Friday 16 December 2016

My favourite wine places in Hong Kong

Hong Kong real estates is one of the most expensive in the world and this naturally creates a vicious cycle that pushes up rent, salary and cost. To survive, restaurants and bars have to mark up significantly, often much more than double; and this makes consumers think twice before opening a decent bottle of wine.

Luckily, there are a few places in this expensive city that wine lovers can enjoy a bottle of two of wine at very reasonable prices in relaxed atmosphere. If needed, friendly sommeliers are on hand to make recommendation. What I like about these places are the non-intimidating environment and the availability of non mainstream wines. In fact, when I’m there, I often just ask them to recommend interesting wine that suits  the budget.

Le Bistro Winebeast is a retail shop cum restaurant. The focus is France and Spain but charming sommelier Cristina is slowly expanding the wine list and I’m glad to say that the first country she is working on is South Africa! The big selling point of Winebeast is that guests can buy the wine at retail price and take away, or even better, drink at the restaurant with delicious menu prepared by Chef Johan that changes regularly. In case you don’t want a full meal, just browse the shelves and pick the bottle you fancy, then enjoy it at the high tables with a few plates of tapas. I was there a few times for Sunday afternoon drink and dinners with friends, all occasions have been lovely. Cristina also hosts winemakers events so make sure you are on her mailing list if you want to talk to winemakers up close in a cosy surrounding.

Winebeast address: G/F & 1/F Tai Yip Building, 141 Thomson Road, Wanchai

Beta Wine Studio, a wine lounge, is the new kid in town. It is basically a retail shop but if you are a member, you can drink the wine while relaxing on the sofa. Although not a restaurant, cheese and ham are readily available. Laid back sommelier Ali said the studio serves semi-niche wine that excites the palate, and he is proud that he has the biggest selection of premium South African wine (24 in total) and Lebanese wine. Forget about the wine list, ask Ali to recommend based on your preference and spending. He changes the list every few days and is happy to share his cellar in case you prefer older vintages. Located in SOHO, most customers have a bottle of wine at the lounge before getting another bottle for dinner. By the way, the studio is the first in Asia (and third in the world) where you can order wine from Deliveroo.

Beta Wine Studio is located at Basement, 46 Elgin Street. SOHO, Central

Le Quinze Vins (LQV) is a wine bar that only serves French wine where the wine comes directly from its mother shop in Paris. The wine list is a good 30 minutes read for anyone who wants to know about wines from all French appellations. It has a big selection of Bordeaux and Burgundy wines but for me, th
e most interesting are the wines from the less well-known regions such as Jura and Loire. I read the wine list every time but always at the end ask recommendation from the friendly staff under the leadership of knowledgeable Chyson. I have to say this is the most relaxing French wine bar in the city. Cheese and ham platters are served but customers can also takeaway any wine for an extra $100 per bottle to enjoy with their dinners elsewhere.

Le Quinze Vins has two outlets:
G/F., 9 Swatow Street, Wanchai
G/F, 32 Gage Street, Central

These are the few of my favourite wine places. Although with different operations and wine selection, they have the same philosophy which is to share their passions of wine with customers in a comfortable environment without intimidating them and at a reasonably price (a very good bottle can be as little as $200). I just hope we can have more Cristina, Ali and Chyson around.

Left to right: Cristina, Winebeast; Ali, Beta Wine Studio; Chyson, Le Quinze Vins

Friday 9 December 2016

Sweet and salty - pairing Sauternes with Caviar

Although perfectly enjoyable on its own, wine is considered as part of the meal in a social setting so wine and food pairing is always a talking point. Producers, when developing a new market or approaching new customers, are often on the outlook of matching their wines with local cuisines; or try new combination to create excitement. The out-of-the box pairing I recently tried was Sauternes and Caviar.

The wine was the Premier Grand Cru Classé Château Guiraud from Sauternes and the caviar was the haute couture Sturia Caviar from South West France. According to brand ambassadors Vincent de Beler from Château Guiraud and Yuna Tegani from Sturia Caviar, both companies share similar philosophy so to present both products together in a creative way just seems natural.

Château Guiraud’s history dated back to 1766. It has been practising organic farming since 1991 and certification in 2011. While respecting terroir and tradition, the château also embraces changes to suit today’s consumer preferences. The wine style has changed from powerful and heavy to more elegant and pure. 
was the first premiers crus classés to have received the organic

Sturia Caviar produces over half of the caviar in France (14 tons of the total 25 tons). Sturgeons are farmed from eggs for eight years before their roes are taken. Sturia takes care of the fish living conditions including ample space, water and nutrient quality to ensure they are healthy and produce top class roes. They also work with various chefs to produce caviar of different maturation to suit their needs. Like wine, caviar evolves with maturation period from almond to hazelnut and eventually cashew nut with intense flavour.

Returning to the theme—Sauternes and Caviar pairing. Vincent stressed that it was a sharing and discussion rather than imposing on us what is the best combination. Salty blue cheese and sweet wine is a classic pairing so it would be interesting to see how these salty roes fared with sweet wine.

We tried four pairings:
G De Guiraud 2015 with Oscietra Caviar,
Château Guiraud 2013 with Primeur Caviar,
Château Guiraud 2010 with Prestige Caviar,
Château Guiraud 2002 with Vintage Caviar.

We all agreed that Château Guiraud 2002 and the Vintage Caviar (the signature of Sturia with six months maturation) was the best match. The Oscietra Caviar, also with six months maturation, was delicious on its own but a few of us felt it was too strong with all the wines, although some guests like it because the wine enhanced the taste of sea.

The take of this exercise is that food and wine matching is fun and can be creative. We don’t need to like the same pairing but we can still sit around the table to share and discuss. Some consumers wary that their wine and food choice might not be acceptable by ‘professionals’ but we all have different palates and preferences so we should just follow our tastebuds rather than blindly led by others’ opinions. I may not choose caviar with Sauternes but hey, for those who want a little indulgence, why not?

Friday 2 December 2016

Légende, everyday wine with a hint of Lafite

Most of us know that Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) or the DBR Lafite Group, owns various chateaux and have investments in other countries in addition to Lafite. However, few of us are aware of the Légende, a range of Bordeaux appellation wines mainly for the on-trade market.

According to the group’s export director Michel Negrier, Lafite is an icon wine that wine lovers aspire to. With increasing interests in wine from the younger generation in the 90s, the group decided to create a wine that combines the elegance of Lafite and an accessible price point for these consumers.

First to decide is the name. It must be as easy to pronounce and remember as Lafite, and convey the message of tradition, modernity, history and terroir, and encourage discovery. Légende is the ideal name that lived up to the criteria.

The first vintage of Légende was 1995 and it was available in Hong Kong since 2002. We tried the full range of wine:

Légende Bordeaux Blanc 2015: a vibrant, easy drinking wine with no oak influence. The freshness of Sauvignon Blanc livens up the oiliness in food while the Semillon adds weight.

Légende Bordeaux Rouge 2015: a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated wine that focuses on the purity of fruit, another easy drinking wine appeal to new drinkers.

Légende Médoc 2014: Same blend as the Bordeaux Rouge with 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot, the wine certainly shows the Médoc influence with more structure.

Légende Saint-Emilion 2013: a well balanced wine with 95% Merlot. Velvety tannin, red fruits and a hint of spices.

Légende Pauillac 2012: a wine with structure and elegance. Apparently the grapes were from Lafite’s vineyards, no wonder the wine is a league above the rest of the range.

Michel said Légende is approachable, fun, easy to understand; about sharing with friends and discovering the Bordeaux terroir. Like NV champagne, it focuses on year on year consistency rather than highlighting vintage differences. In Michel’s word, Légende is the ladder to Lafite.

While most consumers in the world would go the mainstream way to try the entry level wine first before moving up ladder, Chinese consumers tend to jump right onto the top of the ladder skipping the basic and intermediate levels. In my view, this is a wrong approach to wine as the palate of new drinkers are not used to the structure and complexity of first growth wines, and therefore would not fully appreciate the subtlety of these great wines. We need to be patient and climb the ladder step by step in order to fully understand and thus enjoy the wine at all levels and price points.

With Légende now officially launched, I hope young Chinese consumers would first make connection with Lafite’s younger brother before setting their eyes on Lafite itself.

By the way, the Group also produces champagne in a ‘Lafite, Mouton and Baron Edmond de Rothschild’ family project under the name Champagne Barons de Rothschild. The bubbly certainly lived up to the reputation of the family.

Both Légende and Champagne Barons de Rothschild are available from ASC.


Friday 25 November 2016

Interview with Tim Hutchinson

Tim Hutchinson is the CEO of DGB (Pty) Ltd, one of South Africa’s largest independent wine and spirit producers and distributors. He has been with the company for 30 years and is currently the CEO of the group. A hands on person, Tim spends nearly half of his time travelling and visiting markets. I had a chance to catch up with him during his three-weeks visit to Asia.

DGB began as Douglas Green & Co in 1942. Through merger and acquisitions, and eventually a management buyout led by Tim himself, the company has grown to include 12 wine brands and 12 spirits brands. To date, the wines are available in over 100 countries. With the acquisition of Boschendal, one of the oldest wine estates in South Africa in 2005, the root of the group also extended back to 1685. The DGB brands available in Asia include Boschendal, Bellingham, Franschhoek Cellar, Douglas Green, The Beach House and Brampton.

Tim is proud to point out that in the UK, DGB’s two premium brands, Bellingham Bernard Series and Boschendal, have 67% of the South African wine premium category (over £15/bottle), while in the Philippines, an emerging market for wine, one in every two South African wines sold belongs to DGB. Tim attributed the success to his highly-driven international team. Instead of sending corporate personnel from the headquarters to each market, DGB identified locally based persons who speak the language and understand the culture to truly capitalise on the potential of each market. DGB’s international team consists of 13 nationalities speaking 15 languages. In Asia Pacific, the dynamic duo are Nick Sonderup, an Australian who speaks Mandarin and has been with the company for four years, and Hong Kong born Kenneth Lee who speaks English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese.

DGB is committed to four key areas: vineyard management to make the best possible wine; tourism to build the brand; social responsibility to improve the quality of life of workers, and environmental responsibility to minimise the impact to the Earth.

Tim reckoned that as much as wine is about craft, it is also about technology. Since good wine is born in vineyard, it is important that winemakers know exactly the quality of fruits each vineyard site could deliver. At DGB, infra-red technology and helicopters are used to map the vigour of the vineyards in such a precision that enables winemakers to decide which specific area of vineyard to be picked and when for a particular wine. On top of state-of-the-art vineyard management, winemakers are also given free hands to experiment. It is true that most of the creations would be blended away but a few would make it to the production line. One such example was Bellingham The Bernard Series Organic wine Syrah 2012 that was recognised as one of the top 10 Syrah/Shiraz in the world at the 10th edition Syrah du Monde International Wine Competition 2016. Coincidentally, Bellingham was the first winery to produce Shiraz in South Africa in 1956.

DGB has long recognised that tourism is one of the driving forces to promote wine. With the weak economy and currency in South Africa, tourism industry in booming. Tim ensures his wine estates have hospitality facilities that would leave lasting memories to guests. Boschendal, home of an award-winning restaurant and elegant cottages, is one of the most visited wine estates in South Africa with 300,000-400,000 guests ever year. The Franschhoek Cellar, located on the Stellenbosch wine route, is a popular destination.

Like most South Africans, Tim admitted that the system under apartheid was unfair. DGB is putting things right now through various social and community projects. Douglas Green funded an educational truck that combined a mobile library of 5,000 books and computer room with 20 laptops that goes around underprivileged schools where children can borrow books and adults can learn computers. The brand also has a line of Fairtrade wine where the premium goes back to the community who then decide how the premium is invested.

Last but not least is the commitment to environment. In addition to using lighter weight glasses, managing waste and running recycling programmes, DGB planted a 10ha bamboo forest in 2011 with two objectives: to offset carbon footprint and to empower the community through job creation and new skill learning. This initiative won the Ethical Award at the Drinks Business Green Awards 2012. The latest project is the installation of 2,600 solar panels across the rooftop of its Wellington’s production facility covering 62,000 sqm, which is expected to produce 1.25 million kWh in its first year of full operation.

Tim doesn’t stop here. While the social and environmental projects are ongoing, he is also planning to introduce a new premium wine brand. He believes the future of South African wine lies in the premium range. Most customers in the world think South African wine is excellent value for money, meaning it’s a great quaffing wine. Unfortunately, this is exactly the Achilles' heel - the weakness of South African wine. When consumers look for more expensive wine, they will not look at South Africa. However, most premium wine estates in South African are too small and even though a few of them are well known in overseas markets, their limited volume do not allow them to make a big impact in the competitive wine markets. He hopes that South African wine estates could work together to grow the country’s premium wine category. Anyway, he is optimistic about the future. As the world is getting smaller, wine is well placed as an aspiration to the young generation.

Boschendal is available from Royal Oak,
Bellingham is available from wine'n'things,
Brampton is available from Cellarmaster Wines

Friday 11 November 2016

Sangiovese and food

Cottage Vineyards has organised a masterclass on variations of Sangiovese and Tuscany’s forgotten wine recently. The variations of Sangiovese ranged from the Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino to Super Tuscan (Sangiovese blended with international varieties). These wines were presented by four passionate winemakers/owners from Tenuta Cantagallo e Le Farnete, Molino di Sant’Antimo, and Fattoria di Petroio. The other forgotten varieties were Ciliegiolo and Pugnitello, both red wines, from Simona Ceccherini Winery.

The tasting was a bit chaotic as there were too many different glasses in too confined space leaving no space for taking notes; but at the same time lively because the speakers, especially Dario Pierzaauoli from  Tenuta Cantagallo e Le Farnete who also took on the role of moderator, were entertaining.

Each speaker took turn to present his/her wine, with first hand story from his/her experience. Ada Leung, Sales & Marketing Director of Cottage Vineyards, brilliantly wrapped up each presentation with suggested food, both western and Asian, to pair with the wine. Cottage Vineyards is known for pairing Chinese cuisines with wine (the most  popular being Jura Vin Jaune with Hairy Crab) so it was natural for Ada to suggest some food pairing ideas to the guests, who were mostly from the F&B industry, to help differentiate the different Sangiovese variations. Ada also gave each guest a written summary of the wines’ characteristics, food matching guide and examples of both western a
nd Asian cuisines to pair.

Of course these wines are all different but it could be challenging for wine consumers to remember the nuances. I would like to draw a simple conclusion that Sangiovese, with its high acidity, is food-friendly. We just need to determine the palate weight of the wine and choose food that have similar weight. For example, a light version Chianti without wood could match with antipasti and fish dishes; while a more meaty Super Tuscan would pair well with roasted meat.

What I would also like to mention is the two other varieties. Both Ciliegiolo and Pugnitello are local varieties from Maremma where Simona Ceccherini Winery is located. Ciliegiolo with its lively acidity is best with simple tomato based dishes while the heavier weight Pugnitello would be perfect with slow cooked meat. Italy has 1,000 native varieties, we need every Simona to preserve them.

All these wines are available from Cottage Vineyards.

Friday 28 October 2016

Cono Sur Pinot Noir

Most of us take Chilean Pinot Noir for granted but little do we know that Pinot Noir is a relatively new discovery in Chile. Even more surprising is that Cono Sur, a young winery in Chile, is the biggest producer of Pinot Noir in the world!

Cono Sur is part of Concha y Toro. It was established in 1993 with the objective to produce wine that would be the new face of Chile, to convey the spirit of the New World. No wonder on its website, the slogan is ‘no family trees, no dusty bottles, only quality wine’. I think it’s a pretty witty way to differentiate themselves from those who emphasise on traditions.

Matías Ríos, Cono Sur’s Winemaking Manger, explained that most consumers’ perception of Chilean wine is jammy and high alcohol. ‘The new face of Chile’ is wine with drinkability. The wine should be juicy (fruity) but at the same time lively (with good acidity), and Chile has the unique geography and topography that allows them to plant vineyards in cool climate regions. Cono Sur has vineyards in all valleys from the extreme north in Limari to extreme south in Bio Bio, each vineyard planted with varieties that suit the terroir of the site. Combined this with the company’s three pillars: Innovation, Quality and Commitment to environment, Matías  believes Cono Sur is making wine that is expressive, innovative and unique to Chile.

Going back to Pinot Noir, the winery of Cono Sur was built on the Concha y Toro site in Colchagua Valley that has been planted with Pinot Noir since 1968. Naturally, Cono Sur vinified the grapes but using the same method as treating the more masculine Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. The wine, according to Matías, was impossible to drink. The team then learnt making Pinot Noir in Burgundy and searched for the ideal sites for planting Pinot Noir. Cono Sur is the first winery producing a commercial Pinot Noir, and is now making six Pinot Noirs at all price ranges.

We tasted six wines with Matías, four from the 20 Barrels Limited Edition series and their two icon wines, Ocio and Silencio.

20 Barrels Limited Edition Pinot Noir 2014: Aged in 100% new oak, the wine is a darker shade than most Pinot Noir with intense fruits and spices. 85% of fruits came from Casablanca while the rest from next door San Antonio.

Cono Sur Ocio 2013: Ocio is the first ultra premium Pinot Noir according to Cono Sur. Similar style to the 20 Barrels but with more dimensions and complexity. Although the wine was aged in 100% new oak for 14 months, it was not overpowering because all the barrels were soaked in salt water for 10 days to remove the harsh aromas of new barrels. All grapes were from Casablanca.

20 Barrels Limited Edition Syrah 2013: Cool-climate characters Syrah with violets and spices alongside black fruits. Good acidity and a nice mouthfeel.

Cono Sur is available from Watson’s Wine.

Friday 21 October 2016

Good burgundy doesn’t need to break your bank

Following the success of Bourgogne Week in London, the Bourgogne Wine Board was pleased to introduce Bourgogne Week to Hong Kong, comprising a series of Burgundy wine tastings over five days. I attended the ‘One day for Bourgogne Wines’ tasting with over 100 wines from the latest vintages (2104 for white and 2013 for red) from 20 exhibitors.

Mentioning Burgundy, most people will think DRC, one of the most expensive wines in the world. As a matter of fact, Grand Cru, the appellation where DRC belonged, only contributed to 1.3% of the entire Burgundy wine production. Most of the wines in the market are from the Regional (51%) and Village (38%) appellations. The ‘One day for Bourgogne Wines’ tasting pretty much reflected the market. Most of the wines featured were from the Regional and Village appellations. No wonder Amaury Devillard, the spokesperson of Bourgogne Wine Board, emphasised that Burgundy wine is affordable and can be enjoyed every day.

I agree with Amaury. The overall quality, especially the white wine, at the tasting was good. They were balanced, with ripe fruits and supporting acidity. Most of the whites were from 2014 vintage, an excellent year according to the harvest report. There were no major hiccups during growing season and the grapes ripened to full maturity. Most of the wines I tried were retailed between $180 and $300 per bottle, certainly a price that won’t break the bank. A bit of research revealed that 2014 was confirmed to be a fine vintage for Burgundy white from various critics including Jasper Morris MW and Decanter.

Vintage 2013, in contrast to 2014, was much more difficult that challenged winegrowers. It was cold in spring and a violent hail storm hit on 23rd July. Some of the reds at tasting might be lean, but nevertheless ripe with fresh acidity that made them pleasant to pair with mild flavoured dishes.

Burgundy is one of the wine regions where vintage variation is significant. Because of improved viticulture practice and winemaking techniques, a difficult vintage these days does not necessarily equate to bad vintage. Yield might be small but vigilant and responsible winemakers could still produce good quality wine, which was not the case just 20-30 years ago. When we sip Burgundy, whether it is the style we prefer or not, we just have to remember that behind every bottle was a lot of dedication and hard work.

A few outstanding wines from the tasting are:

Domaine Christian Moreau, Chablis Premier Cru, Vaillons 2014, from Altaya Wines,
Domaine du Chalet Pouilly, Saint-Véran 2014, from Dream Wines,
Domaine du Clos Salomon, Montagny Le Clou 2014, from The Juicy Grape,
Domaine Jérôme Sordet, Saint-Romain Sous le Château 2013, from CCF Wines,
Domaine Saint-Jacques, Rully Premier Cru Marissou 2013, from Burgundy Wine Co Ltd,
Domaine Samuel Billaud, Chablis Premier Cru, Monte de Milieu 2013, from The Juicy Grape

Domaine Bachey-Legros, Santenay Les Charmes 2013, from CCF Wines,
Domaine Colinot, Irancy Les Cailles 2013, from Burgundy Wine Co Ltd,
Domaine du Château de Meursault, Savigny-Les-Baeaune Premier Cru Les Peuillets 2013, from Kerry Wines,
Domaine Faiveley, Beaune Premier Cru Clos d l’Ecu 2013 from Altaya Wines,
Moillard, Côte de Beaune-Villages, Vieilles Vignes 2013, from Kedington Wines

Friday 14 October 2016

Welcome back Klein Constantia!

Klein Constantia, dating back to 1865, is one of the most historic wine estates in South Africa. It was part of the vast farm founded by Simon van de Stel, Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, and the home of the legendary Vin de Constance, the sweet wine made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (Muscat de Frontignan) grapes that has melted the hearts of European kings, emperors and the famous including Louis Philippe, Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Charles Dickson and Jane Austen.

The road of Klein Constantia is not always smooth. After its heyday in the 18th and 19th century, the vineyard was attacked by phylloxera and in 1865, Constantia winemaking ceased and the estate changed hands a few times. It was only until 1979 when Duggie Jooste bought and revived the farm. Finally in 1985, the first modern vintage of Vin de Constance, a recreation of the original mythical Constantia sweet wine, was released with much international acclaim. Since 2011, Klein Constantia has been under the ownership of Zdenek Bakala and Charles Harman, who are determined to bring the estate back to its former glory.

Vin de Constance has also been disappeared from Hong Kong for one year. Wine lovers will be glad to know that it has returned under the care of Northeast Wines & Spirits. Even better is that this icon wine is being accompanied by en entourage of cool climate Klein Constantia Estate Wine: Sauvignon Blanc, Metis Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Estate Red Blend. I was pleased to be one of the first to try these wine when they landed in Hong Kong.

Both Sauvignon Blancs were outstanding and elegant. The Sauvignon Blanc 2015 was more expressive while the Metis Sauvignon Blanc 2014, inspired by Sancerre winemaker Pascal Jolivet, emphasised more on the texture. The Chardonnay 2014 was distinctive and complex and the Riesling 2015 was lively. The Estate Red 2013, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec, was well integrated with spices and dark fruits. All the wines had savoury finishes that added extra dimensions. The price? all retailed at a bargain under HK$200/bottle!

Finally, we tasted the Vin de Constance 2012 with multi-layers of aromas from apricot to nutmeg. It was rich but not heavy, and had a long lively finish. Apparently, there is only limited allocation for Hong Kong so get yours quick before it is sold out. 

Klein Constantia Estate Range and Vin de Constance is available from online wine club wine’n’things. Even better, wine'n'things is running a South African wine promotion to celebrate South African Braai Month until end of October. Check it out now.

Friday 30 September 2016

Georgian wine revisited

My last article of Georgian wine was in 2012. Although I haven’t written anything on Georgian since then, I did attend its tastings organised nearly every year by Meiburg Wine Media, including the Georgian Wine Festival 2016. I noticed quite a few things have changed.

First is the recognition of Georgia. Back in 2011 when I visited Georgia with some 40 importers and media from Asia, hardly anyone knew where Georgia was. At this year’s master class, Debra still joked that we should not mix up this Georgia, with over 8,000 years of winemaking history, with the US Georgia. In reality, a lot of wine lovers, and certainly most in the wine trade, are aware, if not exactly pinpointing the location, of this winemaking country between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

The second is the awareness of Qvevri (or Kvevri) wine. They may not have tried it but most realise it is the traditional winemaking method where wine is made in amphorae (although not the entire process). I like Qvevri white wine for its blend of floral, spices and stone fruits aromas but surprisingly fresh, light and dry palate.

Then it is the availability of Georgian wine in the market. In Hong Kong, Georgian wine is still confined to a few small yet focused importers but the increase in import was an impressive 230% in 2015, while China is Georgia’s fifth largest export market (around 760,000 bottles in 2015). Japan also saw its import of Georgian wine increased by 21% in 2015.

Last and the most important, is the improvement in wine quality. Qvevri wine is always of high quality if an acquired taste. However, it only contributes to around 5-8% of the total Georgian wine production. The bulk of Georgian wine is made in modern wineries using stainless steel tanks and barrels. When I was at the Tbilisi Georgian Beverages Tradeshow in 2011, the wine quality was hit and miss because of winery hygiene or practices and vineyard management (too high yield). At this tasting, the wine quality has leapfrogged. All the wines were clean and well made. albeit a few of them might have a bit too much oak.

What I was glad to see is that Georgian wineries are not rushing to plant international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay alike even though making wine with these varieties is a short cut to export markets. Georgia has 526 indigenous grape varieties most with un-pronounceable names but they are unique characteristics. I would hate to see them disappear.

These were a few outstanding wineries/wines at the tasting:

Bagrationi 1882: The Bagrationi royal family introduced secondary fermentation in bottle from France to Georgia and in 1882, the wine won worldwide acknowledgement in St Petersburg, Russia, hence the name. Its Classic Brut NV made with Chinuri and Tsitska was outstanding. Bagrationi 1882 is available from Ancient Wines Ltd.

Chateau Mukhrani: Founded in 1878 by the Prince of Mukhrani, heir of the royal family of Georgia, the winery owns 100% of the vineyards and controls crop size to produce the best quality grapes. I particularly like its white wines: Reserve du Prince Goruli Mtsvane 2013 and Rkatsiteli 2014. Chateau Mukhrani is available from Georgian Valleys Co.

Tamada: Meaning ‘Toast Master’, this is a joint venture between Pernod Ricard and Georgian shareholders. Its Napareuli 2009, a 100% Saperavi dry red wine, is a good representation of this mostly planted red variety in Georgia.

Winery Khareba: a big producer with some 1,000 ha of vineyards in Kakheti, Imereti and Racha-Lechkhumi. Try their range of Qvevri wines.

Usakhelauri Vineyards: A relatively new comer in 2001 and only planted with Usakhelauri red variety. The winery only produces two unfiltered wines: a semi-dry and a semi-sweet. Even the bottle is unique.

Let’s hope more importers and restaurants could carry Georgian wine.

Friday 23 September 2016

Generation Riesling 10 Years Young

Not long ago, German wine, with its flowery label and medieval font, was viewed as old-fashioned. Its name, based on sweetness level at harvest – Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese further added to the confusion. The result? Consumers shunned German wine save the well-established brands and flocked to the more modern and drier New World wine. To revive the image of German wine, German Wine Institute (Deutsches Weininstitut DWI) initiated Generation Riesling in 2006, and how much things have changed since then!

Generation Riesling is a platform for Germany’s young winemakers under 35 years old, who are committed to contribute and change the image of German wine, to showcase their products to both domestic and international markets. The first presentation was on 8th June 2006 with 25 young winemakers in London. To date, it has 530 members from all 13 German quality wine regions. Members at their 36th birthday will be given birthday cards and retire from the group. Generation Riesling is dynamic, cosmopolitan and innovative. Over 60% of its members have made wine overseas from Austria and France to New Zealand, South Africa and the USA, and 30% of the members are female. Their wines are mainly dry style with simple and modern labels, a far cry from the traditional German wine.

According to wine critic and writer Stuart Pigott, who is also an advocate of German wine, about 50% of Generation Riesling members are from families with generations of winemaking history. The older generations in the 60s to 90s did not share ideas with neighbours and would try their best to block their children to change anything when they took over. In contrast, young winemakers in the past 10-15 years believe in sharing and exchanging experiences. Their motto is ‘We are stronger than I can ever be’. For them, wine is a part of pop culture. They gather in groups and present wines together in serious settings with quiet music in background but the events will eventually turn into parties with pop music. This attitude was carried through at Generation Riesling 10th birthday celebration. We (an international press group) were invited for the more serious seminar led by Stuart Pigott followed by a walk-around tasting with wine presented by 30 members, including nine founding members (a
ka older than 35 years old). For us, the tasting ended promptly at 6:00pm and we had to make way for their after-work party, which featured wine bars, food stations and DJ until the small hours!

Generation Riesling is not only about Riesling. While 55% of wine is Riesling, around 24% is devoted to the Pinot family – Spätburgunder, Grauburgunder and Weissburgunder (Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc). Not many people are aware, Germany is the Pinot Paradise – it ranks #3 in Point Noir planting after France and the USA, #2 in Pinot Gris planting after Italy and #1 in Pinot Blanc! They are followed by Silvaner, Lemberger (Blaufränkisch in Austria) and the fast demanding Sauvignon Blanc.

What is also great about German wine, be it Riesling or Spätburgunder, is its versatility and paring with Asian cuisines. The high acidity balances well with the fattiness in food while the fruity aromas compliment the fragrance of Asian spices. The relative low alcohol is an added bonus that makes diners feel less tiring at the end of the evening.  

We visited eight Generation Riesling wineries, partied at the famous annual Roter Hang Festival (the famous vineyard slope in Rheinhessen with red soil) with a Riesling Lounge, and attended the Generation Riesling 10th birthday party. All the wines we tried were excellent. Here are a few that I have the most impressions:

Sekt-und Weingut Winterling, Niederkirchen, Pfalz:
Susanne Winterling is the cheerful winemaker and also the German Wine Princess in 2007/2008. Her specialty is sparkling wine but her Sauvignon Blanc 2015 and Deidesheimer Herrgottsacker Riesling Spätlese Trocken 2015 are equally impressive.

Weingut Gaul, Grünstadt-Sausenheim, Pfalz
An all female winery with Dorothee being the winemaker, Karolin responsible for export, assisted by mother Gaul and the family she-dog. The father sadly passed away a few years ago but the ladies managed to modernise the winery with a new logo and a state-of-art building that housed the tasting room on ground floor and Dorothee’s home on first and second floors. The 2015 Sausenheimer Hütt Riesling Trocken Zugpferd, equivalent to Gold Capsule and not bottled yet when we tried, is intense with citrus and yellow stone fruits showing great ageing potential. The 2015 Sausenheimer Grauburgunder Trocken is a pleasant wine that will go well with Thai green curry.

Juwel Weine, Weingut Eller, Alsheim, Rheinhessen
Another modern winery run by sister duo Juliane and Katharina Eller. Juliane is the winemaker and though only 26 years old, she is determined and has a clear vision of how she wants to make the wine. Her wine, like the logo, is clean, elegant and fresh with a good balance of acidity and minerality. Unfortunately, most of the wines were sold out but the even basic level, Gutsweine (estate wine), we tasted showed very well the talent of Juliane.

Weingut Schätzel, Nierstein, Rheinhessen
Kai Schätzel is a serious winemaker. He is one of the newest VDP members (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, the oldest national association of fine winegrowing estates anywhere in the world) and the Winemaker of the year 2015. His winemaking philosophy is less alcohol, less exuberant fruit, more minerality and a more distinctive flavour profile. Even his VDP Grosses Gewächs has only 11-11.5% alcohol; but its lack of power is more than compensated by the elegance and precision. Kai is also one of the few young winemakers, together with Keller and Gunderloch, who go against the trend and promote the off-dry style Kabinett. He explained it was the calling from the vineyards. His 2014 Nierstein Riesling KabiNett – P Magnum, from the most legendary and steepest vineyard in the region, Pattenthal, is retailed at a whopping €99!

Weingut Sinß, Windsheim, Nahe
Energetic winemaker Johannes Sinß is proud of his wine and keen to show us the terroir by presenting different colour of slates and stones from his vineyards alongside the wine. His 2015 Weissburgunder Windesheim S is a perfect example of what a Pinot Blanc can be.

Weingut Hörner, Hochstadt, Pfalz
Playing with his name, Thomas Hörner designed three different labels of horns to differentiate the wine. His 2014 Grauburgunder Widder has ample fruits supported by lifted acidity. His rosé, an unusual blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, is well balanced and delicious. It is definitely worth a try if you don't mind asking for it – it is called Horny Rosé.

Weinbau der Lebenshilfe Bad Dürkheim, Bad-Dürkheim, Pfalz
This is part of a bigger life coaching social project. All workers are disabled, either physical or mental, and winemaker Jan Hock, found suitable roles for all of them in the vineyard or winery. The vines are organically grown and wines are made in traditional method. Teamwork is the key and everyone is proud of being a part of the family. Their ortswein (village wine), 2015 Sylvaner Dürkheimer and 2015 Riesling Wachenheimer are good representatives of wines at this quality level. What’s more, we feel good drinking the wine because we know it is for a good cause.

Generation Riesling is by no means the only young winemaker group but it is the biggest and most organised. There is another one called Generation Pfalz where members are being nominated every year by a panel and an even smaller group called Wine Changes with only 12 young winemakers from villages near Neustadt Weinstrasse in Pfalz. Nevertheless all these groups are like-minded – they are passionate and creative. They are inspired to find new ideas and ways to breathe new life into their regions. Their wines are true to the land but without the stiffness. They are the ones who will make German wine fashionable again.

Weingut Schätzel is available from The Juicy Grape
Weinbau der Lebenshilfe Bad Dürkheim is available from JOYVINO