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September 27, 2009

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Wine fairs deliver Europe's diversity

I'M excited to have this new column and be able to share my global wine adventures with readers in Shanghai. My goal is to help make wine appreciation easier and more fun. I will also introduce some of my favorite wines and wine styles as well as wine and food combinations that you can enjoy here in Shanghai.

I also look forward to helping readers discover new regions and styles of wine that will surprise you with their quality and reasonable prices. This is an exciting time for wine lovers in Shanghai as more and more wines become available.

Over the past three months I've had the pleasure to travel to Italy, Spain and France, the world's three biggest producers of wine, and participate in their annual wine fairs.

During my recent travels, I was amazed at the sheer diversity of different wines from these countries; not only from the better known regions like Bordeaux, Tuscany and Rioja, but also from exciting lesser known regions like Jumilla in southeastern Spain and Apulia in the far south of Italy.

Both regions are making some of the best affordable red wines.

Both Jumilla and Apulia have very warm climates with lots of sunshine, little rain and relatively poor soil. The sun helps the grapes ripen, the low rainfall leads to more concentrated juices in the grape while the poor soil causes the vines to extend their roots more deeply in the soil in search of water and nutrition.

The combination of these factors results in very good wines. In the past, very warm climate wine regions often made over ripe, jammy wines with little style or distinction.

These wines were usually consumed locally and were not good enough for the export market.

But new technology and better winemaking skills have allowed producers in these warm regions to keep their wines fresh and improve the overall quality.

In Jumilla, the type of wine you should search for is monastrell. The monastrell (also known as mourvedre in France) grape in this part of Spain makes hearty rustic styled wines with smooth tannins. These wines are perfect companions to many types of western and Chinese style white and red meat dishes.

The two varieties to look for from Apulia are the primitivo (genetic father to the zinfandel variety in California) and the negroamaro. Both these grapes make dark colored, medium to full body red wines with plenty of delicious black fruit flavors often with an intriguing hint of spice.

These wines are especially good with barbeque meats and slightly spicy dishes. Or you can do as the natives of Puglia have been doing for centuries and enjoy these red wines with seafood. You'll be surprised how well they work with many seafood dishes.

Next time you go shopping for good value red wines, forget about the diluted, low alcohol reds from more northern wine regions of Europe; instead enjoy the exuberantly robust sunshine beauties of Jumilla and Apulia! Your palates will thank you.

Helpful hint

The biggest problem concerning red wine drinking in Shanghai (except of course the unmentionable tragedy of adding ice cubes and 7-Up) is that wines are usually served too warm, especially red wines.

When red wines are served at higher temperature the alcohol becomes aggressive and the wine loses its balance. The result is decidedly unpleasant.

Many wine drinkers in Shanghai and elsewhere think that red wines should be served at room temperature.

However, this standard was based on Northern Europe room temperatures a century ago (15-19°?C), not Shanghai room temperatures today! If the room temperature is 25°?C or higher just remember to chill your red wine for 5-10 minutes ... you will certainly enjoy it more.


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