. Joining via Zoom, following the recent launch of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2020, winemaker Daniel Sorrel told how chasing one particular thiol, 3MH, has come to help shape these defining characteristics. In this article, I examine thiols in more detail and explore more closely how Cloudy Bay and others hunt 3MH.

Le Clos Saint-Hilaire: a single hectare at the forefront of winegrowing

Behind a patchwork of buildings in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, a so-called ‘commune déléguée’ in the Vallée de la Marne, a single hectare of south-southeast facing Pinot Noir vines produce arguably one of the world’s most vinous and critically-acclaimed Champagnes. Le Clos Saint-Hilaire, its name lent from the local church of Église Saint-Hilaire, belongs to ‘super grower’ Billecart-Salmon. Though the commune itself is classified premier cru, albeit amongst only two villages to have scored 99% in the Échelle des Crus classification framework, seventh-generation CEO, Mathieu Roland-Bilecart has his own views on the cru framework. Views which are certainly emboldened by this tiny parcel off the Boulevard du N. Having produced only five vintages since it’s first as a standalone bottling in 1995, you’d be forgiven for underestimating the extent to which this outwardly humble site continues to shape the houses persistent and determined evolution. Pointing toward the vineyards scattering of pumpkins and wool-laden residents, Mathieu describes the site as his research and development facility. Shortly after this years harvest, Mathieu and I wondered the site discussing in more detail its extended importance.

In pursuit of excellence: 130 years of La Rioja Alta

Since the first Phoenician settlers arrived in 11th century BC, Rioja has had a long and colourful winemaking tradition. As early as the late 13th century there is evidence of Rioja’s wine being exported into other regions and from the 15th century on, the Rioja Alta was particularly well-known for wine growing. As is the case across most of Europe, viticulture in Rioja can be traced back to the Roman empire and continued there even during Moorish occupation. As a result of the phylloxera epidemic, during which the French were the first and hardest hit, immediate and insatiable demand for all the wine Rioja could produce swept across France. By 1890, the influx of French négociant and winemakers, who had brought with them extensive knowledge, techniques and experience, had brought about a period of unprecedented growth for the region’s industry. That same year, five Riojan and Basque families founded the ‘Sociedad Vinicola de La Rioja Alta’ which would later, after merging with the Ardanza winery, become La Rioja Alta S.A. 130 years later, La Rioja Alta, as well as being the only winery in Rioja to make 3 Gran Reserva, is globally recognised for its age-worthy, quality-driven, and consistently overperforming wines. To celebrate this laudable anniversary, and to mark the release of the 2014 Viña Arana, I discussed some of the estate’s most impactful changes in recent decades with La Rioja Alta winemaker, Julio Sáenz.