china daily wine column #62
Sunday January 22nd 2012, 3:59 pm
Filed under: wine
Medical experts have long debated the health benefits of wine. The results are still inconclusive. But if nothing else, wine forces us to slow our busy lives. We may be able to munch a hamburger on the run, but it is impossible to appreciate takeaway wine.
Wine is meant to be drunk with good company in a relaxed environment. In the process we unwind. For that reason alone one could argue that wine in moderation must be good for us.
This debate leads us to Doctors John and Brigid Forrest, who launched their Forrest winery in the Marlborough region of New Zealand in 1988. Brigid was a medical doctor and John a scientist. They have long advocated the health benefits of wine.
In recent years the doctors have bought vineyards in Marlborough, Otago and the Gimblett Gravels region of Hawkes Bay. All are considered the best terroir for specific types of grape: Otago for pinot noir and pinot gris, Hawkes Bay for Bordeaux blends and Marlborough for riesling.
The Forrest’s doctors’ range label features a cartoon silhouette of Albert Einstein on a bicycle, his coat tails flapping in the breeze. The label also suggests homage to Dr Zeuss and Dr Ernie Loosen, of the great German family of winemakers who craft consistently excellent riesling.
The Forrest 2010 riesling is a lovely wine that reminded me of sherbet lemon sweets I ate as a child: Sweet and hard on the outside with a tang of sherbet inside. The acidity is at the lime end of the citrus spectrum.
It is no surprise that this wine has become the biggest-selling riesling in New Zealand. The fine acidity balances the sweetness. Too much of each and the wine would be unpleasant, but here the marriage is perfect. A feature of the riesling is the low alcohol, at 8.5 per cent, which means people can have an extra glass and not encounter problems with drink-drive laws.
The balance ensures each mouthful is a refreshing experience, John Forrest told a gathering of wine journalists in Hong Kong. “Perfect on a summers day or, as I’ve discovered, the perfect palate cleanser at the end of an evening.” I could not agree more. The 2010 riesling sells for $25 via ASC Fine Wines in Hong Kong.
The Forrest Tatty Bogler range features a scarecrow on the label. A “tatty bogler” is Scottish for scarecrow, a reference to the early Scottish settlers of Otago who used scarecrows to drive away the birds that gorged on ripe grapes.
Dr John Forrest believes Otago produces New Zealand’s best pinot gris because its “unique terroir seems ideally suited to this delicate variety.” The 2009 pinot gris tasted of ripe peaches and pears, with touches of lavendar and rosemary. It retails for $36 in Hong Kong.
Also from Otago was the Tatty Bogler 2008 pinot noir, one of my favorites of the wines tasted. It is blend of Otago grapes from the Waitaki, North Otago and Bannockburn regions. This pinot is rich and sweet with aromas of black cherry, black currants and wild thyme. It tastes of plums and spice. The tannins are ripe and the whole comes together in a seamless marriage. It sells for about $33 in Hong Kong.
Also excellent was the 2007 Cornerstone Bordeaux blend. Only three bottles a person are sold at the vineyard. It is a blend of 56 percent cabernet sauvignon, 23 percent malbec, and the rest merlot. These merge elegantly to produce a generous wine that tastes of cassis, blackberries, ripe black cherries and hints of cinnamon and violets. It drinks well now but would be superb in 15 years.
This wine came equal first in a blind tasting of 146 Bordeaux blends that Winestate magazine organised late last year. The 2005 retails for $55 in Hong Kong but the price for the 2007 is not known.
The last wine tasted was also superb: the 2009 botrytis riesling. It has already won six trophies and a dozen gold medals and will easily collect more. It was like tasting a memory of zesty kumquat liqueur – the drink I made as a child by soaking kumquats in brandy with a dash of raw sugar.
But this dessert wine was so much better and more balanced than my childhood groping. It has such a mouthful of flavors that it would take a range of words to describe the taste: ripe marmalade and peach plus superbly balanced acidity. At about $46 for a half bottle this is a bargain when compared with German dessert wines.
Try these wines and experience the contentment and relaxation of elegant winemaking. Surely evidence of the doctors’ belief in the health benefits of wine.
* “Does a glass a day keep the doctor away? Here’sto your health!” in China Daily, 18 February 2012, page 12. Fine a link here.
china daily wine column #61
Tuesday January 17th 2012, 10:04 am
Filed under: wine
Some wines cannot help but echo where they are made. This week we discuss some of the best Antipodean reflections of this principle.
The Ata Rangi estate in New Zealand has become associated with great pinot noir. Clive Paton planted his first vines in a stony sheep paddock at the edge of the village of Martinborough at the base of the north island in 1980. He was one of a handful of pinot pioneers. Martinborough’s meso-climate is similar to that of Burgundy. Meso-climate is a viticultural term that refers to the place, the region, weather, soil, sunlight and temperature.
The vineyard’s name comes from the Maori words for dawn sky, often translated as “new beginnings”. This estate has certainly led to recognition for both the vineyard and the grape variety around the world.
In 2010 Ata Rangi pinot noir received the inaugural “grand cru of New Zealand” award. And a year later Decanter magazine declared Ata Rangi the “crowned king of New Zealand pinot noir”. At the same time Robert Parker wrote on his web site: “When I asked winemakers to name New Zealand’s greatest producers, one name kept coming up: Ata Rangi.”
The 2009 pinot noir was available at a Hong Kong tasting organised by Altaya Wines and it was a delight to encounter. The tannins are ripe and subdued. The wine’s cool climate origins are reflected in the aromas of pepper, liquorice, black cherries and spice.
The wine tastes sweet on the palate and the oak blends beautifully. Winemaker Helen Masters writes on the Ata Rangi web site that this pinot spent a year in French oak, a quarter of it new. The amount of new oak suggests it best to cellar this wine for three to four years. It will be even better in a decade. Altaya sells this wine online for 450 HKD. It is a bargain compared with Burgundy of the same price.
If you seek a wine that is less expensive but still full flavoured, try the 2009 or 2010 Crimson pinot noir from the same maker. It sells for about 250 HKD and offers a perfumed nose and tons of fruit, and is drinking well now. I tasted the 2010 at a formal event, the 2008 at a friend’s home, and the 2009 after I bought some on the strength of the two tastings.
It may seem like the company’s second-tier wine but it is better than a lot of first-tier offerings from other vineyards.
Also impressive were a brace of Ata Rangi chardonnays, the 2008 Petrie and the 2008 Craighall. The former was lean and feminine, while the latter was more broad-shouldered and masculine. Both had good length and acid-fruit balance and are drinking beautifully now. These retail for 195 HKD and 290 HKD respectively.
The 2009 editions of both these wines have received impressive reviews, in the 95 to 97 points range, though I have yet to taste them.
Another terroir that speaks elegantly and loudly of place and quality is the Rolf Binder range made from Barossa Valley shiraz in Australia.
The Hanisch is the company’s flagship. It is 100 percent shiraz from the estate and is named after the original owner of the vineyard, “Punch” Hanisch. The wine comes from about four acres of vines and the yield, and therefore production, varies between only 300 and 350 cases a year. The wine sells quickly at home, the reason this wine is not easily available in China.
Rolf Binder provided a taste of the 2001 and 2004 editions. The former was a hot year and it shows in the ripeness of the fruit and the medium length. I preferred the 2004 because of its elegance and beauty – like a thoroughbred racehorse, all muscle and power yet at the same time elegant and surefooted. It had intense aromas of dark fruit with a tang of eucalypt and fruit sweetness, the last probably from the American oak.
The American wine critic Robert Parker described Rolf Binder Wines as “one of the world’s greatest wine estates”. The current available vintage of the Hanisch is the 2006. Parker gave it 97 points, writing that this was Barossa shiraz that “does not get much better”.
Elegant wines like these that speak of place are worth seeking.
* “Wines that know where they’re from” in China Daily, 4 February 2012, page 12. Find link here.
china daily wine column #60
Tuesday January 10th 2012, 7:41 pm
Filed under: wine
In January 2012 in Hong Kong Zachys, a US company, auctioned the extraordinary cellar of Joseph Weinstock, a close friend of the famous wine critic Robert Parker. Indeed, Parker tasted bottles from Dr Weinstock’s cellar for the first edition of his book on Bordeaux.
The auction comprised almost 700 lots and featured the best Bordeaux vintages from the past half century. Dr Weinstock purchased wines on release and stored them in a custom-built cellar in his Baltimore home. He marked every bottle with a wax pencil with the date, price and source as well as the ullage level.
Ullage refers to the amount of wine lost though evaporation during storage, and typically a wine loses 1-5 centimetres over several decades. These wines were so well stored, in temperatures averaging 4C, that ullage losses were minimal.
Many of the buyers for the all-day event came from mainland China, and cases worth 150,000 RMB went under the hammer in under half a minute. Auctioneers have been known to speak at 350 words a minute and sell two or three lots a minute. The auctioneers worked as a team, like relay runners. The stream of money and words continued non-stop for almost 10 hours. Buyers spent $7.3 million a the Zachys auction in Hong Kong last November.
My notes from the first hour from 10am show prices were about 10 percent under expected selling prices. By lunch prices were 15-20 percent higher.
These figures provide a snapshot of the afternoon’s highest prices: A magnum of 1976 Romanee Conti Domaine de la Romanee Conti went for 75,000 HKD in perhaps 10 seconds. Its expected selling price was 60,000 HKD. Three 750ml bottles of Corton Charlemagne Cloche-Dury 1989 sold for 70,000 HKD in a few seconds (expected price 46,000 HKD). A dozen half bottles of d’Yquem 1990 went for 24,000 HKD (expected sale 16,000 HKD) in the blink of an eye.
Chateau Lafite has always been popular in China.For the great 1982 vintage, two groups of 24 half-bottles sold for 170,000 HKD per item. Two bottles of the 1953 vintage sold for 26,000 HKD. Several cases of the 1996 vintage sold for an average of 75,000 HKD a case.
Is it possible to find bargains at auctions? Yes, if one knows something about the mindset of people buying wines at auction, and if one is patient and has done lots of research. At this auction most people wanted Bordeaux and Burgundy reds, and these attracted premium prices. I focused on less popular or trendy wines.
For example, I bought 19 bottles of Chateau de Fargues sauternes for $1,029 ($54 a bottle). Some of these wines were made in the mid 1970s and are rare. Over the past few years the average price per bottle of the 1975 Chateau de Fargues sauternes was $149, though it has just peaked and it will be the first I drink.
In his book Sauternes, Stephen Brook wrote “on occasion de Fargues can seem superior to its illustrious one-time stablemate [d’Yquem]”. The fruit is hand harvested, sometimes five or more times, picking individual berries until November.
At an auction in 2010 I bought two and a half cases of classic 2005 and 2006 New Zealand reds that retail for $45 a bottle in that country. Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wines rated the wines near the top of a nine-point scale – his equivalent of a high silver medal. Even including freight and buyer’s premium these wines cost me $12 a bottle. I drank them with a smile.
But sometimes at the casino one can lose badly. So it is with wine auctions for those who have not done their research. That same year I bought cases of 20-year-old Hunter Valley semillon and 18-year-old chardonnay. Wines like these with pedigree can last for generations, but only if they have been stored well. This wine had not. Because it was an old wine, the auction house would not refund my money.
The wine went down the sink.
With young wines – vintages from the past five to 10 years – some auction houses will refund your money if the wine is tainted. Not so with older wines. The lesson here: choose younger vintages unless you know the wine has been stored properly.
If you know what you are doing, and can be patient and avoid being caught up in the frenzy, you can find bargains at wine auctions. But it’s a bit like gambling: The house usually wins.
But when the humble gambler wins, it’s time to open a bottle to celebrate.
* “Wine auctions a bit like gambling: The house usually wins” in China Daily, 14 January 2012, page 12. Find link here.
china daily wine column #59
About 90 per cent of wine produced in Alsace, the region in eastern France near the border with Germany, is white. Alsace is France’s only region to grow significant quantities of riesling and gewürztraminer.
Chinese people tend to avoid white wine for a range of reasons, many of them based on ignorance and a reluctance to drink anything beyond Bordeaux. This is sad and frustrating. The law of supply and demand means that if everyone wants Bordeaux, prices will rise.
Alsace is a rectangle of land 185 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide that has been occupied by France and Germany several times throughout history, especially during the nineteenth century. The changing sovereignty explains the French-Germanic naming system, and many features of Alsace, including the architecture and the wine.
Wines are produced under three key appellations: Alsace and Alsace grand cru for still wines, and Cremant Alsace for sparkling.
People interested in good-quality wine that is not over-priced should consider white wines from Alsace. A tasting in Hong Kong last month (December) demonstrated the value of wines made from pinot gris, riesling and gewürztraminer.
A China-based online wine retailer, YesMyWines, offered wines from three Alsatian providers: Krossfelder, Rolly-Gassmannn, and Martin Schaetzel. The company assembled a group of wine enthusiasts to solicit feedback on the wines, to see if they were worth stocking.
The least said about the four Krossfelder wines the better. They were boring and bland. These 2010 whites were dumb in the sense that I could not detect any aromas, though it might have been a reflection of their relative youth and poor storage or transport. Wine is such a delicate creature that variations in temperature in the three months at sea between France and China can significantly affect flavors.
Stickers on the labels peeled off to reveal other wine names, causing me to worry about the origins of the wine. The corks were cheap and artificial.
All of the six Rolly-Gassmann wines were impressive, especially the 2009 gewürztraminer and the 2009 riesling. The former tasted and smelled of ripe fruit salad and had medium length and good balance. The latter offered zingy acids and lingering lemon taste.
The combination of rich fruit, velvety sweetness and vibrant acidity in Alsace produces seductive wines. Both would be superb with a range of spicy Chinese food. They would also be an ideal match with Thai or Indian curries.
Three of the eight Schaetzel wines were memorable. The 2009 grand cru Kaefferkopf Ammerschwihr gewürztraminer was superb, with a lingering nose of rose petals and spice and a soft balance of acid and fruit.
Also impressive was the 2009 cuvee reserve gewürztraminer with its flavors of passionfruit and lychees. Both had velvety backbones of acid that suggest they would be superb drinking in a decade, though they are very approachable now.
My favorite was the 2008 vendage tardive pinot gris. Vendage tardive is French for late harvest. It produces sweet or dessert wines, because late-picked grapes retain more sugar and character. Its flavors of ripe pears and quince would pair superbly with blue cheese.
The wines are made by Jean Schaetzel, a professor at a wine school in Rouffach in Alsace. The prestigious La Revue du Vin de France recognizes his wines every year. He makes 30 wines, half of them riesling, using organic grape growing techniques.
Alsatian wines represent very good value for money compared with other regions of France, and they work beautifully with most Chinese food. You can find them at YesMyWines.com, China’s biggest online wine store.
* “A region where white tastes right” in China Daily, page 12, 7 January 2012. Find link here.