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/++