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.