Friday, 13 March 2020

China’s low-latitude high-altitude wines

Yunnan province maybe too warm for vine growing but it is more than compensated by the high altitude. The vineyards in Shangri-la, the Tibetan highland in the northwest of Yunnan adjacent to Sichuan and Tibet, are planted above 2,000, and up to 2,900m.

At present, there are less than ten wineries in Yunnan of which three are only making ice wine. Thanks to friend and winemaker Ian Dai, we visited four of them in the cold month of January, experiencing first hand the challenges of making wine in such a remote place.



Shangri-la Winery (香格里拉酒業) is state-owned and the biggest in Yunnan. The company was set up 20 years ago with the intention to make Barley wine (青稞酒) but came across some healthy old vines in the region. It then pioneered grape growing and is now sourcing grapes from over 800 ha of vineyards spread among 168 villages and 320 blocks. Manager Li Da (李达) showed us a few vineyard sites. The slightly lower vineyards at around 2,200m are planted with red grape varieties dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon but the company also started planting Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot about 5 years ago. Chardonnay was planted at higher vineyard site between 2,800 and 2,900m. We tasted only three wines, Chardonnay, Syrah and Marsan (Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon) and they were good with fresh acidity and lively fruit characters. I was pleasantly surprised by the Cabernet Sauvignon which I half-expected might be too oak dominate but it was not the case at all.

We continued down the Mekong River on a winding road to CiZhong (茨中), where winemaking was introduced by the French missionaries around 150 years ago and there are still old vines of Rose Honey (a Vitis Vinifera x Vitis Labrusca hybrid) grown within the church walls of CiZhong. Bertrand Cristau, a Frenchman based in Shanghai, had a calling to revive the missionaries’ winegrowing activity after his first visit to the region in early 2010. He eventually set up Xiaoling Estate (霄嶺) in 2013, a small outfit with only 3 ha of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere and Chardonnay scattered in four villages nearby. The winemaker for the first two vintages were a Swiss winemaker but since 2017, he engaged a Chinese winemaker Mu Chao (牟超) with experience in Burgundy and Sonoma. The barrel samples we tasted, 2018 Merlot, 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2017 Cabernet/Merlot blend, were well-integrated with discreet oak and showed good potential. They only made 15,000 bottles in 2019 but Bertrand is planning to experiment with more grape varieties such as Pinot Noir and Syrah.

The next day we ventured to the village Adong (阿東) at 2,600m above-sea-level, home to the most internationally-known Yunnan wine Ao Yun (敖雲). We were greeted by the stunning snow-covered vineyard view against steep slopes and vineyard manager Rémi Vincent, who thoroughly explained the set up of Ao Yun and its terroir. Apparently, it is not common at all to have that much snow on the vineyard and we considered ourselves lucky to be treated with such an impressive view! Ao Yun was the result of a painstaking 4-year search for the perfect wine-growing site in China by the late winemaker Tony Jordan of Moët-Hennessy. The estate sources grapes from 28ha of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit-Verdot between 2,200 and 2,600m altitude tended by 120 families under the strict supervision of Ao Yun viticulture team. Retailed at around HK$2,500 (USD300) per bottle, it is the most expensive wine from China and for a reason. Average yield is only 20-25hl/ha and all wine is aged in barrel (50% new and 50% one year old) for around 15 months. Since wine is less expressive at high altitude, blending is done in the lower altitude of Hong Kong. Only 20,000 bottles of wine are made. The 2018 and 2019 barrel samples we tested were from different villages and they were all dense, pretty and polished.

Just down the road of Ao Yun is the mini-winery of my friend Ian, who makes wine under the label Xiao Pu (小圃酿造). The Chardonnay was sourced from vineyards close by, fermented with wild yeast and skin contact then aged in old barrels. The wine is the complete opposite style of Ao Yun’s – fresh, pure and  exciting. I couldn’t help but wonder the human terroir factor. When the grapes are picked and how the wine is made certainly have a major impact of the final style. 2018 is Ian’s first vintage in Yunnan (Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon) and he also makes 6 wines with grapes sourced from Ningxia.

Li Da, Bertrand, Rémi and Ian all believe Shangri-la presents a more favourable terroir for growing vines. The Meili Snow Mountain (梅里雪山) at 6,740m above sea level north of Shangri-la blocks the humid air from Indian Ocean therefore the area enjoys a dry growing season with between 300 and 600mm annual rainfall. The mountain terroir and high altitude result in high diurnal temperature difference and cool summer with average temperature around 23ºC that allows grapes to ripen slowly and retains acidity. Rémi further elaborated that comparing to Bordeaux, the vineyards receive 2 hours less sunshine because of the shade created by the mountains. However, the intense UV light at such high altitude enables riper tannin. The veraison period is also 15-25 days longer than in Bordeaux and harvest can be up to 10 weeks from the first week of September until the second week of November. Li Da said winter temperature can be -8 to -10ºC but it is not over a prolong period therefore vines do need to be buried under soil for protection.

In this respect, Shangri-la has advantages over Yantai (煙台) in the eastern coast of China where rainfall is abundant, and Ningxia (寧夏) in the west where the short growing season often results in unripe tannin especially in Cabernet Sauvignon. However, Shangri-la is not without challenges. The region is not easily accessible and electricity not reliable. The winery of Shangri-la Winery is closer to Lijiang, some 300km from the vineyards and grapes have to be trucked over 5 hours for processing at harvest. When we were there, the main road over the mountain pass and airport were closed because of bad weather, and it took us 10 hours for a 400km bus ride from Lijiang to Deqin (德欽), , the town closest to the vineyard sites! The other issue is labour as the wineries have to compete with the mushroom industry for labour during mushroom picking season in summer. On top of this is the cost, only viticultural expense including leasing of vineyard and labour is a whopping Rmb5,500/mu (over HK$90,000/ha).

Unless the infrastructure and transportation are vastly improved, wine from Shangri-la will remain niche and premium. Perhaps we just have to accept the fact that the wine indeed comes from a lost paradise.

Both Xialing and Ao Yun are available from Watson’s Wine.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Domaine Franco-Chinois re-visit

When I visited Canaan Wine (迦南酒業) and its sister winery Domaine Franco-Chinois (中法莊園), located in Huailai (懷來) in Hebei province back in mid 2017, the wines were not commercially available despite the fact that wine has been made since 2003. The selection of wine I tasted then was much better than some of the more famous Chinese brands but the owner thought that it was still not good to be released.

Therefore I was glad to finally have seen and tasted Canaan Wine, under the name 詩百篇, at Shanghai Pudao retail shop cum wine bar in November 2019, and even more excited to visit the winery again in the beginning of 2020.

Canaan Wine was launched in 2018 but they decided to use the brand name 詩百篇 to avoid confusion with another winery in Ningxia called Kanaan Winery (迦南美地酒莊). The name 詩百篇 suits well because the Taiwanese owner is a Christian and the name implies hymn and also has a poetic connotation in Chinese.

Most wineries in China only focus on Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux blend and Chardonnay regardless if the soil and climate are suitable for these varieties. Cannan is creative and has also planted Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo and Syrah at different attitude between 500 and 900m, spread over 300ha. Winemaker Zhao Desheng likes to experiment with clones. He has 10 clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and 7 clones of Pinot Noir. He explained that different clones have different expressions even fermented with the same yeasts and aged in same barrels therefore blending them together with give more complexity to the final wine.

The Riesling 2017 is refreshing with abundant lime aroma not dissimilar to Clare Valley’s while the 2017 Syrah has a pleasant peppery nose and integrated tannin. I like the lively 2017 Pinot Noir which has potential to develop further in bottle. The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserve shows depth and is well balanced.

Another impressive wine was the Domaine Franco-Chinois 2013 Marselan (we tasted this alongside 2014 vintage). Marselan is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache developed in the 1960s in France. It was planted at Domaine Franco-Chinois in early 2000, then a Sino-French joint venture before being acquired by Canaan in 2010. It was the first planting of Marselan in China and it prove to adapt well. It is easier to manage than Cabernet Sauvignon and is gaining popularity in China. Although Deshang said it is not easy to make an outstanding Marselan, this 7 years old Marselan is still bursted with red fruit aromas supported by great acidity and I’m pretty convinced that this is one of the outstanding Marselan in China.

Apparently, when the owner of Canaan decided to make wine in China, they spent three years between 2006 and 2009 researching 16 regions in China and decided Huailai in Hebei is the most suitable in terms of soil  and climate. The region has been growing table grapes for 1,000 years and China’s first bottle of dry white wine was made here in 1979.

The wine is not available in Hong Kong yet but if you are visiting Beijing, drop by the winery where the beautiful tasting room has just been built. It is just 90 minutes from the centre of Beijing.

Friday, 20 December 2019

A discovery journey with Colchagua Singular

Chilean wine industry is pretty much a 80/20 rule. Over 80% of the export market is shared among the big producers like Concha y Toro, Errazuriz, Montes and Santa Rita which represented only around 20% of the 350 wineries. The smaller guys are often out of the radar of international markets and critics. In 2017, 12 producers from Colchagua, one of the three zones within Rapel sub-region in Central Valley, established Colchagua Singular, an organisation to support each other and to craft a space in the Chilean wine export market.

Colchagua Singular only welcomes wineries producing no more than 50,000 bottles per year and grapes must all be sourced within Colchagua. In addition, the owners must involve actively in all processes of winemaking from viticulture and cellar work to sales and marketing. United, they become a bigger voice to show the world what is happening in Colchagua.

Chile maybe a narrow country but the climatic difference between east and west can be significant because of its topography — the Andes mountain range in the east and the Corderillas de la Costa (coastal mountain range) in the west. Colchagua measured only 120km from west to east, a large part of which is sandwiched between these two mountain ranges with hot Mediterranean climate but the vineyards in Peradones, at the west side of the coastal mountain and just 20km from the Pacific coast, are cooled by winds blowing off the cold Humboldt current from Antarctica. Similarly, vineyards around San Fernando, pretty much at the foothills of the Andes, enjoy high diurnal temperature because of the cold air from the mountain.  The coastal mountain, about 500m above sea level, has jurassic soil mainly of granite and slate, and higher humidity while the Andes has lower humidity with younger and more clayey soil. Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon may be the dominant varieties but there are also Carignan, Cinsault, Pais and Semillon.

Most of us associate big red wines with Colchagua but Colchagua Singular, championing innovation and character, produces some original, exciting wines from old vines and unusual blends. Some of the members are grapegrowers venturing into winemaking or from total different trade. They are still finding their styles but already making promising wines. Winemaking is a skill and anyone can produce a well-made wine after learning. However, not everyone can make a wine with soul if he does not have the passion. Watch out for these guys from Colchagua. Their production may be small but they have big hearts.

Colchagua Singular invited four persons from four different countries for a four days visit. I was one of the lucky ones and here are my impressions of the members.

Maturana Wines
José Maturana from Maturana Wines is one of the most experienced member of the group. He was the former winemaker at Casa Silva since 1998 but decided to make his own wine in 2011. His winery is at his parents’ house close to San Fernando, the capital of Colchagua, and sources grapes from 32 ha of vineyards spread across the region, including a 1910 vineyard planted with Pais, Muscatel Negra, Semillon and Riesling in Peradones. José co-ferments the grapes and makes Pa-tel, an aromatic fruity red wine with only 12% alcohol. Close by is the 4ha, 1928 Semillon vineyard that José makes into a single vineyard wine. The 2018 wine had 40% skin contact for four months, is textural with white fruits aroma and a mineral note.

MW, a blend of Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon, is Maturana’s flagship wine. Carménère is the majority grape and we tasted the 2018 Carménère components from both concrete tank and old 500l barrels prior to  the 2016 vintage. I can see why this is the flagship - a classic wine with complexity and structure.

José also sources grapes from Maule and there are two pleasantly surprise wines. Negra is 100% San Francisco grape planted in 1938. This variety was not recorded in Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes published in 2012 and according to Decanter in 2018, it was only identified recently in Bío Bío. It was the first time I tasted it and it reminded me of Gamay and Cinsault! The other one is VOX - Viognier Oxidativo (oxidative style Viognier), fermented in old oak for 10 months with topping up but not protected by inert gas. It is fresh with a savoury palate which is untypical of Viognier in a positive way!

Villalobos
Villalobos is pretty much an accidental winery. Sculptor Enrique Villalobos discovered an abandoned Carignan vineyard among the trees in his land. They are bush vines planted in 1945. French winemaker Mathieu Rousseau then made an experimental wine in 2009. When this wine was awarded the Best Carignan of Chile by Descorchados Guide 2011, the rest is history. Villalobos is now making three wines and Martin, Enrique’s son quit his full time engineer job and focuses on making wine at this family estate.

Viñedo Sivlvestre is 100% from the abandoned Carignan vineyard. The family leaves the vineyard as it is when it was discovered with no use of chemicals or irrigation. Harvest is manual and they have to use ladders or sit on other’s shoulders to pick the grapes. Even so, only 60% of the grapes can be picked and the rest have to leave to animals. We tasted the 2017 vintage, an elegant wine with only 12% alcohol dominated by red fruits (plums, sour cherry, raspberries) complemented by a peppery note.

Zarrito Salvaje is an equal blend of Cinsault and Pais from Maule. Pais was the most widely-planted grapes in Chile until 1990s and it is usually made into rustic and thin red wine because of high yield. However, given proper vineyard management, it can be made into promising wine. The 2016 vintage has integrated tannin with a mix of red fruits and herbs.

Vinos Lugarejo
Elina Carbonell is another unintentional winemaker. When the family returned to Chile after a stint in the US, they decided to plant grapes and made wines. Since husband Fernando is a historian and a university professor, the winemaking responsibility falls on Elina. The brand is called Lugarejo which means a remote place and the label is based on a 1643 drawing of the area where the house/winery is located. They have only 0.1ha at their house (Mourvèdre and Carménère), and source grapes from her mother-in-law’s vineyard. The first vintage was 2014 Merlot with only one barrel and this year they expanded to 4,500 bottles. The wine is mostly sold at restaurants in Santiago and Elina aims to double the production eventually. I love the winery set up with all the mini tanks and a tiny basket press!

We tasted their first vintage of the three-year-old Mourvèdre from barrel which is better that I expected with pleasant floral note and candid fruit. Pais 2017, where grapes were sourced from the cooler Peradones, is unpretentious and agreeable.

My favourite is Zafarrancho, meaning brawl or quarrel in English. It is a blend of all the leftover wine that Elina translated as a noisy blend. Most winemakers will tell you how they select the best wine for the flagship or reserve wine but they won’t tell you what do they do with the wine that doesn’t make into the selection. Elina was frank to say that they can’t afford to waste any wine therefore they make Zafarrancho and they are not ashamed of it. The 2018 vintage was a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carménère, the best leftover wine I tasted with flora and pepper notes.

Without any prior winemaking experience, Elina said they make wine following instinct. They believe wine is for sharing and not necessarily to pair with any special meal therefore it should be fruitier. Therefore, they pick the grapes earlier for the maximum fruit expression and to avoid high alcohol otherwise the all wine will taste the same. I found Lugarejo wine delicate and certainly happy to only drink them on its own.

Fanoa
Raúl Narváez from Fanoa Family Vineyard is one of those half-crazy, enthusiastic winemakers. He purchased his 22ha plot of land in 2009 and planted only 2.3ha with vines in 10 years on a gentle slope, which include 14 varieties in high density planting - 12,121 vines/ha to be exact. The varieties range from Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon to Tempranillo and Sangiovese as well as Viognier and Pinot Blanc. The vines are Gobelet pruned to around 1kg yield/vine to give 12 tons/ha though he admitted that 12,000 vines/ha is a bit too much and will reduce it to 10,000 vines/ha in future planting. Further up the slope, Raúl planted Montepulciano under trees to provide shade and restrict water supply. A firm believer of biodynamic farming, he also grows tomatoes and peanuts following Rudolf Steiner’s principle.

Fanoa’s first wine was made in 2016 under the name Seis Tintos (Six Reds), a blend of his most favoured six grape varieties of the year. The blend changes every year to allow for creativity and the 2017 blend we tasted is Malbec, Petit Syrah, Carménère. Tempranillo, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon, a delicious wine with black fruits and sweet spices and integrated tannin. The label is a vine with shoots pointing up to the stars and roots pointing down to the name Fanoa. The stars represent biodynamic farming while the shoots are working hands and the roots anchor to the family. Fanoa is the abbreviation of the family - FA for family, N for Narváez, O for wife Ángela Ovalle, and A for associates referring to the children.

We also tasted Raúl’s wine from tanks. Cosmos Rosé 2019 is a Malbec-Tempranillo-Mourvèdre blend, with an attractive pale salmon colour, a deceptive floral and perfumey nose but dry with a touch of salinity on palate. My favourite is Cosmos Carignan 2019 which has fresh bramble and rhubarb aromas and a nice concentration. The wine would only be bottled in a few weeks and Raúl was very kind to bottle one for me to take home.

La Pascuala
We were greeted by a charming and honest young couple at La Pascuala. They are only in their second year of winemaking but the family has been grapegrower since 1998. Daughter and winemaker Daniela, was frank about her wine. The first vintage was made in stainless steel tank and no barrel but she was not too happy about it. With the guidance of a different consultant, she experimented with old barrel and both commercial and wild yeast fermentation in 2019 vintage. She is still learning but one thing she is sure, at least now, is that she doesn’t like new oak.

Although inexperienced, Daniela was passionate and curious. She built tinajas (clay jar) and made wine in them in 2018. An equal blend of Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is fresh with attractive fruit and floral notes and integrated tannin. The other wine worth a note is Artesana blend 2018, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Carménère and Carignan.

During the barbecue lunch at the in the vineyard of La Pascuala, Daniela’s brother asked me about if family is an important marketing message in the world of wine and I answered yes or no depending on the level of involvement of the family. Then later I found out that the whole family is involved in the business. Father Benito set up the winery and makes the tanks (he runs a metal factory) and the uncle manages the vineyard. The entire family including sisters were preparing our barbecue lunch and taking photos. This level of family commitment is a good story to tell and I am sure they will shine.

L’Entremetteuse is headed by French winemaker Laurence Real who spent 21 years perfecting her winemaking skill in Chilean big producers before establishing her own winery in Apalta in 2015. Her goal is to make wine that connects people with the Chilean landscapes. Laurence only makes around 12,000 bottles split into three lines:  Pet Nat, Rouge & Jorge (natural wine) and L’Entremetteuse with lively labels of people enjoying wine (single varietal and blended wine).

Nerkihue is a family estate based in Lolol. The father started the vineyard
from scratch and made only one classic blended wine, Justo. When sons Bernardo and Loreto joined the business in 2010, they created a second label Quiebre, meaning a break from tradition and consisted of a range of youthful single varietal wine with no new barrel. By the way, Bernardo is also a professional musician. We exchanged ideas on connecting wine and music. I hope one day I can organise a winemakers’ Wine Music Jam!

Javiera Ortuzar Wines is the brainchild of Javiera Ortuzar, who makes three wines from two varieties: carbonic maceration Syrah and Petit Verdot, as well as a Syrah-Petit Verdot blend with minimum intervention under the name Impetu. The wines are fresh, juicy with a pleasant mouthfeel.

Daniel Wiedertehr is an ex-banker from Switzerland and dedicated to making his own wine, Viña Nahuel, in the heart of Colchagua Valley. He practises biodynamic farming and dutifully follows the phases of the moon to ensure his wine is the best expression of the land. Chak 2015 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from a 1942 vineyard with bright fruit, velvet tannin and fresh acidity, while the Nahuel 2015, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Malbec and Syrah, is laden with spices and mints supported by a sturdy mid palate.

Left to right: L'Entremettteuse, Nerkihue, Javiera Ortuzar Wines, Viña Nahuel

Cultra Vinos is a joint venture between two winemaker friends, José Luis Reyes and Marcial Berrios in the Lolol Valley. The Chiflao Pais 2017 is made from 150 years old grapes from a dry farmed vineyard. Pais was the forgotten grape in Chile used mainly for bulk and rosé wine that were tart and astringent. Cultra Vinos’s Pais is a proof that when the vines are taken with care, Pais can be made into concentrated and serious wine.

Viña Travesia (means journey of the project) was founded by Juan Canales in 2014 with only the family vineyards, a refurbished winery and no winemaking experience, hence the name Travesia. His Infiltra 2017, a 100% Carménère is impressive with rich fruits that carried through to the palate.

Francisco Caroca is a viticulturist based in the red wine town of Marchigüe who sells most of the grapes to big producers. He created his label Bodega Caven in 2011 and now making three wines: Caven Uno, Caven Dos and Caven Tres, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère juice for the health-conscious and kids.

Left to right: Cultra Vinos, Travesia, Bodega Caven
Colchagua Singular is like a breath of fresh air in the Chilean wine industry dominated by big producers churning out technically well-made, reliable but somewhat predictable wine. Their wines may not be all of star quality but they have individuality and characters. They are artisan wine made with passion. They are also generous and we were treated with home cooking in several occasions. They were thoughtful to have organised a farewell lunch at Pasaje Punta de Lobos so we could experience the Pacific Ocean influence. I am thankful to have spent four days with them despite the fact that I had to spend another four days travelling. It reminded me why wine has a special place in my heart.


Except for Maturana Wines who has an importer in China, none of their wines are available in our part of the world.

Friday, 29 November 2019

Exploring French wine regions on foot, by bike and car

Wine lovers always choose to go to wine regions for holiday and I am no exception. My adventure in July was Burgundy, Jura and Alsace. I have never been to this part of France and my French is pathetic, but this is exactly why it was fun.

Some friends were excited about my trip and asked which wineries I had made appointments to visit. Actually I didn’t and didn’t want to. It would be a work trip if I have arranged meetings in advance. Moreover, I much prefer to see wineries that I haven’t heard of, there are always nice surprises waiting round the corner!

Burgundy
Beaune was my base to explore Burgundy, where there are well-signed cycling tracks and hiking routes. I spent a few days cycling and hiking amongst the vineyards and famous villages including Volnay, Chassagne-Montrachet and Aloxe-Corton, then a day driving down to Beaujolais. There is no dramatic landscape but the scenery is pleasant and calming. It seems that the life at all these villages only revolves around wine. I only tasted at six wineries but they were all authentic and friendly. All cellar doors close at lunch time for at least 2 hours and some need prior appointments because they may be working in vineyards.

Most established negociants have tasting rooms in Beaune. A not-to-be-missed is Patriarche for its underground cellar with self-guided tasting using a a tastevin that you can keep. There are also a few independent wine shops that carry boutique, individual labels. I didn’t have any luck in Beaujolais but was glad to find the Jean Foillard Cuvée 3.14 2014, made from 100 years old vines at one of these shops.

While in Beaune, make sure to spend a good few hours at Hospices de Beaune (also called Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune) to learn about the history; and drop by La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot to taste the many mustard flavours, including Pinot Noir!

Restaurants abound in Beaune. Those around the square inside the old city wall are great for people watching but for a few good glasses of wine, highly recommended are Maison du Colombier and Le Bistrot Bourguignon for an extensive wine list, and Le Comptoir des Tontons for organic and natural wine. Caves Madeleine has a good reputation but it was full when I was there.

In case you visit Dijon, Dr Wine is the place to for good one for wine and tapas.

Jura
My next stop Jura was the most unexpected. I used Arbois as the base, drove around the region for few days, and learned everything from Savagnin to Poulsard and Trousseau, all local varieties. The other two permitted varieties are the most widely planted Chardonnay (43%) and Pinot Noir. Jura is certainly more rustic than Burgundy but the scenery is totally different and more spectacular. Baume-les-Messieurs, ranked one of the most beautiful villages in France, is surrounded by high cliffs, while Chateau-Chalon is a hilltop village and a Vin Jaune only AOC. Arbois itself is a quiet historic town with the Cuisance River passing through it. The main streets are dotted with tasting rooms and wine shops. Apparently, it is the first AOC denomination in France!

For me, the local variety Savagnin is the most fascinating. It is full-bodied with crisp acidity, citrus and floral notes. The most famous wine from the region is Vin Jaune (yellow wine), where Savagnin is aged under a layer of flor (like fino sherry) in oak barrels for a minimum of 6 years and 3 months without topping up or fortification, and bottled in a special 62cl bottle ‘Clavelin’. The wine style is known as ‘oxidative’ style because it is aged without topping up but this is what I don’t understand. The wine is aged under a layer of flor which by sherry’s definition, is biological ageing rather than oxidative ageing. Yes, the wine is golden yellow but it is nowhere like the brown colour of oxidative Amontillado or Oloroso sherry. The wine has the nutty sherry character yet fresh on palate. I scratched my head every time I tasted Vin Jaune but my hopeless French forbid me to have any meaningful discussion with the locals. I welcome anyone who read this to share his/her thought.

‘Tradition’ Savagnin is aged without topping up and in a shorter period of time than Vin Jaune, so the wine can still develop the ‘sherry’ character although not as obvious. In contrast, ‘Ouille’ Savagnin is aged with topping up giving more fruit-forward wine. Domaine André et Mireille Tissot even made an Amphore Savagnin. Apart from dry wine, Savagnin can also be made into Crémant (sparkling wine), Vin de Paille (naturally sweet wine made with dried grapes), and Macvin du Jura (liqueur wine made by adding marc brandy to unfermented grape juice).

Another surprise in Jura is a variety called Melon à Queue Rouge, a mutation of Chardonnay that has a red stem. It is planted only around Arbois and just a few producers are making this as a varietal wine, including Domaine de la Pinte.

Alsace
Only two hours drive from Arbois, Alsace is a totally different world. The architecture, names of villages, wines and to a certain extent culture, are more Germanic than French because of historical reasons. Croissants in bakeries are replaced by bretzels (pretzels in Germany). There are times that I was wondering if I was in Germany or France.

The old town of Colmar is very attractive with traditional half-timbered houses, floral displays and canals, while most Alsatian wine villages, located on slopes or hill tops, are equally picturesque. The region is bicycle-friendly and a hiker’s paradise. I was so excited to have come across a wine festival while cycling through the village of Eguisheim, and ended up spending 3 hours there!

I also attended the Wine and Gastronomy Fair in Ribeauville. 11 restaurant stands were set up where each restaurant showcasing one dish accompanied with two wines. There were music, DJs and revellers were dancing the night away. For an extra fee, wine lovers could sample over 270 wines according to style and grape varieties: Crémant, Chasselas, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Muscat, Riesling, Rosé, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer in a separate tasting parlour. Guess where I spent most of my time😀.

The two must-try restaurants in Colmar are L’Un Des Sens run by two sommeliers and Le Cercle des Aromas serving 250 wine by the glass. Le Grognard in Riquewihr has a good wine list and an even better rum list.

The trip was super enjoyable. To see and experience a wine region first hand is the way to understand its wine. We may be familiar with Burgundian fine wine but visiting the villages and seeing people working in vineyards allow us to appreciate the lesser appellation wines. Mingling with locals certainly help us broaden our horizon. Moreover, wine regions are not only about wine. There are history, culture, outdoor activities and of course fine cuisines. Please plan your next holiday exploring wine regions.

Recommended wineries:
Patriarche, Beaune, Burgundy (available from wine’n’things)
Mestre Pere et Fils, Santenay, Burgundy
Christophe Vaudoisey, Volnay, Burgundy
Domaine Michel Voarick, Aloxe-Corton, Burgundy
Domaine André et Mireille Tissot, Arbois, Jura
Domaine de la Pinte, Arbois, Jura
Domiane Jacques Tissot, Arbois, Jura
Domaine Désiré Petit, Pupillin, Jura
Domaine Berthet-Bondet, Chateau-Chalon, Jura
Domaine Ginglinger Pierre Henri, Eguisheim, Alsace
Domaine Zinck, Eguisheim, Alsace
Domaine Jean-Paul Schmitt, Scherwiller, Alsace
Domaine Clé de Sol, Ribeauville, Alsace