Monday, July 23, 2012

Kristall Kellerei, Namibia

Posting has been a bit quiet lately, as I am travelling in Africa. A couple of days ago I visited one of three wineries in Namibia. It is in an unlikely spot, translated to Australia, north of Rockhampton. There is no winemaking or -drinking culture in Namibia, and the operation is incredibly primitive and naive: "Last year I needed to harvest very early, as I was going on holidays." Overall production is less than 1000 cases, all sold locally. They bottle in 500g bottles, which is neat. I will upload pictures later, I have difficulty doing it from the ipad. The vineyards do not look well, nor do the wines. They make a Colombard, which actually underwent a further fermentation in the bottle. It therefore was a little fizzy. The wine was unbalanced and would not be allowed to be exported if it was made in Australia. A clear wine fault - not rated. The red wine was a curious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet and Tinta Barocca. It was pleasant, but had no real structure and a short finish - more like alcoholic grape juice (80 points). You have to be a real enthusiast to run such a venture. The lucky thing for the owner is there is very little competition. Locals who want to drink home grown wine will try his, and probably do not know better. He is able to sell his annual production at about $10 per bottle, I think.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2001 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon is widely regarded as the best for the last ten years (what is it with the 1s? The 91 is brilliant). It is a very powerful wine, concentrated, yet still very lively. The colour is deep purple, the flavours blackberry and mulberry. The wine is ripe, but not sweet. All the pieces fit harmoniously together. The firm tannins, screw cap and  underlying acidity will deliver a very long lived wine, at least another ten years. This is as full bodied as a Californian cult wine, but with a lot more life in it.

Is this an example why Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of grapes? A Shiraz with this power and ripeness might be falling apart now. Using the descriptors in the last post, I would tick distinctiveness, balance, deliciousness, complexity, persistence and paradox, not so much grace, clarity and modesty.

Score: 97/+++

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Describing Wine

During the last week, I came across a couple of interesting articles about ways in which to describe wine. Tim White, the wine writer for the Australian Financial Review, uses very detailed descriptors for the wines he reviews. He was upset in his article that a journalist called  wine reviewers which are specific about aromas poncy people. He goes on to defend that he can distinguish all these flavours. My problem with Mr. White's reviews is a different one. Not that he might not be able to differentiate aromas, but that he uses food items as analogy which 99% of the population have never tasted. What is the point of such a description?

The other is an article by Terry Theise from three years ago, where he introduces a different set of principles by which wine experiences can be described and communicated. They are

He believes that in contrast power, sweetness, ripeness and concentration are overrated. Fruit or food comparisons do not even rate a mention.

Some of the above dimensions are frequently used, some are quite appealing to me, such as distinctiveness (uniqueness) and paradox (personality?), in particular as I was reflecting on the tasting described in my last post. But I cannot help myself but think that Mr. Theise is a Burgundy and not a Bordeaux fan. Grange would not score well on grace or modesty, yet it is a remarkable and highly valued wine.

The now regarded  as old fashioned spectrum between femininity and masculinity in wine is hardly enough to get an understanding of a wine from reading a review, but Tim White's detailed approach is often not more helpful.

I have stuck to fairly simple flavour and structure distinctions, which often relate to fruits, ripeness and concentration. The listing above cannot sensibly replace this, in my view, but it made me think to give some of these dimensions more prominence in the future.

What do you think? What is most valuable to you?  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Superstar Shiraz Tasting

The most reputable wines are generally not entered into wine shows. It is therefore not often that one finds an opportunity to compare the best wines of a kind in a tasting. This post reports from such a tasting. It compared leading current release Shiraz wines from the different Australian regions plus the Rhone. The wines were

- Auguste Clape Cornas 2008
- Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2010
-Giaconda Estate Shiraz 2010
-Bests Thompson Family Shiraz 2010
-Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2009
-Wolf Blass Platinum Shiraz 2008
-Gaelic Cemetery Vineyard Shiraz 2008
-Henschke Hill of Grace 2006
-Penfolds Grange 2007

Generally speaking, in such a line-up, the point is not to identify good and not so good wines, but to identify how the styles differ. In fact, two wines did not quite deliver, but more interesting was the wide spectrum which Shiraz can express. The order of the wines was supposed to reflect the increasing weight of the wine.

The Auguste Clape Cornas is from the most southern area of the Northern Rhone, i.e. the warmest area which delivers pure or near pure Shiraz in the Rhone region. Auguste Clape is one of the most highly regarded producers. As is nearly always the case, French wines do not come out too well in comparative tastings with Australian wines, as their fruit concentration simply does not match the Australian wines. However, this wine shows complex raspberry and cherry flavours and spice. It has a dry finish - an excellent food wine (94 points).

The Viognier component is very noticeable in the 2010 Clonakilla. The wine has a similar fruit profile to the French wine, but is more fragrant, with a lifted finish (94 points).

The Giaconda Shiraz is not from the Warner vineyard, but the Estate vineyard next to the winery. Kitzbrunner believes that this vineyard will ultimately deliver the better wine. I do not think this is happening yet. I found this wine disappointing and lacking in mouthfeel. It is a darker wine, tasting of blackberry and spice, but not much intensity. The finish is dry and not very long (92 points).

The Bests wine has a similar blackberry flavour, but more depth of fruit and length. It shows some mint on the palate and some traditional oak treatment, but it is a clear and vibrant wine (93 points).

The Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz is a step up in power. The wine is quite oaky, and the tannins are coarse on the palate. I find that the blackberry, plum and mint flavours do not quite stand up to this (93 points).

More  sweet vanilla oak flavours come through on the Wolf Blass wine, as expected. However, there is good fruit underneath and some silkiness in the tannins coming through (92 points).

The second wine which disappointed was the Gaelic Cemetery from the Clare Valley. I am not familiar with this small production wine, but found it quite sweet and sugary, and not based on a great structure (90 points).

The Henschke Hill of Grace was as expected. A gentle wine, not dissimilar to the Cornas, actually. Raspberry fruit and spices (not pepper) lead to a complex flavour mix. There is good upfront fruit, and soft tannins lead to a sustained finish (95 points).

What makes the Penfolds Grange stand out from the wines before is the intensity and length of flavour. This is a big wine, less refined than some of the others, but a unique expression of Shiraz (96 points).

Given the price of these wines, there was a considerable tasting fee for this tasting - fair enough. In parallel, another tasting of less expensive Shirazes was held for free. There were two wines there which I could have seen in this group from a quality point of view.

The Seppelt St. Peters Shiraz 2008 is a lighter wine, quite spicy, and not with the same mouthfeel as the others, but fine tannins to finish off with (90 points).

The John Duval Entity Shiraz 2010 was a highlight. It has a complex fruit set, in the raspberry, blackberry, mulberry spectrum. The wine is very harmonious and has a firm finish. His best effort yet (93 points).

Within one hour, I tasted wine worth more than $2000. Yet overall, I did not feel elated, but rather flat and disappointed. Why? Did my high expectations make it hard to be excited? I do not think so. I was there to have a good time. Did the wines all taste the same? They certainly did not. So what was it? I think in the end it was the predictability of what I found. There were no surprises. And while the quality was good and the wines were not overblown, they strangely lacked personality, as if a robot went through the motions of producing the expected product, bottle by bottle.

Any thoughts?    

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock

Onto another wine from 2002. This time it is the 2002 Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock. This wine is from a mature, organically grown and low yielding vineyard. It is dominated by redcurrant flavours, supported by white pepper and earthy notes. The wine is complex and lively, with firm tannins and good length.

This is how I expect a first class Shiraz to taste after ten years. It  still shows vibrant fruit, but mellow characters have increased the complexity. The wine has good weight, but is not heavy. As you finish your first glass, you are looking forward to the second.

Score: 94/++

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Two Hands Ares Shiraz

The Ares is the 'best of best grapes' Shiraz of this Shiraz specialist. The 2002 Two Hands Ares Shiraz demonstrates why this is a problematic approach. 'Best of best' means automatically the ripest and most concentrated grapes. As a result, this is a very dark wine, tasting of plum and blackberry, and overwhelmingly thickness and sweetness. It is one of those wines where you cannot drink more than one glass. Having said this, the wine is not poorly made. It is still relatively lively at 10 years, the berries do not taste burnt, but there is no differentiation in the wine, rather a big, black mouthfull. The wine is rated at 14.5% alcohol, which is not uncommon for Barossa Shiraz, but it feels more like 15.5%. The wine is not hot, though, because of the impressive fruit concentration.

At the end of the day, this is a misguided effort. The wine is expensive because it is rare. It is rare, because it only uses the ripest and most concentrated grapes. These grapes make the wine hard to swallow. And who would want to survive an evening on one glass of wine?

Score: 91/--