Friday, 19 February 2010


Yes, another major wine scandal has been uncovered. This time involving the French (who else? and giant US wine company Gallo. It seems that for the past few years some French producers have been supplying Gallo with what was supposed to be wine made from the Pinot Noir grape? Turns out that it is anything else but! The thirteen wine producers and traders on trial in the Gallo wine scandal were found guilty of having supplied a large quantity of fake Pinot Noir wines and six were handed a suspended prison sentence in a rare case in which the president of the criminal court said on Wednesday that the fraud had been committed.Claude Courset of the Ducasse wine traders was sentenced to a six-month suspended prison sentence with a fine of €45,000 though the prosecutor had asked for a harsher prison sentence.Five other people were sentenced to fines of between €3,000 and 6,000 and the remaining six for less. The trading firm of Limoux was ordered to pay €180,000 in penalties, according to aThe order is likely to be appealed against.The 13 defendants, including executives from wine estates, cooperatives, a broker, wine merchant Ducasse and conglomerate Sieur d'Arques, were accused of selling 18 million bottles of fake Pinot Noir to Gallo of California. The wine was sold under Gallo's popular "Red Bicyclette" Pinot Noir label though made from far less expensive grape varieties.At an earlier court hearing on January 25, public prosecutor Francis Battut asked for tough sentences, including heavy fines, suspended jail sentences and up to 12 months in jail for one of the defendants.All but two senior executives had admitted their guilt.Scandal reportedly erupted in March 2008 when France's fraud squad, the General Directorate for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF), became suspicious during an audit at Ducasse. He had been buying Pinot Noir at €58 per hL when the official market price was €97 and generic local grape varieties were selling for €45 hL. Also, the volume of wine from the Pinot Noir grape being sold to Gallo far exceeded the possible supply from the region.On the basis of a year-long judicial investigation, the defendants were accused of substituting wine made from less expensive local grape varieties for the Pinot Noir, which is popular on the American market."What worries me the most for my country are the economic consequences," prosecutor Battut said in a telephone interview with AFP, the French news agency." If Americans lose confidence in French wine production, particularly the Languedoc region, which is already going through a serious crisis, the consequences could be terrible."

Comment; The root of all wine scandals is of course greed. Greed on both sides. It beggars belief that Gallo truly thought that they were actually receiving Pinot Noir in the quantities that were being produced and the indeed the price they were paying? Pinot Noir is one of the most expensive grapes to produce and it never really has been successfully mass-produced. Because of this, it does have a huge amount of cache. In addition, to me this has a ring of the 'Kings new Cloths' about it. The thought that not a single US customer complained is both worrying but unsurprising! Worrying that there is still such a massive level of ignorance amongst consumers both here and in the US, that can be exploited in this underhand way. Unsurprising in that at this low level of purchase few questions are asked. If no one spits it out and no one dies then who cares? And for this very reason, most wine scandals are perpetrated at the bottom end of the market. I had to laugh when I heard the author Malcolm Gluck being interview on Radio 2 about this recent scandal. Gluck was very quick to get on his high horse and condemn such villainous behaviour. But here's a thing Malcolm has built his name on promoting the virtues of drinking plonk. Doubtless, many of you will have seen or read his bestselling book of the same name. But it is the continuing dumbing down of wine and it's pricing that leads to many of theses scandals in the first place. In the world of wine, you really do get what you pay for. Well most of the time?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Joys of being a Wine Merchant

It seems that the problems of USA wine merchants are not that different from ours.


As usual the Bordelais are hyping up the latest vintage, in order of course to get the highest possible prices. Apart from some hail early in the season it seems to have been a year when the vintage is exellent. Some experts think it will rival the exellemt 2005, but others including Robert Parker are at the moment cooler about it. Demand from the Far East as usual seems to be strong so 2009 will not in any case be cheap. No doubt the MW's will have lots to say when the fomal releases are made so we will have to wait and see.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


On Saturday 30th of May What’s On were delighted to be invited to a unique event held at one of the south east’s most prestigious fine wine venues. Maison du Vin of Hawkhurst.
We were among a select gathering assembled at the launch of Maison du Vin’s Wine Cellar Suppers’
Jean- Pierre Mucyn, a rising stars of the Northern Rhone, flew in especially to attend the event and present his 2007 wines. It is a vintage that has all the hallmarks of greatness and is set to be one of the best ever years in the Rhone Valley.
We were treated to both Red and White Croze - Hermitage and Red and White St Joseph. All the wines tasted fab and had all the characteristics of a landmark vintage.
Maison Du Vin’s proprietor Kevin Griffin is a chef by profession and did most of his training in the wine regions of France. Kevin served us a traditional and authentic Coq au Vin. Described by Jean-Pierre Mucyn ‘As a triumph!’
Wine Cellar suppers are a unique dinning and wine tasting experience perfect for celebrations, get-together’s and a very special birthday present for the wine lover in your life.
Your evening will be hosted by Kevin Griffin and prices start at £15 per head, which includes a tasting of eight different wines and supper afterwards.
Each event can be tailored to suite your individual requirements.
To find out more or book an event please phone Kevin on 01580 753487 or email

Wine Safari to the Loire Valley

The magnificent Loire is the last of France's truly great wild rivers. Unlike its peers, the Dordogne and the Rhone the Loire remains un-dammed throughout its 634-mile journey from the southern Masif Central region to the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast of France

I am sure if you were to ask any number of UK wine drinkers to name 10 French wines, without doubt two names from the Loire would be included. Sancerre and Muscadet.
Yet this fascinating beautiful area of France produces scores of different wines of all styles including the driest of whites. Some of the world’s best dessert wines. Red and sparkling wines. It is intriguing to think that although the Loire has been a top tourist destination for us Britt’s for decades the bulk of its wines remain largely undiscovered.
However, all that was about to change for us and twenty other lucky people when we were taken to Tours by Maison du Vin of Hawkhurst on one of their Wine Safaris at the beginning of October.
First of all if you have not been. Tours (capital of the Loire) is a beautiful city and we were staying right in the centre at the cities only four star Hotel the Hotel Univers. Highly recommended.
Tours is vibrant, bustling and full of style and charm. Head for the old town and you will find a clutch of gorgeous little squares and pavement cafe's and Bistro’s.
This year’s trip started at Ashford International rail station where we boarded the Eurostar at 7.30 am bound for Paris. We were all treated to a fabulous on board breakfast of Bagels filled with smoke salmon and cream cheese plus of course croissants. Oh, there were also some individual fruit salads for some of the more health conscious. All this was provided by Linda Markwick Catering of Tunbridge Wells.
Now despite the early start all this lovely food had to be washed down with more than just mere tea or coffee. Therefore, Maison du Vin provided some bubbly. By the time we got to Paris we were all holiday happy! The second leg of the Journey Paris to Tours takes less than an hour on the TGV. Our arrival time in Tour was 1.30 pm. Therefore, we just had time to fit in another onboard snack. This time we all tucked into a magnificent giant Pork Pie! Not very French but none the less delicious. The pie was made by long standing Maison du Vin customer David Sloan of Classic Touring. This masterpiece of culinary engineering received many admiring glances from fellow passengers as they shuffled passed on their way to the buffet car! You will not be surprised to find out that a few glasses of Vin Rouge washed it down!
The rest of the weekend was spent visiting a host of superb wineries and tasting some truly great wines. One of the unique features of the region is the many Troglodyte dwellings that litter the hillside and cliff faces. Some of the larger ones have been utilised by Wines Makers for cellarage.
One of the biggest and best known is Akerman-RemyPannier in Saumur, whom we enjoyed lunch with on the Saturday followed by a tasting and tour of its 7k of tunnels! Well, not all 7k
Before this, we had visited the region of ‘Chinon’ famous for its chunky red wines made from the Cabernet Franc grape. There we were to meet Ken Soni who owns Domaine Daniel Chaveau.
Ken is a wine maker from California who purchased the estate two years ago. A total eccentric complete with ponytail and cowboy hat! Of course, the locals think he is crazy and they might be right. Even Ken thinks that he is crazy! Nevertheless, judging by what he has achieved in the short space of time he has been there Ken is definitely a wine maker to watch. Anyway. Craziness has never been a barrier to making great wine!
By far and away, the biggest high light of the trip was our visit and tasting on Sunday morning to Domaine Huet in Vouvray
. Talk about saving the best until last! We were personally greeted and escorted by owner and world-renowned wine maker Noel Pinguet. Who had generously agreed to open up especially for us.
Almost the entire operation at Domaine Huet is built into the side a cliff. There is a labyrinth of tunnels where many treasured vintages lay quietly sleeping. Many dating back to the 1920’s and the early 1900’s! So, if you thought that white wine does not age. Think again.
Vouvray is exclusively a white wine appellation with Chenin blanc being the predominant grape variety.
Our tasting was led by Noel Pinguet and consisted of Dry, sweet, semi-sweet and sparkling wine all made from Chenin. All the wines stood out for their amazing balance, freshness and character.
The Loire valley is stunningly beautiful with a fairy tale chateau around every corner. Known as the playground of the Kings. It was once just that. A place where the Nobility of France came to play.
As the majestic Loire slowly makes its way to the sea it was soon our turn to slowly make our way home. Tired but very happy! As our train slowly slipped out of Tours, I began to contemplate what a wonderful time we had all had. This lovely corner of France may be a playground for Kings but for one glorious, golden sunny weekend in October, it was all ours.
Many thanks to Maison Du Vin for yet another fantastic Wine Safari
Cut and paste the link below into your browser to see a slide show of the trip.