Monday, December 17, 2018

Produttori del Barbaresco Montestefano

Co-operatives are usually best avoided by wine consumers who appreciate high quality. This is because most of them focus on volume, i.e. high yield. There is one major exception; Produttori del Barbaresco. This co-operative lifted its game big time in the 1990s. It has access to a number of top class vineyards, maybe even better than Gaja in Barbaresco. The Montestefano is one of their finest.

A few days ago, I opened a bottle of the 2000 Produttori del Barbaresco Montestefano Reserva. The 18 year old wine is probably drinking at its peak now. The flavours are an intriguing mix of red cherry, tobacco, some green leaf, and (non sweet) marzipan. The structure is still great, with  delicate acidity shining through.

This wine is very dry, Nebbiolo-like, with silky tannins and long flavours. The only downside; this full-bodied wine is slightly alcoholic on the mid-palate. As a compliment to protein food, it shows its strength particularly well, and the alcohol is not very noticeable.

Score: 94/+++  

Friday, December 14, 2018

Penfolds 2018 Release Tasting

Penfolds is known as a red wine company in the wider world. However, it has chipped away at becoming a major force in quality white wine for over 20 years, since the release of the first Yattarna Chardonnay.

Yesterday, I just tasted four wines of the recent spring release.

First was the 2018 Bin 51 Riesling. This is a 100% Eden Valley wine, and I expected a floral bouquet. However, this wine is about lime, lime, and lime. The wine is very dry, with good linearity and balanced acidity. The minerality on the back palate reminded me more of Clare than Eden Valley. This is a very fresh, modern Riesling (92 points).

The 2017 Bin 311 Chardonnay has three main fruit sources; Coal River, Tasmania, Adelaide Hills, and Tumbarumba. The main flavours are citrus and rock melon, but there is also a green tinge on the palate. The wine is dry and quite acidic, yet balanced (90 points).

Of the four wines, the 2016 Bin 138 GSM was the least impressive. It is actually a bit of a misnomer, as 72% of the wine is Shiraz. The wine is quite fruity, well supplemented by used French oak. The finish is a bit harsh. I would call it a barbecue wine, but in fairness, the ambition does not go beyond that (89 points).

This was a good year for the 2016 Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz. This brand will never lose the image of 'baby Grange', but the reasons are different from what is generally believed. Most people think the name stems from the fact that the wine is matured in one year old American oak, previously used by Grange. However, the main reason is that the grapes for Bin 389 come from a Grange and Bin 707 selection, but which ultimately don't make it into the flagship wines. Those grapes can't go into RWT (French oak) or Bin 169 (Coonawarra only). The 2016 Bin 389 is a dark coloured, big, full-bodied wine. The wine hits you like a brick on the palate with blackberry and black currant flavours. The fruit is very concentrated and the flavours are long. The firm tannins need some time to soften (94 points).


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Demystifying The Hill Of Grace Vineyard

Hill Of Grace is often described as the most famous single vineyard wine of Australia, and rightly so. I reviewed a 10 year old version a few posts below. It is also often described as a vineyard of 150 year old vines. This, however, is misleading.

Hill of Grace Vineyard
Some Grandfathers

The Grandfathers, as these vines are called, represent only 14% of this 4ha vineyard. A further 8% of vines are 100 years old and the rest is 60 to 65 years old. The percentages of  the oldest vines might even be lower, as dying vines within the block get replaced. The vineyard is thus divided into 8 Shiraz blocks ( there is also Riesling, Semillon and Mataro grown on this vineyard). The fruit of the two youngest blocks, less than 30 years old, does not go into the Hill of Grace, but into the Hill of Roses.

There is also a variety of soils in this vineyard. The oldest vines are on red, clay-rich loams topped by sandy loams with good moisture-holding capacity. Some other blocks have more gravel, and the clay is free draining.

As a result, the grapes from this 'single-vineyard' are not homogeneous at all. Some deliver red, other blue and black fruits; some have a lot of spice. Berry size and fruit concentration varies.

All this delivers a 2+2=5 result. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ruggabellus Sallio

Stephen Pannell is sometimes described as a winemaking genius. However, I find his approach quite straightforward - nothing genial about it. By contrast the label might fit Abel Gibson, the young winemaker of Ruggabellus. He started out by crafting four red wines, all different proportions of Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvedre. He used whole bunches and other interesting techniques to good effect, all this out of a small garage. His father Rob Gibson, who introduced the famous grape grading system for Penfolds, was not always pleased with his son's ideas.

Gibson has now turned to white, or shall I say orange wines. I am reviewing here he 2016 Ruggabellus Sallio.
The Sallio is a blend of Semillon, Riesling and Muscat. The grapes have spent time on skins, some a few days, some weeks. The colour of the wine is a fairly ugly orange/brown. However, this is a much more interesting wine than the orange wine from COS, which I reviewed recently.

The dominant flavours are citrus and orange peel, obviously driven by the skin contact. There is also ginger. The mouthfeel is big and chalky. The finish is slightly bitter. This clearly is an interesting and different wine.

I am rating it well for its personality, but the overwhelming taste of dried fruit and peel is not to my liking.

Score: 92/0

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Key Trends And Messages In 2018

1) Rosé offerings are proliferating. Most are good.

2) Grower Champagne is becoming more and more popular

3) The time has come for very good Pinot Noir under $30/bottle

4) Burgundy Pinot Noir can be inexpensive and excellent (2015 Bourgogne)

5) Pinot Grigio or water? - Enough said

6) Mature Cabernet from leading producers of Margaret River is excellent

7) Alcoholic Shiraz from South Australia is a difficult sell

8) Alternative varieties are still a hard sell

9) Riesling is still niche

10) Chardonnay is claiming top spot for quality whites

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Cos Pithos Bianco

When one discusses the top 5 alternative winemakers, Cos would always feature. To test the quality of  this órange' wine, I put the 2014 Cos Pithos Bianco away for a few years. The wine comes from Sicily, in a bulky, short bottle, and is based on the Grecanico grape. 

This wine offers little fruit flavour. There are hints of candied orange and dried apricot, but the main feature of this wine, which is orange in colour, should be the texture. In my view, it does not offer as much interest as Roussanne/Marsanne blends. However, the structure is holding up well. It is just not a very interesting wine. A good food pairing could be eggplant.

Score: 88/0

Friday, November 30, 2018

Henschke Hill Of Grace

2008 was a year still in drought, after the very dry 2007 in the Barossa. It is said that Hill of Grace comes into its own after 10 years, but should I be worried, given this could be quite a ripe wine? But then I took confidence from the very old vines. They are so old because they have survived harsh conditions before.

Notice the Vino-Lok glass stopper

When I opened the wine, I got a little bit worried, though. The dark violet colour was tinged with orange/brown. This would be interesting. I need not have been concerned. On the palate, the wine delivered its typical flavours: dark plum, kirsch, aniseed and five spice. There is no other wine in Australia which expresses the terroir as distinctly as Hill of Grace. Oak was noticeable in a support role, and the tannins were incredibly smooth and silky.

The mouthfeel of this wine was quite big, but very layered. The beautiful texture was well balanced with savoury notes. The flavours went on and on at the back of the palate and on the finish; beautiful.

This is a 10-20 year wine, not a Grange 30-50 year stayer, but it delivers everything it needs to deliver now.

Score: 97/+++ 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Agathist Alchemy Grenache

Agathist is the private label of Chris Isbel, former long time winemaker at Torbreck. This Grenache is called Alchemy, and it seems appropriate for the 2016 Agathist Grenache. I found this a most unusual wine. The flavours are big (as you would expect from Chris Isbel), raspberry dominant. This is a juicy wine, but dry at the same time. This is a funky Grenache, a bit like a big kid in a china shop, not totally balanced. The big mouthfeel is exciting, but a bit unbalanced and slightly harsh on the finish. I liked the wine for its exuberant personality.

Score: 91/+++  

Saturday, November 24, 2018

A. Rodda Chardonnay

Adrian Rodda won the James Halliday Chardonnay challenge this year. This is quite an achievement, as many of Australia's leading Chardonnays participate. The 2017 A. Rodda Chardonnay comes from the Willow Lake Vineyard in the Yarra Valley, a (relatively) high altitude vineyard known for the quality of its Chardonnay fruit.

This wine is on the richer side of the Yarra Valley spectrum. Tropical flavours, such as melon pineapple and passionfruit hit the palate. It is a much bigger wine than the Oakridge Chardonnay from the same vineyard. The wine is showy, not meant as a negative in this case. The mouthfeel is full and smooth, and there is sufficient acidity to drive the wine down the palate. This is an elegant, smooth and satisfying Chardonnay, for me slightly on the broad side. It will be interesting to see if it develops more complexity with age.

Score: 95/++

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Chinese Wine

It is not often you have an opportunity to taste Chinese wine in the west. Yet, China is the sixth largest producer of wine in the world. Production has been pushed very hard, in particular in the western Xinjiang province. There is now a surplus of Chinese wine, as consumption is still focused on the major cities, where the wealthy prefer imported wine, anyway. And these companies are not well equipped to export their product either.

Broadly speaking, there are three major regions. The coastal region, where vine growing has been going on for a long time, the middle region, and Xinjiang in the west. While the focus is on Xinjiang, conditions are difficult there. The winters are very cold, and the vines need to be buried. This is very labour intensive.

I tasted five wines. The 2014 Helan Mountain Chardonnay is from the middle region. It was well made (by Pernod Ricard), but I found the wine a bit sweet (85 points).

Next was the 2016 Zenithwirl Cabernet Gernischt by the Changyu Pioneer Wine Company. Cabernet Gernischt is a Chinese variety which was introduced to China in 1892 by Changyu. It was the European grape Cabernet Gemischt (meaning 'mixed'), now extinct there. It has been shown recently that this variety is identical to Carménère. This was an earthy wine, a little plump (84 points).

I then tasted the premium bracket. The 2016 Niya Xinjiang 'Manas' Cabernet Sauvignon was quite fruity, featuring red berry fruit, including some raspberry fruit. I did not find this very varietal (82 points). 

The 2015 Helan Mountain Premium Cabernet Sauvignon was a much better wine. Darker fruited, with oak and date flavours, this is quite a soft wine, with earthy undertones (88 points).

The best wine was the 2014 Áo Yun' Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc, made by Moet Hennessey. This wine is from the very humid Yunnan region, bordering on Laos and Myanmar. This is a classy wine, red fruited, with a good tannin profile. This medium-bodied wine is still quite tight, but an elegant drink with a balanced structure (93 points). It was performing better than the A$200 2013 Taylors Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon bottle, which it was paired against.

I don't normally talk about pricing, but it is interesting here. The main task for China consumer goods is to establish a brand, the product comes a distant second. So you find the Zenithwirl priced at A$100-120 per bottle. The winemaker is French. The better performing Helan Mountain is only $15-20 per bottle. And finally, the Ao Yun is China's most expensive wine, at a whopping A$500 per bottle, positioned like that by Moet Hennessey.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

S.C. Pannell Tempranillo Touriga

Let me say this upfront: I do not get Steven Pannell's wines. He is very experienced and highly acclaimed for his no nonsense winemaking, but I have found the wines I have tried so far (and I have not tried his ultra premium wines) straight down the line, but not exciting. Today, I am reviewing a new offering, the 2016 S.C. Pannell Tempranillo Touriga.

This wine is fresh and easy drinking. Dark cherry fruit is a bit lifted. There are raspberry flavours as well. The wine is not very complex. The tannins are firm and quite dry. The high point of this wine is the balanced finish. But where is the excitement?

If you call Tempranillo Tinta Roriz, you have two leading Portuguese varieties in this wine. A few posts below, I reviewed the Crasto Tinto Superior from the Douro Valley, which, at a similar price point, has more depth of flavour and delivers a more interesting wine.

Score: 90/+ 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Henschke New Releases

The famous Henschke winery is now a pretty substantial winery with 36 (!) different wines. They have four major vineyards: Hill of Grace, Mount Edelstone, and the Eden Valley vineyard, all in the Eden Valley, and the Lenswood vineyard in the Adelaide Hills. A couple of days ago, I tasted a number of the new releases. Following are some general impressions.

The white wines were all from the Eden Valley vineyard. They were from 2017 the Peggy's Hill Riesling, the Julius Riesling and the Percival's Mill Gruner Veltliner. Then there was the museum's release 2005 Julius Riesling. I found these wines quite Germanic in style. They deliver a broader mouthfeel than, say, Rieslings from the Clare Valley. Lime and floral flavours dominate the Rieslings, with the Julius more intense in style. The 2005 had expected toasted characters on the palate. I did not find the Gruner Veltliner true to varietal character, maybe a work in progress.

Of the medium priced reds, I enjoyed the 2016 Stone Jar Tempranillo. It attacks with very fresh red cherry fruit. This is a vibrant wine, very crisp and balanced. The 2015 Johann's Garden GMS is 70% Grenache, and the raspberry fruit shines through. There is spice as well in this easy drinking wine. The workhorse, the 2014 Keyneton Euphonium was a surprise. This is a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Franc is a minor component, but it dominated the palate with its spicy and forest fruit character.

Then came three premium priced Shirazes. They were a real revelation. The first two were from the excellent 2015 vintage. The Wheelwright Shiraz from the cool Eden Valley vineyard is a new wine, but the vines are actually 50 years old. And what a wine this is. Elegant and super delicious with bright and pure fruits of the whole spectrum (red, blue and black). The tannins are silky. This wine moves seamlessly along the palate. The spices are sweet rather than sharp, and the finish is long. The Tappa Pass is from three vineyards across the ridge near Light Pass in the Barossa Valley. The fruit is darker and more concentrated and ripe, but the wine is not heavy. Dried fruit and wood mellow the character of this very drinkable and smooth wine.

The 2013 Mount Edelstone is from a very dry vintage and was released later than usual, in fact after the 2014. This is an intense, quite dense wine, showing off the typical character of this wine: dark plum, blackberry, olive, aniseed, mocca and pepper. It is immediately recognizable, and despite the concentration and strong tannins is well balanced and not overwhelming.

Overall, the red Henschke wines have evolved over the last decade from intense wines to wines with beautiful purity of fruit, elegant and still retaining the expected power.