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Wine & Celebration—The Faces of Vinexpo

June 27, 2017

This post includes little writing.

If you want to read about Vinexpo, check out my Forbes pieces about the event—Women In Wine Embracing The Offbeat, or read about an unusually attractive garden dinner setting to launch Uruguay’s icon wine.

First, some photos from Vinexpo – with descriptions of colorful characters.

Then, some photos from that Uruguayan dinner mentioned above.

Mother daughter team—Lisa (left) and Roberta Borghese from Ronchi di Manzano winery in Friuli, Italy.

 

Rachel Hubert—biodynamic winemaker from Blaye/Bourg, as well as affable neighbor.

 

Phillip and Andre Zull of Zull Wines from Austria—delicious and affordable Grüner Veltliner!

 

Menymeny provided a tasting of Chinese Ningxia wines—with a truly rich and intriguing dark fruit taste.

 

Daniel Brunier of renowned Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-de-Pape, Rhone Valley

 

Winemaker Valentina Buoso of Pascal Jolivet…beautiful Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.

 

Once again, Aurore Monot-Devillard pours beautiful Burgundies from the family owned Le Domaine du Château de Chamirey.

 

Silvana Bento (left) and Penauille Anaïck serve Portuguese wines, including whites made from the Antão Vaz grape. No, I’d never heard of it before either. Sort of like Pinot Gris.

 

Pauline Guiset (left) and Emilie Flchr and rivers of bubbly from Collet.

 

Monsieur Ferran of Château Ferran serves his white Pessac Leognan from Bordeaux at lunch. Tres Bien!

 

Marjorie Amphoux Bertin convinces her audience of the value of Languedoc Roussillon wines.

 

Pauline Dufour of Château Simon demonstrates that Graves whites can be very affordable.

 

An emissary for Shtoff insists that it’s never too early to sip.

 

Natalia Pinho of Tsallin Wines from Switzerland—she showed me photos of a ‘helicopter harvest’ on steep slopes. Ah, those Swiss!

 

Ms. Haruka Takeuchi introduced many of us to spellbinding sake.

 

Now, a few photos from the dinner at Château de Lantic, prepared by renowned Argentinian chef Francis Mallmann. We sampled the new icon wine Balasto from Bodegas Garzón. Wonderful.

A sample of Uruguayan/Argentinian/Italian hospitality…

 

 

Summer White Wines From The Azores And Japan

June 13, 2017

Three Topics This Week:

  • Book
  • Azores Islands in the mid-Atlantic
  • Denis Dubourdieu memorial wine tasting (Japanese, Spanish, French and Italian wines featured)

The Cookbook – 

The draft of The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion is ready and I’m communicating with a few publishers in the U.S. Our book agent in Europe is also in touch with several publishers (and reminding me to be patient). It takes time to find the right ‘home.’ I shall keep contributors informed.

Below is a photo taken months ago of preparing salmon cured with fennel and citrus. This recipe was sent by Kimberley Judd of Greywacke Winery in New Zealand, compliments of Chef Hornby of Arbour Restaurant (Greywacke wine is produced by Kimberley’s husband Kevin Judd, the winemaker who brought renown to Marlborough with his Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc).

Azores Islands –

Below are a few photographs from my second visit to the Azores islands, taken a few weeks ago. You can read more – either from my blog post from many years ago, or the Forbes piece I wrote in May. Both articles tell about the local wine and its growing popularity. Additionally, I previously wrote an article about Azorean ‘espece’ cookies which are challenging to craft, but delicious.

 

Eight years ago, during a visit, I was convinced that it would be eminently wise to invest there – and that the wine would become popular worldwide. Well, the market for property has exploded in the past three years and the quantity of grapevines has doubled in the past two years.

Ah, perhaps I should follow my intuition for where to invest! I visited New Zealand in the 1980’s and said the same. At least where I now live—Blaye, in France—is greatly on the uptick (compared to the sleepy and somewhat unkempt town first visited eight years ago).

The Azores were once famed for whaling—hence the image of the whale on one of the wine labels below (both of these whites are excellent, by the way).

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Denis Dubourdieu Wine Tasting

On June 1st, thanks to an invitation from friend and wine author Gilles Berdin, I had the privilege to be invited to the Institute of the Science of Vines and Wines in Bordeaux city to attend Duad’s Club (Dégustation Universelle d’Appellations Diverses – or Global Tastings of Diverse Appellations). This group meets every few weeks to sample specific types of wine.

I entered a massive, bright lit, white university classroom/laboratory. There at least 50 seats faced a blackboard and each desk included a built-in spittoon as well as a flat panel of glass on which two wine glasses rested.

The attendees were all adult professionals involved with the trade—winemakers, cellar masters, and enologists.

We sampled ten wines, each made under the guidance of enologist Denis Dubourdieu who passed away last year (hence this gathering was a tribute to him; Dubourdieu was also the enologist for our own Etalon Rouge wine label).

There were seven whites (a Japanese, two Spanish, and four French) and three reds (a Barolo from Italy, a Bordeaux and a Rhone). All were excellent, and using a 100 point scale, I would rate 9 out of 10 of these wines with a score of 90 or greater. The tasting notes follow.

[Skip the following tasting notes, if that’s not what interests you]

Individual wines were poured simultaneously to each ‘student,’ after which two wine specialists told us about the vintages.

The first wine was excellent—a Japanese Shizen 2013—made with in the Yamanashi Prefecture using the Koshu grape. The beautifully balanced and lively white wine has the scent of white flowers and a smooth taste spiked with grapefruit.

Two other superlative whites included a 2014 Chivite Collección 125 from the Navarre region of Spain, and a 2013 Château Couhins Lurton from Pessac Leognan of Bordeaux. On the nose this second wine smelt somewhat like a bouquet of fresh flowers and in the mouth it balanced rich cream with tanginess.

The other white wines—all excellent—included a 2015 Valenciso Rioja, a 2015 Reynon from Bordeaux, a 2015 Clos Floridene from Graves in Bordeaux and a 2014 Chateau Carbonnieux from Pessac Leognan.

All three reds were excellent. These included a 2008 Pio Cesare Barolo from Alba, Italy. The taste included the characteristic ammonia tang of the Nebbiolo grape as well as a silky taste that blended straw, cherries and blackberries. The 2006 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle tasted beautifully of soft red fruit, while the 2008 Haut Bailly from Pessac Leognan had a smooth taste blending rich cherries with a pinch of tobacco.

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That’s all for now from our semi-cloudy, sometimes sun-splashed home in Blaye, France. There will be plenty to tell of after Vinexpo Bordeaux next week.

If you want to read other recent Forbes pieces about golf and wine vacations, or Vinexpo, click here. Thanks for tuning in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DOUBLE ISSUE: Wealth, Wine And Possible New App

May 16, 2017

 

Vineyards in upper Rioja, Spain

I had the good fortune to meet and speak with Baroness de Rothschild last week, and found her energetic, colorful, determined and endlessly curious. Earlier I had made notes on words of wisdom from this woman who tirelessly travels the world. Born in El Salvador, she lived in Columbia, spent time in Senegal in Africa and now tirelessly manages a foundation responsible for thousands of employees and over $100 billion of assets. She is a bright, though warm and approachable woman. In building wine businesses, her two watchwords are ‘discipline and quality.’

Traveling south of Rioja to San Sebastian, Spain

Some wise words about life and wine from this bright woman are below.

“You can work a lot but if you never party I don’t see the point in working. It’s important to celebrate.”

“We’re only one of the families in the world that does banking as much as we do winemaking. For me it’s an economic model that really has worked. Why? As a finance person—asset diversification. That’s one. Two, to be very rooted in the earth. Banking tends to be often times very abstract and so it’s a very healthy exercise to be reconnected with basics. It’s very difficult, by the way, to earn money when you are subject to weather. But it’s a very good reminder. For me it’s a model. It’s balance.”

“I think we build more by heart and conviction rather than by business.”

“There is a strong market for terroir projects that are related to a specific region.”

“I don’t have hierarchies. I manage with a flat structure. Because I think small businesses are just as much work as big businesses.”

“A lot of people have a static view of what Rothschild is, so this is something to discuss: the difference between myth and reality. They myth exists as long as you keep keeping it. You could say living off just Lafite [wine] could be nice. For me it’s not very satisfactory. With a name such as ours it’s really interesting to keep building because it’s what I like to call legacy transformation. When you inherit, is it an end in itself? I think if my life was just to inherit it would be a very sad life. You can’t just one day just inherit and sit on a pile of dividends and make your life just that. It’s important to take risks, to have strong roots, strong opinions, and go for it.”

Bottles of Macán wine – Tempranillo from Rioja

“The wines I like drinking? There are times you drink excellent wines you are just not into. Sometimes they just don’t work. That’s my personal experience. Sometimes you don’t expect anything and you drink and wine and you say—’Wow! Absolutely amazing.’ I always have a hard time with people having a linear view of wines because I think it depends on how you feel, and it’s not always the company. Sometimes you taste wine, sometimes you don’t. I think there are obviously amazing wines in Bordeaux. To be very precise my very favorite is Lafite ’59. Absolute superstar. Why? Because every time you have the same experience of power. I think it’s a memorable wine. Cheval Blanc—I think it’s an exceptional wine. Many vintages are exceptional. And Burgundy? Very interesting wines. I have the extreme luxury to have a very old cellar. I really like just picking a bottle. Especially I would say hanging our in the garden in Bordeaux is the experience. Sometimes you have amazing surprises without the filter of the hype. Sometimes you say, ‘is that it?’ ”

Disciplined vineyards near the Sierra Cantabria in Rioja, Spain

Sage words.

By the way, their new Rioja wine Macán? It’s beautiful. Truly. Read more about it in my Forbes piece here.

Madame Rothschild, who received an MBA in New York, mentioned the economic concept of ‘elasticity’ and ‘inelasticity’ with regard to the price of wine. Which relates, tangentially, to a possible new app.

Basically (very basically) if the price of something increases, and that does not proportionally impact your decision to buy it—that product displays ‘inelasticity.’ Imagine you have to drink bottled water instead of tap water. If someone increases the price, you still buy about the same amount of water. Why? Because you need it to survive. ‘Economic inelasticity’ means that someone can increase a price, and that ends up also increasing their overall revenue.  (The opposite holds true for ‘elasticity.’)

Is wine an elastic or inelastic commodity? Ah, it depends. If the price of a mediocre wine doubles, are you going to drink half as much? If the price of an excellent wine halves, will you drink twice as much?

I’ll not discuss that uncertain realm of economics.

However…

If we take a few dozen wines, discern those of acceptable quality, and then compare their quality to price, we can deduce which of those wines are the best value to buy. Evaluating that is not quite so simple, because at certain points the quality of some wines is high enough that you will be willing to spend a bit more than for mediocre wines. These are points at which degrees of elasticity change.

This is considered in the Vino Value algorithm I developed, and have mentioned here before. Tomorrow I’ll have the second Skype call with an IOS software specialist interested in developing this algorithm into an interactive app that would allow users to rate their own wines alone or, in groups. (Investors are welcome.)

I’ll keep you posted.

Given a range of wines from the same region, each priced differently and having—according to your own taste—different levels of quality, this algorithm eliminates wines not worth considering and highlights three best levels of value.

This past weekend was the Portes Ouverts—’open doors’—wine tasting in the nearby Côtes de Bourg wine region of Bordeaux (which I’ve written about before here). What is news?

The new owners of Clos du Notaire, a young couple, have already sold out their entire stock. I was fortunate to taste from their final bottle and found it delicious…I am confident their future wines will equal and perhaps surpass what were already good wines coming from this château. Also, the top cuvée from Château Sirac, 2015, is a beauty worth watching.

Helpful service from Naomi at Château Puy ‘dAmour

 

Taking the motor for a spin out of Château Tayac

 

During two leisurely days I visited 14 chateaux—both alone and in a group of five. Lunch on both days at different châteaux was a pleasure … grilled duck, foie gras and glasses of hearty red blends of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec wines.

Wandering the vineyards of Château Gros Moulin

The table below rates wines for overall value, not just quality.

Finally, if you have been under the impression that Bordeaux wines are generally expensive, look at the prices.

Vino Value™ Scoring of Selected Wines – Côtes de Bourg Open Doors 2017
Winery Wine Retail Price – Euros Retail Price – US dollars equivalent Value Score
Château Sauman Secret de Sauman Rosé 2016 € 6.80 $7.41 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Puy d’Amour Rosé € 4.80 $5.23 Good Value ♫
Clos du Notaire Clos de Notaire 2012 (red) € 9.80 $10.68 Good Value ♫
Clos du Notaire L’usu Fruit 2016 (red) € 5.90 $6.43 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château La Croix-Davids Le Paradis 2014 (red) € 7.00 $7.63 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château La Croix-Davids Grand Vin de Bordeaux 2014 (red) € 9.00 $9.81 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château La Croix-Davids Louis Meneuvrier Bouteille 2014 (red) € 15.00 $16.35 Good Value ♫
Château Brûlesécaille Blanc de Brulesecaille 2015 (white) € 8.50 $9.27 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Brûlesécaille Château La Gravière 2012 (red) € 8.00 $8.72 Good Value ♫
Château Mercier Cuvée Prestige 2014 (red) € 9.95 $10.85 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Mercier Clos de Piat 2014 (red) € 12.80 $13.95 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château de Rousselet Traditionnel 2012 (red) € 4.10 $4.47 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Vieux Nodeau Tradition 2012 (red) € 12.00 $13.08 Good Value ♫
Château de la Grave Grain Fins 2015 (white) € 10.50 $11.45 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château de la Grave Classic 2015 (red) € 8.00 $8.72 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château de la Grave Nectar 2014 (red) € 15.00 $16.35 Good Value ♫
Château Gros Moulin Les Lys du Moulin 2016 (white) € 6.00 $6.54 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Gros Moulin Gros Moulin 2015 (red) € 7.30 $7.96 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Gros Moulin Per Vitem ad Vitam 2014 (red) € 14.00 $15.26 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Gros Moulin Heritage 2014 (red) € 20.00 $21.80 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Tayac Cuvée Océane 2015 (white) € 7.20 $7.85 Good Value ♫
Château Tayac Cuvée Réservée 2009 (red) € 11.50 $12.54 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Tour des Graves Tour des Graves 2014 (white) € 7.00 $7.63 Good Value ♫
Château Tour des Graves Tour des Graves Fût de Chêne (red) € 7.00 $7.63 Good Value ♫
Château Puybarbe Cuvée Le Main 2014 (red) € 5.40 $5.89 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Puybarbe Cuvée Tradition 2014 (red) € 7.00 $7.63 Good Value ♫
Château Sirac Cuvée Especial 2015 (red) € 19.00 $20.71 Excellent Value ♫♫

You may want to check out these sites…

This wine blog is run by an American friend, Alex Rychlewski, who has spent years living in Bordeaux.

This food and lifestyle site is run by a charming young lady, Marion Flipo, who leads tours in Paris.

Here are various articles, many in the New York Times, written by a freelance American writer, Sara Lieberman, who is a travel and lifestyle writer based in Paris.

 

Here are also a few wonderful, colorful, lively Instagram sites (from an international team of women I recently met in Paris) that highlight food, drinks and trips:

Elizabeth from the Shetland Islands…

Kavita Favelle of London…

Sarah from Birmingham…

Ida from Norway…

 

Revamped Food, Wine And Cocktails In Paris

May 2, 2017

First, the big news is that devastating frost severely impacted grapes across not only France, but throughout many countries in Europe. Between 50 and 100 percent of many vines were knocked out. I wrote a brief piece about this tragedy for Forbes, which is here.

Another Forbes piece regarding a strategy for visiting Paris is here.

But weather aside, a two-day trip to Paris last week highlighted how the charm of this city is inversely proportional to the amount you must drive, while directly related to how much you can walk the streets.

A real buzz of this visit was when the mayor of Paris—Anne Hidalgo—spent a morning presenting awards to 100 chefs within the city within the seriously opulent Hotel de Ville (city hall) building, the size of a city block with stain glass windows, decadent chandeliers and ornate ceiling tapestries. You are thinking Parisian chefs and French cuisine? Au contraire—not so.

The awards targeted chefs of every nationality and ethnic background, as long as their eateries (regardless the size) measured up to metrics that included affordability, use of locally sourced ingredients and (of course!) diversity in the wine list. Bistros and restaurants awarded included Les Cartes Postales, which has provided Japanese elegance in cuisine for 39 years; Yard: a British chef highlighting his produce in a New York style warehouse; Noste – where a young Basque man spit-roasts beef; Korean ‘melting pot’ cuisine at Pierre Sang; Mexican cuisine from Coretta; Tempero, a restaurant fusing French, Brazilian and Vietnamese cuisine, and Amarante—with ‘faultless French cuisine’ that includes ‘good fat—generous and rare’ (according to those who hosted the ceremony). Awards were also given to cuisine from diverse parts of France, including Brittany, Normandy, Touraine and Auvergne.

Chef Alain Ducasse spoke, saying, “We are working in historical and contemporary locations, intent on defending gastronomy.”

This was soon proved when, after the awards, we attended a buffet that included beef Bourguignon, cassoulet, creme caramel and rice pudding. Excellent food.

Coincidentally, I recently wrote a book review about the new Paris food, wine and culture scene for Forbes.

Elsewhere in Paris, at the little bistro named Le Refectoire—an excellent lunch was matched with an easy drinking, light and fruity wine: a Pic Saint Loup from Château Valflaunès in the Languedoc. This is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes. Pic Saint Loup wine is produced from grapes grown around a mountain massif of the same name in the south-east of France.

At a cooking class at L’Atelier des Sens (the workshop of senses) a group of us made eclairs, with a bit less efficiency than the chef.

At the restaurant Anicia (named after the mountain of that name in the Auvergne region of France) the chef matched filet of dorado fish and parsley butter with a Loire Valley white wine from the Cheverny appellation. Beautiful

The gist of the this food and wine fest was to highlight the truth that ‘Parisian cuisine’ has altered form in the past decade. No longer are restaurants over-priced and somewhat stuffy bastions of Michelin starred exclusivity. The economic crisis shifted that paradigm, and affordable, top quality, no frill restaurants and bistros (embracing the ‘bistronomy’ movement that was first kick started by a rebellious Parisian chef 25 years ago) are legion in this ever-changing city on the Seine.

And if wine is not enough for you? There are cocktails galore…

I always suspect that the romantic Paris of the past will have vanished by the next time I visit…yet it never does. The city always reinvents itself in a way that maintains pride in how it fuses art with food, and blends live music with intimately small but comfortable locales. The new proliferation of international cuisine and affordable food in unadorned venues helps keeps the unpredictable and always surprising pulse of this city beating with gusto.

 

 

Spring Roundup From Saint-Émilion

April 18, 2017

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to taste 2016 wines in Saint-Émilion by author Gilles Berdin (his book series of interviews with winemakers is excellent). We began at Château Angélus where I spoke with both the owner Hubert de Boürd de Laforest, and his daughter Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal, who is now Managing Director for the estate.

Left to right: Hubert de Boürd, Thierry Grenié de Boüard, and Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal of Château Angélus.

Earlier this week I included interviews with them in two separate Forbes articles. In summary, this renowned wine château has been owned and managed by the same family for 235 years, and they plan to maintain that structure while global conglomerates gobble up precious acres around them. Their aggressive plan is three-fold: to keep the château within the family (setting up legal vehicles to do so), to expand their business (including running an excellent restaurant and hotel in the small nearby city of Saint-Émilion), and to take the quality of their wine to an even higher level. The dynamics of the lucrative Bordeaux wine scene can be quietly fluid, and for a family to retain reins of their estate requires determination and clear vision.

I was impressed by their friendliness, clarity of thought, down-to-earth pragmatism and respect for quality. The interviews with them provided jewels of insight regarding the value of family and focus.

Afterwards, we managed to slip into Château Cheval Blanc (merci again, Gilles) for a taste of their supremely light wines. Beautiful.

Tasting room at Cheval Blanc

Fermentation tanks for that beautiful Cabernet Franc

Because Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem of Sauternes are now owned by conglomerate LVMH, we were also able, at the same venue, to enjoy a few splashes of that Yquem liquid gold—thanks to winemaker Sandrine Garbay.

Sandrine Garbay

 

Murielle Andraud and Jean-Luc Thunevin

We then visited Valandraud wines in Saint-Émilion, from where—decades ago—Murielle Andraud and Jean-Luc Thunevin launched ‘garage wines’ that revolutionized wine making in the region. We sipped a glass with them and enjoyed sunshine in their garden that was buzzing with wine aficionados.

More than a quarter century ago the couple grew vines on less than a hectare. The wine had no classification but that of Saint-Émilion. Jean-Luc then often complained about winemakers’ hands being tied by regulations. In time their hand picked, hand-destemmed, low-yield wines won a reputation. They now own several wine stores in the city and sell wines that not only command a good price, but are well-respected.

Last week we also enjoyed the springtime of wines, Printemps des Vins, here in our local Citadelle in the town of Blaye. The good news is that the wines tasted—across the board—were far better than even two years ago. Vapid, visionless and insipid oak bombs have been replaced with easygoing tastes of bright fruit, indicating that Blaye is turning a page in terms of wine quality.

Winemakers from Château Margagnis in Blaye

Later this week I will post two other Forbes pieces about millennials. One is about a young winery owner and a winemaker, both from the East Coast of the U.S., who are determined to make decent quality ‘craft’ wine for less than $20 a bottle in California. Both studied at culinary school, and both want to rock the market for that wine price point—which is now often associated with plonk in the U.S.

The other article is about a soon to be launched book that relates to the Parisian food phenomenon known as ‘bistronomy’ and the economic crisis. The book is titled The New Paris by Lindsey Tramuta. The author is a particularly articulate young woman who now lives with her French husband in Paris and who documented how the economic crisis led to improvements in much of that city—for the better.

Again, thanks for tuning in.

 

Wine and Words in Bordeaux

April 4, 2017

Roadside walk near the village of Cars

For years while living in southern California I attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books each spring. Held on the University of California Los Angeles campus for several days (this year it will be later in April), this event is a gift.

I listened to dozens of authors—including Michael Crichton, Pico Iyer, Jared Diamond, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, A. Scott Berg, Gore Vidal, Dava Sobel and even Kirk Douglas (more actor than author, but an engaging speaker). These authors who produced captivating books were available to listen to for free. Held for a few days each year, the event is inspiring.

Now in France I attend L’Escale du Livre each year in the city of Bordeaux, close to home. In comparison to the LA festival, it is small and with fewer sessions to attend. But the architecture around the location is inspiring, and enjoying lunch on a cobbled place with a few glasses of wine? Beyond perfect.

Stalls at the foot of Église Saint-Croix de Bordeaux

This event is a micro-world tour. In one stall there is French literature; the next stall includes books about travels in the Gobi desert and Patagonia, while a few feet further on are collections of recipes from the Pyrenees. There are books on travel, wine, taste, geography, romance and cooking. There are picture books and copies of ancient monograms, detective novels and surfing chronicles. This is a place to enjoy the tactile touch of paper and to appreciate opinion, intelligence and art distilled into paragraphs and onto pages.

Several stalls include books relating food and wine.

The subject of taste is a common book theme

The pleasures of wine

Last year at this event I met Gilles Berdin, author of several books of interviews with winemakers. From under the counter he pulled out an English translation of interviews with oenologist Denis Dubourdieu. Unfortunately  winemaker Dubourdieu passed away months later. This January, Gilles invited a group of us to listen to biodynamic wine guru Nicolas Joly from the Loire Valley.

This year, Gilles pulled out an English translation of another of his books published by Elytis in Bordeaux: Sharing a Bottle with Henri Duboscq (of Chateau Haut-Marbuzet). This time, together with books displayed on the table, Gilles also displayed a bottle of wine.  When we noticed it was past 11.00 a.m., he poured us une petite dégustation of this beautiful white Bordeaux blend–including Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

Author Berdin (right) and editor from Elytis

I placed the book in a daypack and walked outside to Place Pierre Renaudel to sit at a covered table over a cobbled square. There with an aperitif of vin blanc I waited for tabouli followed by a lamb, eggplant and tomato sauce moussaka. Meanwhile I flipped open the book and read what Monsieur Duboscq said about tasting a good wine.

“Inhaling such a wine gets one ready for tasting, tidies up memories, invites meditation and anticipates palatal delights. Such aromas lead to spiritual ecstasy. Now, take a generous mouthful.”

Wine tidying up memories? Love it. On the next page:

“Indeed, with wine, as with love, there is no such thing as a definite truth. At best there are truths on the spur of the moment.”

Four pages into this book and I was already exposed to jewels of wisdom.

Basilique Saint-Michel

Then the next page:

“No mouthful, no bottle is ever exactly identical to the previous one. I always find this mathematical need to define wine amusing. How could one possibly define the paroxysm of pleasure?”

“For 50 years I have endeavoured to be a supplier of dreams through my wine and, if possible, a generator of voluptuousness.”

I sipped noon wine in the sunny square and then flipped to another page. Again, life and insight:

“In the glass of wine, you will thus find the miracle that thousands of rootlets extracted from the gravel, you will find faith, passion, winemaker madness, you will find this divine essence, life itself.”

This book event in a quiet portion of the city is where wine meets paper, vintages meld with literature and there may even be the coincidence of patio sunshine with a decent lunchtime vintage.

Worlds between covers

Another of Gille’s books is about ‘garage wine’ (Le Vin de Garage) produced in St. Émilion by Murielle Andraud and Jean-Luc Thunevin at Château Valandraud. Tomorrow we’ll visit there (as well as Château Angelus) to taste their 2016 wines. Also, this coming weekend will be the magnificent Printemps des Vins wine festival here in Blaye, when some 80 winemakers on 80 acres of land will uncork their latest wares for sampling within an ancient fortress. I wrote a piece for Forbes about this event.

Other recent Forbes pieces have been more about travel than wineincluding pre-history and food in the Dordogne. One piece includes a random sample of meals from 21 (out of the dozens) of winemakers in the forthcoming book The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion. Incidentally the text has been compiled. After one more day of work with the photo editor we’ll produce a draft pdf to send publishers.

Will keep you informed. As always, thanks for tuning in.

Colorful Bordeaux alleyways

Why Gurus Are Obsolete And Brands Are For The Timid

March 21, 2017

People buy famous and expensive wine brands for different reasons.

One reason is that they can be a decent investment—which is valid.

Another, somewhat unsettling, reason relates to risk aversion.

An essay in a recently published Wired Magazine outlines this logic*. According to Rory Sullivan, vice-chairman of the New York marketing firm Ogilvy & Mather Group, one reason people buy renowned brands is that humans instinctively want to avoid disaster, rather than seek perfection. Famous brands may not provide perfection, he notes, but their reputation means that they will likely steer you clear of disaster. They are, he wrote, “…an exceedingly reliable way of avoiding buying something which is awful.”

Unless you are purchasing expensive and renowned Bordeaux First Growths to lay away in a cellar to sell later, or hang out with deep pocketed friends, or are trying to impress somewhat shallow visitors, is it worth shelling out serious cash for wine? Some say yes. For me, there are a few mind-altering Burgundy wines for which I might fork over $100 per bottle (and certainly not frequently). But thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars to buy less than a liter of fermented grape juice?

Why?

I’ve sampled a few pricey Grand Cru wines. A few (certainly not all) are mediocre. For daily drinking, I’d be more inclined to nip down the road to any of a dozen local châteaux selling splendid wines for south of 20 Euros a pop (including the 8 Euro La Garagiste made by a wild-haired Brit named Ben—good stuff).

If you want to buy more expensive brands, fine. Just don’t be confident that the level of wine quality will raise commensurately with the price.

This short video highlights problems concerning price and quality.

Or, you could ask a critic.

Famously expensive brands, after all, attract ‘experts’ and ‘renowned’ critics.

Perhaps some ‘experts’ hope that this association with an established tide of renown may somehow float their own levels of self-esteem, public profile, or even income.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Human nature, at times, causes us to be attracted to that which is popular.

But some ‘experts’ may soon become disposable.

Here’s why.

In his highly readable, fascinating and excellent book titled Thinking, Fast and SlowNobel Prize winning author Daniel Kahneman tells the true story of a Princeton economist and wine lover named Orley Ashenfelter. In the 1980’s this man, who publishes the Liquid Assets newsletter, thought it would be worthwhile to predict the future value of Bordeaux wines based on the weather in the years when the grapes grew. Generally, wet springs impact the quantity of wine produced, while warm dry summers can be wonderful for quality.

Ashenfelter designed a mathematical model with an input of just three weather-related factors:

  • The average temperature over the summer growing season.
  • The amount of rain at harvest time.
  • The total rainfall during the previous winter.

Using this, he could predict average wine prices not only years ahead, but decades into the future, with a correlation between his predictions and actual prices of 0.90.**

Pretty dang good.

He predicted 1986 would be an average vintage, vying against the prediction of world renowned wine guru Robert Parker.

Ashenfelter was correct, not Parker.

His impetus for creating this mathematical model came from observations of a wine château owner in the St. Estephe region on Bordeaux’s left bank. Ashenfelter’s algorithm worked so well that it had the potential of rendering opinions of ‘experts’ obsolete.

So—they trashed it.

When this happy mathematician paraded his algorithm (an example of ‘demystification of expertise,’ as Kahneman called it) within prominent wine circles, the reactions—according to a New York Times article—ranged between ‘violent and hysterical.’ The Wine Spectator magazine stopped letting Ashenfelter advertise, while Robert Parker called his research ‘ludicrous and absurd.’

Not everyone was skeptical. One Yale professor suggested that if others were not told these predictions derived from mathematics, more ‘experts’ might be willing to accept them. But, no.

“The prejudice against algorithms,” Kahneman remarked in telling the tale, “…is magnified when the decisions are consequential.”

And popular input regarding the price of expensive wine? Very consequential.

[What does it take to become a wine critic? This Irish brewer found that it’s not difficult to judge wines, as long as all are relatively awful.]

Now, what wine to serve…?

But seriously, the conclusion?

  1. Consider why you want to purchase an expensive wine with a renowned brand name.
  2. Perhaps an algorithm can help you select wines of better value.

Regarding number 2, learning about Ashenfelter’s research only a few weeks ago struck an inner bell.

Two years ago I developed an algorithm—to identify the best value wines within any specific wine region. It combines two factors—one being subjective, which is taste, the other being objective, which is price. Like Ashenfelter, in developing it I used a regression analysis to calibrate the model. The mathematics are not linear because, when humans hit a sweet spot as far as quality goes, they are more receptive to opening wallets and purses to fork out more greenies for that lovely liquid.

The reaction I got for this mathematical model? It ranged between fascination and wariness. The most gifted wine taster I ever met (a young French man) was polite, though suspiciously inquisitive. Generally, however, its merit still waits to be proved.

Spring has arrived here in Bordeaux. That means it will soon be time to take out this Vino Value algorithm again for a road trip or two, combining quality with price to recommend the best value wines to purchase.  Previous uses focused on wines from California’s Anderson Valley, on the Finger Lakes wine region of New York as well as on the Loire Valley and on wines from the Cahors region.

I’ll keep you posted as this model rolls out again.

In the meantime—remember the point of the above stories: be confident in your own judgment of which wines you like, and be wary of buying any wine just because it has a ‘label’ that equates with expense.

Prices aside, here are a few insights into what constitutes quality in wine.

Finally, my latest Forbes articles are here, including a recent piece about why you will seen an increase in new blends of Rioja white wines.

Coming attractions include….

…the Dordogne region of France. Thanks for tuning in.

And a final question:

 

Notes:

* See The Wired World In 2017 – ‘In The Game Of Life, Anything Times Zero Must Still Be Zero.’

** Kahneman suggested that one reason for the inferiority of ‘expert’ opinions is that “…humans are incorrigibly inconsistent in making summary judgments of complex information.” He continued by writing, “The research suggests a surprising conclusion: to maximize predictive accuracy, final decisions should be left to formulas, especially in low-validity environments.” (Those are domains with a significant degree of unpredictability and uncertainty, which applies to the quality of wine and the vagaries of weather.)

Comment below if you like.

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