Our Secondary Market Specialists, Charlie Montgomery and Tory Oliver-Bellasis reveal last month’s most exciting and interesting fine-wine discoveries.
The recent Bordeaux 2021 En Primeur campaign highlighted the extent to which all vignerons are at the mercy of the weather. Challenges throughout the year impacted on the quantity of wine produced – ’21 Bordeaux will largely be characterised by severe frosts. While volumes were down, the best producers have captured a natural and classic freshness which has seen sustained demand across the board.
With such low volumes and high demand, it is becoming increasingly difficult to source these wines for customer’s collections. One solution has been to reduce the number of bottles in each case – producers can reach a wider audience. Traditionally, a case was twelve bottles, then six bottles became the standard. However, in recent years the top wines from all the major wine regions have been offered in three-bottle cases.
It is not surprising, therefore, to see a growing number of three-bottle cases appearing on BBX; there are currently 757 listings from around the world. Of all ’18 Bordeaux listings, 10% are now in this format, with the likes of Châteaux Lafite and Mouton Rothschild and Château Canon leading the way as the most traded three-bottle cases. Of all Bordeaux wines from the last three vintages traded in June, 16% were in three-bottle cases – including 50% of the available first growths that sold.
On the face of it, three bottle cases certainly make sense. They increase the accessibility of scarce wines and collectors are therefore more likely to diversify and try new producers or new regions. Unfortunately, a split case dramatically decreases the wine’s value, but three-bottle cases come in more manageable units, allowing you to withdraw one case and keep another. Hopefully, the trend for three-bottle cases will reduce the demand for wooden cases, too. In this smaller format, recycled materials can be more robust – this can only be a good thing.
Philip Moulin, our Wine Authentication Manager, has worked with the wines of Bordeaux for his entire career. Here, he shares some insider tips and favourite memories – from the appeal of Pauillac to the educational qualities of Château Figeac.
MY FAVOURITE BORDEAUX PRODUCER: AN INSIDER’S SECRET
My favourite producer is Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste. I’m kicking myself for writing this because “GPL”, as it is known, has long been a trade secret – and for some reason, this fantastic property remains just under the radar.
Every year, they produce wines which challenge the finest in Pauillac, if not the whole of Bordeaux. Meticulously made by a charmingly modest and understated family, the Bories, this is the epitome of all that is great about Bordeaux.
MY FAVOURITE APPELLATION: A CLASSIC
It has to be Pauillac. It’s the benchmark for the whole of the Médoc. It has, arguably, the finest terroir for Cabernet Sauvignon in the world, and not for nothing are three of the five First Growths found here.
True, the wines of Margaux can be more charming on occasion. And St Julien is certainly more consistent across the board. But for me, Pauillac remains unchallenged for the top spot.
THREE OF MY FAVOURITE BORDEAUX WINES
Bordeaux has been enormously important to me, and some of my fondest memories are linked to the wines and the region.
I remember waking up on a friend’s living-room floor with a half-drunk bottle beside my head. It followed an instructive night of learning the basics of blind tasting; I had an exam the following day (I somehow passed). To this day, Figeac remains my benchmark for how St Emilion should taste.
This was an extraordinary wine from the heatwave vintage of 2003. A group of us tasted at the château in 2004 and left the tasting room in silence. As we climbed back into the van, there was a collective sigh. With one accord we all said, “I have got to buy a case of that.” With hindsight, I’m relieved that I couldn’t afford a case on release; the 2003 is not a classic by any means. But at that moment, it was the most remarkable wine any of us had tasted.
In his quest to drive awareness of Motor Neurone Disease and raise funds for crucial research, our Buyer Davy Żyw has explored the northernmost reaches of Scotland. What he discovered was a remarkable adventure, and a particularly special whisky cask.
In April 2018, Davy Żyw received the life-changing diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease (MND). It’s a condition that is relatively little understood among the general population, and Davy considered himself among that camp before his diagnosis.
“There’s a huge amount of uncertainty when you get diagnosed,” Davy reflects, “but the dialogue around MND has completely changed in the last five years.”
Charities like the MND Association have been crucial in driving awareness of the condition among the general population. “They do really valuable work to change the direction of conversation,” says Davy. “They channel funding and resources into the right research streams, to help find meaningful treatments.”
While there is currently no cure for MND, Davy firmly believes that it needn’t be so: “MND is not an incurable condition – it’s just underfunded.”
Since his diagnosis, Davy has worked tirelessly to raise funds for important MND research– a quest which soon took him to the northernmost reaches of his native Scotland.
The ride on
In 2020, Davy and his twin brother Tommy undertook a breathtaking challenge: to cycle 500 miles along the Scottish north coast, in just four days.
The route, known as the North Coast 500, comprises some of Europe’s most remote and demanding roads – popular among drivers, but rarely attempted by cyclists in such a short timeframe. A fitting challenge, then, to mark two years since Davy’s diagnosis.
“From being diagnosed, most people die within two years,” says Davy. “So, we wanted to mark the two years by doing something that was really tough and challenging, but very much life-fulfilling.” Through the cycle, Davy and his family raised £150,000 for the MND charity My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, while driving awareness of the condition through media coverage.
Davy reflects on the “incredible support” he received: from friends, family, local and mainstream media, and the MND community. A close friend, filmmaker Will Nangle, then decided to capture the ride in a film called The Ride On.
“When Will found out about my condition – and what we were doing to stick our fingers up at the disease – he wanted to get involved, and the film came from there. The Ride On is about me personally, but it’s also about my family’s challenge of living with this diagnosis and what we did to counteract it.
“I love hanging out with my brothers and friends, and I love being in Scotland,” he continues. “It was during lockdown, and it just felt natural. In my family, we deflected a lot of the emotions we felt about my condition and how it’s affecting me. We wrapped that into something else with the ride: it was a new challenge to focus on.”
A sentimental connection
Fast forward to 2022. Davy is now spearheading a collaboration between Berry Bros. & Rudd and the MND Association, overseeing the release of a charity bottling of the 2002 Macduff Own Selection whisky. A minimum of £60 per bottle will be donated to the MND Association.
As Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Senior Buyer for Champagne and Italy, Davy is accustomed to sourcing fine wines from some of the world’s most prestigious regions. Whisky, on the other hand, marked a journey into lesser-known (yet familiar) terrain, bringing him much closer to home.
“It was so thrilling for me to be involved in this project,” he says. “We pulled together samples from various sites all over Scotland: from Islay (which I’m very fond of), Speyside, the Lowlands and Highlands.”
What drew him to Macduff, over the many other casks from around the country?
The first aspect was the wine connection. The Macduff cask has been matured for 18 years in ex-Sherry butts, giving the whisky a Fino-style brightness and salinity. It’s also a vintage whisky, which appealed to Davy’s vinous sensibilities.
The second aspect was more emotional. “I have a personal connection with the town of Macduff,” he explains. “My dad died in 2003. He lived in Banff, a town just across the Deveron River from Macduff.”
“I’m very familiar with that area of Scotland, which is perched up on the northeast coast. Macduff is an old fishing community overlooking the North Sea; the next thing you see when you look up is Shetland or Norway. I used to play in the river with my brother Tommy, which is the water source of the whisky.”
It’s fitting that Davy’s selected charity cask sees him return to a place of long-held significance. He passionately believes that the profits from this special cask will make a tangible difference to the lives of those living with MND. Ultimately, it will help to fund research into finding meaningful treatments, and with hope, a cure.
Purchase a charity bottling of 2002 Macduff here. A minimum of £60 per bottle will be donated to the MND Association
What is MND?
According to the MND Association, “MND affects the nerves called motor neurones in the brain and spinal cord. Messages from the motor neurones gradually stop reaching the muscles. MND can affect the way you walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe.” It currently affects 1 in 300 people, and progresses at different rates.
The prevalence of people living with MND is low, which means that “health professionals may not see many cases of the condition”. This is connected to Davy’s point about MND being an underfunded and little-understood issue. Through sales of the 2002 Macduff charity bottling, we hope that the profits raised will help to fund vital research into finding a cure for MND.
Davy is now preparing for his next challenge: to cycle the Scotland High 5. Donate to his fundraiser here
What makes a “great” vintage? Some are immediately obvious, thanks to perfect conditions in both the vineyard and the cellar. Others emerge – phoenix-like – to unsuspecting vignerons. We speak with Ruinart’s Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaïotis about the release of their latest vintages, and the surprises it offered.
A cool, dry spring and a rainy August: the ’10 vintage conditions were challenging in Champagne. What were the first indications to you that this difficult year would result in a remarkable wine?
There were none until we started to assess the vins clairs (base wines) in early November. The year had been quite challenging, with botrytis threatening and even damaging some prime vineyards of Chardonnay (and most of the Pinot Noirs and Meuniers). But during the first tasting of the still wines after malolactic fermentation, we were blown away by the richness, focus and potential of the best Chardonnays.
Now, looking back, some parameters were actually quite promising. But, if you had asked me in October ’11 if a Dom Ruinart vintage was in the making, I would have probably laughed.
Champagne is usually aged under a metal crown cap before being disgorged and closed with cork. But, in ’10, you took the decision to revert to cork closures to age the wine: why?
Jean-François Barrot, one of my predecessors as Chef de Caves, experimented with cork and bottles several vintages both with cork and crown caps. When I joined in ’07, I was able to taste and compare these wines.
I found the difference striking: the Champagne under cork was always more intense, more complex, tasted younger and had more potential. It had subtle, reductive flavours which were perfectly suited to the great Chardonnay spectrum. It took a few years to check feasibility on a larger scale, and when the ’10 vintage showed so much potential we decided to start with that vintage. We certainly don’t regret it.
Do changing climate patterns present challenges when it comes to making great vintage wines with Chardonnay?
In many ways, yes – although the current period is quite favourable. I doubt we will say the same in 20 or even 10 years. In the past few years, finding the optimal harvest date when grapes ripen late August has been quite challenging. It looks like 2022 will offer the same difficulty.
Tell us something surprising about your role as Chef de Caves at Dom Ruinart.
As you may know, we collaborate every year with an artist, David Shrigley most recently. They spend time in our maison to learn about our history, our vineyards, our values and of course our wines. Then, they have carte blanche to create art pieces which will be displayed in contemporary art fairs worldwide.
Every year, I find it fascinating to taste Ruinart cuvées with them. I explain our style and how we achieve it, starting from the grapes and through the winemaking process. I always love their approach, how they view things differently, often more deeply than us winemakers can. Art is an incredibly helpful tool to develop our emotional intelligence and elevate our souls.
Finally, how would you describe the 2010 Dom Ruinart Champagne?
To properly describe it, you’ll need to have a glass of this cuvée in your hand. I’d say: intense, complex, poised, smoky, saline, savoury, reminiscent of a great white Burgundy. A sort of Corton-Charlemagne with bubbles.
Discover more about Dom Ruinart and browse our complete selection here.