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A Tour of Asia with Jeannie Cho Lee MW

Wines come in many shapes and sizes.  We’re used to seeing wines from the States, Europe, Australia, and South America but theoretically speaking, grapes can grow anywhere in the world (and outer space???) given the right conditions.  Although we’re less exposed to wines from Asia, there’s a bustling trade and industry abound.  At a recent tasting in NY, I had the pleasure of meeting and tasting with Jeannie Cho Lee MW, one of the few individuals in the world to hold the coveted degree of Master of Wine.  We tasted and analyzed the following four wines:

Katsunuma Jyozo, Aruga Branca Vinhal Issehara 2010, Yamanashi, Japan.  Yamanashi Prefecture is the primary winemaking region in Japan, located about 60 miles west of Tokyo, and pumps out 40% of Tokyo’s total output.  This was the only wine of the bunch produced from a native grape, in this case, Koshu.  The wine was lower in acid than what I’m used to, but it had a striking resemblance to Sauvignon Blanc – screaming with kiwi and grassy notes backed by plump mango and tropical fruit flavors.  The wine isn’t imported into the states, but Jeannie added that the wine would carry a $70 price tag.

Siam Winery, Monsoon Valley Colombard 2011, Hua Hin, Thailand. Produced from the international grape, Colombard, typically grown in France, this white was also soft and juicy with lower acid levels.  Jeannie likened it to Chenin Blanc as the fruit waned towards lemon and lime with fennel notes and a very juicy, fruit-forward profile.

Grace Vineyard, Tasya’s Reserve Merlot 2008, Shanxi, China. The wine was lighter and softer than most Merlot wines I’ve

Grace Vineyards wines have helped swing open the door to Chinese wine prosperity

ever tasted, but most noticeable was a very earthy and vegetal note, something that is usually absent from Merlot or Merlot-based wines.  The fruit in the wine was redolent of muddled strawberries with easy-going velvety tannins.  The climate is cooler in this part of China, and the Merlot grapes struggle to ripen properly, producing lighter wines that are lower in alcohol and more approachable in their youth.  Overall, a pretty nice expression of Merlot and a nice introduction to Chinese wines.

Helan QingXue, Jia Bei Lan 2009, Ningxia, China. The final wine of the tasting was produced from a mixed bag of grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Gernicht, which is believed to be a relative of Cabernet Franc.  The grapes grow in a difficult climate – exposed to sweltering hot summers and frigid winters where temps drop to -13 degrees F.  In order to survive the winter season, the vines are buried in sand and dirt to keep from freezing.  Needless to say, the wine is worth trying on this merit alone.  The blended wine offered up a variety of interesting flavors, most of which tasted foreign to my palate.  The fruit of Cabernet was evident, but the tannin profile was lighter and more relaxed than typical Cabernet wines.

There’s plenty more to explore from the far side of the globe, and professionals like Jeannie Cho Lee can help you discover everything you’d hope for and more.  Her credentials run deep, but for starters you can visit AsianPalate.com; a website she founded focusing on Asian wines and spirits.  She’s a prolific educator and businesswoman, and I look forward to reading her works for some time to come.

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