Archive - December, 2009

First Look: Tesco iPhone Wine App

I was told about a clever new application for the iPhone that has just been released by Tesco in the Apple iTunes Store: Tesco Wine Finder

I recorded a brief video of my first trials – see what you think.

Seems pretty clever use of technology to me – combining label recognition (to save retyping details), social aspects such as sharing your review of the wine, and online shopping.

I will have a more in-depth trial of it, but at first glance this seems like a good way of encouraging consumers to look at what they are drinking a little more closely and recording the wines they liked for future purchase.

Disclosure: the application only works for wines listed by Tesco and I only had a couple readily to hand, so I have used one that I am involved in supplying to them, the Castillo San Lorenzo Fincas, for demonstration.

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Go with the cash flow

LONDON - JANUARY 5:  Chancellor Alastair Darli...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

… or “How I will do my bit for the economy of this country via the wine aisle

For the last few years, pretty much since I started blogging, I’ve had something to say about the underhand way that the government uses Duty on wine to line their coffers, usually at the expense of the consumer, but by implication also affecting everyone else in the chain, from retailer to producer.

I have tried to argue that our Duty system, with high taxes on EVERY bottle of wine, no matter how good (or poor), have little impact on whether consumers drink to excess, which is supposed to be one of the reasons to raise the price.

I have tried to argue that lowering taxes would enable producers to invest more in the quality of the product and their communication/marketing, educating consumers to drink better, and drink more responsibly.

To no avail, of course.

Earlier this year, the Treasury admitted in a letter (during a campaign by Le Beast wines, Harpers, Drinks Business and Off Licence News) that:

“…alcohol duty is an important revenue stream for the government”

and

“The alcohol duty increases announced at Budget were not designed to tackle problem drinking but they will play their part in ensuring we can continue to fund the Government’s spending priorities.”

It seems that the anti-alcohol lobby and politicians are allowed to use these as justifications for putting Duty up, but when they get the money, they can then spend it on whatever they wish.

So, I’m changing tack.

Let’s be realistic: If the government needs money to shore up our economy and get people back to work (or keep them in work), then they will be forced to raise taxes. They could*:

  • tax me harder on my income, thus making me have to work longer/harder
  • tax me more on stuff I buy (VAT), thus discouraging me from buying that ‘stuff’ and thus not making money OR,
  • raise money from me while I am enjoying one of life’s real pleasures; drinking wine

To be honest, thinking about it like this (as I did when I went to sleep last night), I would rather be paying them extra dosh while I have fun, not while I work (of course, in my case I’m doing both).

So, Mr Chancellor (or simply Darling as we will now call him), I’m not excusing you. You could still do A LOT more to support wine businesses, producers, retailers, consumers and the health of this country, but as you do not seem to be prepared to do this, I guess I will just have to do my bit for the economy of this country via the wine aisle.

I hope you appreciate it!

And, Darling, when we start to emerge from this fiscal black hole you have helped to get us into, I trust you will do the decent thing and engage in a proper dialogue about what is actually good for the many responsible drinkers in this country.

Now, I’m off to pay some taxes, … by the glass.

* Of course, I suspect they’ll do all 3 of course! Watch out for 20% VAT, higher income tax and increases on Duty as a triple-whammy

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Naturally adventurous

I have written a little bit about the idea of ‘Natural Wine‘ in the past after a visit and tasting at Artisan & Vine. The concept is intriguing, but not without its complications and controversies (argued with his usual passion by my good friend Ricard).

There is, however, something quite distinctive and ‘alive’ about these wines which marks them out as quite different, and in truth you often have no idea what you are going to get. There can also be something unusually ‘rustic’ about them too!

The point of an adventure is not to have guaranteed ‘fun’ at every turn, .. but … that each discovery makes the journey more worthwhile and memorable.

Following my recent post about FindWine, I met up with Mike Howes at Terroirs (I was late, so missed lunch but took some lovely photos** of what he had ordered) to talk about their future plans*.

However, what I wanted to write about was Mike’s choice of wine. Like many in the wine business, we are doing this because we have a passion for wine. Not usually A wine, but the idea of wine and all the many ways that it can be created. I was very happy to see that he had ordered this wine:

Le Cousin, Rouge, (2007, we think) Grolleau Vieilles Vignes, VdT, Domaine Cousin-Leduc
“That rustic character that marks out ‘natural’ wines with low/no sulphur. Dark brambles, earthy, dark fruit not overripe and kept under wraps by … something else (vegetal? herbal? not sure). There is even a slight effervesence in the mouth, odd for an older wine. Interesting wine though not something I’ll race to try again.”

I forgot to take a picture of the back label, but this was a biodynamic, ‘natural’ wine. It probably broke all the local appellation rules as to how wine is supposed to be made, so it was designated a “Vin de Table” – not usually a mark of great quality.

Except that in truth, in this case, it demonstrates that the winemaker was more concerned about how the wine was MADE than how it was labelled. It goes to show that packaging alone is not a fail-safe guide! Sometimes, the motto should be the reverse – the worse the label & information, the better the wine has to be to be on this list!

I can’t speak for Mike, but I found the wine more intriguing than amazing, but by the same token, I am very happy to have had the chance to try it. The point of an adventure is not to have guaranteed ‘fun’ at every turn, this is not Disneyland, but rather that each discovery makes the journey more worthwhile and memorable.

That’s what I like about wine. What about you?

Thank you Terroirs for making these wines available to us in London.

————

For those who are interested, this is the description of the wine from Terroir’s great, and extensive, wine list:

Dne Cousin-Leduc, Olivier Cousin
Who’s the Daddy long legs? Olivier Cousin is – aka the wild man of Anjou. If you only drink one biodynamic old vines Grolleau then we heartily recommend this . Striking aromas of violets, cherries and earth. Lively and refreshing on the palate with extraordinary flavours of apples and medlars and return of the earthy notes. Serve cool or chilled for maximum deliciousness.

*If you read that post, I suggest you get in touch with them through their site and let them know what  you think and what else you’d like to learn from them. They are working on a blog where they hope to share some of their knowledge and ideas on wine, so if you have suggestions or questions, I’m sure they’d love to hear from you.

** Here are those photos:


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Find Wine with Style

findwineAt the recent The Wine Gang Christmas Fair I had the chance to taste lots of wines and meet importers and wineries from around the world. One of the ones that stood out for me was a small online retailer looking to sell wines in a novel way: FindWine.co.uk

Most wines in this country, whether in the supermarkets or independent merchants, are sold mainly by country. They might then be divided by region, price or even style, but the first arrangement is almost ALWAYS by country. Most (surviving) online merchants have therefore taken this format as well, and although you can usually filter by many different criteria, country still dominates the thinking.

The other thing most retailers have in common is that they generally list a larger range of wines that may then be categorised or tagged with tasting or buying information to help consumers decide between them. The thinking is, if you give consumers a broader range of choices, they’ll find something they’ll like … and buy.

The truth is, many consumers are not looking for anything too specific, and in fact are often put off by too much choice. They want a good deal, and a recommendation of a ‘good’ wine, so may well leave without buying anything.

FindWine decided, instead, to create a list with only 54 ‘slots’ that represent 6 different price categories across 9 different ‘styles’, and find just 1 wine that is a good example for each. The prices vary from under £5 to £15+ and the list of categories includes “zippy” whites as well as “soft-isticated” reds, so should appeal to lots of consumers.

I think what these guys are up to is very interesting, especially as their model allows them to buy good quality wines in small parcels so they can keep things fresh and change regularly. All we need now is a bit more interaction and visibility from the faces behind the business to demonstrate their passion for the wines and give us confidence they are choosing interesting wines for these ‘slots’.

On that note, watch this short interview I recorded at the show with John Critchley, one of the guys behind FindWine:

If you have used them, or tried their wines, do let me know what you think of their model and their wines. Is anyone else doing something similar?

(Update: I apologise to Mike Howes as this is in fact John Critchley, Mike’s partner at FindWine who I identified incorrectly in the video)

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The faces behind the labels

Hand Made by McGuiganI am extremely privileged to do the job I do. I work with some great wineries, travel to beautiful places and meet all sorts of interesting wine trade people; winemakers, marketers, writers, travel experts, art aficionados and more. Some of these I meet because of the paid work I do, others I meet for the stuff I do which is not paid for (like this blog). Either way, it makes me want to share the experiences, hopefully in a way that inspires people (rather than in a sort of nah-na-na-NAA-na sort of way!)

I say this because amongst these people are reasonably well-known individuals that many wine drinkers will have heard of and would actually love to meet and get to know. What often amazes me (as I’m quite new to this game, to be honest) is how lovely, genuine and fun they can be, yet how seriously I expected them to be before I met them. Many of these ‘celebrities’ (for the lack of a better term for well-known individuals whose names are recognisable) meet each other for interviews, at tastings and even informally, but the chances for regular wine drinkers to meet them are rare – and usually involve travelling to the winery, expensive wine dinners or really busy wine shows.

Today I met someone who is not only is responsible for much of the Australian wine we buy from supermarkets and specialists such as Majestic, but was also recently voted the 2009 IWC White Winemaker of the Year for some cracking prestige wines too.

Neil McGuiganNeil McGuigan was on hand, along with Peter Hall, to talk about his wines, his philosophy and generally get us excited about the quality of today’s Australian wines – they are no longer just simple, fruity wines (“sunshine in a glass“), but competing at the highest prestige levels as well.

To make his point, a lunch was organised to match Michelin starred FRENCH (!) cuisine from the lovely Roussillon, with the wines of the McGuigan stable. The wine and food were both excellent, and were a surprisingly decent match for each other (the best match being the unusual sesame seed biscuit on the dessert with the Botrytised Semillon). The foodies present will tell you more details about the food (I will include links below as they post), but the wines were very good and very different from the popular image of “Australian” wines (I’ve recorded some brief thoughts below – unusually for this blog, but couldn’t really not include this here). If you haven’t done so recently, check out premium (£15+ per bottle) wines from Australia’s cooler regions and see what you think.

It struck me what a fun, relaxed, knowledgable and entertaining guy Neil was, and it seems a shame that he does not have a way (at the moment) of sharing his views and personality directly with consumers. As I said after meeting Rod Eastman, winemaker at Craggy Range, at a similar event, these are guys that could teach us so much and I’d love to learn more about their wines, their country and their philosophy DIRECTLY from them, via social media if necessary, as I’m sure would many others.

I seem to be a stuck record on this, but it is becoming my “mission” to get winemakers and wine writers to embrace social media channels and give a boost to the range of voices and content about wine outside of the US. I remain hopeful! Look out for McGuigan TV coming soon (I hope)

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McGuigan Roussillon MenuOther posts about the lunch:

Mathildecuisine’s photos

Mathilde Cuisine post – France – Australia: A well-balanced match
Laissez Fare post – McGuigan goes Walkabout to Roussillon
The Wine Sleuth post: Neil McGuigan and his Handmade Shiraz at Roussillon
Spiltwine post: Find your perfect match without online dating

The stars were the wines we had with the food, namely:

  • Earth’s Portrait Eden Valley Riesling 2004: an evolved, kerosene nose and elegant Riesling, great body and honey edge too; worthy multiple-award winner
  • Bin 9000 Semillon 2003: crisp, fresh and zesty style, despite some age. Great food wine!
  • The Shortlist Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: a touch herbal (leafy, sage) on the nose now, but still very young. Elegant tannins, very good
  • Handmade Langhorne Creek Shiraz 2008: amazingly soft, luscious forest fruit and balanced oak ageing – still a baby, but great wine
  • Personal Reserves Botrytis Semillon 2005: nice to taste a quality botrytis wine from Australia, made only in a few ‘lucky’ years. I love dessert/sweet wines and need to learn more about Australian offerings
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