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Villa Maria, Reserve 2010

Pinot Noir
Villa Maria, Reserve 2010
Marlborough, New Zealand

Villa Maria is the most a warded family-owned winery in New Zealand. It was founded in 1961 by Sir George Fistonich who has been instrumental in putting the country in the spotlight for their crisp, fragrant Sauvignon Blancs and elegant Pinot Noirs.

The grapes were harvested by hand, de-stemmed and crushed into open-top fermenters. After fermentation the wine was left to mature for 14 months in expensive French oak barrels.

This elegant Pinot Noir displays the hallmarks of gentle craftsmanship. The alluring bouquet is perfumed with a myriad of strawberry, raspberry and red cherry fruit and subtle spicy note. The palate is dry, medium bodied, with gorgeous silky tannins and beautiful balance.

Food and wine pairing: This is a perfect wine to sip by itself, or enjoy with heavier seafood dishes such as salmon, and is ideal with duck.

The U.K. market and Bordeaux en primeur

After racing around Asia for a few years I was given an additional assignment by my PDG, or President Directeur General at the office in Bordeaux. My mission: the U.K., a slightly more mature and sophisticated market than the back alleys of Taipei.

With some trepidation I made appointments with about 14 of our clients, which included some of the largest national importers/distributors, regional merchants, mail order companies, prestige retailers, monstrous supermarket chains, specialist traders in crus classes, and more. We sold about 20,000 cases a year in England, mostly petits chateaux but also crus classes.

The meetings often followed the same theme. The client’s welcome was not usually quite as gracious as in Japan, shall we say. In Japan I was a wine god. In the UK I was from Bordeaux, and therefore categorically the enemy. There is an immensely strong love/hate affair between the UK trade and the Bordelais.

After being seated, and being sized up by my opponent, the barrage would begin. Why hasn’t your PDG been to see us for 4 years? I suppose you don’t care about the UK market anymore now that you’ve found markets in Asia? Your new prices are ridiculous. Why does order preparation take so long? Why did you tell us we had a 300 case allocation of half bottles and then suddenly say you were out of stock?

And all I wanted to reply was BECAUSE WE’RE FRENCH! You see there is a massive difference in the way the French brain works compared to their anglosaxon counterparts across the channel. And nowhere is this more evident than during the en primeur campaign. It just might go like this.

Monsieur Le PDG sits in his prestigious Grand Cru Classe on a Tuesday having a 2 hour lunch. There is a beautiful 4 course meal served by his staff along with a few vintages of the properties Grand Vin. He lunches with a major negociant, and they discuss the upcoming en primeur campaign. It is very formal, very polite, and very civilized.

The British, who believe they run the world trade in Bordeaux Grands Crus, are firing warning shots at the chateaux through Decanter magazine and social media. They say that if prices don’t come down significantly then they will simply refuse to buy. The Brits draw a line in the sand. The gauntlet is thrown down. Key British critics say that Chile makes just as good quality top wine, and that’s what they will buy from now on – so there. The Brits are bitter, and rightly so, that their 2009 and 2010 wines are worth less than they were at opening, and a ton of their clients are furious. They feel like they’ve been stung by the Bordelais on far too many vintages.

Back at lunch at the Bordeaux chateau there is a brief discussion about what les anglais are saying, and although the message does get across, it is typically not heeded. The negociant, eager for allocations, compliments the chateau owner on this latest vintage, adding that he will be able to sell it. “There are other markets in the world, not just our old friends in England” the negociant says with a wry smile.

For the chateau owner the Tuesday lunch is as good as ever, his wine is far better than in Chile, and the bank account is fully loaded after the 2009 and 2010 campaigns. And so at the end of lunch the chateau owner quietly decides to himself that he will release his wine at a similar price to before, maybe with a small reduction as a token, but not too much of a discount. And as for the Brits, they’ll just have to throw another tantrum.

The fact is that although selling out en primeur is the end goal for the top Bordeaux chateaux they really don’t hurt too badly if they have to stock the wine for some years themselves. It is actually astonishing how much stock they often have of back vintages which they hold on to for their library, and to liquidate if they need a little cash injection.

Fair enough, the 2013 en primeur campaign was a bust for most of the chateaux and they are sitting on large stocks. But at the end of the day they would rather do that than cheapen their brand by discounting too much. The global thirst for the best Bordeaux will slowly eat up their inventories. And sooner or later, there’ll be another vintage of the century! Alors!

Château Batailley, AC Pauillac, 2006

Meritage – Cabernet Sauvignon & Franc & Merlot
Château Batailley, AC Pauillac, 2006
Bordeaux, France

Pauillac is the most important appellation of the Medoc. It is home to 3 of the 5 First growths, namely Latour, Lafite and Mouton Rothschild. The gravelly soil and maritime climate combine to produce many of the finest wines in the world here. Chateau Batailley sits right in the heart of the appellation. It is a Grand Cru Classe from 1855, a high prestige.

The color is still deep and dark but with a shade of brick creeping into the rim, indicating some age and maturity. The nose has earthy aromas, cassis, tobacco and espresso. The palate shows a lick of vanilla, cedar, black cherry and smoke all wrapped up in a medium to full-bodied wine, with a touch of grip to the tannins, and beautiful long length. A classic Bordeaux, to say the least.

Food and wine pairing: Outstanding with beef, lamb or some cheddar cheese.

Bouchard Pere et Fils, 1er Cru Beaune du Chateau, AC Beaune, 2010

Chardonnay
Bouchard Pere et Fils, 1er Cru Beaune du Chateau, AC Beaune, 2010
Burgundy, France

Bouchard Pere is one of the oldest Houses in Burgundy. They have produced and traded fine wines for 9 generations and over 280 years.

Over the centuries this House has slowly acquired some of the greatest terroirs of Burgundy, and today owns an astounding 130 hectares. This is some of the most valuable vineyard land in the world.

Chardonnay grapes are hand harvested from the low yielding 1er Cru vineyard and gently crushed at the winery. There is a long barrel ageing for 12 months, but only a small percentage of new oak so as not to overwhelm the beautiful fruit characters.

Aromatically the wine shows an elegance, a lemon zest, a youthful freshness, and a trace of minerality which weaves through the bright fresh floral tones. On the palate the lively crisp acidity lifts the citrus flavors, balances the medium body, and pushes the length even further. This is a beautifully balanced classic white Burgundy.

Food and wine pairing: Delicious with white fish or poultry, and outstanding all by itself.

Dopff & Irion, Grand Cru Vorbourg, 2010

Pinot Gris
Dopff & Irion, Grand Cru Vorbourg, 2010
Alsace, France

Pinot Gris from Alsace is one of the world’s best kept secrets.

Alsace makes Pinot Gris in a rich, ripe, full bodied and powerful style, often with a touch of sweetness on the finish. The acidity is soft, the fruits are reminiscent of pineapple, baked apple and peach, and the texture is oily and mouth-coating. The best wines, such as this, can age for many years.

One of the key reasons for the dramatic difference between the styles of Italian Pinot Grigio and Alsatian Pinot Gris is the climate. Alsace, despite being in north east France has one of the driest and sunniest climates in France, thanks to the protection of the Vosges mountains.

This is a gorgeous wine from one of the top vineyards, a Grand Cru, called Vorbourg. It is the epitome of a classic top quality Pinot Gris.

Food and wine pairing: Ideal with spicy dishes, and a lovely way to end a meal with some soft cheese.

Chartron et Trebuchet, 1er Cru Les Embrazees, AC Chassagne-Montrachet, 2011

Chardonnay
Chartron et Trebuchet, 1er Cru Les Embrazees, AC Chassagne-Montrachet, 2011
Burgundy, France

Chartron et Trebuchet is one of the old established producers in Burgundy. They focus on making fine wines in the prestige appellations, and have done so for generations. The House is particularly famous for whites.

Chassagne-Montrachet is one of the most prestigious appellations in Burgundy, known for producing elegant and complex wines. This particular wine comes from a small single vineyard called Les Embrazees, which is ranked as a 1er Cru, considered one of the best.

The nose is perfumed, fresh, bright and layered with notes of sweet lemon, fragrant vanilla, and a subtle smoky note. The palate is beautifully dry, medium to full bodied, with a lively acidity bringing balance and refreshment. Citrus, minerals, toast and peach fill the palate, and the length lingers on and on, the sign of a truly fine wine.

Food and wine pairing: This is the perfect complement to fish dishes, pasta in a cream sauce, and poultry.

Chateau Dereszla, 5 Puttonyos Aszu, 2008

Sweet wine
Chateau Dereszla, 5 Puttonyos Aszu, 2008
Tokay, Hungary

The wine of Kings, the King of wines, or so the saying goes about Tokaj. Chateau Dereszla is a noble House. This outstanding producer can trace its production history back to 1450, and was a favorite of the Kings and Courts of Hungary.

The production process for Tokaj is unique. Two indigenous grape varieties, Furmint and Harslevelu, are effected by botrytis cinerea. The sweet berries are then added to a dry base wine which is aged in barrel and bottle for several years.

The gorgeous golden sheen intrigues the eye. The nose explodes with honey, marmalade, orange zest and pineapple. This 5 puttonyos is very sweet, but the crisp acidity cuts through like a knife, leaving the palate refreshed, yet full of tropical fruit flavors and honey. In terms of dessert wines, this is one of the very best.

Food and wine pairing: Ideal with blue cheese or sweet cakes and pastries. This is a classic dessert wine.

Oremus, 3 Puttonyos Aszu, 2008

Sweet wine
Oremus, 3 Puttonyos Aszu, 2008
Tokay, Hungary

The Oremus estate has been producing wine since the 13th century. Indeed, her fine sweet wines are considered among the very best in the world.
In 1993 the owners of Spain’s most famous winery, Vega Sicilia, purchased the estate. They fell in love with the 5 kilometers of underground cellars, the unique production process, and the fact that these gorgeous wines could age for over 100 years.

The indigenous Furmint and Harslevelu grapes, sweetened by the effects of botrytis, are added to a dry base wine. This creates a sweet nectar that is then matured in Hungarian oak casks for years.
Honey, orange peel, vanilla and toasted almonds intrigue the nose. The palate is sweet and full bodied with a vibrant acidity. The tropical fruit flavors and succulent honeyed notes persist on the finish, the mark of truly fine wine.

Food and wine pairing: Ideal with blue cheese, sweet cakes and pastries. This is a classic dessert wine.

Mt. Difficulty, Bannockburn, 2012

Sauvignon Blanc
Mt. Difficulty, Bannockburn, 2012
Central Otago, New Zealand

Central Otago has become a classic New World wine region known for its rich, silky and complex Pinot Noir. But we discovered this unusual gem of a wine from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, made by one of the very best producers in the region, Mt. Difficulty.

This beautiful region, at the southern tip of the south island in New Zealand, is nestled amongst mountains and shimmering lakes.

On the nose, the aromatics leap out of the glass with a heady note of cut grass and passion fruit. The palate has a perfect balance between dryness and fruit sweetness on a light to medium bodied frame. There’s a beautifully refreshing acidity, and a tightly wound minerality that spins through wine and into the long finish. Delicious!

Food and wine pairing: Perfect for sipping by itself, it also pairs well with seafood, or pasta in a cream sauce. My favorite is with goat’s cheese.

Clos Henri, Bel Echo, 2012

Sauvignon Blanc
Clos Henri, Bel Echo, 2012
Marlborough, New Zealand

For ten generations the house of Henri Bourgeois focused on producing excellent quality Sauvignon Blanc from the classic vineyards of Sancerre, in the Loire valley, just south of Paris.
In the year 2000 the family decided that the quality of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was undeniable, and they purchased over 100 hectares of the finest vineyards in Marlborough.
The wine is typically pale in color, a trademark of cool climate Sauvignon Blanc made in stainless steel tanks. The nose is intense and expressive, with piercing aromas of gooseberry, grapefruit and citrus. On the palate the wine is dry but fruity, with crisp and refreshing acidity. There is a beautiful delicacy and vibrancy to the light-bodied style, with zest and minerally flavors.

Food and wine pairing: The perfect match for goat’s cheese, salads, smoked salmon, crab, and other light seafood dishes.