Evelyn Israel: “Catalan wine can win Gilbert & Gaillard medals in Paris”

Exclusive interview by Eva Vicens from vadevi.cat


The Chilean agricultural engineer and wine expert has scored the new vintages of Catalan wines for the Gilbert & Gaillard Guide


Catalan wines are enjoyed the world over. A few days ago, the 2007 world champion sommelier, Andreas Larsson, from Sweden, confirmed it and it is now up to the team of tasters for the French Gilbert & Gaillard Guide to reaffirm it on their recent visit to Catalonia to taste and score the local wines. Evelyn Israel, agricultural engineer and wine expert, is head of the entries in the Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American section. Together with François Gilbert (founder of the guide) and Sylvain Patard (editor-in-chief), the three blind tasted and scored nearly 400 wines from every Catalan appellation of origin.


What was the average score for Catalan wines in 2017?

The general impression is very positive. We tasted wines of a very high quality and can see that the Catalan wine sector is doing some very interesting things: first and foremost, each appellation of origin has been able to defend its identity, but above all we were impressed by the recovery and improvement of the local varieties: Trepat, Picapoll, Sumoll, Lledoner Pelut, etc. This year, we were able to taste 100% Sumoll wines, which we really loved. They have been able to master Carignan and give it a touch more finesse. In all honesty, there is no cause for them to envy French wines, which should, in fact, be taking inspiration from Catalan wine-making.


You are right, but there is still this tendency to look to the northern neighbours. The situation is identical for Cava and Champagne...

That is right, but I must confess that there are, in terms of quality, some excellent Cavas (Gramona or Recaredo), which due to their very fresh and balanced style have no cause to envy many Champagnes. I doubt whether the two products will one day be sold at the same price, but from a quality perspective Cavas can be very similar to French Champagne.


How are the wines scored by Gilbert & Gaillard? 

The INCAVI team helps us classify and blind taste the wines; the only information we have for each product is the Appellation of Origin, the vintage and the price.


Left to right: Sylvain Patard, Evelyn Israel and François Gilbert | CEDIDA 


What does that mean?

The wines have reached a high standard of quality, but many people still think that inexpensive wines are not up to standard. But that is not the case. Every year, we see more very well made wines that can be bought at affordable prices and we are delighted about this. That is why I am calling for low-cost high-quality wine producers not to be scared to come and take part; they have everything to gain.


What are the advantages for a Gilbert & Gaillard award-winning wine?  

First and foremost, higher sales. If a cellar wants to increase sales abroad, we help them do that; if they do not currently have a presence, we help them conquer new markets. Increasing numbers of importers choose wines based on our selection, especially on the Asian markets (Japan and China), where we are influential, as well as in the United States and Canada, where we are used as a reference. One study on our impact between 2015 and 2016 revealed that being awarded one of our medals increased wine sales by 30%.


With regard to the expectations of the wine industry, at least in Catalonia, how do you reach end consumers?

Obviously our priority must be to understand what they like and what type of wine they prefer. We are currently noticing a change in preferences: ten years ago people wanted very woody, intense, tannic wines, but today the trend among young people (30-50 years) is to find fresh, easy-to-drink wines. So, by putting aside our personal tastes, we are able to identify the wines that best correspond to the current market. Moreover, the fact of having wines stamped with our gold medals in all price ranges has certainly been a key factor in many buying decisions.


Will you be tasting any new products in 2018?  

We hope to continue working with the INCAVI team, but we think that in future Catalan wine must go and conquer Paris. We are convinced that would have a much greater impact and return, as it is one thing to win a Gilbert & Gaillard medal on home turf but another thing entirely to win in Paris.


Alongside the tasting day, the INCAVI team arranged a series of local visits. What did you see? 

We saw half of Catalonia in a week! In truth it is impossible to visit all the appellations of origin in such a short period of time. That is why we only visit a few each year. The 2017 tour took us to Penedès, Conca de Barberà, Costers del Segre, Montsant i Terra Alta, and we visited the following cellars: Vallformosa, Pinord, Recaredo, Freixenet, Jean Leon, Finca Viladellops, Clos Montblanc, LaFou, Edetària, Altavins Viticultors, Mas Rodó, Mas Rendéu, Mas de l’Abundància, Cooperativa de Capçanes, Raimat and Mas Blanch i Jové.


When will your scores be made public?

They will be announced on 19 March at the ProWein Trade Fair in Germany.


by Eva Vicens (vadevi.cat)