Friday 20 December 2019

A discovery journey with Colchagua Singular

Chilean wine industry is pretty much a 80/20 rule. Over 80% of the export market is shared among the big producers like Concha y Toro, Errazuriz, Montes and Santa Rita which represented only around 20% of the 350 wineries. The smaller guys are often out of the radar of international markets and critics. In 2017, 12 producers from Colchagua, one of the three zones within Rapel sub-region in Central Valley, established Colchagua Singular, an organisation to support each other and to craft a space in the Chilean wine export market.

Colchagua Singular only welcomes wineries producing no more than 50,000 bottles per year and grapes must all be sourced within Colchagua. In addition, the owners must involve actively in all processes of winemaking from viticulture and cellar work to sales and marketing. United, they become a bigger voice to show the world what is happening in Colchagua.

Chile maybe a narrow country but the climatic difference between east and west can be significant because of its topography — the Andes mountain range in the east and the Corderillas de la Costa (coastal mountain range) in the west. Colchagua measured only 120km from west to east, a large part of which is sandwiched between these two mountain ranges with hot Mediterranean climate but the vineyards in Peradones, at the west side of the coastal mountain and just 20km from the Pacific coast, are cooled by winds blowing off the cold Humboldt current from Antarctica. Similarly, vineyards around San Fernando, pretty much at the foothills of the Andes, enjoy high diurnal temperature because of the cold air from the mountain.  The coastal mountain, about 500m above sea level, has jurassic soil mainly of granite and slate, and higher humidity while the Andes has lower humidity with younger and more clayey soil. Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon may be the dominant varieties but there are also Carignan, Cinsault, Pais and Semillon.

Most of us associate big red wines with Colchagua but Colchagua Singular, championing innovation and character, produces some original, exciting wines from old vines and unusual blends. Some of the members are grapegrowers venturing into winemaking or from total different trade. They are still finding their styles but already making promising wines. Winemaking is a skill and anyone can produce a well-made wine after learning. However, not everyone can make a wine with soul if he does not have the passion. Watch out for these guys from Colchagua. Their production may be small but they have big hearts.

Colchagua Singular invited four persons from four different countries for a four days visit. I was one of the lucky ones and here are my impressions of the members.

Maturana Wines
José Maturana from Maturana Wines is one of the most experienced member of the group. He was the former winemaker at Casa Silva since 1998 but decided to make his own wine in 2011. His winery is at his parents’ house close to San Fernando, the capital of Colchagua, and sources grapes from 32 ha of vineyards spread across the region, including a 1910 vineyard planted with Pais, Muscatel Negra, Semillon and Riesling in Peradones. José co-ferments the grapes and makes Pa-tel, an aromatic fruity red wine with only 12% alcohol. Close by is the 4ha, 1928 Semillon vineyard that José makes into a single vineyard wine. The 2018 wine had 40% skin contact for four months, is textural with white fruits aroma and a mineral note.

MW, a blend of Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon, is Maturana’s flagship wine. Carménère is the majority grape and we tasted the 2018 Carménère components from both concrete tank and old 500l barrels prior to  the 2016 vintage. I can see why this is the flagship - a classic wine with complexity and structure.

José also sources grapes from Maule and there are two pleasantly surprise wines. Negra is 100% San Francisco grape planted in 1938. This variety was not recorded in Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes published in 2012 and according to Decanter in 2018, it was only identified recently in Bío Bío. It was the first time I tasted it and it reminded me of Gamay and Cinsault! The other one is VOX - Viognier Oxidativo (oxidative style Viognier), fermented in old oak for 10 months with topping up but not protected by inert gas. It is fresh with a savoury palate which is untypical of Viognier in a positive way!

Villalobos is pretty much an accidental winery. Sculptor Enrique Villalobos discovered an abandoned Carignan vineyard among the trees in his land. They are bush vines planted in 1945. French winemaker Mathieu Rousseau then made an experimental wine in 2009. When this wine was awarded the Best Carignan of Chile by Descorchados Guide 2011, the rest is history. Villalobos is now making three wines and Martin, Enrique’s son quit his full time engineer job and focuses on making wine at this family estate.

Viñedo Sivlvestre is 100% from the abandoned Carignan vineyard. The family leaves the vineyard as it is when it was discovered with no use of chemicals or irrigation. Harvest is manual and they have to use ladders or sit on other’s shoulders to pick the grapes. Even so, only 60% of the grapes can be picked and the rest have to leave to animals. We tasted the 2017 vintage, an elegant wine with only 12% alcohol dominated by red fruits (plums, sour cherry, raspberries) complemented by a peppery note.

Zarrito Salvaje is an equal blend of Cinsault and Pais from Maule. Pais was the most widely-planted grapes in Chile until 1990s and it is usually made into rustic and thin red wine because of high yield. However, given proper vineyard management, it can be made into promising wine. The 2016 vintage has integrated tannin with a mix of red fruits and herbs.

Vinos Lugarejo
Elina Carbonell is another unintentional winemaker. When the family returned to Chile after a stint in the US, they decided to plant grapes and made wines. Since husband Fernando is a historian and a university professor, the winemaking responsibility falls on Elina. The brand is called Lugarejo which means a remote place and the label is based on a 1643 drawing of the area where the house/winery is located. They have only 0.1ha at their house (Mourvèdre and Carménère), and source grapes from her mother-in-law’s vineyard. The first vintage was 2014 Merlot with only one barrel and this year they expanded to 4,500 bottles. The wine is mostly sold at restaurants in Santiago and Elina aims to double the production eventually. I love the winery set up with all the mini tanks and a tiny basket press!

We tasted their first vintage of the three-year-old Mourvèdre from barrel which is better that I expected with pleasant floral note and candid fruit. Pais 2017, where grapes were sourced from the cooler Peradones, is unpretentious and agreeable.

My favourite is Zafarrancho, meaning brawl or quarrel in English. It is a blend of all the leftover wine that Elina translated as a noisy blend. Most winemakers will tell you how they select the best wine for the flagship or reserve wine but they won’t tell you what do they do with the wine that doesn’t make into the selection. Elina was frank to say that they can’t afford to waste any wine therefore they make Zafarrancho and they are not ashamed of it. The 2018 vintage was a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carménère, the best leftover wine I tasted with flora and pepper notes.

Without any prior winemaking experience, Elina said they make wine following instinct. They believe wine is for sharing and not necessarily to pair with any special meal therefore it should be fruitier. Therefore, they pick the grapes earlier for the maximum fruit expression and to avoid high alcohol otherwise the all wine will taste the same. I found Lugarejo wine delicate and certainly happy to only drink them on its own.

Raúl Narváez from Fanoa Family Vineyard is one of those half-crazy, enthusiastic winemakers. He purchased his 22ha plot of land in 2009 and planted only 2.3ha with vines in 10 years on a gentle slope, which include 14 varieties in high density planting - 12,121 vines/ha to be exact. The varieties range from Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon to Tempranillo and Sangiovese as well as Viognier and Pinot Blanc. The vines are Gobelet pruned to around 1kg yield/vine to give 12 tons/ha though he admitted that 12,000 vines/ha is a bit too much and will reduce it to 10,000 vines/ha in future planting. Further up the slope, Raúl planted Montepulciano under trees to provide shade and restrict water supply. A firm believer of biodynamic farming, he also grows tomatoes and peanuts following Rudolf Steiner’s principle.

Fanoa’s first wine was made in 2016 under the name Seis Tintos (Six Reds), a blend of his most favoured six grape varieties of the year. The blend changes every year to allow for creativity and the 2017 blend we tasted is Malbec, Petit Syrah, Carménère. Tempranillo, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon, a delicious wine with black fruits and sweet spices and integrated tannin. The label is a vine with shoots pointing up to the stars and roots pointing down to the name Fanoa. The stars represent biodynamic farming while the shoots are working hands and the roots anchor to the family. Fanoa is the abbreviation of the family - FA for family, N for Narváez, O for wife Ángela Ovalle, and A for associates referring to the children.

We also tasted Raúl’s wine from tanks. Cosmos Rosé 2019 is a Malbec-Tempranillo-Mourvèdre blend, with an attractive pale salmon colour, a deceptive floral and perfumey nose but dry with a touch of salinity on palate. My favourite is Cosmos Carignan 2019 which has fresh bramble and rhubarb aromas and a nice concentration. The wine would only be bottled in a few weeks and Raúl was very kind to bottle one for me to take home.

La Pascuala
We were greeted by a charming and honest young couple at La Pascuala. They are only in their second year of winemaking but the family has been grapegrower since 1998. Daughter and winemaker Daniela, was frank about her wine. The first vintage was made in stainless steel tank and no barrel but she was not too happy about it. With the guidance of a different consultant, she experimented with old barrel and both commercial and wild yeast fermentation in 2019 vintage. She is still learning but one thing she is sure, at least now, is that she doesn’t like new oak.

Although inexperienced, Daniela was passionate and curious. She built tinajas (clay jar) and made wine in them in 2018. An equal blend of Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is fresh with attractive fruit and floral notes and integrated tannin. The other wine worth a note is Artesana blend 2018, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Carménère and Carignan.

During the barbecue lunch at the in the vineyard of La Pascuala, Daniela’s brother asked me about if family is an important marketing message in the world of wine and I answered yes or no depending on the level of involvement of the family. Then later I found out that the whole family is involved in the business. Father Benito set up the winery and makes the tanks (he runs a metal factory) and the uncle manages the vineyard. The entire family including sisters were preparing our barbecue lunch and taking photos. This level of family commitment is a good story to tell and I am sure they will shine.

L’Entremetteuse is headed by French winemaker Laurence Real who spent 21 years perfecting her winemaking skill in Chilean big producers before establishing her own winery in Apalta in 2015. Her goal is to make wine that connects people with the Chilean landscapes. Laurence only makes around 12,000 bottles split into three lines:  Pet Nat, Rouge & Jorge (natural wine) and L’Entremetteuse with lively labels of people enjoying wine (single varietal and blended wine).

Nerkihue is a family estate based in Lolol. The father started the vineyard
from scratch and made only one classic blended wine, Justo. When sons Bernardo and Loreto joined the business in 2010, they created a second label Quiebre, meaning a break from tradition and consisted of a range of youthful single varietal wine with no new barrel. By the way, Bernardo is also a professional musician. We exchanged ideas on connecting wine and music. I hope one day I can organise a winemakers’ Wine Music Jam!

Javiera Ortuzar Wines is the brainchild of Javiera Ortuzar, who makes three wines from two varieties: carbonic maceration Syrah and Petit Verdot, as well as a Syrah-Petit Verdot blend with minimum intervention under the name Impetu. The wines are fresh, juicy with a pleasant mouthfeel.

Daniel Wiedertehr is an ex-banker from Switzerland and dedicated to making his own wine, Viña Nahuel, in the heart of Colchagua Valley. He practises biodynamic farming and dutifully follows the phases of the moon to ensure his wine is the best expression of the land. Chak 2015 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from a 1942 vineyard with bright fruit, velvet tannin and fresh acidity, while the Nahuel 2015, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Malbec and Syrah, is laden with spices and mints supported by a sturdy mid palate.

Left to right: L'Entremettteuse, Nerkihue, Javiera Ortuzar Wines, Viña Nahuel

Cultra Vinos is a joint venture between two winemaker friends, José Luis Reyes and Marcial Berrios in the Lolol Valley. The Chiflao Pais 2017 is made from 150 years old grapes from a dry farmed vineyard. Pais was the forgotten grape in Chile used mainly for bulk and rosé wine that were tart and astringent. Cultra Vinos’s Pais is a proof that when the vines are taken with care, Pais can be made into concentrated and serious wine.

Viña Travesia (means journey of the project) was founded by Juan Canales in 2014 with only the family vineyards, a refurbished winery and no winemaking experience, hence the name Travesia. His Infiltra 2017, a 100% Carménère is impressive with rich fruits that carried through to the palate.

Francisco Caroca is a viticulturist based in the red wine town of Marchigüe who sells most of the grapes to big producers. He created his label Bodega Caven in 2011 and now making three wines: Caven Uno, Caven Dos and Caven Tres, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère juice for the health-conscious and kids.

Left to right: Cultra Vinos, Travesia, Bodega Caven
Colchagua Singular is like a breath of fresh air in the Chilean wine industry dominated by big producers churning out technically well-made, reliable but somewhat predictable wine. Their wines may not be all of star quality but they have individuality and characters. They are artisan wine made with passion. They are also generous and we were treated with home cooking in several occasions. They were thoughtful to have organised a farewell lunch at Pasaje Punta de Lobos so we could experience the Pacific Ocean influence. I am thankful to have spent four days with them despite the fact that I had to spend another four days travelling. It reminded me why wine has a special place in my heart.

Except for Maturana Wines who has an importer in China, none of their wines are available in our part of the world.

Friday 29 November 2019

Exploring French wine regions on foot, by bike and car

Wine lovers always choose to go to wine regions for holiday and I am no exception. My adventure in July was Burgundy, Jura and Alsace. I have never been to this part of France and my French is pathetic, but this is exactly why it was fun.

Some friends were excited about my trip and asked which wineries I had made appointments to visit. Actually I didn’t and didn’t want to. It would be a work trip if I have arranged meetings in advance. Moreover, I much prefer to see wineries that I haven’t heard of, there are always nice surprises waiting round the corner!

Beaune was my base to explore Burgundy, where there are well-signed cycling tracks and hiking routes. I spent a few days cycling and hiking amongst the vineyards and famous villages including Volnay, Chassagne-Montrachet and Aloxe-Corton, then a day driving down to Beaujolais. There is no dramatic landscape but the scenery is pleasant and calming. It seems that the life at all these villages only revolves around wine. I only tasted at six wineries but they were all authentic and friendly. All cellar doors close at lunch time for at least 2 hours and some need prior appointments because they may be working in vineyards.

Most established negociants have tasting rooms in Beaune. A not-to-be-missed is Patriarche for its underground cellar with self-guided tasting using a a tastevin that you can keep. There are also a few independent wine shops that carry boutique, individual labels. I didn’t have any luck in Beaujolais but was glad to find the Jean Foillard Cuvée 3.14 2014, made from 100 years old vines at one of these shops.

While in Beaune, make sure to spend a good few hours at Hospices de Beaune (also called Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune) to learn about the history; and drop by La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot to taste the many mustard flavours, including Pinot Noir!

Restaurants abound in Beaune. Those around the square inside the old city wall are great for people watching but for a few good glasses of wine, highly recommended are Maison du Colombier and Le Bistrot Bourguignon for an extensive wine list, and Le Comptoir des Tontons for organic and natural wine. Caves Madeleine has a good reputation but it was full when I was there.

In case you visit Dijon, Dr Wine is the place to for good one for wine and tapas.

My next stop Jura was the most unexpected. I used Arbois as the base, drove around the region for few days, and learned everything from Savagnin to Poulsard and Trousseau, all local varieties. The other two permitted varieties are the most widely planted Chardonnay (43%) and Pinot Noir. Jura is certainly more rustic than Burgundy but the scenery is totally different and more spectacular. Baume-les-Messieurs, ranked one of the most beautiful villages in France, is surrounded by high cliffs, while Chateau-Chalon is a hilltop village and a Vin Jaune only AOC. Arbois itself is a quiet historic town with the Cuisance River passing through it. The main streets are dotted with tasting rooms and wine shops. Apparently, it is the first AOC denomination in France!

For me, the local variety Savagnin is the most fascinating. It is full-bodied with crisp acidity, citrus and floral notes. The most famous wine from the region is Vin Jaune (yellow wine), where Savagnin is aged under a layer of flor (like fino sherry) in oak barrels for a minimum of 6 years and 3 months without topping up or fortification, and bottled in a special 62cl bottle ‘Clavelin’. The wine style is known as ‘oxidative’ style because it is aged without topping up but this is what I don’t understand. The wine is aged under a layer of flor which by sherry’s definition, is biological ageing rather than oxidative ageing. Yes, the wine is golden yellow but it is nowhere like the brown colour of oxidative Amontillado or Oloroso sherry. The wine has the nutty sherry character yet fresh on palate. I scratched my head every time I tasted Vin Jaune but my hopeless French forbid me to have any meaningful discussion with the locals. I welcome anyone who read this to share his/her thought.

‘Tradition’ Savagnin is aged without topping up and in a shorter period of time than Vin Jaune, so the wine can still develop the ‘sherry’ character although not as obvious. In contrast, ‘Ouille’ Savagnin is aged with topping up giving more fruit-forward wine. Domaine André et Mireille Tissot even made an Amphore Savagnin. Apart from dry wine, Savagnin can also be made into Crémant (sparkling wine), Vin de Paille (naturally sweet wine made with dried grapes), and Macvin du Jura (liqueur wine made by adding marc brandy to unfermented grape juice).

Another surprise in Jura is a variety called Melon à Queue Rouge, a mutation of Chardonnay that has a red stem. It is planted only around Arbois and just a few producers are making this as a varietal wine, including Domaine de la Pinte.

Only two hours drive from Arbois, Alsace is a totally different world. The architecture, names of villages, wines and to a certain extent culture, are more Germanic than French because of historical reasons. Croissants in bakeries are replaced by bretzels (pretzels in Germany). There are times that I was wondering if I was in Germany or France.

The old town of Colmar is very attractive with traditional half-timbered houses, floral displays and canals, while most Alsatian wine villages, located on slopes or hill tops, are equally picturesque. The region is bicycle-friendly and a hiker’s paradise. I was so excited to have come across a wine festival while cycling through the village of Eguisheim, and ended up spending 3 hours there!

I also attended the Wine and Gastronomy Fair in Ribeauville. 11 restaurant stands were set up where each restaurant showcasing one dish accompanied with two wines. There were music, DJs and revellers were dancing the night away. For an extra fee, wine lovers could sample over 270 wines according to style and grape varieties: Crémant, Chasselas, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Muscat, Riesling, Rosé, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer in a separate tasting parlour. Guess where I spent most of my time😀.

The two must-try restaurants in Colmar are L’Un Des Sens run by two sommeliers and Le Cercle des Aromas serving 250 wine by the glass. Le Grognard in Riquewihr has a good wine list and an even better rum list.

The trip was super enjoyable. To see and experience a wine region first hand is the way to understand its wine. We may be familiar with Burgundian fine wine but visiting the villages and seeing people working in vineyards allow us to appreciate the lesser appellation wines. Mingling with locals certainly help us broaden our horizon. Moreover, wine regions are not only about wine. There are history, culture, outdoor activities and of course fine cuisines. Please plan your next holiday exploring wine regions.

Recommended wineries:
Patriarche, Beaune, Burgundy (available from wine’n’things)
Mestre Pere et Fils, Santenay, Burgundy
Christophe Vaudoisey, Volnay, Burgundy
Domaine Michel Voarick, Aloxe-Corton, Burgundy
Domaine André et Mireille Tissot, Arbois, Jura
Domaine de la Pinte, Arbois, Jura
Domiane Jacques Tissot, Arbois, Jura
Domaine Désiré Petit, Pupillin, Jura
Domaine Berthet-Bondet, Chateau-Chalon, Jura
Domaine Ginglinger Pierre Henri, Eguisheim, Alsace
Domaine Zinck, Eguisheim, Alsace
Domaine Jean-Paul Schmitt, Scherwiller, Alsace
Domaine Clé de Sol, Ribeauville, Alsace

Monday 30 September 2019

Millton, not your typical kiwi wine

At the #DrinkChenin Day a few months ago, there was an impressive Chenin Blanc from Gisborne, New Zealand. Therefore, when I knew the owner of the winery, Annie Millton, would be in town to present the wine, I jumped to the chance.

Located in Gisborne on the eastern coast of North Island, Millton Vineyards was established by James and Annie Millton in 1984 after their stint in France and Germany. They started by replanting most of Annie’s father vineyards and practised organic farming. Just after two years, the Milltons turned to biodynamic viticulture in 1986, the first vineyard in New Zealand to do so. Their winemaking philosophy is ‘Grown not made’.

New Zealand wine is mostly single varietal or Bordeaux blend and that 98.6% of the total vineyard area (36,680 ha) is made up of 11 varieties. Gisborne is the most diversified region with the most ‘other varieties’ planted (159 ha of 1,180 ha, equivalent to 13.5%). This is reflected in Millton Vineyards where over 10 varieties are cultivated.

There are only 22 ha of Chenin Blanc in New Zealand. Millton Te Arai Chenin Blanc 2016 was fermented and matured in old 600l barrels. It has pleasant aromas of citrus and white fruits supported by fresh acidity. Clos de Ste Anne Naboth’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, its flagship wine, is elegant with multi-layered flavours.

The intriguing wine at the tasting was the Libiamo Field Blend 2017, a blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Muscat fermented and aged on skin for a whopping 200 days! The wine is slightly cloudy but it has fresh fruit and herbal aromas. I love the structure and texture on palate. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it has character and is definitely a clean, well-made natural wine. Apparently the Libiamo blend is different every year. The 2018 vintage was a blend of Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Muscat with only 48 days of skin contact.

Millton’s Chenin Blanc may make one associates it with South Africa but I think it is its Libiamo that carries the South African winemaking creativity. James and Annie also make a Libiamo Amphora Chenin Blanc and Crazy by Nature white and red blends but these wines are not available in Hong Kong yet.

The winery stands out from the other New Zealand wine producers and shows to wine lovers that New Zealand is more than the mainstream wines. I hope we can see more diverse New Zealand wine like Millton’s in the market.

Millton Vineyards is represented by wine’n’things in Hong Kong.

Friday 16 August 2019

Low alcohol / no alcohol wine? Are they wine?

The trend may not be obvious in Hong Kong but low-alcohol or no-alcohol wine/beer/spirits is getting popular in the UK and the US. Hong Kong importers offering these products claim sales are satisfactory. Is there a place for these low/no alcohol ‘alcohol beverage’ or is it just a fad?

Advocates of low/no alcohol wine argue that they want to socialise with friends and have a good time but don’t want to feel pressurised to drink. I, a devoted wine lover, have to admit that there are times that I don’t feel like any wine (or alcohol). It may be because I am too tired, not feeling well or just don't feel like to. However, I will still go out with friends and happily sip a sparkling water. If my friends pressurise me to drink, I don’t think they are my real friends.

I remember the very oily vegetarian dishes we had in temples when I was young. All the dishes served had names like ‘vegetarian fish’, ‘vegetarian goose’, and so on, and the food was shaped like a fish or goose. I think this is hypocritical; I love vegetarian food and will proudly have a nice bowl of salad rather than some kind of oily stuff in the shape of fish. The same applies to low/no wine, why drink something called ‘wine’ if you don’t want it?

Going back to wine, alcohol is a natural product of grape juice fermentation. Alcohol contributes to palate weight and supports the aromas. One way to make low alcohol wine is to make the wine in a normal process then deliberately remove the alcohol. To me, the process (usually by spinning cone or reverse osmosis) is just like chopping a limb off a person. The resultant ‘wine’ is unbalanced and incomplete.

The other way to make low alcohol wine is to stop fermentation midway before all sugar is converted to alcohol. However, the final product will also have significant sugar. So which one is a lesser evil? Alcohol or sugar?

The final alcohol in wine depends on the sugar the grapes contain when harvested. In the past 20-30 years, winemakers have deliberately left the grapes on vines for a longer period of time after the grapes have ripened (prolonging hang time), resulting in high sugar accumulation in berries thus higher alcohol content in wine. Recently, winemakers are choosing to pick the grapes when they are just ripe, producing livelier, fresher and lower alcohol wine naturally. Depending on your interpretation of low alcohol, a wine from a cooler region such as Germany has much lower alcohol than wine from a warmer region. Consumers who are concerning about their alcohol intake can opt wine from cooler regions. These wines will not have ultra-low alcohol unless they are sweet but they are natural and complete. 

And there is the taste. At a recent debate on the topic, we tasted some pretty horrendous low/no alcohol wine. The white wine tasted sugary with no acid structure and the red wine was like the bitter herbal medicine. These wines are often relatively more expensive because of the extra process necessary to remove the alcohol.

I’m not at all against alcohol free beverage but I don't’ agree to drink low/no alcohol in order to appease our peers, nor to I want to pay a premium for something that is not enjoyable. Low/no alcohol must taste god before they can take off. Until then, I will just stick to water or juice

Saturday 3 August 2019

Jura, the neighbour of Burgundy

Burgundy, home of world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, has also some of the most expensive wines in the world. But because of the region’s fame and glory, most wine lovers overlooked its neighbour, Jura. However, the fact that Jura has successfully seduced Guillaume d’Angerville, a winemaker with six generations history in Burgundy, to develop a new brand there tells us perhaps we should take a closer look at Jura. 

The quest for a project in Jura was a Chardonnay from the region that Guillaume blind tasted in his favourite restaurant in Paris back in 2007. Since he always wanted to start something new outside he family estate, Jura seemed an ideal place because of its close proximity to Burgundy. Finally in 2012, he and partner François Duvivier acquired a 5ha biodynamically farmed vineyard with a modern winery, thus the birth of Domaine du Pélican. They subsequently bought another 5ha soon afterwards and leased 5ha more in 2014. Domaine du Pélican has all five permitted grape varieties planted: Chardonnay, Savagnin, Pinot Noir, Trousseau and Poulsard.

Jura is only one hour drive east of Burgundy (just over 100km) where the vineyards are at a slightly higher altitude than Burgundy (240-270m). But the region is sufficiently different from Burgundy because of its more diverse landscape and agriculture. Its soil is more clayey and has double the rainfall than that of Burgundy, and of course there are the different local yeasts. The Chardonnay 2017 we tasted came from four different parcels, was fermented in big barrels and aged in neutral barrels for 10 months. It is Burgundian style but with fresher acidity and less creamy mouthfeel.

Savagnin is a very old variety from northeast France and is thought to be related to the aromatic Gewürztraminer. In Jura, it is known for its famous oxidative style of Vin Jaune but Domaine du Pélican Savagnin Ouille 2017 was made the same as its Chardonnay with regular top up of the barrels. It is fresh with pine nuts, white fruits and a touch of mineral that was perfect with the Miso marinated black cod wrapped in hoba leaf from ZUMA. The word ‘ouille’ means top up, so consumer can differentiate it from the common oxidative Savagnin.

Poulsard is another old variety from eastern France. It is aromatic, fragile with a pale colour but Guillaume said it can age well if handled properly. The 2017 we tasted certainly has a hint of Burgundian Pinot Noir character. Trois Cepages, a blend of Pinot Noir, Trousseau and Poulsard, is more masculine than the 100% Poulsard with both red fruits and pepper notes.

At another Jura wine event just 10 days after this tasting, I had a chance to taste more wine from the region. I found Jura wine in general may have less complexity than Burgundian but it is more than compensated by freshness and purity. Guillaume praises the more genuine and open style of people in Jura and probably this is somehow reflected in the wine.

I can’t say loud enough that there are a lot more wine regions and grape varieties than the mainstream wines  we mostly drink. Don’t worry about not having a clue of the place or variety, just try and let your palate do the judging. Even better, if you are planning to visit a wine region, spare a few days to visit its neighbours to compare the wine. As a matter of fact, I just did what I said - exploring Burgundy, Jura and Alsace in July!

Domaine du Pélican is available in Hong Kong at Corney & Barrow.

Friday 5 July 2019

James Bond Champagne Bollinger celebrated La Grande Année 2008

I never say no to bubbles so it was with pleasure that I attended the launch of Bollinger Le Grande Année 2008 lunch recently, and especially that 2008 is a legendary vintage for champagne.

2008 had perfect weather condition in Champagne, cool climate growing season with minimum disease risks. Temperature increased in the last few weeks before harvest resulting in fruits with fine acidity and great concentration. According to Decanter, it is a 5/5 vintage and the wines are real keepers.

La Grande Année 2008 is a blend of grapes from 18 crus (villages), with 71% Pinot Noir and the rest being Chardonnay, it is the second vintage with the highest Pinot in the blend, just a little less that the 1979 vintage with 75% Pinot Noir. True to La Grande Année’s style, the wine was fermented in small aged old barrels giving it a round and rather rich mouthfeel, which is supported by layers of aromas from floral to exotic spices and fresh acidity, thanks to its 9 years of less ageing.

Bollinger’s Export Area Manager Bastien Mariani explained that Bollinger is all about craftsmanship and gastronomy. To illustrate this, we were treated a 4-course lunch at Clipper’s in The Peninsula paired with standard bottle and magnum La Grande Année 2008. Wine evolves slower in big bottles. The magnum is livelier while the standard bottle, still fresh but with an earthy undertone. According to Bastien, magnum complements lighter flavoured dishes while standard bottle is best served with stronger flavoured dishes. The magnum with langoustine carpaccio was excellent. The standard bottle was paired with the roasted quail, which was pleasant, but together with the sauce was a touch too powerful even for this manly James Bond champagne.

Another point that Bastien mentioned was that champagne (or sparkling wine made in traditional method) has two lives. The fist was before disgorgement when the wine develops its complexity and the second life starts after disgorgement when freshness and acidity come into play. Because of this, Bollinger now puts the disgorgement date on the back label of La Grande Année 2008. A more recent disgorged sparkling wine will be fresher than the one that has been disgorged for a while. Therefore next time you buy premium champagne for cellaring, it’s best to get those with a later disgorgement date - if it is mentioned on the label.

I haven’t tried a lot of 2008 vintage champagne but judging from Bollinger La Grande Année 2008 and various reports, 2008 is certainly worth keeping. Bollinger is available from Jebsen Fine Wines.

Sunday 23 June 2019

Sister grapes: Chenin Blanc and Riesling

15th June is #DrinkChenin, a day of celebrating his versatile grape variety around of world initiated by South African Chenin Blanc Association. With the support of importers, Wines of South Africa (WOSA) teamed up with Loire Valley Wine Bureau, New Zealand Wine, Oregon Wine Board and Washington State Wine to showcase 16 Chenin Blancs to wine lovers at a cosy bar, To Be Frank, to close to 100 curious wine lovers .

Most guests are not from the trade and they only try Chenin from one country or at most two (South Africa and Loire, in that order), and some haven’t tried Chenin yet. I tried to give them an overview of Chenin in less than one minute and decided to use Riesling as comparison. Chenin Blanc may not be as widely known as Riesling but it is as noble and versatile as Riesling.

I’d like to think Chenin Blanc as the sister of Riesling. Both are versatile and can be from bone dry to luscious, sparkling, sweet, single varietal or in blends; and both have crisp acidity. They also have similar flavour profiles: citrus, apples and pears in cool climate and lighter style; and stone fruits, exotic fruits and honey in warm climate and riper style. The reason Chenin being the elder sister is because it has a fuller-body than Riesling. Like Chardonnay, it can handle new oak well to add complexity, which is something Riesling doesn’t like. A seriously-made Chenin Blanc is as age-worthy as a Riesling.

Chenin Blanc can be dated back to the 9th century in Loire, France. It was introduced to South Africa in the 17th century where it was known as Steen. Only until mid 1960s when the University of Stellenbosch confirmed that Steen was in fact Chenin Blanc. While Chenin Blanc’s influence is declining in France, it is thriving in its adopted home of South Africa. Today, South Africa has the most planting of Chenin Blanc in the world at close to 20,000 ha, comparing to the 9,000+ ha in France. Other countries that are making Chenin, albeit in a much smaller quantity, are the US, Argentina and New Zealand.

Although most Chenin Blanc is 100% varietal wine, creative South African winemakers take it a step further to make multi-dimensional white blends. The Sadie Family ‘T Voetpad (available from BB&R), David & Nadia Aristargos (soon available from wine’n’things) and Keermont Terrasse (available from Value Vigilantes) are some of the best examples of Chenin blends. What’s more, most of these are made from old vines. They may lack the fruit forward palate but are more than compensated by the textural depth. South Africa now certifies vines older than 35 years old with a Certified Heritage Vineyards’ seal that shows the year of planting.

It is therefore a pity that such a chameleon grape is not more popular in the world. Please don’t wait until 15th June to drink Chenin. Explore the many styles available in Hong Kong and even better, try them with Riesling or Chardonnay side by side. You’ll be surprised.

Chenin we tried at the #DrinkChenin:

South Africa (from refreshing to full bodied)
1. The Winery of Good Hope Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2018, available from Victoria Wines
2. Bellingham Homestead The Old Orchards Chenin Blanc 2018, available from wine’n’things
3. Keermont Terrasse (Chenin blend), available from Value Vigilantes
4. Radford Dale Vinum Chenin Blanc 2017, available from Victoria Wines
5. Villiera Traditional Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2016, available from wine’n’things
6. Holden Manz Chenin, 2017 available from Babington Wines
7. Stellenrust 53 Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2017, available from Kedington Wines
8. Mullineux Straw Chenin Blanc 2017, available from Berry Bros & Rudd

1. Chateau Soucherie Anjoy Blanc Ivoire 2015, available from Chaeau Soucherie Hong Kong
2. Chateau Soucherie Savennieres Clo des Perriees 2013, available from Chaeau Soucherie Hong Kong
3. Domaine des Roches Neuves, Saumur Clos Romans 2015, available from Sarment
4. Domaine du Clos Naudin Vourvray 2014, available from Vines & Terroir
5. Domaine de Belliviére - Jasniéres 2015, available from Cytise Distribution

Goon Tycoons Chenin Blanc 2017, Australia, available from Wine Brothers
Millton Te Arai Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2016, New Zealand, available from wine’n’things
L’Ecole 41 Chenin Blanc 2015, Washington, US, available from Golden Gate Wine
Origin Chenin Blanc 2016, Oregon, US, available from Golden Gate Wines