Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Little Gem

It’s ironic that being of Chinese descent, I have tried very few Chinese wines.  Sure there’s been enough liqueurs and spirits that have not been quite that clean or somewhat coarse, and then the flavours are as if they are from another planet.  Well, to be correct, they are from another country.
So with my background and history, it was a surprise to find the 2015 Gem Winery ‘2nd Ningxia Winemaker’s Challenge’ Cabernet Sauvignon a really delightful wine.  The wine is the result of a challenge, sponsored by the government.  60 winemakers from 23 countries were invited to make a Cabernet Sauvignon from a 3 ha block of fruit from a larger vineyard, situated in Ningxia, in the foothills of the Helan mountains between inner and outer Mongolia.  It’s Gobi Desert country.  The aim was to promote the region and exchange ideas and experience between all parties. 
This wine, from the 2015 Gem Winery was made by Leo Ricardez.  The owner of Gem Winery actually hadn’t built her winery yet, so she rented space at another.  10,000 bottles were made, 5,000 going to the winery, 3,000 to the organisers of the competition and 2,000 to the winemaker.  This wine is distinctly Cabernet Sauvignon with blackcurrants, cassis and a touch of leaf.  Plenty of body, rounded and accessible with softer tannins and integrated acidity.  As I said, a really nice drink.  A wee gem, actually.  
With the investment in wine in China by all sorts of groups and businesses, I will keep an open mind to what I see.  I know winemakers who spend time there, and report exciting things.  The global wine press is enthusiastic, positive and supportive.  There will be many more gems come to light in the future.        

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Left Hand-Right Hand, Left Brain-Right Brain

Paddy Borthwick, winemaker at Gladstone in the Wairarapa has created an interesting experiment.  He has a ‘left Hand’ and a ‘Right Hand’ Pinot Noir, the LH made by his (former) assistant winemaker, and the RH made by him.  Essentially the two wines come from the same stock, but personal selections of barrels, based on their personal differences.  Paddy considers Braden to have a logical and precise approach to life and winemaking, whereas he is more intuitive and impulsive.  The wines over several vintages have shown some consistencies.  The LH wines are indeed precise and tight, quite firm and linear.  The RH wines more flowing, ethereal, and perfumed.  There’s a more orderly nature to the LH wine, whereas the RH wine can be wider ranging.  Having just tasted the 2014 Paddy Borthwick ‘Left Hand’ and ‘Right Hand’ Wairarapa Pinot Noirs, there are conclusions to be made.  If there’s one thing to take from this, it is that winemaker signature is an important factor in wine.
Interestingly, the LH and RH wine styles and their reasons behind them are a little at odds to what is known or believed in.  LH people are deemed more artistic and emotive, whereas RH are more structured and orderly.  There is also the matter of the handedness and brain hemisphere swapped around, the Right brain working on emotions and the Left brain on cognitive process.  It’s all so confusing!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Above Ones Weight

There is a natural order in wine.  Some are better than others.  Most wine producers work to this, so that the best fruit and greatest care goes into the top label.  Those not quite to style or without the best qualities go into a second, or even third label.  If it can’t make the grade at all, it is sold off, or just dumped. 
However some wines just don’t behave, and often a second wine can punch above its weight.  We see this in wine judging competitions, where a secondary label gets the gold medal, and the premium wine is rated lower.  These good-performing wines just get the balance right and can be truly delicious.  They can be so pleasing, though not necessarily the most complex, so they must get a good medal and be recognised for its quality and style.
One such wine did it for SWMBO and I recently.  It was the 2016 Pencarrow Martinborough Pinot Noir.  Of course its bigger sibling, the Palliser Estate wine is bigger, richer, more structured, more complex and more ageworthy.  But the sweet fruitiness, richness, perfect extraction and freshness made the Pencarrow just simply adorable and irresistible to drink.  So we drank it!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Pretty Pink and Pale

There is a current fad around the world to see the pretty and pale, but dry and thirst-quenching rosé wine of Provence and Southern France as the ultimate in the style.  If your rosé has a deeper or darker colour, and shows aromas and flavours of real fruits, such as strawberries, raspberries, pomegranate and quince, and they have a little lifted confectionary character, then the wine doesn’t fit in with what is trendy.  And that’s a shame, as for most consumer, myself included, I like a bit of diversity.  There are times and foods that work better with a rosé with more flavour and/or structure.  The key thing is that the wines are mouth-watering and thirst-quenching in the final analysis.  However, the current predisposition for pale and pink is strong, and one must be aware of what they entail and offer.  They do have  a range of personalities and quality, so one must still be careful in choosing the right one.

It was a treat to have four southern French rosé wine come my way.  They were authentic, but were not the most famous or esteemed.  But they delivered exactly as they should have.  Some a little more than other, and others a little less.  The 2016 Chemin des Sables Mediterranee Rosé was light in flavour, vibrant and fresh, but a little too phenolic and grippy for great balance.  But still, it did the job.  I was taken more by the 2016 Plaisir’osé Var Rosé, more fragrant and fruity, and with very good acidity and textural balance.  Maybe it’s my New World palate, but this modern style appealed to me the most.  Then can what I’d regard as the most ‘authentic’, showing the character and interest that Provencale rosé can deliver.  The 2016 Henri Gaillard Cotes de Provence Rosé had elegance and concentration, lovely freshness and fruit, but also with a touch of non-perfect complexity in flavour. This had interest.  Again, it might be my New World stereotyping playing its part.  And finally the 2016 J. L. Quinson Cotes de Provence Rosé, harmonious and delicate, maybe a little light in character, but in no way offering any offence.

These were all true-to-style, but quite amazingly so different – in a subtle way of course.  Diversity and variety is the spice of life, and our perspectives of rosé should encompass that too, beyond just pale, pretty and pink.   

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Natural Sweetie

If SWMBO and I were pushed to name our favourite wine style, it would be German Riesling.  We’ve been to the Mosel, and the wines from that region just hit the magic spot.  But since then, and over the years, we have come to realise and accept the many styles of German Riesling, and in particular the ‘return’ to the trocken style that is so good with food.  The Grosses Gewaches, the dry style from the greatest ‘nominated’ vineyards are indeed special, and they have become part of our love of the variety and its many expressions.
However, there’s a part of me and no doubt SWMBO that will always see the ‘fruit-sweet’ wines as the best.  Our memories of superlative Kabinett, Spatlesen, Auslesen and beyond will be indelible.  Yet it is incredible how even these wines can vary so much.  The wines of Martin Kerpen have delighted people around the world, and we can be counted among them.  I must admit, I see their sugar sweetness a little more prominent than the terroir.  But this is no bad thing, as there are times for some natural sweetness to shine.  Often these times are when Asian cuisine, with a little spice or heat come into play.  So we haven’t just been ‘seduced by the sugar’.  The 2015 Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett is one such wine that makes an instant rapport.  Much of the initial impression is of sweetness and sugar.  But it all seems so natural, and is in total balance with the 9% alc. and the acidity.  Given a bit of time in the glass, the vineyard slate comes through.  Just enough to know that there’s something classical and serious there.  It’s bottle age that brings out terroir.  And that happens with the Kerpen wines.      

Saturday, July 29, 2017


It’s done all around the world where wine is grown and made, Vignerons make and bottle their different varieties and clones separately to see how they turn out and decide if blending and in what proportion to make a better wine.  The Bordelaise have done it as do growers of the Bordeaux varietals.  That’s how we know Cabernet Sauvignon is firmer, more acid and definitely blackcurrant when compared to the lighter, softer sweeter and rounder Merlot.  And Pinot Noir producers love to talk clones.  In New Zealand it’s the older 10/5 and Pommard 5 or more modern Dijon clones.  They all have their differences and are well-discussed.  It’s happening with Syrah here too.
But I don’t think there have been separate bottlings of Syrah clones made to be sold to the consumer to compare yet.  Until now.  Lauren Swift, the young and passionate winemaker at Ash Ridge in the Bridge Pa Triangle district of Hawke’s Bay was so keen to retain and show the individuality of the MS (Mass Select) or ‘Limmer’ or ‘Heritage’ clone of the variety to that of the ‘Chave’ clone they have growing at Ash Ridge.  Owner Chris Wilcock agreed to bottling a barrel each of the different clones for the comparison process and commercialise it.
Thus was born the 2014 Doppio MS Hawke’s Bay Syrah and Doppio Chave Hawke’s Bay Syrah.  Almost identically treated.  The MS more red fruits, fragrant, floral finer and more supple.  A deliciously approachable drop.  Then the Chave, darker, blacker colour and fruits, more firm and tannic.  One could say feminine to masculine.  The only little problem was the MS was in a new barrel, the Chave wine was in a one y.o. barrel, to make both more on par in accessibility together.  The scientist in me says the oaking should have been the same – say both in one y.o. barrels, for a true comparison.  On the surface, they are dopplegangers.  But in reality fraternal twins.  

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Power and Glory

Most Burgundy and Pinot Noir aficionados agree that the old and now un-PC description of ‘feminine’ is apt for the wines, especially when comparing them to the firmer and more powerful Bordeaux-variety wines.  Pinot Noir and Burgundy wines can indeed be beautifully ethereal and aromatic with their florality, and the palates delicate and velvety.  This is their sensuality that appeals to the soul rather than the mind.  Clarets can be majestic and of course appeal to the intellect.
However, the distinctions do get blurred.  Powerful Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanee and Pommard verge on the masculine side, and the wines of Margaux in Bordeaux can be hauntingly fragrant and perfumed.  In the New World, the overlap can be greater, and of course, much more acceptable.  Many of us thoroughly enjoy an elegant Merlot with finesse and suppleness, along with beautiful aromatics.  And likewise, there are Pinot Noirs which are bold, firm, structured and ageworthy.  These styles are in many instances decided by man, but site and vintage can also have a significant hand in how a wine will turn out.
A wine that could polarise wine folk would be the 2006 Martinborough Vineyard ‘Marie Zelie’ Martinborough Pinot Noir.  Most of the wines from 2003 to 2013 when released have certainly showed the elegant and beautiful side of Pinot Noir.  Old and mature vines from the Martinborough Terrace lend a firmness and core, with savoury complexity.  But the wines are always refined, and capture the beauty of variety and location.  The 2006 vintage is rather special to vignerons.  The wines that have resulted show richness, ripeness, opulence and structure.  A purist might say they have gone beyond the normal parameter of Pinot Noir expression.  But no, they retain the essence of what Pinot Noir is.  Finesse of floral detail at the heart.  The finest of tannins, that may have been quite firm at the outset.  But there’s no denying its power and glory.  A true product of vintage, variety and location.  Sumptuous and opulent, but big and accessible.  And the taste of maturing Pinot Noir, rather than any other variety.  What a great wine.