Are the days of long lists numbered?

Jon Harris, Hallgarten’s Director of Scotland and NW England has pondered the future of long lists and just what a short list would comprise of.

First up, I agree the question is quite ambiguous – the answer really is dependent on the kind of venue you are talking about; however for this piece I am considering a long list being one that is 60 bins or so.

In my opinion there are still some places where a wine list should be a leather bound tome, covering every country, region and producer imaginable – the type of wine list you can happily spend a few hours flicking through. Wine is hugely emotive and romantic for many, and the UK market is one of the most exciting and diverse in the world. It is vital our top sommeliers and buyers keep this tradition alive. 67 Pall Mall is the shining beacon of this.

All that being said, for a huge proportion of the UK On trade it is simply not a sensible option. With a move to a more casual cooking and dining style (just look at Nathan Outlaw’s announcement in June closing his 2-star Michelin flagship restaurant to replace it with a ‘more accessible’ dining option) it is important the modern wine list keeps pace.

I am sure some of the traditionalists even within my own business will disagree, but I believe you can build an exceptional, balanced and exciting list in under 40 bins. Here’s how it could look:

  • 3 or 4 sparkling wines. You can cover entry-level, an interesting upsell or Rosé and a Champagne
  • 10 to 14 whites and reds. Anything less than this and you run out of room for the more esoteric wines, certainly once you include the “must haves” (Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, etc)
  • 3 Rosé allows a range of styles and regions to suit customer pallets and price points
  • 2 or 3 sweet wines, including fortified – unfortunately a declining category but essential for a quality restaurant. Try adding them to your dessert menu as well as or instead of the wine list.

There are a number of benefits of a shorter list. Firstly this approach allows a range of list design options, from the more traditional by price or alphabetical by country, to a modern style-based model. I am a big advocate of a list constructed by style/flavour profile: it forces the customer to read the list to find what they actually want to drink, rather than purely selecting by price or grape variety. It also makes sure the list’s creator is offering an even(ish) balance of styles, not simply what they like to drink.

Having a more concise list also allows you to include and give focus to some exciting and esoteric wines at key price points. On a larger list these quirkier wines can often get lost as customers search for something they recognise, or rely on a Sommelier’s recommendation. Here they are front and centre.

The shorter list gives you the opportunity to offer a large majority (or all) of the list by the glass. This not only has margin benefits, as the GP on glasses is usually higher than by the bottle, but offers the customer the chance to experiment and experience the range.

A shorter list by no means removes the need for a Somm or buyer; in fact, it arguably makes their role more important – shorter lists need to be regularly changed, usually seasonally, in line with food menus. This means the link between food and wine is more important than ever, and any decisions must make real commercial sense and not purely be whimsical.

An important financial consideration is stockholding value. A more concise list will automatically help control par levels and stock management. In the On trade where margins and cash are almost always tight (particularly at the moment), it is vital not to tie up too much in stock.

Finally team training. This has become increasingly important over the years and can have a huge impact on wine sales. A couple of years ago, one large national customer of ours was able to attribute a 7% growth in value and volume directly to our training programs. A shorter list makes training easier, and opens it up to all the team, not just a select few wine specialists and Sommeliers. If all your team are selling better wine, it will drive incremental margin.

I understand that for the purists out there having a list with just one or possibly no Bordeaux or Burgundy mentioned will simply not cut it, but for much of the trade I believe an exciting, regularly changing, concise list is absolutely the way forward, not just financially but predominantly to enhance the guest experience.

A Brave New World…

Sometimes we all need the tried, tested and familiar around us, whether that it is our choice of food, drink, fashion or general lifestyle. But sometimes – and social media is a great inspiration here – we need to think outside of our comfort zone. Wine is no exception.

Here at Hallgarten & Novum we are proud of our eclectic offering in terms of wines, whether that be new grape varieties or unfamiliar countries (when it comes to winemaking.)

And it is often the “Old World” which is leading the way.

I remember the first time that Steve Daniel introduced me to our new wines from Armenia; I was so impressed by the lovely perfume of the Karmrahyut grape, vibrantly redolent of rosemary and lavender. Our new range from Vachnadziani is a wake-up call, with refreshing mineral laden whites from those hard to pronounce varieties such as Rkatsiteli, Krakhuna and Mtsvane putting me in mind of good Chablis.

Grape varieties such as Santorini’s Assyrtiko have established themselves in our UK market as go-to wines, and are now spreading their influence to other countries. We have examples of this grape from the Lebanon from Oumsiyat and Australia’s Clare Valley from Jim Barry, all showing the lovely freshness and salinity which has made the grape so popular.

Winemakers are rediscovering old techniques such as fermentation in amphora. Look out for the amphora wines from Rocim from the Alentejo region in Portugal where traditional vinification in ‘tahla’ meets modern winery techniques.

With global warming, some regions are now being forced to rethink the varieties that have traditionally been the mainstay of their vineyards as producers are faced with higher temperatures, less water availability and more weather extremes.  Bordeaux, for example, is looking at different varieties such as Alvarinho, Marselan and Touriga Nacional which are more mildew resistant and can cope with the warmer temperatures which are driving up the alcohol levels of Merlot in particular leading to a change of style compared to 20 years ago.  The traditional wines of Bordeaux may look very different in the future!

With 40 years in the wine trade and 24 years as an MW behind me, one of the pleasures that I continue to have is to discover grape varieties and wines hitherto unknown to me and then to share this enthusiasm and encourage consumers to explore these wines for themselves in this Brave New World of wine.

Great Wines, That Don’t Cost the Earth

As consumers, we all want to do the right thing for our health and the health of the planet, and buy organic and sustainable. Until very recently this meant paying more and in many cases radically changing our buying habits.

Historically organic wines were quite rare and we would have to pay a significant premium for them, and sustainably produced wines were rarely mentioned. I remember having conversations with consumers about organic and sustainably produced wines, and they were just not interested. I also remember having conversations with wine producers who were farming organically and sustainably and asking them why they were not shouting about this; their response was no one is interested, and in fact, some consumers think organic wines won’t taste good!

How times have changed. I think most people in the supply chain are acutely aware of the impact us humans have on the planet.

Winemakers and grape growers have worked relentlessly in the last 30 years to increase quality at every price level. Initially the biggest and quickest increases came from investment in winemaking equipment, technology and expertise and it became possible to make very drinkable wine, at very attractive prices. There were massive investments in the wineries and winemakers. But technology is only a part of the equation.

The more forward-thinking producers soon realised that their biggest and most precious asset is their vineyards – it’s also the most fragile. If a piece of machinery breaks you can repair or replace it. If your winemaker leaves you can find another. It’s just a question of a little time and money.  A vineyard is a living thing. It is a whole ecosystem and if you abuse it you can irreversibly damage it and jeopardise your unique asset. If you break it, you cannot just throw money at it. You have to work out the best way to treat your vineyard to allow it to produce good fruit for the longest time. You also need to protect those living things that work in your vineyard, including your work force! This is a long term investment in time, money and working practice.  Invariably this means adopting a sustainable holistic approach.

This is something that the artisanal small domains have known for a long time; the wines they produce are outstanding and you pay a premium for them. The fact that many larger producers have now adopted the same principles means that you can now get organic, sustainably and ethically produced wines at everyday prices. You no longer have to go massively out of your way or pay a huge premium to get great tasting wines that won’t cost the earth.

We are very proud to represent many forward thinking producers of all sizes. Below is just a selection of producers that are ticking the sustainable boxes and producing amazing wines.

Colomba Bianca, Sicily

Sicily and Italy’s largest certified organic producer with over 2,000 hectares of organically farmed vineyards. Try their amazing ‘Vitese’ Grillo.

Perez Cruz, Chile

One of the pioneering wineries of the sustainable movement in Chile. They have been farming sustainably since 2005 and are one of the first boutique producers in Chile. Their Cabernet must be one of the best value for money red wines in the world, using fruit only from their amazing Alto Maipo vineyard.

Piattelli, Argentina

An amazing family-run winery that operate vineyards in Mendoza and Cafayate, farmed sustainably and organically. The Alto Molino Malbec is a great introduction to the wines of Cafayate.

Echeverria, Chile

A family-run winery from Molina. One of the pioneers of modern winemaking in Chile, they farm organically and are certified Sustainable. Their No es Pituko “Natural Wine” range are must tries – give the Chardonnay a whirl.

Lake Chalice, New Zealand

A boutique, fully sustainable producer, making stunning food friendly wines. The Nest Sauvignon Blanc is a stand-out great value Marlborough Sauvignon.

Prapian Estate, Italy

The pride and glory of the Sacchetto family. A beautiful new winery and an amazing organically farmed vineyard, creating an amazing single-vineyard Prosecco. A real step up in quality from regular Prosecco. Try the Brut Organico Valdobbiadene.

Peninsula, Spain

Modern winemaking, major investment and a sustainable and organic approach in the vineyards. All the wines are technically brilliant. Try the Tempranillo which is a Gold Medal winning wine in SWA 2020.

Undurraga, Chile

Sustainable historic winery, making cutting-edge wines from some of the best vineyard sites in Chile. Try the ground-breaking TH range – the Chardonnay from Limari is spectacular.

Gérard Bertrand, France

Gérard is one of the pioneers of Biodynamic wine production in the Languedoc-Roussillon and the largest “Bio” producer in France. His Naturalys range is exceptional value and the Naturalys Merlot stands out above the rest.

Matias Riccitelli, Argentina

Matias is one of the superstars of Argentinian wine. He supports low intervention winemaking and organic grape growing. His wines truly represent the outstanding vineyards he works with. You must try Not Another Lovely Malbec – artisanal winemaking at a great price.

Herdade Do Rocim, Portugal

This is an amazing project in the Alentejo.  Fully signed up to Sustainable farming,  the grapes are all farmed organically – 70% are certified the rest in conversion. Minimum intervention in the winery and only natural yeasts are used. The wines are produced in the renowned Vidigueira area of the Alentejo the resulting wines have a freshness not often associated with the Alentejo. Try the Mariana Red.

Olifantsberg, South Africa

These are amazing handcrafted wines. The vineyards are farmed organically and heading towards Biodynamic. They believe in sustainable vine growing and winemaking and their style is very hands-off, with only natural yeast and use of large seasoned oak barrels and concrete eggs. These are beautiful handmade wines from one of the superstar producers of the future. Buy while you still can afford them! Try the amazing entry level Chenin Blanc.

Finca Bacara, Spain

Amazing 100% Monastell (Mourvedre) wines from high altitude vineyards in Jumilla. All the wines are made from organically farmed vineyards in a very modern fruit-forward style with amazing packaging. Try the Time Waits for No one White Skulls.

Bodegas San Alejandro, Spain

The Garnacha specialists of Spain. Working with high altitude vineyards in the Calatayud region, all their vineyards are farmed organically and are in conversion from 2019. They make great wines at all price points and consistently rate as some of the very best Garnachas coming out of Spain. Try the beautifully silky smooth and elegant Evodia.

 

Sustainability: We have no other choice

The problem is: it doesn’t sound very sexy. Sustainability.

Key word, at the moment, along with, say, Organic, or Biodynamic, or Natural. But an awkward word, too.

With Organic you get a wistful Tom and Barbara Good Life self-sufficiency schmaltz, you venerate queer carrots, and supplicate yourself – oh Lord! – to the soil, and perhaps (best of all!) subconsciously conjoin the word to a similar one which is very exciting.

Biodynamic, too, has its moments, with its odd combination of Rudolf Steiner argot, the bewilderment of physics, and a boyhood memory of Steve Austin, the world’s first Bionic Six Million Dollar Man.

And Natural is the best of the lot, redolent of Alpine yoghurt, the notion of innate talent, an appreciation of something not messed up by blokes, and, in the background, Aretha’s soaring You Make Me Feel….

But Sustainability – the yoke which brings those three together? Not many rock songs with that in the title. Inspiring nothing more than great spreadsheets, perhaps. Alice Feiring wrote that being sustainable is like being a little bit pregnant¹.

To be fair, in terms of wine, there is much much more to sustainability than solely how the wine is produced. The concept looks into every aspect of the journey from vine to consumer, including bottling, commercialisation, marketing, and human resources, and raises questions about energy usage, waste, social impact, carbon footprint and climate change.

But there is not one global definition or set of standards to which all producers can adhere – and therein lies an ambiguity.

Organic

Although consumers might assume that wine production has little impact on the natural world – in contrast to large-scale intensive agriculture – the reality is sadly different. Unfortunately, Vitis vinifera is a notoriously fragile plant. And most vineyards are monocultures that rely heavily on preventive spraying of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides to keep disease and pests at bay. “Awareness of the damage caused by overuse of chemical treatments has spread since French soil biologist Claude Bourguignon famously declared in 1988 that the soil of Burgundy’s vineyards was ‘dead’”³. Although it is simplistic, the growth of organic winemaking (which basically bans most chemicals from the vineyard and states that all additives need to be organic) is as a result of these concerns. It is rare today to find a French vigneron who does not espouse lutte raisonnée (literally ‘the reasoned fight’, meaning the measured use of sprays).

Biodynamic

Famously outlined by Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner in a series of lectures in 1924, biodynamics is a holistic approach which focuses on maintaining soil health and linking soil management to lunar cycles, earth rhythms, and astrology – to guarantee happy vines. Some of the practices in biodynamics appear strange, such as using nine plant-derived “preparations” in crop management, and burying a cow’s horn full of manure into the soil, but advocates are convinced that the processes result in improved soil quality and overall vineyard health.

Natural

This is where it gets tricky. Basically, this takes the organic and biodynamic principles, but goes further in the winemaking processes, requiring that nothing be added or removed. The Naturalistes’ bête noire is sulphur dioxide (SO2). While sulphites are a natural side-effect of fermentation and are present in virtually all wine (“contains sulphites” must appear on the label if the wine has more than 10mg/l), the Naturalistes say that adding to this (EU rules allow for 160mg/l for red, 210 mg/l for white) changes the character of the wine, lobotomizes it and masks inferior quality grapes. And may give you a headache. Other key themes are using only wild yeasts, rather than inoculated, no fining, no filtration, and limited use of oak. The problem is that, unlike organic winemaking, which has strict certifications in every country of origin, no-one has codified the rules of natural winemaking.

One issue is that while the Organic/Biodynamic/Natural movements have definitely had an impact, they are still a little too much on the fringe to make a huge difference with general consumers. Which is why, despite its lack of cool, the doctrines of sustainability are so important:

  • Vineyard management does not just involve proscribing agrochemicals and cultivating other plants to encourage biodiversity, but also embodies the efficient use of energy, the reduction of gas emissions and the reduction and reuse of water.
  • In the winery, the use of renewable energy (solar panels, for example), and the reduction, recycling and reuse of waste are fundamental.
  • Wine packaging has been the subject of particular focus. Of all the carbon used in the manufacture of a wine bottle, 85% comes from the glass, 9% from the cardboard box of the packaging, 4% from the cork stopper, 1% from the paper label, and 1% from the plastic capsule: hence the call for lighter bottles.
  • Transporting the wine has come under scrutiny. Aircraft, trucks and ships are big emitters of CO2. The most common and environmentally-friendly route is by sea, five times less harmful than by land, and eleven times better than by air.
  • While all of these areas demonstrate direct causation, there are numerous secondary themes. Sustainability can cover the implementation of security, health, well-being, education and training programmes; it means encouraging an inclusive culture, with ethical standards of conduct, in which employees feel committed to the company’s philosophy.

Remember: this involves all aspects of the supply chain. Here at Hallgarten we are proud to have achieved ISO-14001 certification; gaining it has benefited not only our working environment but also our whole approach.

But there is also one other important driver, the game-changer: promoting a green image makes economic and common sense. There are unquestionable marketing advantages for producers to portray their wines as pure products, unsullied by chemicals. Which is why sustainable has become big business.

And which is why the number of sustainability certifications in the wine industry has proliferated in the last few years. They include:

  • The French government’s Haute Valeur Environnementale (HVE). The target is for 50% of wine-growers to be certified HVE by 2025, with a 50% reduction in chemical sprays.
  • In New Zealand, 98% of producers have the Sustainable Winegrowing NZ certification, which requires adherence to standards in biodiversity, soil health, water usage, air quality, energy and chemical use.
  • 75% of Chile’s producers are certified sustainable. Producers have to meet the three “E’s” of sustainability – economic viability, environmental stewardship, and social equity.
  • Sustainable Australia Winegrowing is one of three certification programs of Australia’s EntWine program (whose goal is to foster environmental custodianship and continuous improvement).
  • In 2013, Bodegas de Argentina launched a sustainability protocol, modelled after the Certified California Sustainable Vineyard and Winery (CCSW) system, and modified to fit Argentina’s unique climate and growing conditions.

Making this transition to more sustainable methods is tough. There are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions: biocontrols that attract beneficial insects in one place may attract pests in another; vineyards in humid regions depend more on fungicides than dry regions. Sustainable methods tend to be more labour-intensive and yields lower than for conventional viticulture, so wine prices are higher.

But ultimately, we may have no other choice.

WOTM: Andeluna ‘Blanc De Franc’, Tupungato 2019

In September we are taking a slightly different look at #CabernetDay, and celebrating with a Cabernet Franc Rosé – Andeluna ‘Blanc De Franc’, Tupungato 2019. Cabernet Franc first became widely used in Loire Valley around the 17th century and is also one of the parent grapes that created Cabernet Sauvignon.
Recently announced as Tim Atkin’s Rosé Discovery of the Year in his 2020 Argentina report, this is a new addition to our portfolio and a Rosé well worth trying as we approach the Autumn months.
In a nutshell:

A refreshing rosé with intense floral aromas, with spicy and herbal top notes of white pepper, tomato leaf and basil. The unctuous palate has a silky texture and is beautifully balanced by bright acidity on the crisp, spicy finish.

The producer:

Founded in 2003, Andeluna produces premium mountain wines from their 70 hectare vineyard situated at an elevation of 1,300 metres in the rocky terroir of Gualtallary, Tupungato in the Uco Valley, Mendoza. By night, the moon can be seen illuminating the magnificent Andes Mountains nearby and the winery has been named after this stunning scene.

The vineyard is managed using sustainable practices and in 2015 the entire vineyard was soil mapped with cultivation methods adapted accordingly. Winemaker, Manuel Gonzalez (previously Head Winemaker at Pulenta Estate and Chief Oenologist at Trivento) works alongside Andeluna’s wine consultant Hans Vinding Diers, together they use minimal intervention to create outstanding wines which have propelled this producer into the global spotlight in a very short space of time.

The wine:

The fruit was vinified with minimal intervention following a philosophy of respecting the grape’s origins and terroir. The Cabernet Franc grapes were treated as though they were a white variety in the vineyard and the cellar. The grapes were immediately pressed with the free run juice being separated from the pressed juice. Only the freerun juice was used for this wine. Fermentation took place with natural yeasts in stainless steel tanks, without the influence of oak, in order to retain the purity of fruit.