Sunday, October 13, 2019

9 Tips How To Drink Better And Cheaper

This was the topic of my ‘Lightning Talk’ at the conference. These are five minute talks, which are supported by 20 slides. They get moved forward every 15 seconds. These talks are half humorous, half serious. Mine was as follows:

I will share with you 9 tips how to drink better and cheaper. First to the whites.

1) You are bored with Sauvignon Blanc. You wonder why Pinot Grigio is more expensive than water. Other White varieties ending with ‘o’ are hit and miss. Try Grüner Veltliner - a more interesting palate at the same price point. Pair Grüner Veltliner with salad or white fish. The spices match lightly spiced Thai food really well, too.

2) You like dry German Riesling, but you are concerned about the sweetness in many wines. Try Silvaner from Franken instead. Interesting texture and minerality instead of fruit. It comes in a great Boxbeutel bottle. The only challenge for English speakers is the pronunciation. And Silvaner is a lot cheaper.

3) We are in the Hunter. I need to talk about Semillon. I am not a big fan of young Semillon, to be truthful. But I suggest you put a few bottles down - 10 years at least. Mature Semillon is a perfect match with tuna steak.

4) To the reds: You like Burgundy, but it is a bit expensive for most of us. Try serious cru Beaujolais. I suggest the M-subregions: Moulin-à-vent or Morgon. Wines from there can be deep coloured and silky. Don’t be fooled by the Beaujolais Nouveau craze and the fact the grape is Gamay. These wines can be as good as Burgundies.

5) And don’t be silly and buy Bordeaux. The Chinese have deeper pockets. Margaret River Cabernet is at least as good at 1/3rd to 1/10th of the price. From Cullen and Moss Wood at the top of the tree to the great value Domaine Naturaliste and anything in between.

6) And go for #2. The smart Americans in the audience know not to buy Napa Cabernet, of course, and instead look for beautiful Syrah or Rhône blends up and down California’s coast. I love Dumol, for example. If you like Australian Shiraz, mature some from the Hunter rather than South Australia. As these wines age, the tannins in South Australian Shiraz can get blocky and dull, whereas good Hunter Shiraz develops in their tannins a beautiful velvety character.

7) The craziest thing is that most wineries put their ripest grapes into their flagship wines turning them into alcoholic monsters. You can only drink one glass. And who can sit on that for a whole evening? So instead, buy mid-level wines. If you are thinking Torbreck, for example, for Shiraz, buy the Gask, not the Factor; for Grenache, buy The Steading, not Les Amis. This will save you a lot of money.

8) Even crazier is Rioja. The large wineries put their best grapes into the Reserva. Then they overwhelm them with oak, so you can't taste the fruit. Instead, buy the younger and cheaper Crianzas or wine outside the regulations. There is plenty to choose from, and these wines are actually enjoyable.

9) Be curious! There are fantastic red table wines to be had from Portugal and Uruguay. Quinta do Crasto and Bodega Garzon are examples.

If you follow these nine suggestions, you drink better and for a lot less money. 

Hunter Valley Shiraz Should Be Revisited

I was at the Wine Media Conference in the Hunter Valley for the last three days. This conference used to be called wine bloggers conference, and was held once a year in the US. This year it moved, for the first time, to Australia, the Hunter Valley, and with a new name.

Cooking up a Paella storm

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 It is a good time in the Hunter. Typically, a good vintage happens here every four years or so. Summer rains are a problem, as much as heat spikes. However, recently it has looked different. The 2014 vintage was great, and so are the 2017 to 2019 vintages.

This was on display during the Live Wine Social session, a kind of speed dating, where wineries move from table to table every five minutes and have the chance to present one of their top wines.

Some of the Shiraz were very big, as if to say, look we can do 15% alcohol, too. These included the 2018 Ivanhoe Pressings Shiraz, the only pressings wine in the Hunter, the 2017 Audrey Wilkinson The Lake Shiraz, the 2017 1813 The Governor Shiraz, and the 2009 Wombat Crossing Hermit’s Block Shiraz.

A very good wine was the 2017 First Creek Winemakers Reserve. This was a medium-bodied, soft Shiraz. Blackberry flavours and ripe tannins are well integrated. The wine has been matured in new and old 500l barrels, which is now the dominant storage barrel in the Hunter Valley(94 points).

The 2018 Briar Ridge Dairy Hill showed complex flavours of dark cherry, spices and mocca. This is an appealing fresh and soft wine (92 points).

Then there were a couple of different variety wines, which speak to the experimentation in the context of climate change. The 2018 De Iuliis Shiraz/Touriga, a 70/30 blend, is grown on heavy clay. The wine is spicy, earthy, but also lifted with medium length (92 points).

Glendore has made Tempranillo since 2004. The 2017 Glendore Tempranillo is red fruited, savoury, spicy, and an elegant wine. It is slightly short on the finish (93 points).

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Pinot Noir From Four Nations

I conducted a  blind tasting of Pinot Noirs to establish the winner between Australia, France, New Zealand, USA. Who makes the best?

The wines were:
From Australia:
- 2015 Bass Phillip Premium 
- 2013 Main Ridge Half Acre
From France:
- 2015 Chanson Le Bourgogne (a low cost ring in)
- 2015 Georges Noëllat Vosne-Romanée 1er cru Les Petits Monts
- 2015 Mongeard-Mugneret 1er cru Les Petits Monts
From New Zealand:
- 2013 Ata Rangi
- 2013 Kusuda
From the US:
- 2015 Cristom Jessie Vineyard
- 2013 Kosta Browne Kanzler Vineyard

Guests were simply asked to rate the wines from 1 to 9. The joint winners were the Kosta Browne wine and the Mongeard-Mugneret. In third place came the Georges Noëllat. Overall, France won, ahead of the US, Australia, and New Zealand. The Bourgogne wine, which I once enjoyed at a Bistro, came in last.

I was disappointed that no Antipodean wine made it to the top three, despite one of the best Ata Rangis (came in 6th) and Bass Phillips (came in 4th) in the line-up.

The American wines, not unexpectedly, delivered the biggest, but well balanced mouthfeel. The French wines showed finesse and beautiful tannin structure. Against this, the Australian and New Zealand were more fruit forward.

It was an interesting result, and demonstrates that even the best Pinot Noirs in Australia and New Zealand still have some catching up to do.    

Monday, October 7, 2019

Irvine Grand Merlot

The story of Merlot in Australia is not a happy one. It is difficult to find a pure varietal wine of great quality and interest, while it is a perfect component in the Margaret River Cabernets. It is therefore brave to make Merlot the flagship wine. This is what Irvine has done for some time. And they are not shy in calling the wine Grand Merlot.

The 2012 Irvine Grand Merlot is too ripe and sugary sweet. The alcohol overwhelms the underlying attractive purity of fruit.

The search for very good Australian Merlot continues.

Score: 88/--

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Hoddles Creek Pinot Gris

You may have often wondered why Australian Pinot Gris (and certainly wine labelled Pinot Grigio) is more expensive than water. A new approach was needed. This is expertly performed by Hoddles Creek.

The 2019 Hoddles Creek Pinot Gris is not gris, but shows a rather rosé colour. This stems from an extended period on lees.

This wine is refreshing, with flavours of lemon rind and orange peel. This creates a very round and satisfying mouthfeel and a crisp finish.

This is the best Pinot Gris I have tried in ages - and attractively priced. Get some!

Score: 93/+++ 

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Hoddles Creek New Releases

Hoddles Creek is an interesting winery in the Upper Yarra Valley. It has a strong cost focus, while at the same time having access to high quality fruit. As a result, the consumer wins.

The 2018 Hoddles Creek Estate Chardonnay is the winery's work horse. It is a pleasant wine of apple and pear flavours, with a good structure and underlying acidity. 2018 was a warm year. Therefore, this wine lacks some of the raciness of previous years (91 points).

The 2018 Hoddles Creek Estate 1er Chardonnay, from a vineyard at 500m elevation, has more depth and elegance, as citrus and grapefruit flavours are balanced with some spicy oak (93 points).

The 2016 Hoddles Creek Estate Road Block Chardonnay comes from a young vineyard. At 300m it is not the highest, but it is the coolest, as it is east facing. This new label is currently a bit broad on the palate, but it has some persistence and will be the one to watch in future vintages (92 points).

The best wine in the line-up is the 2018 Hoddles Creek Estate 1er Pinot Noir, probably a first, as Hoddles Creek is better known for its Chardonnay. This Pinot Noir tastes of red and black cherries, with mushroom flavours in the aftertaste. This is a fairly light, but complex and well balanced wine (94 points).

The 2018s should probably be drunk earlier than the previous two vintages, as a result of the warm vintage. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Rodda 2018 Chardonnays

Adrian Rodda makes three Chardonnays, and he likes elevation. The wines are all made the same way, no malolactic fermentation, but the juice spends time on lees to soften the acidity.

The 2018 Baxendale Vineyard Chardonnay Whitlands comes from the highest of the three vineyards, at 600m elevation off Beechworth. The vines are 24 years old. It is a fairly light wine with citrus and stone fruit flavours. This is a refreshing wine with fine acidity (92 points).

The 2018 Willow Lake Yarra Valley Chardonnay from the Upper Yarra is based on fruit planted in 1979. This wine is similar in style, but with more intensity and a longer finish (93 points).

The 2018 Smiths Vineyard Beechworth Chardonnay comes from vines planted in 1978 at 550m elevation. This is quite a soft style, but with some energy. Texture is more prominent than the citrus and stone fruit flavours (93 points).

Overall, these are gentle wines, with the Yarra Valley wine being the most intense. I am thinking that 2018 is perhaps not the best Chardonnay year. The vintage was too easy, and Chardonnay likes a challenge.

Monday, September 30, 2019

William Downie Pinot Noir

Opening a nine year old Australian Pinot Noir is a little risky. I was not sure how the 2010 William Downie Gippsland Pinot Noir would perform after this time. On the other hand, the wax seal is a good closure.

As it turned out, this wine still had some vibrancy and had aged nicely. Dark cherry and savoury flavours were engulfed by silky tannins so special to Gippsland Pinot Noir. It finishes very dry. This wine is not quite as lush and oppulent as on release, but still a very satisfying drink.

Score: 93/++

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon

Moss Wood is my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia. Tasting the recently released 2016 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon did nothing to change my view. Apart from the dominant Cabernet Sauvignon, there is 4% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Franc in this wine. It seems to be a growing trend to add small components to Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz to increase complexity.

This 2016 Moss Wood is a thoroughly modern Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine spent 30 months in 70-80% new oak. It shows the usual dark colour, but despite this, it starts with a light touch on the palate. This is a bright young thing, with blueberry and blackberry notes and light spice. It runs beautifully down the palate, no hole in the middle. This is an elegant wine with great balance. The fine grained tannins lead to a long finish.

Score: 97/+++

(For a higher score, it would have needed a special X-factor)

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Guigal Tasting (part 2)

This blog will include a contrarian view on the La La La wines, but first, I want to look at two more wines from the tasting.

The 2015 Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde includes 5% Viognier and includes the grapes from the two famous steep vineyards facing each other in the Northern Rhône, one with darker, iron infused soil, the other more sandy. The Viognier component makes this a lighter, more open wine, which can be drunk young. The Shiraz component, however, shows rich and silky blackberry and cassis, with ripe tannins (93 points).

The 2015 Côte-Rôtie Chateau d'Ampuis is a blend of seven vineyards. The wine is matured for 36 months in new oak. This is a serious wine, more red fruited than the 'Hospice', and very complex. The black raspberry fruit is very concentrated and ripe. Mocca and meaty flavours appear on the back palate, and the oak is noticeable. This can be a bit much for some, but it is a very well made wine (95 points).

To the La La Las, the pinnacle of Guigal winemaking, the Grange of France if you will.

La Mouline is always the more feminine wine of the three, and this is true for the 2015 La Mouline. The grapes come from 100 year old vines with very low yields. This Shiraz includes 10% Viognier, and the wine is matured for two years in new oak. There is no whole bunch included. This wine without doubt was the wine of the night. Fragrant, opulent, fresh, elegant, velvety, pure, silky, spicy; this comes to mind rather than any fruit descriptors. This full-bodied wine has incredible length and stays with you for some time (98 points). 

The 2015 La Turque is quite a different proposition. This wine includes 7% Viognier and 20% whole bunches. This is an intense and brooding wine. Others have lauded this dense and powerful Shiraz, but for me, it lacks the layers of fruit and the differentiation one sees in the cooler vintages of this wine. The long finish compensates to a degree (95 points).

La Landonne is the counter piece to La Mouline, and this is largely because of the inclusion of 100% whole bunches and no Viognier included. The 2015 La Landonne is incredibly rich and concentrated, but the same comments I made for the La Turque apply here. The ripeness eliminates detail, and the mouthfeel is not as exciting as with La Mouline. Despite this, there is undoubtedly elegance in this wine, which is quite an achievement, and the finish is very long (95 points). 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Guigal Tasting (part 1)

I am very sorry about the lack of new posts lately. I have not had time for this, unfortunately. As the next Rioja post will be quite comprehensive, I will report on a Guigal tasting in the interim. In this first part, I will review a couple of whites from 2017, and a couple of reds from 2015.

The 2017 Guigal Condrieu La Doriane is a 100% Viognier wine (as required from Condrieu), matured in 100% new oak. It is a fresh wine with vibrant acidity, engulfing the flavours of pear, vanilla and light spices. The wine has an oily character with a long elegant finish. This is a good wine, but as always with Viognier, I never quite know what it stands for (92 points).

The 2017 St. Joseph Lieu-Dit Blanc is a single vineyard wine, 95% Marsanne, 5% Roussanne. This is a terrific wine with a bigger mouthfeel and richer character, such as ripe melon, toast and almond. Still, this is balanced with lively acidity before a very smooth finish (95 points).

The 2015 St. Joseph Lieu-Dit Rouge is a lighter wine from this warm vintage. It is dark fruited, with vanilla and spice adding complexity. I find it a bit upfront, yet it has an elegant texture (92 points).

The 2015 St. Joseph 'Vignes de l'Hospice' is a big step up. This Shiraz is aged for 30 months in new oak. The dark fruit is intense and ripe, but the palate has great shape, and is driven by underlying acidity. You can hardly notice the oak in this full-bodied wine. The smooth tannins deliver an attractive finish (96 points). 

More, including the La La La wines, in the next post.

Friday, September 13, 2019


Valenciso is a small, 21 year old winery in Rioja Alta. It produces 150,000 bottles per year from 19 plots of mainly calcareous soil. It is now in its first year of organic production. Like with many vineyards in Rioja, some are bush vines, some are trellised vines. There does not seem a pronounced preference of one over the other.

Valenciso stands out, because everything about these wines is about finesse. The very smart and reflective owner Luis Valentin took me through the wines shown above, except the 10 year old wine was the 2007. The 2018 Rioja Blanco was the best white wine I tasted on this trip - and what a wine this is! 70% Viura, 30% Grenache Blanc and fermented in Russian oak, creates a delicate wine with excellent depth. The acidity is firm, but does not distract from the harmonious citrus flavours.

The Rosé is produced in the saignée method. Melon and strawberry flavours are built on a solid foundation of minerality. This is a really smart wine.

The flagship is the Rioja Reserva, based on Tempranillo. But in contrast to many producers, this is not about how long the wine has spent in barrel, but reflecting where the wine comes from. The primary fruit in the 2002 wine is almost gone.  Exotic spices now characterize the wine, and the acidity gives it a good structure. Maturing took place in light and medium toasted French oak. The 2012 shows great purity, with red and black cherry character. The focus here is on the fruit, and the finish is very long and balanced. 

The top wine is the 2007 '10 years postres'. This wine was aged 50/50 in Russian oak and concrete vats. The ageing is about adding to the texture of the wine, not to impart flavour. According to Luis, the concrete stabilizes the colour of the wine. The fruit here is absolutely delicious, backed by firm tannins.

Try to get your hands on some of these wines. They are a revelation. Rioja never tasted this good.