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.