For our aperitif time, we have the chance to partner with One to Wine, a fabulous wine startup in London run by the wine specialists, Maxime and Charlene! We asked them a few questions to learn more about their company...
1. Could you explain us how you started One to Wine and what is your background?
I worked in Paris for a few years organising political and financial international summits after studying Political Sciences. But wine has always been a passion for me as my dad has one of the most amazing wine cellar I have ever seen and he introduced me to this world through non-professional wine tasting in our town and by opening good bottles! When I decided to quit my job in Paris, I knew I wanted to work in the wine industry. I then did an MSc in Wine and Spirit Management at Kedge BS, in Bordeaux.
Charlène joined me at the beginning of 2017 to help me in this adventure. I met her in Bordeaux. Charlene is born and raised in the vineyard - her father is a wine producer, her mother works for a wine cooperative and even her brother is a winemaker (from the great Château Montus!). She then studied Marketing in an IAE (French school of management) and, after a few years working in a different industry, she specialised in wine and worked for the prestigious company Baron Philippe de Rothschild.
2. Why did you start One to Wine?
By studying wines and the wine markets, we observed that the import of French wines was cruelly declining on markets in countries traditionally considered as wine consumers, especially in the UK. French wine was declining in volume (up to -20% in a year) but growing in value (2%). The French wine sector was starting to specialise on ultra-premium wines while they only represent about 10% of the production. The diversity France has with 67 000 winemakers was slowly disappearing from UK supermarkets, pubs and small restaurants.
In today’s UK market a consumer sees an entry-level wine as a wine from a New-World country (New-Zealand, Australia, Argentina or Chile), a good wine in a restaurant will be Italian while a French bottle will only be offered for a special occasion! This segmentation is partly due to the image people have of French wines: they are very complicated to buy and the labels are difficult to understand.
We wanted to change this perception and decided to select 18 high quality wines and created simplistic labels to make the wine characteristics clearer and understandable to everyone. We now have three brands representing three quality levels, each brand declined in different regions.
3. Could you tell us a little bit more about wine.… How is it made? What are the ingredients?
The definition of wine at the World Trade Organization is as follows: “Wine shall be the product obtained exclusively from the total or partial alcoholic fermentation of fresh grapes, whether or not crushed, or of grape must.”. In principle, no other ingredient than grape shall be used to produce wine.
In reality, a few ingredients can be added as long as it does not change the taste. For instance, SO2 (Sulfur dioxide as preservative) can be used to stabilise the wine in the bottle, egg whites to purify wines from floating particles or even tasteless syrup can be used to restart a fermentation. For instance, in the Champagne method the second fermentation occurs in the bottle thanks to the syrup which gives the Champagne its bubbles.
There are many ways of producing wine, in fact almost each producer has is own way of vinificating. Still, a few steps have to be followed:
1/ the “green work” in the vines: the most important step as it decides of the grape quality through its sugar for alcohol, its acidity and the concentration of nutriments and aromas.
2/ the harvest: the grapes are pressed and the skin macerates with the juice for a certain amount of time (very different from a wine to another), then the juice is placed in tanks where the fermentation occurs (yields eating sugar producing alcohol)
3/ the aging, mainly in oak barrels.
4. How do you select your wine?
To source our 18 wines, we created a unique selection process and spent almost two years before eventually gathering our final range.
We work with an oenologist (i.e. a wine scientist) that select the wines of a large retail company for more than 800 stores. She tastes thousands of wines per year! Each time she has a great quality-price value, but a production too small to be sold in 800 stores, she takes a sample and gives it to us.
Once we have gathered about 10 different wines, we meet with wine tasting trained friends and professionals and blind taste the wines to finally select one bottle only. This is how we get to have the best wines on thousands!
5. Why did you choose to work with French wine producers?
We did chose to work with French producers because we knew this market better and have a large network as French-trained wine specialists. But we do want to sell Italian, then Spanish wine in the future!
We needed to decline our three brands in different regions, but couldn’t afford to have too many references due to storage costs. We chose Bordeaux because, well, one does not simply start a French wine business without Bordeaux wines. Then Loire Valley as it is one of the most valued wines by British consumers and finally Languedoc because we needed a sunny and dry terroir to complete our aromatic range of wines.
But we have a range of Côtes-du-Rhône in the pipes and we are working on a Burgundy one. Once we have all the French region sorted, we will create three brands for Italian wines to be declined in all its regions of production. Starting with Friuli, in my sense the most underrated region in Italy!
6. Do you have any information to share about wine tasting? Any key steps to follow?
Wine tasting has only one purpose: determining if the wine is good or not. The first step would be to ask yourself: do I like the wine or not?
Then comes the organoleptic tasting, that gives you tools to analyse a wine and remember it. This works in three steps: the sight, the smell and the taste. Once you have the vocabulary, it is not difficult at all to analyses a wine! This is why we give Tasting 101 lessons every week, to show everyone how to do it.
7. What about food and wine pairing? Is there anything we should do or no do at all?
Food and wine pairing is always tricky. There are general rules by looking for a similar aroma or a complementary one, limestone Chablis with oysters, Alsace muscats with aspergus etc. However, it does not always make sense to follow those rules. It requires an large quantity of knowledge on wine, pairing, tastes and aromas and most people do not have two years to spend in a WSET level 4 to pair its Sunday roast! In additional, we (professionals) have been trained in the same institute, following the same rules, our definition of “good” is standardised, not universal.
I think we all have personal taste and different perceptions of a wine. My advice would be to try different pairing and focus on the balance between the dish and the wine. For instance, with a heavy dish you will look for a wine with acidity to wash the impression of fat on the palate.
To better understand this balance, you can ask yourself a few questions: Do I still have the taste of my food after drinking a sip or is this wine too strong? Or on the contrary, do I feel the aftertaste aromas when I take a bite of my dish or is my wine too light? Is the acidity that brings the wine, a good balance to the taste of my fish?
8. How long can we keep a bottle of wine? Is a good wine, an aged wine or is age not related at all?
Aged wines are not better than younger wines, but some wines are better aged. It is, once again a matter of balance.
When a winemaker produces his wine, he will choose how much “wood” will remain in it. What we call wood are the tannins, some phenolic molecules that comes from either the seeds of the grape or from the barrels the wine has been aged in. By applying a long maceration with the seeds, by aging its wine in oak barrels or not, by using new barrels, French or American oak, burnt or not, by all those means the producer will affect the quantity of tannins, of wood, you will have in the wine. These tannins will affect the wine by developing dark aromas that get better with aging and by masking the fruity notes coming from the grape itself. Basically, the more wood, the less fruits.
This drives us to the aging. A wine that is only on the fruity notes, with no wood at all has to be drunk almost immediately as the oxygenation due to aging will fade the fruits away. On the contrary, a wine with a lot of wood, if drunk too young, the fruits will pollute the aromas and the woods aromas will not be evolved (it is a bit like biting in a cork for those who have tried), the oxygenation will fade the fruits away and develop the wood aromas to evolved to notes like moka, cocoa, leather, vanilla ect…
Each wine has its best tasting time that depends on the balance between fruits and wood. A complex wine with no wood will be drunk young, but will still remain an excellent wine. A wine with a bit of wood but still needs fruity notes cannot be drunk too late, and even a wine with a lot of wood cannot be kept for centuries.
9. What does good wine mean?
I guess everyone has to find its own answer to that. In my opinion, a good wine is a wine that, first, has no faults (no aroma that comes from an alteration of the wine: heat, cold, oxidation, cork, bacteria sect…), and then a wine that has an intension, a character!
Most of international wines are standardised, retail companies mainly try to have the same taste for a Sauvignon blanc produced in New Zealand and one produced in Chile which is for me an absolute non-sense. A wine is a product of experience - hiding the taste that comes from soils particles, the terroir and the particularity of each vintages, it is just like trying to deceive the consumer. A Sauvignon should not have the same taste when grown on a limestone soil a dry year in Chile or when grown on a clay soil a rainy year in New Zealand.
10. We heard that you have a special wine for this summer… the rosé! Could you tell us a little bit more about it? How is rose different from other wine?
We have ordered a limited quantity of rosé, mainly for the events we will be hosting this summer, we will only do a few direct sales with it. This is a rosé we found in the sub-regional appellation of Anjou, in Loire Valley. It is a Cabernet d’Anjou made by Vincent Denis in the Domaine du Petit Clocher. We have been working with this Domaine for a few years now and their popularity has been growing incredibly fast these last two years as they have won almost all the distinctions from all the main wine guides in France in their category.
Their whites are served at royal tables (Denmark) and, even if this is absolutely irrelevant, their reds are Jude Law’s favourite wines (true story, his parents own a house nearby and have been clients at the Petit Clocher for years and the actor wrote a note in the guests book at the entrance :).
11. Could you tell us more about you? When did you arrive in London?
I arrived in London in December 2015, I was working on the project for almost two years back then but was still working in France. It then took almost a year to get all the wine authorisations sorted out, the labels printed and the wines imported to eventually selling my first wine bottle in November 2016. Charlene joined me in February 2017 to grow the company.
We are currently based near Old Street station and propose different kind of services. We are wine merchants above all, so we sell wine to wine bars and cellars. But we also organise wine tasting, food and wine pairings, as well as personalised events around wine and recently we started to do business events, such as team buildings.
12. Do you have a favourite wine to recommend from your selection?
My favourite wine, on the current vintages, would be the red Prestigieux, Languedoc. Produced by Jacques Bacou at the Château du Roc, the winemaker is so stubborn that he doesn’t want to export his wines as he thinks they will not be sold the good way, we had a really hard time and a lot of luck bumping into him at a wine fair and are now the only ones allowed to sell his so elegant and silky wines outside of France.
Charlene’s favorite wine is the white Prestigieux from the Languedoc region, produced by Christophe Gualco at the Château Etang des Colombes. When she first tasted this wine, she was so surprised by its long evolution through the time. The first aromas were on undergrowth with some vanilla and cocoa notes. Then, the wine opened on the mirabelle plum jam (memory of the one I used to cook with my grand-mother) and ended with a delicate scent of grass freshly trimmed. There is a real emotion each time she tastes this fine wine.
And finally, a few pictures of the fabulous wine tasting we took part of:
More information about One to Wine: onetowine.com