2016 – the year of the “BRosé”?

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Photo: Instagram / stoningtonvineyards / lucasaw3

Bob Dylan once sang ‘these times they are a changing’ and he may (or possibly may not) have been talking about the reported rapid increase in the number of men drinking rosé wines (read full story here) – or “Brosé” wines as they are now being called! So if you are comfortable ordering a glass of something pink and chilled, or are still one well-groomed beard away from it, now seems a good time to look more closely at this fascinating but often misunderstood wine style.

Long popular in the warmer regions of Spain and Southern France, rosé wines are made using red grapes but with winemaking techniques similar to white wines. So the red colour from the grape skins is used to give the wines their soft pink colours but without the grippy, chewy tannins of a full bodied red wine. Colours range from vibrant purple through to delicate salmon pink –  this great graphic (courtesy of www.gentlemansgazette.com) gives a useful guide to the different shades of rosé if you are looking for inspiration!

Rose-Barometer

 

The wines can be made from a range of different grape varieties, all giving slightly different characters to the final wine. In Australia, Shiraz and Grenache are the two most common red grape varieties used for rosé although Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are among some of the other varieties also used. New Zealand tends to produce more Pinot Noir rosé wines which can be spectacularly elegant and fine. It’s worth mentioning here that in both Australia and New Zealand there are no restrictions on the grape varieties that can be used to make rosé, but if the grape variety is ‘declared’ on the bottle, then the normal labeling laws apply.

It is possible to make rosé as a by-product of full bodied red wines – a small portion of the red fermenting grape juice is drained away and kept separately to finish its life as a rosé. This process is called ‘saignee’ and can be very useful in terms of concentrating the flavours of the remaining red wine as well as making a rosé wine, but in warmer grape growing regions like much of Australia the best rosé wines are made from red grapes picked specifically for rosé. The grapes will be picked a couple of weeks earlier than for a full bodied red wine to help preserve the natural crispness and acidity in the grapes, and this really shows in a more refined style of wine.

In terms of style, rosé wines can range right across the sweetness spectrum from crisp and dry through to rich and sweet – and it’s not always clear from the label where any given wine sits in terms of this, so it’s always a good idea to check with your local wine store staff.

rose wines 3At Merchants we have a range of rosé wines and in terms of food and wine matching they can be very versatile.The crisper drier styles like the Blue Pyrenees Estate Rosé or the Helen & Joey Estate Inara Rosé are delicate enough to accompany dishes with subtle flavours like seafood or lighter pasta dishes, and the off-dry styles like the Robert Stein Rosé from the Mudgee region of Australia can provide a great counterpoint to dishes with a little chilli heat.

One thing we are always thankful for is that here in Singapore every day is a perfect day for rosé – one of the benefits of an equatorial climate. So sit back and relax with a chilled glass of rosé – whether you’re a hipster or not, drinking rose is now officially ok for the guys!

Merchants is a collective of small, independent and artisanal winemakers from Australia and New Zealand. Our vision is to create authentic wine experiences for our passionate wine community, and ensure a future for our small winemakers.


An afternoon with….Artwine

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Recently I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Glen and Judy Kelly, the driving force behind one of the Adelaide Hills newest wine labels – Artwine. Sitting in their beautiful cellar door perched on a hilltop just north of South Australia’s famous Oakbank racecourse, it’s a great place to reflect on how the 2016 vintage is shaping up and to chat about their evolving range of wines. In fact sitting with their dog Coco curled up on my feet and a glass of wine in hand, its easy to see the appeal of grape growing and winemaking in this part of the world.

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Artwine’s stunning cellar door in the Adelaide Hills

Although the grapes in South Australia are harvested in the autumn (February and March) each year, the conditions of the previous seasons have a significant impact on the quality and quantity of each harvest. The second half of 2015 was notably dry across South Australia, with the last three months of the year being particularly warm. Dry grown vineyards and the judicious use of irrigation in other blocks means that even in these tougher years the Artwine vines stay healthy and productive, and after a heavy burst of rain in January provided some much-needed moisture to the vines and soil, a dry warm summer provided the perfect ripening conditions for most of the varieties grown. The red wines in particular look like having intense colour and rich long tannins, so things are looking very positive for the Artwine wines from 2016.

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Looking across the vineyards from the cellar door

Artwine have an amazing array of vineyard resources available to produce their wines and evolve their styles. Cleverly, they have planted a mix of ‘mainstream’ varieties such as Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as ‘emerging’ varieties including Fiano, Tempranillo and Graciano. The Fiano is a particular favourite of Glen and Judy – it’s a white variety from Northern Italy, and has been planted in relatively modest amounts across Australia’s warmer wine growing regions. It’s a tough variety – thick skinned and hardy, and holds onto it crispness even in the warmest climates.

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Judy and Glen Kelly

The Artwine Fiano is labelled as ‘The Wicked Stepmother’…but that may be a story for another time! It effortlessly combines a richness and texture with a lovely refreshing crispness, highlighting the variety’s potential for making drinkable wines that should find a very broad fan base. Relatively few white wines benefit from extended aging (Riesling and Semillon would be the main options in Australia), but recent tastings of some of the earlier vintages of Glen and Judy’s Fiano have been a revelation. The wines are developing gracefully with lovely secondary honeyed notes developing over the aromatic fruits of the younger wines. It’s a work in progress, but a fascinating and enjoyable project to be involved in!

Glen And Judy are visiting Singapore in April and will be hosting tastings at our Duxton, Joo Chiat and Pasarbella locations as below:

8 April Fri
Merchants East Coast (Joo Chiat) 6-8pm

9 April Sat
Merchants PasarBella (Bukit Timah) 12-5pm
Merchants Duxton 6-8pm

10 April Sun
Merchants PasarBella (Bukit Timah) 12-5pm
Merchants East Coast (Joo Chiat) 6-8pm

11 April Mon
Merchants East Coast (Joo Chiat) 6-8pm

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P.S. Artwine’s vineyards recently featured on this great Youtube video of an aerial flight over the Adelaide Hills (courtesy of The Social Sommelier). Click here to view.


What’s in a “vintage”?

verriere-374-01“Vintage” is a word we use commonly, but do you know what the word actually means for wine? Vintage refers to the harvest period when the grapes are ripe and can be picked – typically this happens in September and October in the northern hemisphere (France, Spain etc), and February and March in the southern hemisphere (Australia, Argentina etc). As we head into the Australian and New Zealand vintage period (a frantic time for winemakers!) we’ll bring you updates from around those regions – it’s a great way to get a feel for how the wines of different years will start their life. As a rule, white grapes (for white wine) are picked first, which locks in those lovely fresh, crisp flavours. A few weeks later and it will be the turn of the red grapes (for red wine) to be picked. This gives the red grapes longer in the warm summer and autumn days to ripen fully and develop rich and generous characters that are so important in the finished wine. The time of harvest also varies from one region to another across the country – generally the hottest regions will be picked first, as the grapes ripen more quickly, while the cooler regions will take a few weeks more to get to the perfect ripeness.

Once the wine has been made from the grapes picked during that vintage/harvest, the wine can be labelled with the year – so for grapes picked in March 2015 in Australia, the wines can be labelled ‘2015’. It doesn’t matter when the wine was blended, bottled or shipped to the store – if a year is shown on the label it only relates to when the grapes were actually harvested. Some wines, especially sparkling wines from Champagne, might be labelled ‘non-vintage’ or ‘NV’ – this is because they are made up of wines from a number of different years, rather than a single year. Why? Traditionally regions like Champagne can experience quite different weather and conditions each harvest, which results in wines with different flavours and characters each year. So to produce a consistent wine each year (in a ‘house style’), the winemakers have become very skilled at blending wines from across different harvests to even out these annual differences.

At Merchants however we are a collective of small, independent and artisanal winemakers from Australia and New Zealand. As such, the wines we sell sometimes show some slight variation in style from one year (or vintage) to the next, and we think this is a unique part of their story. Great wines talk about the soil and the climate they are grown in, as well as the skill of the families making the wines. Its also worth noting that during the year we will sell out of certain wines – some of our wines are (lovingly) made in tiny quantities, so its worth putting a few of your favourites in the cellar when they are available. Both these things are what we love about artisan winemaking – its easy to become used to big brand wines being available all year round and tasting the same every vintage, but we celebrate the different story behind each vintage and are excited every year as the new wines are released.

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Raising a glass to International Women’s Day 2016

womenwineTo commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8th 2016, we thought we’d look at the role of women in wine. It’s a popular belief that the wine industry is dominated my grey haired men – but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Last year saw the inaugural Australian ‘Women in Wine’ event, a competition to celebrate women in all areas of the wine industry. The shortlist of finalists included some of Australia’s most innovative and creative talent – a great reflection on the role of women in today’s wine industry.

Another Australian organisation celebrating women in wine is the ‘Fabulous Ladies Wine Society’ – a vibrant community across Australia to encourage more women to be involved in all aspects of wine from the grape to the glass, which hosts regular events. ArtWine Estate – one of Merchants founding wineries – is hosting an event with the FLWS in May this year at their stunning cellar door in the Adelaide Hills. (click here for more details).

One of the key tools in making and enjoying wine is a good sense of smell and taste. In the wine industry it’s a long held belief that women have a more acute sense of smell and taste, and there certainly seems to be good science behind this (click here to read more). As many women will know, during pregnancy the sense of smell in particular can become exceptionally sensitive (we know drinking wine during pregnancy is not recommended, but try smelling one of your favourite wines during this time and see how much more aromatic it seems!).

Another aspect of the wine industry that is vital to making great wines is attention to detail. Every wine is the result of hundreds of small steps, many seemingly insignificant at the time, but all having their own impact on the final wine. From personal experience, most women winemakers are much, much better at managing this level of detail than the majority of their male counterparts!

And its not only in the 21st century where women have had such a major impact on the wine industry. In the 19th century many of the driving forces behind today’s leading Champagne houses in France were women. Many women were left as widows as war ravaged Europe, and names such as Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot and Louise Pommery have become legendary in the world of fine wines for both their technical and business acumen (click here for more information).

So join us at Merchants as we raise a glass to celebrate all the women involved in wine around the world on International Women’s Day.


Chocolate and wine – a most romantic Valentine’s Day at Merchants Wine Store

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A selection of chocolates from Leela’s Fine Chocolate range

To celebrate Valentine’s Day at our East Coast branch of Merchants this year we hosted a wine and chocolate pairing workshop with Leela Titus from Leela’s Fine Chocolates (read more about Leela here). It was a great opportunity to bring together some of our artisanal wines with a selection of hand crafted chocolates, and the results were very interesting (and tasty!).

The similarities between chocolate and wine are striking. Both require specific climates to grow the key ingredients (e.g. grapes and cocoa beans) successfully, and the flavours in the final product are heavily influenced by the region that they are grown in. Also neither are naturally occurring products – both require human intervention to make the final product – and for both the skills to create the finest wines and chocolates have taken centuries to perfect!

For the chemistry-geek, there is a whole raft of flavour, aroma and tannin compounds that are shared between the two, and there is ongoing research into the health benefits of many of these compounds in both wine and chocolate. Whatever your favourite wine or chocolate, both lend themselves to a range of styles – think subtle white chocolate all the way through to high cocoa bitter dark chocolate, and light crisp white wines through to rich reds and warming fortified wines.

One final similarity is that today we take intensely flavoured food and drink like chocolate and wine for granted, often eating or drinking without a second thought. And this is where we miss the real pleasure and true enjoyment of these complex, fascinating indulgences. Sitting down for a couple of hours to taste wine and chocolate is not only a great way to spend an afternoon, but also an opportunity to take some time to really savour the flavours of both, to unwind and enjoy without rushing. A single square of really good chocolate, or a sip of a wine that has been lovingly made can transport you to other parts of the world, or to other times of your life. The simple pleasure of letting flavours linger on your tongue and letting your mind wander is one many of us have forgotten about, so its great to reconnect with our inner self.

Returning to our event with Leela, and one of the highlights was to try some unusual flavour combinations in the chocolates themselves. Leela explained how she is inspired by fresh flavours, and recently she has created a dark chocolate with fresh basil, as well as a rosemary and olive oil chocolate. These were a revelation as the savoury notes from the basil and rosemary highlight a very different spectrum of flavours in the chocolate itself. The final chocolate of the line-up was the most anticipated of the afternoon – a dark chocolate shell filled with crispy bacon bits and gooey salt caramel. If you are wondering, it really was as amazing as it sounds! The smoky bacon flavours really lifted the dark chocolate, and the sweet salty combination of bacon, caramel and chocolate just kept evolving on the tongue after tasting.

Pairing wines with chocolate can be difficult though. The sweetness in many chocolates can make wines look sour or bitter, and the bitterness in some dark chocolates can make fuller bodied red wines look even more bitter as well. So how best to enjoy two of our favourite foods together? The key is to look for sweeter styles of wines which can match the sweetness of the chocolate, or offset any bitterness in the chocolate. Finally, for those not fortunate enough to join us for the tasting, the table below shows our favourite pairings (click on the wines to order from the Merchants online store).

Chocolate Wine
White chocolate, Dulcey chocolate Kies Family Wines Sparkling Heysen Gold, Leura Park Estate ‘Ms Flamingo and Associates’
Rosemary & Olive Oil truffle, Basil truffle Monbulk Winery Sparkling Strawberry wine, Towerhill Estate Late Harvest Riesling
Dark chocolate, Bacon and Salt Caramel truffle Olive Farm Autumn Cabernet

 

Merchants is a collective of small, independent and artisanal winemakers from Australia and New Zealand.


Taste like a Wine Judge!

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There are many great articles and blogs available on the subject of tasting wines (check out www.winefolly.com/review/how-to-taste-wine-develop-palate/ as a good example). Most of them will give a logical, practical guide to tasting wines like professional wine judges or winemakers, and that’s fine. More important, though, is to understand why tasting wines in what can seem quite a formal way is a worthwhile investment of your time and energy.

Wine is still a very mysterious venture for many people. Yet in reality when you break it down to a few simple steps, its actually quite simple – its fermented grape juice! Part of its appeal is that wines are produced in many different countries and are integral to different cultures in different ways, but it’s easy to be blinded by what seems to be very different (and often baffling) wine labels and descriptive terms. At the end of the day, however, it’s what is in the glass in front of you that matters, and even more critically if you enjoy it or not. And that is why having a simple but logical method of tasting wines is so useful. It’s a personal experience, and it’s about understanding your preferences – what you like and what you don’t like – and a simple tasting system is the easiest way to do this time after time. As an example, below are two sets of tasting notes of a Margaret River Chardonnay using a simple approach – one by an interested wine drinker, one by a professional wine judge.

The interested wine drinker….

Colour: The wine is clear – no floaty bits, nice light yellow colour. Looks fresh.

Nose: Smells a bit like fruit salad, some smokiness like a bonfire, a bit lemony

Palate: A bit of the fruit salad taste – lots of fruity taste to start but nice and zingy after that. Lip smacking stuff, didn’t leave my mouth feeling claggy or too dry.

Other notes: really liked it as it was zingy and very easy drinking, refreshing on a hot day. Would definitely buy again – good for taking to a barbecue or party.

The wine judge…

Colour: Pale straw, hints of lime hue

Nose: Citrus, melon, waxy, clean and lifted, subtle oak

Palate: Tropical, medium weight and length, nice sugar/acid balance, well integrated oak

Other notes: Drink now to 3 years, good example of a Margaret River Chardonnay.

The key thing to look at is that although the language appears to be very different, using a simple format works well for both purposes. The layout is clear and simple, and both the wine drinker and the judge can look back at their notes, remember the wine and then make an informed choice about the wine in the future.

The impact of wine tastings can be surprisingly far-reaching. Much of the success of the modern Australian wine industry as a global force is down to tastings held in London during the 1980’s – which features in the documentary “Chateau Chunder – A Wine Revolution”. (To celebrate Australia Day a special screening of the film, along with a Q&A session with an award-winning Australian winemaker is being held at Merchants Wine Store, 443 Joo Chiat Road on Tuesday 26th January – click here for details)

If you are interested in learning more about wine, join us at one of our regular winemaker tastings at Merchants Duxton, Pasarbella and Joo Chiat – they are a great opportunity to taste new wines in a relaxed environment with the person who actually crafted the wine right in front of you! Contact info@merchantsofsingapore.com.sg to be added to our mailing list to keep updated.


Festive Food and Wine matching with Merchants


Well another year has flown by, and as the silly season approaches people often ask us at Merchants which wines we’ll be pouring over the festive period. We’ve put together a list of our favourite Christmas tipples with all the fixings from a classic Australian Christmas meal.

To start – bubbles are the universal way to bring people together at any event, and Christmas is no different. We love the Leura Park Estate Vintage Grande Sparkling Blanc de Blanc – its 100% Chardonnay and has a touch of rich ripe fruit and silky smooth bubbles that makes it a real crowd pleaser, especially if it’s the first wine of the day!

Entrée – for a land ‘girt by sea’ it’s no surprise that seafood is always popular around Christmas time in Australia. We love an entrée of fresh Coffin Bay oysters, with just a touch of lime juice – they have a delicious briney smell of the sea – and are perfect with a crisp dry Riesling. The Sorby Adams Jellicoe Riesling from Eden Valley in South Australia is a great example of the variety, and complements the delicate oyster flavours without overpowering them.

Main course – a glazed ham or roast turkey (or sometimes even both!) are popular choices for the centrepiece of an Australian Christmas, and both work well with a range of wines as they are flavourful but not too dominant. To avoid the usual argument about serving red or white wines with lighter meat dishes, we have gone for one of each! A fuller bodied white wine like the Fermoy Estate Chardonnay from Margaret River will hold up really well against the flavour of the ham or turkey, while offering some refreshing crispness. For red wine drinkers, try the Myattsfield Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot/Merlot blend. Cabernet Sauvignon blends like this are great with food as they have lots of structure and character, and any ‘grippiness’ in the wine will be held in check by the food – which really allows the lovely layers of fruit flavours to shine.

Dessert – matching wines with desserts can be problematic as the sweetness in the dessert can make wines look bitter or hard. The trick is to look for sweeter wines which can balance the sweetness in the dessert. Try a sparkling red – it’s a unique Australian style of wine (typically made from Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon) – and made in the same way as sparkling white wines but often with a touch of sweetness as well as some savoury notes. This makes it very versatile with foods, particularly with sweeter dishes. So we’d recommend the Gartelmann Sparkling Shiraz with our pavlova – it’s a popular Christmas dessert that’s like a slice of summer on the plate, and the red berry fruits just burst from the wine glass! And for the traditionalists, the Gartelmann is also a delicious match with a rich fruit Christmas pudding.

So there you have it – a great selection of wines for a very special occasion. Merchants has a beautiful Festive Menu on offer this year so you can relax and let someone else do the work! All that remains is for everyone here at Merchants to wish you all a safe and merry Christmas!