Asahi’s priorities shift as it stops brewing Grolsch in the UK

15th November, 2019

Japanese drinks giant Asahi has stopped making Grolsch lager in the UK after ending a brewing contract with Molson Coors.

Grolsch Light Lager

Grolsch became part of Asahi’s beer portfolio in 2016, when former owner AB InBev agreed to sell the brand, along with Peroni and Meantime, as part of its takeover of SABMiller. SABMiller acquired Grolsch, a Dutch brewery founded in 1615, from Royal Grolsch in 2008.

Asahi ended its brewing contract with Molson Coors after Grolsch, which has been sold in the UK for 35 years, was delisted by supermarkets Tesco and Asda, reports The Grocer.

An Asahi spokesperson told the publication: “After 35 years, Asahi and Molson Coors have agreed to end the joint venture agreements for the Grolsch brand in the UK and Ireland. As a result, Grolsch is no longer available in the UK and Ireland.”

It is believed that sales of Grolsch in both the on-trade and in retail have been hit in recent years by the rise in demand for premium and ‘craft’-style beers.

While it is delisting Grolsch in the UK, Asahi also recently completed its acquisition of UK beer giant Fuller’s brewing business in a deal worth £250 million.

The acquisition means that Fuller’s brands London Pride, Frontier and Cornish Orchards have joined Asahi’s premium portfolio, sitting alongside Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Asahi Super Dry, Pilsner Urquell and Meantime.

Bordeaux 2018: Neal Martin gives his verdict

15th November, 2019

Wine critic Neal Martin has released his report and scores on the 2018 Bordeaux vintage. The verdict: “good to excellent” but (and it is a big ‘but’) short of “potential perfection”.

For health reasons Martin was unable to join the usual crowd for the springtime descent on Bordeaux to taste the 2018 vintage. His fellow critic at Vinous, Antonio Galloni, did make the trip and it was noticeable that his scores tended to be on the more conservative side compared with certain other tasters.

The 2018 vintage was given great fanfare in the run-up to the en primeur campaign this summer, the Bordelais beating the drum for what was supposedly another blockbuster ‘best ever’ effort to rival the likes of 2016, 2009 and 2010.

Martin’s absence and lack of authoritative voice may not exactly have derailed the campaign – the prices asked for alone were enough to do that – but his opinion was certainly missed and the campaign itself never really felt as if it got going.

On the flipside, having now recovered, Martin was able to taste the wines this September, when they are a little more mature and away from the immediate sales hype surrounding the normal en primeur visits.

His report is a decidedly mixed bag and will not make thrilling reading for some who may have shelled out substantial sums for wines earlier this year.

On the positive side, Martin concluded overall that: ‘The 2018 vintage is very good to excellent in quality”.

Some of the wines were, he agreed, “genuinely astonishing” and there were many wines he “enjoyed…immensely”.

The next word here is “but”. Despite the good words he had for the vintage, Martin had to say as well that 2018 as a whole, “does not demonstrate the consistency of 2005 or 2016, and it lacks the pinnacles that mark 2010 and 2016.”

He wrote of winemakers admitting their wines had become more “serious” since this spring and Martin noted that the “unbridled enthusiasm” for the 2018s began to “gently deflate” under questioning.

Despite generally viewing the 2018s “in a positive light”, he added that, “there was not a single occasion when I encountered a barrel sample that intimated potential perfection. Not once.”

Concluding he wrote that he saw how some of the wines achieved top scores during the spring tastings but, a clutch of “great” wines aside, said, “”I am not inclined to garland it with a ‘greatest ever’ tag.”

There is already excitement about the 2019s, which seem to have higher pHs and in a vintage that did not suffer the problems of 2018 – huge mildew problems and excessive summer heat.

Martin touched on the problems of the current en primeur process as well, noting the “perfect storm” of zero Chinese interest in the game, unrest in Hong Kong, the Brexit stalemate and recently imposed US tariffs.

He also called out the increasing practice of estates withholding stock as a, “short-term remedy to control supply and demand,” and said consumers were aware of the strategy, “weakening the incentive to buy en primeur”.

Not for the fist time the Bordelais are sailing into the “perfect storm”.

 

Region-by-region

As well as a broad overall view of the vintage and market, Martin also includes a breakdown of his thoughts on the wines region-by-region, a summary of which can be read below.

He picked out Saint-Emilion in particular as a commune with some truly standout wines and where the nature of the limestone plateau was “so conspicuous in the nascent wines”. Canon, Ausone, Pavie Pavie-Macquin and Larcis-Ducasse were all judged “exceptional”.

Likewise, over in Pomerol the estates on the blue clay soils stood out and the 2018 Petrus is a wine that will “rank among the many greats”.

The much-hyped Lafleur likewise will “oblige decades in bottle”.

Over on the Left Bank the normally upward trajectory of Saint-Estèphe in recent years perhaps hit a bump in the road in 2018, with Martin saying it was, “not quite the shoo-in” he had been expecting and of all the appellations it was where he felt, “some of the high alcohol levels masked the signature of the individual estates”. Lafon-Rochet was one estate he felt was one property that succeeded.

Pauillac “pressed home its reputation” in 2018, at least in the top, top estates. Lafite is a “great wine” but “not a masterpiece”, Mouton was “splendid” and though we shall not see Latour for many moons yet Martin thought it “superb”, perhaps one of technical director Frédéric Engerer’s “best” – but not quite as good as the 2016.

Saint-Julien’s châteaux put in a “solid” performance and he approved of Léoville-Las-Cases’ decision to reduce the amount of press wine in the 2018 blend which resulted in more aromatics and suppleness.

He also had kind words for Branaire-Ducru, Ducru-Beaucaillou and Léoville Barton.

Margaux was as varied as it always is in such a heterogeneous vintage. The eponymous first growth was “svelte and sensual” and avoided any of the “excesses” of the growing season, while Palmer (despite the reduced crop due to mildew) and Rauzan-Ségla both lived up to their primeur billing in Martin’s view.

Over in Pessac-Léognan, Haut-Brion perhaps lacked the “precision” found in other great vintages and it La Mission which “could become the standout”.

Les Carmes de Haut-Brion, an estate that can do no wrong at present it seems, drew comparisons to Lafleur in 2018 (a commendation indeed) and Domaine de Chevalier is likewise a wine the team can justifiably be proud of thought Martin.

Overall the dry whites did not stand out, some are delicious but lack the verve of great Bordeaux blancs.

A whizz around Sauternes to finish showed plenty of “very decent” sweet wines but “nothing that blew me away”.

For Martin’s full report on Vinous click here.

Rioja Masters 2019: the results in full

15th November, 2019

A full report on the top wines and leading styles from this year’s Rioja Masters, the most comprehensive annual blind tasting of current releases from this flagship Spanish region in the UK.

The Rioja Masters was held in Les 110 de Taillevent in London’s Cavendish Square

Before analysing the results in detail from this year’s Rioja Masters, it should be stated that this single tasting achieved a higher tally of top medals than almost any other competition in the Global Wine Masters series. Considering just the most glistening results, the judges awarded as many as 26 Gold medals, and, remarkably, a total of six Masters, which is the ultimate accolade, and given out only when the wine is outstanding.

What does this tell us? It shows us that Rioja is making wines right now of a style and quality that is first-class, and at all levels – although certain categories did perform better than others. It also confirms that the consumer is a good judge too – Rioja is one of the retail and restaurant’s sector most popular wine regions.

And if one is to sum up why this large Spanish wine region delivers so much, and without charging a hugely-inflated price, then it comes down to two key elements: the successful match between the terroir and the grapes of the region, and the particular approach to maturation in this part of Iberia.

Regarding the former, the mix of native Spanish grapes and this high, dry, barren plateau, yields wine with plenty of ripe fruit, but a cleansing natural acidity. As for the latter, the common practise of extended ageing before release, notably in barrels, produces a style of wine that’s soft, layered, and generally ready to drink on release, even at the top end – where rival European fine wine region so often advise buyers to cellar their latest orders for several years before opening.

Rioja’s present success also reflects recent change, and this is an area of Spain that may have an old-fashioned image, but shows marked dynamism. This was certainly clear at the start of this year’s tasting, which focused on the proportionally small white wine offering from Rioja (representing just 8% of production). Whereas this aspect to the region would have – as little as a decade ago – been dominated by Viura-based wines that were either light and simple, or, as a result of long-barrel-ageing, heavy and oxidative, today we are seeing clean, ripe whites of great character, as well as oak-influenced versions with nutty complexity and texture, but fresh fruit too.

The personality of the wines without the traditional Rioja treatment of barrel-ageing, governed by the region’s classifications – from Joven to Gran Reserva – hails from a change to the laws several years ago, allowing a greater range of white grapes to be planted for use in Rioja Blanco. Among these is the aromatic Verdejo grape – with Marqués de Cáceres gaining a Silver for its great value grapefruit-scented Don Sebastian branded version – as well as Tempranillo Blanco. This grape, sister to flagship Riojan red grape Tempranillo – is increasingly being used to produce varietal whites and to great affect, with orchard fruits, and an oily texture that complements a touch of new oak influence – both Viña Pomal and Rioja Vega being brilliant examples of this, and hence their Golds in this year’s Masters.

Indeed, if there was new and distinctive arrival to the world of Spanish whites, albeit niche, it is Tempranillo Blanco. As for the more traditional offer from Rioja, which sees Viura aged for years in barrique to produce something rich, waxy, and vanilla-scented, then this is still on offer, and made to a high standard with the Lar de Paula Blanco Reserva, a Gold standard wine with a strong character.

While Rioja is also able to craft fresh, red-berry rosés too, and sometimes with oak-influence as well, we saw little from this particular category in 2019, but that doesn’t mean one should not forget this offering from Rioja, particularly as the market for pink wines strengthens, diversifies and premiumises.

Moving to reds, however, the mainstay of Rioja’s output, we began the tasting with the youngest category, classed Joven. Interestingly, as Rioja’s classifications concern ageing times, rather than necessarily quality levels, we had Joven reds from the most basic to some of the region’s priciest. While the tasters were very excited to find delicious, fruity, youthful reds at keen prices from Marqués de Cáceres and Rioja Vega in particular, they were also excited by the quality at the top end from Faustino, with its Faustino & Eneko label – something crafted by the producer for the revered Spanish Michelin-starred chef, Eneko Atxa. In contrast to the more common output from Faustino – a Riojan leader in the Gran Reserva category – this expression spends just eight months in oak, allowing the rich red fruit flavours to shine.

Moving to the Crianza category – the classification for reds that have spent a minimum of one year in oak – we once more saw some delicious wines, on top of a big bank of Silver medallists, showing the high base standard in this category, which is such a big seller in Spain. It was here we found some of the best-value wines of the tasting, with sub £15 Crianzas from Viña Albina and Marqués de la Concordia both picking up Golds, while the higher-priced versions from Bodegas Corral and the Rolland-Galerreta label also impressing greatly. At the highest end of the price spectrum, the judges were wowed by the juicy, fleshy, layered pure Garnacha from Baigorri, highlighting the quality attainable from this grape when the vines are old and the site just right.

As for the Reservas, where a minimum of three years ageing (one of which must be spend in oak) brings an altered style of wine, we were delighted to find a delicious, classic, complex and bright red from Bodegas Muriel that retailed below £15, with its Fincas de la Villa Reserva awarded a Gold.

However, it was over £15 that most of the top medals were seen, while the first Master of the day was given to the slightly (but not much) pricier Eguren Ugarte Martin Cendoya Reserva. Notably, over £30, every sample picked up a Gold – or above, with a pure Graciano from Viña Pomal awarded a Master, which also showed that not just Tempranillo or Garnacha can, on their own, make top wines in Rioja.

We then finished the day with two final classifications in Rioja, both of which are divisive. The first, Gran Reserva, can create debate according to the judge’s preference, even though our judges are focused on quality, regardless of their personal tastes. While some are forgiving of more traditional, long-aged, and lighter styles of Gran Reserva, seeing it as a unique offering in the world of fine wines, others desire more weight, fruit and youth in this category. Not only did we see both styles, but each were able to deliver greatness, with the brilliant source of affordable and traditional Gran Reserva Rioja – Bodegas Faustino – gaining a Gold for its sub £20 sample from the 2009 vintage, and Viña Pomal also picking up the same medal for its richer, juicier and younger (and slightly pricier) Gran Reserva from 2012. At the top end of this category was the Remírez de Ganuza Gran Reserva from 2005, a delicious blend of barrel-sourced characters, mature fruit, and freshness, showing what a first-rate producer Fernando Remírez de Ganuza is.

The other controversial category, dubbed Vinos de Auto, which loosely translates as winemaker signature wines, creates discussion as such stylistic variation exists within a sector of Rioja designed to bring together wines that fall outside the traditional rules of the region. In effect, this is a sort of Super Tuscan equivalent for Rioja. As one might expect, the stylistic variation is broad, from intense, concentrated – sometimes over-extracted reds – to lighter, softer examples, although generally the wines lean towards the former type. Among the greats, reds that would compete on a world-stage with any powerful fine wines, were samples from Altos de Rioja, Concordia, Lan, Leizaola, and Ollauri.

In short, it was highly apparent that Rioja can deliver brilliant wines at a wide span of price points, and in a broad range of styles. It can produce something juicy, easy, and fresh at the bistro-level – be it white, red or Rosado – along with something fine, bright, and ready-to-drink at the finest end. Furthermore, it can yield something impressive, and powerful too, allowing the region to compete with top-end showy wine from around the world, while also sating a desire for something fine and delicate too – a growing sector, if one is to judge by the rising demand for great Pinot or Piedmontese reds.

In fact, whether you love big reds, or something more delicate, Rioja can provide something to suit, and, relative to great wines from Europe or beyond, this famous Spanish region offers impressive value for money. While we did see high-priced, high-scoring wines, the majority of our samples were sub £50, and, as noted at the outset, this tasting was near-record-breaking in the tally of top medals.

Over the following pages you can see all the medallists from this year’s competition, as well as comments from the judges (who are pictured below), and more information about the Global Sparkling Masters, including how to enter. 

The Rioja Masters 2019 judges (left to right): Patrick Schmitt MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Simon Field MW, and Jonathan Pedley MW

Are you ready for WBWE 2019?

15th November, 2019

Industry insiders handling 80% of the world’s bulk wine production will flock to Amsterdam in two weeks for this year’s World Bulk Wine Exhibition.

The 11th edition of the biggest world fair devoted to bulk wine will host more than 260 wineries from 24 different countries worldwide.

Taking place from Monday 2 December till Wednesday 3 December, this year’s exhibition will see professionals from all corners of the drinks industry descend on Amsterdam RAI to network and secure lucrative deals that shape the international wine trade’s landscape.

Since its inception 11 years ago, there have been “radical changes” in the sector, according to WBWE chief executive Otilia Romero de Condés, adding that “the fact that the market no longer accepts low quality is certain.”

Smaller global harvests that have affected virtually every major wine-producing country have sent shockwaves around the buying community.

Add to that the ongoing threat of raised tariffs between the US and EU, currency fluctuations and economic turbulence around the world, and political unrest everywhere else, and you can see why bottlers and buyers are looking at new places to source their wines from when their usual routes to market are less reliable than they were five years ago.

2019 has been a tough year for South Africa, according to the Bulk Wine Club. Overall, the 2019 vintage is the lowest recorded since 2005, 90% due to drought and 10% uprooting of older vines.  In the first eight months of this year, exports fell by 41%.

Spain, while still the biggest producer of bulk wine, has also taken a hit to its export figures, which fell by 1.3% in terms of volume and by 19.3% in value.

Spain and France may still be market leaders, but de Condes says buyers are “looking for new challenges and new production areas” that offer much better value for money. In this sense, she says, “the importance of Eastern Europe is clear”.

North Macedonia will appear at the fair with a joint stand for the first time this year, while Moldova has also increased its presence from 14 exhibitors last year, to 18 in 2019.

 

What to look for at this year’s World Bulk Wine Exhibition

International Bulk Wine Competition

The only international contest that awards and promotes the quality of bulk wines from all across the globe, last year’s competition gathered almost 200 wines from 11 origins: Georgia, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Italy, Uruguay, France, South Africa, Australia, Romania and the US.

 

Voice of Wine

This prize is aimed at giving credit to the individuals, institutions or associations that are characterised by their daily support to wine in general and bulk wine in particular, which will be announced on 2 December at the exhibition’s launch. Previous winners have included Wines of Moldova, ProChile, and Wines of South Africa.

 

North Macedonian Wines in the International Trade

North Macedonian wineries will be at the exhibition with a joint stand for the first time in 2019. On 3 December, Elena Miloshveska, of the Wine Association of North Macedonia, will deliver a seminar shedding light on the country’s wine output and its potential as a trading partner.

 

Spirits now welcome

If there was ever a greater indication of the shifting drinking habits of consumers today, the World Bulk Wine Fair has now expanded to offer producers of distilled spirits business opportunities and a chance to book a stand. Several companies are already participating with their distilled products, such as Bolero in Georgia, Distillerie de la Tour in France, US-based O’Neill Vintners & Distillers, and Alvisa, from Spain.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes launches rum distilled with date palm

15th November, 2019

Intrepid English explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has launched a rum brand distilled with “exotic” woods inspired by his expeditions, including date palm from Oman.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dr John Waters taste their Great British Rum at Waters’ distillery in Essex

Said to be the first rum distilled in the UK, Fiennes’ Great British Rum is made in collaboration with Dr John Waters of English Spirit Distillery.

Rather than resting in one type of wood for five years, three different wood types inspired by Fiennes’ adventures – sequoia from Canada, pine from Norway and date palm from Oman – are placed within the still during the production process to give the rum a multi-dimensional wood profile without the need for ageing.

Triple distilled in small batches from pure sugar cane molasses, according to Waters, the rum has “an unbeatable rich flavour and a distinctly British character”, offering notes of “orange, caramel, spiced Christmas cake, vanilla, milk and dark chocolate, golden liquorice and a hint of tobacco”.

“This launch represents a milestone for British rum production. We are putting a marker into the ground that Britain can produce a premium, quality rum and it’s the perfect testament to a legendary British expedition leader,” Waters said.

Fiennes added: “Rum has always been associated with exploration and adventure, but I only wanted to work with a distillery that was daring and determined.

“When Dr John told me of the world’s doubt that Britain could make a truly great rum, that sealed the deal. From that moment, we aimed to tread new ground.”

Fiennes’ Great British Rum has gone on sale in the UK with an RRP of £49 for 70cl.

Commonly known as Ran, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes is widely considered to be the world’s greatest living explorer.

The author and poet was the first person to visit both the North and South Poles by surface means and the first to cross the Antarctic continent.

In 2009, aged 65, he climbed the summit of Everest, and is the oldest Brit to achieve the feat. English Spirit has distilleries in Essex and Cornwall.

Campari in talks to buy Baron Rothschild Distribution

15th November, 2019

Gruppo Campari has announced it has entered negotiations to acquire its French distributor Baron Philippe de Rothschild Distribution.

The announcement was made today (Friday 15 November), in a brief communiqué which finished: “The transaction is subject to the completion of the appropriate social processes and to customary antitrust approval.”

If and when any transaction is agreed the group said it would provide more detailed comment.

Baron Philippe de Rothschild Distribution currently distributes several of the Campari group’s top brands in France including: Campari, Aperol, Cynar, Appleton Estate rum, Skyy vodka, Glen Grant Scotch, Grand Marnier and Sagatiba.

Its portfolio however is extremely diverse and includes a number of very prestigious wine and spirit brands, not least the stable of Château Mouton Rothschild but also Pol Roger, Champagne Brimoncourt, Familia Torres, Tio Pepe, Zonin, Symington Family Estates, Concha y Toro, Hardy’s, Trivento, Hibiki Japanese whisky, Canadian Club, Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Jim Beam.

Campari has been making a number of moves in recent years, divesting itself of its wine portfolio and other non-drinks assets such as Villa les Cèdres.

In return it has acquired several spirits brands such as French rhum agricole brands ‘Trois Rivières’ and ‘La Mauny’ and mezcal producer Montelobos.

The week in pictures

15th November, 2019

This week, in celebs signing Champagne bottles, Claire Foy and Matt Smith signed a jeroboam of Taittinger to celebrate their respective turns in Duncan Macmillan’s play about modern love and the climate crisis, Lungs, at The Old Vic, which finished at the weekend.

Taittinger is a corporate sponsor of The Old Vic. Our theatre-land spies tell us the signed jero will be used for a future fundraising opportunity. Watch this space.

Kate Hudson launches ‘gluten free’ vodka brand

15th November, 2019

American actress Kate Hudson is the latest celebrity to enter the drinks game with the launch of King St. Vodka, which is gluten free and made with alkaline water.

Actress Kate Hudson is the latest celebrity to enter the drinks industry

Distilled seven times in small batches in Santa Barbara, Hudson describes the spirit as “insanely smooth and clean”,  and recommends using it in classic vodka cocktails like the Martini.

Named after the New York street where Hudson once lived and entertained friends, the California-born actress was inspired to create her own vodka after researching the spirit and finding out that very few vodka brands have a woman at the helm.

“After a particularly long day I decided to host an impromptu cocktail party with my closest friends. As I prepared to whip up a batch of Dirty Martinis I surveyed my bar, but I wasn’t 100% happy with my options.

“Then I wondered, ‘are any of these vodkas founded by women?’ I did some research and they weren’t. So I decided to make my own just the way I like it,” Hudson said.

“I have always found the spirits industry fascinating. The creative side of me thought it would be a fun challenge to develop a vodka for my palate in a beautiful package that I would love to have on my bar and share with friends.

“The businesswoman in me is now looking forward to the challenge of building a brand in an entirely new industry,” she added.

King St. has gone on sale in California and will soon be available at select retailers inNew York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island with an RRP of $24.99.

The brand was co-founded by Hudson and drinks developer David Kanbar, co-creator of the hugely successful Skinnygirl drinks brand and former executive vice president of Skyy Spirits.

The daughter of actress Goldie Hawn, among Hudson’s film credits are Almost Famous, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and You, Me and Dupree. In addition to acting she has written two lifestyle books.

Hudson joins an ever-growing list of celebrities with drinks brands. Her competition in the vodka sphere includes actor Dan Aykroyd’s Crystal Head Vodka, singer P Diddy’s Cîroc brand and fashion designer Roberto Cavalli’s eponymous vodka.

Vinexpo NY debuts ‘Importer Pavilion’

15th November, 2019

The third edition of  Vinexpo New York in spring next year will include a new ‘Importer Pavilion’.

The new area is intended to provide a platform for companies to present their portfolios to buyers from the US and Canada.

Among the companies already lined up for the new pavilion in 2020 is Assa Imports, which will be leaning heavily on its Spanish portfolio.

In a similar vein, Cooperative Vinícola San Valero, previously known as Grupo Bodegas San Valero, will be exhibiting at the fair for the first time, presenting wines from its four core brands, including a new organic line and a range of single variety wines.

 

Fine wine investment: The double-edged sword of illiquidity

15th November, 2019

The ‘Piedmont season’ is certainly giving rise to a barrage of questions. This week we had a very lucky owner of a case of Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Barolo Riserva 2004 whose point was basically this: if I bought this for under £4,000 and it is now on offer for £12,000 or thereabouts, does it matter that I have to take a big discount when I sell it?

Just let’s be clear before we go any further with this: this is not a fine wine investment question. A fine wine investment question in these circumstances is: “how close can you get me to £12,000, notwithstanding the illiquidity of this particular wine”? You may find a surprising degree of insouciance in the original enquiry, but it all relates to why you bought the wine in the first place, or perhaps, how you ended up with it.

A lot of people own wines for very different reasons to the prospect of financial reward, and if that is the case with you then feel free to offload for whatever cash bid you can get, safe in the knowledge that what you are doing is giving someone the chance to make a fair bit at your expense.

A merchant offers you £8,000 for your wine in the above example, you think you’ve scored because you’ve doubled your money, while he/she makes 50% in considerably less time by knocking it out for £12,000.

That is not only fair, but it is simply the way of the world. You no more know how to get a forecourt price for the second hand car you are selling than how to get a Wine-Searcher price for your wine, and in exchange for a cash consideration you are happy to transfer the risk of ownership to someone who is willing to accept it and who knows better than you do where to find a possible buyer.

When you enter the market for the sole purpose of making money you have to manage these risks a lot better, or engage someone like Amphora who can help you through the minefield, because that is rather how it is with the less liquid wines. Giacomo Conterno Monfortino makes fewer than 600 cases a year, and will happily skip a vintage if the crop is deemed unsatisfactory. That’s down in Le Pin territory, and not much more than DRC.

So as advisers we have to work out whether there is enough relative value on offer to make it worthwhile for an investor to a) engage our services; b) settle the charges of ownership; c) take whatever discount might be applicable at the other end. We try as much as possible to soften that final blow by ever-improving our channels of distribution, but occasionally events conspire against the seller, if the need for immediate settlement outweighs all other considerations, for example.

Not only does Conterno make so little Monfortino but he ages it for up to seven years in barrel so the 2013 vintage has only just appeared on the open market. It is priced in bottle and as a result the 2010 and 2013 vintages have been poor investments because they were priced at a time when the market had become more or less crazy about them, as can be seen from this illustration:

From an investment perspective, therefore, this wine is quite a challenge. There are certain wines which give you some semblance of an excuse for expecting them to perform over a five year period but Monfortino, while a perfectly outstanding wine, for the moment looks like a pass.

What of its little sister, Cascina Francia, also a Barolo? There is more availability here, as production levels are just under 2,000 cases a year, and because it doesn’t score 100-points nearly every vintage the pricing is much lower. Most of the better vintages over the last couple of decades have done well, as you can see from the chart below. The gap in the five-year performance for the 2010 will only appear at the end of November but it is up 67% since the end of November 2014.

What strikes us as interesting here is the 2009, which is by far the cheapest. 2009 was not an outstanding year in Piedmont, achieving 90-points in terms of regional vintage score from The Wine Advocate. It was also one of those years mentioned above when the Monfortino chose not to offer a wine to the market. As a result the Cascina Francia had the pick of the crop, literally, so all of the grapes which might otherwise have gone into a Monfortino benefitted the Cascina Francia.

This is not that unusual actually, because there was no Monfortino in 2008 or 2007 either, which is very helpful because it allows us to compare like with like, to a degree. The 2007 was a good vintage in Piedmont (although not good enough for Monfortino, clearly), rated at 95, against 91 for 2008. Given that the individual wine scores are very similar at 96+, 95+ and 96, chronologically, you might have expected some premium for the 2007.

Looking at these prices that is not the only anomaly. 2006 was a great year for Barolo in Piedmont, at 97 only marginally behind the amazing 2010. The Wine Advocate score for the Cascina Francia provided by Antonio Galloni was 96+, so again given the vintage quality you might have expected more of a premium. Way out ahead price-wise is the 2010. The WA score that year is missing, because Galloni was on his way to set up Vinous in 2014 when he tasted it, so the Vinous score of 98+ we believe to be a fair comparison. Even allowing for a wonderful vintage and a top-scoring wine the valuation is rich, in our view.

If you fancy dipping a toe in the water with Barolo we believe you can make a case for the 2009 and possibly the 2006 G. Conterno, Cascina Francia. At the moment you could throw a handkerchief over the prices (and scores, to be fair) of a lot of these wines. This is because there has hitherto been no great critical optic cast in their direction, and if this develops over time then price differentials will appear. We are in speculative territory here, but we would support keen buyers looking for Cascina Francia 2009 and 2006.

Philip Staveley is head of research at Amphora Portfolio Management. After a career in the City running emerging markets businesses for such investment banks as Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank he now heads up the fine wine investment research proposition with Amphora.