WineLeaks #8 - A Very English Edition
A very English blind tasting. Beyond Bordeaux and the Market Take.
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You can find all the links to WineLeaks’ past editions on this page, from a special edition dedicated to tech and NFTs in fine wine, to the Saint-Emilion looming reclassification and on the topic of wine as inflation-hedge.
The Market Take
“‘On’ vintages drive Bordeaux trade” (Liv-Ex)
Yet another sign that the fine wine market is bracing for a recession.
Liv-Ex reports that “Bordeaux’s trade share increased from 36.9% to 38.6% this week, driven by activity for its 2019 and 2016 vintages”. Better vintages (referred to as ‘On’ vintages) of Bordeaux cult châteaux are viewed as a ‘safe’ bet given more stable and established estates can better weather the storm of a recession.
In previous editions, we also mentioned:
The dip of both Liv-Ex 100 and Liv-Ex 50 (Bordeaux First Growths) in July prices (waiting for the August report).
The bid-ask ratio below 1 which means there are more sellers than buyers in the market.
The “unusual” predictor of recession (Bloomberg dixit!) — strong Champagne sales signal good times ahead of recessions.
The September Releases through the Place de Bordeaux showcases more than 100 new releases from anywhere but Bordeaux.
Decanter, The Wine Indipendent and Jane Anson released in-depth reports and scores last week and more is coming in the following weeks.
The most interesting table:
How hard is it to innovate the wine industry?
“Wine tech is a graveyard of failure” (San Francisco Chronicle)
It’s always sad to hear of layoffs and business closures.
Pix was a Napa-based start-up whose investors and advisors are said to comprise the “who’s who of the wine industry” and was set to revolutionise online wine sales. The idea behind Pix was not to sell wine from the platform, but rather to redirect consumers looking for specific wines to the places that have those bottles in stock, similar to what Lyst does in the fashion industry. The Pix database includes around 2.4m wines from 2,800 sellers which have integrated their inventories with Pix.
CEO Paul Mabray met with over 80 venture capital and private equity firms, but could not raise money for the third seed round that he had hoped to secure this summer — thus has laid off most of its staff and is looking for a buyer, to keep the wheels in motion.
Lyst instead raised a total of US$144m from venture capital investors to date.
Mabray believes venture capital has always been wary of investing in wine, because of alcohol’s strict regulatory environment, its confusing nomenclature and the absence of many wine-tech success stories. “It’s a hard market to define,” he said of wine tech. “It has had endless failures and endless mediocre successes. I think the wine industry has a stain against it in the VC community”.
Last week, I’ve attended a blind tasting of English sparkling saignées, which I will go into more details later.
First thing first, what does saignée means?
I had to Google it.
Last week, I’ve attended a quite intimate blind tasting of English saignée sparkling wines. I was among the 12 judges drawn from a pool of winemakers, sommeliers, merchants, writers and influencers at Battersea Power Station to score a collection of sparkling saignées predominantly crafted in the UK, with two incursions from Champagne.
Saignée translates as ‘bleeding’ in French.
My fellow judge (and editor at The Buyer) Stephen Vey explains it simply. “In sparkling winemaking a rosé is made mainly through two ways: ‘assemblage’ which is adding between 7% and 15% red wine (usually Pinot Noir) into the blend. Less common and more labour-intensive is the saignée method which is allowing the colour from the skins of the red grapes during pressing into the blend. This skin contact usually varies between 12 and 24 hours with the shade of the wine taking on a darker hue the longer the contact.”
The saignée method of rosé production is sparingly adopted in sparkling wine production, but the resulting wines have a captivatingly deep colour as well as structure, body and aromatic richness.
This style of rosé-winemaking seems to be a true gastronomic companion of elegance and substance that rewards pairing with food. A very common note from the guests was “this would go well during a meal“ but “wouldn’t be able to drink a whole bottle easily”.
However, not everyone is onboard with the saignée method, which, in fact, is considered a ‘niche’. François Millo, president of the Provence Wine Council (CIVP), notoriously said “it’s not true rose“, adding “the saignée method is a bad way of making rosé. The wine is more of an afterthought, very few people in Provence use it.”
From Jonica Fox of Fox & Fox: ‘Aged saignée is different from most people’s experience of pink fizz. Made with minimal manipulation, no malolactic fermentation, aged on lees.’
Balfour Saignée 2018 (£40)
From Fergus Elias, Balfour: ‘2018 was the vintage of the decade for English wines. Super high-quality fruit and yield. A wine which practically made itself! This wine was made out of curiosity. A style that we might not return to as it can be quite phenolic and green due to ripeness of the stems and seeds. It requires the very best vintages to be successful.’
Everflyht Rose de Saignée 2019 (aka their very first vintage) (£40)
From Luke Spalding, GM and Vineyard Manager, Everflyht: ‘For me, the Rosé de Saignée method allows you to show the qualities of the varieties used (with Everflyht that is Pinot Noir and Meunier) the resulting style has purity and phenolic complexity that puts the onus on the grape quality and vintage. I see it as true field to bottle sparkling wine when done as a single estate vintage wine like the Everflyht Rosé de Saignée 2019.’
“Our first Premiére Cuvée Rosé is a blend based on the 2016 harvest. This is the very first time this wine will be tasted outside our own team. This style is a more vinous and gastronomic version of rosé based on the saignée method. A longer lees ageing - the wine was bottled in 2017 and disgorged in 2022 - gives depth and complexity worthy of our Premiére range.”
From Stephen Duckett, winemaker and co-owner, Hundred Hills: ‘With the need for perfect ripeness, while still retaining good acidity, a saignée rose is perhaps the perfect expression of Pinot Noir in England today. With hand selected bunches, barrel fermentation, no fining and no filtering the saignée from Hundred Hills is as pure an expression of English Pinot Noir vintage by vintage as you can experience anywhere.’
And the last two wines were brought along by one of the guests, Nick Baker, founder & MD at the Finest Bubble.
The top three wine of the event were: Hundred Hills (first), Roederer (second) and Fox & Fox (third) while Balfour somewhat disappointed. It’s interesting to note how my personal favourites align as far as Roederer, but my first-choice in the line up was the Ridgeview, with Hambledon winning third spot — all three, in my view, offering a more elegant interpretation of the saignée method.
Organiser of this interesting event, wine expert and wine columnist at the ES Magazine, Douglas Blyde remarked: “for me, true saignée offers a genuine representation of our soils and, when darker and richer, offers tremendous suitability to game”.
English wine in the secondary market
While growth in English wine trade is principally focused on the on- and off-trades, with retailers reporting buoyant sales (+90% to +200%), an increased awareness about climate change and support for the local market (exports only account for 4% of all sales) saw the number of English wines traded in the secondary market marginally increase.
Last year, Liv-Ex published a mini-report on the secondary market for English wine. As of June 2021, it counts eight distinct English wines (LWIN7s) traded — whereas “Champagne has 237 LWIN7s and it is some 760 times larger in terms of value than English wine”.
The first English wine to trade on the secondary market was Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvee, in the summer of 2016.
White, sparkling wine from Gusbourne, Wiston and Nyetimber are the most traded.
In March 2021, the first still English wine was traded; Gusbourne’s Pinot Noir.
Until next Monday,
In the mood for wine (a.k.a. Sara Danese)