BKWine Brief nr 248, April 2024

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High alcohol content? Don’t blame (just) climate change

The alcohol content in wine has been controversial for some time. We often hear people complain that the alcohol is too high and that it used to be better in the old days when it was lower. Both wine consumers and wine writers often seem to have a fetish for saying, “It’s too high in alcohol,” without even tasting the wine.

What exactly is “high” alcohol content in a wine? Of course, it depends on what you compare it to. To be called wine, it must have reached an alcohol content of at least 8%. Today, however, the no/lo trend (with an emphasis on no if certain reports are to be believed) is changing what should be considered wine. But that is another story.

Wine contains alcohol; the wines we drink today are usually between 12 and 14.5%. There was a time when it was lower. When the French consumed up to 150 litres per person per year, it was primarily simple table wine with an alcohol content of 8-9%. Wines with a taste that we probably wouldn’t accept today. Over time, the wines got better, and drinking habits changed.

If you drank wine in the 1970s and 1980s, then yes, the alcohol content has increased since then. But don’t blame climate change.

The British wine journalist Jancis Robinson wrote in 2012 about an interesting report done the year before by the American Association of Wine Economists. They analysed tens of thousands of alcohol levels for wines imported between 1992 and 2007 by the LCBO, Canada’s Ontario liquor monopoly, which buys wines from around the world. They compared it with actual temperature increases in the wines’ regions of origin. They found that the rise in average alcohol levels was much more significant than could be explained by any climate change. The conclusion was that the increased alcohol content was primarily the work of man. Not climate change.

The world of wine changed during the 1980s and, above all, from 1990 onwards. In Sweden and other parts of Europe, for example, after drinking wines from primarily northern and central Europe, we were invaded by wines from warmer climates: the New World, southern Italy, southern France… Warm climates automatically produce riper grapes, producing higher alcohol content. The wines sold well because we consumers liked the “new” style.

It was also a time when more knowledge was gained about how to grow wine better. In short, they became more skilled winemakers. They started using better clones, harvested riper grapes and became better at coping with mishaps in the vineyard, so they dared to leave the grapes on the vine longer. A new generation of trained winemakers worked differently from their parents.

But one more thing was of great importance. Wine must be sold, and it is essential to know what the customers are asking for. At this time, the wine world gained new consumers from countries that were not traditionally big wine drinkers. These consumers preferred wines with low acidity and tannin, best achieved with ripe and sugar-rich grapes. The traditional consumers only drank wine with the meal. The new consumers drank wine on the couch, in the bar, by the pool etc. The result was wines with a higher alcohol content to adapt to this new way of drinking.

So, the alcohol levels in the wines we drink today have increased, but for many different reasons. Perhaps mainly due to the human factor rather than the climate. Consumers, not least “new” consumers, like the rounder, fuller, softer style. And the wine producers have become better skilled at growing and making wine.

An interesting survey by Liv-Ex conducted in 2021 compares the alcohol levels in Burgundy, Bordeaux, California, Piedmont, and Tuscany over three decades: 1990-1999, 2000-2009 and 2010-2019. Burgundy was the only district to show virtually no change, averaging 13.3% over the entire 30-year period.

It was more dramatic in Bordeaux, which in 30 years has gone from 12.7% on average to 13.4 and then 13.7. California started at a modest 13.7, went up to 14.6 and then down to 14.5. Tuscany has gone from an average of 13.6 to 14.1, and Piedmont from 13.8 to 14.2.

If you think that there will be any significant difference in how much alcohol you absorb, you might also need to think again. If you share a bottle of wine with a low alcohol content, 12%, you only need to take one or two extra small sips to get the same amount of alcohol as if it were a wine with 14.5%. The difference in intoxicating effect is next to negligible.

So don’t get too hung up on the percentage.

(The reports: jancisrobinson and liv-ex.)

Wine tours

If you want to join us on this years great adventures to Bordeaux and Champagne, book your places now. You can hardly find a wine tour organiser with more inside knowledge. First time we were in Bordeaux was in 1986. We’ve written twelve wine books, including wine internationally award winning on Champagne. We travel in wine regions…… all the time.

For some very special experiences – once in a life-time wine tours – you can join us next winter on the extended Southern Hemisphere Tours: Chile-Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand.

More info on our wine tours here. “World’s Top Wine Tours“. Tours with the people who know wine and who have an unrivalled experience of wine and tours.

Travel in wine regions with someone you trust.

Wine editors to the national encyclopedia, Forbes.com contributors, award-winning wine book authors, wine tour advisors to the UN and national wine organisations, wine judges … and, above all, passionate wine travellers.

Enjoy the Brief!

Britt & Per

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What’s on at BKWine Tours

BKWine is also one of the world’s leading wine tour operators. Here’s what we currently have on our scheduled wine tour program:

We also make custom designed wine tours.

We’re different than most other wine tour operators. We are people who know wine inside out, who travel constantly in wine regions, who write award winning books about wine. Who do this out of passion.

Our wine tours are different from others.

A typical year we organise more than 30 wine tours to destinations across the world. In Europe: France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and more. World-wide: South Africa, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand. Thanks to our Scandinavian background we have a separate offer for the Scandinavian market. These are sometimes offered in English and also available as custom made tours. For example, these destinations:

Read our books

We have written eleven wine books. They have won awards from the Gourmand Awards, The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) and others.

Unfortunately, only one of them has been translated to English; the others are (so far) only available in Swedish. This is the one that is available in English:

Here’s the full list of our books:

News from the World of Wine

Short briefs on what’s been happening in the world of wine recently and other interesting things.

Cover crop, yes, but maybe not always?

In wine production, adapting to local conditions is paramount. Many wine producers adhere to the principle of never leaving the land bare, advocating minimal ploughing, and always preserving the weeds/cover crops in the vineyard. However, what may be suitable in a region blessed with abundant rainfall may not be as effective in a dry Mediterranean climate, highlighting the necessity of adapting to local conditions.

Several agricultural institutions in Languedoc (Chambre d’Agriculture de l’Hérault and Institut Agro Montpellier and others) are now calling on growers in the region to be aware of the problems that can arise with permanent green cover in the vineyard. The competition between the grass/weed and the vine for water and nitrogen can lead to reduced crop yields. This applies above all if it does not rain enough during autumn and winter. Vineyards that do not have access to irrigation, have shallow topsoil and have already lost plant vigour from the previous year are extra vulnerable. Read more tema-agriculture-terroirs

Warm March causes frost damage in April

In the middle of March, warm temperatures hit France, meaning the growing season started early in the vineyards. In some places, the budding began as early as the third week of March (e.g. cabernet franc in Chinon). In many areas, budding started two weeks earlier than in 2023. But then came the setback. In the second and third week of April, the temperature dropped to winter cold, with occasional sub-zero temperatures at night. The frost has killed young buds in some vineyards all over France, from the Loire down to Provence. The last week of April, I was in Champagne and the producers there had been crossing their fingers for the last few weeks. So far, they have been lucky, and Alexandre Penet at Champagne Penet-Chardonnet in Verzy now believes that the danger is over for Champagne. The temperature has started to rise again.

Some of the German vineyards have also suffered frost damage recently. Warm weather in March has caused many vineyards to be up to four weeks ahead of normal in their development.

Winegrowers employ a variety of strategies to safeguard against frost damage. Some use tall towers with large propellers to circulate the air in the vineyard. Others place heat sources, such as big candles, between the rows to raise the temperature. Sprinklers can also be installed to spray water, forming a protective layer of ice around the buds. Additionally, later winter pruning can be beneficial as it delays budding, potentially avoiding frost damage.

Yellow Tail will get electricity from solar panels

Casella Family Brands is one of Australia’s major wine producers. It owns Yellow Tail and Peter Lehmann Wines. Recently, the company opened a giant solar panel park that will provide electricity for its largest facility, which produces the Yellow Tail wines in Yenda, New South Wales. In total, 8,730 solar panels will produce 11.53 GWh a year. For Casella’s carbon footprint, that equates to planting 325,000 trees. Casella Family Brands aims to become carbon neutral by 2050. Read more: foodmag

World wine production in 2023 the lowest since 1961 and consumption shrinks

In 2023, world wine production decreased by 10% due to droughts, heat waves, fires, early frosts, and rains, which led to floods and diseases according to numbers recently released by International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV). The world’s vineyards produced 237 million hectolitres, the lowest volume since 1961. Harvests suffered particularly in Italy and Spain. Italy saw historically low production levels in 2023, with a 23.2% decrease due to bad weather and ensuing disease issues. The total volume was 38.3 million hl. This is the smallest harvest since 1950. For Spain, there was also a notable decline, and the country reached its lowest production since 1995, with an estimated output of 28.3 million hl, a decrease of 20.8% from 2022 and 25.7% from the last five-year average. This decline was mainly caused by severe drought and extreme summer temperatures. France fared better, increasing production by 4% to 48 million hectolitres, making France the world’s largest wine producer by far in 2023.

Meanwhile, global wine consumption also shrunk reaching only 221 million hectolitres, a decrease of 2.6%.

More detailed information from the report will be available shortly in BKWine Magazine.

This year’s Prowein showcased alternative packaging in the wine industry

During the big wine fair Prowein in Düsseldorf in March, many stands dealt with alternative packaging for wine. But alternative packaging does not just mean cans, plastic, Tetra Pak, or paper. Lightweight glass bottles also belong in this category. At the end of 2023, glass manufacturer Verallia announced that it had designed the lightest Bordeaux bottle in the world to date at just 300 grams. This bottle was presented at the fair. Verallia points out that the bottle still looks attractive, which is essential because some consumers associate thinner glass with cheap wine. A bottle of wine today weighs an average of around 575 grams.

Verallia’s innovative Bordelaise Air 300G bottle is set to begin production later this year. Verallia has also completed tests on its lightest champagne bottle. This new bottle weighs 800 grams and is 35 grams lighter than the current standard bottle. The reduction corresponds to 4% less CO2 emissions per bottle. Verallia is Europe’s largest manufacturer of glass bottles for drinks and food and the third largest in the world. Read more prowein

The two biggest internet wine merchants in Sweden, Vinoteket and Winefinder, merge

In Sweden, online wine sales are on the rise. To be better prepared, the country’s two largest online wine retailers, Winefinder and Vinoteket, are joining forces to create a common platform. For customers, the range becomes larger and wider, according to the company, and the merged company benefits from economies of scale for, e.g., transport and warehousing. Winefinder and Vinoteket will, however, remain separate brands.

Online wine sales outside the scope of Systembolaget, the state monopoly shops, are still relatively small, at 2% of total wine sales. However, Winefinder and Vinoteket account for approximately 60% of these sales, a significant portion (Systembolaget’s own online sales excluded). They both believe that there is a growing trend of wine consumers buying their wines online and venturing outside Systembolaget’s range. Both Winefinder and Vinoteket have their warehouses in Denmark (*) and, according to current legislation, pay Swedish alcohol tax and VAT. ((*) Selling direct to consumers in Sweden, e.g. through online shops is legal as long as the seller is based outside of Sweden but within the EU, plus certain other requirements. Many “Swedish” online retailers have sprouted thanks to this rule, but also other merchants and producers can do so.) Read more: cision

This is the season for asparagus. What do we pair it with?

White asparagus is a seasonal delicacy that is difficult to resist. French asparagus comes mainly from Provence, Les Landes, Languedoc, and the Loire. It is not difficult to pair with wine. There’s an old adage that it is but that’s just one more of the old-fashioned myths about the complexity of pairing food and wine. We prefer to serve asparagus with white wine, often with just a little bit of salt and melted butter. It is important not to cook the asparagus too long, though. They must retain their elasticity.

The Germans grow far more asparagus than France. Germany is Europe’s largest asparagus country and ranks third in the world. The Germans, of course, like to pair asparagus with their own wines (and with boiled potatoes and ham, which we are happy to skip), maybe a riesling, a silvaner, a weissburgunder (pinot blanc) or a grauburgunder (pinot gris). The French like to drink something fresh and aromatic, such as a sauvignon blanc, a chenin blanc, or something from Alsace. But we have noticed that with melted butter or perhaps a hollandaise sauce, a slightly fuller white from southern France is also an excellent option. Bon appetit. Some recommendations :

Vouvray Cuvée de Silex Bernard Fouquet, 2022, ~15 euro

Sancerre Les Pierris, 2022, Domaine Roger Champault et Fils, Loire Valley, ~18 euro

Viñedos Lo Abarca No. 2, Sauvignon Blanc 2023, Casa Marin, San Antonio, Chile, ~15 euro

Erika O Meticulous, 2021, Sauvignon blanc, Darling, South Africa, ~19 euro

Katie Jones, Blanc 2021, Vin de France, ~12 euro

Galets Dorés Blanc 2022, Château Mourgues du Grès, Costières de Nîmes, Rhône Valley. ~12 euro

Features of the Month

Articles and features published on BKWine Magazine and on our wine travel blog and (occasionally) photography blog in the last month.

Top quality cava, a world-class sparkling wine | Britt on Forbes

The effervescent world of Cava produces 250 million bottles each year from 38,000 hectares of vineyards, not unlike Champagne, which makes around 300 million bottles from 34,000 hectares. But while champagne often basks in the glow of prestige and commands a steeper price, cava is affordable, and any enthusiast can enjoy its bubbly delights. However, cava is not only about affordability. The Cava producers want the world to know that they also make top-quality wines, as a recent tasting in Barcelona unequivocally showed.

Read more in Britt’s article on BKWine Magazine, originally published on Forbes: Cava with long ageing: outstanding tasting of Cavas de Paraje Calificado | Britt on Forbes.

The wines from Alain Brumont that put Madiran on the wine map

Earlier this year, Stockholm was visited by Antoine Veiry, stepson of the wine legend Alain Brumont, and now winemaker at Brumont’s estate. Alain Brumont is the person who transformed Madiran from a somewhat dormant and relatively unknown wine region into one of the greats in the wine world. BKWine Magazine’s reporter Anders Åhlén tasted a series of Brumont’s wines.

Read more in Anders Åhlén’s article on BKWine Magazine: The wines from Alain Brumont that put Madiran on the wine map.

Wine Tours

Details on our current and future wine tours. Book a wine tour with the “World’s Top Wine Tour Operator” today (or when you feel like travelling to wine country).

Treat yourself to an unforgettable experience in the beautiful wine-lands together with some of the most knowledgeable wine people around. Book now!

Champagne, the world’s most difficult wine to make? (But so easy to like) | wine tour

Who doesn’t like champagne, the famous sparkling wine from the French region called Champagne? It’s easy to like. It’s festive. It’s delicious. But it actually is quite difficult to make, involving more steps and control than most other wines. First, you have to be very careful when you harvest – two of the three grapes used are red grapes, so one must take care not to get a red wine must. That’s why all harvest is manual. It is very important (and highly controlled) how you do the pressing of the grapes. 4000 kg of grapes can only give 2550 litres of must, and it takes three to four hours to do the pressing. Then, it has to ferment twice, once in tank/barrel and then again in bottle. Blending is a critical element, often mixing several tens of different wines, to get the right flavour and balance. To get the right balance – according to consumers’ taste – a touch of sugar is often added. And finally, it has to rest for at least 15 months, sometimes several years, in the cellar, before the temporary cork and yeast deposit is extracted and the final cork is put in. But for us consumers, it is just a question of how delicious it is when we have it in the glass. You will learn all about how it is made on our champagne wine tour, but more importantly, you will taste many, many wonderful champagne, including three meals with 100% champagne to find your own preferences for pairing champagne with food.

Join us on a fantastic wine tour to Champagne.

And also: We have written an internationally award-winning book on Champagne, so you can hardly get a better guide to the region.

From north to south, from Champagne to Bordeaux | luxurious wine tour

Champagne is France’s most northernly wine region. It is not far from Belgium. Maybe that’s whey the Belgians drink so much of it. It is a cool climate wine region. That is perfect for making sparkling wine, the high acidity in the grapes brings elegance and freshness to champagne. Harvest may be in full swing when we visit, so, if we’re lucky, we’ll get the chance to taste the grapes. And we will certainly get to taste the wines, both in the vast underground cellars and around luxurious dining tables.

Bordeaux, on the other hand, is far south in France, on the Atlantic side. The closeness to the sea gives it a mild climate. The red grapes need more sun and warmer temperatures, which they get here in Bordeaux. We will spend time both in the vineyards and cellars, as well as in some very elegant tasting rooms and private dining rooms of the estates we visit. The two, Champagne and Bordeaux, make a perfect combination to show you some of the most outstanding wines and gastronomy that France can offer.

PS: We have written an internationally award-winning book about Champagne, and also one on Bordeaux. And ten other wine books. Can you think of any other wine tour operator with that in the baggage?

All the subtleties and nuances of Bordeaux | wine tour

The season of “Bordeaux primeurs” is April-May-June. This is when the big chateaux show the latest vintage (yes, just a few months old) to “the trade”. In April, merchants and “influencers” come to Bordeaux to taste. Then over the coming months the wines are sold. But it is not until some two years later the buyers get the wine. Like financial “futures”. But this is just a tiny part of the market, the 50 to 100 chateaux who’s wines sell for sometimes hundreds of euros. It’s a mistake to think that this is the only thing that counts in Bordeaux. If you want to understand what Bordeaux really is, you need to go a little bit beyond that. (Otherwise, it’s like thinking that watches are only Rolex.) Yes, we will show you the splendour of the big chateaux on our wine tour, but we will also show you family-owned wineries that make equally excellent wines and often more inspiring and adventurous wines. We will show you the “left bank” focussing on cabernet sauvignon and the “right bank” with mainly merlot and cabernet franc, as well as the “middle”, the Entre deux Mers. Bordeaux is much more than just the grand chateaux; much more exciting when you get a more complete view, as you will on our wine tour.

Join us on a fantastic wine tour to Bordeaux.

  • Bordeaux, 29 September – 3 October, 2024

PS: We have written an award-winning book on Bordeaux, and have been travelling there since 1986. Can you find a better guide and tour operator?

Discovering unusual and historic grapes on the wine tour in Chile and Argentina

Both Chile and Argentina have long histories of wine. Wine grapes arrived from Europe in the 16th century. Some of the grapes grown here are today almost forgotten and disappeared from their origine. In Argentina you can find a group of grape varieties called “criolla”, including the most famous one, torrontes, the aromatic white grape that’s made Salta famous, but is also grown in Mendoza. There’s also the “pink” cereza and criolla grande as well as the criolla chica. Most of them are crossings between very old European varieties or local evolutions of them. Criolla chica is also common in Chile where it is called paìs (and mission in the US). It is only recently that consumers have discovered the greatness of these ancient varieties, almost extinct in Europe, and in their wines. Visiting South America is a unique opportunity to learn more about them and taste them. They are a welcome addition to the equally great wines from the more “classic” varieties that Chile and Argentina also produce, malbec, carmenère, cabernet, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, semillon and many, many more. Come and discover in Chile and Argentina.

Join us for a great wine, nature, and culture experience on the wine tour in Argentina and Chile.

Discover the wine countries of Chile and Argentina.

More inspiration: You can get an even better feeling for what you will experience on this tour if you visit the latest tour’s own Facebook group. Lots of pictures and videos from the tour (join the group and you’ll get an update when we post new contents): The wine tour to Chile and Argentina 2023.

South Africa, a country of wine entrepreneurs | wine tour

It is perhaps not surprising that there are so many wine entrepreneurs in South Africa. Even if the first vine was planted in 1655 it was not until the end of apartheid in the mid-90s that the wine industry entered the modern era. Before that, it had an almost communist structure. That’s no doubt why you find more young wineries and also young winemakers than in most other countries, even though there are a number of venerably old wineries. On our wine tour, we focus on these entrepreneurs, the winemakers that are spearheading the development of South Africa as one of the world’s most exciting wine countries, rather than on the “big and famous” names with international reputation, as they have to some extent due to their big size. It is difficult for a small winery to travel across the world to market their wines. But you, as a visitor in the country on our tour, will have ample opportunities to explore some of the very best South Africa can offer in wine.

Discover South Africa, the fantastic wine country, with us on this fabulous wine tour.

Book now!

More inspiration: You can get an even better feeling for what you will experience on this tour if you visit the latest tour’s own Facebook group. Lots of pictures and videos from the tour (join the group and you’ll get an update when we post new contents): The wine tour to South Africa 2024.

Learn everything you’d ever wanted to know about wines from New Zealand | wine tour

We cover a lot of ground – and a lot of vineyards – on the wine tour in New Zealand. Instead of making a few short hops and stops and then off to somewhere else (Australia?) we show you almost everything of vinous New Zealand. From the start in Auckland to the finish in Queenstown we cover 1600 kilometres. That may sound a lot but it certainly isn’t tiresome or boring. We start in almost subtropical climate and on our way to the cooler south we even see and visit a glacier (Mount Cook, 3,724 metres / 12,218 feet). We visit almost every wine region in Kiwi Land. You will have strolled in some of the world’s most easterly vineyards in Hawke’s Bay, the first to see the new day’s sunrays (together with Gisborne), as well as the most southerly commercial wine region, the pinot noir icon Central Otago. It is a wine tour that will change the way you look at wine from New Zealand. Being here gives one an insight in both the breadth and the depth of the wine industry here, it certainly is not just sauvignon blanc. (Ever tasted a fiano or a gewurztraminer from NZ?) But you will, of course, also taste some of the world’s finest sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs. We can’t let you leave New Zealand without that.

Come with us to New Zealand for a wine adventure!

A great wine, nature and culture experience on the New Zealand wine tour.

Book now!

More inspiration: You can get an even better feeling for what you will experience on this tour if you visit the latest tour’s own Facebook group. Lots of pictures and videos from the tour (join the group and you’ll get an update when we post new contents): The wine tour to New Zealand 2024.

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