Notes & queries
Each month our experts answer readers’ wine queries and share their knowledge
Protecting against hail
There’s been more bad news about severe hail damage in French vineyards. Is it feasible for producers to erect physical barriers against it? If so, what would be the cost implications? Thomas Boorman, Brussels Christophe Coupez responds: Indeed, statistics show that weather damage is becoming more frequent, and the consequences worse. Yes, physical barriers such as nets have proved their efficiency against hail, and yet until very recently it was not permitted to use nets to protect a vineyard producing AP wines. However, a surprise INAO announcement in mid-July means that, following three years of experimentation in Burgundy, hail nets can now be used – although there are still some who object. Depending on the density of planting, the cost may vary between €10,000 and €20,000 per hectare. It might add about 15 cents to the cost of producing a bottle, so perhaps an additional 30p-50p on the retail price in the UK, depending on the distributor.
Wines for a wedding
Our family has a wedding day tradition of serving wine from the child’s birth year. My daughter was born in 2017, but it appears this was a pretty patchy year, with decent reds such as Château Mouton Rothschild already quite highly priced. Any advice? KP, Bromley Anthony Rose replies: Vintage Port or cru classé Bordeaux from the year of a child’s birth is a traditional 18th birthday gift, but neither of these wine styles are typical wedding fare. If you can’t be sure when (or if) your daughter will get married, buy a wine that serves double duty as celebration or consolation. I suggest a mix of Charles Heidsieck Mis en Cave 2017 (based on the 2016 vintage); dry German Grosses Gewächs Riesling from Dönnhoff, Dr Loosen, Kühling-Guillot or Schäfer-Fröhlich; a good, middle-ranking Bordeaux stayer such as Capbern, Clos du Marquis, Meyney, Ormes de Pez or Potensac or, budget permitting, Les Carmes Haut-Brion. Keep the wines in tip-top condition, and I also suggest trying at least one of each at intervals to give time, should any be peaking early or exceeding expectations, to make satisfactory alternative arrangements.
Waste not, want not
What do producers do with old barrels once they’ve come to the end of their useful life? Malcolm Elliott, by email Sally Easton MW replies: What’s ‘useful’ differs by producer. New barrels do two key things: impart flavour and oxygenate. Flavour is used up after about three years, so for a producer who wants 100% new oak every year, the ‘old’ barrels will still have a couple of years’ flavour in them. Buying these could be good value for another producer. Domaine de l’Ostal-Cazes in Minervois, for example, uses barrels from Bordeaux classed growth Château Lynch-Bages (also owned by the Cazes family).
If the oxygenation effect of barrels is the key parameter, age becomes less important – ‘useful’ might then be measured in tens of years. Oak also absorbs some of the liquid it contains, so second-uses can also include crossover benefits in other drinks, for example whiskies finished (spending their last months of maturation) in barrels that have previously been used to store Port, Sherry or Madeira, so that the whisky absorbs nuances of the fortified wine that previously filled the barrel. More recently we’ve seen a USA wine aged for a couple of months in old Bourbon barrels.
For a final imaginative re-use, or up-cycling in current jargon, small pieces of furniture can be made, such as chairs and side tables. Long gone are the pub garden flower pots.
Below: staves from an old barrel can make a pleasing garden chair