Coldplay, Strictly, Crispy Pancakes… we all have our ‘guilty pleasures’. For drinks expert and restaurateur Mike Turner, his is Asti Spumante – a drink that, when he first discovered it, he drank with almost everything, much to the dismay of Italian sommeliers. But, despite the derision this precursor to Prosecco often gets, Mike argues it’s a serious drink with masses of skill in the making of. He visits the winemakers of Piedmont and the growers who supply the fruit and has his belief re-confirmed… Asti Spumante is a fizz that seriously needs your re-appraisal.
On the one hand English whisky is one of the most exciting, fast moving spirits categories you can find on the back bar. On the other it is still very much in its infancy, with vastly different products and no real identity about what the category is all about. Stephen Russell, co-founder of the Copper Rivet Distillery in Kent, believes English whisky needs its own charter, its own standards and benchmarks to help create a standalone industry in its own right. Here he explains why.
It is difficult when making drinks-based TV shows to get the right balance between ‘broad appeal’ and entertaining ‘those in the know’. Critics of The Wine Show complained about it not going deep enough, while those behind the show defended its entertainment-first approach. Amazon Prime has just started airing The Three Drinkers Do Scotch – a three-part series that aims to cover the entire world of Scottish whisky in just three 30 minute episodes. Mike Turner, who is a close friend of the three presenters, reckons they’ve got it just about right.
With five restaurants across Hertfordshire bearing his name, and with plans to open a sixth in the near future, Andrei Lussman is a busy man. But one thing he doesn’t have to worry about is his wine supplier, thanks to a long-standing relationship with Corney & Barrow which stretches back to the 1990’s when he worked in the company’s wine bars at the time. Here he talks to Helen Arnold about how he works with C&B to select the right wines for his restaurants and the challenge of persuading customers to get out of their wine comfort zones.
What a difference a year makes! Last year buyers were left wondering where their supplies were going to come from, as a ‘perfect storm’ of poor global harvests engulfed them. This year the market is ‘awash with wine’, as David Kermode, aka Mr Vinosaurus, found at the tenth annual World Bulk Wine Exhibition in Amsterdam
If you know her from the BBC’s Apprentice then you will know Jackie Fast is going places. In fact having sold her sports sponsorship for an undisclosed sum before even stepping into Lord Sugar’s boardroom she has arguably already achieved more businesses success than most of us will achieve in our careers. She also certainly lives up to her name and is already trying to pin down prestigious listings in major on-trade accounts and luxury retailers for her premium Canadian ice wine brand, REBEL Pi, within a few weeks of its launch. Richard Siddle caught up with her to find out how she hopes to now crack the notoriously difficult UK premium wine market.
South Africa might, in comparison to other wine producing countries, be a relatively newcomer on the international wine market, but it has vines that date back decades. But they are in ever decreasing numbers as they are have been systematically ripped out over the years to be replaced by new vines as producers and the major co-ops look to keep ahead of world demand by planting more global varieties than local ones. But now thanks to the Old Vine Project and the pioneering work of respected viticulturist, Rosa Kruger, more and more older vines are being protected, saved and brought back to life. Vines that potentially give winemakers the opportunity to produce styles of wine that are the true identity of South Africa and have learnt how to live through at least 35 years – the age at which they are deemed to be ‘old’ – and become part of the Old Vine Project. Richard Siddle explores what the project means in reality, and how it is still a slow, but very important process in convincing growers and the major co-operatives to identify where the old vines are and help bring them back to life.
‘Plaimont Producteurs and the Sale of the Golden Barrels’ sounds like a story JK Rowling could have dreamt up, beret pulled down over her eyes after necking a bottle of solid Madiran in the rolling hills of Gascogne. It is, however, an annual auction held on November 5th where the finest barrels of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh (or Barriques d’Or) are sold to the on-trade – a chance to assess the latest harvest, get first dibs on the best of the best, and also to come together and celebrate as one winemaking community – just before the grapes are picked for the next vintage. Peter Dean travelled there to take part in the festivities and on no account to come home with 228 litres of sticky.
We saw yesterday how the People’s Choice Wine Awards has already carved its own highly relevant and much needed mark on wine competitions with an event that allows everyday wine drinkers to have a say in the wines they think should be picking up trophies and medals. Here wine communicator, Sorcha Holloway, and already very much a voice for average wine consumers with her weekly #ukwinehour Twitter show, explains what it was like to be involved from a so-called ‘expert’s’ point of view.
As we all get used to the clocks going back an hour over the weekend, it feels an opportune time to analyse what sort of business models the average drinks industry business is following. Are you the kind of company that always looks backwards at what you have done, and the practicalities of doing business, in order to determine what you do in the future? Or are you willing to take risks and see the past as the building blocks of business experience from which you can learn to adapt, change and move on for the future? Or for Reka Haros it comes down to those companies that embrace change, and those that will do anything to avoid it. Here’s her take on why businesses need to be innovating, and adopting new ideas in order to grow, or risk the perils of being caught out by standing still.
When Mike Turner opened his first restaurant, little did he think about the spirits shelf – the “every other alcoholic drink in the world in a quarter of a piece of A4” shelf. Mike had just about got used to being a professional wine buyer (and he knows a lot about wine) so how was he going to catch up with his spirits knowledge against the clock? He seeks help from Colin Hampden White who steers him firmly towards whisky as the first category to get on top of. But that is not such a straight path.
Most major wine producing countries or regions would be more than happy to have an average price point of around £10 to £15 a bottle, never mind the giddy heights of £20 plus. But for premium Californian wineries, £20 is not too far off what they might see as being their entry price positioning. Which is good news for major retailers such as Oddbins who are now working closely with major branded players, particularly E&J Gallo Winery and its new, extended Californian and US premium wine range, to bring both excitement and new wines to its portfolio which is helping it see real growth between £20 to £40.
Italian whites might well be creeping onto more wine lists, but they tend to be more for your everyday favourite selections rather than for their premium, ageing quality. Those spaces are reserved for Italy’s far more prestigious reds. But as Anton Moiseenko discovered during a recent tasting of 10 year old and plus Verdicchios that there is some stunning quality to be found if you are prepared to look.
If you want to be taken seriously as a premium spirit brand then you have to be listed in all the key style bars in the country, that’s when you know you have a critical mass to take to the next stage. It’s so much harder in wine as there are simply too many alternatives in your category to choose from. But for English sparkling wine, which very much wants to play in those premium circles, being listed in all the right bars and restaurants is now very much a given, but few outlets take English wine quite as seriously as the Coral Room at the Bloomsbury hotel which, as Helen Arnold discovers, claims to have one of the largest – if not the largest – selection in the country, both by the glass and the bottle.
For decades the international wine buying market has been pretty straightforward. The major wine consuming markets have by and large been able to pick and choose which countries they source their wines from, largely based on how expensive they might be depending on currency exchange rates at the time. Not any more. China, and its enormous rise in demand for imported wine, has turned the world on its head to such an extent that what China wants, it gets, and the rest of the world is now playing catch up, says Richard Siddle.
Here’s a novel idea. Recruit a group of leading sommeliers and buyers around the world to come and visit your country and go on a tour that has been devised and planned by local wineries. Only it’s not such a novel idea. This weekend marks the 12th James Busby travel tour experience of Australia, that to date has seen 135 intrepid wine souls board the tour bus (and plane) to criss cross their way across all the happening areas of Australia. Here chief organiser, Tim Wildman MW, and the brains behind the James Busby experience, sets the scene for this year’s tour.
Joe Fattorini argues that Palomino is an unique grape because of the way it can be moulded into a wide variety of styles – from quaffable white wine through to aged Oloroso Sherry – in much the same way that the shape-shifting metallic robot in Terminator 2 can become whatever it wants to. Fattorini was speaking at the Great Sherry Tasting 2018 and brought some razamataz to a Masterclass aimed at drinks buyers, sommeliers and wine educators.
After a week in South Africa as a guest of Cape Wine 2018, Michelin star chef and roving editor for The Buyer, Roger Jones, sums up the week of events. Having been heavily involved in selling and promoting South African wines for a number of years, Jones still firmly believes that the increase in customer awareness, quality sourced, and consumer expectation is at an all-time high for South African wines and growing faster than many in the on-trade can keep up with.
John McCarthy is clearly not happy sitting still. Having trained as an electrical engineer he has moved careers to work first in the brewing sector with Adnams, and then now he has re-trained as the company’s chief distiller as the esteemed brewery looks to branch out and tap into the burgeoning world of craft and premium spirits.
We’ve all come a long way since 1988, assuming you were even around to see it. But for Les Caves de Pyrene it marks the anniversary of not just the start of its own company, but a turning point in the kinds of wines that merchants and importers were now prepared to offer their trade customers, but also the sort of people who were willing to go into unknown areas, try different things and bring a whole new mentality to wine buying and sourcing. Doug Wregg, who has been with Les Caves from the beginning, looks back over the last three decades to give this personal account of how this highly influential wine merchants, that so many people in the trade have an affinity with, has reached parts of the trade others can also wish for.