The Wine Show: Episode 7

Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys star in this series about the stories behind some of the world’s most fascinating wines. From their villa HQ in the Italian hills they head to Rome for a breakfast of ice cream, a class in pastry making and a celebration of sweet wine – the dolce vita all over. Joe Fattorini heads to Shanghai for two very special films. He’s challenged to become a sommelier in the most exciting wine market in the world. What wine will he choose to go with Sichuan frog? Chef Peter Gordon looks to his Kiwi roots, cooking a dish to go with his favourite New Zealand wine. And Matt and Matt find out whether a hangover can ever be avoided…

Wine in China

Joe Fattorini

‘Oh yes, the Chinese… they put Coke in their red wine don’t they?’ Oh no they don’t. It’s a trope in the West. And it’s based on truth; some early Chinese wine buyers certainly did. But change happens fast in China. And the Coke-and-Claret Communist apparatchik is a generation out of date. Probably two.

For each thing familiar to a Western wine lover in Shanghai’s thriving wine scene, there’s something surprising. We taste wines with local wine lovers at Ruby Red, one of the city’s top wine shops. The mix of knowledge is familiar. Some of the tasters have detailed, encyclopaedic recollection of European and new-world-wine estates. Others are new to wine, and fascinated to learn. What is distinctive is everyone’s application to the task; the famed Chinese approach to learning and education. These wine lovers don’t just take a casual interest. They study wine making, tasting, different production techniques and competing estates with furious application.

Through wine you also see how China is evolving. The older, more expert tasters talk in a way that’s familiar to people in the West. The Balsamic notes of Italian reds. The buttered-toast character of fine Meursault. Raspberries in the aroma of reds from the Cote de Nuits. But a young man in his early 20s tells me he enjoys wine differently from his father. He’s less interested in just trying famous wines. He wants to try more diverse styles. And he frankly can’t be bothered learning lots of Western tasting terms. It’s not balsamic. It tastes of soy sauce. A very specific type of soy sauce. It’s not buttered toast. It’s burnt rice. And raspberries…? To him this is more like yangmei, the Chinese Strawberry.

Yang Lu, one of China’s hottest sommeliers and Group Wine Director for Shangri-La Hotels, shows me this first-hand. We walk along one of the city’s remaining traditional markets in the drizzle in a Shanghai side street. Eels try and make an escape from their boxes along the pavement, whilst Yang gives me different fruit to try. One is the yangmei, a dark crimson and purple berry like a Christmas decoration. “What wine does this remind you of?” he asks. “It’s Burgundy… and from the Cote de Nuits!” Yang nods in agreement.

It’s not just different tastes. The Chinese palate is attuned to an array of different textures. There’s the oddly discomfiting character of 1000-year-old egg. And then the delicate tannins of Chinese tea. Flora Wang is a manager at Ruby Red and takes me to a traditional tea house. It’s not just tea; it’s a calm, contemplative space where the service rituals bring out the nuances of each tea, and leave you settled and relaxed. Nobody in China would just describe a wine as ‘tannic’. Like the proverbial Inuit describing snow, the Chinese have a complex vocab for palate texture.

The real test though is to bring this all together. I know the wines. I know the textures and the flavours. I even know a bit more about the foods – Sichuan frog is a dish I’ll find hard to forget. But there’s an added ingredient to my test. I am not just matching food and wine for my palate. China’s generous approach to hospitality means I must match it to the palate of my guest, Jerry Liao, another of Shanghai’s rising sommelier stars. Jerry is from Sichuan. He likes food spicy. He likes wines that make it spicier. My instinct is to find a wine that soothes. A salve to the fiery flavours in front of me. And the stakes are high. “If you pass this test… you can go home,” says Yang with a stern expression.

By some miracle I pass the test. I match the big tannic red with the fiery chilies, making an eye-watering combination that Jerry loves. Yang tells me he’s impressed at how much I’ve learned in such a short space of time. But there’s one thing I’ve learned that trumps everything else. The future of wine is China. And we have a lot more to learn.

Shui Jing Fang Baiji

We weren’t kidding when we talked about China’s great heritage in producing drinks. This comes from the oldest distillery in the world, dating from 1408. It has a distinctive and unusual taste to our Western palates. There’s aniseed that feels familiar but also a savoury character of soy and exotic fruit.

Road Trip – Italian Style…

THE WINE SHOW CASE – Challenge SEVEN

Melanie Jappy

The Dolce Vita. As Matthew Rhys so eloquently asks, “What does it mean?” Well, literally translated, it means the ‘sweet life’ or ‘good life’ and speaks to an era depicted in the 1950s movie of the same name directed by the legendary director Frederico Fellini. It was a time of excess, fame, pleasure and beautiful people, but a time in which the film’s lead character, Marcello Rubini, was desperately searching for meaning. All very deep…

Fortunately, our intrepid wine adventurers are much more shallow and decide that what Joe would be looking for was a sweet wine. They head straight to one of Rome’s most famous gelateria – or ice cream shops – Tre Scalini, for some inspiration. This sequence was filmed at 8am in the morning, so Matthew Rhys in particular wasn’t feeling too happy about having to indulge his less than sweet-tooth. But ever the professionals they struggle through, with Goodey choosing a zabaglione ice cream and Rhys settling on the lemon ice. Palates duly cleansed and sweetened, it was time to do a little tasting in the company of one of Rome’s finest wine educators, Hande Leimer. Hande is originally from Germany but has made her home and business in Rome where she runs tasting seminars at her studio, Vino Roma close to the Colosseum.

The Wine Show map

Hande introduces Matt and Matt to three wines, which range from the surprisingly fresh Brachetto D’Aqui that Rhys adores, to the much more intense wine Muffato dela Sala by Antinori, characterised by its use of grapes that are harvested once they develop botrytis or ‘noble rot’. As Hande says, it’s a disease you want on your grapes.

Wines tasted, it’s time to sample some of Rome’s sweeter delights at the pastry shop of Andrea Bellis. Andrea’s style may owe much to French traditions, but the Matthews are here to try their hand at making a very traditional Italian dessert: Torte de la Nonne, or ‘Grandmother’s Tart’. A sweet pastry shell filled with vanilla cream and dusted with almonds and sugar.

Tart completed, Matt and Matt settle down to reflect on the day and make their decision about which wines to take back to Joe. One thing they both agree on is that it’s been a very sweet day in Rome….

Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG “Braida”, Giacomo Bologna

Buy this while you can. It’s a proper cult wine – often selling out in weeks. A feeble 5% alcohol, softly fizzy and with the same raspberry colour you’ll find in the aromas. But what a joy. Foamy, fun, moreish and captivating. Match it with friends, entertaining chat and a long evening in the summer.