Wednesday, December 31, 2014

William Downie

The William Downie wines have, like many, paintings on the label.What is unusual is that there is no associated information. It is all on the back. This fits the 'cult' image of this talented Pinot Noir specialist. He makes wines from three regions: Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, and Gippsland.

The 2008 William Downie Gippsland Pinot Noir was my Christmas Eve wine, and I was not disappointed. This of course comes from an area close to Bass Philip vineyards. It opened with black cherry flavours on the front palate and is similar in texture to a top quality Burgundy, maybe not quite as dense. The complexity increases with savoury characteristics contributing along the palate.

This wine is perhaps a bit more developed than I was expecting and the grapes are on the ripe side, but the structure is holding up. As I expected, this wine shows silky tannins on the long, though not expanding finish.

Score: 95/+++

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Yering Station

Some very good wines here as well.

2012 Reserve Chardonnay: pure stone fruit and citrus, a linear wine, well balanced, showing minerality on the palate, and a very balanced structure (94 points)

2010 Pinot Noir: dark cherry and savoury flavours, mouthfeel not totally satisfying, finish slightly harsh (90 points).

2012 Reserve Pinot Noir: similar flavour profile, but much more intensity in this wine. The finish is long and expanding (94 points).

The go-to vintage is 2012. However, the Reserve wines are very expensive (about $100/bottle).

Friday, December 26, 2014

Coldstream Hills, revisited, part 2

The Pinot Noirs were of very high quality, too.

2013 Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir: this is a surprisingly complex Pinot Noir for a 'standard' Estate wine.It is quite savoury and earthy. Great flavours filling the mouth. The finish is a little short (92 points).

2013 Dear Farm Pinot Noir: I described the vineyard in part 1. The red cherry flavours of this wine jump out of the glass. This wine is very perfumed, yet bright and fresh - an elegant wine, just delicious (94 points).
[And I liked it more than in my first tasting, described in the top 20 wines, a couple of posts below]

2013 Esplanade Pinot Noir: this wine comes from the 1000 candles vineyard, which William Downie is trying to turn into a master piece. Coldstream Hills have sourced grapes from this vineyard for some time. This wine is richer than the Dear Farm, but a bit broad as a result. My least favourite wine of the line-up (91 points).

2012 Reserve Pinot Noir: this is a rich wine, too. The flavours are complex, with forest floor and savoury components dominating. The finish is satisfying, but not overly long (93 points).

These Pinot Noirs were good, but did not quite manage to get the density, definition, and expanding finish of a top Burgundy wine.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Coldstream Hills, revisited, part 1

Recently I spent a couple of days in the Yarra Valley, something I have not done for a number of years. Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is quite clear now which style suits the area best, and with many vineyards 30 years old now, and great vintages from 2012 and 2013, it is all coming together nicely.

My first stop was Coldstream Hills. It was established in 1985 by James and Suzanne Halliday and acquired  by Treasury Wine Estates in 2005. In most cases, boutique wineries do not hold their quality and positioning when they are gobbled up by large multi-brand corporations, but in the case of Coldstream Hills, it may even have gotten better.

I tasted first the fleet of Chardonnays.

2013 Chardonnay: this is the standard Estate wine, a blend of various vineyards. The wine undergoes no malolactic fermentation. The fresh apple and citrus flavours are pleasant on the palate. The wine has good acidity on the finish (90 points).

2013 Dear Farm Chardonnay: Coldstream Hills now bottles some single vineyard Chardonnays, in line with other producers. This wine comes from a vineyard in the East of the valley, at higher altitude. It is a cool site. This wine saw 52% new oak. It has a similar flavour profile to the Estate wine, but it has much more definition. This is a lean, but elegant wine, with good acidity, and citrus and minerality on the finish. I loved this wine (94 points).

2013 Rising Chardonnay: this wine comes from a Northern vineyard. It has some elevation, but is a warmer site. 42% saw new oak. The stone fruit is more pronounced in this wine. It is a bit broader on the palate, but with a firm finish (92 points).

2012 Reserve Chardonnay: this is a 'best of' wine from the different vineyards. 44% new oak. This is a richer wine. Red apple fruit dominates. The wine has an excellent structure and an appealing lingering finish (93 points).

What impressed me most overall was that each wine tasted according to what it should, in line with its terroir and winemaking objective. Classy stuff. You will not be disappointed if you try these.

What are we drinking this Christmas?

Please let me know your Christmas drinking plans, and if from Northern or Southern Hemisphere.

I am not very organized this year, but I will let you know after the fact.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Tasting Top Wines Of 2014, Part 2

The remaining five wines in this tasting were Shiraz or Shiraz based from Victoria and South Australia, as you would expect.

2013 Best's Bin 1 Shiraz: this is the little brother of Bin 0. It has experienced a significant lift in quality in recent years. The 2013 has a bright colour. Pretty berry flavours dominate, overlaid with peppery notes. This is a medium-bodied wine, well made, but a little simple (90 points).

2012 Seppelt St. Peters Shiraz: This wine impressed everybody. It has a lively palate, the blackberry flavours are delicious. The fruit is concentrated, yet the wine is elegant at the same time. This full-bodied wine  has excellent texture and finishes with silky tannins (95 points).

2013 SC Pannell Adelaide Hills Syrah: this is the Jimmy Watson Trophy winner which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. My view has not changed in this line-up. This is a vibrant wine with pretty blackberry fruit and good balance. It includes 2% Viognier.  I don't find this wine particularly interesting and the tasters did not have it in their top 4 wines from this tasting (92 points).

2013 Ruggabellus Archaeus: this is the Shiraz dominated wine from Abel Gibson's three premium blends. This is a darker wine, with plum and blackberry flavours. 22% whole bunches deliver a savoury palate with earthy flavours. The wine has good length and the oak is well balanced. In a way, the relationship between the SC Pannell and this wine is the same, as the one between the Coldstream Hills and the By Farr on the Pinot Noir front (94 points).

2012 Henschke Mt. Edelstone: is this the best Mt. Edelstone ever made in 60 years? It would be a candidate. The wine has a deep, crimson red, but not saturated colour. The fruit flavours are complex and intense: plum, blackberry and raspberry interplay. Dried herbs and cedar complete the picture. This medium bodied wine is elegant, and its silky tannins lead to a long finish (97 points).

The top rated wines, adding up the tasters votes, were the Seppelt St. Peters and the Mt Edelstone, strongly ahead of the 'whole bunched' Ruggabellus and By Farr. The pretty, fruit orientated wines, and the white wines hardly got a top 2 vote.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tasting Top Wines Of 2014, Part 1

Philip Rich, co-owner of the Prince Wine Store, publishes a list of his top 20 wines annually in the Financial Review. They are not necessarily his best wines of the year, but wines that stood out in his tastings. His list is designed to show diversity in wine varieties and styles. He does not attribute a point score. Last night, I participated in a tasting of 11 of these wines. There were two wines each of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, showing quite different styles.

2013 Vickery Watervale Riesling: this wine is from the Clare Valley. It is a relatively lean style, showing off floral, citrus and lime characteristics of Riesling. The fruit is pure and the wine has quite good definition, but is a little broad on the mid-palate. Great value for money (92 points).

2013 Keller Riesling - von der Fels: this Riesling shows off a deeper colour. It is a richer wine, fuller bodied, basically dry, with a hint of sweetness. Acidity in this wine keeps it well balanced. Klaus Keller is one of the Riesling stars of Germany, from Rheinhessen (92 points).

2012 Oakridge 864 Funder & Diamond Chardonnay: this wine is one of a number of superb 2012 single vineyard Chardonnays from the Yarra Valley. The fruit is quite restrained, white peach, pear and grapefruit show on the palate. The oak is understated, but cashew flavours are noticeable. The wine has good form, leading to a refined finish (94 points).

2013 Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay: the second wine had to come from Margaret River, the other major Chardonnay region in Australia. Being a reserve wine, this wine is bigger and richer. Yellow peach and mango flavours dominate in this well textured wine. It is maybe a bit fruit forward (92 points).

2013 Coldstream Hills Deer Farm Pinot Noir: this wine displays very bright colour. The red cherry flavours in this fruit dominated wine are well defined and carry through to the back palate. This wine split the tasters. Some enjoyed the brilliant fruit in this wine, others found it a bit simple. I belonged to the second group, in particular when this wine is compared with the next one. The wine did very well on the show circuit, impressing judges with its pure fruit and good definition (93 points).

2013 Farr Rising Pinot Noir: the colour in this wine the colour of this Pinot is much darker, almost a bit cloudy by comparison. This is a richer and denser  wine, a function of the 30 per cent whole bunches included. The wine is more savoury, with concentrated dark cherry and forest floor flavours. The wine has a good mouthfeel and finishes with firm tannins - very true to the 'Farr' style (94 points).

I would drink happily any of these wines, different as they are.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Domaine Dominique Cornin Pouilly-Fuisse

Pouilly-Fuisse, at the southern end of Burgundy, with its warmer climate, produces riper Chardonnay. In the right hands, these can be high quality wines at reasonable prices.

The 2011 Domain Dominique Cornin Pouilly-Fuisse Clos Reyssie is an example of this. This wine has a golden colour, and the flavours are of ripe red apple and yellow peach. New oak is quite noticeable. The mouthfeel is quite big, but not plump. This wine is quite focussed. Citrus flavours and acidity lead to a firm finish. This Pouilly-Fuisse is a harmonious wine and drinking well now, but will go on for many years.

Score: 93/++  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Wendouree Malbec

Malbec is rising in popularity, as it is a variety which - while serious and ageing well - can be drunk early with a lot of enjoyment. The problem is, there are not many sources of first class Malbec. The Mendoza region of Argentina is the best known area, while most Malbec vines in France have been wiped out by various disasters, a major frost in 1956 being the last one. However, there is a pocket in Australia of maybe 100 year old Malbec vines. This is of course in the Wendouree vineyard.

I just opened a 2010 Wendouree Malbec, and it shows why it is so special. This is a big wine. Black cherry and ripe raspberry flavours dominate. There is a lot of acidity in his wine and the tannins are firm. The wine has a big mouthfeel, but at under 14% alcohol is not hot at all. It is said that Wendouree wines have become more approachable at young age, but this wine will certainly benefit from a lot more bottle age. At present, the acidity is too dominant. It needs to integrate into the other components, but this wine will be stunning when it has developed more complexity and mellowed with time.

Drink from 2020.

Score: 95/++

Monday, December 8, 2014

Robert Oatley Margaret River Chardonnay

Yes, the 2013 Robert Oatley  Margaret River Chardonnay is a dry white wine. It probably (by elimination) tastes like a Chardonnay, but it lacks definition. The stone fruit characteristics are fine, but it is broad on the palate. I don't know the production volume of this wine, but I doubt it is small. It reminds me of the higher volume Rosemount Chardonnays. The finish is relatively short.

Score: 86/-

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Lerida Estate Shiraz/Viognier

There are a handful of wineries in the Canberra district who are getting closer in quality to the stellar Clonakilla. One such winery is Lerida Estate. The 2013 Lerida Estate Shiraz/Viognier just won the Chairman's trophy at the Canberra wine show. I had an opportunity to taste it a couple of days ago.

This wine has very profound aromas, very fragrant and feminine. On the palate, a surprise. The blackberry and plum fruit is quite concentrated. There is black pepper as well, but this is not your typical cool climate Shiraz. It has the elegance, but it also has the intensity of a full-bodied wine. If we talk feminine, it is more Dolly Parton than Cameron Diaz. Only Viognier skins have been co-fermented. This means there are no apricot flavours in this wine (good), but tannins have been added. The finish is quite long and the tannins fine and velvety. This is an excellent drop.

Score: 95/+++

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The All-Australian Shiraz

Tonight I am going to report on a unique Australian wine. In 1998, 90% of Bannockburn's Shiraz grapes got wiped out by hail. Close to 40 wineries offered help. The resulting wine included grapes from most corners of Australia: Margaret River (Cape Mentelle), Barossa and Eden Valley (Rockford, Yalumba, St. Halletts, Charlie Melton), McLaren Vale (BRL Hardy, Paxton), Clare Valley (Pikes), Coonawarra (Katnook), Heathcote (Jasper Hill), cool climate Victoria (Dalwhinnie, Mt. Langhi, Taltarni). This is like making a wine in Europe with grapes from Portugal via France and Italy to Greece.

The final wine, the 1998 Bannockburn Shiraz is astonishing. You would never guess that it is made from grapes from all over the country. This is a seamless wine, which ages very gracefully (I was drinking a Magnum). The palate is very complex. Blackberry and plum flavours are matched with mocca and smokey flavours. The wine has more intensity than a cool climate wine, but it is not a 'Big or overripe Barossa'. Heads up to the winemaking here (Gary Farr), who created such a harmonious wine from such diverse sources. The wine has mellowed beautifully. It reminds me of a top Northern Rhone wine. The wine still has great form and has velvety tannins on the back palate. This is not only a great wine, but also an excellent example of the camaraderie of the Australian wine industry. Would this be still possible today?

Score: 97/+++

Monday, December 1, 2014

William Fevre Chablis

Didier Seguier, William Fevre's winemaker, whizzed through Australia last week and held a number of wine tastings. It was interesting to try a number of different Chablis from the same year and maker, as there is a bit of a view out there suggesting all Chablis tastes the same.

William Fevre has the largest holdings in Chablis with vineyards in pretty much every grand cru and premier cru section. They make more than 10 wines each year. I tasted five from the 2012 vintage. The 2012 Petit Chablis is quite a simple wine, with fresh citrus flavours  and a short finish (86 points). The 2012 Chablis is a bit longer, with better form, the finish is quite acidic (89 points).

Then there were three premium wines. The 2012 Vaillons Premier Cru is a more elegant wine, with more depth of fruit. It is still quite lean with minerality dominating on the palate. Complexity is increased as 40% of the juice sees aged oak (92 points). The 2012 Fourchames Premier Cru is richer in mouthfeel, with citrus fruit coming to the fore. This is a very smart wine (94 points). The 2012 Vaudesir Grand Cru, from a warm location, is an outstanding wine.  Quite rich citrus and lime flavours are experienced on the front palate. Then underlying minerality comes through. The wine is beautifully balanced between flavours and acidity. It is fresh and elegant at the same time with a memorably harmonious finish (96 points).

These Chablis certainly did not taste alike. The Premier Crus showed more depth of fruit, while expressing minerality, and the Grand Cru was elegant and linear/long. The only drawback: these wines are not cheap.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Penfolds Bin 90A

I had a celebration yesterday which demanded something special. The 1990 Penfolds Bin 90A is certainly that. This type of wine has only been bottled two or three times before. It includes special parcels of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from the many vineyard sources available to Penfolds. It was originally conceived as a control wine to Grange. It would taste similar to Grange, were it not for the large proportion (66%?) of Cabernet in this wine.

The fruit flavours are of concentrated blackcurrant and plum, quite dark. Amazingly, after 25 years under cork, primary fruit still dominates. The mouthfeel is not as big and round as Grange. Instead, this is a more linear wine with great length. The tannins are still firm, but have mellowed to a silky sensation. The wine stays with you for quite some time and softens as the finish dissipates - very attractive.

This Penfolds special release is a full-bodied wine, but at 13.5% alcohol certainly not over the top. The complexity is in the length of the finish, not the flavour profile.

Score: 96/+++  

Friday, November 28, 2014

Conterno Fantino Sori Ginestra Barolo

Maybe I was a bit premature, when I called Chateauneuf-du-Pape the most seductive wine style in my last post. This could equally be said of  those Barolos where the fruit comes to the fore. I was reminded of this last night when I had the 2001 Conterno Fantino Sori Ginestra Barolo. Sori Ginestra is a famous vineyard in Monforte, the town at the southern end of the Barolo region.

This wine leaps out of the glass with its aromatics. Dark cherry flavours dominate, but there is a lot of complexity on the palate:  plum, forest berries and tar. This Barolo has a great mouthfeel, with intense fruit and velvety tannins in excellent balance. The finish is firm and dry, but not too dry. It asks you to have another taste. This wine is perfect to drink now, but will live for many years to come.

Conterno Fantino would be regarded as a mid quality range producer, but on this occasion has produced a stunning wine. You can sometimes find (relative) bargains, even in highly praised regions.

Score: 98/+++

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Domaine Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf Du Pape

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is such an attractive wine style when it is well executed: probably the most seductive, yet serious wine we know. The 2006 Domaine Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf-du-Pape fits this category.

The colour is dark, showing signs of mellowing. There is a full spectrum of berries on the palate: raspberries, blackberries and other wild forest berries: quite complex. The secondary flavours are coming through as well, with mushroom and forest floor. They are in perfect balance with the primary fruit. The earthy characters become dominant on the back palate, in an elegant, almost aristocratic style. The oak supports and the tannins are quite soft. This wine is about fruit flavours maturing in a harmoneous fashion.

Score: 95/+++

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Delatite Deadman's Hill Gewurztraminer

One of the conundrums in the food and wine world is that Thai food is very popular, yet the grape which best matches this food, Gewurztraminer, is definitely not. This is a shame, because more and more producers are abandoning this variety. On the other hand, it opens up great bargains.

One such bargain is the 2013 Delatite Deadman's Hill Gewurztraminer. This brand, which has been produced for a long time, is not just a price, but also a quality bargain. The lychee flavours are fine, not overly dominant, but blend in with spicy food nicely. There is no sweetness in this wine, as in some traminers. The wine is fresh and quite linear, and finishes with light acidity.

Drink young. Highly recommended.

Score: 93/+++

Sunday, November 23, 2014

New Name

A number of you questioned why this blog was written under an anonymous name. I wanted to keep this activity separate from others, but it was not really difficult to trace this blog back to me. I have now decided to rename the blog under my real name. So it is now Thomas Girgensohn's Australian Wine Reviews - And Beyond.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wine Spectator, Are You Kidding?

There are two Australian Red's in the top 50 of this year's Wine Spectator best of the year rankings. Mollydooker's 2012 Carnival of Love comes in at number 2, and Two Hands' 2012 Bella's Garden at number 16.

I have not tasted either wine from 2012, but I have tasted other years. These are both very ripe wines with very late picking of the grapes. In fact I poured the Carnival of Love down the sink. It tasted like motor oil infused with 100% pure alcohol. Now maybe these are good wines in 2012, but there is such a list to chose from in 2012: fresh and vibrant reds, complex and full-bodied wines etc.

A few months earlier, Harvey Steiman was praising the variety of styles in Australian wine, and then they end up with this. It is a medical fact that many people lose taste buds as they age. The senior tasters at Wine Spectator are quite old. Have they become only receptive to high alcohol wines?

No need to outdo Robert Parker, Gentlemen. Yes, they are all men.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Yelland & Papps Divine Grenache

Yelland & Papps is a marketing savvy Barossa Valley winery. As a result, they have been able to grow a lot. They have added a huge array of wines to the point where it has become quite confusing. In simple terms, though, there are three levels: the entry level YP range, the mid-level Devote range, and the premium Divine range. Within each, you find the typical Rhone varieties, but also other wines.

Today, I am reviewing the 2009 Yelland & Papps Divine Grenache. This is quite an intriguing wine. The prime fruit is raspberry, but not in a sweet, bubblegum style. The wine has a big mouthfeel and tastes quite ripe, but is balanced by savoury notes. It is a little harsh on the back palate.

This wine has attractive aspects, in particular the fruit intensity and complexity. However the wine lacks charm and struggles to get all components together in a harmonious mix.

Score: 92/+

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Main Ridge Half Acre Pinot Noir

I have been a fan of the Main Ridge Half Acre Pinot Noir for quite some time. This mature vineyard delivers my favorite Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula, I usually drink it at 6-7 years maturity, and  rate it between 93 and 95 points.

Unfortunately the 2008 Main Ridge Half Acre Pinot Noir does not live up to this standard. The fruit is an attractive blend of red and black cherries. Forest floor flavours are on the palate as well. However, there is not enough depth of fruit and the mouthfeel is round rather than long, which it should be for an outstanding Pinot Noir. The tannins are soft, even a little weak Overall, a nice, even complex wine on the palate, but the structure not built-up enough to hold interest.

Score: 91/-

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz

I have never participated in a comprehensive tasting of Kilikanoon wines, but on the odd occasion of drinking one, I have not been overly impressed. Drinking the 2009 Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz did not change my impressions.

The fruit is concentrated plum and blackberry, but it is drowned in oak (the wine was matured in French oak for 24 months). Tannins are firm, leading to a less than elegant finish.

This is a traditional Australian wine, big, harsh, and lacking charm.

Score: 88/--

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gaia Thalassitis Assyrtiko

I have written about Assyrtiko, the grape native to Santorini, Greece before, and described the unusual vineyard methods for protecting the grapes in a previous post. But I want to point out more strongly this time that everybody interested in wine should experience this variety.

The 2013 Gaia Thalassitis Assyrtiko is vibrant and powerful, typical for this variety. Flavours are of green apple and minerality. It is amazing how grapes grown in such hot and dry conditions as on the volcanic soil of  Santorini can maintain such attractive acidity. This wine delivers a nice package, maybe lacking a bit of charm, but throwing a punch without being big or fat. Try it out.

Score: 91/++

Monday, November 10, 2014

My Top 10 Australian Wineries

Suppose you wanted to build a premium Australian wine cellar or Australian wine collection, and you wanted to keep it simple, what would be the top 10 wineries to chose from?

The way I thought about it was that the winery had to either have one wine in the top three of a variety or two wines in the top ten. Also, the winery should make wine that is typical Australian and does not follow a European path (now this could be controversial and is somewhat arbitrary). Nothing too scientific about it, so here goes

Penfolds - an obvious choice. No other winery in the world has such a range of wines which deliver at every price point.

Henschke - the most distinguished single vineyard Shirazes in Australia. The rest of the portfolio is uneven.

Leeuwin - a consistent world class Chardonnay producer. The other wines are catching up, but are not yet in this league.

Grosset - similarly, a world class Riesling producer. Other wines quite strong, too.

Wendouree - highly idiosyncratic wines with substantial aging potential. Shiraz is the pinnacle, Malbec is top shelf as well.

Torbreck - producer of full-bodied Rhone varieties with outstanding Shiraz and Grenache.

Moss Wood - Australia's best Cabernet Sauvignon, in my book.

Tyrell's - superb Semillon, also outstanding Chardonnay and Shiraz.

Bass Phillip - funky Pinot Noir, variable, but in some years world class.

Bindi - outstanding cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Two wineries I considered, but have not had enough exposure to, lately, were Lakes Folly and Wantirna. A number of others would be in some people's list, but I felt they were not unique enough. These were Giaconda, Clonakilla, Cullen, Mount Mary and some cool climate Victorian Shiraz producers.

So there you have it. Any thoughts?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hentley Farm Tasting - James Halliday's Winery of the Year

It sometimes astounds me how a winery which produces exceptional wines can also turn out very ordinary stuff. Sure, there are younger vines, higher yields, less expensive oak etc., but the difference seems to be larger than that - and why do it? An expansive tasting of the Hentley Farm wines illustrates this point. Following are brief notes of the wines tasted.

2013 Cabernet - Nice fruit, dusty tannins. A bit simple, fairly flat mouthfeel - 87 points

2012 Grenache - Fruity, Bubblegum - 85 points

2012 The Quintessential (Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz) - More depth in this wine, but still dominated by upfront fruit - 91 points

2011 The Beast Shiraz - A lighter style than normal, blackberry flavours, very good tannin integration - 92 points

2011 Clos Otto Shiraz - A remarkable wine from this difficult vintage, very elegant, with silky tannins. This wine, from now over 30 year vines is quickly becoming a benchmark Barossa Shiraz - 95 points

2009 The Beauty Shiraz/Viognier - Quite aromatic, good depth of fruit, firm tannins - 93 points

2009 The Beast Shiraz - Concentrated fruit, tannins well integrated, long finish - 95 points

2008 Clos Otto Shiraz - A big core of fruit, slightly too ripe, chocolate, soft tannins - 94 points

A final comment: The top wines are impressive, but the prices for all wines are on the high side.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Penfolds Grange Hermitage

I went into the vault a few days ago to get a special bottle out. I had reason to celebrate. My book  Barossa Shiraz - Discovering The Tastes Of The Barossa's Regions has made the shortlist of best wine book of the year by Wine Communicators of Australia. The wine oscars are on 19 November. My chances to win are low, but being in the top three, next to Tyson Stelzer's Champagne Guide, is pretty good, I reckon.

So a 1989 Penfolds Grange Hermitage was called for. The start wasn't so good. The wine had a very high shoulder, but the cork crumbled into 1000 pieces. However, a good sieve kept the glasses fairly cork free. 1989 is not regarded as a particularly strong year, but I found the wine very solid and displaying an intriguing flavour profile.

The colour of the wine was garnet, as you would expect, the aromas were lively, and on the palate, there was an unusual combination of elder-flower and lifted alcohol, a bit like a cognac. So, a fair bit of the fruit was gone, but there was enough left to keep the wine together. The wine still had some depth and intensity. This is the amazing thing about Grange: its ability to age and maintain the structure, even in an average year. As an aside, at the time, the bottle was less than $100.

Score: 95/+++

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Vino Paradiso

The Australian Technology Park seems to carve out a niche for "alternative" wine festivals. After the hugely successful Rootstock festival for organic and biodynamic wines, comes Vino Paradiso, a new festival of food and wine, targeting a younger audience with many unknown wineries presenting and DJ music to boot. The other feature seems to be high temperatures. I visited on Saturday, and after the scorcher at the Rootstock festival, hey presto, it was 39 degrees celsius again. The air-conditioning could not cope, and the tasting of red wines in particular was difficult. They should have been cooled, but were not.

I stayed with some of the better known wineries. Eden Road presented its single region Shirazes. The 2013 Eden Road Hilltops Shiraz was quite perfumed and pretty - a feminine wine with excellent texture (92 points). The 2012 Gundagai Shiraz is darker in colour and more peppery, but the finish is a bit uninspiring (90 points). The popular 2012 Long Road Shiraz is a blend between the two regions (mainly Gundagai) and more of a quaffer, but with attractive aromas (88 points).

The 2010 Kaesler Bogan Shiraz and the Pizzini Barbera and the Nebbiolo did not impress me, but suffered from being way too warm.

The major surprise, however, was the 2012 Soul Growers 106 Vines Mourvedre. This is  the best single variety Mourvedre I have tasted from  Australia (or anywhere). There are only 106 vines left from this 130 year old vineyard north of Nuriootpa in the Barossa. The flavours are very complex and varietal. Blackberry and mulberry flavours are mixed with spice and mild red meat. The texture is framed by smooth and silky tannins.

Score: 96/+++

Sunday, November 2, 2014

SC Pannell Adelaide Hills Syrah - Jimmy Watson Winner

The power of the Jimmy Watson! Less than a month after the trophy, this wine is now sold out across the country. Is it worth while to hunt it down in the secondary market?

I was lucky to be able to taste the wine yesterday. The 2013 SC Pannell Adelaide Hills Syrah has attractive lifted aromas and blackberry fruit intensity on the palate. It is quite a feminine wine with smooth tannins - a showy wine, perfect for standing out in judging competitions. However, the mouthfeel of this wine is not complete, and the finish not as long as you would hope from a "best" Australian one year old wine.

I would happily drink this, along with many other well made young Australian wines.

Score: 92/++

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Wynns Alex 88 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon

In this post, I am reviewing the 2006 Wynns Alex 88 Single Vineyard Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a couple of years earlier that Sue Hodder at Wynns started to get serious about quality and explore the potential of the many plots of land which Wynns owns on the famous Terra Rossa strip. Yields were cut back and some individual vineyard wines started to appear.

The 2006 is the first such wine from the Alex 88 vineyard, named after the Alexander family who owned it for almost 70 years. Wynns replanted the vineyard in 1988. The 2006 Alex 88 is very attractive on the palate, with blackcurrant building the big core of fruit typical for the Terra Rossa, changing to redcurrant flavours on the sides of the palate in a seamless mix. The wine has good weight, but is a bit too fruity for my liking. Nevertheless, the structure is balanced, with oak only in the background. This is an elegant wine which can be consumed on its own as well as with protein rich food. It is still quite youthful and will easily live for another 10 years.

Score: 93/++  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

SC Pannell Grenache

Stephen Pannell just won his second Jimmy Watson for an Adelaide Hills Syrah. This was the first time a Jimmy Watson went to the Adelaide Hills. Otherwise, Stephen's wines hail from McLaren Vale. His wines tend to be fresh, not overripe, but what happens when they age?

The 2006 SC Pannell Grenache has an attractive flavour profile. Oak is in the background, fruit dominates, but it tends to show some restraint. There is no Grenache sweetness in this wine. Red plum dominates, and there is blackberry as well. The tannins are smooth. I enjoyed the mouthfeel of the wine and the structure is certainly holding up well after eight years.

This is a pleasant and pretty wine to drink. No doubt it is well made, and the screw cap has kept it alive. Yet, something is missing. This is a wine where 2+2=4, but it lacks personality.

Score: 93/++  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Spinifex Rose

I tasted seven Roses on Saturday. There were clearly two styles. One was a pale coloured wine in a savoury style with fruit flavour playing second fiddle, whereas the second style had stronger colour and more emphesis on fruit, without being sweet. My favorite from these wines was the 2014 Spinifex Rose. It belongs clearly in the first category.

The colour of this wine is more orange than pink. Skin impact would have been minimal. The wine is based on Rhone varieties, with Grenache being dominant, but there is none of the bubblegum flavour this variety sometimes displays. This Spinifex is a smart wine. It is restrained, but has intensity, and at 12.5% alcohol is a relatively easy drinking style. It accompanied a Japanese meal for me last night and worked very well. I am looking forward to drinking more of it this summer.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Tahbilk Marsanne

You are looking for a light wine to drink in summer. Are you tired of grassy and sweet New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or slightly fruity Riesling? What about the poor fruit in unoaked Chardonnay? Or too much oak in oaked Chardonnay? Okay, I am not describing a premium scenario here, but a $20/bottle often has these problems.

Why not try something different? Tahbilk has a long tradition with Marsanne and quality aged vines. The 2014 Tahbilk Marsanne is an attractive proposition. This wine is crisp and has a focus on texture, rather than fruit, with an underlying minerality showing on the palate. This profile is perfect for supporting food, such as salads or fish.

This Marsanne is well made and could be cellared, but I recommend to drink it while fresh and zesty.

Score: 88/++

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spinifex Indigene

It is good to be back drinking Australian wine. I have reviewed the 2005 Spinifex Indigene before, but it is interesting to follow the aging process of this wine, made by a winemaker who wants to make fresh and vibrant wines, after nine years.

This Shiraz/Mataro blend is quite moreish. It is a savoury and quite well integrated wine, with flesh from the Shiraz and a tannic expression of the Mataro both contributing in a balanced fashion. Blueberry and mulberry fruit flavours dominate, on the structure of firm, but mellowed tannins. The wine has a long finish and has definitely gotten better with age. It is drinking very well now - a very modern and profound expression of Barossa Rhone varieties.

Score: 95/+++

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Cradle Of Wine

It has been a little quiet on this blog recently. This is because I am currently travelling around the Black Sea. Wine is believed to have originated from Mesopotamia, or what is today eastern Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, maybe 6000 years ago. I  tasted wines in Turkey and Georgia. Both countries have a bewildering array of indigenous grapes, more than 500 in each country. Not all are made into wine.

I was generally impressed with Turkish wines. Maybe they will go the way southern Italian wines have gone or even Greek varieties are going, although it will require a fair bit of investment. I enjoyed a white wine variety called Emir from Central Anatolia. This is a light, dry wine, with green apple and citrus flavours, minerality and an acidic finish. A well known red variety is Kalecik Karasi. Wines from this variety are medium bodied and quite elegant, similar to Tempranillo, I find. I was more impressed with Öküzgözü, another variety from Anatolia. This variety is often blended with Bogazkere. The idea is the same as with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends. Öküzgözü is a large grape, which produces a soft and elegant flavour, Bogazkere provides dark colour, body and tannins. Turasan is a producer I enjoyed. Another appealing wine was a Shiraz-Bogazkere blend from Sarafin.  I rate the wines mentioned 86-89 points and  good value for money.

In Georgia I tried a white wine called Rkatsiteli. This grape variety has been planted in Georgia for more than 5000 years and was widely planted in Russia as well. Apparently some is grown in the US and Australia. The wine I tried was quite Chablis like, with citrus flavours and a flinty, acidic finish. The red wine was Khvanchkara, regarded as a high-end wine. It is quite a sweet wine, tasting of raspberries and bubble gum. This takes some getting used to.

Overall, I found it very enjoyable to delve into wines which are very different from what we are used to. These wines are quite unique, and I hope some wineries will manage to achieve wider international distribution (which the Turkish wines need, as the dominant Muslim population does not drink wine).

Monday, September 22, 2014

Thomas Wines Kiss Shiraz

I wanted to test this Shiraz expression issue from the Hunter a bit more, but I must admit I do not have many examples in my cellar. But I found a 2003 Thomas Wines Kiss Shiraz.

This wine was still under cork, but it came up with a bright colour and vibrant aromas of red plum, which continued on the palate. This is a big wine with spicy undertones. I enjoyed the balanced texture and the noticeable acidity in this wine. The tannins are firm, but the fruit flavours continue to dominate through to the back palate and the lifted finish.

This is not your classic Hunter Shiraz, but this wine will live for ten years plus without problems.

Score: 94/+++

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hunter Valley Shiraz Trophy and Gold Medal Winners 2014

Hunter Valley Shiraz used to be a unique wine: relatively low in alcohol (12.5-13%), very soft with velvety tannins. Then along came Robert Parker, and everybody felt they needed to beef up their red wines. This was not so easy in the Hunter, so a number of wine makers, in particular Brokenwood, started to source grapes from McLaren Vale, and even added McLaren Vale brands. You cannot blame them to go with the trends, but these unique wines almost disappeared.

So what is the play in 2014? I tasted the nine Shiraz Gold Medal winners and have to say that the overall standard was quite good. But I could detect the "Hunter classic" only in one wine. This was my top wine from this tasting; the 2011 Tyrell's  Vat 9 Shiraz. This wine showed blueberry flavours, with great depth of fruit, and the velvety characters will develop (93 points).

The two Brokenwood wines were good, too. The 2013 Brokenwood Verona Shiraz is very dark and quite intense, well balanced, and with dusty tannins on the finish (92 points). The 2013 Brokenwood Mistress Shiraz is not as big, showing more red fruit and elegance (91 points). At the same level is the 2011 Thomas Wines Kiss Shiraz. This is an elegant, well balanced wine, but I found it a bit boring (91 points).

De Iuliis had two wines as well: The 2013 De Iuliis Steven Shiraz is quite fruity, and a little harsh (86 points), whereas the 2011 De Iuliis Limited Release Shiraz has more depth. This is a well rounded wine with a smooth finish (91 points).

Not quite at the same level were the 2013 Briar Ridge Signature Release Stockhausen Shiraz and the 2011 Pepper Tree Wines Tallavera Limited Release Shiraz (88 points). I did not try the 2013 David Hook Old Vines Belford Shiraz.

Red Wines from two other grape varieties won Gold Medals: the 2011 Margan White Label Barbera (soft and fruity, 88 points), and the 2013 De Iuliis Shiraz Touriga Nacional (a bit harsh, 88 points).

The Pepper Tree wine was the big trophy winner. This is why I am not a wine show judge.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Yarra Yering - The Full Line-up

It takes a long time to build up to an iconic wine brand status. It seems it takes an equally long time to lose it. I have not been familiar with Yarra Yering for many years, but yesterday I tried the following wines:

2013 Warramate Chardonnay
2011 Yarra Yering Chardonnay
2011 Warramate Pinot Noir
2012 Warramate Cabernets
2011 Yarra Yering Dry Red No 1
2008 Yarra Yering Dry Red No 1
2011 Yarra Yering Dry Red No 2
2007 Yarra Yering Dry Red No 2
2011 Yarra Yering Dry Red No 3
2010 Yarra Yering Underhill Shiraz
2007 Yarra Yering Underhill Shiraz

Underhill is a neighbouring vineyard bought many years ago, Warramate is also in the neighbourhood, bought more recently. The No 1 wine is the Bordeaux blend, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon I believe, No 2 is Shiraz, and No 3 is a blend of five Portuguese varieties, traditionally used to make Port.

I remember these wines having attractive fragrant feminine aromatics, built on a soft, but solid structure of fine tannins.

When I tasted the wines mentioned above, I found them thin, often underripe, without much shape, unattractive mouthfeel and length on the finish. I scored the wines 84 to 89 points. Only the 2011 Dry Red No 2 achieved 90 points, as it showed some good balance.

I remember some 15 years ago, I pulled a Dry Red No 1 from the 80s out of the cellar. It still had the price label on the bottle: $ 6.99. Today, all of these wines other than the Warramate cost $100 per bottle. Phew! As the saying goes: Money better spent elsewhere.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Two Excellent New Pinot Noirs

I recently drank two excellent Pinot Noirs side by side, grown about 200km apart, but they could not have been more different.

The 2012 Oakridge 864 Block 4 Guerin Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley has a bright red colour. The wine is light to medium, very smooth and elegant. The flavours are fragrant and of strawberry fruit. This is a feminine wine with excellent mouthfeel. Only the finish is a bit shorter than desirable for such a high quality wine.

Score: 93/+++

The 2012 Sangreal By Farr Pinot Noir from Geelong is much darker, and tastes of black cherry. As a result, it has a fuller mouthfeel. The finish expands beautifully. Like the wine above, this wine has a 'European' structure, but combined with sun-kissed fruit.

Score: 96/+++

It is not always that the bigger Pinot Noir wins out for me, but in this case it has.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay

Over the years, or decades rather, Leeuwin Estate has oscillated in its Art Series Chardonnay between a rich and exotic fruit spectrum and a more restrained citrus based expression. In recent years, it has settled somewhere in the middle, with the 2011 Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay an excellent example of this.

This wine shows quite a spectrum of fruit on the palate, with citrus, white peach and red apple dominant. There is melon as well. This complexity generates a full mouthfeel, yet the wine is precise and linear as well. I call this a paradox wine. This Chardonnay is perfectly balanced, with the right amount of acidity for freshness and excellent oak integration. The finish is very long. This wine drinks beautifully  now, but will age for a long time, too.

Score: 97/+++

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Three Granges

The other night I was fortunate to taste - actually, drink - three different vintages of Grange. They showed quite a lot of variation, but there are three things which Granges from different vintages have (more or less) in common, and which distinguish these wines from any other in Australia and the world, for that matter. The first is the depth of fruit. If you wanted to find an analogy, it is for taste as it would be for the eye when you dive over a reef and look down into the endless sea of increasingly blue and then black water. Many have tried to copy this, and ended up with overripe fruit. Grange fruit is not overripe, it is a very meticulous selection process to identify the ideal fruit. Secondly, it is the influence of oak, which is significant, but over time quite seamless. This has to do with the production method. I don't have enough space to describe this here. The third element is the structure, which is supported by very firm, sometimes coarse tannins, which allows the wine to age for decades.

On to the wines. The oldest was the 1991 Penfolds Grange. This is a big wine, with layered fruit flavours of plum, blackberry and blueberry. Cedar and dark chocolate add to the complexity. The strongly toasted oak is in good balance with the fruit. The finish is strong and tannic. This wine will live for a long time. I rate this highly based on the criteria outlined before, but it was not my favorite. Too brutish.

Score: 97/++

The 1992 Penfolds Grange was totally different. This wine showed also deep, dark berry fruit, but this wine is much more elegant, almost feminine. Others described it as sensual. It has great mouthfeel and a fleshy, long finish. This wine is perfect to drink now, and I would drink it in the next three years.

Score: 96/+++

I described the 2009 Penfolds Grange briefly in a previous post. On this night, the wine tasted big and oaky as previously, but the oak was not quite as dominant. I am now quite sure that the oak dominance will disappear over time. However, the second concern is likely to stay. The fruit is not as complex and layered as in the best years. As a result, the mouthfeel is not as satisfying. This is still a very good wine, but I am surprised, given the strength of the vintage, that the fruit does not come up better than this.

Score: 94/++

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Central Otago Pinot Noir

Central Otago has been in a bit of a quandary with its latest vintages. 2012 was cool, and many wines do not deliver the generosity of fruit associated with Central Otago. The following year was a warm, "easy" vintage, with many wines being quite open and broad. How do five well regarded wineries stack up?

Well, the wines of Domain Road, located near Felton Road, are actually from different vintages. The 2011 Domain Road Pinot Noir is attractive on the palate, open with interesting earthy undertones (91 points). The 2010 Paradise Pinot Noir is darker and quite intense, a little angular, but made for ageing (93 points).

Mt. Difficulty is one of Central Otago's most prominent wineries. The 2013 Roaring Meg Pinot Noir is made for every day drinking. It is a pleasant wine, soft and aromatic (90 points). The 2012 Bannockburn Pinot Noir (their estate wine) is more structured and quite tannic (92 points).

Mud House is a relatively high volume producer who manages to avoid the 'commercial wines' label. The 2012 Claim 431 Pinot Noir is still quite young in the glass, but with savoury characteristics and a slightly harsh mouthfeel (89 points). The 2013 version is broader, feels warmer and tastes more fruit orientated (90 points). The 2010 has a lighter mouthfeel, but lovely expressive fruit and soft tannins (93 points). Big vintage variation between these wines.

One of the bell weathers is Quartz Reef. the 2012 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir tastes of red cherry, with savoury notes and a very solid structure (93 points).

Rockburn, by comparison, is quite new. The winemaker is ex Felton Road. The 2012 Pinot Noir is a bit weak and lacks intensity (88 points). However, the 2012 Ten Barrels Pinot Noir (obviously a reserve wine) has more depth and is quite elegant with lifted aromas on the finish (93 points).    

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bass Phillip New Releases - Interview with Phillip Jones

Bass Phillip is perhaps the best, certainly the most unpredictable Pinot Noir producer in Australia with often exciting results. Phillip Jones, the owner, is a highly intelligent, often unorthodox winemaker. The interview ended up more like a lecture, as I expected and have experienced previously.

The Bass Phillip  four vineyards are in an unusual location in and around Leongatha, South Gippsland. This is dairy country. There is a lot of rainfall, 1 metre per year, and the soil is deep and fertile, of volcanic origin, with a lot of minerality, in particular iron and ironstone pebbles. Bass Phillip practices dense planting, on average 9000 plants/ha, similar to Burgundy. The wines of Burgundy are the model, and Phillip Jones employs many of their measures and practices. Bass Phillip is biodynamic since 2002.

Some of the interesting points he made:

1) Top quality Pinot Noir needs dampness in the feet (he would say that, wouldn't he). He points to Burgundy and Champagne. He believes that the mantra of 'vines need to struggle' is not good for Pinot Noir. Such climate produces intensity of fruit, but not complexity - and he was mildly pointing at Central Otago. In the same vein, he believes that parts of the Tamar River and the Huon will produce better Pinot Noir in Tasmania than the currently highly regarded dry Coal Valley.

2) Low yield is crucial, but the measure should not be t/ha, but rather grams/vine. For example, if a loosely planted vineyard shows a low yield per hectare, it is still high per vine and the fruit can be diluted (he has a point).

3) What is the magic of the home vineyard? He said he did not know, but the site was even cooler than others in the area as there are a couple of cold wind channels going through the site. There are also aquifers under the property. The soil is free draining and the vine roots now very deep. Hmm, not sure this explains it.

On to the Pinot Noirs from the great 2012 vintage. The tasting was a little difficult, as the glasses were rather small and the wines had not been opened long enough (as it turned out).

The 2012 Crown Prince Pinot Noir is the entry level, if you like, but this wine is far better than that. Strawberry flavours, a soft mouthfeel and silky tannins make this wine quite accessible now (92 points). The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir has more intensity, but I was not convinced by the finish (91 points). Then came the 2012 Bin 17k Pinot Noir. This wine is from an extremly dense planted 17000 plants/ha vineyard (get it?). Phillip Jones harvests only 100g of fruit per vine. 500g is standard in Burgundy. The wine is quite angular, like a good Burgundy, with cherry flavours dominating, and a long finish. This wine needs to be put down for a few years. (94 points).

The top two wines were hard to judge. The 2012 Premium Pinot Noir is elegant, with red and black cherry flavours. It has a piercing intensity along the palate, without being big, and an expanding finish - an exceptional wine (97 points). The 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir has even more intensity. It was very closed on the day, but showed a long finish (97+ points; others have rated this even higher). These two wines will gain in complexity over time, when the secondary savoury flavours start to show. They are best drunk in 5-15 years.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Felton Road New Releases - Interview with Winemaker Blair Walter

As luck will have it, I am likely to interview the two most highly regarded  Pinot Noir winemakers in the Southern Hemisphere on subsequent days.

The discussion with Blair Walter of Felton Road last night was an interesting lesson in the influence of terroir. The three vineyards from which the four single vineyard Pinot Noirs come, are quite close, yet the terroir influences are quite different.

The 'Mother' vineyard, The Elms, is at a higher altitude than the other vineyards and gets shaded over earlier in the afternoon. As a result, the vines ripen later, but with good intensity and structure. Block 3 has deep fine sandy loam. The resulting wine is the most aromatic, very elegant, often with exotic fruit and spice characteristics. Block 5, only 100m further east, has more clay content, and the resulting wine is more concentrated and the darkest of Felton Road's Pinot Noirs.

The Cornish Point vineyard lies adjacent to a lake and is almost totally surrounded by it. The water influence reduces the diurnal range (difference between day and night temperature). As a result, there is more ripening time at Cornish Point. These are the first Pinot Noir grapes picked. Interestingly, Blair Walter spoke of the shape of the wines, as I did in the last post, and says the Cornish Point Pinot Noir has a rounder shape. The soil is sand over loam, and the wine has typically strong fruit characteristics on the palate.

The Calvert Vineyard is close to the Elms, but at lower altitude. It is therefore warmer. Soils are dominated by clay. As a result, the wine is more angular and shares features with Block 5 (my interpretation), although the vines are much younger.

Now on to the tasted wines from the 2013 vintage. It was a relatively warm vintage and regarded as 'easy' in Central Otago. Felton Road picked early to avoid over-ripeness, but risk then is lack of fruit intensity. The 2013 Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir is a blend of all vineyards. The wine is quite open on the palate, but I find it a bit broad (90 points). The 2013 Cornish Point is a bit darker and more structured (91 points). The 2013 Calvert tastes of dark cherry, is more angular in its structure and quite closed at present (92 points). The 2013 Block 3 is where the Pinot Noir starts to sing. The aromas are lifted with exotic fruits and good depth and length as well (95 points).

My view is that by Felton Road's lofty standards, this is not the most successful vintage. Cooler conditions create better structures and mouthfeel for these wines. The 2013s are fine and well made, but will suit earlier drinking than many previous vintages.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The "Shape" of Red Wine

I store a tiny amount of American wine in the Napa Valley. Fortunately, my bottles were not affected by the latest earthquake. Some wineries were not so lucky. Let us just hope that "the big one" is not coming.

Every now and then I do a theoretical piece, and I have had positive feedback on these. So here is another one. Texture or mouthfeel, as I often call it, is probably the most important aspect of a wine to me. There are typical shapes for the most important red wine varieties, as shown in the (poorly drawn) graphic below.
  Good Pinot Noir has an expanding finish (the Burgundian fan). The shaded area shows possible shortcomings. Cabernet Sauvignon is very structured, some would say angular, from beginning to end. It sometimes lacks on the mid-palate. Shiraz (and Merlot, for that matter) is more rounded and fleshy. Poorer wines have a thin finish.

I hope this works for you.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz

I am always worried if I got the spelling right when I write about this wine. When Mount Langi is good, it is very good, but the vintages are varied in this cooler climate location. This is my first look at the 2005 vintage, but I am not worried, as the wine is screw capped.

The 2005 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz is a brooding wine. The fruit flavours are of blackberry and black cherry, a very dark feel. But the fruit is in no way overripe. The wine is aromatic and fresh for a wine of nine years. There is white pepper on the palate and enticing tannins. The wine lacks complexity a little bit and does not quite achieve the mouthfeel of a warm climate Shiraz. This comes down to personal preference. The length in this wine is satisfying.

Score: 93/+++

Saturday, August 23, 2014

5 most popular blog posts this year, so far

1) Sydney Rootstock, part 2  - you are with the trend: this is an organic wines showing
2) Penfolds St Henri - understandable: probably the most sensational wine release of the year
3) Sydney Rootstock, part 1
4) Wendouree Shiraz/Malbec - rarely seen cult wine
5) Wynns John Riddoch - very classic Cabernet Sauvignon

You made interesting, but good choices

Friday, August 22, 2014

Main Ridge Half Acre Pinot Noir

Main Ridge is one of my favorite (very focused) producers of Pinot Noir. This is my first taste of the 2008 Main Ridge Half Acre Pinot Noir. The colour of the wine has turned to garnet. On the palate, the typical elements of this winemaker are present: red cherry fruit, a savoury character and silky tannins. This is a moreish wine, although not quite up to the standard of the best vintages. The piercing intensity and lasting finish are not quite there, yet the texture of the wine is still way above average.

Score: 93/++

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tasmanian Pinot Noir

A couple of days ago, I tasted a significant number of Tasmanian Pinot Noirs during the 'Tasmania Unbottled' event. My overall conclusions are
- The quality in general continues to improve
- The wines are quite different to the ones from Victoria. They are generally lighter and made at lower alcohol levels due to the cooler climate
- There are differences between the wines from Northern Tasmania and the South East. The South East has less rainfall and more sunshine hours. This is reflected in the intensity of the best Pinot Noirs from this subregion.

Let's start with the Northern Tasmanian wines. Barringwood Vineyard produces two Pinot Noirs. The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir is quite fruity, well made, but a little simple (88 points). The 2012 Mill Block Pinot Noir is more savoury, with 50% whole bunches included, but lacks the intensity of the best wines (90 points). Very similar comments can be made on the Holm Oak Vineyards Pinot Noirs, the 2013 standard (88 points) and the 2012 'The Wizzard' Pinot Noir (90 points). I was impressed by the 2013 Josef Chromy Pinot Noir. This is a very pretty, smooth wine. Strawberry flavours dominate on the slightly lean frame. Silky tannins on the finish (92 points). I was not too impressed with the Tamar Ridge wines. The 2012 Pinot Noir has darker cherry flavours, but lacks mouthfeel (88 points). The 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir has more intensity, but lacks definition (90 points). Bay of Fires had great success with their Pinots over recent years. The 2012 Pinot Noir has black cherry as well as savoury characters. It is pretty and smooth, but not as intense as some other years (92 points). The 2012 Pipers Brook Pinot Noir has more depth, but the finish falls a little short - a no-no for top quality Pinot Noir (90 points). The 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir is remarkably fresh, despite an orange colour, there are savoury and barnyard notes as well, and the wine has good length (92 points).

Dalrymple makes a number of single vineyard Pinot Noirs. From the North East comes the 2012 Cottage Block Pinot Noir, a wine with quite complex flavours, dominated by strawberry fruit, but a lack of tannin structure (91 points). The 2012 Coal River Pinot Noir is darker in colour, with more intense cherry flavours, and a similarly weak tannin structure (91 points). The 2012 Stefano Lubiana Pinot Noir from the Derwent River shows also darker, relatively concentrated fruit. It is pretty, but a somewhat simple expression (89 points).

We now come to the best performers from the Coal River subregion. I tasted two wines from Glaetzer-Dixon. The 2013 Avance Pinot Noir is vibrant and fresh, with red cherry flavours, but the finish is short (89 points). The star of the day was the 2011 Reveur Pinot Noir, their flagship wine. This wine is more intense, with attractive earthy flavours in a European tradition, and a very long and expanding finish. Now we are talking (94 points). Almost as impressive was the 2012 Pinot Noir from the Tolpuddle Vineyard, now owned by Shaw & Smith. This is not a huge wine, but the red cherry intensity is building on the palate, reflecting the maturing of the vines, and again, the finish is long and expanding (93 points).

Overall, I found most wines pleasant to drink, but the knock-out factor, which some Victorian wines can deliver, is still missing, maybe with the exception of the last two wines.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tahbilk Roussanne Marsanne Viognier

The historic Tahbilk winery is modernizing its range of wines. One new addition is the 2013 Tahbilk Roussanne Marsanne Viognier. Tahbilk is well placed to produce such a wine, as its Marsanne vines go back almost 90 years. The other varieties are from much younger vines, though.

It is good to see new wines coming onto the market which emphasize texture as opposed to overt fruit. But I am afraid they will suffer the same fate as Riesling: loved by the critics, but ignored by the wine drinking public.

This wine shows blossom, pear and green apple characteristics, but the impact of the 26% Viognier component is less than expected. There is some (slightly broad) minerality in the wine. The flavour components are well (if not too well) balanced by acidity. The wine's mouthfeel is not as elegant as a leading contender of such a blend. This wine would benefit from another year in the bottle and will then be a good food wine.It should not be aged for long.

Score: 89/+

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Australian Icon Wines - Post Script, James Halliday

I noticed by accident that some wines from the tasting reported on below received between 96 and 98 points in the 2015 James Halliday guide. These were the two Spinifex wines, St. Halletts Old Block and Peter Lehmann's Stonewell Shiraz (there are probably more, but this is just what I came across). They were good wines, as I mentioned, but 96-98 points? Is Mr. Halliday in such desperate need to get good wines submitted? He now uses a 5 point scale for good wines (94-98 points). Or is this the beginning of moving the scale up to 110 points (like adding five red stars to five black stars), the biggest scale in the world?

Also, you can now buy the 2015 guide at the beginning of August, earlier than tickets to Rolling-Stones concerts. The effect is that most of the better wines reviewed will be sold out at the beginning of 2015. How useful is that?

How silly can it get? We need better credibility from our most well known reviewer.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Australia's Iconic Reds Tasting

Last night I was a lucky man. These were the wines I tasted (in alphabetical order)

2012 Best's Bin 0 Shiraz
2010 Elderton Ashmead Cabernet
2010 Elderton Command Shiraz
2010 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz
2010 Langmeil Orphan Bank Shiraz
2009 Penfolds Grange Shiraz
2010 Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz
2012 Spinifex Bete Noir
2012 Spinifex La Mouline
2010 St. Hallets Old Block Shiraz
2009 Torbreck Descendant
2009 Torbreck Les Amis Grenache
2009 Torbreck RunRig Shiraz
2011 Tyrell's Vat 9 HV Shiraz
2013 Ulithorne Dona GSM
2012 Ulithorne Chi Grenache Shiraz
2011 Ulithorne Paternus Cabernet Shiraz
2011 Ulithorne Frux Frugis Shiraz
2012 Wynns V & A Cabernet Shiraz
2010 Wynns Alex 88 Shiraz

Western Australia was absent, and much of Victoria, but the tasting provided a good overview of the state of play of the major red varieties in Australia nonetheless. The wines were of excellent standard across the board. I will not focus on point scoring, but rather discuss my findings.

Ulithorne was a revelation to me. I was not familiar with this small winery from McLaren Vale, but mightily impressed with all their wines: great purity of fruit, precise winemaking and true varietal expression. Their Cabernet, with silky tannins and good ripeness was the wine of the night for me. The Grenache was dark fruited and elegant. No confectionery flavours there.

Henschke's Mount Edelstone was very complex and impressed me with exotic spice flavours, its smoothness and great balance.

Clearly, a number of Barossa makers have toned down alcohol and ripeness, with mixed success: Peter Lehmann's Stonewell Shiraz and St. Hallets Old Block were examples. I like the vibrancy and freshness of the Spinifex wines, but would I go for their wines if I wanted the 'Aussie Shiraz' feel? Some producers stick to their formula of  quite ripe wines, such as Elderton and Langmeil. The 2010 vintage helped with balance.

The Bests and Tyrell's examples were less full bodied, with some red fruit flavours coming through. I enjoyed the silky tannins and  balanced acidity in the Wynns V & A Cabernet Shiraz.

Now to the extremes: The 2009 Grange was the most heavily oaked wine of the night. No doubt it will come around over time, but the fruit is not of the quality of a number of years of the recent past. This is astonishing, given the strong vintage.

Robert Parker once described Torbreck wines built like skyscrapers - big in all dimensions. This has not changed. I found the floral impact of the Viognier in the Descendant as well as the alcoholic finish too strong. However, the Les Amis and the RunRig were impressive in their own way. The Les Amis was super smooth on the palate, despite the ripe black cherry fruit. And similarly, the RunRig was smooth, quite approachable with fantastic fruit intensity.

This was a great tasting, showcasing improved winemaking and different styles. Based on this, Australian wine should be able to refresh its image overseas sooner rather than later.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mauro Molino Barolos

2010 is hailed as a brilliant vintage in Piedmont. The Mauro Molino Barolos are certainly impressive. Home of the winery is in La Morra, in the north of the Barolo region. Mauro Molino applies shortish maceration periods, which means the wines are quite approachable in their youth.

The basic 2010 Mauro Molino Barolo is a blended wine from a number of vineyards. Aromatic rose and cherry aromas are supported by savoury undertones. The wine is coated by firm tannins and is very well balanced. It can be drunk now, but will be better in 3 years (92 points). The Barolo Gallinotto is similar, but with more fruit weight and moving from red to black cherry. It has an excellent long finish (93 points). The Barolo Bricco Luciani (formerly Gancia) steps it up more. Dark plum and raisin flavours dominate. The oak, resulting from 24 months maturation in oak barriques, is noticeable, but the fruit matches it well. The finish is long and arresting. This is the most attractive wine of the line-up right now (95 points). The Barolo La Serra is a new wine for Mauro Molino, from 40 year old vines. The wine is very complex, but also very closed now. Spices and earthy flavours dominate. This wine needs time (93-96 points).

These wines are excellent examples of modern, yet complex Barolos, which will age well for 20 years or more. They are reasonably priced (for Barolo) and well worth seeking out.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hoddles Creek Chardonnay

The 2013 Hoddles Creek Chardonnay is a great lunch wine, now that the sun is starting to warm up the days. This is a zesty wine, with lemon, lime and green apple flavours. The fruit flavours are matched with a good dose of acidity. There is a reasonable level of alcohol (13.2%), but the wine is not heavy at all. No malolactic fermentation in this wine, I think. Great value for money.

Score: 90/+++

Monday, July 21, 2014

William Downie Gippsland Pinot Noir

William Downie's Gippsland Pinot Noir is perhaps the most difficult to 'classify'. The Yarra Valley Pinot Noir typically displays strawberry flavours and is quite ethereal. The one from the Mornington Peninsula tastes of black cherry. And the Gippsland one sits somewhere in-between. It is often the most complex, and most interesting, taking nothing away from the other two, though.

The 2008 William Downie Gippsland Pinot Noir ticks all the right boxes. It has an outstanding texture. I am experiencing  a silky and  ultra smooth mouthfeel all the way. The fruit flavours are strawberry and red cherry. The wine has a long and persistent finish. This is one of the best Australian Pinot Noirs. It is world class.

Score: 96/+++

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chateau Fombrauge

In many ways, the 2009 Chateau Fombrauge is a similar wine to the Chateau Villars, reviewed before. It has the same grape variety mix, it is from the right bank, and the flavour profile is similar. However, this wine hails from St. Emilion, one of the two prestigious regions there. Therefore it is twice as expensive ($70 per bottle).  Black plum flavours come to the fore a bit more than in the Villars. Overall, the frame of the wine is bigger, with stronger oak and alcohol influences. This wine needs to settle down a bit more and requires further cellaring in order to soften on the palate.

Score: 93/+

Friday, July 18, 2014

Chateau Villars

I have reviewed the 2009 Chateau Villars in an overview on Bordeaux before, but as it is such a good find, and I drank it again last night, I thought it is worth while to write a separate note.

This Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend is from Fronsac, one of the less prestigious subregions on the right bank of Bordeaux. But in 2009, everybody could make a good wine, and this is certainly one. The wine has a deep ruby colour. It is medium to full-bodied with a medium fruit intensity. This means it is possible to enjoy the wine now. The blackcurrant and black cherry flavours are very expressive, supported by spice and vanilla flavours from oak. Firm tannins provide a good structure for this wine leading to a long finish. I enjoyed the mouthfeel of this wine, although it is not elegant-perfect. This is a great value buy from an expensive vintage.

Score: 93/++

Monday, July 14, 2014

Gatt Barossa Shiraz

I was born in Germany. So I must congratulate the German soccer team.They have started to change their style of football about 10 years ago and now play, in my humble opinion, the most entertaining and fluent style of football in Europe. The match against Brazil at this world cup will remain unforgettable.

However, this is a blog about wine. 20 years ago, I had the ambition of collection every 'good' wine made in Australia. This became more and more unrealistic, as the number of wineries exploded and quality rose across the board. So then you can either pick more or less randomly or try to hone in on special regions to understand them in more detail.. I did the latter, which is why you find that most of the Shirazes I collect (and review) come from the Barossa, Cabernet Sauvignon from Western Australia, and Pinot Noir from Victoria.

I came across the 2010 Gatt Barossa Shiraz at a wine show and got a bottle given. I tried the wine yesterday and must say I seriously disliked it. It had all the aspects of what Barossa wines often get criticised for. It is very alcoholic, the fruit is one-dimensional, as it is overripe, and the finish is harsh. No charm in this wine, just a bomb. Thank goodness, not all Barossa wines are like this. Now, this wine has collected a number of gold medals at wine shows, I believe in Australia as well as Europe. Simply because the wine has fruit intensity? I regard these wine shows as deeply flawed, and I can only hope you never pick a wine because of the number of medals on the bottle.

Score: 82/---

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

The 2008 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir opens up beautifully. The nose consists of intense red and black cherry flavours. These continue on the palate. The wine is quite soft and smooth, despite the deep cherry and plum flavours. They open up more and more towards the back palate. The expanding and long finish is held together by silky and velvety tannins. This wine has an excellent texture, fruit flavours and acids are well balanced. - A perfect example of a new world Pinot Noir.

Score: 96/+++

Yalumba Lyndoch Singe Vineyard Shiraz

Something very strange happened. I drank this 2005 Yalumba Fromm Vineyard Shiraz one day after the Sophia reported upon in my last post. The flavour and structure profiles were very similar despite different geographies and grape varieties. This wine comes from a vineyard on the border between Lyndoch and Gomersal in the Barossa Valley. The wine tastes of lush black fruits, cherry and plum.It is ripe, but not jammy. The tannins are very subtle now. The wine is balanced and well made, but needs to be drunk now.

Score: 91/+

Friday, July 11, 2014

Craggy Range Sophia

Sophia is a Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend and therefore Craggy Range's take on the right bank Bordeaux wines.The 2007 Craggy Range Sophia still displays a ruby colour with deep intensity. This medium to full-bodied wine has attractive blueberry and blackberry notes on the nose and it starts like that on the palate. The wine has developed quite a lot since I tasted it in 2009. This is a wine that should be drunk now. It is nicely balanced, but the fruit intensity starts to drop off at the back palate.

Score: 92/++

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling

The Grosset Polish Hill Riesling is by many seen as Australia's best Riesling, certainly its most age-worthy. Today, I opened a 2006 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling to see and taste how it has developed. I was in for a surprise, but not a shock, really.

The colour of this wine (under screw cap) is still pale lemon. There is not much development noticeable at all. And on the palate, the wine is as steely as ever. It has lost the austereness of its early years, but the character is still lime and minerality. I detect no toasty notes at all. The structure is completely in tact, with acidity and fruit in perfect harmony. This is a well made wine in the dry Clare Valley style, and my only criticism is that there is not an awful lot going on in the glass.

Score: 94/++

Friday, July 4, 2014

Yalumba Single Vineyard Shiraz

Many producers in the Barossa Valley have experimented for ten years or so with single vineyard wines. Most of these are produced in small volumes, often only available at cellar door, and quite expensive.

Over the years, I picked up some of these to learn about the Barossa subregions. Today I opened a 2005 Yalumba Swingbridge Vineyard Shiraz from Craneford, Eden Valley. The Eden Valley is one half of the Barossa, with the neighbouring Baossa Valley being the other half. The 90 year old vines of this vinyard are planted at an altitude of 400m and are expected to deliver some cooler climate characteristics. The wine does not disappoint.

The bouquet delivers scents of higher altitude Shiraz: violets and fragrant aromas. On the palate, blueberry flavours dominate, but there are also blackberry fruits and sweetness on the mid-palate. The wine is finely structured with soft tannins, which are not very noticeable on the palate, but strong enough to hold up the wine for close to ten years. The mouthfeel drops a bit on the finish, but the vibrancy of the fruit wins out overall.

You will not be able to find this particular wine, I suggest, but it might be worth while to track down similar wines.

Score: 93/+++

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dalwhinnie Shiraz

Dalwhinnie Shiraz is one of the few wines I buy every vintage of. I drink them at about eight years of age, when primary and secondary characteristics blend together. Yesterday I opened the 2005 Dalwhinnie Shiraz. I was slightly worried because of the drought conditions in that year.

And sure, some of the typical characteristics were there: the blackberry and mulberry flavours and the silky tannins. This is the impact of the special terroir. But the drought is very noticable as well. The fruit is very ripe and tastes somewhat dead rather than fresh and vibrant. The wine is not totally balanced. The earthy and meaty flavours include some sharpness. I still think this is a good wine, but not a great one.

Score: 91/0

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Comeback For Cabernet/Shiraz?

Cabernet/Shiraz is Australia's signature blend. It works well. The structure of Cabernet is filled out by fleshy Shiraz. I think this would be a far more popular blend if regulation would allow it in the old world countries, for example in the Bordeaux or Rhone regions. However, over the last 20 years, this blend lost its importance in Australia, as the desire for pure varietal wines took over. Some companies have stuck with this blend, for example Yalumba. However, I detect new interest in it recently.

Tahbilk, who released the first estate grown Cabernet/Shiraz in 1972 has just reintroduced the blend with the 2010 Tahbilk Old Vines Cabernet Shiraz. The wine has a slightly fruity core of plum and blackcurrant. Vanilla from oak is quite noticeable, too. The wine is well balanced and flows seamless down the palate. This full-bodied wine produces a pleasant mouthfeel, which is not overpowering. It finishes with firm tannins.

Score: 91/+

A different beast is the 2010 Son of Eden Pumpa from Eden Valley. A super full-bodied wine with black fruit characters, this wine is jammy and it has chocolate on the palate as well. The wine is well made, but I find it too full-on. The fruit is from young vines and the wine is not expensive, but I cannot drink more than one glass.

Score: 87/-

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

2010 Bordeaux from St. Emilion

The 2010s from St. Emilion are not easy to taste right now. These Merlot/Cabernet Franc wines are very tannic, with high acidity. The fruit is concentrated and will dominate oak and tannins over time, but as a general rule, they will need many years before being a good drink. I tasted a number of Grand Crus which are quite reasonably priced.

Chateau La Confession shows very dark colour. The concentrated flavours are of dark berries with a good length on the palate and  firm tannins (93 points). I found Chateau La Serre less appealing. The flavours were similar, but the wine a little harsh and not as well balanced (90 points). The Clos l'Oratoire was a softer and more open wine. It was different from the rest and could be drunk earlier, say in a year or two. The palate was very Merlot-like, but with good intensity. There were spicy and earthy flavours as well (93 points). Chateau Saint Georges Cote Pavie was more in line with the first two wines, but displayed less depth of flavour (91 points). Chateau La Dominique was the most closed wine of all. It will probably last the longest, but I found the acidity in this wine too much (92 points).

The verdict: 2010 Clos l'Oratoire for early drinking and the 2010 Chateau La Confession to put away.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Thomas Wines New Releases

The recent tasting of the Andrew Thomas wines yielded some unexpected results.

The Semillons are from 2014. Overall, they are more open and generous than the steely wines from 2013. I tasted the 2014 Thomas OC Semillon, which I found very crisp and delicious (93 points). The 2014 Thomas Braemore Semillon showed lime flavours and delivered a bigger mouthfeel, but I found it less pure than the OC (92 points). There was also a 2008 Thomas Braemore Semillon to taste. The colour was still fresh and light, but  the expected honey and toast flavours were emerging on the palate (92 points).

The reds I tasted were from the 2011 vintage. In the Hunter, that year escaped the worst rains which were experienced in South Australia and Victoria. I really enjoyed the 2011 Thomas Sweetwater Shiraz. It showed redcurrant fruit and had opened up nicely. This wine is very approachable now, with spice and velvety tannins producing a very pleasant mouthfeel (93 points). The 2011 Thomas Kiss Shiraz is a wine for longe term cellaring. It is quite firm at this stage. The flavours are pure, with red cherry dominant and good length on the finish (93 points).  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

William Downie New Releases

William Downie is among the most talented and exciting winemakers in Australia. He releases three Pinot Noirs from vineyards on the Mornington Peninsula, the Yarra Valley and Gippsland. He also manages the large Thousand Candles project in the Yarra Valley.

The three Pinot Noir releases from 2013 are simply outstanding. The 2013 vintage was warmer, and the wines are more open and generous than those from 2012. These wines are utterly delicious on the palate. They share a velvety texture and a beautiful expanding finish ( Burgundian fan). The Yarra Valley wine shows strawberry flavours, the Mornington Peninsula wine is more masculine and in the black cherry spectrum. The Gippsland wine is in between, but with the highest complexity. These wines hardly have their equal in Australia. The quality is similar, the choice a matter of personal preference.


I find it harder to warm to the 2013 Thousand Candles wine. The concept is to let the site, which is in the middle of the Yarra Valley, shine through. The varieties are not emphasized. In 2013, the majority is Shiraz, blended with Pinot Noir. There are many other varieties planted on the site, so that in the future different blends will be produced, and most likely more than one wine. The 2013 is nicely balanced, but it is just a nice aromatic, cooler climate Shiraz. More work needs to be done to determine how to make this wine special. The site, the winemaker, and the investment should be able to deliver this over time.


Friday, June 20, 2014

The Problems With Screw Capped Bottles

We all love the fact that wine under screw cap cannot be corked (unless there was a problem in the winery). However, I have encountered three problems.

- There can be leakage of chemicals from the cap. This is rare with modern screw caps.

- Bottles under screw cap are often filled right to the cap. I don't know if wineries do this because they want to be generous, or because they have no control, or because they want to minimize oxygen in the bottle. I assume it is the latter. These bottles have a couple of rings in the neck to anchor the screw cap. The problem is, this leads to an uneven flow of the wine when poured. This is a particular problem when the bottle is very full. The result is often unpleasant spillage. The only ways to avoid this are either to start pouring very carefully, to decant, or to insert some kind of pouring device.

- The third, and in my experience most serious problem is that the plastic covering the neck is often quite loose once the screw cap is removed. If you hold the bottle at the neck, you can lose the grip. Yesterday, I lost control over a bottle and smashed a glass in the process. And I had near accidents a couple of times before. Do not ever hold screw capped bottles at the neck.

Any comments?  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Moorooduc Estate and Hurley Vineyard

I attended tastings of two interesting Mornington Peninsula producers.

Moorooduc Estate is one of the earliest wineries on the Peninsula, sitting in the Northern part. The wines I will be discussing are all 2012s, except the Chardonnay. The 2011 McIntyre Vineyard 'The Moorooduc' Chardonnay is their premium white. The Chardonnays have been affected less by the rainy 2011 vintage than the red wines. This wine has intense citrus flavours, balanced by good acidity (92 points). The 2012 Devil Bend Creek Pinot Noir is the entry level Pinot Noir wine, made from purchased fruit.  It shows attractive cherry fruit, maybe a bit too much (88 points). The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir has much more complexity, including some savoury characteristics. It is an elegant wine, but the finish is rather short (91 points).

The 2012 Robinson Pinot Noir shows bright cherry fruit. It is precise, with silky tannins on the finish (93 points). The 2012 McIntyre Vineyard 'The Moorooduc' Pinot Noir is a darker wine, with black cherry flavours and strong tannins, due to the sandy soil, according to winemaker Kate McIntyre (93 points). Then there is an 'out there' Shiraz, the 2012 McIntyre Vineyard Whole Bunch Shiraz. It did not convince me: the result of the 100% whole bunches is a very dry feel on the palate and not enough fruit. I find this wine somewhat unrefined (87 points).

Hurley Vineyard is a winery not previously known to me. The style of the Pinot Noir is quite European, emphasizing texture more than fruit. The 2011 Estate Pinot Noir is in the strawberry/red cherry spectrum and a bit light bodied (88 points). Three single vineyard Pinot Noirs were shown from 2012. The 2012 Hurley Hommage Pinot Noir starts with strawberry flavours on the palate and moves to some savoury characteristics on the back. Overall, it is a little light (89 points). The 2012 Lodestone Pinot Noir has more weight, with cherry flavours, but it finishes slightly harsh (90 points). The 2012 Garamond Pinot Noir is probably the best known. It has savoury and earthy characteristics, displaying nice texture and balance (91 points).

I often found  that Mornington Pinot Noirs had too much fruit weight and not enough length, you might say they were  Shiraz drinker Pinot Noirs. The ones tasted here were certainly not that. There is more refinement and individual character. This has to be a good trend.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Roberto Voerzio Rocche dell' Annunziata Torriglione - a 100 pointer?

At first, I need to come back to the 2000 Altare Barolo Brunate. It did not show well, but I have previously had an excellent experience with this wine. At first I did not pay attention to the signs, but I now think this had to do with bottle variation. The cork had lifted maybe 1mm, and it was saturated to 80% by wine.There was no cork taint, but I think what happened was that there was considerable oxygen exchange with the outside world. I have to call it like it was, but normally this wine should not have aged as much as it did.

Now to the 2000 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Rocche dell' Annunziata Torriglione. This wine had received 100 points by Wine Spectator on its release. Roberto Voerzio achieved fame with the 1997 vintage. I was in Piedmont shortly after the vintage was released and observed how the prices of this not so well known producer went up, almost on a weekly basis. His meticulous treatment of the fruit in vineyard and winery had produced stunningly elegant and intense wines.

The colour of this 2000 wine showed more depth than is typical for Barolo - a good sign. The bouquet is quite pronounced. There is beautiful blackberry and blueberry fruit on the palate, evenly experienced on the front and back palate. This is a concentrated, but feminine wine. The structure is solid with firm tannins, yet the flavours are smooth and complex. This is a remarkable wine, but I shy away from giving it 100 points. The mouthfeel does not seem to be totally perfect despite the balanced nature of the wine.

Score: 98/+++

The experience of drinking these four Barolos from 2000 has been terrific. Had the Altare bottle been good, all wines would have scored  95 points or above. Which other region in the world can achieve this? Plus these wines are utterly unique with their aromatic yet intense characteristics.

Often, the point for an ultra premium wine is made that one could have bought half a dozen very good bottles instead. In this case, I would like to make the opposite case: Instead of buying three good bottles with expected qualities, why not buy one bottle of a great Barolo for a unique experience?  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Gaja Barolo Conteisa

Let us continue the examination of 2000 Barolos with the 2000 Gaja Barolo Conteisa. Gaja was the other major revolutionary. He introduced French barriques to Piedmont, was not interested in following Italian DOC regulations and did a superb job in marketing his wine, in particular in the US. What he shared with Elio Altare was the drive to make Barolos elegant.

And elegant this wine is. On opening the bottle, there is a very strong floral bouquet of violets and roses. This wine comes from another famous La Morra vineyard, Cerequio, not far from Brunate. Therefore no surprises about these feminine notes. The fruit flavours are blackberry and black cherries and slight savoury characters on the back palate. This wine has also softened considerably, but drinks well at present. There is still a backbone of acidity and fine tannins on the finish. The mouthfeel is not quite as rounded as the Vietti, but this remains an excellent wine.

Score: 95/++

For those who have examined the photo, you may have identified the fourth wine, which is yet to come. It received 100 points by Wine Spectator on its release.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Elio Altare Barolo Brunate

"We have won", Elio Altare exclaims. He was one of the first, with Angelo Gaja, to change the nature of making Barolo in the 1980s. He aggressively reduced maceration periods and says that Barolo should be about elegance, not acidity and tannins. Traditionalists have followed, although not as much.

The Brunate vineyard is one of the top three in the Barolo region. It is an amphitheater located just south of La Morra, shared by a number of producers, common here, as is the case in Burgundy. The La Morra subregion has a reputation for producing quite fragrant and beautifully elegant wine.

How would the 2000 Elio Altare Barolo Brunate have held up? To start with the conclusion, it was disappointing. The wine had lost its freshness and vibrancy, not because it is overripe, but the wine clearly lacks acidity. It is still a good wine, with excellent cherry fruit and dry tannins on the finish, but the wine looks tired now.  Altare's revolution gone too far?

The other conclusion would be: At seven years of age, this wine was probably stunning.

Score: 91/+

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vietti Barolo Rocche

Over the next few days, I will taste and write up some of the great Barolos from the 2000 vintage. I have been a great fan of Piedmont's Barolo wines since I first visited there in 1999. I reckon 14 years is a good time to cellar these wines. Old fashioned ones need more time. Initially the 2000 vintage was hailed as an absolutely outstanding vintage. It was warm, and the fruit ripe and appealing to an international customer base. Then doubts set in, when a number of commentators got concerned about the level of ripeness, and they doubted the staying power of these wines.

The first wine I tried this evening is the 2000 Vietti Barolo Rocche. Vietti is a lovely and successful family wine company, which over the years acquired vineyards, or part of vineyards in every major subregion of Barolo. The Rocche is a vineyard in hometown Castiglione Falletto.

The wine opens with a strong aroma of red berry fruit and roses, very typical for the Nebbiolo variety. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied, but well-rounded. The red fruit theme continues with red cherry and raspberry flavours. These are not raspberry/confectionary flavours as in poorer Grenache, but very pure, precise and elegant fruit flavours. The wine is still vibrant and not tired as feared as a result of the warm vintage. Secondary savoury and mushroom flavours are just starting to come through.

The dominant feature of this wine are the dry, silky tannins and the long, long finish. This is an excellent food wine. It made me happy, and I am looking forward to what is to come.

Score: 96/+++  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Two great 2002 Barossa Shirazes

There is this concern with full-bodied Barossa Shiraz that it does not age well. 'The fruit is very ripe and will simply die over time.' And I certainly have encountered wines like that. But the two wines I am describing below performed very well.

It was with some trepidation that I opened a bottle of the 2002 Torbreck The Factor. This is the biggest of Torbreck's wines, not mellowed by Viognier like RunRig or The Descendant. I was in for a pleasant surprise.The wine still has an intense purple colour. The flavours are black plum and blackberry, still quite youthful.There is the expected sweet core of ripe fruit, but overall, the wine has mellowed and is well balanced. There is still a massive mouthfeel, but it is not aggressive or overbearing. The tannins are firm and silky as well, and the wine has a long and lasting finish - very satisfying. As an aside, the alcohol of this wine is (only) 14.5%, which has done the wine a lot of good.

Score: 95/+++

The 2002 Barossa Valley Estate E & E Shiraz tastes like the little brother in comparison. The descriptors are similar, but everything is a bit less intense.The wine is quite elegant, and the oak not very noticeable any more, and the mouthfeel less dramatic. This wine should be drunk now.

Score: 93/++

Both wines are excellent examples of the unique terroir in the Barossa. These are wines of an intensity of fruit which is hardly found anywhere else in the world. 12 years of age have helped to make them very drinkable.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Grenache Tasting, New vs. Old World

Grenache is a variety which still battles for the status of a serious wine in most countries. This is despite the fact that well made Grenache is an excellent food wine. When one feels to to drink a red wine with Asian food, for example, Grenache is my first choice because of the generally lower tannin levels.

The poor reputation stems from a couple of decades ago, when the Rhone region produced very high yield, cheap Grenache, which tasted predominantly like lollipop. We know these times are over, and this tasting provided further proof. A surprising outcome was that the cheaper wines tasted were just as interesting or even better than the expensive wines. I am listing the wines in ascending order of price.

2009 Cien y Pico Tintorera. This cheap Grenacha from south of Madrid was surprisingly complex with savoury and earthy flavours dominant. The mouthfeel was not that great, but this cannot be expected for the price (89 points).

2013 Head Old Vine Grenache. This wine was matured in large 2000 litre used oak barrels and therefore has seen very little oak. The wine is red fruit dominant and quite balanced, but not very intense (89 points).

2012 Head Old Vine Grenache. This is a much stronger wine from the great 2012 vintage. This wine was stored in 500 litre oak barrels and the oak is more noticeable here. However, the fruit is very intense and more than matches the oak. There are smoky characters in this wine, but it is very elegant and well integrated (90% Grenache, 10% Shiraz). For me, the wine of the night (93 points).

2008 Montirius Cotes du Rhone. This wine had some rough edges. A blended wine, clearly entry level (86 points).

2011 Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas Rouge. This GSM blend comes from Paso Robles, California. It is an elegant and balanced wine with licorice flavours strong, and firm tannins. Again, the mouthfeel is a little lacking (91 points).

2011 Tablas Creek Espirit Rouge. This is the premium wine. Raspberry flavours dominate, and there is more fruit concentration, but the finish is surprisingly short (90 points).

2013 Head Ancestor Grenache. The first 100% Grenache made by Alex Head. The fruit comes from Eden Valley (as opposed to the Old Vine Grenache, where it comes from the Barossa Valley). The aroma is strong. There is raspberry on the pallet, but also a strong confectionery flavour, which I found off-putting. On the plus side, the wine is intense, smooth and finishes with silky tannins (91 points).

2011 Domaine de Marcoux CNDP. This Chateauneuf-du-Pape is based on 80% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre. It shows red fruit characteristics and is quite complex with good length. It is slightly earthy on the finish and will develop secondary characteristics over time (92 points).

An interesting aspect of the tasting was that it would not have been easy to pick the country of origin of these wines, although the Australians were a bit more fruit focussed.