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Dead or Alive - The Traditional Wine Merchant

Ian Boxall  | GOOD TASTE 2012
In this column last year, Clive Coates MW wrote an article titled 'In Praise of Cheap Wine' in which he made the case that, with modern technology, there should be no bad wine available for sale. For the 'Noughties' as the first decade of the new millennium has come to be known, Clive can rest his case. There is fine drinking wine to be had in every year and in France the decade's vintages of 2000, 2005 and 2009 are being compared to the finest vintages of the previous century, such as 1942 and 1982. The problem these days, more than ever, is finding good affordable wine.

Prices for all French vintages have rise dramatically over the decade, driven by the notion in the west that wine drinking in moderation is healthy, and it is more elegant to drink than beer and spirits. French wine has also become fashionable at a time when vast fortunes have been created in Asian countries and import duty on wine has been abolished in Hong Kong. Prices of Italian and Spanish wines and those made in the United States have risen less, but with evidence that American's are forsaking European wines in favour of their own, increased demand will put pressure on prices.

South American countries, particularly Chile and Argentina, are producing some nice wines at moderate prices, notably those growers who have formed partnerships with winemakers from France. There are reasonably priced wines to be had from Australia (reds), New Zealand (whites) and South Africa. There are still low-priced wines from other European countries, but they mostly find their way to supermarkets in the UK and generally lack quality.

So where can we go for wines that are reasonably priced which we can enjoy on a regular basis? In the good old days we consulted Hugh Johnson, Michael Broadbent, Robert Parker, Clive Coates and the rest of the wine writers. Now, sadly, a mention in one of their books seems guaranteed to make the price skyrocket.

Historically, the best way to find a quality bargain has always been to talk to your traditional wine merchant, although these days they are a dying breed. Unlike the big names, the mass distributors and online sales, they spend the weeks before the autumn vendange talking to growers and négotiants and tasting the previous years' vintages already in bottle. Their aim would be to find wines suited to their clients' taste and order accordingly.
There are huge numbers of wines which are either made in small quantities or not sufficiently well known to justify space in the writers' books. Tasting and selecting wine is not only a pleasant and convivial occupation, but opens up a wide variety of wines at very good values which are not generally available in Cayman.

In Cayman, tastes are changing: restaurants which used to serve American Pinot Noirs, which you can almost stand a spoon in, and Chardonnays so oaky they cloy the taste after a couple of glasses, are finding that discerning clients who know that all red Burgundy wines are in fact Pinot Noir and all white are actually Chardonnay are requesting the lighter, fruitier and less-oaked wines from that region.

In the Bodeaux region of France, there are a few hundred wines that dominate the cháteaux of the region. But again, there are many hundreds more which produce superb wines at reasonable prices which don't get a mention in the books.

The Trocard family, who have been making wines since the 16th century, own numerous cháteaux in St Emilion and Pomerol. The scion of the family, Benoit, is the president of a group of dynamic young growers who are called Bordeaux Oxygène who are dedicated to producing top class wines at reasonable prices. The group's secretary, Sylvie Courselle, makes white Bordeaux called Cháteaux Thieuley, which our friend Clive Coates MW serves as his house wine. This retails in Cayman for CI$25 per bottle.

As with wine, so with Champagne: the market is dominated by serveral well-known and much-advertised brands. But again there are numerous small houses in Champagne which don't spend a high proportion of the cost of the bottle in advertising and marketing. Surprise yourself by comparing a so-called luxury brand at over CI$50 with a single-vineyard Champagne costing less than CI$35.

Ian Boxall spent forty years practicing law, but his abiding passion is fine wine. He started Vino Veritas in 2000 to import interesting and unusual wines for his own use. By the time he retired in 2002 he was importing for friends as well and shortly afterwards requests from restaurants and hotels led to a Disibutor Licence. Vino Veritas has grown to become one of the leading suppliers of wine in Grand Cayman.