Fine video from Bordeaux pairing lunch
Saturday June 30th 2012, 12:16 pm
Filed under: wine
A video about an excellent lunch at this year’s Vinexpo where Château Brown and Château Lafon-Roche paired their Bordeaux reds with Cantonese food is now available on YouTube. The event was a fascinating experience for somone like me who has had relatively little exposure to this kind of food pairing. Here is a link to the video.
Château Brown, in the heart of the Pessac Léognan appellation, recently created a Chinese name for its wine to bond further with this expanding market. The Chinese name is “hu po jiu zhuang” and it refers to a precious amber stone plus a tiger that chases away evil spirits.
Château Brown has belonged to the Mau and Dirkzwager families since the end of 2004. They are also co-owners of Château Preuillac, a cru bourgeois estate in the Médoc. Jean-Christophe Mau, the owner of Château Brown, is considered one of the most dynamic people in Bordeaux. His family has been in the wine business in Bordeaux for five centuries.
Said Jean-Christophe Mau: “As the name we have created in Chinese suggests, at Château Brown we work our wines [the way] a jeweller would carve and polish his gemstones. Meticulous attention is paid to the vines and to nature, wine making techniques are of haute couture standard and hard work is required all year round to produce a wine worthy of grand cru status.”
The château owes its name to a rich Scottish wine trader, John Lewis Brown, its owner in the 19th century and an art lover famous for the grand receptions he gave. Château Brown wines are distributed throughout the world, including China.
Big changes for Sicilian wines
Monday June 25th 2012, 8:58 pm
Filed under: travels
Until about three decades ago, much of the wine from Sicily was bland and sold in bulk. That situation has changed.
Now Sicily produces almost a fifth of Italy’s wine, and Italy remains the globe’s largest producer.
Michele Shah markets wine for Sicily. She said quality had leapt since the 1980s, and benchmark vineyards like Planeta and Donnafugata had established the island’s reputation worldwide.
A major factor was the move away from international varieties like cabernet sauvignon or riesling, and a concentration on indigenous grape varieties.
“Over the past 15 to 20 years IRVOS [the regional institute for viticulture and olive oil] has contributed enormously – helping with vineyard management, research and clonal selection of indigenous varietals. Sicily’s current production focuses on elegance and quality.”
Dr Dario Cartabellotta, director of IRVOS, believes success came from focusing on local grape varieties. He organized a tasting from most of Sicily’s 24 regions.
“Indigenous grape varieties show the character of our wine,” he said. “Sicily is a continent and thanks to its diverse microclimate we are able to produce wines of market appeal, from easy drinking to the more structured and complex wines with a true Sicilian imprint.”
Sicily has such a range of climates that in some regions the harvest starts as early as July, while in others it does not end until November.
The Italian government is keen to let the world know of Sicily’s potential. Earlier this year it paid for 30 masters of wine to spend eight days in Sicily. Masters of wine are always busy people, and to get a tenth of all the MWs on the planet in one place was a remarkable achievement.
Michele Shah pointed out that different regions produced vastly different wines. Vineyards on the slopes of Etna, the famous volcano, gave us wines similar to Burgundy in France.
“Near Palermo in western Sicily we have sophisticated international blends as well as indigenous nero d’avalo, grillo, caratatto and inzolia. The cliffs of Erice Ottoventi produce mineral whites from zibibbo and inzolia [grapes].”
Sicily has almost 120,000 hectares under vine, with 65 per cent white grapes and 35 per cent red. Carricante is the most common white variety. It has a distinct mineral quality with citrus flavours. The most common red is nero d’avalo, also known as calabrese, and it makes hearty wines with soft tannins that can be drunk young, or cellared to reveal greater complexity.
These recommendations are based on what I managed to sample in half a day.
Planeta vineyard has been making wine since 1985 and its mature vines offer good value and high quality. The 2010 Plumbago, from 100 per cent nero d’avalo, has the colour and aroma of dark cherries, and could be drunk any time in the next decade.
Decanter magazine awarded a trophy to Planeta’s 2009 chardonnay, and lovers of this grape variety will appreciate it greatly. It tastes of tropical fruit and vanilla, the latter the result of some new oak treatment.
Donnafugata is another of the established vineyards, having been planted in 1983, and all of its wines are worth seeking. The Mille e Una Notte 2007 (translated as a 1,001 nights) red is 90 per cent nero d’avalo. Its concentrated flavours are the result of below-average rain that year.
Gulfi is a relative newcomer, having been planted in 1996. The 2009 Carjcanti made from 100 per cent carricante tastes of lemon and pineapple, with a mineral backbone, and an aroma of fresh mint. It would be an ideal summer wine.
Their best wine was the 2007 Nero Bufaleffj, from nero d’avalo. It was beautifully balanced, tasted of sun-dried blackberries, and had a velvet-like finish with light tannins. Decanter magazine gave it 96 / 100.
Tenuta di Fessina wines are grown on the slopes of Etna, the roots deep in the lava. The 2009 Erse looks and tastes like a red burgundy, and the 2010 Puddara is similar to a crisp chablis, though made from carricante grapes. Both are elegant and desirable.
Sicilian wines are available from Dimatique.
Published 28 June 2012, page 10, under the headline “Italians keen on promoting Sicilian wines” in China Post. Find a link here.
Cape Mentelle was one of the first vineyards established in the Margaret River region of Western Australia, in the south-west corner of the country. As well as being one of the most beautiful regions in the world, it is one of the most remote.
The drive from Perth, the state capital, south to Margaret River takes several hours even with a new highway, so visitors should allow at least a week to see the region properly.
Spectacular coastlines are a feature of Margaret River. The maritime climate provides consistent temperatures which influences grape development. Vintage conditions are good to great every year, though drought is always a problem in Australia.
Cape Mentelle was established in 1970, which makes it one of the pioneers of the Margaret River. It grows nine grape varieties, but its greatness lies with its chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Both are formidable wines. The latter won the Jimmy Watson trophy for best one-year-old red in both 1983 and 1984. It is rare for any vineyard to win the trophy, and consecutive years is almost unheard of.
A chance to taste the 1983 occurred in Hong Kong along with the 2007 and 2001 vintages for comparison. The 1983 still retained some fruit acid and tannin, which suggests it could be still be consumed another decade from now. It offered complex aromas of tobacco and leather and some still had juicy black currant fruit flavours.
This was an elegant and concentrated wine, which showed that the judges sensed something special when they gave it the trophy.
As senior winemaker Rob Mann told me: “Everything in winemaking is about balance. If a wine is not balanced as a youngster, it will not evolve into a balanced older wine.” With great wine, balance of fruit, tannin and acidity are the keys to greatness.
The 2007 cabernet sauvignon comes from mature vines that are 40 years old and these contribute balance and finesse. About 3 per cent of merlot was added. This wine tasted of ripe blackberries. The 13.8 per cent alcohol tells us the fruit was ripe when picked.
This cabernet spent 18 months in French oak, half of it new. The tannin and fruit have integrated well. This is another excellent wine that could be enjoyed in two decades, though it is drinking well now.
Cape Mentelle has more than 200 hectares of vines across four regions of Margaret River. The region is only about 100 km long. The best reds tend to come from the northern half, and the best whites from the south.
Mann said the winemaking team take their responsibilities for the environment seriously and aim for a sustainable approach in the vineyard, which is “as close to organic as possible”.
Only three or four tonnes of fruit per hectare come from the red vineyards. By way of comparison, this is less fruit per hectare than the first growth vineyards of Bordeaux. The less fruit, the more concentrated the flavours in the grapes.
The 2001 cabernet was more vibrant in colour than the 2007. Both came from hot vintages. The key in hot vintages is keeping the vines healthy, Mann said. He took over as senior winemaker after John Durham retired in 2005, after 23 years making wine at Cape Mentelle.
Mann’s cousin Kate Lamont, a former winemaker, prepared a meal to complement the wines. She said the aim of a good chef was to keep the food simple and let the ingredients speak. “It’s the same with winemaking. Like quality design in a building; sometimes you just know instinctively it’s great.”
One pays for quality. The 2007 retails for about $A90, and the 2001 about $A100. If the 1983 is still available it sells for about $A 150.
The 2010 and 2005 chardonnays were also available for tasting and both were lovely wines, but insufficient space to talk about them.
* Story appeared in China Post on 21 June 2012, page 10, under the headline “Getting the balance right in Western Australia”. Find a link here.
The joy of German riesling
Tuesday June 05th 2012, 9:12 am
Filed under: wine
The eminent British wine writer Jancis Robinson has described riesling as the “queen of white grapes”. About 60 per cent of all the world’s riesling comes from Germany, and two recent tastings of German rieslings demonstrated the wisdom of Robinson’s assessment.
The grape variety needs special conditions of climate and terroir to express its majesty, and these are found across Germany.
Warm days during the ripening period plus cool nights produce deep and long flavours, especially in the premier regions of the Rhine river valley, Rheingau, and the Mosel valley.
One of the best producers in Mosel is Clemens Busch. Winemaker Busch said the vineyard operates on bio-dynamic principles. This produces fruit that has a purity and pedigree that makes one’s mouth water in anticipation.
The 2010 Clemens Busch “vom rotten schiefer” is made from vines that range from 20 to 30 years of age. The name translates “from red slate” and the rock gives a mineral edge to the wine, as well as a slightly salty flavour.
It smells of gooseberries and grapefruit and the acid-fruit balance is superb, offering tropical fruit flavours and a penetrating acid that would be perfect with fried fish or dumplings.
Busch said that after gentle de-stemming and crushing, the free-run juice is fermented with natural yeast before being stored in large wooden casks and stainless steel tanks. “Long contact with the yeast ensures intense flavours,” he said.
Writing in Decanter magazine, eminent critic Stephen Brook said Busch’s site was perfect for riesling and his wines showed “remarkable power”. This wine is drinking well now but would be better in five years.
The 2010 Clemens Busch Pundericher Marienburg tastes of lemon and limes and has a similar acid zing. The nose suggests a touch of honey. The fermentation process is similar to the previous wine, though this one has a slightly creamy texture meaning it would pair well with chicken or drunken crab.
The vineyard is located on the Mosel river opposite the town of Punderich. Brook described Pundericher Marienburg as one of Mosel’s great vineyard sites. The river moderates the summer heat and yet keeps the vineyard warm in spring and autumn.
The 2009 edition of this wine was less expressive, like a shy bride, but eventually offered flavours of honey, peach and candied fruit, and had an oily richness that was most appealing. It would match well with noodles and dried shrimp or white-meat stirfry, or perhaps a Thai green papaya and pomelo salad.
Highlight of the Clemens Busch range was the 2006 riesling from the same vineyard. Despite being older, it felt fresher than the younger versions and had wonderfully controlled acidity and a silky and honey-like texture.
Busch said vines were at least 30 years old and yields were kept low to ensure high quality. “It takes five to six months to pick each vintage because we keep returning to the site to get the best grapes.”
The German Fine Wine company organised a riesling tasting in Hong Kong. Carsten Klante, managing director, said riesling had been grown in the Rheingau and the Mosel valley since 1435 and 1465 respectively. Historic documents show that in London in the 1890s riesling was more expensive than Chateau Lafite from Bordeaux and some of the finest burgundies in France.
“Rieslings from slate soils are said to have a mineral touch, while others smell of flint. Matured wines often have an interesting petrol tone. A fifth of Germany’s 102,000 hectares of vines are riesling,” Klante said.
Riesling is a slow-ripening grape whose most common characteristic is acidity. “This means it is well-suited to the northern wine-growing regions where it can ripen to perfection in the late autumn sunshine.”
It is safe to say that Clemens Busch rieslings reach that perfection.
* Published under the headline “Queen of white grapes: The joy of German riesling” in China Post, 14 June 2012, page 10. Find a link here.
Published in the Jakarta Globe on 14 June 2012, under the headline “Duo of German Rieslings Show Why It’s the ‘Queen of White Grapes’”. Find a link here.
Vinexpo Hong Kong May 2012
Saturday June 02nd 2012, 11:23 am
Filed under: wine
Organisers said 15,785 wine professionals attended Vinexpo, shattering the previous record of 12,617 visitors in 2010.
Vinexpo alternates each year between Hong Kong and Bordeaux, and is restricted to people in the trade.
A total of 1,050 exhibitors from 28 countries occupied the huge Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from May 29-31.
Vinexpo chief executive Robert Beynat said he sensed the sophistication of Asian markets had grown tremendously from two years earlier, and this was reflected in “the atmosphere of this year’s show”.
Master of Wine Debra Meiburg, who hosted a series of education seminars, noted a marked increase in the knowledge of the audience since the previous Vinexpo. “Asia’s progress in this regard has been remarkable,” she said.
Meiburg is a noted wine journalist who has been based in the region for a quarter century. She detected a shift in what people were drinking.
Consumption habits changing
After years of red wine being the preferred tipple, wine drinking habits are changing in Hong Kong and China. Until fairly recently, almost nine in 10 bottles consumed were red wine.
White wine imports to Hong Kong soared 39 per cent in the first quarter of this year, and now account for 14 per cent of total imports. Data from International Wine and Spirit Research showed white wine sales in China would grow 69 per cent between 2011 and 2015, against 53 per cent for red.
Analysts Wine Intelligence came to the same conclusion, highlighting changes in Chinese consumer tastes in their report Emerging Opportunities in the Chinese Wine Market. The company’s research was based on interviews with 40 wine consumers in Beijing and Shanghai.
Research manager Jenny Li said white wine was growing in popularity, especially in southern regions where people disliked tannic styles. Lighter southern cuisine was more appropriate for white wine, she said.
New Zealand sauvignon blanc is the most popular white grape, which explains that country’s rising wine exports to China.
Fear of buying fake red wine was another factor. Chinese people buy expensive bottles as gifts, and risk losing face if the wine is not genuine. “White wines are perceived to be ‘fake-free’ due to the relative lack of counterfeit white wine products in the market,” Li said.
Debra Meiburg MW confirmed that Cantonese food paired better with white wine. Meiburg ran four seminars on pairing wines with Chinese flavours and all classes were oversubscribed. Participants voted for riesling as their top pairing choice at every session. Interestingly, red wine classes were seldom full.
Wine journalist Poh Tiong Ch’ng detected a trend towards white wine and champagne in China’s coastal cities. “Even in the smallest villages, people do not add sprite or coke to wine. That story is a myth. Yet I note that Europeans still add sugar and milk to their tea,” he said with a smile.
Alberto Fernandez, managing partner for Torres China, noted that German rieslings were “finding favour with educated Chinese consumers”.
The German Fine Wine Company has recently opened offices in Shanghai and Beijing, and has focused on educating consumers about riesling. Carsten Klante, managing director, said riesling was the perfect match with much Chinese food.
Wine education in China
Vinexpo saw the official launch of an international sommelier certificate created by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI). Shinya Tasaki, ASI president and the person named best sommelier of the world in 1995, said the aim was to standardise the level of sommeliers across the world.
Yang Lu, a sommelier in Shanghai, said Chinese sommeliers still had limited knowledge. “Lots of wine lists look identical because they rely on major suppliers and do not know enough about alternatives. It will take a long time before China has a sophisticated wine and food pairing market.
“Wine education is needed,” Yang Lu said.
Fongyee Walker, a Beijing-based wine educator, agreed. “Without education wine will remain a luxury good in China.” The country also needed an agreed vocabulary of wine terms. “We currently have three different ways to write [the character for] chablis and seven for cabernet sauvignon.”
Decanter magazine hosted a panel of four experts aiming to profile the Chinese wine consumer. The panel consisted of a sommelier, a wine educator, a wine journalist, and the manager of a wine distribution company.
Cognac has always the preferred gift among Chinese people who wanted to show they were sophisticated. But in recent years wine has made major inroads.
The mainland’s younger generation were particularly enthusiastic about wine, preferring it to cognac or whisky, which they viewed as old fashioned, the panel heard.
A Vinexpo study in conjunction with International Wine and Spirit Research forecast growth of 54 per cent in wine consumption on the mainland and Hong Kong over the next four years – the equivalent of 1,000 million more bottles.
Alberto Fernandez, managing partner for Torres China, said: “Many wine bars have sprung up in the bigger cities, particularly Beijing and Shanghai, and are generally frequented by executives who have travelled overseas and observed the wine culture in countries such as France and Australia.”
John Abbott, editor of Decanter.com, released details of a survey of 70,000 Chinese consumers in 30 cities. “People are actively looking for information about wine daily, which explained the massive growth of social networks, with 300 million active Sina Weibo users.” Sina Weibo is China’s version of Twitter, because the latter is banned in China.
In May the number of Chinese visitors to Decanter.com surged past the total for both the UK and US for the first time. In January 2012 the proportion of audience who accessed Decanter.com from China was 1.3 per cent. By May it had leapt to 34 per cent.
“Chinese consumers have many sources of information but little clarity,” Abbott said. “People go online for information. They know brands, but they want more information [about wine].” Abbott announced that the Chinese-English version of DecanterChina.com would launch in autumn 2012.
Winemakers embrace digital marketing
Social networking played an increased role at Vinexpo. Pierre Perrin, winemaker for the family–owned Beaucastel estate in the Rhone, said he had become very active on social networks to sell wine online. “It is vital for our family to continue our traditions in terms of winemaking, but also to use technologies to create markets. That’s quite a challenge for wine people.”
Alberto Fernandez, managing partner for Torres China, said social media was important for marketing wine on the mainland “because of the importance of word of mouth and trust in that culture”.
Wines of Brazil were active on Facebook during Vinexpo, posting regular updates on their site (http://www.facebook.com/brazilianwines). Barbara Ruppel, promotions assistant, said her organisation kept its Facebook page updated during Vinexpo with “interesting information about Brazilian wines, along with pictures of events and relevant facts”.
Mauricio Roloff is responsible for the organisation’s social media / networking policies. “Social media is strategic in our communication plan. Our products have enough quality to compete with wines from anywhere in the world. But people know little so far [about the wine]. Brazil’s wine industry is basically made of small properties, with a small budget for international publicity. The Internet is a free and honest way to get in touch with consumers.
“Critics such as Gary Vaynerchuk (Wine Library), Gregory Dal Piaz (Snooth), Tim Atkin, Oz Clarke and many others are in touch with us through Facebook and Twitter. We know that traditional media play a very important role. Since we’re not its main focus yet, social media can help us to build this bridge.”
During the closing press conference, Madam Dominique Hériard Dubreuil, chairman of Vinexpo Asia-Pacific, said the Asian market, while maturing, still had great potential for growth. “Vinexpo Asia-Pacific remains firmly the premium choice for professionals in the wine and spirits industry.”
Hong Kong would continue, she concluded, to be “one of the most attractive places on the planet to do business”.
Published in the August edition of Epicure magazine, pages 62-64, under the headline “A grape success”.