Top China vintages in spitting distance, say experts
Francis Ford Coppola added a touch of Hollywood to the galaxy of wine stars who appeared at the Wine Future 2011 conference this month in Hong Kong. Other visiting grape luminaries included Robert Parker (see cover story, page six), Jancis Robinson and Gary Vaynerchuk.
Mostly aimed at the trade, the three-day event also provided tips for individual wine lovers and collectors as experts discussed issues such as fine wines, social media and education. It wouldn't have been a wine event without tastings, and these involved 45 sommeliers, 20,000 glasses and 1,000 spittoons.
What can consumers take away from these weighty considerations?
Wine critics Steven Spurrier and Michel Bettane both identified the birthplace of wine in the Black Sea region as having the most potential for future new sites of production. Georgia and Ukraine are the countries to watch.
Parker pointed to Spain as the 'great awakening giant', where many exciting changes are taking place. The sparkling wine, cava, is 'getting better and better'. Parker also said neighbouring Portugal has great potential.
In a session on newly emerging wine styles, master of wine Robinson said wine lovers should keep an eye on China. Grace Vineyard in Shanxi has established itself on the wine lists of top hotels, and wines such as Domaine Helan Mountain and Silver Heights are receiving critical acclaim. Helan Qing Xue's Jia Bei Lan 2009 just won a Decanter international trophy. Luxury brand owner LVMH is set to produce sparkling wine in Ningxia, an autonomous region in the northwest seen as having potential.
Robinson also identified Geisse Brut 1998, a Brazilian sparkling wine made from 70 per cent chardonnay and 30 per cent pinot noir, as one to watch owing to its elegance, complexity and proven ageing capability.
Turkey also had a long winemaking tradition and was proving capable of meeting international standards. Robinson highlighted Turkey's potential with Kavaklidere's Prestige Okuzgozu 2008 Elazig. Made from the indigenous Anatolian variety okuzgozu, the wine is considered approachable with strawberry, cherry notes with soft tannins, and a touch of spiciness from underlying French oak.
In a discussion on the impact of climate change, Spurrier identified English sparkling wines as potential winners.
Warmer weather conditions mean that grapes grown there would be able to reach optimum ripeness levels. Another new variety we may see more of is the white variety vermentino, described by Spurrier as 'the riesling of the south'. Cabernet franc, an important component of Cheval Blanc and Angelus, may have a greater presence in the future.
However, climate change is already having an impact on wine, said master of wine Pancho Campo. He said consumers could already taste the impact: some chateaux in Bordeaux were producing wines in the region of 15 per cent alcohol. We can also expect to see new varieties, genetically modified vines and lightweight packaging.
Another panel discussed the impact of social media on the Asian wine world. Parker said: 'Never before has the consumer been more educated.'
Blogs, Twitter and Facebook have made the consumer's voice more resonant and powerful. Vaynerchuk, founder of Wine Library TV, described this phenomenon as 'word of mouth technically driven'. Does it dilute the influence of critics such as Parker and Robinson? Vaynerchuk did not think so. 'They know their stuff, and experts will not go away.'