Friday, 30 December 2011

The Year that Was

It's been a watershed year for wine in many ways. On this final day of 2011, I'll run through some of the major events that have happened in the wine world over the past 52 weeks.

Another vintage of the century for Bordeaux

After convincing everyone that 2009 was THE vintage to buy, Bordeaux winemakers had an uphill task when 2010 turned out to be just as good, if not better. Wine critics and journalists went to great lengths to explain the difference between the two vintages, citing higher acidity levels in 2010 and greater potential for longevity. It was the most drawn-out en primeur campaigns in recent years, and the longer it dragged on the more bad press it received and the less interest there was. In the end though, wine merchants hailed it as a success (Farr Vintners said it was their second biggest en primeur campaign ever next to 2009) but it left consumers with a bad taste in the mouth and growing skepticism toward the en primeur process. More damagingly, it cemented the perception in many people's minds that Bordeaux is a wine you buy for investment, not for drinking.

The Rise and Rise of Asia

Since Hong Kong abolished taxes on wine it has become the world's largest market for fine wine auctions. According to The Financial Times, the top four auction houses (Sotheby's, Acker Merrall & Condit, Zachys and Christie’s) derive 60-71% of their revenue from the city. As yet untouched by the economic plague ravaging Europe and the rest of the developed world, Asia is enjoying its fame like a newly discovered Hollywood star. For the moment, China has its eyes fixed on Bordeaux and Burgundy, buying not only wine but vineyards as well. French newspaper Sud-Ouest estimates that around 15 Bordeaux wineries are now owned by the Chinese, with the most recent purchase by Chinese actress Zhao Wei who acquired Château Monlot in St-Emillon. Perhaps the Chinese have found a way to circumvent the en primeur process? Why go through middlemen when you can control the source?

Wine as Nature intended?

If there was one event that ignited the current buzz around natural wines, it would have been the Natural Wine Fair held in London's Borough Market in May this year. Although there are no strict guidelines, natural wines are made with as little human intervention as possible. That means no insecticides, fertilisers, weedkillers, and as little sulphur as possible. This makes them more prone to bacterial spoilage, and less stable than normal wines. I've talked with some winemakers that argue that with proper sanitation and care in the winery, these are issues that can be overcome. The (admittedly few) natural wines I have tasted were rustic and wild, a far cry from the clean, polished notes of regular wine. Somewhat like an opera singer with a sore throat. With further experimentation and refinement, this philosophy may catch fire, and 2011 will be remembered as the year the spark was first lit.

Happy New Year to you all, and wishing you many exciting wine discoveries in 2012!

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