Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Four Excellent, But Very Different Reds From Margaret River

2007 was hailed as an outstanding vintage in Margaret River. The vintage was hot, the fruit riped beautifully, and the harvest was early.As it turned out, it was the first of an unprecedented run of great vintages there. I decided to buy Cabernets from four leading producers at the time and wait. Over the last three days, I tried them for the first time.

On the first night, it was the 2007 Howard Park Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Voyager Cabernet Merlot. Same vintage, but totally different wines.

When I opened the Howard Park, I was slightly worried. The colour was quite a developed garnet. The nose was beautiful, though: a fragrant bouquet with smells of soft berries. This continued on the palate. Soft forest berry fruit and hints of chocolate were well integrated with smooth tannins. This was a very feminine wine, near its peak.

Score: 95/+++

The Voyager was totally different. The colour was still dark purple. The nose was not as lifted, and on the palate, it was all about blackcurrant and cassis. The fruit of this full-bodied wine is concentrated, and the mouthfeel stays the same until firm tannins take over on the finish. The French would call this a masculine wine. It has depth, just a shame it is not as elegant as the roses in front of the winery. I have seen quite a few vintages of this wine, and this one certainly bears the typical character of Voyager Cabernet Merlot.

Score: 94/++

One of the unusual aspects of this comparison was that the bigger wine was the Merlot blend, and the more elegant the Cabernet Sauvignon only version.

The following night I drank the 2007 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon. This took it up one more step in size: the biggest Moss Wood I have ever tried. The blackcurrant and mulberry flavours are intense, as are the mocca notes. This is a dense and ripe wine, yet more elegant than the Voyager. However, the strong tannins stand aside of the fruit. This wine has not fully come together yet. I have to say, it is too early to drink. Many would say, if it is not right now, it will never be. I am not so sure. The 2001 is drinking beautifully since a couple of years, and this wine is bigger and under screw cap. It is not perfect now, but I would give it the benefit of the doubt.

Score: 94/++

And finally yesterday, I tried the 2007 Cullen Diana Madeline. Again, the colour is deep purple, and the style of this wine is quite different from the way this brand has developed over the years. Vanya Cullen has made the wine more delicate over time and lower in alcohol. This one has 14%. The intense blackcurrant fruit is pure and elegant, and the wine sails down the palate like a super-maxi at 15 knots (sorry about this). There are no holes, and the finish is long and intense, supported by an exquisite tannin structure, which also speaks to excellent oak treatment. I can understand why Vanya Cullen has gone the way she has to increase the vitality of the wine, but this is a beautiful example of a full-bodied Cabernet-Merlot from Margaret River.

Score: 96/+++

I have no regrets about buying these wines from the 2007 vintage. What an excellent group of Margaret River Cabernets.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Drinks - Your Vote

I was pleased with my drinks over Christmas:

2005 Ulithorne Sparkling Shiraz
2003 Voyager Cabernet Merlot
2006 Piper-Heidsieck Vintage Champagne
2014 Cape Mentelle Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc
2004 Sottimano Curra Barbaresco
2008 Curly Flat Pinot Noir

Surprisingly (for me), the most impressive was the Piper-Heidsieck Vintage Champagne. It is quite a yeasty Champagne, dark coloured, with intense citrus fruit and a long finish. The Ulithorne came second, as a refreshing, yet full-bodied red.

What was your favorite drink over Christmas? Please vote on the right-hand side.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Casanova Di Neri Tenuta Nueva Brunello

Brunello, a wine with long maturation, is unquestionably the best expression of the Sangiovese grape. There has been a lot of excitement about the 2010 Brunellos, so I thought I might check how one from an older, also highly regarded vintage has developed.

The 2006 Casanova Di Neri Tenuta Nueva Brunello has a beautiful nose, with violets and dark cherry notes raising from the glass in a measured, elegant way. This continues on the palate, with concentrated and intense black cherry flavours, blood orange, chocolate and some spice. These flavours are wrapped up in a full-bodied and dense frame. But at the same time, the wine is nicely balanced by acidity and not overly heavy. The finish is smooth, but slightly alcoholic.

Score: 93/++

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ostler Caroline's Pinot Noir

Many wine regions have developed as the result of the success of one winery. The imitators flog in and try to emulate the success of the pioneer. Often the objective is to develop a cult wine, based on small production and slick marketing. Certainly Central Otago has attracted many companies as a result of the Felton Road success. And some, such as Ostler, are even in a different area by quite some distance. A good way of assessing the quality of such wineries is tasting wines at a more mature age.

So I was interested to open Ostler's premium Pinot Noir, a 2009 Ostler Caroline's Pinot Noir. The colour worried me a bit. This is a screw capped wine, yet the colour is showing some age: garnet near the rim. This is a full-bodied wine, quite powerful and somewhat alcoholic. The wine opens with dark cherry fruit, but is quite savoury. Acidity is dialed up, and the result is a wine which is not elegant, not supple, and at 6 years, probably past its best.

Now, I would not judge a winery by one wine from one vintage, but this leaves me unimpressed, in particular in the context of the significant care that is taken, according to the winery.

Score: 88/-  

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Idlewild Grenache Gris

If you are looking for something different, this wine could be for you. Grenache Gris is an obscure grape, a derivative of Grenache, grown as bush vine, but seldom bottled separately. Idlewild is based in Sonoma and sources grapes from different Sonoma and Russian River vineyards. They must have found enough Grenache Gris to make this bottling. Remarkable.

The 2013 Idlewild Grenache Gris is probably best classified as sitting between a Rose and Pinot Noir or as a Rose with something extra. This is a pale, dry pink wine with an interesting flavour spectrum. There is blood orange, apricot, but also raspberry and red cherry. The acidity ensures the fruit is fresh and not confected. The wine has a fine line on the palate and fine tannins engulf the flavours. The finish shows minerality, with a hint of fruit. It reminds me of a very light Nebbiolo. I suggest drinking this now or in the next couple of years.

Score: 92/+++

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir

The Calvert vineyard is a relatively late addition to Felton Road. It was planted in 2001, and has now entered middle age. The soils consist of sandy loams, silts and quartz gravel. I am drinking a 2008 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir, which at that point came from quite young vines. I remember tasting it when the wine was very young and remember how surprisingly closed it was.

This is a good example, where the early indications point to later characteristics of the wine as well. The flavours are actually quite complex.There is some dark cherry fruit, but the character of the wine is savoury, with more minerality than typical for Central Otago Pinot Noir. I taste quite a bit of salt on the palate as well. The main point is, however, there is not much of a sensation on the tip of the tongue. This wine is quite lean. But it develops on the back palate, leading to a long finish, supported by good acidity, firm tannins and smart oak treatment.

The Calvert is the outlier in the Felton Road line-up, or would be in a Central Otago line-up. But the wine has character and individuality.

Score: 93/++     

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Wynns Davis Cabernet Sauvignon

The two leading wineries these days in Coonawarra are Balnarves and the much larger Wynns. Wynns owns at least 25% of the vineyards on the famous Terra Rossa strip. In the last 20 years, it did two major things to revitalize wines from this area. First of all, it reduced yields significantly to increase the concentration of fruit in the wines. Secondly, it identified particular blocks of vines which delivered a special expression of the terroir in each year.

One of these is the Davis vineyard, right in the core of the Terra Rossa. In 2008, the Davis Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon was bottled separately. This is a juicy drop with an inky colour. It shows typical varietal blackcurrant fruit. The wine is quite concentrated and ripe, but also bright and vibrant, which is typical of the Terra Rossa terroir. The wine is still quite fruity (screw capped), but matched by firm tannins. There is nothing backward about this wine. It is not delicate and quite full-on.

Score: 92/+

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sottimano Curra Barbaresco

No other noble grape splits the world as much as Nebbiolo. As it is far off centre, many in the wine drinking world do not get it, or even hate it, while others will drink very little else after having had the experience.

The 2004 Sottimano Curra Barbaresco sets a good example for these extremes. On its own, it is too tannic, even too savoury to enjoy. It is certainly not delicious. But matched with protein food, it is a different story. Sottimano is not a top tier producer, but this wine has attractive flavours of dried fruits. On the palate, secondary components are now dominant. Figs and tobacco match the plum and dark cherry fruits. The firm tannins blend well into protein food. Unfortunately, there is too much alcohol in this wine (14.5%). This level could be fine with big bodied wines, but overwhelms the fragrant Nebbiolo. The finish is just hot.

Score: 90/+

PS: I will be drinking and reviewing quite a bit more Nebbiolo over the next few weeks.Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Summer of Riesling

Riesling has never really taken off in Australia, although it is popular with wine lovers, and good with Asian food, which we eat a lot. A few years ago, the producers came up with the 'Summer of Riesling' slogan and held many promotional events. This clearly lifted the profile of Riesling. It has been repeated ever since. I attended the first such event for the year about a week ago.

25 Rieslings were on show and demonstrated the diversity of expressions from this grape. The Eden Valley wines showed classical floral flavours, wines from Clare Valley were dry and steely and some from other areas saw inventive winemaking techniques.

Of the three wines I tasted from Eden Valley, I liked the 2015 Chaffey Brothers Zeitpunkt the best (91 points). It was very balanced and less floral than the 2014 Heggies and the 2015 Rieslingfreak No. 4 (88 points).

The 2015 Springvale and Polish Hill wines from Grosset showed the usual class. This time I preferred the Springvale (93 points), with the Polish Hill quite lean and closed, and lacking the acidity and line of the best years (92 points). The 2015 Mount Horrocks was dry, with good length (91 points).

The Tasmanian wines were quite different from each other. The 2015 Parish Vineyard had apple next to the citrus, but lacked line and finish (89 points). The 2015 Stargazer was a fuller wine with better length, and  some residual sugar (91 points). The most interesting wine was the 2013 Moorilla Muse. This Riesling sees some old oak. It is quite a big wine with complex fruit and earthy characteristics (90 points).

The one wine from New Zealand was the 2014 Charteris Hunt Vineyard. It had attractive white flower and minerality, with some residual sugar (91 points).

The most interesting Rieslings I tasted came from MacForbes. He is really an exciting winemaker. His Rieslings come from the Strathbogie Ranges in Victoria. The 2015 Spring is a funky wine, but quite balanced with a bit of sweetness (92 points). My favorite was the off-dry wine (unusual for me). The 2015 RS29 was again well balanced, with great length and underlying acidity matching the sweetness very well (94 points).

The overall quality standard was good, with MacForbes providing the wow! factor. This was only the first round of Rieslings, plenty more to come in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Romanian Red Wine

It can be enlightening to drink wines from non classical wine regions. I loved to discover Assyrtiko from Santorini. The wines I tried from China and Georgia over the last couple of years were mixed, but interesting. A couple of weeks ago, I was given this Romanian wine, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet
   Sauvignon and the local Feteasca Neagra (Black Maiden), a pre-phylloxeric variety.

The wine is from 2011, and the ruby colour shows some sign of ageing already. The wine feels a bit plump in the mouth, with concentrated plum flavours. It is earthy, even a bit dirty, with coarse tannins and an alcoholic finish (14.9%). I would not call it faulty, but it is not very attractive. The Faurar is a curiosity for us, but unfortunately, has not much going for it.

Score: 82/---

Monday, November 30, 2015

Brimoncourt Champagne

For quite a while now, there has been a trend of smaller growers to develop and promote their own labels in Champagne. And as champagne drinkers have been through the champagnes of the main houses, they have embraced the more unique flavours of grower Champagnes.

Brimoncourt is a relatively new name, but one you should remember, I suggest. It has access to all three Champagne grape varieties from top vineyard locations.

The Brimoncourt Brut Regence is very fresh on the front palate, with citrus flavours and mineral components dominating. On the mid-palate, it develops some creaminess. Overall, this Champagne is nicely balanced and refreshing.

Score: 92/++

The Brimoncourt Extra Brut is dominated by Pinot Noir, whereas the Brut includes 80% Chardonnay grapes. It has more weight. Citrus flavours and minerality are still there, but the creamy feel is now ‘replaced’ by stronger toasty and yeasty textures. This is a more intense Champagne with an attractive dry finish.

Score: 94/++

I would happily drink the Brut at the beginning of an event or evening, and the Extra Brut at the end. They are fairly well priced.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Querciabella Chianti Classico

You know you are getting cherry flavours and plenty of acidity from Chianti Classico. But then, the mouthfeel is often dusty, as the fruit does not stand up to the tannins.

This 2012 Querciabella Chianti Classico is different. The red and black cherry flavours are vibrant and have considerable depth. The overall impression is savoury, though. This wine has a beautiful mouthfeel, with all components in harmony. Neither acids nor tannins are overblown, but provide an excellent structure. At present, the wine is very lively and enjoyable. It will be even better in a couple of years, when the fruit aromas integrate and the tannins soften.

Score: 93/+++

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

12 Bindi Pinot Noirs

Bindi has been on a steep path to excellence for quite some time now, but as a small producer is not as widely experienced by consumers as it deserves. This tasting went across the different Pinot Noir bottlings as well as across young and older vintages. Thus it allowed a good overall assessment of their Pinot Noirs, which is Bindi's main grape. They also do Chardonnay.

My conclusion is that all wines have a common signature, which is site- as well as winemaking specific. The wines from this cool, isolated location, at 500m altitude in the Macedon Ranges, are not classified organic, but the soil treatment follows those principles. There is no addition of yeast, enzymes or acid in the winery. What all 12 wines have in common is line length, a very elegant texture and fine silky tannins.

After that, vintage variation and vineyard play their part. From 2014, I tried the Dixon (former Composition) Pinot Noir, the Original Vineyard and the Block 5. The yield was very low, and as a result, the fruit is quite intense and dark. These wines need time to develop the typical savoury character of Bindi wines. The Block 5 is the richest of the three, but retains its elegance (92,93,94 points respectively). The general conclusion was that these wines will develop exceptionally well.

This contrasted strongly with the wines from 2011, a cool vintage. The colour of these wines was much lighter, almost with an orange rim. Strawberry and orange peel characters showed. The Kayne Pinot Noir, a new addition from the highest altitude and rocky vinyard, delivered the minerality of the site, but was a little short (91 points). The Original Vineyard was better placed in that year, as the vines are now over 25 years old. The flavours were similar, but the wine had more depth (93 points).  

 The older wines showed really well. The 2005 Composition Pinot Noir was still quite vibrant, with red and black cherry flavours, as well as forest floor, and a long, soft finish (93 points). The 2004 Original Vineyard Pinot Noir was my wine of the night, with dark fruit and a creamy texture. This is a very elegant and silky wine (95 points). The 2008 Block 5 Pinot Noir comes from a very warm year. It is quite open and opulent, and has a slight alcoholic finish (93 points).

Another remarkable wine was the 2010 Kaye Pinot Noir. It is bigger than the 2011, with an excellent frame and structure. It almost had a Barolo profile, with tar and roses flavours - very savoury. The silky texture gave it away as a Bindi (93 points).

There was no disappointing wine in this line-up. Quite an achievement for a small producer with one site, in a marginal climate.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Castagna, Seghesio, Wendouree

It is said that if you are at a wine tasting and want to buy wine, you taste wine with apple, whereas if you want to sell wine, you offer cheese. And it is true, cheese numbs the taste buds. Nonetheless, cheese and wine are a good and popular combination. On this particular cheese night, I thought to pair the food with three different wines, which represent a spectrum of Australian and Italian characteristics. As I did not take notes, the comments below are quite general and no points are awarded.

First up was the 2008 Castagna La Chiave. This is a Sangiovese grown at altitude in Beechworth, Victoria. It showed typical varietal characteristics with red cherry flavours and acidity. Being Australian, the acidity was less than from a typical Chianti, but there was enough to 'cut' through the cheese.

The 2004 Seghesio Barolo La Villa offered a different experience. The flavours of this wine are quite complex, more savoury, and with mushroom and earthy components at the forefront. This wine added taste experiences to the cheese. It was food friendly and an excellent compliment to the food.

The 2002 Wendouree Shiraz/Mataro was different again. This is a big and quite 'fat' wine with strong plum and other dark fruit flavours. It matched well with soft, 'fat' cheeses. My main impression here was that the cheese made it easier to drink the wine, which - on its own - was very bold.

So while cheese may numb the palate, cheese/wine combinations can still be rewarding. The wines tried expressed their terroir and grape variety in a very typical fashion and offered different, yet sensible combinations.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc

I do not often review a Sauvignon Blanc. This could be, you might speculate, because I do not enjoy this variety or because it is mostly not cellar worthy and therefore not in my collection. You would be right on both counts. But last night, in a hot location in Queensland, it felt like the right choice. Cloudy Bay seemed like a safe option.

As soon as the 2014 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc was opened, a full-on fruity aroma escaped the bottle. On the palate, it screamed gooseberry, gooseberry, gooseberry! This was no grassy style, as is often the case with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but a simple fruit bomb. This wine is quite big, not the more restrained style I remember of yesteryear. This wine, unfortunately, did not support the fish flavours, but dominated them. There is no flaw in the winemaking here, but the result is quite unattractive to me.

Score: 87/--

Monday, November 9, 2015

Silkman Reserve Shiraz

The 2014 vintage in the Hunter Valley has been hailed by all and sundry as one of the best in the last 50 years for red wine. You may yawn, as this is typical winemaker speak, but my sense, as I have tasted the first of these wines, is that this might in fact be true.

The ripening conditions were perfect, with a little rain early in the year, and no rain disruption during harvesting, as is so often the case in the Hunter Valley. The wines are likely to be bigger than usual, but with excellent structure.

Recently I tried the 2014 Silkman Reserve Shiraz. Silkman is a relatively new name, but the winemaking couple have a long history in the valley and access to excellent vineyards. They have now branched out on their own. This particular wine has an interesting flavour mix, with red cherry, raspberry and mulberry notes. The wine is substantial in weight, but quite vibrant. The texture is excellent. The fruit flavours are balanced with fine acidity and lingering tannins, which over time will develop the alluring velvety character of great Hunter Valley Shiraz, I think. This wine is well worth hunting down. The score I give below is for now, but may well go up over time.

Score: 94/+++

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Two Contrasting Pinot Noirs

The other day, I was presented with two  high quality, contrasting Pinot Noirs, accompanied by a complex dish involving roasted carrot, black mussels, salmon caviar and tofu cream. The first one was the 2014 Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir and the second the 2013 Coldstream Hills Reserve Pinot Noir.

At first, I tried these wines on their own. The Tolpuddle had this amazing vibrancy of fruit: so lively, crisp, beautifully crafted. The Coldstream Hills is a bigger wine, more savoury, but not as smooth. First round to Tolpuddle.

Then I continued to drink these wines with the food. Here, the Tolpuddle came up a little short, literally. The dark cherry, tannins (even though a little coarse) and long finish of the Coldstream Hills was a better match with this quite profound dish.

The Tolpuddle clearly shows enormous potential. If a more balanced wine with tannins and a longer finish can be developed, this should be amazing. As it stands, I would award both wines 93 points.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Three Excellent Chardonnays

When Jancis Robinson, the hardest working wine critic, last visited Australia, her conclusion was that Chardonnay is Australia's sweet spot at present. And while I prefer to drink red wine at night, I must say I have hardly been disappointed by any Australian Chardonnays I have had lately. Here are three excellent ones.

The 2013 Oakridge Willowlake Chardonnay is fashioned in the light and refreshing style typical for the Yarra Valley. This wine is relatively forward, with generous citrus flavours, very well made as an easy drinking style (93 points).

The 2014 Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay is bigger with green apple notes dominant. New oak is quite noticeable. This wine is quite precise going down the palate in a linear, but arresting fashion, and finishing long (95 points).

I know a bit more about the 2014 Silkman Reserve Chardonnay. This wine is made by famous Hunter Valley winemaker Liz Jackson. She and her husband Shaun Silkman have access to quite a number of top vineyards, given their long history in the valley. This wine shot to fame by winning the James Halliday Chardonnay challenge against hundreds of competitors. The Reserve is barrel selected, with complex flavours of apple, pineapple and grapefruit. No malolactic fermentation. About 60% new oak is in the background. The grapes are picked ripe, but at the early window, giving the wine great freshness, while retaining depth. The finish is intriguing, with softness on the palate as well as natural acidity. It will be very interesting to see this wine evolving (95 points).      

It is accidental that these wines come from three different regions. Great Chardonnay is made everywhere in Australia. Now the problem is often availability. The Oakridge wine would have been a small production, and the Silkman is almost sold out, given its astonishing success.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Marcel Servin Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses

Let me start with a sweeping statement: most Chablis tastes the same or very similar. While I enjoy the clean and lean citrus flavours, it would be nice to see some personality in the wine.

When you get to Grand Cru level, it is a bit different, though. There is more depth in these wines, and more individuality. Therefore, I was looking forward to the relatively rare 2010 Marcel Servin Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses. This wine is quite developed and complex. The colour is almost golden, and the flavours range from citrus to hazelnut and honey. The wine is quite intense, not flinty. Yet, the wine is still quite precise and offers a clean firm finish. This is a  white wine well worth drinking on its own.

Score: 92/+

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Castagna La Chiave

Julian Castagna is not shy when he talks about his wines, calling them world class. This sets the expectations pretty high. Tonight is pizza night, so I opened a bottle of the 2008 Castagna La Chiave. This is his Sangiovese, his most serious wine next to the Genesis Syrah, Being a Sangiovese, you expect the wine to have plenty of acidity and bite.

What evolves in the glass, is a bit surprising. The colour of the wine is crimson, still quite bright. The bouquet is red cherry, and this continues on the palate. The flavour is not very complex, however. This is a surprisingly big, almost fat wine. It is quite well balanced, and there is just enough acidity to keep the wine together and counterbalance the sweetness which appears on the back palate. But bite? No.

This is an unusual wine, not like a Chianti, certainly quite Australian, and not as intriguing or unfolding as I would have liked.

Score: 92/+

Friday, October 23, 2015

My Favorite White Wine Quaffers

I normally don't play favorites, but I thought I share with you my current day-to-day white wine preferences. These are wines of excellent quality at $20/bottle or less prices.

When it comes to Riesling, Polish Hill in Clare Valley is an exceptional subregion, mainly due to Grosset. But if you don't want to fork out that kind of money, there is O'Leary Walker Polish Hill Riesling. This is an excellent wine for less than half price.

If your choice is Semillon, an easy to drink wine is the Mount Pleasant Elizabeth. I would not drink this from every vintage, but the current wine comes from the excellent 2014 vintage.

Finding a sub $20 bargain for Chardonnay is harder, but I experienced two excellent wines in this category. Both are difficult to find, though. The first is the Pfitzner Chardonnay. It is a grower wine from the Adelaide Hills. Its fruit has gone into the Petaluma Chardonnay, and its style is similar, maybe a little fuller. The second is the le Versant Chardonnay from Southern France, outstanding for its price.

All these wines are in the citrus spectrum and basically dry, with maybe a tiny sugar residual. I recommend them highly.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Bird in Hand Pinot Rose

It is a warm evening in Sydney, seafood is on the menu, and I felt like having a Rose (I don't know how to put the accent tegue on the e, sorry). Now, the problem in Australia is that most Roses are Grenache or Shiraz based. The risk is they are too big and too sweet. So I opted for a Pinot Noir based wine from the Adelaide Hills, the 2015 Bird in Hand Pinot Rose,my first wine from this year.

The wine has a pale pink colour, which is promising. The strawberry flavour is surprisingly strong. It is a predominantly dry wine, as I had hoped, but it is a bit broad and not very precise on the palate. As a result, this wine is a bit bland, but finishes dry. Can you expect more from a $20/bottle wine?

Score: 89/+

Monday, October 19, 2015

Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas

The wines of Chateau de Saint Cosme are widely available around the world. They are based in the Gigondas, but also produce a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and have a negotiants business with wines from the Northern Rhone.

The 2010 Saint Cosme Gigondas comes from their core vineyard holdings. This is a rich, full-bodied wine, more in the style of a New World wine, rather than French. The main grape component is Grenache, followed by Mourvedre, than Shiraz and Cinsault. There is the expected hint of raspberry on the palate, but the wine is more black-fruited, with blackcurrant and plum flavours. The wine is dense, rather than lifted. The components are well integrated, with Mourvedre making its mark. The tannins are firm, leading to a long finish.

This is a quality wine, but at 14.5% (maybe more?) alcohol not for the faint hearted. It needs protein.

Score: 94/+  

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Perfect Drinking Window For Full-Bodied Reds (From Around The World)

Yesterday, I drank a bottle of the 2007 Stag's Leap SLV Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has a famous pedigree, as the 1972 won the famous Paris tasting against leading Bordeaux competition (as a four year old wine, in 1976). I reviewed this wine a couple of years ago, when I thought it was balanced and harmonious, a nice drink. This time, two years later, the wine seemed tired, the ripe fruit quite dead, and the wine certainly not balanced, but rather over the hill.

I was then reminded of an article by James Laube, a well respected reviewer of Napa wines, who declared he does not age wines much anymore. They are so drinkable when young, they only go downhill from there. I was shocked at the time, how somebody with a sophisticated palate can give up on the complexity of aged red wines. But over the last few years I started to understand.

There are major differences in the way premium red wines are made around the world. I don't pretend to understand all the subtleties, but for starters the acid and tannin profiles vary a lot between countries. This is what I now believe makes sense.

Leading French Bordeaux wines need to be cellared. They come into their own only after many years. A typical drinking window would be 7-25 years, with 12-15 years the sweet spot. This is for good wines in good vintages. What do I mean by sweet spot? It is the time when primary fruit is still quite present, but secondary characteristics have emerged, leading to increased complexity on the palate. In top vintages, these numbers go out further.

Napa Cabernet is fruit focussed, with less acidity, and tannins often quite silky. These wines need a bit of time to settle, but they are most exciting when they are young. My drinking window is 3-8 years, with 5 years being the sweet spot.

Australian Shiraz is a curious case. Acidity is often quite low as well, but the best drinking time is later than for Napa Cabernet. 5-12 years would be a typical drinking window, with 7 years the sweet spot. Premium Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River is best around 10 years, in my experience.

Italian Barolo varies a lot, depending on the maceration period and tannin profile. The traditional wines are similar to Bordeaux, the modern ones, with short maceration periods, more like Australian Shiraz.

The caveats to this are; at the end of the day, it is a matter of taste; some wines are made to be drunk early, some last a long time; and my definition of the sweet spot is for those who like primary and secondary characteristics in their wine.    

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock

One of the interesting facts I have noticed is that old vines tend to also allow longer term cellaring in the bottle. The 2002 Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock is a case in point. The wine comes from mature, organically grown vines, and it gets better with age.

This wine stands out to me, because as a full-bodied Shiraz, it is not dominated by black fruit, but rather redcurrant and red plum. This tends to be the case year by year. The 2002 is now very complex on the palate, with white pepper, mocca and earthy flavours adding to the fruit. The wine is still lively and not overly heavy. It is well balanced with firm tannins and a long finish. Well worth the wait.

Score: 95/+++

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Rebirth Of David Powell, part 2

I now had a chance to taste the range of wines of David's new business, Powell & Son. I  will not review the individual wines here, as the volumes are very small (400 cases, 150 cases for the single vineyard wines). Rather I will comment on my general impressions. I posted a review of his Shiraz a few blogposts below.

All the red wines are from 2014, which means they are extremely young. There is a GSM (similar to the Steading, with a bit less Mataro, which will increase), a Barossa Valley Shiraz, a Barossa and Eden Valley Shiraz (from the same vineyards as the Struie), and two single vineyard wines from Eden Valley, the Loechel and the Steinert, (named after the families owning the vineyards). Pricing is high. The Steinert is $700 per bottle. 85% of the production was pre-sold in Hong Kong.This actually underwrote the new business.

From the description of the wines you can already see that a tiger does not change his spots. These are full-bodied wines, not quite as big as Torbreck. There is a goal on elegance, but these wines have not quite achieved this yet with perhaps the exception of the single vineyard wines. The Loechel is powerful, but well balanced. Not much acidity in this wine. The Steinert, tasted from barrel, is more closed at this stage, with blueberry fruit and great length and silkiness. It comes from a vineyard in Flaxman's Valley, at 480m altitude. Overall, the wines are overpriced.

These wines have not totally convinced me, but there is no doubt some beauties will appear with time.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mudgee Wineries

During a fleeting visit, I checked in at Huntington Estate, Robert Stein and Robert Oatley.

At Huntington, I tasted their leading reds. The 2011 Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is varietal, but not very intense and the tannins are a touch harsh (88 points). The 2009 Tim Stevens Shiraz is sweet and fruity, with a soft finish (89 points). The 2011 Special Reserve Shiraz is red fruited, a bit more elegant, but not totally balanced (90 points).

Robert Stein is best known for its Rieslings, but I skipped those and tried the 2013 Reserve Chardonnay instead. This is a richer style, flavours are citrus, apple, and cream, with quite noticeable oak on the finish (91 points). The 2011 Reserve Shiraz tastes of red plum, but suffers like many 2011s from a lack of concentration. The finish is firm, and not very charming (90 points). I marginally preferred it to the Huntington reds. The 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz uses the best barrels of both varieties. It is plummy and has some spice. The Cabernet adds good structure. This wine has a pleasant mouthfeel (92 points).

The irrepressible Robert Oatley is building a sizable wine business again. Their location is the oldest winery in Mudgee, but the first tier wines, called Finistere, come from Margaret River. This is partly because their chief winemaker is Larry Cherubino, based in Margaret River, of course, but also because the Mudgee fruit is simply not as good. The 2014 Finistere Chardonnay, made with wild yeast, tastes of tropical fruit, with oak vanilla also present. This is not a complex wine, but it is well made (92 points). The 2012 Finistere Cabernet Sauvignon is ripe and a little minty. The structure is a little harsh (90 points).

These days, the red wines from Mudgee don't match the leading Australian wine regions. I heard it said that the future might be in alternative varieties. I fear this is only a hope, because Australia has not yet identified where the best locations for these are. I doubt they are in the Mudgee region. What will the future hold for the Mudgee wineries?    

Monday, September 28, 2015

Torbreck Les Amis

The Les Amis vineyard is a 100 year old bush vine Grenache vineyard in the Marananga/Seppeltsfield subregion of the Barossa Valley. As a young wine, the Les Amis is very seductive and no doubt one of the leading Grenache wines of Australia. How will it shape up when it ages?

Tonight, I am reviewing the 2006 Torbreck Les Amis. The typical raspberry fruit is still there, but the wine is now quite complex on the palate. There are a number of darker flavours, bramble, mulberry, even mocca. The wine has lightened up somewhat with age, which is a good thing. The tannins are still silky, leading to a long lingering finish. It is the right time to drink this wine.

Score: 94/+++

Friday, September 18, 2015

An Extraordinary Pinot Noir Tasting

I attended an amazing Pinot Noir tasting with a cross section of the best producers from Australia and New Zealand, and a smattering of good Burgundies. As often is the case in such comparisons, the Southern Hemisphere does very well because of the higher fruit intensity in its wines. Having said this, there were a number of Burgundies I would only be too happy to drink on their own with a meal.

Essentially, I would group the wines into one of four categories. The best wines would show incredible finesse and super silky tannins. The next group would show predominantly savoury and earthy characteristics. Group three would include fruit dominated wines, and group four would consist of less intense wines with a less than perfect structure. (This has to be seen in the context of a very high standard to start with.)

I put into the first group the 2014 Bindi Original Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2013 Mount Mary Pinot Noir, 2013 Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir,  2012 William Selyem Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River), and the 2008 Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot Grand Cru from the Clos de Vougeot site. The stand out wine was the 2013 Mount Mary. This is a sensational wine with the often experienced finesse, but more intensity then usual. The wine is precise, very elegant and silky with super fine tannins and a long finish (97 points). The Bindi is in a similar style, but not quite the same quality. The Bass Phillip is bigger than the Bindi, not quite as elegant and refined as the Mount Mary. The William Selyem is super smooth, whereas the Clos de Vougeot showed the biggest aroma and some attractive minerality.

Some of the French wines, not surprisingly, would fall into the second group. I am not reviewing them in detail here because of their small volumes. Also in this group is the 2013 By Farr 'Farrside' Pinot Noir. This is quite a powerful wine, only partly destemmed, quite perfumed, savoury, with a good structure and silky finish.

All the New Zealand wines fell into the third category. Beautiful fruit, but some Central Otago wines almost showed Shiraz-like characteristics. These were 2014 Burn Cottage 'Moonlight Race', 2013 Fromm 'Clayvin Vineyard', 2013 Escarpment, which was a bit more restrained,  2014 Felton Road 'Cornish Point' (quite sweet), 2012 Rippon 'Tinker's Field' and 'Emma's Block'. The 2013 Curly Flat and the 2013 Giant Steps 'Sexton Vineyard' also belonged to this group.

There were a couple of Burgundies and the 2014 Yabby Lake Single Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2013 Dog Point in this final group. Against the others, the Yabby Lake was disappointing, with a weaker structure and little intensity on the palate.

An interesting wine was the 2008 Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche. This wine retails for $900 per bottle. It had intense fruit and a long finish, but a strong brett character. To me, this wine was faulty.

This hopefully gives a bit of an idea of the tasting. I will now be off for 10 days, most likely.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tahbilk GSM

Part of the rejuvenation of Tahbilk is the introduction of Rhone varieties blends. I reviewed the white wine version a few posts ago. Today I look at the 2014 Tahbilk GSM. The bouquet has a confectionary aroma, which means Grenache is dominating.

This is a pretty wine on the palate, thoroughly modern, not pretentious, and a little simple, but well made. Grenache is very obvious, but Shiraz and Mourvedre play their part and are well integrated. There is quite good length on the finish. Good value.

Score: 89/0

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mac Forbes New Releases

Mac Forbes must be credited with emphesizing terroir more than anyone else in the Yarra Valley, despite his young age. The new releases are from the 2014 vintage, which was hot and low yielding due to a poor fruit set, often leading to fruity and ripe wines. Following are brief statements of the single vineyard wines.

- Hoddles Creek Chardonnay: nice fruit, but not very precise (92 points)
- Woori Yallock Chardonnay: very citrussy, quite acidic, a bit lean (92 points)
- Coldstream Pinot Noir: warm site, some whole bunch for complexity and fragrance (92 points)
- Yarra Junction Pinot Noir: red cherry, a bit bland, good acidity, opening well on finish (92 points)
- Woori Yallock Pinot Noir: red cherry, quite savoury, great balance and mouthfeel (94 points)
- Wesburn Yallock Pinot Noir: dark cherry, good acidity, not insipid (94 points)

The Pinot Noirs are all vibrant and start to show real site-specific characteristics. Wesburn is brooding, Woori Yallock the complex 'classic', Coldstream a bit broader and fruitier. These are very good wines for this difficult vintage

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Rebirth Of David Powell

The legendary ex-winemaker of Torbreck is back, now with his son, Callum. This is his first wine, the 2014 Powell & Son Barossa Valley Shiraz. There is also a Riesling from Eden Valley.

There are some Powell trademarks in this wine: there is the dark, inky colour, relatively high alcohol (14.5%), dark plum and blackberry flavours. The label is simple. However, there are also some differences. The fruit is not superripe or built like a skyscraper (Robert Parker's imagery), there is a screw cap.

The wine is full-bodied, but not very well rounded. It is obviously very young and was more settled on day two, but there are slightly sharp edges. The wine has firm tannins and good length. It is probably closest to the Woodcutters of the Torbreck range.

My sense is that the grape quality is not quite the same as what he had access to at Torbreck. I am also certain there are more wines to be released. I think I will meet him in a month time, then I will know more.

Score: 89/0

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Wendouree Shiraz/Mataro

Wendouree is next to the ultra premium wines of Penfolds the producer of wines with the best age-ability record in Australia. This 2002 Wendouree Shiraz/Mataro needed a day to open, can you believe it. The wine was more rounded on day two.

Having said this, this wine is starting to show aging in colour and on the palate. The plum and blackberry fruit flavours are intense. There are meat and burnt coal notes as well. The wine is peppery with good density and softened tannins on the finish.

Score: 94/++

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Tasmanian Pinot Noir

Wine from Tasmania is fashionable right now, in particular Pinot Noir. But I think the island needs a bit more climate change to make these wines outstanding. Wine Tasmania does an annual road show, which gives us from the mainland an opportunity to taste and compare these wines all in one place.

This year, I focused on Pinot Noir, next to Sparkling Tasmania's most important wine. Overall, the wines are very delicate and floral, but often lacking the structure to provide good length and an expanding finish.

Several wines came from Northern Tasmania. The 2013 Barringwood Estate Pinot Noir is quite simple, but shows pretty fruit with a peppery character (88 points). The more serious 2013 Mill Block Pinot Noir is fruity as well, but with some complexity and savoury undertones (92 points). Holm Oak, from the Tamar Valley, showed the 2014 Pinot Noir, a slightly minty wine (89 points), and the 2013 'The Wizard'. This is a delicate wine, which has some intensity as well (92 points). The 2014 Joseph Chromy Pinot Noir is very juicy, with a solid structure (90 points). I was disappointed with the 2013 Tamar Ridge Pinot Noir (86 points). The Reserve showed pretty cherry fruit and was better balanced (90 points). The 2013 Bay of Fires Pinot Noir has a similar flavour profile, with a bit more intensity (92 points).

The 2011 Bream Creek Pinot Noir from the East Coast has raspberry flavours and is very light (88 points). The 2012 Devil's Corner Mt Amos Pinot Noir's fruit is more concentrated (90 points). The well funded Moorilla has two Pinot Noirs. The 2013 Praxis from the Tamar River is quite dark (comparatively) with some decent structure (90 points). The 2013 Muse from the Derwent Valley has more complexity, although it is quite light-bodied, with cherry flavours, mint and savoury characteristics. The tannins do not blend in that well (92 points). I found the 2013 Stefano Lubiana Estate Pinot Noir  a disappointingly simple wine, which lacked structure (89 points).

Many regard the Coal River as the area with the greatest potential. It is much dryer than other parts of Tasmania. This is seen as an advantage, although in Phillip Jones' view, Pinot Noir needs a healthy dose of rain. The 2014 Glaetzer-Dixon Avance Pinot Noir, meant for early drinking, is light, with an uninspiring mouthfeel (88 points). The 2012 Reveur has more intensity and shows quite a bit of acidity (90 points). My wine of the night was the 2012 Heemskerk Derwent Valley Pinot Noir. This wine had more body and more complexity, with forest floor flavours being very present.It approached the profile of a good Victorian Pinot Noir (94 points). Finally, the 2014 Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir was not as impressive as in previous years. Delicate strawberry flavours dominate on the palate. This is a soft wine, which lacks tannin backbone, but no doubt will appeal to some (91 points).

I realize these notes are ultra short, but I did not want to run into a second post, and hopefully they give you some idea.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Dirupi Valtellina Superiore

This is a wine most of you would never have heard of, let alone have tried. It is a Nebbiolo, but not from Piedmont, rather from further north, in fact east of Lake Como. Dirupi has many vineyards, and this wine is a blend of the best fruit from them.

The 2012 Dirupi Valtellina Superiore displays a light colour, but not the typical garnet of Piedmont Nebbiolo. It is fresher, more pink in colour. Lifted aromas of rose petal and cherry emerge from the glass. The wine is very vibrant and smooth on the palate, not intense, but with an expanding mouthfeel, not unlike good Pinot Noir. Cherry flavours dominate on the palate, before the wine finishes with soft and smooth tannins. For those who find Barolo too brooding and tough, this is for you. This wine has personality and is a lot of fun, but coming from a serious wine. Apparently, it was the talk of the latest Vinitaly show.

This wine costs half of the entry level Barolos of good makers and can easily match it with them. I encourage you to hunt it down (which may not be easy). It can be kept for at least seven years, but my preference would be to drink this wine in the next 1-2 years.

Score: 93/+++

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Hunter Valley Visit

Recently I spent a day in the Hunter Valley and visited a number of wineries on a quick tour.

I started at Mistletoe, where I tasted their white wines, specifically the 2014 Reserve Semillon and Reserve Chardonnay. These were disappointing, in what was an excellent year. I found the winemaking skills lacking, as the wines were not very well structured. (88 points). The 2013 Keith Tulloch Semillon was only marginally better, with nice fruit, but lacking focus and finesse (89 points).

De Iuliis is mainly known for Shiraz, but the 2014 Sunshine Vineyard Semillon was quite a rounded wine, although not of particular character (90 points). The 2013 Shiraz is bright, red fruited and of medium body. The oak is noticeable, the mouthfeel not particularly fulfilling (90 points). The 2011 Limited Release Shiraz is bright red also, but with more fruit intensity and some silky tannins on the finish (92 points). The day is starting to look up (a little).

At Tyrell's, the 2015 Semillon has typical citrus  flavours, but the wine falls over the cliff on the back palate (89 points). The 2010 HVD Semillon, from a vineyard on Hermitage Road, is remarkably fresh for its age, the citrus flavours are quite focussed and deliver length on the palate (92 points). The 2010 Vat 1 Semillon, their premium Semillon, delivers. The wine is very crisp, yet elegant. The wine has good depth and is well balanced, while a bit soft on the finish (94 points). I was not so impressed with the premium 2011 Vat 47 Chardonnay. While this is a good quality wine, oak should not be so dominant after four years (92 points). The sometimes quite impressive Vat 9 Shiraz was less so on this occasion. I thought the 2011 was underripe (88 points).

A very strong wine was the Thomas Wines 2015 Braemore Semillon, a worthy successor to the 2014. This is a bigger Semillon, with lime fruit dominating. The wine has a beautiful line and balance and a long finish (94 points).

My final stop was at Brokenwood. I felt the 2014 Semillon lacked focus, but the 2009 ILR Semillon was impressive. There was a strong core of lemon flavours and a long finish (94 points). The 2013 Hunter Valley Shiraz was a typical wine for the region, with red plum flavours and reasonable depth, but it was a little harsh (90 points). The 2013 Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz had more intensity, with plum fruit, but also red berries. The tannins are silky on a long finish. The wine is not as lush as in some other years (93 points).

If you want to bring the issue of Hunter Valley wines to a point, it is this: The Semillon, the Hunter's claim to fame, suffers from sameness, a bit like Chablis does in France. It is difficult to carve out a personal style. And with Shiraz, it is often underripe and needs to be helped out of the glass.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Tahbilk Roussanne Marsanne Viognier

Following the - somewhat surprising - announcement of Tahbilk being James Halliday's winery of the year, I am interested to taste some of their new wines. Tahbilk has revamped its portfolio and added blends to its traditional stable of varietal wines.

The 2014 Tahbilk Roussanne Marsanne Viognier is a wine which has a certain appeal. It is not close to a Rhone white, which tends to be very texture dominated, often quite heavy. This Tahbilk wine is fresh and feels lighter, despite the 13% alcohol. Only the Roussanne component was aged in oak, the other components saw stainless steel. Despite being a blend, this is not a complex wine. Apple and pear fruit comes to the fore, and this wine is good with food. There is not much acidity. This wine should be drunk young. There is a residual sweetness on the finish, which I found unpleasant, but some may find attractive. To me, this wine has some similarity to Australian Pinot Gris, with a bit more weight.

Score: 88/0

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Poll Results

I used to do a bit of statistics, and from that I know that when you have a small sample, results don't change much as the sample increases. This is why political polls are usually quite accurate. However, having 13 answers is really a bit low. I estimate I have about 600-700 people who look at my blog regularly. So you can do better than that. I appreciate that people overseas may not be too familiar with these wines, and other may find them quite expensive, but still...

Taken the results as they are, there are two big surprises. I did not expect the Balnarves 'The Tally' to get the most votes, nor did I expect for the Cullen and Mount Mary to get none - interesting.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

John Duval Plexus

John Duval, the former chief winemaker at Penfolds, knows a thing or two about how to create wines which will age well. The 2005 John Duval Plexus certainly gets better with age. I am sorry that this is my last bottle, I just opened. This SGM is a full-bodied wine. The fruit is quite intense and big, but the wine is smooth and elegant at the same time. This wine certainly got better over 10 years. The black and red fruit flavours are now more complex. One of the things John Duval is doing differently now, is to apply oak more carefully and in the background. This is obvious in this fruit orientated wine. The different grape varieties blend together seamlessly. The dry, fine grained tannins support the satisfying finish.

Score: 94/+++

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A New Poll

I have not done any polls for a while. Recent tastings of Cabernet have intrigued me. So here is the question: Which is your favorite Cabernet. Please participate by voting on the right hand side.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Mount Mary Quintet

It is quite interesting to drink another of the iconic Australian Cabernet blends not from Margaret River after the Lake's Folly. The difference here is age. I am drinking the 2000 Mount Mary Quintet. I have not had this wine before, but it was described as a wine of the (difficult) vintage.

This wine (under cork) is still amazingly vibrant, with beautiful pure red berry fruit coating the mouth. The acidity is quite noticeable, but not uncomfortable. Tannins are in the background. There are some forest floor flavours emerging, but the wine is still remarkably fresh. The wine is medium-bodied on a light frame and would appeal to all Pinot Noir drinkers. A wine of individuality and finesse with many years in front of it.

Score: 96/++

Monday, August 24, 2015

Casa Freschi Ragazzi Nebbiolo

This wine caused quite a stir when it came onto the market. This is a serious Nebbiolo at about a third of the price of the Italian producers. I am tasting the 2013 Casa Freschi Ragazzi Nebbiolo. If you are a regular follower of my blog, you would know that I have a soft spot for Nebbiolo, but have found Australian versions seriously lacking.

This wine is turning things around. If you characterize Nebbiolo as having three major components, rose petal aromatics and cherry fruit, savoury backbone, and  firm dry tannins, this wine has all of it. Mind you, it is an Australian version: the fruit is stronger, quite vibrant, the other components a bit less obvious than in a Piedmont version. Yet they all describe this wine. The colour is bright crimson, and there is a  balanced structure which will give the wine an extended life. No, it is not a Barolo yet, more similar to a young vine Nebbiolo, but a classy one at that.

If you have shied away from Nebbiolo in principle, or specifically from Australian versions, try this wine. You might be in for a surprise.

Score: 93/+++

Friday, August 21, 2015

Lake's Folly - Sneak Peek

Today, I had the good fortune of being shown two wines from Lake's Folly from the great 2014 vintage, which are yet to be released.

The 2014 Lake's Folly Hill Block Chardonnay comes from the hill side behind the winery. It is distinctive from the other blocks with volcanic soil over limestone, whereas the flatter blocks are quite sandy. It is a new wine for Lake's Folly. The wine shows quite strong peach, pineapple and tropical flavours. While the new oak percentage has been reduced in the standard Chardonnay, this one has 30+% new French oak. It is quite noticeable through the creamy flavours in the wine. The oak is of high quality and well matched by the fruit, but it is somewhat distinctive at this stage. There is no secondary malolactic fermentation in this wine. This high quality wine will be released in about two weeks, and, given its low volume, will sell out in days, according to winemaker Rodney Kempe.

Score: 94/++

The second wine was the standard 2014 Lake's Folly Cabernet, which will be released next year. It has only been in bottle three weeks. As always, Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape with about 80%, followed by Shiraz, Merlot and Petit Verdot. This wine is sensational. It is medium-bodied, but totally ripe, quite aromatic with a female feel to it. Red- and blackcurrant, and cassis flavours expand harmoneously in the mouth. This wine is very elegant, as the tannins are ripe and soft. The wine has great length and staying power.

Score: 97/+++

I must admit I had lost touch with Lake's Folly, maybe because it is such an oddity in the Hunter. Yet this makes the wines so attractive. They are a house style, quite unique and very recognizable. You add to that an excellent year, and you have wines that every serious wine enthusiast should try.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Best's Bin O Shiraz

Best's Shiraz is known for its longevity. Its premium Shiraz produced every year is the Bin O. I was not worried about age, when I opened a 2004 Best's Bin O Shiraz. 

The colour of the wine is a lively deep purple. Red cherry and plum aromas hit the nose. This continues on the palate. However, the palate is dominated by strong peppery flavours. This sure is a cool climate Victorian Shiraz! The fruit is clean and the wine still very vibrant. However, it lacks some intensity to match the firm acidity of this wine. Having said this, the wine is still quite balanced with a lively finish.

Score: 93/+

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Four 25 Year Old Wines

A special event provided the opportunity to pull out my best (and in some cases last) bottles from 1990.

They were a Penfolds Grange, a Wendouree Shiraz, the Chateau Haut-Brion, and the Masi Campolongo Amarone. The last one was a ring-in, as I was planning to open a Hill of Grace, but found that I had none left. The idea was to drink these wines over two days and see how they compare with each other and over time.

As you can see, they are all very high shoulder, which was a good sign. Then came the drama of unkorking the wines. They were all kept in a 14 degree cellar with reasonable humidity. No problem with the European wines. The Grange cork looked good for a while, but suddenly broke. However, I got the second part out in one piece. I was not so lucky with the Wendouree cork, which disintegrated, and many parts dropped into the bottle. I filtered the wine out, but small particles found their way into the glass. This proved my point again that Australia gets the raw end of the stick, or cork, in this case.

1990 was a great vintage, not just in Australia, but across Europe as well. Yet it is generally thought that 89 was a better year for Haut-Brion. However, I could not complain. The 1990 Chateau Haut-Brion showed very well. Obviously, when you drink 25 year old wines, your experiences are different from 7-10 year old wines. This wine was very elegant. Not much primary fruit to speak of, but ethereal earthy and musky flavours (95 points).

The 1990 Wendouree Shiraz had less finesse  by comparison. It still delivered some blackberry and plum fruit, and  a denser mouthfeel. Still a very much together wine, despite the cork chips, and still years ahead before the decline will set in (94 points).

The star was the 1990 Penfolds Grange. The  complexity of this wine is amazing. Dark cherry, blackberry and mulberry is still very present. There is also mocca and a lifted, aromatic feel - amazing for a wine this old. The mouthfeel is very balanced and lingers on over the very much softened tannins (98 points).

Being from 1990, these three wines have alcohol of 13.5% or less. The 1990 Masi Campolongo is different. Being an Amarone style, there is 16% alcohol in this wine. As the wine ages, and the fruit softens, the alcohol becomes more prominent, and it shows in this wine. It is more developed than the other three.  However, there is still good dried prunes intensity in this wine. Earthy flavours are strong. The wine is beautiful on the mid palate, before the alcohol takes over (94 points).

Conclusion: all four wines were very drinkable, none over the hill. Wow! All wines showed better on the second day. The experiences are different from what one normally experiences, but well worth it. And as far as Bordeaux is concerned, I recommend to keep the good wines very long for the tannins to disappear into the background.   

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz

The current Wine Spectator magazine reviews Australian wines. It starts off by saying there is not much vintage variation. Wow! Yesterday I openend the 2007 Rockford Basket Press Shiraz. What a difference this is to the 2009 which I reported on a few posts below.

2007 was a drought year and it shows in the wine. It is not as generous and lush in the mouth as the 2009. The mouthfeel is not as rounded. This is still a good wine, with intense plum and dark cherry characteristics. It is starting to age. The colour is mellowing and meat and charcoal flavours are emerging. The tannins are sharper.

All this is clearly a function of vintage variation.

Score: 91/+

Monday, August 10, 2015

Spinifex Taureau

The Taureau is quite a rare wine and has been abandoned by Peter Schell in 2010. He found the Tempranillo grape 'uninteresting'.

The 2008  Spinifex Taureau is a blend dominated by Tempranillo, with Graciano, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon added in. The colour of the wine is dark crimson. The lifted flavours are quite strong, with cherry and mulberry dominating. It is a fresh wine, but there is enough tannin to provide a solid structure. The finish is satisfying and balanced.

This is a perfect example of the master blender Peter Schell at work. The Graciano provides tannin and grip to the Tempranillo. This is often done in Spain. The Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon provide extra body. I find this an interesting  wine.

Score: 92/++

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Bindi Composition Chardonnay

The Composition wines are the entry level wines of Bindi, but they are far more than the usual entry levels. The Chardonnay comes from the lower and middle part of the Macedon vineyard. This part is a little more fertile, but the conditions remain challenging at this cold high altitude site.

The 2012 Bindi Composition Chardonnay shows a pale straw green colour. The flavours are citrus and green apple, very well balanced by a good dose of acidity. The wine is perhaps not very complex, but the fruit is clean and quite focussed. One could say this is a Chablis style Chardonnay, but it has a bit more fruit intensity and less minerality than those French wines.

Score: 93/++

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Treasury Wine Estate Premium Wines

A little while ago, I had the opportunity to taste premium wines from the different brands of Treasury Wine Estate in Australia and New Zealand. Each brand could show up to a maximum of five different wines. Can you imagine the hard choices Penfolds had to make? In the end, they decided on Grange, RWT, the Bin A Chardonnay and two Cellar Reserve wines. The brands presented were Coldstream Hills, Devil's Lair, Leo Buring, Matua Valley, Penfolds, Saltram, Seppelt, St. Huberts, Wolf Blass, and Wynns. There were many absolute highlights. This showing would be tough to match from any combination of Australian wines.

Since I commented on Penfolds, let's start with them. The 2013 Chardonnay is a smart wine, with apricot flavours and a balanced structure. As you would expect, the oak is quite noticeable (94 points). The stars were the 2010 Grange and the 2012 RWT. But they were like chalk and cheese. The RWT is a stunning wine, the best I have ever tasted. The blackberry and plum fruit virtually jumps out of the glass. This wine is very approachable for such a young age. It is smooth, and the tannins provide a firm mouth coating. The new French oak is well integrated and the finish is very long (98 points). The 2010 Grange is not nearly as upfront and quite brooding. The flavours are very complex and developing. This is a bigger and stronger wine, but I think it will develop beautifully. I would not touch it for 10 years (98 points).

Another interesting contrast were the Cabernet Sauvignons on offer. The 2011 Devil's Lair 9th Chamber Cabernet Sauvignon is terrific. The redcurrant and dark cherry fruit is brilliant - a very elegant wine with super fine tannins. This is the first release of this single vineyard wine (96 points). Compare this with the Wynns offerings: 12 Black Label, 10 Messenger, 10 Alex 88, 12 John Riddoch. They were pedestrian by comparison, lacking charm and finesse (90-93 points). This was a big win for Margaret River, and not even one of the estates regarded as top tier.

On the Shiraz front, the Barossa dominated. But apart from Penfolds, it was the 2010 Saltram Moculta Road, which stole the show. This wine had cool climate characteristics with black cherry and white pepper notes (94 points). It was more impressive than the better known 2012 No1, and the 2009  Journal Centenarian, which were bigger, slightly sweet wines (90/91 points). The highly regarded 2012 Seppelt St Peters Shiraz impressed with its very elegant flavours. The plum fruit is quite concentrated and focussed (94 points). And then there was the 2010 Wolf Blass Platinum Shiraz. The colour of this wine is very inky, and the wine is quite overblown and unbalanced (89 points).

I found it disappointing that the two wineries who had made great improvements towards higher quality wines in the last ten years, Wolf Blass and Wynns, did not show any better.

A quick word about Coldstream Hills. Their Reserve Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs have become very good and predictable (in a positive sense) in recent years. The Deer Farm Pinot Noir, not shown here, may be the outstanding wine in its portfolio, but everything else has very high quality as well.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Spinifex Esprit

The Esprit, fashioned like a Chateauneuf red wine, put Spinifex firmly on the map. I still had one bottle from 2005 left and was interested to see how the main feature of the wine, its freshness and vibrancy, was holding up.

The 2005 Spinifex Esprit is a blend of five grape varieties common in the Southern Rhone valley, with Grenache being the dominant grape. Pouring the wine, it is obvious the colour has started to mellow. However, on the palate, the wine is still fresh. Peter Schell uses grapes which are picked early. And after 10 years, fruit flavours still dominate, raspberry, plum and blackberry. The character is lifted and dry, not heavy. Secondary characteristics are not very noticeable. The wine is beautifully balanced between different grapes, oak, tannins and acidity. It is great drinking now, with depth of complex flavours and no heaviness on the palate.

Score: 94/+++

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz was perhaps Australia's first cult wine. In the 80s, it was cheaper than Rockford's Riesling. Then the appreciation for old vines and powerful red wine grew strongly. Two things happened. Rockford basically sells only through cellar door and via mailing lists, so the wine was not available on the 'open' market. Secondly, because of the winery's peculiar cost plus pricing system, the price increases were more moderate than of similar wines which started to emerge. The result is that there is a huge demand for this wine and not enough supply.

The 2009 Rockford Basket Press is a real crowd pleaser. Plum and blackberry aromas jump out of the glass. This full-bodied wine is very youthful, juicy and easy to drink. But underneath the sweet core is a serious structure. The wine is ripe but not overripe. The fruit comes first, then soft tannins, and acidity not very noticeable. The wine has good length and I think will age very well, despite its apparent low acidity.

Score: 94/+

Thursday, July 23, 2015

11 Years Of Ata Rangi Pinot Noir

Ata Rangi means "red sky dawn", and that it was for New Zealand Pinot Noir, when Ata Rangi, together with Felton Road, burst on the wine scene. I therefore felt great anticipation when I learnt I could participate in a rare 11 year vertical tasting. I had once participated in a blind Pinot Noir tasting where a small group of wine lovers were trying to figure out which Pinots were from New Zealand and which from Australia. We were then embarrassed to learn, we had just tasted 6 vintages of Ata Rangi. The vintage influences were very large. This was about eight years ago. What would happen this time?

Clones have more influence on Pinot Noir than on any other variety, and the Ata Rangi situation is an interesting one. Like many others in New Zealand, they use 6-8 clones, in particular clone 5 from the US and the Dijon clone, but at the heart of its Pinot Noir is the gumboot or Abel clone. It is a long story how it got to Ata Rangi, but it is rumoured to be an offspring of an illegal single vine cutting from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. According to Clive Paton, Ata Rangi's founder, it delivers the typical Ata Rangi texture, length and silky tannins. The other significant aspect is that the soil of Ata Rangi's vineyards consists of 30-50 meters of gravel.

Now on to the tasting. It covered the years 1999 and 2004-2013. We tasted from youngest to oldest in two five year brackets, followed by the 1999. I will not describe every single wine, but start with some overall conclusions, followed by a summary.

The significant vintage variations I had experienced in my previous vertical tasting were not so apparent in the five youngest wines, but there was more of it in the second bracket. Given seasonal variations were just as large, why would this have been? According to Clive Paton, it is not in the winemaking. Maybe, as the vines reach maturity - they are now 35 years old -, they can balance out the variations. It is not entirely clear.

Overall, Ata Rangi Pinot Noirs are iron fists in a velvet glove. These are wines with concentration, with fruit and (not so noticeable) tannin power. They all deliver elegance and silkiness.

The most impressive wines were the bookends, 2013 and 1999. The 2013, from a perfect vintage, has complex flavours, strawberry, raspberry, but also savoury sandalwood. The wine is vibrant, with a very rounded and balanced mouthfeel and a long burgundian finish (97 points). The 1999, which won a trophy at the prestigeous UK International Wine and Spirit competition, shows what such a wine can develop into: the flavours are now very exotic: there is truffle, hay, some toffee. The wine is still very balanced, simply sensational (98 points). This was a wine under cork. We had a perfect bottle, but others opened to trade and in Melbourne were not good.

The second group scored 93-95 points and consisted of the 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2005. There were considerable differences between these wines, mainly depending on the warmth of the season and sunshine hours. In the cooler years, the wines are more austere, and acidic, but showing great elegance. This was certainly true for the 2012 and the 2010, which was more generous, though.This latter wine was my third favorite of the night. 2008 and 2009 were warmer seasons. The wines showed generous fruit aromas and were softer. Secondary characteristics, such as mushroom, started to show in these wines. 2005 was a very masculine wine with a weighty palate. The year had a very low yield. 2006 was more elegant, a gracious and precise wine with silky tannins to finish.

The weaker wines (around 91 points) were 2011, 2007 and 2004. The 2011 season had rain at the wrong time, which diluted the intensity a bit. 2007, from a cold season with low yield, was a powerful wine on the front palate, but finished quite short. 2004 was the wettest season. The wine had developed quite a bit, showing a charming mix of fruit and forest floor flavours - a pretty wine, but lacking some intensity.

Overall, a mighty impressive showing. It is good to see that no vintages were left out. The seasonal impact was significant, with warmer seasons showing better, but others creating interesting characteristics as well.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon

The Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon is one of Australia's icon wines with a 50 year history. It usually displays firm, sometimes astringent tannins. Therefore I always put it away for a number of years for the tannins to mellow. It is a curious situation, because the wine is high volume and sold in major liquor stores. It can be assumed most of this is consumed immediately, which is not ideal.

Yesterday, I opened a 2008 Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine opened with typical  and true to the variety blackcurrant fruit. Some of it is overripe and quite dry, but the major issue with this wine is the hole on the mid-palate. There is nothing special in the finish. The overall mouthfeel improves somewhat after the wine has been in the glass for some time, but charming this wine is not.

If you want to know what can be a problem with a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine, and why many leaders in France, the US, and Australia blend it, try this wine.

Score: 87/--

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Penfolds RWT Shiraz

The screwcapped 2004 Penfolds RWT Shiraz still displays a youthful purple colour. This is a full-bodied wine with intense blueberry and blackberry, rather than plum flavours. The wine is concentrated and dense, similar to a premium Torbreck wine in this sense. It is not overripe. Primary fruit characteristics still dominate. The main and remarkable achievement of this wine is that it is very smooth and quite elegant despite its slight heaviness. What the screwcap has done is that it kept the fruit fresh (no air exchange), while the firm tannins have softened somewhat (no air required). This makes for an attractive combination.

The RWT (Red Wine Trial) was developed in response to some criticism about the usage of American oak in Grange and the overt vanilla flavours in that wine. Therefore some saw the RWT as a Grange, but with better oak. This is not appropriate. This wine does not have the uniquely huge body and length of Grange. But what it does have is oak in a support role and good drink-ability.

Score: 96/+++

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How Reliable Are Ratings?

I give ratings points, as people demand it, but it is important to understand that the assessment of a wine depends on many things. Let me list a few

Temperature: aromas and flavours of a wine vary dramatically with temperature. The sweet spot for each wine is only a few degrees. Cooler or warmer will make the wine less appealing.
- Breathing: the same applies for how long the wine has been opened, and how long it has been in the glass. You would have experienced significant changes, even from the first to, say, the third taste. And there is no exact science about the optimum breathing time.
- Bottle variation: this is mainly due to cork, but even under screwcap variations exist if there is variation between barrels, for example, in the winery.
- Occasion: The context influences one's judgement. Friends, food, location and ambiance all have an influence.

So what are the chances, these factors are always the same or at optimum levels? Have we all bought a bottle we loved at a tasting or winery or abroad, and it tasted ordinary at home?

I try to keep these influences under control in my assessments, but I am not a lab. I always encourage people to place more emphasis on the wine description, and to work out for yourself which elements appeal to you.

Any comments?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Meerea Park Alexander Munro

The 2003 Meerea Park Alexander Munro Shiraz now shows a garnet colour. The dark plum and mulberry fruit flavours are still attractive, but secondary characteristics are now very present. There are toasty and slightly burnt notes. The wine is starting to be quite dry and a bit dull on the finish.

This is my last bottle of this wine, which I rated much higher four years ago. It is now past its peak.

Score: 92/0

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Wantirna Amelia Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot

Wantirna is one of the best wineries in the Yarra Valley, yet it flies under the radar. Maybe this is because it is now engulfed by Melbourne housing rather than the Yarra. However, it still makes excellent wine. The 2010 Wantirna Amelia is proof.

This wine is medium bodied with 13.5% alcohol, yet the fruit is fully ripe. There is an excellent purity in the redcurrant and red plum flavours. This wine is an excellent example how Merlot can complement Cabernet Sauvignon. There is no hole in the mid palate. This wine is seamless from beginning to finish, when finely grained tannins complete the taste.

This wine is super pretty, and I don't want to hold this against it! The Yarra can produce terrific Bordeaux style wines.

Score: 95/+++

Thursday, July 9, 2015

William Downie New Releases

William Downie is one of the most exciting young winemakers in Australia. In a recent article by Jancis Robinson he was listed as one of five Australian producers to try. He fashions three Pinot Noirs from vineyards in the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Gippsland. His objective is to show the different terroirs through his wines.

His wines can be difficult to find, particularly in 2014, when the yields were down by up to 50%. The vintage was difficult in Victoria, and the wines don't reach the levels of previous years, yet they are still very attractive.

The 2014 William Downie Yarra Valley Pinot Noir is the lightest of the three. It is also the most Burgundian. The wine is quite floral and feminine, in the strawberry spectrum. It has good persistence and a lovely texture (93/++ points).

The 2014 William Downie Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir is most unusual. The colour is much darker, and the wine is not actually clear at this point. All Downie wines are unfined and unfiltered, and this wine is still cloudy. The flavours on the palate are complex, with black cherry and mulberry dominating. The texture is rich, and the wine seems stable. It tastes like Pinot Noir, not like some Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noirs which taste more like Shiraz. I enjoyed this wine a lot, but it is hard to predict what will become of it. One for the adventurous (92/+++points).

The 2014 William Downie Gippsland Pinot Noir differs more than the others from previous vintages. It is usually my favorite because of the velvety tannins, which are not so obvious in this wine. The 2014 is a funky wine, with strong rustic and earthy flavours. There is some bitter orange in this wine (91/++points).

Overall, a very interesting set of wines, showing the regional differences very well.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Jasper Hill/Chapoutier La Pleiade

La Pleiade is a mysterious wine, maybe as mysterious as the name or label. Yet it deserves much more acclaim. The name refers to the seven stars Pleiades cluster, also depicted on the label, but it also stands for a group of French Renaissance poets. The renaissance might be referring to a new take on Shiraz: full bodied, yet elegant at the same time. The vineyard is a joint venture between Ron Laughton of Jasper Hill fame, and Michel Chapoutier from the Northern Rhone.

The 2006 La Pleiade is a deep purple coloured wine, with an appealing set of fruit characteristics. There is red and black cherry and blackberry, and the fruit tastes fresh (after 9 years!). This is a well balanced wine with a satisfying mouthfeel. The wine delivers a velvety coating of the mouth, with a beautiful and pure fruit core and dry tannins, which take a back seat. This wine has weight, but it is not heavy, if this makes sense. Actually, it is a hard wine to describe. It is perfect for a cold winter night, and you look forward to a second or third glass. The wine drinks very well now and will do so for another 5+ years.

Score: 95/+++

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Peter Lehmann Shiraz

It is only a few days now before I head back to Sydney, and I started to long for an Australian wine. German supermarkets sell only cheap stuff, but I wanted a reasonable experience. Then I saw the 2012 Peter Lehmann Portrait Shiraz. It is from the Barossa and the 2012 vintage. How wrong can you go?

This wine is full-bodied, with concentrated plum fruit, and chocolate flavours. The wine is persistent, yet not very refined: a decent wine if you don't want to think about it, and good value for money.

Score: 87/0

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Real Gem From Switzerland

When you travel through Switzerland, you notice many vineyards at the lower levels of the mountains. They are very picturesque, yet small, and not much of the wine is exported. The Swiss point out that latitudinally they are similar to Burgundy, however, the terroir does not seem to be quite the same. Nonetheless, Pinot Noir is probably the best grape from Switzerland - and I was introduced to an absolutely stunning example.

The 2010 Gantenbein Pinot Noir is a light to medium bodied wine. The colour is garnet. The flavours are complex: strawberry and minerality from wet stones, mushroom characters as well. The wine has an ethereal character with a beautiful and balanced texture. The silky tannins caress the palate.

This wine is a great discovery. It will drink well to 2020. Volumes are small, but this wine is exported to a number of countries. Coming from Switzerland, it is pricey. I am giving it a high score. It would have been even higher, if the finish had been longer.

Score: 95/+++

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Peter Michael Les Pavots

My American readers have dropped off a bit during my tour de France. So here is a review of an American wine I had a chance to drink during this period.

Peter Knight is an English gentleman who is very serious about his winemaking in Sonoma County. His Les Pavots is his take on Bordeaux. The 2009 Peter Michael Les Pavots consists of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. The colour is dark, and the flavours are complex. Blackcurrant fruit is followed by cedar and graphite. There is good intensity in this wine, without the fruit being overripe. The wine is quite lacy and racy, with silky tannins, but the finish is slightly alcoholic.

This is, nevertheless, not a Napa monster, but a balanced wine. It is a good example how the blend of grapes adds complexity, while being seamless at the same time.

Score: 94/++

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Conclusions From My Tour De France

There are a number of takeaways for me, apart from the individual tastings.

1) Nothing replaces the visit of individual wine regions. You develop a different relationship to the wines, based on the vibe you picked up, some key impressions, the concentrated tastings in a few days, and the personalities you meet.

2) In Bordeaux, the house style, i.e. winemaker reigns, in Burgundy it is the terroir. In that sense, the emphesis in Bordeaux on the chateau, and in Burgundy on the vineyard, is appropriate. The cult around the winemaker is not as strong as in the US or Australia. This is smart, as the wineries need to transcend individual winemakers.

3) Great wine can come from many different soils, such as limestone, sand, rocks, clay. Therefore the hunt for certain soils in the New World to duplicate the conditions in France, is probably misplaced.

4) Many wineries produce a great wine, but the most exciting experiences were where a winery has developed a clear signature or style, e.g. Chapoutier or Vieux Telegraphe.

5) Bordeaux is still hooked on new oak.

6) The Parker influence remains huge, in all of France. This does not benefit the wines, I think.

7) Brand building has been enormously successful, for example for Bordeaux's First Growths or DRC. Some of these wines do not stand up to their standing, and other wines can be as good, for a fraction of the price. You can find these in the country (France), but it is much more difficult abroad.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Chateau St Cosme

The last tasting in France was rushed. Both the wine company and I were running out of time. This was a pity as Chateau St Cosme is well known in Australia and the US. It does the opposite to Guigal and Chapoutier. They own vineyards in the Northern Rhone and act as negotiants for Southern Rhone wine. St Cosme owns vineyards in the Southern Rhone and buys in grapes from the North.

I will report on two wines here. The 2013 Cote-Rotie is matured to 80% in new oak. This is a perfumed, quite elegant wine, with smoky and slate notes, coming from grapes from the steep slopes of the Rhone. This Shiraz is quite high in alcohol and slightly hot on the finish (90 points). The 2013 Gigondas, in contrast, comes from owned vineyards near the winery. It is a typical GSM and the juice sees no new oak. The fruit is fresh, with Grenache raspberry flavours dominant. The wine is very ripe and the meaty flavours would not be to everybody's taste (90 points).

St Cosme wines are clearly fashioned in the new world style. More oak, from long burnt barrells, ripe berries and high alcohol. These wines can deliver instant gratification, but lack the finess of the just reviewed Vieux Telegraphe.

Au revoir La France! It was fantastic.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Vieux Telegraphe

The famous plateau La Crau, Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Daniel Brunier,co-owner, and the wines tasted

A remarkable tasting was my second last in France, at Vieux Telegraphe. At first, Daniel Brunier took me on a tour across the vineyards of La Crau. This plateau, on the east side of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, is covered in large rocks.  The clay soil starts a couple of meters below the surface. As a result, the waterholding capacity is good, but the roots have to go deep. They pick up many nutrients along the way.

The philosophy of the winery is to deliver finesse to the wines. This is more important than fruit. Only old oak is used, and grapes are often not destemmed.

The first wine I tasted was the 2014 Megaphone. This is a new wine from Ventoux. The grapes, 70% Grenache, 30% Shiraz, are quite young. Still, the wine is not overly fruit forward, but quite restrained (90 points). Then came the 2012 Les Pallieres, Les Racines from Gigondas. This 62 acre vineyard sits in the lower part of an amphitheatre. It is 80% Grenache, with 30% stems. The wine is a bit austere, with minerality flavours a key feature, before finishing on firm tannins (90 points). 

The next red was the first from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the 2012 Telegramme. This 60% Grenache based wine is pretty. It is fresh and elegant, with quite a soft mouthfeel (92 points).  Then it gets more complex with the 2011 Piedlong. This wine is based on 90% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre. 50% of the grapes are not destemmed. Flavours are sour cherry, and there are salty notes as well. The palate is firm, yet elegant, with quite a unique profile (93 points).

Then we compared two Vieux Telegraphe. The current one is from 2012. It is a GSM blend, with 65% Grenache. The vines are 70 years old on average. 30% of the grapes are not destemmed. This is a wine of intense fruit flavours, yet elegant and with great balance (95 points). The 2001 comes from a comparable vintage. It is still fresh, has again a bit of the saltiness on the palate, with silky tannins and a lift on the finish (96 points).

What I admired about these wines is the common philosophy that was expressed in them. Here was not a series of individual wines, but a thread that cut across them. Beautiful balance, finesse, clearly a great ability to age. I fell in love with this wine style.      

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


The final stop of my wonderful tour de France. It will be a brief one, unfortunately. At one of the caves I had a brief introduction to these Grenache based blended wines. There is a distinction between modernists and traditionalists, maybe like in Barolo. The modernists emphesize fruit flavours, maybe boldness, the traditionalists finesse and minerality. I did not learn which differences in the winemaking process drives this distinction, but I guess maceration time and oak treatment would be major factors. These were the four wines I tasted

- 2013 Domaine de Gireau: red and black cherry, simple fruit flavours (87 points).

- 2012 Domaine Pierre Usseglio: GSM, 12 months in oak, a darker wine, well structured, firm tannins (91 points).

- 2012 Domaine du Pegau: a well respected traditionalist. This Chateuneuf-du-Pape tasted of spice and leather. What a contrast to the last two wines. Tannins are strong. If you like to smoke cigars, you will like this wine (93 points).

- 2012 Domaine de la Charbonniere, Les Hautes Brusquieres: a single vineyard blend of 80% Grenache and 18% Shiraz. Complex flavours, strawberry and plum, but also marmelaide, figs and earthy components. I liked this wine but for its alcoholic finish (15.5%). This is a problem with Grenache. It needs to ripen, and then the alcohol shoots right up (94 points).

Paul Jaboulet Aine

La Chapelle - On the right: The legendary Chapoutier l'Ermite vineyard

La Chapelle is owned by Paul Jaboulet Aine, although the surrounding vineyards belong to M Chapoutier. The main Hermitage vinyard owned by Paul Jaboulet is on the right hand side in the photo published in the Chapoutier post.

However, we start with a 100% Marsanne from Saint-Joseph. The 2014 Le Grand Pompée Blanc, made from purchased fruit, is fresh, with pleasant pear fruit flavours. The emphesis is on the texture. The wine has an attractive mouthfeel. This full-bodied white is matched with sufficient acidity to keep it lively. I liked this wine (91 points). The 2014 Domaine de Roure Blanc from an owned vineyard in Crozes Hermitage is a step up in complexity. The bunches are pressed whole and the wine sees 30% new oak. This Marsanne has a golden colour, with intense fruit flavours, yet an elegant mouthfeel and a lingering finish (94 points).

We finish with three reds. The 2007 Domaine de Roure is a 100% Shiraz from Crozes Hermitage. It shows blackberry and plum flavours, and the secondary flavours are of minerality, such as wet stones. This wine is a bit rough on the edges and the tannins are firm (90 points). The 2011 Domaine de Pierelles from the Cote Rotié comes from the famous Cote de Blonde vineyard, but I found the wine a bit bland. The blackberry flavours are soft and flinty, the tannins are firm on the finish (90 points).

Then it is a step back in time with the 1994 La Chapelle Hermitage. The wine has a blueberry nose and very complex flavours. There are violets, but also mushroom and tobacco. The wine is very elegant and balanced. It still has firm tannins as the backbone. This wine is not as intense as the Papillon by Chapoutier, but still has a great mouthfeel (94 points).

La Chapelle, after 20 years, was a memorable wine, but overall, I actually preferred the whites from Jaboulet, a surprising result.