A Riesling Thriller, French Vermentino and more news from St Emillion

Harvest in the northern hemisphere continues and weather in this particular part of the world seems to be taking the inevitable turn. Autumn is at our doors, whether we like it or not. Looking at the bright side, with the cooler seasons ahead of us there will be plenty of time to cuddle up in front of the fire with a good book. That is if your home actually has a fireplace. Otherwise, we are apparently in for a cold winter, but rather than focusing on the bad news, I’d like to read wine news – even though they are not all good. Here is our selection for this week in the latest edition of the JollyCellarMaster Weekly:

What is Rolle, Relief in Rheingau, Another St. Emilion Episode


Where is my DRC?

It sounds like a story from a thriller: A spectacular burglary where criminals take hundreds of bottles of fine wine worth a quarter million Euros from the cellars of renowned gourmet hotel.

Only that this is not fiction but happened in real life. In the heart of the Rheingau in Germany, lies the Gourmet Hotel Kronenschlösschen. Its wine list has been called the best in Germany. The value of such precious wines naturally does not remain unhidden from criminals. That is why in January thieves broke into the hotel and smashed several massive doors to get their hands on such treasures as wines from Domaine Romanée-Conti and other top producers. Back in the day, the owners quickly drew comparisons to similar robberies of late and stated that the hoodlums must have worked with a special wish list.

Quickly, however, the eyes turned on the owners themselves as the insurance company raised doubts about the course of events. It suspected that the owners together with the head sommelier had faked the robbery to defraud the insurance because of an alleged insider knowledge that would have been required to pull off the heist.

Police and prosecutors subsequently picked up the trail and investigated accordingly.

Now, there has been another surprising turn of events as the story has developed in a way that makes it worthy of a Hollywood adaptation: while the owners continued to assert their innocence, it still was somewhat surprising but nonetheless a welcomed relief when the state prosecutor announced  last week that the case against has been dropped. No proof was found that would warrant the suspicions, so the preliminary proceedings have come to an end.

It’s certainly not the end of the story though: first, the real culprit is still at large and there does not seem any sign of the whereabouts of the stolen goods.

Secondly, the owners of the hotel have now turned on the insurance company, which apparently still refuses to pay out. In addition to the compensation, they also seek redress regarding the damages for their reputation that have been caused by the investigation. More to come for sure…

A Rose by any other name

If you are a loyal reader, you will know that we have discussed on several occasions the impact when the law comes down with its fall might. Sometimes, this has been in connection with the protection of indications of origin. The latest in a long line of more or less justified cases is an odd one though: it all stems from the request of Italian producers that the European Union ought to protect the name Vermentino and ban its use on labels on foreign products.

While it is probably true that this white grape variety is primarily found in Italy as it is planted in several regions across the peninsula, especially in Liguria and Sardinia (where it is subject to a DOCG classification) but in other parts like Tuscany and Piedmont as well.

So far, so good. The thing is that it has also been planted for some time on the other side of the border in several French regions. One of them, some people in Languedoc are particularly furious that the EU appears to comply with the demand and enforce the request. That basically means that producers outside of Italy can continue to produce Vermentino but cannot put the name on their labels.

Interestingly, the grape is also known as Rolle in France. That doesn’t seem to sound attractive enough as producers from Languedoc promised to challenge the decision, though there are some concessions that the French representative, namely its government, could have done more to prevent such a move since the whole thing goes back to a decree from 2013, which was only updated in 2019.

Another year, another sequel

Before we call it a day, here is another update on the never-ending story that is the St. Emilion classification. Many publications reported on the decision of the French national appellation authority (INAO) regarding the much-anticipated 2022 classification for the revered Bordeaux sub-region.

St. Emilion has been subject to extensive coverage as it has come under fire several times since its inception in 1955. It always differed from the others as it re-evaluates and updates its list every ten years. Maybe they should have followed the example of the others, which hardly change at all (An example for a good ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ question: name the only addition to the Premiers Cru of the Medoc classification of 1855? Or rather when?), since such a complicated issue obviously creates fertile ground for bickering, cheating, manipulating and so on. That‘s exactly what has been going on for a while, especially since for the first time since the initial classification the top tier saw two additions with Chateau Angelus and Pavie joining the original two Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A Cheval Blanc and Chateau Ausone. The latter last year announced that they would no longer participate and leave the classification. One of owner of the two newly crowned chateaux, Hubert de Boüard of Angelus, has been found guilty of “unlawful bias” in his role in the 2012 Saint-Emilion classification, since he sat on the board that made the decision to promote his chateau… Angelus then decided to withdraw from the classification as well, saying that “once a source of progress, the Saint-Emilion classification has become a vehicle for antagonism and instability”.

If you didn’t like my Rheingau thriller, how about this one for a new Netflix series? Because this was far from over! For instance, in June we could read about another famed producers leaving the classification system entirely, but the the good news of sorts is that with the most recent decision we have now again two Grand Cru Classes A with Château Pavie, which obtained the top status back in 2012, and the latest addition of Château Figeac, which has now joined the pinnacle of the St. Emilion classification. That’s what most industry observers focused on and the promotion will most certainly increase the price of Figeac significantly.

What I thought was a most interesting turn of events is that only recently Château Cheval Blanc acquired its 11-hectare neighbor, Château La Tour du Pin Figeac, from the Giraud-Bélivier family. Together with the purchase of the eight-hectare Château La Tour-du-Pin Figeac-Moueix from the Moueix family in 2006, Cheval Blanc owns now two domaines that were originally part of the same wider estate of Figeac until they were broken up in the 19th century. Naturally, both estates used to belong to some category at some stage. And Cheval Blanc, of course, only last year decided to leave the St. Emilion classification. Fascinating how these things all tie in together in one way or another, isn’t it? Certainly, stuff for movie or a smashing TV series!

Yes, that’s all for today. However, if you have an interesting story to tell or simply want to chat about wine as a guest on the Podcast, connect on Twitter or drop me a line. And if you want to stay in the loop about things happening at the JollyCellarMaster and the world of wine, make sure you sign up to our newsletter.

Disclaimer: As always, I’d like to be completely transparent about affiliations, conflicts of interest, my expressed views and liability: Like anywhere else on this website, the views and opinions expressed are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. The material information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. I endeavour to keep this information correct and up-to-date, I do not accept any liability for any falls in accurate or incomplete information or damages arising from technical issues as well as damages arising from clicking on or relying on third-party links. I am not responsible for outside links and information is contained in this article nor does it contain any referrals or affiliations with any of the producers or companies mentioned. As I said, the opinions my own, no liability, just thought it would be important to make this clear. Thanks!

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