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A Postcard from Roses

The Costa Brava may not have the glitz of the Cote d’Azur in France but neither does it suffer from the bleak architectural choices that scar too much of the Spanish coastline further south. Indeed this ‘wild coast’ has much more to offer than simply sun, sea and Cava. For serious eaters, Girona the main city, is once again home to the world’s best restaurant; El Celler de Can Roca. Half an hour further north, those appreciative of the great Spanish surrealist, Dali, will find much to enjoy in both his place of birth Figueres and the secluded and wistfully beautiful Cadaques. I, however, am in Roses, a working fishing port that combines the prosaic with enough easy beauty to attract a throng of tourists, principally from neighbouring France.

Until relatively recently Roses was most famous for being the home of El Bulli, Ferran Adria’s legendary location for his very particular take on modern gastronomy. Even with Ferran’s retreat to his laboratory, one does not have to look far to find great cooking amongst the paella palaces and chipirones and chips restaurants that prevail in the streets nearest the beach. Rafa’s restaurant on Carrer de San Sebastia is as unassuming as any of its neighbours and it is only when the food arrives that you realise that you may never eat food this good again. I have had the good fortune to eat here on three occasions and on each there has been at least one dish that would be in my top ten plates of all time…I can pay it no greater compliment than that.

Yet Roses for me is about the chance to cook rather than be cooked for. The fish shops that extend along the dock are stocked with a catch so fresh that most are still rigid with rigor mortis. I bought five fat, coral coloured Red Mullet and baked them anointed with nothing more than some lemon, good oil and accompanied by a delicious Sauvignon/Moscato blend from Cava specialist Gramona. Tomorrow we leave continental Europe, fatter, browner and happier than when we arrived (well I am) but looking forward to some English summeriness in our next destination…Sudbury.


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A Postcard from Tuscany

The belt on my trousers is being buckled at a less familiar point following a week of excellent food and wine in Italy’s hill-town state of Tuscany. Normally my diet is relatively modest with only one significant meal a day but here, holidaying at garter level on Italy’s leggy peninsula, I found that my modest powers of self-restraint were constantly being outweighed by my greed. In the local shops, markets and restaurants, deliciousness oozed from every meat counter, cheese vendor, table top and menu making any resistance futile.

As a resident of the great and gastronomic city of Taipei I never lack access to food that has the ability to make my heart skip with pleasure but there are certain European flavours that are no longer part of my regular life. Shavings of fresh truffle, like translucent slices of some small animal’s brain, scented both the air and butter coated ribbons of perfectly prepared papardelle in Montepulciano. In Cortona I indulged in aged Pecorino, yellowed beneath the rind but milky white and with a firm midriff that when cut into uneven wedges added some subterranean pungency to Tuscany’s famously salt-free bread. Back at our villa, inch thick steaks of the local long-legged Chianina cattle caused the grill of our barbecue to sag towards the middle in apparent sympathy with my own torso and an accompanying salad of fennel was elevated beyond the prosaic by the intensely aromatic and sherbert-like lift provided by a good squeeze of sfusato lemon juice (from Amalfi in Campania); and still no mention of wine…

As one would expect there was a good deal of Sangiovese consumed, especially following visits to producers in both Chianti and Montalcino but there was also a satisfying selection of Tuscan white. Vermentino from Bolgheri, Vernaccia from San Gimignano and (a first for me) a rather rare but delicious Sauvignon Blanc from Sesti in Montalcino. I will write more about those wine experiences later in the season but now it is time to move northwards to Valpolicella territory: Veneto’s Verona. Food Goals

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Chile: Still a Teenager?

Although Chile has been producing wine for many years, the drive to match grape variety to both soil and region with its raft of concomitant factors of aspect, altitude, fog etc, is a concept not much older than my teenage daughter. Like any adolescent, Chile is still in the throes of discovering itself, deciding through experience, some triumphs and the occasional mistake, what to do and how to be.

The move towards greater regional delineation within Chile is somewhat confusing. The division of the landscape into three zones that run north to south: Costa (coastal) Entre Cordilleras (between the mountain ranges i.e it’s the flat bit) and Andes; sounds straight-forward but isn’t. Many of the valleys where viticulture thrives, run from east to west resulting in the likes of Limari, Elqui and Aconcagua having vineyards in two if not all three of these zones. Yet any confusion around zonal identity has not prevented some Chilean regions from producing wines that do have a sense of place. This is the Holy Grail not just for winemakers but for those marketing the wine and ultimately us the consumer. Why? Because it makes buying wine easier. Most wine-drinkers know what to expect from their glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or Barossa Shiraz; Chileans in Leyda or Casablanca want to create a similar situation where the name of their region is definitively linked to both style and variety/s.

In a recent tasting of wines from Chilean producer San Pedro, in the company of their engagingly frank and amiable winemaker, Gonzalo Castro, wines in their more premium range were clearly expressing a sense of place. Chile may not have, as of yet, the same number of iconic wine styles as do the likes of Australia and the USA but an increased focus on matching place and variety bodes well for the post-adolescent phase of the Chilean wine industry’s development.

Below are the three wines from this San Pedro tasting that I found most engaging.

1865 Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda, 2014, 13.5%
Sauvignon Blanc
Wine-making: Stainless steel
Note: Almost water white in colour with an overt, musk and passion-fruit character. Crisp acidity, fresh and with a moreish and palpable intensity.
Price: 1250NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: Finesse 02-2795-5615

1865 Limited Edition Blend, Cachapoal Valley 2011, 14.5%
74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Syrah
Wine-making: 100% French oak of which 60% was new.
Note: Fragrant with a slight herbal edge letting you know that Cabernet is present. Bright, sweet, black and dark fruit, some grainy, mouth-coating tannin, fresh acidity and balanced alcohol make this a harmonious whole.
Price: 1550NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Finesse 02-2795-5615

1865 Limited Edition Syrah, Elqui Valley 2011, 14%
This was the most exciting wine. Deep purple with more black fruit than red, a little floral/violet character and some smoked meat. This really showed how good Elqui could be for Syrah as it seems able to provide density and freshness in equal measure, a region to watch over the next ten years.
Price: 1550NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Finesse 02-2795-5615

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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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The W Taipei

Although no longer the newest big hotel in town (the Mandarin Oriental is the wearer of that crown) the W remains Sniff’s favourite.

The secret is in the service, the ease with which anyone can navigate the drinks/wine-list and the relaxed and hip hedonism that pervades the bar space here. Too many Taipeian establishments remain mired in the past, sporting onerous beverage menus that make little sense, are intimidating and bear no relation to the environment (the bar or restaurant) that they are representing. The W exists without a sommelier, and I like a good sommelier, so a great deal of credit must go to Kenny Miau (W’s Beverage and Food manager) for providing a list that is extensive yet compact enough not to warrant the expense.

I have to confess some bias here as a friend and ex-student of mine, the excellent Nancy Wang works in the W’s top floor Yen restaurant where both commanding views over the city and great food can be had. The employment of skilled people like Nancy, who has worked for luminaries such as Gordon Ramsey, helps explain why the W offers an experience that is so easy to appreciate by both those from within and outside of Asia. They know what they are doing.

On speaking with the knowledgeable and affable Cary Gray (W’s General Manager), I was keen to ascertain the top performing drinks at the W. On the wine front these are Kim Crawford’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Veuve Clicquot Champagne. They also sell a wide variety of cocktails with the ‘Flirtini’ their best-seller. I’m more of an ‘Old-Fashioned’ kind of guy but for those in search of voguish modernity, the W should be visited, just remember to book.

Listed below are the W’s biggest selling tipples, plus my favourite…

Kim Crawford, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, 2013,12.5%
Sauvignon Blanc
Wine-making: Stainless steel, this is all about the fruit
Note: Clean and fresh with passion-fruit and pink grapefruit. Very Marlborough and very suitable accompaniment to Taipei’s sub-tropical climate.
Price at the W: 2500NT per bottle, 500NT per glass (plus service)
Score: 16/20

Veuve Clicquot Yellow label, Champagne, N.V, 12%Grape: 50% Pinot Noir with the balance made up of Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay
Wine-making: On lees for at least two years
Note: Classic, biscuity style of Champagne that is dangerously easy to drink due in part to the lack of any acidic bite (a result of the dosage’s effect of rounding out the seam of acidity that underpins this Grand Marque).
Price at the W: 4800NT per bottle, 690 per glass (plus service)
Score: 16/20

The Flirtini: How to make one, courtesy of the W.

30 mls of Raspberry Vodka
15mls of Cointreau (Triple Sec )
30mls of Pineapple Juice
20mls of Raspberry Puree
5ml of Lime Juice

The Mix Method:
Add all ingredients to the mixing glass (a Boston Shaker is what you need)
Add ice and shake well
Strain into a chilled Martini Glass

Redcurrant if you have them to hand…

Price at the W: 400NT
Score: another please!


The ‘Old-Fashioned’, this recipe is lifted from the great Charles Schumann’s ‘American Bar’

1 sugar cube
dashes of Angostura bitters
2oz of Bourbon
Stemmed Cherry

The Mix Method:
Place sugar cube in an old-fashioned glass (a tumbler)
Saturate with the bitters
Add orange and lemon wedges
Press with a pestle or muddler
Add Bourbon
Stir well, add ice cubes, top with soda
Stir again and garnish with cherry

Price: This is priceless, my go-to cocktail
Score: With good bourbon and patience when stirring (you need some of the water in the ice to melt) this is a 19/20.

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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
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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