Book Review – In Vino Duplicitas by Peter Hellman

In Vino Duplicitas

One of the few positive things about being confined to quarters since the middle of March thanks to the Covid19 pandemic, is that more time has been available to catch up on reading. The last eighteen months or so, much of my reading material has been a form of study material as I progressed through the WSET exams, and while the subject matter of this book may still be wine, the story is one of greed, naivety, gullibility by many, and laced with hints of serious crime lurking behind the scenes. A Wine Thriller, which is actually a true story!

The take revolves around a young man, Rudy Kurniawan, who, in 2002 appeared on the wine scene in the US, blessed with an exceptional palate, an engaging personality, a seemingly large bank account, and an extraordinary array of fine wine. Over the next six years and more, he climbed the ladder of success in the US Wine World, becoming a major buyer, and seller of fine wines, a friend to all the high rollers who collect Fine Wine in much the way that children collect Panini Football Stickers.

You may have seen the Netflix Documentary, Sour Grapes, which covers the story, but this book is written by the journalist Peter Hellman, who covered the mysteries of Rudy Kurniawan for US Wine mag, Wine Spectator, and the suspicions that started to rise as apparently counterfeit wines started to appear at auctions supplied by Rudy. The book, in a slightly disjointed style, tells how Rudy’s life started to unravel, culminating in the FBI raiding his Aladdin’s den in California and discovering all the signs of illegal wine faking.

It’s not giving anything away to write that Rudy was convicted of fraud, and is still serving his sentence for the crimes he committed. What is also not given away, is how this all began. Rudy wouldn’t talk, or explain his wealthy start, the investigations by the author, and many others, has still failed to discover the full story behind the story.

A book that raises more questions than answers, but one which goes at some length to try and unravel the mystery of the Greatest Wine Fraud to date. Read the book, watch Sour Grapes, and make your own mind up – Was Rudy always out to defraud people, did he ingratiate his way into the US Wine Cognoscenti knowing full well he planned to rip them off, or was he simply a pawn fronting up a wider conspiracy – We may never know!

Laugh Out Loud About Wine!

 

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The Third Installment…

Last year I was turned onto a couple of books by an “author” I was unfamiliar with, Peter Stafford-Bow. The reason the books were recommended to me was that the subject matter was wine, at least the story-lines were set in “a” world of wine, not a million miles away from the reality of it all. And the central character, Felix Hart, could even exist in either worlds – Or does he?

Yes, the books are satire, and satire at its best. Both are hilarious, laugh out loud titles, set in that World, with a cast of characters, no doubt drawn from the authors own experiences in the real wine world over many years.

Corkscrew Cover

The First Book, Corkscrew, sees our hero, Felix, set sail on his adventures after being expelled from school, and heading for a career in wine. He treads on toes on his way up the ladder, and has more than his fair share of adventures, many of them in the bedroom, and naturally things don’t always go according to plan. One tremendous deal he delivers, is too good to be true and it is! People-smuggling, the Mafia, and the Corporate World of Wine combine to keep us laughing all the way through.

Brut Force Cover

The sequel, Brut Force, carries on the adventures, as Felix is a little more mature, in age at least, but has he bitten off more than he can chew when he crosses the path of Lily Tremaine, and the romps continue!

And now – The Third Installment has arrived in my post box, Firing Blancs, courtesy of the author and Felix’s adventures will continue, no doubt finding new ways to get into trouble, and new conquests to make, as he heads to South Africa to deal with problems afoot!

Looking forward to spending the next week, or maybe less, in fits of laughter as Felix Hart sets off on his new adventures –  Full review to follow……….

Wine Tasting Course – Sensory Techniques for Wine Analysis.

During #lockdown, I took the opportunity of the enforced spare time to take a few on line courses. Notably the above titled Course from UCDavis in California, and after 6 weeks of quite in depth studying and practical work, I submitted the final assignment (40% of the final mark), consisting of in depth reports on two wines that I assessed. This is my submission –

2016 Kaiken Malbec Ultra

Liam Mycroft

The Red wine that I selected for my report is a 2016 Malbec from Kaiken Wines in Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. This particular wine was selected as the best value wine under €20 here in Ireland in 2018, and so, it had a reputation to uphold for my evaluation. The youthful winemaker is Rogelio Rabino, whose reputation is growing, not only in Argentina, but in the wider world.

Malbec, as a grape, has become synonymous with Argentina in the last 20 years, but is not indigenous to South America, but to South West France, where it was better known as Cot, and is in fact one of the five allowable red grapes that compose Red Bordeaux. The grape was brought to Argentina in the mid-nineteenth century and has flourished in the dry, sunny , high altitude vineyards of Mendoza. In France, there is somewhat of a revival in the planting of Malbec, as the French try to claim back some of the popularity that has developed from the Argentine cultivation of the grape, although the flavour profile of the two nations production is somewhat different, with the French style being more austere.

Kaiken Wines are part of the Aurelio Montes Group, a Chilean producer who has expanded over the Andes from Chile, flying back and forth between the two countries, trying to find the perfect sights for his vines, with the name taken from the Wild Patagonian Goose, the Caiquen (Kaiken), who migrates between the two countries in much the same way.

The grapes for the Ultra come from three distinct areas within the Uco Valley of Mendoza Province, Gualatallary, Altamira and Los Chacayes, each different set of grapes adding to the overall profile. The sandy soils of Los Chacayes, at 1250 masl (metres above sea level), and a wide diurnal range of daily temperatures, brings forth grapes that add great colour intensity to the wines, while Gualatallary has a cooler climate, and at an even higher level of 1600 masl, poor desert soils, adding spice and flavour intensity. The alluvial soils of Altamira add minerality and structure as well as deep colour to the wine. The secret of combining all of these to make the final product is in the hands of Rogelio and his team.

On pour, the wine was dark, very dark. Purple, with a hint of magenta around the rim, with black fruits leaping out to the nose before even raising the glass. The aromas of fruit were abundant, with blackcurrants, black cherries, plums, underlain by pepper, and a semblance of chocolate, or mocha hiding behind the fruit, waiting to burst out.

On the palate, the low to medium acidity and relatively low level of tannins, left a soft texture, like satin, in the mouth with a dry overall profile, with the black fruits abundant on the nose especially noticeable, followed by the spice, possibly even some cinnamon, and that chocolate, with a long finish leaving me wanting more.

In Argentina the parilla (BBQ) is a feature of every household, and an asado, complete with a grass fed beef steak is ubiquitous with the country, and the wine that is served with the asado is Malbec. While the weather here in Ireland does not lead to outdoor eating, I stuck with tradition and grilled a Sirloin Steak, lightly seasoned, and complimented by a side of simple boiled potatoes, and a side salad, to accompany the wine. The flavours of the meat, cooked medium rare, with flowing juices, were in total harmony with the Malbec, and it is no wonder that this style of wine has become so popular around the world in Steakhouses and beyond.

Tasting Note Grid

  SAMPLE 2016 Kaiken Malbec Ultra
VISUAL Clarity Clear
  Colour Deep Purple – Magenta Rim
OLFACTORY First Sniff Black fruits
  Second Sniff Blackcurrants, black cherry, plum, chocolate, mocha
PALATE Basic Taste Black fruits in abundance, pepper
  Retro-odours Cinnamon, chocolate
  Mouthfeel Smooth as silk
FINISH Length Long after swallowing
RANKING Level Very Good Wine – Bordering on excellent

Kaiken 2016

Kaiken Ultra Label

Kaiken Rogelio Rabino

Rogelio Rabino (Winemaker)

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2017 Fillaboa Albarino Rias Baixas

Liam Mycroft

The white wine I chose for my report is a 2017 Albarino from Bodegas Fillaboa. The vineyard consists of 74 hectares on rolling slopes, in the damp-green north-western corner of Spain , alongside the Tea and Mino rivers, tucked away in the south of Rias Baixas, along the Portuguese border, in Galicia. In many ways the scenery here is reminiscent of the west of Ireland, if only we had the warmth to grow vines. The winemaker in Fillaboa is Isabel Salgado, who has been at the helm for some twenty years, consistently producing wines of the highest quality.

Albarino, or Alvarinho as it is known on Portuguese, has its home in the north-west corner of the Iberian peninsular. It is a thick-skinned grape that produces delicate, if lively wines, with floral aromas, although not as intense as Rielsing or Gewurztraminer. It is not uncommon to see small bubbles in wines from this grape, an almost spritzy appearance.

The Fillaboa Bodega is one of the oldest in the region, dating back to the 14th century, with an unusual feature of the vineyard plots being the separation by way of ancient stone walls. The 74 hectares are split into twelve plots, allowing for single vineyard wines, as well as my example which sees a blend of grapes from the best plots, hand picked and fermented in stainless steel tanks, before being left on the lees before bottling.

I opened this bottle on a warm spring evening (an unusual occurrence here in Ireland), and after chilling the wine to a perfect temperature, a glass was poured. Straw in colour, hinting at a green hue. It was clean, clear and bright, with just a small amount of those spritz like bubbles, tiny and effervescent.  On the nose there were springtime flowers, but also clear summer fruits, apple, apricot, and a citrus smell, but more orange aromas than lemon.

First thing to hit me as the mouth watered on tasting, was the high level of acidity, which at first felt tangy, lime citrus, but it developed in the mouth as the initial tangs dies down, and the flavour of orange styled citrus fruit developed, mandarin, tangerine, with a hint of sweetness (residual sugar I presume), although the overall wine is dry, and still that tartness there. Excellent length to the overall wine, and the second glass showed more of the orange-ness, even at first taste. Overall this was a well-balanced, smooth, if somewhat tangy wine, fresh, crisp and one to return to.

Given that Galicia, with its Atlantic coastline, is famous for its seafood, it seemed appropriate to pair this wine with something from the sea. I prepared some local scallops, seasoned with salt & pepper, and simply seared in butter in the frying pan, one minute on each side. Served up with a lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad, with small chunks of Chorizo thrown in, and dressed in Spanish Olive Oil. The wine has enough weight to handle the spiciness of the chorizo, and at the same time, not overpower the scallops, resulting in a perfect complimentary glass to enjoy with this light dish.

Tasting Note Grid

SAMPLE: 2017 Fillaboa Albarino Rias Baixas

 

VISUAL Clarity Clear, bright
  Colour Straw with green tints
OLFACTORY First Sniff Light Floral aromas
  Second Sniff Apricot, apples, citrus
PALATE Basic Taste High acid, tangy lime, developing to mandarin, tangerine
  Retro-odours Orange overtones
  Mouthfeel Tangy, rounded
FINISH Length Medium length
RANKING Level Very good – Light, crisp, perfect summer wine

Label

FARO CHAPELA

Isabel Salgado (Winemaker)