Friday, August 28, 2009

Torbreck Woodcutters Red

The 2008 Woodcutters Red Shiraz has very bright redcurrant fruit. It tastes young and fresh, but with quite a good mouthfeel. The wine is not complex, but is well made and its fruity character is supported by reasonable length of flavour. This is a good effort from another challenging vintage in the Barossa.

Score: 90/++

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mt. Langhi Billi Billi Shiraz

The quality of wine making is important when it comes to good value Shiraz. The Mt. Langhi Cliff Edge and Billi Billi Shiraz seldom disappoint. The 2006 Mt. Langhi Billi Billi Shiraz is made from quite young fruit, but it tastes of quite intense blackberry. The wine has good balance and is quite elegant. It includes white pepper spices, yet has a refined finish. Hard to beat at its price point.

Score: 90/+

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mr. Riggs The Gaffer Shiraz

Now back to earth with the 2007 Mr. Riggs The Gaffer Shiraz. This is a well made, straight forward Shiraz from McLaren Vale. The fruit is bright and fresh and the wine is harmoneous, although slightly high in alcohol (15%). The finish shows the right amount of tannin and reasonable length. Nothing pretentious in this wine, but a winter wine, good with hearty food (I am in Canberra at present).

Score: 88/+

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Guigal Dinner

To my knowledge, Guigal is the only other wine company apart from Penfolds which covers a range of quality wines from $15 per bottle to $500 or so.
So to attend a wine dinner showcasing these wines is somewhat daunting, but it was a great experience.

Guigal, mainly known for Cote du Rhone, makes some serious white wines. We tasted four, two based on Marsanne, two based on Viognier. These are very different wines from what we are used to in Australia. The wines have lashings of new oak and are really made like red wines. Nothing overly reserved here. The wines were from the 07 and 06 vintages and clearly need more time to integrate the flavours. I preferred the Marsanne based wines, the 2007 St. Joseph Lieu dit Saint-Joseph Blanc and the 2006 Ermitage Ex-Voto Blanc. The latter is a $350 per bottle wine. The flavours are complex, with pear and apricot dominant. The wines are rich and creamy, tannic and have a long finish.

Then on to the main game, the reds. Overall, the quality of the wines was awesome. The key characteristics of the premium wines are elegant fruit, soft grained tannins and a long finish. The best wines were the 2005 Cote Rotie Chateau d'Ampuis, 2005 Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde (this is the 'standard' premium wine), 2005 Ermitage Ex-Voto (very strong, overpriced), 2006 Saint-Joseph Rouge Vignes de l'Hospice, 2006 Saint Joseph-Rouge 'Lieu dit Saint-Joseph'. Non of these wines reaches 14% alcohol, by the way.

Then the highlight of the evening, the La La wines. These are, next to Grange, the most highly regarded Shiraz based wines in the world. They are single vineyard, and winemaking techniques vary between them. We are drinking the fabulous 2005 vintage, all wines were rated 99 points by Wine Spectator (a bit of a joke, really).

La Mouline (on the left in the picture) is the feminine wine: mulberry and chocolate, very opulent, elegant, with soft tannins and a long finish - a very distinctive wine. La Landonne (middle in the picture) is the masculine wine: plum and blackberry, also elegant, but quite tannic and dry with a long finish. This is much better drunk in a few years time. La Turque is a more recent wine and sits in-between. It is a leaner wine, not as lush, and quite acidic, again with a long finish. The vote for the best wine was split between all three. I particularly enjoyed the first two, for very different reasons.

This tasting was a memorable one. I have tasted the range of Guigal wines before. This set was a step up from what I had experienced before, and the La La wines are very special, indeed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

High Watermarks

At a special dinner recently, I opened two wines I am very fond of: The 2001 Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay and the 1990 Henschke Hill of Grace. And they did not disappoint.

The Leeuwin Chardonnay has intensity of flavour, yet a lot of freshness and balance with a beautiful smooth finish and enough acidity to keep this wine alive for some time. I have reviewed this wine in more detail before.

Score: 97/+

The Hill of Grace is Australia's most famous single vineyard wine. While the 1990 had mixed reviews after release, it has certainly managed to live well for a long time. The fruit flavour is still intense, the tannins are very silky and the finish is long. Again, I have reviewed this wine before in more detail.

Score: 98/+

These two wines represent high watermarks of Australian wine making. It is disappointing to see so much overseas focus on our cheap wines, while we manage to produce world class.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bindi Composition Chardonnay

The 2004 Bindi Composition Chardonnay is an excellent wine. Hard to believe it is third in the hierarchy of Bindi's wines.

The colour is a glorious gold. The flavours are lush, yet refined, predominantly of melon and peach, but there is a lot of complexity and interest. The oak is well integrated and supports rather than dominates the fruit flavours. There is great mouthfeel and the finish is very smooth.

At five years this wine drinks very well now, but certainly has a few years ahead yet.

Score: 94/++

Henschke Mt. Edelstone

The 1994 Henschke Mt. Edelstone Shiraz has been a favorite of mine for many years. But it has to be said, it has now passed its development peak. The blackcurrant fruit is starting to be a little thinner, yet the wine still has excellent balance, the oak is well integrated and the tannins are soft and long. I still enjoy this wine, but I won't keep my last bottle from this year much longer.

Score: 93/+

Friday, August 14, 2009

Wirra Wirra RSW Shiraz

I am generally somewhat weary about McLaren Vale Shiraz. This is because the fruit is often very plummy, big and lacks complexity. This is not always the case, of course, but happens more often than not.

The 2002 Wirra Wirra RSW Shiraz is such an example. In addition, the taste is quite meaty, a sign of quite ripe fruit. There is still some freshness in the wine, but it also has quite a lot of oak and a somewhat flat finish.

Score: 89/0

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Some changes to this blog

As this is my 25oth post, I thought I might introduce a couple of changes for the future

1) I have resisted ratings so far, because a lot of complexity is taken out of the wine if it is reduced to a point score. My main aim was to describe different characteristics and for people to focus on this. However, ratings are a fact of life, and I have now found a way of displaying them in a more satisfying way. I will use a 100 point scale (which is in reality a 20 point scale) to assess the wine in an objective manner (from my point of view). Then I will use up to three minuses or plusses to indicate how much I like the wine. For example:
- in Shiraz, I like fruit concentration, elegance and silky tannins
- in Cabernet, I like structure, seamless oak integration and long finish
- in Pinot Noir, I like mouthfeel, silky tannins and a long fan
- in Chardonnay, I do not like butterscotch nor too much oak
- in Riesling, I like them dry and not too floral

Let me know what you think of this, now or later

2) My posts are all written in a particular style. As a result, this blog is perhaps a bit monotonous. Therefore I will introduce content from other sites from time to time in the future.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tasmania Unbottled

The roadshow of Tasmanian wines was educational. Tasmania is hard to follow, as many wineries are very small and their distribution to the mainland is patchy. During this event, I had a good look at Riesling and in particular Pinot Noir.

Two Rieslings stood out for me: The 2008 Heemskerk Riversdale Coal River Valley Riesling was my pick. It showed attractive stone fruit and apple and appealing acidity. The wine is made in a dry style, but not as steely as some from the Claire. Almost as good, and probably a lot cheaper, is the 2008 Stoney Rise Riesling. It is quite similar in flavour with some savoury characters as well.

To date, I have not been a big fan of Tasmanian Pinot Noir. This show has not changed my view dramatically, although the quality was quite consistently good. And when I am a bit critical, I am using the top Pinots as benchmarks, such as Bindi, Bass Phillip, Bannockburn etc. There are two shortcomings across the board: the Tasmanian Pinots do not fan out enough on the finish and the mouthfeel tends to be a bit lacking or thin. On the other hand, fruit quality and wine making have improved a lot.

The best wine for me was the 2007 Stefano Lubiana Estate Pinot Noir. It had substantial cherry fruit, seamless oak integration and silky tannins (the only one).

Then followed a group, including 2007 Clarence House Estate Pinot Noir, 2008 Heemskerk Derwent Valley Pinot Noir (good length, but lacking mouthfeel), and 2008 Home Hill Pinot Noir (smooth finish).

Following were Pinots from Pirie, Stoney Rise, Sugarloaf Ridge, Derwent Estate and Moorilla.

Bay of Fires was a real outlyer, with its 2008 Pinot Noir. It had very soft strawberry flavours and quite a yummy texture. Nothing savoury here. Not to my taste, but popular with some.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bass Phillip Pinot Noir

Not often does one have a chance to taste several of Phillip Jones' Pinot Noirs accompanied by his always very interesting and insightful comments.

Several years ago, Bass Phillip branched out into a number of different labels from contractor fruit from the area. The wines did not reach the same quality, and last night I learnt that Phillip Jones has given up making wines from contractor fruit, probably because it was risking the brand image.

We drank the last wine made in this way, the 2007 Bass Phillip Old Cellar Pinot Noir. The wine had lovely flavour, but a fairly short finish. One for drinking now.

Then it was on to the levels 2-4 of the wines from his own vinyards. the 2008 Crown Prince Pinot Noir was only just bottled. It showed ripe and plummy flavours; not a very big wine and quite tannic and acidic.

Then it went a real step up and the burgundian flavours and texture started to show. First, the 2006 21 Pinot Noir. In 2006, no premium or reserve wines were bottled and it was the winery's 21st birthday, therefore the name and a wine comprising all of the Bass Phillip fruit. This wine was of medium weight, strawberry fruit flavours and secondary characteristics starting to show, like mushroom and spice, before fanning out to a steely finish. For me, the typical Bass Phillip characteristics, very soft texture, a big mouthfeel and super silky tannins started to show.

The 2007 Estate Pinot Noir again is not big, but has intense flavours and a very long fine finish. While Philip gave the 21 only a lifespan of 5-7 years, he predicted more than 10 years for this wine and was reporting that the early wines he made 20 years ago are drinking really well now. These are low alcohol wines, not overly tannic, but with a fair bit of acidity.

The 2007 Premium Pinot Noir was a similar wine, yet the fruit showed more concentration and the flavour spectrum goes from strawberry to more cherry flavours.

Phillip Jones' wines have always been very naturally made and he has followed biodynamic principles for a number of years. I believe it shows in the wines freshness and complexity. I am starting to warm to this approach, I must say. Phillip told me that in order to express 'terroir', biodynamic principles should be applied. He has noticed that in this way a lot more minerals and soil components are absorbed in the wine. Interesting.

It was a standout tasting by one of Australia's icon wine makers. If you can (it comes in very small volume) grab some of his wine, you will not regret it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Torbreck Dinner

Torbreck dinners are always great value and gregarious affairs. Last night was particularly good, as I came away with the lucky door prize (see the Steading Magnum on the left).

The range of wines included the following reds:
- 2002 Juveniles
-2003 The Steading
-2006 The Struie
-2007 The Gask
-2005 RunRig

The Steading showed very well, great complexity, texture and length. I think in some ways, this is David Powell's best wine. I will do a little vertical tasting in a couple of weeks.

The Struie was another highlight. A fullbodied Shiraz, yet elegant and interesting. The Gask was from the warm 2007 vintage and tasted more like a Barossa floor wine than from the Eden Valley, where the single vinyard is located - a bit broad and undifferentiated for my taste.

I am not sure I was at my tasting best, when the time came for the RunRig. Therefore I will not review the wine. It was big and sweet, as you would expect, a meal in itself. My sense was I had tasted better vintages of this wine, but still, this wine stands out from its many imitators through the elegance it has despite its big frame.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cullen Diana Madeline

August will be a month of good food and great wine and I am pleased to be able to kick it off with the 2001 Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet/Merlot. This is a very good, but slightly unusual wine.

The bouquet is very fresh and the colour of the wine very dark, almost inkish. The wine is full bodied and tastes of blackberry, loganberry and mulberry. You could swear there was a fair amount of Cabernet Franc and or Petit Verdot in the blend, but the label advises of a 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot mix.

The acids are still quite strong. This wine has a mighty grip. As most, this Cullen has a beautiful length in the finish. The structure of this wine is monumental and it needs another five years at least to soften. It will be a classic in 10 years time.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Kooyong Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris is a grape variety which has never grabbed me, particularly not when made in Australia. Most of them lack definition and structure and, I guess, this grape variety is really not very interesting.

Then somebody suggested I should try the new Pinot Gris from Kooyong. Now I have a lot of time for the Kooyong wines and it is Mornington where most Pinot Gris experience resides. So I tried the 2008 Kooyong Beurrot Pinot Gris, a couple of times in fact.

I am disappointed. The wine is well made, no doubt, but the flavour spectrum is broad and somewhat flat, not very expressive. As a backdrop to Asian food, the wine is ok, but I prefer a Gruener Veltiner for a bit more character.

So, the search goes on.. or do we just dump this grape variety?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir

The title of most hedonistic wine in Australia clearly goes to Bass Phillip's Pinot Noirs. The odd years tend to be amazing (don't ask me why), the even years can be mediocre. Vintage variences are probably more pronounced than in any other premium wine in the country, yet what he gets from Gippsland ground in the right years is astonishing.

I am opening a 2001 Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir. This is essentially a reserve bottling and given it is an odd year, I have high expectations. I am not disappointed. The wine's fruit flavours are in the reddish spectrum of strawberry and cherry. The taste is incredibly smooth, silky and seductive, finishing with a classical Burgundy-like fan of fruit and slightly savoury flavours. The tannins are well in the background, the feature of the wine is its elegant texture. It seems the wine is at its peak right now and the only shortcoming is perhaps a slightly more intense fruit concentration.

Castagna Genesis Syrah

The Castagna Genesis Syrah has the potential to be one of Australia's outstanding Shirazes. It can have the weight of fruit, yet elegance and a complex texture. However, the 2002 Castagna Genesis Syrah does not quite make it.

The wine is medium to full bodied, with strong primary fruit flavours, mainly of red berries like raspberries, redcurrant and sour cherries. Definitely no plum here. The wine is not sweet, but features black pepper. It is elegant with oak taking a backroom seat. Unfortunately, the wine falls off at the finish and the fine dry tannins are somewhat short. As a result, the mouthfeel is not as satisfying as hoped. It may be a function of the cooler year and I will be interested to try the 2004 in a little while.

This wine is probably close to its peak, but will live for a number of more years.