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Spanish wine at a crossroads?

April 21st, 2018

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By Joseph Temple

“Spain as a wine country was vast but antediluvian,” according to wine writer Oz Clarke. “Whereas France had developed sophisticated export markets in northern Europe and North America, which demanded high quality and encouraged experimentation and improvement, Spain relied on a famously undemanding Spanish-speaking ex-empire and an undemanding local population.”  Fast forward to more than a century later and the latest statistics on Spanish wine show that while many advances and innovations have been made, the above statement still rings true.

According to the Spanish Observatory of Wine Markets (OEMV), a new report released this month shows that Spain is currently the world’s biggest exporter of wine, selling an estimated 22.8 million hectolitres abroad last year.  This places the kingdom ahead of both Italy at 21 million hectolitres and France at 15 million hectolitres. However, before any hispanophile decides to celebrate by popping the cork on their favorite bottle of Cava, it’s important that they also learn about this vital caveat.

While Spain is definitely number one when it comes to volume, in terms of revenue, the country earned a reported €2,850 million, placing them well behind France at €9,000 million and Italy at €6,000 million annually. In fact, at an average of €1.25 per litre, only South African wines are sold cheaper on the global marketplace. The reason for this disparity between volume and revenue is bulk wine, which represents more than half of Spain’s total sales in 2017.

In an article published on the site EuroNews, the author writes, “The main challenge facing Spain is reducing the sales of cheap, mass-produced wine, which is flooding the market despite a lack of internal structures to deal with its distribution.”

Unfortunately, that task is easier said than done. With 12.6 million hectolitres shipped overseas last year, more than two thirds of Spanish production is sent to foreign markets.  And while Germany remains Spain’s biggest customer followed by the United States and France, China has now become the kingdom’s fifth largest customer with bulk wine exports seeing the highest growth rate at 36.2 percent.

Compounding the problem was last year’s late spring frost followed by the intense summer heat, leading to a 56-year low for global wine production. Having the highest vineyard area in the world at one million hectares, Spain clearly felt the tremors of Mother Nature from La Rioja to Andalusia. In an article published on the Drinks Business website, Richard Cochrane, managing director of Félix Solís UK stated: “The harvest in Spain is down 30% on average and some producers might run out of wine. There is an enormous amount of bulk wine coming out of Spain and it remains the go to place during a wine shortage.”

Topping it off, the domestic market continues to nosedive, causing foreign demand to dictate the industry’s direction.  For nearly four decades, Spanish wine consumption has declined, making it now lower per capita than the United Kingdom. And according to Decanter magazine, those domestic figures included 70 million tourists!  So if Beijing and Berlin are demanding bulk wine for the foreseeable future, a change in direction seems highly unlikely.

Added all up, we can see that Spain is clearly at a crossroads. Certainly there are many vineyards of distinction (one 2015 Spanish wine was called one of the world’s greatest by esteemed critic James Suckling) but in order for the country to compete as global powerhouse in terms of both quality and quantity, a major overhaul in how Madrid looks at its wine industry is desperately needed.


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Ask Sid: Difference between Pinot Gris & Pinot Grigio?

April 18th, 2018
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Ask Sid: Difference between Pinot Gris & Pinot Grigio?

Question: What is the difference between a Pinot Gris & and a Pinot Grigio wine?

Answer: No difference really because both wines use the same grape variety. However the name Pinot Gris is used in Alsace for their fuller richer style while Pinot Grigio in Italy has a lighter vibrant fruit freshness. Germany has the name Grauburgunder for this grape. Many countries now using both names but Pinot Gris is more prominent.


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Improving Peloponnesian Wines from Greece

April 16th, 2018

Improving Peloponnesian Wines from Greece

Always have had a soft spot for Greek wines. Decades ago used to seek out the best retsina to serve ice cold for our fresh local lamb fire pit roasted parties. These days your scribe respects some of their quality dry fresh citric whites full of salinity led by the Assyrtiko (ah-sir-tee-ko) variety – especially from Santorini. Attended a lunch on April 13, 2018 hosted by John Clerides owner of Marquis Wine Cellars & Yorgos Svanias of Domaine Skouras appropriately held at the Relais & Chateau Wedgewood Hotel in Vancouver (with owners of Greek heritage). Interesting selection of successful indigenous varietals planted in the five main wine regions of the Peloponnese being 85% mountainous terrain with benefiting breezes. Domaine Skouras produces a million bottles a year over 17 labels but are focusing so well on balanced wines with good acidity. Particularly impressed with and recommend their 2016 Moscofilero (mos-ko-fi-ler-oh) $32.95 Canadian from 7 clones using some skin contact of different colours resulting in a dry lower alcohol (12 degrees) versatile refreshing white with inviting fragrant scents of jasmine and tangerine. Also enjoyed the fuller bodied richer Preknadi white (12.9) produced by Diamantakos at $43.39 Canadian. Both were excellent pairings with the sea bream crudo selected and prepared by Chef Mongomery Lau.

Some thumbnail useful comments on the most recent Peloponnese vintages by Yorgos:

2013:  Great year that was not too warm produced beautiful reds without their quite usual April-May hail storms.

2014: Warmer year resulting in the vines having to struggle more.

2015: A very fresh year!

2016: Excellent whites and much bigger bodied reds.

2017: Lots of early rain with a Summer heat wave temperatures of 28-40 C though cooler nights. More rain in September resulted in a very long harvesting period stretched from August to October.

Have you discovered any of these emerging Greek varieties from the Peloponnese?




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Ask Sid: Stemless wine glasses?

April 11th, 2018
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Ask Sid: Stemless wine glasses?

Question: What is your opinion on using stemless wine glasses?

Answer: Popular choice for some whose use gives off more casual vibes being more durable with less chance of breakage where the stem meets the bowl. I usually carry a Riedel O stemless glass with an excellent bowl shape around in my backpack that I bring out at wine tastings to use when the only other choice is a small thick glass with a stem that is offered for my use. Personally I don’t like the movie star trend of holding any wine glass by the bowl. It tends to warm up the wine and leave fingerprints.


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1998 Left Bank Bordeaux At 20 Years

April 9th, 2018

1998 Left Bank Bordeaux At 20 Years

This is a follow-up of my earlier posting on January 29, 2018 on a tasting of 1998 Right Bank Bordeaux. At a tasting dinner at CinCin restaurant in Vancouver on March 27, 2018 another 20 year check was done with 9 wines this time on 1998 Left Bank Bordeaux. As indicated previously this vintage generally favoured the merlot grape prominent in Right Bank wines because the early October rains hindered the phenolic ripeness and intensity of some more cabernet based Left Bank properties. Nonetheless the wines showed rather well and better than expected. Started with a sensational bottle of 1996 Roederer Cristal so rich and complex yet with that underlying acidity vibrancy of that celebrated vintage. Finished up with that usually early darkening bronze colour of forwardly Chateau Rieussec 1986 marmalade perfectly paired with a Granny Smith apple crème brulee. Some brief impressions of the 9 wines served in 3 flights:

1. Chateau La Lagune 1998
2. Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste 1998
3. Mystery Served Blind – Ridge Montebello 1998

La Lagune red ruby to the rim with an open herbal bouquet but tastes lighter simpler “Graves” like styling that is mature ready now. Grand Puy a paler rim showing more interesting classic cabernet Pauillac terroir. Also a bit lighter bodied than expected for this property but appreciate the classy elegance. Mystery a bit darker with more oak and fruit depth. Some California cab eucalyptus notes both on the nose and palate. Evolved in the glass more Bordeaux-like in a drier lighter lower alcohol (12.4) softer style. Could it be Lynch Bages? Interesting ringer that fits well here with 70/24/5/1 blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, and cabernet franc. More controversial lighter California cab year styling that was cherished by Robert Mondavi for the balance. All 3 of these on very drinkable plateau now and improved matched with delicious semolina gnocchi “romani” course with wood grilled wild mushrooms & pecorino al tartufo.

4. Chateau Leoville Barton 1998
5. Chateau Leoville Poyferre 1998
6. Chateau Leoville Las Cases 1998

Always exciting to try any vintage of the 3 Leovilles together! Here the 1998 in a so called “shoulder” vintage accentuates that admirable quality of old style Bordeaux – less ripe & less big – but uniquely stylish. Colours of this flight much deeper with Poyferre slightly paler on the rim. Classic Barton solid rich typical “iodine” nose notes with cool harder big muscled cabernet to admire. Contrasts well with more open herbs merlot of Poyferre that is elegant having more acidity and even though way less depth is more ready “most fun drinking” now.  Las Cases has that special complex bouquet with the best rich texture from that concentration of perfectly sorted fruit. All impressed in their own way plus improved with moist duck confit, crisp “roesti” potatoes, jus gras pairing.

7. Chateau Pape Clement 1998
8. Chateau La Mission Haut Brion 1998
9. Chateau Haut Brion 1998

This last flight from Pessac-Leognan (really a Central Bank between Right & Left in this vintage) was approached with great anticipation and did not disappoint. Pape Clement surprises with approval for the solid density of ripe fruit. Drinking nicely but no rush to drink up even if less aristocratic than the two neighbours. The twins have certainly evolved differently over the last decades. Good example here. La Mission has some of that historic Graves admirable “turned earth” cab statement but is more closed in and less typical with the higher 50% merlot in this blend. Needs more time to develop but not the perfect 1989. Haut Brion making an encore from the spectacular mystery wine presence in the Right Bank event again dominates here. Harvested last 2 weeks of September. Hard to pin down that ripe mocha lushness plus the “liquid nobility” superb tannin structure. Love the top vintages of this quality property and 1998 definitely is a respected vintage family member. Wood grilled Alberta lamb rack with Casteluccio heritage lentils, collard greens & rosemary jus was a delicious foil for a great flight of wines. Conclusion that 1998 Bordeaux can be a bit under the radar and there are some lovely wines to experience at 20 years of age – even from the less heralded Left Bank.


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