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  • antoniamacfarlane1

Cosy Friday nights in are becoming a ritual. A few Fridays ago, I was joined by a fantastic wine...



I first came across this bottle at a catering event, back when entertaining to the masses was a normal weekend occurrence. This wine was part of a line up of six, chosen specially by the client. I would not normally choose a Chinese wine because it’s not been on my radar. However, I have to say I was blown away.


After six months, I was still thinking about this dark horse (pardon the pun). I considered whether this is one of these things you remember being better than it was... this was not the case.



After purchasing online from VINVM for £34.95, I savoured the bottle for the perfect companion, Beef Bourbingnon. The rich beef along with this wine, would make anyones Friday night!


Chinese wine is a bit of an ongoing debate in the wine world, some wine buffs do not enjoy it, some swear by it, and some stay out of the conversation all together. The recent wine wars between Australia and China, with China raising tax tariffs on Australian wine also hasn't helped the cause. As a result many are trying to boycott the Chinese wine market... I'm not getting involved in politics.



China is becoming a more prominent producer of red wine particuarly Cabernet Sauvignon. Wine in China rose in popularity due to the middle class seeing it as a way of expressing wealth and opulence usually through gift giving, a cultural tradition. Slowly this wine craze is leading to the wines of the west becoming favourites among Chinese citizens. Due to demand, Beijing and Shanghai are now larger and more popular wine exporting hubs than London and New York. China is considered the fifth most important destination of wine exports.



Typically, the Bordeaux Region is the hot favourite, specifically wines under the golden arch of the '1855 classification' of the Medoc area (the super strict classification system which only 61 chateaux's are merited) . Due to its rich opulant history, luxury status and potential for gift giving, Bordeaux wines slowly emerged into the Chinese market.


The first glimpses of this market emersion was seen in the early 1980's after a Chinese owned trading company supplied 5-star hotels in China with 'Pomerol Petrus', the most collectable wine of the Right Bank.


 

Right Bank = The Right side of the river Dordogne, famous for Merlot and Cabernet Franc blends and smaller properties.


Left Bank = The left side of the river Dordogne, famous for Cabernet Sauvignon and larger estates.


 

After this, the owner of 'Chateau Lunch Bages' (one of the 1855 classified estates), Jean Michel Cazes made partnership with Cathay Pacific Airlines, selling 20,000 cases to the airline to be given to First Class customers, further emerging Bordeaux wines into the upperclass Chinese market.


Now the importance of the Chinese market can be seen through 'Chateau Mouton Rothschild,' one of the most important Chateaux's on the Left bank, choice to incorporate Chinese artwork onto their label.


Every year 'Chateau Mouton Rothschild' release a new label that has been designed by a famous artist, past labels have been created by Picasso, Dali, Andy Warhol and even Prince Charles. 2018 saw the Chinese artist Xu Bing design the label.



This wine, Pretty Pony is made with the same grapes as a Left Bank Bordeaux blend. Cabernet Sauvignon 90% and Merlot 10%. China's grape growing history is recent, the late 19th century saw the first indications of a potential market, yet vineyards did not fully develop until the 20th Century. Between 2006 and 2016 vineyard growth doubled.


China’s vast size sees a range in climates. Nearly all growing regions in China have a continental climate, however extreme weather is reoccurring problem. Grape growing in China faces freezing winters with the risk of vine fatality annually, costing production and labour. Coastal areas suffer from monsoon rains in the summers affecting growth and grape production. Due to the vast size of the country, no two regions are the same. Each have there own problems and vulnerabilities.



This wine comes from Ningxia, an inland continental region which suffers from monsoon rains, yet also drought. Desert winds bring dry winds to the vineyard. The best area is in the Helan Mountains where the mountain range protect the vineyards from some of these winds. The Yellow River flows through the region and is used for irrigation. Ningxia is considered to be one of Chinas most important grape growing areas with many small producers, including Kanaan making Bordeaux Blends. The importance and potential of this area has been noted by large wine companies such as LVMH and Pernod Ricard who were amongst the first to purchase land here.



This wine is delightful with a deep ruby red colour, a pronounced rich nose that you can smell across the room, wafting cocoa, stewed black fruit, blackberries, brambles, plumb and cherry along with some subtle redcurrant undertones, mingled with sweet cinnamon and cedar. The rich scent from this wine lures you into the glass.


This full bodied dry wine has a medium+ acidity, smooth tannins and long lingering finish reiterating the cooked fruit character coating your mouth with the rich chocolatey goodness. This is an outstanding wine, voted as one of Decanters 12 must try Chinese wines of 2020.


This wine is absolutely a must try and perfect for a cosy Friday night in.


Cheers!



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  • antoniamacfarlane1

This Valentine's Day looks a little different this year, no fancy meals out or romantic trips away. The city won't be flooded with pairs, or retail outlets profiting off of our affection. This year the holiday has been stripped back, but the most important factor remains... love.



I've never been a great Valentine's Day fan. For years I believed it was a Hallmark holiday, forcing us to feel we need to purchase gifts to portray the strength of our affection. I feel a little differently this year. Now more than ever we need to take the time to tell the people we love how much we love them and treat them a little more specially come the 14th. This doesn't need to be a romantic relationship. Celebrate with your parents, siblings, grandparents, friends or significant other and be there for the ones you have seen lockdown through with. This year, more than ever, we need to spread love.



I will be spending my Valentine's day with my Mum and Brother (and hopefully my boyfriend) and I plan on enjoying with a beautiful bottle of Franciacorta. This sparkling wine comes from Franciacorta in Lombardy, Italy, the home of Italian Traditional method sparkling wine. This region became Italy's largest producer of traditional sparkling after the Berlucchi Family fell in love with Champagne and wanted to replicate it in the 1970's for the Italian nation to enjoy, what a gift!


Traditional method is the production process often referred to as the 'Champagne Method.' This is a complex process which I've touched upon on my TAITTINGER blog post. Franciacorta is made from two of the Champagne varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The perfect pair. This wine however is solely made from Chardonnay.



Located in Central Northern Italy, Lombardy is home to this fantastic region. The rich apple, pear, peachy, digestive, pastry character (called autolysis) of these wines are famous for their outstanding quality and premium price (I bought this bottle for £28).


The high standards of grape growing are so important in achieving the quality product. The warm continental climate benefits from cold moderating temperatures which descend down and breeze through the region in the summer months. Located North of the region, hugging the boundary is Lake Iseo which too helps moderate the temperatures by retaining heat later into the winter season and helping to keep the grapes warm for longer, extending the ripening season and resulting in the ripe fruitiness of this sparkling wonder.



Today the excitement of the region is tangible as the next generation have taken over, experimenting and creating 'terroir' based expressions (the natural environment, climate, soils and topography in the vineyard that impacts the final wine). These winemakers are making the wines in such a way that 'dosage,' is no longer added. Dosage is the final process of Traditional method winemaking adding a wine and sugar mix to finish the final product. The sugar levels depend on sweet style of the wine. So, if for dry Champagne known as 'BRUT' only about 12g per litre will be added, adding a final complexity to the wine. The new generation of Franciacorta producers are ripening their fruit in such a way that this addition is no longer needed.



Similarly, Champagne having 'Blanc de Blanc' or Blanc de Noirs' indicating white wine made from only white or black grapes, Franciacorta does too. This wine is made in the 'Satèn' style and is only made from white grapes, typically 100% Chardonnay. By law these wines need to spend a minimum time of 24 months in contact with lees (the dead yeast that gives the wine the autolysis character). They can only be made in Brut style, meaning dry. The lesser amount of time on lees in comparison to Champagne is notable. Champagne spends three years minimum on lees by law. Instead of the rich creamy, doughy, biscuit character this wine has a subtler biscuit and pastry character.



This wine is made by Ugovezzoli, a producer with a deep history who famously practices organic and biodynamic wine production. Ugovezzoli is made by the Vezzoli Family who have a history of agriculture, first with cereal then in silk production. 1981 saw the first plantings of Chardonnay and the rest is history. This 3-hectare vineyard is a DOCG certified, the highest quality standard one can achieve in Italy, showing the quality of these delicate bubbles. Ugovezzoli produce an average of 20,000 bottle of Franciacorta of different styles. This delicious golden delight is short supply, so I suggest snapping up a bottle when you can!


I am spending this Valentine's day making pasta, loading up on carbs and enjoying with a bottle of this delicately soft, beautifully rich sparkling.


In the words of Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn't help but wonder... is this the perfect match?


So, whoever you are spending V-day with, enjoy, share the love and don't feel pressured to run out and buy expensive gold jewellery, just buy a bottle of these golden sparkles and I promise it will go down a treat.


Sending big love to everyone, Cheers!


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  • antoniamacfarlane1

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

What a year! I feel we all must be exhausted hearing about what hard year its been, therefore I want to take this time to reflect on some good things, specifically wine...



I understand the struggles thousands have gone through this year in the Wine World, whether it was redundancies, unable to find labour or have the capabilities to help with harvest or even just feeling the heavy burden surrounding COVID. It has been a difficult year and I don't want to take away from that. However, I wish to enter 2021 on a positive note and with that I wish to discuss the topic which seems to be taking the Wine World by storm... the 2020 Cloudy Bay release.


Cloudy Bay is a staple, it is what brought the light to New Zealand wine and leads the way of the iconic NZ Sauvignon style. The style is loved by many and used as a benchmark for comparison. Therefore, I want to discuss with you what my thoughts are. Is this 'buzz' a clever marketing ploy from the Queen of marketing herself, LVMH? Has it been used to bring positivity to this bleak year by highlighting the camaraderie that helped produce it? Or is it really just one of the winery best, as is being stated...



Cloudy bay was founded in 1985 and was one of the first 5 producers in Marlborough. In 2003 it was acquired by Veuve Clicquot. Presently it is owned by parent company and luxury conglomerate LVMH, owner of many well known wine houses. New Zealand is still pretty new to the Wine World and producers such as Cloudy Bay have helped put it on the map. As previously stated, Cloudy Bay is located in Marlborough, this area now accounts for 80% of the countries production and has the most expensive vineyard sites. The areas vineyard space is 85% Sauvignon Blanc grapes.


The area has since seen great investment due to the easy production process, no ageing, no oak, no expensive intervention techniques which allow NZ Sauvignon to be produced, bottled and released within the year. Marlborough benefits from long days and sunshine which help ripen the grapes beautifully, cool nights helping to retain acidity and relatively dry autumns, reducing disease risk. These autumns allow the grapes to ripen for longer, concentrating flavours and building sugar yet still retaining the high acidity needed to effectively balance the wine.



The 2020 harvest in Marlborough is being deemed 'extraordinary.' This isn't just due to wine business being deemed 'essential' by the New Zealand government, allowing the harvest to be collected and wine production to still operate, albeit under extremely strict conditions which could be pulled at any minute.


Marlborough also saw a long dry season which brought with it colder conditions towards the end of the Summer season, which allowed for a longer 'hang' time resulting in the flavour concentration as discussed above. Ultimately, this meant that the grapes of the 2020 harvest were bursting full of flavour. The lucky thing about the 2020 harvest time was the rainfall.


Water is important for growing grapes but timing is crucial. Too close to harvest and grapes will balloon and flavours diluted. Too close to bud-burst and yields can be affected. If too little water throughout, vines can be water stressed and this can greatly impact grape growing. The balance is extremely difficult. What made 2020 so successful was the large quantities of rain in the second week of December 2019, this water will have been retained by the soils, strengthened vines, filled water stores and helped vines get ready for the summer. In 2019 however, this water did not come until January and February where it was very sparse. Water stress, drought and low irrigation supplies saw some vineyards seeing the crippling effect, water restrictions were implemented in February and lasted until March. From research, it seems the weather for the 2020 harvest could not have been more prefect.



To efficiently draw my own conclusions to this ongoing discussions I bought the last of the 2019 vintage I had in work and a bottle of the newly in 2020. I decided when better to enjoy these than New Years Eve! As most of the world was having a cosy night in, I thought a comparison tasting might be a fun way to wait for the Bells! On the eye, both were a very similar colour, pale lemon... exactly as expected. On the nose however, is where it got exciting. The 2019 was a classic Sauvignon Blanc, gooseberry, honeydew, grapefruit, peach and stone fruit yet with a slight herbashiousness. If I had been given this wine on its own, I would have happily accepted and enjoyed a classic NZ Sauvignon. In comparison the 2020 was far more pronounced, I could smell it when I was pouring! Bursting full of juicy ripe tropical fruit, passionfruit, mango, ripe stone fruit such as apricot and nectarine and the classic gooseberry and honeydew undertone, I would happily wear this scent as a perfume!


Structurally, on the pallet the wines were similar, high acid, medium body, yet the dryness was slightly different. By no means sweet, the 2020 has so much more ripe fruit that it is edging towards off-dry. I tasted these wines with my brother, who said if he hadn't been with me he wouldn't have seen much of a difference. I wonder if that would be the same for other non wine lovers or if my nose just has had more practice than his!



Let’s conclude, both wines are beautiful. Classic NZ Sauvignon Blanc staples. The 2019 is a great wine and if drank on its own I would greatly enjoy, however now I've had the 2020, I would reach for this instead. The concentration of fruit is divine yet still delicate that it doesn't feel like sickly juice. The beautiful balance between this almost off-dry intensity and acidity is perfect. As well as this, the positivity surrounding the weather, camaraderie of winemakers and labourers and the excitement of a good product coming out of 2020, beating all the odds, makes it a winner for me.


The buzz was justified, I feel everyone can feed off this beautifully cultivated golden nectar and take something good away with them as 2020 drew to a close. I was more than happy sitting next to a cosy fire, with the people I love most waving goodbye to what was a very strange yet eye opening year, ready for the challenge, excitement and freshness of the year ahead...


I hope you and your families have a happy and safe New Year, Cheers!


- Antonia


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