Question: How many South American countries are producing wine?
Answer: 5 main ones with the leaders being well established Argentina & Chile. Less well known are Brazil, Peru, and Uruguay. Brazil has some lighter chardonnays, ripe reds (including merlot and Portuguese varieties) and emerging reasonably priced sparkling wines. Peru has the high altitude plus coastal vineyards but the climate is quite tropical and most production is used for Pisco grape brandy. The exciting new player is Uruguay with their signature red grape Tannat and other varieties now showing up more frequently on the export market. Bodega Garzon (consulting oenologist Albert Antonini) has started world-wide distribution of their energetic premium examples including Vancouver at Marquis Wine Cellars who have just received a big 2015 Albarino at 14.5 alcohol & the younger vines with deep ripe fresh fruit 2014 Tannat retailing at $30.34 and $27.74 respectively plus tax. Explore!
I am generally not a consumer of processed meats – even bacon. Those produced in North America I often find too salty or smoky for my taste and I always wonder about the presence of added preservative chemicals like nitrates & nitrites. There are some exceptions of course such as the traditional peanut-fed hogs for Smithfield hams from Virginia and others. However, when I visit Europe I treat myself to some local special top quality long cured hams that are different. Great memories from many previous visits including the salt cured lard coated Prosciutto di Parma in Italy where strong breezes continually rush through open windows to air dry the meat. The pig’s diet includes the whey of Parma cheese and chestnuts together with long aging resulting in a unique delicious product.
During my recent visit to Spain I again indulged in Serrano hams & Jamon Iberico hams (similar to Alentejo hams in Portugal). This time I had the opportunity in Madrid to compare various types of jamon and was impressed by the quality and the differences. Visit one of the many budget friendly Museo del Jamon and you will be amazed by the wide selection of hanging hams and the big differences in price. They range from cheap hams usually from white pigs (or cross bred with black) raised on only cereal feeds without any free range grazing (montanera) to the very highest expensive level of Bellota from Iberico black pigs that feast on acorns (bellota) in open meadows (dehesa) with a geographic d.o. location. Extraordinarily hands on attention with no added lard necessary and long curing periods (24-48 months) are so admirable. The very best can start at around 85 euros/kilogram and up. I bought 6 razor thin slices for just over 8 euros (or about $13 Canadian) and tasting it just by itself on top of some fresh warm crusty bread again delivered the uplifting excitement of sweet dry complex intense flavours of both this unbelievable cured meat with some healthy fats similar to those found in olive oil. But the more reasonably priced hams can also be excellent and perfect for a wide range of dishes. This is the place to have the most wonderful ham and cheese (prefer manchego) sandwich you have ever experienced at a very fair price. My earlier concerns of no overnight refrigeration have been somewhat alleviated but I still prefer those cleaner outlets that cover the legs with plastic wrap to help prevent the development of bacteria. I usually place my order specifically from those legs that are quite popular and have had slices already taken off of them earlier that day. For more details there is an excellent site of www.jamon.com dedicated to the fine art of ham. Enjoy the whole experience.
Last week, forty years after California winemakers upset the French in dramatic fashion at a blind tasting known as the Judgment of Paris, the Fifth Republic experienced another shocking loss at the hands of an unlikely foe. On the Mediterranean Coast, at the Château du Galoupet, 21 nations from around the world sent their best oenophiles to sample six whites and six reds in a rigorous tasting competition. Without seeing the label or bottle, each team of four had to identify the country of origin, vintage, appellation and grape varieties used. And when it was all said and done, the winners were not French, European or even American—they were Chinese!
Described by one organizer as a “thunderbolt in the world of wine,” this Cinderella story, which garnered headlines across the world, may end up changing the way the rest of the world views this emerging superpower. Humble in victory, the winning Chinese team described this triumph as “50% knowledge and 50% luck” but after defeating France, Spain, the United States and a host of other nations, one cannot stress enough how big this event is for both their national wine industry and their wine culture in general.
Looking at the facts, it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that China won this competition. In 2013, the BBC reported that Chinese consumers drank more than 1.6 billion bottles annually and were the second biggest buyers of top claret by volume. Likewise, in 2014, it was reported that China’s wine consumption was double that of its closest competitor, the United States. While Chinese drinking rose by 36 percent, two traditional winemaking nations—France and Italy—showed decreases. Clearly, China is now a country of oenophiles that drinks not only the best from Bordeaux and Napa, but from its own backyard as well.
For those unfamiliar with Sino wines, a little background: Last year, China overtook France as the country with second largest vineyard area of 799,000 hectares; only Spain has more with 1.02 million hectares. This phenomenal amount of growth can also be seen in the total land devoted to vineyards, which shot up from 4% in 2000 to 11% in 2015. Clearly the Chinese have taken to viticulture.
However, matching quantity with quality has produced mixed results. Known by many around the world for cheap bulk wines, the tide may be turning in another direction. Back in 2011, a Chinese winery in the northern Ningxia province beat its French competition and won an international gold medal for its 2009 vintage. While there is still a long way to go, many European juggernauts such as Domaines Barons de Rothschild and Moet Hennessy are setting up shop in Yunnan and Ningxia provinces respectively, perhaps serving as a bellwether for better things to come.
With an insatiable thirst for the finest wines from across the globe, China has left a huge footprint in Provence that is sure to turn some heads. Describing the fierce competition required to be on this championship four-man squad, its coach said: “In China the selection process to get a place on the team is truly ferocious, which means that here we only have the very best.”
Question: I am buying Malbec wines from Argentina quite often and would appreciate your brief thoughts on best current vintages.
Answer: Malbec is usually juicy and drinks well young. The last 3 vintages have not had the ideal quality consistency. 2016 was a difficult cooler year resulting in some of the grapes just not reaching enough phenolic ripeness. 2015 had rot issues so be careful because grape selection is a real key to finding the best wines. 2014 also had crop damage issues and the wines are drinking more forwardly. 2013 was good as were the previous vintages back to the hotter more consistent highly regarded 2009. However vintage can be a less important factor than choosing a high quality producer. Recommend buying Malbec wines from Catena, Achaval-Ferrer, the much improved Zuccardi, Pascal Toso, or any of the other top wineries to ensure you get the best examples of this variety.
Pleased over the past week to have the opportunity to drink quite a few old Spanish wines in San Sebastian. Brought back such fond memories from several decades ago of marvelling at the dusty treasures including Marquis de Riscal (some of those memorable 1920s with less than 10 degrees alcohol), classy Marquis de Murrieta and Torres Black Label Mas de Plana from both 1970 and 1971 (cabernet sauvignon vines planted in 1966).
Recent experience finds quite a bit of bottle variation as expected on these old wines but some show a touch too much volatile acidity and oxidation with that signature American oak. It is all part of their interesting unique trademark.
Particularly good showing this week by the 1964 year with Bodegas Bilbainas Vina Pomal Reserva Especial (preferred the 1955), Cune Vina Real Reserva Especial (preferred the 1951) and Bodegas Unidas Siglo (their historical 1928 was the oldest star one evening) all performing very well. Some of the younger wines were fresher and showed more spicy fruit like 1970 Cune Imperial, 1968 Vina Real Gran Reserva, 1959 Bodegas Unidas Fuenmayor Gran Reserva and 1955 Bodegas Santiago Yago Condal Reserva Especial. One of the cleanest and most elegant of all was 1952 Berberana Gran Reserva!
Vega Sicilia Unico is a favourite of mine which has some proven amazing aging ability. This week enjoyed trying the open complex nose of a surprisingly approachable 1991, the deep solemn wonderous depth of 1970 still needs more time even after 16 years in wood and some bottle age, the delightful drinking smooth textured charming 1962, and the 1960 in magnum (the first vintage that used this format) quite closed in and backward for 56 years of age!
The star one evening was certainly Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia and her outstanding wines. Even the old whites of Tondonia Gran Reserva 1973 & 1957 were of interest as was a 1926 Sauternes they had originally bottled and now opened with port tongs. However it was the reds that were truly remarkable showing an extra level of intense fruit with balanced acidity resulting in true old wine elegance. My congratulations!
Tondonia is a much bigger production at nearly 10 times that of the only 15 hectare 5000 bottles of Bosconia. The 1964s were from “a great but high yielding year and are still babies”. Interesting that Tondonia was served with Bacalao Pimento (codfish red peppers) and Bosconia with Lomo de Cordero (lamb loin). It was said that the 1954s would not improve “but they just keep on improving”. I bought 24 bottles of Tondonia in that wire mesh wrap during the 1980s and enjoyed drinking them all up over 20 years. This 25th bottle was the best showing for it yet! Surprisingly the Bosconia 1954 was lighter and more aged than Tondonia but so stylish too. The brightest stars might have been both 1947s. Exceptional year and such brilliant complexity coming through! The oldest served was 1934 Tondonia with big young colour and an intriguing nose the best part of it but the palate revealed the fruit was drying up showing a little too much acidity creeping in but still an historical treasure.
Encourage you to look for some of these special old Spanish gems.