How To Start A Wine Collection

The below was produced for Lightfoot Travel in March 2017.

If your holiday souvenir tends to be a bottle of wine, maybe it’s time you start to collect? We asked James Hindle of leading Singapore retailer Pop Up Wine for his top tips on starting a wine collection.

Buy What You Love

Remember not everything you buy will gather dust. You’re sure to want to pop open a bottle or two on a special occasion. So only buy what you would be happy to drink. There’s no point having a case taking up valuable space if it’s doesn’t do anything for your tastebuds.

Start Small

You don’t need to have won the lottery to start collecting wine. You should be able to purchase an excellent bottle of wine that you can lay down for SGD$100 (for example, the superb Shiraz-Viognier from Clonakilla costs around $99).

Start your collection with a case of higher tannin red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (Shiraz) or Nebbiolo.  Tannins are minute particles of a grape’s skin, seeds or of the barrel in which the wine has been aged.  They are the element in wine which can cause a glass of wine to taste dry.  Tannins are vitally important when aging wine, as they are a natural preservative, and – as they fade over many years – the primary fruit flavours in the wine should develop into something more complex.

Know What To Lay Down

Not every wine can be laid down. In fact, leading US wine expert, Kevin Zraly said that: “Ninety percent of all the wines are meant to be consumed within one year, and less than one percent of the world’s wines are meant to be aged for more than five years.”  Before aging a wine for 10, 15 or 25 years, consider whether the grape has aging potential, and whether the winemaking techniques employed lend themselves to aging.  Winemaker’s websites, and critic reviews, often include a suggested consumption window – these are a great place to start.

Do Your Research

Time spent on preparation is seldom wasted.  Before making a large purchase, research the winemaker, the wine region and the vintage carefully.  The more certain you are of each purchase, the better your collection will be.  The website www.wine-searcher.com is a superb resource for tasting notes, critic ratings and current prices.

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Keep Your Collection Cool

Wine will develop prematurely if it is stored in an environment that has large temperature variations, particularly if these occur frequently.  Most experts recommend long-term storage at between 10 and 15 °C.

Moderate humidity is also important.  If wine is stored in conditions that are too dry, corks may shrink and cause leakage. Too moist, and mould and contamination may occur.

Temperature controlled wine cellars or dedicated wine fridges are essential investments if you are considering collecting in an exotic, tropical location, such as Singapore.

Don’t Touch

It is always tempting to show friends favourite bottles that have been aging for a long period, but please try to keep particularly handsy-folks away from your bottles.  Wine ages best when it is stored flat, and kept still.

Do Your Paperwork

Make sure that you write an inventory for insurance in case of power failure or other unpleasantness. And hold on to all documentation. With wine fraud a growing problem, being able to prove provenance is becoming increasingly important also.  Try to keep your original sales receipt, a copy of the auction description, the business card of the person who sold the wine to you and any branded box or packaging that the wine may have come in.  The latter may increase the value of the wine when you come to sell it.  Additionally, write a detailed description of the bottle including any marks that make the particular bottle unique, and make a note of the conditions the wine was kept in prior to purchase, and during shipping (if applicable).

Buy On Your Travels

If you’re on holiday at a great vineyard, there’s nothing wrong with bringing home a bottle or two. Again, just do your research. Be aware that a strong vintage in Bordeaux, might be a poor one in Australia or even Burgundy.  Jancis Robinson’s website includes an excellent breakdown of each vintage, by country.

If you plan to ship it home you need to be aware that this can be tricky as you’re faced with fluctuating temperatures and around one to two percent in breakages. There are more expensive refrigerated shipping containers called “reefers”, although even these are vulnerable at the loading and unloading stages.

If you want to bring home just a case or less you could invest in a Vingarde Valise, which is a mini suitcase on wheels that is designed to hold 12 of your favourite vintages.

J., March 2017

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Best Wines for Valentine’s Day

The below was produced for Lightfoot Travel in February 2017.

Wine and love “have ever been allies”. We asked wine guru James Hindle of Singapore wine retailer Pop Up Wine, to give us five of his favourite wines for Valentines (and other romantic occasions).

Famiglia Pasqua ‘Romeo & Juliet’ Passione e Sentimento 2012

Veneto, Italy

The most famous love story committed to paper is unquestionably that of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. Every day thousands of love-struck visitors to Verona leave sentimental notes on a wall beneath a balcony where Juliet is said to have been wooed by Romeo. This wall has now become famous in its own right, and has inspired an award-winning Italian winemaker, Famiglia Pasqua, to produce an intense red wine perfect for young lovers.  The bottle includes an image of the famous wall, shot by Giò Martorana, a famous Italian photographer. Thinking of cooking an Italian dish for your loved one on Valentines?  This wine would be the perfect partner.

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“Juliet’s Wall”

Mirabeau Cotes de Provence Rose 2015

Provence, France

A dozen roses are traditional on Valentine’s day, but hugely expensive at this time of year. Put a smile on your loved one’s face this year by arriving home with a dozen bottles of Rosé instead! Unlike florists, wine merchants don’t increase the price of Rosé in early February.

Rosé is a delightful pink wine made from red grapes. Provence is generally considered the world’s leading wine region for this style of wine.

Mojo Moscato 2014

Australia

Valentine’s Day is not an evening for excessive refreshment – should you over indulge, your loved one will almost certainly mention this repeatedly for the rest of the year. A fun wine option might therefore be a bottle of delightful low-alcohol pink Moscato – a sweet, slightly bubbly wine, with peach and orange characteristics, that few can’t help but love. Moscato pairs beautifully with Szechuan, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.  It has a high level of residual sugar, which lends well to use as a dessert wine.

Dumangin Le Vintage 1er Cru 2004

Champagne, France

Champagne is intrinsically associated with celebration, and is therefore a superb choice when celebrating your love this Valentine’s Day. Demonstrate your originality by popping open a bottle of vintage champers.  Vintage champagne is not necessarily aged wine – instead the term means that it is made from the grapes of only one year’s harvest.  Most champagnes are non-vintage, and made from the grapes of multiple years (called vintages in the wine trade).  This is the reason the letters “NV” appear on most bottles.  Vintage champagne is only produced in years in which there is a superb harvest. One that you need to try is Dumangin Le Vintage 1er Cru that has notes of lemon, honey and orange. Delicious.

Top 5: Holidays For Wine Lovers

The below was produced for Lightfoot Travel in December 2016.

The combination of fine wine and breath-taking views is an enticing one. Here are five favouries to visit before we all kick the bucket – or give up alcohol!

CHIANTI

Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany’s stunning countryside has attracted tourists since the Middle Ages, and Chianti is among the most beautiful parts of the region.  It is difficult to drive for more than 10 minutes in the “Bordeaux of Italy” without stumbling across a picturesque view of a beautifully laid out vineyard across the valley.  Cypress trees, ochre hills and olive groves are abundant.

Tuscans love Sangiovese, and most red wines from the region are largely made from that purple grape, which translates wonderfully to “the blood of Jupiter”.  Chianti, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino and the new “Super Tuscans” are all made from Sangiovese.  I am very fond of the grape, but if you find you are not – head to Florence, Siena or the towers of San Gimignano instead.

 

BORDEAUX

France

Now based in South East Asia, I have not visited Bordeaux for several years, but when I was last there in 2009 – a superb year for Bordeaux producers – I was struck by the beauty of the low gentle hills around Saint-Émilion.

The Bordeaux region is home to some of the most expensive red wines that exist, for example: Château Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, Latour and Pétrus.

The city of Bordeaux was derided for many years as a “soot-covered port” that wine lovers stopped at only briefly on their way to vineyards outside the city limits.  However, it’s industrial facade has been scrubbed clean in the past two decades and a host of new boutique hotels and fantastic restaurants have opened.  Gordon Ramsay now has a Michelin-starred restaurant in the city: Le Pressoir d’Argent.

BAROSSA VALLEY

South Australia

An hour north of Adelaide, the powerful beating heart of the Aussie wine industry, lies the Barossa Valley region.  German immigrants from Silesia settled here in the nineteenth century, and the small vineyard towns still maintain a distinctly German character.

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Henschke winery, Eden Valley, Barossa Wine Region

Barossa is primarily known for its big red wines, particularly Shiraz – the Australian word for Syrah.  Each year, Barossa Shiraz is one of the main constituents for Penfolds Grange, Australia’s most famous wine.

 

The Valley, and indeed all of South Australia, escaped the phylloxera epidemic which destroyed most European vineyards in the late nineteenth century.  As a result, Barossa has some of the oldest Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre vines on earth – some dating to 1847.

LANZAROTE

Canary Islands, Spain

While most people will know that Lanzarote is a popular holiday destination, not everyone will know that it’s a great wine destination too. The famed Canary Islands – of which Lanzarote is one – were once internationally famous for their wine.  In the 16th and 17thcenturies “Canary Wine” was hugely popular with European royalty.  It is mentioned by Shakespeare several times, for example in Henry IV Part 2 where Mistress Quickly censures another character for drinking “too much Canaries”.

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La Geria, Lanzarote

Nowadays the Canaries are home to several wine varieties that do not exist anywhere else in the world, and some 300-year-old vines unaffected by phylloxera that are some of the oldest in existence.  On Lanzarote they can boast some of the most eye-catching vineyards on our planet:  the vineyards in the La Geria valley are covered in black ash and appear to have been relocated from the moon.  Walls made from lava are used to protect vines from harsh Atlantic winds.

 

MENDOZA

Argentina

Located in the eastern foothills of the Andes, in the shadow of Mount Aconcagua – the highest mountain outside of Asia – Mendoza’s vineyards are planted at high altitude, between 850 and 1,520 metres.

Malbec is the regionally specialty, and now the single most planted grape variety in Argentina.  It is sometimes blended – as in Bordeaux where the grape originated – but is now mostly made as a single varietal.  Higher altitude Uco Valley Malbec tends to exhibit greater elegance and freshness, and is therefore the most prestigious.

The views of snow-capped mountains above the vines of Malbec, Syrah and Cabernet are stunning and worth the visit alone.

In the beginning was the Rosé

Produced for popupwine.com.sg in November 2016.

And the Rosé was good.

The first use of the word Rosé to describe pink wine is unknown, however we do know that the first wines of this style appeared as early as 7000 BC.  Dark, high tannin, Red wines did not appear for another 4500 years, and White wines even later.

Rosé’s precocious appearance is due to the simplicity of its production.  Under the skin contact method, all that is required to achieve Rosé’s striking colour is a light press of freshly harvested red grapes.  This can be done by hand, or feet, with no requirement for complicated machinery.  Very little maceration is necessary.

While various techniques are now used for Rosé production, most have the same concept at their core: brief contact between grape juice and red grape skins.  Winemakers can achieve different colours from Pink to Salmon to Orange by varying the length of this contact.

One exception is the Champagne region of France, the only wine producing area of the European Union where it is permissible to produce Rosé by blending Red and White wine.  This is illegal elsewhere in the European Union.

France produces 27% of the planet’s Rosé with the vast bulk of this being produced in warm southern France: Provence, the Southern Rhone (particularly Tavel) and Languedoc-Roussillon being the most important.

Example: Georges Duboeuf Fleur De Rosé 2014 ~ Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Example: Lavau Côtes Du Rhône Rosé 2013 ~ France

The Cotes de Provence is to Rosé what Champagne is to Sparkling wine.  87% of wine made in Provence is Rosé, with most produced in a delightful fresh salmon-pink style which John Szabo describes as “dangerously drinkable”.  Matthew Jukes accurately describes Provence as the “finest region in the world for this style of wine”.

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“Speaking of Provence, that paradisical region of sun-kissed slopes and lavender meadows remains the locus of Rose’s spiritual soul” Mark Oldman, Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine

Example: Mirabeau Côtes De Provence Rosé 2015 ~ Provence, France

Example: Aix Rosé “Domaine De La Grande Séouve” 2015 ~ Provence, France

The red-skinned Grenache grape dominates Rosé production in southern France.  It is popular because of its relative lack of anthocyanins – plant colorants responsible for the red, purple, and blue hues evident in many fruits.  Cinsault, Syrah (Shiraz) and other grapes are also used.

English wine writer Jancis Robinson believes Australia has a fondness for “swashbuckling” deep pink Rosés.  These are hard to find in Singapore, but Pop Up Wine currently have a couple.

Example: Teusner Salsa Rosé 2014 ~ Barossa Valley, Australia

Across the Pacific, the Californians produce a hugely popular Rosé which some do not realise is a Rosé: White Zinfandel.  “White Zin” is pink, and made from the red Zinfandel grape.  It was originally a byproduct of a 1970s attempt to produce a high tannin red wine, by bleeding off some initial juice.  It now accounts for 10% of all wine sold, by volume, in the United States and outsells conventional Zinfandel by 6 to 1.

Orange wines – sometimes referred to as Onion wines – are also, technically, Rosé wines.  Their name is a reference to the colour of an onion, unpeeled.

J., 1/11/16

Top 10: BYO Restaurants in Singapore

Produced for popupwine.com.sg in September 2016.

Singapore is an expensive city.  The 4th most expensive on our planet according to CNBC and Mercer’s 2016 Cost of Living Rankings.

And in this already expensive city state, the twin evils of Shipping Charges and the “Sin Tax” make wine, that luxury which few of us can persistently do without, expensive.  The more reasonably priced retailers such as Pop Up Wine, Singapore – who import wine direct from winemakers around the world – help keep the costs down at home, but what should we do in restaurants where we are frequently asked to pay beefy markups of 300% or more?

The answer is BYO: “bring-your-own”.

Several restaurants, including those in the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel, have proclaimed a complete ban on BYO, but many restaurants permit it – normally charging a “corkage” fee of $30 to $60 per bottle.  Some restaurants have a “buy one, bring one” policy.  A handful of restaurants offer invaluable corkage-free days.

Singaporean wine writer Justin Teoh has produced a superb – and very comprehensive – list of restaurants permitting BYO, which he keeps up-to-date.  I thoroughly recommend anyone considering BYO to use this list as a resource.

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BYO, safely.

After much agonising at Pop Up HQ, and several years of wallet-busting fine dining, we have compiled the following top 10 of BYO restaurants in Singapore:

  1. Burnt Ends

With several Australians on our books, it’s perhaps unsurprising that this Modern Australian Barbeque restaurant was popular.  Corkage is $50 per bottle.

  1. Restaurant Andre

With two Michelin stars and a menu full of exquisite trickery, this restaurant is sometimes classified as Singapore’s best.  The food and service are both stunning, but we found the wine list a little disappointing at the time of our visit: it sadly included no dessert wines.  Perfect with BYO.  Corkage is $60 per bottle.

  1. Artichoke

If you love Lamb, this inexpensive modern Moorish restaurant is a must visit.  Corkage is $30 per bottle – we hugely recommend taking a bottle of fun Pinot Noir to accompany that lamb.

  1. Jaan

The Swisshotel’s 70th floor restaurant is as famous for its panoramic views as it is its excellent French cuisine.  They require a ransom of $100 per bottle, for corkage.

  1. Joël Robuchon Restaurant

Michelin star chef Joël Robuchon’s restaurant on Sentosa has a daunting wine list of more than 1,000 wines.  Corkage is an equally daunting $120 per bottle!

  1. Otto Ristorante Italiano

One of the best Italian restaurants on the island, this recently relocated restaurant has corkage-free Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  On other days corkage is $30 per bottle.

  1. The Disgruntled Chef

This Dempsey favourite has corkage-free Tuesdays, but charges $35 or more for corkage otherwise.  We were delighted to find a Beetroot-based salad on the menu, when we visited.

  1. Bistecca Tuscan Steak House

Superb steaks, and a superb – mostly Italian – wine list.  Busy each and every time we have visited.  Corkage is $50 per bottle.

  1. Iggy’s

Iggy’s at the Hilton Hotel has been named in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants since 2009, including best Asian restaurant in 2012.  Corkage is $50 per bottle.

  1. Shinji by Kanesaka

Double Michelin star winning chef Shinji Kanesaka’s eatery is the finest Japanese restaurant on the island.  Corkage is $50 per bottle.

James H., 8/9/16

Best Wine For Each Occasion

The below was produced for Lightfoot Travel in September 2016.

 

Here at Pop Up Wine HQ in heart of Singapore’s historic Chinatown, we are often asked what wine to pair with different foods.  But what about matching the right wine to the right moment: which wines are most suitable for which occasion?

Unlike with food pairing, there are no time honoured rules to keep in mind – or deliberately break.

 

The first date

Safety first here.  Something white – so any spillage will not mark your shirt – and something which demonstrates your fondness for wine.  Chablis, a steely fresh Chardonnay from northern France that is generally unoaked, is a superb choice.  An Aussie friend calls it “posh Chardy”!

Example: Louis Moreau Chablis 2014

 

The business lunch

10 years ago the company credit card would have made this an opportunity to indulge, but times have sadly changed.  Due to our close proximity to Perth, Australian wines offer better value than French ones here in Singapore – particularly at the mid to low price points.  Margaret River Cabernet is consistently excellent, and will go beautifully with that medium-rare steak you have been looking forward to all morning.

Example: Fraser Gallop “Parterre” Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

 

The BBQ

No wine shouts summer as loudly as easy-to-sip Provençal Rosé, our third most popular wine here in sunny Singapore.

Example: Mirabeau Côtes De Provence Rosé 2015

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The dinner party

Tricky, especially when you have no idea what might be for dinner.  We like to choose flexible wine that can be paired with may dishes.  Bubbles are a strong choice: perfect to toast with, an incredibly versatile as a food-pairing wine.

Example: Dumangin Champagne “Le Cuvée 17” NV

 

The baby shower

After nine months restraint, many new mums will be looking forward to that first glass or two of wine.  Put a smile on your friend’s face by bringing a bottle of delightful low-alcohol pink Moscato – a sweet, slightly bubbly, wine that no one can help but love.

Example: Mojo Moscato 2015

J., 19/9/16

Top 10: Quotes about Wine

After much debate, over several bottles of Cabernet and Shiraz, we have managed to draw up a list of our favourite wine related quotes and sayings.  We will update our Top 10 with new quotes as we discover them, relegating former members of this Top 10 to the company of Plato, da Vinci and Jefferson below.

Top 10

  1. “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” Galileo Galilei (astronomer)

  2. “Brothers, come quickly!  I’m drinking stars!” Dom Pierre Pérignon* (monk)

  3. “Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.” Napoleon Bonaparte (general)

  4. “Remember, gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!” Sir Winston Churchill (politician)

  5. “Wine can of their wits the wise beguile, Make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.” Homer (writer)

  6. “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” Thomas Jefferson* (politician)

  7. “Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, and makes weariness forget his toil” Lord Byron (poet)

  8. “God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir” André Tchelistcheff (winemaker)

  9. “She gets to keep the chalet and the Rolls, I want the Montrachet.” Forbes (magazine)

  10. “I can certainly see that you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret.” Basil Fawlty (hotelier)

*disputed.

Deuxièmes

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Churchill’s favourite Champagne was Pol Roger.  When he died in 1965, Pol Roger placed a black border around its labels as a gesture of respect.  Pol Roger’s Curvee Sir Winston Churchill is also named in his honour.

“Pinot Noir is the ultimate wine to have at the table. It’s a white wine masquerading as red … [while] Chardonnay is a red masquerading as a white.” Kevin Zraly

“The discovery of a good wine is increasingly better for mankind than the discovery of a new star.” Leonardo da Vinci

“Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was every granted by the gods to man.” Plato

“In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.” Benjamin Franklin

“To buy very good wine nowadays requires only money. To serve it to your guests is a sign of fatigue.” William F. Buckley

“A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world” Louis Pasteur

“Wine can be considered with good reason as the most healthful and hygienic of all beverages.” Louis Pasteur

“In victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it.” Napoleon Bonaparte

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“sunlight, held together by water”

“Beer is made by men, wine by God.” Martin Luther

“I think it is a great error to consider a heavy tax on wines as a tax on luxury. On the contrary, it is a tax on the health of our citizens.” Thomas Jefferson

“Age is just a number. It’s totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine.” Joan Collins

“Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.” Pope John XXIII

“Penicillin cures, but wine makes people happy.” Alexander Fleming

“Wine prepares the heart for love, unless you take too much.” Ovid

“Even where it prospers, it needs to be coaxed, wheedled, flattered, cajoled, cursed and (or) prayed over almost ounce by ounce through a series of crises that starts at the fermenters and lasts beyond bottling.” Bob Thompson, on Pinot Noir

“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.” Frank Sinatra

“Speaking of Provence, that paradisical region of sun-kissed slopes and lavender meadows remains the locus of Rosé’s spiritual soul” Mark Oldman

J., 12/10/16 (last updated 11/1/16)

Chardonnay: Red Masquerading As White

Written for popupwine.com.sg in October 2016.

“Pinot Noir is the ultimate wine to have at the table. It’s a white wine masquerading as red … [while] Chardonnay is a red masquerading as a white.”  The amusing words of American wine writer Kevin Zraly, and a useful line to throw at David Harker when one is losing an argument about the merits of a particular Chardonnay at PopUp HQ!

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay certainly have a lot in common, and – in several respects – are closer to one another than they are to grapes of their own colour.

Like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay is a neutral, malleable, grape with its characteristics – both on the nose and palate – normally coming from the terroir, and oak, used in production.  Chablis, for example, takes its clean, stony minerality from the famous Kimmeridgian clay upon which its Chardonnay vines grow.    Kimmeridgian clay is a relatively uniform chalky marl that is rich in marine fossils.

kimmeridgian
Kimmeridgian Clay

Similarly, winemakers in Burgundy often quip that Burgundian Pinot Noir is popular not because it is Pinot Noir, but because Pinot Noir – of all the grapes – best expresses the terroir of the Côte d’Or, Beaune and Mercurey.  It is a vehicle for the terroir of eastern France.

Recent DNA profiling has revealed that Chardonnay is an offspring of Pinot Noir.  The other parent being Gouais Blanc, an obscure Croatian grape that has been banned in France for several centuries.  Winemakers in the 1930s who labelled the grape as “Pinot Chardonnay” may have been aware of this relationship.

Tannin, that element in some wines which paradoxically dries our mouths, is higher in Chardonnay that any other white wine.  Pinot Noir has a similar level of tannin to Chardonnay, particularly when Chardonnay has been oak-matured.

It is also slightly more full bodied that other white wines: it is “heavier” in the mouth when drinking.

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are often blended together.  They are the main constituent grapes for Champagne.

Additionally, the two grapes thrive in the same “cold climate” wine regions: Burgundy, Champagne, Oregon, Victoria and New Zealand.

It is also worth noting that like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay is a thin-skinned grape prone to frost, powdery mildew and other vulnerabilities.   Both grapes require careful vine management.

The similarity pales, like a glass of Chardonnay around its edge, when we come to consumer tastes.  Several different styles of Chardonnay exist and it does not follow that a drinker who enjoys Pinot Noir will also, necessarily, enjoy Chardonnay.

Until the mid-90s, demand – and fashion – was for rich, oaky, Chardonnay.  This was particularly true in Australia, where “Kardonnay” became synonymous with a very woody, buttery, style of wine.

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“the aitch is silent”

A similar style is still popular in California, where winemakers prefer a particularly busy style of wine for the most grown grape in “The Golden State”.  It is not uncommon to detect Barrel maturation, Lees stirring and Malolactic Fermentation in Californian Chardonnay.  The latter is a naturally occurring process which gives wine a more buttery, rounded, texture.  Lees are deposits of residual yeast: Lees stirring increases bready or biscuit flavours in the wine.

EXAMPLE: DeLoach California Chardonnay Heritage Reserve 2013 ~ California, USA

The current trend is for leaner, more appetising and less oak-dominated Chardy.

EXAMPLE: Innocent Bystander Chardonnay 2014 ~ Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia

Worldwide production of Chardonnay has continued to increase, despite the “Anything But Chardonnay” backlash of the late 1990s.  The total area planted with Chardonnay was just under 100,000 ha in 1990.  By 2005 this had reached 174,000 ha, and by 2010 200,000 ha.

One reason for this is the partial immunity French Chardonnay possesses to changes in global demand.  Many consumers do not realise that when they are enjoying a White Burgundy*, Chablis or Pouilly Fuisse, they are drinking Chardonnay!

*There is also some Aligoté production in Burgundy, approximately 5% of total, however this is mostly used for the Kir drink, where it is mixed with blackcurrant liqueur.

J., 10/10/16

Wine in the Colonial Era

Written for popupwine.com.sg in September 2016.

Thirteen hour flights from Western Europe to Changi can be frustrating, particularly when these thirteen hours are spent in economy sitting next to Pop Up Wine’s cost conscious Finance Director!

But colonial era travel times were much worse.  A good travel time between England and Singapore in the nineteenth century was around 100 days: more than 3 months!

This extended travel time was a huge issue for wine exporters.  In the nineteenth century the vast majority of wines possessed a short shelf life: in a year oxidation would turn wine into vinegar, with the wine worsening gradually over this period.

A very high level of alcohol in wine can extend a wine’s life considerably, and merchants therefore added brandy to wine that was bound for a long trip at sea.  The demand for fortified wines such as Port, Sherry and Madeira increased dramatically.

These fortified wines were popular in the colonies.  As ships headed south they would often stop in the Portuguese Madeira Islands (east of the Canaries) where they would pick up wine for the long journey ahead.

At this time the vast majority of wine was stored and transported in barrels.  Wine merchants often built or rented “tank cars” – massive wooden barrels on wheels – that could carry thousands of litres of wine by train.  When the tank car reached its destination the wine would be “decanted” into smaller barrels.

Glass was not used as it was easy to damage, and non-uniform until well into the industrial revolution.  In 1821 a company called Rickets of Bristol received a patent for a machine that manufactured identically sized bottles, in a shape we would recognise as a wine bottle today.

The use of bottles in wine storage was unusual in the nineteenth century.  In Britain it was even illegal to sell wine by the bottle from 1636 until 1860.

Customers were very much at the mercy of unscrupulous or incompetent wine merchants, who received their wine in barrels and then bottled it themselves.  These merchants often adulterated the wines.

Nonetheless the international wine trade was booming in the early nineteenth century, as shown in the below 1864 map by Charles Minard:

This came to a halt in the 1850s.

Powdery Mildew, a fungus, hit many French vineyards, massively reducing yields.  In 1857 Henri Mares worked out a method of treating vines with sulphur which reduced the problem, but another – even more deadly – calamity struck.

A tiny North American louse called phylloxera reached europe and began attacking the rootstocks of European vines.  It was unwittingly imported by English botanists, keen to study North American vines.  The epidemic devastated vineyards in Britain and then moved to the European mainland, destroying most of the European grape growing industry. In 1863, the first vines began to deteriorate inexplicably in the southern Rhône region of France. The problem spread rapidly across the continent.

In France, one of the desperate measures grape growers took was to bury a live toad under each vine to draw out the “poison”.

“The Phylloxera, a true gourmet, finds out the best vines and attaches itself to the best wines” Punch, September 1890

A solution – to import more resistant North American rootstock and graft the vines onto this rootstock – was developed, but not until the vast majority of European vines were wiped out.  In France alone, total wine production fell from 84.5 million hectolitres in 1875 to only 23.4 million hectolitres in 1889.  Some estimates hold that between two-thirds and nine-tenths of all European vineyards were destroyed.

Ironically, some New World vines such as South Australian Grenache and Syrah (Shiraz) are now older than Old World vines.  The Langmeil Barossa Old Vine Company, for example, have fines dating to the 1840s.  Their very highly rated Shiraz is available in Singapore, via Pop Up Wine.

Another Barossa Valley winemaker, Hewitson, have an ancient vineyard of Mourvèdre planted in 1853 by Friedrich Koch.  These are the oldest Mourvèdre vines on the planet.  Magnums of their “Private Cellar” Shiraz Mourvèdre blend are also available from Pop Up Wine.

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Hewitson’s “Old Garden” Vineyard

J., 29/9/16.

Pinot Noir: Satan’s Grape

Written for popupwine.com.sg in September 2016.

The Dean of American winemakers – André Tchelistcheff – once wrote that “God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir”.  Jancis Robinson has volunteered similar sentiments in the 21st century, calling Pinot Noir a “minx of a vine”.  Yet Pinot Noir remains the most popular red grape sold by Pop Up Wine here in Singapore, and the 10th most planted wine varietal on the planet.  What do Tchelistcheff and Robinson mean?

Compared to other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape making it more prone to frost, powdery mildew and other vulnerabilities.  It also has a tendency to produce tightly packed clusters of grapes which make it susceptible – via trapped moisture – to several vinicultural hazards such as Grey Rot.  Pinot Noir is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into fine wine: it requires diligent, expensive, canopy management.

pinot-noir

These wine making challenges are one reason Pinot Noir tends to be around ten dollars more expensive, per bottle, than Chardonnay or Shiraz.

In Germany, Pinot Noir is known as Spätburgunder which translates to “late Burgundian” in English, and is a clue to the grapes believed origins in Burgundy, France.

All red Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir: Beaujolais, while geographically part of Burgundy, is normally considered a separate wine region.  Burgundy produces some of the world’s most famous wines, and most of the most expensive.  For example, 1986 Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru currently has an average price of $20,864 per bottle.  Prestigious appellations include Gevery Chambertin, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée, Nuit-Saint-Georges, Aloxe-Corton, Beaune, Pommard and Mercurey.

“Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.” Napoleon Bonaparte.

Burgundian Pinot Noir generally has complex fruit and develops forest floor flavours as it ages.

To the north of Burgundy, Pinot Noir is also grown in the Champagne region of northern France where, together with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, it is used to make Champagne.

New Zealand is one of the top non-Burgundian sources for Pinot Noir.  Central Otago, Martinborough and Marlborough are all strong regions for the grape, with producers there receiving a great deal of international acclaim.  Central Otago is the world’s most southerly wine region.  It typically produces intensely fruity Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir’s popularity has increased dramatically since the release of Sideways in 2004, with this superb description of the grape by its protagonist Miles (played by Paul Giamatti) a major reason.  The year the film was made, 70,000 tonnes of Pinot were crushed in California – by 2014 this figure had reached 250,000 tonnes.

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Pop Up Wine, Singapore have a wide range of French and New Zealand Pinot Noir available.  And the Australian Giant Steps 2013 “Sexton Vineyard” Pinot Noir, which was the voted “top Pinot Noir” by an ANZA tasting panel earlier this year.

J., 13/9/16