The SOMM Journal

June / July 2016

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20 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } JUNE/JULY 2016 { one woman's view } "It's a nine hour drive out of Shangri-La in a four-wheel vehicle—a climb to 8,000 feet in the Himalayas. Fifty miles away is the border with Myanmar (Burma). The vineyards, interspersed with hashish, have yak roaming through them. The air in this part of Tibet has so little oxygen that fermentation doesn't work the way we know it." Jean-Guillaume Prats, President & CEO of the Estates & Wines division of Moët Hennessy, was telling me about the company's newest venture—a project so implausible and daunting that it seems straight out of Indiana Jones. The wine is called Ao Yun (which means "proud cloud" in Tibetan). The very first vintage—2013—has just been released, and last week I tasted it. Before I share my impression of the wine, a bit more on the story: In 2009, LVMH began scouring China for a site where they could make the greatest red wine in that country—and, in the back of their minds, perhaps the world. It was as ambitious as it was audacious. After a three year search, they found the spot in Yunnan Province in the foothills of the Himalayas, in a village called Adong, near the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Three Parallel Rivers—the Yangtze, the Mekong and the Salween. The area was made famous as the mythical Shangri-La in James Hilton's famous novel Lost Horizon. Prats explained some of the challenges. To begin with: language. Viticultural techniques and instructions often had to be translated from French or English to Mandarin and then to Tibetan in order to speak with the workers who tended the vines. There are only five hours of sunshine a day because the mountain peaks flood the area in shade. The weather is severe and unpredictable. When LVMH arrived, there was no electricity, no running water, no paved roads. Interestingly, the first vineyards were attempted here by the Chinese in the 1800s. All were torn out during the Mao Zedong era. But in the early 2000s, several acres were replanted in an attempt to help the local economy. LVMH buys fruit from four villages. All of the vineyards have always been organic. And the wine? The Ao Yun 2013 (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc) is a dramatic, intensely earthy, chocolatey wine. It is black and deep—not just in color—but in char - acter. Drinking it makes you feel like you've been pulled down into the dark body of the ear th itself. There's a sense of delicious corruption to the wine. Counterintuitively, despite the wine's power and body (15% alcohol), it also has a freshness and sense of aliveness. A new chapter in the book of Cabernet has just been written. K & L Wine Merchants in San Francisco, Wally's in Los Angeles, Calvert Woodley in Washington, D.C. and Sherry-Lehmann in New York will all have small allotments in September. Ao Yun retails for $280. Rewriting the Rules of Cabernet Karen MacNeil is the author of The Wine Bible and editor of the weekly intel report WineSpeed. THE DEBUT OF AO YUN FROM TIBET by Karen MacNeil PHOTO COURTESY OF MOËT HENNESSY The Himalayan landscape of the Ao Yun vineyards.

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