As early as the fourth century Egyptians are believed to have used cork for fishing buoys; however, there is no consensus as to when the first cork was used to stopper a bottle of wine. Corks have been found in Roman shipwrecks dating from the fifth century BC, though it does not appear to have been the usual method of closure. After the fall of the Roman empire, global trade vastly decreased, between 500 and 1500 cork farmers from the Iberian Peninsula struggled to their products and cork gradually disappeared. In the 17th century cork reemerged and for almost the last four centuries virtually every bottle of wine has been sealed using a cork. However, since the 1970s alternative solutions began to emerge and the cork monopoly looked to be in question. The cause of the onslaught, amongst other things, was a chemical compound known as TCA, otherwise known as cork taint. Despite the growing presence of alternative closures, millions of winemakers drinkers around the world refuse to budge. In this article, I will explore the history of cork, it’s production, faults and the future.
Alessandro Masnaghetti was born in 1962 in Milano and currently lives in Faenza, a small town near Bologna. In the late 1980s, Masnaghetti’s passion for wine evolved and became more important than his love for food. In 1994, whilst working for famed Italian wine critic Luigi Veronello, he created his first map, a map of the communes of Barbaresco. Despite printing roughly 3-4000 copies, only 20-30 sold, so mapmaking was put to bed until 2006. Even upon release of his second effort, only a small portion of producers and wine lovers thought the project to be of great importance. Fast forward 14 years and any self-respecting wine lover, or admirer of maps, counts Masnaghetti’s books, predominately his MGA volumes, amongst their must-have resources. Wine regions can be mystifying and Italian regions tend to be the most confusing of all. Masnaghetti’s latest project, Barolo MGA 360, brings all of his work to life in an accessible, easily-digestible digital format. I spoke briefly with Alessandro about this exciting new project.
As we head into the 15th week of forced closures, industry across the length and breadth of the UK faces an unimaginable demand to adapt or risk the inability to continue trading in the long-term. 67 Pall Mall is a haven for wine lovers, the exclusive members club in London not only has one of the most expansive wine lists in the world but also a spectacular array of sommeliers and events. In the face of their club being closed for the foreseeable future, owner Grant Ashton, vowed to keep all 130 staff on full pay, transform the club’s service and revolutionise the way we experience wine tastings at home. I spoke to Ronan Sayburn MS about how the club has adapted, transformed its service to members and how these changes will change the club looking to the future.
Besides that which is essential for photosynthesis, namely carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, grapevines also require a range of nutrients to grow, survive and prosper. These nutrients are split into two groups depending on the scale of requirement, macro and micronutrient, the former being those required in larger amounts. Phosphorus is essential for plant growth. It is a component of cell membranes and DNA and plays a vital role in photosynthesis, the movement of sugars, and carbohydrate storage within the vine. Deficiency of phosphorus in vines can result in reduced vine vigour and yellowing of the interveinal area of basal leaves. In extreme cases, this may be followed by early defoliation of these leaves. Poor bud initiation and fruit set may also be observed. In this article, I will explore phosphorus in viticulture from soil to bottle.
Earlier this year, I featured as a panel member for a Real Business of Wine webinar titled ‘Getting the Horn’. Throughout the webinar, the panel explored biodynamics with Monty Waldin, the world’s leading expert on biodynamic wine. Whilst several of my peers did challenge the notion of biodynamics, I was hesitant to do so, feeling the forum was not the most appropriate of places in which to voice my somewhat fierce opposition to Steiner and his quackery. Shortly after the webinar I released an Instagram video briefly summarising my position, admittedly it wasn’t terribly succinct, was a little provocative and did little to convince others as to why they should take a more active position against aspects of biodynamics. Here I hope to lay out my position more clearly, explaining why I so vehemently oppose individuals who profiteer from pseudoscience.
I had originally intended to speak to Tim Phillips, one-man-band at Charlie Herring wine, about his experience planting Riesling in England. Anybody who knows me knows all too well that I’m a Riesling junkie, so this prospect alone was sufficient cause for excitement. What I got from Tim was so much more. Previously I have discussed the challenge of oversupply in the English wine industry. If it is to maintain long-term viability and achieve truly global appeal, more of the norm simply won’t do. We must push boundaries, we must exploit the opportunity afforded to us as a new world producer not bound by the complexities of intricate regulation. In a tiny 1 acre walled garden in the south of England, aptly named Clos du Paradis, Tim Phillips tends to a petri dish of exciting, exploratory winemaking.
The beverage industry is evolving at great speed, perhaps now more than ever wine needs change. Spend enough time on Twitter and you may be fooled in to thinking a small number of people have all the answers. Whilst the wine intelligentsia act out what Freud called the narcissism of small differences, consumers make their own spending decisions. UK spending on alcohol is on the rise; however, despite this, wine volume sales fell in 2019 by 7.4% year on year. Whilst a select bunch spars between one another, they do agree broadly on what IS important for consumers; they must be educated at all costs, low-intervention winemaking is of utmost importance and heavy bottles must be ousted. Consumer sentiment could not be further from the truth. But don’t fear, canned wine has the answers …
In order to make wine, grapes must undergo alcoholic fermentation. In the case of red wine, the vessel used for fermentation, dependent upon winemaker preference, will also contain the skins, seeds and stems. During fermentation, yeast produce carbon dioxide, this carbon dioxide causes grape solids to rise creating what is referred to as a cap. The cap can present a number of risks, a combination of acetic bacteria, the warmth of fermentation and oxygen could easily convert a vat to vinegar. For this reason, winemakers must manage the cap. Cap management also forms part of the winemakers desired stylistic preference. Tannins, anthocyanins and flavour compounds, all essential to a wines character, are found in large quantities in grape skins and so varying methods of cap management will greatly alter a finished wine. Fail at cap management, and you may well have failed the wine.
1981 was a fairly average year in Champagne. Harvest was small and the wines were somewhat thin and austere. Following World War II, both the popularity and sales of Champagne had once again surged. Despite this, the region had not seen a new house for over 100 years. Bruno Paillard had been working as a broker since 1975, his lineage of brokers and growers in the villages of Bouzy and Verzenay dating back to 1704. Champagne run thick in Bruno’s blood and during his time as a broker he acquired a deep and extensive knowledge. At just 27 years old, without a penny to his name, Bruno sold his vintage Jaguar for 50,000 francs to satisfy his burning desire. A desire to create a different Champagne. Almost 40 years later, he and his daughter Alice direct one of the most prestigious houses in Champagne. I spoke with Alice about beginnings, relationships, challenges and the future.
In years gone by Piedmontese farmers could expect at best, two great vintages in a decade. The years spanning 1940 to late 1970 were challenging. But the climate is changing, Silvia Altare tells me the region faces more sudden, dramatic weather and a general shift toward less and less normality. Despite frost in late April 2017, Barolo saw the hottest summer of the last 150 years. Hail storms, having typically been common in summer, now crop up in Spring and Fall. Despite this, the vigneron remain both positive and optimistic. The Langhe people are resilient, over the years much has changed, now more than ever they demonstrate their hardy nature. With the help of some of the regions most lauded producers, I explore viticulture in Piedmont, discovering how they are working with the vine through a changing climate.