Friday, April 24, 2015

Mauro Molino Wines

A sampling of a number of Nebbiolo wines reveals a couple of things. The multitude of regulations in Piedmont often does not allow more attractive branding, which offers opportunities to buy certain wines at lower prices than would otherwise be justified. Secondly, vintages are important in Piedmont, with the 2010 vintage being the stand-out in recent years.

The 2012 Mauro Molino Nebbiolo d'Alba is an attractive entry wine. It does not see any oak. The focus is therefore on the fruit, with a good cherry core and beautifully lifted aromas. This is an easy drinking style, and a wine which should be consumed in the next 2-3 years (90 points). The 2011 Mauro Molino Barolo comes from two vineyards in the Barolo subregion. The vines are relatively young and one vineyard is partly outside the demarkation. Therefore the generic labelling. This wine is aged for two years in old oak. The cherry fruit has an attractive intensity and delivers a satisfying, full-bodied mouthfeel. Obviously, this wine is more tannic and has a longer finish than the previous one (92 points).

The 2008 Mauro Molino Barolo 'Vigne Gancia' comes from their premium vineyard in La Morra. The wine has very lifted and floral aromas, but the mouthfeel is a bit light, whereas the finish is quite tannic (91 points). The 2010 Mauro Molino Barolo 'Bricco Luciano' comes from the same vineyard, but regulation required new naming. This is the wine of the night. The fruit is more concentrated and the mouthfeel fuller. Yet at the same time the wine is elegant and very well balanced (95 points). Then there were two Barolos from the 2011 vintage: the 2011 'Bricco Luciano' and the 2011 'Gallinotto'. These were ok Barolos, but did not measure up to the 2010 example in terms of fruit, mouthfeel and finish (91 points).

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bordeaux 2010 Vintage

The Institute of Masters of Wine brought their annual Bordeaux tasting to Sydney this year. It was an opportunity to taste and compare 60 wines from the 2010 vintage.

The 2010 vintage was unusual in that acidity and sugar levels were generally high at the same time. One would be hoping for freshness of flavour despite high levels of alcohol. It is a highly regarded
vintage and compared to 2005. My main interest was to see how the differences between the subregions compared to the differences in winemaking. This was made easier, as the wines were grouped by subregion.

My main conclusions:

1) The overall quality of  the wines is high, in particular on the left bank and where Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the blend. Many Merlot based wines were not as impressive.

2) Quite a few wines were quite closed, many very tannic and definitely built to last.

3) In terms of my special interest: I would call it a 50/50 outcome: subregions definitely had different characteristics, but there were also major differences between chateaux's in most subregions.

In terms of the major subregions:

The wines are more ruby than purple. Some are
quite concentrated, but still feminine in character. Overall quality is strong. I liked Chateau d'Issan, Kirwan, Lascombes, Rauzan-Segla.

Very high quality, but variation. Black fruited, but very elegant top wines, high alcohol. Cos d'Estournel was wine of the night, with pure berry fruit, elegant, balanced acidity and rounded tannins. Montrose almost as good. Quite masculine, but not as big mouthfeel. Calon-Segur not nearly as good.
Earthy aromas in these wines. I did not rate these wines as high as Saint-Estephe. Some lacked structure, some fruit intensity. Tasted wines: Beychevelle, Lagrange, Langoa-Barton, Leoville-Barton, Leoville-Las Cases (disappointing!)

Darkest coloured wines, blackcurrant flavours, strong region.  Wines represented were from top producers: Lynch-Bages, Pichon-Longueville-Barton, Pontet-Canet. Despite the high alcohol, these wines were balanced and elegant.

Softer wines, chocolate flavours. Chateau Angelus and Figeac were great, with dark fruit and some softness. Close to new world style. Cheval Blanc and Canon disappointing, in particular on the finish.

The representation for Pomerol was poor, therefore I am not forming any views.  

Overall a great tasting, which gave good insight into this significant vintage.                                                                                                                                                                                      

Monday, April 20, 2015

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz

Over the last few years, we have all branched out to find the latest trendy thing in wine. Some attempts have been exciting, some disappointing. But when it comes to drinking a 17 year old wine, you may want to stick to the old and trusted. I was pretty confident when I opened a bottle of 1998 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz tonight. When it comes to mature wine, Penfolds is in a class of its own (Wendouree the only challenger) in Australia. This bottle still had a very high shoulder, and the cork came out beautifully.

The colour is still purple, and as it turns out, this bottle is showing off the two varieties at their best. The fruit of the Shiraz and the structure of the Cabernet Sauvignon are seamlessly blended together. This is a full-bodied wine with a beautiful mouthfeel from the front to the back of the palate. The black fruit and the American oak are well integrated. This is a ripe wine, as it should be: ripe, but you are keen to drink a second (or third) glass. The tannins have mellowed, but are still firm and, together with the intense fruit and cocoa flavours, produce a finish which lasts and lasts.

This wine has been a great drinking experience tonight, at a fraction of the cost of other wines reaching this quality level (I paid $28 for this bottle in 2001), and it will, if stored correctly, still have another ten years of drinking pleasure in it.

Score: 97/+++

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon

I still remember when the 1998 Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon came on the market, it received rave reviews for its intensity and being so powerful. There was general surprise that a wine company focused on high volume commercial wines could produce such a wine. The advice was to put it away for 15 years. This is what I did with the two bottles I purchased.

This premium wine is named after Jack Mann, who was the influential winemaker for decades. He introduced the famous White Burgundy in 1937, and died in 1989. So he had no hand in this wine.

I was astounded that on opening the bottle and pouring some wine, its colour was still ruby, definitely not garnet. The aroma is still very intense, smelling of beautiful pure blackcurrant. This translated onto the palate. There is also some eucalypt, but not as a dominant flavour. This wine is very varietal and very Western Australia. It is full-bodied, but not over the top. The wine is elegant and well balanced. The firm tannins are still noticeable, but have softened considerably. The wine finishes dry. The 17 years wait was worth while, for sure, but I would advise to drink the wine now.

Score: 95/+++

Fratelli Revello Vigna Gattera Barolo

There are hundreds of producers in Piedmont, but only a dozen or so which occupy the limelight. It pays to seek out others, as the quality can be just as good for half the price. I found this 2001 Fratelli Revello Vigna Gattera Barolo to be quite a gem.

This is quite a surprising wine: the colour is very dark, it is full bodied and more fruit orientated than the more typical tar and roses. In this way, it is more of an international wine expression. On the other hand, it carries typical Barolo features as well: quite a dry mouthfeel, dry tannins on the finish. The wine has good length and is harmonious on the mid-palate. However, it is less balanced on the finish where the alcohol shows a bit.

This wine is good to drink now, but requires red meat to absorb the tannins.

Score: 92-94(with food)/++

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Andrew Thomas Kiss Shiraz

Historically, Hunter Valley Shiraz has been maximum medium bodied, quite low in alcohol, with velvety tannins, and ageworthy. Then along came the Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz with a big ripe mouthfeel and alcohol to boot. Brokenwood branched out to McLaren Vale and produced more full-bodied Shirazes and over time, in my opinion, Hunter Valley Shiraz lost its distinctiveness (with a couple of exceptions).

Then, for the last 10 years, Andrew Thomas has built a reputation of focussing on the traditional Hunter varieties, Semillon and Shiraz, and bringing out the distinctiveness of the wines' terroir. The 2003 Thomas Kiss Shiraz is now 12 years old. The colour of this wine (under cork) is still predominantly purple. It shows little bottle age. The wine is full-bodied and ripe, but not overripe. The dark fruits taste of blackberry and blueberry, but the taste is quite savoury, with some secondary characteristics coming through. An attractive spice mix adds to the complexity.

This is a well balanced wine. It has some of the typical Brokenwood characteristics, but the alcohol at 14% is not obvious. The tannins are strong, but also show velvety character. This is a bigger wine than a historic Hunter Shiraz, but not as ripe as a typical South Australian Shiraz. The Kiss delivers a happy medium. It is holding up well after 12 years. The Kiss Shiraz should be included in the top three Hunter Valley Shirazes.

Score: 94/++

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Clarendon Hills Liandra Syrah

If you want to step it up from the Spinifex, you could try Clarendon Hills. Clarendon Hills is squarely aimed at the US market: a large number of small volume, single vineyard wines, most of them Shiraz.  Mr. Bratasiuk calls them Syrah. This is as good a misnomer as you can get in the wine world. Syrah is usually associated with fresh, cool climate wines, yet Clarendon Hills wines are hot climate, big and ripe.

The other day I had the 2006 Clarendon Hills Liandra Syrah. Can it age? On the positive side, this wine certainly has intense concentrated fruit, but the blackcurrant and black plum flavours are chewy. Really, we are talking about overripe and dead fruit here. The wine is not harmonious, with sweet fruit sensations in the middle of the tongue, and broad and rough sensations on the edges of the tongue. The finish is simple. The wine is not over the hill, it never managed to climb it.

Score: 84/--

PS: This is clearly not a positive review, but if you can manage to get your hands on an Astralis from a good year, you will experience something more similar to Grange than any other Australian wine can manage.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Spinifex Shiraz/Viognier

Up until now I have never quite understood James Halliday's comment that Peter Schell, the winemaker of Spinifex, is 'out-Torbrecking' Torbreck. Torbreck picks grapes late and very ripe to make big wines. Spinifex picks relatively early to make refreshing and vibrant wines. Most of these are blends of several Rhone varieties.

The 2008 Spinifex La Maline is a little different. Is is a Shiraz/Viognier blend, but Shiraz clearly dominates. This wine creates a big mouthfeel. Actually, I found it most harmoneous on day three of opening. It does have some red plum flavours, but dark fruit dominates. Alcohol is at a significant 14.5%, but is not especially noticeable, so big is the fruit. Tannins and acidity create a firm grip on the back palate. This wine is very different from the smooth Clonakilla or the delicious flavours I typically associate with Spinifex. Having said this, if you open this wine long enough, it comes together well and you are keen on a second glass.

Score: 92/++

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Henschke Louis Semillon

Semillon is of course the domain of the Hunter Valley. But the Barossa has its fair share. In fact, Peter Lehmann's Semillon is the highest volume Semillon in Australia. Today I am drinking the 2009 Henschke Louis Semillon from the Eden Valley. This is not a well known wine, as it gets lost in the large stable of Henschke wines.

After six years (under screw cap), the colour of this wine is still quite pale. On the palate the citrus and lime flavours are not as pronounced as from Hunter wines. The wine has mellowed a little and the shape is a little broader than a good Hunter would be. The wine is well balanced between the fruit components and the refreshing acidity.

Score: 89/++

Monday, March 30, 2015

Old Grenache - A Story Of Terroir

McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley are the prime regions for serious Grenache in Australia. But it is also interesting to compare two Grenaches from the same region, but different sub-regions, in this case in the Barossa. The two wines were the 2006 Kalleske Old Vine Grenache and the 2006 Cirillo 1850 Old Vine Grenache. Both wines are made from very old vines, at least 70 years old, but many over 100 years old. They are high quality wines.

However, the results are quite different. And I believe this is at least 2/3rds due to terroir, and maybe 1/3rd to winemaking. Terroir is often associated with soil, but it is much more than that. However, rainfall and temperature would have been quite similar for these two wines, whereas the soil is very different.

The Cirillo Grenache is grown on the valley flats near Nuriootpa. The soil is alluvial and very sandy. The Grenache is mellow, soft, and aromatic, and the tannins are quite soft. These are typical expressions for this type of soil.

The Kalleske Grenache is made from grapes grown on red-brown earth, where clay and iron are major components. The wine is much more muscular, the wine has a more angular feel, the alcohol is more noticeable (although the Cirillo has high alcohol as well), and the tannins are firmer.

Pay attention to terroir, in particular when you plan to drink premium wine.

Some scientists claim that vines can only take up sunshine and water, but there is clearly more going on. Have you had similar experiences?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Kusuda Pinot Noir

After a number of mixed experiences lately, I wanted an exciting wine drinking experience. I went for the 2010 Kusuda Pinot Noir. This wine from Martinborough, New Zealand's leading Pinot Noir region (yes!), is rare as hens' teeth. I met the Japanese winemaker a couple of years ago, and his meticulous approach is similar to what you would experience at a Tokyo fruit market. Every grape is treated individually, both in the vineyard and the winery. No split or unripe grape would ever make it to making wine.

After opening the wine, by pulling out an extra long cork (reassuring!), fragrant and enticing aromas escape the bottle. On the palate, attractive strawberry and red cherry flavours dominate, and darker mushroom flavours join in. This wine is quite feminine, elegant, and delicious, but it has intensity and cut-through as well. It finishes on silky tannins. This is a terrific Pinot Noir.

Score: 97/+++  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ulithorne Chi Grenache/Shiraz

Ulithorne is a small McLaren Vale producer who impressed me a lot last year at a premium red wine tasting event. The wines are small production, and very carefully handled in the vineyard and the winery.

I now had the 2012 Ulithorne Chi Grenache/Shiraz on its own, over dinner. The wine was good, but did not hold the interest in quite the same way as during the previous tasting. Raspberry flavours dominate, but the blend is not fruity, as Grenache can often be. The Shiraz component adds to the savoury profile. It is an attractive, concentrated mouthfeel.  The wine is very clean, the tannins on the finish are quite ripe. The fruit flavours are strong and can take the 15.5% alcohol on the front and mid-palate, but on the back-palate, the alcohol wins over. So, unfortunately, it is one of those wines, where you enjoy the first glass, but do not want to finish the bottle.

Score: 93/0