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Reviewing a wine like it was a videogame

The wine we have today is a recent release from a very big producer: we are talking about the Beaujolais-Village from Louis Jadot and precisely the Combe Aux Jacques cuvées 2015.

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Louis Jadot is a bit everywhere when talking about Burgundy (they are even in Oregon, with Resonance Vineyards) and Beaujolais makes no exception. I have heard people despising it for being too “commercial”, but I am not a wine snob.
As we could well expect the wine is 100% from Gamay from granite, clay and calcareous soils. A portion of the grapes are grown in Reignié, a portion is grown in the south of Beaujolais in owned vineyards and a portion is bought from contract growers. They are vinified with semi-carbonic maceration, as it’s custom for this kind of wines.

System requirements are very reasonable: a palate equipped with a tongue, a nose and possibly one or (better) two eyes to appreciate the color. But you could go also blind. Price is also quite low, a true budget wine (game).

After pulling the cork we are left without any tutorial, but this hardly matters: the action unfolds quickly and the controls are easy to understand and responsive. The goal, as always, is to finish the bottle and gain the maximum pleasure from it.

Basically we are talking about a platform style game: as a matter of fact you jump over raspberries and strawberries, striking your enemies with balsamic drops or a very useful vine stalk. No oak vessels to drive, no vanilla shoot ‘em up levels.
Graphics are nice, effused in ruby red colors with violet rim and good depth, although nothing really revolutionary. At least they are 3D, you could even get wet or stain your clothes if you are not careful. Take this augmented reality!
Controls are responsive and this Beaujolais is very easy to play. Of course you would not find extreme depth or complexity, but here is a medium weight game with a lively pace. Play it on warm spring days or on a fresh summer evening.
As for longevity well, this is better enjoyed in the short-medium term: in 2 or 3 years you will be better leave it on the shelf and turn to the next version (vintage). Longevity of the opened bottle is short as well, but this is a good thing: you will finish it in a couple of days in single player or even in one sitting in co-op.

As all the other wines out there this game supports multiplayer and it is indeed recommended to play with someone else. You can decide either Co-op (enjoying it together) or Vs Mode (“I bet that I can finish the bottle much faster than YOU!”). In both cases please be aware that playing too much may lead to various unpleasant consequences, in the form of dizziness, lowered inhibitions (this might be good) and hangovers. Anyway you will have to drink at least a couple of bottles to come to this point).

Conclusion: an easy challenge for the trained gamer ehr drinker. A casual wine without too much pretenses, but capable of entertaining you for some time. The low price and good drinkability makes it a good choice as a party wine.

 
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Pubblicato da su 7 maggio 2017 in French Wine

 

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Ad maiora

And thus it ends. I finally am a proud holder of the WSET Diploma, after two long years of studying (since January 2015). It has been a hell of a ride, even life changing. At least it made me understand the value of time.

Would I recommend it to someone interested in learning wine? Of course, but only if very motivated. At first (the first two or three exams) you have enthusiasm, you have energy, but as you proceed patience, perseverance and pacing become crucial. Someone with a day job and a family (like me) really needs to believe there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to keep fighting.

I took my lessons at the online classroom, while sitting the exams in Tokyo. I learned a lot, but inevitably I missed the warmth of a true class and the interaction with other people, especially during tastings. On the other hand I was there every day, motivated to keep the pace of the lessons. The teachers were good, but some were better, and followed the students more closely.

What I would really love from the WSET would be a proper textbook for each Diploma Unit. I know, the extent of the topics covered makes it quite difficult, but for example instead of guessing the major spirit or sparkling wine producers that could come up at the exam I would have really liked to have a list for reference. I mean they can’t be changing so fast.

My strongest memory of an exam is the question about Smirnoff for Unit 4. Well more than a question it was just a word: “Smirnoff”. And know write about it for ten minutes like there is no tomorrow!
When I saw it my first reaction was probably the same of many other: “Oh shit!”
But then I remembered that I had read a book about the story of this company. It was for personal pleasure (the book is really entertaining), but it also served me well.

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Fantastic book, much recommended.

So did I receive some superpower after passing the last exam? Do I know everything about wine, its production, its regions, its business? Sadly no. However something remains, a base on which starting to build again, to deepen my knowledge of the topic. Better things wait for me, I hope.

Rome was not built in a day.

 
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Pubblicato da su 30 aprile 2017 in Other, Uncategorized

 

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Of barrels and impressive Japanese wines

On March 15th I went to a tasting organized by Sapporo at the Hankyu International Hotel of Osaka. I was there particularly for the seminar by Juan Munoz Oca of Columbia Crest about the different uses of oak in wine and the different resulting flavour profiles.

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It has been a very interesting seminar, quite unique: I had the chance to taste four wine made from exactly the same grape (Chardonnay), all four of them 100% MLF, but fermented in different containers, stainless steel, French oak, American Oak and 2-3 years old oak.

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The two other wines to the right were the Grand Estates Chardonnay and the H3 Chardonnay.

The difference was very clear: American oak flavour is much more towards toasted coconut, vanilla, burnt sugar, while French oak is more delicate, with more cinnamon, white flowers, spice and a lighter vanilla tone. The neutral oak differed from the unoaked sample especially in the texture (smoother and richer) while the aromas were less bright, but not really “oaky”.

Of course there are many reason why wines fermented or aged in different barrels may taste different: the size of the container, its age, the age of the tree from which it was made, the degree of toasting, the type of oak. Even the way the staves are bend (by using fire, steam or hot water) has an impact.

But why a French oak would be different from and American oak? The fact is that American oak (Quercus Alba) grows faster than French oak (be it Quercus Robur or Quercus Petraea) and this means that its grains are larger. When used to make barrel larger grained wood will imply an higher oxygen transfer rate to the liquid it contains, resulting in different flavours compared to tighter grained French oak.

After the seminar I joined the Sapporo wine tasting on the same floor.

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Between the others I could taste the 2014 Grande Polaire Pinot Noir from Yoichi, Hokkaido and I must say I finally remained impressed by a Japanese red wine. Compared to the rest of Japan, Hokkaido has a relatively low humidity, an average annual temperature of 8.1℃ and virtually no tsuyu (the rainy season between June and July). Typhoons may struck the island, but being far to the north their strength is often moderate, as they unleash their power before arriving there. The biggest problem may be in finding sufficiently exposed spots because much of it is flat and the cold temperatures require careful screening of the mesoclimate. The present vintage is made with the fruit from a contractor grower, Hirotsu Vineyard, managed by the Hirotsu family. My note on cellartracker:

Actually this is a surprisingly good wine, the best Japanese red I have had so far and worth its 4,000 yen (around 40 dollars).

Pinot Noir 100% from Hokkaido, aged for 12 months in oak (50%). Style is clearly New World, with bright fruit, crushed red berries and vanilla from the oak. Intense both on the nose and in the mouth, it also shows soft tannins and solid body, but it does not lack acidity (after all Hokkaido is not really a warm place).

It is the first time I find such concentration in a Japanese wine (the same applies to the Merlot from the same producer, though Pinot Noir is slightly more balanced). Finally something I can really recommend.

The merlot from the same series, this one from Azuminoikeda vineyard in Yamanashi, was equally good, although slightly less balanced. On the other hand the Sauvignon Blanc did not seemed to justify its price.

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Stocks are low, especially for the Pinot Noir, but if you have the chance this is one that should be tried.

 
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Pubblicato da su 20 marzo 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Interview with Stanislas Thienot of Champagne Thienot

A couple of months ago I had the chance to have a talk with Stanislas Thienot, son of Alain Thienot, about the maison and its wines. As always the interview in English (with a heavy Italian accent in my case) and Japanese subtitles. Enjoy!

 
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Pubblicato da su 14 marzo 2017 in French Wine, Interviews

 

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Is Japanese wine overpriced?

Making wine in Japan is not easy: land costs much, labour is not cheap (with the immigration still limited and the cost of life at First World levels) and the weather is unforgiving. The rain falls at the worst moments of the year for grapegrowing: in June, during flowering, and from the first half of September, just at harvest time. And we are not talking about some light rain, but days after days of typhoons leaving a fierce humidity, oscillating between 75 and 90% for most of the Summer. Grapes (and humans) suffer this weather: much care must be employed to avoid fungal diseases and the frequent cloud cover during the last week of August and all September is not beneficial for ripening.

These are some of the reason why you will never find japanese wine in Japan as cheap as, for example, french wine in France or italian wine in Italy. Full bottles under 1000 yen (around 8 euros) are very likely made from imported must fermented inside the Country.

However even an expensive wine could it be acceptable if the quality is good. So is Japanese wine worth its price? This is what I will try to find in a series of posts where I’ll compare two wines, one from Japan and one from a different Country. The wines will have more or less the same price, they will be of the same colour and possibly they won’t be too different in style. They will be tasted “semi-blind”, i.e. I will know the wines, but not in which glass they are poured.

For the first comparison I chose the following wines:

  • Château Mercian Ensemble Moegi 2015 (Chardonnay and Koshu blend)
  • Kaltern Alto Adige Chardonnay 2015

Both are sold at a retail price of 1800 yen (w/o tax) for both (around 16 american dollars or 15 euros).

Notice that I didn’t know anything about these wines except their price, cépage and the information you can get by reading the front label (producer, vintage, region).

The tasting notes:

  1. The first wine is pale lemon in colour, with aromas of medium intensity. The nose is fresh and reminds lemon, lime, fresh stone fruits, with hints of herbs and flowers (chamomile).
    Dry in the mouth, with crispy persistent acidity and an overall medium intensity and weight.
  2. The second wine is pale lemon as well, but distinctly riper. Aroma is more intense than the first with ripe scents of ripe stone fruit (peach) and crunchy yellow apple with nutty, vanilla aromas probably from oak ageing and hints of cheese and yogurt from MLF.
    The palate is dry, still with good acidity, though not as fresh as the first. The ripe fruit and savoury oak derived flavours mirrors the aromatic profile. Good length, but light bitterness from the oak in the aftertaste.

In the end they were similar, but the different winemaking processes resulted in different flavour profiles. They were both good, but if I have to take into account intensity and complexity, wine number two was slightly better, even with the aftertaste bitterness from the oak. A decent oaked-but-not-too-oaky wine for a relatively low price. To be honest it reminded me of Trentino Chardonnay from Bollini (including the bitterness) and thus I presumed the first wine to be the Japanese one and the second to be the Chardonnay from Kaltarn.

I was wrong: to my surprise the wine I scored slightly better (number two) was the Château Mercian. It seems that Moegi undergoes fermentation and ageing partly in stainless steel and partly in oak, though the producer site does not specify how much of the wood is new.

Now we could question terroir expressiveness: does Moegi show a specificity, a peculiarity linking it to the place where it has been made? The answer is no. The grapes are fetched from three different prefectures (Nagano, Yamanashi and Fukushima -yup, that one-) far apart, thus it may be treated like a Southeastern Australia GI. This choice makes much sense: as quality grape growing is difficult in Japan, blending grapes from various areas is a smart way of improving final quality. But we cannot really identify a terroir here.

The Alto Adige Kaltarn is still not very descriptive of its origin, but at least it matches with the cool climate image of this region and offers a (very broad) reference.

Conclusion

The first experiment ended with an interesting discovery, as oak aged wines cheaper than 2000 yen are not that easy to find in this market (Chile being an important exception). While it does feel a bit “manufactured” (= made by blending grapes from different area to meet the expectations of the consumers at a reasonable price), it nonetheless does its honest job. Since not everyone is interested in terroir, I can imagine it to be served by the glass in a casual setting.

Of course I cannot say if Japanese wine is overpriced or not with this simple experiment, but what I can say about Château Mercian Moegi is that at least no more overpriced than a similarly priced Kaltarn Chardonnay from Alto Adige.

 

 
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Pubblicato da su 2 febbraio 2017 in Is Japanese wine overpriced?

 

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Interview with Gosset cellar master, Odilon de Varine-Bohan

I had the pleasure to taste Gosset Champagne at an event in July in Kobe and to interview monsieur Odilon de Varine-Bohan. A very funny guy and really good Champange. The 15 ans de cave à minima brut was particularly good, with much complexity and intensity.

As always the interview is in English with Japanese subtitles!

 
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Pubblicato da su 18 agosto 2016 in French Wine, Interviews

 

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Interview with Charles Philipponnat

A brief interview I made with Charles Philipponnat of Champagne Philipponnat. Subtitles (and a brief intro) in Japanese!

 

 
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Pubblicato da su 21 maggio 2016 in French Wine, Interviews