Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Head The Brunette - A New Barossa Dawn

Alex Head is one of the new generation of winemakers in the Barossa who redefine the style of Barossa Shiraz. After the excesses of the drought years of the late 2000s and the Parker style wines, something different had to happen. Alex Head had been at it for a number of years, but then he hit the jackpot with the 2012 vintage. It was perfect: warm, but not extremely hot. He bottles his best wines from single vineyards, a relatively recent development in the Barossa (maybe even I had a bit to do with that).

The 2012 Head The Brunette (with reference to Guigal's Brune) comes from the Moppa subregion. Moppa is situated in the Barossa's north, the warmest area, but it is hilly, and the higher elevation gives cooler nights and more natural acidity in the wines. 

The wine is under screw-cap, and the primary fruit is still prominent after six years. There is a sweet core of blackberry and black cherry fruit, but the acidity keeps it lively. The wine has a big mouthfeel. It is distinctly Barossan, but the earlier picking keeps the wine fresh. Mocca notes add to the complexity on the palate. The tannins are big, but finely grained, and the finish is long and satisfying.

This is an excellent expression of Barossa Shiraz, with flavour explosion in the mouth and great drinkability at the same time (alcohol 13.9%).

Score: 96/+++ 

Monday, March 12, 2018

First look at the 2014 Barolo vintage

Chiara Boschis, long term winemaker at E.Pira, and Fabio Fantino of Conterno Fantino just visited Sydney to show their new Barolos from the 2014 vintage.

The cooler and wetter 2014 vintage posed  serious challenges after a string of very successful vintages. It was interesting to see how the Barolos would shape up. 

Clearly the wines are not as full bodied as in previous years. They are quite perfumed and aromatic showing some similarities to Pinot Noir, in fact. The E. Pira Via Nuova is the lightest of the wines, tasting of red cherry and orange peel. The dry tannins are only in the background. The E. Pira Cannubi, from this famous vineyard, has a more intense colour. It is a darker and richer wine, but still on the feminine and elegant side.

The Conterno Fantino Vigna de Gris is similar to the Via Nuova, fairly easy drinking, but slightly darker fruit and licorice. The south facing Sori Ginestra, from clay and calciferous soils, is bigger and more powerful and tannic, approaching a more typical Barolo profile.

Both wineries share the southern Mosconi vineyard. It typically delivers a more masculine wine. This is true for the E. Pira wine, with a profile of dark cherry and plum and a dry finish. The Conterno Fantino is bigger, with earthy flavours. This wine is a bit rough and tannic.

Overall, the wines are lighter than in previous years. The E. Pira wines are more elegant and perfumed, whereas the Conterno Fantino wines are a little bigger (still less so than the average 2013 Barolos) and require a protein dish. All these wines opened up nicely and can be drunk quite young. As such, they will appeal to people who do not wish to cellar wine for long periods of time.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Chateau Pieuré-Lichine

Significant vintage variation is alive and well in Bordeaux. After the outstanding 2009 and 2010 vintages, collectors had to wait until 2015 to experience another good vintage. In all this discussion, previous good vintages seem to get forgotten. And they are the important ones now as far as drinking is concerned. As I have mentioned many times before, cellaring Bordeaux wines for a minimum of 10 years is really required to get the best from these wines. The last strong vintage before 2009 was 2005.

One of my favorite mid-tier producers, and flying somewhat under the radar, is Chateau Pieuré-Lichine. As I opened a bottle of the 2005 Chateau Pieuré-Lichine,  and after two hours of decanting, a beautiful bouquet rose from the glass. I smelled blackcurrant fruit, even a bit of peat.

On the palate, this is a medium bodied wine of a lot of complexity and harmony. Blackcurrants, forest berries, mushroom, pomegranate, smoky flavours, and in particular tamarillo combine to an elegant and smooth mouthfeel, which drops off a little bit on the mid palate, before soft tannins pick up the flavours for the finish.

Score: 95/+++ 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling

It was an unusual move, to say the least, to put the highly acclaimed single vineyard Steingarten Riesling under the Jacob's Creek brand, the best known Australian wine brand. This brand was so popular that UK consumers when asked about the most famous Australian wine region answered by majority "Jacob's Creek". Did this move change the positioning of the high volume, low price point Jacob's Creek brand? No, it did not. Did it hurt the Steingarten Riesling? People became skeptical, but the wine kept being made in the same way. And look at the label. Jacob's Creek is not easy to see next to the image.

The 2015 Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling has a light green colour. This is a lean wine, but with strong lime flavours. It is very precise with gripping acidity, yet matched by the concentration of the fruit. This wine is intense and full of energy: sinewy, not big and fat. The wine is very dry and has a piercing finish - a prime example of Australian Riesling. I love it.

Score: 95/+++ 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Riesling Riot

Riesling producers are still trying to win over the larger wine drinking public. For a number of years we had the ‘Summer of Riesling’. Now they have upped the game with the ‘Riesling Riot’. I attended two different tastings. Here are my impressions:

First of all: I know the German winemakers were tired after a long flight, but it does not help if they do not pay any attention to the tasting public. Here is Dr. Loosen working his iphone. You may as well stay home.

This first tasting featured mainly German wines from the 2016 vintage.. Each winemaker showed two wines, an entry level Riesling and mostly a single vineyard Riesling. The  Riesling standard  in Australia is high, so the entry level wines have little to offer. They are quaffers, often fruity and not well defined. This applied to the wines shown by Dr. Loosen, Heymann Loewenstein, Georg Breuer, Donnhoff, Christmann, Gunderloch, Wittmann, Paul Blanck.

I was not too impressed by the single vineyard wines either. Sure, the fruit intensity was higher, but, surprisingly, most lacked definition and acidity. Internationally, the wines from the Mosel are the most recognized. This is driven by the demand of the US market for off-dry and sweet wines. In particular the off-dry wines are neither fish nor fowl. I much prefer a wine without sugar residual or an Auslese style, which matches well with deserts.

Of the more expensive second wines, I liked the Gunderloch Nierstein Riesling from a red slate vineyard in the north of Hessen. It had good citrus, minerality, spice and elegance. The German wines were however upstaged by Brundlmayer from Austria. The entry level Kamptaler Terrassen showed attractive spice, and the Heiligenstein Lyra Reserve showed great energy and drive. This is a precise wine of citrus and minerality.

The second tasting was very international. Funnily enough, my favorite Riesling here was from Germany, by Dr. Burklin Wolf from the Pfalz, the warmest Riesling growing area in Germany. The 2015 Wachenheimer Altenburg was fresh and dynamic and very well balanced with good length.

Following this was the 2016 Kientzler 1er Kirchberg Grand Cru from Alsace. This is quite a full wine, yet elegant and refined. Holding its own is the 2017 Grosset Polish Hill, with good depth and length. This wine has not quite come together yet. It should be put down for at least two years. It could be drunk fresh then or cellared much longer to develop into a mature wine. 

In the next group were the 2008 Trimbach 'Cuvee Frederic Emille', a very dry wine with earthy notes, the 2015 Salomon Undhof Kogl, a crisp wine with good depth, the 2015 Bloodwood Riesling from Orange, with pure lime flavours and good energy,  the 2016 Frankland Isolation Ridge (balanced aromatics, long finish), and the 2016 Crawford River, with a clean and steely profile.

There was a 2012 Pewsey Vale 'Contours' from Eden Valley, but this fuller, fruity style is not my thing. I also found the 2017 Pikes 'Traditionale' too sweet. The 2017 Jim Barry wines, the 'Lodge Hill' (some talc and minerality) and the 'Florita'  (good fruit, but lacking definition) left me cold as well. 

I tasted more overseas wines, but they are not of special interest here.

Overall, if I draw conclusions by region, my favorite Rieslings came from Austria and Alsace. They offer extra complexity. The Austrian Rieslings often offer spice, which makes these wines well suited to accompany Asian spicy food. The Rieslings from Alsace deliver a big mouthfeel, but it is not fruity, rather of an earthy complexity. The best German Rieslings have great minerality and a steely backbone, but many wines are too fruity and broad in their definition.  The best Australian Rieslings are mostly fashioned dry, lean and precise, the fruitier styles do not appeal to me.  

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Fetherston Chardonnay

The Fetherston label is a new label to me. This 2016 Fetherston Chardonnay displays quite a golden colour. However, on the palate, the citrus and apple flavours are not very generous and there is a bit of a metallic aftertaste. On the plus side, the structure is good and the acidity level just right. This is an easy drinking quaffer (and a bit more), and it represents excellent value for money.

Score: 90/+ 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier

I am not sure what I can add to the glowing reviews for this wine except that this review is now for the nine year old 2009 Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier. The flavour profile is complex. Blackberry, bramble, blueberry and forest berries are now supported by the development of earthy flavours. The texture is excellent; intense, but not heavy. The lift from the Viognier is there, but not in a significant way and not in isolation. The wine is savoury in character. It is very silky along the palate. This Clonakilla is profound, but also elegant, and with a long finish.

This wine sits between the blockbusters of South Australia and the cool climate wines of Victoria. It is a classic.

Score: 97/+++

Monday, February 26, 2018

Best's Bin 0 Shiraz

The 2013 Best's Bin 0 Shiraz is a well made wine. It is very balanced, delivers a good mouthfeel, and is fresh on the palate. The fruit flavours are blackberry and eucalypt. Dry tannins lead to a firm finish. This wine will drink well for many years, as older wines have demonstrated.

The problem for me with this wine are the strong mint flavours. I do not think this is attractive in red wine. A hint of it adds complexity, but a heavy dose overwhelms everything else. Therefore the disparity in my score.

Score: 94/0  

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Coldstream Hills Deer Farm Pinot Noir

The Coldstream Hills Deer Farm Pinot Noir extinguishes itself by the brightness of its fruit. And so it is with the 2015 Coldstream Hills Deer Farm Pinot Noir. The fruit flavours are explosive on the front palate. The red fruit is really delicious, and you do not need to worry too much what happens after. The structure is nice enough, but does not match the early sensations on the palate. The tannins are smooth, but this wine is all about the front palate.

Score: 93/++

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Some young wines and James Halliday ratings

Over the last few days, I had dinner at a restaurant which listed next to the wines the scores of James ' The Pointsmaster' Halliday. All wines had a minimum of 95 points. The wines I tasted were

-2016 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc  ( citrus focus, a nice example of Marlborough SB)
-2017 Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc (also a citrus and lemongrass focus)
-2015 Seppelt Drumborg Chardonnay (good initially, loses structure as it warms up)
-2013 Majella Cabernet Sauvignon (very ripe and alcoholic, not a great vintage for them)
-2015 Hardys HRB Cabernet Sauvignon (overripe, no specific varietal character)
-2016 Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir (nice fruit; lacks definition)
-2015 Paxton Shiraz (vibrant fruit, quite ripe)

All these wines were good, but not exceptional, and had some shortcomings. I would rate them 89 to 90 points, with the Paxton at 92 points, and the Drumborg Chardonnay similar as long as it is drunk quite cold. The average Halliday points were 96. He defends his scoring by saying that all Australian wines have improved a lot.

Well, I rate some other wines at 95 points or higher, therefore 5 points or so higher than these wines. This means Halliday would have to rate them at 101 points, which is obviously not the case. This just demonstrates how squashed the ratings in his Compendium have become. As I have said before, the value is in the description, not the point ratings, but in our fast paced world, a simple score dominates, unfortunately. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Felton Road, Kosta Browne, Dumol Pinot Noirs

Felton Road and Kosta Browne are leading Pinot Noir producers in New Zealand and the US. I recently tasted a few of their wines from 2010 and 2011. As not many of you will have access to these wines, I will just make some general comments of my impressions.

The Pinot Noir wines of these producers age well. Primary fruit is still strong after 7 years and the structures are holding up well. However, and this is a big however, it is not obvious that the wines have improved with age. When these wines are young, they are just as attractive to drink; well balanced, great oak integration.

There are many similarities: red and black cherry fruit, not much forest undergrowth character, silky tannins, smooth finish.

The main difference is the fuller mouthfeel of Kosta Browne, but it is not a blockbuster, it is a pleasing sensation. The Felton Road wines are a bit edgier and have more drive. Overall I call it a draw.

Where these leading new world wines are still behind grand cru Burgundy: These French wines show more complexity on the palate after some years and an expanding finish, which is only rarely experienced from new world Pinot Noir.

Another star producer in the making is DuMol from Sonoma. Their estate vineyard has the highest density planting in California. I recently tasted two of their 2014 Pinot Noirs. The Russian River Pinot Noir has a profile of very black fruit, cherry and licorice. It is elegant with good length. The Estate Pinot Noir is similar, with more concentrated fruit. The hallmark of DuMol is the combination of fruit intensity and elegance. This is a producer well worth seeking out.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz

I am a bit hesitant to put up a review on Bin 389. What can be said that has not already been said about this legendary wine? In contemplating this question, it was clear there is one thing: do not drink this wine too early in its life. I opened a 2006 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, and it has just reached its strong drinking window. 

The colour is still impenetrably dark. Blackcurrant and plum fruit deliver a sweet core, but not in an extreme way. The two grape varieties are seamlessly integrated, as is the oak (old Grange barrels). Dark chocolate and soft beef flavours add to the complexity. The overall impact is a beautifully rounded mouthfeel with mellowed tannins, which still have a firm grip on the wine's structure. This is a top wine from a not so highly regarded vintage.

Score: 95/+++