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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
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
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\
Score: 17/20
Available from: Schmidt Vinothek in Taiwan

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Dry White Wines for Keeping

The vast majority of the world’s wines are made to be drunk within a couple of years of bottling and this is particularly the case for whites. Without the preservative effect of the tannins found in red wines, the fruitiness and virility of white wines fades all too quickly, yet as with most things there are a raft of honourable exceptions.

Burgundy from the great villages of Puligny, Chassagne and Mersault as well as the hill of Corton, are capable of producing wines that can last a generation. In the last month I have had bottles from these areas (one is listed below) that were more than a decade old and full of vibrancy. But what else is there? I wrote earlier in January about Von Buhl in Pfalz and there is no doubt that the best of these dense, steely and profound Rieslings will continue to develop and shine over the coming twenty years. With the imminent arrival (in Taiwan) of the wines of Von Winning, also of Pfalz, Riesling’s significant age-ability will again be highlighted.

For those who like the idea of aged Sauvignon Blanc, the best examples are to be found in Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux. These wines usually feature some Semillon and are matured in oak making them less overt but more complex than is usual and the finest go on to give years of custard scented pleasure. Outside of Germany and France it is less common to find white wines that are built for the long haul. Spain has the tradition of aged white Riojas but this oxidative style that smells of hay and mushrooms rather than fruit and flowers is dying. Only Tondonia still produces this grossly underappreciated and magnificent anachronism. (Below I have reviewed Murrietta’s new(ish) white that replaced their wonderful traditional Rioja).

Lastly, in future years it may be that South Africa starts to produce age-worthy Chenin Blancs (think Alheit, Sadie, Mullineux) that can match the longevity of Savennieres in the Loire. This variety has the requisite acid and extract to age beautifully and when allied to the will of the new generation of South-African winemakers, this should be a new source of fine dry white wines for keeping.

Hospices de Beaune, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Cuvee Francois de Salins, 2004
Wine-making: Oak fermented and matured
Note: Not cheap but this is still as fresh a daisy with excellent concentration and drive. Rich and ripe with oodles of fruit and saliva inducing acidity, this should last another ten years.
Price: 6,250NT
Available from: Winebay 02 2733 3303

Marques de Murrietta, Capellania (single vineyard), 2009, 13.5%
Grape: Viura
Wine-making: Matured for 20 months in in new French oak.
Note: As disappointed as I am at the departure of the old, more overtly oxidative style, it is hard not to be impressed by this much more modern wine. Fantastic mouth-feel that is both creamy and rich coupled with baked apple and citrus fruit aromas, this promises improvement over the medium term. Whether it will have the longevity of its predecessor will become clear in the years to come. Price: Not currently available in Taiwan but approx. $30USD globally
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: N/A

Von Winning, Forster Ungeheur Grosses Gewachs, 2013, 12%
Wine-making: Fermented in old wood.
Note: More forgiving than the Von Buhl Rieslings of a similar quality with a slightly softer and less dense/firm character. Perfumed with sweet apple a subtle minerality and good persistence. This will continue to reveal itself more fully over the next decade.
Price: Approx 2,500NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Soon to be available in Taiwan from Vinoza


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Germany: The Profound and the Pure

Being the birthplace of Riesling, Germany has the enviable ability to produce some of the world’s most arresting wines. There are, of course, other grapes grown here and there are excellent examples of Silvaner, Weissburgunder aka Pinot Blanc, Spatburgunder aka Pinot Noir and Lemberger aka Blaufrankisch, but it is Riesling that rules.

A recent tasting of four dry wines from Von Buhl in the Pfalz (a northerly extension of the Alsace region in France), demonstrated the mixture of acidity, density and fruit purity that imbues these wines with such profundity. This honourable and ancient estate has a new winemaker at the helm (from the 2013 vintage); Mathieu Kauffmann. His previous position as chief winemaker at Bollinger, suggests he already knows how to make a decent bottle of plonk and it would be surprising if Von Buhl did not benefit significantly from his efforts.

On tasting Mr Kauffmann’s first vintage it was satisfying to see that the intricate but rather confusing labels have also been given a positive make-over. This coincides with the most recent attempt by the VDP (Verband Deutscher Qualitats und Pradikatsweinguter), a self selected group of some of Germany’s best producers, to make labelling terms that relate to quality more clearly understandable. The VDP’s system resembles Burgundy’s hierarchy that starts with generic (Bourgogne) wines before moving through village, 1er Cru and Grand Cru. The VDP use the terms Gutswein (literally good wine but that effectively represent the region like Bourgone does in Burgundy), Ortswein which are wines produced from a village’s better vineyards and Erste Lage and Grosse Lage that translates as 1er and Grand Cru respectively.

The reluctance of many to spend significant sums on quality white wines beyond the best of Burgundy is short-sighted. The finest Rieslings from Germany have the vitality and the structure to evolve and provide pleasure over the long-term and are therefore worthy of a place in your wine fridge, cellar or store.

Von Buhl, Pfalz, Riesling, VDP.Gutswein, 2013, 12.5%, Organic
Grape: Riesling
Wine-making: No new oak influence
Note: This really sets the tone for the wines that follow. Apple like with pointed acidity and some phenolic grip that provides all of these wines with sculpted muscle. The most approachable and a wine that can be enjoyed now.
Price: See local market
Score: 15.5/20
Available from: Schmidt Vinothek in Taiwan but not this vintage currently

Herrgottsacker, Deidesheimer, Riesling, VDP.Ortswein, 2013, 13%, Organic
Grape: Riesling
Wine-making: No new oak influence
Note: A little more fruit and a touch more density, there’s not a lot in it but I think its worth trading up from the gutswein to this.
Price: See local market
Score: 16/20
Available from: Schmidt Vinothek in Taiwan but not this vintage currently

Forster Musenhang, VDP.Erste Lage, 2013, 12.5%, Organic
Grape: Riesling
Wine-making: No new oak influence
Note: This is still very tight and austere, almost unfriendly but has the structure required to suggest that this will evolve nicely over the next 3-5 years.
Price: See local market
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Schmidt Vinothek in Taiwan but not this vintage currently

Forster Jesuitengarten, VDP.Grosse Lage, 2013, 13.5%, Organic (As this is a dry Grosse Lage wine it has the additional term GG or Grosses Gewachs on the label)
Grape: Riesling
Wine-making: No new oak influence
Note: By far the most complex and aromatic with a smokiness and an alluring mix of grapefruit and spiced apple. Again very dense and tightly wound but this should uncoil itself over the next ten years. Not cheap but very good wines rarely are.
Price: See local market
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: Schmidt Vinothek in Taiwan but not this vintage currently

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Bottles & Gifts Part 2

Dry Reds

Joseph Phelps, Insignia (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Napa Valley, USA, 2010. (I really like this vintage of Insignia) 19/20
Rich, fine and engaging. Insignia at its majestic best.

Catena Alta, Historic Rows Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2009. 18.5/20
This was just about perfect when opened a couple of months ago. Vibrant, pure yet profound.

Ridge, Lytton Springs (predominantly Zinfandel), Sonoma County, USA, 2009. 18/20
Zinfandel that is more than a one trick pony.

Pontet Canet, Pauillac (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Bordeaux, France, 2011. 18/20
I would happily drink this now. Forget the 2009s and 10’s and focus on the more ‘classic’ vintages of the last ten years (04, 06, 08, 11) to accompany the big bird.

Poderi Aldo Conterno, Barolo (Nebbiolo), Piedmont, Italy, 2004 (drinking very well now). 18/20

Jamet, Cote Rotie (Syrah), Northern Rhone, France, 2008. 17/20
I wish I could drink this kind of wine everyday, fresh, delicate and so very elegant.

La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904 (predominantly Tempranillo), Rioja, Spain, 1998. 18/20
This or the 2001 make for perfect drinking now.

Yarra Yering, Dry Red Number 1 (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Yarra Valley, Australia. 18.5/20
The only Australian on the list this year, speaks more of the choice available in Taiwan than the quality coming from Oz.

Duemani, CiFRA (Cabernet Franc), Tuscany, Italy, 2011. 17/20
Like the Jamet, this is very much my kind of wine. Juicy, grippy but charming.

Groot Constantia, Gouverneur’s Reserve (predominantly Cabernet Franc), Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2011. 18/20
South Africa gives you some fruit that has clearly benefited from some warmth but also tannins that remind you of Europe, a winning combination.

Logodaj, Melnik 55 (100% Melnik). Struma Valley, Bulgaria, 2012. 17/20
This really opened my eyes to Bulgaria, I would be more than happy to drink this with my goose.

Chateau de la Font du Loup, Chateauneuf du Pape (predominantly Grenache), Southern Rhone, France, 2012. 18/20
This provides what I want from CNdP, pretty fruit, perfume but with some underlying grunt. Lovely.

Mas Amiel, A Alt 433M (predominantly Grenache), Maury Sec, Roussillon, France. 17/20
Wild, untamed and very good.

Marquis d’Angerville, 1er Cru les Champans, Volnay (Pinot Noir), Burgundy, France, 2008. 18/20
A lesson in what Volnay is meant to be about, delicacy, elegance and that ethereal Pinot charm.

Pieve Santa Restituta, Renina, Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese),
Tuscany, Italy, 2007 (delicious vintage from here). 18.5/20
Powerful but beautifully balanced, I loved this.

Clos Mogador (predominantly Garnacha and Carinena), Priorat, Spain, 2008. 18.5/20
Great wine from great people often tastes…well, great.

Chateau Pichon Baron, Pauillac (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Bordeaux, France, 2008. 17.5/20
I really like the 2008 vintage, sleek and ripe enough and with grainy tannins that help this wine persist on the palate.

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Bottles for your Boy & Gifts for your Girl

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

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

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

Dry Whites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sweet & Sparkling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Tasting Group

Enthusiasm breeds clubs. People who love scuba-diving want to spend time in the company of others who like being submerged. Whether it is bike-riding, reading comics, listening to music or tasting wine, we all like the freedom that being a ‘member’ brings. We are allowed space to talk about our favourite subject without apology and we are able to benefit from fellow members’ passion and predilections.

And so it is with Sniff’s tasting group. We have a core of six with the occasional special guest. Meeting every two weeks, the tastings are often theme based but sometimes the greatest pleasure is derived from the decision to simply bring something we feel like sharing.

Our last tasting fell into this category and highlighted in the space of six wines the complexity of style that the vinous world has to offer. None of these wines were inexpensive but none were outlandishly priced and when the cost is shared the pleasure greatly outweighs the pain. We had representation from six different countries, one red, two whites, a rosé, one fortified and a passito wine from Italy. Fundamentally they were all delicious, whilst providing plenty of material for conversation and conjecture about how and why the winemaker had chosen to influence the wine in a particular way.

So join a club. Your knowledge and tasting ability will grow exponentially and you’ll be with people you like. What more can you ask?

Below are the six wines from our most recent tasting with brief notes and details on where to buy:

Amon-Ra, Barossa Valley, Unfiltered Shiraz, 2005, 14.5%
Wine-making: 100 year old vines, 100% new, of which 80% is French and 20% American. Both barriques, and hogsheads (225 and 300 litre capacity respectively) used.
Note: Smoky, tar-like, spicy and with a lick of licorice this is an extremely dense, concentrated, full-bodied wine that retains a certain finesse. Nearly ten years old but will continue to develop for another ten years. Sense assaulting.
Price: 3,950NTD (for the 2012)
Score: 17.5/20
Available from (Taiwan): Chateau Wine & Spirits

Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Ruby Port, NV, 20%
Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca
Wine-making: Fortified, and only a year or two in old wood to preserve the intense fruit style
Note: Excellent quality and value Reserve Ruby. Spicy, peppery dark fruit with some of the thrust and muscularity of Vintage Port without the price tag. Pair with something salty.
Price: 1,550NTD
Score: 16.5/20
Available from (Taiwan): Finesse

Château Simone, Rosé, Palette A.O.C., Provence, 2011, 14%
Primarily Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault
Wine-making: Old oak casks
Note: Pale ruby colour alerts one immediately to the fact this is no ordinary Provencal rosé. Not very aromatic with just a little red cherry on the nose but this gives way to an engaging full-bodied wine with a rich, cherry and herb fruit core. Not just for Summer and structured enough for food. I would like this with shrimp dumplings.
Price: 1690NTD
Score: 16.5/20
Available from (Taiwan): New Century Wine & Spirits

Vina Tondonia, Reserva Rioja Blanco, 1998, 12.5%
90% Viura, 10% Malvasia
Wine-making: 6 years in barrel affording the wine significant complexity.
Note: I love traditional white Riojas and this has plenty of deliciousness wrapped within its mildly oxidative body. Peach, green pineapple, flowers and a stave or two of oak make this an alluring glass. If you never usually drink white wine you might want to practice on easier, more overtly fruity examples before graduating onto this more ‘challenging’ style. Perfect with an oyster omelette.
Price: 1800NTD
Score: 17/20
Available from (Taiwan): Vinaria Wine Cellar

Markus Molitor, Wehlener Klosterberg, Pinot Blanc, Mosel, 2012, 13%
Pinot Blanc
Wine-making: Aged in an Islay single malt cask
Note: Remarkable nose with a dominant seaweed, iodine tang that is briny and very Scottish in origin. Yet this is not just a vinous oddity. There is lovely palate weight, bright acid and fruit purity that is as expected from the region. If you like a tot of Ardbeg then buy a bottle of this.
Price: 1600NTD
Score: 17/20
Available from (Taiwan): WineTeen

Montalpruno Vin Santo del Chianti D.O.C., 2006, 15.5%
Trebbiano & Malvasia
Wine-making: Made using semi-dried grapes
Note: Very fresh tasting Vin Santo that is dominated by the aroma of roasting pistachios. Sweet but with balancing acidity and persistent. Delicious with cheese, nuts or cake.
Price: 2,400NTD for 500ml
Score: 17/20
Available from (Taiwan):

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