This week, whilst trawling the tweets of those I follow, I noted that Steve Pannell had considered naming his latest 2014 McLaren Vale Grenache, ‘Garnacha’, the moniker of this grape in its Spanish homeland. Somewhat cryptically Jancis Robinson had replied to this revelation by saying ‘Interesting..’ and whilst I cannot claim to know why Ms Robinson views it as such, I am nonetheless in full agreement; interesting indeed.
Having recently returned from a two-week stay in the Barossa, speaking with the great and good of the region’s wine trade, appreciation of Grenache’s red-fruited charms, along with recognition of its suitability for Barossa’s climate, was palpable. The issue for many of Australia’s vine growers is that received opinion suggests the wine drinking public and too many of its winemakers see Grenache, at best, as ‘poor man’s Pinot.’ This damns Grenache with faint praise and does nothing to challenge the status of Shiraz as omnipotent in the hearts of the average Aussie, a status that for the good of the industry requires a legitimate challenger.
So this brings us back to Jancis’ and her ‘interesting’ comment. My feeling is that calling Grenache, ‘Garnacha’ might be just what the Australians need to help them negotiate an interesting path away from an increasingly unhealthy reliance on Shiraz (particularly in Barossa) with the assistance of this ‘new’ variety. The move towards more perfumed, elegant wines throughout the Garnacha producing world is testament to this variety’s ability to be a stud rather than a workhorse, something I alluded to in an earlier article http://sniff.com.tw/?p=438.
Increasingly, over the last two to three years, I have been tasting Garnachas that thrill. Whether they are from Terroir al Limit in Priorat, David and Nadia Sadie in Swartland, or Schwarz Wine Co. in the Barossa, there is no doubt that Garnacha can be arresting; that Garnacha is no poor man’s Pinot; and that Garnacha can be great.
I love the Barossa. The people are warm, generous, open and thoughtful, the gentle undulations provide a new view of the vineyards at the top of every rise; and I can get a decent Flat White here that Taipei, for all its charms, singularly fails to provide.
The problem with the Barossa is that I meet very few people that manage to say the name without the addition of ‘Shiraz’, almost as if it were a place in its own right. Such a powerful association is a brand manager’s fantasy and whilst it is impossible to argue against Barossa Shiraz, at its robust best, being one of the world’s true icons, this region has so much more to offer. Such powerful associations create a very long and dark shadow from which other wines of the Barossa struggle to escape. There are world-class examples made from Grenache, Cabernet, Mataro (aka Mourvedre) and increasingly Tempranillo and Montepulciano that deserve attention, and let’s not forget the whites, such as the Semillons and Rieslings (particularly in Eden), that can be equally brilliant but are too often depressingly anonymous.
Two days ago I was at ‘Artisans of Barossa’, a restaurant/tasting room where such famous names as Duval, Spinifex, Schwarz, and Sons of Eden share an appealingly airy and polite paean to wine. I was munching my way through a plate of deeply satisfying beef empanadas whilst tasting through all the wines stocked that were not made from Shiraz. The couple beside me were equally clear about what they wanted to try and that did not include the Grenache, Tempranillo, Mataro or Saperavi that I was enjoying. It is not that I am suggesting Shiraz is ill-suited to this region more that I just wish people would treat the Barossa like those other great regions that begin with ‘B’.
When people talk about Bordeaux and Burgundy they say exactly that. They don’t say ‘Ahhh, Bordeaux Cabernet dominated blend’ or ‘Bordeaux Merlot’. The name of the region is enough in itself to describe the expected style of wine, i.e a firm but fresh (and in the best examples), elegant wine that is, well…very Bordeaux-like, whatever the variety(s) used. Barossa should be positioning itself in the same way, selling the style rather than the variety, because the wines betray their Barossan origins as clearly as the wines of Bordeaux do theirs. These are warm, generous and open wines, yet the best require some cogitation, and therefore amply mirror the personality of the people who make them.
It’s 16:46 on the 10th of November and as I look out of the coffee shop window onto the busy intersection below, it is clear that autumn has arrived. My phone tells me that the temperature is, from my northern European viewpoint, a still relatively balmy twenty-two degrees Celsius but the long coats and the woolly hats that bob by, betray the average Taipeian’s sensitivity to falling mercury.
However much I love Taipei, this time of year brings the occasional pang of desire for something a little more English. The smell of wood-smoke in the air, the gentle nose tingling and saliva awakening acridity of vinegar on hot chips and that most memorable of all aromas; frying donuts, ideally bought from a van, generator gently humming, in the lee of some wonky, too early erected Christmas tree.
What has any of this got to do with wine? Well in my dream scenario having stuffed myself with chips and donuts I return home to a roaring fire with a glass of something deep, dense and cosseting to keep me company. Whilst teaching this weekend, my very able assistant Bill, had responded to my request to source ‘some good quality Coonawarra Cabernet with a bit of age’ with his usual quiet efficiency. Two bottles of Parker Estate 2008 were waiting for me on my arrival at class and even though we tasted some excellent benchmark level wines from all of the New World countries, as well as wines from Portugal and Spain, it was the Parker that was the star of the show. My experience of the region tends to suggest that the best producers, of which Parker is clearly one, are capable of crafting wines that really begin to shine after six or seven years. The evolution from ripe fruited precocity to spice and mint scented maturity is a true pleasure afforded by all too few wines whatever their origin. This, coupled with Coonawarra Cabernets’ ability to age for a further decade, ensures that the asking price for this example is a bargain capable of warming the hearts and the heads of any wine loving local feeling the chill this November.
Parker ‘Terra Rossa’ Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008, 14.5%
Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon
Winemaking: 21 months in mixed age French barrels.
Note: Intense yet controlled with alcohol that warms rather than assaults. Spicy and herbal with a core of ripe but not stewed fruit. Deliciously suitable for an autumnal stew, game bird or whilst slumped in front of the TV. A reviver.
Available from: Chateau Wine and Cigar (chateaux.com.tw)
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%
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.
Available from: finessewines.com.tw
Shaw & Smith, M3 Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills, 2012, 13%
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.
Available from: icheers.tw
Clairault, Estate Chardonnay, Margaret River, 2010, 13%
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.
Available from: finewine.com.tw
A good wine should keep two people entertained and engaged to the bottom of the bottle. More than an inch or two remaining suggests either an abstemious streak on the part of the drinkers or that something is not quite right with the wine.
The sommelier group of which I’m a part meets once a month to discuss and taste on various matters of a vinous nature. Choosing the topic is my responsibility and this month it concerned wines with an alcohol content in excess of 15%. This choice of subject was a response to our warming climate. Increased sugar levels in grapes (a result of greater heat summation) will ultimately result in a preponderance of wines featured in this high alcohol bracket.
Wines with these elevated levels of alcohol can feel unbalanced. Without sufficient fruit concentration, high alcohol gives a sensation of heat, even sweetness that can render the wines hollow. There are of course, exceptions, the perception of the unbalancing effect of alcohol does not follow a linear path so it quite possible for a wine at 13.5% to feel ‘wrong’ whilst a similar example at 15.5% feels ‘right’.
The seven wines selected were tasted blind (by all but the sommelier who chose the wines) and featured examples from France, Italy, Spain, Australia and the USA. The very pleasant, if unexpected conclusion, was that the reason we were tasting these wines was soon forgotten as the alcohol was as it should be; virtually invisible.
Below are the notes for four of the wines, any of which I would be happy to share and finish.
Domaine Giraud, Chateauneuf du Pape Tradition, 2010, 15%
Grape: 60% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre
Wine-making: The Syrah is aged in barriques and the wine is neither filtered or fined.
Note: Super ripe with an almost Port-like chocolate, damson and slightly raisined character. Perfumed, powerful and with good levels of concentration from this excellent vintage. Delicious.
Available from: Oriental House
Seghesio, Home Ranch, Zinfandel, Alexander Valley, 2006, 15.7%
Grape: Zinfandel with a small portion of Carignane and Petite Sirah
Wine-making: No overt oak evident.
Note: I have not tasted many Zinfandels this old but this was still showing very well. There were some signs of maturity with an oxidative, leathery aroma accompanying the red and black fruit. Even at 15.7% the alcohol was well integrated. Very good.
Available from: A3 Cellar
Domaine Tempier, Cuvee La Tourtine, Bandol, 2001, 15%
Grape: 70-80% Mourvedre, 10% Grenache, 10% Cinsault
Wine-making: 18-20 months maturation in old oak and bottled without fining or filtration.
Note: This was the only wine out of the seven that I thought tasted a little hot. The mushroom and soy-like aromas indicated that this was no longer young but there remained some balancing sweet and spicy red berry fruit. Good complexity but perhaps slightly cumbersome.
Available from: Oriental House
Mitolo, G.A.M, Shiraz, Mclaren Vale, 2010, 15%
Wine-making: Matured in 70% new French and American Oak for 18 months.
Note: Opaque, tarry and with mouthcoating tannins and great concentration of black fruit, this was quintessential South Australian Shiraz. The power on display was balanced by some sweet and sour acidity and very good length; intense but not wearing.
Available from: Wooloomooloo
Chester d’Arenberg preaches minimalistic interventions in both vineyard and winery…but not apparently when it comes to the number of wines produced, currently standing at a mind-boggling sixty four.
This is a result of his somewhat ‘old-world’ view of things. Soil appears to be the most important factor to Chester, something with which many a Frenchman and woman would heartily concur. This results in a melange of wines that makes Chester and d’Arenberg somewhat of an oddity yet his mildly eccentric nature seems untroubled by how others may view him. Having never tried all sixty-four wines it is impossible for me to attest to a definitive house style, however of the wines I have tasted it is restraint both in fruit concentration, oak and power that makes the reds moreish rather than wearing. Mclaren Vale is traditionally a home of full-throttle, ripe, chocolatey Shiraz that has a sweetness enhanced by maturation in American oak with its overt vanilla and coconut character. Chester’s wines are more meaty, more savoury and made with less emphasis on extraction and new oak influence. Whether this is what you want from Mclaren Vale is up to you, however Chester’s wines should sit more comfortably with your evening meal than most.
For all of the notoriety that d’Arenberg has achieved for its red wines it was the two whites on the tasting table that I appreciated most. The Dry Dam Riesling was much less ‘bony’ than examples often are from Clare Valley further north. This is partly due to the dollop of sugar left in the wine to help balance the acidity and results in either the perfect accompaniment to a summer’s day or pre-prandial aperitif. The Money Spider was also delicious exhibiting Roussanne’s touch of honey, quince and apricot character. Whenever I have Roussanne like this I always wonder why people bother with the blowsier Viognier. Roussanne is what Viognier wants to be when it grows up.
Below are my favourites from the seven wines tried:
The Dry Dam Riesling, Mclaren Vale, 2013, (old vine and low yields), 10.6%
Wine-making: Stainless steel. Very high acidity balanced with 13g/l of residual sugar. Still tastes dry/off dry.
Note: Almost water white and with an intense aroma of lime sherbert and fresh tennis balls. Really delicious with the citrus fruit feeling ripe rather than sweet due to the small amount of residual sugar remaining in the wine. Fresh, vibrant and persistent.
Available from: Creation Wine & Spirit Inc. 02-97918870
The Money Spider Roussanne, Mclaren Vale, 2012, 13%
Wine-making: Stainless Steel fermentation and maturation.
Note: Delicate floral nose accompanied by a little honey, quince and apricot. Moderate-full bodied with enough acidity to support the rich, mouth-filling palate. Harmonious.
Available from: Creation Wine & Spirit Inc. 02-97918870
The Dead Arm Shiraz 2006, Mclaren Vale, 14.5%
Wine-making: 20 months in mixed oak, some French some American with a portion being new.
Note: Beginning to show some signs of maturity, this complex Shiraz has aromas and flavours that encompass spice, meat, fennel, and an earthiness supported by ripe, full and supple tannins. No real overt oak flavour and the mix of sweet and savoury fruit provides a well balanced wine that clearly has the ability to age for another decade. Great length on the finish. Rather fine.
Price: (none left of the 2006) but the 2009 is 2,400
Available from: Creation Wine & Spirit Inc. 02-97918870
The truth is that for years I appreciated Grenache more for what it could provide a blend rather than its abilities as a stand-alone variety. An excellent example of this is provided by one of my favourite Languedoc wines, the ‘entry-level’ Fitou Origines from Bertrand-Bergé. This is an equal blend of Carignan and Grenache and together they help make a very comely wine. Carignan, structured, a little rustic, providing good colour and plenty of acidity and tannin. Grenache, supple with red-berried fruitiness all flounce and charm to Carignan’s more grizzled attributes.
Yet recent experiences have demonstrated Grenache’s capabilities in a single varietal wine. This was revealed most shockingly on tasting Terroir al Limit’s Les Manyes 2011 in situ in Priorat in June 2013. On smelling this wine (100% Garnacha/Grenache) I felt my eyes become hot, I wanted to cry and I hadn’t even tasted it, what else is there to say? Since then I have been on a mission to find other examples which exude some of this grape’s potential for the ethereal and have mentioned in recent posts the excellence of wines from Alex Head and Turkey Flat in Barossa. Sarah Ahmed (thewinedetective.co.uk) has helped by suggesting other bottlings of fine Australian Grenache (http://t.co/akYvIKaq3E) and last night at my tasting group we tried five Grenache based wines three of which are listed below.
There is no doubt that Grenache will continue to be relied upon to do its fair share of donkey-work in the winery yet it has the ability in the right hands and on the right land to be a true thoroughbred.
Cantina Gallura, Templum, Cannonau di Sardegna, 2009, 13.5%
Grape: Cannonau a.k.a. Grenache
Wine-making: Old oak
Note: Grenache does have a tendency to oxidise and appear old beyond its years. This wine is a case in point, garnet in colour with the fruit fading rather quickly on the palate leaving nothing much but the bare structural bones of acid and tannin. Not an argument for Grenache being a ‘Prize Stud’
Available from: Ascent Way
Chapel Hill, Bush Vine Grenache, McLaren Vale, 2010, 15%
Wine-making: Mix of oak hogsheads 1-5 yrs old
Note: Raspberry and tar scented, generous of body but with slightly drying tannins on the finish. I like Chapel Hill and Mclaren Vale is the source of some excellent, juicy examples of this Spanish variety.
Available from: Jason’s Foodstores
Domaine La Roquète, Châteauneuf du Pape, 2010, 14.5%
Grape: 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre
Wine-making: Maturation in old wood
Note: One of the best wines of the evening. Floral, liquorice and smelling of summer pudding. At first the alcohol felt a little unbalanced but as the wine unfurled (after approximately half an hour) it became more harmonious. Persistent and rather fine.
Available from: Chateau Wine & Spirit
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 www.wineacademy.tw
Kalleske, Greenock single vineyard Barossa Valley Shiraz, 2008, 14.5%
Grape: 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.
Katnook, Founder’s Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, 2009, 13.5%
Grape: 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.
Cullen, Mangan Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Margaret River, 2010, 12%
Grape: 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.
When asked what star sign I am, I declare myself a Virgo although I have no understanding (or belief) as to why my birthday should influence either my character or future. My relationship with the astrological is similar to the one I have with ‘minerality’ in wine. I willingly say something tastes ‘minerally’ whilst all the time knowing that this is nonsensical. Apart from the fact that vines derive the vast majority of their needs from the process of photosynthesis, all of which happens very obviously above ground (away from the minerals), the insolubility of most ‘minerals’ and their inert nature, prevent us from being able to taste or smell them.
An example of this occurs in the vineyards of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, whose wines are often lauded for their ‘mineral’ complexity. Some are particularly rich in flint (silex as the French call it) whilst others have more chalk. On tasting countless examples from this area I found that I could indeed detect the differences in the aromatic qualities of wines grown on different soils…but neither of them tasted of chalk or flint. It is more likely that the position of the vineyard, its aspect as well as decisions made in the winery, are more profound reasons governing these differences.
At best, using the term ‘mineral’ allows the taster/producer to communicate the vigour or drive in the wine and is invariably used in a positive sense. At worst it does the exact opposite, placing a barrier between the taster and the wine as they wrestle with a concept that has no apparent basis in fact. I would never want wine to be seen as a simple beverage. Being from and of the land is one of its greatest selling points but we must be wary of perpetuating terminology that excludes rather than encourages people to try wine, the world’s finest drink.
…Having said that, below are three very ‘mineral wines’.
Henri Bourgeois, ‘La Bourgeoise’, Sancerre, 2010
Grape: Sauvignon Blanc
Wine-making: Stainless Steel
Note: Too much Sancerre is un-deserving of the appellation. It could be argued that magnificence is a rare commodity from any region of production (however famous) but lean and green Sancerre is depressingly common. Yet this is Sancerre at its best. Mineral, almost salty, taut whilst being approachable and aromatically opulent with pink grapefruit, passionfruit, white peach, nettle and a feminine muskiness that is all ‘glow’ and no sweat.
If you are familiar with the wines of Henri Bourgeois then you will know already that they set the Sauvignon Blanc standard extremely high. If you want an exceptional example of how good Sancerre can be, I suggest you buy a bottle or two to share with someone worthy, you won’t be disappointed.
Available from: Finesse
Domaine Wachau, Terrassen Smaragd, Wachau, 13%, 2010
Wine-making: Old casks and stainless steel
Note: Wines with the ‘Smaragd’ designation are the most full –bodied of the Wachau’s wines. They are also dry and this has an expressive peachy, almost tropical nose. Perfect with clams or abalone.
Available from: Szity Wine Cellar
D’Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz, Mclaren Vale, 14.4%, 2010
Wine-making: 12 months in American and French oak
Note: Just to prove that ‘minerality’ is not the preserve of white wines from cooler climates. Earthy and meaty with black fruit and licorice aplenty, this is powerful but well balanced with enough acidity and tannins to support the ripe fruit. Very good value.
Available from: Creation Wine & Spirits
Familiarity may breed contempt…or respect.
Shaw & Smith’s M3 Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills is a wine that features heavily both in my fridge at Sniff headquarters but also in classes that I teach. The reason is simple, it is benchmark stuff. It is also very reasonably priced – not something we can always say about wines in the relatively heavily taxed market of Taiwan. Like all very good wines, the M3 likes to entertain and reveals more of itself the longer it is outside the bottle. When first poured it is good but over the course of the next 15 -30 minutes its aromas develop leading to respectful nods from those with a glass anywhere near their mouth or nose. Where possible try and get the current 2012 vintage, it is still young and will reward further cellaring (if you have that luxury) or decant, as you would a good white Burgundy, and mark the start of the weekend.
In Bordeaux, lesser Chateaux from better vintages can be the source of pleasurable and inexpensive reds. This week saw my first taste of Chateau Grandis of the Haut Medoc in Bordeaux. From the ripe 2009 vintage this has plenty of signature Bordeaux appeal (gravelly tannins, pencil shavings on the nose etc) and won’t break the bank.
Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills, 2012, 13.5%
Wine-making: Nine months in French oak with partial malolactic conversion. This gives complexity and richness whilst not diminishing the pure fruit characters.
Note: Delicious. Nectarine, fresh butter, and a whiff of bacon fat is underpinned by palate cleansing acidity that provides the drive and verve to this savvy south Australian.
Available from: Chateau Wine & Spirits
Chateau Grandis Cru Bourgeois, Haut Medoc, 14%, 2009
Grape: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: 12 months in French Oak (but not much new oak)
Note: Simple but ‘proper’ Bordeaux nose that includes a little of the cedar-like character that much more expensive examples reveal. A little spice from time spent in French oak supports the predominantly red fruit character on the palate.
Available from: Carrefour