From Corks to Screw-On Caps – Wine Is Full of Surprises

If you are a wine enthusiast you’ve probably noticed that screw-on caps are no longer only used on cheap wines. More and more often bottles of really good wine are being unscrewed, rather than uncorked.

How Did the Screw-On Cap Trend Begin?

Believe it or not, screw-ons have been on the market since the late 1950s. Although back then they were generally associated with cheap plonk, and a fine winemaker would by no means let such a cap anywhere near his/her brand. It was only in the early 2000s when Australian winemakers decided to put practicality before prestige and started using screw-on caps for high-end bottles of wine as well. It is cheaper, and surprisingly has additional merits as well…

Science Seals the Deal

Some winemakers prefer the screw-on method for wines that are meant to be drunk young like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. The screw-on caps provide a better seal than cork and keep oxygen out of the bottle, which ensures a well-preserved and crisp wine. Chardonnays and red wines, on the other hand, are of a heavier, fuller and a little more complex nature. As such, they could actually benefit from a slight presence of oxygen, and so corks may be a better choice for them. The extra air softens the tannin through oxidization and makes the wine smoother in taste and texture. However, not all winemakers agree with this approach.

Screw-On Resistance

Some sommeliers argue that screw-on caps don’t allow for calculated levels of ‘oxygen ingress’, while real corks are variable with oxygen ingress rates. There is also the cultural issue – while certain wine lovers may enjoy the quick and easy process of opening a screw-on capped bottle, traditionalists strongly argue that opening a bottle of good wine with a corkscrew is part of the wine drinking ritual. With wine it is hard and maybe even wrong to separate between product, experience and history. For some it is the actual wine that matters more than the packaging, and for others the ceremony is as important as the taste. Whether you opt for this change or against it, it cannot be denied, screw-on caps are here to stay, as are synthetic corks and even boxed and canned wines, but that’s a debate that deserves a blog-post of its own.

Reasons for Buying En Primeur

The en primeur wine industry is full of magic, mystery and suspense, and if that’s not enough it’s also a good investment that doesn’t necessarily require wine expertise. If you are new to the field of buying wine futures, prepare to be pleasantly surprised in more ways than one.

The Basics

En primeur, also called wine futures, is the early purchase of very young wine, hence the name, that hasn’t yet been bottled. It works like this: every spring, when the Primeur campaign opens, thousands of wine professionals visit the Bordeaux region, some come to taste and review, while others come to purchase or invest. More than 150 of the top Bordeaux estates welcome buyers, retailers, journalists and wine experts from all over the world to taste samples of the latest vintages on offer, and prices are set based on the feedback they receive. Wines are released for sale in a number of phases, and prices are adjusted along the way. While Bordeaux is the en primeur capital,the tradition has expanded over the years to include the markets of Burgundy, California, the Rhone Valley, Italy and Port.

Why Buy En Primeur?

If you know wines, you know that they can change significantly in the months between the en premier tastings and the bottling. However, this risk can be controlled by dealing only with established and reputable wine merchants, and the advantages of investing in wine futures are many.

Firstly, there is the price, en primeur wines are usually much lower in cost than they will be once released, making them a good investment. Then there is the opportunity, when you buy en primeur you are given the chance to buy wines that are high in demand and limited in quantity. These wines could easily become impossible to find on the market after they are bottled. Finally, there is the mystique, the excitement of buying something that hasn’t yet become the fullest and best version of itself.

You Don’t Have to Be a Wine Expert to Enjoy a Visit to a Tasting Room

Wine tastings are an exciting experience for wine enthusiasts. If you love the aroma of the old favourites and find yourself curious by the unexplored, if your pallet is fascinated by the complexity of the taste, you will no doubt enjoy a visit to a tasting room.

Sommeliers and other wine professionals have specialised wine tasting processes, but they are not the only ones who enjoy the ritual-like experience of discovering wines. Wine tasting rooms have a large informal following, and a set of less publicised guidelines. Even though recreational wine tasters take a less analytical approach, it is still important to stick to these rules.

What are the Rules?

The practice of wine tasting is as ancient as wine making and the conventions of tasting room etiquette have evolved through the ages. Nevertheless, a few unspoken rules and suggestions have stood the test of time, and here they are:

  • Eat something – Don’t go to a wine tasting event on an empty stomach.
  • Leave your preferences at home – You may have never enjoyed Pinot Noir, but go ahead and give it a go anyway, you may be pleasantly surprised when trying something unusual one day.
  • Don’t wear a fragrance – Although you may be used to your scent, it can ruin the experience for everyone else within range.
  • Don’t show off – Even if you are an expert, try not to talk too technically. You will be taking the fun out of the experience for those who are not as knowledgeable as you.
  • Spit or swallow? – Believe it or not, it’s up to you. You can go ahead and swallow the wine you are tasting , it’s not all about getting educated, there should definitely be some fun involved. However, if you will be visiting several tasting rooms, moderate what you take in.
  • Don’t request ‘the good stuff’ – That is rude, but feel free to express your opinion about the wines you’ve tasted, it will help your host understand what you should taste next.
  • Linger meaningfully – Most wineries are happy to allow people to taste a wine again when they are considering a purchase, however, not when they are trying to get drunk.
  • Make a purchase – Some wine tastings are free, and others waive the tasting fee in lieu of a minimum purchase. Depending on the circumstances, it would be polite to buy at least two or three bottles.
  • Tips? – Tipping staff at a winery is entirely at your discretion. Even though tasting rooms may seem like bars, they are not. If a staff member was particularly attentive and it feels like the right thing to do, by all means, go ahead and give them a tip.

Wine and Chocolate: A Cliché or a Match Made in Heaven?

Although we have no idea why, there seems to be a general perception that chocolate and wine go well together. Pairing food and wine is almost a science, but what about chocolate? Let’s consider for a moment whether it’s just a concept somebody invented to increase sales on Valentine’s Day, or if it is something worth exploring.

wine-and-choclate

Chocolate and Wine Are Miles Apart

First of all the unlikely pair come from completely different geographical locations. Most of the cacao trees in the world are grown in hot and humid places like South America, West Africa and Asia – not really ideal areas for wine production. Although wine is also produced in South America, the best known wine countries are Chile and Argentina – not Ecuador and Brazil, where cacao is grown.

This does not necessarily mean that the two don’t match. Anybody who has had chocolate covered cherries or has dipped strawberries into a chocolate fondue fountain will tell you that fruit and chocolate can go very well together indeed. Continue reading

Where Will the Smart Wine Money Go in 2017?

Every wine buff knows that Burgundy and Bordeaux are both very popular wines. What only the experts know is that Burgundy has been statistically outperforming Bordeaux for the last number of years, at least until recent months.

Let’s Look at the Numbers

The beginning of 2012 was also the start of a 50% rise for Burgundy wines that continued until at least 2016. During the same period Bordeaux wines fell by almost 20%. This was after the Bordeaux bubble that happened from 2009 to 2012 suddenly burst, and hailed the slow and steady decline. In January 2016, everything drastically changed.
Wine consumption
Although the market indicators showed a dismal performance from Bordeaux, it continued to remain popular, and this popularity finally started showing up in the numbers. In the months between January and September of 2016 all indices increased by at least 10%, finally showing excellent growth potential. After years of declining numbers, Bordeaux is once again on the upward trajectory. While Burgundy is also showing growth, two Bordeaux indices are paving the way. First Growths are up by 13.5% and the Bordeaux Medoc Classed Growth index rose by 16.5%. It is not only Bordeaux that is shooting up. Blue Chip Burgundies have also risen by 11.3%.

The Battle of the Bottle

If there was a competition between the two, all bets would certainly be placed on Bordeaux being resuscitated. It is also interesting to note that despite the numbers of the past few years, Bordeaux continues to be well-loved and well-chosen, time after time.

Predictions for the Next Year or Two

All the signs are there. The rapid improvement of Bordeaux in recent months heralds a time of increased interest in an already eminent brand, and prices may well rise even more dramatically than Burgundy prices have in the past few years. This doesn’t mean that Burgundy will succumb to a rapid rise and crash cycle the way that Bordeaux has. Like Bordeaux, even when short-term investments may be slightly affected, other factors, like reduced yields the past year, will drastically push up release prices in the coming years. Fine wine investors can rest assured that both the Bs remain relatively safe investment options.

10 Unspoken Rules of Food and Wine Pairing

Wine Pairing is a Bit Like Baking a Good Cake

Just like a pinch of salt is vital to bringing out the flavour of a cake, it is also essential to have the right wine with the right food to get the taste experience just right. Here are a few guidelines to bear in mind when pairing food and wine.

1. Prestigious with Prestigious, Humble with Humble
The first and most important principle is simply to have fancy wines with fancy food, and to have simpler wines with simpler foods. There is absolutely no need to have a pricey Pinot Noir with a ham and pickle sandwich. Conversely, having expensive tenderloin on the menu may present the perfect opportunity to open that bottle of lush Bordeaux you have been savwine and fooding.

2. Delicate Flavours vs. Bold Flavours
Again, the idea is to match the wine to the food, and that means taking the flavour into consideration as well. A robust Shiraz could beautifully balance a bold curry, while it would overwhelm a delicate sole au gratin.

3. Contrast or Mirror?
In some cases, you may want to create a taste sensation by mirroring flavours. For example, a Chardonnay with creamy seafood pasta. At other times, it works better going in opposite directions, juxtaposition in food can be exciting and delectable. Seafood pasta can also be enjoyed with something sleek, crisp, and tingling like Champagne.

4. Go for Something Flexible
Chardonnay is delicious on its own, but is so full-bodied that it could taste dull and hard with certain foods. If you are uncertain, go with a Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc to be safe. The most flexible reds are Burgundy, Chianti, and other wines that have more fruit and less tannin.

5. Fruity with Fruity
When serving dishes that contain fruit, like duck with figs or pork with apples and cider, pair with fruity wines such as Muscat or Riesling.

6. Acidity and Saltiness
Salty food works well with the acidity in wine. Imagine how well Champagne would pair with smoked salmon or a good Chianti with Parmesan cheese. Asian dishes with a lot of salty soy sauce go particularly well with wines that are high in acidity like Riesling.

7. Sweetness and Saltiness
Pairing salty dishes with sweeter wines can create a delicious fusion of flavours. This is what has made the old European tradition of serving salty Stilton cheese with sweet Port so successful.

8. High-Fat Food and Robust Wines
Food with a lot of butter, cream, or animal fat needs an intense and rich wine. Good quality Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon works particularly well with dishes like grilled steak with creamy sauce, or duck.

9. What about Umami?
Known as the fifth taste in addition to sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness, umami is being used more often in contemporary cuisine with flavours from foods like soy sauce and wild mushrooms. Adding umami heightens the overall experience, so adding wild mushrooms to a steak with Cabernet Sauvignon further enriches an already sensational pairing.

10. Watch out for the Sweet Stuff
When pairing wine with desserts, consider the level of sweetness. The sweetness of the dessert could easily knock out the character of the wine, and a very sweet dessert can cause wine to taste dull. The ideal marriage is between a reasonably sweet wine, and a slightly less sweet dessert like a fruit or nut tart.

Food and Wine Bliss

 

Finally, in addition to observing these guidelines, the best route to successful pairing is through experimentation, which is also the most enjoyable way to learn this particular skill.

Post-Brexit Fine Wine Investment

Is Fine Wine an Investment Haven After Brexit?

Britain collectively voted to exit from the European Union causing major upheaval in the venture capital world. Investors experiencing the economic turbulence after Brexit are understandably nervous. The upshot of this momentous event has left several severely startled financiers concerned about the rapidly falling pound – and looking around for secure investment options.

Investing in fine wine has just become an
even safer investment haven

Even though global markets are rattled, there are still steady, reliable options available to investors – vintage options, like fine wine investment. One of the main traits of a vintage investment is that it has several defensive characteristics that make it perform well, even in a declining economy. This is why:

Pricing – Since thBrexit Blue European Unione pound has dropped to the lowest it has been in over three decades, fine wine prices have become more competitive. Because of this overseas demand is stimulated. Even though fine Bordeaux investment wines may be priced in Sterling, most of the buyers are transacting from overseas countries like Japan, China and the United States.

Fine wine investment remains on an upward trajectory – Despite the fine wine market suffering a substantial price correction after a period of falling prices between 2011 and 2014, annual returns and price increases remain consistent, unlike many other investment markets and economies.

Fine wine is independent – While many other asset prices are dependent on other pricing, holdings in fine wine has no correlation to the FTSE100. Again, performance is consistent.

Lack of white noise – Lucrative investments can be drowned out by the white noise of a strong economy. During an economic decline, solid investment options become more obvious and fine wine investments are no different.

Physical assets perform better in a weak economy – This is especially true when it comes to the excellent long-term performance track record of fine wine investments.

Sin Industries – Although fine wine cannot truly be considered as sinful, it is regarded as part of the so-called ‘sin industries’ – and during economic downturns these industries do better.

The Flip-Side of the Coin

Of course there is apprehension when it comes to making investments during tumultuous times. According to Mike Laing, Armit Wines managing director, many customers would prefer taking the risk of waiting to see how things settle down post-Brexit before committing funds. Gary Boom of BI is equally wary and was heard voicing concern over volatility when it comes to trade markets.

Is it Really That Risky?

Veteran investors agree that making time-honoured investments is the way to go – and what better than investing in en primeur wines? Acquiring stock at the lowest market price, especially when the economy is dipping, makes perfect sense. According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WASTA) wine trade in the UK has more than doubled in the past 10 years and the country has become an importing and distribution hub for fine wines across the globe. Being the preferred point of entry into the EU’s single market, Britain is the ‘beating heart’ of the global wine trade, making fine wine investments in the UK a very sensible decision. Any investment has associated risks. It is up to the individual investor to decide what level of risk they are prepared to take, and what they are prepared to invest.