Episode 5: International hidden gems

By Halliday Wine Companion

Get the scoop on the overseas wine regions and producers offering stellar wines at great prices, from international merchandise manager Jesper Kjaersgaard of Langton's Fine Wines.

Presented by

From southern Italy to unexpected parts of Spain and even Switzerland, Jesper tells us where to find the hidden gems. He also shares his insights on the coveted European regions and how to explore the wider world of wine.

This series on cellaring is produced in partnership with Langton's Fine Wines.

Listen to episode five

Listen to episode six here.


Jesper Kjaersgaard: The correct one is Yesper

Amelia Ball:                Surname?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: Pronounced Kyearsgard. I'm from Denmark, from a town just north of Copenhagen called Elsinore. I was 15, and my older sister got me a summer job in a wine store. And as you do, reluctantly, I said yes to the job, and I fell in love with the trade. And 25 years later, here I am.

Jesper Kjaersgaard: Oh, I'm very lucky. It's ... I normally say it's me and footballers, we get to work with our passion.

Amelia Ball:               Jesper oversees the international wine buying at Langton's Fine Wines. Having only just touched on wine from overseas so far in this series, we wanted to delve into his inside knowledge on the best international regions for great value wine right now.

Jesper Kjaersgaard: I do about three to four overseas visits a year, mainly to Europe, but also looking at the Americas and New Zealand. So there's definitely some travelling, and then when I'm in our Sydney office, it's finding more international wines that we can sell, and making sure that our product range is one of the best, if not the best.

Amelia Ball:               I'm Amelia Ball, editor of the Halliday Wine Companion Magazine. This is the second-last episode of our cellaring series, which is in partnership with Langton's. Feel free to get in touch with any questions or feedback: mail@winecompanion.com.au. More information is also always available at winecompanion.com.au

Amelia Ball:               So far in this series, we've talked a lot about Australian styles. Barolo has come up several times, as you would expect, but I'd love to delve into some of the trends and ... It's always interesting to know where are you seeing the most interest?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: I think the surge we're seeing is sort of a continuation of I would say Burgundy and Barolo, but as those two regions have gone up quite a bit in price, we see people looking for similarities, but elsewhere. So things like Nerello Mascalese from Mount Etna in Sicily: seen a big surge in that. We're starting to see some of the Spanish Isles wine, so there's a big one from Tenerife called Envinate, which is definitely, definitely doing the rounds.

Amelia Ball:               That means there's a bit more value to be had with something like that?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: Absolutely. They still haven't reached higher than $100. So ... and most of them, I would say are probably sub-$50 as well.

Amelia Ball:               And so just to compare that to the average Burgundy for example, what are we looking at for entry-level Burgundy – if there is such a thing?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: I'd say entry-level Burgundy is probably around $80 to $100. And that's entry level.

Amelia Ball:               People are starting to discover ... you mentioned Nerello Mascalese, but it has quite a lot of similarities with that beautiful kind of Burgundian style, doesn't it? Is that how you would describe it?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: That's absolutely I would describe it. It's got that Burgundian perfume, and the elegance, but at the same time, a little bit of edge and structure and tannins from nebbiolo, from Barolo. So it's definitely one that I'm drinking quite a bit at the moment.

Amelia Ball:               Beautiful style. And I suppose that's pretty exciting for someone like yourself, aside from the wine drinkers, but to be working in international wine for so long, and then to have these new regions actually really come into their own, does that still give you a bit of a thrill?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: I think absolutely, and I think that's why after 25 years, I'm getting more and more passionate every day. And it's what sort of drives the trade and the profession, is that it's evolving.

Amelia Ball:               What made up the bulk of your collection prior to coming here?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: So when I go back home, what I mainly have is German rieslings. It's a big part of my collection. There was quite a bit of Bordeaux, quite a bit of Burgundy, and quite a bit of Barolo.

Amelia Ball:               Yeah right, okay.

Jesper Kjaersgaard: Probably my top four.

Amelia Ball:               And has that changed much since you've been here? Have you fallen in love more so with Australian wines, for example, or any other New World producers?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: I do have quite a bit of Australian wine in my collection now: quite a bit of Margaret River. Quite a ... Macedon Ranges, Yarra Valley as well. But it's still ... probably still my main ones are Germany, Burgundy and Barolo.

Amelia Ball:               Obviously there's a huge amount of options and alternatives and styles. It's neverending to find similarities as we've said. But when it does come to the big places like Burgundy and Bordeaux, is there still value to be had?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: There's some great value to be had. Bordeaux in particular, which is ... Bordeaux as a region is one of the largest regions in the world, and most producing regions in the world. And they make a lot. What we tend to see and hear about is the First Growths and when they break a record in most expensive bottled. That sort of makes the news, but we forget to look at the Bordeaux at $35, $40, which are fantastic.

Amelia Ball:               Mm-hmm. And huge diversity because of way they can work with the grape varieties too, I would imagine.

Jesper Kjaersgaard: They have more grape varieties in Bordeaux. They're not just locked into a nebbiolo or a pinot. So the blending opportunities are great in Bordeaux.

Amelia Ball:               Can you throw us some names for some inside tips in terms of those more approachably priced Bordeaux wines?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: If we go into ... there's a winery called Chantecaille Clauzel, which is a fantastic little wine, which sits in between three Grand Crus in Saint-Émilion. It doesn't even $50 and it's a fantastic bottle.

Amelia Ball:               As you say, we hear so much about that top tier, because what are those prices? What are the most stratospheric of those prices?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: We're starting to hit $2500, $3000, $4000 for some bottles now. And it's stratospheric. It's gone to a whole new level.

Amelia Ball:               Because I think when people hear that, they think, oh well, I'm not even going to bother with Burgundy or Bordeaux. But it's really refreshing there's so many good options out there.

Jesper Kjaersgaard: Absolutely.

Amelia Ball:               Where in your opinion is flying under the radar at the moment? I mean, there must be so many unsung, hidden gems out there. What are some of your personal favourites?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: I think Spain as a whole is definitely making a very, very strong comeback. We've got some fantastic producers popping up in Spain, such as two young men with a winery called Command G. They're just outside of Madrid, and they make 100 per cent grenache wines. They make outstanding wines, and they range from $40 dollars to $120. Probably as good wines as I've seen come out of anywhere lately. Go to Tuscany and something like Chianti Classico, still very, very undervalued. Get benchmark Chianti at $70, which is fantastic.

Amelia Ball:               I was going to ask about Italy in particular. I suppose we've really covered it with Etna and down south, but do you think there's some other regions that people should know about in terms of insider tips?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: I think further up in Lombardia, so just north of Milan, there's a small region called Valtellina. And they make their own little nebbiolo. They grow nebbiolo; they call it Chiavennasca. Just a little bit different from the nebbiolo we know from Barolo and Barbarasco. It's not as tannic, not as rough. Little bit juicier, little bit fuller, and yeah, some absolute bargains to be made up there, at $30, $40. To me, they're probably the next big thing.

Amelia Ball:               We've talked about value in terms of price terms, but is there still value in investing in those Grand Cru, Premier Cru ... Is it still there, if you're going to spend the money?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: What we have seen lately, particularly in Bordeaux if we got some very good vintages like '15 and '16, and another good vintage in '17 ... especially with '15 just getting re-released now in bottle, we are seeing people making their investment back already. Prices have gone up, with about 40 to 50 per cent for certain bottles. So as an investment, absolutely.

Amelia Ball:               And would you see private collectors trading and making money, or is it more a case of trading and really just getting that next little injection to make their next purchase? Or is it a bit of everything?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: I think it's a bit of both. We do see people trading just to make money, but we also see ... I mean, I think as everyone who collects wine, we go through phases. I've sold off quite a bit of my collection to buy things that I drink now that I might not have thought of previously.

Amelia Ball:               I suppose for anyone who is entirely new to wines from outside of Australia, what's your best advice? Because it can seem really overwhelming. How can we start to tackle it?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: It is very daunting, and I think the European ways with labels, and how the wine laws are, it's hard for an Australian to understand what might be in a Cote Rotie. It doesn't say anywhere that it's 100 per cent syrah. As retailers, as brokers, as anyone talking about wine and selling wine, I think that's where we need to do our job, and really educate people, and help people along the way. I just think, next time people go to the store or they buy online or go to a restaurant, just ask the question, just jump into it and have a conversation.

Amelia Ball:               Do you have any tips and tricks for people to really navigate their way around the labels, which as you've said earlier, are confusing if you're new to them? Is it really just a case of getting to know them, and just looking and asking sommeliers and retailers, or are there some tips and tricks for us to really understand what we're holding in our hands?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: Unfortunately, there's no real easy trick to get to know what's in the bottle. There's wine courses like WSET, which are great. There's smaller wine academies you can join. Buy a wine book, just a wine 101, is a great little ... and just read through them so you get familiar with where the grapes grow, where they come from, why are there these laws.

Amelia Ball:                Yes, because there's obviously the laws around what grows where. In some cases, as overwhelming and confusing as that can seem, it can also offer a really good opportunity, because for Aussie wine lovers, for example, if you love shiraz, then it's actually quite an easy thing, would you agree, to go and seek other shiraz from overseas. Once you understand that it's from the Rhone or wherever else, then you can really delve into those regions. Would that be one approach that you would recommend?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: That's absolutely the approach I would recommend, and then ... And get a good book, search the internet, just start reading about it. And there's a whole new world out there. It's a fantastic way to explore.

Speaker 3:                  If you want to know what your cellar is worth, or you're after some tailored advice on which wines to buy and sell, Langton's experts and wine brokers can guide you through the process. Visits langtons.com.au.

Amelia Ball:               Is there a bit of an interest in the likes of gewurztraminer or any of the other great, white aromatic styles?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: Yeah, so pinot gris ... Riesling, pinot gris, pinot grigio is definitely growing.

Amelia Ball:                Yeah.

Jesper Kjaersgaard: The rise of pinot gris has been phenomenal in the last three, four years. It's one of those categories where we don't really know how far it can go.

Amelia Ball:               Do you see pinot gris as a good cellar-worthy wine, or do you like it young and fresh?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: I probably prefer it young and fresh. Having said that, I have had some fantastic old Alsatian pinot gris. If I today go and buy a pinot gris, it's to drink now.

Amelia Ball:               It's interesting that's seen so much interest. What do you think that's come from?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: I think it's trends, just going in waves. And after people had gone from chardonnay to sauvignon blanc, they needed to find something else, and it became pinot gris. I'd say pinot gris is probably the new sauvignon blanc. I don't think it's going to grow as big and quick as sauvignon blanc did, but it's doing well.

Amelia Ball:               Chenin, a lot of people love chenin with age. Chenin blanc. What's your take on that?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: I completely agree. I love it too. It's one of the most underrated grapes out there. Aged chenin is one of those ... it's a grape they can do anything. Like riesling, it can be really dry and crisp and austere, and it can be little bit of sugar, quite a bit of sugar, fuller, richer ... It's just fantastic.

Amelia Ball:               That's good, because I know that when people think of international wines, Burgundy and Bordeaux, they hold the limelight. And even though they make wonderful whites, they tend to think of the reds. So there's so many international white styles out there.

Jesper Kjaersgaard: I completely agree. I mean, I've been drinking a lot of albarino from north-west Spain, and it's just a perfect wine for the Australian climate.

Amelia Ball:                And excellent with food, right?

Jesper Kjaersgaard:  Exactly.

Amelia Ball:               Chablis, I'm curious: is that seeing some really big price hikes like the red Burgundies? There's obviously still some value to be had there?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: There's still some values to be had in Chablis. The problem with Chablis I think we're going to face is they've had three really horror vintages. Hail and rain and just devastating to the industry, to the trade. So the production is down a lot. We've had reports this year of vineyards being completely wiped out. So buy your Chablis while you can, that's my tip for today I think.

Amelia Ball:               You've mentioned a couple, but are there great vintages from any particular international regions that are rolling out now?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: ‘15 is across the board a fantastic vintage everywhere, especially for just a little bit fuller styles, I would say. It's probably a really good vintage to get into. There's some great bargains to be had in ‘15s across the board. ‘16 are looking a little bit more austere, and a little bit more classic, but also a terrific vintage in most places.

Amelia Ball:               Did you want to leave us with any over-arching tips for, firstly, newcomers to international wine?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: I think the most important tip I can give is find someone, whether it be a wine broker, your wine store ... someone you trust and can help you, guide you in exploring international wines. Because it is a little bit of a jungle out there. So that would be one of my tips. The other tip is not to be scared; just jump in. And I think drink ... try and find the wines that you like to drink from Australia, so if you're a cabernet drinker, go to Bordeaux, if you're a Barossa shiraz drinker, try and go to Languedoc, go to Rhone ... if you like your Yarra Valley pinot, go to Burgundy. So sort of replicate that, and see the differences in styles, but also similarities.

Amelia Ball:                Any other final words of advice?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: Maybe have a cellar plan. Draw up a map what you want to collect, so you have a bit of a diversity. So Champagne, white wines, maybe some lighter reds, some heavier reds ... So just have a little bit of a plan, so you can create that special evening with your collected wines.

Amelia Ball:                Ensuring diversity, right?

Jesper Kjaersgaard: Absolutely.

Amelia Ball:               If this podcast has inspired you to start, sort or grow your own collection, the Halliday Virtual Cellar is the best way to manage your wines. Visit winecompanion.com.au and quote PODCAST at the checkout to receive a free one-month digital membership. Terms and conditions apply.

Amelia Ball:              Next episode, we're talking with wine writer Jane Faulkner.

Jane Faulkner:         Cellaring is a completely ... it's not even a science, it's imprecise. Scientists can't tell us how wine ages. I find that extraordinary.

Amelia Ball:              That's next episode. Tell a friend about the podcast, and send your cellaring                                            questions: mail@winecompanion.com.au.

Amelia Ball:              You can find more information in the show description. And thanks to our                                                series partner Langton's: langtons.com.au. Talk to you next episode.