Saturday, June 27, 2009

Whistling Eagle Shiraz

Whistling Eagle is a boutique Heathcote producer, sitting on great soil in the northern part of the area. The Shiraz is called Bull's Blood, so you know what you are getting yourself into. The winery name is quite cute too, maybe aspiring to Screaming Eagle, the number one cult wine in the US.

I quite like this wine in cooler years, but the 2005 Whistling Eagle Shiraz is just too much. The fruit is very expressive, but too ripe, with blackberry flavours and a very tannic backbone. The wine is too alcoholic at 15.2% (it may be more) and overblown. One glass at the fireplace or with a steak can be satisfying, but that would be the limit.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Aurora Vineyard and Ocean Eight - 2008 releases

I attended two tastings of exciting new wineries in the last two days and there are interesting similarities and contrasts.

Aurora Vineyard is a new Central Otago producer which aims to produce wine which is not big and bold, but still captures the developed fruit which the sunshine of Central Otago can deliver. The 2008 Riesling is of excellent quality. It has predominantly lime and citrus flavours and shows nice minerality. The wine has fresh acidity, but is not sharp and well balanced. A good contrast to the very austere Rieslings from Australia.

2008 was a very warm vintage in Central Otago, and it shows in the reds. The 2008 Aurora Vineyard Pinot Noir is still very young, but all bright red cherry fruit. It hits you right upfront, even more than what is typical for the region. I loved the 2007 Pinot Noir for its length and soft tannins. It is not yet clear to me that this opulent and dense wine will develop in the same way. The 2008 Shiraz has lovely bright fruit as well with spices and earth rounding out the flavour. It is bigger than your typical cold climate Victorian Shiraz, but has a nice freshness on the finish.

Ocean Eight is a very exciting new producer from the Mornington Peninsula. It was founded by the previous owners of Kooyong in 2004, but the vineyards are 12 years old. Similarly to Central Otago, 2008 was a very warm vintage on the Mornington Peninsula. Ocean Eight's philosophy is to pick early and produce wines in the 12% alcohol range. They failed this year, but the 13%ers, with Pinot picked at the end of February, are still a refreshing departure from the 'riper and bigger is better' philosophy.

I was simply blown away by the quality and smoothness of these wines.

The 2008 Ocean Eight Pinot Gris has nice peach fruit flavours, it sits in the middle between the austere Italian and the rich French style. The wine is quite elegant and a good food wine. I am not a big fan of Pinot Gris in general, and the floral overtones which this wine showed, but it is a fine wine.

The first stunner was the 2008 Verve Chardonnay. The lime and grapefruit flavours are backed by nutty aromas. The wine was barrel fermented, but in used oak. This has the effect of some creaminess on the palate, but it is subtle. Apparently the wine was judged a Burgundy during a blind tasting over lunch, and so it tastes. The wine has nice minerality and a fresh finish. Everything is balanced here and nothing overblown.

The 2008 Ocean Eight Pinot Noir was a great wine as well. It has medium weight, quite strong fruit flavours in the strawberry spectrum and good length. The wine is very elegant with great texture and silky tannins. It reminded me a bit of a Bass Philip, although less extreme.

The second stunner was the 2008 Aylward Pinot Noir. This is a reserve wine made from the best four barrels. It has similar characteristics to the regular wine, but the fruit concentration is stronger, and the finish very long - quite a special wine, as it still achieves lightness on the palate.

I was most impressed by these wines.

We are beginning to see a new trend, where the focus is on balance, elegance and regional expression. How exciting!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wendouree Shiraz/Mataro

I have quite a few Wendouree bottles in my cellar, but have not a lot of experience in drinking them. This is because they are probably the most unyielding of all Australian wines at a young age.

However, last night felt like a Wendouree night, cold and miserable. I opened a 1999 Wendouree Shiraz/Mataro. Next to the straight Shiraz, this is probably the highest quality wine in the stable. Out of curiosity, I had a look at the suggested drinking window in Jeremy Oliver's book. Wow, he suggests 2019-2029. Obviously, I am sceptical. Only good after 20 years?

Now to the wine. After decanting it for a couple of hours, I was certainly amazed to find this ten year wine very fresh. I am having difficulty to describe the wine, though. The fruit, mainly plum, is overlayed by quite a strong eucalypt flavour. The wine has a good and balanced structure and a long, somewhat acidic finish. However it is quite linear, not as big as I expected, and a little harsh. Overall, it is not a very sympathetic wine. And... I probably opened it too early. It may come around more in years to come. It certainly has the structure to hold for a long time.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rolf Binder Halliwell

Recent reviews have been of quite exclusive and expensive wines. Time to come back to earth. And while a number of wineries are best known for their flagship wines (e.g. Rockwell or Brokenwood), other wineries provide best opportunities with their mid or lower range wines.

One such winery is Rolf Binder, the former Veritas in the Barossa. Brands and labels are pretty much a dog's breakfast, as different names are applied for US and UK exports. Then some are sold here etc.

The bottom line is Rolf Binder makes good GSMs in the $2o/bottle price range. Last night I had the 2005 Rolf Binder Halliwell. This is a 60% Shiraz/40% Grenache blend. The taste is very plummy and a little fat, not overly sophisticated, but the right sort of wine with a hearty meal on a miserable night (weather wise).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bindi Composition Pinot Noir

This producer cannot put a foot wrong. This wine is the 'entry' level Pinot Noir and a blend from a number of vineyards. Last night, I drank the 2004 Composition Pinot Noir.

It tastes of red cherry with a savoury backbone which has developed nicely during the last couple of years and integrates seamlessly into the overall flavour. The tannins are soft and the wine has an elegant long finish.

This wine reminds me very much of the Martinborough Pinots, in particular Ata Rangi. It has more red than black fruit and this ethereal feel and the long fanning finish. It is not as full bodied as the Curly Flat, for example, but probably more elegantly made. One would experience more fruit concentration with the single vinyard wines 'Original Vineyard' and 'Block 5'.

I have never been disappointed by a Bindi Pinot Noir. Now Australia's top producer?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The world's best BYO

I attended the above mentioned charity event. Everybody brings a bottle of excellent wine which is shared at the table. Our table had quite a European bend. As it was all about conversation and a light hearted affair, I did not pay close attention to the wines, but these were the highlights:

Dom Perignon 2000. A fantastic champagne, The very small bubbles seem to be dancing on your tongue.

1994 Tyrells Semillon (not sure which). Slightly honeyed flavour, but rather dull.

01 Leeuwin Chardonnay (from yours truely). Quite citrussy, but an amazing cocktail of fruit, minerality, even some smokyness, great balance, perfect time to drink.

06 Etienne Sauzet Puligny Montrachet Champ Canet. Very floral, soft, but fresh.

06 Stonier Reserve Pinot Noir. Strawberry, mushroom, good length, a bit linear

06 Curly Flat Pinot Noir. Big, but not heavy, great mouthfeel, excellent

05 Numanthia Toro. A tempranillo with many flavours, licorice, chocolate, mocca, peat, big, but neither very tannic nor acidic: intriguing - a winery to watch.

04 Ramonet Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot. Strawberry, cherry, etherial, good minerality and long finish.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Domaine Charvin Le Poutet Cotes-du-Rhone

This 2007 Domaine Charvin Le Poutet is definitely worth checking out. 2007 was another great vintage in the Southern Rhone. This means you don't have to shell out $100/bottle for a good Chateauneuf. Good Cote-du-Rhone producers, like Domaine Charvin, can deliver good wine for excellent value, in this case about $33 per bottle.

The wine consists predominantly of Grenache and Shiraz. The sweet character of the Grenache is quite prominent, but well balanced by the spice and grip of the Shiraz. What is most appealing is the velvety feel of the wine and its relative lightness, despite 14.5% alcohol. The finish is quite elegant.

This wine ticks many boxes and is a bit different from the Australian offers. I recommend you track this down.

Te Mata - New Releases - some further comments

The 2007 Te Mata Coleraine is highly regarded by pretty much everybody, but I remain a sceptic. The wine simply does not have enough volume. The structure may be great, but it needs to be good now to be good in the future.

I am starting to understand better what is happening. The vintage was rather cool, but the hang time for the grapes was quite long. Some people have the theory that this generates well balanced and long lasting wines. This reminds me of the 2002 vintage in the Barossa, which was described thus. I think it is becoming increasingly clear that that vintage was not so great, and many wines consist of underripe grapes.

I am not saying the Coleraine is green or leafy, but it is not a masterpiece, in my view.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Curly Flat Pinot Noir

I am having the 2006 Curly Flat Pinot Noir on the same day as the Te Matas. Now this is a wine to rave about. It has predominantly red cherry fruit, quite full, and very silky tannins. The wine has great balance, similar to the good Martinborough Pinots, with good length. Maybe a little too much fruit and not enough savoury character, but this may change over time.

Some months back, I pronounced Mornington the number one Pinot region in Australia and someone commented: What about Macedon? Well, I wasn't sure it is a great region if you have one great producer, namely Bindi. Now I am happy to admit we have two in this area, with Curly Flat joining the top ranks.

Te Mata - New Releases

I just don't get Te Mata. The closest comparison in Australia is probably Mt. Mary. But while Mt. Mary with its Quintet produces wonderful rounded wines, Te Mata is focussed on structure and longevity. While there is nothing wrong with this, when it is at the expense of other aspects, in particular mouthfeel, the result is less than satisfying.

The three 07s I tried were the 07 Awatea, the Bullnose and the Coleraine. There is clearly a house style with redcurrant fruit dominating, the wines have medium weight and an acidic finish. The Coleraine, a blend of the 5 major Bordeaux grapes, is the best of this line-up. It has more depth in the fruit and a very long finish. It will be good to drink in five years and then for probably another ten. But again, the wine is too linear for my palate.

This Coleraine has been hailed as the best red ever produced in New Zealand. To me Te Mata has been overtaken. The 1st generation with a claim of an outstanding red (apart from Pinot Noir) was Stoneyridge Larose, then it was Te Mata, but now the Craggy Range reds are clearly much more interesting wines.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Poggerino Chianti Classico

The 2006 Poggerino Chianti Classico is the perfect wine for pizza. It is serious enough to be enjoyed, but not a stellar wine which would reward too much attention. From an outstanding vintage in Tuscany, this wine has bright red cherry flavours and plenty of acidity to cut through the food. It is probably best drunk in three to five years when the acid has mellowed somewhat, but I enjoyed it just the same right now.

Schubert Gosling Shiraz

For those who are looking for a big Barossa Shiraz at an affordable price, the 2007 Schubert Gosling Shiraz might be the ticket.

The flavour is bright, mainly redcurrant, and the fruit is ripe. I believe the fruit stems from fairly young wines and is of good quality. Notwithstanding the bigness of the wine, it has a good structure and is well balanced.

I really enjoyed the first glass, but was a bit reluctant for a second because of the wine's boldness. However, it is the right wine for the current temperatures.

The Gosling is the Schubert's second label, following the Goose-yard Shiraz, both from fruit grown near the famous Roennfeldt Road.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Craggy Range Merlot

It is not easy to find very good Merlot, which is lush, profound and gripping, outside of Pomerol. Contenders in Australia, such as Yarra Yering or  Irvine, are very expensive and variable. However, we seem to have excellent Merlot in blends, even where it is dominant or very significant, such as in the Mt. Mary Quintet or Cullen's Diana Madeline.

Several years ago, when I visited Craggy Range, I was impressed by their Merlot efforts. I pulled out a couple of bottles this weekend to see what happens after a few years.

The first wine was a 2002 Craggy Range Seven Poplars Vineyard Merlot. The grapes come from Hawkes Bay, the warmest New Zealand wine region, and the vineyard itself is located in a particularly warm area. The wine tasted of Blueberry and Mulberry and was still very fresh. It certainly had some grip and depth. It is well structured with a fine balance of tannins and acidity. What I missed was a sweeter core and more volume in the wine. The finish was also somewhat non=descript.

The second wine was the 2001 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Merlot from the famous 'hot stones' district in Hawkes Bay. This wine is also well structured, but its fruit is lusher on the palate, yet it still has sufficient acidity for further cellaring.

These two Merlots were quite impressive. They are grown under the warmest conditions, and one feels it could have been a little warmer still. However, they are quite complete wines and better structured than most Australian examples.   

Sunday, June 7, 2009

John Duval Plexus

The 2005 John Duval Plexus is an excellent wine. It is a GSM wine from the Barossa which is much more serious than most. The wine has great balance between fruit and oak, and primary and secondary characteristics. Redcurrant is the dominant fruit flavour. The wine is big, still very young and made to last. The mouthfeel is very satisfying, although the finish falls a little short for this substantial wine.

The wine shows the considerable winemaking skills of John Duval as well as his access to excellent fruit. 

Explaining 'structure', 'texture', 'mouthfeel'

These are terms I use quite often in my descriptions. What do I mean by them? 

Mouthfeel is really what it says. Does the wine fill the mouth? Is the wine built like a 'skyscraper', to use a Parker term, with many layers of taste and very thick, or much more linear, running just over the tongue?

Structure is more difficult to define. It refers to the balance of different aspects, such as fruit, acidity, tannins and alcohol. A positive perception is an indication of improvement potential over time and ability to age.

Texture is often used interchangably with structure. I often use it more specifically to describe the tactile sensation experienced as a result of acidity, tannins, and residual sugar. In great wine, I often think of texture first, rather than aroma.

Maybe this helps with some of the terminology. 

Best's best - A vertical tasting of Bin 0 Shiraz

I love vertical tastings. As a wine collector, it is difficult to do more than a few, and mostly only over 5 vintages or so. Otherwise, there are not many opportunities to experience them. Yet they provide the best chance to evaluate a wine or winery in a day.

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to participate in an extraordinary tasting of the Best's Bin 0 Shiraz over a number of decades. We tasted 1977, 85, 90, 95, 99, 04, 05 and also the 05 Thomson Family Shiraz. 

Best's is located in the Great Western region of Victoria and is an often overlooked, very historical winery. The Bin 0 Shiraz is their premium Shiraz, which takes vines from three vineyards, planted in 1866, 1966 and 1970. My overall impression was that the wines can last a long time, but are also quite variable, depending on climatic conditions. In the cooler vintages, the wines are quite peppery, but also a little thin. In the warmer vintages, the wines show a lot of mocca and dusty, crumbly chocolate, which is quite unique and apparently due to regionality.

The outstanding wines for me were 1977, 1990 and 2004. The 1977, with over 30 years old, did not show much fruit any more, but had great flavours of mocca and chocolate, and still a good texture and a long finish. In fact, I tasted more of the wine after it had gone from my mouth. Sensational. The 1990 showed blackberry and plum fruit with some overtones of mint and a smooth, elegant and creamy finish . The 2004 tasted more of mulberry and dark cherry, it has a good structure, soft tannins and good length.

These wines are often thrown into the 'cool climate Shiraz' bucket. This tasting showed there is a lot more to them. The wines mentioned above showed great complexity and elegance. 


Monday, June 1, 2009

New Poll Created, Please Vote

The last few posts reviewed wines with vastly different alcohol content. What level is your preference in red wine? Please vote.