The final meeting of our tasting group in this year of the Horse, before we welcome in a year of lanolin based loveliness (It’s Sheep time), concerned the merits of New World Pinot Noir. I have already made clear my reticence for much of the world’s Pinot, as too often it tends towards expensive, two-dimensional dullness. In speaking with any ambitious producer of Pinot, the majority recognise the difficulties inherent in crafting something that has the perfume and personality they so desperately seek. Most admit that the reason they cherish Pinot is for its ability to act as a conduit for the soil that it sits in. This is great when the wine is fantastic, leaving the winemaker to talk about the incredible nature of the terroir, but what about when the wine is not so good?
An old cycling adage states that there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing, well unfortunately, if our tasting was proof of anything, the same cannot be said of making wine from Pinot Noir. No amount of fine ‘clothing’ (low yields, whole berry fermentations, ‘hand plunging’, expensive French oak, heavy bottles etc) can make up for the ‘bad weather’ or unsuitable terroir. And the factor most significant for diminishing the suitability of Pinot based terroir? Heat.
Of the four wines tasted all were from ‘cool’ regions with a reputation for producing qualitatively very good and expressive Pinot. Yet there is ‘cool’ and there is…well…cooler. For us, the cooler areas performed the best, retaining more perfume, and achieving a greater level of overall harmony. Please see the reviews below.
If all this talk of Pinot has left you cold and pining for some alternative to share with your flock during the festivities, then why not try a variety that shares some of Pinot’s attributes; Sicily’s Nerello Mascalese: aromatic, elegant and delicious.
Craggy Range, Te Muna Road, Martinborough, 2012, 13%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Winemaking: 10 months in 25% new French Oak
Note: Delicate, cherry stone and wet wool aromas. Supple and silky showing old world restraint with a little new world purity. Full of pleasure now but also promises a degree of improvement over the next 3 years.
Price: Approx $30USD
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan
Cristom, Jessie Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2010, 13.5%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Winemaking: 19 months in 61% new French oak
Note: The best wine of the evening and the most ‘old-world’ in style. Complex and engagingly aromatic with bright red fruit combining with truffle, mushroom and floral characters to create a harmonious whole. Sappy and supple, deserving of a nice lamb chop.
Available from: Chateau Wine & Spirit 02 25065875
Marimar Estate, La Masia, Russian River, Sonoma, 2009, 14%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Winemaking: 30% new French Oak
Note: Spicy and full bodied with a herbal element sitting alongside the red and predominantly black fruit on show here. Good, but feels a little hollow in the middle and this causes the alcohol to protrude slightly.
Available from: Finesse
Moss Wood, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, 2009, 14%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Winemaking: 14 months in 50% new French oak
Note: Along with the Cristom wine from Oregon, this had the finest array of aromatics. Red cherry, tea leaves and pot pourri allied to a satin-like mouth-feel made this very pleasing. Should continue to improve over the next three years.
Tascante, Ghiaia Nera, IGT Sicilia, 2010, 13%
Grape: Nerello Mascalese
Winemaking: Young vines, planted at 600 metres on the slopes of Mount Etna. Matured in large old oak vats.
Note: Smelling of Chinese medicine, cooked red cherries and with no intrusive oak aromas, this wine delivers on purity. Not overly complex, it is nonetheless a good introduction to this elegant Sicilian native.
Available from: Ascent Way 02 2533 3180
One of the most annoying aspects of social media is the constant reminder that people are drinking not only better wine than me but also more mature examples. Here in Taiwan my only storage is my wine fridge that allegedly holds 66 bottles but in reality shoehorning the contents of four cases of wine into its meagre maw is the best I have managed. The result is that wine does not get much chance to mature; such is the rapid turnover of bottles. Therefore the only old wine I get to drink is other people’s, or wine that I make old myself.
It is illuminating to realise just how easy it can be to experience a wine’s future development in bottle, today. Three wines that I opened with my tasting group on Tuesday of last week were perfect examples, the oldest being from 2009 and the others from 2010. One of them in particular the Podere Sapaio from Bolgheri (reviews below) was classy but demure on Tuesday, slightly more alluring on Wednesday and positively rambunctious by Thursday. The Clos Marsalette also opened up, progressively becoming more tobacco and fruitcake scented over those 48 hours. The Domus Aurea from the upper Maipo in Chile was the Dorian Gray of the line-up seemingly oblivious to the ravages of sitting on ullage in my kitchen. It remained very primary and pure with the pointed tang of fresh blackcurrants as dominant on the first day as it was on the third.
There is no doubt that having the facility to store more, or indeed having the money to buy mature is the ideal scenario for winos (should that be wine lovers?) everywhere. Yet the reality is rarely so convenient so open some wine, drink it over two or three days and take a peak into the future.
Podere Sapaio, ‘Volpolo’, Bolgheri, 2010, 13.5%
Grape: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: 14 months in both large and small French oak barrels
Note: By the third day this was rich in black cherry, vanilla and graphite aromas. The firm and grainy tannins of day one had not altered much in texture but they appeared more voluminous. This is fine stuff and one for Bordeaux lovers who fancy a change.
Available from: www.ascentway.com.tw
Clos Marsalette, Pessac Leognan, 2010, 13.5%
Grape: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: Matured in 50% new French oak
Note: Exuberant strawberry nose matured to more sweet tobacco and fruitcake by day three. Plush and plump and with ripe, grainy tannins, this is not the most complex Bordeaux you will ever drink but is crowd pleasing in its generosity.
Available from: www.winesymphony.com
Vina Quebrada de Macul, Domus Aurea, 2009, 14%
Grape: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc & 2% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: 18 months in 80% new French oak
Note: Incredibly pure and precise with brightness of both fruit expression and acidity making this delicious drinking now whilst promising a potential decade of further improvement. Very good.
Available from: www.icheers.tw
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)
Available from (Taiwan): Chateau Wine & Spirits
Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Ruby Port, NV, 20%
Grape: 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.
Available from (Taiwan): Finesse
Château Simone, Rosé, Palette A.O.C., Provence, 2011, 14%
Grape: 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.
Available from (Taiwan): New Century Wine & Spirits
Vina Tondonia, Reserva Rioja Blanco, 1998, 12.5%
Grape: 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.
Available from (Taiwan): Vinaria Wine Cellar
Markus Molitor, Wehlener Klosterberg, Pinot Blanc, Mosel, 2012, 13%
Grape: 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.
Available from (Taiwan): WineTeen
Montalpruno Vin Santo del Chianti D.O.C., 2006, 15.5%
Grape: 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
Available from (Taiwan): P9.com.tw