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).
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.
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.
This is proving to be a well-spaced series of posts, the first in September 2017 (LINK), the second in April 2018 (LINK), and this, the third one in November 2018. Here is an update on the months since my last post.
We moved into our apartment in the 6ème Arrondissement of Lyon beginning in late June. Our shipment from the US arrived in early July, but we had some paining done and moved our shipment in early August. The good news was that there were no customs duty or taxes due since we were moving our primary residence (if it were a second home, the duty and taxes could be 50% of the value). The bad news was that an armoire was heavily damaged and about 6 boxes were missing – and not covered by our homeowner’s policy as we had been advised by our agent.
Our building is essentially a co-operative, with 9 owners, some descendants of the original builder and owner. Gas and electric hookups were generally easy, with some language issues, especially on the telephone. Our building fees and taxes are under 400 euros per quarter.
We needed to buy new appliances for the apartment, since in France, the owners take everything with them when they move (renters usually do, too); and none of our small electrics would work in France, so we needed to replace them as well. We also needed new furniture other than the three armoires, two book cases, one table, and the Steinway piano we had shipped. We had one lamp rewired for 220 current as well.
We happened to hit a sale period for most of our furniture and electronics – there are two or three general sales during the year, regulated by the government (to keep small business from severe undercutting by larger retailers). Shopping for furniture here is like in the US, you do your research and look online. We purchased most things in area retail stores and a few online. We ordered two convertible sofas in early August, just before the whole country goes on vacation, so they were not manufactured and delivered until September and October.
Cable TV and Internet services are like in the US only cheaper, as is cell phone service. Communications companies are required by law to keep prices low and provide customer service. We ended up with cell phones from one provider and cable TV and internet from another.
The new apartment has a cave, or basement, with a dirt floor. It is perfect for storing wine. Our building was built in 1847 and is a block from the Rhône River. There are 5 wine shops (also called caves) in our neighborhood, so the basement cave will be filling up in due order.
Our long stay visa renewal mentioned in Part 2 ran into a snag in June.
You renew your visas through a different agency than the one to which you initially apply through an embassy or consulate in your home nation. In Lyon, which is located in the Rhône-Alps Department (or state), that is at the Prefecture in Lyon. Appointments take about 3 months to obtain. When we went for our renewal, using a list of necessary paperwork from the OFII website (Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration), we were told the list on the website was incorrect and we were given another list and told to make a new appointment. That was on June 28th. Our visas were to expire on July 12th and the next appointment available was in October.
So, we contacted an immigration attorney (advocat), who told us that the OFII official had illegally returned all of our application items and that our visas would remain in effect until our October appointment. He sent them a letter to this effect, which we took with us when we left the country and had no trouble returning during this period.
Then, on October 18th, we returned to the Prefecture and handed in all the correct paperwork (LINK) and were given our extension good through December 2019. Champagne followed.
As I noted in Part 1 of this series:
What we discovered is that it is very difficult to get a work visa for France unless you are hired by a French company or working for a foreign company and will have a temporary assignment in France. The law says that to qualify for a job, there must be no French citizen who can fill that job, and then, no EU citizen who can fill it. Unless you meet those criteria or are going to invest and start a business and hire ten French citizens, you can forget a work visa. There are no investment visas in France, such as the Golden Visa for real estate purchases in Portugal, Spain, Greece, or Malta.
We applied for a long-stay visitor visa (there are time constraints) (LINK)(LINK). Essentially, we had to show that we could afford to live in France for a year, had health insurance that covered us there, and were not wanted by the law. We submitted a stack of papers and had a short interview at the French Consulate in Los Angeles (you must apply in person at the embassy or consulate nearest to your US residence).
Now, we are legal for another year. After doing this for five years, we will be eligible to apply for permanent residence (like a Green Card) or French citizenship. The current wait for French citizenship applications to be processed is 2½ years, mostly due to an increase in applications from UK citizens due to Brexit.
Learning French is still a slow-go, in part because it’s a difficult language and in part because we have been back and forth to America so often. We are planning to be in France more during the coming year and to focus on learning the language better.
Vector Sign Speaking French
Meanwhile, the wine is still wonderful, abundant, and relatively cheap; the food is still glorious; and France is, well, France. I am again forgoing Beaujolais Nouveau this year, opting instead for some lush Côte-du-Rhônes and maybe a cru Beaujolais or two. Our first Lyon Christmas is approaching, including the famed Fete des Lumieres (LINK), plus a December trip to Paris. For our first New Years Eve, we will celebrate with friends in Mâcon with what they call Champagne-a-Go-Go, which apparently means large quantities of Champagne. We will be staying over.
As always, your comments are welcomed, as are any good tips for expats.
Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard
NOTE: I will be covering a very interesting wine conference in Portugal in June. The MUST Wine Summit: Fermenting Ideas (LINK). If you can’t go, you can see my posts about it coming in late June!
REFUSE TO BE INTIMIDATED. The world of wine is populated with a few, well, snobs. There are people whose income depends on you, the consumer, feeling like you don’t know enough to order a wine you will like. There are some whose income depends on getting you to buy a wine whether you like it or not. There are also few who want to make you feel uncomfortable just for their own ego gratification.
That said, there are also lots of folks who can and will help you feel more comfortable. These can include wine stewards or waiters in restaurants, employees in wine shops and at large retailers like Costco, tasting room employees, and, yes, wine bloggers like me. Take advantage of their knowledge and willingness to help. Even with the first group, you will usually find if you ask a couple of clear questions and let them know what you like and what you are willing to pay, you will get what you desire.
2. BE AN EXPLORER. Try some unfamiliar wines. Even if after doing so, you become a drinker of one kind of wine, you will at least know that you aren’t missing something better for you. Again, wine retailers and restaurant employees can be helpful. Like Malbec? Try something close, like a Barbera or a Tempranillo. Traveling? Try the local wines. (LINK to my post WHAT KIND OF WINE DRINKER ARE YOU?)
3. AVOID REALLY CHEAP WINES. The issue here is not so much about price or quality as it is about additives. Most new world (that’s everyplace but Europe) wines under $10 to $15 are laced with additives of various kinds. There are no labeling requirements, so you don’t know which ones or how much of them are in your wine. Some additives are benign, some are not. Many people who eat only organic food buy cheap wines filled with chemical additives – unknowingly, of course. (LINK to my post on ADDITIVES)
There are three main reasons that cheaper wines have more additives than more expensive wines: One, consumers of cheaper wines tend to want their wine to taste the same every time. They are not interested in seasonal variation – the kind based on weather which affect wine grapes from just about everywhere. So, additives can mask changes – and in cheap wines, the issue is not seasonal variations; most are bulk wines, made from whatever grapes or juice are available at that moment from any location. Second – additives can make a rough product taste smoother, smell better, look better. In other words, mask problems. Third – there are economic reasons to use additives in some products, and your health is not one of them.
4. NEW TO WINE? TRY A STARTER CASE. I blogged about this a while back. If you are new to wine or have someone, like in my case, my daughter, who is new to wine, consider a starter case. This is a mixed case of wines for them to try to learn about. Then, when returning to the wine retailer, you or they can say what you liked and would like to get more of, or maybe explore a bit with something like what you enjoyed previously, but different. (LINK to my post on STARTER CASE)
5. LEARN HOW TO SHOP FOR WINE. I often go into wine shops without intending to make a purchase – just to look around, familiarize myself with the kinds of wines available, the labels, the price points. I may engage someone in the shop in a conversation about a specific wine, or a wine region that they feature. And, truth be told, much more often than not, I walk out with a bottle or three.
Many reputable wine writers and bloggers will tell you to ask questions when shopping for wine. Wine shop employees will generally enjoy helping you (with the possible exception of the Holiday rush). For example, you might ask for a wine in the $20 range to go with a lamb roast, or something to take as a special gift to a lover of Argentinian Malbec. (LINK to my post on SHOPPING FOR WINE)
6. LEARN HOW RESTAURANT WINE WORKS. There are a few things to be aware of when ordering wine in a restaurant. One is the pricing structure. The norm is to mark up a bottle two to two-and-a-half times retail cost. Many restaurants are offering wines at a lower mark-up (in Europe it is often the same as in a wine shop). Wine is a significant part of the profit structure at many restaurants. For others, it is an afterthought; the wines may not even go with the food offered.
There are myths about ordering wine in restaurants. Most are false or only partly true. The reality is that if wine is a serious consideration in a restaurant, the wine list will have been chosen with care based on what is important to that restaurant’s management. It might be by region – focusing on Italian wines in an Italian restaurant; or by type of food served – an emphasis on white and rosé wines in a seafood restaurant; or it may be wines selected for the specific items on the menu. Some say that the best buy is the 2nd cheapest wine on the list. This is almost never true. If it is good value you are seeking, a good choice is to order a bottle of one of the wines they are selling by the glass. These wines are usually a good value and they are sold by the glass because they are well-received.
Again, don’t be afraid to ask the waiter, wine steward, or sommelier for guidance – and DON’T forget to give him or her your budget! I have never had a negative experience with wine in a restaurant when I have been given guidance (I don’t always ask for it). (LINK to my post on ORDERING WINE IN A RESTAURANT)
7. REMEMBER CORKAGE. In many places, you can bring your own wine to a restaurant. Normally, a corkage fee will be charged, to cover the cost of using the glasses and having the wine open and served by the restaurant staff. This is a good option if you have a special bottle to share with family or friends that will go well with the restaurant meal. Some etiquette – if you don’t know, check in advance on the corkage policy of the restaurant; don’t bring a wine the restaurant has on its wine list; don’t pay $20 corkage on an $8 bottle of Yellow Tail to save money. And, if the wine is corked or otherwise bad, don’t try to send it back for another bottle! (LINK to my post about corkage)
8. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO DRINK BAD WINE. I know you have a budget, which, like mine, is limited. And maybe you don’t have an educated palate to justify really expensive wine. However, as I noted above, just about all of the really cheap wines are filled with additives and are bad for you. So, think about how much wine you drink and what it would take to get the average cost per bottle up to $15 or more. At that price point, generally speaking you are drinking wine, not just a mixture of random grapes made in bulk. You will notice qualities like minerality, or terroir – the effect of the soil on the wine. You will begin to tell varietals apart ($7 Cabernet Sauvignon tastes surprisingly like $7 Merlot). And you will be drinking a more healthful beverage.
Also, if you buy a decent bottle and it’s bad (corked or chemical tasting for example), don’t drink it! Pour it down the sink, or if it’s not too bad, save it for cooking. If you get a bad bottle (meaning there is a flaw of some kind) at a restaurant, let the staff know. They should replace it. If they disagree with you, let them know that you may not be an expert, but you find the wine undrinkable. They should replace it with another bottle. If the first one was bad, you will taste the difference in the new bottle. It is bad form to ask for a different wine in this situation. Maybe you will get lucky and that will have been their last bottle of that kind in stock! (LINK to my post on EXPENSIVE WINES)
9. WINE ENJOYMENT IS SUBJECTIVE. No matter what the experts tell you, for 95% of wine consumers – the ones who haven’t trained their palates for years and taken rigorous certification classes – wine enjoyment is subjective. You either like a wine, have a “meh” reaction, or don’t like it at all. Robert Parker can’t tell you if you will like a wine. I try to look at tasting notes only after I have tasted a wine, to see if they got it right for me. There are things to know about specific wines, but, let’s be realistic, most who drink wine will never invest the time and energy to learn more than a few of them.
Wes Hagen, currently of Central California’s J. Wilkes Wines (LINK), shares his way to taste wine for most consumers:
Swirl the wine in the glass and look at the color; put your nose to the glass and sniff the bouquet; if it smells like something you want to put into your mouth, take a sip; if it tastes like something you want to swallow, swallow it; notice the finish.
If you begin from there and add some knowledge as you go, you will never get to a point where Wes’s advice doesn’t hold true.
10. HAVE FUN WITH WINE. Wine is both a beverage and, for some, a lifestyle. I love sharing a good bottle with friends and family, and almost never have an expensive (say over $30) bottle when alone. Dorianne and I used to have wine dinners, where we would ask our guests to bring a special bottle, like the one they’ve been saving for a special occasion for ten years, and a dish to accompany it. At the dinner, each guest will tell the story of their wine as everyone shares it. Or bring a bottle from a trip and share the story of the trip.
Go wine tasting when you travel near wine country – there are hundreds of “wine countries” these days. We have tasted in Mexico, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, England, and in Michigan, Maryland, New York, Virginia, and Texas, to name a few outside of the normal wine destinations. You will meet some great people in the local wine industry, and fellow tasters are often interesting as well.
I am sure that there are other guidelines for enjoying wine. These are my top ten and I hope you find them of value!
“But now that wine drinking has become so very much more commonplace than it used to be, wine has definitively lost its elitist veneer. For heaven’s sake, it has long been the drink of choice not just for The Archers but on Coronation Street.”
“I would honestly be delighted if every wine drinker felt confident enough to make their own choices dependent on their own individual responses to wines previously tasted. But I do recognise that for many people it will always be simpler to be told what to like.”
I am re-posting and quoting this because the idea of taking responsibility for your own wine drinking decisions, of reading the “experts” but finding your own way and developing your palate in a personal sense – is for me the best way forward in today’s wine world. But as Ms. Robinson says above, there will always be people who want to be told what to drink – but there are now many more people willing to tell them, myself included. So there will always be experts, but few, if any, will rise to the stature achieved by my fellow Baltimorean, Robert M. Parker, Jr. in today’s crowded field of bloggers and other influencers.
On the other hand, there are simply too many wine regions, varietals, producers, and labels for anyone to be a true expert in the generalist sense any more. Those who specialize in a single region or varietal may be exceptions, but even there, it is becoming more difficult (Bordeaux has 8500 producers and counting).
I am heartened by the prospect of a reduction in the influence of the 100 point scale to govern so wide a swath of wine consumption – even if you don’t adhere to it, your favorite restaurant or wine shop likely does. Variety is the spice of life, and making a choice of an unknown wine that you end up not particularly liking can actually increase your ability to judge wines for yourself. The experts of the past had to drink a lot of bad wine to become decent judges of quality. There is still some truth to that idea.
There is a little wine cave near where I live in Lyon called Cave Chromatique (LINK), where the owner takes great care in selecting his wines. When I shop there, I don’t get directed toward a particular style. When I inquire about a wine, I get a description of the wine, thewine producer, the terroir, the process, and maybe the vineyard. I make my purchase and try it. Now, I am an Explorer(LINK to What Kind of Wine Drinker Are You?), so I like to try different wines – and some end up set aside for cooking or even go down the drain. But I also get some amazing experiences with wines that I would not have otherwise tried.
So, I appreciate the post by Jancis Robinson. And I will continue to read her and others who are knowledgeable about wine – but I will be making my own choices including exploring things outside of my own experience recommended by good wine retailers, wine stewards, and friends.
And if you want a treat, there are a number of videos of her wine lessons from 1995 on YouTube.com (LINK) that still stand up well and are very informative and entertaining.