An Introduction to our Tasting Notes

Tasting Notes: Organization When we first started a Dragon Phoenix blog (back in 2007), our somewhat naive aim was to present full tasting notes on the hundreds of wines we get to taste each year in a fully searchable format. We also had tasting notes ready to hand to transcribe from physical jottings made since 2003 – but, sadly, not from our first blind-tasting days back in 1999 (not that, back then, our notes were necessarily that informative!). Then Ryan Opaz (of Catavino fame) pointed out the great resource that is Adegga: not only a site where notes could be uploaded, but where each wine could be coded (via a unique AVIN) and its HTML code then used on other sites. It seemed to make much more sense to add notes to a ‘tasting community’ rather than have them sequestered away on a new blog and site whose real function was to inform people about wine education and the wine scene(s) in China. But much has changed since then. Dragon Phoenix took off and we quickly became too busy to maintain a blog; even when writing, we were typically producing articles and tasting notes for magazines in China and beyond or on other people’s sites. The result here is a mixture of notes uploaded directly to the Dragon Phoenix blog (now Wine News section of this new site) or via wine reviews linked directly to originals written (mainly by Edward) on Adegga. But the rationale and organization of these notes has always been the same. The full name and vintage of each wine is listed followed by detailed notes divided up into the following categories: ‘Appearance’, ‘Nose’ and ‘Palate’, followed by a ‘Conclusion’ and ‘Rating’ out of 20 (see Rating System below for an explanation of how to interpret our scores). These notes may appear in tastings covered in the ‘Dragon Phoenix Features’ category or in the ‘Odd Bottles’ section where often notes on individual wines appear. Rating System There are many rating and scoring systems used by wine critics and enthusiasts around the world. None is perfect, but wine would not be what it is – an evolving organic product, full of surprises – if it could be described exactly or in any sense finally. However, although individual wines are always changing – and although perceptions of taste are necessarily personal and subjective – wine critics have a duty to be open, transparent and consistent about how they rate wines. We follow a 20-point system because this seems to give us enough flexibility to assess a range of wines without having numerically baffling scores (the 100-point system seems unwieldy, although we recognize it works for other tasters and have experience using it ourselves on blind-tasting panels). The 20-point scale is also what we’ve grown used to adopting in professional wine challenges where large numbers of wines from vastly different categories are assessed. Here are what our scores mean (an explanatory note on how this system is relative to the type or category of wine scored follows): 18.5-20 A ‘Gold Medal’ winner: a very good to outstanding wine. Within the top of its class and a great example of its category. Of very high quality indeed. 17-18.4 A ‘Silver Medal’ winner. Very good quality wine. At an impressive quality-level, but not in the top of its class and not the highest quality example of its category. 15.5-16.9 A ‘Bronze Medal’ winner. Good quality wine. A good expression of its category, but not necessarily inspiring. Reliable drinking. 14-15.4 ‘Commercial’. Drinkable, but not good quality, not exciting and usually not a particularly good example of its category. Average quality, but without wine-making faults. 12.5-13.9 ‘Faulty’. Displays one or more wine-making faults. May still be drinkable, but is not recommended. Below...

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That’s Beijing March 2008 Grape Press: Wine and Chinese Cuisines

If you would like to see a copy of our March That’s Beijing column on matching international wines with the four main schools of Chinese cooking, please click here.

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July Tips and Tricks

A Bleeding Rose   As summer heats up, thoughts of wine often turn from dark and warming reds to light and refreshing pinks. But recently the European Union shocked Europe’s wineries by suggesting legislation to allow the widespread blending of red and white wines to make rosé. The suggestion brought outrage and storm to the pink wine world. Why? Rosé Champagnes are nearly always actually made by blending, a practice defined under AC law (the Champagne region being largely defined by the art of the blend). But makers of still rosé wines are proud of their own time-honoured ways of producing cheeful pinks without recourse to blending. In fact, one of the most useful ways of making rosé is by removing some of the wine early during red wine fermentation and bottling it. Without substantial skin contact, the removed wine is light pink with delicate red-berry or other red fruit flavours and little or next to no tannin. This type of rosé is known as ‘Saignée’, the French term for ‘bled’; and the practice is thought to make the remaining red wine more concentrated and intense in flavour. Because of this and because such rosé wines can be sold quickly, the Saignée method has proved a useful source of income for red winemakers in places like Bordeaux especially! There are, however, also some serious ‘Saignée’ Rosé Champagnes worth...

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June Tips and Tricks

  As the temperature rises in Beijing, wine storage and service become a pressing issue! Too warm a serving temperature can destroy the aromas of most wines and too cold a temperature can mute aromas, especially in more complex bottles. For storage before service, a wine cabinet is essential and for long-term storage a unit with humidity as well as temperature control is advisable (plus a storage area without strong light or vibration). With the official ‘air-con’ temperature regulated at 26 degrees Celsius, this ‘room temperature’ proves too warm for serving most bottles. Generally speaking, big-bodied red wines should be served at around 18-20 Celsius, but higher than that and the alcohol becomes too obvious, ruining the wine’s bouquet. In fact, in these strenuously hot days, most red wines benefit from a quick chill in the fridge before service. This especially applies to lighter-bodied reds with less tannic structure (e.g. Beaujolais, most Pinot Noirs, joven Tempranillo, lighter Loire Cabernet Francs etc.).   Whites require more planning ahead. Try to avoid putting them in the freezer because this may precipitate ‘wine diamonds’ (aka tartrate crystals) which, although perfectly harmless, can look odd to some drinkers (they occur when a wine has not been ‘cold stabilized’). A few hours in the fridge or a plunge in an ice-bucket is fine. If you need to cool many bottles for a party, use a large plastic tub or your bathtub. Just remember to put the bottles in first – not the ice! It is not especially easy trying to insert chunky wine bottles into solid or even partially melting ice.   Sparkling wines can be served between 6-8 Celsius, refreshing whites (made from grapes like Sauvignon Blanc) at 9-10 Celsius; but oaked, full-bodied whites (e.g. most Californian Chardonnay) can be served as warm as 14 Celsius. Basically, the higher quality the white the higher the service temperature (up to about 14-15 degrees) it can withstand. This even applies to top quality Champagnes, especially those rich in Pinot Noir (never serve these too cold! The bottle gets finished before the wine has even had a chance to express itself…). Finally, let’s not forget rose (either still or sparkling). Robust rose wines (e.g. Spanish ones from Garnacha or some southern French roses) do not need to be too cold. But ‘vin de gris’ and some roses made by the ‘saignee’ method are relatively delicate and will benefit from light...

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May Wine Picks

  2007 Santa Cristina “Cipresseto” Rose IGT 189RMB Available from Summergate. Contact 010 6562 1800 orwww.summergate.com This lovely rosé is part of the Santa Cristina range from the Italian family firm of Antinori. This is no sickly-sweet candied-berry rosé but one with serious savoury flavours and balance (made from a mix of traditional Tuscan varieties such as Sangiovese). A perfect companion for a summer’s day, this wine is bone dry, refreshing and lively with a delicate redcurrant and strawberry fragrance. The mouth-watering acidity is well-balanced with the fruit and the result is a very food-friendly wine that would go with dishes ranging from salads and patés to fish and chicken as well as lighter Chinese dishes such as shitake mushroom braised with greens or crispy-skinned chicken.   2006 Bourgogne Chardonnay Signature, Maison Champy 332RMB Available from The Wine Republic. Contact email: orders@thewinerepublic.com or Tel: (010) 5869 7050 An elegant white Burgundy provides a refreshing but sophisticated drink for warm summer days. Maison Champy is one of several negociants to have really upped quality since the late 1990s. This is elegantly made with bright citrus fruit, delicate oak, lifting acidity and a good overall structure. Perfect with a smoked salmon or chicken salad or just by itself. An excellent wine to take as a gift (preferably pre-chilled!) to dinner parties and suitable for lighter cold starters at the Chinese banquet...

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