Question: Is wine consumption down during this Covid pandemic?
Answer: Hard to know. Forbes reported April 20 based on an OIV (International Organization of Vine and Wine) release that worldwide consumption of wine dropped 2.8% in 2020 – the third straight down year. However biggest drops were special circumstances of China 17.4%, South Africa (government ban), Spain 6.8 and 6 in Canada. They say the two biggest consumers USA & France remained flat but the biggest increase was by Brazil. Still your scribe takes these numbers all with a grain of salt. I believe the interest in and the drinking of wine is as popular as ever-though overall less volume of better quality. These figures must be based mainly on current sales which naturally would be down because consumers are not visiting wine shops and hospitality industry at a stand still. Sure deliveries are up but not wine tastings, restaurant visits, and on site shopping which all contribute to spur of the moment wine buys. In addition so many global wine choices today that make your decision of what wine to buy on-line difficult. Buyers are taking a break and using up “cellared” bottles. Know many who are drinking wine most every night the last two years but from old stock as they haven’t bought any wine lately. Trophy wines at auctions continue to go up. Lots to consider in getting an accurate reading on overall wine consumption stats.
Not much French wine was available to buy during the sixties in Canada. It was really a fine wine desert. At that time Donald C. Webster (called “Ben”) President of Neptune Terminals was instrumental in buying a Grand Cru property near Château Figeac called Château Montlabert for about a quarter of a million dollars. It became a triumvirate named Societe Civile Du Château Montalbert including him, Montague Curzon from England, and the Barriere family prominent Bordeaux wine shippers – all shown on the wine label as Fondateurs. Until the label change as shown on the 1970 (picture of the winery) it sported an impressive unique colourful crest representing France, England & Canada (by the maple leaf). There is a detailed historical booklet about the property produced by David M. Lank through The Antiquarian Press Geneva in 1969 that lists the original 37 investors as “Les Chevaliers Du Château Montlabert”. The names are a who’s who of successful people, so many from Vancouver and two who were law partners of mine. Though encouraged to invest by Tom Ladner your scribe never did but 1964 was one of the earliest Bordeaux your scribe ever tasted. Lots of wine dividends were declared for the investors and held at the property but it was a nightmare to try and get these delivered to Canada through the provincial Liquor Control Boards. The booklet confirms that the “story of wine in this region goes back more than two thousand years. Before either the Greeks or the Romans colonized the western Mediterranean, local tribes had discovered the wonders of wine. For generations the grapevines could only be grown in the regions which corresponded by and large with those areas in which olive trees flourished. Through experimentation the tribes around Bordeaux developed grape varieties which flourished in the gravel beds and sandy soils around the Gironde, Garonne, and Dordogne.” – also notes quite accurately a description of the Château Montlabert wine back from the early 1900s as “It is soft and delicate, tender, supple, light with a very good bouquet which one might even call elegant.” – “one of the more elegant examples of the Saint-Emilion type. Since 2008 it is one of 20 Castel Family Estates with an informative website for Château Montlabert worth checking out.
Last week was most nostalgic for us drinking our last 3 bottles of this wine from vintages 1970, 1966, and 1964. It transported us back to the chateau even during this travel restricted Covid pandemic. It was the first Bordeaux chateau we stayed in during our 1970 visit as guests of the Barriere family. The property is well situated among so many famous properties of both St. Emilion & Pomerol. Though it has some blue clay surface soil the water table is higher there making it difficult for the vines to go as deep down as some other properties. Previously the wines had seemed light and simpler but shone best with extra aging. Shows you that even a less celebrated Bordeaux property can age better than you expected. The magic of Bordeaux! Suggest grabbing a few of their best current ones (80% merlot & 20% cab franc) from 2015 & 2016 for further aging and surprising enjoyment. Admired how all three vintages improved accompanied by mustard chicken or pasta dinner. Food wines at lower alcohol. Also liked how all three years were so distinctly different in their style expressing well the characteristics of the vintage. Some brief impressions:
1970 CHATEAU MONTLABERT: Showing a mature quite aged colour with some depth. Bouquet is mushroomy with an earthy cellar note almost a touch of brett. Bit unclean. Balanced but drying out. More fruit there on previous tastings. Drink up.
1966 CHATEAU MONTLABERT: Bright with a paling rim. Vibrant look. Open elegant good herbal merlot notes on the nose. Fresh acidity with the Michael Broadbent “1966 long distance runner” styling. Refreshing on the palate. Rather good.
1964 CHATEAU MONTLABERT: Dark deep amazing red colour! What a delightful surprise on the bouquet with complex, very true St.Emilion terroir. Still has balance with beautiful fruit and opens up rather than dies in the glass. Best Chateau Montlabert ever tasted. Not the depth of 1964 Figeac or Petrus but shows you again how outstanding that year was on the Right Bank. Rare treat!
Answer: Yes this is a rather newer wine tasting word that is hard to really nail down. The Concise Oxford Dictionary describes “crunchy” as “that can be or has been crunched or crushed into small pieces; hard & crispy.” This literal definition seems most appropriate for tasting the tartaric crystals thrown by a white wine or sediment crust deposit from an older red wine. However it is finding a broader positive use to help describe a diverse group of lively crisp textured wines that you almost can crunch! Your scribe sometimes uses it with reference to thicker bodied Rhone style white blends and natural Syrah big fruit ones among others. What about you?
The evolving stages of the Covid-19 pandemic are continuing to affect so many of us. All the hospitality industries are suffering badly especially led by tourism and restaurants. The toll around the world keeps rising presently at just over 3 million deaths from the Coronavirus and 142+ million confirmed cases in 219 countries and territories. Wineries have had to adjust to this new reality of less customer visits & personal tours, less restaurant new orders, but more direct consumer shipping and webinars. Therefore they have generally not been as exposed directly to the virus compared to the service sector businesses dealing up front with the public. However, that didn’t save Pio Boffa of Pio Cesare (founded in 1881) who just passed away from Covid complications. What an outstanding contribution he provided as a real Ambassador for Italian wine and for Piedmont in particular. Pio was constantly travelling around the globe spreading the goodwill of not only Pio Cesare but much more. He reminded me of what Jean-Michel Cazes (Lynch-Bages) & Mai de Lencquesaing (Pichon-Lalande) among others and before them Henri Martin of Chateau Gloria used to do in spreading the good word for Bordeaux (as well as their personal Pauillac & St. Julien properties). Remember so many times meeting up (sometimes unexpectedly) with Pio Boffa at wine events in America to Singapore. He would be there as always providing valuable insights. Of course it was better still to visit with him at their old fortified historic cellars under the town of Alba. Recall his friendly open warm laugh on so many occasions. What memorable times!
Your scribe has written several references about Pio Boffa over the years. Many fond memories are stimulated from the one posted here of December 7, 2015 where he told me in great detail about his insights on every Barolo vintage he made from 1996 to 2015 inclusive. Pio Boffa joined the family firm in 1972 and with an astute future vision helped pioneer both traditional classic vineyard blends but also vineyard specific ones like Il Bricco in Barbaresco (Treiso) from 1964 & Ornato in Barolo (Serralunga d’Alba) in 1970. Some wonderful tributes to Pio Boffa flowing in already from Tom Hyland on @WineSearcher & @WineSpectator. Salute a great man! A wine legend who has left a marvellous legacy behind him. RIP
Question: What are your thoughts on the frost damage this month in French vineyards?
Answer: Most concerning indeed. In this era of climate change we normally worry about higher temperatures but extremes have become a major problem too. The past decade has experienced smaller harvest crop volumes (except abundant 2018) especially in Chablis because of hail (2012, 2016) and frequent frosts of varying intensity (2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, & 2020). However the cold temperatures of last week were particularly long, severe and widespread. These Spring frosts caused extensive damage to early vine budding all over France including Champagne, Chablis, Burgundy, Rhone (Cote-Rotie) and Bordeaux (Graves) but also Italy (mainly PIedmont & Tuscany). Everyone is calling this 2021 vintage the “worst frost freeze in decades” (called worse than historic 1997 & 1991) with a crop loss “catastrophe.” Expect prices to rise and supply to be more limited for 2021 when released. Recommend you stock up on your favourite wines from current vintages now.