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A Beginning and an End

Date: 28th August 2014
Place: Sherwood Hotel
, Minsheng East Rd, Section 3, Taipei.
Event: Finesse Wines: Taittinger & Graham’s Port

The drinking of Champagne and Port is usually separated by a few hours, one served as an aperitif and one as a post prandial accompaniment to a fat Cohiba. Yet the drinking of Port and particularly aged Tawny Ports and Colheitas (vintage tawnies), is arguably most suitably consumed when served lightly chilled before dinner.

On working my way through Graham’s 10, 20, 30, 40 year old tawnies and the 1982 Colheita, the dominant features were not those of richness, spice and power (although they had these qualities in abundance) but elegance and freshness. These elements were most obvious in the 20 and 30 year old. The difference between the 10 and the 20 year old in their respective complexity and style is considerable. During the slow, oxidative ageing process in barrel, the red berry and cherry fruit that haunt the 10 year old, fade to be replaced by orange and citrus peel, burnt sugar and a pleasant woodiness. Crucially the spirit that is used to fortify Port is completely integrated in the 20 year old providing the drinker with a palate bereft of the fieriness that flickers in the heart of younger bottlings.

And yet there is always a place for Champagne.

The house style of Taittinger which promotes delicacy and finesse over overt yeasty/autolytic/winey styles (i.e. Bollinger, Vilmart et Cie, Charles Heidsieck) is perfect for sub-tropical sipping. It all really depends on the occasion. At home, before a meal (I don’t mean breakfast), tawny port is perfect. It can be kept in the fridge, almost indefinitely, without fading in flavour or aroma and is thus very convenient as well as being delicious. With a few extra guests you may want the added drama of bubbles. Whatever you choose these wines are for the beginning not the end of an evening’s entertainment.

Brut Reserve NV
Grape:
Chardonnay 40%, Pinot’s Noir 35% & Meunier 25%
Wine-making: Full malolactic conversion (MLC), 3 years plus on lees, 9g/l dosage
Note: Delicate, autolytic nose, touch of tarte tatin, vanilla, floral, precise. Bright acidity, persistent mousse. Very good and great value.
Price: 2700NTD
Score: 16.5/20

Brut Prestige Rose NV
Grape:
Chardonnay 30%, Pinot Noir 45%, Pinot Meunier 25%
Wine-making: Made by ‘L’Addition’ method whereby still red wine is added to still white wine at the beginning of the winemaking process. Full MLC, 10g/l dosage, 3 years on lees.
Note: Beautiful salmon colour, spicy almost peppery red currant fruit, raspberry, blackcurrant leaf, less obvious autolysis than the regular brut.
Price: 3200NTD
Score: 16/20

Nocturne Sec NV
Grape:
Chardonnay 40%, Pinot’s Noir 35% & Meunier 25%
Wine-making: Full MLC, 3 years plus on lees, 18g/l dosage
Note: Very fine mousse. Lovely lemon sherbert nose, touch of green apple, licorice and delicate autolytic character. Extremely (dangerously) easy to drink. The extra dosage leads to a less subtle character but mutes/balances the acidity well. Retains the signature Taittinger elegance.
Price: 3000NTD
Score: 15.5/20

Prelude Grand Crus Brut NV
Grape:
Chardonnay 50%, Pinot Noir 50%,
Wine-making: Full MLC, more than 5 years on lees, 10g/l dosage.
Note: More restrained than the brut reserve on the nose, more structured on the palate, with a seam of minerality, citrus and physalis (very Chardonnay), fine mousse, persistent
Price: 3300NTD
Score:16.5/20

Comtes de Champagne Rose Brut 2003
Grape:
Chardonnay & Pinot Noir, 18000NTD
Wine-making: Full MLC, 6 years plus on lees. Made by ‘L’Addition’ method.
Note: Salmon orange colour. Smells mature, touch of mushroom and meat glaze, some umami character that you either like or don’t like. Retains some red berry fruit and persistence of flavour alongside inevitably a more delicate mousse (due to the age) than the other wines here.
Price: 18000NTD
Score:16.5/20

Graham’s Tawny Ports:

General winemaking notes: Port is a fortified wine meaning that it has had neutral grape spirit added early in the wine’s fermentation, after approximately 36 hours. This stops the fermentation thus preserving a large proportion of the grape’s naturally occurring sugars. All of the Ports listed have a residual sugar content between 100 and 110g/l. All the wines below are wood (cask) aged. Therefore they have been matured oxidatively resulting in lighter coloured Ports with a vastly different flavour and aroma spectrum to Ruby examples such as LBV or Vintage Ports. Apart from the Colheita, the age indication is an average age of the wines used in the blend.

10 yr old Tawny
Note:
Pale ruby/tawny, touch of penicillin character indicating age. Still a little spirity. Raisined, spiced cherry fruit coupled with tobacco, toasted walnuts, caramel, moderate acidity and soft tannins. Persistent.
Price: 2200NTD
Score:16/20

20 yr old Tawny
Note:
Full tawny, much more orange in colour than the ten year old. More penicillin, no red cherry fruit here. Instead fresh wood, burnt sugar, dried orange peel, spicy and more unctuous mouthfeel. Once again the acidity provides a freshness and poise. Very persistent and seamless integration of wine and spirit. Excellent and good value.
Price: 4000NTD
Score:17.5/20

30 yr old Tawny
Note:
Completely tawny/orange colour. Very concentrated and dense making the wine feel less sweet than the twenty year old. Woody, peppery, nutty, chocolaty, with citrus peel and some umami-like character. Full bodied, complex and with great persistence. Again Excellent.
Price: 6500NTD
Score:17.5/20

40 yr old Tawny
Full tawny/orange colour. Nutty, burnt, woody, dense, rich and spicy. Lovely integration of the spirit and fine acidity that lends poise. This reminds me of some very old oloroso sherries i.e. massively concentrated and complex but perhaps less easily enjoyable than some of the younger examples.
Price: 10,000NTD
Score: 16.5/20

1982 Colheita
Note:
Full tawny/amber. Smells, unsurprisingly, like a cross between the 20 and 30 year old tawnies. Delicious, dense, rich, penicillin, nutty, woody, spicy and with an alluring Chinese smoked plum character. A wine for sipping.
Price: 16800NTD
Score: 17/20

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Something for the Weekend 2

Having had the good fortune to be invited to Taipei’s National Concert Hall for an Italian evening hosted by the excellent importer, Ascent Way, it is to be expected that my recommendation(s) for this weekend would hail from the land of Sangiovese. As the majority of the music being performed was written by Puccini, a native of Tuscany, it is even more appropriate that the focus be on Tuscany’s greatest wine, Brunello di Montalcino.

The small town of Montalcino sits some 600m above sea level. The vineyards that surround it are situated at various altitudes and aspect as the land falls back to the plain. It is for this reason, rather than huge differences in wine-making philosophy, that the wines here vary in density, richness, finesse and power. One of the wines available for tasting prior to the concert was from Fuligni, a producer that occupies some of the higher slopes very close to both Montalcino itself and the great Biondi-Santi (the Lafite of this DOCG). Stylistically Fuligni’s wines are elegant more than weighty but they never lack vigour. As we move into autumn in the Northern Hemisphere this wine is the ideal partner to dark meat such as game or beef. Yet try not to be too precious, I would be equally delighted if all I had to accompany this was a bowl of comforting Miso.

Fuligni, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2008, 14.5%
Grape:
Brunello (aka Sangiovese)
Wine-making: Two and a half years in old oak, four years total maturation.
Note: Still a touch austere and restrained but with an ever improving aroma of cherry fruit, licorice and violets as the wine woke up in the glass. The tannins remain firm but not unpleasantly so and the alcohol does not get in the way. Persistent and delicious.
Price: 3,600NTD –
Score: 17/20 (If you can get the 2006 that is an 18/20 a truly excellent wine)
Available from:  Ascent Way

….and if your pocket won’t stretch that far…

Tenuta di Nozzole, ‘La Forra’ Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, 2008, 14%
Grape:
90% Sangiovese
Wine-making: 50% Slavonian oak , 50% French oak
Note: This is a really gutsy Chianti with typical bright cherry fruit and something herbal on the nose but with more flesh and power than many of its neighbours. Ideally needs food to help rein in some of that power.
Price: 1950NTD –
Score: 16/20
Available from:  Ascent Way

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Making Wine Easy

Date: 5th of September 2014
Event: Official opening of Vinoza
Venue: Vinoza, 59, Lane 122, Section 4, Ren’ai Rd, Xinyi District, Taipei 110

The biggest challenge faced by those trying to develop a more active wine culture in countries like Taiwan is based on accessibility. If the price is too high then all but the aspirational and well heeled are excluded. If the price is too low then it forms just another part of the alcohol mix that is exchangeable with any other similarly priced booze. Knowledge, or the perceived lack of it is also a barrier to raising consumption. Consumers don’t want to enter into an in depth conversation over the relative merits of the Left Bank vs. Right Bank Bordeaux, they just want to know if they are likely to like the wine. Customers don’t come back if they are made to feel stupid.

Vinoza is a new wine shop/importer in Xinyi district, selling primarily mid-priced wines between 300 and 1500NTD. They offer free tastings every day (of up to five wines) and although all staff have basic wine qualifications, the emphasis is on the customer to find the wine they like. Having identified a particular preferred style for example ‘Sapphire’ for full-bodied red wines, wine novices can look on the shelves for bottles labelled with the same style key to help remove some of the guesswork. Wines can be consumed on as well as off premise and if you do decide to drink at the bar or at the big wooden table in the airy room at the back, plates of assorted tapas can be ordered for 200NTD.

Is Vinoza my kind of wine shop? Probably not, but that is because I want a greater choice. Yet this is exactly the type of wine-shop experience that Taipei needs. No pomposity, no unintelligible descriptions and no wine geek speak. This is relaxed and friendly with a selection that is both affordable and easy to navigate.

Below are three wines that are representative of what Vinoza’s shelves have to offer.

Lamberti Santepietre Chardonnay 2013, IGT Delle Venezia 2013, 12.5%,
Grape:
Chardonnay
Wine-making: Stainless Steel
Note: Simple, citrus with some vanilla and spice character. Good palate weight, easy drinking and affordable.
Vinoza style: Topaz
Price: 599NTD
Score: 14/20

Melini Chianti Riserva DOCG 2010, 13%
Grape:
Predominantly Sangiovese
Wine-making: Old Slavonian oak vats
Note: Restrained nose, sour cherry. Very typical. Powdery tannins, a touch of spice, bright acid and slight astringency to the finish…it’s Chianti.
Vinoza style: Ruby
Price: 799NTD
Score: 14.5/20

Plansel Selecta by Doria Lindemann, Touriga Nacional, Alentejo, 15.5% only 6,000 bottles produced
Grape:
Touriga Nacional
Wine-making: 18 months in new French Oak barrels
Note: Intense, damson (sour plum), sloe and citrus peel nose, huge concentration, grippy but ripe tannins with well integrated oak and no alcohol burn. Full bodied and persistent.
Vinoza style: Sapphire
Price: 1499NTD
Score: 16/20

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'Because it's There'
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Classics? 2

Date: 22nd August 2014
Place: J.W. Teres Restaurant,
No.4, Lane 208, Siwei Road, Daan District, Taipei,
Event: Dinner

The dominance of France, Italy and Spain on the consciousness of both wine producers and consumers is profound. When vine growers or winemakers have the opportunity to produce the wine they believe could be their best work they often turn to those proven noble varieties that bestride the wine-making world. This is, of course, completely understandable. Ask an oenophile what their death-bed wine would be and Nebbiolo from Barolo, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Burgundy, Syrah from Cote Rotie and Tempranillo from Rioja – are likely to figure large. Why? Because these are proven performers, grapes that over time have demonstrated their inherent ‘oneness’ with the land on which they are planted and the climate in which they inhabit.

Seeking out regions where this ‘oneness’ exists should lead the wine consumer to regions of production that have history: regions where often a single variety has come to dominate. In Bulgaria and the Struma valley located in the far south west of the country such a history exists with Melnik (aka Shiroka Melnishka). On Friday night whilst munching through a variety of fine Bulgarian food – grilled neck of lamb and sail-fish belly, smoky baked egg-plant and stuffed zucchini with yoghurt and dill, we drank some delicious Melnik from the Logodaj winery. The wine was dense with flavour, rich with tannin and with a spine formed of firm acidity. As one might expect, such innate structure is well suited to barrel maturation but the presence of oak flavours and aromas were marked by their integration with what was still a young wine (2012).

Examples of classic wines are to be found in many regions if one is prepared to look. The Struma Valley and Melnik deserve your attention.

Logodaj, Melnik 55, Struma Valley, 2012, 14.5%
Grape:
Melnik 55
Wine-making: 12 months maturation in small French barrels
Note: Rich and ripe yet lithe and sprightly, cherry-like fruit supported by forgiving tannins. Judicious oak use provides spiciness and tobacco aroma. Excellent.
Price: 1900NTD
Score: 17/20
Available from: Aneco International

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Something for the Weekend

At times it is difficult to accept that for all my fascination for wine, certain areas or regions are increasingly beyond my means. The great wines of Burgundy, unlike Bordeaux, being so limited in production means acquiring a good bottle from a respected producer is often hugely expensive. Instead I rely on the charitable nature of friends or invitations to tastings from some of Taiwan’s more generous importers, to actually experience the ‘best’ of bottled Burgundy.

This price inflation caused by demand on such limited supply means that the less revered appellations are where Pinot prospectors need to look to slake their thirst. Apart from having the general misfortune of being much harder to pronounce than Pommard or Volnay, Pernand Vergelesses (PV) is one such place. Sitting quite literally in the shadow of the more famous hill of Corton means that the wines allure and price never quite meet the lofty heights of its neighbour.

Having just revisted a bottle of Jadot’s ‘Clos de la Croix de Pierre’ 2010 (which I first opened in January using what may well have been Taiwan’s first Coravin system), reminded me that this is a purchase that will not necessitate the consent of your bank manager or spouse. Jadot has a good portion of the En Caradeux vineyard and it is from here that their wild strawberry and cherry stone scented 2010 PV is grown. Defined by its tannic structure that is both chalky and persistent, this is an intensely moreish offering that requires neither food nor ceremony for it to shine (just open a bottle, sit down and pour yourself a glass). This has another few years of evolution still ahead of it when some of the fruit will gave way to more complex, savoury characters but such is the overt pleasure obtainable now that I can’t be bothered to wait. My advice is to get a few bottles while you can and enjoy it knowing that your trust fund remains intact.

Louis Jadot, Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru En Caradeux, ‘Clos de la Croix de Pierre’ 2010, 13.5%.
Grape:
100% Pinot Noir
Winemaking: Maturation for 15 months in French Oak (approx. 25% new).
Note: Delicious, affordable 1er Cru Burgundy. Has a deep, sweet cherry character and some of the exotic spice I associate with Corton, its more illustrious and expensive neighour.
Price: 1750 NTD
Score: 17/20
Available from: Finesse

CORAVIN™ 1000 wine access system
Grape:
N/A
Winemaking: N/A
Note: Very useful with natural cork but can’t be used with screw-cap or very effectively with synthetics. However I have experienced no discernible decline in the bottle of Clos de la Croix de Pierre that I accessed for the first time seven and a half months ago. If like me you sometimes want to try 3 or more wines in the course of an evening, then this can save you a lot of money. It can also allow you to follow the wines ever evolving nature, potentially for many years.
Price: Not currently available in Taiwan, it has to be shipped from the USA which is expensive. The system costs $299.
Score: 17/20

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Classics?

Date: 16th August 2014
Place: WINE-derful wine bar,
No. 27 Mínshēng East Road Section 3, Zhōngshān District, Taipei
Event: Blind tasting hosted by
Wineschool.com.tw

Blind tastings are as much a test for the person choosing the wine as they are for the poor bugger trying to deduce the variety and provenance. The issue is that whilst most would agree on the characteristics of a village level Chambolle Musigny in comparison with a similar level Pommard, selecting a true example of a Rioja Reserva or Chianti Classico is increasingly difficult. Rioja has become ‘cleaner’ less obviously oxidative and is now as likely to showcase the spicy aromas of French oak as it is the more traditional sweet overtones from maturation in American barrels. Yet it is Tuscany and Chianti where perhaps the contrast is most stark. Chianti Classico has become increasingly international in taste and aroma – a result of a drive to lift quality and the level of exports. The use of new French oak rather than larger Slavonian oak, coupled with the addition of varieties like Merlot and particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, can overpower rather than compliment Sangiovese’s delicate perfume. Such wines are not my preferred version of classic Chianti Classico. Yet for more recent converts to wine, or for drinkers in their twenties or early thirties, this more modern style is perhaps the most familiar representation of this famous Tuscan region.

The tasters at the event above had a Chianti Classico from Tenuta di Nozzole, a wine that fits my understanding of what a Chianti Classico should taste like. Below I have listed this wine with two other widely available Chiantis that are good quality examples of both modern and traditional(ish) styles. It is worth tasting them together if your pocket or liver will take it.

Barone Ricasoli Colledila Chianti Classico
Grape:
100% Sangiovese – Not in itself very traditional as Chianti Classico is normally a blend dominated by Sangiovese (min 80%).
Winemaking: Maturation for 18 months in large casks and small French oak barrels.
Note: By far the most aromatic of the three wines here with a more overt ripe fruit style. Black as well as sour cherry, prune and violet. Powdery tannins are ripe and even though the alcohol is considerable, this Colledila retains its poise. Very good, more modern style Chianti Classico.
Price: NTD 3000
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Leading Brands

Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico 2010, 13.5%
Grape:
100% Sangiovese – Not in itself very traditional as Chianti Classico is normally a blend dominated by Sangiovese (min 80%).
Winemaking: Maturation for 12 months in large Slavonian Oak vats
Note: Restrained cherry and sour plum fruit but with a little savoury spiciness, firm acidity. There is a pleasant astringency to the tannins that lends a degree of elegance. Better with food than without so make some ragu. Proper wine.
Price: NTD 1350
Score: 16/20
Available From: Ascent Way

Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, 13.5%
Grape:
80% Sangiovese, 20% of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon
Winemaking: Stainless steel tanks and large Slavonian Oak vats
Note: Similar restraint shown as with Nozzole. Sour cherry fruit with a herbal twang dominates and finesse more than power is this wine’s attraction. Less overtly tannic/astringent than the Nozzole but I would still prefer this with a good pizza than without.
Price: 1150 NTD
Score: 16/20
Available from: Finesse

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