Australian Pinot Noir

Anyone who knows me in real life will know that I have somewhat of an obsession with Burgundy — the region, the countryside, the towns and villages, the cuisine, and the wine — and that ‘somewhat’ is somewhat of an understatement. Equally, anyone who lives in Australia will realise that the wines of Burgundy, expensive at the best of times, are even more so by the time they reach Australia. The taxes on imported wines here are, I gather, among the most expensive in the developed world, on top of which must be added a profit margin for the importer and the retailer. As a consequence, the wines are often two to three times more expensive than in the region. On top of this, many of the wines that represent good value in the region are hard to find, or are simply not imported.

Meursault from the vineyards, 18th July 2019, 12:51
Pentax K-x, 18-125mm lens @ 125mm, 1/200 sec, f/11, ISO 125.

Consequently, there is a certain perverse desire to find local wines that — while they are not Burgundy wines, cannot be Burgundy wines, and should not even attempt to be Burgundy wines — have that vitality that distinguishes the most memorable of Burgundies. As an aside, I note that they should not attempt to be Burgundy wines, since this is not something any Burgundian winemaker would ever attempt. A good Burgundy wine is one which is true to its region and its vineyard; it does not attempt to emulate any other wine, however good or famous. Attempting to emulate a Volnay or a Gevrey-Chambertin is, therefore, attempting something that no Burgundian winemaker would consider, and — in a sense — missing the point completely. The attempt to be Burgundian makes it, by definition, not Burgundian.

Nevertheless. Nevertheless.

In part, one could consider this about determining the best regions in Australia for Pinot Noir. This would only be partly the case. My experience of tasting Australian Pinot Noirs is partial at best; there are many well regarded examples that I have yet to try, as well as many that are no doubt equally good but as yet unknown. My budget is one limitation; retail availability is another. I have yet to try Mount Mary Pinot Noir, or any of Bindi Winegrowers’ well regarded wines. No doubt these, and others, deserve their place here; no doubt at some point I will get to try them, and I’ll mentally add them to my list. There are also likely wines that I have tried, and which should be included, but I have forgotten. It is worth restating that the limits of my own tasting experience, and of my preferences, do not in any way define the limits of what could be considered ‘good’ Pinot Noir wines; as such, these thoughts are my opinions, and my opinions only.

Pinot Noir waiting to be harvested, Beaune, 27th August 2017
Pentax K-x, 18-125mm lens @ 32mm, 1/80 sec, f/8, ISO 100.

Equally, I am sure that there are regions which have great potential for Pinot Noir, but that potential has not yet been reached. While I have tried many very good Adelaide Hills Pinot Noirs, I have yet to try any truly great Pinot Noirs from this region — perhaps, again, because they exist but I haven’t found them yet, perhaps because the potential exists but is not yet being exploited, or perhaps because the region better suits other grapes than Pinot Noir. It is, after all, a fickle and difficult grape with notoriously specific requirements.

This all comes before we get into any discussion as to what represents typically ‘Burgundian’ Pinot Noir. It is obvious to anyone who has tried a few Burgundies that the region encompasses a range of styles, from quite robust, full bodied wines (such as Grand-Echezeaux) to more delicate, light, ethereal wines (as Volnay is often considered to be).

Even these generalisations are difficult: while Volnay is, as I just noted, stereotypically regarded to be at the more light, ethereal end of the Burgundy spectrum; this is not invariably true. It depends on the specific vineyard within Volnay, as well as vintage, and vigneron. Within Volnay, for example, the premier cru vineyards “Taillepieds” or “Santenots du Bas” produce richer, fuller wines than the more ethereal wines of the premier cru vineyard “Cailleret”. As an aside, my somewhat simplistic assumptions about the wines of Volnay were reshaped by a tasting at Nicolas Rossignol‘s new winery, which provided an enjoyable crash-course in the different terroirs of the Côte de Beaune.

Having put that all to one side, I will begin with one observation: for whatever reason (terroir? winemaking talent? coincidence based on my limited range of wines tasted?) the majority of truly excellent Australian Pinot Noirs I have tried have been from Victoria. I won’t attempt to guess why. Here follows a few of them.

The wines

Bass Phillips Wines, Gippsland, Victoria

I have no notes on the Bass Phillips wines that I’ve tried, as I tasted these before I was in the habit of making notes for most of the wines I try, and before I’d even began to become familiar with Burgundy. Nonetheless, the combination of elegance, power, vitality, and complexity were immediately apparent, and marked these out as serious wines. Sadly, the prices they command make them unapproachable for me, and I admire them from a distance.

William Downie, Gippsland, Victoria

Again, no notes. I tried these a good few years after the wines of Bass Phillips, and after several trips to Burgundy. They are also not cheap wines (though not as expensive as those of Bass Phillips), hence, I tried them at an in-store tasting at East End Cellars in Adelaide (hence the lack of notes). They were profound, complex, vital, and Burgundian in the sense that they reflected their vineyard and did not attempt to be anything that they were not. Each of the three wines I tried, from the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, and Gippsland, were completely distinctive. If I were to try to convince a sceptic that Australia can produce truly great Pinot, these are the wines I’d choose.

Hochkirch Wines, Henty, Victoria

2013 Hochkirch Henty “Steinbruch” Pinot Noir
Colour: translucent cherry, touch of brick red
Nose: strawberry stewed in balsamic vinegar. Sour cherry. Plum. Beetroot. Touch of stemmy earthiness, whole bunch character. Sweet spice.
Palate: strawberry, balsamic vinegar. Sour cherry. Plum. Cassis. Beetroot. Earthy, stemmy whole bunch character. Sweet spice. Fresh berry like acidity, smooth slightly drying but structural tannins. Quite sauvage, but quite Burgundian. Elegant, vital, sappy. Medium bodied. Obviously made in a natural style, and a good example of such. 12,5% alcohol.
— Saturday, January 19, 2019

2011 Hochkirch Henty “Village” Pinot Noir
Colour: translucent burgundy, slightly cloudy (unfiltered, unfined)
Nose: stewed strawberries with balsamic vinegar. White pepper, nutmeg and other sweet spices. A touch of old oak. Cranberry. A touch of savouriness. Elegant.
Palate: stewed strawberries with balsamic vinegar. Cranberry and other sharp red berries. Sappy, elegant, lively. Stemmy. White pepper and sweet spice. Sharp fresh acidity – like slightly underripe strawberries. Very fine grained slightly drying tannins. Medium bodied, perfumed – could make a comparison with a particularly elegant village level Volnay. V v good. 12,9% alcohol.
— Sunday, July 19, 2015

Domaine Simha, Tasmania

2015 Domaine Simha Tasmania “Amphora Lionheart Pinot Noir
Colour: cloudy brick red
Nose: candied red fruit. Raspberry and cherry. Cranberry? Tobacco, hay, earthy, stemmy, savoury. Sweet and savoury, intense.
Palate: fresh berry like acidity, fresh red berries, raspberry, cherry. Tobacco, hay, earthy. Stemmy — some whole bunches in the ferment? Has the spicy, earthy, savoury, stemmy character I’d associate with stems. Very fine, smooth tannins. Complex, unusual, savoury. Eccentric, but really lovely. 12,5% alcohol.
— Sunday, February 5, 2017

… and, finally

Tyrrell’s Wines, Hunter Valley, NSW

It seems improbable to see Pinot Noir wines from such a warm region included, but when they’re good, they can be really good. Perhaps the soil — clay over limestone — wins out over the climate?

2012 Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley “HVD & The Hill” Pinot Noir
Colour: bright, light cherry red, translucent
Nose: bright strawberry, stemmy (1/3 whole bunches), spices, sour cherry. Hint of earthy leatheriness. Dark cherry.
Palate: bright fresh strawberry, stemmy, sour cherry, hint of green — stems. Smooth but stemmy tannins. Fine grained. Savoury. Acid fresh, lively, citrussy. Declassified Vat 6. 12,9% alcohol.
— Sunday, July 21, 2013

2010 Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley “Vat 6” Pinot Noir
Colour: light, translucent, burgundy red
Nose: sour cherry, raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb. Sappy, young, alive, elegant. Spice. Hint of earthiness. Herbaceous/capsicum edge?
Palate: sour cherry, rhubarb, strawberry, maybe hints of raspberry. Some stemminess. Citrussy acid — lemon. Icing sugar? Firm, sculptural tannins. Fresh and alive. Elegant. Sweet fruit, w/ savoury edge. Medium bodied.
— Thursday, 3rd May 2012

Cellars of Remoissenet Père et Fils, Beaune, 19th July 2011
Pentax K-x, 18-125 mm lens @ 18mm, 1/40 sec, f/3.8, ISO 5000.

Château de Bas-Beechmont, part 2

It’s been about ten days since my last post, and since then I’ve pressed the wine into two 5 L demijohns. I made the decision to press when the ferments where almost dry. I had added the EC1118 a day before I planned to press, to ensure they fermented successfully to dry.

Wineries often use ‘clinitest‘ tablets to test for dryness, since refractometers don’t work well at lower sugar concentrations. These were originally designed for testing for diabetes, but helpfully are also perfect for wine. Lacking these, I used a dipstick test that may or may not also be effective for wine.

Fermenting must, on skins
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/17 sec, f/2.2, ISO 400.

As predicted, pressing was an ‘interesting’ affair given the lack of an actual press, and one that took several hours. I initially began by attempting to press using the potato masher I’d been using to plunge the ferment, which did not really provide the level of pressure required. I ended up reverting to the age old technique of foot crushing — after cleaning my feet, I should add. In the event, it was a challenge to fill both demijohns; by the end I was pressing off maybe 20 or 30 mL at a time. Almost not worth it… The first demijohn received mostly free-run, plus some pressings, the second only pressings.

I was surprised — though I shouldn’t have been — that there were a lot of intact berries remaining in the ferment. I suppose I’m used to larger ferments, where the weight of the ferment would have crushed them. As a consequence, these berries released quite a bit of sugar back into the ferments, which restarted in the demijohns. Demijohns I had not bough air-locks for, so had to seal with clingfilm(!). Again, I should not have been surprised.

Intact berries can undergo intracellular fermentation, but this can only produce about 2.5% alcohol, at which point fermentation stops until the berry is crushed, and the yeasts can ferment the juice. This is not dissimilar to the carbonic maceration that is tyical of Beaujolais, but without the blanketing layer of CO2 — hence, it is often called semi-carbonic maceration. It is not uncommon in whole bunch ferments.

Demijohns
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/17 sec, f/2.2, ISO 400.

The free-run demijohn finished its primary ferment only a few days after, and I added another 25 g/L of sulfites. It is still bubbling slowly, however, so may have decided to undergo at least a partial malolactic fermentation. I have no way to test for this, however. This really is primitive winemaking!

The pressings demijohn is still bubbling away, two weeks after the ferments had first been inoculated. I’m used to inoculated wine ferments only taking 7 – 10 days, so I am somewhat surprised by how slowly it is progressing. I’m also beginning to wonder whether it is also undergoing a malolactic fermentation, which can occur concurrently with the primary, alcoholic, fermentation. Luckily, the grapes had plenty of fresh, lively acidity, so a malolactic fermentation would only help the wines.

It’s a bit hard to sample from the demijohns, so I don’t know how the wines are tasting. Hopefully, I will get to try them in April. As with any wine making, it is a matter of patience.

Château de Bas-Beechmont, part 1

Destemming grapes by handDe-stemming by hand
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/17 sec, f/2.2, ISO 500.

I have been wanting to try my hand at making my own wine for some time. I have, of course, helped others make wine numerous times, first during my oenology course at the University of Adelaide, and as a cellar hand. But I was always following someone else’s instructions, and had little input myself. Perhaps it’s an ego thing, but I wanted to try making a wine myself.

The problem for some years has been obtaining grapes. For years, I’d tried to grow them myself, but without luck. Perhaps it was the south facing slope, the lack of rain, or the poor (free-draining, eucalypt mulch) soil. In Sydney, at least, it’s possible to buy wine grapes from Flemington Market, and this is widely publicised. In Brisbane, there did not seem to be any equivalent… at least, not that I could find online. As it happened, there was. Eventually, I found that Ireland 53 at Rocklea Markets sells wine grapes for a few weeks in March, if you order in advance. Last year, I missed out by a few weeks. This year, I was ready…

After ‘phoning to confirm, I got up at 5:30 am to be at the market by 8 am on Sunday. I bought a crate with 20 kg of Riverina grenache for AU$30. There wasn’t a choice, it was a matter of what was available at the time. The quality seemed decent — a bit of rot, but nothing too serious. I don’t have a refractometer, but the fruit tasted very sweet, and the juice was rich and delicious. Being grenache, it was safe to assume it probably at least 13,5° Baumé, which works out as approximately 14% potential alcohol.

Riverina GrenacheRiverina Grenache
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/20 sec, f/2.2, ISO 200.

The first problem was to de-stem the grapes. Not having a de-stemmer (this was being done on the cheap!), I hand de-stemmed the grapes into a food grade 20 L plastic bucket, throwing in maybe a dozen or so whole bunches. The idea was that the stems would add some tannins and some structure, something which grenache can sometimes lack.

 

Interestingly, I noticed some of the bunches were more ‘gris’ than ‘noire’ in colour. This would be a phenomenon that would be more explicable in France, where I’d assume that a few vines of grenache gris were planted in among the grenache noir. Since grenache gris is rare in Australia, I assume it’s either within normal variation from grenache noir, or it’s something else altogether. Either way, the bunches were ripe and so went into the ferment…

Fermenting mustFermenting must
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/33 sec, f/2.2, ISO 25.

Finally, I crushed the grapes as best as I could, and inoculated with R56 yeast (with EC1118 on standby, in case the alcohol levels are too high for this particular yeast). A potato masher served to plunge the ferment. After a few days, the colour looked good, and the wine was starting to taste pleasantly of strawberries. So far, it had not gone volatile or oxidised (a problem with grenache in particular, and with small ferments in general). But, of course, that can always change.

The next challenge is pressing into barrel… given that I have neither press nor a barrel. While small presses and 10 L barrels are available, they are expensive. I am trying to do this on a budget, so I will improvise…

A muddle of eras

Hollywood Road, Hong Kong, 5th August 2017
Hollywood Road, Hong Kong Island, HK, 5th August 2017 16:45
Pentax K-x, 10-24mm lens @ 10mm, 1/30 sec, f/8.0, ISO 800.

But like everybody else, as Hollier says, I live in a muddle of eras, and some of my ideas belong to today, and some to an ancient past, and some to periods of time that seem more relevant to my parents than to me. If I could sort them and control them I might know better where I stand, but when I most want to be contemporary the Past keeps pushing in, and when I long for the Past … the Present cannot be pushed away.
— Robertson Davies, The Rebel Angels

Melbourne restaurants — Centre Place, The Little Denn & Shandong Mama Mini

Continuing my ‘mini reviews’ or impressions of some restaurants I got to visit whilst I was in Melbourne recently, which I started with my impressions of Hawker Chan.

On my last day in Melbourne, I decided to try and find some of the alleyways for which the city is famous, and the cafés and street art that are so often features of these alleys. On previous trips to Melbourne I had looked for them, but apparently walked past them completely oblivious to what I was missing. So I’d managed to visit Melbourne and not find a decent café… not a great start!

I started by locating Hosier Lane, one of the more famous street art localities, and had a bit of a wander with my camera.

Street art, Hosier Lane, MelbourneStreet art, Hosier Lane, Melbourne, 23rd January 2018 11:37
Pentax K-x, 10-24mm lens @ 11mm, 1/30 sec, f/8.0, ISO 400.

There were a couple of restaurants here that looked promising, but I decided to push on anyway.

A few wrong turns eventually brought me to Centre Place, a lane so small it’d be easy to overlook. It turned out to be a characterful lane full past bursting with tiny cafés and restaurants, all of which looked worth sampling. Certainly, one meal did not seem enough to do justice to the place. But given I was in Melbourne, I felt I had to try both the coffee and the café culture, and after perusing menus for a bit, picked the Little Denn for some lunch. The menu had quite a few options that looked tempting, but in the end I decided on the eggs florentine with rice pancakes, spinach, and tomato, and added some chorizo. I also ordered a café latte.

Eggs florentine at the Little Denn, Central Place, MelbourneEggs florentine at the Little Denn, Central Place, Melbourne, 23rd January 2018 12:34
iPhone 4s, builtin 4.28mm (~47mm) lens, 1/20 sec, f/2.4, ISO 200.

I suppose it’s expected that I should say that the coffee was the best I’d ever had, a revelation, a miracle of the barista’s art. I would not award it that accolade, but it was very good. (That accolade would go to The Coffee Academics in HK, for their ice drip coffee — much as I realise this might be heresy to Melbournites!). The food was beautiful too, particularly the rice pancakes; the addition of chorizo made the dish for me. Much of café culture has passed Queensland by, so it was a pleasant change to be able to sit in a good café in pleasant surrounds.

After finishing lunch, I decided I should walk around town for a bit, and then go back for a second lunch. After all, I had a late flight home, and wasn’t sure when I’d get dinner. And I certainly wouldn’t get to check out such good restaurants again for a while. It was dangerously easy to rationalise. I didn’t get much further than Federation Square. By 14h50, I was back in Central Place, and this time I decided to try Shandong Mama’s fish dumplings. At the time, I wasn’t aware that this was an offshoot of a larger restaurant in another part of the city centre, but nonetheless it proved a good choice. This was a tiny place too, with just a few tables jammed in to a small shopfront.

Shandong Mama Mini, Central Place, MelbourneShandong Mama Mini, Central Place, Melbourne, 23rd January 2018 14:41
Pentax K-x, 10-24mm lens @ 10mm, 1/25 sec, f/3.5, ISO 640.

I’d read that their signature dish was their fish dumpllings; I went for the mackerel boiled dumplings. The menu describes this as “fresh Mackerel fillet mixed by hand with coriander, ginger and chives into a mousse-textured filling, wrapped in home made very thin dumpling skin“, which it notes is a “traditional recipe from the coastal city of Yan Tai in Shandong province“. Whilst mackerel can be overpoweringly fishy, in this dish, it was delicate and perfectly balanced with the coriander and ginger; the texture of the mousse was beautifully smooth. The dumpling skin was gorgeous too: thin, moist on top, crisp on the base. Lovely.

Mackrel dumplings, Shandong Mama Mini, Central Place, MelbourneMackrel dumplings, Shandong Mama Mini, Central Place, Melbourne, 23rd January 14:50
iPhone 4s, builtin 4.28mm (~47mm) lens, 1/15 sec, f/2.4, ISO 500.

I resisted the temptation of a bottle of beer (of which there was a good selection), and instead tried their home-made plum juice, which was also flavoured with liquorice. Given that this was my second lunch, my decision to order ten dumplings rather than six  may have been somewhat rash, but was not regretted. Much. Though the last dumpling was a struggle, it was not an unpleasant one.

By the time I’d finished and paid, it was time to walk back to Southern Cross train station to get the bus to get to the airport to get the plane. It felt like a chance to walk off lunch, in any case, and to go back over my impressions of Melbourne from a too-brief stay. I’ll be back, of course.

The Little Denn, 6 Centre Place, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia
Open 6h30-17h00 Mon-Fri, 7h30-19h00 Sat-Sun
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/littledenn/

Shandong Mama Mini, 5 Centre Place, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia
Open 11h00-21h00 Mon-Sat, 11h00-17h00 Sun, no reservations

Melbourne photos, 23rd January 2018

Street art, Hosier Lane, Melbourne, 23rd January 2018 11:43Street art, Hosier Lane, Melbourne, 23rd January 2018 11:43
Pentax K-x, 10-24mm lens @ 10mm, 1/100 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100. HDR created using Lightroom.

Street art, Hosier Lane, Melbourne, 23rd January 2018 11:43Street art, Hosier Lane, Melbourne, 23rd January 2018 11:43
Pentax K-x, 10-24mm lens @ 24mm, 1/60 sec, f/8.0, ISO 640

Tram, Melbourne, 23rd February 2018 13:03Tram, Melbourne, 23rd February 2018 13:03
Pentax K-x, 10-24mm lens @ 24mm, 1/4 sec (handheld), f/32, ISO 100

Centre Place, MelbourneCentre Place, Melbourne, 23rd January 2018 12:48
Pentax K-x, 10-24mm lens @ 17.5mm, 1/50 sec, f/8.0, ISO 1250

Melbourne restaurants — Hawker Chan

I visited Melbourne for a few days last month, a rare chance to try a few of the restaurants there. I will post a few impressions here on the blog. They are not quite reviews: I don’t feel I can be as authoritative as that. Nonetheless, it was interesting to try some different dishes, and different cuisines.

Hawker Chan, MelbourneHawker Chan, Melbourne, 22nd January 2018 17:17
iPhone 4s, builtin 4.28mm (~35mm) lens, 1/24 sec, f/2.4, ISO 50.

One place I felt I really had to visit in Melbourne was Hawker Chan. This is the local branch of a Singaporean restaurant that has been described as the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred eatery, one of quite a few that have opened around Asia. It’d been a while since I’d got to eat so well, so I didn’t need much encouragement to go looking for it. And it’s not often that you get such good food for less than AU$16 (~€10.20)!

Realising that the queues would be potentially quite impressive, I tried to arrive early, getting there at around 17h20. There was already a queue, but just enough that I had time to decide what I wanted before I got to the till. It may have a Michelin star, but there’s no table service! Since the soya sauce chicken with rice is their signature dish, I had to have that. I also wanted bean sprouts, so ordered that too. There will still tables free, so I sat and waited for my meal. Again, no table service: your number shows up on a board, and you go and collect it.

I had no complaints once I actually got my dish. The chicken was rich, tender, and moist. Like Peking Duck (北京烤鴨) the skin was tender, rich, and moist, but the skin crispy and flavoursome. It wasn’t as rich as duck, but richer than I’m used to for chicken. As with Peking Duck, the meat and bone were cut through with a cleaver, allowing it to be eaten with chopsticks. The beans and rice, and the bean sprouts I’d ordered as a side, complemented it perfectly — as did the various chili sauces, and the sweet tea. Chicken can be a bit dry, or a bit bland, if not cooked well — but there was nothing to complain about here. I could understand why this dish attracted the attention of the Michelin inspectors.

It was still early when I left to get the tram back to my hôtel — but, by then, the queue was out the door and starting to stretch along the street. Another quiet weekday for Hawker Chan…!

Soya sauce chicken and rice, Hawker Chan, MelbourneSoya sauce chicken and rice, Hawker Chan, Melbourne, 22nd January 2018 17:42
iPhone 4s, builtin 4.28mm (~35mm) lens, 1/20 sec, f/2.4, ISO 50.

As the tram rumbled back out to the suburbs, I had some time to think. Arriving back at the hôtel, I bought a half bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon and some chevre as a de facto desert. Impressions of a restaurant, or of a wine, can be shaped by preconceptions. Sometimes, even good food can disappoint if it fails to live up to the hype. I had high hopes for Hawker Chan, based on what I’d read, and it comfortably exceeded them. Realistically, eating out so well for so little in Australia is a rarity, so perhaps I am being less critical than I normally would. The main course was AU$6.80 (~€4.30), the soya bean sprouts AU $6.00 (~€3.80), and my plum juice AU$3.00 (~€1.90) — AU$15.80 (~€10). Nonetheless, I loved the meal, and would be a regular if I lived in Melbourne. I would be interested to see how it compares with the original in Singapore, too…

Hawker Chan, 157 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia
Open 10h00-22h00 Mon-Sun, no reservations.
Web: http://hawkerchan.com.au/

Storm light in the vineyards

Storm Light, Vineyards, Beaune, FranceStorm Light, Vineyards, Beaune, France, 9th September 2017 19:43
Pentax K-x, 18-125mm lens @ 18mm, 1/320 sec, f/8.0, ISO 400. Panorama created using Lightroom.

Late summer, at the tipping point of autumn. Harvest ahead. Cycling back to Meursault in the early evening. Rain hanging around, spitting, threatening. Grey clouds glowering overhead. As the sun disappears, the clouds relent & turn golden with the dusk; bluegrey & gold, like slate and fire, iron and gold. However the day seemed prior to this, it is a benediction; it is like the threat inherent in those splattered rain drops has passed and been forgotten.

But I was heading back to Meursault. Still in Beaune, not yet in Pommard, & needing to be back before the light faded for the evening. But I couldn’t move on: the light changed from gold to galah pink, the clouds still glowering slate grey above the vineyards.

Sunset, Vineyards, Beaune, FranceSunset, Vineyards, Beaune, France, 9th September 2017 19:59
Pentax K-x, 10-24mm lens @ 10mm, 1/60 sec, f/8.0, ISO 400. Panorama created using Lightroom.

Eventually, I got back to Meursault. Late, I struggled to find a restaurant open. Luckily, the Hôtel du Centre was still open, just. The dinning room was starting to empty. A couple, a businessman polishing off the last of a bottle of wine. I had magret du canard and a glass of red burgundy. My luck was still with me: the duck was beautiful, rich, flavoursome, seared outside and bloodily red inside. The sole mishap, that I was given a glass of Côtes-du-Rhône instead of the requested Santenay, was no mishap in that it was an excuse for two glasses of wine rather than one. What had been a desperate attempt to get something, anything, to eat, was anything but. What was to be a simple meal, an unexpected pleasure. Serendipity! The meal finished with a glass of an armagnac older than me, and a petit café.

Walking back afterwards, the sky was perfectly dark. Sodium lights lit the village, and the edges of vineyards. I walked past a clos, and looked in through wroughtiron gates at the vines, sleeping before the harvest, unworldly under the orange light. Gold to pink to orange.

Vineyard on the edge of Meursault at NightVineyard on the edge of Meursault at Night, 9th September 2017 21:46
iPhone 4s, builtin 4.28mm (~35mm) lens, 1 sec, f/2.4, ISO 800. Shot using Camera+ 9.1.

Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Mui Wo, Lantau Island, Hong Kong, 4th August 2017
Pentax K-x, 18-125mm lens @ 45mm, 1/100 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200.

Mui Wo, Lantau Island, Hong Kong, 4th August 2017
Pentax K-x, 18-125mm lens @ 20mm, 1/60 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100.

Victoria Harbour from the Lantau Island ferry, Hong Kong, 4th August 2017
Pentax K-x, 18-125mm lens @ 20mm, 1/60 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100.

 

HK in August, so the humidity is simply too much. I escape the city for an afternoon, to Lantau Island. It’s a bit away from the crowded streets of Central or Wan Chai. Indeed, it seems incongruous that such an area should sit so close to the urban singularity of HK, but there it is. Opposites don’t always contradict. Indeed, HK Island itself has its areas of forest: mostly, I suspect, on sites too steep to build on.

Lantau, in contrast, is small towns and villages straggling out to farmland, country houses, temples, mountains, old roads, abandoned bicycles. With no real plan, I walked around, pleased to be surrounded by fields. And, eventually, the edge of the forest, a river, a waterfall. The path goes on. I don’t have time for a long walk, I need to be back in town to see an opera that evening, but I keep onwards. There’s always the urge to look around one last corner, see one last skyline. The temple signposted ahead. A field with a striking arrangement of trees and hills.

Eventually I head back to the ferry, and to the city. By the time I get to Central, the light is golden.

 

Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, 4th August 2017
Pentax K-x, 18-125mm lens @ 98mm, 1/100 sec, f/6.3, ISO 100.

Revisiting 2010 Burgundy

2010 Bernard Delagrange Volnay 1er cru
2010 Bernard Delagrange Volnay 1er cru

2010 was the first year I visited Burgundy. By coincidence, it was a catastrophically good year across the region — more classical and less rich than 2009, but refined and built for ageing.  I barely knew a grand cru from a premier cru — and, with Burgundy, there is such a lot to learn. I visited Pommard, Volnay, and Meursault for the first time, and took a bus north to see a glimpse of the Côte de Nuits. I walked around Beaune. I tried Burgundian cuisine for the first time. I visited the Hotel de Dieu. Burgundy is such a remarkable place.

I was there during the harvest, and would have seen the grapes being picked. I didn’t actually get to work a harvest till 2011, the way things worked out, but it was a good introduction.

Now, seven years on, a lot has changed. Visiting Burgundy again, too briefly, I feel lucky to be able to sample a 2010 from Volnay. Volnay was a village I didn’t immediately ‘get’. Initially, I far preferred the wines of Pommard, which are richer and more full bodied. Volnay, elegant, light, ethereal, escaped me. Over the years, I’ve drifted from preferring Pommard to preferring Volnay. Seven years. A lot has changed.

This particular Volnay — Bernard Delagrange’s 2010 Volnay 1er cru, presumably a blend of premier cru vineyards, is a perfect example. At seven year’s of age, it still seems very young. It’s fresh, and lively, and full of primary fruit. It hasn’t yet developed any aged characters. It has plenty of cherry, with a touch of pomegranate and perhaps cassis, with lots of sweet spice, and is elegant and light. I love the way the light refracts through it — still supple cherry red, translucent.  Elegant. It’ll keep a good few years more. It’s a vintage — and a region — I hope to keep returning to.

Tasting note

Colour: light cherry
Nose: cherry, pomegranate, cassis. Dark chocolate. Sweet spice. Old oak, vanilla.
Palate: still seems v.young. Lots of red fruit — cherry, raspberry, pomegranate. Perhaps a touch of cassis. Sweet spice. Fine grained, slightly drying tannins. Moderate, berry-like acidity. Smooth, subtle/supple and medium bodied, elegant. Not the most complex Volnay, but very pleasant and typical of the village nonetheless. Very nice. 13% alcohol.