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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.

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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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The value of a tasting note

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Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time, I even drafted a post, but recent events have prompted me to complete it.

What is a single tasting note worth?

Ryan Opaz of Catavino recently asked this question on twitter after a discussion we had, and it still has me thinking.

I suppose one could argue that tasting notes are worth exactly what you pay for them. In most cases, such as blogs, wine social networks and twitter, the answer is NOTHING. They are free! They are given away as they are shared by those tasting wines mainly for their own enjoyment.

But this is only part of the story. There are those sites that do charge to give you access to information such as tasting notes. In addition, even if consumers are not paying for tasting notes, that is not to say they are not “worth” something to someone.

Subscription Sites

There are sites where some of the key ‘value’ are the tasting notes on offer – not because they are tasting notes as such, but because they are buying advice (e.g. The Wine Gang) or “insider information” on the potential future value of premium wines (e.g. JancisRobinson.com on En Primeur)

There will always be a small number of people willing to pay for these sites to get this information rather than searching through multiple sites or waiting to personally taste wines they mean to buy – which may not even be possible. The question is whether there are enough of them to make a site profitable.

Social Networks

On the other hand, there are many social networks out there (e.g. Snooth, Adegga, etc.) where the tasting notes themselves are free content. They still represent value for people, but this is exchanged for attracting more friends & followers or becoming known as a reliable expert. The value is in social recognition, something some might call Whuffie or ‘Social Capital

And then there is the law …

What prompted me to write this today was the Decanter story that a journalist, Martin Isark, is suing Majestic for using his tasting note to promote a wine called “Cuvée de Richard Vin de Pays de l’Aude”. He wrote a note which apparently included the words “incredible value” in a newspaper in 2001 – and apparently Majestic have been using those words, attached to his name, ever since to promote subsequent vintages. So now, he is claiming £50,000 in damages for “‘false endorsements’ and ‘infringement of copyright’” to get them to stop according to the story (NB. I’m no lawyer, I’m only reporting information available on other sites).

Whilst I agree that the note is [arguably] false endorsement if they do not clearly show it was for a (much) older vintage, it makes you wonder how much Martin Isark thinks that endorsement is worth if the “damage” is £50,000 (as far as I know the UK law does not allow for punitive damages). I’m sure that Majestic will have sold some additional bottles of the back of the note, but that would be a LOT of bottles. And what about the benefits to Mr Isark (who, I must admit, I had not heard of before this incident)? He has had his name promoted to thousands of Majestic customers over the years – could he not have made something positive of this, offering to review (accurately and honestly) future vintages or more wines?

So, the question remains, how much is a tasting note worth?

Like any content, tasting notes have value and with the right ‘context’ there are ways to make them generate money for someone – let’s just hope it isn’t all for the lawyers, but for wine writers and drinkers instead!

[full disclosure: I am married to a lawyer, and benefit greatly from the good work that lawyers do :) ]

[UPDATE 20/11/09 14:23: On closer examination, Martin Isark answers the question on his website. The answer, at least for Martin Isark is: £15,000 PLUS 2% of sales as a royalty payment. This is astronomically high, and also makes one wonder about the potential ethical issues of journalists receiving royalties on related sales. Of course, he can name whatever price he wants, but I wonder whether anyone would really accept this value as realistic? If so, I need to start writing more tasting notes ;) ]

[UPDATE 20/11/09 14:27: inserted the word "arguably" in para 9 erroneously missed off original post!]

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Crush It! A book review

Crush It

Crush It

Well, I ‘crushed it‘ in one sitting on the plane on the way to Lisbon for the EWBC.

Gary Vaynerchuck’s Crush It! is a book intended for an audience of entrepreneurs ready to take advantage of the opportunities offered by social media. These opportunities are easier to capitalise on in an age of ready-made blog platforms, template fan pages on facebook and free plug-ins to carry out necessary tasks, so I use the term entrepreneur to mean all those interested in starting their own money-making business, even those with minimal investment or risk.

That’s all of us!

The style of the book is very readable, and very “Gary”. You can hear him dictating the book, pacing back and forth in the room, stopping to make a friendly quip, probably about American Football, then launching back into his well-honed routine as if he had not left off. In fact, it is so much in the “Gary Vay-Ner-Chuck” voice that I had to read it at the speed he speaks, so I got through the book in an hour and a half!

As someone who has been following Gary, on and off, from fairly early on in his Wine Library career, including some of his keynote videos and his business site, much of this book is already familiar @garyvee stuff. It is interesting to have the presentation in one place for reference and in a form I can lend to others (even if video is more entertaining, it is harder to use to research and/or prove a specific point of your own).

The point of this book is not to give his existing followers something new, but to bring his message to those that have not yet committed themselves to social media but who think they want to know more. It is for Gary’s “posse” to give to others to explain their addiction, and for some of us, a useful basic checklist to refer back to.

One thing it is not, for the record, is a wine book, but the messages are still relevant to wine businesses.

If you want a highly readable, passionate and credible book on how to approach building your personal brand in, and through, social media, it is worthwhile reading. However, the world is moving apace and even some of this book is already outdated, so read it quick to get you up to speed on yesterday so you can get on with building your own brand today.

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