Friday, February 28, 2014

NZ by the glass

This year, this show has been shrunk considerably. Only about 30 wineries showed their wines, and many premium wines were not available for tasting. As a result, the mood was a bit subdued. This did not improve through the tasting.

I tasted a number of Pinot Noirs, apart from a Man O' War Chardonnay, which I quite enjoyed. But what is happening with the Pinots? Same, same! Where is the personality?

The two interesting Pinot Noirs were the 2011 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2010 Villa Maria Southern Clays Pinot Noir. The Martinborough is like an iron fist in a velvet glove. The colour is quite light, but the wine is building on the palate, with attractive mushroom flavours. There is a brooding character there and the finish has great length (93 points). The Villa Maria shows what Marlborough can do with Pinot Noir. This wine has red and black berry flavours. It is quite intense and delivers a great mouthfeel. It is more fruit than savoury, but a serious wine (94 points).

The other wines I tasted, from north to south:
-2011 Escarpment Pinot Noir and Kupe Pinot Noir: savoury, a bit lean, 89/88 points
-2012 Martinborough Vineyard, Te Tera Pinot Noir: fruit forward, not intense, but elegant, 88 points
-2011 Ara Resolute Pinot Noir: pretty, but lacks structure, 87 points
-2011 Saint Clair Block 14 Doctor's Creek Pinot Noir: fruit forward, harmonious, 89 points
-2012 Saint Clair Block 16 Awatere Pinot Noir: darker, fuller bodied, black cherry, short finish, 91 points
-2012 Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Pinot Noir: good complexity, but a bit fruit forward, 91 points
-2010 Villa Maria Taylors Pass Pinot Noir: quite austere, yet intense with soft tannins, 92 points
-2009 Domain Road Paradise Pinot Noir (Central Otago): dark fruit, not a big style, finish shap, 89 points
-2012 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir: lighter style, a bit metallic with a boring finish, 88 points
-2009 Nevis Bluff Pinot Noir: red fruit, bright and pretty, 90 points
-2008 Nevis Bluff Reserve Pinot Noir: more intense, but not very balanced, 90 points

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sons of Eden Puma

Sons of Eden is run by two young talented winemakers who have gathered experience at leading edge wineries.

The 2010 Sons of Eden Puma is a Cabernet based blend, including Shiraz and Tempranillo. So, what happened here? Sure, this is not an expensive wine, but does it need to taste of syrup, with no varietal character whatsoever? There is some complexity in the fruit, but the dominant factor is its sweetness. The structure is weak and the finish is not lasting. The wine is plummy and overripe.

You guys can do better than this!

Score: 84/--

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay

In the same way in which a new painting graces the label each year, there is quite a bit of vintage variation in the bottle. However, I have never been disappointed. The quality of the wine is a constant.

The 2007 Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay is more powerful than previous vintages, yet the wine is not broad on the palate. Peach, ripe pear and mango flavours dominate. The high quality new oak is beautifully integrated and provides some creamy nuances to build complexity. The finish is long and persistent.

I have often written about 'paradox' as a key attribute to great wines. In this case, it is the intensity of the fruit on the one hand, yet the precision and linearity of the wine as it goes down the palate on the other. Exciting!

This wine is nicely balanced. It drinks beautifully now, and has at least five good years ahead. The colour is still a fresh yellow, and there is enough acidity in this 'tropical' wine to carry it into the future.

Score: 96/+++  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2004 Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied wine with big mouthfilling blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. The power of the terra rossa terroir is very obvious here. However, the wine is very syrupy, and  not differentiated.

For years, I have had problems with Katnook wines. Ten years ago, I found the oak treatment over the top, and this wine is just one big fruit bomb, with a plump finish. Katnook sits on prime wine-growing soil, but it does not seem to get its wines right.

Score: 87/--

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Elio Altare Barolo Brunate

The 2000 vintage is regarded as an absolutely outstanding vintage in Piedmont. The Brunate vineyard is the prime vineyard in the subregion of La Morra, and one of the best in Piedmont. What happens when the two come together? You get a divine wine, at least at the hands of Elio Altare who owns a sizable portion of this vineyard.

The 2000 Elio Altare Barolo Brunate is a medium to full-bodied wine. Altare was the key innovator in Piedmont to reduce maceration times of  Barolos, and the benefits come to the fore in this wine. This wine is quite feminine, with its red cherry and rose petal flavours, but it is firm at the same time. The wine is smooth and soft, but penetrating on the palate. It is in great harmony. The tannins are present all the way, but stay in the background. The finish is long and quite dry.

This wine drinks superbly right now, but will become even more complex over time. I have no doubt it will live very well for another 10 years, probably longer.

Score: 98/+++

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Rootstock Sydney, part 2

In the first part, I reported on the wines which particularly impressed me. In this blog, I will comment on the other wines I tried. As an introduction, I need to say that the tasting hall was incredibly hot. As a result, most wines were not served at optimum temperature.

The Australian wineries I visited take the biodynamic regime very seriously and do not use any additives. This made some wines quite volatile. One such example was the 2011 Pinot Noir from Lethbridge (84 points). I have tried these wines in the past. Sometimes they can be quite good, but this one was not, unfortunately. You would never think that the 2013 Shobbrook Seppeltsfield Syrah is from the Barossa. This wine is feminine and lifted. Quite beautiful now, but will it age (92 points)? Castagna has been a top producer from Beechworth for many years. The biodynamic regime has become more rigorous, but I am not sure it has improved the wine. The flagship 2010 Genesis Syrah shows beautifully pure plum fruit, and is overall quite savoury (93 points), but I was disappointed with the 2007 Castagna 'Sauvage', a Shiraz/Sangiovese blend. This wine had mint and savoury flavours and was overall quite tough (88 points). I do not know much about Yangarra from McLaren Vale. The 2010 Shiraz is quite smooth, but a bit fruity (88 points). The 2012 Old Vine Grenache is also fruity, but has a nice lift on the finish and a good acid/tannin balance (91 points). I was not impressed with the wines from Ochota Barrels. I found the 2013 Surfer Rosa too sweet (85 points), and the 2013 Green Room, a Grenache based blend quite syrupy and too much in your face (86 points). - As you can see, these were a mixed bag.

Burn Cottage is from Central Otago. It is a new winery and its 2012 Pinot Noir is pretty and pleasant, but lacks depth (88 points). The Hans Herzog Estate from Marlborough is much better known. Their wines often distinguish themselves through great purity. I tried the 2012 Gruener Veltiner. It has strong pear flavours, but finishes quite short (88 points). Pyramid Valley, from Canterbury, is regarded by some as a cult winery, mainly because of its quite isolated location and densely planted home vineyard. I found the 2011 Kerner Vineyard Pinot Blanc fruity and a bit simple (86 points). However, the 2011 Lion's Tooth Chardonnay from the home vineyard is impressive. The mango and exotic fruit flavours are strong,distinctive and very complex, with good length. A wine I still remember well, but production is less than 200 cases (93 points). The 2010 Cowley Vineyard Pinot Noir has strawberry flavours and is quite earthy (91 points). More impressive is the 2011 Earth Smoke Pinot Noir from the home vineyard. This wine is also based on strawberry flavours. It is quite precise and has good length (93 points). This is a winery I will keep an eye on.

Now on to some exotic pursuits. Pittnauer is an Austrian winery focussed on red wine, unusual for this country. I tried the 2010 Rosenberg St Laurent. Sankt Laurent is an indigenous grape I never tried before. I did not like it one bit. I thought the wine was very flat and acidic (less than 80 points). Pheasant's Tears
is from the Caucasus region in Georgia. Georgia actually has quite an extensive wine production.  This winery, owned by an American, makes wine from indigenous grapes, based on ancient methods of natural wine making in the area. I tried the  2009 Rkatsiteli, an orange wine, which I thought was unusual, but not interesting (80 points), and the 2007 Saperavi, a relatively light red wine. It showed blackberry and plum flavours, nice tannins and some length (88 points).

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chateau Clerc Milon

A well known strategy of buying Bordeaux is to buy the second label of a first growth winery in a good year. The theory is that the wine gets all the benefits of first class wine-making, while terroir or viticulture is unlikely to be at that level.

The 2003 vintage was regarded as top notch at the time. Oh well, 2005, 2009 and 2010 came later, how would you know. So I was curious how the 2003 Chateau Clerc Milon, owned by Mouton Rothschild, would taste after 10 years.

This is a medium bodied Cabernet, in fact a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend. The flavours are typical Cabernet redcurrant, also dried cherry. The wine is quite well balanced, with the oak in the background, but supporting the structure of the wine. However, the mouthfeel of the wine is quite shallow. The wine is not very complex and the finish flat. The grapes simply do not measure up to exceptional quality. So the strategy did not really work in this case. Having said this, the 2003 Clerc Milon is a pleasant wine to drink. It will not get better. If you have it, drink up.

Score: 89/0

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Kalleske Johann Georg Shiraz

Kalleske is a family company based in the picturesque Moppa subregion of the Barossa Valley. It has been a major supplier to Penfolds, with its old vine grapes going into Penfolds Grange. As these vineyards have come out of contract during the last 10 years, Kalleske started to bottle ultra premium wines from these single vineyard sources. The Kalleske Johann Georg was the first, based on vines more than 130 years old.

It was therefore with considerable anticipation that I opened the 2006 Kalleske Johann Georg Shiraz. The wine is full-bodied, similar in style to Torbreck. It has a big mouthfeel of ripe plum. The wine is borderline in a number of ways: the alcohol is high and the grapes are very ripe. What saves the wine is the quality of these low yielding vines and the intensity of the fruit, but it takes away the nuances and complexity these grapes could have shown if they had been harvested earlier. The tannins are sweet and the wine has a long, but slightly alcoholic finish.

This was the time when the 'Big Barossa' still reigned supreme. The dry weather did not help. It will be interesting to see how the profile of this wine will develop from 2009 on-wards. It has great potential, but this was not realized in 2006.

Score: 92/0    

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Rootstock Sydney 2014, part 1

Sounds a bit like Woodstock, doesn't it? Well, it was a bit dreamlike and producers were certainly very evangelical about their biodynamic approaches. Rootstock is a wine fair of not organic, but biodynamic winemakers. 70 wineries from around the world were represented. It was certainly great to speak to Vanya Cullen, Julian Castagna and Ron Houghton of Jasper Hill all within 30 minutes.

My overall conclusion about the wines was that there is quite a big divide: many wines showed vibrant fruit, but lacked structure, and I don't give them much aging potential. Then there are those who display solid winemaking technique and experience. Their wines were quite exceptional. In my experience, biodynamic soil treatment improves the freshness and vitality of the fruit, but I am less convinced about the more 'atmospheric' aspects of biodynamics. Yes the moon has a big influence on tides, but noticeable differences in the wine in the glass? Really? Be that as it may, this is what I found:

Jasper Hill was impressive with Georgia's and Emily's Paddock from 2012. The alcohol is now peared to about 13.5% and the fruit comes to the fore. In particular the Emily's Paddock is a great wine, with incredible complexity: dark fruits, leather and savoury characteristics. The meaty flavours are gone. Power is now balanced by elegance (95 points).

The 2011 Cullen Diana Madeline has beautifully lifted aromas. This wine is light and intense at the same time, with silky tannins and a long finish (95 points).

A winery not so well known, but doing great things is Ferdinando Principiano from Piedmont. This is a relatively new winery (20 years), and the move to biodynamics more recent. His 2012 Barbera d'Alba Laura is fresh, and the acids are beautifully balanced, which cannot be said about every Barbera (93 points). The 2009 Barolo Serralunga is a blend from several plots of limestone soil. This brings out the fragrance and minerality of the wine, almost like a Burgundy (93 points). The flagship 2009 Barolo Ravera is from  old grapes grown on sandy soil. This wine is more intense and powerful, but I found it had a 'smelly' aftertaste.

A big discovery was Cloudburst Wine for me. It is based in Margaret River, just south of Woodlands. This means the golden mile for Cabernet. They started in 2005 and are really boutique with a production of 400 cases. The 2012 Chardonnay emphasizes texture over fruit, but did not do much for me (88 points). However, the 2011 Cabernet was a revelation. Intensity and purity of the fruit made this wine stand out. The wine had good length, too. It remains to be seen, how well it will hold up (95 points). Its predecessor won several trophies at the Margaret River wine show last year. Now the bad news: this wine is $250 per bottle. Not bad for a new producer. The wines are aimed at flashy US restaurants. Scarcity rules, I guess.      

Monday, February 10, 2014

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir

I love Ata Rangi. I love the paradox in this wine between fruit intensity and savoury flavours. The 2006 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir is full of intense black cherry and  the savoury mushroom characteristics, no doubt coming from the stems which were included in the fermentation process. The wines vary significantly between the years, but this balance is always there. In 2006, the wine is more powerful than fragrant, as in some other years. The tannins are silky, based on low yielding,  now mature vines. This wine finishes pretty, but not as precise as in some other years.

Score: 94/++

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Torbreck The Gask

The Gask is the only Torbreck wine to come 100% from the Eden Valley. It is sourced from a single vineyard in what a number of people call the 'Golden Triangle', a secluded area in the middle of Eden Valley. Given the higher altitude than the Barossa, one would expect more vibrancy, maybe even pepper in this wine.

Alas! The 2005 Torbreck The Gask has none of it. At 15% alcohol, it is as big and beefy as Torbreck's Barossa wines. Admitted, 2005 was a hot year, but why make a special Eden Valley wine, if it tastes like a big Barossa? Meaty tones and dried fruit dominate. The wine finishes hot. On the positive side, the structure is solid and the wine would deliver with Wagyu beef. But is this why I open an Eden Valley Shiraz? - An opportunity missed.

Score: 89/--

Saturday, February 1, 2014

'Barossa Shiraz' Reviews

I need to do a bit of cross-promotion. My book 'Barossa Shiraz' was recently reviewed on a well respected French blog at Below are brief reviews from Max Allan in The Australian and Huon Hooke in the Sydney Morning Herald.

.Barossa Shiraz – a fascinating look at Australia
By Lincoln on January 22, 2014Barossa Shiraz Girgensohn

Barossa Shiraz was released while I was Down Under last year. It’s a fascinating book for many reasons.

Originally from Germany, Thomas Girgensohn became a businessman and consultant in Australia, and a keen wine collector. I suspect that by straddling the Old world and the New, he has gained valuable insights into these two very different approaches to life.

The book is a compelling argument for the view that terroir affects the taste of wine. Indeed, this is the most startling aspect of the book from over here; that anyone has to argue these points at all. No one in Europe doubts that place affects the taste of wine (and for that matter cheese, meat, fruit, walnuts…) and that you can either allow your wine to express its source, or you can screw around with it to push it towards something abstract called “the market”.

Girgensohn defines terroir as “the sum total of environmental factors influencing the growth of the grapevine and grapes”. The definition in France tends to be wider, and includes historical and cultural dimensions; the “human factor”. Naturally this issue is discussed incessantly, and usually leads to a distinction being made between (1) wines from a particular terroir and (2) vins de terroir (terroir wines). The first is a wine from a place with characteristic taste profiles, but without necessarily reflecting that terroir. It may be made in such a way that the “inherent” taste is masked. This type of wine, where the maker has intervened to affect the taste, is often called a “vin d’effort” (effort-driven). A vin de terroir, though, expresses that terroir. The leitmotif here is “minimum intervention”. Girgensohn clearly acknowledges the importance of this human factor without building it into his definition.

And this is another enthralling aspect of the book. This new approach in the Barossa is a sign of a radical change in Australian thinking. In Old Europe, humans belong to the land. They have a duty to their country, through which they are merely passing. This is the peasant approach, and it is constantly affirmed when I visit France on Solex.  Australia, on the other hand, was settled by a brutal culture at a particularly brutal time, and it is only normal that the newcomers failed absolutely to understand such a subtle land, and saw it as theirs to exploit as a resource. Even if French terroirists may hardly sound modest when they defend terroir, humility and patience are at the core of the notion.
 dave-powell-vincent-avril prue-and-stephen-henschkecharlie-melton
 Dave Powell, left, enjoying a beer! Prue and Stephen Henschke Charlie Melton

Some Barossa VinoSolex friends – pics by VinoSolex. All are profiled in the book.

This Aussie attitude change may also herald a new approach to risk. Making vins de terroir is inherently more risky than pounding out brands. For a start, you don’t get the volume the outlets may want. You are also much more likely to be organic or biodynamic, with all of the challenges this brings. And your wine will reflect the conditions of the year, so it is less consistent; a headache for the marketers. A bit more tolerance for risk would be refreshing Down Under, which over several decades seems to have conceded far too much to the litigation lawyers.

A solid section in the book on the Barossa’s history shows how it has driven the overpowering commercialism of the last few decades, while preparing the valley for these new changes. Girgensohn has added delightful profiles of the three generations of “Barossa characters” who have taken the terroir approach, including several Friends of VinoSolex: Prue and Stephen Henschke, David Powell and Charlie Melton.

Girgensohn concedes that this book is only a start, one which will inspire debate and research that will be fed into the next addition. I look forward to that immensely.