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.

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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.

How the global wine industry is adapting fast to climate change

There’s no doubt that climate change has been sharply affecting the world’s vineyards over the last decade or so. Its effects have pushed winemakers to look for new wineries and vineyards, as well as planting different varieties of grapes that can withstand higher temperatures.

From the vineyards in South Africa affected by prolonged drought to endlessly nny vineyards in California and Australia, wine growers are seeing clear effects of climate change as temperatures continue to rise year on year.

Weather patterns

Wilder swings in weather are also hugely affecting vines, prompting vineyard owners to make different decisions in terms of grape varieties and shading the grapes with an increased amount of leaf canopy.

Areas that used to be perfect for specific grapes are becoming less viable, with earlier harvests and a lesser quality of wine due to grapes ripening too quickly. In contrast, areas that used to be completely unsuitable for grapes are starting to become viable.

Regional changes

For example, Petaluma Gap in North California has recently been designated as one of the newest viticultural areas in America. This allows winemakers in the area to market the unique characteristic of their product, determined by the geography, climate and soil. Three decades ago, it would have been impossible to grow grapes there.

While vines can tolerate drought and heat relatively well, over the past four years global temperatures have measured their hottest ever. Projections show that this trend is set to continue every year. And, as even small weather changes can affect wines vintage to vintage, this has major ramifications for the industry.

An important Spanish wine producer, Familia Torres, owns wineries in Chile and California, and has also bought land 1,200m high in the Pyrenees as a decisive investment in cooler areas. The average temperatures across their vineyards have risen by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the last four decades, and harvest are now ten days earlier than they were 20 years ago.

South African drought

These changes show that climate change is a worldwide challenge for winemakers and not only does it mean viticulture practices should change, greenhouse gas emissions should also be reduced. A severe drought in the Western Cape of South Africa meant a 15% drop in the harvest in May, according to South African officials.

Officials also predict a long-term trend in higher temperatures and dryer harvests. Wanda Augustyn, from VinPro, the representatives of South Africa’s wine producers, said: “In the longer term, producers will have to look at quality, drought-resistant vines which produce more flavour, acidity and intensity, but have lower water needs.”

Moving up north

Vineyards are also concerning the market in Brittany, in the northwest corner of France. Previously this was untenable for winemakers due to too much rain, not enough sunshine and Atlantic winds. Today, vineyards are being planted as far north of Sweden.

It’s a tricky balance for wine producers now, as they need to hit a sweet spot between the changes in weather patterns to enable grapes to grow in optimum conditions. It’s likely that we will see shifts into cooler areas and changes in production techniques to support this.

English Wine Week vineyard visit for tourism minister

English Wine Week has just wrapped for 2018, after a seven-day celebration of everything wine-related. As part of the programme, the UK’s tourism minister was invited to a vineyard in Kent as a special trip to understand the link between English wine and the food and drink tourist industry.

Michael Ellis is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, and since his appointment at the start of this year has been keen to learn how people are working to boost wine tourism.

Wine tourism Boost

He was hosted at Chapel Down Winery near Tenterden in Kent, where he was given a presentation about plans to boost wine tourism in the UK and the wider food and drink offer to both domestic and international consumer markets.

Chapel Down chief exec Frazer Thompson, along with Sandra Mathews-Marsh from Visit Kent gave Mr Ellis a tour of the working winery and the vines. He also met representatives from other major vineyards across Kent, including James Osborn of Squerryes and Charles Simpson of Simpsons wine Estate.

Championing English wine

As well as the tour of the vineyards, the minister gathered updates on the Wine Garden of England partnership, as well as the international Gourmet Gardens Trail, both of which are supported by VisitEngland’s Discover England Fund and headed up by Visit Kent.

He said: “English Wine Week is about championing British produce and helping to position our growing wine industry as a new tourist attraction. Through our Discover England Fund, we are supporting the Wine Garden of England to increase international visitors to the region and raise awareness of Kent’s incredible vineyards.”

World-class producer

English Wine Week is a good opportunity to publicise the fact that the UK is now a world-class wine producer. Linking the future of the tourism industry in England with the growth of wine production is a logical step and further demonstrates the massive opportunities wine tourism can bring t the UK.

The Discover England Fund is a £40 million, three-year government investment into supporting the growth of the tourism industry in the UK. Its main aim is to offer more world-class products to international markets, and wine is one of the main areas of focus.

Visit Kent has benefited from £1 million support from the initiative and will be launching a series of itineraries aimed at showcasing vineyards, breweries, food outlets and accommodation initially to visitors from the Netherlands and Germany.

What was on the wine list at the Royal Wedding reception?

The whole country has been abuzz with Royal Wedding fever over the last week. Plenty of street parties and wedding viewing parties up and down the country would have seen lots of wine, Prosecco and Champagne being quaffed in honour of the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Whether you’re a Royalist or a Republican, or somewhere in between, it’s been a time for celebration and enjoyment. We’ve seen details of the bride’s dress (£200,000 custom made Givenchy), the ceremony itself and we know the contents of the goody bags given out to the lucky people invited. But what we really want to know is, which wines did they drink at the reception?

Pol Roger Champagne

On the day itself, the Palace confirmed one of the wines being served at the reception of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry was Pol Roger Champagne. Steeped in British history and already with a Royal Warrant, Pol Roger was the Champagne of choice for Sir Winston Churchill. After his death in 1965, the producer added a black border around the labels of the bottles of Brut NV destined for the UK.

Pol Roger Brut Vintage is usually a blend of 60% Pinot noir and 40% Chardonnay, although this can vary. The wine at the reception at Windsor Castle was a non-vintage version, Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV.  It’s a blend of 30 base wines going across three vintages and is available for between £40 and £45 per bottle.

Royal favourite

It’s the same champagne that was served at the last Royal Wedding between the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge seven years ago, so is clearly a Royal favourite. While we’d love to know the other wines served at the wedding, unfortunately this has remained a tightly held secret.

Speculation has included the chance of a Californian wine, as the Duchess of Sussex is known to like wines from various producers in her home state in the United States. It’s was also touted that an English sparkling wine might make the cut. Chapel Down was served at William and Kate’s wedding in 2011, and Camel Valley from Cornwall has just been awarded a Royal Warrant, so perhaps either one of those were served to lucky guests.

Another wine that could have been included is the Great Windsor Park sparkling, which is known as the ‘Queen’s English Wine’ as it’s actually made on the Windsor Park estate, very near to the celebrations.

Tuscan wine

Meghan Markle has also gone on record as liking the ‘Super Tuscan’ wine Tignanello, produced by Antinori. Whichever wines were served at the 600-guest reception in St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle, we know that beer pong was also on the menu for the American guests!

Wines to enjoy with Spring food

After the Beast from the East and a few false starts, it looks like we’re finally enjoying some warm weather. In fact, we’ve just had the hottest May Day for around 20 years, which is perfect for some al fresco dining, barbecuing and picnicking.

It’s the time of year when we all start enjoying bountiful salads, more fish, grilled meats and fresh, delicious spring veg. We’ve put together some wine and spring food pairings that will help you enjoy the long, warm evenings.

Perfect for British asparagus

Although it was a bit delayed due to the bad weather in April, the official start of asparagus season is here. Notoriously tricky to match with wine due to its earthy yet metallic taste, we think it works well with sauvignon blancs and their zesty and herbal notes.

There are lots of sauvignons to choose from, and many people opt for the New Zealand Marlborough style. The New World flavour profile, including zesty, citric flavours and deep tropical fruits will work with your asparagus nicely. An alternative that works well is Olifantsberg Grenache Blanc 2006, which is from the Breedekloof region of South Africa. The oak ageing helps the complex white Grenache grape open up with a lime zest and fresh orchard fruits, with a rich, multi-layered finish.

Perfect for purple sprouting broccoli

It’s also peak season for this most delicious of greens, which works well with a sweeter wine. A good example is the Peter & Ulrich Dry Riesling 2015/16, with its zesty flavour including notes of peach, apple and apricot.

Perfect for wild garlic

Foragers already know the delights of wild garlic, which can be easily found in woodlands in the UK. It’s like a garlic flavoured spinach and can be used in many ways, from pesto to dressings or just steamed with grilled fish.

It works particularly well with crab, which is also in season. A wine that complements a dish including these two ingredients is Brundlmayer Ried Berg-Vogelsgang Gruner Veltliner 2016 from Austria. It has a delicate and refined flavour, with a lightly spicy smoked twist.

Perfect for Spring lamb

Lamb needs a good red to taste its best. The flavour profile of pinot noir works particularly well with lamb and a good choice, particularly for a special occasion, is Burn cottage Moonlight Race Pinot Noir Central Otago 2014. This is from a small, biodynamic producer and gives a complexity of flavours, ranging from cherries and summer berries to wild herbs and earthy, spicy touches.

A cheaper alternative for your lamb is the rich and spicy Tanners Super Douro, Reserva 2015. This is made from port grapes and the harder to find sousao grape, which gives a tone to cut through any fattiness. It works really well with barbecues and roasts too.

Perfect for summer berries

We’re almost in the midst of the British strawberry season, which is always exciting. A great match for strawberries is a chilled rose, just make sure that the wine is colder than the fruit. For richer puddings, a fruitier and deeper rose works better. Try something like the Basilicata Rosata Le Ralle Alovini 2016, which is made in southern Italy using the aglianico grape. You’ll get strawberries in your glass and on your plate!

Extreme weather continues to affect vineyard performance

Studies show that extreme weather is now the ‘new norm’. New research from one of the leading science agencies in Europe suggests the extreme weather that caused problems for so many wine regions in 2017 will not be a one off.

The data shows that flooding, droughts and wildfires are becoming increasingly common thanks to the damage caused by man-made climate change.

Weather more volatile

Data from the report by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) clearly demonstrates that weather has become more extreme, more unpredictable and more volatile over the last 36 years. The council consist of 27 national science academies across Europe and includes the Royal Academy from the UK.

Major flooding has quadrupled globally since 1980, while forest fires, droughts and heatwaves causing extreme damage have more than doubled over the same time period.

Continuing trend

The report was published in March 2018 and follows a continuing trend from its previous study five years earlier. It all adds to the clear evidence that climate change is responsible for higher temperatures and more volatile weather.

And while the risks to human life and our general way of life is a huge concern, it’s also going to affect the wine industry. Last year saw the global wine world endure a devastating mixture of extreme weather, and some have called it the most disastrous year since the introduction of the phylloxera pest in the late 19th century.

More frequent stress effects

Dr Greg Jones is an expert on the potential effect of climate change on vineyards. He said: “For wine regions, there is evidence that varies from region to region but ultimately shows that hail and heavy rain events are more frequent and that heat stress events are more frequent and longer.”

He started looking at the effect of climate change on wine in the early 1990s, and discovered that there were clear temperature trends, but that there were also trends to more variability in temperature.”

This means that the climate was warming, but also becoming more volatile. Since

those years, we have seen wider swings between heat extremes and cold extremes.

Urgent action needed

The EASAC has called for urgent and immediate action to try and mitigate the threats clearly posed by climate change. The programme director Michael Norton said: “Adaption and mitigation must remain the cornerstones of tackling climate change. This update is most timely since the European Commission is due to release its evaluation of its climate strategy this year.”

Perfect Wine Pairings for Summer

The weather is getting better, the nights are getting longer and there’s a lightness in the air. There’s no mistaking it – summer is on its way. With this changing season comes more opportunities for al fresco dining. From picnics to barbecues, these outdoor meals are begging to be paired with the perfect wine. And that’s where we come in. Here at the Ideal Wine Company, we’ve got all the pairings you’ll need for summer dining. Let’s get started…

For salads, cold vegetable dishes, and light appetizers:

These delicate and light dishes are the ideal option for summer. Whether you’re packing them for a picnic or using them as a delicious way to kick off the barbecue, you can expect to see a lot of fresh vegetables on your plate in summer. What better way to match this natural and light option than with an equally delicate wine? Try opting for a Prosecco – it’s refreshing but not quite as dry as Champagne. You’ll find that this option is just as crisp and bubbly as Champagne, but with a slightly sweeter and balanced flavour profile. Most importantly, it won’t overpower delicate vegetable salads but can cut through the richness of picnic favourites like potato salad and French onion dip. A big bonus – Prosecco perfectly captures the festive atmosphere of summer dining!

For seafood, veggie burgers, or chicken dishes:

When we think of light summer food, most of us tend to venture towards white meat and seafood. These light offerings are perfect delicate flavours for warmer months and can often be found on a barbecue or picnic spread. In general, white meat (without a sauce or marinade), seafood or even veggie burgers work well with a Sauvignon Blanc. Tart and citrusy, this wine is a welcomed refreshing hit on warmer days. The citrusy, grassy flavours and crisp acidity will balance the minerality tones in the shellfish without upstaging them. Perfect for lighter meat!

For steaks, burgers, brisket and sweet sausages:

A mainstay on most barbecues, red meats such as steak and burgers are perennially popular. Red wines that balance stone fruit notes with lush earthiness, like Sicilian Nero d’Avola, bare the ideal wine pairings for your summer red meat dishes. With ripe cherry flavours and a smooth tannic finish, you’ll find that the wine will highlight the umami flavours in steaks and burgers perfectly. This slightly sweet fruitiness will provide the perfect depth for rich meat.

For ribs and hot dogs:

Ribs and hot dogs are quintessentially summery for many of us – which means we can expect to find them at many summer parties. With these dishes, you’ll need to note that the meat is usually fattier or spicier, and – with ribs – often coated in a barbecue base. To match these characteristics, look to pair with a Malbec. The rich black fruits and cocoa notes will highlight the spices in hot dogs like no other wine can, while the tannins will cut through the fattiest of short ribs beautifully. Malbec will give your dishes the balance they’re in need of.

Summer is a time for relaxing and enjoying the – hopefully – beautiful weather. Whatever you’re eating, make sure to make it with a drink you enjoy. Remember, there’s always a perfect wine out there, no matter what you’re bringing to the picnic or barbecue!