Monday, March 30, 2015

Old Grenache - A Story Of Terroir

McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley are the prime regions for serious Grenache in Australia. But it is also interesting to compare two Grenaches from the same region, but different sub-regions, in this case in the Barossa. The two wines were the 2006 Kalleske Old Vine Grenache and the 2006 Cirillo 1850 Old Vine Grenache. Both wines are made from very old vines, at least 70 years old, but many over 100 years old. They are high quality wines.

However, the results are quite different. And I believe this is at least 2/3rds due to terroir, and maybe 1/3rd to winemaking. Terroir is often associated with soil, but it is much more than that. However, rainfall and temperature would have been quite similar for these two wines, whereas the soil is very different.

The Cirillo Grenache is grown on the valley flats near Nuriootpa. The soil is alluvial and very sandy. The Grenache is mellow, soft, and aromatic, and the tannins are quite soft. These are typical expressions for this type of soil.

The Kalleske Grenache is made from grapes grown on red-brown earth, where clay and iron are major components. The wine is much more muscular, the wine has a more angular feel, the alcohol is more noticeable (although the Cirillo has high alcohol as well), and the tannins are firmer.

Pay attention to terroir, in particular when you plan to drink premium wine.

Some scientists claim that vines can only take up sunshine and water, but there is clearly more going on. Have you had similar experiences?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Kusuda Pinot Noir

After a number of mixed experiences lately, I wanted an exciting wine drinking experience. I went for the 2010 Kusuda Pinot Noir. This wine from Martinborough, New Zealand's leading Pinot Noir region (yes!), is rare as hens' teeth. I met the Japanese winemaker a couple of years ago, and his meticulous approach is similar to what you would experience at a Tokyo fruit market. Every grape is treated individually, both in the vineyard and the winery. No split or unripe grape would ever make it to making wine.

After opening the wine, by pulling out an extra long cork (reassuring!), fragrant and enticing aromas escape the bottle. On the palate, attractive strawberry and red cherry flavours dominate, and darker mushroom flavours join in. This wine is quite feminine, elegant, and delicious, but it has intensity and cut-through as well. It finishes on silky tannins. This is a terrific Pinot Noir.

Score: 97/+++  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ulithorne Chi Grenache/Shiraz

Ulithorne is a small McLaren Vale producer who impressed me a lot last year at a premium red wine tasting event. The wines are small production, and very carefully handled in the vineyard and the winery.

I now had the 2012 Ulithorne Chi Grenache/Shiraz on its own, over dinner. The wine was good, but did not hold the interest in quite the same way as during the previous tasting. Raspberry flavours dominate, but the blend is not fruity, as Grenache can often be. The Shiraz component adds to the savoury profile. It is an attractive, concentrated mouthfeel.  The wine is very clean, the tannins on the finish are quite ripe. The fruit flavours are strong and can take the 15.5% alcohol on the front and mid-palate, but on the back-palate, the alcohol wins over. So, unfortunately, it is one of those wines, where you enjoy the first glass, but do not want to finish the bottle.

Score: 93/0  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Two Hands Bella's Garden

I thought it would be interesting to now taste a new world wine of similar positioning and age and compare. Therefore I opened a 2004 Two Hands Bella's Garden. This is Barossa Shiraz from the premium Shiraz series and fruit from selected vineyards. The colour was equally purple and showed less development than the French wine. This surprised me.

On the palate, many things were as expected. Dark plum and blackberry flavours of this quite concentrated fruit dominated. The wine was simpler on the palate than the Leoville-Barton, also bigger, riper and more generous. The tannins were firm as well, but more agreeable than those of the Leoville-Barton. The alcohol was noticeable on the finish.

At the end, it comes down to personal preference. This wine would have been more palatable to some, but too in your face to others. The French wine was more complex, but not overly delicious.

Score: 91/0  

Monday, March 23, 2015

Chateau Leoville-Barton

The argument about the respective merits of the 'structured' old world Cabernets versus the new world fruit dominated Cabernets or Shirazes has been going on for over 30 years. Interestingly, the most celebrated Bordeaux vintages, like 2000, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2010, are the warm ones, which produce wines approaching the new world flavour profiles.

Let us test this by opening the 2003 Chateau Leoville-Barton. This is a well known mid priced wine. It is a second growth from St. Julien on the left bank, which means the blend is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Merlot blended in.

The colour of the wine is quite dark, but shows garnet on the rim, which means some development has occurred. Blackcurrant fruit shows on the palate, as well as cedar and tobacco leaf. The wine is well balanced in the mouth. Earthy and barnyard characters are very strong. No, this wine could not be mistaken for a new world wine. I do not find the profile appealing on its own, but it is much better with red meat, which balances the firm and dry tannins on the finish.

The wine needs at least 1-2 hours airing, decanting opens up the flavours. This wine will continue to develop for five years and drink well for another five to 10 years.

Score: 91/-

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Krondorf Growers Barossa Shiraz

The Krondorf brand has been around for over 35 years. The 'Growers' wine acknowledges fruit from selected growers. The 2012 Krondorf Growers Barossa Shiraz is made from fruit by Marcus Schulz and Anita Bowen. The Schulz vineyard is in the Northern Barossa and is highly acclaimed. I am not familiar with Anita Bowen. In any case, the wine does not come from the Valley Flats, as the Krondorf name might suggest.

The wine opens up with strong red plum and kirsch aromas, which intensify on the palate. The wine is plush and quite yummy, not jammy. There is spice and some vanilla oak on the palate as well. The dominant fruit embraces all the taste buds, but the wine has quite an acidic finish. The acid feels added. It takes away from the smoothness of the wine on the front palate. Still, it is a good drink now, and will improve and mellow over the years.

Score: 92/++

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Tour de France

I finalized all details for my biggest winery trip ever, taking in Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone. The visits are set up for May, and I will hopefully have some amazing  tastings to report.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Wynns Messenger Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2010 Wynns Messenger Cabernet Sauvignon is the first separate bottling from this vineyard since 1985. It achieved a lot of acclaim on release, and I was impressed by the fruit intensity as well. Drinking it now, I am less enthusiastic. The terra rossa influence still shines through on the firm redcurrant flavours, and they carry through to the back palate. The wine is quite vibrant, but the mouthfeel is less than satisfying. The fruit is quite tough, and the wine not as rounded as I would have liked. The tannins on the finish are firm, and the structure will hold for 10 years plus, but what is the point if the wine itself is not as smooth as a top Cabernet should be.

Score 91/0

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dalwhinnie Shiraz

Some highly acclaimed wineries fall from grace. It is hard to understand exactly why and why it is not reversible. For example, in the 1980s, Virgin Hills was highly regarded for its Bordeaux blend. It went downhill from there. The wine became thin and green and could not stand up to the new wave of Australian Shirazes.

I have the feeling Dalwhinnie is joining this unfortunate group of wineries, although for entirely different reasons. The other day, I opened a bottle of the 2004 Dalwhinnie Shiraz, supposedly one of their great years in the last 10 years. This is a full bodied wine, more so than you would expect from Victoria. Flavours are of blackberry and mulberry, but most noticeable is the ripeness of the fruit, which was on the wrong side of being satisfying. This unpleasant mouthfeel was not helped by a fairly harsh finish. The Dalwhinnie Shiraz was famous for its silky tannins, but this wine had no subtleness to it whatsoever.

I previously reported on some younger wines, which were equally disappointing. I am afraid this winery has lost its way. Trying to be a big Barossa?

Score: 86/--

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Riversdale 'Crater' Chardonnay

If you are getting tired of drinking the same old Chardonnay, why not try a new one from Tasmania. New wineries are popping up there all the time and the quality continues to improve. Riversdale Estate, in the mild and dry Coal River Valley, has been around for over 20 years. Today I am tasting the 2011 Riversdale 'Crater' Chardonnay.

Citrus flavours dominate the palate. This is a clean wine, quite balanced with some serious acidity. The flavour profile reminds me very much of Tumbarumba Chardonnay. Having said this, the wine is a little fuller and fruitier, but still done in the 'modern' Australian style. The citrus flavours are still strong on the back palate, leading to a refreshing finish.

This is a very good all-rounder, but would go particularly well with summer salads.

Score: 92/++

Friday, March 6, 2015

Domaine de la Romanee-Conti St -Vivant Mini Vertical

Yesterday, this blog went through 100,000 page views. Yeah! To celebrate, I have chosen this special review. The wines were tasted late last year and came from James Halliday's personal cellar.

There is not enough room here to detail the extra-ordinariness of this producer, but the basics are that DRC owns or part owns 6 Pinot Noir vineyards near the village of Vosne-Romanee. In order of their reputation, they are Romanee-Conti (the house block, if you like), La Tache, Richebourg, St-Vivant, Grands Echezeaux, Echezeaux. Some people now argue that St-Vivant, after many improvements, is now equal to Richebourg or has even surpassed it. In any event, the styles are said to be quite different, with Richebourg being powerful and rich, whereas St-Vivant is more elegant and delicate.

The St.-Vivants to taste were from the 2010, 2009 and 2006 vintages, with 2009 being regarded as amongst the best in recent history.

We started with the 2010 DRC St-Vivant. The colour of this wine is bright, but not light red. The fruit flavours are a complex blend of strawberry and red cherry. They do not impact consistently down the palate, as they would with the next two wines. The finish is very silky, very long.

Score: 95/++

The 2009 DRC St-Vivant shows a darker colour, with hints of purple. This might be due to bottle age, but is mainly the result of more concentrated fruit. Cherry flavours dominate on the fruit spectrum, but there is a lot going on here, with forest floor flavours and a hint of smokiness thrown in the mix. This is a very complex wine, elegant and velvety, with a long finish.

Score: 98/+++

The 2006 DRC St-Vivant was the surprise. From a somewhat lesser vintage, this wine showed great intensity, with a silky mouthfeel and an expanding finish (Burgundian fan).

Score: 98/+++

This was my first taste of DRC other than a Richebourg over a decade ago. Was it a life-changing experience as somebody suggested to me beforehand? Clearly no. But there was something special about these wines. They are clearly made with meticulous attention to detail. What marked them for me was a density in the fruit weight, without being heavy, but rather elegant. A slight disappointment was that while the finishes were long, I had expected more of a flavour expansion. Only the 2006 did offer it. But overall, it was a great experience to try these rare wines from perhaps the most profound producer in the world.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Krug or Dom?

I am sorry this blog has been quiet for so long. First, I was in a non wine-drinking environment, then I got struck down by a viral infection. But in-between I had the opportunity to sip on a 2004 vintage Dom Perignon on my flight home. This brought up in my mind the question of Dom vs. Krug. This is very similar to what happened in music if you grew up in the 60s. You were either a Beatles fan or a Stones fan, never both. And so it is in Champagne land.

I freely admit that I do not get overly excited by Champagne, the most overworked wine drink on earth, but you can't fault their marketing. Nobody seems to think twice to fork out at a minimum $50 for a bottle of Champus, whereas this person would never spend this much on a white or red wine. Having said this, and to answer the question, I am a Krug person. I go for the weight and the yeast, as opposed to Dom's freshness and vibrancy.

The other thing that happened a couple of days before I boarded the flight, I had a mild form of food poisoning. I was despite all this looking forward to the Dom Perignon from a great year, but bad luck, I could not stomach the acidity. Half of a small glass, that was it.

Now for those who have been reading all this waiting for a review. The palate opens up with citrus and almond flavours, then there is cream and a smoky flavour. This Champagne has good intensity and balance. The bubbles are small and persistent, and the vibrancy of this drink is caused by its well integrated acidity.