While most of Europe goes on holiday in August, winemakers and viticulturists are anxiously keeping an eye on their grapes. The weather in August can make or break a vintage but, given the unpredictable weather so far in 2019, anything could happen.
France is expecting a smaller harvest than 2018 due to frost at flowering time in a number of regions, however it is still too early for accurate predictions to be made on quantity or quality. The heatwave in June seems to have scorched grapes in places like the Languedoc, while water stress is likely to be a problem in many of Europe’s wine regions. Santorini in Greece is historically one of Europe’s driest wine regions – but not this year, where it has had its wettest season on record. The right conditions in August can change all this of course so fingers are crossed all across the continent.
Bordeaux is the world’s largest fine wine region but doubts have been raised once again this year about the viability of the en primeur sales system, where wine is sold in the spring after the vintage, at least a dozen months before it is bottled. Sales of the 2018 vintage were respectable for the top end but a lot less so at the middle and lower ranks.
At least Bordeaux is doing something about climate change, with the announcement that new grapes are to be permitted to help counteract environmental changes. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, growers will soon be able to include up to 15% of Marselan, Castets and Touriga Nacional in red and Petit Manseng, Alvarinho and Liliorila in white.
CAMRA, the UK’s long established Campaign for Real Ale group, recently banned the use of sexist beer names at the British Beer Festival – surely a welcome initiative. With the rise of gin ever upwards, craft beer needs all the help it can get to broaden its market.
In celebrity drinks news, John Malkovich has launched five wines under the Les Quelles de la Coste label made on his estate in Provence. Peter Hook, formerly of Joy Division and New Order, has joined with a Manchester based microdistillery to produce FAC1 Haçienda Gin, celebrating the legendary Manchester music venue. In less glamourous news, there is now a Chernobyl vodka called Atomik made from grain grown in the exclusion zone.
As Food for Thought – FFT.ie recently reported, Diageo has bought a majority stake in the non-alcoholic ‘distilled’ drink Seedlip and it seems the non-alcoholic market is continuing to grow. Personally I’m mystified why anyone would pay €35 for a bottle of ‘distilled’ flavoured water when they can simply muddle some herbs and fruits in actual water at the cost of a few pennies. Dublin’s non-alcoholic bar on Capel Street the Virgin Mary however seems to be doing well and many of Ireland’s craft brewers are experimenting with low and zero alcohol beverages that actually taste of something.
Finally, if you are thinking of improving your drinks knowledge this Autumn you might consider doing a WSET course. The Wine and Spirits Education Trust was founded 50 years ago in 1969 and is the most recognised course in the Irish and UK hospitality industry. There are a number of WSET accredited courses available throughout Ireland and you can find a list at www.wsetglobal.com (search for Ireland).
There are too many to name here but I have heard good things about Maureen O’Hara’s www.premierwinetraining.com, the Cork Wine School run by Gary O’Donovan http://www.odonovansofflicence.com/wine-school/, Mary Gaynor’s http://www.wineacademy.ie/ based in the South East, and JN Wines is offering courses in Northern Ireland – https://www.jnwine.com/jn-academy.
If all that sounds too formal there are numerous wine appreciation courses all over the country which take a looser approach and I humbly recommend the eight week course I teach at Rathmines College which begins enrolling in September – http://www.rathminescollege.ie/.