China Daily wine column #7
Tuesday July 27th 2010, 10:58 am
Filed under: wine
The oldest and best wine region in South Africa is around Stellenbosch, a short drive from Cape Town on the country’s southern coast. Vines have been grown there since the late 17th century.
High mountains produce a micro-climate that is three to four degrees warmer in summer and a similar number of degrees lower in winter. This produces a longer ripening period.
The best way to visit the vineyards is to take the famous wine routes, established in 1971. The five current routes take you past 148 vineyards. The high number of vineyards also means that prices are competitive.
Hire a car at Cape Town airport. A good time to visit, if you like crowds, is to attend the Stellenbosch Wine Festival, usually held in June each year.
I visited Warwick Estate in early July, just after the festival. The estate started in 1770 as a fruit farm. The Ratcliffe family planted vines in 1964 and winemaking started two decades late. Norma Ratcliffe became one of South Africa’s first female winemakers.
Warwick’s flagship red, the Trilogy (a traditional Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot), was named in Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines around the world for a second time in 2009.
I tasted the 2007 Trilogy and, though still young, it had a distinct cigar box aroma and tasted of dark chocolate. The wine receives 24 months in French oak (40 per cent new), so it exhibits a dusty tannic structure.
This means Trilogy should be cellared for at least eight years after vintage. At about $34 a bottle from the vineyard it is a bargain.
Another stand-out wine was the Old Bush Vines pinotage 2008, another bargain at about $13. Pinotage is a grape variety conceived at the University of Stellenbosch, a hybrid made from pinot noir and hermitage (aka shiraz).
Pinot noir struggles in the South African climate but the hybrid flourishes because of the influence of the more rugged hermitage.
Another excellent Warwick wine is the Three Cape Ladies, a blend of pinotage, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. It sells for $15. It also receives solid oak treatment, this time 23 months in French oak (40 per cent new). And it should be cellared for up to a decade before being consumed.
Warwick Estate wines are available in China from East Meets West Fine Wines at 988 Shanxi Bei Rd in Shanghai. Stephen Quinn travelled to Cape Town courtesy of the South African Tourist Board.
* “Mountain wines” in China Daily, 31 July 2010, page 12.
China Daily wine column #6
Tuesday July 27th 2010, 10:56 am
Filed under: wine
July is a magic month in the world-famous Coonawarra region in South Australia. It is mid winter and tourists generally avoid the region because of the cold. To entice visitors, the region’s vineyards make available their museum wines.
Museum releases are older vintages that the vineyard has kept because the winemaker believes the wine has great cellaring potential. Supplies are scarce and most vineyards will only sell you one bottle per visitor.
Coonawarra takes its name from the Aboriginal word for “honeysuckle,” a sweet scented shrub. Grapes were first planted in 1890. Since then Coonawarra has become recognised as one of the world’s best regions for cabernet sauvignon because of the unique flavours the soil and terroir impart.
The soil is known as “terra rossa” – Italian for red earth – and the metre of red earth gives the wines their distinct character. About a quarter of all wines are exported, and Coonawarra has won the Jimmy Watson Trophy more times than any other region in Australia. The Watson is awarded to the best one-year-old red wine and is considered the most prestigious wine award in the country.
It is difficult to single out any particular vineyard because they all produce fine wines. Parker Estate has attracted rave reviews in Wine Spectator magazine, produced by Robert Parker (no relation), considered the world’s most influential critic. Prices for Parker Estate cabernet sauvignon have soared because of this recognition. The 2001 cabernet sauvignon first growth I tasted in 2006 cost $US 60 a bottle at the cellar door. The 2004 first growth I tried this year had jumped to $US 83 a bottle.
Elsewhere in the region, prices have remained low over the past four years, probably a reflection of a desire to control costs because of the global financial crisis. I visited the region in 2006 and 2010 and kept all my tasting notes.
Leconfield cabernet sauvignon is one of my favourites. The colour is wonderfully black red, and it offers intense aromas of briar and cedar and black fruits. The 2003 cabernet cost $US 24 a bottle when I tasted it in 2006, while the 2007 I tasted this year was still only $US 26. Wine of this quality is a bargain at that price.
* “Coonawarra red in a league all its own” in China Daily, 17 July 2010, page 12.
China Daily wine column #5
Tuesday July 27th 2010, 10:55 am
Filed under: wine
This week we continue our journey around the three sub-regions that make up the Geelong wine region. Compared with the 200 vineyards on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, the Geelong region only has 40. Most are family owned and concentrate on producing quality wines that reflect the region’s “terroir”.
Terroir is an elusive concept. In French it means “soil,” and it has come to suggest the special character that geography gives to a wine. Put another way, “terroir” is how a wine reflects the combination of soil, climate and growing methods used at a vineyard – the “expression” of the soil in a wine.
Because Geelong is a cool climate region, the wines tend to have lower alcohol levels than wines from the sunny north. Hot weather produces riper fruit with more sugar, which converts to higher levels of alcohol.
Cool climates also mean things like fog, which keeps the sun from the vines. This prolongs the ripening process. As a general rule, the longer the ripening time, the better the quality of the fruit and the resulting wine. Hot climate wines taste like stewed fruit or jam. Cool climate wines are more elegant and less aggressive.
Barwon Plains Estate, to the south west of Geelong, produces excellent pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. Some are sold to the Shadowfax Vineyard near Geelong, to go into Shadowfax’s award-winning range. But these wines are expensive, ranging from $US 30 to 60 a bottle.
Phil Kelly, winemaker at Barwon Plains Estate, produces excellent wines with other pinot noir grapes from his 4-hectare property. The 2005 is a wonderful monster and needs to be cellared. It should be opened from about 2013. The 2006 Barwon Plains pinot noir, also $US 15 a bottle, is another bargain, though stocks have almost all been sold.
Bad frosts meant no wine was made in 2007. The 2008 pinot noir is wonderful, with intense flavours of cherry and musk. It drinks well now but could also be cellared for up to five years.
Kelly is experimenting with a range of other grape varieties that he believes have potential in the region. Unlike pinot noir, shiraz is a relatively easy grape to grow and it produces large harvests. Shiraz will give nine tonnes to the hectare, compared with three or four tonnes for pinot noir.
For that reason shiraz is the most widely grown red wine in Australia – 45 per cent of all red grapes. Pinot noir is less than 5 per cent.
* “Cool on the vine, plenty of time to ripen” in China Daily, 10 July 2010, page 12.
China Daily wine column #4
Tuesday July 27th 2010, 10:54 am
Filed under: wine
The Geelong region in Victoria is home to some of Australia’s best cool-climate wines. It is the left-hand side of Australia’s famous u-shaped arc of pinot perfection.
People from China visiting the region will probably arrive via Tullamarine airport, north of Victoria’s capital, Melbourne. The ideal way to reach Geelong involves touring the Mornington Peninsula region first, and then taking the ferry from the southern tip of the peninsula across to Queenscliff.
This beautiful and historic town is an ideal entry point for the Geelong region, which is actually three sub-regions. One sits on the majestic Bellarine Peninsula, a short drive from Queenscliff. Another in the Moorabool Valley is north west of the city of Geelong, and the third, called the Surfcoast region, hugs the southern coast.
An ideal holiday would combine wine tasting with a drive along the Great Ocean Road, which starts south west of Geelong. It is among the top four or five great drives in the world.
Scotchmans Hill is probably the best of the Bellarine Peninsula vineyards. [Note subs: no apostrophe in Scotchmans Hill.] It offers three levels of wine. The introductory label is named after Swan Bay, a lovely stretch of water on the peninsula. The Swan Bay pinot noir sells for about $US 15 and is a bargain. It presents an aroma of plums and cherries, with a slight hint of beetroot and spices.
The mid range of wines retail for between $US 19 and 25. In this range the Scotchmans Hill chardonnay and pinot noir represent examples of local excellence. Given their quality, the top of the range reserve chardonnay and pinot noir are a bargain, at $US 55.
Less well known, but of high quality, are the wines made by Dinny Goonan at Dinny Goonan Family Estate south west of Geelong. His 2008 early harvest Riesling offers a mouthful of sweet and tangy lime. Its low level of alcohol and rich aromas of lemon will appeal to Chinese palates. It costs $US 20.
* “Drink in beautiful Geelong” in China Daily, 3 July 2010, page 12.
China Daily wine column #3
Tuesday July 27th 2010, 10:53 am
Filed under: wine
A previous column about the delights of New Zealand pinot noir prompted spirited responses from Australian winemakers about the high calibre of their pinots.
Australia produces a wide range of pinots. Most of the best are grown in a u-shaped arc that runs through Victoria, the south-western state, and the island of Tasmania.
The Mornington Peninsula in Victoria makes up the right-hand side of that u-shape. The top of Tasmania represents the base of the “u” and the Geelong region is the left-hand side.
Pinot grows best in these cool climates. The northern areas of Australia are too hot for the grape variety. Remember that Australia is the reverse of China, with the northern areas much hotter than the south.
The Mornington Peninsula is a finger of land about 65 km from the state capital, Melbourne, with the Pacific Ocean to the east and Port Phillip Bay to the west. Cool ocean breezes in summer ensure the grapes ripen over an extended period.
Half of the grapes grown on the peninsula are pinot noir, with chardonnay making up another quarter. Pinot gris is increasingly being planted and represents another eighth of production.
The peninsula has about 200 vineyards, and about 50 of those are open for tastings. Perhaps a third of the vineyards are small and fall in the “boutique” category.
Prices for Mornington pinot noir tend to be high. Flagship wines from Port Phillip Estate cost close to $US 100 a bottle. The winery is a must see if you visit the area; it must have one of the best views of any winery I have visited.
Paringa Estate continues to produce superb wine. Its introductory level pinot noir, at $US 23 a bottle, is as good as the reserve wines from many of the other producers. Aromas of plums and ripe raspberries jump from the glass. Paringa was voted Australia’s winery of the year in 2007.
Some of Australia’s best racehorses are bred on the Mornington Peninsula. Box Stallion Estate produces fine wine as well as horses, and is one of the few vineyards in the region to export to China. It offers Spanish and Italian varieties as well as the classic French grapes.
Future columns will talk about the other regions that make up Australia’s u-shaped arc of pinot perfection.
* “Victoria’s not so secret delights” in China Daily, 26 June 2010, page 12.
China Daily wine column #2
Tuesday July 27th 2010, 10:51 am
Filed under: wine
Wine consumption in mainland China is tiny by world standards, at about half a glass per person per year. In Australia, where I live, average wine consumption is about 80 glasses a year.
Australia makes good pinot noir. But pinot noir from New Zealand’s Central Otago region has been receiving much attention from the world’s influential wine critics.
Robinson MW, wine writer for the Financial Times, was in Shanghai and Beijing last month to launch the Chinese edition of the World Wine Atlas. She describes Central Otago as having a good claim to be “the next great pinot region”.
Rudi Bauer, winemaker for Quartz Reef in Central Otago, is the region’s best-known winemaker. He was one of six people short-listed as international winemaker of the year, the equivalent of a wine-world Oscar. The award will be announced March 20.
Gibbston Valley was an early standard setter in Central Otago, its 2000 vintage gaining the trophy for best pinot noir at the London International Wine Challenge. Such is the demand for that wine that it sells for $NZ 450 a bottle.
In 2008 the Wild Earth 2006 pinot noir received an award for best pinot, and then the trophy for champion red wine, at the International Wine Challenge in London. Last year Cuisine magazine named the wine New Zealand’s best pinot noir.
Wild Earth’s owner Quintin Quider, an American, told me yields were deliberately kept low to improve fruit quality. The vineyard sits at the end of Felton Road, opposite the famous Felton Road Vineyard.
Next door to Wild Earth, another American, Jen Parr, is weaving magic in the vineyard at Olssens, and picking up lots of awards, especially for her whites. Parr’s 2009 Annieburn Riesling is sold out, such is the demand for this sweet delight. The 2009 dry version of the Riesling has elegance and great length, with minerally hints of honeysuckle and lime.
Perhaps the best-known red at Olssens is the Nipple Hill pinot noir, named after a mountain above the property that looks like the breast of a powerful Amazon goddess. It is a friendly, entry-level red with plenty of ripe fruit.
* “In praise of pinot noir” in China Daily, 29 May 2010, page 12.
China Daily wine column#1
Tuesday July 27th 2010, 10:49 am
Filed under: wine
Wine is often associated with love. We give wine to friends to mark the Chinese new year.
Love and wine brought Sarah-Kate and Dan Dineen together. They met in Australia while making wine for rival vineyards in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales. Sarah-Kate, a New Zealander, convinced Dan, an Australian, to move to the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s south island.
Central Otago is one of the most visually magnificent places in the world. It is also rapidly becoming known as one of the world’s best regions for cool-climate wine, especially pinot noir. America’s Robert Parker, probably the world’s most influential critic, featured the region in his highly Wine Spectator magazine.
Jancis Robinson MW, wine writer for the Financial Times, hosted wine dinners in Shanghai and Beijing last month. She describes Central Otago as possibly “the next great pinot region” in the world. And influential Australia critic James Halliday called Central Otago “God’s country” in relation to pinot noir.
Sarah-Kate and Dan Dineen have launched their own label in Wanaka in Central Otago (www.maudewines.com), and I had the pleasure of tasting the current vintage and some barrel samples while in Wanaka.
Sarah-Kate makes wine for her own label, Maude, and for a vineyard her parents own, Mount Maude. All are seriously good wines. The 2008 Maude pinot gris spoke of long romantic walks in an orchard, surrounded by the perfume of pears. The 2008 Maude pinot noir is refined yet complex – a lot like a good relationship. The 2008 Mount Maude chardonnay is creamily elegant, with excellent length on the palate.
Barrel samples of the 2009 pinot noir and chardonnay promise even better things. The chardonnay was like walking into a bread shop, to be embraced by aromas of brioche and bread dough. The pinot noir offered a range of red fruits, all contained in an elegant structure of new oak.
Wine speaks so much of love and wonder, and should be enjoyed in excess.
* “Elixir of life from God’s country” in China Daily, 15 May 2010, page 12