My “Role Models: The Changing Profession” article published by Sommelier Journal

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Just look at what sommeliers are doing nowadays. Taking on a wide range of duties beyond the restaurant floor, many have become entrepreneurs. They can be found selling wine at retail, consulting on cellar acquisitions and management, writing and broad- casting, working as creative designers and brand strategists, hosting corporate hospitality events, and supporting public-relations campaigns for regional wine associations. Even some who remain within the traditional confines of the front of the house have taken on a new role: that of celebrity, stepping out of their chefs’ shadows to become culinary stars in their own right.

The full article can be accessed free of charge here.

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Peter Lehmann 1930-2013

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I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Peter Lehmann, the “Baron of the Barossa”.

He was as responsible as anybody for the current preeminence of the Barossa Valley and its wines, not just in the Australian industry but in the global industry.

SDG Peter LehmannI met Peter only once. During my Young Wine Writer trip to Australia in November 2004 I stayed with Stephanie Toole. Stephanie and I went for dinner at The Rising Sun in Auburn. A burly man walked in and Stephanie said, “That looks like Peter Lehmann”. It was and he and his family joined us. He was big and said “bloody” a lot.

I know from other people that he was generous with his time and his knowledge. It was hard not to be awed by somebody who had achieved so much and who had such unbreakable integrity. He was an outstanding man.

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My “Fine Wine Auctions: Hammering Out The Issues” article published by Drinks Business

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It was a funny old year. In 2012 a Korean pop singer became a global phenomenon. Venus came very close to Jupiter. And the world did not end on 21 December, as some had blamed the Mayans for predicting.

In the art auction world, 2012 was a banner year for trophy hunters, thanks to “The Scream”, Richter and Rothko. In November, auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s brought in $787.3 million (HK$6,105m). All this amid a financial crisis.

But the sometimes astonishing prices did little to ease growing concerns that a price bubble was swelling, that the market was becoming sickly, and that China’s once seemingly inexhaustible buying power was starting to turn lethargic. Sound familiar?

Click here to read the full article.

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“The Wine Forger’s Handbook” published

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Fine wine is a multi-million dollar industry and is fraught with peril. From fake bottles to fraudulent contents, from mislabelled wine to misled consumers, wine has been faked, forged, and used for fraud for as long as it has been consumed.

This eBook provides a brief history of forgery and fraud in the fine wine world, including case studies on Rudy Kurniawan and Hardy Rodenstock.

The Wine Forger’s Handbook also functions as a guide, both on how fraudsters have been found out, and tips on how to avoid being fooled in your own wine purchases.

Written by a pair of award-winning writers, wine expert Stuart George and best-selling art crime expert Dr. Noah Charney, The Wine Forger’s Handbook is a fun, informative, engaging read, and one which could potentially save you from making costly purchases of fake wine.

The Wine Forger’s Handbook is ideal for anyone from wine collectors to casual drinkers, or those who enjoy true crime stories of forgery, deception, and detection set against the vivid backdrop of the world of wine.

BUY IT AT AMAZON

ABOUT THE AUTHORS Noah Charney is a professor of art history specialising in art crime and a best-selling author of fiction and non-fiction. His books include the international best-seller novel The Art Thief; the best-selling Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece; The Thefts of the Mona Lisa: On Stealing the World’s Most Famous Painting; and the guidebook series Museum Time. He is editor of Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Art Crime, the first peer-reviewed academic journal in its field. He is the founder of ARCA, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, an international non-profit research group on art crime and cultural heritage protection (http://www.artcrimeresearch.org/). He teaches art history and art crime on the ARCA Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection at American University of Rome and for Brown University. He is a popular speaker and recently gave a TED talk on art crime, which can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T897Foh5s0g. He is an award-winning columnist for numerous magazines, with regular columns in The Daily Beast (http://www.thedailybeast.com/features/how-i-write.html), Tendencias del Mercado del Arte, and ArtInfo (http://blogs.artinfo.com/secrethistoryofart/). He encourages readers to join him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/NoahCharney) or through his website http://www.noahcharney.com/.

Stuart George is an independent wine consultant in London. In 2003 he was awarded the UK Young Wine Writer of the Year. Stuart was co-author of The Wine Box (2005), picture editor and leading contributor to 1001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die (2008), and editor of the award-winning The Finest Wines of Tuscany and Central Italy (2009) and The Finest Wines of Champagne (2009). Stuart has contributed to publications on five continents, including The Daily Telegraph, Fine Wine International, Fine Wine & Liquor, Meininger’s Wine Business Monthly, Sommelier Journal, The Tasting Panel Magazine and the Times Literary Supplement. He is a sought-after show judge and has been a jury member at wine competitions in Austria, Brazil, Chile, China, France, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain. He has worked harvests in France, Italy and Australia.

His website and blog is at http://www.StuartGeorge.net/. He can be followed on Twitter at @sdgeorge1974.

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My “APPELLATION: Trento, Italy” article published by Sommelier Journal magazine

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A mountainous corner of Italy produces sparkling wines of distinction. Prosperous and picturesque, Trento is the capital of Trentino province, a northern Italian region that wasn’t annexed until 1919, after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The city—which has retained its distinctly Germanic flavor—gives its name to a sparkling wine whose character is reflective of the pale-colored, craggy Dolomite Mountains to the north.

Click here to read the full article.

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Book review: “American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wine Producers of the USA”

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Jancis Robinson and Linda MurphyAmerican Wine

278 pp. Mitchell Beazley.

Hardback. £40.00 / US$50.00. 978 1 845 335281

Published 4th March 2013

Double acts are not uncommon for wine books. Indeed, Jancis Robinson is co-author with Hugh Johnson of recent editions of the mighty The World Atlas of Wine. “Jancis Robinson makes frequent visits to the USA to stay ahead of the crowd,” asserts the dust jacket’s blurb. A search of www.jancisrobinson.com shows that her last visit to America was, as far as I can tell, in July 2009, when she went to Bonny Doon winery in Santa Cruz, California. If Jancis does stay ahead of the crowd it is through her handpicked stringers – such as Linda Murphy – and not through “frequent visits”.

American Wine is very comprehensive, covering every state and every AVA. Who would ever have guessed that wine is made in such unlikely places as Arizona, Hawaii, Nebraska and Texas? The opening chapter is an excellent overview of the past, present and future of the American wine industry. The authors speculate on how “one can only imagine the advanced state of the grape growing and winemaking in America today, had Prohibition not stalled progress”. Indeed.

Things change but rarely stay the same in the USA wine industry. For example, in 1900 Missouri was the country’s second largest wine producing state behind only California. Today it is not even in the top ten.

The influence of conglomerates is noted wryly: “In the modern-day Californian wine business, one needs a scorecard to track all the players”. The diametric of USA wine’s big business is the so-called “natural wine movement”. There are plenty of references to organic and biodynamic estates but there is no mention of “natural” wine. Is this an oversight by the authors or is it that such wines are so insignificant commercially that they do not merit any attention?

The maps, part borrowed from the World Atlas, are outstanding. Handsome as the book is, some of the “snapshot” boxed texts are very hard to read (for this reviewer, anyway), with a small and faint font on a light-coloured background.

The text needed closer editing. Having “seven thousand” on one page and then “7,000” on the next is admittedly tautological but also indicative of poor, or more likely non-existent, sub-editing. The 57-word sentence that begins “On a visit to Napa Valley” is not a sentence at all: there is a “who” missing before “had kept”. Worryingly, no editor or sub-editor is cited on the masthead.

The “200 breathtaking photographs” are not breathtaking but they’re certainly easy on the eye. They’re not bespoke, however, and have been sourced mainly from wineries and winemaker associations, as the credits on the book’s final page make clear. This is disappointing for a book that costs £40 (or £32 on Amazon; it will also be available as an eBook) but so perilous is print publishing these days that one can sympathise with the need to keep image costs down – but surely not editorial costs.

American Wine is comprehensive, authoritative and close to definitive – an outstanding reference work. To see a hardback book on wine like this might suggest that all is well in wine publishing. But the lack of time, money and attention paid to images and editing – and no trips for Jancis – says otherwise.

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Book review: Gambero Rosso Italian Wines 2013

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959 pp. Mitchell Beazley.Gambero Rosso 2013

Paperback. €30.

978 18 9014 222 3 Published 15th January 2013

In its January 2013 issue Gambero Rosso magazine published an article by Michel Bettane that was highly critical of “natural” wine. The issue also included an op-ed by Eleonora Guerini—senior editor of the guide—that was equally contemptuous. In response to this, the Italian-language wine blog Intravino published an “open letter” signed by several “natural” winemakers, some of whom do not feature in the guide. Does this mean that Gambero Rosso is anti-natural? Well, no, because there are plenty of natural wine producers included in its annual guide. Valter Mattoni, for example, co-signed the open letter but here he is, listed as producing 5,500 bottles from 3 hectares—hardly a wine that is likely to be easy to obtain. But the guide suggests, “they are well worth seeking out”.

If Eleonora Guerini really did have an axe to grind with “natural” wine then possibly it would be trashed in the preface or excluded completely from the book. But this is what it says in the 2013 guide: “(Wines are described) without prejudice or preference for fermentation in new wood, stainless steel or even earthenware amphorae”. That “even” before “earthenware amphorae” is telling but nonetheless “natural” wine is given space and respect.

Michel Bettane made up his mind about “natural” wine a long time ago. I have worked with Michel and he is not the type to change his kind (he’s French). But I don’t believe that Gambero Rosso has an agenda against “natural” wines. It takes the view that some are crap and some are good—which is my own view, and true of all wine. So it goes.

As for the guide itself, it is now in its 26th edition and is italianissima. The only non-Italians involved in this huge annual project are the translators. But are Italians the best judges of their own wines? One does wonder sometimes. When I worked the 2001 vintage in Friuli I recall a lunch with several well-travelled and broadminded winemakers. Bottles were opened enthusiastically, including at least one that was “tre bicchieri” (three glasses), the Gambero Rosso equivalent of 100 points. We all agreed that the wine was filthy. Unfortunately I have no recollection of what the wine was.

The stats are fascinating. 45,000 samples were assessed by 60 experts, which equates to 750 wines per expert, or two wines per day for a year. Not very hard work, really. The all-time Gambero Rosso champion is Angelo Gaja, with 50 “tre bicchieri” awards since the guide was established. This is 13 more than Cà del Bosco and La Spinetta in joint second place.

There is a broadly sympathetic theme of “environmentally aware producers”, with “Viticulture Method” noted in many but not all winery profiles. Wineries are either “Certified Organic” or “Natural”. (Presumably wineries with no method listed are uncertified or unnatural.) It doesn’t work: It needs to be comprehensive or not used at all, and it can be ambiguous. For example, the Friulian producer Skerk is listed as “Certified Organic”, which he surely is, but he is also a well-known proponent of “natural” wine (yes, that again), which is another category. “Unnatural deeds / Do breed unnatural troubles” as somebody once said.

The text has been impeccably, if rather stiffly, translated. There are very few typos or solecisms for such a huge book.

With 959 pages of text this is very comprehensive. It’s hard to think of a significant producer that is not profiled here. At €30 it’s pricey but Gambero Rosso remains unchallenged as the definitive annual guide to Italian wines. Can the newly single and single-minded Antonio Galloni challenge it? As the Italian proverb says, “Dio mi guardi da chi studia un libro solo” (“Fear the man of one book”).

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My “Burgundy not a perfect ten – but a good eleven” article published by Meininger’s

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January is a time for new beginnings and fresh starts so it is appropriate that every year the leading UK importers and retailers of Burgundy dedicate two weeks to showing the region’s latest release to the press, the trade and private clients. The nearly 30 tastings were so comprehensive that the top French critic, Michel Bettane chose to come to London.

Click here to read the full article.

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My “Revolution in the head” article published by Fine Wine International

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After a “fact-finding trip to Hong Kong & China” earlier this year, the british wine writer Robert Joseph reported, “the most serious chinese fine wine buyers… like the flavour of old wine and dislike tannin… there is no question that high-end buyers are switching from bordeaux to Italy, the Rhône and particularly Burgundy”. the winter season of fine wine auctions is tailored to these current market trends, with many old and rare bottles available and an emphasis on Burgundy.

Click here to read the full article.

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Book review: The Hour of the Jackal

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Bernard Jaumann, translated by John Brownjohn

267pp

John Beaufoy Publishing £10.99

Winner of the 2011 German Prize for Best Crime Fiction, this accomplished roman à clef is based on the murder of the white SWAPO member Anton Lubowski in 1989. The alleged killers of Lubowski – all members of the South African secret police – are being murdered one by one in apparent revenge killings. Detective Inspector Clemencia Garises investigates the crimes.

The major themes are racism, misogyny, corruption and Africa’s AIDS epidemic. The killer’s cough is a recurring motif. I recall Dervla Murphy’s encounter with a coughing young man in her travelogue South from the Limpopo: Travels Through South Africa. It didn’t take long for this reader to guess at the killer’s illness. Hot, sultry weather is evoked often as a metaphor for the claustrophobic lives of the novel’s characters. Blacks live in poverty; rich whites live in luxurious but barricaded farmhouses, imprisoned by their paranoia.

The translation from German by John Brownjohn is mostly seamless and the book reads well. However, there is some clunky prose, like the use of “said” ten times in eleven sentences in chapter 2. Kingsley Amis would have approved but I don’t. The third person pronoun “he” becomes ambiguous in a passage describing the anonymous killer assaulting Staal Burger. Which one is “he”? Use of the reflexive pronoun “he himself” also recurs throughout and is poor practice – can’t you just say “he”? “Himself” is grammatically redundant. “So would she, thought Clemencia” should be “So would I”. Still, this is a thriller, in which narrative and plot are more important than language.

Clemencia’s character is nicely sketched, with titbits about her background recurring throughout the narrative: her police training in Finland; her troublesome brother; and her feisty aunt. She’s more interesting than Precious Ramotswe of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels.

This is a very cinematic novel. Its narrative structure – very episodic – and its pace and imagery would be perfect on a big or small screen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it adapted into a film version before too long. But the novel’s title is rather too close for comfort to Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal and would surely have to be changed for it to gain wider recognition.

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