Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spinifex Taureau

From the new Barossa master blender comes the Taureau, a Tempranillo based wine. It includes Graciano, which is often done in Spain to give the wine more grip, but also Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2008 Spinifex Taureau has a velvet colour. The taste is very vibrant and aromatic. Strong flavours of cherry and mulberry dominate. The wine is a bit in your face, but has a good mouthfeel. It is very balanced between the different grape varieties, displaying strong (natural) acidity. The wine finishes a little sudden.

This wine is definitely a contrast to the big Barossa Shirazes and that is what it is meant to be. At this stage, I find the flavour profile a little uneven, and the wine is too early to drink. However, once it mellows somewhat, this Tempranillo could be a great drop.

Score: 91/++

Monday, August 29, 2011

Saint Cosme Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Saint Cosme is a producer of Southern Rhone wines from a number of different areas. I have in particular enjoyed its Gigondas over the years. The reasonably well priced Saint Cosme wines are generally available from fine wine shops in Australia.

This 2003 Saint Cosme Chateauneuf-du-Pape is from the best known area of Southern Rhone and, as most of them are, is based predominantly on Grenache. It tastes of black cherry, and has quite a savoury and earthy flavour to it. The wine is full bodied and ripe, from one of the many great vintages in the last 10 years.

How is it different from Australian Grenache? Its mouthfeel is not as full-on, and while full bodied, it is more restrained. The more linear profile and firm tannins lead to a long and silky finish.

I enjoyed the drinkability of this wine and at 8 years, it is a good time to drink it.

Score: 93/+++

Friday, August 26, 2011

James Halliday reviews

Have you noticed how the review points have crept up from year to year? Is this because Australia makes better wine? Maybe it does, but this is not the reason.

Halliday only reviews wines which are sent to him. Now some wineries with excellent reputations have been a bit reluctant to send wines in for fear they would not stack up. This is not good for Halliday, because he wants to have all major wines represented. What happens, he inflates the reviews to get all the wines - a silly system.

The wine descriptions can be helpful, but forget about the points (which basically seem to have a range of six (from 91 to 96).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

SC Pannell wines

Stephen Pannell is a highly acclaimed winemaker, best known for being Chief Red Winemaker at BRL Hardy between 1999 and 2003. Since then, he has branched out on his own. His wines are not very prominent on the Eastern seaboard, and at a recent dinner I had my first exposure to them.

He believes more southern European grape varieties are better suited to the Australian climate, but he makes Shiraz and Grenache as well. He likes to keep alcohol levels low. He appears to be non interventionist in his winemaking to the extreme.

The result of this is, in my humble opinion, that a number of his wines taste like juice, some really sweet and juicy. The 2010 whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Pronto Bianco, are pretty, but don't leave a lasting impression.

The 2008 Pronto Tinto, a Grenache dominated blend, the 2007 Tempranillo Touriga and the 2008 Nebbiolo have simply not reached the potential of these grapes.

This takes me to a comment about alternative varieties. It is one thing to say they are better suited to the Australian climate, but quite another to produce wine which equals those produced from these grapes in Europe. I have tasted good examples of Sangiovese here, for example from Pizzini and Castagna, but our Tempranillos and Nebbiolos in particular, do not come close to an average example of such a wine from Spain and Italy.

The best Pannell wines were the 2007 Grenache/Shiraz, and the 2006 Shiraz. The latter in particular is very good. From old vines, it tastes of blueberry, blackberry and chocolate. It is a concentrated, yet elegant wine with a long finish.

So overall, educational, but a mixed experience.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Coonawarra Roadshow

I have not been to one of these for a number of years. I found it interesting to taste the wines (I tasted Cabernet and their blends) in such a focused comparison. My notes were short, as I tried quite a few wines and had limited time.

What did I like in general?
- the room was great. Finally some space between winery booths, and well lit.
- the vibrancy of the fruit. It seems the days of watery Cabernet from there are over
- varietal expression. Blackcurrant and redcurrant flavours stood out in most wines

What did not impress me?
- there are still quite a number of green and underripe Cabernets
- the finish of many wines was not distinct and short
- 2009 is clearly not as good a vintage as 2008

The two wineries which impressed me most were Balnarves and Wynns. The Tally is a world class wine. Its fruit is ripe, but delicate, the wine is well balanced and has a fine, silky finish. I slightly preferred the 2006 Tally (94 points) over the 2008 Tally (93 points). This may also be a function of the wine only coming into its own after a number of years. The regular 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon was also attractive, although the finish was light (91 points).

The winemaking at Wynns is strong these days. The high volume 2009 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon is full bodied and ripe, with a good mouthfeel - a bit unbalanced at this time (92 points). I preferred it to the 2009 V&A Lane Cabernet/Shiraz, which was smoother, but quite oaky (91 points). Wynns has about 25 great vineyard blocks from which it selects a different single vineyard wine each year. In 2008 it was the Davis Block, planted in 1957, the 2nd oldest planting at Coonawarra. The 2008 Davis Cabernet Sauvignon is quite different from the Black Label. It is very elegant, with a soft finish and hopefully enough acidity to last the distance. I liked this wine, as it clearly stood out from the crowd (93 points). I also tried a 1988 John Riddoch. It has obviously mellowed, but had great texture and a soft lengthy finish (94 points). Good Coonawarra should be cellared this long, but how many bottles survive 20 years?

The next bracket was Petaluma, Majella, Parker and Yalumba. The 2008 Petaluma Coonawarra, a Cabernet/Merlot blend, was typically elegant, with ripe fruit and a good mouthfeel (92 points). The Majella 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon showed pretty and ripe fruit with soft tannins - a dependable wine (90 points). Parker is no longer the star it perhaps once was, but the 2006 First Growth was quite a well balanced wine (91 points). Yalumba's main wine from the Coonawarra is the Menzies. The 2008 Menzies is elegant with ripe tannins, but lacks some fruit concentration (90 points).

Now we come to the wines that did not impress me. These include Bowen. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was a bit thin and not quite ripe (88 points). Brand's Laira with the 2006 Patron, a single vineyard Cabernet with elegant fruit, but also prominent oak and a flat finish (89 points). Highbank showed a strong 2005 Coonawarra blend, with good blackcurrant depth, but a harsh and acidic finish (91 points), and a weaker 2006, which was quite light and short (89 points). The Penley wines, an 09 Phoenix, the 2006 Chertsey blend and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve scored between 88 and 90 points, generally lacked structure, with the Reserve being the best wine. The 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Punters Corner and the 2005 Zema Family Selection Cabernet Sauvignon were very minty (89 and 88 points).

The big disappointments were two larger wineries which produced stellar wines in the past: Lindemans and Orlando. Orlando's 2005 Jacaranda Ridge was minty, but had a bit more depth than the Zema (89 points). The 2007 St. Hugo was dry and harsh (87 points). Lindeman's 2009 Limestone Ridge had a pleasant fruity flavour, but neither much depth nor length (88 points). The 2009 St. George was harsh and green (85 points).

So there you have it. A night with plenty of wine, some good, some not so good. Did any other reader attend?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard Merlot

Brian Croser has been serious about Merlot for a long time. He crafted Petaluma Merlots with great structure and savoury flavours. At Tapanappa, the Merlot comes from grapes planted in 1974 in Wrattonbully. Several months ago, I reviewed the 2003 and 2006 Tapanappa Merlots with very high scores.

This 2005 Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard Merlot is not quite as good. Yet it is a serious wine with a good structure as well. The redcurrant is the dominant flavour. The wine is elegant with quite firm tannins. The mouthfeel is a little flat, though.

Score: 93/++

Monday, August 15, 2011

Henschke Hill of Grace

What makes Hill of Grace so special? Clearly it is the age of the vines, up to 160 years old. But it translates into something very special on the palate. I was pondering this question, as I was drinking the 2002 Henschke Hill of Grace at a special occasion on the weekend. There is obviously a lot going on, and the wine is quite complex, but so are others.

Then I noticed something unusual. There are opposites woven together in this wine:
- creaminess and spice
- softness and intensity
- plum and mocca

This wine is like no other in Australia (or anywhere?). I enjoyed the 2002 immensely. It has a long life ahead (20+ years), but is great to enjoy now. A wine with a wow factor.

Score: 98/+++

Friday, August 12, 2011

Moorooduc Chardonnay

The 2009 Moorooduc McIntyre Vineyard Chardonnay has quite a firm yellow colour - a bit of a worry. Yet the flavours on the front palate are good: citrus, pear and apple - an appealing mix. The oak treatment appears light. But there are downsides: the mouthfeel is not that round and the finish a bit in-distinctive.

This is a modern Chardonnay in a Chablis style, but it lacks the linear features of the Chablis and its minerality.

Score: 89/0

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon

A week ago was Wynnsday. Less than a handful of Australian wineries manage to attract a lot of attention on their release day with tastings around the country. Wynns is one of them. I admire Wynns for two reasons: their long history of essentially unchanged wine and labels and the fact that they produce a serious $25 wine made for serious cellaring with their Black Label Cabernet. By all accounts, the 2008 and 2009 wines were well received.

But how does an older wine stack up? I opened a 1998 Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon to find out. The cork comes out fairly easily and is in good condition. The wine shows typical varietal character, with blackcurrant dominant. The wine is still quite juicy on the palate and the structure is holding up well. This is nice to drink. The tannins which are often a bit harsh on release have softened and are now attractive. Unfortunately, the finish falls off and is a bit thin.

Overall, this was well worth the wait. I think this wine will continue to drink well for 3-5 years. What more can you ask from a wine at this price point.

Score: 92/++

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Organic Vineyards and Biodynamic Treatments (last poll)

The influence of organic farming and winery management, and of the application of biodynamic principles is not easy to determine. It is therefore not surprising that nearly half of you thought the impact on wine is negligible. There are a number of wineries certified organic which claim benefits. But if they have been so from the beginning, who is to know? Only a longer timeline with changing conditions allows to make comparisons.

There are two wines which I have drunk for close to 20 years, where more organic and biodynamic principles have been applied over time. One is Cullen's Diana Madeline Cabernet/Merlot. This wine has become more lively and vibrant over the years. The fruit is ripe at much lower alcohol levels now. The other is Henschke's Mt. Edelstone. This wine could be heavy at times, maybe a little overworked. Again, since the biodynamic soil treatment has kicked in, I find this wine more alive and 'tasting of nature'. Of course, winemaking techniques may have changed as well.

My conclusion is that organic vineyard management allows more terroir characteristics to come through, and that biodynamic soil treatment further enhances the wine quality. As to the impact of lunar cycles, well, they have a big impact on tides, but I am yet to be convinced that certain activities in the vineyard or winery will have a different impact, depending on which day of the month they are carried out.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Felton Road Block 5 Classics

I have been collecting Felton Road wines from the early days, and have therefore access to everything. Generally, I have a love/hate relationship with Central Otago Pinot Noir. There is so much fruit upfront, and the follow through is often disappointing. However, Felton Road usually delivers.

I was curious to see how their flagship wine holds up after 10 years. So I opened a 2001 and a 2002 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir. The 2001 still displays concentrated black cherry fruit on the front palate, and it moves seamlessly to forest floor characteristics on the back palate. Overall the wine displays an attractive moorish character. The flavours last, and the wine finishes with silky tannins.

This is a rare, but good example of the benefit of cellaring Pinot Noir for quite some time. It now delivers the complexity built in, not just upfront fruit. I am convinced this wine will still drink well in five years.

Score: 95/++

The 2002 Block 5 is a bit lighter and not as gritty as the 2001. It still shows silky tannins and has a lasting finish.

Score: 94/++

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Voyager Estate Chenin Blanc

If you were to put a list together of the grape varieties with the worst image in Australia, Chenin Blanc would be at or near the top. Many Chenin Blancs used to be sweet, sugary and with no distinctive flavour. I must admit, I have not been tempted often to select a Chenin Blanc.

However, one should be careful with preconceived ideas. The 2010 Voyager Estate Chenin Blanc is excellent. It has more depth of flavour than its cousin, your average Sauvignon Blanc, it is crisp and refreshing, more so than your average Semillon, with lovely citrus flavours, not grassy.

This wine would be excellent with white fish or sushi and it is great value for (not much) money from a high quality producer.

Score: 91/+++

Monday, August 1, 2011

Spinifex 2009 Releases

I admire the work that Peter Schell does at Spinifex. I missed two tastings of his latest releases on the weekend. Has anyone tried these? What are your thoughts?

Exotics at Becasse

If you want to explore unusual wines, you may order the degustation menu at Becasse. We had
- 2009 Sylvaner, Domaine Jorg, Alsace
- 2009 Grace Koshu, Yamanashi, Koshy (Japan)
-2009 Alvaro Castro, Dao, Portugal
as whites, and
-2009 Pinot Noir, Oakridge, Yarra Valley
-2007 Meandro Do Vale Meao from Douro, Portugal, which is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinto Cao and Tinto Sousao
-2003 Tokaji, Chateau Derejla.

Is this just for effect or did it make sense, you may ask. Not easy to answer. Generally all wines were good food wines. As a result, they did not stand out individually other than the Douro from Portugal, which I thought was a great wine.