Monday, January 20, 2020

Head Old Vine Grenache

When Alex Head started his operations in the Barossa Valley about 15 years ago, he brought some fresh ideas to the valley. Picking grapes earlier, focus on freshness and fruit, maturing wine in larger format oak barrels. So I was looking forward to drinking his 2012 Head Old Vine Grenache with this in mind.

When I poured the wine, it had a pronounced orange tinge in its colour. This made me concerned, and rightly so. The wine was very developed. There was a bit of raspberry fruit, but savoury characters dominated. They were not pleasant. The wine tasted of burnt fruit, a bit salty, too. The tannins were quite coarse and the finish harsh. Something has gone wrong here. Not sure if it is the wine making (this may have been the first vintage of this wine) or if the bottle got heat affected. Unfortunately, there is no proper cold chain in the transport of wine in this country.

Score: 84/--

Friday, January 17, 2020

Dutschke St. Jakobi Vineyard Shiraz

I have taken advantage of the cooler conditions and opened a bottle of Shiraz which was hiding in my cellar. This was a magnum of 2004 Dutschke St. Jakobi Vineyard Shiraz from the Barossa Valley.

My expectations were not too high, given this is a 14 year old full-bodied Australian Shiraz; but then there is always a bit of magic drinking from magnum, and the St. Jakobi vineyard is an excellent vineyard of dark clay soil in Lyndoch, right next to where most of Grant Burge's Meshach fruit comes from. 

It turned out to be a positive surprise. The plum and blackberry fruit is blended with spice and dark chocolate and delivers a complex, ripe, big mouthfeel. The fruit takes the 15% alcohol well. This is a balanced wine, scoring high on all dimensions. It is not everybody's cup of tea, but a good example of the "big Barossa". The wine is drinking well now.

Score: 94/+

Monday, January 13, 2020

Henschke Louis Semillon

The Hunter Valley is regarded as the cradle of Semillon, but occasionally great Semillon is made in the Barossa. Peter Lehmann's Semillon is the best known. These Semillons tend to be more generous, offering a fuller mouthfeel than those from the Hunter.

 I tasted a 10 year old Semillon from Eden Valley a couple of days ago, the 2009 Henschke Louis Semillon. This is not a well known wine in the Henschke stable of wines, but maybe it should be. The fruit comes from the Henschke home block.

Similar to the Mount Pleasant Lovedale I reviewed a few days ago, the colour is starting to fill out golden, but is only beginning to do so. It is therefore no surprise that primary fruit is still very present. The citrus is more lemon here rather than lime. It is still a fresh wine with a good acid profile. The wine is on the leaner side, unlike the typical Barossa profile.  This Louis is well balanced and was enjoyable to drink.


Saturday, January 11, 2020

Absolute And Relative Quality

The ratings scales wine reviewers use reflect their view on absolute quality. It is subjective, of course, but it is meant to give an absolute measurement. A second rating has been included by some wine writers. It has been referred to as a hedonistic scale or just recently as an emotional rating. I have used a second scale for a number of years to indicate my personal enjoyment of the wine.

But what I want to address here is something a little different. A number of wineries, including some at Margaret River, have introduced 'special' wines produced at very low volumes, and sold at extremely high prices. These wines tend to be of high quality, although not necessarily to everybody's taste (think overripe Barossa Shiraz). They include the best grapes and are meticulously made. No argument there.

However, do these wines represent the general quality of the producer? I think not. The leading Bordeaux Châteaus normally produce their first wine at the highest volume. The second and sometimes third wine is a 'declassified' wine. Coming back to Margaret River (which is where my thoughts about this originated) Cullen's Diana Madeline and the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon are relatively high volume for these wineries and are legitimate representatives of their quality. But does the Tom Cullity really reflect Vasse Felix or the MJW Voyager Estate or the Vanya the Cullen winery?

It would be great if we could construct a quality index which gives a rating to each wine, weighted by its volume and thus determine an average rating for a winery. This would be a lot better than the five star rating by James Halliday. Unfortunately, the data is almost impossible to gather for a meaningful number of wineries.

What do you think?     

Friday, January 10, 2020

Margaret River Top Level Contenders

The top Cabernets from Margaret River are no doubt Cullen's Diana Madeline and the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon. A number of wineries are working hard to join them. I tasted two contenders recently.

The 2012 Deep Woods Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon shows an attractive fruit profile of blackcurrant and boysenberry. Earthy and meaty flavours add to the complexity. The wine is a bit more developed than I expected. This also showed in the mellowing colour of the wine. Nevertheless, the wine is well structured, but not quite as elegant as Cullen or as rounded in the mouth as Moss Wood.

Score: 93/++ 

The 2011 Devil's Lair 9th Chamber Cabernet Sauvignon delivers good blackcurrant intensity, but not the complexity of the Deep Woods. There is quite a lot of acidity and dry tannins coming through on the palate. The wine is not quite in balance. It should definitely be decanted. It showed a little better after a while. 

Score: 90/0

This review raises another discussion in my mind when thinking about the scene in Margaret River. I will address this in my next post.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon

The Lovedale vineyard is one of the top five Semillon vineyards in the Hunter Valley, with its vines now 70 years old; this 2007 Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon only 12 years. As the label shows, this wine won many trophies on release.

Semillon can age incredibly well. 12 years is only mid-range. The colour of the wine has started to turn golden, maybe a little earlier than some. The citrus aromas are strong.

Lime flavours dominate the palate still, but some toasty notes are starting to show. This Semillon is a little broad on the palate. I would have wished for more acidity.

This wine is probably in transition, and I have opened it at an unlucky time. It misses freshness, but has not developed a mature profile yet.

Score: 90/0

Monday, December 30, 2019

Mega Trends Of The Last Decade

You may be a little tired of reading all these key moments, best of... etc. of the last decade. However, it is truly remarkable how the wine landscape has changed in just ten years. Here are my 10 mega trends of the last decade.

1) Fruit and freshness to the fore. This occurred in many ways; earlier picking, less alcohol, less new oak, larger barrels.

2) A more international landscape. Curiosity to discover new wines increased. Red wines from Sicily, white wines from Northern Spain and Italy, lesser regions from the US and France, wines from Greece and Uruguay, to name a few.

3) Adjustment to warmer climates. This occurred in a number of ways; search for heat tolerant varieties, planting at higher altitudes, changes to vineyard management

4) Confluence of old world and new world. French wines are getting bigger, US and Australian wines try to reduce body weight. 

5) The rise of biodynamic and orange wines. This includes new avant garde producers as well as established ones (e.g. Cullen in Australia).

6) Breaking with tradition. A deliberate attempt to do someting new or different in the process of making wine as well as the final product (check out Adelaide Hills producers).

7) The rise of lighter red wines. Rosé becomes a serious wine, as does Beaujolais and Pinot Noir at value price points.

8) Different wine values by millennials. Immediate consumption, fun, fashion and no interest in traditional measures of quality.

9) The closure battle hangs in the balance. Screw caps are gaining share, but cork producers employ technology successfully to eliminate faults.

10) Retail ubiquity. Consumers buy at chains, specialized stores, wineries and online. 

Would you have predicted these in 2008, 2009? Maybe some. What will the next decade have in store? Any thoughts?  

Friday, December 27, 2019

What Have You Been Drinking This Christmas?

Our Christmas was a relatively quiet affair. Food was focused on seafood, with a filet steak on the evening of Boxing Day. The wine selection matched this.

Kreglinger Sparkling is vastly underrated in Australia, maybe because this Belgian name is difficult to pronounce for many English speakers. The 2016 vintage,quite young, did the trick. The light wines, the French Rosé and the 2019Yangarra Blanc were both a bit bland and disappointing. 

The last three wines were all terrific. It is a treat to drink a Chardonnay where the fruit can take 100% new French oak, as was the case with the 2011 Leeuwin Estate. The 2010 Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir had fantastic balance, expression and poise, and the 2001 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon remains a star vintage from this producer. 

What have you been drinking this Christmas? What was good, what disappointed? 

Jim Barry Assyrtiko

The home of the Assyrtiko grape is the Greek island of Santorini. Santorini is basically a large caldera formed from a relatively recent volcanic eruption. The soil is volcanic, and the wines' strong characteristics are acidity and minerality. It is quite brave to assume this would go well in the Clare Valley. But this is what Jim Barry has done after having to take the variety through years of quarantine - and in search of varieties suited to ever increasing temperatures.


The 2017 Jim Barry Assyrtiko is good, but it is not the same as the Greek versions. It displays citrus character, a bit like Chablis, but broader on the palate.The acidity is not as pronounced, nor is the minerality. The wine is a bit middle of the road, but Rome was not invented in a day, either. This is an early effort and the wine shows potential to excite some more in the future.

Score: 90/+

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas

I wish my readers an excellent Christmas experience and some very good drinking next year!

Giant Steps Applejack Pinot Noir

Giant Steps recently changed from its old label in a similar way to what Bindi did prior. These are leading producers who focus on the character of the terroir where their grapes are grown. Giant Steps does so with a number of single vineyard wines in the Yarra Valley, which are distinguished by different elevation and soils.

The 2018 Giant Steps Applejack Pinot Noir comes from a vineyard in the Upper Yarra Valley with clay over volcanic soil. The vines are 22 years old. There is about 40% whole bunch in this wine, and the oak is 88% used.

The flavours on the palate are complex: cranberry, red cherry and strawberry fruit is supported by forest floor and mushroom notes. A spice mix is there as well. This is a pure, smooth and elegant,  medium-bodied wine with some minerality on the finish.

The mouthfeel is broader than expected from this site, probably a result of the warm 2018 vintage. I would have enjoyed a bit more grip on the finish, but the flavour components are very good.

Score: 94/++

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Colomé Malbec

When I visited Salta in Northern Argentina earlier this year, I was keen to go to the Colomé winery, which, among others, boasts a vineyard at over 3000 meters elevation, perhaps the highest vineyard in the world. Yet this winery, owned by the Hess Family, is so remote that I could not spend the time to get there and back. I was therefore excited when I found the 2017 Colomé Estate Malbec on a wine list a few days ago. This is a blend from four different vineyards from 1750 to 3111m.

This wine has an interesting profile. Rose petals and violets on the nose translate to the palate. Blueberry fruit takes over, joined by licorice flavours. On the back palate, a stony minerality dominates, not the steely or slaty types known from parts of Europe, but a stronger, rocky form.

This profile is miles away from the typical lush, sometimes fruity style of lower altitude Malbec. While the profile is interesting, the overall mouthfeel of this wine is a little harsh.

Score: 91/+