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The Black Sheep

By: Darren Gall Posted: November-09-2010 in
Robert Joseph (center right) & Darren Gall (center left) wine judging in Hanoi, Vietnam
Darren Gall

The Black Sheep

Native Englishman and French resident Robert Joseph was once described by Decanter Magazine as one of the fifty most important people who would be influencing wine drinking in the 21st century. Robert has also been acknowledged -at various times in his career- as founder of Wine International Magazine and the International Wine Challenge, wine critic for the London Sunday Telegraph and author of over twenty five books, mostly on wine.

As a young marketing director of an Australian wine company, I attempted to have my wines find favor with Robert on many occasions. Over the years, we have judged in enough wine shows together, ate in enough fine restaurants, consumed enough great bottles and engaged in enough healthy discourse to regard each other as friends.

As a wine marketer, it was a big part of my job to wine, dine and woo the so called gate-keepers of consumer opinion, (people like wine writers and wine judges) in the battle for their hearts and minds and column inches. Though confidentiality bars me from divulging my annual airline, accommodation and entertainment spend, let’s just say it was regarded as a serious, six-figures-annually business investment.
A rave review -or even a kind word- from one of the more influential wine scribes could all but guarantee success for a label in their markets.

So it was with a sense of great irony that I recently met up with Robert in Hong Kong where I, now the wine critic, was introduced to Mr. Joseph’s newest venture, his own range of French wines, La Grand Noir.

Having teamed up with one of the world’s first and most highly regarded ‘flying winemakers’ Hugh Ryman, the pair have launched an audacious label (featuring a black sheep), aimed at producing inexpensive, easy drinking, French wines with ripe, varietal flavours and simple, varietal labeling. You could say that their whole approach has been to take New-World winemaking and wine marketing philosophy to the south of France and its causing quite a stir both at home and abroad.

A couple of white wines, (a Chardonnay and a Viognier) plus three reds, (a Pinot Noir, a Cabernet / Syrah blend and a Grenache / Syrah / Mourvedre blend) are now available in Cambodia and should be available for very reasonable prices, (less than ten dollars US in a retail bottle shop for example).

Joseph and Ryman have brought their combined global knowledge of wine to introduce revolutionary changes in wine style and wine labeling to French wine and with stunning effect. I found them to be ripe, soft and easy to drink, with perhaps a little more elegance and a lot less wallop than some of the comparable wines from New World producers.

I particularly enjoyed the Grenache / Syrah / Mourvedre blend with its subtle combinations of confectionary, forest berries, aniseed and spice on a gentle palate with soft tannins.


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