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Dan's Blog

Underwater Wine

Friday, June 28, 2019

This week is not so much about wine; it is more about the “triumph of showmanship over substance”.

At the end of May I was in Yantai (in Shandong Province China) doing two presentations on Australian wine at the inaugural WBWE Asia (World Bulk Wine Exhibition). When the event finished, I, along with two busloads of other “gweilos” (foreigners, especially westerners) from the event, headed off to the city of Penglai for the weekend to attend the annual, “Raising the Wine from the Sea” (courtesy of the “Golden Period” Winery) festival.

The Golden Period Winery (AKA Gold Sea-Aged Wines) matures around 50,000 bottles of wine underwater in the massive bay just off the coast from Penglai. This is about one-quarter of its production. Whilst its pageantry is novel, it is not a new concept, as there are wineries in France and Spain that have been cellaring wine underwater this way for many years, but without the razzmatazz. The theory behind this method being that the constant temperature of the ocean allows the wine to mature better and is more stable than even an underground cellar.

After just under two hours on the bus we arrived in the city of Penglai at three massive, interconnected hotels. The connecting walkway between the three was at least a kilometre long.

Later that evening we went down to a huge area along this interconnecting walkway, to join hundreds of people who were already there for this annual festival. The under-sea wine flowed freely with a bevy of waiters constantly topping up the wine glasses. The bottles recovered from the sea had wax sealed corks to prevent any sea water getting in and before serving, the bottles were wrapped in cling film so that the barnacles on the bottles couldn’t cut the pourers. The label was a smallish plastic card which wasn’t clearly visible as it was enveloped by the cling film.


It was a very loud evening with a floor show which included some people who seemed to be famous, plus acrobats and a Chinese opera singer. It is here that we discovered that all Chinese Emcees yell and scream at their audience, as do their singers and even their acrobats. Apparently, there had also been some sort of blessing for the recovery of the wines that had been sitting at the bottom of the ocean for the last two years.

The next morning we filled three buses and headed to one of their vineyards which were close to the city. One vineyard was an immaculate showcase with signs saying things like, “Growing here are the best quality grapes”, etc. But alas, our guide had no idea as to what variety they were – it took a Chinese speaking Spaniard to ask one of the wizen old ladies who were de-suckering the vines, to find out that it was in fact, Merlot. It was a picture perfect but very small vineyard.


From there we went to the harbour to board a converted trawler and set off out to where the wines are stored under water. We passed the most massive oyster/mussel leases imaginable – they stretched for miles, and almost covered the entire bay except for some navigational channels left open for ships and boats. We were well fed and entertained by some very svelte young ladies playing the violin and a hip, Chinese DJ who occasionally yelled things out at us, his captive audience.


We were expecting to see them raise some of the wine crates from the bottom of the sea, but alas that was not to be. We moored over the site while lunch was served and then went back to shore.

That evening there was a “beach party” – which was dinner on the beach at tables set up in the sand in front of a big stage, from which entertainers yelled at us again. My dear friend, Subhash Arora, and I were sat at a table with two Chinese couples. Luckily one of the guys spoke a bit of English and we had a great and informative evening. These people had driven hundreds of kilometres just to participate in the festival.


During the course of the evening they had an auction/sale of the undersea wine and people who bought over a certain amount were taken up on stage and presented to the crowd – there were a lot of people up on stage by the time the auction finished. I strongly suspect that they must have sold most it, if not all this years “catch” on the night.


On the wine itself – well it was a decent commercial quality Cabernet blend that was quite drinkable but certainly would not be worth anywhere near the US$50 that they were asking for it, if it hadn’t been for the pageantry and performance involved. It was literally a case of “selling the sizzle rather than the sausage”.

The whole exercise was a case of Chinese Wine Marketing 101 – “Showmanship over Substance”.

Cheers!

THIS WEEK’S WINE REVIEW:

A while ago I was up in the Clare Valley and visited the affable, Marnie Roberts, at MATRIARCH & ROGUE WINES. All of her Clare wines are named after a member of the family, past and present, and it is a quite comprehensive range given the small size of the operation.


Apart from the usual suspects (Riesling and Shiraz) the Clare range includes several emerging varieties: Vermentino, Tempranillo, Malbec, Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Each and every one of these wines is a really good Aussie expression of the variety, well made and very tasty.

However, it is the wines that she makes from Riverland fruit that is the reason for this review. At the moment, this brightly labelled range currently consists of Nero d’Avola, Montepulciano and Saperavi, with two new entrants currently in barrel. The first being the 2019 FERNAO PIRES (a Portuguese white wine) with intriguing aromas and a generous well rounded palate – it  will be very interesting to see the finished wine as it would appear to have a lot going for it. The other new variety is the 2019 PRIETO PICUDO, (a Spanish red wine) which is a delightful succulent, purpley-red wine with very appealing aromas and a hint of fruit sweetness on the delicious front palate – again, another variety that should do well here over time.


On top of this, the Saperavi is an absolute cracker with both of the other Riverland Italians being pretty darn good too.

So, if you are looking to try some great Aussie expressions of Mediterranean emerging varieties, at reasonable prices, you should seriously look at Marnie’s wines by visiting www.matriarchandrogue.com.au  

They are indeed a class act!