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Wines of Málaga

The average visitor to Málaga may not be aware that it is a wine-producing region. The wine lists in the city’s tapas bars are replete with reds and whites from northern regions like Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Navarra and Rueda, and if you ask for a ‘copa’ of wine, chances are you’ll be served a glass of one of these. Nonetheless, Málaga does produce some fine wines and even has a fascinating wine museum, situated in a baking hot square near the river.

The museum has an abundance of information on the production of dry and sweet wines, the former labelled D.O. Sierras de Málaga, the latter D.O. Málaga.  The area of production is large, comprising five distinct zones; helpfully, samples of the different soils are provided in glass jars for the visitor’s edification. I took the opportunity to feel the slate that predominates in the eastern sub-region of Axarquía and couldn’t help wondering how on earth vines can grow in such a soil.

There is considerable diversity in Malaga’s vine-growing areas. This won’t be surprising to anyone who has taken a bus out of the city to the north, where you climb from the sunny Mediterranean coast over stony hills to reach a plateau. The harvest, for instance, lasts from the start of August to the end of October. The steep and mountainous vineyards of the Montes, Norte and Serranía de Ronda zones have a continental climate, whereas the Occidental and Axarquía sub-regions are influenced by their proximity to the sea.

The main grape for dry whites is Moscatel de Alejandría, which is prevalent on the limestone soils of the cooler, Atlantic-influenced area of Occidental in the west. French grapes, notably Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot account for most red wines, even if a local black grape called Romé is also grown. Black grapes are largely grown in Serranía de Ronda in the northwest, where vineyards are situated at an average height of 700 metres. Summers here are hot, while winters are cold.

Malaga’s calling card is its sweet wines, made from Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez. These are either fortified or made from grapes that are laid out in the sun, a process called ‘asoleo’. The dried grapes have a sky-high sugar content, to the extent that you can almost feel the sugar sliding down your glass as you take a sip.

At the end of my tour of the museum, I was served a dry, crisp, unoaked and medium bodied Moscatel, which had aromas of grass and citrus, and would serve as a lovely aperitif. I also tasted a headbanging Syrah, labeled as ‘roble’ (oaked). It was made from ‘old vines’ (an elastic term) and clocked in at a headbanging 15% alcohol, no doubt a reflection of the intensely sunny climate. It was quite mouth-drying but had sufficient fruit (ripe dark plums) to balance that, as well as the note of spice so characteristic of Syrah. Nor did the alcohol stick out. Best of all, though, was a luscious Pedro Ximénez, which had intense flavours of raisins, dates and figs.

I did this tasting for 5 euros on an empty stomach before lunch, and the wines went straight to my head. It was a very pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning.

 

Guest Correspondent

Michael Walker – Guest Wine Correspondent for the Beverage Clique

Michael works for a wine merchant in Scotland and is studying for the WSET Diploma. He has a travel blog at michaelpwalker.blogspot.co.uk

Craft Whiskey from Western Australia – Whipper Snapper Distillery

 

Perth, the new frontier … for Whiskey?

Australia has always been at the forefront of new world wine production, with Shiraz dominating the market and becoming an icon in the world of wines domestically and abroad. Spirits on the other hand hasn’t really took off until now.

With a trendy pop culture of craft and artisanal beverages labelled as cool and hip, boutique distilleries are gaining traction and with the likes of Adelaide Hills distillery making headlines (Green Ant Gin), the Beverage Clique decided to do a little “down-under” exploration ourselves, somewhere closer to home.

In the heart of Perth city, lies the much raved about urban distillery, Whipper Snapper. With a production volume of 30,000 litres per annum, Whipper Snapper is classed as a micro distillery (along side 60% of the rest of Australian Distilleries). Don’t be fooled by the squeaky clean white façade on the outside. The deco within the distillery encompasses a rustic, grunge and hipster atmosphere, nothing short of character and personality. Much like its whiskies in fact!

Its flagship whiskey, Upshot, recently won the “Best Australian Corn” category at the World Whiskies Awards 2017 and we were really keen to find out what makes their whiskey so special.

 

Amidst his busy schedule, James (Jimmy) McKeown, The Master Distiller took some time off to answer a few burning questions for our fans out there. The interview took place in their private tasting room which added a touch of exclusivity to the session. With its dim lights and shady ambience, the place kinda felt like a WWII bunker, especially with rows of bottles lined up like ammunition, living up to its backstory of “the bomber”.

 

 

The Beverage Clique : What was life like before becoming a distiller, your inspiration and the philosophy behind your whiskey?

Jimmy : I had a pretty diverse background from farming, to engineering and even stint in the wine industry. All those contributed to where I am now. Always had a passion for creating things and I feel as a distiller, the 2 biggest components would be the technical know-how, and the ability to be creative.

Chanced upon Tom Cooper, a pioneer in the whiskey industry in Colorado. He was my mentor and taught me the art of making whisky and how to do commercially. A gifted builder, he built his own distillery after retirement. That was really important for my development as a distiller because Tom built everything from scratch and that’s what we have to do here. We need a broad range of skills , you need to be able to do everything! That’s the main difference between a craft distiller and a big distiller (e.g. Jack Daniels). Best bit of advice from Tom, “Good whiskey takes time”. Patience is key.

Culturally, Australia’s a farming country, what we really wanna emphasize on is the special grains that we grow. There’s access to a large variety of grains and we have been making whiskey from wheat, quinoa, different varieties of barley and corn. We also concentrate on our wood policies from our Upshot cask, Hungarian to various French oak. Our aim is produce styles of whiskey that’s more approachable and is meant for everyone (not just the affluent).

 

 

The Beverage Clique : What would you say your whiskey is like, stylistically?

Jimmy : Think of our whiskies like a hybrid between Irish and Bourbon. Our aim’s to do a lighter and more approachable style by taking time to clean it up a lot in the stills. We do malt our barleys (outsource malting) but a big portion of it is unmalted. Other production factors that differentiate us is our water source and climate (Mediterranean). We As you know, Quinoa is a big part of our production here and the variety we use is the Mandela variety. It is unique because you could give a Quinoa whiskey to the most highly trained connoisseur or a respectable Scottish distiller and they have never tasted anything like it before! It’s really nutty and earthy, yet possess a clean and pure core.

Here at Whipper Snapper, we are revolutionising the notion of what whiskey has to be and that’s the exciting thing. Our first batch of Quinoa whiskies was sold out in a couple of weeks!

 

 

The Beverage Clique : What’s the most memorable dram you ever had?

Jimmy : On a whisky tour with my brother-in-law at Cragganmore Distillery (Speyside). Our guide was this really attractive Scottish lady and the tour pretty much went off script coz’ we were quite hungover to begin with. The tasting took place in this magnificent paraphernalia room with medival deco and lots of old whiskies surrounding us. The tour was basically just us and we (with the guide) drank whisky together for ages. Tried to get her number, didn’t happen unfortunately but still very memorable! The company and context truly made the whisky taste a lot better. *sheepish grin*

 

The Beverage Clique : Neat or On the Rocks?

Jimmy : That would depend. But usually .. one block of ice. Only because it gets a little warm around here and I like whiskies a tad colder. I know that’s not the professional way of appreciating whiskey, but I do that at work enough and when I’m unwinding in a bar, I’m just drinking and enjoying it.

 

The Beverage Clique : Any plans to craft other forms of spirits?

Jimmy : It’s always gonna be just whiskey. Probably explore other grains and with the Quinoa, I think we’ve got enough on our plate (Other variations and styles that are in the making, Big Love bolder which is a bolder style of Upshot, wheat whiskey, irish-style whiskey and a single malt whiskey). If there’s anything else other than whiskey that we might produce, would probably be a craft beer!

 

The Beverage Clique : What’s the future of Australian Whiskey?

Jimmy : Demand’s rising, but we’re pretty much still in the infancy stage. Everyone’s still building their own identity and I think importantly for us, is not to try and replicate another country’s style of whiskey too much. Building a unique style with provenance that is iconic to Australia is key. But we got a long way to go.

As far as collaborations go, we had a discussion with Cameron Syme (Founder of Limeburners Distillery) and he’s pretty keen. Whether its to make a whiskey together or share barrels is yet to be seen, but it will be good for the industry as a whole.

 

 

The Beverage Clique : Where do you see yourself or your whiskies in 10 years time?

Jimmy : Hopefully relaxing on a beach, relaxing drinking whiskey somewhere!! *chuckle*  On a serious note, I see us growing in size and perhaps expanding with exports.

 

The Beverage Clique : To round things off, a bonus question! Any tattoos that’s whiskey related?

Jimmy : At the centre of my chest, I got a monogram of WSD and a biomechanical owl. The owl symbolises wisdom and the heart of the owl runs on whisky.

(How poetic! Sadly, he did not take off his shirt for a photo … maybe next time)

James (Jimmy) McKeown

Khao Yai, Southeast Asia’s Hidden Wine Region

Suntory’s Tomi no Oka Winery : Japan’s answer to still wines ?

 

 

Beer?

 

Whiskey?

 

How about try a bottle of Chardonnay.

 

Japanese wines are not unheard of, but the usual suspects that make the headlines are renowned beers like Asahi Superdry, Kirin Ichiban or award winning whiskies like Yamazaki, Hibiki and Hakushu (all under the Suntory brand). The Beverage Clique was at Praelum for a trade tasting jointly organised by Beam Suntory and Gerald Lu from Praelum Wine Bistro.

Spearheaded by winemaker Naoki Watanabe, Suntory has jumped out of the shadows and ventured further into new unchartered waters. Truth be told, winemaking isn’t a new fad emerging from the land of the rising sun. It dates back as early as 1874 but not until the late 1970s did they get serious with their wine production. Coincidentally, another new world wine producing country, Australia, shared a similar wine producing history and learning curve. Japan has come a long way.

 

Tomi no Oka is a member of “Koshu of Japan”, an organization of 11 wineries from the premier wine making region of Yamanashi prefecture at the foot of Mount Fuji, approximately an hour and a half away from Tokyo. Out of the 11, some wine geeks (myself included) might recognize famous and household wineries like Grace Wines (Awarded medals in the Decanter World Wine Awards 2014) and Chateau Mercian (Kirin owned).

 

 

Sole Mission? To promote and improve the quality of Koshu grapes, hoping to garner as much recognition as its international counterparts Cabernet Sauvignon & Chardonnay. Koshu, like Chardonnay is pretty neutral and comes with good acidity to give it a clean & fresh impression. If I had tasted both blind, side by side, I could have easily mistook it for a Chablis or Aligote. Still, diversification is always a successful business strategy for any budding winery. Tomi no Oka is no exception. It also produces interesting Bordeaux blends, crisp Chardonnays and experiments with hybrids like the Muscat Bailey A that would give some French Chateaus a run for their money.

 

Some critics might beg to defer such a judgment; however, one must recognize that wines made in a particular country or region should always complement their cuisine. Japanese wines are a good reflection of this theory. Take Tomi no Oka’s red Bordeaux blend for example. Still fruit forward, with bright acidity (thanks to its cool climatic conditions), but holds back on the tenacity of tannin which would most probably contradict the light Japanese cuisine. One might liken this style of wine to a right bank Bordeaux, yet it lacks the green-ness as a result of its lower composition of Cabernet Sauvignon (approximately 25%) with a touch of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

The ladies certainly enjoyed it and the ovation Mr. Watanabe received at his presentation was astounding.

 

There will be haters (as much as lovers). The age old debate of “New World Wines” vs. “Old World wines” would likely not conclude with a short article by The Beverage Clique but judging from the turnout at its Praelum Wine Bistro trade tasting, it’s clear that these “new kids on the block” are striking with a vengeance and mean business.

 

Argentinian High Altitude Wines – Bodega TUKMA

Milagros Spanish Restaurant

 

 

I had the honor of attending a trade tasting host by Mr. Paul Keng of KTT fine wines. Pretty decent turnout considering a few late comers but that didn’t dampen my mood of tasting some really interesting wines.

Freshly air-flown from Calchaquí Valley of Argentina was Mr. Fernando Maurette, the chief winemaker of Bodega TUKMA. They pride themselves of making unique high altitude wines and glorifying the names of the country’s prized black & white grapes, Malbec & Torrentes respectively. Located in the northwestern part of Argentina, Calchaquí Valley crosses provinces of Catamarca, Tucumán and Salta which are the main wine producing districts.

 

At higher altitudes, grapes adapt to the heighten ultraviolet exposure by growing thicker skins and developing deeper pigmentation. This is balanced off by a cooler temperature due to elevation. All these attributes, accompanied by timely irrigation allows grapes to develop sugars, promote ripening and yet preserving acidity to give them a balance structure.

 

As Mr. Maurette had a limited capacity in English, he let most of his wines do the talking, and boy…. did they give a “arousing” speech ! Some wines were certainly worth mentioning.

 

 

 

“TORRANTES” MY TONGUE ANYTIME

First up, the highly acclaimed Torrontes Reserva 2014. Having scored 90 Parker points by Wine Advocate for previous vintages, this was one to watch and it certainly did not disappoint. Torrontes first originated from La Rioja, Spain. After almost 3 centuries of evolution, it has become Argentina’s landmark white grape.

Sean’s Tasting notesPronounced bouquet of white flowers with a tinge of white peach, living up to its name of 1 of the most aromatic varietal. Bright acidity on the palette with tones of dried apricots and citrus. It was heartening to know that no malolactic fermentation or oak was used as that would have totally wrecked its clean, crisp and perfumed profile.

 

 

 

 

FROM SQUAD TO STAR PLAYER

 

Malbec has also come a long way in Argentina being first cultivated in Bordeaux. After the 1956 frost which killed almost 75% of its crop, it has lost its standing there, becoming somewhat of a “bench player”, usually playing a bit part in blending certain Bordeaux wines. It is however still predominating grown in Cahor,, Southwest of France and goes by the name Auxerrois or simply, Cot.

As Malbec takes the stage, the 2011 Grand Corte is 65% Malbec, 20% Tannat & 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Having the usual star player benched for a change isn’t so bad after all. This baby scored 92 Parker points with Wine Advocate for its 2010 vintage & is currently featured in Lufthansa’s First Class.

 

Sean’s Tasting Notes : An excellent blend of all 3 grapes (with Malbec as the highlight) playing on individual strengths of tannin, alcohol & acidity. Intense & vibrant color. The building blocks of all 3 grapes gives it a sturdy structure and intensity on the palate. Expect layers of dark fruit like plums & dried prunes. With an aging period of 12 months in French Oak, the toast & vanilla profile really comes thru’ giving it a smooth, luscious finish.

 

 

 

HEIGHT IS EVERYTHING

 

If you think you know your everyday Sauvignon Blanc, think again. Old world Sauvignon Blancs like Sancerre from Loire are usually quite subtle, restrained, much like a dainty lady. On the contrast, new world Sauvignon Blancs from iconic regions like Marlborough are prolifically fruit driven.

 

The Altura 2670 is somewhat in between. Grown in the vineyards of Huacalera (near Bolivia, some 500 km away from their winery. It possesses the best of both worlds expressing a unison of fruit & vegetal aromas. Its unique name comes from the fact that its harvested from the highest altitude (2670 meters abv. sea level) in the world for this varietal. A feat so commendable, I’m inspired to buy a 4-Digit lotto based on it. (Well If I don’t win the lotto, at least I scored an autograph from Mr. Maurette)

 

Sean’s Tasting NotesWith a subtle backdrop of citrus, passionfruit & summer gooseberries, you will

 find fresh cut grass on a early spring morning, with an accompaniment of asparagus & capsicum that’s tantalizing on the nose. Astonishingly, the alcohol level is a whooping 13.5, but it is so well integrated with its

acidity that it is not easily picked up. Definitely my highlight for the day.

 

Special Thanks to : KTT Fine Wines

Cypriot Makkas Winery Tasting

Shangri-La.

That’s the first thought that went through my mind as I strolled into the lobby. Cascading water features, lush greenery …. and a big ass pool. This must be what’s like to be rich & famous. Either that or you’re probably so knee deep in your wealth, you’re most likely a snob and Scrooge. I’m glad I was WRONG about all that.

The gentle giant.

Unassuming, hospitable, family man. Most of all, a wine enthusiast.

His quest?

To search the far corners of the world for undiscovered wines and make them available to the masses and today’s tasting involved wines not readily available at your nearby NTUC finest. Like a young boy waiting on his new toy, you can understand my anticipation and anxiety.

In the past, Cypriot wines have always been produced for local consumption. It makes up about less than 1 percent of the world consumption numbers which makes sense for such a small country.

However, with the current wine scene taking the world by storm, its no surprise that domestic wines have to go global. Thou’ Cyprus makes wines from Indigenous grape varietals like Xynistri & Mavro, there is a shift in paradigm towards international varieties as they prepare to take on global markets.

 

This tasting was kinda monumental in way. Having a local distributor pouncing on the “first mover advantage” to market obscure wines to Singaporeans and I am caught at the forefront of it. Exciting times indeed.

The international varieties tasted were generally ….. well …. very international like, which is absolutely good for business when you’re trying to offer an alternative to the other players in the field. So for novelty sake, I shall emphasize this blog post on the indigenous grape varietals.

 

 

Xynistri : 1 of 2 grapes responsible for Commandaria It covers about 500 hectares of the vineyards in Cyprus. Southern slopes of the mountain ranges in Troodos is where is calls home. Besides Commandaria, it is also vastly used for various white wines within the local areas and regions.

Sean’s Tasting Notes:

Straw pale & almost colorless. Bright acidity & mouth watering.  Possesses cut grass aromas and a herbaceous nose with a fruit nose of lemons & peaches. Slightly fuller in body than a Sauvignon blanc and a potential alternative choice. Acidity and alcohol well integrated as one.

 

 

Lefkada was brought to the island in the Byzantine era (so I suppose you can’t really classify it as indigenous), mostly found in the Paphos area (Stroumbi, Polemi) and in the wine villages of Malia and Omodos.

Sean’s Tasting Notes:

Possess qualities that resemble a pinotage. Unique nose, floral bouquet, hint of game and wet leather. Fruit notes would include blackberries & cassis. Medium plus body with chewy tannins. Medium length on the finish.

 

 

Last but definitely not least:

Maratheftiko. What a tongue twister of a name. And as if that isn’t hard enough to pronounce, it is also locally known by a few names (Vambakadha, Pampakia, Mavrospourtiko, Aloupostaphylo). It is usually in the Pitsilia region of the island.

Sean’s Tasting Notes:

Good tannin structure, medium plus alcohol and buttloads of dark fruits. Expect blackberries and ripe cherries. Still alittle rustic on the initial entry but should come good with age when these building blocks tone down a notch.

 

There is still a lot more to be learnt with regards to Cypriot wines as there isn’t much literature written as yet. However, that doesn’t mean they have very little to offer. On the contrary, in the 2014 Decanter Wine awards, 27 Cypriot wines received honors for producing some really exceptional wines.

Who knows ? David might actually slay Goliath 1 day.