Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Zealand In A Glass, part 3

For many the highlight of the showing, I guess, the Central Otago Pinot Noirs. I found most of the wines uninspiring. There are too many imitators whose sites are sub-optimal and the grapes too young. There were some highlights, though.

The 2009 Maude Wanaka Pinot Noir, from the far north of this region, was as good as I remembered previous versions. The wine is fruit orientated, but not in the usual black cherry style, but rather tasting of strawberry with lifted and perfumed characters. This hand crafted wine has a silky finish and overall reminded me of the Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir (93 points).

The Wooing Tree Pinots are getting very expensive. The 2009 Pinot Noir is very dark, with savoury forest floor characteristics. It is quite an elegant wine, but the finish comes way too sudden (91 points). The 2009 Sandstorm Reserve is slightly more refined, but otherwise similar.

Gibbston Valley has a number of vineyards at their disposal. The 2009 China Terrace Pinot Noir comes from a 320m elevated vineyard. It shows red fruit at medium weight and good acidity (92 points). The 2009 Schoolhouse Pinot Noir, from a 400m high vineyard, is darker and tastes of black cherry. It has more power and complex savoury notes. Again, there is good acidity on the finish (92 points). These are wines you can put away for a while.

I scored the other wines I tried in the 90 to 91 bracket. They included the 2009 Akarua Pinot Noir, the 2010 Archangel Pinot Noir, the 2009 Chard Farm Mata-Au Pinot Noir, 2009 Domain Road Pinot Noir and the 2010 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir. Mt. Difficulty used to be in the upper echelon of Central Otago, but their standard wine seems diluted now, with only the reserve and or single vineyard wines being special.

As the scores demonstrate, there were no really poor Pinot Noirs in my tasting. This is one of the strengths of Central Otago. The average wine is of good quality. However, outstanding wines were hard to come by. The challenger to Felton Road did not show up.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New Zealand In A Glass, part 2

First, an addendum to the last post. I drank the regular St. Clair Sauvignon Blanc a couple of days ago and it is nowhere near the quality of the single vineyard wines I reviewed. Therefore, if you wish to drink excellent Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, seek out the single vineyard or Reserve wines of St. Clair.

Located at the eastern end of Waiheke Island is Man O'War. It has a big area of plantings and many vineyards to choose from. A star performer for this winery is its Chardonnay. I tasted the 2010 Chardonnay, grown on clay and volcanic soil, and the 2010 Valhalla Chardonnay from clay. Both wines are quite fresh with fairly acidic finishes. Lemon and peach flavours blend into the moderate use of oak (90 points).

On to Martinborough, from where I only tasted the 2009 and 2010 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noirs. These were highlights of the tastings. This winery has been at the forefront of New Zealand quality Pinot Noir and it is still on song. The 2009 tasted of cherry fruit, which was quite forward in the glass. As the wine moved down the palate, it displayed its ethereal characters beautifully, leading to a long finish - probably my favorite wine of the tasting (94 points). The 2010 is similar in its structure, but darker and a bit more aggressive (93 points).

Greystone Wines are situated in the Waipara Valley, north of Christchurch. Its best Pinot Noirs are bottled under the Muddy Water label. The 2009 Hare's Breath Pinot Noir comes from an organic vineyard, if I am not mistaken. It tastes of red and black cherries and has a savoury, slightly untidy finish (91 points).The 2009 Slowhand Pinot Noir, from another single vineyard, is very dark, with a good tannin structure. It is masculine, yet elegant and has a satisfying finish (93 points).

phew! Only Central Otago to go now.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

New Zealand In A Glass, part 1

On this occasion, I had enough time to develop a tasting strategy beforehand. After reading the winery profiles, I decided to only taste premium wines, and do it by region. As a result, I learnt more than I otherwise would have. It is a good idea to take a strategic approach, in particular at large tastings. The only trouble was that the winery stands were more or less organised alphabetically. It therefore involved a fair bit of walking backwards and forwards.

I started with Marlborough. I wanted to revisit Sauvignon Blanc, as the expression of these wines is developing significantly. Unfortunately, I only managed to identify one interesting winery for this variety: Saint Clair. The three Sauvignons were impressive. The 2011 Block 18 Sauvignon Blanc  has mainly tropical flavours, pineapple and passionfruit, and a dry finish (93 points). This is a mile away  from your standard herbacious and sweet guzzler. The 2011 Block 21 Sauvignon Blanc is more typical, with herbacious flavours, but quite clean and dry (91 points). The 2011 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is a 'best of barrels' blend. Flavours are a bit more mixed (not necessarily an advantage), and there is some creaminess to the wine (I am not sure if it sees any wood) (92 points). All three wines are very clean and linear - impressive.

The other variety I tasted from here was Pinot Noir. Marlborough gets a bit forgotten in the fight for supremacy between Martinborough and Central Otago, but some great Pinot Noirs can come from here. The key is vineyard location. The better wines come from the more southern Wairau valley or the mountains south of the Marlborough flats.

What are the components of a great Pinot Noir? To me they are fruit concentration, savoury flavours, elegance, silky tannins and a widening finish, the famous Burgundy fan. Marlborough can actually deliver quite a bit of this. The fruit is vibrant, often red cherry, and most of the other components can be found in the best Pinot Noirs from the region.

Villa Maria is one of the prime exponents of good Marlborough Pinot Noir. The 2010 Selection Pinot Noir is a fresh, of red cherry tasting wine, with a silky finish. The mouthfeel is a little average though (91 points). The 2010 Southern Clays Pinot Noir comes from a vineyard at 300m altitude. The cool nights lead to a longer ripening period. This wine is quite concentrated, with black cherry flavours. It is elegant and silky (93 points) - an excellent wine.

The 2008 Spy Valley Envoy Pinot Noir comes from Wairau. It is quite similar to the Southern Clays, quite savoury, but not as full (92 points). The  2007 Auntsfield Heritage Pinot Noir is grown on New Zealands oldest vineyard, first planted in 1873. It lies high in the southern hills of Marlborough. This wine has quite a European expression, with floral aspects and minerality dominant. It is dry, with a long finish (93 points).

This set of Pinots was a great start, mind you, these wines are not cheap, say $50-90 per bottle.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Torbreck The Struie Shiraz

Dave Powell at Torbreck wants to produce ripe, full-bodied and voluptuous wines. They can be gorgeous. It is, however, disappointing to see some principles not changing in response to the variability of the season.

The 2005 Torbreck The Struie Shiraz comes from a hot vintage. Its fruit tastes overly ripe and somewhat porty. Even the Eden Valley fruit cannot lift this wine. It is too heavy. Obviously, as usual, the fruit was picked very late. The wine seems to suggest the optimum picking time was missed. I have recently tried the 2010, which was excellent, but this wine misses the mark.

Score: 87/--

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Special Pinot Noir Masterclass: Mountford Estate, Charteris Wines, Louis Latour

This was a special masterclass of quite rare Pinot Noirs. New Zealand wines, made in a Burgundy style, were pitted against Burgundy. The tasting had a perplexing outcome: while it was meant to showcase terroir, it would have been impossible in a blind tasting to accurately assess where the wines were from. The winemakers choices dominated these wines.

The star of this tasting was Mountford Estate from Waipara. CP Lin, the winemaker, Master of Wine, is blind. He therefore had to focus on smell and taste which are highly developed. He studied Burgundy in a lot of detail, and is very forthright and entertaining in his views.

The 2008 Mountford Estate Pinot Noir shows quite a restraint style, elegant, with forest floor flavours dominating. There is a high percentage of stems in this wine, which adds to complexity, but even more to tannin structure. This wine is about finesse, 'power of lightness' as CP calls it. The wine has a long, somewhat silky finish.

Score: 93/++

The 2009 Mountford Estate Pinot Noir  is also savoury and elegant. The warmer year, however, produces a more muscular wine with great length and a very silky finish. This wine will live for 20+ years. My wine of the night.

Score: 96/+++

The 2008 Mountford Estate 'The Gradient' Pinot Noir comes from a very steep section of the vineyard and a lot of slate in the soil, whereas the other vines grow on clay and limestone mix. Again, the bouquet is forest floor, and the colour of the wine is very dark. There is good depth of fruit here, but some meaty characters detract from the fragrant features, a Pinot Noir should demonstrate.

Score: 94/0

All these wines show a lot of minerality, which is 'liquified rock' in CP's language. They are quite unique with a lot of power as well.

The Charteris wines from Central Otago are a bit more mainstream, but still in the savoury corner, with stems being a prominent feature as well.

The 2008 Charteris Pinot Noir is quite vibrant with firm tannins, but lacks some mouthfeel.

Score: 91/0

The 2009 Charteris Pinot Noir is dominated by red cherries. It is fresh, with a good structure and some length.

Score: 92/++

The 2010 Charteris Pinot Noir is obviously very young. It is perhaps finer and more elegant than 2009, tasting of cherries and raspberries, but the finish is not expanding like a top Pinot Noir should. I marginally preferred the 2009.

Score: 92/+

Some Burgundies were shown in comparison. Those at similar price points (they were basic wines) disappointed, mostly because of short finishes. There was one 1er cru, the 2009 Louis Latour Gevrey Chambertin 'Les Cazetiers', which I enjoyed. This wine tasted of black cherries and was quite dark. It had good length as well, but lacked some of the charm top Burgundies display.

Score: 93/+

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pinot Noirs Tasted Last Week: Tasmania, New Zealand, Oregon

Last week I tasted a number of not so well known Pinot Noirs. Here are some brief notes:

 Apsley Gorge Pinot Noir, Tasmania. The winemaker used to be an abalone diver. Some career change! Apsley Gorge is not well known, and this is my first taste. I like it! The 2008 Pinot Noir wine tastes of cherry fruit, but the highlight is the texture and the silky finish (93 points).

Carrick, Central Otago. This winery burst onto the scene a few years ago with deeply concentrated Pinot Noirs, made for Shiraz drinkers. It got a bit quieter then, this is my first re-acquaintance. The 2009 Pinot Noir has cherry flavours and medium weight - a nice drink, but nothing special (90 points). The 2010 has more punch. It is a more savoury wine with firm tannins (91 points). The gem, and the best amongst the Pinots reviewed here is the 2007 Excelsior Pinot Noir. This is a 'best of barrels' wine. I was told I had the last bottle (!) from the winery. It tasted of concentrated black cherries which lasted on the palate for quite some time and finished firmly (94 points). As an aside, any 2007 Pinot Noir from New Zealand is good and preferable to anything that followed so far.  

Pisa Range Estate, Central Otago. The winery is bordered by Lake Dunstan and the Pisa Range. The 2008 Pinot Noir is a deeply coloured wine, with ripe and concentrated dark cherry flavours. It also tasted of spice and liquorice (92 points). The 2009 Pinot Noir is more fragrant and elegant (92 points).

Providence Vineyards, Tasmania. This vineyard is actually Tasmania's oldest, planted in 1956. The 2008 Black Reserve Pinot Noir shows some silkiness, but suffers from a short finish (90 points). The 2009 has good forest floor characteristics, but is a bit light (90 points).

Rimu Grove, Nelson, NZ. The 2007 Pinot Noir has soft strawberry flavours and is quite light (89 points). Maybe not all 2007 NZ Pinot Noirs are that great.

Wycroft, Wairarapa, NZ. The 2010 Forbury Pinot Noir comes from closely planted, low yielding Dijon clones. The wine is bright, but its structure is a bit simple and the finish harsh (88 points).

I also tasted a number of Oregon wines, mainly from the Willamette valley. In this climate, vintage variation is significant. The 2008 Pinot Noirs, from a very good vintage, can be powerful, yet refined. 2009 shows softer flavours, and the wet 2010 vintage delivered lighter wines. The wines tasted are not the best from the area, but are similarly priced to good Australian or New Zealand Pinot Noir.

Cristom. The 2008 Sommers Pinot Noir is quite dark with black fruit and spicy flavours. The wine is quite elegant, but suffers from a light finish (90 points). The 2009 Mount Jefferson Pinot Noir includes whole fruit clusters with strawberry and raspberry flavours. The wine is savoury and dry, but lacks some weight (91 points).

Evesham Wood. The 2010 Willamette Pinot Noir shows strawberry flavours. It is light and a bit thin (87 points).

Scott Paul. The 2008 La Paulee Pinot Noir has deeper cherry flavours, but the fruit is not very concentrated (88 points).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Domaine de Vauroux Montmains 1er Cru

The 2008 Domaine de Vauroux Montmains 1er Cru is an attractively priced Chablis and a good drink on a hot summer day. The colour is a pale green, hinting at the minerality of the wine. Do I taste oyster shells? The wine is quite lean and acidic, yet with a smooth and satisfying finish.

Score: 93/+++

Wines by KT

One winery I missed out on at the Riesling tasting was Kerri Thompson and the KT range from Clare. Luckily, I could catch up with her a couple of days later. These wines are a revelation. They are small production wines from well established grower vineyards - which give the wines the name - and made with great care.

The 2011 KT Peglidis Riesling shows very clean lemon and in particular lime flavours. It is very linear, not dissimilar to Grossett's Polish Hill. Yes, this is a big compliment  The wine drinks well now, although so young (94 points). The 2011 KT Churinga Riesling is bigger flavoured, clearly from richer soil. The wine is not broad, however, and a very good expression of Watervale (92 points). The off-dry is called Melva. This wine uses wild yeast for fermentation, and it is bottled unfined. The wine has a complex bouquet and a sophisticated texture. At only 9g of sugar, it is a lot less off-dry than many others (93 points).

Kerri Thompson is known for her Rieslings, but the KT Churinga Shiraz from the excellent 2010 vintage is also terrific. The fruit is vibrant. Kerri picks it earlier than anybody else in the valley. Still, the wine has good mouthfeel and a solid tannin structure (94 points).

I highly recommend all these individually crafted wines, made with great care. (The exception is the 2011 KT Rosa, based on Tempranillo. This wine is very simple and lacks savoury flavours, 85 points).

It is fascinating to see a group of new winemakers delivering a new take on our most traditional wine regions and doing it very well: Kerri Thompson in the Clare, Steven Pannell at McLaren Vale, Peter Schell in the Barossa, Andrew Thomas in the Hunter. Anyone for Coonawarra?


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Riesling Tasting

I attended a Riesling tasting which was part of the Frankland Estate International Riesling Tasting. As I mentioned in my last post, I don't drink sweet Riesling, but for those who do, I am reliably informed, you can't go past Framingham Wines, a New Zealand specialist producer of sweet Rieslings.

I started off with the 2011 Polish Hill and Springvale from Grossett, which I though would set a good high benchmark. So they did. The Polish Hill shows lemon and lime fruit, is dry and very linear (94 points). The Springvale, as expected, is a bit more for forward, dryness beats fruit flavour in this year, though (92 points).

The other exciting producer to me was Crawford River. The 2011 Riesling is a bit softer, but has great length (93 points).  The Young Vines Riesling is dry and quite vibrant (91 points).

Frankland Estate produces three dry Riesling, which come from vines grown on different soil. It was interesting to compare the Isolation Ridge, Poison Hill and Netley Road Rieslings, but they did not grab me. They are well made, with good acidity. I found the wines quite perfumed and battling with their dry status (90-92 points).

Other Clare Valley wines (Knappstein, O'Leary Walker, Mt. Horrocks) were a little weaker, still acceptable, but no doubt impacted by the wet 2011 vintage. Major disappointments were Petaluma and Pewsey Vale.

I tried a few German wines, but found them too fruity. The best was an 09  Gunderloch Rothenberg from the Nahe district. The Austrian Rieslings are a little different: They leave solids in the juice to increase mouthfeel and complexity. This style works for me. The Bruendlmayer  Heiligenstein showed attractive minerality (93 points), Pichler was almost as good, but the 2010 Salomon Undhof was too fruity for me.


Riesling, Riesling, Riesling

There were more Riesling tastings in Sydney in the last fortnight than you could poke a stick at. It was really silly, as most wines were the same, as the importers were doing the rounds.

The position of Riesling in Australia (and the US, for that matter) is a curious one. Wine writers and wine connoisseurs apparently love it. The wine drinking public ignores Riesling. Having been to one of the tastings and tasting 30 or so wines, I now have a theory why this is. We are basically used to drink dry white wines. They go well with seafood, salads, white meat. The dominant Riesling style here is also dry. But it hardly ever works. The Riesling grape is essentially quite fruity, and dry/fruity does not grab me, nor most people.

To be fair, the rage in the US has been sweet Spaetlese and Auslese style wines, mainly from the Moselle. And sweet or more modestly called off-dry Rieslings are gaining ground here as well. It suits the grape and is a more harmonious expression of it. But do I like it? - No. If I want to drink an aperitif, I prefer Moscato, also as a desert wine. And with Thai food, I prefer Gewuerztraminer or Gruener Veltiner. And I don't really need to consume extra sugar.

In conclusion, there are good reasons why Riesling is having a tough time. As a result, the herd is not following the latest fashion trend in white wine drinking.    

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Clarendon Hills Liandra Syrah

There are Parker wines and then there are Parker wines. The first group is overripe, high in alcohol and finishes with coarse tannins. The second group is also quite ripe, but lush and elegant. The fruit overcompensates the alcohol and the finish is backed by finer, silkier tannins.

This 2006 Clarendon Hills Liandra Syrah belongs to the second group. Roman Bratasiuk is perhaps not that well known, because all his wines are low volume and carry a hefty price tag, but I rate him as one of Australia's most outstanding and individualistic winemakers. One of his Astralis wines I drank a few years ago, provided me with one of the greatest wine experiences ever.

The 2006 Liandra shows sweet plum, and some earthy flavours as well. The wine is lush, with soft tannins and a silky mouthfeel. It has good length as well. The only concern I have is its lack of acidity. Drinking it now seems ideal, I would not keep it for the long run.

Score: 94/+++