A conversation centred on the rapidly evolving Asia wine market with wine writing colleagues the other day brought to light the growing divergence in preference for wine styles or grape varieties between countries and metropolis’s around the region.
All of us are resigned to the fact red bordeaux or anything with “Chateau” on the label presently rules in mainland China and to a large extent Hong Kong, the umbilical supply chain of this commodity.
However, it was interesting to note that Jancis Robinson MW, in her recent travels around the region, picked up on trends in the more mature market of Singapore, where there is a growing awareness of wines styles that are more suited to the cuisine and climate.
Robinson wrote in her weekly column in the Weekend Financial Times, 15th May, 2010 “In fact one notable development in Singapore is that more and more wine lovers are realising that tough, tannic red bordeaux may not be the ideal wine for their sultry climate. Red burgundies, and Pinot Noir in general, is increasingly appreciated there, along with the equally chillable Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.”
Concurring with her observation, I would suggest there is also a direct correlation to the obsession with food in Singapore and a preoccupation with the nuances of eating that is practically a national pastime. That said there are still many restaurants here with wine lists that are shrine to Bordeaux.
I recently encountered such at Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck, needless to say, a brilliant place for duck and you would think a good bottle of pinot noir. Problem is they have over 100 red bordeaux’s and only four pinot’s on the list; three very ordinary red burgundies and one pedestrian New Zealand example, to which two were unavailable – one can only assume by popular demand!
The Japanese were the first in Asia to discover the subtleties and harmonious qualities of pinot noir and its suitability to their cuisine, unquestionably now the biggest market for red burgundy and pinot noir in the region.
Highly attuned to diverse flavours in cuisine with its multi-regional influenced and relatively feisty cuisines – Peranakan, Malay, Thai, Indonesian, Indian, Sri Lankan – Singaporeans are fast-learning that pinot noir, in particular the softer, brighter-sweeter berry fruit new world style, brings these cuisines alive, in some instances enhancing the flavors and spices, in others providing palate refreshing attributes that stimulates ones appetite and tempers the invigorating pungency.
I am positive an affinity towards pinot noir will permeate China and Hong Kong soon enough as assuredly they are equally obsessed with food and will appreciate how harmonious this ethereal and versatile grape is with the myriad of flavors and textures in Chinese cuisine. The problem is when they do, who will be able to satisfy such a bourgeoning market with sufficient volumes of pinot noir when there are very few places in the world where it actually grows successfully.
Burgundy might be seem the likely answer however it is fiercely expensive and equally scarce in the top-echelons moreover, perilously unreliable at the lower-scale, so much so even the most established wine markets are disinclined.
Notable new world pinot noir producing countries like America and Australia can hardly keep up with their local demand with little incentive to export, which leaves the most logical and promising challenger to burgundy – New Zealand.
Adding some provocation, since I am making comparisons to burgundy (hypothetical of course), New Zealand’s pinot noir regions parallel burgundy but in the reverse, turning the map of burgundy upside down – with Lyon being Hastings and Dijon, Queenstown – the bottom of the North Island (Martinborough) down to the middle of the South Island (Canterbury) reminiscent of the Cote de Beaune appellations and Central Otago, in the deep-south, is the Cotes du Nuits.
And if Central Otago is the Cotes de Nuits then the sub-region of Bannockburn is Vosne-Romanee, for it is here, in a relatively very small area, that the most aromatically endowed, plushest and gorgeously textured, profound pinot noirs are made in all New Zealand, if not the entire new world.
As every pinot noir lover knows, the two most important qualities in pinot noir are aroma and texture, and Bannockburn pinot noir has it in spades.
There are four top producers in Bannockburn, Bald Hills, Felton Road, Mt Difficulty and Valli, the later being owned by the widely respected winemaker and authority on pinot noir Grant Taylor, who also makes the pinot noir at Bald Hills.
I tasted several vintages of the Bald Hills Single Vineyard Pinot Noir recently at the New Zealand Pinot Noir Celebration 2010, held in February and was totally impressed with the wines in terms of consistency, complexity and unbridled power with none of the wines yet to reach optimum drinking, including the coveted 2005.
This wine was awarded the Sustainable Wine Trophy and also Best Red Wine Champion Award at the 2007 International Wine Challenge, arguably the world’s most important and certainly largest wine show. It went on to achieve a hat trick with the International Pinot Noir Trophy at the 2007 Decanter World Wine Awards.
This is remarkable achievement for any winery, let alone a pinot noir from the New Zealand!
Bald Hills is located on Cornish Point Road, an old gold miner’s settlement named after the Cornish gold miners who lived there. The vineyard and property is bordered by the Cairnmuir hills and the Kawarau River with panoramic, jaw dropping views towards the Pisa Range and flat-topped terraces above Lowburn (see picture), to which one assumes the name Bald Hills was derived. This is indeed dessert country or at least classified as arid in terms of lack of water and soil in the surrounding hills and ranges – essentially sheep country.
Strategic to successfully ripening the fickle pinot noir grape, the days are radiant and dry here yet nights markedly cold which is the key to achieving excellent natural acidities, coupled with long, dry autumns allowing for the slow ripening of the fruit with vintage well in the month of April.
I shared a bottle of the 2007 Bald Hills Single Vineyard Pinot Noir with friends on the weekend, over a meal, and this is what I have to say…
A striking perfume of violets and dried thyme becomes deeper with rich black cherry, blood plum and blueberry compote; these sweet berry aromas lifted by hints of dark Manuka honey and subtle caramel. As the wine breaths out it reveals an alluring farmyard-chook shed funkiness with brie cheese-lactose nuances – the sort of pongy bits that pinot noir enthusiasts cherish. Indeed, it one of those wines where the melange of fragrances captivates you, continuing to evolve in the glass (preferably a balloon-shaped burgundy glass) to a hedonistic spiciness – like standing over a hot wok inhaling the cooking fumes of Sichuan pepper, star anise, cardamom and hoi sinsauce.
On the palate, there is a saturation of black cherry and black-berry-fruits only more intense with a sweet-sour interplay, like Cantonese dried plums (kaying chi) with an invigorating rush of the sour piquancy of redcurrants and tamarind paste that perfectly modulates the plush and creamy textured mouth-feel. There is overall spicy warmth in the mouth, a sort of pepper-spice glow and vivacious tanginess of bright acidity that infuses the berry flavours and imparts an excellent tension in the wine, framed in soft, earthy tannins.
A gorgeously cuddly and impressively powerful pinot noir that is impeccably balanced – no sense of over-ripeness or over-blown with a perfectly respectable 13.5% alc vol – and seriously over-delivers for the money. Actually, it totally mauled two other pinots’ served alongside – a revered Californian label and respectable burgundy at twice the price. Moreover, it absolutely sang with the spicy dishes at our table – Chinese lacquered duck in red curry and beef rendang.
For more on Bald Hills, visit Web: www.baldhills.co.nz
Available in Singapore through Le Vigna, visit www.singaporewines.com (S$84 bottle) who will ship anywhere in Asia, less local tax. Also in Korea through Vitis Co, Phone: +82 02 3455 0391, email: email@example.com
Bald Hills are looking for an agent in Hong Kong and Mainland China, with the caveat the quantities will be limited – they only produce around 2000 case annually. My advice to importers, if you do not have a New Zealand pinot noir in your stable, you had better act quickly; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org