Friday, December 21, 2012

Ruggabellus Timaeus

Sorry for not publishing for a while, but when travelling in the heat of Asia, fine wine consumption is not a priority.

Now back, I got my hand on a bottle of the highly acclaimed relatively new Ruggabellus label. Abel Gibson, the winemaker, won Young Gun of Wine this year, and there were many acclaims for this new winery. I therefore had to open the 2010 Ruggabellus Timaeus straight away.

This wine is a blend typical for the Southern Rhone, with Grenache being the main grape variety. Raspberry flavours are dominant on the front palate. The fruit is vibrant and lively. Then something curious happens.It is best described by texture versus structure. The texture of this wine is very appealing. The wine has a smooth and silky mouthfeel, but as it moves to the mid and back palate, the structure is missing for me. The tannins are not firm enough to balance the fruit. Currently it is all the rage to talk about picking grapes earlier in the Barossa and this wine is very 'fashionable', but in the well balanced 2010 vintage, this wine would have benefited from slightly later picking and a bit more tannin grip. As it is, I find the wine a little fruity.

Score: 91/+

New Poll

Are you going over a fiscal cliff yourself or do you ignore big politics? I am interested to hear how your wine budget is going for the Christmas season. Please vote.

Also, please comment here what particular wine or champagne you are looking forward to or you have experienced over Christmas.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Antinori Peppoli Chianti

Antinori's Peppoli is a very dependable Sangiovese. It is a high volume wine, made to high standards. The 2009 Antinori Peppoli displays typical red and black cherry favours and a savoury backbone. This wine is not overly complex, but has quite a full body. The wine is elegant and has the right amount of acidity to deliver a harmonious finish.

It is the perfect partner to the canapés I am consuming at the Metropole in Hanoi.

Score: 92/++

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The New Jimmy Watson Trophy Winner: Best's Bin 1, 2011

I should preface this post by saying I am not joining the mob which currently and fashionably rubbishes big South Australian Shirazes. I think these are unique wines in the world, and if not overripe, can be fascinating and complex wines. So I have no initial bias towards Victorian Shiraz. I am also concerned about cooler climate wines from 2011, which was very wet in the Eastern parts of Australia.

So when I heard that the 2011 Best's Bin 1 Shiraz, their 3rd tier wine, won the Jimmy Watson Trophy, my first reaction was that this was 'politically' motivated, a lighter wine had to win (like last year).

However, the proof is in the glass, so here it goes: This wine has a beautiful aroma of blackberry and black cherry. The fruit of this medium-bodied wine is very pure and intense and has great linearity. There are also exotic spices on the palate and silky tannins, leading to a smooth finish. On the second day, the wine had not deteriorated and still offered a rounded mouthfeel.

This wine is an outstanding expression of cool climate Victorian Shiraz. It also offers excellent value for money. Grab it while you can!

Score: 95/+++

36 Bordeaux wines from 2009, part 3

I was expecting wines from the left bank to shine. They are Cabernet Sauvignon based, and in a warm year, this grape will ripe well, without green- or leafiness.

The wines from Margaux were strong across the board. I liked Chateau Ferriere, a full-bodied wine, fresh and elegant with some forest characters and good length (95 points). Chateau d'Issan was also impressive: a rich and concentrated wine, with redcurrant fruit, violets and fragrant flavours, an elegant and balanced wine with soft tannins (94 points). In a similar mould is Brane de Baron. This wine also shows tobacco and meaty flavours and a higher tannin level (93 points). Chateau Giscours has a sweet ripeness, but I found the wine a bit bland by comparison (93 points).  The weaker wines in this bracket were Chateau Prieure Lichine and Dufort Vivens. They  have depth and elegance, but were a bit leafy and bitter and a bit disjointed (92 points).

In the bracket from St. Julian was the other 100 point wine from Parker, Chateau Leoville Poyferre. It is a dark, full-bodied wine with plenty of oak, not ready to drink for 10 years. Many felt it falls off at the finish, and the wine was not too well received (93 points). My favorite in this bracket was Chateau Lagrange, a medium-bodied wine with  great aroma and good intensity. The linearity and elegance on the palate impressed (94 points). I also liked  Petit Caillou. This wine was less concentrated, but elegant, with lifted aromas, a good structure and a lengthy finish (94 points). Chateau Langoa Barton, a well known wine, was very powerful, oaky and tannic. Keep your hands off for 10 years (93 points). Les Fiefs de Lagrange was uneven. Quite ripe, but some greenness as well, and a little hot (92 points). And finally, Chateau Beychevelle, another well known wine, disappointed. An opulent and ripe wine, but not giving me much to be excited about (92 points).

Further north, from Paulliac, three wines impressed. Petit Mouton, the second wine of Mouton-Rothschild was fragrant, elegant, with well integrated oak and high quality tannins (95 points). Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste had good depth of flavour and a long finish (94 points). And Chateau Haut Batailley was also quite concentrated, with soft berry flavours, good length and a slightly oaky finish (94 points).

Overall, as you can tell, my ratings are high. The overall standard is excellent, with depth of flavour and elegance. The expensive wines show a lot of oak and are quite tannic. They need to be left alone for at least five to ten years. My ratings did not correlate very highly with price. Before you fork out a fortune, I highly recommend you buy one bottle to taste. Do not be guided by reputation alone.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

36 Bordeaux wines from 2009, part 2

In this post, I will review some of the wines tasted. I start with the right bank. The wines from St. Emilion showed particularly well.

Chateau Bellefont Belcier was my favorite from this bracket. The purity of the blackberry fruit is beautiful. The wine has depth, but is very polished and elegant (97 points). Chateau Magdelaine was also excellent.
A complex wine with berry flavours and fragrance. There is minerality in this wine, cedar and cigarbox. The wine is soft initially, with a fine tannin structure (96 points). Chateau Frombauge has a similar profile. It also shows violets and spices. The finish is slightly hot (94 points). As mentioned in the previous post, Chateau Pavie is a massive wine. Oak and tannins currently dominate the fruit core. The wine is quite acidic and astringent (92 points). I rated Chateau Quinault L'Enclos and Chateau La Dominique less highly. These wines are less well balanced, with partly jammy fruit and abrasive tannins (91 points).

Avoiding overripe fruit was the major challenge in 2009. This is obvious in the tasted wines of Pomerol, where some wines tasted jammy, narrowly avoiding over-ripeness. Chateau Bon Pasteur was my favorite here. Mulberry flavours deliver a good mouthfeel. The wine is concentrated, weighty and fleshy with a lot of oak. I found it quite balanced with attractive tannins, dancing on the tongue (94 points). Chateaus Bourgneuf, Mazeyres and L'Hospitalet De Gazin suffered from very ripe or dried fruit (91/92 points). In contrast, Chateaus Lafleur Gazin and La Pointe showed quite a bit of leafy characters, possibly as a result of a large Cabernet Franc component in the wine (91/92 points).

Some gems can be found in other, less prestigious appellations. A real find in this tasting was Chateau Villars from Fronsac. This appellation is also on the right bank, west of St. Emilion. This wine shows beautiful berry fruit and also some earthy characteristics. The wine is balanced with good weight and length, although perhaps a bit broad in the mouth. It finishes with firm tannins and the best bit: it is really cheap (93 points).

The higher rated wines are all quite approachable now. They are elegant and let the fruit speak. I think you could drink them very well in two to three years. They have great balance and will easily live for 15 to 20 years.

Monday, November 19, 2012

36 Bordeaux wines from 2009, part 1

Tasting 36 wines is a bit of a daunting task, but when these are Bordeaux wines from one of the best vintages ever, you may be prepared to do it. As it turned out, this was a fantastic tasting.

First of all, to a number of general observations.

1) The old saying "In poor vintages, buy the top producers, in good vintages, buy the cheaper ones" is certainly good advice for 2009. Prices for the 1st growth wines and some others are stratospheric, but this tasting showed that some reasonably priced wines are terrific.

2) The tasting was done in brackets of six, by sub-region. We knew the wines, but not the order they were tasted in. Therefore, the individual wines were tasted blind. There were two 100 point wines (Robert Parker) in the line-up: Chateau Pavie and Leoville Poyferre. I did not rate them highly: both wines have a good fruit core, but are dominated by oak and massive tannins. They will need a lot of time. But why mask the beautiful fruit and elegance this vintage can produce? There were plenty of other wines which are approachable now and will age gracefully for a long time as well.

3) The sub-regions (appellations) showed very distinctive characteristics, driven by grape varieties and terroir. On the right bank
- St. Emilion: dominant grapes are Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The soils are clay-like limestone with good water holding capacity. The wines tend to be rich and supple, naturally high in alcohol and lower in tannins.
- Pomerol: mainly Merlot. Slightly lower in alcohol and more tannin than St. Emilion. The good wines show a blend of power and delicacy.
On the left bank:
- Margaux: primary grape is Cabernet Sauvignon. The soil is fine and gravely, often almost white. The wines are delicate and feminine.
-St. Julien: this is north of Margaux. Primary grape is Cabernet Sauvignon. The soil is gravel and clay. As a result, the wines have similar characteristics to Margaux, but are richer and fuller bodied.
-Paulliac: further north again, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines are powerful, with firm tannins.
-St. Estephe is similar, but was not well represented.

In my next post, I will describe some individual wines.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra

Domenico Clerico is one of Piedmont's star estates and the Ciabot one of the two celebrated single vineyard wines. I was looking forward to tasting the 2008 Domenico Clerico Ciabot. I did this at about midday, and I was not prepared for this. The wine is incredibly dry and tannic. The tannins pluck the sides of your tongue and grip you relentlessly. The wine is way too tough to drink now and will need at least five years to come around.

I do not believe that such a sensation as described above is good tannin management. The tannins should affect the mouth evenly and not be so astringent. I find it impossible to score the wine now.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Head Wines (Shiraz)

Head Wines have created quite a buzz since coming onto the scene a few years ago, mainly because of the vibrancy of its fruit. The two major wines are two single vineyard wines from quite different sites. Cheekily, they are called Blonde and Brunette in reference to the famous Guigal wines from the Rhone.

Those who read my posts regularly will know that I am not too keen on vintage generalizations, but the 2011 vintage in Eastern Australia is an exception. The vintage was simply horrible with grapes not ripening and fighting mildew.

Therefore, I had quite low expectations when tasting the 2011 Head Blonde and the 2011 Head Brunette.  The Blonde is quite savoury and earthy, with fruit flavours of plum and raspberry not very concentrated. The structure of the wine is surprisingly good. There is a good grip on the finish (90 points).

The Brunette, which comes from a high quality Moppa vineyard, is usually the bigger and more concentrated wine, and so it is in 2011. This wine has a darker colour. The blackberry fruit delivers a rich mid palate. The oak is noticeable, but still in a supporting role. This wine has an elegant finish and is a terrific effort for the year (93 points).

Alex Head was present when I tasted the wines, and his explanation of 2011 was a new version of spin: "2011 has largely been misunderstood". He could not avoid a devious smile, though, and continued to talk about 2012. Be that as it may, the Head 2011 wines are pretty good drinking.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Kooyong Farrago Chardonnay

There are not many Australian Chardonnays which I would keep for more than three to four years, but I put a couple of bottles of the 2005 Kooyong Farrago Chardonnay aside to drink now.

The colour looks a healthy mid yellow. And in fact, the wine is still lively. Apricot and white nectarine flavours are augmented by a strong note of minerality. The wine is elegant with moderate acidity giving the wine a lift on the finish. - An attractive proposition.

It would be the right time to drink this wine now, but I expect it to stay at this level for another two to three years.

Score: 93/++

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lake's Folly Cabernet

Lake's Folly is an oxymoron. It produces a highly regarded Cabernet , yet the Hunter is known for Shiraz. It also produces a good Chardonnay in 'Semillon country'. It must be the very specific site that allows this outcome.

The 1998 Lake's Folly Cabernet tastes of blackcurrant, violets, tar and many other things. The wine is earthy. Lake's Folly has a reputation for long lasting Cabernets. I have sometimes been disappointed with their wines once they are 15 years plus old. This one is perfect to drink now. It is a mature wine with a lot of interesting things happening, including spices and silky tannins. I would not cellar this wine any longer, though.

Score: 94/++

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Hunter Valley Wine Show Rip Off Continues

I walked down to Balmoral today, and accidentally into the Hunter Valley wine show, where individual companies put up booths for tasting.

This is the deal: you pay $7 for a wine glass you would not even have your cat drink from. Then you buy tasting tickets for $3.50 each. Let's assume you buy four tickets. Most wines for tasting cost $20 to $25 per bottle. You pay the same amount for four tastes at 60ml each. That is you pay an amount for 240ml which would normally buy you a 750ml bottle. From the winery's point of view: it would get 12 serves out of a bottle, equals $42 per bottle, not a bad mark-up.

Now there were some $40-$50 per bottle wines, but you had to hand in two tickets for those. Let's say we used our tickets for two such tastes. That would be $10.50 per taste. Pretty steep, isn't it? From the winery's point of view a similar mark-up over retail: 12 times $7.

You might say, they had to drive there, bring equipment etc. But it is supposed to be marketing, right? I went home and enjoyed a beautiful Chardonnay at home.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Phi Pinot Noir

De Bortoli produced a stunning new Pinot Noir in the Yarra Valley. The 2010 De Bortoli Phi Pinot Noir comes from the Lusatia Park vineyard in the Upper Yarra Valley.

This first vintage delivers an aromatic bouquet. The flavours are black cherry, but there is a lot of complexity there with savoury and smoky undertones. The purity of the wine is excellent. It goes beautifully down the palate with good length and an expanding finish: a terrific debut.

This wine has won a number of trophies and deservedly so. Check it out.

Score: 95/+++

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Oakridge 864 Chardonnay

Oakridge is now a leading Yarra Valley wine producer. If you want to experience the best the Yarra Valley can do with Chardonnay, try the 2010 Oakridge 864 Chardonnay. This single vineyard wine shows great purity of fruit, with apple and grapefruit flavours. This medium bodied wine has excellent balance and an elegant finish.

Score: 95/++

Monday, October 22, 2012

Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon

The top tier of wineries in Margaret River has been the same forever: Cullen, Moss Wood, Leeuwin. A number of wineries are trying to get up there: Cape Mentelle, Howard Park, Voyager, a couple of others. One that has improved a lot across the board lately is Vasse Felix. So I gave the 2009 Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon a try.

This is a medium bodied wine with bright redcurrant fruit. I found the wine a bit angular, not elegant, although the wine has silky tannins which are not harsh, and good length.

I continued to drink the wine on day 2, when it was much better and more rounded. I should have decanted the wine for at least one hour before drinking it in the first place - definitely something you should do with a young Cabernet Sauvignon.

Still, it does not have the full mouthfeel for a top score.

Score: 90/92+

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Wynns V&A Lane Shiraz

Coonawarra is mostly overlooked when it comes to Shiraz. Yet there are some excellent Shiraz blocks which can produce wines of good intensity, yet elegant and spicy.

Wynns has an unmatched access to great Coonawarra vineyards, and the 2008 Wynns V&A Lane Shiraz comes from blocks right in the middle of the famous Terra Rossa soil. This wine displays beautiful rich dark berry flavours leading to an elegant structure. Unfortunately, this core is covered by lashings of American (vanilla) oak, thereby masking the wine's quality. One can only hope that over time the oak will subside into the background, but I am not sure. This wine would have been fantastic, had it been matured in French and older oak.

Score: 92/-

Monday, October 15, 2012

Felton Road Chardonnay

New Zealand is not really known for outstanding Chardonnay, perhaps with the exception of Kumeu River. But then, Felton Road does not do anything by halves. I was curious to experience the 2011 Felton Road Chardonnay.

The wine is dominated by citrus flavours, with lime in the background. This makes for a nice flavour, and the healthy acidity produces a refreshing finish. These are the good points. On the downside, I find the wine also a bit watery and 'in the moment'. It does not really flow down the palate. Overall, it does not leave much of an impression, in the way Felton's Pinots do.

Score: 89/0

Friday, October 12, 2012

Craggy Range Le Sol

How does Craggy Range's Le Sol Syrah stand the test of time? The other day, I had the first vintage of the 'New Zealand Grange', the 2002 Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah, which I had bought at a visit to Hawkes Bay. One would assume that the first vintage of a new top of the line wine is chosen carefully.

The colour of this wine is very dark plum, still quite solid. On the palate, this translates into a sweet plum core, quite ripe and a little bit hot (15% Alc.). This was the time when you made a Parker wine if you could. Craggy Range could. The structure stands up, though. The wine has still good acidity, but it is difficult to drink much of it (is this a plus?). So different from the Te Mata Coleraine, the grapes of which come from the same region.

This Le Sol is very similar to a premium Torbreck wine. There is no question this one ages well. The wine is still youthful and will definitely drink well for another 10 years. It is probably best to drink in 3-5 years.

Score: 94/0

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Picardy Pinot Noir

Picardy is not a well known winery in the Eastern parts of Australia. I suggest you ckeck it out. The other day I had the 2009 Picardy Pinot Noir. The berry flavours are hard to define, somewhere between strawberry and cherry. More importantly, this is quite a savoury wine with forest floor characteristics and an excellent texture. It finishes with silky tannins.

To achieve a higher score, the wine would have needed a bit more grip or an expanding finish, but I liked it anyhow.

Score: 92/++

Monday, October 8, 2012

Spinifex Premium Releases

Every now and then a quote sticks to a winery. So it is with Spinifex when James Halliday said it out-torbrecks Torbreck. What is Torbreck known for? Predominantly the incredible richness of its wines and how David Powell managed to jack up the prices for his Barossa Shiraz. Now Spinifex does none of this. Peter Schell picks the grapes early, the wines are not very ripe, and the prices are moderate by comparison. So what does this comment mean? Beats me, but it gets repeated time and time again.

I recently tasted three Spinifex wines from 2010. The 2010 Spinifex Bete Noir is perhaps its only wine not consisting of more than one grape variety. This 100% Shiraz comes 60% from Eden Valley and 40% from the Eastern slopes of the Barossa, i.e. grapes grown at higher altitudes. As a result, the wine has cooler climate characteristics: it is savoury and peppery. The wine is vibrant and fresh. It has medium weight and good length (93 points).

The 2010 Spinifex Indigene consists of 70% Mataro and 30% Shiraz. This has been my favorite in a number of years, but not in 2010. The Mataro is very strong and dominant and as a result, the wine is quite tannic and acidic with a slightly harsh finish. It may be that the wine will mellow nicely, as the underlying fruit is good, but at this point, I rate it 91 points.

The 2010 Spinifex La Mouline is the pick of the bunch. This wine used to be a Shiraz/Viognier, but in this year it is 97% Shiraz and 3% Roussanne. I think this has been a master stroke. Rather than adding floral notes, the Roussanne adds weight and complexity. This wine is very elegant, as the plum and red berry flavours roll down the palate.The wine has a dry finish and considerable length - very appealing (95 points).


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Clonakilla New Releases

Listening to Tim Kirk, Clonakilla's winemaker, is always very interesting. Not only is he a very intelligent person, but also a very good marketer. Yet in contrast to the spin employed by many of his colleagues, he prefers to 'under-promise and over-deliver'. So you listen to all the challenges that Clonakilla had to face in 2011 and 2012 and then get to a set of very good wines. Sure, he has done better, but these are very worth while wines.

The 2012 Clonakilla Canberra District Riesling comes from a wet year. The wine is citrussy and floral, quite zingy with acid covering the small amount of residual sugar. It is not is the class of a top Clare Riesling, but a refreshing wine with a clean finish (90 points).

The 2011 Clonakilla Canberra District Viognier is a welcome departure from other 'fatty' Viogniers. It shows the expected apricot flavours, but the wine is quite linear and not big. There are traces of oak in this wine and it finishes with a good round mouthfeel. I am not sure that it is Australia's best Viognier, as it is sometimes claimed, but it is certainly a good one (92 points).

The 2011 Clonakilla O'Riada Shiraz is made in the same way as the famous Shiraz/Viognier, but the fruit comes from other growers around Canberra. This wine is incredibly peppery and savoury and quite strong. Underneath sits beautiful red berry fruit. 2011 delivers a lighter style, but not a watery wine and the tannins deliver good length (93 points).

The 2011 Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier is still peppery, but the flavours are rounder than in the O'Riada. The wine is very elegant and harmonious, dominated by red berry flavours. This wine will live a long, long time. This wine rates very high on clarity, grace, balance, deliciousness, modesty and paradox. The paradox is the lighter style, yet intensity of the wine. It would rate a bit lower on distinctiveness, persistence and complexity  (95 points).

In this tasting, I 'got' the Clonakilla wine style. The wines are about beauty. The French would call them feminine wines, but they are more than that (see above).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc has been the crown of creation of the Marlborough onslaught on the rest of the world. The 2011 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is special, too, although not quite in the same class as some previous years.

The flavours are herbaceous, but not overly so. Hay and asparagus rather than green grass. The fruit is lime and some guava, I think, rather than gooseberry. The best is the dry finish.

If you must drink Sauvignon Blanc, you could do worse than this Cloudy Bay, in fact you probably would.

Score: 89/+

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Chateau Lynch-Bages

Chateau Lynch-Bages is one of those Estates which clearly punches above the weight of its classification (5th growth). Finding such wines is often a good opportunity, but in this case, the word is truly out, and it is reflected in the price.

The 2000 Lynch-Bages, at 12 years of age, is still youthful, but drinking well now. This is a full bodied Cabernet blend, classically proportioned. The blackcurrant flavours are intense, even dense, but not overripe. The wine is not heavy. The flavours go down the palate, unchanged from start to a lengthy finish. This is quite a linear wine despite its weight. Silky tannins engulf the fruit flavours elegantly.

Using the descriptors I have discussed a few weeks ago, this wine rates very high on clarity, distinctiveness, grace, balance, deliciousness and persistence, and a bit lower on complexity, modesty and low on paradox.

Score: 96/+++

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Occam's Razor Shiraz

Emily Laughton has to be one of the nicest and most generous wine makers alive. I was scheduled for a tasting at Jasper Hill several years ago, but at the last minute, Ron and his wife could not make it. They asked daughter Emily to do it in their place. She had to drive back from Melbourne to Heathcote after she had attended a pop festival and had two hours sleep. So there she was, on a Sunday, slightly hung over, going through the wines with great enthusiasm. She gave us all the opened bottles "nobody else coming today" and then asked where we would have dinner. This was not a silly question for Heathcote in those years and on a Sunday. We were not sure. She then offered us lamb chops from the freezer. This was too much, we had to decline, and yes we did manage to find some food. Also, I had to buy a few bottles of her own wine.

Occam's Razor is not such a bad name -  it means in layman terms: if in doubt keep it simple. The 2005 Occam's Razor Shiraz is a full bodied wine, showing concentrated plum and blackberry flavours. The fruit is not as pristine and concentrated as the Georgia's Paddock or as complex as Emily's Paddock (get it?), but it is an agreeable wine. Earthy flavours have developed, and the 15% alcohol are carried by fruit and firm tannins. The structure is good and while not overly elegant, the wine is not hot.

Score: 91/+

Monday, September 24, 2012

Rieslings from 2012

I have been impressed with eight Rieslings from the 2012 vintage I recently tasted. There were quite significant differences between the wines, though.

The 2012 Larry Cherubino Ad Hoc Wallflower and the 2012 O'Leary Walker Polish Hill showed less fruit  and volume than the other Rieslings. They were both quite dry and not as linear as I would have liked. However, both wines would be good summer lunch drinking ( 89 and 88 points).

The 2012 Clos Clare Riesling from the famous Florita vineyard and the 2012 Grosset Springvale Riesling are  more floral than the first two wines. Both are based on citrus, but softer wines. I found the Grosset a bit fruity, but showing great purity (92 and 92 points). The KT Peglidis, also from Watervale, was tighter with a strong fruit core (92 points).

The 2012 Henschke Julius Riesling from Eden Valley had almost no colour. A light wine with quite an acidic aftertaste (90 points).

The 2012 Grosset Polish Hill is indeed a special wine, as a number of reviewers have pointed out. The citrus flavours are very clean, linear and focussed. The wine has incredible length for a Riesling. It drinks well now, but I would suggest to drink half of a case in one year, as a young wine, and half starting in 8-10 years (96 points).

An interesting wine is the 2012 Grosset Alea Off Dry. This wine is broader, with a complex flavour spectrum from citrus to orange peel. The wine is not sweet by any means and has a long finish. This is a very interesting wine, different from the 'dry Australian' mould, but not 'sweet Germanic' either (93 points).

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Value of Vintage Ratings

My recent experiences raise the question of the value of vintage ratings. My observations are that they are not very reliable, maybe even misleading.

For example, in my recent tastings, I found the 2001 wines quite good, whereas the 2002 Mount Edelstone was over the hill (pardon the pun). Initially, nobody talked about the quality of 2001, but wine writers raved about 2002. It is clear that warmer vintages, with more initial appeal and ripeness get higher ratings. This does not mean that they produce better wines.

A major example of this trend was the 2000 vintage in Piedmont. It initially received 100 points by Wine Spectator and was hailed the best vintage in Italy ever. At a tasting a little while ago, it was revised down to 93 points, as the wines were found a little forward and not so well structured as in other years.

For those who can remember, the same happened with 1990 in Australia. Later, many writers found wines from 1991 better structured (although it must be said that 1990 produced some excellent wines).

The other argument against vintage ratings, of course, is that there is a lot of variation between wineries and vineyards.

So why do we have vintage ratings and why do they seem to be influential? One reason, I suspect, is that winemakers often rate the last vintage the best ever and if the weather was hot, the grapes got in just before the heatwave and if the weather was cold, the grapes got extra hang time etc. You can't really blame the wineries, they need to market their product, but vintage ratings are probably not a good counter balance.

The best test is your own taste. Before you commit to a case, buy a bottle. And once you have gained some experience, you will be able to tell which characteristics might serve a wine well in the future.

Henschke Mount Edelstone 2001

After having experienced the quite rapid ripening of the 2002 Mount Edelstone, I decided to open a 2001 Henschke Mount Edelstone, the oldest vintage I still have.

The fruit in this wine is not as intense as in the 2002, but there is sufficient complexity with smoky and meaty flavours delivering a good balance. The structure of the wine is good, with firm tannins and underlying acidity. This wine is not super elegant, but expressive and well suited to slow cooked meat dishes.

Score: 91/+

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Torbreck Les Amis

Continuing my 2001 theme, I opened a bottle of the Torbreck Les Amis Grenache. Maybe I should not have, as this was my last bottle from 2001, the first vintage of this wine. This wine is rare in Australia, as it was originally made for and shipped to a restaurant in Singapore.

Dave Powell, Torbeck's owner and winemaker, specializes in Rhone varieties. While he is probably best known for his powerful Shirazes, I think his special skill is with Grenache. His other popular Grenache is the GSM blend 'The Steading'. He manages to make very profound wines from this variety. Les Amis is a single vineyard wine, made from old dry grown bush vines in Marananga/Seppeltsfield.

This 2001 Les Amis tastes of raspberry and earthy flavours.  The wine is big and quite ripe. Its main feature is its enormously full mouthfeel, and there is enough structure to give it a long finish. The wine has silky aspects, but is dominated by a fleshy finish. This wine is not for everybody, it can be overwhelming. You may wish to share a bottle with six others.

Score: 93/+

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon

Following on from the unusual Mount Edelstone experience, I decided to open a stalwart of the Australian wine industry, a  mature Wynns Cabernet. This 2001 Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon delivered exactly what I expected.

The blackcurrant still dominates, but the wine has mellowed and shows savoury characteristics as well. The firm tannins have softened somewhat. This is never a wine which wins in the 'elegance' stakes or the 'most fruit concentration' stakes, but the wine has a good structure and a long finish. It is perfect with steak, and perfect to drink now.

Score: 91/++

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Henschke Mount Edelstone: How A Wine Can Change

In 2010, I posted a glowing review of the 2002 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz. It had received very high scores on release by professional wine writers. A little while ago I read a note by someone (I cannot remember who) that this wine is aging fast and should be drunk immediately. I have three bottles of this wine left, so I thought I might see what it was like.

When I opened a bottle, the signs were mixed. The cork was firm and tight, but as I was pouring the wine, it showed quite a brown colour next to the traditional deep black. The wine obviously has aged quite quickly.  This was confirmed on the palate. There was still a complex flavour spectrum, now dominated by chocolaty flavours and dried prunes. The fruit is clearly overripe, not totally unpleasant, but far from perfect. This is quite unusual for the 2002 vintage which was quite cool. I am puzzled how this could have happened.

My advice to everybody owning this wine: drink it quickly. You may still enjoy it, but I am sure you will not in another two years time. What a shame!

Score: 88/--

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Madfish Grandstand Sauvignon Blanc

I usually review quite expensive wines, I must admit, but sometimes I come across a cheap wine which is quite reasonable in quality. The 2011 Madfish Grandstand Sauvignon Blanc is such a wine. Madfish generally provides good value for money wines.

This Sauvignon Blanc has typical gooseberry flavours. It has a strong acidic backbone, but the wine is not overly herbaceous. The wine is crisp on the palate without residual sweetness. I do not drink much Sauvignon Blanc, but I can recommend this wine as a good alternative to the New Zealand quaffers.

Score: 88/+

Monday, September 3, 2012

Kosta Browne Russian River Pinot Noir

Kosta Browne appeared on the California Pinot Noir scene as the new star a few years ago. You have to be sceptical when a new winery without track record suddenly gets elevated to such an extent. However, the 2007 Kosta Browne Russian River Pinot Noir could easily justify such a position.

This blended wine tastes of red and black cherry, it is intense, but seductive at the same time with floral flavours sitting on top of the fruit. This wine is very smooth. Its silkiness follows the palate and ends with an expanding finish. This is really satisfying drinking, and at five years the wine hits the sweet spot.

Score: 96/+++  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Thomas Wines Braemore Semillon

One of the natural food and wine matches for me are seared tuna and aged Semillon.  Bruce Tyrell said not long ago that he owned four of the five best Semillon vineyards in the Hunter Valley, and one day he will own the 5th. It is relatively safe to speculate that the 5th vineyard he was referring to was the Braemore vineyard. The mature vines of this outstanding vineyard live on sandy alluvial flats near Hermitage Road.

Yesterday I had the 2005 Thomas Wines Braemore Semillon. Andrew Thomas has been the new bright star in the Hunter, so no wonder that the combination of outstanding fruit source and winemaker produces high quality wines. This now seven year old wine is still very fresh and even zesty. Complexity is not really what Semillon can deliver, but this wine has great purity and balance. Toasty characters are only just starting to come through. In terms of what I was looking for, I opened this wine 3 to 5 years too early. It showed in this slightly awkward window between fresh characteristics and mellowing. No doubt, it has the structure to live for a long time.

Score: 92/++

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pinot Noir Australia, part 2

I focussed on premium wines from Victoria. In no particular order:

Farr Rising, 2011: A pretty wine from a challenging vintage. The wine is light bodied, in the strawberry flavour spectrum. Maintains savoury characteristics (90 points)

By Farr 'Sangreal', 2010: A refined wine with raspberry flavours. This wine has depth and a long finish (93)

Ocean Eight, 2010: A wine with good weight, red cherry flavours, the finish is a bit abrupt (91)
Ocean Eight, Aylward, 2009: A more elegant wine with good length (92)

Yarraloch, Stephanies Dream, 2010: Strawberry and red cherry flavours. Structure a bit suspect with a drop of impact on the back palate (90)

Curly Flat, 2007: After the stellar 2006, I was quite critical of this wine on release, given the colour of this unfiltered wine was very cloudy. The clarity in the colour has improved somewhat, but it is still not transparent. A funky wine in the strawberry spectrum, quite long (91)

Savaterre, 2009: Strawberry flavours, but an unappealing texture in this wine. Some length (90)

Narkoojee Reserve, 2009: A stinky wine (86)

Willow Creek Benedictus, 2008: What you would have expected from earlier Mornington Peninsula wines. A little sweet (90)

Giaconda, 2010: Cherry and savoury flavours, silky tannins, but lacks mouthfeel (92)

William Downie, Gippsland, 2011: Light wine, silky aspects, a brave effort for the year (90)
William Downie, Yarra Valley, 2011: A light wine with savoury notes and some definition (90)

Kooyong Massale, 2011: A light wine, bright, strawberry flavours (88)
Kooyong Estate, 2008: More concentrated, of course. Good length in this wine and an expanding finish (93)

Coldstream Hill, Deer Farm, 2010: A smooth wine, a bit shallow and fruity (90)
Coldstream Hill Reserve, 2010: Cherry flavours, good solid structure, a bit fruity, but nice acidity (92)

Stonier Reserve, 2010: Disappointing: light strawberry flavours (91)

Port Phillip Estate, 2010: A smart wine with cherry flavours and savoury characteristics. Dry tannins on the finish (93)
Port Phillip Estate, Morillon, 2009: very minty (90)

Medhurst, 2011: light, quite minty also (88)

Paringa Estate, 2009: black cherry (not as big as in some previous years), good depth and length (93)
Paringa Estate 'The Paringa', 2008: this is the wine previously named Reserve. This cherry flavoured wine is elegant and silky with some length and good structure, but it is edging towards $100/bottle (94)
Overall impressed with the Paringa wines.

Tyrrell's Vat6, 2009: A positive surprise. Focus on structure, not fruit. Silky, burgundian style with good length (94)

Mount Mary, 2010: Most expensive wine of the tasting. Red cherry flavours. An elegant wine, beautiful in the mouth, finishes a bit short (93)

Wantirna, 2010: Disappointing. Pretty, but light (90)

Toolangi, Estate, 2008: Cherry flavours, quite fruity and somewhat broad. Good complexity with savoury elements and some length (91)

Bannockburn, 2009: A real departure from the past. Used to be quite burgundian, whereas this wine tastes of black cherries and is quite intense. It is elegant at the same time with good length (93)
Bannockburn, Stuart, 2010: A reserve wine. More in the strawberry/savoury spectrum. It lacks acidity (92)



Saturday, August 25, 2012

Pinot Noir Australia, part 1

In my town, in Sydney, you could go to wine tastings three or four times a week However, you could count really good comparative tastings on one hand in a year. One of those is Pinot Noir Australia by The Woollahra Hotel. Current releases from almost all the major Pinot Noir producers are available for tasting. Notable absentees this year were Bindi and Bass Phillip.

In this post, I will give some general impressions, part 2 will have individual reviews.

1) The 2011 vintage is really not good. The wines from it are light and watery (this is Pinot Noir, and probably all reds). Sure, you may find the odd well structured wine, but wouldn't a producer who is capable of doing this, produce a much better wine in 2010 or 2012?

2) The Mornington Peninsula wines, which I have always regarded as Shiraz drinkers' Pinot Noirs because of their deep colour and cherry/plum flavours, are generally lighter and more structured now and more varied, depending on producer and location.

3) There is no particular trend. We seem to be still in an experimentation phase. Tasting profiles of brands change. Australian Pinot Noir has overcome its 'fruity' phase, but I would like to see more expanding finishes of the wines - which is the whole reason for the wide Pinot Noir glasses.

4) The more expensive reserve style or single block wines are often not better. They tend to be more elegant, but often less expressive. Character or personality in the wine is shaved off. Price is a function of volume in this case.

So there you have it. Reviews to follow.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

German Pinot Noir

The second surprise I had on my travels was to discover the emergence of excellent German Pinot Noir at a fraction of the cost of its French counterparts. This is largely due to the warm summers in Germany in recent years, which have allowed full flavour development. Many of the vines are quite old and can deliver excellent flavour profiles and structure.

Pinot Noir in German is called Spaetburgunder or Blauburgunder. A variant of this is Fruehburgunder, which is a mutation of Pinot Noir, called Pinot Noir Precoce in France. This is an interesting grape, as it ripens earlier ('frueh'), yet has arguably fuller flavour development than regular Pinot Noir.

An excellent example of this is Weingut Beck Hedesheimer Hof from the Rheinhessen region. I drank the 2007 Fruehburgunder. This is an excellent wine. It is quite full-flavoured, and  tastes of black cherry, blackberry and cranberry. The wine is vibrant, clean and elegant, and it expands along the palate.This early ripening wine comes in at 14% alcohol, but it is not obvious. Give this type of wine a try when in Germany. It is not exported, as far as I know.

Score: 94/+++

South African Pinotage

Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, not a blend, but an actual crossing of these two French varieties which somehow happened in South Africa some decades ago. As a result, it has become South Africa's signature grape. While South African Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz have come to the fore in the ever increasing trend of wine internationalisation, it is actually Pinotage which is much more interesting.

When I visited South Africa some ten years ago, its red wines were rustic and earthy most of the time, and not very refined. On this visit, I was pleasantly surprised about the general quality improvement. I did not taste expensive wines there, mainly bottles in the $15 to $25 per bottle range. There is no point to individually review them for this audience, but my impression of the Pinotages was generally this: The wines were well structured and elegant. They showed generous fruit flavours and often had floral and lifted characteristics. The Cinsault makes this wine weightier than a  Pinot Noir, delivering a very satisfying mouthfeel. Lighter than Cabernet or Shiraz, they accompanied food really well. The better ones had satisfying lasting finishes.

When you have a chance, try a Pinotage. I found it intriguing and worth while.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Kristall Kellerei, Namibia

Posting has been a bit quiet lately, as I am travelling in Africa. A couple of days ago I visited one of three wineries in Namibia. It is in an unlikely spot, translated to Australia, north of Rockhampton. There is no winemaking or -drinking culture in Namibia, and the operation is incredibly primitive and naive: "Last year I needed to harvest very early, as I was going on holidays." Overall production is less than 1000 cases, all sold locally. They bottle in 500g bottles, which is neat. I will upload pictures later, I have difficulty doing it from the ipad. The vineyards do not look well, nor do the wines. They make a Colombard, which actually underwent a further fermentation in the bottle. It therefore was a little fizzy. The wine was unbalanced and would not be allowed to be exported if it was made in Australia. A clear wine fault - not rated. The red wine was a curious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet and Tinta Barocca. It was pleasant, but had no real structure and a short finish - more like alcoholic grape juice (80 points). You have to be a real enthusiast to run such a venture. The lucky thing for the owner is there is very little competition. Locals who want to drink home grown wine will try his, and probably do not know better. He is able to sell his annual production at about $10 per bottle, I think.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2001 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon is widely regarded as the best for the last ten years (what is it with the 1s? The 91 is brilliant). It is a very powerful wine, concentrated, yet still very lively. The colour is deep purple, the flavours blackberry and mulberry. The wine is ripe, but not sweet. All the pieces fit harmoniously together. The firm tannins, screw cap and  underlying acidity will deliver a very long lived wine, at least another ten years. This is as full bodied as a Californian cult wine, but with a lot more life in it.

Is this an example why Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of grapes? A Shiraz with this power and ripeness might be falling apart now. Using the descriptors in the last post, I would tick distinctiveness, balance, deliciousness, complexity, persistence and paradox, not so much grace, clarity and modesty.

Score: 97/+++

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Describing Wine

During the last week, I came across a couple of interesting articles about ways in which to describe wine. Tim White, the wine writer for the Australian Financial Review, uses very detailed descriptors for the wines he reviews. He was upset in his article that a journalist called  wine reviewers which are specific about aromas poncy people. He goes on to defend that he can distinguish all these flavours. My problem with Mr. White's reviews is a different one. Not that he might not be able to differentiate aromas, but that he uses food items as analogy which 99% of the population have never tasted. What is the point of such a description?

The other is an article by Terry Theise from three years ago, where he introduces a different set of principles by which wine experiences can be described and communicated. They are

He believes that in contrast power, sweetness, ripeness and concentration are overrated. Fruit or food comparisons do not even rate a mention.

Some of the above dimensions are frequently used, some are quite appealing to me, such as distinctiveness (uniqueness) and paradox (personality?), in particular as I was reflecting on the tasting described in my last post. But I cannot help myself but think that Mr. Theise is a Burgundy and not a Bordeaux fan. Grange would not score well on grace or modesty, yet it is a remarkable and highly valued wine.

The now regarded  as old fashioned spectrum between femininity and masculinity in wine is hardly enough to get an understanding of a wine from reading a review, but Tim White's detailed approach is often not more helpful.

I have stuck to fairly simple flavour and structure distinctions, which often relate to fruits, ripeness and concentration. The listing above cannot sensibly replace this, in my view, but it made me think to give some of these dimensions more prominence in the future.

What do you think? What is most valuable to you?  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Superstar Shiraz Tasting

The most reputable wines are generally not entered into wine shows. It is therefore not often that one finds an opportunity to compare the best wines of a kind in a tasting. This post reports from such a tasting. It compared leading current release Shiraz wines from the different Australian regions plus the Rhone. The wines were

- Auguste Clape Cornas 2008
- Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2010
-Giaconda Estate Shiraz 2010
-Bests Thompson Family Shiraz 2010
-Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2009
-Wolf Blass Platinum Shiraz 2008
-Gaelic Cemetery Vineyard Shiraz 2008
-Henschke Hill of Grace 2006
-Penfolds Grange 2007

Generally speaking, in such a line-up, the point is not to identify good and not so good wines, but to identify how the styles differ. In fact, two wines did not quite deliver, but more interesting was the wide spectrum which Shiraz can express. The order of the wines was supposed to reflect the increasing weight of the wine.

The Auguste Clape Cornas is from the most southern area of the Northern Rhone, i.e. the warmest area which delivers pure or near pure Shiraz in the Rhone region. Auguste Clape is one of the most highly regarded producers. As is nearly always the case, French wines do not come out too well in comparative tastings with Australian wines, as their fruit concentration simply does not match the Australian wines. However, this wine shows complex raspberry and cherry flavours and spice. It has a dry finish - an excellent food wine (94 points).

The Viognier component is very noticeable in the 2010 Clonakilla. The wine has a similar fruit profile to the French wine, but is more fragrant, with a lifted finish (94 points).

The Giaconda Shiraz is not from the Warner vineyard, but the Estate vineyard next to the winery. Kitzbrunner believes that this vineyard will ultimately deliver the better wine. I do not think this is happening yet. I found this wine disappointing and lacking in mouthfeel. It is a darker wine, tasting of blackberry and spice, but not much intensity. The finish is dry and not very long (92 points).

The Bests wine has a similar blackberry flavour, but more depth of fruit and length. It shows some mint on the palate and some traditional oak treatment, but it is a clear and vibrant wine (93 points).

The Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz is a step up in power. The wine is quite oaky, and the tannins are coarse on the palate. I find that the blackberry, plum and mint flavours do not quite stand up to this (93 points).

More  sweet vanilla oak flavours come through on the Wolf Blass wine, as expected. However, there is good fruit underneath and some silkiness in the tannins coming through (92 points).

The second wine which disappointed was the Gaelic Cemetery from the Clare Valley. I am not familiar with this small production wine, but found it quite sweet and sugary, and not based on a great structure (90 points).

The Henschke Hill of Grace was as expected. A gentle wine, not dissimilar to the Cornas, actually. Raspberry fruit and spices (not pepper) lead to a complex flavour mix. There is good upfront fruit, and soft tannins lead to a sustained finish (95 points).

What makes the Penfolds Grange stand out from the wines before is the intensity and length of flavour. This is a big wine, less refined than some of the others, but a unique expression of Shiraz (96 points).

Given the price of these wines, there was a considerable tasting fee for this tasting - fair enough. In parallel, another tasting of less expensive Shirazes was held for free. There were two wines there which I could have seen in this group from a quality point of view.

The Seppelt St. Peters Shiraz 2008 is a lighter wine, quite spicy, and not with the same mouthfeel as the others, but fine tannins to finish off with (90 points).

The John Duval Entity Shiraz 2010 was a highlight. It has a complex fruit set, in the raspberry, blackberry, mulberry spectrum. The wine is very harmonious and has a firm finish. His best effort yet (93 points).

Within one hour, I tasted wine worth more than $2000. Yet overall, I did not feel elated, but rather flat and disappointed. Why? Did my high expectations make it hard to be excited? I do not think so. I was there to have a good time. Did the wines all taste the same? They certainly did not. So what was it? I think in the end it was the predictability of what I found. There were no surprises. And while the quality was good and the wines were not overblown, they strangely lacked personality, as if a robot went through the motions of producing the expected product, bottle by bottle.

Any thoughts?    

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock

Onto another wine from 2002. This time it is the 2002 Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock. This wine is from a mature, organically grown and low yielding vineyard. It is dominated by redcurrant flavours, supported by white pepper and earthy notes. The wine is complex and lively, with firm tannins and good length.

This is how I expect a first class Shiraz to taste after ten years. It  still shows vibrant fruit, but mellow characters have increased the complexity. The wine has good weight, but is not heavy. As you finish your first glass, you are looking forward to the second.

Score: 94/++

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Two Hands Ares Shiraz

The Ares is the 'best of best grapes' Shiraz of this Shiraz specialist. The 2002 Two Hands Ares Shiraz demonstrates why this is a problematic approach. 'Best of best' means automatically the ripest and most concentrated grapes. As a result, this is a very dark wine, tasting of plum and blackberry, and overwhelmingly thickness and sweetness. It is one of those wines where you cannot drink more than one glass. Having said this, the wine is not poorly made. It is still relatively lively at 10 years, the berries do not taste burnt, but there is no differentiation in the wine, rather a big, black mouthfull. The wine is rated at 14.5% alcohol, which is not uncommon for Barossa Shiraz, but it feels more like 15.5%. The wine is not hot, though, because of the impressive fruit concentration.

At the end of the day, this is a misguided effort. The wine is expensive because it is rare. It is rare, because it only uses the ripest and most concentrated grapes. These grapes make the wine hard to swallow. And who would want to survive an evening on one glass of wine?

Score: 91/--

Friday, June 29, 2012

Mac Forbes Gruener Veltiner

Gruener Veltiner is becoming a much sought after variety. To date, very little is grown in Australia. The variety is native to Austria, where Mac Forbes has worked  since 2004. As a result, we see some of his Austrian Veltiner in Australia. The 2010 Mac Forbes Gruener Veltiner is a vibrant wine, tasting of pear, mild spices and minerality. It has quite a full mouthfeel, and the texture is very balanced.  The wine finishes dry and fresh. It is delicious.

This wine is well suited to a variety of foods, in particular salads and Thai/Vietnamese dishes. I would not cellar the wine to take advantage of its current vibrancy.

Score: 92/+++

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Craggy Range New Releases

The first wine was the 2010 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay. Now this is strange, as this soil is really well suited for red wines. I was informed that only 3 out of the 104ha vineyard are planted to Chardonnay, however. The wine has a floral nose, and a light to medium body. The wine is a little sweet and not very differentiated in its flavour, but there is some length on the finish. Maybe 3ha too many? (86 points).

The 2010 Craggy Range Calvert Vineyard Pinot Noir comes from Central Otago, where Craggy Range shares this vineyard with Felton Road. Alas! This wine is nowhere near as good as the Felton Road. It tastes of red cherry, but is flat, with a metallic aftertaste. (86 points). Craggy Range has the Te Muna property in Martinborough, which produces a much better Pinot Noir.

The 2010 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Merlot was also disappointing. It tastes like lollipops, is quite flat and alcoholic (84 points).

The final wine was the highly acclaimed 2009 Craggy Range Le Sol. This is a very agreeable Shiraz, which ticks all the boxes. It tastes of dark berries (blue and black) and peppery spice. The soft texture is achieved through the velvety dry tannins. The wine is elegant and has excellent length. This wine is sometimes called a cool climate Shiraz, but it has more weight and mouthfeel than many Victorian Shirazes. (96 points).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bindi Pinot Noir

I drank the 2004 Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir the other night. Was I at peace with myself? I probably was, but so was this Bindi flagship wine. This wine is so harmonious, with excellent balance between dark cherry fruit, savoury charcteristics, oak and dry and dusty tannins. While this wine is at the bigger end of the Pinot Noir spectrum, there are no extremes here. The wine has some ethereal quality to it, rare of an Australian wine. Very satisfying.

Score: 95/+++

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cullen vs. Moss Wood

By chance, I had an opportunity to taste recent releases by Cullen and Moss Wood within three days. As it happened, these wines were a very similar line-up, so I thought I might put short reviews side by side. One thing to point out is that in a couple of cases, the Cullen wines are released a year younger, but all the vintages represented are pretty good.

1) Semillon

The 2011 Cullen Sauvignon Blanc Semillon was no doubt picked very young. It tastes almost like grape juice. The wine is very fresh and clean (86 points). The 2011 Moss Wood Semillon is richer, with a focus on texture and a mineral finish. This style is more Barossa than Hunter Valley (88 points). Both wines would not be my picks of this variety.

2) Chardonnay

The 2010 Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay tastes of a complex set of fruits: citrus, peach and passion fruit are prominent. The wine is quite fruity and I am missing the structure of earlier vintages (89 points). The 2009 Moss Wood Chardonnay is a step up in the Chardonnay stakes for this producer. The flavour is similar to the Cullen, but with more weight. 40% new oak adds creaminess to the wine, but it is well balanced with sufficient acidity on the finish (92 points).

3) Cabernet/Merlot

The second Cabernet label of both producers is disappointing. In previous years, some provided great value for money. The  2010 Cullen Cabernet Merlot is fruity, with a short finish (85 points). The 2010 Moss Wood Amy's Cabernet Blend includes 20% of Petit Verdot. As a result, the wine is quite inky, fruit forward, with a flat mouthfeel and a short finish (86 points).

4) Cabernet Sauvignon

I reviewed the 2010 Cullen Diana Madeline in detail on 11 June, no need to repeat this here. For the 2009 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, it is early days yet. Blackcurrant flavours dominate. There is mulberry and some attractive spice. This wine is much more extracted than the Cullen. Some reviewers may find this too much, but I like the rich fruit and ripe tannins in this wine. Will it be an all time great, as claimed by Keith Mugford? I am not going there, yet, but I will enjoy reviewing the wine again in a few years time (94 points).

Cullen and Moss Wood are the pinnacle of Margaret River wines (add Leeuwin Chardonnay). On this basis, these tastings were a little disappointing. Only the flagship wines were really good, without being classics, in my view. You make a clear choice between producers. Cullen is about freshness and linearity, Moss Wood about fruit concentration and weight.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Barossa Valley Estate E&E Shiraz

Barossa Valley Estate, the large co-operative in the Barossa, has gone through ownership changes in the last 10 years, and a number of winemakers. However, it has access to some of the best fruit in the valley, and this shines through in their flagship wine.

The 2002 Barossa Valley Estate E&E Shiraz is a full bodied Shiraz, mainly sourced from the Northern Barossa, in particular the Ebenezer area. This wine is still quite vibrant, with dark berry flavours, in particular blackberry and mulberry, hitting the palate first up. Mocca flavours are prominent on the mid-palate, where earthy flavours start to develop as well. Alcohol is noticeable without being hot. The wine has sweetness, but the fruit does not taste burnt. This wine is complex, yet quite harmonious, with firm tannins. The finish is somewhat fruity, but also silky.

The 2002 E&E is an excellent example of a well made wine from ripe fruit. At 10 years, it still has a number of years ahead of it.

Score: 95/+

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bowen Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

I had great hopes for this 2004 Bowen Cabernet Sauvignon. I drank this wine shortly after it was released, and it showed terrific, terra rossa infused fruit, and also, I have experienced excellent aged Bowen wines. However, this wine does not quite deliver.

The  blackcurrant fruit is still quite prominent, but secondary, earthy characters have developed as well. The wine has lost some of its elegance, and is not very harmonious on the palate. There is a certain sharpness on the finish. The result: it tastes like a typical Aussie red, before modern winemaking skills were applied: a bit rough and unrefined.

Score: 89/-

Monday, June 11, 2012

Has Vanya Cullen gone too far this time?

We like people with character or personality. By this we mean people who stand out a bit, be it with their features, points of view or other personality traits. For me, it is similar with wine. I like my wine to stand out, to be different.

Vanya Cullen has been a prominent spokesperson for the organic and biodynamic movement. I reported in an earlier post that I felt the vibrancy of fruit in the flagship Diana Madeline wine has increased during the last 10 years. She has also been very focussed on reducing alcohol levels with an objective to get them under 13%. The highly acclaimed 2009 had 12.5% alcohol. With these objectives, she is right in the trend of all the major wine critics. It is therefore no surprise that the 2010 wine achieved very good reviews as well.

Leaving all trendiness aside, how attractive is the 2010 Cullen Diana Madeline? It is instructive to start with the vintage. 2010 continues the run of good vintages at Margaret River. It is reported as another warm vintage. However, in reality, spring and autumn were relatively cool, interrupted by a heat spike in February.

Now on to the wine. It has a lovely, quite floral nose. On the palate, the flavour is predominantly redcurrant. It is the first Australian Cabernet I would describe as light bodied, and the result is that the mouthfeel is somewhat lacking. The tannins are very soft for a Cabernet, and while there is some length on the finish, it seems to fizzle out. This is clearly a wine of great purity, but I ask myself: if the grapes had been picked a little later, would the wine have had more flavour or personality? I think, yes. No doubt, the fruit is good and the wine is well made. It is therefore a matter of preference. I think potential greatness has been left on the table here.

Another matter: Cullen releases its wines very early. I find it almost impossible to appreciate a Cabernet at less than two years of age. Given the success of the winery, could the red wines not be held back for another couple of years?

Score: 93/0     

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Shaw + Smith Tasting

Shaw + Smith is a classy winery, and if you have not tried any of their wines, I encourage you to do so. I visited the modern winery in the Adelaide Hills for the first time a couple of weeks ago. The tasting is a seated affair, with their four wines and some cheese. (Cheese numbs the palate. Why does it get served at tastings? Not everything the French do is sensible.)

The Shaw + Smith Sauvignon Blanc is probably regarded as the best from Australia. On tasting was the 2011 Shaw + Smith Sauvignon Blanc. I am not a great fan of this variety, and I could not warm to this wine, either.  It tastes of lime and passionfruit. It does not have the grassiness of the New Zealand counterparts, but is rather fruity and a little sweet. The wine is vibrant and crisp, though (88/- points).

The 2010 Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay is a terrific expression of the variety. The peach flavours are fresh and clean, and the wine is quite complex as a result of the oak treatment, wild yeast fermentation, and the application of malolactic fermentation to 33% of the wine. The wine does not taste overworked at all, but shows great purity and seamlessness. This is one of my favorite Chardonnays (94/+++ points).

The 2010 Shaw + Smith Pinot Noir is quite a small production. It is a light to medium bodied expression of cool climate fruit, mainly in the strawberry spectrum. The wine is quite savoury and fruit friendly. Again,  the purity of flavours stands out (92/++ points).

The 2009 Shaw + Smith Shiraz has won a lot of friends lately. It is a cool climate style, more cherry than dark  fruits, with white pepper coming through. The wine finishes with firm, dry tannins (93/++ points).

The portfolio of these wines is most impressive. Shaw + Smith only make four wines. Great skill and focus is applied to each of them. Cleanliness and purity of  fruit flavour is a key aspect of their style. They stand well on their own, but are also great food wines. I would drink these wines fairly young to experience the vibrancy, but they have good acid balance and should mature fairly well.  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Rockford Cabernet Sauvignon

Following the Rockford luncheon (see last post), I went on to the cruise on the Murray on the PS Marion, the Rockford restored paddle steamer. Needless t say, there was plenty more food and drink.

We tried a very rare 2005 Rockford Home Block Cabernet Sauvignon. You are unlikely to be able to track this wine down, but I am reviewing it here, as it displayed typical Barossa Cabernet characteristics (as opposed to Margaret River or Coonawarra). It comes from a little block of vines next to the winery.

This wine showed the expected black- and redcurrant flavours, but it was also quite floral on the nose. These flavours expanded on the palate, delivering a big mouthfeel. While Margaret River tend to move from front to back palate, this wine, typical for Barossa, seemed to touch the tongue receptors all at once. There are capsicum flavours as well, before the wine finishes on firm tannins with good length. The wine is elegant, but has a bigger feel than Cabernet from Margaret River and Coonawarra. This was certainly a muscular, yet varietal wine.

Score: 93/++

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

An 18 year old Rockford

A little while ago, I raved about a 1994 Mt. Edelstone. I would now like to report on a 1994 Rockford Basket Press Shiraz. I had an opportunity to drink this wine at a Stone Wallers Lunch at the Rockford winery. These are luncheons which are prepared for Stone Wallers, the loyal mailing list customers of Rockford. I do not normally report on food, but this is an extraordinary event, so I copied the menu, which is predominantly sourced from the winemaker's garden onto this blog. 

I was too preoccupied with the event to take notes on the other wines, which were all very good, so here is the Basket Press: This wine still had astonishing freshness, while at the same time it had developed very attractive complexity. Blackberry, plum and mulberry flavours blended in with savoury mocca tones. On the back palate, fine grained silky tannins delivered an elegant and very smooth and long finish. This was the best Basket Press I have tried (I have not tried too many).

Score: 96/+++

This experience let me reflect on the 1994 vintage. It was somewhat cool and not nearly as highly regarded as 1996 and 1998, for example. They were warmer vintages with more immediate appeal, and as a result, wines received more accolades on release from these vintages. However, if a winery has access to old and low yielding vines, the results from cooler vintages can be very rewarding. The higher levels of acidity carry these wines into a long life with increased flavour complexity, as the Rockford Basket Press and Henschke Mount Edelstone have proven. The moral of the story: do not get too carried away with vintage reports. It is the individual wine which counts.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tasmania, part 3

The next stop was Pooley Wines. The focus here is on Pinot Noir. The 2010 Pooley Coal River Pinot Noir has a fresh and vibrant feel, tasting of dark cherry, and is well structured (91 points). The 2008 Butchers Hill Pinot Noir stems from a young vineyard. It is a simpler wine, fashioned in a savoury mould (88 points). The 2008 Pooley Family Reserve Pinot Noir was the highlight. It comes from a 25 year old vineyard, not so common in Tasmania. It is quite floral and feminine on the nose. The palate shows plum and berry fruits leading to a finish with very fine tannins (92 points).

The final stop was the Meadowbank winery. The tasting room is quite a showpiece. However, the many labels make the wine tasting experience a bit confusing. I tried four Pinot Noirs. I found the 2007 Meadowbank Pinot Noir quite fruity, with a short finish (86 points). The 2008 Frogmore Creek Pinot Noir was more agreeable. It showed red and black cherry flavours and quite fine tannins. However, the wine is not totally seamless (89 points). The 2007 Meadowbank Henry James Winemaker's Blend is a step up from the standard wine, with more intensity of dark cherry fruit. It remains fruit orientated and not very complex for its price point (89 points). Finally, the 2008 Ticklebelly Pinot Noir is more savoury, but not very harmoneous (86 points).

My overall impressions: Tasmanian wines continue to improve, but there is considerable vintage variation due to the marginal climate. Most vineyards are still very young, less than 15 years. Therefore the wines show more brightness than fruit concentration. I think Pinot Noir and Chardonnay will remain the main game.   

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tasmania, part 2

The next stop was Derwent Estate. This was a strange experience. The cellar door was open, but you could not taste any wine. "it is not worth it at this time of year. We only sell wine". I always thought the purpose of tasting was to increase sales. Anyway..

 Domaine A was interesting, as I expected. This winery gets good marks to start with for releasing wines later when they are ready to drink. Owned by a Swiss winemaker, the wines have quite a European feel. I tried the 2007 Domaine A Pinot Noir. It had complex berry flavours with savoury undertones, but the wine was a bit lean for my liking (91 points). The 2006 Stoney Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was also quite lean and simply had not enough fruit concentration. The flagship wine, the 2005 Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon, was a different story. It had good intensity of blackberry fruit and showed an elegant texture. This is a wine built for the long haul with at least another 10-15 years of life in it - quite a unique wine in Tasmania (93 points). The Domaine A wines are expensive, but the Cabernet Sauvignon is certainly worth it.

 (to be continued...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tasmania, part 1

On a recent trip to Tasmania, I visited a number of wineries in the Southern part, not far from Hobart.

Home Hill is a new winery to me. It has been successful recently in regional shows with its Pinot Noir. The 2010 Pinot Noir has strawberry and cherry flavours. It has an attractive linear structure down the palate and good length (91 points). The 2009 Pinot Noir is similar, but does not have the same length (89 points). The 2010 Home Hill Kelly's Reserve spends twice as long (16 months) in new oak. It is a more closed wine, built on cherry flavours. It has a very dry finish (91 points). I actually preferred the freshness of the regular Pinot Noir.

The surprise at Stefano Lubiana was its 2010 Estate Chardonnay. It is a fresh wine, with complex citrus, melon and peach flavours. The wine had 20% new oak treatment. It has a linear structure and good length (92 points). Its brother, the 2010 Estate Pinot Noir is not of the same calibre. I found the fruit a little thin and therefore the oak too pronounced (90 points). I also tried the 2010 Merlot. This is clearly a cool climate wine, not plummy, with fine tannins, but the fungus flavour on the finish was a bit unpleasant (89 points).

Moorilla had a major revamp since it got 'integrated' into the stunning Museum of Old and Modern Art. Its premium brand is called Muse. It shows quite risque labels (The Pinot Noir shown below).

The 2010 Moorilla Muse Pinot Noir is very moreish - a wine for winter. It has a good mouthfeel of black cherry fruit, but the focus is on texture, which is elegant and rich. This is a wine which stands out and wants to be noticed. I liked it a lot (93/+++ points).

The other good wine was the 2010 Pinot Gris. Made in the Elsassian style, it tastes of pear, with a clean, good mouthfeel and again, excellent texture. The wine has good length.

(to be continued...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon

1998 was a great vintage in South Australia, and this 1998 Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon proves it. This wine is full bodied and powerful with a warmer climate flavour profile. There are certainly no green or herbal characters here! The blackcurrant is concentrated, actually quite thick, but not without elegance. The finish includes firm tannins, but does not quite match the impact on the front and mid palate.

This style of Cabernet is not for everybody, but there is no doubt this wine has a lasting structure. It will live for many years to come. I find the wine a bit brutish (helped by American oak), and miss the finer elements which leading Margaret River Cabernets provide.

Score: 95/+

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How long to age Australian wine

I get this question asked quite a lot. First of all, most wine, even Wendouree is made in a way today that you can drink it quite young. Second, if a wine does not taste well when young, it is highly unlikely it will come around a few years later. Thirdly, you may prefer young wine, its vibrancy and fruit domination. But for those who enjoy mellow characters and more complexity in their wines, this is what works for me.

First class Margaret River Cabernets and Blends should be matured for at least 10 years. They often drink very well at 20 years of age. I would drink the second tier at 7 to 10 years. Coonawarra Cabernet is probably similar, maybe should be drunk a bit earlier. I have less experience with it.

My sweet spot for Shiraz is 7 years. It is usually less tannic and acidic than Cabernet, but at 7 years good Shiraz displays a great blend of primary fruit and secondary characteristics. Some Shiraz comes into its prime later, e.g. Jasper Hill, Giaconda, Wendouree, Brokenwood and other Hunters. I suggest 10 years for these. With Henschke, it depends a lot on the vintage. You should experiment. Penfolds Shiraz is made to last, but improvement beyond 10 years is not so obvious, other than for great Grange years, which I would keep for at least 20 years.

With Grenache you need to capture the fruit. 5 years maturity is often enough. Pinot Noir has changed a lot. 10 years ago, I drank most at 2-3 years of age. Now, I prefer them 5 years old. Good Pinot Noir is still vibrant and fragrant at that time and will go a lot longer.

The white wine stayers are Riesling and Semillon, but they significantly change their character with age. Softness and toffee takes over from citrus. If you like this style, you get the best results from aging these wines at least 7 to 10 years. With leaner Chardonnay being produced these days, you can age good quality wines as well. I drink Leeuwin and Giaconda Chardonnay at 7 years plus, but a number of others could be matured this long as well. However, I often like a Chardonnay fresh.

A lot comes down to personal preferences, but maybe you find my experiences interesting. As an aside, the drinking windows in Jeremy Oliver's wine guide go out too far, in my experience.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

A.P. Vin Pinot Noir

Many people assume that so called 'Parker' wines are based on Cabernet Sauvignon in the US and Shiraz in Australia. Well, there are other kinds, with shocking consequences. I opened a 2007 A.P. Vin Garys' (sic!) Vineyard Pinot Noir yesterday. This maker aims to be part of the cult Pinot Noir producers of California, which means small production and high alcohol.

This particular wine certainly has good fruit concentration, but it tastes of dried prunes. The fruit is dead, there is no fragrance in this wine and it has an alcoholic after-taste. None of the desirable characteristics  a Pinot Noir is capable of, is present in this wine. It is past its best (I suppose) at five years of age.

This wine is for those who drink wine as a vehicle to consume a fair amount of alcohol. If this is your aim, you are better off with  vodka, I suggest (more efficient, less calories).

Score: 80/---

Friday, May 11, 2012

Glaetzer-Dixon Shiraz (2)

I had a comment from the winemaker, Nick Glaetzer. Not surprisingly, he did not like my post, but he only focussed on factual errors I unfortunately made.  I profoundly apologize for this and have changed my previous post accordingly.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Glaetzer-Dixon Shiraz Is the 2011 Jimmy Watson Trophy winner

The Jimmy Watson Trophy is Australia's most prestigious trophy. Last year, it was won by the 2010 Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Pere Shiraz, from Tasmania. I remain critical of this, Australia's most prestigious award for a couple of reasons.

1) Only 250 cases of this wine were made, probably the smallest amount of any trophy winner in the trophy's 50 year history. This should not be allowed for such a big accolade. I suggest 1000 cases should be the minimum to ensure a certain availability. Given the circumstances, the retailer where I tasted the wine decided you can only buy one bottle of this in a mixed dozen of - quite frankly - pretty undistinguished wines. (Well, I wouldn't buy any in any case, see below).

2) The Jimmy Watson Trophy is awarded to the 'best' one (now allowing two) year old red wine. 2011 was the first year, where the wine had to be finished and bottled. In previous years, barrel samples could be submitted. It is pretty tough, even for experienced judges, to make the right call and anticipate the maturing process correctly. Following are the winners for the last ten years:
2011: 2010 Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Pere Shiraz
2010: 2009 Joseph River Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
2009: 2008 Eden Road Long Road Hilltops Shiraz
2008: 2007 Flametree Cabernet Merlot
2007: 2006 Scarpantoni Brothers Block
2006: 2005 Shingleback D Block Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
2005: 2004 Geoff Merrill Reserve Shiraz
2004: 2003 Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon
2003: 2002 Saltram Eighth Maker Shiraz
2002: 2001 Rosemount Traditional

These were the best wines in the last ten years? Oh really? No Henschke, Penfolds, Cullen, Moss Wood, no Pinot Noir?

I have more issues with this trophy. The Chairman of judges usually plays a significant role, as he would give some guidelines for the judging. Clearly, over the last few years, the rule has been: let's go for light, less alcoholic wines. How else do you explain the 2009 winner, the 2008 Eden Road Long Road Shiraz from Hilltops?

And this is similar. I first tasted the 2008 and 2009 versions of this wine. A winemaker from Central Otago would call them pretty light Pinots. They come from very young grapes with pretty cherry flavours. For the 2010, Nick Glaetzer had access to grapes from a more mature vineyard in Southern Tasmania, and as a result, there is more depth of fruit in this wine. A small pertentage of white wine is blended into this wine. I have been told it is mainly Pinot Gris. This wine is an elegant, female kind of wine, with pretty peppers and fine grained tannins. But that's all it is: pretty (90 points).

I also tasted the 2011 Advance, and the 2008 Reveur Pinot Noir. These are light reds, not particular varietal, the 2011 a bit green, the 2008 with a better flavour profile, but no depth (85/88 points).

Shiraz Tasting

At the Penfolds tasting at Dan Murphy's, I tasted a few other Shirazes. Because of the crowded conditions, I took only a few notes. I will describe each wine with three brief characteristics.

2004 Orlando Lawson's Pathaway: fruit depth, but: very oaky, mint (86 points)

2009 Turkey Flat: plum/blackberry, mocca, fine grained tannins (93 points)

2009 Chris Ringland CR: fruity/ptetty, aniseed, simple (90 points)

2007 M. Chapoutier La Sizeranne: less big, earthy, fine dry tannins (93 points)

2010 Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy: big, hot, harsh finish (87 points)

2006 Tatachilla Foundation: berry fruit, firm finish, not much length (89 points)

2003 Elderton Command: plum, mocca, a bit coarse (91 points)

2006 Saltram No.1: plum, mint, grainy finish (90 points)

2009 Wirra Wirra RSW: plum/blackberry, elegant, not deep (91 points)

2006 Yalumba The Octavius: plum/blackberry, balanced, soft tannins (93 points)

Overall, the Barossa wines tended to be bigger than McLaren Vale, which had more elegant, but less profound wines.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Penfolds 2012 Icon Releases, Including Grange

I tasted the Penfolds icon wines at Dan Murphy's this weekend. The ambiance was not entirely conducive to a very focused assessment, but I managed to taste the Grange a couple of times, so here goes:

2007 Penfolds Grange: This wine clearly stood out from the 15 or so Shirazes tasted. What is so special about Grange? Well it is a bit like a skyscraper. It is very wide and very deep (as opposed to being high, I guess). The tannins draw the wine wide across the palate, the fruit carries it deep. The 2007 is a surprisingly good wine, given the vintage. It is quite elegant and approachable and has excellent fruit and oak balance. The finish is deep, long and dry. The question mark is about the fruit set. The flavours are good, with concentrated blackberry and mulberry dominating, but are they a bit too ripe to age gracefully? Only time will tell.

Score: 96/++

2009 Penfolds RWT: Dark fruit and a fair bit of oak dominate this wine. There is some elegance here as well, with silky tannins on the finish. Overall, a tad disappointing for its reputation. Maybe because the wine is still a baby.

Score: 93/+

2008 Penfolds St Henri: The odd man out in the Penfolds stable, as this wine does not see any new oak. The wine is fresh, with vibrant blackberry fruit. Oak is not as prominent as in the other wines, and the result is a less tannic, but also a shorter finish.

Score: 94/++

Overall, a strong set of wines. The Grange is quite exceptional, but in value for money terms, the St Henri would be my pick.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ingolby Chardonnay

The 2010 Ingolby Chardonnay delivers relatively bland citrus/melon fruit flavours. The oak adds some texture, but the wine is not complex. It is an easy drinking style, clean and dry, better than most Sauvignon Blancs.

Score: 86/0

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Felton Road Pinot Noir

Felton Road is not the oldest winery in Central Otago, but it certainly put Central Otago on the international map. Today, it produces a number of single vineyard Pinot Noirs, such as the Block 3, Block 5 or Calvert, which taste quite differently, and the standard wine, which these days is called Bannockburn, to describe the area the grapes come from. In earlier years, this wine was simply called Pinot Noir.

Today, I am reviewing the 2007 Felton Road Pinot Noir. The 2007 vintage was excellent, not too warm. It allowed a long ripening time. Often the standard wine is not as good as the 'specialties', but this wine is outstanding. It has typical black cherry flavours, augmented by mushroom and forest floor flavours. The wine is beautifully balanced between fruit and savoury characters. It delivers a big mouthfeel, yet is quite linear, with great length and silky tannins on the finish. The finish expands like a top Burgundy and stays with you for some time.

One of the best new world Pinot Noirs I have ever tasted.

Score: 96/+++

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yalumba Grenache

Yalumba has started to produce a number of single vineyard wines from the Barossa. This 2005 Yalumba Grenache is from the Tri-Centenary vineyard in Vine Vale. Is is situated next to the Cirillo vineyard on sandy soil, and the fruit comes from bush vines more than 100 years old. This wine still has a lot of fruit dominance, tasting mainly of raspberry and is quite ripe, bordering on 'hot'. This is what hits you on the front palate. On the back palate, the wine gets leaner and the smooth tannins produce a satisfying finish. The wine is clearly based on intense fruit, but I don't think it is made quite right. Toned down in ripeness and alcohol, this would be a great wine.

Score: 90/0

Sunday, April 29, 2012

McIvor Petit Verdot

It is not often that Petit Verdot is bottled separately as a varietal wine. This 2004 McIvor Petit Verdot is from Heathcote. It displays the typical inky, deep purple colour. The palate is dominated by plum and blackberry flavours. This is quite a full bodied wine with a big mouthfeel, yet it is elegant at the same time. It is a pleasant wine, with underlying soft tannins. It certainly justifies a separate bottling. The only drawback is its plump finish.
Score: 92/+

Friday, April 27, 2012

William Fevre Chablis

What is the difference between an 'ordinary' Chablis and a premier cru? It mainly is the depth of flavour (lower yields) and sometimes the length on the palate. This 2004 William Fevre Fourchaume Premier Cru delivers a typical citrus palate, which is quite intense. The wine has mellowed a little and the  colour of the wine is now a firmer yellow. This wine is now in its transitional phase to a mature white wine.

William Fevre is a modern winemaker who subjects part of the Chardonnay grape to oak maturation, whereas traditionalists in the Chablis area only use stainless steel. The oak is noticeable and produces a more complex texture, added by chalky and mineral flavours. The wine is beautifully balanced, but the disappointment is that it lacks some linearity and length.

Score: 91/+

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Leeuwin Cabernet Sauvignon

Leeuwin Estate is sometimes described as a one trick pony, with its world-class Chardonnay. The winery is trying very hard to bring the other Art Series wines to a similar standard. In a recent tasting (I gave my impressions of the Chardonnay a few posts below) it did not start well. I found the 2011 Riesling as well as the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc too sweet. Some would say they were aromatic (87/86 points).

The main attempt, though, has been made with the Cabernet Sauvignon. It has been said that they turned the corner with the 05. The 2005 was at this tasting, as well as the 2007 and the 2008, which will be released in September.

The 2005 Leeuwin Cabernet Sauvignon did not disappoint. It had generous blackcurrant and quite lifted flavours. The wine is quite intense, yet elegant, with a big mouthfeel. No Margaret River greenness in this wine at all (93 points).

The 2007 Leeuwin Cabernet Sauvignon is slightly leaner, which is interesting, given the warm vintage. The tannins are silky. This equally elegant wine finishes with more acidity on the backbone (93 points).

The 2008 Leeuwin Cabernet Sauvignon is lighter than the other two, yet the elegance is impressive. Blackcurrants dominate, but the palate drifts slightly into leafy territory. The wine is still very young and needs to settle a bit (92 points).

These Cabernets are certainly a cut above earlier years. The 'dirty' earthiness of those wines has disappeared. The flavour profile is more in the Moss Wood than Cullen style. If you rate those wines AAA, then Leeuwin, with these Cabernets, is achieving AA or AA+.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Yering Station Shiraz/Viognier Reserve

This was a big surprise. I drank the 2003 Yering Station Shiraz/Viognier Reserve a day after the Cullen, and wow! it tasted very similar. This wine was a little bigger, displayed more dark plum, but aromatics, helped by the Viognier, mouthfeel and elegance were comparable. The tannins of the Yering Station are a bit firmer and I am rating this wine a point less, as the finish is not quite as polished.

I drank this wine relatively soon after release and did not like it much then. However now, the different elements have integrated well resulting in an excellent wine.

Score: 94/++

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cullen Cabernet/Merlot

Not long ago I reviewed a Moss Wood Cabernet, now it is Cullen's turn. The 1998 Cullen Cabernet/Merlot was still called just that, before it became the Diana Madeline a couple of years later. This wine opens up with quite an aromatic bouquet. Blueberry and mulberry fruit flavours are elegant, and the wine provides a big mouthfeel, even after 14 years. The tannins are fine, and the finish smooth. An excellent wine, which still has quite a bit of life in it.

Moss Wood Cabernets are often deep in colour and brooding, masculine wines, whereas Cullen is more feminine. The yin and yan of Margaret River.

Score: 95/++

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sneak Peek: 2009 Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay

I had an opportunity to taste the 2009 Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay before its official release on 1 May, and compare it with the 2005 and 2007. I published a post on the 2005 only a couple of weeks ago and my impressions from then were the same as in this tasting. The 2007 is from a very warm vintage, resulting in a broader palate. It was the least favourite of mine of the three.

The 2009 Chardonnay shows the typical mix of tropical fruit flavours: peach, mango, pineapple and passionfruit. As with the 2005 though, it does not end up as fruit salad, but rather a complex wine, supported by 100% new oak. The wine has good length and the finish stays with you for some time.

The Leeuwin Chardonnay always has pure and complex fruit, the oak is well integrated and there is sufficient acidity for aging. The question is how lean or large the palate is. I favour without doubt a more linear sensation on the palate. The 2009 is similar to the 2005, obviously less advanced, but the palate is more linear. As a result, this is the best Leeuwin Chardonnay of the last five years. It is not as good as the 2001, but I rate it as a buy for Leeuwin Chardonnay lovers.

Score: 95/+++

Thursday, April 19, 2012


This is a bit of an introductory post. The Piedmont area in north-western Italy  is a unique wine experience largely due to the fickle, but utterly amazing Nebbiolo grape. The two main appellations are Barbaresco and Barolo. They are distinguished by the area the vineyards are located in and the aging time required before market release. Barbaresco is centred around the town by the same name, and the nebbiolo has to be matured for two years before release. The Barolo area is situated a bit further south and the nebbiolo requires three years of maturation.

There are 480ha of vineyards in Barbaresco and 370 producers. From this you can deduct how small each producer is. The situation is very comparable to Burgundy. The lack of scale makes the wine expensive, but also ensures very focussed quality treatment of the grapes etc.

At a recent tasting, a couple of things stood out. The length of fermentation is a key driver of the wine's characteristics. The traditionalists have long fermentation periods of 15 days plus, which results in wines which age well, but are tough and very tannic when young. The modernists, which ferment 3-7 days make wine which is accessible much earlier. It is often matured in small barriques, which gives these wines a more international feel. Traditional wines are matured in large oak vats.

I tasted a few wines from the 2007 vintage, which was warm and produced earlier drinking style wines (in the context of Barbaresco). The best wine came from a very small modernist producer, the 2007 Traversa Barbaresco Starderi. It had good depth of fruit, but still elegance and firm tannins.

The second key point is about terroir. Individual vineyards may have different soils, aspect and elevation. This was brought home by four wines from Produttori del Barbaresco, all single vineyard wines from vineyards in close proximity. They were all from 2001. This is a traditional producer, and these wines were still taught and not ready to drink after 10 years! I tasted the wines blind and the two best wines were from the Rabaja and Asili vineyards. Phew, they have the reputation. The Asili wine was actually quite stunning. The flavours and aromatics went very strongly to the back palate. It went on and on. The wines from Ovello and Montestefano did not have the same depth and balance. One a bit short, the other too tannic.

Wine drinkers who have not had Nebbiolo before find it often difficult to relate to these wines. However, they are excellent food wines, which do not dominate, but are strong nonetheless. And the best wines (think Gaja or Moccagatta in Barbaresco) are unique and utterly delicious.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Montalcino Rosso and Brunello

The next few reviews might be of Italian wines. In Montalcino, a hilltop town in Tuscany, Sangiovese reigns supreme. The two main styles produced are the Rosso, an early drinking style, and Brunello, which requires significant maturation before release. The wine has to be 100% Sangiovese. The area is just recovering from a blending scandal, where a number of producers were accused and taken to court because of using other grapes as well. I don't believe the case is closed at this point in time.

Of a number of Rossos tried, the 2006 and 2007 Querce Bettina Rosso di Montalcino from a small family winery were the most impressive. They are quite similar. The 2007 in particular shows vibrant cherry fruit. The wine is balanced with a firm acidic finish.

Score: 90/+

The 2006 Villa Le Prata Brunello di Montalcino, also from a small producer, displays clean and pure raspberry and cherry fruit with more depth than the Rossos above. This is an elegant wine with some length and good minerality. It is more about structure than fruit and has a somewhat sinewy and taut finish.

Score: 91/+

Overall, these wines are very different from Australian wines. They are not as fruity and are made to accompany food, playing second fiddle to what is on the plate. However, there are other Brunellos with more character.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Domaine de la Janesse GSM

A well known and smart strategy is to buy 'cheaper' wines from great vintages. This is particularly popular with respect to Bordeaux and Burgundy wines where the top wines are beyond reach for most people. It also works well with Rhone wines.

Some time back, I sung the praises of the mass market Guigal Cote du Rhone from the outstanding 2007 vintage. There are other, smaller volume 'table'  wines worth seeking out from this year. One such wine is the 2007 Domaine de la Janesse Terre de Bussiere Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre.

This medium bodied wine displays very pretty fruit, tasting of plum, blackberry and raspberry. The wine is quite smooth and the different grape varieties are well integrated, showing some depth. The wine is more savoury than sweet and has fine tannins. The finish is a bit unbalanced, but overall a very satisfying wine.

Score: 90/++

Friday, April 13, 2012

Scorpo Pinot Noir

This 2010 Scorpo Pinot Noir is a well made wine. It tastes of dark cherry, as is typical for the Mornington Peninsula, with savoury undertones. The structure is balanced, and the finish pleasant.

But does this wine stand out? Where is the personality?

Score: 91/+

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An 18 year old Henschke

I am not talking about the next Henschke generation, but rather the 1994 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz. I opened my last bottle, in fact my last bottle from the 90s, last night. This has been my favorite Mount Edelstone for some time, and this bottle did not disappoint.

The 1994 achieved only moderate acclaim when released, but what a wine it has become. The cork came out perfectly, and I was immediately engulfed by the bouquet of the deep, concentrated fruit. The flavours of rich blackberry fruit are incredibly pure. There is some mellowing in this wine, but not much. As the wine rolls down my palate, the image that comes up is of the swell building off the coasts of Tahiti, then rolling smoothly, but powerfully to the shore.

There is great harmony in this wine, firm, but very silky tannins, and an incredible length of finish. This will stay in my memory for a long time - almost perfect.

Score: 98/+++