Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Two New Polls Announced

The next two polls are of varieties and styles which are almost uniquely Australian. However, they are not widely appreciated here either. This is why I will run them in parallel. You may be familiar with at least one group.

I am expecting low numbers here, but please vote if you have experience with these wines. There is not much information about perceived quality . Please do not vote if you know the wines through hearsay only. The two categories are Semillon, all from the Hunter, and Sparkling Red.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Howard Park Tasting

Hot on the heels of Leeuwin Estate came Howard Park with a dinner to showcase their new wines, including a first look at the 2007 Abercrombie Cabernet Merlot. The evening was hosted by Jeff Burch, the owner. Now, irrespective of if you like the Howard Park wines or not, if you have a chance to go to an event where Jeff Burch speaks, do not miss it. He tells some of the most amazing wine stories, and in a style which makes you laugh for the rest of the night.

On to the wines. The 2008 Howard Park Sauvignon Blanc was the first white. While Jeff Burch made a big plea to buy Aussie Savvys, instead of those from New Zealand, I am not sure that this is the wine I would turn to. It has some Semillon in it, to help with the mid palate, but the overall effect is a fairly bland wine, however, it will be complimentary to many food dishes (89 points). Then came, as it turned out, the star of the evening, the 2009 Howard Park Riesling. It shows typical citrus and lime flavours, it is dry and finishes with well balanced acidity. The wine has a strong linear profile, going beautifully down the palate, it is very harmonious, with a lengthy finish. While the wine is dry, it is not quite as restrained as some Clare Valley wines (94 points). The 2007 Howard Park Chardonnay was a bit of a disappointment. The fruit appeared quite concentrated, but quickly leaves a hole on the mid palate. This is unusual for this vintage. They take only free run juice for this wine, and maybe stop it too early. As a result, the oak (1/3 new) tends to dominate. The wine does have a decent finish in terms of length and freshness (90 points).

The two Shirazes to taste were the 2007 Leston Shiraz from Margaret River and the 2007 Scotsdale Shiraz from Great Southern. The Leston hits you with an upfront wall of sweet plum and licorice, followed by vanilla oak. This wine does not seem well balance, but is also too early to drink (89 points). The Scotsdale is a much leaner wine, with cherry and peppery flavours. There is too much acidity on the palate and not much length in the finish (88 points).
These wines did nothing to convert me to WA Shiraz.

The 2008 Leston Cabernet Sauvignon was a much better wine. Red berry flavours dominate and there is good vitality in the wine. While the mouthfeel is not as full as a top Cabernet would have it (a bit of Merlot would have been nice), this is a well balanced wine with a lengthy finish (93 points). The 2007 Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, in contrast, is a much bigger wine, although 70% come from Mt. Barker and only 30% from Margaret River. The flavour profile was unusual: I expected ripe currants, but instead, it tasted more of cassis, tomatoes, cigarbox and indeed some chemical components I could not name. In a nutshell, this wine seemed more an industrial product than an artisan result, which is what you would expect from Western Australia. Still, the wine has a big flavour profile and will satisfy some, but it is certainly not in the top league for the 2007 year (92 points).

Overall, the wines were mixed and a tad disappointing. With so many vineyards to chose from, I expected a better result from vines harvested in these good years in WA.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tappanappa Chardonnay

The 2008 Tappanappa Chardonnay has quite intense stone fruit characteristics. It is very polished and pleasant on the palate. Good oak integration. The style is similar to the Petaluma Chardonnay, maybe slightly fuller. My problem with it is this: these Croser wines are very clean, but they lack character. This is a good wine, but I would find others more interesting.

Score: 93/0

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Leeuwin New Art Series Releases and Mini Verticals of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (part 2)

I discussed the white wines of this evening in my last post. Now on to the reds.

The first red wine was the Art Series Shiraz. I have to admit, I cannot remember which year; it was the current release. The fruit was bright, cherry and plum flavours, and there was spice, too. This was not a bad wine, but I am not quite sure why I would buy it (91 points).

Then came the series of Cabernet. It started with the 2002 Leeuwin Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a medium bodied wine, with typical Cabernet flavours and a somewhat musty palate. It did not have a great mouthfeel and is nothing to write home about (87 points). The 2003 Leeuwin Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon was a little better. A fresher palate, with redcurrant flavours, but still a fairly thin mouthfeel leading to a dusty finish (89 points).

The 2004 Leeuwin Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon was a step up, to be expected in a great year in Margaret River. The flavour profile was not all that different from the previous year, but the wine was riper, delivering a fuller mouthfeel. The wine is quite polished and the oak well integrated (92 points).

I would rate the 2005 Leeuwin Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon on par with the 2004. Its flavour profile is of darker fruit and attractive. The wine seems to carry more acidity, yet it is an elegant wine. The finish not as long as its predecessor (92 points).

I left with the impression that the big effort into the Cabernet is paying off - to a degree. This wine was really not up to scratch until 2004. Now it is an attractive Cabernet worth considering. However, it still has a long way to go before it enters the premier league of Western Australia. The Leeuwin Cabernet does not yet have the harmony and texture of a Moss Wood or Cullen.

Overall, this was a terrific tasting.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Leeuwin New Art Series Releases and Mini Verticals of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (part 1)

A dinner with Leeuwin Art Series wines, in particular when there are more than ten, has a special feeling to it. Will any other wine reach the quality of the Chardonnay? How is the Chardonnay style evolving?

Two quick conclusions upfront: Despite major efforts, Leeuwin is still a one-show pony - how bizarre. The Chardonnays are world class and have no equal as a series in Australia. (Bindi will be the one to watch)

The 2009 Leeuwin Sauvignon Blanc was unremarkable. The palate was a little plump, clearly an attempt to avoid the NZ grassiness, but it offered nothing in return. The wine is well made, but fairly boring (87 points). The 2009 Leeuwin Riesling was a more interesting wine. It displayed a fairly soft flavour of lime and citrus, a pleasant food companion, but lacking length on the palate (89 points).

On to the Chardonnays. On offer were the 2004 to 2007 vintages, the latter being the new release. This comparison allows to make some comments on the Leeuwin style, which has significantly evolved since the 90s, when the flavours often competed leading to a bit of a fruit salad impression. I would describe the main characteristics of the style now considerable fruit intensity, fairly high alcohol, yet a very linear form leading to lengthy finish. When I asked the proprietor, Denis Horgan, how he achieved this, he gave a (to me) surprising answer: the wine spends 12 months in new french oak. He did not elaborate, but I think it means that a lot of the fruit intensity is taken up by the oak, and there is enough acidity to carry the wine to the finish.

The 2004 Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay was a stunner. Beautiful ripe tropical aromas, also cashew from the oak, which was well integrated. The wine is still very fresh, with linear mouthfeel as discussed above, and a long rich finish (97 points).

The 2005 Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay was the weakest in this line-up and did not quite deliver the typical profile. This Chardonnay was quite rich, more nectarine than classical stone fruit flavours. It had less acidity than the other Chardonnays, and was not as linear on the palate. The finish was a little short, but overall still a fine wine (92 points).

The 2006 Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay was similar in its profile to the 2004, but overall a bit lighter and more delicate. It is still quite backward and had more grapefruit than stone fruit flavours (95 points).

The 2007 Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay, from a warm year, is quite intense and powerful, many fruit flavours are present, stone fruit, peach, pineapple, but also citrus. Despite this richness, the wine is elegant and leads to a crisp, long lasting finish (96/+++ points) . I give the 2004 a slight edge due to its superb balance, but would not be surprised if the 2007 will be similar in a few years time.

PS: Grape Observer is also reviewing these wines.

Chardonnay Poll Now Closed

Not surprisingly, Leeuwin Estate took the Chardonnay crown. Highly regarded Chardonnays from Petaluma, Penfolds and Pierro did not get one vote. Bindi is an up-and-comer. Let's see how they go in the Pinot Noir poll. Winners so far

Shiraz <$100 per bottle: Henschke Mt. Edelstone
Cabernet and Blends: Cullen Diana Madeline
Shiraz/Viognier: Clonakilla
Riesling: Grosset Polish Hill
Chardonnay: Leeuwin Art Series

I would be very happy with a line-up like this any day. Another thought: I would be proud to put up these wines in any country comparison and demonstrate the high quality variety Australia can produce.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Keith Tulloch Semillon

I am just finishing off the delightful 2002 Keith Tulloch Semillon. Tyrell claim to own four of the five best Semillon vineyards in the Hunter. I wonder who they think the 5th is: Thomas' Braemore? Anyway, there is plenty of other good Semillon in the Hunter. Keith Tulloch gets his from a variety of vineyards.

The 2002 Semillon is a cracker. The colour still has a bit of green, but the yellow is stronger. No honeyed flavours yet. The wine is fresh, with dominant lime flavours, enough acidity to keep it going, but not very noticable on the palate. The wine is remarkably full for a Semillon and very harmonious, before finishing dry, but soft. Did I say this is a cracker?

This will go for another 10 years at least. The wine has the structure and isn't even in the mellowing phase yet.

Score: 95/+++

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rose - Don't judge by colour

I had two interesting bottles of Rose in front of me at lunch yesterday. One was a Spinifex, the other a Yelland & Papps. Both are from the Barossa, and both are Grenache based. The Spinifex wine is very pale, the Yelland & Papps dark ruby. So you think the former will taste watery, and the latter like a fruit bomb. Neither was true. The Spinifex has great vitality and freshness and a serious linear structure going down the palate. The Yelland & Papps has more of a fruit flavour, but is nicely balanced with savoury flavours and an elegant finish.

There are many ways to make Rose. This has become a much improved variety in Australia, but try before you buy.

Thomas Kiss Shiraz

I do not review wines from the Hunter Valley very often. Too many wineries have given in to a tourism focussed approach. However, there are a handful of serious wineries there. Thomas is one. The Kiss Shiraz is its premium red wine.

Last night I tried the 2003 Thomas Kiss Shiraz. This is a wine from a warm year and it shows. The flavours are plum and raspberry and you experience a lot of ripeness in your mouth. The velvety tannins, typical of Hunter Shiraz, are there, but they are overpowered by the alcohol in this wine. This is probably a case where the standard wine delivers better. I will keep the remaining bottles for longer and hope for more mellowing.

Score: 91/0

Clarendon Hills Brookman Syrah

Roman Bratusiuk and his wines at Clarendon Hills are not often mentioned when it comes to leading Australian wines, yet few would argue that his Astralis in good years is remarkable. There are probably three reasons for this: the wines are very expensive, there is a large array of single vineyard, small volume labels, and Roman is not very visible or supporting certain reviewers.

I always hold a small number of his wines. The 2004 Clarendon Hills Brookman Syrah has an impenetrable dark colour. The fruit is very concentrated and rich with an overwhelming taste of black cherries. Despite the richness, the wine is quite elegant. It has a big mouthfeel, and on the first night, the fruit was so dominant that it felt almost like drinking concentrated fruit juice. On the 2nd day, earthy flavours came through on the back palate and pleasing tannins lead to a long finish.

At six years, the wine tasted quite young. The fruit ripeness is certainly not impacting the ability to age this wine. On the downside, there is a lack of differentiation in the flavour. It hits you like a brick wall.

Score: 93/+

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Leeuwin verticals

I had the opportunity to taste quite a lot of Leeuwin at a recent dinner sponsored by them. It included small verticals of their Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignons. However, as we are in the middle of the Chardonnay poll, I will publish my comments once the poll is closed.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chardonnay Poll

Somebody pointed out to me, correctly, that I have used Bindi's Pinot names in the current Chardonnay poll. I sincerely apologize for that. Their premium Chardonnay is the Bindi Quartz Chardonnay. This is what I should have said. Unfortunately I cannot change anything once the poll is open.

So please, when you think of Bindi, think of the Quartz. And please vote.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dalwhinnie - New Releases

The 2007 Dalwhinnie Chardonnay is a strong Chardonnay. While it tastes of pear and white peach, this wine is not about its fruit. It has a lot of minerality, also some hazelnut. This is a complex wine, which is somewhat held back by its slightly plump finish.

Score: 92/0

The flagship 2008 Dalwhinnie Shiraz is curiously different from the normal style for this wine. The bouquet jumps out of the glass with berry and plum flavours. The wine is much more open than usual. The same flavours are on the palate in a fairly big and ripe style. This ripeness almost outmuscles the trademark velvety fine tannins and smooth finish. I don't know if this is an exception due to the vintage or if we are seeing a change in style. Personally, I hope it is the former. I would also suggest that it is probably best to drink this wine within five years, although it might last quite a bit longer. Why do Victorian Shirazes try to be Barossan and Barossa wines Victorian?

Score: 94/0

The 2008 Dalwhinnie Cabernet Sauvignon is quite a different proposition. It tastes of red- and blackcurrant, but is really tight at present. The tannins are quite stringent as well. This wine will live for a long time, but I am not sure it has the fruit for an outstanding experience down track.

Score: 90/0

Friday, April 9, 2010

Spinifex - Revisited

My review of the latest Spinifex releases on 13 March was quite positive. I had an opportunity to taste these wines again yesterday and came away even more impressed.

The 2008 Spinifex Taureau impressed me even more this time. It is the best Australian Tempranillo based wine I have tasted. I am not quite sure about the composition, but it is 60-70% Tempranillo, a couple of other varieties from Northern Spain and maybe 10% Cabernet. Peter Schell tells me he forgets these percentages. When the blend is right, he moves on to the next one. The fruit in this wine, redcurrant and cherry, is now more prominent than a month ago, and the finish very fresh and satisfying. I would now score the wine 93/++.

I said I was surprised Peter Schell managed to make an unblended wine with the 2008 Spinifex Bete Noir. Well, this straight Shiraz is a blend of fruit from Gomersal and Eden Valley, I am relaxed now. There is quite a bit of spice in this wine. Otherwise my notes are unchanged.

I liked the 2008 Spinifex La Maline much more this time than a month ago. It has a lively, plummy taste with excellent texture and a silky, long finish. My score now is 94/++.

Curly Flat - New Releases

Was I off or was the wine off on this night? Maybe a little bit of both.

The 2007 Curly Flat Chardonnay was the best wine of the new releases. It blended citrus and peach flavours, had the right amount of acidity for a fresh finish and delivered quite a rounded mouthfeel.

Score: 92/+

The 2008 Williams Crossing Pinot Noir, Curly Flat's second label, could not manage to match the stellar 2007 effort, reviewed here some time ago. The wine is quite acidic and lacks the depth of fruit to balance this. Also, the finish comes along rather quickly.

Score: 86/-

The 2007 Curly Flat Pinot Noir has the difficult task of following the outstanding 2006. It is not going to be a contest. In fact, this wine will be quite controversial, as its colour at present is cloudy and the wine not settled. This is because the wine is not filtered and hopefully will settle over time. However, unfiltered Pinot need not look like this. The flavour is subtler than with the 2006, mainly kirsch and mushroom, but it is also not as full and rounded. If you wanted to be positive, you would describe the wine as funky and interesting, but for me, the interest pales quickly, as the wine progresses on the palate to a rumbling finish.

Score: 88/--

Phillip Moraghan is a very dedicated winemaker and has moved Curly Flat to a more terroir and biodynamic orientated operation in the last few years. It appears that this has brought with it a riskier operation and - certainly on this occasion - more variable results.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Felton Road Pinot Noir

I consider myself fortunate with my recent wine choices. This 2006 Felton Road Pinot Noir is another cracker. Most Pinots from Central Otago taste of quite dark, concentrated fruit. This Pinot is a bit different.

The fruit is more in the strawberry, red cherry spectrum. As soon as it hits the palate, it starts to fan out: big flavour and generous. The wine has great mouthfeel and hangs on as more savoury tones appear on the back palate. The wine has good length and a firm, but quite silky finish.

This wine will mellow over the next few years and become a very attractive, aged Pinot.

Score: 95/++

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz

The 2002 Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz is an exceptional wine, exceptional in quality, and also exceptional in style for an Australian Shiraz.

This wine is still very fresh. It is medium bodied, with a complex palate of blackberry, redcurrant and any kind of forest fruit. Behind this sit savoury characteristics with oak very well integrated. The wine has great length and is kept fresh by a moderate level of acidity. The tannins are firm, but lead to a smooth finish.

This Shiraz is extremely well put together, reminding me of the great wines of the Northern Rhone, yet expressing the sun-kissed Australian fruit concentration we expect from a top wine.

I am marking this wine high, but it would have gone higher with a rounder, as opposed to a more linear mouthfeel.

Score: 96/++

Cullen's Diana Madeline takes the Cabernet Crown

Although not that many of you voted, the majority went for Margaret River, when it comes to Cabernet and its blends. The Cullen Diana Madeline was the clear winner.

Now I am going to make a couple of decisions for you, unless I hear some protest. I am giving the Shiraz/Viognier category to Clonakilla. The other contender could be Torbreck's RunRig, but I think the Clonakilla would be the clear winner. Equally, I suggest that the Grosset Polish Hill is our greatest Riesling. I don't think any other Riesling from the Clare, Eden Valley, Victoria or WA could challenge successfully. However, if you think otherwise, please comment.

Then we come to Chardonnay, and this is less clear. Voting is open right now. Please vote.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wine Preserva

I was given samples to test this new product, which claims to keep the wine fresh after a bottle has been opened.

It is basically a rubbery sachet, which is dropped into the bottle. It swims on and covers the wine, thereby eliminating contact with air. I was initially skeptical, as it was a bit difficult to place the sachets correctly into the bottle and it did not seem to cover the surface tightly up to the bottle wall. However, the results were good. I tasted this on the Hanisch wines (see post below), and they were just as fresh on the second day, which is a good result for wines up to nine years old. I will continue to drink these wines on day three and four, and it looks like they will still be good.

The product does not look all that nice in the bottle, but it allows me to do vertical tastings or other comparisons with only two people drinking the wine over time. It will be very suitable for restaurants. I believe pricing will be about $1 per sachet. I noticed Michael Twelftree of Two Hands is quite a fan.

A Sensational Shiraz - A Vertical Tasting of Rolf Binder's Hanisch

Rolf Binder's top wine, The Hanisch, is not very well known. It is expensive, and only a small volume is produced from a block next to the Veritas winery. I bought individual bottles from time to time and I thought the best way to enjoy them might be to open them together to get a better feel for this wine.

I have come away from this tasting concluding that this is one of Australia's top Shirazes. It is also an unusual wine.

Common amongst the four bottles I tasted were the amazing nose of all the wines - very flavoursome and enticing, and the feminine character of the wines. They are full bodied Barossas, yet they have this purity of fruit, elegance and silkiness. I found the wines very appealing.

The 2005 Rolf Binder Hanisch was close to the best. It tasted of blackberries, good fruit concentration, but not overly ripe and not heavy, elegant and with a silky finish.

Score: 94/++

The 2004 Rolf Binder Hanisch was slightly bigger and had some meaty characters as well. It also had a longer finish, but was not as harmonious.

Score: 93/+

The 2002 Rolf Binder Hanisch was the star of the line-up, as perhaps expected. The flavours are very complex and the finish very velvety and long, benefiting from the longer growing season.

Score: 95/+++

The 2001 Veritas Hanisch, as it was then called, smelled of gardenia, had a slightly sweet aroma, on a strong backbone. This wine showed a bit more pepper than the others, and again, finished long.

Score: 94/++

I tried these wines on a second night as well, testing a new closure (see above post), and they drank just as well. They remain fresh and lively, with only the 02 losing a bit of its allure. I highly recommend these wines.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cirillo 1850 Old Vine Grenache

I have reviewed the 2003 here before, which was a wine I quite enjoyed. The 2005 Cirillo 1850 Old Vine Grenache pushes the boundaries of ripeness even further. The fruit is dark and brooding, very concentrated and ripe. The tannic backbone is holding it together right now, but the wine has an unpleasant hot finish and is too high in alcohol (16%).

There is no doubt that the Cirillo vineyard delivers great fruit from the old bush vines, but there is no value in pushing the style to maximum ripeness. Earlier picking would have delivered a more pleasant, lively and varietal wine. Hopefully, as this becomes more generally accepted in the Barossa, later vintages will take this into account.

Score: 90/--

Poll Extended

It looks like a clear favorite has been established, but the number of votes is too low. I have extended the poll by a day. Please do a quick vote, if you have not done so already.