April 26th 2013, by Gavin
Here are my scores (out of 100) and estimated maturity dates on the top 150 red wines from the seven main appellations – Pomerol and St-Emilion on the Right Bank, Pessac-Leognan to the south of Bordeaux on the Left Bank, and Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estephe in the Medoc, also Left Bank.
These scores will be on Livex and in an article on the primeurs for Harpers Wine and Spirit magazine. The price is my estimate for a case of 12, in Bond (ex-VAT), as offered by specialist UK wine merchants.
January 28th 2013, by Gavin
Listening to David Cameron’s important speech on Europe last week, anyone at the sharp end of the UK wine business must have raised a quizzical eyebrow at his unqualified support for the Single Market. In contrast to his laudable vision, tax on wine in the UK is completely out of line with other countries in the EU, and the gap is widening.
’So let me set out my vision for a new European Union, fit for the 21st Century,’ the Prime Minister said on 22 January.
’It is built on five principles. The first: competitiveness. At the core of the European Union must be, as it is now, the single market. Britain is at the heart of that Single Market, and must remain so…
’It is nonsense that people shopping online in some parts of Europe are unable to access the best deals because of where they live. I want completing the single market to be our driving mission.’
So why, then, is wine taxed so heavily in Britain compared to the continent?
As things stand, and it will be interesting to see what transpires when the Government’s consultation period on its alcohol strategy ends on 6 February, UK duty will hit £2 a bottle in the Budget on 20 March.
That’s 50% up from £1.33 in five years, whereas in the eight years before that it nudged up a respectable 15%. Duty on sparkling wine, including the now fashionable fizz made in England, will be around £2.55 a bottle. (We can bank on these figures, currently £1.90 and £2.43, because the Chancellor has persisted with the duty escalator that Labour introduced in 2008.)
Then there’s the double whammy of VAT on the duty as well as the wine, so the real duty cost will be £2.40 and £3 a bottle, for still or sparkling. And that’s without including the margin that retailers, merchants, pubs and restaurants have to add on top: believe it or not, duty costs more than the wine itself for the vast majority of bottles sold in the UK (that’s on anything under £7 retail – the average is a fiver – or £17 or so in a restaurant).
Meanwhile, and here’s the rub, there is no duty at all on still wine in 17 EU countries, including Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Austria. In France, it’s 3p. To quote the Prime Minister’s fifth principle – fairness – how fair is this for Britain?
December 18th 2012, by Gavin
Time to dust down the glasses, get the decanter out and root around for those special bottles in the garage, the cellar, the wine rack or in the cupboard under the stairs. Whatever you’re drinking, here are some tips on how to get the most from your wine this Christmas.
If you don’t have any of the items in bold, you might want to add them to your Christmas list.
1. Good wine glasses are important, and are usually tulip-shaped. (There are exceptions, such as the more angular Zalto.) The best are made of fine glass but they don’t have to be really expensive – the three on the left of the photo below cost under a fiver each.
December 18th 2012, by Gavin
Forget silly gadgets and dodgy bottles of spirits. Wine people like to be given wine. And wine books. (Ange likes Hendricks Gin, by the way.) Here’s a list of this year’s best publications which you can still grab in time for Christmas, albeit not from us. Santa, Amazon..
All were published in 2012.
Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz
£120 rrp, £77 on Amazon or elsewhere here. Fascinating for wine geeks but it’s probably not one for the casual reader and it isn’t in the bargain basement. As it says on the cover: ’A complete guide to 1,368 grape varieties, including their origins and flavours.’ (Can you name one of the 22 varieties that start with Z?) It’s hard to think of a more important or thoroughly researched opus on wine. I’m looking forward to getting to stuck in after Christmas.
Bordeaux Legends by Jane Anson
£35 rrp, £31.50 on Amazon. We loved this stunning book on the Bordeaux First Growths by our friend Jane Anson, the Bordeaux correspondent for Decanter magazine, so much that we pre-ordered 35 signed copies for Bauduc Bondholders and Club Members. We were totally oversubscribed in the space of two days. It won’t be available in the UK until the Spring, so we’ll keep you posted, but it’s only fair to include it in our list of favourite wine books from 2012.
November 29th 2012, by Gavin
In case you missed it, the coalition government has announced plans to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol at 45p per unit. That would mean that a bottle of red wine at 13% alcohol (9.8 units) would have to be sold at no less than £4.41. Also in the firing line, and of more relevance to many people in Britain, are ‘multi-buy’ offers.
Whatever the pros and cons of this strategy, let’s look at what wine consumers get for their money. We all know that tax on spirits is high but what about wine? Well, you may be surprised to find out just how little is spent on the stuff in the bottle.
To illustrate the point, I’ve taken the figures from Robert Joseph’s article called ’Lifting the stone on the UK wine trade’ (The Joseph Report, 22/8/2012). As the editor of Wine Business International magazine and as the co-owner of a wine brand he sells to supermarkets, Robert is well qualified to comment and he kindly gave me permission to syphon off his numbers.
Above is the breakdown of who gets what from a bottle of European wine sold at retail in the UK (it’s even worse for non-European wine). It’s eye-watering stuff, especially for wine lovers who can’t afford more than the UK average spend of around £5.50 a bottle. Just a quid of that is spent on the wine, including the bottle.
As part of an unofficial grape farmers’ union, it’s grim reading too for the growers who supply the co-operatives and négociants (mega-blenders) that sell to supermarkets and other retailers.
October 19th 2012, by Gavin
This is another post I wrote for Liv-ex, the fine wine market blog. I’ve backdated it to the date of publication on the Liv-ex site.
The red-wine harvest is coming to an end in Bordeaux as the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon is being picked by the top estates of the Left Bank this week. On the Right Bank, what’s left of the Merlot will be brought in shortly and then, lastly, the remaining Cabernet Franc.
2012 came close to being a terrific vintage. As it is, it’s a promising vintage at the top level, thanks mainly to a fine August and most of September, although yields are fairly low. “What we have is good but there’s just not much of it”, remarked Christian Seely, MD of Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Baron. (I did warn him that this might raise an eyebrow.)
“It’s a very good vintage, if not a great one”, claimed Paul Pontallier at Chateau Margaux on Monday, as the final cagettes of Cabernet Sauvignon were ferried into the huge reception area. “A lovely summer and September with rain just before harvest, which is completely normal.”
October 1st 2012, by Gavin
2012 has been an extraordinary year for sport but will it be a vintage to remember?
Here in Bordeaux, it’s too early to say, even at this late stage. It’s going to go right to the wire.
“If 2011 was exceptionally early, 2012 is exceptionally late”, said Lilian Barton of Château Léoville Barton as they prepared to bring in the new vintage in St-Julien, 25 miles north of Bordeaux. The red-wine harvest, which has started quietly in the early ripening vineyards of Pomerol, begins this week in earnest and will last well into October.
As for quality, Gabriel Vialard, the technical director of Château Haut-Bailly – near Léognan, south of the city – was cautiously optimistic after two fine months.
“It could be like 2000 but not if it rains too much. We won’t know until it’s all in.” Thankfully the forecast is fine for the moment.
Summer sun until last week of September
The sunshine we’ve enjoyed in Bordeaux from mid-July onwards, through a warmer than average August, lasted right up until the penultimate weekend of September. We’d had just 30mm of rain here from mid-July until 23rd September, and half of that fell on the 5th August. It’s been extremely dry, with plenty of sunshine.
Then on Sunday, 23rd September, there came one evening and three days of rain, on and off: around 40-60mm in total on the Right Bank and 50-90mm on the Left. That’s fine – and it was much needed in some parcels – so long as it stops there. No more, thanks.
September 30th 2012, by Gavin
The sunny, dry weather carried on from August up until the last week of September, giving us the chance to harvest our Sauvignon as and when we wanted. Last year, we spent 500 hours cutting out less-than-noble rot from the bunches. This year, none. Tasty.
So we’ve been able to pick our entire crop of 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ’à la carte’. This is an expression routinely used by cocky vignerons who have had the luxury of choosing when to harvest each parcel of vines, as and when they ripen, without being inconvenienced by forecasts of rain or other such interruptions.
The weather has indeed been kind and there was an important change at just the right moment in mid-September, when the mornings became quite chilly. This allowed us to pick by machine before and just after dawn, while the grapes were cold and delicious. By starting at 5am, as we do routinely nowadays, and wrapping up each day’s harvest by around 9.30am, we brought the grapes in with minimal risk of oxidation at around 12 to 13C.
September 6th 2012, by Gavin
The 2012 white-wine harvest in Bordeaux is now under way in the early ripening vineyards of Pessac and Léognan (two towns which are clubbed together in a single appellation called, er, Pessac-Léognan). Famous châteaux like La Mission Haut-Brion and Pape-Clement, in the warm suburbs of Bordeaux, and others to the south of the city, like Smith Haut-Lafitte and Domaine de Chevalier, are starting with their Sauvignon Blanc this week.
At Château Bauduc, we are getting ready to harvest our 11 hectares (27 acres) of Sauvignon Blanc after the weekend, from Monday 10th onwards, touch wood. (Our 4 hectares of Sémillon will follow later.) We time it according to how the grapes taste on the vine and by analyzing samples of grapes from different parcels. Assessing acidity and sugar levels will give us a pretty good idea of how things are looking, and the fact that we are always about a week behind Pessac-Léognan is a useful marker. It’s safe to assume that they know what they’re doing after a few hundred years’ practice.
Let’s not forget either the small matter of the weather forecast, which is for sunshine until Monday, and possibly pants for a few days after that.
August 25th 2012, by Gavin
Last weekend, Jancis Robinson asked me for ‘a brief report on how the Bordeaux vignoble is looking so far‘ and published my reply on her website a few days later. With Jancis’s kind permission, here was my seat-of-the-pants, stat-free response:
After a long, wet spring, we’ve had a lovely summer in Bordeaux. Unlike last year, however, the owners and MDs of leading châteaux can enjoy the end of their August break on the Atlantic coast at Cap Ferret and Arcachon without feeling the need to rush back to their vines. The red-wine harvest is still some way off.
No two growing seasons are ever the same in Bordeaux but the contrast between 2011 and 2012 could not be more striking. Last year, there was an early budburst and the flying start was accelerated by a warm, dry spring. The lack of rain carried on until the second week of July, with many vines suffering in the drought-like conditions. The summer was then up and down, topped off by an early harvest of the dry whites at the end of August. Almost all the reds and sweet whites in 2011 were brought in during September, which is uncommonly early. The last time that happened was in 2003, an altogether different vintage.