Saturday, 25 February 2017

Wine of the Month - February 2017

A growing trend in the wine world is the rise of natural wine. Pushed around by wild-eyed sommeliers and equally wild-haired wine critics, these wines are made with as little intervention as possible. In some cases, they can be good, and surprisingly long-lived. When they're bad, they smell and taste of sweaty socks. Their advocates can be seen insisting that these off flavours show purity and a sense of place. Perhaps, but people do some pretty unnatural things, such as showering with soap, so that their terroir is less noticeable to others.

I have tasted some natural wines that were deliciously clean and impressive. One of the best places to sample some is Wine RVLT, which I wrote about previously here. The wine world is constantly evolving, and now we have sparkling natural wines, pétillant-naturel or pét-nat for short. During the process of fermentation, carbon dioxide is generated as yeast consumes the natural sugar in grapes. Pét-nats are simply wines bottled before the fermentation is complete, thus the carbon dioxide is trapped inside the bottle while the yeast finishes eating the sugar. The cloudy appearance of the wine is due to the dead yeast cells.

For some reason or another, Australia is a large producer of pét-nats. The combination of hipster cafes, vegan and gluten free options seems to be fertile breeding ground for lovers of natural wine. This wine was made by Tim Wildman, a British-born Master of Wine who conducts wine tours in Australia. It is a blend of  50% Vermentino, 25% Nero d’Avola, and 25% Muscat. The source of the fruit is Riverland, a warm wine-growing region in South Australia.

Wine: Astro Bunny 2016

Tasting note: I was informed that the wine should be shaken to stir up the sediment evenly. Wouldn't this cause the wine to fizz upon opening? The sales staff said that it wouldn't, but it did. Consider yourself warned. The pressure is not as high as say, Champagne, more akin to cider. Very distinct grapefruit flavours, with peach and grape on the finish. Dry and light bodied. Not particularly complex but unusual and refreshing. Worth exploring at AUD35.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The French Prince of Liger-Belair

Producer: Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair

Thibault Liger-Belair’s introduction to wine began in 1988, where as a teenager he would spend his weekends in Nuits-Saint-Georges helping a family friend in the vineyard. He announced his intention to become a winemaker to his father at the age of 16, but it was not until 2001 that he established Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair and started making his own wine. While blessed with holdings that had been in the family for generations, when Thibault reclaimed control of the vineyards which had previously been leased out he found it necessary to effect wide-ranging changes. “In 2001 when I took over the family vineyard the soil was grey. Grey soil is a sign of dead soil. That is why for the first vintage it was very important to give new life to the soil. Since the beginning I have decided to stop all chemical products and to go organic.” In 2004, Thibault went further and adopted a biodynamic approach to managing his vineyards. “The main thing in Burgundy is the soil, and the problem in the last 30 years, is that we have integrated into the soil what the vine needed, in terms of fertilisation. I have decided to integrate into the soil what the soil needed, [in order to] give to the vine what the vine needed, which is one step more. The vine is just a reflection of the soil.”

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Wine of the Month - January 2017

This was one of the wines tasted at Dr N.K. Yong's Celebration 90 wine masterclass. It is a hedonist's dream, a pure exercise in pleasure from one of the best producers in the Mosel. Sugar is known to trigger a release of dopamine (the brain's reward centre), and this wine - so complex, rich and sweet, is certainly likely to have people addicted at the first sip. Gold capsules are used to distinguish the best wines of Egon Müller.

Wine: Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel 2010

Tasting note: The Scharzhofberg vineyard, comprising soils of grey and red slate, is the most exalted location for Riesling in the Saar Valley. Egon Müller owns 8.2 ha of the 28 ha site, making it the most prominent producer of wines from this vineyard. The colour of molten gold, this wine showed impeccable balance and freshness, with notes of sweet peach, pineapple, and a limey freshness. There are few wines that could match the finish, an impression that lingered so long on the palate it is etched into memory.

Friday, 27 January 2017

A Look at New Zealand Pinot Noir Regions

Financial markets have a saying – as January goes, so goes the year. So far, this month has been all about Pinot Noir. The La Paulée de Singapour (a celebration of Burgundian wine) has just concluded, an evening which saw several esteemed winemakers descend onto our island with treasured bottles of premier and grand cru wines. The dinner took place just a week after a tasting organised by New Zealand Winegrowers and Air New Zealand. While New Zealand’s fame as a wine producing country was built on Sauvignon Blanc, it is the Pinot Noir which has been gaining emerging as a serious contender to red Burgundy. The tasting was billed as a 360° View of New Zealand Wine, and through the creative use of a VR headset visitors were able to experience the magnificent scenery of New Zealand.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

A Ground Report from Istanbul

The first time I visited Istanbul was in the spring of 2008. It was glorious weather – blue and sunny skies, with a crisp breeze blowing as we cruised down the Bosporus. With a fingerhold in Europe, Istanbul represented the meshing of the best of Middle East and European cultures, acting as a beacon of democracy alongside a respect for Islamic values. Visitors were treated to a rich cultural history spanning Greek, Christian and Ottoman rule, and a bounty of exotic foods; raw honeycomb, sweet baklava, moreish hazelnuts. Security was ever-present, but this felt more like reassurance and the dangers seemed no greater than any other European city. Istanbul was truly a Turkish delight.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Beaujolais Closer to Burgundy

Producer: Domaine des Terres Dorées (Jean-Paul Brun)

Think that wine has outpaced beer? I was brought down to earth in a recent conversation with a young, bubbly lady who had just entered the wine trade. It occurred to me to enquire what wines her generation were into, and the reply was more humbling than enlightening. “Actually millennials don’t drink wine,” she said. “My friends are more into beer.” Research by Barclays in the USA shows that the 18-29 year old demographic is increasingly favouring wine, but 40% still choose beer as their preferred beverage, versus 23% for wine and 30% for liquor. I suspect that the consumption in Asia is even more skewed towards beer, judging by the sales of Tiger and Heineken, and the growing popularity of craft beer. Now I know what to order when drinking with younger colleagues.

Friday, 9 December 2016

A Solaia Vertical

Producer: Antinori

The decline of Chianti, once Italy’s most revered wine, started after World War 2 and reached a critical level in the 1970s. The causes are many – an enlargement of the original viticultural zone which encouraged planting on subpar sites, too many producers capitalising on the Chianti name, and the mandatory inclusion of grapes such as Trebbiano (a profligate but undistinguished variety) to name a few. This situation laid the groundwork for the rise of Italy’s –aia wines; super-premium bottlings that stepped outside Italy’s fossilised wine laws and whose prices were way above those wines classified at the DOCG level, supposedly Italy’s top tier with the strictest regulations. Collectively known as Super Tuscans, the names of these wines (e.g. Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Tassinaia) would be familiar to any serious Italian wine collector.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection 2014

Region: Gimblett Gravels

“So, how many of you have tried a New Zealand Syrah?” That question, asked by wine journalist Ch’ng Poh Tiong to a group of us gathered for a private tasting, surely made us think. Even though we were all fairly well-versed in wines, we had drunk far more Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from New Zealand than Syrah. My own experience with New Zealand Syrah came when visiting Man O' War Vineyards located on the breezy Waiheke Island, just off the Auckland coast. It was after tasting their Dreadnought Syrah that I came to appreciate why the Kiwis call it so instead of Shiraz like their Australian neighbours do. Stylistically, New Zealand has more in common with Northern Rhone than the Barossa Valley, with more restrained fruit and very often a peppery or gamey note.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Wine of the Month - November 2016

Having a few minutes to kill before dinner I decided to pop by Praelum Wine Bistro for a drink and to see what goodies they had on tap. As usual, General Manager Gerald Lu pulled out an interesting bottle from the cellar, an Italian wine hailing from the Soave zone. Made by one of the oldest families in Soave, this is their top white made from 100% Garganega (other permitted varieties include Chardonnay and Verdicchio). A lot of Soave is bland and uninteresting but I could happily polish off a bottle of this.

Wine: Pieropan "La Rocca" Soave Classico 2013

Tasting note: The vineyard is planted on chalky-clay soils as opposed to the volcanic basalt that is more common in the region, which is supposed to result in a wine with more finesse and floral notes. There is a short maceration with skin contact, and the wine is aged for about a year in barrels between 500 and 2000 litres capacity. Pale gold appearance. Dry and expressive, with notes of nutty almond, white peach and orange peel. Medium body and alcohol with great poise and vibrancy.

Monday, 7 November 2016

A Glimpse of the Swan Valley with Pinelli Wines

Producer: Pinelli Wines

Winemaker Daniel Pinelli

The best thing about visiting the Swan Valley has to be the convenience. The journey from downtown Perth to Pinelli Wines took just under twenty-five minutes and thanks to Uber, I didn’t even have to rent a car. As luck would have it, my ride was escorted most of the way by a fleet of police vehicles that waved us right past traffic lights. I noticed a car bearing the license plate 1 whizz past as I got off at Pinelli Wines, and wondered if it contained the Prime Minister or some visiting dignitaries.