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The Concept of Typicity

What is typicity, how do you define the typical nature of something? Blondes are stupid, men are rampant hypochondriacs and women can’t read maps, right? Well, I’m married to a blonde head-teacher (did I mention I’ve got a sore throat?) who is more intelligent than I’ll ever be but she did once take us down the wrong side of a mountain in the Himalayas…

But what about wine, how many wines are truly typical of their place of origin? This is a particularly vexatious topic when one is trying to embed the tell-tale markers of ‘classic’ wines in one’s brain prior to sitting exams. Michael Schuster writes about the defining stylistic traits that separates one region’s wines from another as well as anybody but does that mean he can always divine the subtleties that make Margaux, Margaux and not St. Julien? Margaux is generally more fragrant, more perfumed? Well yes, except of course when it isn’t. What about the vintage, are wines more typical in say Bordeaux in a really good year such as 2010, or are they more representative in a cooler year when you can smell the pungent tang of bell peppers?

This is not just an issue with Old World wines, in fact the scale of many New World ‘appellations’ or viticultural areas is such that to expect any typicity would be foolish. But it is not just geography that has a profound impact on typicity but also that oft forgotten factor; the desire of the wine-maker. This was made abundantly clear when earlier this week I tasted three Chardonnays from Australia. The Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Margaret River are considered ‘cool’ areas of production with Yarra being the coolest of the three and Margaret River the warmest. Yet on tasting, the decisions made in the winery made these wines, however delicious, impossible to place with any surety. Typical!

Yering Station, Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, 2010, 13.5%
Grape: Chardonnay
Winemaking: No or very little malolactic influence, 9 months in barrel.
Note: Leesy with a touch of aniseed adds a little savoury complexity to the nectarine fruit. Bright but not crisp acidity gives the wine requisite line and length.
Price: 1,550NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: finessewines.com.tw 

Shaw & Smith, M3 Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills, 2012, 13%
Grape: Chardonnay
Winemaking: Partial malolactic, 9 months in barrel (but with a greater influence of new oak than the Yering Station)
Note: Pronounced tangerine and nectarine with some toast and yoghurt-like lees influence. Bright and crisp acidity give the wine great definition and the finish is deliciously long. Excellent value.
Price: 1,100NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: icheers.tw 

Clairault, Estate Chardonnay, Margaret River, 2010, 13%
Grape: Chardonnay
Winemaking: No obvious malolactic. 9 months in 40% new oak.
Note: Arguably the best of the three with zesty acidity and a struck match/wet wool character that is distinctly Burgundian. Intense, concentrated and nutty, Margaret River’s answer to Mersault.
Price: 2,500NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: finewine.com.tw

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Happy Chinese New Year 2015

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
Score: 16-16.5/20
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.
Price: 1,850NT
Score: 17/20
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.
Price: 2,300NT
Score: 15/20
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.
Price: 1,850NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: 

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.
Price: 1,400NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: Ascent Way 02 2533 3180

 

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The Bordeaux Blend in the New World

There is a reason why Bordeaux is so revered and much of the secret lies in the blend of grapes used. Cabernet Sauvignon may be the grape variety most famously associated and exported from its home on the left bank of the Gironde but Cabernet without the help of its friends (Merlot, Cabernet Franc etc) can feel hollow, edgy and overly herbaceous. Whilst at the Hong Kong wine fair last week I decided to avoid Bordeaux and taste my way through some examples from regions in the new world where Bordeaux blends thrive. It came as no surprise that many of the best were from the ‘cooler’ parts of their respective countries of origin. These wines offered a richness of fruit only found in Bordeaux in the warmest of years but the best were balanced by restraint, elegance, freshness and a textural sophistication that marked these out as fine by anybody’s standard. Cabernet Sauvignon frequently took the lead in these wines but as can be seen below the likes of Cabernet Franc or Merlot provided more than ample support.

When it comes to straight Cabernet Sauvignon I usually prefer wines from a warmer climate such as Napa Valley. This helps plump up the middle of the wine, softening some of the ‘square-ness’ from which this variety can suffer. Yarran, using fruit from Heathcote, produce wines with this added generosity.

So if there is a lesson in any of this it is not to ignore blends in the pursuit of a single varietal; skilful blending adds complexity. Don’t assume that Bordeaux is the only region capable of producing fine quality blended wine featuring the varieties discussed. And don’t dismiss varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from warmer, more Mediterranean climates. Below are two wines that express the sophistication and age-ability possible outside of Bordeaux and from Yarran, a Cabernet Sauvignon that is both plush and a pleasure to drink now.

Yarra Yering, Dry Red Number 1, Yarra Valley, 2008, 13.5%
Grape:
66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: 100% new oak
Note: Delicate and restrained nose of blackberry, smoke and some red fruit. A touch balsamic, spicy but not overly and there is a brightness on the palate that makes this both persistent and harmonious. This reminded me less of Bordeaux and more of top quality, classic Rioja from the likes of Rioja alta. Truly fine stuff. Anyone who thinks that Australia is all about full-bodied fruit bombs needs to try this.
Price: 2005 is 2970NT in Taiwan. Globally approx. $80USD
Score: 18.5/20, Magnificent
Available from: icheers.com.tw have the 2005 for 2970NT

Yarran Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Heathcote, 2013, 14.2%
Grape:
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: Some French oak
Note: Soft, spicy with chocolate and mocha, sweet licorice and dark fruit. Very nicely judged oak (much better than the 2012) and with a persistent finish. Brilliant value.
Price: In Australia this is priced at approx. $12USD
Score: 16/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan but should be.

Groot Constantia, Gouverners Reserve, Constantia, 2011, 14%
Grape:
54% Cabernet Franc, 36% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: Matured for 18 months in predominantly new French oak
Note: Hailing from Constantia means that this is about as cool a climate as one can experience in South Africa. This provides a wine that is fresh and vibrant but also deep and satisfying. On the nose this could be from Bordeaux with pencil shavings, coffee grounds and both sweet and savoury fruit. Generous in body and again excellent persistence, a bargain that will reward cellaring for another ten years.
Price: Globally available at approximately $40USD
Score: 18/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan but should be.

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Something for the Weekend 6

The nobility of certain grape varieties is beyond doubt. Of the black grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir are the most famous, in part because of their success beyond the boundaries of France, their home. Of all the major wine producing countries, Italy is perhaps the most unique. Whilst making some very fine wines from the well-travelled grape glitterati above, it has built its reputation on indigenous varieties. None more so than Nebbiolo.

Having never owned a Ferrari (but having spoken to a friend who does) I feel that Nebbiolo is the equivalent of Maranello’s automotive legend. Neither are inconsistent or unreliable in the way less able examples can be, but they both require a great deal of fine-tuning to enjoy them at their best. Nebbiolo’s home is on the slopes of the Langhe hills in Piemonte. If the vintage is kind, the grapes picked at optimum ripeness and if the winemaker knows what he or she is doing, the result can be…well, noble.

No other grape can be so haughty in youth or so magnificent in its prime. The best come with a price-tag that pains both face and wallet but if you want red wine at its most aromatic, complex and downright fine then Nebbiolo deserves your attention.

Below are three examples that given the opportunity you should try.

Cogno, ‘Brico Pernice’ Barolo, 2007, 14%,
Grape:
Nebbiolo
Wine-making: 24 months in large old oak
Note: This is still a baby and will need another five years more bottle age to truly shine. A ‘traditional’ style of Barolo with significant amounts of ripe, layered powdery/grainy tannins. The fine aromatics are beginning to show with violet, spice and licorice. Be patient and this wine will reward.
Price: 4750NT
Score: 17/20
Available: Ascent Way

Poderi Aldo Conterno, Barolo, 2004, 14.5%
Grape:
Nebbiolo
Wine-making: 26 months in large old oak
Note: More overtly aromatic than the Cogno, this is both floral, fruity and imbued with exotic spices. Bright acidity and powdery tannins flesh out the palate giving a harmonious whole. Elegance, perfume and power, this great producer provides the drinker with a lesson in what Barolo is all about.
Price: Not sure how easy it is to find the 2004 anymore but the 2009 is currently available for 4250NT
Score: 18/20
Available: Ascent Way

…And just to show that Nebbiolo is capable of greatness outside of Italy…

Giaconda, Beechworth, Nebbiolo, 2012, 14%
Grape:
Nebbiolo
Wine-making: 36 months in large oak
Note: ‘Perfumed, chalky, pert and persistent’. These were my notes on tasting the 2012 from barrel in December 2013. One can add, black cherry and rose to this and one can see that Nebbiolo is alive and kicking in the hands of the great Rick Kinzbrunner, owner and wine-maker at Giaconda.
Price: In Australia it retails for approx. $110 (Australian)
Score: 17.5 at the moment…
Available: Not currently available in Taiwan and only around 2,000 bottles are made per year.

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