The Wine Show: Episode 10
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 travel north to the mountainous region of Trentino where they meet an inspirational winemaker who ages her wine in clay urns. Joe Fattorini heads to Hong Kong to explore China’s ‘red obsession’ and a WW2 bunker where the most exclusive wine tastings in the world take place. Yorkshire Chef Frances Atkins shares her love of white wine and creates a very unusual dish to match it. Amelia Singer visits Seppeltsfield in Australia’s Barossa Valley where she comes face to face with some snapshots of her own family’s history.
‘In order to gain and to hold the esteem of men it is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power. The wealth or power must be put in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence.’ The man who wrote that was a nineteenth century Norwegian-American economist called Thorstein Veblen. If he observed a wine dinner today in Hong Kong today he’d nod with recognition. Because in this corner of Asia, wealth is ‘put in evidence’ with wine. Very, very expensive wine.
A unique mash up of circumstance created Hong Kong’s astonishing wine market. The overwhelming majority of the world’s fine wine is traded through Hong Kong. It was helped when import tax for wine dropped from 80% to nothing in just two years. It was helped by the fact that this small part of Asia contains more billionaires per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world. But it was mostly helped by the fact that Hong Kong is the main entry point to China. And China suddenly produced more property tycoons, government officials, entrepreneurs and business magnates, plush with power and wealth, than ever seen before on the planet. To ‘gain and hold the esteem of men’ they needed ‘evidence’. The evidence they chose was red wine.
We’re not talking ‘investment’ wine. We’re talking ‘drinking’ wine. For drinking with friends, business associates, people who might be useful, people who have been useful. We head to an old British WWII bunker burrowed into a mountain high above one of Hong Kong’s beautiful bays. Its labyrinthine cellars are filled with eye-watering collections. Forget buying ‘good value alternatives’ or ‘almost as good as the greats’. These corridors are just filled with ‘greats’. And these are wines for drinking. It’s not unusual for members here to spend upwards of £100,000 on wine in a night.
In another secret warehouse, temperature-controlled and behind layers of security, aisle after aisle of the world’s finest wine waits before being auctioned the next day. Simon Tam, Christie’s top wine man in Asia, has seen it all. A boom in the late noughties, followed by a bust in the years after. The Bordeaux craze, replaced by a passion for Burgundy. He assures his bidders of the provenance of the wines. He inspects the storage conditions and calmly advises his loyal clients on the finest lots to go for. Tomorrow he will see two of his tops clients bid three quarters of a million pounds between them in fifteen minutes, on the wines of just one Domaine. The Domaine de la Romanee Conti, current favourite of the Hong Kong wine scene.
When people talk of these sums they often wonder aloud ‘but are the wines worth it?’ That’s the wrong question. Thorstein Veblen explained that when the sums are this large, wine buyers aren’t buying wine. They’re buying ‘esteem of men’. And there isn’t an upper limit on the value people put on that.
Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse Les Petites Pierres Burgundy 2014
There’s a story that the best soils in Pouilly-Fuisse are enriched by the long-dead carcasses of animals driven off the crags above by stone-age hunters. I prefer to think that the honeysuckle aroma and sweet lemon fruit comes from the natural sun-trap vineyards. 2014 was one of the great modern years for white Burgundy. I’d have this with cooked shellfish or herby roasted chicken.
Tawny Port – The liquid time machine at Seppeltsfield winery
Port often creates nostalgic memories, punctuating festive occasions or exceptionally convivial dinners. At Seppeltsfield, that concept is revolutionised in the Centennial Cellar. In this beautiful barrel bedroom you can vinously ‘go back’ in time and taste Port directly from a barrel which is as old (or young), as you are.
The Centennial Port collection allows you to try an irreplaceable and unbroken lineage of Tawny Port of every vintage from 1878 to the current year. These ancient nectars proved my theory that a wonderful wine is half based on its technical make up and half based on how it is enjoyed and the emotions it evokes in the drinker. As I tasted these sensational stickies accompanied by memorable photographic souvenirs of my personal family history, I was engaging all my senses: the cerebral, emotional and physical. The Port’s heady aromas and dried fig-like flavours transported me back to family milestones while also reminding me, that, like humans, wine is a living thing. It is bottled history as well as geography.
To experience a liquid memory bank in the form of these custodial oak casks made for the most moving tasting I have ever experienced, and epitomised how wine not only creates memories but can also preserve them.
Chambers Rosewood Rutherglen Muscat NV
Curate, kjʊ(ə)ˈreɪt/, verb; select, organize, and look after’.
That’s what the ‘producers’ of Rutherglen’s muscats do. They don’t produce these so much as inherit stocks of old, sticky wines scented with toffee and walnut, raisin and prune, cakes from Dundee to Eccles, and blend into small releases like this. Buy now to have something to warm you through winter. Serve it instead of a pudding or with a Christmas pudding. One of the world’s great wines.
THE WINE SHOW CASE – Challenge TEN
In this episode Joe asks Matthew and Matthew to find a wine that has a spirit that captures the landscape from which it is born. But even the most neophyte wine love knows that all wines are a product of their environment. As Matthew Rhys succinctly put it in a previous episode, it’s about weather, soil, grapes and people. Yet as Matthew and Matthew are finding on this journey through Italy, in that simple, some would simplistic formula, there are endless permutations and opportunities to allow those elements to influence and craft the final product.
The guys decide to head North to the province of Trentino to meet Elizabetta Foradori. She is one of a small group of winemakers in Italy who work on the biodynamic principle. They believe that the best wine comes from an environment in which the weather, soil, grapes and people are also connected to a larger unifying force that comes from developing a balanced and diverse ecosystem. Biodynamic winemaking is a complicated subject and you can read more about it and how it differs from organic wine, here. It involves following a series of steps laid down by the Austrian philosopher and spiritual scientist Rudolf Steiner. To some it is a controversial subject, but its aims are indisputable – to create great wine in harmony with nature.
Elizabetta is particularly well known for her love and development of the Teroldego grape, to which she introduces Matthew and Matthew in the 28 heactare vineyard. Teroldego is cultivated almost exclusively in Trentino. It loves the alluvial soils of the Campo Rotaliano plain north of Trento in the heart of Trentino. It’s regarded as being fairly simple to grow but in the 20th centuary had suffered due to intense farming practices. Largely thanks to Elizabetta’s efforts to improve its quality it has developed a small but dedicated following amongst wine lovers. It makes wines with low in tannins and a beautiful deep colour, bright acidity but still plenty of fruit.
Elizabetta also grows Manzoni Bianco, Nosiola and Pinot Grigio from which she make 160,000 bottles per year. The vineyard sits in the shadow of some imposing mountains. Elizabetta believes their presence affects everything in a deeply spiritual way affecting not only her mood by that of the vineyard. But one thing is for sure, her own presence deeply affected Matthew and Matthew whose enthusiasm for the wine and Elizabetta herself, was certainly noticeable…
They chose to take a bottle on Nosiola and Teroldego. Which did Joe choose? Wait and see.
Lageder Dolomiti Pinot Grigio
Alois Lageder and his extensive family are ‘not winemakers’. He insists they look after the land and help wines through to birth like ‘midwives’. They also make Pinot Grigio like it should be. Aromatic, slightly spicy and with a heart of apple and a lingering smokiness. This is aromatic mountain wine from within the Dolomites (hence the name) and worthy of elegant light fish suppers and mountain cheeses.