Thursday, September 30, 2010

Henschke Mt. Edelstone

I reviewed the 2002 Mt. Edelstone a few posts ago and one of my readers suggested a comparison with the 2004. As I have it in my cellar, here it is.

The 2004 Henschke Mount Edelstone is an intriguing wine. It tastes of plum and mulberry, quite brooding flavours, yet very fresh and lively. There is also quite a lot of mint and some bacon on the palate. The fruit is nicely balanced with acidity, but you would not call this wine especially elegant. The wine has a firm structure and its significant tannins provide a long finish. The wine is perhaps not as big as one would expect for the 2004, and while there is a lot going on, it feels more like a hilly road along the tongue than a smooth highway.

Which is the better Mt. Edelstone, the 2002 or 2004? They are both very interesting wines and still too early to drink, but my vote goes to the 2002, which seems better balanced and destined for a very long life.

As an aside, I am slightly worried about the screw cap on these wines. Yes, they are very fresh, but where is the mellowing which can be so terrific with the Mt. Edelstone? Is anyone else worried?

Score: 94/+ (the minty flavour took one + off the wine for me)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

John Duval Entity Shiraz

When John Duval branched out on his own after his long reign at Penfolds, there was a lot of interest what kind of wine he would produce. Focus on Shiraz? Big, powerful? A lot of oak?

The 2005 John Duval Entity Shiraz is my first taste of his 'standard' Shiraz. The wine is deeply concentrated, with good linear fruit purity and predominantly plummy flavours. Oak, I think French, is present, but the fruit comes through nicely. The overall impression is a bit one-dimensional, but the wine has good length and finishes on fine grained tannins.

Compared to Penfolds, this wine is more fruit dominated and a bit more forward, yet has good depth. This is not a bad effort for a 2005 Barossa wine. I will be interested to taste future vintages.


Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay

I read with interest yesterday that the 2008 Heytesbury Chardonnay had won a trophy in the Tri Nations challenge with New Zealand and South Africa, as I had the 2006 Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay the day before.

I formed the view that Vasse Felix has made big progress in the last few years after having mainly drunk some of their reds.

This 2006 Chardonnay is already quite developed. It is a bigger style, with some butterscotch next to the pear and citrus flavours. The new oak is quite present, and the fruit flavours do not quite match the creamy overtones.

There is certainly complexity in this wine, but it is not the style I typically enjoy.

Score: 92/--

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Napa/Sonoma Valley, part 3

The third day became the highlight, not so much because of the visit to the Robert Mondavi winery, but for the other heavyweights. The tour at Mondavi was interesting, but the wines very ordinary. It seems the focus is on volume now, not quality.

The second stop was the Napa Wine Company. There are a number of tasting rooms which showcase smaller wineries, and this is one of the best (Ma(i)sonry is another one well worth a visit). This is in fact a contract winemaker, where you can taste all the wine he makes. Their own label is Blackbird, and the 2007 Ghost Block SV is an excellent Cabernet. It has beautiful cherry fruit, very elegant, and nicely integrated soft tannins (94 points).

I also tasted the range of the Pahlmeyer wines, one of the best family wine companies in the valley. Their 2006 Pinot Noir was a lighter style, but lush and velvety (94 points). The 2006 Cabernet (includes 18% Merlot) tasted of black- and redcurrant and had depth and an elegant structure (95 points). The Pahlmeyer wines are beautifully crafted.

The first absolute highlight was the tasting at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars (see picture below left). This is one of the American companies which beat the French in the famous 1976 tasting. I managed to taste the three top wines from the hyped-up 2007 vintage, which are all rated in the top 50 American Cabernets. The Fay tasted of sweet cherry, with earthy undertones and dry tannins. It most the most approachable of the three (93 points). The SLV comes from the next block, but with different, more volcanic soil. Its colour was deep, and the blackcurrant flavours dominated. There was also a lot of smoked bacon on the palate. The wine was very complex and powerful, with great depth and a lengthy finish - almost the wine of the tastings (96 points). The Cask 23 is their flagship wine, a best barrels blend of the two vineyards. It tasted of black- and blueberry and was softer and more elegant than the SLV. The wine was not as big and I felt it had a hole on the mid-palate (94 points).

The other highlight was the short tasting at Joseph Phelps. The only American Cabernet I currently have in my cellar is their 1997 Insignia, an excellent wine. The Insignia, their flagship wine, is a blend from six different Napa vineyards. They had just released the 2007 to great acclaim, and I could taste it next to the 2006 (picture below right). The 2006 is 95% Cabernet and 5% Petit Verdot, which contributes to the very inky colour. It tastes of red- and blackcurrant with good length and soft, dry tannins. I just felt it lacked a bit of mouthfeel (94 points). The 2007 is 88% Cabernet, 8% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot. It tasted very complex, with black cherry and meaty flavours dominating. The wine is very elegant, with great integration of flavours and structure, and it has a very long finish - my wine of the tastings (97 points). Joseph Phelps is clearly back to their very best and remains probably my favorite Napa winery, for consistency of very high performance and for wines which are not overblown and can go the distance.

Napa/Sonoma Valley, part 2

The Sonoma Wine Festival was on for my second day. I thought this would be a good opportunity to capture a lot of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, without having to go to the wineries in this larger area.

In principle it worked similar to when the Hunter comes to Balmoral etc., except it was 10 times larger, with maybe 250 wineries participating. There were four big tents for the big appelations of Alexander Valley, Dry Creek, Russian River and Sonoma. One of the great things was that many wineries offered a snack which went well with their wine, and they were quite sophisticated.

My overall theory did not work so well, though, because like here, the best wineries were not represented. The other complication was that there was a special area where, for a premium ticket, special wines were poured. They were better in quality, but often very unusual bottlings you could never hope to find.

Overall, the quality level was disappointing, in particular for white wine, but also for Pinot Noir. I found some good ones, though, from Scribe, Garry Farrell and Willowbrook. The best Pinots came from Russian River. They tended to be quite ethereal in nature, only medium bodied, and more in the strawberry and forest floor flavour spectrum, rather than cherry.

The top wine for me was a 2004 Pinot Noir from Clouds Rest, a fairly unknown producer with very densely planted vineyards, similar to William Downie here.

My conclusion was that as far as new world Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is concerned, Australia can hold its head high, and certainly match what I found in Sonoma.

However, day 3 is still to come.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Napa/Sonoma Valley, part 1

Pride Mountain Vineyards

American wines were virtually non existent in Australia until recently - simply too expensive. As the Australian dollar is heading towards parity, some wines start to trickle in. Hopefully my notes over the next few days will stimulate some interest to try Californian wines - you should find it worth your while.

I was recently in Napa for tastings after an absence of nine years. Then I was tasting the 1997 vintage, a classic vintage for Cabernet. This report is about day 1.

I wanted to start with the core: Cabernet Sauvignon. But before, we kicked off with a bit of Champagne at Domaine Chandon. Early in the morning, the guys behind the counter had the music on full blast and the sales pitch was pretty direct. We headed for the outside terrace straight away, and managed to settle down a bit.

For the rest of the day, we visited Groth, Pride, Revana, Hall and Whitehall Lane. I must say I found it quite difficult to get my bearings after such a long time. The wines are really different from what we are used to. There is limited value for my readership, I think, to go into detailed wine reviews (I will in part 3), so let us focus on some general observations.

1) The main white varieties on offer are Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Well, you can forget all of that in Napa proper. The Sauvignons I tried are nothing special, and the Chardonnays are one confused lot. Napa is trying to get away from heavily worked Chardonnays, oaked and butterscotch, but it is like in the car industry: they simply cannot do it. Unoaked wines are whimsical and the rest remains too heavy for our palate. Hail to the Chardonnay improvements in Australia.

2) The Cabernets and Cabernet blends (you do not have to declare other varieties if they are not exceeding 25%) are very masculine wines. They are really more comparable to South Australian Shiraz than Coonawarra or Margaret River Cabernets. They are ripe and alcoholic, although the excesses seem to have disappeared. 14.5% alcohol seems to be the norm.

3) These wines have much more acidity than what we are used to. At the same time, there is a big focus on elegance, mostly successful.

4) I enjoyed the wines on this day, but you have to go to the Reserve level for special wine experience, which tends to be a 'best barrels' approach and the pricing is US$60-150.

On this first day, there was no wine with a 'wow' factor, but generally good quality Cabernet. Pride Mountain is an interesting winery to visit. It is a beautiful property in the Howell Mountains with beautiful natural caves (all the rage in Napa) for storage. Revana may be the next big cult winery with Heidi Peterson Barrett, ex Screaming Eagle, as the winemaker.

Overall, a good day, but I was hoping for more.

Poll Results

The Toolangi Chardonnay is probably not well known outside Victoria, but in my opinion a good value proposition. Very comfortable with the winners of this poll being the Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir and Torbreck's Woodcutters Red. Both are good examples of larger volume wines benefiting from good winemaking practises. They definitely punch above their weight. And as the competition has a look, this will hopefully improve the quality and aspirations for the $15 to $30 per bottle segment.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Henschke Mt. Edelstone

What does it say about spring if you crave a Mt. Edelstone Shiraz? This 2002 Henschke Mt. Edelstone is incredibly fresh, bright and brimming with fruit. I taste raspberry in particular. The wine is not sweet and does not taste as much of chocolate as in other years. Instead, it displays a beautiful balance between fruit, acidity and tannins. It is profound and has great length. I am happy to put this away for another 10 years for the wine to mellow and develop more secondary characteristics.

Score: 96/+++

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New Poll Created

Recently, a number of premium wineries have created a tiered structure for their most famous wines. The bottom tier benefits from strong quality control, viticulture and winemaking skills of these successful companies. They often deliver excellent value for money.

I have selected a few, where the company has at least three tiers, and the bottom one does not cost more than $25 per bottle [Penfolds is a little higher]. Which of these wines do you like best?

Please vote and let me know which good examples I have left out.

Monte da Cal Reserva, Portugal

Portugal has recently made huge progress with their table wines. The 2006 Monte da Cal Reserva from the Alentejo region is a good example of this. It consists of a blend of [to me] obscure grape varieties, Aragonze and Alforcheiro, plus the French Alicante Bouchet.

The wine is medium to full bodied, with a sweet core, backed by some minerality, and nicely balanced with sufficient acidity. The fine tannins deliver a velvety finish.

Score 92/++

German Riesling

The international image of German Riesling is very much driven by the Moselle wines which the Americans love and by the marketing genius of Dr. Loosen who promotes them so well. They are sweeter wines -although not the old sweetness of adding sugar- than those from other districts.

German experts often prefer wines from the Rheingau, Nahe or Pfalz. In particular the dry Rhine wines are of a similar style to Clare wines, in my view. Maybe this is why they are less sought, because they are less different, but their purity and length make them quite unique.

One such example are wines from August Eser. I recently drank the 2007 Oestricher Lenchen Riesling Spaetlese -trocken-. Spaetlese means the grapes are picked late. The wine is fuller and riper, but not necessarily sweet. This one had a very balanced palate of citrus and more tropical fruit from a warm year, and a long, clean finish. On its own, this was a satisfying drink. I am just not sure what food to pair it with. Asian or maybe rich salads?

Score 92/+

Santorini Viticulture

The curious Santorini viticulture sees pre-phylloxera vines planted straight into the ground. Little baskets protect the grapes when young from winds and sandstorms. The vines are planted very wide apart from each other.

The effect, it seems to me, is good individual grape quality, but diluted, as there are many grapes per bunch. The overall yield is not high, though, because of the wide planting. The whole system is quite labour intensive. Not to be emulated.