Noval Black

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Black chilled_bdV2

We were on the road in Paris with Noval Black a few days ago and filmed these two videos of two star Parisian barmen mixing their perfect cocktail featuring Noval Black as an ingredient.

Video n° 1 stars Joseph of the cocktail bar at the Forum in Paris:

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I think he called the cocktail “Le Douro Hollandais” in honour of the newly elected president of France.

Video n°2 stars Jeremy at Le Bar, Shangri-La hotel, Paris:

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Both of them were delicious but I think require fairly specialist skills in preparation, but they do show that it is possible to have fun with Port in this way, and that’s the main point.

Noval Black was launched in January 2010, with the specific aim of bringing Port to people who might not otherwise have tried it, although I have had some good comments from regular Noval drinkers as well. I had thought for a long time – and still do – that the image Port can sometimes have, linked to traditional images of old fashioned gents passing the Port in their clubs, has very little to do with the exciting vibrant wine that Port can be. The whole idea of the Noval Black project was to bring a Port to the market that would bridge that gap. It has been quite a success.

You can check out the website on this address:  www.novalblack.com

Apart from the film which is a lot of fun, there is a full explanation of what Noval Black is all about, as well as some more cocktail recipes, specially devised for Noval Black by the great Jim Mehan of the New York PDT Bar. But don’t forget that it is also extremely delicious on its own. Enjoy!

QR Code Château Suduiraut

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The new mobile site of Chateau Suduiraut has a lot of unmissable information.

There are some great moments we would like to share with you in the vineyard and in the cellars. Enter the world of this great wine of Sauternes with our QR Code.

The QR code is on the back of the bottles of all Château Suduiraut’s wines from 2010 vintage onwards.

QRCode Chateau Suduiraut
QRCode Chateau Suduiraut
Chateau Suduiraut IPhone
Château Suduiraut's mobile website

Some Thoughts about Douro Red Wines

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It is now nearly nineteen years that I have been responsible for looking after Quinta do Noval, and eight years since with a group of private investors we acquired Quinta da Romaneira. Although I am based here at Château Pichon-Longueville Baron in Bordeaux, I lost my heart to the Douro a long time ago, and return there whenever I can. The Douro Valley is one of the world’s great vineyard regions that has found a sublime expression in great Vintage Ports and old Tawny Ports, and I think it would be hard to find any one who loves these wines more than I do.

However, a love of Port does not mean that one cannot also find the development of the new Douro red wines over the past few years very exciting. One of the remarkable things is how recent the phenomenon is, and the extent of the progress that has been made in such a short time. We launched our first red wines at Quinta do Noval, and also at Quinta da Romaneira, only in 2004. We are currently selling the 2008s and just beginning with the 09s. The pattern is similar for many of the new Douro wine producers, with one or two having started a little earlier, one or two a little later, but generally it is all very recent, and yet these wines are already beginning to be noticed and to establish themselves as serious wines meriting the attention of wine lovers all over the world.

When we started our red wine project, we posed ourselves a number of questions, the answers to which have been evolving with time. The first concerned the grape varieties to be used. Of the many authorised red grape varieties in the Douro, the Tinta Roriz, generally considered to be the same as the Spanish Tempranillo (though we have our doubts about how similar it in fact is) had already proved itself a little further upstream on the Spanish side of the border in Ribeira del Duero, and most of our first experiments were with this variety. However we were never totally convinced by the results we obtained from Roriz on its own. This is perhaps either a result of the conditions in the Douro being very different to those in Ribeira del Duero, or because the Tinta Roriz is not exactly the same thing as Tempranillo, or maybe both.

Tinta Roriz. Douro
Tinta Roriz. Douro

Although we do use some Roriz, particularly in the Cedro blend for Noval, and also in the Sino blend for Romaneira, we have concentrated more on the Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca grapes, and to a lesser extent Tinto Cao. Also, perhaps controversially, we have planted some Syrah, and we use this both in blends with Portuguese grape varieties (for the Cedro of Noval), and also to make very small volumes of single varietal wines, both at Quinta do Noval and at Romaneira.

Here are all the grapes concerned.
Here are all the grapes concerned.

Among the many questions to which we are slowly evolving answers are the following:

Is it more interesting to make single varietal wines in the Douro, whether from Douro varieties or from others, or are blends the way forward?

Among the Douro varieties, which ones might be suitable for single varietals if one decides to pursue that route?

Given the richness and diversity of the Portuguese grape varieties, why bother to plant a French varietal such as Syrah? Do such varietes have any place at all in the future of Douro wines?

What vinification methods should we use? Do we tread the grapes in lagares, as for Port, or do we vinify in vat? What sort of extraction methods are appropriate? What sort of policy should we adopt regarding oak?

What should be our aim in producing Douro Red wines? Are we making fruit driven early drinking wines on what might a while ago have been called the “New World Model”, or are we in the old world trying to make terroir based wines that may require ageing to reveal their full personality?

Having posed these questions here, I will try to give some answers which will indicate the direction in which we at least are going. This is obviously an individual view, based on our experiences at Noval and Romaneira, and also inevitably on personal preferences. There is a lot of exciting experimentation going on in the Douro, and you will find many different answers to these questions. Part of the fun is that different people with radically different ideas will give you different answers, but may be making very exciting wines with entirely different philosophies. There is a lot of individuality and character in the Douro: in the terroirs, in the varieties, in the people, and this shows in the wines.

To return to our questions.

1) Is it more interesting to make single varietal wines in the Douro, whether from Douro varieties or from others, or are blends the way forward?

2)Among the Douro varieties, which ones might be suitable for single varietals if one decides to pursue that route?

Regarding single varietals or blends, my clear answer is that we like both, and so we make both. So far we have only made Touriga Nacional as a single Douro varietal, at Noval and at Romaneira, but I am sure there will be others in the future. What I particularly like about Touriga Nacional as a single varietal for red wine is its wonderful delicate floral aromatic quality. At its best, and with a few years of bottle age, Touriga Nacional will develop a delicious aroma redolent of wild Douro roses. We discovered this almost by accident at Noval when we made a small experimental volume of Touriga Nacional in 2004 and set it aside to age in bottle. It was only a couple of years later when we opened it that we realised this: it had been pretty closed up at the beginning when we bottled it: time was required to reveal its potential. It is still getting better, although alas we only have a few bottles left of that first wine. We do not yet know what will really be the ageing potential of these wines: our experience is too short.

But there is also a lot to be said in favour of blends. We particularly like a blend of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca. Touriga Franca has the characteristic of rarely reaching more than 12.5 degrees potential alcohol, which makes it an excellent element in a blend in the Douro, where high sugar levels in the grapes and this high potential alcohol levels (see previous blog on this subject) need careful management. For our top blended wines at both Noval and Romaneira in recent years, we have gravitated to a blend of mostly Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa, the Francesa element adding freshness and balance, and very often we round out the blend with a small element of Tinto Cao, an eccentric grape variety, very late ripening, and not much planted, but capable of producing very high quality, and which for some reason seems to add something to the Touriga blends.

3) Given the richness and diversity of the Portuguese grape varieties, why bother to plant a French varietal such as Syrah? Do such varietes have any place at all in the future of Douro wines?

This is a tough one. Quite a few people have posed me this kind of question, assuming that because of my love for the Douro and its wines I would buy into the argument that with all the different grape varieties already existing in the Douro, there is really no point in trying other grape varieties in the region. Of course I understand this point of view, and the majority of the wines we make at Noval and at Romaneira are made from 100% Douro varieties such as Tourigas Nacional and Franca; Tinto Cao; Tinta Roriz. However, I think it is perfectly valid to experiment with other grape varieties as well: if the result is a success, then of course we continue. And if it isn’t, we stop. Two varieties that illustrate this approach are Syrah and Cabernet, which we first planted in 2000. Both thrive in the Douro, but in different ways. The results we have had with Cabernet are perfectly decent wines, but dominated more by the varietal character of Cabernet than by the terroir of the Douro. In fact the wines we have made so far from Cabernet in the Douro are more like hot country New World varietal wines than anything else. Since this is exactly what we do not want to do, we are discontinuing Cabernet in the Douro and have grafted the vines, usually with Touriga Franca. The Syrah on the other hand seems to adapt perfectly to being in the Douro, and the resulting wines are an expression of the Douro terroir through the Syrah grape. For this reason we are very happy with the results of this experiment and intend to continue. The only drawback is that since Syrah is not yet an authorised Douro variety, any wine that contains Syrah, such as Noval’s Cedro (around 30%) Noval’s Labrador (100%) or Quinta da Romaneira Syrah (100%), has to be labeled as “Vinho Regional Duriense” rather than DOC Douro. I think this is a bit of a shame, as these wines are entirely Douro in personality, but customers do not seem to mind one way or the other. As is so often the case, the intricacies of local regulations are very interesting to introspective producers or regulators, but not very relevant to the people who really matter, who are the ones who buy and drink the wines.

Other varietals we have tried in very small experimental plantings include Petit Verdot, which gave a very encouraging first result last year at Romaneira, and I think will merit a single varietal bottling, and Mourvedre, which does not seem so far to like the Douro as much as we though it would.

So my answer to the question is that I think it is worthwhile to make such experiments, always with the aim of discovering the key to making great red wines in the Douro valley that are authentic expressions of their terroir, and I believe that when these experiments are successful, as they have been so far with Syrah in particular, then there is a future for these varieties in the Douro, either on their own or in a blend with other Douro varieties.

Of course there are purists who insist that wines from the Douro should only be made with existing Douro varieties, and we make many wines that satisfy the most demanding of purists, such as the Quinta do Noval red wine, or the Quinta da Romaneira red and Reserva red, all of which are made only from noble Douro varieties, but I think one also has to keep an open mind to the possibility that other grapes might be capable of making authentic Douro wines. In any case, grape varieties have historically travelled long distances until they have found their current homes: the Douro was not created on the Third Day with all its existing grape varieties in place– they are there because human beings planted them there. This is an ongoing process, and I feel that we are part of it in trying out new ideas from time to time.

What vinification methods should we use? Do we tread the grapes in lagares, as for Port, or do we vinify in vat? What sort of extraction methods are appropriate? What sort of policy should we adopt regarding oak?

With regard to this question, I can only give the answers that we have evolved so far, without in any way suggesting that they are definitive ones. Many friends and colleagues in the Douro make wines that I love using quite different methods to ours. I don’t think there is necessarily a right or a wrong answer to these questions, even if we adopt a way of working because we believe in it for our wines. So, regarding lagares, we don’t use them for red wine either at Noval or Romaneira. Our reasoning is that many of the Douro varieties are naturally very tannic, with small berries and thick skins. This is fine for making Port, where strong tannins are both desirable and pose no difficulty because of the residual sugar in Port, which balances the tannins. However, I believe that one of the keys to making serious red wine in the Douro is careful management of tannin, and the very extractive nature of foot treading in lagares makes this difficult, so we vinify our red wines in temperature controlled stainless steel vats, with the aim of having as light a hand as possible in our extractive methods. Regarding wood, our approach has definitely evolved since the beginning, when we used more new oak than we now do. Douro wines can be quite easily strongly marked by wood, and today we use a varying proportion of new oak, perhaps 30% for the Quinta reds, and the rest barrels that have had one and two wines in them, some the result of our previous activities here, and some bought in from Bordeaux (from Pichon in fact).

Finally:

What should be our aim in producing Douro Red wines? Are we making fruit driven early drinking wines on what might a while ago have been called the “New World Model”, or are we in the old world trying to make terroir based wines that may require ageing to reveal their full personality?

On this one I feel the answer is clear: we are obviously in the old world, in one of the great historic vineyard regions of Europe, whose terroir and whose grape varieties have long since proved their capacity to produce wines, in the form of Vintage and Tawny Ports, of great depth complexity and finesse, capable of revealing wonders through long ageing. I am convinced that the Douro can also produce great unfortified red wines, capable of long ageing and capable of taking their place among the great wines of the world. This does not mean that we cannot make very seductive wines that can be ready to drink early: there are quite delicious Douro reds ready for drinking now from the 2008 and 2009 vintages. But I am confident that as time goes by we will discover the full potential for ageing that these wines possess. As I said at the beginning, the extraordinary thing about the Douro wine phenomenon is how recent it all is and how exciting the wines are that have so far been produced in this short period. There are already great things to be discovered among the new red wines of the Douro, and the next few years are sure to reveal some thrilling discoveries.

The wonderful world of Tokaji Aszú at Domaine Disznókő

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Today I would like to invite you to experience the wonderful world of Tokaji Aszú wines with a virtual visit to our property in Hungary, Domaine Disznókő. Everything about these great historic wines is unique: the individual harvesting berry by berry of grapes that are botrytised or dessicated to the extreme; the vinification based on the maceration of the noble grapes in must or in wine, which enables the winemaker to determine the richness and the balance of the wine; the ageing of the wines in barrel in deep caves dug out of the volcanic rock. To visit Disznókő during harvest time is a bewitching experience, and this remarkable series of short videos featuring Laszlo Meszaros, the presiding spirit and managing director of Disznókő, gives something of the feeling of the magical quality of these great wines, and of the devoted attention that is necessary to produce them.

The Harvest :

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The unique vinification of Tokaji Aszú:

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The magic of the botrytis :

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Eszencia :

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Disznókő sous la neige
Disznókő

The Primeurs System in Bordeaux – A Personal View

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Chateau Latour’s recently announced decision to quit the en primeur system as from next year has naturally stimulated quite a lot of debate, and the subject merits reflection.

There has been talk of the consequences of this decision, suggesting that it might be the beginning of the end of selling Bordeaux en primeurs, and some debate as whether this would be a good or bad thing.

I do not think myself that it is the beginning of the end of the current system. Latour is Latour, and is in a position to do more or less as its owners wish. The same is true probably of the other Premier Crus, but it is by no means certain that they will wish to follow suit. Time will give us the answer to that, and in the meantime it is just pure speculation to talk about it. However, since the question has been raised about the advantages or otherwise of the current system, I think it is perfectly valid to discuss this aspect of the question.

Like any system that works, it has its advantages and disadvantages. I think the positive aspects outweigh any negative ones, both from the point of view of the chateau and of the consumer. So here’s how it works, from my viewpoint at Château Pichon-Longueville Baron.

The system depends on the existence in Bordeaux of the numerous negociants who make up the Place de Bordeaux. There are over four hundred of them, but a property like Château Pichon-Longueville Baron will typically work with between forty and eighty of them. Any more and it begins to be difficult to know them all well. The reason for working with so many is that they have different strengths and specificities, many having strong distribution in different parts of the world, some being particularly strong in one particular part of the market etc etc.. By selecting a number of negociants with different strengths, the chateau can make sure of a good global distribution of its wines, reaching every part of the market that it wishes to reach. The existence of these negociants, managed by knowledgable wine professionals who travel the world promoting the wines they sell and ensuring a global distribution for the wines of Bordeaux, is a major asset for Bordeaux producers. But I also believe that it is good for consumers. There being so many first rate negociants in existence, competition between them is intense, and their margins relatively small. This ensures that the wines achieve their global distribution at a relatively low cost.

When a property like Château Pichon-Longueville Baron declares the price of its Grand Vin during a Primeurs campaign, it will communicate the price to its negociant partners via the courtiers. This might happen for example at 11.30 in the morning. If all is well, within an hour or so all the negociants will confirm that they are taking their allocations. They in turn will offer the wine to their partners around the world, and if the price is right they will in turn confirm that they will take their allocations. In a good year this can happen the same afternoon, meaning that by the end of the day the chateau has sold its crop (or as much of it as it decides to put on the market) and within a few hours achieved a global distribution for its wines. The advantage of this to the chateau is clear.

From the point of view of the customer, the wine lover who wants to buy some Château Pichon-Longueville Baron, I believe that the system is a very efficient way of getting the wine to them, wherever they may be. If the chateau tried to achieve this distribution on their own without working with the negoce it would be more expensive and less efficient, as it would not be possible to ensure the remarkable capillary distribution that the various negociants are able to achieve.

Supposing that we accept that this unique system is a good way to get the wines to the consumer, that still leaves the question of when is the best time to sell the wines. At the moment, En Primeur sales happen in the spring or early summer of the year following the harvest. So the 2011s have just begun to be offered to the market. The wine is of course still in barrel, and will be bottled next year and despatched to the customers.

It is perfectly valid to question whether this is the best time to offer the wine for sale. A good argument can be made that the campaign should take place a year or so later, after the wines are in bottle. However, I think it highly unlikely that the system is going to change in that way.

The temptation for a Grand Cru property is more likely to be to keep its wines for longer, in the hope of selling them for a higher price by choosing the moment at which the Chateau puts them on the market. Seen from the point of view of the chateau owner, it can sometimes be a little frustrating to see the price of the wine rise by a significant percentage after the sale en primeur. Obviously, if you are a wine producer and you see the price of your wine double on the market within a few years of releasing it, the tempting thought is likely to cross your mind that if only you had held the wine back for a while, you could have sold it for that higher price yourself! There is nothing particularly wicked in thinking this way. Imagine you were the owner of the chateau yourself: you might well have similar thoughts.

However this is to ignore the enormous value for a Bordeaux chateau of the remarkable world-wine chain of distribution that exists, and which thrives on the possibility that wine bought en primeur may gain significantly in value. This can of course be advantageous for the distributor if they keep back some stocks themselves, but above all it is highly motivating for the final customer, the person who buys the wine to drink themselves.

Of course, for all this to work, the prices en primeur have to be right. But it is up to the market, made up as it ultimately is of individual buyers, to make the judgement of whether a chateau has offered its wine en primeurs at the right price. If the price is too high, then the wine will not sell well, and the market price is likely to come down. Any chateau that makes this mistake will be punished by the market in future years by a weaker demand for its wine and by a strong demand for a downward adjustment of future prices. That is part of the mechanism of en primeurs. But it is usually possible for a consumer by buying wisely to buy the wines en primeurs at significantly lower prices than the wine will trade for in the near future. All recent vintages of Château Pichon-Longueville Baron are trading today at significant premiums to their en primeur prices, some of them twice as high, some of them more than this. It has been a good idea to buy Château Pichon-Longueville Baron en primeurs over the past decade. I think it will be over the next decade as well and we will do our best to make sure that it is so. Would it be wiser for us to keep the wine back and sell it later, keeping this extra profit for ourselves? I do not think so, although it is only human to have such thoughts. An important part of the dynamic of the demand for Grand Cru Bordeaux is precisely the possibility for distributors to make a fair margin when selling our wines around the world, and for the final customer, who is the most important person of all, to feel that he or she has bought the wine at a good price en primeurs, far cheaper than it would be were they to try to buy the wine at a later date.

The traditional advice given by wine merchants to their customers was to buy twice as much as they wanted of their chosen wine, wait till the price had risen, then sell half and drink the rest for free, or at a significantly reduced price, subsidised by the profit on the wine sold. It is still perfectly good advice, provided you have the means to do it and you choose your chateau well. But even if you never intend to sell a bottle, (and my favourite customers are those who would never resell a single bottle of Château Pichon-Longueville Baron­ I certainly wouldn¹t: what would you buy with the money that you are going to enjoy more? ) it is always a source of satisfaction to open a bottle that cost you much less than its value today. That is part of the fun of the en primeur system, and an element that I do not think we should forget: it is a game which is fun to play, and which attracts the interest and enthusiasm of wine drinkers all over the world. This excitement is an important motor of the Bordeaux wine business, and I think we would be unwise to lose it.

Château Pichon-Longueville Baron
Château Pichon-Longueville Baron