Monthly Archives: May 2012

Mesh Riesling, Eden Valley 2008

Another Eden Valley wine, Mesh, founded in 2002, is the product of two long-time South Australian winemakers—Robert Hill Smith of Yalumba and Jeffrey Grosset of same-last-name fame (not famous to you readers I assume, but he produces the most expensive and by many accounts, acclaimed label in the American market—Grosset.  Notes on his wine in a later post.)  The two tracked down 3 vineyard plots of similar altitude—apparently a difficult task in Eden Valley, a region of multitudinous hills and dales. They produce one wine each vintage through a “mesh” of visions: the season’s bounty is divided while still on the vine, the grapes are plucked and vinified separately using different but agreed upon methods, and the winemakers reconvene with the finished juice.  The bottle is filled with a blend of both, and voilà—Mesh.  Can two famous winemakers produce a delicious $19 wine?  Let’s find out.

I am surprised by the tropical breeze blowing through the glass.  The previous Eden Valley wines were razor sharp with tart citrus and acidity—perhaps anybody would find a fruity bone in this bottle?  Mesh has also had a few years in bottle, so perhaps a little Copacabana comes with age?  After a tactical pause to reset my palate, I receive the anticipated punch of acidity, but with a fleshier, weightier body than the others.  And the longer the bottle is open, the softer she becomes; in fact, after an hour, both my husband and I simultaneously suspect some degree of malolactic fermentation at play, which seems absurd for a Riesling (and my husband doesn’t even study wine).  As the wine continues to evolve, I detect notes of almond paste, and possibly Marzipan, pineapple and guava filtered through Limón y Limón (that is lemon AND lime in Spanish.) Am I nuts? Is this Eden Valley Riesling? (Can one be nuts and know it?) Regardless, Mesh delivers twists and turns, and is perfectly pitched at $19.99 on Wine.Com. (Wine.come is now showing this vintage as sold out—BOO. But they have the 2010.) So, where are we drinking this?

LET’S DRINK THIS on Playa Blanca in PUERTO ESCONDIDO, MEXICO!

I can’t write Copacabana in a tasting note and not think of a Mexican beach, which leads me to dream about a fish. Seated beneath a palapa, palm leaves rustling in the faint breeze, on a near deserted beach of pure Columbian white (aka Playa Blanca), strewn with boulders that evoke the Seychelles, and a cerulean sea beckoning for a playmate, I was served a fish.  A perfect pescado, humbly offered by a local fisherman, transcended my finest dining moments. The glistening Snapper morphed into a char-grilled masterpiece, crusted in garlic and trimmed with fresh cilantro, Mexican limes and sea salt.  On this beach, with this fish, let’s drink a bottle of Mesh, her crisp citrus and tropical notes mingling harmoniously with our simple yet sublime Snapper.

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Filed under Australian Riesling, Mesh 2008

Frankland Estate, Isolation Ridge Vineyard, Frankland River 2007

Another racy Australian Riesling, Frankland Estate is the singular wine in the Series that is neither Eden nor Clare Valley. Located in the far southwestern corner of Australia, the Frankland River area is a sub-region of the Great Southern region in Western Australia, and is located 115 miles East of its more famous cousin, Margaret River.  An area to keep an eye on, Frankland River is earning recognition for its premium wines; plus it has great Mediterranean weather and is quite isolated and free of pollution, pests, disease, and too many people. The FRR is a modern day Garden of Eden—the kind of place you wished you lived in should a nasty pandemic sweep the globe.

Despite the racy start, this wine manages a rounder mouthfeel and softer palate than the first several Rieslings I tasted.  Dry as the Namib Desert, the palate serves up crushed rocks, white pepper, a hint of petrol and finishes with fresh squeezed lemon-limeaid, like the neighborhood kids used to sell.  I also taste a fruity undercurrent from a dab of white peach and a smidgen of pineapple, making this well-rounded, piquant wine an excellent date for day or night. Pretty delicious stuff,  and full of life at five years old, Frankland should be alive and kicking another ten.  $23.95 from Sherry-Lehman

LET’S DRINK THIS IN SOSSUSVLEI, NAMIBIA!

Speaking of the Namib Desert, great wines are hard to come by in one of the oldest and driest places on earth, so let’s pack a few bottles of Frankland Estate and head into the red dunes of Sossusvlei park in Namibia.  Perhaps we can indulge in a twilight picnic, after hiking up to the crest of #45—all the dunes in the park are numbered.  Our basket holds uniquely Namibian treats: springbok salami, zebra bresaola and fresh German brown bread and mustard (Namibia was a German colony between 1884-1915—see Swakopmund photos.)  A few glasses of Riesling, game meat charcuterie and snapshots of the sunset are perfect prep for the hour-long 4×4 drive out of the park, compliments of our chauffeur, of course.

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Filed under Australian Riesling, Frankland Estate 2007

Loomwine Riesling, Eden Valley 2007

The fruit for this wine came from a 45 year old, dry–farmed, single vineyard in the Eden Valley.  The grapes were molded by winemaker Steve Grimley for the Loomwine label which seems to be a collective of family owned wine companies based in McLaren Vale.  Strangely, that is all I know about the brand, and their website is worthless.  When combing the Wine-Searcher database for further clues, I could only find the 2007 vintage available, and only at Sherry-Lehman. However, if you are intrigued by my review, you can still buy a bottle from them online.  In an effort to suss out the extent of S-L’s inventory—I mean, am I reviewing a wine nobody can get or do they have plenty available for all you readers—I put 50 cases in my cart and I was sent to checkout!  So, either their online system is not up to speed with inventory OR their buyer put all his chips on black with this wine, and now they are offering hundreds of bottles at the incredible value of $12.95 at Sherry-Lehman.

As for the juice, the nose explodes with a burst of lemon so fresh you would think Mr. Clean himself just wiped down your kitchen counters.  The palate is full of schist and tongue tingling citrus fruit with a hint of roasted pineapple that just barely penetrates the minerality of newly quarried rock (think rock quarry swimming hole from your high school days).  The wine is vibrant and mouth-watering, yet has more edges than a Herve Leger dress—the acid may be a bit too rough on this one, but at $12.95, I would drink it again.  Perfect for a barefoot beach soiree with steamers and clams dipped in broth and butter, shared with friends on a tight booze budget.

LET’S DRINK THIS IN MAINE!

Writing about fresh shellfish served beachside reminds me of the pine scented, rocky shores of Maine and the abundant crustaceans that troll the local sea floor.  I imagine a summer weekend spent inhaling unspoiled air and scouring the coast for the world’s cheapest and tastiest lobsters—seriously, how do they charge $28 for this sh!t in New York City when they are giving the stuff away in Maine.  Sidebar—I shall never eat another lobster roll in NYC again (probably). Back to our weekend—let’s crack open a few steamed, whole lobsters and twist open a bottle or two of Loomwine; seated on beach-side picnic tables, we grind our toes into the sand and dig for sweet flesh to dip into hot, runny butter.  The citrus and acidity from the Riesling will complement the butter-soaked shellfish we pop into our mouths.  I would suggest repeating this formula at least 4 times before returning home.

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Filed under Australian Riesling, Loomwine 2007, Untapped Region

Pewsey Vale Riesling 2010 and 2011

To kick off my Untapped Region: Rieslings from Australia series, I decided to open the 2010 and 2011 Pewsey Vale bottles, and do a side by side vintage comparison.  Pewsey Vale winery is located in Eden Valley, in the Barossa Zone of South Australia.  The vineyard has an impressive history having been established in 1847 by an Englishman who named the winery after his ancestral home.

Before I move on to my tasting notes, I want to make a point about Riesling from Australia.  These wines are not meant to be drunk young, unlike the majority of white wine produced around the world (and frankly, red wine too!)  These wines are known for intense acidity which preserves freshness over the years, allowing for the fruit in the bottle to evolve into secondary flavors and gain complexity—imagine aged White Burgundy or Sauternes, but of a more modest caliber and price.  It is rather unusual to find whites that can and should age, making this exploration of Australian Riesling all the more interesting.  What this means is that both Pewsey Vale bottles are very, very young and should be considered in the context of their vintage.

First, the 2011…

Quick! First two thoughts that pop into my head: Teeth-whitening and Algebra.  The acidity in this baby could literally whiten and brighten, perhaps dissolve the enamel on my teeth.  As for the Algebra, well, that’s what I think of when I imagine taking a bite of blackboard chalk.  Sounds awful, right? Not so fast.

Day 2: After letting the wine open up in the fridge overnight, we met a less aggressive  side to this gal.  She’s still lean and tight—think Madonna in her 50’s—but has underlying substance and structure, and I can detect some citrus fruit today—Yay!  She’s got huge promise, considering the 2010 is in a drinkable state (notes to follow), but to do this bottle justice, don’t crack her open for a few years. Definitely a HOLD unless you want to taste the sound of nails scraping slate. $14.99 from K&L Wine Merchants.

LET’S DRINK THIS IN…3 years!

No travel pairing on this one; she isn’t ready to be cracked.

Now for the 2010…

After tasting the 2011, I was nervous this wine would be too young, and harbor the same aggressive acidity, but it was actually a pleasure to drink. What a difference a year makes. The aromas in the glass feature lemon-lime seltzer, powdered rocks and the slightest hint of white stone fruit. The palate is similar to the nose, offering Meyer lemon (a cross between lemon and mandarin orange) and Persian lime (fancy name for grocery store limes), a sprinkling of white peach, streaks of minerality, and a prickly, zesty finish that lifts the wine.  Fun and refreshing, but she has room to loosen up (see tight).  I know this bottle could use more time, but you can certainly throw back a glass, or three, now.   At $14.95 from Sherry-Lehman, the wine is well-made and within wallet’s reach.

LET’S DRINK THIS IN CORFU!

Let’s head to the Ionian island of Corfu, Greece to drink the 2010.  This bottle offers a crisp, refreshing end to a sun-filled and sunburnt day in Corfu. Imagine an afternoon at the beach, bobbing in the vivid blue sea; perhaps a smidgen of sightseeing, including a stop at the famously tiny monastery of Pontikonisi, shown above.  After returning to the hotel, toss on your maxi dress, hair and skin still salty from the ocean, and rush up to the hotel rooftop to catch the last rays of the waning sun. Parked at a table with a view, the citrus and mineral notes of this crisp Riesling are perfect for sunset sipping, paired with a few garlicky-grilled shrimp and local Greek cheese. The day ends with ribbons of pink and orange streaking the sky above the rooftops of old town, as the glittering lights of the city below flicker with the promise of an enchanting evening.

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Filed under Australian Riesling, Pewsey Vale 2010 and 2011, Untapped Region

Untapped Regions – Australian Riesling

Part of the purpose of this blog is to highlight places I have been and wines I drank there. But there are literally hundreds of regions in which I have yet to step foot; so if I can’t get to the wine, let’s bring the wine to me.  After a long spell this winter without a plane ride or road trip—4 months is an eternity—I was feeling stranded on the not-so-deserted island of Manhattan, and was thus inspired to create a series on Untapped Regions.  The goal of this series is twofold:  taste through a place I have not personally visited by gathering 8-10 representative bottles, and highlight a region that is generally overlooked by the current wine consumer or marketplace.

I take cues for my wine selection from the season.  The stands at the Union Square Greenmarket are swollen with ramps, spring garlic, asparagus and rhubarb; the typically dingy city air is fragrant with blooming lilacs; the vivid hues of orange tulips and yellow daffodils, planted in Abingdon Square Park, are electrifying—for once, a wise use of taxpayer money. Yes, folks, the fleeting season of Spring is upon the city to tease our senses before slipping away for another year.  I plan to make the most of this perfect time in New York by celebrating with a review of Australian Rieslings, for my inaugural Untapped Region exposé.

I specifically chose Australian Riesling because the Aussies produce them in a crisp, citrus-y, high-acid, desert (not dessert)-dry style with serious ageability; and because Australia has completely fallen off the American wine drinker’s radar.

Come out, come out wherever you are…

Australian wines were prolific in the American market for many years, but in the last decade, they have virtually disappeared from the shelves from many wine stores, notwithstanding the soulless mega-brands like Penfolds, Jacob’s creek, Wolf Blass, Lindemans, Rosemount (you can thank Foster’s for many of these) and the most popular slop, Yellow Tail.  If you don’t believe me, go to your nearest wine or liquor store and you can probably count on one, maybe two hands, the number of non-mega-brand wines that they carry.  In fact, it is kind of eerie.  I took the picture below from a medium-size, highly regarded wine shop in Manhattan.  I have tried to disguise the photo, as my point is to merely highlight that there are only 14(!) wines from Australia, and only one (top left corner) is a Riesling.  It happens to be the most expensive one available in our market, and one that I taste during this trial.  There are double the number of wines from the south of France, located next to the Australian section, encroaching on Aussie shelf territory.  Jeesh- no love for our winemakers down under.

So, what happened in America (because the Brits and Europeans are actually drinking this stuff)? Two things: Yellow Tail for one, and the blown-out style of Shiraz, for the other—both of which flooded our market. “Cheap and cheerful” as a marketing platform for Wine Australia dulled our palates to their products; they tried to corner the market on affordable wine, and as a result painted themselves into a discounters corner.  At the higher-end of the spectrum, too many wines were made in an overripe, alcoholic and over-oaked style (I am referring to Shiraz), that blasts taste buds and doesn’t go well with food.  What Australia failed to do was distinguish its wines regionally—think Napa Cab or Burgundy Pinot.  Wine drinkers will believe in the value of the product when certain factors are promoted—a sense of place, that the wine can’t be recreated anywhere else; specialization in producing a few varietals really well; and a history of wine production: the vines in Southern Australia are phylloxera free and many Riesling plantings are up to 120 years old—Pewsey Vale has been producing for 164 years!  Australians have made wine for more than a century, so I can’t believe it is all bad down there.

Riesling by the Region

Clare Valley and Eden Valley are the iconic regions for Riesling production, both located in the driest state of the driest continent in the world. The miracle of water!  Clare Valley is north of Adelaide and West of Barossa, in a high altitude pocket.  Riesling is the dominant varietal and nearly every winery makes one.  Eden Valley is located in the Barossa Zone (known for big Shiraz), but has a cooler climate and higher elevation than Barossa Valley, making it perfect for the varietal as well.

Unfortunately, because of the backlash to the perceived crappiness of the Australian product, specialty importers shuttered their shops and gave up on the U.S. market.  This means less diversity of wines from boutique and medium-size wineries, making it harder to find great breadth of examples of Clare and Eden Valley Riesling.

The bright side…

Because Australia’s market share in America has declined, there are actually great deals on the wines when you can find them, especially online.  I sourced from 3 sites since each one had more than a bottle or two in their inventory, and I didn’t want to pay shipping 9 times from 9 different stores. I found Wine.com, Sherry-Lehman and K&L Wine Merchants to have enough to fill my need.  I believe I tracked down a good cross-section at multiple price points and vintages.

The players:

2006 Pewsey Vale “The Contours” Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia

2010 Pewsey Vale Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia

2011 Pewsey Vale Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia

2010 Dandelion Vineyards, Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling, South Australia

2008 Wakefield Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia

2008 Mesh Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia

2007 Loomwine Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia

2010 Grosset “Polish Hill”, Clare Valley, South Australia

2007 Frankland Estate, Isolation Ridge Vineyard, Frankland River, Western Australia

Drink this here…

In addition to tasting the wines and offering my impressions, I will also suggest travel pairings.  It may seem unusual, but if you are like me, you appreciate a little travel titillation with your wine.  A girl can dream, can’t she?

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What I Drank- CADE Napa Cabernet Cuvee 2008

Photo by Lauren Mowery

I find California Cabernet Sauvignon a delight to drink, but we don’t consume it very often at home.  I tend to cook fish, chicken and pork during the week, which results in choosing a lighter-bodied and less tannicor whitewine as a pairing.  Plus, many of the Napa Cabs we store are too expensive for the casual mid-week imbibe.  Maybe by the time I retire, I will have stockpiled enough Napa Cab in my future cellar that I can be more carefree about pulling one when I like, but for now, $60 bottles are for very special occasions.

This year for V-Day, my husbandwho hates to cookdecided that for his annual battle with the kitchen (reserved for special occasions such as this), he would sacrifice a feta and red pepper stuffed beef tenderloin roast.  Time would tell if my service as reserve sous chef would be called upon (this was usually indicated by swearing and dirty looks directed at the meat); meanwhile, I took the opportunity to relax and open a  2008 CADE Napa Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon I had picked up last summer, direct from the gorgeous winery perched on the side of Howell Mountain.

THOUGHTS:

My eye candy quota is filled by the delightfully vibrant ruby-red core and magenta rim of the wine.  The ambrosial nose beckons for a deeper sniff of cassis and sweet black fruit, and my first sip reveals a more feminine, less muscular palate than Cade’s Howell Mountain cousins. A concentrated collection of black raspberry, blueberry and blackberry fruit is laced with wintry baking spices, cocoa powder and the slightest hint of leather.  Plush tannins linger on the long finish, and are perfectly paired with a bite of juicy, medium-rare steak, compliments of the chef.

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Where I am going- China

Hong Kong Harbor

I feel like I haven’t been on a lengthy trip in ages, although such restlessness (and irrationality by most people’s travel standards) is common in those with wanderlust fever.  It is completely incurable, but treatable through frequent exposure to new places and wines.  So, for my annual, extended therapy session, I am headed to China.  We depart late May and return mid-June.   The itinerary consists of 3 weeks and the following stops:  Hong Kong, Guilin/Yangshuo, Shangri-La (near Tibet), Lijiang, Beijing, Shanghai and back to Hong Kong and Macau.  This trip is not immediately recognizable as being related to wine, because it is not.  Primarily, we are going to escort my 83-year-old father-in-law around the country on his final overseas voyage.  He grew up in Hong Kong and Macau, but has not stepped foot in the region in nearly 40 years. I have a feeling Macau as a gambling mecca and Hong Kong, a shopper’s paradise, will be fairly unrecognizable.

Although not an obvious wine destination, I am dedicated to uncovering what, if any, wine culture does exist there, and where it might be headed.  My WSET studies introduced me to the nascent and looking-to-be-tapped-by-exporters wine market lurking beneath the surface of the growing upper and middle classes of the mainland.  Plus, there are 6 or so notable wineries already on the mainland, winning a few Asian regional awards, producing wine of dubious quality at varying price points.  However, one wine that actually won an international trophy from Decanter—under the shadow of bribery accusations—is Jia Bei Lan of Helan Qing Xue winery in Ningxia Province.  Word on the street is the wine was released in Beijing this spring. Perhaps I will look out for it, but if the $120 per bottle price tag is correct, it will probably remain a stranger to my lips.

Rice terraces in Bali- similar to the Longsheng terraces in China

For a longer look at China’s current wine economy, keep reading…

The most obvious place to begin an assessment of Chinese wine culture and economy is Hong Kong.  Given the island’s great wealth and exposure to Western culture, it seemed only a matter of time that Hong Kongers’ taste for luxury goods would extend to wine.  The tariff on wine imports was completely abolished in 2008—it had previously been as high as 80 percent, later dropped to 40—setting in motion Hong Kong as a major player in the auction market.  No longer beholden to extraordinarily high taxes, label wh*res lovers went crazy bidding up trophy Bordeaux and Champagne bottles to stratospheric levels.  This isn’t a particularly mature attitude towards wine, since the behavior of buying the most expensive, iconic brands for adult show-off-and-tell is the complete antithesis of my perspective. Despite this inauspicious beginning (in my opinion-probably not shared by Château Lafite), there are clear signs a more thoughtful and approachable market is developing.

When I was last in Hong Kong in December 2009, there were a handful of new wines bars, including one of the first enomatic tasting machines, in the trendy Lan Kwai Fong district.  And as aforementioned, exporters have had their sights on the ever-growing middle class of China—the U.S. export market jumped 400% between 2006 and 2010.  Hong Kong even has its first urban winery the 8th Estate Winery (although they source their grapes globally, not from China).  Clearly Hong Kong has laid the foundation for importing wine, but what about actual winemaking in China, from Chinese grapes?  It exists.

Now, if you really want to get academic…

For a stellar and easy read on the “globalization of wine”, I recommend Wine Wars by Mike Veseth, AKA the Wine Economist.  I devoured this book a few weeks ago.  Mr. Veseth devotes a section on the variables and hurdles that Chinese winemakers have to contend with, and there are a lot of them, predominantly in the supply chain.  For instance, regulations don’t encourage quality grape growing and farmers are paid for quantity; growers function independently in teeny, tiny little vineyard plots, a holdover from communist era land programs—natch—which discourages best practices oversight by the winery, such as optimal pick-time.  It sounds like the key to high quality wine would be an estate vineyard, a practice which well-received newcomer Grace Winery supposedly employed in their first vineyard in Shanxi province (they now own 3 other vineyards in other regions).  More good news is that foreign partnerships are growing, giving the Chinese access to better technology and expertise.  With such a potentially huge domestic market, I would imagine, and hope, that wines would continue to evolve in quality.

Tourist Junk Boat in Hong Kong

Finally, some hurdles in developing the Chinese wine palate lie in existing cultural habits. For example, some postulate the Chinese prefer red wine because they are used to drinking warm drinks at a meal and because of the auspiciousness of the color red, though white wines might be better suited to certain fiery dishes. Also, tea is tannic, as is red wine, so they are used to tannins in their beverages.  Or perhaps the Chinese palate is not meant to be like the Western palate at all- they grew up eating different foods and may expect and appreciate different tastes and qualities in their wines. None of this should be viewed as a scientific analysis; rather speculation by wine industry folk.  Perhaps I can gain a greater insight when there on the ground, meeting fellow or future wine drinkers of China.

For those that are interested in a list of Chinese wineries—I imagine not too many of you, yet—the larger and notable names I have come across so far are the following: Great Wall, Dragon Seal, Changyu, Huadong, Domain Helan Mountain, Grace Vineyards, Helan Qing Xue.  If anyone has any other suggestions of local wines I should seek out while there, please let me know!

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Filed under China, Where I am Going