THE NORTHERN RHÔNE VALLEY – A Day Trip To Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu

“This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.”

~ Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises  

When I moved to Lyon over 3 years ago, I had had little experience with the wines of the Northern Rhône Valley. There are a few reasons for this, the most prominent are that this small region with eight AOC’s has low production, making it harder to obtain; and its better wines are rather expensive. Since arriving here, my experience of the wines of the region, which begins about 20 miles south of the city where I live, has been limited to the ubiquitous St. Josephs and Croze-Hermitages to be found on just about every wine list in town. And these two wines represent the largest AOC’s in the Northern Rhône Valley and are very reasonably priced as a rule.

Having recently read Kermit Lynch’s classic book Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France (LINK), (something else I should have done sooner) which features a chapter on the Northern Rhône Valley, and with confinement restrictions being lessened in France, my wife and I booked a 6-hour tour of part of the region. Dorianne and I were joined by friends from the American Club of Lyon, Mark Gallops and Ann Bingley Gallops, both fans of the wines of St. Joseph.

I booked the tour through Lyon Winetours (LINK) and we were not disappointed by the tour in any way, other than wishing it were longer. Our tour guide was Vincent Pontet, the founder of the company, who was raised in Condrieu and lives there today. He began working in the vineyards at 14, obtained his bachelor’s degree in Wine making in Burgundy, and spend several years learning wine making in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and in California, before returning home to start his tour business. He is now preparing a wine bar for opening in late summer – called Les Enfants du Rhône, he is partnering with another Condrieu native. We look forward to visiting after the opening.

As I noted, the Northern Rhône Valley (LINK) (LINK) is a small region, under 3,000 hectares (or less than 7,400 acres) and is divided into 8 appellations or AOC’s (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). For comparison, the Southern Rhône Valley (LINK) has over 68,000 hectares (168,000 acres) and 23 AOC’s.

We left from Place Bellcour in Lyon at 10:00 am and headed south. About 30 minutes later, we were driving through CôteRôtie (the Roasted Hill), the northernmost AOC of the Northern Rhône Valley. You immediately notice the steep, terraced slopes on the west side of the Rhône River. Vines were first planted here 2400 years ago by the early Romans who settled here. Most of the appellations of the region, the best ones anyway, feature these steep slopes, where everything must be done by hand. Vignerons cannot use tractors or other heavy machinery, and working these slopes by hand is hot, hard work.

CôteRôtie consists of two major slopes, Côte Blonde and Côte Brune. The major differences are in the soil composition, with Côte Blonde having sandy soil in granite and a light schist. Côte Brune is just schist and granite. The wines of CôteRôtie are Syrah blended with a small percentage of Viognier, a white grape. The blending is set when the vineyards are planted. At harvest time, whatever Syrah and Viognier are harvested by each producer are fermented together before going into barrels or foudres for aging. We tasted several Côte-Rôties and each had a distinctive nature, but with a commonality of tannins, smoothness, and dark red fruit on the nose and the palate.

Condrieu is located just south of CôteRôtie on the west side of the Rhône. The only grape grown here on the granite slopes is Viognier. The viogniers here are richer and more full-bodied than viogniers I have had from elsewhere. Rich and lush, with a range of notes from nutty to floral to fruity, these are wines that are appropriate for sipping as well as for pairing with any foods you might pair with a Chardonnay.

We tasted a couple of St. Josephs and one Cornas at the tasting room at Cave Yves Cuilleron (LINK) in Condrieu. St. Joseph is one of two rather large AOC’s in the region, along with Croze-Hermitage, and the wines are generally more available and priced lower than the rest of the region’s production. St. Joseph is spread over 30 miles and there is a fair amount of variety in the quality and styles of the wine – although the only red is Syrah and the whites are Rousanne and Marsanne. The wines we tasted at the cave, a red and a white, were both very nicely crafted, but with less complexity than the CôteRôties or the Condrieus, which is not surprising.We made some purchases and moved on.

The next stop was lunch on the terrace at Bar et Gourmet (LINK), a wonderful spot in Condrieu with excellent food and, as you might expect, a representative wine list.

Mark enjoyed his dessert.

After lunch, it was more tasting and a winery tour at Cave Guy Bernard (LINK), where Vincent has been working to help with the most recent bottling. We toured the winery and the barrel cellar, then tasted a series of Côte-Rôtie wines from 2017 and 2018, and a Condrieu from a separate parcel. All excellent! We made some more purchases, then headed back to Lyon through rush-hour traffic (called a bouchon, or a cork in a bottleneck, in France).

In the future, we plan more exploration of this amazing region. Even though it is small, there is more to cover than you can do in a day. And we want to return to Vincent’s wine bar, Les Enfants du Rhône, where he plans to have bottles from his library available to pour. Whether you are a Syrah lover (and this is ground-zero for great Syrah), or savor the unique white wines and blends of the Northern Rhône, there is much here to enjoy. Ask your wine merchant about these wines and give them a try.

The day’s spoils.

As always, your comments are appreciated!

Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard

MY NINE GO-TO EVERYDAY FRENCH WINES

LIFE IN FRANCE FOR A WINE LOVER – IT CHANGES YOU

First of all, I want to acknowledge the huge amount of damage to the vineyards of France and much of central Europe by the frosts of the past week, which continue as I write this. It is possible that a majority of the 2021 vintage may be lost. The damage runs from First Growth Bordeaux to Chablis, to Champagne to everyday wines. It is tragic and will be felt for a long time.

I haven’t posted on this blog in quite some time – since November 2019, in fact, during those pre-COVID halcyon days of bliss. The main reason for my absence from these pages, while not from wine, has been that since I have been living in France for 3 years or so now, my experience with wine has changed. It has become more of a relationship with a smaller number of mostly unpretentious and unspectacular wines consumed, for the most part, with meals. If anything, COVID cemented this relationship, as our restaurants are closed and the occasional “special bottle” with a restaurant meal has not been in the mix. When I last wrote about our wine experience living in Lyon (LINK), I was new to the area and just beginning to learn.

While Dorianne and I have extended our pricing for “everyday wines” from an upper limit of about 12€ to about 16€, putting a few second labels from Burgundy in range. Despite this, our average expenditure is likely under 10€ per bottle. This is because I have found a number of labels in the 7€ range that are good enough to drink just about every day. I will list and describe these wines later, but I am not sure that they can be found outside of France. Suffice to say, that for 16€ and under, you can find very drinkable wines from just about any region in France (even Burgundy!). Equivalent wines in the US, in my experience, tend to cost upward of $25.

Another change is that our social circle here is not so wine-centric as the one we left behind in California. The French, with some exceptions of course, view wine as a grocery item. One French friend who loves to drink wine and visit wineries, seldom spends more than 4€ for a bottle. There is a bit more wine talk among the English-speaking expat community here, but not all that much.

Our diets have gotten lighter here and we drink more whites and rosés, especially in spring and summer, but also in winter with fish, salads, and soups.

My purchasing habits here in Lyon are different than they were in the US. I have gradually expanded outward geographically, as each wine shop (cave) here is unique. Each shop has one or two (or more) very good French wines at lower price points; each shop has different wines from the various regions. Most larger supermarkets have some very nice wines on their shelves. Some have more international choices – I get good Spanish, Italian, and Middle Eastern varieties at an Armenian grocery store; Port wines at a Portuguese bodega near the Portuguese consulate; South African wines at a major chain grocery; and even some Penfold’s from my local wine shop.

I have begun to buy more wines online from the producers – wines from Lirac, Tavel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Pommard, Beaune, and the northern Rhône Valley. When we can, we visit wineries and co-ops nearby in Mâcon, Pouilly-Fuissé, also in Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, and Fleurie in the Beaujolais.

Since we have not been back to the US for over a year, our cave has about 6 bottles of California wines left. But it is fully stocked with other wines, about 90% are French, many purchased at the fall wine festivals (LINK) which I hope return this year.

About half the time, we drink wines which are under 20€ and we consider “everyday wines.” I will do another post featuring those wines soon.

As promised, here are our go-to everyday wines for ten euros or less. Le Versant is a favorite. They make other wines as well, but these are the ones available near us. These are wines that I would share with anyone who visits, as they represent their regions well. They are not of premiere cru quality, but they don’t have to be. I would say that each is worth 2 to 3 times what they sell for.

REDS:

Le Versant Syrah 6,99 €

Le Versant Cabernet 6,99 €

Château Junayme, Fronsac Bordeaux blend 6,35 €

Château Etang des Colombes, Corbières Red Blend 7,40 €

La Bastide St. Dominic, Côte-du-Rhône Red Blend 7,99 €

WHITES:

Le Versant Chardonnay 6,99 €

Le Versant Sauvignon 6,99 €

Le Versant Viognier 5,60 €

Les Orfèvres du Vin, Mâconnaise Aligoté 7,50 €

So that’s what Dorianne and I are drinking most nights with dinner. France offers a wealth of very drinkable wines at very good prices, once you learn what to look for. As we all hope that the local vignerons manage to survive these frosts, let us be grateful for the French wines that we can enjoy today.

As always, your comments are welcomed.

Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard

SO, YOU WANT TO MOVE TO FRANCE, PART 4

It has been a year since my last post in this series (LINK TO PART 3), and I thought I would bring you up to date on our expat experience. (LINK PART 1, LINK PART 2)

We are currently living in Lyon and are between our second and third long-stay visitor visas (carte sejour). I say between, because our second visa expired in October and our appointment to renew (made last June) is in February. The government agency responsible for visas is swamped due to Brexit and other factors, so everything is backed-up. Our appointment notice serves as an automatic visa extension until our new one is approved.

We have also applied to enter the social security and health care systems. Once we receive our health card (Carte Vitale), we will have full access. You can qualify for the system after living here for a few months (LINK), but it took us a while before we applied. Fortunately, we have not had any health issues to speak of in the interim.

Since we were in France for more than 183 days in 2019, we will have to file a tax return for this year. We have no French income (we can’t work in France with our current visas), but we will have to file anyway, which is fine with us as we plan to stay here indefinitely. We do pay taxes on our apartment and VAT taxes already.

I am still struggling with my French and I remain at the transactional level; I can do most transactions pretty well, but I cannot have a conversation with a French speaker. I continue to listen to French lessons online and via my iPhone and attend some practice sessions such as a weekly coffee in French sponsored by the American Club of Lyon (LINK).

The American Club has become one of our social hubs, and we meet both expats and French people who may have lived or studied in the US for a time. There is a coffee in English on Tuesdays and in French on Thursdays, plus regular happy hours, special events, and holiday gatherings for Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. There are about 2-300 active members of the club.

Another social hub is Internations (LINK), an international organization with groups in most cities around the world. They sponsor monthly meet-and-greets at cafes and other locations and have smaller affinity groups which vary by location. Membership consists mostly of expats and visitors, with a few locals who want to meet people from other countries.

Violin Beautiful

Dorianne is playing a lot of chamber music here. One of the reasons we chose Lyon was because of the vibrant amateur chamber music community here. She plays in several orchestras, a few smaller groups, and participates in stages, or trainings, both locally and internationally. This community has become a third social hub for us.

Our building and local neighborhood have become a fourth social hub. There is an annual fête des voisins (neighbors’ party) in our building, and naturally we see our neighbors during the day as we enter and leave the building. Our street has hosted a street party where the street was closed off and the businesses provided food and drinks for everyone. And, we see the local shop owners almost daily as we make our local purchases of food, wine and such.

Our cave (storage area) in the basement of the building is growing as we make wine purchases at the local caves (wine shops) and at various wine festivals and tastings during the year. Wine is like food here, and I find that there is less conversation about wine during meals than in California. The wine is simply part of the experience and you talk about other things. Lyon has an excellent selection of French wines in restaurants and stores. International wines are a bit harder to find, and I have only found one place with good US wines – the Franklin Steakhouse (LINK), which features US beef and Napa Valley wines. The owner, Eric, is a former cooper in Napa and still features some of the wines of the winemakers he made barrels for. There are good Italian restaurants with good Italian wines, etc., but this is a city surrounded by wine regions and which specializes in French wines.

The French rarely talk about work or money; they like to talk about family, culture, and philosophy – and politics. My French, as noted above, is not good enough yet to go deeply into these topics. It takes a good knowledge of French to be part of the conversation and to be fully accepted here. So, I will keep studying.

I will say that I have not had the experience of rudeness which some American report when visiting France. I do have some thoughts on the topic. One issue is that France is not a tipping culture. French servers are professionals who receive a living wage and benefits even at the smallest cafés. This means a couple of things – the servers do not hover and check on you every five minutes; they do not try to up-sell you to raise the bill. The servers are not ignoring you; they are letting you enjoy your meal. In fine restaurants, the service will be a bit more solicitous, but again, they are not trying to raise your bill to get a larger tip. Also, the table is yours for the evening and one is expected to linger over dinner; meals are not rushed. When you want the check (l’addition) you will have to signal the server, and you may pay at the counter in many cafés and bouchons (Lyonnaise bistros). The menu price includes taxes and there is no need to tip – although we often leave a euro or two for good service.

Another way to be treated well is to at least attempt to use French when making a purchase in a store or asking for directions. Many French people speak little or no English, or they are embarrassed that their English isn’t better, so they hesitate to speak it. But when some Americans (including some expats) make no effort to speak French, and act affronted if a French person does not speak English, then it is me who gets embarrassed.

Finally, I find that while Americans tend to be like dogs – outgoing, friendly, and often boisterous, the French are often more like cats – you have to let them come to you. They shake hands when meeting someone for the first time, then the kisses begin (the number and pattern vary by region) – but you either do not touch or barely touch the other person. And no hugging. When you understand this, you will give French people the opportunity to warm up to you and you will see how warm and friendly they can be. As I said, we have experienced numerous acts of kindness and not had a single negative experience in two years of living here and in multiple trips here previously.

Assuming that all goes well with our visa renewals in February, we will be remaining here for most of the year. Our intention is to apply for either permanent residency (like a Green Card) or French citizenship (dual) when we have been here for five years (which would be July 2022. And did I mention how great the trains are?

Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard

BEST TIME TO BE IN LYON?

For wine lovers, late October into November is the best time to visit Lyon, France’s 3rd largest city which is centered among some wonderful wine regions. Wine regions which include Burgundy, Beaujolais, Jura, and the Rhône Valley.

One can take day trips from Lyon to all of these wine regions (and to nearby Switzerland, if so incined). And in Lyon, there are world-class restaurants featuring amazing wine lists as well as wine caves (shops) which hold vast troves of great French wines.

But these past 3 weeks (and the next two) have been special, even for Lyon. Three very large tastings of French (and only French) wines have been held. They are: Vinomedia Salon du Vin, Terre de Vins Grand Degustiation, and the Salon des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants. I attended the last two over the past couple of weeks. (A fourth, Sous les Pavés la Vinge is scheduled for Nov 16 & 17.)

The Terre de Vins Grand Degustiation was held at La Bourse, a grand old building on La Presquille near the center of the city. 90 tasting stations offering about 300 wines, ranging from single vignerons to the large négotiants such as Louis Latour and Georges DeBoeuff. Here are some photos from that event:

 

 

 

The Salon des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants was held in the huge Le Halle Tony Garnier in the 7eme Arrondissement of Lyon. This four-day event offered about 400 independent wine producers offering up to 8 wines each for tasting. Wines from every region in France are featured, the stands mixed together so that you have to walk past the Alsace and Sud-Ouest to get to the Burgogne or the Bordeaux. Regions have color-coded signs with the names of the winery and the sub-region.

The difference here is that all of the product is for sale right at the event. Lyonnaise folks show up in droves, often bringing the whole family to this event, and they stock up. We bought two cases on our first visit, and then I went back the next day with a cart and bought three more. Here are some photos of this event:

Photo Nov 03, 11 14 50 AM

 

 

 

At this time of year, there are wine festivals all over the countryside as well, in Beaujolais, Jura, the Rhône Valley, etc. Once the harvest is finished, it is time to move the previous year (or most recent vintage to be released) out to the public, and these events help that to happen. A great time to be in and around Lyon!

 

Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard

 

 

DELICIOUS CHARDONNAY IN POUILLY-FUISSÉ

Photo Jul 14, 10 44 24 AM

Pouilly-Fuissé (LINK) is a small subregion within the Mâconnais area of southern Burgundy. It is about 50 km north of Lyon, a few km west of the Sâone River. It consists of five villages which are from north to south, VergissonSolutré, Pouilly, Fuissé, and Chantré. The different towns and their surroundings have different combinations of clay and limestone soils which, along with slopes and exposure to sun account for the differences in the wines.

The only grape, or cépage is Chardonnay. There are no red wines produced here. When I lived in the Unites States, I had only a vague notion of Pouilly-Fuissé as a nice wine one often found on restaurant wine lists and among the mid-range priced Chardonnays at some wine shops. These sources rarely, if ever, give you any notion of the origins of these wines, or the fact that there are five distinct styles of Pouilly-Fuissé in existence. Eric Asimov covered this territory in the NYTimes in 2015 (LINK). I would say that the sense of what Pouilly-Fuissé is has clarified somewhat since he wrote that piece.

Pouilly Frisse Wine Map

The Pouilly-Fuissé wines are often confused with Pouilly-Fumé and Pouilly-sur-Loire, two Loire Valley white wines made from Sauvignon Blanc. Also, an adjoining appellation, Pouilly-Vinzelles and Pouilly-Loche (LINK) share a slope with the Chantré section of Pouilly-Fuissé. Those wines, also Chardonnay, are very similar to the Pouilly-Fuissé wines.

Pouilly-Fuissé wines are generally a step above the local Mâconnais Village Chardonnays, and a step or two below the Burgundian Chardonnays from the area around Côte du Beaune farther north. There are, of course, exceptions in both directions. Some of the Pouilly-Fuissé wines stand up to Burgundy’s best wines and are an incredible value. The challenge is finding a decent selection on the shelf or wine list in the US and Canada.

Dorianne and I did a tasting at L’Atrium in Solutré, a wine shop representing about a dozen wineries from each of the five towns of the Pouilly-Fuissé region. Wines here cost between 16 and 40 euros, with most around 20 euros.

Photo Jul 13, 10 31 33 AM

We tasted representative 2018 wines from each of the five towns and noted significant differences in the wines. We both liked the wine from Fuissé the best, it had a nice blend of fruit and mineral, with a very pleasant mouthfeel. The wine from Pouilly was our 2nd choice. We purchased several wines from these two towns to take home. Pouilly-Fuissé wines are best aged from 3 to 6 years but are drinkable right away. The versions of the other three wines were a bit lacking in one or more qualities – but they were still very drinkable wines.

Photo Jul 13, 10 34 47 AM

The area is among the most beautiful in France and worth a detour to spend some time here and taste and purchase the wines.

 

Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard

 

NOTE: I will be blogging more about the MUST-Fermenting Ideas Wine Summit (LINK) over the next few weeks. I was just in the Mâcon area and wanted to get this post in while it is fresh in my mind.

MIGUEL A. TORRES ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND WINE MAKING – MUST-FERMENTING IDEAS WINE SUMMIT

As I noted in my last post (LINK), I spent three pretty amazing days at this Wine Summit (LINK) in Cascais/Estoríl, Portugal. The summit covered a number of topics over its three-day length – but climate change was perhaps the most repeated and most critical. I will dedicate this post to Senõr Torres’ presentation alone. Most future posts will cover more than one presentation.

Photo Jun 28, 12 05 09 PM

None other than Miguel A. Torres, President and Managing Director of Bodegas Torres, and is a member of the fourth generation of this family business. His topic was “Climate Crisis and Its Consequences for the European Viniculture.” As a global wine company, Bodegas Torres is faced with many challenges, including growing grapes and making wine in a number of different locations with different climate patterns, business practices, and political environments. Senior Torres noted that, in his mind, climate change is the most important issue and his company is dedicating 11% of profits for programs researching and mitigating climate change.

“We have not sold one more bottle due to steps we have taken (regarding climate change).”

~ Miguel A. Torres

This statement speaks volumes – much of the work required to mitigate the effects of climate change does not increase sales, but, in the long term, it may well preserve them. Senõr Torres showed a series of slides on what climate change is and on what Bodega Torres is doing to mitigate its effects.

Photo Jun 28, 12 13 43 PMPhoto Jun 28, 12 16 20 PMPhoto Jun 28, 12 22 10 PM

Here are a few of the things they are doing:

 

Minimizing chemical and pesticide use (reducing below organicó requirements):

Photo Jun 28, 12 35 20 PM

Reintroducing ancestral Catalan varieties which are more resistant to heat:

Photo Jun 28, 12 37 22 PMPhoto Jun 28, 12 38 35 PM

Examining introduction of distinctly foreign varieties into growing areas:

Photo Jun 28, 12 39 30 PM

Reduction in energy consumption – electric vehicles, solar panels, etc.:

Photo Jun 28, 12 41 03 PM

Studying bottling and packaging materials to reduce weight and waste:

Photo Jun 28, 12 41 36 PM

Studying Carbon Capture and Reuse (CSR) in the fermentation process:

Photo Jun 28, 12 43 49 PMPhoto Jun 28, 12 44 39 PM

Participate in the EU carbon emissions reduction program (Greta Thunberg):

Photo Jun 28, 12 47 15 PM

Active Participation & Leadership in International Wineries for Climate Action Group:

Photo Jun 28, 12 48 08 PM

Senõr Torres is clearly passionate about being proactive about climate change and is taking a global perspective fitting for a global company. Torres Wines are made in Spain, Italy, Chile, and the United States (California). He noted that the approach to climate change is different in each location, as are the political issues relating to climate change. And he had some advice for property owners:

“For those of you who live near the sea, it is time to sell. Don’t wait!”

~ Miguel A. Torres

During the Q&A session, I had the opportunity to ask a question, and I opened with this comment:

“I go to a lot of conferences and events, and you’re the first person of your stature in this, or any industry to take such a strong stance on climate change.”

~ Me to Miguel A. Torres at MUST-Fermenting Ideas

The wine industry, especially its vineyards, are like the canaries in the coal mine for the effects of climate change. Those who are not investing in taking actions like Bodega Torres may increasingly find themselves with damaged products, and eventually with none.

As always, your comments are welcomed!

Please follow this blog and share it with your wine-loving friends.

 

Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard

MUST – FERMENTING IDEAS WINE SUMMIT 2019

I spent three pretty amazing days at this Wine Summit (LINK) in Cascais/Estoríl, Portugal. The focus of the summit, now three years old, is innovation in the wine industry. Speakers and attendees covered a wide range of industry representatives, from growers, to winery operators, marketers, business consultants, wine writers, and others. The coordinators/founders are Rui Afalcao (also a presenter) and Paulo Salvador. Both were available throughout the summit.

I was there on a press pass (full disclosure), and I really have nothing negative to say about the event. It was among the best organized and presented conferences I have attended anywhere (more about that in a minute), and I was surprised that attendance was not higher. I don’t know the numbers, but there were a good number of empty seats, which means that a lot of people missed a great opportunity to get some timely and important information about the state of the wine industry and its future.

They also missed a chance to visit one of the most beautiful areas of Portugal, along the Atlantic Ocean about 30 minutes west of Lisbon. Lovely beaches, great food and wine, and lots to explore in the areas of Estoríl and Cascais.

The Wine Summit had a simple format – speakers each day with a few panel discussions spread around. Each speaker had an hour and usually spoke for 40 minutes or so, then responded to questions from a moderator and the audience. The excellent Summit staff had 4 portable microphones to get to audience members, and that aspect of the program ran very smoothly.

I will be posting in more detail about some of the presentations over the next few weeks. Speakers included Eric Asimov, NYTimes Wine Writer; Gaia Gaja, of the legendary Italian Wine family; Miguel A. Torres, President of Bodega Torres; Isabelle Legeron, France’s first female Master of Wine; Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Editor-in-Chief of Wine Advocate; Felicity Carter, Editor-in-Chief of Meininger’s Wine Business International; and many others. Here is a LINK to the speakers list (click on SPEAKERS).

Photo Jun 27, 1 50 59 PM
Jim with Eric Asimov

The big topics – climate change, changing markets for wine, natural wines, wine writing and criticism, and technology in wine making and marketing, and the importance of tradition while moving toward innovation.

Naturally, one of the best things about an event like this is the conversation during breaks, over meals, and into the evening about all things wine. And, of course, drinking some of the amazingly unique Portuguese wines along the way.

As noted above, the summit was very well run, beginning with a well-designed website with good information and a simple registration process. Once at the site – the Centro de Congressos do Estoril, a very modern facility – the event was laid out beautifully with excellent graphics, good signage, and a gathering area where breaks, lunch, and lots of wine tastings happened. The site was well-staffed and the staff was very responsive and generous in making sure that everyone had what they needed.

Photo Jun 27, 10 51 26 AM

As noted above, I will get into more specifics over the next few posts – and if you look through my Twitter feed @JimLockardWine there are lots of specifics and photos. Consider this an introduction – and an invitation to put this event on your radar for 2020.

 

Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE WINE INDUSTRY?

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

~ Ernest Hemingway

As I prepare to travel to Portugal later this month for the MUST Fermenting Ideas Conference (LINK), where new and innovative ideas will be presented and discussed, I can’t help but look at some of the major issues in the wine industry today.

Issues like counterfeiting, fraud, and outright theft are regularly reported here in France and elsewhere. One might actually take that as a positive sign that there is something of great value which is sought after by the criminally inclined. There may well be truth in that, but that is not the kind of thing I am talking about. Even the great scandal of the past year involving the cheating at the Master Sommelier test in the United States (LINK), while closer to the heart of the matter, is not the really big issue, as important as it may be. These kinds of things only affect the upper tier of wine drinkers, not the vast majority.

For me, the big issue is the fact that the industry is pulling in so many directions that it is becoming more and more difficult for wine consumers to have a broad understanding of the world of wine and the enjoyment such awareness brings. This also adversely affects the industry as customer engagement and loyalty wane.

In the United States, the corporatization of the wine industry is having many negative effects. The buying up of labels from shuttered wineries and the conversion of these labels to bottles bulk wines; the “Gallo-ization” of everyday wines; the failure to support labeling regulation policies; and crazy shipping restrictions due to the efforts of regional distributors’ lobbying efforts all serve to break down trust from consumers. These things also make it difficult for family-run wineries to compete in a market where the deck is stacked in favor of the big producers.

Additionally, the movement toward a generic kind of wine blend for the American palate (again, thanks Gallo et all, although wine critics have a hand in this as well), which is opposite of what is happening in the beer industry, where craft beers are gaining market share to the point that they are becoming corporate targets, has also made it harder for the average consumer to explore different styles of the winemaker’s craft. More and more with New World wines and US red wines especially, everything at $12 and under, tastes the same.

The oases from all of this are the smaller wine shops and non-chain restaurants where wine lists are chosen to match the menu, not to maximize buying power. I routinely encourage younger wine drinkers to go to local shops and talk to the staff, who will give good advice about wines regardless of one’s budget. If someone find that they like wine and are interested in exploring it further, local wine shops are a great place to begin. I still rely on my wine cave in Lyon to help me sort through the myriad labels from local wine regions – their advice is worth an extra euro or two per bottle that I may pay over supermarket wines. The same is true in the US and UK.

NOTE: my wife and I have a budget for everyday wine in the 7€ to 15€ range (about $8 to $18). Our go-to Provencal rosé for this summer costs only 6€99. We find that we can get very good wines in this price range here in France – with the advice of our cavistes. We do occasionally splurge for more expensive wines, of course.

On a larger scale, the wine industry would do well to create a more welcoming invitation to wine enjoyment than the usual bifurcated choice of cheap wine laden with additives or more expensive options often marketed for snob appeal. If labeling regulations were supported by the industry, many people who choose to eat healthily would see that their organic food choices are all too often negated by chemical-laden cheap wines. Many of today’s consumers are more health-conscious and the wine industry is doing them few favors by not supporting labeling requirements.

Wine - Labels Ridge
Ridge Winery voluntarily lists all additives on their labels.

The period of continual growth for the industry seems to be over, meaning that attracting new customers will require more than just putting wines on shelves. Making wine an everyday beverage, as it is in much of Europe, will necessitate a more welcoming and egalitarian approach and require more attention to health concerns. Seeing wine as food seems like a good place to begin.

More to come on all this, but I am interested in any comments you have. I you will be at MUST – see you there!

Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard

OLD WORLD VS NEW WORLD TASTE TEST

Hello,

If you follow the link below, you will be taken to the WineFolly.com site where Madaline Puckette does a blind tasting of Pinot Noirs from Burgundy and Oregon. I think this is an excellent representation of both how to taste wine and a fun way to organize tastings – compare the same variety from different regions or nations. Below the video on the site is a lot of good information as well.

Here is the link:

https://winefolly.com/episode/oregon-vs-burgundy-pinot-noir/ 

I agree with Madaline about the 2015 Burgundies – living here in Lyon, I have been able to taste a few and they are stunning wines. And, being in France, I have access to some secondary labels from great producers which are not available in the US. As I have noted before, the French do not like to pay a lot for wine, which for most of them is an everyday part of life. French wine producers know this and price their wines accordingly for the most part. As an example, recently I drank a very nice white Burgundy from Mercurey which cost me just 11 euros.

I know I have not been blogging much lately – my focus has been on learning French and we have been drinking some everyday wines – which I will blog about soon. It is spring here, and the new crop of rosé wines will be on the shelves soon.

Look for a few posts on these over the next months.

Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard

 

THE BASICS OF CORK TAINT – WHAT IS “CORKED WINE”?

Two pretty good articles dealing with cork taint, or “corked” wine came up in my Twitter feed (@JimLockardWine) today. I thought I would post about them here and give you the necessary links. There is also a connected post about the top six wine faults that you will find interesting as well.

wine - chart - cork types

Corked wine is a fairly common problem, but like all wine problems, a very small percentage of wine bottles will be corked. The Cellar Insider (LINK) puts the number somewhere between 3 and 8%, which means that if you drink from 200 bottles a year, you will encounter 6 to 16 corked wines. Not all wine that is corked is obvious, and the blog post from Wine Folly (LINK) speaks to that issue. Sometimes, the effects of the bad cork are subtle and not noticed.

“By the way, when a wine has low levels of TCA it might not stink of the aforementioned aromas. Instead, it will just have no fruit and floral smells and very little flavor. You might think the wine was just boring.”

Those aromas include:

  • Musty
  • Wet Dog
  • Wet Cardboard
  • Wet Newspaper
  • Grandma’s Basement

They are caused by TCA, and according to the Social Vignerons blog (LINK):

“What is TCA?

Trichloroanisole or TCA is a natural compound most-generally found in wood that has been in contact with some form of chloride chemical. When Chlorophenols, molecules found in certain pesticides and wood preservatives, get in contact with wood, they can be transformed by fungi into TCA and other bad smelling agents. Because most of the wood surrounding us is treated with preservatives —so it doesn’t rot— the contamination comes from anywhere.

If a contaminated wood gets anywhere near wine, the bad odours concentrate into the wine until it may eventually become ‘tainted’.

Main source of TCA in wine is obviously the cork for 2 reasons:

  • A cork is essentially a piece of wood (or bark to be precise) that comes from a tree (the majority of cork trees used for making wine corks are grown in Portugal). If that tree has been in contact with chloride compounds at any given time in its life, its bark may have developed bad smells

  • A cork is obviously in close contact with wine, allowing bad aromas to contaminate the liquid.”

wine - cork taint

There isn’t much you can do about corked wine – send it back if in a restaurant; return it to your regular wine retailer for a replacement; maybe give everyone present a lesson in what corked wine smells and tastes like before you pour it down the sink (it isn’t harmful to drink, just either nasty or flat and favorless). The blog posts speak more about this.

wine - cork tree
Cork Tree

As to the 6 top wine faults (LINK), they include:

  1. Corked wine (TCA)
  2. Brettanomyces a.k.a. “Brett” – yeasts that don’t belong in your wine
  3. Reduction: the opposite of Oxidation. Results in sulfuric, rotten eggs smell
  4. Mercaptains: also surfuric. Smells of cabbage, garlic or onion
  5. Volatile Acidity – wine is like vinegar
  6. Oxidation – the wine ages prematurely and becomes unpleasant

The Social Vignerons blog gives more details on each of these and how to reverse them, if that is possible.

bad-smell

Faults in wine are more common the more wine you drink. It is important to learn how to detect these faults and what you can do about them. Many thanks to Julien Miguel (@JMiguelWine) at Social Vignerons.com (LINK) and to Madeline Puckette (@WineFolly) at WineFolly.com (LINK) for the great educational work they do.

Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard

Feel free to share this post with others who may be interested.

And follow me on Twitter – @JimLockardWine