Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Cullen Amber

I was looking forward to tasting the unusual 2014 Cullen Amber wine. I have sometimes lamented the fact that wines do not have enough personality. Well, this wine is certainly different. It is a blend of two thirds Semillon, one third Sauvignon Blanc, but it does not taste anything like the typical Margaret River blend of these grapes. The wine is made like a red wine and sees 4 months of oak. 'Amber' might suggest this is an 'orange' wine, but this is not true either. While the grapes come from biodynamic vineyards, the wine is (lightly) fined in the winery to give it stability. So what is it like?

The colour is a deep gold of great purity. The nose does not give much away. On the palate, this is a full-bodied wine. It carries quite a punch. The high alcohol (15%) gets absorbed by the fruit and oak, though, and is not especially noticeable. Nor are the fruit flavours very pronounced. This wine is very dry, and has some similarity to a sherry or some white Rhone wines. It is about  texture and balance. I am not quite sure what the best occasion for this wine would be, but lobster or crayfish would go well with it. It will be interesting to see what age will do to this wine. I will certainly try it again.

Score: 91/+++

Friday, February 5, 2016

Ridge Zinfandel

It is astonishing that Australia, possibly the world's most enthusiastic barbecue nation, has very little Zinfandel or Primitivo wines of its own. Zinfandel is the perfect match for barbecued meat.

So I opened a 2007 Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel. Ridge is a very experienced Zinfandel maker, and this wine, from a good vintage, is a typical example. This is a juicy wine. The concentrated blueberry and blackberry fruit hit you on the front palate. The wine is not overly complex, but the fruit takes the 14.5% alcohol well. The structure is balanced and the wine enjoyable, as long as you put some protein with it. It has a few more good years left in the bottle.

Score: 88/++  

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Kooyong Estate Pinot Noir

Kooyong is my number two winery from the Mornington Peninsula, with the highly respected Sandro Mosele at the helm. The 2010 Kooyong Estate Pinot Noir tastes of dark cherries. The fruit is intensive, but the mouthfeel is more linear than bold. The wine shows a lot of minerality and has a taste of sea salt. There is an attractive level of acidity in this wine. Overall, it is balanced and elegant, in a restrained kind of way. Firm tannins come through on a lasting finish.

If I wanted to be critical, I would say the wine lacks personality. This is perhaps not surprising, given it is a blend of the company owned vineyards. The quality is quite remarkable for a second tier wine. It is one more for the head than the heart.

Score: 94/++

Monday, January 25, 2016

Is A Premium Deserved For Magnums?

Magnum bottles are priced more than twice the price of regular bottles in Australia. Is this justified?

In the old days, when wine was bottled under cork, the argument was that you could cellar a magnum for longer, as there would be less oxygen exposure per unit of wine. I have found this argument to be  true, by and large. Therefore for people who cellar wine, this was additional value. Another argument is that costs are higher due to much lower volumes, in particular for glass bottles and labels. However, most magnum bottled wines are premium wines, and the additional cost, if any, would not have been high as a percentage of sales.

These days, many wines are closed by screw caps or twist offs, including ultra premium wine. There is no advantage in cellaring these wines in magnums. The only other potential benefit is ceremonial. Presenting a magnum to a group of people could be construed as more festive than 2 bottles of wine. Personally, I don't think there is much in this.

I conclude there is no longer any justification for the premium price of magnum bottles.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Marques de Riscal Rioja

I am not the world's greatest expert on Spanish wines, but generally there are three things I don't like about them
1)  Lack of vitality in the wines
2) Tempranillo is a boring grape variety
3) The authorities in many regions, including Rioja, do not allow single vineyard wines, as they say they do not have the resources to police it. Obviously, trust is not an option.

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to test my preconceived view against the 2009 Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva, from one of the most respected wineries in Spain.

There is good intensity in this cherry fruit, but not much else on the palate, other than the vanilla from maturing the wine in American oak. The wine is a bit dull, and not very polished either. The tannins are quite soft, and as there is not much going on, the alcohol comes through on the finish.

Preconceived ideas confirmed! (at least on this occasion)

Later in the year, I will spend a couple of days in the Ribera del Duero region to get more of an insight.

Score: 87/-

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Massolino Barolo

Massolino is a more than 100 year old winery in the subregion of Serralunga in Piedmont. It owns seven vineyards there with quite different soil profiles. The Barolo is a blend from these vineyards. It is matured for 24 months in Slovenian oak. It is one of the best priced Barolos around.

I drank the 2005 Massolino Barolo last night. The first thing that strikes you is the label. It is extremely simple, yet very striking. The colour of the wine is garnet, but the core is quite dark, as is to be expected from Serralunga.

The wine is dark fruited, but not very big. It is a balanced wine, where the fruit plays second fiddle to tar and roses, bacon and smoke. These flavours are engulfed in fine tannins. While the vitality has gone in this wine, it is settled and somehow peaceful, and it finishes long.

Score: 92/++ 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Marchand & Burch Villages Chardonnay

Staying with the village theme. Marchand & Burch is a high quality brand, based on the partnership of successful wine producers, bringing together Burgundy practices and Western Australian vineyards. Some wines from France are made as well.

The 2014 Marchand & Burch Villages Chardonnay is an attractively priced entry level Chardonnay. The wine is fruit forward, but with an attractive mix of grapefruit, melon, peach and guava flavours. This is a fruit profile which is rich, yet pure, and has no butterscotch elements. It is quite typical for Western Australia. The wine is very clean, not overly complex, with a rounder profile and mouthfeel, rather than linearity. I would call it a high quality quaffer.

Score: 92/++

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Blue Poles Allouran

When I did my review on four leading 2007 Margaret River Cabernets, one of my readers suggested I could have included the Blue Poles Allouran. I must admit, I had never heard of this wine, so I was intrigued. I could only manage to buy the 2011 Blue Poles Allouran, but here is my review of this interesting wine.

In contrast to most Margaret River Cabernets, which are either straight Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends, this wine is 76% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc. This composition resembles the right bank of Bordeaux, for example Pomerol, whereas the other wines are 'left bank' wines. This is a clever differentiation.

The different composition is responsible for the different colour. This wine is ruby in colour, the others were darker. The nose of this wine is very appealing, with wild berry notes rising from the glass. On the palate, the wine is a little lean. The influence of the Cabernet Franc is strong, with raspberry and savoury tobacco flavours dominating. The wine is well made, with more of an emphasis on structure than fruit flavours. There is fresh acidity on the mid palate, and dry tannins on the finish. While the mouthfeel does not quite match the wines of my 2007 tasting, it should be noted that the price is one half to one third of those wines. This wine offers good value for money and the label will be one to watch.

Score: 92/++

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Maison De Grand Esprit Cote De Nuits-Villages La Belle Voisine

Buying Burgundy wine is the toughest assignment, no doubt. In contrast to Bordeaux, it is the vineyards who get the Grand Cru and Premier Cru labels. However, frequently more than 20 producers share in the vineyard, so the quality varies significantly. And then, it is not uncommon for a producer to offer 20+ wines from different vineyard parcels. As a result, volumes are small, with high production costs and the scarcity factor driving up prices. As a further complication, vintage variation is significant in this marginal climate. So, how can you buy smart?

I can think of two strategies. I call the first the 'scrabble approach'. You find a Grand Cru or Premier Cru of a good producer, but this wine is too expensive to buy (the horizontal axis). As you appreciate the winemaker skills, you try to identify less valued wines from this company (the vertical axis). The second approach is more straight forward: taste before you buy.

The 2009 (from a great vintage) Maison de Grand Esprit (great name!) Cote De Nuits-Villages was a purchase using the second approach. The label indicates it is not from one of the famous villages.

I liked the wine initially, and I am happy to say, I still like it now. This is a screw-capped Burgundy! The wine is medium bodied and delicate. Cherry and raspberry flavours have good intensity and depth. The fruit is matched by lively acidity, resulting in a well balanced wine. Tannins are left in the background, but they help providing a solid structure. The finish is firm with some length. This is not the most profound wine, but it is well made and can compete well with medium priced Australian Pinot Noirs.

Score: 93/+++    

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Chateau Pontet-Canet

I thought I compare the Clerc Milon mentioned in my last post with another wine from the Pauillac subregion, the 2002 Chateau Pontet-Canet. Pontet-Canet has jumped on the Robert Parker bandwagon perhaps more than any other Bordeaux winery. Their detractors see them as an exponent of the 'Bordeaux on steroids' movement. The 2002 vintage was much cooler than 2003, so this could be an interesting comparison.

It turned out to be quite remarkable, actually. The colour was still very dark. On the nose and palate, the wine was astonishingly similar to the Clerc Milon: perhaps a little more elegant, perhaps a little leaner, but essentially the same, with a firm tannin structure on the finish. Pauillac very obvious in both wines.

What is the lesson here? It might be a good idea to buy a wine from a leading exponent of 'bigger is better' and 'strong tannins' from a cooler and generally less well regarded vintage. This would be much cheaper and give you a well made, mainstream wine. Also, you could actually drink such a wine after 10 years.

Score: 93/+

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Chateau Clerc Milon

I reviewed the 2003 Chateau Clerc Milon a couple of years ago, and was not that impressed. Was I wrong or has this wine improved so much in the last couple of years? I am not sure, but it seems this is a different wine.

Clerc Milon is the second wine of Mouton Rothschild. It comes from a separate vineyard, neighbouring the Mouton vineyard. The treatment in the winery is similar, although oak is applied more conservatively. The colour of this 12 year old wine is still dark purple in the centre, but garnet along the rim points to the age of this wine. The blackcurrant fruit is concentrated and ripe, but still lively. The wine sails down the palate nicely and evenly, but does not feel in the mouth as well rounded as it could have been. The tannins are firm and dry, and dominate the finish in a typical Mouton style. It helps to match this wine with protein.

Clerc Milon needs airing to open up, even after 12 years. It is an example of a Bordeaux wine, which needs many years of cellaring, before it comes into its own. This Clerc Milon is certainly a strong second wine.

Score: 93/+

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Favorite Christmas Drink - Poll Outcome

The results of this poll were quite surprising to me. I thought Champagne would do better. But then, my readership is quite sophisticated, and clearly is tasting exciting wines, mainly great reds over Christmas. This was no doubt also helped by the cool weather in large parts of Australia. And half my readership is in the Northern Hemisphere, where the weather at Christmas is chilly, anyway.

Pinot Noir was the most favorite drink, demonstrating the enormous improvements that have been achieved with this variety.

Normally, I am quite good with picking categories, but this time, the 'other' category was ticked a fair bit. I would be interested which wines fell into these categories. I would appreciate if you left me a brief comment. And generally, which were your favorite Christmas drinks?