State of the Industry
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:
Barone di Villagrande
Tenuta di Fessina
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!! ☺.
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.
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。
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.
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。
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）
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.
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。
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。
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）
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.
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.
Currently seeking an importer in Taiwan
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)
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)
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)\
Available from: Schmidt Vinothek in Taiwan
At Sniff we are often asked ‘So what is Taiwan really like?’ Having had the opportunity to help Debra Meiburg MW with her ‘Guide to the Taiwan Wine Trade 2016’, what follows is the introductory ‘essay’ to the guide in the hope that it helps answer the aforementioned question and perhaps whets your appetite for more. A big ‘thank you’ to Debra for allowing us to reproduce this piece of work on Sniff.
With the slowing down of the Chinese economy and as we write, (August/September 2015) a tumbling stock market, the promise of untold riches for wine producers selling their wares into China looks to have been broken. Of course for the majority, i.e. those operating outside of the best that Bordeaux and Burgundy has to offer, selling wine into China has never been without its problems. But will these latest economic developments cause more people to look even further eastward to the almond shaped idyll that is Taiwan? Possibly, and that’s why you need to read this book.
The relatively small size of Taiwan with a population of 23 million is equivalent to greater Shanghai or if you prefer, Australia. This ensures that it will never offer the same volume potential that saw winery accountants drooling over their spreadsheets as they envisioned the possibility of 1.2 billion people each holding a bottle of their wine…Yet Taiwan offers a different proposition. It is a country less tied up in red tape than its estranged big brother on the opposite side of the Taiwan Strait, making the importation of wine much less fraught. It also feels more mature. The wine trade may only be twenty-five years old but there is a palpable sense of adventure amongst the younger generation of wine drinkers, importers and retailers, that suggests the dominance of both Bordeaux and Burgundy (more on that later) will be challenged over the next decade. Wines bought here are much less likely to be given away as a gift than they are in China; it is increasingly the case that people are buying wine because they want to drink it not because it affords the drinker a certain status. It may be safer to think of the Taiwan market as being more akin to a pubescent Japanese market rather than the nascent Chinese equivalent.
The key, whether you are an individual producer or generic body, is not to shoot your self in the foot before you have even started. Whatever the official status of Taiwan (it is not recognised by the United Nations as an independent state), it is autonomous; it is democratic, it has its own currency and understandably therefore bridles when described simply as a ‘Province of China’, as is the case in one too many power-point presentations we have been party to (are you listening Wine Australia?). The links with China are undoubtedly real but although the common language of Mandarin is the same, the script used here is traditional Chinese rather than the simplified version used in the People’s Republic. So what? Well, like so many successful business relationships, recognising your potential customer’s uniqueness will obviously endear you to him or her. No one expects full cultural awareness but as the erudite HP Chu, writer and blogger told us, ‘show some respect’ in other words learn at least how to say ‘thank you’ and ‘hello’.
You should also be very careful about which bits of your marketing copy you hope to recycle. Expecting the marketing material you so carefully crafted for China (or any other part of Asia for that matter) to suffice here will likely paint you as an amateur; so don’t do it. Not only is the script different, there is also different terminology, even for those most prosaic of terms: the grape varieties themselves. Much better to present in English and get it right than to fudge the Chinese and not only get it wrong but possibly cause offence.
As a producer you need to take advantage of the genuine warmth and generosity you will be shown if you manage to make it this far. Whilst other Asian markets may be so spoilt by winemaker visits (Hong Kong springs to mind) that unless one is exceedingly famous or ravishingly gorgeous, drumming up the requisite interest for your Tuesday night visit may prove disappointingly difficult, Taiwan is altogether more welcoming. This is also a more liberal and more open-minded country than some we could mention. When it comes to selling your wine the fact that Taiwan’s own production is so small means that there is not the strait-jacket of perceived superiority that can afflict major producer countries such as France, Italy or Spain, when considering foreign equivalents. This equates to a greater willingness to try the unusual and although the famous regions of the Old World still dominate there are spikes of interest being shown for wines as varied and esoteric as Savagnin from the Jura through to the increasingly ubiquitous Prosecco. As Yusen Lin, Taiwan’s pre-eminent wine writer put it, the less codified, less strict social mores governing society here means that ‘people are more likely to drink what they want.’ We should all be thankful for that.
The last piece of significant advice we can give before we start to look at the machinations of the market in more detail is not to look at Taiwan as simply an opportunity to make a quick quid or fast buck, such an approach is unlikely to deliver. Instead, inspire. Consumers want to feel confident about what they are buying and likewise importers with the wines they are selling. We asked every person we interviewed what advice they would give to a prospective entrant into the market and a common response was simply ‘good wine’. In other words, Taiwan does not want the rubbish you can’t sell anywhere else, it wants your best. Deliver this and there will be takers.
This week’s 1001st episode of Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV (http://tv.winelibrary.com/2016/02/21/episode-1001/) reminded me of just how sorely he is missed. Whilst I’m sure that there will be some amongst you who did not mourn the end of Vaynerchuk’s five year ride on YouTube with all his exaggerated mannerisms and New Jersey brogue, no one before or since has succeeded in making wine on screen work so well. Prior to Gary’s arrival, the nearest we had to someone who wore their wine-heart on their sleeve with such alacrity, was Oz Clarke and although Oz has written some great books, I’ve always found his screen presence less natural than his prose. The same could be said for Ms Robinson, a true legend of the wine world whose publications adorn every serious wine enthusiast’s shelves (including mine) and for good reason, but even Jancis lacks the engagement factor of the born visual communicator.
What Vaynerchuk had and still has, is the confidence to speak his mind without allowing any braggadocio to infect his often thoughtful and humorous musings. If any of you doubt just how good Vaynerchuk became look at the very first episode from the 21st February 2006. On display was his now trademark easy charm but he spoke a lot whilst saying very little, for example talking about the ‘colour’ and ‘structure’ of the wine without really explaining why any of that might be important. Moving forward, after a few months honing his shtick, his manner remained as easy, with a little extra ebullience, but his language became much more illuminating, much more direct, much more precise.
Perhaps some people just have it. Of those successful in food, I don’t particularly want to watch Jamie Oliver but I can see that he has ‘it’. So does the exemplary Anthony Bourdain, a man whose laconic delivery only adds to his erudite and excellent on screen persona. So have we got anyone on the European side of the Pond that could engage a new generation of wine drinkers like Gary Vee? Well whilst I dream of having the televisual brilliance of Alan Whicker (the greatest of the great for me), I have a disturbing feeling that I would be more like Alan Partridge. One never knows how someone would appear on screen until you actually see them but I would watch London based Irishman, Mick O’Connell (@wine_philosophy), a wine expert and enthusiast who exudes passion and personality in equal measure. O’Connell has the required lack of pomposity that could make him appealing to more than just me and the wine-nerd fraternity. Yet until someone stakes a realistic claim to Gary Vee’s crown, we still have nine hundred and ninety nine Vaynerchuk vignettes to remind us that wine can be as entertaining as any other subject, given the right personality to present its ethereal charms to the world.