Sunday, July 21, 2019

Wine Masters, Italy

Wine Masters is a very high quality series of films on leading wine families in the best known wine regions of the world. Series 2 portrays five Italian regions. It follows the same format as series 1 on France: a leading family in each region is interviewed interspersed with vineyard and winery photography. Three wine writer experts follow up commentary with some more in-depth information.

As before, the cinematography is stunning. However, films on wine are difficult to make exciting. There is an inevitable repetition of vineyard shots, bunches of grapes, pruning and barrels in the winery. The key interest needs to come from the interviews.

The first one is Angelo Gaja. This is a great choice, because his big ego comes across well on film. It is also fascinating to learn how his daughters set slightly different priorities. There is a good discussion on Barolo vs. Barbaresco. Unfortunately, the differences between his single vineyard Barbarescos are not explored, nor the different Barolo terroirs.

I found the second film on Campania a bit confusing, maybe because I do not know much about it. The main focus is on the Taurasi wine, and the film certainly made me curious. The Antinori family represents Tuscany in the third film. The core wine types and the development of the super Tuscans is explained well. The fourth film on Veneto is also quite informative, with the Masi family describing the components of Valpolicella and the process of making Amarone and Ripasso.

The Sicily film is a bit weaker, the story of Tenuta Regaleali not quite as rich. However, the landscape shots are spectacular.

The link is . The films need to be purchased, either individually or as a series.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

De Salis St EM M

Some time ago I was quite impressed when I drank Pinot Noir from De Salis, an Orange based winery. Today I am reviewing the strangely named Bordeaux blend, which is predominantly Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

The 2012 De Salis St EM M is a medium-bodied wine. Cherry and redcurrant fruit is a bit simple on the palate. The pluses are this is a lighter wine, quite harmonious with some savoury notes. The wine fizzles out on the finish.  

Score: 89/+

Thursday, July 18, 2019

A. Rodda Chardonnay

Adrian Rodda is not quite the household name, he perhaps deserves to be. His label is a bit downbeat, reflecting the hard vineyard work, but his wine is certainly not.

The 2017 A. Rodda Willow Lake Chardonnay comes from a well regarded vineyard in the Yarra Valley. His former employer, Oakridge, makes a wine from there. This wine is a fuller expression of grapefruit, passionfruit, and white peach. The wine is elegant and smooth, with a firm acidic backbone and a balanced finish.

This is a modern take on Chardonnay, but not of the wimpish kind which tends to be so popular right now.

Score: 95/+++

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Barossa Wine Tasting

An in-going strategy makes sense to get the most out of a large scale tasting event. So for this Barossa tasting I decided to focus on Grenache and Shiraz (obviously), and to taste mid-level wines rather than the most expensive ones. The reasons were one, to see if I could find an outstanding wine in this price category, and two, to avoid the highly extracted wines, which tend to be the expensive ones.

The best wine from this approach turned out to be the 2016 Spinifex Bête Noir. This is an elegant wine, smooth, and at peace with itself (94 points).  

But then I deviated from my strategy, as I saw high end favorites, mid level was not available from certain producers, and top wines were simply put in my glass. So the best wines from this tasting ended up being expensive wines.

When it comes to Grenache, Cirillo is probably Australia's best producer, year after year. The 2013 Cirillo Ancestor Vine Grenache delivers the perfect mix of fruit weight, black fruit flavours over red and savoury notes (95 points). This old vineyard comes from the sandy floor of Vine Vale. It also delivers for Yalumba, who is next door. The 2017 Yalumba Carriage Block Grenache is much brighter, quite light and lifted, but not sweet (93 points).

Rolf Binder has needed many years to sort out his various brands and focus on the Rolf Binder label. Also detracted from his quality may have been the fact that he operated a contract operation for cheap blended wine at his winery. However, he has an outstanding vineyard behind the winery, and his best wines are never over extracted. His 2015 Heysen Shiraz is still quite closed, with its blackberry flavours leading to an elegant finish (94 points). The 2015 Hanisch is a bit more intense, yet still elegant with a long finish (95 points). This was my wine of the tasting.

Other wines I quite enjoyed at this tasting were the 2017 Hentley Farm Old Legend Grenache with smart oak treatment, and the 2015 Poonawatta 1880 Eden Valley Shiraz.  Many other wines were close behind, as the focus has shifted from high alcohol and ripeness to elegance.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Elio Grasso Ginestra Casa Maté

The typical Barolo descriptors of tar and roses, and firm dry tannins do not apply in the first instance to the 2010 Elio Grasso Ginestra Casa Maté. Elio Grasso is sometimes referred to as a super star of the region without having this label. And the fact he makes good wine is certainly helped by the terroir he owns.The Ginestra subregion of Monforte is its most famous, and the Casa Maté vineyard highly regarded within.

This wine shows more dark fruit than is typical for Barolo. The wine is elegant as opposed to overly powerful, and the tannins have softened with time. There are lifted aromas as well, and the overall package is very harmonious. The wine has a long and persistent finish.

One peculiar aspect were the little clear crystals, which showed up in the last glass of the bottle. This is tartrate acid, a harmless compound, which can form as part of the winemaking process. Sometimes you see them sticking to the bottom of a cork.

Score: 96/+++   

Monday, July 8, 2019

Torbreck The Sporran

In a bad vintage year, many wineries declassify their best fruit and add it to their more basic wines. Their base wines are than marketed as a great opportunity to purchase best vineyard fruit at a reasonable price. Does it work or is the overall fruit composition just not that great? In my experience, it is about 50/50. Sometimes the result is good, sometimes not so much.

With the challenging 2011 vintage, Torbreck did something a little different. It did not make the top wines, but instead of dropping the fruit into, say, the Woodcutter's Red, it created a new brand, The Sporran. I kept it back until now, to give it a good test.

The 2011 Torbreck The Sporran has elements of the typical Torbreck style; there is the sweet plum and blackberry core, there is the high alcohol. But there are also characteristics of this vintage; the fruit weight is less than typical for the Barossa, and certainly Torbreck, and the acidity is higher.

Overall, this is not a bad wine, while not necessarily typical Torbreck. The wine has some freshness, and the structure is good. However, the alcohol is too high for this fruit.

Score: 91/+   

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Vinosphere 2019

There was an enormous number of wines on tasting at this very large event. I have a principle to report on good and poor wines when I attend such tastings, but I must make an exception this time. I tasted too many wines to report on them all. It would be very laborious. I will, on this occasion, mention the wines that stood out for me across the four brackets I tasted them in.

In white wines, I was impressed by two Tasmanian Chardonnays. One was the 2018 Pooley Butcher's Hill Chardonnay from the Coal River. The fruit used to go into Penfold's Yattarna. This is an elegant wine, quite big flavoured, with peach, cashew, and cream flavours coming to the fore. The wine has enough drive to keep interesting, despite the big mouthfeel. The 2016 Dawson James Chardonnay could not have been more different. From a cool vintage, this wine is Chablis-like, with citrus and apple flavours and a slightly green tinge. The acidity is nicely keeping the fruit in check.

The two best Pinot Noirs were of very high standard. You would not expect anything less from Bass Phillip. The 2017 Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir has great depth of cherry fruit, but is a little closed right now. When the fruit wakes up, it will blend with the very silky tannins to an elegant style with a long finish. Less known is Levantine Hill from the Yarra Valley. I was most impressed with the 2015 Levantine Hill Colleen's Paddock Pinot Noir. Mushroom flavours dominate the dark cherry flavours in this brooding and harmonious wine. The finish goes on and on. I was not familiar with this producer, but it is worth seeking out. As an aside, both wines are fastidiously made, and you will have to pay for it.

The third category were Italian varieties. Sangiovese was not well represented, and the Nebbiolos from Piedmont were from what I would call second tier producers. There was one Barolo I liked very much, the 2015 Mauro Molino Barolo Gallinotto. This is the family vineyard in Berri, not far from La Morra. Being in the Northern part of Piedmont, you expect a more fragrant wine, and this is what you get. The fruit intensity is good (2015 was a warm vintage), but the highlight is the generous and expanding mouthfeel, not unlike a very good Burgundy. And I need to put the 2017 Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock Nebbiolo in this category. This is the first time I rate an Australian Italian varietal wine on the same level as the outstanding Italian wines, but Ron Laughton has been at this for quite a long time. This is good Nebbiolo. Rose petals and lifted aromas on the nose, an elegant mouthfeel, and a smooth finish. Nothing is out of place here, the tannins not too strong.

In the icon category, I tasted wines from Clonakilla, Castagna and Jasper Hill. Lately, I have  not enjoyed the stylistic development of the Clonakilla flagship wine. The 2017 Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier is quite soft, with the Viognier coming through quite strongly. The wine has silky tannins and great length, but a bit feminine for me. The 2015 Castagna Genesis Syrah is also quite a soft wine, but it has dark fruit flavours at its core, and a smooth finish. The wine of the night, just edging out the Pinots, was the 2017 Jasper Hill Emily's Paddock Shiraz. The Georgia's Paddock is the more voluptuous wine, and often the favorite. But the Emily's had layers and layers of fruit, and a leathery character on top of it. This made for a mysterious flavour, very elegant and long.   

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Woodlands 'Alex' Cabernet Sauvignon

Woodlands is a good producer, and its vineyards sit on prime terroir in Margaret River. I have previously pronounced it as the worst developer of brands and labels in Australia, but I will not dwell on it this time.

The 2011 Woodlands 'Alex' Cabernet Sauvignon is a beautiful wine. It has a delicious core of black and blue fruits. The mouthfeel experiences a battle between this pure fruit and its dry tannins. The overall impression is one of elegance and balance which carries on to the fresh (still!) finish.

Score: 95/+++

Thursday, June 27, 2019

E. Pira Barolo Cannubi Vineyard

The third wine in this series of full-bodied reds is the 2008 E. Pira Chiara Boschis Barolo Cannubi from arguably Piedmont's most famous vineyard. This is a balanced wine, but totally different from the previous two - the result of a different variety (Nebbiolo) and terroir.


The fruit is largely red cherry, simpler on the palate perhaps than is the case with the previous two wines, but on the nose, rose petals and complex aromatics create an enticing aroma. The tannins are strong, but well rounded, and the wine finishes very dry.

This wine needs protein. I paired it with lamb sausage, which was perfect. The wine drinks very well now, but will remain at this level, maybe increase some savoury notes, over the next 5+ years. 

Score: 95/+++

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Rockford Basket Press

If you are asked to name a wine which represents everything that is good about Barossa Shiraz, many would mention Rockford Basket Press. The 2010 is an excellent example.

This is a full-bodied wine. Blackberry, plum, mulberry and mocca flavours fill the mouth. The complexity of flavours is well balanced by smartly applied oak. The wine has energy despite its ripeness. The tannins are surprisingly fine, and really reveal themselves only on the long finish.

How would this wine compare with the Pontet-Canet I reviewed a few days ago? Both great wines, but I would give the Basket Press a slight edge. This is a more generous wine, without feeling too big.

Score: 96/+++

Friday, June 21, 2019

Chateau Pontet-Canet

The 2005 Chateau Pontet-Canet is as full-bodied as they come from Bordeaux. It is only now coming into its own. I last reviewed this wine in 2011, when I said it was too early to drink. I now feel it has entered its maturing phase and is starting to drink well. Yes, you have to be patient with good Bordeaux and need a cellar.

Blackcurrant, plum and cassis flavours deliver a big mouthfeel. Elegance is emerging from under its oak frame. There is no gap on the mid-palate (as many Cabernets have). Firm tannins deliver a solid structure, and the finish is long.

This wine shows many aspects of new world wine. It would have been out of place in Bordeaux in the last century, but warmer vintages and changed winemaking have blurred the boundary, so obvious 20-30 years ago.

If the classification was redone today, this biodynamic estate would at least be 2nd growth. Prices tend to reflect this, but this wine is still a bargain compared with the 1st growth wines.

Score: 95/++ 

Saturday, June 8, 2019

The World Of Sake


When in Japan, you are likely to drink sake. Yet most people have no clue what to order and how to distinguish different types. I participated in a structured tasting of the Kyoto Insider Sake Experience It was an excellent introduction. You learn about the different dimensions, for example the importance of water (20 litres are needed for 1kg of rice), the different grains of rice, different polishing levels, added alcohol or not, different sweetness and different acidity. There are now also nonpasteurised and non diluted sakes, a bit similar to natural wines. These cannot easily be exported, as they need to be fresh and chilled. The presentation given was clear and well structured.

There are some surprises. For example, less polished rice does not lead to inferior sake. It just means there are more proteins and minerals in the drink, whereas the more polished ones are of pure starch, leading to more delicate and fruity sake, which the Japanese prefer. I liked the less polished sakes, the  Junmais, for their rice taste and complexity. So did my host.

The different sakes are tasted on their own, and then with food. The differences are striking and the pairings illuminating.

This was an excellent experience, which I can highly recommend. I will now order sake in a much more informed way.