Fine wine news roundup: 23-29 January
Bordeaux négoce push forward on this year’s campaign
The Bordeaux Négoce Committee (BNC) has issued a statement urging the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGC) to stick to the traditional May-June timing of releases, noting that it’s “ready” for this year’s campaign.
Philippe Tapie, president of the BNC for classified growths, said: “With my colleagues, we all agree that a campaign is necessary and should take place, as usual, during both the months of May and June, to be completed at the latest beginning of July.”
The statement follows news from the UGC that this year’s En Primeur tastings are due to go ahead in April instead of the usual March, perhaps causing the committee concerns that the campaign itself might be delayed.
In the statement, the BNC noted that last year’s 2019 campaign was “extremely instructive” and its members had “all learned from its successes and failures”. It also added that while the timing of Primeur releases was critical, “price level is the decisive criteria”, referring to the decision of many chateaux last year to reduce their prices against the high sums asked for of the 2018s.
“We commend the decision taken by the majority of wine estates to adjust prices last year, emphasising that these were indeed market prices and not ‘COVID prices’,” the statement concluded.
Six new grape varieties given official approval in Bordeaux
The Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO) has officially approved the use of six new grape varieties in Bordeaux.
First proposed in 2019, the varieties include four reds – Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan and Touriga Nacional – and two whites – Alvarinho and Liliorila.
Plantings have been authorised for this year, and are limited to just 5% of an estate’s total surface area and no more than 10% of the blend in either red or white.
The use of the new varieties was proposed by Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur AOCs as a means of managing the increasing challenges of climate change. Scientists explored 52 potential varieties before settling on the final six due to their late-ripening properties and ability to handle water stress.
South African winegrowers face picking dilemma
After years of devastating drought, winemakers in South Africa should be celebrating what has been a rather uneventful growing season and, subsequently, a potentially quality vintage.
However, following president Cyril Ramaphosa’s third domestic ban on alcohol sales – announced back in December – the industry is now sitting on more than 640 million litres of wine in stock, representing 65% of a normal harvest.
As Wine-Searcher reports, it is extremely unlikely that the global marketplace could absorb South Africa’s unsold wine, so producers are now faced with a dilemma: dispose of existing inventories or abandon this year’s harvest. This quandary is compounded by uncertainty around the duration of the ban.
"The problem is that the last two prohibitions were continually extended, so there is no real end," sommelier Erica Taylor told the website. "We have no idea how long it will last." An initial timeframe suggested the ban would be lifted in January, although this has now been delayed until mid-February.
But the industry is fighting back. According to Mike Ratcliffe, managing partner at Vilafonte winery in Stellenbosch, papers have been served to the president seeking compensation for their losses.
"Failing a satisfactory response, we will approach the Pretoria High Court for urgent relief," says Ratcliffe. "The good news is that as a result of an earlier case, we remain on the court roll, which will mean a quick response."
He added that despite the ongoing challenges around the ban, the region’s fine wine market continues to perform well online, which has had a positive impact on margins. “The super-premium segment showed growth of 37 % in volume, which is a remarkable result, and reinforced the massive growth at the top end of the South African wine industry,” he said.
Tannins in wine could help inhibit COVID-19
New research from Taiwan suggests that the tannins commonly found in wine could help fight COVID-19 by inhibiting two of the key enzymes in the virus.
Mien-Chie Hung, president of China Medical University in Taiwan, led the research on the anti-coronavirus treatment. He explained that tannic acid is a water-soluble polyphenol, and polyphenol compounds have antioxidants and free radical scavengers, which have anti-inflammatory effects.
The findings mirror similar results seen during the SARS pandemic in 2003, when scientists discovered that tannic acid could be used to aid the prevention of infection and control the growth of the virus.
However, it’s still early days for the research in terms of the more recent coronavirus, and there’s no evidence to suggest that consuming tannins – readily found in fruits and vegetables as well as wine – gives any kind of direct protection from the virus.
However, Hung did say that a diet rich in tannins could help boost one’s overall immunity, and that with further research tannins could be developed as a drug for pharmaceutical treatment in the future.