Wine column

Clever but expensive (5/7/2021)

Here is an unusual way to market wine: Send it into space. A bottle of 2000 vintage Pétrus that spent 14 months on the International Space Station is being auctioned at Christies in May 2021. Estimated selling price is about USD one million, well above the typical price of USD 6,000 for that vintage. Seems like a good margin until you note that travel costs far exceed profits. More here.

Spaced out wine? (3/26/2021)

This is a fascinating story about how bottles of French wine tasted after spending a year in space.

Release of Atomos wines (3/26/2021)

Stefano and Maria Di Nisio have released two special wines known as Atomos. The entrepreneurs and winemakers said they focus on a unique process of destemming. Each berry is meticulously harvested using a three-fingers method which means only the best berries are chosen. It also means only a few hundred bottles are produced each year.

Because of the wine’s acidity and tannins Atomos can be cellared for more than 30 years, assuming they are stored in ideal conditions, Stefano said.

Atomos is based in Abruzzo in central Italy. The red is made from 100 per cent Montepulciano and the white entirely from Trebbiano. Vines are up to 65 years old.

Stefano Di Nisio, from Abruzzo, met Maria Kalafati from Athens while at university in 1994. While visiting Maria’s relatives in Crete in 2010 Stefano noticed three old ladies destemming grapes by hand to make the famous sweet-dry wine sultanina. The berries tasted amazing compared with machine-harvested grapes, Stefano said. This revelation was the origin of the Atomos three-finger process.

Maria and Stefano worked on the project with their friend Giorgos Kolliopoulos, founder of the luxury olive oil, Lambda.

Find out more about Atomos in this video: 

Disclaimer: Stephen Quinn received a bottle of the red to taste as part of this article.

A couple of awards (10/27/2020)

My feature screenplay Art of Revenge won first prize for best dark comedy at the Grim North screenplay festival last December. My short film My Plastic Friend, which I wrote, filmed, directed and edited, was shortlisted for the Mobile Got Talent film festival in July 2020.

Why so expensive? (8/13/2020)

I am keen to buy the Sony A7S Mark III camera. It costs GBP 3,799 in the UK.

Yet the same camera sells for USD 3,499 which converts to £2,640. And in Hong Kong the retail price is HKD 27,000 which converts to £2,668.

A difference between the UK and US/HK of more than £1,100 for the same camera! Why is it so much more expensive in the UK?

Nice to win an award (9/19/2019)

I was one of three writers shortlisted for a prize by Hungarian


Video from Asolo, Italy (7/14/2019)

Something different this week: A video instead of 1,000 words. This video shows the beauty of the Asolo wine region in Italy, north-west of Venice:

Rebirth of native grape (7/6/2019)

Italy’s Asolo wine region, made famous by a war novel and conflict, is resurrecting a grape pulled up 200 years ago. For publication in the week starting 8 July 2019.

Wars have had a major impact on the Asolo wine region north-west of Venice.  Between 1792 and 1802 Napoleon’s army fought a coalition of Austrian, Russian and Italian troops in northern Italy in what became known as Napoleon’s Italian campaign.

In 1801 Napoleon ordered his troops to replace local grapes with French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon. The aim was to impose French order, and he believed one way to do that was to plant French grapes.

A handful of winemakers in Asolo have been resurrecting the Recantina grape, the only variety native to the region. Armando Serena, president since 2012 of the Consorzio Vini Asolo Montello, said six estates currently grew this grape on a total of about 10 hectares.

Grape expert Dr Ian D’Agata allocated only half a page to Recantina in his huge book Native Wine Grapes of Italy, published in 2014, though he said he would give it more space in his new book, Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs, published earlier this year. I have yet to read the new book.

D’Agata said Recantina had been cultivated at least since the 1600s around Treviso in Veneto. It “has always been a highly regarded variety,” D’Agata said in an email. He described it as “a very perfumed wine (blackberry and an intense note of violet) with good tannic structure and acidity” and predicted that Recantina would “almost certainly one day” be included in the blends for Valpolicella and Amarone.

The Giusti estate near Montbello has half of the Recantina vines in the Asolo region, and has planed another six hectares in the past few years. Recantina Montello Colli Asolani has been a DOC since 2012. Asolo is best known for making Prosecco.

Ermenegildo “Joe” Giusti founded Giusti Wines in 2003. The estate’s flagship Recantina is called Augusto, named after Joe’s father Augusto who was born in Venissieux in France and who had a passion for wine.

Giusti01.jpgErmenegildo is shown with the Benedictine Abbey of St. Eustace on the hill above. He  left Italy aged 17 and became a millionaire in the property industry in western Canada as founder and owner of the Giusti Group. Canadians could not pronounce his first name and insisted on calling him “Joe”. He is still called “Joe” in Alberta.

Giusti lives half the year in Canada and the other half in Italy. He currently has 75 hectares of vineyards on 10 properties between the hills of Montello and the Piave River, with plans for another 25 hectares. A new 20 million Euro winery designed by Armando Guizzo is scheduled to open next year with a capacity for 2 million bottles a year.

The Piave River, which runs through the Asolo region and enters the sea at Venice, has played a major role in Italian history. The Piave is called “Fiume sacro alla patria” or “sacred river of the homeland” because the Battle of the Piave in June 1918 was the decisive event of World War I on the Italian Front. A young Ernest Hemingway was an ambulance driver there, wounded while delivering cigarettes and chocolate to the front. The events inspired his novel A Farewell to Arms.

Recantina was in the Asolo area well before Napoleon arrived, Giusti told a small group of journalists visiting his estate in March. “When the French established themselves here, the grape was ripped out and then forgotten for centuries,” he said.

Some Recantina vines survived in the vineyards of the Benedictine Abbey of Nervesa, along with other places around Montello. It was reintroduced at the end of last century. “Joe” Giusti was keen to plant this grape soon after he purchased the first vineyard in 2003 but waited a few years because he already had a thriving Prosecco business.

The first Recantina vintage was in 2014. “Our first vintage was a total disaster. The wine smelled dreadful,” Giusti said. “Oh my God,” I thought then, “Napoleon was right when he decided to rip out this grape. This wine is horrible.”

mirco pozzobon.jpgGiusti told winemaker Mirco Pozzobon, shown amidst the vines, to pour it down the sink, but Pozzobon convinced him to wait. The wine improved and a year later tasted wonderful. “I’m glad I listened to my winemaker,” Giusti said with a smile.

Pozzobon graduated from university in 1997 and made wine in the Amarone region for a decade. His professor at the University of Verona, Roberto Farrarini, was a winemaker with the great Quintarelli estate. Pozzobon has focused his attention on the Asolo region since 2012 and has been winemaking consultant to Giusti since 2014.

Pozzobon matures the Augusto mainly in 2,500-litre Slavonian oak barrels for 12 to 15 months, followed by nine more in bottle. It is a return to a traditional method lost with the arrival of stainless-steel tanks. Pozzobon said he also uses a touch of mulberry, chestnut and cherry oak. Mulberry trees were available because their leaves were needed to feed silkworms. Asolo was a major producer of silk prior to World War 1, and like the cultivation of Recantina that practice is being resurrected.

Viticulturists at the Conegliano Research Centre have identified three distinct versions of the variety: Recantina a pecolo scuro (dark stalk), Recantina a pecolo rosso (red stalk) and Recantina Forner, the last named for the family farm where the vines were found. The grape has been listed in the official Italian register of varieties, D’Agata said.

The Società Agricola Giusti Dal Col, to give the full name, made about 5,500 bottles of Augusto Recantina in 2014. In 2017 the total reached 12,700. Last year Wine critic James Suckling gave the 2015 Augusto 92 points. He awarded 93 points to the 2016 Recantina by neighbours Serafini & Vidotto.

“Joe” Giusti said he had spent almost 2.5 million Euro restoring the Benedictine Abbey of St. Eustace, built in 1052 but destroyed at the end of World War 1. The abbey renovations are precise and a beautiful place to taste wine. In total Giusti is believed to have spent about 52 million Euro on the vineyards, winery and abbey.

He admitted he was not making a profit from wine. “Money means nothing to me. Everything comes back, like a form of karma. It was always in my heart to give something back to the community.”

Giusti05.jpgThe abbey sits above the main estate at Giusti Wines, surrounded by vineyards. On a nearby hill the Montello Military Ossuary holds the remains of Italian soldiers who died during the Battle of the Piave in June 1918. War and wine remain intertwined in this part of Asolo.

A version of my story appeared in Meininger’s Wine Business magazine in April 2019, pages 80-81.

Words: 1,008

Marlborough continues to dominate (6/29/2019)

New Zealand has 10 wine-producing regions. Marlborough is easily the biggest. It makes 70 per cent of Kiwi wine. For publication in the week starting 1 July 2019.

Marlborough remains the giant among New Zealand’s wine-producing regions with its 26,850 hectares of vines. The region has about 80 per cent of all plantings in the country and produces seven in 10 bottles of the country’s wine.

To put the size into perspective, Hawkes Bay is the second-biggest region with only 4,500 hectares of vines.

Growth in Marlborough has been significant. Only half a decade ago the region had about 20,000 hectares, with 17,725 of those devoted to Sauvignon Blanc.

Exports dominate the New Zealand wine market and will become increasingly important because domestic consumption continues to slide. Last year the value of New Zealand wine exports grew for the 23rd consecutive year to reach NZD 1.75 billion (about USD 1.15 billion).

Matt Duggan.pngMatt Duggan is the chief viticulturist for Jackson Estate Wines, based in Marlborough. He was in the UK this week for a series of meetings with the company’s suppliers. “Marlborough is getting planted out,” Duggan said. Most of the growth had come from big companies. Water storage prices meant only the big players could afford the costs. “The region has very few small family estates,” Duggan noted.

Jackson Estate continues to be one of the leading family estates. It has 70 hectares of vines. Duggan joined Jackson Estate last year from neighbouring Cloudy Bay. “I completed my science degree in Dunedin, before moving north to study viticulture and oenology at Lincoln University. Family and work opportunities led me to Marlborough where I was named Marlborough’s young viticulturist of the year three times in my early career,” the company’s web site notes.

At least two bottles in three made in Marlborough are Sauvignon Blanc. Duggan believes Marlborough is adopting a three-pronged approach to this variety. It continues to produce a commercially-focused fresh and aromatic or “green” style for the millions around the world who love this type of wine. For many young people it is the “entry point” for their wine journey.

Stich Bottleshot NV.JPGThe next level is a premium style of Sauvignon Blanc that has some bottle age. An example of this is the Jackson Estate Stich. It is named in honour of John “Stich” Stichbury, the founder of Jackson Estate. His family has farmed the land for more than 160 years.

Cloudy Bay, who many believe started the fashion for Kiwi-style sauvignon blanc, is a neighbour. I enjoyed the pithy lemon character of the Stitch with its intense length of flavours. A wine that could be cellared for another five years.

The third style is textured and mineral like a quality Sancerre from the Loire in France. We will probably see a push for this style in the next few years. A fine example of this is the company’s Grey Ghost. It is almost old world in style and slightly riper than Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc.

The Grey Ghost is named after an old gum tree planted by John Stichbury’s grandmotherJackson Estate Grey Ghost NV.JPG in 1867. She often told her grandchildren a story about a grey ghost groaning outside on windy nights.

Half of the wine spends about 10 months in old oak barrels, with the rest in stainless steel, before it is cellared. The current release is the 2015. This is a delicious and different wine that is worth seeking. Only about 20,000 bottles are made. “We want flavours of savoury herbs and to avoid aromas of grassy herbs,” Duggan said.

Peter McCombie, a Master of Wine based in Europe, was born in New Zealand. “Oak ageing for Sauvignon Blanc is coming of age in New Zealand,” he said, noting that these wines could be cellared for many years unlike the fruit-driven version of the wine designed to be consumed in the year of the vintage.

Duggan’s main role is ensuring Jackson Estate continues to grow high-quality grapes. But he is unofficially involved with winemaking because the team is small and members have many roles. “Winemaking is something I’d like to get more involved with.”

Four family-focused estates in Marlborough have been pioneers in wine-making innovation. In 2001 Jackson Estate along with Forrest Wines, Lawson’s Dry Hills and John Belsham introduced the use of screw-cap instead of cork closures.

Since then what was pioneering has become accepted. More than 90 per cent of wines in New Zealand are sealed with a screw-cap, and in neighbouring Australia the percentage is higher.

Dr John Forrest of Forrest Wines has long maintained the Marlborough region would be world famous for its Pinot Noir if Sauvignon Blanc had not become the dominant grape. Peter McCombie MW agrees with him, noting that vines were being planted on clay soils to get more “substantial” wines.

JE Vintage Widow Pinot Noir NV.jpgJackson Estate has two Pinot Noir vineyards totalling about 4.5 hectares. Each year the company produces a wine named after each vineyard: The Gum Emperor, on heavy clay soils and named after the Gum Emperor moth, and the Somerset. They also make a blend of both vineyards called the Vintage Widow. The current vintage, the 2015, of the blend is a “cracker from a cracker vintage,” Duggan said. It has graceful tannins and is perfumed and floral.

The Cental Otago region in the deep south of the country is better known for Pinot Noir but Marlborough offers better value for money because of its lower production costs.

Until 2001 Chardonnay was the most-planted grape variety in New Zealand. Massive plantings of Sauvignon Blanc from the late 1990s reduced Chardonnay’s influence. By 2005 Sauvignon Blanc had double the number of hectares as Chardonnay, and by 2017 Chardonnay plantings had declined to the point they represented only 9 per cent of the country’s total production.

Shelter Belt NV BottleThe 2016 Jackson Estate Shelter Belt Chardonnay reminds me what fine Chardonnays New Zealand can make (see earlier column). Jackson Estate has 4.5 hectares of Chardonnay clone 95 and they make an elegant and balanced wine with flavours and aromas of white peach. If placed in a blind tasting it could be mistaken for a good white burgundy. In terms of price it is much better value.

Jackson Estates exports at least 90 per cent of its production. Key markets are the UK and Australia though soon the US will overtake Australia. It makes about 35,000 12-bottle cases a year.

Disclosure: Stephen Quinn was the lunch guest of RandR Communications, the PR company representing Jackson Estate in the UK. Bottle images and photo of Matt Duggan courtesy of RandR.

Words: 1,045

Celebrations for La Livinière (6/23/2019)

This year the La Livinière region in the deep south of France celebrates its 20th anniversary of being founded. For publication in the week starting 24 June 2019.

The La Livinière region is small, with about 400 hectares devoted to vines in the 2,700 hectares of the official area of ​​the appellation. It sits in the heart of the Minervois in the deep south of France, perhaps 70 km from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

La Livinière has 39 winemaking families and two co-operatives. Wine has been made there for millennia, though documents can only confirm about 1,000 years. A Roman document from 1069, believed to be the oldest written mention of winemaking, calls the area “Lavineira” which means a “place planted with vines”.

CWW tasting.jpg

Rosemary George MW (left) with Isabelle Coustall at the CWW’s La Livinière tasting

Isabelle Coustall is president of Minervois AOC La Livinière, to give the region its full name. She said only red wines were produced and explained that over centuries locals had noted that the soils were best suited for red grapes.

Syrah, Grenache and Carignan are the main varieties, with a little Mourvedre to add to the mix. The three main varieties represent about 90 per cent of the grapes grown in the region.

All wines are blends. A minimum of 60 per cent of the three main varieties (in total) must appear in the region’s blends.

The soils of La Livinière are a mixture of shale, sandstone, quartz, marble and limestone, plus large pebbles, sand and clay where major erosion has occurred. The area is a succession of sandstone hills dotted with woods, with stone fences separating plots of land. Grapes are grown up to 400 metres.

Rainfall can be low. The average for the region is between 400 and 500 mm a year. South-facing slopes, which get the most sun, often receive less rain.

Wines have reasonable age-ability. Probably a decade is a realistic time frame for cellaring. With time wines offer aromas of garrigue, black olives, fresh balsamic or menthol notes, spices and sometimes truffles.

Garrigue usually refers to low-growing fragrant shrubs that grow wild on the limestone hills of the Mediterranean coast. They include juniper, thyme, rosemary and lavender.

In terms of wine, “garrigue” relates to the aromas associated with the plants mentioned in the previous paragraph. It is a bit like the aromas of “herbes de Provence” combined with a mix of minty-herbal notes plus more floral fragrances. Previous columns have talked about “garrigue”.

Some locals say that the Carignan grape contributes most to “garrigue” aromas. It can be difficult to grow. Rosemary George MW, president of the Circle of Wine Writers, said it made the kind of wine that improved with vine age. “People say that when you plant Carignan you are planting for your grandchildren.”

Vinification styles in La Livinière involve relatively long maceration, often three to four weeks. Wines must be matured on the estate in vats, barrels or bottles. A noticeable trend seems to be a return to fermenting in concrete tanks. Great traditions never die.

Wines cannot be sold as an AOC Minervois-Livinière until after January 1 of the second year after the harvest – that is, at least 13 months of maturation. All wines in the appellation are tested by an independent body.

Members of the Circle of Wine Writers tasted 16 La Livinière wines in London on 17 June 2019, hosted by Isabelle Coustall. One was from the 2012 vintage though the majority were made between 2014 and 2016.

Coustall combines being the owner and winemaker at Chateau Sainte-Eulalie with her duties as president. Her 2017 Le Grand Vin is made from Carignan vines planted in 1910 and Grenache vines that are 80 years old, plus Syrah planted in the 1980s. The wine is not oaked and is made in concrete tanks. “We want to make great wine without oak,” she said, aiming to highlight the quality of the fruit from old vines.

Another fine wine was the 2016 Chateau Maris Dynamic made by Robert Eden, a distant relative of the British prime minister Sir Anthony Eden. The wine, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, comes from organic grapes fermented in concrete eggs.

Special mention must be made of the wines of Audrey Rouanet, a gifted winemaker aged perhaps 30, who took over from her father. The 2016 Domaine Rouanet Montcelebre Borealis is her first vintage of La Livinière wines and it is delicious. Like many wines from the region it has good acidity, soft tannins, ripe red and black fruits and a balanced sense of mineral freshness.

The great Languedoc-based winemaker Gerard Bertrand also featured in the tasting, with his brooding 2015 Clos d’Ora. It is a blend of the region’s three main grapes plus a touch of Mourvedre, with all grapes from a bio-dynamic estate. The wine is fermented in concrete and spends a year in oak.

It is ripe, polished and very classy, and presented in a heavy bottle. We could debate the negatives and benefits of heavy bottles. The wine retails in the UK for about GBP 150, which is well above the average price of wines from La Livinière, which typically retail for GBP 14-18 in the UK.

Wines from La Livinière are worth seeking. They represent a good combination of value and quality.

Words: 840

Categories: Home page, Uncategorized

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