WSET celebrates 50 years to the day with lavish dinner

18th October, 2019

The WSET celebrated 50 years to the day since its foundation with a dinner last night at the Vintners’ Hall in London – and we reveal the wines that were drunk, and some of the words that were said.

Having been founded on 17 October 1969, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust marked 50 years since its inception yesterday by holding a dinner for almost 150 leading members of the wine trade at the Vintners’ Hall in the heart of London.

Giving the welcome address was Master Vintner Christopher Davey, who gave a quick record of the WSET’s past, pointing out that the educational trust was in fact born out of the Wine Trade Club, which was established in 1908 by writer and merchant André Simon, and ran lectures for professionals until 1955, when the Wine and Spirit Association took over, and then, almost 15 years later, the WSET was founded.

Notably, he said that the first WSET course, based on Simon’s book In Vino Veritas, was given in the same space in the Vintners Hall where the guests were dining.

He also said that it was “50 years ago to this day that the WSET was created”, and, stressing the extraordinary growth of the trust since its foundation, he added, “It is now an international brand of serious education,” recording that during the one year period to the end of 2018, 100,000 people studied with the WSET in 75 countries, with the body providing courses in 18 different languages.

“Congratulations WSET and all who have sailed in her,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, WSET CEO Ian Harris joked that the event last night was “like a private dinner party with a massive and dysfunctional family around me.”

On a more serious note, he chose the evening celebration to highlight the increased gender balance among the students who have passed through the WSET.

In the first year of the WSET diploma there were no women, now we are 50:50,” he recorded, before commenting that, “Seven out of the last 10 Vintners’ Cup winners have been females.”

Giving the closing remarks was Nick Hyde, who is chairman of the board of trustees for the WSET.

He said that since the WSET was founded as many as 94 people have served as trustees, and, “they have been fundamental to the success of the trust”.

He then thanked Harris for his role in the development and internationalisation of the WSET since he took up the role of CEO in 2002.

Describing him as “the father of the modern WSET”, Harris was then treated to a standing ovation.

WSET International Development Manager, David Wrigley MW, chose the wines for the dinner, which were:

  • Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV
  • Meursault-Charmes Premier Cru, Henri Germain, 2011
  • Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, 2006
  • Château Suduiraut, 2006
  • Warre’s Vintage Port, 1985

In January, as the WSET began its 50th anniversary year, db brought together a panel of WSET Diploma graduates who have gone on to forge stellar careers to reflect on how studying for this qualification gave them a firm foundation in the wine trade.

You can read about their thoughts in the link below.

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London’s Montone wins young sommelier of the year world final

18th October, 2019

Matteo Montone, wine director at the London Edition hotel, won the world final of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs young sommelier of the year – the third year in a row that a sommelier working in Britain has claimed the title.

Matteo Montone

Montone won the British final back in March when the winners were announced at a ceremony at The Dorchester Hotel.

In a tense final held in South Korea, Montone fought off competition from the likes of Russia, Canada and Germany to claim the world title after two days of competition. Born in Milan, Montone, 30,  triumphed over Jonathan Eichholz from the USA by just a few marks, and Australia’s Andres Aragon, who came in third place.

Commenting on his victory, he said: “This is probably the greatest achievement of my life. I’ve worked very hard to prepare for this, and to win was a dream come true!”

A sommelier working in Great Britain has now finished in first or second place in the last nine out of 10 years.

Jordon Powell

Philip Evins, bailli délégué for the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs GB, added: “With Matteo’s superb effort, we have kept up our outstanding track record in the event. My sincere thanks to those who encouraged him in our national competition – judges Steven Spurrier, Christelle Guibert, Dimitri Mesnard, Isa Bal and Nicholas Clerc – and our partners with whose help we are able to run this event.

Montone wasn’t the only GB representative to pick up an accolade. Chef Jordon Powell, 21, from South Lodge Hotel, Sussex, finished in second place in the world finals of young chef of the year. Facing stiff competition from 22 countries, Powell impressed with his three-course meal produced from a mystery basket of ingredients at the final held in Calgary, Canada.

His achievement marked the highest placing of a British chef in the global competition for almost 40 years.

Evins added: “We were delighted with Jordon’s brilliant cook-off too. Congratulations to him as he furthers his career, and to the team who helped in his preparation for the contest – Vic Laws, Ben Purton and Daniel Ayton – as well as those who hosted stages, Mosimanns & the Royal Lancaster London Hotel.

“It goes to show that Britain really does produce young hospitality talent that is the best in the world.”

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Vinexpo Shanghai counts down to October show

18th October, 2019

Vinexpo Shanghai is counting down to its show next week, taking place from 23 to 25 October, and featuring 260 wineries from 19 countries, including Domaines Barons de Rothschild’s new Chinese estate.

Wines on pour at the show will hail from Italy, Spain, Chile, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Argentina and China.

There will also be a programme of masterclasses and talks throughout the three-day event, including a one-hour tasting of the wines of Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild Lafite, including Carruades de Lafite, Château Duhart-Milon and the renowned Château Lafite Rothschild.

Attendees will also have the chance to sample the group’s wines from outside of Bordeaux, including Château d’Aussières from Corbières, Le Dix de Los Vascos in Chile and Caro from Argentina. The tasting will finish with a presentation of the company’s latest project – Domaine de Long Dai, the group’s newly opened Chinese winery.

Among the wine experts presenting masterclasses at the event are sommelier Marc Almert, who was crowned the ASI Best Sommelier of the World this year. He will present the Vinexpo Challenge which consists of a blind tasting of eight wines from some of the show’s exhibitors.

There will also be a contest between the next generation of ‘best sommeliers’ which will include the likes of Martin Bruno (Best Sommelier of Argentina 2017), Raimonds Tomsons (Best Sommelier of Europe and Africa 2017) and Wataru Iwata (Best Sommelier of Asia and Oceania 2018). The sommeliers will taste three red and three white wines made with six different grape varieties and share their insight with the audience.

Vinexpo Shanghai will be held in theShanghai World Expo Exhibition & Convention Center (SWEECC). For more information, please click here. 

New booking app intends to combat no-shows in London restaurants

17th October, 2019

A new app allows restaurants to turn no-shows and late-cancellations into bookings with diners seeking last-minute seats in London.

SparePlace allows restaurants to advertise empty slots in their bookings that have suddenly become available.

Alessandro Ceccarelli created the app after noticing that people “struggle to make plans in advance and restaurants are often fully booked (in some cases even weeks in advance), even for a small party of two.”

With his partner, software engineer Luca Pontone, Ceccarelli collated data on no-shows in restaurants, finding that the industry loses roughly £1 billion each year from late-cancellations.

Ceccarelli cites executive chef, Michael Voltaggio who said “even if you have a check of £50 per person, and two people a night don’t show up… that’s over £36,000 that you’re losing on your business for that year.”

For now, the app is focused on mobile-friendly students and professionals based in London, expecting an age-range of 20-55 years old.

Users who cannot attend, or cancel their reservations late and want to save on fees, will post their booking on the app for users looking for ‘spare places’ at “the best restaurants and bars in London.” Restaurants too, will be able to post live-bookings for last-minute customers.

Users will join a virtual queue and be met with a notification, rather than a host, when their table is ready.

By posting reservations on the app, users will also earn “diners points” to spend on “special rewards”, including access to offers, discounts and pre-sales.

The app is currently being trialled in a handful of central London restaurants before it launches on 11 November.

He said his aim is for the app to become “the leading last-minute booking system in Europe, establishing a direct connection between users and companies that provide online bookings.” Read the rest of this entry »

Wine trade gives thanks to man who ‘built Bollinger’

17th October, 2019

It was standing room only at Southwark Cathedral this morning for a thanksgiving service for the man who “built the Bollinger brand” in the UK, Simon Leschallas.

Remembering Simon Leschallas: 1955-2019

In a service that was littered with jokes and anecdotes, along with rousing hymns – and topped off with a glass of Champagne Bollinger – was a brilliant eulogy given by Simon’s great childhood friend Bertie Gore Browne.

As part of this, Gore Browne recorded how Simon had employed his “great sales and marketing skills” to establish Bollinger as a powerful Champagne brand in the UK from the early 80s onwards, primarily by associating it with high-profile sporting events, particularly cricket and golf.

“The Bollinger brand was built by Simon… so much so that the name Bollinger because synonymous with great sporting events,” he said in his address, before recording that Simon had died on the first day of this year’s Open Championships – the first time he had missed this great golfing occasion for 14 years.

Gore Browne then described Simon as “one of the most respected and trusted members of the wine trade”, noting that over 40 drinks companies were represented among the congregation at the service this morning.

Commenting more generally on his character, Gore Browne said, “You only had to meet Simon once and you knew you had a friend for life.

“He was someone you could always have a laugh with, someone you could trust, and someone who brought out the very best in others,” he added.

He also recorded Simon’s “natural charm”, while calling him “unfailingly polite”, and said that he was “a true giver in every sense of the word”, as well as a “devoted family man”.

Recalling that his nickname was “the tank,” he joked that this either meant a “heavy, armoured fighting vehicle” – “and he was certainly that” – “or a large storage container full of gas or liquid”, adding that this was “undeniable”.

Finishing the eulogy, Gore Browne asked the congregation to raise an imaginary glass of Bollinger and toast “the loveliest man that ever existed”.

Meanwhile, Simon’s children spoke movingly about their father, commenting how his “great joy” was seeing “anyone and everyone happy,” while recalling how “daddy taught us how to have fun, and be generous with your time.”

Finally, Canon Mark Oakley, who is Chaplain to the Worshipful Company of Vintners, said that Simon was “full of anecdotes that shocked and delighted in equal measure,” before recalling his “big smile”, and “twinkling eyes”.

“Simon”, he continued, “was someone to draw you in, and make you belong… and he was someone with depth, and soul.”

Concluding, he commented, “It has been said to me that Champagne was built on great characters, and he was one.”

As previously reported by the drinks business, Simon had died suddenly of a heart attack aged 64 on 18 July this year, leaving behind his wife Jo and young family.

Simon started his career working for Blue Circle cement in Cheshire, before following in the footsteps of his father Anthony Leschallas, and joining Bollinger-importer Mentzendorff in 1978, where Simon remained a director for 29 years.

Simon was also a past master of the Vintners’ Company and the Worshipful Company of Distillers, as well as a former chairman and trustee of drinks trade charity The Benevolent and a trustee of the Wine Trade Sports Club.

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5 low and no-alcohol drinks trends to watch in 2020

17th October, 2019

The Lo & No Beverage Summit took place in London this week, which showed that drinks brands are keen to experiment with new ideas and products to attract sober-curious consumers.

Low ABV specialists Big Drop launched their own sour beer in 2018. (Photo: Big Drop)

Innovation managers from companies like Bacardi and Pernod Ricard joined startup-founders and hospitality bosses at the two-day event to hear the latest trends in low ABV drinks, network and, more importantly, find ideas for their next product launch.

We attended the summit on Tuesday to hear speakers from across the drinks industry share their own experiences, and find out how alcohol brands are adapting to cater to a new breed of consumer who drinks less.


1. Super-premium beer, fruity beer, and more beer styles

Lowlander launched a fruity 0.0% ABV witbeer in May.

While it still makes up less than 5% of the total beer market, alcohol-free ad low ABV suds were the first types of lo-no products to win over consumers. More than half of Brits who took part in a OnePoll survey last year said they have at least tried a non-alcoholic beverage, while 52% also said non-alcoholic beers have become more socially acceptable in the past two years.

Rob Fink, the founder of Big Drop Brewing Co, said that the growth of the craft beer sector over the past decade has helped to make his brand successful after launching in 2016, and now he thinks that growth could be replicated without the ABV content.

“Three years ago we were the only people doing it”, he said. Big Drop launched in 2017, becoming the UK’s first independent brewer focusing exclusively on low ABV beer. In the summer of 2018, sales of alcohol-free beer rose 58% compared to the same period last year, according to Kantar data, while sales of beer with an ABV below 2.8% have risen 381% since 2017.

“Those stats show we have a lot of growth.”

Now that the category is getting a lot bigger, companies are being more specific with their brand identities, with Asahi launching a super-premium, alcohol-free version of Peroni this year.

Paul Thomas, the global head of insight for Japanese drinks giant Asahi, said there “is a gap for a super premium offering”, and we can expect to see low alcohol beers for every occasion where you would normally opt for your go-to brew, and could even be adopted by bartenders as a cocktail ingredient.

He said that beer is “very versatile.”

“It can offer a richness of mouthfeel to cocktails and I think we could see things like beer mocktails in the future.”


2. Draught

But one of the major battlegrounds for non-alcoholic beer brands is still the off-trade, particularly pubs, which Fink said “have been slow to respond” to consumer demand. One way this could change is seeing more brands selling their beer in draught format.

St Peter’s brewery sells its 0.0% ABV offering in draught format at a few UK pubs already, while Heineken’s 0.0% beer is also available in keg.

“Draught will be absolutely key for us,” Fink said, adding that Big Drop’s 0.5% Citra IPA is already available on draught at UK chain Brewhouse & Kitchen.

“You can’t do alcohol free in cask, as the alcohol itself acts as a preservative for the drink, it’s a live product,” the founder said, “but there is nothing stopping you from going in keg.”


3. Dark ‘spirits’

Pernod Ricard waded further into the low- and no-ABV drinks territory with the launch of an alcohol-free ‘dark spirit’ in June this year,. With a flavour of “sweet vanilla, spices and oak”, it has all the cues of a whisk(e)y.

There was a huge level of interest in dark ‘spirits’ at the summit this week, according to Martyn Warner, technical manager at Omega, a fragrances and aroma company that supplies ingredients to brands such as Seedlip.

One of the products Omega showcased at the summit was a ready-made “dark spirit and cola” drink, which tasted fairly similar to a whiskey and coke. “We just did this to show people what we can do and how our products work on a practical level.”

Warner said that this year “we’ve been getting a lot of interest from companies around making whiskey-type drinks.”

A number of booze-free alternatives to rum and whiskey have already entered the market, including Stryyk’s Not Rum, made by the founder of Funkin Cocktails. 

Craig Hutchison, the founder of non-alcoholic gin alternative Ceder’s, also revealed he is working with Pernod Ricard on a new ‘spirit’ that is inspired by rum.


….and beer…

(Photo: Edith Hancock)

Dark beer is also having a moment in the low ABV space.

“I don’t actually like lager,” Fink said at the summit, “my preferred beer is a stout.” Big Drop’s stout recently won Best in Show at the Stockholm Beer & Spirits Show. Irish brewer Guinness, meanwhile, has launched a limited edition “ultra-low ABV stout” to coincide with its sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Expect to see more sober takes on traditional beer styles next year.


4. Dining options

(Photo: iStock)

As Fink mentioned, it has been hard to get the on-trade to take notice of low alcohol drinks, but things are changing.

Real Kombucha, launched in 2017, is now stocked on 60 Michelin-starred restaurants including east London’s The Clove Club, while it is also served as an aperitif at l’Enclume.

“The word “kombucha” may be misleading, but most of the top sommeliers, including the Fat Duck, La Gavroche, Clove Club, Nathan Outlaw, Tom Kerridge, recommend our unflavoured ferments, brewed from high-end loose-leaf teas, as a non-alcoholic “flight”, mainly because very few other non-alc drinks can be paired successfully with food,” Jon Wilks, head of growth at Real Kombucha, told the drinks business.

Nine Elms, a non-alcoholic red wine-like drink that entered the market in July, is sold at east London’s Michelin starred Clove Club and at the Standard Hotel. The owner of London bar Hide and conservation biologist, Paul Mathew, has also created a non-alcoholic apéritif brand, called Everleaf.

In fact, the majority of the first day of the conference was taken up by brands pursuing on-trade listings and discussing how to pair this new breed of low ABV drinks with food.

Speaking at the conference, Claire Warner, the founder of non-alcoholic drinks brand Æcorn Aperitifs, even suggested trade bodies such as the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) should revise their course curriculums to include information on alternatives to wine and spirits.

“I wouldn’t quite say we’re lobbying them,” she said, “but we are encouraging the WSET to include a section on non-alc.”


5. Drinks +

A single measure of OTO’s bitters contains 50mg of CBD (Photo: OTO)

Alcohol brands are not allowed to make claims about supposed health benefits, but it’s a different story for something with 0% ABV. Some companies have started to produce tinned cocktails, beers, and wines with added botanicals as well as CBD; the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant which is often sold as a supplement in health food stores such as Holland and Barrett.

Camille Vidal left her role as liqueur St Germain’s brand ambassador to launch healthy lifestyle agency La Maison Wellness this year, and is also an ambassador for OTO, a brand of ultra-premium cocktail bitters containing a high dosage of CBD.

Hutchison said, as well as a dark rum-like spirit, the brand is also working on a CBD-infused product it hopes to introduce next year.

Paul Thompson of Asahi said: “We’re now talking about beers that are isotonic, or made with chamomile. we’re adding things to it with perceived benefits to overcome the fact that you’re removing alcohol.”

Cava DO hires six experts to advise on zoning project

17th October, 2019

The Consejo Regulador del Cava has hired six wine experts to review proposals for its segmentation and zoning project, after nine producers formally broke ranks with the DO to set up producer-led group Corpinnat at the start of this year.

Sarah Jane Evans MW, one of the six new consultants.

The regulatory council has hired Belgium-based Master of Wine Pedro Ballesteros; sommelier and wine writer Ferran Centelles; writer and MW Sarah Jane Evans; Champagne specialist Richard Juhlin; and sparkling wine specialist and author Tom Stevenson.

The six new consultants will examine the DO’s proposals, which aim to highlight “the quality, differentiation, origin and prestige of Cava”.

They have been asked to give their opinions on the proposals and help the DO find the best ways to communicate their goals with wine professionals, sommeliers and consumers alike.

Javier Pagés, president of the Cava Regulatory Council, said: “They [the six consultants] will contribute, with their international vision, expert analysis, and proposals, no doubt, to improve the final result of the segmentation and zoning, in front of the challenge of highlighting qualitative differentiation, origin and Cava’s prestige”.

The segmentation and zoning project is one of three elements in the DO’s strategic plan, which also includes strengthening the Cava brand and increasing the prestige of the Spanish sparkler.

UK consumers bought around 23 million bottles of Cava last year, according to the WSTA. 60% of Cava production is exported to over 100 different countries. Exports grew rapidly from 1980 to 2010, but have since levelled off.

The region has struggled with its image, and this is something the new proposals from the DO hope to address.

A single estate or vineyard category, Cava de Paraje Calificado, was introduced in 2017 to help boost wine quality and the region’s prestige. Vine age as well as yields at harvest and post-pressing are specified, while the wine must be aged for a minimum of 36 months on its lees, and like Cava Gran Reserva, must be Brut sweetness level or lower.

Basic Cava must be aged for a minimum of nine months on its lees, while Cava Reserva spends 15 months on its lees, and Gran Reserva 30 months.

News of Cava DO’s project follows reports earlier this year that nine producers, including Recaredo and Gramona, had formally broken away from to form their own EU-recognised body known as Corpinnat.

In April, Xavier Gramona, joint president of Corpinnat, told the drinks business that the breakaway designation had “not closed the door on Cava for good,” and continued to have productive discussions with the Consejo Regulador president Javier Pages.

It was also announced that the Cava DO would be launching a ‘Cava Discovery Week’ in key international markets in November in a bid to raise the profile of the Spanish fizz.

The regulatory body will host a series of marketing stunts in Belgium, Japan, the US and UK from 18 November to 24 November.

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Aldi launches ‘Aldi-ploma’ wine course

17th October, 2019

UK discounter Aldi is launching an online wine course for shoppers comprising a free-to-download online course and tutorial, which is says will make will make the wine aisle “less baffling” for consumers.

The retailer, which has gained a strong following for its popular range of wines in store, says that although the newly launched course, which is available now, is free to download, it is best accompanied by its three Wine Discovery cases, which can be bought from its online shop for around £110.

The course comprises six downloadable wine modules and six video tutorials featuring the retailer’s wine consultant MW Sam Caporn, which cover an introduction to wines, the principles of tasting, a look at white and red varieties, a tour through the classic regions and a module devoted to sparkling, sweet and fortified wines.

The ‘Aldi-ploma’ claims to be the first supermarket wine course of its kind in the UK which offers “price-tag and pressure-free learning” to help consumers learn how to taste wine, help them navigate red and white grape varieties and how to pick their favourite wines by region.

“The wine course supports the supermarket’s mission to open up the world of wine to all, including the 62% of Brits who admit they find it easier to plan a holiday than pick the perfect plonk,” the retailer said.

Sam Caporn MW said Aldi was known for its affordable, great quality wines and the new diploma would create “the perfect platform to help consumers try new things and gain the perfect introduction to the world of wine”.

Julie Ashfield, managing director of buying at Aldi UK, added that the “wonderful” world of wine should be enjoyed by all.

“At Aldi we believe that visiting the wine aisle should be an enjoyable experience. The Aldiploma provides a unique and fun approach to learning about wine, giving customers the confidence they want when selecting a wine and debunking any complicated wine terminology.”

In September the retailer launched of a 35-strong premium own label range of ‘Icon wines’ targeting affluent wine consumers with available exclusively online.

Spain’s Alma Carraovejas buys two Galician wineries

17th October, 2019

Spanish wine company Alma Carraovejas in Ribera del Duero has snapped up two wineries in Galicia for an undisclosed sum as part of its vineyard expansion plan.

Viña Meín’s vines are planted on steep slopes near the town of Leiro in Ribeiro

As reported by Wine Spectator, the acquisition included the small production Emilio Rojo and Viña Meín wineries in the Galician DO of Ribeiro, taking Alma Carraovejas’ vineyard land to 200 hectares.

Winemaker Emilio Rojo will stay on at his eponymous estate following its sale

The 18-hectare, 5,000-case, Viña Meín was founded in 1988 and focuses on white blends made from Treixadura, Godello, Lado, Loureira, Torrontés and Albariño, and also makes reds from Caíño Tinto, Brancellao and Souson.

Following the sale, Alma Carraovejas’s CEO, Pedro Ruiz Aragoneses, is keen to reduce the number of wines in the portfolio, refine the blends, modernise the winery and increase tourism via a new tasting room and the introduction of tours.

The company is also keen to increase Viña Meín’s exports to the US and China.

The two-hectare Emilio Rojo meanwhile, was founded by former engineer Emilio Rojo in 1987, who plans to stay on at the estate following the sale.

Alma Carraovejas is on a mission to highlight Spain’s little-known grapes and old vineyard sites, and Ribeiro is home to a number of neglected hillside vineyards with the potential to be revived and restored.

Alma Carraovejas’s flagship estate, Pago de Carraovejas, produces 50,000 cases a year of Tempranillo, Cabernet and Merlot in Ribera del Duero.

Jim Beam puts distillery accommodation on Airbnb

17th October, 2019

Kentucky’s Jim Beam has listed a property in its distillery grounds on Airbnb, giving Bourbon fans the chance to stay at its Clermont site for the same price as a bottle of Jim Beam Black.

From 21 October, Airbnb users will be able to book stays at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. Guests must be aged over 21 in order to stay in the property, which was built in 1919 and overlooks Everbach lake.

Priced at US$23 a stay, guests are able to tour the distillery, take part in a Bourbon tasting and sample a classic Kentucky barbecue meal.

Fred Noe, Jim Beam’s seventh generation Master Distiller and Airbnb property host, said: “There’s no better time to experience Bourbon country than during the cool, crisp months of fall, so we’re welcoming bourbon fans to join the Beam family during an overnight stay at our home in the rolling hills of Kentucky.

“We like to say that anyone who visits us comes as friends and leaves as family, so we’re thrilled to welcome our extended family for some bourbon and Kentucky hospitality.”

The stillhouse, which can be booked for a maximum of six guests, boasts three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a fully-stocked bar, a fireplace and fishing docks. 

A limited number of dates will be available on a first-come-first-served basis, which can be booked through to the end of the year.

The Airbnb link can be viewed here.