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.