Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Greenstone Shiraz

The Heathcote story is a complicated one. First, there was Jasper Hill with its very unique and successful wines. It put Heathcote on the map. Then many new wineries set up in the area, chasing very ripe and alcoholic Shiraz. There were so many new wineries in such a short time, that it was difficult for them to differentiate and create a significant position in the market place. How many Heathcote wineries can you name? Yet, some really good wines were made (and many ordinary ones).

The latest wave are winery ventures which are abandoning the high alcohol Shiraz objective and try to do something much more supple. Greenstone is one such winery. The 2006 Greenstone Vineyard Shiraz is medium bodied. It has an attractive plum and raspberry aroma. The flavours are ripe, but fresh, and the acidity creates an attractive counterweight to the fruit flavours. When I learnt there was an Italian influence in this venture, I was not surprised. This almost tastes like a Sangiovese. This is not a cool climate Shiraz, but also not a 'big South Australian'. This could be an attractive niche, if they could only get their name established better.

Score: 92/++

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Felsina Chianti Classico

Australian winemakers are complaining about the high growth of imports. Yet, the reality is they are not just a curiosity factor, but they have become very competitive here. Apart from the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc phenomenon (which is likely to implode), there is Chablis which competes with good quality Aussie Chardonnay, there is Tempranillo, which offers an alternative to our heavy Shirazes and Cabernets, and then there is Sangiovese.

Pairing a Sangiovese with a minced meat and tomato based dish is one of the perfect combinations. Fattoria di Felsina has been a very reliable producer and this 2006 Felsina Chianti Classico does not disappoint. This is a medium to full bodied wine with red and black cherry flavours complemented by earthy flavours. The mouthfeel is satisfying, although not very persisting, as the wine's acidity cuts through the food. This wine does not deliver enough on its own, but it is an excellent food wine: not imposing, but strong enough to be an equal partner.

Score: 91/++

Monday, March 28, 2011

NZ Pinot Noir Classification

Tyson Stelzer has published a new classification of New Zealand Pinot Noir. This is useful, because so many new wineries have sprung up there in recent years. I agree that the top levels are occupied by wineries mainly from Martinborough and Central Otago. You can find it at I would not see Mt. Difficulty at the top level (see my post of a couple of weeks ago), but overall this seems to be a pretty fair representation.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Stella Bella Chardonnay

The 2008 Stella Bella Chardonnay displays the typical Margaret River fruit characteristics: peach and tropical fruit, e.g. papaya. The fruit flavours are as good as of the premium wines, but this wine is not as elegant and smooth. It is very good drinking, though, and good value for money.

Score: 91/++

Luciano Sandrone Barolos

Roses, tar, strong tannins - Barolos are not everybody's cup of tea. But when they are good, they are sensational - very complex, elegant, long, excellent with food.

Yesterday I tried the two Sandrone Barolos. The 2006 Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne is a blend from four vineyards located near the village of Barolo and Monforte. The nose is very perfumed and aromatic, the flavours very complex with pretty raspberry, cherry and plum fruit. The wine is very elegant and the tannins quite noticeable, but supporting the palate to a silky and lengthy finish. This wine is already quite approachable, but will develop attractive secondary characteristics with time.

Score: 96/+++

The 2006 Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis is a single vineyard wine from a vineyard planted since the 11th century. It is a famous vineyard, sometimes compared to Romanee-Conti in Burgundy. The fruit of this wine appears less complex than in the other wine, but very pure and pristine. This wine is more closed at this stage and more acidic and tannic, leaving a dry aftertaste. This wine needs time, but I am not sure it will ever be as pleasing to drink as the Le Vigne.


Both wines are very well made. They marry Pinot Noir flavours with the structure of Cabernet. It is good to see these wines back in Australia, but expect to pay $200+ per bottle.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Castagna 2008 Releases

Unfortunately, this is going to be a brief post, as I did not take any notes during this fabulous Castagna dinner. The 2008 Castagnia 'La Chiave' Sangiovese and the 2008 Castagnia 'Genesis' Shiraz are outstanding wines and show Julian Castagnia at his best. Julian has been a keen biodynamic farmer and advocate for quite some time and the wines reflect this.

Castagna's La Chiave is Australia's best Sangiovese, and the 2008 an excellent example. The wine is lively, shows beautiful pure cherry fruit which matches the acidity seemlessly. Very elegant, full flavoured, yet easy to drink.

Score: 96/+++

The 2008 Genesis is also brilliant. It has fresh cherry and plum flavours, with excellent mouthfeel. This is quite a big wine, but not heavy.

Score: 94/+++

Monday, March 14, 2011

Poll Results

Not quite sure what to make of it. The participation is a bit disappointing, given I have many more readers - and you can influence what to read. I guess my take is, if I have more detailed knowledge about a wine or information, on whatever aspect it might be, I will put it in, but I will not go out of my way to add commentary on top of what I normally do.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

New Zealand Pinot Noir Shootout: Ata Rangi vs. Felton Road vs. Craggy Range

I also came across three comparable middle aged top level New Zealand Pinot Noirs in my cellar the other day and thought a comparison would be interesting. But before I do this, a little bit about what I value in Pinot Noir.

The graphic on the left shows two typified (and badly drawn) profiles of how a Pinot Noir tastes in your mouth. The first profile is of a wine which opens up and creates the fullest palate on the finish. James Halliday called this the Burgundian fan. The second picture is one of a wine with a big fruit impression upfront, and a leaner finish on the back palate. In my view, the key to a great Pinot Noir is the creation of the Burgundian fan. Not many in the New World of wine can do it.

The first of the NZ Pinot Noirs was the 2005 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Pinot Noir. This wine comes from Martinborough. It has a red cherry palate, quite ethereal, with silky tannins - and yes, it has a Burgundian fan. The wine is still fresh and shows remarkably few secondary characteristics. I enjoyed this a lot (95 points/++).

The second wine is the 2005 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir from virtually next door. This wine has a similar tasting profile, quite feminine, very smooth with silky tannins and good length and a good fan. I would have enjoyed a little bit more grit in this wine, but it was my overall favorite, by a whisker (95 points/++).

The third wine is the 2004 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir. This wine showed more upfront fruit, mainly the black cherry, typical for Central Otago. This is quite a big and brooding Pinot Noir with some forest floor flavours. It has a nice texture with fine grained tannins. However, the wine did not increase the mouthfeel on the finish (94 points/++).

Each wine was drinking well and had no problem with age. They represented their regions and winemakers in quite a typical way: Martinborough finer with great finishes, Central Otago pretty full on, but also well balanced. These were all excellent examples of great Pinot Noir.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz

I went for a new strategy tasting the new Penfolds Bin releases this year. In the previous years, I found these hard to taste. They were rough and oaky, clearly made for the longer haul. So I thought this year I try to find some bottles which are still open on day two. I managed to track down most of the new release wines and found them much more agreeable. I am not sure if it is due to this fact, or different wine treatment.

These wines are widely commented on, therefore I don't want to add to this, other than reporting on the 2008 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz. This win is in its 50th vintage, and it is a good one. Full-bodied, the wine has a palate of blackberry and dried plum fruit, quite complex for the price point. It is much smoother than in previous years - a good middle of the road Barossa Shiraz.

What I find hilarious is the little 'R' above the Kalimna word. This means the name is trademarked. First of all, most of the fruit does not even come from Kalimna, therefore it could be regarded as misleading. Secondly, Kalimna is a name shown on Barossa maps before the trademark existed. This should not be allowed. How about I trademark Sydney or Melbourne? An intellectual property lawyer friend of mine has said this has no legs.

If you make a wine from the area, I suggest you call it Kalimna.

Score: 89/+

NZ wine in a glass 2011

One has to be quite selective at these big wine shows (maybe 60 wineries were present), so I decided on a bit of Chardonnay from Waiheke Island, Pinot Noir from Central Otago and a bit of red wine from the Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay.

The Chardonnays were from Cable Bay, in the west of the Island, and Man O' War, which has many vineyards in the East. They were both fresh wines, with citrus and apple flavours and some creaminess. I particularly liked the flintiness of the 2009 Man O' War Valhalla Chardonnay (92 points).

The problem with most Central Otago Pinot Noirs was that many are pretty, but it seemed to me the grapes were very young. As a result, these wines lacked in character. This applied to Cable Bay and Domain Road. Chard Farm Mata-Au showed attractive silky tannins, but disappointed with a thin mouthfeel. Peregrine showed typical dark cherry for the area, and some savoury characteristics, with somewhat grainy tannins. The two Gibbston Valley Pinots were different from each other, but lacked fullness and complexity. The outstanding wine came from Maude, from their 1994 planted Mt. Maude vineyard. This 2007 Mt. Maude Family Vineyard Pinot Noir is quite savoury, all stems go into the process. The wine has grip, depth, and a long finish (94 points).

The Gimblett Gravels wines came from Trinity Hill. I found them disappointing. The 2008 Syrah and the 2008 Tempranillo were a bit simplistic. The Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon was the best from a mediocre trio (88/89 points).

Greenock Creek Roennfeldt Road Shiraz - My 500th Post

I have been thinking what I should put up as my 500th post. It had to be special. It had to be Australian. I have done a number of reports on Grange and Hill of Grace, so what else? Then I remembered I had this one bottle of 2002 Greenock Creek Roennfeldt Road Shiraz. This is a Parker 100 pointer, as many of Australia's number one cult wine are (Australia's Screaming Eagle?).

I thought 2002 might be drinkable, as it was a cooler vintage. One reviewer said this wine tasted of a burnt down jam factory and then proceeded to give the wine a high score. I was a little worried, I have never tasted a 'Roennfeldt Road' before.

After struggling to finish a glass of this wine a couple of nights ago (16.5% alcohol), I was a little puzzled. The underlying fruit is fantastic. You could taste hints of every berry imaginable, the purity was great, and the wine has great length. But the dominant sensation is alcohol, maybe glycerine, too - very chemical. The wine was even more alcoholic on the second night. Who would want to drink port out of a big Riedel glass?

I was contemplating giving this wine a reasonable score because of the fruit, and then a negative rating as my personal assessment. But I came to the conclusion this wine is actually badly made. The winemaking destroys the wonderful fruit which comes from this outstanding vineyard.

So there you have it. Never trust a cult wine. I will sell my few other Greenock Creek bottles and not try this producer again.

Score: 80/---

Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir Masterclass

Along with the Villa Maria Pinot Noirs, we tasted a similar set from Mt. Difficulty. Mt. Difficulty made quite a splash when it came on the scene of Central Otago in the 1990s, hot on the heals of Felton Road. But somehow, it lost its way in the early 2000s, with the wines being less distinctive and prices going up. I was interested to reacquaint myself.

We tasted the 2006-2008 'regular' Pinot Noirs. As with Villa Maria, the 2007 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir stood out. It showed a palate of concentrated red cherry, still quite tight, but showing elegance and silky tannins before a long finish (93 points). The flavour profile of the 2006 Pinot Noir was similar, but less intense, and the finish a little flat (90 points). The 2008 Pinot Noir showed darker fruit, but lacked the length of the 2007 (91 points).

The two single vineyard wines from 2009 impressed. The 2009 Pipeclay Terrace Pinot Noir showed terrific black cherry fruit, elegant, but concentrated. This is quite a masculine wine which finishes with silky tannins (94 points). The 2009 Target Gully Pinot Noir is very different. It is more ethereal, feminine. The dark cherry fruit is matched with a perfume flavour, but the finish is a little short (92 points).

Overall, the Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noirs are pretty wines. They can be very good in top years, which means that only in those years is their pricing (about $70/bottle for the single vineyard wines) justified.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Villa Maria Pinot Noir Masterclass

Last week was very busy as far as wine tasting is concerned. The other major event was NZ in a glass. I attended the Villa Maria Pinot Noir Masterclass. It was very well prepared and I learnt quite a lot.

The main point was probably that the best Pinot Noir sites in Marlborough are on the clay soils of the southern slopes of the main valley and the Awatere Valley as opposed to the alluvial soils where the Sauvignon Blanc reigns supreme.

We tasted the Cellar Selection wines from 2006-08 and two single vineyard wines, the Southern Clays and the Seddon Vineyard.

The best wine of the vertical was the 2007 Villa Maria Selection Pinot Noir. 2007 was a great Pinot vintage across all of New Zealand, and it showed in this wine. It tasted of dark cherry and was quite savoury, herbal, and dry with fairly firm tannins (92 points). The 2006 had less grip, very dark fruit and silkier tannins (92 points). The 2008 was less concentrated with less tannins. It seemed the berries were bigger from this year and there probably was a higher yield (90 points).

The 2009 Villa Maria Southern Clays Pinot Noir is from the southern slopes. It has a very strong cherry aroma and the black and red cherry flavours follow in an elegant style, finishing with silky tannins (92 points).

The 2009 Villa Maria Seddon Vineyard Pinot Noir is from the Awatere Valley. This wine is focused more on structure than fruit, with herbal characters dominating the dark cherry flavours. It finishes a little light (91 points).

Overall, these were serious Pinot Noirs. I am not that familiar with Pinot Noirs from Marlborough. These ones were different from Martinborough and Central Otago by having strong herbal notes - probably not my most favoured attribute, but they would accompany appropriate foods very well.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New Poll Created

I am asking for some feedback in the new poll. Please feel free to also leave a comment. Please vote!