We interview Julien Miquel, one of the manager of Wine-Searcher. Wine-Searcher is the most visited wine-related website in the world.

Describe your activities
I started my career in wine with fine winemaking in Bordeaux. I like to define myself as a second-generation disciple of Emile Peynaud, having learnt from Michel Rolland, Denis Dubourdieu, Yves Glories or Jacques Lurton. A flying winemaking career followed, bringing me around the world from Chateau Margaux to Australia, through the Tuscan coast (at Caiarossa), Ribera del Duero and Toro in Spain, and California. I have been working in New Zealand for five years now, as a Manager at Wine-Searcher. Now trying to make my expert wine knowledge available and useful to world�s wine community.
I lead a team of international wine experts (from Italy, France, USA, England or Germany) working at classifying all wines produced in the world, within the biggest database of wines ever assembled. In addition, we provide and develop authoritative content such descriptions of all wine regions and grape varieties. We collaborate with leading international wine publications and organisations such as Decanter magazine, the Wine Enthusiast or the International Wine Challenge to provide scores, awards and pricing information for all wines.
We also extract data and statistics about prices, demand for wines and trends on different markets.

How do you view the potential of Italian wine in your country in terms of market potential?
On a global level as we see it at Wine-Searcher, competition from other countries, as you know, is fierce. Italian producers have the disadvantages of being in general more divided than in other producing countries, with less famous and strong brands to carry the image and awareness to the masses. However, many markets that were relatively �new� 10 or 20 years ago, like the United States, Australia or Hong Kong, are getting more mature. In these countries, after exploring the classic French grape varieties, consumers are then keen to taste new grapes and styles. The diversity of Italian wine becomes an advantage.

How do you think Italian producers can improve their performance in your country? What do you suggest?
In New Zealand like on other English-speaking markets, Italian producers have to work on the consistency of quality and style they deliver. Each region and wine style must make itself �readable� to the consumer, so the buyer knows better what to expect when buying a bottle. This tactic has proven successful by examples such as Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy, Moscato d�Asti, Montepulciano d�Abbruzzo, Amarone della Valpolicella and others. A more consistent style across producers develops the image of the variety or style, which in its turn drives awareness of the wine region. When the offer is too diverse, consumer gets lost and a region�s value struggle to get recognised as a whole.

What do you think of the quality/price ratio of Italian wines?
Overall, it is pretty good, especially in the middle price range. At the lower end, let�s say below $15, it is difficult for Italian wines to compete with South American countries, Australia and Spain now. Because of their advantageous climate and topography these countries produce relatively rich and concentrated wines at a lower cost than most Italian wines. Producers there generally have the advantage of more volumes that most Italian producers, helping with spreading their image, as well as marketing power obviously.
But Italian wine is quite competitive in the middle price range, from $15 to $50 with relatively good value on the international scene. It benefits of an image of authenticity, terroir and diversity compared to most countries.
In the high end, above $50, Italian wine suffers from the competition of French wine with very established regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy or Rhone that collectors and expensive wine buyers favour more easily. That said, the image of Italy as a country able to produce world-class wine has developed enormously. Critics like Antonio Galloni for example helping the cause.

What qualities do you personally appreciate most in Italian wines?
Again, diversity, authenticity. Italian wines tend to be less �technical� than others, and made with grape varieties that are less common on the international stage. It�s refreshing not to be trying yet another Chardonnay, Cabernet or Sauvignon Blanc elaborated with the latest winemaking techniques. So each wine feels really unique, by its producer and its grape variety, and converts into a memorable experience.

Please mention the potential of which white varieties and which red varieties do best in your market
Wine-Searcher lists over 1,000 grape varieties and blends, all described on the website with wines associated to them wherever they come from. So we are well positioned to observe which grapes generate curiosity on different markets. In the US where Wine-Searcher has over a million monthly users, Moscato and Pinot Grigio are top sellers with an enormous craze at the moment as we know. But classic varieties Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Primitivo also attract interest. They are the natural Italian grapes to start with for consumers developing interest for Italian wine.
There is also a very recent but important trend in the USA and England in particular, for wine lovers to explore �obscure� grape varieties and regions. That translates into an interest for more confidential, and often old, European grape varieties: from Greece or Eastern Europe for example. For Italian wines, we�ve observed a growing interest for Canonau di Sardignia (Grenache) surprisingly. Other varieties like Barbera, Aglianico or Falanghina are gaining in popularity.
In New Zealand, very few consumers are familiar with Italian grape varieties yet, because it�s a market that has just opened up recently and few varietally-labelled wines are available here. Italian wines are represented mainly by the classics such as Barolo/Barbaresco, Valpolicella, Brunello. At a lower price point, Tuscan IGT wines (most often blends) are the most represented.

What is your advice to Italian producers looking to enter your market?
For New Zealand, as probably many �recent� wine markets, propose clean, well-made wines with a approachable style, yet respecting an Italian �old world� authenticity. Think that palates here are often used to fruity and flavoursome wines rather than savoury and dry European examples. So austerity or rusticity is to be avoided. Try your wine and think if it�s enjoyable without food, whether you would appreciate the wine at the first sip and drink two or three glasses without eating. If that�s the case, it will more easily seduce wine merchants when they taste it, and convince their consumers to explore new flavours.
Ideally, of course, keep the price as tight as possible to be competitive against French wine in particular. At the same price tag, consumers might more easily be tempted by a French wine than an Italian one, because it will appear more reliable and �classy� for sharing with friends.
An attractive label, balanced between modernity and Italian tradition would be my recommendation. Tuscan IGT wines often do well in that area.