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Champagne Thienot

The more Champagne one drinks the more one really recognises the range of styles available. Unfortunately Champagne suffers through its association with celebration. Whilst the producers themselves may be thankful of the price premium it is possible to enjoy as a result of this, it does mean that the majority of glasses downed act as a vehicle for emotion rather than being the cause of it. If only we would pay more attention. I say this having drunk more Champagne in the last two months than I have ever managed before in such a similar time frame. Such sacrifice has engendered in me a much greater appreciation of the Champenois and their offerings as well as a surprising shift in my bubble brightened preferences.

I remember the first time I had Krug Grand Cuvee and Bollinger’s RD, two wines whose depth and richness sparked in me the realisation of what Champagne was capable. This was back in early 2004 and although my financial limitations prevented me from drinking either of these wines with any frequency they became the benchmarks against which other Champagnes came to be judged. These two wines have many things in common, they are both wallet witheringly expensive, they both spend some time in oak, they both have a backbone of Pinot Noir rather than Chardonnay and they are both very ‘winey’ Champagnes (rather than the lighter, aperitif style) and therefore demand your attention and a certain coherence. Yet as time has passed I have found my tongue turning to Champagnes that are less obviously rich and powerful. If current consumption is to believed, I have been enjoying the work of Veuve Fourny et Fils, Bruno Paillard, Taittinger and the half way houses that operate between these two extremes of delicacy and density, namely Larmandier Bernier, Pol Roger and Dom Perignon.

As of last week I have been able to add another Champagne to this list having been introduced to Champagne Thienot. This relatively new house was started in 1985 by Champagne broker Alain Thienot and last week his son, Stanislas, was in Taipei hosting a tasting that revealed wines with the fresh and exuberant style that are currently en vogue in my household. What was crystal clear was the lack of any oxidative characteristics. These were whistle clean without being boring, polished but not prim and extremely enjoyable. Below are a few notes about my favourites. 

Thienot Brut NV
45% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, 20% Meunier, 9g/RS, 4yrs on lees. 45% Reserve wine. Fruit from 65 different villages.
Elegant and gently yeasty nose with a touch of hazelnut, with crisp but ripe apple fruit and a persistent fine mousse that makes this a real palate enlivener. Chalky, sherbert-like mouth-feel drags its way across the palate leaving a minerally reminder of its presence once swallowed. The dosage is perfect balancing the brisk acidity whilst adding nothing that might get in the way of the style.
17/20

Thienot Brut Rose
45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 20% Meunier. 10g/RS, 7% Red wine, 2-3 yrs on lees, 45% reserve wines.
Salmon pink, and with aromas of redcurrant, and some fresh cherry pie. Delicious but perhaps not quite as persistent or fine as the Brut NV?
16/20

Thienot Brut 2006
57% Chardonnay, 28% Pinot Noir, 15% Meunier, 8.5g/RS. 6 yrs on lees
Expressive nose, with the heady and alluring aroma of a bakery at work. Powerful, firm of structure and with Chardonnay’s mineral grip, lots of stewed/preserved fruits whilst still very elegant. Delicious.
17/20

Cuvee Stanislas 2005
Blanc de Blancs (100% Cote des Blancs), 9g/RS, 6 years on lees.
Showing some maturity with a touch of fennel, jasmine tea, very floral, stewed apple fruit, pear and grapefruit. Lovely tension without being testing or remotely hard work. Fine, persistent and worthy.
17.5+/20

Cuvee Garance 2007
Blanc de Noirs , 100% Pinot Noir (100% Montagne de Reims), 10g/RS, 7 yrs on lees
More yellow fruit here plus a little wet wool and orange peel accompanied by some toastiness and has again a pink grapefruit finish that leaves a persistent impression.
17.5/20 

Cuvee Alain Thienot 2002
60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, 9g/RS, 10yrs on lees
Lovely mature nose of savouriness with mushroom, dried fruit and dried flowers (almost pot pourri like) but with that touch of ripe grapefruit that haunts these wines. Persistent, rich and mouthcoating with weight but also elegance and finesse. Very fine.
18/20

席諾香檳品飲會

喝的香檳愈多,愈能發現香檳風格之廣,只可惜,香檳總是被拿來與歡慶的場合做聯想,因此,當香檳業者們一方面因酒款的超高價位而感到欣慰之時,一方面又得面對一個無奈的現實:即絕大多數消費者在享受香檳時,其實多半出自於香檳被賦予的感性意涵,而非酒款本身。如果我們能多注意酒質本身的表現就好了。我會這麼說,是因為這兩個月以來,我品嚐香檳的頻繁程度,前所未即。而這也讓我對於香檳人和他們所端出的酒款,激出更多欣賞之情,並驚訝地發現香檳整體風格的美好改變。

我記得自己第一次喝到深度與豐裕度均佳的庫克陳年香檳(Krug Grand Cuvee)與伯蘭爵RD年份香檳(Bollinger RD)時,徹底發現了香檳驚人的實力;那已經是2004年的事了。即便我的荷包沒深到可以時常品嚐它們,這兩款酒依舊成為我日後品評香檳時的最高標準。事實上,這兩款香檳有許多相似之處:首先是它們的價格都貴到令人掉淚;再者是它們均於橡木桶中陳年,並都以黑皮諾(Pinot Noir)為組成架構,而非夏多內(Chardonnay);最後,這兩款酒其實都非常近似於一般非香檳的葡萄酒,風格不走輕巧或開胃酒路線,但也因為如此,它們總是能抓住飲者的注意力。然而,隨著時間的推移,我發現自己愈來愈偏好較不濃郁或展現勁道的香檳。如果要以我現在的品飲做為喜好標準,Veuve Fourny et Fils、布魯諾・百漾(Bruno Paillard)、泰廷爵(Taittinger)等其實是我目前更偏愛的類型,還有介於細緻和濃郁兩個極端的中間類型香檳,如浪夢迪-貝荷尼香檳(Larmandier-Bernier)、保羅傑(Pol Roger)與香檳王(Dom Perignon)等酒廠。

上週,當我第一次品嚐到席諾香檳(Champagne Thienot)時,我發現自己又能為偏愛的香檳品牌多添了一家。這家歷史較短的酒廠,是由香檳酒商Alain Thienot於1985年成立。上週,莊主的兒子Stanislas來臺舉辦品酒會,並展示了一系列風味新鮮、豐富的香檳,正是我目前所愛的風格。這些酒款都沒有展現出任何氧化風格,嚐來雖乾淨,卻一點也不無趣,精雕細琢但不呆板,而且非常可口。以下簡介幾款我最愛的香檳。(編譯 / 艾蜜・emily) 

席諾干型無年份香檳
品種資訊:45%夏多內、35%黑皮諾、20%皮諾莫尼耶(Pinot Meunier)
其它資訊:殘糖量每公升9克;瓶中二次發酵四年;45%為陳年酒(Reserve wine);葡萄來自65個不同的村莊
品飲筆記:高雅、細緻的酵母氣息,綴以些許臻果香。口感爽脆,展現成熟蘋果味與細緻綿密的泡泡質地,嚐來相當鮮活。口中如同白堊土或雪泥冰砂般的質地,在口中緩慢延伸,留下礦物味餘韻。這款酒的補液(Dosage)恰如其分,既不至於更改酒款風格,又保留了活潑的酸度。17/20分)

席諾干型無年份粉紅香檳
品種資訊:45%黑皮諾、35%夏多內、20%皮諾莫尼耶
其它資訊:殘糖量每公升10克;使用7%紅酒;瓶中二次發酵2~3年;45%為陳年酒
品飲筆記:酒色呈鮭魚粉,香氣帶有紅醋栗與一些新鮮櫻桃派。這款酒雖然可口,但以無年份干型香檳而言,餘韻長度與細緻度似乎略嫌不足?16/20分)

席諾干型年份香檳2006
品種資訊:57%夏多內、28%黑皮諾、15%皮諾莫尼耶
其它資訊:殘糖量每公升8.5克;瓶中二次發酵6年
品飲筆記:香氣表現豐富,滿是令人陶醉且引人入勝的烘焙坊新鮮香氣。口感勁道十足,架構紮實,有夏多內所帶來的礦物緊緻度,以及相當多燉煮水果和蜜餞的風味,同時維持高雅特性。非常可口。17/20分)

Cuvee Stanislas年份香檳2005
品種資訊:100%夏多內(白中白香檳)
其它資訊:葡萄100%來自白丘(Cote des Blancs);殘糖量每公升9克;瓶中二次發酵6年
品飲筆記:展現出些許成熟風味,帶有一絲茴香與茉莉花茶等花香,以及燉蘋果、梨,和葡萄柚風味。口感展現出恰如其分的張力,很是怡人,質地細緻,餘韻綿長,物有所值。17.5+/20分) 

Cuvee Garance年份香檳2007
品種資訊:100%黑皮諾(黑中白香檳)
其它資訊:葡萄100%來自漢斯山脈(Montagne de Reims);殘糖量每公升10克;瓶中二次發酵7年
品飲筆記:這款年份香檳展現較多黃色水果香氣,以及些許濕羊毛和橘子皮氣息,另有一些吐司風味,餘韻綿長而令人印象深刻,同樣以葡萄柚香氣作結。17.5/20分)

Cuvee Alain Thienot年份香檳2002
品種資訊:60%黑皮諾、40%夏多內
其它資訊:殘糖量每公升9克;瓶中二次發酵10年
品飲筆記:怡人的成熟香氣中,帶有如蘑菇、果乾和乾燥花(幾乎有如乾燥百花香一般)等鹹鮮風味與成熟葡萄柚香。風味持久不散,豐富而滿覆口腔,在展現酒體份量之餘,也不乏優雅與細緻特性。非常精美的一款酒。18/20分)

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England vs. France: Part 1, 2016

At the weekend I enjoyed an excellent bottle of Champagne from Larmandier Bernier. This wine, their Terre de Vertus, was everything I want in a glass of fizz; it was invigorating and salivating yet also winey and delicately yeasty, a fine wine in its own right, with or without the bubbles. Such vinous pleasure made me think of the wines we make in England and particularly the award winning nature of many of our sparkling wines. Although it may not be very patriotic to say, I have not, as of yet, had an English fizz that has exhibited the same completeness or complexity of the very best Champagne. But that does not mean that they are not often very good. Led by the likes of Taittinger, the Champenois, clearly enamoured with what they are tasting from this side of La Manche, are increasingly making the trip to England in search of prime vineyard land.

If we assume that the soil is the same (chalk) and that an already similar climate will only become more so with a soupçon of global warming, then perhaps Sussex really can begin to challenge the best of the Cote des Blancs? The problem with this argument is that it does not take into account our differing cultures and whether a Frenchman or woman has a greater affinity for the crafting of such wines by the very virtue of being imbued with a certain Frenchness, almost from birth.

The one year that I spent living in France, the torrid 2003 vintage, I existed in a state of constant appreciation. This was caused by three things that the French are extraordinarily good at:

  1. Bread
  2. Wine
  3. Lingerie

Any small provincial French ‘town’ worth its sel can be guaranteed to have at least three good bun shops, a couple of ‘caves’ or wine vendors and a shrine to the bra and knicker.

In Britain the same sized village/town has a:

  1. Co-op (other chains of convenience stores do exist)
  2. A Charity shop
  3. Post Office

This is why so many of us find the French an incomprehensible bunch. Whilst they are thinking ‘food, drink, sex’ (a simple but enjoyable formula for life based on the feeding of one’s sensuous appetites) we’re thinking ‘convenience, cheap, stamps’.

If we, the English, can let go of our prosaic disposition and instead view life through the lens of our more romantic neighbours to the South, then perhaps English Wine will become the world’s best and Champagne will be relegated to an also ran? The conclusion or ‘Part 2’ to this article will be available in 2050 when, assuming I’m not dead, we’ll assess again which country’s wine is in the ascendency. In the meantime below are a couple of excellent wines from both sides of the channel which I am sure will be more greatly appreciated by your inner monkey than any banana.

Happy New Year!

Larmandier-Bernier, Terre de Vertus 1er cru, 2009, Blanc de Blancs, 12%, (Biodynamic)
Grape: Chardonnay
Winemaking: Traditional method, 48 months on lees, zero dosage
Note: Rich, savoury and biscuity. This had the purity of fruit expression one expects from zero dosage wines without the mouth puckering and enamel cracking acidity that can leave some examples of this sugar regime, gaunt and hollow. Fine stuff and at this price a true bargain.
Price: Bought for 2000NT, regular retail price is 2450NT (2010 now available). Or 39.50GBP in the UK
Score: 17+/20
Available from: New Century (ncw.tw), leaandsandeman.co.uk

Gusbourne Estate, Brut Blanc de Blancs, 2010, 12%
Grape: Chardonnay
Winemaking: Traditional method, 36 months on lees, 9g dosage
Note: The sugar balances the acid tang and adds richness to the delicious baked apple aromas. Firm and well mannered, this has enough guts and class to be drinking very well until 2020.
Price: 38.95GBP in UK
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Handford Wines (handford.net)

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Italy: More than pizza and pasta

Italy’s cuisine, founded on pasta, pizza and the concept of ‘cucina povera’ (simple but quality food), has seen Italian food garner global fame. It is rare to arrive in any town or city in the developed world without seeing the tricolore proudly displayed in the signage of the local trattoria, but what about Italian wine?

Most wine consumers will, at some point, have worked their way through a glass of Chianti or Pinot Grigio but that is just the tip of a very large ‘wineberg’ that remains relatively unknown to the majority. If you doubt my assessment of the level of consciousness that Italian wines have managed to prick, just examine the Master of Wine exams of the last three years (2012-2014). Of the 108 wines that candidates have been asked to assess: only eleven were Italian in comparison to thirty three from France. I don’t think this is evidence of some internal bias by the Institute of Masters of Wine, just a reflection of the lack of penetration in global terms for many of Italy’s offerings. This lack of recognition is partly due to what lovers of Italian wine cherish the most; namely the vast range of indigenous varieties scattered throughout the Italian peninsula. The ‘problem’ for many of these varieties is that they seem reluctant to flourish away from their homeland meaning that there is a concomitant lack of exposure. Hopefully Australia’s increasing desire to plant some of these varieties, a sensible choice considering the generally Mediterranean climate experienced in much of the wine growing South East, will help to redress this situation.

Monday saw the Gambero Rosso Italian wine tasting event arrive in Taipei. The raft of Italian producers in attendance, many as yet to find importers in this corner of Asia, provided a welcome opportunity to refamiliarise myself with the classic as well as the more esoteric offerings from this vinous heavyweight. Below are wines from four producers that I hope will have been successful in their search for representation, as I believe they have the necessary charm to delight not just me but also the increasing number of wine-drinkers here in Taiwan. Whatever the outcome for these four estates, be sure to explore Italy’s vinous heritage, it is as important and as impressive as their food and warrants your attention.

Barone Pizzini, Franciacorta DOCG, Brut Nature, 2011
Grape: 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir
Wine-making: More than 24 months on lees and less than 3g of sugar per litre in the dosage.
Note: Buttered brioche with a little nectarine and citrus fruit, this was a decidedly precise yet still vinous glass of Franciacorta. If you like Champagne then the wines from this part of Lombardy offer similar levels of quality with a touch more generosity.
Score: 16/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan

Bibbiano, Chianti Classico DOCG, 2012, 13.5%
Grape: Sangiovese
Wine-making: No oak
Note: Benchmark Chianti Classico, all crisp, pithy and with the scent of sour cherries gives this a thirst quenching quality that makes it alarmingly easy to drink.
Score: 16/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan 

La Raia, Gavi DOCG, ‘Pisè’, 2012, 13%
Grape: Cortese
Wine-making: 12 months on lees
Note: This shows how good Cortese can be. Leesy, firm but with apple, almond and a subtle floral quality that is almost reminiscent of a good 1er cru Chablis. Break out the oysters.
Score: 16.5+/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan 

Marchesi di Barolo, Barbaresco Tradizione, 2011, 14.5%
Grape: Nebbiolo
Wine-making: Short maceration (helps retain fruitiness) and 18 months in large oak.
Note: This is as juicy and approachable as young Nebbiolo gets. Fruity, floral and generous and tame enough to enjoy without food.
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan

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Champagne: Greater than the sum of its parts

Where is Champagne? Assuming you know that it is in northern France, most fans of the world’s finest fizz would identify Epernay as the heart of the region. Journey south and any visitor would quickly find themselves in Chardonnay territory, the aptly named Cote des Blancs. Head west and Meunier production dominates in the Vallee de la Marne and if one were to look up in a northerly direction, the most famous hill for the growing of Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy, would frame one’s view; the ambitiously named Montagne de Reims. Yet in the same way that London exists beyond the streets painted on a Monopoly board, Champagne encompasses much more than the three ‘vineyards’ that envelop Epernay.

Some 130km further to the south, beyond the city of Troyes and closer to Burgundy than the rest of Champagne, lies the Cote des Bar. This is Pinot country and is as significant as the more famed Montagne de Reims producing as it does 50% of Champagne’s most coveted dark skinned variety. The Champagne house and bastion of the Cote des Bar, Devaux, were in Taipei last week represented by the excellent Jean-Noel Girard. Monsieur Girard managed to do what seems beyond the reach of many of the reps that reach these shores in that he both engaged and entertained the crowd. Jean-Noel’s party trick was really no trick at all, he just informed and educated those assembled through an excellently worked tasting. This included ten samples of vin clair, ‘raw’ Champagne, bereft of bubbles, age and the mollifying effect of sugar. You cannot buy this raw wine (believe me your teeth will thank you, so high was the level of acidity) but you can buy them in assembled form and it is these Devaux Champagnes that receive attention below.

Devaux, Ultra D, Extra Brut NV
Grapes: 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay
Wine-making: 2g/l dosage. A minimum of 35% reserve wines. A minimum of 5 years ageing.
Note: I’ve had too many lean and scrawny ‘ultra’ Champagnes but this is not one of those. Positively generous and vivid with great purity of fruit and a saline tang.
Price: 2,800NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: creationwine.com.tw

Devaux, 2006 Vintage D, Brut
Grapes: 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay
Wine-making: 6g/l dosage. A minimum of seven years ageing.
Note: Still young and relatively closed, this needs a little time for the fruit to reappear, but your patience will be rewarded with a Champagne of persistence and definition.
Price: 3,600NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: creationwine.com.tw 

Devaux, Cuvee D, Brut NV
Grapes: 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay
Wine-making: 7g/l dosage. A minimum of 35% of reserve wines. A minimum of 5 years ageing.
Note: Relatively inexpensive yet decidedly cheerful, by virtue of the costly and lengthy ageing. Good aperitif style sparkler, lighter and more featherweight than the rest.
Price: 2,550NT
Score: 15.5
Available from: creationwine.com.tw

 

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No Beefsteak but some Burgundy

Having being recently invited to lunch at Le Cocotte, a restaurant of some standing here in Taipei, I was looking forward to the food almost as much as the wine. The occasion, a gathering of the ‘Beefsteak and Burgundy [dining] Club’ meets monthly and is populated by a diverse membership whose specialisms range from robotics to removals.

On arrival I was handed a glass of ‘Champagne’ and having tasted it I looked behind the bar for the bottle. I should have expected as much but the sight of the four wines we were to be served over lunch, sitting swaddled in tin-foil, produced the very slightest of palpitations deep in my innards. I knew that it would not be long before I was asked ‘what I did for a living’ and the realisation that a wine ‘expert’ was in their midst would make the blind tasting an altogether more interesting prospect…for some.

As we took our seats, paid homage to the Queen and our respective leaders of State, all I could think about was the origin of the inch of effervescence that sat whispering from the flute before me. ‘Touch of yeastiness, chalky texture, citrus and apple fruit…ok, its traditional method, old world, more than likely French but definitely not Champagne, acidity is too low…so Cremant but which, de Loire or de Bourgogne…?’, oh the joys of drinking in public. I’ll be honest, I went for the Loire, seduced by the apple and minerally mouth-feel, ignored the bright but not whistle clean acidity and of course if you close your eyes to the obvious you end up looking foolish; it was from Burgundy.

The wines that followed were more straightforward. Firstly an excellent, aromatic and pointed dry Muscat from the Minervois, then a dough and bruised apple scented Savagnin from the Cotes du Jura, before a final sweet wine from Ste-Croix-du-Mont. This appellation being on more elevated terrain, peers down through the botrytis inducing mist onto the vineyards of Sauternes that squat on the opposite shore of the Garonne.

I do not know if I will be invited back, but tasting (even when blind), drinking and eating in good company, especially when accompanied by some less than usual wines is a rare pleasure. Below are reviews of the four tasted:

Maison Vitteau Alberti, ‘Cuvee Agnes’, Cremant de Bourgogne NV
Grape: Chardonnay
Wine-making: Traditional method
Note: As mentioned above, this has a lovely chalky texture and fine fruit. The acidity is crisp and less taut than Champagne but this makes it easier to appreciate. Good value.
Price: 1,480NT
Score: 15.5/20
Available from: Le Cellier des Poetes,
www.cellierpoetes.com

Clos du Gravillas, ‘On the Rocks’ Muscat Sec, 2013
Grape: Muscat blanc a petit grains
Wine-making: Stainless steel
Note: This is excellent Muscat with the sweet aromas of grapes and white flowers whilst being deliciously dry, bright and minerally. Excellent value
Price: 1,080NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Le Cellier des Poetes, www.cellierpoetes.com 

Domaine Berthet-Bondet, Cotes du Jura, 2009
Grape: Savagnin
Wine-making: Kept in old oak barrels for three years without topping up and with a veil of flor adding aromatic complexity.
Note: Not the most popular wine of the day but these strongly savoury and bone dry wines require a certain amount of practise to appreciate. If you like Fino Sherry or Amontillado you will like this.
Price: 1,680NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: Le Cellier des Poetes, www.cellierpoetes.com 

Chateau La Rame, ‘Traditionnel’ Ste-Croix-du-Mont, 2012
Grape: 100% Semillion
Wine-making: This is botrytised sweet wine matured in tank for two years.
Note: Sweet but with good freshness this young, honeyed apricot and lemon scented wine has less obvious fat than a Sauternes but most would never notice the difference. The price for a full 750ml bottle is a bargain.
Price: 1,580NT
Score: 15.5/20
Available from: Le Cellier des Poetes, www.cellierpoetes.com

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Bottles for your Boy & Gifts for your Girl

If someone asks me what I want for Christmas I hesitate to say wine because I know that people fear getting it ‘wrong’. The problem is that the amateur cannot look at a label and derive much needed information about the quality in the bottle. If, on the other hand, I want to buy my beloved a handbag, whether I know the relative merits of Fendi vs. Fiorelli is immaterial, my judgement on the suitability of the aesthetic is alone, the deciding factor (not that I am pretending that this purchasing decision is free of danger).

What follows therefore is a brief list of some of the wines that I have particularly enjoyed over the last year. I have not listed the wines by price (as typing the name of each into Google will give you a more accurate idea of their cost in your local market) and if you would like more detailed information, many have been reviewed on Sniff in the last few months. It is far from exhaustive and the criteria for appearing on this list was less about the score (I have left out many with similar ratings) and more about those wines that have forced me to engage with them, either as a result of their sheer gustatory pleasure or because of some beguiling complexity. These are, therefore, wines that should make any wine-lover happy (be it your Mum, manager or man-friend) and if you are lucky they may even share their gift with you, ensuring a happy Christmas for all concerned.

One last point – don’t fret too much about the vintage, I state if the vintage is hugely influential to the choice.

Dry Whites

Ken Forrester, The FMC (100% Chenin Blanc) Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2010. 17.5/20
Rich and intense but with a seam of supporting acidity. Chenin at its South African best.

Hans Herzog, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ‘Sur lie’, New Zealand, 2009. 17/20
Quince, pineapple, marzipan and nettle form just part of this complex, very un-Marlborough like, Sauvignon.

Millton, Riverpoint Viognier, Gisborne, New Zealand, 2011. 17.5/20
Warm peach, lemon oil and honey. Vibrant for Viognier and with great length.

Henri Bourgeois, La Bourgeoise, Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc), Loire France, 2010. 18.5/20
My favourite Sauvignon of the year, as elegant as it gets.

Eric Morgat, Cuvee l’Enclos, Savennieres (Chenin Blanc), Loire, France, 2009. 18/20
Weighty but with that special mineral and salty line running through it which separates the great from the good.

Von Buhl, Forster Ungeheuer GG (‘Grosses Gewachs’ meaning a dry wine produced from the best vineyards), Riesling trocken, Pfalz, Germany, 2011. 18/20
Full of tension and vitality.

Cantina Terlan, Winkl, Sauvignon Blanc, Alto Adige/Sudtirol, Italy, 2013. 17.5/20
The best producers of Italian Sauvignon?

Nik Weis, St. Urbans Hof, Laurentiuslay GG, Riesling trocken, Mosel, Germany, 2012 (I love this vintage here). 19/20
Stunning, the most arresting white I tried this year.

Domaine Labet, Fleur de Savagnin ‘en Chalasse’, (100% Savagnin), Jura, France, 2012. 17.5/20
No need to chill this as the driving acidity and persistence make this feel like it is already chilled. Brilliant.

Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon, Clos du Four, (100% Chardonnay) Macon-Milly-Lamartine, Burgundy, France, 2011. (I love this vintage here) 18/20
Delicious, approachable and most importantly, highly affordable Burgundy.

Domaine Ramonet, 1er cru ‘les Caillerets’, Chassagne Montrachet, Burgundy, France, 2008. 18/20
Delicious and approachable but you’ll pay a bit more for this classic than for the Macon.

Jean Bourdy, Chateau Chalon, (100% Savagnin), Jura, France, 2005. 19/20
Flor influenced brilliance. Gob-smackingly fine with an intensity, complexity and persistence rarely found in any other white wine. Outstanding.

 

Sweet & Sparkling

Rolly Gassmann, Rotleibel de Rorschwihr, Pinot Gris, Alsace, France, 2008. 18/20
A little chubby but only in the most alluring way, I could drink a glass of this every day.

Grahams, The Stone Terraces, Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal, 2011, (special vintage). 19/20
From the spectacular 2011 vintage, this is Graham’s newest addition to their line-up.

Dow’s, Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal, 1994. 18/20
Perfect drinking now.

Chateau Pajzos, Tokaji Essencia, Hungary, 1999. 19.5/20
I had tears in my eyes on tasting this. The most mesmeric wine I tasted this year.

Bruno Paillard, NPU 1999, Champagne, France. 18.5/20
Very complex sparkler that deserves your full attention. Don’t waste this on a celebration, drink with your nearest and dearest.

Camel Valley, Pinot Noir Rose Brut, Cornwall, England, 2012. 17/20
Panettone anyone?

Charles Heidsieck, Brut Reserve NV, Champagne, France. 18/20
Surely the best value Champagne on the market.

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Bruno Paillard and the Art of Refinement

Bruno Paillard is alive. This is one of many aspects of Bruno that sets him and his eponymously named estate apart from the other famous Marques in Champagne. Being the proprietor means that every bottle that leaves his cellars bearing his name is an effervescent reflection of his experience, professionalism and desire to make wine. And this is what Bruno does. These wines are perhaps less about the bubbles than any other Champagne I’ve had. They are delicate and elegant, complex yet approachable, they also happen to be fizzy.

The big difference between these Champagnes and many others is the length of time the wines rest or convalesce following disgorgement – the process by which the plug of yeast that has helped create the bubbles in bottle during the second fermentation is removed. Bruno sees this as an operation, akin to surgery where the removal of the yeast leaves the wine a little under the weather in the same way that we humans might feel after an appendectomy or wisdom teeth removal. He therefore believes in lengthy periods of rest for his wines before sale. This is why he was the first of the Champenois to label every wine with the disgorgement date so that the consumer can decide when to drink the wine based on the experience or flavour profile that they like. The slow evolution in bottle without the protective effect of the lees sees the aromas and flavours retain much of their primary character, citrus, cherry etc, but with the addition of candied fruits, marzipan and even violets becoming more pronounced as the wine ages.

These are Champagnes for wine-lovers, suitable of course for celebration but perhaps even better in the presence of good company and food – a fact recognised by both Bruno and his loyal band of customers that include some 400 michelin starred restaurants. Let’s hope that Bruno remains this side of the ground for many years to come.

Blanc de Blancs Réserve Privée, Grand Cru
Grape:
Chardonnay
Wine-making: 48 months on lees, 5g dosage (the addition of sugar and reserve Champagne that helps balance the wine following disgorgement), disgorged May 2012.
Note: Very fine, pure and delicate. Apple skin and citrus, subtle aromas of the bakery. Really well balanced acidity, and fine but gentle mousse. No clunkiness here, persistent.
Price: 3,700NT
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: Oriental House 02 2873 3433

Brut Première Cuvée,
Grape:
45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier
Wine-making: 36 months on lees, 6g dosage, disgorged April 2013.
Note: More overt on the nose with brioche, redcurrant and wild cherry. Firm but approachable with a very pleasing chalky texture. Perfect for a variety of savoury dishes.
Price: 2900NT
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: Oriental House 02 2873 3433

Brut Millésime Assemblage, 2004
Grape:
52% Pinot Noir, 48% Chardonnay
Wine-making: Nine years on lees, 5g of Dosage, disgorged March 2012.
Note: An initial burst of brioche followed by fresh primary red cherry and blackberry fruit. Remains relatively austere and would benefit from another couple of years of maturation in your wine fridge/cellar if you can resist.
Price: 4,000NT
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: Oriental House 02 2873 3433

Nec Plus Ultra (NPU for short and when translated from the latin means the best of the best), 1999
Grape:
50% Pinot Noir & Chardonnay
Wine-making: 100% barrel fermentation followed by maturation of ten months. Ten years on lees, 4g dosage, disgorged January 2012.
Note: Unlike some deluxe Champagnes (Cristal springs to mind) this is not an instantly charming wine, rather it earns one’s respect before allowing you, very slowly, to love it. The problem initially, if you want to call it that, is this wine’s intimidating complexity and firm structure. Beeswax, honey, brioche, marzipan, candied fruits, cherry, violet and a subtle spiciness meld together to form an exercise in achingly elegant and precise Champagne. This is fine.
Price: 9,900NT
Score: 18.5-19/20
Available from: Oriental House 02 2873 3433

Rosé Première Cuvée
Grape:
Pinot Noir & Chardonnay
Wine-making: This rosé achieves its colour from Pinot noir that has macerated with the skins until red which is then blended with rapidly pressed Pinot Noir (so the juice remains clear, the colour being in the skins) and Chardonnay. 6g dosage, disgorged May 2013.
Note: Delicate salmon colour, redcurrant, cherry and violet nose, smells like young red burgundy with a touch of anise. Delicious and as is the way with all these Champagnes, remarkably elegant.
Price: 3,700NT
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: Oriental House 02 2873 3433

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A Beginning and an End

Date: 28th August 2014
Place: Sherwood Hotel
, Minsheng East Rd, Section 3, Taipei.
Event: Finesse Wines: Taittinger & Graham’s Port

The drinking of Champagne and Port is usually separated by a few hours, one served as an aperitif and one as a post prandial accompaniment to a fat Cohiba. Yet the drinking of Port and particularly aged Tawny Ports and Colheitas (vintage tawnies), is arguably most suitably consumed when served lightly chilled before dinner.

On working my way through Graham’s 10, 20, 30, 40 year old tawnies and the 1982 Colheita, the dominant features were not those of richness, spice and power (although they had these qualities in abundance) but elegance and freshness. These elements were most obvious in the 20 and 30 year old. The difference between the 10 and the 20 year old in their respective complexity and style is considerable. During the slow, oxidative ageing process in barrel, the red berry and cherry fruit that haunt the 10 year old, fade to be replaced by orange and citrus peel, burnt sugar and a pleasant woodiness. Crucially the spirit that is used to fortify Port is completely integrated in the 20 year old providing the drinker with a palate bereft of the fieriness that flickers in the heart of younger bottlings.

And yet there is always a place for Champagne.

The house style of Taittinger which promotes delicacy and finesse over overt yeasty/autolytic/winey styles (i.e. Bollinger, Vilmart et Cie, Charles Heidsieck) is perfect for sub-tropical sipping. It all really depends on the occasion. At home, before a meal (I don’t mean breakfast), tawny port is perfect. It can be kept in the fridge, almost indefinitely, without fading in flavour or aroma and is thus very convenient as well as being delicious. With a few extra guests you may want the added drama of bubbles. Whatever you choose these wines are for the beginning not the end of an evening’s entertainment.

Brut Reserve NV
Grape:
Chardonnay 40%, Pinot’s Noir 35% & Meunier 25%
Wine-making: Full malolactic conversion (MLC), 3 years plus on lees, 9g/l dosage
Note: Delicate, autolytic nose, touch of tarte tatin, vanilla, floral, precise. Bright acidity, persistent mousse. Very good and great value.
Price: 2700NTD
Score: 16.5/20

Brut Prestige Rose NV
Grape:
Chardonnay 30%, Pinot Noir 45%, Pinot Meunier 25%
Wine-making: Made by ‘L’Addition’ method whereby still red wine is added to still white wine at the beginning of the winemaking process. Full MLC, 10g/l dosage, 3 years on lees.
Note: Beautiful salmon colour, spicy almost peppery red currant fruit, raspberry, blackcurrant leaf, less obvious autolysis than the regular brut.
Price: 3200NTD
Score: 16/20

Nocturne Sec NV
Grape:
Chardonnay 40%, Pinot’s Noir 35% & Meunier 25%
Wine-making: Full MLC, 3 years plus on lees, 18g/l dosage
Note: Very fine mousse. Lovely lemon sherbert nose, touch of green apple, licorice and delicate autolytic character. Extremely (dangerously) easy to drink. The extra dosage leads to a less subtle character but mutes/balances the acidity well. Retains the signature Taittinger elegance.
Price: 3000NTD
Score: 15.5/20

Prelude Grand Crus Brut NV
Grape:
Chardonnay 50%, Pinot Noir 50%,
Wine-making: Full MLC, more than 5 years on lees, 10g/l dosage.
Note: More restrained than the brut reserve on the nose, more structured on the palate, with a seam of minerality, citrus and physalis (very Chardonnay), fine mousse, persistent
Price: 3300NTD
Score:16.5/20

Comtes de Champagne Rose Brut 2003
Grape:
Chardonnay & Pinot Noir, 18000NTD
Wine-making: Full MLC, 6 years plus on lees. Made by ‘L’Addition’ method.
Note: Salmon orange colour. Smells mature, touch of mushroom and meat glaze, some umami character that you either like or don’t like. Retains some red berry fruit and persistence of flavour alongside inevitably a more delicate mousse (due to the age) than the other wines here.
Price: 18000NTD
Score:16.5/20

Graham’s Tawny Ports:

General winemaking notes: Port is a fortified wine meaning that it has had neutral grape spirit added early in the wine’s fermentation, after approximately 36 hours. This stops the fermentation thus preserving a large proportion of the grape’s naturally occurring sugars. All of the Ports listed have a residual sugar content between 100 and 110g/l. All the wines below are wood (cask) aged. Therefore they have been matured oxidatively resulting in lighter coloured Ports with a vastly different flavour and aroma spectrum to Ruby examples such as LBV or Vintage Ports. Apart from the Colheita, the age indication is an average age of the wines used in the blend.

10 yr old Tawny
Note:
Pale ruby/tawny, touch of penicillin character indicating age. Still a little spirity. Raisined, spiced cherry fruit coupled with tobacco, toasted walnuts, caramel, moderate acidity and soft tannins. Persistent.
Price: 2200NTD
Score:16/20

20 yr old Tawny
Note:
Full tawny, much more orange in colour than the ten year old. More penicillin, no red cherry fruit here. Instead fresh wood, burnt sugar, dried orange peel, spicy and more unctuous mouthfeel. Once again the acidity provides a freshness and poise. Very persistent and seamless integration of wine and spirit. Excellent and good value.
Price: 4000NTD
Score:17.5/20

30 yr old Tawny
Note:
Completely tawny/orange colour. Very concentrated and dense making the wine feel less sweet than the twenty year old. Woody, peppery, nutty, chocolaty, with citrus peel and some umami-like character. Full bodied, complex and with great persistence. Again Excellent.
Price: 6500NTD
Score:17.5/20

40 yr old Tawny
Full tawny/orange colour. Nutty, burnt, woody, dense, rich and spicy. Lovely integration of the spirit and fine acidity that lends poise. This reminds me of some very old oloroso sherries i.e. massively concentrated and complex but perhaps less easily enjoyable than some of the younger examples.
Price: 10,000NTD
Score: 16.5/20

1982 Colheita
Note:
Full tawny/amber. Smells, unsurprisingly, like a cross between the 20 and 30 year old tawnies. Delicious, dense, rich, penicillin, nutty, woody, spicy and with an alluring Chinese smoked plum character. A wine for sipping.
Price: 16800NTD
Score: 17/20

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