Friday 22 February 2013

An Interview with Olympia Romba of Monteverro

Olympia Romba has had a hectic schedule since she joined Monteverro as their Sales and Marketing Manager. Her first two years with Monteverro were spent establishing the brand in Europe and the United States. This year, Olympia’s schedule includes seeking distribution partners in Asian countries such as Bangkok, Cambodia, China and Singapore. Over drinks at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, she shared some background on this Italian winery.

How did Monteverro get started?

We are located in the Tuscany region, approximately an hour’s drive north from Rome. The land was bought in 2003 by Georg Weber, whose family’s core business in Germany is garden centres. He searched for years and years for the right place to plant a vineyard, until a friend told him to look in the Maremma area in Tuscany. He contacted Lydia and Claude Bourguignon to do some soil analysis, and asked Michel Rolland to check the place. Everyone said that this would be a gorgeous place to plant vines, because the terroir is very rich in minerals, and proximity to the sea creates fresh, cooling breezes. The first vines were planted in 2004, and the first vintage was in 2008. 

Who are the other people behind Monteverro?

Our Technical Director is Michael Voegele, he constructed the cellar, which works on gravity instead of using pumps. Matthieu Taunay is our winemaker, he joined in 2008 for our first vintage. He is assisted by consulting oenologist Michel Rolland, Alpha Omega winemaker Jean Hoefliger, pruning expert Michel Duclos and soil experts Lydia and Claude Bourguignon. I joined in 2010 when the first vintage was bottled. Previously I was working in Bordeaux for fifteen years. 

What is the range of wines that Monteverro produces?

We make a limited quantity of Chardonnay from 1 hectare of vineyards located nearest to the sea, around 3000 bottles. We also make a Syrah/Grenache blend called Tinata from 2 hectares of vineyard, and we only produce 8000 bottles. These two are our niche products. The majority of our activity is Bordeaux grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Of our second wine, Terra di Monteverro, we are producing 30,000 – 35,000 bottles, and of our Grand Cru, approximately 15,000 bottles. 

The goal of Monteverro is to become the “Premier Grand Cru” of Tuscany. What does that mean?

Our wish is to be considered, in five, maybe ten years, equivalent in quality and reputation to the Premier Grand Crus of Bordeaux, like the Chateau Latour of Italy. 

And in price as well?

[laughs] For the moment, we are very affordable compared to some Bordeaux wines. 


Are you experimenting with any other varieties?
Starting around March or April this year, we will be releasing a Vermentino based white wine. It is a light and easy drinking wine for the local restaurants.

There is an unusually high percentage of Cabernet Franc in the two Bordeaux blends (around 40%). Why is this so? 

If you ask me and if you ask our oenologist, which is the most noble grape variety in our area, we would say Cabernet Franc. It grows well for what we want – we want elegant wines, very fine wines with a certain structure and aging potential, but not too blockbuster. If we were to produce a wine from a single variety, we would choose Cabernet Franc. 

What would you like people to think about when they are drinking a wine from Monteverro?

A lot of people who have visited our winery have said that we are the locomotive of this area. We are the pioneers to produce a high-quality, Super Tuscan wine in this part of Tuscany [Maremma], which is not as well-known yet as Bolgheri.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Cool Wines Seminar

Wein & Vin is holding a Cool Wines seminar on the 9th of March (Saturday) featuring wines from Austria and Germany (with a couple of top-notch Burgundies thrown in as well). The seminar is billed as a learning platform for cool climate wines - definition, climate, geography, terroir, taste profile, and styles. 

I would go just for the opportunity to taste these wines, but as icing on the cake the tasting will be guided by wine experts Annette Scarfe MW, Andreas Wickhoff MW, Joel Payne, and Singapore's own Tan Ying Hsien. 

Details as follows.

Date: 9th March (Sat)
Time: 9.30am to 6pm
Venue: Taberna Wine Academy
17 Binjai Park, S 589825

Price: Whole Day Seminar (including lunch) at $400 (save 20% - early bird package)
Registration after 1st March is $450.

To register e-mail Wein & Vin at or call +65 9009 3827. 

More info here.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Of Arcane Wine Gadgets and Wine Tasting

Somewhere in the not too distant future, a man bringing his wife out for a romantic dinner will chance upon a highly-rated restaurant in their neighborhood. Entranced by the gleaming, modern interior, the young couple decide to give it a try. Hoping to impress his wife, the husband orders an expensive wine using a tablet device provided by the waiter (printed menus have become so passé). The sommelier then sweeps in wearing an impeccably pressed uniform and trailing a faint whiff of Romanée-Conti. That’s when the fun begins.

"Thank you for joining us this evening sir. I notice that you have selected the Chateau Pretentious to accompany your meal. An excellent choice. May I recommend a glass to suit your wine?" The husband, somewhat confusedly, nods his head. "We have a collection of over twenty types of glasses. For your wine I would choose either the Riedel Sommeliers Bordeaux Grand Cru or the Spiegelau Vino Grande Bordeaux. Both are designed to enhance the subtle nuances of your wine and deliver greater drinking pleasure." The husband chooses the former as it is easier to pronounce and the sommelier efficiently delivers both wine and glasses to the table.

"How would you like your wine to be seasoned Sir?" "Seasoned?" asks the husband. "Yes sir, it's the newest trend in drinking wine. Just like how the flavour of food can be enhanced by a dash of salt or pepper, now we provide customers such as yourself the option to alter the taste of wine according to your preference. The tools that make this miracle possible use either frequency technology, metal alloys or magnetic fields."

The husband is starting to sweat. This discussion is definitely venturing into realms arcane. "Uh lets try the metal alloy thing." From a deep recess of his apron, the sommelier whips out a small device shaped like a comma. "Every second this is immersed in your wine, it ages the wine by a year." "That's amazing!" says the wife. "Lets see what this wine will taste like in 30 years!" The sommelier duly pours out two glasses and dips the device in each glass for exactly thirty seconds. The couple taste the wine and look at each other. It certainly doesn't taste like the wine had been aged for thirty years, but they are reluctant to override the sommelier.

"Ah, here come your appetisers now," says the sommelier. "I'll leave you to enjoy your dinner." A bustling waitress carrying a tray of food comes over to the relieved couple. "Would you like to have any other drinks?" she chirps. The husband and wife decide to play it safe and order water. 

"Certainly; we have tap, distilled, artesian, mineral, spring..."

Monday 4 February 2013

Indigenous vs. International Varieties

Wine writer Jancis Robinson has just released a new book titled “Wine Grapes - A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours”. The ideal holiday gift for your wine-crazy friend, although at a hefty 3 kg, it would be challenging stuffing this into a Christmas stocking. A tasting masterclass was held last month to commemorate the book launch. A point of interest was that the featured wines included not a drop of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or any other international and well-known varieties. Instead there were wines made from indigenous grapes such as Norton, Godello, and the tongue-twisting Öküzgözü. Unusual and obscure, these historical cultivars still play an important role in their domicile market.  

From one viewpoint, things have never looked brighter in the world of wine. The influence of oenological consultants and flying winemakers has raised the average quality of wine substantially. Domestic wine consumption is growing steadily year-on-year, fuelled by a vibrant dining scene. This in turn has led to more wine events and visits from producers keen to establish a local presence. As British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said to his electorate during the post-war boom years, “You’ve never had it so good.”

But have we sacrificed diversity at the altar of familiarity? A quick browse of supermarket shelves reveals a wine selection dominated by a handful of varieties; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz for the reds, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling for the whites. The wine lists of far too many restaurants are filled with safe but bland expressions of the same repetitious varieties. This situation is a far different cry from the UK, a market so far unrivalled in the breadth and scope of wines available. 

In theory, we would all want to support having more wines made from indigenous varieties. We associate these wines as having more character and heritage, made in an artisanal style as opposed to mass-produced wines fashioned for an international palate. However, retailers have only so much shelf space to play with. Would they rather display an unproven wine or one whose label customers recognise? How much are we creatures of habit, and to what extent are we willing to experiment?

Winning consumer acceptance of an unfamiliar variety takes patience and effort. An effective and natural way is to promote these wines alongside their national cuisine. Recently, I was delighted to discover Blu Kouzina, an unpretentious Greek restaurant along Bukit Timah Road. The wine list contained an extensive selection of Greek wines made from indigenous varieties such as Assyrtiko and Xinomavro, which matched the food effortlessly. When a restaurant takes the time to craft a wine list that includes selections from the same locality as the menu, I am reassured that they are providing a truly authentic dining experience. 

Amongst wine critics, there is a disquieting worry that the globalisation of wine has caused a loss of distinctiveness. Jumping onto the bandwagon and emulating famous regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy may yield short-term results, but in the long-term producers may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of competing with thousands of other identikit wines. More lamentable would be the irreparable loss of vine diversity and genetic material as indigenous grapes are uprooted and replaced with international varieties. 

How does the consumer fit into this debate? As our palates become more sophisticated, a sense of adventure is both healthy and a gateway to further wine knowledge. The joy of discovery is accompanied by bragging rights as well. A fellow wine lover may comment, “I had a glass of Château Mouton Rothschild 1996 last night…”, to which you’d reply “That’s nice, but have you ever tried a Narince from Central Anatolia?” Not very likely. 

Our collective appreciation and understanding of wines has progressed much in the last two decades. The next step is to move out of our comfort zones and actively seek out wine made from local varieties, which is usually more reflective of a region’s history and unique terroir than an international variety parachuted in to satisfy market demand. The day is surely not far off when we are as comfortable ordering a Nerello Mascalese as a Cabernet Sauvignon.

The above article was published in the December issue of Appetite Magazine.