Monday, 21 September 2015

Wineries chats

Although it’s easy to pick up news and information from magazines and social media, It is always nice to talk to wineries to learn something first hand. The Wine High Club portfolio tasting, with a dozen representatives from wineries attending, presented exactly such opportunity.

My first discussion was on the popularity of prosecco with William Spinazzè, owner of Tenuta Santomè in Veneto, Italy. I always presume prosecco is the introductory bubbly to inexperienced wine consumers who will eventually move on to champagne. William disagreed. He believes prosecco is complimentary to champagne. It is just like red wine made in stainless steel only and red wine aged in oak - you can like both and enjoy them in different occasions. Yes, Tenuta Santomè has a fruitier version (extra dry with 15g/l residual sugar) for the novice drinkers but they also make a more elegant brut style for champagne lovers who prefer a lighter prosecco as aperitif. One point to note is that prosecco, unlike champagne, is about freshness and fruitiness therefore Tenuta Santomè only processes the second fermentation and bottles the wine on demand to ensure its prosecco in the market is young - not a cheap process but it shows their dedication. Although three quarters of Tenuta Santomè’s the production is processo, don’t forget to try its red wine made from the native grape Raboso Piave, an intense yet elegant wine that goes well with barbecue.

Another Italian producer I met was the sister/brother duo Silvia and Giovanni Scagliola, the fourth generation of Scagliola located between Alba and Asti in Piedmont. Their main production is Mocasto and Barbera. Asked if they think they are being overshadowed by Barolo and Barbaresco, they don’t think so as the success of Barolo and Barbaresco have put Piedmont in the international wine world. What they hope is that more wine lovers would explore other Piedmontese wines. However, one hurdle they have is limited marketing resources. Unlike most wine producing countries, Italy does not have a generic wine board that helps wineries to develop overseas markets, and perhaps because of Italian characters (Italian always argue!), individual wineries do not really collaborate. This is probably one of the reasons why Italian wine is not as popular in Hong Kong as one might have expected. In terms of volume, Italian wine is only on the 6th place with around 6% market share, lagging behind Chile and Spain. Luckily, the younger generation of winemakers/wineries owners realise that they cannot only rely on domestic markets and are are more willing to cooperate with their neighbours to develop overseas markets. Given the diversity of Italian wine and grape varieties, I do hope to see more of them in Hong Kong. We tried three of their Barbera d’Astis and they were not disappointed.  

I was glad to see Clemens Busch, owner of Weingut Clemens Busch from Mosel, a VDP member practising biodynamic viticulture who just joined Wine High Club. Most vineyards are located in Pündericher Marienburg, one of the best sites in Mosel. Clemens had the foresight of buying abandoned hillside parcels in the area back in the 80s when most farmers decided to grow pinots on the plains. To date, he owns 17ha of vineyards and 99% are planted with Riesling. He echoed the trend towards dry Riesling and that his customers in Australia, Japan and the US all prefer the drier style. In fact, Clemens Busch is an advocate and nearly 90% of his wine is dry. Long fermentation and lees contact give his dry Riesling that extra depth and dimension. His three Marienburg Riesling Trocken GGs (wines from different vineyards with different slates) are classic illustration of how successful German Riesling can express the different terroir and micro-climate.

Finally I had a chance to talk to Jean-Manuel Jacquinot, winemaker of Champagne Jacquinot & Fils, and was delighted to discover our common link - English sparkling wine. He was the consultant oenologist at Nyetimber Vineyard when I was studying at Plumpton College and later the sparkling wine mentor for UKVA (United Kingdom Vineyard Association). We have a lot of common friends including lecturers and classmates at Plumpton. Back to the wine, Jacquinot makes a Blanc de Blancs and a Blanc de Noirs, both are from single vineyard and single year. However, the wines cannot be called vintage because they only spend 24 months on yeast autolysis. I always love Blanc de Blancs for its precise acidity and crispness and Jacquinot’s is exactly what I like about a Blanc de Blancs. The Blanc de Noirs, in contrast, is more structured. Harmonie, a vintage champagne which is only made in the best years, was another gem I discovered.

Before I left, I had a quick taste at Domaine Servin, one of the largest and oldest domaine in Chablis, before I needed to dash. Servin wine ranges from basic AOC to Premier Cru and Grand Cru. The AOC Chablis was refreshing perfect for summer, while the various premier and grand crus once again demonstrate how a well-made wine can reflect soil and micro-climate. Everyone have different preferences and my favourite is ‘Les Preuses’ 2012 Grand Cru, a bit tight now but certainly have potential to age gracefully. I bought got two bottles but wonder if I can resist the temptation to open them too soon.

Wine High Club’s portfolio is mainly French and Italian wine, definitely worth checking out.

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