Monthly Archives: March 2015

How authentic is your bottle?

Between the conviction of infamous wine fraud Rudy Kurniawan and the growing market for wines in Asia where counterfeiting seems to be national sport (and not just in wine), authentication of wine has become more and more important.

A recent contribution to the Jancis Robinson blog was an intriguing insight into an affordable way to verify the authenticity of your wine bottle, based on the ‘bobbles’ and other manufacturer markers along the bottom of the bottle. But many Chateaux in Bordeaux and elsewhere have introduced a more secure and personalised approach.

Most bottling lines now include laser engraving with dates and code numbers that allow chateaux to trace their bottles. This offers many advantages; as well as being reassuring for clients, it allows the chateaux traceability in case of quality problems and allows them to trace how their wines got to market.
70% of Bordeaux wine is sold through ‘La Place’, the brokers and negociants. Chateaux do not always know or have contact with the final customer. It is not unusual for Chateaux to work with several different Bordeaux negociant houses, choosing them because of their expertise in particular markets, either geographical or by market sector. They may try and offer semi exclusivities in certain markets and also sometimes qualifying sales with conditions such as not selling to supermarkets.

This is difficult to police in an open market and some markets such as the UK are considered platforms with a lot of the wine being moved on to other markets Asia being a typical destination.
In recent years, undercutting sales prices by some struggling negociants have also perturbed the market,  be damaging to the brand image as well as upsetting other clients who are not happy when their final clients boast about finding certain wines on the market place at process lower than they have paid the property. These traceability tools allow the chateau a greater control and understanding of where their bottles are ending up and how they got there. The wine market is not as nebulous as it used to be.

Classified growths are the most likely to be subject to fraud and counterfeiting and they have perfected techniques with a mix of Q codes, authentication codes and special labels. Most Chateaux have a web page where alphanumeric codes from the label can be entered or Q codes can be scanned.

The authentication label on the Château Margaux bottle.

The authentication label on the Château Margaux bottle.

Chateau Margaux even has an app for the authentication and  as of 1st January 2013, all bottles leaving the cellar of Chateau Latour have a bubble tag on the bottle with a unique identification.

Latour bubble tags ready to   be added to the bottles.

Latour bubble tags ready to be added to the bottles.

There are also more traditional, non-digital ways of protecting themselves and their customers against fraud. Château d’Yquem uses a unique paper made by the Banque de France bank note suppliers for their labels that are water marked in a way that cannot be copied.

Printing roll for Yquem label paper

Printing roll for Chateau d’Yquem label paper

First growths are not the only properties investing in high tech authentication. Other Chateaux, such as biodynamic producer Chateau Le Puy in the Cotes de Francs, use the same Prooftag bubble system as Chateau Latour mentioned above.

And it’s not just the chateaux; vintner groups, such as the Cru Bourgeois, issue a defined number of bottle stickers complete with hologram at certification with a unique number that can be typed into the web site or the Q code can be scanned with the app.

The Cru Bourgeois Flash Sticker can be scanned on the smart phone app.

The Cru Bourgeois Flash Sticker can be scanned on the smart phone app.

You can now drink younger vintages with confidence. For older vintages however you will still need to rely on a close and trusting relationship with your wine merchant – something always worth cultivating.

Shaking up Sauternes

Is the future of Sauternes feminine? Is the future of Sauternes dry? Is the future of Sauternes fizzy? I thought that last one might get your attention.

Wine tasters often use the adjective feminine or masculine when describing wines; Feminine being used Merlot driven wines as opposed to more ‘masculine’ Cabernet driven wines. Then again, Margaux is often described as the most feminine of the Medoc appellations. Smooth, elegant, approachable are all rather feminine characteristics n’est pas?

Sauternes is also considered a feminine wine as, rather condescendingly perhaps, the sweetness of the wine is traditionally thought to appeal to a feminine palate. The history of Sauternes is feminine too. It was Françoise Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem, young widow and owner of Chateau d’Yquem who was imprisoned twice during the revolution but managed to keep the Château in the family.

Sandrine Garbay, cellar master of Chateau d'Yquem

Sandrine Garbay, cellar master of Chateau d’Yquem

The feminine tradition continues at Chateau d’Yquem as the current cellar Master is also a woman; Sandrine Garbay. Other top Sauternes properties also have women at their helm; Laure de Lambert Compeyrot is cellar master and co-owner of the smallest Sauternes Classified growth Chateau Sigalas Rabaud. In Barsac both Chateau Climens and Chateau Coutet have women at their helm. Chateau Coutet names the tiny production of  its top wine, produced only in exceptional years, Cuvée Madame, after Madame Rolland-Guy, owner of the property  from 1922 to 1977.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post in October 2012 that many consider this sweet wine terroir to be just as good for dry whites with many properties producing dry white from their vines. This trend continues as Laure de Lambert Compeyrot has added another dry white wine to her successful Demoiselle de Sigalas; La Semillante is a 100% dry Semillon made with wine maker Jacques Lurton who has become a specialist in producing wonderful aromatic whites (and delightful reds) from terroir all over the world. His Loire wines are worth searching out too.

La Sémillante, the new 100% dry Semillon from Chateau Rauzan Siglalas

La Sémillante, the new 100% dry Semillon from Chateau Rauzan Siglalas

So what about the sparkling? No one is yet producing sparkling Sauternes to my knowledge.  Florence Cathiard, owner of Pessac Léognan Classified Growth Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte,  has come up with an idea to get Sauternes in the sights of barmen men and mixologists with SO Sauternes®.

The Cathiards, along with the Moulin Family (owners of the Galeries Lafayette department stores) purchased Chateau Bastor Lamontagne in Sauternes last year along side Château Beauregard in Pomerol and Chateau Saint Robert in the Graves.

Presenting the new SO Sauternes® in a resolutely modern bottle, the idea is to pair with Perrier creating a cocktail to appeal to a younger generation perhaps not familiar with this venerable wine.  This takes Sauternes away from its dessert wine purgatory and puts in the limelight and in the sights of trendy Parisian mixologists, some of whom have added their own particular twist and cocktail recipe.

SO Sauternes and Perrier

SO Sauternes and Perrier

Shocking some might say, but other similar initiatives have now become mainstream;. When Cognac launched itself as a mixer there were a few raised eyebrows, now look at its success and the ‘swimming pool’ of adding ice to champagne launched by Moet has also become a staple of trendy beach bars in the summer months.

There is nothing new. One evening many (many) years ago, when my husband Hamilton first started selling Chateau Guiraud in the US, he was in a NYC hotel bar with wine guru Alexis Lichine who had taken him under his wing. Shocked when he saw New Yorkers ordering fine white Burgundy and topping it up with soda water to make spritzers he said so. Alexis, ever the pragmatist, said ‘Hamilton we should be so lucky they are drinking wine at all and not martinis, then years ago they all would be drinking Martinis’ – this was the early 80s after all.

We could say they same of Sauternes – so drink it in whichever way takes your fancy.

Celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with Bordeaux.

The Garonne river flowing through the city of Bordeaux may not be dyed green on the 17th March but Bordeaux does have strong historical and contemporary links to the Emerald Isle.

It is yet another example of the openness of Bordeaux to foreign influence thanks to the importance of the port, the largest in France in the 17th century. This was the beginning of a huge Irish influence the remains of which can still be clearly seen today. Many Irish ‘Jacobites’ fled their native land, escaping religious persecution after the Battle of Kinsale, when the Catholic King James II lost to the Protestant King William of Orange.

The term ‘Wild Geese’ was coined to define the flight of these emigrant families in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Many ended up in Bordeaux, as they already had strong ties with the region, being enthusiastic importers of ‘Claret’. Others ended up in the Loire and Cognac, where names such as Hennessy became part of the local landscape. These new arrivals quickly became important players in the wine business, exporting wine and importing Irish meat and dairy.

Their presence on the Quai des Chartrons, the merchant area on the banks of the Garonne, was even mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in 1770 when he listed names that are still there today such as Barton, Johnston, and Lawton.

Ireland became established as a leading Market for Bordeaux. Records from 1739 show that England imported 1,000 tons of claret, Scotland 2,500 and Ireland a massive 4,000. Ted Murphy, author of The Kingdom of Wine: a Celebration of Ireland’s Winegeese, quotes ‘‘claret was the Guinness of its day.”

The Wine Geese

The Wine Geese

Their influence continues in the Château names that still ring with an Irish accent include 
Château Clarke, Château Phelan-Segur, Château Boyd Cantenac, Château MacCarthy (now the second wine of Haut-Marbuzet), Château Dillon, Château Langoa and Léoville-Barton (still today owned by the Barton family), Château Kirwan, Château Lynch Bages, etc.

Frank Phélan, Chateau Phélan Segur's second wine, is named after the estate's Irish founder.

Frank Phélan, Chateau Phélan Segur’s second wine, is named after the estate’s Irish founder.

Other Châteaux may not sound very Irish but have strong Irish connections in their past include such leading lights as Château Margaux, Château Yquem, Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Lalande, Château Pape-Clément and Château Haut-Brion.

Chateau Langoa Barton

Chateau Langoa Barton

So you have plenty of choice of Bordeaux with which to raise a glass to Saint Patrick on the 17th.

Slainte.