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Château les Carmes-Haut-Brion vineyards 2016

5 Vineyards and Chateaux Seeking Summer Guests

Deep into the weekend, we’re recapping our tour of five vineyards in France and the California. We’re also reexamining our love of wine with an aggressive Pinot Noir from New Zealand (our thanks to the team at Omega Singapore and Salt Grill and Sky Bar at ION, Singapore) and a gentle Merlot from California. At the same time, we will busy here with the upcoming wine auctions in September, notably at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

This frenzy of interest in wine was all sparked with the opening of the Cité du Vin, a cultural center for all things wine-related, in Bordeaux (of course!), and the first anniversary of the Champagne region’s hillsides, houses and cellars gaining UNESCO World Heritage status. All told, we have looked at five impressive vineyards and chateaux, compiled by the AFP Relaxnews.

For your convenience, we’ve reassembled all five choices we published recently and summarized them below.

Ridge Vineyards, California: American Dream

The Monte Bello vineyard

The Monte Bello vineyard

This long-standing wine business is proof that the French are not alone in having been producing wine for centuries. The vast property, which also has vines two hours away by car in the Santa Cruz Mountains, has been making wine since 1885. You might know it for its Monte Bello vintage and its acknowledged expertize with Zinfandel, an emblematic grape variety in California.

Château La Coste: Contemporary Wine

Château La Coste

The Franck O. Gehry music pavilion at Château La Coste

It seems vineyards in France have something of a reputation for hospitality and cultural tours of a sort. Château La Coste for example offers a tour of its art works and architectural structures (15 euros for an adult ticket), which includes pieces by Tadao Ando, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder and Frank O. Gehry. You can even stay right on the grounds in the appropriately named Villa La Coste, a new luxury hotel. The wines are known for being completely organic since 2009, with even the old vines being worked organically.

Champagne House Bollinger: Rare Vintages

Bollinger Champagne Estate

The Bollinger Champagne Estate is located in Ay, France.

You will of course be familiar with Bollinger, either for its association with James Bond or its British royal warrants. On site in Ay, France, Bollinger has an exquisite oenotheque (otherwise known as a wine library), which is well worth a visit and just opened this year. Be warned though: you can’t just go blustering in without calling ahead first, which is only polite.

Château de Béru: Pop-Up Wine Bar

Château de Béru facade

Château de Béru is located near the famous wine town of Chablis. © Thierry Malty Thierry Malty/Château de Béru

Unlike some of the other names here, you may not be familiar with Château de Béru and that is exactly what the winery wants to change. Until August 31, visitors can enjoy a vertical tasting, among other things, with the estate’s owner herself, Athénaïs de Béru. The estate is in Burgundy, in the Chablis region and you should visit with an unprejudiced palate.

Château les Carmes-Haut-Brion: 21st Century Winery

Château les Carmes-Haut-Brion

Vat painted by Ara Starck

Like Bollinger, this is a name that requires little introduction outside the world of dedicated wine lovers. Established in 1584 when the Carmelite order took over running the estate, it actually dates further back along with the other Haut-Brion names. This grand old age is masked today by the winery’s reputation for 21st century touches. The Philippe Starck-designed building you’re looking at here is just one example: it is the wine cellar. There are plenty of other contemporary touches, with a strong design philosophy bringing an extra level of charm to the wines.

Ridge Vineyards, California: American Dream

While France may be known for its wine and gastronomic offerings we cannot overlook Californian wines, that not only taste as good but also offer beautiful views away from the city. Today we take a trip with AFPRelaxnews to visit Ridge Vineyards in California to find out more about what the vineyard has in store for the summer.

What’s new this summer?

South of San Francisco, Apple is not the only famous name in the town of Cupertino. There’s also Ridge Vineyards, a long-standing wine business which is proof that the French are not alone in having been producing wine for centuries. The vast property, which also has vines two hours away by car in the Santa Cruz Mountains, has been making wine since 1885.

Famous for its Monte Bello vintage and its expertise with Zinfandel, an emblematic grape variety in California, Ridge Vineyards is starting a new chapter in its history in 2016. Paul Draper, its winemaker, is retiring. This marks a turning point for the international brand which built its reputation through Draper’s choices, making him one of the most influential winemakers in the world. He is now approaching 80 years of age, and has devoted 45 years of his life to the property and to maintaining the quality of its wine. Through his successes and his vision, he is also one of the key people responsible for making California a global benchmark in the wine industry.

The Monte Bello vineyard

The Monte Bello vineyard

The estate

Ridge Vineyards is known for its longevity and the strong personality of its winemaker. In 1885, a doctor bought around 72 square meters of land close to Monte Bello Ridge, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, at an altitude of 850 meters. His idea was to plant vines in terraces. In the 1940s, a theologian moved the story forward by investing in a abandoned domaine and replanting Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine produced became one of the most elegant ones in California.

In 1964, the property increased in size once again with the purchase of a vineyard at a lower altitude dating from the 19th century. With this new land, Ridge Vineyards could begin to grow Zinfandel. In 1968, the domaine was able to produce 3,000 cases a year. The following year, Paul Draper, an academic who had acquired knowledge and expertise in a Chilean vineyard, joined the venture. He left an indelible mark on the management of the domaine as he believed very strongly in allowing nature to be free. This pioneer of organic farming worked hard to create balanced wines and to lower the alcoholic content. He also imported the French concept of “terroir” by starting to produce from a single grape variety.

200-litre American Oak barrels from Ridge Vineyards.

200-litre American Oak barrels from Ridge Vineyards.

The wines

Due to its vast domaine, the property produces a very large quantity of different wines. Monte Bello is one of its flagship wines, produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. The Geyserville vintage is also a memorable and interesting Zinfandel wine.

Château La Coste, Provence, France.

Château La Coste: Contemporary Wine

Located just a few kilometers from the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence, Château La Coste is building a reputation across Europe as a beacon for architecture and contemporary art. It is even possible to take a tour of its art works and architectural structures (15 euros for an adult ticket). After the vineyard was acquired by Northern Ireland native Patrick McKillen in 2004, an open-air gallery was built for artists to show their work. The 200-hectare property is dotted with pieces by Tadao Ando, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder and Frank O. Gehry.

A spider by the French artist Louise Bourgeois

A spider by the French artist Louise Bourgeois

What’s new this summer?

Since 2015, a gallery space designed by the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte has held temporary solo exhibitions. Irish-born American-based artist Sean Scully was the first to inhabit the space, and this year Korean artist Lee Ufan is holding an exhibition of his work following his Château de Versailles show in 2014. His latest works are an extension of his “House of Air,” a chapel-like structure which has been a feature of the château’s artistic experience since 2014. Visitors can also explore the château’s art works at night during the summer season (5 euros a ticket).

The big news for 2016 is that a luxury hotel called Villa La Coste is opening on the site this summer. It will offer individual suites among the vines. Note that Château La Coste won the 2015 prize for wine tourism awarded by the French magazine Revue du Vin de France.

Korean artist Lee Ufan’s "House of Air" at Château La Coste

Korean artist Lee Ufan’s “House of Air” at Château La Coste

The estate

Château La Coste is proud of its environmental approach and achieved organic status in 2009. Even the old vines are worked organically. Mathieu Cosse, the vineyard’s winemaker, is aiming for a biodynamic vineyard and the conversion process is underway.

The Franck O. Gehry music pavilion at Château La Coste

The Franck O. Gehry music pavilion at Château La Coste

The wines

The wines are categorized as AOP (Protected Appellation of Origin) Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. The vines cover a total of 125 hectares, with 22 hectares of white wine grapes, including the Rolle/Vermentino variety (45%). Red wine grapes account for 103 hectares, and include a substantial proportion of the Grenache Noir variety (40%). The vineyard produces 45% rosé wine, 35% red wine and 20% white wine, and its total annual production is 700,000 bottles. La Coste has two major labels for its reds and whites: Grand Vin and Pentes Douces.

Château les Carmes-Haut-Brion vineyards 2016

Château les Carmes-Haut-Brion: 21st Century Winery

Behold the new cellar of Château les Carmes-Haut-Brion, a winery that dates back to 1584…yes this ultra-modern building is a wine cellar. It looks more like a contemporary art sculpture that might interest our friends at Art Republik. In fact, the gleaming edifice in Bordeaux is indeed the newest cellar facility in the vineyard. designed by Philippe Starck and Luc Arsène-Henry, it just screams out for a proper visit and tasting, which is just what the AFP Relaxnews is doing. Previous tours have gone to Château de Béru and Bollinger.Château les Carmes-Haut-Brion

Bought over by the Pichet group in 2010, the Château les Carmes-Haut-Brion is one that combines traditional winemaking with modern architecture. In the trusted hands of designer Starck and architect Arsène-Henry, the new facilities, which cost 10 million euros, are all set to produce a 2015 vintage that we hope to enjoy. One key element that stands out for its design, is the barrel cellar. The futuristic building has many torn as some see it as an upturned boat surrounded by vines while others view its as the blade of a knife planted in the soil.

Spanning 2,000 square meters and four levels, the building provides a view of the Bordeaux vineyards with a roof terrace. Embracing its strong ties to the art world, the Pichet Group even has a vat in the cellar that was painted by the designer’s daughter, Ara Starck. It is the first in a series which will involve a new artist being given carte blanche every year. Those looking to visit Château les Carmes-Haut-Brion, a one-hour tour of the vineyard that covers the barrel cellar and the rest of the property. To cap off the tour, guests can sample two of the estate’s two wines: Château les Carmes-Haut Brion and Le Clos des Carmes Haut-Brio.

Château les Carmes-Haut-Brion

Vat painted by Ara Starck

What makes this estate a producer of wine that forms the benchmark of Pessac-Léognan wine is the location where the milder weather reduces the risk of cracks. The owners favor integrated grape growing, and the soil (which consists of gravel, clay and sand) is only treated with natural products. The grapes are harvested by hand. Les Carmes-Haut Brion is a respected wine often mentioned in best wine guides. Ideally located between Bordeaux, Pessac and Mérignac, the château produces wines that are highly sought after all around the world. Its reds are renowned for their elegance and balance. This delicacy is well known to wine lovers eager to take their Les Carmes-Haut Brion on an aging journey.

Bollinger Champagne Cellar

Bollinger Vintage Wine Cellars Open To Public

Fans of champagne would be no strangers to the prestigious Bollinger R.D. 2002, brewed by the storied house of Bollinger. Renowned for being the official supplier to the British court (it received a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1884), as well as for its “Special Cuvee” champagnes, this 2016, the French label is celebrating its past with two new cellars.

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Before we delve a little into the new cellars, however, one needs to look back six years for more context. The scene is set in Ay, France, in the year 2010, where a collection of very old wines – with the oldest dating back to 1830 – was found hidden behind a section of the estate’s cellar. As a result, Bollinger launched a project to restore and rehouse its stocks of old wine, compiling them into an “oenotheque”, or a wine library. The fruits of this labor are the two new cellars, of which the “Galerie 1829” cellar is home to all of the estate’s old wines, while the “La Reserve” cellar houses Bollinger’s reserve magnums.

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Should you wish to check out the 3,000 magnums stored in the dark and quiet conditions of these specially made cellars, Bollinger’s oenotheques can be visited by appointment.

The Bollinger Champagne Estate is located in Ay, France.

The Bollinger Champagne Estate is located in Ay, France.

Champagne Bollinger, 16 rue Jules-Lobet, 51160 Ay, France.

Vinexpo Japan Returns With Second Edition

The last we left Vinexpo, it was in Hong Kong, where the wine trade event revealed Singapore’s favorite wine and made some interesting observations about Japan. Later this year, Vinexpo returns to Japan, the first return visit since its debut in 2014.

It is no surprise that Japan was chosen as the destination, with the nation being the number one Asian market for spirit imports, as well as the second largest for imported wines. In fact, wine imports last year climbed to a value of 1.41 billion euros, which is a nearly four percent increase relative to 2014. With wine consumption on the rise in Japan, it is forecasted in a previously published Vinexpo market study (linked above) that by 2017, Japanese consumers will drink 37 million cases (or a total of almost 445 million bottles!), another four percent increase from 2013 to 2017.

With the Japanese audience’s strong appetite for wine, Vinexpo Tokyo is expected to attract 4,500 trade visitors. Should you wish to contribute to that number, Vinexpo Japan will take place November 15 to 16 at Prince Park Tower Hotel.

This story is also available in Bahasa Indonesia. Read it here: Vinexpo Jepang Kembali Digelar

Most Expensive Wine? Hermitage La Chappelle 1961

Wine fans would be no strangers to the name Hermitage La Chappelle 1961, but will still be surprised to learn that it is the world’s most expensive wine, according to iDealWine, based on their own auction results thus far this year. Most accurately, the Hermitage vintage can be said to be the most expensive wine bought via iDealWine auctions so far in 2016. [This version of the story clarifies the rationale behind the ranking].

The world-famous Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (DRC) is typically top dog at auctions, ranked as it is as one of the greatest wine producers and widely recognized as the leader of the pack. With its low production volumes matched with very strong demand, you might recall that one DRC bottle clinched the highest auction bid, with the Grand Cru Domaine de la Romanee-Conti 2009 sold for 11,160 euros.

This is, unfortunately, old news. Just recently, a bottle of Hermitage La Chappelle 1961 from the Jaboulet estate went under the hammer with the winning bid of 13,320 euros to an Austrian enthusiast. It is too soon to claim that the DRC has been dethroned, however, for according to Wine-Searcher.com, the Grand Cru DRC has registered even higher prices, more than $16,000 in fact – albeit not at auction. The DRC has a long way to go before it relinquishes its investment-grade crown.

For the record though, tracking the most expensive wine of all time is surprisingly difficult. For example, the most expensive standard (750 ml) bottle of wine sold at auction is the Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1869. A Sotheby’s auction in 2010 raked in $690,000 for three bottles of this vintage, sold as a single lot. For just one bottle of wine, another Chateau Lafite, (this time the 1767, before Baron Rothschild acquired it), is credited with holding the sales record. It was thought to have been part of Thomas Jefferson’s collection. Malcolm Forbes purchased it in 1985 for $156,000 and it has been consumed by controversy since then, with its authenticity questioned till today.

In any event, the crowning of our new iDealWine auction leader speaks volumes about the world of wine. Rhone Valley wines (like the current reigning champion) are currently on the rise in the industry, with its WineDex Rhone index jumping 5.60%, as compared with the 5% for the index tracking Burgundy wine (like the DRC) prices. Things are certainly changing.

Check out Rhone Valley and DRC wines on Epicurio now. Download the app on iTunes or Google Play now

More Red Wine, Less Red Tape

Wine lovers and exporters around the Pacific Rim will have reason to pop the cork this week after officials slashed red tape on shipments in the region that will ease an expensive bottleneck. This is specific to wine so that includes champagne of course and anything that fits the definition of “wine“.

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group said in a statement that the 21 member economies had agreed on a standard, simplified certificate, replacing the multi-layered system that had led to losses of about $1.0 billion a year in the industry.

And while exporters such as Australia, Chile, New Zealand and the United States are expected to benefit from the simplified regime, wine drinkers will also have a reason to celebrate as it is should lead to a wider array of choices at cheaper prices.

“Easier, more inclusive wine trade can improve product availability and prices for consumers and improve job creation and growth,” said Tom LaFaille, international trade counsel for the Wine Institute, the private sector overseer of the APEC Wine Regulatory Forum.

Jamie Ferman of the US Department of Commerce described the model certificate as “a win-win for the industry”.

Rocio Barrios Alvarado, chair of the APEC sub-committee on standards and conformance, said the single certificate “will reduce administrative burdens for producers endeavoring to take advantage of the increasing taste for wine in the region”.

APEC said the bloc’s wine trade had more than tripled to over $23 billion since 2000, but “unnecessary non-tariff barriers” and overlapping certificates had meant companies were facing huge costs.

It said focus now is on having the certificate implemented. APEC agreements are implemented on a voluntary basis and results are achieved through dialogue, cooperation and peer pressure.

APEC groups Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

It will take awhile for us to feel the effects of this new development but you should go look for some new wines to enjoy on Epicurio now. Download the app on iTunes or Google Play now

Top Bordeaux 2015 Vintage Lifts Prices

The banner year enjoyed by Bordeaux winegrowers in 2015 will allow the most prestigious chateaux to hike their prices by some 60 percent, equaling the great vintages of 2009 and 2010, experts said. But the price tags on second-tier Bordeaux will rise only by between five and 35 percent, they added.

The boon follows a relative drought that saw only two vintages deemed “good” in the past few years, those of 2011 and 2014. The ideal growing conditions of 2015 produced what wine critics called an “exceptional” vintage with prices to match.

The top grands crus – a classification dating to 1855 – are on average 56 percent dearer than in 2014, at around 600 euros ($685) a bottle in the wine shop.

“These are the luxury labels, in demand around the world,” one dealer said, voicing annoyance at “Bordeaux-bashing” claims that the wines are over-priced.

The 2015 grand cru prices may shock, coming after a fall in prices following the spikes of 2009 and 2010, said Thomas Hebrard, president and founder of U’wine, a dealer for wine investors.

The star quality of the 2015 vintage will be a major boost for the Bordeaux region, further aided by the weak euro, he said.

Decanter Wine Awards Reveals 2016 Winners

With a panel of 240 judges, among them 69 Masters of Wine and 26 Master Sommeliers, UK’s Decanter Wine Awards lays claim to serious authority pick out the best wine to be had. While it may be unsurprising that France emerged tops with nine of the 31 “platinum – best in show” medals (the biggest haul this year), the results reaped their fair share of surprises. Chile, for example, came in second with six medals in the highest category – their most notable bottle being a now-notoriously affordable wine. We will get back to that bottle at the end of this tale but do take a moment to consider that this was just one of 16,000 submissions, all judged blind.

A few other surprising wins came from countries such as Croatia and Switzerland, which collected some ‘best of show’ medals. Other countries that took home a raft of platinum and gold medals include Australia, Spain and Italy. The Grace winery from Japan also managed to score two platinum medals.

And now, back to that Chilean wonder, the Malbec La Moneda Reserva 2015… This humble wine’s victory in the under $21 category created waves of interest. In fact, the demand generated from the victory caused the supermarket retailer Asda’s website to crash so those interested better act fast before the supply runs low! The taste was described by judges to have flavors reminiscent of “succulent juicy berries, freshly crushed black fruit, creamy vanilla yogurt and pepper spice”.

If you need to find a new bottle of wine to sit back and relax with, you can check the winners from Decanter Awards over here.

Find out if any of these winning wines are on Epicurio now. Download the app on iTunes or Google Play now.

Lost 19th-century Wine Surfaces

Czech aristocrats with Nazi links hastily flee their castle in the final days of World War II, first hiding their treasures including an extraordinary stash of 19th-century wines.

Four decades on, communist secret police in a state hungry for cash act on a tip-off and find a priceless reliquary buried in the castle’s chapel, but the dusty old bottles nearby go ignored.

Until now. A rare Chateau d’Yquem 1896, Pedro Ximenez 1899 and Porto 189 are among the exquisite vintages in the 133-bottle collection creating a buzz in the wine world and questions over their fate.

“Tasting wine older than 20 years is a unique experience, but trying some from the 19th century feels almost unreal,” said master sommelier Jakub Pribyl, among a privileged few who sampled the wine in late May. “That only happens once in a lifetime.”

The bottles sat undisturbed for decades on simple wooden shelves in the castle in the western town of Becov nad Teplou.

At the tasting, the sommeliers were able to test the wine without popping corks, thereby preserving the contents of the bottles, thanks to a method called Coravin technology that pierces the cork with a needle.

The Pedro Ximenez, for example, had an aroma of caramel, raisins and nuts, plus the vibrant color of amber, according to Pribyl. “Age aside, the collection is unique because of the circumstances of its discovery and its diversity,” he said.

“There are different wines from several countries including France and Spain. The wine is in superb condition.” Early estimates put the value of the collection at 20 million koruna (740,000 euros, $830,000), but the price is likely to soar at auction.

The collection was long hidden under the floorboards of a chapel at Becov castle, along with the precious reliquary of St. Maurua, reputed to contain part of a finger of St John the Baptist. It is one of the Czech Republic’s two most important historical artifacts, alongside the crown jewels kept at Prague Castle.

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Treasure Hunt

Before passing into the state’s hands, the castle overlooking a picturesque valley had been owned since 1813 by the noble Beaufort-Spontin family.

Suspected of collaborating with the Nazis, the aristocrats left the country in haste in 1945 but not before stashing away all the treasures they would not be able to carry unnoticed across the demarcation line between the Soviet and American zones.

Forty years later, an American businessman was quietly tasked by the family to ask then communist Czechoslovakia – which split into two states in 1993 – to let him recover an object hidden “somewhere” in the country in exchange for $250,000. Needing foreign currency, Prague said yes. At the same time, the secret police began sniffing around for the mysterious object.

“The search soon zeroed in on three noble families and their ancient seats,” said castle steward Tomas Wizovsky. “In November 1985, two weeks before the planned transaction, police officers equipped with metal detectors knocked on the Becov’s door.”

They searched the gardens but as the weather worsened, they moved inside. The first door on the right was the entryway to the chapel where the astonished officers soon found the reliquary.

Made between 1225-30 in Namur province in Belgium, the casket consists of an oakwood core and an embossed gilded silver and copper box covered with filigree and 68 gemstones. Its discovery completely eclipsed the wine collection also found in the cache.

“I can imagine the dust-covered bottles didn’t look too appealing,” Wizovsky said, adding that the police then stowed them away in a box only to be forgotten by all.

Tucked away, the wine only drew attention recently when the chateau took inventory of its furnishings.

While the bottles are due to be recorked in the famous French wine area of Chateau d’Yquem near Bordeaux to extend the lifespan of the wine, questions over their fate remain.

“The difference between a wine bottle and a painting is that a Gauguin will always remain a Gauguin, while with wine, there’s the risk that it will lose value,” said Pribyl. “It would make sense to sell at least the most precious bottles at auction.”

The decision is up to the Czech state but Wizovsky said no auctions were planned for the time being.

“It doesn’t make sense to split the collection, its value lies in keeping it complete,” argued Wizovsky. “The bottles will stay where they are and they will be accessible to experts in exceptional cases.”

Perhaps as a consolation for wine lovers, Becov has started making fig liqueur called “Saint Maurus”.

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Cité du Vin Celebrates Bordeaux Wine

With the French city all geared up to open its new cultural center dedicated to wine, many expect the city of Bordeaux to become a new tourist hot-spot (more than it already is). On June 1, the Cité du Vin will open its doors after a three-year construction period, in time to be the summer destination for visitors.

Situated in the center of the Bassins à Flot district, the cultural center is part of the plan to regenerate the area. The design of the building is a nod to the rites and rituals of wine drinking, with its curved structure reflecting the moment when wine is swirled in a glass. Yes, that is what the shape means!

Measuring 13,350 sqm and spanning 10 floors, the futuristic design also features the colors of the Garonne river. On the second floor, sits the center’s permanent exhibition that takes wine lovers on a multi-dimensional journey. With the help of 3D images, aromas and various interactive features, guests can explore the history, properties and cultural aspects of Bordeaux.Bordeaux-wine-festival-article

The tour can also be enjoyed with the help of an audio guide — available in eight languages — and will also bring visitors to other vineyards around the world. While there is a replica of a genuine wine cellar created to elaborate on the various stages of wine making, the Belvedere viewing gallery on eighth floor of the center allows visitors to sample a glass of Bordeaux’s finest.

Following the opening, the city will kick off the 10th Bordeaux Wine Festival on June 23. The weekend will see the riverbanks of Bordeaux transformed for the wine-tasting event while trips to vineyards are also organized to help tourists understand the wine making process. Visitors can also get a special pass to sample the region’s famous “1855” grand cru wines, the real stars of the region. Held on alternate years with the Vinexpo wine industry trade fair, the “Bordeaux Wine Festival” has become a popular event that brings together locals and wine fans from further afield.

Find out which Bordeaux wines are on Epicurio now. Download the app on iTunes or Google Play now.

4 Asia-Pacific Wine Trends Revealed at Vinexpo

We’ve previously covered wine trends in Singapore and Japan, now Vinexpo brings us the findings from Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. Here, we bring you the four major trends of wine consumption in these Asia-Pacific countries.

1) Reds over whites

The consensus is clear: reds continue to be the wine of choice in Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong, accounting for 89 percent, 74 percent and 83 percent of market share respectively.

In Taiwan, this figure is forecasted to grow by another 13 percent by 2019. Taiwanese consumers tipped back 1.45 million 9-liter cases of red wine, compared with 180,000 cases of white and 2,500 cases of rose. Even so, the reception of white wine is expected to grow 14 percent by 2019.

While Koreans generally enjoy reds for its purported health benefits, white wines are also fast gaining favor for pairing well with Korean cuisine. It is also interesting to note that the per capita consumption of wine in South Korea has doubled over the last decade, to average 0.8 liters of wine a year. Between 2010 and 2014, the per capita consumption grew nearly 40 percent, and is expected to rise another 20 percent over the next five years. This marks the consumption in South Korea as one of the sharpest increases in the Asia Pacific region.

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2) French wines are still preferred, except…

French wines are reported to be the most popular import in Taiwan with 37 percent of market share and Hong Kong with 27 percent. After French wines, Australian, US and Chilean wines are most popular. Between 2010 and 2014, US wines saw major growth, increasing by 41 percent.

Taiwan’s share of French wines is expected to dip due to the increasing popularity of Chilean wines (currently second in popularity at 18 percent), which are perceived as better value for money. US and Australian wines follow closely behind.

South Koreans bucked the French wines trend, favoring Chilean wines, with 10.2 million bottles imported a year.

3) Getting tipsy over bubbly

Like the Japanese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong people have developed a taste for sparkling wines. Vinexpo reported that its popularity has increased by a remarkable 51 percent over the last five years in Hong Kong, driven largely by the growing popularity of Prosecco and Cava which grew a whopping 89 percent and 110 percent respectively. Meanwhile in Taiwan, a 15-percent increase by 2019 is projected.

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4) Spirits still high in demand

As the world’s third largest market for single malt Scotch after the US and France, Taiwan boasted a consumption of 1.813 million cases of whisky in 2014, a figure expected to swell up to 1.921 million cases by 2019. Cognac and Armagnac are the country’s second most popular spirits.

The focus in Hong Kong, however, is on tequila and rum as its consumption is expected to grow 36 percent and 21 percent between 2015 and 2019 respectively. The popularity of whisky remains stable with 186,000 9-liter cases consumed, topping cognac at 77,000 cases. People in Hong Kong are also increasingly exploring Japanese whisky and American bourbon.

South Korea – the third largest spirits consuming nation in Asia-Pacific after China and India – has reported a decline in consumption of local spirits such as soju and baijiu. However, tequila, vodka and gin have marked improvements of 17 percent, 12 percent and 14 percent respectively.

The Vinexpo 2016 runs 24 – 26 May 2016 in Hong Kong. 

Download the Epicurio app on iTunes or Google Play now, to learn more about wines and purchase your very own bottle, today.

Yen for Champagne: Japan Set to Lead Asia-Pac

Forget Sake and Shochu. According to the latest Vinexpo study, it seems the Japanese are developing quite the taste for bubbly. In fact, the study forecasts that Japan is on track to become the leading market for champagne and other sparkling wines by 2019.

Thanks in part to the growing popularity of lower-priced Cavas and Proseccos from Spain and Italy, the consumption of sparkling wine has been forecasted to grow 23 percent between 2015 and 2019. To put things into perspective, this equates to roughly equates to 4.84 million cases, overshadowing Australia as the largest market for bubbly in Asia-Pacific. To put this into even greater, though perhaps more confusing, perspective, Japan has a population of 127 million while Australia has roughly 24 million. We have to wonder what in the world is happening down under but we digress…

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The surprising result (the Japan news, not our belated Australia observation) was revealed at Vinexpo Hong Kong, a three-day trade-only show for international wine and spirits professionals. Japan is one of the six countries, besides Singapore, to be profiled.

Here are some of the other trends emerging from the event.

France losing market share to Chile

Chile has the signing of a cost-advantage free trade agreement with Japan to thank for its whopping 144 percent rise in wine exports. French wines might still have the largest market share but Italian and Spanish wines have also seen an increase of 46 percent and 79 percent respectively over the same period.

Wine consumption set to continue growing

The Japanese wine consumption is set to reach a whopping 46.7 million cases between 2015 and 2019. That’s 14 percent of the market share, which will rank the country behind China and Australia in the Asia-Pacific region. Yes, Australia is punching way above its weight class again.

Overall spirit consumption set to decline

Spirits such as gin and vodka are expected to decline in popularity, in stark contrast with the rising fortunes of wine. The projected decline between 2015 and 2019 is a significant but manageable 7 percent. Whisky, however, continues to keep its market share, with consumption reaching 12.38 million cases and projected growth of 12 percent over the next five years.

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Vinexpo HK Reveals Singapore’s Favorite Wine

In the never-ending battle between red and white wine, Singaporeans have chosen a winner. In the run-up to Vinexpo Hong Kong, consumption trends in Singapore, as well as five other Asia-Pacific countries were analyzed, revealing a clear preference for red wine. It was revealed that red wine represented 70 percent of the market in Singapore, with 645,000 9-liter cases consumed in 2014. In contrast, only 251,000 cases of white wine were consumed in the same year, though that figure is set to grow slightly by 1.2 percent by 2019.

Australian wines have been shown to dominate the import market in Singapore (there is no other market in Singapore as the island has exactly zero wineries), holding a 38.5 percent of market share as compared with Chilean wines at 16.5 percent and French wines at 16 percent.

On another front, whisky remains Singapore’s favorite spirit (judging by our associate publisher and designers’ office bar, we agree), with its popularity projected to rise 14 percent by 2019. Cognac and armagnac – the second most popular spirits – are slated to decline nearly six percent over the next five years, mainly due to the declining numbers of Chinese tourists.

Gin and tequila are the fourth and fifth most popular spirits, with consumption predicted to spike through to 2019: gin is predicted to grow by 29 percent and tequila, 23 percent. Where is rum in all this, we have to wonder…

The Vinexpo 2016 in Hong Kong will be a three-day trade-only show for international wine and spirits professionals to converge to exchange ideas and knowledge. Held from 24 – 26 May 2016, the event is expecting 16,700 buyers from 24 countries and 1,300 exhibitors from all over the world.

Parker Out: Top Bordeaux Wine Nose Retires

Renowned American wine guru Robert Parker (yes the Parker so many of us rely on when picking vintages – Ed), whose ratings could make or break Bordeaux vintages for the past 38 years, turned his power over to a successor over the weekend, his magazine told AFP.

While it is the end of an era, especially for those who grew up with his 100-point rating scale, the news is not a surprise. The 68-year-old oenologist has been retiring in stages, in 2014 leaving his British successor Neal Martin to rate “en primeurs” (futures) while continuing to evaluate top Bordeaux vintages.

It is this prestigious baton that passed to Martin May 1, while Parker holds on to his role scoring northern California wines, such as those of the Napa and Sonoma valleys.

Parker’s extraordinary nose has earned plaudits from the likes of former French president Jacques Chirac, who said he was “the most followed and influential critic for French wines in the entire world.”

Parker will also stay on as president of Wine Advocate, even though he sold the market-moving magazine to a Singapore consortium in 2012.

His parting Bordeaux evaluation will be the top score on his vaunted 100-point scale that he awarded recently to a Pape Clement 2009, a Graves “grand cru” created by the millionaire philanthropist Bernard Magrez.

He leaves the Bordeaux perch with a reputation for having unwittingly caused the region to standardize its wines to conform with his preference for predominantly wood flavors, strong tannins and high alcohol content.

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Italian Wines on the Rise

As he swirls a glass of yellowy green wine made from the trendy pecorino grape, Fabio Centini purrs with enthusiasm.

“I hadn’t even heard of this grape 15 years ago,” the Italian-born chef-restaurateur from Calgary, Canada tells AFP between slurps at a tasting of top pecorinos from the Offida area of the Marche region.

“But it is exactly what my customers want. People are looking for new varietals, new experiences.”

Centini is one of 55,000 industry professionals from 141 countries gathered in Verona this week for VinItaly, a giant showcase for the best the country has to offer the world’s wine lovers.

The 50th edition is the biggest yet and crammed aisles speak volumes about the buoyant state of a sector that employs 1.25 million people and produces more wine than any other country.

Led by a boom in sales of prosecco, which has surpassed champagne to become the world’s favorite bubbly, exports of all forms of Italian wine hit a record 5.4 billion euros ($6.2 billion) last year, up more than five percent on 2014.

The trend looks like continuing. A Mediobanca survey found 92 percent of producers anticipating higher sales in 2016, underpinned by investment which grew 18 percent overall last year and by 37 percent in the surging sparkling sector.

Strength in Diversity

It is all a far cry from the days when Italian wine was synonymous internationally with straw-wrapped bottles of chianti of variable quality and sometimes questionable provenance.

“They have taken out a bit of the monkey business,” says Centini, a VinItaly regular since 1990. “There was a time when you didn’t always know what was in the bottle.”

Although recent growth has been led by sparkling wine and strong sales of easy-drinking pinot grigio and other competitively priced varietals, there has also been an awakening of interest in Italy’s indigenous red grapes.

These include aglianico, negroamaro, nero d’avola and primitivo (which shares its DNA with zinfandel) from the south and Sicily, and montepulciano from the central region of Abruzzo, where producers have been quietly picking up international awards in recent years.

The sheer variety can be baffling for consumers and a shortage of strong producer brands is seen as a weakness on global markets.

But Italian wine expert Andrea Grignaffini says diversity is becoming a strength.

“Often the same grape gets made in a different style in different parts of the country, even in the same zone. It is complicated even for us Italians to understand.

“But that’s Italy. And the industry is moving so fast now, fashions change. When the moment of one wine passes, it is good to have others to take their place.”

Change is also afoot at the top end of Italian wines with producers in Tuscany and Piedmont battling to catch up with the Asia-driven gains of France’s Bordeaux and Burgundy.

International critics have recognised a major leap forward in terms of the quality and consistency of the best brunellos, chianti classicos, barolos and barbarescos since the 1980s.

“Better than France”

But Stephanie Cuadra, of leading Tuscan estate Querciabella, said Italy’s fine wine champions also had to be able to transmit “a sense of origin, a sense of place,” in the way that Burgundy, where tiny parcels of land are classified on the basis of minute variations of soil and micro-climates, has done very successfully.

“In terms of fine wine, we are an obvious alternative to France and as palates mature in emerging markets they become more curious, it is a natural evolution,” Cuadra said.

Moves towards officially recognising sub-zones in Italy’s leading wine areas have got bogged down by local battles over re-classifying areas in a way that will inevitably produce winners and losers.

While insisting that Italy’s wines are better than their French rivals, even Prime Minister Matteo Renzi acknowledges that the French have done a better job of selling their wines on global markets.

French wine retails at prices that are 120 percent higher on average than Italy’s output and total Gallic export earnings are some 60 percent higher.

“In the last 20 years, Italy has let too many opportunities slip by in this sector,” Renzi said during a visit to VinItaly on Monday.

The flipside is that there is still plenty of room for growth, particularly in Asia, which accounted for only 3.4 percent of Italian exports last year. Italian producers are noticeably underperforming in China, which increased imports by 60 percent overall in 2015 but by only 15 percent from Italy.

That was one reason why Renzi’s guest at VinItaly was Jack Ma. The Alibaba boss told his audience that the Internet could provide a digital bridge linking Italy’s 300,000 producers with what is potentially the biggest wine market in the world.

“China will be home to half a billion upper-to-middle-class consumers in the next 10 years,” Ma said. “You must reach out to them where they are.”

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French Wines Find Favor in China Again

For a wine-grower, precision and luck are elements of the utmost importance to ensure that the best harvest is reaped for a full-bodied and hearty glass of wine. Right now, French wines face the twin perils and opportunities of climate change and China, both of which offer strong challenges. Bordeaux was one such region flanked on both sides by various new developments, both good and bad, from both science and the marketplace.

China Profits

After reaping a meagre harvest in 2013, Bordeaux wines faced depressed sales in 2013 and 2014 to China because of a frugality drive that made officials wary of opening high-end bottles of wine.

But Saint-Emilion wine merchant Philippe Casteja said last month that the Chinese market was stabilizing. Exports were up 3.0 percent to 1.83 billion euros ($2.05 billion), according to the Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB). After two years of dropping, sales jumped 37%.

Overall turnover was 3.8 billion euros last year, up 1.0% over 2014 with 640 million bottles sold.

“The Chinese speak of a ‘new normal’ – and now instead of proposing exceptional wines we are targeting a consumer market.” Casteja noted, speaking of the Bordeaux region in general.

Climate Pressures

Yet, with the release of a new and somewhat alarming study by Nature Climate Change, Bordeaux’s current short-term sales may be the least of their worries.

Grapes are extremely temperature sensitive fruits. Exceptional vintages are generally produced when an early harvest develops from a rise in heat due to things like hot summers or a late-season drought. “For much of France, local climates have been relatively stable for hundreds or thousands of years,” said Elizabeth Wolkovich, an assistant professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard University and co-author of the study. Looking back through records dating all the way to 1600, it was found that harvest dates have moved up by two full weeks since 1980 compared with the average for the preceding 400 years.

Droughts helped heighten temperatures just enough to bring in the harvest a few weeks early, said lead author Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York City and lead author of the study. These were uncommon circumstances in the past. “Now, it’s become so warm thanks to climate change, grape growers don’t need drought to get these very warm temperatures,” Cook added.

In the short term, the resulting growth in temperature has caused some beneficial effects through certain stand-out years. For Bordeaux, 1990, 2005 and 2010 have all been described as once-a-century vintages, while in Burgundy 2005 and 2009 are said to hold exceptional promise.

Yet, in the long term, the result may be unsustainable. In 2003, the same year where a deadly heat wave hit Europe leading to thousands of deaths, grapes were picked a full month ahead of their time but did not produce particularly exceptional wines. “If we keep warming, the globe will reach a tipping point,” said Wolkovich, pointing to what happened in 2003.

“That may be a good indicator of where we are headed,” she added. “If we keep pushing the heat up, vineyards can’t maintain that forever.”

The result could be an identity crisis for French wines. While other wine producing regions like California and Australia can head for a new ‘terroir’ better suited to these grapes, France has an elaborate structure of rules and special areas dictating which grape varieties are to be grown in what proportion. French wines such as Champagne, Sauternes, Margaux or Saint-Emilion are grown only in such authorised areas. For many wine-makers, changing these rules is tantamount to changing the core aspects of the wine. Among the grapes that may no longer be well-adapted in the future includes signature grape varietals — Pinot Noir in Burgundy, and Merlot in Bordeaux.

The ability to adapt to such revelations gained from information sources, whether about the market or the climate, will be the key decider in which wine producers can ride the market with the best possible produce and the best possible profits.

This report was compiled by in-house writers, in combination with a wire report and image from the AFP. Find out if any of these winning wines are on Epicurio now. Download the app on iTunes or Google Play now.

 

Napa Valley Legend Peter Mondavi Mourned

Any Windows user knows the green of California, though they may not be aware of it. The famous background picture ‘Bliss’ depicts those regions from 1996. Go to the same location now and you’ll see rows of grapevines jutting out on wooden sticks bearing the precious purple crop. The death of Peter Mondavi on Saturday at age 101, can mark an end to one generation of winegrowers and the birth of another, as his children take over the family business – the more than a century old Charles Krug Winery. We pay our respects to the Mondavi Brothers, Peter and Robert (who died back in 2008), and their contributions to the wine industry in Napa Valley.

Taking a trip into the valley, you’ll come across the sign reading “Welcome to this world famous wine growing region” with the little addition at the side “…and the wine is bottled poetry”. Charles Krug, an immigrant from Prussia, established his winery way back in 1861 where it became a cornerstone in the Napa wine industry. Further on, Cesare Mondavi, the father of the Mondavi Brothers, bought over the winery in 1943 for $75,000 and the industry was pushed further with the pioneering spirit of his two sons. The family had been a fruit packing business before, and as boys, both had jobs nailing grape crates shut.

In 1965, the two brothers feuded over the direction of the Krug Winery. Robert Mondavi had larger and more ambitious designs. He went on to create his own winery and spearheaded the industry’s further growth as an innovator. Peter was more conservative and stuck with taking care of the family business, especially after his mother died in 1976. This feud ended in 2005 when the brothers got together to make a barrel of wine for the annual Auction Napa Valley.

More interested in the technical side of things, though never buying into the revolutionary vision of his famous brother, Peter developed a technique of cold-fermentation that was helpful in the production of crisp, fruity wines. He also began importing French oak barrels for aging wines.

Peter Mondavi admitted that he thought his chief accomplishment was keeping the Charles Krug Winery in the family. Today the business is run by his sons – Marc and Peter Jr.

This story was written in-house, with background and an image supplied by the AFP.

New from CES: Single Serving Wine Machine

Wine is typically consumed by the bottle because it is meant to be shared. A tech startup at Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year has other ideas about this. The French firm is looking to change the way people drink wine, one glass at a time. The device being shown by 10-Vins at the CES borrows the idea from the fast-growing single-dose coffee machines such as Nestle’s Nespresso and US-based Keurig.

The D-Vine machine delivers a single glass of wine with the correct aeration and temperature using capsules compatible with the device. This reminds us of the champagne vending machine we covered some time back.

“In just one minute, the wine is delivered in the glass at the right temperature,” said co-founder Thibaut Jarrousse, who designed the device along with two fellow engineers.

“If you are going to drink wine, you should drink it well.”

Each 10-centiliter (3.5-ounce) capsule is aerated to give it the same properties as if it had spent three hours in a carafe, Jarrousse noted. The machine can gently cool or warm the wine as needed. The company based in the city of Nantes, has been selling several varieties of Burgundy and Bordeaux wines in France. For its US launch, it will offer American vintages.

Technology like this always turns our heads, for sheer audacity if nothing else. Of course, it does offer some functional benefits, aside from the aeration and temperature control.

The single-dose wine enables a host to serve several different varieties to different guests without opening multiple bottles. Each capsule retails for between two and 16 euros ($2.20 to $17.60) and the machine itself costs 499 euros ($550).

“The wine world is in a rut,” said oenologist Beatrice Domine, who is collaborating with the group. “The idea here is to bring people to quality wine in a fun way.”