Thursday, November 22, 2012

The New Jimmy Watson Trophy Winner: Best's Bin 1, 2011

I should preface this post by saying I am not joining the mob which currently and fashionably rubbishes big South Australian Shirazes. I think these are unique wines in the world, and if not overripe, can be fascinating and complex wines. So I have no initial bias towards Victorian Shiraz. I am also concerned about cooler climate wines from 2011, which was very wet in the Eastern parts of Australia.

So when I heard that the 2011 Best's Bin 1 Shiraz, their 3rd tier wine, won the Jimmy Watson Trophy, my first reaction was that this was 'politically' motivated, a lighter wine had to win (like last year).

However, the proof is in the glass, so here it goes: This wine has a beautiful aroma of blackberry and black cherry. The fruit of this medium-bodied wine is very pure and intense and has great linearity. There are also exotic spices on the palate and silky tannins, leading to a smooth finish. On the second day, the wine had not deteriorated and still offered a rounded mouthfeel.

This wine is an outstanding expression of cool climate Victorian Shiraz. It also offers excellent value for money. Grab it while you can!

Score: 95/+++

36 Bordeaux wines from 2009, part 3

I was expecting wines from the left bank to shine. They are Cabernet Sauvignon based, and in a warm year, this grape will ripe well, without green- or leafiness.

The wines from Margaux were strong across the board. I liked Chateau Ferriere, a full-bodied wine, fresh and elegant with some forest characters and good length (95 points). Chateau d'Issan was also impressive: a rich and concentrated wine, with redcurrant fruit, violets and fragrant flavours, an elegant and balanced wine with soft tannins (94 points). In a similar mould is Brane de Baron. This wine also shows tobacco and meaty flavours and a higher tannin level (93 points). Chateau Giscours has a sweet ripeness, but I found the wine a bit bland by comparison (93 points).  The weaker wines in this bracket were Chateau Prieure Lichine and Dufort Vivens. They  have depth and elegance, but were a bit leafy and bitter and a bit disjointed (92 points).

In the bracket from St. Julian was the other 100 point wine from Parker, Chateau Leoville Poyferre. It is a dark, full-bodied wine with plenty of oak, not ready to drink for 10 years. Many felt it falls off at the finish, and the wine was not too well received (93 points). My favorite in this bracket was Chateau Lagrange, a medium-bodied wine with  great aroma and good intensity. The linearity and elegance on the palate impressed (94 points). I also liked  Petit Caillou. This wine was less concentrated, but elegant, with lifted aromas, a good structure and a lengthy finish (94 points). Chateau Langoa Barton, a well known wine, was very powerful, oaky and tannic. Keep your hands off for 10 years (93 points). Les Fiefs de Lagrange was uneven. Quite ripe, but some greenness as well, and a little hot (92 points). And finally, Chateau Beychevelle, another well known wine, disappointed. An opulent and ripe wine, but not giving me much to be excited about (92 points).

Further north, from Paulliac, three wines impressed. Petit Mouton, the second wine of Mouton-Rothschild was fragrant, elegant, with well integrated oak and high quality tannins (95 points). Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste had good depth of flavour and a long finish (94 points). And Chateau Haut Batailley was also quite concentrated, with soft berry flavours, good length and a slightly oaky finish (94 points).

Overall, as you can tell, my ratings are high. The overall standard is excellent, with depth of flavour and elegance. The expensive wines show a lot of oak and are quite tannic. They need to be left alone for at least five to ten years. My ratings did not correlate very highly with price. Before you fork out a fortune, I highly recommend you buy one bottle to taste. Do not be guided by reputation alone.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

36 Bordeaux wines from 2009, part 2

In this post, I will review some of the wines tasted. I start with the right bank. The wines from St. Emilion showed particularly well.

Chateau Bellefont Belcier was my favorite from this bracket. The purity of the blackberry fruit is beautiful. The wine has depth, but is very polished and elegant (97 points). Chateau Magdelaine was also excellent.
A complex wine with berry flavours and fragrance. There is minerality in this wine, cedar and cigarbox. The wine is soft initially, with a fine tannin structure (96 points). Chateau Frombauge has a similar profile. It also shows violets and spices. The finish is slightly hot (94 points). As mentioned in the previous post, Chateau Pavie is a massive wine. Oak and tannins currently dominate the fruit core. The wine is quite acidic and astringent (92 points). I rated Chateau Quinault L'Enclos and Chateau La Dominique less highly. These wines are less well balanced, with partly jammy fruit and abrasive tannins (91 points).

Avoiding overripe fruit was the major challenge in 2009. This is obvious in the tasted wines of Pomerol, where some wines tasted jammy, narrowly avoiding over-ripeness. Chateau Bon Pasteur was my favorite here. Mulberry flavours deliver a good mouthfeel. The wine is concentrated, weighty and fleshy with a lot of oak. I found it quite balanced with attractive tannins, dancing on the tongue (94 points). Chateaus Bourgneuf, Mazeyres and L'Hospitalet De Gazin suffered from very ripe or dried fruit (91/92 points). In contrast, Chateaus Lafleur Gazin and La Pointe showed quite a bit of leafy characters, possibly as a result of a large Cabernet Franc component in the wine (91/92 points).

Some gems can be found in other, less prestigious appellations. A real find in this tasting was Chateau Villars from Fronsac. This appellation is also on the right bank, west of St. Emilion. This wine shows beautiful berry fruit and also some earthy characteristics. The wine is balanced with good weight and length, although perhaps a bit broad in the mouth. It finishes with firm tannins and the best bit: it is really cheap (93 points).

The higher rated wines are all quite approachable now. They are elegant and let the fruit speak. I think you could drink them very well in two to three years. They have great balance and will easily live for 15 to 20 years.

Monday, November 19, 2012

36 Bordeaux wines from 2009, part 1

Tasting 36 wines is a bit of a daunting task, but when these are Bordeaux wines from one of the best vintages ever, you may be prepared to do it. As it turned out, this was a fantastic tasting.

First of all, to a number of general observations.

1) The old saying "In poor vintages, buy the top producers, in good vintages, buy the cheaper ones" is certainly good advice for 2009. Prices for the 1st growth wines and some others are stratospheric, but this tasting showed that some reasonably priced wines are terrific.

2) The tasting was done in brackets of six, by sub-region. We knew the wines, but not the order they were tasted in. Therefore, the individual wines were tasted blind. There were two 100 point wines (Robert Parker) in the line-up: Chateau Pavie and Leoville Poyferre. I did not rate them highly: both wines have a good fruit core, but are dominated by oak and massive tannins. They will need a lot of time. But why mask the beautiful fruit and elegance this vintage can produce? There were plenty of other wines which are approachable now and will age gracefully for a long time as well.

3) The sub-regions (appellations) showed very distinctive characteristics, driven by grape varieties and terroir. On the right bank
- St. Emilion: dominant grapes are Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The soils are clay-like limestone with good water holding capacity. The wines tend to be rich and supple, naturally high in alcohol and lower in tannins.
- Pomerol: mainly Merlot. Slightly lower in alcohol and more tannin than St. Emilion. The good wines show a blend of power and delicacy.
On the left bank:
- Margaux: primary grape is Cabernet Sauvignon. The soil is fine and gravely, often almost white. The wines are delicate and feminine.
-St. Julien: this is north of Margaux. Primary grape is Cabernet Sauvignon. The soil is gravel and clay. As a result, the wines have similar characteristics to Margaux, but are richer and fuller bodied.
-Paulliac: further north again, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines are powerful, with firm tannins.
-St. Estephe is similar, but was not well represented.

In my next post, I will describe some individual wines.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra

Domenico Clerico is one of Piedmont's star estates and the Ciabot one of the two celebrated single vineyard wines. I was looking forward to tasting the 2008 Domenico Clerico Ciabot. I did this at about midday, and I was not prepared for this. The wine is incredibly dry and tannic. The tannins pluck the sides of your tongue and grip you relentlessly. The wine is way too tough to drink now and will need at least five years to come around.

I do not believe that such a sensation as described above is good tannin management. The tannins should affect the mouth evenly and not be so astringent. I find it impossible to score the wine now.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Head Wines (Shiraz)

Head Wines have created quite a buzz since coming onto the scene a few years ago, mainly because of the vibrancy of its fruit. The two major wines are two single vineyard wines from quite different sites. Cheekily, they are called Blonde and Brunette in reference to the famous Guigal wines from the Rhone.

Those who read my posts regularly will know that I am not too keen on vintage generalizations, but the 2011 vintage in Eastern Australia is an exception. The vintage was simply horrible with grapes not ripening and fighting mildew.

Therefore, I had quite low expectations when tasting the 2011 Head Blonde and the 2011 Head Brunette.  The Blonde is quite savoury and earthy, with fruit flavours of plum and raspberry not very concentrated. The structure of the wine is surprisingly good. There is a good grip on the finish (90 points).

The Brunette, which comes from a high quality Moppa vineyard, is usually the bigger and more concentrated wine, and so it is in 2011. This wine has a darker colour. The blackberry fruit delivers a rich mid palate. The oak is noticeable, but still in a supporting role. This wine has an elegant finish and is a terrific effort for the year (93 points).

Alex Head was present when I tasted the wines, and his explanation of 2011 was a new version of spin: "2011 has largely been misunderstood". He could not avoid a devious smile, though, and continued to talk about 2012. Be that as it may, the Head 2011 wines are pretty good drinking.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Kooyong Farrago Chardonnay

There are not many Australian Chardonnays which I would keep for more than three to four years, but I put a couple of bottles of the 2005 Kooyong Farrago Chardonnay aside to drink now.

The colour looks a healthy mid yellow. And in fact, the wine is still lively. Apricot and white nectarine flavours are augmented by a strong note of minerality. The wine is elegant with moderate acidity giving the wine a lift on the finish. - An attractive proposition.

It would be the right time to drink this wine now, but I expect it to stay at this level for another two to three years.

Score: 93/++

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lake's Folly Cabernet

Lake's Folly is an oxymoron. It produces a highly regarded Cabernet , yet the Hunter is known for Shiraz. It also produces a good Chardonnay in 'Semillon country'. It must be the very specific site that allows this outcome.

The 1998 Lake's Folly Cabernet tastes of blackcurrant, violets, tar and many other things. The wine is earthy. Lake's Folly has a reputation for long lasting Cabernets. I have sometimes been disappointed with their wines once they are 15 years plus old. This one is perfect to drink now. It is a mature wine with a lot of interesting things happening, including spices and silky tannins. I would not cellar this wine any longer, though.

Score: 94/++

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Hunter Valley Wine Show Rip Off Continues

I walked down to Balmoral today, and accidentally into the Hunter Valley wine show, where individual companies put up booths for tasting.

This is the deal: you pay $7 for a wine glass you would not even have your cat drink from. Then you buy tasting tickets for $3.50 each. Let's assume you buy four tickets. Most wines for tasting cost $20 to $25 per bottle. You pay the same amount for four tastes at 60ml each. That is you pay an amount for 240ml which would normally buy you a 750ml bottle. From the winery's point of view: it would get 12 serves out of a bottle, equals $42 per bottle, not a bad mark-up.

Now there were some $40-$50 per bottle wines, but you had to hand in two tickets for those. Let's say we used our tickets for two such tastes. That would be $10.50 per taste. Pretty steep, isn't it? From the winery's point of view a similar mark-up over retail: 12 times $7.

You might say, they had to drive there, bring equipment etc. But it is supposed to be marketing, right? I went home and enjoyed a beautiful Chardonnay at home.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Phi Pinot Noir

De Bortoli produced a stunning new Pinot Noir in the Yarra Valley. The 2010 De Bortoli Phi Pinot Noir comes from the Lusatia Park vineyard in the Upper Yarra Valley.

This first vintage delivers an aromatic bouquet. The flavours are black cherry, but there is a lot of complexity there with savoury and smoky undertones. The purity of the wine is excellent. It goes beautifully down the palate with good length and an expanding finish: a terrific debut.

This wine has won a number of trophies and deservedly so. Check it out.

Score: 95/+++