Friday, March 27, 2009

Red on the Rocks

I am currently spending a couple of days in Kununurra and I have never had a wine experience quite like this. For you overseas readers, Kununurra is in Australia's North West and it currently is about 40 degrees celsius at lunch time and 32/34 in the evening. There are not many dining choices here. It was pizza night tonight and after the sun was down, I thought I must have a glass of red with this. 

The Alkoomi Shiraz was served at room temperature and as I was lifting the glass, the alcohol fumes were reaching my nose first. I thought I must put some ice in this, no matter what people would be thinking. So I did, with the approval of the waitress. But the shock came a minute later. As I was taking my first sip, the two ice cubes had disappeared - completely, without trace. The wine was alright then, but I repeated this procedure half way through the glass - ahh, the Australian Outback!  

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Marchesi De Frescobaldi CastelGiocondo

I allowed myself a bit of a treat tonight. It is the 1997 CastelGiocondo Riserva Brunello di Montalcino. This is a famous wine from a famous vintage. Of course, todaythings are a lot tougher in Montalcino. Police is running an investigation into the labelling of Brunello. This wine has to be 100% Sangiovese and apparently there have been violations. Quite a bit of wine is being locked up. However, Frescobaldi claims innocence and does not appear to be involved.

Anyway, this wine has a dark ruby colour with an orange glow. It tastes of dark cherry and is quite a dense wine initially. The fullness disappears a little on the mid palate before leading to a silky, long finish. The wine has complex savoury flavours underpinned by strong tannins. This Brunello is still quite acidic and will have at least 10 years ahead of it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon

The top level producers of Margaret River now charge between $70 - $100 per bottle for their leading Cabernet brands. It is therefore no wonder that they have all added higher volume second tier products. Most of them have remained fairly obscure, but Howard Park has embarked on building separate brands with not one, but two labels: the Leston for Margaret River fruit and the Scottsdale for Great Southern fruit. So how good is the wine?

Tonight I had a bottle of the 2001 Leston Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has lively redcurrant flavours and it is medium bodied. The taste is attractive and supported by a good mouthfeel. The tannins are present, but not overbearing and the acidity keeps the wine fresh, even at eight years. This wine is great with food and will drink well for many more years. The Leston may be on its way to the recognition it deserves.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir

Wow! What a quality second label this is. I am drinking the 2006 Ata Rangi Crimson. Clearly the vines are much younger than in the Pinot proper, but the skills of the wine making team come through. Pinot Noir is not a wine which is just made in the vineyard. Just look at what Geraldine McFaul did at Stoniers in the last five years. But I digress.

This wine has vibrant red cherry flavours with a bit of earthyness thrown in. While the body is only light to medium, the wine has great structure, and as a result good length and a silky finish.

 The marketing guys at Ata Rangi seem to know what they got here, as the current vintage appears to be 30% more expensive than this delicious wine. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Leeuwin vs. Giaconda

As I opened a bottle of the 2004 Giaconda Chardonnay today, it may be worth while to compare it to Leeuwin Chardonnay, which I had a taste of a few days ago.

Both wines have a number of things in common: they are complex, provide a seamless taste experience, they give great mouthfeel, are elegant and have excellent structure. Both are quite big and full flavoured.

So what are the differences? Based on a few experiences, and now repeated, there are mainly two: the Giaconda has a predominant grapefruit flavour profile, whereas the Leeuwin tastes more of peach and nectarine. The second difference is the more significant creaminess in the Giaconda, probably due to more substantial new oak treatment. In the Leeuwin, the fruit stands out and the oak is very much in the background.

In summary, you could confuse the Giaconda with a top flight Meursault Burgundy, the Leeuwin tastes more uniquely new world. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jacobs Creek Steingarten Riesling

I have reviewed this wine before, but I had a most enjoyable 2003 Steingarten Riesling today. Predominantly lime flavours are nicely integrated into the backbone of minerality. The wine is still very fresh, but is just starting to develop some mellowing character as well. It has a very dry finish. A Riesling which could be matched with many foods: salads, fish fillets, even chicken. (Interestingly, according to Jeremy Oliver, this wine does not exist!?)

Leeuwin Chardonnay

For a special occasion, I opened a bottle of the 2001 Leeuwin Chardonnay. This wine received the highest rating of any Australian Chardonnay to date by Wine Spectator with 98 points.

The colour was a beautiful light gold, very clean. The flavours were deep and rich, mainly of pineapple, peach and nectarine. The wine had a good mouthfeel, but there was a surprise as well.

Most of the acidity had gone (The bottle was perfectly stored). This surprised me, because I thought Leeuwin has gone to a slightly leaner style than during the 90s and you could certainly drink some of those wines for 10 years easily. This wine is great to drink now, but will not improve from here.

(For those who read my blog regularly, I have now had this experience of needing to drink different bottles earlier than I thought with several wines in a row. What is going on?)

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I went to a tasting of the current Pizzini releases. The 2008 Rosetta is a rose based on Sangiovese. It has a light, slightly orange colour. Its flavour is quite savoury, the acidity often associated with Sangiovese is not present, but the wine is a little short. Not very complex, but a good lunch wine.

The 2007 Arneis is not very similar to the Piedmont wines. They tend to be fresh and slightly fizzy. This wine had more mineral and earthy characters and is a little broad on the palate - not my favorite.

Sangiovese is probably what Pizzini is best known for and the 2006 Sangiovese does not disappoint. It shows vibrant red cherry fruit, is quite savoury and dry, yet has an elegant finish. This wine can certainly stand up to the better Chianti Classicos.

The final wine was the 2003 Nebbiolo. I was particularly interested in this, as I have yet to try an Australian Nebbiolo that comes anywhere near the Piedmont quality. Well, nothing has changed. The wine has medium weight, is not very complex and has nice dusty flavours. However, this wine lacks the flavour spectrum of its Italian counter parts and also does not have the length in the finish. Nebbiolo is a difficult and work intensive grape which tends to be reflected in high prices. The wine then has to deliver something special. So far, we are still at the experimentation stage in Australia.

3 GSMs or GMS

This three grape Rhone blend has become very popular over the last 10 years. Most of them originate from the Barossa Valley. I had an opportunity to compare three of them in the last couple of days.

First, I tried the 2004 Teusner Avatar. The fruit of this wine was very ripe and the taste was dominated by fruitcake and caramel. In my opinion, the grapes were picked too late and while I remember I enjoyed this wine a couple of years ago, it is not one for keeping.

The 2005 Teusner Avatar is the better wine: it is also dominated by the fruitiness of the Grenache, but the fruit has more vitality and is backed up by good (not great) structure. Fruitcake characters show up as well, but the wine is not overly sweet.

The 2004 Bin 138 Penfolds GMS has quite a different profile. It is a more restrained wine where savoury characters balance the fruit. In fact the fruit is a little thin and the back palate a bit weak. I don't know, but I suspect the Mouvedre component is quite large. This is quite different from the 2007 Bin 138, tried last week, which has quite strong upfront fruit, probably falling between the 04 Bin 138 and the lush Teusner wines.

In summary, you can get quite different outcomes from GSMs. In some, the Grenache fruit dominates and they are more short term 'barbeque' wines. Others emphesize savoury elements and structure (Melton's Nine Popes would be an outstanding example).

Monday, March 9, 2009

Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir

Block 5 is the single vineyard wine with the darkest colour and fleshiest flavour of the Felton Road Pinot Noirs. The 2003 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir fits this expectation. A Burgundy experience it is not.

The nose is quite intense, smelling of black cherries and forest leaves. The bouquet carries this through. At the same time, there are some lifting characters on the palate. The wine is lively and still quite fresh for a five year old. The wine is not overly tannic and the fruit flavours are very attractive. If there was a downside, it would be the finish. It is not as long as the best from Martinborough, for example. 

1986 Chateau Pichon Longueville Lalande

I had an opportunity to drink two outstanding wines over the weekend, both from overseas. 

1986 was a pretty good vintage in Bordeaux and many regarded the 1986 Pichon Longueville Lalande as the wine of the vintage. 22 years later, it is a fantastic experience. 

I decanted the wine for a couple of hours. The colour of the wine was still a ruby red/purple. It tasted of blackcurrant, spice box and licorice, quite concentrated and intense, with the Merlot component (35%) contributing its flesh. The wine was still lively and fresh with an excellent structure and a medium tannic finish. This wine would still have 10 years ahead at a top level.

The experienced complexity of flavours is something you cannot get from a young wine. This makes cellaring so rewarding. However, not every wine will pay you back like this. Great Bordeaux remains very special. 

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz

I have not been a great follower of this wine, probably since my wife inadvertently drank a 1990 Basket Press with her friends for lunch. However, I have a few bottles of the 2000.

Surprisingly, the wine already shows quite a brown colour and looks very developed. It tastes of mulberries and has earthy, savoury flavours. The oak is very much in the background. Overall, the fruit is a little thin for a 'big Barossa', but the wine has nice silky flavours and good length. Probably not the best year for this wine, but it is quite interesting, as there is a lot going on. It needs to be drunk, though.  


My Pet Peeve #3

Bottle shapes! I built my own cellar and it simply consists of varying sizes of square boxes. This is the most efficient way to store wine, and it works really well with Bordeaux shaped bottles like all Cabernet bottles in Australia. Many white wines are ok, too. When it comes to Chardonnay and Shiraz, the bottles get wider and less stable. The worst are Pinot Noir bottles. I love drinking Pinot from wide glasses, but why do the bottles need to be just as wide?

I am interested in the taste of wine, let the marketing guys play around with labels, but please stick to a standard bottle shape which can be stored well. By the way, has anyone figured out how to take advantage of vertical storage of screw-capped bottles?  


David Bicknell is a wine maker of considerable reputation. He is trying to fashion the Oakridge wines in a more European style with an emphesis on elegance and less focus on fruit. Well, if the wines of this night are representative, the experiment is not working too well.

The 2008 Oakridge Fume Blanc (100% Sauvignon Blanc) tastes of the usual gooseberry, but it is creamier as a result of some treatment in old oak. Unfortunately, this has dulled the flavour somewhat and the structure is not strong enough to carry the profile through to an attractive finish.

The 2008 Oakridge Chardonnay, probably the flagship wine, tastes of stone fruit but it is somewhat hollow on the mid palate and is lacking depth.

The 2008 Oakridge Pinot Noir was probably the best wine in the line-up. It tastes of sour cherries, has medium weight and lingers on. However, the wine is somewhat astringent. 

Cabernet Sauvignon is what I remember Oakridge of old for. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is a reasonable wine, but lacks a bit of concentration, resulting in a flat mid palate.

Overall, these wines are not too bad, but there simply is no compelling reason to drink them.

O'Leary Walker

Last week, I tasted the recent releases of O'Leary Walker. These were excellent wines.

First was the 2008 O'Leary Walker Polish Hill Riesling. This wine was outstanding. It tasted of stone fruit, was very fresh and showed the typical minerality and slate characters of the Polish Hill region. It finished very dry. In fact it was quite similar to the Grosset, for half the price. This wine will live for more than a decade.

I liked the 2008 O'Leary Walker Watervale Riesling a lot less. This wine showed a much broader palate, bigger upfront fruit, mainly lime. No doubt, it has its appeal for some people. I for one like my Rieslings as steely as can be.

The 2006 Shiraz was very fruity (but good). It showed some eucalypt flavours and also some licorice on the back palate. This wine is a blend of of McLaren and Claire. It would be a very good barbeque wine.

The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was quite different in character. It was much drier and quite tannic.

The best part is that all these wines sell for about $20/bottle. Wines for our times!

My Pet Peeve #2

I haven't done one of these for some time.

I can't stand when people close their bottles with wax. Bass Philip is a serial offender and last night I had to open a Liqueur Muscat by Kay Brothers by removing the wax. First of all, I didn't know what closure was underneath, so you don't know where to cut the wax. As it turned out, it had a port bottle closure. I had cut the wax too high and had to do it again. At this time, I lost control of my knife which  brushed against my forearm. I could have killed myself! This morning I have a five centimetre long red stripe on my arm.

The drink was pretty good, but I didn't need this sort of reminder. There is no need for wax on wine bottles!

Penfolds New Release Revisited

I tasted the Penfolds range again last week. Surprisingly, maybe refreshingly, the Penfolds representative downplayed the quality of these wines somewhat.

My focus was on the 2006 Bin 389. I had a comment on my previous post how well a 96 was drinking right now and that the fruit may not be as strong this time round. 

There is no doubt this wine is not as big as the 04 or 05, but the wine has sufficient fruit weight in my opinion. The wines of this release have great balance, and the 389 good structure. Therefore I am concluding it will hold up well. It will not be your typical big South Australian red, but rather a more elegant version. I bought a few bottles, because I think we might all be surprised in a few years.

Of the other wines, I liked the Bin 138 with its upfront Grenache based fruit and the Bin 28 Kalimna for its richness and balance. 

The Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz seemed less balanced as was the Bin 407 Cabernet.

As I have said before, not a bad line-up for the price, given these challenging wine growing years.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Forest Hill Block 8 Chardonnay

Forest Hill is a highly regarded producer from Mount Barker. His wines are not often available in the Eastern States. I was fortunate to be able to taste a 2005 Block 8 Chardonnay.

The palate tastes predominantly of stone fruit. However, for 30 year old grapes, I would have expected more depth and complexity. The wine is well made and its acidity suggests good cellaring potential, but there simply is no compelling reason to have it in your collection.

Monday, March 2, 2009

NSW Wine Week

I visited wine stands very selectively. In particular, I wanted to try some of the white wines from Orange, which I had missed at the Sydney Wine Show. Overall, the quality has improved a lot. In particular I enjoyed the 2008 Angullong Sauvignon Blanc. It is quite acidic, and maybe a bit sharp for some, but has lovely freshness. The 2008 Logan Sauvignon Blanc is a little smoother. Their Gewuerztraminer is clean and fresh with the obvious spice, but somewhat bland. I also enjoyed the 2008 Climbing Chardonnay, which has appealing citrus fruit, and the 2006 Phillip Shaw #11 Chardonnay. This wine tastes of citrus and apple, is quite smooth, even elegant and has a dry finish.

I have never liked the Semillons of Audrey Wilkinson which often get praised. This time they offered a 2001 Reserve Semillon. Given its age, I expected a honeyed, smooth wine. Instead, it did not show much fruit, had a gap in the mid palate and a briar finish.

I do like the wines from Lerida Estate, Canberra. The Pinot Gris had too much sweetness for my taste, but lovely lychees flavours. The 2006 Chardonnay had a similar profile to Shaw's wine and was very agreeable. There was also a 2006 Merlot/Cabernet Franc. It showed a lot of upfront fruit, mainly raspberry and fruitcake. Simple, but enjoyable to drink.