Sunday, October 31, 2010

Margaret River - Cabernet and Blends

A number of newer wineries were showing their Cabernets, some of which collected a fair bit of acclaim for their 2007 wines, including the Jimmy Watson winner Flametree Cabernet Merlot. Three such wineries are Juniper Estate, Flametree and Fraser Gallop. One interesting aspect here is that their Cabernets cost half or even less than those from the leading wineries. So how good are they?

The 2007 Juniper Estate Cabernet Sauvignon has good depth, ripeness and concentration, but I found the eucalypt flavours a bit too strong (90 points). The 2007 Higher Plane Cabernet, from young wines, was quite pleasant, but did not have the same depth (88 points). The 2008 Fraser Gallop Cabernet shows pretty varietal flavours, but the vines are quite young, and the wine lacks some mouthfeel (91 points). This could be very good once the grapes are more mature. The 2009 Cabernet Merlot is lighter, but with interesting earthy flavours (89 points).

The 2008 Flametree Reserve Cabernet is similar to the Fraser Gallop (90 points). The 2009 Cabernet Merlot shows shades of greenness (87 points).

I thought the 2008 Lenton Brae Willyabrup Cabernet was a shocker. It tasted sugary and sweet (82 points). The 2008 Redgate Cabernet was better, but the palate not well rounded (87 points).

The most interesting Cabernets came from Woodlands, Brookland Valley and Cape Mentelle. I always find the Woodlands brand hierarchy and prize points puzzling, and so it was again. The 2007 Woodlands Margaret Reserve Cabernet Merlot was quite polished, a well made wine, although lacking the depth of the best wines of that year (92 points). The flagship 2007 Woodlands Cabernet Sauvignon was dark, mainly tasting of blackcurrant. It had earthy flavours, too (92 points). I scored it the same as the Margaret, but at more than twice the price ($100/bottle), it is simply too expensive.

Cape Mentelle showed the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, and it was the best wine I tasted, by a whisker. It displayed typical red- and blackcurrant flavours, and had good fruit concentration. The mouthfeel lacked a little on the mid-palate, and while the finish was long, it lacked complexity or lift (93 points). The 2004 Brookland Valley Reserve Cabernet was an interesting contrast because of bottle age. The fruit was concentrated, with mulberry and minty flavours and a dry, still quite stringent finish (90 points).

I do not feel compelled to add any of these wines to my cellar. A second label Moss Wood or Cullen would have given these wines a run for their money.

Margaret River - Chardonnay

I attended a tasting of a number of Margaret River wineries. I tasted Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chardonnays left me somewhat underwhelmed.

I found the 2009 Brookland Valley Reserve Chardonnay quite woody, and lacking fruit and freshness (87 points). The 2009 Cape Mentelle Chardonnay was fresher, with lemon flavours, but not very intense. This wine had a nice acidity balance (90 points). The 2007 Voyager Estate Chardonnay was my favorite, with good core lime fruit, some length on the palate, but lacking a bit of acidity on the finish (91 points). The standard 2009 Woodlands Chardonnay is a fairly simple wine, but is fresh and goes down easy (88 points).

Has 2009 been a bad year in Margaret River for whites?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz

Regular readers may have noticed that I have posted less often lately and on other matters than tasting wine. Well, I am doing a detox now, and apart from losing weight, I lost all my yeast on my tongue, hopefully revitalizing a few taste buds.

However, I am allowed a 'cheat meal' every now and then. Tonight involved opening a 2005 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz. One of the major surprises to me and others was the recent elevation of this wine to the top category in the Langton's Classification. I have never drunk a lot of this wine, but I have a few bottles. So tonight it was a 2005.

I have to say the wine impressed me. It delivers the holy grail of depth of flavour, elegance and silky smooth, long finish. It does not come first in any of these dimensions alone, but delivers a great combination. A serious wine, but also a good food companion.

The wine was fresh, but had developed complex flavours. It is rewarding to drink now, but will live well for another five years at least.

Score: 95/++

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wine-shopping Online

Many wine enthusiasts get frustrated that they cannot find the desired wine in the shops they go to or they are not sure how competitive the pricing is. Alternatively, you could go on the internet first. In the early days, online wine-shopping came and went. Transport was often expensive and unreliable. Online companies went bust.

A new generation of sites works with a large number of retailers. The most relevant of those with a global orientation is probably, based in New Zealand. It lists over 4 million offers from more than 19,000 retailers across the globe. It is fairly simple to use and the pricing information is transparent. Typing in 'Moss Wood 2008', as an example, lists 63 entries. An annoying factor is that only the pro version for US$30 will list them all.

An alternative is, which is based in Canada. It is of similar size and operates in a similar manner. You click on the wine you want to buy and get switched to the online site of the retailer.

This method can be efficient, but does, in my view, not fully replace the personal service a specialist retailer or the winery direct can provide. No doubt, it will work for some.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Langton's Classification, Mark V

A number of reviewers have commented on the latest Langton's Classification, however, based on statistical analysis, a number of points can be made which I have not yet seen.

First of all, what does the Classification measure or reflect? It is a statistical analysis of the performance of wine at the Langton's auctions, the premier auction house in Australia. This means it is measured by wine consumers who like aged wine and by investors. As a result, it is inherently conservative, as both groups tend to favour proven names. The measure itself is performance against release price. It is therefore not an absolute measure of quality, and age-worthy wines which are not expensive can get in, as has happened with a number of cheaper Penfolds wines.

What are the trends against the last Classification, published in 2005? Let us look at three categories: which wines have dropped out, which are new and which have been upgraded (only two wines have been downgraded). Let us first look at grape varieties: Shiraz, which dominated the list in 2005, is the prime mover. Over half the new wines are Shiraz (18.5*), half of the upgrades are Shiraz (13.5*), and they also dominate the eliminated wines (6 out of 11). Cabernet Sauvignon has done well, with 8.5* new wines and 6.5* upgrades, and no elimination. Other varieties play minor roles: Pinot Noir (5 new, 3 out), Riesling (1 new, 3 upgrades), Chardonnay (1 new, 2 out), Semillon (2 upgrades). The result is clear, no major shift in grape varieties preference, except for a strong showing of Cabernet Sauvignon, which is contrary to the retail trade, where the focus is on immediate consumption.

What about regions? In the past, the Classification was dominated by wines from South Australia and Victoria. This has not changed, but the relative weight has shifted to South Australia. Victoria saw 7 out of 11 wines dropped, 4 Victorian wines were upgraded and 11 new wines added. South Australia saw 3 wines dropped, 13 upgraded and 19 added. The dominant region was the Barossa, with no wine dropped, 5.5* upgraded and 10.5* new wines. Coonawarra did pretty well, with no wine dropped, 2.5* upgraded and 5.5* new. McLaren Vale was almost as good. The other point to note is that NSW wines did better than Western Australia, thanks to Tyrells, McWilliams, Clonakilla and De Bortoli.

I find the regional results interesting. The most influential reviewers of newly released Australian wine, James Halliday and Jeremy Oliver, have a Victorian bias, and despising Robert Parker has become a bloodsport. However, in the secondary market, it is the big South Australian Shirazes which are valued most, even increasingly so. I must admit I like these wines, because they are uniquely Australian, although I am not keen on the excesses, for example Greenock Creek. Striving to make European wines here has always struck me as slightly odd. Having said this, I think we make some wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

By the way, wines which have done well in my polls have scored well, with e.g. Clonakilla and Grosset Polish Hill being upgraded to the top 'exceptional' category.

Langton's does not publish the exact methodology, and I have no doubt a fudge factor is applied. What would be nice to have, though, is an auction barometer, say based on the top category, or a timeline of price realisation for Grange and Hill of Grace.

Some people who clearly did not like the outcome of this Classification have said it is irrelevant. Do we have some evidence here that maybe the most quoted review compendiums are irrelevant?

I am interested in your comments.

*the 0.5 results from a split with Coonawarra in Penfolds blended wines.