Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What's in Your Cabernet?

The Herald article number 2 can be found here and the article submitted can be found below. Given that the my column is only published once a fortnight it really does bring home how rubbish I am at posting usually. I will write up the Sauternes tasting soon though. A couple of people might be interested after all.


What’s in Your Cabernet?

There was a time when it felt like Cabernet Sauvignon was taking over the world. Every self-respecting New World (Australia, Chile, and North America) vineyard owner was ripping up their vines and re-planting this most distinguished varietal. With good reason too. Cabernet Sauvignon is responsible for arguably the world’s greatest wines.

When we get a true expression of Cabernet Sauvignon we can expect a wine with good primary fruit flavours, most commonly blackcurrant, but also many secondary flavours often very specific to the region or winemaker involved. It is this diversity of flavour combined with its ability to remain so very Cabernet Sauvignon that has led to the wine world’s romance with this grape.

Good Cabernet driven Bordeaux are well out of my price range unfortunately and so I am left with a hunt for reasonably priced expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon. This invariably leads to the New World and more often than not, single varietal wines. Today we have three bottles for review each with suitably different takes on the grape in question.

First up we have the Adobe Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Chile (10,000w, Lotte Dept. Store Myongdong). There was a time when it was a widely held belief that any Chilean Cab Sauv would be good quality at a good price. There are plenty of bottles on the shelves in Korea that belie that belief but fortunately this is not one of them. This is an organic wine from a very strong budget priced Chilean producer. This is a fruit forward wine with blackcurrant so powerful you could be forgiven for thinking you had been given a glass of Ribena (blackcurrant juice). It also has those hints of cedar you might expect but this is not an overly complex wine. On the palate that blackcurrant keeps coming with sour plums and a really good, subtle mint finish. Though it suffers from slightly bitter tannins this is a cracking value bottle of wine. You have seen the price of Organic produce here haven’t you?

The final two bottles are both from a renowned Burgundy producer, Michel Laroche. These are interesting in that one is from France, Laroche Vin De Pays D’Oc 2005 (Vins De Maeils, 16,000w) the other from Chile, Laroche Punto Nino 2005 (Les Vins Maeils, 22,000w). We have an Old World/New World battle from the same producer! The French has a very un-giving nose, not especially fruity with a hint of dried fruit. It has a weedy mouth feel with some raisin and little else. It is not unpleasant but is difficult to recommend. The Chilean is much more upfront with a strong berry driven nose, blueberry, raspberry and strawberry. This is much softer fruit than I would expect though there is a touch of brambly, plum fruit and some subtle vanilla. It has a good, intense palate with tobacco, and bay leaf countering the chocolate and plums. It has really well integrated tannins and is, essentially, a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon.

As a footnote, the Lunar New Year has led to call centres being installed in many wine shops, (what better gift?) so if you can’t find, ask.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Vine, Kabinett and a couple of bargains.

We had a day out and about yesterday which, as always, revolved around wine. We were in the Myeongdong area so were able to hit up a couple of wine shops in a short space of time. Shinsegae department store has a wonderful fine wine area that I had somehow missed in the past. Slightly shambolic and disorganised but with some real cracking bottles well out of my price range.

On to Lotte department store who appear to have put a call centre at the back of the shop. Whilst it bodes well for their business clients I am not sure if the walk through customers are benefiting. It was something of a battle to get near the sale items at the back of the shop, especially as they appear to employ 2 staff for every potential customer. It's a shame because every time I go there I seem to find some pretty good bargains. The Adobe Cabernet Sauvignon pictured above being one. 10,000w for an organically produced wine from a decent Chilean producer. I haven't tasted it yet but I know that in past vintages it was a wine that has punched well above its price point. I also picked up a bottle of South African Cab Sauv, again 10,000w, so I could do a comparison. You can't beat a good comparison.

I find shopping pretty knackering so we had a rest at the Vine wine bar in the Lotte hotel. It is a nice enough little hotel wine bar with pretty unappealing prices. I had a decent Barossa Shiraz at an indecent 24,000w, standard measure. Slightly better value was the Moet at 19,000w though unfortunately it was a little tired. You do get a nice selection of nuts though.

Then it was on to Itaewon to check out Kabinett. It has been reviewed endlessly recently and I won't add to those reviews just yet. I will say that it is a nice enough space, though it did feel like something was missing and that the wines by the glass were a little disappointing. The Groot Constantia Merlot is pretty good though and at a Happy Hour(6-8) price of about 8000w certainly much more palatable than the Vine prices.

The ever useful SeoulSteves have their wine of the month offer on the South African wines this month. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Aggh, The Heralds Strangely Grim

Fa la la la laaa, la la la laaaaa.

Edit: Now directly links to the Herald article thanks to EFL Geek. I knew there would be a way around it but I didn't think it would be that simple. 9 years in IT and what do I know? Nothing.

Now don't get me wrong, I am really happy to have the chance to write for a national newspaper and I really appreciate what the Herald has done. It is me that is the problem. I mean, I had nightmares about this last night. I should be excited to see my name in print for the first time since I did a poem for a local newspaper when I was 12. I should be, yet I just feel a great unease. My name there. My thoughts there. Appalling! I suspect that it is some cowardly belief that if you put your head above the parapet you are going to get shot at.

However, it is good to see the article published with very few changes. Next time, 2 weeks now folks, I will provide my own strap line if I can. I am not sure if beating up on the national drink in big black letters is such a great idea myself.

Anyway, parents, here is the link to the Heralds version. You need to click the Expat Living tab on the left, underneath Weekly. I still can't direct link, if anyone knows how..........

And here is the version I submitted to them this very Saturday:

It is an exciting time to be a wine drinker in Korea. Whilst you are sure to have frustrations, be they related to price or to range, it is difficult not to get caught up with the sheer enthusiasm in this rapidly developing market. When flicking through the TV channels it is no surprise to see a smartly be-suited man or woman wearing white gloves explaining to an eagerly nodding presenter about the joys of the particular bottle. They nod, smile, sniff and let out an appreciative 'Waahh!'. I love it. Pretentious, naff and ever so slightly silly yes, but it sure beats the hell out of Soju shots and beer bombs.

Wine lovers are much like record or book collectors, we love the thrill of the hunt. Perusing bottle after bottle, vintage after vintage, looking for that one stand out bottle that manages to combine great quality at a great price. If you can throw out some preconceived notions of how much a bottle of wine should cost, be your currency Dollars or Pounds, and work solely in Won then the bargains are here to be had. Whilst there is no alternative to the "Three Buck Chuck", in the 10 to 20,000 won range there is plenty of real quality and in the 20 to 50,000 won range you are spoilt for choice. Relatively speaking.

At this time of year it is traditional to turn your back on the finer things in life in the name of fitness(diet) and health(drink). The traditional January abstinence is all very well and good but as one of the more miserable months on the calendar I say why not instead embrace life's pleasures and save yourself the guilt of failure. Certainly it may be good to drink less but let's all drink better. Put down that pitcher, shy away from the soju and instead enjoy "Wine that maketh glad the heart of man."(The Book of Psalms, 104:15). My intention with this column is to highlight the wines that I think are worth drinking at the best prices I can find. There will be no 100 point rating system, merely a description and an opinion, wine is highly subjective and there is very rarely a right or wrong opinion on a particular bottle.

So, for this inaugural column we get to the first review and an absolute stand out bottle in terms of price. Argentinian wines are making some headway in the specialist wine shops and convenience stores here and this is good news for us consumers. There are a number of poor quality Chilean wines on the market and so the introduction of some South American competition can only lead to a boost in quality levels. The 2006 Alamos Malbec(11,000 won,Shindong wines, Hyundai department stores and elsewhere) is a textbook new world Malbec. Deep red in colour it offers up a good nasal hit of black fruit, blackcurrant and black cherry underpinned with some chocolate notes. This all follows through on the palate in a lovely, soft and fruity style that is wonderfully approachable. It is the kind of bottle that you will finish without realising. There is an Alamos Pinot at the same price which is also rather good and trust me, is a steal at the price.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Krug Grand Cuvee

Krug Grand Cuvee NV.
Champagne, France.

Having been upgraded to business class on our Asiana flight to Heathrow Christmas got off to a good start in terms of Champagne consumption. They really do ply you with booze at the front of the plane! The Champagne on-board was Charles Heidseck, one of my favourite cheaper non vintage Champagnes. It is quite a rich, toasty style but has an excellent level of fruit to carry it through. It was much more satisfying than the single can of Cass I had in cattle class coming back.

Christmas 2007 was very much the booze Christmas at my house and one of the highlights for me was the Krug we had on Christmas eve. People talk about Krug a lot, for people in the wine industry it seems to be the favourite of all the Champagnes and I had been itching to try it. However the price is a little out of my reach. A staff discount and generous parents meant that this was my year to try.

It comes in a beautiful box and the bottle itself is very appealing. It is all very decadent. The mousse is very fine, tiny and persistent bubbles in a fairly deep, almost straw coloured wine. The nose is not the most giving of Champagnes I have had, it has delicate yeasty characteristics with a little apple and citrus.

When you take your first drink it is instantly apparent you are drinking a fine, fine Champagne. The first thought I had was elegant. It has very smooth, frothy bubbles with superb acidity and wonderfully balanced body and alcohol. It is supremely easy to drink and had, as my old man put it, "No edges". You get a good burst of fruit that is actually quite red, cherries at the forefront, followed by green fruit and citrus on the mid-palate with a long toasted nut finish.

This really is as good as they say. Drinking it next to another NV Champagne is very unfair and I certainly now have a favourite Champagne. My poor wallet. I am not sure what the best price in Korea is but lets just call it expensive. If you have something to celebrate and are a fan of the fizz I would say it is worth it anyway. What price pleasure eh?

Tuesday should see my first article in the new expat guide section of the Korea Herald. Given that this was meant to be a diary of my drinking I am a little uneasy about it all but also excited. Parker had better watch his back.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Christmas 2007

Yes, Christmas 2007 was a beezer one for a boozer like me. I drank some real quality and just wish I had more time to get more in. I will post up some of the notes I made, Krug, Dom Perignon 96, Barsac and d'Yquem. They have little relation to my drinking in Korea but this is as good a place as any to gloat.

Pictured above is something far more humble but a real revelation for me, Sloe Gin. This was home made using handpicked South Downs sloes and London Gin by my parents. Given my fathers autistic meticulousness and my mothers abilities as a cook then it was always going to be good. Oh, it was good.

Now this is a Christmas drink, a beautiful deep, almost opaque, red it fair clings to the glass. That will be the alcohol and the sugar. On the nose there is little clue you are essentially drinking neat Gin. The botanics are masked by the intense fruitiness of the plum aromas. There is also a hint of almond that due to the sweetness is reminiscent of marzipan. I'd drink that!
It manages to be very tart and also very sweet, the perfect combination of mouthwatering fruit with sugary smoothness. It is like essence of stewed plums with almonds and a nicely integrated alcoholic backbone. It really is a great Christmas drink and is a throw back to fruit puddings you may have eaten as a child.

I have never seen Sloe Gin here and am pretty sure you cannot get hold of the fruit either. I am going to do some research to see if sloes can be replaced with particularly tart plums but I suspect that this is an import only prospect. A shame really as it is the sort of experience you want others to share.