Tuesday, May 23, 2017

International Cabernet Tasting

Top Australian Cabernets were put against some pretty smart Bordeaux from excellent vintages and a few Napa wines. Two French wines came out on top (not just in my opinion) against Australian wines, which many 'independent' wine critics have given 98 points plus. Does this mean the French were 102 points? It goes to show how ridiculous the rating system has become in Australia. It seems only the www.winefront.com.au keeps to a sensible scoring system.

The best wines were the 2000 Chateau Palmer, Margaux and the 2005 Chateau Prieuré-Lichine, Margaux. Both wines had plenty of rich and lush blackberry fruit and cassis. The fruit is concentrated, yet elegant on the palate. These wines had silky tannins and a long finish. The Palmer was a bit more reserved, with the Prieuré-Lichine offering a full-bodied mouthfeel.

My favorite Australians were the 2015 Cullen Diana Madeline, which I reviewed in a recent post below, and the 2014 Lake's Folly Cabernets, from a 100 year vintage in the Hunter Valley. This is the first time I tasted this wine. The palate is complex, with dark fruits, cedar, and a hint of Christmas cake. Impressive is the stylish long finish.

In the next category would be the 2015 Te Mata Coleraine with its soft, feminine features: an elegant wine with good length. The 2005 Chateau Montrose is elegant, but with a strong tannic backbone. I also liked the 2012 Matthiasson Oak Knoll District Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. It is very aromatic with beautiful fruit on the palate, and a slightly uneven finish. The 2014 Yeringberg Cabernet is impressive. This is an elegant wine, with good depth and some grip. I preferred it to the Mount Mary.

The next group was still very good, but my choices would obviously be the wines above. It included the 2014 Mount Mary Quintet, the 2010 Chateau Latour le Pauillac de Latour (3rd level wine), 2012 Mount Eden Cabernet (Santa Cruz Mountains), 2013 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley).

I was less impressed with the ??SC Pannell Cabernet/Shiraz (too fruity), the 2011 Man O War Ironclad Bordeaux Blend (a bit simple), the 2008 Puriri Hills Reserve (fruity and alcoholic), the 2014 Rockford 'Rifle Range' Cabernet Sauvignon (sweet), and the 2012 Mount Brave Cabernet (alcoholic).

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache

A few days ago, I walked into a large liquor store to buy a straight Grenache. They offered a choice of two (!) - out of hundreds of bottles. I opted for the 2016 Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache. This is obviously very young, but I wanted an easy drink, and I trust Yalumba and its very capable winemaker Louisa Rose.

The wine smells of raspberry fruit, which is also dominant on the palate. The wine is clean, and there is quite good fruit intensity, but it is quite sweet, which the slight spices cannot overcome. There is this lolly-water flavour in this wine, which I thought we had outgrown. I was surprised. With vine age of 35-80 years, I expected more savoury components, and I would have liked more line and length.

Score: 84/--

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz

The Meshach is Grant Burge's flagship wine. In a recent blind tasting I participated in, it beat all other premium Shirazes. It tends to be juicy and full-bodied, quite a crowd-pleaser.

A few days ago, I tasted the 2002 Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz. The colour of the wine is still lively. On the palate, there is very ripe blackberry and dried plum. This wine is fat, maybe even obese, and does not have much shape. There are lashings of oak. The structure is still holding up, due to the firm tannins and a good lengthy finish.

One glass is ok.

Score: 90/0

Friday, May 12, 2017

Cullen - New Flagship Wines

What a day Tuesday was for the wine enthusiast in Sydney. There was the Hill of Grace release dinner, and separate tastings of Xanadu, Cape Mentelle, and Cullens: a Maragret River invasion. Spoilt for choice. I went to the Cullen tasting of its flagship wines with the remarkable, but quite shy Vanya Cullen.

The opening act were the current release of the Mangan Vineyard Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc and the Amber wine (reviewed in this blog previously). The Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc was impressive. It was fresh as expected, but also seamless and elegant.

Then came the 2015 Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay. I have in the past not warmed to this wine as a leading Australian Chardonnay brand. However, I enjoyed this vintage. The flavours are complex: citrus, grapefruit, white peach, and almonds. The wine was matured in 73% new oak, which is quite noticeable, but smartly treated. The wine has a precise line, and is penetrating with a long finish.

Is it at Leeuwin's level? Not quite.

Score: 95/++

The 2015 Cullen Diana Madeline has been reviewed a lot already. The points-master and other reviewers have gone to the top drawer as usual. I won't dwell on general descriptors too much. The wine has hints of vibrancy, but is a little closed at present. The bouquet of red and black berries flows onto the palate. The main point I want to make is that this is a more concentrated wine than recent releases with more ripeness and depth of fruit, supported by fine tannins.

I think in a number of years, the power and intensity of the wine will blend with the finesse and elegance in a potentially amazing way. This wine needs to be put away for at least five years. I will not drink it before 10 years.

Score: 96/+++ 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Chateau Malescot St. Exupery

The Margaux sub-region is known for the softest and most fragrant wines in Bordeaux. And Chateau Malescot has been described as making the most Pinot Noir like wines in Bordeaux. This might just be the right thing for the hot 2005 vintage.

The 2005 Chateau Malescot St. Exupery Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot has a big, beautiful bouquet of bramble. Actually, I have less of a flavour association with this wine, than an image. It smells like walking through a thick forest after the rain, with the dampness of complex aromas rising through the air.

On the palate, this is an elegant and smooth wine. The wine is quite ripe, with blackcurrant and secondary earthy flavours blending well together. The mouthfeel is big, with a good balance between filling out and length. The tannins are fine and in a support role.

This is clearly an old world wine, but with new world generosity. I like it a lot.

Score: 95/+++

Monday, May 8, 2017

Best's Bin 1 Shiraz

Best's of Great Western is a remarkable winery, with very old and traditional underground cellars and beautiful old vine vineyards, the home block comprising many varieties. The main game is Shiraz.

I am tasting the 2011 Best's Bin 1 Shiraz, the second (or third, depending on your point of view) label if you will. This could be challenging: a cool climate Shiraz from a cool and wet vintage. The bouquet is intense, smelling of pepper and berries. This is a peppery wine, no doubt, on a fairly light frame. But the wine is vibrant and smooth. The fruit orientated flavours are mainly red plum. The mouthfeel is a bit weak, but the structure of the wine is good, with acidity prominent.

This wine is perhaps not so satisfying on its own, but would be great with pasta and pizza dishes. It is a great winemaking effort in this tough year. Great value for money, too.

Score: 91/+++

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

New Zealand Pinot Noirs With Personality

Over the last 10 years, the quality of Australian and New Zealand Pinot Noirs has gone up in leaps and bounds. One even does not encounter lolly water in value for money Pinot Noirs any more, and the good ones can take on Burgundy premier cru. Unfortunately, there seems to be an almost formulaic approach by most producers, and it is not often that individual wines stand out.

At a recent tasting, however, I found that three Pinot Noirs from New Zealand had great 'personality'. As I tasted these wines very quickly, no scores were given, but they would have been in the 90-95 points range.

The first was the 2013 Charteris The Winter Vineyard Pinot Noir. The vineyard is on Felton Road in Central Otago, opposite Mt. Difficulty. This Pinot Noir does not taste anything like a Central Otago Pinot Noir. This wine is much leaner than your typical example.While there is good fruit intensity, there is also bay leaf, and the tannins are dry, but soft. This is partly due to the location near the water, partly due to long maceration.

The 2015 Schubert Marion's Vineyard Pinot Noir comes from Wairarapa (the larger Martinborough region). This location was searched out by a German winemaking couple after a world-wide search. The fruit here is bigger. Earthy notes and fragrance remind me of Nebbiolo.

The cult Pyramid Valley winery is owned by an American and is currently being sold (to another American, I believe). It is located in the Canterbury district and quite unique in many ways. The 2014 Pyramid Valley Angel Flower Pinot Noir has an almost orange colour. The wine is soft and smooth, and almost Burgundian in its character (and price).  

Monday, May 1, 2017

Joseph Phelps Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon

This post should be read in conjunction with the previous one.

The other wine I took home from that Napa Valley trip was the 2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia. This is one of the famous and very consistent Cabernet Sauvignons from the Napa Valley, in its chunky, standing out bottle.

This wine has more depth than the Stags Leap SLV, and a big mouthfeel. The blueberry and blackberry flavours are quite clean and elegant. Paradoxically, this wine is less complex than the SLV, with a focus on fruit intensity and concentration. The tannins are firm and well integrated. The finish is quite dry. This wine needs protein.

Score: 94/++

Friday, April 28, 2017

Two Exciting Cabernets To Compare: Achaval-Ferrer and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

I missed World Malbec Day, which was 10 days ago. However, it is a good marketing idea. Therefore, belatedly, I pulled the best Malbec out of my cellar.


Strictly speaking, the 2011 Achaval Ferrer Quimera is not a Malbec, but a Malbec blend, with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a bit of Petit Verdot making up the remaining 50%.

This wine is utterly modern, with freshness and superb elegance. It is clean, crisp and very defined, with a shape which runs down the palate, rather than engulfing every possible taste bud. Blackcurrant flavours, black cherry, blackberry and white pepper blend in with fine grained tannins. The finish is very elegant. 

The different grape contributions are seamless. What is surprising is that only the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes come from high altitude, but there is no sweetness, thickness or over-ripeness in this well made wine.

Score: 95/+++

One of the exciting, and still affordable wines I brought back from a trip to Napa Valley around 2010 was the 2007 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. (Stag's Leap Vineyards) Cabernet Sauvignon. This is of course the winery which won the legendary 1976 tasting challenge against Bordeaux wines (with the Cask 23). The 1973 vintage of this wine was named an 'Object that made America' by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Like with Australian Shiraz, there is always some doubt how well Napa Cabernet Sauvignon can age. And in 10 year old tastings, the scores are mostly lower than on release. However, on opening the bottle, the signs are good. The colour is dark and looks fresh.

This wine comes from a warmer climate than the Quimera, and it shows. The wine is darker, richer, and broader. The flavours are quite complex. Red- and blackcurrant, plum, and cedar mix with earthy notes, cinnamon and chocolate. The structure is holding up, and the balance is good. Coarser tannins lead to a full-bodied finish.

Score: 93/++

Choosing between these two wines really comes down to preferences. The freshness and raciness of the Quimera vs. the richness and full mouthfeel of the S.L.V.  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay

Year after year after year.... this wine delivers. It starts with the annually changing attractive label. As at Mouton-Rothschild, the originals hang in the winery's gallery.

The 2006 Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay, now over 10 years old, shows a bright golden colour with still a hint of green. On the palate, the fruit is less pronounced and obvious than in other years, the style more restraint than, say, the wines of the 90s. Citrus and apricot flavours are almost background to almond, marzipan, and white chocolate. The mouthfeel is creamy and balanced. This wine is more about texture than anything else. It will drink well for many years.

Score: 95/+++

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ulithorne Chi Grenache Shiraz


When the fruit of the 2012 Ulithorne Chi Grenache Shiraz hits the front palate, the sensation is attractive. The fruit has depth, the plum and blackberry flavours are very pure. This small scale operation certainly is quite meticulous about the grape treatment. The mouthfeel initially is very satisfying with good fruit concentration,  sweet flavour and fine tannins. The Shiraz component of the wine manages to hold on to this impression on the mid palate, but on the back palate, the wine drops off. The tannins do not quite stand up to the ripe fruit.

Score: 92/+

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

E. Pira Chiara Boschis Barolo Cannubi

The warm 2000 vintage was hailed by the Americans as one of the best in Barolo, as the fruit was ripe and concentrated, whereas the Italians saw it as atypical. The charismatic Chiara Boschis, who became winemaker in 1990, uses modern methods, with shortened maceration periods and maturation in French barriques. This may have been the right thing in this vintage. So I was quite excited to open this bottle of 2000 E. Pira Chiara Boschis Barolo Cannubi, from one of the legendary vineyards in the heart of Barolo. As an aside, this vineyard is shared by 17 producers.

The wine is  typical of the variety. Tar and roses feature strongly. The colour is darker than is typical of Barolo, pointing to quite concentrated dark cherry fruit. However, the fruit has now faded somewhat. Savoury flavours dominate, and in particular the firm and very dry tannins. The finish is long.

This is an outstanding wine, suited to those who like Barolo. It needs food, in particular protein, and is best drunk now.

Score: 95/++