What auspicious vinous attributes should we be looking for in the year of The Wooden Horse? Veteran Sommelier and Wine Feng Shui Master, The Wandering Palate, prophesies on the wine that will bring good fortune and enjoymen.
Why the lunar year?
Notwithstanding I reside in Asia, the nucleus of my ideologies revolve around a back to nature approach with wine, food and the environment – sustainable, organic and biodynamic principals that have its roots in ancient feng shui and Chinese gardening that have evolved over the eons yet pivotal today. So not only do I care about the planet, I have gone lunar!
Exploring the synergies between Feng Shui (Air and Water) and wine, in its most classical interpretation, Feng Shui is, ti li, literally meaning ‘land patterns’ or in modern terms geography. The emphasis is ancient Chinese Feng Shui was based on the study of the land itself and the patterns on it, both natural and man-made and intrinsically has the same principals of ‘terroir’, the French terminology that embraces the total vineyard environment and encapsulates geography, geology, climate and man’s influence on a certain place, and how that reflects in a wine, with its “sense of place”.
The attributes of terroir and Wine Feng Shui are appreciably more transparent in wines where the vigneron practices Biodynamic viticulture which is analogous with the Chinese Lunar Calendar; the Biodynamic Calendar is based the rhythms of the moon and the planet’s tides–the distance of the moon from the earth and its horizon along with the sun’s orientation with each constellation associated with one of the four (western) elements–earth, air, fire or water.
With the stars and constellations aligning with the Grand Duke of Jupiter or Tai Sui(General of Time Gods), 2014 is the 31st year within the 60 year cycle, the ‘Year of the Green Wood Horse’, also called ‘Horse in the Cloud’ or ‘Chia Wu’ in traditional Chinese Astrology.
The Horse is the 7th sign in the Chinese Zodiac and traditionally associated with the ‘Fire’ sign and the colour red—good fortune—which is a clear sign red wine is in favour. However the colour associated with the element ‘Wood’ is green, to which we can associate the leaves on the vines and natures’ phenomenon of photosynthesis, the sun drawing the elements up from the earth, through the wood and leaves—the lifeblood of all vines.
The Horse also has strong ‘Yang’ energy—hot, heavy and dynamic, mid-summer— with the ‘Fire’ elements also working in harmony with the element of ‘Earth’ and the ch’i (the invisible energy that flows through the earth and the air known as “the dragons’ breath”)f avouring the Southern direction in the midday sun.
Further to this, there are very positive Ho Tu number patterns in the Year of the Green Horse, the manifestations of the Yin and Yang energies and the combinations of the five elements, which only fall into this specific pattern rarely with the Ho Tu number combination being 3 and 8. The number 3 is associated with ‘Wood’ and not only a Yang number but the most powerful of all numbers. Paired with the Tai Sui southerly aspect of 8 this is translates as ‘growth and prosperity’ and considered to be very ‘lucky’.
Interpreting the aspects in relation to vine growing, the sheng ch’i (good energy) in the Year of the Green Horse greatly favours vineyards that are southerly facing for maximum sun and optimum ripening of the grapes, which is the desired aspect for vineyards in the Northern Hemisphere, largely Europe and North America.
Taking in to account the Yang energy and ‘Fire’ element of the Horse, the vineyard climate should be considerably warm and producing powerful and spicy (fiery) red wines, which leads to the logical conclusion of the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France with the weather and environment depicted in the powerful ‘Mistral’ winds along with the hot and dry climate.
It also needs to be taken in consideration that the ‘Horse’ flourishes and prospers among companions which is an indication red wines that are a blend of varieties (rather than a single varietal) are favourable and leads one to the grenache noir grape with its natural and harmonious compatibility with syrah, carignan, mourvèdre and cinsault grapes.
Adding further synthesis, with its strong ‘wood’ and upright growth of large trunks and thick arms or cordons and traditional Bush-Vine viticulture, the grenache noir thrives in hot, dry, windy vineyards moreover this climate and terroir is ideal for Biodynamic and Organic viticulture.
Taking all of this into consideration and narrowing it down to the most full-bodied, rich and spicy grenache noir dominated red blends which produce some of the most hedonistic and alluring expressions of warm climate wines on earth—the most auspicious region and wine to drink in the Year of the Wood Horse is M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France Occultum Lapidem 2009 and 2010.
The wildly energetic proprietor and vigneron of M. Chapoutier, Michel Chapoutier, is champion of Biodynamic viticulture and there is compelling evidence that since he took over running the family business and implemented biodynamic practices over the last 10 to 15 years, their wines have improved in quality exponentially with a palpable tension (energy) of fresh acidity and vibrancy of fruit in the wines.
Whilst enjoying immense popularity amongst wine enthusiasts, the Côtes du Roussillon is still relatively unknown to many, although my sources in China tell me it has become THE fashionable wine to drink amongst the more informed and its generous proportions, powerful spiciness and sweet yet salty flavours a real crowd-pleaser, moreover recognized as a good match for the stronger flavours and spiciness of Northern China and Szechuan cuisine and richer dishes of Shanghai cuisine.
I have singled out the 2009 and 2010 vintages of M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France Occultum Lapidem as they will be the two current wines that will most likely be available in the Asia markets. That said, the 2012 vintage is available direct from the Chapoutier website online shop.
The 2009 is immediately gratifying with a round, opulent richness in texture—as generous asLaughing Buddha’s belly—with compote-like flavours of black berry fruits (black cherry, black currants, blueberries, blackberries) moreover, profoundly complex with intriguing nuances of Provençal herbs (rosemary and sage) Chinese black tea and a soy sauce nuance—a sort of salty, black shrimp sauce flavour that many Asian palates will identify with—and a deep briary-earthiness and animal-gaminess-chargrilled meats and evocative spiciness lingering on the aftertaste amongst firm tannins and distinctive minerality from the schist soils and a baked clay earthiness.
Tasted out of magnum (the most ideal size bottle for ageing and as a gift), the 2010 is at this stage more primary in its crunchy black fruits and has a fresher lift to the bouquet with the distinctive notes of dried sage and rosemary from the warm and harsh terroir of this Mediterranean-influenced region transfused in the wine. It is invigorating and powerful, oozing rich black fruits; a mouth-filling wine that I find enormously attractive with its youthful, firm and chewy tannins enveloping the palate and again the profusion of distinctive minerality from the schist soils lingering amongst a long spicy farewell and tantalizing acidity that keeps you coming back for another glass—what the French call ‘vin de soif’, a wine of thirst.
Both wines can be enjoyed now, perhaps more so the 2009, however they will benefit greatly from cellaring with a drinking window of 5 to 10 years plus. They are also very affordable— representing some of the best value for quality wines in the world to which I M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France Occultum Lapidem ‘Most Consistent Best Value Red Wine of the Year’.
As an example you can purchase from Culina in Singapore, the 2009 750ml for S$43 and 2010 magnum for $88 and the 2012 75cl is €13.36 from their online shop—and in this new era of austerity in China, I would think this would be the perfectly appropriate gift, available through Torres China www.torreschina.com
You should also look out for M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerde l’Esquerda, a more defined expression of the terroir in this rocky terraced vineyard site, “L’esquerda”, meaning ‘the fault in the rock’ in Catalan. Occultum Lapidem is a Latin translation for the three parts of the age-old hermetic axiom, wisdom, alchemy, astrology and theurgy, “Visit the Innermost of the Earth and by Rectifying you will find the Hidden Stone”, that is the red stone or the philosopher’s stone—so very Michel Chapoutier.
There is also a Cotes du Roussillon collaboration between Chapoutier and revered Australian vintner and biodyamics champion, Ron Laughton, from Jasper Hill vineyard in Victoria, Australia. They have jointly purchased a terraced hillside vineyard that is described as ‘rough, almost hostile’ in Agly Valley, to which they have released a wine called ‘Agly Brothers’.
For those who enjoy travelling ‘on the wine route’, Latour-de-France is a fascinating area to visit and part of the Pyrénées-Orientales in southern France. It was actually once the border of Catalonia (Spain) and France and the village castle dating from 11th Century (although rebuilt in the 17th Century) dominates the skyline. It is a wonderful drive through the step rocky terraced vineyards up to the castle, immersing the senses with images of how Monks tending the vines back then and extraordinarily laborious it must have been, the vineyards giving way to a sheer cliff where the castle fortress was strategically built.
For more information on M. Chapoutier wines visit www.chapoutier.com
Gong Xi Fad Cai and Gānbēi