Circle of Wine Writers magazine
Trends detected from the fifth Wine China Expo in Beijing in late April 2012 were a drift away from a fascination with red, an interest in less-sweet wines, and a growing sophistication in wine marketing.
How do we measure sophistication? I use the mini-skirt ratio. At other wine exhibitions I have attended in China, booth owners employed attractive young women in mini skirts to market their wine. Most winemakers I spoke with talked of the inverse relationship between skirts and wine: The shorter the skirts, the worse the wine. Some of the skirts in previous years have been very revealing.
This year in Beijing I noted fewer mini-skirts.
China has not become the acme of sophistication over night. Some booth owners still offer lukewarm white wine in plastic wine glasses. Many still display their wares but do not offer them for tasting. Yes, a wine tasting without the tasting. Some decorate their booths with sweet-smelling flowers whose aromas overwhelm the flavours one detects from their wine.
But one cannot deny the growth of the wine business in China. See my other article in this edition for details. This year’s Wine China Expo was held in Beijing on April 23 and 24 April for trade people, with April 25 allocated for public visitors. The location was the China World Trade Center in Beijing. It attracted 300 exhibitors from 35 countries who paid for 450 booths (though perhaps a fifth of the booths marketed olive oil).
Robert Wu, who managed the event, said last year’s Beijing expo, also in April, attracted 200 exhibitors from 24 countries. The 50 per cent increase in the number of exhibitors this year suggests growth.
It was difficult to estimate the number of attendees in Beijing because admission is free once people register with a business card. Given the ease with which one can buy fake business cards in China, who knows how many legitimate attendees were there. The official figure for attendance was 12,000.
The expo moved to Shanghai for April 26, which must have meant some trauma for jet-lagged Western exhibitors who had to finish about 5pm on April 25 and be set up in Shanghai for 10am the next day. Domestic flights in China, especially between Beijing and Shanghai (about two hours to the south), are seldom on time.
At least at the Beijing event no-one tried to sell me fake watches, jewellery and handbags: something that has happened at earlier wine events. This article I wrote for China Daily in June 2011 describes the experiences of the Shanghai international wine festival: http://squinn.org/?p=401
It will take some years for China to match the success of VINEXPO Asia-Pacific, the major wine event held on consecutive years in Hong Kong and Bordeaux. The 2012 exhibition from May 29-31 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre will assemble a record 1,050 exhibitors from 28 countries, and anticipates 14,000 buyers from around the world.
At this year’s Beijing event I noted that while red wines remain popular, but sensed whites and sparklings might be starting to gain a foothold. Many of the wines my colleagues and I tasted were less sweet than in previous years. Moscato appears to be emerging as a popular variety.
The expo also saw the first booth occupied by a Canadian winemaker, Unsworth Vineyards, from Mill Bay in British Columbia.
One interesting feature was the number of booths marketing wines from former Soviet countries like Georgia, or former Communist-aligned nations such as Romania.
Romania’s wine producers are looking to China for their future. A special wine-loading terminal is being built in Galati harbour on the country’s east coast. It is a contract between Romanian exporters and Chinese investors. China’s national news agency, Xinhua, reported the deal was worth about 50 million euros ($US 70 million).
Romania has eight main wine regions, 37 vineyards, and 171 viticulture centres. The industry was worth 270 million euros ($US 375 million) last year.
Because of its economic growth rate of 9 per cent in 2011, and a steadily rising number of wine consumers, China has established itself as one of the world’s ten largest wine markets. China’s wine industry in the first quarter of 2011 was worth RMB 7.37 billion (up 23.8 per cent from the previous year) with sales of RMB 7.272 billion (up 26.2 per cent).
Imported wines represented 15 per cent of the total market and were expected to rise dramatically. China Customs reports that the annual growth rate of imported wines was about 30 per cent.
The top four distribution points for imported wines were hotels and restaurants, supermarkets and stores, terminal outlets, and group purchases. This represented 95 per cent of total sales.
Chinese taxes on imported wines are high, compared with Hong Kong where taxes were abolished in June 2008.
All imported wines attract customs duty of 14 per cent. Add to that another 17 per cent of value-added tax (VAT) and then a consumption tax of 10 per cent of the previous prices. In all, it adds about 42 per cent to the original cost.
China’s wine market doubled in the five years to 2011, influenced by the adoption of Western culinary habits and a rise in personal incomes. Based on this growth rate, by the end of 2012 China will be the seventh largest wine-consuming nation in the world. By then the Chinese will be drinking 1,000 million bottles of wine a year.
china daily wine column #64
Wednesday February 29th 2012, 9:52 am
Filed under: China
Some of the world’s oldest wine-growing regions are receiving fresh recognition after many decades when the wine world knew little of them. One of the most beautiful is the Taman Peninsula in southern Russia.
The peninsula was originally a collection of islands. The Greeks colonised the islands and made wine there about 2,600 years ago. But viticulture died soon after they left and was not resurrected until the nineteenth century.
The best-known winery on the peninsula is Fanagoria Estate, named after the original Greek colony of Phanagoria.
The vineyard is surrounded by the Black Sea to the west and south and the Sea of Azov to the north, and has fertile black soils. The Crimea is a mere five kilometres away, across the water to the south.
Fanagoria has 2,260 hectares of vineyards and the winery produces 26 million bottles a year, making it Russia’s biggest producer of estate-bottled wine. Export manager Mike Lelyuk said all wines were made on the estate.
Many of the vines are relatively young, and new plantings mostly consist of traditional varieties such as cabernet sauvignon and riesling.
In 1985 president Mikhail Gorbachev launched a campaign to fight alcohol abuse by uprooting vineyards in the then Soviet Union. The result meant a significant fall in the amount of wine available. Russian vineyards have been trying to recover since.
Wine in the region is traditionally fermented in qvevri, or clay amphoras, before being aged in oak and then bottled. The qvevri are lined with beeswax.
Australian consultant John Worontschak, based in London, has worked extensively with Fanagoria to improve winemaking methods and viticulture.
His work has paid off. Four Fanagoria wines won medals in the inaugural China wine awards last year. These were available for tasting at the 2012 awards in Hong Kong in late February.
One of the nicest of Fanagoria’s output was the 2009 reserve cabernet rosé. It has good acid and lovely strawberry flavours in the mouth and on the nose, and would be an ideal drink with dumplings. Some analysts suggest it has been targeted at Russian women, but it is a wine that could appeal to both genders. The wine also won a bronze medal at the Hong Kong wine and spirits show last November.
The Riesling-based 2009 icewine is lovely. Only two companies make icewine in Russia. Grapes typically ripen on the vine in October but icewines are left untouched until full winter some months later. Winter sucks water from the grapes and concentrates flavors.
Mike Lelyuk said some years the grapes freeze solid and when harvested produce small yields because most of the water is left behind as crystals during the pressing.
Icewine has intense flavors. This one had a lovely balance of zingy lemon acid and lingering tastes of honey and apricots. It sells for about $60 a half bottle but is worth it, especially when one compares the price with famous dessert wines such as sauternes from Bordeaux and tokaji (tokay) from Hungary.
Fanagoria also makes an icewine from a local red grape called saperavi, also grown on the Taman peninsula. It is not as intense of the riesling-based wine but still worth trying.
Unlike many vineyards around the world, Fanagoria makes its own oak barrels. The company owns oak forests about 300 kilometres from the vineyard and exports barrels. Given the high price of French oak, this seems a smart investment.
About 90 judges tasted almost 500 wines at this year’s China wine awards in Hong Kong. The judges were wine buyers, distributors, sommeliers, and food and beverage directors based in Greater China. This year’s event focused on best value for money, with awards created “to give lower price point wines the opportunity to shine and to be further exposed to the rapidly growing market,” the awards press release said.
That might explain the unusually high number of gold medals (155), which meant about one in three wines received a top award. At many wine shows, only about 3 to 5 per cent of wines receive a gold medal.
* Published in China Daily on 9 March 2012, under the headline “Old vineyards earn brand new recognition”. Find a link here.
china daily wine column #52
Wednesday November 02nd 2011, 11:05 am
Filed under: China
The competition between new and old world wines continues in China. French, Spanish and Italian wines are by far the most popular, with 91 million litres of non-bulk imported wine coming from those countries last year – almost 62 per cent of the total.
Only 24.5 million litres, or 23 per cent of total imports, came from so-called “new world” nations like Australia and Chile.
Old world wines have an established reputation in China, especially those from France. The key question is whether they are value for money. A blind tasting among colleagues earlier this month aimed to investigate this question.
A group of 14 dedicated tasters from Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain, China, Taiwan, Germany and Scotland compared champagnes with new world sparkling wines, and then compared old world and new world pinot noirs. The results were fascinating but they can only a snapshot of opinions. Results cannot be extrapolated to the entire population.
Three champagnes went up against a sparkling wine from Tasmania in Australia, and the panel was divided in its preferences.
Two of the non-vintage champagnes were from the budget end of the market, though at $40 and $47 a bottle I hesitate to use the term “budget”. The Veuve Pelletier & Fils brut and the Henri de Verlaine brut were purchased from a supermarket. The group gave each 15.5 points out of 20, equivalent to a bronze medal.
The cheaper wine, the Veuve Pelletier & Fils brut, smelled of brioche and tasted of lemons and fresh bread, and was generally preferred ahead of its compatriot. The Henri de Verlaine had lovely grapefruit flavors but offered limited aromas. Both came from Epernay.
The third champagne was a non-vintage Piper-Heidsieck, available at a range of wine stores in China. It has great length and mouthfeel, with tiny bubbles and aromas of toast, vanilla and quince. It is a quality wine.
My favorite was the 1995 Stefano Lubiana Prestige, though at $125 a bottle it was slightly more than twice the price of the Piper-Heidsieck. It had intense aromas of fresh grapefruit, a zingy and almost mouth-watering acidity, and great length. The texture in the mouth is quite special. It is a wine to seek, though it would be difficult to find in China. The bottle was hand-delivered from Australia.
The panel gave both wines 18 out of 20, equivalent to a high silver. Wines need to get 18.5 to receive a gold medal.
We next compared pinot noirs from France, New Zealand and Australia. None of the panel liked the two 2006 French premier cru burgundies, even the French tasters in the group. I suspect the wines had been stored badly. They cost $65 each and quite frankly are not worth the money in the condition in which we found them. Buying French burgundy in China at the expensive end of the price spectrum is a gamble unless you know the wines have been stored properly.
The panel ranked the 2006 Peregrine pinot noir from Central Otago in New Zealand well ahead of the French wines. It is a dense black cherry in color, with a fine backbone of silky tannins, and tasted of plums, cherries, mocha and dark chocolate. It cost $45, and received a high silver.
The most cherished pinot was the 2008 Stefano Lubiana Sasso, from Tasmania. The color is dark cherry, followed by dark cherry and dark plum flavors and silky tannins, and a lingering perfumed finish. This wine could be cellared for a decade, but is drinking superbly already. It costs $90 but is worth every cent. Twelve of the 14 panel members rated this their top wine, giving it the only gold medal on the night.
These results do not answer the old world versus new world question, but they provided the panel with much to discuss. And isn’t that what wine tasting is about?
* “Answering the old world versus new conundrum” in China Daily 5 November 2011, page 12. Find link here.
Social media in China
In 2009 Kantar Media, a global research company, published the results of a major survey asking people in Asia what media they trusted. The survey was conducted in China, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.
The survey’s most significant finding was the fact 54 per cent of respondents said they trusted recommendations from friends and family, well ahead of a mere 14 per cent for television advertising.
Social media is about relationships and trust. People tend to become “friends” or “follow” individuals and companies they trust. The survey result has significant consequences for the broadcast industry because as audiences migrate to social media, it is logical that advertising will follow.
From February to April 2010 Ogilvy One China commissioned the China Polling Company to survey social media use in China. In July Chris Reitermann, Ogilvy’s president in Shanghai, said a “massive 83 per cent” of survey respondents claimed to have used a social media site.
Ogilvy concluded social media users’ greatest need was to find information about “frands” – brands that can be shared with friends. This was indicated in the title of the report they published – Frands: Friends, brands and social media in China. Users were also technically aware and affluent, with nine out of ten having accessed the Internet from their phone that week.
Reitermann concluded that social media was booming in China.
This is despite the fact the Chinese government blocks Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Google’s Gmail is also extremely slow. The ban has had the twin benefit of restricting Western influence and forcing Chinese people to embrace local products.
In Chinnovation, a book about innovation in China published in 2011, author Yinglan Tan noted that QQzone, the local equivalent of Facebook, had 450 million users in 2010 against about 550 million worldwide for Facebook. Perhaps more significantly, QQzone makes big money. That year the company had revenues of $US2 billion and profits of $US 1 billion.
Only people with the money and technical expertise can set up a virtual private network to access Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in China. This explains why Facebook has only about 600,000 members in mainland China.
China has a range of local versions of Twitter, the American micro-blogging site. It is called micro-blogging because people blog via a limited number of characters, typically 140. The best-known Chinese micro-blogs are Sina Weibo and Renren. A Report on Online Public Opinion published in March 2011 said China had about 180 million micro-bloggers by the end of 2010, and Sina Weibo claimed 50 million of them.
Media companies in China are appreciating the power of micro-blogging and have embraced it. In August 2010, 466 Chinese media houses had Sina Weibo accounts, the Report on Online Public Opinion said. Three months later the number had doubled to 939 accounts.
In November 2010, 49 government agencies and 237 police bureaus had Sina Weibo accounts, China Daily reported on its front page of 5 February 2011.
Politicians have become aware of the power of micro-blogs for connecting with audiences. On 23 February 2011, in the build-up to the March plenary session of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, People’s Daily reported that “hundreds of legislators and political advisers have opened micro blogs to solicit ideas”.
The Chinese equivalents of YouTube are Tudou and Youku. Thomas Crampton, Asia-Pacific director of Ogilvy’s 360 Digital Influence, said Chinese netizens used online video sites differently from Americans. “Rather than short videos of cute animals or silly domestic mishaps that may be popular among YouTube watchers, Youku and Tudou are filled with longer form content, up to 70 per cent of which is professionally produced,” he wrote in China Business Review.
Chinese viewers watch up to an hour a day of Tudou and Youku, compared with about 15 minutes Americans spend on YouTube.
Blogs have also blossomed in China. The National Report on Micro Blogs said Baidu Space had 100 million registered users in 2010. Baidu Space is the blog section of the Baidu search engine, which has more than 80 per cent of the search traffic in China (remember Google departed the Chinese market).
Earlier this year Baidu became China’s largest Internet company. Forbes listed chief executive Robin Li as the richest person in China.
Social media and e-commerce are inevitably linked in China. China’s e-commerce market was worth $79.9 billion in 2010, more than double the previous year, the China Internet Network Information Center reported.
Broadcasters seeking links in China need to understand the significance of social media.
* This article appeared in The Channel, the magazine of the Association for International Broadcasting, under the headline “Social media in China ” in September 2011, page 52.
china daily wine column #38
Tuesday June 07th 2011, 6:43 pm
Filed under: China
For someone from Australia accustomed to international wine shows, the Shanghai wine show in early June was a fascinating experience. Sadly most of those experiences were not pleasant.
Companies clustered around the entrance to Intex, the international exhibition centre in Shanghai, employed attractive young women in mini skirts to market their wine. Most winemakers I spoke with talked of the inverse relationship of the skirts and the wine. The shorter the skirts, the worse the wine. Some of the skirts were very revealing.
Some companies presented their wine in the most appalling way, offering white wine in paper cups at room temperature. This was an insult to the wine and the customer. White wine needs to be chilled to appreciate the flavour, especially in Shanghai’s humid summer heat. And to offer wine to someone who knows about wine in a tiny cardboard cup the size of a thimble is both stingy and silly. It is simply not possible to appreciate the wine in that sort of container.
Elsewhere, some companies displayed scores of bottles of wine but declined to make them available for tasting. What kind of wine tasting event refuses to let people taste wine? Yet that was the case at the Shanghai international wine show. It made the companies offering the wine seem cheap and unprofessional.
The approach of Chinese companies — and all of the offenders were Chinese companies — was in stark contrast to the professionalism of the German, Italian, Australian, American and New Zealand wine makers marketing their wines.
The final afternoon of the final day was like a war zone. Andrew Mitchell, winemaker for the iconic Australian wine company Mitchell Wines, bravely tried to let me taste test his wines as contract workers pulled down stalls hours before the wine show was supposed to finish. It was bedlam. The sound of hammering and the ripping of partitions drowned out Andrew’s attempts to describe his wines.
Meanwhile, homeless men shuffled around the exhibition hall stealing whatever wine they could get their hands on. Security guards stood at both entrances but a huge number of people who had nothing to do with wine entered the exhibition building. People tried to sell me watches and a range of fake jewellery and handbags.
Worst experience of all was the number of drunken Chinese businessmen who demanded bottles of wines from exhibitors. “You give me wine,” they shouted, as the winemakers tried to protect their wares. Andrew Mitchell stoutly defended his bottles, trying to demonstrate the quality of his wine, at the same time repelling repulsive businessmen intent on stealing or appropriating as much wine as they could carry.
One old gentleman, dressed in rags and missing all of his top front teeth, weaved around the various exhibition stands stuffing whatever he could find into a large sack. Given the shabby way he was dressed, how was it possible that the security guards believed he was an appropriate person to allow into Intex?
In all it was a terrible experience. All of the winemakers I spoke to were appalled at the behaviour of some of the people at the show, and astounded at the rampant greediness of many of the audience. They seemed there not to taste and learn about wine, but to get as many gifts as possible while getting drunk. “If this is how wine appreciation is done in China, I do not plan to come back,” one Australian wine marketer told me. “This is disgusting. These people seem to know little about wine and appear unwilling to learn. They just came to get drunk.”
Another marketer from New Zealand and a winemaker from America, who preferred not to be named, said it was their worst experience of a wine tasting event they had encountered.
Mac Forbes, an Australian who makes wine in Austria, was more complimentary, noting that some members of the audience seemed keen to learn more about Australian wine. But he also conceded that some of the behaviour was less than appropriate.
I certainly will think twice before ever going to the Shanghai international wine show again at Intex. The performances I witnessed give China a bad reputation.
Future columns will talk about the high quality wine I did encounter. Almost all of that came from a range of new world vineyards. More about that in coming weeks.
* “Plenty to whine about at Shanghai’s Intex wine show” in China Daily, 11 June 2011, page 12. Find a link here.
china daily wine column #36
Thursday April 21st 2011, 10:06 am
Filed under: China
We continue this week with more about Stellekaya wines from South Africa.
Ntsiki Biyela, the country’s first black woman winemaker who joined Stellekaya in 2004, is especially good with blended wines. Orion, the flagship red discussed last week, is a Bordeaux blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Even though it is rare in China this is a wine worth pursuing.
The nose on the 2006 Orion offers an almost bitumen-like aroma combined with intense flavours of cassis. The tannins are soft and the wine has wondrous length.
This week we consider another 2006 edition, the Cape Cross – an unusual blend of merlot, pinotage and cabernet sauvignon. It is common in Bordeaux in France to blend merlot and cabernet sauvignon, but the addition of pinotage is rare. The pinotage grape grows well in South Africa. It adds body and depth to Bordeaux styles of wine.
The 2006 Cape Cross is serene and stately, with an elegant nose of vanilla and spice, the result of 22 months in new oak. It has good structure and is black cherry in colour.
The flavours cascade like a madrigal on the tongue, offering a range of sensations, and the tannins are soft and slightly chewy. It would match a traditional meat dish like steak or casserole. This is a wine to savour over the next decade but is approachable now.
The 2007 Boschetto is another blend: 40 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 40 per cent merlot, with 10 per cent each of shiraz and sangiovese. It is more rustic than the Cape Cross and would be more suited to simple meat dishes like kebabs.
The third wine received for review was the 2006 cabernet sauvignon. As with most Stellekaya wines it has high alcohol, the result of ripe grapes. The 14.5 per cent of alcohol is obvious from the long “legs” that appear on the glass when the wine is swirled. These “legs” take time to slide down the side of the glass back into the wine, often an indication of high alchohol.
The 2006 cabernet sauvignon has an image of Scorpius, the giant red constellation, on the label. Scorpius is the brightest star in the sky at night.
It would be nice to say that this cabernet sauvignon is a star in the making, but that would be too fanciful. It is best described as a minor chord in the winemaking firmament. It starts powerfully with aromas of strawberry and hints of blackberry, and feels like the kind of wine that would throw a maiden over its shoulder and carry her off.
In the mouth it is sweet initially but slightly harsh tannins lessen its appeal. When matched with strong meat dishes it found its natural partner and suggested a good marriage. Overall the flavours did not linger and the palate fell short.
Prices for Stellekaya wines were not available as we went to press.
* “More on the stellar qualities of Stellekaya blends” in China Daily, 23 April 2011, page 12. Find a link here.
china daily wine column #35
Tuesday April 12th 2011, 8:08 pm
Filed under: China
When Ntsiki Biyela joined Stellekaya vineyard as junior winemaker in 2004 she became South Africa’s first black woman winemaker.
Stellekaya means “home of the stars” – a combination of stella, the Italian word for stars, and kaya, an African word for home. Over time Ntsiki Biyela’s wines received increasingly fine reviews and she has evolved into one of the stars of South African winemaking. In 2009 the agricultural weekly Landbou Weekblad named her woman winemaker of the year.
Before Ntsiki Biyela got a bachelor’s degree in oenology at Stellenbosch University her only previous experience with alcoholic drinks was brewing beer from corn in her native region of Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Stellekaya specialises in red wines and makes about 10,000 cases a year from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, shiraz, pinotage and sangiovese. Vines are relatively young: Stellekaya planted 15 hectares in 2005 and supplements its output by buying grapes from neighboring estates.
The star theme continues with the wines. Blended wines are named after various constellations such as Cape Cross, Orion and Hercules.
Cape Cross is a blend of merlot, pinotage and cabernet sauvignon. Orion, the flagship red, is a Bordeaux blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Hercules is made of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
The 2005 and 2006 Orion arrived for review. The cork in the 2005 crumbled as I removed it, and the wine was dead. But the suppliers provided a second bottle. It took a while to show its talents, but this is a wine to savour and appreciate. The nose offers a bitumen-like aroma combined with intense flavours of cassis. The tannins are soft and the wine has wondrous length. This is a wine worth pursuing even if relatively rare in China.
The 2006 edition was also impressive and smelled of ripe blackberries and cassis with hints of vanilla, spice and chocolate. The wine is big and imposing – partly because of the 14.5 per cent alcohol – and has an almost chewy mouthfeel. Yet the tannins are relatively soft (both wines spent about 20 months in new oak). This wine would be exceptional after five more years in the cellar.
Owner Dave Lello noted on the company’s web site that Stellekaya allows its grapes time to cool after harvest and then lets them go through a cold maceration for three to four days. Maceration is a way for the squeezed juice to extract maximum flavours from the grape skins and other materials.
Stellekaya uses a wooden basket press – an acknowledged way to get the best grape juice – and matures its wines in French oak barriques (the traditional size barrel of 225 litres). Most of the wines are matured for 12 to 22 months and then spend a few months in the bottle before being released.
I also tried Stellekaya’s 2007 shiraz and merlot. The shiraz came from ripe grapes and the berry flavours made it taste sweet. My friend who tasted the wine described it as Heathcliffian – suggesting the wine was dark and brooding like the character in Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights. This is a wine that exudes intense flavours and yet is succulent and inviting while young.
The merlot was similarly black red in colour, also high in alcohol at 14.5 per cent, and full of promise. Prices were not available at the time of writing.
* “S. African reds show promise of star quality” in China Daily, 16 April 2011, page 12. Find a link here.
china daily wine column #34
Sunday April 03rd 2011, 10:20 pm
Filed under: China
Riesling is one of the world’s classic white grape varieties. Yet it has been ignored of late in favor of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.
I have no quarrel with chardonnay, which produces some of the world’s great poetic wines in France as Chablis, and manifests as a wonderful evocation of terroir in places like the United States and Australia.
Sauvignon blanc is another matter. At its best it has some character, as in the wines of Sancerre in France, with aromas of pineapple and mango if ripe, and lemon and lime in less sunny regions.
But at its worst it smells of cat’s urine and newly-mown grass. This latter manifestation tends to come from parts of New Zealand where mass production of grape juice gets precedence over quality and flavor.
Riesling, sad to say, went out of fashion as people embraced sauvignon blanc – probably because of the power of the marketing machine over human intelligence and taste. But Riesling should not be ignored because it is a true classic.
As a young wine, Riesling is fresh and vibrant and partners beautifully with seafood. It offers aromas and flavors that range from citrus to floral.
But it is best consumed with half a decade of bottle age. Over time the wine changes color from pale green to yellow and gold. Flavors and aromas also change. This is one of the magical qualities of Riesling: while young it is acidic and light but with age it produces the most wonderful aromas of honey and toast. It also offers an aroma of what the cognoscenti call “kerosene” though this is more a reflection of the intensity of the previously mentioned aromas.
Peter Flewellyn, winemaker from the Pettavel winery in Geelong in Victoria, provided a review example of aged riesling from the Geelong region: the 2007 Sandbar Estate. This is a new label for China. Chinese wine drinkers tend to prefer red wine over white by a factor of nine to one. But they should consider riesling because of its intense flavors and the fact it would partner so well with a range of Chinese dishes.
Sandbar Estate produces wine from premium grapes from selected vineyards around Victoria. Winemaker Flewellyn said the Sandbar Estate range consistently “over delivered in terms of wine quality and value”.
By accident I left an opened bottle of Sandbar riesling in my cupboard for more than a week. Yet it was still fresh and full of flavour. The same could not be said for a range of other wines that had also been abandoned for week.
Flewellyn also offered for review a bottle of 2006 Angustum shiraz viognier from the Geelong region. Some critics are suggesting that Australia’s best red wines will come from a blend of shiraz and viognier. Hence the interest in producing this type of wine.
Ralph Kyte-Powell, wine scribe for the prestigious The Age newspaper in Melbourne, believes the Clonakilla shiraz-viognier blend from the Canberra region is one of the best in the country.
This could explain why Flewellyn has crafted this elegant wine. The blackberry flavors of very ripe shiraz merge elegantly with the perfume and soft velvety textures of the viognier. The Angustum shiraz viognier can be enjoyed now or cellared for half a decade. In the latter case you would enjoy increased complexity and softer tannins.
In either situation, the consumer is the winner through this new range of wines. Prices were not available as we went to press.
* “Time Rieslings occupied pride of place on the table” in China Daily, 9 April 2011, page 12. Find a link here.
china daily wine column #30
Sunday March 13th 2011, 7:27 am
Filed under: China
Time magazine recently described the town of Arniston in South Africa as one of the world’s best-kept secrets. Until a few years ago it was a remote fishing village close to the southernmost tip of Africa, along a jagged and wild coastline.
Arniston’s whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs have attracted generations of artists and photographers who liked the idea of isolation, but also being less than a two-hour drive from Cape Town, one of South Africa’s most charming cities.
The village of Arniston gets its name from a British ship that sank in 1815. Of the 378 passengers, only six survived. Remains of the ship were located in January 1982. In terms of visual splendor, Arniston Bay winery has one of the most beautiful locations in the world.
It’s a pity one cannot use terms related to beauty to describe their entry-level wine, labeled as Arniston Bay. Four bottles of the 2010 vintage arrived for review: a sauvignon blanc, a chenin blanc/chardonnay blend, a pinotage rose, and a cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend.
Sauvignon blanc is not one of my favorite grape varieties, especially when the grapes are picked unripe. These wines tend to offer aromas of cat’s urine and freshly mowed grass.
Wines made from ripe sauvignon blanc grapes smell more like pineapples and tropical fruit, as is the case with this wine. Its high alcohol (13.5 percent) proves the grapes were picked ripe. But this wine lacks any character or flavor and dies almost immediately in the mouth. It reminds me of wine sold in cardboard boxes some years ago in various parts of the world.
The chenin blanc/chardonnay blend had even less to offer. It was almost tasteless. The natural acidity of the chenin blanc was neutered by the chardonnay flavors and the result is a dull and flat wine that I cannot recommend – except perhaps when one needs cheap wine for preparing dishes that require wine, such as some risottos.
The reds were a slight improvement. The rose made from pinotage grapes had a pleasant pink color and a friendly dry taste of strawberries. It appeals as a drink-now quaffer, and is a relatively pleasant wine.
The cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend had a dark cherry color, again the result of ripe fruit, with high alcohol (13.5 percent) and some berry aromas. Soft tannins mean it can be consumed now. But it is bland in the mouth and generally boring as a wine.
Arniston Bay wines can be found at the South African Wine Company in North Road in Fuzhou or purchased via their website at http://www.arniston-bay.com.
* “Price trumps value for Arniston reds” in China Daily, 12 March 2011 page 12. A link to the story can be found here.
Saturday January 15th 2011, 2:00 pm
Filed under: China
Some reflections: My first restaurant meal in China on January 10 was challenging because of the number of menus. The waitress gave me almost 20 menus, each printed on both sides, and stood patiently while I chose a meal. It took a while! Not able to upload the photo I took of the menus. And last night I went to a Japanese restaurant. On the door was a sign: “No uncaged animals allowed”.