The (Wine) Ghosts of Christmas Past

I thought it would be interesting if we had a look back at the Ghosts of Christmas Past in the World of Wine. This year has been haunted by the Apocalypse which triggered some enterprising wines from Bugarach in France and Sirince in Turkey.

However the big news this year has been centred around the First Growths and their marketing strategies with Chateau Latour’s announcement that it will no longer continue to sell wine at En Primeur from 2012 and that Chateaux d’Yquem and Rieussec will not be making a 2012 vintage.

2008 – Chateau Latour For Sale?

First Growth Chateau Latour was making headlines 4 years ago but for different reasons. Stepping back in time to 2008 the Bordelaise gossip mill was agog with the news that Chateau Latour was up for sale.

The Sunday Times reported that the investment bank Lazard was discreetly offering the label for sale to French competitors. Latour is owned by the French business tycoon François Pinault, who is also president of the luxury goods group PPR, whose stable of businesses includes Christie’s Auction House and the fashion brands Gucci and Puma.

Pinault acquired the winery in 1993 for £86m when it became part of his holding company Artemis. Artemis declined to comment but sources close to the company said it had no intention of selling Latour.

Sources in the wine industry, however, said the vineyard, once majority-owned by Pearson, publisher of the Financial Times, was on the market for £145 -£193 million. The rumours proved to be wrong and Latour has not been sold.

2009 – Chardonnay’s Roots

The year 2009 saw the discovery of the Chardonnay grape’s parents. The humble Gouais Blanc grape variety – once banned in Europe because of its poor quality – was found to be the mother of Chardonnay.

The wine world has known this since 1999 but the new study by a team from Cambridge University lead by Professor Howe has shown that Gouais Blanc was the “maternal parent” in crosses with Pinot Noir that produced at least nine modern grape varieties. That’s quite a dynasty for a humble grape!

Being the “maternal parent” determines the important characteristics of the offspring. Gouais Blanc was held in low esteem in the late medieval and early modern periods.

Typically, varieties of this sort were grown on flat land by peasants. The name Gouais derives from the old French adjective ‘gou’, a term of derision befitting its traditional status as the grape of the peasants. Between the late 16th and the 18th centuries, several attempts were made to ban Gouais Blanc and despite once being the most planted grape variety in North Eastern France it is now practically wiped out there.

2010 – Underwater Wine!

The underwater ageing of wine is a serious business and there have been several stories over the years of weird and wonderful wine cellars under the waves. However 2010 saw a major study get underway to analyse the ageing of wine beneath the sea. The Basque Country University made use of aquatic cameras and monthly checks by divers to track the wine’s evolution on the seabed off the Basque Country’s coast.

The research is on-going and is being conducted 15 metres down in the Bahía de Plentzia (Plentzia Bay), in the Basque province of Bizkaia at the Underwater Laboratory Aging Drinks (LSEB), launched by the Bilbao-based Bajoelagua Factory (“Bajoelagua” in Spanish means “underwater”).

So far bottles of wine, txakoli, cider and even some of whisky and rum have been placed under water. The idea is to carry out tasting month by month and to see how the drinks evolve. Trials are also being undertaken with different types of bottles (19 varieties of bottles that are currently on the market) to evaluate resistance and conservation i.e.: the circumstances they have to withstand, how the glass is going to respond, the appearance they are going to have for the customer, if they are going to be marketed, the smells etc.

2011 – Chinese Invasion?

The year 2011 saw a rash of purchases in Bordeaux as the Chinese began to buy up chateaux. This has continued on into 2012 with the news that the first Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé Saint Emilion, Chateau Bellefont Belcier, was sold to a wealthy Chinese businessman. Most of the chateaux sold in 2011 lay in the Entre Deux Mers, Saint Croix du Mont, Saint Emilion, Lalande de Pomerol appellations . . . will we see chateaux being sold in 2013 in Pauillac or Margaux?

Only time will tell!

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