Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hunter Valley Shiraz Trophy and Gold Medal Winners 2014

Hunter Valley Shiraz used to be a unique wine: relatively low in alcohol (12.5-13%), very soft with velvety tannins. Then along came Robert Parker, and everybody felt they needed to beef up their red wines. This was not so easy in the Hunter, so a number of wine makers, in particular Brokenwood, started to source grapes from McLaren Vale, and even added McLaren Vale brands. You cannot blame them to go with the trends, but these unique wines almost disappeared.

So what is the play in 2014? I tasted the nine Shiraz Gold Medal winners and have to say that the overall standard was quite good. But I could detect the "Hunter classic" only in one wine. This was my top wine from this tasting; the 2011 Tyrell's  Vat 9 Shiraz. This wine showed blueberry flavours, with great depth of fruit, and the velvety characters will develop (93 points).

The two Brokenwood wines were good, too. The 2013 Brokenwood Verona Shiraz is very dark and quite intense, well balanced, and with dusty tannins on the finish (92 points). The 2013 Brokenwood Mistress Shiraz is not as big, showing more red fruit and elegance (91 points). At the same level is the 2011 Thomas Wines Kiss Shiraz. This is an elegant, well balanced wine, but I found it a bit boring (91 points).

De Iuliis had two wines as well: The 2013 De Iuliis Steven Shiraz is quite fruity, and a little harsh (86 points), whereas the 2011 De Iuliis Limited Release Shiraz has more depth. This is a well rounded wine with a smooth finish (91 points).

Not quite at the same level were the 2013 Briar Ridge Signature Release Stockhausen Shiraz and the 2011 Pepper Tree Wines Tallavera Limited Release Shiraz (88 points). I did not try the 2013 David Hook Old Vines Belford Shiraz.

Red Wines from two other grape varieties won Gold Medals: the 2011 Margan White Label Barbera (soft and fruity, 88 points), and the 2013 De Iuliis Shiraz Touriga Nacional (a bit harsh, 88 points).

The Pepper Tree wine was the big trophy winner. This is why I am not a wine show judge.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Yarra Yering - The Full Line-up

It takes a long time to build up to an iconic wine brand status. It seems it takes an equally long time to lose it. I have not been familiar with Yarra Yering for many years, but yesterday I tried the following wines:

2013 Warramate Chardonnay
2011 Yarra Yering Chardonnay
2011 Warramate Pinot Noir
2012 Warramate Cabernets
2011 Yarra Yering Dry Red No 1
2008 Yarra Yering Dry Red No 1
2011 Yarra Yering Dry Red No 2
2007 Yarra Yering Dry Red No 2
2011 Yarra Yering Dry Red No 3
2010 Yarra Yering Underhill Shiraz
2007 Yarra Yering Underhill Shiraz

Underhill is a neighbouring vineyard bought many years ago, Warramate is also in the neighbourhood, bought more recently. The No 1 wine is the Bordeaux blend, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon I believe, No 2 is Shiraz, and No 3 is a blend of five Portuguese varieties, traditionally used to make Port.

I remember these wines having attractive fragrant feminine aromatics, built on a soft, but solid structure of fine tannins.

When I tasted the wines mentioned above, I found them thin, often underripe, without much shape, unattractive mouthfeel and length on the finish. I scored the wines 84 to 89 points. Only the 2011 Dry Red No 2 achieved 90 points, as it showed some good balance.

I remember some 15 years ago, I pulled a Dry Red No 1 from the 80s out of the cellar. It still had the price label on the bottle: $ 6.99. Today, all of these wines other than the Warramate cost $100 per bottle. Phew! As the saying goes: Money better spent elsewhere.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Two Excellent New Pinot Noirs

I recently drank two excellent Pinot Noirs side by side, grown about 200km apart, but they could not have been more different.

The 2012 Oakridge 864 Block 4 Guerin Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley has a bright red colour. The wine is light to medium, very smooth and elegant. The flavours are fragrant and of strawberry fruit. This is a feminine wine with excellent mouthfeel. Only the finish is a bit shorter than desirable for such a high quality wine.

Score: 93/+++

The 2012 Sangreal By Farr Pinot Noir from Geelong is much darker, and tastes of black cherry. As a result, it has a fuller mouthfeel. The finish expands beautifully. Like the wine above, this wine has a 'European' structure, but combined with sun-kissed fruit.

Score: 96/+++

It is not always that the bigger Pinot Noir wins out for me, but in this case it has.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay

Over the years, or decades rather, Leeuwin Estate has oscillated in its Art Series Chardonnay between a rich and exotic fruit spectrum and a more restrained citrus based expression. In recent years, it has settled somewhere in the middle, with the 2011 Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay an excellent example of this.

This wine shows quite a spectrum of fruit on the palate, with citrus, white peach and red apple dominant. There is melon as well. This complexity generates a full mouthfeel, yet the wine is precise and linear as well. I call this a paradox wine. This Chardonnay is perfectly balanced, with the right amount of acidity for freshness and excellent oak integration. The finish is very long. This wine drinks beautifully  now, but will age for a long time, too.

Score: 97/+++

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Three Granges

The other night I was fortunate to taste - actually, drink - three different vintages of Grange. They showed quite a lot of variation, but there are three things which Granges from different vintages have (more or less) in common, and which distinguish these wines from any other in Australia and the world, for that matter. The first is the depth of fruit. If you wanted to find an analogy, it is for taste as it would be for the eye when you dive over a reef and look down into the endless sea of increasingly blue and then black water. Many have tried to copy this, and ended up with overripe fruit. Grange fruit is not overripe, it is a very meticulous selection process to identify the ideal fruit. Secondly, it is the influence of oak, which is significant, but over time quite seamless. This has to do with the production method. I don't have enough space to describe this here. The third element is the structure, which is supported by very firm, sometimes coarse tannins, which allows the wine to age for decades.

On to the wines. The oldest was the 1991 Penfolds Grange. This is a big wine, with layered fruit flavours of plum, blackberry and blueberry. Cedar and dark chocolate add to the complexity. The strongly toasted oak is in good balance with the fruit. The finish is strong and tannic. This wine will live for a long time. I rate this highly based on the criteria outlined before, but it was not my favorite. Too brutish.

Score: 97/++

The 1992 Penfolds Grange was totally different. This wine showed also deep, dark berry fruit, but this wine is much more elegant, almost feminine. Others described it as sensual. It has great mouthfeel and a fleshy, long finish. This wine is perfect to drink now, and I would drink it in the next three years.

Score: 96/+++

I described the 2009 Penfolds Grange briefly in a previous post. On this night, the wine tasted big and oaky as previously, but the oak was not quite as dominant. I am now quite sure that the oak dominance will disappear over time. However, the second concern is likely to stay. The fruit is not as complex and layered as in the best years. As a result, the mouthfeel is not as satisfying. This is still a very good wine, but I am surprised, given the strength of the vintage, that the fruit does not come up better than this.

Score: 94/++

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Central Otago Pinot Noir

Central Otago has been in a bit of a quandary with its latest vintages. 2012 was cool, and many wines do not deliver the generosity of fruit associated with Central Otago. The following year was a warm, "easy" vintage, with many wines being quite open and broad. How do five well regarded wineries stack up?

Well, the wines of Domain Road, located near Felton Road, are actually from different vintages. The 2011 Domain Road Pinot Noir is attractive on the palate, open with interesting earthy undertones (91 points). The 2010 Paradise Pinot Noir is darker and quite intense, a little angular, but made for ageing (93 points).

Mt. Difficulty is one of Central Otago's most prominent wineries. The 2013 Roaring Meg Pinot Noir is made for every day drinking. It is a pleasant wine, soft and aromatic (90 points). The 2012 Bannockburn Pinot Noir (their estate wine) is more structured and quite tannic (92 points).

Mud House is a relatively high volume producer who manages to avoid the 'commercial wines' label. The 2012 Claim 431 Pinot Noir is still quite young in the glass, but with savoury characteristics and a slightly harsh mouthfeel (89 points). The 2013 version is broader, feels warmer and tastes more fruit orientated (90 points). The 2010 has a lighter mouthfeel, but lovely expressive fruit and soft tannins (93 points). Big vintage variation between these wines.

One of the bell weathers is Quartz Reef. the 2012 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir tastes of red cherry, with savoury notes and a very solid structure (93 points).

Rockburn, by comparison, is quite new. The winemaker is ex Felton Road. The 2012 Pinot Noir is a bit weak and lacks intensity (88 points). However, the 2012 Ten Barrels Pinot Noir (obviously a reserve wine) has more depth and is quite elegant with lifted aromas on the finish (93 points).    

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bass Phillip New Releases - Interview with Phillip Jones

Bass Phillip is perhaps the best, certainly the most unpredictable Pinot Noir producer in Australia with often exciting results. Phillip Jones, the owner, is a highly intelligent, often unorthodox winemaker. The interview ended up more like a lecture, as I expected and have experienced previously.

The Bass Phillip  four vineyards are in an unusual location in and around Leongatha, South Gippsland. This is dairy country. There is a lot of rainfall, 1 metre per year, and the soil is deep and fertile, of volcanic origin, with a lot of minerality, in particular iron and ironstone pebbles. Bass Phillip practices dense planting, on average 9000 plants/ha, similar to Burgundy. The wines of Burgundy are the model, and Phillip Jones employs many of their measures and practices. Bass Phillip is biodynamic since 2002.

Some of the interesting points he made:

1) Top quality Pinot Noir needs dampness in the feet (he would say that, wouldn't he). He points to Burgundy and Champagne. He believes that the mantra of 'vines need to struggle' is not good for Pinot Noir. Such climate produces intensity of fruit, but not complexity - and he was mildly pointing at Central Otago. In the same vein, he believes that parts of the Tamar River and the Huon will produce better Pinot Noir in Tasmania than the currently highly regarded dry Coal Valley.

2) Low yield is crucial, but the measure should not be t/ha, but rather grams/vine. For example, if a loosely planted vineyard shows a low yield per hectare, it is still high per vine and the fruit can be diluted (he has a point).

3) What is the magic of the home vineyard? He said he did not know, but the site was even cooler than others in the area as there are a couple of cold wind channels going through the site. There are also aquifers under the property. The soil is free draining and the vine roots now very deep. Hmm, not sure this explains it.

On to the Pinot Noirs from the great 2012 vintage. The tasting was a little difficult, as the glasses were rather small and the wines had not been opened long enough (as it turned out).

The 2012 Crown Prince Pinot Noir is the entry level, if you like, but this wine is far better than that. Strawberry flavours, a soft mouthfeel and silky tannins make this wine quite accessible now (92 points). The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir has more intensity, but I was not convinced by the finish (91 points). Then came the 2012 Bin 17k Pinot Noir. This wine is from an extremly dense planted 17000 plants/ha vineyard (get it?). Phillip Jones harvests only 100g of fruit per vine. 500g is standard in Burgundy. The wine is quite angular, like a good Burgundy, with cherry flavours dominating, and a long finish. This wine needs to be put down for a few years. (94 points).

The top two wines were hard to judge. The 2012 Premium Pinot Noir is elegant, with red and black cherry flavours. It has a piercing intensity along the palate, without being big, and an expanding finish - an exceptional wine (97 points). The 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir has even more intensity. It was very closed on the day, but showed a long finish (97+ points; others have rated this even higher). These two wines will gain in complexity over time, when the secondary savoury flavours start to show. They are best drunk in 5-15 years.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Felton Road New Releases - Interview with Winemaker Blair Walter

As luck will have it, I am likely to interview the two most highly regarded  Pinot Noir winemakers in the Southern Hemisphere on subsequent days.

The discussion with Blair Walter of Felton Road last night was an interesting lesson in the influence of terroir. The three vineyards from which the four single vineyard Pinot Noirs come, are quite close, yet the terroir influences are quite different.

The 'Mother' vineyard, The Elms, is at a higher altitude than the other vineyards and gets shaded over earlier in the afternoon. As a result, the vines ripen later, but with good intensity and structure. Block 3 has deep fine sandy loam. The resulting wine is the most aromatic, very elegant, often with exotic fruit and spice characteristics. Block 5, only 100m further east, has more clay content, and the resulting wine is more concentrated and the darkest of Felton Road's Pinot Noirs.

The Cornish Point vineyard lies adjacent to a lake and is almost totally surrounded by it. The water influence reduces the diurnal range (difference between day and night temperature). As a result, there is more ripening time at Cornish Point. These are the first Pinot Noir grapes picked. Interestingly, Blair Walter spoke of the shape of the wines, as I did in the last post, and says the Cornish Point Pinot Noir has a rounder shape. The soil is sand over loam, and the wine has typically strong fruit characteristics on the palate.

The Calvert Vineyard is close to the Elms, but at lower altitude. It is therefore warmer. Soils are dominated by clay. As a result, the wine is more angular and shares features with Block 5 (my interpretation), although the vines are much younger.

Now on to the tasted wines from the 2013 vintage. It was a relatively warm vintage and regarded as 'easy' in Central Otago. Felton Road picked early to avoid over-ripeness, but risk then is lack of fruit intensity. The 2013 Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir is a blend of all vineyards. The wine is quite open on the palate, but I find it a bit broad (90 points). The 2013 Cornish Point is a bit darker and more structured (91 points). The 2013 Calvert tastes of dark cherry, is more angular in its structure and quite closed at present (92 points). The 2013 Block 3 is where the Pinot Noir starts to sing. The aromas are lifted with exotic fruits and good depth and length as well (95 points).

My view is that by Felton Road's lofty standards, this is not the most successful vintage. Cooler conditions create better structures and mouthfeel for these wines. The 2013s are fine and well made, but will suit earlier drinking than many previous vintages.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The "Shape" of Red Wine

I store a tiny amount of American wine in the Napa Valley. Fortunately, my bottles were not affected by the latest earthquake. Some wineries were not so lucky. Let us just hope that "the big one" is not coming.

Every now and then I do a theoretical piece, and I have had positive feedback on these. So here is another one. Texture or mouthfeel, as I often call it, is probably the most important aspect of a wine to me. There are typical shapes for the most important red wine varieties, as shown in the (poorly drawn) graphic below.
  Good Pinot Noir has an expanding finish (the Burgundian fan). The shaded area shows possible shortcomings. Cabernet Sauvignon is very structured, some would say angular, from beginning to end. It sometimes lacks on the mid-palate. Shiraz (and Merlot, for that matter) is more rounded and fleshy. Poorer wines have a thin finish.

I hope this works for you.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz

I am always worried if I got the spelling right when I write about this wine. When Mount Langi is good, it is very good, but the vintages are varied in this cooler climate location. This is my first look at the 2005 vintage, but I am not worried, as the wine is screw capped.

The 2005 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz is a brooding wine. The fruit flavours are of blackberry and black cherry, a very dark feel. But the fruit is in no way overripe. The wine is aromatic and fresh for a wine of nine years. There is white pepper on the palate and enticing tannins. The wine lacks complexity a little bit and does not quite achieve the mouthfeel of a warm climate Shiraz. This comes down to personal preference. The length in this wine is satisfying.

Score: 93/+++

Saturday, August 23, 2014

5 most popular blog posts this year, so far

1) Sydney Rootstock, part 2  - you are with the trend: this is an organic wines showing
2) Penfolds St Henri - understandable: probably the most sensational wine release of the year
3) Sydney Rootstock, part 1
4) Wendouree Shiraz/Malbec - rarely seen cult wine
5) Wynns John Riddoch - very classic Cabernet Sauvignon

You made interesting, but good choices

Friday, August 22, 2014

Main Ridge Half Acre Pinot Noir

Main Ridge is one of my favorite (very focused) producers of Pinot Noir. This is my first taste of the 2008 Main Ridge Half Acre Pinot Noir. The colour of the wine has turned to garnet. On the palate, the typical elements of this winemaker are present: red cherry fruit, a savoury character and silky tannins. This is a moreish wine, although not quite up to the standard of the best vintages. The piercing intensity and lasting finish are not quite there, yet the texture of the wine is still way above average.

Score: 93/++