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Raving about Rhone

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2016-12-13


2015 is the best Northern Rhone vintage in 55 years, according to this article on JancisRobinson.com. That’s some statement given the quality of vintages over the last 15 years or so, including the superb 1999, which at the top end is just coming into its drinking window.

Great though 2015 is, it isn’t going to satisfy drinking requirements in the short term, even at more modest levels, whereas my bottle of Chave Offerus (St. Joseph) 1999 is melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous now.

Outside of the Rhone elite and their blue chip labels that can appreciate markedly in value over the medium-to-longer term, along with some of the region’s special cuvees and bottlings, these are not wines to use as a store of value. They do not appreciate in value. They are wines to enjoy. But they need time to come around. As impressive as new vintages are, they express in youth only a general sense of the wine they will become.

In our estimation these are wines that are depressingly under-appreciated. As you’d expect from such a large region of production, styles vary enormously. They variously show varietal character, complexity, precision, texture, and depth of flavour with more than just a touch of minerality.

If you’ve not tasted mature white Rhone recently, you could well find the waxy texture, floral and white peach character refreshingly braided with acidity an exciting experience. For the quality and complexity these great wines offer, many are cheap. Not a word I use lightly, but they really are terrific value and hold their own in the company of any of the world’s great whites.

Though it’s tempting to buy into great new releases, and potentially worthwhile at the top of the tree, there’s no kudos in hanging onto cases of wine and paying a decade or two’s worth of storage, when you can drink the real thing without playing stockholder.

There really is something for everyone.

View Rhone offers on the exchange



Restaurant tips

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2016-08-19



It has been said by some wise sage that 1% of people care way too much about wine and 99% of people don’t care enough. This rings true, and I thought it would be interesting to investigate why this is.

Most of my friends and peers drink wine. With sufficient regularity to alarm the British Medical Council in many cases. And most of them drink rubbish. Seriously – any £5 bottle will do the trick normally, and the second cheapest wine on the restaurant wine list is pretty much as far as they go.

This baffles me.

OK, so not everyone is going to spend a fortune on a wine collection, or consult Parker or Robinson for every wine buying decision, but it is really simple to drink more interesting wines without breaking the bank or having to do hours of painstaking research.Here are a few rules of thumb, aimed at buying wine in a restaurant (assuming it isn’t one of the growing numbers that allow you to BYO for a modest corkage).

1) The cheapest wines normally have the highest % mark-ups, and the second cheapest wine normally has the highest mark-up. Restaurateurs know how people make buying decisions, so be aware of the relative lack of value.

2) The first few wines on a list will have tendency to be ‘neutral’ in style, as they are likely to be bought to match all foods. One size fits all is not the best way to approach buying wine – think about what you are going to order.

3) Don’t be afraid to buy by the glass. Technology such as Coravin means a far wider array of wines can be sampled, so you can avoid just plumping for a bottle of NZ Sauvignon Blanc, or a bog standard Rioja, and narrowing your options. Why not order a suitable wine for every course of you meal?

4) Look for exotic grape varieties or little known regions – these are likely to be the sommelier’s attempts to stamp their expertise and personality on the wine list, and will likely be good value and interesting. Think Greece, Portugal, Austria, or regions like Swartland in South Africa or Salta in Argentina.

5) Embrace the joys of dessert wines. Seriously, sweet wines are amazing things that are criminally overlooked. A little bit of ‘sticky’ at the end of your meal is always a good thing!

6) If the restaurant has a sommelier, get their opinion. Don’t be afraid to ask seemingly silly questions. These guys are there to ensure you get the most enjoyment from your meal.


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Character speaks volumes

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2015-12-09


Robert Parker has consistently highlighted low yields over the years as a key indicator of quality. It’s a belief over which he’s been challenged by producers and experts alike.  

But is he wrong? Are low yields a prerequisite for wines of character and nuance that we so crave, or is this just a red herring seized upon by eager wine writers whose understanding of winemaking techniques are inadequate?

Jordon Ross of Oenology International points to a run of vintages where the worst wines from the key regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and California were made from lowest production vintages, whereas the best wines came from those where production was highest.

His misgivings, and those of producers he interviews such as Dominique Lafon, are down to the belief that low yields sell wine and that old vines do not necessarily produce better wines than young vines.

M. Lafon highlights an extreme case to argue that view “Some producers here are talking low yields but with so many dead vines in their vineyards that it’s nonsense, it means nothing.”

That’s as maybe, but let’s not allow rotten vineyard husbandry to define the argument and allow the rejection of the notion that low yields might nonetheless be an important factor behind quality.

I for one am more than happy to accept that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, that my own technical base - like the know-how of most collectors - is relatively scant, and that it’s easy to grossly oversimplify.

However, I do possess one means of very subjectively putting the question to the test, and that’s my palate. When all is said and done, surely that’s what matters most?

Burgundy seems to be a particularly good and topical reference point when discussing yields given the run of low yield vintages the region endured 2010-2014.  

The true colours of a fine wine show with age, long after they've been evaluated by tasters in their first blush of youth (or in the case of Burgundy as échantillons untimely plucked from the comfort of their oak casks).

Vintages blessed with good production volumes and generally fine weather - 1990 and 1999 being prime examples that were lauded upon release - whilst studded with beautiful wines, contain as many examples that are bland and fruity, but fall short of complex or exciting.

On the other hand, there are many wines from low-yielding vintages characterised as difficult or gawky upon release, which 15-20+ years on show a level of intensity and aromatic complexity that are more than a match for the bigger, ‘better’ vintages. For example, there are truly wonderful wines from 1998 (Gouges, Barthod, Bachelet, Mortet) that at release were described (correctly in my view) by Jancis Robinson as ‘tough and stolid’. 18 years on, and they have matured into exceptionally complex, deeply toned wines. 

Seeking out the best producers is a must of course, since there are great, good, average and awful ones irrespective of anything else. 

Talking of great, no one does it better in Barolo than Roberto Giacomo. His transparent Monfortino 2002, with its tiny yields from a dismal vintage, is a very special wine of weightless proportions. It will never be mistaken for a hot year like 1997 or 2004, but so what? The wine has a rare aromatic subtlety and sweetness that makes it a rarity.

So what of more recent vintages? Bill Nanson talks about 2012 red Burgundy as a vintage visited by ‘the four horsemen of the apocalypse’! It wasn’t easy and yields were considerably reduced. Will it prove to be a great vintage? I believe so, with the best wines surely destined to be as good as 2010 or 2005. There is a fabulous vitality to the vintage that ought to see the best examples blossom into wines of great character. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough from a vigneron perspective, 2013 was worse: an exceptionally low yielding year, blighted by a summer that only dared speak its name in July. Although the wines can seem lean and dry at times (evident in January 2015’s échantillons in London), on another day from barrel in situ they show fine, sappy, delineated fruit. 

Even though 2013s have higher acidity levels and bright flavours, my guess is that the miserly yields and consequent concentration of juice will compensate over time and make some fine older bones, unlike the much higher-yielding 1996 vintage which remains angular and more often than not lacking.

So far we’ve discussed low yields resulting from nature’s hand.

When it comes to the age of vines and yields per vine, it seems to me the argument is rather more clear-cut.  Assuming the producer puts the necessary time and effort into vineyard husbandry, older vines and the naturally occurring lower yields seem to very obviously impart intensity and complexity to the end result. When Clive Coates talks about ‘creamy old vine flavour’ I get what he’s describing. 

So, whilst accepting that low yields per se do not necessarily mean good wine, to deny its very significant contribution to creating truly great wines and their appreciation seems unnecessary.



SPOTLIGHT ON... Le Tertre-Roteboeuf 2010

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2015-08-06




Wine writers and bloggers fine wine purchasing influence ranking

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2015-06-07


Which wine writers exert the most influence over consumer purchasing decisions of fine wine?

It’s a question we’ve often been asked, and one we wanted to understand in context of what kind of recommendations influence consumers’ fine wine buying decisions.

To find out, we teamed up with Spiral Cellars, and organised a structured research programme through Effective Research. The fine wine purchasing influence ranking is based on 244 questionnaire responses. 

We discovered that consumers rely on multiple recommendation sources, and even the least relied-upon source is quite significant in influencing purchases. This also suggests that social media influence is real, and can indirectly contribute towards buying decisions.


There is nonetheless a clear, favorable bias towards online sources, with the subscription sites of leading critics exerting the greatest sway over consumers.

Which critics and bloggers, if any, are you most likely to base a proportion of your buying decisions on?  




When it comes to informing a proportion of buying decisions, Robert Parker is the clear winner with more than half of all respondents likely to buy based on his reviews. Neal Martin, his successor for new Bordeaux releases and leading Burgundy critic, is relied upon by 29% of respondents, with Jancis Robinson in a very strong second place position on 49%.

Vinous Media (Antonio Galloni on 26% and Stephen Tanzer on 17%) showed complementary strength, with Burghound (Allen Meadows) registering 22% and Tim Atkin on 20%. 

Whilst consumers have their favourites, their buying decisions will be influenced by a number of critics and writers.


Post Parker primeurs

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2015-03-16


With Robert Parker handing over the reins of Bordeaux Primeurs tasting to Neal Martin, what are the implications?

The first, most obvious, change is Neal’s palate.

However objective a critic may be, his or her palate and personal preferences inevitably play a big part. Where Parker excelled was at getting his impressions across in a particularly accessible and descriptive way; not easy when tasting barrel samples. The temptation is to describe a wine in its elemental state elementally, which isn't that interesting to read. He described its future, and over the years demonstrated he was rather good at that.

His personal preferences may have veered towards a sunnier style of wine, but he tended to let the wine buyer know if a wine was stylistically towards one end of the spectrum or another. But it must be very hard to award a great score to a wine that doesn’t move you viscerally, and to that extent personal preferences must come into play.

Martin’s tasting preferences are naturally more European than Parker’s, and is perhaps more likely to be dazzled by finesse and complexity over power, texture and rich fruit. This is a gross oversimplification for sure, but perhaps suffice to say his evaluations will be his own.

The second is winemaking trends.

The trend back towards a more classical form of winemaking is already underway (allied to far better vineyard husbandry than was broadly the case when Parker started out – he is often attributed with raising standards). Use of new oak is being moderated at many Chateaux, and régisseurs are looking at ways to fully express and nuance their amazing terroirs, sub-plots and micro-climates whilst making the most of Bordeaux’s inherent ability to bear and bottle the most age-worthy wines in the world.

The tendency of the late 1980s and 1990s towards making and showing the kind of wines proprietors thought would garner the best scores early on is on the wane. If the world’s leading critics and evaluators of young Bordeaux favour a finer-boned vernacular, this will be reflected in the market, which is more likely than not to reward those styles of wine with the greatest demand.

The third change is context.

Back in the early 1980s there was no Internet, market transparency was therefore limited and the market was much narrower than today’s. Can another critic, however good, assume the same degree of importance and purchasing influence over a market in the way that Parker has achieved? If so, will they come from Europe or do they have to be American? Or Asian?

Will crowdsourcing views and reviews become a proxy for the next leading critic of his or her generation, a perspective that arises with the growing importance of the Internet? I wonder. Some may argue that buyers are too ready in our online age to trust the word of a virtual room-full of complete strangers over the words of an advisor or friend. Whilst such principles may work well for holiday destinations or white goods manufacturers, it’s tougher to see how this will ultimately prevail for the finest of fine wine. How experienced is the taster, do they have a bank of reference points in respect of tasting young wines, and can they draw parallels between what a wine tasted like when in barrel compared with 10-15 years on? Can they recognise the future evolution of a young wine, see similarities and differences, then context (and visualise) the next young wine they taste accordingly? What does it mean when experienced tasters say that great wine is born great? What does great taste like? What’s the palate preference of each taster; where on the spectrum do they sit?

That’s an awful lot of questions to ask of a crowd, especially when most of them have day jobs. Broadly, people may not care about all that of course; but people into their fine wine, and making spending decisions based on the judgement of others, will care. That’s why evaluators of fine wine such as Neal Martin, Jancis Robinson, Stephen Tanzer, Antonio Galloni, Tim Atkin, Will Lyons, and many other talented writers (see here) matter so much.

What could be somewhat significant in turning reputation and influence into market impact is the business model deployed. What I wonder is this: with the Internet capable of coalescing huge audiences and showing the true - often massively underestimated - size of market niches, will blanket subscription firewalls allow wine writers to maximise market influence?

How experts in general monetise their high value content may yet change over the next few years, perhaps in a parallel way that the music business experienced a profound shift from selling records to selling bums on seats and festival tickets. Will the experiential become the bigger money-spinner? How the world’s critics engage with their audience and allow them an element of participation and dialogue may prove decisive for the next Parker, if there is to be one. Being social web savvy can only but help.

The fourth change may be the end to ‘wait and see’.

If the Chateaux knew Robert Parker was coming to Bordeaux, they might hold off from releasing until his scores were known, and the job of negociant and merchant alike was simplified, if sometimes a little delayed.

When Parker didn't come to town within a few months of the new vintage, the market reflected the collective views of the wine industry that had tasted samples most frequently (producers, courtiers, negociants, importers) and added a dose of realism to do with the macro-economic context. Price differentials within a set of wines (e.g. First Growths) were narrower. So, famously, 1990 was priced cheaply in the recession of 1991 as was 2008 in the post-Lehmann, financially sclerotic environment of 2009.

In the short term at least, all the leading critics will turn up to taste on time and publish on time. The extent to which they will collectively or individually influence prices (and demand) remains to be seen, but it would be more surprising if they didn’t have at least some bearing on the market. Producers are more likely to have made up their mind on pricing based on their qualitative assessments early on, and perhaps we shall all be spared interminably long campaigns.




UK Wine Writers And Bloggers Index

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2015-02-09


We’ve been working with our good friends at Traackr, a unique San-Francisco and London based platform for influencers, to build a ranking of UK wine writers and bloggers based on a measure of their relative influence - weighted favourably towards their social media engagement.

Traackr enabled us to create key influencer scoring for wine writers and bloggers in the UK, by their influence within social media. This is measured through interaction with their content, actions such as comments, link backs and re-tweets; and aims to encompass all personal activity, extending beyond the scope of traditional website-centric measuring tools.

The index highlights wine writers and bloggers who are most active through social media, and who have websites or blogs that are at least partially freely accessible and up to date. It excludes those who run subscription sites behind paywalls, where these do not have content that can be accessed via RSS feeds in front of the paywall.

See the following post for further explanation of methodology and why some top influencers of wine fine buyers aren't in the top 15. Traackr’s scoring algorithm is takes into account 3 variables:

REACH - The measure of total audience size eg blog visitors, Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers.

RESONANCE – How much activity is created every time something is published. Engagement constitutes a crucial (and therefore heavily weighted) variable that reflects degrees of influence.

A writer or blogger with the biggest reach may therefore still come below another with a smaller following but who has a higher resonance score – because the level of engagement is used as a prime measure of how influential they are within their audience.

RELEVANCE - This is a measure based on a broad range of wine-related keywords, which in the case of this index reflects the fine wine end of the market. Relevance is a factor of how often someone uses the keywords that drove the search; the timing of the keyword usage; the diversity of the keywords used by an influencer; and the placement of keywords.

Influence is dynamic, and scoring will reflect how levels of activity and engagement change. Online and social media are highly fluid ; this index will be updated every 6 months to reflect changes and newcomers.

The index highlights new or niche writing talent as well as confirming the importance of many household names, for the benefit of wine lovers and collectors as well as those who are discovering wine.

We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we do. Please let us know which of your favourite UK-based wine writers we’ve missed so we can include them in the project and see how they fare in six months’ time!

Top 15 Influencers

 

And here's the complete list of all the UK wine influencers:

Rank Influencer  Reach* Resonance* Relevance* Website
1 Jancis Robinson 99 73 87 http://jancisrobinson.com
2 Jim Budd 89 56 91 http://jimsloire.blogspot.com
3 Jamie Goode 92 31 95 http://wineanorak.com
4 Fiona Beckett 96 47 90 http://www.matchingfoodandwine.com/
5 Andrew Barrow 84 68 87 http://spittoon.biz
6 Tim Atkin 93 46 89 http://timatkin.com
7 Sarah Ahmed 81 51 90 http://thewinedetective.co.uk
8 Victoria Moore 81 50 89 http://howtodrink.co.uk/
9 Matthew Jukes 80 46 89 http://matthewjukes.com
10 John Abbott 62 57 89 http://decanter.com
11 William Lyons 82 33 89 https://www.facebook.com/willlyonswine
12 Robert McIntosh 91 47 80 http://wineconversation.com
13 Nicolas Rezzouk 49 73 83 http://ofmustandmash.wordpress.com
14 Lucy Shaw 65 44 86 http://finewineandthecity.blogspot.in
15 Richard W. H. Bray 62 36 89 http://winerant.blogspot.com
16 Geordie Clarke 71 44 81 http://geordieclarke.com
17 Rupert Millar 26 69 84 http://thedrinksbusiness.com
18 Jane Parkinson 78 32 79 http://www.janeparkinson.com
19 Robert Joseph 87 24 78 http://thewinethinker.com
20 Quentin Sadler 76 27 79 http://quentinsadler.wordpress.com
21 Richard Hemming 80 40 75 http://jancisrobinson.com
22 Natasha Hughes 77 34 76 http://natashahughes.com
23 Rosemary George 83 37 72 http://tastelanguedoc.blogspot.com
24 Henry Jeffreys 84 56 68 http://worldofbooze.wordpress.com
25 Warren Edwardes 46 50 74 http://wineforspicewarrenedwardes.blogspot.com
26 Chris Kissack 76 71 64 http://thewinedoctor.com
27 Vim Chatwani 73 26 72 http://12x75.com
28 Sarah Abbott 79 24 71 http://sarahabbottmw.com
29 Daniel Winerackd 52 31 72

www.winerackd.uk

30 Neal Martin 86 25 61 http://wine-journal.com
31 Matt Walls 62 42 61 http://mattwalls.co.uk
32 David Lowe 75 28 60 http://bigpinots.com
33 Peter Wood 41 10 74 http://thetastingnote.com
34 Walter Speller 44 90 51 http://walterspeller.com
35 Nick Stephens 50 43 55 http://bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk
36 Anthony Rose 81 48 47 http://anthonyrosewine.com
37 Oz Clarke 94 50 44 http://ozclarke.com
38 Sally Easton 70 37 42 http://winewisdom.com
39 Michael Edwards 27 53 45 http://michaelbulles.blogspot.co.uk
40 Patrick Schmitt 19 12 56 http://thedrinksbusiness.com
41 Benjamin Dawes 45 47 29 http://rdfinewine.com
42 Pieter Rosenthal 48 50 25 http://corkandbottle.co.uk
43 Sarah Newton 93 29 13 http://wine90.com

Source: Traackr


The online wine community in a nutshell - Source: Traackr.

The online wine community in a nutshell - Source: Traackr.


Acts of Vandalism

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2012-12-05


Competitive rivalries naturally abound between wine producers and their employees or  neighbours, yet very occasionally this boils over into hatred or vengeance and can lead to committed acts that go beyond the pale.

As reported on Jancis Robinson's Purple Pages

 The latest shock is the news that Gianfranco Soldera's entire production of the last 7 years has been lost to someone who broke into and entered his cellar and poured 600 hetctolitres of his famous Brunellos down the drain.

Soldera

That means it'll be another 9 years before any new releases will be forthcoming from the acknowledged master of brunello, and the maker of one of the world's greatest wines, with new releases priced at  GBP 1,500/ EUR 1850 per case of 12 bottles.

I feel very fortunate to have some of his wines, and will treasure these extraordinary, ultra long-lived, pure sangiovese rarities more than ever in the knowledge that I won't have the opportunity to buy a new release for another decade.

By the way, I do recommend Jamie Goode's excellent reviews from a vertical hosted by the brilliant Edinburgh merchant and shipper, Raeburn Fine Wines.

Sadly, this sort of event seems to be less isolated than it might have once been.

Take the example of Chateau Labat in the Medoc, who suffered 1,900 plantings of young vines butchered; cut down a few inches above ground level by secateurs earlier this year. It is estimated that it would have taken the perpetrator up to 7 hours to carry out the act, such was the malice aforethought of the sabotage.

Such action is an echo of a similar act carried out against the Cathiards at Chateau Cantelys, when 900 vines suffered a similar fate at the hands of electric secateurs in 2006.

Back in the 1990s, Chateau Monbrison's vines were similarly butchered by jealous local producers angered by the public way in which the then Belgian proprietor Vonderheyden was advocating extremely low yields in the pursuit of quality. Someone took offence, the act of destruction of his vines a powerful warning shot across the bows.


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