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Chinese Wines Make Their Mark

January 28, 2011 11:42 am - Posted by Michael Keller in Learn

Those who’ve reveled in the streets of Beijing or Shanghai will remember their encounter with baijiu, a strong white liquor that may be called China’s national alcoholic drink. Visitors are often told by old Chinese hands not to sniff the stuff first. It is time-tested counsel, and the disregard of it can easily lead to the drink’s vapors causing the involuntary contraction of the muscles lining the throat. Such a whiff can derail the main event—when the clear liquid passes from mouth to throat with a burning surely only equivalent to that achieved by taking a pull on a bottle of industrial solvent, the watery eyes, the accompanying look of disgust, and the lingering flavor of some petroleum-derived fuel. It’s an acquired taste, as they say.

Fortunately for the palates of intrepid international quaffers, baijiu is not the only potent potable to have a long history in the middle kingdom. The Chinese have for centuries been growers of grapes and, people being what they are, drinkers of the fermented alcohol elixir that arises when those grapes are let to sit too long. And over the last century, Chinese vineyards have been working on their craft to produce wines that can stand on their own against others from around the world.

And in the last decade Chinese winemakers, now numbering some 400 across the country, have seen a boom in business. Demand is coming both from the burgeoning domestic middle class who see wine as a mark of success and elegance and also from foreign drinkers who are interested to try Chinese chateaux. Rising interest led the Chinese government in 2005 to plant more grape plants and provide greater acreage to wine production. That investment is beginning to pay off.

According to the Wine Institute, China made 14.5 million liters of the beverage in 2008, making it the seventh largest producer in the world and far surpassing any other Asian country. In fact, it produced more than Germany, South Africa, and Chile. That number also represented a rise in Chinese investment in the industry, with the country’s annual wine production increasing by almost 24 percent compared to 2004. An industry research group projected that Chinese wine production would increase by some 77 percent from 2011 to 2015, totaling 128 million cases per year by the end of the period.

Sun Hongbo, the general manager of Chateau Changyu, one of the world’s largest producers, said his company alone produces more than 30 million bottles of wine annually.

Some big names in the wine business have been helping the Chinese get up to speed in exchange for a lucrative foothold in the expanding domestic market. To name just one, Chateau Lafite Rothschild partnered in 2009 with a Chinese state-owned firm to grow grapes on 60 acres of land in Shandong Province.

But it almost goes without saying in the wine industry that quantity does not equate to quality. According to UK wine merchant and industry watcher Berry Bros. & Rudd, China is positioning itself not just to take the lead in production but also to compete in the quality category with some of the world’s great viniculture regions.

“China is set to establish itself as a leading producer of volume wine, but Berry believes China also has all the essential ingredients to make fine wine to rival the best of Bordeaux,” the company said in its annual Future of Wine report.

Jasper Morris, a holder of the British Master of Wine qualification, said in the Berry report, “I absolutely think China will be a fine wine player rivaling the best wines from France. It is entirely conceivable that, in such a vast country, there will be pockets of land with a terroir and micro-climate well suited to the production of top quality wines.”

Written by Michael Keller

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Wine Of The Week – GRANT BURGE ABEDNEGO 2005

January 26, 2011 5:47 pm - Posted by Jody in Eat

Each week I like to choose a new wine to introduce to our fans. These wines vary by region, by varietal and even by price. I don’t think cost and value are necessarily related. So I like to focus on wines I have experienced on my travels and I think our fans will enjoy trying. salut!

Fans of Grant Burge’s famous The Holy Trinity will be absolutely delighted with this Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvedre from extremely old parcels of Burge’s Barossa vineyards. The vines here average over 110 years and Abednego represents the best of old vine Barossa SGM.

Only the second vintage of this wine, which sits above The Holy Trinity in the Grant Burge hierarchy. The 2003 is a blend of 36% Mourvedre, 33% Grenache and 31% Shiraz, showing hints of tea and cola on the nose to go with dark blackberry and coffee flavours. This is crisp and well-structured, with some drying tannins on the finish that suggest short-term cellaring. Drink 2010-2018.

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The Right Shot: The Art of Photography & Whiskey

January 25, 2011 5:25 pm - Posted by Zachary in Drink

In the past 30 years iconic Grammy Award winning photographer Albert Watson has over 200 Vogue and 40 Rolling Stone covers to his credit and in 2010 decided to take his lenses on the “road less travelled”, to document The Macallan signature sherry oak casks on their  journey from the scenic forests of northern Spain to The Macallan home in Scotland.

An evening away from Wine Portfolio last Thursday led me to the pleasure of attending  The Macallan Masters of Photography Collection premiere at the Milk Studio in New York’s meatpacking district.

Showcasing two revered art processes, photography and whiskey-making, Watson took a 12-day photographic odyssey to document the journey of a young couple taking a voyage of discovery and the breathtaking backdrops they encounter along the way of the more than 600 miles of bucolic scenery.

Olivia Munn, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’s newest correspondent said she was “thrilled to be here and to be living in New York” while Vincent Piazza who plays “Lucky Luciano” on the hit HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” was also in attendance.

Even though the buzz in the room on Thursday was about the beauty of the iconic images of Mr. Watsons’ photo series, the real star of the night was The Macallan Sherry Oak 20 Years Old. A limited selection of just 200 bottles  is available for purchase now in the U.S. for $1,000 each. The bottle arrives in a sleek black presentation box and includes a specially commissioned label by Watson alongside a set of 10 unique portfolio prints.

For collectors another 36 individually customized bottles of The Macallan 1946 whiskey, the year Watson first met his wife, Elizabeth, each with a signed one-of-a-kind collectible platinum print, will also be available for purchase later this year for $16,000.

I for one would love to try The Macallan 1946 whiskey but I think it is out of my price range. I have sampled a 1970 whiskey. What about you, what’s the oldest tipple you’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy?

By Zachary Puznak

For more information: http://www.themacallan.com/home.aspx

From China with Love – The Rise of China’s Shoppers

January 20, 2011 10:01 am - Posted by Michael Keller in Travel

As China’s President Hu Jintao visits the US we thought it’d be a good time to look at the phenomenal new wealth in China and how this translates to luxury goods and our favorite indulgence WINE.

For China’s expanding club of millionaires, luxury goods are no longer the trifles of the foreign bourgeoisie, they are the indicators of a life lived well.

The number of Chinese with accrued wealth totaling at least 10 million yuan is now hovering just below the million-person mark and a large number of them are showing that their parents’ forced frugality is not in their genes. Instead, they are opting for the brands that have defined the good life for many a well-heeled westerner.

Shanghai-based luxury publishing company Hurun Report conducted a poll in 2010 that found China’s wealthy covet familiar names: Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Gucci. They want to drive Rolls-Royce’s Phantom and wear a Patek Philippe on their wrist. And when it comes to drinks, they’ll shell out thousands for Bordeaux reds and cognacs.

They are young, averaging just 39 years old. Their average wealth is growing faster than their foreign counterparts. They travel and they golf; they send their children to Great Britain for secondary school and to the U.S. for university. They spend an average of 1.9 million yuan a year on luxuries. They each own three cars and 4.4 luxury watches. They are educated about what they want—gone are the days of using a broad brush to paint Chinese luxuries buyers as the nouveau riche.

”China’s millionaires are fast becoming sophisticated, and they are aspiring towards higher social status,” said Hurun Report founder Rupert Hoogewerf.

And there’s no plateau in sight indicating when the appetites of more and more Chinese citizens of means will begin to be appeased. Figures just released by International Wine and Spirit Research show that Chinese consumption of wine increased by 100 percent from 2005 to 2009. The good times are rolling for the new leisure class and they swallowed it down with nearly 96 million cases of wine last year. Reporting on the numbers, decanter.com said the country is expected to be drinking more than 126 million cases a year by 2014.

In Shanghai alone, wine imports increased by 51 percent in 2010 compared to the year before and the value of that imported product was 76 percent higher than the previous year, winechina.com reported.

While the country’s authorities proudly say that 90 percent of all wine consumed in China is produced domestically—a huge potential market pushing the biggest chateaux all over the world to try to gain a toehold by developing partnerships with Chinese vintners—that 10 percent remaining is still big stakes.

“We have an office in Hong Kong and I recently attended a team dinner there,” Gary Boom, with vintner Bordeaux Index, told The Daily Telegraph. “On every table in that restaurant was a bottle of wine. Young Chinese men and women were at the bar having a glass before their meal – 10 years ago they would have been drinking tea. We are selling £100,000 worth of wine a day to China.”

Vice-premier Li Keqiang just returned to Beijing from one of several high-level buying trips Chinese officials are making all over the world. At the same time, the country reported that its foreign exchange reserves had reached an all-time high of $2.85 trillion at the end of 2010—an unprecedented sum burning a hole in China’s pocket—Li’s delegation placed $20 billion in orders for European luxury goods. As just one example of the Chinese elites’ strong affinity for upmarket goods, the group penned a $7.5-billion deal with Spain to purchase, among other things, fine wine, ham, and olives. It seems that the makings for the finest tapas spread outside of San Sebastian will be in Shanghai or Shenzhen.

“The last decade could be characterized by the three words, ‘made in China’,” Gerard Lyons, the chief economist and group head of global research at Standard Chartered, told the Mail & Guardian. “In this next decade it will be ‘owned by China’.”

Written by Michael Keller

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Wine Of The Week – PAUL DOLAN ZINFANDEL 2007

January 19, 2011 9:58 am - Posted by Jody in Drink

Each week I like to choose a new wine to introduce to our fans. These wines vary by region, by varietal and even by price. I don’t think cost and value are necessarily related. So I like to focus on wines I have experienced on my travels and I think our fans will enjoy trying. salut!

Paul Dolan WineWhen it comes to “being green” perhaps there is none more renowned on the California wine scene than Paul Dolan. Referred to as “the King of Green” Paul farms 100% sustainably, with much of his production certified as organic and bio-dynamic. The fruit for this Zinfandel is certified organic by the CCOF.

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I’m not just Cheap, I’m also Easy

January 17, 2011 11:33 am - Posted by Jody in Drink

We love wine that is both cheap and easy drinking. Here’s the first of an on-going series on value wines that we love; low cost, great tasting bottles that are worthy of your attention.

At the Wine Portfolio studios we drink wine like water. In fact our water cooler is filled with Château Lafite Rothschild. I know what you’re thinking, typical spoiled media-types, but just to assure you the Lafite in our cooler is 1985 vintage or newer so we’re really not being that extravagant.

But on the rare occasion when we want to slum it like the rest of you (I mean be fiscally responsible) we too like inexpensive, high value wines. I mean who doesn’t like a bargain and as I always say, wine doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Granted our Cristal flush toilets are getting a bit pricey to operate but the interns like them so much who could take those away?

In all honesty we are big supporters and big purchasers of low cost, high value wine. There are great bottles coming out of New Zealand and Chile, Greece and even Spain that are valued-priced and great tasting. So I thought I’d start a semi-regular series detailing the inexpensive wines we like. It’s easy to rave about Screaming Eagle from California but what about Eagle Wines of India? Ok we haven’t tried those either but the website is funny.

Seriously though here is our first of many lists of low cost, high value wines we like. And as with any wine we talk about, no one has paid us for the mention, these just happen to be some of our current favs.

First up is Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz, a wonderfully complex, delightfully fun and deceptively drinkable wine from the Paarl region of South Africa. Despite its’ name Jam Jar is a semi-sweet wine even though it is in fact very jammy. We first discovered this wine in New York and have loved it ever since. The winemaker’s name is Bruwer Raats so needless to say he couldn’t price the brand too high. Check for sales but it is typically under $10. I just bought a bottle for under $8.

On the opposite end of the taste spectrum is Raw Power an unmanipulated and real Aussie Shiraz from ex-Punk Rock Singer Rawley Power. This wine is unpretentious, full bodied and really great with a steak or even Thai food. It isn’t too harsh but certainly isn’t wimpy. Think of it as The Ramones of wine; big, powerful but still very melodic and smooth. Typically Raw Power sells for about $10 bucks and it is worth every penny.

Finally to round out our selection of three hot wines is the aptly named Ménage à Trois Red which is a sultry Californian blend of Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is the most refined of the three and is a really wonderful wine to share with friends (perhaps in an intimate setting with two others, if you catch my drift). At about $9 to $10 it will be the cheapest part of your evening and you definitely won’t regret this decision. The others, well that’s up to you and your spouses’ lawyer.

We’re not saying this is an exhaustive list by any stretch. There are many, many more. Australia’s Stump Jump Shiraz at under $8 and Argentina’s Fuzion also should get honorable mentions but since the Canadians have pretty much taken up all of the supply of Fuzion I thought I shouldn’t mention it. I don’t want to start a war. Likewise if I profiled two Australian wines my Kiwi friends would disown me.

What this proves is that great wine doesn’t have to cost great sums. It is all about learning what you like. So I’ve shared and now it is your turn.  What are your favorite inexpensive wines?

Sommeliers Suck

January 13, 2011 10:03 am - Posted by Jody in Drink, Learn

That was the rather compelling subject line of an email I just received from one of our Twitter Followers who had a less than satisfactory encounter with a Sommelier and it got me thinking. I bet many of the people in the Wine Portfolio community have had similar experiences with a Sommelier or perhaps have had no experiences whatsoever. Some people are intimidated by a Sommelier or think it will make them look bad in front of their dinner companions if they seek professional advice on selecting a wine. And that’s a shame.

So because I have so many friends who are Sommeliers and because I think a patient and creative Sommelier can bring a lot to the wine experience I thought I’d write an article in celebration of Sommeliers. I want to explain exactly what a Sommelier’s role is and how they can make your next dinner just that much more enjoyable.

First off what the heck is a Sommelier?

A Sommelier is not a person from Somalia, they are wine professionals who are in charge of a restaurant’s wine program. They function as a wine steward who is trained in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food pairing. In most restaurants or clubs they’ll purchase the wine and manage the cellar and in others they’ll also work on menu development with the Chef.

There are several levels of titles for Sommeliers that reflect their formal training. There are Certified Sommeliers, Master Sommeliers and also a designation Master of Wine. I don’t have time to go through the distinctions but suffice it to say Certified Sommeliers have made a significant commitment to wine, whereas those who achieve the designation Master Sommelier or Master of Wine have essentially dedicated their lives to the pursuit of all things wine. I respect their education and practical skills; these are serious wine professionals.

So what does a Sommelier actually do?

This is a big question as each restaurant or private club operates differently. But essentially a Sommelier’s job is to help guests have a better experience when dinning out. They should never be snobby or condescending and never up sell a customer. Their role is to educate, communicate, recommend and serve. And for this reason it is critical that they also understand the art of customer service.

I turn to Sommeliers to enhance my experience. I look to them to explain their wine list, tell me about their cellar and make recommendations on food pairings. No one can know every wine out there and so I count on a Sommelier to educate me about the wines they have in their cellar and to help me decide on what will go best with our table’s meals. I like chatting about the various varietals, labels and vintages and getting to understand how and why a Sommelier built their restaurant’s wine list. And I expect them to turn me on to new producers and new bottles. It is a fun job but an important one.

The next time you and your family or friends are dinning out I heartily recommend that you take advantage of the Sommelier. Most Sommeliers I know live for wine and are thrilled to share their knowledge and passion. So give it a try and leave some comments here on your experiences with Sommeliers.

Wine Of The Week – Alamos Torrontes 2009

January 12, 2011 9:43 am - Posted by Jody in Drink

Each week I like to choose a new wine to introduce to our fans. These wines vary by region, by varietal and even by price. I don’t think cost and value are necessarily related. So I like to focus on wines I have experienced on my travels and I think our fans will enjoy trying. salut!

Alamos Bottle
VARIETIES: 100% Torrontes

Mendoza, Argentina

90 Points — Winealign.com

This huge value — a wonderfully pure, vibrant Torrontes without any of the soapy/perfumed character that afflicts many less expensive wines in the Muscat Torrontes family. This sports an intesnse fragrant pure nose of pineapple/star fruit, spearmint, ginger and herbs. It’s mid-weight, dry, very well balanced and even, with very long lemongrass, fresh herb finish. A hint of sweetness  but it is as clean as a whistle. Excellent length.

David Lawrason (Tasted Dec. 2010)

Ok maybe the second part of that headline is made up but Archaeologist Levon Petrosyan and his team do have reason to party. They have recently uncovered a wine press and other evidence of grape-based wine making that is over 6,100 years old. The excavation in an area that is now Southern Armenia paints a picture of a complex society where mourners tasted a special vintage made at a caveside cemetery. The researchers outlined their findings on Tuesday in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

In their report Archeologist were able to offer a detailed idea of how the ancient peoples interacted with wine. Like today, it was an important element in rituals but wine wasn’t just for special occasions. The wine press found by the archeologists would have held only a few gallons of juice and crushed grapes. it was operated by the time honored technique of barefoot stomping. For daily consumption experts think the society would have had much larger presses.

The expedition which was paid for in part by the National Geographic Society has also unearthed some interesting politics. Many territories from the Mediterreanean to Iran and from India to China claim to be the originators of wine and so this discovery will be greeted with both cheers and jeers by wine lovers across the planet. It is interesting to note that this area of Armenia still produces wine. In fact the region is known for rich merlots and cabernet sauvignons, so clearly the descendants come by their wine making skills honestly.

What Every Great Hotel Should Have

January 6, 2011 5:47 pm - Posted by Jody in Travel

As we travel the world we get to stay in some wonderful properties and have had some truly life changing experiences in great hotels. A brilliant property is in fact a world unto itself. And so while we’ve been crisscrossing the globe producing Wine Portfolio my team and I have been keeping notes on the best attributes of the hotels we call home. And so here is our list of the Top 5 things that EVERY great hotel needs.

Number 1: Corkscrew
Ok it sounds obvious that a wine lifestyle brand would want a decent corkscrew in our hotel rooms but you would be amazed at how many 5-star properties fail to provide this basic amenity. In a world where TSA Agents are only too anxious to confiscate anything that looks dangerous, the classic corkscrew has become a checked bag luxury. We particularly liked the Luna Hotel Baglioni in Venice which had a wonderful corkscrew and two Riedel glasses always on the ready.

Number 2: Coffee Maker
It goes without saying that if you spend your days tasting great wines from around the world and still use a corkscrew and glasses in your room at night then you’re going to need a good coffee maker. And that also means great coffee and cream in the room. Kudos here to the Park Hyatt Tokyo which not only had excellent in room coffee but they also had a hot water machine and a selection of teas and noodles. This is perfect for the jet-lagged traveler.

Number 3: Health Club
I hate resort fees and extra costs to use a fitness room. Really? I don’t want to become a member I just want to workout and stay healthy for the couple of days that I’m staying with you. Some hotels get this, others don’t but the Mandarin Oriental Miami was the star here. They had a great pool, excellent workout facilities and extra long hours.

Number 4: Free Internet
I get it WIFI costs, connectivity has a fee, there’s a charge for IT, so just include it in the price of the room and make it an essential element of each stay. Honestly unless your clientele are cavemen or the extremely elderly who doesn’t need/want to check their email, Facebook and Twitter Accounts? BTW Hoteliers search Goggle for the 90 year-old woman who bought an iPad and you’ll see Internet connectivity needs to be seen as a commodity not a luxury. The winner here for us was Holland America Lines. This summer while we were cruising the Mediterranean we were in constant contact with our studios via WIFI. It wasn’t fast but hey we were on a ship and that’s just wonderful.

Number 5: Bathrobe
There’s an unwritten law in hotel operations that says you send the maid, bellman or maintenance man to guest rooms only when the guests are exiting showers. And for this reason alone all hotel rooms should come with large, comfortable and cool-looking bathrobes. Trust me the maids, bellmen and maintenance guys will appreciate it as well. The best we’ve seen so far was at the Meadwood in Napa Valley, a sumptuous Relais & Châteaux property. The bathrobes here were in a word epic.

OK I could go on, but I will save this for another blog. Suffice it to say we love great hotels and always enjoy staying with a world class property. These ideas aren’t meant as criticisms of some hotels but simply as suggestions to help to make the experience even better for the weary or worldly traveler.

So what about you? What do you think we’ve missed so far on this list of what every great hotel should have?