Saturday, February 28, 2009

New Penfolds Releases

This had to be a tough position: a few hours after the Bordeaux tasting, I tried the new releases of the Penfolds mid range. Surprisingly to me, I really enjoyed it. Overall, the wines showed vibrant fruit and strong wine making skills given less than ideal vintages. I am only an occasional drinker of these wines, therefore my comparisons to other years are limited.

The 2008 Bin 311 Chardonnay displayed a good core of fresh fruit (which I think is from the Adelaide Hills), but the palate is a bit simple and short. This wine does not reach the highs of the 2006 or even the 2007.

Then came the two wines from the 2007 drought vintage. The 2007 Bin 138 GSM has a strong cherry and redcurrant palate with quite savoury flavours. On the other hand, the mouthfeel is a bit thin and the finish simple.

The 2007 Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz shows clean, luscious dark fruit. The wine is quite elegant, but again, the finish is short.

Then on to the 2006s. The 2006 Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz, the old workhorse, is a bit softer already. It has clean fruit, but lacks the punch of the previous vintages. The wine shows some sweetness and is well suited to earlier drinking.

The popular 2006 Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz displays more power. The wine is more tannic and quite dry on the back palate. However, it misses the fruit concentration to match the oak and tannins and seems a quite heavily worked wine. It will definitely benefit from aging.

Finally, the 2006 Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit, tasting mainly of mulberry, is charming, although (again) not quite big enough to match oak and tannin.

Overall, these wines are good quality for the price. Despite my comments about the last two wines, the line up is more elegant and less oaky and tannic than in previous years. The 07s are surprisingly good, maybe because the Grenache could take the heat and Coonawarra was a bit cooler. The 2006 wines are well made, but lack the fruit quality to make them outstanding.

I will taste these wines again in a few days to confirm my impressions.

2005 Bordeaux

My first taste from the already legendary 2005 vintage. Naturally, I have high expectations and I was not disappointed. I am tasting three wines from the middle of the quality range, I would say. They were rated 90 to 95 points and are available from about $90 to $180 per bottle.

Common to these wines is, as expected, excellent fruit ripeness. The wines are elegant and while already approachable will age very well. They all have roughly a 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot split with minor quantities of the other varieties.

First up was the 2005 Chateau Haut-Marbuzet St. Estephe. This wine tastes of very vibrant redcurrant fruit. The palate has medium weight. The oak is well integrated and the result is a very elegant wine, which leaves you just a bit short changed with a relatively simple finish.

Next the 2005 Chateau de Fieuzal Pessac-Leognan. This wine has more upfront fruit focus and the oak is less noticable. Again,the finish is a bit simple.

The star of this line-up is clearly the 2005 Chateau Lascombes from Margaux. The fruit is blueberry and blackberry, nicely concentrated, medium weight and very elegant. The wine has a racy character and a silky long finish. - Excellent.

Willi Schaefer Rieslings

This is a weekend of tastings. First up: the wines of Willi Schaefer from the Moselle.

Moselle Rieslings have become very fashionable in the US. Their sweetness, but when well made, dry finishes, make them quite unique wines in the wine world. As a result, these companies have moved to world-wide marketing, and these wines are mainly the wines from Germany available in Australia.

In my view, this is a pity, because the drier wines from the Rheingau and Pfalz are more suitable to the Australian climate and more comparable to our Claire and Eden Valley Rieslings.

I tried two of the Schaefer wines at opposite ends of the spectrum. The first was the 2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Qba trocken (dry). This wine tastes mainly of lime and is quite perfumed and floral. It contains 7g of sugar; it finishes dry, but not not steely. Quite good summer drinking.

The second wine was the 2007 Graacher Domprobst Auslese #17. This is a $150/bottle wine. It contains a whopping 90+g of sugar. Its fruit is much riper (Auslese means it is picked much later), the fruit tasting of peach, even tropical flavours, a bit like a WA Chardonnay. It is fresh, and has good length, and a clean finish. This wine will gain complexity with time. It can be cellared for at least 15 years. Despite all the sugar, not an overtly sweet wine - amazing. It is an interesting experience, although not quite my cup of tea.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Petaluma Coonawarra

I haven't reviewed any wines for a while, because I have been drinking wines I had already reviewed, but tonight I am treating myself to my last bottle of 1990 Petaluma Coonawarra Cabernet/Merlot.

I am sometimes a critic of Petaluma, as I find the wines almost too clean and well made, thereby lacking some real character. However, this is certainly not a complaint about this wine.

This wine has held up so well. The cork came out easily and in one piece (Croser uses good material). I then used the Wine Finer described below to fill my glass. The colour of this wine is still quite dark and more violet than brown. The blackcurrant fruit hits me first, but then many complex flavours show, in particular smoked meat. The wine harmoniously fills the palate with the Merlot and Cab Sauv grapes blending together. The tannins have softened, but are quite noticable. The finish is long and smooth. This is a first class Cabernet, drinking at its peak, but probably still five very good years in front of it.

Unfortunately, this was my last bottle, but it demonstrates that wines from excellent wine makers will show their best after long term cellaring.

The Wine Finer

I got given this new wine toy by Nuance and I tried it out today. It looks like a long stopper, and it has many little holes to aerate the wine as you pour it. In fact, this item has three useful functions: it aerates the wine as you pour it (the pouring is slowed down), there is a filter to keep the solid bits out and the pourer is shaped in such a way that there is no dripping.

It works well and certainly helps if you had no time to decant.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Teusner Avatar

I have been following young Kym Teusner from the beginning . I remember attending a wine dinner with his wines a few years ago when he really struggled to get his talk together. His wines have improved, as I am sure have his presentations.

The Avatar is a Barossa GSM blend, and the 2005 is a fine example. the 50% or so Grenache and its fruit is balanced by the structure of the Shiraz and Mouvedre. Plummy fruit, oak and tannins are coming together in a harmonious blend. This is a fine wine, not overly complicated or worked, but high quality for its money - and the glass bottle is so heavy, you can cause serious damage with it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Case for a 'Reserve' Wine

To produce a 'reserve' wine is appealing to wineries. The key characteristics are more fruit intensity and scarcity of product. Based on this, prices are high. In some cases, these wines are labelled 'reserve' (some wineries label anything 'reserve'), in other cases they have a special brand name.

Tonight's wine belongs to the second category. It is a 1998 Katnook Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon. This reserve has been established for a long time. The 1998 vintage demonstrates what can (and often does) go wrong with reserve wines.

Katnook has access to some of the best fruit in the Coonawarra, but this wine is overoaked and overworked. As a result, it does not have the charm of the regular Cabernet. The fruit is pretty dead and while the wine has a lengthy finish, oak, tannins and fruit are fighting with each other, rather than blending into a harmonious wine.

I was curious how Jeremy Oliver rated the wines at the time and interestingly, he gave the regular wine 95 points and the Odyssey 90 points. Pretty spot on, I think.

A 'reserve' is not automatically a better wine. You need to know what you are after and why you are paying the considerable premium.

A High Quality Bargain

I am not much of a bargain hunter when it comes to wine, but clearly this is a good time to buy. I was offered this 2007 loose end Rose by Gibson Barossavale for less than $10 per bottle. The sun was out for a few minutes today after 10 days of rain, so it seemed a good reason to open one.

It is actually a serious rose, made from Grenache grapes, which Gibson has a lot of access to. It tastes of red cherries, very clean, not very complex, but fresh, not sweet and a crisp finish. It would hold its own amongst most good Aussie pinkies. What more would you want from a rose?

Any other good bargains you can recommend?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Sydney Wine Show - what a shocker this was!

About 2300 wines were submitted and while you have no chance to sample anywhere near all of them, there was hardly any I would consider drinking. Where is the finesse, the beauty, the silkiness? It was very disappointing.

There are of course a number of excuses: the last few vintages were very challenging and many highly regarded wineries were not represented. However, does everything have to be either green and tough or overextracted and overripe? Where is the wine making skill Australians are supposed to have? It may not be just fashionable that imports are booming.

Another observation: the Semillon and Riesling classes were virtually untouched and untried by the tasting public. The focus was clearly on Shiraz, and to some extent Pinot Noir, although their representation was poor.

My comments: Semillon: quite a few gold medals were given, in particular to the myriad of Tyrell's wines. I found them somewhat disappointing and weaker than in the 90s - a bit dull, really.

Chardonnay: a good mix of quality. I really enjoyed the 2007 Cape Mentelle Chardonnay. It is big, but has good structure, length and acidity. It won a trophy. I found the 2006 Clairault very smooth, but a bit perfumed and oaky. The 2006 Xanadu was pleasant, so was the 2008 Oakridge, on the lighter side. The 2007 Shadowfax is not as rounded as the previous year. The 2007 Eileen Hardy is back to a bigger and oakier style, but no butterscotch, and would be quite appealing with a heavier fish dish.

Pinot Noir: Paringa won a trophy with their 2007 Estate wine. It had a very intense nose, but lacked a bit in the follow through. Nothing much else to report on. Victoria and most of Tasmania was missing. The 2007 Pipers Brook Estate Pinot showed quite poor fruit..

Cabernet: Most of Coonawarra and Margaret River was missing. The 2007 Penfolds 707 was not varietal. An extracted dry red. Disappointing also the 2006 Lindemans Pyrus and the 2005 Signature from Yalumba. Better the 2005 Cape Mentelle Cabernet, but no match for its splendid 2004. From that good year the Voyager's Cabernet/Merlot won this group for me. It got a bronze.

Shiraz: there were a few big names here, but many were disappointing. Paringa won trophies for their 2006 Estate wine and the 2007 Reserve. Both wines were very peppery, the Reserve a bit fuller. They are expensive for what they offer, and I would prefer a Dalwhinnie, Mount Langhi or Craiglee as a cool climate Shiraz any time. The 2007 Kalleske Greenock Shiraz was very ripe, but had great length and some silkiness on the finish - one of the better ones. On the disappointing side: 2007 Cape Mentelle Shiraz, 2006 Grant Burge Meshach (jammy, poor structure), 2006 Yalumba Octavius, 2006 Best's Bin O, 2006 Penfolds RWT, 2005 Barossa Valley E&E, 2005 Oliver's Taranga HJ Reserve. A class above these were the 2005 Wolf Blass Platinum Label, which has such a range of fruit available, and the 2007 Starvedog Lane Shiraz/Viognier (fruit not as good). The 2007 Bullant Shiraz from Lake Breeze won a Shiraz class and is a good barbeque wine.

Overall, a most disappointing afternoon, but you will never read the truth, as most wine writers happen to judge at shows.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pio Cesare Barolo

Every time I plan to open a bottle of Barolo, I have high expectations: the complexity of flavours, the elegance, the length of the finish. Yet it is probably the moodiest and most volatile grape of all. Variations between producers and between years are mind-boggling and difficult to predict.

Tonight I went for a 1997 Pio Cesare Barolo. This had to be a sure bet. I knew the producer who comes up with a good wine in most years, as his plantings are larger than most, and 1997 was a stellar vintage. I decant the wine, the aroma is fine.

My god! Much of the fruit flavour is gone. It is high time to drink this wine. This is bizarre, because most Barolos last 20+ years and this vintage produced wines with deep fruit concentration. I am puzzled. The wine still has complexity with savoury flavours dominating, but its strength and power is gone. What a shame!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

2003 Shiraz

Over the last couple of days, I drank three different Shirazes from the 2003 vintage. Initially, this vintage was supposed to be quite close in quality to 2002, but then it became clear that the weather pattern was very different and that it was a drought year in comparison with a rather cool 2002 with slow, but excellent riping conditions.

The wines were: Torbreck, The Struie; St. Jakobi from Dutschke and the Whistling Eagle from Heathcote. All wines had good fruit intensity, but then varying degrees of excessive ripeness. Surprisingly, the Torbreck was the worst offender and made the wine one-dimensional and somewhat unattractive. The other two wines managed to overcome the ripe flavours with a fine finish.

Overall, none of these wines would have stood out in a vertical tasting, and no doubt the 2003 vintage should be drunk sooner rather than later.

This experience does not augur well for hot vintages. 2009, forget it, unfortunately. The previous years will be equally difficult. It looks to me that 2004 is the vintage of choice, if you like Victorian or South Australian Shiraz.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc

This 2008 Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc is a delicious wine. It tastes of ripe gooseberry and pear, tropical flavours, too. The wine is quite juicy, but not fat nor sweet. It finishes dry and is one of the few Sauvignons, in my opinion, which is not just there to cut through the sushi, but actually makes you want to drink another glass with pleasure.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Stonier Pinot Noir

The 2007 Stonier Pinot Noir is the first Mornington Peninsula Pinot I am tasting from the 2007 vintage. It is disappointing. Is it the vintage? A number of wines have received high praise, so I doubt it.

This wine is medium bodied and initially shows attractive cherry flavours. However it then rambles on a bit with some savoury flavours not integrating well and a somewhat short finish. Previous vintages, in particular 04 and 05, have shown nice integration of fruit and tannins and I always enjoyed the silkiness of this wine. Hopefully Stonier will come back to form, as it has shown great results in the past, and as this wine has always presented great value for money.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dalwhinnie Moonambel Shiraz

I am posting this from Singapore, so my memory of drinking the 2002 Dalwhinnie Moonambel Shiraz is a little hazy.

This wine, unfortunately, does not belong to the best vintages of Dalwhinnie. The fruit appears not to have ripened fully and tastes somewhat green. At the same time, the wine is already quite developed with orange colour underneath the dark violet.

This has happened in the cooler 2002 vintage to a number of full bodied reds in the cooler growing areas and it is also a problem with single vinyard wines who have few options for compensation.

However, Dalwhinnie is one of my favorite Shiraz producers and even in this weak vintage it showed its very silky tannins at the finish.

I am looking forward to drinking the warmer 2003 and 2004 vintages.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Main Ridge Half Acre Pinot Noir

The 2006 Main Ridge Half Acre Pinot Noir is a disappointment following the outstanding years of 2004 (see my post of 4 July 2008) and 2005. The wine is light to medium bodied and there is not much fruit concentration. The wine making is clean, but there is simply not enough going on for it to be regarded a premium wine.