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Taste Test: #5

A theme always seems to pop up whenever we collate one of these taste tests. horizontal storage bright and shiny btlsThis time we did seem to be drinking a lot of wines that are un-trendy, maybe with negative associations, some justified; some errant. Pity, as they did come across rather nicely, but sometimes good things really don’t control their own destinies.

Prices shown indicate the expected range, starting at our standard price (if we stock them) and going up to the Market Price. This should guide readers as to what they can expect to pay if they go to a City Shop or a Pines, for example, to locate any of the wines featured (if they have them, that is).

  • All wines were paid for, in full. No other agent was involved in our choices or tastings or opinions, nor have they been sought. We don’t care what our suppliers want us to write. Further detailed notes about our method below. Here we go…

Whites:

South Africa flagn thumbKleine Zalze Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2010 Stellenbosch, South Africa ¥110-¥130 17pts Kleine Zalze Chenin blanc bush vinesBronze Medal 2013

South Africa has been going about the business of making excellent Chenin for a long, long time now. It has helped put Stellenbosch on the global map. And once Stellenbosch got onto the map, folks began to wonder why they planted that exclusive and wonderful viticultural area with Chenin. The contents of this bottle is why.

An aside: Chenin takes the world by storm around Vouvray in the northern Loire river valley in France where there isn’t any Riesling, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, and the sweetest, richest expressions are world beaters with few equals. But sweet wines are uncool, right? Out of favour…

Yes, and it’s been that way since the late 70’s when greedy marketers shipped insipid, sweeter wines into the UK; were quickly considered ‘cheesy and uncool‘ by the fashionistas of the time and ridiculed to near extinction thankfully. But the baby was thrown out with the bath water, and what a shame a generation has lost out. It wasn’t the first or last time greed screwed up a good thing…Few attempt grow it beyond the northern Loire, and even fewer Chenin Blanc are sweet these days, possibly as an overreaction to the bad media of yesteryear.

Sweet wines’ demise created a ‘dry wine only’ paradigm, that these days makes no sense given the well entrenched demand for wines covertly high in sugar. So many will only admit to enjoying dry wine while actually drinking an increasingly sweeter drink (but that’s a debate for another place and I digress, because this isn’t a sweet wine.

The lime flavour which underpins this is delicious. The fresh-faced exuberance and the generous helping of tropical warmth wrapped in a rich full bodied package (that isn’t a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon blanc or even a half-way house) is intriguing. If anything, its closer to, but not like a Riesling either. Get your head around that!

So it has novelty and intrinsic interest, celebrated by it’s differentness and yet reminiscent of aspects of other popular varieties. Whilst it is different, its seems familiar. A useful and approachable facet leading to it’s recognised international success. OK. So what is a bush vine? Why is Chenin Blanc trained thus? and why are South African wines still rarer than hen’s teeth in China? We don’t have all the answers.

Well, we are glad to report that while this is a wine we were told would no longer be available a year ago; it is still fully available and in the latest vintage incarnation, the 2013 is absolutely yum. 17pts

  franceChateau Lamargue Les Grandes Cabanes Costières de Nîmes Blanc 2009, France ¥120/¥145 16.5pts. BIN ENDLES GRANDES CABANES Blanc Costieres de Nimes AOC

Costieres de Nimes is one of those very very old wine growing regions where trends are less important that tradition. Here the Romans (later the Monks) worked out what to do and why. Yet the terroir, climate, varieties and wine styles which have developed over centuries of experience and practise, sometimes espoused as ‘trial and error’: intelligently deemed ‘trial and improvement’ are here in spades.

A Southern French charmer of a blend (Roussanne/Viognier) with complex nose, reminiscent of mineral tones evolving into white flowers and exotic fruits. Palate has full bodied freshness that is bone dry with some nice acidic balance to the viognier fruit. The roussanne adds nice weight. Wine Spectator: 2005 vintage 85/100:

Now that the wine has some decent bottle age, somewhat bucking the trend in recent years for ‘Fresh, Fresh, Fresh’, this Costières de Nîmes has managed to achieve some of the richness that these wines have historically been capable of. This means that the taster can experience something which is unusual in the modern world, especially in Shanghai: moderately aged white wines that are actually designed to be capable of it.

More often we see examples of older wines bought cheap on the black market or from supermarkets that just don’t rotate stock or sell the wines quickly enough ior storing them incorrectly leading to the wines destruction (in bottle). Now de-listed and in shrinking quantities, it’ll all be gone by this summer. 16.5pts.

franceZirnhelt Gewurztraminer AOP 2012 Alsace, France  ¥130-¥150 A. Zirnhelt Gewurztraminer full size excellent16.5pts

AOP stands for Appelation D’Origine Protogée, and no, at the time of writing, we don’t know what that means either… although I suppose we ought to, if we are being serious enough to write these words. Some things we just let go due to a lack of interest or because we are busier doing things that matter or that no one will notice. We’ll just put it on the back burner for now and remember that, as no-one drinks Gewurztraminer except me, it doesn’t matter a fig if we don’t produce a concise and all encompassing report on this wine.

Speaking of figs, there are plenty of those to be tasted here; and gooseberries and lychees and honey and rose petals run through with spices which intrigue and warm and suffuse the liquid with October sunlight and that’s my love affair with Gewurz.

This wine isn’t for everyone. My wife turns up her nose it at; scrunches it up, to be precise. She has to be in rare mood indeed for the delights of Gewurz’ to dent her affection for red wines, but the drawback there is hers, and I generally therefore tend to get the whole bottle to myself.

Being out of fashion can be a double edged sword, though. It can mean there isn’t too much supply and that can mean prices aren’t as competitive as they can be for those varieties with more production, but we have managed here to source a producer who isn’t charging that premium and that’s a rarity in itself these days. 16.5pts

NZ flag thumbFernway Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand ¥135-¥165 17ptsFernway better thumb

Has the world got fed up with Sauvignon Blanc? That’s what I read in an American newsletter. Then again, folks with news to sell, make up the news to sell, whether it’s news or not. We know that. Fashion decline or sublime inside…what’s actually going on?

Kiwi SB gives us something that France and Chile; won’t or can’t. Fernway SB gives us something that others Kiwi Sauvignonz can’t manage; a glimpse into the heady world of Marlborough without the usually, seriously hefty entry fee.

Friends and wine aficionados of all things antipodean have told us they believe Fernway is actually better than an Oyster Bay, the unofficial benchmark brand, but that seems to be a stretch. Our view is that it’s good enough to sit at the top table and yet humble enough to know that some of it’s cousins are a step higher up the hierarchy of potent pleasure, and that has always been it’s raison d’etre for us, and for that, it is a true find.

Ah, the taste of so many warm summer evenings, only now it’s with the memory of those sunset’s fading turning its own cosy twilight moment; Autumn afternoons, just like the springtime trepidation of the summer make a great last hurrah for New Zealand Sauvignon. Sit it beside some nibbles, chat and laze away the afternoon in classic style. 17pts

spain-flagAbadia Picopol DO 2012 Pla de Bages, Spain ¥180-¥200 16.5pts (no web page)¡Abadal Plas de bages Picapoll

Trying a new region or grape variety is one of the most exciting experiences in wine, second only to finding a bottle of the same vintage of something one was blown away by back in the day (and nervously hoping its still the same and the same memories and emotions will come flooding back).

In the former, this was no exception. Abadia (the producer), Picopol (the grape) and Pla de Bages (the region) were all brand new acquaintances. Initially, by Abadia, I had first tried the Cabernet-Merlot crianza, and had found that to be a wonderful wine, hitting all the benchmarks I look for in Spain; the harmonious meeting of fruit, acid and oak. When I delved deeper I discovered they are more famous for their whites…

With trepidation at the asking price, a tangible lack of expertise in Spanish white wine and an optimistic dose of professional ‘hope’, I took the plunge seeking guidance from the stories I had been told of it’s greatness. here’s what we found inside the bottle.

Lovely depth, complexity and weight. Dry fresh fruits. Invigorating limeyness and dependable acids. The wine exudes quality craftsmanship and competence. Had there been just a bit more depth, or maybe a tad more tropical lushness, it would score much higher; especially were the price a little lower, but that’s the deal. That’s the wine and while competent, this wine wasn’t the hoped-for game changer.  16.5pts

Sparkling:

spain-flagGran Bach Cava NV Catalunya, Spain ¥135-¥155 17.5pts.Gran Bach Cava Sparkling Brut Large

Cava means different things to different people. To the Champagne crowd it means ‘cheap imitator’. To the Prosecco crowd it means ‘so last decade’. But to the Cava drinker it means Champagne taste at Prosecco prices.

Admitting to being initially somewhat ambivalent in all things Cava a few years ago, I found myself needing to offer it alongside the other Sparklers; and this wine is what we found and at the right price. Made from Chardonnay, Macabeo, Parellada & Xarel.lo it offers the same production method as Champagne but with grapes suited to the region and a region that is treated to more dependable weather than northern France.

Aromatic notes of honey, apple preserve & grapefruit overlain with toasted bread aromas. The palate has all that plus hints of dry, lightly toasted nuts. Elegant fine bubbles. The classic earthy, biscuity nose that Cava has become famous for isn’t as pronounced here, which is OK with me as that is the only thing I don’t like about Chardonnay based Champagne, except its price. A great Spanish Cava for great occasions.

It is having something of a meteoric rise in the US with Millennials going nuts for it. I guess its relatively recent official appearance on the wine scene (1980’s) has something to do with that. Despite being made for over a century, gaining recognised status came as Spain entered the EEC (as it then was). In that space of time one maker of Cava has become the world’s leading producer of all sparkling wine: Freixenet. There must be something in that… What do you think about Cava?  17.5pts.

reds:

Chile flag thumbSan Medin Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Chile ¥100-¥120 16.5ptsSan Medin CS thumb

It’s been a long journey back to rediscovering Cabernet. I know that for many, it never went away, but as a part of the job I do, I was always being pulled in other directions; tasting and testing.  What a delightful surprise Cabernet is when it comes at the right time, right price. It was just a few months back, we were  really impressed with the 2009 we ‘located’: competent, confident warmth.

Tonight’s 2012, was somewhat less beguiling than the bottle aged 2009, but none the less satisfying as an after dinner tipple. I can thank Mrs. Wine Man for keeping in touch with her Cabernet leanings, as I opened this for her after our ‘roast Mexican Chicken Thighs’ dinner.”Let’s have a Cabernet,” said I. “Yes, please. My favourite,” came back her response. Little does she know I keep tabs on her responses, and last week her then ‘latest’ favourite was a Grenache (Cotes Du Rhone Villages).

The label design has always been a little underwhelming, and sadly it does affect this wines ongoing sales, but that should not detract from its pleasurable characteristics in the glass…and (for those who know about it) it doesn’t. 16.5pts

Argentina Flag thumb 60x30Salentein Portillo Malbec 2013 Mendoza, Argentina ¥100-Portillo Malbec¥119 17.5pts Silver ’13 & Bronze ’14 Decanter

If you wish to know anything at all about Malbec know that it is Argentina’s crowning glory, in wine terms. A national success story of extreme proportions. From Cahors in France (where it makes often tannic, rustic and unyielding wines requiring food) the grape in the Argentine has undergone a remarkable transformation under local conditions and bears little resemblance to it’s ‘Francestor’.

Salentein Portillo Malbec hails from the Uco Valley, in Mendoza, a dry desert where plants really have to struggle for life, with pure mountain meltwater falling off the glistening high Andes.

A wine of great structure, well-balanced acidity and a long finish. The nose is rich in fruits (plum, black fruits & blackberries and violets. The attack is marked by soft, pleasant tannins. The finish has a roundness and a strong fruity after-taste.

Bronze DecanterWe now have to taste this wine every couple of months to see if it develops any extra pleasures… yummy, jammy rich sweet and heady fruit with lashing of minerality and a dollop of soft gentle tannins. Fantastic structure for the money too. A Silver Medal in 2013 was followed by a Bronze in 2014. At this price point that is consistent success in anybodies money. 17.5pts

Italy-national-flagEnrico Serafino Barbera D’Asti DOCG 2011 Piedmont, Italy ¥119-¥145Barbera D'Asti 17.5pts

Barbera D’Asti is a wine that displays an intense violet colour and typical perfumes of cherries. Intense and rich nose. The typical wonderful acidity brought by Barbera grapes creates an explosion of cherry and flowers perfumes.
Barbera is bountiful, versatile, delicious and moderate in price. The Piemontesi drink more reds than whites and almost 50% of the reds that they enjoy are Barbera. It is part of their culture and lifestyle. Barbera is Piemonte’s “go to” wine.
This is the most interesting sub-¥150 wine in Shanghai. Big Statement? Well, it is more refined and interesting than anything costing ¥40-60 more, from anywhere. Astonishing quality at an astonishing price from a serious, lauded producer. Barbera develops nicely too, with age. The characteristic bitter almond streak in the current  2011 has diminished since last April’s formal taste test, but blossomed beautifully on the silky-smooth front.It so impressed this week, a second bottle was opened the next night minus Italian food too! It was simply deliciously silky. Lower in acid than this time last year (same vintage) and had even become somehow slightly sweeter since then.
The acidity is perfect for food: Tomatoes, starch and Olive oil are the foils. That’s why Barbera is perfect with Pizza and Pasta. Tomatoes.

We have been drinking this wine regularly for over 4 years through 3 vintages. With so many wines to test, our repeat testing says a lot: We are drinking it by choice, a lot. Now showing perfect harmony and balance, We secured 10 cases recently which should last until the late spring.’ It is staggeringly ‘that good’.

We managed to negotiate a stay of execution on this wine, which in future will rise 60% in cost.  So, we’ll probably stop offering it in future. Shame. 17.5pts

 spain-flagCamino de Castillo Tempranillo Crianza DO 2010 Ribero Del Duero, Spain ¥130-¥155 15.5pts.ribera dul duero

A bit less ‘enchanting’ than the 2008 and 2006, which were the previous incarnations available here. Could be down to ‘bottle shock’: that which adversely affects wines during transportation and about which little can be done, but wait. It’s not a serious issue in even the medium term but can just unsettle the balance of a wine. The science around this issue is very grey, but time in bottle resting will have the most profoundly important impact on most wines eventual promise. We will need a retest later in the season, as I suspect the fairly recent arrival in China just prior to testing has had an impact.

The 2008 sold out very quickly (after we shouted about it loud and long as is our tendency when we find those special wines). Maybe further in-bottle development will offer a little more to come from this former star, but I secretly suspect that 2010 in this region of Spain wasn’t quite at the level of those 2 previous vintages mentioned, and in fact a little mixed. And when I check the vintage reposts for 2010, that’s what I expect to find. Let’s hope that’s all it is, rather than a general decline at the winery; that would be a surprise after years of improvements. 15.5pts.

 Italy-national-flagSella & Mosca Medeus Isola Dei Nuraghi IGT 2009 Sardegna, Italy# ¥325/¥375 17.5ptsMedeus small (web page coming soon)

Since the late 70’s Italy has been at the forefront of rebelliously breaking or subverting the wine laws to forge on into new territory, quality-wise. It has had stratospheric results all over Tuscany and across the Tyrrhenian Sea in Sardinia.

An interesting risk has led to an interesting wine. A big, bold blend of Carignano and Cannonau, two great native grapes, come together with two prestigious international varieties, Merlot and Cabernet, to produce Medeus. This medley of grapes from different growing environments is the secret of Medeus’ complexity.

Tenute Sella’s Alghero estate is the source for the Cannonau, Cabernet and Merlot grapes, whilst the estate at Sulcis produces the Carignano. Both vineyards comply with DOC regulations for their respective production areas. However, as with many higher quality, artisan, premium wines elsewhere in Italy, under the DOC rules, the combination in the same wine of grapes from the Alghero and Sulcis DOC zones means that Medeus is released under the broader IGT Isola dei Nuraghi designation. See if you can tell that the vineyard wrote this:

Dark ruby red shading into youthful purplish highlights at the rim. hints of sun-dried grass. The fruit on the nose follows through in the mouth, where it is accompanied by caressingly soft tannins that offset the freshness of the generous acidity, and support a leisurely development on the palate. The subdued, subtly vanilla led echoes of the wine’s stay in oak are admirably discreet. Overall, the perceptions evoke sun-ripened, Mediterranean freshness and southern spices.

They are not wrong but its just full of platitudes that distract from the experience and tell us nothing. 17.5pts

 Marimar Don Miguel R R Valley P Noir thumbusMarimar Estate “Don Miguel” Russian River Valley Pinot Noir^ 2011 California  ¥500+ (no web page)

Over centuries of ebbing and flowing fortunes, Pinot Noir has grown a modern reputation for luxury. Its notoriety of being difficult to grow adds to that somewhat. The catch 22 for this niche variety is that rarity through supply limited by geographical constraint and historical acclaim feed demand and push up prices and interest rises in other regions seeking growing it. Some places completely unfit for the grape have tried to cash in with uninspiring results. For brevity, Pinot Noir needs crap weather and crap soils. more technically, it needs a large diurnal temperature range, a long season to mature and preferably Chalky soils for poor water retention.

The West Coast of the States from San Francisco to Washington is second only to Otago on New Zealand’s South Island for decent Pinot; but it comes at a hefty cost often involving nasty frosts and huge fans or even helicopters as counterpoints to that.

With elevated status comes a responsibility to outperform, and although, Pinot Noir is not a grape this scribe normally gets out of bed for, this example was certainly a wine that said, ‘Sit up and take note’. Powerful and majestic in its depth of flavours and structure. The balance was pretty neat too. This brand holds up to scrutiny, even if it is out of many folks’ budgets and will seldom be called upon to perform amongst price concious winevestors. I think that it’s success has a lot to do with the Russian River Valley location in northern California and possibly a lot to do with wine-making know-how:

Now ¥500 seems an awful lot of money for the half bottle of the testable liquid which we acquired for this enquiry; but hey the half bottle was thankfully a free gift from our old colleague, Jing, which she showered on us on her worn-out return from a day spent studying and tasting dozens of styles from around the globe at her WSET course, here in Shanghai. For centuries a fickle yet mammoth beast has caused equal amounts of joy and despair, it remains a fickle beast, but a fickle beast that can perform… sometimes. Here, with an unbeliever such as I, it did. 17pts

How we do what we do… Just to let you know:  We don’t blind test (read our views on that pseudo-science here.)zoom black grapes moist

  • Some wines mentioned in these reports; we don’t even sell! But we’d like to mention them anyway for general interest, plus for current and future reference.
  • We are always looking to add value to what we do by building a better picture.
  • The points given at the end of each entry are based on usual tasting criteria (appearance, aroma, taste, cost) and are out of 20.
  • We also take into consideration security of supply, accuracy to type, presentation, versatility, maturity and our ‘Wow versus Price’ view.

Embedded links take you to those wines with their own pages for further detailed descriptions/opinions.

Those without links are either:

  • too new (*),
  • too niche (#),
  • we haven’t got around to it (^),
  • we didn’t think they were worthy (Φ), or are
  • not available from us at the moment (¡)

The exciting development for us, is how many wines we either never got around to making pages for, or didn’t think were worthy, and have actually fared really well.

Next time: amongst about 8 wines our atypical French Rosé from Costières de NÎmes, sumptious Causino Macul Antiguas Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Chile), plus exciting new wines including Zonin Classici Valpolicella 2012 (Veneto), and revisits tom New Zealand’s Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Piedmont’s Enrico Serafino Dolcetto D’Alba DOC 2012 (complete with a huge moan about it’s recent pricing uptick, effectively killing off its marketplace appeal). Also a mention for a certain Spanish Barrique-fermented Chardonnay and a German Riesling that’s improving with age (as they do..) Yum Yum.

TWM

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