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!