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Dry White Wines for Keeping

The vast majority of the world’s wines are made to be drunk within a couple of years of bottling and this is particularly the case for whites. Without the preservative effect of the tannins found in red wines, the fruitiness and virility of white wines fades all too quickly, yet as with most things there are a raft of honourable exceptions.

Burgundy from the great villages of Puligny, Chassagne and Mersault as well as the hill of Corton, are capable of producing wines that can last a generation. In the last month I have had bottles from these areas (one is listed below) that were more than a decade old and full of vibrancy. But what else is there? I wrote earlier in January about Von Buhl in Pfalz and there is no doubt that the best of these dense, steely and profound Rieslings will continue to develop and shine over the coming twenty years. With the imminent arrival (in Taiwan) of the wines of Von Winning, also of Pfalz, Riesling’s significant age-ability will again be highlighted.

For those who like the idea of aged Sauvignon Blanc, the best examples are to be found in Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux. These wines usually feature some Semillon and are matured in oak making them less overt but more complex than is usual and the finest go on to give years of custard scented pleasure. Outside of Germany and France it is less common to find white wines that are built for the long haul. Spain has the tradition of aged white Riojas but this oxidative style that smells of hay and mushrooms rather than fruit and flowers is dying. Only Tondonia still produces this grossly underappreciated and magnificent anachronism. (Below I have reviewed Murrietta’s new(ish) white that replaced their wonderful traditional Rioja).

Lastly, in future years it may be that South Africa starts to produce age-worthy Chenin Blancs (think Alheit, Sadie, Mullineux) that can match the longevity of Savennieres in the Loire. This variety has the requisite acid and extract to age beautifully and when allied to the will of the new generation of South-African winemakers, this should be a new source of fine dry white wines for keeping.

Hospices de Beaune, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Cuvee Francois de Salins, 2004
Wine-making: Oak fermented and matured
Note: Not cheap but this is still as fresh a daisy with excellent concentration and drive. Rich and ripe with oodles of fruit and saliva inducing acidity, this should last another ten years.
Price: 6,250NT
Available from: Winebay 02 2733 3303

Marques de Murrietta, Capellania (single vineyard), 2009, 13.5%
Grape: Viura
Wine-making: Matured for 20 months in in new French oak.
Note: As disappointed as I am at the departure of the old, more overtly oxidative style, it is hard not to be impressed by this much more modern wine. Fantastic mouth-feel that is both creamy and rich coupled with baked apple and citrus fruit aromas, this promises improvement over the medium term. Whether it will have the longevity of its predecessor will become clear in the years to come. Price: Not currently available in Taiwan but approx. $30USD globally
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: N/A

Von Winning, Forster Ungeheur Grosses Gewachs, 2013, 12%
Wine-making: Fermented in old wood.
Note: More forgiving than the Von Buhl Rieslings of a similar quality with a slightly softer and less dense/firm character. Perfumed with sweet apple a subtle minerality and good persistence. This will continue to reveal itself more fully over the next decade.
Price: Approx 2,500NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Soon to be available in Taiwan from Vinoza


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Something for the Weekend 8: La Rioja Alta

The obstacle preventing the majority from drinking ‘fine wine’ is the price. There is also the issue of time. Many of the world’s regions associated with the apogee of the wine drinking experience (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo), not only require a healthy bank balance but also a decade or so to allow the best to warrant broaching. A region that has always bucked this trend and one that is becoming increasingly popular, according to latest reports from the likes of Armit in Hong Kong, is top quality Rioja.

Unlike many regions capable of producing very high quality, the producers in Rioja do a lot of the ageing for you and release wines that whilst still capable of many years of evolution, often drink well from the get-go. This is a result of the softening effect that the Reserva and Gran Reserva wines experience through the lengthy oxidative maturation in barrel. Rioja is also often very well priced considering the effort that has been expended on its crafting. Historically many of Rioja’s estates have been vast with fruit sourced from multiple regions (Alavesa, Alta and Baja) bringing both consistency of quality and volume that can only be of benefit to those seeking a fine-wine bargain.

Being involved in a rather frightening car crash is not something I’d recommend for the weekend. Yet when this happened to me in 2006 (I ended up with a broken knee and my wife had to be cut free of the wreckage) I was still clasping a bottle of La Rioja Alta Ardanza (un-opened) between my thighs when the car came to a halt. You will forgive me then that this, probably my favourite Rioja producer, is the one I have chosen to represent this weekend’s recommendations. Following such an experience, and my gratefulness at the bottle not exploding in my groin, I feel forever linked to this fine Bodega.

And in case you were wondering what happened to that bottle…my family drank it whilst I was in hospital. Cheers!

La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904, 1998, 12.5%
90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano
Wine-making: Four years in four year old American casks
Note: Fine, elegant, almost delicate with a complex array of hay, tobacco, game and strawberry. The acidity provides wonderful freshness and the finish is long. Fine indeed.
Score: 18/20

La Rioja Alta, Vina Ardanza Reserva, 2005, 13%
80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha
Wine-making: 30 months in two and three year old casks for the Garnacha and 3 years for the Tempranillo in four year old casks
Note: Intense black and red fruit framed by sweet vanilla and spice from the oak. Well balanced, with ripe tannins.
Score: 16.5/20


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Monument 1

Being asked ‘What’s your favourite wine?’ does not sound like a particularly taxing question but for me it is. No matter how many times I am asked I never seem to get any better at providing an answer. I’ve tried being ‘cute’ by saying that ‘I’ve haven’t had it yet’ but at best this is an unsatisfactory response and at worst, annoyingly smug. The problem is that there are so many variables that need to be considered. Wine and the pleasure it provides is rarely experienced in a vacuum. Sitting in a sterile environment drinking wine blind (however fine) out of a paper-cup with no family, friends, food or other extraneous stimulation will be unlikely to result in that wine providing a memorable experience. Drinking ‘plonk’ in convivial surroundings (balmy late summer’s afternoon, the Mediterranean lapping at one’s chair leg whilst eating charred octopus in the company of your beloved) well that wine usually tastes pretty good.

So this brings us to that rare breed of wine that can perform in the most inhospitable of settings. In a stuffy classroom tasted blind against their contemporaries, they appear to rise phoenix like from the glass daring the assembled to doubt their magnificence. It can also happen in the nithering bowels of a Domaine’s cellar in January. The cold may muffle the majority of aromas making tannins and glass-holding fingers raw, yet the finest overcome this obstacle, their perfume pervading the dank air.

For my first wine ‘monument’ I have chosen a style rather than an individual wine. It is neither cheap nor expensive and it is highly traditional if anachronistic. The wine is mature, barrel aged, white Rioja. Below is perhaps the best example of this style that I have experienced in the last 18 months. A wine I would be happy to drink from a paper-cup.

Marques de Murrieta, Ygay, Gran Reserva Blanco 1998, 12.5%
Wine-making: Many years in old oak barrels
Note: Mature and arresting nose of hay, tobacco, honey, mushroom and bruised apple. Zippy acidity balances the generous body that then tapers to a long and lithe finish. Outstanding, tear inducing stuff.
Price: If you can still find it this will be surprisingly inexpensive at around $50 U.S. or 1600NT
Score: 19.5/20 – not sure how it can be better.
Available in Taiwan from: Medoc Allen Wines and Spirits

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The Tasting Group

Enthusiasm breeds clubs. People who love scuba-diving want to spend time in the company of others who like being submerged. Whether it is bike-riding, reading comics, listening to music or tasting wine, we all like the freedom that being a ‘member’ brings. We are allowed space to talk about our favourite subject without apology and we are able to benefit from fellow members’ passion and predilections.

And so it is with Sniff’s tasting group. We have a core of six with the occasional special guest. Meeting every two weeks, the tastings are often theme based but sometimes the greatest pleasure is derived from the decision to simply bring something we feel like sharing.

Our last tasting fell into this category and highlighted in the space of six wines the complexity of style that the vinous world has to offer. None of these wines were inexpensive but none were outlandishly priced and when the cost is shared the pleasure greatly outweighs the pain. We had representation from six different countries, one red, two whites, a rosé, one fortified and a passito wine from Italy. Fundamentally they were all delicious, whilst providing plenty of material for conversation and conjecture about how and why the winemaker had chosen to influence the wine in a particular way.

So join a club. Your knowledge and tasting ability will grow exponentially and you’ll be with people you like. What more can you ask?

Below are the six wines from our most recent tasting with brief notes and details on where to buy:

Amon-Ra, Barossa Valley, Unfiltered Shiraz, 2005, 14.5%
Wine-making: 100 year old vines, 100% new, of which 80% is French and 20% American. Both barriques, and hogsheads (225 and 300 litre capacity respectively) used.
Note: Smoky, tar-like, spicy and with a lick of licorice this is an extremely dense, concentrated, full-bodied wine that retains a certain finesse. Nearly ten years old but will continue to develop for another ten years. Sense assaulting.
Price: 3,950NTD (for the 2012)
Score: 17.5/20
Available from (Taiwan): Chateau Wine & Spirits

Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Ruby Port, NV, 20%
Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca
Wine-making: Fortified, and only a year or two in old wood to preserve the intense fruit style
Note: Excellent quality and value Reserve Ruby. Spicy, peppery dark fruit with some of the thrust and muscularity of Vintage Port without the price tag. Pair with something salty.
Price: 1,550NTD
Score: 16.5/20
Available from (Taiwan): Finesse

Château Simone, Rosé, Palette A.O.C., Provence, 2011, 14%
Primarily Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault
Wine-making: Old oak casks
Note: Pale ruby colour alerts one immediately to the fact this is no ordinary Provencal rosé. Not very aromatic with just a little red cherry on the nose but this gives way to an engaging full-bodied wine with a rich, cherry and herb fruit core. Not just for Summer and structured enough for food. I would like this with shrimp dumplings.
Price: 1690NTD
Score: 16.5/20
Available from (Taiwan): New Century Wine & Spirits

Vina Tondonia, Reserva Rioja Blanco, 1998, 12.5%
90% Viura, 10% Malvasia
Wine-making: 6 years in barrel affording the wine significant complexity.
Note: I love traditional white Riojas and this has plenty of deliciousness wrapped within its mildly oxidative body. Peach, green pineapple, flowers and a stave or two of oak make this an alluring glass. If you never usually drink white wine you might want to practice on easier, more overtly fruity examples before graduating onto this more ‘challenging’ style. Perfect with an oyster omelette.
Price: 1800NTD
Score: 17/20
Available from (Taiwan): Vinaria Wine Cellar

Markus Molitor, Wehlener Klosterberg, Pinot Blanc, Mosel, 2012, 13%
Pinot Blanc
Wine-making: Aged in an Islay single malt cask
Note: Remarkable nose with a dominant seaweed, iodine tang that is briny and very Scottish in origin. Yet this is not just a vinous oddity. There is lovely palate weight, bright acid and fruit purity that is as expected from the region. If you like a tot of Ardbeg then buy a bottle of this.
Price: 1600NTD
Score: 17/20
Available from (Taiwan): WineTeen

Montalpruno Vin Santo del Chianti D.O.C., 2006, 15.5%
Trebbiano & Malvasia
Wine-making: Made using semi-dried grapes
Note: Very fresh tasting Vin Santo that is dominated by the aroma of roasting pistachios. Sweet but with balancing acidity and persistent. Delicious with cheese, nuts or cake.
Price: 2,400NTD for 500ml
Score: 17/20
Available from (Taiwan):

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