Friday, April 28, 2017

Two Exciting Cabernets To Compare: Achaval-Ferrer and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

I missed World Malbec Day, which was 10 days ago. However, it is a good marketing idea. Therefore, belatedly, I pulled the best Malbec out of my cellar.

Strictly speaking, the 2011 Achaval Ferrer Quimera is not a Malbec, but a Malbec blend, with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a bit of Petit Verdot making up the remaining 50%.

This wine is utterly modern, with freshness and superb elegance. It is clean, crisp and very defined, with a shape which runs down the palate, rather than engulfing every possible taste bud. Blackcurrant flavours, black cherry, blackberry and white pepper blend in with fine grained tannins. The finish is very elegant. 

The different grape contributions are seamless. What is surprising is that only the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes come from high altitude, but there is no sweetness, thickness or over-ripeness in this well made wine.

Score: 95/+++

One of the exciting, and still affordable wines I brought back from a trip to Napa Valley around 2010 was the 2007 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. (Stag's Leap Vineyards) Cabernet Sauvignon. This is of course the winery which won the legendary 1976 tasting challenge against Bordeaux wines (with the Cask 23). The 1973 vintage of this wine was named an 'Object that made America' by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Like with Australian Shiraz, there is always some doubt how well Napa Cabernet Sauvignon can age. And in 10 year old tastings, the scores are mostly lower than on release. However, on opening the bottle, the signs are good. The colour is dark and looks fresh.

This wine comes from a warmer climate than the Quimera, and it shows. The wine is darker, richer, and broader. The flavours are quite complex. Red- and blackcurrant, plum, and cedar mix with earthy notes, cinnamon and chocolate. The structure is holding up, and the balance is good. Coarser tannins lead to a full-bodied finish.

Score: 93/++

Choosing between these two wines really comes down to preferences. The freshness and raciness of the Quimera vs. the richness and full mouthfeel of the S.L.V.  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay

Year after year after year.... this wine delivers. It starts with the annually changing attractive label. As at Mouton-Rothschild, the originals hang in the winery's gallery.

The 2006 Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay, now over 10 years old, shows a bright golden colour with still a hint of green. On the palate, the fruit is less pronounced and obvious than in other years, the style more restraint than, say, the wines of the 90s. Citrus and apricot flavours are almost background to almond, marzipan, and white chocolate. The mouthfeel is creamy and balanced. This wine is more about texture than anything else. It will drink well for many years.

Score: 95/+++

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ulithorne Chi Grenache Shiraz

When the fruit of the 2012 Ulithorne Chi Grenache Shiraz hits the front palate, the sensation is attractive. The fruit has depth, the plum and blackberry flavours are very pure. This small scale operation certainly is quite meticulous about the grape treatment. The mouthfeel initially is very satisfying with good fruit concentration,  sweet flavour and fine tannins. The Shiraz component of the wine manages to hold on to this impression on the mid palate, but on the back palate, the wine drops off. The tannins do not quite stand up to the ripe fruit.

Score: 92/+

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

E. Pira Chiara Boschis Barolo Cannubi

The warm 2000 vintage was hailed by the Americans as one of the best in Barolo, as the fruit was ripe and concentrated, whereas the Italians saw it as atypical. The charismatic Chiara Boschis, who became winemaker in 1990, uses modern methods, with shortened maceration periods and maturation in French barriques. This may have been the right thing in this vintage. So I was quite excited to open this bottle of 2000 E. Pira Chiara Boschis Barolo Cannubi, from one of the legendary vineyards in the heart of Barolo. As an aside, this vineyard is shared by 17 producers.

The wine is  typical of the variety. Tar and roses feature strongly. The colour is darker than is typical of Barolo, pointing to quite concentrated dark cherry fruit. However, the fruit has now faded somewhat. Savoury flavours dominate, and in particular the firm and very dry tannins. The finish is long.

This is an outstanding wine, suited to those who like Barolo. It needs food, in particular protein, and is best drunk now.

Score: 95/++

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Price Vs. Quality Of Diverse Pinot Noirs

Recently, I tasted a number of quite diverse Pinot Noirs.  I tried to work out how to compare them. Sometimes, a graph can say as much as 1000 words. In this case, I plotted price vs. assessed quality on the following chart.
1 Kooyong Massale 2016
2 Home Hill Estate 2015
3 Bass Phillip Estate 2014
4 Kooyong Meres 2014
5 Valli Gibbston 2014
6 Bruno Colin Bourgogne 2014
7 Benjamin Leroux Savigny-les-Beaune 2014
8 Mongeard-Mugneret Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Les Petit Monts 2013
9 Domaine de la Vougeraie Corton Grand Cru 2014
10 Williams Selyem Central Coast 2010

What is immediately obvious is that the 1er Cru and Grand Cru Burgundies are a multiple in prices of the Australian wines, yet in quality, there is not much difference. The Mongeard-Mugneret was the best wine of the night, but the Grand Cru disappointed, relatively. So, buyer beware! The California wine was also twice in price of the Australian wines, without added quality rating.

Of the Australian Pinot Noirs, Kooyong did very well. The Massale was the value for money wine, and the Meres was the second best wine of the night. It is 100% whole bunch, and has feminine qualities, with strawberry fruit and a very silky finish.

Any questions?  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A. Christmann Riesling

This 2015 A. Christmann Riesling from the Pfalz shows a wonderful bright golden colour, hinting at a bigger wine than common from the more northern and western parts of Germany. This continues on the nose with a bouquet of apricot and peach.

This is a fairly full-bodied Riesling, but it is not sweet, nor overly fruity on the palate. The fruit is apricot and white peach, but the highlight is the texture of the wine. The mouthfeel is complete and full-filling. The wine is well balanced, although the acidity is certainly low. The wine goes down the palate in a very even manner, leading to a slightly creamy finish.

This is a classy wine. I suggest to drink it in the next 1-2 years, while it still has refreshing characteristics.

Score: 93/+++  

Monday, April 10, 2017

Lucy Margaux Wines

Lucy Margaux is one of the new breed of natural wine producers. Nothing gets added, no fining, no filtration. If wines were scored on the old 20 point scale, where 3 points are reserved for colour, these wines would not get out of the starting blocks. The colour of the wines is cloudy. Is this a fault? Not necessarily. The proof is really in the drinking.

The first wine I taste is the 2016 Lucy Margaux Vino Rosso Sangiovese Pinot Gris. You now know already that conventions do not count for much here. This wine is a 50/50 blend. Maybe the Pinot Gris is supposed to do to the Sangiovese the same as the Viognier to Shiraz. But do you need 50%? The wine is very fruity and sweet and bares little resemblance to the kind of wines I normally drink (82 points).

The main game is Pinot Noir. The first of four is the 2016 Village of Tiers Pinot Noir. This is quite an accomplished effort. Forest berries dominate on the palate, before some elegant tannins kick in (89 points). Then come the single vineyard wines. The 2016 Little Creek Pinot Noir is much darker, with black cherry fruit and fresh acidity - a well structured wine (92 points). The 2016 Monomeith Pinot Noir is quite different. It is red fruited and very feminine with an open and gentle texture (91 points). The 2016 Estate Pinot Noir is from the home vineyard. Its profile sits in the middle between the last two. It is the most complex wine with quite an intriguing fruit mix on the palate (92 points).

The Pinot Noirs are certainly an interesting set of wines. I have been worried about the age-ability of natural wines, but apparently a six year old Monomeith was drinking well, according to a friend. One concern is that Anton van Klopper, the winemaker has now stopped to add any sulphur. He added a small amount in the past.

The types of wines tasted here find an enthusiastic following with young wine drinkers. I am still a little puzzled: normally, what you look for in wine is intensity and/or elegance, freshness or finesse. I am not sure what I am supposed to look for in natural wines, because they are not particularly strong on those dimensions. There is a strong philosophical bend in these wines, not to be a 'chemist', but an artist, says Anton van Klopper. Hmm.

If you look for something funky and different, and a natural wine made with some skill, then these Pinot Noirs could be for you.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Castagna Genesis Syrah

Julian Castagna is not known for modesty, but he is known for his convictions about bio-dynamics, including the moon cycles, and a desire to produce impressive, but only medium bodied wines.

These convictions are manifest in the 2004 Castagna Genesis Syrah. The nose is vibrant and perfumed. The aromatic violets come through on the palate, together with a complex set of berry fruits, blackberry, raspberry, red cherry. A thin layer of chocolate blends into the fruit. This is a female, medium bodied wine, very balanced, with enticing tannins and acidity in support. The wine expands on the finish, like a good Burgundy.

This wine drinks beautifully now. I loved it.

Score: 96/+++

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Spinifex Le Chemin

Drinking this 2009 Spinifex Le Chemin a day after the Duval just reviewed, it is astonishing how different these two wines, both from the Barossa, similar age, and Rhône varieties, are. I will give both wines the same score, but for totally different reasons. This is a good illustration that the descriptions say a lot more than points.

The Spinifex has a bright ruby colour as opposed to the Duval's almost black colour. This blend of five common Rhône varieties is vibrant and fresh at eight years of age. This is clearly due to the wine's high acidic backbone and the grapes' early picking. The wine is very spicy, with white pepper in particular. Herbaceous flavours are stronger than the raspberry fruit. Grenache is the dominant grape here, but the wine is not fruity. This wine is almost anti Barossan in style, and while I understand the sentiment, I would have enjoyed more harmony in the mouth.

Score: 92/++     

Saturday, April 1, 2017

John Duval Entity Shiraz

When John Duval, Penfolds' former highly regarded winemaker, branched out on his own, he was keen to make wine with more vitality, and therefore he sourced a lot of fruit from Eden Valley.

This 2010 John Duval Entity Shiraz has a sweet plum and mulberry core. This wine is more about depth and intensity. The firm tannins match the fruit, but elegance suffers as a result. This is a big, juicy wine with significant alcoholic content and feel. This wine can still be regarded as balanced (and attractive as such), but only just. One for lovers of Barossa Shiraz.

Score: 92/+