Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Johann Henschke

During the Australia First Families of Wine dinner at Skylon last week, I caught up with the rather dashing Johann Henschke, a sixth-generation member of iconic estate Henschke in the Barossa Valley, to talk about the bumper 2012 vintage, cork vs screwcap, Australian wine in China, and whether he plans to take over the running of the estate.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Bols yoghurt liqueur launch

During a 24 hour whistle-stop tour of Amsterdam the other week, I caught up with Huub van Doorne, CEO of Lucas Bols at the House of Bols, to ask him about the launch of the world's first 100% natural yoghurt liqueur, why the product was made in response to demand from China, and how important Bols' 437-year history is to the brand.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Bocelli launches new Italian wine line

Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli has launched a new line of high-end Italian wines with his brother Alberto. As reported on, expanding production at his Tuscan estate, the classical singer has released a100% Sangiovese made from hand-harvested grapes from Morellino di Scansano, and an extra dry Prosecco in collaboration with leading Prosecco producer Trevisiol.
Bocelli has partnered with Seattle-based importer August Wine Group to import, sell and distribute the wines in the US and major international markets. Both wines have just launched in New York, Texas, Illinois, Washington and Oregon, priced at US$19.99 each, and will be available throughout the US by the end of August. Since 2006, August Wine Group has sold Bocelli's small-production wines under the company's boutique subsidiary Small Vineyards.
"When I return home after long trips, the joy that I receive from the taste of wine from my land is hard to match. It brings me back in time, to memories of my father, of him pouring the wine with a quasi-religious respect. I would give anything for him to see what has been accomplished in the past few years; I’m sure he'd be proud," Bocelli said.
“It’s exciting to be part of such a powerful brand, and to be associated with a family that is such a force for good in the world,” said August Wine Group co-founder and director Joshua Hanson. "We’ve had some really great feedback from the trade – we should easily reach our sales target of 20,000 cases this year,” he added.
Based in Lajatico in Tuscany, Bocelli Family Wines is a family-run company owned by Andrea and Alberto Bocelli. The Bocelli family has produced wine on their Tuscan estate for over 130 years. With renowned Tuscan winemaker Paolo Caciorgna at the helm, in addition to Prosecco and Sangiovese, the estate also produces In Canto Cabernet Sauvignon, Alcide – a Sangiovese/Cabernet blend, and Terre di Sandro old-vine Sangiovese.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Blanc: English fizz a contender for world’s best

French celebrity chef Raymond Blanc OBE has got behind English sparkling wine, dubbing it “a serious contender for the world’s best sparking wine.” Speaking at the launch of Brasserie Blanc in Covent Garden, Blanc told the drinks business how the recent leap in quality of English sparking wine could pose a threat to Champagne.
“I visited Camel Valley in Cornwall six months ago and was really impressed, they are making some seriously good sparkling wines and winning a lot of gold medals in the top international competitions. The climate in England is still not quite right yet, and I’ve yet to taste a good Pinot Noir or Merlot from England, but it will come. England is reconnecting with its land – there’s a curiosity there. It’s a young country in terms of winemaking, but it’s steadily building its reputation – it’s exciting,” he said. 
English sparkling wine took centre stage on BBC TV show The Apprentice last week, where contestants were tasked with creating an online advert and website championing English fizz. Shortly after the programme screened on Wednesday night, English Sparkling Wine was trending worldwide on social media site Twitter as a result. 
In terms of Michelin stars, Blanc, the chef patron and part owner of two Michelin-starred country house hotel Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford says he’s never been bothered about them. He said: “I’m not mercenary, I don’t work for stars or ratings, I work for excellence. A star is simply a by-product of the quality, service and consistency you’re giving to your guests every day. Being the best and number one has never been my motivation, there’s more to life.” 
Blanc also revealed that he will be opening up his loos to the public during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend. “We’re having a big street party down my road in Oxford and I’ve been asked to provide all the patisserie. I’ll also be opening up my loos to the public as they’re big,” he joked. 
Blanc is keen to push wines from small vignerons in South West France in his Brasserie Blanc chain. “Everyone associates Provence with rosé, but there are some excellent Cru Classé reds coming out of the region, which I’m keen to promote. I also want to promote my region – Franche-Comté, so will be pushing Vin Jaune from Jura,” he said.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Raymond Blanc

Last week, I was lucky enough to interview ebullient, bow tie-clad celebrity chef Raymond Blanc OBE at the launch of his latest restaurant – Brasserie Blanc in Covent Garden, about the importance of food and wine matching, his ambitious expansion of the Brasserie Blanc chain in 2012, why he's never been bothered about Michelin stars and opening his loos to the public during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Tapas 24, Barcelona

Barcelona – city of Gaudí, Miró and... tapas bars. If I can recommend just one from the multitude, it would be Tapas 24, run by El Bulli trained, Michelin-starred chef Carles Abellán as part of his four-strong Projectes 24, which includes the more formal, fine dining, Comerç 24. 

Tapas 24 is refreshingly informal, but accepts no bookings, so expect a snaking queue if you rock up at 7.30 on a Saturday night. It serves sharing plates all day, so if you're not willing to wait then go early or late. Queuing can be an event in itself – on my visit I got talking to a charming Dutch couple, who ended up inviting me to a secret cocktail club in an apartment building that required a code word to enter.

Interiors are industrial and pared down. In traditional tapas bar style, the best way to enjoy Tapas 24 is by pulling up a stool and perching at the long, white counter, which stretches all the way around the restaurant. There are a few tables, but they're further from the action and not nearly as fun. Once seated, you're handed a menu, printed in Catalan, containing your knife, fork and napkin in a stylish touch typical of this achingly cool and irresistibly insouciant joint.

The menu is sprinkled with traditional tapas and more experimental offerings. A good litmus test of a tapas bar is the quality of their croquetas. I was taught how to cook them last week by Catalan-loving Scotswoman Rachel McCormack. The care, attention and muscle power required to create the béchamel interior has given me a newfound respect for anyone able to muster a perfect croquette. Tapas 24's Ibérico ham versions were spot on, sporting a crunchy shell and gooey, ham-flecked centre leaving you wanting far more than the two on offer.

Reading a few reviews of the restaurant before jetting off to Barça, almost all made mention of the "bikini", and how you can't leave 24 without one. Essentially a pimped up version of the croque monsieur, the bikini is the sexiest sarnie I've ever had. Formed of layers of jamón Ibérico, buffalo mozzarella and slithers of black truffle jammed into tiny toasted triangles (hence the name), it was a deliciously naughty thing of beauty enhanced and enlivened by the earthy black truffle.

Still on a flavour high from the bikini, an even more exciting treat was in store in the form of the Mc Foie burger – Tapas 24's signature dish. A gourmet take on the McDonald's hamburger, the soft, slightly sweet bun revealed perfectly pink medium rare, almost tartare-like beef. Succulent and juicy on its own, when plunged into the accompanying foie gras mayonnaise it becomes heavenly, sending your taste buds into orbit. Appearing like a scoop of salted caramel ice cream, if they bottled the foie gras mayo, I'd buy it by the bucket load. Rich, creamy, decadent and divine, it makes Meat Liquor's offerings look amateur.

Wine is ridiculously well priced, both by the bottle and glass, starting at just €15 a bottle, with the most expensive drops an incredibly fair €40. Spain's emerging regions, such as Montsant, Costers del Segre and Bierzo are generously represented, along with more traditional regions like Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro. I went for a juicy, smooth, red fruited, reliable Ribera del Duero for a wallet-friendly €20.

My feast ended on a high note with xocolata – a trio of grape-shaped scoops of molten chocolate mousse garnished with crostini, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. The rich, generous mousse was given an appealing savoury edge from the salt and olive oil, while the crostini added crunch in a sublime symphony of flavour and texture – truly accomplished cooking. If you find yourself in Barça then don't leave without paying Tapas 24 a visit – serving up traditional classics with flair and exciting oddities that tease and tantalise at scandalously reasonable prices, what's not to like? 

Carrer Diputació 269, 08007, Barcelona; +34 93 488 09 77. 

Friday, 18 May 2012

Wines aimed at women “short on flavour”

Bloomberg’s wine and spirits columnist Elin McCoy has slammed wines aimed at women as “long on legs, but short on flavour.” As reported on, sampling a selection of wines designed with women in mind blind, McCoy described the majority as tasting like “neutered commercial plonk.” 
“Only three wines stood out as barely acceptable chilled plastic cup party fare: 2011 Skinnygirl White, 2011 Skinnygirl Rose, and 2011 Be. Fresh Chardonnay,” she said. “For the US$10-15 that most of these cutsey bottlings go for, drinkers seeking an emotional connection with what they swill in their glass could have real wine made by real people – think Rieslings, Proseccos, Rosés, Beaujolais, Argentinean Torrontés and Malbecs,” she added. 
According to wine brand marketers, women pick wine to match moods, not foods. They also apparently crave an easy going, fruit forward flavor profile with an edge of sweetness. McCoy believes many of the female-targeted wine brands are getting it drastically wrong. “Aren’t Canadian winemaker Strut’s labels, featuring photos of long, shapely, perfect legs emerging from short skirts a guy fantasy?” she questions. 
Women account for nearly 60% of wine consumers in the US, according to the Beverage Information Group’s 2011 Wine Handbook. Hence the recent trend for start up wine brands targeted specifically at women, with most targeting women aged 21 to 34. Australian-based global wine giant Treasury Wine Estates recently launched four wines under the “Be.” label: Flirty, a pink Moscato; Bright, a Pinot Grigio; Fresh, an unoaked Chardonnay; and Radiant, a Riesling. 

TWE’s website describes the Pinot Grigio drinker’s mood somewhat patronisingly: “Your sunny disposition sets your soundtrack to the soothing sounds of a steel drum band as you flip flop through fabulousness.” 
In February, three low-calorie California wines from Beam Global Spirits & Wine Inc. hit US shelves under the Skinnygirl brand; the low-calorie cocktail brand made famous by American reality TV star Bethenny Frankel. A five-ounce glass of any of the Skinnygirl wines, which include a Syrah blend, a Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio blend and a Grenache/Syrah rosé, contains 100 calories, as opposed to the average 110-125 calories.
Mary Ann Vangrin, creator of Middle Sister, a wine brand with over 115,000 fans on Facebook, told McCoy that women look for wines that offer an emotional connection. “Women don’t want a wine that bites back. They like ripe, fruit-forward wines without a lot of tannin and oak,” she said. 
The 10-strong Middle Sister range has personality profile names like Drama Queen Pinot Grigio, Smarty Pants Chardonnay and the best-selling Rebel Red blend.  All, according to McCoy, share a “flavor-phobic house style.” Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits meanwhile, which brought Yellow Tail to the US, has launched its own female friendly wine; Flirt, a Syrah, Zinfandel and Tempranillo blend.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Retro design trend sweeps wine and spirits world

Wine and spirits brands are dipping back into their archives to communicate their history and heritage in response to a recession-led consumer desire for authenticity. As reported on, Kevin Shaw, owner of design agency Stranger & Stranger, has seen a surge in demand for retro labels from clients including Jack Daniel’s.

“Retro says authenticity and harks back to a time when things were made with care by hand,” said Shaw, whose retro design for The Kraken Black Spiced Rum has been hugely well received. Housed in a Victorian flagon-style rum bottle with glass loop handles, the label features a monstrous squid swimming up the side. “Kraken is killing it. They have an online store where you can buy Kraken shower curtains, wallpaper, lamps, even Eau de Kraken perfume – I’m sure it’s all down to the old school charm of the brand,” Shaw said. 

Sherry brand González Byass started the retro trend two years ago, when it delved back into its archives to re-release the first ever Tio Pepe label on its limited edition Tio Pepe Fino En Rama line. This year’s En Rama, due to go on sale later this month, features a vintage Sherry label from 1857. The company continued the retro theme with its Palmas range of aged finos, released late last year.

“We went for retro labels because both En Rama and Palmas were resurrections of products that featured on our price lists in the 1800s,” said González Byass marketing manager Jeremy Rockett, adding, “the labels have been so well received they have almost become the message of the wines.”

Capitalising on the retro trend, Plymouth Gin has had a historical revamp, ditching its Art Deco skyscraper bottle in January in favour of an embossed flint glass bottle modelled on its original 18th century shape created by design agency Design Bridge. “The previous bottle failed to communicate the brand’s heritage, which is a major part of its DNA. We needed to bring the heritage back to the packaging,” said Paco Recuerdo, international brand director at Plymouth owners Chivas Brothers.

Legendary filmmaker-turned-winemaker Francis Ford Coppola has also borrowed from the past with his 3-litre “Carmine” wine jug. Named after his father and featuring sheet music written by him on the label, the jug is inspired by those stocked in Carmine’s cellar where Coppola would play as a child. 

Monday, 14 May 2012

A Taste of Andalusia at Salt Yard

Having spent an idyllic year in the intoxicating city of Granada in Andalusia, when an invite to a long, lazy, “Taste of Andalusia” lunch  from Goodge Street-based Spanish restaurant Salt Yard pinged in my inbox, I speedily rsvp’d. Salt Yard makes up one third of Simon Mullins and Sanja Morris’ Spanish restaurant empire, with Dehesa in Oxford Circus and Opera Tavern in Covent Garden completing the trilogy. A quick chat with Mullins on arrival at Salt Yard on a drizzly Sunday afternoon confirms that the pair are seeking to expand their empire with two new sites in the London district du jour, Soho, though not before the launch of their forthcoming Spanish cookbook.

Entering the buzzing upper deck of the restaurant, a glass of Mas Macia Cava is thrust into my hand. Made in Penedès rather than Andalusia, it serves as an ideal palate cleanser. The most populous of Spain’s autonomous communities, Andalusia is divided into eight provinces: Almería, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and its capital, Seville. As varied in its terrain as it is in its cultural history, Andalusia boasts snow-capped mountains, verdant wetlands, an arid desert and miles of manicured coastline. The Andalusia we know today has been molded and influenced by everyone from the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians to the Vandals and Byzantines via the Greeks and Romans. The region’s most famous rulers were the Moors, who presided over Al-Andalus from 711 until the reconquest of Granada in 1492. Having ruled the roost for almost 800 years, the Moorish stamp will be forever imprinted on Andalusia’s collective cultural psyche.

Al-Andalus, as it was then known, was the power centre of a Muslim empire that stretched its tentacles across most of Spain and Portugal, and as far south as Nigeria in West Africa. Under Muslim rule, the Moors brought new thinking to Andalusia, and reforms in architecture, philosophy, astronomy and most enduringly, gastronomy, introducing exotic ingredients such as saffron, almonds, cumin, pimentón and pomegranate from Africa and the Middle East, which still inspire and inform Andalusian cuisine. To illustrate this interweaving of cultures, Mullins and head chef Andrew Clark – a towering figure with a sailor’s beard, heavily inked arms and a smile that stretches all the way to Gibraltar, had devised an eight-course menu highlighting Andalusia’s rich culinary history, including numerous hat tips to the Moors.

Before we’re allowed to dive into our first dish: grilled baby leeks, quail eggs, beetroot and ajo blanco, Mullins mulls over a brief culinary history of Andalusia, paying homage to the Phoenicians for passing on the skill of salting fish, and the Greeks for planting the first grape vines. Made beautiful by the raspberry ripple-like whirls in the beetroot, the dish delivers a pleasing variety of textures, from the crunch of the leek to the creaminess of the garlic sauce and the soft centres of the quail eggs. Almost audaciously, the dish is matched with a nutty Sanchez Romate Amontillado, its sweet nose of toffee, almonds and hazelnuts balanced by a surprisingly dry, saline palate.

Dish two, though not immediately recognisable as Andalusian, was the most delightful of the line-up. Borrowing from fashionable Peru, it consisted of a simple bream ceviche with coriander oil topped with a scoop of tangerine-coloured gazpacho sorbet hovering atop the dish like a frozen egg yolk. The lime fuelled, lip-smackingly fresh ceviche was complimented by the brave flavours of the icy gazpacho, with tomato, pepper and garlic all present. It proved a wonderful match for the accompanying Bodegas Tierras Gauda Albariño 2011 – mirroring the ceviche in zippy citrus freshness, with lemon, lime and apricot all in the mix, wrapped around a flinty mineral core.

Dish three – roast scallops with plum tomatoes and cumin salt – was slight in size but mighty in flavour, the ruby red tomatoes sweetening the meaty scallops, while the cumin salt added a welcome kick of spice. Peering through the kitchen window, I noticed our ebullient, well-inked chef taking a well-earned swig from his Sherry glass while we moved on to our first “natural” wine of the feast from the Alpujarras. Cloudy and rust-coloured, its nose was oxidized and Sherry-like, and any terroir expression that may have existed on the palate was masked a musky, cider-like cloak. After an increasingly heated debate about the merits and malpractice of natural wine, we moved swiftly on to dish four: calamari, soft shell crab and prawns with saffron aioli. Served on a black slate painted yellow by the saffron, the crab danced in mid air atop the squid rings, spindly legs splayed. Lightly fried in an incredibly delicate batter, the crunchy exteriors and soft interiors were lifted by a disc of cooked orange, which added an exotic Moorish twist, while the accompanying Bodegas Hidalgo La Pastrana Manzanilla delivered an invigorating, tangy, sea air kick.

Perhaps the most Moorish of the octet was dish five: chargrilled quail with pomegranate molasses and smoked almond puree. Glinting like rubies, the juicy pomegranate pips were assuaged by the sweet, grainy molasses, both of which enhanced the tender, juicy bird in a dish you could easily encounter in Marrakech or Algiers. Our second natural wine of the lunch – a Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Granacha mash up, was a slight improvement on the natural white offering, but still too barnyard-like to yield true enjoyment from. Before dish six, our trusty chef leapt from the kitchen to explain the creation – we were about to be served Essex rabbit, though he assured us he’d removed the white stilettos before plating up. Rabbit is one of the few foods I feel guilty about eating, so it came as a relief when, on chomping, I encountered a taste akin to chicken breast. The accompanying red blend from Cadiz was a class act, showing elegance, finesse, structure and layers of spiced black fruit.

The penultimate plate reached a culinary crescendo: roast oxtail slow cooked for eight hours then soaked in lemon, served with green olives and a judion bean puree. The slow cooking showed in the super soft, achingly tender meat, enlivened and enhanced by the zing of the lemon and the purity of the buttery bean puree. An exquisite symbiosis of East and West, it served as proof that often the best dishes are the simplest. Our wine match – Tabener 2007 from Huerta de Albala in Cadiz, made from 80% Syrah and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, shone. Dense and layered, it showed notes of blueberry, blackberry, smoke and spices, and proved a delicious companion for the oxtail.

Stuffed as a pillow and pink cheeked from the wine, we rounded off our epic Andalusian feast with a taste of heaven – tocino de cielo, literally meaning “bacon from heaven”, a decadent dish first developed by nuns made from egg yolks and sugar, served with a scoop of zesty blood orange sorbet to lift the tooth tinglingly sweet tocino. Sat opposite a Granadino in a striped shirt called Cayetano who worked as a photographer for National Geographic magazine, his deeply-felt visceral and emotional enjoyment of this rollercoaster of a meal proved the ultimate compliment. If a man born and bred in the majestic, once Moorish kingdom could find pleasure and points of reference in the dishes, from the cumin and the pomegranate to the ground almonds, sultanas and saffron, then both Mullins and our beautifully bearded chef had succeeded in brightening a dimly-lit London dining room with a kaleidoscope of Andalusian flavours.

Sunday, 13 May 2012


Nestled in a quiet corner of Pimlico far from the madding crowds of Sloane Square, Roussillon takes its name from the southeastern French commune in the Lubéron. Originally called Marabel’s, it was forced to change its name due to confusion with Marco Pierre White’s restaurant Mirabelle, which opened in the same week in 1997. Holding a Michelin star from 2000 to 2011, resident chef Alexis Gauthier upped sticks with Italian sommelier Roberto Della Pietra to run Gauthier Soho in May 2010. Head chef Shane Hughes has since taken the reins and is continuing the tradition of serving modern French fare made from seasonal British ingredients with a particular focus on vegetables and herbs, which are freshly picked each morning.

Rocking up to the hidden gem, I was wooed by its sherbet lemon façade. Inside, the living room-like interiors are a soothing shade of beige, so soothing in fact, they almost act as a visual lullaby. On my visit, the restaurant is disconcertingly bare on arrival, but soon fills up with smartly dressed, softly spoken locals. Hung on the walls are curious paintings of vegetables, from masculine asparagus spears to the feminine folds of an artichoke. The flora and fauna theme continues on the plant-strewn menu, and even in the loos, which are prettified by sketches of bilberries and wild flowers.
My dining companion and I begin with a chilled glass of Gosset NV, Roussillon’s house Champagne. Crisp and fresh and yet with a biscuit and brioche-laced richness, it makes for a deliciously refreshing drop. To accompany our apéritif, we are offered a colourful trio of nibbles: pickled quails eggs masquerading as giant olives, sweet and sour macadamia nuts, and a childlike bubblegum pink smoked salmon and beetroot mousse. The teriyaki-soaked macadamia nuts are irresistibly moreish, while the light and airy smoked salmon mousse proves a trompe l’oeil trick, its vivid pink colour implying sweetness and yet delivering a surprisingly savoury mouthful. The arrival of the bread basket brings gasps of delight, the croquette-shaped brioche and salted butter proving a particularly pleasing highlight.

An intercourse follows perhaps aiming to show off its veggie credentials – a creamy green pea and asparagus velouté with a hint of white truffle, which arrives warm and slides down my throat easily in a comforting start to proceedings. Bypassing the veggie friendly seven-course “garden” menu, dinner begins in earnest with a langoustine carpaccio prettily displayed around the edge of the plate amid a garden of cherry tomatoes, artichokes and sprigs of green. In the centre lies a disc of clear tomato jelly, and atop, a generous dollop of salty sustainable caviar. Light, fresh and palate cleansing, Roussillon’s vegetarian roots are once again firmly on display.

To follow is a deliciously rich cheese soufflé bobbing amid a cheesy moat. Its piping hot interior oozes liquid cheese, doubling for central heating on this cool night like an oligarch’s cheese on toast. The main event: poussin and foie gras with wild mushrooms, mashed potato and green beans in a Duke of Clarence Madeira sauce is deliriously decadent, the heady Madeira sauce perfectly complementing the succulent little bird and creamy mash, though after less than half I’m defeated, the rich foie gras erring on the sickly side.

Despite feeling stuffed as a pillow, our affable waiter insists we order pudding, promising modest portions. I opt for the lemon tart, while my companion is lured by the sticky toffee pudding. My hunk of tart, which arrives on a black slate with a crème brûlée-like roof, is as large as a pizza slice. Undeterred, I plunge my fork in and am rewarded with intensely zingy lemon curd-like innards enhanced by the glass-like shard of burnt sugar on top. Swimming in a sea of  banana foam, the moist sticky toffee pudding is soothingly sweet.

Roussillon’s wine list is unsurprisingly focused on southern France, with welcome cameos from Turkey and the Lebanon. On our visit, we begin with a glass of creamy Vondeling Chardonnay 2008 from Paarl in South Africa that charms with its rich nose of buttered popcorn and hot buttered toast. To match with our mains, our smiley Hungarian sommelier, who insisted on being called Garry, recommends a home-grown drop: Pannonhalmi Apatsagi Pinot Noir 2009; once made by Benedictine monks. A pretty, feminine Pinot with a bright nose of raspberries, cherries and hints of spice, its smooth, soft and silky palate serves as wonderful proof of the heights Hungarian reds can reach when lovingly encouraged.

Though perfectly pleasant, Roussillon is lacking that all-important sparkle ignited and kept aflame by Gauthier. While the food is consistently good, it’s bereft of the flair and playfulness that once made it great. Roussillon is a grown-up restaurant for grown-up diners. It isn’t trying to be cool or hip, but rather coast along comfortably as a sedate, romantic hideaway for discreet locals. Perhaps Hughes will bring the sleeping beauty back to life?

Roussillon: 16 St. Barnabas Street, London SW1W 8PB; Tel: +44 (0)20 7730 5550; an eight-course tasting menu costs £75.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Rudy Kurniawan indicted

Alleged wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan has been indicted by a federal grand jury in New York on four counts and faces extradition to the East Coast state. As reported on Kurniawan was formally accused by the jury of mail and wire fraud to sell counterfeit wine, defrauding a finance company, double pledging collateral, and scheming to defraud a California wine collector and a New York auction house.

The charges were filed by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Kurniawan, 35, has been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles since his arrest by the FBI on 8 March at his home. According to a source in the US Department of Justice, Kurniawan will be imminently extradited to New York in a government plane by a federal marshal.

The indictment details how Kurniawan, an Indonesian national, allegedly “assisted in the creation of counterfeit wines” in a home laboratory. It describes Kurniawan as a wizard at concocting fake wines by mixing and matching younger, less valuable wines “that mimicked the taste, colour and character of rare and expensive wines.” 

The indictment alleges that during a search of his home, the FBI found evidence of numerous bottles being counterfeited, including a California Pinot Noir that Kurniawan had marked as “40’s/50’s DRC, ” referring to Burgundy estate Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Agents also found thousands of counterfeit labels for wines dating as far back as 1899, including labels for all the Bordeaux first growths as well as Burgundies such as Domaine Ponsot. 

The home operation was fitted out with hundreds of used corks, foil capsules and hardened wax which, when heated, could seal the mouths of bottles. There were also hundreds of rubber stamps for vintage dates, ranging from Château Latour 1899 to Screaming Eagle 1992. The FBI also found empty bottles of fine and rare wines ready to be filled and “recycled”. Several shipments of empty bottles were mailed to Kurniawan at his request by a New York restaurant he frequented.

Two auctions play a major part in the case against Kurniawan. In April 2008, 22 lots of purported Domaine Ponsot wines were withdrawn at the insistence of Laurent Ponsot, proprietor of the Burgundy estate, from an Acker Merrall & Condit sale. This February, 78 bottles of wine listed as DRC were withdrawn from a Spectrum auction in London. The indictment alleges the wines were fakes, consigned by a paid “straw man” for Kurniawan.

If Kurniawan were to be convicted on all charges, he could face up to 100 years in jail. More likely, according to sentencing guidelines, he would face 87 to 108 months. Asked about his client’s state of mind, Kurniawan’s lawyer, Michael Proctor of Caldwell Leslie & Proctor said: “He’s strong, very strong.”

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Fergie to launch her own wine

Pop star Fergie is to launch her own wine brand after buying a vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara, California. As reported on, the California-born Black Eyed Peas singer will produce her own Ferguson Crest wines from the Santa Barbara estate, which will double as her father’s new home.
The Meet Me Halfway songstress revealed to Forbes Life magazine she’s been busy investing in a number of new property projects, including her vineyard venture. "It's an investment. I'm investing in real estate. Plus, my dad is going to have a great house,” she told the magazine. Grape growing at the estate will be overseen by Fergie’s horticulturalist father, Pat Ferguson.
The Ferguson Crest range, which includes a single estate Syrah, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Viognier, will be released in the US later this year. The wines will be small production – in the region of 1,000 cases of Syrah a year, and even smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier.

Born Stacy Ann Ferguson, Fergie also has her own perfume – Outspoken, produced in collaboration with Avon, and is part-owner of the Miami Dolphins American football team. She is the latest in an increasingly long line of celebrity vintners.

Earlier this year, actress Drew Barrymore released her own wine – Barrymore 2011 Pinot Grigio, from grapes grown in the Veneto, Friuli and Alto Adige in Northern Italy. Last month, former Eurythmics star Dave Stewart teamed up with McLaren Vale estate Mollydooker to release Ringmaster General Shiraz 2010 to coincide with his upcoming album of the same name.

Pop icon Lady Gaga is also hoping to turn her hand to winemaking, and was spotted looking for vineyard land in Sonoma County this March with boyfriend Taylor Kinney. Director Francis Ford Coppola, classical singer Andrea Bocelli, and actors Dan Aykroyd, Sam Neill and Antonio Banderas all also have their own wine brands. 

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Coppola releases first Inglenook since 1964

Filmmaker-turned-winemaker Francis Ford Coppola has released the first wine bearing the Inglenook label since the Napa Valley estate was broken up in 1964. As reported on, a year ago, Coppola successfully reclaimed the Inglenook trademark so that his Rubicon Estate in Rutherford could revert back to its historic original name. At the same time, he hired winemaker Philippe Bascaules, previously of Bordeaux first growth Château Margaux, as estate manager and winemaker, with Stéphane Derenoncourt continuing as consultant winemaker for the estate.

Inglenook was founded in 1880 by Gustave Niebaum, a Finnish sea captain who used his enormous wealth to import the best European grapevines to Napa. The estate’s 1941 Inglenook Cabernet is considered one of the greatest Californian wines ever made. When Coppola first purchased part of the famed property in 1975 with his wife Eleanor, the Inglenook estate had long since been broken up and its name sold off. The Coppolas spent the next twenty years reuniting the vineyards and restoring winemaking to the historic estate.

The new retro label, designed by a retired US Mint artist, is almost an exact replica of the Inglenook Cabernet label from the late ‘50s, featuring the façade of the estate. The choice of the 2009 Cask Cabernet as the first wine to bear the new label is fitting. Cask Cabernet is a tribute to the Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon of the John Daniel, Jr. era during the ‘30s and ‘40s that spawned many of Inglenook’s greatest vintages ever produced. “When I tasted the 2009 vintage, I recognised the incredible potential of this property and understood Coppola’s desire to bring the quality of the wines to their fullest potential,” said Bascaules.

In keeping with the trend for authenticity reported earlier this week on Wine and the City, Inglenook’s estate wines will also return to their historical labels. The 2009 Cask Cabernet will be available in the US and other international markets in two weeks. In addition to the Cabernet Sauvignon, Inglenook is also planted with Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah, along with three hectares of white Rhône varieties that produce the estate's flagship white, Blancaneaux.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Brad Pitt to star in The Billionaire’s Vinegar

Hollywood heartthrob Brad Pitt is to star in a film adaptation of The Billionaire’s Vinegar, a book by Benjamin Wallace on the fake Thomas Jefferson bottles affair.  As reported on, the film, slated to hit cinemas this year, has been co-produced by actor Will Smith, who bought the rights to the book as part of a Hollywood consortium.

Produced by Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures, The Billionaire’s Vinegar is directed by David Keopp, who has worked on blockbusters such as Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Spider-Man and War of the Worlds. He also wrote the script for Men In Black III, starring Will Smith in the lead role. David Bloomfield, who produced The Fighter, Seven Pounds and Thank You For Smoking, is the executive producer.

The court case surrounding the counterfeit Jefferson bottles continues. Last week, Wine and the City reported that billionaire William Koch has asked a US appeals court to revive the lawsuit against auction house Christie’s for assisting the sale of fake bottles of 1787 Lafite belonging to American President Thomas Jefferson. In 1987, Koch bought four bottles of 1787 Château Lafite engraved “Th.J” that were sold to him by wine dealer Hardy Rodenstock for US$500,000.

The court has yet to issue a ruling, but will give a written opinion at a later date. This is not the first time wine has appeared on the silver screen – Pinot Noir was eulogised and Merlot derided in the 2004 cult comedy Sideways, starring Paul Giamatti, adapted from Rex Pickett’s novel of the same name.

In 2006, Gladiator director Ridley Scott swapped swords for pruning sheers in his Provence-based romantic comedy A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe. The same year saw the release of Bottle Shock, a comedy-drama based on the iconic 1976 Judgment of Paris blind tasting, starring Alan Rickman in the role of wine writer and former merchant Steven Spurrier.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Koch to revive fake Jefferson wine case

Billionaire William Koch has asked a US appeals court to revive a lawsuit against Christie’s in which he accused the auction house of fraud over the sale of wines allegedly owned by third American President Thomas Jefferson. As reported on, on Wednesday, a federal appeals court panel in New York questioned whether Koch had conducted timely due diligence when doubts were raised about four bottles of 1787 Château Lafite engraved "Th.J" that were sold to him in 1987 by German wine dealer Hardy Rodenstock for $500,000.

US district judge Barbara Jones threw out Koch’s lawsuit against Christie’s last March, ruling that his claim of fraudulent concealment was barred by the statute of limitations – an enactment that sets the maximum time after an event that legal proceedings based on that event may be initiated. Koch, the founder of Oxbow Group energy company, appealed the decision, saying that Rodenstock and the long time head of Christie's wine department, Michael Broadbent, were associates in the purported fraud.

Christie's fought the lawsuit, arguing that Koch falsely claimed he did not learn about credible issues of the authenticity of the wine until 2005. Much of the questioning focused on the statute of limitations and the timeliness of Koch's investigations into the wine. Koch, who is worth US$4 billion according to Forbes magazine, sued Christie's on the grounds that it had agreed to promote Rodenstock's reputation and sell his wines.

The lawsuit also said Christie's had lobbied The Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello – Jefferson’s former home in Virginia, to vouch for the wine. The appeals court heard that a 1985 report by Monticello had raised doubts about the provenance of the wine and that there had been articles in the wine press in the early ‘90s reporting that no one had proven the wines were Jefferson's.

Koch's lawyer argued that the lawsuit should be allowed because more details had been revealed in a Monticello report from 2005, including the fact that Jefferson ordered an entire year's supply of wine in a single purchase. The orders from 1787 to 1792 were intact and none reflected purchases of the "Th.J" wine. The court did not immediately issue a ruling, but will give a written opinion at a later date. Koch has previously sued American auction houses Zachy’s and Acker Merrall & Condit, and German wine dealer Hardy Rodenstock for fraud.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Hurtado: Peru is the next big wine country

Adolfo Hurtado, chief winemaker of Cono Sur, has revealed he thinks Peru has the potential to be the world’s next big wine region and is looking for vineyard land in the country. “Peru has the same high altitude and ocean influence as Chile, I’d love to make wine there,” he told the drinks business. “Peru has no frost and in many parts is desert-like and dry, the same as northern Chile. It’s such an interesting country with great winemaking potential,” he added. 

Hurtado revealed that he has made a number of trips to the country in search of vineyard land, but has yet to buy anything. If he were to make wine there, he says he would stick to the country’s native grapes over international varieties. Martin Morales, the half-Peruvian, half-British founder of newly-opened Peruvian restaurant Ceviche in Soho, is equally fired up about Peruvian wine and keen to add a couple to his list.

“I’ve got my eye on a Peruvian white blend, which I’m desperately trying to get into the UK to show Londoners what Peru can do in terms of winemaking. The reds need work, but some of the whites are delicious, I’m really excited about them,” he said. There are five different vineyard regions in Peru: the North Coast, the Central Coast, the South Coast, the Andean Sierra and the Selva.

Of the 11,000 hectares of vineyards in the country, the most important lie in the Central and South Coast where the best known wines, like Tacama, Vista Alegre and Ocucaje are produced. The coastal region of Peru is desert, intersected by a series of valleys flowing from the Andes down to the sea. The best vines are grown in these fertile areas, which benefit from the cool currents of offshore air that rise up into the vineyards. The balance between the humidity and daily contrasts in temperature provide exceptional vine growing conditions.

Hurtado meanwhile, also aims to make his winery, Cono Sur, the second biggest wine brand in Chile after Casillero de Diabolo in terms of global recognition. The brand is relaunching its Bicycle, Reserva and Visión ranges with new packaging, as Hurtado felt the message behind the wines “wasn’t clear enough.” The company is also adding a Malbec and Pinot Grigio to its Bicycle range. “I’m really excited about the Malbec – it’s a deep purple colour, almost black, and is concentrated and full of sweet black fruit like an Argentinian Malbec,” he said.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

“Wine is no different than toilet paper”

One of the most powerful wine buyers in the world, Annette Alvarez-Peters of Costco, has slammed wine as “just a beverage” and “no different than toilet paper.” As reported on, speaking in a CNBC news report this week, the director of wine buying for the world’s largest wine retailer said: "Is wine more special than clothing? Is it more special than televisions? I don't think so."

When CNBC presenter Carl Quintanilla offered that wine was different to toilet paper because it’s personal, Alvarez-Peters replied: “People can look at it that way, but at the end of the day it's just a beverage, you either like it or you don’t.” Alvarez-Peters is in charge of over US$1bn in wine sales per year, including fine wines like Château Mouton Rothshild and Château Pétrus.
She is also in charge of setting prices on wines that affect most of America’s small wine retailers, as well as heading a team of 17 international and domestic wine buyers. Before taking on the role of director of wine buying, Alvarez-Peters worked as a buyer in Costco's electronics division. She had no wine and spirits knowledge.
“I’m an employee of Costco that happens to oversee the wine category,” she told Quintanilla. Last year, Alvarez-Peters was voted the sixth most powerful person in the wine world in Decanter magazines biennial power list. Costco is the largest US importer of French fine wines, none of which are marked up more than 15%. Alvarez-Peters keeps the Costco wine selection down to just 200 lines at any one time.

Costco is the largest membership warehouse club chain in the US, the sixth largest retailer in the US, and the seventh largest retailer in the world. This week, the retail giant will be jostling with Woolworths and Coles in Australia to offer the lowest price for Penfolds Grange 2007, set to go on sale on Thursday. One of the most anticipated launches of the year in Australia, the RRP for Grange 2007 is AU$625, but it is thought that the big three will offer it for significantly less.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

New Tio Pepe En Rama most “intense” yet

Tio Pepe Fino En Rama is to return for a third year, and is set to be the most intense bottling yet, having been made from the best barrel from González Byass’ four ancient Tio Pepe soleras. As reported on, production will be up slightly on last year’s 300 cases and will include a number of half bottles designed exclusively for the on-trade. The company decided to make the wine from its best four Tio Pepe barrels in homage to the 200th anniversary of founder Manuel María Gonzalez on 26 May.

The intensity of flavour is a result of a mild winter in Jerez, which has lead to the development of an extra thick protective veil of flor in the casks. “We’ll have an especially intense En Rama this year due to the mild winter and warm spring temperatures, and the special cask selection,” said winemaker Antonio Flores. “Despite racking off the wine a couple of weeks prior to bottling, the wine may have a stronger “haze” than the last edition,” he added.  

Described as “turbo-charged Tio Pepe” by González Byass’ marketing manager Jeremy Rockett, En Rama, loosely meaning “in its unrefined state”, is made from unfiltered Tio Pepe taken from the cask in spring when the flor is at its thickest. Without stabilisation, En Rama has a lifespan of just three months, and a mere three days after opening.

This year’s hand-drawn label, taken from the González Byass archives, is an old Sherry label from 1857 featuring a stylised grapevine surrounded by a red ribbon. Rockett believes the vintage labels have been a big contributing factor to the wine’s success: “The labels have almost become the message of the wine. “Our customers eagerly await the next release to see what we’ve dug up from the archive. Changing the label each year is part of its charm,” he said.

“At the niche end of the market you can get away with being less traditional and have some fun with your label designs, because consumers are buying on name,” he added. Tio Pepe En Rama will be available to taste at the London International Wine Fair at 11am on 22 May. UK deliveries will start on the same day. The wine is set to be bottled next week and will be priced at £13.99 a bottle.