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