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.      

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Foxes Island Pinot Noir

The 2008 Foxes Island Pinot Noir comes from the Awatere sub-region of Marlborough, known for having the best terroir for Pinot Noir in Marlborough. This wine is medium-bodied, with fruit ranging from strawberry to black cherry. It would have been a fruity wine in its youth, but has now developed some secondary characteristics such as mushroom characters. The tannins are fine and the finish is solid. This is quite an attractive  wine. It is not super intense, but more of the easy drinking style.

Score: 90/+