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Looking for great value French wines

In a world where prices seem to rise constantly, and the future of the economy is uncertain, it’s good to know that you don’t have to sacrifice quality for quantity.

France is home to some of the priciest, most exclusive wines in the world and it’s certainly the country to turn to if you’re looking for something extra special. So, it could seem strange to link France and value for money, but as a great wine nation should, it offers a bit of both.

Affordable quality

In among the lovely wines produced in France there are, of course, plenty of over-priced and lesser quality wines too. The key, as it always is when looking for a wine to enjoy, is to find a balance of quality yet affordable wines.

Premium wines have been rising in price steadily for a while now, leaving French wine as a good option for value. For example, even champagne is cheaper than English sparkling wine at the moment, thanks to some stunning seasons for English vineyards over the last couple of years. Look out for creamy, stylish champagnes that aren’t too expensive, and the chances are you’ll be enjoying a superior flavour.

Champagne style

If you’re looking for something other than a champagne style wine, then it’s a case of knowing which to look out for. This is particularly the case when it comes to selecting from a wine list at a restaurant, as classic wines are generally heavily marked up.

If you go for Macon Villages rather than the more expensive Chassagne-Montrachet, for example, you’re in for a treat. Or you could choose a deep and vibrant Beaujolais (which is, of course, technically part of the Burgundy region), instead of pricier wines from the Cote d’Or. The massive vineyards in the Langeudoc-Roussillon also offer reliable and enjoyable wines for decent prices.

New regions

Alternatively, if you spy a wine from a region you’re unfamiliar with, the chances are it’s going to better value than the one you know. Good regions to look out for a Reuilly in the Loire, costieres de nimes on the edge of the Rhone river, Bergerac on the outskirts of Bordeaux and jurancon sec in the south west. The very obscure pacherenc du vic bilh region offers absolutely lovely dry and sweet wines, so it’s always worth seeking out.

You should look out for French bottles labelled with the place they’re made, rather than the ones that pick out the grape variety. This generally means a tastier bottle, although there are exceptions like jura chardonnay and piquepoul noir grapes.

France also offers some decent natural wines. These include petillant naturel (also known as ‘pet nat’), which is a gently fizzy sparkling that is bottle while still undergoing the fermentation process.

Keep your eyes peeled, and you can find plenty of French wines to enjoy without breaking the bank.

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A choice of whites to enjoy this September

As the weather in the UK is currently in an in-between stage, no-one is quite sure whether to expect an Indian Summer or full-on Autumn. Either way, it’s time to switch from summer wines to a different flavour as we prepare for the start of a new season.

The long, hot summer has meant plenty of lighter white wines and roses being enjoyed with picnics and barbecues, but Autumn mists bring with them the urge to switch to something a bit more substantial. After all, at some point the temperature is set to drop and nights will become chilly.

Late summer temperatures

Many whites work for warmer days and nights, as well as when the temperature drops. For example, if we head to France and the southern Languedoc region, we can find a huge variety of wines at decent prices. An interesting grape from the region is the terret blanc, which delivers refreshing citrus along with sharp acidity. The Villa Blanche Terret Blanc has all of this along with a lemony mouthfeel and is the perfect accompaniment to salty snacks such as anchovies and olives.

Another grape from the same region is Muscadelle, which tends to be used in Bordeaux blends. It’s unconnected with the more commonly known muscat grape. The Chateau Peyreblanque Blanc, Graves, 2016, is a wine consisting of 80% Muscadelle and 20% sauvignon gris. After a short oak ageing, it has a tempting and subtle flavour that combines riche fruit, a floral nose and a definite smokiness from the gris. It goes perfectly with lobster and oyster for a special late Summer dinner party.

Blended whites

A blended white that works very well is the Papa Figos Douro Branco 2016. Only a few white wines come from this region, and this uses local grapes and is named after the beautiful golden oriole bird. It’s a full character wine, with stone fruit and peach flavours working well with the refreshing texture, making it tasty with grilled fish dishes.

While many people will have been enjoying the easy nature of pinot grigio during the hot weather, another version for Autumn is very interesting. The Slovenian Seven Numbers 3 Pinot Grigio 2016 has an oaky texture, along with green apple, stone fruit and vanilla notes.

Mix it up

Another wine ideal for late summer days is The Grey Slate, Dr L, Private Reserve, 2017, from the Mosel region in Germany. An approachable mix of peach, pineapple and lemon flavours with a dry edge, it’s lovely with some simple seafood.

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules about the kinds of wine you should enjoy during different seasons. However, it’s always nice to mix it up and try new flavours as we wait for Winter to arrive and move on to deeper, more textured, full-bodied wines.

How the global wine industry is changing

The wine industry is going through changing times. Small and medium sized winemakers are struggling against the biggest producers, while higher real estate and climate change are presenting their own challenges.

While the market for wine drinkers continues to increase, it’s becoming trickier for many to find what they want. The demand is primarily for small batch winemakers, who grow their own grapes in the traditionally popular wine-making regions.

Consumer focus

Consumers and trade are both still very much focused on wine from historic regions, and wines made by people who grow their own (grower-producers). However, it’s becoming more difficult for these kinds of growers to be seen against major labels.

The US is the largest wine market in the world and consumes 13% of the global supply according to the Wine Institute. As such, they often dictate certain patterns of buying and consumption. As the biggest producers in the US have consolidated, it’s become trickier for small and medium sized wineries, who are struggling to be seen.

Research from the State of the Wine Industry 2018 report shows that sales growth in the US will likely continue to rise steadily between two and four per cent. However, the premium sector is looking at a softening market, with a growth between four and eight per cent in 2018, compared with 10-14 per cent in 2017.

Challenges for producers

Adding to the concerns for smaller growers, the challenges presented by retail estate prices and climate change are even more pressing. During 2018’s summer, heatwaves struck across the world. More than 1,590 heat records were either smashed or reached, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin reports.

Some experts say that rising temperatures will soon mean that traditional wine regions will not be able to produce wine in the future. They cite Tuscany, the Rhone, Napa, Chile and Bordeaux as just a few regions that will find wine making unsustainable. By 2050, some scientists predict that the area suitable for growing wine will decrease by 73% in some of these areas.

Real estate prices are also rising across the world. For example, in Bordeaux, prices are increasing by 15.5% year-on-year, adding to the pressure for smaller producers. However, this mix of factors is creating different opportunities for up and coming growers.

Adjusting focus

Wine brokers and industry disruptors see wine as a business. For example, Brett Vankoski founded Latitude Beverage, a company that buys pre-made wine and rebottles it under different labels. He said: “While we all focus on the art of making wine, it was always essentially about commerce. When winemakers find themselves struggling because of a poor harvest, they adjust what they’re doing.”

This subtle shift could be a boon for smaller producers, as they are nimble enough to pivot their business to fit the changing needs of the market.

French wine harvest likely to rebound for 2018

It’s all looking a bit more positive than previously thought for France’s all-important 2018 vintage, according to an update from officials.

Despite the fact that mildew has adversely affected crops in many regions, and there have also been destructive hailstorms in Bordeaux, reports say that France’s 2018 vintage should be much larger than the historically small 2017 disappointment.

Conflicting predictions

It was previously expected that French wine production this year would reach 44.5 million hectolitres (one hectolitre is the equivalent of 100 litres or 133 standard bottles of wine). This figure was reached by Jerome Despey, head of the FNSEA (Federation nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles) national farmers union in France, who announced it on 24 August.

The figures, which were announced during a press conference held by FranceAgriMer, the national agriculture agency, were lower than estimates made by France’s agriculture ministry earlier. The agency had predicted it would be somewhere between 46 and 48 million hectolitres. However, Reuters subsequently reported that officials now expect closer to 46 million hectolitres.

Significant increase

Even if the lower estimate from FNSEA is correct, this is still a significant increase on last year’s historically low vintage. It would mean a 20% rise on 2017 and would be roughly the same as the average output for the years preceding.

There have been very earl y starts to the wine harvest in France this year in several regions, most significantly in Alsace and Champagne. Mr Despey, who is a vintner in Langeudoc-Rousillon, also told the press conference that climate change has shifted harvest dates forward by 30 days in the last three decades.

Significant challenge

While planning for the impact of climate change on wine crops all over the world remains a significant challenge, French vineyards will be breathing a sigh of relief as it looks as though 2018 will be a much better year than 2017.

The long, hot summer boosted grape growth and the early harvest means more will be bottled. However, this doesn’t mean growers can take their eyes off problems such as the widespread mildew that has ravaged crops.

The hot weather may have been good for wine in France, but it has decimated other crops in the country, such as maize. But there is no doubt that the scorching heatwave helped to nullify the effects of the mildew that spread during a wet spring.

Champagne in particular will see a sharp increase in production, up an impressive 56% on last year to reach 3.5 million hectolitres.

Limited production

Despite the predictions, some wine growers are still reluctant to cement any forecasts. The impact of the mildew is difficult to measure until harvests are complete, and the state of the weather in the coming weeks will also impact the grapes.

And it’s the long-term effects of climate change that has the industry concerned. Mr Depsey added: “This is the real issue… Even when there’s no major weather event, we can’t do more than 45 million hectolitres anymore.”

Trio of French wines to pair with seafood

The perfect match for a platter of fruits de mer, or even a nice bit of fish, is always a fresh, light white. Here are three that are delicious with your favourite seafood dish.

Domaine Felines – Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet, Langeudoc

There is nothing inherently flashy about Picpoul de Pinet. This unoaked, dry white wine hails from the west of Languedoc and isn’t a wine that connoisseurs will stash in their cellar or try and impress their friends by ordering in a restaurant. But it is delicious and perfect with a relaxed fish dish.

It does it job perfectly, and its job is to match seafood from the nearby Mediterranean and Thau lagoon, with no hassle. There is an acidy nip to the picpoul grape, and the flavour is infused with lemon, touches of herbs and a lovely richness reminiscent of stone-fruit. In short, it’s an unfussy, reliable and tasty addition to your meal and shouldn’t be ignored.

Pierre Luneau-Papin Folle Blanche, Folle Blanche

While Picpoul de Pinet has an immediate affinity with seafood, it is often compared with the original favourite to go with French fruit de mer, which is called Muscadet and is made up north surrounding the Loire estuary.

Wines in this region are mostly made from melon de Bourgogne, and despite comparisons to picpoul, locals tend to compare their wines with chardonnay made in Chablis, Burgundy.

This is definitely the case with Pierre Luneau Papin’s Domaine de Verger Muscadet Sevre et Main Sur Lie 2016. However, the folle blanche is more reminiscent still of picpoul, but rather sharper. Either way, they’re all delicious when paired with oysters or other shellfish.

Chateau Lestrille Entre Deux Mers Blanc, Bordeaux

Muscadet can give a whiff of a classic 1970s wine, but this is just retro-charm that should be enjoyed. It can also replace Chablis when smaller vintages find themselves short of supply. This is perhaps why Muscadet has become a favourite with sommeliers in the hipper restaurants of France.

Some are also giving another old favourite, Entre-Deux Mers, a bit of a new age. This wine is from Bordeaux and is a good spin of sauvignon blanc. Or, try Chateau Lestrille’s version, as it’s very clean tasting, with a hit of tropical fruit to go with its zingy notes.

French experts question how the ‘blue’ wine from Spain is produced

It seems the French are seeing red over Spain’s blue wine. The blue-hued Spanish wine has landed in France and has not gone down brilliantly. Leading experts have challenged the claim that the blue colour is natural, and local winemakers voiced their concern that the label’s origin description is illegal.

Veronique Cheynier is Director of research at the National Institute of Agricultural Research, which is extremely prestigious and is carried in high regard. She has publicly questioned whether the strangely coloured wine, called Vindigo, is completely natural, as the producer insists it is.

French debut

Vindigo made its debut in France this summer and, according to its producers, begins its life as a white wine. After it’s passed through a pulp consisting of red grape skin it turns blue because of the natural colourant called anthocyanin. So, that’s the official story, but Dr Cheynier doesn’t think it’s possible.

Dr Cheynier said: “I don’t see how anthocyanin derived from red grape pulp can make this wine blue. Even if anthocyanin derived pigments that are blue in colour in an acidic medium have been successfully isolated in a laboratory, these pigments are only present in tiny quantities in grape skin pulp.”

Does it add up?

She goes on to point out that the pigments are: “red in acidic medium, at low pH, and only turn blue in a basic medium, at a pH higher than seven” while the pH of wine is usually between three and four.

Her colleague, fellow researcher at the French government owned institute, agreed. Jean-Louis Escudier said: “A wine with a pH higher than four is unstable in microbiological terms and oxidises much faster. You can see this effect in brick-coloured red wines, which take on an orange hue.”

They also say that if the producer of Vindigo’s claims are true, then he’s effectively saying that they are adding red grape skin pulp to white wine, which is illegal even with rosé.

Analysis needed

The disquiet is such that apparently French supermarkets who had imported the wine from Spain, consequently withdrew it from their shelves. It’s still available online, but Dr Cheynier insists that a definitive answer to its blue colour can only come from a proper scientific analysis of the composition of the wine.

A different blue Spanish wine, called Gik, which was launched in 2015 was analysed. While it was discovered to have derived its colour from anthocyanin, it also contained “indigo carmine (E132) colourants, whose presence was not explicitly indicated on the label.”

The producers of Gik said at the time that this omission was due to EU regulations. They said that there was no category for ‘blue wine’, so it couldn’t be labelled ‘wine’. The labels were subsequently amended and it’s now available online with a full ingredients list.

Are screw caps a good way to seal wine?

When screwcaps hit the market some years ago, wine aficionados may have looked askance. The cork has been such an integral way of sealing wine for centuries, that changing something so fundamental seemed strange to many. The question became: does it affect the wine inside.

According to industry experts, screwcaps are actually the superior way to bottle wine as they slow down the ageing process. Australian-based D’Arenberg’s Chester Osborn believes that it acts “like a really cold cellar”.

Slows down ageing

Osborn stores all 72 of the wines in his cellars, even the most expensive versions, with screwcap closures. He said: “We’re 100% screwcap now as we find Australian sommeliers don’t want Australian wines bottled under cork.”

After various experiments in storing wine, he found that the key to great wines is slowing down the ageing process. He said: “I want my wines to age as slowly as possible. “

Screwcaps achieve this as they let in no oxygen, which means the wines don’t oxidise. They also don’t add any copper to the wines.

What about consumers?

As screw-tops have been accepted by consumer much more over the last few years, there is very little market resistance to them. The Chinese market in particular has recently taken to them in a big way.

While consumers previously insisted on asking for a cork sealed wine, screwcaps are becoming less of an issue as people recognise that they affect the wine positively.

Chinese market growing

China is a rapidly growing market for many wine exporters, including Australia where year-on-year sales have leapt by 300%.

“Attitudes in China are changing towards screwcaps, they used to ask for cork but are more open minded to screwcaps now,” he said.

For example, in a normal year, Osborn makes 72 separate wines and always has two new ones under development. And while in that part of the world, the harvest hasn’t been as strong as last year’s, some grapes have done better than others. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Rhone whites are thriving, and the Grenache is the best since 2002.

However, as they have endured the wettest August ever in 2017, immediately followed by a very long, dry summer which led to a drought, some have been adversely affected.

More acceptable

In the UK, of course, this year’s long, hot summer means we’re likely looking at the largest and best vintage to date. And with the increasing prevalence and acceptance of screw-cap bottles, it’s likely that more and more winemakers will turn away from corks.

Regular wine drinkers are familiar with the experience of opening a corked bottle, and the tainted taste and odour. Corked wine means undrinkable wine, with an often unpleasantly mouldy flavour. Figures to show how many cork sealed bottles are tainted by being corked are difficult to nail down, but a study from 2007 showed as many as one in 10 may be affected.

It’s not surprising that since then, more winemakers around the world have decided to get rid of corks and choose a metal screw-cap opening. In the 1990s, corks sealed 95% of all wine bottles produced around the world. This fell to 62% in 2009 and in 2018 it’s much lower.

Technology and innovation in wine industry

When you think about the wine industry, technology isn’t necessarily the first thing that springs to mind. One company that takes tech in the global wine industry seriously is Wine Technology Marlborough in New Zealand.

Owner of Wine Technology Marlborough, David Gill, developed a winery automation system which is transferable to any winery around the world. David thinks that the wine industry as a whole is lagging behind in terms of innovation, and this has motivated him to push tech boundaries to provide wine makers with the tools to create premium vintages.

Cooling system

He created his tech company in 1995 when he was asked to work on a winery cooling system. An electrician by trade at the time, David decided to look into ways to create the best kind of cooling system. And now, 23 years later, his system is one of the premium automated winery control systems available.

Called VinWizard, the system has been designed along with industry feedback and is based on self-designed and printed circuit boards which are incorporated into the cheap Raspberry Pi computer. All of these components give every cooling tank a ‘brain’.

David said: “We were using off-the-shelf tech and realised we couldn’t go any further. We put much more smarts in them by designing and building our own circuit boards.” His team puts all the hardware together in their workshop based in Renwick, New Zealand. They support all their systems around the world remotely from the workshop as well.

Innovation award

This keeps their overheads low as they don’t need massive resources. And it’s working well for the company, which recently won an innovation award for the multi-level probe at the Innovation and Quality Napa Valley forum in the US.

The probe has 50 sensors on the circuit board and can take measurements at multiple different depth in the wine tank. The success of the tech lies in the understanding the company has of how wineries work. It invests heavily in research and development to fully understand the industry and what wine-makers need from technology.

Solutions based

David said: “We listen to our winemakers and try to design solutions around what they want.” The company is working on a range of sensors powered by batteries that will be used around a winery.

This focus on technology is likely to increase over the next decade, as wine makers realise that they need to continue to innovate to stay in the game. It’s such a traditional industry, and these kinds of tools make the future more exciting for winemakers.

Ever wondered why red wine tastes different when it’s hot?

For once, the UK is basking in a lengthy, sustained and very hot summer. In fact, it’s the hottest and driest summer since 1976, and naturally people are taking the opportunity for plenty of al fresco dining and a few drinks in the sunshine. After all, it’s definitely worth taking advantage of the long summer nights while they’re here!

Summer tipples

Everyone has their favourite summer drink, whether they opt for a Pimm’s over ice, a gin and tonic or a refreshing glass of sparkling white wine. But if you’re a lover of red wine and prefer to drink that even in hot weather, you may have noticed that it tastes different. And it’s all because of the heatwave.

Research carried out by the Australian Wine Research Institute shows that the higher the temperature for stored wine, the more effect it has on the taste. They say: “Excessive storage temperatures will have a marked effect on the shelf life of bottled wine. Any storage place where the temperature exceeds 25C for long periods and 40C for short periods can affect wine quality.

Cool your reds

Temperatures are regularly hitting 30C in the UK this summer, which could mean impaired flavours for red wine, particularly if the typical ‘room temperature’ rule is followed by drinkers. However, there are steps you can take to make sure your reds aren’t tainted.

If you don’t have access to a wine cellar or heavily shaded room that stays consistently on the cool side, then the best thing to do is pop your reds in the fridge. While this might seem odd if you’re used to the more traditional storage methods, keeping red wine in the fridge during a hot summer will improve the flavour when you want to enjoy it with your barbecue.

For those concerned about drinking cooled red wine, it’s handy to know that the type of wine you choose also dictates the flavour. And if you choose the right ones, it can be a refreshingly delicious addition to your summer drinks menu.

Lighter wines

Look for lighter reds, such as Corvina, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Lambrusco, Rioja Crianza and Cabernet Franc. While red wines left at room temperature generate a rich, full flavour that goes perfectly with heavier meals during the winter, drinking any of these types chilled allow the flavour notes to come through.

You can expect a lighter, more refreshing take on red wine, without losing all of the body and depth that you love. It’s the perfect way to enjoy a red wine all year round, without compromising on flavour. Ideal for those summer picnics and barbecues!

Why eastern European wines are increasingly popular with UK consumers

Wine consumers in the UK are increasingly choosing bottles from countries such as Slovenia, Bulgaria and Hungary. It’s likely that price rises are responsible for the change in buying behavior, as people look for alternatives to the more expensive Italian and French wines. It’s also a by-product of consumers becoming more adventurous with their wine choices.

Sales increasing

Sales of eastern European wines have increased more than threefold in the 12 months leading up to April 2018. Portugal also leapt by 61%, while Spanish wines fell by 3% and French sales remained stagnant. The UK is also benefiting from people being willing to try something new with sales increasing by 9% over the same time period.

Wines from eastern Europe are generally good quality and can be perceived as high value due to the relatively lower cost. For example, a pinot grigio from Slovenia is priced at around £1 less than an Italian pinot on average.

High prices

As consumers are under increasing pressure from rising prices for everything from fuel and food to daily essentials as well as stagnant wages, more are likely to turn to cheaper bottles. It could also mean a tougher than usual year ahead for wine sellers.

Trading in the UK has been harder since year end when compared to last year, as pressure increases due to the rising cost of imported wines since the pound’s value decreased as a result of Brexit. The average price of a bottle of wine in the UK has risen by only 21p since 2015, compared with a 60p rise in duty and costs.

Online sales

However, online sales are stronger and growing steadily, as they open up to worldwide sales. Wine retailers are generally working across the board to include as many sensible efficient measures as possible, whether that is dispensing with physical stores and focusing online or introducing new ordering systems or more shelves.

It has also become more important than ever to properly utilise social media channels and marketing to improve sales and drive consumers to successful e-commerce sites. The strength of strong online sellers, such as Ideal Wine Company, is increasing all the time as the UK has seen many well-known high street stores collapsing or decreasing their presence. People are turning towards online sales in every sector and the wine industry is no different.