What is typicity, how do you define the typical nature of something? Blondes are stupid, men are rampant hypochondriacs and women can’t read maps, right? Well, I’m married to a blonde head-teacher (did I mention I’ve got a sore throat?) who is more intelligent than I’ll ever be but she did once take us down the wrong side of a mountain in the Himalayas…
But what about wine, how many wines are truly typical of their place of origin? This is a particularly vexatious topic when one is trying to embed the tell-tale markers of ‘classic’ wines in one’s brain prior to sitting exams. Michael Schuster writes about the defining stylistic traits that separates one region’s wines from another as well as anybody but does that mean he can always divine the subtleties that make Margaux, Margaux and not St. Julien? Margaux is generally more fragrant, more perfumed? Well yes, except of course when it isn’t. What about the vintage, are wines more typical in say Bordeaux in a really good year such as 2010, or are they more representative in a cooler year when you can smell the pungent tang of bell peppers?
This is not just an issue with Old World wines, in fact the scale of many New World ‘appellations’ or viticultural areas is such that to expect any typicity would be foolish. But it is not just geography that has a profound impact on typicity but also that oft forgotten factor; the desire of the wine-maker. This was made abundantly clear when earlier this week I tasted three Chardonnays from Australia. The Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Margaret River are considered ‘cool’ areas of production with Yarra being the coolest of the three and Margaret River the warmest. Yet on tasting, the decisions made in the winery made these wines, however delicious, impossible to place with any surety. Typical!
Yering Station, Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, 2010, 13.5%
Winemaking: No or very little malolactic influence, 9 months in barrel.
Note: Leesy with a touch of aniseed adds a little savoury complexity to the nectarine fruit. Bright but not crisp acidity gives the wine requisite line and length.
Available from: finessewines.com.tw
Shaw & Smith, M3 Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills, 2012, 13%
Winemaking: Partial malolactic, 9 months in barrel (but with a greater influence of new oak than the Yering Station)
Note: Pronounced tangerine and nectarine with some toast and yoghurt-like lees influence. Bright and crisp acidity give the wine great definition and the finish is deliciously long. Excellent value.
Available from: icheers.tw
Clairault, Estate Chardonnay, Margaret River, 2010, 13%
Winemaking: No obvious malolactic. 9 months in 40% new oak.
Note: Arguably the best of the three with zesty acidity and a struck match/wet wool character that is distinctly Burgundian. Intense, concentrated and nutty, Margaret River’s answer to Mersault.
Available from: finewine.com.tw
Blind tasting is controversial. As an importer it was the final and most critical part of my selection process. Having spent time visiting producers and tasting wines in situ; it was only on my return home that a reliable assessment could be made. The blind-tasting of wines of a particular price point or region against their neighbours or competitors, helped remove some of the bias to which I was prone. I never bought wines from people I didn’t like but blind tasting also prevented me from buying wines from people I really did. It removed the emotion and romanticism I might have attached to people and places and left the raw product exposed for what it was. It is this reason why so many returning from holiday clutching their favourite wine of the trip end up being disappointed. Most wine tastes good when the sun is high and the serotonin is flowing. In the more prosaic surroundings of home, these same vinous ‘joys’ are often much less rewarding.
In the classroom, blind-tastings are frequently used as a method of torture rather than one of learning. There should always be a clear reason as to why one is tasting blind otherwise it becomes a game with too many crestfallen ‘losers’ and no real ‘winner’ – not in an educational sense anyway. Last Sunday my class enjoyed a flight of four wines (conducted blind), that worked particularly well as an exercise in varietal differences. Attempting to ‘bench-mark’ varieties or regional expressions of certain grape types is not always successful, but the Syrah, Carmenere, Malbec and Cabernet/Merlot we tasted proved deliciously up to the task. As an MW student I am keenly aware of making tastings illuminating and relevant; and these four wines, none prohibitively expensive, are worthy of some home study of your own.
Marques de Casa Concha, Syrah, D.O Buin (Maipo), Chile, 2011, 14.5%
Wine-making: 18 months in French Oak
Note: Classic Syrah. Blackberry fruit and fresh acidity that helps preserve this wine’s sense of purity. The oak does not get in the way and the ripe tannins complete the harmonious palate. Good value
Available from: Creationwines.com.tw
Marques de Casa Concha, Carmenere, D.O Peumo (Rapel), Chile, 2011, 14%
Wine-making: 18 months in French Oak
Note: There is a little pleasant herbaceousness here but no under-ripeness that can leave Carmenere feeling green and mean. Chocolatey and supple tannins with a touch of spice from the oak.
Available from: Creationwines.com.tw
Catena Alta, ‘Historic Rows’, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2009, 14%
Wine-making: 18 months in French oak
Note: It is rare for me to drink any one wine more than a couple of times a year but this is one of the few I could happily have a glass of every day. It smells of cherry pie, vanilla, citrus peel and has silky, super-fine tannins. Persistent and delicious, exceptionally good.
Available from: icheers
Cape Mentelle, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Margaret River, Australia, 2012, 13.5%
Grape: 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: 14 months in 20% new French oak
Note: Mint, chocolate and tar (three of my favourite smells) accompanied by a structure of fine-grained tannins help give this wine more than just a sheen of elegance. Very good value.
Available from: P9.com.tw
Of all the ‘New World’ countries Australia should be the easiest sell. It has more regions linked to specific varieties than any other new world country. One cannot expect most casual wine-drinkers to know this but these links between grape and region should and need to be promoted hard. Marlborough Sauvignon, Napa Cabernet, these are successful brands. Australia has Barossa Shiraz but too few (well my wife couldn’t think of any more) other ‘brands’ that any one else would recognise. Through the work of Wine Australia and their A+ programmes there is a gentle, trickling dissemination at work. Yet with most Australian money being directed at China the likes of Taiwan receive little attention. It is up to us, the wine consuming public, to convince the Aussies that Taiwan is not the country where generic Australian Chardonnay past its sell by date goes to die.
So how do we do this? Through education and promotion that should then lead to increased consumption. Luckily Taiwan does offer the adventurous imbiber a plethora of wines from this sparsely populated continent. One of the best importers is Adelaide Finewine Cellar (AFW). They import a wide range of leading estates that include Bird in the Hand, Cullen, Kalleske, Yarra Yarra and even fortified specialists, Pfeiffers. With importers brave enough to ship such relative ‘oddities’ to these shores, we have an obligation to encourage them to continue by buying the odd bottle or twelve. Therefore below are three wines from AFW that serve as both a fine start to the weekend and a quality introduction to what is on offer from the land of Oz.
….and if you want to widen your knowledge and tasting experience then you should consider signing up for an A+ course on the subject. Half and full day courses are offered in Taiwan by Taiwan Wine Academy www.wineacademy.tw
Kalleske, Greenock single vineyard Barossa Valley Shiraz, 2008, 14.5%
Grape: Shiraz (organic/biodynamic)
Wine-making: 30% new French and American oak for 18 months
Note: Good introduction to overt, full-bodied Barossa style Shiraz. Spicy and saliva inducing aromas of fruitcake, licorice and tobacco. Save for a cold winters day.
Katnook, Founder’s Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, 2009, 13.5%
Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: Only a little oak used (15%)
Note: Another fine and affordable bottle this time from Australia’s premier Cabernet Sauvignon region, Coonawarra. Has the minty character and dark but sweet blackcurrant fruit that is so typical of the region. Good value.
Cullen, Mangan Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Margaret River, 2010, 12%
Grape: 62% Sauvignon and 38% Semillon
Wine-making: Small proportion of the Sauvignon (13%) fermented in New French oak to give a little extra richness and aroma.
Note: Margaret River specialises in varieties and blends made famous in Bordeaux. Cullen are one of the great producers of Australia and this taut, mineral and very precise Sauvignon/Semillon is evidence that one should never make the mistake of thinking that Australia can only make powerful red wines.