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A trip to Shaoxing: The home of China’s ‘yellow’ wine

If it is not easy to describe what a Master of Wine ‘does’ (winemaker, viticulturist, marketer, wine buyer, consultant, journalist, writer, business owner, educator, event organiser, wine-judge, retailer, wholesaler etc. being just some of the areas in which MW’s work) then defining what a Master of Wine ‘is’, presents even more of a challenge. For me working in wine was really a choice based on my love of taste. That fundamental appreciation of flavour and aroma stems from having grown up with a grandmother, a professional cook, whose preparation of plentiful, varied and deeply satisfying food made her house my favourite place in which to spend holidays or weekends. I was also fortunate to have a London based aunt and uncle who both shared and fostered my fascination with flavour. They would take me to restaurants throughout the capital that exposed me at a tender age to the deliciousness and diversity of global gastronomy including my first Peking Duck, in all its burnished succulence, some 35 years ago.

Wine is neither inferior or superior to the stuff that we eat, it is simply an extension of food in liquid form. What makes wine remarkable is that the wide range of varieties cultivated, the differences in the climatic conditions in which those varieties are grown and the scope of methods employed by winemakers in its production, ensures that wine has a breadth of aroma, flavour and texture that is intellectual in scale. Being a Master of Wine indicates that those who hold this title have a certain understanding of exactly this, i.e. that wine is complicated. Having earned this particular status does not mean however that I have the language or experience necessary to comfortably describe or assess the wines made from something other than grapes. This was why I received an invitation asking me to visit and then review the rice wines of Shaoxing with excitement but also a little trepidation; after all, none of us wants to look like a fool.

In the West (and in some parts of western China), the rice wines of Shaoxing are used more for cooking than for drinking. Even in Hong Kong, Taipei or Shanghai, friends when questioned stated that they usually consumed the wines from this area with the older generations of their respective families or at particular times of year such as in late autumn served warm with hairy crab. What I was interested to find out was with the rice wine of Japan (Sake) enjoying an increasingly appreciative audience beyond its homeland, whether the wines of Shaoxing were also capable of international appeal. Luckily for me my journey to Shaoxing saw me accompanied by Shanghai native and expert, Jennifer Chen, who over the three days we were together helped me build a picture of what the ‘good’, ‘better’ and the ‘best’ wines looked like.

We visited three famous winemaking institutions (Kuai Ji Shan, the family owned Chen Yuangxing otherwise known as the Shaoxing Wine Company and Pagoda) and having witnessed the winemaking process I began asking questions about how the flavour and aroma present in any given rice wine is controlled by the producer. What I was trying to understand was whether the criteria for successful and controlled fermentations in grape wine were the same for wine made from rice. A winemaker (grape) can most easily influence the style of any given wine they are producing through the yeast that they use to ferment the juice and by the temperature at which they allow that fermentation to take place. Most of the producers visited had no access to facilities that allowed them to effectively control the temperature (no refrigeration equipment was installed) and no one was either prepared or wished to reveal the strains of any particular yeasts that were being used other than to say that it was ‘local’ yeast.

My next set of questions centred on the provenance of the raw ingredient, the rice. Anyone with more than a passing interest in wine produced from grapes knows that the influence of a particular place with its associated soil, climate etc has a marked effect on the style, quality and price of the wines produced. What became obvious was that the determining factor in the selection of rice was about the proximity of the time of harvest of the rice to the fermentation and subsequent beginnings of the maturation period of the wine itself. The commonly held belief is that the fermentation and early part of the maturation needs to be controlled/slowed by the effects of the cool weather (especially as there is no temperature control present in the majority of the wineries), hence the best time to make wine being late Autumn and winter. This does mean that the rice used has to come from those areas that harvest their rice at this time, irrespective of whether this is the ‘best’ rice. Zhejiang and Anhui are the regions from which most rice is currently sourced.

On my return to Shanghai I blind-tasted my way through sixty examples of yellow wine from Shaoxing and what was slowly revealed to me was that as with grape wine, the rice wines of Shaoxing can be just as layered. Many of the better wines have a complex oxidative character that is dominated by the strong umami characters of mushroom soy (or dried Porcini) and an earthy meatiness. The best had these savoury elements but were also perfumed. This perfume often centred on a sweet citrus peel (dried or burnt orange) and a roasted hazelnut character that channelled an aromatic profile that fell somewhere between an aged Oloroso sherry and a good Negroni.

What was evident was that although there are already many great wines being produced, there exists the opportunity to modernise the style without losing the fundamental characteristics that make the best of these wines so appealing. With some investment, wineries could create a situation that would allow greater flexibility and stylistic choice. With temperature control and some research and development into producing wines with rice from alternative sources, studies into yeast strain application and maturation that varied in length (and temperature) that thus exposed the wines to a greater or lesser extent of oxidative ageing, these wines could see a slow but real growth in sales that extend beyond the older generations of eastern China and Japan. Packaging is also an area that I believe could be improved to attract and appeal to a younger consumer.

Perhaps most importantly, China places much importance on authenticity and cultural heritage. Yellow wine is rich in both of these attributes and if this waiguo ren can learn to appreciate the distinctive, savoury and complex nature of China’s original wines, then the future is bright, in fact the future could well be yellow.

Some of my favourites from the tasting are listed below:

Pagoda Year 2011塔牌 2011 懒画眉
Earthy, slightly vegetal but with a little accompanying peachiness. Bright palate with acidity that refreshes. High levels of savoury complexity and citrus peel and medicinal characters that make this a rewarding glass of wine. 17

Pagoda Year 2011 Winter Craft 塔牌2011冬酿
A little muted on the nose but with a subtle nuttiness and fruitiness that makes this instantly appealing. Viscous palate supported by sufficient acidity with the orange peel fruit and nuttiness the main characteristics experienced in the mouth. Concentrated and long. Impressive. 17

Pagoda Year 2005 塔牌2005 五般宜
Very powerful nose that is rich in umami with a soy and marmite/twiglet character (for those of you familiar with these products from the West). This power continues onto the palate where we have a concentrated core and long finish. 17

Bai Ta Aged 5 Years白塔 五年陈酿
Mushroom soy and a roasted hazelnut aroma make this a very appealing wine. Bright acidity, supple texture and an appealingly long finish. Very good. 17

Bai Ta NV 白塔原绍
Cooked brown rice, toasted hazelnut and orange peel aromatics. Very fruity and nutty with a lovely palate enveloping viscosity that is balanced by ample acidity. Long finish. A yellow wine for those of you that love Putao Jiu. 16.5 

Gu Yue Long Shan Golden 5 Years 古越龙山金五年
Almost floral with its orange peel/blossom and toasted hazelnut aromatics. Viscous but not heavy, it exhibits both a sweetness and savouriness that balance each other perfectly. This is a wine for lovers of Oloroso. 16.5 

Shao Yuan Chun Reserva NV 绍源春珍藏级
Very sweet smelling and aromatic with a floral perfume accompanied by toasted hazelnut and coconut. Soft and elegant on the palate the finish is almost negroni like with its bitter orange peel character. Impressive. 17

 

紹興之旅:中國黃酒之鄉

釀酒人、酒農、葡萄酒行銷、葡萄酒採購、顧問、記者、作家、自營業者、教育家、活動策劃人、葡萄酒評審、經銷商、大盤商等等,這些都是葡萄酒大師(Master of Wine)工作範圍內的一部分。但如果要解釋葡萄酒大師在做什麼,已經不是一件易事,那麼試圖定義這頭銜到底為何,可能還更加困難。對我而言,從事葡萄酒相關工作是出自於個人喜好。我對於風味和香氣的熱中和欣賞,源自於從小受到外婆影響。身為專業廚師的她,總是會準備豐盛、多樣化,且令人心滿意足的各色佳餚,這也讓她家成了孩提時代的我最愛在週末假日造訪的地方,至於倫敦的阿姨與姨丈家,則成了另一個可以我能夠繼續鑑賞各種風味的落腳之處。他們帶我造訪城裡各家餐廳,讓我在年紀輕輕之時,就得以體驗世界各地多元的美食。早在約末三十五年前,我就已經品嚐到了人生第一隻光亮可口的北京烤鴨。

相比我們所吃的東西,葡萄酒既不優也不劣,純粹是食物的延伸,是液態的食物。葡萄酒之所以非凡,是因為有種類多元的釀酒品種,其種植的氣候條件與釀酒師可依循的釀酒方法,更是相當廣泛,這使得釀成的葡萄酒無論就香氣、風味,或質地而言,都展現出了相當程度的多樣化與知性。而既然是葡萄酒大師,我對於葡萄酒當然有所了解,即我知道葡萄酒是很複雜的,不多也不少。不過,擁有這個頭銜,卻不代表我就能夠理解其它釀造酒的知識,也不代表我能夠輕而易舉地形容或談論它類酒款。因此,當我受邀參訪中國紹興市,並品鑑該產區的米酒時,你可以想見我既興奮又驚恐的心情;畢竟,沒人想被當成笨蛋耍。

與其用作飲用酒,西方國家與中國西部的一些省分更常將來自紹興的米酒用作料理酒。即便是在香港、台北或上海的朋友們,也總是說他們最常與家中長輩一同品飲紹興,更常於秋末時分,搭配毛蟹料理一同享用。而我想知道的則是,隨著同樣以米釀成的日本清酒逐漸受到國際矚目,並開始在家鄉以外累積粉絲群,來自紹興的米酒,能否也展現出同樣風靡國際的魅力。這次為期三天的參訪,我很幸運地能與專家Jennifer Chen同行,她幫助我辨認紹興酒由質佳到優良、甚至傑出的風味樣貌分別為何。

我們造訪了三大知名酒廠(會稽山、由家族擁有並經營的陳源興紹興酒,以及塔牌),並見證了紹興的釀酒過程,這讓我對於釀酒人如何控制釀酒過程,以獲得想要的風味與香氣,感到相當好奇,並問了不少問題。要達到成功與受控的發酵過程,釀造葡萄酒的條件,是否與釀造米酒相同;這是我希望能試圖理解的。葡萄酒的釀酒人可以藉由選擇不同的酵母與發酵溫度,來決定釀成酒款的風格,然而,這次我造訪的酒廠中似乎普缺乏有效率的發酵溫控設備(沒有安裝冷藏設備),也沒有任何一家準備或願意公開自家使用的酵母菌種,只說明酒廠使用的是「在地」酵母。

我的下一長串問題,是關於原物料──即稻米──的來源。只要對葡萄酒稍有興趣的人,都知道葡萄產區的土壤或氣候等因素,會對釀成酒款的風格、品質與價格,帶來顯著的影響。原來,選擇稻米的決定性因素,是與稻米的收割時間夠接近發酵時間以及接踵而來的熟成期有關。一般認為,米酒的發酵過程與最初的熟成期必須控制得宜,即透過冷天候來降低發酵速度(這尤其重要,因為絕大多數的酒廠沒有溫控設備),因此,釀酒最理想的時間點應該是秋末入冬之際。這也表示,酒廠所使用的稻米最好是同時間收割的米,至於稻米本身的品質,則不是最重要的考量。釀造紹興酒,最常使用的是來自浙江與安徽的稻米。

在我啟程回上海之前,有機會矇瓶試飲了六十款來自紹興的黃酒,並發現紹興米酒和葡萄酒相同,能夠表現出非常多樣化的層次。表現較佳的酒款多有複雜的氧化調性,主要帶有強烈的旨味,令人聯想到香菇醬油(或乾燥的牛肝菌)或帶有土壤調性的肉味。表現最傑出的酒款,則多有鹹鮮調性與香氛氣息,後者多以甜美的橙皮(乾燥或燒焦的橙皮)與烘烤榛果的調性為主,近似於陳年的歐洛羅香雪莉酒(Oloroso)與品質優良的內格羅尼(Negroni)雞尾酒。

顯而易見的是,這裡雖然已釀出了許多偉大的紹興,但酒款的風格仍有更現代化的空間,同時兼顧其原本誘人的特色。只消更多投資與發展,酒廠想必能有更多釀酒的彈性與風格的選擇,諸如溫控設備、研究與發展不同稻米來源與不同酵母菌株的運用,以及酒款熟成時間的長短(和溫度)──即酒款氧化陳年的程度等,這些都有助於紹興酒建立起更穩定、實際的銷售量,而非僅限於中國和日本年長一代的消費者。除此之外,如果酒款有更新穎的包裝,想必也能夠吸引較年輕的客層。

但我想最重要的是,對於重視真實性與文化傳承的中國而言,黃酒是兼具兩者的文化酒款,而如果像我這樣的外國人也能夠欣賞到其特出、鹹鮮且複雜的特性,那麼黃酒的未來肯定大有可為。(編譯/艾蜜・emily)
以下列出一些我最喜愛的酒款:

Pagoda Year 2011塔牌 2011 懒画眉
帶有土壤調性與些許植蔬味,另摻有一些水蜜桃果香。口感明亮,酸度爽口。這款酒展現了極大量的鹹鮮風味與複雜度,另有橙皮與藥草調性,使得酒款嘗來令人滿足。(17 / 20分)

Pagoda Year 2011 Winter Craft 塔牌2011冬酿
香氣略微閉鎖,但其細緻的堅果和果香,已足以擄獲人心。口感油滑,但支撐以大量的酸度,並展現出橙皮和堅果風味。風味集中且綿長,令人印象深刻。(17分)

Pagoda Year 2005 塔牌2005 五般宜
香氣強勁,旨味濃郁,令人聯想到醬油與marmite醬或twiglet零食(如果你熟悉這些西方產品的話)。而這香氣的力道更一路延伸至口中風味,集中而餘韻綿長。(17分)

Bai Ta Aged 5 Years白塔 五年陈酿
這支怡人的酒款帶有香菇醬油與烘烤榛果調性。酸度明亮,質地細緻,餘韻綿長怡人。非常優秀。(17分)

Bai Ta NV 白塔原绍
煮過的糙米、烘烤榛果與橙皮香氣。果香味與堅果味非常濃郁,而其討喜的風味被包覆在油滑的質地之中,並支撐以大量的酸度。餘韻綿長。這是款愛葡萄酒的飲者會喜歡的黃酒。(16.5分)

Gu Yue Long Shan Golden 5 Years 古越龙山金五年
橙皮/橙花香散發幾近花香的調性,另有烘烤堅果香氣。口感油滑但不濃重,嘗來既甜美又鹹鮮,兩者平衡地恰如其分。如果你愛歐洛羅香,想必也會喜歡這款酒。(16.5分)

Shao Yuan Chun Reserva NV 绍源春珍藏级
聞起來非常甜美、香氣充沛,帶有花香與烘烤榛果和椰香。質地柔軟、高雅,餘韻則宛如內格羅尼雞尾酒中那帶有苦味的橙皮調性一般,令人印象深刻。(17分)

 

绍兴之旅:中国黄酒之乡

酿酒人、酒农、葡萄酒营销、葡萄酒采购、顾问、记者、作家、自营业者、教育家、活动策划人、葡萄酒评审、经销商、大盘商等等,这些都是葡萄酒大师(Master of Wine)工作范围内的一部分。但如果要解释葡萄酒大师在做什么,已经不是一件易事,那么试图定义这头衔到底为何,可能还更加困难。对我而言,从事葡萄酒相关工作是出自于个人喜好。我对于风味和香气的热中和欣赏,源自于从小受到外婆影响。做为专业厨师,她总是会准备丰盛、多样化,且令人心满意足的各色佳肴,这也让她家成了孩提时代的我,最爱在周末假日造访的地方,至于伦敦的阿姨与姨丈家,则成了另一个可以我能够继续鉴赏各种风味的落脚之处。他们带我造访城里各家餐厅,让我在年纪轻轻之时,就得以体验世界各地多元的美食。早在约末三十五年前,我就已经品尝到了人生第一只光亮可口的北京烤鸭。

相比我们所吃的东西,葡萄酒既不优也不劣,纯粹是食物的延伸,是液态的食物。葡萄酒之所以非凡,是因为有种类多元的酿酒品种,其种植的气候条件与酿酒师可依循的酿酒方法,更是相当广泛,这使得酿成的葡萄酒无论就香气、风味,或质地而言,都展现出了相当程度的多样化与知性。而既然是葡萄酒大师,我对于葡萄酒当然有所了解,即我知道葡萄酒是很复杂的,不多也不少。不过,拥有这个头衔,却不代表我就能够理解其它酿造酒的知识,也不代表我能够轻而易举地形容或谈论它类酒款。因此,当我受邀参访中国绍兴市,并品鉴该产区的米酒时,你可以想见我既兴奋又惊恐的心情;毕竟,没人想被当成笨蛋耍。

与其用作饮用酒,西方国家与中国西部的一些省分更常将来自绍兴的米酒用作料理酒。即便是在香港、台北或上海的朋友们,也总是说他们最常与家中长辈一同品饮绍兴,更常于秋末时分,搭配毛蟹料理一同享用。而我想知道的则是,随着同样以米酿成的日本清酒逐渐受到国际瞩目,并开始在家乡以外累积粉丝群,来自绍兴的米酒,能否也展现出同样风靡国际的魅力。这次为期三天的参访,我很幸运地能与专家Jennifer Chen同行,她帮助我辨认绍兴酒由质佳到优良、甚至杰出的风味样貌分别为何。

我们造访了三大知名酒厂(会稽山、由家族拥有并经营的陈源兴绍兴酒,以及塔牌),并见证了绍兴的酿酒过程,这让我对于酿酒人如何控制酿酒过程,以获得想要的风味与香气,感到相当好奇,并问了不少问题。要达到成功与受控的发酵过程,酿造葡萄酒的条件,是否与酿造米酒相同;这是我企图理解的。葡萄酒的酿酒人可以借由选择不同的酵母与发酵温度,来决定酿成酒款的风格,然而,这次我造访的酒厂中似乎普缺乏有效率的发酵温控设备(没有安装冷藏设备),也没有任何一家准备或愿意公开自家使用的酵母菌种,只说明酒厂使用的是“当地”酵母。

我的下一长串问题,是关于原物料──即稻米的来源。只要对葡萄酒稍有兴趣的人,都知道葡萄产区的土壤或气候等因素,会对酿成酒款的风格、品质与价格,带来显着的影响。原来,选择稻米的决定性因素,是与稻米的收割时间够接近发酵时间以及接踵而来的熟成期有关。一般认为,米酒的发酵过程与最初的熟成期必须控制得宜,即透过冷天候来降低发酵速度(这尤其重要,因为绝大多数的酒厂没有温控设备),因此,酿酒最理想的时间点应该是秋末入冬之际。这也表示,酒厂所使用的稻米最好是同时间收割的米,至于稻米本身的质量,则不是最重要的考量。酿造绍兴酒,最常使用的是来自浙江与安徽的稻米。

在我启程回上海之前,有机会矇瓶试饮了六十款来自绍兴的黄酒,并发现绍兴米酒和葡萄酒相同,能够表现出非常多样化的层次。表现较佳的酒款多有复杂的氧化调性,主要带有强烈的旨味,令人联想到香菇酱油(或干燥的牛肝菌)或带有土壤调性的肉味。表现最杰出的酒款,则多有咸鲜调性与香氛气息,后者多以甜美的橙皮(干燥或烧焦的橙皮)与烘烤榛果的调性为主,近似于陈年的欧洛罗香雪莉酒(Oloroso)与品质优良的内格罗尼(Negroni)鸡尾酒。

显而易见的是,这里虽然已酿出了许多伟大的绍兴,但酒款的风格仍有更现代化的空间,同时兼顾其原本诱人的特色。只消更多投资与发展,酒厂想必能有更多酿酒的弹性与风格的选择,诸如温控设备、研究与发展不同稻米来源与不同酵母菌株的运用,以及酒款熟成时间的长短(和温度)──即酒款氧化陈年的程度等,这些都有助于绍兴酒建立起更稳定、实际的销售量,而非仅限于中国和日本年长一代的消费者。除此之外,如果酒款有更新颖的包装,想必也能够吸引较年轻的客层。

但我想最重要的是,对于重视真实性与文化传承的中国而言,黄酒是兼具两者的文化酒款,而如果像我这样的外国人也能够欣赏到其特出、咸鲜且复杂的特性,那么黄酒的未来肯定大有可为。(编译/艾蜜‧emily)

以下列出一些我最喜爱的酒款:

Pagoda Year 2011塔牌 2011 懒画眉
带有土壤调性与些许植蔬味,另掺有一些水蜜桃果香。口感明亮,酸度爽口。这款酒展现了极大量的咸鲜风味与复杂度,另有橙皮与药草调性,使得酒款尝来令人满足。(17 / 20分)

Pagoda Year 2011 Winter Craft 塔牌2011冬酿
香气略微闭锁,但其细致的坚果和果香,已足以掳获人心。口感油滑,但支撑以大量的酸度,并展现出橙皮和坚果风味。风味集中且绵长,令人印象深刻。(17分)

Pagoda Year 2005 塔牌2005 五般宜
香气强劲,旨味浓郁,令人联想到酱油与marmite酱或twiglet零食(如果你熟悉这些西方产品的话)。而这香气的力道更一路延伸至口中风味,集中而余韵绵长。(17分)

Bai Ta Aged 5 Years白塔 五年陈酿
这支怡人的酒款带有香菇酱油与烘烤榛果调性。酸度明亮,质地细致,余韵绵长怡人。非常优秀。(17分) 

Bai Ta NV 白塔原绍
煮过的糙米、烘烤榛果与橙皮香气。果香味与坚果味非常浓郁,而其讨喜的风味被包覆在油滑的质地之中,并支撑以大量的酸度。余韵绵长。这是款爱葡萄酒的饮者会喜欢的黄酒。(16.5分)

Gu Yue Long Shan Golden 5 Years 古越龙山金五年
橙皮/橙花香散发几近花香的调性,另有烘烤坚果香气。口感油滑但不浓重,尝来既甜美又咸鲜,两者平衡地恰如其分。如果你爱欧洛罗香,想必也会喜欢这款酒。(16.5分)

Shao Yuan Chun Reserva NV 绍源春珍藏级
闻起来非常甜美、香气充沛,带有花香与烘烤榛果和椰香。质地柔软、高雅,余韵则宛如内格罗尼鸡尾酒中那带有苦味的橙皮调性一般,令人印象深刻。(17分)

 

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Sniff's Silence and generating noise for the wines of South Africa (WOSA) in China

Hello again, it’s been a while. Some of you will know that I have been splitting my time between Europe and Asia, the benefits of which include the rapid accrual of air miles and an ever-increasing respect for personal space. The major disadvantages centre on the atrophying effects on my body of too many hours spent within the confines of pastel coloured cabins at 35,000 feet. Air travel does not allow for the active expenditure of calories with fidgeting proving my most dynamic of movements as I cross between continents. A sagging midriff is the disappointing but expected result of such lassitude; give me a few more months and I’ll be as ‘wide-bodied’ as the Dreamliners in which I fly.

An increase in travel however is not the major reason for Sniff’s period of deafening quiet. Again some of you may know that Michael and I have just completed writing and illustrating our first book, ‘France in 33 Glasses’ which will be published in the Spring of 2018. Writing is an enjoyable pursuit but one that often leaves me feeling devoid of further stories to tell. This is what has happened with Sniff. My focus has been directed towards completing and honouring our publishing deadline leaving little time for further wine–related ruminations on our blog. I want to say that this will now improve, it is certainly our hope, but we have already been commissioned to write our second, on Italy. Perhaps with more experience will come greater efficiency, anyway we will try to keep Sniff rolling more consistently than he has of late.

Having recently returned from China, following a week of hosting seminars promoting South African wines to consumers, sommeliers, importers and retailers; it is heartening to see the mutuality of enthusiasm shared by producer and prospective customer alike. It is also a pleasure to see the views of both being challenged and changed. Until one travels to a new region or country one’s knowledge of the culture is only ever second-hand and this can lead to misconceptions, many of which can lean towards the negative. The wine savvy nature of many of the Chinese present outstripped the level expected and demonstrated to those producers visiting China for the first time that there is a genuine passion for wine in Asia’s most populous and powerful country (all be it a passion common to an as of yet very small percentage of the general population) that bodes well for the future.

This of course works both ways with many consumers less experienced in the wines of South Africa being exposed for the first time to the incredible value proposition that South African Wine represents. As Tim Atkin MW commented in his recent ‘South Africa 2017 Special Report’, ‘by the standards of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Napa Valley, South African wine is cheap’. The relatively inexpensive nature of South African wine (although very little wine in China is what I would call cheap due to the tax imposed on this ‘luxury’) is something, whilst exercising some caution, that producers would be wise to promote. I suggest caution simply because being ‘inexpensive’ can cause confusion amongst customers, as there is a belief that the wines cannot, therefore, be that good. In order to generate growth for South African Wine sales in China, a message that celebrates the purity and generosity of the fruit (along with the value), combined with the high line of acidity and grip that provide the best wines with both fullness and elegance, is something to shout about. Achieving volume at the expense of value only results in a situation that is undesirable due to its lack of sustainability and the long-term damage that it does to brand South Africa; nobody wants to make this a race to the bottom.

The size of the area under vine in South Africa is less than 100,000 hectares (ha) which makes it smaller than Bordeaux’s 110,000ha. The modest scale of their wine industry that naturally limits supply suggests that producers should focus on the quality and unique nature of their offerings from the many different regions that dot the Cape. Whilst I shy away from the suggestion that countries need signature varieties, most of us, initially at least, like the messages we receive as consumers to be simple. South Africa produces significant quantities of high quality Chenin Blanc and that is a variety that any country should feel proud to hang its hat on but in Asia we require something more, specifically something red. This is where it gets more complicated. Yes there is some magnificent Pinotage and some sophisticated Bordeaux blends but it is in those varieties most famously associated with the Rhone and northern Spain that I believe South Africa should be claiming as their own. Whether this is Cinsault, Grenache or perhaps most convincingly Syrah, South Africa has shown itself capable of crafting exemplary, sophisticated and thought provoking examples, wines that increasingly feature in my wine-rack at home.

Here are some of my favourites from the wines tasted at the seminars in Beijing and Chengdu:

Whites
Spier, ‘21 Gables’, Chenin Blanc
Rascallion, ‘Susurrous’, Chenin dominant blend
Cape of Good Hope, ‘Caroline’, Chenin dominant blend

Reds
Asara, ‘Cape Fusion’, Pinotage, Malbec, Shiraz
La Motte, ‘Pierneef’, Syrah
Babylon’s Peak, ‘S.M.G.’ (Shiraz dominant blend)
Bizoe, Syrah
Glenelly, ‘Lady May’, Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Bordeaux blend

Sweet
Daschbosch, ‘Hanepoot’, fortified Muscat of Alexandria

 

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Etna

Etna

Overnight successes are rarely that. In the world of wine there are occasions when regions that have been producing for years seem suddenly to gain traction in the market. In the noughties the rise of off-dry Prosecco, crisp Albarino from Rias Baixas, black cherry scented Pinot Noir from Central Otago and the Languedoc’s oyster friendly Picpoul de Pinet (to name but a few), became vital additions to any wine-list with pretensions of modernity. In the 2010’s the re-discovery of white wines fermented on their skins, aka ‘orange’ wines, the proliferation of minimal intervention ‘natural’ wines with their restrained use of sulphur dioxide (SO2), and the global thirst for the seductive Pinots of Burgundy, demonstrates the ever shifting sands of public and journalistic opinion.

Like most fashion, much is a barely changed interpretation, or reboot, of a previous expression. As a teenager I had to endure my mother’s commentary on the similarity of certain contemporary styles with those she had worn in the sixties. Like any self-obsessed adolescent who believes that they know more than the generation that went before, I pulled a face and ignored my mother’s obvious truths. Now I am tempted on occasion to say the same thing to my sixteen year old, but resist where possible. Why would she believe or be interested in the ruminations of her Dad?

Having recently returned from Sicily (where I had been fortunate enough to be a guest of Sicilia En Primeur 2017, Sicily’s most significant wine fair), another wine region, Etna, is perhaps the most obvious ‘new’ darling of those in the know. In some ways Etna really is new. It is true that there were vineyards producing wine on this uncommonly active volcano’s slopes in the 19th century, yet as recently as twenty years ago there was but a handful of serious estates that were crafting wines worthy of discussion beyond Sicily’s cerulean border. Now there are more than 130 and with the ever-ebullient Angelo Gaja, deeming this the right time to join the Etna party, the focus on these volcanic slopes will only increase.

So what is it that makes Etna special and does it really have the necessary quality to join southern Italy’s other great vinous gift to the world, the Aglianico based wines of Taurasi in Campania? Two weeks ago I would have been non-committal, simply because I had tasted too little to have an opinion that was worthy of sharing. The wines I had tasted were mainly red, the product of the principal black grape of the region, Nerello Mascalese. From the very first time that I pulled the cork on my first bottle of Nerello (approximately four years ago), I recognised the potential. They are aromatic, firm and fresh and taste like they have the ability to age gracefully, the problem was that I had never tried an example older than that produced in 2009. That particular bottle also seemed a little tired, with the ample structure still in place but with a fruit profile that had begun the slow slide to obscurity. What I wanted was to see if Nerello Mascalese could be transformed, i.e. could it move with time from being invitingly nubile to something altogether more flavoursome and complete.

The two bottles that proved that this was indeed possible both originated from one of the great names of Etna: Benanti. Tasting their Rovitello and Serra della Contessa from the 2004 vintage demonstrated that high quality Nerello in the hands of the experienced can result in greatness. Both remained perfumed and pretty but beneath those remnants of youth was a glut of more savoury smells and flavours. I was reminded (and I’m sure that I am not the first) of a rather delicious marriage of the noble Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir from their respective homes of the Langhe and Burgundy.

So will the wines of Etna prove to be more than a modish nod to the esoteric? Undoubtedly. Make no mistake, the best reds (and the same can be said for the saline whites) are not just very good wines they are fine wines. They deserve both a place in your affections as well as your wine rack and will justifiably be considered a true modern classic before this decade is out.

Names to look out for include:
Benanti
Barone di Villagrande
Tenuta di Fessina
Cottanera
Graci
Alta Mora

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The Problem with Pinot Noir

I think I was in my early twenties before I could properly enjoy a joke at my mother’s expense without bristling, or even worse, threatening violence to the teller. On working in a pub on the outskirts of Hull as a callow eighteen year, the landlord (now my father-in-law), warned me not to talk politics or religion with the customers as what might start as good-natured, gentle verbal sparring could, with sufficient lubrication, result in an all out brawl. Outside of those already mentioned, the topics that really raise people’s ire are in my experience actually rather limited but on entering the wine trade back in 2002, it became quickly apparent that there was one other subject that you disparaged at your peril.

Pinot Noir enjoys an almost fabled status amongst those in the trade. Everyone has a story to tell about how some doddery old uncle or jedi-like wine mentor opened a cobweb-encrusted bottle of Burgundy to reveal a wine the like of which they had never tasted before. Whilst I refuse to brand any of these tales as outright lies, the consistency of this story from one person to another leads me to believe that this is the ultimate vinous version of the urban myth. Either that or I was dealt a bad hand in the uncle department.

Now before I’m outed for being nothing more than an unromantic curmudgeon, I need to tell you that wine has made me cry. There have been a number of occasions (I would estimate the frequency to be once every couple of years) where a wine’s effect on me has been so profound as to make my eyes hot and my throat tight with emotion. Such experiences, as with the gold prospector hoping for one last nugget-laden strike, are fundamental to why I’m wedded to this line of work. The allure of finding a wine where the perfume beguiles and the tannins catch on the palate just enough before slipping silkily away, cause my mouth to salivate and my body to judder in expectation. But, as of yet, Pinot has never elicited this response in me.

Winemakers talk about Pinot as being a pernickety little bugger. Both delicate and capricious it poses a challenge that, as in many industries still dominated by men, many want to conquer. The problem is that my experience of tasting Pinot suggests that this is a challenge that the vast majority are simply not capable of meeting. Pinot remains in most cases a wine of two dimensions, all fruit and alcohol (or if you prefer the Hull vernacular, all fur coat and no knickers). Now some of you will say that I am barking up the wrong tree, that what I’m referring to is the Pinot that comes from ground less sacred than that of Pinot’s home; Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. But they’re wrong, I’m not.

One of the most over-used words to describe fine red Burgundy is ‘ethereal’. One only has to flick through any online thesaurus to see that synonyms such as frail, fragile or waiflike are in many cases just as appropriate as would be the more pejorative ‘thin’ or even ‘scrawny’. If I’m paying more than a hundred quid for a bottle of wine it needs to be showing me much more than cat walk-like model dimensions.

So does this mean that my wine fridge (no cellar for me in my 4th floor apartment) is bereft of Pinot Noir? Of course not, I like Pinot, very much in fact, but do I love it?… It would seem not. In a world where social media has led to ever increasing levels of excited expression for the morbidly mundane, (see the following example: ‘I saw a cat today!!!! Who knew!?!? ☺’), perhaps I am simply mis-reading people’s affection for the variety, perhaps they only really like it very much too?

Whatever the reality I will continue to call out those who deify Pinot and who write in a language that in previous times was reserved for the veneration of Saints. And yet I can’t be in the wine trade and not have a variety that I love, a variety that really makes my heart sing, a variety that is capable of both magic and majesty in the same glass at the same time and that variety, as any person of real taste knows, is Syrah!! ☺.

 

黑皮諾的問題

我大概要到二十歲出頭左右,才能夠大方地對於嘲笑我媽的笑話,一笑置之而不至於感到憤怒,或甚至威脅以暴力相向。回想正值十八歲血氣方剛的我,在赫爾(Hull)近郊一家酒館打工;酒館老闆(如今已是我岳父)警告我,與客人聊天時,最好別涉及政治或宗教,以避免讓原本只是無心的言語玩笑,演變成嚴重的爭吵。就我的經驗中,除了以上幾個禁忌,似乎沒有什麼其它話題會挑起人們的憤怒之情。直到我於2002年開始銷售葡萄酒後,才發現原來還有一件事,如果輕忽了,得自負後果。

在葡萄酒世界中,黑皮諾(Pinot Noir)享有近乎傳奇的地位,而且似乎每個人都有一個關於黑皮諾的故事可以分享:他們都曾經因為喝到一款瓶身滿覆蜘蛛網的布根地酒,而經歷了前所未有的體驗,無論這瓶酒是來自年事已高的叔叔收藏,或是透過比絕地武士還厲害的酒商而品嚐到。雖然我不太願意大辣辣地說,這些聽來全是謊話,但同樣的故事屢屢從一人傳到另一人口中,不禁令我深信,如果葡萄酒世界裡也有都市神話,大概就是這個了吧!再不然就是,我是身邊所認識的人中,唯一一個沒有厲害叔叔的可憐人。

雖然我在上文中儼然已承認了自己是個一點也不浪漫的討厭鬼,但我還想說,葡萄酒確實曾令我感動到潸然淚下。在我的人生中,曾經有幾次因葡萄酒帶給我的震撼之大,令我眼眶濕熱、喉頭緊鎖(我估算大概每幾年會有一次這樣的經驗)。而如同淘金者盼望能撈到最後一次金礦一般,這樣的經驗,成為我從事這一行最重要的原因。光是想到能品嚐一款香氣令人著迷,口中單寧恰如其分、質地如絲綢一般細緻的酒款,就足以令我分泌唾液,身體因興奮而微微顫動了起來。不幸的是,截至目前為止,還沒有任何一款黑皮諾讓我有過類似反應。

釀酒人談起皮諾,如同這是個麻煩的小鬼一般,只因這品種既可口又善變,讓許多釀酒師燃起挑戰、並征服它的慾望;在許多由男人主導的產業裡,大概都有類似情節。不過,依我品嚐過的皮諾來看,大概沒幾位釀酒師成功駕馭得了這品種。對我而言,黑皮諾常僅有兩個面向可言:一是果味,一則是酒精(如果用赫爾,即我打工的地區的語言來比喻的話,則全是毛皮大衣而沒有內褲)。讀到這裡,有些人可能覺得我腦袋不清楚了,或以為我說的黑皮諾全來自於其神聖家鄉──布根地金丘(Cote d’Or)──以外的產區。但我要告訴你,我沒有搞錯。

綜觀所有最常被濫用來形容頂級布根地紅酒的詞彙中,當屬「空靈」(ethereal)一詞居冠。只消上網隨便搜尋任一個字典,就可以發現,在許多情況中,空靈其實也等同於「虛弱」(frail)、「脆弱」(fragile),或「身材瘦小的」(waiflike)等詞;事實上,這些也與帶有貶義的「淺薄的」(thin),甚至「骨瘦如柴的」(scrawny)等形容詞同義。這麼說好了,如果我要花上一百英鎊(約新台幣NT$ 3,840)買一瓶酒,它最好不要只像伸展台上的模特兒一樣「空靈」而單一面向。

但這是否代表我的葡萄酒冰箱(我住在公寓四樓,沒有酒窖)裡,一瓶黑皮諾也沒有?當然不,我非常喜歡這品種,不過這份喜歡是否有到鍾愛它的程度?嗯…… 看來是不至於。

拜社交媒體之賜,如今所有平凡、乏味之事,都可以病態地無限上綱(需要例子嗎?『誰想得到阿!?!?☺我今天看到了一隻貓耶!!!』)。也許純粹是我誤判了人們對於黑皮諾的熱情,也許他們和我一樣,只是非常喜歡這品種?

不管事實為何,我打算繼續戳破那些將黑皮諾奉為神明、或是用過去以敘述聖人的語言來形容黑皮諾的人所說的話。當然,身為葡萄酒業界的一員,我不可能沒有一個鍾愛的品種。這品種深得我心,釀得好時,在同一杯中既能展現魔法,又能傳遞莊嚴的氣質;而任何真正有品味的人都知道,我說的不是別的,正是希哈(Syrah)!!☺(編譯/艾蜜・emily)

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Consider the Pomelo

The pomelo season has been over for a while in Taiwan. For those of you who have never eaten one you may be thinking “So what?” and even for those of you that have, many might feel bemused by my mild melancholia at the disappearance of this inelegant fruit’s presence from my fruit bowl. This parent of the grapefruit wants for some of its progeny’s elan. It lacks the eye-widening acidity that helps shift a slumbering palate to full wakefulness but a good pomelo is to a grapefruit what a fine Pessac white is to a Marlborough raised Sauvignon Blanc. Both have their place but I prefer the shimmer of the Bordeaux above the dazzle of the New Zealander.

The pomelo also represents a lesson in respecting those old adages that concern appearance being only skin deep. Some of my favourite pomelos come from Yunlin, a county on the west coast of the island. In the supermarket they sit hammocked in individual nets with a shiny gold sticker declaring their provenance, but these accoutrements fail to hide the truth; these are forlorn looking fruit, yellowed and baggy of skin with brown patches like liver spots decorating their pocked peel. For the western eye, raised on the uniformity of fresh produce, the sight of such wizened looking fruit is as anachronistic as Chianti sold in a straw covered fiasco.

Why has the pomelo not achieved the global presence afforded the grapefruit? I really don’t know but like many an Italian grape variety, perhaps pomelos are less adaptable, less willing to yield their subtle, citric bounty when dragged from their sub-tropical homelands and asked to perform similar feats of deliciousness in alien surroundings. Even if this is the case I suspect that the average western consumer lacks the patience to peel a pomelo. Of the three people that live in my house, I’m the only one willing to dedicate the fifteen minutes required to remove all the segments from their enveloping sacs of pith (although I’m not the only one willing to eat them).

So what has this got to do with wine? Well not a huge amount really apart from that my appreciation of the pomelo mirrors my appreciation of certain styles of the world’s best beverage. I’m not particularly interested in wines that try to bully me into liking them or reveal themselves completely once poured. I prefer a little more reticence and restraint in my grape juice and if I can devote a quarter of an hour to peeling a pomelo, I’m happy to wait a while whilst a wine gets its act together.

Recently I was at the launch of a new vintage of a prestigious Napa Valley red and experienced the same sense of vague disappointment that supposed ‘icon’ wines have engendered in me before. This particular wine reeked of money: vanilla and other exotic spices that spoke of the use of fine French oak, were joined by the richly ripe scent of morello cherries, blueberries, graphite and crushed rock, a heady combination that usually sends my serotonin soaring. So why didn’t I like it? Because behind that bold aromatic exterior and dense cloak of opulence lurked the exact opposite of the prosaic looking pomelo. A wine made with grapes so ripe that it was sagging under the weight of its own fecundity. The prodigious alcohol made this feel more like a curative. Something to be taken in a tumbler before bed rather than an accompaniment to an evening’s chatter with one’s beloved. Why we continue to place such value on these crude behemoths is confusing to me but perhaps the jackdaw in us all finds these ‘shiny’ wines almost impossible to ignore.

No, I want to drink wine that has so much more to offer than simply an over-confident swagger, I want to drink wine that holds my hand, that walks me down a vaguely familiar street whilst directing my gaze at new points of interest. I want to be engaged, but sensitively so.

So what are these wines that wear their charms more lightly? Where do they come from? The answer, truthfully, is everywhere. I am yet to visit a region, never mind a country that doesn’t produce at least a few wines that beguile rather than berate. The key I believe is freshness. Good wines, whatever their age exude it, whilst bad ones, whatever their price, exclude it (and at their peril). Wine, like a good pomelo, enlivens. A wine I tasted last week, Tardieu Laurent’s Hermitage, 2012, has this trait. On first sniff it announced itself gracefully yet with authority. Perfumed and yet also slightly savoury, this had me smiling immediately. In the mouth the initial sensation was one of texture rather than taste. On swallowing there was no burn of excessive alcohol or bitterness from over-extraction, just the further unfurling of flavour. This wine had no need to shout to inform me of its existence it just spoke to me, softly but with clarity. It was alive, it exuded freshness.

As winter approaches I am yet to find something fruity to replace the pomelo sized hole in my life and the current season’s ‘mountain’ apples whilst sounding rather fine, are, well, just apples. On the other hand there is always a new wine to try and tonight I’m being considerately escorted by some rather fine boned Bourgeuil from Jacky Blot; a wine so full of youthful vigour that I’m sure consumption will actually make me look younger.

…Perhaps I expected too much. I’ve just taken a look in the bathroom mirror and unfortunately nothing has changed I’m still more pomelo than Peter Pan.

柚子二三事 

臺灣的柚子季已經結束好一陣子了,從沒吃過柚子的人,也許一點也不在乎柚子的時節;就算吃過,可能也無法理解我為什麼要因為這外觀不雅的水果過了季,而感到淡淡地憂傷。雖然與葡萄柚同為一家,柚子卻缺乏前者的活力,更少了喚醒味蕾的鮮明酸味。不過,對我而言,一顆好的柚子與一顆葡萄柚,就像是一款頂級貝沙克(Pessac)白酒和馬爾堡(Marlborough)白蘇維濃(Sauvignon Blanc)一般:兩者都有其優秀之處,但我就是偏愛波爾多的微光,勝過於紐西蘭令人炫目的閃耀光芒。

在我看來,柚子還總是讓我聯想起古老的格言,提醒人們不要只看膚淺的表面。我最喜歡的柚子,來自於臺灣西南部的雲林縣。它們超市裡常用像吊床一般的網子罩住,並貼上閃亮亮的金色貼紙,以標示其出處。但這些包裝卻遮不住水果本身鬆垮的黃色外皮,以及有如棕色老人斑似的斑點,和滿是坑洞的果皮。對於從小習慣看到新鮮漂亮水果的西方人而言,這樣外貌乾癟的水果,彷彿像是裝在傳統稻草瓶身的奇揚替(Chianti)紅酒一般,生錯了時代。

為什麼柚子沒能像葡萄柚一樣,成功進軍全球市場呢?我自己也不清楚;也許和許多義大利葡萄品種一樣,它們適應力較差,離開了亞熱帶家鄉後,便難以在異地表現出原本可口的多元面向,更無法展現出細緻與滿載柑橘調性的風格。不過,即便能在國外成功種出柚子,我也懷疑西方消費者是否有耐心剝完整顆水果。在我們一家三口之中,只有我願意花上十五分鐘,慢慢地將一層又一層柚子皮由外至內剝乾淨(只不過,我可不是唯一一位願意吃柚子的人)。

但是,柚子與葡萄酒何干?其實也許沒有太大的關聯。只能說,我欣賞柚子和葡萄酒的態度是一樣的。面對那些想強迫我愛上、或是才品嚐第一口就洩漏了全部內容的葡萄酒,我多半只感到興趣缺缺。我向來偏愛較為沈默寡言與內斂的葡萄酒;願意花上十五分鐘慢慢剝開柚子皮的我,自然也很樂意等待杯中酒緩慢開展,逐漸顯露自己的美好。

前一陣子,我參加了一場納帕谷(Napa Valley)頂級紅酒的新年份上市午宴,再一次對於這種理應具有「代表性」的酒款感到失望。這款酒滿是鈔票味:法國橡木桶所帶來的香草與異國辛香料味,結合了豐美成熟的歐洲酸櫻桃、藍莓、石墨和碎岩等調性;這令人暈眩的組合常讓我血清素飆高。但是,我有什麼好不愛這款酒的呢?大概是因為,在這大膽、香氣十足的外表,與濃郁華麗的風格之下蘊藏的,正好是和長相平凡的柚子完全相反的內在。這款以極為成熟的葡萄釀成的酒,儼然已經被自己的重量所拖累,而其驚人的酒精度甚至令人聯想到藥酒,讓它宛如像是睡前喝的小杯酒,而不是與心愛的人互訴共享的美釀。我無法理解為什麼要繼續支持這種可怖的龐然大物;也許,我們心中總是難以忽視這種「閃亮亮」的葡萄酒吧!

不過,我寧願捨棄這種態度高傲的酒款,而選擇一款能牽著我的手,並帶我走向有點熟悉的路、卻又能在其中找到新樂趣的酒款。

那麼,是什麼酒能夠這樣輕易地展現出自身的魅力?它們又來自何方?答案是,隨處可見。說真的,我還不曾去過一個沒能產出一、兩款令人心醉好酒的產區,甚至國家。我相信,好酒關鍵就在於新鮮度。無論酒齡為何,只要是好酒,都能展現出新鮮度;而壞的酒──不管要價多麼昂貴,則總是缺乏新鮮度。在我看來,葡萄酒就跟一顆好吃的柚子一樣,具有振奮人心的效果。上週我品嚐的2012年Tardieu Laurent’s Hermitage,便展現了這樣的特質。才初聞,我便覺得這款酒兼具優雅與莊嚴的特性,既芳香又帶了點鹹鮮風味,才聞到我已經禁不住一臉微笑。品嚐時,我最先注意到的是質地,而非滋味。即便是吞下肚,我也不覺得口中有任何高酒精所帶來的燒灼感,或過度萃取的果味,只有更多風味的展現。這不是一款需要大聲宣告其存在價值的酒,而僅是輕柔且清晰地娓娓道來,自己充滿生機的存在。

冬天已悄然到來,我卻還沒找到能在我心中取代柚子這般份量的水果;當季的高山蘋果聽起來雖然不錯,但充其量只是蘋果而已。所幸,不同於水果,我總是有新的葡萄酒可以品嚐。今晚陪伴我的是來自Jacky Blot酒莊、數款架構優良的布戈憶(Bourgueil)美釀;這些酒款之新鮮,讓我確信,品嚐了它們,我也會因此變年輕。

可能是我期待太高…… 剛看了一眼浴室鏡子中的自己,發現什麼也沒改變。我依舊是顆柚子,而沒能變成彼得潘。(編譯/艾蜜・emily)

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2012 Bordeaux

On Wednesday morning, beneath grey skies lamenting President Elect Don T.’s ascension to power, I inched across London in the relative comfort of a black cab. With the MW award ceremony beckoning later in the day, my state of nervous excitement meant that I eschewed early eating deciding a better breakfast would be claret rather than cornflakes.

My destination was Vintner’s Hall and the IMW’s ‘Annual Claret Tasting’. The vintage to be tasted was the 2012 and on entering the long and airy Livery Hall, the sight of ninety-five of the best bottles, Bordeaux has to offer was the first part of my reward for journeying the six thousand miles from Taipei.

In a previous post in March 2015 (http://sniff.com.tw/?cat=83) I had mixed feelings about 2012 finding it inconsistent and typically a little too herbaceous for my sensibilities. This was an altogether more comprehensive tasting and was without the distracting presence (however pleasant) of the Chateau owners. I was really interested to see whether a further 18 months in bottle had helped ease any of the vegetal funk into a more perfumed, elegant iteration. ‘Possibly’ was the answer.

The first thing to say is that no famous commune tasted was without some issues but those areas more obviously associated with Merlot were definitely more consistent. Pomerol and Pessac Leognan provided the wines with the most charm and if anyone is offering I’ll gladly take delivery of six Haut Brion as this was my wine of the day. However one needn’t take out a bank loan to experience the particular elegance and eminence of this first growth as there is more than enough pleasure in less expensive offerings with the likes of Malartic Lagraviere providing perfumed precision without a whiff of green. In Pomerol, the best had this AOP’s hoped for richness as well as freshness, with La Fleur-Petrus and Trotanoy my personal picks.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly there was also real excitement to be found in the colder soils of St.Estephe with Calon Segur and Montrose being both bright, lively and assured and the altogether more closed Cos d’ Estournel promising pleasure in the future if you can wait another decade for it to shed some of its scaffolding.

Communes where there was definitely more miss than hit included Margaux, St.Julien and Pauillac. Apart from the ever elegant and beguiling Chateau Margaux, the rest of this famous AOP is disappointing, with the best examples showing some prettiness on the nose but unfortunately too much stodge on the palate. Wandering further north and the story is similar with too much oak and extraction for the quality and relative delicacy of the fruit. These wines feel like they’ve been forced into clothes that are just never going to fit, like a boy in his dad’s suit.

Sometimes all the aspiration in the world cannot produce inspiration and a gentler touch would have allowed the herbaceousness present to appear less angular and less marked. One can only hope that on the day that saw a man with orange hair take control of the most powerful country in the world that Donald takes a similar view, dialling back on the protestations of self-aggrandisement and instead displays an as of yet unseen restraint and magnanimity in victory. Then, like the best of this uneven 2012 vintage, we may experience more pleasure than pain as we move forward into our uncertain future.

2012波爾多 

週三早晨,天空灰濛濛地哀悼著川普成為美國總統的事實;同時間的我,正坐在黑色計程車中,緩慢地於倫敦市區中前行。由於今天即將出席葡萄酒大師(Master of Wine)的授頒典禮,既緊張又興奮的我,決定跳過穀片早餐,改以波爾多紅酒(Claret)墊胃,心想後者大概適合作為這一天的早餐。

我要去參加的是葡萄酒大師協會(Institue of Master of Wine,即IMW)於Vintner’s Hall舉辦的「年度波爾多紅酒品飲會」(Annual Claret Tasting);這一天要品嚐的是2012年。當我走進長型而挑高的Livery Hall時,95瓶波爾多最優秀的酒款映入眼簾;這是我從台北飛了9000多公里來到倫敦的第一個犒賞。

去年三月,我曾在部落格中提到,2012年波爾多表現不夠穩定,草本味也過濃()。相較於去年的品飲,這一次想必會是更完整的體驗,也比較不會受到酒莊主人的干擾(雖然有時這些「干擾」還挺愉快的)。我很想知道,暨上一次品飲後又經過18個月瓶陳的2012年,是否能褪去原本的植蔬怪味,展現出更多香芬、優雅的特性。

我首先發現,即便是知名酒村的酒款,也免不了有些問題,至於那些使用較多梅洛(Merlot)的酒款,表現則普遍較為穩定。玻美侯(Pomerol)與貝沙克-雷奧良(Pessac-Leognan)魅力十足;其中Haut-Brion是我當天最愛的酒款,如果有人願意出價,我很樂意收上六瓶。還好,我們不須要向銀行貸款就能體驗如一級酒莊般的高雅與卓越,因為像是Malartic-Lagraviere這類價格親民許多的酒款,已經能為飲者帶來極大的享受。這款酒不但香氣精準,還不帶任何青澀風味。至於玻美侯中最濃郁又兼具新鮮風味的,則非La Fleur-Petrus與Trotanoy莫屬。

另外,有些出乎意料之外的是,這年份在聖愛斯臺夫(St. Estephe)較冷的地塊──如Calon Segur與Montrose,都端出了出明亮、鮮活、風格明確且領人興奮不已的酒款。相較之下,Cos d’ Estournel目前嚐來雖然較為閉鎖,十年後、待銳利的稜角軟化,同樣能為飲者帶來許多樂趣。

不同於聖愛斯臺夫,瑪歌(Margaux)、聖朱里安(St. Julien)與波亞克(Pauillac)等酒村則表現欠佳。除了向來優雅、誘人的瑪歌酒莊(Chateau Margaux),其它的AOP酒款都令人失望。最好的例子擁有漂亮的香氣,但口感過於厚重。一路往北,其它酒款們也都展現了類似的狀況,不是桶味太多,就是萃取過重、果味偏輕。這些酒款像是穿著父親西裝的小男孩一般,硬被套上了不合身的衣服。

有時候,再多的志向也釀不出鼓舞人心的美酒,唯有輕柔的釀酒手腕,才能降低青澀感,並帶出酒中圓滑的一面。我們只能期望,在橘髮川普成為全球最強勢國家領導人的這一天,他也能像一些釀酒人一樣,在面對勝選時,少一些個人膨脹,多一些過去我們不曾見到的內斂與謙容雅量。如同品質不定的2012年中最好的一些酒款,我們也許也能夠在不確定的未來中,少經歷點痛苦,多享受點樂趣。(編譯 / 艾蜜・emily)

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Re-visiting Coravin

Is there anything more to say about Coravin, the wine preservation system that allows you to access the bottle without pulling the cork, that hasn’t already been said? Perhaps. I have already made clear in a previous post that Coravin helped make my journey through the MW programme considerably cheaper than it might otherwise have been, enabling me to access on multiple occasions wines that I considered necessary to compare and contrast with others.

My generally high level of contentment with the system does not mean that it is perfect. Beyond the obvious inability to access screwcaps, or plastic corks my other casual observations have centered on Coravin’s efficacy with agglomerated or technical corks like Diam. As these are not made from one piece of cork their elasticity appears somewhat compromised (meaning the hole made by the needle is less quick to close) and I have suspected that some wines I have re-visited have been ‘flatter’, the fruit a little more oxidised than expected.

On the 23rd of September the extremely personable inventor and owner, Greg Lambrecht was in Taipei and as part of his visit hosted a comparative tasting of three wines, a 2013 Fume Blanc from Mondavi, a 2010 Beaune 1er Cru from Domaine Champy and a 2010 Brunello di Montalcino from Castelgiocondo. What made this tasting different was that those assembled were given three wines of each, with one or two in each flight of three (we were not told) being wines that had been accessed three months earlier on the 21st of June. We were asked to identify the wine(s) in each flight that had been ‘Coravined’ or if we couldn’t tell the difference between the three to say as such on the recording slips that we had been given.

Lambrecht said that this was the largest tasting of this type yet undertaken by Coravin, as there were more than one hundred participants. The results were conclusive in that there was no consensus on any wine being significantly different from the others tasted. For me, the only wine where I really noticed any difference was with the Mondavi, the fruit aromas were just not as pronounced in the previously accessed example. Lambrecht asked, “Is there any wine here that you wouldn’t be happy to share with your guests/customers?”

“No” was the resounding response. A sentiment with which I fully concur.

Just before leaving I asked Lambrecht about my suspected ‘issue’ with technical corks and he recommended allowing both these and old corks a few extra seconds to close (approximately 30) on removal of the needle, to allow for the reduced elasticity, before returning the bottles to their horizontal position in one’s cellar or wine fridge.

 

再訪Coravin 

大家都知道,葡萄酒保存工具Coravin可以讓飲者在不取出瓶塞的情況下品嚐到瓶中酒。但關於Coravin,到底還有什麼是我們所不知道的呢?在過去的文章中,我已清楚地提到Coravin讓我能夠多次於不同時間點順利品飲同樣酒款,以比較和對照其它酒,進而大大地降低了我在準備葡萄酒大師(Master of Wine)考試時所需的費用。

雖然我對於目前的Coravin相當滿意,這卻不代表Coravin是完美無缺的。除了還無法使用於旋蓋或塑膠塞封瓶的葡萄酒款,Coravin使用於聚合軟木塞或Diam這類重組膠黏塞封瓶酒款的功效,也令我感到有些納悶。這是因為,這類軟木塞不是以一整片軟木製成,導致彈性較差,因此在Coravin細針插入木塞後,洞口會較慢癒合。除此之外,幾次重新品嚐過以Coravin取過的酒樣後,我也懷疑有些酒款的口感似乎較為「扁平」,或是在香氣上展現出較明顯的氧化果味。

9月23日這一天,魅力十足的Coravin發明家與專利擁有者Greg Lambrecht蒞臨台北,一同參與了進口商特別舉辦的一場「比較品飲會」。現場邀請來賓品嚐了Mondavi酒莊的2013年Fume Blanc白酒、Domaine Champy的2010年伯恩一級園紅酒( Beaune 1er Cru),以及Castelgiocondo酒莊的2010年蒙塔其諾布魯內洛紅酒(Brunello di Montalcino)。這場品酒會的特出之處,在於與會來賓眼前的三款酒,都分別各有三杯,總計九杯;而三杯同款酒中,各有一至二杯酒,是倒自今年6月21日時已被Coravin取過的樣酒。身為來賓的我們,則要試圖辨認出眼前那一些酒,是三個月前被取過的,或直接誠實地勾選出自己無法辨別這些酒款的不同。

由於這次參加的人士足足超過了100位,Lambrecht說,這是Coravin所辦過規模最大的「比較品飲會」。而結果非常明顯,從統計票數中可發現,全部九杯酒中,沒有任何一杯酒明顯地不同。對我而言,唯一一款我感覺得到稍有不同的,是Mondavi的Fume Blanc;那杯三個月前被Coravin取過的白酒,果味不如其它兩杯來得撲鼻。但當Lambrecht問道:「在場是否有任何一杯酒是你不願意與客人分享的?」上百位與會人士的回應相當一致:「沒有。」而我自己也百分百同意。

離開這場有趣的品飲會之前,我詢問了Lambrecht自己納悶已久的問題。他建議,若是以聚合類木塞與老木塞封瓶的酒款,待Coravin取出後,最好先讓酒瓶直立約末30秒不等的時間,讓彈性欠佳的木塞有時間緩慢癒合,再將酒評橫躺回酒櫃中。(編譯 / 艾蜜・emily)

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Brunello 2011: Meiburg Makes it Easy

As a fellow educator it is always an enjoyable experience to see a true professional at work. Last week Debra Meiburg was in Taipei to help promote the 2011 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino so I was always going to find room in my diary for a date that dovetailed California’s finest with the apogee of Sangiovese.

As a Master of Wine, many will have assumed or expected Debra to be on point but all of us who have ever attended a formal lesson or seminar whether at school, college or through work, will know that knowledge per se does not a great teacher make. The ability to engage is the most fundamental skill as learning is then elevated to what it should be; a positive experience rather than a chore. Debra’s methods are neither revolutionary or unique but by talking to those present (rather than at them), inviting contributions and gently fishing individuals from the audience to help her illustrate certain essential facts, ensured that the two hour class felt refreshingly concise.

As an admirer of Brunello, the four samples from 2011 did not disappoint. Fans of 2010, with its opulence and generosity might find the crisp acidity of 2011 too brusque but I enjoyed the elegance and nervosité of these wines. One must also never forget that these are Italian wines. Italian red wine devoid of acid is like an Italian man who doesn’t look good in knitwear; it’s just not meant to happen. Debra signed off with a quiz that was designed to whittle those assembled down to a number where she could award prizes. Unfortunately her abilities as a teacher coupled with the Taiwanese trait of attentive academic application meant that this proved impossible, everyone had been too engaged to fail. Hopefully Brunello di Montalcino 2011 has a similar effect on the wine-drinking public.

Listed below are the two wines that I would happily buy and if you’ve never been convinced by Brunello then one of these should be sufficient to make you see sense.

Col d’Orcia, ‘Nastagio’, Brunello di Montalcino 2011, 14.5%
This is a little too reticent (on the nose) at the moment to warrant more than the score I have given but on the palate the wine springs to life delivering dried herbs and cherry flavours wrapped in firm but fine tannins and a bite of acidity. It also has a silkiness, weight and persistence that suggests this is worthy of a few more years in your wine fridge to allow it the opportunity to blossom. Elegant and fine.
17/20
Currently seeking an importer in Taiwan 

Le Macioche 2011, 14.5%
This was the first time that I had tasted wines from this small estate and this has the perfumed purity and prettiness, that will really appeal to Taiwan’s ever growing band of ‘Pinotphiles’. Refreshing and with less obvious grunt than the Col d’Orcia, Le Macioche is a wine I would be very pleased to serve this evening. No ageing required but this has enough concentration to warrant further cellaring if you can resist its already ample charms.
17/20
Currently seeking an importer in Taiwan

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The Despagne Family: Bordeaux Royalty
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Taiwan: Too Cold for White Wine

With the arrival of May the hum of air conditioning units in the streets of Taipei signals the beginning of summer. It is a much discussed point of bemusement to many wine professionals and enthusiasts alike, that during these sultry middle months of the year, Taiwan continues to exist on a vinous diet that remains obdurately red in hue.

Whilst I have become tired of the clichéd assertions of producers from cool climate areas insisting on the suitability of their region’s wines to East Asian cuisine, tasting some fine German Rieslings at the weekend was a delicious reminder of their ability to both slake a thirst and enliven a tired mouth in a manner not possible with reds. Telling people that they should try something new, especially when it is a white wine that isn’t made from Chardonnay, is not an easy sell in this part of Asia but then again, I don’t like being told what to do either. The relative dearth of pavement restaurants that leaves people with little choice but to venture indoors is not conducive to increased consumption of white wine. Once inside and away from the oppressive sub-tropical sun, those hoping for a glass of something white and refreshing are too often confronted with the effects of seriously efficient cooling systems ensuring that this desire is quick to dissipate replaced instead by the more prosaic needs for survival, such as a hot toddy and a blanket.

But if you do stumble across a restaurant that doesn’t consider a dining experience to be ruined by temperatures above that found in your average igloo, then think about drinking something white. Below are three Germans that deserve a place in anyone’s fridge.

All of these wines are made with Riesling and all come from exceptional/superior vineyards.

Schloss Lieser, Brauneberger Juffer, Kabinett, Mosel, 2014, 7.5%
Note: On first pouring, due to its relative youth, there is a slightly sulphurous air to the aroma. However after ten minutes, the struck match character is replaced by a hay-fever inducing pungency of summer flowers that is remarkable in its intensity. Medium-sweet but with a high-line of supporting acidity makes this both an easy and engaging glass. A textbook Kabinett that will happily sit in your wine fridge for another decade.
Price: 1499NT (or £15 in UK from winedirect.co.uk)
Score: 17/20
Available from: Vinoza in Taiwan 

Joh. Jos. Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Spatlese, Mosel, 2010, 8.5%
Note: Sweet with enamel-stripping acidity, the ebullience of this wine left me wide-eyed and laughing. Intense and pure this needs no accompanying food just a sunny day or disposition. A classic Spatlese that will only improve over the next ten years.
Price: 2000NT (or in the UK, £25 as part of a case of 12 from justerinis.com)
Score: 17/20
Available from: Pro Wine in Taiwan 

Reichstrat Von Buhl, Forster Pechstein, Grosses Gewächs, Pfalz, 2010, 12.5%
Note: Salty and biting, this dry Pechstein nips at your tongue as it bullies its way across your palate. Too forceful for a mere aperitif, it requires food to help tame its exuberance. Magnificent now but even better in another five years.
Price: 1950NT (or in the UK, £35 from theonlinechateau.co.uk)\
Score: 17/20
Available from: Schmidt Vinothek in Taiwan

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