Irish Distillers launches 35th edition of Midleton Very Rare

4th October, 2018

Irish Distillers has released the 2018 edition of its Midleton Very Rare whiskey marking the 35th anniversary of the range which was first unveiled in 1984.

Midleton Very Rare 2018 is a blend of single pot still and single grain Irish whiskeys selected by master distiller Brian Nation. Each cask has been matured in lightly charred ex-Bourbon barrels for between 12 and 28 years.

According to Irish Distillers, the 2018 edition has a “subtle floral note alongside a hint of fresh herbs and citrus…complemented by the spicier characteristics of cinnamon, clove and black pepper”.

The whiskey is bottled at 40% ABV and available for an RRP of €180 in markets including Ireland, the UK and the US.

Brian Nation, master distiller at Midleton Distillery, commented: “It is a great honour to have my signature on the front of each bottle of Midleton Very Rare, and this acts as the ultimate guarantee of quality from the Midleton Distillery.

“We set aside very small amounts of particularly fine single pot still and single grain distillates each year so that the Midleton Very Rare legacy can continue.

“This practice has been going on for over 40 years and today we are the proud custodians of the exceptional distillates with a duty of care to ensure that future generations are able to enjoy the pinnacle of Irish whiskey as we do today”.

‘Holy Grail’ of Scotch could be first £1m whisky

4th October, 2018

The cavalcade of rare whisky at auction continues this November with Christie’s announcing it is to offer the ‘Holy Grail’ of Scotch at its London sale – a 1926 Macallan with hand-painted bottle by Michael Dillon that could be the first £1 million whisky.

Photo copyright: Christie’s Images 

The sale will also see a 1919 Springbank, 50 year old Yamazaki and 1902 Highland Park go under the gavel from 28-29 November.

Macallan’s from 1926 have of course been snapping up recent whisky headlines not least with Bonhams announcing it had already broken its own world record, first set in May of this year, just this week (3 October) when it sold a 1926 60 year old Macallan with Valerio Adami label in Edinburgh for £848,750.

Another similar bottle though this time bearing a label by Sir Peter Blake, will go on sale in New York this month.

Yet the whisky being offered by Christie’s is wholly unique. Also a 60 year old Macallan distilled in 1926, this bottle bears a hand-painted decoration by the Irish artist Michael Dillon. Bottled at the same time as the 24 bottles bearing the Adami and Blake labels in 1986, just a single bottle was painted by Dillon and then sold by Fortnum & Mason in 1999.

It is wholly unique and Christie’s has said it could very well set a new world record when it goes on sale.

No price has been announced by the auctioneer, estimates are being given on request and are “in the region of £1 million” (US$1.3m).

In addition to the Macallan, the sale will see the largest offering of whisky Christie’s has ever assembled – further testament to the rising power and importance of blue chip Scotch and Japanese labels in the secondary market.

Also being offered at the sale are: a 50 year old Macallan in Lalique £60,000-£80,000), a 50 year old Yamazaki ‘1st Edition’ (£150,000-£200,000) – a bottle of which broke the record for most expensive Japanese whisky ever sold at Bonhams in Hong Kong this August – a 1919 Springbank, one of just 24 bottles released in 1970 (£100,000-£150,000) and a 1950s Berry Bros & Rudd bottled Highland Park Reserve 1902 (£4,000-£5,000).

Tim Tiptree MW, Christie’s international director of wine, commented: “Over the past five
years we have seen sell-through rates for whisky offerings increase by over 20% and in recent years, along with the consistent interest from US and European collectors, clients from Asia have been highly active in the whisky market.

“The November auction will mark one of the strongest offerings of whiskies ever presented by Christie’s, including a rare 1919 vintage Springbank, and one of the oldest bottles of single malt Scotch whisky we’ve ever offered, The Highland Park Reserve 1902. The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old will highlight the sale. The Macallan were unsure that this bottle still existed — it was last seen at Fortnum & Mason in London in 1999, and we look forward to presenting this unique bottle to our international collectors and to an exciting moment in whisky auction history.”

Further images of the bottle can be seen on the following pages.

Drinking to forget: Farewell to Africa

4th October, 2018

As India was the jewel in the crown of Britain’s old empire so was Algeria to France. Its oldest overseas territory, the birthplace of the Foreign Legion and with a huge wine industry vital to France’s own. Yet as the de-colonialisation movement gathered pace in the post-Second World War world, the stage was set for a drama of shocking, bloody violence and worlds turned upside down.

France had granted autonomy to its other North African possessions, Tunisia and Morocco, in 1956 after sustained political pressure. Both had been protectorates rather than colonies but Algeria was considered, at least by the French, as much more integral to France.

Indeed, Algeria was thought of not just as a mere colony but as part of France itself – yet the rights of French men and women were not extended to Africans.

From a viticultural standpoint too Algeria was vitally important to metropolitan France and had been the country’s saving grace when Phylloxera and then powdery and downy mildew began to take hold in the 1870s.

Until that point, although there had been vineyards producing the rough local pinard for the French garrisons which became so emblematic of Foreign Legion life, viticulture was not widely practiced in the colony.

As France’s vineyards suffered however there came an explosion in plantings in Africa, its sandy soils largely impervious to the little louse – and when the pest did arrive in the early 20th century, the knowledge and expertise in countering it through grafting meant its impact was quickly nullified.

In 1872 the land under vine covered some 16,600 hectares. By 1881 this had almost doubled to 30,482ha and by 1890 it was up to 110,042ha and the growth continued into the 1930s and a peak of 400,000ha and a production of 18.9m hectolitres a year.[1]

Although a chunk of this land was always owned and managed by local Muslims, the vast majority of vineyards in Algeria were operated by the colons or ‘pieds noirs’, who as often as not were of Spanish, Maltese or Italian extraction as they were French.

Many of the French as it happens did not come from France’s own Mediterranean littoral, from Languedoc, Roussillon or the Rhône, places not too dissimilar to coastal Algeria, but from the rather colder north in Alsace.

The devastations of Phylloxera and disgust at German occupation as a result of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 were the chief reasons for this emigration.

Needless to say, whether Alsatian, Italian or Spanish, the European colons included a large number who came from wine producing areas and backgrounds which helped them turn Algeria into such an important wine producing region itself so quickly.

One of the more fanciful suggestions as to how they got their nickname pieds noirs in fact is that their feet were supposedly deeply stained from endless trudging in dark-skinned grapes each harvest. Another explanation is that they tended to wear black shoes, whereas most Africans wore sandals or nothing. The truth, as ever, being lost to time and whimsy.

As a result of this European viticultural dominance, the vast majority of Algerian wine production was naturally centered around the more European Oranais region in the west of the country.

What wasn’t consumed in Algeria itself was sold off in bulk and contributed hugely to the Algerian economy. Wine’s share of the agricultural income was as high as 49% (by 1959-60), it was responsible for 25% of gross investment in Algeria in 1955 (in 1880 the Bank of Algeria’s charter had been renewed solely on the condition that it increased its loans for agricultural – especially vineyard – investment)[1] and provided a fifth of the employment in the agricultural sector.

Morocco and Tunisia had also become major wine producers during their time under French control though not nearly to the same extent as Algeria because, as protectorates, French rule was not direct but went through the local royalty.

By the 1930s France was importing more than 10m hl of Algerian wine, largely for blending the more robust Carignan and Cinsault produced there with the more insipid Aramon being mass produced in the Languedoc at the time and which provided the petit rouge (small red) which was the civilian equivalent of pinard and the engine oil of France’s agricultural and industrial labourers.

In 1938 these imports peaked at 17.1m hl and even on the eve of independence in 1962 imports were as high as 14m hl and worth 1.1bn francs.

As Keith Sutton notes: “It could be argued that Algeria’s vineyards formed an indispensable complement to French viticulture in that many ordinary French wines required the addition through mixing of a <vin médecin>. Without such blending anything up to 23 million hectolitres of French annual wine production would be downgraded and potentially unsaleable.”[2]

Yet despite this link to the metropole greater political recognition and integration failed to materialise, the French being happy to maintain the status quo in a power dynamic that was to its liking and with the pieds noirs rabidly opposed to any measures that would grant the local Muslims anything like political and social equivalence.

Tired of this hypocrisy and French intransigence, the liberation movement in Algeria, headed by the Front de liberation nationale (FLN), developed along more violent lines than occurred in neighbouring Morocco and Tunisia.

In 1954 Algiers, Oran and Constantine with their sizeable European populations were rocked by bombing campaigns. Europeans and Muslims alike were butchered, disemboweled, mutilated on their farms or in the street, while many other Algerians were threatened and coerced into helping the FLN.

In return the European colons lynched and murdered Muslims in reprisal attacks, often with the police turning a blind eye. As so often in such conflicts atrocity fuelled atrocity until neither side could claim any claim to innocence, and all innocence was just blood on the hands of those holding the knife.

The FLN were eventually rooted out of Algiers by General Massu and his paratroopers in 1956-57, as so famously portrayed in the classic film The Battle of Algiers, and the bulk of the action moved into Algeria’s highlands, especially in Kabylia.

The Legion was at the forefront of the fighting and while it and other French troops proved themselves tough and resourceful in finding and destroying FLN cells, brutal treatment of civilians and the widespread use of torture cast a shadow that lingers to this day – not that the FLN were above such methods either, far from it as incidents such as the massacre at the village of Melouza make clear.

Yet although the FLN was beaten militarily, crushed almost, the war and the means employed in waging it were tearing France apart politically. The crisis was so acute that in 1958 it even brought down the Fourth Republic when a putsch orchestrated by the Algiers deputies and the military opposed the formation of a new government that was in favour of a negotiated solution in Algeria.

With many believing civil war was a possibility, the nation turned to Charles de Gaulle to save it.

De Gaulle was ushered into power under a new constitution, the basis of the Fifth Republic, and with it powers as sole executive of the country and the declaration of a state of emergency for the first six months of his premiership.

Je vous ai compris!‘ he boomed to wild adulation from the colons. But if the generals and pieds noirs hoped that de Gaulle would ensure the continuation of an ‘algérie française’, they were to be deeply disappointed.

Despite initially drawing up plans to integrate Algeria and its Muslim population closer to France, continued opposition to the war at home and a reluctance to extend citizenship to all Algerians led de Gaulle to prepare the way for independence. Shocked and betrayed, with the military’s usual decrying of a military victory turned into defeat by meddling politicos, just three years later the generals began planning another putsch.


The Centurions

French troops on operations in Kabylia

For the Legion itself, as much as France and Algeria, it was a desperately uncertain time.

Indochina was gone, so too Morocco and Tunisia, and now Algeria was almost certainly next. What was the Legion without Algeria? It was Algeria.

The old cavalry, the Chasseurs d’Afrique and Spahis had had their traditions farmed out, “for continuation” to other regiments. The French marine corps, known as ‘La Coloniale’ because of its use as the principal arm of French imperial expansion could revert to its proper title of infanterie de la marine. But what of the Legion?

Sidi-bel-Abbés and Saïda; the exploits that inspired Beau Geste; the bar room Cameróns; the clinking of absinthe glasses on zinc bar tops; the fortnightly cuites; the thousands of petty scams and wheezes, desertion attempts and doing ton truc that made up the cumulative experiences of generations of legionnaires – all worth not a damn to politicians.

Could the Legion survive? Not for the first time the spectre of disbandment raised its head over the corps.

And would the Legion want to survive anyway? How could it, of all units, become yet another of ‘la reguliere’, ‘la biffe’, rotting away in a garrison town in the Bouches-du-Rhône or Provence where nothing ever happened?

Only North Africa, writes the historian Donald Porch, provided the stage grand enough for the Legion ego. And yet, the very reasoning by which part of the Legion tried to save both itself and its North African ville mere was, in the end, very nearly its own destruction.

The great blemish on the Legion’s record was its role in the ‘General’s Putsch’ of 1961 when the seemingly indestructible 1er Regiment Etrangère Parachutiste (REP), destroyed and reconstituted twice during the Indochina War and part of the ‘praetorian guard’ of the French army, the 10th Parachute Division, became embroiled in a desperate coup to try and seize Algeria and ensure the continuation of an algérie française.

But if parts of the army and most of all the Legion, were passionate advocates of the continuation of French colonial rule in Algeria, and saw their calling as soldiers and the cause in which they were engaged as a secular vocation, a ‘national priesthood’, then they were, by this time, little more than the priests of a dead god.

The coup was a miserable failure and for its part in it the 1er REP – thrice destroyed and reformed in Indochinese battles – was disbanded for the fourth and final time by political rather than military action. The hesitation of other Legion regiments to not get involved was the Legion’s saving grace when hard left politicians petitioned de Gaulle for the entire unit’s abolition over the 1er REP’s indiscretion.

A number of hardcore legionnaires, went into hiding and helped found the Organisation d’Armée Sécrets (OAS), later made famous by Frederick Forsythe’s novel and the subsequent film The Day of the Jackal.

A particularly nasty terrorist group made up of ex-soldiers and colons, the OAS killed thousands in both Algeria and metropolitan France before it was broken up by French security services with four of its ringleaders executed in 1962-63 by military firing squads.

But the cause and the violence waged in its name was hopeless. In 1962 Algeria achieved its independence and the Legion bid farewell to its old stamping grounds forever when the last detachment departed in 1968.

The effect of independence on the wine industry in Algeria was dramatic and instant. As previously mentioned, right up until the moment of independence Algerian exports to France remained extraordinarily high.

The first notable effect of independence and with it the departure of nine-tenths of the European population and hundreds of thousands of troops was an utter collapse of the domestic wine market from 1.4m hl to less than 500,000 hl.

The Evian Accords signed in 1962 had agreed in theory that France would continue to take some 8m hl of Algerian wine a year but on a gradually declining basis (of 500,000 hl less per year), which would allow the country to shift its export focus elsewhere.

Viticulture was one of the agricultural legacies of French colonialism and it was still of major importance to the economy of Algeria and one of the main employers.

The produce of the new Algeria: fruit and grains and while grapes are included they were increasingly likely to be table grapes than their vinous cousins

In practice, however, France completely failed to live up to its side of the bargain. In 1963 imports had already slumped to 6.8m hl, under half what they’d been the previous year. From 1964-66 they fell back in line with the accords but in 1967 they plummeted again to just 3.1m hl and the worth of Algerian exports which had stood at 1.1bn francs in 1962 was down to 234m francs in 1968.

Although West Germany and other European countries began taking as much as five times more wine from Algeria, this still amounted to under 1m hl of wine and was nowhere near enough to stop the enormous build-up of unsold wine in Algeria itself.

By the end of the accord agreement in 1968 France had taken 8.6m hl less than had been agreed. The reasons for this were varied. To begin with, starting in 1962, overproduction in France itself and the first influx of embittered pieds noirs conspired to reduce the amount of wine France imported from its colony.

France was also changing its attitudes to its own winemaking practices as well. In 1964 France reformed its ‘statut viticole français’ in order to increase the area under vine to produce wines of the type that had previously been imported from Algeria.

In 1967 the country passed another law which substantially reduced the amount of Algerian wine permitted for use in blending. Furthermore, started in the 1930s, by the 1960s the AOC system was increasingly widely adopted and implemented and with it ever stricter guidelines and stipulations – chief among them the banning of blending wines from outside the region.

Although many of these measures arguably paved the way for the quality controls seen in France today and necessary as they may have been to ween the French industry off its reliance on cheap Algerian imports, they also tightened the noose on Algeria’s own wine industry. And given the nature of the conflict and the timing of many of these laws, one would be hard pressed to claim they were not a little retributive in spirit.

In 1968 the Soviet Union, quick to pounce on many decolonialised countries at this time, signed an agreement to purchase 1m hl of wine and then 5m hl a year from 1969-1975. This certainly drained much of the wine lake but at prices that made Algerian vineyards essentially unprofitable.

Whereas France, for all its inconsistencies and bad-tempered behaviour, had been buying wine at 72 francs per hectolitre and West Germany at 50, the USSR bullied the Algerians down to 32.5 francs/hl.

Although new deals were struck with the EEC (as it was then) the amounts taken were down at meagre levels, Algeria’s wine industry was in terminal decline.

From 355,000ha under vine in 1962, by 1984 this had fallen to 143,540ha and production from 12m hl to 1.3m hl, with yields down to 9.7hl/ha (from highs of 30-40hl/ha)

As a predominantly Muslim country, the new government had always been uncomfortable at its agricultural industry’s reliance on viticulture, and there was a move to repurpose as much vineyard land as possible with wheat, fruit and vegetables and date palms, instead. Not all vineyards proved suitable for replanting however and many thousands of hectares of vines, those not repurposed locally for rudimentary table grapes or raisins, were no doubt abandoned. Not profitable to run, not worth grubbing up.

Tourism, which might have provided an outlet for local wine, was a long way off being developed and alongside the switch in focus agriculturally, the final nail in Algerian wine’s coffin was the discovery and exploitation of oil.

There are still a few vineyards in Algeria today, a reminder of both the deep-rooted French legacy and older Roman one but in size and scale it is but a ghost of its former self but, in that respect, it is not the only phantom in Algeria.


New beginnings

l’Institution des Invalides de la Légion Étrangère at Poulybier. Image courtesy of the Foreign Legion

Having quit its African cradle, the Legion did indeed end up in southern France. The Legion’s new base, where it remains to this day, was Provence and the town of Aubagne near Marseille.

The loss of the old ville mere may have stung but the location of the new headquarters brought it close to a unique institution in the French military – the Legion’s own vineyard.

In 1953, having suffered thousands of casualties in Indochina, the Legion had invested in an estate in Puyloubier near Aix-en-Provence to serve as a care home for badly wounded ex-legionnaires with no one else to look after them and who might otherwise drift into destitution and alcoholism.

The estate is known as l’Institution des Invalides de la Légion Étrangère and today is home to perhaps 100 ex-legionnaires, some in the 80s and 90s.

For all the blood-curdling mottos such as ‘March or Die!’ often associated with it, the Legion’s more modern ethos is once you are a legionnaire, “tu n’abandonnes jamai les tiens, ni au combat, ni dans la vie (‘you never abandon your own, neither in combat or in life”).

With the large châteaux came a sizeable chunk of land, over 200 hectares in total, and, being the south of France, a vineyard too. The winery is today known as Domaine de Capitaine Danjou – he of Mexico, Camerone and wooden-hand fame.

The initial production was fairly rough stuff by all accounts, proper pinard, dark and alcoholic, upon which generations of legionnaires had thrived. In the 1980s, realising their own winemaking skills were not good enough, the Legion sent its grapes for vinifying and bottling at the local co-operative.

In 2006, however, two winemakers who are also officers in the French reserves[3] (and one of whom was a friend of the Legion’s then commanding officer) were invited to start consulting at the estate. They now spend 30 days a year working at the estate as part of their service requirements and quality has improved noticeably.

Gradually expanded over the years, today the Legion has 40 hectares of vines and produces around 250,000 bottles a year, making it one of the largest producers in the AOC of Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire.

The wine produced there, red, white and rosé, is first and foremost for the Legion messes around the world. Any surplus – the base range appropriately named ‘Esprit du Corps’ and the top cuvée, ‘General’s Réserve’ – is sold commercially to support the upkeep of the institution – bookbinding and pottery are the other key activities for the residents and sources of income.

The red is a classic southern French blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre, the white is made from Rolle (Vermentino) and the rosé uses Cinsault alongside some Grenache and Rolle.

Old comrades: a pensionnaire and serving legionnaire during the harvest at Domaine du Capitaine Danjou. Image courtesy of the Foreign Legion

The vineyards themselves are looked after by the pensionnaire at the care home and young legionnaires are sent to help out over the course of the season especially at harvest time.

To men inured to regimented life and working outdoors in all conditions, pruning and keeping the vines in neat, serried ranks is no doubt a therapeutic pastime, a peaceful one too yet also one with its own sense of camaraderie and shared endeavour akin to military life.

There is something particularly poetic in the fact that not only have such keen wine guzzlers become winemakers but also that it is the French army’s foreign corps that has adopted that most French of enterprises – viticulture.

Just as the Legion has long boasted that it is a home for those seeking a new life or redemption so it too has been shaped and formed by each successive influx of new recruits, each campaign and its accumulated traditions.

And one tradition that lasts to this day is the Legion toast to fallen comrades, harking back to those African glory days, “a nos amis sous les sables”, ‘to our friends beneath the sands’.

And perhaps it is this simple act that gives lie to that hoary old joke that legionnaires drink to forget, when in fact they are as likely to drink to remember.


Previously: Tiger blood in Tonkin – the hell of Dien Bien Phu


Drinking to forget: The Foreign Legion

Drinking to forget: The asylum of misfortune


[1] Meloni, Giulia and Swinnen, Johan, ‘The Rise and Fall of the World’s Largest Wine Exporter’, American Association of Wine Economics, Working Paper No. 134, 2013, p7

[2] Sutton, Keith, ‘Algeria’s Vineyards. A problem of decolonialisation’, Méditeranée, 1988, p56

[3] Sutton, Keith, op cit., p58

[4] He declined to be named explicitly for this piece saying his involvement was not as important as the work done at the domaine and what it stands for, but it is widely publicised elsewhere that it is Philip Baly of Château Coutet in Sauternes. The other winemaker is Bertrand Léon of Les Trois Croix in Fronsac, who also works as technical director at Château d’Esclans in Provence.

‘Sicily is the undiscovered terroir for Syrah’

4th October, 2018

Sicily holds largely unlocked potential for Syrah thinks veteran winemaker Peter Vinding-Diers, who has a new project on the Italian island.

Speaking to the drinks business at the trade tasting of his new UK importers, Swig Wines, Vinding-Diers said he had first “ended up in Sicily on an old volcano” in 2005.

Five years later, after a bit of tinkering in some local vineyards, a house was added in 2010 and more vineyards were planted, leading to the creation of Vinding Montecarrubo.

However, rather than settling down with local Sicilian varieties, Vinding-Diers has a very little Merlot and Cabernet Franc and has really set his sights on the potential for Syrah in Sicily.

He has tried to work with Nero d’Avola at various points over the last 15 years but, he concludes: “ I hate it. It’s very primitive and makes coarse wines,” although he freely admits this is a legacy of his many decades making wine in Bordeaux.

But in Syrah he thinks he has found the right match for the volcanic and chalky soils, coupled with cool nights that settle on the extinct volcano.

Encouraging words from his nephew Peter Sisseck, South African Eben Sadie and Le Pin’s Fiona and Jacques Thienpont have only confirmed his initial view.

“I think Sicily is the undiscovered terroir,” he told db, when asked about Syrah’s role and future on the island.

Despite being an outsider, Syrah has been planted on Sicily for 150 years or so but, as far as can be ascertained, no one has ever thought to make any selections of it (a problem Vinding-Diers may be the case with Nero d’Avola as well).

Although he likes what ‘Sicilian Syrah’ has to offer, in 2010 he also made sure to plant a massal selection of Syrah he sourced “from a friend” in the Rhône.

The results (both sets of clonal stock are planted in volcanic soil too) are strikingly different, with the ‘Rhône selection’ offering more focus and lift to the Sicilian’s broader, warmer profile.

As well as bottling them individually, Vinding–Diers also makes a blend of both and will no doubt be on the lookout to start making some selections of Sicilian Syrah in the near future.

Final call for The Drinks Business Asian Awards 2018

4th October, 2018

the drinks business Hong Kong is now accepting final entries for The Drinks Business Asian Awards 2018 on 9 November, which will recognise and award the best companies, marketing campaigns and industry figures in the Asian market.

Launched last year, The Drinks Business Asian Awards is the only business and trade orientated awards in Asia. Last year, the awardees included Castle Li, general manager of COFCO Wine & Wine and GreatWall winery; Sarah Heller MW, the youngest Master of Wine at the time; Treasury Wine Estates, Kerry Wines, Fine Wine Experience, and Pernod Ricard to name a few. 

The second edition will return on 9 November at Harbour Renaissance Hong Kong Harbour View.

The awards consist of three main categories: Personality Awards, Marketing Awards and Business Awards. For Personality Awards, leading personalities from the drinks industry and trend setters are going to battle it out for Man of the Year, Woman of the Year, Young Achiever of the Year, and Retail Buyer of the Year.

In order to reward best marketing efforts, The Drinks Business Asian Awards will look at the most successful marketing and launch campaigns in the Asia Pacific region for Best Launch, Best Social Media Campaign and Best Drinks Event. 

In terms of Business Awards, candidates will compete for Best Drinks Company of the Year (Wine, Spirits & Beer), Best Retail Award (Wine, Spirits & Beer), On-trade Supplier of the Year, Best Online Retailer, Travel Retail Operator of the Year, Fine Wine Retailer of the Year and green drinks company of the year.

You can view the drinks business Asian Awards 2017 results and analysis here. 

The deadline for entry and submission of supporting materials is 19 October 2018. Entry fee for the first entry is HK$2,000 and HK$1,700 for additional entries.

Click the link here to see all the award categories. To enter the competition, please contact

Chinese American entrepreneurs to build ‘China’s Napa’ with US$72m

4th October, 2018

A delegate of Chinese American entrepreneurs will be pumping RMB 500 million (US$72.8 million) into turning a small town in China’s central Hubei province into ‘China’s Napa Valley’.

Xishui county in Hubei province (photo credit: Hubei government)

According to Chinese media reports, the delegate led by Chinese American business Chan Tianqing have signed a memorandum with Hubei province, which will see the entrepreneurs investing RMB 500 million in Xishui County for construction of ten vineyards measuring 5000 mu (333.3 ha), with the purpose of “replicating California vineyards” within China.

Xishui County, a small town by Chinese standard with 1.08 million people, is located at 30°N latitude. Close to the province’s capital city Wuhan, Xishui is said to have a favourable natural environment and sound infrastructure for transport and logistics.

According to Chan, a team of experts on winemaking and viticulture will visit Xishui for technical support.

The mega wine project is set to become a Disneyland for wine, with entertainment and wine culture exhibition facilities planned, in addition to vineyards and wineries. The timeline for the project, however, has not been revealed.

The news comes at a time when the Chinese government has slapped an additional 10% import tax on American wines as the trade wars between the world’s two biggest economies escalates.

The new punitive tax came into effect on 24 September, and it brings the total taxes levied on American wines to nearly 80% compared with the usual 48%.

Francis Mallmann to release his own wine range

4th October, 2018

Argentine chef Francis Mallmann is planning to branch out from food into wine with his own range made at his vineyard in Mendoza’s Uco Valley.

Never one to follow the crowd, Francis Mallmann has planted his vines in circles rather than rows

Speaking to the drinks business in London this week, where Mallmann is hosting a three-day pop-up at Cut at 45 Park Lane in Mayfair, the chef revealed that he’s had a vineyard for a while but currently sells his grapes to other producers.

“I have six hectares of vineyards planted at 1,600 metres altitude in the Uco Valley in Mendoza and the plan is to make my own wine. For the time being I’m selling the grapes to other wineries. When I make my own wine I’d like to build a tiny winery next to the vineyard.

While Argentina’s flagship grape, Malbec, is under vine at the site, Mallmann is also experimenting with a wide range of varieties, including Pinot Noir, Carignan, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Barbera.

Mallmann plans to build a winery at his vineyard in the Uco Valley in Mendoza

Not one for sticking to convention, Mallmann has also elected to plant his vines in circles rather than rows, as he believes it will lead to more even sun exposure.

“I’ve planted the vines in circles because I think it will bring a balance of the sun’s influence, so when you blend the grapes you’ll have a mixture of different sunlight exposure, instead of some grapes getting all the sun and others nothing. I think this approach is more balanced,” he told db.

Mallmann, who drinks a glass of wine every day at lunch and dinner, revealed that he will be enlisting the help of a consultant on his wine project, but isn’t sure who that will be yet.

“I have a lot of winemaker friends in Mendoza,” he said. He also talked of the huge respect and admiration he has for winemakers and the patience required to master their craft.

“Chefs and painters practice their trade every day. A good winemaker is lucky if he can make 60 vintages in his lifetime.

“It’s quite incredible how slow a game wine is. I love the patience and the risk involved in winemaking. It’s incredible what they do,” he said.

Mallmann collaborated with Champagne brand Krug last year

When it comes to food and wine pairing, Mallmann believes balanced matches are boring.

“Obviously some pairings really don’t work – like asparagus and red wine – but besides that, choosing a wine is all about the moment – am I by the beach, am I falling in love – that’s the beauty of food and wine matching.

“Harmony in food is for toddlers. For grown ups I find it so boring. Obviously I enjoy a steak with a red wine, but I think we should be more adventurous, and I love to have clashes in my mouth when I eat,” Mallmann said.

“It’s not only about food and wine but also to flavours and textures that contrast one another. Opposites are very important in life, which for me extends to food and wine – I really dislike pairings,” he added.

One of Mallmann’s favourite daring pairings is steak with Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc.

“I love that combination – it’s a delicious wine, you can taste the salt of the sea air from where the grapes grow within it,” Mallmann said.

A man with his fingers in many pies, in addition to his restaurant empire and wine venture, Mallmann will be launching his own fashion label – Best Made Mallmann – in New York next week.

“I love sewing – I sew every day and travel with my sewing kit. The new collection is elegant outdoor clothing, but there isn’t a feather in sight,” he said. The range will also include grills (of course), jeans and leather goods.

An in depth interview with Francis Mallmann will be published on soon.

Mouton Cadet to double sales in China to hit five million bottles

4th October, 2018

Veronique Hombroekx, the new managing director of Baron Philippe de Rothschild’s branded wines division, has ambitiously declared Mouton Cadet is aiming to double its annual sales in China to five million bottles.

Veronique Hombroekx

One of the major French players in the global wine trade with worldwide sales of over 11 million bottles per year, Mouton Cadet, is also looking to regain much of its lost market share in the United States as well as gain a bigger foothold in the United Kingdom.

Amid jubilant scenes at Le Golf National near Versailles on Sunday when Europe’s golfers regained the Ryder Cup from the United States, those spectators among the 50,000 present, who enjoyed a glass of wine, drank exclusively from Mouton Cadet’s range of red, white and rosé. For, with Mouton Cadet continuing their partnership role as ‘official wine’ for the tournament after first assuming it at Gleneagles in 2014, no other wines were sold on the course or in the tented village.

The value of raising brand awareness by close association with iconic sporting events like the Ryder Cup and cricket’s Ashes series between England and Australia has regularly been demonstrated. While Mouton Cadet are undecided whether to continue as tournament partner for the next home Ryder Cup in Rome in 2022, Hombroekx has focussed her attention on ‘people and terroir’ as she puts it, after a period of assessment when she joined the company in January this year. 

“I needed time to observe, go around and smell the company and the market as that was pretty new for me,” she said from Mouton Cadet’s hospitality lounge overlooking the 16th green. “We need to to understand the consumer not just in France but also in Japan, China, US and UK. For my aim of adopting a winning strategy for Mouton Cadet, we decided a couple of months ago to refocus our strategy around people and terroir, because behind Mouton Cadet, you have a lot of people: around 300 growers, and all from the Bordeaux appellation only”.

Hombroekx’s idea to invite every one of the company’s growers to convene together in Bordeaux in the summer proved a huge success.

“They all came together on 14 June – it had never happened before,” she continued. “We talked about our vision, and how we want to be more sustainable over the next generation. We learnt a lot – the human touch is back again in the heart of our strategy. They never knew each other, but we decided on a new app so that they can all talk together about problems and suggestions, and connect. Our ambition is to make this a big family.”

Mouton Cadet’s team of seven ‘flying’ winemakers, led by Pierre Lambert are on hand to help the growers. Lambert and the American oenologist, Chiara Mondavi, got together to make a special limited edition Mouton Cadet Ryder Cup red wine from ’the best 12 different Bordeaux cuvées available to us’. Currently on sale at selected outlets in key markets, it is a clever marketing idea, although demand in the the US may not be too high after America’s defeat.

Despite a marked drop in sales in the States over the last two years – from 4 million bottles per annum to 400,000 – Mouton Cadet have managed a global increase between 3-5% over each of the last five years. Underpinning that rise have been higher exports to China, where distribution has been enhanced by Mouton Cadet’s alliance there with Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) last November. “TWE is the best partner you can have in China,” Hombroekx professed.

Hombroekx is very clear on her Chinese ambitions. “The target is to double exports there within five years. Mouton Cadet is a real story to them…as you know in China, you need a story and must have credibility. We have 88 years of history behind the brand, going back to 1930 when Baron Philippe de Rothschild had the idea that people can have a good quality wine at an affordable price.”

Mouton Cadet’s digital alliance with Alibaba in China and the 1919 Store is ‘working incredibly’ according to Hombroekx.

“You order your wine online and within 19 minutes, you can have their delivery from the shop to your house by courier,” she added. “It’s very active in Shanghai, and other big cities. That shows how the route to market in China is very diverse but accessibility and visibility is the key. You must educate all those people – the store manager, the guy working in the supermarket, the guy in charge of e-commerce – and one of our winemakers is going over to do a tasting with them. The wine business there is all about shake hands, make friends and sell wine”.

America is Hombroekx’s other big market in her sights. “We were very successful in the USA,” she sighed. “The big golden years were completely declining as no one was putting enough attention in. When you look blindly at your success you don’t see your competition. This is probably what happened. Our price point of around $13-15 is very good but there were a lot of alternatives to Mouton Cadet. If you are not active in the market, you lose market share, and now we must rebuild. We need to reposition ourselves towards the 28 to 40-year olds, which is the age group we have lost. We need to be much more digital than before, and convince people about the quality of Mouton Cadet, and be very humble.”

When I ask about the UK, Hombroekx is candid. “It’s a difficult price market, but we can do better and have the opportunity for growth there in both retail and the on-trade,” she replied. “I’m not sure about brand awareness there, but we need to raise it by more than just the Ryder Cup. I go there on 12 October, and will need to understand what to do differently to be successful there.”

Consumers who favour minimal intervention in winemaking will be interested to know that Mouton are aiming to eliminate CMR (carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic) substances from their partner growers’ vine treatment programmes. Helping them achieve HE3 certification (High Environment Value Level 3) is also planned.

“Organically-farmed wines are not really the solution for us,” Hombroekx declared. “We take sustainability as the approach. Not to use any CMR is one of our big challenges. It’s big because if the quality of the wine cannot cope with this new restriction, that’s an issue for us. Sustainability and quality together is what we want, but we must make sure we can cope.” With the capable Hombroekx at the helm, there is every chance the company will do.

Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC pulls out all the stops at The Wine & Spirits Show

4th October, 2018

With just under eight days to go until The Wine & Spirits Show, the new Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC has announced that it will be holding a masterclass at the show, focusing on the “revolution of Italian-style Pinot Grigio”.

Launched by the team that brought you The City Wine Show, the Wine Show Chelsea and Spirited London, The Wine & Spirits Show will bring together the best wine and spirits under one roof.

The event will be open to both the trade and consumers and will take place over two days from 12 to 13 October in the heart of London at One Whitehall Place, part of five-star hotel the Royal Horseguards. Targeting wine enthusiasts based in London, around 2,000 members of the general public are expected to attend, alongside members of the wine and spirits trade.

The Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC will, in addition to exhibiting at the show, be holding a masterclass entitled ‘DOC delle Venezie, discovering the revolution of Italian-style Pinot Grigio’ on Friday 12 October at 2pm in the River Room dedicated to members of the wine trade.

DOC-certified Pinot Grigio wines were awarded 18 medals in The Drinks Business Pinot Grigio Masters 2018, a blind tasting of Pinot Grigios from around the world, judged by a panel of industry experts according to style and price alone.

President of the new Consortium delle Venezie DOC Pinot Grigio, Albino Armani, commented: “In the first half of 2018, we decided to officially launch the Pinot Grigio DOC delle Venezie in the UK. It is a strategic market able to dictate trends and influence-consumption at the highest global levels”.

The DOC was formed in 2017 in order to better manage, protect and promote the production of Pinot Grigio in the Veneto, Friuli and Trentino-Alto Adige. From 1 August this year, Pinot Grigio produced in the region can no longer be labelled as IGT which the Consorzio believes will raise quality standards.

“We can now tell the world that we’re the benchmark for Italian-style Pinot Grigio,” Armani told the drinks business earlier this year. 96% of the Pinot Grigio produced within the DOC is exported each year, while the wines produced in the region represent 85% of the total volume of Italian Pinot Grigio that is exported.

Commenting on this year’s Wine & Spirits Show, Armani added: “We are very proud to take part in this important event in London – and to partner with the drink business again in order to aid the international promotion of Pinot Grigio from Triveneto. The UK market is very important in terms of exports, where the consumer shows a greater awareness and interest in wine novelties and where, consequently, the demand for wine coming from all over the world is higher”.

Event information

The event will open from 1pm to 9pm on Friday, and from 1pm to 8pm on Saturday. To register for the trade event, which will run from 1pm to 5pm on Friday, please click here.

For producers and suppliers wishing to take part in the event, please email Chloé Beral on

For more information and for tickets, please click here. 

Woodford Reserve launches $1,500 Bourbon

4th October, 2018

Revered Bourbon brand Woodford Reserve is hoping to take the category to new heights with the launch of a $1,500 expression finished in Cognac casks.

Housed in a Baccarat crystal bottle, the Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition is a travel retail exclusive and won’t go on sale in duty free stores until next May.

“We are launching this luxury product in travel retail because sophisticated consumers are seeking premium brands, and Woodford Reserve leads the ultra-premium Bourbon category globally,” said Marshall Farrer, managing director of global retail travel for brand owner Brown-Forman.

The pricy release marks the first time a Bourbon brand has bottled their liquid in Baccarat glass. Only a “very limited” number of decanters will be released on allocation.

Based on Woodford Reserve’s distinctive bottle shape, the limited edition is engraved with both the Baccarat and Woodford logos.

It comes housed in a crimson red box with doors that rotate on opening, and includes a crystal stopper adorned with Woodford Reserve’s initials.

“This partnership elevates the category of American whiskey in the global market,” said Mark Bacon, Woodford Reserve’s global brand director.

The Cognac finished whiskey, which was rested in a variety of Cognac casks for three years, was unveiled at the TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes this week.

“Our philosophy for finishing is not to put fully matured Woodford Reserve into a cask that changes its flavour – we put it into casks the enhance the flavour,” said Woodford Reserve’s master distiller, Chis Morris.