Wines from Spain tasting returns to Sky Garden

10th March, 2020

The 31st annual Wines from Spain tasting will return to London’s Sky Garden this month with two tasting events aimed at trade and consumer audiences.

At the tasting 62 leading importers and exporters will present their Spanish wine portfolios to the British trade and press, including a selection of the latest vintages and releases available to the UK market.

An extensive line-up of DOs from Spain’s classic and emerging regions will be available to taste, and exporters seeking distribution will showcase their wines to attendees in search of new producers.

A selection of around 1,000 wines from 300 wineries from across Spain’s 71 D.O.s will be available to explore under one roof. 192 organic and 393 vegan Spanish wines will be on show at the annual event.

At the tasting, all wine styles will be on pour, from sprightly whites and racy reds to Cavas and Sherries. The tasting will shine a light on Spain’s myriad of native grapes, including rising star Bobal, which db profiled in our current Spain supplement.

“We are looking forward to showcasing the extraordinary breadth and depth of Spain’s wine offering and to sharing the energy and passion of our winemakers with trade visitors and consumers,” said Fernando Muñoz, director of Wines from Spain.

“The Spanish wine category continues to go from strength to strength, showing innovation and leadership in key areas such as organic wine.

“Our annual tasting is a great opportunity for all to discover new wines, keep up with new trends and talk to the people behind the labels,” he added.

There will be two themed self pour tastings as well as mini tutorials held during the day, one focused on the Ribera del Duero DO and the other entitled ‘Indigenous Revival: focus on D.O. Valencia’.

Places at tutorials can be reserved by emailing

Focusing on Spanish wine, food and culture, the consumer tasting will take place in the evening and will be hosted in partnership with the Three Wine Men.

An in-depth look at the latest developments in Spanish wine can be found in db’s annual Spain report, which will be free to pick up at the tasting.

Mackmyra CEO to step down after 21 years

10th March, 2020

The CEO of Swedish distillery Mackmyra, Magnus Dandanell, is stepping down after more than 20 years at the helm.

Mackmyra partnered with Microsoft last year to create what it claims is the first whisky “developed with artificial intelligence”.

Johan Larsson will take over as CEO, while Dandanell will move to the position of business developer at the company.

Dandanell has headed up the whisky-maker since it was founded in 2009. During his tenure he oversaw a series of lucrative partnerships. Mackmyra worked with Finnish technology consultancy Fourkind and US electronics giant Microsoft to create what it claims is the first whisky “developed with artificial intelligence” in May 2019.

“It is with pride and confidence that, after more than two decades, I hand over the helm to a strong leader like Johan. With his strengths and skills, Mackmyra will be able to develop further and reach its full potential. I am also pleased to now be able to focus on Mackmyra’s business development, especially in light of the major changes that the global alcohol industry is undergoing, both in terms of consumer behaviour and internet based disruption.”

Larsson has held several senior positions in both owner-managed and public listed companies. He was was previously chief financial officer of fashion company Peak Performance, and has worked as the COO and the CEO of various entrepreneurial companies like WeSC, Whyred and Mini Rodini.

Through his own consultancy business, he has also acted as an advisor to investment companies, and has also been a member of the board of several companies, including branding company Nilörngruppen, footwear accessories by Paul Brunngård, helmet manufacturer Hövding and outdoor company Houdini Sportswear.

Larsson said: “Throughout my entire career I have always worked with growing strong consumer brands by means of international expansion. This is one of the reasons why I have been following Mackmyra with fascination for many years, both as a shareholder and as a cask owner. What Magnus and the team have accomplished is truly impressive. It is with great excitement and inspiration that I now take over the relay baton as the new CEO, with the task of taking the foremost craft spirit company in Sweden through the next growth phase.”


New Netflix drama follows plight of aspiring Master Sommelier

10th March, 2020

Popular streaming service Netflix is to launch a film called Uncorked on 27 March that follows the plight of an aspiring Master Sommelier from Memphis.

Uncorked centres on Elijah, played by Mamoudou Athie, and his dream of becoming a Master Sommelier

As reported by Food & Wine, the trailer for Uncorked was released yesterday. Directed by Prentice Penny, the film follows protagonist Elijah’s dreams of becoming a Master Sommelier as he faces increased pressure from his father Louis (Courtney B. Vance) to take over the family’s barbecue business.

“Once I knew the father was going to run a BBQ stand, it felt interesting to pair him with wine,” Penny told Food & Wine.

All is not well in the father-son relationship from the beginning, with the pair disagreeing on how to cook ribs in the opening scene. The tension builds as Elijah, played by Mamoudou Athie, pursues his dream of becoming a Master Sommelier.

To help him play a convincing sommelier, Athie was coached by master sommelier DLynn Proctor, associate producer on the film, on how to professionally taste wine.

“Whether or not his character passed any exams or conquered any goals, he needed to know and understand hospitality,” Proctor told Food & Wine.

“There is a certain flow to restaurants, hotels, and fine dining; so once there was a mastery of those aspects, Elijah could excel at the next levels of wine,” he added.

As the film develops, Elijah progresses with his sommelier studies, going head to head with a classmate in one scene to correctly identify a Chardonnay, and travelling to Paris to immerse himself in the world of wine.

Penny hopes the film will encourage families to be more open with each other, especially fathers and sons. “Men have tendency to keep their feelings close to their chest. I hope this movie makes them share a little more,” he told Food & Wine.

In focus: Criolla

10th March, 2020

db profiles how Argentine winemakers are using the country’s Criolla grapes, which account for as much as a third of total vineyard area.

Criolla is the term for a family of grape varieties that are crossings of the first varieties brought to Argentina by Spanish missionaries in the 1500s. Today, the National Institute of Agricultural Technology is documenting Criolla varieties, and estimates that they account for as much as a third of Argentina’s vineyards. The institute’s vineyard in Mendoza has 54 varieties, and DNA studies have been ongoing since 2008.

Arguably the most well-known Criolla grape is Torrontés, which comes in three forms: Riojano, Mendocino and Sanjuanino. Other varieties include Criolla Chica (País/Mission), Criolla Grande and Cereza. Once used to produce high-volume, fruity wines, most Criolla varieties have not been treated with the respect afforded to internationally recognised grapes.

Alejandro Kuschnaroff, winemaker at Ernesto Catena Vineyards, believes Criolla varieties should be protected. He makes a range of Criolla wines from Criolla Grande, Criolla Chica and Ceresa under the Be My Hippie Love label, packaged in 500ml glass bottles sealed with crown caps.

“Criolla varieties naturally produce fresh, lighter and easy-to-drink styles – something that consumers are looking for at the moment,” he says. “My aim is to recreate the wine that our grandparents once drank and enjoyed. Argentina is losing part of its history. From the 1980s, Criolla wines started losing shelf space, and in the 1990s and 2000s, Argentina began to focus more on international styles of wine. In the past 15 years we’ve lost 50% of Criolla Grande vines with almost 10,000 hectares uprooted.“

Mauricio Boullaude, founder of Barbarians Wine Group, believes Criolla is exciting, and something that must be conserved. “It’s our history and heritage,” he said. “It tells the story of the Old World discovering the New World. We want to recover our national story. The wines may not be as complex as Malbec, but they’re easy-drinking, lower in alcohol, and in the summer can be a viable alternative to beer.”

Santiago Mayorga, winemaker at Cadus Wines, however, believes that in the right environment, and with good management, Criolla grapes can produce serious and elegant wines. Cadus has made a 100% red Criolla Grande in its Signature series. Using 35-year-old Pergola trained vines, he said he obtains low yields and good quality grapes. “We get eight tonnes per hectare in our Vista Flores site. Criollas can yield as much as 40 tonnes per hectare. We need more wineries to make more serious styles of Criolla for the grape to be better respected.“

Pala Corazon, run by the Niven family, said that attitudes are changing. The winery makes three natural, unfiltered Criollas under its Criolla Argentina label. Winemaker Lucas Niven explains: “Criolla used to be used sold off to make grape juice and rectified concentrated grape must. While we’re still obliged to sell off a portion of our grapes each year (as Criolla varietes are not considered suitable for ‘fine wine’), for the past 10 years, Criolla varieties have been enjoying a revival.”

Criolla grapes are therefore being championed by producers wishing to resurrect Argentina’s winemaking traditions and add something new and exciting to the country’s offering.

Exclusive interview: Veuve Clicquot cellar master Didier Mariotti

10th March, 2020

Didier Mariotti officially took over as cellar master at Veuve Clicquot from Dominique Demarville at the start of this year, after 13 years working at GH Mumm, the first three in tandem with Demarville. He talks to Giles Fallowfield about his good fortune and the challenges ahead.

Almost exactly six months to the day after he joined Veuve Clicquot in August last year, Didier Mariotti, on a first trip to London with his Clicquot hat on, is in very upbeat mood. “It’s a new lease of life for me, I feel 15 years younger. It a great thing to be learning again, asking questions, being curious about everything, I feel re-energised.”

Mariotti didn’t seek out a move from G.H.Mumm, where he worked for 13 years, the last decade as chef de cave, but he recognises his good fortune in landing the Clicquot job, one of Champagne’s most glamorous. When he heard the news last April that Demarville was leaving, he called him, also speaking to former Dom Pérignon winemaker Richard Geoffroy, who he’s kept in touch with since they worked together at Moët at the outset of his career from 1995-99. They both encouraged him to apply for the vacant position. “Since I came to Champagne, I’ve been very lucky with the people who have inspired and guided me.”

Mariotti acknowledges his debt to Demarville and agrees that the changeover has been made much smoother by the fact he’s following in Demarville’s footsteps and they’ve had four months together before, during and after the 2019 harvest, for him to learn the ropes. “I’ve been working alongside Dominique, tasting the reserve wines, overseeing the [2019] harvest, trying the vins clairs, sharing his vision for the brand. It helps that we had three years together at G.H. Mumm. Taking over from him you know that everything is very well organised, the vision is clear. In that sense, it’s easy to follow him.”

There is however a lot to learn and Mariotti has immersed himself in the Clicquot culture. “You need to know about the make-up of the house first. Even though I’ve tasted everything once – the very large collection of reserve wines, the 2019 vins clairs, the current range – it’s like a huge puzzle, with all the pieces in front of me to make sense of. You have the understand the house style and what is needed to reproduce it,” says Mariotti.

At Clicquot production of its trademark Yellow Label is built around its use of reserve wines. “We have an amazing diversity of reserve wines that we keep separately by grape variety, cru by cru and vintage by vintage. It’s not something I’ve seen in Champagne before. When you are working on Yellow Label you have all the colours in front of you. It’s a very complex process, you have to learn what each element can contribute to the blend. It’s about precision.”

One of the main initial challenges for Mariotti in his new role, has been to learn the tasting language the winemaking team uses to assess quality, whether tasting vins clairs, or the vast array of reserve wines and how they develop and change over time. “Every house has its own language and way of grading the wines and you have to learn to taste for the house style, looking for the elements the different cuvées need, not assessing them for yourself. Whether the style is more reductive, oxidative or something neutral in between.”

“Four months working with Dominique isn’t very long to learn all this, but he did explain to me a lot about the work needed to create the Yellow Label blend, how to use the reserve wines and recognising the importance of what you put into the reserve each year. He also explained his vision for La Grand Dame, where he increased the proportion of Pinot Noir in the blend for the recently released 2008 vintage.

There are three wines in the range that really explain the DNA of Veuve Clicquot for Mariotti. Yellow Label, where you see all the wide diversity of the Champagne vineyard; Extra Brut Extra Aged which is designed to show off the range and depth of the reserve collection and shine a light on Yellow Label quality, plus La Grande Dame which is about the excellence of top vineyard parcels.

“Dominique created this new cuvée [Extra Brut Extra Aged EBEA] as part of his vision for the brand and clearly a central part of this role is to maintain the quality of the non-vintage wine, or if you can increase it, even better.”

While Mariotti won’t be looking to change things any time soon, it’s interesting to note that at the same time he was investing in more large oak foudres and some barrels back at G.H.Mumm, Demarville was doing something similar at Clicquot. Their use to date has largely been confined to adding some complexity of flavour and texture to the Clicquot vintage wines.

One restricting factor in their wider use has been a lack of space in the current Clicquot winery in Reims. But looking ahead, with the first part of the brand’s new Comète winery due to open in June on a 47-hectare site east of Reims, space will no longer be an issue.

Mariotti has timed his arrival at Clicquot impeccably, he agrees. Following in Demarville’s footsteps everything is very well set up, there’s a great team in place and a clear vision about the direction of travel. Then there’s the “amazing quality” of the recently gathered 2019 harvest. “All the vins clairs are graded good or very good.” And on top of that from June he’ll have all the kit at the new, state-of-the-art winery to play with. No wonder Mariotti is smiling.

Optimism as UK on-trade closures slow down

9th March, 2020

There were optimistic signs on the high street as the closure of UK pubs, restaurants and bars slowed to their lowest year-on-year rate in two years, a new report has said – with managed restaurants showed to be in growth.

(Photo: iStock)

The Market Growth Monitor from CGA and AlixPartners said closures in the sector had fallen by 1.8% in the 12 months to December. It is the slowest rate of decline since March 2018.

However there had still be the equivalent of around six sites closing a day in the last 12 months, with a total number of 116,203 licensed premises recorded in December 2019.

The number of pubs and bars fell 2%, with drinks led establishments hit hardest. Food-led sites fared better, with only 4,297 closures since December 2014.

While the number of restaurants fell 1.6% overall, the data found the number of group-owned restaurants rose 1.8% in the 12 months to December, on the back of small to medium-seized chains opening across the UK. Sites in Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester all saw net growth year-on-year.

Manchester and Liverpool have collectively increased the number of licensed premises by around 20% in the last five years, it said, pointing out the importance of locally and regionally focused businesses such as New World Trading Company, Arc Inspirations, Mission Mars and the Graffiti Spirits Group.

Karl Chessell, business unit director for food and retail at CGA said that there were reasons to be optimistic, even though the licensed sector continued to contract.

“We are still seeing unsustainable pubs close, but collectively the rate of net number of pub, bar and restaurants closing is slowing,” he noted. “. Last year was not easy for some big restaurant brands, but smaller and medium sized brands are bringing new concepts to the market and successfully scaling up. All our research shows that consumers are still eager to go out to eat and drink, and they’ve never had it better for choice.”

AlixPartners’ managing director Graeme Smith said that overall, the eating and drinking out market remained dynamic and attractive to investors, and pubs and experiential businesses “took up the slack in investment activity from the more subdued restaurant sector”.

“Reduced political uncertainty, more positive recent trading results and encouraging returns when investing in sites, provide a platform for increased M&A and investment activity in 2020 across both wet-led and food-led concepts,” he said.

However Smith cautioned that investors would be looking carefully at the potential impact on trading from potential outbreaks of coronavirus (Covid-19).

The 10 most powerful wine brands in the world 2020

9th March, 2020

Market analyst Wine Intelligence has released a report detailing the most influential wine brands in the world.

The Global Wine Power Index 2020 looks at the performance of dozens of brands in 20 key markets, such as the UK, US, Japan, Australia, China and the Netherlands, posing survey questions to a little over 22,000 people worldwide

The survey explored a number of factors to estimate a brand’s influence with consumers, such as their awareness of the brand, how often it was purchased, how much ‘affinity’ consumers felt they had with the wine (i.e., whether it felt “right for them”), and how likely they were to recommend it to someone else.

We’ve taken a look at the 10 highest-scoring wines in the report and how their perception with consumers has changed in the past year, from Bordeaux blockbuster Mouton Cadet, to Chilean giant Concha Y Toro’s string of successful labels.

Click through to see the most powerful wines in the world, why they did well, and what they’ve been up to this year.

Laura Catena releases book on world’s most famous vineyards

9th March, 2020

Managing director of Argentina’s Catena Zapata, Laura Catena, has released a new illustrated book featuring what she believes are the 12 most celebrated vineyards in the world.

Called Gold in the Vineyards, the book is the English translation of Oro en los Viñedos, which was published by Catapulta in 2017.

In a statement announcing the book’s pre-sale on Amazon, Catena said she had been “surprised” by the popularity of the Spanish version of the book in Argentina, and decided to translate it into English.

The book, which will be officially launched on 10 March, profiles 12 different vineyards, located in both the New and Old World, charting their history and explaining why they have become so well-known.

The wineries and vineyards included in the book are Château Lafite Rothschild, Solaia, Château d’Yquem, Viña Tondonia, Harlan Estate, Domaine de la Romanée Conti, JJ Prüm’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Domaine Leflaive, Henschke’s Hill of Grace, Gaja’s Sorì San Lorenzo, Guigal’s La Mouline and Catena’s own Adrianna Vineyard.

The book is retailing for £14.99 and also features detailed maps, infographics and illustrations throughout. It will be available in the UK, US and Canada.

Dr Catena, who is the fourth generation of the Argentine winemaking family, published her first book, Vino Argentino, An Insider’s Guide to the Wines and Wine Country of Argentina, in 2010. She also holds biology and medicine degrees from Harvard and Stanford universities.

Read more: 



Oddbins closure likely unless sale completes within weeks

9th March, 2020

Beleaugered UK wine merchant Oddbins and its sister retailer, Wine Cellars Trading Limited (WCTL), is facing closure within months if the sale purchase currently on the table does not complete by the end of March, the joint-administrators have warned.

The high street wine specialist was put into administration in January 2019, blaming Brexit uncertainty and the deterioration of the high street for the situation, however it later became clear that its financial woes dated to HRMC revoking the excise approvals of its parent company and chief supplier, European Food Brokers Limited. This resulted in EFBL losing its  bonded warehouse, putting a severe strain on its ability to bulk in bulk and secure competitive pricing from suppliers, severely affecting cashflow and its retail businesses.

Reports first surfaced of a rescue plan by its former owners in June last year and in September, an updated report for creditors published on Companies House confirmed terms of a sale of some the stores to an anonymous purchaser.

It has not been confirmed how many of the 54 shops that are still open and trading will be included in the deal, nor their locations, although it has been confirmed that those not included in the purchase will be shut.

In a statement to the drinks business in early February a spokesman for the administrators said due diligence and final discussions were underway and the proposed sales was “envisaged” to be completed by the end of last month, after incurring delays.

However a progress statement filed at Companies House on Friday 5 March stated that the administrators had confirmed to the proposed buyer that should the deal not be completed “within the next month”, the company will be “wound down” (ie liquidated).

“Due to accruing costs, trading cannot continue indefinitely and as such [the joint administrators] have advised the proposed purchaser that should this deal not be completed within the next month, … it was “not feasible” to continue trading the companies indefinitely and as such, they would be shut down in an orderly manner,” the update said.

It added that having received interested in a number of the stores, it would contact the previously interested parties to sell shops “on a piecemeal basis”

The joint-administrators confirmed that they did not anticipate continuing trading the companies beyond the end of the next reporting period, by 29 August – despite having extended the administration period to January 2021 – with any sales, closures and the wind down of the company expected to be complete by then.

In total 14 Oddbins stores and 33 WCTL outlets, which trade under the Booze Buster, Simply Drinks, Oddies, and Shop2Go fascias, have already been shut, with around 200 job looses. The majority were deemed unprofitable and shut by the administrators in March 2019, but two further shops were closed as the result of landlord action last year.

A spokesman for the joint-administrators told the drinks business today they were unable to comment on details of the sale, but added that given the complicated nature of the process, sales could often take longer than initially anticipated.

Iron Maiden unveils two new beers

9th March, 2020

British heavy metal band Iron Maiden has once again teamed up with Robinsons Brewery to launch two new beers: a stout and an IPA.

First launched in 2013, Iron Maiden’s beer range was developed by the band’s frontman and ale enthusiast Bruce Dickinson and Robinsons’ head brewer Martyn Weeks.

The stout and the IPA are the seventh and eight additions in the Trooper portfolio, and join a saké lager, Light Brigade golden ale, Hallowed Belgian style hybrid ale, Red ‘N’ Black porter, 666 higher gravity brew and original Trooper beer.

The 4.5% ABV stout, called Fear of the Dark, is the brand’s first stout and takes its name from an album launched by Iron Maiden in 1992.

Together with the 4.3% Trooper IPA, the beer will be available to pre-order via the Robinsons Brewery website, with online orders via Amazon due to open shortly.

The IPA was said to have been inspired by American IPAs sampled by Dickinson at the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver in 2019, where he was the keynote speaker.

Commenting on the launches, Martyn Weeks, head brewer of Robinsons, said: “Trooper is close to seven years old and has exceeded all expectations for us as a brewery. These two new brews join an extensive line up of beers that we have created in our collaboration with Bruce Dickinson and Iron Maiden. These are two new styles that we are proud to champion”.

Bruce Dickinson added: “I’ve sampled so many different styles of beer around the world on my travels with Iron Maiden and it’s hard to ignore how big IPA has become, and what an exciting style it can be. I’m a huge fan of both IPA and stout and they were the gaping holes in the Trooper range. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have asked us to do a Fear of the Dark Stout over the last few years!”

“An IPA is something we’ve always wanted to do with Trooper but had to wait until the timing and recipe were right. We are extremely proud of this brew which marries together familiar American hoppy flavours with a fundamentally British backbone.”