Last month I was training journalists to use mobile phones for multimedia newsgathering. The course was held at a resort on Langkawi, an island off Malaysia’s north west coast close to the border with Thailand.
The resort had a bottle shop on the beach. That shop was literally exposed to the elements. Sunlight glistened through the shop’s thatched roof and you could see the sand through the floor.
The room was not temperature controlled, something that is usually disastrous for wine. During the day the temperature soared into the late 30s and at night it hovered in the early to mid 20s. This kind of fluctuation is bad news for storage of wine.
Bottles in the racks dated back to the early 1990s though their labels were battered and difficult to read. The price list was confusing and bore no relationship to the wines on the racks.
Normally one would be foolish to buy wine that has been stored badly. Yet a bottle of 2005 white burgundy caught my eye and I bought it anyway for 66 Malaysian ringgit (about $20).
In France white burgundy is made from chardonnay. This wine came from the negociant Chanson, father and son, in Beaune, the main city in the Burgundy region. Negociants buy grapes, often from small landholdings, and make and store wine before selling to the world.
Chanson was founded in 1750. The great French writer François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, was a customer in the early years. Owners of the champagne house Bollinger bought the company in 1999. They banned the use of herbicides and stopped mechanical harvesting.
I carried the white burgundy, in a bucket filled with ice, along the beach to my room. Moonlight was rippling over the lagoon and stars dazzled in the night sky. I waited patiently for the wine to chill in the humid and hot evening.
Despite the atrocious cellaring, the wine was still alive and delicious. It was green and gold in colour and had flavours of cashew nuts and a mineral linearity that echoed the limestone on which much of Burgundy wine is grown. The nose sang of pineapples. It was elegant and forthright.
This wine surprised me. It should have tasted like vinegar. Yet it had survived a range of potential disasters and still offered its majesty to my palate. This is the essence of quality, to be able to endure a range of disasters and still rejoice on the palate. The next few columns will focus on wines from the Burgundy region, an area relatively unknown to Chinese drinkers exposed more often to the Bordeaux region of France.
* “Quality endures disaster and rejoices” in China Daily, 25 December 2010, 12.