Wednesday 28 December 2011

Port and food pairing

When talking about pairing port with food, most of us associate it with the classic dessert matches such as chocolate, crème brûlée and cheese. Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise to see port paired with a number of savoury dishes at the recent Vintage Port Academy events. We paired foie gras terrine on toasted brioche and parma ham with a 20 year old Tawny. The acidity of the Tawny cut through the richness of the foie gras—similar to the effect of pairing sauternes with foie gras—while the nuttiness of the wine complemented the smokiness of the ham. For Chinese cuisine, try a Tawny with Peking duck or hairy crab—you'll be surprised!

We also tried wagyu beef rump, venison patties and peanut crusted duck with mango with the fruitier Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) and classic Vintage Port. The sweetness of the wine contrasted the savoury yet fragrant meat, yet the weight and flavour intensity of both food and wine were strong enough to stand up to each other, making for a very interesting pairing. This fully reflects the essence of the Flavour Colours wine and food pairing concept. I also tried pairing a Singe Quinta Vintage Port with my mum’s homemade lamb dumplings (without vinegar or chili sauce) and the result was excellent. The wine intensified the meat’s aroma without overpowering it and the food in turn toned down the sweetness and heaviness of the wine. This demonstrates how versatile port can be. I can see that port could go very well with some Chinese claypot dishes such as braised ox tail or lamb brisket.

Vintage ports are best consumed within a week or so of opening, and this deters some consumers from opening them at home. WIth all these interesting potential pairings with savoury dishes, we don’t need to worry about wasting half a bottle of port any more.

By the way, serve port in a wine glass rather than a small liqueur glass for a full appreciation of its complex aromas. After all, port is wine.

Monday 26 December 2011

Pinot in all shades

I met Steve Farquharson, one of the owners of Central Otago’s Wooing Tree Vineyard in Hong Kong and found out we have a mutual friend who is running Adega do Cantor in the Algave. Pursuing the lead, we discovered that we both studied at Plumpton College. He graduated in 2003, a few months before I joined. What a small world.

Wooing Tree is a dream comes true. Steve and his wife Thea, sister Jane and husband Geoff were all IT professionals in the UK. They wanted to move back home to Otago, but doing something completely different, hence wine. They bought the land for Wooing Tree in 2002 and Steve, with no experience in wine apart from drinking, enrolled at Plumpton for the two years viticulture/winemaking course. Their first wine, Pinot Noir 2005, won the Open Red Wine Trophy at the 2006 Air New Zealand Award. Since then, their wines have won numerous medals and trophies in both national and international wine competitions, including the Best Pinot Noir in the 2009 Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition (HKIWSC), and Best Wine with Peking Duck in the 2011 HKIWSC.

Initially they planted only Pinot Noir, but this did not deter Wooing Tree from making a white wine called Blondie, made from 100% Pinot Noir (the grapes are pressed with minimum skin contact therefore the wine does not pick up the red colour from the skin), that won the Innovation Trophy in the 2008 Wine New Zealand trade show. A Pinot Noir Rose was soon to follow and the latest in the Pinot line up is Tickled Pink, a pink dessert Pinot Noir. Their three red Pinots are the easy drinking Beetle Juice, Wooing Tree Pinot Noir and Sandstorm Reserve. I asked Steve if there is a Pinot bubbly in the pipeline to complete the line, but he did not elaborate. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see one in a few vintages time. Right now, Wooing Tree also makes a Chardonnay and a Pinot Gris, though only a few hundred cases of each.

Central Otago wine is renowned for its fruit concentration and it shows in Wooing Tree. Both the Blondie and the Rose have about 4-5g/l residual sugar but taste sweeter because of their fruitiness. Both wines are refreshing with a good balance of acidity. I particular like the Rose for its structure, and I am convinced that it would win a medal for Best Wine with Dim Sum. The trophy winning Wooing Tree Pinot Noir is complex with a perfect oak integration. Its silky tannin matches well with the texture of Peking duck and the ripe fruit aromas stand up well to the sweet hoisin sauce.

No doubt Chris Foss, the leader of Plumpton’s Wine Department, is proud of Steve’s, and indeed other Plumpton students’ achievements. People sometimes laugh when I tell them I studied winemaking in England but we Plumptonians are making wine in every corner of the world from New Zealand, South Africa and Canada to Greece, Portugal, France and of course England. After talking to Steve and looking through the beautiful pictures of Wooing Tree, I am very tempted to just do the same.

Wooing Tree wine is available from At Style Wine.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Watch out the New Kid from the Old World

In November, the Georgian Government invited some 40 delegates from Asia, including media and importers, to attend the Georgia Beverages Tradeshow in Tbilisi. The Asian delegates were joined by visitors from the US and the Middle East to sample wines from over 30 wineries and other beverages at the exhibition.

The 3-day trip, although short, was action-packed. Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW was the guest of honour at the opening forum and she presented the Challenges and Opportunities of Asia’s wine markets to the Georgian producers, who hope to export their wines to this part of the world. Mr Zhu Sixu, deputy director general of the Guangdong Provincial Alcohol Monopoly Bureau, meanwhile, talked about the potential wine and spirits market in booming China.

Georgia has the longest wine making history, over 8,000 years, of any country in the world. Most wines are made from indigenous varieties, the most common being Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane (whites) and the red Saperavi, although some producers are experimenting with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Wine styles are diverse, ranging from dry to semi sweet, and sparkling to fortified. Georgia adopts an appellation system similar to that in Bordeaux or Burgundy where wine can be named after the region or district.

Georgian wine (both white and red) was traditionally made in 'kvevri', ceramic jars containing grape juice, skin and stalks that were buried underground for fermentation and ageing. Some producers still use this technique today. Wine may be left undisturbed for months and white wine thus acquires the deep yellow or amber colour and high tannin. It is structured with herbal, nutty aromas but surprisingly fresh. It is certainly unique but I have to say it is an acquired taste, like Sherry.

WIth the spread of the natural wine movement and non-intervention winemaking practices, some producers in Italy, Germany, Austria and even the US are buying kvevri from Georgia to make their own ‘kvevri’ wine. According to Tina Kezeli, the Executive Director of the Georgian Wine Association, kvevri are exported to Europe at a price of €2/litre of capacity. Making kvevri is a highly skilled craft. The inside is lined with beeswax while the outside is coated with lime. However, it is a dying art and the priority of the industry is to establish a kvevri school to make sure this traditional craft is taught and preserved.

Nevertheless, even Tina admitted that kvevri wine will never be mainstream in the international wine market because it is expensive to make. On the bright side, the young generation of Georgian winemakers is spending time abroad and bringing modern winemaking techniques and sometimes investment with them back to Georgia. This is good news for Georgia because these young winemakers respect tradition but also realise their wine needs to appeal to the international consumers. They experiment with different times of kvevri wine on skin and stems, and even merge the traditional and modern winemaking techniques, such as fermenting juice with skin and stems in stainless steel tanks above ground, ageing kvevri wine in barrels, or blending indigenous and international grape varieties, with the aim of producing more accessible yet still unique wine. They are also focusing more on the dry style rather than the semi-sweet style which was preferred by the Russians.

To understand Georgian wine, you need to know their history. Their wines were highly prized in Russia which imported over 90% of the production. One day in 2006, Russia turned its back on Georgia and put an embargo on its wine, citing counterfeiting. The Georgian wine industry suffered as a consequence but managed to attract foreign investment in around 2008, just before the war with Russia broke that drove potential investors away and caused a major setback to the industry and the country. Now Georgia is ready again and it is determined to step into the international arena.

I can see this determination in nearly every Georgian I met, from the wine industry to the government officials and from the young people to shop owners. Their wines may be rustic, the grape varieties difficult to pronounce, and wine regions/wine styles confusing, but give them time, they will shine. This exhibition was only the first step in introducing themselves to Asian customers.

I believe the combination of traditional craft and modern technique, the indigenous grapes, the history and story behind the country, and the determination of the Georgians will be a recipe for success for Georgian wine. I truly wish them all the best.

Importers interested in some unique wines can check out the Beverages Tadeshow website for wineries information or email Invest in Georgia.

Sunday 11 December 2011

What wines go with chilli spicy dishes?

No doubt you have heard someone (probably a westerner) saying that off dry wines go well with Asian spicy dishes because they tone down the spiciness, making the food more palatable. But hang on a second. Is that what we Chinese (or Asians) want—to eat spicy dishes without the fiery or numbing sensation?

This is the main difference between the average westerner and the average Asian over spicy food. Westerners want to tame the chilli while Asians (especially South Asians) think the spicier the better.

We had lunch with Casey McClellan from Seven Hills Winery in Washington last year, and paired each of his three wines, Tempranillo, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, with the same dish: chicken's feet in black bean sauce. Each pairing gave a very different impression. The Tempranillo was subtle but the sauce brought out the fruitiness in the wine, making it livelier but not overpowering. The Syrah had a spicy character which was accentuated by the peppery and spicy flavours of the dish, while the Cabernet was in perfect harmony with the chicken's feet, like a contented old couple. All three wines matched the dish but your ultimate choice would depend on how you like your spicy food.

While personal preference is certainly a factor, there are still basic guidelines for food and wine matching. Their styles can be contrasting (sweet vs spicy, acidic vs oily), but their intensity and body (richness) have to be compatible, otherwise one will overpower the other (check out Flavour Colours for more elaboration). We ran a spicy food/wine pairing exercise the other day and here is the verdict:

Chicken in spicy sauce (口水雞) with a Chilean Carmen Gran Reserve Chardonnay 2009: Although the wine is medium bodied with pronounced fruit, the dish was just a notch too heavy for the wine. The wine tasted thin and lost the fruit aroma after the food.

Hunan deep-fried prawns in chilli sauce with Chablis Domaine Laroche St. Martin 2009: Again the food was too heavy for the wine. It was actually better matched with the Chilean Carmen Gran Reserve Chardonnay 2009

Sautéed mutton with chilli in casserole with Chateau Croix Mouton Bordeaux Superior 2009: Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the food was too subtle (by mutton standards) and the wine was not intense. This mismatch turned out to be inoffensive but unsensational.

Sautéed spicy beef brisket in casserole and Domaine des Sénéchaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007:  The intensely flavoured dish was well balanced by the equally intensely fruit-laden wine. The weight of the food and wine were spot on—seamless!

The key for pairing spicy, or indeed non spicy, food with wine? The intensity of flavour and body. Sweetness, acidity and tannins are more a matter of personal preference. So next time you have (especially Asian) food with wine, trust your palate, not what the experts have told you. Have fun experimenting with the options that wine and food matching offers!

Sunday 4 December 2011

Another judgement

This time it was Viña Seña from Chile against Bordeaux first growth, led by Eduardo Chadwick, president of Viña Seña, and Jeannie Cho Lee MW. The main purpose was actually a vertical tasting of six Viña Seña from 1995 to 2008, but Jeannie decided to put in a few Bordeaux first growths to make the tasting more fun. The results, based on the votes of some 40 wine professionals and journalists invited to the tasting, saw Seña snatching the top five places out of ten, beating all the first growths. This demonstrated yet again how much Chilean wine has evolved and, perhaps more interestingly, how much wine professionals’ palates have changed.

Some critics argue that blind tastings like this are a waste of time because tasters ignore the track record, breeding and ageing potential of the wine. Therefore, New World wine almost always tastes better than Bordeaux because of its fruit concentration and higher alcohol. Also the line up is a giveaway: tasted between two big fruity wines, the more elegant Margaux in the middle seems thin and dilute.

While all of the above may be right, one shouldn’t dismiss all these tastings as pointless. In this Seña tasting, most of us (I was one of the tasters) knew which was Seña and which was Bordeaux, so if all we cared about was the name rather than the quality, we could easily have tweaked our scores to favour Bordeaux. But I presume most didn’t, hence the results. The exercise suggests that these tasters, most of whom were from the trade and the F&B industry, are open minded. This is important as these people are the gatekeepers—consumers rely on their recommendations when choosing wines, so hopefully they won’t be only promoting Bordeaux wine after this tasting. I am not saying Bordeaux is not good, but there are just so many wonderful and different styles outside Bordeaux that it seems a pity to pass them by. After all, we don’t want to eat abalone or wagyu beef every day!

To be honest, all the wines were of very good quality and our rankings were really down to personal preference. The one I really liked was the 1995 Seña. It has aged gracefully with such a complex bouquet and long length that most of us thought it was Old World, and it certainly fared better than the Mouton Rothschild of the same vintage. This busted another myth that New World wine can’t age.

Eduardo was surprised but definitely very pleased with the result. Hong Kong was the first stop on his Asian tour, and he was to repeat the tasting in Taipei and Seoul. No doubt he will take the tour to other major cities in the near future, just like his famous Judgement of Berlin back in 2004. It will be interesting to see how the results compare with Hong Kong's.

The rankings were:
1st: 2008 Seña
2nd: 2001 Seña
3rd: 1995 Seña
4th: 2007 Seña
5th: 1997 Seña
6th: 2007 Château Lafite Rothschild
7th: 2001 Château Margaux
8th: 2005 Seña
9th: 2005 Château Latour
10th: 1995 Château Mouton Rothschild

Seña is available from Maxxium Hong Kong.