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/+