By Jim Boyce
If you are starting to think this blog is almost always about Ningxia, and that coverage of a Beijing visit by winemaker Michael Fragos of Australia’s Chapel Hill would be a welcome diversion, this post might elicit mixed reactions — Fragos did recently come to Beijing. But it was en route to spending several days at winery Helan Qing Xue in… Ningxia.
Anyway, before going west, Fragos took time to talk about his wines, distributed in China by The Wine Republic.
The winery itself is in McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide in South Australia, and symbolized by a chapel first built in 1865 and refurbished in the mid-1970s. Fragos says the region’s warm days and cool nights, and a mid-afternoon sea breeze, result in grapes with better flavor and wines with better “mouth feel” and tannins. This is assisted by low humidity and a lack of frost, he says.
Chapel Hill gets grapes from its own two vineyards and 15 growers. The split is 80 percent red and 20 percent white, with Shiraz accounting for more than half. Fragos, who’s worked in McLaren Vale for 21 years and at Chapel Hill for nine, says he practices “minimal winemaking” and puts as much focus on the vineyard as the winery.
Here are some wines we tasted at F by Tribute, a restaurant by Frank Sun to soon officially open in Sanlitun South in Beijing. As we ate and drank, Fragos provided stories behind the wines.
Wine: Chapel Hill Verdelho 2009: Tropical fruit, mild lime and honey smells. Fresh, with nice acidity / fruit, and some mild lime at the finish.
Story: The grapes are picked at three stages: 30 percent initially when they display a citrus flavor; 50 percent, five days later, when there is more tropical fruit, like mango; 20 percent, five days later, when honeysuckle is dominant. These are blended to provide complexity.
Wine: Chapel Hill Unwooded Chardonnay 2010: Fargos said he smells “guava”. I’m going with generic “tropical fruit” plus something buttery-nutty (like walnut skins).
Story: This wine uses grapes from higher-elevation Adelaide Hills and McLaren-Vale to, respectively, merge the finesse of one with the rich round style of the other.
Wine: Chapel Hill ‘Parsons Nose’ Shiraz 2010: Dark fruit, a herbal and savory element, some violet. This was a fairly big wine and though it well-balanced, I think some might find it a bit jammy up front.
Story: Made with nose grease from an actual parson’s snout. Actually, I made that up. I don’t recall any story with this one. I think we were too busy wolfing down the homemade pasta with ox tail jerky.
Wine: Chapel Hill ‘Bush Vine’ Grenache’ 2009: A bit mysterious, with tight fruit, something savory, a whiff of dry grass and, says Fargos, “blueberries.” This one has ample though restrained fruit, a mild spiciness and a bitter edge at the end.
Story: This one is made from three blocks of vines, respectively planted in 1926, 1952 and 1956.