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December 29, 2011

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Top drops of 2011

THE year 2011 is about to go into the history books so it's time to reflect on my liquid blessings of the year. As I'm quite fond of saying that experiencing a great wine is never temporal as the memory of its beauty remains in your mind forever.

In my last column of 2011 I'm honored to share six of my top wine memories of the year. Some are expensive wines eminently worthy of their price and stature while others offer great price/quality ratios. All the six are available in Shanghai and are simply unforgettable.

Timeless bubbles

? Budget Bubbles Memory - In an eternal quest for affordable bubbles, I tasted numerous sparkling wines under 500 yuan (US$78.37) in 2011. Some were indifferent, others good and a few quite remarkable.

On three separate occasions I tasted the Freixenet Reserva Real CAVA and each time this Spanish wine impressed with intensity, balance and persistence. CAVA is a style, though not necessarily a region, of Spanish sparkling wine and Freixent is a leading producer. This Reserva Real is the company's top sparkler available in China and a wine that routinely out-performs non-vintage Champagnes that cost appreciably more. In general, the improving quality of CAVA sparkling wines makes them a deliciously suitable alternative to Champagne.

? Apex Bubbles Memory - No surprise that my top memory of bubbles in 2011 was a Champagne, but the sheer beauty of the Veuve Cliquot La Grand Dame, 1996 that I enjoyed with a group of wine professional friends last month was stunning.

Expectations were high because as the French name La Grand Dame indicates, this is indeed a grand lady and furthermore 1996 was a great vintage in Champange. However, when a wine can quiet a room of somewhat verbose wine writers and connoisseurs it is indeed memorable. It's not an exaggeration to say we were all groping for words to describe the grace, complexity and depth of this Champagne.

Named after the legendary Widow Cliquot who brought the Veuve Cliquot House to prominence this after the untimely death of her husband, this is a wine that all women in Shanghai who aspire to greatness need to taste. The experience will be truly inspirational.

Shockingly delicious reds

? Budget Red Memory - Paying less money doesn't always mean getting a lesser wine and a perfect example of this is the Torbeck Old Vines Grenache Mourvedre Shiraz, 2007. This robust Barossa beauty offers a very palatable combination of concentration balance and round mouthfeel. The very ripe fruit and density of the wine are typical characteristics of a wine made from very old vine, in this case some of the vines are over a century old.

Rarely does an inexpensive wine deliver so much distinction and typicity of varietals. I highly recommend this red with slightly spicy foods as the ripe, almost sweet, fruit of the wine offsets the spiciness of the food achieving harmony of the palate.

? Apex Red Memory - Premier and Grand Cru Burgundy wines from the best producers seldom surprise me quite simply because they're supposed to be excellent. But tasting the Domaine de Montille Vosne Romanee Premier Cru "Les Malconsorts-Christine," 2007 was a revelation. The purity of expression of the Pinot Noir variety combined with wonderful balance and complexity made tasting this wine one of my definitive wine memories of 2011.

Historically esteemed members of the French aristocracy, the de Montille family, have been making acclaimed wines in Burgundy since before the French Revolution. In the second half of the 20th century Hubert de Montille brought the family's wines to new heights and now his son Etienne is carrying the renown and prestige of Doamine de Montille wines to even greater heights. If you want to taste the pure essence of Pinot Noir at its best, you must try Etienne's wines. His range of exceptional Premier Cru reds that routinely outperform Grand Cru wines.

White wonderful white

Apex White Memory - One Shanghai evening in late September while dining on Shanghai seafood with friends, I decided to open a special white wine. My choice was Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, 2005 that I had stored in my cellar for several years. The wine exceeded our collective lofty expectations, but I still felt a tinge of regret realizing that this wine will still continue to develop over the next five to 10 years.

Thank god I still have two more bottles that may well be featured in a wine memories column a decade from now. The great white wines of Corton, especially the Grand Cru wines are very age-worthy and deliver a quintessential great Burgundy white wine experience. When paired with delicious Shanghai seafood, life doesn't get much better.

Sensational sweetie

Apex Sweet Memory - I need to do a bit of a balancing act here as the best sweet wine I tasted this year was clearly a bottle from my father's collection, a 1989 Chateau d'Yquem that I brought to Asia in 2003. But I knew this wine would be great as I've tasted it on several occasions so it wasn't my biggest sweet surprise.

That honor goes to Chateau de Rayne Vigneau Sauternes, 2003 a Premier Cru wine with all the elegant ripe fruit and honey flavors one could want from a top sweet wine from Sauternes. The year 2003 was a very hot vintage and to make a sweet wine that still has plenty of freshness is truly remarkable. Better yet, this historically important chateau is one of the more reasonably priced Premier Cru Sauternes.

Its been an honor to share my passion for wines with Shanghai Daily readers and I wish everyone a very Happy 2012!

Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, 2005
Region: Cote de Beaune, Burgundy, France
Variety: Chardonnay
Aging method/Potential: 18 months in French oak/Ready now or over the next 10 years.
Serving & food pairing: Serve at 12°C, the wine matches elegant cooked shellfish and fish dishes as well as roast veal, pork and chicken.

Grand Cru Burgundy in the truest sense, this impressive wine features a yellow-green color, classy nose of minerals, ripe citrus fruit and cream and intense ripe yellow fruit, mineral and vanilla flavors with a long and complex finish

Domaine de Montille Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Les Malconsorts-Christiane, 2007
Region: Burgundy, France
Variety: Pinot Noir
Aging method/Potential: 12 months in French oak/Beautiful now but will gain complexity over the next decade
Serving & food pairing: Allow 30+ minutes for breathing & serve at 15-16°C; food-friendly wine that goes particularly well with elegant white meat dishes and rich stews including many Chinese "red sauce" pork dishes.

top premier cru red Burgundy, this wine features a brilliant ruby red color, an intriguing spicy nose with black fruits and floral notes and concentrated rich blackberry, cherry and mineral flavors with well integrated tannins and a long complex finish

Torbreck Old Vines Grenache Mourvèdre Shiraz, 2007
Region: Barossa Valley, Australia
Variety: Grenache, Mourvedre, Shiraz
Aging method/Potential: Aged in French oak/Enjoy now or can be cellared for another 10 years
Serving & food pairing: Allow 20+ minutes for breathing & serve at 16°C; nice match with grilled meats as well as slightly spicy Chinese dishes like Hunan-style stewed duck.

one of the best value Southern Rhone-style wines from Australia, the old vine wine has a mature brick red color, blackberry and cassis nose with hints of black pepper and ripe, almost sweet red cherry and plum flavors with a round, spicy tannin finish

Freixenet, Reserva Real Brut, NV
Region: Penedes, Spain
Variety: Macabeo, Xarello, Parellada
Aging method/Potential: Bottle aged for 30 months; lovely now but like a good Champagne will gain character over the next few years
Serving & food pairing: Serve at 8-10°C; elegant aperitif but also very good with shellfish and stewed fish dishes including Shanghai style carp in brown sauce.

one of the very best CAVAs with light straw yellow color, hints of gold and a fine abundant mousse, notes of toasty-yeast, dried fruits, berries and ripe apples aromas and lively flavors of citrus fruit with good acidity and an elegantly clean finish

Chateau de Rayne Vigneau, Sauternes, 2003
Region: Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
Variety: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blance, Muscadelle
Aging method/Potential: 18 months in 50% new French oak/Approachable now but will develop even more complexity over the next two decades.
Serving & food pairing: Serve 8-10°C; classic companion to goose liver but also nice with spicy Indian and Thai dishes, strong cheeses and a wide range of desserts.

historic, yet progressive Premier Cru Sauternes with deep golden color with hints of amber, elegant aromas of honey, fresh herbs with a typical botrytis character and concentrated apricot, honey and candied lemon flavors and a remarkably fresh and persistent finish

Veuve Clicquot, La Grande Dame, 1996
Region: Champagne, France
Variety: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay
Aging method/Potential: 6+ years bottle aging; the great 1996 vintage La Grande Dame is approachable now but will only get better over the next 5-10 years
Serving & food pairing: Serve at 10°C; serve with lightly cooked elegant fish dishes or with roasted fowl or veal in a cream sauce.

one of the greatest prestige cuvees, the La Grande Dame 1996 features a bright pale gold-green color with abundant tiny bubbles and seductive mint, floral and citrus fruit aroma with nuances of fresh almonds and elegant peach flavors and toasty hints and minerality that coats the palate and a long complex finish


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