Christmas 2016

Weightstone, Taiwan: The quest for quality

My desire this week to attend any tasting, never mind one dedicated to Taiwanese wine, was never going to be great. My family are home for the holidays and sunlight rather than fairy lights has been the principal illumination in our living-room as Taipei basks in an unseasonable bout of warm weather. Luckily life has taught me that making an effort, however modest, often results in reward and as I set off for the half hour cab-ride to the event, I considered that even if the wines were only average in quality, I would still dramatically increase my very limited understanding of the fledgling Taiwanese wine industry.

The reason why this particular tasting is being featured for our Christmas post is opportune in many ways. Obviously the tasting happened at a very convenient point in the calendar but it also has a back story that eschews the humbug of the cynic and revels instead in the most positive traits of the human condition: hope, determination and respect. A very appropriate message for the festive season.

Our guide for the tasting was Operations Manager Vivian Yang and what followed was no common rendition or professional patter of the seasoned ‘rep’, no this was effusive and heartfelt, punctuated at times by tears and laughter. Vivian’s father Ben, a successful agriculturist and agronomist was encouraged to pursue the goal of producing a wine in which Taiwan could be proud. This led to the creation in 2011 of Weightstone and the effort involved in the establishment of both vineyards and winery facilities by Ben, Vivian and the rest of the team has been remarkable. The great sadness is that Ben is no longer with us to witness the rise of the brand he conceived and this was the reason for the emotionally charged nature of Vivian’s presentation.

The three wines tasted included my first ever experience of Musann Blanc. This is a variety of whose parentage I am not completely clear; the distinctly aromatic nature and slight bitter phenolic twist suggests a close relationship with the Muscat family, with Torrontes being the variety with which it has the most in common. Weightstone use Musann Blanc in their dry white and as support for Golden Muscat in their Blanc de Blancs. Black Queen is a hybrid brought to Taiwan during the Japanese occupation and represents the principal variety in the Gris de Noirs traditional method sparkling. My previous encounters with wine produced from this grape have been disappointing with the whiff of rot (something to which this variety is prone and difficult to avoid in Taiwan’s sub-tropical climate) too often negating any positive comments I may have had to offer.

Overall the tasting was a success. I was more than pleasantly surprised by the quality demonstrated in all three wines, but with minute levels of production comes a fairly hefty price tag and from an international perspective these are wines that are over-priced. However these are wines that will be primarily bought and sold domestically and the rarity and justifiable pride in Taiwanese produce will mean that sourcing a bottle will likely prove a challenge. If one considers the intent and desire of the people behind Weightstone then this is an Estate that deserves to succeed and I look forward to seeing how Ben Yang’s dream continues to develop over the coming years.

Tasting Notes:
Musann Blanc, Cuvee #14, 2015, 14%
Aromatic and Muscat-like with tropical fruit and floral notes lifted by a lime cordial lightness. Soft but balancing acidity provides freshness and the 14% alcohol is well hidden. Simple but enjoyable. 15.5/20 

Blanc de Blancs Brut Cuvee Classique #14, 12%
Very slightly autolytic in character more earthy (Cava-esque) than the sweet brioche of Champagne and with pear and yellow flower aromatics. Brut style, citrusy with moderate but enlivening acidity that lends this wine a certain elegance. The mousse and therefore the persistence on the palate fades a little quickly but again this proved to be an enjoyable glass. 15.5+/20 

Gris de Noirs Rose Brut, Cuvee Classique #14
Bruised apple character points to slight oxidation but beneath this is some juicy berry fruit. On the palate this is the best wine of the three with higher acidity, and much greater persistence and a leesy richness on the finish. Potentially very good, it just needs an aromatic profile of greater purity. 16/20

威石東:追求品質的臺灣酒莊

即便是致力釀成的臺灣葡萄酒,我只要想到這一週還要參加品酒會,就有些提不起勁。一方面是因為家人都已放假在家,另一方面是臺灣最近的天氣熱得不像話,讓妝點我家客廳的已不再是聖誕節燈飾,而成了陽光。所幸,我發現只要肯稍加用心,人生常會獲得意料之外的報償。當我坐進計程車,出發前往半小時以外的品酒會場地時,我心想,即便這天品嚐到的酒款品質普通,我還是能夠累積不少關於臺灣初萌芽葡萄酒產業的知識。

其實會用這篇文章做為這一年的聖誕節文章,有很多原因都是巧合。一方面是品酒會剛好在這週,另一方面則是因為這家酒莊有個展現人性希望、決心與令人尊敬的故事,恰好相當適合這歡慶的季節。

這次帶領我們品飲的是釀酒師楊仁亞Vivian。不同於其它品酒會中的專業行話,或經驗豐富但不斷重複的內容,Vivian的解說滿是熱情與真誠,還時而點綴以笑和淚。原來,Vivian的父親楊文彬──一位傑出的農夫與農學家,在2011年成立了威石東酒莊(Weightstone)後,還沒還得及見證品牌的興起,便已撒手人寰。解說時講到此處,Vivian難隱心中哀傷。楊文彬最初成立威石東的宗旨,便是要端出能讓臺灣引以為傲的產品。在他的努力之下,酒莊的葡萄園與釀酒廠設備逐漸成形,而女兒Vivian與酒莊的釀酒團隊同樣功不可沒。

這一天品嚐的三款酒中,有一個品種是我從未品嚐過的白木杉(Musann Blanc)。我不太清楚這個品種的來源,但它清晰的香氣調性與口感中略帶苦味與酚類物質的風味,似乎暗示了它與蜜思嘉(Muscat)家族有著緊密的關連。若要找一個與其風格較相近的品種,大概就是多隆蒂斯(Torrontes)了吧!威石東以白木杉釀了一款單一品種的干型白酒,另外也搭配金香(Golden Muscat)釀成了一款白中白(Blanc de Blancs)氣泡酒。酒莊用的另一個品種──黑后(Black Queen)是日據時期引進臺灣的雜交黑葡萄,主要用來釀造威石東的傳統法氣泡酒Gris de Noirs。過去,我所品嚐的黑后酒款多半令人失望,還帶點腐壞味(這品種本來就容易腐壞,偏偏在臺灣這樣亞熱帶的氣候,更是難以避免),因此總難讓人注意到任何優點。

整體而言,這次的品飲會頗成功。會上品嚐的三款酒,品質都出乎意料之外地好,但威石東不但產量極少,酒款要價還頗昂貴,以國際水平而言,這樣的價格確實偏高。不過,想必這些酒主要會在國內市場流通,其稀有程度與身為臺灣產品的自豪之處,都代表了要收藏上一瓶,可能不太好找。考量其釀酒團隊的動機與渴望,這無疑是一家值得邁向成功的酒莊。我期待看到楊文彬的願景在未來幾年繼續發展。(編譯 / 艾蜜・emily)

品飲筆記:
Musann Blanc, Cuvee #14(酒精度14%
香氣豐沛,調性宛如蜜思嘉一般,佐以熱帶水果香和花香,另有萊姆香甜酒的香氣提升了整體輕盈感。口感柔軟、新鮮,平衡以良好的酸度,喝不出來有14%酒精度。簡單而易飲。(15.5+分 / 20分) 

Blanc de Blancs Brut Cuvee Classique #14(酒精度12%
香氣有非常輕微的酵母味,相較於香檳(Champagne)的甜布里歐麵包味,這款酒有較多土壤香氣(近似Cava),並點綴以梨和黃色花香。這款不甜風格的氣泡酒展現了柑橘風味,與柔和但有活力的酸度,整體顯露了相當程度的高雅風格。雖然口中氣泡消逝嫌快,導致酒款持久度不夠,但它依舊是一款怡人的氣泡酒。(15.5+分 / 20分) 

Gris de Noirs Rose Brut, Cuvee Classique #14
碰傷蘋果的香氣暗示了酒款有些氧化,但新鮮怡人的莓果香隨即取而代之。這款酒是三款中表現最佳者,酸度較高,持續性更佳,餘韻更帶有豐富的酵母味。這款酒也許會發展得相當不錯,只需要再多一點香氣的純淨度即可。(16分 / 20分)