One glass of champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. “The nerves are braced, the imagination is agreeably stirred; the wits become more nimble.” Thus wrote Winston Churchill, the great British prime minister, of his favourite wine.
These words came to mind after sampling Godme champagne from the village of Verzenay near the Montagne de Reims, the famous hills that house a collection of grand cru and premier cru vineyards in the Champagne region of France.
The influential American magazine Wine Spectator ranked Godme in its list of the world’s top 100 wines in 2010. The Godme family has owned the house for five generations.
The vineyards have not used artificial fertilizers for more than a decade. Grass is sown between rows to prevent erosion, and to retain moisture and provide natural fertilizers.
Other natural products such as herbal teas and essential oils are added, along with a mixture of shredded vine prunings to enhance nitrogen in the soil.
This emphasis on organic farming shows in the quality of the grapes, which produce excellent champagnes. The entry level brut reserve premier cru non vintage has an elegant nose of white flowers and mineral notes, plus a lively lemon zestiness in the mouth.
This brut is Godme’s best-selling champagne. Its annual production of 60,000 bottles sells quickly and represents about half of the company’s total output.
The brut blend is 50 per cent chardonnay, 15 per cent pinot noir and the balance pinot meunier. The chardonnay provides the finesse and elegance, the pinot noir supplies the structure and sense of fullness in the mouth and the pinot meunier enhances the sensation of freshness and fruitiness.
The 2004 Les Alouettes premier cru blanc de blancs comes from a specific vineyard, Les Alouettes, in the village of Villers Marmery. It spends five years in the cellar after fermentation in barrels and six months stored in oak.
A blanc de blancs is made only of chardonnay grapes. These are hand harvested late in the season so they have relatively high sugar levels (though very few grapes in the region could be said to be high in natural sugar because the region averages less than five hours of sunshine a day over a year).
This is a sophisticated champagne. On the palate it has a grapefruit zing and the flavours of spice and citrus hang around in one’s mouth for a long time. It is also a delight to observe in the glass, with its fine bead and shimmering appearance of pale gold.
In a good year perhaps 8,000 bottles are made. Godme exports to the United States, Europe and parts of Asia, and has an office in Shanghai in China.
The grand cru champagnes from Godme are high quality. The non-vintage brut blanc de noir, as the name implies, consists only of pinot noir grapes — the name literally means a white wine from black grapes. It offers an echo of gold in the glass and tastes of raspberries and other red fruits, and a touch of white pepper.
This is a wine to savour as an aperitif, or any part of a meal. It could even be served with a creamy dessert, because the high acidity would balance the richness of the food.
A tasting highlight was the 1998 grand cru, a blend of 40 per cent pinot noir and the rest chardonnay. Its body could best be described as voluptuous. It has an enticing aroma of freshly-sliced green apple, and tastes like fresh grapefruit with a hint of smokey tea.
The feeling of the wine in one’s mouth, known as the mousse, is like listening to fine opera as the star builds to a climax on stage. The flavour lingers in one’s mouth for what seems like an eternity. A wine that made me want to sing.
All Godme champagnes receive low dosage, the amount of sugar added to the wine to create the secondary fermentation. Typically the dosage is about 6 grammes per litre of liquid.
Debate continues in the Champagne region about the amount of sugar to use in the dosage. Some winemakers argue that the sugar is needed for long-term ageing. Generally the riper the grapes the less sugar needed in the dosage, and Godme even make a champagne without added sugar, known as a a brut nature, though I have not tried that wine.
After tasting the grand cru champagnes I bought some of these delights.
Fine wines from Chile and New Zealand, though made from different grape varieties in different parts of the world, reflect the profound influence of wine-making philosophy and history.
Lapostolle Winery in Chile, founded in 1994, focuses on reds blended from Bordeaux varieties and the local carmenere. Alana Estate started a year earlier and produces the classic white varieties of riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, plus pinot noir.
Both use bio-dynamic or organic methods to produce grapes that make memorable wine.
Lapostolle is connected with the Marnier family of France, owner of Grand Marnier, the most exported of all French liqueurs.
Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle decided to create her own winery outside France to make world class wines. She has surely succeeded. The Clos Apalta has received 90 points or more every year for the past decade from Wine Spectator magazine, making it the most awarded Chilean wine. In 2005 the magazine pronounced Clos Apalta the best wine in the world.
Apalta has a special meso-climate different from the rest of Colchagua Valley where the vineyard is based. Hot days and cold nights produce a wide range of temperatures, which concentrate flavours, noted Alexandra’s son, Charles. “Slow maturation allows the grapes to reach ideal maturity with high concentration and character, preserving the fruit and high levels of natural acidity, ensuring a long ageing potential.”
Fog from the ocean cools the vineyard in summer. It is similar to the fogs that bring relief to America’s Napa Valley and helps to produce world-class Bordeaux blends there.
The 2003 and 2010 vintages were tasted, the former to show how the wine evolves and the latter to illustrate the latest release. These are superb wines, dense black cherry in colour and brimming with ripe black berry and cassis flavours in the mouth. The colour comes from the carmenere grapes that make up about two-thirds of the blend, with merlot and cabernet sauvignon providing the balance.
The vineyard has adopted bio-dynamic methods — what some people describe as an extreme form of organic production. Lapostolle uses these techniques “because they work,” said Charles de Bournet Marnier Lapostolle, a rational man who trained as an engineer. “Vines are like humans. When they are happy they work better.”
Alana Estate in New Zealand is also organic because of the perceived impact on the quality of the fruit. The Martinborough region near the base of the country’s north island remains one of the best places to produce wine in that country.
All grapes are hand harvested. The winery is built into the side of a hill. The natural slope allows the maximum use of gravity and reduces the amount of pumping. This limits the introduction of oxygen to grapes — oxygen can kills flavours. The gravity feed means the grape juice is treated gently, which also preserves flavours.
Different parcels of fruit are kept separate and made into wines that allow specific grape varieties to sing. The attention to detail shows in the wines.
Tasting the 2011 riesling is a profound experience — a majestic concentration of lime and pineapple wrapped in a cloak of acid tang and beeswax smoothness. A wine to return to in a two decades.
The 2011 sauvignon blanc is more sophisticated that many wines made with this grape in New Zealand, which tend to smell too much like the result of a cat trapped in a room without a litter tray. This white is dry and lean and has a minerality that makes it a perfect match with oysters or clams.
The 2011 chardonnay suggests a blend of caramel and cream biscuits within a structure of lemon and toast.
The 2009 pinot noir was my favourite. It offered a bouquet of ripe cherries, vanilla and dried spices. In the mouth it was a blend of savoury acids and ripe raspberries, with hints of liquorice and tobacco leaf. A wine to enjoy in a decade.
Both the pinot and the chardonnay won silver medals at this year’s Hong Kong international wine challenge, and the pinot also received a silver at last year’s Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International wine competition.
Wednesday May 15th 2013, 11:32 am
Filed under: wine
Australia’s Barossa Valley has some of the world’s oldest vines still producing wine, including semillon, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and mouvedre.
Friedrich Koch planted the mouvedre in 1853. It is the oldest surviving version of this grape in the world, based on historical records and family diaries.
Dean Hewitson makes magnificent wine with this mouvedre at his Old Garden vineyard. Until 1998 the grapes were blended or used to make fortified wines. “I wanted to see what I could do with a single variety with this pedigree,” Hewitson said.
In May he offered a vertical tasting in Shanghai and Hong Kong of 15 vintages since 1998. A similar vertical was held in New York in February and Hewitson plans another in London in September.
He noted that the vines had witnessed the entire history of the Australian wine industry. The Barossa escaped the ravages of the phylloxera louse in the 1880s but has endured floods and fires.
“The roots of these vines are so deep that even on the hottest days, when all other vines in the Barossa have shut down, their leaves are bright. Like sunflowers they track the sun.”
The vines are planted on what was an ancient lake. The Old Garden vineyard grows in two metres of sand over limestone.
“Mouvedre is a very late ripening variety and these conditions let us harvest at the end of the season with perfect maturity.” Mouvedre needs a long ripening season because of the thickness of the skins.
The vines are hand-harvested and not irrigated.
Dean Hewitson spoke with Stephen Quinn about the vineyard site and the origins of the wine.
The Hong Kong international wine challenge held in May in conjunction with HOFEX, Asia’s leading hospitality tradeshow, revealed a handful of innovative wines.
Tradeshows can sometimes be stuffy, with lots of sales people in dark suits and ties. Winemaker Chris Archer created a fun atmosphere to launch Joiy, a sparkling riesling, at a stand where staff wore Hawaiian style shirts and necklaces of flowers.
Archer, based in Wellington, the New Zealand capital, wanted to make the point that wine was meant to be fun. It works. Joiy will soon be New Zealand’s biggest selling riesling.
It is a delight to drink, especially with a slice of lemon. It has delicate honey and floral notes with a citrus zing, and only 9.5 per cent alcohol, making it ideal for social events. It would be excellent with fatty Asian food in summer, the acidity cutting through the oil.
Archer said wine was meant to be joyous and easily approachable. “I wanted a wine that was unpretentious and at the same time distinctive.”
The wine is sold in packs of four bottles each of 250ml, with eye-catching packaging that suggests a sense of fun. Archer has created a range of cocktails that work well with the riesling. The wine won a silver medal at the wine awards but should have been named champion wine for the level of innovation. More details can be found at http://thecrushhk.com/.
Another new idea that impressed was a range of premium beers made using wine techniques, also from New Zealand.
Winemaker Josh Scott, who has already made a name for himself with award winning Scott Wines, decided to make beer using the attention to detail related to wine. His Moa Breakfast beer, for example, is fermented with cherries as well as hops, and has a champagne-style bottle and closure. It is delicious.
The beer is named after the moa, an extinct flightless bird that apparently was about the size of a horse. Archeologists working near the brewery in Marlborough, famous as a sauvignon blanc region, discovered moa bones. A cheeky advertising campaign later proclaimed: “Finally, something drinkable from Marlborough.”
The beers are finished using wine-making techniques such as barrel ageing and bottle fermentation. These bottles are hand-turned the same way as in Champagne.
“We could go out tomorrow and buy the same machines that other breweries use instead of people,” Scott said. “But instead we brew beer the way it used to be made 100 years ago.” More details can be found at http://www.moabeer.com/.
Moa exports to the US, Canada and a range of Asian countries, including China.
The wine that won the prize for best sweet beverage at the show happens to be the second oldest wine in the world still in production. Lambouri Winery in Cyprus makes the Commandaria Legacy from indigenous mavro and xinisteri grapes.
The name comes from the estate of the Knights Templar in Cyprus known as the Gran Commanderie, which later became known as Commandaria.
The oldest wine, incidentally, comes from the same vineyard — Ya’in Kafrisin, which translates as “wine of Cyprus”.
The techniques used to make the Commandaria later gave us the method known as passito, where grapes are dried on straw beds in the sun before the juice is extracted. This concentrates flavours.
This wine matures for nine years in large oak barrels. Because of that process it offers intense aromas of toffee, dried figs and fruitcake. Think of it as pedro ximenez (PX) but with soft tannin and acidity, instead of the overwhelming sweetness of PX.
The English king Richard I, known as the Lionheart, drank Commandaria at his wedding in Cyprus in May 1191 and proclaimed it “the wine of kings and the king of wines”.
Legend suggests that the grapes used to make Commandaria were taken to Portugal and eventually became the source for port. But that is another story and needs to be verified.
After the Knights Templar exported the wine from Cyprus to Europe’s royal courts it became famous around the world. But it is little known in Asia, and deserves a wider audience. It would be perfect with strong cheeses, but is delightful by itself. The bottle is cleverly designed so that it sits at an oblique angle. Another delightful innovation. You can see a photo here.
Millions of wine tourists from around the world flock to Tuscany, perhaps influenced by the books of Frances Mayes. Her Under the Tuscan Sun and In Tuscany have been credited with boosting visitor numbers.
Asia has yet to embrace this visually beautiful part of northwest Italy. Almost nine in 10 of Italy’s wine tourists come from overseas. But only two per cent of those are from Asian countries.
Tuscany is like a picture postcard. Skies are clear and blue all year. The rolling hills and pastures of the countryside are green and calm. In autumn the leaves fade into hues of orange, beige and brown-blue.
The region is a wine lover’s paradise. Tuscany produces the third highest volume of Italy’s quality wines after Piedmont and the Veneto.
It is home to some of the world’s most notable wine styles like Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Montepulciano – all made from the sangiovese grape – and Vernaccia di San Gimignano from white vernaccia grapes. Tuscany is also known for the dessert wine Vin Santo – saint’s wine – that is sweet and savoury at the same time.
In supermarkets wine is cheaper than water. Good chianti costs about 2 or 3 euros in wine shops, and the mark-up in most restaurants is low.
People interested in learning about wine can book classes at the Chianti Classico Academy that opened last year. Seminars are held in the beautiful setting of the Convent of Santa Maria in Prato.
Tuscany mostly exports to the United States, Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom. Sales to the Asian region are relatively modest but rising, albeit from a low base. Last year sales to China, Hong Kong and Japan soared by about 50 per cent.
A feature of the calendar in Tuscany is the annual Buy Wine event in Florence, the region’s capital, held over two days. Toscana Promozione (Tourism Tuscany) organises one-on-one meetings between local winemakers and buyers from around the world.
It is like a speed-dating version of wine-tasting. This year 288 winemakers displayed their wares on individual tables while 211 buyers and wine journalists moved about the room, chaperoned by Buy Wine officials.
Afterwards, buyers were put on buses to tour five distinct regions to visit vineyards they liked. Some stayed at wine resorts. Tuscany has 65 wine resorts, and Toscana Promozione is keen to promote wine tourism. A study commissioned by them showed that 15 fall into the extra luxury category, while the other 50 are classed as luxury.
Below is a list of some of the best wine resorts I visited. Rooms tend to be large – typically 100 square metres. All include breakfast for two. In no particular order of quality, I stayed at or visited:
Il Borro (www.ilborro.it)
Near Arezzo. Costs from 250 to 1400 euro a night depending on availability and season.
Castello Banfi (www.castellobanfi.it)
Near Montalcino. From 320 to 1200 euro a night.
In Gaiole village in Chianti Classico. From 280 to 600 euro a night. This resort only has six rooms.
Castiglion del Bosco (www.castigliondelbosco.com)
Near Montalcino. From 350 to 1350 euro a night.
The last is an actual castle. Built in 1100, it was renovated as a guesthouse in 2008 after clothing millionaire Massimo Ferragamo bought it in 2003. It has 23 suites, a cooking school and a superb restaurant. Its 60 hectares of vineyards produce about 300,000 bottles a year. These can be tasted in the “wine school” in a converted storeroom of the castle.
The lower rates listed apply for the winter months of January and February. The only disadvantage of winter is the occasional lack of hot water. Shower in the evening would be my recommendation. And take slippers because some resorts have wood floors rather than carpet.
One of Tuscany’s best wine tours is Fufluns, run by Filippo Magnani. His web site, www.fufluns.com, is available in eight languages, including Chinese.
A two-day tour with a driver and guide costs about 680 euro. Each day includes one winery visit in the morning, lunch and two wineries in the afternoon. One night’s accommodation is also provided.
Be aware that lunches are large, usually four courses. One typically begins with bread, oil and a mixed entrée of salamis, cheese and pickled vegetables. A pasta dish follows.
The main course will be meat and vegetables or salad. In winter these two parts of the meal are huge and often include the local specialty, wild boar. Dessert and coffee mean one waddles away from the table – happy but very full.
Disclosure: Toscana Promozione provided the author’s flights and accommodation.
All of America’s 48 mainland states make wine, but California produces 90 per cent of the country’s output. This makes California the fourth largest wine region in the world after Spain, France and Italy.
California has been winning awards for Bordeaux style blends and chardonnay since the mid 1970s. Franciscan missionaries planted the first vines two centuries earlier.
The event that put California on the world wine map was the 1976 “Judgement of Paris” – featured in the movie Bottleshock – where a Californian chardonnay beat a range of French burgundies in a blind tasting.
California’s success can be attributed to a range of factors such gentle vine management and ultra-hygienic cellar practices, plus the influence of damp air from the Pacific Ocean that cools vineyards during summer.
Robert Keenan Winery in the Napa Valley remains one of California’s most consistent performers. For the past eight vintages, the famous American wine critic Robert Parker Jr has awarded 42 wines between 90 and 97 points.
Peter Conradi recognized the area’s potential in the late 19th century when he planted zinfandel and syrah grapes in the Mayacamas Range, 520 metres above Napa Valley.
Conradi Winery went out of business during Prohibition, after the US banned all alcohol sales from 1919. More than half a century later, in 1974, Robert Keenan planted 73 hectares of grapes at the site.
Robert Keenan’s son Michael, the company’s current president, said only the crumbling walls of the original winery remained but his father believed the elevated location would be perfect for wine. The first harvest was in 1977 and next year the cabernet was voted best in California for that vintage.
The vineyard focuses on chardonnay, the various cabernets and merlot, and produces about 14,000 cases a year. The reputation of Keenan merlots was enhanced in 1988 when tastings against world famous merlot-based Petrus wines ended in a “virtual draw,” Michael said.
Another property from the Mayacamas Mountains, Fisher Vineyards, displayed its Bordeaux-style reds at the same tasting. It started one year earlier than Keenan when Fred and Juelle Fisher bought 40 hectares at about 450 metres elevation.
Fred’s father came from Germany and made a living handcrafting car bodies. Fred’s daughter, Cameron Fisher, said the coach insignia on the vineyard’s label was meant to honour the tradition of attention to detail.
“The Coach Insignia cabernet represents the pinnacle of our winemaking craft,” Cameron said.
Fred’s other daughter Whitney Fisher is the winemaker. The tasting notes on the vineyard’s web site says the reds were “built to last” with solid tannin structure.
The 2008 Coach Insignia cabernet has a silky quality with aromas of blackcurrant, coffee and spices like cardamom. Cameron said grapes were allowed to hang longer than usual, which produced thinner skins and thus less tannin, though the structure meant it would “age gracefully for many years ahead”.
Grapes were harvested at night and the wine fermented in concrete tanks. It is a blend of 88 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 12 per cent cabernet franc, aged on the lees for 21 months in 100 per cent new French oak.
Fisher’s Wedding Vineyard offers a nice story. Fred and Juelle Fisher were married there, along with two of their children. Cameron, the youngest, said she was “still interviewing” prospective spouses but also planned to be wed there. Cabernet was first planted at the Wedding vineyard in 1973.
A key issue when comparing Fisher and Keenan wines is the difference in oak treatment. Fisher uses only new French, while Keenan prefers a combination of new and old, and both French and American.
I preferred the Keenan wines, because 100 per cent new French oak can overwhelm some Californian Bordeaux blends.
The 2001 Keenan Mernet, made from vines only three years old at the time, is a standout. Its name comes from the fact it is a blend of 50 per cent merlot and 25 per cent each of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc – thus mer(lot) and (caber)net.
It offers aromas of mint, liquorice and blackcurrant. Tannin, fruit and acids have integrated superbly.
Michael Keenan described the vineyard site as “merlot heaven,” noting this grape variety sang beautifully of the region, but also accepted it had taken 20 years “to learn to make cabernet”. It was important, he said, to show restraint when picking fruit. “It’s very easy in California to pick fruit when it’s too ripe.”
The vineyard’s success is a tribute to Michael’s belief in sustainable viticulture. After pruning, the wood is left on the ground. Soil quality is improved by growing a range of grasses under the vines.
The pruned wood is shredded when the grasses are mown, producing humus that preserves water for the soil during the heat of summer. “It’s vital to treat the vines gently.” Keenan has developed its sustainability credentials by installing solar power, so that the vineyard is entirely self-supporting for electricity.
Published 2 May 2013 at WineTimesHK. Find a link here.
Monday April 22nd 2013, 11:17 am
Filed under: wine
The English language has many fine phrases associated with wine. One of my favourites is “in vino veritas”, which translates as “in wine [there is] truth”.
The link between wine and religion also connects with the notion that confession is good for the soul. So we begin with a confession: I have never really enjoyed red wines from the Rioja region of Spain.
As a child I used to assemble model aircraft, cutting outlines with a razor blade from pieces of balsa wood. I can remember chewing a piece of balsa. That is the sensation I have most often experienced when tasting riojas. Drinking these wines is too much like chewing pieces of wood.
But an encounter with Bodega Ijalba changed my perception. They make riojas that show the lovely and lively fruit in the region’s tradition grapes of tempranillo and graciano. Bright black fruits instead of wood.
In 1975 Dionisio Ruiz Ijalba, an industrialist from La Rioja, converted land previously used for open-cast mining into vineyards. The soil is poor and vines grow on a mere 80 centimetres of topsoil. Because the soil cannot retain much water the vines yield little fruit, concentrating flavours.
The bodega’s 80 hectares of vineyards are on the outskirts of Logroño and in the towns of San Vicente de la Sonsierra and Valle de Najerilla.
Ijalba has focused on organic viticulture methods, eliminating the use of herbicides and chemical fertilizers.
Bodega Ijalba was built in 1991. It makes about 2 million bottles a year. I had the chance to taste four reds supplied by the Wine Culture company in Hong Kong: the 2010 Dionisio Ruiz Ijalba red, the 2008 Ijalba crianza, the 2007 Ijalba reserve and the 2001 Ijalba special reserve.
Wines at Ijalba tend to be made from classic riojas grapes like tempranillo and graciano. The Dionisio was the exception, made entirely from maturana tinta (tinta is Spanish for red).
This red wine grape, unique to the Rioja region, is almost extinct – almost wiped out by the phylloxera louse. It ripens late, which separates it immediately from wines made with tempranillo, which translates as the “little early one”.
Maturana makes wines similar in profile to cool-climate shiraz – lots of flavours of wild herbs and white pepper. A feature was the freshness in the glass and the vibrant quality of the wine.
The 2001 special reserve is probably the company’s flagship wine. It is a 50:50 blend of tempranillo and graciano aged for two years in barrel and another three years in the bottle. It comes across as lively yet profound. A quality wine that echoed in the empty glass hours after it was consumed.
The 2007 Ijalba reserve is another superb wine – a compote of dark black berry fruit, with aromatic hints of mint and a soft tannic structure. The reserve, as required under Spanish law, spends two years in barrel and another two years in bottle. It is a blend of 80 per cent tempranillo with the balance graciano.
The 2008 Ijalba crianza blends 90 per cent tempranillo with 10 per cent graciano. A crianza is only required to spend a year in oak and another year in barrel.
It is probably the best introduction to rioja, though you will still get a slight sense of that balsa wood taste in your mouth. The black fruit leaps from the glass and engages one’s senses, promising sunshine and joy. It’s probably best enjoyed with pasta with a strong meat sauce, or hard cheeses.
Footnote: The Vinci Pacific Company in Hong Kong offered a tasting of Macedonian wines. Macedonia is famous as the home of Alexander the Great. Part of Macedonia is now in Yugoslavia and Greece. The country has potential for producing wine because of its temperate climate.
The native red grape of vranac featured at the tasting, along with some traditional French varieties. It has a delightful nose but offers little to the palate.
The most pleasant and intriguing wine was a 2012 white made from temjanika. The grape’s name comes from the French phrase “franc encens” meaning high quality incense, an indication of the intensity of its aromas. The wine smells of cinnamon, pineapple and strawberry and reminds one of a good moscato.
Sunday April 14th 2013, 11:49 pm
Filed under: wine
Yunnan province in southwest China grows grapes with beautiful names like Crystal, French Wild and Rose Honey.
These are believed to be the descendants of vines the phylloxera louse devastated in France from the mid 1860s to the mid 1890s. French missionaries brought these grapes to Yunnan about two centuries ago, and this is the only place where they are now found.
It is believed the Chinese also introduced clones of these grapes from Indonesia and Vietnam in the 1950s, as did missionaries from the Shangri-La region in Yunnan’s north.
Professor Li Demei at Beijing University of Agriculture considers Yunnan has the best conditions in China for making fine wine. The province is so warm that it does not need to employ the expensive practice of burying vines each year to protect them from the winter cold, as happens in the north.
A previous column reviewed Tibetan Dry wines from Shangri-La Winery. This column will focus on the Yunnan Red Wine Company based in Mi Le, near Yunnan’s capital of Kunming.
Vines at Yunnan Red are planted at about 1,800 metres, making it one of the highest vineyards in the world. It is located close to the Tropic of Cancer, which means the cool nights from the high altitude are balanced by the warm climate.
Winemaker Shan Shumin is the winery’s general manager and also responsible for daily production. He offered a tutored tasting at the vineyard of three wines made with Crystal, Rose Honey and French Wild. I’ve not encountered these varieties before, so it was difficult to find a point of comparison.
The 2009 Crystal is a delight, with aromas of mango and passionfruit. It was similar to a ripe South American sauvignon blanc but with more style.
The wine has a clean finish with good length. Its acidity balances the fruit’s intense flavours.
The phoenix on the label is an acknowledgement of the local ethnic minorities. The web site shows the artworks on bottles: http://www.yunnanhong.com/
The 2008 Rose Honey smelled exactly like the grape’s name. Despite its age the wine still had good acidity and structure, the latter the result of time in new and older French and American oak.
The 2008 French Wild was more tannic, though those tannins were soft. It tasted like a Bordeaux blend – black fruits and cassis.
Shan Shumin said the winery had made huge efforts to improve quality. In the 1980s Yunnan wines had a bad reputation because they were diluted with water to increase production. “Now we have high standards, a very hygienic production process, and we guarantee the quality of the fruit.”
The view from the winery is magnificent. It sits atop a hill looking down a long valley with its 4,000 hectares of grapes. Local farmers also sell grapes. Yunnan Red produces about 10 million bottles a year.
Balmy breezes caress one’s face when we sit on the balcony overlooking the valley. A church was built about five kilometers from the main buildings, in part to acknowledge the vineyard’s early links with missionaries. The area has a rare beauty.
Yunnan Red was established in 1997 and is currently owned by a Hong Kong consortium. Staff come from a range of ethnic minorities as well as Han Chinese. Yunnan has the most ethnic minorities of any province in China.
Rose Honey is the most planted grape. It is also sold as a table grape. Almost all the company’s wine is sold in southern China.
Shan Shumin believes Yunnan is ideal for grape cultivation provided winemakers choose the right grapes. Grapes like Crystal and Rose Honey have adapted to local weather conditions.
Wu Kegang and Chen Yong of the Yunnan Highland Wine Company published an academic paper in 1999 proving Yunnan plateau was an “excellent grape growing area”. Soils in the valleys were rich in trace elements and minerals that helped grapes grow, and strong ultraviolet light restricted diseases.
“Fresh air, clean water and no fertilizers or pesticides make grapes on Yunnan plateau a pure, environment-friendly product,” they wrote.
Published 18 April 2013 in China Post. Find a link here. Published 17 April 2013 in WineTimesHK. Find a link here.
Hungary is one of the world’s oldest wine-growing regions. Like other former Soviet-bloc nations like Bulgaria and Slovenia, it is emerging from decades of poor quality production.
The average temperature is higher than in most parts of northern Europe and autumn is often dry until mid-October – providing ideal conditions for harvesting.
Hungary has lots of advantages when it comes to wine production. The climate and the soil are perfect and each of the country’s 22 regions has a different microclimate that produces a range of tastes and styles.
The Romans brought vines to Pannonia, the present-day western Hungary, and by the fifth century AD the country had an extensive range of vineyards.
The phylloxera epidemic that ravaged Europe hit Hungary in 1882. Many of the traditional grape varieties were replaced with classic varietals such as those from Bordeaux. The early twentieth century saw the introduction of modern grapes.
But during the Communist era after World War II quality was neglected in favour of mass production. That gave Hungary a reputation for poor quality wines such as Bull’s Blood.
The end of the Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 saw renewed interest in traditional varieties in the 1990s and a lot of new investment in equipment.
Hungary now has about 10,000 wineries in a population of about 10 million. Many are small, family-run operations. About 50 of those wineries operate on large scale.
The most famous wine region, Tokaji, lies in the foothills of the Zemplén Mountains in the far north of the country. This believed to be the oldest wine region in Europe, and has been given a UNESCO heritage listing.
The area is noted for its long warm autumns. Mists from the River Bodrog create perfect conditions for noble rot, or botrytis, which produces wondrous dessert wines known as tokaji. The best grape variety for this kind of wine is furmint.
Because the conditions for noble rot only occur for about three vintages a decade, a lot of dry wines are made with the furmint grape.
Csaba Maroti made wine at one of the region’s best vineyards until he retired. The Maroti label remains one of the country’s best. The 2007 Maroti furmint from the Tokaji area is elegant, dry and memorable. It echoes the region’s long summer sunshine. This is a wine that pairs perfectly with fried dishes because the acids cut through the fat and offer memorably crisp flavours.
His daughter Csilla Maroti Fisher is managing director of Hungarian wine specialist Veritas Wine, based in Hong Kong, which focuses on fine Hungarian wines.
“Asia’s wine hub is overflowing with French and Australian wines, and there’s little knowledge about the unique gems of the Old World and the thousands of years of winemaking history behind them. I strongly believe that Hungarian wines have a place in Hong Kong’s wine market so I started Veritas with the clear goal of introducing our wonderful and rich wine heritage to Asia.”
Another memorable wine available from Veritas is the 2009 Bikaver reserve. It is a blend of kékfrankos, kadarka, cabernet franc and merlot. Kékfrankos is the Hungarian name for blaufränkisch, a dark-skinned grape variety used for red wine. In other parts of Europe it is called lemberger and frankova.
Blaufränkisch is a late-ripening variety that produces red wines rich in tannin with a pronounced spicy character.
This 2009 Bikaver blend is spicy in the mouth with an intense black cherry colour and aromas of black fruits like ripe plums. It would be ideal with a dark meat dish like duck or a beef stew.
You can read about Hungarys 22 wine regions here: http://www.hungary-tourist-guide.com/hungarian-wine-regions.html
Hungary’s wines deserve to be explored because of their heritage and the advances in wine-making techniques that mean wines that offer high quality for relatively low prices.
A quarter century ago, when Dr John Forrest first planted vines in New Zealand’s Marlborough region, the area only had seven wineries. His was the eighth.
Almost all were family concerns and the vines totalled only a few hundred hectares. Marlborough is at the top of the country’s south island.
Today about 30,000 hectares of vines are being cultivated, and 70 per cent of the properties are owned by large wine monoliths. Marlborough has about 500 wine brands and the region exports wine worth $NZ 1,200 million. Wine tourism is worth another $NZ 2,000 million.
Despite the huge growth, Forrest Wines remains independent and continues to make ground-breaking wines.
John and Brigid Forrest, both doctors, own vineyards in Marlborough, Otago and the Gimblett Gravels area of Hawkes Bay – in effect, New Zealand’s best terroir.
The Forrests have launched a new range known as the John Forrest Collection. Dr John Forrest said it was an attempt to “capture the best the land, the vines and the vintage have to offer”.
The 2009 Waitaki Valley pinot noir from this collection is a remarkable wine. The Waitaki Valley region is in North Otago, as distinct from Central Otago, at the base of the south island. Only about 500 hectares of wine are grown by about a dozen producers.
The vines were planted less than a decade ago. Despite their relative youth, this pinot reminds me of a first growth burgundy. It is all elegance and finesse, with a texture of oyster shell minerality combined with fresh red fruits on the palate, plus floral and herb notes like lavender on the nose.
Dr John Forrest described the collection as the pinnacle of his 22 years of winemaking. Imagine what this pinot will be like when the vines reach maturity in another 15-20 years, he asked.
He also identified pinot gris and chardonnay as potential outstanding performers in this terroir. The Waitaki River that runs through the Waitaki Valley is New Zealand’s biggest river, with that shimmering blue associated with the Lord of the Rings films.
Forrest Wines makes a range of wines. The Forrest Estate range is also excellent, especially the riesling, sauvignon blanc and the pinot noir. A New Zealand Master of Wine, Bob Campbell, described the sauvignon as the “sancerre of the south” — in other words, likening it to some of the best sauvignon blanc in France.
Unlike many New Zealand sauvignon blancs, it has a fresh mineral texture and flavours at the green apple and guava end of the spectrum rather than the cat’s urine and gooseberry often sometimes associated with this country’s sauvignons. Australian wine critic Huon Hooke described it as “about as good as Marlborough sauvignon blanc gets”.
Riesling is the good doctor’s favourite grape. He makes six types of these white delights. The 2010 edition from Marlborough is another fine example.
This region, with its rounded pebbles and long hours of sunshine, induces a special minerality to Forrest riesling. It offers a lively sense of balance as well as place, plus a range of citrus flavours including lime and lemon and a touch of apricot.
This riesling has the longest “hang” of any Forrest wine. In other words, it ripens earlier than most other grape varieties but is allowed to stay on the vine and is the last picked. This concentrates flavours. Dr Forrest described riesling as the most “intellectual” of grapes because it presented the biggest range of options and mysteries to the winemaker.
We must also note the 2010 Forrest Estate pinot noir, also from Marlborough. It is riper than the North Otago pinot with flavours more at the black fruit end of the spectrum, and slightly sweeter. It also has that distinct “sous bois” or aroma of undergrowth like wet leaves one associates with burgundian pinots, plus hints of thyme and black cherry.
Dr Forrest said it was a pity the world knew so much about sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, because this tended to diminish the reputation of the region’s pinot.
The world should rejoice that Marlborough produces two outstanding examples of classic grape varieties, and Forrest Wines offers majestic versions of these wines.