Monthly Archives: February 2015

A diet of sunshine

For those of you that enjoyed testing the recipes from Shelina Permalloo’s book I mentioned in a previous post, you might enjoy her new book, The Sunshine Diet. Although she claims it’s not a diet book, she did lose over 20Kgs while she was writing it, and presumably testing the recipes.

The Sunshine Diet

The Sunshine Diet

My favourite recipes so far have been chocolate and banana ice cream (p182) and the home-made coconut milk with cinnamon and chocolate (p37). Neither of which sounds particularly slimming – so just goes to show. And yes I’m aware there’s a theme here; I’m putting it down to the proximity of Valentines Day when there’s always chocolate on the menu.

Red wine and chocolate – hard to beat. Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Bordeaux 2012, coming to a market near you.

The UGC have just finished their annual tour of North America, an event that is particularly close to my heart as it was on such a tour (many, many years ago) that I first met my husband. That aside, this year’s edition seems especially interesting; not only did they visit Miami,
Toronto, St John’s,
 New-York, Chicago,
 Las Vegas,
 Denver,
 San-Francisco and 
Los Angeles (phew), once back in Bordeaux the orders for the 2012, the vintage on show, started coming thought the pipeline that is ‘la Place de Bordeaux’. As far as a marketing initiative goes – that’s got to be mission accomplished.

The UGC Tasting in NYC

The UGC Tasting in NYC

So what is the UGC? The Union des Grands Crus is a trade association that includes 133 of the top chateaux from Bordeaux out of the total 7 500. Created in the 1970s by a group of chateau owners the objective was to pool their resources to raise the profile of their wines in export markets. It has now grown to a 4 million euro marketing programme that includes organising the primeur tastings for the new vintage in Bordeaux every year, trade tastings in all the major export countries and consumer events, such as the ‘Weekend des Grands Grand Cru’, held in Bordeaux each Spring.

The Invitation to the UGC Weekend

The Invitation to the UGC Weekend

This knocks on the head several received notions about Bordeaux such as; they never travel, don’t know how to market their wine, don’t work together and are behind the times. In the 1970s in France, marketing was in its infancy, air travel was expensive, language skills rare and staff short in the vineyards that were having a hard time of it between economic crises and a string of average vintages.

The top properties participating in these tastings have more resources than most which is one of the reasons their role as a ‘locomotive’ for the regions remains important. With an average size of 15ha many a Bordeaux vineyard will struggle to dedicate a person to travel and promote their wine both for financial and organisational reasons. Consumers may love to see a winemaker but while they are out and about they’re not at the vineyard making the wine.

The wines at these tastings will mainly get to market through the Place de Bordeaux (see previous post). This system, whereby the chateaux sell to several merchants who include the wine in a portfolio that they take to importers in the various markets has certain advantages; a much greater reach for these properties and a cost effective route to market with commercial, shipping and promotional costs spread over a larger range of products. Most of these wines will have been bought en primeur (more of which later), which provides cash flow to the chateau well before the wines are sold onto the final customer.

There are also disadvantages; the risk of your wine being lost in the group, a lack of contact with the final customer or even knowing where your wine is being sold. This is where these tastings are so useful. In this Internet age of wine searcher apps, wine makers have a better market knowledge even from the depths of their cellars and generally work closely with merchants to optimise their reach.

The top chateaux also rely on the merchants to do their promotion for them. On these trips, when not pouring at tastings, winemakers are out with the merchants visiting clients or hosting wine dinners for the trade and enthusiastic consumers. Direct contact with clients is great for both for the client and the producer; market knowledge may be fed back from the negociant but it’s always more satisfying to see your product on wine lists and your bottles on shelves yourself and to have that exchange directly.

Why the 2012? This is the latest Bordeaux vintage to hit the shelves not just in the US but also other export markets (Asia and Europe being the leading ones and where the UCG is headed next). Let’s put this in context of how and when Bordeaux wines come to market. Picked in the autumn of 2012, vinified, then put down into barrel early in 2013 the (red) 2012 was then bottled in the spring of 2014 after about 18 months in barrel. It then recovered from bottle shock in cool cellars during the (not so hot) 2014 summer and was shipped towards the end of the year.

2012 was a small and late vintage. A vintage that required a lot of work throughout the year in the vines to get the best out of the tricky climate.  A cool, wet spring and early summer gave uneven flowering and a high mildew risk requiring expensive spraying to protect the vines.  August and early September were hot and dry but uneven ripening amongst the red grapes and rain during harvest called for carefully judged timing of picking and meticulous selection, something we are getting the hang of in Bordeaux in recent vintages. As with 2011, it was a year when properties with sophisticated selection processes, be they human or more often now mechanised and optical, reaped the rewards of their investment producing a smaller but quality crop. It is however  a vintage where Merlot, in general, outshone the Cabernets producing wines that are very accessible early. The dry white wines were excellent across the board.

Selection the 2012 vintage at Chateau Rauzan Segla

Selection the 2012 vintage at Chateau Rauzan Segla

Looking at tasting notes and other comments on the web the feedback is pretty positive and, as I said, uptake back in the ‘Place de Bordeaux’ reflects this enthusiasm. That plus a very favourable Euro-US dollar rate of exchange.

This might be good news across the top end but it is also good news across the Bordeaux board when these properties do act as the locomotive as mentioned above. So the system does work after all.

Timing is everything however; in anticipation of the April UGC Primeur tastings, the annual price bun fight around the latest 2014 vintage has already started with UK merchants addressing an open letter to the La Place, asking for lower prices (a request formulated every year in some way or another). With certain Bordeaux merchants respectively reminding the trade that the next vintage needs financing and that wines are not for speculation but for drinking, etc, etc.

Dissent is also in the ranks of the producers. The very top classified growths don’t usually join in the UGC fray, preferring to host clients at their own properties rather than show their barrel samples alongside their neighbours. This makes life just a little bit more complicated for visitors trying to whiz round all the tastings over a period of 3 days (not as glamorous as it sounds). This year, according to a recent report in Decanter, a few more properties (Haut-Bailly in Pessac Leognan, La Conseillante in Pomerol and Figeac in Saint Emilion) have decided to do the same, their argument being this gives them more control over the samples.

So while we are waiting for the 2014 to fight their way through the system I suggest you start quaffing your 2012s and see if you agree with the positive feedback. Cheers.

Bordeaux Background.

I love sharing Bordeaux with students both in classes and with visitors to the region so when some of my clients suggested I compile a ‘text’ book to accompany the Bordeaux classes I teach and tours I guide, it seemed like a good idea. A pretty straightforward thing to do and an obvious next step to take. A simple matter of putting down on paper what I cover in class. Think again. Somehow it all seems drastically different in black and white.

When I’m teaching, there is an immediate feedback; this changes depending on whether I’m in Bordeaux, the USA or Hong Kong and on the audience; trade or enthusiastic amateurs. It each case you can sense whether the point you are making is getting across, you can change the tone, lighten up or insist on a point until the light bulb goes on and you see the ‘aha’ moment when all becomes clear. It’s also so much fun surprising people with information they didn’t expect about such a well-established area as Bordeaux and breaking a few myths that surround such an iconic region.

With writing there is no such immediate feedback, so, while I’m passionately scribbling away describing something I love about Bordeaux I’m not really sure my reader is going to be just so impassioned, skip to another chapter or just put the book down and nod off. Also, doubting what’s in my memory, I’m busy checking my facts, and figures and researching more detail, backing up my stories.

It is fascinating; one book leads to an article that leads to a paper that leads to a blog post and 3 hours later I’m still reading totally engrossed and have forgotten what I was looking for in the first place! I seem to be doing a lot more reading than writing but I’m loving every minute of it.

The saying goes if you want to learn, teach. Well I would say if you want to learn, write.

Here are three different books on the subject of wine in general with references to Bordeaux in particular that I have both enjoyed and found useful over the past few weeks.

Starting from the ground up, if you’ll pardon the pun.  Land and wine: The French Terroir by French Scientist Charles Frankel has been available in English for about a year now. It is an overview of all the major wine regions of France and brings to life the geological history and why the soils are they way they are, an introduction as to how this influences the wines and some detailed examples from lesser-known producers in each region.

Land and Wine by Charles Frankel

Land and Wine by Charles Frankel

If you are travelling to a wine region anytime soon and are interested in not just the science but the landscape and countryside this is the perfect introduction to understanding why the regions look the way they do.

British Wine Writer Jamie Goode also mentions Terroir in the new revised version of his book: Wine Science: The Application of Science in Wine. Although he is a scientist by training he makes the subject very accessible and covers everything including vines, agriculture, wine making and the very important wine tasting and the pleasure we derive from wine to name but a few of the subjects that he shines a light on.

Wine Science by Jamie Goode

Wine Science by Jamie Goode

Finally, an irreverent but never the less insightful and rather challenging analysis of the latest research into wine and health; The Good News about Booze by science writer Tony Edwards.  Unsurprisingly perhaps to people reading this, red wine comes out tops as far as health benefits are concerned. What is more surprising is the impression left by this analysis that the news of these benefits is perhaps being hushed up by political correctness.

And now for the The Good News!

And now for the The Good News!

Re reading this post I see that all three book recommendations above are vey science based – onto the philosophy next perhaps?