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2012 Bordeaux

On Wednesday morning, beneath grey skies lamenting President Elect Don T.’s ascension to power, I inched across London in the relative comfort of a black cab. With the MW award ceremony beckoning later in the day, my state of nervous excitement meant that I eschewed early eating deciding a better breakfast would be claret rather than cornflakes.

My destination was Vintner’s Hall and the IMW’s ‘Annual Claret Tasting’. The vintage to be tasted was the 2012 and on entering the long and airy Livery Hall, the sight of ninety-five of the best bottles, Bordeaux has to offer was the first part of my reward for journeying the six thousand miles from Taipei.

In a previous post in March 2015 (http://sniff.com.tw/?cat=83) I had mixed feelings about 2012 finding it inconsistent and typically a little too herbaceous for my sensibilities. This was an altogether more comprehensive tasting and was without the distracting presence (however pleasant) of the Chateau owners. I was really interested to see whether a further 18 months in bottle had helped ease any of the vegetal funk into a more perfumed, elegant iteration. ‘Possibly’ was the answer.

The first thing to say is that no famous commune tasted was without some issues but those areas more obviously associated with Merlot were definitely more consistent. Pomerol and Pessac Leognan provided the wines with the most charm and if anyone is offering I’ll gladly take delivery of six Haut Brion as this was my wine of the day. However one needn’t take out a bank loan to experience the particular elegance and eminence of this first growth as there is more than enough pleasure in less expensive offerings with the likes of Malartic Lagraviere providing perfumed precision without a whiff of green. In Pomerol, the best had this AOP’s hoped for richness as well as freshness, with La Fleur-Petrus and Trotanoy my personal picks.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly there was also real excitement to be found in the colder soils of St.Estephe with Calon Segur and Montrose being both bright, lively and assured and the altogether more closed Cos d’ Estournel promising pleasure in the future if you can wait another decade for it to shed some of its scaffolding.

Communes where there was definitely more miss than hit included Margaux, St.Julien and Pauillac. Apart from the ever elegant and beguiling Chateau Margaux, the rest of this famous AOP is disappointing, with the best examples showing some prettiness on the nose but unfortunately too much stodge on the palate. Wandering further north and the story is similar with too much oak and extraction for the quality and relative delicacy of the fruit. These wines feel like they’ve been forced into clothes that are just never going to fit, like a boy in his dad’s suit.

Sometimes all the aspiration in the world cannot produce inspiration and a gentler touch would have allowed the herbaceousness present to appear less angular and less marked. One can only hope that on the day that saw a man with orange hair take control of the most powerful country in the world that Donald takes a similar view, dialling back on the protestations of self-aggrandisement and instead displays an as of yet unseen restraint and magnanimity in victory. Then, like the best of this uneven 2012 vintage, we may experience more pleasure than pain as we move forward into our uncertain future.

2012波爾多 

週三早晨,天空灰濛濛地哀悼著川普成為美國總統的事實;同時間的我,正坐在黑色計程車中,緩慢地於倫敦市區中前行。由於今天即將出席葡萄酒大師(Master of Wine)的授頒典禮,既緊張又興奮的我,決定跳過穀片早餐,改以波爾多紅酒(Claret)墊胃,心想後者大概適合作為這一天的早餐。

我要去參加的是葡萄酒大師協會(Institue of Master of Wine,即IMW)於Vintner’s Hall舉辦的「年度波爾多紅酒品飲會」(Annual Claret Tasting);這一天要品嚐的是2012年。當我走進長型而挑高的Livery Hall時,95瓶波爾多最優秀的酒款映入眼簾;這是我從台北飛了9000多公里來到倫敦的第一個犒賞。

去年三月,我曾在部落格中提到,2012年波爾多表現不夠穩定,草本味也過濃()。相較於去年的品飲,這一次想必會是更完整的體驗,也比較不會受到酒莊主人的干擾(雖然有時這些「干擾」還挺愉快的)。我很想知道,暨上一次品飲後又經過18個月瓶陳的2012年,是否能褪去原本的植蔬怪味,展現出更多香芬、優雅的特性。

我首先發現,即便是知名酒村的酒款,也免不了有些問題,至於那些使用較多梅洛(Merlot)的酒款,表現則普遍較為穩定。玻美侯(Pomerol)與貝沙克-雷奧良(Pessac-Leognan)魅力十足;其中Haut-Brion是我當天最愛的酒款,如果有人願意出價,我很樂意收上六瓶。還好,我們不須要向銀行貸款就能體驗如一級酒莊般的高雅與卓越,因為像是Malartic-Lagraviere這類價格親民許多的酒款,已經能為飲者帶來極大的享受。這款酒不但香氣精準,還不帶任何青澀風味。至於玻美侯中最濃郁又兼具新鮮風味的,則非La Fleur-Petrus與Trotanoy莫屬。

另外,有些出乎意料之外的是,這年份在聖愛斯臺夫(St. Estephe)較冷的地塊──如Calon Segur與Montrose,都端出了出明亮、鮮活、風格明確且領人興奮不已的酒款。相較之下,Cos d’ Estournel目前嚐來雖然較為閉鎖,十年後、待銳利的稜角軟化,同樣能為飲者帶來許多樂趣。

不同於聖愛斯臺夫,瑪歌(Margaux)、聖朱里安(St. Julien)與波亞克(Pauillac)等酒村則表現欠佳。除了向來優雅、誘人的瑪歌酒莊(Chateau Margaux),其它的AOP酒款都令人失望。最好的例子擁有漂亮的香氣,但口感過於厚重。一路往北,其它酒款們也都展現了類似的狀況,不是桶味太多,就是萃取過重、果味偏輕。這些酒款像是穿著父親西裝的小男孩一般,硬被套上了不合身的衣服。

有時候,再多的志向也釀不出鼓舞人心的美酒,唯有輕柔的釀酒手腕,才能降低青澀感,並帶出酒中圓滑的一面。我們只能期望,在橘髮川普成為全球最強勢國家領導人的這一天,他也能像一些釀酒人一樣,在面對勝選時,少一些個人膨脹,多一些過去我們不曾見到的內斂與謙容雅量。如同品質不定的2012年中最好的一些酒款,我們也許也能夠在不確定的未來中,少經歷點痛苦,多享受點樂趣。(編譯 / 艾蜜・emily)

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Monument 3

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.
Price: 1300NT
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: Chateau Wine and Cigar (chateaux.com.tw)

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Bordeaux 2011

Following on from Wednesday’s missive that discussed the merits or otherwise of Bordeaux 2012, fate guided me to an unexpected comparison with 2011. Taiwan is great, but awash with fellow MW wannabes it is not. Finding ways to prepare for my second attempt at the practical exam that looms large this June, relies on me being creative. My latest plan involves the Taiwan Wine Academy, who, being extremely generous as always, have agreed to send me six samples a week from wines they use in some of their classes. I had my first delivery on Wednesday night, the small brown phials arrived alone and by taxi, carefully cosseted in giant bubble wrap and accompanied by nothing more than a sealed envelope marked ‘Answers’.

Having set my timer for one hour, seven minutes and thirty seconds (MW exams consist of double this quantity of wine and time) I scribbled myself a range of MW style questions, including a requirement to identify the vintages, poured the wines and off I went. Having nosed my way through the six wines that consisted of two whites, three reds and a sweet, it was instantly apparent that they were from Bordeaux. I’d be lying if I said that I knew that the sweet wine was from 2011 and although I was confident that the whites were indeed from this vintage it was the reds that spoke loudest of their birth-year. Being bookended by the markedly richer vintages of 2009 and 2010 on one side and the leaner tasting 2012 on the other, the youthful, still purple hued, ripe but not bumptious nature of the fruit in these 2011’s was transparent.

After 2009 and 2010, the lack of enthusiasm within the wine world to splash the cash on the good but not great vintage that followed, has led many to discount the merits of this more precocious year. Yet 2011 is classic Bordeaux with many wines providing delicious drinking now and over the medium-term. Overall, choosing between 2011 and 2012, is a no-brainer; give me ripeness over greenness any day.

Below are three of the very representative examples tasted from the 2011 vintage.

Chateau Pessac La Garde, Pessac Leognan, 2011, 13%
Grape: 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Sauvignon Gris
Wine-making: 10 months in French oak
Note: Sweet oak, aniseed aromas and citrus peel dominate. This has real drive and minerality with a supporting seam of high acidity.
Price: 1,950NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: www.finese.com.tw 

Chateau d’Issan, Margaux 3eme Cru, 2011, 13%
Grape: 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot
Wine-making: 18 months in French oak
Note: Heady with the scent of hyacinths, this is classic Margaux with an open and approachable texture that flatters yet has the requisite silky and fine grained tannins that promise continued positive evolution until the early 2020’s.
Price: 2,200NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Chateau Wine and Cigar 

Chateau de Fonbel, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 2011, 13.5%
Grape: 63% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot and 7% Carmenere
Wine-making: 10 months in 30% new French oak
Note: Blackberry and exotic spice, thick tannins and with an opulence that made me think this was Pomerol, this is great value St. Emilion.
Price: 1,150NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: New Century Wine

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An Afternoon with Bordeaux 2012

This was my first significant encounter with this somewhat maligned vintage but I will try to resist the temptation to repeat all that has been said before.

The positives are that I enjoyed the whites from Pessac and Graves. The majority had the perfume and verve one hopes for from this bastion of the Sauvignon/Semillon blend, and many promised a rosy future with a drinking window for the best that starts now but extends well into the 2020’s.

For the reds the picture is much more patchy. People will tell you that it is a year for Merlot, so difficult was it for the Cabernets to fully ripen. This is true…kind of, but if you are expecting clear delineation between an austere and green tasting left bank and a miraculously plush, ripe and round right bank you will be disappointed. On the evidence of this tasting of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, nowhere can claim to have produced greatness but some have produced much more alluring, if not outstanding wines than others. Those estates that reigned in extraction in the search for precociousness fared best. The mineral, somewhat looser structured wines of Pessac and St. Julien managed to reveal a perfumed charm and subtley of tannin that make many enjoyable short to medium term drinking. In the communes of St. Estephe and Pauillac where structure and power make these the bullies of Bordeaux, the struggle for ripeness is revealed in tannins that feel a little terse and fruit that is often threadbare.

So to the right bank where the more flattering and easier to ripen Merlot was meant to save the day. The likes of Canon La Gaffeliere in St.Emilion have produced one of the wines of the vintage, approachable and without a whiff of greenness…but here they have 50% of Cabernet Franc in the blend. Just up the road in the normally hedonistic Pomerol, much of the wine suffers a similar tell-tale under-ripeness experienced by their bretheren across the Gironde but Chateau Gazin and La Conseillante proved that well balanced and seductive Pomerols could be produced.

Overall, the reds should be enjoyed now and over the next 10 years. These are not investment wines, they are wines for drinking. The question that might be asked is whether one should look to other parts of the world where the index between affordability and pleasure is perhaps more closely aligned.

Below are three wines that represent the positive side of 2012 and that are both sensibly and sensitively priced.

Chateau Kirwan, Margaux 3eme Cru, Bordeaux, 2012, 13%
Grape: 68% Cabernet Sauvignon – 20% Merlot – 7% Cabernet Franc – 5% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: 40% new French Oak
Note: Perfumed and lilac scented like ‘proper’ Margaux should be. This is not haunted by the lack of ripeness that pervades some of the Cabernet dominated wines of this vintage and the tannins are already approachable and fine grained. Should prove delicious drinking over the next ten years.
Price: Approx. $50USD
Score: 16/20
Available from: Globally

Chateau Leoville Barton, St Julien 2eme Cru, Bordeaux, 2012, 13%
Grape: Approx. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot
Wine-making: Approx. 60% new French oak
Note: I’ve always been a fan of this Chateau that produces very typical Claret that reflects the best aspects of every vintage. Floral and elegant with delicious super fine tannins that caress rather than bully. This is a classic of 2012.
Price: 2,600NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Chateau Wine & Cigar

Chateau Canon la Gaffeliere, St. Emilion
Grape: 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: 80% new French oak for 15 months.
Note: Ripe blackberry, perfumed and with a dollop of toasty oak that sits comfortably alongside the plush and fine grained tannins. Not perfect but provides much more immediate pleasure than most.
Price: 2,300NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Chateau Wine & Cigar

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Let Them Breathe

One of the most annoying aspects of social media is the constant reminder that people are drinking not only better wine than me but also more mature examples. Here in Taiwan my only storage is my wine fridge that allegedly holds 66 bottles but in reality shoehorning the contents of four cases of wine into its meagre maw is the best I have managed. The result is that wine does not get much chance to mature; such is the rapid turnover of bottles. Therefore the only old wine I get to drink is other people’s, or wine that I make old myself.

It is illuminating to realise just how easy it can be to experience a wine’s future development in bottle, today. Three wines that I opened with my tasting group on Tuesday of last week were perfect examples, the oldest being from 2009 and the others from 2010. One of them in particular the Podere Sapaio from Bolgheri (reviews below) was classy but demure on Tuesday, slightly more alluring on Wednesday and positively rambunctious by Thursday. The Clos Marsalette also opened up, progressively becoming more tobacco and fruitcake scented over those 48 hours. The Domus Aurea from the upper Maipo in Chile was the Dorian Gray of the line-up seemingly oblivious to the ravages of sitting on ullage in my kitchen. It remained very primary and pure with the pointed tang of fresh blackcurrants as dominant on the first day as it was on the third.

There is no doubt that having the facility to store more, or indeed having the money to buy mature is the ideal scenario for winos (should that be wine lovers?) everywhere. Yet the reality is rarely so convenient so open some wine, drink it over two or three days and take a peak into the future.

Podere Sapaio, ‘Volpolo’, Bolgheri, 2010, 13.5%
Grape: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: 14 months in both large and small French oak barrels
Note: By the third day this was rich in black cherry, vanilla and graphite aromas. The firm and grainy tannins of day one had not altered much in texture but they appeared more voluminous. This is fine stuff and one for Bordeaux lovers who fancy a change.
Price: 2,500NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: www.ascentway.com.tw 

Clos Marsalette, Pessac Leognan, 2010, 13.5%
Grape: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: Matured in 50% new French oak
Note: Exuberant strawberry nose matured to more sweet tobacco and fruitcake by day three. Plush and plump and with ripe, grainy tannins, this is not the most complex Bordeaux you will ever drink but is crowd pleasing in its generosity.
Price: 1,450NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: www.winesymphony.com

Vina Quebrada de Macul, Domus Aurea, 2009, 14%
Grape: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc & 2% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: 18 months in 80% new French oak
Note: Incredibly pure and precise with brightness of both fruit expression and acidity making this delicious drinking now whilst promising a potential decade of further improvement. Very good.
Price: 1,800NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: www.icheers.tw

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On Drinking Older Wine

Unless you are one of the lucky few with access to a cellar that has been carefully collected over years, the wine you drink will rarely be over five years old. This is not necessarily a bad thing, there is little reason to covet the un-covetable as the vast majority of wines produced are intended for early consumption. The situation in the most prestigious of regions (such as Bordeaux) is no different, the laying down of middle-rank wines for periods in excess of ten years rarely results in a wonderful drinking experience. Too often these wines become faded imitations of their more vibrant, youthful selves and any perceived increase in complexity is irrelevant if the fruit character of the wine has long since departed.

Certain wines do have the stuffing for the long haul, replete with the necessary intensity, concentration (tannin if red) and acidity to allow a progressive, evolving transformation. These wines can be both remarkable, and at times disappointing, but their representation of a small piece of history always induces excitement as the pulling of the cork uncloaks the past. In previous posts Sniff has looked at older wines that are released onto the market ready to drink, wines such as Gran Reserva Riojas or aged Tawny Ports. These provide accessible glimpses into the merits of older wine as they require the buyer to have neither patience nor an exotic storage system to appreciate their charms. Yet there is no more pleasing moment of self satisfaction (…ok I can think of a couple) than uncorking a bottle that has matured under your own roof. Both the self-denial and the company with whom you choose to share the wine, hopefully warrant your patience. If you really can’t be bothered to buy wine for the future, ingratiate yourself with people who can and enjoy the fruits of their resolve instead.

Below are two wines that I recently enjoyed drinking…thank god for friends with wine collections.

Château Canon, St.Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe, 1979, 12.5% (Magnum)
Grape:
Merlot, Cabernet Franc and perhaps a little Cabernet Sauvignon
Note: Intensely perfumed nose that showed no signs of fading even after an hour in the glass. Blood, cedar and that very old school graphite/wooden school desk aroma that so typifies older Bordeaux. Fresh acidity, supple tannins and restrained savoury fruit that teeters between elegant and the slightly unripe. Persistent.
Score: 17.5/20

Ruffino, Riserva Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico, 1990, 13% (Magnum)
Grape:
Sangiovese
Note: Bituminous, scorched earth and herbal, intense and concentrated with plenty of ripe red fruit lingering in the background. Fine and rustically elegant
Score: 17.5/20

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Angelo Gaja: The Wines from his 'other' Estates

The wines of Barbaresco’s infamous Angelo Gaja are delicious and often profound, the prices are less easy to stomach.

Not that Angelo will be unduly concerned, there are plenty of people willing to pay the required, necessary to secure a bottle. Today’s post, however, casts an eye over the more affordable wines that herald from Gaja’s other properties in both Piemonte and Toscana. Too often, subsidiary estates acquired by very successful producers can seem like nothing more than vanity projects with little purpose other than to increase profits. My biggest gripe being that the wines from these subsidiaries appear unable to deliver quite the profundity of the offerings from the more famous original. Yet acquisitions by Gaja have his stamp of quality running through them meaning few will be disappointed by the end product. Angelo describes himself as an artisan and once you stoke his metaphorical embers, by asking him questions concerning the methods used in his wine’s production, you realise that this is not an estate owner going through the motions; this 74 year old’s inner fire remains undimmed.

The purchase of estates in both Montalcino and Bolgheri gave Gaja production capability in Italy’s three most prestigious wine regions. The Rennina is a deeply pleasing Brunello and the Magari a fine example of how well the coastal vineyards of Bolgheri and Maremma suit Bordeaux varieties. Further purchases in Piemonte allowed Gaja to extend their offering and provides the consumer with some wines that are more forward and easily broached in their youth such as the elegant Sito Moresco. The aim is to produce wines that reflect a sense of place, a commonly heard mantra much easier to say than to achieve, yet these bottlings have seen that goal successfully attained. None of the wines below could ever be described as inexpensive but on the whole they impress and are worth the efforts required to seek them out.

Sito Moresco, Langhe, 2012, 14%
Grape:
35% Nebbiolo, 35% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: 18 months in small barrels
Note: Delicately perfumed, sweet red fruit, floral, touch of cordite. Lovely palate, fine powdery tannins (very Nebbiolo) but with a plushness to the palate that is surely the result of the relatively high Merlot content. This may not have the same density or concentration as other Piemontese wines from Gaja but this is not a wine to be under-estimated. Delicious drinking now but with the ability to age over the medium term.
Price: 2400NT
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: Sergio Valente (Sergio.com.tw)

Rossj Bass, Langhe, 2013,13.5%
Grape:
Chardonnay
Wine-making: 100% Stainless steel fermentation and a little new French oak maturation for 8-10 months.
Note: Fresh, very limey, apricot, taut, crisp and mineral with some complexity provided by a little nutty creaminess. Intense fruit character and persistent but this needs some time to develop. Still a baby.
Price: 3400NT
Score: 17.5
Available from: Sergio Valente (Sergio.com.tw)

Magari, Ca’ Marcanda, IGT Toscana, 2012, 14.5%
Grape:
50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc (young vine)
Wine-making: 18 months in French oak
Note: Black and red fruit dominate on the nose but are amply supported by spice, perfume and some toasty oak. A freshness provided by the fine acidity lets you know that you are in Italy and the elevated alcohol that warms the mouth without setting it alight is an expected marker from these costal Tuscan vineyards.
Price: 3000NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Sergio Valente (Sergio.com.tw)

Pieve Santa Restituta, Rennina, Brunello di Montalcino, 2007, 14%
Grape:
Brunello (Sangiovese)
Wine-making: 12 months in small oak followed by 12 months in large oak (botti)
Note: Bright ruby/garnet in colour this has a deliciously alluring, complex and savoury nose of tomato soup, beef bones, porcini mushrooms and sandalwood. Rich and concentrated, dens and persistent. Brilliant
Price: 7200NT
Score: 18.5/20
Available from: Sergio Valente (Sergio.com.tw)

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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%
Grape:
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%
Grape:
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%
Grape:
Syrah
Wine-making:
Note:
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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The Bordeaux Blend in the New World

There is a reason why Bordeaux is so revered and much of the secret lies in the blend of grapes used. Cabernet Sauvignon may be the grape variety most famously associated and exported from its home on the left bank of the Gironde but Cabernet without the help of its friends (Merlot, Cabernet Franc etc) can feel hollow, edgy and overly herbaceous. Whilst at the Hong Kong wine fair last week I decided to avoid Bordeaux and taste my way through some examples from regions in the new world where Bordeaux blends thrive. It came as no surprise that many of the best were from the ‘cooler’ parts of their respective countries of origin. These wines offered a richness of fruit only found in Bordeaux in the warmest of years but the best were balanced by restraint, elegance, freshness and a textural sophistication that marked these out as fine by anybody’s standard. Cabernet Sauvignon frequently took the lead in these wines but as can be seen below the likes of Cabernet Franc or Merlot provided more than ample support.

When it comes to straight Cabernet Sauvignon I usually prefer wines from a warmer climate such as Napa Valley. This helps plump up the middle of the wine, softening some of the ‘square-ness’ from which this variety can suffer. Yarran, using fruit from Heathcote, produce wines with this added generosity.

So if there is a lesson in any of this it is not to ignore blends in the pursuit of a single varietal; skilful blending adds complexity. Don’t assume that Bordeaux is the only region capable of producing fine quality blended wine featuring the varieties discussed. And don’t dismiss varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from warmer, more Mediterranean climates. Below are two wines that express the sophistication and age-ability possible outside of Bordeaux and from Yarran, a Cabernet Sauvignon that is both plush and a pleasure to drink now.

Yarra Yering, Dry Red Number 1, Yarra Valley, 2008, 13.5%
Grape:
66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: 100% new oak
Note: Delicate and restrained nose of blackberry, smoke and some red fruit. A touch balsamic, spicy but not overly and there is a brightness on the palate that makes this both persistent and harmonious. This reminded me less of Bordeaux and more of top quality, classic Rioja from the likes of Rioja alta. Truly fine stuff. Anyone who thinks that Australia is all about full-bodied fruit bombs needs to try this.
Price: 2005 is 2970NT in Taiwan. Globally approx. $80USD
Score: 18.5/20, Magnificent
Available from: icheers.com.tw have the 2005 for 2970NT

Yarran Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Heathcote, 2013, 14.2%
Grape:
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: Some French oak
Note: Soft, spicy with chocolate and mocha, sweet licorice and dark fruit. Very nicely judged oak (much better than the 2012) and with a persistent finish. Brilliant value.
Price: In Australia this is priced at approx. $12USD
Score: 16/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan but should be.

Groot Constantia, Gouverners Reserve, Constantia, 2011, 14%
Grape:
54% Cabernet Franc, 36% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: Matured for 18 months in predominantly new French oak
Note: Hailing from Constantia means that this is about as cool a climate as one can experience in South Africa. This provides a wine that is fresh and vibrant but also deep and satisfying. On the nose this could be from Bordeaux with pencil shavings, coffee grounds and both sweet and savoury fruit. Generous in body and again excellent persistence, a bargain that will reward cellaring for another ten years.
Price: Globally available at approximately $40USD
Score: 18/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan but should be.

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Something for the Weekend 9: The effectiveness of Blind Tasting

Blind tasting is controversial. As an importer it was the final and most critical part of my selection process. Having spent time visiting producers and tasting wines in situ; it was only on my return home that a reliable assessment could be made. The blind-tasting of wines of a particular price point or region against their neighbours or competitors, helped remove some of the bias to which I was prone. I never bought wines from people I didn’t like but blind tasting also prevented me from buying wines from people I really did. It removed the emotion and romanticism I might have attached to people and places and left the raw product exposed for what it was. It is this reason why so many returning from holiday clutching their favourite wine of the trip end up being disappointed. Most wine tastes good when the sun is high and the serotonin is flowing. In the more prosaic surroundings of home, these same vinous ‘joys’ are often much less rewarding.

In the classroom, blind-tastings are frequently used as a method of torture rather than one of learning. There should always be a clear reason as to why one is tasting blind otherwise it becomes a game with too many crestfallen ‘losers’ and no real ‘winner’ – not in an educational sense anyway. Last Sunday my class enjoyed a flight of four wines (conducted blind), that worked particularly well as an exercise in varietal differences. Attempting to ‘bench-mark’ varieties or regional expressions of certain grape types is not always successful, but the Syrah, Carmenere, Malbec and Cabernet/Merlot we tasted proved deliciously up to the task. As an MW student I am keenly aware of making tastings illuminating and relevant; and these four wines, none prohibitively expensive, are worthy of some home study of your own.

Marques de Casa Concha, Syrah, D.O Buin (Maipo), Chile, 2011, 14.5%
Grape:
Syrah
Wine-making: 18 months in French Oak
Note: Classic Syrah. Blackberry fruit and fresh acidity that helps preserve this wine’s sense of purity. The oak does not get in the way and the ripe tannins complete the harmonious palate. Good value
Price: 1050NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Creationwines.com.tw

Marques de Casa Concha, Carmenere, D.O Peumo (Rapel), Chile, 2011, 14%
Grape:
Carmenere
Wine-making: 18 months in French Oak
Note: There is a little pleasant herbaceousness here but no under-ripeness that can leave Carmenere feeling green and mean. Chocolatey and supple tannins with a touch of spice from the oak.
Price: 950NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Creationwines.com.tw

Catena Alta, ‘Historic Rows’, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2009, 14%
Grape:
Malbec
Wine-making: 18 months in French oak
Note: It is rare for me to drink any one wine more than a couple of times a year but this is one of the few I could happily have a glass of every day. It smells of cherry pie, vanilla, citrus peel and has silky, super-fine tannins. Persistent and delicious, exceptionally good.
Price: 2400NT
Score:18.5/20
Available from: icheers

Cape Mentelle, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Margaret River, Australia, 2012, 13.5%
Grape:
63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: 14 months in 20% new French oak
Note: Mint, chocolate and tar (three of my favourite smells) accompanied by a structure of fine-grained tannins help give this wine more than just a sheen of elegance. Very good value.
Price: 1200NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: P9.com.tw

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