Monday, 18 June 2018

A Taste of Branaire-Ducru

Producer: Château Branaire-Ducru

My first experience with wine was not from a glass, but from a book. Apart from being known for children’s novels such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, Dahl also delighted in writing short stories that often had an unexpected twist. One such story was Taste, in which a wine critic accepts a bet from a rich man over whether he can identify a bottle of wine that is served to him blind. The critic has his eye on the rich man’s daughter and wagers two of his houses for her hand in marriage. He goes through an elaborate show of tasting the wine and describing its qualities, stunning the rich man when he is able to identify the producer and vintage accurately. The twist is that the critic already knows what the wine is, having spotted it earlier in the rich man’s study. The tasting scene is brilliantly detailed, and it is clear that Dahl knows quite a bit about wine. When he passed away one of the items that was buried with him was a bottle of wine from Burgundy.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Ridgeview Leads the Way for English Sparkling Wine

Producer: Ridgeview Wine Estate

English Sparkling Wine has been on my radar for a few years now, ever since I discovered a shelf of these treasures at Waitrose in London. They are not available locally, which is a crime, as these are wines of extremely good quality. English Sparkling is positioned as a challenger to champagne, using the same production method (a secondary fermentation in bottle) and comprising the grape varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The chalky soil in southern England is similar to the soils of Champagne, and the climate is even cooler than the Champagne region due to the more northerly latitude.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

A Huge-ly Important Wine Producer

Producer: Famille Hugel

Mention Alsace and wine in the same conversation, and chances are high that the name Hugel will also pop up. It is one of the oldest producers in that region, based in the town of Riquewihr which is said to be the inspiration for the design of Belle’s village in Beauty and the Beast. As a standard bearer for Alsace, Hugel wines can be found all over the world. Marc-Andre Hugel, who is part of the company’s 13th generation, was recently in Singapore for a trade lunch and shared some updates from the family business.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Douro Boys Part 2 – A Lunch at Quinta do Vallado

Producer: Quinta do Vallado

“Have you tried this before?” asks João, our host at Quinta do Vallado. “It’s alheira, a very traditional type of Portuguese food created by Jewish communities that fled central Europe into the Douro Superior. The main diet in northern Portugal is chorizo, made with pork, but of course the Jewish community could not eat pork, so they made a smaller, thinner sausage out of bread and game meats – usually birds like partridge.” The texture is dense and the flavour mildly spicy. It goes down a treat with the refreshing white wine João has laid out for us, along with a huge basket of bread and olive oil made from trees growing on the property itself. The olive oil produced in the Douro, João explains, is naturally flavourful and low in acidity, making it suitable for bread but wasted when used as salad dressing. For lunch we have been seated at the outdoor patio, where a canopy of leaves creates dappled shadows over our table and provides welcome shade from the sun’s radiance.

Monday, 8 January 2018

The Douro Boys Part 1 – The Harmony of Technology and Tradition

Producer: Quinta do Crasto

The Douro Valley is just a two hour drive away from the coastal city of Porto, but worlds apart in terms of scenery and climate. As my car emerges from under the Serra do Marão mountain range via a tunnel on the A4 motorway, I am momentarily dazzled by the bright sunlight. Waves of unrelenting heat bathe the area, a marked difference from the refreshing crispness of the Atlantic breeze in Porto. I begin to understand why some wines are referred to as having the “Douro bake” character. With the mountains blocking the cool ocean air, the Douro Valley resembles a hot oven during the day.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Site Specific Pinot

Producer: Dalrymple Vineyards

An unspoilt landscape in the Southern Hemisphere. Waters teeming with whales and dolphins. And of course, lots of sheep. If you’re picturing New Zealand, then my little misdirection has worked. I’m actually referring to Tasmania, a place on the receiving end of much attention recently, not least because of the unique opportunity to view the panoramic lightshow known as the Southern Lights. The other thing it has in common with New Zealand, and of primary interest to wine lovers, is that Tasmania is also a source of very fine Pinot Noir, arguably the best to come out of Australia.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

This Duck Prefers Wine to Water

Producer: Luis Pato

If there is one Portuguese trait I am most grateful for, it is their tolerant approach to punctuality. Even by that measure, only one of saintly patience could have welcomed us so warmly when we arrived three hours late due to a mix-up at the car rental company. I shudder to think what the reaction would have been had this happened in Bordeaux – when I visited two years back, a delay of five minutes had my phone ringing furiously and a quiet word of advice that le châteaux expect better timeliness from their visitors.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Wine of the Month - October 2017

After a dalliance with French grape varieties which resulted in the Super-Tuscans and their many imitators, Italy has returned to focusing on her native varieties. The current vogue for indigenous grapes can be seen in the demand for fashionable Etna wines, top Brunellos and rich Amarones. This has been aided by improvements in winemaking and the reduction of yields, meaning that Italian grapes are producing wines of increasing interest and attractive individuality. I was at a gathering of wine lovers when the Sartarelli Verdicchio "Balciana" caught my eye (and tastebuds). The estate has dedicated itself to the Verdicchio grape variety in the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC zone of Marche, the native home of the grape. This particular wine is made from late harvested grapes and according to Italian Wine Ambassador Chan Wai Xin includes a proportion of botrytised-affected grapes in the blend.

Wine: Sartarelli Balciana Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore 2014

Tasting note: The wine reveals a medium gold colour with a honeyed nose. The palate is dry and full-bodied, with notes of white pepper, honey, oranges and fennel underlined by bracing acidity. Lovely lush texture with a pleasing complexity.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Dirt-y Talk with Don Melchor Winemaker Enrique Tirado

Producer: Concha y Toro Don Melchor

Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? A masterclass with Enrique Tirado, Chief Winemaker of Don Melchor aimed to show how different vineyard plots contribute to the final blend. Don Melchor is one of Chile’s signature wines, on the same level with wines such as Montes Alpha M, Errazuriz’s Don Maximiano and Almaviva, the latter a joint venture between Concha y Toro and the Rothschild family of Bordeaux. Don Melchor is also made by Concha y Toro and is named after the founder. The Chilean wine producer has had a good year, with sales increasing 23% in Asia according to trade newsletter The Drinks Business. It was ranked as the second biggest selling wine brand in 2017, behind Gallo’s Barefoot label.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Wine of the Month - August 2017

Sauvignon Blanc is a tricky grape. It's prized for its acidity, but keep it for too long and its attractive flavours of grass and passionfruit deteriorate into cooked vegetal notes. So at the recent Margaret River 50th Anniversary Tasting, when I tasted the Umamu Sauvignon Blanc Semillon and found it so fresh and vibrant, I expected that it was from a recent vintage. To my surprise it was a 2010 bottling, making it a wine that is seven years old and looking far younger than many other Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blends at the tasting.

Umamu is the brainchild of Penang-born Charmaine Saw, an overachiever who studied chemistry in the United Kingdom and trained as a chef with Le Cordon Bleu before pursuing a career in management consulting. She sought the assistance of one of Western Australia's most renowned winemakers to craft the wines, but the marketing and direction bears her stamp. Balance and contentment are the keywords, imparting a very zen approach to what is quintessentially a western beverage.

Wine: Umamu Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2010

Tasting note: Fresh and surging with vitality, as though it was just bottled. There is prominent lime and citrus fruit on the palate, with just a murmur of oak providing the backdrop. I wouldn't normally recommend a Sauvignon Blanc to age, but there are some Asian genes to this particular wine.