Monday, September 30, 2013

Kumeu River Chardonnay

Kumeu River is probably New Zealand's best known Chardonnay producer. I have not drunk their wines for a number of years, but the other day I picked up a couple of bottles from the cellar.

Kumeu River produces a number of different Chardonnays from different blocks of their vineyard. The 2007 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay shows the typical flavour profile of this producer. The fruit is quite tropical, melon and pappaya, but it is overwhelmed by oaky flavours and some butterscotch. This feels oddly out of place now if you mainly drink Chardonnays from Australia, although this wine is not nearly as big as some Californian Chardonnays. This wine was a relatively recent addition to Kumeu River's portfolio at the time, and I wonder what it adds. The palate is quite harmonious and the structure of this wine is balanced (well, too much oak for me).

Score: 90/-

The 2007 Kumeu River Mate's Vineyard is their 'Reserve' Chardonnay. The flavour profile is similar to the wine above, but a little creamier and more elegant, with malolactic fermentation playing a major part. This is a good wine, although it lacks some preciseness or linearity on the palate.

Score: 93/+

At six years, these wines have held up quite well. They are not dull, as many aged Chardonnays can be, but I would have preferred to drink them younger.  

Sunday, September 29, 2013


The second area I wanted to explore on my Victoria trip was the Macedon Ranges. Is this a potentially outstanding region or are there exceptional circumstances about Bindi and Curly Flat?

Bindi is the yardstick, but the property is not so easy to find. It is clear that Michael Dhillon (the best winemaker of Indian descent?) likes it that way. His vineyard, shown above, does not look like much, but the soil is quite special. Quartz and volcanic soil is mixed in with siltstone, sand and clay, with the upper part of the vineyard very rocky. Its elevation is over 500 metres. Michael is an interesting guy to talk to. He comes across as quite unassuming, but the whole positioning of Bindi is very strategic. It is clear that his prime focus is the vineyard, though. The property has been in the family for over 50 years, and his understanding of the site is quite deep.

Tasting became almost a sideshow, as we discussed the impact of the soil, organic principles, and the Bindi labelling. It was surprising though, to taste the high quality of his 2011 Chardonnays. This from a very wet year and a high altitude vineyard. The 2011 Bindi Composition Chardonnay comes from the middle and lower part of the vineyard. The citrus flavours are elegant and the wine is simply delicious (93 points). The 2011 Bindi Quartz Chardonnay has to be in the top three in Australia. The flavour profile is similar, but the wine is much more persistent. You need to be quite skilled to not judge this as a top Burgundy in a blind tasting. Lightness, yet length in the wine is astounding. Low yields and the temperature holding and sun reflecting qualities of the quartz are key to this wine (96 points). I also tasted the 2010 Bindi Original Vineyard Pinot Noir, which impresses with its fragrant and cherry flavours. These wines compare well against the best Australia has to offer, as demonstrated by the Block 5 in the recent Langtons Classification tasting.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mount Langi Ghiran

On the way back to Melbourne, it made sense to stop at Mount Langi Ghiran. I tasted their two best known red wines.

The flagship 2010 Mount Langi Shiraz is a disappointment to me. The peppery notes, not too overt, are attractive, but the red fruit in this medium bodied wine lacks the intensity of the better years. The wine is harmonious and balanced, but the finish falls a little flat.

Score: 91/0

In contrast, the 2010 Mount Langi Cliff Edge Shiraz, at a third of the price, delivers. This wine, from younger, but no longer young wines, is vibrant and full-bodied. It may be a little sweet for some, and it is not as piercing on the palate as a top Shiraz, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable, modern Shiraz.

Score: 92/++

Interestingly, I was told that the winery is likely to introduce a new wine at a price point between those two. This is not surprising, given the large gap, and the fact that the Cliff Edge always over delivers for the price. So what will happen is that the better grapes, which would normally go into the Cliff Edge, will go into a new wine. Let us watch out what this will do to the quality of the Cliff Edge.    

Thursday, September 26, 2013


The second winery I visited on my trip to Great Western was of course the historic Seppelt. It certainly has had a checkered history, but now seems settled with a range of very impressive wines centered on Victoria. I tasted three of the Shirazes.

The 2010 Chalambar Shiraz includes 60% fruit from Great Western and 40% from Bendigo. It shows pretty berry flavours with a sweet core. The wine is elegant, with savoury complexity on the back palate - an attractive package.

Score: 91/+

The 2008 Silverband Shiraz includes only Great Western fruit. The wine opens with the peppery bouquet typical for the region. The rich berry fruit is complemented by  peppery flavours all the way down the palate until the wine finishes on an acidic note.

Score: 91/++

The 2008 St. Peters Shiraz is sourced from the old vines below the winery. This wine shows interesting cherry flavours and stands out because of the depth of its fruit, as a result of the low yielding vines. The spice is more complex here and beautifully woven into the flavour profile.

Score: 94/++

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Thomas Braemore Semillon

Only two Semillons make the Langton's clissification. Andrew Thomas belongs there, too, in my opinion. In the meantime, you can enjoy his wine for much less than the others.

The 2010 Thomas Braemore Semillon comes in the typical lime and citrus spectrum. What impresses about this wine is the piercing linearity of the palate profile. It has a combination of fruit intensity and minerality not dissimilar to a Chablis premier cru. The finish is bone dry without plucking your mouth.

There is still a lot of primary fruit on the palate. This wine will live for a long, long time.

Score: 93/+++

Monday, September 16, 2013

Best's Wines

I took a trip to Great Western a few weeks ago and visited Best's (the website name is great, isn't it: The winery is one of the most historic in Australia. You can visit the original cellars, including the big vat where in the early days all grapes were thrown together: red, white, everything. The picture  shows the original vines from the Concongella block. The oldest vines are over 140 years old. The fruit goes into the exclusive Thompson Family Reserve Shiraz.

I tasted two interesting wines. The 2011 Best's White Gravel Hill Shiraz is a new single vineyard bottling from their second vineyard at 'Rhymney, 13km up the road. Normally this is blended into the Bin 0 wine, but in this difficult year, the company felt it was worth bottling this separately. The wine is bright and fresh, with red fruit flavours, but what stands out is how peppery the wine is. I have maybe never tasted a wine with so much white pepper flavour. The wine clearly stands out, maybe too much (89 points).

The 2010 Best's Bin 0 Shiraz is much more traditional. The colour is darker and the wine tastes of juicy plums. There is some pepper as well, but more in the background of this balanced wine. The tannins are fine, leading to a good length finish. This is a typical example of a premium cool climate Shiraz from Great Western (93 points).    

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pinot Noir Australia at Moncur Cellars

Most leading Pinot Noir producers show their new releases at this tasting, which happened a few weeks ago. I reported on this last year as well. Unfortunately, it was very crowded this year and not very enjoyable as a result. But it gives an opportunity to get across most wineries in one evening.

I felt that the styles are converging, which is a bit disappointing. The bigger Pinot Noirs, for example from the Mornington Peninsula, were toned down, the lighter wines were made more intense. Thankfully, the days of fruity Pinot Noirs are truly over in the better wines. And 2011 is really watery and disappointing as a general rule.

I will report in order of my rating:

The 2012 Coldstream Hills Deer Farm shows complex cherry dominated flavours on the palate with a nice mouthfeel and good length (93 points).
The 2010 Marchand & Burch "Mt. Barrow" from Great Southern is dominated by forest floor flavours, very savoury and European in style, with good length (93 points).
The 2010 Mount Mary is a very elegant and subtle style, with a weaker finish than desirable (93 points).
The 2011 Wantirna "Lilly" is quite an achievement for the vintage. The fruit is strawberry, with penetrating intensity, silky tannins and good length (93 points).
The 2008 Paringa Estate "The Paringa" has bigger and darker fruit - quite an intense and tannic wine (93 points)
The 2011 By Farr "Sangreal" is the other quite savoury and European style Pinot Noir. It has good depth for the vintage (93 points). The 2011 By Farr "Farrside" is lighter, softer and more feminine (92 points).

Close behind on 92 points were the 2010 Giaconda (savoury and penetrating, but not big); the 2011 Grosset (strawberry flavours, a bit bland, but good length); 2010 Glaetzer-Dixon "Reveur" (dark, big, complex flavours, balanced); 2010 Stonier Windmill (dark, fruit orientated, but not too big, good structure); 2011 Moorilla "Muse" (complex palate, fruit and mushroom, silky tannins) 2011 MacForbes "Woori Yallock" (light, strawberry flavours, silky tannins, good length); 2010 Bannockburn and Bannockburn Stuart (orange peel, quite smooth, lacks mouthfeel).

The weakest wines on 86 points were 2008 Savaterre (brown colour, quite aged and mellow); 2011 Yabby Lake (light, harsh); 2011 Tarrawarra (light); 2011 Stefano Lubiana Primavera (lolly flavours); 2010 Yarraloch Stephanies Dream (plump, not much depth)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How David Powell Lost Torbreck

It is with great sadness to see that David Powell lost control of his Torbreck winery. David has always divided opinion, but there is no argument that he produced exceptional wines, maybe not to everybody's taste, but exceptional nonetheless. I loved the 'Australianness' in these substantial wines. He has also been a great advocate for high quality growers and been a mentor to many in the Barossa.

I am copying below his email where he describes the events from his point of view.

Not from Roennfeldt road, as you may have heard by now. It’s a pretty sad story and one I want you to hear directly from me. Rumours are already flying out there and I want to set the record straight. It’s a bit of an essay but bear with me, we have seven years of history to cover here. Here goes…
Seven years ago, on a Friday night in Atlanta, Georgia, I met US businessman Pete Kight and his wife Terry who had come to meet me as fans of Torbreck wines. Discovering that they were heading to Oz that coming Christmas with their two children, I invited them over for a BBQ if they made it to the Barossa.
Come December the Kights did indeed make it to the Valley and joined my then wife and I with my two boys for a great summers night. Over an old bottle of RunRig the conversation turned to business and I was telling Pete how I had to somehow raise the money to buy out my then fellow shareholder Jack Cowin. 
Pete surprised me by offering to help, and although I needed a substantial amount of money, he said if it stacked up he would love to help me get my business back for my boys and me – I’d told him I’d always seen Torbreck as a legacy for my sons.
I could not believe my luck, I’d had no idea he was a billionaire. At the time I also remember thinking of the old saying that if it seems too good to be true it usually is, however I had my back to the wall so we proceeded with the deal.
That mistake cost me everything.
My lawyer advised me not to sign the deal that was presented to me, as there was a clause that would see me lose Torbreck if ever enforced. I told Pete my lawyer told me not to sign as it stood and needed to be amended. He responded by saying his lawyers were being over zealous and not to worry, we needed to get it done and could sort it out later. That he was only doing the deal to help me get Tobreck back for my family. 
Fast forward five years and the time has come as per the contracts for me to provide Pete an exit from the business. I was given six months to execute the buyout. And this is where the problem in the contract came into play – if I could not complete the deal in time my option would expire and he would own Torbreck. Despite my many protestations during the five years, that problem clause never was amended. One could take the view that that was intentional…
The deadline was the 27th of July this year and I was close to getting one of many suitors to sign up. At this stage I believed I only needed another couple of months to get the deal done – time I believed in good faith that I had. I’d also spent $250,000 and become deeper in debt to Pete trying to get the deal done, and was financially very vulnerable. There may have been significance in that. 
So imagine my surprise when working in Sydney, I was told Pete was at Torbreck. I was summoned home to attend a meeting with him and Torbreck Chairman Colin Ryan. 
When Pete invested in Torbreck I had taken on several million dollars of the debt personally, including the 1.14 million Colin had made out of the original deal with Jack Cowin. In my naivety I did not understand the significance of this. I was about to find out.
I walked in, sat down with Pete and Colin. No pleasantries were exchanged before Pete told me that my time was up, his shares in Torbreck were no longer for sale, and the company now belonged to him.
I was told that I was no longer employed by Torbreck directly, but could have my own company working for Torbreck as a consultant roaming the world selling wine on commission, and that that commission would be directed back to Torbreck to resolve the debt I had taken on in signing the deal. If I didn’t take the ‘job’ on offer, my debt would be called in and I’d be bankrupt.
I asked about my equity in Torbreck and was told that, as per the deal I’d signed, my equity was gone. I turned to Colin, who I've said publicly was like a father to me, and asked, ‘What about all the times we spoke about changing that clause?’ He just shrugged. I have to say that was one of the greatest betrayals of my life.
20 years of my life, all the backbreaking work of the early days bringing those beautiful old vineyards back to life. All the heart and soul poured into my wines, each with their own special character and story. Two decades of literal sweat, blood and tears, gone. The inheritance I’d built from nothing for my sons, and the staff who’d become like family. Gone. Just like that.
I’ve seen the article in Wine Spectator Pete claiming that I haven’t been responsible for hands-on winemaking since 2006. That’s just complete bullshit. I’ve been in the Barossa alongside the troops every single harvest since I founded Torbreck in 1994, and I take full personal responsibility for the quality of every wine with a Torbreck label on it. Turns out, that was going to be a problem for me too.
You see, everyone in that meeting knew there was a serious problem with the next vintage of The Laird – the 2009. Whilst I was away doing the job of selling wine, something happened in the particular barrel store where the wine is kept. For the first time in five years the volatile acidity in the wine had gone through the roof and left unchecked. I took responsibility for it and we tried to remedy it, but it couldn’t be done. I believe the ’09 wine is unsaleable at the high price we command for it.
I’ve always maintained that I have no problems selling wines for high prices and that my benchmark is would I purchase the wine myself. In this case the answer was no. Pretty easy to offer me a job selling wine on commission when The Laird is unsaleable, and The Laird is the difference between Torbreck being profitable or not.
To conclude the meeting I was ordered to take a month’s leave and think about the new role I was to play. I was also told not to come on company property other than my house, or talk to the other members of staff, who’d been told not to talk to me. Neither man shook my hand as I left the room.
The next day my company credit cards were revoked and the following day my company email was blocked. I found out all the other employees were told that Pete had bought me out of the company, in the presence of Colin and the company CFO David Adams. I was astounded that even though they both knew the truth, they remained silent.
I felt like I was cornered so I packed up my belongings from the house I had called home for 14 years and moved to a friends’ vacant house on the banks of the Para River which they are letting me have rent free. I had to leave my company car and another mate lent me a vehicle. You certainly find out who your friends are at times like these.
Then I removed all my stuff from the office and Cellar Door. I have been accused by the new management of pilfering my own property, including the painting you see on all the Torbreck labels which was painted by my own mother.
I’ve always tried immensely hard to be good to my team, and many of them have become dear personal friends. In the Wine Spectator article this week, it was stated that my management style was ‘volatile’. I’m particularly hurt by that because I treat my team like family, always have. I hope the new bosses can say the same. Pete’s company took over our sales in the US some time ago. I still keenly remember writing a sizeable cheque from my own pocket for one of our salespeople who’d been let go a week before Christmas, after seven years, with no severance pay. Bankrupt as I am likely to be, I won’t be able to do that this time around if anything should happen to my Torbreck people and it breaks my heart to think of it.
The day after I lost everything I received a letter from Colin. It contained my “resignation” which I was expected to sign. As per my employment contract, signing that letter would have left me with no severance pay and completely penniless. That battle is ongoing, but luckily one of Australia’s top employment lawyers is a big fan of my wines and is helping out free of charge. I’m incredibly grateful to him and the many friends who’ve rallied round me at this dark time.
The hardest thing in all of this mess has been telling my two sons their inheritance is gone. My eldest, Callum, is in France at the moment working for my great friends Erin and Jean Louis Chave. He expressed maturity beyond his 19 years by telling me, “Fuck that rich bastard, don't worry Dad, when I get home we will start something up together!”
So it has been great ride, if turbulent at times. Many of you will be thinking what an idiot to trust someone that much. I agree! I have been accused of playing the victim, of being dishonest, of being reckless with company money. If I’m a victim it’s of my own stupidity in signing that deal in the first place and I'm the first to admit it. The rest though, I strenuously deny. Money can buy a lot of silence but in the end the truth will always out.
As I sit here looking out over the river in the Valley I love so much, I’m determined that this will not be the last you have heard from me. Give me a few years and my son and I will have many great wines for you to enjoy, from some very surprising vineyard sources. 
Thank you sincerely for all for your support over the years. I am grateful first and foremost for the friends around the world I’ve made as I built Torbreck from nothing. They can take the company I built but they can’t take my passion. Torbreck’s just a label now – the future holds better things.
Cheers ,

Dave Powell

Friday, September 6, 2013

Langtons Classification Tasting

Langtons Classification is Australia's most authoritative categorization of its best wines. Langtons uses auction results to group the top wines into exceptional, outstanding, excellent and distinguished. Overall,123 wines are currently classified. How exactly this is done is shrouded in mystery.

For the second time, Langtons just organized a tasting of all these wines. Most wineries poured their current releases. Some were a bit sneaky, such as Bass Phillip and Wendouree, who only showed one of their wines listed - but their production levels are small -, some showed up to three years. All in all, it was an amazing tasting. If you wanted to taste all wines, you had roughly one minute per wine.

This was obviously not practical. I left out those wines that I either knew well or was not particularly interested in tasting (in this context). Given this format, I could not take decent tasting notes. So what I will represent here is my own classification into three levels, one being the best. What I was looking for at that level was a wine which had intensity or depth, balance and elegance and silky tannins (in reds). It also needed to stand out in terms of 'personality' or character. Following are my results:

Level 1: 2010 Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir, 2010 Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir, 2008 Henschke Hill of Grace, 2012 Jasper Hill Emily's Paddock Shiraz Cabernet Franc, 2010 Wantirna Amelia Cabernet Merlot, 2010 Torbreck RunRig Shiraz/Viognier.

Close to level 1 were: 2010 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 Dalwhinnie Eagle Shiraz, 2010 Dalwhinnie Moonambel Shiraz, 2010 Mount Mary Pinot Noir

Level 2:
2007 Penfolds Grange
2011 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz
2005 Chris Ringland Shiraz
2008 Clarendon Hills Astralis
2010 Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier
2011 Cullen Diana Madeline
2011 Giaconda Chardonnay
2010 Mount Mary Quintet
2010 (I think) Best's Thomson Family Shiraz
2008 Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz
2012 Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock Shiraz
2009 Kaesler, Old Bastard Shiraz
2009 Elderton Command Shiraz
2010 Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz
2010 Seppelt St. Peters Shiraz
2009 Torbreck Descendant Shiraz/Viognier
2010 Vasse Felix Heytesbury Cabernet Blend
2010 Yeringberg Cabernet Blend
2010 Castagna Genesis Syrah (also 2005)
2008 Pewsey Vale Contours Riesling
2010 Rolf Binder Hanisch Shiraz
2009 Tyrell's Vat 47 Chardonnay

Level 3:
2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon
2010 Noon Reserve Shiraz
2011 Pierro Chardonnay
2011 Lake's Folly Cabernet
2013 Leo Buring Leonay Riesling
2010 Mount Mary Chardonnay
2005 Wendouree Shiraz/Mataro
2012 Crawford River Riesling
2010 Savaterre Chardonnay

As you can tell, not a great night for white wines. Big bodied Shirazes did not dominate the top level, it was more subtlety which provided the highlights. A lot more could be said, but this post is already pretty long.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kooyong Estate Pinot Noir

Sandro Mosele is a very meticulous winemaker. He has established a very logical three tiered system for his wines, with the Estate wine sitting in the middle of the hierarchy. This wine is a blend from the different blocks surrounding the winery.

The 2008 Kooyong Estate Pinot Noir has a bright ruby colour and it tastes of red and black cherry. The wine has great intensity and penetration and quite a big mouthfeel. It is elegant and balanced and finishes with velvety tannins. It actually reminds me of the Kosta Browne I had a few days ago: not too many secondary characteristics (as the single-vineyard wines have), but an appealing flavour and structure profile nonetheless.

Kooyong Pinot Noir has never disappointed me and delivers at each price point. It might be the benchmark against which Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir could be measured.

Score: 94/++  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon

After the disappointment with Pahlmeyer, I opened a bottle of the second wine I brought back from the Napa a few years ago, the legendary S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon. Legendary because it was this wine which won the famous 1976 Paris tasting against French Bordeaux.

The 2007 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a vineyard now up to 40 years old, with quite varied soil, from alluvial to volcanic. This is a full-bodied wine, but not overblown. Blackcurrant flavours dominate on the front palate. The mid-palate is a bit flat, as is often the case with Cabernet Sauvignon. On the back-palate, there are savoury and mineral notes, matched with balanced tannins.

There is nothing striking about this wine, but it is well made and enjoyable to drink right now.

Score: 93/++