china daily wine column #55
Tuesday November 15th 2011, 9:45 am
Filed under: wine
Wines from Uruguay are not well known in China, but when they become available prepare to be impressed. A tasting of wines in Hong Kong this month suggests Uruguay is ready to emerge onto the world stage.
Uruguay’s signature grape variety is tannat. Winemakers are hoping consumers will come to connect tannat with Uruguay in the same way they associate malbec with Argentina or carmenere with Chile.
Uruguay has about the same population as New Zealand – 3.4 million compared with about 4 million Kiwis – and it is appropriate to note the similarities between the nations.
Both countries have long coastlines and have a clean and green image. Both countries produce small amounts of high quality wine.
Interestingly, given its long coastline and the availability of fish, Uruguay consumes little white wine. As in China, red wine is much preferred. Red meat consumption in Uruguay is one of the highest in the world, at about 70kg per person. This is appropriate because tannat needs to matched with big meats.
Beef and lamb from Uruguay are well regarded because animals graze outside all year round, rather than being fed corn in winter, as happens in the United States. Like New Zealand, Uruguay has high regard for animal welfare.
It is a relatively flat country – the highest point is only 500 metres above sea level. Most vineyards are located in the hills north of the capital Montevideo, where the highest point is only about 220 metres.
Almost 40 per cent of all wine is made from tannat. This variety originated in Basque-influenced regions of France. A Basque Frenchman, Pascal Harriague, is credited with introducing tannat to Uruguay in 1870. He was looking for a varietal that would thrive in the country’s soil and climate. Today it is being blended with pinot noir and merlot, and more tannat is grown in Uruguay than in the country where the grapes originated.
Uruguayan tannats exhibit elegant and soft tannins with fruit flavors at the blackberry end of the spectrum. Vineyards have begun to distinguish between “old vines” descended from the original European cuttings and new clones. The newer vines tend to produce more powerful wines with higher levels of alcohol but less acidity and more complex fruit characteristics.
Uruguay has been exporting high-quality wine throughout Latin America and the United States since the early 1990s. The country has about 8,900 hectares of vineyards and perhaps 1,800 producers.
The tasting I attended involved 10 wines and there is insufficient space to talk about all of them. The tannats were intense and had spent extended periods in new oak. The whites – mostly sauvignon blanc and albarino – were crisp and fruity. The 2011 viognier I found unexciting, though it was young and immature.
The 2010 Garzon reserva tannat was dark cherry in colour with elegant aromas and ripe tannins. The 2010 Cata Mayor pinot noir spent eight months in American oak and had long length and offered aromas of mushrooms and cherry. It was an impressive wine given this was only the second vintage.
The 2006 Pisano family Fabula late harvest, a dessert wine made from torrontes grapes, had wonderful acid and fruit balance and was almost amber in colour. The first vintage was in 2003. This is a wine that will continue to improve as the vines get older.
The 2007 Licor de Tannat by Gimenez Mendez that ended the evening was a most unusual dessert wine. It was almost black in the glass with a funky, almost earthy nose, chewy tannins, and sweet blackberry flavours that lingered long after the wine was drunk.
These are all wines to seek out, though as of the time of writing Uruguayan winemakers had not found an outlet in mainland China.
“Uruguayan wines about to make grand entrance” in China Daily, December 3, page 12. Find a link here.
china daily wine column #54
Tuesday November 15th 2011, 9:42 am
Filed under: wine
Earlier this year a single bottle of red wine from Chateau Junding in Shandong province sold for 27,998 RMB. Many of my friends believe it difficult to justify spending that much on one bottle. This introduces the concept of value for money when we buy wine.
Vineyards occasionally provide the wines mentioned in this column, and when they do I mention this fact. But much of the time I pay for the wines I write about, or attend tasting where I pay a fee to sample a range of wines. Given financial limits, this leads me to consider value-for-money wines.
One of the best red wines available in China in terms of price is the 2008 Sangre de Toro made by Torres (blood of the bull would be the English translation). It is available at major outlets in China for about 150 RMB. This wine is almost black and the density of the colour reflects the intensity of the fruit.
The wine offers the sensation of drinking ripe mulberries. This is meant as a positive statement. Chinese people will know that at certain times of the year mulberries are dark, sweet and luscious. It’s the same with this wine.
This red had a subtle nose that took a while to emerge. It hinted at a range of berry fruits. The wine is not overwhelmed with oak. It is like an encounter with a shy person who once encouraged displays a sauciness that is most engaging. Perhaps it’s a bit like the early stages of a relationship where neither party knows where the pairing will go. I would drink this wine with a hearty lamb dish from the western provinces of China.
The Torres feels big in the mouth though the alcohol level is moderate, at 12 per cent. I have issues with the fact the wine has a cork closure, instead of the more reliable stelvin or screw cap. But the cork is good quality and assuming reasonable storage conditions this wine should be good drinking for a couple more years.
Torres is Spain’s largest family-owned wine producer. Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine says the Torres family owns almost 1,000 hectares of vineyards in Spain, Chile and California. Torres’ wines are distributed in China via the Everwines brand. Everwines says by the end of 2013 it intends to have 62 retail outlets in China.
To date I have not enjoyed my encounters with Chinese wine. Perhaps I have not been in the country long enough. So it was an interesting experience to meet a Chateau Chungyu Castel red. Sadly the encounter was frustrating – yet another Chinese wine that had minimal flavour, and also did not have a vintage date. Why do so many winemakers in this country not produce wines labeled with vintage years?
The wine came in a magnificent wooden box, along with a glossy brochure in English and Chinese. The type was so small it required a magnifying glass to be read. The wine was drinkable but little more can be said than that. The colour was acceptable and the wine had good clarity. Its aroma suggested a blend of Bordeaux grape varieties. The label did not offer any explanation.
Sadly, the wine’s flavour fell away quickly and the aromas of savoury thyme and rhubarb did not linger very long. In all this was an acceptable wine. But it pales when compared with the formidable Torres described earlier.
* “Popping the quark on the question of value from the vineyard” in China Daily, 26 November 2011, page 12. Find a link here.
china daily wine column #53
Tuesday November 15th 2011, 9:37 am
Filed under: wine
Tempranillo is a less well-known red grape variety in China compared with traditional types such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Spanish wines made with this grape represent good value for money, and offer a range of enticing flavours.
The grape’s origins are unclear. It might be indigenous to Spain but some historians suggest the Moors, who invaded Spain early in the eighth century and occupied it for 750 years, might have introduced the grape.
Tempranillo means “early little one” because it ripens early. It is Spain’s most cultivated red grape. Tempranillo has other names according to where it is grown, though it is best known as the main grape of the Rioja region in northern Spain.
Riojas come in five types: joven, roble or barrica, crianza, reserva and gran reserva. Joven wines are young wines that typically receive no oak. They tend to be fruity with light to medium body, and pair best with simple dishes such as pasta and cheeses.
The roble or barrica category refers to wines that spend some time in wooden barrels, and they perform best with slightly smoky foods like BBQ chicken or hamburgers.
Crianza wines spend at least a year in oak and another year in bottle before being sold. These wines can sometimes be a little rough around the edges. But when the acid and fruit balance is right they can seem quite bold even though they have been aged for at least a year. They combine best with assertively flavored foods such as paella or steak with spicy sauces.
The reserva category spend a minimum of two years in oak and another year in storage before being sold. They go well with roast beef or lamb, or wild game.
Gran reserva are the top of the range of Rioja wines and spend at least two years in oak followed by three years in bottle before being released. They can be the star attraction at a meal, and should be reserved for classic food such as rack of lamb or filet mignon.
A tasting in Ningbo hosted by Dani Rodrigues, who distributes Jumilla wines, displayed the beauties of Spanish wines at a wide range of price points. Based on this tasting Spanish wines are bargains compared with French offerings of the same price.
The 2006 Bodega Finca El Encinal crianza is a clean wine with a creamy taste from the oak treatment. It tastes of sour cherries and rhubarb and has a delightful aroma that the woman tasting near me described as “early morning flowers”. This wine retails for about 200 RMB.
A bodega is the Spanish term for vineyard. It should be noted that this wine is not from the Rioja region, but from Ribera del Duero, also in northern Spain. Ribera del Duero is one of 11 quality wine regions in the country.
Another note-worthy wine was the 2004 Faustino V reserva rioja. It is elegant with soft tannins and good length. I noted pleasant earthy aromas that could be because the wine came from old vines. It also contains 8 per cent mazuela as well as the tempranillo associated with riojas. Some of my tasting companions gave this wine 17.5 points out of 20 – worthy of a silver medal. This is a wine that needs to be paired with beef.
The 1998 Bodegas Faustino I was one of the highlights of the night. The 1998 vintage in Spain was one of the best the country has known, and this wine is drinking beautifully now. It is 85 per cent tempranillo plus 10 per cent graciano and 5 per cent mazuela.
The color was almost black and the tannins remain chewy despite the wine’s time in the cellar. The tannins offered silky threads of pleasure in my mouth and vanilla notes combined with cherry fruit aromas. This is a wine that could last a half century and still be drinkable. Fellow tasters on the night gave it 18 points, just half a point under what is needed for a gold medal.
The evening’s last wine was a 2008 Paco Dulce made by Vinos Vina Elena from monastrell grapes. Grapes are left for a long time on the vines to achieve maximum ripeness and sugar content.
The wine’s jammy ripeness mixed well with the acid profile, making the wine balanced and delicious. It tasted like a vintage port. It had burnt caramel flavors mixed with liquorice and chocolate. It was a momentous end to an evening that was both educational and enthralling.
* “A late discovery of the little-known ’small early ones’” in China Daily, page 12, 10 December 2011. 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.