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No Beefsteak but some Burgundy

Having being recently invited to lunch at Le Cocotte, a restaurant of some standing here in Taipei, I was looking forward to the food almost as much as the wine. The occasion, a gathering of the ‘Beefsteak and Burgundy [dining] Club’ meets monthly and is populated by a diverse membership whose specialisms range from robotics to removals.

On arrival I was handed a glass of ‘Champagne’ and having tasted it I looked behind the bar for the bottle. I should have expected as much but the sight of the four wines we were to be served over lunch, sitting swaddled in tin-foil, produced the very slightest of palpitations deep in my innards. I knew that it would not be long before I was asked ‘what I did for a living’ and the realisation that a wine ‘expert’ was in their midst would make the blind tasting an altogether more interesting prospect…for some.

As we took our seats, paid homage to the Queen and our respective leaders of State, all I could think about was the origin of the inch of effervescence that sat whispering from the flute before me. ‘Touch of yeastiness, chalky texture, citrus and apple fruit…ok, its traditional method, old world, more than likely French but definitely not Champagne, acidity is too low…so Cremant but which, de Loire or de Bourgogne…?’, oh the joys of drinking in public. I’ll be honest, I went for the Loire, seduced by the apple and minerally mouth-feel, ignored the bright but not whistle clean acidity and of course if you close your eyes to the obvious you end up looking foolish; it was from Burgundy.

The wines that followed were more straightforward. Firstly an excellent, aromatic and pointed dry Muscat from the Minervois, then a dough and bruised apple scented Savagnin from the Cotes du Jura, before a final sweet wine from Ste-Croix-du-Mont. This appellation being on more elevated terrain, peers down through the botrytis inducing mist onto the vineyards of Sauternes that squat on the opposite shore of the Garonne.

I do not know if I will be invited back, but tasting (even when blind), drinking and eating in good company, especially when accompanied by some less than usual wines is a rare pleasure. Below are reviews of the four tasted:

Maison Vitteau Alberti, ‘Cuvee Agnes’, Cremant de Bourgogne NV
Grape: Chardonnay
Wine-making: Traditional method
Note: As mentioned above, this has a lovely chalky texture and fine fruit. The acidity is crisp and less taut than Champagne but this makes it easier to appreciate. Good value.
Price: 1,480NT
Score: 15.5/20
Available from: Le Cellier des Poetes,

Clos du Gravillas, ‘On the Rocks’ Muscat Sec, 2013
Grape: Muscat blanc a petit grains
Wine-making: Stainless steel
Note: This is excellent Muscat with the sweet aromas of grapes and white flowers whilst being deliciously dry, bright and minerally. Excellent value
Price: 1,080NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Le Cellier des Poetes, 

Domaine Berthet-Bondet, Cotes du Jura, 2009
Grape: Savagnin
Wine-making: Kept in old oak barrels for three years without topping up and with a veil of flor adding aromatic complexity.
Note: Not the most popular wine of the day but these strongly savoury and bone dry wines require a certain amount of practise to appreciate. If you like Fino Sherry or Amontillado you will like this.
Price: 1,680NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: Le Cellier des Poetes, 

Chateau La Rame, ‘Traditionnel’ Ste-Croix-du-Mont, 2012
Grape: 100% Semillion
Wine-making: This is botrytised sweet wine matured in tank for two years.
Note: Sweet but with good freshness this young, honeyed apricot and lemon scented wine has less obvious fat than a Sauternes but most would never notice the difference. The price for a full 750ml bottle is a bargain.
Price: 1,580NT
Score: 15.5/20
Available from: Le Cellier des Poetes,

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Something for the Weekend 7

Of all the ‘New World’ countries Australia should be the easiest sell. It has more regions linked to specific varieties than any other new world country. One cannot expect most casual wine-drinkers to know this but these links between grape and region should and need to be promoted hard. Marlborough Sauvignon, Napa Cabernet, these are successful brands. Australia has Barossa Shiraz but too few (well my wife couldn’t think of any more) other ‘brands’ that any one else would recognise. Through the work of Wine Australia and their A+ programmes there is a gentle, trickling dissemination at work. Yet with most Australian money being directed at China the likes of Taiwan receive little attention. It is up to us, the wine consuming public, to convince the Aussies that Taiwan is not the country where generic Australian Chardonnay past its sell by date goes to die.

So how do we do this? Through education and promotion that should then lead to increased consumption. Luckily Taiwan does offer the adventurous imbiber a plethora of wines from this sparsely populated continent. One of the best importers is Adelaide Finewine Cellar (AFW). They import a wide range of leading estates that include Bird in the Hand, Cullen, Kalleske, Yarra Yarra and even fortified specialists, Pfeiffers. With importers brave enough to ship such relative ‘oddities’ to these shores, we have an obligation to encourage them to continue by buying the odd bottle or twelve. Therefore below are three wines from AFW that serve as both a fine start to the weekend and a quality introduction to what is on offer from the land of Oz.

….and if you want to widen your knowledge and tasting experience then you should consider signing up for an A+ course on the subject. Half and full day courses are offered in Taiwan by Taiwan Wine Academy

Kalleske, Greenock single vineyard Barossa Valley Shiraz, 2008, 14.5%
Shiraz (organic/biodynamic)
Wine-making: 30% new French and American oak for 18 months
Note: Good introduction to overt, full-bodied Barossa style Shiraz. Spicy and saliva inducing aromas of fruitcake, licorice and tobacco. Save for a cold winters day.
Price: 2,150NT
Score: 16.5/20

Katnook, Founder’s Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, 2009, 13.5%
Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: Only a little oak used (15%)

Note: Another fine and affordable bottle this time from Australia’s premier Cabernet Sauvignon region, Coonawarra. Has the minty character and dark but sweet blackcurrant fruit that is so typical of the region. Good value.
Price: 1100NT
Score: 16/20

Cullen, Mangan Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Margaret River, 2010, 12%
62% Sauvignon and 38% Semillon
Wine-making: Small proportion of the Sauvignon (13%) fermented in New French oak to give a little extra richness and aroma.
Note: Margaret River specialises in varieties and blends made famous in Bordeaux. Cullen are one of the great producers of Australia and this taut, mineral and very precise Sauvignon/Semillon is evidence that one should never make the mistake of thinking that Australia can only make powerful red wines.
Price: 1850NT
Score: 17/20

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Bordeaux - Tradition & Innovation

This is understandable considering the long history of quality wine production that has flowed from the gates of Chateaux lining the banks of the Gironde. Yet Bordeaux has innovated, most obviously, in raising the standard of the once uniformly miserable generic ‘Bordeaux’ – wines that were often green (herbaceous) tasting and devoid of any vinous charm.

It is unarguable that those with less fortunate terroir than the most famous chateaux, have benefited from the rising temperature trend (helps ripen the grapes) so marked in the last 25 years. Yet the increase in quality is not due to this alone. Countries such as Australia, were able to produce a plentiful supply of fruit forward wines, that were easy to appreciate. This resulted in an ever-decreasing global market for those Bordeaux wines that were shabbily made. So producers had to change, they had to make wine that was both affordable and that people wanted to drink.

The relatively recent success of white wines emanating from Bordeaux is a boon to the region’s producers. They of course have plentiful access to the world’s most loved white grape variety, Sauvignon Blanc, a brand in itself and a doubly powerful one when intertwined with the cachet of Bordeaux. Yet as Bordeaux is most famed for its red wines (however great their white and sweet wines can be) it was important that the consumer be able to drink red Bordeaux that was both inexpensive and still representative of the region. They should act as an incentive to taste more expensive Bordeaux not hi-jack that thought permanently. Only in this way can Bordeaux hope to continue through the immediate future with its pre-eminence intact.

Below are notes on four wines that are decidedly representative of Bordeaux. All are from Axa Milliseme properties.

Cap Royal Blanc, Bordeaux Blanc, 2013
90% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Semillon
Wine-making: Stainless steel
Note: Fantastically pure nose of fresh pink grapefruit. Obviously Sauvignon Blanc with citrus, pointed acidity and a lovely texture – no obvious lees influence but either they (the lees) or the touch of Semillon just gives some fat, a little weight. Drink over next two years.
Price: 900NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: Chailease Resources Tech Co.

Cap Royal Rouge, Bordeaux Superieur, 2011
70% Merlot, 30% Sauvignon Blanc
Wine-making: 50% new oak French oak but only for six-seven months.
Note: Pure nose, very Bordeaux with some fresh berry, black cherry and a little leafiness and pencil shavings. Supple tannins with just enough grip on the palate to be interesting, medium weight, and moderate acid give an easy to appreciate wine with a hint of new oak.
Price: 900NT (a bit of a bargain for Taiwan)
Score: 16/20
Available from: Chailease Resources Tech Co

Chateau Tour Pibran, Pauillac, 2010 (2nd label of Chateau Pibran)
50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: A proportion of new French oak
Note: Blueberry, with some floral character (violet) and mineral (tarry). Great acidity provides drive, generous body, moderate alcohol 13.5%. The supple tannins point to a significant proportion of Merlot with some latent richness and power suggesting Pauillac. Obvious use of spicy French oak and although young it is still very approachable. Drink over the next 5 years.
Price: 2100NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Chailease Resources Tech Co

Chateau Pichon Longueville, Pauillac 2008
71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot
Wine-making: New French Oak
Note: Now this is a different beast altogether, graphite, spicy, coffee grounds, super dark chocolate, nice balancing fresh acidity, layered tannins, fine grained – must be Cabernet, and exudes classed growth finesse. Excellent length. Elegant but powerful a serious wine that needs time.
Price: 4500NT (This is very reasonable)
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: Chailease Resources Tech Co

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