china daily wine column #43
Saturday July 30th 2011, 2:11 pm
Filed under: wine
New Zealand wine is underappreciated in China, and the Alpha Domus range is evidence of how much the wine from this small country needs to be understood and embraced.
The Ham family planted 12 hectares of vines in the Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand’s north island in 1990. The grapes are mostly the classic Bordeaux varieties of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and cabernet franc, with a sprinkling of chardonnay and shiraz.
The name Alpha Domus comes from the first letters of the names of the five Ham family members who established the winery: parents Anthonius and Leonarda and sons Paulus, Henrikus and Anthonius. Domus comes from the Latin for house.
Paul Ham, the company’s managing director, said the Alpha Domus range of wines came from specially selected parcels of grapes from the family estate. “They are expressive of their unique Hawkes Bay origins and true to their varietal character,” he said.
All were hand-crafted entirely on site from estate grown fruit. The aim was to capture “the essence of the unique terroir”. The philosophy, he said, was to “produce premium wines that display concentrated varietal flavors, supported by complex nuances and structured to allow to mature elegantly”.
Elegance is a by-word for these wines. The whites are good and include a tangy 2011 sauvignon blanc and an unctuous viognier reeking of pear aromas, plus a 2010 chardonnay that exudes flavors of ripe apricots combined with lemon zing.
But it’s the reds that stand out. My favorite was the 2005 The Navigator, a Bordeaux blend of merlot (40%), cabernet sauvignon (35%), cabernet franc (12%) and malbec (13%). It had a classic nose of cigar box and cedar – the kind of aroma that floods one’s senses when someone offers a cigar from their expensive humidor.
This wine is delicious, even mouthwatering, with aromas of liquorice, violets, plums and sweet vanilla. It is formidable now but would reward cellaring for another half decade.
The 2007 The Aviator is another Bordeaux blend where cabernet sauvignon (37%) and cabernet franc (27%) dominate the palate and offer aromas of spice, leather and a range of berry fruits. The wine is slightly sweet from being picked ripe. As Paul Ham noted: “ripeness is the main criteria in determining harvest date”.
This wine has silky tannins and a resolute structure, and ideally should be drunk some time in the decade to 2010. It is a big wine and needs appropriate food, such as a casserole or steak.
Hawkes Bay grows more than 70 per cent of New Zealand’s Bordeax style wine grapes and according to Paul Ham is consistently the leading producer of gold medal and trophy winning wines of the claret style in the country. Alpha Domus is a member of the group of New Zealand vineyards destined for greatness.
“An elegance waiting to be recognised” in China Daily, 13 August 2011, page 12. Find a copy here.
china daily wine column #42
Sunday July 24th 2011, 5:23 pm
Filed under: wine
To begin with a confession: I love pinot noir. In recent years it has become my favourite grape variety. When I discovered an Australian winemaker at the Shanghai wine festival earlier this year focusing on pinot noir I was intrigued. And I was not disappointed.
The wines of Mac Forbes are a revelation – so different from the blockbuster reds and heavily oaked whites of many Australian vineyards. Forbes’ pinot noirs are subtle, elegant and lovely. His chardonnay reminds me of quality chablis from Burgundy in France and his riesling are spicy and aromatic like wines from Alsace.
First a little history: Forbes returned to the Yarra Valley in Victoria late in 2004 after several years in Europe making wine. His “dream” was his own label, based on a commitment to healthy vines and quality fruit. He focused on making a range of single vineyard wines that capture the essence of the sub-regions in the state of Victoria. He and his team manage or work with 10 vineyards across the Yarra Valley and Strathbogie Ranges regions.
These include eight sites in the Yarra Valley that grow pinot noir, chardonnay, syrah and Bordeaux blend grapes. Rieslings in both dry and off dry styles are grown in the Strathbogie Ranges.
The pinot noirs are the major revelation. One of my favourites was the 2008 Yarra Valley. It is made from the NV6 clone and is quite light in colour, with a nose of strawberry and savoury spices. The flavours lingered in my mouth like a fond memory from childhood. It is a lovely wine that can be consumed soon but would reward a half decade of cellaring.
Another highlight was the 2008 Gruyere pinot noir. Gruyere is the name of the small town where the grapes come from, and not the cheese. As with the previous wine, the colour is pale but the flavours intense. It has wonderful mouthfeel and profound length.
Forbes explained that the grapes are picked relatively early to avoid overly ripe wines. Yet the quality of the grapes mean that the wine offers intense flavours at the strawberry end of the taste spectrum.
The secret is in the terroir, where the wines are grown. “The cooler sites produce the best wines,” Forbes noted.
The 2010 Woori Yallock chardonnay is another beautiful wine with fine lemon-tinged acidity and a minerality and flintiness reminiscent of chablis from Burgundy. I loved the slightly funky nose that sings of difference. Regular readers will know I love riesling, and Mac Forbes has created a formidable wine for his 2010 vintage using grapes from the island state of Tasmania in Australia’s deep south.
The high acidity is typical of Tasmania, as is the range of marvelous flavours. This wine offered spicy notes with a sub-theme of lime and citrus. This is a wine to be enjoyed with seafood, especially fresh oysters.
Australia’s Gourmet Wine Magazine chose Mac Forbes as one of eight finalists for their 2011 winemaker of the year award. After tasting his array of fine wines, it is easy to see why. All wines can be purchased online at http://www.macforbes.com/.
* “Flavors that linger like a fond childhood memory” in China Daily, 30 July 2011, page 12. Find a link here.
china daily wine column #41
Monday July 18th 2011, 5:36 am
Filed under: wine
Bethany Wines is one of the oldest traditional vineyards in Australia. The Schrapel family first planted grapes in 1852 and these vines have burrowed deep into the soil to produce wines of intense flavour and concentrated fruit characteristics.
The town of Bethany was the Barossa Valley’s first settlement. The fifth and sixth generations of the same Schrapel family run Bethany Wines in South Australia. The vines’ life cycle continues in much the same way as it always has, with minimal human intervention and a desire to produce the best possible grapes.
It is the sense of longevity that makes Bethany Wines the success it has become. Geoff Schrapel is a fifth-generation winemaker: “Our aim in life is to live well, provide for our children, care for the land and hand our winery and vineyards on to our next generation in a better than when we started.” These are beautiful sentiments and they produce beautiful wines.
Johann Gottleib Schrapel and his family arrived in South Australia from Silesia in 1844. He planted his first vineyard in 1852 but the family concentrated on other forms of farming until 1981 when the winery was built.
The vineyard is located roughly half way between the Barossa and Eden valleys in South Australia and it is a true reflection of what the French call terroir, or the nature of the place where the wine is made.
The family still hand prunes the vines and then hand picks the fruit. Said Geoff Schrapel: “The winery’s philosophy is to produce individual vineyard wines with rich, ripe fruit characteristics which are enhanced by quality oak and bottle maturation.” The aim, he said, was to produce wines that were the “most natural reflection” of the unique micro-climate in the region.
The 2009 Bethany chardonnay uses fruit from properties in both the Barossa and Eden valleys in a proportion of one third to two thirds, respectively. The blend produces a wine that is complex and yet fresh. Flavours of honey and lemon present themselves in a delightful combination, and those flavours linger a long time like a new lover’s farewell kiss.
The 2008 Barossa grenache is light and delightful. It is often called “Barossa pinot” – an homage to the depth of the fruit flavours.
But it’s the reserve series shiraz wines that deserve special mention. They are named GR after Geoff Schrapel and his brother Robert. Thus the 2004 GR9 is the ninth edition of this fine wine. Only the best shiraz grapes are used and the wine is only made in special years. The winemaker’s dedication shows through magnificently. This is a wondrous drink, worthy of the gods of wine.
Fine and elegant tannins mix with ripe fruit to present a distinguished wine that still seems young, yet available now. The wine has the voluptuous body of a Barossa shiraz – like a nude painted by Titian, with full breasts and a curvaceous body.
It smells of ripe plums and mulberries, with a touch of dark chocolate, and a toasty note on the palate from the high quality oak used. Schrapel said the wine was “built to last”. It needs appropriate food, like good beef.
* “A burst of fruit that is enhanced by quality oak” in China Daily, 23 July 2011, page 12. Find a link to the article here.