Friday, 21 October 2016

Good burgundy doesn’t need to break your bank

Following the success of Bourgogne Week in London, the Bourgogne Wine Board was pleased to introduce Bourgogne Week to Hong Kong, comprising a series of Burgundy wine tastings over five days. I attended the ‘One day for Bourgogne Wines’ tasting with over 100 wines from the latest vintages (2104 for white and 2013 for red) from 20 exhibitors.

Mentioning Burgundy, most people will think DRC, one of the most expensive wines in the world. As a matter of fact, Grand Cru, the appellation where DRC belonged, only contributed to 1.3% of the entire Burgundy wine production. Most of the wines in the market are from the Regional (51%) and Village (38%) appellations. The ‘One day for Bourgogne Wines’ tasting pretty much reflected the market. Most of the wines featured were from the Regional and Village appellations. No wonder Amaury Devillard, the spokesperson of Bourgogne Wine Board, emphasised that Burgundy wine is affordable and can be enjoyed every day.

I agree with Amaury. The overall quality, especially the white wine, at the tasting was good. They were balanced, with ripe fruits and supporting acidity. Most of the whites were from 2014 vintage, an excellent year according to the harvest report. There were no major hiccups during growing season and the grapes ripened to full maturity. Most of the wines I tried were retailed between $180 and $300 per bottle, certainly a price that won’t break the bank. A bit of research revealed that 2014 was confirmed to be a fine vintage for Burgundy white from various critics including Jasper Morris MW and Decanter.

Vintage 2013, in contrast to 2014, was much more difficult that challenged winegrowers. It was cold in spring and a violent hail storm hit on 23rd July. Some of the reds at tasting might be lean, but nevertheless ripe with fresh acidity that made them pleasant to pair with mild flavoured dishes.

Burgundy is one of the wine regions where vintage variation is significant. Because of improved viticulture practice and winemaking techniques, a difficult vintage these days does not necessarily equate to bad vintage. Yield might be small but vigilant and responsible winemakers could still produce good quality wine, which was not the case just 20-30 years ago. When we sip Burgundy, whether it is the style we prefer or not, we just have to remember that behind every bottle was a lot of dedication and hard work.

A few outstanding wines from the tasting are:

Domaine Christian Moreau, Chablis Premier Cru, Vaillons 2014, from Altaya Wines,
Domaine du Chalet Pouilly, Saint-Véran 2014, from Dream Wines,
Domaine du Clos Salomon, Montagny Le Clou 2014, from The Juicy Grape,
Domaine Jérôme Sordet, Saint-Romain Sous le Château 2013, from CCF Wines,
Domaine Saint-Jacques, Rully Premier Cru Marissou 2013, from Burgundy Wine Co Ltd,
Domaine Samuel Billaud, Chablis Premier Cru, Monte de Milieu 2013, from The Juicy Grape

Domaine Bachey-Legros, Santenay Les Charmes 2013, from CCF Wines,
Domaine Colinot, Irancy Les Cailles 2013, from Burgundy Wine Co Ltd,
Domaine du Château de Meursault, Savigny-Les-Baeaune Premier Cru Les Peuillets 2013, from Kerry Wines,
Domaine Faiveley, Beaune Premier Cru Clos d l’Ecu 2013 from Altaya Wines,
Moillard, Côte de Beaune-Villages, Vieilles Vignes 2013, from Kedington Wines

Friday, 14 October 2016

Welcome back Klein Constantia!

Klein Constantia, dating back to 1865, is one of the most historic wine estates in South Africa. It was part of the vast farm founded by Simon van de Stel, Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, and the home of the legendary Vin de Constance, the sweet wine made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (Muscat de Frontignan) grapes that has melted the hearts of European kings, emperors and the famous including Louis Philippe, Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Charles Dickson and Jane Austen.

The road of Klein Constantia is not always smooth. After its heyday in the 18th and 19th century, the vineyard was attacked by phylloxera and in 1865, Constantia winemaking ceased and the estate changed hands a few times. It was only until 1979 when Duggie Jooste bought and revived the farm. Finally in 1985, the first modern vintage of Vin de Constance, a recreation of the original mythical Constantia sweet wine, was released with much international acclaim. Since 2011, Klein Constantia has been under the ownership of Zdenek Bakala and Charles Harman, who are determined to bring the estate back to its former glory.

Vin de Constance has also been disappeared from Hong Kong for one year. Wine lovers will be glad to know that it has returned under the care of Northeast Wines & Spirits. Even better is that this icon wine is being accompanied by en entourage of cool climate Klein Constantia Estate Wine: Sauvignon Blanc, Metis Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Estate Red Blend. I was pleased to be one of the first to try these wine when they landed in Hong Kong.

Both Sauvignon Blancs were outstanding and elegant. The Sauvignon Blanc 2015 was more expressive while the Metis Sauvignon Blanc 2014, inspired by Sancerre winemaker Pascal Jolivet, emphasised more on the texture. The Chardonnay 2014 was distinctive and complex and the Riesling 2015 was lively. The Estate Red 2013, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec, was well integrated with spices and dark fruits. All the wines had savoury finishes that added extra dimensions. The price? all retailed at a bargain under HK$200/bottle!

Finally, we tasted the Vin de Constance 2012 with multi-layers of aromas from apricot to nutmeg. It was rich but not heavy, and had a long lively finish. Apparently, there is only limited allocation for Hong Kong so get yours quick before it is sold out. 

Klein Constantia Estate Range and Vin de Constance is available from online wine club wine’n’things. Even better, wine'n'things is running a South African wine promotion to celebrate South African Braai Month until end of October. Check it out now.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Georgian wine revisited

My last article of Georgian wine was in 2012. Although I haven’t written anything on Georgian since then, I did attend its tastings organised nearly every year by Meiburg Wine Media, including the Georgian Wine Festival 2016. I noticed quite a few things have changed.

First is the recognition of Georgia. Back in 2011 when I visited Georgia with some 40 importers and media from Asia, hardly anyone knew where Georgia was. At this year’s master class, Debra still joked that we should not mix up this Georgia, with over 8,000 years of winemaking history, with the US Georgia. In reality, a lot of wine lovers, and certainly most in the wine trade, are aware, if not exactly pinpointing the location, of this winemaking country between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

The second is the awareness of Qvevri (or Kvevri) wine. They may not have tried it but most realise it is the traditional winemaking method where wine is made in amphorae (although not the entire process). I like Qvevri white wine for its blend of floral, spices and stone fruits aromas but surprisingly fresh, light and dry palate.

Then it is the availability of Georgian wine in the market. In Hong Kong, Georgian wine is still confined to a few small yet focused importers but the increase in import was an impressive 230% in 2015, while China is Georgia’s fifth largest export market (around 760,000 bottles in 2015). Japan also saw its import of Georgian wine increased by 21% in 2015.

Last and the most important, is the improvement in wine quality. Qvevri wine is always of high quality if an acquired taste. However, it only contributes to around 5-8% of the total Georgian wine production. The bulk of Georgian wine is made in modern wineries using stainless steel tanks and barrels. When I was at the Tbilisi Georgian Beverages Tradeshow in 2011, the wine quality was hit and miss because of winery hygiene or practices and vineyard management (too high yield). At this tasting, the wine quality has leapfrogged. All the wines were clean and well made. albeit a few of them might have a bit too much oak.

What I was glad to see is that Georgian wineries are not rushing to plant international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay alike even though making wine with these varieties is a short cut to export markets. Georgia has 526 indigenous grape varieties most with un-pronounceable names but they are unique characteristics. I would hate to see them disappear.

These were a few outstanding wineries/wines at the tasting:

Bagrationi 1882: The Bagrationi royal family introduced secondary fermentation in bottle from France to Georgia and in 1882, the wine won worldwide acknowledgement in St Petersburg, Russia, hence the name. Its Classic Brut NV made with Chinuri and Tsitska was outstanding. Bagrationi 1882 is available from Ancient Wines Ltd.

Chateau Mukhrani: Founded in 1878 by the Prince of Mukhrani, heir of the royal family of Georgia, the winery owns 100% of the vineyards and controls crop size to produce the best quality grapes. I particularly like its white wines: Reserve du Prince Goruli Mtsvane 2013 and Rkatsiteli 2014. Chateau Mukhrani is available from Georgian Valleys Co.

Tamada: Meaning ‘Toast Master’, this is a joint venture between Pernod Ricard and Georgian shareholders. Its Napareuli 2009, a 100% Saperavi dry red wine, is a good representation of this mostly planted red variety in Georgia.

Winery Khareba: a big producer with some 1,000 ha of vineyards in Kakheti, Imereti and Racha-Lechkhumi. Try their range of Qvevri wines.

Usakhelauri Vineyards: A relatively new comer in 2001 and only planted with Usakhelauri red variety. The winery only produces two unfiltered wines: a semi-dry and a semi-sweet. Even the bottle is unique.

Let’s hope more importers and restaurants could carry Georgian wine.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Generation Riesling 10 Years Young

Not long ago, German wine, with its flowery label and medieval font, was viewed as old-fashioned. Its name, based on sweetness level at harvest – Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese further added to the confusion. The result? Consumers shunned German wine save the well-established brands and flocked to the more modern and drier New World wine. To revive the image of German wine, German Wine Institute (Deutsches Weininstitut DWI) initiated Generation Riesling in 2006, and how much things have changed since then!

Generation Riesling is a platform for Germany’s young winemakers under 35 years old, who are committed to contribute and change the image of German wine, to showcase their products to both domestic and international markets. The first presentation was on 8th June 2006 with 25 young winemakers in London. To date, it has 530 members from all 13 German quality wine regions. Members at their 36th birthday will be given birthday cards and retire from the group. Generation Riesling is dynamic, cosmopolitan and innovative. Over 60% of its members have made wine overseas from Austria and France to New Zealand, South Africa and the USA, and 30% of the members are female. Their wines are mainly dry style with simple and modern labels, a far cry from the traditional German wine.

According to wine critic and writer Stuart Pigott, who is also an advocate of German wine, about 50% of Generation Riesling members are from families with generations of winemaking history. The older generations in the 60s to 90s did not share ideas with neighbours and would try their best to block their children to change anything when they took over. In contrast, young winemakers in the past 10-15 years believe in sharing and exchanging experiences. Their motto is ‘We are stronger than I can ever be’. For them, wine is a part of pop culture. They gather in groups and present wines together in serious settings with quiet music in background but the events will eventually turn into parties with pop music. This attitude was carried through at Generation Riesling 10th birthday celebration. We (an international press group) were invited for the more serious seminar led by Stuart Pigott followed by a walk-around tasting with wine presented by 30 members, including nine founding members (a
ka older than 35 years old). For us, the tasting ended promptly at 6:00pm and we had to make way for their after-work party, which featured wine bars, food stations and DJ until the small hours!

Generation Riesling is not only about Riesling. While 55% of wine is Riesling, around 24% is devoted to the Pinot family – Spätburgunder, Grauburgunder and Weissburgunder (Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc). Not many people are aware, Germany is the Pinot Paradise – it ranks #3 in Point Noir planting after France and the USA, #2 in Pinot Gris planting after Italy and #1 in Pinot Blanc! They are followed by Silvaner, Lemberger (Blaufränkisch in Austria) and the fast demanding Sauvignon Blanc.

What is also great about German wine, be it Riesling or Spätburgunder, is its versatility and paring with Asian cuisines. The high acidity balances well with the fattiness in food while the fruity aromas compliment the fragrance of Asian spices. The relative low alcohol is an added bonus that makes diners feel less tiring at the end of the evening.  

We visited eight Generation Riesling wineries, partied at the famous annual Roter Hang Festival (the famous vineyard slope in Rheinhessen with red soil) with a Riesling Lounge, and attended the Generation Riesling 10th birthday party. All the wines we tried were excellent. Here are a few that I have the most impressions:

Sekt-und Weingut Winterling, Niederkirchen, Pfalz:
Susanne Winterling is the cheerful winemaker and also the German Wine Princess in 2007/2008. Her specialty is sparkling wine but her Sauvignon Blanc 2015 and Deidesheimer Herrgottsacker Riesling Spätlese Trocken 2015 are equally impressive.

Weingut Gaul, Grünstadt-Sausenheim, Pfalz
An all female winery with Dorothee being the winemaker, Karolin responsible for export, assisted by mother Gaul and the family she-dog. The father sadly passed away a few years ago but the ladies managed to modernise the winery with a new logo and a state-of-art building that housed the tasting room on ground floor and Dorothee’s home on first and second floors. The 2015 Sausenheimer Hütt Riesling Trocken Zugpferd, equivalent to Gold Capsule and not bottled yet when we tried, is intense with citrus and yellow stone fruits showing great ageing potential. The 2015 Sausenheimer Grauburgunder Trocken is a pleasant wine that will go well with Thai green curry.

Juwel Weine, Weingut Eller, Alsheim, Rheinhessen
Another modern winery run by sister duo Juliane and Katharina Eller. Juliane is the winemaker and though only 26 years old, she is determined and has a clear vision of how she wants to make the wine. Her wine, like the logo, is clean, elegant and fresh with a good balance of acidity and minerality. Unfortunately, most of the wines were sold out but the even basic level, Gutsweine (estate wine), we tasted showed very well the talent of Juliane.

Weingut Schätzel, Nierstein, Rheinhessen
Kai Schätzel is a serious winemaker. He is one of the newest VDP members (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, the oldest national association of fine winegrowing estates anywhere in the world) and the Winemaker of the year 2015. His winemaking philosophy is less alcohol, less exuberant fruit, more minerality and a more distinctive flavour profile. Even his VDP Grosses Gewächs has only 11-11.5% alcohol; but its lack of power is more than compensated by the elegance and precision. Kai is also one of the few young winemakers, together with Keller and Gunderloch, who go against the trend and promote the off-dry style Kabinett. He explained it was the calling from the vineyards. His 2014 Nierstein Riesling KabiNett – P Magnum, from the most legendary and steepest vineyard in the region, Pattenthal, is retailed at a whopping €99!

Weingut Sinß, Windsheim, Nahe
Energetic winemaker Johannes Sinß is proud of his wine and keen to show us the terroir by presenting different colour of slates and stones from his vineyards alongside the wine. His 2015 Weissburgunder Windesheim S is a perfect example of what a Pinot Blanc can be.

Weingut Hörner, Hochstadt, Pfalz
Playing with his name, Thomas Hörner designed three different labels of horns to differentiate the wine. His 2014 Grauburgunder Widder has ample fruits supported by lifted acidity. His rosé, an unusual blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, is well balanced and delicious. It is definitely worth a try if you don't mind asking for it – it is called Horny Rosé.

Weinbau der Lebenshilfe Bad Dürkheim, Bad-Dürkheim, Pfalz
This is part of a bigger life coaching social project. All workers are disabled, either physical or mental, and winemaker Jan Hock, found suitable roles for all of them in the vineyard or winery. The vines are organically grown and wines are made in traditional method. Teamwork is the key and everyone is proud of being a part of the family. Their ortswein (village wine), 2015 Sylvaner Dürkheimer and 2015 Riesling Wachenheimer are good representatives of wines at this quality level. What’s more, we feel good drinking the wine because we know it is for a good cause.

Generation Riesling is by no means the only young winemaker group but it is the biggest and most organised. There is another one called Generation Pfalz where members are being nominated every year by a panel and an even smaller group called Wine Changes with only 12 young winemakers from villages near Neustadt Weinstrasse in Pfalz. Nevertheless all these groups are like-minded – they are passionate and creative. They are inspired to find new ideas and ways to breathe new life into their regions. Their wines are true to the land but without the stiffness. They are the ones who will make German wine fashionable again.

Weingut Schätzel is available from The Juicy Grape
Weinbau der Lebenshilfe Bad Dürkheim is available from JOYVINO