Chinese New Year celebrations can prove costly so spending your money wisely is essential. Choosing wine with which to celebrate, needs to fulfil a number of challenging criteria. It should be expensive but not so decadent as to leave you financially imperilled, you want to enjoy this wine not feel bullied by it. It needs to be globally recognised so that everyone appreciates that not only are you generous but also knowledgeable. Finally it should be something that demonstrates a little thought…so consider wines other than Bordeaux and Burgundy; my suggestion being California.
Ridge is famous, quite rightly for creating some of the most particular, long-lived and elegant wines of not only this State but anywhere. Although its reputation may have been founded on French varieties grown in the Santa-Cruz mountains, we are in America so why not buy something which is considered the American variety (whatever its European heritage): Zinfandel. Because of this variety’s association with medium sweet rosés and pleasurable but somewhat burly reds from further inland in California, it is understandable that some people regard Zinfandel as mediocre rather than monumental. But this is why Ridge (and at this point you could choose any number of their offerings made using this grape) and Lytton Springs in particular should figure highly on any serious wine-drinker’s wish list, because it demonstrates the apogee of what is possible. The inclusion of a good glug of Petite Sirah, a perfumed and opinionated variety, lends some grip to Zinfandel’s grease, leaving a wine worthy of celebrating the birth of a prosperous New Year.
Ridge, Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, California (any vintage but the last I had was the 2009 which was drinking beautifully in 2014)
Grape: Normally a minimum of 70% Zinfandel with the remainder being primarily Petite Sirah
Wine-making: American oak barrels, 25% of which are new.
Note: Sweet and ripe with red and black fruit, spiced tea and pithy almost cranberry like tannins. Even with 14.5% alcohol this has a freshness and poise to match the restrained power. Delicious.
Cost: Approx 40USD
Score: 18/20 for the 2009
Date: 3rd of October 2014
Address: Westin Hotel, Taipei
Event: Discover California Wines
It is difficult not to get excited by the opportunity to taste wine on a Friday afternoon, so suited is such an experience to the ebullience I feel as the weekend approaches.
Even more so at a tasting event that was both comprehensive and bijou allowing time to taste and talk with both exhibitors and public alike. California provides interest if not always value yet the quality of some of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay is deeply rewarding.
California is a big place so vintage variation is common. This was most obviously experienced with the challenging 2011 vintage when compared with the much more amenable 2012. At their worst some of the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon’s, even from the most famous of producers, had pyrazine levels (green pepper character) that moved the aromatic profile from pleasantly herbal to unflatteringly stalky. The best 2011 I tasted was from Inglenook, the famous and ferociously priced domain of Francis Ford Coppola. Here the herbal sage-like nose hinted at the coolness of the vintage although this never dominated allowing the dried flower character plenty of space in which to perfume the surrounding air.
But it is always easier to make wine when the weather gods are with you. The consistent quality of the 2012 Cabernets was distinct with Pine Ridge’s example from Napa being particularly enjoyable and approachable even though still barely out of nappies (diapers).
Yet Cabernet Sauvignon is never cheap, such is its reputation, and better value often lies in those grapes which are less revered. Michael David’s Petite Sirah (aka Durif) was a case in point being both dense and aromatic. The same winery produces a powerful but varietally pure example of Zinfandel under their ‘Earthquake’ label. Both provide an affordable introduction to the pleasures of the West Coast’s Golden State.
Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Cask’, Rutherford, Napa valley, 2011,14.2%
Grape: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot
Wine-making: 50% new oak barrels of which 85% were French and 15% American
Note: Sage and dried flowers dominate the nose before leading to a rich but elegant blue-fruited Cabernet that reeks of class. Expensive but if dollars are in plentiful supply then a more interesting proposition than Opus 1.
Price: $175 from the estate.
Available from: Not available in Taiwan
Stags’ Leap Winery, Chardonnay, Napa valley, 2011, 14.1%
Wine-making: 6-9 months in a portion of new French oak barrels
Note: One of Napa’s stalwarts and a favourite of mine. Stags’ Leap produce wines with restraint and poise in both hues. This benchmark Chardonnay is affordable yet delivers lip smacking citrus and nectarine style fruit that is accompanied by a saltiness or minerality that encourages you to pour yourself another glass. Fine.
Price: 800NT – this is one of those rare things in Taiwan, a veritable wine bargain.
Available from: La Route du Vin
Pine Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2012, 14.2%
Grape: 90% Cabernet, 10% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: 35% new American Oak barrels for 18 months
Note: High quality Cabernet that delivers the restrained power, layered tannins, and sweet black and blue fruit that are the hallmarks of Napa. Not cheap but it drinks well now and will happily live for another 5 years becoming more interesting as it ages.
Price: 2950NT for the 2009 vintage that Formosa Wine currently stock
Available from: Formosa Wine
Michael David Winery, ‘Petite Petit’, Lodi, 2012, 14.5%
Grape: 85% Petite Sirah (PS), 15% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: Oak influenced
Note: Delicious, dense, tannic (a hallmark of PS) and aromatic. This full bodied blend of lesser known varieties smells of Christmas cake and spice. With the cooler months now upon us this is well suited to something rich and beefy. Good value.
Available from: Pierre, La Maison du Vin