Let’s Raise A Toast To Champagne!

What do two wine producing regions in France, a victorian railway bridge and a botanical garden have in common?

It may sound like the start of a joke, but it’s not. They have all been recently awarded ‘World Heritage Status” by UNESCO.

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and is a specialised agency of the United Nations system. The organisation was created in 1946 with the aim of ‘building defences of peace in the minds of men.’

The World Heritage List was first published in 1978. The idea was to list places on Earth that were of outstanding universal value to humanity. To secure a place on the list a site must be of special cultural or physical significance. The sites listed are intended to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. The first list from 1978 contained 12 protected monuments and included the Galapagos Islands and Aachen Cathedral. At present there are over 1,000 sites listed split over 163 states.

In July 2015 the latest additions to the UNESCO list were announced and among the winners were the wine producing regions of Champagne and part of Burgundy, the Forth Bridge in Scotland and Singapore’s botanical gardens.

UNESCO said that the Champagne status covered “the places sparkling wine was developed using a second fermentation method in the bottle from the beginning of the 17th century until its early industrialisation in the 19th century”. Special mention was made of Hautvilliers, where legend has it that, Dom Perignon invented Champagne. For more information on why we celebrate with Champagne check out our blog post here.

In Burgundy, the vineyards on the slopes of the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune, which sit to the south of Dijon were marked out for World Heritage Status. These vineyards produce pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, which are then used to produce some of the finest red wines in the world.

UNESCO have helpfully produced an app listing all of the World Heritage Status Sites  – albeit that it needs to be updated to include the newest additions to the list. Using the app, it’s possible to tick off the Sites you’ve visited. So, that means 24 down for us, just 1,007 to go!

Image by Vassil (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Chianti or Chianti Classico – What’s the Difference?

Ever wondered why some Chianti’s are called Chianti Classico and some aren’t? We sum up the distinctions for you, starting with Chianti.

Where it is made

A Chianti wine must be produced within the Chianti region. So far so good.

The first mention of a wine area called Chianti dates back to the 13th Century. At that time, the area included the villages of Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti and Radda in Chianti. These three villages in the hills between Florence and Sienna formed the League of Chianti to promote their wine – interestingly, at this time it was a white wine!

It was none other than Cosimo III de’ Medici, the penultimate Grand Duke of Tuscany, who in 1716 added the village of Greve and a further area to the north of Greve to the League and declared that these were the only recognised producers of Chianti.

This delineation remained until July 1932 when the Italian government expanded the zone, doing so again in 1967, to cover a large part of central Tuscany. Today the Chianti zone has eight distinct districts, all of which have Denominazione di origine controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status. Chianti Classico is one such district.

DOCG status is the strictest of the three destination of origin regulations used in Italy. These require wine produced in such an area to use defined production methods and meet rigorous standards of quality.

What it contains

Baron Ricasoli created the Chianti recipe of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia bianca in the middle of the 19th Century. In 1967, DOC regulation set by the Italian government firmly established the “Ricasoli formula” of a Sangiovese-based blend with 10–30% Malvasia and Trebbiano.

However by the 1970s producers were releasing blends with a higher proportion of Sangiovese. These so called “Super Tuscans” began to outperform the established Chianti’s on price. The Italian authorities responded by upping the content of Sangiovese in Chianti’s to between 75% and 90% – note, this did not affect Classico or Riserva wines.

So what about Classico?

Chianti Classico wines must be produced within the Classico district of Chianti. This district includes the original Chianti heartland dating back to the 13th Century.

As with Bordeaux, the different districts of Chianti have unique characteristics that can be exemplified and perceived in some wines from those areas. Chianti Classico wines are premium Chianti wines that tend to be medium-bodied with firm tannins and medium-high to high acidity. Floral, cherry and light nutty notes are characteristic aromas.

Chianti Classico must be at least 80% Sangiovese, must have a minimum alcohol of at least 12% with a minimum of 7 months aging in oak. Also, since 2006 Chianti Classico cannot be white, it can only be red.

What’s with the Black Rooster?

Chianti Classico wines are easily identified by the black rooster seal (known as a ‘Gallo Nero’) on the neck of the bottle. This indicates that the producer of the wine is a member of the Chianti Classico Consortium, the local association of producers. The consortium was founded in 1924 to protect and promote Chianti Classico and to prevent wine fraud.

Legend has it that in the 13th Century, the warring provinces of Florence and Siena agreed to settle their border dispute on the crow of a cockerel. The provinces agreed to a race; when the first cockerel crowed at dawn they would each send out their fastest rider to the rival city. Where the riders met would become the new boundary.

On the night before the race, the Florentines starved their black cockerel to ensure that he sang earlier, thereby giving their rider an advantage. Hence the inclusion of the black cockerel motif to designate superiority.

It has been said that when you taste Chianti Classico, you’ll never forget it – and we couldn’t agree more.

If you are interested in trying a Chianti Classico we have one available.

Image is “Montefioralle-Panorama“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

¡Ay, caramba!, Rioja On The Rise In The UK

Here at Charles Rose we love Rioja. So it was no surprise to us that The Telegraph recently reported that one in twenty of all bottles sold in the UK is Rioja.

Spain has more land dedicated to vineyards than any other country in the world, just under 1.2 million hectares. Rioja is a beautiful region with DOC status, sitting just below the Cantabrian Mountains along the Ebro river. 34% of all the wine produced in Rioja ends up in the UK, thats around 36 million litres, 10% more than the previous year!

We are Rioja’s biggest export market, with sales of Rioja accounting for £220 million, around 4% of the total UK wine market. Why? Because we love it, and our appetite is growing!

The popularity of tapas is on the rise, so says the Telegraph, bringing with it a surge in demand for Rioja. Personally, we think the quality of wines coming out of Rioja have never been better. Renewed interest in Rioja will only bring greater consumption as people discover or rediscover just how good it is.

Rioja is also fantastic value for money. Around a third of all the Rioja consumed in the UK is Reserva, which can be as much as ten times cheaper than an equivalent Bordeaux. The Telegraph quite rightly raises the question of whether or not Rioja sales might soon outstrip sales of French wines. Bordeaux has unparalleled heritage, but this comes at a price!

A new generation of younger wine consumers faced with a choice between a cheaper Spanish wine and a much more expensive French wine might well save the latter for a special occasion.

So if you haven’t yet jumped on board the good ship Rioja, we suggest you join us and pick up a bottle! Cheers!

(Just in case you were about to google ¡Ay, caramba!, it is Spanish, wikipedia says so.)

Image is “Viñedo-en-Ventosa-LaRioja” by Jesús García – Propra verko. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Colour Red Dominates Chinese Wine Consumption Habits

The colour red carries great cultural significance in China. It is associated with fire, success, happiness and good fortune. This contrasts sharply with the colour white, which is associated with purity but also death. White is a colour for funerals and mourning.

Perhaps it is not surprising then that in the world’s fifth largest market for wine, over 85% of the 2.17 billion bottles consumed annually are red.

According to research by VInexpo and International Wine and Spirit Research published last year, consumption of wine in China rocketed 136% between 2008 and 2013, making China the largest consumer of red wine in the world. Through the same period, consumption of spirits also increased over 82%. This means that China consumes over 40% of spirits annually world wide!

Around one in five of those 2 billion bottles is imported and half of those imported come from France. Perhaps its not surprising then that recently the Telegraph reported that the hundredth Bordeaux chateau has passed into Chinese ownership. China is now the principle export market for Bordeaux wines, with the UK the second largest market.

Apparently 80% of wine produced from those 100 chateaux now makes its way to china were it can fetch prices around ten times higher than the achievable price in France.

Do not fear though, if you are interested in purchasing a chateau in Bordeaux there are more than 8,400 others to choose from!

Image is “Cars, Gironde” by michael clarke stuffCars, Blaye 02 HDR. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Wine Based Drinks: 75% Wine, 25% Egg And Milk?

We aren’t fans of buying wine in supermarkets. It’s a bit of a minefield as we wrote about recently. Now the consumer has another complication to deal with.

A few of the big supermarkets are now stocking wine based drinks. They come in wine bottles. They are in the wine aisle. But are they wine? I guess that depends on your definition of wine.

Wine based drinks are defined by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) as products consisting of at least 75% wine. What’s the other 25% then? Well, you might hope it is water however the photos supplied by The Daily Mail suggest otherwise, namely milk and eggs… honest, take a look!

As a totally irrelevant aside, The Daily Mail article lists the OIV as the European industry body, which isn’t quite right. Various European member states are part of the OIV. However, the European Union itself is an observer of work from the OIV through participating organisations such as the International Federation of Wines and Spirits (FIVS)… aside complete!

Let us pretend that we can live with the fact that if we buy one of these drinks and drink it, we are drinking something that is 75% wine and 25%… well we aren’t sure. Let us also pretend we don’t care if that 25% is water, or eggs or milk… Wouldn’t you be ever so slightly annoyed if, in an impulse purchase you picked up a bottle of wine on an aisle end, took it to a party and someone noticed that in tiny print on the back of the bottle it says “wine based drink”?

The Daily Mail claims supermarkets stocking these products are misleading their customers and we would agree. If it isn’t wine, make it clear on the front of the bottle. Or, put it somewhere else more appropriate, perhaps the dairy section.

Image is “Wine” by Christine592 licensed under CC BY 2.0

Premier Cru Château Haut-Brion – More Premier Than Originally Thought

In 1660 Charles II was restored to the throne, issuing the Declaration of Breda, bringing to a close the Interregnum, the period following the Wars of the Three Kingdoms that saw Charles I executed.

Of course, that’s all very interesting. However, perhaps more interesting is that 1660 is the earliest known mention of Château Haut-Brion, in a ledger in the wine cellar of Charles II.

Haut-Brion has a lot going for it, being the only wine with the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée classification for the Pessac-Léognan appellation. Pessac is a mere six kilometres south-west of Bordeaux. Coupled with at least 350 years worth of estate heritage it is much sought after and very collectible.

Queue a ridiculous fact, a 12 bottle case of 1961 Haut-Brion would set you back around £12.5k.

Well, lo and behold art historian Laurent Chavier has discovered a document mentioning the sale of an annuity promising the delivery of wine from the vineyard of Aubrion. This is dated 21st January 1521.

So it seems that Château Haut-Brion has been producing wine from the same vines for almost half a millennia.

Somebody update wikipedia!

Featured image is “Haut Brion exterior” by BillBl – originally posted to Flickr as Chateau Haut-Brion. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.