By Parani Chitrakorn
While the delicious menus and quality wines served up during the annual World Gourmet Festival at the Four Seasons Hotel keep connoisseurs coming back for more, the wine tastings have become increasingly popular with Thais over the years. This year we were fortunate to have the opportunity to attend both New World and Old World style tastings, with wines courtesy of Mount Langi Ghiran from Victoria, Australia and Pio Cesare from Alba, Piedmont, Italy.
The Mount Langi Ghiran tasting was conducted by chief winemaker Dan Buckle, who joined the winery in 2003. Purchased by the Rathbone family in 2002, Mount Langi Ghiran (aboriginal for "home of the yellow-tailed black cockatoo") was first planted with shiraz in 1870 and later replanted in 1963.
Pio Cesare, on the other hand, was founded in 1881 and has remained in the family ever since. For five generations, the winery has been producing quality Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera in its ancient cellars, located in the centre of Alba. Pio Boffa, the owner of Pio Cesare, was on hand to conduct the tasting.
Buckle brought an energetic and informative presentation with slides of the soils, sites and vines to show us how his wines are made. The winery has its own environmental management system and places emphasis on preventive disease management, pest management, land conservation and irrigation.
"But regardless of the technology, wine is really all about art," said Buckle. "I try to make a premium wine despite the perception that Australian wines are industrial wines."
He guided us through two whites and five reds. We started with a 2009 Billi Billi Pinot Grigio, which was refreshing with pear, apple and honeydew on the nose and pear and lychee on the palate. The second white was 2008 Cliff Edge Riesling, with a nose of lemon zest and grapefruit. It had good acidity in fruit and mineral tones, with a long finish on the palate.
The red tastings began with a 2007 Billi Billi Shiraz. Despite being a young wine, it was not that tannic, and was supported by bright berry flavours that made it an easy drinking wine. Next up was 2007 Cliff Edge Shiraz. This bottle breathed ripe fruit and juicy plum and was a good example of "spicy" cool-climate wines. We then moved to the estate-grown Langi, starting with the 2005 Langi Shiraz. It brought aromas of oak-spiced boysenberry, black current and candied liquorice, complemented by roasted coffee, fine tannins and a long finish. The 2007 Langi Shiraz had more blueberry, raspberry and mixed spices on the nose and was still young with dense and tight tannins - definitely a wine that needs more time in the bottle to reach its maturity and complexity. The last tasting was 2005 Langi Cabernet Sauvignon, which showed blackcurrant and dark plum with tobacco leaf on the nose. On the palate, its berry fruit and dark cherry with cassis and fine tannins lingered to create a long finish.
Pio Cesare's Boffa guided us through the proud winery's history. "The technology might make a difference but at the end of the day the style of the wines always comes from Mother Nature," he said. The family recently rebuilt and restructured the cellars, adding a new fermentation cellar and a new barrel-ageing room, 12 metres beneath the existing building and the Roman walls.
We started the tasting with a 2007 Barolo, with Boffa reminding us that the year had been hot and dry, keeping the wine high in acidity. 2006 was a cooler year, with the grapes ripening late and producing a more traditional Barolo. 2003 was the hottest year in 60 years, said Boffa, and sure enough the wine was all sweet cassis and cherry on the nose. On the palate, it brought warmth and fruit with acidity and spiciness. Then came 2001, which was again a cool vintage. On the nose was leather then rose and violet while on the palate, it was softer and spicy. The Bicentennial vintage, 2000, was a bit too warm however. The nosing brought out a second layer of leather and some barnyard but not the fruit. On the palate there was less spice and less fruit in comparison to 2001. The 1999 vintage was a classic Barolo with black cassis, floral violet and some rose petal on the nose. On the palate, it was round, finessed, mineral and complex - definitely one of my favourites.
To say "regular Barolo" is almost an insult, says Boffa, who prefers "the classic traditional old way of Barolo from seven different vineyards". Pio Cesare has a single vineyard - Pio Cesare Ornato - that produces only 9,500 bottles. The 1998 Ornato Barolo showed the character of matured Barolo with some leather, red cherry on the nose. On the palate it was acidic with soft tannins, dried fruit and long lingering finish.
Both tastings were very impressive and made all the more enjoyable by guests being able to meet the winemakers and share their passion for the grape.
Special to The Nation