Wednesday 16 June 2010


MAKING a good wine is one thing, selling it quite another.
Marketing might be a dirty word to winemakers but without it the results of their labour may stay on the shop shelf gathering dust.
Today much time and money is spent on presentation. And in the case of a very cheap wine the cost of the marketing, label and packaging can amount to more than the value of what is in the bottle.
Savvy wine buyers can tell quite a lot about the wine they are buying by examining the packaging. Wine labels can give up a lot of information. The two important tips are:
Alcohol level: By law, the alcohol content of your wine must be clearly visible on the label. It can tell you how ripe (and sweet) the grapes were. A very low alcohol wine (under 11 per cent) suggests that not all the sugar turned to alcohol during fermentation and the wine will taste a tad sweeter.
A low alcohol wine (11 to 13 per cent) will invariably be light bodied, a little more subtle and with more acidity and tanginess. Higher alcohol wines will be full of flavour, full-bodied - and strong.
Look of the label: Traditional - or old-fashioned - labels more than hint at old style winemaking techniques. It suggests a wine that has been made following a successful formula down the years.
Many new or modern-style label designs are only chosen after months of marketing research and are aimed at attracting a specific group - a young or female market for instance. 
A cartoon-based label may well attract a younger audience, introducing them to a fruit-driven, easy drinking wine in the bottle. Something a little more stylish with a vibrant colour scheme might attract a more female market and wines that are off-dry, fruity and low in alcohol.
Don’t forget to email with your wine queries to
Quinta Da Lixa Vinho Verde 2009
Minho, Portugal
€9.99 from good independents
Light, refreshing and low in alcohol, Vinho Verde is Portugal’s answer to Spain’s Cava. This fine example has the Trajadura grape giving it body and length and Loureiro its aromas of apple and grapefruit. Lively with nice minerality and a little sparkle.
Pouilly Fume 2008 Classic Collection
Loire, France
€12 from Superquinn
A nice golden yellow colour with distinctive smoky, gunflinty mineral notes on the nose and peach and mango flavours on the palate of this 100 per cent Loire Sauvignon Blanc. Great with grilled white flat fish or goat’s cheese. Excellent value. 


WHAT have Mexico, Algeria, Serbia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Japan and Paraguay got in common? 
Answer: All  have reached the World Cup finals, which begin in South Africa on Friday next - and all produce wine. 
Indeed, of the 32 finalists, only seven don’t have vineyards and winemaking facilities.
Algeria is one of the oldest winemaking nations, tracing their vinous heritage back to the Phoenicians.
The Mexicans have made wine since the 17th century, the Japanese can trace limited wine production back to 700 A.D., while Denmark and the Netherlands have burgeoning wine industries, as does England.
But it’s the traditional Old and New World wine nations, the ones that  dominate the shelves of our favourite wine shops - that look set to do the same in South Africa this summer.
The finals give wine lovers the opportunity to introduce themselves to grape varieties they have not tried. I will be spicing up my enjoyment of the tournament from the couch with some new varietals and bottles.
By the time the last 16 in the competition has been finalised I will have said goodbye to wine-producing nations like Greece, South Africa, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand.
So that bottle of Teliani Valley, Tsinandali white 2008 from Greece, a Pinotage (South Africa),  a Californian Zinfandel and a fresh Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand will have been polished off.
My quarter-final line-up gives me with the opportunity to open a Nyetimber 2005 Classic Cuvee, England’s most coveted sparkler from west Sussex, a dry German Riesling and a rich, full-bodied  Italian Amarone - as I say goodbye to these nations.
Surprise package in the last four - Uruguay - allows me to open a bottle of Tannat, the red grape from southwest France that has found a new home in south America.
My wine recommendations today represent my two finalists. May the best team win.
Catena Malbec 2006
Medoza, Argentina
€18 from good independents
One of Argentina’s great Malbecs. Dark violet in the glass, the nose has concentrated dark fruit aromas with and floral and vanilla notes. Nice soft fruit - cherry and blackberry - palate with spice, supple tannins and flinty finish. Drink with a nice, big steak
Marques de Murrieta Reserva 2005
Rioja, Spain
Around €20 in good independents
Classic Rioja with Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo grapes with characteristic strawberry and oak hints on the nose. Big, ripe red soft fruit flavours with a great balance of acidity, nice roundness and well integrated tannins. Roasts and hard cheese are the perfect match.


TOUCHING on the subject of en primeur a couple of weeks ago, I never thought I would be returning to the subject again so soon but there has been tremendous interest from our readers. 
En primeur is the process of buying wines before they are bottled and released onto the market. In a good year - and 2009, particularly in Bordeaux, has been been described as nothing less than outstanding - you can make anything up to 40 per cent savings.
All the talk right now is about the classed growths, your Château Latours, Lafite, Mouton Rothschild and Margaux. But top châteaux only account for around 3 per cent of the wines produced in the region. 
And if conditions were perfect for making fines wines at these superstar houses, then it had to be the same at many of the lesser known vineyards.
But remember en-primeur prices are based on the tastings and judgements of a team of experts - who have been wrong in the past - and that the value of the wine might only show a small appreciation over the coming years - or none at all.
If you want to take a punt on the 2009 vintage then seek out a reliable broker or importer, like Stuart Smith at FromVineyardsDirect (01 845 6745) or check out their website where a selection of solid wines from reliable châteaux are on offer right now at excellent prices.
Château Maume 2009, a predominantly Merlot based wine, is offered at €72 a case. With taxes, duty, and delivery charges paid,  the wine will be delivered to your door in late 2011 or early 2012 at around €8.60 a bottle.
I tasted the supple Château Maume 2004 recently and it was still drinking well. My notes record that it cost €12.65 when it was bought at a Dublin wine shop in 2007. So you can see the savings that can be made.
Grand D’Arte Touriga Nacional 2008
Estremadura, Portugal
€12.99 and available in good independents
Touriga is Portugal’s greatest red grape. This excellent example comes from a region influenced by the Atlantic, making for a wine that retains that characteristic violet nose with a wonderful soft texture, well integrated tannins and excellent length.
Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2007
South Australia
€12.89 (€11.35 on promotion) widely available
Believe me, Jacob’s Creek make excellent wines - and the quality just gets better, particularly in the reserve range. Peach and citrus aromas with generous hints of oak, white peach and citrus flavours on the palate which is soft and has nice length.

Cork? Screwcap? What about Bag In The Box?

Here is a very interesting piece by U.S. wine economist Mike Veseth

Wine’s Future: It’s in the Bag (in the Box)

October 4, 2009
One of my favorite globalization books is The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson. It is the story of how the invention of the standard shipping container (those 20-foot steel boxes you see on ships, rail cars and truck beds) made international trade much cheaper, more efficient and more secure. Now it looks like another kind of box is about to shake up the wine world.
Cheap and Nasty
I’m talking about box wines or bag-in-box (BIB) wines (the Australians call them cask wines) that feature an airtight wine-filled plastic bladder inside a cardboard box. You use a built-in spigot to get to the wine. They can be found on the bottom shelf of the wine wall and behind the bar and out of sight at your local restaurant. They come in several sizes — 3 liter and 5 liter containers are the most common.
Box wines have a bad reputation. They first appeared in the 1970s and were filled with generic bulk wines.  They were one step down from the popular 1.5 liter “magnum” bottles of  “Burgundy,” “Chabils” and the notorious “Rhine” wine. Box wine was cheap, nasty stuff that acquired a frequently deserved bad reputation.
[Re]-Thinking Inside the Box
It’s time to reconsider box wine. Screw caps had a bad reputation, too, until quite recently. We associated them with low grade swill until fine wines appeared under screw cap (the New Zealand producers were in the vanguard) and we began to appreciate that that screw caps have many advantages. Now screw caps are actually associated with quality for some types of wine, especially youthful whites, and no one expects to pay less or get less because of the screw-top closure.
The technology of box wine is very solid. The airtight bladder is a neutral container that is well suited to holding wine for relatively short periods of time. (Don’t cellar box wine — consume within a year of production — check out the “drink by” date on the box.) The bladder and spigot do in fact protect the wine from oxygen in the short run, so it will last longer once opened (especially if the box is stored in the fridge) than similar leftover wine in bottles.
Bladders are so good at the particular thing that they do that they have become an industry standard technology for bulk  imported wines, which are shipped in huge bladders inside steel shipping containers(big bag in big box) and then bottled in the import market. So you may already be drinking box wine and not know it.
The Box Also Rises
The most recent Nielsen retail wine sales figures (reported in the October 2009 issues of Wine Business Monthly) suggest that box wine sales are growing. Wine sold in 3, 4 and 5 liter containers (most of it is box wine, I think) accounts for just under 10 percent of US supermarket wine sales, according to the Nielsen data (compared to 65% for standard bottles with the remainder in 1.5 liter and other formats). Sales are rising in this category, with 3 liter packages up 8.7% in the last year on a dollar basis, for example, and 5 liter packages are up 9.3% by value.
The total market for box wines rises if we include on-premises sales. Recent data (see previous posts) indicate that box wines (served to customers in carafes and by the glass) are strong sellers in casual dining establishments.
The rise of box wine is part of the trading down effect, clearly, since most box wines fall into the two price categories that are experiencing the highest growth. Sales of wines that are less than $3 per 750ml bottle equivalent have risen 7.1 percent according to Nielsen and by 10% for wines between $3 and  $5.99. Supermarket sales of $20+ wines, on the other hand, have fallen by 3.4%.
Nasty, Brutish and Short?
Does this mean that Americans have traded down all the way to the bottom, back to the nasty box wines of the 1970s? The answer, incredibly, is no. Or at least not necessarily, according to the October 15 issue of Wine Spectator.  You can’t miss this issue on the newsstand — it features a cover story on “500 Values for $20 or Less” and includes a set of box wine reviews that make interesting reading.
Wine Spectator purchased 39 box wines in packages that ranged from 1 liter to 5 liters. Twenty seven wines were rated as “good” (a score of 80-84) and ten “very good” (85-89). The names of the 2 wines that scored below 80 were not reported.

The top box wine, going by the rating numbers, is a white: Wine Cube California Chardonnay, which sells in Target Stores for $17 per 3 liter box, which is $4.25 per standard bottle equivalent. It earned a very respectable 88 points. Wine Cube is a partnership between Target and Trinchero, the maker of a wide range of wines including Sutter Home.
The best red wine (at 87 points) is the Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2006, which costs $20 for 3 liters or $5 per standard bottle equivalent. Black Box is a widely distributed Constellation Brands product.
Good and Cheap?
Some box wine, apparently, is both pretty good and pretty cheap. Perhaps just to show that they really do rate wines blind, Wine Spectator gave a pretty good 84-point score to a non-vintage Carlo Rossi Cabernet Sauvignon California “Reserve” wine. Five liters for $13, in case you are interested,  That’s $1.97 per standard bottle equivalent.
How can decent wine be this cheap? One answer, of course, is that you can choose to make the wine itself less expensive by economizing in the cellar in many ways (less oak or none at all for red wines, for example). But to a considerable degree the box itself is responsible for the savings.
The bag in box container costs less than $1, according to the Wine Spectator article, which automatically saves $4 to $8 compared with a similar quantity of wine in standard glass bottles and the box they come in. Shipping costs are also less since the boxes weigh much less than glass bottles for the same quantity of wine and are less likely to be damaged in transit.  There are environmental benefits too, especially in areas where glass bottle recycling is problematic because the sour economy has undermined the market for recycled glass.
Is box wine the future of wine? No. The wine market is too complex to be dominated by any single trend. But with better wine in better boxes (and with consumers embracing a more relaxed idea of wine) box wine deserves to play a bigger role in the future of wine. Another triumph for The Box!