Saturday, December 31, 2011

Highlights and Trends in 2011

There was much to enjoy in the world of wine in 2011. Focussing on Australia and nearby, I found the following developments remarkable:

1) The quality of Pinot Noir. Australian Pinot Noir is now at a point where it is hard to find a bottle which is really bad. Many wineries located on the geographical ring around Melbourne produce subtle, but complex wines, which are really interesting. Tasmania is starting to deliver more consistently as well. Good quality is now available at $20-$25 per bottle as well.

2) The 2011 Riesling vintage. The very wet 2011 vintage has been written off by many critics and some wineries as well, but some outstanding Rieslings have been produced. Grosset and Best's are examples.

3) Aged Margaret River Cabernets. At the other end of the spectrum, if you will, I enjoyed 10 to 20 year old Margaret River Cabernets from leading producers. These wines have great mouthfeel, silky tannins and a lengthy finish. Cellaring brings out the best in these Cabernets.

4) So called alternative varieties improve in quality. Following consumer interest in flavoursome and serious, but less heavy red wines, there are now some good Australian Sangiovese and Tempranillos offered, e.g. by Pizzini, Castagna or Tscharke. Barolos have a way to go, before they come close to Piedmont quality levels.

5) Early picked red wines from the Barossa. The style pioneered by Spinifex is gaining ground. A number of producers from the Barossa now offer interesting early picked and lower alcohol Shiraz as well as other varieties.

6) Sweet white wines from New Zealand. This is my only gripe in this list. Remember New Zealand white wines from 20 years ago? Many were sweet Mueller-Thurgau wines. Unfortunately, many producers have not improved, simply changed varieties. Now the sweet, sugary wines are Sauvignon Blanc and spilling into Pinot Gris. Obviously, there are great producers, but overall, a disappointing development.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Two Hands Ares Shiraz

The Two Hands Ares Shiraz is the pinnacle of this specialist Shiraz producer. It consists of the best barrel from the Barossa. I had high hopes for this 2002 Two Hands Ares Shiraz. Usually, wines like this are very big and ripe, but coming from the cooler 2002 year, I was hoping for something balanced.

My expectations were partly met. This  full bodied wine is quite concentrated, but after nine years still has some freshness. The dominant fruit is blackberry with quite a sweet core - too sweet. As a result, it belongs to the category of wines where you drink one glass, but more is difficult (maybe this is a good thing). The fruit is not dead, but lacks some complexity, more like a big bowl of sweets. The label says 14.5% alcohol, but it felt like more. On the other hand, the wine was not hot, the fruit could take the alcohol. Once the wine arrives at the back palate, it has a pleasant finish with soft and polished tannins.

Score: 93/0

Christmas Drinks

What did we drink for Christmas? Any particular stand-outs?

In my case, I enjoyed a 2002 vintage Moet, a 2005 Giaconda Chardonnay, a 2003 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir, and a Chard Farm Pinot Noir. The Felton Road Block 5 was sensational - everything in harmony, fruit and savoury characteristics, great length and depth. The Giaconda was quite developed, although under screwcap: a good wine, but a bit broad.

What did you drink?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Best's Riesling

The new 2011 Best's Great Western Riesling was the drop of choice for the pre-Christmas lunch. I was not disappointed.

This wine has a big bouquet for a Riesling. The palate shows a lot of lime fruit and is dry when cold. As the bottle warmed up, the wine became a bit more fruity. The wine has a great mouthfeel and good length. I would have liked a bit more linearity, but this is a good Riesling, and exceptional value at this price.

I suggest to drink this wine young and cold. It appears the wet 2011 vintage has been very suitable for Riesling.

Score: 93/+

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chateau Giscours

So how does a Bordeaux wine costing approximately 75% of the Gralyn compare? Not too well, as it happens.

The 2000 Chateau Giscours is quite a typical Bordeaux wine. It is medium to full bodied, dominated by blackberry flavours, but much more savoury than the Gralyn, with earthy components prominent. The big difference is the mouthfeel. The Giscours does not fill the mouth nearly as well as the Gralyn. The tannins are not as smooth, but the finish is satisfying. This wine tastes more ordinary, but is quite adequate complementing the rack of lamb.

Score: 91/0

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gralyn Cabernet Sauvignon

I have often balked at the price of this self declared Margaret River cult producer, but this 2000 Gralyn Cabernet Sauvignon is a beauty. Full-bodied, a clean expression of blackberry fruit, elegant, there is absolutely no greenness in this, nor any overripe fruit.

People say they bring in the best Cabernet fruit in in WA, maybe this time, Gralyn made the wine of the vintage too. After eleven years, the wine is in perfect harmony. The silky tannins lead to a finish which goes on and on. When Cabernet tastes like this, it is the king of varieties. We do not experience this very often in this country.

This wine will go on for another five years without trouble, and maybe, once the share market shows signs of improvement, I will open my wallet for a few more Gralyn wines again.

Score: 96/+++

Monday, December 19, 2011

Australian Wine Shows: James Halliday to defend himself again

After the well publicized argument between Robert Parker and James Halliday about the Australian wine show system around 2003/2004, I think, we now have one between Rick Kinzbrunner, winemaker at Giaconda, and James Halliday.

Kinzbrunner in the October Decanter magazine: Wine shows drive wines to a level of boredom, consumers should be in charge instead of winemakers, and criticizing Australia's insane preference for screwcaps.

James Halliday, in his Australian Wine companion article from today (, points to the post show tastings as evidence of the system working. I have attended some, and I must say I have been bamboozled by the points wines scored, and tend to agree that wines with personality have a tough time.

On the other hand, Halliday supplies evidence that the judges come from different backgrounds and are not necessarily dominated by winemakers. Having said this, the Chairman usually has a big influence how the judging is done - and I think I am right in saying he is mostly associated with winemaking.

The screwcaps topic has been dealt with a lot. My view: Definitely an advantage for white wines. I have now drunk a number of serious red wines under screwcap which are 7 to 10 years old, and I don't like them nearly as much as those under cork. They don't mellow well. The issue is simple. The screwcap threat is great for making sure the cork producers get their act together. But also: Australian producers need to ensure that they are not the last cab of the rank, when it comes to cork quality. This is where Rick Kinzbrunner has spent much energy to form valuable relationships.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Exopto, Horizonte de Exopto

In a recent post, I discussed the good availability of Southern European wines in Australia. One of the issues, however, is that not always the best wines find their way down under.

Spending $40 per bottle on the 2007 Horizonte de Exopto, I was reasonably confident to have a good experience, in particular as this Tempranillo includes the Graciano grape. Tempranillo is pretty, but lacks tannin, which Graciano has in spades. I always prefer this combination to a straight Tempranillo.

This medium-bodied wine starts with vibrant cherry flavours. It has licorice and spice, but unfortunately, it is quite hollow on the mid palate. It then finishes with smooth tannins.

This is a versatile food wine, suitable for pizza and a variety of tapas, but not an exciting wine in its own right.

Score: 87/0

Friday, December 16, 2011

Taylors St. Andrews Single Vineyard Shiraz

Taylors has not been a favorite of mine in the past. I found the wines overworked, often simplistic and too oaky. The St. Andrews is their flagship Shiraz. I noticed an improvement while drinking the 2006 Taylors St. Andrews Shiraz (a gift), but my issues are still there.

The 2006 St. Andrews shows concentrated flavours of cherry and plum - not a bad fruit set. The grapes are quite ripe and, combined with the vanilla flavours from the oak, deliver an overly sweet tasting sensation. This flavour profile has moved into the acceptable range from outrageous oak treatment in some years past, but the result remains a somewhat simplistic fruit and vanilla bomb - not a style I enjoy.

Score: 88/--

Overseas Travel A Reason For A Holiday From Wine?

These days, I find myself taking a break from drinking wine when travelling overseas. It is not absolute, but I observe it most days. Why is this so? There are three reasons:

1) Imports to Australia from the major wine producing countries have grown strongly, not just in volume, but also in breadth of offerings. Specialist retailers offer now good ranges of wines from France, Spain and Italy. Germany and Austria are still poorly represented and dominated by a small number of marketing savvy companies. US wines are still expensive despite the currency shift. By and large, there is no need to travel to the Northern Hemisphere to experience the wines produced there (an exception are the Blaufraenkisch wines from Southern Germany. Warm vintages have produced excellent examples of this variety, only available in Germany, but take note: MacForbes is now growing this variety in the YarraValley).

2) Australian wines tend to be more consistent and predictable in quality than European wines. This is pretty much true at each price point. Therefore, if you do not know what you are ordering in Europe, you are bound to experience quite a few disappointments.

3) My main wine source overseas would be restaurants. The mark-ups there are significant: usually 300-500% for the better wines. The reason is that wine lists tend to be large and therefore stock holding costs substantial. High prices in turn do not encourage frequent purchases. Not an enticement.

What are your experiences?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gaja Sito Moresco

I encourage every serious wine drinker to at least drink one bottle of Gaja wine, in particular those based in Australia. This is to experience an exceptional level of elegance, which these wines stand for, to me. The Sito Moresco is a more affordable wine, and therefore a prime candidate.

Gaja has always defied the strict Italian regulations (the only thing strict in Italy?) and enjoyed experimenting with different blends. Sito Moresco is a mature vineyard in the village of Barbaresco and the wine a blend of 1/3 Nebbiolo, 1/3 Merlot and 1/3 Cabernet Sauvignon. As such the wine has aspects of 'modern international' as well as traditional Piedmont flavours.

The 2007 Gaja Sito Moresco is a wine where the tannic and acidic aspects of the Nebbiolo feature strongly, but the Bordeaux grapes add fruit flavour and drinkability at a younger age. The flavour is predominantly cherry, I find, and the wine is very harmoniously structured. It would benefit from some more age and softening, but unfortunately the fruit intensity may not be enough to go the distance.

This wine would not be everybody's cup of tea, but I recommend it to experience the elegance in the wine, seldom found at this price point. Also, it is very food friendy and will cut through wagyu beef with no trouble at all
Score: 91/+

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sicilian Wine

The wine market is quite an 'efficient' one. Wine which rates highly is usually quite good, it is also expensive. Finding major 'bargains' is difficult, and when it happens, mostly a one-off.

Opportunities can present themselves, however, when wine regions move from quaffing wine production to fine wine production. These opportunities are limited in Australia, as wine writers tend to elevate these regions, before they have really arrived. The area around Orange might be a present example, the Canberra district some years ago.

Interestingly, in good old Europe, the awareness of wine and wineries is not as highly developed as in the CBDs of Melbourne, Sydney or Adelaide - which brings me to my topic, Sicilian wines.

People have been interested in the next big thing from Italy, after the well established regions of Tuscany and Piedmont, and Sicily was elevated as 'hot': warm climate, volcanic soil and indigenous grapes seems an attractive mix. And it is true, wineries are taking steps to improve the quality of their wines to 'fine wines'.

This is where the opportunity arises: some wineries jump straight to flashy marketing and manage to sell their story, some are still conservative and sleepy and produce good wine at very attractive prices. It is of course difficult to identify these from Australia. However, having just been to Sicily, I found it interesting enough to report on this - and I have quite a few European readers.

Planeta is the flashy company. It exports to the US and has good Wine Spectator ratings. It produces international wine. The 2007 Planeta Syrah is an ok wine, but the fruit is not very concentrated, the mouthfeel a bit thin, and the finish not very long (86 points).

The opposite is Gambini. It produces wine from indigenous grapes. The Etna wines are called Tifeo. The white is made from Carregante and Catarratto and has clean citrus flavours, minerality and a good mouthfeel. This dry white is a great lunch drink at 12% alcohol. The red is made predominantly from Nerello Mascalese (Sicily's most interesting grape) and Nerello Cappuccio. This wine is perfumed, smoky, and with good length - an interesting and unusual wine. The Sicily wines are called Cantari and come from bought- in grapes. The white is actually made from the juice of the red grape Nerello Mascalese and is tropical and elegant, the red is from the Nero d'Avola grape and tastes a bit like Shiraz: peppery, licorice and cherry. All wines cost 8 or 9 Euro and I would rate them about 90 points. The drawback: no exports to Australia yet. They ship to other parts of Europe and the US, though.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


How is Bannockburn performing since the departure of Gary Farr? Michael Glover, the winemaker since 2005, has continued to push a progessive approach to winemaking. The vineyards are densely planted, organic, non-irrigated and low yielding. In the winery, wild ferments, whole bunches, long maceration times and extended lees contact are applied. I recently tasted the standard 2008 wines.

The 2008 Bannockburn Chardonnay tastes of citrus and some cream (oak, malolactic fermentation) and is a good example of a smart, modern Chardonnay. The acidity will ensure a good life for this wine, but I would have wished for more precision along the palate.

Score: 90/+

The 2008 Bannockburn Pinot Noir is quite savoury, as you would expect, but the 40% whole bunches also give a feminine side to the wine. This wine has great texture and weight, and it is about this rather than the expression of fruit.

Score: 93/++

How are these wines different from by Farr? It is an intriguing question, as the vineyards of the two companies are almost intertwined. Michael Glover thinks his wines are more restrained and built for the long haul, whereas by Farr wines show more upfront fruit. I agree.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bill Pannell Book Launch

The Pannell family has been associated with three major Australian wineries: Moss Wood, Picardy and SC Pannell. On the occasion of Bill Pannell launching his autobiography "Once more unto the vine", we were given a treat to taste wines from all three wineries.

The Picardy wines from Pemberton, in the south of Western Australia, are best known for their Burgundian wines, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The 2009 Picardy Pinot Noir was impressive for its cherry fruit and forest floor savory flavours (93 points). The 2008 'Tete de Cuvée' Pinot Noir contains 50 per cent French fruit. It is much more backward, quite savory, and a wine to keep (92 points).

Of the Moss Wood wines, I tasted the 2009 Moss Wood Chardonnay and the 2008 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chardonnay is A big wine. The focus is on texture, rather than fruit. The new oak is currently quite prominent and makes the wine creamy. The wine has good length and will be better in 2-3 years (92 points). The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is quite an amazing wine. It has a lot of quite deep, even dense black currant fruit, yet it is elegant, with good acidity and soft, silky tannins. Based on other Moss Wood experiences, this wine will last for 20+ years, and improve for at least 10 years. The fruit will show more complexity and integrate into the texture of the wine. Every Cabernet lover should buy this wine (I did) (97 points).

SC Pannell is the label of Stephen Pannell. The wines are from Mclaren Vale, but they are not typical for the region. The fruit is very vibrant and probably picked much earlier than what is the norm. The focus is on freshness and forward fruit flavours. The 2009 Tempranillo Touriga is quite light, but with backbone (91 points). The 2010 Grenache is very young and fruity (88 points). The 2007 Shiraz/Grenache has a similar flavours profile, but more weight, due to the Shiraz component (90 points). The 2008 Nebbiolo would be my pick, although it is not similar to the Piedmont wines. It has the floral notes, but has quite a Burgundian character. The wine is not very concentrated, but has good precision and length (92 points). Overall, these wines impress by the purity of their fruit. However, in terms of their mouthfeel, I would prefer the Spinifex wines from Barossa.

In summary, this was a fascinating tasting, to see the variety which these wineries bring to the table. All wines are well made and they show real character.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Majella Cabernet Sauvignon

While viticultural practices have improved significantly in Coonawarra, wines are still more misses than hits. However, the 2004 vintage is a good start.

The 2004 Majella Cabernet Sauvignon offers a rich and concentrated blackcurrent bouquet, which follows on to the palate. The wine is full-bodied and has no weak spot on the mid-palate, as some Cabernets do. The fruit is ripe, but not alcoholic. The wine finishes with silky tannins.

This is how a good Cabernet Sauvignon should be. The Majella displays the potential of fruit flavours from the terra rossa beautifully. It has many years ahead.

Score: 94/+++

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rockford Riesling

Somebody mentions Rockford, you think Basket Press Shiraz or Sparkling Shiraz. I came across this 2009 Rockford Eden Valley Riesling and was very positively surprised.

This Riesling is different from the highly fancied steely Eden Valley or Claire Valley Rieslings. It is generous and full flavoured, yet it is a dry wine. It shows the famous lime characteristics of Eden Valley and has good minerality, too. The mouthfeel is very satisfying. The other side of the coin: You would not say this wine has ultimate precision or elegance, and  it finishes a bit short, but overall, a really pleasing Riesling.

Score: 91/+

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Masi Amarone

If you are looking for a high alcohol wine, for example because you lost at the Melbourne Cup, you have a number of unattractive options: Californian Zinfandel and the Shirazes from Greenock Creek come to mind. A more interesting alternative is Amarone from Valpolicella.

Yesterday I had a rare 1990 Masi Campolongo Amarone. This wine is made after drying the grapes, usually on straw mats, for several months. This results in increased sugars and flavour concentration. This particular wine tastes of raisin and dark cherry, and tastes also a bit like dry sherry. The wine is very mourish, and elegant   for its high alcohol level (16%). It is an excellent partner to cheese, and my partnering with lamb worked also well.

Score: 94/+

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon

Wynn's Cabernet Sauvignon is a high volume, medium priced wine, sold predominantly through the major retail chains. I wonder how much of it gets cellared. How much of the 1998 Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon would still be in bottle? 1 Percent?

This is a real shame, because the wine is structured for cellaring. The 1998 bottle I drank last night was probably at its peak. This is a masculine wine because of its tannin structure, not its alcohol level. It tastes of blackberry and mulberry, and the fruit is still quite fresh. It is not an elegant wine, and the firm tannic finish is classical Cabernet Sauvignon. The big plus: this wine has character.

Score: 93/++

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Moorooduc McIntyre Vineyard Pinot Noir

The 2009 Moorooduc McIntyre Vineyard Pinot Noir is typical Mornington Peninsula. The fruit is quite prominent, in this case red cherry, with a darker colour in the glass. The flavours are not very deep, but the blend of fruit and savoury flavours delivers a harmonious wine with a silky finish.

Score: 92/++

Thursday, October 27, 2011

NSW Award Winners

There is a buzz about NSW wines at present. A few years ago, such an event would basically be about the Hunter, and only a few serious wineries. Now, there are a number of interesting new Hunter Valley wineries emerging, Orange and the Canberra District are firing up, and we may even find the odd great wine from another emerging district. And while Semillon and Shiraz still rule, Chardonnay and new varieties create interest as well. I was therefore not surprised to find a generally high standard at the Citibank NSW Wine Awards.

I did not get around to taste everything, but these were my impressions:

The wine of the event for me was the 2006 Thomas Cellar Reserve Braemore Semillon. It showed beautiful lime fruit, elegant and smooth, with a long and precise finish. There is still good acidity left in this wine. If you are a Semillon sceptic, try this wine (94/+++ points).

The other winery from the Hunter which impressed was First Creek. The 2010 First Creek Winemakers Reserve Shiraz, from a difficult year for reds in the Hunter, is very soft and velvety, typical Hunter Shiraz, with a smooth finish. This wine has personality (93/++). The 2010 First Creek Winemakers Reserve Chardonnay was also excellent, with a complex blend of citrus and peach flavours (92/++).

The 2009 Mistletoe Reserve Chardonnay won the overall trophy. It is an elegant wine, but does not have the same depth of flavour as the First Creek, and the finish is a bit short, in my view (89/0).

The value wine is the 2011 Two Rivers Stones Throw Semillon at $16 from the winery (89/+).

Of the Orange Chardonnays, I preferred the 2010 Philip Shaw No11 Chardonnay (89) over the 2010 Printhie Mt. Canobolas Collection (86).  

The 2008 Tyrell's Vat 47 Chardonnay lived up to its lofty reputation. It is in the citrus/lime fruit spectrum, smooth, but crisp with good length. The mouthfeel was slightly thin, though (92/0).

Of the Shirazes, the 2010 Eden Road Gundagai Shiraz was very spicy and fresh, but the mouthfeel left wanting (89/0). The 2010 Nick O'Leary Shiraz from Canberra ticked the boxes, but had little character (88/-). I am a bit tired of general purpose Shiraz, I must say. It needs to be outstanding or different.

The 2009 Lowe Zinfandel is from Mudgee. He claims to be a Zinfandel specialist. The wine is quite alcoholic and the high price more driven by scarcity than quality (88/-).

Much more interesting and a real find was the 2010 Mount Majura Tempranillo from the Canberra district. It had a nice cherry core and a soft mouthfeel (91/++).

A NSW tasting has to finish with Noble One. The 2008 De Bortoli Noble One showed the rich 'honey in a glass' to perfection. This is a big wine, but smooth and round as only the botrytis affected grapes from De Bortoli seem to be able to deliver (94/+).

Overall, this was an interesting and satisfying tasting. It is pretty safe to assume that the next few years will deliver a further improvement in standard and an even wider net of interesting wineries.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cloudy Bay New Releases

The new Cloudy Bay wines are a major disappointment to me.

The 2011 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc has been praised by others, but I found the fruit too overwhelming. With it came an unpleasant sweetness and a broad and undefined (unusual for Cloudy Bay) feel in the mouth. Maybe to counteract the often grassy flavours of Sauvignon Blanc?

Score: 86/--

The 2008 Cloudy Bay Chardonnay was the best of the trio. It had good fruit concentration in the citrus and stone fruit spectrum, but I found the oak too prominent.

Score: 90/0

The 2009 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir was bland and had no personality.

Score: 88/-

There is one caveat to these comments. I tasted the wines from plastic cups.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

My favorite Pinot Noir producers from Australia and New Zealand

Given I have written quite a bit about Pinot Noir lately, I thought I might share with you my favorite producers.

Top 10 in Australia (in ranking order)

1) Bass Phillip                     Gippsland                 funky
2) Bindi                               Macedon                 ethereal
3) Main Ridge                     Mornington              ethereal
4) William Downie              Morn/Gipps/Yarra   ethereal/dark fruit
5) By Farr                          Geelong                   ethereal
6) Kooyong                        Mornington              dark fruit
7) Bannockburn                  Geelong                   ethereal
8) Giaconda                        Beechworth             ethereal
9) Freycinet                        Tasmania                  dark fruit
10) Curly Flat                      Macedon                rich/bold

Knocking on the door: Marchant & Burch, Heemskerk, maybe Yabby Lake, Ocean Eight
Falling off: Mount Mary, Stoniers

If  I include New Zealand, the list would be

1) Ata Rangi                        Martinborough        ethereal
2) Bass Phillip                      Gippsland               funky
3) Felton Road                    Central Otago         dark fruit
4) Bindi                               Macedon                ethereal
5) Main Ridge                     Mornington              ethereal
6) Martinborough V            Martinborough         dark fruit
7) William Downie              Morn/Gipps/Yarra   ethereal/dark fruit
8) By Farr                          Geelong                   ethereal
9) Craggy Range                Martinborough         ethereal
10) Kooyong                      Mornington             dark fruit

Any comments?

Cono Sur Pinot Noir

Cono Sur is a Chilean Pinot Noir specialist. The name refers to the shape of South America, a southern cone. I am sure it is also a play on 'connoisseur'. Apparently it is taking the US by storm. And why wouldn't it? It is currently offering its 2010 Cono Sur Pinot Noir for about $10/bottle in Australia. $9.50 of this must be freight. This is actually a good wine, comparable to a good local $25/bottle Pinot Noir: well made, fruit and savoury characteristics, but obviously fairly simple.

The 2008 Cono Sur Vision Pinot Noir is my pick. This wine has earthy and quite smoky characteristics unlike anything from  Australia. It is priced in the high twenties per bottle.

The top two Pinot Noirs are the 20 Barrels and the Ocio. These wines are quite soft and fruity and the Ocio shows some silkiness. They are quite elegant, but you get much better complexity from local wines.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Kooyong Pinot Noir

At a recent dinner, I had the opportunity to compare different Kooyong Pinot Noirs across different vintages. It was an interesting illustration of how vintage variation on the Mornington Peninsula is more important than the assumed 'quality' of wine.

Kooyong has a hierarchy of three in Pinot Noirs. At the bottom is the Massale Pinot Noir, which, I believe, includes some bought-in grapes. One level up is the Estate, and at the top are the three single vineyard wines, the Ferrous, the Haven and the Meres. They are distinguished by the amount of ironstone in the soil, with the              Ferrous having the most and the Meres the least.

2008 was a warm vintage and according to Sandro Mosele it was difficult to create linearity in the wine. This was apparent in the two single vineyard wines I tasted. The 2008 Meres tasted of black cherries. The wine was a bit floral and the mouthfeel not totally rounded. The 2008 Haven had more fruit concentration and stronger, yet still silky tannins. Both wines were eclipsed by the 2009 Estate. 2009 was a very difficult vintage in most parts of Victoria, but the Mornington Peninsula escaped the worst. The 2009 Estate Pinot Noir was excellent: concentrated, elegant, and a long linear finish. The 2010 Massale, from a terrific vintage on the Peninsula, was also very good. This wine is more forward, but showed excellent vibrancy of fruit and a nicely integrated finish.

The morale of the story is: save yourself some money and go for the cheaper 2009 and 2010 wines, rather than the expensive single vineyard wines from 2008.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ata Rangi Latest Releases

Ata Rangi would be in my list of top 10 producers in the Southern Hemisphere, and this is not just of Pinot Noir producers. Therefore I highly anticipate a tasting of their new releases. I will comment on three of their key releases here.

The 2009 Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay is Ata Rangi's premium Chardonnay. It has stone fruit flavours, but the wine is mainly about its complex texture as a result of wild yeast application and 40% going through malolactic fermentation. The acidity is hinted at, 40% new oak is more noticeable. I don't think this has quite come off, but it is an interesting wine to drink.

Score: 92/+

The 2010 Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir, the second label, is coming of age with this vintage from increasingly old vines. The wine is medium bodied, tasting predominantly of strawberry fruit, but also forest floor in a more serious and complex way than previous vintages. It has softly and slowly melting tannins on the back palate and is fantastic value.

Score: 93/++

The 2010 vintage belonged to the cooler bracket in Martinborough. When this happens, Ata Rangi put stalks and whole bunches into their Pinot Noir to give it more weight. The 2010 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir is a classic. Red and black cherry flavours hit the palate upfront. The wine is not big, but very elegant, and the 10% stalks and whole bunches give it a solid structure. The wine has soft tannins and incredible length - an exceptional wine that lasts and lasts.

Score: 96/+++

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Latest Poll Results

Only a few people participated in this one - not surprising given only a fraction of readers ever participates and from those not everybody would have changed his taste.

I found the results interesting. A lot more movement in red wine preferences than in whites and a big move away from Shiraz. The resurgence of Cabernet is minor, Grenache does not pick up a lot. Lighter wine styles do much better. Pinot Noir benefits, and the mediterranean varieties, mainly Tempranillo and Sangiovese I suspect, are the big winners.

What I would like to know: Did the wine writers, many of whom propagate this move, influence the consumers or did they follow consumers' preferences?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Yarra Yarra Merlot

For a long time, there has been an at times furious debate if theYarra Valley is best suited to Pinot Noir or Bordeaux varieties, as far as red wines are concerned. With the strong leadership of James Halliday, then at Coldstream Hills, firmly pushing the Pinot Noir cause, this viewpoint is dominant. Yet one can hardly ignore the successes of Yarra Yering and Mount Mary with Bordeaux varieties.

Another winery in the Bordeaux camp is Yarra Yarra. This winery was very unlucky in the 2009 fires when the winery and half the vineyards were destroyed. However, owner and winemaker Ian MacLean has been rebuilding and the winery is back on track, as far as I know.

The 2001 Yarra Yarra Reserve Merlot is a beautifully crafted wine. It is medium bodied, but with weighty black cherry fruit and excellent texture. The tannins are soft and silky, leading to a long finish. This is a serious and elegant Merlot, an example that this can be done in Australia.

Score: 94/+++

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tscharke Girl Talk

Remember the uproar when it was found out that the vines brought into Australia and thought to be Albarino were actually Savagnin? This was because it is regarded as a somewhat inferior variety.

I suggest you try the 2011 Tscharke Girl Talk to judge for yourself. Young Damien Tscharke uses catchy names for his wines, but 'Savagnin' is mentioned on the label.

The wine is full flavoured, but very clean. Flavours are predominantly pear, almond and citrus. The wine has acidity, but there is also some sweetness.

I think this wine is a perfect match with Thai food and I recommend it. It is not dissimilar to Gruener Veltiner which also goes well with Thai.

Score: 91/++

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Clonakilla New Releases

The three wines I am going to review here are being released on 17 October as far as I know. As usual, you will have to be quick to get them.

The 2010 Clonakilla Canberra District Viognier is an interestingly made wine. Half the fruit is whole bunch pressed. This is a gentle process and delivers soft, pure fruit. The other half is crushed and left on skin for some time to extract the flavours close to the skin where they are most intense. The final wine is seamless and elegant. It tastes predominantly of apricot with a bit of ginger in the background. This amounts to a very stylish Viognier (it is just that I don't like the Viognier flavour profile).

Score: 93/0

The 2010 Clonakilla O'Riada Shiraz is made from vines in the Murrambatemen area. Like its famous cousin, the Shiraz Viognier, it includes 5% co-fermented Viognier, and it is made in the same way. The wine is medium bodied, tasting of redcurrant and red cherries. There are earthy and savoury flavours as well. This wine is very fresh and vibrant and has a strong tannic and acidic backbone. The wine is feminine, yet strong with great length. This wine has great character and in a few years, with tannins mellowing a bit, will be a well balanced, expressive red wine. Outstanding value for money it is, too.

Score: 95/+++

The 2010 Clonokilla Shiraz Viognier, from the Estate, has a similar flavour profile, slightly darker fruit, and  a softer and silkier texture. This is a classy wine no doubt, but I felt the O'Riada was more expressive, had more personality. An unexpected outcome, but I score them on par.

Score 95/++

Saturday, October 8, 2011

New Poll

We all experience a shift in our tastes over time. One of the more dramatic shifts occurs when you suddenly favour a different grape variety. I would like to know if this has happened to you. The choices are pretty much endless. I have listed some which I think are the most obvious at this time.

Please vote.

Some perplexing observations drinking Felton Road Pinot Noir

Those who follow my blog will know that I have collected Felton Road Pinot Noir for quite some time.  I tend to order a variety of their releases. Their higher volume 'base' wine is now called Bannockburn and the rarer premium wines are Block 3 and Block 5. In the last few years, a couple of other single vineyard Pinots have been added to the portfolio.

A few days ago, I drank two of those wines on consecutive nights, the 2005 Felton Road Pinot Noir and the 2006 Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir. The 2005 showed amazingly well. It was full flavoured and it had a silky finish which expanded on the back palate (96/+++ points). The 2006 Block 3 was good, too. A softer wine, as it often is, with a smooth finish, but not the Burgundian fan as the 2005 (94/++points).

The story here is: the vintage is more significant than the particular wine. The Block wines are quite a bit more expensive, but you mainly pay for the rarity factor. It seems the great Central Otago vintages come in odd years like 05, 07 and 09 (as Gippsland used to be). The cooler vintages are preferable, there is always enough sun.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

How to drink Pinot Noir at the right temperature

Most wine reviews focus on the type of wine, the vintage, etc. Just as important, in particular with Pinot Noir, is the glass one is using and the temperature of the wine. There is plenty of information on glasses, therefore this post is about temperature.

Temperature is so important for Pinot Noir, because the wine has to be warm enough to unfold its flavours and mouthfeel, but not too warm, which would eliminate flavour nuances. Pinot Noir from the fridge is too cold, directly from a temperature controlled wine cellar is too cold as well. Room temperature is too warm.

My preference is to take a bottle from my (quite cold - 13 degrees) cellar and leave the bottle 1 to 2 hours at room temperature. This time could also be used for decanting. The opposite approach is to have a room temperature bottle and put it in the fridge for some minutes. The disadvantage here is somewhat uneven cooling, in particular if decanted.

Any thoughts?  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

How well do premium Torbreck wines age?

There has been a question mark about the ageability of Torbreck wines because of their richness and ripeness of fruit and their relatively low level of natural acidity.

I like to drink Shiraz when it has developed complexity, but still shows levels of freshness and fruit. My usual drinking window for good Australian Shiraz is 6 to 9 years, with 7 the sweet spot. I prefer the leading wines more mature: Grange 20 years (depending on vintage), Hill of Grace 15 years.

Recently I drank a number of mature Torbreck wines: 2002 RunRig, 2001 Les Amis, 2002 Struie. How did they shape up? In summary, pretty well. The concentrated fruit was still there, although a bit drier than I would have liked. The tannins had lost some silkiness, but the structure of these wines was holding up well. The RunRig still had its sweet core, the Struie was quite smoky, whereas the Les Amis had lost some of its richness and was on the downhill slope.

Where does this put these wines? I think they are middle distance runners. Drinking them at 7 years is probably better than at 15.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Yabby Lake Chardonnay

Just typing this in before the Grand Final kick-off. The 2009 Yabby Lake Single Vineyard Chardonnay is quite a complex wine. It is more about texture than fruit, which is where most serious Victorian Chardonnay producers are heading, it seems to me. There is a lot going on: savoury flavours, some creaminess (wood), but also minerality and acidity, but it is packaged in a solid structure. The wine has a dry finish.

This wine is good with food, less so on its own. It is perhaps a bit full-on and heavily worked, but also shows some restraint. (I am not sure what you can take away from this review).

I think the wine will benefit from a couple of years cellaring. Some mellowing should bring the different flavour components together.

Score: 91/+

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Schubert Estate Goose-yard Shiraz

The Goose-yard Shiraz from Schubert Estate is one of those full bodied Shirazes from the Barossa which does not age well. Last night, I had the 2004 Schubert Estate Goose-yard Shiraz. It is a full bodied wine from the Marananga area, in fact based on a vineyard in an absolute plum position in the Barossa. The vines get a lot of sun there, and experienced vineyard management is critical.

The wine tastes of blackberry and plum, but the fruit is overripe and somewhat dried out. There is still some silkiness in the tannins, but overall, the experience is not too pleasing. I remember having drunk this wine a few years ago, and it was quite attractive then. However, the lack of acidity and overripe fruit lead to a short life. A few days ago, I tried the 2002 Schubert Estate Goose-yard Shiraz, and the mouthfeel for that wine was even less pleasing.

Score: 89/-

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hunter Valley postscript

I enjoyed the wines last night, but couldn't you do better with the labels?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hunter Valley Showcase

Hunter Valley wines play at the fringes at present. A small number of producers, for example Tyrells and Brokenwood have kept up the outstanding tradition which this wine region established decades ago, in particular with Shiraz and Semillon, but if you ask wine experts in Victoria or South Australia, they tend to ignore the Hunter Valley.

However, a quiet revolution has occurred in the last ten years. A number of new wine makers have again focused on the unique wine flavours this region can offer. I have always kept a small collection of Hunter Valley wines in my cellar, and tonight they will be put to the test.

Two Semillons, one young, one mature are matched with tuna, and then two Shirazes from the excellent 2003 vintage are matched with eye fillet.

The 2010 Thomas Braemore Semillon has a very pale green colour. The nose is clean, smelling of fresh citrus. On the palate, the wine is pure lime. It is elegant, quite restrained, with a linear, long and dry finish.This is a classic Hunter Valley Semillon.

Score: 93/+

In contrast, the 2002 Keith Tulloch Semillon impresses with a bright golden colour, not unexpected given its age. This wine has lost considerable fruit flavour. Earthy and wooden flavours dominate and overpower the tuna somewhat. The wine has a broader structure than the Braemore and is probably a couple of years past its best.

Score: 90/-

To be honest, both did not match perfectly with the tuna, the Braemore being a bit too young, and the Tulloch too developed.

The highlight of the evening were the Shiraz wines. Both surpassed my expectations.

The 2003 Thomas Kiss Shiraz, the winery's flagship wine, showed beautifully. It was fresh, smooth, full bodied without being sweet, with soft mulberry flavours and a bit of pepper in the background. The highlight were the velvety tannins, so unique to the Hunter, which blended in beautifully with the eye fillet.

Score: 96/++

The 2003 Meerea Park Alexander Munro was equally good. This wine had almost an identical ruby colour to the Kiss, but on the palate it had a bit more grip or crunch. The fruit flavours were of black cherry and mulberry - very attractive. This wine is a bit more a generic Shiraz, perhaps due to the higher alcohol levels, although it showed the soft fruit flavours as well.

Score: 95/++

Both wines matched perfectly with the food. They will live, and possibly improve, for many years.

Joseph Phelps Insignia

The allure of Napa Valley Cabernet is to a significant extent based on hype: a clever approach to produce very low volume single vineyard wines, which one can only buy when on the mailing list, which is oversubscribed. Some of these wines are outstanding, but there are significant variances from year to year and it is unclear how long they can be cellared successfully.

I have been on the lookout for wines which have great consistency and cellar well. I took two wines back to Sydney from the outstanding 1997 vintage. One of them was the 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia. This is a blended wine with a good track record.

Yesterday, I opened my second last bottle. As expected, this is a big wine. This Cabernet based Bordeaux blend tastes of red cherry, plum and fruitcake. It has quite a fat, but attractive mouthfeel. The wine is well balanced with firm, but not coarse tannins and acidity providing some backbone. This wine is still drinking well. My gripes are: the wine displays virtually no savoury characteristics and has not mellowed much (it is under cork!). As such, it is not very differentiated.

The Insignia (as other Napa Cabernets) is closer to a South Australian Shiraz than a Margaret River or Coonawarra Cabernet. From this perspective, it is understandable that Americans find Australian Cabernets green and thin. Incidentally, I had a 1996 Henschke Mt. Edelstone the night before. While it had matured faster, it displayed more berry flavours and overall complexity.

This may all sound a little negative, but I quite liked the Insignia. I went very well with the lamb tenderloins.

Score: 93/++  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Midday Quaffers

Ok, I admit it, I enjoy a glass of wine over lunch. It needs to be light (<13% Alc.), not too complex, but a fine wine, not more than $20/22 per bottle. So what are the choices?

Riesling is an obvious one. My current favorite is the O'Leary Walker Polish Hill Riesling from Clare - a well made wine, fresh and great with salads or seafood. Gruener Veltiner would be good, too, but difficult in this price bracket. Chardonnay tends to have too much alcohol for this time of day, but Hunter Semillon works well with Tuna. However, prices are creeping up for the good ones. Imports have become competitive. A recent favorite is Antinori's Campogrande from Orvieto - a well made, high volume wine. And then there is Rose of course, probably 10-15 Australian producers worth looking at. For a lunch time drink, I prefer those made from Pinot Noir, whereas the fuller Grenache based wines are great sundowners.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

153 Pinot Noirs

The mammoth Pinot Noir Australia was on again at The Woollahra Hotel in Sydney last night. You cannot hope to taste half the wines, but I gave it a good shot. Prior to the tasting, I made a list of 15 producers whose wines I wanted to taste, and most of them were there except for boutique producers Bass Phillip, William Downie and Main Ridge.

As I tried to get through a lot of wine, I only made a few notes. Therefore, this post will summarize my general impressions.

1) There is very little bad Pinot produced these days. Mind you, I selected experienced producers. They were (in no particular order) Shelmerdine, Giant Steps, Yabby Lake, By Farr, Ocean Eight, Yarraloch, Narkoojee, Dalrymple, Kooyong, Freycinet, TarraWarra, Coldstream Hill, Penfolds, Heemskerk, Curly Flat, Giaconda, Lethbridge, Moss Wood, Stefano Lubiana, Stonier, Lerida, Port Phillip, Yering Station, Tyrells, Scotchmans Hill, Paringa, Toolangi, Salitage, Bay of Fires, Marchand & Burch, Scorpo, Domaine A, Bindi, MacForbes, Bannockburn. Not a bad list.

2) Most Pinots now have savoury characteristics. Sometimes they match the fruit, sometimes they dominate, but the time for fruit bombs is gone, it seems.

3) The fruit flavours are pared back, in particular on the Mornington Peninsula where Pinot often tasted like young Shiraz. Good examples are Paringa and Yabby Lake who used to make full-on Pinot, but now produce more differentiated wines (vintages 07-09).

4) There were not many wines I would classify as outstanding, which would require the 'Burgundian fan' expanding on the back palate. Australian producers have difficulty with this. Close came 09 By Farr 'Sangreal', 07 Giaconda (a very positive surprise), 10 Marchand & Burch 'Mount Barrow', 09 Bindi Block 5, and 08 Heemskerk

5) The gap between Tasmania and Victoria (which until now I thought was still significant) is narrowing. Wines from Heemskerk, Domaine A and Freycinet impressed.

6) The excellent value for money wine was the 2010 Lethbridge Pinot Noir Menage a Noir with good length and $23 per bottle.

If you have any questions, please ask.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Katnook Cabernet Sauvignon

Katnook has access to excellent terra rossa fruit. This, combined with an excellent vintage, should make the 2004 Katnook Cabernet Sauvignon a good proposition. It did not disappoint.

The wine starts with a strong blackcurrant bouquet continuing on to the palate. This Cabernet offers a big mouthfeel. It is elegant and fruit dominant. The acidity provides a good balance. It is fair to say that the wine is stronger upfront than on the finish, but it is a rich, yet sappy and satisfying drink. This wine shows the terra rossa fruit well. It is not overoaked as some of Katnook's wines in the past.

I think this wine is at the beginning of its drinking window. It will go on (and possibly gain complexity) for many years to come.

Score: 93/++

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thomas Shiraz Wines

Andrew Thomas has moved to the top echelon of Hunter Valley producers in the last few years, and a review of three single vineyard Shirazes from 2009 suggests he might join the ranks of Clonakilla as a leading Shiraz producer from greater NSW - yes, they are that good.

The 2009 Thomas Sweetwater Shiraz comes from vines which are only 13 years old, but aggressive pruning gives the fruit enough concentrated flavour. This wine is very pretty and aromatic with fresh violets flavours. The fruit tastes of raspberry, and this medium bodied Shiraz finishes with fine tannins. This wine was the most successful at the 2011 Hunter Wine Show, and it certainly has immediate appeal.

Score: 93/++

The 2009 Thomas Motel Block Shiraz is a new addition to the line-up. It is a bigger wine, a bit more muscular, but still of a medium body frame despite the relatively high 14.5% alcohol . The wine, from over 40 year old vines, is quite peppery and well balanced. It will develop for many years and develop into a classic Hunter Valley Shiraz.

Score: 94/++

The 2009 Thomas Kiss Shiraz is the flagship wine, and deservedly so. It shows a darker palate, of blackberry and plum, and more density and depth than the Motel Block. It has only 13.5% alcohol and is very well balanced. This is a very profound, yet elegant wine, which will improve in complexity over the next 5-7 years.

Score: 96/+++

I have been most impressed with these wines. They are well balanced, taste fresh and modern, while retaining Hunter Valley texture. They are not as big as South Australian Shiraz in general, but have a full and elegant mouthfeel, and will be great with the usual meat dishes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Kaesler Wines

Kaesler is one of those traditional family companies in the Barossa, based on an old vineyard and with a focus on Rhone variety wines. Somehow, I have never tasted their wines. Well, yesterday I had the opportunity. I sometimes defend the Barossa against the current popular criticism of making overly big and ripe wines, but here it would be truly justified. This was not a great experience.

The first wine was the 2008 Kaesler Avignon, a GSM blend. The wine is full bodied, with quite concentrated fruit, a bit harsh and alcoholic, rather than elegant.

Score: 87/--

The 2008 Kaesler Alte Reben Mataro was a wine I was looking for, as not many old straight Mataros are made in Australia. It tasted of sweet raspberry, was very ripe and actually difficult to digest.

Score: 88/--

The 2008 Kaesler Old Vine Shiraz comes predominantly from 50 to 60 year old vines, I think. The flavour is straight forward plum, almost brandy like with its 15.5% alcohol. There is no subtlety in this wine. Fruit from old vines should taste much more measured and elegant.

Score: 85/---

The 2009 Kaesler Old Bastard Shiraz was the wine I was particularly looking forward to. The fruit comes from the oldest block of the vineyard (100 years +) and it was a better vintage. This is a better wine, but again, the fruit flavour of plum and black cherry does not show a lot of complexity. The wine is more measured at 14% alcohol, and the fine tannins lead to a lasting finish.

Score: 90/-

Overall, my view is that a lack of winemaking skills is applied to these wines. This is particularly so if it is true that the 2008 fruit was harvested before the big heatwave hit (as they all claim - this spin is getting on my nerves: a gold medal to the one who comes forward and says 'the fruit we got in was real crap this year, but look what we turned out'. Wait for the 2011 announcements!) I am afraid I will restrict my Kaesler experience to last night only.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spinifex Taureau

From the new Barossa master blender comes the Taureau, a Tempranillo based wine. It includes Graciano, which is often done in Spain to give the wine more grip, but also Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2008 Spinifex Taureau has a velvet colour. The taste is very vibrant and aromatic. Strong flavours of cherry and mulberry dominate. The wine is a bit in your face, but has a good mouthfeel. It is very balanced between the different grape varieties, displaying strong (natural) acidity. The wine finishes a little sudden.

This wine is definitely a contrast to the big Barossa Shirazes and that is what it is meant to be. At this stage, I find the flavour profile a little uneven, and the wine is too early to drink. However, once it mellows somewhat, this Tempranillo could be a great drop.

Score: 91/++

Monday, August 29, 2011

Saint Cosme Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Saint Cosme is a producer of Southern Rhone wines from a number of different areas. I have in particular enjoyed its Gigondas over the years. The reasonably well priced Saint Cosme wines are generally available from fine wine shops in Australia.

This 2003 Saint Cosme Chateauneuf-du-Pape is from the best known area of Southern Rhone and, as most of them are, is based predominantly on Grenache. It tastes of black cherry, and has quite a savoury and earthy flavour to it. The wine is full bodied and ripe, from one of the many great vintages in the last 10 years.

How is it different from Australian Grenache? Its mouthfeel is not as full-on, and while full bodied, it is more restrained. The more linear profile and firm tannins lead to a long and silky finish.

I enjoyed the drinkability of this wine and at 8 years, it is a good time to drink it.

Score: 93/+++

Friday, August 26, 2011

James Halliday reviews

Have you noticed how the review points have crept up from year to year? Is this because Australia makes better wine? Maybe it does, but this is not the reason.

Halliday only reviews wines which are sent to him. Now some wineries with excellent reputations have been a bit reluctant to send wines in for fear they would not stack up. This is not good for Halliday, because he wants to have all major wines represented. What happens, he inflates the reviews to get all the wines - a silly system.

The wine descriptions can be helpful, but forget about the points (which basically seem to have a range of six (from 91 to 96).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

SC Pannell wines

Stephen Pannell is a highly acclaimed winemaker, best known for being Chief Red Winemaker at BRL Hardy between 1999 and 2003. Since then, he has branched out on his own. His wines are not very prominent on the Eastern seaboard, and at a recent dinner I had my first exposure to them.

He believes more southern European grape varieties are better suited to the Australian climate, but he makes Shiraz and Grenache as well. He likes to keep alcohol levels low. He appears to be non interventionist in his winemaking to the extreme.

The result of this is, in my humble opinion, that a number of his wines taste like juice, some really sweet and juicy. The 2010 whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Pronto Bianco, are pretty, but don't leave a lasting impression.

The 2008 Pronto Tinto, a Grenache dominated blend, the 2007 Tempranillo Touriga and the 2008 Nebbiolo have simply not reached the potential of these grapes.

This takes me to a comment about alternative varieties. It is one thing to say they are better suited to the Australian climate, but quite another to produce wine which equals those produced from these grapes in Europe. I have tasted good examples of Sangiovese here, for example from Pizzini and Castagna, but our Tempranillos and Nebbiolos in particular, do not come close to an average example of such a wine from Spain and Italy.

The best Pannell wines were the 2007 Grenache/Shiraz, and the 2006 Shiraz. The latter in particular is very good. From old vines, it tastes of blueberry, blackberry and chocolate. It is a concentrated, yet elegant wine with a long finish.

So overall, educational, but a mixed experience.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Coonawarra Roadshow

I have not been to one of these for a number of years. I found it interesting to taste the wines (I tasted Cabernet and their blends) in such a focused comparison. My notes were short, as I tried quite a few wines and had limited time.

What did I like in general?
- the room was great. Finally some space between winery booths, and well lit.
- the vibrancy of the fruit. It seems the days of watery Cabernet from there are over
- varietal expression. Blackcurrant and redcurrant flavours stood out in most wines

What did not impress me?
- there are still quite a number of green and underripe Cabernets
- the finish of many wines was not distinct and short
- 2009 is clearly not as good a vintage as 2008

The two wineries which impressed me most were Balnarves and Wynns. The Tally is a world class wine. Its fruit is ripe, but delicate, the wine is well balanced and has a fine, silky finish. I slightly preferred the 2006 Tally (94 points) over the 2008 Tally (93 points). This may also be a function of the wine only coming into its own after a number of years. The regular 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon was also attractive, although the finish was light (91 points).

The winemaking at Wynns is strong these days. The high volume 2009 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon is full bodied and ripe, with a good mouthfeel - a bit unbalanced at this time (92 points). I preferred it to the 2009 V&A Lane Cabernet/Shiraz, which was smoother, but quite oaky (91 points). Wynns has about 25 great vineyard blocks from which it selects a different single vineyard wine each year. In 2008 it was the Davis Block, planted in 1957, the 2nd oldest planting at Coonawarra. The 2008 Davis Cabernet Sauvignon is quite different from the Black Label. It is very elegant, with a soft finish and hopefully enough acidity to last the distance. I liked this wine, as it clearly stood out from the crowd (93 points). I also tried a 1988 John Riddoch. It has obviously mellowed, but had great texture and a soft lengthy finish (94 points). Good Coonawarra should be cellared this long, but how many bottles survive 20 years?

The next bracket was Petaluma, Majella, Parker and Yalumba. The 2008 Petaluma Coonawarra, a Cabernet/Merlot blend, was typically elegant, with ripe fruit and a good mouthfeel (92 points). The Majella 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon showed pretty and ripe fruit with soft tannins - a dependable wine (90 points). Parker is no longer the star it perhaps once was, but the 2006 First Growth was quite a well balanced wine (91 points). Yalumba's main wine from the Coonawarra is the Menzies. The 2008 Menzies is elegant with ripe tannins, but lacks some fruit concentration (90 points).

Now we come to the wines that did not impress me. These include Bowen. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was a bit thin and not quite ripe (88 points). Brand's Laira with the 2006 Patron, a single vineyard Cabernet with elegant fruit, but also prominent oak and a flat finish (89 points). Highbank showed a strong 2005 Coonawarra blend, with good blackcurrant depth, but a harsh and acidic finish (91 points), and a weaker 2006, which was quite light and short (89 points). The Penley wines, an 09 Phoenix, the 2006 Chertsey blend and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve scored between 88 and 90 points, generally lacked structure, with the Reserve being the best wine. The 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Punters Corner and the 2005 Zema Family Selection Cabernet Sauvignon were very minty (89 and 88 points).

The big disappointments were two larger wineries which produced stellar wines in the past: Lindemans and Orlando. Orlando's 2005 Jacaranda Ridge was minty, but had a bit more depth than the Zema (89 points). The 2007 St. Hugo was dry and harsh (87 points). Lindeman's 2009 Limestone Ridge had a pleasant fruity flavour, but neither much depth nor length (88 points). The 2009 St. George was harsh and green (85 points).

So there you have it. A night with plenty of wine, some good, some not so good. Did any other reader attend?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard Merlot

Brian Croser has been serious about Merlot for a long time. He crafted Petaluma Merlots with great structure and savoury flavours. At Tapanappa, the Merlot comes from grapes planted in 1974 in Wrattonbully. Several months ago, I reviewed the 2003 and 2006 Tapanappa Merlots with very high scores.

This 2005 Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard Merlot is not quite as good. Yet it is a serious wine with a good structure as well. The redcurrant is the dominant flavour. The wine is elegant with quite firm tannins. The mouthfeel is a little flat, though.

Score: 93/++

Monday, August 15, 2011

Henschke Hill of Grace

What makes Hill of Grace so special? Clearly it is the age of the vines, up to 160 years old. But it translates into something very special on the palate. I was pondering this question, as I was drinking the 2002 Henschke Hill of Grace at a special occasion on the weekend. There is obviously a lot going on, and the wine is quite complex, but so are others.

Then I noticed something unusual. There are opposites woven together in this wine:
- creaminess and spice
- softness and intensity
- plum and mocca

This wine is like no other in Australia (or anywhere?). I enjoyed the 2002 immensely. It has a long life ahead (20+ years), but is great to enjoy now. A wine with a wow factor.

Score: 98/+++

Friday, August 12, 2011

Moorooduc Chardonnay

The 2009 Moorooduc McIntyre Vineyard Chardonnay has quite a firm yellow colour - a bit of a worry. Yet the flavours on the front palate are good: citrus, pear and apple - an appealing mix. The oak treatment appears light. But there are downsides: the mouthfeel is not that round and the finish a bit in-distinctive.

This is a modern Chardonnay in a Chablis style, but it lacks the linear features of the Chablis and its minerality.

Score: 89/0

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon

A week ago was Wynnsday. Less than a handful of Australian wineries manage to attract a lot of attention on their release day with tastings around the country. Wynns is one of them. I admire Wynns for two reasons: their long history of essentially unchanged wine and labels and the fact that they produce a serious $25 wine made for serious cellaring with their Black Label Cabernet. By all accounts, the 2008 and 2009 wines were well received.

But how does an older wine stack up? I opened a 1998 Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon to find out. The cork comes out fairly easily and is in good condition. The wine shows typical varietal character, with blackcurrant dominant. The wine is still quite juicy on the palate and the structure is holding up well. This is nice to drink. The tannins which are often a bit harsh on release have softened and are now attractive. Unfortunately, the finish falls off and is a bit thin.

Overall, this was well worth the wait. I think this wine will continue to drink well for 3-5 years. What more can you ask from a wine at this price point.

Score: 92/++

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Organic Vineyards and Biodynamic Treatments (last poll)

The influence of organic farming and winery management, and of the application of biodynamic principles is not easy to determine. It is therefore not surprising that nearly half of you thought the impact on wine is negligible. There are a number of wineries certified organic which claim benefits. But if they have been so from the beginning, who is to know? Only a longer timeline with changing conditions allows to make comparisons.

There are two wines which I have drunk for close to 20 years, where more organic and biodynamic principles have been applied over time. One is Cullen's Diana Madeline Cabernet/Merlot. This wine has become more lively and vibrant over the years. The fruit is ripe at much lower alcohol levels now. The other is Henschke's Mt. Edelstone. This wine could be heavy at times, maybe a little overworked. Again, since the biodynamic soil treatment has kicked in, I find this wine more alive and 'tasting of nature'. Of course, winemaking techniques may have changed as well.

My conclusion is that organic vineyard management allows more terroir characteristics to come through, and that biodynamic soil treatment further enhances the wine quality. As to the impact of lunar cycles, well, they have a big impact on tides, but I am yet to be convinced that certain activities in the vineyard or winery will have a different impact, depending on which day of the month they are carried out.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Felton Road Block 5 Classics

I have been collecting Felton Road wines from the early days, and have therefore access to everything. Generally, I have a love/hate relationship with Central Otago Pinot Noir. There is so much fruit upfront, and the follow through is often disappointing. However, Felton Road usually delivers.

I was curious to see how their flagship wine holds up after 10 years. So I opened a 2001 and a 2002 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir. The 2001 still displays concentrated black cherry fruit on the front palate, and it moves seamlessly to forest floor characteristics on the back palate. Overall the wine displays an attractive moorish character. The flavours last, and the wine finishes with silky tannins.

This is a rare, but good example of the benefit of cellaring Pinot Noir for quite some time. It now delivers the complexity built in, not just upfront fruit. I am convinced this wine will still drink well in five years.

Score: 95/++

The 2002 Block 5 is a bit lighter and not as gritty as the 2001. It still shows silky tannins and has a lasting finish.

Score: 94/++

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Voyager Estate Chenin Blanc

If you were to put a list together of the grape varieties with the worst image in Australia, Chenin Blanc would be at or near the top. Many Chenin Blancs used to be sweet, sugary and with no distinctive flavour. I must admit, I have not been tempted often to select a Chenin Blanc.

However, one should be careful with preconceived ideas. The 2010 Voyager Estate Chenin Blanc is excellent. It has more depth of flavour than its cousin, your average Sauvignon Blanc, it is crisp and refreshing, more so than your average Semillon, with lovely citrus flavours, not grassy.

This wine would be excellent with white fish or sushi and it is great value for (not much) money from a high quality producer.

Score: 91/+++

Monday, August 1, 2011

Spinifex 2009 Releases

I admire the work that Peter Schell does at Spinifex. I missed two tastings of his latest releases on the weekend. Has anyone tried these? What are your thoughts?

Exotics at Becasse

If you want to explore unusual wines, you may order the degustation menu at Becasse. We had
- 2009 Sylvaner, Domaine Jorg, Alsace
- 2009 Grace Koshu, Yamanashi, Koshy (Japan)
-2009 Alvaro Castro, Dao, Portugal
as whites, and
-2009 Pinot Noir, Oakridge, Yarra Valley
-2007 Meandro Do Vale Meao from Douro, Portugal, which is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinto Cao and Tinto Sousao
-2003 Tokaji, Chateau Derejla.

Is this just for effect or did it make sense, you may ask. Not easy to answer. Generally all wines were good food wines. As a result, they did not stand out individually other than the Douro from Portugal, which I thought was a great wine.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gaja Tori San Lorenzo Barbaresco

How do you approach one of your most expensive wine bottles, from a vineyard a book has been written about? - With trepidation and high expectations, of course. Will the cork from this 1998 Gaja San Lorenzo come out in one? It did, so the start was promising.

The allure of the Nebbiolo grape is it can deliver the aromas of Pinot Noir and the structure of Cabernet, and age incredibly well. I decided to decant the wine for an hour prior to drinking. I did not go longer because I feared the wine with this age might lose flavour. I need not have worried. It actually drank better after a further hour.

The flavours were of blackberry, quite savoury and earthy as well. The wine is very elegant, which is Gaja's hallmark, and expanded beautifully in the mouth, stimulating all taste buds. It has a plush texture and good length.

The drawback? The wine showed just one expression - which was a good one, but I expected more complexity. Unfortunately, no wow factor. This is an excellent wine, but does it justify the price of about $500/bottle? I think not.

Score: 95/++

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Poll Created

There is a lot of talk by winemakers about organic and biodynamic winemaking these days. But what does the consumer think? Do you believe it is beneficial to the final product?

I have listed a few statements and am interested to know which ones you agree with. You can use multiple answers.

Please vote!

Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon

From memory, the 2007 Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon, from Margaret River, was well received by the wine scribes on release. It certainly has vibrant redcurrant fruit, but lacks depth of flavour, which is the big drawback. The acidic finish dominates, which I find strange, given it was such a hot vintage in WA. Maybe the grapes were harvested very early to avoid the heat.

Score: 90/-

Monday, July 25, 2011

Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz

The release of the 2008 Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz is significant, as it is the first subregional wine Penfolds has ever released. Penfolds is not a fast mover, as far as trends are concerned, but it does move. When RWT was first released, about 10 years ago, it was the first clearly declared Barossa Shiraz, and today more information is released about the fruit comprising Grange.

I believe the grapes for this wine come from the old Seppeltsfield vineyards, which are contracted out to Fosters (now Treasury Wine Estates). No doubt, the new Seppeltsfield owners will take the grapes back as soon as they can, but Penfolds' thinking might be that the highly promising Waltons vineyard might be able to step in at the time.

The Bin 150 has an inky colour, almost black. In line, the bouquet is very dense, and the blackberry fruit is supported by aniseed and meat flavours. The wine is clearly built to last with firm tannins, but also more acidity than perhaps expected from the Marananga subregion. As a result, the wine does not feel overly heavy (obviously full-bodied). It is clearly too early to drink.

The style is not my favorite, but I think this wine will develop well and most likely surprise those who have been a bit critical on release.

Score: 93/+

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bindi Composition Pinot Noir

The Composition Pinot Noir is Bindi's entry level Pinot. The 2006 Bindi Composition Pinot Noir was sheer pleasure to drink. The colour of the wine was moorish, and it displayed a wonderful bouquet of strawberry and cherry.

The fruit flavours were black cherry, but the key to this wine is its great balance and linear delivery. The wine goes down the palate without changing, becoming increasingly silky towards the back palate. It is one of the few truly ethereal Pinot Noirs we have in this country (next to Main Ridge). Soft tannins lead to a lengthy finish. This wine is well made and would have scored higher if the mouthfeel had been a bit more rounded.

Score: 93/+++

Recent Shiraz Poll

It was a close race between the options until the very end, but finally the 'elegant, perfumed' style won out. This is reflected in the scramble for Eden Valley fruit amongst Barossa Valley producers which I observed during my last visit there.

Huon Hooke, the respected Sydney Morning Herald wine writer, has expressed an interesting view on this: 'Why do we try everything with Shiraz? If you want that perfumed style, why not drink Pinot Noir and keep making Shiraz in that uniquely powerful Australian style?' [quoted from recollection].

What do you think?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Voyager Cabernet/Merlot

I just reviewed the 2003 Voyager Shiraz and was not convinced. How does its flagship, the Cabernet/Merlot stack up?

The 2003 Voyager Cabernet/Merlot (under screwcap) is still very fresh. It tastes of redcurrant and raspberry and has good depth of flavour. The mouthfeel is satisfying, as a result. The wine has a good structure, but you would not call it overly elegant. The acidic frame overshadows the moderately silky tannins. I am wondering if the screwcap is really helping. Some mellowing of this wine at this point in time would have added pleasure.

Score: 93/+

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Current Poll

The results so far are neck to neck, but I was hoping for more votes. Which style of Shiraz is the most popular? Please vote, it is not hard. Only a few days left.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Voyager Shiraz

I must admit, I have always been a bit ambivalent towards Margaret River Shiraz: I do not know what it stands for. And drinking this 2003 Voyager Shiraz is not changing my position.

This is a wine from a good year and producer, it is a perfect eight years old. It tastes of black cherry and is quite spicy, but there is a confectionery flavour as well. This is a weird combination of flavours. The wine is starting to mellow a little, but still has a young feel and acidity on the back palate. The wine has good balance, but the mouthfeel is a little flat.

Overall, this is a wine well made, but unfortunately not that enjoyable to drink.

Score: 91/-

Sunday, July 10, 2011

By Farr and Farr Rising

When Gary Farr left Bannockburn, he started his own label by Farr with fruit from a vineyard nearby (Geelong area). The vineyard is on limestone soil, which the Farrs regard as crucial for making Burgundian style wines. A bit later, his son Nick started Farr Rising. Today, Gary Farr is retired, but both labels are continued by Nick Farr. The fruit comes from different blocks of the same vineyard, and the winemaking techniques are somewhat different. The main focus is on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The wines are made in a European style.

In a tasting of newly released Chardonnay and Pinot Noir I could compare these wines. The result was anything but expected, namely slightly more forward fruit in the Farr Rising wines and very savoury and somewhat funky wines under the by Farr label.

The first wine was the 2009 Farr Rising Chardonnay. This wine comes from the difficult and very hot vintage in Victoria, and Farr picked only half the fruit. The western side of the bunches was not picked because of the shriveled nature of the grapes from the afternoon sun. This wine showed citrus, but also peach and gave quite a creamy mouthfeel despite the acidity which was clearly noticeable. I liked this wine a lot, as it is different from the current trend towards crispy Chardonnay, without being buttery at all. Having said this, the finish was a little plump.

Score: 94/+++

The 2008 By Farr Chardonnay was fresher and more linear, with a nice finish, but it lacked the unique character of the first wine.

Score: 92/+

The 2009 Farr Rising Geelong Pinot Noir was savoury as expected, with earthy and smoky (not from the fires) characteristics. There was tobacco, too. It tasted young, elegant and fresh, but fell off at the finish.

Score: 92/+

The outstanding feature of the 2008 By Farr Farrside Pinot Noir was the beautiful vibrancy of the fruit. Brilliant strawberry and raspberry flavours flow through the palate, with a bigger mouthfeel than the previous wine, and a good length, dry finish. This is quite exceptional.

Score: 95/++

Overall, these wines are highly individualistic. They are all attractive and I recommend you should try them. If 'length of finish' is important to you, you should go for the by Farr wines.

Friday, July 8, 2011

2nd Label Rhone Varieties

In a recent post, I commented on the benefit or otherwise of buying second labels of well respected winemakers. Following are three wines which offer really good value, in my view.

The 2009 Wynns Coonawarra Shiraz is, strictly speaking, not a second label, but it stands in the shadow of the Cabernet Sauvignon. Wynns has worked hard on improving its viticulture over the last few years, and this wine, from an excellent vintage, shows the continued Coonawarra revival. This wine has good depth of fruit, mainly in the plum and black cherry spectrum. The structure is good and the mouthfeel has an attractive velvety touch. You would not say this wine is overly elegant or complex, but for the price you get quite a lot. I am impressed with the quality of such a high volume wine.

Score: 90/++

The 2008 d'Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz is a true second label. This wine has good fruit as well, with earthy and minty characters. There are firm dry tannins, but the finish is a little harsh.

Score: 88/+

The 2007 Guigal Cotes du Rhone is quite an amazing achievement. This high volume wine is made from grapes bought from dozens of growers and quality control must be hard. Yet it displays great depth of fruit, with the Grenache and Shiraz components blending well together. The mouthfeel is very smooth, and while this wine is not very complex, it has quite silky tannins, unusual for a wine in the $20-25 per bottle bracket. The winemaking skills shine through in this wine. It will keep well for 3-5 years at least. If you have never drunk this wine or scoffed at the commercial nature of it, this is the vintage to try.

Score: 91/++

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Poll

It is winter in Australia and high season for Shiraz. Shiraz can have many different expressions. Which one do you prefer? Please vote.

Overseas visitors are encouraged to vote as well, applying the general description.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cullen Cabernet/Merlot

One of the popular theories of getting a good wine at a reasonable price is to go for a second or third tier wine of an icon winery/winemaker. This works only sometimes, as in many cases grapes are so young and yields so high that the best winemaking cannot overcome the watery nature of the wine. These wines are made because they need to pay for the more extravagant pursuits.

No such issues with the 2008 Cullen Cabernet/Merlot. This wine is full bodied and tastes of dark berries and olive. The mouthfeel of this seemless wine is terrific. It falls off a bit on the back palate, before it finishes dry and elegantly.

Score: 93/+++

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Craggy Range 2009 Releases

Luckily there is some correlation between investment dollars and quality of wine, otherwise people would not do it. Voyager Estate is a good example in Australia and Craggy Range is the prime New Zealand example. When I visited there a few years ago, I was impressed with the immaculate viticulture and the attention to detail in the winemaking.

The 2009 releases are impressive, although not across the board, in my view. The 2009 Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux Chardonnay is a wine from the Gimblett Gravels, as are their reds. The wine shows citrus flavours over a nutty base and has quite an acidic finish. I found the oak quite strong and I am not sure the fruit can take it as the wine settles down and matures (91 points).

The 2009 Craggy Range Te Muna Pinot Noir tastes of red cherry, but is overall quite savoury. It fans out nicely with the finish, which is more gripping than elegant (93 points).

The 2009 Te Kahu Merlot Blend is made from younger fruit and it shows. The wine is lacking depth (89 points).

The 2009 Craggy Range Sophia can be thought of like a right bank Bordeaux. It is predominantly Merlot, with some Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a medium bodied wine with beautiful blackcurrant fruit. The wine is well rounded, with fruit and oak seamlessly integrated, and a lengthy finish - a cracker, and cheaper than 2nd growth Bordeaux (95 points).

The 2009 Craggy Range The Quarry is a Cabernet Sauvignon. It is also well rounded and quite elegant for a young Cabernet, but not as complex and beautiful as the Sophia (94 points).

The Sol Shiraz is the self declared challenger to Grange as the number 1 Shiraz of the southern hemisphere. The 2009 Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah has a deep purple colour. It tastes of blackberry and is quite peppery like a cool climate Australian Shiraz, but with a lot of intensity and a silken texture. The wine is quite acidic with dry tannins and good length on the finish . The 2009 is an excellent example of this style (95 points).

Overall, a strong portfolio, but the wines are not cheap.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Eden Road The Seedling

Eden Road is quite a new Canberra district winery which arrived on the scene with well made and inexpensive Shiraz and by winning a Jimmy Watson last year for one of them.

The 2010 Eden Road The Seedling Semillon Sauvignon Blanc is the first white wine I tried from them and I reckon it is equally good. The freshness of the Sauvignon Blanc and the weight of the Semillon are both quite present in this wine. Lime fruit dominates, but it is not an overly fruity wine. This wine has great texture and length for such a young wine. A trifle more acidity would balance it perfectly. Highly recommended!

Score: 92/++

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chateau Pontet-Canet

I am not a huge Bordeaux fan across the board, but I like a good one. Currently, the 2010 futures are offered from apparently a good vintage, and the prices are high despite the improvement of the Australian dollar. I am lukewarm towards it, but tried a 2005 Chateau Pontet-Canet tonight to see if I can increase my enthusiasm.

Pontet-Canet has been a success story for the last ten years and I was lucky enough to buy some 05's at reasonable prices. Many say that if the Bordeaux classification was redone today, Pontet-Canet would be a first growth. So this should be a good benchmark from a great year.

I decanted the wine only an hour before consumption, so this opens up slowly. The colour is deep red, and the flavour a thick blackcurrant. This is also the impression on the front palate. The wine really comes to its own on the back palate with a very long finish and firm, but elegant tannins.

This wine is still way too early to drink. It is a well structured, full bodied wine. I would have liked the tannins to be silkier and more caressing, and the flavour a bit more differentiated.

The verdict: I am very happy to drink this wine, but it is not a must have or one that bowls me over. This confirms my general assessment of Bordeaux wine. Therefore, at current prices, I will stay on the sidelines for 2010 despite the raving reviews some of the wines have collected.

Score: 95/+

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rockburn Pinot Noir

Rockburn is the personal project of Felton Road's winemaker (who's name escapes me at the moment). Therefore, expectations are pretty high on opening this bottle.

The 2009 Rockburn Pinot Noir is full flavoured, with upfront raspberry fruit. The wine is quite lifted and aromatic, a bit on the fruity side, but it is a harmonious wine with a medium length finish.

The Rockburn does not quite reach the quality of Felton Road, probably because the vines are quite young, but it is still a satisfying drink at the (lower) price.

Score: 91/+

Leo Buring Leopold Riesling

Does anybody remember the Leo Buring Rieslings of the 1970s? Some years were wines of absolute magic and drank well after 25 years.

This 2008 Leo Buring Leopold Riesling is a far cry from it. The wine is from the Tamar River. It has a spritzy lime fruit taste. The wine arrives on the palate broad and bland and I am not sure if it is supposed to be dry or sweet.

This wine further destroys the Leo Buring brand.

Score: 82/--

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Casa Fresci Profondo

When I tried the 1999 Casa Fresci Profondo three years ago, I thought it was not ready. It is unusual to say this about a 9 year old wine in the mid price range. Now it is ready, and in fact quite interesting.

This wine comes from Langhorne Creek and is a blend of more or less equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Malbec. It gives you very much a Bordeaux type result. The fruit is not dominant, there area lot of savoury characteristics and a dry tannin finish. The wine has good complexity, but is not as harmonious as I would have liked with the different grape varieties quite noticeable.

This wine is best enjoyed with food.

Score: 92/++

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Some Interesting New Pinot Noirs

A week ago, I tasted four interesting Pinot Noirs. They were all serious and good, but not without flaws.

Two came from Tomboy Hill, in the Bendigo district. This is a new producer to me and it is unusual to see Pinot Noir from this area. The 2008 Tomboy Hill 'Smythes Creek' is a savoury, yet quite elegant Pinot Noir. I liked it, although it lacked a bit of weight (91 points). The more expensive 2009 Tomboy Hill 'Ruby's Picking' has this additional weight and similar characteristics, but it has a disappointing short finish (90 points). 2009 was of course the disastrous fire year in Victoria.

The 2010 Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir (their standard offering) has the typical vibrant cherry fruit. It is not a very big wine and still quite closed. The finish is a little harsh at this stage. This wine will need time (91 points).

Pinot Noirs from Paringa Estate tend to have this huge fruit sensation on the front palate, but I find the 2008 Paringa Estate Pinot Noir better balanced. The dark cherry fruit is well backed by fine tannins and the wine has some length, but it is still a bit of a bomb (90 points).

Pinot Noir has come a long way in our region. You don't find too many terrible offerings any more. Yet to make a brilliant one remains a difficult task.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Torbreck New Premium Shiraz Releases

The latest Torbreck Shiraz releases are from difficult hot years in the Barossa. Given this, they perform pretty well, but the prices are high. It might be better to wait for the 2009 wines.

The 2008 Torbreck The Struie is a Shiraz with fruit from the Barossa Valley as well as Eden Valley. The wine is quite smooth and shows the lifted flavours typical for Eden Valley. The fruit concentration is not as good as in other years (92 points).

The Factor has never been a favorite of mine. I find this Shiraz too ripe and concentrated to drink more than a glass of. And what for the rest of the evening? The 2007 Torbreck The Factor shows overripe fruit, the flavour is very meaty and the finish dull (90 points).

The 2007 Torbreck Descendant is much livelier, partly due to the Viognier component. This is a serious and also elegant wine with a lasting finish (94 points).

The 2007 Torbreck RunRig is a good wine, but will no doubt split the tasters. The wine is quite sweet, with plenty of chocolate besides the dark plum and blackcurrant fruit. The finish is good, but lacks the complexity of previous years (93 points).

Friday, June 3, 2011

Torbreck Les Amis Grenache

The 2009 Torbreck Les Amis is probably the best pure Grenache I have ever tasted. This is a big statement, but this is a very special wine.

This wine bursts out with big cherry flavours. It is a heady wine with a huge mouthfeel, length and depth of fruit, yet amazing balance. The finish goes on and on, creating a real 'wow' factor.

I have drunk Les Amis from its inception in 2001, but this vintage takes this label to a new level, and uncharted territory, I think.

Score: 97/+++

Brokenwood Semillon

Sometimes, the 'standard' wine is almost as good as the specialised, limited release wines, at a fraction of the price. The 2005 Brokenwood Semillon is such an example. The wine still shows a pale green colour, no sign of any honey colour yet for this wine under screw cap.

The pleasant flavour is pure lime and the wine has a crisp clean finish. While the wine is dry, it is not overly acidic, but enough to support a long life. There is not a lot of complexity in this wine, but such is the nature of Semillon. This wine will live for many years to come.

Score: 91/+

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio

For me, the Nebbiolo grape is the king of grapes. Good Barolo made from it combines the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon with the flavours of Pinot Noir - very exciting. The problem is, it is also the most thick skinned grape and this, combined with long maceration periods applied in Piedmont lead to very tannic wines, impossible to drink when young and a bit dull when matured.

Then along came the 1997 vintage. It was very warm in Piedmont and it produced generous wines with great fruit concentration. Young winemakers such as Roberto Voerzio reduced the maceration time and the result were wines which were internationally appealing while still maintaining their local specificity. This changed the world in Piedmont and great vintages which followed put Barolo firmly on the international map.

I happened to travel in Piedmont when the 1997 vintage was released and still have some bottles I brought back at home. The 1997 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio - a single vineyard wine, as most of them are - was one of the stars of the vintage. It is still a glorious wine.

The bouquet of a flower garden jumps out of the glass. It is followed by still fresh cherry and complex floral flavours. The wine has a big mouthfeel with a lot of depth and length. The great structure of this wine will allow it to last at least another ten years. The flavours lead to a piercing finish with dry, but not course tannins. The wine displays perfect balance, while perhaps not quite as elegant as yesterday's Cullen.

Score: 96/+++

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Cullen Cabernet/Merlot

One of the nice things for me after coming back from less developed regions of the world is to resume drinking good quality wine. I thought I kick it off with Cullen, which is such a reliable producer.

The 1998 Cullen Cabernet/Merlot (the predecessor of the Diane Madeline) was such a joy to drink. It has a beautiful complex fruit set, which is just starting to mellow, some earthy characters, and lengthy silky tannins. The wine is seamless, and the individual contributions of Cabernet and Merlot are not detectable.

The wine has medium weight, perhaps a little more than more recent releases. It may not be quite as elegant and refined as the latest wines, but this is splitting hairs. This wine is a very fine example of a Bordeaux blend from Australia.

It really pays to cellar the premium red from Cullen. More complexity unfolds while the wine's structure remains strong. This wine will drink well for another 3-5 years.

Score: 96/+++