Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Four Excellent, But Very Different Reds From Margaret River

2007 was hailed as an outstanding vintage in Margaret River. The vintage was hot, the fruit riped beautifully, and the harvest was early.As it turned out, it was the first of an unprecedented run of great vintages there. I decided to buy Cabernets from four leading producers at the time and wait. Over the last three days, I tried them for the first time.

On the first night, it was the 2007 Howard Park Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Voyager Cabernet Merlot. Same vintage, but totally different wines.

When I opened the Howard Park, I was slightly worried. The colour was quite a developed garnet. The nose was beautiful, though: a fragrant bouquet with smells of soft berries. This continued on the palate. Soft forest berry fruit and hints of chocolate were well integrated with smooth tannins. This was a very feminine wine, near its peak.

Score: 95/+++

The Voyager was totally different. The colour was still dark purple. The nose was not as lifted, and on the palate, it was all about blackcurrant and cassis. The fruit of this full-bodied wine is concentrated, and the mouthfeel stays the same until firm tannins take over on the finish. The French would call this a masculine wine. It has depth, just a shame it is not as elegant as the roses in front of the winery. I have seen quite a few vintages of this wine, and this one certainly bears the typical character of Voyager Cabernet Merlot.

Score: 94/++

One of the unusual aspects of this comparison was that the bigger wine was the Merlot blend, and the more elegant the Cabernet Sauvignon only version.

The following night I drank the 2007 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon. This took it up one more step in size: the biggest Moss Wood I have ever tried. The blackcurrant and mulberry flavours are intense, as are the mocca notes. This is a dense and ripe wine, yet more elegant than the Voyager. However, the strong tannins stand aside of the fruit. This wine has not fully come together yet. I have to say, it is too early to drink. Many would say, if it is not right now, it will never be. I am not so sure. The 2001 is drinking beautifully since a couple of years, and this wine is bigger and under screw cap. It is not perfect now, but I would give it the benefit of the doubt.

Score: 94/++

And finally yesterday, I tried the 2007 Cullen Diana Madeline. Again, the colour is deep purple, and the style of this wine is quite different from the way this brand has developed over the years. Vanya Cullen has made the wine more delicate over time and lower in alcohol. This one has 14%. The intense blackcurrant fruit is pure and elegant, and the wine sails down the palate like a super-maxi at 15 knots (sorry about this). There are no holes, and the finish is long and intense, supported by an exquisite tannin structure, which also speaks to excellent oak treatment. I can understand why Vanya Cullen has gone the way she has to increase the vitality of the wine, but this is a beautiful example of a full-bodied Cabernet-Merlot from Margaret River.

Score: 96/+++

I have no regrets about buying these wines from the 2007 vintage. What an excellent group of Margaret River Cabernets.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Drinks - Your Vote

I was pleased with my drinks over Christmas:

2005 Ulithorne Sparkling Shiraz
2003 Voyager Cabernet Merlot
2006 Piper-Heidsieck Vintage Champagne
2014 Cape Mentelle Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc
2004 Sottimano Curra Barbaresco
2008 Curly Flat Pinot Noir

Surprisingly (for me), the most impressive was the Piper-Heidsieck Vintage Champagne. It is quite a yeasty Champagne, dark coloured, with intense citrus fruit and a long finish. The Ulithorne came second, as a refreshing, yet full-bodied red.

What was your favorite drink over Christmas? Please vote on the right-hand side.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Casanova Di Neri Tenuta Nueva Brunello

Brunello, a wine with long maturation, is unquestionably the best expression of the Sangiovese grape. There has been a lot of excitement about the 2010 Brunellos, so I thought I might check how one from an older, also highly regarded vintage has developed.

The 2006 Casanova Di Neri Tenuta Nueva Brunello has a beautiful nose, with violets and dark cherry notes raising from the glass in a measured, elegant way. This continues on the palate, with concentrated and intense black cherry flavours, blood orange, chocolate and some spice. These flavours are wrapped up in a full-bodied and dense frame. But at the same time, the wine is nicely balanced by acidity and not overly heavy. The finish is smooth, but slightly alcoholic.

Score: 93/++

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ostler Caroline's Pinot Noir

Many wine regions have developed as the result of the success of one winery. The imitators flog in and try to emulate the success of the pioneer. Often the objective is to develop a cult wine, based on small production and slick marketing. Certainly Central Otago has attracted many companies as a result of the Felton Road success. And some, such as Ostler, are even in a different area by quite some distance. A good way of assessing the quality of such wineries is tasting wines at a more mature age.

So I was interested to open Ostler's premium Pinot Noir, a 2009 Ostler Caroline's Pinot Noir. The colour worried me a bit. This is a screw capped wine, yet the colour is showing some age: garnet near the rim. This is a full-bodied wine, quite powerful and somewhat alcoholic. The wine opens with dark cherry fruit, but is quite savoury. Acidity is dialed up, and the result is a wine which is not elegant, not supple, and at 6 years, probably past its best.

Now, I would not judge a winery by one wine from one vintage, but this leaves me unimpressed, in particular in the context of the significant care that is taken, according to the winery.

Score: 88/-  

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Idlewild Grenache Gris

If you are looking for something different, this wine could be for you. Grenache Gris is an obscure grape, a derivative of Grenache, grown as bush vine, but seldom bottled separately. Idlewild is based in Sonoma and sources grapes from different Sonoma and Russian River vineyards. They must have found enough Grenache Gris to make this bottling. Remarkable.

The 2013 Idlewild Grenache Gris is probably best classified as sitting between a Rose and Pinot Noir or as a Rose with something extra. This is a pale, dry pink wine with an interesting flavour spectrum. There is blood orange, apricot, but also raspberry and red cherry. The acidity ensures the fruit is fresh and not confected. The wine has a fine line on the palate and fine tannins engulf the flavours. The finish shows minerality, with a hint of fruit. It reminds me of a very light Nebbiolo. I suggest drinking this now or in the next couple of years.

Score: 92/+++

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir

The Calvert vineyard is a relatively late addition to Felton Road. It was planted in 2001, and has now entered middle age. The soils consist of sandy loams, silts and quartz gravel. I am drinking a 2008 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir, which at that point came from quite young vines. I remember tasting it when the wine was very young and remember how surprisingly closed it was.

This is a good example, where the early indications point to later characteristics of the wine as well. The flavours are actually quite complex.There is some dark cherry fruit, but the character of the wine is savoury, with more minerality than typical for Central Otago Pinot Noir. I taste quite a bit of salt on the palate as well. The main point is, however, there is not much of a sensation on the tip of the tongue. This wine is quite lean. But it develops on the back palate, leading to a long finish, supported by good acidity, firm tannins and smart oak treatment.

The Calvert is the outlier in the Felton Road line-up, or would be in a Central Otago line-up. But the wine has character and individuality.

Score: 93/++     

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Wynns Davis Cabernet Sauvignon

The two leading wineries these days in Coonawarra are Balnarves and the much larger Wynns. Wynns owns at least 25% of the vineyards on the famous Terra Rossa strip. In the last 20 years, it did two major things to revitalize wines from this area. First of all, it reduced yields significantly to increase the concentration of fruit in the wines. Secondly, it identified particular blocks of vines which delivered a special expression of the terroir in each year.

One of these is the Davis vineyard, right in the core of the Terra Rossa. In 2008, the Davis Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon was bottled separately. This is a juicy drop with an inky colour. It shows typical varietal blackcurrant fruit. The wine is quite concentrated and ripe, but also bright and vibrant, which is typical of the Terra Rossa terroir. The wine is still quite fruity (screw capped), but matched by firm tannins. There is nothing backward about this wine. It is not delicate and quite full-on.

Score: 92/+

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sottimano Curra Barbaresco

No other noble grape splits the world as much as Nebbiolo. As it is far off centre, many in the wine drinking world do not get it, or even hate it, while others will drink very little else after having had the experience.

The 2004 Sottimano Curra Barbaresco sets a good example for these extremes. On its own, it is too tannic, even too savoury to enjoy. It is certainly not delicious. But matched with protein food, it is a different story. Sottimano is not a top tier producer, but this wine has attractive flavours of dried fruits. On the palate, secondary components are now dominant. Figs and tobacco match the plum and dark cherry fruits. The firm tannins blend well into protein food. Unfortunately, there is too much alcohol in this wine (14.5%). This level could be fine with big bodied wines, but overwhelms the fragrant Nebbiolo. The finish is just hot.

Score: 90/+

PS: I will be drinking and reviewing quite a bit more Nebbiolo over the next few weeks.Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Summer of Riesling

Riesling has never really taken off in Australia, although it is popular with wine lovers, and good with Asian food, which we eat a lot. A few years ago, the producers came up with the 'Summer of Riesling' slogan and held many promotional events. This clearly lifted the profile of Riesling. It has been repeated ever since. I attended the first such event for the year about a week ago.

25 Rieslings were on show and demonstrated the diversity of expressions from this grape. The Eden Valley wines showed classical floral flavours, wines from Clare Valley were dry and steely and some from other areas saw inventive winemaking techniques.

Of the three wines I tasted from Eden Valley, I liked the 2015 Chaffey Brothers Zeitpunkt the best (91 points). It was very balanced and less floral than the 2014 Heggies and the 2015 Rieslingfreak No. 4 (88 points).

The 2015 Springvale and Polish Hill wines from Grosset showed the usual class. This time I preferred the Springvale (93 points), with the Polish Hill quite lean and closed, and lacking the acidity and line of the best years (92 points). The 2015 Mount Horrocks was dry, with good length (91 points).

The Tasmanian wines were quite different from each other. The 2015 Parish Vineyard had apple next to the citrus, but lacked line and finish (89 points). The 2015 Stargazer was a fuller wine with better length, and  some residual sugar (91 points). The most interesting wine was the 2013 Moorilla Muse. This Riesling sees some old oak. It is quite a big wine with complex fruit and earthy characteristics (90 points).

The one wine from New Zealand was the 2014 Charteris Hunt Vineyard. It had attractive white flower and minerality, with some residual sugar (91 points).

The most interesting Rieslings I tasted came from MacForbes. He is really an exciting winemaker. His Rieslings come from the Strathbogie Ranges in Victoria. The 2015 Spring is a funky wine, but quite balanced with a bit of sweetness (92 points). My favorite was the off-dry wine (unusual for me). The 2015 RS29 was again well balanced, with great length and underlying acidity matching the sweetness very well (94 points).

The overall quality standard was good, with MacForbes providing the wow! factor. This was only the first round of Rieslings, plenty more to come in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Romanian Red Wine

It can be enlightening to drink wines from non classical wine regions. I loved to discover Assyrtiko from Santorini. The wines I tried from China and Georgia over the last couple of years were mixed, but interesting. A couple of weeks ago, I was given this Romanian wine, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet
   Sauvignon and the local Feteasca Neagra (Black Maiden), a pre-phylloxeric variety.

The wine is from 2011, and the ruby colour shows some sign of ageing already. The wine feels a bit plump in the mouth, with concentrated plum flavours. It is earthy, even a bit dirty, with coarse tannins and an alcoholic finish (14.9%). I would not call it faulty, but it is not very attractive. The Faurar is a curiosity for us, but unfortunately, has not much going for it.

Score: 82/---