It is not often that one gets to taste wine during an earthquake but on Monday it happened twice. In the morning, I sat down at my desk, set the timer on my phone for 22 minutes (I was only tasting two wines) so as to recreate the conditions of an MW exam, and began my sniffing and spitting. Whilst staring into the middle distance pondering the powdery nature of the first wine’s tannins, I became aware of the gentle pull and push of the quake and the swaying of the pictures on the wall. Those of you who have experienced this rather soothing effect may have noticed that most people’s reaction is to sit still. Whilst I contemplated getting under the table just in case the soothing morphed into something more sinister I knew that this seismic event was going to play havoc with my timing.
In the evening our tasting group had just poured the wines when the first of two aftershocks crept into the building causing more swaying of lights and human stillness. After that the wines were sure to be a disappointment…but they weren’t and although they may not have caused the earth to move they did provide plenty of animated discussion.
There were two wines in particular – a Chianti and a Muscadet – that proved deliciously atypical. The Chianti was soft, supple, lithe and delightfully refined with an almost Burgundian feel whilst the Muscadet had most of us looking at something Rhone-ish like Roussanne, so generous was the fruit and body. Lastly we enjoyed some Marsanne whose lemon verbena scented richness provided the perfect post quake quaff.
All of the wines below come highly recommended.
Domaine de la Pépière, Clisson, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, 2011, 12%
Grapes: Melon de Bourgogne
Wine-making: 2 yrs on the lees
Note: Alluring nose of candied pineapple, lemon oil and some cheesiness from time spent on the lees. This is generous, outstandingly rich for Muscadet, and persistent. A bargain.
Available from: www.rt-mart.com.tw
Castello di Ama, Chianti Classico Riserva, 2008, 13.5%
Grapes: 80% Sangiovese, 20% Malvasia Nera, Merlot, Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: 12 months in 20% new French oak for 12 months
Note: Blackberry, meaty and graphite scented loveliness. The tannins, so often laced with astringency in Sangiovese are supple, almost soft, and provide a fine boned structure from which the fruit seductively hangs. Although not inexpensive (it is still cheaper than most Brunello) this is an excellent example of the elegance achievable in Chianti.
Available from: www.icheers.tw
Les Vins de Vienne, Les Bialères, Saint Peray, 2012, 13.5%
Grapes: 80% Marsanne, 20% Roussanne
Wine-making: 9 months in French oak (not new)
Note: Smelling of lemon oil and lemon verbena, this Marsanne is typically generous of body and soft in acidity and makes me salivate for some salmon.
Available from: www.titlist.com.tw
No other region in the wine-producing world has the variety of the Loire valley. Yet, it is unfashionable (apart from the wines of Sancerre) languishing behind the other heavyweights of vinous France, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhone. It is true that in the not too distant past some of the whites could be lean, green and mean and the reds rather weedy and overly herbaceous. Yet with a warming climate and greater focus on ensuring better ripeness of fruit, Loire wines are increasingly consistent.
Built on the back of a number of varieties, the Loire’s greatest gift to the taste curious lies in Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Chenin is a sister (or brother if you prefer) of Sauvignon Blanc (SB) but whereas SB has conquered the world with her showy, overt ‘smell that sucker!’ character, Chenin sits at home reading Proust, munching on madeleines and relying on suitors to beat a path to her door. Chenin is not easy, especially when made in its most powerful, brooding incarnation as it is in Savennières. But who said wine should be easy? One never gets to bottom of a bottle of Savennières without some help and if your brow doesn’t furrow and your eyebrows lift at one taste of a fine example, then you better call the doctor because clearly your tongue doesn’t work.
Cabernet Franc (CF) is the mum (or dad) of Cabernet Sauvignon. The more famous progeny is more spiky, more teenager-like than its parent, with its tough, tannic reticence and acid tongue. CF is more measured, similar but dialled back a notch, with the best radiant with raspberry, pencil shavings and exotic spice charm. One word of warning, the savouriness that CF can exhibit can bemuse some more used to overtly fruity offerings. Don’t worry, just ignore them and revel in the fact that you have more to drink for yourself.
Below are a couple of examples available here in Taiwan (and no doubt the wider world) that should pique your interest into what is on offer in the Loire.
Eric Morgat, Cuveé L’Enclos, Savennières, 2009, 14%
Grape: Chenin Blanc
Wine-making: Old barrels and biodynamic production
Note: Enticing and classic aromas of bruised apple, honey and nuts. Scalpel like acidity performs liposuction on this full bodied beauty, sculpting a palate of rare finesse. Serious and perfect drinking right now.
Available from: Celier des Poetes
Chateau de Parnay, Saumur Champigny, 2010, 13.5%
Grape: Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: No new oak
Note: Leafy, spice-laden, aromatic deliciousness on the nose followed by a sweet and savoury palate. Quintessential and affordable.
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