china daily wine column #51
Saturday October 22nd 2011, 11:57 am
Filed under: wine
This week we consider the virtues of icewine, a rival to sauternes for the title of the world’s best dessert wine. Both drinks are super sweet and well suited to Chinese food, though icewine is not as well known in this country as the French delight.
Icewine is winter’s gift to wine lovers. That is because winter plays a major role in the wine’s production. Most icewine comes from northern hemisphere nations, with Canada the best-known producer.
Grapes ripen on the vine in October. But they are left untouched until Canada’s full winter some months later. Winter sucks water from the grapes and concentrates the flavors.
At minus 10C the grapes freeze solid. When harvested – by hand and usually at night – the yield is perhaps 10 per cent of normal. Most of the water is left behind as crystals during the pressing.
Canada’s quality control board, the Vintner’s Quality Alliance or VQA, regulates production of icewine. Artificial freezing of the grapes is prohibited.
Inniskillin was the first winery licensed in Ontario in Canada since prohibition in the 1920s when alcohol sales were banned. The two key people behind Inniskillin were Karl Kaiser, an Austrian-born chemist, and Donald Ziraldo, an Italian Canadian agriculture graduate.
While tasting Ontario wines in the early 1970s they saw a gap in the premium market. To ensure they had the best grapes for icewine – including riesling, chardonnay and gamay – they planted around the Niagara region.
Kaiser produced his first icewine in 1984. Seven years later Inniskillin’s Vidal icewine won a grand prize at Vinexpo in Bordeaux, one of the world’s best wine shows. The winery has been famous since.
This month I tried the 2004 Inniskillin. It is delicious, with intense aromas and flavors of apricots and oranges, and long-lasting sweetness in the mouth. The length is extreme: Flavors seemed to stay in the mouth for ages, like the memory of one’s first passionate kiss.
During the ageing process, the wine’s naturally concentrated acidity helps to maintain the wine’s structure and balance. Sweetness without acidity is boring. The two attributes need to work together for great wine. This is a great wine, to rival sauternes from the Bordeaux region.
As they age, icewines tend to develop complexity and depth, and offer a wider range of aromatics. Icewines also darken to a deep yellow/honey as they age. The 2004 edition is drinking perfectly now, but it will also last for another decade.
The wine comes in 375 ml bottles and it requires extreme self-control not to consume the entire bottle. Such is the concentration of flavors that one small bottle will serve eight to nine people.
If handled and stored correctly, icewines will also increase in value. It should be carefully combined with the right food. Icewines should not be paired with food that is sweeter than the wine. It is one of the few wines that pairs well with chocolate. It is also relatively low in alcohol (10 per cent), making it a good way to finish a meal.
Inniskillin is a world leader in icewine production. It is sold in more than 59 countries and it can be purchased in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou or via the ASC web site: http://www.asc-wines.com/
* “A winter gift for those who love wine” in China Daily, 22 October 2011, page 12. Find a link here.
china daily wine column #50
Wednesday October 12th 2011, 8:05 pm
Filed under: wine
Many wines struggle to cope with some Chinese food because of the oils used in the preparation. In these situations the best wines to serve are riesling and gewurtztraminer because the wines’ natural acid cuts through the oil.
This week we meet a pair of exceptional value wines from the Alsace region of France: the 2010 riesling and gewurtztraminer made by A.Zirnhelt. Each can be found at supermarket chains like Metro for about 70 RMB a bottle, which is a bargain for wines of this quality.
Alsace is in the north east of France, near the west bank of the upper Rhine River next to Germany and Switzerland. The region’s political, economic and cultural capital is Strasbourg, where dozens of international groups are located, making Alsace politically one of the most prestigious regions in the European Union.
The A.Zirnhelt riesling is prestigious in its own way. It smells like freshly-sliced limes. The citrus zing shows in the flavors and taste of the wine. The acid is refreshing and vibrant and would mix with, and cut through, pretty much most oil-based foods.
This is a wine that could be consumed on its own as an aperitif, or matched with a range of Chinese dishes. The lime and citrus flavors in Riesling wines from cooler climates like Alsace make it a fine summer drink.
Riesling originated in Germany’s Rhine region. It is often described as an aromatic grape variety because it displays flowery – some would almost say perfumed – aromas as well as high acidity. Riesling can be used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet or even sparkling wines. In the last case in Germany the sparkling rieslings are known as sekt. See previous columns for reviews of German sekt.
As a variety riesling is highly “terroir expressive” – which means the character of the wine is clearly influenced by its place of origin. Rieslings are often drunk young, when they exhibit fruity and aromatic characteristics. The flavors depend on the terroir and climate.
But if stored well the best examples can keep for decades, when they take on totally different characteristics. Then they taste of honey and toast, and the colours move from pale white green to a golden yellow.
The A.Zirnhelt version is drinking well now and the citrus zing is like having a chat with a sparkling conversationalist. But it would also be worth meeting again in three to four years.
The A.Zirnhelt 2010 gewurtztraminer is a very different wine, though also excellent value. It smells like a bowl of spicy lychees and fruit salad. One expects it to be sweet but it is bone dry with a long finish. It’s another wine that goes well with a range of oily Chinese foods. For a change, try it with Peking duck instead of the usual red wine.
Gewurz is German for “spicy” or “perfumed”; hence spicy traminer wine. Some people have problems pronouncing the name of the wine, which might explain why it is not so popular in China. But it deserves to be appreciated and is one of my favorite grape varieties.
Dry gewurztraminers may also have aromas of Turkish delight, passion fruit and a range of flowers, like roses. Sometimes you will notice some fine bubbles on the inside of the glass. This is known as “spritz”.
Gewürztraminer finds its finest expression in the Alsace region, where it is the second most planted grape variety and one of the most noticeable of the region. Once you have tried a classic gewurztraminer you will recognise the wine every time you smell it.
Certainly that was my experience when I first tried gewurztraminer in France way back in 1986. The aromas captivated me and I can still remember the first one I tasted. Do yourself a favor and seek out these bargains from your local wine shop.
* “Great grapes can ensure that oil won’t spoil” in China Daily, 15 October 2011, page 12. Find link here.
china daily wine column #49
Sunday October 02nd 2011, 3:23 pm
Filed under: wine
Most people know the classic grape varieties like chardonnay and shiraz. They are like lead actors, the stars of most wine tastings. Other varieties tend to play lesser roles, consigned to bit parts. Typically they are blended with other varieties because they are considered to be inadequate on their own.
A tasting of lesser-known grape varieties in Hong Kong last month opened my eyes to some new possibilities. The tasting took place at a new wine bar, California Vintage.
First on offer was the 2009 Cass “rockin’ one” from the Paso Robles region of California. It was a 60:40 blend of rousanne and marsanne. These Rhone region varieties complement each other well. The wine has an acid zing that would cut easily through oily dishes like fried dumplings.
Aromas of honey and green apples matched beautifully with a citrus tang in this well-balanced and integrated wine. It retails for $HK 229.
Next up was the 2005 Chentella grenache from the Fiddletown region of California. It has an earthy nose and a warm and affectionate embrace of silky tannins and dark fruit flavors.
Grenache is not one of my favorite grape varieties, and usually it is blended with shiraz and mouvedre in the Rhone region of France to produce a more rounded drink.
But this grenache stands proudly on its own feet. The tannins are still there, suggesting this is a wine worth putting down for a few more years. Yet it is also friendly and approachable now, the fruit acids balancing the tannins. Retail price at the wine bar: $HK 217.
The next wine, the 2007 Three carignane from the Contra Costa region, is another relatively rare variety ($HK233). In Australia carignane is usually blended with other reds and in Spain it is one of the varieties used in rioja. But in California it is offered as a single variety.
This wine tasted and smelled of sour cherries and had a savory finish. It was more approachable than the Chentella Grenache. The company’s web site says it comes from vines Italian settlers planted in the nineteenth century. The old vines explain its long length.
Another unusual suspect – the phrase came from wine bar manager Susan Darwin – was the 2008 mataro, also from the Three vineyard at Contra Costa ($HK233). Mataro originated in the Catalan region of Spain and is also known as mouvedre in France or monastrell in other parts of Spain.
This grape produces tannic wines that can be high in alcohol (the Three version is almost 15 per cent) and is usually blended with grenache in the Rhone region of France. The latter softens the harsh tannins of the mouvedre.
This wine stood proudly alone, and had a nose of dried thyme with hints of violet and tobacco, and medium length.
Tempranillo is called Spain’s regal grape and it is the main variety in the blend known as rioja. Spanish Conquistadors are believed to have brought the grape to the Americas in the seventeenth century.
The 2007 Yorba tempranillo from the Amador region of California ($HK326) is almost black in color, high in alcohol (14.9 per cent) and has heavy tannins from the 10 months in a combination of new (25 per cent) and old French oak.
This is a wine that needs time to soften. It needs to be paired with hearty meat dishes. Only 348 cases were made so it might be difficult to find in mainland China.
Last wine in the tasting was the 2007 Acorn sangiovese from the Russian River region of northern California ($HK225). This is another big wine that needs time to reveal its full beauty.
It is spicy in the mouth, and then the big tannins take over. The tannins are the result of 17 months in a variety of oak (Hungarian, American and French), with 38 per cent of the oak new.
This is a wine that needs to be consumed with a solid red meat dish, after half a decade of patience.
In all it was an evening of pleasant surprises. Would I forsake varietal superstars for these unusual suspects? Perhaps – it depends on the wine. Overall I remain faithful to my favorites: pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
* “Little-celebrated wines offer more than sour grapes” in China Daily, 8 October 2011, page 12. Find link here.