Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Spinifex Esprit

The Esprit, fashioned like a Chateauneuf red wine, put Spinifex firmly on the map. I still had one bottle from 2005 left and was interested to see how the main feature of the wine, its freshness and vibrancy, was holding up.

The 2005 Spinifex Esprit is a blend of five grape varieties common in the Southern Rhone valley, with Grenache being the dominant grape. Pouring the wine, it is obvious the colour has started to mellow. However, on the palate, the wine is still fresh. Peter Schell uses grapes which are picked early. And after 10 years, fruit flavours still dominate, raspberry, plum and blackberry. The character is lifted and dry, not heavy. Secondary characteristics are not very noticeable. The wine is beautifully balanced between different grapes, oak, tannins and acidity. It is great drinking now, with depth of complex flavours and no heaviness on the palate.

Score: 94/+++

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz was perhaps Australia's first cult wine. In the 80s, it was cheaper than Rockford's Riesling. Then the appreciation for old vines and powerful red wine grew strongly. Two things happened. Rockford basically sells only through cellar door and via mailing lists, so the wine was not available on the 'open' market. Secondly, because of the winery's peculiar cost plus pricing system, the price increases were more moderate than of similar wines which started to emerge. The result is that there is a huge demand for this wine and not enough supply.

The 2009 Rockford Basket Press is a real crowd pleaser. Plum and blackberry aromas jump out of the glass. This full-bodied wine is very youthful, juicy and easy to drink. But underneath the sweet core is a serious structure. The wine is ripe but not overripe. The fruit comes first, then soft tannins, and acidity not very noticeable. The wine has good length and I think will age very well, despite its apparent low acidity.

Score: 94/+

Thursday, July 23, 2015

11 Years Of Ata Rangi Pinot Noir


Ata Rangi means "red sky dawn", and that it was for New Zealand Pinot Noir, when Ata Rangi, together with Felton Road, burst on the wine scene. I therefore felt great anticipation when I learnt I could participate in a rare 11 year vertical tasting. I had once participated in a blind Pinot Noir tasting where a small group of wine lovers were trying to figure out which Pinots were from New Zealand and which from Australia. We were then embarrassed to learn, we had just tasted 6 vintages of Ata Rangi. The vintage influences were very large. This was about eight years ago. What would happen this time?

Clones have more influence on Pinot Noir than on any other variety, and the Ata Rangi situation is an interesting one. Like many others in New Zealand, they use 6-8 clones, in particular clone 5 from the US and the Dijon clone, but at the heart of its Pinot Noir is the gumboot or Abel clone. It is a long story how it got to Ata Rangi, but it is rumoured to be an offspring of an illegal single vine cutting from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. According to Clive Paton, Ata Rangi's founder, it delivers the typical Ata Rangi texture, length and silky tannins. The other significant aspect is that the soil of Ata Rangi's vineyards consists of 30-50 meters of gravel.

Now on to the tasting. It covered the years 1999 and 2004-2013. We tasted from youngest to oldest in two five year brackets, followed by the 1999. I will not describe every single wine, but start with some overall conclusions, followed by a summary.

The significant vintage variations I had experienced in my previous vertical tasting were not so apparent in the five youngest wines, but there was more of it in the second bracket. Given seasonal variations were just as large, why would this have been? According to Clive Paton, it is not in the winemaking. Maybe, as the vines reach maturity - they are now 35 years old -, they can balance out the variations. It is not entirely clear.

Overall, Ata Rangi Pinot Noirs are iron fists in a velvet glove. These are wines with concentration, with fruit and (not so noticeable) tannin power. They all deliver elegance and silkiness.

The most impressive wines were the bookends, 2013 and 1999. The 2013, from a perfect vintage, has complex flavours, strawberry, raspberry, but also savoury sandalwood. The wine is vibrant, with a very rounded and balanced mouthfeel and a long burgundian finish (97 points). The 1999, which won a trophy at the prestigeous UK International Wine and Spirit competition, shows what such a wine can develop into: the flavours are now very exotic: there is truffle, hay, some toffee. The wine is still very balanced, simply sensational (98 points). This was a wine under cork. We had a perfect bottle, but others opened to trade and in Melbourne were not good.

The second group scored 93-95 points and consisted of the 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2005. There were considerable differences between these wines, mainly depending on the warmth of the season and sunshine hours. In the cooler years, the wines are more austere, and acidic, but showing great elegance. This was certainly true for the 2012 and the 2010, which was more generous, though.This latter wine was my third favorite of the night. 2008 and 2009 were warmer seasons. The wines showed generous fruit aromas and were softer. Secondary characteristics, such as mushroom, started to show in these wines. 2005 was a very masculine wine with a weighty palate. The year had a very low yield. 2006 was more elegant, a gracious and precise wine with silky tannins to finish.

The weaker wines (around 91 points) were 2011, 2007 and 2004. The 2011 season had rain at the wrong time, which diluted the intensity a bit. 2007, from a cold season with low yield, was a powerful wine on the front palate, but finished quite short. 2004 was the wettest season. The wine had developed quite a bit, showing a charming mix of fruit and forest floor flavours - a pretty wine, but lacking some intensity.

Overall, a mighty impressive showing. It is good to see that no vintages were left out. The seasonal impact was significant, with warmer seasons showing better, but others creating interesting characteristics as well.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon

The Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon is one of Australia's icon wines with a 50 year history. It usually displays firm, sometimes astringent tannins. Therefore I always put it away for a number of years for the tannins to mellow. It is a curious situation, because the wine is high volume and sold in major liquor stores. It can be assumed most of this is consumed immediately, which is not ideal.

Yesterday, I opened a 2008 Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine opened with typical  and true to the variety blackcurrant fruit. Some of it is overripe and quite dry, but the major issue with this wine is the hole on the mid-palate. There is nothing special in the finish. The overall mouthfeel improves somewhat after the wine has been in the glass for some time, but charming this wine is not.

If you want to know what can be a problem with a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine, and why many leaders in France, the US, and Australia blend it, try this wine.

Score: 87/--

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Penfolds RWT Shiraz

The screwcapped 2004 Penfolds RWT Shiraz still displays a youthful purple colour. This is a full-bodied wine with intense blueberry and blackberry, rather than plum flavours. The wine is concentrated and dense, similar to a premium Torbreck wine in this sense. It is not overripe. Primary fruit characteristics still dominate. The main and remarkable achievement of this wine is that it is very smooth and quite elegant despite its slight heaviness. What the screwcap has done is that it kept the fruit fresh (no air exchange), while the firm tannins have softened somewhat (no air required). This makes for an attractive combination.

The RWT (Red Wine Trial) was developed in response to some criticism about the usage of American oak in Grange and the overt vanilla flavours in that wine. Therefore some saw the RWT as a Grange, but with better oak. This is not appropriate. This wine does not have the uniquely huge body and length of Grange. But what it does have is oak in a support role and good drink-ability.

Score: 96/+++

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How Reliable Are Ratings?

I give ratings points, as people demand it, but it is important to understand that the assessment of a wine depends on many things. Let me list a few

Temperature: aromas and flavours of a wine vary dramatically with temperature. The sweet spot for each wine is only a few degrees. Cooler or warmer will make the wine less appealing.
- Breathing: the same applies for how long the wine has been opened, and how long it has been in the glass. You would have experienced significant changes, even from the first to, say, the third taste. And there is no exact science about the optimum breathing time.
- Bottle variation: this is mainly due to cork, but even under screwcap variations exist if there is variation between barrels, for example, in the winery.
- Occasion: The context influences one's judgement. Friends, food, location and ambiance all have an influence.

So what are the chances, these factors are always the same or at optimum levels? Have we all bought a bottle we loved at a tasting or winery or abroad, and it tasted ordinary at home?

I try to keep these influences under control in my assessments, but I am not a lab. I always encourage people to place more emphasis on the wine description, and to work out for yourself which elements appeal to you.

Any comments?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Meerea Park Alexander Munro

The 2003 Meerea Park Alexander Munro Shiraz now shows a garnet colour. The dark plum and mulberry fruit flavours are still attractive, but secondary characteristics are now very present. There are toasty and slightly burnt notes. The wine is starting to be quite dry and a bit dull on the finish.

This is my last bottle of this wine, which I rated much higher four years ago. It is now past its peak.

Score: 92/0

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Wantirna Amelia Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot

Wantirna is one of the best wineries in the Yarra Valley, yet it flies under the radar. Maybe this is because it is now engulfed by Melbourne housing rather than the Yarra. However, it still makes excellent wine. The 2010 Wantirna Amelia is proof.

This wine is medium bodied with 13.5% alcohol, yet the fruit is fully ripe. There is an excellent purity in the redcurrant and red plum flavours. This wine is an excellent example how Merlot can complement Cabernet Sauvignon. There is no hole in the mid palate. This wine is seamless from beginning to finish, when finely grained tannins complete the taste.

This wine is super pretty, and I don't want to hold this against it! The Yarra can produce terrific Bordeaux style wines.

Score: 95/+++

Thursday, July 9, 2015

William Downie New Releases

William Downie is one of the most exciting young winemakers in Australia. In a recent article by Jancis Robinson he was listed as one of five Australian producers to try. He fashions three Pinot Noirs from vineyards in the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Gippsland. His objective is to show the different terroirs through his wines.

His wines can be difficult to find, particularly in 2014, when the yields were down by up to 50%. The vintage was difficult in Victoria, and the wines don't reach the levels of previous years, yet they are still very attractive.

The 2014 William Downie Yarra Valley Pinot Noir is the lightest of the three. It is also the most Burgundian. The wine is quite floral and feminine, in the strawberry spectrum. It has good persistence and a lovely texture (93/++ points).

The 2014 William Downie Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir is most unusual. The colour is much darker, and the wine is not actually clear at this point. All Downie wines are unfined and unfiltered, and this wine is still cloudy. The flavours on the palate are complex, with black cherry and mulberry dominating. The texture is rich, and the wine seems stable. It tastes like Pinot Noir, not like some Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noirs which taste more like Shiraz. I enjoyed this wine a lot, but it is hard to predict what will become of it. One for the adventurous (92/+++points).

The 2014 William Downie Gippsland Pinot Noir differs more than the others from previous vintages. It is usually my favorite because of the velvety tannins, which are not so obvious in this wine. The 2014 is a funky wine, with strong rustic and earthy flavours. There is some bitter orange in this wine (91/++points).

Overall, a very interesting set of wines, showing the regional differences very well.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Jasper Hill/Chapoutier La Pleiade

La Pleiade is a mysterious wine, maybe as mysterious as the name or label. Yet it deserves much more acclaim. The name refers to the seven stars Pleiades cluster, also depicted on the label, but it also stands for a group of French Renaissance poets. The renaissance might be referring to a new take on Shiraz: full bodied, yet elegant at the same time. The vineyard is a joint venture between Ron Laughton of Jasper Hill fame, and Michel Chapoutier from the Northern Rhone.

The 2006 La Pleiade is a deep purple coloured wine, with an appealing set of fruit characteristics. There is red and black cherry and blackberry, and the fruit tastes fresh (after 9 years!). This is a well balanced wine with a satisfying mouthfeel. The wine delivers a velvety coating of the mouth, with a beautiful and pure fruit core and dry tannins, which take a back seat. This wine has weight, but it is not heavy, if this makes sense. Actually, it is a hard wine to describe. It is perfect for a cold winter night, and you look forward to a second or third glass. The wine drinks very well now and will do so for another 5+ years.

Score: 95/+++

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Peter Lehmann Shiraz

It is only a few days now before I head back to Sydney, and I started to long for an Australian wine. German supermarkets sell only cheap stuff, but I wanted a reasonable experience. Then I saw the 2012 Peter Lehmann Portrait Shiraz. It is from the Barossa and the 2012 vintage. How wrong can you go?

This wine is full-bodied, with concentrated plum fruit, and chocolate flavours. The wine is persistent, yet not very refined: a decent wine if you don't want to think about it, and good value for money.

Score: 87/0

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Real Gem From Switzerland

When you travel through Switzerland, you notice many vineyards at the lower levels of the mountains. They are very picturesque, yet small, and not much of the wine is exported. The Swiss point out that latitudinally they are similar to Burgundy, however, the terroir does not seem to be quite the same. Nonetheless, Pinot Noir is probably the best grape from Switzerland - and I was introduced to an absolutely stunning example.

The 2010 Gantenbein Pinot Noir is a light to medium bodied wine. The colour is garnet. The flavours are complex: strawberry and minerality from wet stones, mushroom characters as well. The wine has an ethereal character with a beautiful and balanced texture. The silky tannins caress the palate.

This wine is a great discovery. It will drink well to 2020. Volumes are small, but this wine is exported to a number of countries. Coming from Switzerland, it is pricey. I am giving it a high score. It would have been even higher, if the finish had been longer.

Score: 95/+++