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Austria: A Statement of Intent

On Wednesday, Taipei hosted the ‘Best of Austria’ the most impressive attempt so far by this bijou European to win the hearts of Taiwan’s wine cognoscenti. The turnout was as impressive as the importers, who were enthusiastically doling out wine to guests following the introductory seminar and guided tasting. These are the true champions of the wine world, their desire to spread the word of the under-appreciated to the uninitiated takes guts. Whether Taiwan is quite ready for Gruner Veltliner and Zweigelt (nevermind Rotgipfler) is open to debate but for the development of a true and sustainable Taiwanese wine culture to thrive, the likes of Austrian wine needs to gain a foothold.

In stark contrast to this rather grand event, the evening brought the opportunity to attend a much smaller yet equally excellent BIVB (Burgundy Wine Board) live tasting, hosted by the hugely knowledgeable Ingrid Lin. Burgundy is well represented in Taiwan and the Austrians can only hope that at some point in the future their wines are talked about with as much reverence as the best from the home of Pinot Noir. Ms Lin, a certified educator for the BIVB, gave our group three pairs of wines from the famous neighbouring villages of Gevrey Chambertin, Morey-Saint-Denis and Chambolle Musigny. Each pair consisted of a village wine and a premier cru and all six wines were from the 2011 vintage. As an exercise in benchmarking stylistic traits inherent to these villages, it proved extremely worthwhile and outlined a model that the Austrians would be wise to imitate; education is, after all, key.

Burgundy’s reputation is borne on the back of just two varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) and although the Austrians lack a red variety with the same nobility as Pinot Noir, they do have Riesling and Gruner Veltliner. The biggest issue for these two grapes is their colour; not being red remains a hindrance in this part of the world. Yet if the Austrian Wine board can craft a well-funded education programme (like the BIVB’s), the inherent high quality of these two noble varieties, allied to the enthusiasm of the importers, can bring Austria the attention its wines so readily deserve.

Below are four wines from Austria and Burgundy.

Hiedler, Reserve Thal ‘10TW’, Kamptal, 2013, 13%
Grape: Gruner Veltliner
Wine-making: Matured in stainless steel
Note: This was ‘proper’ Gruner, it was a little spicy and peppery with a mouth-coating oiliness (in a very pleasant way) and had drive and intensity through the citrus tinged palate. Very clean, very pure and very delicious.
Price: Approx 35USD
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan 

F.X. Pichler, Smaragd ‘Loibner Loibenberg’, 2010, 13.5%
Grape: Riesling
Wine-making: Matured in old oak
Note: Magnificent. Intense and concentrated with a restrained stone-fruit nose and a salty, mineral-like and hugely persistent finish. Yes please!
Price:
Score: 18/20
Available from: www.eslitegourmet.com.tw 

Harmand-Geoffrey, Gevrey Chambertin, Vielles Vignes, 2011, 13%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Wine-making: 12 months in 40% new French oak
Note: Perfumed with iris, cherry stone and exotic spice this was the most approachable of all six Burgundies tasted. Powerful and firm of tannin but with a freshness and concentration that elevated this to the ranks of a great village wine. Good value.
Price: Approx 30GBP
Score: 16/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan 

Domaine Taupenot-Merme, Gevrey Chambertin, 1er Cru ‘Bel Air’, 2011, 13.5%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Wine-making: 12 months in 30% new French oak
Note: Arguably the best wine of the evening if as of yet not the most forthcoming, this was quiet and restrained on the nose with some floral and savoury characters but on the palate it promised much. Concentrated, firm, powerful but bright-eyed, this was still barely out of short trousers but with the structure for further positive development over the next 5-8 years.
Price: Approx 55GBP
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: This exact wine is not available in Taiwan but this producer is represented by www.chateaux.com.tw

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The Myth of Minerality

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.
Price: 1,900NT
Score: 18.5/20
Available from: Finesse

Domaine Wachau, Terrassen Smaragd, Wachau, 13%, 2010
Grape: Riesling
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.
Price: 1300NT
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: Szity Wine Cellar

D’Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz, Mclaren Vale, 14.4%, 2010
Grape: Shiraz
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.
Price: 950NT
Score: 16.5
Available from: Creation Wine & Spirits

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