china daily wine column #58
Tuesday December 27th 2011, 1:18 pm
Filed under: wine
Rippon vineyard on the edge of Lake Wanaka on New Zealand’s south island must be one of the most photographed wineries in the world. The wines match the beauty of the location.
The late Rolfe Mills returned to his family farm in Wanaka in 1974 and planted rows of experimental vines near the house. Despite mockery from locals, Mills and his family persisted, planting the first commercial vineyard block in 1982 and focusing on pinot noir, riesling, gewurztraminer and sauvignon blanc. Rolfe believed these varieties most suited the site.
His son Nick, who describes himself as an artisan winemaker, returned home in 2002 after four years in Burgundy. A superb range of pinot noirs is the product of extensive training in Burgundy.
The property has been in the Mills family for four generations and is dedicated to biodynamic farming. Wines are made in an old lambing barn. The estate is named after Emma Rippon, an ancestor of Rolfe Mills.
Rippon’s vines are among the oldest in the region. Most were planted between 1985 and 1991, and 80 per cent of the 15-hectare vineyard is planted on its own roots and receives no irrigation.
Frost remains a constant danger in Central Otago but Lake Wanaka acts like “a big hot water bottle,” Mills said. The core temperature of the lake only changes two or three degrees from summer to winter.
I’ve been lucky enough to taste a range of vintages, on site and elsewhere, and believe Rippon wines are unique. They truly reflect the vineyard’s terroir. Rippon’s schist based soils produce, as the texture of the rock suggests, wines that are layered and complex. To quote Nick Mills, the wines have lift rather than weight, precision rather than opulence, and finesse rather than fullness.
The Rippon 2008 pinot nor has layers of red fruit and aromas of rhubarb and rose, plus a remarkable balance of sweet fruit and racy acidity. It retails for $41 in Hong Kong and is a bargain when compared with premier cru burgundies.
The 2009 Rippon riesling has long length and zippy acids mixed with a range of citrus flavors. It is a wine to match with fried dumplings. It sells for $25 in Hong Kong. Both wines are available online from Altaya Wines. Other Rippon pinots can be purchased online from the vineyard.
A contemporary of Nick Mills also making remarkable pinot in New Zealand is Mike Weersing, an American who scoured the world looking for his ideal location. He found it near Christchurch on New Zealand’s south island.
Weersing makes riesling and pinot noir under the Pyramid Valley label. When he started he bought fruit from other regions: The 2008 Calvert pinot comes from Central Otago, while the 2007 Eaton pinot was made from Marlborough fruit. These are lovely wines, and they retail for $43 in Hong Kong.
In the November 2009 edition of Decanter magazine Matthew Jukes wrote that the 2007 Calvert pinot contained “more drama” than a case of Vosne-Romanee and the wine left him “panting for more”.
Equally impressive are the latest-release pinots from the 2009 vintage, made from estate-grown fruit. They are named after local weeds, angel flower and earth smoke, and retail in Hong Kong for $60. These exceptional wines are bargains compared with premier cru burgundies.
In the glass they appear cloudy but they have wondrous aromas and flavors. Read the tasting notes at http://www.pyramidvalley.co.nz/wines.html to appreciate the attention to detail Weersing puts into his wines.
Weersing told me his wines received no fining or filtering, and were fermented in clay containers before going into oak. “The advantage is the extra flavor,” Weersing said, “but the disadvantage is less clarity.”
My favorite was the angel flower with its aromas of cherry and wild rose, and a wide range of spices: cloves and cinnamon and orange peel. An elegant and unusual wine
I am content with wines that look murky but make me want to embrace a second and a third glass. Surely that is one definition of a fine wine. All are available online from Altaya Wines.
* “Wines that match the beauty of their locations” in China Daily, page 12, 31 December 2011. Find link here.
china daily wine column #57
Monday December 19th 2011, 1:42 am
Filed under: wine
Wines from Alsace in eastern France are not well known in China and that is a pity because white wines from this region pair superbly with a wide range of Chinese food.
Schlumberger is one of the best producers in Alsace. The vineyard, in the village of Guebwiller, has light sandy soil – the result of the erosion of the pink sandstone in the region. The climate is so good that it is known as the “valley of flowers”.
Schlumberger focuses on white grape varieties, mainly riesling, pinot gris and gewurtztraminer. The family has the largest area of grand cru vineyards in the region.
The vineyard has an entry level of wines as well as grand cru. What makes these wines such a bargain is the high proportion of grand cru fruit in them. The grapes come from younger grand cru vines – sometimes up to 40 per cent.
These wines are known as the Les Princes Abbés range. In 728 Saint Pirmin founded Murbach Abbey in Guebwiller. The abbey’s Benedictine monks made wine in the region for 1,000 years.
In 1298 Emperor Frederic II gave the head of the abbey the title of Prince Abbot, which later became known as Prince Abbé. Because the “Princes Abbés” took care of the vineyard for such a long time, the Schlumberger family decided to pay tribute to them in naming the range “Princes Abbés”.
These wines are delightful when young and go well with spicy Chinese dishes. My favourite was the 2007 riesling. It had a powerful combination of zingy acids and luscious fruit. This wine retails for about $15 in Hong Kong and is a bargain.
The abbots lost power during the French Revolution that started in 1789. In 1810 Nicolas Schlumberger bought the vineyard and about 20 hectares of vines. His grandson Ernest Schlumberger (1885-1954) enlarged the vineyard to 110 hectares and over time it has grown to its current size of 140 hectares. Half of those 140 hectares are classified as grand cru and consist of four “terroirs”: Kitterle, Kessler, Saering and Spiegel.
CEO Alain Beydon-Schlumberger, grandson of Ernest, is the sixth generation of his family to make wine in the valley. He said yields were kept low to concentrate fruit flavors. It shows in the grand cru wines. Two thirds of all production is exported.
The 2007 Saering grand cru riesling is a wonderful wine that will cellar for at least two decades but is approachable now. It exhibits classic Alsace characteristics: a combination of austerity and minerality – a result of the region’s limestone – plus a lusciousness in the mouth.
The flavors linger in one’s mouth like a fond memory of childhood. I could drink this wine on its own but it would be superb with fresh oysters. It retails for about $27 in Hong Kong.
In a recent Decanter tasting of 112 Alsatian rieslings, this wine came top and received one of the few gold medals. Decanter gave it 19 out of 20. It is a wine I would love to meet again in 20 years.
Also excellent was the 2007 Spiegel pinot gris grand cru. It smelled of candied fruit, quince and apples and those aromas carried through in the mouth. The wine’s slight smokiness means it would match well with Peking duck. Alain Beydon-Schlumberger suggested it should be served with pan-fried foie gras with mirabelle plums. I would be most content with either combination. The wine sells for about $28 in Hong Kong.
Highlight of the Altaya-provided tasting I attended was the 2001 late harvest pinot gris. These wines are the rarest from the vineyard, and are only produced in exceptional years. The taste lingered in my mouth like the memory of the first time I saw the Mona Lisa’s smile in the Louvre museum in Paris. The flavors danced on my palate, a perfect balance of fruit and acidity, and I can still taste the ripe pears and candied fruit.
Most wines can be purchased online from Altaya wines (http://altayawines.com/).
* “Why grand cru deserves great ado” in China Daily, 24 December 2011, page 12. Find a link here.
china daily wine column #56
Friday December 09th 2011, 12:35 pm
Filed under: wine
Chateau Beau-Sejour Bécot from Bordeaux’s right bank in St Emilion was classified as a premier grand cru until 1985 when it was controversially demoted to grand cru status.
The INAO, the French institution that regulates French agricultural products, returned that status in 1996, and since then the wines have continued to receive accolades.
This month (December 2011) Decanter magazine in the United Kingdom published its list of the 50 best-value French wines, based on results from 1,242 wines submitted for panel tastings in the past year. The 2006 and the 2004 vintages of Chateau Beau-Sejour Becot topped that list.
The vineyard has 16.5 hectares made up of 70 per cent merlot, 24 per cent cabernet franc and the rest cabernet sauvignon.
Michel Bécot bought the estate in 1969. Juliette Bécot presented a range of estate wines to a group of wine lovers at the China Club in Hong Kong. The magnificent setting was an appropriate location for these marvelous creations. David Pedrol, product director for Yesmywine.com, organised the evening. Yesmywine is China’s leading online wine retailer.
Madame Bécot said “wine making is about emotion” as much as terroir and climate. She said the vineyard was on limestone that acted as a sponge to retain water for the vines in hot summers. The 1990 vintage was especially hot.
For her, winemaking was analogous to cooking: it was about careful selection of the best ingredients. “My vineyard is like a garden where I grow the best fruit.”
Rather than a vertical tasting, wines from different vintages were paired with Chinese food. The meal began with assorted appertisers such as barbecued pork presented with the 2007 edition.
The wine has an elegant sweet nose and good length, with hints of caramel and dark berry fruits in the mouth, and chalky tannins. The chalkiness echoes the vineyard’s limestone terroir. This wine retails for about $70. Prices are approximations based on $7 HK for the US dollar.
The 1990 and 1999 vintages were served with sautéed fillet of garoupa with asparagus, and lightly fried king prawns. I still have reservations about serving red wines, however elegant, with seafood. More on that later.
The 1990 ($200) was soft and refined, with aromas of prunes and tea. This was a wine that changed each time I tasted it, a reflection of the complexity that is a hallmark of great Bordeaux. The tannins had softened yet it still has sufficient structure to be cellared for another half decade.
The 1999 ($100) was a more delicate creature, and I found its chalky and silky tannins clashed with the seafood, though the tannins did cut through the oil of the fried prawns. My tasting notes for the 1999 were sketchy, suggesting it did not impress as much as the 1990.
The 2006 ($85) appeared with sautéed beef with cashew nuts and dry chili. For me beef was appropriate but the chili tended to overwhelm the wine’s flavors. The 2006 tasted ripe, sweet and elegant with wondrous length.
My favorite was the 2004 ($83). It was vibrant in the glass with ripe aromas of cassis and blackberries. It attracted me the way one notices an elegantly dressed woman when she enters a room, evoking richness and poise. It was paired with deep-fried crispy chicken, and the wine’s acids and tannin worked well with the oiliness of the food.
A group of people around me scored the 2004 and 2006 highest without even knowing the Decanter recommendations. It’s nice to be validated.
But it might also have been a reflection of the food-wine pairings. The wines served with red meat and chicken generally tasted better than those served with seafood. Perhaps the adage about red wine with red meat still holds?
*”A wine that deserves its premier grand cru standing” in China Daily, 17 December 2011, page 12. Find a link here.