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