Savoured…The $30 Challenge

Where I live, prices of wine can be high. In fact prices of wine are even higher in some of the neighbouring countries with duty on tax as high as 500% on value, alcohol level and so on. The only exception is Hong Kong which has now become a haven for wine purchasing due to the exemption of duty and tax.

Our tax and duty on wine is about $9.50 to $11 per bottle, depending on the alcohol level. The higher the alcohol content, the higher the tax and duty. I think you get the idea how much we pay for a bottle of good whisky or vodka. *.*

So most of the time, we (most of my wine collector friends) do not really give any thoughts to purchase and taste $30 or less wine, well maybe a few sips at weddings or cocktail functions. So when I was invited to join a group of wine connoisseurs and collectors for a $30 challenge, I could not say no, In fact I was thrilled. When we (especially the different groups I am with) do not think twice to drop serious dollars for wines we love to drink, it is easy to forget to consider that there might be good wines, diamonds-in-the-rough types. Maybe not every wine, but most must have started at that price level, maybe not quite be $30, but humbly I am sure.

It was not simply to go to a supermarket and pick up the first $30 on the shelves. As we are a bunch of curious, critical and possible cruel group of people, we looked for wines that were made from unusual grape varietals, unexpected blend, or unexpected wine growing region for the usual grape varietals. All were served blind and we had to guess grape varietals, vintage, and wine producing regions over local zichar cuisine.
$30 challenge_white
This first pair of white was quite intriguing. The one that got us stumped was made from an unfamiliar grape: Jacquere. I thought it was oxidised and the colour was quite dense. We guessed every possible grape varietals we thought might be close, but just not Jacquere. I thought it was a Spanish white that might have been oxidised. It seemed that this wine needed to be drunk very young and vintage 2009 was considered over the hill. So now we are hunting down another bottle to taste again so that we can decide if it was indeed oxidised.
$30 Challenge_Red 1
The next pair was reds. I brought a NZ red of unusual blend from this part of the world. When I last visited NZ, I was amazed by how grape varietals such as Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon are tasting. It maybe due to global warming or the vines are maturing, but they have come around with more complexity and maturity in flavours instead of being green and stalky which I encountered more than a decade ago. So when I found a Malbec/Merlot blend, I felt that this would be a good blind. In terms of character, it was quite Grenache-like, soft, fruit forward, smoky and lip-smacking yumminess. And guess what, it was priced at $26.50.
The Valpolicella was a big wine, too big in my opinion. Although it was opened for quite a while it didn’t soften till we were almost done with dinner. The size and sweetness will definitely appeal to novice drinkers and a good intro to getting to know wine further.
$30 Challenge_Red 2
I was glad that there was a California wine in our selection. Entwine Merlot was made by the Wente Family and it really showed its country of origin. Soft, fruit forward sweetness and flavours smoky notes, and big in style without being too overwhelming.
The Australian Shiraz was the most un-shiraz-like for its nationality. We thought we can spot a young Australian Shiraz from a mile, but this little black bottle stumped us. It didn’t have the green pepper, black pepper, candied-like upfront sweetness, and in your face style that it is known for. I am not a fan of Australian Shiraz, but I must say, this was not a bad one.
The final bottle may be the only bottle I not sure about. It was rather one-dimensional, short to mid length and fell quite quickly. It had fruit such as plum and cherry, and the tannin was quite soft laced with characteristic of dried leaves, wood chips and dried flowers. It may have been too dry for me.

We agreed that we had the most fun sourcing for potential bottle to surprise each other. But I still believe that life is too short. I try to drink as well as I can.

Savored…Liang Kee Restaurant, Singapore

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The picture is signiticant for three very special reasons. #1. It was shared with my Mom and Dad since their return from a 45 days vacation. Although I got together with them while I was in Sonoma, it was only for a fleeting 24 hours. As C and I will be leaving for Zurich in a couple of days time, it was great that we got to get together on Saturday.

#2, this is the first picture I took using my brand spanking new 50mm lens. I have always wanted this prime lens and I am so grateful that my cousin load his for me to fiddle around, and round, and round for seven months before I bought one for myself. I am pleased how it turned out and can’t wait to experiment with it more.

Finally for #3, I have come to know and enjoyed wines from Whitehall Lane for more than 10 years. It is the first winery I worked with, and their quality has always been very consistent. Lately, their Merlot has improved tremendously for the past 3 to 4 vintages.This vintage was lush and full in texture with round dark fruit notes, with a hint of mocho and smoke. Nicely done.

Savored…Buelton, California

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There is one thing I regret from the trip to Buelton is to leave my card with the man who made this wine.
On my long drive back to San Francisco from Los Angeles, my brother and I decided to stop by The Hitching Post in Buelton for dinner. As we didn’t make any reservation, we sat at the bar. Sitting next to me was this unassuming gentleman who was drinking this wine alone. I asked him how was the wine, and he gently smiled and said that it was good because he made it. He asked if I like to try, and I eagerly said yes, but requested for just a small splash because I was to drive up North right after dinner. I thought it was rather decent, good youthful fruit notes, delicate and balanced sweetness and rather plush. I asked where can I buy it. He said it was not for sale because it was homemade. I believe he doesn’t have the license. But he said he can trade it with other people for other wines or/and knowledge in the enhancement of winemaking. He made just about 100 cases of wines including other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and etc. We spoke for about 45 minutes over dinner before I had to rush off. But I realized that the style of the wine was exactly like him. Unassuming and unpretentious, gently forward, youthful at heart, and balanced. He basically made wine that he likes to drink.
Individuals like him are getting fewer, for most pursuit high ratings and reviews at the expense of individuality.and personality. I will search the web to find a way to contact him.

Thank you for sharing……

Wine Style…Serangoon, Singapore

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There are two laptops and 1 PC that I work with now. The PC is always at home and it is really good at processing photographs, One laptop (HP) travels with me and the other (512 Vaio) is now permantly park in my office (and an old clunky IBM laptop retired in a dark corner somewhere in my office). I have photographs in all three computers and I have been, and it will be a slow process, consolidating all photograhs into a new gadget (Seagate external hard drive) which will also travel with me. So it seems I am perpectually housekeeping.

In the process of going through my albums, I stumbled upon another interesting wine was savored at my cousin in law’s place. For this bottle, I am not only reminising, I am missing it. This is Harrison 2000 Merlot, Napa Valley, specifically, Pritchard Hill. If I remembered correctly, it was fruity (slightly stewed like), round smooth texture and finish, slightly gritty due to some sediment and rather elegant. I am missing it because Harrison Vineyards no longer exist. Lyndsey Harrison who was the owner and winemaker, leased out the vineyard and winery, packed up and moved to Central Otago, New Zealand in mid 2000s. But I think she has moved back to San Francisco. I have lost contact with her and so I am not sure if she is still making wine. I am glad I have put away a few bottles of 1996 and 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that she made.

Lyndsey, if this blog finds you somehow, I hope to share a bottle with you soon.