Friday, 18 April, 2014

Published December 27, 2013
Ringing in the new year with new supply
Wines bought should be divided between those for replenishment and those for investment, says NK YONG
BT 20131227 WINE27 891107

Affordable Bordeaux: Top Seconds such as the Leoville Lascases (above) and Pichon Lalande are affordably priced and hold great promise. - FILE PHOTO

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BT 20131227 WINE27 891107
BT 20131227 WINE27B 891108

A NEW year approaches, new vintages will be announced and the 2013 Bordeaux en primeur campaign lies ahead in the spring. With that in mind, what should one be looking to buy in 2014? One should look at it from two points of view: first, in the context of one's personal cellar and second, from an investment point of view.

Viewing with one's personal cellar in mind is simpler (and saner). The key questions being (1) what to replenish; and (2) what to stock up, in terms of laying down of young wines to mature. One's drinking habits (both from preferences and from actual consumption patterns) will influence choices, but it would be fairly general practice to fill up the spaces emptied by the year's consumption, and also to provide a reasonable estimation of increase in drinking volumes.

The investment angle combines pleasure and business, killing two birds with one stone! Right now, it has taken a bit of a hit - a downturn amounting almost to a crash. But then, we forgot Newton's law of gravity. What goes up must come down!


Buying ahead and laying down my favourite non-vintage Champagne aperitif, Laurent Perrier NV, allows me to serve (and drink) non-vintage champagnes which taste like its vintage brother. Many guests have mistaken it for vintage, giving me great pleasure to reveal that it is only a simple NV. Vintage champagnes when laid down undergo development and maturation in the same way as vintage wines. What is not as well realised is that this also applies to non-vintage champagne when laid down. A non-vintage champagne drunk soon after it is released is youthful, and fresh, sometimes on the sharp side.

Lay it down for at least a year to develop and the result is astonishingly good. It takes on the character of vintage champagne - less sharp, more rounded and fuller, and riper on the palate. It will not taste the same as a vintage champagne laid down the same period, but it will certainly taste better than a freshly released non-vintage champagne.

Available cellar space is needed however, but that is a small price to pay for years of more pleasurable drinking ahead. It is also more than made up by the money saved at time of purchase - NV is cheaper than Vintage!

Red wines

This is the time to stock up on Bordeaux. Prices are well down, in some instances up to 40 per cent. It amounts to a stock market crash in wine! Most affected are the First Growths, especially Lafite which in the dizzy days of the boom reached stratospheric heights. Still expensive but within striking range for wine lovers.

For the less ambitious, all the lower Growths are also more affordably priced and that is where good opportunities lie, for example, the top Seconds such as Pichon Lalande, Cos d'Estournel, Ducru Beaucaillou, and Leoville Lascases. Leoville Barton has always been sensibly priced even in the halcyon days of the Bordeaux boom. Owner Anthony Barton's reply to my congratulating him on his very affordable pricing was "that is what my wine is worth".

On the right bank, similar price drops have occurred except that the recent promotion of Angelus and Pavie from the rank of Premier Grand Cru Classe 'B' to Premier Grand Cru Classe 'A' has seen significant price increases, keeping them in line with those of Cheval Blanc.

Unfortunately for burgundy lovers, Burgundies have gone the other way. They have followed the current trend in computer storage, using "iCloud" storage! Up in the clouds. DRC being in a class by itself, top favourites such as Comtes de Vogue, JF Mugnier, Christophe Roumier, Armand Rousseau, Dujac, Ponsot, Leroy, etc, are now where Lafite was. Top burgundies have always commanded their own market - productions are small, minute in comparison to those of First Growth Lafite, for instance, and demand is insatiably high. "You have to wait until someone in my current list of customers dies" is the answer I once got from a top Burgundian grower. The other unwelcome development is that mainlanders have discovered Burgundy. And they are not only after the wines, they are after the vineyards!

There are some less well known Burgundian producers well worth looking at, such as Folin Arbelet, Fourrier, Robert Groffier, as well as newer ones such as Domaine Roche de Bellene and Philippe Pacalet. They are making good to excellent wines at affordable prices. It would be tantamount to wine snobbery to ignore the excellent wines from the big Burgundian houses of Drouhin, Faiveley, and Jadot. These may be called Maisons but in reality they are more Domaines than Maisons. Their vineyard holdings are very extensive, and include all the Premiers and Grand Crus they produce. I cannot commend them too highly - indeed they are firm fixtures on my annual vineyard-crawl list.

Rhone wines constitute another group which is much neglected, to our loss. Apart from a small group of stratospheric-priced wines, eg "La-Las" of Guigal and the Reserve de Celestins of Henry Bonneau, both Northern and Southern Rhone wines are reasonably priced. Furthermore, Rhone wines, both North and South, full-bodied, lush and fruity are admirably suited to our spicy cuisines. Hermitage La Chapelle and Jaboulet were made famous worldwide by the annual visits of the late peripatetic Gerard Jaboulet. Jaboulet is now owned by the Frere family but not withstanding the inevitable change in wine style, their wines still command attention. Guigal and Chave in Northern Rhone, Beaucastel, Domaine Pegau and Château Rayas in Southern Rhone. Rayas proper is scarce and very expensive. Highly recommended is their second wine, Pignan, and their Southern Rhone, La Pialade.

Finally, it is time to discover the excellent and well-priced wines of Italy and Spain.

The advent of Sassicaia heralded the "Super-Tuscan" fashion. Sassicaia was rapidly followed by Solaia, and the rest is history. It brought home to the wine consumer that some excellent wines were also to be found in Italy. This also gave impetus to the rest of Tuscany, Montalcino in particular, and to the other main wine region, Piedmont. Tuscany's Chianti Classico DOCG, and Piedmont's Barbera and Dolcetto are for daily drinking and at excellent prices. Worthy of long-term cellaring are the top Chianti Classicos - eg Castello di Ama, Isole e Olena and the rest. In Piedmont, names such as Giacomo Conterno, Gaja, Altare, Paolo Scavino, Sandrone, Voerzio, Clerico, and Guido Fantino command attention. Barolos are not cheap but the Barberas and Dolcettos are, and delicious too.

Spain is still somewhat of well-kept secret. Vega Sicilia still stands out but has been joined by Pingus also from the Ribera, and Alvaro Palacios, who now manages three properties spread throughout the breadth of Spain - the family winery Palacios Remondo in the Rioja, his own Alvaro Palacios in Priorato, and his trail-breaking Descendientes de Palacios in Bierzo.

Vega's other Bodegas, Alion in the Ribera, Pintia in Toro, and now the newest member of the Vega family, Macan in the Rioja, are producing lovely fruity-soft and reasonably priced wines which are delicious and highly recommended. As indeed are all the wines of Palacios and Pingus, but be advised that their top wines are Spain's most expensive wines!

We are well spoilt for choice, and perhaps more knowledgeable about selection than in most other Asian cities. In the words of a famous English wine critic and wine writer, Singapore wine consumers are more educated than in other Asian cities.