Sunday, May 31, 2009

Schubert Goose-yard Shiraz

In this miserable weather, it is best to keep the Shiraz thing going. As I was sorting a few bottles in my cellar, I came across this 2002 Schubert Goose-yard Shiraz. This seemed like a good choice.

Schubert is one of a number of growers in the Barossa who - based on their success as growers - ventured out in the last decade to launch their own label, based on some of their premium fruit. Schubert achieved high acclaim by James Halliday for this particular wine, which was his third vintage,  produced by Dave Powell from Torbreck, by the way.

The fruit of this wine tastes of blackberry and plum and is quite ripe. It is a big wine, but the alcohol is kept in check. However, I do detect some dead fruit amongst the mix. The overall impression is positive, though, with an elegant mouthfeel and a smooth finish. It probably would have been better to pick the fruit slightly earlier, but the wine should not be grouped with the supercharged Parker wines of the Barossa.

Clearly, Schubert's vineyard is of high quality. It will be interesting to see what kind of track record this wine can establish. I have collected a few bottles of the subsequent vintages and will  find out over time.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Torbreck RunRig (2)

I cannot go back as far with the RunRig as I could with the Mt. Mary Quintet, partly because the wine did not exist in 91, partly because I do not have the first vintages, starting from 95. My first one is the monumental 98.

The 1998 Torbreck RunRig is much further developed than the 2001. The fruit has blackcurrant and cherry flavours. The oak is much more in the background. The wine is as big as the 2001 and has a slight alcoholic feel to it. The mouthfeel is equally thick, ripe and intensive. The tannins are strong and produce quite a dry feel leading to a very long finish. 

This is a wine which requires food. It is overpowering on its own. In comparing it with the 2001, I feel that the 2001 is better made. The 98 does not have the same elegance and smooth finish. It is quite a big and aggressive wine. On the other hand, the oak integration is working much better at this point in time. I am probably drinking the 98 at its optimum time. The 2001 will live a lot longer and, in my opinion, will outshine this wine in a few years time.  

Torbreck RunRig

Now it is time for a new iconic wine to show its wares. Boy, how different can two red wines be? But to start with the conclusion, this 2001 Torbreck RunRig came through with flying colours as well. 

As I was drinking this wine in a restaurant environment, I can't say too much about the nose. Then I took the first sip - and it hits you like a ton of bricks - actually more like a wave of thick ripe dark cherry fruit and plenty of oak. Dave Powell is the master of combining concentrated fruit and elegance, in my book. The best fruit each year, and he has the best of the best to choose from, goes into the RunRig. The wine also includes 3% Viognier, but its perfumed character is hardly noticable. The wine has incredible mouthfeel and initial sweetness. Down the palate, the vanilla character of the oak takes over, there is some eucalypt there and plenty of spice as well. It then leads to a harmoneous finish on the back of strong, but silky tannins.

This wine is still young. The fruit is quite dominant and fresh. My only concern: There is too much new oak on the palate. The fruit can take it, but I hope the oak will mellow and step into the background over time.

After having written this, I thought to look up what Parker in his "The world's greatest wine estates" had to say. He gave the wine 99+ points (how ridiculous is that?) 'flirting with perfection' and a 'worthy successor to the blockbuster, surreal 1998' (which I will be drinking tonight). A good description is 'The impression on the palate is one of marvelous richness and expansive texture, a multilayered skyscraper soaring across the palate with no heaviness.' In my view, the 'no heaviness' is the real achievement and difference to many blockbuster Barossas. He gives the wine 20 to 25 years, and after tonight's experience this may well be right.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mt. Mary Quintet (2)

Tonight I look at the question of what happens when the Mt. Mary Quintet has aged another nine years. 

I have opened the 1991 Mt. Mary Quintet - or Cabernets as it was called then. The first good news is that the cork came out fairly easily and in one piece. The wine is surprisingly dark.

Obviously, the starting point is a different one. This wine shows serious blackcurrant and is an altogether bigger wine than the 2000, although the alcohol level is similar at 12%. The fruit is still there, but starting to dry and secondary savoury characteristics dominate the palate. The structure of the wine is still exemplary. Again the wine has exquisite harmony and tannin integration. Unfortunately it has lost some of the complexity seen in the 2000. It is probably 3-4 years past its peak. However, the wine still has some vibrancy and a powerful, yet smooth finish. About how many Australian wines of 18 years maturity could this be said?

This experience confirms the iconic status of the Mt. Mary Quintet. It is a delight to drink and will offer interesting experiences across a range of vintages and maturity. In each case the elegance and texture of the wine is likely to be a stand-out feature. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mt. Mary Quintet

Tonight, finally the first review of the promised Mt. Mary. I opened a bottle of the 2000 Mt. Mary Quintet. The first thing to notice is its crimson red colour. The bouquet is quite floral.

After drinking the usual array of Shirazes and Cabernets, it is surprising how light this wine is. Flavours move from strawberry fruit to candy to rose petals to earthy components. However, this wine is really about texture. The mouthfeel is excellent, despite the lightness of the wine. The move from fruit to savoury components to soft tannic elements is seemless. The finish is very long. Needless to say, this Quintet is elegant and well balanced.

The wine is still vibrant despite its 9 years and has many years in front of it. Primary characters and certainly ripe fruit in the Yarra Valley way (including earthy flavours) still dominate. It will have another 10 years in front of it without any doubt. One of the best year 2000 wines of Australia (many wineries struggled that year).

Mt. Mary Quintet occupies a unique position in the Australian red wine spectrum. It is a serious, light red wine with astonishing length, texture and balance. Good Bordeaux would often be bigger, but not offer the sensuous fruit element which this wine has. In the vocabulary of French reviewers: 'this is a female wine with excellent body and form'.  

Sunday, May 24, 2009

By Farr and Farr Rising Pinot Noir

It is not clear to me that Gary Farr and his son have quite reached the heights with their own wines, they scaled when working for Bannockburn, but the young age of the fruit may have a fair bit to do with that. They certainly produce serious and interesting wines, in particular Pinot Noir. The wines tend to be on the savoury side, in particular because of their practise of using full bunches.

The 2007 Farr Rising Pinot Noir has unusual bits of orange in the colour. It is the most approachable of the Pinots' tasted. However, it is also quite earthy and savoury.

The By Farr wines are single vineyard Pinots. the 2007 Farrside by Farr tastes of dark cherry fruit, it has good balance and length. However, it needs some time to integrate the tannins.

The 2007 Tout Pres by Farr comes from the new close planted vineyard. This is becoming popular, with the new William Downie (reported on below) vineyard planted even closer. This is an impressive wine. It tastes of black cherry fruit, also quite smokey. The 100% new oak is well integrated and the finish is very long.

If you like Pinot Noir savoury and money is no constraint, these wines are for you. Personally, I would like to see more elegance before I shell out $70-120 per bottle.


This is the second time I tasted the Herzog range in the last couple of years. I am afraid, my judgement this time around is not much more positive for these overpriced wines than the first time.

We have in Hans Herzog a winemaker who's objective it is to make Bordeaux (or European) wines in Marlborough and that to an extreme extent: in other words, texture and structure at the expense of fruit. I have nothing against well structured wines, but why ignore the full fruit aromas which the extensive sunshine gives the vines in the Southern Hemisphere?

His 2006 Pinot Noir is very savoury and fruit backward, quite closed at the moment, but the wine has good length. The 2006 Montepulciano has a dark colour, but the palate is a bit shallow, and the wine is very acidic. My pick of the line-up would have been the 2007 Pinot Gris, made in the french style. It has strong peach and pear flavours, but is fresh and finishes crisply.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

William Downie Pinot Noir

William Downie, the Goumet Traveller young wine maker of the year 2006, pursues an interesting project. He makes Pinot Noir from three different regions, Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Gippsland, and he is interested in the characteristics of the area coming through in the wine.

I had a chance to taste the 2008 releases and three back vintages of the Yarra Valley Pinot Noir.

The 2008 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir displayed the brightest colour. The palate showed red fruit, mainly cherry characteristics and already quite a lot of secondary flavours like mushrooms and forest floor. The 2004 was still fresh and drinking well. The 2005 and 2007 were a bit closed, showing that this wine closes up for a couple of years in the 2-4 year period of maturity.

The 2008 Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir was much darker, with black cherry, even blackberry fruit. This is a big Pinot with just over 14% alcohol, but I must say the wine was carrying it well.

My favorite was probably the 2008 Gippsland Pinot Noir which in its flavour profile sits between the other two. The outstanding feature, though, is the silkiness of the tannins which provides a lovely finish to this wine. A new Bass Phillip in the making?

All the wines are well made and while they do not yet reach the absolute top echelon of Pinot making in the country, this is a wine maker to watch.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Chateau Rahoul

Tonight is my first experience of the already legendary 2005 Bordeaux vintage. There appear to be two problems with this vintage: number one, while most good Bordeaux vintages produce wines which are great for your kids to drink, this one is supposed to be for your grand children - this is no good for me. Secondly, prices have gone through the roof.

Both of these points may be true for some wines, but certainly not all. The 2005 Chateau Rahoul is an entry level wine from the Graves area. It has a special link to Australia, as Len Evans owned this chateau for a brief period in the 80s. It drinks well now and is not expensive. The redcurrant fruit is pure and fresh and supported by smoky flavours and an earthy finish. It is definitely a food wine and it shows how strong this vintage is, even at this level. I recommend it to anyone who would like to know what Bordeaux tastes like and who wants to get away from the fruit dominated Australian wines.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Two Hands - Bella's Garden

The weather is cold and it is time for a big Shiraz. Two Hands has been a favourite with the US market and certainly produces big wine, but it has, in my opinion, avoided the alcohol excesses of some other producers. I am opening a 2002 Two Hands Bella's Garden Shiraz to see how well this well endowed wine is aging.

Apart from being a US favourite, there is a second reason why the Australian establishment is critical: Two Hands is a virtual winery; it does not own vineyards nor winery. This is regarded as a bad thing. The company states it comes from the customer end: not production driven, but giving the consumer what it wants. I can't see anything too bad in that. In fact, many production orientated wineries may please winemakers, but neither customers nor their CFO.

Now to the wine: it has a good core of blackcurrant and mulberry fruit, but the tannins are harsh and not well integrated. You couldn't say this wine is over the hill because of overripe grapes, but fruit and tannins seem to fight rather than work in synch. I tasted this wine after release, and it was seductive and lush. Now the finish is somewhat unpleasant. It is not a bad wine, but certainly not a great example of aging Barossa Shiraz: another case of possibly good material, but only average wine making (see some previous posts).

I find some big Shirazes attractive and am not against this style out of principle. But only very few people seem to get this right. Torbreck and Kalleske are a couple of frontrunners, they will be tested with older wines shortly.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Henschke Mt. Edelstone

Why not drink a great bottle of wine on a Monday night? Today I opened my 2nd last bottle of the 1990 Henschke Mt. Edelstone. It did not start well. I had trouble getting the cork out in one piece, but careful decanting maintained the integrity of the juice.

The colour of the wine showed orange elements, but also still some of the dark violet of the original colour. The palate was a delight: secondary flavours dominated, in particular eucalypt and smoked bacon, supported by black cherry fruit. Some freshness is still there. Overall, it is an exotic blend of flavours which is supported by strong, but mellowed tannins. The finish is long and silky.

This Mt. Edelstone stood up to its general reputation and the 1990 vintage in particular. It is a rare example of an Australian wine which at 19 years tastes better and more interesting than at a young age. A very special wine.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Woodlands is a winery with great potential. It has mature grapes in a prime spot near Cullen and Moss Wood in the Margaret River region. However, it has remained relatively unknown for a number of reasons. Woodlands produces a bewildering array of wines and the marketing has been inconsistent. Most importantly though, how good are the wines? This tasting of current releases is giving some clues.

Their premium Chardonnay is called Chloe. The 2007 Chloe Chardonnay has quite powerful fruit, but it is quite oaky at the same time, so that the citrus and peach flavours are covered to some extent. It will improve with time, but I am not convinced the integration will work.

The 2007 Cabernet/Merlot is their red entry wine. It is a straight forward wine with fleshy, quite vibrant fruit - a good quaffer from what will turn out to be an outstanding vintage. It could be kept for a few years.

What this might look like is demonstrated by the 2004 Margaret, a blend of Cabernet, Malbec and Merlot. It shows the typical contributions of these three grape varieties, quite well integrated. The wine is elegant and has fine tannins, but in the finish a bit one-dimensional.

Finally, the top level Cabernet Sauvignon, which is named after a different family member each year. I tried the 2005 Colin and the 2003 Fay Kathleen. The Colin has good blackcurrant concentration and a fair bit of vanilla from the oak treatment. Fruit and tannins appear to be a bit separate, but the wine will improve with time. The Fay Kathleen is not as big, but more elegant, finishing a bit harsh, however. These wines are expensive at over $100 per bottle.

It is clear that Woodlands has potential. It has received very good ratings elsewhere. I find, however, that the wine-making has not yet optimized what the site has to offer. The wines are not consistent and not as harmoneous as its neighbours, for example.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Petaluma Coonawarra

The 1998 Petaluma Coonawarra is probably one of its best. It is a 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot blend. The Cabernet percentage is higher than usual, as the warmer vintage allowed these grapes to ripen well.

The fruit is very clean and pure blackberry and blueberry. The tannins have softened and the wine has good length. The one gripe I have is that the wine rolls along the tongue in one block and does not linger around as much as an absolute top wine would.

It is probably a good time to drink this wine now, but it will stay at this level for a number of years.

Wither Hills

The 2006 Wither Hills Chardonnay is quite a positive surprise. There are some good New Zealand Chardonnays, but they are few and far between. This one has quite a French feel with peach fruit and a lot of cream. Yet, the wine remains crisp and is very pleasant, although in the end perhaps a bit simple.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mt. Mary and Torbreck

Recent new releases by Mt. Mary and Torbreck lead me to check on a couple of things:

There is no doubt that Torbreck's RunRig is a very alluring wine and drinks well when young, despite its big fruit concentration. But there are lingering doubts how well it will age. I will open a couple of older vintages to test this.

A couple of years ago, there was outrage in the Australian wine community when Robert Parker slammed Mt. Mary's flagship wine, the Quintet, as being green and underripe. I must say I have sometimes found this wine not too outstanding myself. I will open a couple of years, going way back, to have another look as the current vintage is being praised.

All this will happen in a couple of weeks when I am back on deck. Any recent experiences you would like to share?

Interpretation of Poll Results

Although not that many have voted, there have been a number of interesting outcomes

1) Many of you have ticked more than one box, indicating you are enjoying a number of the recent developments

2) You are enjoying the recent improvement in Australia in burgundy type varieties i.e. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

3) The Robert Parker driven view of Shiraz may be on the way out

4) Although Riesling and Cabernet can be of high quality, they are still struggling

5) You like variety, but it has to be good. Imports are scoring better than new varieties made in Australia just for novelty's sake.

Any other thoughts?