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Greek wines playing catch up in Asian market

Greece has been making wine for more than 5,000 years, but it’s only just starting to infiltrate the crowded Asian market.

Kavita Faiella, brand ambassador for Kir-Yianni winery reckons it has more than a little to do with pronunciation. He points to the difficulty in promoting Greek wines when the vast majority of consumers in Asia are not familiar with the grape varieties, production regions and find it difficult to pronounce the names.

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Greek wine is making an impact within the Asian market.

Indigenous grapes are best

While Greece does grow vines with international grapes, its best wines come from the indigenous grapes. They have names like Xinomavro, Assyrtiko and Agiorgitiko and are not at all well known in Asia.

Despite this, during the last few years, there has been a move into the Asian market. Greek exports from wineries like Alpha Estate were the first to tap into this market. Alpha Estate is in Amyndeon, which is in the northwestern part of Greece and has been exporting wine to China for more than four years. It also sells wine to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan. And while the Greek export of wine to Asia is relatively small, it’s growing all the time.

Growing recognition in Asia

Kir-Yianni is another winery in northern Greece who has made in-roads into Hong Kong. Earlier in 2017, the winery made a deal with Hong Kong’s largest wine retailer, Watson’s Wine. They make wines in Amyndeon and Naoussa, using local grapes including Roditis, Malagousia and Xinomavro, among others.

So far, Greek wines seem to be going down well in Asia, as they are in other major wine drinking cities like London, New York and Sydney. The winery’s higher priced wines are doing well in China and Japan as well, where they’re collaborating with the country’s first Master of Wine Kenichi Ohashi.

Santorini wine popular

As it goes so well with seafood dishes, Assyrtiko from Santorini is popular among Asian wine lovers. Its red grape Xinomavro (also known as the ‘Burgundy of Greece’), is becoming more popular as well. The latter’s rose and sour cherry aromas, along with its impressive acidity and ability to age well, stands it in good stead with this growing market.

Watson’s Wine is now stocking five of Kir-Yianni’s Greek wines, including Samaropetra 2015, which is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc along with Greek grape Roditis. There’s also PAranga, a blend of Merlot with Greek grape Xinomavro, Ramnista 2012 and Diaporos 2012, made from Syrah and indigenous grape Xinomavro.

Will the UK elections effect the wine trade?

This month has seen another seismic political shock in the UK with the surprise downfall of the Tories leading to a hung parliament following the General Election on 8 June.

The newly instated hung parliament and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour agenda has thrown Brexit even harder into the spotlight. Talks are due to start later this month, although what will be on the agenda is anyone’s guess at this stage. While the results may help those who want to stay close to the EU, they lend yet more uncertainty to trade and the economy. Inevitably this will have an effect, as wine prices continue to be affected by plummeting sterling.

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Will UK elections impact the UK wine trade?

Will Brexit trade terms be more open?

It’s too soon to tell, but the election results could very well open up the Brexit terms that the UK will put to the EU. And this could significantly impact the flow of wine trade between the UK and Europe.

An enormous 90 per cent of Britain’s wine is imported, and around 55 per cent of that comes from the EU, according to trade figures. Negotiations look like they may be somewhat delayed following the General Election, but they will start sooner rather than later.

Pre-election, Prime Minister Theresa May was gunning clearly for a ‘hard’ Brexit, which refers to her intention to pull the UK from the single market and the customs union. This option isn’t popular with people in many industries.

Labour policy to retain access to single market

Labour’s not inconsiderable gains in the election should strengthen the position of politicians favouring a softer Brexit, which will mean retaining and improving close trading ties with Europe. The opposition’s manifesto clearly stated that their negotiating terms would be different, and more inclusive, than the Prime Minister’s.

This is a view welcomed by the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA). Miles Beale, CEO of the WSTA said (before the election): “The WSTA will be working tirelessly to achieve our key aims: continued, tariff-free movement of wines and spirits to and from the EU; new, tariff-free trade agreements with priority countries outside the EU; and, equally, safe passage of our goods – with no additional checks or delays at borders, even once we have left the Customs Union.”

Weak sterling raises wine prices

UK wine buyers were already dealing with up to a 15 per cent price rise for Bordeaux 2016 en primeur due to the pound being weak against the euro. Sterling dipped again as the election results were announced on 9 June and hit a new low of 1.13. This is just added pressure for wine merchants and buyers when it comes to the Bordeaux 2016 vintage.

The wine trade, among many others, are definitely feeling the pressures of the economic uncertainty. The pound has already been weak against the euro for more than a year, and there are no signs of its recovery for the rest of 2017.

Average prices of wine have already hit an all-time high at £5.56 per bottle, according to figures from the WSTA.

How is Brexit affecting wine prices?

According to the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), the leading wine industry group in the UK, wine prices are very much on the rise. They also warn of more price rises to come, thanks to the fallout from the Brexit vote in June 2016.

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Is Brexit impacting wine prices?

Average prices

The average price for a bottle of wine rose above £5.50 for the first time at the end of Q4 2016. That’s a price increase of three per cent and ended up setting the price at £5.51 as we moved into the first quarter of 2017. And, as we reach the end of Q2 this year, the average price of a bottle of wine has moved again to £5.56.

It’s likely that major retailers will absorb some of the costs somewhere in the supply chain, but even that can’t stop the price rises being passed onto the consumer, says the WSTA.

Wine importers, restaurants, bars and wine merchants are all feeling the pressure of increased costs across the board.

The Brexit effect

As for the top end of the market, we’re still waiting for data to show how much the changing economic climate following Brexit has affected the prices. We do know, however, that Bordeaux 2016 en primeur wines have been affected by steep price rises. Due to a weak sterling, anything Bordeaux merchants release costs about 10 to 15 per cent more in the UK when compared to the 2015 release.

Some merchants based in the UK have found that they have had increased demand from buyers that use dollars. For example, there have been more orders from Asian buyers, and from those in the US. But, restocking from Europe has, of course, become more expensive.

The WSTA are keen to pressure the government regarding duty tax and to make sure than English ports are protected if and when the UK leaves the EU customs union. It remains to be seen whether their pressure has had any results.

Miles Beale, CEO of the WSTA said: “Last year the WSTA predicted that Brexit and the fall in the value of the pound, compounded by rising inflation, would force the UK wine industry to up their prices. Sadly, this is now a reality as an average priced bottle of wine in the UK is at an all-time high.’

Still white from Norfolk named ‘best in the world’

When you think of Norfolk, what springs to mind? Stephen Fry? Delia Smith? Whatever it is, chances are you wouldn’t associate world beating wine with the Norfolk broads. But the Bacchus still white wine from Norfolk’s Winbirri Vineyard has been named the best of the best at the World Wine Awards sponsored by Decanter.

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Norfolk wine has been dubbed the best.

A winning wine

The category for the winning wine was best value still white wine made from a single grape variety and the Winbirri Bacchus white won platinum, meaning it was the very top of the class. Not only is it an important win for Norfolk, it’s an amazing acknowledgement of the quality of English still wine

The Bacchus grape is hardly ever used when it comes to producing white wine, making it an even more special victory. There has been a perception that English still wines have been languishing behind the success of the sparkling wines springing from the country in recent years.

Star quality

The winning bottle costs £13.49 and was judged at the awards as ‘the perfect aperitif wine’. So, what exactly did they love so much about this modest bottle from the eastern edge of England? Comments from judges included praise for the wine’s flavour, which was described as a “complex, oily nose with spice, elderflower and citrus.”

It sounds delicious to us, and evidently to Waitrose customers who are constantly leaving shelves bare as they rush to enjoy this homegrown world champion. Lee Dyer is head winemaker at Winbirri vineyard in Norfolk and was quoted as saying that the wine’s victory “makes all the hard work worthwhile and will help put England and Norfolk on the map as a region capable of making world-class wines.”

This award is certainly not the first for the vineyard, which has amassed many others over the last few years. Highlights include the Gore-Brown Trophy for ‘Most Outstanding Wine of the UK’ for the Bacchus 2015 at the UK Wine of the Year Awards 2016, and a Gold Medal for Bacchus Reserve 2013 at the UK Wine of the Year Awards 2015.

Wine in a can? The newest craze!

It’s been around for a while, but wine in a can is having a bit of a renaissance this year. Easy to grab from the supermarket and perfect for a barbecue or picnic, there’s a lot going for the convenience of wine in a can. And it looks set to be the drink of the summer 2017 on both sides of the Atlantic.

Whether you fancy Chardonnay, Pinot, Zinfandel or Merlot, you’ll find a canned version. Over the last few years, canned wine sales have more than doubled, showing that swigging wine from a tin is no longer considered the ‘wrong’ way to drink wine.

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Is wine in a can the new craze for this summer? Photo: Union Wine Co.

Does it actually taste nice?

In short, yes. It’ll never be the best tasting wine, but the quality today is high. And, in a similar way to the recent rise in popularity of small brewery IPAs, independent family wineries are making inroads into the market.

Wine experts say that you’ll most likely notice differences between bottled and canned wines. If you’re a wine geek, then you’ll taste the small amount of residual sugar in canned wine. This is probably added to make the wine taste more fruity, as drinking anything from a can automatically dulls the flavour. The tastiest brands also have elevated levels of acidity, giving a tingling finish on the palate.

Does a metallic flavour ruin the wine?

 These days cans don’t really taint the taste of any drink, and it’s the same for wine. Some canned wine producers make sure they mitigate any hint of this by lining the aluminium cans. It doesn’t seem to affect flavour, but it could be worth serving in glasses rather than drinking straight from the can.

There’s no doubt that the flavour is improved by pouring out, and while it doesn’t sound quite as convenient, we’d recommend it. If you drink straight from the can then the initial flavour burst is lost and it’s generally duller and flatter.

Ideally serve the canned wine chilled and in a glass but if neither of these are possible, rejoice in the fact that you can take your favourite wine everywhere you go this summer!

Can getting good at wine tasting help you know yourself?

There’s a lot of mystique to wine tasting. Amateurs are generally split into those who are confident tasters, and can pick out delicate scents in every glass they drink. The kinds of tasters who can pick out anything from fruit to pepper.

And then there are people who really love wine but can’t taste any of these subtle flavours. Can you learn to taste wines in this way, or is it something you’re born with?

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Does wine tasting help you know yourself?

Learn to describe what you taste

According to amateur turned expert sommelier Bianca Bosker, and author of the book ‘Cork Dork’, honing a sense of taste and flavour is definitely worth doing.

She warns specifically against settling for other people’s descriptions and opinions on wine, instead of deciding ourselves. She also argues that developing this independence of thought when it comes to wine can extend to everything from art to reading. It’s about having confidence in your own opinions, but also being able to talk about why you have those opinions.

Tannin is the key

Tasting wine is a lot to do with being able to describe how you can taste the tannin, which is the natural chemical found in grape seeds, skins and stems. Tannin is astringent, and gives that peculiar ‘dry’ feeling on your tongue when you sip wine.

Red wines are generally higher in tannin, as the red colour comes from being exposed to grape skins. Bosker advises that tannin is a texture rather than a taste, and also thinks that people struggle to define the taste of wine because they struggle to find the words.

Like learning a language                                                                   

New reports from scientists are showing that humans are actually superior to lots of animals in identifying smells. It was once thought that we’d lost the ability to tell different smells, but it turns out some people are better than dogs at identifying low concentrations of smells.

So it could be that, rather than being bad smellers, we’re just bad at finding the words to describe what we’re smelling (and therefore tasting). Gaining expertise in wine tasting is like learning a language, according to Bosker.

If you want to be able to blind taste wine well enough to become certified, then you need to have the confidence and understanding of your own sense of taste of smell. You have to be able to confidently state what you’re tasting, without worrying whether it’s ‘correct’ or what other people would taste. And in that way, learning how to taste wine could be linked with learning how to trust yourself.

One step closer to sparkling wine from England

The UK is at the centre of an exciting development for sparkling wine as Champagne Taittinger and partners have officially started planting vines at Domaine Evremond in Kent.

Domaine Evremond was acquired by Champagne Taittinger and partners in 2015 (the former owns a 55 per cent share in the project), and according to Decanter.com, Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger is keen to build a winery and encourage tourists to the area to witness for themselves the birth of this fledgling industry.

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Sparkling wine will soon be produced in England.

Excellent Kent soil selected for vineyard

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger officially broke ground on the brand-new project in May, marking the start of the vine planting. The vineyard is situated close to Kent’s picturesque Chilham village, and was chosen for the quality of the land.

Domaine Evremond may kickstart a bit of a tourist industry in the area, with people expected to come over from France and other countries to see the 69-hectare vineyards. Traditional Champagne grapes will be planted on site, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.

Around 40 hectares will be planted by 2019/2020, and the first wine should be released in 2023, as the wine will need to be aged for three years. Pierre-Emmanuel himself said that he wants the wine to be very different to Champagne, so it’ll be exciting to see what the UK soil can produce. Vranken-Pommery, another Champagne company, also announced its UK plans last year, showing that this industry is set to grow.

Preparing the ground for a new vineyard

In spring 2016, the team at Domaine Evremond worked to prepare the vineyard for planting new vines. This backbreaking work involved clearing mature fruit trees already on site, and then planting Italian Alder trees, which will protect the vines from the English weather and wind.

The soil then had to be turned, and the remains of the old orchard root systems removed by hand. All to make perfect base to plant the new vines in May 2017. Taittinger is at the forefront of a very enthusiastic and optimistic UK wine industry.

It may be a fledgling industry, but confidence among winemakers and investors remains high in Wales and England, with around one million vines to be planted in England alone in 2017. This is the largest number planted in the UK ever, so it’s exciting times indeed for a brand-new player in the wine industry.

Could the best brain workout involve drinking wine?

It may sound unlikely, but according to Dr Gordon Shepherd, a top neuroscientist at the Yale School of Medicine, quaffing wine is the best workout you can give the old grey matter. But how does drinking wine go hand in hand with lighting up your brain power?

It’s all about the whole process of sniffing, processing, analysing and tasting that goes into serious wine drinking. All of these processes engage more parts of the brain than almost anything else that we do.

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Does wine increase brain function?

Wine tasting engages the brain

Dr Shepherd insists that many people’s favourite hobby of drinking plenty of wine requires perfect control of the brain, tongue and olfactory system. For example, when you take a mouthful and swirl the wine around your mouth, all of the intricately fine muscles in your tongue are activated, along with hundreds and hundreds of taste receptors.

This process uses more of the brain than working out tricky maths or listening to a piece of music, according to his research. He has also found that flavour is rather more subjective than previous studies showed.

Swallowing is key to tasting wine properly

We all process flavour differently, using our very own experiences and frames of reference. All of this has an effect on how we perceive flavour, when compared to other people. So, the flavour of wine is far more about the brain of the person doing the tasting than in the product itself.

To get the full effect, says Dr Shepherd, we should dispense with the traditional spitting wine into a bucket, and allow ourselves to savour swallowing. Taking a small amount into our mouth, swirling around to allow our brain synapses to start firing to make the connections between odour and flavour, followed by swallowing, all combine to influence our idea of the flavour.

Dr Shepherd cautions against taking too much in at once, as when you’re past the first few sips, your system is overloaded and your brain saturated. And of course, if you ignore his advice and drink lots of wine, your brain is likely to be under a whole different kind of strain – with a hangover!

It’s seems the key to combining drinking wine and having a brain workout is take it slow, sip small amounts and give yourself time to savour the flavour. Sounds good to us!

Why is Prosecco such a success?

A stable choice for merchants and supermarkets alike, Prosecco remains a firm favourite across the UK, but why exactly are people so drawn to this sparkling Italian wine?

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Why is Prosecco so popular?

Producing Prosecco

Produced in Italy’s North East region of Veneto, which is also home to Venice and Verona, Prosecco comes from Glera grapes. Produced through the ‘Charmant’ method, the wine is fermented for the second time in stainless steel tanks, which is also used in producing the sparkling Italian wine Asti.

It’s this process which allows Prosecco to be produced at a lower cost than, for example, Champagne, a factor which makes it attractive to a wide spectrum of retailers.

Perfect for beginners

Though the success of Prosecco is not new and Ideal Wine reported on its financial success back in 2015, there are a number of simple factors which have sustained Prosecco as a sparkling wine stable across Britain.

For many investors, Prosecco, with its inviting price point, is very attractive for those looking to start a collection. For the same reason, it is often enjoyed by new connoisseurs learning about the flavours and techniques involved in delivering top-quality sparkling wine.

Enjoying the flavour

Overall, Prosecco is light and fruity, making it versatile and very easy to drink. Featured in an array of cocktails, the most famous perhaps being the Bellini, it is a go-to wine for all occasions and also regularly accompanies food.

Because Prosecco is a great choice for so many occasions, it is seen as a more accessible sparkling wine without the historic glamour and cultural prestige of its French counterpart, Champagne.

To enjoy Prosecco at its finest, it is best served within three years of its vintage. However, a higher quality Prosecco can still be enjoyed once it has been aged for, typically, seven years. Whether sampling old or new, this is certainly a wine which is best served chilled.

Bringing out the flavour: using a decanter to let wine breathe

There are many myths with regards to letting wine breathe. One of the most common is that simply taking the cork out of a bottle shortly before serving will suffice. Though this is better than nothing, there are several steps you can take to properly prepare wine so that you can enjoy its best possible flavour.

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Using a decanter to help your wine breathe. Photo: Elite Traveler

The importance of decanting

Though opening the wine does let a small amount of air into the bottle, decanting it allows for wine to be fully aerated which brings out the flavour. As a guide, many sommeliers decanting wine an hour before serving.

Different wine types can develop more than others during this process. A younger, vintage wine for example can benefit from being decanted or doubly decanted, the process of pour the wine out of the bottle and then back into it, for at least an hour.

Once decanted, wine should be consumed that day as the flavour quality decreases much faster once wine leaves the bottle.

When not to aerate

Depending on your wine of choice, decanting should be done carefully to avoid spoiling the fragile flavours of, particularly, old vintage red wines. White wines in general receive few benefits from decanting, unless the wine is prepared very shortly before serving.

Preserving the decanter

Keeping your equipment clean is essential to bringing out the full-flavour of wine. The best way to do this is to clean it straight after use. This prevents any wine drying in the decanter and leaving residue which can be difficult to clean and adversely affect your next serving. Always dry the decanter fully after use to preserve its original, fine condition.

To clean the instrument, repeatedly swill and empty it with warm water. Holding a clean decanter above very hot or boiling water will cause steam to build up on the outside which you can polish off with a light cloth or duster to enable an enduring shine and prevent the glass from staining over time.