Fine Wine in Singapore Airport

In the new Terminal 3 of Changi Airport there is a tapas and wine tasting bar.  With 25 or so wines under the neutral gas Argon to prevent oxidation once the bottle is open, i.e. so they sell tastes of wine, or by the glass or bottle.  Prices are steep, but you can try some interesting quality wines.  It’s a nice addition to the airport.


John Forrest Collection 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon

88 points

Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. 14%

Following on from my discussion on whether or not New Zealand could produce ‘classed growth’ equivalent Bordeaux blends (claret), here is a wine that recently won the “Tri Nations Wine Challenge” top Cabernet Sauvignon (Balnaves “The Tally” came second).

It’s a very varietal, berry flavoured wine, with smoky oak. The tannins are rather dry, but not hard. It drinks quite well now, although there is fresh berry like acidity. Fruit oriented rather than deep and vinous. Nice wine, I’ll buy a few bottles to keep for 4-5 years then try again. At this point in time I see far less stylistic similarity with Bordeaux than the Te Mata Awatea I tried last week.

PS I should point out this is 100% Cabernet (or near to it) and did not compete in the Bordeaux Blend category, which was won by two Hawkes Bay wines (Villa Maria 2002 and Trinity Hill 2004).

UPDATE: Oct 2010 – fortunately this was under screwcap because if this was under cork it would be dead, as it is it has little zest – it’s so ripe.  It’s Californian in style, definitely late picked grapes.  I really hope that this fashion disappears soon in Hawkes Bay.  DRINK NOW.  83 points.

Stonier Reserve Pinot Noir 2003

87 points

Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia. 13.5%

This received a huge rating (eg 95 points) from James Halliday on release, and it was only $30 so it sold out fast.  I bought 6 bottles.  When I first tried it I found it oaky and young and wondered how Halliday saw into its future with such confidence.  Now at 5 years of age (in a good cellar) it seems mature and not terribly exciting.  It’s a nice varietal pinot, touch of Brett, with distinctive green tones, enjoyable, drink now.

Update: May 2010 – two years later this wine has obvious aged characteristics, which adds nicely.  Quite different to Otago Pinots with their sweet core, more Burgundian.  The green tones remain.  Today I’d give it 89 points – drink now.

Can New Zealand equal ‘classed growth’ Bordeaux ?

Chateau Montrose 1999 (12.5%), Te Mata Awatea 2000 (13%)

Geoff Kelly has posted to his website a rather comprehensive review of 2005 New Zealand Cab/Merlot blends. This led a very knowledgeable friend to write :

I still can’t quite believe the claims re NZ cabs – haven’t we been hearing for 20 yrs that they’re comparable to classed growth. The fruit is getting better, but what else… Or am I hopelessly out of touch”.

Which got me thinking. It’s a very good question. I’ve always been a fan of Kiwi claret, and thought it has great potential. Hawkes Bay and Auckland to my palate seem to have the ability to produce wine closest to a Bordeaux flavour profile than anywhere else (Steven Spurrier seems to agree). Western Australia comes next. There is no doubt that California can produce wine of classed growth quality, but now perhaps more than ever there seems to be quite a style and flavour difference. However, similarities in fruit flavour don’t mean New Zealand can necessarily produce wine of classed growth standard. There have long been doubts about the ability to fully ripen grapes, plus there are issues of vine vigour (too much giving a herbaceous quality, great in Sauvignon Blanc, but not so much in other varieties).  But New Zealand (like Australia) is very strong on viticultural and wine making R&D. Over the past 20 years the red wines have been getting darker, richer, and more alcoholic (like everywhere it seems). New Zealand now even makes credible, even exciting Syrah/Shiraz, a grape variety I never expected New Zealand to be able to ripen. So everything bodes well for Kiwi claret, especially considering that winemakers have had much more experience with these blends – Pinot Noir and Syrah are new for most New Zealand wine makers, while producers like Te Mata were producing very classy Cab/Merlot blends 25 years ago.

So can Kiwi claret reach classed growth quality ? And is there a range of wines at this level ?I think the answer is a qualified yes. Firstly, ‘classed growth’ is a pretty broad level. Secondly, yes there are some very fine kiwi cabernets, some that are really exciting, but not a great deal of volume is produced, and there are some serious misses as well as hits. I wasn’t impressed with the 2002 Craggy Hills Sophia (unlike Robert Parker), and I’ve had some horribly forced and showy Villa Maria reds. The fruit is more powerful and ripe now (as proof Kiwi cabernet now sells pretty well in Australia), but winemakers need to learn to use this asset wisely and aim for restraint and harmony.

As a test, on separate occasions I tried (over dinner) bottles of Te Mata Estate’s Awatea 2000 against a good quality low price Bordeaux, Chateau les Grands Marechaux 2000, and then the classed growth Chateau Montrose 1999. The Awatea outclassed the Marechaux, it was finer with the cabernet shining through (the Bordeaux being virtually all Merlot). Against the Montrose the Awatea was more noticeably green, while the Montrose surprisingly managed to be more fragrant on the nose while being a somewhat deeper, more brawny (St Estephe style) wine – but I’m pointing up the differences here, the main story was how well the Awatea sat longside the Montrose, it was not clearly outclassed. The Awatea was indeed a slightly more attractive wine, the fruit a smidge sweeter and more lively, a little more beautiful and elegant; more feminine.

The Awatea is a similar price to les Grands Marechaux, Montrose is 3-4 times as expensive. And Awatea is Te Mata’s 2nd ranked cabernet blend. So all in all a very good showing.

Larmandier-Bernier 1er cru terre de vertus

92 points

Champagne, France. 12.5%

Non dosage wines have appeared to me to be more miss than hit, but this non-dosage blanc de blanc really hits the mark in a vinous savoury mineral style.  Aromas of rocks – really.  Not a pretty Champagne, but not trying to be.  Nor big and masculine.  This really is different, highly successful – though I in no way am suggesting that other houses try to go for this style.

Very impressive bubbles that lasted to the last glass even when consumed over two days.

Te Mata Estate Woodthorpe Syrah Viogner 2002

60 points

Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. 13.5%

This is winemaker experimentation gone too far.  At first I thought it was Mercaptan, but the next day it seemed to be over-the-top Brettanoymyces.

There is sweetish fore-palate and then very savoury spoilt finish.  I was impressed by the weight and concentration, but wasn’t going to drink it for dinner – instead I returned it to the shop.
I don’t ask for squeaky clean wines, but this was too much.  We then opened a bottle of 2004 Te Mata Bullnose Syrah (the big brother of Woodthorpe) and it was pristine.  Perhaps 2002 was an experiment, not to be repeated.

Tim Knapstein Cabernet Merlot 1999

78 points

Clare Valley, South Australia.

Overlooked retailer stock (i.e. “found out the back”) that I was pleased to purchase (why buy the 2004 when the 1999 is available).

Unfortunately this wine reminds me that Australia has always struggled with merlot.  Rather weirdly exotic over and under ripe aromas, a bit confronting.  Warm sweetish palate, and yet with tinned asparagus.

Te Mata Estate Awatea 2000

91 points

Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. 13%

This cabernet/merlot blend is Te Mata’s “2nd wine”, and a very good one too.

Others have said that 2000 is one of the very best Awatea’s in recent years, just behind the 1998.  Like the 1998 this strays into the dark, savoury spectrum, while retaining the freshness that Bordeaux and Hawkes Bay can deliver (which is more rare for California, Sth Africa, and Australia).  At 8 years of age it is drinking beautifully.

A warning on govt alcohol warnings

There has been a fair amount of bleating in Decanter magazine recently about the UK government’s warning to middle-class and affluent drinkers – “no more than a glass a night”.

The thing to remember is that health warnings are not entirely about objective science, it is very difficult for them to be. Guidelines and warnings are usually written with the most vulnerable, and least educated, in mind. For example, there is some evidence that smoking reduces the symptoms of schizophrenia but no public health professional will ever publicize this; not just because smoking carries far too many other risks for schizophrenics, but rather because the communicators fear that some people might take out the message that smoking has some health benefits (smoking is good for you ? !!)

Health professionals hold similar fears for alcohol messages. So in spite of the established health benefits of moderate drinking, especially for older people, few if any guidelines go so far as actually encouraging non-drinkers to start drinking (yet there are no such qualms for recommendations about exercise).

My point is that you just have to expect health warnings and guidelines for alcohol to be a bit paternalistic. They will draw on scientific evidence, but they won’t present an objective summary of it. Public health messages are not scientists talking to scientists.

That said, sometimes health educators go too far. Look at what the American Heart Association’s website says about alcohol. The evidence that moderate alcohol consumption reduces risk of heart disease is very substantial, yet the first thing they say about alcohol is is: “Limit alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and lead to heart failure or stroke.” It’s silly of them to give tautological warnings (too much of anything is bad, that’s what “too much” means). And, as it is reasonable to expect that the Heart Association website is only talking about alcohol’s effect on heart disease (that’s what they say they are writing about), then they are misrepresenting the scientific evidence. Compare their rabid stance with this article from Harvard School of Public Heath. Notice the relative risk of death chart – even subjects in the 6+ drinks per day had lower risk of death from heart attack than those who did not consume alcohol.


In summary, public health announcements shouldn’t be expected to fully represent scientific evidence, they are trying to affect mass behaviour and so have to give a simple, often simplistic, message. Unthinking consumption of health warnings can, in some cases, be bad for your health.