Wednesday, 11 December 2019


The 11th World Bulk Wine Exhibition was advertised to take place at the RAI exhibition halls 2 and 3 in Amsterdam on December 2nd and 3rd 2019. Normally this wouldn't have attracted our attention but we understand that 30% of wine imported into the UK comes in bulk. That is 13% in terms of value and a whacking 80% in terms of supermarket and own brand wine.

Of course wine has been shipped in barrels for centuries and we remember when bottlings by merchants in London and Bristol were common with wines 'mis en bouteille au chateau' selling at a higher price.

Supermarket sales have driven the purchase of bulk wine to present levels as margins are squeezed. Improvements in transportation including the introduction of polypropylene tanks have also had an ecological dividend.

The UK is a great centre for bottling with plants at Avonmouth (the largest in Europe with 720,000 bottles a day), Manchester, Durham (105 million litres per year) and Corby (Northamptonshire, 90,000 bottles and boxes an hour). Some of these bottles are re-exported to places such as Sweden and Germany.

We were not really aware of all this important activity right on our doorstep and we assume the general public is too. We wanted to find out more.

There had been a bulk wine event in London in 2018, the International Bulk Wine and Spirits Show (IBWSS). More are scheduled in Shanghai and San Francisco. This Amsterdam exhibition was not enormous but the amount of wine ready for transportation in bulk probably was.

By great good luck there was a table practically at the entrance which became our chief source of information on Bulk Transport.

The very helpful Kukla representative patiently explained that Robert Kukla GmbH transports wine in tankers or Flexitanks which are then loaded into containers. The capacity of these are between 10,000 and 26,000 litres.

Kukla Tank Container/Road Tanker. 26,000 litres.
High cost-efficiency. No risk of contamination. Eco-friendly (recyclable). Simple loading/unloading.
Detail of Flexitank  inside container.

The Flexitank 'bladders' are made of Polypropylane. Apparently the re-cycling sees them turned into traffic cones.

There were other firms of course. Ciatti was one. They claim to be the world's largest broker of bulk wine and grapes. Interestingly they offer a service which includes 'providing you with all of your wine supply solutions. Whether you're after 5 gallon pails or bulk tanker quantities, we can find the right product for your requirements.' Quite a few companies at the exhibition hinted at 'providing wine solutions.' We assume this might entail producing bespoke wine for clients who are happy to outsource the search and selection of wine. Another world.

Surprisingly, the exhibition was in many ways not much different to other wine fairs.

For example, almost next door to Ciatti were some fascinating Moldovan producers with some totally obscure grape varieties such as this Rara Neagra, more commonly known as Babeasca Neagra. A very old Romanian variety from the Moldovan border with Ukraine. There are a mere 80 ha. there: hardly a candidate for bulk wine we would have thought.

Next door was another Moldovan producer, Corten-Vin with their own rarity.

Viorica is not to be found in Wine Grapes or Galet but an article by Caroline Gilby on Romanian wine for 'Winerist' mentions it as a uniquely Moldovan variety: exotic and grapey with crisp mouth-watering acidity and so it was. We managed to persuade the kind Corten people to let us have a bottle for our collection. Again, this was not something we expected to arrive in the UK by means of a polypropylane bladder any time soon.

Lest we forgot the peculiar character of the show, we noticed an awful lot of posters for Garnacha Tinorera from Castilla-La Mancha. Garnacha Tintorera is none other than Alicante Bouschet and Castilla-La Mancha is Spain's largest wine producing area. An amazing 50% of Spanish wine comes from there. Until recently much of the Castilla-La Mancha wine was for the bulk market. Varieties able to contend with the temperature extremes and drought conditions are of course favoured.

Garnacha Tintorera is high in yields and strength. More than half the 22,000 ha. grown in Spain is from Castilla-La Mancha.

Bobal, usually associated with the much smaller region of Utiel-Requena is even more widely planted in Castilla-La Mancha than Garnacha Tintorera with no less than 51,000 ha.

One can't help wondering if it is the public's unawareness of these varieties that make them candidates for the bulk market. We hope not because they are excellent ones capable of making interesting wines in their own right. Garnacha Tintorera/Alicante Bouschet and Bobal need to be better known.

Not far away, we spied a small bottle of grape concentrate. Was this anything to do with the activities of the bulk companies who offer bespoke wines to fit customers' needs? In fact it was.

The explanation from the kind people at Cantina San Martino in Rio was that this concentrated grape juice was made from Ancelotta grapes and was destined to adjust colour in red wine.

We were even allowed a sip of this concentrate. The viscose residue sticking to the side of the glass was the main interest here.

Ancelotta 13.5%
 We are great fans of Ancelotta so it was a joy to find two straight vesions of this grape in purezza by the Cantina San Martino in Rio,
Ancelotta 12%

Here and there were other mentions of things like grape juice concentrate

'process for beverages'

and additives such as oak chips.

And yet there were plenty of wines from interesting varieties such as Vranec from more than one producer,

a South African Ruby Cabernet from Mountain Ridge,


Aligote from Romania

The delicious Negrette from Famille Arbeau

a 2019 Hunter Valley Semillon from Dee Vine Estate, Australia,

a Malvasia Nera from Salento,

Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano) from Tikves, Bulgaria,

and a real surprise - a non-sparkling Lambrusco Maestri from le Vin Sud, Foggia. This last wine was indeed for the bulk market. One wonders what name it will bear when it ends up on a supermarket shelf or restaurant table; not Lambrusco Maestri we are sure.

Bear Creek Winery is in Lodi, California. There we discovered a bottle of 'Symphony.' This is a 'rare and highly aromatic Muscat-flavoured California cross.' Thank you 'Wine Grapes' for this information as with so much else that finds its way into our blog. It is Garnacha Roja (aka Grenache Gris) x Muscat of Alexandria bred at the University of California at Davis in 1940. We rather liked Symphony.

Now came the most unexpected and serendipidous surprise of all. Often have we gone on about the Vino Sfuso shops of Venice. Most of these (in any case the good ones) are supplied by Tenuta Belcorvo who are situated between Conegliano and Pordenone.

It is a family business and here was indeed the family. As with everyone we came into contact with in the Bulk Wine Exhibition they were charming and pleasant, especially after we told them what big fans we were of their wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio


If all bulk wines could be as good as these, they could lose their poor reputation in good time.


Saturday, 7 December 2019

Giving Thanks

We tried to field American wine for Thanksgiving but despite having many bottles scattered all over the house we only had two native US wines in our inventory (shame!). One of these was a Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay from Costco gifted by a well-meaning relative (a favourite of his so fair enough). Sorry to be patronising but our blog is devoted to everything other than Californian Chardonnay so this is the first post in almost 500 to feature such a wine. Our focus group (OK, our guests) preferred white over red and surprisingly for us snapped up the Kendall-Jackson faster than any other.

Widening the definition of American, we dug out some Argentinian, Chilean and a Canadian wine.


Andaluna 1300 Torrontes 2018 (12%)
Bouchon, Pais Salvaje (11.5%)
Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay (13.5%)

Another hit was the Andeluna Torrontes - perfect expression of this interesting grape (thanks to the low alcohol we reckon).

A word on the Pais Salvaje. Bouchon make a red Pais Salvaje as well as this white one and we're not sure if this is a white mutation of the red Pais or the red grape vinified white. Pais is Listan Prieto originally from the Canary Islands, also called the Mission grape.

Like Asprinio in Italy this Pais Salvaje grows up trees and anything else it can latch on to up to 5 meters high and has to be picked using immensely tall ladders. This is what is called a Wild Vineyard. The yield is low because the grapes have never been cultivated by man. The point of interest here is that it is related to Torrontes, both being spontaneous crosssings involving Pais and hence the only naturally occurring vinifera grapes in the Americas. This was also our first 2019 wine.


Recoleta Criolla Grande (13%)
Norman Hardie Pint Noir, Niagara Peninsula VQA 2016. (11,5%)
Heitz Grignolino (13.5%)
Casa Silva Romano (Cesar?), Colchagua. (14%)

Norman Hardie's Niagara Pinot Noir was the big news here: as good as any we had had from Ontario. Indeed we are in good company; Jancis Robison writes of Norman Hardie wines that they are 'absolutely, utterly, profoundly delicious' and a guest wrote 'As for the Canadian wine - an eye-opener.'

We have mentioned the Casa Silva Romano already in this blog so thanks to the interesting back story, we had great hopes for this bottle.

We have never experienced such a transformation between opening and leaving the wine to breathe. At first we wondered why anyone would bother to transport such a repellent beverage all the way from Chile. A few hours later, the result was amazing. A luscious wine with plenty of character.  It was a reminder that wine is a living thing which can blossom in an extraordinary way given air contact.

Jancis Robinson writes 'Argentina's most common vine (in both senses) and makes huge quantities of deep-coloured white or light pink wine which is rarely exported except as a very minor constituent in a blend' but this was a red wine. The word common was still appropriate at least in this case.

We began the evening with a bottle of Sokol Blosser's 'Evolution' Mueller-Thurgau/Semillon/Riesling from Oregon and despite its unlikely grape combination, it's good.

Now for Xmas.