Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Henschke Cyril Cabernet

I thought it might be interesting to compare yesterday's wine with another Cabernet from the same year, the 1998 Cyril Henschke. It was an interesting experience.

This wine showed a lot of ripeness and tasted quite alcoholic as well. The core fruit was blackcurrant, but it also showed a lot of savoury flavours by now. The wine has good structure and a long finish, supported by strong tannins - a big wine.

However, it didn't really taste like a Cabernet to me. The Parker had the fine fruit and elegance, this Henschke basically has brute force, although well made. Maybe it is difficult to come up with excellent Cabernet from the Barossa/Eden Valley after all.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Parker Terra Rossa First Growth

Parker wines were at the top of Coonawarra during the 1990s, but I have found them less convincing in the last few years, while prices went up and up.

The last I bought was 1998, and I opened a 1998 Parker Terra Rossa First Growth last night. It was a pretty satisfying drink. The fruit was quite concentrated, even 'thick'. You could taste the terra rossa terroir very well. The wine was quite elegant and the oak well integrated. The one quibble I would have is that the wine was not very differentiated: the fruit flavours were not overly complex and the aftertaste not as long as a wine of this standing should have.

At ten years well cellared, the wine felt fresh enough, but I would not give it more than another two years before it will drop from its peak.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Torbreck 'Les Amis' Grenache

This must be one of Australia's best wines! Yesterday I opened a bottle of the 2001 Torbreck Les Amis. I have been collecting this wine from the beginning. The 2001 was actually not officially available in Australia, but made for a restaurant in Singapore, however, I managed to pursuade David Powell to sell me a few bottles at a Torbreck dinner.

The wine has a beautiful strawberry and cherry nose which continues to the palate. The wine is 100% Grenache and shows its typical sweetness, but the wine has excellent structure and length as well. The fruit is very concentrated and carries the high alcohol (15%) well. The wine is very smooth and has soft silky tannins which go on and on. A powerful wine in a velvet glove. Surely, if the other vintages are as good, this is Australia's best Grenache and better than any Chateuneuf I have ever had - a big statement, but this wine is sensational.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Emerging conclusions from drinking in 2008

What have been the major themes? Without paying attention to the order, my major points would be

1. Convergence. This is a term usually reserved for technology, but it seems fitting. Because of the string of warm vintages in France, Italy and Germany, European wines have much more ripe fruit than they used to. Australian wines have been attacked for being too ripe and alcoholic and have recently emphesized more elegance. As a result, they have come together: well developed wines with good structure and harmony.

2. Cabernet renaissance. We are discovering how well Australian Cabernet can age and how interesting these wines become. 1998 in Coonawarra and many vintages from Margaret River give great examples. The good 2004/05 vintages allow for attractive re-stocking.

3. Pinot Noir is coming of age. Suddenly we have 10 or so producers who deliver excellent Pinot year in, year out, such as Bass Philip, Bannockburn, Bindi, Main Ridge, Paringa, Stoniers, Yabby Lake and others. These are first class Pinot Noirs.

4. Not much excitement with whites. White wines generally do not excite. There is no wow factor. Yes, we now have quite a few lean and mineral Chardonnays which are good, yet have not a lot of individuality. Grosset Riesling, Leeuwin Chardonnay - we have had these leaders for many years.

5. New varietals produce only average wines. Despite of what the wine scribes want you to believe, new varietal wines are largely disappointing. This is not surprising, given most come from grapes less than 10 years old and wine makers have little experience with them. Why the hype? (The one exception in my book is Castagna's Sangiovese, a world class wine).

6. Avoid wines with medals. Wine shows are really no good indicator of wine quality. This is disappointing, but too often these wines stand out because of upfront fruit, rather than good harmony, structure or longevity.

7. Tasmania is still not there. Tasmanian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir gets often hyped up, but no winery produces outstanding wine on a consistent basis. Pipers Brook sometimes has excellent wine, but more often just average. Domaine A wines are, frankly, odd. Bay of Fires and Tamar Ridge are good, but not outstanding. I have not yet tried the new Heemskerk range, maybe this will be it.

Any thoughts?

Eden Valley Riesling comparison

I recently had two Rieslings from the Eden Valley which made for an interesting comparison.

The 2003 Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling used to be branded Orlando, but Jacob's Creek won over. You just have to get over it. This was often a contender for best Australian Riesling of the year, but this wine is not quite up there. It has a strong lime flavour and is a dry wine, but with a slightly dull finish.

The 2003 Leo Buring Eden Valley Leonay is a very good wine, with more lemon flavours, minerality and a zesty finish. The wine is still very fresh, and has a great structure which develops along the palate. It will be good for many years to come.

The Leo Buring is the winner in my book. Unfortunately the branding and positioning of both wines is so poor that they get a lot less attention than they deserve.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Giaconda Chardonnay

This is my first bottle of Giaconda Chardonnay ever. I have tasted the wine before, but never had a glass or more of this cult wine. Given its reputation for 'cellarability', I opened the first 2004 Giaconda Chardonnay today.

I can confirm this is a special wine and like no other from Australia due to its combination of acidity and creaminess, very Burgundian. The palate tastes of lemon and grapefruit, followed by a creamy sensation on the mid palate and finishing with different flavours such as pear and melon.

The wine is still quite young and fresh and there are no signs yet of any mellow characteristics. It would certainly drink well for another four years.

Mollydooker Carnival Of Love

This wine is highly praised in the US and regularly makes the Top 10 in the Wine Spectator 'wine of the year' ratings. The wine is difficult to get here and mainly sold in the US market. I once managed to buy half a dozen of the 2005 Carnival of Love, and this is the first bottle I opened.

The wine has a high alcohol content of 16.5% and, in my view, is a caricature of a wine. It tastes more like liqueur, and has little varietal characteristics. There is no doubt that the fruit is of good quality and very concentrated, but the alcohol is too overpowering. It may even be more than what's on the bottle.

I managed to drink one glass only. However, if you want to get hammered, this is for you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Willow Creek Pinot Saignee

With the variety of styles now available, Rose can be an attractive alternative to white wines as a summer wine. The 2007 Willow Creek Pinot Saignee comes from the Mornington Peninsula, home of excellent Pinot fruit.

This wine expresses vibrant cherry fruit, fresh, but not sweet. It has medium weight and some complexity, but should be drunk young. It is one of the most interesting quality Australian Roses and would go with a wide variety of food, such as salads, cold plates, fish.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What's wrong with Hunter Semillon?

Hunter Valley Semillon takes a unique place in the world of wine. In particular as a mature wine, with its honey colour, it delivers a perfect match to tuna steak.

Initially, it were the wines of Tyrells, Lindemans and Rothbury which created its reputation. Tyrells is still around with a number of different brands, but the others fell by the wayside. The next wave included Petersons, Brokenwood, Briar Ridge. Their wines no longer create the excitement of 15 years ago. Currently Keith Tulloch and Thomas are highly praised.

Of the Semillons I drank over the last couple of years, most are somewhat fruity with a dull finish. They lack the acidity to go on for a long time and seem to be made for the show circuit to stand out and appeal at first sip. Yesterday, I had a 2005 Thomas Braemore Semillon, which is highly regarded, yet it displays these characteristics to a degree. What I am after is a crisp, linear, even steely lemon and lime taste, and a zesty, acidic finish. The 2007 Meerea Park Hell Hole I tried today, fits this bill, but not many others do - what a shame!

New Poll Created

Please vote on this one. Itis easy to do and fun. The last one was not really representative. Let's see if tradition wins or we get surprises.

2006 Chateauneuf-du-Pape

I also tried a number of 2006 Chateauneuf-du-Papes. I was generally impressed with the quality of the line-up. The wines showed good fruit, although not as lush as 2005, but with good structure as well. Most wines were in the $50-$100 bracket. All these wines are dominated by Grenache, and usually some Shiraz and Mouvedre.

My favorite were the wines by Pierre Usseglio. The standard wine showed complex cherry flavours with a very fine texture, and silky tannins leading to a long finish. The 'Cuvee de Mon Aieul' showed more ripeness and elegance. Domaine et Selection was equally good, Domaine Senechaux, as a 100% Grenache, had less structure and was a bit fruity. On the other end of the spectrum was Domaine de la Cote de l'Ange with earthy characters and dry tannins.

2007 German Riesling

The 2007 vintage is hailed as a perfect one with a slow but ideal ripening process. On Saturday, I tried some of the Rieslings from the Moselle and the Pfalz.

Moselle Rieslings are all the rage in the US. They tend to be sweet wines, although not with the lashings of sugar if well made. Dr. Loosen would be the main exponent available in Australia. The entry wines are well priced, but are light and a bit sweet, not to my liking as I said. However, I tried the 2007 Erdener Pralat Riesling Auslese Gold Capsule (try to say this in a hurry) and this was excellent. The fruit tasted of lemon and spice and had a lot of weight to balance the sweet and honeyed finish.

The Pfalz Rieslings are more suited to Australia and its summer. The entry wines, for example Riesling Trocken by Dr. Buerklin-Wolf or Riesling QBA Dry by Reichsrat von Buhl, are fresh, with citrus and stone-fruit aromas, and good acidity. I particularly liked the Reichsrat von Buhl, a steal at $24/bottle. Mueller-Catoir is a new star producer who achieves great fruit concentration with his Riesling QBA Trocken. A step up were the single vineyard wines from premier cru locations (Grosses Gewaechs). I particularly enjoyed the Jesuitengarten Forst QBA Grosses Gewaechs by Reichsrat von Buhl for its complexity and depth of fruit. Also good was Dr. Buerklin-Wolf Riesling Altenburg P.C.

It is interesting to see the change in Germany. The wines used to be classified Kabinett, Spaetlese, Auslese with increasing sugar levels. Leading producers now emphesize the vineyard location. They might still harvest at high ripeness, but ferment to dryness.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wynns Black Label Cabernet

I also drank a bottle of the 1998 Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an icon brand in Australia: it has been around for a long time (more than 50 years, I believe), is produced in large volume and at a reasonable price.

This wine tries to be an excellent wine at high producion volumes. It succeeds in part. The wine has a good structure and in good years, such as 98, it has good fruit concentration. It always needs time to settle and mature. This wine was still lively and has at least 5 or 7 good years in it. On the other hand, you taste the consequences of mechanical handling. The wine is not as harmoneous and rounded as those of good small producers.

The wine was enjoyable to drink, but not outstanding. The tannins were a bit harsh and require a good piece of meat as balance.

Yering Station Shiraz Viognier Reserve

Just had a 2003 Yering Station Shiraz Viognier Reserve. This is one of the early versions of the Shiraz/Viognier blends. It is crafted with Parker in mind: very ripe and concentrated fruit, high alcohol and you would not associate this wine with the Yarra Valley. The fruit carries the alcohol reasonably well, and the wine has some elegance. However, it remains overpowering and should be drunk only between June and August (in the southern hemisphere). On the plus side, the wine is maturing well and will easily go for another 5 years.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Which whites to buy now?

I have been trekking for a while and been abstinent, but am now back in the game.

My cellar is running quite low on white wines, so what would I buy? There are now many good Chardonnays on the market, but most of them are quite pricey. Instead, I bought some other wines, based on recent drinking experiences:

-2008 Petaluma Riesling. Apparently a very good vintage for this wine. I recently had the 2002 which was superb. You could drink it now or keep for many years. $25/bottle

-2008 Meerea Park Hell Hole Semillon. I loved the 07 for its crispness and leanness. The 08 is supposedly just as good. $23/bottle

-2007 Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc. I think this is always a good Marlborough SB. Not as grassy as others and well priced. $18/bottle

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Poll - only two more days to vote.

Come on guys, place your vote. How do you like your Shiraz?

Photos added to the Cape Mentelle Cabernet Tasting

see post further down.

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz

An evening of elegance. Also had some 2005 Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz. This wine is not as elegant as the Bindi, but a well crafted wine, and excellent value for some $27/bottle. The fruit has black cherry flavours, white pepper spice and a savoury finish. It is a great food wine, perhaps a lighter version of the Mt. Langhi Ghiran?

Bindi Pinot Noir

Some time ago I praised the Pinot Noirs from the Mornington Peninsula. A comment came back; what about Macedon? Not sure about this as a top region, but it certainly has one of Australia's top producers in Bindi. I don't know much about the winery: it started as a co-operative and sported a very old fashioned label until a few years ago.

In the last few years it has gone from strength to strength. Tonight I had the 2004 Bindi Original Vineyard Pinot Noir. This wine sits in the hierarchy between the Block 5 and the Composition. The wine is still very fresh and vibrant and smells of strawberry and raspberry flavours. This 'lighter' spectrum is misleading: the wine has great intensity at that medium level, it is well structured, has silky tannins and good length. It is a top Pinot Noir, just lacking a bit of that Ata Rangi 'funnel' structure. It will go for many years and is highly recommended.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shirvington Shiraz

The only Australian wine in this year's top 10 of the Wine Spectator is the 2006 Carnival of Love. It is a high alcohol "Parker" Shiraz. It is not widely available in Australia, and mostly exported to the US. The label is owned by Sarah & Sparky Marquis. Sparky fashioned the Fox Creek wines in the late 90s to more concentrated wines. Prior to the current venture, he made Shirvington a cult wine of McLaren Vale. There is no doubt that this pair is very good at marketing, but how good is the wine?

I own some 05 Carnival of Love, but given this would be a bit young, I opened one of two bottles of the 2002 Shirvington Shiraz I own. Yuk, this is a prime example of how misguided wine making can become which goes for maximum ripeness. This wine tastes basically of alcohol (it has 16%) and you wouldn't be able to experience the grape variety. The wine has no charm and would be best suited to a Chinese dinner with lots of toasts followed by sculling your wine. Given the alcohol, you wouldn't be able to do this very often, though.

I believe there are excellent examples of ripe Australian Shirazes with elegance and a structure to last for a long time, but for every good wine, there are many poor ones. This Shirvington is one of those.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Howard Park

At our last stop, we tried quite a number of wines.

The 2008 Howard Park Riesling is a pleasant surprise. It has quite strong citrus flavours, is very vibrant and has a dry crisp finish. The way I like my Riesling. The 06 Chardonnay was not as good. It is a bit oaky and there are simply better ones around.

Then we tried the regional wines on offer. The Leston wines (Shiraz and Cabernet) had minty flavours, a component I am not so keen on, but otherwise are well made, the Cabernet quite savoury and with a dry tannic finish. The o5 Scottsdale Shiraz was probably the pick of this trio with darker and more powerful fruit and a long finish.

The best wine was their flagship, the 2002 Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot. It tasted of forest berries, soft and silky, with a mild tannic finish. It probably had a bit of a gap at the mid palate, but overall a very good wine.

Phew! My tasting in WA has come to an end!


The wine tasting in WA turned out to be much more substantial than I had anticipated, but this was the second last.

The Tom Price SBS was not as good as the similar wine from Cape Mentelle, and didn't deserve this special label, in my view. The 2006 Chardonnay was a better wine, but a little light in comparison to previous years. the 2006 Shiraz had similar problems to Leeuwin's, but was a more complete wine - not a good year for WA Shiraz.

Voyager's main game is Cabernet/Merlot. The 2004 is 81% Cabernet, 14% Merlot, has medium weight, with a complex fruit expression and savoury elements. It is elegant and has good length. I was surprised it didn't make the cut for the Cape Mentelle tasting. The outstanding wine was the 04 Tom Price Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is expensive at $120 per bottle, and was made from the best 20 barrells. It was last made some ten years ago, reflecting the good 2004 vintage. The wine has a terrific berry nose. It is more concentrated, refined and elegant than the Cab/Merlot. The wine has great length and a very silky finish - an outstanding example of what Margaret River can produce.

Leeuwin Chardonnay

As we know, Leeuwin is a star producer of Chardonnay, but the rest are more miss than hit. Of the current releases, the 2006 Art Series Riesling is a little sweet, the 2006 Art Series Shiraz is full of pepper, lacking fruit and the Cabernet doesn't hit the spot very often.

The second label Prelude Chardonnay is often better than most Australian Chardonnays. The 2006 is no exception. The fruit is a mix of pear, grapefruit, peach and mango, it has nutty undertones also. The wine is quite perfumed and shows understated oak - a sophisticated drink.

Now to the main game: the 2005 Art Series Chardonnay. In summary, I was blown away. This wine is perfect and perhaps the best Australian Chardonnay I have ever tasted. If you think it is pricey, I suggest you drink a bit less white wine, but buy a few of these. The fruit flavours are similar to the Prelude, but more intense. What strikes me is the perfect balance this wine has: many flavours, but still some linearity, substantial oak supporting the fruit, unusual length of flavour for a white wine and a mouthfeel which hits on the front palate and carries the wine through evenly to the back. Pierro is often discussed as a challenger, and it can be in the fruit area in good years, but the perfect structure of this wine is unmatched. Only Leeuwin's 2001 and 2002 Chardonnays would come close to this one. The 05 is perhaps a little fuller, but still displays steely characteristics. This wine will age well.

Cape Mentelle

Apart from the Cabernet tasting, I went to the winery tasting room to look at the rest of Cape Mentelle's range. They currently have a second outstanding wine on offer, which is the 2006 Wallcliff Sauvignon Blanc Semillon (SBS). This wine is barrel fermented and fashioned on similar wines in France.

The wine is very smooth and creamy. It has excellent fruit complexity, mouthfeel and length. I thought it was superior in terms of its balance to the similar SBS from Cullen or the Voyager Tom Price SBS.

Review of New Zealand wines

I was asked recently if there is anybody in New Zealand who reviews and scores wines similar to what James Halliday or Jeremy Oliver are doing in Australia. There is! Bob Campbell, a Master of Wine, has many reviews on his website It is not as complete as the Australian reviewers, but quite comprehensive nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cape Mentelle 2004 Cabernet tasting - you hear it here first

One of my reasons to have been at Margaret River is to attend the International Cabernet tasting organised by Cape Mentelle. They have done this for more than 20 years. This year was a comparison of 20 of the 2004 Cabernets. 2004 was a strong vintage in Australia and quite good in France, Italy and the US.

The event took place at their winery and was very well organised. The tasting was blind and included 7 wines from WA, 4 from Coonawarra, 5 Bordeaux, 2 Napa Valley and 1 each from Italy and New Zealand.

The overall conclusions were:
- the standard of wines was very high
- good Cabernet should not be drunk this young (ok for tasting)
- most wines showed incredible vibrancy and strong acidity and as such were a real difference to Australian Shiraz

The clichés were also proven right: the French wines had very good structure and elegance, but were lacking in the fruit department, the Australian had good depth of fruit, but the structure was often not as sound and some were a bit herbaceous, the Americans were quite ripe and sweet.

The eleven Australian wines were selected out of tasting 60 Cabernets, the overseas ones were based on reputation and, I guess, availability. In this way, the Australian wines maybe had a bit of an advantage. Notable absentees: Barossa (Cyril Henschke and Penfolds 707) and Yarra Valley (Mount Mary and Yarra Yering).

The top performers for me were Majella, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Moss Wood, Cape Mentelle, Spottswoode (USA), Houghton Jack Mann and Suckfizzle. This shows my Australian palate bias, but the best Australian producers are world class, in my view. I was surprised to find Suckfizzle in this group. Apparently the wine did well in the taste off. It had good purity of redcurrant fruit, elegance and a fine tannin finish. I thought it might have been the Cullen. The host did very well with generous and vibrant fruit, good length and acidity and an elegant finish.

The second group included Latour, Houghton Gladstone, Cos d'Estournel, Ornellaia and Penley.

The final tier was Leeuwin, Craggy Range The Quarry, Calon-Segur, Chateau Montelena, Balnarves The Tally, Margaux, Parker and Cullen.

The Cullen was disappointing. A usually quite acclaimed wine, it showed by comparison lean fruit, with a bit of leafiness and a thin finish. Even more controversial was the Margaux. In my neighbourhood, everybody rated it quite poorly, probably as a result of brettanomyces character we detected in the wine. It seemed to be present in some other French wines as well, but was really unpleasant in the Margaux. Underneath, the wine had good structure, but if this is the problem, they better clean this up!

Overall, very educational and a great event to attend.

Monday, November 17, 2008


In one of my introductory posts, I said I would make less use of food categories to describe wine and that I liked the 'masculine' and 'feminine' descriptors used by the French. As it turned out, I did not follow my intentions and described the wines in typical Aussie style, although not to the extreme of, say, Tim White from the Fin Review.

Tasting the range of Cullen wines brings me back to my original intentions. These wines are feminine, elegant, well rounded, smooth finish. I don't think this has necessarily to do with the female wine maker dynasty there, but may have to do with biodynamic principles. There is a certain floral and wholesome element, which reflects the soil, I think.

I tasted two SBS's, one unoaked, one barrel fermented, the second label Cabernet Merlot and the Mangan, a Merlot/Petit Verdot/Malbec blend. The last wine gave me a first taste of reds of the much lauded 2007 vintage, and it is an excellent drink. The blend is unusual, but the fleshiness of the Merlot is balanced by the grittyness of the Malbec. The fruit is very concentrated, but does not feel extracted, and the wine comes together well at the end.

Although I did not try the leading wines on this occasion, it is a pleasure to taste wines from this first class winery.

WA - good red for under $30/bottle?

I am way behind my reviews from Western Australia, so I will try to catch up today. One of the exercises I thought would be interesting, would be to try to find a good bottle of red from WA for under $30.

The candidates I bought from a local bottle shop were:
- 06 Cape Mentelle Trinders
- 05 Cape Mentelle Shiraz
- 06 Voyager Shiraz
- 05 Stella Bella Cabernet
- 05 Leeuwin Siblings Shiraz
- 05 Howard Park Madfish Shiraz.

The first thing to note is that there are hardly any first label Cabernets below $30. Therefore, Shiraz dominated in the bracket. The one wine which stood out was the 05 Cape Mentelle Shiraz. It had purity of fruit, good concentration, elegance and length.

It is also clear that the cool 06 vintage was not good for reds. The Trinders and Voyager suffered from that and are basically quite light wines.

The Siblings and Madfish are both early drinking styles. The Siblings is very soft and broad, quite appealing to some, I would think. The Madfish has more in your face fruit, but lacks structure.

Finally, the Stella Bella was disappointing. This Cabernet was from a good vintage, but the fruit did not carry the wine through.

Overall, if you want to drink well from WA, you have to shell out some real money. Good quality bargains, which you can find in the Barossa, for example Torbreck's Woodcutters or Thorn-Clarke, are neigh impossible to find, mainly because of lack of scale (still).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Brookland Valley/James Halliday - The plot thickens

I just read James Halliday's Top 100 wines, as published by The Australian last Saturday. It does not include a single Brookland Valley wine - his winery of the year. In the wines under $20 per bottle, the point score comes down to 90 points. Verse 1 wines score 94, but are not included. - Please explain?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Brookland Valley - Winery of the Year?

I am currently at Margaret River, and will be for a week. The main purpose is not visiting wineries, but it is inevitable to taste a few. On arrival at the Bunker Bay Resort, there was a tasting of three Verse 1 wines by Brookland Valley. Initially I wasn't too keen to taste them, but then I noticed that James Halliday had given these wines 94 points and proclaimed Brookland Valley winery of the year in his new 2009 Compendium.

First up was the 2007 Verse 1 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. This version of the WA speciality blend had a fresh lemon taste first up, but the fruit was rather bland and had a sweet undercurrent. It certainly tasted like a mass produced undifferentiated semi dry white.

The second wine was the 2007 Verse 1 Rose. Similarly, the fruit of this wine, based on Cabernet Franc and Merlot, showed very little depth or complexity. The underlying sweetness made it close to a lollipop drink.

Finally, the 2007 Verse 1 Shiraz. This was probably the best of this trio, as the fruit was more expressive. But again, the wine lacked structure and length: a quaffer.

Now, the Verse 1 wines are priced below $20 per bottle and the wines are acceptable for this price level, but 94 points? Halliday never scores anything above 97 points, rarely above 96 points. the 03 Grange achieved 95 points. While it is not the best Grange ever, it is not just one point above Verse 1. There is a world of difference between leading Australian wines and Verse 1. I have never been a big fan of point scoring wine, and James Halliday is way off the mark here.

And winery of the year? The assessment included some Reserve wines, but the winery of the year should also excel at entry level wines. Brookland Valley does not come close, I am afraid. What do you think?

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Best's is one of Australia's traditional wineries with the current ownership in its 5th generation. It is well known for its cooler climate Shiraz. I tried their two major Shirazes from the strong 2005 vintage. 2005 Bin 1 Shiraz has a violet colour and tastes of dark fruit and spices. It has medium weight, but lacks some backbone. The tannins are quite strong on the finish. Overall, the wine is not that polished, but not a bad drop for the odd $26 per bottle.

2005 Bin O Shiraz is a step up. The blackcurrant and plum fruit has more sweetness and depth. However, the wine is also a bit harsh. It has a dry and gripping finish. It will no doubt be a better drink in a few years time.

Traditional wine making can be a strength, but it should incorporate some advances that clearly have been made. The holy grail for Australian Shiraz is to combine its fruit concentration and power with elegance and harmony. I would not select Best's if that was what I was looking for.

Esk Valley

Esk Valley is a long established producer in Hawkes Bay. It is well regarded and its wine maker won New Zealand wine maker of the year last year. I tried the 2007 Esk Valley Reserve Chardonnay a couple of nights ago. It tastes of stone fruit, is quite oaky and done in a big style, although not buttery, with an acidic finish. It would belong more to California than the modern Australian style, but might appeal to some.

The 2005 Reserve Merlot/Malbec/Cabernet is regarded as one of the best Bordeaux style wines in New Zealand. It has a beautiful taste of redcurrant and forest berries fruit. The wine has medium weight and a good structure. The different grape varieties give it complexity, with the Merlot dominating. For my taste, it lacks some grip on the finish, but is a well made wine.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Petaluma Riesling

When you talk to wine makers, the last vintage is always the best. If it has been cool, it was a fantastic long ripening period, if it has been hot and dry, the grapes are small and concentrated, if it rained, yields are often lower as the poor grapes have been taken out - you get the picture. In the end, you have to work it out for yourself.

Now I do remember, 2002 was a very good year for Riesling. So I was interested to see how the 2002 Petaluma Riesling would drink now. Wow! It has very intense lemon and lime flavours, the palate is very zesty and fresh, even after six years, and the wine finishes long and dry. This will go for another decade at least. The wine has not even entered its mellowing phase.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Red Edge Shiraz

Red Edge has access to some of the oldest and best vineyards in Heathcote. The 2004 Red Edge Shiraz has a bucket full of blackberry and plum fruit. Its structure is perhaps not perfect, but the wine is elegant and will develop complexity for many years to come.

The Willows Vineyard, Henschke, Gibson Barossavale

Last night, I drank a number of excellent red wines with a hearty meat dish.

First up was the 2004 Bonesetter Shiraz by The Willows Vineyard. It was the first time I have tried this wine. I was very impressed by the combination of depth of blackcurrant fruit, the integration of strong tannins, the length of the wine and a structure which delivered quite an elegant feel for such a big wine.

The 2002 Henschke Keyneton Estate is a Shiraz/Cabernet/Merlot blend. Interestingly, it had a very similar profile to the first wine, only the fruit was not as concentrated as a result probably of the cooler vintage and elevated location of the Eden Valley - another good experience.

Finally, the 2004 Old Vine Collection McLaren Vale Grenache by Gibson. Rob Gibson is a keen viticulturist and he has systematically identified very old bush vine Grenache from McLaren Vale in order to produce this wine. He is avoiding an overly fruity expression of Grenache, but while the name is a bit of a mouthful, the wine was a bit less so. Given the excellent conditions in McLaren that year, it didn't quite live up to what it perhaps could have been. The two other wines were difficult to follow, though - and without doubt, this is a wine with authentic character.

Another difference was that the first two wines were decanted. I am a big fan of decanting, even though I don't do it all the time. For older wines, the contact with air refreshes the palate. It is normally not necessary to open the wines a long time beforehand. For young wines, it often helps to decant a wine well before consumption to soften it and make it more harmoneous.

Hunter Valley Wineries Rip Off

I went to Balmoral Beach today to taste wines from the Hunter. I was surprised there were not many wineries represented. It turned out to be a monumental rip-off. You had to buy a tasting glass for $7, and then tasting tickets for $6 each.

Now, the wines available were mainly entry wines in the $18-20 bracket. So, you get your first taste for $13, your second for a total of $19. You can work out how many glasses the wineries would get from a bottle. This is a promotion?

Consumers are not stupid. Very few took up the offer when I was there, and I returned without a drink - I think for the first time ever - from a wine tasting.

Well done, Hunter Valley!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New Poll Added

I am interested to understand at what level of maturity you drink Shiraz, as I often review older wines. Please vote.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bindi Pyrette Shiraz

I was looking forward to trying this wine. How would fantastic Bindi do outside their home territory?

On the positive side, the 2007 Pyrette Shiraz has what I would call the hallmark of Bindi: superfine, silky tannins. The wine is elegant and a beautiful drink.

On the other hand, the fruit is very young and a bit shallow, obviously from quite young vines. And most surprisingly, this wine doesn't really taste like a Shiraz. Clearly the Bindi folk did not want to make a blockbuster and that's fine, but it actually has this light cherry taste and good acidity. It must be a Sangiovese? Has me somewhat puzzled.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A different take on the cork debate

Yesterday I opened a bottle of 1996 Howard Park Cabernet. As I was pulling out the cork it broke in half. Now I operate a cool wine cellar with recommended humidity, i.e. perfect cellaring conditions. As it turned out, the wine was not corked, but I had to decant - which I wanted to do anyway -, and some pieces still end up in the wine.

For those of you who drink premium wines from Europe from time to time, say Bordeaux or Piedmont, has it ever occured to you that this never happens with a European wine? I think what happens here is that Australia gets the raw end of the stick - or the foul end of the cork. We are far away, many producers are small - so who cares. Also, the better European wines seem to have longer corks and of better consistency. Even a layman can tell. I think if you pay peanuts you get monkeys - or bad corks in this case. Wineries that have established long relationships with their suppliers and buy premium product, like Giaconda, for example, don't seem to have a problem.

Therefore, if you don't want to pay, go for the screw cap. Good cork seems to be available, though, on a pretty reliable basis.

What do you think?

Giaconda Nantua Les Deux

Is this the poor man's Giaconda? Well, the price has gone up a bit, so I don't know about that. However, if you don't want to shell out $100 plus for the Chardonnay, this could be an attractive alternative.

Yesterday I had the 2005 Nantua Les Deux. It means it is made up of the two varieties of Chardonnay and Colombard. The wine expresses complex and exotic fruit flavours, in particular Guava, it is of the 'fatter' style, tasting of honey and sweets and has a nice finish, although I would have liked a bit more acidity at the end.

The wine drinks well right now, but would go for 2-3 more years.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Taylors Eighty Acres

I had this wine during a night out: a Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz blend. I have never been a fan of Taylors, but I thought I might give it another try.

Well, stay right away from this one: no varietal character, harsh palate, unpleasant finish. Yuk!

Whistling Eagle Shiraz

On one of the most miserable and coldest October nights in living memory in Sydney, it is the ideal time to pull out a full blooded Aussie Shiraz. Heathcote is a young region, but attracted many wineries during the last 15 years. It will take some time to sort out the men from the boys, but Whistling Eagle is likely to be in the top producers group from this region. I had the 2003 Eagles Blood Shiraz. It has a "Parker profile" of full and sweet dark fruit, combined with 15.5% alcohol.

In contrast to some other contenders, this wine is well structured, it can carry the alcohol alright, and even has some elegance about it. The wine has a slightly tannic and dry finish as a result of the drought, and is a very good wine for nights when you don't want to step outside. Another plus: the wine maker is an Essendon supporter.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

South African Cabernet Sauvignon

A few years ago, I brought a few bottles back from a trip to South Africa. I enjoyed a couple of those last night. They were the 2000 Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2000 Rust En Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon. These two wineries would be regarded as amongst the leading ones over there.

Both wines taste of blueberry and blackberry fruit, cassis, and a bit of mint. The fruit is still lively and the wines are well structured. Probably the major characteristic is the earthy finish - not everybody's cup of tea. But this gives them away as South African.

The fruit of the Rust En Vrede is perhaps not quite as rich and the wine is quite tannic, perhaps a bit harsh. Overall, I would probably place their quality as middle of the road Coonawarra or second tier Margaret River. If you want to try South African wines, I remember Kemeny's in Sydney used to sell them.

Heavenly food and wine matches

There are some food and wine matches that stand out above all others. I was thinking about this today, as I was sipping some bone dry William Fevre Chablis accompanying fresh Patonga Creek Oysters - heavenly. What other matches come to mind?

- Tuna fillet and aged semillon
- Pasta and Sangiovese
- Duck and Pinot Noir (of course)
- Mushroom Risotto and Pinot Noir
- Lobster and rich WA Chardonnay
- Green curry and Gewuerztraminer
- Fillet steak and aged Cabernet

Any you would like to add (or disagree with)?

Pricing Poll Closed

I am not sure why so few voted in this poll. It was an interesting question for me, as I tend to buy more expensive wines, and certainly those that come out of the cellar would be worth a fair bit.

With prices going up so much lately, it is increasingly hard to find interesting wines below $30/bottle, although I will keep looking, and possibly the recent financial crisis will impact on wine prices, as premium buyers dry up.

Picardy, Kooyong, Elderton

A couple of days later I went to another wine-ark tasting with an interesting line-up of Picardy, from Pemberton, W.A., Kooyong, Mornington Peninsula, and Elderton from the Barossa.

The Picardy wines are cooler climate and quite light. They have the reputation of being well crafted, but to me there is simply not enough fruit expression and depth to the wine. The 2006 Pinot Noir would have been my pick, because it had a good combination of light berry and forest floor flavour, but it lacked some length, in my view. The other wines were an 07 Chardonnay, 05 Shiraz and 05 Merlot/Cabernet/Cabernet Franc.

Kooyong specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It uses only estate grown grapes and has a three tiered structure with the Chardonnay Clonale and the Pinot Noir Massale at the bottom, then the Estate wines, and then a few single vineyard wines using the best grapes from designated blocks.

The entry level wines tend to be great value for money, as they essentially are made in the same way as the other wines, but with lesser, but still pretty good grapes. The 07 Clonale Chardonnay proved this point It had lovely citrus and peach fruit flavours. The Estate wines are neither fish nor fowl. They are more expensive, and more subtle wines, but do not reach the expression of the single vineyard wines. And so it was on this night with both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

On tasting was also the 06 Farrago Chardonnay and the 06 Haven Pinot Noir. The Farrago had predominantly citrus flavours, relatively light, but well structured and good length. The Haven displayed plush, dark fruit characteristics, good complexity with quite serious tannins and a long finish. This was a very attractive wine and my wine of the night. It proved that Kooyong is one of the elite producers from Mornington Peninsula, next to Main Ridge, Paringa, Stoniers and a couple of others.

Elderton showed its 06 range of red wines, the Merlot, the Shiraz and the Cabernet Sauvignon. These are wines with generous fruit, fairly forward, but well priced at $25/bottle. Then came the 06 Ashmead Cabernet Sauvignon, their flagship Cabernet. This wine sees French oak in addition to American. It has darker fruit, with good intensity, but is not overdone. It has good length and medium tannin strength. My criticism for a wine in this price bracket would be that it does not have as much finesse as the best in this league.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Aurora Vineyard

A few days ago I went to a wine tasting hosted by the Aurora Vineyard. It was quite a gregarious affair. The structure was interesting. There were three flights, in which essentially they penned their wines in a blind tasting against three others in each flight.

The Aurora Vineyard is a new producer from Central Otago. You might say, what is new about that? Well, the vineyard is large and situated in a plum position in Bendigo. The vines are now about 10 years old and only marketed under their own label for a couple of years. They have had significant show success in New Zealand and England with their first wines. Now back to the tasting.

First were the 2008 Rieslings. I am not a big fan of Riesling. I don't like floral flavours in whites, but I drink some of the steelier examples from time to time. The 2008 Aurora Riesling was compared with a couple of Claire wines, the Grosset Watervale amongst them. We thought that one stood out clearly because of its crispness, linear structure and clean finish. It turned out to be the Aurora. Wow!

Then on to the main game; the Pinots. They were from 2007 and included Felton Road, Mt. Difficulty and Peregrine. One wine was a dud, one stood out because of its length and silky finish. This must have been the Felton Road. It turned out to be the 2007 Aurora Pinot Noir. Wow! The dud was Mt. Difficulty which, in my experience, produces quite variable wine. Felton Road came second; the wine had not opened up much, maybe in 6 months it would have been different. I was amazed about the upfront flavour, structure and finish of the Aurora wine. It probably isn't the most elegant wine at this stage, maybe an Aussie in disguise.

It finished with three shirazes, two were the 2006 and 2007 Aurora Shiraz, one was French. The Aurora wines displayed more elegance and some well integrated spicyness, what we would call cool climate characteristics. The fruit was beautiful, particularly in the 07, and overall these are very good wines for their price point, although the top Victorian wines, like Dalwhinnie, would still have the edge.

Overall, a very impressive showing. Check these wines out on their website

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Paringa Estate Pinot Noir

I have commented on this wine before, but I had another bottle of the 2005 Paringa Estate Pinot Noir last night and feel it deserves another comment. This is a wine that is really helped by a good Pinot glass with big body. The beautiful fruit aroma fills the glass easily. The flavours are strawberry and cherry. The wine has a good structure, and fine grained tannins lead to a very satisfying finish. The wine has clearly improved in complexity from when I first tasted it and will be peak drinking for the next 2-3 years.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Comments, please

I know this blog is followed by a number of people, but I do not receive many comments. Please share what you are thinking as you are reading this blog. It will make it a lot more lively and interesting.

Chateau Langoa Barton

During the last year, I have rediscovered Cabernet based wines. It is educational to drink a European Cabernet from time to time to compare with our Southern Hemisphere wines. Tonight I had the 2002 Chateau Langoa Barton. 2002 is a lesser year in Bordeaux, this Chateau is a good one, but not in the first row.

The first glass was quite closed, the berry flavours followed quickly by savoury characteristics and long tannins - a bit dull. But after half an hour, the wine opened up nicely. The berries developed fuller flavours, the tannins became very silky. Quite an elegant wine, and a perfect food wine, which would not dominate the meal.

In an interesting way, it shared many features with the Unison I had a couple of days ago, although that one had more depth of fruit. Both wines were quite elegant with a long finish.

Cullen Chardonnay

One of the good things of having a wine cellar is that you can go down, on Black Friday, when the stocks are down, pick up one of your best bottles, and it is free.

I looked past Leeuwin and Giaconda and thought maybe I grab a bottle of the 2002 Cullen Chardonnay. It has always been in the shadow of Leeuwin or Pierro. Is it deserved?

The wine is not as tight or linear as some of the better recent Chardonnays. It has mainly peach flavours, quite a bit of oak, a good mouthfeel and length. Is it as good as Leeuwin? - No. It doesn't have quite the complexity or the lightness of it. But then, it is also not as expensive and it is a fine drink. It would match well with a richer fish dish, and will certainly hold a few more years.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Unison Selection

Not many would know about the Unison vineyard. I stumbled across it at a visit to Hawkes Bay, New Zealand a few years ago. The vineyard sits right on top of the Gimblett Gravels, the district where the bigger red varieties ripen well. It is truely a boutique operation, everything done by hand with the aspiration to produce world-class wines following European tradition.

The 2002 Selection is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Now this is something the French can't do (by law), yet it is an exciting blend of varieties. It provides the structure of the Cabernet, the strength and fruit concentration of the Shiraz, and the upfront fleshiness of Merlot. This wine does exactly this, but all in moderation and a gentle way. It tastes of redcurrant and loganberries, and has silky tannins, well integrated to a satisfying dry finish. The wine is still fresh at 6 years. The fruit is not as concentrated as an Aussie style wine would be, but has enough strength to be very satisfying.

Check out this winery. It is different and well worth it.

Coldstream Hills Reserve Chardonnay

Not all of Coldstream Hills' Chardonnays would be on my list of favorites. However, the 2005 Reserve Chardonnay is very good. Made in the 'modern' style, it shows complex fruit flavours of citrus, pear and apple. It is crisp with excellent structure and length. It is still fresh and will go for many years. It would accompany many different styles of food. Just a bit pricey.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Castellare Chianti Classico

The first Chiantis of the acclaimed 2006 vintage in Tuscany have arrived. Last night I tried the 2006 Castellare Chianti Classico. It is certainly quite a substantial wine for a Chianti. The flavours are of black cherries, but not very differentiated. The wine is quite savoury, a little bit tart. It will benefit from a year or two cellaring to soften the tannins. I will be interested to try other Chiantis from this vintage, which might be a bit more 'user friendly' and interesting.

Penfolds Thomas Hyland Chardonnay

During the last 10 years, Penfolds increased their access to white wine vineyards significantly. However, the number of brands remains fairly limited. As a result, a lot of good grapes end up in the lowly priced ( around$15 per bottle) Thomas Hyland Chardonnay. It is terrific value for money and a genuinely good drink. The 2007 Thomas Hyland Chardonnay does not have quite the same strength of fruit which the 06 had, reflecting a generally weaker vintage for whites, but it is made in the 'modern' style, with pleasant citrus flavour, dry, zingy and very clean. It is as good or better than most Chardonnays at twice the price.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Brokenwood Semillon

The Semillon from Brokenwood is a reliable drink. The 2007 Semillon has a citrus and lime taste, it is crisp and clean, not very complex, quite dry. It is very suitable for lunch, because of its lower alcohol content and goes well with sushi. I suggest to drink it young.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Roberto Voerzio Cerequio

The Schild was the warm-up act for the 1997 Roberto Voerzio Cerequio Barolo. There is a bit of a parallel story to it. The 1997 vintage is widely hailed as the vintage of the century in Piedmont. Wine Spectator gave it a 100 point rating, I think a first for any vintage anywhere. They crowned Roberto Voerzio as the king of the vintage and gave its Brunate 100 points. This wine, from an adjacent vinyard, scored 95. I was in Piedmont after the releases to taste a range of these wines. To buy them, after the acclaim, was another story. I succeeded to take one bottle of the Brunate home. I finally managed to get a couple of bottles of the Cerequio in Australia. There probably is not more than one case in the country.

I decanted the wine during the rugby match and then served it with a rib-eye fillet. The bouquet in the glass was fantastic. Aromas of flowers and many fruits combined to enormous intensity and complexity. The taste continued this theme. I mainly tasted strawberry and lively red cherry fruit. Roberto Voerzio belongs to the 'modernists' in Piedmont. This means that the fermentation period is short, and his focus is on meticulous treatment of the vineyards. As a result, the fruit stand out, the tannins which are often so dominant in Nebbiolo, play second fiddle. The wine is medium bodied, very lively, and elegant and balanced. It will go on for many years. If I am asked what was missing, probably from an Australian perspective, a bit more depth in the fruit without losing finesse would have made this perfect. Beats me how this scored less points than the Schild (but see below).

Schild Shiraz

The 2004 Schild Barossa Shiraz caused a sensation during the Wine Australia show, I think in 2005, when it became known it scored 96 points from the Wine Spectator, the leading US wine magazine. This was for a A$24 bottle, quite unheard of. A huge crowd tended to gather around the Schild stand, everybody wanting this wine, not the Reserve. The power of the wine press! It sold out within a week.

The wine starts with a core of sweet fruit, plum and berries, and follows through with serious tannins. It tastes actually similar to the high scoring Napa Cabernets, with good fruit concentration and a lot of ripeness (sweetness). This explains the high score. I had the wine during today's fairly cold afternoon, and while watching on TV the rugby grand final, a sport I am not overly fond of.

The tannins save the wine from a lollywater taste, but in the end, it is a bit rough and tumble - a wine better suited to a barbeque meal than on its own.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Charles Melton Nine Popes

The 'Nine Popes' is pretty much the original serious 'GSM' in Australia. Nine Popes is of course a play on Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Tonight I opened the 2002 Nine Popes. This is a great wine. It starts with a sweet, fruity core (the Grenache), but then develops into a savoury profile with mulberry flavours hanging on. The wine has great mouthfeel and length, finishing off with well structured tannins. This wine will go for many more years (and I have 11 bottles left).

Many vines had trouble to fully ripen in the cooler 2002 season, but those that did have a terrific flavour profile and structure. Clearly, Charles Melton managed to ripen the fruit for this wine. It is a top example of a Southern Hemisphere take on the Southern Rhone blend.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dalwhinnie Moonambel Shiraz

Dalwhinnie is without doubt one of my favourite producers and the maker of probably the best cooler climate Shiraz. For those who like visiting wineries, this is a must. The winery is situated in a cul-de-sac location at the end of a valley, probably the most picturesque vineyard site in Australia, with vines covering the steeper and flatter parts of this amphitheatre. The tasting room is pretty good, too.

The Dalwhinnie Shiraz is always very refined and elegant. This 1998 is no exception. The fruit tastes of blackcurrant and plum with white pepper and spice. The tannins are soft and the aftertaste is long and very satisfying. A top wine.

Pipers Brook Gewuerztraminer

Gewuerztraminer is not a popular variety in Australia, I know only about half a dozen producers of this variety. But when it comes to accompanying Thai food, this is the wine of my choice. I find Pinot Gris and Viognier too complicated in the flavour profile (which gets lost) and reds mostly too tannic.

This 2004 Gewuerztraminer is not shy, though. It displays strong citrus flavours and a strong spice flavour, which for people not used to it may take some time to get accustomed to. This wine is a perfect match for curries, in particular green curries. The similar flavour profiles don't fight, but actually blend into each other pretty well.

And if you don't like this, there is always Singha Beer.

Umani Ronchi 'Villa Bianchi' Verdicchio 2006

The Villa Bianchi has been recommended in a number of newspapers as good value for money white at about $14/bottle. It is quite widely available.

I really enjoyed this clean, crisp and dry drink. It reminds me a bit of a Pinot Grigio in a light style, but I am not sure what grape varieties are involved. If you belong to the ABC club (Anything But Chardonnay), but want something a bit more interesting than your standard Sauvignon Blanc, try this wine.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Spinifex Esprit

Peter Schell, a New Zealand wine maker working in the Barossa, hasn't put a foot wrong with the Spinifex label. The wines are formed in a savoury style and more restrained than you typically find in Australia.

The 2004 Spinifex Esprit is a "GSM" and for my money the best in Australia, certainly at its price point ($30 per bottle). The purity of fruit is outstanding, a savoury, almost moorish palate with white pepper flavours, soft tannins and great length. The different grapes blend seamlessly together. It avoids the often sweet ripeness of Grenache or the overpowering strength of Barossa Shiraz

Buy this wine!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pizzini Sangiovese

It is time to get off the high plane of Margaret River Cabernets. The best accompanying wine to pasta is Sangiovese=Chianti. This is because the acidity of this wine cuts nicely through the pasta and usually makes the dish a more uplifting experience.

Pizzini has probably created the standard for Australian Sangiovese. It is as good as a decent Chianti Classico, not quite a Riserva. Tonight, I am having the 2005 Sangiovese. It displays bright cherry flavours, is fairly straight forward, but with some depth, and finishes with the aforementioned acidity. It would last a few years, but is unlikely to improve.This is a good value for money wine at less than $30 per bottle. I always keep a few bottles for the odd Italian meal I might be having.

Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon

While you are on a good thing, I thought why not open another major Western Australian Cabernet. It is the 1998 Jack Mann. Now I was really interested in this. Houghton was known in the 90s to make fairly average, high volume wines. Then came great reviews of the 98 Jack Mann, their relatively rare flagship wine. So I bought three bottles of this expensive wine. It was thought to be huge, therefore I left it in the cellar until now. Would it be as good as Cullen or Moss Wood?

The critics were right. This is a big wine with great blackcurrant and redcurrant fruit. The wine is very concentrated and quite a blast off initially. The wine still feels young and will have a lot more life in it. It fills the mouth easily and has a long finish on the back of big tannins - a very masculine wine. How good is it? Well, it is a substantial wine and certainly has the right ingredients. However, it is not as elegant and well rounded as the other two wines I tried a couple of days ago. The wine making goes with Cullen and Moss Wood, probably helped by many years of top level results. However, I will enjoy the remaining two bottles of Jack Mann in a few years time.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Yarra Yarra Sauv Blanc Semillon

The 2004 Yarra Yarra Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon is different from the usual examples of this variety, e.g. from Western Australia. It is less citrussy, less grassy. It has oak treatment and as a result is much smoother and softer a drink. It can be cellared for a number of years.

The wine is made much more in the French tradition than in New Zealand style. It was an enjoyable drink, accompanying some sushi really well.

Cullen Cabernet/Merlot

While I am on a good thing, I thought I open another Cabernet from Margaret River for comparison purposes. This was the 1997 Cullen Cabernet/Merlot. Again, a good experience.

This wine is a bit 'fatter' on the mid palate, as a result of the Merlot component than the Moss Wood and the finish is not as long. This wine is one of the weaker Cullen vintages. It is still a fresh and substantial wine, but not as well rounded and harmonious as yesterday's Moss Wood.

Overall, I am impressed to see how well these wines drink and accompany food at 10+ years of age (well cellared).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon

I was down to my last 3 bottles of the 1991 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon. After last night, I have now two left. When I started to pour the bottle, I was worried. The colour seemed very brown and orange. However, as the wine settled in the glass, it adopted its usual dark colour. I let it sit there for some time.

The bouquet opened beautifully and what a stunning wine this was! From an acclaimed vintage, the fruit is still very lively, the soft tannins provide a fantastic structure, allowing the wine to hold up well. The flavours went on and on. The best Australian Cabernet I ever had? Possibly.

Huon Hooke wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald a couple of days ago about the reasons for the big price differences between French Burgundy and Australian Pinot and argued proven ageability as the major justification. My initial reaction was: well, I drink the wine only once, why pay for potential?

However, just having had this experience, I start to agree. Moss Wood CS is expensive. However, this flavour profile, youthfulness and elegance is achieved only by very few - worth the money (and the wait), in my book.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Felton Road Pinot Noir

Last night I had a bottle of the 2006 Felton Road Pinot Noir. What an outstanding wine this is!

It was quite different from what I expected. These wines typically have quite dark colour, black cherry flavours, quite big upfront, but sometimes lacking in length (see an earlier post on types of Pinot Noir).

This wine explodes with red cherry flavours, has excellent fruit concentration, and tremendous length. It manages to balance its full flavours with an elegant finish and soft tannins which last and last. I was blown away. Very tempting now to open Block 3 and Block 5 from this year, but probably better to cellar these if this profile is anything to go by.

Clarendon Hills Romas Vineyard Grenache

Following the great Astralis experience from the other day, it was time to taste Clarendon Hills' other flagship, the Grenache from the Romas Vineyard. This vineyard is regarded as the best source for Australian Grenache, next to Torbreck's Les Amis vineyard.

I drank the 2002 Romas Vineyard Grenache. Another excellent wine, although not quite in the league of Astralis. It starts with typical sweet fruit, quite concentrated, but then goes on to quite savoury characters, carried by substantial tannins. Certainly no fruit bomb. A lot of complexity and an interesting wine.

Some wine scribes have asserted, there is no good straight Grenache in Australia. Add Kalleske, Torbreck and Gibson Barossavale to this, and you would have a world-class line-up.

Friday, September 19, 2008

William Fevre Petit Chablis

Ah Chablis! What a difference to the Cloudy Bay: Fresh lime and citrus flavours, bone dry, flinty, mineral, not so much alcohol, good length and acidity. And this 2005 is only the entry wine . However, 2005 was a good year and William Fevre is one of the outstanding producers of the Chablis district.

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay

Cloudy Bay has built its reputation on its Sauvignon Blanc and deservedly so. Over the last couple of days I drank its 2005 Chardonnay. I was disappointed. It started well with lime flavours, but soon grassy flavours take over. There is a fair amount of oak and the wine is not balanced too well. It finishes with a fair bit of alcohol (14.5%) and is not the pleasant and smooth drink I expected.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Gaja Toscana

Last night we had pasta. Usually I open a bottle of Chianti/Sangiovese with it, because its acidity cuts so well through the meal, but yesterday I found this 2000 Gaja Magari Ca'Marcanda. It is Gaja's entry wine, if such a word can be allowed for him, a Cabernet/Merlot blend.

Gaja is probably Italy's best known producer, based in Piedmont, with a portfolio of incredibly elegant and long lasting wines. A few years ago, he branched out into the Toscana.

This wine had nice cherry like flavours, good structure and harmony. On the downside, the depth of the fruit, which we had in the Voyager, for example, was missing. Very clearly, the wine is made from young fruit. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a good food fine and I recommend this to anyone who wants to drink Gaja for less than $100 per bottle.

Voyager Cabernet/Merlot

A couple of nights ago, I opened a bottle of the 1999 Voyager Estate Cabernet/Merlot. I always resolve to drink more Cabernet from Margaret River, but it does not seem to happen, although these wines accompany meaty food so well.

Voyager Estate is the new kid on the block in Margaret River which tries to challenge the lofty hights of Cullen, Moss Wood, Cape Mentelle, Howard Park and Leeuwin. It does this by producing wines almost as good and at half the price. This formula has generated great popularity and success.

This wine proved to be quite big and gutsy. A big mouthfull of blackcurrant and redcurrant fruit was supported by big tannins. The wine was still fresh, there was no variation between the bottles. The wine did not quite come together at the end, as the earthier flavours on the back palate did not quite integrate with the fruit at the beginning. Definitely not Voyager's best effort, but still a good wine to have - and it would have lasted a few more years.

Barossa Valley Estate E & E Shiraz

Still in celebration mode, we opened a couple of bottles of the 1998 Barossa Valley Estate E & E Shiraz. Last night was an impossible act to follow, but this wine was pretty good as well.

Blackcurrant fruit, good concentration and length of flavour. Some savoury flavours coming through as well. The palate proves the strength of the 98 vintage. The wine was not quite as harmoneous as the wines last night, but the tannins and finish followed nicely from the initial fruit flavours. A very good example of Barossa Shiraz.

Grange and Astralis

What do you open when you want to pull out all stops for a big celebration? Well, you can't go wrong with a 90 Grange, and I thought as a comparison, a 96 Clarendon Hills Astralis would be interesting.

The Astralis has not had much publicity lately, probably because it has become very expensive and also is quite rare. However, I just looked up its ratings at Wine Spectator and the last five vintages rated between 95 and 98 points. Not many wines would have achieved that.

Anyway, this wine worked a treat that night. Big blackberry and plum fruit, quite a mouthfull, yet elegant, still a lot of primary fruit, good length - a beautiful big wine.

Then came the Grange. And while I thought it would be hard to top the Astralis, this Grange did (not all years would have). Amazing flavour complexity, still very young. Secondary flavours are only just emerging. The wine goes on and on and finishes with soft grained tannins. The unique thing about Grange and this wine in particular was how it can be so lively at 18 years of age, while the aging allows the full complexity of the fruit to develop.

Both wines are obviously bold wines, yet they were lively and elegant. When people argue they are sick of big Shirazes and they fight the food rather than accompany it, they would do well to look at these two wines as outstanding benchmarks of first class Shiraz. Maximum flavour and elegance - it can be done.

Joseph Drouhin Chablis

Chablis is increasingly my favourite white wine. I don't drink whites with dinner much, but for lunch this is perfect.

Chablis wines are very steely, of lime/citrus flavour, with good minerality and a fresh acidic finish. Alcohol levels are moderate, usually around the 12% mark. They are more interesting than Sauvignon Blancs (in my view), but not as big as Australian Chardonnays. They are made from the Chardonnay grape.

The 05 Joseph Drouhin is a good example of this. I drank the wine on a number of occasions lately. It shows great versatility with food . The 06 is available now, but apparently has some sweetness, which would be unusual for the Chablis region.

Stefano Lubiana, Ashton Hills, Mitchelton

Some days ago I attended the latest Wine-Arc tasting. It was a mixed bag of wineries, maybe relatively cool climate was the common denominator.

In contrast to other wine writers, I have not been impressed with most Tasmanian wines in the last few years (apart from Bay of Fires). So I didn't expect too much from Stefano Lubiana. They showed an 04 Chardonnay and an 06 Pinot. They were pleasant wines, but at $45/bottle expensive for what they were.

Ashton Hills established the first vineyards at the Adelaide Hills. Their best known wines are again Chardonnay and Pinot. The wines are quite individualistic, but failed to impress. The Chardonnay lacked acidity and had a plump finish as a result. The Pinot was more attractive; you could taste the natural yeast, but again it lacked length.

The interesting wines from Mitchelton were the Shirazes. First, the 06 Parish Shiraz/Viognier, a wine with bright fruit and uplifting floral flavours. Good value at $25 per bottle. Then on to the flagship Print Shiraz. I had not tried this for at least 7 years, but enjoyed it previously. The 03 was quite a meaty wine, possibly drought affected, and lacked length and complexity. Then we tried the 98. It was the wine of the night, showing dark fruit and more concentration and length. It finished quite dry - a serious Shiraz, but not a blockbuster, well suited to food.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I tried the new Petaluma releases the other day. I must say, I am not the biggest fan of their wines. I find they are very well made, but lack character. For their prices, I need the wow! factor.

However, I have to say the latest releases are very good:
08 Hanlin Riesling: very clean and well made, slightly sweet
07 Viognier: peach & lychees, fairly light, but purposeful, some good acidity
06 Chardonnay: mineral wine, not much fruit character, steely, some oak, still very young
06 Shiraz: cool climate shiraz, very peppery, quite oaky, long finish
04 Merlot: pure fruit, medium weight, some tannin & structure (have seen better)
05 Coonawarra (Cab/Merlot): redcurrant fruit, good concentration, very clean, dry finish with soft tannins

The 05 Coonawarra was the standout, not surprisingly, a serious and well made Cabernet. After that, I enjoyed the Shiraz and the Viognier. Viogniers often taste like fruit salad, but this one was much more linear and would go well with seafood, salads and Asian dishes.

Overall, I enjoyed the wines.

What to drink in Iceland?

My expectations regarding wine were low. Prohibitively expensive, I thought. However, a range of value wines was available for $15-20, from Italy, Chile and Australia. The Australian wines compared favourably. What were they? Peter Lehman! The old favorite, Barossa Shiraz was there and a GSM. They showed remarkable fruit concentration and more depth than others. Great value for money!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Time For A Break

I am off to Iceland, therefore it is unlikely many wine reviews will come your way in the next few weeks - but keep on voting!

Penfolds Grenache and Torbreck's Struie

I had two great wines last night: A 2002 Penfolds Cellar Reserve Grenache and a 2001 Struie. Both wines showed fantastic fruit and were at the right age to drink. (I generally think 6-9 years is the best time for most Barossa reds).

When Penfolds puts out one-off wines, you know they are a bit special, and they are usually well priced as well. 02 was a great year, and this Grenache is so rich, soft and fruity, it seems to jump out of the glass. The wine is not overdone, though, and a great wine with pasta or red meat dishes.

The Struie needs time to soften and this one has. It has a big concentration of blackcurrant and cherry fruit, but the tannins have softened by now and are well integrated. Torbreck produces quite a range of wines, the smaller production ones going to stratospheric price levels. This one at around $45 is good value and benefits from David Powell's excellent wine making skills and access to fruit.

First Poll Closed

The first poll is now closed and it is rather interesting, although the numbers are small. Probably surprisingly Pinot Noir won, just ahead of Barossa Shiraz. This is probably a reaction to two things: one, overly big and ripe Australian (Parker) wines, two, the vastly improved quality of Pinot lately. Barossa Shiraz still does well. It is Australia's unique contribution to the world of fine wine after all (apart from Hunter's Semillon, which people talk about, but don't drink much).

Friday, July 11, 2008

2006 Stonier Reserve Chardonnay

Stonier has always been a favourite winery of mine because of the consistency of both the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, both the regular and reserve wines. Therefore it is always a safe bet to order from a restaurant list. This wine was quite big, but not buttery, and had enough acidity to match the fruit, which had stone fruit, particularly nectarine characteristics. It accompanied the varied food we had quite well.

2000 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz

Finally a wine to review from the Hunter Valley. The Hunter seems to care more about tourists than the quality of its wine (and I accept this does not need to go together), but there are a few serious wines there. The Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz is perhaps its best known quality wine today. Ironically, it does not taste like a typical Hunter shiraz. A typical Hunter shiraz is medium-bodied and tastes quite soft, with a velvety after taste.

This wine is very concentrated, with redcurrant fruit, fairly strong oak, but a balanced structure. Its tannins are masculine and still quite strong after 8 years. The wine holds with a long finish. 2000 was generally a poor year for Australian wine, and many people who have bought wine to open for their children's 21st will be disappointed, but the Brokenwood clearly had a good year and this one might go the distance.

Torbreck 2002 The Steading

Finally I had a wine from perhaps my favourite winery: Torbreck. The 2002 The Steading is a delicious drink right now. It is a Grenache/Shiraz/Mouvedre blend in the southern Rhone style with the Grenache component quite dominant (I am not sure what the percentages are). It is ideal to drink this wine with some age on it, because this accentuates its wonderful complexity.

I attended a tasting of some 36 components which go into The Steading a number of years ago, and it was amazing to see how none of the components reached the completeness of the final product: A real case of 1+1=3.

The wine now has an array of fruit characteristics with the sweetness of the Grenache finely balanced by savoury flavours on the back palate. It is full bodied, but not overwhelming. Fruit and tannins are in harmony resulting in an elegant drink.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My pet peeve #1

Following on from the last post, it is a pity that retailers have removed price tags from wine bottles. It used to be very satisfying to see - after you have stored a bottle for many years - how cheaply you managed to buy this wine. Now, all you get is a series of meaningless numbers if anything at all.

1990 Henschke Hill of Grace

Last night my wife and I had reason for a very special celebration. So we thought we pull out a big one. Look at the gunk in this bottle. This is a $500 bottle now, so it is satisfying to read in my database that I bought this wine in 1993 for $43 only. Not a bad return, but no way I would return this wine.

This surely must be one of the greatest wines produced in Australia in the last 20 years. I talked in my first post about the french way of describing a wine. Well this is a 'female' wine in their vocabulary.

I decided to air and decant the wine, but not for too long, as I was concerned that too much air might affect the flavour. Boy, was I wrong. As we started to drink the wine, it was still quite closed, but after 10 minutes, beautiful aromas started to open up. The fruit flavours were still strong, quite complex. My wife and I had quite different views of what they were. But the overwhelming impression was elegance and silkiness to a degree hardly ever seen in Australian wine. The wine displayed great length and super soft tannins. What a treat.

So is Hill of Grace a Grange challenger? Well, it is a completely different wine. To pick up the french theme again: if the Grange is a masculine wine, the Hill of Grace is a feminine wine. What Grange achieves in fruit concentration and depth, Hill of Grace achieves in elegance and silkiness. Both unrivalled in Australia on these dimensions.

2005 Paringa Estate Pinot Noir and 2006 Penna Lane Willsmore Shiraz

A couple of nights ago we had the above wines at a dinner invitation.

The 2005 Paringa Pinot Noir is another example of a great Pinot from the 2005 year from the Mornington Peninsula. It further confirms my view this is the best Pinot region in Australia. The fruit was very vibrant, the wine had good mouthfeel and an excellent smooth finish.

I had never heard of Penna Lane before, but the winery has a top rating in the James Halliday
wine bible. It is a small operation in the Claire Valley. I therefore expected a highly acidic wine, but this is not what I got. The fruit was complex and quite sweet with a good core which suggests ability for long term cellaring. The wine had a lot of new oak, maybe a bit much for early drinking, but I think the wine will have a good future ahead. I will try it again.

Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc

Well, I do drink white wine occasionally. Many are critical of Sauvignon Blancs, but they cut through food pretty well, particularly at lunch time. The problem is many are grassy and too pungent, which is why the folks from Western Australia mix them with Semillons. However, blends often make for dull wines.

This one has been a solid performer for many years. Its sharpness and freshness is matched with ripe fruit and the result is a refreshing drink which is quite versatile. It goes particularly well with fish and salads.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Good value restaurant reds

Do you have this dilemma that I have? I have a good collection of high quality wines, but when I go to a restaurant, I cringe because they cost three times as much. To avoid this, I often end up with an inferior wine to what I am used to.

However, recently I tried two value wines I quite enjoyed: 2006 Yering Station Shiraz Viognier and 2oo5 Mt. Langhi Billi Billi Shiraz. They are both from quality producers, so you know the wine making is ok. Yering Station make a reserve of this wine which is a top Australian wine, but this one has excellent fruit as well and the lift from the Viognier makes it very food friendly. At Mt. Langhi they make all wines in a similar way, but this one comes from younger vines - again a good choice with food.

So when you next look for a high quality value red, check these out.

Friday, July 4, 2008

2004 Sanguine Estate Shiraz

It is time to review a Shiraz from Heathcote. This is probably my second favourite Australian wine region for Shiraz, after the Barossa. The Barossa is number one because of its well established vineyards, fruit complexity, chocolate flavours and great consistency. Heathcote shows more red fruit characters, the wines are bold, many too alcoholic, but great for winter. Next probably comes McLaren Vale, which produces wines of great depth, but somewhat one-dimensional plum flavours. There are also a few great Shirazes from Claire. They age very well because of their high acidity, but apart from Wendouree are quite uneven. Then comes the rest.

This Sanguine is full bodied, with black cherry and blackcurrant flavours. It is sweet, with the alcohol sharpness gone, and the tannins have melted into a satisfying finish. Great value for $30 per bottle.

I had another bottle a few days before, which displayed less fruit flavour, and was rather oaky. Substantial bottle variation. Both bottles were stored in the same way. I am not necessarily a fan of screw tops for the best reds, but if you cannot afford a good reliable cork, you better go for a different closure.

2006 Lerida Pinot Noir

Staying with the Pinot Noir theme, this is a relative newcomer. This wine tastes of fresh cherry, has good acidity, is very harmoneous, and has good length with soft tannins. The Germans would describe it as sueffig, meaning great to drink: not overly complex, but satisfying enough. Great value at under $30 per bottle as well.

2004 Main Ridge Half Acre Pinot Noir

The following night I had my favourite Australian Pinot Noir. Main Ridge planted the first vineyards on the Mornington Peninsula. The vines are now more than 15 years old. It is a small family winery, with meticulous treatment of the vines, and single vineyard production. Why is this my favourite? Consistency is probably the key, followed by the flavour profile, a lighter to medium style of strawberry taste, with fabulous complexity of savoury flavours, elegance, excellent integration of tannins and great length. The last years have shown increased fruit concentration and the 2004 is a hard wine to beat.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Felton Road Pinot Noir

It is time to write about Pinot Noir, given it is such an important and popular grape variety. Last night I had the 2002 Felton Road Pinot Noir.

In my book, there are three types of Pinots: first, the lolly water variety. These are sugary wines with no structure and no length on the palate. Thankfully, these are on the way out at $ 20 plus.

The second group is typified by the 'Central Otago profile'. The taste starts with a big fruit sensation and then quickly finishes on the palate.

The third group has the 'Martinborough profile'. The fruit characters are subdued and ethereal and then the wine openes to a very long and hopefully balanced finish. Burgundies and most Pinots from Martinborough follow this profile.

In Australia, the grouping is less clear. Paringa or Yabbie Lake would have the Central Otago profile, Main Ridge or Bindi the Martinborough profile. To be clear, this distinction is not so much about quality, but rather about style.

Now the Felton Road had the upfront, dark cherry fruit, but also complexity and some savoury characteristics, given its age. It had good length and soft tannins. No doubt though, a typical Central Otago wine, but of the highest quality.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Grange Challengers?

Two prestigous shirazes were lined up next to each other: 1998 Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz and 1998 Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz. These two wines are occasionally mentioned has challengers to the Penfolds Grange top position. They are made from the best fruit of these two sizable wineries and 98 was a great vintage in the Barossa.

In the direct comparison, the Meshach was the much better wine. Its fruit tasted of redcurrant fruit, was lively and well balanced with the oak and tannins. The Stonewell showed the effects of trying to get maximum ripeness from the vines. It smelled a little burnt and tasted dead and unattractive.

Is Meshach a Grange challenger? Not really. It is a different wine. A few weeks ago I tasted the Grange from the same year (see my earlier post). The Grange has more weight and would last for 30-40 years, with layers upon layers of fruit. This aging ability on a consistent basis remains unique in the Australian context. The Meshach is probably drinking at its peak now; it is quite a seroious and well endowed wine, but if it were a car, it would be a mid sized Audi and the Grange an S-class Benz.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wynns 1990 John Riddoch

We had a bit of a celebration last night. Out came the King of the Coonawarra, Wynn's John Riddoch, from the highly acclaimed 1990 vintage. Some people say the vintage's wines were too ripe and wouldn't last. Well, this wine we drank last night was at its peak. It still had great ripe redcurrant flavours, excellent structure and mouthfeel and lasted and lasted from the tip of the tongue down the throat. My experiences with Wynns wines have not always been good, but this was outstanding. I have a bottle of the 1990 Michael left, and it will come out soon as well, I think.

Ca' Rome Barbaresco

It is a cold winter evening, you want to go to this lovely restaurant that serves beautiful fish, but you think that maybe you need something heartier, and the restaurant is byo. Sounds familiar? So what wine to take? I felt a Pinot could be a good each way bet, but maybe something with more grunt would be appropriate. So I felt the 2007 Ca' Rome Romano Marengo Barbaresco might just be right.

And so it turned out to be. First, you can't go wrong with a 2007 Piedmont wine. As it happened, we had Moreton Bay Bugs first, followed by Persian, i.e. sweet spiced duck. The Barbaresco was a perfect match. It cut through the sauce which came with the Bugs and its floral bouquet went really well with the duck. The wine was fresh, very complex fruit aromas and had great length.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Yarra Yarra

The Yarra Valley is another area which is overrated and underperforming. First, the strong influence of James Halliday has positioned the area as ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is clear, though, that the best Chardonnays come from other areas such as Western Australia, Adelaide Hills and various locations in Victoria. Equally, the Mornington Peninsula clearly outshines the Yarra Valley in Pinot.

Then there are people who say it is perfect for Cabernet: think Mount Mary, Yarra Yering and Yarra Yarra. A couple of days ago, I drank the 2004 Yarra Yarra, a Bordeaux blend. Boy, has this wine aged in a short space of time. The wine has not much expression, has limited mouthfeel and falls right off at the back palate. Disappointing.

Bay of Fires Chardonnay

Tasmanian wine, in particular its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir has received quite some accolades during the last couple of years, not just as input to Champagne, but also as still wine. I toured some of the wineries last year and I remain unconvinced. Maybe it is just a matter of time, but at this point the vines are mostly very young and the flavours neither complex nor particularly concentrated.

One winery I quite like is Bay of Fires, though. I drank their 2006 Chardonnay over the last couple of days. It has lovely citrus flavours, crisp, straight, very agreeable and well priced.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

McLaren Grenache and 2000 Bordeaux

Tonight I drank a strange mix of reds.

First up, the remainder of a bottle of McLaren Grenache, a 2002 Gibson's Old Vine Collection. This is a production focussed company - to stay with the theme - of first principles. The winemaker Rob Gibson is really a viticulturalist and his passion is to find old vines and improve them to their potential. He found these neglected old bush vines and produced a beautiful wine in a favorable year.

The wine has sweet flavours, of strawberry and plum, but a good backbone (critical for a top quality Grenache) and a savoury, tannic finish - nicely balanced.

Then I opened a 2000 Chateau Bernadotte. This is a cheapy in Bordeaux terms, but can be a very good wine in a good vintage. And so it proves here. It is not as full as a South Australian red, but displays good redcurrant fruit with some bite, and a smooth finish.

This comparison comes down to the role you want the wine to play: the Grenache will be an equal partner to food, the Bernadotte will play more of a support role. As I am typing this, I am having another glass of the Bordeaux on its own and I wished I had some Grenache left. However, the Bordeaux supported the food beautifully.

Wolf Blass 1986 Black Label

I must admit I have not been a great Wolf Blass fan in the past, although I have a bit of its wine in my cellar. This is clearly a marketing driven company, but at the same time, it has access to very good Barossa fruit.

Yesterday I shared in a bottle of their premium label at the time, a 1986 Black Label Shiraz. It drank beautifully: all the clutter was gone. A beautiful cherry fruit profile was left, still lively, no oak could be tasted, no alcohol and tannins softly, softly in the background. A very feminine wine at this point, supporting the quail beautifully.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Penfolds BIN 90A

When you see a label like this, you know this is a production driven, not a marketing driven company. This is usually a good thing for the consumer. The Bin ...A series is only produced in outstanding years, usually once per decade.

This wine drank beautifully last night, close to the concentration and depth of Grange. The shiraz fruit provided the mouthfeel and meatyness of the fruit, the cabernet the length on the palate. The tannins had softened and integrated nicely. A beautiful and typical Australian wine (see the dirt on the glass bottle?)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bass Phillip Pinot Noir

Last night I shared a half bottle of Bass Phillip's 1999 Reserve. This wine is probably Australia's most famous Pinot, partly related to quality (according to Langton's), partly to its famous label, which is smaller than a standard stamp. I went for a half bottle, because of a 10k fun run I did this morning.

I decided to decant the wine, but did not want to do it more than 30 minutes before dinner, given the wine is 9 years old and only a half bottle. I noted that Jeremy Oliver, one of Australia's best known reviewers, rated the wine highly on release, but quite poorly in his latest booklet.

The colour of the wine was similar to orange peel and not very clear - not surprising given the wine is not filtered. The bouquet had very earthy flavours and I was worried the wine was over the hill. The first tastes seemed to support this view. The fruit had significantly disappeared, and the taste was somewhat metallic and not very long. I had tuna with the wine, normally a perfect match.

The surprise came ten minutes later. The wine opened up nicely in the glass, with soft strawberry flavour and complex secondary characteristics, such as mushroom . The taste lengthened on the palate, and soft tannins for a satisfying finish emerged. Not the greatest Pinot ever, but a decent drink. It goes to show that particularly 'naturally' made wines should not be put down for too long. Why the wine managed to recover so well in the glass, I do not know.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

St. Hallett, Mt. Langhi, Kalleske, Giaconda

The last few days allowed me to compare the flagship reds of a number of leading producers and reflect on the issue of 'big reds' vs. more traditional wines.

On the first night, I drank the 1998 St. Hallett Old Block side by side with a 1999 Mt. Langhi Giran Shiraz. You can't say that the Old Block is an overblown wine, but it is clearly Barossa. It has weight, depth and some chocolate flavours. This wine drinks perfectly now, the tannins weave beautifully through the concentrated fruit flavours, in perfect harmony. The Mt. Langhi had typical Victorian characteristics: dark fruit, a lot of spice and a firm finish. Both wines were great, but the St. Hallett had the edge - what you would expect from a perfect Barossa red.

The Kalleske was a 2005 Old Vine Grenache. Obviously quite a different experience. The wine has 15.5% alcohol, but the strong fruit absorbs this pretty well. The wine comes from the significant vineyard holdings at Greenock Creek. Wines from this area tend to be very ripe, sweet and alcoholic. This wine was quite agreeable on all fronts, although clearly a 'modern' expression of Barossa wine. It had the typically soft characteristics of Grenache and good mouthfeel.

Finally, a bottle of 2002 Warner Shiraz by Giaconda. This wine has a 97 point rating by James Oliver, who is not a fan of big reds. It is grown in the high country of Beechworth and has characteristics very similar to Northern Rhone wines. A strong earthy feel, elegant, understated, and excellent length.

What is the verdict? I think all these wines are perfect for the right environment. I would enjoy the Barossa wines less in summer. They did not fight with the food, but could also be drunk on its own. The Victorian wines are great company to meat based food, but shine less on their own. Bottom line: I would be happy with any of these bottles most nights.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

wine-ark tasting

The same evening I attended the monthly wine-ark tasting. This is a wine club where you get to taste a portfolio of three usually high quality producers. The tastings tend to be attended by 100-150 people. This night the first producer was Jacobs Creek. Jacobs Creek? I hear you say. Well it was my first Jacobs Creek tasting too, but they have now grouped a number of premium brands under this label. Their presenter was apologizing for this fact all the time, so the wisdom of this is not yet very clear. First up were two Steingarten Rieslings from 2006 and 2002. This wine is probably amongst the top 5 or 7 Australian Rieslings. Both had predominantly a lime flavour, the younger one was very crisp, whereas the 02 had mellowed without being flat. They had a smooth and slightly sweet finish (this comes from someone who likes his whites bone dry). Clearly well made wines, but not for me.

Following were the 2004 and 98 St. Hugo Cabernets. The first wine had very sweet fruit and obviously lashings of oak. It fell a bit short on the back palate. The 98, from a stellar year, tasted predominantly of redcurrant fruit, it had better length and structure finishing with soft grained tannins. Then we drank their top premium wine, the 2001 and 98 Johann Shiraz Cabernet. I have not tried this wine before, but was positively impressed. The 01 had quite dark and concentrated fruit, quite a harmonious and long wine, however lacking a bit of mouthfeel, which I had expected, given the concentrated fruit and the Cabernet/Shiraz combination. Sadly these wines are not made that often anymore in Australia. This combination is unique to this country. The fleshy Shiraz and the more tannic Cabernet make a great combination, in my view. The 98 was similar, although not as powerful as the 01, it seemed to me. The 01 displayed really excellent fruit.

The second winery was Redbank from Victoria. The Sally's Paddock is a wine with a long tradition and good standing. It is a blend of predominantly Cabernet, Shiraz and Cabernet Franc. These wines are light to medium bodied. To me, the evening demonstrated how the times have moved on (and they haven't). We tried the 06 and 05. Both wines were very high in acid and somewhat harsh - clearly too early to drink, but I doubt that they will develop into a harmonious package, given the timid fruit.

Finally it was Songlines. I was particularly interested in these wines. This is a project where a group of international winemakers have come together and are developing a portfolio of wines from different parts of the world. The Australian contribution is of course Shiraz. The wines are made by John Duval, the ex-Penfolds and Grange winemaker, and David Fatches. They come in three tiers. First the 06 Leylines. This is the entry level and proved to be good value for the $22 price tag. Then 06 Bylines. This wine had powerful fruit, tasting mainly of plum, quite sweet and upfront, but having good length as well. The flagship, at $96 per bottle, was the 06 Songlines. This wine was more closed and elegant. It had some eucalypt (which I don't like), and fell off the back palate a bit. My pick was the Bylines. All the wines come from McLaren Vale. They are impressive, but so are their prices.