Two things any successful business needs are the ability to launch their product ahead of any rivals, followed by a successful marketing campaign to drive the resulting sales. Beaujolais Nouveau, made with hand-harvested Gamay grapes from the famed Burgundy region was able to tap in to both of these and yet, it’s much less popular than it used to be.
In the early 1950’s Beaujolais producers set themselves the challenge of beating competitors to market by presenting a drinkable wine as early as possible. Techniques such as speeding up fermentation time were developed to give a ‘finished’ product in as little as 6–8 weeks from the grape harvest.
In order to create a level playing field between all Burgundian producers a standard release date was set as the third Thursday of November (the 21st this year), a date which also happily tied in nicely with the lucrative Thanksgiving and Christmas markets.
Restricting customers to only being allowed to purchase bottles at one-minute past midnight on what became known as ‘Beaujolais Nouveau Day’ turned out to be marketing genius, akin to midnight iPhone launches these days. People flocked to be one of the first to taste the new vintage.
The modern day story began in 1970 when two London based wine writers, Clement Freud and Joseph Berkmann, decided to make a bet with each other – who could be the first to pick up a case of the midnight released Beaujolais wine in France and get it back across the channel ready for dinner in London that night?
For the first two years it was a private competition (which Berkmann won both times), but as the word and novelty spread, more and more people began joining in, devising ever cleverer ways of shipping the wine. Thus the ‘Beaujolais Run’ was born, spearheading a massive sales and popularity boom. In typical 1980’s extravagance, one member of the RAF used his connections to ship the wine across in a Harrier Jet. It might have been expensive, but he set a speed record unlikely to be broken.
Although popularity eventually slipped away from the novelty, the ‘Beaujolais Run’ is still going strong, albeit in an updated guise. Knowing that driving as fast as you can to deliver wine is likely to cause an accident, the rules have been amended from the fastest delivery to the shortest delivery by distance. You’re now as likely to find precious classic cars making the trip alongside expensive super cars, all the while collecting money for charity.
As you’d expect from a wine produced in a mere 6-8 weeks, Beaujolais Nouveau (not to be confused with the longer living wines from the wider Beaujolais region) is meant to be drunk young, a curio rather than a wine that stands up to serious critical appraisal. Uncomplicated, lively and fresh, bottles should be drunk within a year, and will benefit from a little light chilling to draw out the fresh berry fruits.
Climate change is a subject that’s been high on the public agenda over the last few months, especially if you’ve been trying to navigate around London during the protests.
According to NASA we’ve seen 17 of the warmest 18 years on record since 2001. Following the unseasonably warm weather in April and May I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy at the prospect of a long hot summer, but in all seriousness, things are really heating up.
Alongside industries such as energy, fishing and even skiing, the production of agricultural crops, including the grapes destined to be turned in to wine, is poised to change dramatically, potentially to the point where we need to re-write the book.
Vines thrive the world-over where the climate meets their individual varietal characteristics. A good example of the scale of change can be found in the revered French wine region of Burgundy.
At a northerly latitude once deemed to be at the top end for successful grape production, the cool inland climate allows the thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape to perfectly ripen throughout the long warm summers without being scorched. Even though the French don’t tend to varietally label their wines, it’s well known that the Pinot Noir grape is the heart and soul of the world-famous Burgundy.
What though if the climate gets too hot for this delicate grape? Suddenly the entire profile of the wine would change as the vines were pulled up. Hardier grapes from the warmer south of France would potentially need to be moved northwards as the temperature rises. Could we be seeing Burgundy made from the spicier Grenache or Syrah varieties in the future? It seems unbelievable, but that’s what some experts have said may happen in as little as 20 years time.
Alongside the warmer temperatures we are also seeing more and more evidence of volatile weather conditions hitting the vineyards. The US has suffered devastating wildfires, sudden hailstorms have decimated the years-worth of work in minutes across France, Germany and Italy, whilst South Africa and Australia have suffered from severe droughts.
As something of a silver lining to the doom and gloom, we’re now seeing new wine regions appear in the land where it was once too cold to successfully produce well-ripened grapes. The most obvious of these is our own home-grown wine industry which, thanks to rising temperatures, has turned from little more than a hobbyist activity to a serious world contender in roughly 25 years.
English wines have been served to royalty and heads of state, have taken off in the US, and go from strength to strength in wine competitions year after year. If our world leaders continue to stall on addressing and tackling the seriousness of climate change, given that we now successfully compete with the quality of the Champagne region some 250 miles south of London, how long will it be before the south of England becomes the new Burgundy?
This article was originally published in the June 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.
Two words: Cannabis Wine. It might sound like something invented by Willa Wonka, and yet, it is a real thing. It’s coming.
In fact it’s been around for several years but, due to the differing possession laws from country to country, it’s been very hard and very costly to get your hands on a bottle. The tail end of last year saw Canada follow the likes of Spain, Uruguay and various US States by legalizing the recreational use of Cannabis and, with another large world market opening up, the potential for infused drinks has moved a sizeable step forward.
With many other countries allowing Cannabis possession for personal use, experts believe that it’s only a matter of time before more and more change their stance and get onboard with full legalisation.
Whilst Cannabis wine isn’t likely to replace the aesthetic pleasure of reaching, for example, for a Chilean Cabernet, low/no alcohol alternatives are very much in fashion, and there is already evidence that the latest generation of drinkers are shunning alcohol, such is the rising concern about what we put in to our bodies.
Many wine drinkers would surely love to be able to get the same relaxed pleasure of taking a glass without the risk of a hangover, at a fraction of the calories and without ingesting alcohol. And Cannabis users would surely love not to be risking their lungs each time they smoke it?
So how does it work? Avoiding any serious mind-altering implications, only the non-psychoactive stress-busting compounds of the Cannabis plant, such as CBD, are used. The natural flavour profile of the leaf plays a dominant part to the taste and each producer will work to tease out the intricacies, in much the way standard wine is blended.
Whilst alcohol is a proven antiseptic and disinfectant, it has no health benefit to the body, but Cannabis has a long-proven track record of doing good, providing chronic pain relief, relieving stress disorders and treating epilepsy. Being able to freely access a safe dosage, in a legal way, would be a benefit to users both existing and new.
That’s certainly what top drinks manufacturers are pinning their hopes on, and companies such as Diageo, AB InBev and Constellation (who collectively own top brands including Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Gordon’s, Bud and Stella) are already upping their investments in Cannabis growing companies. One is actually selling off some of its established brand portfolio to fund the move. With other possibilities on the table, such as infused sparkling water, even Coca-Cola are reported to be in talks.
Whilst our current legislation remains as-is, it may still be some time before we see bottles of Cannabis wine adorning the shelves of UK supermarkets, but the UK cannot afford to ignore the growing trend, especially one led by the Americas.
If the predicted revenues touted by the Canadian government are anything to go by, in a post-Brexit world, we may actually not be able to afford to miss it.
This article was originally published in the March 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.
So that was January, a month of mixed feelings for wine lovers. Do you carry on as normal, observe ‘dry January’ to put right any festive indulgences, or maybe even just use it as a yearly detox?
Official Doctor evidence is still wonderfully confusing, with conflicting studies offering either extreme views or fence-sitting conclusions. Will sudden abstinence do more long-term damage than the short-term benefits? It seems, no one knows.
‘Dry’ campaigners will argue that if you need to take a monthly break from alcohol you’re probably drinking too much anyway. Sobering stuff! Whether you chose to ignore it or observe it, I hope you made it through OK.
Most calendar months now have appropriations such as ‘Stoptober’ or ‘Movember’. There’s even ‘Veganuary’! February doesn’t seem to pair with any such affiliations: you’re simply back to getting on with your life. It’s perhaps a nice time then to reflect on an alternative viewpoint to the annual October to January ‘should-we-shouldn’t-we’.
My driving instructor once told me that road signs displayed the speed limits, not the targets. Recent research suggests that, when it comes to drinking, people not only need to observe the healthy drinking targets, they also need to exceed them! All for the sake of the Government and the good of the country.
To be clear, I’m not in any way suggesting that anyone should drink to excess, but there is a clear confliction of interests. The Chief Medical Officer (representing the Government) might suggest one upper limit intake figure will keep us healthy and living to a ripe old age, but the Government at large are particularly reliant on keeping the taxes pouring in.
The study showed that if drinkers stuck to the current weekly alcohol consumption guidelines (14 units for both men and women), overall alcohol sales would fall by £13 billion per year, a revenue decline of 38%*. That’s a massive shortfall in the expected tax generation and their wider overall financial calculations. To clarify, the Government balance sheet currently factors in people vastly surpassing their own suggested health guidelines.
Furthermore, the late 2018 October budget saw duty frozen for beers and spirits, but not for wine, which saw a 7p per bottle increase (9p for sparkling). This signals that, whilst appeasing the concerns of beer enthusiasts who make up the core drinkers of our sadly diminishing pubs (go CAMRA!), it isn’t a tax holiday on general alcohol drinking, it’s a tax grab on the increasing number of home/wine-drinking austerity minded folk.
Figures for the financial year 13/14 (the latest available) show that 81%* of off-trade revenue (i.e. sales outside of pubs/clubs/restaurants) can be attributed to people drinking outside of the recommended limits. Can we expect producers and suppliers to swallow the additional tax hikes? Unlikely. We’ll simply end up paying more per bottle.
Do the Government actually want us to cut down our consumption levels to improve our health, or continue drinking to generate the taxes? It’s a ponderous question.
This article was originally published in the February 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.
The approaching festive season means that its highly likely that you’ll either be invited to, or attend, a restaurant in the coming months.
Whilst office parties rely on set menus and transient wine choices, more intimate gatherings can potentially propose certain wine-specific theatrics and, if you don’t know why you’re doing them they can cause confusion and even prompt cries of wine snobbery!
The most obvious example is the server asking you to taste the wine before you ‘accept’ it, which people often delegate to other members of the party as they don’t feel qualified enough to pass judgement. Far from expecting that you are an instant wine connoisseur being given a last-minute option to double check that you’ve made an informed and delicious decision from the menu, or even a ‘get out of jail free’ card if you don’t like the wine you’ve selected, it’s simply a quality control check.
Wine is a living, evolving, drink, and the theatre derives from proprietors letting customers sample the contents to ensure that the bottle has been correctly stored and is free of impairments. Tasting the wine, the perceived scary element, is actually largely unnecessary. A dull colouring or an unexpected/pungent aroma will tell you all you need to know about the wine quality before it ever hits your lips.
Comedian Michael McIntyre does a wonderful routine (worth checking out on YouTube) where he mocks the perceived ‘try-before-you-buy’ wine process, and the fact that it is offered for no other beverage. Should customers be allowed to know the breeding of the cows providing the milk in their cappa-frappa-cino’s?
Ultra-pretentious establishments may ask if you want to sniff the recently removed cork. Once again, as the bacterial taint in wine historically came from the cork base touching the wine, this is a theatrical dinosaur rolled out to identify faults.
If you’re unsure which bottle to select, the best advice I can offer is to simply trust the wine list or, if you’re at an upmarket establishment with a wide-ranging selection, trust the sommelier. Apart from the larger chains or less attentive establishments where wines may be listed on availability and profit margin alone, most restaurateurs are attuned to the implications of customers getting it wrong.
Well aware that food and wine matching is a key part of the full sensory experience of eating out, much work goes in to the finished wine list, ensuring it complements the menu in the best possible way. Sommeliers spend years training with the one desire of highlighting the best wines, based on customer preferences, food matches and individual budget.
Restaurants with a culinary direction will have also already done the hard yards for you so you can be confident buying a bottle of a grape variety you’ve not tried or heard of before. Steak restaurants will list wines that go well with steak, Italian restaurants will list wines that go well with Italian food and so on.
Whatever you go for, in pretty much every case, the wine that goes best with a meal is the wine that is freely flowing.
This article was originally published in the November 2018 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.
I’m always pleased when wine questions turn up in the pub quiz, a recent example being “Where can you find the worlds largest wine cellar?”. Having visited the sprawling vast caverns of Champagne, where you sometimes need a motorised vehicle to get around, I offered it up as my answer. I was wrong, its actually in Moldova.
This reminded me that many people naturally think of France as the birthplace of wine when the truth is much more Eastern European. In fact, it’s just across the Black Sea from Moldova, in Georgia.
The oldest known evidence of wine-making there dates back 8,000 years, with scientists able to trace the organic compounds found in wine-making in various pottery shards. This historical importance, along with over 500 unique indigenous grape varieties and unusual wine-making techniques, should make Georgian wines an easy sell. How come then, most of us have never seen or tried them?
Traditionally focused on the domestic market and surrounding countries, the rug was firmly pulled from under Georgia’s feet when Russia imposed an import ban on their wines in 2006. Low standards and a plodding reliability on the norm caused them to lose 90% of their exports overnight.
Although lifted in 2013, the ban pushed them to improve quality and focus on further export opportunities, signing trade agreements with the EU and the quickly expanding Chinese wine market. Russia once again accounts for 50% of exports but, in just 4 years, China has become their third largest market.
These sales are all good but, due to the local economies they are mostly low value, with rival brands competing on bottle prices in the £1-£1.50 bracket. Serious future growth is dependent on higher value sales; hence them now looking to richer Western markets including both the UK and US.
Wine is not immune to the recent food trends for ‘natural’ ingredients and processes, and buzzwords including organic and biodynamic are never far from reach when talking about current production styles.
This ‘back-to-nature’ style perfectly suits Georgian wine as many producers still practice the traditional methods used for thousands of years. Instead of fermenting/ageing wines in ultra-modern temperature cooled facilities, they bury them underground in large egg-like clay jars called ‘Qvevri’, where they utilise the naturally cool and consistent underground temperatures.
Whilst this continued soaking of the grape juice on its skin is not so different to regular ‘over-ground’ red wine production around the world (the red colour comes from the grape skin, not the flesh), globally produced white wine sees little skin contact. The Qvevri production sees them pick up a much darker hue, becoming ‘Gold’ or ‘Amber’ wines; a whole new spectrum of colour and taste.
These differences give unique selling points to Georgian wine and, with a little development to the quality classifications and labelling (both hindered by largely unpronounceable place names and grape varieties), they’ll be coming to a store near you very soon.
Two high-street staples have already taken the plunge and you can buy a Georgian white (aka gold) from M&S and a red from Waitrose. Will you take the plunge too?
This article was originally published in the October 2018 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.
Fake goods are a problem for many products, ranging from knockoffs of the latest popular toys to rare one-off items that belong in a museum.
Wine is an easy target for several reasons, and one serious decade-old scandal is still affecting the rare bottles market to this day. The limited production each year creates a natural scarcity which further erodes every time a bottle is opened. Throw in a fantastic vintage, where all of the elements in the vineyard and winery come together in perfection, and the increased desirability means the problem gets heightened even further.
Secondly, for French wine in particular, they follow a classification ladder, a pecking order of sorts. This runs from your basic table wine through to Premier and Grand Cru level. In Bordeaux things are taken even higher with their top 5 league table; The First Growths. Including such wine legends as Mouton Rothschild and Lafite, getting one of these in a great vintage means prices reach a whole new level. It’s asking for trouble.
If the intention of a fake is to deceive, that is clearly a malicious and criminal act. But what if the faker is absolutely honest with you from the off that what you’re buying isn’t the real deal?
Thanks to a group of US scientists working under the name Replica Wines, we’re about to find out. Initially as part of a bet, they started stripping down the flavour and aroma compounds found in wine to their constituent parts, eventually devising a roadmap of some 600 components.
They then set about choosing a collection of well-known or cult wines in price ranges outside of day to day purchasing to unlock their individual scientific make-up. Using their roadmap to deliver a taste profile for each one they now have something like 2,000 different wines available to replicate.
Consumers are now effectively able to taste a Chateau Margaux at a fraction of the retail price. Is this genius or is it a step too far? It’s tricky to say.
Would someone only willing to spend a token amount on a bottle of wine really care what a £450 Lafite costs? And, even though these faked bottles are reported to have been already fooling the experts, could a wine aficionado ever really feel that they’ve tasted the proper stuff. Although Replica claim a 95% match to the original there would surely still be a doubt.
As a wine writer I’ve often been frustratingly close to getting to try some of the top wines out there, but I don’t think I could trust something blended together like soup (the creations are amusingly referred to as ‘Frankenwines’). No, I’d rather become familiar with a well-articulated tasting note and fill in the blanks mentally.
The wines have, however, been such a success in the US that they are making their way to the UK so, if it’s your thing, you will soon be able to try for yourself. Branded under self-referential label names such as Knockoff and Pickpocket, these may well end up being the fakes that you don’t end up buying by accident.
This article was originally published in the September 2018 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.
Just like the placing of Bank Holidays or the fact that the clocks go backwards and forwards each year, there are things that we naturally adhere to by default and don’t really question when they were introduced.
One of these is the drink-drive limit, an obvious mandate to drivers to not be too inebriated prior to being in charge of a vehicle. Although it had been an offence to be ‘drunk-in-charge’ of a vehicle since the early 1900’s, it wasn’t until January 1966 that a formal intoxication limit was put in place.
Following World War 2 the social scene of the 1960’s was booming. The increased availability of raw materials, disposable income and a general freedom of choice meant the number of cars on the road began to grow at a significant rate.
Originally proposed in June 1965, the new law stated that drivers exceeding 80mg (milligrams) of alcohol in 100cc (cubic centimetres) of blood were ‘over the limit’, and could be prosecuted for the first time. Such stipulations were in their infancy then but, compared to today’s standards, this was actually a very generous allowance.
Due to varying body weights and other lifestyle factors it’s impossible to state the exact point as to when you become ‘drunk’, but this original level was just over double of what we today call the drink-drive limit (35mg), and somewhere over 4 glasses of wine. That’s almost a bottle.
That said, the final 1966 law wasn’t half as concerning as some of the proposals made in the consideration process. One of the more outlandish suggestions allowed the equivalent of eight pints (or 12 single shots of spirits) be permissible!
Attitudes and habits changed almost immediately, causing the publicans of the time to march on Westminster in protest at the new restrictions, such was the immediate hit to their lunchtime trading. People who drove to and from work were now routinely foregoing their pub lunch tipple and the loss of business was being keenly felt.
To this day critics continue to challenge the government on what constitutes a ’safe’ level of drinking prior to driving, primarily as the word ‘safe’ is very open to interpretation. One side states that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ limit isn’t good enough, whilst the other suggests that there’s no ‘safe’ limit and that drinking should be avoided altogether before driving.
The number of cars on the road in the mid-sixties stood at around the 5 million mark, and unbelievably they were responsible for a percentage-busting 2,000 deaths a year. Projections put together at the time estimated that, if left unchecked, the number of road deaths per year could spiral to nearly 1 million by the 1980’s.
The 1966 law change, which also saw the introduction of the dreaded breathalyser, was actually well ahead of its time, coming a full 17 years before the (arguably just as important) wearing of a seat belt became mandatory in 1983.
Since records began in 1979 drink related road deaths are down an amazing 85%, currently standing at an average of 282* deaths per year. Even though that’s 282 deaths too many, it’s clear to see how far we’ve come.
* Source: Drinkaware, statistics 2010-2015
This article was originally published in the August 2018 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.
Photo Credit: Jon Manel
A well-appointed off licence is a godsend to most of us and there’s no reason to assume that the Government feel any differently.
Just around the corner from Buckingham Palace, across Hyde Park, is Lancaster House; the home of the British Government’s wine store. Established in 1908 with the express intent of enabling our ministers to lubricate their diplomatic machinations, over the years this 60 square foot private cellar evolved in to a store of very fine wine. Naturally people began to wonder what indulgent vintages the elite were getting to imbibe, fully cementing a ‘them vs. us’ mentality.
A 2010 edict by the Secretary of State demanded that a full overhaul of the process be taken ensuring that these tax-payer funded purchases became fully self-funded. In these times of austerity where “we’re all in it together” it was a welcome move.
The current Government now offers complete transparency as to how their wine cellar runs (Google ‘government hospitality’ to see the full report) and each year they produce a document giving a full run down of the operation. Firmly ousting the notion of a fine wine gravy-train for the elected, it makes an interesting read.
Well and truly clearing their closet out, a mass sell-off of ‘significant’ bottles was held in 2012 raising the £44k that nearly fully covered the £49k cost of the stocks required for the following year. These annual sales continue, the most recent of which ensured that officials would no longer be tucking in to such gems as Mouton Rothschild or Margaux 1990.
Photo Credit: Jon Manel
The cellar and ongoing purchases are now guided by a team of Masters of Wine (MWs) to ensure that quality is maintained whilst adhering to the funds available. The average purchase price of a bottle last year was £14.
Consumption year on year is down which also helps to stretch the budget. In the fiscal year 2015/16 some 3,730 bottles were drunk vs. just 3,261 last year. When you weigh up that these bottles will grace the table of more than 200 diplomatic events each year, this divvies up at around 16 bottles per engagement. Some of us may have got through as many in the recent Bank Holiday weekend.
Bottles are graded either A, B or C dependent on what their intended use will be. The top category, those listed as A1, are fit only for banquets attended by Kings and Queens. The majority will be drinking grade C wines: Chilean Merlots and house clarets from merchant Berry Bros & Rudd for the reds and the Bacchus grape from English producer Chapel Down for the white. Patriotically English wine now accounts for 49% of new wine purchases.
There’s still a handful of exciting bottles tucked away for special occasions and the total stock is estimated to be worth something like £804k, comprising some 33k bottles. Whilst we can applaud the everyday activity we can only dream about the extremes. How about the 1970 Petrus Bordeaux (£2k a bottle), 1962 Chateau Margaux (£450) or their last magnum of the 1964 Krug Champagne (£1,900) for lunch?
That’s still quite some collection.