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A Postcard from Verona

The Italian’s love for all things bitter is evident on the menus and drinks lists of every humble osteria through to the swankiest ristorante. Arriving in Verona it was apt, therefore, that the owner of our airbnb apartment was also a vineyard owner who specialised in the production of ‘Amarone’. This, the Veneto’s famously full-bodied red, has a walnut-skin style bitter twist to the finish, that provides the reason for the name (‘Amaro’ is Italian for bitter). Yet sitting in Piazza Bra on Saturday evening as the humid air and darkening sky threatened rain, a generous and alcoholic red wine was not the drink I desired. For those amongst you with a stronger palate than mine, this would be the time to order a Negroni, that Campari based and pomegranate coloured cocktail classic. But in the same way I need sugar in my espresso to temper coffee’s acridity, the overwhelming bitterness of Campari, is for me untameable and instead I opted for that more gentle aperitvo staple: the Aperol Spritz.

Not satisfied with just one fix of ‘Amaro’, I ordered some braised radicchio to accompany my sweet, salty and creamy pizza of Prosciutto and Gorgonzola. The deep ruby mottled leaves, flecked with white flashed their warning to ‘approach with care’ but although still overtly sharp to the taste, the charred and caramelised leaf edges provided my tongue with ample succour.

And so onto the amphitheatre to watch Verdi’s Aida. The sky, that had through dinner simply glowered, finally broke into a rage and we cowered for an hour underneath flimsy, pink polythene rain ‘coats’ before the performance could begin. At the denouement as Aida crumpled to the floor, held by her lover and partner in death, Radames, our teeth were chattering and our fingers pruned but we were decidedly happy (not bitter). We ambled back to our apartment, drank cheap hot chocolate and started to pack for our next port of call: Vernazza, one of Liguria’s famed Cinque Terre

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Making Wine Easy

Date: 5th of September 2014
Event: Official opening of Vinoza
Venue: Vinoza, 59, Lane 122, Section 4, Ren’ai Rd, Xinyi District, Taipei 110

The biggest challenge faced by those trying to develop a more active wine culture in countries like Taiwan is based on accessibility. If the price is too high then all but the aspirational and well heeled are excluded. If the price is too low then it forms just another part of the alcohol mix that is exchangeable with any other similarly priced booze. Knowledge, or the perceived lack of it is also a barrier to raising consumption. Consumers don’t want to enter into an in depth conversation over the relative merits of the Left Bank vs. Right Bank Bordeaux, they just want to know if they are likely to like the wine. Customers don’t come back if they are made to feel stupid.

Vinoza is a new wine shop/importer in Xinyi district, selling primarily mid-priced wines between 300 and 1500NTD. They offer free tastings every day (of up to five wines) and although all staff have basic wine qualifications, the emphasis is on the customer to find the wine they like. Having identified a particular preferred style for example ‘Sapphire’ for full-bodied red wines, wine novices can look on the shelves for bottles labelled with the same style key to help remove some of the guesswork. Wines can be consumed on as well as off premise and if you do decide to drink at the bar or at the big wooden table in the airy room at the back, plates of assorted tapas can be ordered for 200NTD.

Is Vinoza my kind of wine shop? Probably not, but that is because I want a greater choice. Yet this is exactly the type of wine-shop experience that Taipei needs. No pomposity, no unintelligible descriptions and no wine geek speak. This is relaxed and friendly with a selection that is both affordable and easy to navigate.

Below are three wines that are representative of what Vinoza’s shelves have to offer.

Lamberti Santepietre Chardonnay 2013, IGT Delle Venezia 2013, 12.5%,
Wine-making: Stainless Steel
Note: Simple, citrus with some vanilla and spice character. Good palate weight, easy drinking and affordable.
Vinoza style: Topaz
Price: 599NTD
Score: 14/20

Melini Chianti Riserva DOCG 2010, 13%
Predominantly Sangiovese
Wine-making: Old Slavonian oak vats
Note: Restrained nose, sour cherry. Very typical. Powdery tannins, a touch of spice, bright acid and slight astringency to the finish…it’s Chianti.
Vinoza style: Ruby
Price: 799NTD
Score: 14.5/20

Plansel Selecta by Doria Lindemann, Touriga Nacional, Alentejo, 15.5% only 6,000 bottles produced
Touriga Nacional
Wine-making: 18 months in new French Oak barrels
Note: Intense, damson (sour plum), sloe and citrus peel nose, huge concentration, grippy but ripe tannins with well integrated oak and no alcohol burn. Full bodied and persistent.
Vinoza style: Sapphire
Price: 1499NTD
Score: 16/20

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