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Re-visiting Coravin

Is there anything more to say about Coravin, the wine preservation system that allows you to access the bottle without pulling the cork, that hasn’t already been said? Perhaps. I have already made clear in a previous post that Coravin helped make my journey through the MW programme considerably cheaper than it might otherwise have been, enabling me to access on multiple occasions wines that I considered necessary to compare and contrast with others.

My generally high level of contentment with the system does not mean that it is perfect. Beyond the obvious inability to access screwcaps, or plastic corks my other casual observations have centered on Coravin’s efficacy with agglomerated or technical corks like Diam. As these are not made from one piece of cork their elasticity appears somewhat compromised (meaning the hole made by the needle is less quick to close) and I have suspected that some wines I have re-visited have been ‘flatter’, the fruit a little more oxidised than expected.

On the 23rd of September the extremely personable inventor and owner, Greg Lambrecht was in Taipei and as part of his visit hosted a comparative tasting of three wines, a 2013 Fume Blanc from Mondavi, a 2010 Beaune 1er Cru from Domaine Champy and a 2010 Brunello di Montalcino from Castelgiocondo. What made this tasting different was that those assembled were given three wines of each, with one or two in each flight of three (we were not told) being wines that had been accessed three months earlier on the 21st of June. We were asked to identify the wine(s) in each flight that had been ‘Coravined’ or if we couldn’t tell the difference between the three to say as such on the recording slips that we had been given.

Lambrecht said that this was the largest tasting of this type yet undertaken by Coravin, as there were more than one hundred participants. The results were conclusive in that there was no consensus on any wine being significantly different from the others tasted. For me, the only wine where I really noticed any difference was with the Mondavi, the fruit aromas were just not as pronounced in the previously accessed example. Lambrecht asked, “Is there any wine here that you wouldn’t be happy to share with your guests/customers?”

“No” was the resounding response. A sentiment with which I fully concur.

Just before leaving I asked Lambrecht about my suspected ‘issue’ with technical corks and he recommended allowing both these and old corks a few extra seconds to close (approximately 30) on removal of the needle, to allow for the reduced elasticity, before returning the bottles to their horizontal position in one’s cellar or wine fridge.

 

再訪Coravin 

大家都知道,葡萄酒保存工具Coravin可以讓飲者在不取出瓶塞的情況下品嚐到瓶中酒。但關於Coravin,到底還有什麼是我們所不知道的呢?在過去的文章中,我已清楚地提到Coravin讓我能夠多次於不同時間點順利品飲同樣酒款,以比較和對照其它酒,進而大大地降低了我在準備葡萄酒大師(Master of Wine)考試時所需的費用。

雖然我對於目前的Coravin相當滿意,這卻不代表Coravin是完美無缺的。除了還無法使用於旋蓋或塑膠塞封瓶的葡萄酒款,Coravin使用於聚合軟木塞或Diam這類重組膠黏塞封瓶酒款的功效,也令我感到有些納悶。這是因為,這類軟木塞不是以一整片軟木製成,導致彈性較差,因此在Coravin細針插入木塞後,洞口會較慢癒合。除此之外,幾次重新品嚐過以Coravin取過的酒樣後,我也懷疑有些酒款的口感似乎較為「扁平」,或是在香氣上展現出較明顯的氧化果味。

9月23日這一天,魅力十足的Coravin發明家與專利擁有者Greg Lambrecht蒞臨台北,一同參與了進口商特別舉辦的一場「比較品飲會」。現場邀請來賓品嚐了Mondavi酒莊的2013年Fume Blanc白酒、Domaine Champy的2010年伯恩一級園紅酒( Beaune 1er Cru),以及Castelgiocondo酒莊的2010年蒙塔其諾布魯內洛紅酒(Brunello di Montalcino)。這場品酒會的特出之處,在於與會來賓眼前的三款酒,都分別各有三杯,總計九杯;而三杯同款酒中,各有一至二杯酒,是倒自今年6月21日時已被Coravin取過的樣酒。身為來賓的我們,則要試圖辨認出眼前那一些酒,是三個月前被取過的,或直接誠實地勾選出自己無法辨別這些酒款的不同。

由於這次參加的人士足足超過了100位,Lambrecht說,這是Coravin所辦過規模最大的「比較品飲會」。而結果非常明顯,從統計票數中可發現,全部九杯酒中,沒有任何一杯酒明顯地不同。對我而言,唯一一款我感覺得到稍有不同的,是Mondavi的Fume Blanc;那杯三個月前被Coravin取過的白酒,果味不如其它兩杯來得撲鼻。但當Lambrecht問道:「在場是否有任何一杯酒是你不願意與客人分享的?」上百位與會人士的回應相當一致:「沒有。」而我自己也百分百同意。

離開這場有趣的品飲會之前,我詢問了Lambrecht自己納悶已久的問題。他建議,若是以聚合類木塞與老木塞封瓶的酒款,待Coravin取出後,最好先讓酒瓶直立約末30秒不等的時間,讓彈性欠佳的木塞有時間緩慢癒合,再將酒評橫躺回酒櫃中。(編譯 / 艾蜜・emily)

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Mark Pygott MW

Thirty nine and a half hours on from being told that I was an MW the frustrating but equally exciting thought pervading my mind is “What’s next?” Having heard about some of the more extravagant celebrations embarked upon by previous newly minted MW’s, I had half expected to find these first few days given over to drinking my own weight in Champagne, but this scenario never materialised. It’s certainly true that Messieurs Paillard and Perignon have popped in to say ‘hello’ and I enjoyed their effervescent personalities enormously, but ever the pragmatist (I’m a Virgo), I realised that such a pursuit would soon have kicked a major dent in my cash-flow whilst also requiring a Jeroboam of Pepto-Bismol to relieve my acid ravaged innards.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not bothered, I am, very, but it is a sense of relief rather than outright elation that predominates. As my wife rightly pointed out when I questioned why I wasn’t throwing shapes and punching the air every five seconds, firstly I’m nearly 45 (true), I’m a Virgo (this we have already established) and just imagine what a miserable bastard I would have been if I’d not got the result about which I’d dared to dream.

The truth is that there is only so much self-congratulatory backslapping one can engage in before not only is your back sore but people start actively crossing the road to get out of your way as you thrash away at the space between your shoulder-blades. Life moves on, work piles up and the laundry basket needs emptying.

When I started the MW four years ago, I was determined to pass and assumed that if I threw enough dogged stubbornness at it then that would suffice. Some looking at my achievement may decide that this was indeed enough, that bloody-mindedness won the day. But like one of the equations in my daughter’s maths textbook, the answer alone does not reveal the layers of working out that helped pave the way to success. Without the help of all the people in the wine industry from whom I’ve sought advice, without the incredible generosity and support of my fellow students, without the encouragement and ego re-building words of current MW’s and without a family that allowed me to plan every holiday around the proximity to wine regions I wanted to explore, then I’d have achieved nothing. So how do I feel? Lucky, very lucky, time for some Bollinger.

 

For past posts on my quest for the MW simply search for ‘MW’.

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Brunello 2011: Meiburg Makes it Easy

As a fellow educator it is always an enjoyable experience to see a true professional at work. Last week Debra Meiburg was in Taipei to help promote the 2011 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino so I was always going to find room in my diary for a date that dovetailed California’s finest with the apogee of Sangiovese.

As a Master of Wine, many will have assumed or expected Debra to be on point but all of us who have ever attended a formal lesson or seminar whether at school, college or through work, will know that knowledge per se does not a great teacher make. The ability to engage is the most fundamental skill as learning is then elevated to what it should be; a positive experience rather than a chore. Debra’s methods are neither revolutionary or unique but by talking to those present (rather than at them), inviting contributions and gently fishing individuals from the audience to help her illustrate certain essential facts, ensured that the two hour class felt refreshingly concise.

As an admirer of Brunello, the four samples from 2011 did not disappoint. Fans of 2010, with its opulence and generosity might find the crisp acidity of 2011 too brusque but I enjoyed the elegance and nervosité of these wines. One must also never forget that these are Italian wines. Italian red wine devoid of acid is like an Italian man who doesn’t look good in knitwear; it’s just not meant to happen. Debra signed off with a quiz that was designed to whittle those assembled down to a number where she could award prizes. Unfortunately her abilities as a teacher coupled with the Taiwanese trait of attentive academic application meant that this proved impossible, everyone had been too engaged to fail. Hopefully Brunello di Montalcino 2011 has a similar effect on the wine-drinking public.

Listed below are the two wines that I would happily buy and if you’ve never been convinced by Brunello then one of these should be sufficient to make you see sense.

Col d’Orcia, ‘Nastagio’, Brunello di Montalcino 2011, 14.5%
This is a little too reticent (on the nose) at the moment to warrant more than the score I have given but on the palate the wine springs to life delivering dried herbs and cherry flavours wrapped in firm but fine tannins and a bite of acidity. It also has a silkiness, weight and persistence that suggests this is worthy of a few more years in your wine fridge to allow it the opportunity to blossom. Elegant and fine.
17/20
Currently seeking an importer in Taiwan 

Le Macioche 2011, 14.5%
This was the first time that I had tasted wines from this small estate and this has the perfumed purity and prettiness, that will really appeal to Taiwan’s ever growing band of ‘Pinotphiles’. Refreshing and with less obvious grunt than the Col d’Orcia, Le Macioche is a wine I would be very pleased to serve this evening. No ageing required but this has enough concentration to warrant further cellaring if you can resist its already ample charms.
17/20
Currently seeking an importer in Taiwan

Bottles

 

 

 

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The Despagne Family: Bordeaux Royalty
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The Two Giants of Provence

The Two Giants of Provence 

It was most likely on being told the story of Jack and the Beanstalk as a three or four year old that I was first introduced to the concept of something or someone being a ‘Giant’. Forty years later, the impression that those children’s stories made on my developing brain have ensured that this word remains associated with the pejorative. Giants are not nice; they are ugly, warty, carbuncular and curmudgeonly as well as being physically massive and intimidating.

Last week presented me with two opportunities to face up to any deep-seated giant related negativity. The first when I met with Emmanuel Reynaud, the notoriously reticent owner of Château Rayas in Châteauneuf du Pape. The second when I cycled up the Mistral whipped Ventoux, a mountain that French philosopher Roland Barthes once rather floridly described as “A god of evil, to which sacrifices must be made.”

I would not wish to offend Mr Reynaud by describing him as a pussycat but it was a pleasure to spend a couple of hours in his company. There was no cantankerousness on display here, rather a generosity that led to an extensive tour of the Estate followed by a tasting from tank and barrel that on one occasion caused an unconscious genuflection in the direction of Emmanuel so scented, so altogether perfect was the young Grenache in my slightly grubby tasting glass.

The chance to cycle up Ventoux the day after the Tour de France had been thwarted from reaching the summit due to 100km/h winds filled me with excitement rather than trepidation. Although the climb extends for some 22km from the beautiful town of Bedoin it is the unrelentingly steep ‘middle’ section of 9.5km from St Esteve to Chalet Reynard that causes many cyclists to be dry-mouthed even before they have clipped themselves into the pedals. For me, with the morning sun leaking through the trees, the air still cool and with the painted names of cycling’s elite disappearing under my wheels, my own feeling was of an intense and concentrated satisfaction. Nearing the top an enthusiastic woman with a klaxon yelled at me to keep going and asked whether it had been difficult? “Pas facile mais pas mal” was my response, her frown indicated a slight disappointment that I had not been brought to my knees.

Jack had to slay his giant but Provence conclusively proved that confrontation is not the only policy, show some respect and Giants can be humble, approachable and life-affirming.

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Easy Drinking

Easy Drinking

Sitting, looking up and across the tree-edged Dentelles of the Vaucluse, with the mistral bullying its way across the vineyards, I feel an almost guilty level of contentment. I came here to taste Grenache, not any old Grenache but great Grenache and that is what I have done. Whether at Vieux Donjon and Chateau Rayas in Chateauneuf du Pape or at Saint Cosme in Gigondas, I wanted to taste Grenache that was three dimensional, Grenache that had guts and grace in equal measure, Grenache that could sing rather than merely mumble, I wanted to be impressed.

Yet as a molly-coddled middle-ager, whilst I appreciated the Clos de Beze like reek of Rayas and the sandy drag of tannin across my palate of Saint-Cosme’s ‘Hominis Fides’, I also wanted some pleasure that I could afford to consume more regularly than a couple of times a year. When one has the good fortune to bump into one of the aforementioned wines, any emotion experienced other than wonder can leaver the drinker feeling hard done to. These are wines that are supposed to be eye-widening in quality. Ideally an even greater sense of satisfaction can be achieved by bottles with less lofty provenance or from those ‘estates’ still suffering from nappy rash, such is their youth.

The last couple of days has seen an array of Grenache based ‘easy drinkers’ pass my lips and the best have been Mas de Libian’s ‘Vin de Petanque’, a sappy and thirst slaking paean to freshness that for the English amongst you (does anyone still admit to being English in this post Brexit world?) was akin to drinking alcoholic Vimto; high praise indeed. This estate, based in the Ardeche produces this Vin de France at a price that sees it retailing in France at less than 8 , a definitive bargain that is best enjoyed chilled.

The second wine to impress with just a little more structure, finesse and finish than the first, was Mick O’Connell’s debut wine ‘Garnacha not Guerra’ from the island of Sardegna. At 12.9% and with a cranberry and raspberry like pithiness this was much more than a creditable first attempt, this was more a statement of intent and with O’Connell looking to almost double production this year to six hundred bottles, I for one will be seeking an allocation to ensure that my contentment quotient remains not only replete but guilt-free as well.

 

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The Cost of Studying for the Master of Wine

With MW exam week in full flow I was asked by a fellow student how much I had spent since I was accepted onto the course in October 2012. Whilst I have not documented every pound, dollar or euro allocated to my studies, estimating my financial investment was certainly easier than quantifying the opportunity cost of the time and effort that I have expended over the last forty-four months.

Some commentators, as I mentioned in a previous post http://sniff.com.tw/?p=1127, are insistent that the MW is an elitist institution and part of that reasoning is derived from the belief that it is frighteningly expensive. Well my approximate but still fairly accurate summation is that I have spent between $45 & 50,000 US dollars. Seeing it in print in one lump sum my first reaction is to agree with the Institute’s detractors but if this is the figure of an Institution that prices people out of the opportunity to participate, then so does every University in the UK. Education is not cheap and whilst my expenditure may make some blanche, the fixed costs of undertaking the MW are significantly less than the total figure I have outlined.

Course fees and exam fees are mandatory and the easiest way to keep these to a minimum is to pass everything first time, meaning that from acceptance to becoming a member of the Institute is achieved in three years. Do this and the costs at today’s prices are less than $18,000 USD. My fixed costs have totalled $25,000 USD because I needed two attempts to pass the practical element of the exam. Most of my other costs have been incurred through the need to travel and living in Taiwan means that this has cost me significantly more than for those students who live near the examination centres and vineyards of Europe, the Western United States and Australasia.

Expenditure on wine for tasting is a fascination for many as they assume the expense to be gargantuan. Luckily, I really didn’t spend that much. One of my roles is as a wine educator and this enabled me to tailor tastings that suited both student and my own needs equally. I was also a member of a brilliant tasting group that helped both share the cost whilst boosting my learning. My studies have also corresponded with the emergence of the Coravin wine preservation system that allowed me to taste the same wine over and over without ever pulling the cork. Lastly I think that many people over taste, seeking solace in the notion that spending small fortunes must be making them better tasters. Unfortunately volume tasted does not necessarily correlate with a similar or equal increase in learning.

For those taking their exams this week I have no doubt that the cost of the MW will be a long way from their collective minds as they wrestle their way through twenty-one hours of essay writing and tasting. The MW is the sort of pursuit that just gnaws at certain people’s psyches until they feel that they must give it a go. As somebody so afflicted I have found it to be money well spent.

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A Brief Meeting with Luisa Rocca

In between grazing my way through a well-judged collection of plates at ‘Beata te’, one of Taipei’s most believable Italian restaurants, I listened to and chatted with Luisa Rocca, daughter of Bruno, owner of the small, eponymously named estate in Barbaresco. Rocca’s wines are easy to like. Their Chardonnay has an edge that both cuts through and remains keen in the presence of food. Their Dolcetto, unlike the too often rustically bruising examples from other producers provides pleasing refreshment and their Barbera, high on acid yet silkily structured, rendered foie gras stuffed meatballs elegant and light, tempering their richness but not their impact.

The wines that I was most keen to try were of course those based on Nebbiolo, grape supreme here in the hills south of Alba, and they did not disappoint. The best, the single vineyard Rabajà, was all powder and perfume, scenting both the air and mouth with a graceful intensity expected from this region but particularly apparent in the wines that emanate from the vineyards and cellar of Bruno Rocca.

The evening ended with a traditional Piemontese dessert called ‘Bonnet al cioccolato, amaretti e oro’. This unfathomably fine pud (the best I have had since we arrived in this East Asian idyll) did what chocolate so often fails to do which was to be intense without being psychotically so, leaving me deeply satisfied.

Luisa was in Taipei for just one night. Recently arrived from Seoul (and only one stop removed from Sao Paulo) next on her itinerary was Singapore. The constant toing and froing has left Luisa’s ebullience undimmed a result she explained of promoting something that she loves. I can’t help think that the work of her brother and father in the vineyards and cellar must be an easier task than that faced by Luisa but she disagreed. Luisa took a quick selfie of the two of us framed by long tables decorated with fine wine, food and lots of happy guests. ‘I think my job’s pretty good’ she smiled. I think perhaps she’s right.

 

 

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Taiwan: Too Cold for White Wine

With the arrival of May the hum of air conditioning units in the streets of Taipei signals the beginning of summer. It is a much discussed point of bemusement to many wine professionals and enthusiasts alike, that during these sultry middle months of the year, Taiwan continues to exist on a vinous diet that remains obdurately red in hue.

Whilst I have become tired of the clichéd assertions of producers from cool climate areas insisting on the suitability of their region’s wines to East Asian cuisine, tasting some fine German Rieslings at the weekend was a delicious reminder of their ability to both slake a thirst and enliven a tired mouth in a manner not possible with reds. Telling people that they should try something new, especially when it is a white wine that isn’t made from Chardonnay, is not an easy sell in this part of Asia but then again, I don’t like being told what to do either. The relative dearth of pavement restaurants that leaves people with little choice but to venture indoors is not conducive to increased consumption of white wine. Once inside and away from the oppressive sub-tropical sun, those hoping for a glass of something white and refreshing are too often confronted with the effects of seriously efficient cooling systems ensuring that this desire is quick to dissipate replaced instead by the more prosaic needs for survival, such as a hot toddy and a blanket.

But if you do stumble across a restaurant that doesn’t consider a dining experience to be ruined by temperatures above that found in your average igloo, then think about drinking something white. Below are three Germans that deserve a place in anyone’s fridge.

All of these wines are made with Riesling and all come from exceptional/superior vineyards.

Schloss Lieser, Brauneberger Juffer, Kabinett, Mosel, 2014, 7.5%
Note: On first pouring, due to its relative youth, there is a slightly sulphurous air to the aroma. However after ten minutes, the struck match character is replaced by a hay-fever inducing pungency of summer flowers that is remarkable in its intensity. Medium-sweet but with a high-line of supporting acidity makes this both an easy and engaging glass. A textbook Kabinett that will happily sit in your wine fridge for another decade.
Price: 1499NT (or £15 in UK from winedirect.co.uk)
Score: 17/20
Available from: Vinoza in Taiwan 

Joh. Jos. Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Spatlese, Mosel, 2010, 8.5%
Note: Sweet with enamel-stripping acidity, the ebullience of this wine left me wide-eyed and laughing. Intense and pure this needs no accompanying food just a sunny day or disposition. A classic Spatlese that will only improve over the next ten years.
Price: 2000NT (or in the UK, £25 as part of a case of 12 from justerinis.com)
Score: 17/20
Available from: Pro Wine in Taiwan 

Reichstrat Von Buhl, Forster Pechstein, Grosses Gewächs, Pfalz, 2010, 12.5%
Note: Salty and biting, this dry Pechstein nips at your tongue as it bullies its way across your palate. Too forceful for a mere aperitif, it requires food to help tame its exuberance. Magnificent now but even better in another five years.
Price: 1950NT (or in the UK, £35 from theonlinechateau.co.uk)\
Score: 17/20
Available from: Schmidt Vinothek in Taiwan

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Gao Make Laoshih

In the UK being 6ft 3inches tall (190 cms) is not particularly unusual. However in Taiwan, the use of undivided carriages on the MRT (subway) trains, allows me to peer down their full length and rarely are there any heads nearer to the ceiling than mine. It is not surprising therefore that on arriving in this East Asian idyll in 2012, my Chinese teacher decided to name me ‘Tall Mark’ or Gao Make in pinyin. This name has stuck and I’m just thankful that no one so far has questioned whether ‘Pang Make’ or ‘Fat Mark’ might be more suitable, especially after recently returning from two weeks of elegant European debauchery.

Whatever my name the key point here is the appending of the term ‘Laoshi’ or teacher. Wherever I go in Taiwan I am referred to as ‘Teacher Mark’, which confers a certain status long since forgotten both by students and governments alike in my country of birth. At first I was uncomfortable with this moniker and was always keen to stress that my credentials went beyond that of being a ‘mere’ teacher. But I’ve grown to love teaching in Taiwan (something I had only practiced informally back in the UK), and have come to be thankful of my status. Teaching badly is not easy and teaching well is really difficult, luckily I am blessed with some outstanding translators and my Chinese, though disgracefully poor, is good enough to hear them occasionally inserting snippets of information that tend to make me look better than I really am.

It took me a while to realise that the relative silence that pervades any new class of students was a mark of respect rather than complete disinterest. Strangely, although reverence is nice, discussion is better and after a session or two most students appreciate that I expect to be questioned and want their input. Having to write their wine exams (WSET L3) in Engish, puts some of my students at a distinct disadvantage. Yet the majority have tasting skills honed both by enthusiasm and the necessity of having a lexicon of descriptors that includes the aroma and flavour characteristics common to Europe with another filled with the scents of the East, that helps cuts across any language barrier.

Teaching therefore is a learning experience for both student and teacher alike and with a busy schedule ahead I’m looking forward to spending more time in the classroom, something I would never have said when I was at school.