Monday, May 29, 2023

Henschke DNA (Must Read!)

 There has been a lot of talk about the DNA of Penfolds, comprising multi-regional sourcing, the use of small American oak barrels, fermentation straight into barrels. Little is said about the DNA of Henschke, maybe because the focus is on individual vineyards. Yet, at a recent tasting of iconic Australian and French wines, three different Henschke wines were tasted, and they had something in common which the others did not. These wines were a 2012 Cyril Henschke, a 2012 Mt. Edelstone, and a 2006 Hill of Grace.

So what did these wines have in common? I thought mulberry, aniseed, licorice, and some black earth minerality. Another taster saw some deep greens, like kelp in these wines as well. So this is the Henschke DNA, as much a function of old vines as of the winemaking, I think.  

The 2012 Cyril Henschke, a Cabernet Sauvignon blend, tasted of blackberry, olive and some capsicum. The tannins had softened considerably, and the wine was in perfect harmony (96 points). 

The 2012 Mt. Edelstone was quite perfumed. Mulberry flavours lead to a sweeter and riper mouthfeel. This was a deeply layered wine (94 points).

The 2006 Hill of Grace was even more perfumed; a very polished wine with black cherry and aniseed flavours. Harmony and elegance made this wine stand out (97 points). 

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Noon Reserve Shiraz

 It has been a long time since I drank any wine from Noon, the cult producer from McLaren Vale which shot to fame in the Parker years. Has the style changed since then?

The 2015 Noon Reserve Shiraz does not indicate a change. The blackberry, dark plum, and charred meat flavours are concentrated and ripe. This is a powerful wine, but it also delivers quite an elegant mouthfeel. The gritty tannins lead to a long, but slightly unbalanced and alcoholic  (15.5%) finish. Parker lives on!

Score: 94/0 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Mt. Etna Red Wine Tasting

 I am not very familiar with Mt. Etna wines or Nerello Mascalese, its major indigenous grape variety. Last night I had an opportunity to taste a few of these wines. I will share some brief notes on the four most significant ones.

Girolamo Russo produces single vineyard wines from a number of sites. The 2021 Girolamo Russo Cru Caldera Sottana has a pale red colour. This is a gentle, not very concentrated, and elegant wine tasting of strawberry and red cherry. The tannins are fine grained, and the finish is medium (92 points). The 2021 Girolamo Russo Fuedo di Mezzo is made from pre-phylloxera over 100 year old vines. The fruit is darker than in the previous wine, with red and black cherry flavours. There is licorice as well. The tannins are a little coarse (91 points).

The 2019 Statella Pettinociarelle has more fruit weight, perhaps a larger share of Nerello Cappuccio. The black cherry flavours are en-capsuled in a tannic structure. The alcohol is noticeable on the relatively short finish (89 points). The 2018 Santa Maria la Nave Calmorossa is more elegant and rounded. There are some green notes in this wine, next to black cherry, and the mouthfeel is a little flat (89 points).

The cynic in me asks the question: why is Nerello Mascalese not grown elsewhere? Maybe my reviews above provide the answer. These relatively light red wines are cleverly marketed as sitting between Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo. But do they live up to these lofty grape varieties? I think not. The structure is simply not there. And when the wines get beefed up they can become unbalanced and alcoholic. Ok, I am basing this assessment on a small sample (but I tasted additional wines).


Sunday, May 21, 2023

Pinot Noir Tasting

 This year was the 17th time Bistro Moncur, Sydney hosted the Australian Pinot Noir Tasting. It was fantastic in the early years, when every producer of note was represented. Then it started to get very crowded and I stopped going. It was no longer enjoyable. This year I went back. Some of the leading producers, such as Bass Phillip, Bindi, Bannockburn are no longer there, but there is still plenty to choose from. And I do not know if it was the 'cost of living' issue or the entry fee, but it was not overly crowded.

Still, there is not much time for reflection, so I describe the tasted wines in bands, as I tend to do from large tastings. My focus was on the premium wines on offer.

The wine of the night was a big surprise, even more so as the fruit is from relatively young vines and mostly bought in. It was the 2021 Ossa Pinot Noir from the East Coast of Tasmania, near Swansea. It is an intense wine with a complex palate of cherry fruit and forest floor and great length (96 points).

Very close behind were three other wines. The 2020 By Farr Tout Pres is kind of an extreme wine with 100% whole bunch and 100% new oak. It is a savoury and elegant wine. The 2021 Tolpuddle Pinot Noir  has a complex palate with a lot of interest, which beat the slight fruitiness of the wine. The 2021 Kooyong Haven Pinot Noir, from a very protected vineyard, is a masculine wine and impressed with good length and firm tannins (all 95 points).

The next group (93/94 points) was also attractive. This included the 2019 Glaetzer-Dixon Reveur (good depth, earthy notes), the 2019 Lowestoft "La Maison" which was quite a contrast, being quite light and elegant, the 2021 Kooyong Meres Pinot Noir (racy and long), the 2020 Dalrymple SS Coal River Valley (great front palate, a bit short), the 2018 Levantine Hill Colleen's Paddock, the 2019 Lowestoft Single Vineyard and two Oakridge wines, the 2021 864 and the 2021 Hazeldine (great value).

Then we come to wines which were still very good, but lacked certain aspects in their composition. This included the 2021 Giant Steps Primavera (pretty, not very intense), 2021 Shaw and Smith (similar), 2019 Apsley Gorge (not so balanced),  2020 Moorooduc McIntyre (structure?), a couple of Stefano Lubiana wines, 2018 Gala Estate 'Black Label' (a bit simple), Soumah Equilibrio (a little light).

And the one wine which did not make the 90 points hurdle was perhaps surprisingly the 2021 MacForbes Woori Yallock with its flat mouthfeel. 

Overall, the times when we saw bubble gum or faulty Pinot Noir wines are truly gone. On the other hand, I did not come across a wine which really knocked me out. It seems everybody is moving to the middle of the road: cherry fruit, savoury notes and forest floor, fine tannins, and hopefully a long finish. Anybody with a name ready to do some funk?

Thursday, May 18, 2023

A First Look At 2019 Barolos

 The 2019 vintage in Piedmont is highly acclaimed, put on a par or even higher than 2013 and 2016. Recently I had my first opportunity to taste some of the Barolos from this vintage. It must be said these were mostly from 2nd tier producers.

I give my impressions in the order of my tastings.

The Serralunga Barolo from Fontanafredda was very tannic and overwhelmed the fruit, predominantly orange peel. The wine is still very closed (89 points). The Pio Cesare Barolo was much darker, with red and black cherry flavours and orange peel; quite tannic as well, with a long finish. The tannins dominate at the moment, but this wine will come into its own (94 points). The Batasiolo Barolo was also relatively dark, good black cherry intensity, but not very complex, and with astringent tannins (92 points).

There were also a couple of 2018 Barolos, which were much more open and ready to drink. However, they seemed a little simple.

The conclusion is pretty clear: the 2019 Barolos are tannic and built for the long haul. The top producers who will keep yields low and fruit intensity up, are likely to have made great wines, but it will take time for these wines to show their best.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Bekkers Grenache

 I have reviewed the 2017 Bekkers Grenache a couple of times before. Here is a little preamble. On those occasions, I rated the wine 96 and 93 points, today it will be 95. Does this mean poor assessments on my part? Studies have been done that even the most highly regarded wine critics in the world score the same wine differently at different times. How can this be? There are a number of factors. Over time, a wine will change. While it is possible to incorporate ageability in the score, it is quite impossible to predict how a wine will age, as the chemical composition is unknown. Other factors which will have an impact are the temperature of the wine, how long it has been open, any food involved, and the general mind set of the reviewer. So, here the assessment of yesterday.

This Grenache is quite dark fruited, with ripe raspberry, red and black cherry flavours. The wine is quite layered and complex. It is savoury and elegant, but with some real bite. This wine comes from vineyards not far from Yangarra, where I just reviewed the Ovitelli Grenache. But it is a real contrast to the super fine Yangarra.

This is another sophisticated wine from the Blewitt Springs/Clarendon region in McLaren Vale. It is perhaps not quite as well rounded, but I am splitting hairs here.

Score: 95/+++ 

Monday, May 15, 2023

Yangarra New Releases, Part 2

 In the red wine group, only two Grenaches featured at this tasting.

The 2021 Old Vine Grenache strikes with an intense aroma of red berry fruit. This is a big and quite fruity wine with raspberry and red cherry flavours. This wine is quite ripe, round, and soft - a real crowd pleaser one might say.

Score: 92/+

The 2021 Ovitelli Grenache could not be more different. The colour is lighter, and on the palate, this is a finer, more elegant, and quite ethereal wine. Yet the wine has good intensity, built on fine, silky tannins. The soil for this wine is deep sand, and the maceration is very gentle in ceramic eggs. This is a sensational Grenache, only medium-body, but perfectly made.

Score: 96/+++

The idea of the Shiraz tastings was to compare a recent release with an older version.

It started with the 2015 King's Wood Shiraz. This is a big and ripe wine with jammy blackberry and plum flavours. The wine has good length, but I found the finish a bit flat (91 points). The 2021 King's Wood Shiraz is a bit lighter, still dark, but the fruit spectrum has now moved to blackberry and blueberry (92 points). 

For reasons unknown, the order was switched for the Ironheart Shiraz. We tasted first the 2020 Ironheart Shiraz. This is a more impressive wine than the King's Wood, with black and blue fruits. The palate is elegant, quite soft and gentle. Savoury notes and velvety tannins deliver an appealing mouthfeel. 

Score: 94/++

This was compared to the 2014 Ironheart Shiraz. This wine was more concentrated, with deeper fruit weight and quite a long finish. The question was, was this a function of age, vintage or style difference? According to Peter Fraser, a bit of all three.

Score: 94/++

It is clear, Yangarra is moving towards more elegant wines in its reds. The latest Ovitelli Grenache and Ironheart Shiraz are quite sophisticated wines, without giving up Australian typicity of these varieties.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Yangarra New Releases, Part 1

 It makes a difference when one has an opportunity to drink a whole range of a winery's wines. You start to really understand the style. This happened to me lately when I tasted the Grace wines from Japan, and now also when I tasted the new releases from Yangarra. Let's start with the white wines.

The 2021 Yangarra Blanc is the entry level wine. It includes 5 Rhône varieties, with Grenache Blanc being in the majority. It is not a very detailed wine, but very clean, with white peach flavours, pear, and a whiff of hazelnut, although  it does not see any oak, to my knowledge. The wine is texture focussed, with a satisfying, light mouthfeel. It lingers delicately on the palate. Much more than a quaffer.

Score: 90/++

The 2021 Ovitelli Blanc is a step up. It is a blend of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne.  50% of the wine has spent more than 100 days on skins, yet the colour is quite pale. According to Peter Fraser, the winemaker, this is because the wine sees no sulphur at this stage. While sulphur is meant to purify wine, it actually binds skin colour to the wine, which is why many wines on skin are quite deep in colour. This wine is very clean and light, yet with a bigger mouthfeel than the Blanc.

Score: 92/++

The final white wine is the 2021Roux Beaute Roussanne. Minus the Grenache Blanc, this wine sings at a lower octave with more apricot flavours. Otherwise, it has the same skin treatment and  a similar feel; clean, with a good line, and a saline component. This is not a fat wine, as Roussanne can sometimes be. This is an excellent white, if you had enough Chardonnay.

Score: 94/++

The white wines have great purity and are excellent examples of texture based wines. Grenache Blanc, seldom seen in Australia, plays an attractive role.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Moss Wood Chardonnay

 Moss Wood has not achieved what the other leading Margaret River Cabernet producer, Cullen, has, namely developing a Chardonnay of equal standing, at least not in the public eye. The other day, I managed to drink some 2012 Moss Wood Chardonnay. This should be a good test. 

This 11 year old wine has a light golden colour, not very deep yet (screw cap). The bouquet is a little shy with slight tropical aromas.

On the palate, citrus, and in particular pineapple flavours fill the mouth nicely. This is a medium- to full-bodied wine, which is still fresh. The oak imparts hazelnut flavours and is well integrated. This is a well balanced wine with a satisfying mouthfeel. It could perhaps have a little more energy, but the finish is harmonious, although not overly complex.

Overall, this is a very good wine, drinking well now, but lacking raciness or an x-factor which makes Chardonnay exciting. 

Score: 94/++

Monday, May 8, 2023

Pooley Pinot Noir

I would like to see some Tasmanian winemakers producing excellent Pinot Noir year in year out. Yes, the vintages variations are more challenging than on the Mainland, but leading Burgundy producers manage to do just that. 

Last night, I enjoyed the 2021 Pooley Pinot Noir.

This wine has very strong red fruit aromas. On the palate, red cherry and licorice deliver quite intense and pure flavours. There is a good line in this not too complex, fruit dominant wine. It strikes a nice balance between freshness and structure built on firm, and also silky tannins, and encompassing fresh acidity.

There are not many secondary flavours, such as mushroom or forest floor in this wine. This could be because the wine is still very young or, more likely, because it comes from the Coal River Valley. Why? This is the sunniest part of Tasmania. Some experts I regard highly argue great Pinot Noir needs rainy conditions. The jury is out. There is also a single vineyard wine from Pooley, which I will review in a little while.

Score: 92/++


Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Domaine Saint-Damien Gigondas

 The small Gigondas region is often regarded as the poor cousin of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Winemakers there do not like it and claim Gigondas stands on its own feet. The reality, though, is that the price points of these wines are much lower and offer attractive buying opportunities.

One such opportunity is the 2020 Domaine Saint-Damien Gigondas 'Vieilles Vignes'. The average age of the vines is 50 years and the blend is 80% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre. This is a full-bodied and concentrated wine.

The colour of the wine is dark red, and the palate is predominantly red fruited. Ripe flavours of plum and dark raspberry deliver an intense mouthfeel. Some herbal notes and black pepper add to the mix. Remarkably, the wine retains some freshness, despite its 15% alc. It delivers some elegance on top of the obvious power. Ripe, yet silky tannins deliver a great finish.

Score: 94/++ 

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Ravensworth Neighbourly Chardonnay

 Ravensworth seems to be a winery which goes from strength to strength. It certainly escaped the shadow of Clonakilla by now with its interesting and wide ranging wine making. The small batch 2021 Ravensworth  Neighbourly Chardonnay is curiously named, given the wine is a blend of Margaret River and Tumbarumba fruit. 

This wine has quite a golden colour for such a young wine. On the palate, the wine is more understated with an interesting and quite complex mix of flavours; lemon, grapefruit, apricot, lychee, even ginger. I thought this was quite an expensive Burgundy, yet at $25/bottle, this must be the bargain of the year. I recommend it highly.

Score: 92/+++