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Book review: Chile: Country Of Mountains And Wines

>> Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chile: Country Of Mountains And Wines
Chili, Pays de vins et de montagnes
Chile : País de montañas y vinos

By: Papianille Mura (text), and Matt Wilson (photo)
Versant Sud is a beautiful and inspiring book. It tells the story of the birth of the Chilean wine industry. It talks about the history, about the winemaking, the nature (and of course a bit about the mountains), and about many of the wineries. The photography is excellent with enchanting landscapes, moody cellars, and much more. The pictures certainly make you want to go there. From a wine enthusiast stand-point, the texts are quite light-weight (with also some odd statements about winemaking). You should not expect to learn much in depth about Chilean wines, neither does it give much detail for the prospective tourist. Instead you can read it to get inspired and perhaps get a feeling about the country. The author lived for several years in Chile but is of French origin and wrote the book as a way to make Chilean wines and wineries better known. It is published in three languages.

Click here for more book reviews on my site. You will also find links to on-line book shops on that page.


Book review: Wine Production – Vine to Bottle

>> Monday, April 19, 2010

Wine Production – Vine to Bottle
By: Keith Grainger and Hazel Tattersall
Blackwell Publishing book is part of what is called “Food industry briefing series” and that is well reflected in its presentation. It is short, and not particularly “consumer” oriented. The book covers the topics, just like the title indicates, from the vine and what happens in the vineyard, to what is done in the winery and the wine in bottle. 17 chapters on 117 pages make for a lot of skimming. The text is generally correct but very condensed. It is partially a bit too categorical (“this is how things are”) when winemaking in reality is very much a question of nuances and opinions. It also has a very “new world” view on many things (e.g in describing high planting density as something mainly motivated by tradition, not necessarily motivated by quality, and growers’ laziness, and low planting densities as practised in the New World as beneficial to encourage growth and fighting diseases). Nevertheless, it is a book that can be useful to read for he who wants a short introduction to the various techniques and technologies used in the vineyard and the cellar. And it is one of the few books in print on this subject. (We must declare a certain bias here: We have recently written a book on the same subject that goes more into details, giving a more nuanced view on things, as well as illustrating most of the concepts with photography. Unfortunately, that book is not available in English.)

Click here for more book reviews on my site. You will also find links to on-line book shops on that page.


Book review: Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion – The encyclopedia of wines, vineyards, & winemakers

>> Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion – The encyclopedia of wines, vineyards, & winemakers
By: Hugh Johnson, revised and updated by Stephen Brook
Mitchell Beazley book is now in its sixth edition. It is a tome that impresses by its scope and ambition. It does contain some introductory chapters on history, winemaking and wine styles in general, but the book is really a catalogue of wineries. Virtually every wine region in the whole world is covered. Each region gets a short introduction, which is then followed by producer profile after producer profile. This is what the book is about – mostly quite short descriptions on producer after producer, the authors’ personal selection of the best producers in each region. Some get a bit more space; Petrus e.g. gets almost half a page, but most are dealt with in a few sentences. It is a book that impresses by its ambition, quality of the insight and the amount of work that must have gone into it. At the same time, one cannot help thinking that it is perhaps past it prime. The first edition arrived in 1983. There was nothing at the time called “internet”. Today, if one looks for short, bite-sized information wineries, would one not rather make a search on the net? (We must also mention that BKWine Photography is proud to have provided several of the images in the new edition!)

Click here for more book reviews on my site. You will also find links to on-line book shops on that page.


Book Review: The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book

>> Monday, April 12, 2010

The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book
By: Harry Karis
Photo and design: Phil Karis
Kavino Book Publishing, is a relatively easy task to review this book, in a way. It is likely to be the standard tome on Châteauneuf for the foreseeable future. It is has almost 500 pages and weighs over two and a half kilo. It contains almost everything you can conceivably want to know about Châteauneuf. Harry Karis is a medical doctor who became enthralled by the wines of Châteauneuf. He couldn’t find enough good writing on the wines from this southern Rhône appellation, so he decided to write it himself. The result is imposing. It covers everything from the early history to today, wine making and climate (including lots of statistics), geography etc. But the majority of the book is taken up by producer profiles – virtually every producer in the appellation. Every winery is described in detail (within reason), explaining the winemaking and describing their vineyards. Most have their vineyards plotted on maps. No book is perfect, nor is this one. There are of course some errors, inevitable in any book (e.g. the photo on p 33 is of Hermitage, not Côte Rôtie). One also wishes for a bit more opinion – which of the wines do the author appreciate the most and why? But that is detail. For anyone wishing to know more about Châteauneuf, this is a treasure trove. And it certainly makes you want to taste the wines and go there and visit the cellars and walk on the galets roulées yourself! There is also a very convenient pocket-size map of Châteauneuf – certainly easier to carry around than the book!

Click here for more book reviews on my site. You will also find links to on-line book shops on that page.


Genetically modified grapes? No thanks, yes please, or let's study the case?

>> Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Genetically modified grapes, or any other crop, is a very sensitive issue in Europe. A trial plantation of GM grapes in Alsace was destroyed by vandals. But perhaps there is a slight change in attitudes on the way. At a wine seminar in Bordeaux recently a vine nursery man said, in response to a question on GM, that he would certainly be interested in pursuing it but that it is politically impossible at the moment. A wine producer that we recently talked to said that he thought it would be useful to look more into the benefits. E.g. it could mean that growers would have to spray less toxic chemicals on the plants – dangerous both for the environment and for the vineyard workers. A recent article in The Economist cited some numbers that can give some perspective. Some titbits: Use of GM plants grew with 7% in 2009. 75% of all soy beans world wine are from genetically modified plants. So GM agriculture is not really a rarity. Half of the entire world’s cotton and a quarter of all maize (corn) are GM products. In total there are 134 million hectares of GM “transgenetic” plantations, half in developing countries. The early acceptance in India of GM cotton has transformed the country from a net importer of cotton to the world’s biggest exporter. Read more on


Hard times for wine producers in Napa Valley

Even in Napa Valley there can be hard times. Some 10 wineries are about to change hands this year and next in order to avoid bankruptcy or closing. Two years ago there was none in a similar situation. This is the worst down-turn in 20 years, it is said. Ten producers is perhaps not a lot if you compare with e.g. Bordeaux where there is more likely several hundreds in similar situation. On the other hand, there are only 400 producers in Napa and around 10,000 in Bordeaux. Falling sales in the US is one reason: sales were down 3.3% in 2009 to $29 billion. Another problem is that consumers are trading down in price and rather buying moderately priced wines, and Napa are up there among the most expensive ones. Read more


Mas de l’Ecriture – a vertical since the beginning

Mas de l’Ecriture in the village Jonquières in the Languedoc took Vinisud as an excuse (?) to show that wines from the region age excellently. Owner and winemaker Pascal Fullà invited us to a tasting of all his 10 vintages, since the start: 1998 to 2008. All wines expressed Pascal’s desire to combine elegance, power and balance. And a very good acidity (giving freshness). What’s the secret behind this acidity, we asked Pascal? “It’s the work in the vineyard”, he says, “to harvest ripe grapes but never too ripe. And then have a soft extraction and do the malolactic fermentation on the skins”. Sounds deceptively simple, doesn’t it?


Clos Centeilles with their unique cinsault wines

Clos Centeilles in Minervois was actually one of the first Languedoc producers we discovered in the early 90s. At that time they had just started out – today they celebrate their 20th anniversary. The celebration included organising a vertical wine tasting at Vinisud with their Capitelle de Centeilles, made from the owner’s, Patricia Boyer-Domergue’s, favourite grape, the cinsault (100%). It is the oldest of the permitted grapes in the Languedoc, she says, and it is capable of doing much better things than people generally think. Which the vertical showed well with vintages from 2008 to 2000. The ten year old wine was very lively with an intense aroma and concentrated on the palate. In the right hands a cinsault can indeed express both elegance, fruit and freshness. Happy 20 years Centeilles!


Chateau des Estanilles – we meet the new owner

Château Estanilles is a well-known, no to say famous, property in Faugères in the Languedoc, not least thanks to the charismatic (previous) owner Michel Louison. Times are changing and the winery has changed hands. At Vinisud we met briefly with the new owner, the young Julien Seydoux, and talked about his plans.

“We have many projects”, he says, “both concerning the wine style and the cellar. We will change the 225 litre barrels and start using the600 l semi-muids, and we’ll probably get a few fermentation vats in oak. And we’ve hired Claude Gros as a consultant”. Gros is based in Narbonne and has clients everywhere, but most are in the Languedoc-Roussillon. “He makes wines I like” says Julien, “lots of fruit, only a slight touch of wood, made from ripe grapes. It is very important to work with the ripeness. And we want to have wines that are good to drink young, but that also can age. It’s important to retain the fruit and protect the must from oxidation, for example by putting the grapes in a cooling room after the harvest.” Julien wants to but his stamp on the wines, just like Michel Louison did. “He was very focused on terroir”, says Julien, “he had a more traditional style than what we will be looking for. The vineyards are in perfect shape but we have lots to do in the wine cellar.”


Vinisud 2010 - looking back

Vinisud is the second biggest wine show in France. This year it was on February 22-24. 1631 exhibitors were there to present their “Mediterranean” wines. Many came from the Languedoc-Roussillon, the Rhône Valley, Sud-Ouest, Prevence and Corsica but also some other countries are represented. Vinisud is on every second year, the years when Vinexpo is not (which is the biggest show). It is in Montpellier and is one of our favourite wine shows, since we are always on the lookout for new and exciting producers from the south of France. And you can find many of those here. We did discover some gems that we will share with you in future BKWine Breifs.

This was the 9th edition and the total number of visitors reached 32 269 (about the same as last time in 2008). 27% came from outside of France (but curiously few were Anglo-Saxon journalists or from Scandinavia). Daytime at the fair was busy and at night in town was not calmer. Many exhibitors (and some non-exhibitors) organised musical evenings, tastings etc. We went to the crazy jazz evening organised by Les Vinifilles, 18 women winemakers in Languedoc-Roussillon: Rives-Blanques, Jasse-Castel, Coupe-Rose, La Grange de Quatre Sous, Mas Champart, Domaine Ollier Taillefer to mention a few. We also went to the magnificent museum to meet with WoW, Worldwide Original Winemakers, 15 producers from all over the globe: Champagne Tarlant, Domaine du Grand Cros in Provence, Domaine du Tracot in Beaujolais, Pares Balta in Catalonia and Val di Toro in Maremma in Tuscan were among those we talked to.

We at BKWine had been asked by the organisers of Vinisud to do a wine tasting of organic wines from the south of France specifically for visitors from Scandinavia. It turned out to be a very interesting overview of some 30 different “vins biologiques”. A big thank you to all producers who contributed wines to the tasting:

-- Domaine Prés-Lasses, Vin de Pays de Côtes de Murviel
-- Château des Estanilles, Faugères
-- Domaine de Cébène, Faugères
-- François Lurton (with the range Terra Sana)
-- Domaine Valambelle, Faugères
-- La Borie Fouisseau, Faugères
-- Mas Consience, Terroir de Larzac
-- Château Malavieille
-- Domaine des Aurelles
-- Domaine Alain Chabanon
-- Mas Gabriel
-- Domaine Turner Pageot
-- Domaine Rives-Blanques, Limoux

-- Domaine Pialentou, Gaillac
-- Domaine de Malartic, Côtes de Gascogne
-- Domaine Pouybet, Côtes de Gascogne
-- Domaine du Pountet, Côtes du Brûlhois

-- Domaine Ferrer-Ribière
-- Domaine Clot de l’Oum
-- Domaine des Soulanes
-- Domaine la Vista

-- Domaine Fontavin, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

-- Château La Calisse, Coteaux Varois en Provence


French wine TV channel to become Luxembourgeois?

>> Tuesday, April 06, 2010

It’s called Edonys – the TV channel that will be entirely dedicated to wine. It’s a project launched by Media-Place Partner. the TV channel will air interviews, reportage, debates, etc but exclusively on a wine theme (much like BKWine TV, one can perhaps say, but with a slightly bigger budget and different ambitions… And curiously they are in the very same part of Paris, just a few hundred meters away from BKWine). But there’s a catch. A TV channel must have financing and the income is mainly from advertising. But in France it is not allowed to do wine ads or commercials on television. Ouch. Some 20 senators have proposed that it should be OK for pay-TV channels with wine advertisements but at the moment it is very uncertain what will happen. However, Edonys has a Plan B: choose Luxemburg as a base where no such rules exist.


Crushpad expands in Europe

In the last Brief we cited an unconfirmed rumour that Crushpad was closing its European operations. Not only was the rumour unconfirmed, it proved to be entirely wrong. Michael Brill, CEO of Crushpad Inc, and Stephen Bolger, in charge of Crushpad Europe, both confirm with force that Crushpad as ha continued commitment to Europe. Not only that but Crushpad is also expanding in Bordeaux, currently looking for additional vineyard land to be able to expand further. We apologise for any confusion caused and wish Crushpad and its customers continued success in Europe (too). More info


BKWine TV with subtitles coming

We now have some one hundred wine videos on BKWine TV. Depending on who we talk to the videos can be in Swedish, English or French. Our videos are now in the process of getting subtitles – in any language you would like! It is Google with their voice recognition software who are automatically generating the subtitles. And with the Google Translate feature you can then get them in whichever language you want. You can see an example in our video interview with Manuel Lobo, winemaker at Quinta do Crasto in the Douro Valley. At the bottom edge of the video you can see a red symbol “CC”. Click on it and choose “transcribe audio” and you get the automatic subtitles. You can then choose “translate captions” to select a different language for the subtitles. In a noisy environment (as in this video) the result is sometimes amusing (not 100% accurate) but in better conditions the quality can be amazing. As yet only a few of our videos are processed but we expect more to come soon. So, coming soon, our French videos with English subtitles for example. Fantastic!


New blog design, with new features

>> Monday, April 05, 2010

If you've been here before you will notice that the blog has a new design.

Hope you will like it.

I've also included a few new features:

  • A share button at the end of each post. One-click function makes it easy to share on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and many other sites. Or even email.
  • Tweet Me Button: each post has a Tweet Me button (from Tweetmeme) that makes it even easier to tweet the post and that shows how many times the post has been tweeted.
  • You might also like: At the bottom of each post there are five suggestions to other posts that you might find interesting.
  • Super-Menu: (perhaps there's a better name?) At the very top of the page there's a one-line menu with links to more contents from BKWine
  • Subscribe: In the right hand column there are now widgets that allow you to subscribe on RSS or on email to blog updates.
There are several other changes that should make it more useful and more easy to read.

So, do you like it?


This blog has moved

>> Sunday, April 04, 2010

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BKWine TV: [E] Ntsiki Biyela winemaker at Stellekaya in Stellenbosch

An interview with the winemaker at the Stellenbosch winery Stellekaya, Ntsiki Biyela. She is one of the very few black women wine makers in South Africa, perhaps even the first. The winery is close to the town Stellenbosch which is also the name of the wine region. The vineyards are quite a bit a way from winery. The name Stellekaya means home of the stars. Most of the wines are named after astrological star constellations (Capricorn, Taurus, Scorpio, Orion etc).

Stellekaya only make red wines: blends and varietals. They have cabernet sauvignon (called Scorpio), a merlot and a shiraz. They make several blends: sangiovese, merlot and cs (called Hercules), Bordeaux style (cs, merlot, cab franc), Cape blend with merlot, cs and pinotage. Wines often highly rated by John Platter in the Platter guide. The wines are generally very elegant with a lot of fruit. Ntsiki Biyela, the wine maker wants to have the fruit prominent with a lot of freshness.

Ntsiki has been winemaker since 2004. Over the years her wine making has changed, improved, learning from experience. There are always changes depending on the vintage but the style with fruit and elegance remains the same.

Making wine was not originally something that Ntsiki Biyela had thought of doing. Her first taste of wine was a strange experience: it was horrible, why would anyone want to drink this, she thought. She had the opportunity to study viticulture and vinification so she came to study at the Stellenbosch University on a scholarship. She has since been named Woman Winemaker of the Year (in 2009). Ntsiki comes from KwaZulu-Natal where they grow sugar cane, bananas but no grapes, and where drinking wine is not part of the traditional culture. Not yet.

More on Stellekaya:

Music: Marco Esu, Primo risveglio,

By BKWine, Interviewer: Per Karlsson, BKWine. © Copyright BKWine, Per Karlsson.

See all our wine videos on our BKWine TV:


A schistous association

>> Thursday, April 01, 2010

There are quite a few wine regions with schist soil and many produce excellent wines. Some examples: many parts of the Languedoc, some areas in Anjou, the Douro Valley, Priorat in Spain etc. At Vinisud recently an association for the promotion of schist soil wines was launched: “L’Association Les Terroirs de Schistes (du monde)”. At the launch some delicious tapas were served on, you guessed, slabs of slate instead of plates. In view of the quality of the wines from such soils this will be an interesting initiative to follow. More (but not much) info on or from


Pauillac is most expensive?

If you are contemplating buying a vineyard you may have an interest in not choosing Pauillac. Pauillac may have the most expensive vineyard land around. Jane Anson tells more on The New Bordeaux

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