The Discerning Lush : “I would be so bored if I drank nothing but Bordeaux first growth”- Jancis Robinson, 5 March 2014, Aberdeen Marina Club, Hong Kong
So here we are on the terrace of The Portside at the AMC; the fog and drizzle has lifted with a sparkling view of Aberdeen Harbour. There is a palatable air of anticipation as we mingle under the glow of the outdoor heaters waiting for JR to lead the WSET diploma students in Hong Kong through a tasting masterclass. To whet our palates, as it turns out, one of my favourite champagne producers, Lamandier Bernier, and one I haven’t had the pleasure of trying- Terre de Vertus Non Dose NV. As the name suggests, no dosage, so the wine’s final flavour is not adjusted with a dose of sugar solution as is the common practice for champagne producers. The result is a bone dry, crisp but yet quite balanced and entirely pleasant champagne. This refreshing apertif kicks off our evening of quite unusual wines with JR. JR gently berates us for being too obsessed with Bordeaux in Hong Kong, and Burgundy I might add, for there is a whole world of wine out there for us to sample and discover and delight in. (Discerning Lush cannot concur more). And with that JR proceeds to introduce six wines from regions and grapes that are little known in Asia.
1. 2011 Sipon Furmint, Dveri-Pax, Stajerska, Slovenia (White)
One of my top two picks of the evening together with the Anatolian wine below. Furmint is one the key grapes that goes in the famous Tokaji sweet wine. Furmint is not an incredibly well known grape in this part of the world and it’s not common to come across varietal Furmint still wine. In fact Furmint is descended from Gouais Blanc, thought to be the genetic parent of a host of modern grapes such as the Pinot family and Chardonnay. The nose here is really vaguely reminiscent of a restrained Sauvignon Blanc, without the aromatic intensity or grassiness. Clean and crisp, good acidity, lime citrus, green apples, white flowers, elderflower. Good aperitif and food friendly wine. Very interesting- has its own personality and clearly not a non-descript white.
2. 2010 Grande Reserva Branco Quinta da Maritavora, Douro, Portugal
Very curious to try this when I saw it one the list. Douro is the Port producing region in Portugal. While Douro reds (often made from the same grapes as Port but in a fully dry style) are gaining popularity with a number of high quality examples, I have never come across a Douro white before. Branco itself, or Azal Branco is the grape that goes into Vinho Verde, and in youth is fairly acidic, citrusy, refreshing with zing. The Maritarova Grande Reserva itself very different in style form Vinho Verdes. It is made from old vines dating back more than a hundred years, and has been matured in French oak with 3 months battonage. The result is a discernibly creamy wine with obvious oak on the nose and palate, which I think overwhelms at some points.
3. 2011 Sanct Valentin Gewurztraminer, St. Michael-Eppan, Alto Adige, Italy
This was quite a surprise, very aromatic wafts of lychees, like opening a can of lychees but fresher and more intense. Very floral. Consistent lychees and bouquet on the palate. Quite smooth. As JR says not as oily as an Alsace Gewürztraminer, but quite “round”, “satiny”. I’ve personally often found Alsation Gewürztraminer often a little too full bodied and indeed oily for my liking. The Alto Adige wines I’ve had are often more toned done, restrained, perhaps with less finesse. I’d like to try more if they exported more to Asia. 14.5% alc for a white !
4. 2011 The Summit, Silver Heights, Ningxia, China
This is the second time this year that I’ve had the Silver Heights The Summit 2011, the first being in January when the chief sommelier over at the Park Hyatt in Shanghai insisted on pouring me a tipple to sample. The Silver Heights estate lies in Ningxia, a fairly poor, agricultural area in the centre of China sandwiched between Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Shaanxi. In this province, a number of wine giants have set up production facilities, including Pernod Ricard (under the Helan Mountain brand), LVMH, Chagyu, COFCO (of Great Wall wine fame) and Dynasty. One of the more promising independent local estates is said to be Silver Heights, run by local Emma Gao who trained in Bordeaux and her French husband, formerly from Ch. Calon Segur. The Silver Heights The Summit 2011 is 60% Cab Sav, 20% Cab Franc and 20% Cabernet Gernischt- a local frost resistant variety which has been DNA profiled as closely related to Carmenere, the grape most famously associated with Chile. I can’t say I’m hugely won over by this wine. There isn’t much fruitiness for this young wine, or it’s more stewy or overripe. Doesn’t taste at all like a cab sav cab franc dominant wine. Smelt and tasted more like a GSM. A touch savoury even.
5. 2009 Prestige Okuzgozu, Kavaklidere, Eastern Anatolia- Elazig, Turkey
My pick of the red wines for the evening. The nose has a very fruity, almost baked quality of overripe cherries and kirsh. It very juicy, easy drinking, food friendly. Reminds me of an Italian indigenous grape, somewhat reminiscent of Barbera- higher acidity, lower tannis. Probably won’t keep but certainly fun to drink now. JR informs us that there is an abundance of indigenous grape varieties in Turkey, and Okuzgozu is grown mainly in the area south east of Ankara. This wine has apparently benefitted from the skills of flying wine-maker Stephane Derenoncourt, who has consulted for Francis Ford Coppola’s Rubicon Estate Winery amongst other successes. I know nothing about Turkish wines but am definitely keen to find out more after this sampling.
6. 2008 Saperavi, Phesant’s Tears, Kakheti, Georgia
This is funky in the extreme. JR says it is made by fermenting the grapes in earthen vessels with skins on. Well, it does smell like something that was macerated with some brutality and buried in the earth for a while, fermenting, rotting…. Massively tannic- grimaces and a collective mixture of exclamation and laughter goes up in the room when this wine starts being tasted. I can’t get over the slightly rotten fruit mixed with old socks, or rotten something from the ground taste. Is this the worst wine I’ve tasted, ever ? JR says that perhaps if we were to visit Georgia we would be won over by the new tannic, I don’t think this one is winning me over soon.
All in all, a great evening in wine education superbly organised by WSET. And congratulations to Jennie Mack and team at AWSEC for winning the global WSET Eductor of the Year Award- a big boost up for wine education in Hong Kong and the region.
Wines tasted 5 March 2014 @ the AMC, Hong Kong