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Making cool reds in the heat
THERE used to be a time when global warming seemed like a blessing for the wine industry. Rising temperatures helped grapes ripen in time for harvest, and reduced moisture brought the twin benefits of lowered fungal risk and improved flavour intensity. All of that seems like a fading dream, however.
Harvesting ripe grapes full of sugar is guaranteed, and making full-bodied wines with high levels of alcohol is also common. But early harvests also shorten the time grapes are allowed to hang on the vines - a process necessary for developing phenolic compounds vital for ageing.
To combat this, grape farmers are paying more attention to their vineyards than ever. They are experimenting with planting techniques to reduce sun exposure, selecting cooler and higher spots, and some are even contemplating installing shelters so that grapes can ripen at a slower pace.
For winemakers, blending rustic and acidic grape varieties can also serve as a means to restrain alcohol levels, although this isn't necessarily a viable option for Old World regions because of strict appellation laws.
In order to sidestep the pitfalls of giving high scores for ripeness, wine judges now try to judge wines holistically. This means looking for acidity that matches alcohol strength, as well as skilled winemaking techniques that manifest texture and expressive fruit flavours.
- The BT Wine Challenge 2015 - CEOs' Choice, in partnership with UBS, recently concluded its judging process. The Top 10 CEOs' Choice wines will be unveiled at an awards ceremony on Oct 9
Trinchero Napa Valley Cloud's Nest Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
(Trinchero Family Estates)
The Trinchero family moved to the United States from Italy and is most famous for its accidental creation of sweet White Zinfandel wine in 1975. This sweet Zinfandel trend saved many Zinfandel vines from being uprooted in favour of other varieties. Today's Trinchero family is ranked the fourth largest wine producing company in the US. The Cloud's Nest vineyard is located in Napa Valley's Mount Veeder appellation among the Mayacamas Mountains. The unforgiving rugged terrain, on an east facing steep slope above 1,500 feet, creates a unique expression of Cabernet Sauvignon that shows wild cherries, tea and spices.
Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2011
In 1976, Steven Spurrier picked six Californian Cabernet Sauvignon wines to pit against four great Bordeaux wines. The Californian wine won the contest. The event, which was later known as the Judgement of Paris, was re-enacted 30 years later using the same wines from the same vintages. The Californians won again, and one of the winners was Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 1971. Wine of the same name continues to be bottled by the company, but the same Monte Bello vineyard is now divided, and wines that are considered more accessible go under the Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate label. About a quarter of the wine is made from Merlot, which adds more flesh to the firmly structured Cabernet Sauvignon.
Hentley Farm The Beast Shiraz 2011
(Singapore Straits Wine Company)
For many consumers, Barossa is synonymous with Shiraz. Indeed, Barossa Shiraz has long been the epitome of open and direct Australian winemaking. Hentley Farm's founders, Keith and Alison Hentschke, studied the soil map extensively before deciding on the 150-acre vineyard in the 1990s. Painstakingly, they refined the planting strategies and only released their first wine in 2002. Dry-land farming techniques and minimal intervention allow the strongest vines to flourish in the harsh environment. The Beast Shiraz comes from fruits planted on elevated ground, which receive even sunlight exposure, and ripen with a flavour intensity that reflects the Barossa Valley terroir.
Xanadu Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
The two grape varieties Adelaide's Margaret River region does best are Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Xanadu has both a red and a white wine in the BT Wine Challenge 2015's list of Top 50 wines. With a combination of Mediterranean climate and a soil that encourages drainage, Margaret River is Australia's answer to Bordeaux. Traditionally, Xanadu blends Malbec and Petit Verdot with its Cabernet Sauvignon to impart a denser texture and an earthy profile to complement the primary cassis note.
Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Of all the names in California's Napa Valley, none is quite as famous as the late Robert Mondavi. He grew up during Prohibition, which hit the Napa wine industry very badly. It took 33 years before Napa county saw a new winery, and that was the Robert Mondavi Winery. Half of Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from across the county, and the remainder comes from the highly acclaimed To Kalon and Wappo Hill vineyards. The final blend, which consists of 8 per cent Cabernet Franc, 5 per cent Merlot and 3 per cent Petit Verdot, was decided after a 16-month taste trial.
Teso La Monja Toro Almirez 2011
The Toro wine region lies to the west of Spain's Ribera del Duero region, and straddles the northern and southern banks of the Duero river. With its high altitude and extremely dry continental climate, the vines are exposed to generous amounts of sunshine. Without careful attention, the alcohol levels in finished wines can skyrocket. Toro's regulations therefore specify that red wines cannot have more than 15 per cent alcohol, and the best producers often limit themselves to 13.5 per cent. Marcos and Miguel Eguren, who founded the Teso La Monja in 2007, are all too familiar with this situation and sought to plant north-facing vineyards, which slow down photosynthesis and therefore help to achieve the right amount of sugar, along with phenolic and aromatic ripeness.
Bodegas Epifanio Rivera Erial Tinto Fino 2011
(KAL Wine Source Asia)
The Rivera-Aparicio family built the Bodegas Epifanio Rivera winery in 2004 in Spain's Ribera del Duero region, but the scattered vineyards they acquired existed long before that. Some of these forgotten vineyards still have vines that were planted before the phylloxera infestation reached Spain. Phylloxera is a root louse that feeds on the sap of vine roots, and farmers often graft grape vines to phylloxera tolerant root stock. Although grafting has ensured commercial success, some criticise grafted vines for altering fruit characters. The vines that contributed to Erial Tinto Fino are between 30 and 60 years of age - old enough to offer quality over quantity.
It's hard to discuss the wines of Spain's Ribera del Duero region without mentioning its most prestigious wine estate, Vega Sicilia. Over the past three decades, Ribera del Duero has risen to compete with the fame of Rioja. Alion was established in 1991 by the same Alvarez family that owns Vega Sicilia, and is considered by many to be the younger, less famous sibling. Some even suggest that Alion is the rebel in the family. Made with 100 per cent Tempranillo grapes, also known as Tinto Fino, and aged in 100 per cent new French oak barrels, Alion's modernist approach is the opposite of traditionalist Vega Sicilia.
Yves Cuilleron Crozes-Hermitage Rouge Laya 2012
The Crozes-Hermitage appellation is one of the eight Crus of the northern Rhone valley in France. But with planted vineyards exceeding 1,200 hectares, the appellation name by itself offers little indication of the style of a wine. Yves Cuilleron took over his family business in 1987 and has since acquired vineyards in six other Crus. His Crozes-Hermitage Rouge Laya 2012 is made from 100 per cent Syrah and is meant to be approachable when young. Drink early, possibly within six years.
Domaine Belles Courbes Symphonia, St Chinian, 2011
(A Wine Affair)
Languedoc used to have a reputation for being the region of France that produced the cheapest wine. But this changed in the 1980s when the diverse terroir of Languedoc was finally recognised. Saint Chinian is one of the more established appellations known for using a blend of traditional local grapes, with a stronger focus on Carignan than most other parts of France. Domaine Belles Courbes Symphonia comes from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault, aged for 14 months in oak barrels before release.
This is the 4th in a series of five stories featuring the Top 50 wines of The Business Times Wine Challenge 2015 - CEOs' Choice, in partnership with UBS. The wine awards are in their third year, and are the only ones that reflect the palate of Singapore's business elite. Wines submitted by merchants were shortlisted by a panel of wine professionals, and were then narrowed down by CEO judges to 10 CEOs' Choice winners, which will be unveiled at an awards ceremony on Oct 9.
BT Wine Challenge 2015 Readers' Contest
NOW, wine lovers like you will get a chance to savour some of these award-winning labels, along with a gourmet buffet spread, at our exclusive awards ceremony on Oct 9.
Simply tell us, in less than 50 words, which of the featured wines here is your favourite and why, and you could receive a pair of coveted invitations to the event! E-mail your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org before midnight on Oct 5, with your name, occupation, organisation and contact number. Three readers will be picked every week to receive an exclusive invitation for two. There are a total of 15 readers who will stand a chance to win in this contest!
Terms and conditions
Winners will be contacted by Oct 6, 2015 via e-mail. No person can win more than once. All attendees must be at least 21 years old. Other T&Cs apply and can be found at pbp.sph.com.sg/contest-terms&conditions.