Fongyee’s Regional NZ Tour with Air New Zealand

(Above: Central Otago) Fongyee is currently in New Zealand in her role as consultant to Air New Zealand, choosing wines for the airline’s Asian routes. Click here to read more about her trip with US wine critic Linda...

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Torres’ Mas La Plana 45th Anniversary: Beijing Tasting

Edward Ragg Left: a Mas La Plana cake for the wine’s 45th Anniversary, Aria Restaurant, Beijing.   Right: Mas La Plana’s iconic black label and Burgundy-bottle shape.  Spanish winemaking dynasty Torres is this year celebrating the 45th Anniversary of its iconic Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon. Miguel Torres Maczassek, current General Manager of Torres, recently came to Beijing to celebrate this milestone and offer a comparative tasting of select vintages of Mas La Plana (see below), including the very first vintage 1970, as well as showing other innovative Torres wines at a dinner at Aria Restaurant. Torres’ winemaking history can be traced to 1870, but the family was involved in viticulture in the Penedès region as early as the 17th Century. Torres’ modern manifestation was realized by Miguel Torres, whose innovative approach, in planting international grape varieties alongside native Spanish examples as well as embracing the technology that changed the world of wine in the 1980s and after, was instrumental in putting the Penedès and Catalonia as a whole on the international wine map. It is not without exaggeration to say that Miguel Torres made ‘modern Spain’ the phenomenon out of which today’s Spanish wine world has grown, especially since Spain joined the European Union in 1986. (Above: Miguel Torres) Mas La Plana, philosophically, is very much part of that picture. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and made in an intensely fruity style that few wines from Spain in the 1970s displayed (Miguel Torres’ father was certainly nonplussed at this new style of wine his son was putting in bottle). It is important to remember that, apart from perhaps Rioja, Spanish wine was not well known internationally in the early 1970s. And, indeed, under General Franco and the uncertainty following his demise, the Torres family looked outside of Spain to ensure a future in wine production (beginning in Chile as early as 1979 and California in 1985). However, Miguel Torres was adamant that a modern Spanish wine produced from Cabernet Sauvignon would get the world’s attention, as it duly did in 1979 when the 1970 Mas La Plana (labelled ‘Gran Coronas Black Label’) beat a selection of Bordeaux First Growths in a Paris blind-tasting competition – in a sense following in the footsteps of those Californian wines that had performed so well in the 1976 Judgement of Paris.  But the other thing to appreciate about Mas La Plana is that, although Miguel Torres sought acclaim for the wine by relying on a famous international variety, the wine is not a ‘Bordeaux blend’. Philosophically, Mas La Plana shares more with Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon or those Napa Valley Cabs that are very close to being or are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Where Bordeaux struggles to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon, especially in the wines of the Haut-Médoc – seeking to add fruitiness to structure through Merlot and other varieties – Mas La Plana aims to represent Cabernet Sauvignon in as ripe and still refreshing a state as possible; with a stamp of the Penedès that makes this wine not entirely like Napa or Coonawarra or, indeed, anywhere else. But how did this unique Spanish wine come to fruition? During 1965-66 the Torres family planted Cabernet Sauvignon in its Mas La Plana vineyard, some 29 hectares surrounding the family home. The vine material came from Jean Leon, who, legend has it, surreptitiously took cuttings from the vineyards of Châteaux Lafite and La Lagune: Leon who had gone to California in the dream of pursuing an acting career, then opened La Scala restaurant, returning to Spain in the hope of producing a notable Cabernet Sauvignon he could then sell...

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The New Chile and Chile’s Challenges in Mainland China: Part 2

Edward Ragg   Our first stop was at Santa Carolina’s historic cellars whose origins date back to 1875, now comfortably within Santiago’s sprawling city limits. Santa Carolina has a justifiably established reputation for award-winning wines from its highly dependable Reserva Familia range to its iconic Herencia (predominantly Carmenère from the Peumo Valley). In China the Reserva Familia wines are around 280RMB, which represents strong value for money given the quality, with Herencia topping 1,500RMB.     Less well-known and a clear indicator of the ‘New Chile’, however, is Santa Carolina’s ‘Specialties’ range, designed to encourage experimentation with less well-known varieties sourced from particular regions. A Mourvèdre from Cachapoal and Carignan from Cauquenes were just two of the delicious wines that exemplified how Chile is pushing its viticultural and winemaking limits. Hopefully, as the Chinese market develops, these wines may appear on mainland shores in future.     Driving down to Curíco, we stopped at Valdivieso winery. A barrel tasting of Pinot Noir samples from Leyda and Cauqenes as well as cooler-climate Syrahs from Leyda and Limarí contrasted with a denser example from Aconcagua, showing the real progress these two grapes have made. Some refreshing sparkling wines were matched with other impressive blends: such as Valdivieso’s Eclat, a Carignan-Mourvèdre assemblage as well as the unusual Caballo Loco No 15, a non-vintage wine that represents 50% of the previous vintage blended with the current year. This enticing non-vintage melange of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenère and Syrah is a reminder of Chile’s great capacity for blends, here a complete mix by variety, region and vintage.   (Santa Cruz winery, Colchagua Valley)   Driving north to the picture-perfect, undulating hills of tourist-friendly Colchagua, we stopped at Santa Cruz winery – whose excellent Tupu blend and top Santa Cruz label have not yet reached China’s shores – also visiting the compelling properties of Emiliana, Clos Lapostolle and Montes.   (Emiliana’s Apalta vineyards: alpacas quite at home)   Emiliana prides itself on organic, largely biodynamically-farmed vineyards. Such care and attention to detail is also undeniably reflected in its wines. Especially fascinating were Emiliana’s SDO Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne blend and the lovely 2011 Coyam – whose name means ‘oak forest’ in Mapuche – a seductive mixture of Syrah, Carmenère, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre and Malbec.   (Left: Lapostolle’s Carignan from Maule and Syrah from Pirque)   Clos Lapostolle needs little introduction, owned by the House of Marnier with consultancy from Michel Rolland. The Cuvee Alexandre range and Clos Apalta are all established wines of note: the Cuvee Alexandre Syrah being a personal favourite and Clos Apalta invariably fine. But Lapostolle’s more experimental bottlings also proved enticing: a Maule Carignan (qualifying for Vigno status) and Syrahs from coastal Casablanca and the Pirque foothills of the Andes were delicious.   (Montes winery restaurant and barrel room, with hovering angel)   Such experimentation also defines Montes, now celebrating its 25th year since Aurelio Montes had the vision to plant Carmenère on Apalta’s hillsides. Given the water issue in Chile, Montes now increasingly dry farms. Beyond the Montes Alpha range and world-class Montes Alpha M and Purple Angel, the ‘Outer Limits’ line, as it names suggests, marks the more experimental parts of the portfolio. A Sauvignon Blanc from the Zapallar Vineyard and a Carignan-Grenache-Mourvèdre from Apalta were especially impressive. Montes’s understanding of Cabernet Sauvignon in particular has been enhanced by its also producing a wine in Napa, as in the lovely 2007 Napa Angel Cabernet Sauvignon Aurelio’s Selection (though the Napa Angel and Montes’s Cabernets are essentially vinified in the same way).     Odfjell was, however, the winery least familiar...

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The New Chile and Chile’s Challenges in Mainland China: Part 1

Edward Ragg For many a wine lover, Chile conjures that long, thin country hemmed in by the cooling Pacific Ocean to the west and the towering Andes mountains to the east, responsible for some of the best-value wines available anywhere. The northerly Atacama desert represents Chile’s driest extreme – some vineyards in Elqui and Limarí have even been abandoned for lack of water – whilst Itata, Bío-Bío and Malleco form a humid, southerly border where only aromatic whites, Chardonnay and a splash of Pinot Noir are produced. (Source: Wines of Chile) But Chile’s vinous diversity has increasingly more to do with exploration west to east (see above map): from the coastal possibilities of San Antonio through the distinct zones of Maipo: that is, from coastal to central to Andean foothill sites. As Chile develops its own D.O. Appellation system, Chilean labels already mark such changes: as in Costa Maipo, Central Maipo and Alto Maipo. Since 2012, in fact, these Costa, Entre Cordilleras and Andes designations have graced bottles, suggesting diversity and specificity in equal measure. Diversity is also represented in plantings. Undeniably, Chile is defined by its easy-to-sell, international (largely French) grape varieties, producing wines across all price ranges. But the comparatively lesser-known Carignan – in Maule from rejuvenated old vines – along with Mourvèdre, Malbec (not just Argentina’s pride and joy), Tempranillo and others are adding to the mix, often in the harder-to-sell but increasingly exciting mid-to-high priced categories. There is also now greater boldness to Chilean winemaking. Take Sauvignon Blanc, for example. Often intermixed with the inferior Sauvignonasse (Sauvignon Vert) when Chile exploded onto export markets in the mid-1990s, now this aromatic white represents a challenge to New Zealand’s multiple expressions of the grape: not just from Casablanca but also San Antonio and even the southerly Malleco. With a touch of lees or a little skin-contact, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is now much more sophisticated than twenty years ago. The overly herbaceous ‘green’ character of the country’s supposedly flagship red variety Carmenère has also essentially disappeared from better-made examples. But what challenges does Chile face in communicating such diversity to a developing market like that of mainland China? On the face of it, the answer is simple. First, establish a reputation as a wine-producing country. To some extent, this has already been achieved in China. Indeed, Chilean wineries have sensed the danger in being seen in China, on the one hand, as ‘cheap and cheerful’ – with basic Chilean wines priced as low as 35RMB available in the mainland market – and, on the other, as extravagantly super-premium with iconic wines like Almaviva, Don Melchor, Don Maximiano, Herencia and Purple Angel appealing to some high-end consumers. Though it doesn’t hurt to have iconic wines flanked by reliable entry-level offerings, the danger, of course, is that some very good, affordable wines with rather more to offer than the ‘cheap and cheerful’ could be overlooked in China; or, rather, fail to build markets for themselves at all. However, there are enough adventurous wine lovers in mainland China now coming online (in all senses) who are looking for the kind of exciting mid-to-high-priced wines which Chile has in abundance; and these are precisely the consumers Chilean wineries need to disabuse of the idea that Chile is merely a New World extension of France, notwithstanding Chile’s vinous heritage in which France does indeed loom large. These were just some of the questions debated on my first visit to Chile last year… Click here to read more of my regional tour of Chile by...

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A Range of Grange Part 5 (1955-2012): Tasting Notes, 21st Century Grange

        Edward Ragg, Beijing This is the fifth and final part of our Dragon Phoenix Feature on Penfolds’ Grange and presents tasting notes on select vintages from the current century. (Click here to read A Range of Grange Part 1: Penfolds’ Iconic South Australian blend). Given the soaring rise in recognition Penfolds has attained in mainland China, it seems fitting to present at least one (non-Chinese) taster’s impressions of the wines, albeit in English. Chinese wine lovers do, at least, now have Andrew Caillard MW’s The Rewards of Patience (7th edition) available in Mandarin. A Note on the Notes: the date and place of tasting is noted for each wine; and, where the same vintage has been tasted on separate occasions, ratings are accordingly different, owing to different bottles being tasted at different stages of development. The numerical scores are only, in any case, part of the story. What I’ve tried to stress is the character of each vintage and the notes are reproduced exactly as they were made at the time of tasting and have only been edited to correct obvious errors as to spelling, punctuation or factual information. Putting these notes side by side reveals some anomalies, partly explained by bottle variation and the vagaries of tasting itself.   2002 Penfolds Grange Tasted 12th December 2013, Chinese launch of The Rewards of Patience (Seventh Edition), Beijing Appearance: deep ruby. Nose: intense dark chocolate with black cherry, blueberry, mulberry, almost damson – a little less open than the older vintages here. Tightly wound up with a core of dark fruits waiting to open, deft vanilla and complex oak notes. Hint of mint/eucalypt. Young, cooler vintage style, consistent with 2002. Palate: intensely sweet dark black fruits with wonderful structure, lively acidity and very well-balanced alcohol with a hint of mint and eucalypt, even an iron-like, sanguineous quality. But the 2002 is really about these dark, intense fruits with a lovely ripe structure that is still, of course, very young on the palate. Very long. Conclusion: a relatively cool, fantastic vintage. This will be incredible in another 10 years and has the complexity and structure to last to at least 2022 and beyond. Beautiful fruit, beautiful elegance and complexity. Rating: 19/20   2003 Penfolds Grange Tasted 24th September 2008, Penfolds Rewards of Patience Tasting: Verticals of Grange and Koonunga Hill (Part 1: Koonunga Hill, Part 2: Grange) with Kym Schroeter. Appearance: very dark purple, clear rim. Nose: pronounced, bright berry fruits (blackberry, mulberry etc.) and some dark plum character with integrated oak. Palate: characteristically big tannic structure here, but this is a lighter vintage for Grange with a delicacy of fruit and lively acidity that suggest shorter-term keeping (at least on the Grange scale of ageing). Conclusion: 2003 was a warm vintage that did not produce as complex wines as the fabled 2002 or 1998 vintages. It would be cheap to call this a ‘restaurant vintage’ for Grange, but it’s heartening to have a wine of this calibre that can actually be approached now and which will drink nicely from 2013-2023. The 1983, 1991, 1998 and 1999 will all be better than the 2003 for different reasons. But this is still clearly a great Australian wine. Rating: 18.5/20                 2004 Penfolds Grange – Tasting Note 1 Tasted 29th November 2014, Decanter Fine Wine Encounter Shanghai Appearance: deep purple. Nose: very perfumed, very floral dark blueberry, damson and black cherry fruit with toasted oak and some mocha-chocolate characters. Very young, but not closed up especially. Still has this attractive showiness; as it had on first release, in fact. Palate: lovely tannic structure with juicy, ripe, big coating and chewy tannins, lifting acidity and a wonderful core of predominantly black, ripe, vibrant and perfumed fruits, beautifully integrated toasted and sweet oak notes with considerable length and layers of complexity. Conclusion: 4% Cabernet Sauvignon....

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