china daily wine column #22
Thursday December 30th 2010, 6:19 pm
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To understand the wines of Burgundy takes a lifetime. Subtle differences in soil (usually called terroir), climate and winemaking techniques produce a huge diversity of flavours and characteristics. I only had six days so I needed a guide.

Cristina Otel was the perfect person to introduce me to Burgundy. She runs Taste Burgundy and has been interested in wine since a teenager. Cristina has a master’s degree in viticulture, understands wine marketing, and speaks excellent English. Her Australian winemaker husband Christian Knott knows terroir, and together they offer a formidable combination.

Cristina explained the significance of the layout of vineyards and characteristics of the appellations, along with the geological differences in soil. She has distilled years of knowledge in a way that is easy to understand.

We need to understand how terroir and economics intersect in Burgundy. The terroir is the result of geological formations from the Jurassic period 135 to 195 million years ago. All the best vines are planted on slopes at altitudes of 250 to 300 metres, facing east to capture as much sun as possible. Pinot noir grapes in particular need lots of sun in Burgundy’s temperate climate to ripen.

About 46 per cent of all wine comes from chardonnay grapes and another 36 per cent from pinot noir. Gamay and aligote make up another 14 per cent.

Burgundy has almost 5,000 estates. But only 33 wines have grand cru status, representing less than 2 per cent of total production. The next level, premier cru, has 562 appellations, or about 11 per cent of production. Grand cru wines from great vintages command huge prices: A 1999 La Tache sells for 2100 euros a bottle.

Because demand is higher than supply for the best wines, and production limited, land is expensive. Inheritance laws from the Napoleonic period meant that all sons received land, which diluted property sizes. Enter merchants called negociants, who make wine from small properties, and store it in their cellars (more about them in future columns).

Cristina showed me around Clos de Vougeot, which hopes to receive UNESCO heritage listing. A clos is a walled vineyard. Cistercian monks created the property in the 12th century. This clos represents an example of the dilution of ownership: 81 groups share the 56.6 hectares of Clos de Vougeot, and some years almost 250 different wines will appear under that label.

After the tour we had lunch at Aupres du Clocher restaurant in the village of Pommard.

It was the best meal I’ve ever eaten, so I returned the next day. Chef Jean-Christophe Moutet is a name waiting to be discovered.

Taste Burgundy can be found at

* “Burgundies add color to the world of wine” in China Daily, 3 January 2011, page 7.

china daily wine column #21
Thursday December 30th 2010, 6:18 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Last month I was training journalists to use mobile phones for multimedia newsgathering. The course was held at a resort on Langkawi, an island off Malaysia’s north west coast close to the border with Thailand.

The resort had a bottle shop on the beach. That shop was literally exposed to the elements. Sunlight glistened through the shop’s thatched roof and you could see the sand through the floor.

The room was not temperature controlled, something that is usually disastrous for wine. During the day the temperature soared into the late 30s and at night it hovered in the early to mid 20s. This kind of fluctuation is bad news for storage of wine.

Bottles in the racks dated back to the early 1990s though their labels were battered and difficult to read. The price list was confusing and bore no relationship to the wines on the racks.

Normally one would be foolish to buy wine that has been stored badly. Yet a bottle of 2005 white burgundy caught my eye and I bought it anyway for 66 Malaysian ringgit (about $20).

In France white burgundy is made from chardonnay. This wine came from the negociant Chanson, father and son, in Beaune, the main city in the Burgundy region. Negociants buy grapes, often from small landholdings, and make and store wine before selling to the world.

Chanson was founded in 1750. The great French writer François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, was a customer in the early years. Owners of the champagne house Bollinger bought the company in 1999. They banned the use of herbicides and stopped mechanical harvesting.

I carried the white burgundy, in a bucket filled with ice, along the beach to my room. Moonlight was rippling over the lagoon and stars dazzled in the night sky. I waited patiently for the wine to chill in the humid and hot evening.

Despite the atrocious cellaring, the wine was still alive and delicious. It was green and gold in colour and had flavours of cashew nuts and a mineral linearity that echoed the limestone on which much of Burgundy wine is grown. The nose sang of pineapples. It was elegant and forthright.

This wine surprised me. It should have tasted like vinegar. Yet it had survived a range of potential disasters and still offered its majesty to my palate. This is the essence of quality, to be able to endure a range of disasters and still rejoice on the palate. The next few columns will focus on wines from the Burgundy region, an area relatively unknown to Chinese drinkers exposed more often to the Bordeaux region of France.

* “Quality endures disaster and rejoices” in China Daily, 25 December 2010, 12.

china daily wine column #20
Thursday December 30th 2010, 6:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Medals at wine shows mean much to wine makers. But the process of wine judging is not well known to most consumers. I attended the recent judging at the Geelong wine show to get a better sense of how wines win medals.

A panel of three main judges and three trainees, known as associates, assess wines at most shows. Almost 200 wines were assessed at the Geelong wine show, which lasted for two days. Judges assure me the process is exhausting because of the level of concentration involved.

It would be impossible to report on the entire process because 85 wines received medals. The high proportion of medals to entries suggested the high calibre of wines on show. Only 14 gold medals were awarded and 21 silver medals.

Pinot noir wines represented the largest single group: 35 in total. Of these wines, nine received bronze medals, four won silver and four gold. The gold medals are reviewed in this column, and the wines are available from the respective vineyards, where you will also find prices.

Reviews are listed in alphabetic order of the vineyard name. The 2008 Clyde Park pinot was dark and brooding with an intense forest floor nose reminiscent of wild thyme on a hot summer’s day. The taste was savoury and slightly sour.

The 2009 Hat Rock pinot noir was dark cherry in colour with a funky nose with aromas of coffee. The taste was restrained at first, refusing initially to offer its delicate embrace, though the sweet flavours of plum lingered in the mouth. In all it was an intriguing wine – my favourite of the pinot noirs.

The 2008 Mount Moriac pinot noir smelled of roasted coffee beans and it also was reluctant to open at first, possibly because of the cold room in which the tasting took place. A silky tannic structure suggested the wine would best be cellared for four to five years, especially because of the wine’s full length.

The 2009 Provenance pinot noir had the lightest colour, suggesting different grape clones compared with the darker colours of the other three gold medal winners. It had a light mouth-feel, plus aromas of thyme and cherries. Another wine to cellar for three to four years to get the best from it.

Appreciation of wine is inevitably a subjective process. Panels are used to judge wines to eliminate high levels of subjectivity, although it is probably impossible to remove personal biases entirely. Wine lovers should try to understand the judging process to improve their understanding of the stickers placed on bottles indicating success at wine shows.

* “What makes some wines winners?” in China Daily, 18 December 2010, 12.