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/++