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Out with the Old and the New

My Fair Lady Dressed to Impress

Colonel Pickering: How do you do it, may I ask?

Henry Higgins: Simple phonetics. The science of speech. That’s my profession. Also my hobby. Anyone can spot an lrishman or a Yorkshireman by his brogue … but I can place a man within six miles. I can place him within two miles in London. Sometimes within two streets.

from My Fair Lady (stage & screen)

An off-hand comment on twitter prompted me to think a little deeper about one of those ‘common knowledge’ aspects of the wine world, that there exists some sort of difference between the Old World and the New World. But what does that mean? More importantly, can it help?

It makes sense to group the sources of the wine we drink into easy to understand and separate groups – its shorthand for helping to make decisions. The simplest has always been “Old vs New” and by definition it is Old = Europe (& the Mediterranean) and New = the Rest of the World. But why?

It is meant to be about how old the wine making traditions are, of course, but even many ‘New’ countries have been making wine for around 300 years.

The question that prompted this soul searching was whether Japan should be considered an Old or New wine producer. China and Japan have very ancient wine traditions (of sorts), but they are not what we normally think of as “Old World”.

How does this Old & New dichotomy help anyway?

What it probably meant when it was first adopted was that the Old world made the wine we were used to drinking in the UK (and other wine drinking European countries) and the New world was the source of the ‘new’ wines; with ‘new’ ways of making them based more on science than tradition and ‘terroir’, and ‘new’ ways of marketing them.

If that is the case, it was probably true 30 years ago, but much has changed in that time. If you’ve ever heard stories about wine tasters that could identify a wine by region, grower, and vintage, (and possibly slope of vineyard, etc.) then many date back to this time. It is MUCH harder today. Henry Higgins would be hard pressed to apply his “scientific” approach to identifying the accent of a wine today!

Much of what was good about the ‘new’ science of winemaking has now been adopted in the ‘Old’ world wineries, and concepts such as terroir and artisan winemaking are making inroads in non European wine producers’ wineries too.

What it means is that the terms Old & New are not so much about WHERE in the world the wine is made any more. It makes more sense to think of them as HOW the wine is made.

It can mean that a wine from Europe is made in a ‘New World Style’ as some aspire to do, particularly in the South of France and Italy and parts of  Spain. It can mean that the history, sense of place, artisan wine making and vintage variation associated with ‘Old World Style’ traditional methods can also be applied to vineyards from beyond the borders of the Mediterranean.

In some ways this is justification rather than criticism for European  regions that apply ‘traditional’ rules strictly. You CAN see it as unnecessary restriction of wine making, stopping the more innovative wine makers from competing with those from other countries. However, you COULD also see it as a means of holding on to a style that differentiates the wines from all those in the rest of the world. Uniqueness sells … to a point.

The world has moved on. People, skills and techniques travel the world. I imagine Henry Higgins would struggle to replicate his neat parlour trick in today’s Covent Garden market, and the same is true of wine.

Old & New I think are still useful, but I think that they if they are used to describe styles rather than geographic boundaries, wine drinkers will find themselves opening the door to a whole new range of wines they might have otherwise dismissed.

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my formerly cluttered desk
Image by evelynishere via Flickr

I’m increasingly aware that wine, a job, multiple social media channels, regular wine trade events PLUS events spawned by the creative well of my social media friends, as well as a real commitment to building a community around wine online, … plus a young family, … are not compatible with writing this blog regularly. At least not for me.

I’m sorry for those who feel I am not keeping up with this blog (I’ve had a few comments)

I do have a number of articles on the go (the draft folder is bulging) and SO many things I’d love to talk about, I just need an extra pair of hands, a few extra hours in the day, … and, increasingly, some help with the various media channels and daily tasks.

Of course, I’m HEAVILY involved in all sorts of social media every day so you can still hear my ramblings and make any comments you wish, but I thought I had better post SOMETHING to say that it is all ticking along. Honest!


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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”


“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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