Sunday 30 October 2011
You can argue it either way.
Start with Italy. It has over 350 indigenous grapes, but the one variety that is its claim to fame is Sangiovese, used in so many great wines from Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino to the Super Tuscans. Sangiovese brought the world’s drinkers to Italy and introduced them to its many siblings—Nebbiolo, Aglianico, Pinot Grigio and more. Today, consumers everywhere appreciate the diversity of Italian wines, but they still pay respect to Sangiovese.
Like Italy, Portugal has over 300 native grapes, but it does not promote any particular variety in the international arena. The fact that one grape often has different names depending on where it is grown (north, centre or south) doesn’t help. As a result, perhaps, Portuguese wine has little recognition outside Portugal even today (except Port and Mateus Rosé). A few years ago, ViniPortugal decided to start marketing Touriga Nacional as the national grape, hoping it would achieve similar status to Sangiovese and bring the world to its many other wines. We are still waiting to see the results.
Most will agree that Tempranillo is Spain’s flagship grape. But what about Grenache (Garnacha)? It is an important variety in Rioja where Tempranillo gained its fame, and produces the expressive and concentrated wines of Priorat and the south. In fact, Grenache has more characters than Tempranillo as a varietal, yet it always seems a few steps behind.
Sauvignon Blanc, specifically from Marlborough, put New Zealand on the world wine map. Now every wine region outside New Zealand wants to produce a similar style of Sauvignon Blanc. However, this flagship grape has been so successful that all other great New Zealand wines are living under its shadow. The average consumer—and I am referring to the average, not those in the wine circle—is not even aware of Otago Pinot Noir, let alone the wines of other regions.
Chile is known for offering the best value in several international grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay. Yet it struggles to establish an identity. Conversely, its neighbour Argentina is, in a sense, better positioned in the world wine market because of its flagship grape, Malbec.
So, is having a flagship wine or varietal a good or a bad thing?
Thursday 20 October 2011
I was inspired to write this after talking to the participants at 'Test Your Palate', an open bottle tasting event for the general public held alongside the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition. I hope it will help people grasp the few essential points of tasting.
Broadly speaking, aromatic white wines have added aromas such as delicate floral (Riesling), grassy and passionfruit (Sauvignon Blanc) or the heavier rose and ginger (Gewurztraminer). Red wine aged in barrels may acquire spiciness (French barrels) or the sweeter scent of vanilla/coconut (American barrels). Earthy and mushroomy notes are likely to be found in aged red wines.
Minerality is a controversial descriptor. Some experts say it’s a reflection of terroir and can only be found in cooler climate (Chablis) while some dismiss it as total nonsense. I was confused by ‘wet stones’ until I realised it referred to the smell of the sea. My own interpretation of minerality is a mixture of savouriness and acidity on the palate; nothing to do with wet stones!
Being one of the organisers of the event, and one of the judges of the Competition, I stayed for all three evenings and found it enjoyable talking to participants, most of whom were wine students or serious wine lovers. We discussed everything in the wine world from indigenous grapes in Georgia to Australian wine marketing strategies. However, the most common topic was tasting: how can one identify the different aromas; how to detect this and that; how can one smell more things…?
Click here for a few tasting tips.
Sunday 9 October 2011
James Halliday’s visit, another wine critic was recently in town promoting his latest wine guide. This time it was José Peñin from Spain. José has over 30 years experience in wine journalism. He is sometimes called the Robert Parker of Spain and was awarded the Jury Special Prize for the best wine guide in the 2007 Gourmand Book Prizes. The Peñin Guide to Spanish Wine 2011 features more than 13,000 wines of which over 8,000 were sampled by a team of four tasters.
It was frustrating having to talk to José via an interpreter who only had minimal wine knowledge, as complex questions and answers were often lost. I know I could have got a lot more insightful opinions if I could have spoken to him directly—I should have learnt my Spanish better! Nevertheless, I can just about profile his general thoughts on Spanish wines.
Like most experts, José believes in terroir. Spain’s various wine regions are capable of producing widely differing wine styles thanks to differences in climate, soil and altitude. But it is always important to choose the right grape varieties. Tempranillo may be the flagship grape of Spain, but in hot, dry Priorat it will not produce the same great wine it does in Rioja. The south should concentrate on Garnacha (Grenache), Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and Cariñena (Carignan). He also disputes the notion that high alcohol is a consequence of global warming, asserting that Priorat wines have always been 14.5% alcohol or above. Instead, he emphasises the significance of high altitude vineyards. The high altitude counterbalances the high temperatures, allowing grapes to ripen slowly and fully without accumulating too much sugar. Hmm. I agree with most of this but wonder how many will accept his view about global warming. Or maybe something was lost in translation?
Asked about his favourite wine, José says he is still exploring. Regardless of the grape, the region or the price, good wine must have personality. He has certainly stuck to this philosophy when tasting the wines for the Peñin Guide. And for the Great Spanish Wine tasting in Hong Kong he was accompanied by 26 wineries that had scored 90 points or above. Most are small to medium size wineries with vines of great age, some over 100 years old. The wines are concentrated and expressive and definitely have personality.
One last comment from José: when he is with family and friends, it doesn’t matter what wine he is drinking—it is the company that matters.
My favourites at the tasting were:
Domaines Lupier La Dama 2008: 100% Grenache from Navarra. Concentrated and expressive.
Paco & Lola 2010: 100% Albariño grapes from Rias Baixas. Intense aroma, fresh and lively.
Vinyes Domenech Teixar 2007: 100% Grenache from Montasant. Powerful, spicy and round tannins.
Sunday 2 October 2011
Finca Sophenia, set against the mighty Andes in Mendoza, has everything one needs to produce a perfect wine—high altitudes rising to 4,000ft, a cool climate, long sunshine hours, high diurnal temperatures, well-drained soil, water from melted Andes snow for irrigation, a gravity-fed winery, the latest vinification equipment ... but I think the real secret of its success lies with Roberto Luka, the finca's driving force.
Roberto has been in the wine export business for many years and has been president of Wines of Argentina. With insight of the industry, he made sure Finca Sophenia was founded on the best possible site, he focuses on export markets and he engages Michel Rolland as wine consultant to ensure the wine suits international consumer tastes.