- Southern French wine farmers are in revolt again, but looking more and more exposed. California's one-off need for French bulk varietals, while replanting after the phylloxera pest's predations on its own vineyards, disguised fundamental imbalances in the Languedoc wine market. There is still a dire global surplus of ordinary wine, much of it produced in southern France, most of it distilled into industrial alcohol.
At the London Wine and Spirit Education Trust's annual Peter Allan Sichel Memorial Lecture last month, French wine producer Michel Laroche made some telling observations about his colleagues' mentalities.
When he dared to suggest at a meeting in the Languedoc that France would one day start to import wines from the New World and that these might represent anything up to 10 per cent of total wine consumption in France in the next decade, the director of one of the big wine cooperatives stood up, 'red with anger, and shouted that I was completely wrong and that the French would never drink New World wines'.
Laroche, who has expanded from his base in Chablis with a range of Languedoc varietals – look out for the Viognier that will be retailing in the UK at £4.99 when it is distributed over the next few months – also makes the point that 'it's impossible to work 35 hours a week, have five weeks of holiday and still be cost effective'. He argues that France has the highest wine production costs after Switzerland.
For the full text of this speech see Mayhem in the Midi.
- Extraordinary wines are emerging from the more obscure corners of Spain (a nightmare for someone trying to map the contemporary Spanish winescape). The most obvious young turk among Spanish winemakers is Alvaro Palacios, whose cult Grenache-based L'Ermita put the Catalan wine region of Priorat on the map.
He has long had his eye on Bierzo, a long-forgotten region of exceptionally steep slopes, such as the Ermita vineyard, in north-west Spain. With his Bordeaux-trained nephew Ricardo, he has coaxed some old vineyards into life for their joint label, named Descendientes de J Palacios after their grandfather.
The two wines from their first vintage 1999 are, like their prices, remarkable. Corullon is the more expensive version but the straight Bierzo is breathtakingly ambitious for a first attempt, still relatively tannic and in the vaguely red bordeaux taste spectrum. This is in line with the theory that Bierzo's red grape speciality Mencia is related to Cabernet Franc.
Others hold that genuine Bierzo Mencia is in fact the Jaen grape of Portugal. Corney & Barrow of London, EC1 (tel 020 7539 3200) lists the Bierzo 1999 at £150.40 per the most unusual case of 10 and Corullon 1999 at £332.55. Some going for a virtually unknown region.
Meanwhile, back at base in Rioja Baja, Alvaro Palacios has been adding a bit of gloss to the old family wine business Palacios Remondo. My favourite of current offerings is La Montesa 1998 Crianza, a much gentler and fruitier blend than the more expensive, long-term, French-oaked Propriedad 1999.
Morris & Verdin of London SE1 (tel 020 7921 5300) is offering La Montesa 1998 at £8.40 a bottle.
The Bierzo and Priorat wines are imported into the US by Vieux Vins of Sonoma, California (tel +1 203 484 0476) and the Riojas of Palacios Remondo by De Maison Selection of Fordham Square 1289, N Fordham Boulevard, Suite E-1, NC 27514 USA (tel +1 919 933 4245, fax +1 919 932 6107, contact: Andre Tamers).
- Afloat in Australian Chardonnay, we tend to forget how much better its Semillon ages. The ageing ability of traditionally made Hunter Valley Semillon, in the south-east, is well known, as witness the late-released Lindemans classics of old and McWilliams' and Brokenwood's best bottlings.
Less well known is that Semillon grown elsewhere in Australia can benefit from five to 10 or more years in bottle – and, being hype-free, it is not overpriced. It was a sumptuously burgundian Moss Wood Semillon 1986, tasted only a few weeks ago, that opened my eyes to how well a Semillon grown in Margaret River, Western Australia, can be after a decade and a half in bottle.
Laytons of London, N1 (tel 020 7288 8888) import Moss Wood into the UK and offer the 1999 at £10.95, while C Daniele & Co (tel +1 800 445 0464) distribute Moss Wood Semillon in New York.
Knappstein Lenswood (the Adelaide Hills operation run by Tim Knappstein himself, rather than the Lion Nathan-owned Knappstein Wines of Clare Valley) made a fine Semillon 1999, which currently tastes like a top-quality white Bergerac on steroids. It has such a strong streak of green acidity running through it, however, that I would bet on its ageing ability, too. Berkmann of London N7 (tel 020 7609 4711) are the UK importers.
Other promising young Semillons from smaller, newer, more obscure Australian wineries include an ambitious 2001 from O'Leary Walker of Watervale near Clare (www.olearywalkerwines.com) and a lively, lime-flavoured 2000 from Grove Estate in New South Wales's cool Hilltops region (www.groveestate.com.au).
And for those who specifically seek the burnt toast and lime marmalade elements of a fully mature Hunter Valley Semillon, here are two more possibilities: the exceptionally crisp Cockfighter's Ghost Hunter Valley 2000 (www.poolesrock.com.au) and the delightfully dry 2000 from a new pairing of growers called Hunter Valley Elements, who can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
19 Feb 2002