Hot off the Press! This year’s edition of 100 AWEsome Wines is just out. It’s a brand new edition for 2018, now in its 4th year.
Here’s what it’s about:
“How fortunate we are to live in a world where wine exists. And so many. In so many different styles. If you find the wide choice available to you a little unnerving, then this brochure can help. We don’t all have the same tastes as evidenced by the variety selected here, so you are sure to find something you love at a price you like.
AWE members taste and teach wine almost daily, quite often they drink it, too! It does mean that they are buying a lot of wines throughout the year and this guide is full of the wines they rate as being exceptional quality and value. The wines come from over 20 wine-producing countries and are available to buy from supermarkets, independent wine merchants and online websites (in the UK), so you should have no difficulty in sourcing them.
The brochure is divided into easy-to-use sections: whites Under £10, reds Under £10 then wines between £10 and £25, again split by colour, followed by sweet wines, sparkling wines and fortified wines, finishing with a couple of Sakes.
Each of the wines has been selected by virtue of the fact that it represents great quality at an affordable price. You will notice that there are more in the higher price bracket – this is not a coincidence. If you can stretch your wine budget a little, you will enjoy the rewards in your glass.”
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As usual, as a Member of the AWE (Association of Wine Educators) I have contributed a couple of stunning entries. There are personal (and now almost perennial) favourites. The others are from some of my favourite people in wine. Hence you can bet it’s a reliable and useful guide.
Le Mortelle is one of Antinori’s more recent ventures, a new organic wine estate created in Tuscany’s coastal Maremma. Here’s a progress report on this rising star.
The Antinori family has been in the wine business for over six hundred years, documenting this back to 1385, across 26 generations. Has anyone done more for raising the profile of Italian wines than the current head of the family, Marchese Piero Antinori? Back in the seventies he created the Super Tuscan category with Tignanello, still the most beautiful example, and followed that up with another, Solaia.
Antinori has meantime become a vinous superpower, with many estates and joint ventures in their portfolio; not just in Italy but around the world.
Created by Antinori
Back to Le Mortelle. It’s in the Maremma, about 20 km from the town of Grossetto. Here there is still room to create brand new ventures, where the land is cheaper than in more established famous areas.
The Maremma remains Tuscany’s New World, a frontier without a long tradition of winemaking. The DOC was only created in 2011, just sixteen years after the first IGT’s appeared. This coastal strip is still unspoiled, a once pestilential marsh and swamp until drained for pasture in the twentieth century. The farms here are on flat plains and low rolling hills, still mostly devoted to cattle, olives and fruit.
Mortella (Wild Myrtle) is a flowering shrub commonly found in these parts and lends its name to the estate. It was a fruit farm until bought from the Barabino family in 1999. The creation of a sizeable wine estate takes years and a considerable investment that won’t pay back for decades, so such projects need patience and faith in the future as well as deep pockets. The Antinori’s are here for the long term.
The entire estate spans 270 ha and is organic. The Le Mortelle vineyards themselves are impressive. There is 170 ha in total, planted predominantly with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a small plot of Carménère for red grapes. Vermentino, Ansonica (aka Inzolia) and Viognier are the white varieties planted. The sandy loam soils and mild coastal climate suit these varieties well.
Antinori has also retained 15 ha of olive groves, fruit trees (peaches, plums, apricots, pears) and blueberries. Two newly formed lakes are now a haven for wildlife.
The winery is, by any standards, a breathtaking construction. While you don’t need fancy buildings to make wine, Le Mortelle demonstrates environmental purpose where form follows function. That it is also beautiful is a bonus. The winery was designed and built by AEI Progetti of Florence between 2007 and 2009, at the cost of €11 million. It’s mainly constructed underground to minimise environmental impact. Hence there is no sight of it apart from a small hill. A plain entrance leaves you unprepared for what is inside.
Within is a vast circular cavern excavated out of solid rock, a 60-metre diameter, cylindrical cathedral of steel and concrete that burrows down three stories. The winery uses gravity to move the wine rather than pumps; this is gentle, efficient and uses little energy.
The entrance is on the top floor. Opposite, on the far side, is the grape reception. Below this, the second-floor ring has stainless steel fermenters and storage tanks, many double-height to maximise the best use of the space. On the third base level, 25 metres underground, five concentric rings of French oak barriques mature the top wines. This circular barrel hall has constant humidity and temperature, so requiring no energy input.
An imposing central helical spiral staircase links the floors and turns Le Mortelle into a single atrium. The roof is a vast dome of wood and steel girders. A single central lantern aids the ingress of natural light. That means that while most of this building is underground, artificial lighting is minimal.
Le Mortelle also demonstrates sound environmental credentials right through the production chain, complementing the organic viticulture. As well as low energy usage, everything is designed to be carbon neutral. For example, all wineries use large amounts of fresh water. Hence this comes from the lakes and is recycled by phtyo-remediation. That’s a patented process where porous volcanic rock, plants, bacteria and algae filter the water naturally.
There are just three wines produced. The first wine released was a Bianco, Vivia, in 2008. Then came Botrosecco Rosso in 2009. The flagship red, Poggio alle Nane joined in 2012. Do they live up to the investment made?
Vivia. DOC Maremma Toscana Bianco. 12.5%
Le Mortelle Vivia
A white blend of equal parts Vermentino, Ansonica and Viognier. The Viognier adds volume and tropical notes, but doesn’t dominate the mix. It’s bone-dry, with good length and balance. The moderate alcohol features peach and citrus fruit. On the way, salty minerality provides a moreish finish. Vivia is a good description and 2017 is the new release.
Botrosecco is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc for young drinking. The grapes are destemmed, given a cold maceration and ferment with wild yeasts in stainless steel. Subsequent maturation is in second-fill barrique for 12 months. Attractive deep ruby colour. Nose has red berry fruit with hints of herbs and pencil shavings. It opens up in the glass to show some herbal and balsamic character, without any noticeable wood effects. A stylish Bordeaux blend. Think of it as a kind of “Rosso” to the “Nobile” of the flagship red below, Poggio alle Nane.
Poggio alle Nane is the wine upon which the reputation of Le Mortelle rests, the cru “Nobile” of the estate. This wine used to be a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. It then became 80% Cab Franc and 20% Cab Sauvignon; for me a significant improvement. The latest 2015 also has a little Carménère and is terrific.
It’s a deluxe package; hand-picked grapes, fermented in stainless steel with wild yeasts. It matures in predominantly new French oak barriques for 16 months, with a further ten months in bottle. A dark ruby colour, the nose is a softly wafting perfume; tobacco and herbs mixed in with red berry fruit. Still a little tannic but with concentration, elegance and energy, there are hints of juniper and an attractive balsamic and mocha edge.
My first visit to Le Mortelle was back in 2012. With several vintages now behind it, Le Mortelle has shown considerable progress. The early potential has now become a reality. In fact, the wines seem to improve with each new vintage. Buy all three Le Moretelle wines with complete confidence.
This new article updates and revises a previous article about Le Mortelle written at the time of the first releases. I’ve been tracking these wines ever since.
Part 3 took a look at wine frauds. Because of wine and food scandals, consumers distrust the system and are increasingly demanding traceability & transparency about food and wine. In wine, this ideally needs to exist all the way from grape 2 glass.
As you know, we now have lots of complicated wine standards, regulations, checks and certifications. These have evolved over many years. These are designed to protect wine producers and consumers.
For example, if I buy an Amarone, I want to know that it was made in Valpolicella. I also want to trust that it meets or exceeds DOCG quality. And I want it in perfect condition, just as the producer intended.
Research suggests that consumers are highly sensitive about trust.
Here are three facts:
First, 45% of Chinese grocery buyers say safety is now their primary concern. The Chinese wine and food market has been particularly vulnerable to fakes. Some estimate that 75% of imported wine in China is counterfeit. That market is also awash with “lookalike” wines resembling genuine brands, ready to trip up the unwary.
Second, Mintel identifies consumer distrust of regulations, manufacturers and retailers because of past scandals. Mintel says “Full disclosure” is one of the five most significant global consumer trends in 2018.
Third, a UK Government survey by DEFRA found that 74% of consumers want to see proven traceability. That expectation is not being met.
Consumer trust is a major issue in many wine markets. So let’s return to applying the Blockchain as the solution for building consumer trust.
Blockchain control, from Grape 2 Glass
Using the Blockchain from grape2glass
The Blockchain is a foundational technology. It can also integrate other new technologies that are becoming commonplace. These are needed to guarantee authenticity down the supply chain to the consumer.
These include Smart Contracts, the Internet of Things, Big Data and the Internet Cloud. Now I’m going to show how the Blockchain can guarantee wine and increase trust.
Verifying wine credentials
Verifying wine starts in the vineyard. Real-time data is collected from ground sensors, drones and weather stations. Details about the farm, the grapes and treatments can be added, as can certifications.
In the winery, sensors verify wine production; fermentation, legally allowed additives, blending, maturation and bottling/packaging. Chemical analysis and Isotopic testing could also be included. All this data creates a passport that proves wine quality, safety and origins. Now add this to the Blockchain as the “genesis transaction”. You now have a clear and unchangeable record of how and where the wine was made and what it contains. Voila, you have created a digital wine identity.
Now you have to maintain and safeguard that identity all the way to the consumer.
The wine sells by using Smart Contracts run by the Blockchain. These are automated, legally binding and self-executing deals, originally developed by the Blockchain platform called Ethereum. They auto-complete complicated paperwork too, e.g., for laborious cross-border transactions. That means transactions become frictionless and save costs. Any further ownership changes use smart contracts in the same way. Commercially sensitive information like pricing, credit information and terms can remain private to the parties involved.
Track and Trace
Standard QR codes, barcodes, RFID tags or NFC readers can then track the product through the supply chain. Their collected data adds to the Passport on the Blockchain, and now you’ve got a traceable distribution history. These trackers are cheap and already in widespread use by the logistics and storage industries.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
However, the existing trackers aren’t a perfect solution because tampering can still occur. Some current solutions are harder to break or fake than others, so they may still be appropriate. However, the Internet of Things will soon enable “smart beacons” inside the bottle. They can be under the capsule or embedded in the screwcap or cork. Any alteration would result in destruction. They can also actively monitor the wine’s condition as it moves through distribution and storage, as a quality assurance device. Patents already exist for these, so I expect them to appear in the short-term. I think the existing methods would still be suitable for lower value or bulk wines. Smart beacons would be initially aimed at more expensive bottles.
Regardless, at the consumer point of sale, consumer mobile apps can then read the tags and prove detailed provenance. Of course, this could record on the Blockchain too. In future, consumers could use Apps like Wine-Searcher or Vivino to find and remember Blockchain-guaranteed wines. All they need to do is offer “wine guaranteed” searchability.
Eventually, the IoT will even generate Big Data when the consumer opens the bottle. Home devices can already control lighting, heating, appliances and home security and their usage are growing fast. Even opening the bottle could, one day, send anonymised consumption data to the Blockchain for the retailer and the producer. We all know how valuable this Big Data is for marketing, loyalty and advertising campaigns.
The volume of data generated could be huge. Storing it all directly on the Blockchain would slow it down needlessly. Hence there are various methods under development to store associated data securely with cryptographic links to the Blockchain records.
Meanwhile, back in the real world
The Blockchain isn’t just a clever concept anymore. Over this year, real examples have appeared on Blockchains such as Hyperledger, Everledger and Ethereum.
Emerging Blockchains, from Grape 2 glass
This slide shows eight developing examples around the world. Further cases also exist that are still under the radar.
I’ve only time today to talk about one. Hence, I’ve chosen an Italian example which everyone can look at.
This is the Cantina Volpone winery, based in Apulia. They have partnered up with one of the big four professional services firms, EY; plus Blockchain startup EZlab. They also have help from the University of Padua.
Volpone uses this Blockchain to guarantee the safety, quality and origins of their wine. They started the project two years ago and in 2017 put their Falanghina Bianco on the Blockchain.
They start by capturing the vineyard and winemaking data and creating the passport. The wine bottle has a QR code. You can track and trace this from any mobile device.
But there’s much more information than that! So, as a picture paints a thousand words, here’s their QR Code.
Cantina Volpone QR Code, from Grape 2 Glass
So, real wine Blockchains are here. It’s small-scale and early days and not everything is in place yet to have perfected the wine journey from grape 2 glass. But it will come.
But what happens next?
Part 5 describes the ultimate future of Blockchain and wine, and the path towards it.
Part 4 described how Blockchain will be used in the wine industry to guarantee wine quality, safety and origins. In this final Part 5 of Unblocked, it’s time to imagine what the future of Blockchain and Wine will be.
The road ahead and Amaras Law
The road ahead
This is what the road ahead looks like right now. It’s no more than a gravel track through the vines!
So what is the future? Amara’s Law, also called the “hype cycle” says that:
“We tend to overestimate the effect of technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”.
In 2017 alone there were 285 Blockchain ICO’s (initial coin offerings) across all industries worldwide. Then add to that many new start-ups not yet at ICO level and the developments being undertaken in big companies.
Meanwhile, the value of Bitcoin hit ever higher records, suggesting the creation of a dangerous high-risk Investment Bubble.
In my opinion, that bubble will burst, and many people will get burnt fingers from “CryptoInvestments”. Consequently, there’ll also be an inevitable media backlash, disillusionment and a failure of some developments. Not everyone will succeed.
As a result, that will just be history repeating itself. Remember the dotcom boom and bust? At that point, we’ll know we are beyond the point of “peak hype”.
Blockchain technology, despite the money and hype, is still in its infancy with just a few pioneers. Blockchain applications WILL ONLY succeed where and when it has a “Killer Application”.
Hence the wine sector has that Killer App; in guaranteeing wine origins, quality and safety it reduces fraud, potentially saves money, is more efficient and inspires consumer trust. These are significant commercial advantages, whatever the size you are and whatever type of wine you make.
There are remaining technical challenges ahead too. These include how to scale-up Blockchains, how to make them interoperable, and how to develop the Internet of Things. All these components need to be in place for widespread adoption. Blockchains will also adopt architectures that do not consume vast amounts of electricity in “mining” and have much faster transaction speeds. These tech fixes will happen.
Readymade Blockchain Platforms will soon emerge as service platforms (BaSS – Blockchain as a service). I think that most wine businesses will join those, few are big enough to spend millions making their own!
Given this, I think scaled-up Blockchain platforms with proven cost-reduction and distribution capability will be here within five years. Once the building blocks are all in place, business will start to migrate to Blockchain solutions. Not just wine; think olive oil, food, and luxury goods.
By then, the road ahead won’t be a gravel track; it’ll be an Autostrada. Gradually, Blockchained wines will become the default.
Is this fanciful? Ten years ago, the first iPhone had just come out and internet e-commerce had hardly started. SatNavs were still a novelty. Can you even remember a time you didn’t Google? Where was social media? We take all of these for granted these days.
Big Names are in it to win it
Note that there are some big names as well as “start-ups”. They’re not going to sit back and watch their market dominance slip away, are they? And they have deep pockets and expertise. These include the big four professional services firms (EY, Deloitte’s, PwC, and KPMG) providing consultancy services. Then there’s the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Maersk, Nestlé, Walmart, Tencent and Alibaba. There are many more.
However, the most significant challenge to face right now isn’t technical at all.
That challenge is about demystifying the Blockchain, communicating its uses and the benefits of adoption. We need to promote understanding and bring wine consumers, wine businesses and the tech community together.
I feel privileged that this has been my job today!
The Final Word
At this time, relatively few consumers or wine businesses know what the Blockchain is, or still confuse it with Bitcoin. Even fewer people have yet realised how Blockchain can guarantee wine origins, quality and safety and so increase consumer trust. Even in the tech community.
Hence, now I hope you know a little more, and are feeling Unblocked! Sbloccato? You’re now ahead of the curve. Blockchain means that the wine revolution will not be centralised. welcome to the future.
Part 1 claimed that the Blockchain is a Trust Machine. But what is it?
The Blockchain Trust Machine components
The Blockchain has several essential elements that combine to make it a Trust Machine.
The Ledger is a critical part. It’s just a database; recording transactions, assets, locations and anything else.
The clever bit is that the Ledger sits on a Peer-to-Peer computer network. In P2P, thousands of computers connect to every other without any central control point
Consequently, the network system holds an identical synchronised copy of the Ledger on every machine. The network does not allow change to existing records and must agree on any new additions. This agreement is known as consensus.
This construction gives the Blockchain some unique properties.
Blockchain’s unique properties
Firstly, no single entity controls the Ledger, so there is no single point of failure. Advanced cryptography protects the Ledger data. The encryption uses advanced maths in a technique called hashing. It’s fiendishly tricky, but in short, it prevents alteration. Therefore, the ledger is always an unchangeable, verifiable and visible record.
Any attempted change to the existing Ledger data on one copy immediately invalidates all the other copies. Consequently, everyone else on the network would see this and reject it. You would have to control the majority of the network computers to brute-force any change. And because there is no central control, this would take enormous computing power, time and expense. The bigger the network, the more unlikely this becomes.
Meanwhile, every new piece of data needs network verification by consensus. There are different ways of achieving this. However, once agreed, it’s then permanently linked to the previous information on all Ledger copies. Now, the Ledger contains a chain of individual data blocks. It’s unbreakable, transparent and traceable.
I like to think about a brick wall, where each brick is a transaction block. If you want to alter the wall, you must remove all the brickwork above it first. Alternatively, cutting out any stonework risks the entire wall falling. Either way, the change is readily visible, no matter how good at building walls you are.
So the Ledger shows the entire history of an item and all its transactions. It doesn’t matter how many hands it passes through. Because you can verify it’s correct at any time, you can trust the machine.
How can we apply this Blockchain concept to the wine business?
From grape to glass, wine goes on a long, complicated journey involving many different players. Growers, producers, packagers, appellations, regions, countries, wholesalers, shippers, warehouses, auctioneers and retailers. Oh, and consumers in different markets too!
Millions of global wine consumers rely on the wine industry to safeguard their wine. Whether the issue is quality, safety or origins. It’s a question of trust.
Sometimes that trust is misplaced. Fraudsters have many opportunities to cheat. Fraud destroys consumer trust, and that risks everyone’s reputation. It costs the wine industry billions – in lost sales, deterrence and prevention. The consequences have even been deadly.
The quality, safety and origins of wine are always under threat. For the first time, Blockchain guarantees that the wine in your glass is genuine.
Think that wine scams don’t affect you? Part 3looks at some past wine scandals and shows how prevalent and insidious they are. Chances are, many ordinary wine-drinkers like us have been cheated. Or will be.
Unblocked: a brief history of wine fraud, Part 3Wine Frauds – a short detour
Wine Fraud exploits wine industry processes in many ways. The rewards are high, while the chances of being caught are small. Penalties such as fines and imprisonment tend to be light too. Wine fraud damages everyone. This slide lists ten major wine frauds that are all a matter of public record. These scandals are about faking wine for profit; usually by adulteration, substitution or just counterfeiting.
Some well-known wine frauds – it’s scandalous
For more details about these, see my previous article on the subject here.
Meanwhile, the discovery of fake Penfolds wines in China in late 2017 adds to an ever-lengthening list. Penfolds is one of the most successful brands in the Chinese market. Unfortunately, China is awash with fakes.
Remember that all these examples are probably just the tip of the Iceberg – how many fraudsters get away with it?
These and so many other wine scandals destroy valuable names, and damage producer, appellation and retailer reputations.
They cause industry-wide losses, close off export markets, destroy sales and jobs, make people very ill or even kill them.
Fraud costs the wine industry a fortune and rips-off consumers.
Did you think wine fraud was only about faking expensive “investment wines,” which only impacts the wealthy few? The reality is that the volume consumer market is just as vulnerable.
Consequently, as a wine-drinker, how does this make you feel? And consumers remember. In fact, an increasing amount of consumers distrust the current situation and see little progress.
So consumers increasingly expect full traceability and transparency in the food and wine they buy. That’s the subject of Part 4.
Pignoletto, Part 2: a Grechetto Gentile shopping list.
Part 1of this article explained Pignoletto and its transformation. The grape variety is now called Grechetto Gentile. Pignoletto is now a wine from a specific, legally protected location. This Part 2 is a companion piece focusing on 18 representative examples of Pignoletto DOC and DOCG wines. These include wines available in the UK. Those only available in Italy have a “guide price” in Euro. Meanwhile, * shows my favourites.
From hundreds of examples, here are 18 to try; listed by their respective categories. It’s not a definitive list, but all will give a great deal of pleasure. Most of the producers have a wide range of excellent wines, including DOC Colli Bolognesi wines, so look out for those too.
DOC Pignoletto – sparkling
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Spumante Brut NV. Made by Cantina Riunite CIV, an excellent value introduction to the style. Stone-fruit flavour, dry, a somewhat frothy mousse. Sainsbury’s £7.50.
Tesco’s Finest Spumante NV. Again from Cantine Riunite CIV. Lively fizz awarded an IWC Silver Medal. Quite the party animal if a little sweet. Tesco, £9.99
Cleto Chiarli* Vecchio Modena Spumante Brut NV. White flower aromatics, white fruits on the palate, full fizz and dry style with a good length. Refreshing and finishes cleanly. Best of the UK supermarket Pignoletti. Waitrose £9.99
DOC Pignoletto subzones – sparkling
Villa Cialdini* (Cleto Chiarli) Frizzante Brut DOC Modena 2015. 100% Grechetto Gentile. Pears and apples cut with fresh acidity. Just In Cases, £11.95.GP Brands, £11.80
Gruppo Cevico Frizzante DOC Colli d’Imola 2016. 100% Grechetto Gentile. Soft and floral aromatics, a little lime fruit, residual sugar to balances the high acidity and heading towards off-dry. Vincognito, £10.50
Sentito Extra-Dry Spumante DOC Reno 2015. Those preferring an off-dry style should try this. Well made, the balance of sugar and acidity is excellent. Buy Fine Wine, £10.98
Cavicchioli/GIV* Spumante DOC Modena NV. Full fizz, dry style. Dominated by green apples, a little herb complexity on the finish adds interest and distinction. Drinkmonger, £9.95
General guide price in Italy for DOC Pignoletto would be around €4.50. The DOC wines usually work best as an apéritif.
DOCG Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto – sparking
Orsi – shake the bottle, wake the drink
Isola* Cuvée Picri, Spumante 2016. 85% Grechetto Gentile plus 10% Chardonnay and 5% Riesling Italico. There’s a little creaminess from the Chardonnay and an extra aromatic dimension from the Riesling. Only 5,000 bottles made per year. €8 in Italy.
Tenuta Santa Croce* Nettuno, Spumante 2016. Lime flavoured bubbly! Brut Nature, no dosage. Rounded acidity. Terrific example. Lovely with Parmesan shavings or shellfish. €7.50 in Italy.
Il Monticino* Frizzante 2016. No malolactic fermentation, so a rapier acidity and Brut style. Try this as a match for the rich Cotoletta alla Bolognese. €8.50 in Italy.
Montevecchio Isolani* Frizzante 2016. Superb organic example. Fully dry. Green-tinged, gentle frizzante style, mouth-filling concentration. Limes and apples cut with leesy salinity and white pepper. A lovely wine, brilliant with Risotto. €9 in Italy.
Floriano Cinti* Frizzante, NV. 100% Grechetto Gentile. Dry, citrus, green apples, pears and good length. Creamy, finishing clean and crisp. Stone Vine & Sun, £11.95. €7 in Italy.
Orsi Vigneto San Vito* Frizzante Sui Lieviti 2015. 95% Grechetto Gentile. It’s is a “natural” biodynamic wine made in the ancestrale, (Pet’ Nat) style. There’s spontaneous fermentation of wild yeasts and a long cool fermentation to preserve the aromatics. The second fermentation is in the crown-capped clear bottle. There’s sediment, and this should be mixed and drunk cloudy. Yellow colour, aromas and flavours of limes, bruised-apple and apricot. With yeasty funkiness and baked bread, and it’s very persistent. A superb artisanal wine, frizzante bubbles give it texture. Try this with truffles or parmesan. Tutto Wines and Noble Fine Liquor £20.00. Well worth the extra money, €10-12 in Italy.
The DOCG and low yields do offer a big step up in quality for the modest extra outlay. They are also excellent food wines, particularly with cheeses, starters and pasta.
DOCG Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto Classico Superiore – still wine (Fermo)
Grechetto Gentile in the Colli Bolognesi
Fattorie Vallona* Ammestesso. Single vineyard, organic. Made without any wood yet there are hints of vanilla mixed up in bold lime fruit. Great freshness and length, creamy texture. A lustrous wine with limes on the nose and palate. Chestnut soup or porcini pasta make a good match. My favourite Fermo Pignoletto. €12 in Italy.
Tenute Santa Croce* Sit a Montuì. Single vineyard, organic, very carefully produced. Super freshness and enough complexity of fruit and minerality to get you coming back for more. Perfect with risotto. €10 in Italy.
Il Monticino* 2016. Matured on the lees with lots of stirring (battonage) to pick up additional flavours. White flower aromatics. A moreish saline edge to the apple and pear fruit. Smartly made, try it with Tortellini. €7.50 in Italy.
These still wines are delightful and show just how good Grechetto Gentile can be. Usually, they eschew wood, which lets the quality of the grape variety shine through. For me, this is Pignoletto at its very best, superb partners for Italian cuisine.
Most of the currently available UK wines are Spumante in style. Huge wineries produce large volumes using the Charmat method for supermarkets. Marketed by supermarkets, they are crowd-pleasing alternatives to Prosecco at attractive prices. Consequently, these wines have been highly successful, especially during the Christmas party season. That also means that recognition of Pignoletto in the UK is gradually increasing too.
Pignoletto and other Colli Bolognesi wines
However, that’s only the beginning of the Pignoletto story. The real glory of Pignoletto comes from the artisanal DOCG Frizzante and Fermo wines. I hope the DOCG expansion means that these exciting food-friendly wines will become more widely available here in the UK. More good UK examples of Pignoletto by Lodi Corraza, La Casetta, Bassoli and Manicardi can be found online at Tannico.
Meanwhile, get yourself to Bologna, try Pignoletto for yourself. My advice is to bring back as much as you can carry!
Unblocked: the revolution will not be centralised, Part 1
Unblocked is an edited version of my wine2wine business presentation about Blockchain and wine. This was made in Verona, called “From grape2glass – demystifying the Blockchain”. The goal was to show at a high level how Blockchain will transform the wine industry. In short, the goal was for the audience to become unblocked.
This was the first ever presentation made about Blockchain and Wine to a global business audience that included wineries, distributors, intermediaries, marketers, retailers, technologists, PR and Journalists
For easy reading, I’ve divided this piece into five instalments, starting here with Part 1.
Unblocked, from grape2glass
My goal is to explain what Blockchain technology is and how it will transform the wine business, all the way from grape to glass.
The hype and money around Blockchain mean there are billions of Euro of venture capital now invested in Blockchain developments worldwide.
The Blockchain started out in financial services but its potential uses exist in virtually every business sector. The Wine Industry is no exception. yet so far, this subject has received very little attention.
What am I going to cover?
Unblocked: demystifying the Blockchain – scope
I’m going to explain what the Blockchain is, in nontechnical terms.
I’ll explain how it will be used in wine to guarantee wine safety, wine quality and wine origins.
Hence this will also enable complete consumer trust in the product and bring benefits to everybody involved in the distribution chain.
I’ll use real examples and also try to forecast the future and show what wine blockchains could ultimately become.
In short, my task at wine2wine today is to help you become UNBLOCKED.
Demystifying the Blockchain – the Trust Machine
We’ve all heard about Bitcoin, the first of many cryptocurrencies. Well, whatever your views about the merits of Bitcoin, the underlying technology that makes it work is called the Blockchain. The two things are entirely separate and should not be confused.
Remember, just like the Internet or Mobile phones, you won’t need to know about the detailed plumbing of Blockchain to use it and benefit from it.
The Blockchain is a Trust Machine
Defining the problem
Let’s step back for a moment. If you want to buy or sell anything, then firstly, you find someone to transact with, then agree the deal. Goods and money are exchanged. The transaction requires recording, reconciling and probably reporting for tax.
It’s simple with cellar-door wine sales. We meet in person; you see my money, I taste your wine. If we both agree, the deal is done.
BUT producers need to sell to customers that are far away, that you don’t know and will probably never meet.
Have they got the money?
Is your wine as described?
Can you trust them?
Can they trust you?
As we will see, trust is always the issue for businesses and for consumers. This age-old commercial problem is called counterparty risk.
The current workaround
Commerce works around this risk by using intermediaries such as Banks and Brokers. Intermediaries act as the centralised trust point for both parties. They set rules we play by and keep records, which costs time and money. And, as we saw in the Banking Crisis, third parties aren’t infallible. Up until now, it’s the best we can do.
Then someone* combined existing digital technologies in a new unique way to create the Blockchain.
Consequently, the Blockchain is a genius mix; of advanced cryptography, Peer-to-Peer computer networks, high-speed automation and a Ledger. The Blockchain is therefore now also known as decentralised ledger technology.
In fact, it’s A TRUST MACHINE.
Consequently, it’s time to find out how it works. That’s the subject of Part 2.
*(Satoshi Nakamoto, whoever or whatever that is, in 2008. But that’s a story for another time).
The Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés 1855 gave official recognition to the best wines of the Médoc and Sauternes. 163 years later, it’s still a compelling listing, though hardly without flaws. This handsome new book about this classification claims to be the essential reference for wine aficionados.
Does it live up to this billing?
First, a little scene-setting. 1855 was the year the Daily Telegraph began and when the drug Cocaine was first purified. David Livingstone became the first European to see the Victoria Falls in Africa. Meanwhile, his Queen had already reigned over Britain for 18 of her 63 years.
In 1855, Emperor Napoleon III ruled France after seising power in a coup d’etat four years earlier. Allied with Britain, both were fighting against the Russians in the Crimea. The phylloxera blight was still in the future, as it would not reach Bordeaux until 1869. From 1875, the vineyards would lay in ruin.
The Exposition Universelle de Paris
Meanwhile, 1855 was also the year of the Exposition Universelle de Paris.
This industrial fair attempted to surpass Britain’s Great Exhibition of 1851 held at the Crystal Palace in London. Some say Napoleon III demanded a new classification of the best red and white Bordeaux wines for the exhibition.
Napoleon III’s involvement is doubtful. However, wine brokers chose 61 red and 27 white Châteaux. They used trading prices as a proxy for quality rather than rely on the subjective opinion of tasters.
The reds formed a hierarchy, from First to Fifth Growths. In other words, the five levels of Grands Crus.
Except for Château Haut-Brion from Graves, all of the reds on the list came from Médoc.
The brokers chose the sweet whites of Sauternes, on three levels. These are Superior First Growth (Chateau d’Yquem), First Growth, then Second Growth.
Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés 1855 – fascinating detail
Back to the bookThere’s a lot to like
This book is undoubtedly as sumptuous as many of the wines it portrays. Its hefty format uses heavyweight gloss paper between the hardcovers. It’s also a joy to look at, with superb photography by Guillaume de Laubier throughout. He does justice to the magnificence and splendour of the subject.
The layout of the book covers Médoc first, then Sauternes. Every Château has a pen picture by Franck Ferrand. They appear in order of their cru classé. Slightly confusingly, the handy Chateaux addresses are in alphabetical order.
Hugh Johnson has written two brilliant pieces on Médoc and Sauternes. These alone are worth the price of this book. He sums up the 1855 classification in one sentence; that “it is not the last word, but it remains the first”. It’s a subtle allusion. Apart from some minor alterations and a single revision, the Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés 1855 listing has never changed.
Indeed, every attempt made to update it has been unsuccessful, bar one. That was the promotion of Mouton Rothschild from Second Growth to First Growth in 1973. Author Franck Ferrand politely describes this as requiring “delicate diplomatic manoeuvring“.
The Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés 1855 has often courted controversy
1855 is resistant to the possibilities of revision; there is no relegation or promotion. Hence the changes in ownership, vineyards, winegrowing, and market sentiment since 1855 are not reflected by it.
Any ranking is a snapshot at the time it was made. Without updating, the 1855 list is no longer an accurate crème de la crème. While no one doubts the eminence of the First Growths, the precise composition of the lower tiers is debatable. Today, 1855 is a cultural artefact concerned with the curation of prestige.
Warning – football analogy ahead
To use a football analogy, let’s compare the English soccer first division in 1919 with the Premier League in 2018. Call this philistine or crass; the comparison is apt. In Bordeaux, as in football, the highest levels command immense wealth, prestige and power.
One distinction between them is that soccer has promotion and relegation based on performance. Only nine of 22 teams in the First Division of 1919 are in the Premier League of 2018. Eight are in the Championship (2nd tier), three are in League 1 (3rd), and one is in League 2 (4th). Pity poor Bradford PA. They currently play in the lowly National League North (6th). Meanwhile, many other teams have made it to the top in the intervening years. Some persist, while others can only dimly recall their glory days.
Back to wine
In modern times, fashion, Parker Points and en primeur investments mean 1855 doesn’t reflect all great Bordeaux or price accuracy. Elsewhere in Bordeaux, official lists do enable revisions. Unfortunately, that has left a legacy of vicious legal battles driven by status and profit. Perhaps, therefore, we should be grateful that 1855 is unchanging.
This book would be a stronger reference work for addressing the issue. The late Alexis Lichine, once the owner of Prieuré-Lichine (4th Growth), famously sought revisions and proposed alternatives. The Château entry is silent on this point.
The Médoc and Sauternes are, of course, blends. In the Médoc, it’s predominantly from Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. On occasion, a little Petit Verdot also plays a part. But this wasn’t always the case. The devastation caused by phylloxera brought the opportunity to restructure the vineyards. Then the previously commonplace Malbec and Carménère varieties all but disappeared.
This change must have fundamentally altered the wines, probably for the better. Those varieties still occasionally exist at some of the 1855 Châteaux. So it would’ve been interesting if the book showed where. For example, Carménère is at Mouton-Rothschild and Clerc Milon. Clerc Milon also has Malbec, as does Gruard Larose.
Similarly, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris remain minor components of some Sauternes, alongside the stalwarts Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Doisy-Védrines in Barsac is an example.
In short, including more viticultural details would be welcome.
Similarly, more details about winemaking would be useful too. Furthermore, showing the other wines also made at these Chateaux wouldn’t be out of place. For example, “second” wines (some of which outperform many classed growths) and dry white wines. As Hugh Johnson says, the métier of Bordeaux is about producing luxury wines. Most Châteaux offer more than one.
The book also lists and rates each harvest from 1855 to 2015. However, this does not always differentiate between red Médoc and white Sauternes. Each has a different terroir and needs significantly different optimal conditions. In any year, stellar in one might be ordinary in the other.
This book omits the revision controversy at the heart of the Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés 1855. As an essential reference, this book should include it.
The Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés 1855 is somewhat like the Magna Carta, in that it is foundational. The endurance of this historic document is a remarkable feat. This book captures this very well and offers many pleasures to the reader.
If you are a Bordeaux lover, then you’ll particularly enjoy Hugh Johnson’s excellent pieces, luxury production and stunning photography.
Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés 1855; Johnson, Ferrand et al. Flammarion. ISBN 9782080 203250. RRP £40. Amazon £26.00. A separate French version is also available.
Welcome to Emilia-Romagna, the home of Pignoletto. Not yet well known yet, it’s undoubtedly up-and-coming. It’s time to find out why.
Part 1 of this article is about Pignoletto and where the best wines are from; the Colli Bolognesi area of Emilia-Romagna.
Let’s start with Emilia-Romagna
Emilia-Romagna is a vast region comprising nine distinctive provinces brought together after Italian Unification. It stretches nearly all the way across north-central Italy. To the north, across the River Po, lies the Veneto and Lombardy. Tuscany is to the south, over the Apennine mountains. Hence half of Emilia-Romagna consists of a flat plain, one of the most extensive in Italy. Fertility makes it ideal for all forms of agriculture; this is the bread-basket of Italy. No wonder then that food production and the local cuisine is so spectacular, it offers many a gastronomic delight.
Famous mouthwatering staples include Prosciutto di Parma, Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, Parmesan cheese, Mortadella di Bologna and fresh pasta in almost infinite variety.
Map of Emilia-Romagna showing DOC Pignoletto and DOCG Pignoletto Colli Bolognesi
The cities of Piacenza, Parma, Reggio, Bologna, Faenza, and Rimini follow the Roman road called the Via Aemilia. Like pearls on a string, the distance between them is how far a Roman Legion could march in a day. Rightly, its referred to these days as Il Viaggio Nel Buon Gusto. The trip of good taste. Those visiting this region can download an excellent wine and food App here.
As an aside, the Via Aemilia is also the road of speed and design. Ferrari, Maserati, De Tomaso, Pagani, Lamborghini and Ducati are all from here.
Emilia-Romagna has also been making wine since Etruscan times. Viticulturally, this region forms a bridge between the Venetian north and the Tuscan south. It’s perhaps best known for sparkling wine like Lambrusco. Nonetheless, there are many other indigenous and international grape varieties along with different vinous traditions. These have created a patchwork of separate but often overlapping territories and wine styles.
Wine production remains enormous, with a vast range of wines of every colour, style and price. Until relatively recently, production concentrated on quantity from the flat land rather than quality from the hillsides. But that’s no longer the case.
No longer cheap and cheerful
Emilia-Romagna’s wine image is perhaps still cheap and cheerful. However, there’s now plenty of winegrowers making some of the best wines in Italy. A recent visit to the Enologica 2017 wine show in Bologna, with time also spent in the nearby Colli Bolognesi, proved that. There are outstanding examples of artisanal wines made. These range from Emilian Lambrusco to Romagnan Sangiovese and with many red, white and fizzy points in between. Of all of these, Pignoletto is undoubtedly the rising star in the Emilian sky.
Pignoletto is a white grape variety with many synonyms. Locally, it’s called Grechetto Gentile, or sometimes Alionzina or Rébola. Its origins remain obscure though they are likely ancient. Perhaps, as the name Grechetto suggests, its roots are Greek. Further south in Umbria it’s Grechetto di Todi, often included in the Orvieto blend. There’s also some in the Lazio and Marche regions too. However, Emilia grows most of it and so is the homeland.
Confusingly, this grape name sounds similar to Pignolo, Pignola, and Pignatello. It’s also sometimes mistaken for Grechetto di Orvieto. Well, Pignoletto isn’t related to any of those. In past times, any grape bunch that was compact and pine-cone in shape was called Pigna.
This grape has a thick tannic skin and high acidity, which makes it highly versatile. At high yields on flat land, it is primarily crisp and neutral, even tart. However, farmed at lower yields on the best hill sites it becomes a delicious experience. Aromas and flavours of white flowers, limes, green apples, pears and aniseed come wrapped with texture, complexity and persistence. Naturally, it makes the perfect foil for much of Emilia-Romagna’s superb cuisine. In short, it has all the potential to make excellent wines in various styles and is food-friendly too.
Now the potential of Pignoletto is being realised at long last. In the recent past, Pignoletto the grape made Pignaletto the white wine. But even that’s changed.
Now Pignoletto is a region, no longer a grape variety
In 2014, Pignoletto the grape became Pignoletto the place instead.
Producers saw the need to protect the name Pignoletto and also create a more specific identity for the wines. Something that can’t be copied by growers anywhere else.
For example, any wine labelled Champagne must come from the appellation in France, and any other use is illegal. More recently, Prosecco has become enormously popular. Hence, the Prosecco name has become used by producers as far-flung as Australia, so compromising its Veneto origins. In response, the grape variety used for Prosecco is now called Glera and Prosecco is now a protected place name. Producers outside Prosecco shouldn’t use it, at least if they want to sell the wine in the European Union. However, it’s happened a bit late, that genie is already out of the bottle.
To avoid a similar fate with Pignoletto, in 2014 the DOC and DOCG rules were revised significantly. They legally established Pignoletto geographically. Consequently, the grape variety called Pignoletto is now officially known by its synonym, Grechetto Gentile. The wine made with it in this place is Pignoletto. Now there’s a place called Pignoletto in the Colli Bolognesi, complete with road signs!
The revised DOC Pignoletto stretches across the broad plain of the river Po. It extends into the foothills of the snow-capped Apennines. About 3,000 hectares produces some 10 million bottles per year. Compared to Prosecco, that’s a drop in the ocean. It also includes three sub-zones; DOC Modena, DOC Colli di Imola and DOC Reno.
There are only minute quantities of still (Fermo) and sweet wines made. Instead, 99% of all production is sparkling, usually Brut and created by the Charmat method. It comes either semi-sparkling as frizzante or as a full spumante. The usual European rules apply; frizzante is softer and semi-sparkling at 1 to 2.5 Bar pressure. Spumante is full fizz, from 3 to 6.5 Bar. Some are 100% Grechetto Gentile; others include up to 15% of other varieties, including Pinot Nero vinified white.
Meanwhile, 90% of all the DOC production comes from just four mega-sized wineries. High yields (100 to 170 hl/ha) produce neutral base wines of high acidity. That’s not great for still wine, but it’s an ideal base for fizz. Much of this wine is drunk locally, quaffed in the bars of Bologna and Modena. However, UK supermarkets have been quick to offer it as a good value alternative to the ubiquitous Prosecco.
However, the real excitement surrounding this grape lies within the DOCG Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto. The DOCG covers a small exclusive enclave found on the rolling hills to the south-west of Bologna. The hillsides and valleys here have many different aspects, microclimates and soils. Altitudes range from 150 to 600 metres. All these factors allow for the expression of individuality and terroir.
This DOCG is small, some 640 hectares, with production entirely in the hands of 40 artisanal wineries, mostly family owned. Some are tiny, making as little as 10,000 bottles per year, while the biggest is around 180,000 bottles per year. Natural winegrowing practices are also catching on. In fact, the DOCG intends to become completely organic.
It also has far stricter regulations than the companion DOC. For example, yields are half of those in the DOC, typically 50 to 70 hl/ha for fizz. Also, all the wine bottling must be within its boundaries.
Current production is only about 1 million bottles per year. However, such is the quality and increasing demand that over the next three years the DOCG will expand by 40%. This new area, an additional 400 hectares, includes some new vineyards. However, growth will mostly come from replacing other grape varieties in existing vineyards with Grechetto Gentile.
A more extensive range of styles in DOCG
75% of DOCG production is frizzante and spumante, and there is finer Método Classico as well as Charmat. Most fizz is Brut in style, but there are non-dosage and off-dry examples as well. Again, it can include other varieties up to 15%.
However, 25% of DOCG Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto production is Fermo, i.e. a dry still white wine. The Classico Superiore category covers the traditional heartland for this style. It has even lower yields (typically 25-40 hl/ha), higher density planting and must mature until the October following the harvest. These wines must also have a minimum 95% Pignoletto content. The other 5% is to accommodate the oldest vineyards here. Those sometimes have a small proportion of different grape varieties intermingled with Grechetto Gentile. All this extra attention and the terroir combine to produce Pignoletto at its most glorious.
At present, the still wines are harder to find in the UK given the small production. However, they’re easy enough to buy directly from the producer or in Bologna. As producers expand this category and increasingly look to international markets, we’ll see more of them in future. The still wine will become the flagship of Pignoletto.
Don’t forget the Colli Bolognesi DOC.
The Colli Bolognesi doesn’t just grow Grechetto Gentile and make Pignoletto. As well as DOC and DOCG Pignoletto, the area also has the overlapping Colli Bolognesi DOC. This designation allows a long list of other red, white and sparkling wines.
These include blended and varietal Rosso’s. Made with Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, they include Riserva wines with three years maturation. Meanwhile, Bianco contains blends and varietal wines from Chardonnay, Riesling Italico, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon Blanc. Other sparkling wines beside Pignoletto come from Barbera, Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco.
All these wines can be excellent, great value and are of course terrific with Bolognesi cuisine. For me, the red Barbera Riserva is particularly notable. However, the DOC Colli Bolognesi needs a separate article of its own to do it justice.
The future of Pignoletto looks to be bright indeed and its growing fast. I’m indebted to the members of the Consorzio Vini Colli Bolognesi and the Consorzio Pignoletto Emilia-Romagna. A special mention goes out to Dottore Francesco Cavazza Isolani, who is President of both organisations.
Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to returning and learning more, especially at Enologica 2018! Pignoletto is also on tour in Europe during 2018, including London, Düsseldorf and Monaco, so try the wines if you can.
In Part 2, the focus will be on Pignoletto producers and wine examples to try, with food matching suggestions.