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Of Wines Less Ordinary
To whom are the likes of Château Mouton Rothschild and Latour an everyday affair?
By Jenny Tan Chen Gee
There are certain professions that elicit the raise of an eyebrow. Jan-Erik Paulson may not hold the position of the Pope or scale the heights of Mount Everest with regular adour, but his job scope will draw gasps of envy from any wine-loving soul. After all, how many people can claim to have Paulson Rare Wines embossed on their name card?

"I love old Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone wines, especially those in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s," Paulson shared. Despite being the owner of a mighty collection, he was nevertheless a picture of gentility, eager to share his wine experiences as he rattled off name after name, label after label, vintage after vintage. "The thing about these older vintages is that I always get very nervous before they are served, even when I know how it tastes like," he humbly revealed during a tasting and lunch session conducted at Au Jardin Les Amis. He was referring to the 1964 Château Gruaud Larose, St Julien, Bordeaux and 1953 Bonnes Mares, Bouchard, Bourgogne generously shared from his own cellar.

How one set foot into such fields may be a mind boggler, but to Paulson, this was a natural process. It was initially the golf club activities that he was invited to as a student studying dentistry at the Royal Dental Hospital that exposed him to wines. When he moved to Germany ("and with more money," he added), he started buying wines at auctions and selling some of his collection so he could add on others. Eventually he started up this business in 1986, which he runs together with his wife, Bridget.

"Most of my wines are from Bordeaux, really, but I have started taking an interest in white wines and Austrian wines recently," he said, eyes twinkling behind the horn-rimmed glasses. He further explained, "Austrian white wines are the greatest white wines in the world. They have the body and high alcohol content and are as voluptuous as a Burgundy but have the acidity and freshness of German wines." This factor positions the wines as what he termed, "good food wines", especially when encountering the spicy nature of Asian food. To prove his conviction, the dishes on the menu during the luncheon by Chef de Cuisine Galvin Lim had Asian hints upon his request. The 1999 sauvignon blanc Hochgrassnitzberg, Polz and 2000 riesling Smagard Achleiten, Prager were served alongside a delectable dish of succulent fried prawns with poached oysters, silver sprouts and light curry emulsion, paired to the T.

"I suppose I can say I am fortunate enough to have tried most of the great Bordeaux," he said with a blissful smile. And as one eagerly asked, what is the greatest wine you've ever drunk? "The Château Mouton Rothschild '49. It's wonderful every time I try it and it's got less than 11% alcohol. Just goes to prove that high alcohol does not always improve the aging ability of the wine!" he commented.

He was quick, however, to caution that he stands apart from wine brokers. "Wine brokers don't own bottles and usually will not do the shipping and only sell by the case. I cater more to the consumer level," he explained. Although he has had buyers from Singapore who order wines from his collection online, this is the first time Paulson has been to Singapore. Collectors in Asia, he identifies, are similar to those in certain parts of Europe.

"Countries like Germany, Austria and Scandinavia have started drinking serious wines in the last 20 years. I see that there is a parallel between Austria and Asia in that one is starting to ask 'what should I buy?' So they look at wine journalists and magazines and point charts," he said. This presents a contrast to other parts in Europe - the people in the wine growing countries of Italy, Spain and France have been drinking wine since young and have developed their own tastes, so they don't need to refer to Robert Parker or wine scribes. Ironically, despite being associated with 'great wines', France is not the best market for mature wines. The French, according to Paulson's years of experience, thrive better at making wines than their wine knowledge.

"If you go to a restaurant in Bordeaux and ask for a mature wine, you will probably only be able to get a '95 or '96," shared Paulson. Great Britain, on the other hand, has traditionally been buying wines from Bordeaux for hundreds of years, as compared to the clientele in Paris that only started drinking them about 20 years ago. Today, he is able to identify two types of customers. "Firstly, you have those who buy for their collections and tasting. However, increasingly, especially in places like Germany, it is getting popular to give someone for their birthday the wine produced in the year they are born in!"

As he sipped his glass of 1999 No. 8 Welschriesling Trockenbeerenauslese produced by his good friend and winemaker, Kracher, he concluded with a dash of rare wine gospel, "I hope people will realise how well Austrian wines match the food in Asia. Most of the winemakers I know will love to be represented here." JT
More information on Paulson's collection of wines, accompanied by his tasting notes, can be found on his website www.rare-wines.com.
Vital Statistics of the Paulson Collection
Most expensive wine: Château Mouton Rothschild '45 (EU 6,000)
Most value for money wine: Château Petrus '47 and Cheval Blanc '47 (EU 1,950)
Greatest wine ever tasted: Chateau Mouton Rothschild '49




     

The first wine I tasted, or rather the first wine I tasted and liked was an old white Port my father used to serve at home with dessert on weekends. I loved the sweet fruit of the Port, quite a difference to the harsh tannins of the reds served with the main course. My next contacts with Port was during my time as a student in London when I occasionally was invited to dinner in a gentlemens- or a golfclub. These dinners invariably ended with a decanter of Vintage Port being passed clockwise around the table and I have been very fond of this wonderful drink ever since. One highlight of my wine career was being enthroned as a Cavaleiro to the Confraria do Vinho do Porto at a magnificent cermony at the Palácio da Bolsa followed by a procession through the streets of Porto.

The history of Port is very closely linked with the British and it was their wars with France during the 17th and 18th century that made them search for other sources of wine to replace the not any longer steady supply from France and particularly Bordeaux. Portugal was an ally of Britain and thus an increasing amount of trade took place with wine, cotton and fruit traded for British textiles. These red wines were basically dry simple wines, but the British had a special fondness of deep coloured, strong wines with some sweetness, so the wines of Douro were coloured with elderberry juice and some brandy was added to the casks before shipping to make the wine cope better with the ship journey. No one is really sure when it became the custom to make Port as sweet as it is now, however 1820 was a vintage that was renowned for its sweet, dark and full-bodied wines and the producers started to add ever increasing amounts of brandy to the wines to get a wine of the style asked for in Britain.

Port is made from grapes grown within a demarcated region along the river Douro and its tributaries, this is a vast area with very varied microclimates and, as as someone once said, "A place with eight months of winter and four months of hell". This is the most spectacular wine region in the world with its extremely high steep slopes making one wonder how it is possible for humans to work these terrasses. There are more than a hundred different grape varieties found in the vineyards of Douro often growing in a wild mixture next to each other as no one really cared what was what in the old days. Now much work has been done in analysing which varietals fit best to the different soils and microclimates present at each particular vineyard, and there is an increasing quality of the grapes being produced now. The most common varieties are Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Nacional.
After the harvest the grapes mostly ferment in tanks, but in some cases the traditional method of fermentation in the lagar (a large rectangular tank made out of great slabs of granite) is still being used, mostly for the best quality grapes to go into the Vintage Ports. Here rows of harvesters tread the grapes with their bare feet linked arm in arm for hours on end often to the accompaniement of music. This method is considered superior to the modern pressing since it will prevent any bitter substances produced by too harsh pressure. The wine then ferments until the point where the winemaker feels that there is just the right amount of sugar left in the wine. Alcohol in the form of high quality neutral-tasting Brandy gets added to the fermenting must in the proportions of 110 Liters of Brandy to 440 Liters of wine. The alcohol kills off the yeasts and thereby stops the fermentation leaving a wine with the right amount of residual natural sugar and an alcohol level of about 20 percent.

Types of Port.
Ports can be divided into two basic types: Ports aged in wood and Ports aged in bottle.

Ports aged in wood.
These are Ports made out of high quality wines with enough structure to be able to age for several years in wood. These wines are ageing in small, aged wooden casks usually containing about 600 litres. The purpose of this is not to give the wines a flavour of the wood as with still wines, but to allow the wine to develope through oxidisation. The word "tawny" meaning a golden reddish brown colour, this being produced by the oxidisation of the wine. The longer it has been kept in the wood the paler will the colour become.

Tawny Ports without a vintage or indication of age are quite simple Ports to be drunk young.

Tawny Ports with an indication of age are a totally different matter as these mostly are of great quality. Most Port houses produce a 10, 20 and 30 years old Tawny. The age indicated means that this is a blend of different vintages with an average age of 10, 20 or 30 years. This is where a Port house can show its own typical style through skillful blending of several lots to produce a characteristic taste being consistent from year to year. This is not unlike the way a Cognac or a Champagne from a great producer gets crafted.These Ports are very undervalued and offer great value for their prices.

Colheita Ports are Tawny Ports from a single vintage having aged in wood for at least seven years before being bottled, it is however common to find Colheitas that have been kept in wood for much longer being bottled according to command. These are very long lived wines and it is very popular to present someone with a bottle from his or her year of birth as a present.

A curiosity are Garrafeira Ports, these are only produced by Niepoort - one of the few still family-owned Port houses. The Port is aged for seven years in wood and then transferred to large antique glass demijohns containg about ten Liters. These wines retain their freshness extremely long and I greatly enjoyed several glasses of the sensational 1931 at Dirk Niepoorts wedding this summer.

Ports aged in bottle.
Ruby Ports are the bulk of Ports being produced and are wines being bottled young after having spent some years in very large casks to avoid oxidisation to retain its fresh fruit and deep ruby colour. These should be drunk young and will not improve much with age. Some Port houses produce a better quality of Ruby Port under the name of Reserve Ruby or Vintage Character Port.

Late Bottled Vintage Port or LBV.
This is a quite recent type of Port from a single vintage filling a gap between the rubies and the vintage ports in the times when they are best drunk. Since a Ruby Port should be drunk quite young and a great Vintage Port may need 15 to 20 years to really open up and show its splendour, there was quite a gap to bridge. This led to the idea in the 1960s to age the wine 4 to 6 years in large casks before bottling it, thereby producing a wine with the style of a Vintage Port with its deep colour and concentation of fruit but with a more mature character caused by the longer ageing in wood.

Vintage Port.
This is the King of Port and one of the greatest wines anywhere.
A Vintage Port will only be declared by a Port house in an exceptional year where the quality of the grapes is of such a concentration and balance that they will be able to age in bottle for a long time. This happens on an average three to four times in a decade and the decision to declare lies with the Port houses themselves. There are certain vintages where more or less all producers declare and some where only one or two producers feel that the quality is good enough. The wine will be bottled unfiltered after spending two to three years in large casks to retain its fruit. A Vintage Port is a deep coloured wine with great concentration of fruit and high tannins making it difficult to enjoy young but slowly opening up after ten years developing at a snails pace over decades. As a matter of fact, some of the greatest wines I have drunk within the last year were Niepoort 1945 and Fonseca 1927 which were both still wonderfully complex and fresh. These wines all throw a crust or depot and need careful decanting. They should also be drunk soon after opening since they will oxidise fast and lose their fruit if left too long. In contrast a Tawny or Colheita Port can easily be drunk with pleasure for days or even weeks after having been opened if not stored too warm.

When to drink Port.

Tawny Ports and Colheitas are wonderful on their own at the end of a meal or on a cold winter afternoon in front of an open fireplace.

A Late Bottled Vintage Port works very well with strong meat dishes, particularly Steak au Poivre where its power and sweetness contrasts beautifully with the sharpness of the pepper.

Vintage Port is the perfect drink with cheese, particularly blueveined cheeses like Stilton or Roquefort and I can not imagine a christmas without my Port.

Port has been getting increasingly popular in the last ten years with rapidly growing new markets the whole world over as more and more winelovers gets to know and love these unique treasures. Do try a Port and let yourself get seduced by its charm.



      

Grüner Veltliner - the worlds greatest white wines?

Results of a blind tasting.

I have just arrived back from Vienna where I had been arranging an interesting comparative tasting of Chardonnays from all over the world. Four years ago I was asked by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board if I would like to arrange a comparative tasting to see where Austria was standing internationally. I agreed to do this under certain conditions, the first being that I had free choice to choose the wines for the tasting myself - I did not want to lend my name to one of those tastings where one tries to make certain wines look good by comparing them with wines from poor vintages or producers from other regions. The other condition was that it had to be judged by a truly international jury.
In the tasting four years ago we tasted 11 Sauvignon Blancs and 15 Rieslings on their own and then a group of 17 Chardonnays with 4 Grüner Veltliner smuggled in amongst them. The sensation of the tasting was how excellent the Grüner Veltliner showed and how badly some of the burgundies did. Some burgundy lovers critised the tasting at the time, first for mixing Grüner Veltliner with Burgundy and secondly commenting that the wines were too young for the burgundies to show their real class.
I can partly understand the critisism regarding comparing two different varietals with each other, however it is not possible to arrange an international Grüner Veltliner tasting since it is more or less only grown in Austria. Secondly, they have a number of similarities in that they both are good "food wines", do not have very high acidity, have good body structure, weight and alcohol as well as a good ageing potential. They also share the ability to show their "terroir" if the wines are well made. Thirdly, it is a matter of the quality that the wine is showing that is judged and not the varietal. To counter the second critisism I included 3 flights of more mature vintages this time around.

Regarding the choice of wines, I asked the growers or their importers themselves, where possible, what they would like to show, in other cases I asked reknowned specialists and wine journalists for suggestions. All in all I think it is a fair selection of wines from the different wine regions of the world. The only exception is Australia, where I had asked one of their most important wine journalists to select the wines for me, unfortunately the wines did not arrive in time and we had to try what we could find in Vienna on a short notice. The jury consisted of 39 wine journalists and other experienced tasters from 13 different countries. The wines were tasted blind in flights of 6 and were scored on a 100 point scale, the highest and lowest score not counting. There was also some bottle variations and here only the good bottles were scored.

First we tasted 18 wines from 1999 and 2000. Here the winner was the 1999 Grüner Veltliner Spiegel Alte Reben from Fred Loimer in Kamptal, ahead of the 2000 Grüner Veltliner Exceptional Reserve from Freie Weingärtner Wachau - probably the worlds best cooperative winery. In the third place came the 1999 Chardonnay Monte Bello from Ridge Vineyards, California.

We then tasted 12 wines from 1995 to 1998. Here the winner (and overall winner of the whole tasting) was the 1997 Grüner Veltliner Ried Lamm from Willi Bründlmayer in Kamptal. I would like to add that it was his 1995 Grüner Veltliner Ried Lamm that was the overall winner 4 years ago as well. In second place came Mondavi's 1998 Byron Chardonnay Nielson Vineyards followed by another californian wine that 4 years ago also showed very well, the 1995 Chardonnay Mer & Soleil from Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards.

Finally 6 mature wines from 1990 to 1992 were tasted and the 3 austrian wines took all the medal placings. In first place the only Grüner Veltliner in the flight - the 1990 Grüner Veltliner Vinothekfüllung from Weingut Knoll in Wachau. Second place was taken by the 1990 Chardonnay from Weingut Bründlmayer in Kamptal and third place by the 1992 Chardonnay Ratscher Nussberg from Weingut Gross in Styria.
The stunning result is that 6 of the 7 Grüner Veltliners came in amongst the top 8 wines of the tasting. Even more amazing was however the disastrous showing of the Burgundies, all 6 were in the bottom half and 5 of these were amongst the bottom 8 wines.

A complete list of the wines placed in order with their average score:

1. 94,64 1997 Grüner Veltliner Ried Lamm, Bründlmayer, Kamptal.
2. 93,97 1999 Grüner Veltliner Spiegel Alte Reben, Loimer, Kamptal.
3. 93,57 1998 Byron Chardonnay, Nielson Vineyards, Mondavi, California.
4. 93,52 2000 Grüner Veltliner Exceptional Reserve, Freie Weingärtner Wachau.
5. 93,43 1990 Grüner Veltliner Vinothekfüllung, Knoll, Wachau.
6. 93,01 1995 Mer & Soleil Chardonnay, Caymus, California.
7. 92,93 1995 Grüner Veltliner Honivogl, Hirtzberger, Wachau.
7. 92,93 1995 Kellerberg, F.X. Pichler, Wachau.
9. 92,56 1999 Monte Bello Chardonnay, Ridge, California.
10. 91,77 2000 Chardonnay Wirra Wirra, McLaren Vale, Australia.
11. 91,52 1990 Chardonnay, Bründlmayer, Kamptal.
12. 91,41 1999 Chardonnay, Gantenbein, Switzerland.
13. 91,30 1997 Morillon (Chardonnay) Zieregg, Tement, Styria
14. 91,18 1999 Chardonnay La Strada Reserve, Fromm, New Zeeland.
15. 91,15 1999 Chardonnay Reserve, Markowitsch, Carnuntum.
16. 91,08 1999 Chardonnay Barrique, Rebholz, Pfalz, Germany.
17. 90,90 1995 Chardonnay Tiglat, Velich, Burgenland.
18. 90,85 1992 Chardonnay Ratscher Nussberg, Gross, Styria.
19. 90,59 1992 Chardonnay Reserve, Chalon, California.
20. 90,37 1999 Chardonnay 100% Barrique, Mulderbosch, South Africa.
20. 90,37 1997 Montrachet, Domaine Baron Thénard, Burgundy, France.
22. 90,23 1999 Chardonnay Pandkräftn, E. Triebaumer, Burgenland.
23. 90,14 1996 Chardonnay, Evans Tate, Margaret River, Australia.
24. 89,82 1999 Morillon (Chardonnay) Hochgrassnitzberg, E&W Polz, Styria.
25. 89,81 2000 Chardonnay Tatschler, Kollwentz, Burgenland.
26. 89,78 1999 Chardonnay Rey, Gaja, Italy.
27. 89,47 2000 Chardonnay Reserve, Johanneshof Reinisch, Thermenregion.
28. 89,36 1997 Chardonnay Grand Select, Wieninger, Vienna.
29. 88,99 1990 Corton Charlemagne, Louis Latour, Burgundy.
30. 88,18 1999 Grüner Veltliner Achleiten, Prager, Wachau.
31. 86,51 1999 Chablis Butteaux, Raveneau, Burgundy.
32. 86,07 1999 Weiss, Schwarz, Burgenland.
33. 86,04 1999 Meursault Charmes, Louis Jadot, Burgundy.
34. 85,93 1996 Chevalier Montrachet, Etienne Sauzet, Burgundy.
35. 84,69 1997 Chardonnay, Hamilton Russel, South Africa.
36. 81,57 1992 Chassagne Montrachet La Boudriotte, Ramonet, Burgundy.

The value of a tasting like this may be well be argued and should not be taken too serious.
The taste of a wine and the way we taste seems to vary from day to day, and a wine that shows best in a tasting is not always the wine that give most satisfaction where it really matters, namely at the dining table drunk by the glass instead of sipped at a blind tasting.
However two conclusions can be made from these results:
The grape Grüner Veltliner can produce wine of world class quality and any serious wine lover who does not know these gems should be buying some as soon as possible while the prices still are as low as they are.
The second conclusion is that the burgundian winemakers will have to get their act together, their prices do in many cases not reflect the quality of the wines they produce.



      

Austrian sweet wine - a concise history.

The history of sweet winemaking in Austria is on one side very long, dating back to the middle ages, on the other side it is a short one, as great sweet wines have only been produced on a regular basis in the last 10 to 20 years.

Sweet wine can be produced by three basic methods: by picking frozen grapes and pressing these carefully, thereby leaving the water in the form of ice crystalls behind. These are called "Eiswein" or ice wine.
The second method of getting rid of the water in the grapes and thus concentrating the sugar content of the wine is by drying the grapes, traditionally on strawmats - the "Strohwein". Other famous wines produced this way are the french "vin de paille" and the italian "vin santo".
The third method is by development of botrytis or "noble rot" of the grapes. For this to succeed you need a combination of healthy grapes, humidity and warmth. These conditions can cause the microscopic fungus Botrytis cinerea to grow on the grapes causing numerous minute pores of the grape skin, allowing water to evaporate thereby shrivelling the grapes and concentrating their sugar content. These wines are called Trockenbeerenauslesen or Beerenauslesen. In my opinion this is also the method producing wines with the most complexity and elegance. Famous regions for these types of wine are Sauternes, Alsace, Tokay and the german regions along the rivers Mosel and the Rhine.

The first Trockenbeerenauslese known in Austria was the legendary "Lutherwein" from 1526 produced in Donnerskirchen near the Neusiedlersee in Burgenland. This wine was so highly regarded that as wine was taken out of the cask, washed pebbles would be added so as to keep air out to prevent a too rapid ageing of the wine. It is said that the wine from these casks was drunk for over 300 years.

The most famous sweet wine of Austria came from the town of Rust where small amounts of healthy grapes were added to grapes affected by botrytis to produce "Ruster Ausbruch". This wine was similar in style to the famous hungarian wine of Tokay, as a matter of fact the area now known as Burgenland belonged to Hungary until 1921, when the people of the region voted in a referendum to belong to Austria rather than Hungary. The most prosperous time for the Ruster wines was during the 16th and 17th centuries, but they still remaining popular until the drying out of the shallow Neusiedlersee between 1865 and 1871.

Sweet wines were still being produced in Austria after this, but never with any regularity or with quality being of great importance. During the 1960s the demand for cheap sweet wine in Germany grew so large that, as not enough could be produced at home, wine was imported - mainly from Austria and Italy - to be sold as german Beerenauslesen and Trockenbeerenauslesen in the supermarkets. As low prices was the prime criterium, quality suffered but noone seemed to care.
To produce sweet wines naturally is very expensive, so wine was artificially and illegally sweetened and since the addition of sugar was fairly easy to detect, diethylene glycol (also used as an anti-freeze agent) was being used.
It must be made clear that the great majority of winegrowers made honest, dry wines for local consumption, but it made more financial sense for many to sell wine in bulk to the big winehouses rather than trying to bottle and market it themself.
When the scandal broke in 1985 most of the big producers relying on export went bankrupt overnight.
During these times the area of Burgenland was slowly dying in terms of a wine growing area.
The person most responsible fo the revival of the region and austrias reputation for world class wines is Alois Kracher Jr. Alois "Luis" Kracher, born 1959 left Illmitz on the shores of Neusiedlersee after school, just like most of the other young people of the region, to seek his fortunes in the city of Vienna. Here he studied and worked in the pharmaceutical industry only coming home to help his father in the vineyards during weekends when needed.
Having travelled to other wine regions and discovering his love of wine, he gave up his job and decided to fulfil his dream of producing wine that could measure up to the greatest sweet wines in the world, particularly those of the legendary Château d'Yquem. His father Alois Kracher Sr. is still tending the vineyards, whereas "Luis" is in charge of the winery where he started his experiments in 1991. Instead of the often poorly vinified, oxidised wines that were the norm in the region until then did he start trying to make wines with great concentration of fruit, freshness and complexity. He bought new oak casks from the same "tonnelier" in France as Château d'Yquem insisting to have the same "toasting" and quality as these. This new style of wine he called "Nouvelle Vague" as an hommage to the group of french filmmakers he much admired. In the early 1990's he organised numerous tastings for journalists, winemerchants and anyone else he could get hold of, showing his own wines next to the established great sweet wines in "blind tastings". He outscored these on so many occasions that the wine world started to take notice of "the crazy austrian" who dared show his wine next to Château d'Yquem and its like. With his amazing understanding of vinification and his neverending thirst for experiments and aim for perfection has he now joined the small group of absolute "superstars" in the world of wine. Not a year goes by without him winning awards and receiving top scores for his wines from all over the world.

He has had an enormous influence in Austria and there are now a large number of young winemakers producing lovely sweet world class wines. Most of these come from the area around the Neusiedlersee as the conditions for Botrytis are perfect here. The topnames from Rust include Feiler-Artinger, Peter Schandl, Ernst Triebaumer, Weingut Wenzl and Heidi Schröck. Other top growers from Burgenland include the Velich brothers, Helmut Lang, Martin Haider, Willi Opitz, Gerhard Nekowitsch, Tschida-Angerhof and Josef Lentsch who also runs one of the best restaurants in the area.

It has never been the tradition to make sweet wines in other regions of Austria, but in some years Botrytis would affect the grapes so rapidly and massively that you couldn't do anything but sweet wine with them. In the last ten years however, a growing numbers of winegrowers have been leaving grapes on the vines in the hope of Botrytis developing. Among the first in this field was Toni Bodenstein from Weingut Prager in Wachau, very fine wines have also been produced here by Emmerich Knoll and Franz Hirtzberger. The allround winemaker Willi Bründlmayer has long been making very good sweet wines, as does Fritz Wieninger in the austrian capital Vienna and Johann Reinisch on its outskirts. Even Manfred Tement from Styria on and off produces impressive TBAs from Chardonnay or Morillon as it is locally known.

Sweet wines used to be the most sought after and expensive wines throughout the centuries, often being reserved for royalty and nobility. Unfortunately they seemed to get out of favour during the beginning of the 20th century, in part due to the prohibition in the USA and the russian revolution, Russia and USA belonging to the largest importers of top sweet wine at the time.
With the large amounts of poor sweet wines hitting supermarkets in the 1960s it became a social faux-pas to serve even great sweet wines to your guests. Things are now slowly starting to change for the better, and you really should try to get hold of a bottle of the best and see for yourself.

 

      


A short history of austrian wine: Wine has been grown in Austria at least since the days of the romans and was for centuries mainly in the hands of the church. Contrary to France and Germany, Austria does not have a history of a small number of premium wines with a higher reputation and price than their peers. The great bulk was sold for local consumption at low prices and usually drunk the year following the harvest. Austrian wine was almost totally unknown outside of its own borders and the export market was in the hands of a small group of winemerchants selling wine in bulk.
During the 1960s the demand for cheap sweet wine in Germany grew so large that, as not enough could be produced at home, wine was imported - mainly from Austria and Italy - to be sold as german Beerenauslesen and Trockenbeerenauslesen in the supermarkets. As low prices was the prime criterium, quality suffered but noone seemed to care.
To produce sweet wines naturally, you need apart from the right weather conditions, selective harvesting and the cost of production is high.
The solution was to artificially and illegally sweeten the wine - since the addition of sugar was fairly easy to detect, diethylene glycol also used as an anti-freeze agent, was being used.
It must be made clear that the great majority of winegrowers made honest, dry wines for local consumption, but it made more financial sense for many to sell wine in bulk to the big winehouses rather than trying to bottle and market it themself.
When the scandal broke in 1985 most of the big producers relying on export went bankrupt overnight. The whole infrastructure changed and many small growers whose only customer had been the big merchants went out of business. Many of the older growers now handed over the reign to the next generation who had travelled and knew the best wines from France and other regions of the world.
The timing was perfect as a great change in lifestyle had taken part in the eighties - there was now an ever increasing amount of wine- and gourmet magazines being produced. With more good rewiews, the demand for these wines grew and so the prices reached a level where it was possible to lower yields, take risks by harvesting later and therefore trying to reach levels of maturity previously only obtained in exceptional vintages. The enormous advances in cellar techniques enabled the growers to cope with grapes with higher sugar levels without making plump, semi sweet wines.
To wait with the harvest of the top wines is a risky business, usually the grapes had been harvested as soon as possible in order to avoid being caught out with wet weather causing rot in the vineyards. Why wait when customers didn't pay higher prices for later harvested wines? It has now become the norm for the best wines in Wachau to be picked well into the month of november.
The effect of waiting with the harvest makes the wines more concentrated and complex, it seems that cold nights coupled with warm days increases the complexity and intensity of flavour in the grapes.
I personally was a Bordeaux drinker who saw white wines as a necessary evil that had to be suffered with fish, before one could get down to the serious stuff. Through my austrian friends I have come to love these wines and now frequently drink a Smaragd from Wachau or a Heiligenstein from Bründlmayer instead of a Bordeaux with dinner. The greatest though geographically the smallest of the regions is Wachau - a dramatically beautiful landscape along the Danube with its steep terasses and fairy tale castles. Here the "terroir" place an important role in forming the character of its wines. "Terroir" being this undefineable french word meaning a combination of soil, microclimate and the influence of the winegrowers general mood. Here the vines are struggling for nourishment on solid rock, hanging on for their lives on really steep slopes and terrasses. The changing minerality of the soil/rock makes for interesting differences of character in the wines and thankfully this does not get disguised by generous helpings of wood in the form of "barriques" or oak casks. The Superstars in Wachau are Emmerich Knoll, F.X. Pichler from the Dürnstein side of the valley produce powerful wines, but still with a lot of complexity and character. In Spitz, furthest west in the valley, Franz Hirtzberger makes probably the most elegant and stylish of the wines (it is always a degree or so cooler throughout summer here than in Dürnstein). In between the two lies Weissenkirchen where the reputable Weingut Prager is being led by the talented and intellectual Toni Bodenstein, a man who has spent much time in studying the geology of Wachau. His wines are a combination of the grace of Spitz and the power of Dürnstein. Only a couple of kilometres away from Wachau lies the town of Langenlois where one of the most versatile winegrowers of all, Willi Bründlmeyer, lives and works. The most legendary of all austrias "Lagen" Zöbinger Heiligenstein is to be found here. Its original name was actually "Höllenstein" (the stone from hell), because of the intense heat there during summer. Due to the influence from the church its name has changed to "Heiligenstein" (the holy stone). Its wines are legendary for their ageability - I have enjoyed wines from as far back as the 1920s that appeared not to be more than a couple of years old. Here as well as in Wachau Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are the most important grape varietals. You will however find a range of other grapes being produced here such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc),Pinot Noir.
Another wine region that has now reached international standard is to be found in the south bordering to Slovenia - Steiermark or Styria. Here you will find some of the best Sauvignon Blancs in the world, one has for generations also been making good wine from a local grape called "Morillon". It was only fairly recently discovered that this grape actually is identical to the internationally successful chardonnay grape. The superstars here are Manfred Tement with his "Zieregg" Sauvignon Blanc and Morillon. Also very good are the Polz brothers and Alois Gross.
I don't think there is a more exciting wine scene anywhere in the world at the moment - new heights are being reached every vintage and the winemakers of Austria have certainly not yet reached the limit of what is possible. The news of their quality has started to reach the far corners of the world and with it an ever increasing demand for these wines. The top austrian wines are now being found in all the very best restaurants from New York to Tokyo, and it has become very trendy to ask for a Knoll or Pichler instead of Napa Chardonnays or the classic white burgundies.




      

Burgenland is austrias second largest winegrowing region. It borders Slovakia in the north, Hungary in the east and Slovenia in the south. Hardly any other region in Austria (and for that matter, Europe) has experienced such a growth in quality and diversity of their wines as Burgenland in the last 10 to 15 years. It now produces world class sweet wines, very impressive Chardonnays and increasingly interesting red wines.

This is historically a very interesting region so I will try to describe its historical background in short.
Its cental position has made it an area being settled with many different populations throughout the centuries. A cauldron from around 700 BC discovered in a digging in Zagersdorf was found to contain wine pips, so it can be assumed that wine has been grown in this area even before the romans settled here around 15 BC. Their important "Amber Road" leading from the Baltic to the Mediterranean Sea passed through this region. After the fall of the Roman Empire this area was fought over by the Goths, Huns, Langobards and Avares until the time of Charlemagne around 800 AD. Now Benedictine and Cisterciense monks started monastries and brought new techniques of wine growing and wine making with them. During the Habsburg Reign Burgenland became part of the Hungarian Kingdom and went through a long period of peace, with the exception of occasional raids by the Turks. The turkish occupation of large parts of Hungary proved a blessing for the wines of Burgenland, as it opened an opportunity to supply the viennese society with sweet wines from Rust and neighbouring towns as substitute for the now unavailable wines from Tokay. As the region prospered, noble hungarian families settled in the area, most famous being the Esterházy family. The Esterházys were known for being tolerant towards the Jews, and Burgenland had since then large jewish communities until the time of the Hitler regime. The wine trade was mainly in jewish hands and with their trade connections trade prospered.
The wine production consisted mainly of white wine and particularly sweet wine, however as the mildew and phylloxera hit the french wine producing areas, red wine was planted in great style and the region exported red wine all over Europe. The phylloxera eventually reached Burgenland but it was now known how to fight the root louse, so replantings were done fast.

The region was now mainly under hungarian influence with hungarian being the official language. After the the First World War and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire a referendum was held in 1921, where two thirds of the population voted for Burgenland to belong to Austria rather than Hungary. The period that now followed were one of poverty and large numbers of the population emigrated to other parts of the world. After the Second World War the region slowly recovered but its reputation as a wine producing area was not very high. Only in the 1980s did things start to change for the better.

The climatic conditions of Lake Neusiedler with its warm pannonian climate and the large number of shallow pools of water leads to the development of botrytis or "noble rot" of the grapes. For this to succeed you need a combination of healthy grapes, humidity and warmth. These conditions can cause the microscopic fungus Botrytis cinerea to grow on the grapes causing numerous minute pores of the grape skin, allowing water to evaporate thereby shrivelling the grapes and concentrating their sugar content. These wines are called Trockenbeerenauslesen or Beerenauslesen. In my opinion this is also the method producing sweet wines with the most complexity and elegance. Other famous regions for these types of wine are Sauternes, Alsace, Tokay and the german regions along the rivers Mosel and the Rhine.
The person most responsible for the revival of the region and austrias reputation for world class wines is Alois Kracher. Alois "Luis" Kracher, born 1959 left Illmitz on the shores of Neusiedlersee after school, just like most of the other young people of the region, to seek his fortunes in the city of Vienna. Here he studied and worked in the pharmaceutical industry only coming home to help his father in the vineyards during weekends when needed.
Having travelled to other wine regions and discovering his love of wine, he gave up his job and decided to fulfil his dream of producing wine that could measure up to the greatest sweet wines in the world, particularly those of the legendary Château d'Yquem. His father Alois Kracher Sr. is still tending the vineyards, whereas "Luis" is in charge of the winery where he started his experiments in 1991. Instead of the often poorly vinified, oxidised wines that were the norm in the region until then did he start trying to make wines with great concentration of fruit, freshness and complexity. He bought new oak casks from the same "tonnelier" in France as Château d'Yquem insisting to have the same "toasting" and quality as these. This new style of wine he called "Nouvelle Vague" as an hommage to the group of french filmmakers he much admired. In the early 1990's he organised numerous tastings for journalists, winemerchants and anyone else he could get hold of, showing his own wines next to the established great sweet wines in "blind tastings". He outscored these on so many occasions that the wine world started to take notice of "the crazy austrian" who dared show his wine next to Château d'Yquem and its like. With his amazing understanding of vinification and his neverending thirst for experiments and aim for perfection has he now joined the small group of absolute "superstars" in the world of wine. Not a year goes by without him winning awards and receiving top scores for his wines from all over the world.

He has had an enormous influence in Austria and there are now a large number of young winemakers producing lovely sweet world class wines. Most of these come from the area around the Neusiedlersee as the conditions for Botrytis are perfect here. The top names from Rust include Feiler-Artinger, Peter Schandl, Ernst Triebaumer, Weingut Wenzl and Heidi Schröck. Other top growers from Burgenland include the Velich brothers, Helmut Lang, Martin Haider, Willi Opitz, Gerhard Nekowitsch, Tschida-Angerhof and Josef Lentsch who also runs one of the best restaurants in the area.

The white wines from Burgenland do not as a rule have the minerality and "nerve" of the whites from Wachau or Langenlois, but some great Chardonnays are being produced here. Particularly the "Tiglat" from Weingut Velich, which in a recent "blind" tasting in London came top of a group of 21 Chardonnays from the very most famous producers in the world including many top producers from Burgundy. Other good Chardonnays are produced by Paul Achs, Ernst Triebaumer and Birgit Braunstein.

It is however the red wines from Burgenland that are the hottest wines in Austria at the moment. This is where the changes have been the greatest in recent years.
The traditional austrian red wine varieties are Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir) and St. Laurent. The old vines had been planted with quantity rather than quality in mind. Recently major replanting of vines with better clones have been taking place as well as an introduction of internationally fashionable varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Mostly these are used in blends or "cuveés" rather than as varietal wines which leads to more complexity in the wine. These cuveés mostly have very fancy names and it can be a bit confusing for the uninitiated to follow it all. Intensive research of the soil and climate has been done to determine which grape variety fits the particular "terroir" present. The yields have been reduced, leading to a better quality and concentration of grapes, the cellar techniques have been greatly improved through learning and investments in the cellar equipment. Whereas there was a tendency to produce "overoaked" wines by use of too many new barriques (small oak casks) in the early stages, one is now aiming at a better balance of the wines. This is a very exciting progress and it will be interesting to follow the development of red wines in Burgenland in the future.
There are a great number of producers making good red wines and new stars seem to appear on the sky every year. Below are some of the very best red wineproducing wineries in Burgenland:
Anton Kollwentz, Weingut Pöckl, Gernot Heinrich, Paul Achs, Weingut Schwarz, Hans and Anita Nittnaus, Juris-Stieglmar, Feiler-Artinger, Ernst Triebaumer, Paul Kerschbaum, Albert Gesellmann, Josef Leberl, Weingut Weninger, Hermann Krutzler, Paul Braunstein, Weingut Pittnauer, Engelbert Prieler, Arachon T.FX.T, Heidi Schröck, Rosi Schuster, Schönberger
und Josef Umathum.

Burgenland is a great area for taking a holiday with its agreeable climate, historic sites, the bustling Neusiedler See, a wonderful Nationalpark, good food, charming people and of course their fabulous wines!




      

Château La Mission Haut Brion
As the wines of Bordeaux were classified in 1855 only one château outside Médoc was included, the premier cru Château Haut Brion from Graves.
They were classified into five groups or cru's ranged according to the prices they fetched. It has since been a favourite pasttime of most wine experts to suggest alterations to the original 1855 classification. Château La Mission Haut Brion which was not included in this list can be said to be the first "supersecond" château. It has not quite reached the status and the price of the premier crus, but being in a class of its own above those of the second crus of Médoc.
I would like to clear a frequent misunderstanding straight away: Château La Mission Haut Brion is not and has never been a "second wine" of Château Haut Brion, as a matter of fact is had never been part of or under the same ownership until the Dillons bought it in 1983.
The property was donated in 1664 to a religious congregation founded by Saint Vincent de Paul - the Lazaristes or the Prêcheurs de la Mission. It was confiscated by the state during the french revolution and then sold in 1792. The ownership changed several times until the Woltner family bought it in 1919. It was the Woltners and particularly Henri Woltner who built up its reputation to where it stands today. It remained in their family until 1983, when it was bought by the owners of its illustrious neighbour, Château Haut Brion. La Mission Haut Brion had been the only real competition to Haut Brion as the best wine of Graves for decades and many wine lovers around the world had feared that the distinct difference in character of the two neighbours would disappear as it was now being made by one and the same winemaker, the brilliant Jean-Bernard Delmas. These fears have fortunately proved to be unfounded with both wines continuing being among the very greatest in the world, but still very distinct and different in style.
What makes the wines so different? Both are joining each other in a part of Graves, which at the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before the Médoc vineyards became popular, was the centre of bordelais winemaking. Most other vineyards in this part of Graves are long gone and the vineyards of La Mission and Haut Brion are now surrounded by highrise office buildings and housing estates within the the expanding city of Bordeaux itself. The soil is similar to that of Haut Brion, as is the proportion of the grape varietals. Both contain roughly 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. The difference is mainly to be found in the way the wine is made once the grapes reach their respective cellars. La Mission was pioneering wine making in the 1920s by introducing glasslined metal fermentation tanks. These were more hygienic and easier to clean than the traditional wooden vats, but the biggest advantage was the ability to cool the vats during the fermentation by running cold water on their outside. Too warm fermentation temperatures could kill off the yeast before fermentation was finished, and there was then an increased risk of bacteria converting the residual sugar into vinegar leading to volatile acidity. The practised method of lowering the fermentation temperatures at this time was to add sacks with ice to the must, thereby cooling but also diluting the wine. By fermenting at lower temperatures important aroma products were retained in the wine and the wine could be kept on the lees for a longer time, giving a wine with deeper colour and more extract. The wines are traditionally more tannic and austere when young, and they demand more patience before the wine starts to get rounded at the edges than those of Haut Brion. When tasting the wines of Haut Brion and La Mission next to each other it is a difference in style rather than quality that determines which wine the taster prefers. I personally have found this to vary from vintage to vintage and from time to time depending on which mood I'm in. The wines from La Mission are generally speaking more powerful and show more upfront concentrated fruit and tannins than Haut Brion, whose wines are among the most elegant and complex wines in the world.
In short it can be said that, similar to the wines of Château Latour, they are deep coloured, showing concentrated, majestic fruit combined with a firm backbone of tannin and structure. Another similarity to the wines of Château Latour is a reputation for producing wines of good quality and ageability in difficult vintages.
Also included in the sale to the Dillons was Château La Tour Haut Brion. This was for many years used as a second wine of La Mission Haut Brion, that usually meant that the best wine from the two properties was bottled as La Mission Haut Brion and the wine that was not quite up to this standard was bottled as La Tour Haut Brion. This has now changed and La Tour Haut Brion is again a property in its own right. The second wine of La Mission Haut Brion is now called La Chapelle de la Mission and is a great buy, particularly in good vintages.
One of the best and most expensive white wines of the Bordeaux region is also produced by La Mission - Château Laville Haut Brion.
The vintages of Château La Mission Haut Brion:
1991 to 1994 are very good examples from these difficult vintages showing how well La Mission does when the conditions are far from ideal. All drinking very well now.
1990 has good silky fruit and soft tannins. Already lovely, but with a great future.
1989 was marked by a very hot, dry summer and the earliest harvest since 1893. Very concentrated roasted fruit and a spectacular wine.
The 1988 is good for this somewhat tough and lean vintage with ripe and sweet fruit.
The 1987 is very good for the vintage.
The 1986 and 1985 both show a touch of burned rubber on the nose that seems to get less noticeable with time and a couple of hours of decanting time does them good. Both show very good concentrated fruit, the 1985 is more elegant and soft and the 1986 show more tannin and concentration.
I have always thought that the 1983 La Mission is one of the better wines of this underrated vintage and it is lovely now.
The magnificent 1982 has understandably never been underrated, it is a glorious wine now starting to reach maturity. This should drink well for at least another 30 years.
The 1979 and 1978 are still drinking very well, in fact La Mission made one of the very few wines in 1978 that still has some future left.
1976 needs drinking up, but is still good for the vintage.
The 1975 is getting to become a legend. Enormously concentrated and powerful with none of the hard tannins so typical of his vintage. Fantastic wine but not really typical in style of a Graves.
The 1974 is the best wine of this vintage and one of the few that still gives pleasure.
The 1971 and 1970 are both very elegant and stylish wines now fully mature.
To smell the 1966 is like stepping in to a viennese coffehouse and is absolutely lovely now as is the fabulous 1964 (1964 was a much better vintage in Graves than for most parts of Médoc).
The 1961 is a monumental wine with great concentration of fruit and this will drink well forever.
The 1959 is not far behind the 1961 in quality and has been giving pleasure for a long time and will continue to do so for some time to come.
Two wines from "minor" vintages that show amazing class and youth are the 1958 and 1950 La Missions.
Beautiful wines were made in 1952, 1953 and 1955 and they are still giving great joy if stored well.
The price for the greatest wine during the 1940s will be fought out between the lovely 1949 and the majestic 1945, I tend to cast my vote for the near perfect 1949 but then I am partial in this case. Also very good are the 1947 and the 1948 which are still showing great fruit and style.
Bottles from earlier vintages have shown large variations due to how they have been stored, but the 1928 La Mission has been showing itself to be a great wine on several occasions.



      

If asked, it is very likely that I would nominate Château Latour as my personal "Desert Island Wine". In other words, if I was only allowed to drink one wine for the rest of my days, I would chose Latour.
No other wine has shown more consistency in quality and style for such a long period of time. Compared with the other superstars of Bordeaux it has never really had a "difficult period" when for some reason or other the quality has dropped below its potential. This can also be said for Château Haut Brion which I also admire enormously and which would have been my second candidate for the desert island. However, there is that certain majesty that Latour shows that makes it unique. It is never a spectacular wine which grabs you by the collar and overbowls you like Mouton Rothschild, Pétrus or Cheval Blanc at their best can do, nor has it the delicate sweetness and charm of a Lafite Rothschild and Margaux at their greatest. It is a rather hard and unapproachable wine in its youth and usually need 10 years to reach the first stage of maturity but mostly need 20 to 30 years to really show its true qualities. Then the power of the wine will remain but the hard edges will soften and the complexities and richness of a truly great wine starts to show. In good vintages Latour can age for 50 to 60 years and in great vintages for even longer.

Latour has been mentioned as a separate estate for over 700 years and was early on planted with vines. At the later part of the 17th century a few estates in Graves and Médoc started to produce the style of Bordeaux we know today. For the first time wine was sold under the name of the estate rather than the village or the region where it was produced.
This led to a number of classifications of the leading wines of Bordeaux by wine merchants and others - even Thomas Jefferson, American Ambassador to France and later 3rd President of USA made his own rating of the wines of Bordeaux in 1787. Château Latour always remained one of the best wines mentioned in these ratings. In the famous 1855 classification Latour was one of the four wines classified as a Premier Cru. Lafite Rothschild, Margaux and Haut Brion being the other three (Mouton Rothschild was deservedly upgraded to a Premier Cru in 1973).

The status of Latour has for over 200 years never been questioned - a feat that can not only be the result of good winemaking. So there must be something else to explain why it still stands out in a class of its own even in these competitive times where vineyard management and winemaking techniques are getting globally standardised.
This something is described with the magic word "Terroir". One influential part of this for Latour is the river Gironde - the vineyards of Latour lies only a couple of hundred meters from its shores. The river has a beneficial influence on the climate, cooling it when too hot and warming it when too cold. Its vineyards very gently slopes towards the river providing perfect drainage. The vineyards are covered by gravel deposited from the Pyrenees and the Massif Central as the ice retired north during the ice age. This provides a poor soil not suitable for growing anything but wine, it does however contain patches of iron-rich clay which is said to help produce fine fruit flavours. Pebbles the size of golfballs store the heat of the day to give it out during the night, they also makes it easy for rainwater to drain through it which also helps to explain Latours reputation for making good wines even in difficult, rainy vintages. The structure of the soil is ideal in making it possible for the roots to dig deep for nourishment in hot, dry vintages thereby providing the unique taste of Latour.

Latour has about 60 hectares of vineyards in 3 plots. The wine for the Grand Vin (about 175.000 bottles) comes from the largest plot surrounding the château - L'Enclos. The wine from the other two plots as well as the wine from L'Enclos that do not quite reach the quality expected for the Grand Vin go into Latours excellent 2nd wine - Les Forts de Latour ( 140.000 bottles) or as a simple, but good Pauillac.
The vineyards are planted with about 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and the remains with Cabernet Franc and a small amounts of Petit Verdot.

The ownership had remained in french hands until 1963 when the majority was sold to british owners - the Pearson group. It was a hard blow for the french pride and President de Gaulle was said to have commented that "at least they can't take the soil away". 30 years later in 1993 Latour was back in french ownership when Francois Pinault, a succesful businessman bought the estate. He thereby fulfilled a longtime dream, but takes no active part in the running of Latour. This is done by a young french team under the leadership of Frédéric Engerer who, unusually, did not have a background in the wine business. But an understanding of international business and management talent is increasingly important in running an estate of this calibre and a lot of changes have been made in the last ten years. Fortunately these have been to fine tune the wine rather than to alter its basic character. There have been changes in the vineyards treating different parcels individually according to its needs in order to get better grapes every year, also harvesting parcel by parcel. The winemaking facilities have also been improved to take this into account and to be able to produce the best wine possible. I am certain that at Latour, having one of the greatest terroirs on earth, one will not be tempted to change the wines character to pamper to popular demand for big, jammy wines to be drunk young.

I have been fortunate to drink my fair share of bottles and can hardly remember ever having been disappointed. It is true that Latour often gets underrated when young, sometimes appearing too tough but time has proven many a wine critic wrong.
The wines from the 1920s are legendary - particularly the twin vintages 1928 and 1929. The 1934 is lovely and the 1937 surely one of the few wines coping with the tough tannins.
1945 and 1949 are some of the greatest wines ever made and the 1948 is still very good. The 1952, 1955 and particularly the 1959 are a joy to drink. The 1961 is one of the legends of all time - a wine only now starting to show its magic. The 1962, 1964 and 1966 are three wines now at their peak. 1970 is the wine of the vintage, 1971 and 1978 should be drunk now and 1975 is just reaching its first drinking phase. The 1980s produced some lovely wines - the 1982 is fabulous, the 1983 and 1985 are drinking very well now, the 1986, 1988 as well as the tannic 1989 needing time. 1990 is a vintage that may turn out to become one of the Latour legends. 1991 is one of the most underrated wines of all times - a severe spring frost killed the young shoots and most châteaux had to make wine from a second generation of unripe grapes which gave the vintage the reputation for hard, "green" wines. As mentioned earlier the Gironde protects Latour from such hard frosts and here all grapes that were harvested were from the fully mature first generation of grapes.
1992, 1993 and 1994 were difficult vintages with rain during the harvest, but yet again this is less apparent at Latour than elsewhere due to its excellent drainage and strict policy of only using the best grapes in the Grand Vin.
1995 and 1996 are classic Bordeaux twin vintages, the 1995 being, like 1985 and 1929, the more approachable and elegant of the twins and 1996 more tannic and tough like the 1986 and 1928 vintages.
The last vintages have been very succesful at Latour and I can not see that there will be any changes for the worse in times to come.

Latour has a wonderful and unique terroir and the people in charge lets this express itself in the wine, producing one of the most distinctive, stylish and majestic wines in the world again and again and again.



      

Wine is the most wonderful of drinks produced by the hard work of winegrowers to be enjoyed by wine lovers all over the world, but is it also suitable as a financial investment?

There are a number of arguments that speak for this, particularly after the negative experiences on the stockmarkets in the last couple of years. Wine is an asset just like gold or real estate. A great wine can never become worthless -if the worst comes to the worst you can always drink it. An advantage to real estate is that you can sell it bottle by bottle according to your needs. I have a customer who sells me a couple of bottles from his wellstocked cellar every year to finance his holidays. Anyone who has been buying the "right" wines at the right moment can show a very nice gain indeed.
There is a comparison where the increase in value of shares, gold and wine were compared over a period of 30 years. The prices of five selected Bordeaux wines, gold and the german share index was compared with a starting index of 1.000 units in the year 1971. The value of gold increased from 1.000 to 6.517 points from 1971 to 2001, the shares increased to 11.192 points and our selected wine portfolio to an amazing 162.323 points - more than tenfold the value of shares!

Which wines are suitable as investments?

Only wines of highest quality produced in limited numbers from a clearly defined area and with a long "life" ahead. The most important examples are the top wines from Bordeaux. These wines have proved their quality over centuries. Only a few wines from outside Bordeaux have "Investment Potential", namely some great wines from Burgundy (e.g. Domaine Romanée Conti and Leroy) and Rhône (Jaboulet, Guigal and Rayas). White wines are only in very rare cases suitable as investments. Only the very best sweet wines come into question but these rarely obtain spectacular price increases due to their limited market.
Wines from the New World and fashionable New Style wines do not in my opinion have the potential for a long term increase in value. The reason for this is the ability to produce an ever increasing amount of bottles and the lack of proof of their ageing potential.
Wine has been a source of speculation for centuries but the market for this has particularly in the last 20 years been very active.
The basic principle determining the value of a wine is the same as for just about everything else - the relationship between supply and demand.

What factors determine demand?

The demand for a wine is first of all depending on its quality and the judgement of this by wine critics and other opinion makers. The american wine critic Robert Parker is still the single most important of his kind, particularly when it comes to determine the demand for the "En-Primeur" trade where the wines of the latest vintage is offered in the spring after the harvest. The danger of investing in the "En-Primeur" wines is the fact that the wines can develope quite differently and not live up to the promise of an early cask sample. It is no big secret that the most important wine journalists get to taste samples from selected rather than average casks. Another factor adding to the insecurity is that no one knows what following vintages will be like. The demand for a young wine will decrease if an even better vintage is to follow.

What factors determine supply?

The supply is the number of bottles of a wine available at a particular time. This is first of all determined by the amount of wines originally harvested - Pétrus or Le Pin are good examples of wines obtaining extremely high prices because of their very limited production. Secondly, the supply is determined by the age of the wine. A top wine from Bordeaux usually needs about 10 years to reach maturity, before this time only relatively few bottles will be drunk. The supply during the first years after the harvest is high and only after reaching maturity does the supply drop with each bottle enjoyed at dining tables all over the world. A third factor is the number of bottles actually being offered on the market - as long as the wine is being kept in private cellars rather than in the warehouses of winemerchants or wineries there will be increasing prices. Another determining factor is the willingness of private collectors to part with their treasures. This happens as a rule when they urgently need money, particularly after having made losses on the financial markets.

There are a number of important rules that one should follow to be succesful in this field:

1. Buy the right wines - a good knowledge about wine is of utmost importance.

2. Provide good storage condition - wines in imacculate condition will obtain better prices.

3. Buy and sell wine in their original cases. An unopened original case of a wine will achieve a higher price than a split case will.

4. Your profit will obviously depend on your ability to buy as cheap and sell as expensive as possible.

A private person buying his wines from the trade pays the winemerchants mark-up as well as VAT. On selling back to the trade the same factors will be taken into account in establishing the price being paid. It is clear that a wine need to increase about 50% in value before any profit remains for the investor. By buying and selling at auctions a bit more gain is possible but there are insecurities regarding the condition of the wines and the final prices achieved.

Increasingly popular alternatives are the few Wine Investment Funds on the market. Their advantage is that experienced wine-professionals are in charge of buying and storing the wines. These have good contacts in the trade and can therefore buy at better prices than the private individual. Some funds will also sell the wines and can as a rule achieve better prices.
There are two basic types of funds, those investing in mature wines and those speculating on the "En-Primeur" market. Anyone lucky enough to invest in a great vintage will see nice price increases during the first year but then nothing much happens over the following decade until it reaches drinkability. It could therefore make sense to buy at this point instead. First, because the quality of the wine is known and the future demand for it is therefore easier to judge. Secondly, as the prices only start to increase steadily from this point as we have seen above.

It is important by all funds to inform oneself regarding the seriosity and the reputation of the persons in charge.
One can all in all see that wine can represent an excellent and solid investment. A great wine can never become worthless!

The author of this article, Jan-Erik Paulson, is the owner of a rare-wine company since many years and also manage a Wine Investment Fund.

 

      


The guests are arriving on their own, in couples or in groups. Most are very smartly dressed, some more casually but all have one thing in common - a look of anticipation in their eyes. The smell of food wafting in from the kitchen heightens this anticipation as the guests are sipping their bubbly and making small talk in the bar. At the same time the hectic and tension in the kitchen is reaching fever pitch, the design of the plates are discussed, guesses about what time the specific dish being prepared by one of the star chefs will have to be on the plates are being made and the last touches of the first course is in full flow. The guests are now taking their seats in the wonderfully decorated restaurant of Hotel Krone, greetings are being made to friends and fellow guests some, one has not seen since the last years festival. There is a hush and then silence as H. B. Ullrich, the owner and host of this lovely hotel wishes the guests welcome before passing the microphone to Michael Herrmann who reads out the menue that will be presented this evening. After much oohs and aahs it is now time for the first winemaker of the evening to present his or her wine while it is being served to an eagerly awaiting audience. The wines are usually served in two's or three's to each course, making an interesting subject for discussion and comparison while the first course is being brought in by the efficient staff under the watchful eyes of Gabriele Kliemt, the leader of the service brigade. The same procedure goes on throughout the evening, the diners working their way through white wines from Rheingau to deep reds from regions like Napa Valley, Ribera del Duero or Bordeaux to finish up with the noble sweet wines from Rheingau. The courses are in most cases created by different chefs from all over the world and this makes it an exceptionally exciting evening. When else do you get the opportunity to taste dishes from chefs the like of Harald Wohlfahrt, Dieter Müller, Johannes King, Willi Mittler, José Ramon Andrés and Cal Stamenov sipped down with wines from Breuer, Weil, Künstler, Pichon Comtesse Lalande, Lynch Bages, Pesquera, Vega Sicilia or Lafite in one evening?

How did it all start? Bernhard Breuer from Rüdesheim in the Rheingau was invited to present his wines at the "Masters of Food and Wine" Festival in Carmel, California some years ago. Having found it a lovely experience he started toying with the idea of making something similar at home. If it works on the shore of the Pacific why shouldn't it work on the shores of the Rhine? He spoke to his friend H. B. Ullrich, owner of the Hotel Krone in Assmannshausen and Kronenschlösschen in Hattenheim and the location of the festival was found. The ideal person regarding the logistics of such a large event was Michael Hermann, the organiser of the annual Rheingau Music Festival. It was now only a question of fixing the programm for the first festival. Thanks to the good contacts to the californian sister festival the programme took shape. It had to be a different country or region as main guest each year, the first being California. Top chefs were asked to take part for one or more days, wineries were asked to supply wine for vertical tastings, and other programms like cigar tastings, cooking demonstrations, boat trips and excursions being planned. It was all very exciting as great personalities like Christian Moueix, Chuck Wagner, Heinz Winkler, Joachim Splichal, May-Elaine de Lencquesaing, Thomas Keller and many others promised to come to Assmannshausen.

It was a success from the start and this years festival was the sixth with Spain as the guest country lasting a full twelve days. 3.500 food and wine lovers took part in 30 different events which were booked to an amazing 98 %, some dinners were fully booked within a day of the programme being presented. 4.600 bottles of wine were opened and poured in 28.000 glasses, 55 Kilograms of foie gras and 3 Kilograms of truffles were used by 25 chefs producing 125 courses served by 30 waiters. The prices for the different events varied from 28€ for a presentation of top wines from the Rhine and the Ebro, 35€ for a tasting of rare old sherries, 250 € for a 5-course dinner with 8 vintages of Vega Sicilia to a Rarities dinner led by myself for 1,350 €.
The Rarities dinner may sound expensive but look at what was served to a fabulous 7 course dinner prepared by Willi Mittler. From Rheingau, rarest wines like 1825 Hochheimer Auslese Cabinet, 1915 Johannisberger Klaus Auslese, 1953 Steinberger Trockenbeerenauslese and 1967 Rauenthaler Edelbeerenauslese. From Bordeaux, 6 vintages of Château Cheval Blanc back to 1964 and then a highlight for the most jaded of palates: 5 first growths from the great and rare vintage 1961: Châteaux Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Cheval Blanc, Ausone and Mouton Rothschild.

Back in the main dining room it is now past midnight and the dinner is drawing to a close with coffee and brandy and the noise level has been increasing with each course and wine. The happy crowd are leaving for home or for their hotelrooms but some drift into the bar which is gradually filling up with winemakers, chefs and waiters having cleared up the dining room. Most chefs are still fully charged with adrenaline and find it difficult to go to sleep and there is a noisy mixture of different languages as colleagues from several countries try to bring their points over. Everyone seem to understand each other and the atmosphere of friendship and joy is tangible. Wine and beer flows until the early hours of the morning and there are only a few hours of peace and quiet until the tables are being laid for the next days luncheon.

This goes on day after day during the festival with a routine that has been perfected over the years. Sometimes one has to improvise as in the case of the year where the Rhine was only a few centimeters away from flooding the hotel kitchen hours before the Grand Gala Dinner for 220 guests or when a temperamental chef threw away all the white truffles for his signature dish to be served two days later because they were not up to his expectations, forcing Mr. Ullrich to catch the next to plane to Italy trying to get truffle hunters to get their dogs to find a sufficient quantity in time for the planned dinner. There has been cases of chefs missing their planes and the story of the famous three-star chef refusing to leave the kitchen for the after dinner presentation of the chefs, as he was not mentioned first. However things have always worked out well and most guests happily come back year after year.


 

 

 


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