Archive for May, 2014

Wine in China

May 30th, 2014

Wine in China
By Joseph Temple

In 2005, China drastically lowered its tariffs on imported wines from 64% to 14%.  Since then, scores of buyers have made up for lost time by indulging themselves in the fine art of wine tasting — a practice that Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution outlawed for being decadent and bourgeois.  Now seldom does a week go by without a news story discussing the impact China is having on wine exports.  Purchasing 1.86 billion bottles in 2013 (a 136% increase in only five years), a whole new generation of oenophiles are springing up from Shanghai to the Himalayas as winemakers around the world eagerly look to cash in.

But what about China’s domestic production? Since almost 95% of the wine consumed in the People’s Republic comes from locally grown grapes, perhaps its time to have a closer look at this potential vino-superpower.

Having a largely superstitious population, it’s no surprise that red wine dominates the marketplace.  That’s because the color red is considered lucky in Chinese culture, while the color white is synonymous with death.  Unfortunately, since the majority of its wine consists of local grapes blended with cheap bulk wine imports, even their finest Cabernet is no match against France or California in terms of quality.  That’s why a sort-of Sino-Franco alliance has been established in recent years.

Beginning in 1978 when China first opened its doors to the West, an influx of foreign wine producers have partnered with government-run businesses to help improve the quality of its vineyards.  Some of these joint ventures have been with notable vintners such as Rémy Martin, Pernod-Ricard and more recently in 2009 when Domaines Barons de Rothschild (DBR) Lafite partnered with China’s biggest state-owned investment company to produce wine geared towards the domestic market.

Wine in China map

Setting up shop in the city of Penglai, DBR, like most winegrowers chose the Shandong Province as their hub, which along with the Province of Shanxi benefits from a maritime climate.  Located northwest of Shanghai and south of Beijing, these two provinces share the same latitude as California and would be almost Mediterranean in climate if it weren’t for the raging monsoons.  Of the approximately 500 wineries in China, the majority are located in these two provinces, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t others that are emerging as well, such as the Mount Helan region and Xinjiang Province on China’s western border.

As of today, Chinese wine has still failed to reach a global audience. But working alongside established vintners to increase quality, the People’s Republic might just be a sleeping giant ready to dominate the global marketplace.   Just remember that fifty years ago, wines from Australia and California were held in similar contempt.

Have you tasted wine from China?

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Ask Sid: Should I buy wine on eBay?

May 29th, 2014

Should I buy wine on ebay?

Question: Should I buy wine on eBay?

Answer: Topical question! As a lawyer I always approach any purchase of wine on the internet or at auction with the Latin phrase “caveat emptor” – let the buyer beware! I suggest you should too.

It is somewhat similar to buying a used car. That obviously is a rather major expenditure but top wines with their expensive prices can be costly too.  Ask yourself why is the seller getting rid of that car or that particular wine? Auction houses don’t really like 11 bottle lots because it infers that the seller tried one and didn’t like the case purchase and is dumping it. Now with so much proven counterfeit wine in the marketplace you have to be extra careful that first you are getting the genuine article. Watch out soon for the new documentary film on the Rudy Kurniawan ordeal.  Even if it is an authentic wine you have to be concerned about “hot” storage (was it naturally stored outdoors in Death Valley, California?) and the amount of ullage (space between the cork or screw top and the liquid). Beware of leakage. Remember you are not having the opportunity to hold and examine the wine prior to purchase. Descriptions may not be accurate and any photos posted may not be current enough or detailed enough to alert you to any problem. If it is only 1 bottle and not much money involved it may be worth the adventure and the experience of “gambling” on line. That great buy you think you are getting may not be so endearing when you finally taste it. Once bought you also still have to hope you receive the alcoholic product and in the USA the state by state eligibility of the buyer. Have fun but be careful. I myself would prefer using one of the many online wine shops over eBay.

Ask Sid Cross about wine and food

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Burgundy: Random Thoughts From a Week Visit in May 2014

May 27th, 2014

Burgundy Wine
By Stefan Bauer, (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Always enjoy my educational visits to Burgundy – the most detailed continuing study in “terroir” in the world ! Maybe Piedmont is a close second. Two main thoughts are on everyone’s mind there presently.  Firstly, the shorter crops for 4 straight years (especially the last two vintages of 2012 & 2013) and the rising prices of their wines. Generally they haven’t reached yet the classified Bordeaux price levels but Burgundy could use a correction.  Secondly the hopes for a quality harvest of much larger volume in 2014 that will help improve all these issues.  Another hot topic for discussion is the request for raised status of some top classified Premier Cru vineyards to Grand Cru.  Staying in the village of Pommard during my week in Burgundy showed some growing support for Les Epenots and at least the best part of Rugiens-Bas to join Corton as the only Grand Cru in the Cote de Beaune. Not many changes since 1981 when the Clos des Lambrays (the majority of which was just purchased last month by LVMH) in Morey St. Denis of the Cote de Nuits was moved up to Grand Cru. However, in my opinion there are other vineyards presently at least as deserving or more so including among many candidates Les Amoureuses in Chambolle-Musigny, Clos Saint -Jacques in Gevrey-Chambertin, Les Saint Georges in Nuits St. Georges, and Perrieres in Meursault. Difficult because some others there believe in leaving matters as the status quo because Grand Cru brings other problems including more restrictive production laws and raised property valuations for tax purposes.

As usual many outstanding wine and food experiences but here are a few highlights:

Beaune Wine
Vineyards just outside Beaune

By The original uploader was Hedwig Storch at German Wikipedia(Original text: de:Benutzer:Hedwig Storch) (Self-photographed) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons

DROUHIN: Discussions, tastings, and lunch with Veronique Drouhin-Boss who was just back from judging at the South African Wine Awards. She is excited about the new diversity offered by their acquisition of vineyards mostly pinot noir in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA in Oregon to go along with their successful Dundee Hills base. In the ancient cellars in Beaune they still have an old manual press with a cranking wheel from 1671 that they used first in 1980 and last in 2005. I liked her personal vineyard 2010 Vosne Romanee Aux Petits Monts (next to Richebourg) usually producing only about 3-5 barrels that her father Robert bought for her in 1985 when she passed her oenology exam. Also the impressive Asian spice & styling of 2001 Grands Echezeaux that now has added some charm to the more tannic structure. While I was in the Denis Perret wine shop Frederic Drouhin came over to say hello to me and tell me he thought their 2011 Pouilly Vinzelles selling for just 12.70 euros was a special quality value success.

COMTE DE VOGUE: Discussions with Jean Luc Pepin who was just leaving for a tasting in Washington DC and 2013 barrel tasting before the malos (“malic skin around a balloon of fruit”) with the talented natural method Francois Millet Chef de Cave-Oenologue. Francois once lived in Calgary for 3 years and started at Vogue in 1986. When he retires he would like to spend part time in France and part time somewhere near Revelstoke, Three Valley Gap or the Okanagan. Hope so. Impressive sample from cask of their .1 hectare of 1er cru Les Baudes (not enough for a separate bottling) that along with 1er cru Les Fuees is declassified and blended with other vines from Les Porlottes for their AC Chambolle-Musigny. Their 1er cru Chambolle is also declassified Grand Cru Musigny of vines under 25 years of age. Francois finds aromas of “white flowers of the morning, pomegranate, and the importance of both the physiology of the vine, and the influence of night & day temperatures”. I really like the riper creamy Les Amoureuses, elegant Bonnes Mares and majestic Musigny  “like a beautiful landscape”.  He says they are now using 35% new oak on the Bonnes Mares & Musigny and 20-25% on the others.

BOUCHARD PERE: Some instructive mini verticals shown by the amazing Luc Bouchard. Especially comparing 12, 11, 10, 08, and 05 of Beaune Greves Vigne De L’Enfant Jesus & Le Corton. Luc says he usually can pick 2011 out in a blind tasting because of that smoky burnt character coming mainly from the stems. Excellent precision and purity to the 2010s such a natural beauty with cool classic fruit. 2005 Le Corton developed a “creamy white chocolate, cherry eau de vie with minerals”. The 1961 Le Corton served at our catered lunch in the guest cottage was a special treat so smooth and silky proving the ability of this underrated terroir to improve greatly in top vintages with long ageing. The whites showed especially ripe peaches and flowers in the 2012 Beaune du Chateau 1er cru Blanc yet clean and fresh from reduced pressing time in this vintage.  Both Grand Cru Chevalier Montrachet & Corton Charlemagne showed their vintages well. 2012 more generous rich power, 2011 purity and balance, difficult conditions of 2010 resulted in a smaller crop ripe and concentrated picked at the perfect time to avoid alcohol issues and showing it is a very special vintage for whites too.

LOUIS JADOT: Long extensive 2013 barrel tasting from usually one year old casks some of which had been recently racked with dynamic Sigfried Pic of 20 whites and 14 reds. Some top wines in development including Domaine Gagey rich creamy complex Beaune Greves 1er cru Blanc, potential of the only 2 casks of Puligny Caillerets (same limited number produced as the red Volnay Clos de Chenes), full of minerals Corton Charlemagne, Pommard Rugiens, seductive open top value Gevrey Estornelles, deeper Clos St Jacques,  underrated big Chapelle-Chambertin, and with another dimension entirely Chambertin Clos de Beze  (only 7 casks). Pierre-Henry Gagey came over to say hello as he was off to Hong Kong for their Vinexpo. Told him it brought back memories of the first Vinexpo in New York in mid October 2002. Pierre-Henry attended and addressed a small media meeting there including myself extolling the greatness of 2002 Burgundy to what were at that time a very skeptical group. Such bad weather in Rhone and Piedmont among others that it was hard to believe that Burgundy had been blessed. How right he was!

FAIVELEY: Now have a new small Costral bottling machine for top wines to be filled at a lower speed. 90% of the oak is Francois Frere & Taransaud barrels (with some Sequin Moreau). Some 2013 Latricieres in Taransaud top T5 oak. 3 plots of Chambertin Clos de Beze kept separately before blending. New labels for the Domaine Grand Crus from 2011. Tasted lots of bottled 2012. Impressed by Puligny Montrachet Champ Gain balance and minerals and less oaky at the same 40% new than Meursault Blagny. Nuits St Georges Les Porets showing freshness and spicy aromatics. Only 3465 bottles of Corton Charlemagne were produced in 2011. The good news is that they have replanted some old pinot noir vines with now producing chardonnay but still too young to be in the Grand Vin. Eventually we can expect another 1000-1050 more bottles of this always delicious nectar. 7th generation leader Erwan Faiveley and his team are doing an excellent job.

Hotel Dieu in Beaune
Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune
By Stefan Bauer, (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

RESTAURANTS: My top is still Ma Cuisine in Passage Sainte -Helene off Place Carnot in Beaune ( only open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Outstanding Terrine de Foie Gras 20E or Compote de Lapin a L’Estragon 16E starters and mains of the best Pigeon Entier Roti au Jus ever for 38E or Magret de Canard Roti au Jus 24E. Most expensive dish was Ris de Veau a la Crème at 39E. Extensive wine list with fair pricing well handled decanting. My second recommendation would be Chez Guy in Gevrey-Chambertin ( for excellent food with a 3 course lunch menu for 31E.

Have you visited the Burgundy wine region?

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Michigan wine goes to Washington

May 23rd, 2014

Michigan wine at the Gerald Ford White House
By Joseph Temple

With only a few months in office, President Gerald Ford had already hosted four official state dinners.  No less than a week after telling Americans that the “long national nightmare” of Watergate was finally over, the new commander-in-chief was sipping 1967 Louis Roederer Cristal alongside the King of Jordan.  And only days after granting a full, free and absolute pardon to Richard Nixon, White House officials uncorked a bottle of 1964 Dom Pérignon to celebrate the arrival of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.  But for the dinner honoring Chancellor Bruno Kreisky of Austria, a new milestone in the history of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was about to take place.

On the table that night next to Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon and Napa Valley sparkling wine was a bottle of 1971 Vidal Blanc.  Only this bottle came from Michigan – the first wine from not only the Wolverine State, but from the entire mid-west to be served at the White House.

Mistakenly identified on the menu as Trebbiano, this particular vintage came from the Tabor Hill Winery of Buchanan, Michigan – located in the southwestern part of the state.  Because Michigan’s ten wineries  grew grape varieties that could endure the icy winters of the Great Lakes region, they were able to experience such phenomenal growth that by 1974 they were in the top rankings with California and New York in terms of production.  So with a Grand Rapids native in the oval office, it was only a matter of time before his home state’s wine industry was thrust into the national spotlight.

While singer Vikki Carr prepared to sing her 1974 hit “One Hell of a Woman” to an audience that included Henry Kissinger and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, White House chefs got ready for the evening.  On the menu that night was a rich breast of pheasant paired with earthy wild rice (a Ford administration favorite) and chestnut purée.

Marking the first time soup was offered as the opening course since the Eisenhower administration, the second course, cold smoked rainbow trout, was arguably an ode to the Austrian guests.  And paired perfectly to this was the Michigan Vidal Blanc – subtle and fruity with citrus and pear notes, it was robust and dry enough to withstand the smokiness of the fish.  So great was this wine, that for the next five years, Tabor Hill was seen on numerous other White House function menus.

Thus, November 12th, 1974 marked the day Michigan wine had entered the mainstream.

menu Austria 11/12/1974Article about Michigan wine at the White House(Left) The menu. According to, the White House incorrectly listed their wine as Trebbiano. (Right) An article in the Dayton Beach Morning Journal announcing the selection of Michigan wine.
(click to enlarge both)

Have you tried Michigan wine?

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Ask Sid: How important are vintage dates on a bottle of wine?

May 21st, 2014

How important are vintage dates on a bottle of wine?
By THOR [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Question: How important are vintage dates on a bottle of wine?

Answer: Very important! Even more so in regions that are quite weather variable like Burgundy & Piedmont. Less so in warmer more consistent weather areas like California and Chile. If there is no vintage date (NV) at all shown then it is suspicious as plonk where the winemaker is blending some left over non-saleable wine with the current vintage in order to get rid of it. Nonetheless I have enjoyed some NV wines like Rick Small’s Walla Walla winery Woodward Canyon in Washington State for his value jammy NV Red Wine Bordeaux grape blend with syrah. Always enjoyed in the old days NV Beaune de Chateau Blanc 1er Cru Bouchard Pere but now these are always vintage dated. NV now seems more restricted to use on fortified wines of port, sherry, and madeira. The other remaining holdout is Sparkling and especially Champagne where they are blending to achieve a consistent House Style. Best example is Krug Grande Cuvee (before 1978 called Private Cuvee) that uses the blender’s art of up to 120 wines from 10+ vintages amounting to 35-50% reserves for the resulting final wine. Here at a high level they are combining the best characteristics of many unique vintages as a multi vintage to produce something even better than sometimes can be produced from just one year. Therefore do not underrate all NV Champagnes. However, for collectors and at auction best wines still need a famous vintage date attached to various wines and among those that will continue to prevail include 1945 Mouton, 1947 Cheval Blanc, 1949 Latour, 1959 Lafite, 1961 Palmer, 1962 La Tache, 1967 d’Yquem, 1970 Vega Sicilia, 1974 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, 1977 Fonseca Vintage Port, 1978 Barolo Monfortino Giacomo Conterno, 1985 Sassicaia, 1990 Margaux, 1991 Ridge Monte Bello among others.

What more recent vintage classics do you see as outstanding and continuing to increase in value?

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Is vintage date important when you purchase a bottle of wine?

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