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Something for the Weekend

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Something for the Weekend 14. 15% Plus: A Barrier to Balance?

A good wine should keep two people entertained and engaged to the bottom of the bottle. More than an inch or two remaining suggests either an abstemious streak on the part of the drinkers or that something is not quite right with the wine.

The sommelier group of which I’m a part meets once a month to discuss and taste on various matters of a vinous nature. Choosing the topic is my responsibility and this month it concerned wines with an alcohol content in excess of 15%. This choice of subject was a response to our warming climate. Increased sugar levels in grapes (a result of greater heat summation) will ultimately result in a preponderance of wines featured in this high alcohol bracket.

Wines with these elevated levels of alcohol can feel unbalanced. Without sufficient fruit concentration, high alcohol gives a sensation of heat, even sweetness that can render the wines hollow. There are of course, exceptions, the perception of the unbalancing effect of alcohol does not follow a linear path so it quite possible for a wine at 13.5% to feel ‘wrong’ whilst a similar example at 15.5% feels ‘right’.

The seven wines selected were tasted blind (by all but the sommelier who chose the wines) and featured examples from France, Italy, Spain, Australia and the USA. The very pleasant, if unexpected conclusion, was that the reason we were tasting these wines was soon forgotten as the alcohol was as it should be; virtually invisible.

Below are the notes for four of the wines, any of which I would be happy to share and finish.

Domaine Giraud, Chateauneuf du Pape Tradition, 2010, 15%
Grape: 60% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre
Wine-making: The Syrah is aged in barriques and the wine is neither filtered or fined.
Note: Super ripe with an almost Port-like chocolate, damson and slightly raisined character. Perfumed, powerful and with good levels of concentration from this excellent vintage. Delicious.
Price: 2,100NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Oriental House

Seghesio, Home Ranch, Zinfandel, Alexander Valley, 2006, 15.7%
Zinfandel with a small portion of Carignane and Petite Sirah
Wine-making: No overt oak evident.
Note: I have not tasted many Zinfandels this old but this was still showing very well. There were some signs of maturity with an oxidative, leathery aroma accompanying the red and black fruit. Even at 15.7% the alcohol was well integrated. Very good.
Available from: A3 Cellar

Domaine Tempier, Cuvee La Tourtine, Bandol, 2001, 15%
70-80% Mourvedre, 10% Grenache, 10% Cinsault
Wine-making: 18-20 months maturation in old oak and bottled without fining or filtration.
Note: This was the only wine out of the seven that I thought tasted a little hot. The mushroom and soy-like aromas indicated that this was no longer young but there remained some balancing sweet and spicy red berry fruit. Good complexity but perhaps slightly cumbersome.
Price: 3,900NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: Oriental House

Mitolo, G.A.M, Shiraz, Mclaren Vale, 2010, 15%
Wine-making: Matured in 70% new French and American Oak for 18 months.
Note: Opaque, tarry and with mouthcoating tannins and great concentration of black fruit, this was quintessential South Australian Shiraz. The power on display was balanced by some sweet and sour acidity and very good length; intense but not wearing.
Price: 2,100NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from:  Wooloomooloo

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Something for the Weekend 12: The search continues

In a previous post (October 21st, Grenache: Workhorse or Prize stud) I alluded to my search for the greats of Grenache, a variety I once considered humble and not worthy of adoration. The u-turn in my long held view was the result of Terroir al Limits ‘Les Manyes’ a wine whose smell alone brought tears (quite literally) to my eyes. When this happens it is hard to resist the evangelical fervour that begins to rise within.

The sugar rich nature of Grenache and the resultant high alcohol can lead to wines lacking finesse. Elevated potency is viewed by some to be a bonus and I do not want to suggest that 15%+ equals bad wine, it doesn’t, but wine requires plenty of extra stuffing if it is to successfully carry this off. Grenache is most likely to reveal its ethereal charms when the growing season is extended to allow flavour development that can match the considerable sugar accumulation. For the ‘Les Manyes’ elevation is key, for others it can be a result of aspect. In Chateauneuf du Pape stylistic differences between producers are a result of grape, soil but also the direction in which the vineyard faces. Chateau de la Font du Loup’s vineyards stare northwards. Being in the Northern hemisphere this results in less sun exposure slowing sugar accumulation and allowing flavour ripeness to keep pace. The wines produced from this terroir are very pretty and perfumed. They have some of the richness one expects from the region but with a flavour profile that has freshness rather than jamminess at its core.

Chateau de la Font du Loup, Chateauneuf du Pape, 2012, 14.5%
65% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 5% Cinsault
Wine-making: Matured in old French oak
Note: Strawberry compote and herb scented fruit dominate whilst chalky tannins lend the wine structure, poise and persistence. Elegant and delicious.
Score: 18/20
Available from: Wisdom Flower Corporation (2-2239-2609)

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Something for the Weekend 10: Jonathan Maltus

Jonathan Maltus describes Bordeaux as the ‘Formula 1’ of wine-making regions. Bordeaux is famous for good reason, it is capable of producing superlative, age-worthy wines both white, red and sweet and it is the spiritual home of the most widely planted and well known varieties on the planet: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Unusually, Jonathan has had his greatest success with a wine that contains the highest proportion of Cabernet Franc of any of the ‘Grand Vins’ of Bordeaux: Le Dôme. This wine was one of the original ‘garagiste’ wines of the mid 1990’s that, depending on one’s point of view, were ridiculously priced, over-oaked, super-concentrated, low volume, Parker friendly monsters; or a breath of fresh air for all of the same reasons. The garagiste movement demonstrated that it was not a pre-requisite to be bequeathed a chateau in order to make good, even great wine within the hallowed AOC’s of Bordeaux. Even interlopers from England had a chance…although the buying of three hectares of land in St. Emilion (the size of the Le Dôme vineyard), did not come cheap. Le Dôme is but one part of Jonathan’s ever expanding portfolio that encompasses another 50 hectares in St. Emilion as well as some prime Napa Valley real estate. Yet Le Dôme is Jonathan’s jewel and has a   guaranteed fan-club following Robert Parker’s 100 point seal of approval for the 2010 edition. Having only limited experience of the wines from the Maltus stable (yesterday, I tried five of them for the first time) I am loathe to pronounce definitively on their style. Yet they appear more obviously oaked than some and exude a richness that will either make you purr, or perhaps ponder, on whether you really are tasting the best of Bordeaux.

Whatever your conclusions, Jonathan produces wines that range from the affordable and approachable to the more expensive and cerebral. Below are three wines to broach with friends this weekend.

Pezat Rouge, Bordeaux Supérieur AOC, 2011
85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: Small percentage of new French oak.
Note: Delicately scented with both ripe red fruit and a little Bordeaux savouriness. Enough grip and body to suggest this might be best with some food. Simple but satisfying.
Price: 1250NT
Score: 14.5/20
Available from: Oriental House, 02-2873-3433

Château Teyssier, St. Emilion Grand Cru 2010
85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: 12 months in French oak, 20% new.
Note: An alluring nose of juicy blackberry, spiced plum, licorice, and some floral perfume. Good levels of intensity and supple tannins make this both easy to appreciate now but suggest continued improvement over the medium-term.
Price: 2500NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Oriental House, 02-2873-3433

Le Dôme, 2007 (the 2010 was awarded 100 points by RP)
80% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot.
Wine-making: 80% new French oak.
Note: Undoubtedly oaky with oodles of spicy toastiness. The Bordelais would describe 2007 as a ‘classic’ year meaning that it was very challenging but this has no herbaceousness on the nose. Instead there are the beginnings of some tertiary development; mushroom and some floral perfume. Mineral, grippy but ripe mouth-coating tannins. Generous in both intensity and body with ample persistence on the finish.
Price: 7350NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Oriental House, 02-2873-3433

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Something for the Weekend 8: La Rioja Alta

The obstacle preventing the majority from drinking ‘fine wine’ is the price. There is also the issue of time. Many of the world’s regions associated with the apogee of the wine drinking experience (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo), not only require a healthy bank balance but also a decade or so to allow the best to warrant broaching. A region that has always bucked this trend and one that is becoming increasingly popular, according to latest reports from the likes of Armit in Hong Kong, is top quality Rioja.

Unlike many regions capable of producing very high quality, the producers in Rioja do a lot of the ageing for you and release wines that whilst still capable of many years of evolution, often drink well from the get-go. This is a result of the softening effect that the Reserva and Gran Reserva wines experience through the lengthy oxidative maturation in barrel. Rioja is also often very well priced considering the effort that has been expended on its crafting. Historically many of Rioja’s estates have been vast with fruit sourced from multiple regions (Alavesa, Alta and Baja) bringing both consistency of quality and volume that can only be of benefit to those seeking a fine-wine bargain.

Being involved in a rather frightening car crash is not something I’d recommend for the weekend. Yet when this happened to me in 2006 (I ended up with a broken knee and my wife had to be cut free of the wreckage) I was still clasping a bottle of La Rioja Alta Ardanza (un-opened) between my thighs when the car came to a halt. You will forgive me then that this, probably my favourite Rioja producer, is the one I have chosen to represent this weekend’s recommendations. Following such an experience, and my gratefulness at the bottle not exploding in my groin, I feel forever linked to this fine Bodega.

And in case you were wondering what happened to that bottle…my family drank it whilst I was in hospital. Cheers!

La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904, 1998, 12.5%
90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano
Wine-making: Four years in four year old American casks
Note: Fine, elegant, almost delicate with a complex array of hay, tobacco, game and strawberry. The acidity provides wonderful freshness and the finish is long. Fine indeed.
Score: 18/20

La Rioja Alta, Vina Ardanza Reserva, 2005, 13%
80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha
Wine-making: 30 months in two and three year old casks for the Garnacha and 3 years for the Tempranillo in four year old casks
Note: Intense black and red fruit framed by sweet vanilla and spice from the oak. Well balanced, with ripe tannins.
Score: 16.5/20


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Something for the Weekend 7

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

Kalleske, Greenock single vineyard Barossa Valley Shiraz, 2008, 14.5%
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.
Price: 2,150NT
Score: 16.5/20

Katnook, Founder’s Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, 2009, 13.5%
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.
Price: 1100NT
Score: 16/20

Cullen, Mangan Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Margaret River, 2010, 12%
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.
Price: 1850NT
Score: 17/20

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Something for the Weekend 6

The nobility of certain grape varieties is beyond doubt. Of the black grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir are the most famous, in part because of their success beyond the boundaries of France, their home. Of all the major wine producing countries, Italy is perhaps the most unique. Whilst making some very fine wines from the well-travelled grape glitterati above, it has built its reputation on indigenous varieties. None more so than Nebbiolo.

Having never owned a Ferrari (but having spoken to a friend who does) I feel that Nebbiolo is the equivalent of Maranello’s automotive legend. Neither are inconsistent or unreliable in the way less able examples can be, but they both require a great deal of fine-tuning to enjoy them at their best. Nebbiolo’s home is on the slopes of the Langhe hills in Piemonte. If the vintage is kind, the grapes picked at optimum ripeness and if the winemaker knows what he or she is doing, the result can be…well, noble.

No other grape can be so haughty in youth or so magnificent in its prime. The best come with a price-tag that pains both face and wallet but if you want red wine at its most aromatic, complex and downright fine then Nebbiolo deserves your attention.

Below are three examples that given the opportunity you should try.

Cogno, ‘Brico Pernice’ Barolo, 2007, 14%,
Wine-making: 24 months in large old oak
Note: This is still a baby and will need another five years more bottle age to truly shine. A ‘traditional’ style of Barolo with significant amounts of ripe, layered powdery/grainy tannins. The fine aromatics are beginning to show with violet, spice and licorice. Be patient and this wine will reward.
Price: 4750NT
Score: 17/20
Available: Ascent Way

Poderi Aldo Conterno, Barolo, 2004, 14.5%
Wine-making: 26 months in large old oak
Note: More overtly aromatic than the Cogno, this is both floral, fruity and imbued with exotic spices. Bright acidity and powdery tannins flesh out the palate giving a harmonious whole. Elegance, perfume and power, this great producer provides the drinker with a lesson in what Barolo is all about.
Price: Not sure how easy it is to find the 2004 anymore but the 2009 is currently available for 4250NT
Score: 18/20
Available: Ascent Way

…And just to show that Nebbiolo is capable of greatness outside of Italy…

Giaconda, Beechworth, Nebbiolo, 2012, 14%
Wine-making: 36 months in large oak
Note: ‘Perfumed, chalky, pert and persistent’. These were my notes on tasting the 2012 from barrel in December 2013. One can add, black cherry and rose to this and one can see that Nebbiolo is alive and kicking in the hands of the great Rick Kinzbrunner, owner and wine-maker at Giaconda.
Price: In Australia it retails for approx. $110 (Australian)
Score: 17.5 at the moment…
Available: Not currently available in Taiwan and only around 2,000 bottles are made per year.

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Something for the Weekend 5

No other region in the wine-producing world has the variety of the Loire valley. Yet, it is unfashionable (apart from the wines of Sancerre) languishing behind the other heavyweights of vinous France, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhone. It is true that in the not too distant past some of the whites could be lean, green and mean and the reds rather weedy and overly herbaceous. Yet with a warming climate and greater focus on ensuring better ripeness of fruit, Loire wines are increasingly consistent.

Built on the back of a number of varieties, the Loire’s greatest gift to the taste curious lies in Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Chenin is a sister (or brother if you prefer) of Sauvignon Blanc (SB) but whereas SB has conquered the world with her showy, overt ‘smell that sucker!’ character, Chenin sits at home reading Proust, munching on madeleines and relying on suitors to beat a path to her door. Chenin is not easy, especially when made in its most powerful, brooding incarnation as it is in Savennières. But who said wine should be easy? One never gets to bottom of a bottle of Savennières without some help and if your brow doesn’t furrow and your eyebrows lift at one taste of a fine example, then you better call the doctor because clearly your tongue doesn’t work.

Cabernet Franc (CF) is the mum (or dad) of Cabernet Sauvignon. The more famous progeny is more spiky, more teenager-like than its parent, with its tough, tannic reticence and acid tongue. CF is more measured, similar but dialled back a notch, with the best radiant with raspberry, pencil shavings and exotic spice charm. One word of warning, the savouriness that CF can exhibit can bemuse some more used to overtly fruity offerings. Don’t worry, just ignore them and revel in the fact that you have more to drink for yourself.

Below are a couple of examples available here in Taiwan (and no doubt the wider world) that should pique your interest into what is on offer in the Loire.

Eric Morgat, Cuveé L’Enclos, Savennières, 2009, 14%
Chenin Blanc
Wine-making: Old barrels and biodynamic production
Note: Enticing and classic aromas of bruised apple, honey and nuts. Scalpel like acidity performs liposuction on this full bodied beauty, sculpting a palate of rare finesse. Serious and perfect drinking right now.
Price: 1700NT
Score: 18/20
Available from: Celier des Poetes

Chateau de Parnay, Saumur Champigny, 2010, 13.5%
Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: No new oak
Note: Leafy, spice-laden, aromatic deliciousness on the nose followed by a sweet and savoury palate. Quintessential and affordable.
Price: 1100NT
Score: 16/20

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Something for the Weekend 4

Familiarity may breed contempt…or respect.

Shaw & Smith’s M3 Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills is a wine that features heavily both in my fridge at Sniff headquarters but also in classes that I teach. The reason is simple, it is benchmark stuff. It is also very reasonably priced – not something we can always say about wines in the relatively heavily taxed market of Taiwan. Like all very good wines, the M3 likes to entertain and reveals more of itself the longer it is outside the bottle. When first poured it is good but over the course of the next 15 -30 minutes its aromas develop leading to respectful nods from those with a glass anywhere near their mouth or nose. Where possible try and get the current 2012 vintage, it is still young and will reward further cellaring (if you have that luxury) or decant, as you would a good white Burgundy, and mark the start of the weekend.

In Bordeaux, lesser Chateaux from better vintages can be the source of pleasurable and inexpensive reds. This week saw my first taste of Chateau Grandis of the Haut Medoc in Bordeaux. From the ripe 2009 vintage this has plenty of signature Bordeaux appeal (gravelly tannins, pencil shavings on the nose etc) and won’t break the bank.

Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills, 2012, 13.5%
Wine-making: Nine months in French oak with partial malolactic conversion. This gives complexity and richness whilst not diminishing the pure fruit characters.
Note: Delicious. Nectarine, fresh butter, and a whiff of bacon fat is underpinned by palate cleansing acidity that provides the drive and verve to this savvy south Australian.
Price: 1350NT
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: Chateau Wine & Spirits

Chateau Grandis Cru Bourgeois, Haut Medoc, 14%, 2009
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: 12 months in French Oak (but not much new oak)
Note: Simple but ‘proper’ Bordeaux nose that includes a little of the cedar-like character that much more expensive examples reveal. A little spice from time spent in French oak supports the predominantly red fruit character on the palate.
Price: 790NT
Score: 15.5/20
Available from: Carrefour

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Something for the Weekend 3

With the weather about to break in Taipei and rain forecast for tomorrow, this may be the last day for a while that’s still heavy with the heat of summer. On such sultry days a weekend is most impressively started with a cocktail – especially if it is wine based. The Bellini, a mix of peach puree and Prosecco made famous by Harry’s Bar in Venice, is as easy to make as it is to drink. Purists will say that the peaches should be white but I have made Bellinis with yellow fleshed varieties and with nectarines and they always taste great. Just remember to skin them first, no one wants fur in their fizz.

So here is Sniff’s version of the Venetian Classsic.

For six

1 Bottle of Prosecco Extra Dry or Brut (no sweeter).
Four white peaches skinned and pureed until very smooth in a food processor.

That’s it for the traditional version, Sniff ‘improves’ the original by adding:

8 cl’s of Peach Liqueur – we use iichiko’s from their bar range.
Juice of half to one lemon (dependent on the sweetness of your peaches and Prosecco – helps give the drink a lift).

To serve:
Fill a flute with approximately a third of the puree and top slowly with Prosecco. Stir, drink and…you will probably want another so you might want to double the recipe.


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Something for the Weekend 2

Having had the good fortune to be invited to Taipei’s National Concert Hall for an Italian evening hosted by the excellent importer, Ascent Way, it is to be expected that my recommendation(s) for this weekend would hail from the land of Sangiovese. As the majority of the music being performed was written by Puccini, a native of Tuscany, it is even more appropriate that the focus be on Tuscany’s greatest wine, Brunello di Montalcino.

The small town of Montalcino sits some 600m above sea level. The vineyards that surround it are situated at various altitudes and aspect as the land falls back to the plain. It is for this reason, rather than huge differences in wine-making philosophy, that the wines here vary in density, richness, finesse and power. One of the wines available for tasting prior to the concert was from Fuligni, a producer that occupies some of the higher slopes very close to both Montalcino itself and the great Biondi-Santi (the Lafite of this DOCG). Stylistically Fuligni’s wines are elegant more than weighty but they never lack vigour. As we move into autumn in the Northern Hemisphere this wine is the ideal partner to dark meat such as game or beef. Yet try not to be too precious, I would be equally delighted if all I had to accompany this was a bowl of comforting Miso.

Fuligni, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2008, 14.5%
Brunello (aka Sangiovese)
Wine-making: Two and a half years in old oak, four years total maturation.
Note: Still a touch austere and restrained but with an ever improving aroma of cherry fruit, licorice and violets as the wine woke up in the glass. The tannins remain firm but not unpleasantly so and the alcohol does not get in the way. Persistent and delicious.
Price: 3,600NTD –
Score: 17/20 (If you can get the 2006 that is an 18/20 a truly excellent wine)
Available from:  Ascent Way

….and if your pocket won’t stretch that far…

Tenuta di Nozzole, ‘La Forra’ Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, 2008, 14%
90% Sangiovese
Wine-making: 50% Slavonian oak , 50% French oak
Note: This is a really gutsy Chianti with typical bright cherry fruit and something herbal on the nose but with more flesh and power than many of its neighbours. Ideally needs food to help rein in some of that power.
Price: 1950NTD –
Score: 16/20
Available from:  Ascent Way

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