Penfolds owner sells California winery

Penfolds owner sells California wineryTreasury Wine Estates (TWE) has sold several California assets to rival Gallo, including the Asti winery, the Souverain brand and stocks, and vineyards in Sonoma County. Asti winery sold by Treasury Wine Estates to Gallo, July 2015The deal also sees TWE entering into a long-term leaseback covenant on part of the vineyard, which has traditionally provided the companionship with ‘luxury’ fruit.
The go is part of continuing efforts by TWE, owner of Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Beringer, to cut costs and reduce production capacity in the face of falling profits.
The companionship is also looking to optimise its supply chain and break production of its ‘luxury’ and ‘masstige’ wines from its lower-priced commercial bottlings.
At the end of Development, it announced a raft of changes in Australia and California, including the closure of the Asti facility, as well as selling off the recently closed Ryecroft winery in McLaren Vale, T’Dauntless in Mornington Peninsula and the Bailey’s winery in Glenrowan.
TWE said the sale to Gallo would lead to it recording a loss on disposal of US$7.5m, previous to tax, in its full-year accounts to 30 June 2015. No further financial details were revealed.
The companionship recorded a 60% fall in net profits in the six months to 31 December, with chief executive Michael Clarke saying in Development that TWE was in the midst of a ‘re-set year’.
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Jefford on Monday: That’s the way to do it

Jefford on Monday: That’s the way to do itIn this week's column, Andrew Jefford examines the career of Justin Howard-Sneyd, wine buyer turned winemaker. Bushvine Grenache, RoussillonIt’s a classic start: anthropology student turns cellar-rat, and goes tank-cleaning his way around France, Hungary, Romania and South Africa.  While helping out a small before long with the winemaking at Chapel Down in Kent, near his mother’s house, Justin Howard-Sneyd heard about a wine-buying job going at the UK supermarket chain Safeway (now Morrisons) below the respected Liz Robertson MW.  She liked his winemaking experience, so took a chance on him; he thrived, completing his MW while at Safeway in just two years.  From there, he was head-hunted to Sainsbury’s; no surprise when, five years before long, he stepped into Julian Brind’s shoes at the head of the Waitrose wine specialty team.  After another five years, he was re-poached to become Global Buying Director for mail-order giant Laithwaites.  That would be, for most, a kind of ‘kick-back-and-delight in’ career summit.  If Howard-Sneyd had seen it like that, though, I wouldn’t be profiling him.  It’s what this unusually talented wine trader did next which is really fascinating.
While working at Sainsbury’s, he went to stay at the Sichel family’s Ch Trillol near Cucugnan, just underneath the ridge, crowned by the austere Cathar fortress of Quéribus, which divides Corbières from Maury and Roussillon.  He found the place thrilling, and I know why: there can’t be many more dramatically sited villages in France than this one.  On a cold holiday to Maury itself in October 2003, he and his wife Amanda bought a bottle of Jacques Montagné’s Clos del Rey from Jean Pla’s shop to keep warm with.  ‘I loved it so much.  I’d been thought for some time that I’d like to make my own wine, and the combination of scenery and quality of wine and cheapness of the vineyards combined to make it obvious choice of everyplace to want to work.’  The following February he bought a small vineyard of ancient-vine Grenache in Maury.  Additional morsels followed, to make a total of 4 ha – and Domaine of the Bee; 2007 was the first vintage.  I didn’t catch up with the wines until the 2014 Vinisud, when I tried the 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages, as well as the ‘special cuvée’ version (called Genoux – the bee’s knees) from 2011, a wine I have tried once again in a blind tasting since.
Justin Howard-Sneyd
How can I place this?  I was expected something right, sensible, well-made, well-packaged and commercially attractive; the sort of thing you’d imagine a moonlighting supermarket buyer would make on his holidays.  Incorrect: the wines are dramatically better than that.  They’re wild, thunderous and unreasonable, full of the grandeur and savagery of the place.  No wussy fretting about alcohol or wine-trade angst about ‘balance’ and ‘freshness’: they come hoofing out of the bottles like wild boar out of the garrigue, and root and rut gratuitously all over your glasses.  ‘A tiny production of giant reds,’ as Howard-Sneyd correctly says.  In ten minutes at a Vinisud bar, he rose in my estimation enormously.
Now he’s done it again.  That Chapel Down acorn had secretly spread roots and grown: Howard-Sneyd started to reckon that an English sparkling wine would be a excellent complement to his Roussillon wines.  But there was a problem.  ‘A reasonably excellent ancient-vine vineyard in Roussillon is about €10,000 per hectare.  And that’s planted and producing.  Farmland in the right places in the UK is about £8,000 an acre – so that’s £20,000 a hectare just for the land, and you’d need to spend another £30,000 on planting it and trellising it and working it for six years.’  He chose to go base-wine shopping instead, and make his own vineyard-less English sparkling-wine blend.  That was a clever go when he did it in 2010 – and it looks subdue more astute now.  English sparkling wine sells about two million bottles a year, and the last few years have seen enough vineyards planted in the UK to make three times that. There will be a multitude of grapes and wine looking for a home previous to long.
Luck plays its part in each success tale, and Howard-Sneyd was surely lucky to find base wine of the quality he did for the initial 2010 version of his Hart of Gold sparkling wine, now on the market.  It has truly impressive aromatic complexity, billowing with colorless orchard fruit, brioche and a small oxidative fruitfulness; the flavours are rousing, long and perfumed too, with splendidly ripe, resonant acidity.  It was grown by the Chinn family in Ross-on-Wye whose own mark – and very elegant it is too – is Castle Brook; the winemaking and ageing was carried out at Ridgeview (‘fantastically excellent straightforward simple people’).  There are more vintages of Hart of Gold in progress (though not 2011 or 2012), based on Chinn-grown Ross-on-Wye fruit, but Howard-Sneyd doesn’t rule out expanding the blend.  Of course he doesn’t. Champagne, remember, isn’t just about chalk. Champagne is also about making pan-regional blends based on bought fruit and wine, and enduring brands based on consistency.  Who might be better placed to deliver something similar for the UK than a hugely experienced ex-Sainsbury, ex-Waitrose and ex-Laithwaites buyer and MW?  (In fact he’s not ex-Laithwaites: he subdue consults for them). Read more

Top 10 Sancerre reds to try

Top 10 Sancerre reds to tryReckon you know what Sancerre is all about? Expand your summer drinking repertoire with these red wines from the French wine province that is well-known for its Sauvignon Blanc.Sancerre is justifiably well-known for its Sauvignon Blancs, but it’s high time to pay attention to the reds which, while subdue small in number, are quick gaining a reputation for quality and Burgundian elegance. Tina Gellie picks her top 10 to try. Read more

Anson on Thursday: Burgundy and the other 1855

Anson on Thursday: Burgundy and the other 1855The development to UNESCO world heritage status was a small more nail-biting for Burgundy than Champagne, writes Jane Anson, who goes on to examine why Bordeaux isn't the only province to celebrate the year 1855. BurgundyBack in May, the province was given six weeks to tighten up its pitch previous to the UNESCO World Heritage committee voted on new inclusions to the list of protected cultural and natural sites at the 39th session in Bonn, Germany.
The six weeks between the request to submit clearer explanations and the final covenant must have been tense.
Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, co-president of the world heritage committee in Burgundy along with Guillaume d’Angerville, called the requested changes ‘minor’, and underlined that they were only to one part of the database. But there was inevitably a worry in the rear the scenes that things might not go their way, despite the daring and vast amount of dedication.
The Burgundy team knew that their database was both intricate and intricate, as it was seeking recognition not just for mosaic of vineyard plots known as ‘climats’ but also the historic centre of Dijon that embodies, as UNESCO recognised in its choice, ‘the political regulatory impetus that gave birth to the climat system’.
In the end, the patchwork of individual terroirs along the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune made it to the end line alongside ‘the full Champagne production administer’ from the vineyards of Hautvilliers, Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, together with the Champagne houses and their underground cellars along the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay and Saint Nicaise Hill in Reims.
It could have been no additional way. Dijon’s inclusion was essential – not least because it was here that a man integral to the UNESCO World Heritage success was born and lived. Jean Lavalle died 135 years previous to the Côte d’Or was signed into UNESCO recognition, but his work helped make the first official ranking of Burgundy vineyards. This would eventually lead to the 1936 classification system that turned the thought of the climats of Burgundy into the 400-plus appellations of the Côte d’Or. Read more

History of Wine in 100 Bottles: Tokaji, 1571

History of Wine in 100 Bottles: Tokaji, 1571Our third wring from Oz Clarke's new book, The Description of Wine in 100 Bottles, looks at Europe in the 16th century, and the progression of Tokaji. Tokaji vineyardsI’ve always presumed it was the gorgeous taste of Tokaji that first made it well-known, or indeed its
This c. 1680 rarity is possibly the oldest unopened bottle of Tokaji.
legendary restorative powers that had the fantastic and excellent of Europe queuing round the block for their allocation. But perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps it was something altogether more compelling.
Sixteenth-century Europe was a melting pot of crazy thoughts and fantastical propositions. And into this world of alchemy and intrigue strode Tokaji. An Italian thinker called Marzio Galeotto spread the word that the wines of Tokaj contained gold. He’d visited Tokaj in Hungary and reported that there was golden ore in them thar hills, that the sand in the vineyards’ soils contained particles of gold, and that some of the vines even had golden shoots. That brought the most well-known alchemist of the day, Paracelsus, to Tokaj and, not surprisingly, he disastrous to wring gold from the grapes or their wine, though he did make the rather baffling observation that sunshine ‘like a thread of gold, passes through stock and root into the rock’. So this kept the Tokaji and gold legend fizzy away for quite a while yet.
Of course, imbibing gold flakes was supposed to be excellent for you, which might clarify why the Tokaji wines were so well loved with the potentates of the time. But I suspect the wits was simpler – the stuff tasted so scrumptious. Intense, succulent and sweet.
Nowadays, sweetness is everywhere in what we eat and drink, but it wasn’t then. And any wine that could regularly come up with rich, sweet flavours was going to be clamoured for by the wealthy. And there’s some evidence that the growers of Tokaj, in an block out province in the east of Hungary, may have been the first to make naturally sweet wines on a regular basis. To make a naturally sweet wine, it’s not enough to simply have super-ripe grapes; they must be over-ripened to the point of shrivelling on the vine, or, ideally, attacked by a fungus called ‘noble rot’, which
Noble rot
sucks out the moisture from a grape and concentrates the wine to the greatest extent physically possible. The Hungarians use the word aszú to describe shrivelled, desiccated grapes, and also to describe grapes whose sugar is concentrated by noble rot. The first mention of Aszú grape wine is in 1571, in a property deal clearly demonstrating that the Aszú grapes had been kept break from the habitual grapes in the vineyard of Mézes Mály. And this would at the very least imply that the producers of Tokaji were the first in the world to harvest shrivelled and nobly rotten grapes on purpose – the Germans on the Rhine didn’t get the hang of purposefully nobly rotting their grapes until 1775.
The more commonly accepted legend is that a guy called Szepsi Laczkó Máté postponed the vintage at the fantastic Oremus vineyard in 1630, fearing an attack by the Turks. Or was it 1633? Or was it 1650? That’s the distress with legends, who knows? Anyway, the Turks were certainly threatening – just over the Bodrog River (wonderful name) – and Oremus was the family estate of Prince Rákóczi, the most prominent local nobleman. The date doesn’t really matter, because the exceptional climatic conditions along the Bodrog River, with its daylight mists and warm autumn days, would mean that grapes had been nobly rotting there on a regular basis for centuries. But it was the local Tokaji wine producers who first started to make one of the world’s fantastic wine styles – naturally sweet, luscious wine from nobly rotted grapes.
This wring was taken from The Description of Wine in 100 Bottles by Oz Clarke
 
 
 
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Anson on Thursday: Going Underground with the Terroir Man

Anson on Thursday: Going Underground with the Terroir ManIn this week's column, Jane Anson shares what she learnt from meeting terroir expert, Xavier Choné. Chateau Leoville Las Suitcases was Choné's first serious commissionYou might not have heard of Xavier Choné, but if you have ever sipped or slurped your way through a tasting room you may well have seen his work. Most liable in Bordeaux, but Choné has worked across countless properties in California, Spain, Italy, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, the Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey and Russia. Even the remotest winery that I’ve visited, in the dizzying heights of the Himalayan mountains of Tibet, had a Choné original nestled in a drawer.
This man is not an artist. Not exactly anyway. He does draw landscapes, but not of the Constable or Li Cheng variety. Curves and colours are not what he is looking for, although both of those things tell him a host of in rank that you and I might well miss entirely (particularly, he tells me, at harvest time, when the colours of leaves and the rate at which they are shed from vines spin a whole dialogue of their own). Choné’s tools are a small bulkier than your average painter – a set of trowels, shovels and spades, T-shaped soil probes and core samplers, plastic pails, sample bags and boxes, detailed GPS maps locating shape, altitude and geographic limits of vineyard plots.
You’ve guessed by now of course. Choné is a terroir specialist whose particular skill lies in drawing maps of vineyard soils that clarify exactly what is happening below the surface. He reads the submerged underbelly of the landscape and translates his findings into practical, actionable similes of the soils from acidity and pH levels, permeability, porosity, water retaining potential, organize, organic matter, micro-elements, nitrogen levels, carbon make pleased, and most crucially the dominant materials that they are made up of – so whether flint, clay, limestone, gravel, sand, schist, what era they date from, how one interacts with the others, and which is dominant at different depths.
Xavier Chone
‘Terroir is the sense of a site,’ Choné told me the first time we met, over dinner at Château de Sours in Entre deux Mers maybe eight years ago. I’d heard his name plenty of times, but it was only after that supper that I started to take more notice of the discreet signature in a bottom corner of vineyard maps invariably found on walls in tasting rooms. The first one I noticed was at Léoville Las Suitcases in Saint Julien – which it turns out was also Choné’s first serious commission, around 20 years ago, mapping all 100 hectares of the vineyard. It was also, as far as he knows, the first in-depth terroir study commissioned by an individual château in Bordeaux; an event that is nowadays as commonplace for the best châteaux as a huge-name wine consultant and a celebrity architect.
Since getting his PhD in soil sciences and plant physiology, Choné has mapped around 2,000 hectares in the Médoc, perhaps 500 hectares in Saint Emilion and Pomerol, the same again in Pessac Léognan and Sauternes. As a student he was enlisted to study all 10,000 hectares of Entre deux Mers, plus a excellent amount of the non-vineyard land surrounding it to see what might be suitable for planting. To date, it is liable that this man has cut and sliced his way around 30,000 hectares of Bordeaux’s 117,000 hectares of vines, maybe one-quarter of the total. Worldwide, you can double that number easily, giving him an astonishingly wide-ranging overview of what makes a vineyard tick.
So you can see why I picked up the phone to question which parts of the province are most liable to be withstanding the heatwave that is currently gripping Bordeaux.
‘For a start, we are not in 2003 yet,’ he says. ‘That year saw three weeks of extremely high temperatures (high 30s°, low 40°s) and nearly two months without rain. We are quicker to 2005, which in July saw one week of extreme heat followed by a habitual dry year’.
‘At least 30mm of rain fell in early June, so most soils subdue have water reserves, and it is only the young vines that are really suffering; and maybe some pockets of dry gravel in Pomerol or Margaux. And don’t forget we are a long way from harvest – everything could change in a few weeks’.
Warnings aside, this is what he had to say about hot years. That firstly you want to be looking for age/variety of vine + soil type + location + vineyard practices. And then you need to break that down even further.
Take the age of vines, for example. In theory, older vines are better in hot years because the roots have widened and deepened enough to be a excellent conduit for any water reserves (‘the older the vine, the wider the pipe,’ Choné place it). But soil type is key – so Merlot on clay soils or particularly porous limestone, like the plateau of Saint Emilion but not the compact limestone around Frontenac, will have reached ‘ancient vine’ status by six or seven years ancient. A Cabernet Sauvignon on gravel soils won’t be considered ancient until it is at least 12 or 13 years.
What you’re looking for, ideally, is clay, or a clay subsoil if there is gravel on top. So Lafon Rochet, Léoville Las Suitcases, Latour, Pétrus, the Corbin sector in Saint Emilion, Beau-Site, Montrose, Ormes de Pez and additional clay-dominant areas of northern Saint Estèphe are feeling lucky right now, as are Haut-Bailly and Mouton, who both have plenty of clay in between their gravel. The limestone plateau of Saint Emilion will also offer relief to parched vines, so excellent news for Belair-Monange, Ausone, Clos Fourtet, Canon, Villemaurine – and particular parts of Entre deux Mers like Château de Sours, or Carbonnieux in Pessac Léognan, and most of Barsac.
‘Dry gravels are the ones that will suffer. Médoc grand crus are lucky because of their size, and because they have enough ancient vines – they always have enough cards to play with to make a decent first wine. Smaller estates in Pomerol and additional areas simply have less land to pick from, so can find it tougher’.
Just as he’s getting into full swing, he pauses. ‘The problem of course is that knowing which parts of the vineyard are going to respond best to drought doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do anything about it’. This is not a name who wants to paint himself as a guru, and no sooner is he impressing with his knowledge than he is talking himself out of a job altogether.
‘Bordeaux is subdue a maritime climate with vintage variation. If anyone had replanted with drought-resistant cultivars in 2003 or 2005, or uprooted all of their Merlot to guard against overly high alcohol levels, they might have been in distress in 2011 or 2013’.
‘The additional problem can be that vineyard mapping is a time-specific project. Ideally it happens by taking four to six samples per hectare, and is best done during winter when the vines are dormant and there is no water being drawn up through them, as inevitably taking samples before long in the year will kill one or two vines. After it’s finished, we leave and the vineyard then has to act on the results – so it usually happens when an estate is looking at planting or building changes to rootstocks or grapes. Today many estates, such as Lafon Rochet or Opus One, prefer to take an ongoing audit of the water reserves and microbiology of soils over several years, understanding the practical implications to individual plots according to climate and age of vines. I like this approach – and like to always bear in mind that the best soils are no different from the worst unless there is a name to work them’.
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International Trophy winner Sweet Fortified over £15 – Blandy’s, Verdelho, Madeira, Portugal 1973 (21%)

International Trophy winner Sweet Fortified over £15 – Blandy’s, Verdelho, Madeira, Portugal 1973 (21%)A hugely complex weave, with a notably nutty nose bolstered by leather, savoury concentration and a touch of rancio fruit. The mouthfeel is wonderful, with deep flavours of cinnamon, beeswax, a saline touch and a bright lime twist, then coffee and walnut notes lingering to the end. So much going on here – and it perpetually redefines itself.
£235 Berry Bros & Rudd, Turville Valley Wines, Corney & Barrow, Vintage MarqueA DISTINGUISHED LINE-UP of fortified wines made the taste-off for this International Trophy, spearheaded by Portugal (five of the 10 wines) and by wines from the 1970s (four out of the seven vintage wines here).
This archetypal example from Blandy’s was a hugely well loved choice amongst the panel, with one judge recounting it enthusiastically as ‘the grandest wine on the table’. Another even went to wave his arms in the air, chanting ‘Madeira!’
Blandy’s benchmark fortifieds have made a huge impression at the DWWA over the years, taking four Regional Trophies and, last year, its first International Trophy, building this victory the second in a row.
Last year’s accolade was for a 1988 Malmsey, while this year it’s a venerable Verdelho that takes the prize. Winery CEO Chris Blandy believes that, as with all older Madeiras, the maturation administer very much defines the final style of the wine. In this case, over its 41 years of ageing, this wine passed down from the warmer top floor of Blandy’s 19th-century lodges in Funchal to the cooler first floor.
Blandy’s was founded by John Blandy in 1811, and the winery continues to age wine from as far back as 1920, perfecting the balance between the wine’s natural acidity and residual sugar levels.
Chris Blandy
Tasted against
All Saints, Rare Muscat, Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia NV • Bacalhôa, Moscatel Roxo Superior, Setúbal, Portugal 2002 • Barros, Colheita Port, Portugal 1974 • Bodegas Robles, Selección de Robles Oro, Montilla-Moriles, Spain • C Da Silva, Dalva Golden Colorless Port, Portugal 1971 • Domaine de la Pigeade, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Rhône, France 2014 • Gérard Bertrand, Legend Vintage, Rivesaltes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France 1974 • Hidalgo, Triana 30 Year Ancient Pedro Ximénez, Sherry, Spain • Quinta do Crasto, Late Bottled Vintage Port, Portugal 2010.
The 19th-century lodge in Funchal where wines are aged over many years
 
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