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.

Coonawarra Cabernet

Last Thursday involved a major lunch and a tasting of a couple of aged Coonawarra reds. Over Christmas I drank quite a number of 10 year old Cabernets from Coonawarra and I rediscovered the beauty and longevity of these wines. I think many wine drinkers have been sucked in by the US ratings for our Shiraz and have therefore focussed on these wines - and no doubt there are some outstanding Shirazes.

However, the Coonawarra reds can be better companions to food, and the famous 'terra rossa' provides unique expression of redcurrant and blackcurrant fruit.

We first had the 2000 Penley Reserve Cabernet. The year 2000 was largely forgettable, so I was surprised how well this wine showed. It had weight, depth and an elegant finish. Then followed the 1994 Wynns John Riddoch. This 'King of the Coonawarra' was a beautiful wine from a good vintage, probably drinking at its peak. The bouquet was still lively. The blackcurrent fruit moved through the palate very smoothly and the wine had a long finish with mellowed and soft tannins. The wine accompanied our duck beautifully and was proof you don't have to drink Pinot Noir with duck.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


The 4th of June marks the release of the new Wynns wines. I managed to taste today the cheaper set of the series, the Chardonnay, the 2006 Cabernet/Shiraz/Merlot, 2007 Shiraz and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Back in the 70s, Wynns was one of the top labels of the Coonawarra. However, it lost its position as a result of excessive growth and too many young vines, as well as high yields. There is now more focus on vineyard management and the press has been more favorable in the last couple of years.

Judging by today's tasting, Wynns has a long way to go. The wines taste mass produced, the fruit is still quite weak across the board, and the wines are harsh. But then, the Shiraz is only $12 -$15 per bottle and probably compares reasonably well with wines of the same price point. It is just not a very appealing wine.

Will have to wait for the 2005 John Riddoch and the 2005 Shiraz Michael. Maybe they can turn the clock back.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Matching spicy food (2)

It is another spicy food night, this time Indian curry. I am drinking a 2002 Magpie Estate Gomersal Grenache with it. Grenache is the best red wine match for this type of food. The wine is full, but soft, with a silky finish and subdued tannins. It is not easy to find well made Grenache in Australia. However, the Gomersal region in the Barossa has plenty old bush vines and 2002 was an excellent vintage. The wine is made by Rolf Binder who produces an uneven portfolio of wines, but this one works well.

Paringa Estate

Paringa Estate is a highly acclaimed winery from the Mornington Peninsula. I am drinking the 2004 Estate Shiraz. I normally like to drink Australian shiraz with 6-8 years of age. So this one is a bit young. However, I doubt it would get a better review in a couple of years. The fruit is pleasant enough, good spice, as you would expect from a cool climate vinyard, but the mouthfeel is lacking. The wine does not extend well to the back palate. How different from yesterday's Barolo. I call these wines showponies.They do well at wine shows, they grab attention initially, but they lack substance. The better known Paringa Pinots display similar characteristics, in my book.

Monday, June 2, 2008


It was a pasta night, an Italian wine had to come out. I am quite fond of Barolos. These are wines based on the Nebbiolo grape, grown in Piedmont. Traditionally they have been very tannic and long living, but not so easy on the palate. These days, fermentation periods are reduced and they can be drunk a few years after release. Speaking in generalities, Barolos appear to be a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. They have the backbone and tannins of the Cabernet (and more of it) and the floral flavours of the Pinot.

Tonight's wine is a 1998 Boscareto, a Barolo from Ferdinando Principiano. This wine is not available in Australia. I picked it up from a visit to Piedmont. Ferdinando is one of the younger wine makers of the region with access to very good fruit. The wine starts with dark cherry flavours and then gets taken over by rose petal, followed by anise and licorice. It is quite savoury and absolutely a food wine. This Barolo does not have the structure or length of the top producers, but worked well with a Monday night home cooked pasta dish. Barolos always give me a feel of a great occasion wine, maybe because they need a big glass to open up, maybe because of the price tag (this one was 'only' $50). Once you get used to the the general flavour profile, which is very different from Australian wine, they seldom disappoint.

The Chardonnay Revolution

It is being said elsewhere, but that does not make it less true. We are seeing a revolution in Chardonnay style. In the last couple of days, I have been drinking the 2006 Shadowfax Chardonnay. It has lovely citrus and lime flavours, is quite flavoursome, but with a clean and lean finish. A great food companion and at a reasonable price. It does not have the minerality of a good Chablis, but is very agreeable. It has done well on the show circuit (normally a turn off for me, but more about that in a later post) and is widely available. Do you sometimes wonder how it is that a successful wine is abundantly available, whereas other years are hard to find? Anyway, I shouldn't complain about the availability of this lovely wine.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Matching spicy food

It is not easy to match spicy Asian food with red wine. Shiraz and Cabernet have too much tannin which fight with the food. Normally I would drink white wine or Grenache with spicy food, as it is soft and sweet, but tonight I tried a 2005 Pizzini Sangiovese. This wine is medium bodied, with fresh cherry flavours. It is not as acidic as some other Sangioveses and one of the few good Australian expressions of this variety. It is quite a straight forward wine, which is just the right option for spicy food. The match worked well.


It is probably appropriate to begin this blog with a bottle of Grange, in this case the 1998, which I had yesterday evening. What makes Grange so special? This bottle illustrated it well.

The wine was youthful, full-bodied, very concentrated, but not cakey, quite elegant for its concentration and had well integrated tannins, leading to a long finish. The longevity of this wine is amazing? Why is this important? Wouldn't I get the same result from another much younger wine? Obviously not. Secondary characters have developed, combining the flavour to a lot more complexity.

I have had several experiences over the years where the 'wow-factor' occured. I remember the taste in my mouth for several years. It once happened with a 1990 Grange. The wine yesterday did not quite get there.

Is Grange worth the money? Does it taste 10 times as good as another good bottle of red? This is probably an unfair question to which I couldn't say yes. However, if money is no object, this bottle offered something extra special not often found in wine. This is even more obvious when I compare this wine to the bottle of Greenock Creek I had the night before. A bit of an unfair comparison, as it was an entry level 2002 Alices Shiraz.

The Greenock Creek is also big and very alcoholic at 16%, but nowhere near as complex or harmoneous. A rough and unbalanced experience by comparison.

About this blog

I will review wines in this blog which I drink. Most will come from my cellar and therefore have some maturity, some will be new, some from wine tastings conducted by others, some from restaurants.

You will therefore see many reviews of mature wines which professional wine writers do not review or have reviewed a long time ago.

The form of the review will also be different. Australian wine writers have an over-emphasis on taste components, sometimes more than 10 in one description. Many such tastes you may have never experienced. And are you drinking wine to try to experience a fruit cocktail? In France, wines are often described as masculine or feminine. Maybe this is all one needs to know? Apart from the flavours, there will be some emphasis on structure, harmony, length etc.

In addition other thoughts, for example on the debate of 'big reds' or different Pinot Noir styles may also come up.