• Producer

    WHEN TOM Lynch’s father Michael passed away he was faced with a stark choice: sell the business or retrain as a wine maker.

    “I was the only one in the family in the position to take it on,” says Tom. “I was working as an EU policy analyst for a think tank and so it was quite a career change. But as a business it was very attractive and interesting, and there was also the challenge of working for myself. And it was a really nice idea to continue what my father had started.”

    Michael Lynch established a vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina in 2005 after falling in love with the region while on holiday.

    A former commandant with the Irish Army, Michael had spent the previous eight years running a hotel in Rathgar, Dublin, where he developed an interest in running the bar and sourcing wine. “He bought a greenfield site and employed a winemaker, although he had a lot of input into the style and taste of the wine,” says Tom. “It was a bit of a shot in the dark but Dad always did everything with a large degree of ambition.”

    In 2008, just as the winery was gearing up to produce its first vintage under the El Comandante label, Michael fell ill and passed away, leaving his family with a nascent winery and the question of what to do next. “I tried to run the business part-time at first but that just wasn’t feasible,” says Tom. “I needed to go in full-time and have some formal training.”

    Tom gave up his policy job and threw himself into learning about wine. He travelled to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand to visit established wineries, before spending time at the operation in Mendoza.

    “Initially I genuinely didn’t have a clue how wine was made. It gave me the opportunity to visit wineries of different sizes and find out the different options open to me.”

    On his return to Ireland, he completed his WSET (Wine Spirit Education Trust) courses to consolidate his training.

    “Until then, my learning was haphazard and I’d focused on new world wines. The courses gave me an understanding of old world wines as well.”

    However, the market had changed significantly since his father first set up the company. “I started just after the bubble had burst and it’s a hugely competitive market at the moment,” says Tom.

    “The independent off-licence is struggling and there have been a fair few closures. People aren’t spending money now on wine.”

    Despite these challenges, the business is growing. In 2011, after a three-year hiatus in production, the winery’s second vintage, and Tom’s first, arrived in Ireland.

    “At the moment we have one red wine and one white wine. The red is a Malbec, which is the signature grape of Argentinian wine, and the white is an unoaked Chardonnay. They’re both tailored for the Irish palate.”

    Production has already doubled to 15,000 bottles in 2012 and the aim is to further expand both the scale of production and the range of wine in coming years. Within Ireland, strategy is focused on increasing the number of stockists and raising brand awareness through tastings and events.

    Work has already begun on a reserve range that will arrive in Ireland in 2013. Although introducing a wine at a higher price point will be a tough sell in the current market, but Tom thinks it’s an important move.

    “It’s only a small percentage of our stock – around 10 per cent – but I want to have a premium product; a flagship product. I’m not interested in making cheap, low-quality wine.”

    Marketing the El Comandante brand as high-quality has been made easier thanks to both the 2009 Malbec and the 2010 Chardonnay receiving Bronze Awards at the London Wine Fair in 2011.

    “I entered the wines for the International Wine Challenge to get independent credibility. To win bronze awards first time out; I was hugely happy to get that accolade.”

    Tom continues to employ the same winemaker his father did in Mendoza and has chosen to head up the import and distribution into Ireland himself – a huge range of tasks for a relative newcomer to the industry.

    “When I started off I didn’t know what cog in the machine I wanted to be so I decided to try them all. In winery terms, we’re very small but we have the capacity to increase. I’m a wine producer and a sales rep for that wine but the point will come when it’s not possible to do it all myself.”

    Tom LynchTom Lynch: "I'm not interested in making cheap, low-quality wine."

    29/6/2012- Ref. Irish Times.Com

  • Canada

    PRESS RELEASE

    June 28, 2012

    A Win for Wine! Bill C-311 Receives Royal Assent

    OTTAWA, ONTARIO, Jun 28, 2012 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) — Editor’s note: A photo is associated with this press release.

    The Honourable Gail Shea, Minister of National Revenue, announced that Dan Albas, Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla’s Private Member’s Bill C-311 is expected to receive Royal Assent today. Effective immediately, the amendment to the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA), removes the federal restrictions prohibiting individuals from moving wine from one province to another when purchased for personal use.

    “This is a positive step towards reducing inter-provincial trade barriers, and promoting jobs and growth in the wine industry,” said Minister Shea. “Eliminating the federal restrictions that limit Canadians from transporting wine across provincial borders will encourage Canadians to visit our wine regions and support the development of our world class wine industry.”

    The IILA is a federal law governing the interprovincial transportation, international importation and release of beverage alcohol (liquor). It was enacted in 1928 at the request of the provinces after the revocation of their liquor prohibition laws. Bill C-311 amends the IILA to remove the federal barrier prohibiting individuals from moving wine from one province to another for personal use and provides each province with the authority to set limits on personal importations of wine.

    The amendment to the IILA covers all wine, including wine made from grapes, apples, berries, honey and even dandelions.

    The amendment does not affect existing provincial laws related to the importation of wine, nor does it change existing laws for importing alcohol into the Territories which are governed by separate federal statutes.

    “Given that most of the Canadian wine market is catered to by foreign imported wines, there is a huge potential for growth in our Canadian wine-producing regions,” said Okanagan- Coquihalla MP Dan Albas. “This will create jobs and support our local economies. These changes are long overdue – Wine tourism is also on the rise and removing this federal barrier will be a significant benefit to many small family-run wineries.

    “Canadians should raise a glass of wine today to applaud Dan Albas and all Members of Parliament and Senators who unanimously approved Bill C-311 to make way for direct wine shipping across Canada,” said Dan Paszkowski, President of the Canadian Vintners Association. “This amendment is a major win for Canadian consumers and empowers provinces to allow their residents to order wine online from any Canadian winery.”

    For more information on the IILA and Bill C-311, visit www.cra.gc.ca or call 1-800-959-5525.

    FOR BROADCAST USE:

    National Revenue Minister Gail Shea announced that Bill C-311 will receive Royal Assent today. The Bill allows individuals to bring wine or have it shipped to their home province from another province while respecting provincial laws – a positive step toward reducing inter-provincial trade barriers, and promoting jobs and growth in the wine industry

    Stay connected

    To receive updates when new information is added to our Web site, you can:

    – follow the CRA on Twitter – @CanRevAgency;

    – subscribe to a CRA electronic mailing list; and

    – add our RSS feeds to your feed reader.

    – You can also visit our YouTube Channel for tax-related videos.

    Backgrounder

    Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act

    Enacted in 1928 at the request of the provinces after the repeal of their liquor prohibition laws, the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA) is a federal statute governing the interprovincial transportation and international importation and release of intoxicating liquors. This legislation controls and restricts the movement of liquor from one province to another, as well as its importation into Canada. By requiring that importations be made by provincial liquor authorities, the IILA gives the provinces the authority to control imports into their jurisdictions.

    Bill C-311, An Act to amend the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (interprovincial importation of wine for personal use) received Royal Assent on June 28, 2012, and was passed into law. The amendment removes the federal barrier prohibiting individuals from moving wine from one province to another when it is for their personal use. The amendment also gives provinces the authority to set limits on personal importations of wine. The amendment covers all wine, including wine made from grapes, apples, berries, honey and even dandelions.

    It is important to note that supporting provincial legislative or regulatory changes are also required to permit individuals to move wine interprovincially or to place orders with wineries by telephone or over the internet.

    The amendment does not affect the federal or provincial authority to tax wine. This means that it does not create an exemption from federal or provincial duties, fees, taxes or mark-ups, etc. As well, it does not change the federal regulation of wine or the reporting requirements for wine transactions by federal Excise Act, 2001 licensees.

    The amendment respects the provinces’ jurisdiction to regulate the possession, movement and sale of wine, and does not affect the territorial regulation of wine, as the IILA does not govern the importation or movement of wine into the Territories.

    There is no change for the importation of foreign wine into Canada. Other countries continue to have access to the Canadian market for non-commercial shipments of wine in accordance with the Customs Act, the IILA and agreements between provinces and the Canada Border Services Agency. Once legally imported into Canada, foreign wine will be provided the same interprovincial treatment as domestic wine, in accordance with provincial requirements.

  • Wine in Ireland

    Wine in Ireland

    Ireland’s buoyant economy has contributed to the growth in wine consumption over the past 10 years. Wine is now well accepted and the introduction of smoking bans in on-trade premises has driven at-home consumption. This has resulted in a decrease in the pub trade and expansion of the off-trade.

    Table wine sales rose from 1.5 million cases in 1990 to 8.5 million cases in 2009. This growth was experienced both in the commercial segment of the market and in the premium €10-€15 segment.

    However in 2009 wine consumption declined 5% in volume and 8% in value. Consumers have been drinking less, and cheaper (discounts and offer purchases).

    The market is made up entirely of imported wine as there is no domestic production. Bottled wine was the most significant imported product into Ireland during 2009 with 95.5% of the volume and 91.3% of the value. Bulk wine accounted for 1.4% by volume and 1% by value. There is a growing market for quarter-sized bottles (187ml) in on-trade channels as consumers experiment more with wine and are guaranteed a “fresh” product.

    Australia is the number one supplier of wine to the market, with a 28.2% market share by value and a 27.8% market share by volume (AC Nielsen May 2010).

    Ireland imposes the highest excise duty rates on alcohol within the EU, making wine considerably more expensive than in other EU countries.

    Irish Consumers

    In 2009 the alcoholic beverage market (excluding wine), experienced a volume decline of 6%. The decline in beer and spirit sales has been partly attributed to increases in excise for spirits and the smoking ban’s impact on on-trade sales. The versatility of wine has proven beneficial, and it’s decline in volume was not as large.

    The Irish consumed an average of 17.1 litres of wine in 2009. With consumption in other non producing countries (eg, UK and Denmark) much closer to 20 litres per annum, there is a strong belief that there is room for growth in this market.

    Irish consumers are generally price-sensitive. Research has found that Irish women tend to be the main purchaser of wine and they feel more comfortable buying wine in a supermarket.

    Distribution and Retailing

    The distribution split between the off-trade and on-trade is roughly 70% – 30%. Increased enforcement of drink driving levels, the introduction of the smoking ban in pubs and restaurants and increased price sensitivity have contributed to further cooconing behaviour which in turn will increase off trade at the expense of the on trade.

    It is estimated that 70% of the off-trade is dominated by the big three supermarkets; Tesco, Dunnes and Supervalu. Specialist stores are also a significant sales channel in the market. However due to increased competition between these supermarkets, they have experienced considerable trading difficulties in post Celtic Tiger, price sensitive era.

    The off-trade stores provide a wide variety of wine for the customer to choose from compared to the small offerings available through on-trade channels. The main driving-force for off-trade sales is the significant price difference compared to the on-trade market.

    Further information is available to subscribers via the Export Market Guide in winefacts entry for Ireland.

  • Bar Awards

    Andrew O’ Gorman, Guild Secretary was a judge at the Licensing World Bar Awards,2012 in photograph with the overall winner Derek Fowler, Fowlers No. 12 Malahide, Co. Dublin.

  • Lapostolle

    Lapostolle and Biodynamic Vineyard Management – 27th June,2012 (AOG)

    With the Colchagua Valley as a backdrop, chilly and dressed in its autumn colors; it was with much enthusiasm that 40 cross functional colleagues from Lapostolle Wines were part of this annual training involving the preparation of the autumn biodynamic cycle. The aim was to spread the biodynamic culture to all areas of the company, while promoting teamwork and creating a motivational activity.

    Biodynamics is a way of making agriculture, driven by Rudolf Steiner, which seeks to balance the cosmos, earth, animals and humans.  It sees the farm as a closed system that works in harmony with nature. It only uses natural products (no chemical applications), in order to protect the environment, land, workers and consumers of the wines. The result is amazing: better quality grapes, healthier, more aromatic and more flavorful. Healthy soils, alive and free of pests. People in harmony with the place. An addition of factors that can produce wines of excellent quality and above all very attached to their origin.

    Lapostolleowns over 360 hectares (three vineyards in Casablanca, Colchagua and Cachapoal) certified organic and biodynamic by Demeter International, which represents 36% of the total certified area in Chile by this international organization. These figures make the Lapostolle within six world’s largest biodynamic vineyards.

    On this occasion, the Lapostolle team deployed the various fall biodynamic preparations (Yarrow, Chamomile, Dandelion and Oak) required for this form of agriculture throughout the year. These are are used as natural fertilizers for the prevention vine diseases, such as compost barrel, valerian, biofertilizer, and preparation 500 in cow’s horn and 502 Yarrow, among others. They are made with only natural ingredients such as flowers, seeds, manure from cows living in the vineyards, plants, natural seeds, etc. Some of them are used in the soil or sprayed into the leaves and others are applied in the compost pile, which is then used in the vineyard. Each of these preparations helps to stimulate the minerals, bacteria and fungi to bring vitality to the soil, keep the plant healthy and better connected it with the surrounding environment.

    To request more information and pictures of the Lapostolle biodynamic activity:
    news@lapsotolle.com
    (56-72) 953 328

    Lapostolle Team

    Rene Piamonte at Lapostolle

  • South Korea

    Franck Moreau, Australia, 2012 Best Sommelier of Asia-Oceania

    His name was announced on May 9th in Deajeon, South Korea, the city hosting the 2ndContest of the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale organized for this part of the world after a very tough series of final tests.

    Shinya Tasaki, Nobuhide Tani, Franc Moreau, Yoichi Sato, Serge Dubs

    Shinya Tasaki, Nobuhide Tani, Franc Moreau, Yoichi Sato, Serge Dubs

    Mary O’ Callaghan, President Irish Guild of Sommeliers represented Ireland in South Korea.

  • Makgeolli

    Makgeolli’s Rice Beer Renaissance

    Years ago, when Korea was primarily an agrarian society, farmers would break their toil with a bowl of the cloudy rice beer makgeolli (막걸리). This historic association is why the beverage is also known as nongju, with “nong” meaning farmer in Korean. As Korea has urbanized, however, today makgeolli is also popular among young and stylish customers in Seoul or Busan’s most cosmopolitan districts. Served along tasty cuts of pork belly or fried onion pancakes, Korea’s oldest traditional liquor has made a comeback.

    An Ancient Drink Reimagined

    Historical records suggest that makgeolli goes back at least as far as the fourth century and Korea’s Shilla Dynasty. By contrast, the ubiquitous firewater soju (소주) claims a mere 600-year record. But after a heyday in the 1960s and early 70s, makgeolli’s popularity waned when government rice rationing spawned unpopular barley and wheat varietals. What’s more, the use of chemicals to hasten the fermentation process gave makgeolli a reputation for causing hangovers.

    As a result, in the 1970s Korean consumers increasingly turned away from domestically produced makgeolli and turned instead towards beer, foreign whiskey and wine. Today, makgeolli accounts for just four percent of the domestic liquor market, down from a previous high of sixty or seventy percent, according to Yoon Jin-won, the CEO of the Global Food Business Organization’s food division.

    In response to this dramatic drop, Korea’s 700 small makgeolli breweries have been tasked in recent years with repairing the ancient liquor’s reputation and restoring its market share. Although they’ve improved their recipes, the worldwide economic downturn has also helped. Since 2008, growing numbers of Korean consumers have reached for a bottle of 1,200 won ($1.10) makgeolli instead of a 35,000 won bottle of French Beaujolais Nouveau wine. According to the National Tax Service, even as overall alcohol sales fell in 2009, makgeolli surged almost 48 percent. At the same time, wine imports dropped 19 percent, the second consecutive decline after ten years of steady growth.

    A Perfect Blend

    Also called “takju,” after its cloudy appearance, makgeolli is made by steaming glutinous rice, barley or wheat with water and the fermentation starter, nuruk. Unlike other traditional clear liquors like soju or cheongju, makgeolli isn’t distilled after fermentation, hence its milky, opaque appearance. Frequently enjoyed from a humble ceramic bowl, makgeolli’s low alcohol content – typically in the six to seven percent range – makes it a popular alternative to higher-proof spirits.

    One of Korea’s leading makgeolli producers isBaesangmyun Brewery. Based in southern Seoul and well known for its raw-rice “Daepo” brand, the company opened five mini-breweries in 2010 to encourage walk-in sales of its “Slow Village” label rice beer. Produced on site each morning, the subtly carbonated beverage has a sweet and bright taste reminiscent of apples. On a recent visit, a steady stream of customers dropped by to pick up one or two bottles of their signature makgeolli.

    According to Baseangmyun’s Yangjae store manager, Jay Lee, makgeolli’s taste primarily depends on its main ingredient, rice. For example, despite an identical recipe, the flavor of their new “My Hometown Rice” brand depends on where it’s produced. Lee explains that while Gyeonggi Province rice yields a distinctive sweetness, the southeastern Gyeongsang region produces a bold character (not unlike its people). Lee adds that the products’ freshness is due to his company’s refusal to use artificial sweeteners like aspartame.

    Beyond its refreshing taste, traditionally-produced makgeolli also includes healthy vitamins and minerals, like fiber, amino acids, lactobacilli, and vitamins B1, B2 and C. Combined, these essential nutrients are said to possess anti-aging properties, as well as help prevent cancer, lower cholesterol and promote intestinal health.

    Fostering a “Sool” Culture

    Beyond bottling popular makgeolli, several places also work to preserve Korea’s traditional alcohol culture. In 1996, Baesangmyun established a traditional wine research institute, and two years later, Dajuheon (다주헌), a restaurant specializing in traditional foods and liquors. In 2002, the company opened the Sansawon Galleryalongside its main plant in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province. The multi-purpose facility includes a museum. The 30,000 guests that are welcomed annually can view exhibitions of home brewing artifacts, antique books on traditional Korean liquor and a map highlighting the diverse origins of Korean home-brewed spirits.

    As part of a growing trend to promote “hands-on” activities for Koreans and foreign tourists seeking active ways to learn about Korean culture, companies like Baesangmyun, the major breweryKooksoondang, and the Gyeonggi University-affiliated Susubori Academy offer “home” brewing classes. For a modest fee, participants learn how to make their own spirits in the comfort of top-of-the-line facilities.

    The workshops, which typically take place over four sessions held over one to two weeks, begin with participants cooking glutinous rice. The rice is then mixed with the yeast and mold culture, nuruk. Nuruk is usually packed in a dry block, so pieces must be broken off and mixed by hand with water and then combined with the rice. The mixture is then placed into a jar and covered with cheesecloth. After a couple of days, the workshop participants return to stir and replace the breathable cloth with a firmer top. Another few days will pass until the final session, when everyone’s home brew is ready to drink. Surprisingly, the resulting alcohol content – usually about 13 to 15 percent – is about double makgeolli’s typical range. Hence, the product may need to be diluted by adding water.

    Government Support

    The resurgence of makgeolli on the domestic and international stage is also thanks to government efforts to globalize Korean cuisine. In 2009, the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, along with the Ministry of Strategy and the Presidential Council on National Competitiveness, announced plans to invest 133 billion won ($116 million) into the industry over five years.

    In contrast to the government’s rice rationing policies from 40 years ago, today’s makgeolli producers are encouraged to use domestically grown rice. Also earmarked in the government’s plan is funding for a three-year initiative to revive dozens of extinct varieties of traditional alcoholic beverages from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Among the most committed champions of restoring Korea’s lost liquors is Park Rock-dam, the head of the Korea Traditional Wine Institute. Over almost eight years, Park combed ancient texts for recipes and other hints to recreate some 850 varieties of traditional liquors once thought lost to history.

    Science has also emerged to promote the nation’s spirits industry. Makgeolli’s typical lifespan of about one week has hindered its growth prospects, especially as an export. As a result, companies like Baesangmyun have worked with scientists and food engineers to develop products like “third generation” makgeolli, which stays fresh for up to six weeks.

    Domestic & International Growth

    As local breweries, trade associations and the government cooperate to promote Korean traditional booze abroad, marketers of the cloudy rice beer are excited by a new wave of young, fashionable and multicultural consumers. The official government statistics agency, Statistics Korea predicts that the 2010 domestic market will grow 33 percent from 2009.

    To meet this burgeoning demand, makgeolli bar chains like Dduktak (뚝탁) are filling the void. Part of the Global Food Business Organization’s portfolio, Dduktak’s 22 bars include seven located in youthful Seoul neighborhoods like Hongdae and Sinchon. Amidst dark wood booths and dance music are tattooed waiters that serve makgeolli cocktails and fusion snacks. Although the chain limits its alcohol offering to the GFBO’s Chamsari Takju brand, customers can order their rice beer infused with over 20 different types of fruit, like peach, strawberry, kiwi or pomegranate.

    Beyond its resurgent domestic popularity, makgeolli’s international reach is expanding into the Japanese, American and Chinese markets. According to the E-dong Rice Wine Brewery, which established overseas distribution facilities in Japan in 1993 and in the U.S. in 1998, overseas makgeolli sales have grown 20-25% percent annually in recent years, with several varieties taking top prizes at international spirits events.

    Honoring Tradition

    As Korea’s spirits industry cultivates new varietals and expanded access to overseas markets, top manufacturers haven’t lost sight of one of alcohol’s earliest functions in Korea – as a ritual offering for one’s ancestors in this deeply Confucian society. In 2006, Baesangmyun launched Charaesool, a brand for ancestor worship ceremonies. Once again, Korea’s unique traditional liquors connect the young and old, the ancient and modern.

  • Best Sommelier in Ireland Competition takes place on 2nd October,2012

    The Irish Guild of Sommeliers will hold the competition to find the Best Sommelier in Ireland  in The  Stephen’s Green Hibernian Club, 9, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2 on Tuesday 2nd October 2012 at 10am. The winner will represent Ireland at the Best Sommelier in the World Competition which will be held in Japan in March 2013. The Council of the Guild is delighted to have Mr. Gerard Basset, MS, MW, Wine MBA, O.B.E., Best Sommelier in the World 2010, on the panel of judges for the final.

    The Council wish to invite all members of the Guild who are eligible to represent Ireland to enter the competition. The format of the competition will consist of a general round of tests for all entrants in the morning, with the top three competitors going through to the final in the afternoon. Full sommelier uniform required.

    Please return the completed application form  to Mr. Andrew O’Gorman, Guild Secretary.

    Further details under News/Training/Competitions on this website

    Gérard Basset Best Sommelier in the World on stage just after winning in Santiago, Chile, April 2010.

    Also in Photo Andrew O’ Gorman, Irish Guild of Sommeliers.

  • Does All Wine Taste The Same

    June 13, 2012

    DOES ALL WINE TASTE THE SAME?

    Posted by 

    WineTasting.jpg

    On May 24, 1976, the British wine merchant Steven Spurrier organized a blind tasting of French and Californian wines. Spurrier was a Francophile and, like most wine experts, didn’t expect the New World upstarts to compete with the premiers crus from Bordeaux. He assembled a panel of eleven wine experts and had them taste a variety of Cabernets blind, rating each bottle on a twenty-point scale.

    The results shocked the wine world. According to the judges, the best Cabernet at the tasting was a 1973 bottle from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Napa Valley. When the tasting was repeated a few years later—some judges insisted that the French wines had been drunk too young—Stag’s Leap was once again declared the winner, followed by three other California Cabernets. These blind tastings (now widely known as the Judgment of Paris) helped to legitimate Napa vineyards.

    But now, in an even more surprising turn of events, another American wine region has performed far better than expected in a blind tasting against the finest French châteaus. Ready for the punch line? The wines were from New Jersey.

    The tasting was closely modelled on the 1976 event, featuring the same fancy Bordeaux vineyards, such as Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion. The Jersey entries included bottles from the Heritage Vineyards in Mullica Hill and Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes. The nine judges were French and American wine experts.

    The Judgment of Princeton didn’t quite end with a Jersey victory—a French wine was on top in both the red and white categories—but, in terms of the reassurance for those with valuable wine collections, it might as well have. Clos des Mouches only narrowly beat out Unionville Single Vineyard and two other Jersey whites, while Château Mouton Rothschild and Haut-Brion topped Heritage’s BDX. The wines from New Jersey cost, on average, about five per cent as much as their French counterparts. And then there’s the inconsistency of the judges: the scores for that Mouton Rothschild, for instance, ranged from 11 to 19.5. On the excellent blog Marginal Revolution, the economist Tyler Cowen highlights the analysis of the Princeton professor Richard Quand, who found that almost of all the wines were “statistically undistinguishable” from each other. This suggests that, if the blind tasting were held again, a Jersey wine might very well win.

    What can we learn from these tests? First, that tasting wine is really hard, even for experts. Because the sensory differences between different bottles of rotten grape juice are so slight—and the differences get even more muddled after a few sips—there is often wide disagreement about which wines are best. For instance, both the winning red and white wines in the Princeton tasting were ranked by at least one of the judges as the worst.

    The perceptual ambiguity of wine helps explain why contextual influences—say, the look of a label, or the price tag on the bottle—can profoundly influence expert judgment. This was nicely demonstrated in a mischievous 2001 experiment led by Frédéric Brochet at the University of Bordeaux. In the first test, Brochet invited fifty-seven wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn’t stop the experts from describing the “red” wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its “jamminess,” while another enjoyed its “crushed red fruit.”

    The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle bore the label of a fancy grand cru, the other of an ordinary vin de table. Although they were being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the bottles nearly opposite descriptions. The grand cru was summarized as being “agreeable,” “woody,” “complex,” “balanced,” and “rounded,” while the most popular adjectives for the vin de table included “weak,” “short,” “light,” “flat,” and “faulty.”

    The results are even more distressing for non-experts. In recent decades, the wine world has become an increasingly quantitative place, as dependent on scores and statistics as Billy Beane. But these ratings suggest a false sense of precision, as if it were possible to reliably identify the difference between an eighty-nine-point Merlot from Jersey and a ninety-one-point blend from Bordeaux—or even a greater spread. And so we linger amid the wine racks, paralyzed by the alcoholic arithmetic. How much are we willing to pay for a few extra points?

    These calculations are almost certainly a waste of time. Last year, the psychologist Richard Wiseman bought a wide variety of bottles at the local supermarket, from a five-dollar Bordeaux to a fifty-dollar champagne, and asked people to say which wine was more expensive. (All of the taste tests were conducted double-blind, with neither the experimenter nor subject aware of the actual price.) According to Wiseman’s data, the five hundred and seventy-eight participants could only pick the more expensive wine fifty-three per cent of the time, which is basically random chance. They actually performed below chance when it came to picking red wines. Bordeaux fared the worst, with a significant majority—sixty-one per cent—picking the cheap plonk as the more expensive selection.

    A similar conclusion was reached by a 2008 survey of amateur wine drinkers, which found a slight negative correlation between price and happiness, “suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less.”

    These results raise an obvious question: if most people can’t tell the difference between Château Mouton Rothschild (retail: seven hundred and twenty-five dollars) and Heritage BDX (thirty-five dollars from the winery), then why do we splurge on premiers crus? Why not drink Jersey grapes instead? It seems like a clear waste of money.

    The answer returns us to the sensory limitations of the mind. If these blind testings teach us anything, it’s that for the vast majority of experts and amateurs fine-grained perceptual judgments are impossible. Instead, as Brochet points out, our expectations of the wine are often more important than what’s actually in the glass. When we take a sip of wine, we don’t taste the wine first, and the cheapness or expensiveness second. We taste everything all at once, in a single gulp of thiswineisMoutonRothschild, or thiswineisfromSouthJersey. As a result, if we think a wine is cheap, then it will taste cheap. And if we think we are tasting a premier cru, then we will taste a premier cru. Our senses are vague in their instructions, and we parse their inputs based upon whatever other knowledge we can summon to the surface. It’s not that those new French oak barrels or carefully pruned vines don’t matter—it’s that the logo on the bottle and price tag often matter more.

    So go ahead and buy some wine from New Jersey. But if you really want to maximize the pleasure of your guests, put a fancy French label on it. Those grapes will taste even better.

  • Croatian Tasting

    Croatian Tasting – 6 June 2012

    Maja Halilovich gave an excellent presentation of 9 Croatian wines to the Guild on 6 June (6 white and 3 red.)

    Croatia has 18,000 hectares of planted vineyards and the main wine regions are Coastal, Eastern Continental and Western Continental. The key sub-regions are Istria, Central and Southern Dalmatia, Slavonia and Plešivica.   The main white grape varietes are Malvazija Istarska, Pošip, Graševina, Zelenac, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Traminac.  Reds include Teran, Plavac Mali, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah.

    The following wines were tasted:

    White

    1.         Sauvignon Daruvasr 2009, Daruvar Winery  (Daruvar)

    Full-bodied, with intense citrus flavours.  However, a younger vintage would have been preferable.

    2.         Graševina 2009, Krauthaker (Kutjevo)

    Aromatic, with a fragrant Riesling-like character and fresh, lively acidity.  Graševina is a synonym for Laski rizling

    3.         Graševina 2009, Josić Winery, (Baranja)

    This late-harvested style tasted sweet and delicate, with a rhubarb and custard flavour on the palate.

    4.         Traminac Principovac 2008 (Srijem)

    Traminac is Croatia’s synonym for Gewürtztraminer. Golden colour and pungent with muscat-like aromas. Lychees, grapes and spicy flavours give a sweet impression on the palate.

    5.         Graševina 2008 Ledono Vino, Kutjevo Winery (Kutjevo)

    An award winning ice wine, layered with sweet tropical fruit and honeyed flavours.

    6.         Malvazija Reserve 2007, Kabola-Momjan (West Istria)

    Nice balance of citrus flavours in this robust white style. A good food partner.  A fresher vintage would have been preferred. Malvazija is also known as Malvasia.

    Red

    7.         Teran 2008, Kabola-Momjan (West Istria) Teran aka Refosco

    Deeply coloured and still youthful looking appearance. Meaty on the nose with dark fruit background.  Quite austere on the palate, with high acidity and a vegetable character.

    8.         Dajla Teran 2008, Istravino Rijecka/Brtonigla (Istria)

    Garnet appearance.  Very fruity on the palate – strawberries, damsons, with hints of spice.  Good structure and balance.

    9.         Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Roxanich Cellars (West Istria)

    Rich, earthy and concentrated, with lots of ripe blackcurrant, blackberry and brambly fruit and a pleasant savoury depth on the finish.

    Tasting Notes: Catherine Griffith

    If any importer needs further information or prices please contact Catherine at 086-8172240