Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kooyong New Releases

I had an opportunity to taste almost all of the current releases from Kooyong. Kooyong is a very serious producer on the Mornington Peninsula, specialising in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Overall, the wines are quite European in feel and flavour, more texture than fruit dominated.

In the last couple of weeks I read a number of articles about the reducing influence of vintage variation, due to better care in vineyard and winery, and technology. This might be generally so - and I have written about the problems with vintage generalisations anyhow, a number of times -, but when you taste wines from 2010 and 2011, you cannot escape the differences.

First to the Chardonnays. These are all from 2010. The 2010 Kooyong Estate Chardonnay is a blend from the owned vineyards. It is quite fresh with very explicit minerality on the palate (91 points). The 2010 Farrago Chardonnay is a single vineyard wine grown on a soil of sand and pebbles.It is a lively wine, with grapefruit flavours, and again a lot of minerality on the back palate. It is quite austere (92 points). The 2010 Faultline Chardonnay comes from a block with heavy clay influences. And interestingly, this wine while similar in flavour, has a much bigger mouthfeel (93 points).

I have always enjoyed the Pinot Noirs a little bit more. The 2011 Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir is the entry level wine, which often provides great value for money. However, in this year, the wine is very savoury and simply lacking fruit on the palate. As a result, the taste is a little rough and unbalanced (86 points).

The 2010 wines are of different calibre. The 2010 Kooyong Estate Pinot Noir is savoury, but very balanced, with fine tannins and good length: a great food wine (94 points). The 2010 Kooyong Meres Pinot Noir was my favorite. The vineyard is surrounded by water, and this seems to translate into a softer, feminine wine. The wine has floral aspects on the nose and has a wonderful combination of softness and plushness on the palate, while maintaining a savoury note throughout. It fills out the mouth nicely - really beautiful (95 points). The 2010 Kooyong Haven Pinot Noir has much darker fruit and tastes of forest floor. The wine has a good balance and a long finish. The vineyard is surrounded by forest. (94 points). The 2010 Kooyong Ferrous Pinot Noir, which grows on quite stony ground, hence the name, is quite a tannic wine, where the fruit is quite backward at the moment and the finish is a bit dull. However, I am sure it will show more favourable in a number of years (93 points).

If you want a prime example of the influence of terroir, try these wines. They express the differences perhaps better than any other in Australia.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Thomas Wines Sweetwater Shiraz

Andrew Thomas was almost single-handedly responsible for rekindling the interest in the core wines of the Hunter Valley: Shiraz and Semillon. Most of his wines are single vineyard wines, and so is this mid priced Sweetwater Shiraz.

The 2009 Thomas Sweetwater Shiraz received a lot of accolades on release, no doubt because of its immediate fruit appeal. The wine has a strong purple colour, often seen in cooler climate Shirazes. And it certainly has the spice and white pepper to back this up. The plum flavoured fruit, however, is thick and sweet (connection to the name?). The alcohol content is moderate at 13.5%.Tannins and oak are well integrated into the structure. But the undifferentiated fruit flavour dominates the palate and it is not pleasant. I thought maybe the wine was too warm, and it benefits from a drop in serving temperature, but this just pears the flavours back and does not add interest.

Score: 88/-

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Moorilla Muse Riesling

This producer has gone from strength to strength since its integration into MONA (Museum of old and new Art) in Hobart, and presumably a lot of money spent on the winery. The 2010 Moorilla Muse Riesling is my second pick from the 'Summer of Riesling'.

This wine is fashioned in the modern bone dry style.  Fresh citrus flavours dominate. The structure is very precise, almost piercing. The mouthfeel is linear with a long and satisfying finish.

Score: 94/++

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pewsey Vale Riesling

One of the oldest vineyards and brands in Eden Valley and Australia is still going strong. The 2012 Pewsey Vale Riesling from a near perfect vintage has very strong lime flavours. It is a zesty wine, floral but dry. The wine has a big mouthfeel for a young Riesling and a full blooded finish with the right amount of acidity. It is great now, but will also age well.

I only went to one of the many 'Summer of Riesling' events, but it was a big one, and this was one of  two Rieslings I bought.

Score: 94/++

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Penfolds 311 Chardonnay

Most Australian Chardonnays are now of the 'crisp' variety. The 2011 Penfolds 311 Chardonnay from Henty in Victoria is a prime example. It tastes of citrus and passionfruit and has appealing precision in its texture. The wine is a little lean, quite Chablis-like, and comes in at a pleasing 12% alcohol.

There are no huge surprises in this wine, but there is a lot to like: a very modern, well made, not overly made Chardonnay.

Score: 93/++

Monday, February 18, 2013

NZ Pinot Noir, part 4, Marlborough

Central Otago and Martinborough have the reputation, but about half of New Zealand's Pinot Noir volume is grown in the Marlborough region. I enjoyed some Villa Maria Pinot Noirs from the region in the past, so I was looking forward to this more comprehensive review.

There are three sub-regions in Marlborough: the flats along the river (this is premier Sauvignon Blanc country), the Southern Valleys and Awatere, south of the ridge. The better Pinot Noir is grown in the last two sub-regions. Overall, however, this tasting was disappointing and demonstrated that Pinot Noir from Marlborough still has a long way to go. It simply does not yet achieve the intensity and complexity of Central Otago and Martinborough.

My favorite wine was the Greywacke Pinot Noir, which showed darker fruit,  more weight, but good balance (92 points). Also from the Southern Valleys was the TerraVin Hillside Pinot Noir with a similar profile, but quite closed at present (91 points). I also enjoyed the Foxes Island Belsham Awatere Pinot Noir, which had good intensity and balance (91 points). A lighter wine, more feminine and elegant is the Saint Clair  Block 14 Doctor's Creek Pinot Noir (91 points).

Quite a number of wines, lighter in style, would fall into a rating of 88-90 points:Astrolabe, Churton, Cloudy Bay (the Mustang has more fruit intensity), Dog Point, Framingham, Hans Herzog, Jules Taylor (a soft, easy drinking style), Wither Hills (a bit fruity) and Villa Maria with their Reserve, Southern Clays and Taylor's Pass.

Overall, this Pinot Noir festival was well organised. Pretty much all major players participated, and I got around to taste a good selection of their wines. There were no great surprises in the regional aspects of the wines' flavours and structures. With the competition intensifying and the vines aging, the future looks bright for consumers of New Zealand Pinot Noir.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Spinifex Esprit

Another short break from the Pinot Noir reviews. The 2007 Spinifex Esprit is an interesting test for Peter Schell, the winemaker. He wants to make fresh and vibrant wine. Now 2007 is a serious drought year in the Barossa. How did he go and how did this signature GSM of his age?

There is quite a lot of fruit complexity on the palate, with dark berry flavours, such as mulberry and loganberry, dominating. The wine is quite full-bodied, with an elegant texture. The secondary flavours have not yet developed much, but the tannins are soft, and so is the lengthy finish.

The wine is not overly fresh, but has no dead fruit. The wine has certainly aged well, and I think it passed the test. Peter Schell would probably ideally prefer a different flavour profile, but he should be pleased with the way this wine is aging.

Score: 93/++

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pinot Noir NZ, part3b, The Pioneers

While the other regions show quite typical sub-regional characters, this is less clear for Waipara (North Canterbury). This has probably to do with the fact that very strong winemakers and individual philosophies come to the fore here. The main wineries in the valley are Pegasus Bay, Muddy Water, Mountford, and Greystone.

The Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir is very feminine, very balanced, with great texture and velvety tannins (93 Points). The low volume Prima Donna Pinot Noir shows similar characteristics, even more pronounced (93 points). The Muddy Water Pinot Noir was lighter, a pretty wine, but not much individuality, I thought (91 points). The single vineyard Hares Breath, on the hillside, is similar, with a nice balance and a bit more acidity on the palate (92 points).

The Mountford Liaison Pinot Noir, from younger and bought-in fruit, shows great purity, but is a little simple (92 points). One of the great wines of this show is the Mountford Estate Pinot Noir. In palate weight, it sits between Central Otago and Martinborough. The wine has great complexity and structure and finishes long, with silky tannins (95 points). I also tried one of the single vineyard wines, the 2009 The Rise. This is a more elegant wine, but the finish is a little flat (93 points). Mountford is an Estate worth watching. I have tried some  of their other wines in the past, they are uneven, but can reach soaring heights. I sampled the 2008 and 2009 from Greystone. The 2009 is big, a bit alcoholic, but displaying good length (92 points). The 2008 is more elegant and balanced (93 points).

Inland in the Canterbury region are two quite extreme producers: Bell Hill and Pyramid Valley. Their plantings at high altitude, on limestone, with high density planting, and their small volumes have given them cult status, not necessarily deserved, yet, I find. I found both the Pyramid Valley Angel Flower and Earth Smoke Pinot Noirs a bit bland (91 points). Note: I may have been a tired taster by this time. The Bell Hill Pinot Noir was fuller bodied, quite dark and brooding, with a balanced structure (93 points). The Old Weka Pass Pinot Noir is a little lighter (92 points).

Waipara is at risk of being overlooked between Martinborough and Central Otago, yet it is definitely a region to watch, with good sunshine and limestone soils. I find the wines here quite individualistic and interesting.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pinot Noir NZ, part 3a, The Pioneers

This day featured the three regions of Nelson, Waipara (North Canterbury), and Martinborough.

Plantings at Nelson started early i.e. in the late seventies, but did not develop into large holdings. I only tasted two Neudorf Pinot Noirs from there. The Moutere Pinot Noir was quite fresh and acidic, lacking some mouthfeel (88 points). The Home Vineyard Pinot Noir showed much darker colour and a savoury complexity on the palate. I enjoyed this wine (92 points).

The region battling it out with Central Otago for best area to grow Pinot Noir is Martinborough. It is a small area, one hour north of Wellington. You can visit most wineries on foot. Martinborough has quite a marginal climate, resulting in a lot of vintage variation. The Pinot Noirs tend to be lighter in colour, often with a strawberry flavour and a long finish.

The star in general, and of this show as well, is Ata Rangi. The 2010 Pinot Noir is amazing: a lot of depth and elegance, an ethereal mouthfeel, great length and enough acidity to guarantee a long life (96 points). The second wine, the Crimson Pinot Noir is nothing to sneeze at, either. It is a much simpler wine, but has beautiful fruit from newer plantings, and an excellent structure (92 points).

The big eye-turner was Kusuda. If you have ever visited the fruit section of a shop in Tokyo, you would have seen how carefully each individual fruit is treated and displayed, and purchased. This is how Hiroyuki Kusuda treats each individual grape. He released his first wine in 2002 and has kept his production minuscule. It seems he may now enter the big time. The wine tastes of dark cherry, is extremely elegant and very long. Too pretty (95 points)? I also tried the 2008, which has a similar profile, but not as much depth (93 points).

Martinborough Vineyard is one of the pioneers of the area and has kept its quality high since the beginning. In the past, I have tried beautifully aged wines from this producer. The 2010 shows great fruit intensity, is elegant and finished with very polished tannins (94 points).

The best known cult winery from this area, maybe because it is the most expensive wine, is Dry River. The wines tend to be much more savoury and European than the other wines. The 2010 shows great colour, with black and red fruit flavours - an elegant and velvety wine. The structure has not quite come together yet, but probably will (94 points). I also tried the 2000 and 2003, which showed more of the earthy characteristics referred to above (92 points).

Not in the same league as the wines above were Craggy Range Te Muna Road, Brodie, Escarpment (a major disappointment), Gladstone, Johner and Schubert. Some of these wines were a bit fruity, some a little thin in the mouth.  

Review of Waipara will follow in the next post

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pierro Chardonnay mini vertical

In the mid 1990s, Pierro was neck and neck with Leeuwin with regard to the most highly regarded Chardonnay in Western Australia. It would be fair to say that since then, Leeuwin has clearly moved ahead - and some others have come up.

Over the past ten years, the style of the Pierro Chardonnay has also changed. It used to be amongst the biggest and oakiest in Australia. Nowadays, it is a much more precise wine. It is still quite heavily worked, with new oak and 100% malolactic fermentation. The 2011 is about to be released and is pre-announced as the best ever - a good opportunity to look at the last three vintages to see how they shaped up.

The 2008 Pierro Chardonnay shows rich tropical flavours, based on mango and pineapple. The wine is medium to full bodied, with oak in a pleasing support role. The wine is balanced with good length. This is a complex and satisfying Chardonnay, reminding me a bit of the 'good ol' days'.

Score: 94/++

The 2009 Pierro Chardonnay is a leaner wine. The tropical fruit is more in the background, and the palate dominated by grapefruit and passionfruit. The wine has a crisp finish.

Score: 92/+

The 2010 Pierro Chardonnay still has oak dominant on the front palate. The fruit in its weight and flavour sits between 08 and 09. So I think it will take the oak down in a year or two. The wine is smooth, but lacks some acidity on the finish.

Score: 92/0

Overall, these are good wines, but pricey.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon

I thought I might interrupt the posts on NZ Pinot Noir for a moment. Not everybody is into it.

Tonight, I opened a bottle of the 1998 Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon. It is not often that a wine sets a new benchmark on a particular dimension, but this one did. I do not think I have experienced such a strong bouquet jumping out of the bottle as from this one ever. Black fruit and vanilla was the quite overwhelming scent.

The depth of the fruit on the palate was typical premium Penfolds: incredibly intense, dense, and lasting. Blackcurrants and meat were the dominant flavours. Is this a typical Cabernet? No, it is a typical Penfolds wine, Penfolds DNA written all over it. The American oak is very strong on this wine, while the tannins have pleasingly softened.

This wine is quite unique and amazing, and will easily hold, and possibly improve for another ten years. This Arnold Schwarzenegger style is not what I favour, but it is a great wine.

Score: 96/0

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Pinot Noir NZ, part 2, Central Otago

The Pinot Noirs from Central Otago are Shiraz drinkers Pinot Noirs. (I don't think the producers like this description.) They are very dark in colour, taste of black cherry (generally) and have low natural acidity (apart from the Gibbston sub-region). This is because the area has many sunshine hours, is quite hot and is further from the sea than other New Zealand Pinot Noir regions.

On tasting was the 2010 vintage. In the afternoon, older wines were shown. The 2010 vintage was characterized by a cool spring and a fairly long ripening season, blessed with a sunny autumn. The quality of the wines was generally quite high, with  a few top scoring wines.

Felton Road impressed once again. The 2010 wines were lighter than usual. Block 5 was dark, smooth, seamless and elegant (94 points). The standard Bannockburn wine was a little light on. As more fruit goes into single vineyard wines, the percentage of quite young vines in the standard wine increases (91 points). Felton Road also showed Block 3 from the 2011 vintage. This wine was very elegant, ethereal, silky, and with great length. 'Ethereal' is something not often associated with Central Otago wines, but I have seen Block 3 delivering this in great years (95 points).

The other top scorers for me were Maude and Rockburn. The 2010 single vineyard Mt. Maude Pinot Noir had great length and an expanding 'Burgundian fan' on the finish (95 points). The standard wine showed great depth of colour. It is quite a big wine (93 points). It must be said, though that an older Mt. Maude (2007) had not held up that well, delivering a harsher mouthfeel (89 points). Rockburn's The Art Pinot Noir comes from the warm Bannockburn sub-region. This wine has a complex palate of dark cherry and savoury undertones with a smooth finish (95 points). The standard wine from Pisa and Gibbston is a little fruity, but has a decent structure (92 points).

In the next bracket were Chard Farm, Amisfield, Matua Valley, and Quartz Reef. The Chard Farm wines showed a welcome return to form. The Mata-Au Pinot Noir is a blend from four vineyards. It is more in the red fruit spectrum and quite elegant (93 points). The Viper, from a Lowburn vineyard is similarly good, although a little angular (92 points). The Amisfield Pinot Noir is quite savoury with great purity. The finish is slightly alcoholic (93 points). Matua Valley is a major winery with large holdings in Marlborough. The single vineyard Pinot Noir from Cromwell is distinguished by its silkiness (93 points). The single vineyard wine from Bannockburn is a little bigger, but also broader (92 points). Quartz Reef, represented by its irrepressible winemaker Rudi Bauer, showed the blend, which had red cherry character, and is a very balanced wine with great depth and length (94 points). The single vineyard Bendigo wine is elegant, but less expressive (92 points).

In the next category were Burn Cottage, Carrick, Gibbston Valley, Mount Edward, Mt. Difficulty, Mud House, Peregrine, Rippon, Two Paddocks and Wooing Tree. They all showed wines I would score at 90 points or above, but they were either less rounded, structured or had less personality.

A real surprise were the tastings of older wines, and here I mean 10 years plus. I had not drunk Central Otago wines of this age before, and I was sceptical because of the generally low level of acidity in these wines. The 2003 Mt. Difficulty Target Gully Pinot Noir showed real preciseness, and great structure and length (95 points). The 2001 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir from its first vintage was still incredibly vibrant and fresh (94 points).

Overall, this was a very strong showing. These wines will never be Burgundies. Climate, soil and winemaking are different. Their quality and proliferation of producers ensures that Central Otago Pinot Noir will manage to establish a Pinot Noir category in its own right.