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 www.bobswinereviews.com. 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!