Thursday, January 23, 2014

Magnums, The Closure Debate (Again!)

Over the last few weeks, I had some interesting experiences drinking mature red wine from different types of bottles and bottle closures and the outcomes were different from what the press want you to believe.

In relation to white wine, some results are pretty clear. Natural cork is not a good closure. Even if there is no fault, cork often dulls the wine. Other closures are clearly better. It remains to be seen how often chemicals leak from screw caps.

Red wine is more complicated in this regard. The other day, I drank a 2005 Mt. Langhi Shiraz under screw cap.It was no different from the first year after bottling - no maturing effects whatsoever. I find this disappointing. If I open an eight year old bottle, I am seeking complexity of flavour, a mellowing of the tannins etc.

Magnums are priced at a premium in Australia (in contrast to many countries), mainly because the surface area of the cork is less relevant than in normal bottles, and the wines should mature more slowly, thereby offering more value. Generally speaking, I find this to be true. But are Magnums becoming superfluous with screw caps on the scene, other than for celebratory reasons? Not in my experience. The 1996 Wynns I reported on was still fresh, but was also maturing - just slowly. I have no doubt there is a minuscule air exchange occurring under cork, whereas there is none under screw cap.

The regular size 1998 Cullen under cork was also perfect. There was nothing wrong with the cork, and the wine had developed beautifully.

So, what does all this mean for me? Very simply,

1) The move to screw caps is important, because it is a wake-up call to cork manufacturers. They must improve quality control and I expect faults to reduce over time.

2) Opening a corked wine bottle is very disappointing, in particular if I had stored the wine for many years. However, this does not happen very often, maybe in 2-3% of bottles. Leading winemakers establish special relationships with quality cork producers to get better quality control.

3) Cork allows a quality wine to develop flavours through aging, which screw caps do not necessarily do. I have not enough experience with other closures. The glass closures used by Henschke could be interesting.

4) Some wines seem to mature nicely under screw cap, for example Moss Wood. It happens, just more slowly. But others do not.

In conclusion, and perhaps paradoxically, I am somewhat weary about buying a red wine I want to age under screw cap (Penfolds?), while I am happily buying one under cork if the cork management is good.    

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot

Interestingly, a couple of days after the 96 Wynns, I drank a bottle of the 1998 Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot. This was also under cork and prior to the re-branding to Diana Madeline. How did they compare?

The Cullen is a medium-bodied wine, with dominant red berry flavours and some earthy characters in the background.. There is good acidity in the wine and it has amazing freshness for a 15 year old Cabernet Blend. The wine is very elegant and well rounded. Silky tannins lead to a long finish. This is a world class wine.

It is different from the John Riddoch in a number of ways. The Cullen is more fragrant, with less fruit weight, but a more defined and precise definition on the palate.

Score: 96/+++

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wynns John Riddoch

After Grange and Hill of Grace, Wynns' John Riddoch is probably the most prominent Australian Wine, certainly if history (although it is not made every year) and longevity are highly weighted.

I was looking forward to open this 1996 Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon from magnum. The colour of this wine is still dominated by a lively red, but there are significant orange tones. It looks almost like a Barolo. Drinking this wine, it is all about the fruit. Wynns has the largest vineyard holdings on the famous terra rossa soil of Coonawarra, and the pick of the crop goes into the John Riddoch. Redcurrant dominates, but there are tobacco and savoury notes as well. There has been criticism about too generous oak treatment in the 1990s, but this wine has aged in a very balanced fashion. Is there such a thing as a wise old wine? The wine is elegant and has finesse. The tannins have softened, and although there is some creaminess in the wine, the oak is not very noticeable. This wine goes down like a treat, and in magnum has at least 5 to 10 years of excellent drinking ahead.

Score: 94/++

This experience raises a number of issues in relation to magnums, their pricing and my recent experience with 10 year old screw-cap reds. More about that in a future post.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chateau Pontet-Canet

Chateau Pontet-Canet has been reported to be one of the main movers up the quality rankings in Bordeaux. Its wine is known to be on the bigger and more intense side.

I was therefore interested to see how the 2002 Chateau Pontet-Canet would perform, a year in which getting the grapes ripe was a challenge for many. The wine comes from Pauillac, Cabernet Sauvignon heartland. The wine's colour is very dark blue. Blackcurrant flavours dominate, and I certainly did not detect any greenness in the wine. However, this Bordeaux shows a frequent problem, namely it is quite flat on the mid palate. Overall, the structure of the wine is good, with firm tannins holding it well together, the drawback is the fruit, a little flat in the middle, and a little stale on the finish.

Score: 88/0

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ridge Geyserville Vineyard

The 2007 Ridge Geyserville Vineyard is a blend based on Zinfandel. Blueberry and blackberry notes start the fruit profile on the front palate. This wine is bold and dominated by a sweet plummy core on the mid palate. It finishes a bit harsh, but this Ridge is a great 'barbeque' wine - and a serious one at that.

Score: 88/++

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay

The 2009 Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay has a lime-like colour, which translates into lime flavour on the palate. The wine is clean and has creamy malolactic flavours. This results in a good volume in the mouth. The oak treatment is fine and very much in the background. The texture creates the complexity in this wine. Burgundy is clearly the benchmark for this wine.

Score: 93/++

Monday, January 6, 2014

Aurora Vineyard Pinot Noir

The Aurora Vineyard is a relatively new vineyard in Central Otago with exceptional promise. The 2007 Aurora Vineyard Pinot Noir embodies deep black cherry flavours. The wine has quite a big body, but is very lively nonetheless. This wine has a long expanding finish (the Burgundian fan), supported by firm, but also charming tannins. This wine is perfect to drink now.

If you can get hold of a bottle, it is well worth the effort. This may be difficult, however. This business has been run part-time, and has taken a different turn in the last couple of years. I am not sure if the label is still independently produced.

Score: 95/+++