Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tasting Session: Domaine Select portfolio 08.21.08

Hi everybody,

Alison from "Domaine
Select" (the importer / distributor) came back today with very interesting wines, 2 from China and 1 from Barossa Valley. But let's concentrate on the Chinese wines first.

Special guest of the day, David Henderson, owner and founder of Dragon's Hollow Vineyards, a major winery and wine distribution company in China, was also here to introduce 2 of his wines: an unoaked
Chardonnay and a Riesling from his Dragon's Hollow Vineyards 1600 acres winery located 625 miles west of Beijing in the Zhingun province (northern part of China). The winery produces classic international grape variety based wines: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Merlot and Syrah. Out of the 1600 acres, only 200 acres of especially selected parcel of vines are dedicated to produce wines for the international market (roughly 100.000 cases), the rest is sold through the local market. I was really please to welcome David Henderson at the store and found his Chinese wines very interesting. Ant MacKenzie, also winemaker for Mud House and Spy Valley (2 leading wineries of New Zealand, located in Marlborough), has surly something to do with the quality of these wines.

David Henderson invited me to play a blind tasting game of 3 Chardonnays including his Dragon's Hollow Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay. The game was to identify his Chardonnay first, but also to determine if his wine could compete and equal in quality other Chardonnays from elsewhere at the same retail price point (and in my opinion, it did). I didn't know which one was his wine, but after tasting the three wines twice, I was confident in my choice and nailed the right one. Here are the descriptions of the three wines and a synopsis or a resume of the tasting.

1) 2007 Jean-Paul Brun "Terres Dorees" Beaujolais Blanc Burgundy France
Suggested retail price $13-$16

The nose is inviting, clean, fresh and almost creamy with floral hints of chamomile and notes of lemon, honeydew, golden apple. The palate is ample, rich and soft, with a creaminess enhanced by the malolactic fermentation. The finish is quite long and concentrated yet balanced by a great acidity and seems to expand in complexity. This is a lovely example of Beaujolais Blanc that confirms the benchmark position of Jean-Paul Brun as one of the leading producer of Beaujolais (white and red). It also gives a different dimension to Chardonnay and exposes the versatility of this rather common and often neglected grape variety. Highly recommended, one of our favorite Chardonnays at the store.

2) 2006 Louis Jadot Chablis Burgundy France
Suggested retail price $18-$21

The nose is green (greener than the previous one for sure), with more acidity and more minerals. The palate starts with a very good attack showing good acidity, liveliness and fruit, but unfortunately the mid-palate doesn't follow the same path and seems to be slightly unbalanced. The finish is ok, not great and reflects somehow the overproduction and lack of focus of the Louis Jadot brand in general. Don't get me wrong, I do have nothing against Louis Jadot, but I just think that the brand is a bit too mainstream for me and somewhat crowd pleasing for non-connoisseur. Granted, it is often very consistent from a vintage to another, and seems very reliable to some people, but frankly I prefer their higher-end cuvees.
I do think that their entry level wines don't meet the connoisseur level and can be easily outmatched by smaller producers offering greater quality wines for the same price or less (even from comment).

3) 2006 Dragon's Hollow Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay China (eastern foot of the "He Lan" Mountain appellation)
Suggested retail price $12-$15

First, I need to admit that this wine was easily recognizable amongst the others because of its texture (not Burgundian at all, with a "je ne sais quoi" of New World touch to it without being over extracted or too ripe), but also because of its bright acidity that reminds me more of some other grape (sort of a sauvignon like mouthfeel).

The nose is bright, clean, fresh with aromas of citrus, lemon peel or zest, green apple and a touch floral. Light on his feet, the palate is refreshing, balanced and clean yet not too complex but very pleasing for a first experience with a Chinese white wine (I tasted some reds before, but no whites until today). The finish is simple and easy going with an excellent balance. Overall, even if a bit light for my taste, I enjoyed it very much and I think my customer will be please to experience such wine. I think that the older the vines will get the better and more interesting the wine will taste. For now, it is rather uncomplicated, discreet and straightforward. I hope that the next vintages will bring more layers of complexity and depth. But in this kind of price range, it remains a very strong value (especially in today's market where everything is so expensive). I just wish that David could have come 3 months earlier, because the lightness of this wine and the vivid acidity that it shows seem to be more appropriate for the Spring and Summer months. Let's just hope that we will have a warm Indian fall. This a wine to discover and to appreciate on salad, oyster, shell fish and grilled river white fish.

After this very interesting tasting game, David poured me a glass of his second wine:

2006 Dragon's Hollow Vineyards Riesling
China (eastern foot of the "He Lan" Mountain appellation)
Suggested retail price $12-$15

Dragon's Hollow Riesling is definitely more expressive on the nose than the Chardonnay (although it remains quite discreet and restrain compare to some Alsace or German Rieslings). It displays floral and fruity aromas of white flowers, honeysuckle, white peach and apricot skin mixed with notes of wet stone minerality. The palate is dry (dryer than an Alsace and definitely more than a German Riesling) and offers similar flavors of citrus, lime, honeysuckle and a twist of petroleum. Showing more depth and multiple layers of fruit combined with a great acidity, it appears less mono dimensional than the Chardonnay. Both have a great balance and some interesting features despite the fact that they are both quite light; yet they will surely quench the thirst of someone looking for a fresh, bright, clean and down-to-earth white wine.

In my opinion:

The wines from China just started to arrive on the American market and they are fairly unknown to most drinkers. Fortunately, made out of international grape varieties, they will ease the expected hesitation of the consumers at first.

Unfortunately, for some people, it will just be another Chardonnay or another Cabernet from another country. It may fashion a certain interest at the beginning, but who knows how long is it going to last, especially if they don't rapidly focus on high quality wines.

If they don't start to offer wines made from lesser known (or less commercial) grape varieties, after a while the Chinese wines may end up not selling and not necessarily continue to attract the customers (except may be by curiosity or because the wine is a truly good value compare to other wines from other countries made from the same grape).

They may have to specialize into certain grapes to keep up with the market (like Malbec in Argentina; Carmenere in Chile; Tannat in Uruguay: Shiraz in Australia; Sauvignon in New Zealand; Riesling in Germany; Gruner Veltliner in Austria; Tempranillo and Garnacha in Spain; Sangiovese and Nebbiolo in Italy; Pinot Noir in Burgundy and Oregon; Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Bordeaux and California; etc...only to talk about the most well-known grapes, because they are dozens more coming from the 70 leading wine producing countries in the world).

However, I'm glad that there are quite a few open minded people like David Henderson to lead the way into introducing winemaking and wine tradition in new countries. I wish him luck with Dragon's Hollow Vineyards and will be proud to be one of the first in New York to carry his wines and suggest them to my valuable customers.

The last wine of this tasting was:

2005 The Colonial Estate "Explorateur" Old vines Shiraz Barossa Valley Australia
Suggested retail price $29-$32

After tasting the 2005 Colonial Estate "Envoy" GSM the previous day, I need to admit that I wasn't as please by the "Explorateur". The "Explorateur" has a warm nose with some hints of alcohol, and doesn't seem as attractive on the nose as the "Envoy". It displays interesting and rich aromas of deep dark ripe berries with floral and spicy notes. It is definitely not as elegant (for an Australian wine, don't get me wrong on this one) as the "Envoy". It is bigger, broader and shows much more alcohol than I would like to. The finish has a lot of dark chocolate, mocca, earthy spices and ripe plum tones. Overall, it is not bad, quite well balanced (for an Australian wine...). Although, I can see people getting into it and loving it, it is definitely not my style of wine (I like them fresher, juicier, earthier with more acidity and balance, less ripeness and less oak, but it is only my taste...).

see you soon for some new wine tasting sessions,



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