Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The key to luxury branding? Saying "no"

Luxury drinks brands need to learn to say “no” more in order to succeed in today’s tough retail climate, according to one of the UK’s leading brand strategists. As reported in the drinks business, Peter Cross (pictured), brand strategist at retail marketing agency Yellowdoor said: “Luxury is about saying “no”. It’s about maintaining exclusivity and scarcity. Brands who are brazen enough to take the high ground will be able to separate themselves from their competitors."

Speaking at the G.H. Mumm and Perrier-Jouët Champagne Assembly at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel on Friday, Cross warned of the dangers of being too keen to please. “Last year, the luxury industry said yes a lot – to new markets, new categories and regional thinking – it bent over backwards to allow consumers to have it their way. But people want something even more when they can’t have it,” he said.

Cross stressed however, that retaining exclusivity is not enough. You have to have integrity, values, a story to tell, and a clearly defined place in the market,” he said, citing the economic crisis and the digital revolution as having changed the way we shop. “Luxury items have shifted from being out of reach to being accessible, and we expect brands to filter into our everyday lives. With consumer knowledge up and blogs and Twitter taken more seriously, today’s shoppers are empowered,” he warned.

Cross ended his speech by speaking of the extraordinary power of goodwill gestures. “Small gifts, like extra laces with a pair of Churches shoes, can make all the difference and inspire brand loyalty. Understanding the subtleties of selling is crucial,” he said. Meanwhile, Pierre Aymeric du Cray, global sales director of G.H. Mumm and Perrier-Jouët, spoke of moving beyond the “bling” era in Champagne.

“Consumers are less inclined to buy luxury brands as status symbols to show off with, and are instead looking for genuine brand values,” he said. “Today’s consumers want a sense of timelessness in the luxury goods they buy – something they can pass on to the next generation,” he added, citing personal customer relationships as key to success in 2012. “Consumers are looking for a sense of belonging, to feel part of the brands’ family. 2012 will be all about craftsmanship,” he said.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Sir Terence Conran: My Passion for Wine

Wine and the City spends an afternoon with the indefatigable author, designer and restaurateur behind the Habitat furniture chain and London restaurants Bluebird and Boundary, to chat about drinking Cahors with Nancy Cunard in the '50s, smoking Cuban cigars with David Hockney, and a road trip to Burgundy in Bill Baker's Land Rover.

When did your interest in wine begin?

I got into wine while working as a designer for John Harvey & Sons in Bristol – a breeding ground for some of the most influential people in the wine trade: Michael Broadbent, Harry Waugh – you name it. It was the most wonderful induction to the world of fine wine.

How did you develop your newfound passion?

I started drinking quality wine and began to understand the differences between vintages, châteaux and regions. I decided red and white Burgundy were my passions – they have an indefinable decadence about them. I was born in 1931, which was a terrible year for Bordeaux. As a result I’ve been given some disastrous presents. Michael Broadbent gave me a bottle of 1931 Haut-Brion, which was undrinkable vinegar. Luckily, it was a good year for Port.

Are you a Bordeaux or a Burgundy man?

As I get older, I understand the subtlety of wine more. I find Burgundy more French than Bordeaux. Bordeaux has been Americanised and is very concerned with money. Burgundy is more intellectual than Bordeaux. Old Burgundy has such fantastic, complex flavours. I’ve got two cellars under my house in Berkshire, one for white wine and one for red. They’re the perfect temperature and humidity for both wine and cigars.

I’ve heard you’re partial to the odd cigar…

Cigars are another passion – I smoke three Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No2s a day. I often drink Chilean wine as I find it robust, full of flavour and well priced. I object to paying £500 for a bottle of wine. Being a war child I am still obsessed with value for money. I’ve tried Pétrus on very few occasions. It’s a beautiful wine, but I can’t drink it in a relaxed way.

Who do you like to share your prized bottles with?

My dear friend Bill Baker, who died three years ago, was the best person to drink wine with. I shared a huge number of bottles with him over the years, and bought most of my wine from him at Reid Wines – he was incredibly knowledgeable. He would drive me around Burgundy in his huge Land Rover, loading case after case at every vineyard we stopped off at. When I went on Eurostar with him, he’d bring a big basket full of wine, which we’d crack open during the journey.

Do you see wine as an investment or something to enjoy?

Both. I’m not an investor in wine, but I like the idea of it. If you’re going to invest in anything, then wine and art are the best things to spend your money on because you can enjoy your investment. I collect a lot of art. I buy my contemporaries – Hodgkin and Hockney. Hockney is a big wine lover – I’ve drunk vast quantities of wine and smoked many cigars with him. On a trip to Southern France in the early ’50s I went to stay in a converted barn belonging to English socialite and heiress Nancy Cunard (pictured), who counted Aldous Huxley and TS Eliot among her lovers. We drank Cahors late into the night until our teeth went black.

Article originally published in Decanter magazine

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Battle of Bosworth

Wine and the City talks to Louise Hemsley-Smith, co-owner of Battle of Bosworth winery in the McLaren Vale, Australia, at Quo Vadis in Soho, about the reasoning behind the historic name, the benefits of single site wine, sulphur-free Shiraz, and natural wine bohemians.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Single vineyard Rioja enters the spotlight

Single vineyard Rioja is coming into the international spotlight, helped in the past few years by perfect or near-perfect Parker scores. Rioja Alavesa-based Artadi and Alta-based Finca Allende are at the cutting edge of the single vineyard movement with El Pison and Calvario, Simon Field MW of Berry Bros & Rudd told the drinks business. “The single vineyard movement is a very positive thing for Rioja, but it requires experimentation and the volumes are so tiny that a lot of them stay within the domestic market,” he said.

Working on a new single vineyard project in Rioja Baja is Spanish wine pioneer Alvaro Palacios, who is back at his family’s 100-hectare estate in the town of Alfaro. Believing Baja boasts the perfect terroir for old vine Garnacha, he has steadily increased the percentage of Garnacha in his blends each year, with the ultimate goal of making a single vineyard Garnacha from his 3-hectare Valmira vineyard, which he aims to release in the next few years.

Since returning to Rioja, Palacios has noticed positive a shift towards regional thinking. “People are starting to realise that the three sub regions have very different personalities, like the Left Bank and Right Bank in Bordeaux,” he said. He sees the single vineyard trend as not only exciting, but crucial for Rioja’s future. “We need to take more of a regional approach in Rioja and start putting both the sub regions and the names of the individual villages on our labels like they do in France ­– it’s the only language of fine wine, but the Consejo won’t allow it."

Another spearhead of the single vineyard movement is David Sampedro, who makes a super-premium red and white from his limestone-rich, 1.3-hectare El Brozal plot dating back to Roman times in the town of El Villar, producing a mere 1,000 six-bottle cases a year, the majority of which is exported to the US. Like Palacios, he wants to see winemakers putting village names on their labels. “I’ve had problems with the Consejo for putting the single vineyard name on my labels, but Rioja desperately needs to communicate this terroir concept,” he urged.

Sampedro hope to see more single vineyard Riojas emerge in the near future. “It would lead to a better consumer understanding of Rioja’s terroir concept, but as a winemaker you need to be able to make money in other ways to stay afloat,” he admitted. El Pison, which Sampedro considers to be Spain’s top wine, is made from grapes grown in a high altitude, southeast facing, amphitheatre-shaped, 2.5-hectare old vine clos a mile from Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa. The brainchild of Juan Carlos Lopez de Lacaille of Artadi, the 2004 vintage received 100 points from The Wine Advocate, and sells for £300 a bottle.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

d'Arenberg "Dadd" sparkling wine released

McLaren Vale producer d’Arenberg has released a limited edition sparkling wine called Dadd. As reported on thedrinksbusiness.com, the label carries the signature d’Arenberg red sash, which bears a striking resemblance to a Champagne house with a similarly familial name.

Chief winemaker Chester Osborn revealed the project has been one hundred years in the making. “Four generations of dads have culminated in this celebratory project. It has taken us a century to produce a high end sparkling wine from high altitude vineyards in the Adelaide Hills – the highest altitude in fact,” he said.

The non-vintage sparkler is a blend of 52% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 8% Pinot Meunier. As to the wine’s reception in the UK, Osborn is confident it will be welcomed with good humour. “I’m really excited about it. We wanted to call it Dadd with a double ‘d’ because there are so many of us involved with the project”, he said.

In defense of the provocative label, he said: “The Dadd label features the red sash because all of our wines have it – it’s been with us for sixty years.” 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the family-owned winery.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Tamra Washington, Yealands Estate

Wine and the City talks to Tamra Washington, chief winemaker of Yealands Estate in the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, New Zealand, at The Modern Pantry, about the trend for single vineyard wines in NZ, single block Pinot Noirs, the Gruner Veltliner buzz in Marlborough, and why now is an exciting time for New Zealand wine.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Natural wines are "not for the masses"

One of the UK’s top natural wine importers has spoken out about the natural wine movement, comparing it to the works of Karl Marx. “Natural wines require a critical approach. They’re a bit like the works of Karl Marx; not intended for the masses,” Giuseppe Mascoli (pictured) of Aubert & Mascoli told the drinks business. “Marx was writing for a specific audience with a sufficient level of knowledge to understand and appreciate his work. The same can be said for natural wines,” he added.

Mascoli, who represents over 35 Italian and French natural winemakers in the UK, said industrial wines are like “cartoon characters” made to please children. “People are trying to shortcut millions of years of history by manipulating wines with selected yeasts. I’d rather a wine have oddities than be tailor-made,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mascoli’s business partner, Guillaume Aubert, called natural wine “a silent assassin.” “The more you drink, the less you can drink other wines. You start reacting badly to them, coming out in rashes and swelling up from all the sulphites,” he said. Aubert admits he is attracted to the libertarian element of the natural wine movement. “I like the idea of questioning the status quo. It’s very left wing,” he said.

He believes it has gathered momentum so quickly in London because the city is more prone to the effects of trends than the rest of Europe. “Natural wines have come into fashion due to the rise of the critical drinker. Consumers want to know the origin of everything they eat and drink. There’s more awareness now,” he said.

Mascoli concedes that natural doesn’t necessarily mean good. “There are a lot of really bad natural wines out there. The wines are so delicate, it’s easy to screw them up. That’s the big irony with natural wine. It’s supposed to be all about letting the terroir talk, but make a mistake and it could taste like it was made anywhere in the world.”

Having submitted a work to last year’s Venice Biennale, does Mascoli see parallels with wine and art? “On the contrary. I see wine as the opposite of art. God, the artist and the poet create out of nothing. The winemaker works with what is already in existence, acting as a pimp for nature, from the fruit he picks to the soil he respects,” he said, adding, “The winemaker is a shaman. He doesn’t create, he cures.”

Monday, 23 January 2012

Croatian wine to crack global market

Croatian wine has “risen phoenix-like from the ashes” and is set to make a big impact on the international wine market, according to one of the country’s top producers. “The quality of Croatian wine has improved dramatically over the past few years and we’re witnessing the rebirth of the country’s wine tradition at the moment,” Mladen Rozanic of Istria-based winery Roxanich told the drinks business.

“We’ve got a big wine culture that people don’t know about, but they’re starting to catch on,” Rozanic added, predicting a bright future for Croatian wine in the international market. Croatian wines have something different to offer. They’ve got an attractive Mediterranean character,” he said, citing white variety Malvazija Istarska, Borgonja – a descendent of Gamay brought to Croatia by Napoleonic soldiers in the early 19th century, and red grape Teran as the top three indigenous varieties of Istria to watch.

With around 33,000 hectares under vine, Croatia plans to crack the global export market when it enters the European Union next year. It currently exports only 5% of its annual production of 60m litres. Releasing his first commercial vintage in 2008, Rozanic is enjoying experimenting with different grape varieties. His Ines in White 2008 is a blend of seven different white grapes: Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Vermentino, Prosecco and Tocai Friulano.

“I planted test rows of each of the seven varieties just to see how they performed in our terroir. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc have adapted best to the climate and soil,” he revealed. Rozanic is passionate about ageing his wines for as long as possible in barrel before releasing them onto the market. His whites are aged for three years in 3-year-old French oak, and his reds four years. “Ideally, I’d like to age my reds for seven years before releasing them onto the market – five years in barrel and two in bottle,” he said.

Passionate about small-scale production, all of Rozanic’s wines are made naturally, with only a small amount of sulphites added. “I like the purity and honesty of natural wines. Wine is one of the oldest traditions of human civilization and it deserves respectful treatment,” he said, adding, “I believe in letting the terroir speak, but I also like to see a winemaker’s signature in his wines. I like to be present in my wines.”

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

When the hotly anticipated Dinner by Heston Blumenthal opened its doors at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park to the public a year ago, London's broadsheet food critics united in an unprecedented outpouring of praise. So well oiled was the Blumenthal PR machine, it had everyone from Gill to Maschler to Rayner to Coren gushing obsequiously, with Coren hailing it "the best new restaurant in the world." A year on and a Michelin star to its name, the hype has died down to polite applause, and what remains is an impressive hotel restaurant that rises above the confines of its surroundings and offers a theatrical, and more importantly, delicious dining experience.

In a bid to connect us with our culinary past, Blumenthal has delved into Britain's edible history via cookbooks of yore to revive old recipes, from the quirky to the strange – Rice and Flesh anyone? Dated c.1390, and taken from the oldest known cookery manual in the English language: The Forme of Cury The Master Cooks of King Richard II, the sunshine yellow dish is a lot friendlier than it sounds, consisting of a saffron risotto dotted with shreds of calf tail. Each dish is dated and referenced in a bibliography on the menu for gastro geeks to fawn over. King of the kitchen is executive chef Ashley Palmer-Watts, who's been under Heston's wing at the Fat Duck for a decade.

The light and distinctly modern space designed by Adam Tihany, who has previously put his stamp on Apsleys at The Lanesborough, Per Se in New York and the hotel's sister restaurant Bar Boulud, features floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out onto the oft horse-filled Hyde Park. The kitchen is dominated by a pulley system that mirrors the insides of a giant watch, serving to rotate a spit on an open-fire lined with impaled pineapples. Clutching the ivory walls are antique jelly moulds that glow erotically, while the bar displays recipes from 16th century cookbooks, which appear and disappear depending on the light. Brown wall panels resemble unwrapped chocolate bars, while swirly art deco light fittings add elegance to the austere interiors.

No trip to Dinner is complete without sampling signature dish Meat Fruit. Having enjoyed the clever creation vicariously in numerous nuanced reviews, I'd been dreaming of and drooling over it for a year. Never in my adult life have I so lusted after something edible. I'd ask friends to recount their experience of the enrobed meat globe in minute detail, conjuring the flavours in my mind. A lucky win at a Halloween quiz (the prize being a meal at a restaurant of our choosing) and here I was sitting down to lunch at Dinner, mere moments away from my own mandarin. Before the waitress can even take our order I request it, the urgency of the situation heightened by its impending resolution. She asks whether I'd like to share it. "No", I reply emphatically. Such a longed for experience could not be tarnished by prying knives.

Ten minutes later and it’s in front of me, as beautiful as I'd imagined it. Masquerading as a mandarin, its faintly dimpled orange skin glistens expectantly in the light. My mouth begins to water. Not wanting to spoil its almost Platonic form, I have to force myself to cut into its skin, which reveals a dusky pink, creamy interior of chicken liver parfait. Grabbing a piece of the accompanying grilled bread, I slather on a generous scoop and take my first mouthful, rewarded at first with the refreshing tang of the mandarin jelly, and soon after the luxurious, rich, heavenly parfait. Playful, indulgent and utterly delicious, it's the closest Dinner gets to a Fat Duck trompe l'oeil trick.

Having soared to such celestial heights so early on, the rest of the dishes were bound to feel more mundane, and on reflection, I wish I'd ordered two more starters rather than a main, though my spiced pigeon with artichokes in ale (c.1780) arrives perfectly pink and, having been cooked sous vide, is tremendously tender and with pleasingly crispy skin, but served slightly cold. In fairness, few dishes could have successfully followed Meat Fruit's lead, but having got so used to London's small plates philosophy, Dinner's starters seem to bring more joy and beauty than its meaty mains; both the roast scallops with cucumber ketchup and the roast bone marrow delighting my fellow dining companions in appearance and taste.

Be sure to bypass the side order of fries and ask politely instead for the triple cooked chips, which usually only accompany the Hereford Ribeye steak. A fistful of golden shards that glint like jagged yellow diamonds; their jackets are impossibly crunchy and interiors warm and fluffy. Wine doesn't come cheap – bottles start at £35 and quickly escalate skywards. On our visit we begin with a bottle of the house Champagne – Moët & Chandon 2002, which shows off the elegance and complexity of the vintage, moving on to a Northern and Southern Rhône comparative tasting of Domaine George Vernay Terres d'Encorse Saint-Joseph 2008 and Les Racine Les Pallières Gigondas 2007. The former is prettily perfumed, with attractive savoury notes and a refreshing mineral core, while the latter displays a distinctly raisined character of dried fruits and Christmas cake.

The wine highlight however, is a bottle of Vincent Girardin Vielles Vignes Puligny-Montrachet 2008. Assembled from parcels with vine ages averaging half a century and having been vinified in a good proportion of new oak, the liquid gold has an unmistakably Burgundian nose of honeysuckle, lily, peaches and cream wrapped around a mineral core. The flavours dance across the palate, enhanced by mouth puckering acidity. Puddings are exquisitely executed. The painfully pretty Taffety Tart (c.1660) comprises paper-thin layers of pastry housing canon balls of fromage blanc, pressed apple doused in rose water, a sprinking of fennel seeds and a teardrop-shaped scoop of intensely flavoured blackcurrant sorbet.

Resurrecting the wow factor of Meat Fruit is Brown Bread Ice Cream (c.1830) decked out in a pinstripe suit of moreish salted caramel and malted yeast syrup. A strange and satisfying marriage of sweet and savoury, the Hovis-like yeast kick of the bread is quickly assuaged by the sweetness of the caramel and the crunchy toffee biscuit base below. Part history lesson, part edible theatre, while much of Heston's culinary alchemy has been tamed; elements of the Blumenthal magic remain. And for those who can merely dream of a meal at the Fat Duck, lunch at Dinner is the next best thing. Just make sure you order the Meat Fruit.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA; Tel: +44(0)20 7201 3833. A meal for two with wine and service costs around £200.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

World's hottest chilli vodka launched

Online drinks retailer Master of Malt has launched what it claims to be the world’s hottest chilli vodka, as reported on thedrinksbusiness.com. Made by infusing vodka with Naga Jolokia – the hottest chilli on the planet, 100,000 Scovilles Naga Chilli Vodka is so fiery it comes with a lengthy heath warning on the back of the bottle.

This vodka, named after the units used to measure the heat of chillies, is not intended to be drunk neat. Each Scoville unit denotes how many times the chilli must be diluted by its own mass of water until the heat is only just detectable. A Jalapeño has around 5,000 Scovilles. The Naga Jolokia, used to make the vodka, can exceed 1,000,000 Scovilles, which is more than most police grade pepper spray.

The retailer recommends the vodka be used sparingly to add spice to exotic cocktails, or even in cooking. It strongly advises against having the vodka as a shot. Included in the online health warning is the following: By purchasing this bottle you agree that you fully understand that this product contains extreme heat and should be used responsibly.

You use this product entirely at your own risk and understand the potential danger if used or handled irresponsibly. If you give this product as a gift you will make the recipient aware of the potential danger if used or handled irresponsibly. Master of Malt was founded in 1985 and is one of the UK’s leading online whisky and spirits merchants. 100,000 Scovilles is available from the Master of Malt website for £31.95. Drink it if you dare!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Cabernet a "cornerstone for Chile's future"

Australian winemaker and consultant Brian Croser has spoken out in praise of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, calling it “a cornerstone for the future of Chilean wine.” As reported on thedrinksbusiness.com, speaking at the inaugural South American Wine Workshop in London, organised by Santa Rita Estates, Croser said Chilean Cabernet was even more distinctive than Napa Cabernet.

“Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is completely unique and can’t be replicated. Its unmistakable Cabernet nature is a real advantage for Chile, and a strength to build upon,” Croser said. “The best examples are subliminal, with grainy tannins that impart a savoury note on the finish,” he added, warning that the big challenge for Chilean vintners is to learn how to tame their tannins. “They’re a long way off at the moment,” he admitted.

Croser believes the uniqueness of Chilean Cabernet comes from the extreme differences between day and night temperatures, which gives the grapes longer to build up pyroxene and phenols, allowing for the steady build up of tannin. “Chile has recognised the challenge of the Cabernet varieties and the unusually high diurnal range of the terroirs and continues to refine the vineyard management, creating some of the world's most unique and distinctive Cabernets with subliminal briarines and evolved savoury tannins,” he said.

He referred to the Cabernet family of grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Carmenere as “Chile’s backbone”, calling Cabernet Franc the “mother grape” and imparter of the green gene. “Chile’s fine wine future lies in refining its traditional Cabernet offering from the Central Valley and at the same time exploring what the county’s other terroirs have to offer,” he said, citing Chile’s “matrix of terroir” as having great potential for other noble grape varieties, including Riesling, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

He also name-checked Temuco as a region to watch, predicting it will become an important place for sparkling wine production. “The future of Chilean sparkling wine lies in the south, towards the mountains, in drier areas like Temuco. I’m certain there’s a future for Chilean sparkling wine down there, all we need is a producer brave enough to start planting,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chilean wine expert Peter Richards MW spoke out in defence of Carmenere, calling it “a first division grape" that speaks of its origins. “We have to remember how new it is. Quality will increase in time and lots of different kinds of Carmenere will emerge, as it’s a naturally varied variety,” Richards said. Tim Atkin MW also defended the grape: “I’m coming round to it, especially in blends. The problem with Carmenere is its green character, which needs to be addressed. The trick is being able to manage the tannin,” he said.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

"Father of Amarone" Quintarelli dies

Giuseppe Quintarelli, a winemaker from the Veneto recognised as the father of Amarone, has died aged 84. As reported on thedrinksbusiness.com, Quintarelli, whose Valpolicellas and Amarones were revered all over the world, died on Sunday at his home in Negrar in the province of Verona. The Quintarelli estate, which dates back to 1924, is considered by many to be the best producer of Amarone della Valpolicella.

In an era characterised by mass production over attention to detail, Quintarelli sought to make wines without compromise, cutting grape yields far below other producers, and employing painstakingly labor-intensive practices in the vineyards and the cellar. As a result, his Valpolicellas were benchmark: intense and structured, yet light and graceful, with the ability to age. His Amarones meanwhile, were powerful yet fresh.

“Quintarelli’s wines are completely different from the standardised, repetitive and boring wine commodities you so often find among Amarones today,” said wine writer Franco Ziliani. “They are wines that require intelligence, experience, culture, patience and time, all elements so different from the simple, fast appreciation of wine today. He was one of the last of the Mohicans,” Ziliani added.

Quintarelli was born on March 19, 1927, in Negrar; the heart of Valpolicella region. He started working on his father’s estate in the ‘50s, and worked assiduously to improve methods of farming, extending the domain and relentlessly experimenting with winemaking techniques. Quintarelli’s commitment to quality extended beyond the vineyard and cellar. His labels – handwritten by his daughters – were beautiful and distinctive.

Quintarelli leaves his wife, Franca, four daughters, and several grandchildren. Franca Quintarelli, along with daughter Fiorenza and her husband, Giampaolo Grigoli, will continue to run the winery. His death marks the passing of another Italian wine legend so far this year, following the death of Giulio Gambelli earlier this month.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Regional charcuterie at Cantina del Ponte

Struggling with the January detox? If you're sick of salad and craving a meat injection, then head to Italian institution Cantina del Ponte in Shad Thames, which is celebrating all things meaty this winter. Executive chef Claudio Gottardo is passionate about all things porcine, and, keen to flag up the regional differences of Italian cured meats, he's devised a monthly menu of meaty treats for January, February and March from Italy's northern, central and southern regions, each with an accompanying pasta dish and glass of wine from the respective regions.

Italy's top cured meats, such as Parma and San Daniele ham, have come to be viewed as luxury items, but were conversely born out of necessity, the meat being cured as a means of preserving it through winter. Kicking off 2012 in style, I was invited to try out all three meaty menus for size, beginning my journey in Northern Italy with a platter of Bresaola, Prosciutto, Lardo and Speck. Made from the top part of the leg of beef, Bresaola is salted for three weeks then air-dried for three months until it darkens to almost purple and develops a sweet, musky smell. Fast becoming the meat of the moment, the melt-in-the-mouth Lardo is devilishly decadent, made almost entirely of pearl white fat, taken from the layer of fat just under the skin of the pig's neck. Once considered a peasant snack, the meat is cured using salt, pepper, sage and cloves, resulting in a silky, almost bone marrow-like texture.

We end the platter with shreds of Speck from Alto Adige on the Austrian/Swiss border. Combining seasoning and smoking with lashings of fresh air, the resulting ham is aged for at least 22 weeks and has a moreish, bacon-like character. Our first pasta dish is a pair of pesto-green gnocci balls rich from the sage butter and threaded with parsley and parmesan. To match, the sommelier pours a glass of Alpha Zeta V Valpolicella 2010, bursting with juicy red cherries. Unmistakably Italian, its palate is laced with leather and liquorice.

Our second meat plate takes us down the boot to Central Italy, and the delights of Wild Boar Salami, Parma ham, Mortadella and Culatello. Deriving from the Latin for salt (sal), wild boar salami, a typical dish from the Maremma, is made from a mixture of mince meat, fat, salt and spices. The sausage is cured in the traditional salting method for over a month, giving the meat an incredibly rich, gamey flavour. Italy's best-known cured meat, Parma ham, dates back to the Middle Ages, while the candyfloss pink Mortadella harks back to the Roman Empire. Made from minced pork shoulder, fat squares are added as the meat is seasoned. The result is pleasingly porcine.

The pear-shaped Culatello comes from Emilia Romagna, and is only made between October and February, when the region is enshrouded in fog. Taken from the thigh of adult pigs, the meat is aged for a year until it becomes ruby red and develops its signature sweetness. Accompanying the meat is a dish of penne with cured pigs cheeks in a spicy tomato sauce, and a generous glass of Frentano Montepulciano de Abruzzo 2010, that bursts with ripe raspberries and blackberries, its voluptuous body balanced by dusty tannins.

For the final furlong of our carnivorous feast, we move to Southern Italy, turning up the heat with Spicy Salami, Porchetta, Nduja and Soppressata. Hailing from Naples, the salami is made of minced pork and chili peppers, salt and spices cured for three months. Porchetta meanwhile, is a light pink meat made from a whole pig, which is drained, boned and seasoned with salt, garlic and copious herbs then roasted in a wood fire oven for six hours.

The exotically-named Nduja is a soft and spicy salami from Calabria made from smoked pig fat and chili peppers. Traditionally a peasants dish created to use up the scraps of the pig, it's best enjoyed slathered over toast. Last to be tasted on the platter is Soppressata, which has been produced in Basilicata for three centuries and derives from noble cuts of ham seasoned with salt and whole peppercorns. To match is a bowl of broccoli-green orecchiette (little ear) pasta from Puglia with bitter turnip tops and anchovies, and a glass of La Casada Salice Salentino 2009. Spicy, savoury and seductive, it proves a perfect pairing for the undulating waves of meat. Earthy and bursting with sweet cherries and stewed plums, it charms at first sip.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Yao Ming wine arrives in China

China's burgeoning interest in fine wine is set to get another boost thanks to the arrival of the first batch of Yao Ming 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon into the country. As reported on thedrinksbusiness.com, the much-hyped wine is ready for sale at 3,800 yuan (£384) a bottle, but none of the 1,200 bottles will be sold on the open market. According to China Daily newspaper, Ming’s wine will only be distributed among high-end consumers.

Made through the former basketball player's wine company – Yao Family Wines – the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes come from six vineyard plots in California’s Napa Valley. The 7 foot 6 sport star, who retired from the Houston Rockets in July with a personal net worth of over US$65 million, announced the debut of Yao Ming Wine in November. Along with winemaking, Ming has also moved into politics, taking his seat on Sunday as a new member of the standing committee of Shanghai's political advisory body during its annual session.

He is not the only celebrity in China targeting the booming fine wine market. Chinese movie star Zhao Wei bought the 7-hectare Château Monlot in Bordeaux’s St Emilion region for around €4m last December. It has been reported that she will sell the wine in China. Celebrities investing in the wine industry are hoping to generate profits from the exuberant Chinese market.

However, experts warn that they will need to pay attention to quality in order to maintain custom and establish a good reputation. "For Yao Ming, it was a good marketing strategy to create his own-brand wine. However, it will take a long time for customers to recognise the intrinsic value of the wine and believe it is worthwhile buying," said marketing expert Shu Guohua. "As a Chinese person, I think it will be better for Yao to invest in white spirits. The market demand for white spirits in China is much larger than for red wine,” Guohua added.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Top 10 most powerful people in wine

the drinks business rounds up the top 10 most powerful people in the world of luxury wine and spirits shaping what we drink, taking into account influence, wealth and brand ownership.

1: Bernard Arnault (age 62)

The LVMH chairman and CEO is the world’s fourth and Europe’s richest person, with a 2011 net worth of US$41 billion (£26bn). Arguably the most influential tastemaker in the world of luxury, Arnault’s shiny portfolio includes heavyweight Champagne houses Krug, Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, Sauternes’ revered Château d’Yquem, St Emilion’s sought after Château Cheval Blanc (which he has a 50% personal stake in), and Toro newcomer Numanthia, with Belvedere, Glenmorangie and Ardberg holding up the spirits end. Arnault’s wealth soared this year, as demand for fine wines and sprits accelerated in Asia.

Through acquisitions, savvy marketing and bold design, Arnault has turned LVMH into a global empire boasting more than 60 brands, including fashion labels Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs. LVMH is counting on emerging markets for its future growth. “China is the most interesting part of the world for me now. There are so many people who are getting to the stage where they want to consume, who want to be part of a club,” Arnault says. In five years, Arnault expects China to account for 20% of LVMH’s sales.

2: Pierre Pringuet (age 60)

The 60-year-old chief executive of Pernod Ricard presides over the world’s fourth biggest drinks company, owner of brands from Champagne Mumm and Perrier-Jouët to Martell Cognac and Scotch whiskies Ballantine’s, Chivas Regal, Royal Salute and The Glenlivet. In September, sales in emerging markets allowed Pernod Ricard to outstrip its larger rival Diageo to post organic sales growth of 7%. Pernod saw its emerging markets leap by 17%, driven largely by 15% organic growth in Asia. Further headline figures saw the group report pre-tax full year sales of e7,643 million (£6.559m). Working for Pernod Ricard since 1987, Pringuet has been a board member since 2004.

3: Paul Walsh (age 56)

At the helm of drinks giant Diageo, Paul Walsh presides over some of the world’s top spirits brands, from Cîroc vodka (a collaboration with rapper P Diddy), to Johnnie Walker whisky, Ketel One vodka and Tanqueray gin. The company recently collaborated with hip-hop artist Pharrell Williams to launch a super-premium cream liqueur, Qream, aimed at the luxury clubbing market. Also on their books is London-based fine wine merchant Justerini & Brooks, while the company has had a 34% stake in LVMH since the mid-1990s. Walsh has headed Diageo for 11 years, having been appointed to the board in December 1997. Walsh is also chairman of the Scotch Whisky Association.

4: The Rothschilds (ages 71 - Eric, 78 - Philippine)

Baron Eric de Rothschild has presided over Domaines Barons de Rothschild’s extensive portfolio, including Châteaux Lafite, Duhart-Milon and Rieussec, and Viña los Vascos in Chile, for 37 years, while his cousin, Baroness Philippine, oversees an impressive portfolio of her own, including first growth Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Clerc Milon and cult Californian winery Opus One. Lafite’s huge influence in China – empty bottles sell for up to £250 online, has contributed greatly to the company’s recent success, but there are already signs that the wine’s popularity in China may be on the wane. Last October, Sotheby’s failed to sell all the Lafite on offer in a Hong Kong auction for the first time in 17 sales. Lafite aside, the Rothschilds have embarked on a new venture in Champagne with new brand Champagne Barons de Rothschild, further strengthening the family’s luxury credentials.

5: Aubert de Villaine (age 72)

With the popularity of Lafite abating among the Chinese super elite due to the proliferation of fakes on the market, wealthy Asians are turning to Burgundy, and more specifically, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, headed up by Aubert de Villaine. The insatiable appetite for the reds of this famous Burgundian domaine in Hong Kong has now carried over to all the key markets in China – especially Beijing. In a given vintage, Romanée-Conti only makes about 450 cases. Production of La Tâche is significantly more with slightly just over 1,800 cases made annually. At a recent Acker, Merrall & Condit auction in Hong Kong, a single Jeroboam of 1999 Romanée-Conti sold for more than £47,000. De Villaine is also director of Hyde de Villaine Wines in Napa Valley and is about to show the first vintage of his new acquisition in Burgundy: the 2.2 Clos du Roi in Corton, which he bought in 2009.

6: Robert Parker (age 64)

The American lawyer-turned-wine scribe’s power as the world’s most influential wine critic still stands, but as he hands over more key regions to Wine Advocate colleagues, in particular California to Antonio Galloni, the emperor’s power is slowly diminishing. In his address at WineFuture in Hong Kong last November, Parker admitted his star may be fading, but that his influence has always been greatly overplayed. However, his "Magical 20" tasting at the even attracted 1,000 people – the maximum able to be accommodated, while the wines featured from the Bordeaux 2009 vintage have enjoyed a spike in prices, even though they have not yet been delivered to customers.

7: Sylvie Cazes (age 56)

Cazes has a multitude of titles, including director of the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux and co-owner of Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac with brother Jean-Michel. This February, Cazes was appointed director of Pauillac second growth estate Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. Cazes is also a member of Bordeaux City Council, with a mandate to promote economic development through the wine sector. She continues to work for the development of the Wine Cultural Centre, due to open in the city in 2013.

8: The wine consultant (Michel Rolland, age 63, Denis Dubourdieu, age 60, Stéphane Derenoncourt, age 48)

Michel Rolland, the Bordeaux-based go-to consultant, is one of the most influential winemakers in the world. His enviable CV includes stints at Angélus, Ausone, Ornellaia and Harlan Estate, though Rolland also owns several properties that he markets under The Rolland Collection, including Château Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol. He consults for over 100 properties worldwide, with clients in India, Bulgaria and Brazil.

Dubourdieu is one of the world’s most respected consultants. Specialising in white wine, he has influenced production and quality globally. Dubourdieu owns a number of Bordeaux châteaux, including Doisy-Daëne in Barsac and Clos Floridène in Graves. He has also made a Japanese white wine, Shizen, from the indigenous Koshu grape for Asagiri Wine Company.

Heir apparent to Michel Rolland, Derenoncourt is taking on more consultancies outside France: in 2008, he was hired by film director Francis Ford Coppola to work at his newly renamed Inglenook Estate in Napa, and has founded Derenoncourt California, where he makes six single vineyard wines, including his first 100% Cabernet Franc. Closer to home, Derenoncourt offers his services at Crushpad in St-Emilion. He continues to consult for a number of Bordeaux châteaux, as well as properties in China, India and Turkey.

9: Nobutada Saji (age 65)

The chief executive of Suntory Ltd, Japan’s fourth-largest brewer, was last year ranked as the second richest person in Japan, with a net worth of US$8.6bn. Founded in 1899 by Saji’s grandfather, Suntory was the first to sell Western spirits in Japan. Business is thriving in China – its beer has a more than 50% market share in Shanghai. The company owns Cognac Louis Royer, has a majority stake in Chinese importer ASC, 50% stakes in Château Beychevelle and Rheingau estate Weingut Robert Weil, and a 40% share in Tokaji winery Hetszölö.

10: Frédéric Rouzaud (age 43)

Rouzaud (above, left) took over from his father Jean-Claude as president of the Champagne Louis Roederer Group in January 2006, becoming the custodian of Cristal. The driving force behind all flagship companies in the family owned group, Rouzaud runs a tight ship at Champagne Louis Roederer, Champagne Deutz, Maison Delas in the Côtes du Rhône, Château de Pez and Château Haut-Beauséjour in Bordeaux, Ramos Pinto in Portugal, Domaines Ott in Provence and finally Roederer Estate and Scharffenberger Cellars in California. In January 2007, the Rouzaud family acquired a majority share in second growth estate Château Pichon Longueville Comtess de Lalande.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Invivo dinner at The Fulham Wine Rooms

Proving that small can indeed be beautiful are Rob Cameron and Tim Lightbourne of Invivo Wines, a boutique New Zealand winery founded by the entrepreneurial pair in 2007. Making wine from both Marlborough and Central Otago, Invivo released its first wine in 2008 and has built up its range to five wines: a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Rosé and a low alcohol Sauvignon Blanc called Bella, known as "skinny Sav", which is proving incredibly popular with health-conscious women, leading the boys to triple production.

While in town last month, winemaker Rob Cameron (left) showed off his quintet at The Fulham Wine Rooms at a dinner organised by Jimmy Smith of the West London Wine School. Having worked stints in Slovenia, Cyrpus and Moldova, Cameron is happy to be back in his homeland, with business partner Lightbourne – who counts L'Oreal among his previous employers – looking after the marketing.

Conscious of the importance a label can have on a global brand, the pair struck upon a dynamic design; a white eight-point star set against a black background created by New Zealand fashion house Zambesi. But with so many wineries out there, what makes Invivo different? “Hands on marketing, hands on winemaking and a strong belief in the quality of our wine,” enthuses Lightbourne. “We don’t just send a container of product to our export market, we send ourselves as well."

Ensconced in The Fulham Wine Rooms' private dining room, Cameron kicked off with 2011 Bella Sauvignon Blanc, which I was curious to try. The nose displayed all the typical Kiwi Sauvignon aromas you'd expect, from blackcurrant leaf to freshly cut grass, pineapple and passion fruit, while the palate offered mouth-watering acidity and surprising body and punch for a 9% abv wine. Having been charmed by Bella, we moved on to the 2011 Pinot Gris produced in Marlborough. The feminine nose showed exotic aromas of quince, fig, lychee and poached pear, while the unctuous palate offered both texture and clean acidity. To match, we enjoyed an autumnal tartine of aubergine and mushrooms in an earthy, creamy sauce.

For the main event, we moved on to the estate's signature wine, the 2011 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, releasing the inner philosopher in Cameron: "With our Sauvignon Blanc, it's about creating a moment in time in the vineyard." More fragrant than Bella, it had a zingy nose of cut grass, tropical fruit and freshly squeezed lime. Bright and alive, the palate was deceptively powerful, with impressive concentration and lift from the vibrant acidity and herbal notes, which proved a great pairing for the accompanying fillet of cod in a zesty sauce vierge – a virgin sauce made from olive oil, lemon juice and chopped tomato.

Up next was 2010 Sophie's Rosé, named after the founder of Zambesi. A pretty salmon pink, the fresh, summery wine burst with strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants and watermelon. A charming picnic wine, it proved a perfect pair for our pineapple pud. Saving the best till last, Cameron cracked open his 2009 Central Otago Pinot Noir to enjoy with the cheese. By far my favourite wine of the night, its deep ruby colour revealed a meaty nose of forest floor, red berry, smoky bacon and herbal aromas, while the soft, perfumed palate of bright red cherries almost longingly recalled a beautiful Burgundy. Was he aiming for a Burgundian style? "All New World winemakers that make Pinot Noir are aspiring to the heights of great Burgundy," Cameron admits.

Wine aside, both Cameron and Lightbourne take a great interest in art, sponsoring and setting up an Invivo bar at the 2011 Venice Biennale, and nurturing homegrown creative talent, including musicians, fashion designers and their latest discovery; a group of graffiti artists, TMD Crew, at the forefront of the global graffiti scene. Could this mean a daring new label for Invivo's next release? Watch this space...

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Vodka-filled Fabergé eggs hit the UK

Russian-based company Ladoga has released 100 Fabergé-inspired eggs onto the UK market, filled with Imperial Collection Vodka, as reported on thedrinksbusiness.com. Crafted by Russian artisans using enamel, crystals, and 24-carat gold gilding, the eggs are modelled on the world-famous jewelled eggs created by master goldsmith Peter Carl Fabergé over a century ago.

Housed inside is a decanter, four Venetian glasses, and a bottle of super premium vodka made from homegrown wheat and rye with a water base from Lake Ladoga, the largest freshwater lake in Europe. The vodka is filtered 5 times through birch charcoal, then several times through quartz sand and finally though an algae, whose microstructure supposedly guarantees purity.

The smoothness and velvety texture of the resulting vodka aims to recapture the style of vodka that was enjoyed by the aristocracy of St Petersburg in the 19 Century. Each egg is topped by a golden eagle designed by a Florentine master jeweller who has worked in the Vatican for over 30 years. Brought into the UK through luxury brand development company Signature Lifestyles, only 100 eggs will be made for the collection each year.

The world-renowned Fabergé eggs were fashionable among the elite in St Petersburg over 100 years ago. The most popular pieces created by Fabergé were the miniature, jewelled eggs worn on a neck chain. 50 larger eggs were created for Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II. Of the 50 made for the Imperialist rulers, 42 have survived.

The Imperial Collection Vodka eggs are available at Browns boutique in London’s South Molton Street, ranging from £2,600 for the coloured enamel egg, to £5,600 for the gold and silver egg.

Friday, 13 January 2012

World's first meteorite-aged wine launched

An Englishman working in Chile has launched what is believed to be the first wine aged with a meteorite formed during the birth of the solar system. As reported on thedrinksbusiness.com, Norwich-born Ian Hutcheon (pictured) has released a Cabernet Sauvignon called Meteorito aged with a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite from the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. The extra-terrestrial wine was created at Hutcheon’s Tremonte Vineyard in the Cachapoal Valley in Chile.

“I’ve been involved in wines and astronomy for many, many years and I wanted to find some way of combining the two,” Hutcheon said. “When you drink this wine, you are drinking elements from the birth of the solar system,” he added. Belonging to an American collector, the three-inch meteorite is believed to have crashed into the Atacama Desert in northern Chile around 6,000 years ago.

“The idea behind submerging it in wine was to give people the chance to touch something from space; the very history of the solar system, and feel it via a grand wine,” Hutcheon said. In April 2010, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were picked from his mountain vineyard, planted on an old gold mine 100km south-west of Chile’s capital Santiago.

The fruit was then fermented for 25 days, before undergoing malolactic fermentation for 12 months – it was during this process that the wine was held in a wooden barrel with the meteorite, before being blended with another batch of Cabernet Sauvignon. Hutcheon believes the meteorite gives the wine a “livelier taste”.

Meteorito Cabernet Sauvignon is currently only sold at the Centro Astronomico Tagua Tagua – an observatory launched by Hutcheon in 2007, but the winemaker is keen to export it to other countries, including the UK. Around 10,000 litres of the wine have been made.