Monday, July 7, 2008

Drought will turn up the heat on Australian wine

Double the droughts and up to 10 times more heatwaves will threaten the survival of one of Australia’s key grape growing regions, says a government report.

The study, completed by top Australian scientists for the agriculture ministry, says the country’s Murray-Darling Basin – a key pillar in Australian wine and food production – faces destruction because of climate change.

It predicts droughts will double across the country and exceptionally hot years may increase by up to 10 times over the next 40 years.

Murray-Darling, which straddles parts of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, has already seen the most dramatic fall in grape production in the country’s recent record-breaking drought.

Researchers for Wine Australia are working on future scenarios for the Basin, according to Lawrie Stanford, Wine Australia's manager of information and analysis.

Water reserves in the Murray-Darling this May were lower than in 2007, he said in an interview with Drinks International. “Even if we get average winter rainfall for the next three or four years, we will only just get back to previous levels”.

He said predicting future water resources was difficult because of the “extraordinary conditions”, however.

Analysts were caught out this year when water from the Snowy Mountains unexpectedly made up for some of the Murray-Darling shortfall. Grape growers were also able to buy water in from other regions.

Stanford said these were the main reasons why Australia’s grape harvest significantly beat expectations in 2008, up to around 1.7-8m tonnes.

A stark prediction from leading UK wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd said recently that climate change would reduce Australia to a “niche producer” by 2058.

Chris Mercer


Researchers have found that resveratrol (a compound found in red wine grapes) will help slow the signs of aging although it will not necessarily prolong your lifespan. Previous studies suggested red wine could help people live longer, but new evidence says that's not the case. Instead, it will improve quality of life by providing heart benefits, stronger bones and help prevent cataracts.

"We found that while quality of life improved with resveratrol, the compound did not significantly affect overall survival or maximum lifespan," Rafael de Cabo of the US National Institute of Ageing said.

In the study, some mice were fed a standard diet, some a high-calorie diet and some got food only every other day. The researchers then began giving some of the mice resveratrol in either low or high doses when they were 12 months old, roughly the same as 35 years old in a person. The mice given resveratrol experienced broad health benefits compared to mice not given the compound, reports Reuters. De Cabo told the publication that Resveratrol "wiped out the negatives effect of the high fat."

However, De Cabo said it would be too early for people to start taking resveratrol supplements to improve health until more research is done.

Wine & Spirits Daily

French government unveils sweeping changes to wine sector

The French government unveiled its five-year wine industry modernisation plan last night, hoping to improve the country's competitiveness.

The 16-page plan, which aims to reduce complex regulations preventing French winemakers from competing with New World producers, was widely accepted by the sector. The plan also falls in line with recent EU reforms.

French wines will now fall into one of three categories, with the first being the new Vignobles de France, or Wines of France, label, replacing vin de table wines.

These will carry both the grape variety and the year on the label, and be made using many cheaper winemaking techniques already adopted by the New World, including the use of oak chips, the addition of tannins and sorbic acid as a preservative, and sweetening using concentrated grape juice must.

The two other new categories are IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée, or Protected Geographical Region) which will replace vin de pays, and the AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) which corresponds to the existing AOC category.

Georges Malpel, head of the French governmental body responsible for fruit, vegetables, wine and hoticulture (Viniflhor), told the plan was to, 'keep tradition in place and at the same time gear the sector towards mass production'.

However, the plans were overshadowed by the French government's failure to address the issue of legalising wine sales on the internet. The only mention of the internet in the plan was the proposal to establish a working group to study the issue, a move deemed next to useless by wine professionals.

'It is impossible to talk of conquering markets or being competitive if at the same time we no longer have access to modern means of communication,' said Pierre Menez, president of the French wine merchants association (AGEV).

Others organisations including the French producers union, the Comité des Interprofessions des Vins " Appellation d'Origine (CNIV), and the Vin et Société association, currently battling to have the internet officially approved as a medium for alcohol publicity, have also condemned the failure of the plan to address the issue.

'It is not worth modernising the wine sector if nothing is done about this problem,' said CNIV president Jean-Louis Salies.

However Malpel said Viniflhor, as a government body, could not oppose the government's plans.

'Unfortunately, this is going to become a judgement between the public health lobby and the wine sector itself,' he said.

The question over the legality of wine on the web in France dates back to a court case taken last February against beer giant Heineken, widely understood to have outlawed the internet as a means of communication for all alcoholic drinks in France.

Sophie Kevany & Oliver Styles

'New evidence' in Jefferson bottles case

'Newly discovered facts' in the ongoing 'Jefferson bottles' case have come to light, according to billionaire collector William I Koch.

Koch has asked a New York federal court to let him update his fraud lawsuit against German dealer Hardy Rodenstock, because of this new evidence relating to Rodenstock's business activities which surfaced last month.

The latest filing by Koch, a Florida resident, seeks to persuade the court that it has 'personal jurisdiction' over his suit alleging that his so-called Thomas Jefferson bottles are forgeries.

Rodenstock had asked the court to dismiss Koch's suit because it had no jurisdiction over it.

Though agreeing with Rodenstock, the court let Koch refile his complaint, and he did so first in February. In his latest move, Koch asks permission to file a 'second amended complaint.'

Originally Koch charged that four 'Jefferson' bottles he bought – three through Farr Vintners in London, one from the Chicago Wine Company – are counterfeits.

He says he has now obtained evidence – including documents from and to Rodenstock and eyewitness testimony – that makes clear that at least nine additional bottles in his collection obtained from Farr that 'are either fake or highly suspect, originated with Rodenstock.'

He lists them as follows: 1737 Lafite, 1737 Mouton, 1771 Lafite, 1848 Mouton,1864 Lafite, 1858 Mouton, 1893 Lafite, 1936 Pétrus, 1791 Latour.

Koch says that on May 14 and May 23 he received 'documents and information' from Farr 'about its relationship with Rodenstock during the late 1980s.'

In his latest filing, Koch says his sources enabled him to learn that 'Rodenstock arranged for and participated in wine tastings in New York and other locations in the United States in order to further his counterfeit wines business.'

Alluding to his 'Jefferson' bottles, Koch says, 'Documentary evidence shows that Rodenstock wrote a letter to Farr in the late 1980s and mentioned Koch by name, proving he knew who Farr's customer was.' Koch says his 'money was paid or credited to Rodenstock.'

Koch also declares 'Rodenstock arranged on multiple occasions for Farr to deliver his counterfeit wines to customers in the United States, including New York.'

He alleges that Rodenstock had provided Royal Wine Merchants, a Manhattan dealer, with 'rare vintages,' which were 'often counterfeits, for distribution to Royal Wine customers in the United States, including New York.'

Reached by, Daniel Olivares, a Royal Wine principal, said that Royal had sold wines provided by Rodenstock, that Royal had no awareness of the presence of frauds and that the wines 'had been tasted in Europe by some of the finest tasters on the planet.'

Farr Vintners director Stephen Browett declined to comment on the latest Koch filing except to say 'our lawyers are in contact with Koch's lawyers.'

Howard G Goldberg
New York, USA

Castel moves into Ethiopia

The Castel Group, France's largest wine producer, is starting wine production in Ethiopia.

The group is planting grapes on 125ha of farmland in Zewey, 200km south of the capital Addis Ababa. A further 175ha is available for further planting in the future.

The land has been acquired from the Ethiopian state which, as Castel communications director Franck Crouset told, 'invited us to produce locally-grown, quality wines, to help revitalise their wine industry.'

Castel expects to invest around US$4.2m in planting the vines this year, and the same amount again in constructing a winery and vinification facilities in 2009.

The trading name will be Castel Winery Private Ltd Company.

The grapes are all international varieties: 40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah and 10% Chardonnay. Over 750,000 vines will be planted.

The first of Castel's Ethiopian wines are expected to be released by 2011, and will target the local market as well as neighbouring African states such as Uganda, Sudan and Kenya, with expected exports of around 50% of production.

Castel's decision to open in Ethiopia came about following president Pierre Castel's meeting with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi during a visit to the country in January 2007.

The project should create permanent employment for several hundred local people. There is a history of wine production in Ethiopia, but the industry entered a period of decline after wineries were nationalised by the military regime and production facilities not upgraded.

Crouzet added, 'We hope to revitalise the local wine production, as well as cementing our own presence in the highly important African market.'

Currently, the Castel Group owns 1500ha of vineyards across Africa, with 240ha in Tunisia and 1,500ha in Morocco.

Jane Anson
Bordeaux, France

Screwcaps are best: Decanter verdict

It's official: screwcap is the best closure for the vast majority of wines, both red and white.

This is the opinion of Decanter magazine's most senior contributors, from Steven Spurrier to Linda Murphy in California and Huon Hooke in Australia, tastings director Christelle Guibert and restaurant critic Brian St Pierre.

In an article entitled '50 Reasons to Love Screwcaps' in the August issue of the magazine, our wine experts are unequivocal.

'Given the choice of the same wine with screwcap or cork, I'd choose the screwcap every time,' Sunday Times wine writer Joanna Simon writes.

And her sentiments are echoed by Spurrier – 'the Stelvin is one of the best things to have happened to wine in my lifetime'; Hooke – 'for delicate young white wines…the screwcap is the best closure we have'; Charles Metcalfe – 'in short, they deliver your wine from the bottle in the state that the producer intended.'

Each critic lists their top five wines under screwcap – and they are by no means all white.

Spurrier's list includes a Marchand-Burch Pinot Noir from Western Australia, Murphy the Rhone blend Bonny Doon Cigare Volant Red, Guibert the Summerhouse 2005 Pinot from Marlborough and a south of France Carignan, while Anthony Rose chose the St Hallett Gamekeeper's Reserve Shiraz-Grenache from Barossa.

Rose, wine critic for the Independent newspaper as well as a veteran Decanter contributor is one of the most outspoken exponents of screwcap: 'the time for alternative closures is overdue…the screwcap is not a cheap alternative to cork but a genuine quality closure in its own right.'

But there is a caveat: Decanter may champion screwcap even for many robust reds, but on the subject of ageing wines, the jury is still out.

Huon Hooke says, 'Many believe full-bodied reds aged long-term under cork build better character than under any other other closure…' and Decanter tastings manager Mark O'Halleron agrees, saying he's a 'huge fan of corks' and recognising 'their proven ability to age fine wines.'

But the overwhelming tide of opinion is in favour of screwcap - and Brian St Pierre even introduces a political note.

Railing against the need for 'hardware' and pompous sommeliers sniffing corks ('a redundant stunt no-one can pull off without looking silly') he concludes, 'Best of all, screwcaps are a nicely democratic reminder that wine should be a pleasure, not a performance.'

50 Reasons to Love Screwcaps is published in Decanter magazine August issue, out on 2 July.

Have your say...
To post your comment on this story, email us at, making sure the relevant headline is in the subject field

The experts may well agree that aluminium screw caps preserve the best qualities of wine better than alternative closures. I trust their opinions as experts. I have given my expert opinon upon why we need to be sure that such closures do not contaminate our wine with aluminium. It is a crime that neither manufacturers nor proponents of the screw cap have had to demonstrate its safety before it is used widely. If Decanter is so confident in promoting aluminium closures then put some money into supporting research which can demonstrate the safety of screw cap closures for wine. The head in the sand attititude adopted to-date is music to the ears of the aluminium industry but does not address the safety issues associated with screw cap closures.
Chris Exley

There is a point that many are missing about screwcaps and it is that of the health risk of the dioxines present on the plastic of the screwcaps (google for plastics and dioxines to learn more about it)

Now that there is so much talk about ecological wines, does it make sense to move to screwcaps that are a derivative from petrol and that can potentially can create health issues?

Furthermore, the political "democratic reminder" comment from Brian St Pierre looks just like another excuse. Is it democratic to force people into using a product from petrol which contaminates our earth and generate war conflicts? Opening a cork is very simple and no one looks silly opening one.

What I see here is the industry trying to force the public into screwcaps, which for them are much cheaper and easier to produce and use than corks. Please remember that corks are ecological and proven for centuries to be safe for health and screwcaps not.
Manuel Hernandez

Goodness gracious! Screwcaps lead to war? I'd thought all along it was politicians and generals with time

on their hands that got us to that point. And dioxins? My admiration is unbounded - this is demonizing on an operatic scale. Can't wait to see what voodoo is next. . .
Brian St Pierre, London, UK

"It's official: screwcap is the best closure for the vast majority of wines, both red and white," says Decanter.

There's nothing "official" about this verdict on screwcaps. Four wine writers and a foodie have an equivocal preference for screwcaps over cork. So what would they know? I have spoken to a lot of wine writers - Huon Hooke is among them - and by and large they understand next to nothing about how wine closures work. Worst of all, they don't care. Screwcapped wine is an experiment being conducted on the wine drinking public at their expense.
Brett Wright

Maybe it would have been more accurate to title your short report "Screwcaps are better (than cork)"? While I'm sympathetic to the environmental questions involved (what about using recycled aluminium?), I'm completely fed up with corked wines, especially EXPENSIVE corked wines, and far from convinced that there is a definitive solution to the problem in sight. However, there is an alternative "alternative" closure that almost no-one in the English-speaking world seems to be aware of, or at least mentions, namely glass "corks", which are now being used by an increasing number of German producers of fine wines (for example, the V.D.P. producer Schloss Vollrads, in the Rheingau). Like the screwcap, glass "corks" do require a specially-manufactured bottle, but, also like the screwcap, they require no "hardware" in order to open the wine and are very easily re-sealable. They also happen to look pretty good, although, to my eyes, some additional work needs to be done on making the capsule more "presentable". The downside, I believe, is that they are more expensive than either corks or screwcaps, but that shouldn't pose a problem for higher-priced, premium and super-premium wines. On the other hand, perhaps there are technical problems with the glass closure that I'm not aware of?
Gregory Sims, Berlin, Germany

Haven't we known it for years... And not only for the cheap stuff!

Mr St. Pierre reveals the intellectual level of his arguments against, and thereby for, the use of screw caps.
Chris Exley

I have long been convinced of the benefits of screwcaps, even for ageing. And I agree with others who say we have had enough of corked wines. But we cannot today ignore the environmental issues concerning wine closures: screwcaps have a bigger ecological footprint, as well as potential health issues, whereas corks can be part of a sustainable development scheme. I do not want my wines to be tainted by TCA, or simply lacking freshness, but I also want to be an environmentally responsible citizen. I am torn...
Veronique Rivest, Quebec, Canada

I would encourage everyone to read George Tabor's book on the subject (To Cork or Not To Cork) before jumping to conclusions that Stelvin is the undisputed king of closures when it comes to all wines. While I highly encourage all winemakers to use a Stelvin type closure for wines that are produced to be consumed young, the relatively thin data that has been researched in the last ten years points to too many unknowns to be 100% definitive that Stelvin is the only way too go. High quality cork closures definitely still have a place and the research is far, far from conclusive that an inert environment that a screwcap creates is favorable at all to wines that require aging (read: MOST Old World wines). There is more than just tradition at play when it comes to cork closures but unfortunately very little scientific research has been done. Wineries like Bonnie Doon should be applauded for leading the charge to find solutions to cork related taint but even they have reverted back to cork for some of their products. It is true that inferior cork closures will harm wine but many other cost saving techniques will also damage wine that is meant to be aged. We are creating a “baby-with-the-bath-water” issue if we just say “cork is dead”. This issue will not and cannot be solved by a few (although highly respected) journalists pounding their collective fists and saying they know best. Scientific lab work needs to be further explored that fully explains the virtues and pitfalls of cork, synthetics, hybrids or screwcaps. Winemakers will have to adapt their winemaking styles to the new closures just as cork producers have to raise their quality if they wish to remain in the game. This issue is far from black & white and will not be solved anytime soon without serious financial influx from the industry to establish some true base data.
Jimmy Kawalek, Divino Wine Broker, CA, USA

Decanter descends to new lows in wine journalism, gainsaying my own frequent contention that wine writing is better in the UK than in the United States. Pompous sommeliers sniffing corks? Would the conclusion have been different if the sommeliers were humble? Or the corks were looked at rather than sniffed? Whatever do pompous cork-sniffing sommeliers have to do with this issue? Perhaps we should go ga-ga about Stelvin-snorting wine waiters?
John Trombley

Some of your readers seem to think that screw tops have only been around for about 10 years. I remember in 1981, working crush at Yalumba, I was staying with the Hill-Smith family who served me a Pewsey Vale Rhine Riesling with a screw top. Rather naively at the age of 19, I stated that I hoped that they would never use screw tops themselves. They very kindly explained that a] it was one of their own wines and b] that there had already been 20 years of research on the Stelvin closure including tests on how the wines age. Back in 1981, in Australia, the verdict was that the Stelvin was the better closure. I have since become totally converted to Stelvin, though, alas, the technology is not practical for my Broadbent Vinho Verde, unless I change the shape of the bottle.
Bartholomew Broadbent, San Francisco, USA

We would not even be having this discussion were it not for significant breakdown in marketplace mechanisms. Simply put, if every corked bottle that reaches the market was intercepted and returned to the producer, and the producer forced therefore to refund the money spent in full, this problem would have been addressed far more aggressively and a long time ago as well. The questions about the merits of Stelvin and equivalents remain, but I am still waiting, both personally and professionally, for wineries to show the sense of urgency in addressing the failure rate of corks their customers deserve.
Peter Granoff

Two years ago whilst cleaning out my wife's late parents cellar we came across 2 'vin-ordinare' wines, an 1970 HARDYS SIEGESDORF Riesling and a 1971 KAISER STUHL 'Black Forest', probably Mosel/Riesling or similar. Both were screw capped with the earliest 'Stelvin' and were taken off the market shortly thereafter because consumers were not ready for screwcaps. Both of these wines, 35 years after bottling were perfect, in fact, spectacular. Now, at the time although relatively cheap wines, they were nevertheless well made, dry grown, and most likely still hand picked. No oxidation, strawey and golden with a touch of kero and perfectly balanced. I doubt anything but a very lucky, consistent and hard grained cork with a lead seal would have gone the distance.
John Struik, Bendbrook Wines, South Australia

Oh My God - aluminium contamination, dioxins, war, carbon footprints, no history, no scientific tests - all humbug!

Aluminium contamination?
The screwcap has a saran (PVDC) liner between the wine and the tin, then the polyethylene wad, then the aluminium. Saran is a food grade plastic - in use for decades and on millions of food items daily - you may even wrap your sandwiches in it! Look in your pantry - you will see an assortment of jars and bottles, all sealed with a saran liner. Spirits, soft drinks, tomato sauce, etc etc. Even your favourite french mustard!

See above. Also, consider that many in the wine industry now regard “composite” corks as being the most effective cork closures (but not the most effective closure), but what is the composition of the adhesive which binds the cork granules together? Conspiracy theorists should have a look at this one! One cork manufacturer even boasts that they have a plastic disc on each end of their cork as a prophylactic - cork condoms anyone?

No idea where this is came from? Is the screwcap religious? Religions seem to start a lot of wars.

Ecological/Carbon footprint?
Plenty of dodgy environmental accounting going on here! The cork companies are mounting a massive PR campaign and with few positive product characters to highlight have latched onto the environment. Perhaps consider the ecological cost of the estimated 3-8% of faulty wines under cork, and have a harder look at the cork PR. Also remember that very little of the cork forest production ends up as wine corks, so there is no threat to the unique habitats of these forests in Portugal and Spain, despite what the Cork PR may have you believe. And screwcaps are recyclable, just like cork. It's a pity that so few of both are.

Lack of history with screwcaps?
Is 1959 early enough? The screwcap was developed in 1959 by respected French closure manufacturer Le Bouchage Macanique, and has been in use worldwide since then. You may not have seen it on your bottle shop shelves, but it has been. We may be “Down Under,” but here in Australia we have museum wines in screwcap dating to the early 1970,s. All in perfect condition.

Sorry guys, but there is no debate about this point - screwcaps were proven performers before afros and flares were first in fashion.

No scientific testing of screwcaps?
First, see above - extensive trials were conducted in the 1960's and again in the 1970's. Second, Google “AWRI closure trial” to find details on one of the most extensive closure trials publicly released. This trial commenced in 2001 (and still on-going), by the world renowned Australian Wine Institute is one of he landmark studies into wine closures. Essential reading for anyone wanting to knowledgably comment on screwcaps.

A few other comments.

Cork quality?
Corks are graded buy visual appearance alone. There is no effective grading by physical properties. So the most expensive natural corks are only slightly less likely to taint or allow oxidation than the cheapest. And in aged white wines under cork there is up to a 30% failure rate due to oxidation when the wine is over 5 years old. All due to cork variability.

Cork character?
Winemakers in Australia who now have over 10 years of commercial experience with screwcaps can now detect 'cork character' in fault free wines bottled under cork. The wine smells like a fresh cork! They comment that when all wines were sealed under cork they couldn't see this, but now that screwcaps are delivering wines with only wine character, the cork character is apparent.

Sulphides under screwcaps? Another debate founded on misinformation and prejudice. Another storm in a teacup. Screwcaps may not be perfect, but they are not the work of the devil either. Enjoy your wine, screw capped or otherwise!
Neil Larson, Winemaker, Tahbilk

I would not question Neil Larson's winemaking credentials nor would I consider his views on such to be 'humbug'. For his information, there are many instances where manufacturers and users of aluminium-based packaging claim without any scientific proof (for example, Tetra Pak, longlife packaging) that their product does not contaminate the stored product with aluminium. He has to concede that we do not know if aluminium screw caps contaminate wine with aluminium or not. This is not 'humbug'.
Chris Exley

I A flickering suspicion crossed my mind when bought a 1787 Lafite with the incised initials Th.J. that carried wax-covered screwcaps.

I phoned Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia home, to learn if Jefferson's extensive records made any mention of Stelvins. Guess what? The Jefferson archive had only recently received an old receipt, sent anonymously from Germany, showing that Stelvins had surfaced in Bordeaux during Jefferson's visit there.

To learn whether the cork-finished Lafite I had purchased for $1.25 million or the Stelvin version, which at supermarket discount cost $8, was better preserved, I opened both simultaneously. But I was not alone. There was only one trained claret palate I could trust - that of the venerable British critic André Simon (1877–1970) - so I channeled him, and, promptly at 11am, he showed up at my club. We
were joined in the tasting by W. Somerset Maugham.

I am happy to report that André and I agreed that the Stelvin Lafite was far superior and bound to be longer-lived. "It has gobs of fruit," André said. "I am not surprised. If you taste carefully, you can detect the Algerian base wine."
Howard G. Goldberg, New York City, USA

Firstly let me state that my business interests are both in Screwcap And Synthetic Corks,so my comments are totally non-affilated.I have over 27 Years experience in the Aluminium closure industry. Various comments and concerns have been raised under this topic;namely health risks of the Aluminium screwcap and that not enough research been done in this area: I TOTAL AGREE.

Firstly if one looks at the manufacturing/coating/printing .Pressing, side printing, rolling and lining process of these and all Aluminium closures plus materials being use, you will start to understand the need for such research. Firstly it is impossible to avoid Aluminium dust from entering the inside of these closures.I see it daily. It is not easy to spot as it is a whitish powder on the inside of the closure. But it is there; If the tooling is blunt it contributes,to mention just one cause of many. Another issue is liner dust when wad liners are utilized. This is almost impossible to see. Inks and coatings: vinyl coatings,colour pigments are essentially lead based. Polyester coating have organic pigments. Wineries are using Screwcap closures with perhaps no knowledge of which is being used (lead or organic) More importantly is the internal coating on the closure lead free?. We need to establish a set of standards,conformances,international standards of material requirements(call it what you will). Even FDA or EU standards are not enough,we need to be Screwcap specific. There is a lot at stake! One bad incident could blow the whole Screwcap and aluminium closure industry out of the water. Is this an overreaction? Not at all. Our time has been taken up with debate upon debate of which is the best Cork, Screwcap or Synthetic,with a total disregard to the consumers safety and well-being. Maybe we need to tell them again. Screwcaps are the best, i promise they will believe you. Drop them with a health issue or any related incidents they will come down hard on us all.

The environmental issues are worthy of serious discussion in relation to both aluminium and cork closures. However, screw caps are great for the 'anywhere, anytime' approach to consuming wine. After all, with all the wine available for consumption who wants to wait around for the corkscrew that someone forgot to bring ?

Additionally, screw caps are certainly helping to demistify the whole business of wine consumption for many people around the world and this is really a great sales advantage.

While we wait on the verdict concerning those wines with aging potential, let us un-screw a few bottles of our favourites or new discoveries aand continue the debate.
Marilyn Bennett, Kingston, Jamaica

It is staggering how much ignorance, or perhaps deliberate malice, has been spread about the evils of screwcaps: one of your correspondents comments that "screwcaps have never had to have their safety independently validated": utterly false: all the materials used in screwcaps have been licenced by every major food health authority in the world. Another refers to the "dioxines" (sic) present in the plastics in screwcaps. This is nothing less than slanderous: there are no plastics in screwcaps which have any dioxins, pthalates or any other harmful material in them. Again this is independently confirmed by over 50 food safety authorities.

The number of times these lies are repeated you have to wonder whether the slanders are deliberately propagated by those with a vested interest to do so.
Nigel Greening, Bannockburn, New Zealand

While proponents of screwcaps seem to be an amiable and convivial bunch, with their egalitarian ethos and their wine-drinking spontenaity, there are to my mind some very real issues in terms of the appropriateness of stelvin closures for fine wine that go unremarked upon in this light and breezy piece in Decanter. First and foremost, the ability for wine to evolve and improve in the bottle with the same reliability as it has done for centuries under cork (which has an enviable track record above and beyond the percentage of TCA-contaminated bottles) is certainly no given with stelvin closures, and the longer one moves out from bottling to the point of drinking the wine, the more questions arise about how wines evolve under screwcap. While losing an expensive bottle to TCA taint is always painful, or losing an not so expensive bottle to corkiness when it is the only one in the flat, is never a pleasant experience (and happens with enough frequency for many winedrinkers and trade folk to latch onto any potential alternative), it seems clear to me that there have been no rigorous testing of long-term aging of wine under screwcaps. The few comments that I have seen regarding long-term aging of wines under screwcaps are invariably anecdotal (the discovered bottles in the in-laws cellar that have aged brilliantly under stelvin are a perfect example), as the reality is that most stelvin-closed wines are drunk within a couple of years after bottling. As I prefer to drink virtually all of the wines in my cellar with significantly more bottle age than a couple of years, I am extremely reluctant to lay down any wines closed under screwcaps, as I have simply not seen any research that confirms stelvin's ability to match the performance of natural cork for long-term cellaring.

The second issue that is even more troubling to me when it comes to utlizing screwcaps for wine closures has to do with the apparently strong tendency of wines sealed under stelvin to develop sulphide reduction after a few years in bottle. This is a complicated issue that has rather strident proponents on both sides of the debate, but both camps agree that nearly all wines have a tendency towards sulphide reduction, and the question is ultimately which closure is the best at minimizing the incidence of sulphide reduction in the wines over time. For those unfamiliar with the chemistry involved, very simply put, virtually all wines are possessed of sulfur-based molecules that can have a tendency towards sulphide reduction, which if allowed to develop in an unfavorable way can lead to off-putting aromatics and flavors. These sulfur compounds that have a tendency towards sulphide reduction are the byproducts of any yeast fermentation beverage, and there is simply no way to avoid them completely, though as we shall see there are some rather questionable intervention techniques that can be utilized prior to bottling of the wine to try and minimize the likelihood of these sulfur compounds developing into sulphide reduction and ruining the wine.

From the data that I have seen, sulphide reduction in wine tends to be inhibited by the presence of oxygen, and this has been one of the historic advantages that corks have enjoyed over screwcaps, in that they allow a small degree of oxygen egress over time which apparently keeps sulphide reduction at bay. In fact, screwcap manufacturers are busily trying to develop stelvin closures that can replicate cork's oxygen permeability, and in the future this may well be the development that puts stelvin over the top and makes it clearly appropriate for use as a wine closure. However, that is still in the research phase, and the vast, vast majority of screwcaps used today form perfect anaerobic seals which do not allow any oxygen egress, so it seems self-evident to me that claims that screwcaps are the way to go (even based on the ability to get away from all those cork-sniffing sommeliers) are a bit premature. Screwcap proponents behind the scenes have recognized this tendency towards sulphide reduction over time in wines sealed under stelvin, and now energetically encourage winemakers to intervene prior to bottling to try and reduce the likelihood of this reduction occuring in the wines in bottle. However, in my opinion, the intervention advocated is the biggest Achille's Heel for the entire project, as winemakers are urged to fine their wines with copper sulphate, which chemically bonds with the sulfur molecules in the wine, and hence diminishes the potential for sulphide reduction down the road. The problem with copper sulphate fining is twofold- first, copper bonds with all sulfur molecules in the wine, some of which are not prone to reduction and just happen to be responsible for much of the aromatic and flavor complexity that develops in time in a wine with bottle age. Secondly, and most importantly in my view, copper is a heavy metal that does not leave the wine after the fining, and is not safe above a certain threshold for human consumption.

Given the apparent options of a certain percentage of wines lost to TCA-taint versus screwcap-sealed wines that may or may not evolve positively with extended bottle age, and seemingly need to be fined with a heavy metal to improve their potential to survive under their closure, it seems very clear to me which is the preferred direction to take at this time. Therefore, ever wine in my cellar and every bottle I drink is sealed under cork, and if I lose a small percentage to TCA, it seems to me highly preferable to the alternatives as they stand today. It is entirely conceivable that down the road stelvin or another alternative closure system to natural cork will prove to be the most attractive option for fine wine, but in my opinion it is specious and unresponsible to suggest that screwcaps are the best option currently available today.
John Gilman, New York, USA

I am not sure who or which organisation Nigel Greening represents but he is wrong about aluminium and screw caps. There has not been any independent research demonstrating that aluminium screw caps do not contaminate the product with aluminium. If there has been any in-house research by the industry then they are not telling anyone about it.
I am not scare-mongering. My only interest is understanding the bioinorganic chemistry of aluminium and the myraid ways in which it might impact upon human health. I am keen to find out that screw caps do not contaminate the product as this will allow me to drink the many first class wines which are stored under screw cap. Until I have this information I will, with some regret, avoid such wines.
Chris Exley

Having followed the recent cork versus screwcap debate very closely since it began around a decade ago, I'd make the following points.

Screwcaps are almost certainly not THE answer for wine. But nor are corks. And for the moment at least, as the Decanter panel found, they are decidedly the better option - until other better options (possibly including some of the glass stoppers currently under development) come along.

It is too often forgotten that great wines were enjoyed and developed reputations for themselves long before corks began to be used three and a half centuries ago. And that the introduction of corks was initially as contested (because of the flavour they gave wine) by proponents of the glass stoppers then in use as Screwcaps are today.

The cork industry has been almost unique in its laxity over quality control (laxity that is compounded by - mostly Old World - producers who do not test their corks before using them) and the dishonesty with which it has tried to fight competition from alternative closures. Erroneous claims that synthetic corks cause cancer are just one example of the dirty tricks that have been employed.

The wine industry is also hugely at fault in its lack of research into the effectiveness of closures. Significant tests were launched in Bordeaux in the late 1960s, but not continued. I have carried out a number of my own tests, including most usefully a blind tasting at Vinexpo five years ago when a set of alternatively sealed wines were blind tasted against wines from the same producers vineyards and vintages sealed with corks. The results - published in Wine International magazine - supported the alternative cause very effectively, but it was notable that almost all of the older alternatively-sealed bottles - such as 1996 Penfolds reds - came from the New World. There were no Old World examples to be found. The jury may indeed still be out on the way wines age under screwcap but that's largely because we've taken so long to ask the question.

50 years ago it was still common for Bordeaux chateaux to bottle directly barrel by barrel and to sell wine to merchants who bottled overseas. Today, the levels of variability this inevitaby caused would be totally unacceptable. And that, stated simply, beyond any issues of TCA cork taint, is the problem with corks. There is no way to be sure that two corks will behave identically.

There are of course people who think that bottle variation is part of the "romance" of wine. I beg to differ. There IS romance in the errors in Persian rugs and medieval cathedrals because they were deliberately included by the weavers and church builders as a mark of respect to their respective almighties. The only deity involved in disappointing bottles of wine is the one whose name gets taken in vain by the disappointed wielder of the corkscrew.
Robert Joseph

Decanter Verdict? Then why are only 38% of your readers in favour of screwcaps? Surely that says it all. Experts? An ex is a has been and a 'spurt' is a drip under pressure! The New World use screw caps because they are cheaper. I'll stick to corks and enjoy the 'snobbery' (?) of sniffing one!
Brandy O'Sullivan (a cork aficionado)

Note to Chris Exley: It appears that Mr. St. Pierre's satirical remarks speak in defense of the screw cap, or at least against the hysteria surrounding them. All things considered, Mr. St. Pierre's intellectual level actually is quite sound.
Gary Tonucci

Adam Lechmere

Italy 'guarantees' Brunello

The Italian government will guarantee the authenticity and grape composition of all exported Brunello.

'The Ministry will guarantee the 7m bottles of Brunello di Montalcino that are sold around the world,' agriculture minister Luca Zaia said.

The minister announced inspections to ensure 100% Sangiovese grapes are used in all Brunello. This was in response to US threats to block imports following allegations that non-permitted varieties had been added to the wines.

In April this year hundreds of thousands of bottles of top Brunello were impounded by the Italian government – and the sale of the 2003 vintage suspended.

Of the 7m Brunello di Montalcino bottles sold around the world, the US imports about one quarter, valued at US$47m.

Sophie McLean

Lafragette arrested

Jean-Paul Lafragette, director of L&L and owner of three Bordeaux chateaux, has been taken into police custody and is being held in prison

The 58-year-old Lafragette, who was suspended in June last year as the director of L&L – producer of a popular cognac based cocktail called Alizé – has been under investigation for misappropriation of company funds.

He was taken by police from his Bordeaux home in Château de Rouillac on Tuesday 24 June.

He was held for 48 hours and, after a hearing last week (Thursday 26 June), he was moved to prison in the nearby city of Angouleme.

The original charges against Lafragette, taken last year by the New York based Kobrand Corporation, which owns 51% of the Cognac based L&L, related to the misappropriation of monies totaling about €1m.

The current investigation however is now understood to relate to a network of business dealings and a sum of up to €10m.

Local newspaper SudOuest suggested that Lafragette could be forced to sell his shares in L&L to Kobrand, and some of his Bordeaux properties, which along with his Château de Rouillac home in Pessac Leognan, are Château Loudenne, in the Medoc and Château de l'Hopital in Graves.

Neither the chateaux nor the company could be reached for comment.

Sophie Kevany
Bordeaux, France

Arnault loses battle against small Bordeaux producer

In the same week Bernard Arnault won €40m from internet auction giant eBay, he lost a case against a small Bordeaux wine producer.

In 2005 the head of luxury group LVMH and co-owner of Chateau Cheval Blanc took a fraud action against Bordeaux AOC producer Alain Signé of Domaine de Cheval-Blanc Signé.

Arnault was trying to stop Signé using the name Cheval Blanc on his wine.

Signé, whose 11.5ha vineyard is located in the small hamlet of Cheval-Blanc, in Bordeaux's Entre deux Mers region, decided to fight the case and won on appeal.

'I am not surprised I won,' he said. As well as establishing the right to use the name on his bottle, was also awarded €8,000 in costs.

'It was a real David and Goliath battle but I never worried. I know where I am from and I registered the name before them,' he said. 'On my mother's side we have been making wine in the area since the 1600s.'

the judge in the appeals case took into account the fact that Signé had registered the name, and the place name of the vineyard, before Arnault.

He also ruled that Cheval-Blanc, with a dash, was part of a name, rather than a name in itself.

This week EBay was ordered to pay €40m (£31.5m) in damages to LVMH for selling fake handbags, perfumes and haute couture.

Sophie Kevany

English wine world fumes at Charles comments

The English wine industry is up in arms about comments made by the Prince of Wales's private secretary.

Referring to the biofuel distilled from wine used to power the Prince's Aston Martin DB6, Sir Michael Peat said, 'I think our wine is surplus English wine.'

But English wine producers are furious that the royal family should suggest there is a surplus of English wine.

'The story is rubbish' consultant Stephen Skelton MW said. 'There is no surplus of English wine and we don't belong to the European distillation regime.'

Replying to bulletin board jibes that English wine 'must taste like petrol', Skelton said, 'We are as good as anywhere else in the world'.

The English wine industry, he said, has come a long way in the past 30 to 40 years, winning a huge array of awards and trophies. In results from the most recent competition where over 200 wines were entered only 30 failed to receive official recognition.

'English producers spend great time and money investing into production methods, pushing our sparkling wines into an altogether different league.'

He added, 'I can guarantee that nobody has sold wine for distillation.'

Prince Charles's office at Clarence House yesterday sent out a retraction: 'the wine used was a waste product which was unfit for human consumption as it had been in storage for too long.'

Sophie McLean

Relegate Mouton, promote Las Cases: Cornell study

Chateau Mouton-Rothschild should be demoted to Second Growth, with Leoville-Las-Cases taking its place in the first division, a Cornell University study argues.

In 'An Analysis of Bordeaux Wine Ratings 1970-2005', the New York State university's School of Hotel Administration calls for revision of the 1855 Bordeaux classification.

'It is widely accepted today that in any given year there are châteaux that do not produce at the level of their ranking,' the report observes.

The study would change the categories of more than half the 61 classified estates. Inclusion of top Pomerol and St. Emilion properties 'would broaden the usefulness of an updated classification,' it said.

In 1855, the five-tier classification was based on wines' reputations and market prices. Cornell's recommendations are based on an analysis of common ratings of 1970-2005 wines by critics Robert Parker and Steven Tanzer and by Wine Spectator.

This approach limited the researchers' database to 399 wines from 44 of the 61 châteaux. Seventeen estates – including Haut-Brion and Margaux – were omitted because common ratings could not be obtained.

In Cornell's imagined 2008 classification, Leoville-Las-Cases would move to First Growth from Second; Palmer and Calon-Segur go to Second from Third; Lynch-Bages and Pontet-Canet move to Second from Fifth; Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Clerc-Milon and d'Armailhac move to Third from Fifth; Branaire-Ducru shifts to Third from Fourth; Haut-Batailley and Batailley go to Fourth from Fifth.

Although 'a major shakeup of the 1855 Classification is unlikely to occur, in reality the market is already considering these changes, as indicated by the relative prices of wine from the various châteaux,' the report says.

As evidence for this conclusion it cites Leoville-Las-Cases 'which sells at over three times the average price of the other 1855 second growths'.

Given its rating in the data set, Cornell suggests, 'Leoville-Las-Cases must be viewed as a relative bargain.'

Howard G Goldberg
New York, USA

Wine News Briefs

DANCING BULL UNVEILED NEW PACKAGING following its success as the second best selling premium Zinfandel in the world, according to the company. It has redesigned its label, establishing an independent identity as the brand that is "serious about wine so you don't have to be." The label will be red for red wines and white for white wines.

CORKTEC PLANS TO OPEN A NEW CORK PLANT IN Kennewick, Washington this fall. The 3,000square foot facility will be able to produce up to 20 million natural and NDT agglomerate corks a year (based on a single shift), CorkTec owner Alan Gnann told Wines & Vines. It will employ about six people.

MOUNTAIN VIEW VINTNERS RELEASED NEW PACKAGING THIS WEEK for its flagship brand, creating a more contemporary label. Mountain View was one of the first negociants in California and has remained a family-owned and operated institution.

Wine & Spirits Daily


Joseph Phelps Vineyards has sold its Le Mistral wine brand, along with its 40 acres of Syrah and Grenache in California's Monterey County, to Randy Pura and Ventana Vineyards for an undisclosed amount, according to an article in Wine Spectator. The change in ownership becomes official with the 2007 vintage, currently in barrel.

The winery, however, denies it is for sale despite rumors. Instead, Joseph Phelps Vineyards claims it is selling Le Mistral as a part of a plan to re-associate the Phelps brand with Napa Valley Cabernet and Bordeaux-style blends.

"The company is very firmly under family control. Anytime there is change in a company, rumors will pop up. They are not true and the family has every intention of remaining in control," chairman Bill Phelps said.

Wine & Spirits Daily

Hong Kong may import Bordeaux Fête le Vin

Hong Kong wine officials want to bring the Bordeaux Wine Festival to the island.

The three-day Bordeaux Fête le Vin attracted 450,000 visitors last week, and trade representatives in Hong Kong see it as a good way of developing the region's burgeoning interest in wine.

'We want to facilitate exchange between institutions, clubs, restaurants, hotels and we want to fill in the gaps in terms of the wine education courses that already exist in Hong Kong,' said Yvonne Choi, Hong Kong secretary for economic development.

'We need wine education for frontline staff, as well as for business people,' said Choi, who was in Bordeaux last week for talks with the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce. She also visited the Fête le Vin.

'We would need to adapt it a bit, add more of a gourmet food element, and make it a joint Hong Kong Bordeaux festival, maybe along the harbour, but the target would be visitors from mainland China and the rest of Asia,' Choi told

There are 7m people in Hong Kong, which earlier this year dropped tax on imported wines to zero, boosting imports by about 150% to date.

The island was ranked the 13th largest importer of Bordeaux by volume in 2007, and it is keen to become the wine trade hub of Asia. Trade representatives are also eyeing China and its population of 1.3bn people who, they say, are starting to open up to wine imports.

Sophie Kevany
Bordeaux, France

Interesting Situation

Q: I have a collection of 200 to 300 California and Bordeaux reds from the 1970s thru mid-1980s, including first- and second-growths, Heitz Martha's, Mondavi, BV, Diamond Creek, etc., and would like to sell most of it. I have been away from collecting for well over a decade and do not know who the reputable auction houses and retailers are. How do I assemble such a list? -- Mike Dolan

A: Wine Spectator covers sales results from the country's seven leading auction houses. Print subscribers can find a list of the major auction firms in the calendar within the Collecting section, and online subscribers can access's Auction Calendar. Subscribers also receive the benefits of expert analysis and comprehensive coverage of the wine auction market, essential to making good decisions about buying and selling.

Giscours case: court hands down judgement

A Bordeaux court has handed down its judgement concerning a Dutch businessman accused of overseeing the blending of wines from two different appellations at Chateau Giscours in 1995.

However the ruling, pronounced yesterday, falls under the judicial amnesty clause in French law which prohibits details of the decision from being made public.

The amnesty is a French legal mechanism which protects the accused from public reporting of the sentence once the accused has complied with the judge's orders.

Eric Albada Jelgersma, a Dutch food entrepreneur who still denies the charges against him, is part-owner of the 140ha (hectare) chateau in Bordeaux's renowned Margaux region.
Jelgersma was accused of ordering the mixing together of AOC Margaux and AOC Haut Medoc in the chateau's second wine, La Sirene de Giscours, which should be made only with grapes from the Margaux appellation.

He now has ten days to decide whether to appeal, or pay €25,000 to have the judgement revoked.

The director of Giscours, Alexander van Beek, told Jelgersma now had a dilemma.

'Eric Jelgersma is pretty disappointed by this decision which gives the impression, on one hand, that he is not guilty [by potentially silencing any reporting of the sentence], but still asks him to pay to have the amnesty,' said Alexander van Beek, the current director of Giscours.

'He [Jelgersma] came to Giscours will the best possible intent and he has invested over 15 million euro in the chateau,' he added. 'He would never do anything to alter the quality of a wine.'

Sophie Kevany
Bordeaux, France

Zachys goes to Hong Kong

Zachys will hold its first auction in Hong Kong on 25 October.

Announcing this debut sale recently, the New York auction house said, 'The recent elimination of import duties has made Hong Kong unquestionably the trading hub for wine in Asia, and Zachys has already spent several months building its Far Eastern infrastructure.'

This internationalisation of Zachys' auctioning of fine and rare wines will translate into 'an elegant catalog distributed to wealthy wine enthusiasts in Asia and the rest of the world,' the house said.

Zachys is a major retailer in Scarsdale, New York, a blue-chip suburb in affluent Westchester County, north of New York City.

Since Zachys formed its auction arm in 2002, it has held 50 sales grossing US$195,232,250 in New York City, in Los Angeles with Wally's, a major retailer, and, recently, in Las Vegas and San Francisco.

Bonhams & Butterfields, based in San Francisco, was the first American auction house to hold a Hong Kong auction this year. Acker Merrall and Condit was the second. Zachys' sale will be held in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Howard G Goldberg
New York, USA

The Chronicle Wine Selections: Paso Robles Zinfandel

California's red wine king, Cabernet Sauvignon, has a contender for its throne. Last year, Zinfandel was second in tonnage to - and not far behind - Cabernet Sauvignon in amount of red grapes crushed in the Golden State. While Cabernet Sauvignon's 2007 crush tonnage remained about the same compared to 2006, Zinfandel's increased by 16 percent. The combined total of these two popular red wine varietals was more than 44 percent of California's total 2007 red grape crush.

I wouldn't bet that Zinfandel will ever overtake Cabernet in California, but according to the "Connoisseur's Guide to California Wine," only three counties - Amador, San Joaquin and San Luis Obispo - had modest increases in Zinfandel acreage planted during the past five years. Despite this increase, some wine regions, such as San Luis Obispo County's Paso Robles, have not experienced a huge Zinfandel boom, though about 50 percent of the appellation's wineries produce it.

Paso Robles is known for its riper, full-bodied Zinfandels with sweet, extra-ripe fruit and alcoholic warmth. This hedonistic style, though not unique to Paso, has many fans, who can usually be found at the annual Zinfandel Advocates & Producers tasting in San Francisco every January.

Many California wine regions known for Zinfandel, including Paso Robles, have hot climates that can quickly overripen grapes if the weather remains too warm for too long. Cooler night breezes help moderate Paso Robles' average daily temperature. Zinfandel's oft-high ripeness level can translate to alcohol levels approaching or exceeding 15 percent - lower alcohol can be accompanied by some residual sugar.

We tasted 27 Paso Robles Zinfandels. More than half were 2006s. Many of the wines we've liked in the past weren't submitted for tasting. But even with this modest sampling, Paso Robles seems to be staying its course, continuing to make dark-fruited, full-bodied, riper-style Zinfandel.

Rating: TWO STARS 2005 Calcareous Vineyard Twisted Sisters Paso Robles Zinfandel ($26) Paso Robles has areas of calcareous soil, after which this winery was named. Assertive American oak announces itself on the nose of blackberry and sweet plum, which is driven by dusty pencil lead and oaky spice with smoky char and tobacco overtones. The more rustic palate is brightly fruited and herby but shows some heat on the finish. Winery only.

Rating: TWO STARS 2006 Christian Lazo Paso Robles Zinfandel ($20) This winery - purchased in 2002 - is named after owners Steve Christian and Lupe Lazo. Twenty percent Missouri wood is used for 19 months of aging. There is slight bricking (a brownish-garnet color) on the edge of the wine's rim. Nose of coconut, smashed huckleberry, milk chocolate, stewed cherry and earthy spice with potpourri undertones. Tannins seem softer amid the ripe fruit and 15.5 percent alcohol.

Rating: TWO AND A HALF STARS 2006 Eberle Paso Robles Zinfandel ($24) Founded in 1982 by Gary Eberle, who is of German descent, this winery's wild boar logo reflects the Germanic meaning of the name "Eberle." Steinbeck Vineyards and Wine-Bush Vineyard each contributed half the grapes in this wine, which shows rich vanilla, toast and cinnamon stick aromas that bolster the sultry mix of red and black fruit. There is lovely tart acidity and less opulent fruit on the palate, with rather fine tannins and a dry earth note on the finish. A more restrained, elegant style.

Rating: TWO STARS 2006 Eos Paso Robles Zinfandel Port ($30, 375 ml) Eos was the name of a Greek goddess of the dawn, which seemed an appropriate moniker for a winery that harvests its estate grapes justbefore or right after sunrise. This wine includes 20.5 percent Petite Sirah. It is fortified to retain residual sugar, which accounts for its 19 percent alcohol. Toasted blueberry, prune/raisin, jammy dark-fruit aromas with carob and hints of wet earth and English breakfast tea. Not over the top and retains focus.

Rating: TWO STARS 2006 Rosenblum Cellars Paso Robles Zinfandel ($18) Now part of Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, Rosenblum Cellars specializes in Zinfandel. This Appellation Series wine includes 12 percent Petite Sirah and was aged in both French and American oak barrels. Blackberry, dry spice and a slightly waxy nose, which has underlying robustly rich fruit despite the big hit oak. Plum, blackberry/huckleberry tart and chewy tannins, with some dry leaf on the palate.

Rating: TWO STARS 2004 Rotta Giubbini Vineyard Paso Robles Zinfandel ($27) Founded in 1908 and claiming to be the only remaining family-owned "original" winery in San Luis Obispo County, Rotta was one of the first established in Paso Robles. A nose of spiced plum, chocolate, a bit of sachet, walnut skin and dry oak char. Bright, mouthwatering acidity and moderate raspberry and prune notes help balance the palate.

Rating: TWO STARS 2005 Stacked Stone Cellars Zin Stone Paso Robles Zinfandel ($28) Named after the elaborate stone stacks that are a part of its landscaping, the winery was started in 1998 by owner-winemaker Donald Thiessen. A slight dill pickle note on the nose punctuates the very ripe fruit on the aromas and flavors that include currant, plum and red fruit. Dusty, subtle finish with increased alcoholic heat. Winery only.

Panelists include: Lynne Char Bennett, Chronicle staff writer and wine coordinator; Jon Bonné, Chronicle wine editor; Zach Pace, manager and wine buyer, Foreign Cinema. For additional recommended wines, go to

Key: Rating: FOUR STARS Extraordinary Rating: THREE STARS Excellent Rating: TWO STARS Good

Lynne Char Bennett

New brands

Most of the wine names we see regularly on store shelves and wine lists are well known to the vast majority of Americans.

Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Sutter Home, Fetzer, Kendall-Jackson, Gallo, Beaulieu, and a dozen more are more widely marketed than literally thousands of foreign and domestic brands, some of them so small that they get scant attention in magazines, newspapers and from wine shop operators.
A key marketing goal is to have a wine at eye level and easily visible, and that’s the way the top brands as positioned. But many smaller wineries enter the marketplace with almost no visibility.

But that may have nothing to do with the high quality of their wines. Some of the best wines I have ever tasted were from obscure producers who lack the funds to market their wares widely.
Here are just a few new ones:

Milbrandt Vineyards: Butch Milbrandt saw the soils of Washington’s Columbia Valley as a jewel, so in 1997 he began planting acreage. Today he farms 13 distinct estate vineyard sites on nearly 1,600 acres of land and is making a wide range of superb wines priced between $13 and $40.
Wine maker Gordon Hill has done a brilliant job crafting these wines into food-friendly stars. The lineup includes merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon and the wines are now being nationally marketed.

Example: The 2007 Milbrandt Pinot Gris, Washington, “Traditions” ($13) has a stylish pear/spice aroma and dramatic richness in a wine that’s dry but succulent because of phenomenal fruit. It is a wonderful wine for rich seafood dishes or fruit salads.

Stonestreet Alexander Mountain Estate: This is an older project owned by Kendall-Jackson’s Jess Jackson, but one recently relaunched. This handsome property is on the valley floor and gets all its fruit from a huge, dramatic hillside planting of grapes that makes concentrated wines.

The project has long been under the radar. Only recently, when the wines of Graham Weerts began to gain acclaim, did the property take a jump in image. Weerts, from South Africa, now makes some of the top wines in California, though still lacking in public recognition.

Example: Their 2005 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($45) is a dense rich wine of black currant aroma and flavor, with complex nuances of olive, forest floor and spices. It needs a few years to develop, but is a superb aging wine.

Wine Guerrilla: After decades as a wine marketer, Sonoma County resident Bruce Patch decided to make his own wine, so he contracted with longtime wine maker David Coffaro to use Coffaro’s Dry Creek winery to make Zinfandel.

The Wine Guerilla label, with creative designs by Los Angeles designer Sean Colgin, will be entirely Zinfandel from older vines for more concentration.

Example: The 2006 Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel, Sonoma County ($18) consists of bright fruit of raspberry, violet and strawberry jam. Lots of fruit in the finish. Excellent with pasta or pizza.

Robert Oatley Vineyards: Oatley founded the wildly successful Rosemount Winery in Australia that, at its peak, sold 1.5 million cases of wine in the United States. Oatley, a successful tea and cattle entrepreneur and world-class yachtsman, sold Rosemount to Fosters Brewing in a complex deal, then ran Fosters for a time.

When he left the giant wine company, he founded a small operation based on 1,200 acres of superb vineyards in Mudgee and now is re-entering the U.S. wine market with a line of wines under his own name.

All wines are made by a brilliant team of wine makers and will be reasonably priced. The first wine in the U.S. market is a pink wine of remarkable quality.

Wine of the Week: 2008 Robert Oatley Rosé of Sangiovese, Mudgee ($18) — A dramatic re-entrance to the U.S. market for Oatley. This wine delivers delightful strawberry and pomegranate aromas, a dry mid-palate, but such succulence in the aftertaste you’d swear the wine has some sweetness.

Dan Berger

New brands

Most of the wine names we see regularly on store shelves and wine lists are well known to the vast majority of Americans.

Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Sutter Home, Fetzer, Kendall-Jackson, Gallo, Beaulieu, and a dozen more are more widely marketed than literally thousands of foreign and domestic brands, some of them so small that they get scant attention in magazines, newspapers and from wine shop operators.
A key marketing goal is to have a wine at eye level and easily visible, and that’s the way the top brands as positioned. But many smaller wineries enter the marketplace with almost no visibility.

But that may have nothing to do with the high quality of their wines. Some of the best wines I have ever tasted were from obscure producers who lack the funds to market their wares widely.
Here are just a few new ones:

Milbrandt Vineyards: Butch Milbrandt saw the soils of Washington’s Columbia Valley as a jewel, so in 1997 he began planting acreage. Today he farms 13 distinct estate vineyard sites on nearly 1,600 acres of land and is making a wide range of superb wines priced between $13 and $40.
Wine maker Gordon Hill has done a brilliant job crafting these wines into food-friendly stars. The lineup includes merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon and the wines are now being nationally marketed.

Example: The 2007 Milbrandt Pinot Gris, Washington, “Traditions” ($13) has a stylish pear/spice aroma and dramatic richness in a wine that’s dry but succulent because of phenomenal fruit. It is a wonderful wine for rich seafood dishes or fruit salads.

Stonestreet Alexander Mountain Estate: This is an older project owned by Kendall-Jackson’s Jess Jackson, but one recently relaunched. This handsome property is on the valley floor and gets all its fruit from a huge, dramatic hillside planting of grapes that makes concentrated wines.

The project has long been under the radar. Only recently, when the wines of Graham Weerts began to gain acclaim, did the property take a jump in image. Weerts, from South Africa, now makes some of the top wines in California, though still lacking in public recognition.

Example: Their 2005 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($45) is a dense rich wine of black currant aroma and flavor, with complex nuances of olive, forest floor and spices. It needs a few years to develop, but is a superb aging wine.

Wine Guerrilla: After decades as a wine marketer, Sonoma County resident Bruce Patch decided to make his own wine, so he contracted with longtime wine maker David Coffaro to use Coffaro’s Dry Creek winery to make Zinfandel.

The Wine Guerilla label, with creative designs by Los Angeles designer Sean Colgin, will be entirely Zinfandel from older vines for more concentration.

Example: The 2006 Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel, Sonoma County ($18) consists of bright fruit of raspberry, violet and strawberry jam. Lots of fruit in the finish. Excellent with pasta or pizza.

Robert Oatley Vineyards: Oatley founded the wildly successful Rosemount Winery in Australia that, at its peak, sold 1.5 million cases of wine in the United States. Oatley, a successful tea and cattle entrepreneur and world-class yachtsman, sold Rosemount to Fosters Brewing in a complex deal, then ran Fosters for a time.

When he left the giant wine company, he founded a small operation based on 1,200 acres of superb vineyards in Mudgee and now is re-entering the U.S. wine market with a line of wines under his own name.

All wines are made by a brilliant team of wine makers and will be reasonably priced. The first wine in the U.S. market is a pink wine of remarkable quality.

Wine of the Week: 2008 Robert Oatley Rosé of Sangiovese, Mudgee ($18) — A dramatic re-entrance to the U.S. market for Oatley. This wine delivers delightful strawberry and pomegranate aromas, a dry mid-palate, but such succulence in the aftertaste you’d swear the wine has some sweetness.

Dan Berger

Bocce, the perfect complement to wine tasting

Here's the down side of the Northern California Wine Country: There are just too many wineries. Without expending any real effort, a semi-dedicated wine enthusiast could in a day or two consume enough wine to drive even Bacchus into rehab. Especially if that enthusiast is morally opposed to spitting out a nice, well-rounded Chardonnay.

This means that if you want to come back from your weekend in the Wine Country not looking like you stepped from the pages of the National Enquirer, you've got to pace yourself. You've got to find something to do between tastings.

This is where bocce comes in.

The backstory: According to the United States Bocce Federation, back in the time of the Punic Wars, Roman soldiers played bocce to unwind between confrontations with the Carthaginians. (Their version of the game largely involved throwing big rocks at a smaller rock.) Two thousand years later, the modern adaptation of this rock-throwing turns out to be just as therapeutic between confrontations with Cabernets.

Why now? In the last few years, winery owners have caught up with the Romans. Every week, a truck arrives at yet another tasting room and dumps a load of limestone and crushed oyster shells into a newly constructed bocce court. I consider this an excellent trend (preferable to the one that persuaded wineries to sell yoga pants) as it combines two of my favorite things: 1. a sport that requires no actual skill, and 2. wine. Better yet for those of us who live in the Bay Area, the Sonoma town of Healdsburg, only about an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, has five bocce courts, all within a 10-mile radius of the town center.

Spend your day: Here's how all five courts - and their accompanying vintages - stack up:

-- Seghesio Family Vineyards, just outside the town square. Playing bocce at Seghesio is like playing bocce in the backyard of your Italian uncle - if your uncle owned a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen and beehive-shaped wood-burning pizza oven. The grounds here aren't manicured. You'll even find a couple of over-watered lemon trees, a staple in the gardens of Italian uncles everywhere.

Seghesio's two courts are among the few in the area that fall within the official 76-feet-to-90-feet length (87.6 feet is exact tournament length). There's no view to speak of - the courts sit right up against a residential street - but the big shade trees and perfectly packed playing surface make for excellent bocce.

And Seghesio's wine makes for excellent tasting. Its Sangiovese, from the oldest plantings in North America, made me regret ever maligning the varietal as the Merlot of Italy. And its Pinot Grigio, sipped while spocking (the term for an underhand throw), will seriously improve your score.

-- At Davis Family, the court is shorter (about 60 feet), but the setting goes a long way toward making up for it. The single court at Davis Family is located next to the Russian River, near enough for passing kayakers to check out whether you've mastered the four-step run and throw. There's an unfussy warehouse tasting room, six picnic tables and a three-story wine goddess. This last is the winery's homage to recycling. Her skirt is made from an enormous steel wine vat trimmed with hubcaps, her left eye was once a wall clock, and her nose started life as a bundt cake pan.

Davis Family's signature wine is its Pinot, but I was knocked out by the Old Vine Zin Port. Completely different from most Ports I've tasted, which tend to be sweet and syrupy, this one was light and peppery. The perfect libation to celebrate a win.

-- The collection of buildings at 4791 Dry Creek Road, just north of downtown Healdsburg, is a treacherous place for anyone attempting to practice moderation. Five tasting rooms perch on this hill (Amphora, Family Wineries, Kokomo, Papapietro Perry and Peterson), a situation rendered even more perilous by the fact that one of them alone, Family, pours wine from six wineries.

While deciding where to taste here takes some mental energy, deciding where to play bocce doesn't. There's one court, a bit shorter than regulation, with a spectacular view of vineyards and cypress trees. Rather than the usual oyster-shell surface, this court is topped with fine pebbles, which if necessary makes a handy excuse for a less-than-stunning bocce performance.

-- Farther north in Geyserville, Pedroncelli claims to be owned by the oldest continuous winemaking family in the Dry Creek Valley. Its bocce court, at 20, is probably the oldest as well. It certainly has one of the prettiest settings, pressed into a trellised hillside covered with grapevines, rosemary bushes and olive trees.

Twenty years worth of bocce-playing feet have stamped down the Pedroncelli court into an uncommon hardness, which makes it fast. Put any force behind your throw and you'll wind up with a dead ball (one that's hit the backboard and is out of play). This can be embarrassing, especially when the courtside wrought-iron tables are filled with picnickers enjoying a glass of Pedroncelli's continuously produced wine and watching you fling bocce balls like the Bionic Woman.

Pedroncelli has some of the most reasonably priced wine of all three valleys. Downing a glass of its deliciously dry and spicy Zinfandel Rose ($10 a bottle) is an excellent way to put some drag on your ball.

-- Hands down, the bocce court at Armida Winery has the best view. Up a steep, winding driveway and away from the road, it's all vineyard-covered hills and cypress trees. As long as you don't turn around and catch sight of the very Californian geodesic dome-shaped tasting room, you'd swear you were playing bocce in Tuscany. Armida also has one of the best picnic areas, cantilevered into the hillside on a wooden deck and surrounded by giant oak trees.

The court at Armida, decorated with a snarling Venetian-style stone lion at either end, falls into regulation length. The winery supplies players with a printout of the rules of bocce, with one quirk. According to the Armida rules, the game is played to 16 points, not the 13 dictated by the U.S. Bocce Federation. Be warned: Unless you are bocce maven enough to score more than 1 or 2 points per round, a game played to 16 could conceivably last as long as the Punic Wars.

Armida also makes some of my favorite wines. Its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are always fabulous. And the Pinot Gris, followed by a lengthy game of bocce, can render you relaxed enough to face a whole hillside of Carthaginians.

Janis Cooke Newman

St Emilion classification finally ruled invalid

A Bordeaux court has recently ruled that the 2006 St Emilion classification is invalid and can no longer be used.

Chateaux must now remove the classifications of Premier Grand Cru Classé A or B, or Grand Cru Classé - which should have applied from the 2006 vintage up to 2016 - from labels on wines dating from the 2006 vintage.

'The commission decided that the wine tasting mechanism was not an impartial system,' said Philippe Thévenin, the lawyer who acted for the châteaux that fought the new classification.

At the heart of the ruling is the interpretation that by tasting one group of already classified wines, and then another group of wines that were hoping to be classified, a taster could not remain impartial. 'The judge did not say the tasters were at fault, rather the mechanism,' Thévenin said.

A spokesperson for the St Emilion Wine Union (Conseil des Vins de St Emilion) described the situation as 'grave'.

The Union is currently awaiting a decision from INAO (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine), the body that manages French wine classifications, and the French Agriculture Minister, as to whether an appeal will be launched within the next two months.

Legal sources say an appeal would take about two years.

Wine producers have described the ruling as a catastrophe. 'We are in shock,' said Christine Valette of Château Troplong-Mondot, which was awarded Premier Grand Cru Classé status in 2006

Valette said the chateau had spent 20 years working to achieve the classification. 'And now, just as we are about to start the 2006 bottling, we have to cancel all the labels and all the cases and redo them.'

Valette said she didn't know what clients would think, but hoped they would be understanding. 'The wine in the bottle is still Troplong-Mondot,' she said.

Chateaux Cheval Blanc and Ausone were the only two Premiers Grands Crus Classés A.

Chateau Figeac's application to be promoted from Premier Grand Cru Classé
B to Premier Grand Cru Classé A was rejected on the specific grounds 'that Figeac does not sell at the same level of price as Cheval Blanc or Ausone'.

Sophie Kevany
Bordeaux, France

Wine Lovers Say Ooh La La! to French Maid

French Maid Wines From France's Languedoc Region Blend Old World Tradition with New World Sophistication

Who better than a French Maid to entice wine lovers with a marriage of Old World sophistication and New World style? White Rocket Wine Company, whose mission is to launch creative new brands targeted to Millennial Generation consumers, is introducing French Maid – five classic varietal wines from the renowned Languedoc region of southern France. Pampered by the Languedoc’s warm sunny days, cool Mediterranean breezes and rich, dark soils, French Maid Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are coddled from vine to bottle, creating a stunning expression of what the French call terroir and wine lovers worldwide call Ooh La La!

With over $1.4 billion in sales in 2007, France is the #1 wine exporter to the United States, with a 31% share of total imported wine value. A new generation of high-quality, moderately priced and varietally labeled wines is helping France solidify that dominance and fuel the spectacular growth of the import wine market in the U.S.

“Imported wines now account for nearly one-third of the U.S. wine business, an all-time high,” says White Rocket Vice President of Marketing Mark Feinberg. “In 2007, dollar sales of imports rose 9%, outpacing the growth of the total U.S. wine market. As a quintessential high-quality, high-value French wine brand, French Maid is destined to charm the sophisticated Millennial Generation consumers who are fast embracing super-premium wines, especially imports, as their beverages of choice. In addition, French Maid carves a new niche for the French Category by providing an exciting high quality value brand in the fastest growing $12 premium price point.”

French Maid wines are crafted by Melissa Bates and the Bonfils family of Languedoc, France The Bonfils family-owned winery has extensive vineyard acreage in the Languedoc-Roussillon district of southwestern France, an enchanting region of ancient castles, cathedrals and cobblestones that was colonized over 2,000 years ago by the Greeks and Romans, who planted its first vines. Occupying the heart of a larger appellation known as Vin de Pays d’Oc, which was created in the 1970s to encourage the production of superior, regionally distinctive wines, Languedoc has enjoyed a renaissance in quality over the past 20 years.

White Rocket winemaker Melissa Bates says the wines seductively marry Old World winemaking traditions with the New World style of lush fruit, smooth tannins and savory oak.

“French Maid truly is a marriage of old and new, tradition and innovation, sophistication and sass,” says Bates. “It’s a thrill working with our French partners to create a collection of stylish wines appealing to both Old and New World palates.”

About White Rocket Wine Company

Launched in 2006, White Rocket Wine Company focuses on developing new brands that appeal especially to Millennial-generation wine consumers, who comprise a large and ever-growing segment of the premium wine market. In addition to French Maid, White Rocket markets Geode, Horse Play, AutoMoto, Pepi, Silver Palm, Camelot, Dog House, Ray’s Station, Tiz Red and Tin Roof Cellars. The company is located in Napa, CA.

Napa, California