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Normally during early part of Spring, between late March to first week of April, Bordeaux is bustling with thousands of wine professionals from all over the world, including wine critics, importers, sommeliers, and restaurateurs, in anticipation of the en-primeur of the previous vintage — but not this year! The COVID-19 pandemic has changed this Bordeaux tradition, perhaps forever. It is quite interesting to note that prior to the pandemic, the 2019 vintage had already been much talked about. It is, after all, coming after a great 2018 vintage. And as a shadow vintage (one that comes after a spectacular vintage), the vintage can never be all that bad — however, 2019 proved to be even better than expected. Thus, a huge dilemma. The 2019 vintage should be fetching similar prices as the previous 2018 vintage, but the menacing effect of COVID-19 caused the world economy to go into recession mode. With this in consideration, the 2019 en-primeur will go down perhaps in recent history as one of the biggest bargains of all time.
AT ONE of my wine dinners in Alba, Italy, I had a beautiful Nebbiolo d’Alba from Giacomo Brezza, their Vigna Santa Rosalia 2017 vintage. This wine was a fresh and approachable expression of the normally rustic Nebbiolo (when young), and exuded nice floral, red fruit, peppery, and spicy notes that accompanied our antipasti. Aside from the pleasure of having 4th generation Giacomo Brezza owner Enzo Bressa seated next to me, I also saw a closure that I rarely have seen for wine bottles. It looks like an ordinary wine stopper but is made of glass and looks much classier and more elegant. Also, no need for a corkscrew to open the wine.
UNLIKE countries like South Africa and even Greenland, the Philippines is not technically under a total liquor ban during this COVID-19 crisis. However, it feels like it is. When President Duterte imposed the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ, or a nicer way of saying “lockdown”) for Luzon on March 16 amid the threat of the pandemic, the actual guidelines do not include a call for a total liquor ban.
Last February, I probably had my last social dinner (as we knew it before the pandemic) at the Wine Story in Uptown BGC. Little did I, along with some 30 other attendees, including the winery representative from the French chateau, realize that this may have been our last wine dinner of this kind for the foreseeable future, as COVID-19 has since swept away normalcy from the city, the country and the entire world. But even with the present narrative, this wine dinner featuring second growth royalty Chateau Pichon Baron, also known as Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron, could easily be one for the ages. Kudos once more to Romy Sia, the head honcho of Wine Story for pulling this one off.
As of this writing, Italy has sadly already overtaken China with more recorded deaths from the Covid-19, while in many parts of the world including here in Metro Manila, people are under lockdown, quarantined, and restricted to their homes for health preservation reasons. Everything may seem gloomy now, but as Wuhan, China has proven, there will be light at the end of the tunnel for the Italians, and the rest of the world undergoing this pandemic.
BARBARESCO and Barolo wines are often inseparable — both being Piedmont’s most renowned wine regions, and both proudly made from 100% nebbiolo grapes. Both Borolo and Barbaresco were also established as DOC at the same year in 1966, and both were promoted together to DOCG status in 1980. The difference geographically is that Barolo is located in the southwest of Langhe, the province of Cuneo in Piedmont, while Barbaresco is located in the northeast. Barbaresco also lies closer to the river Tanaro and the Ligurian Sea. These twin maritime influences plus the lower altitude vineyards make the nebbiolo grapes grown in Barbaresco ripe faster than those nebbiolos planted in Barolo. The resulting wines are often more approachable, softer, have fewer tannins, and are fresher. For this same reason, the Barbarescos are allowed to be commercially released earlier than Barolos. In the last Nebbiolo Prima, we previewed the Barbaresco DOCG 2107 and the Barbaresco Riserva 2015.
ALBA, Italy — I came back here to Alba to attend my 4th Nebbiolo Prima in the last six years. Organized by the Union of Alba Wine Producers or Albeisa, Nebbiolo Prima is an annual event purely created for wine journalists and influencers to preview newly released vintages of wines from the DOCG regions of Barolo, Barbaresco, and Roero — all made from Piedmont’s proudest indigenous Nebbiolo grapes. For those who are curious about what participants do during these four days, I chronicled my activities.
ALBA, Italy — I came back here to Alba to attend my 4th Nebbiolo Prima in the last six years. Organized by the Union of Alba Wine Producers or Albeisa, Nebbiolo Prima is an annual event purely created for wine journalists and influencers to preview newly released vintages of wines from the DOCG regions of Barolo, Barbaresco, and Roero — all made from Piedmont’s proudest indigenous Nebbiolo grapes.
SO MUCH WINE, so little time — this is a real dilemma among wine enthusiasts. Wine lovers are just so spoiled with the abundance of choices nowadays, albeit at individual budget constraints. The best way to cover more wines is to drink with others. Rather than some senseless inebriating parties involving kampai, binge drinking, and tequila shots amongst friends, why not organize a more subtle and even educational wine tasting party?
BY NOW, everybody who knows and drinks wines, would have heard of Proseccos. Prosecco is the Italian sparkling wine produced from Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions in northwest Italy, made primarily from glera grapes (minimum of 85%), and named after the village of Prosecco. Other varietals that are allowed to be blended with glera for Prosecco are: chardonnay, pinot bianco, pinot grigio, pinot noir, perera, bianchetta trevigiana, and verdiso. Glera is a very high yielding varietal that has good acidity, but rather dull flavor with faint tropical fruits.
I WAS VERY fortunate to be invited to the Borsa Vini event at the Marina Mandarin Hotel in Singapore very recently. Borsa Vini, which literally means “wine bag” in Italian, is a wine event organized by the Singaporean office of the Italian Trade Agency (ITA). Now on its second edition, Borsa Vini’s objective is to be a forum where Italian wine producers wanting to sell their wines in this region can meet with potential wine importers and distributors from domestic Singapore as well as invitees from other countries in Southeast Asia, the Philippines included. This year, 29 Italian wine producers from 10 wine regions were represented.
THE WINES of Pessac-Leognan have their own Grand Cru classification (prior to 1987, the wines from Pessac-Leognan were known more broadly as wines of Graves) like their more illustrious Medoc counterpart. The Graves classification officially took its place in 1953, almost 100 years after the first Bordeaux classification of 1855. The original version had some revisions and was reestablished in 1959, and this 1959 Classification is pretty much what it still is today.
THE Grand Wine Experience, the country’s biggest, longest running, and undisputed leading wine extravaganza of the year takes place anew on Nov. 15 — its 19th year! The Marriott Grand Ballroom in Newport City will again be the host venue, its 9th consecutive year to do so. While the Grand Wine Experience had evolved over the years, including welcome additions of other inebriating beverages, from spirits and craft beers, to even sakés, wines will obviously still be the main draw. This year, there will be 700+ wine choices. Some wines from lesser known wine countries will also make their Philippine debut on Nov. 15. These include Domaine Sigalas and Kir-Yianni from Greece, and Golan Heights from Israel, among others.
CHAMPAGNE has always been the gold standard of sparkling wines, and I still cannot think of a better celebratory beverage than champagne. Champagne consumption in Philippines is, however, almost invisible, making up less than 0.5% of total wine imports. Sparkling wine as a wine category is also extremely low, accounting for less than 2% of present wine business by volume.
WHISKY, or whiskey, is actually the world’s largest selling spirit category, surpassing vodka, gin, rum, and brandy. Based on the study by the International Wine & Spirits Research (IWSR) group, five of the top 15 spirits brands are whiskies, with local Indian brands leading the way. Among the top 10 spirits brands are whisky brands Officer’s Choice from India’s largest domestic spirits company Allied Blenders Distillers, McDowell’s under the Diageo umbrella, and Imperial Blue (now sold in the Philippines) under Pernod Ricard. These three Indian whiskies combine for an astounding 76.6 million nine-liter cases in 2017. Just outside the top 10 but still in the top 15 are the more internationally renowned whisky brands which we can all relate to: Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels.
WHITE WINE consumption in the Philippines is still way behind red wine, and this ratio is “guestimated” at a lopsided 25:75 in favor of the reds. We are, however, not alone in this phenomenon as several of our Asian neighbors, including South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and China are also red-wine consumption dominant. Despite our tropical weather and high average temperature, Filipinos still like reds over the more refreshing whites. On the other hand, Australia (to name one country) is still 60% white wine consumption, against only 40% red.
MICHELIN-STAR chef Yoshiaki Ito of Paris-based L’Archeste restaurant and Epilogue resident chef, Hiroyuki Meno were once colleagues at the prestigious Hiramatsu restaurant chain. The Hiramatsu group is a publicly listed company from Japan, headquartered in Tokyo, and engaged in the operation of French and Italian restaurants. The Hiramatsu group operates several successful restaurants all over Japan, and has also one in France under its eponymous brand, the Restaurant Hiramatsu Paris.
ONE OF President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature decisions that earned him more respect and adoration from the vast majority of the people (including myself) was when he temporarily closed the country’s most famous tourist island resort, Boracay — a move that was unprecedented in more ways than imagined. Boracay was an income generating avenue for the government, and this move to rehabilitate an island that our president made notorious when he called it a “cesspool” was one of the gutsiest choices ever made by a leader.
GETTING INVITED to media wine events is fairly common for a writer like myself, but an invite for an afternoon tasting, and on a very busy working Monday, is normally an automatic “Hell No!” from me. But this invitation came from my good friend Damien Planchenault of the Okada Manila, and the winery being featured in the tasting just happened to be Vega Sicilia. This was more than enough incentive for me to ditch my afternoon office routine last Monday and to drive some 20 kilometers to make the 3 p.m. call time.
FOR wine lovers, there is no better feeling nor experience then when visiting the wine regions yourselves. Wine tourism involves a visit to wine country, including but not limited to wine tasting, wine purchasing, vineyard tours, winery tours, and even dining and accommodation. Wine tourism is already a thriving business in most of the New World, including Northern California (Napa and Sonoma), the New York Wine Country (Finger Lakes), Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, and even nearby Thailand. Wine tours are definitely much easier when there are already “tourist-friendly” facilities in place.
“BRIGHT dark ruby color, fragrant nose with hint of leather, robust and powerful, majestic up to the last drop” — this is an example of a wine tasting note you may see for a young Grand Cru Bordeaux, which, to the uninitiated reader, could be a description of anything from a new sports car to a signature brand of perfume. But this is exactly the description that makes wine writers good at their profession. This is also the art in wine writing. However, many times, the notes can be too vague, too general, or even a bit incongruous.
THE Dusit Thani Hotel Manila pulled off a wine dinner coup of sorts recently when it held Epicurean, a Thai gastronomic journey, at its top-rated and critically acclaimed Benjarong restaurant. This was the first wine dinner of its kind in the country, where both an established Michelin star restaurant chef and a winemaker from Thailand, came over to collaborate on a six-course Thai wine-pairing dinner. While wine dinners are obviously nothing new, it was the concept of going all-authentic Thai that made this unique.
THE deceptively young looking and energetic recent septuagenarian, Tita Meneses Trillo — simply Tita for short — is the undisputed queen of Philippine wines. Her name resonates among wine lovers in the country. Tita has really been one of the true pioneers of wines in our country, and she is an extremely positive influence on the newer industry players, including myself, who are all trying to make it in this challenging yet quite exciting local wine business scene.
HAVING known Yann Schyler, a member of the family that owns Chateau Kirwan, for a good few years now, including having had an exclusive one-on-one interview with Yann during his Manila visit less than two years ago (which appeared at this column October of 2017), it was therefore extremely fulfilling for me personally to finally get to visit his chateau earlier this year. Yann himself and Chateau Kirwan general manager cum technical director Philippe Delfaut were present during my stopover at the chateau. Chateau Kirwan is a classified 3rd growth (troisième cru) in the sacred Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855, and is from the Margaux appellation.
DOMAINE de Leoville from the Saint-Julien appellation of Bordeaux was not only one of the oldest wine estates in Medoc, but it also used to be its largest estate way back in the 18th century with over 200 hectares of prime vineyards. By 1826, part of the estate was purchased by Hugh Barton, which gave birth to Chateau Leoville Barton. And by 1840, the estate was further split into Chateau Leoville Las-Cases and Chateau Leoville Poyferre. All these three Leoville estates made the still much revered Medoc Bordeaux Official Wine Classification of 1855. All three were classified as Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths) — just a notch below the First Growths.
BARBARESCO is often perceived as the little brother of the Barolo. Both DOCGs are Piedmont’s most cherished wine treasures, made from the versatile nebbiolo grapes. Barbaresco is, however, roughly just a third of the size of Barolo in terms of vineyard hectarage (734 hectares vs. 2,073 hectares) and bottle production (4.8 million vs. 14.1 million). While both Barbaresco and Barolo have obvious similarities brought about by using the same varietal, there are also distinct differences that can at times be subtle, but also at times be quite glaring.
GRANDI LANGHE is a very important regional bi-annual event in Italy that is exclusively for wine trade professionals, made up of wine buyers, wine press people, sommeliers, and wine business owners, both local and international. It is organized by the Consorzio di Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Langhe e Dogliani and the Consorzio di Tutela del Roero with its fourth edition just recently concluded — showcasing once more the best of Piedmontese wines. This year, just like its previous staging in 2017, the event was also prearranged in association with Albeisa, the organizer of the Nebbiolo Prima, to ensure that the Grandi Langhe come right after the Nebbiolo Prima.
CHATEAU LAGRANGE of the Saint-Julien Medoc appellation is one of 14 Troisièmes Crus (Third Growths) in the much revered Official Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855. Like many of its Grand Cru counterparts, Chateau Lagrange also has an illustrious history dating back several centuries, with vineyard activities for Lagrange traced all the way back to the Gallo-Roman times, pre-Middle Ages. What is, however, more fascinating is how Chateau Lagrange evolved in modern times.
RAYMOND JOSEPH, the youngest of the four Joseph brothers running the country’s pioneering wine and spirits importer and distribution company, Philippine Wine Merchants (PWM), is the only Filipino I know that is a real sake sommelier. Raymond has been frequenting Japan since 2009 to learn more about sake since PWM took on the distribution of Gekkeikan Sake Company Limited -- one of Japan’s oldest (founded in 1637), and perhaps the largest, sake company in the world, from Fushimi district, Kyoto prefecture. Raymond even underwent a rigid two week “Sake Sommelier Apprenticeship” crash course from Gekkeikan over eight years ago, and has been attending sake courses from different prefectures to further hone his knowledge. This is Raymond’s passion now, and with PWM as his vehicle, Raymond is dead set on bringing sake culture to the Philippines.
CHATEAU ANGELUS never got into the elusive and exclusive Premier Grands Crus Classés level until in 1996. But in less than two decades, Chateau Angelus made history of sorts by being the only Saint-Emilion chateau to jump from being one of 63 Grand Cru Classé wines at the start of the inaugural 1955 Saint-Emilion Classification, to one of only 13 Premier Grand Cru Classé B when promoted in 1996, and now to the ultimate pinnacle level in the latest 2012 classification — equivalent to the first growths, the Premier Grands Crus Classés A, joining erstwhile Saint-Emilion A-listers Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau Ausone, and fellow newly promoted Chateau Pavie.
NOV. 22 was Thanksgiving Day, a huge American holiday that is celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of November. The huge annual celebration, along with Christmas and New Year, is part of the official US holiday season. While there were some establishments locally, including some restaurants, that rode along with this American tradition, we Filipinos normally don’t bother with this. Actually in Philippines, the “Christmas holiday feel” commences much earlier and you start hearing Jose Mari Chan songs being played on the airwaves just after All Saints Day, Nov. 2.
LAST FRIDAY I was among the large contingent of oenophiles that trooped to the Marriott Grand Ballroom in Newport City amidst the usual insane pay-day weekend traffic mayhem, to take part in the Philippines’ only annual large-scale wine gathering, also popularly known as the Grand Wine Experience. It is by far the country’s most prestigious annual wine event, and already ranks as one of Asia’s most important wine spectacles as well.
IN THE wine world, there is an almost unwritten dichotomy. On one end, we have the Old World wines, and on the other end, the New World wines. Old World refers to countries which were into serious wine production for centuries and centuries already (yup, even during the time BC as history would say).
THE SPANISH took a page from the French when it came to their sparkling wines. The invention of the bubbly drink known as champagne, the first recorded sparkling wine, was credited to an abbot priest from Hautvillers named Dom Perignon in the 17th century in the Champagne region, France.
I AM OFTEN asked what my favorite grape varietal is, and while cabernet sauvignon is indeed one of my true loves, I however like cabernet sauvignon more in the context of medoc — so it is more as a dominant varietal in a Bordeaux blend, rather than a single varietal, so my answer is nebbiolo.
WHEN FRIENDS come over to our house for dinner with a bottle of screw cap (also called twist cap or screw top) wine, we tend to snicker a bit, especially on the quality and price connotation of the wine, even if we haven’t tried the bottle. Yet, the bottle may actually be a premium one like a Peter Lehmann Stonewell Barossa Shiraz or a Cloudy Bay Te Koko Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc -- both priced way over P2,000/bottle. Why is this the common bias? And despite the negative perception of most wine drinkers, why are more and more screw-capped wines sprouting on wine shelves all over the country? Let us analyze how this phenomenon started, and breakdown the three most common types of wine closures we see in the market.
I travel to Jakarta, Indonesia, twice a year for business, and it is customary for me to drop by their wine bars. The two most popular wine bar chains I came across were Vin+ (as in “Vin-plus”), and Cork & Screw. Vin+ is owned by PT Jaddi, one of the dozen or so direct wine importers in the country. Vin+ has three strategic branches in Jakarta, and a few more outside of the Indonesian capital. PT Jaddi also uses the Vin+ wine bars as wine retail stores, as easily a third of the space of their venues have wine racks dedicated to displaying wine brands they import directly.
CLOS FOURTET, previously known as Chateau Clos Fourtet or even its most archived name Camfourtet (Camp Fourtet), has been an original Premier Grand Cru Saint-Emilion classified wine since the Bordeaux right bank initial classification in the mid 1950s. Clos Fourtet was one of only 12 original Premiers Grand Cru Classés, and one of the eight Classe B in the first Saint-Emilion Grand Cru classification. Clos Fourtet has also been spared from any form of controversy brought about by the 2006 classification, which was eventually junked for the latest 2012 version.
I HAVE to hand it to Wine Story for being the runaway choice for the best and most compelling Bordeaux wine selection in the country. Bordeaux will always be the preeminent wine region of wine lovers. But Bordeaux is not as easy to approach, especially for the non-hardcore enthusiasts, as any New World wine region, either it be Napa Valley, Barossa, or Marlborough. For one, Bordeaux has over 120,000 hectares of vineyards, this is just 80,000 hectares less than the vineyards in California (which contributes 90%+ of US Wines). Bordeaux has over 8,500 wine producers, compared to California’s much fewer 400+ wineries. Bordeaux is also four times the size of fellow French wine region Burgundy and 1.5 times bigger than Rhone.
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