What I Wish For Christmas

24 December 2011
Author: Jeannie Cho Lee


Christmas is the one time I indulge in wishing and dreaming of a perfect world. Here are my wishes for a better wine world: I wish more people would stop using toxic chemicals in the vineyard. In the area of viticulture, we have advanced by leaps and bounds from the 1970s and 1980s when the use of chemicals for pesticide and herbicide use was widespread. However, many people still continue to use far too much chemicals than is necessary in the vineyard. Agronomists and microbiologists like Claude Bourguignon declared in the 1980s that Burgundian vineyards were ¡®dead¡¯ due to the extensive use of chemicals. This alarmed many vineyard owners and they reacted by turning to organic and biodynamic methods of farming. Despite the cost, additional labour and time involved in organic methods, the wines made by these more natural methods found a strong following. Domaine Leflaive, Domaine Leroy and Domaine de la Romaee Conti are just a handful of top, conscientious producers who became convinced that change was necessary. All three turned to the biodynamic method of farming. Biodynamic principles of farming is a holistic, sustainable approach to farming which involves the use of specific preparations, use of an astronomical calendar for farming and a strong focus on the interrelationships of living organisms on the vineyard/farm. I have always found biodynamic wines, regardless of style, to be more alive and often more complex. Biodynamic viticulture does not guarantee better wine however, it does ensure a healthier way of farming and a healthier approach to winemaking. My wish for this Christmas is for this trend towards organic and biodynamic farming to thrive in the coming years, especially in the wine growing regions in China and the rest of Asia. Along the same vein, I hope that more careful site selection is conducted prior to planting so that good quality grapes can be grown without too much chemical use. I wish winemaking techniques would take a back seat to the wine’s site expression. Too often we taste the heavy handed toasty oak of the barrel in which the wine was aged or the zingy sharp acidity from added tartaric acid rather than the wine’s inherent flavours. It’s very easy to make formulaic wines, adding a bit of packaged yeast, then adding a bit of powder tannins or acidity to adjust the taste of the wine to fit a specific profile. When it is skillfully done, it is difficult to tell that the wine has been manipulated. However, these types of wines rarely reach the complex expressions of a more naturally made wine. There are extremists who espouse ‘natural’ winemaking thus adding no additives such as sulphur dioxide, a natural preservative. This extreme position increases the likelihood of the wine becoming oxidized more easily and can pose problems if the wine needs to travel long distances to reach its final consumer. However, there are ways to make wine more natural without going to that extreme and this begins with being more careful and selective when it comes to adding anything in the wine that doesn’t enhance its natural expression. We might consider not using unnecessary additives such as tannins or added enzymes to extract flavour; it might be about being more careful about aging wine in new oak which can sometimes strip the wine of its natural flavours. In a world where technology can help to create a ‘dial a wine’ flavour, it is important that we carefully consider all the winemaking tools now easily at our disposal: vacuum evaporators which eliminate excess water in grape must to concentrate the wine, reserve osmosis machines which can eliminate volatile acidity, alcohol and other wine faults. These types of machines should be used with care and the goal should be to avoid using them altogether and focus more on the natural expression of the wine and the site. I wish for the wine world more balanced wines without excessive power and alcohol. I would like to put ‘elegant’ as a key positive adjective to describe quality wine to replace ‘powerful’ and ‘big’. I would also like to volunteer other wine characteristics to be more highly valued in the world of wine. These include: subtle, nuanced wines, gentle and delicate wines and wines with great finesse. I believe the era for high alcohol wines with massive extract should be a fad of the past. Our lifestyle, our cuisines and palates in Asia demand a more refined definition of quality in wine. I wish that there were only honest wines in this world. I wish we did not have to doubt when we buy a good bottle of wine whether the wine is genuine or whether we can trust that what the label says is true. Fake wines are becoming a serious issue since wine is relatively easy to copy; refilling empty bottles of genuine wine bottles makes it even more difficult unless one opens the bottle and can taste the difference. Label integrity is also an important aspect of trust, between the producer and the consumer. In the ideal world, the information on the label should be the guarantee of product integrity. ? I wish that in the coming year more merchants will take pride in the sourcing, storage and handling of their wines. One of the key requirements for a reliable wine merchant should be in their scrupulous sourcing of wines. They should take pride in providing not just authentic wines with good provenance but ones that have been handled and stored in the most careful manner. We have all experienced the moment when a great wine disappoints, prematurely oxidized or just dead, often arising from poor handling and storage conditions. Fine wines should be delivered in refrigerated trucks having arrived in Hong Kong in reefer containers, stored in appropriate temperature controlled environments and delivered in the condition that the winemaker intended. This last wish is really wishful thinking, but I wish all wines could be priced at below HK$2,000. This would eliminated speculative buyers, punters and those who are more interested in making money from wine than opening it and enjoying it with friends. I wish all wines, even the best, had a price cap so that we can hear the ‘pop’ of open bottles more often than admiring it from a far. I would venture to guess that less than 100 wines leave the cellar at over HK$ 2,000 per bottle. It is the secondary market that most often inflates prices and creates a market for speculators and investors. ?


Reprinted with permission from South China Morning Post