Friday, 10 July 2015

Continental Wines portfolio tasting

Portfolio tastings are always worthwhile to attend if you have time because you may be familiar with only a handful of brands that importers are carrying and the tastings are a chance for you to discover something new.

I particularly enjoyed the recent Continental Wines portfolio tasting in May. Not only were there a lot of wines to try—over 200 wines from 45 wineries in 10 countries were presented—it was also a great opportunity to catch up with friends both from the trade in Hong Kong and from the wineries. After all, more than half of the brands had representatives present.

The first person to greet me was Huibre Hoff from Morgenster Estate in South Africa, whom I met last year when she conducted a Mongenster vertical tasting here. We discussed the ‘Discover South African Wine Festival’ that just ended in April and the upcoming Cape Wine event in September while tasting her wines. The Lothian Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012 from Elgin was very pleasant and the Bordeaux blend Morgenster 2009 was just superb. 

My next stop was Claudio Quarta, a biologist turned winemaker in the south of Italy. Claudio has two brands. One is Cantina San Paolo in Campania whose Greco di Tufo DOCG was outstanding. But what caught my eye was the QU.ALE Rosso Salento from his other vineyard, Tenute Eméra in Puglia. This wine is the project of his daughter, Alessandra Quarta. The name was cleverly derived from her own and means ‘What’ in Italian. Alessandra’s question is, "What responsibilities do we have if we want to work with respect for nature and mankind?" The wine, with ‘The Wine Democracy’ on the label and a very reasonable price of HK$113/bottle, clearly targets the younger audience with a conscience. However, it is not pure gimmick. You may not agree with her marketing ideas or the video but the wine, a blend of Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Tempranillo, is definitely a pleasant, simple, easy-drinking wine that will charm new young wine consumers.

From Italy I went to the Southern hemisphere where I discovered two wines made by my friends who are advocates of terroir. Clos des Fous from Chile is the brainchild of Pedro Parra, a terroir specialist whom I met in Chile back in 2013. The grapes were sourced from the extreme conditions of Chile in the south, high altitude and right next to the Pacific Ocean, outside the comfort zones of traditional Chilean wine regions. Even the entry level Subsollum Pinot Noir and Cauquenina (a blend of Carignan, Malbec, Syrah, Pais) are extremely elegant. I’m glad that Pedro’s wines have made it to Hong Kong.

The other one was Altos Las Hormigas from Alberto Antonini, an Italian winemaker friend whom I just visited in Tuscany last September. The winery only produces 100% Malbec from Uco Valley in Mendoza with minimal intervention. The wines, ranging from entry level to vineyard specific, are perfect examples of how a wine can express terroir. The Terroir Malbec and Reserva Malbec are both excellent buys.

Moving on, I was delighted to discover Losada from Bierzo in northern Spain, made from 100% Mencia, a native variety. Pájaro Rojo is fresh with red fruits and herbal flavours, while the flagship Altos de Losada, made from old vines, has a depth and concentration that outshines a lot of Riojas. 

Finally I stopped by Chapel Down, England’s largest sparkling wine producer from Kent. We had a long chat about the English wine industry and its future while sipping the winery's various sparklers. England has been making good quality sparkling wine from Champagne varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) for more than 10 years but still, a lot of people in the trade, let alone consumers, are not aware of it because of the limited export volumes. Only a few brands are available in Hong Kong but do try them if you come across them. You’ll be surprised.

Time flies and before I knew it, it was the end of the session. Usually we can hang around for a while but this time the venue had another function right after so Victoria, owner of Continental Wines, had to send us away. I realised that I only tasted a quarter of the wine—too many wines, too little time—but nevertheless a great discovery, and I had to buy a case for myself.

Continental Wines runs a separate online retail club, Victoria Wines, for private customers.

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