As we get summery in dear old Blighty here is a summary of 2016 so far…
Gimme skin (contact)
Oranges may not be the only fruit (grapes are!), nor the only colour, but you would be forgiven for thinking that 50 Shades of Grey had been supplanted by 50 shades of vin gris in terms of the chitchat around the wine cooler. Just this week, for example, The Times called in half a dozen samples of the amber stuff in prep for an article; last month the release of Skin Contact, the movie – a loving hymn to natural skin macerated wines; wine lists (Ottolenghi, Nopi, Sager & Wilde) inserting discrete orange sections, not only to highlight the wines, but also guide people to drinking them by the glass. Nor are these wines uniform. We list versions from Georgia, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, South African, Chile and California that demonstrate a wide variety of approaches – various de gris of skin separation if I may say so!
Meanwhile, check out the debates on social media and the furious buzz on Twitter. And what makes “Orange Wine” the nailed-on hot-potato winner-of—the-year is the critical opprobrium this topic attracts from certain self-appointed guardians of good wine taste who still subscribe to the dual certainties of white and red.
“Realing” them in
Most trade fairs are fairly dull. Some are born dull, some achieve dullness over time and some have dullness thrust upon them. Each year the Real Wine Fair, without reinventing itself, tries to raise the bar by being ever more friendly and enjoyable, to become an event where you feel tempted to linger, eat, chat and take in a seminar or two. There is no commercial agenda, no hectoring, lecturing or proselytising – just a huge selection of damn good vino made with the minimum of (chemical) intervention and the maximum of love. It is about the vignerons and the attendees and the interaction, not about the glory or the reputation, or the numbers. In the end record numbers of growers, trade and consumers did meet and mingle, and the atmosphere, the sense of engagement and fulfilment made it really real. To coin a phrase. And all the while the Real Wine Month promotion, involving hundreds of restaurants and retailers and thousands of customers, brought these wines to people throughout the UK. Revolutions begin with a small step, and, in this case, a small hop, sip and a jump for joy, but we are now firmly are at the guzzling stage!
The Real Wine Fair will be returning in 2017 with usual bells and whistles. Details to be announced.
Surprising as it may seem, Les Caves de Pyrene is still pigeonholed as a regional French specialist. Although we remain proud of our roots, we have grown beyond la rengaine, focusing now on that which links delicious wines from all the world, namely the qualities of purity, freshness and drinkability.
With our small but perfectly formed Austrian portfolio of ten growers in place and simmering nicely, we recently took the whole of the sales team to visit that country, stopping off in Kamptal, Styria and Burgenland respectively. The wines certainly reflect the respective climates and soils; and most are crafted slowly and patiently – without additions. We witnessed uniformly excellent farming (several growers use biodynamic practices) yielding healthy living vineyards with plenty of natural energy. The winemaking was sympathetic to the quality engendered in these grapes. To be fair we cannot say that natural winemaking is a fully-fledged phenomenon in Austria, but that there are sufficient examples of vignerons expressing themselves and the particularity of their vineyards in a beautiful, creative fashion to warrant the observation that Austrian wine culture is in a state of renewal if not revolution.
Jurassic Parking Lots and other puns
There is a small island (let’s call it Arbois) off the east coast of France where a lost tribe of growers still operate largely out of the critical spotlight. We’ve accrued a fair few of these denizens over the years and now our portfolio bulges with no fewer than sixteen purveyors of Jurassic rapture (as opposed to raptor). Production is small and inconsistent; a run of small vintages, the appearance of esca in some of the vineyards and a preference for organic/biodynamic farming that yields naturally tiny harvests means that we are not swimming in a sea of Savagnin. Nevertheless, we do have a varied selection, ranging from the traditionalists to the modernists, and somewhere in there, everywhere – the naturalists! (Not to mention a small herd of cultosauruses!)
Breixit stage right
Apparently, approximately 90% of the polled UK wine trade wanted us to remain as part of the EU. The reasons were obvious. I have since read a few Panglossian articles post-vote looking for the upside of the referendum outcome.
In the immediate aftermath the pound predictably tanked against all other currencies, margins were hit and the ability to plan or guarantee prices for the medium-term was compromised. Much of this is about perception rather than reality; if people think that there might be a recession then they are less willing to invest in business or part with their money. That feeling of uncertainty is almost more damaging than an actual recession. You can plan when you know outcomes; you cannot legislate for uncertainty.
Business is not just business in the narrowest sense. It is tempting for businesses to rationalise, instantly seeking the cheapest options. This course of action is to create a crisis out of a drama. In the end one must hope that the on-trade and retailers work in partnership with importers, communicate regularly about their intentions, and mutually repay loyalty and service.
The cult of the cult
Call it bone-idolatry or icon-kissing but there seems to be an over-attachment to a grower and all the works that he or she releases – regardless of merit. Some might aver that I’m hardly one to talk about the emperor’s new clothes syndrome, but this applies to all wines – conventional and natural. The proof, says boring empiricist, is in the tasting and the pleasure that the wine confers. And we can allow wines to have their off-days and ourselves not to be in the right mood for appreciation so that we don’t damn on the basis of a single bad experience. This year, however, in the spirit of “wine bantz”, I’ve had a lot of wine foisted on me, to shock and awe my palate. I don’t need to be impressed or see the wine coming from a long distance. I would prefer the wine to insinuate itself into my consciousness or to be absolutely transparent and deliciously agreeable. The cult wines have become way too purposeful, full of the sense of their architecture, and this diminishes their brightness and their drinkability. If the wine ends up as one glass on a plinth and the remainder of the bottle is not swiftly decanted down the gullet it serves a very narrow purpose indeed.
- New wines from USA and Australia!
- Invasion of the Aussie growers in late September!!
- De Martino event at Terroirs!!
- Bang for Buck tasting in October!!!
And much much more…