Overstressed Wine Industry Can’t Believe Their Eyes.

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As sole judicial wine expert appointed by a high court, one of Aymeric de Clouet’s jobs is to authenticate wines, mostly on a confidential basis. Some cases are like international detective stories which have to be unravelled, and sometimes de Clouet enlists the help of other judicial experts from different fields of expertise. In France, the Paris High Court has appointed such a group of experts. They contribute to each other’s inquiry in their respective fields when necessary. The team includes a world papyrus expert and a former head of the Musée du Louvre. De Clouet is the wine expert.

Here is an article about de Clouet’s experience and his opinion regarding wine fraud. You may find it interesting.

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Last year, I was approached by a Singaporean wine merchant desperate to know about a bottle of Romanée-Conti 1929 that he considered fake, because its label was printed with pixels which didn’t exist at that time.

I asked them to bring the bottle back to France for me to examine. The pictures on my computer definitely showing pixels, which is fairly natural, on a screen. We then examined it together, and the whole bottle seemed to me to conform perfectly to what it was supposed to be. Old used foil, old glass, old label.

It was apparently not enough for my client, who kept insisting on the pixel-like printing. “Can’t you see, can’t you see, it’s obvious, it’s pixels”. I did not see, the whole label seemed fairly typical of the time period. So we asked for the assistance of a judicial expert in old paper since all other elements were now cleared. She confirmed that the quality of paper, the printing technique and all details were at least 70-80 years old. At the end of the day, not a single element of the bottle had given any reason for suspecting fraud, but a lot of fuss had been made.

It reminds me of a story told to me at one of the greatest estates in Bordeaux about a self- appointed wine expert who likes to have fake bottles destroyed, which would be ok if not for the fact that she does make people destroy perfectly good bottles, simply because she does not know what older bottles look like. In the post-war France, not all bottles looked alike, even within the same estate, and even in the same case of wine. At that time, nobody envisaged that someday wines would make such high prices, and that a single bottle could be worth a month’s salary or more. Châteaux did not pay the attention to detail that they do today. And let us not speak about Burgundy. They started to print corks in the 90’s!

The current wave of newspaper articles and TV reports, plus on-line articles does raise the level of fear regarding counterfeiting. Rightly so: after Kurniawan’s scandal, and some others that are not to be discussed (I am sworn to secrecy on the cases where I was consulted as an expert), it is true that the level of fake bottles has risen. It is only natural, since the value of wine has never been so high, as well as the ignorance of buyers, who collect wines as a sign of status.

Most fakes remain easy enough to spot. Others need a bit of knowledge. The infamous Kurniawan could sell Romanée-Conti 1945 jeroboams without raising an eyebrow in the US, while everyone knows that only 600 bottles (75 cl) were produced. Some years ago, a big international auction house listed a 1947 from the same estate – which was never produced. Recently, another auction house in the UK listed cognacs from different years and various producers, all with the same cork and foil; another listed magnums of Cheval-Blanc ’53, with neutral foil, never used there.

As so-called specialists let many fakes through, one still needs to be careful. But this is not a good reason enough to believe that there are no real treasures still to be had, provided they are bought from reliable sources and appropriately vetted

Behind the scene – French wine auction

 

 

What is your image of wine auctions? We sometimes see breaking news and headlines on very famous wines fetching millions at Sotheby’s or Christie’s in Hong Kong, NY or London. Is this what wine auctions are really all about?

French wine auctions may reveal slightly a different picture. About €30-€40 million worth of wines are sold in French auctions every year. In small village auctions, people bid on wines for Christmas and their families’ birthdays. Larger auctions, taking place in big cities, are mainly for professional dealers at the top of the distribution chain, selling mainly to export, wholesalers and eventually to restaurants and retail shops. Supply to auction houses comes from many sources: from restaurants reducing their inventory, institutional wine investors, private collectors such as Alain Delon and the French Prime Minister’s private cellar.

The most sought-after châteaux and vintages from Bordeaux and Burgundy tend to surprise the world for the high bidding prices they usually reach, however there are still many value trades. For instance Aymeric de Clouet believes some off-vintages are completely undervalued for good reason. 1986 would be a fine example. It’s one of the greatest vintage for Médoc but their prices have been hampered for decades due to the poor quality of Pomerol and the subsequent criticism of an influential wine journalist….

So, there could be a price advantage in sourcing wines from auctions, but what about wine quality and authenticity, in particular given the increase in wine forgeries? In France, the wine auctioneers are bound by law to compensate for a loss incurred due to fraud. Because of this, the wine auction houses employ the services of an independent wine expert to assist the auctioneer. The wine expert examines all the bottles and suggests a prospective pricing in the auction catalogue, based on quality and how each wine has been kept. Aymeric de Clouet at FAIR WINES is not only one of the few wine experts working with French auction houses, he is also the sole wine expert appointed by the Paris Court of Appeals since 2011. When it comes to a legal dispute, the judge bases his decision on De Clouet’s judgement on a wine.

Please be assured that all the wines for our cellar service are sourced by de Clouet at the wine auctions where he serves as the judicial wine expert.

Lastly above are photographs of Alain Delon’s private cellar auction, with de Clouet in action as the wine expert for the auction house.

Decanting old wines

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I recently lost my nerve on a social media following a post regarding decanting and old wines, and I sure should not have. The post was published by a sommelier who considered that 1990 was an old vintage, proving that he did not even know what he was talking about !

I only got upset because I feel in pain for all those wines, all those producers who work hard, all those merchants who select and keep the wines with care, to find them slaughtered by an ignorant consumer after 30 years of cellaring! Yes, an old wine needs decanting, even more so than a young wine.

The reason may be difficult to explain, but the experience is easy to have: open two bottles, decant one two hours in advance, the other just when dinner begins. I mean any Bordeaux, except 1978 (please do not ask why: 100% of 78s that I drank were worn out after 15 minutes, not even decanted). Any wine ! 1928, 1945, 1990… Any area: Médoc, Saint-Emilion, Pessac and of course Sauternes… Sometimes, even poor vintages like 1973 can better in a decanter (they cannot get worse anyway).

I unfortunately cannot count anymore the number of old wines that I opened, but it is well over 3,000… The number of wines that I regretted to have opened too early is exactly four, all of them 1978, and I can recall each one : Duhart-Milon, Haut-Batailley, La Lagune, Pichon-Comtesse. Very good wines, but not over 15 minutes after opening.

I am not here to solve the 78 mystery but I want to try and prevent the old wines’ massacre with this message: do not listen to Cassandras and try for yourselves. The rule is to put a bottle standing at least four hours before decanting (best the day before), and to open it two hours before dinner time. Decant immediately, which you can do with a candle or an electric light, it is not as traditional but virtually the same.

If the cork is hard to extract, and you could not do it without a lot of crumbs in the wine, ideally filter with silk. Unfortunately, silk filters are not produced any longer, I guess I have two of the few remaining in the world. A paper coffee filter will do, but it is so unfortunate to let so much wine be absorbed! Then you can either but a glass stopper to the decanter or not, it is not essential, as long as the wine surface in contact with air is wide enough. Serve after two hours: the wine is clean, the nose is fresh, the mouth is well balanced… Nothing you can get from a freshly open bottled.

We always recommend decanting any wine, in particular old wines, to get the most of them. You might be surprised at how the taste and flavour could marvellously change if properly decanted.

Lastly here comes a short video showing how to decant old wines. You might be surprised at how simply it can be done. What you need is just a decanter, a flat candle, and… a bottle of wine! To watch the video, please click here. Hope you enjoy!

 

 

2015: year of the decade, but only because it started in 2011!

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Unfortunately, my numerous activities did not allow me to spend more than three days tasting the Primeurs, and there are a lot of important wines that I would have liked to taste. Still, I can share some hints about the harvest past and the bottling to come.

Despite difficult conditions with an extra dry summer and a rainy august, everyone seems enthusiastic about the end result. I am not. There are some very good wines, but some failures too. With my five-star ranking system (since I still refuse to score on a hundred point scale and will continue to do so), five meaning exceptional, there is no wine with them. Although Petrus was close.

Without further delay, here are my recommendations:

-Best areas : Graves (Pessac-Léognan) and Saint-Emilion

– Disappointments : Saint-Estèphe and Pauillac

I could not taste the Premiers (including Haut-Brion, Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Mouton) and the “Super-Seconds” which prefer to have tasters at their place. So my selection cannot include them! It is unfortunate that not more châteaux bring their wines to the common tasting, although some still do. So here my selection of my year’s favourites:

Petrus
Cheval-Blanc
Léoville Poyferré
Gruaud-Larose
Quinault L’Enclos
Lafon-Rochet

And my greatest disappointments:

Lynch-Bages
Les Carmes Haut-Brion
Beauregard

Why those three? Because I love them (usually), and you cannot be disappointed by something you do not like! But I was also not happy about other wines, the list you can find on my spreadsheet.

Nevertheless, it is a very good year in general, and I especially recommend you to buy the following very good value wines:

Gruaud-Larose, Quinault L’Enclos, Lafon-Rochet, Bouscaut (white & red), Olivier (red), La Tour Martillac (white & red), Petit-Village, Dassault, Cap de Mourlin, Balestard-La-Tonnelle, Siran, Dauzac, Brane-Cantenac, Kirwan, Branaire-Ducru, Clerc-Milon.

Domaine de Chevalier and Château Malescot-St-Exupéry, Léoville-Poyferré, Pichon-Lalande, Petrus, Cheval-Blanc are also very good, but the price might be a little bit steeper!

In the end, it is a vintage with exceptionnally smooth tannins, which might combine everyone’s dream: easy to drink in its youth, with a good ageing potential. The right bank is far above the left, with Saint-Emilion outstanding. Go for good prices, avoid gold diggers!

 

 

 

 

 

London Kimono Fashion Show

One of our services is to create and organise wine-related events for corporates. Sometimes we work with non-profit organisations and charities whose good causes we are proud to support.

Recently Fair Wines participated in the London Kimono Fashion Show which took place at Burgh House in Hampstead. The show was part of a project led by a NGO to promote Japanese Kimonos to be recognised as a World Heritage at the UNESCO.

Before the fashion show itself, the event included a talk about the tradition of Kimono and an actual demonstration of how to put the Obi on (i.e. the sash). Violin play and opera singing added grace to this special Sunday afternoon amongst flowers and champagne. The entire event was filled with the Omotenashi spirit.

Omotenashi defines the spirit of Japanese hospitality, though the meaning goes way deeper than providing hospitality. “Omotenashi” means “to entertain a guest wholeheartedly” as every encounter is single and unique.

It was a truly magical moment surrounded by the beauty and tradition of the Kimono world. Let us share some pictures of the day.

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All set in the beautiful location of Burgh House in Hampstead.

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More than 100 glasses were prepared for the champagne reception which followed the Kimono fashion show.

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Welcome speech from graceful Chieri Ikea, the organiser of the show.

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Soprano solo Masami Suzuki and Violin solo Haru Ushigusa were a real treat to listen to.

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The audience was fascinated by the quotation of a famous Japanese poet, in essence saying that if you look beautiful from the back, you will look beautiful from the front… Until told the quotation was actually made up. Obi joke!

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Let the London Kimono Fashion Show begin! Here is Miss Kimono on a cat walk. A good kimono is made out of silk and is hand-printed and/or dyed. It is a true art of craftsmanship, and is often passed on from generation to generation as a family asset.

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A Kimono with long sleeves is meant for young and unmarried ladies so that they could warm and embrace many potential suitors! In fact there are countless Kimono dress codes specific to ladies.

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At the Champagne & Sushi reception which followed by the fashion show, here is the team from Wasokan, the first Kimono shop in London (located in Notting Hill). A well-deserved celebration after such a large contribution.

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Little helpers were busy offering Japanese cookies to the guests. Thank you my darlings!

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Guests and all the Kimono models. You might spot me amongst the Kimono models. Thank you everyone for such an unforgettable day!

It would be great if you could share this and help the Kimono world receiving greater recognition!

 

3 things you must know about old vintage wines

 

In our opinion, many bad habits have developed over the recent years due to both poor services prevailing in most restaurants and traditional savoir-faire no longer passing down through generations. Let us review some simple facts:

 
1) Serving temperature

It is commonly known that red wines should be served at room temperature. But is it really so? What is known as ‘room temperature’ dates back to the time when dining rooms were (not much) heated at 16 or 17° C. Many restaurants today serve wines at 25° C, but no wine should be served above 20° C. Of course, white wines should be served between 8 and 10° C, while sweet whites can be chilled at 6° C. The wines will rise in temperature in the glass anyway.

2) Decanting

So many clueless theories are heard about decanting that we have to weigh in with strong affirmations. Contrary to common belief, old vintage wines should be decanted even longer than young wines. It is a way to get rid of their ester aromas caused by their ageing, but which contributed to form their complexity. Two hours is a good minimum. The risk of having wines fading does exist, but it is rare and far less dangerous than not decanting it sufficiently. I know only one exception: all wines from the 1978 vintage will pass after twenty minutes.

You can decant all sorts of wines; even white wines and champagne will be better if decanted, but as for champagne you need to be very careful to avoid an excessive disappearance of bubbles.

Before decanting, you need to put the bottle up for at least one hour to let the sediments fall to the bottom. Otherwise your decanted wine will look like mud.

The basic rules for decanting are: put a light on a table (electric or candle), take a decanter in one hand, the bottle in the other, and incline slowly the wine bottle over the light and pour delicately into the decanter. When sediments appear in the light, stop. That’s it!

3) Glasses

Again, there are lots of theories about glasses, but only one answer is good: a beautiful glass is always more pleasant. A fine crystal glass with a large bottom and a somewhat restricted opening is ideal, especially with young wines, while a larger opening is more suited for older vintages (20 years and above). Please forget about flutes for Champagne, and use tulip shaped glasses instead. The flutes are just a clever invention to make more glasses from one bottle!

 

 

Does the farmer cook in a three star restaurant?

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The wine world is full of definitive sayings, some of which relate to the 18th century’s way of consumption (directly from casks instead of bottles), but one has a tendency to be heard more and more often nowadays, wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar.

When I last heard it, from an esteemed wine journalist, I could not help myself and replied: “wine is not made in the vineyard at all” which was obviously just provocative! Good wines need a good harvest, but a good harvest can be many things, and a good wine maker, especially with modern oenology, can amend many small defects.

Please consider that for centuries wine was made with no understanding of its process and with a focus on increasing quantities out of the vineyards. Despite this, many great wines were made in the past, some which would not pass today’s oenological requirements, but are still among the best wines of all times! Great wines needed a good harvest first, but that wasn’t enough. Even with a good harvest, some of these wines could be completely undrinkable. As for the poor vintages, they could not be saved, except at the time, with the illegal addition of some Algerian wine…

Another example. With constant rain during the harvest, 1997 was not a very highly regarded vintage but still a very good one in Bordeaux, all thanks to osmosis. As well, for over a decade, there has been no appalling vintages like 1992, 1984, 1974, etc. even when some weather conditions were close enough to create bad years.

So how can vintage quality not correlate necessarily with weather conditions?

Because wine is also made in the cellar, not just by its vineyard. Each decision made by the winemaker can transform the grape juice obtained from the winegrower. Starting with a raw product such as a grape, good or bad, anything can be done. From the destemming to the period in vats before fermentation, then to the choice of yeasts, the temperature of fermentation, the very question of the material in which those wines are made (stainless steel, wood, concrete…), every single detail will influence the final result, and every step may ruin everything! Until, at the end of such a process, the winemaker’s entire work might be destroyed with… bad corks…

The good news is that there are several methods to make good wines not just one, and sometimes wine is good when there is no specific rule at all. Burgundy is a very good field of experimentation, with many producers with small surfaces and a lot of shared parcels, and thus many different styles or approaches of winemaking can be assessed. Since 1962, Burgundy is certainly the area which has experienced the biggest changes both in viticulture and, with a lot of mistakes too, particularly on whites. Some winemakers have a distinctive style which can be recognised in every wine they produce, from the basic Bourgogne to the Grand Cru, but as long as their wines are good I do not care. I also like some non-interventionists whose wines will reflect both the terroir and the vintage, with watery 2004s and fantastic 2005s. If any rule, I prefer those who only intervene when necessary, and adapt to the vintage. Some of my favorite producers desteem, some not. Some use new casks, some not, or hardly. I could go on forever, since there are no rules. Wine making is the realm of uncertainty, populated by men of faith! And this goes for wine growers too, but this is another topic which would take us too far.

A good farmer does not necessarily make a good cook, and a good vine grower does not necessarily produce a good wine. Wine needs man’s intervention, the only natural wine being vinegar! I am cursed (!) by the fact that I do not belong to a wine cult or orthodoxy. I am not a religious fanatic for organic wines though, and I have some reservations towards modern oenology. To say it differently, I think that modern oenology brought us a lot, but tried too much to eradicate any knowledge and wisdom imparted by previous generations, and that the New Age trend with its biodynamics and Natural wines go too far when it rejects everything from science.

Not being a fanatic or an orthodox may be harsh for you, since you will make everyone unhappy. The only consolation is that you may enjoy numerous and various wines without shame.