Friday, December 31, 2010

Kooyong Farrago Chardonnay

The 2005 Kooyong Farrago Chardonnay is an austere wine - and it is brilliant for that. This wine is not about fruit, but texture. Fruit flavours, oak and acidity are in perfect balance. Nothing stands out in particular, except perhaps the long finish, but this perfect harmony makes this wine very satisfying. This wine is not a sum of its parts, but a well integrated, dry composition.

Score: 95/+++

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rockford Moppa Springs

Coming back to earth, I am going to review the 2005 Rockford Moppa Springs Grenache Mouvedre Shiraz. This wine is different from many other GSMs, in that it has a large share of Mouvedre and only 12% Shiraz. As a result, the profile of this wine is different as well.

On the front palate, one tastes immediately the confectionery sweetness of the Grenache. The wine then moves on to raspberry flavours and earthy characteristics. It finishes with high acidity.

The objective of this blend is obviously to balance the Grenache, but the resulting wine is not all that balanced and the high acidity plus 14.5% alcohol makes it actually difficult to drink more than one glass.

Score: 89/-

Sunday, December 26, 2010

1990 Shiraz comparison: Grange, Hill of Grace, Wendouree

This tasting should provide a good insight into the differences of these three iconic wines, and so it turned out to be.

Day 1:

The wines were tasted after one hour of being decanted.

First came the 1990 Hill of Grace. The colour was brown-orange, a little bit disconcerting, but similar to Barolo, and we know what that can deliver.

The wine is very feminine, smelling of garden flowers, roses in particular. Drinking it is an amazing experience: multi-layered berry flavours, orange peel, a bit of chocolate and sweet spices. The wine is very pure, with a supple texture, very elegant and a long, long finish. Superb. Drinking at its peak. It conveys the specifics of the vineyard and old vines very well.

Score: 98/+++

Second was the 1990 Grange. This wine had a denser red-brown colour. It was clearly going to be a bigger wine. And so it was. The fruit flavours were dark cherry, blackberry and plum. The wine had a thicker mouthfeel than the Hill of Grace, quite satisfying. It did not have quite the same complexity, but was also well balanced with a long finish and slightly bigger tannins.

Score: 97/+++

Then came the 1990 Wendouree Shiraz. I put this last, because I thought this would be the biggest wine. However, it turned out to be similar to the Grange in this respect. The wine tasted of dark plum and blackberry, and a fair bit of eucalypt, often found in the Clare Valley. The wine was a bit rustic in comparison with the other two, but its structure is standing up well. The wine did not have the same complexity as the other two, but delivered a long fine finish with dry tannins.

Score: 94/+

Day 2:

The Hill of Grace tasted similarly. The key features being its smooth mouthfeel and the silky tannins. However, the flavours were not as differentiated as on day 1. The extra day was not a plus for this wine.

Score: 96/+++

The Grange impressed with its intensity of fruit flavours. This Grange has quite concentrated elements, but is not at all heavy. A great drinking pleasure on the second day.

Score: 97/+++

The Wendouree was slightly smoother on this day, but fell apart on the back palate. The alcohol was separated from the fruit flavours and quite prominent.

Score: 91/-

Day 3: The Hill of Grace is still very elegant, but is starting to weaken (95 points). I had the Wendouree next and surprisingly, it was much more together today (93 points). The Grange was still strong, but lost a bit of the fruit flavours (95 points).

Overall, it was amazing how well these 20 year old wines held up. The Wendouree came across as a bit old fashioned. While the other two brands have clearly developed their style over time, Wendouree appeared a bit same old, same old. Its rarity is clearly supporting the cult status, though.

Postscript 1: The flavours and structures of the wines changed significantly during these days. It makes you wonder how much hit and miss is in tasting reviews, depending on how long a bottle has been opened, what has been tasted beforehand, the kind of food etc. Not much is talked about changing flavours over time.

Postscript2: I just checked how much these wines would sell for at auction: Hill of Grace: $450, Grange $600, Wendouree maybe $200. Would I pay this? I don't think so. At these price levels, the wines have to deliver an absolutely memorable wow effect. The Hill of Grace came close ( and did so many years ago, as did the Grange), but unless this is achieved, you can get plenty of pretty outstanding wines for $50-100 per bottle. And the problem is, you never know beforehand.

I enjoyed the experience, hopefully I managed to share some of this with you.

Friday, December 24, 2010

1990: Grange, Hill of Grace, Wendouree

Today, I am starting a process I have been looking forward to for many, many years: I opened three bottles of the best Shirazes at their 20th anniversary. I will drink and compare these over three nights: a glass each on each night.

They are looking good, the levels are high in all wines.

But then the first major obstacle. Only the Grange cork, which I pull
ed first, comes out cleanly. The others break. It is not a disaster, as I will capture the cork which fell in (it was not much) in the decanting process. But is my cellar too dry?

Results will follow after the three day event.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wolf Blass Black Label

A colleague winemaker once said to me: "Chris Hatcher (Wolf Blass winemaker) should get an extra medal for the quality of wine he makes from the crappiest vineyards". Be that as it may, the Black Label Cabernet Shiraz is an iconic Australian wine. I have not had it in 10 years, but I put some of the 2002 vintage down, and I had my first experience of it yesterday.

This is not a bad wine. It tastes predominantly of blackberries, is quite well balanced and has a smooth finish with silky tannins. It carries the eight years without problem.

Yet it somehow tastes industrial. Do I say this because I know it? To me, this wine has not much personal character. There is nothing really wrong with it, in fact it ticks quite a few boxes (see above), but it is simply not that interesting.

Score: 93/0

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Drinks

I would like to know what we are all drinking over Christmas. Champagne, I suspect, maybe from a specialist producer this year? Or that special red you have been keeping for a while or Sparkling Red? Or are you planning for a hot, seafood orientated day with Riesling or Chablis? Or a turkey with Pinot or Chardonnay? Or will it be a beer festival?

Let's hear it!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Brokenwood Mistress Block Shiraz

After the Glenguin disappointment, I am back to one of my old favorites, Brokenwood. The Mistress Block grows mature, 40 year old vines. I tried the 2005 Brokenwood Mistress Block Shiraz. This wine impresses with its seductiveness, like only a Hunter Valley Shiraz can.

The wine is medium bodied and has mulberry and blackberry flavours, also earthy tones, soft spice and chocolate. The tannins are soft and velvety. The only drawback is the somewhat nondescript finish. A good wine.

Score: 92/++

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Glenguin Pokolbin Vineyard Shiraz

Several years ago, I was on the lookout for other Hunter Valley wineries which produce serious Hunter Valley Shiraz (besides Tyrells and Brokenwood).

The two wineries which impressed me were Meerea Park and Glenguin. The winemaker for both is Rhys Eather, as it happens. After eight years, I thought the 2002 Glenguin Pokolbin Vineyard Shiraz should drink at its peak.

Alas, it was way past it. The core plum fruit was basically gone, leaving behind a bit of tannin and alcohol. This should not have happened.

Score: 75-80/---

Saturday, December 11, 2010

O'Leary Walker Polish Hill Riesling

The 2010 O'Leary Walker Polish Hill River Riesling is the perfect summer drink. It has crisp lemon lime flavours and is similar to the Grosset. In fact, I would call it the poor man's Grosset.

It is perhaps not quite as pure or steely as the best Grosset years (2002, 2005, 2008), but I actually like it more than the 2010 Grosset. The O'Leary Walker is not as flavoured or perfumed as many Rieslings. It is fairly straight forward, but with a good acid base and structure.

Score: 94/++

New Zealand Pinot Gris

After the excellent experience with the Ata Rangi Pinot Gris (reported a few posts below), I tried a couple of other ones, the 2009 Takatu Pinot Gris and the Man 'o War Pinot Gris.

These were pleasant enough wines, but they were not as focussed and slightly dull. The Takatu in particular, lacked acidity.

Takatu Score: 87/--

Man 'o War Score: 89/-

This is it from me on New Zealand wines for a while (thank God I hear you say).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Waiheke Island Reds

Many new wineries have sprung up in the last 15 years on Waiheke Island, in the wake of the Stonyridge Larose success. How do they stack up and compare?

As a general impression, most wineries are very small. As a result, vineyards can be - and generally are - looked after very well, and the winemaking is characterised by attention to detail. Therefore the quality of wines tends to be good.

The Te Whau winery is spectacularly located on a cliff top, with amazing views and sunsets. Like for a number of other wineries, the restaurant is open for dinner as well. The 2006 Te Whau The Point is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec. The fruit flavours are complex, mainly redcurrant, but also blackcurrant and some savoury and earthy undertones. The wine has quite a dry finish (91 points). The 2007 The Point is a similar blend, but livelier and more acidic. This wine is likely to live longer (92 points).

Passage Rock is another winery worth a visit. The 2008 Passage Rock Cabernet/Merlot shows ripe fruit, but is savoury in character. The fruit profile is a bit weak and the mouthfeel slightly flat (89 points).

Over the last few years, Shiraz has become a major factor as well, like in so many other parts of the world. The 2008 Passage Rock Reserve Shiraz tastes very Northern Rhone like, with a plum core, but quite savoury and smoky, with dry tannins (92 points).

A strong performer is Kennedy Point. Its wines are slightly riper and more elegant. The 2009 Kennedy Point Shiraz is a terrific savoury wine, with good depth (93 points). The 2005 Kennedy Point Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is made in the same mould (91 points). I was tempted to take some of these wines with me, as unfortunately they are not available in Australia.

The issue with all these wines, as a generalisation, is that they are good quality wines, but not compelling enough to absolutely stand out.

Monday, December 6, 2010


I spent quite a bit of time working in New Zealand in the early 90s. This was when the 1987 Stonyridge Larose upstaged the French Bordeaux winemakers at their own game. I drank the wine several times. It was wonderfully complex and elegant.

A couple of weeks ago was my first stay on Waiheke Island, so my first winery stop had to be Stonyridge. It has reached legendary status in New Zealand, although it seems to have gone quiet for a while, when Craggy Range came out of the blocks with their Hawke's Bay red wines.

But it seems Stonyridge is back to form. The first wine I tried was the 2009 Stonyridge Luna Negra, a Malbec. The flavours were of dark blueberry fruit. The wine was quite tannic and finished dusty (91 points).

This was followed by the 2009 Stonyridge Pilgrim, their version of GSM. It is really a Shiraz, with 15% Mouvedre and 4% Grenache thrown in. The wine is quite light, with a soft feel and smoky overtones. A well balanced and quite easy to drink wine (93 points).

Finally the flagship, the 2008 Stonyridge Larose. It is a blend of 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Malbec, 16% Merlot, 16% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. The percentages change every year. The major contributions of Malbec and Petit Verdot are slightly unusual for an Australian or French palate.

The colour of the wine is almost violet. What stands out is the purity of the fruit, while it is also a very complex wine. Apart from fruit flavours, there is licorice, tar and spice. The oak influence is quite noticeable, but the wine is still very young. This Larose has pleasant length and finishes dry. Overall, the Larose is an unusual wine. It would not be my favourite, but it is a worth while, though pricey experience.

Score: 95/+

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir

The 2007 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir has been around for a little while. It has nice up-front fruit flavours, mainly black cherry. Then savoury flavours start to dominate. The wine is earthy and spicy, but also a bit stinky. There is almost too much going on. Overall, good concentration and complexity.

Score: 92/+

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Alternative Varieties Poll Results

You appreciate Nebbiolo by a clear majority as a noble grape - and drinking Italian Barolo is definitely one of the great wine drinking pleasures. Interesting that Gruener Veltiner also gets a good mention. I have had excellent wines from this grape variety.

Translating this into the Australian experience reveals a different picture, though. Nebbiolo is no longer the favorite, partly, I suspect, because it is rare here, but also because it is not yet mastered in Australia (and these two reasons are related). We do better with Sangiovese and Tempranillo and both varieties might succeed as 'lighter' full bodied reds. The fact that less have voted on the Australian poll might also show that some of you are not yet convinced about the success of any of these varieties in Australia.

I am quite comfortable with these results, even though the sample size is pretty small.

Andrew Thomas 'Two Of A Kind' SSB

The 2009 Andrew Thomas 'Two Of A Kind' is an attractive Semillon Sauvignon Blanc. It is different from the WA versions, with a stronger Hunter Semillon feel. The blend is 59% Hunter Valley Semillon and 41% Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc. The wine has a good lemon and lime core and is not as pungent as other wines of this variety. The wine is softer, but has sufficient acidity and finishes dry.

Score: 91/+

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ata Rangi 'Lismore' Pinot Gris

I spent a few days in New Zealand and tried some interesting wines there.

The 2009 Ata Rangi 'Lismore' Pinot Gris is an illustration of how good the wine makers at Ata Rangi are. This wine impresses with its purity and linear texture. In terms of weight, it sits between Pinot Gris from Alsace and Italian Pinot Grigio, a bit more towards the Italian style.

The fruit is predominantly pear, but the wine is all about purity and balance. It flows perfectly down the palate and finishes with just the right amount of acidity. This is an outstanding example of Southern Hemisphere Pinot Gris.

Score: 93/+++