Saturday, December 31, 2016

Kusuda Pinot Noir

I decided to see out the old year with one of my favorite producers in the Southern Hemisphere, Kusuda-san. I am drinking the 2010 Kusuda Pinot Noir.

I reported briefly on the 2013 Pinot Noir a few posts ago. This wine is much more developed, but this makes this wine even more exciting. The colour is a medium intensity ruby, bordering on garnet. The aroma consists predominantly of forest berries. On the palate, the wine is quite complex. Small berry flavours of medium intensity join mushroom and five spice. Yet, this wine is quite precise and has great definition down the palate. Silky tannins are pleasant on the back palate. The overall impression is of a savoury wine in great harmony.

I have enjoyed Kusuda Pinot Noir at young age, but this, my first experience of this wine with age, is even more exciting.

Score: 97/+++

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What Did We Drink Over Christmas?

Strangely enough, my Christmas this year did not involve any Champagne nor Sparkling Shiraz. Christmas Day was whites with seafood.

The Batard-Montrachet was good, featuring tropical fruit, but a little bit on the fat/flat side. The Lovedale Semillon was just as good, with fresh and intense lime flavours, for a fifth of the price.

Boxing Day was the big one, wine wise.

The 2011 Grosset Polish Hill was excellent, given the wet vintage. The 1996 Penfolds Grange was astounding. Really fresh, with an intense aroma, and on the palate concentrated and intense blackberry with a deep core of mocca - classic Grange. Noble One is always liquid honey.

What was your favorite drink over Christmas? Please comment.   

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Last poll

While the number of responses has been small in relation to my readership, let alone the wine drinking world at large, it has been a little larger than on some occasions. And my life long experience with statistics is this: trends tend to emerge early and mostly do not change much.

Based on this, what do the results suggest:

1) The biggest trend is away from Shiraz to Pinot Noir. This reflects a couple of things: a shift towards lighter wines, and the fact that the quality of Pinot Noir has improved a lot in recent times, both in Australia and the US (where a lot of my readers come from), while Shiraz is suffering from sameness.

2) Cabernet Sauvignon may be staging a bit of a revival - again, quality is driving this.

3) The major surprise to me is the shift to white wines, both Chardonnay and Riesling, and there is also shifting between these two varieties. As I have a readership of interested and sophisticated wine consumers, the shift to Riesling is not too surprising, but the overall market is certainly not there yet.

4) Other varieties do not feature much. Maybe because I just called them 'other', but my impression is also that 'alternative varieties',hyped by wine critics, are not often the wine of choice.

Thank you for participating. I hope that some of you who have not, find the results interesting and are encouraged to take part next time.

Christmas Eve is fast approaching, so I would like to thank you all for following my blog and commenting. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas time, plenty of exciting drinks, and a healthy, happy and successful 2017.

I will now step into the cellar and work out what to drink over the next few days. This I will share with you, and hopefully some of you will tell me about your wines and champagnes of choice.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Kusuda Pinot Noir

This is perhaps the most exciting wine to come out of the Southern Hemisphere in the last ten years. Have you ever shopped for fruit in Tokyo? Even something as simple as an apple is wrapped individually, looks immaculate, and they all look the same. This is what happens with Kusuda grapes. It is a small operation, every grape seems individually assessed and approved or not.

The wine comes from Martinborough, my favorite Pinot Noir region, home of Ata Rangi. The other day I drank the 2013 Kusuda Pinot Noir. I will leave this description very brief, because everything else would be fluff. The bouquet is extremely fragrant, on the palate, the red cherry flavours are intense. Yet the wine is light, and lifted. That's it.

Score: 97/+++

PS: I have other vintages of this wine and will report on some of them shortly.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Deep Woods Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Deep Woods from near Yallingup, Margaret River, shot to fame this year, when the 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon won the Jimmy Watson's Trophy for best young red wine in Australia. I came across it a bit earlier, and here are my notes on the 2012 Deep Woods Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, tasted yesterday.

The colour of the wine is a bright purple. The bouquet is intense, full of blackcurrant aroma. On the palate, the blackcurrant flavours are intense. The concentration is not matched by finesse, but the depth of flavour is impressive. This is not a Cullen-type wine, rather a super Moss Wood. The assertive tannins provide a firm grip, as the wine finishes long.

This wine has personality. If it can dial up elegance (and I have not tried the 2014), it could be superb.

Score: 93/++

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Raggabellus Timaeus.

A full page advertisement in a recent edition of Wine Spectator by Wine Barossa spoke to the diversity from the region and featured Raggubellus and Sami-Odi as examples of different wines from the 'Big Barossa'.

Last night I tried the 2010 Raggabellus Timaeus. The three premium wines of Raggabellus are different takes on the Shiraz, Mourvedre, Grenache blends. There is a different lead variety in each of the three wines. The dominant grape in the Timaeus is Grenache. It is 61% in 2010. The two key features of this wine are early picking/lower alcohol and whole bunches in the wine - a tricky combination as we shall see.

There are plum and raspberry flavours in this wine, as expected, but this is not a fruity wine. Savoury notes dominate. I expected more vibrancy, but the wine is rather brooding. It is a dark wine, but not big, more medium bodied. Unfortunately, what is coming through on the palate is some green character, I think from the early picked whole bunches. The finish is quite assertive.

This wine needs food.

Score: 91/0

New Poll

Official statistics can give a trend in wine consumption. I am interested what my readers drink more of, and what they drink less of. Please participate in this poll. It is very simple, you just have to tick the answer to the two questions on the right. Traditionally, poll participation has been low, although my readership is quite large. Please be active, it takes less than one minute.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Marko's Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

I don't review Sauvignon Blanc often. I have no interest in the industrial production of New Zealand's Marlborough district and its grassy, gooseberry and often sweet flavours of its Sauvignon Blanc. Many winemakers have become weary of this profile. Two major departures are the blending with Semillon, as it is common in Western Australia, and the introduction of oak treatment by a number of producers.

But what I have in front of me is different in other ways: small production, hand-picked fruit, wild ferment and left on lees for three months. In this way, the 2016 Marko's Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is trying to show more delicate flavours. And in the most part, it succeeds. This wine is not overly aggressive, but a blend of aromatic tropical and citrus flavours, with citrus dominating. There is considerable acidity in the wine. It will be interesting to see what a bit of age will do to the wine. Will it become bland or complex like Riesling?

Score: 88/0

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Marko's Vineyard Point Eight Shiraz

Perhaps the greatest advance in winemaking in the last ten years, has been the production of serious red wines which can be drunk young. A great example of this is the first vintage of the 2015 Marko's Vineyard Point Eight Shiraz. Point Eight refers to hectares. So it is a very small and handcrafted production from the Adelaide Hills. The owner is Matthew Hill Smith, the brother of Michael Hill Smith of Shaw + Smith fame. This vineyard used to supply Shaw + Smith. The Shiraz vines from this cool climate location are 24 years old.

On the nose, there is plum and pepper, but on the palate, the flavours are much more complex. Dark plum and rhubarb is accompanied by mocca and coffee, and very peppery notes. It has the feel of a cool climate Shiraz, with great harmony in the mouth, but the flavours are also quite intense and deep. The pepper carries through to the long, smooth finish. This is a very well made wine straddling sun-kissed Australian Shiraz with freshness and elegance. Seek it out!

Score: 94/+++  

Friday, December 9, 2016

Barolo - 2012 Vintage Examples

If I could only drink one type of wine for the rest of my life, I would pick Barolo. The Nebbiolo grape, in the hands of the right winemakers of Piedmont, produces astonishing fragrance and tannic structure at the same time; the best of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, one might say.

The 2012 vintage, the latest on the market, started with cool and wet weather, but turned very hot in August, before cooling down again. 2010 was a classic vintage, with a focus on structure, while 2011 was hot, with fruitier wines for earlier drinking. 2012 probably sits a bit in between, showing good Barolo character.

In this tasting, nine  2012 wines were shown and compared with three classic wines from earlier vintages. The first six wines were from younger vines, typically 15 years old, but some older vines as well. My favorite here was the 2012 Ferdinando Principiano Serralunga Barolo. This is a medium- to full-bodied wine with good cherry fruit intensity, freshness and dusty tannins (93 points). It offers terrific value. The 2012 Massolino Barolo from the same area is not as elegant, with strong tannins (91 points). The 2012 Vietti Barolo Castiglione is quite elegant, with a firm structure as well, but a bit of a gap on the mid palate (92 points). The two wines from La Morra show expectedly more floral and fragrant character: 2012 Trediberri Barolo (91 points) and 2012 Brezza Barolo Sarmassa (90 points). The one Barbaresco thrown in, the 2012 Cascina della Rose is extremely pretty on the nose, but a little light on the palate (92 points).

The three wines from older fruit were very impressive. All of them were made in the traditional way: with long maceration periods and aged in larger barrels.
- 2012 Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera: very pretty cherry fruit, elegant, balanced, soft tannins (93 points)
- 2012 G.D. Vajra Barolo Ravera: stronger tannins, less well balanced (92 points)
-2012 Giovanni Rosso 'La Serra' Barolo: smooth, with silky tannins and good length (94 points)

These wines were compared with three classics: the 2006 Aldo Conterno 'Romirasco' Barolo comes from the original vineyard in Bussia in the village of Monforte d'Alba. It was made in the traditional way. The fruit of this wine was quite ripe. The wine had some barnyard character with soft tannins. I did not warm to it (92 points).

The 2004 Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda, released after 10 years, was my wine of the night. It showed a complex forest floor bouquet on the nose. The firm structure somewhat dominates the tar, leather and spice character of the wine. It is quite long and a classic Barolo, but would not have been everybody's favorite (94 points).

Quite a contrast was the 2001 Gaja 'Costa Russi'. This wine was aged in French barriques. It is smooth on the nose and has a very elegant mouthfeel, but there is a lot of oak from the barrique, overshadowing the fruit tannins of this wine (93 points).

None of the wines disappointed. This is typical for Barolo. 2012 showed elegance as well as strong tannins, depending on the producer. The wines tasted were not the pinnacle of the vintage, but are well worth seeking out. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Portuguese Red Wine

For the last 10 years, many Portuguese wineries have started to make serious table wines. With more than 300 varieties in current usage, a bewildering range of styles can be expected. The Douro Valley, one of the oldest, if not the oldest demarkated wine regions in the world (since 1756), and the variety Touriga Nacional lead the charge.

As an introduction, I tried three very different wines. The first was the 2013 Adega Regional de Colares Chao Rijo. This wine comes from the western most wine region in Europe, just west of Lisbon. The Atlantic brings cool winds to the vineyards. 80% of this blend are the Castelão and Tinta Roriz grapes. This wine was generally pleasant, but not very refined in its mouthfeel and quite broad (88 points).

From the Douro Valley comes the 2013 Quinta dos Murcas Assobio Tinto Douro. This is an entry level wine for this highly regarded winery. The grape varieties are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz. The wine is quite dark, but shows freshness rather than concentration (89 points).

The third wine is the 2012 Vadio Tinto. It comes from the Bairrada region, almost half way between Lisbon and Porto, a bit inland. The grape variety is Baga. The wine is a blend of older, up to 75 year old bush vines and ten year old vines. This grape variety is regarded as the perfect match for suckling pig, and I can see why. The wine is more elegant than the other two, but not very intense (90 points).

This tasting was my first exposure to Portuguese table wines. I will deepen my understanding with a visit to the Douro Valley next year, and then hopefully be able to report with much more knowledge.  

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Deviation Road Pinot Gris

Deviation Road from the Adelaide Hills, not far from Lenswood, is a winery to watch. Kate Laurie, who was a finalist GTWine Winemaker of the Year this year, is the winemaker. When it comes to generating cash-flow, aromatic white wines are the way to go. This 2016 Deviation Road Pinot Gris is the first wine I review from the current vintage.

I am always a bit worried when I open a bottle of Pinot Gris. Many wineries make it as a quaffer, just in case Sauvignon Blanc finally gets out of fashion. The Deviation Road Pinot Gris is a cut above that. Made in the Italian style, but with more fruit at its core, this wine has a lovely texture. Intense pear flavours dominate The wine is clean and refreshing. The flavours move along the palate without broadening out despite their intensity. It would have been nice to see a bit more complexity, but I enjoyed this well made wine.

Score: 90/++

Friday, December 2, 2016

Two Astonishing Barolos

Massolino is a traditional Piedmont producer. This means he uses long maceration times for his Barolos, with an emphasis on tannic structure. This was born out in the two Barolos I recently drank from 2005: the 2005 Massolino Barolo and the 2005 Massolino Barolo Margheria. The first is a blended wine, the second the single vineyard wine from the famous Serralunga vineyard.

Both wines were full-bodied. I did not taste much fruit. The wines were very dry, with earthy and tar flavours. The structure was good and dominated by dusty tannins. The Margheria showed a bit more intensity. I only drank one glass on the first night.

Scores: 90/0 and 92/0

I skip over night two to night three. Something astonishing is happening. The strong tannins have been raised like a curtain and the wines are now showing cherry and raspberry flavours, as well as minerality. The Margheria has benefited the most. The wine is now elegant, with good intensity and a lovely balanced texture. The tannins have softened, and the finish is now long and smooth.

Scores: 92/+ and 95/++

The lesson here: Barolo, inparticular when traditionally made, must be decanted. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Penfolds 1971 Grange

First up, dear wine buffs, what is wrong with this bottle? No, it is not the damaged label. Please comment your thoughts.

1971: The UK changed to decimal currency, the Concorde flew across the atlantic for the first time, and John Newcombe won Wimbledon for the third time. And this is the second last vintage of Max Schubert, Australia's greatest winemaker.

When you drink a 45 year old wine under cork, you have to expect bottle variation. The damaged label is not a sign of what is to come: this is a great bottle, luckily. The wine still has amazingly vibrant colour.

The flavours are intriguing: violets, crisp boscop apple, but then: almond, dates, and sultana. The wine is still quite dense, with the structure firmly in tact. Take note: the alcohol level is a measly 12.3%. The overall impression is of the velvety texture and the long, long smooth finish. 

This wine is elegant, mesmerizing, majestic. The flavour is equally on the front, mid and back palate, seamless.

Tasted with ham of the bone, duck and orange paté, and soft cheeses and dates.

My first ever

Score: 100/+++ 

Riversdale Estate Musca Syrah

We know about great Pinot Noir from Tasmania. But you know that climate change is real when serious Shiraz is arriving from Tasmania ( well, you probably knew beforehand). The Riversdale Estate is situated in the very dry Coal River Valley at a waterfront location. Well, these vines have been planted as far back as 1991. Foresight!

The 2014 Riversdale Estate Musca Syrah emerged from a season with quite cool, wet and windy weather during the ripening season. The vintage was very late as a result, with some detrimental results, in my view.

The wine is medium bodied, and on the palate similar to a cool climate Victorian Shiraz. Red plum flavours are accompanied by quite intense peppery notes. The fruit seems partly underripe, partly overripe, with the winery trying hard this year. Acidity is dominating the fruit, leaving a  sharp edge on the palate. The acidity even outweighs the vanilla flavours of the oak.

On day two, the 'sting' of the wine has largely gone, and it is now much better balanced. The fruit issue remains, though.

Score: 88 (89)/- 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz

The Rockford Basket Press Shiraz was perhaps Australia's first cult wine. It was produced in small volumes, was not available in retail stores, and was made using quirky old equipment including the famous basket press. Although, to be fair, it was not priced like a cult wine, being only marginally more expensive than Rockford's Riesling in the early days.
The Basket Press Shiraz in its slightly bulky bottle

As most of the wines I taste and drink come from my cellar, I do not taste blind. However, it is important not to be influenced by famous labels. This became critical in this review of the 2008 Rockford Basket Press Shiraz. 2008 was the second drought vintage in a row in the Barossa. I was prepared for a ripe wine. However, I was not quite prepared for this. 

On the positive side, this wine has concentrated fruit flavours, it is quite balanced, not too alcoholic, and its tannins are finely grained. However, this is outweighed by the very ripe character of the fruit, which taste like dried prunes. The wine is dull and fairly tired.

Score: 88/- 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir

I have been amiss in coming through with the review of the five core Pinot Noir wines of Felton Road. So, let's continue with wine number three. This is a review of the Block 5. This wine comes from the heart of the Elms vineyard, Felton Road's home vineyard or Mother vineyard if you like. It is typically the darkest, most concentrated wine, and commands the highest price.

I am tasting the 2007 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir. This wine shows a ruby colour now, not as dark as it was as a young wine. The bouquet is strong, with pure black cherry flavours emerging from the glass. This is a medium-bodied wine, but at the full-bodied end for a Pinot Noir. There are black cherry flavours on the palate, quite noticeable Arabian spices and some forest floor, all blending together seamlessly. The wine has a velvety texture with fine silky tannins and a lengthy finish.

The flavours of this wine are world class, but I am marking it down a bit, as the line is not as precise as it could have been and the finish is not expanding, as in the best Burgundies. This is the issue with the Block 5: it is almost too concentrated for a Pinot Noir.

Still, this is a great wine at almost 10 years of age. It has not even reached its peak yet.

Score: 95/+++   

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thomas Wines Braemore Semillon

Pretty much all Hunter Semillon ages quite well. The good wines retain their balance over time. How does the 2005 Thomas Braemore Semillon shape up?

The colour of this screw capped wine is light golden, still very lively. On the palate, the lime flavours are still strong, but some light nutty flavours, almond and hazelnut, are emerging. The fruit is perfectly balanced with acidity. The wine is medium-bodied for a Semillon. It is still refreshing, with strong minerality showing through, and a balanced finish. This wine will improve in complexity over many years.

Score: 94/++

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A 100 pointer? - Controversial

The 1997 vintage in Piedmont was a watershed. It was hot, and the wines were big and rich. This appealed to the US market. A major publication gave this vintage 100 points - the first time this happened anywhere in the world. And Robert Voerzio was the poster child.

The 1997 Robert Voerzio Brunate Barolo was also rated at 100 points. I happened to be in the region when this wine was released, and I managed to acquire a couple of bottles of this legendary wine.

Robert Voerzio is classified as a 'modernist', because he uses relatively short maceration periods (10 to 15 days) and French barriques for maturation. Equally important, his yields are ultra low, 750 grams of fruit per vine, half of other leading producers.

On opening the wine, intense aromas of blackberry fruit, like high quality jam, rise from the bottle. On the palate, it is immediately clear this is an unusual wine, for Barolo, and in general. The wine is full-bodied, ripe and quite dense. Blackberry and raspberry fruit fill the mouth. On day two, more earthy and mushroom characteristics start to be prominent. 

This wine is complex, but not typical of the La Morra subregion (known for its floral flavours), or even any Barolo. It is powerful, and the tannins of the oak seem to battle with the fruit tannins, giving the wine a firm and long, but not very distinctive finish. There is a little heat from the alcohol as well.

So in summary, this is a meticulously made wine, in a ripe,  international style. The colour in the glass identifies it as a wine from the Nebbiolo grape, but the taste almost negates it.

Score: 95/0   

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

An Aged Wendouree

When you are planning to drink an aged Wendouree, you expect intense fruit and a strong tannin character. This is irrespective of the variety, and there are quite a few, with different combinations of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Shiraz and Mourvedre.

So this was my expectation when opening a 1992 Wendouree Cabernet/Malbec. The wine is full-bodied, and my expectations were pretty much met. After 24 years, the fruit flavours are still strong, with intense blackcurrant, blackberry and black cherry flavours. The wine is quite spicy. The structure is still perfect, with firm tannins and an acidic backbone. The finish is long, with lifting characteristics, but good depth as well - quite remarkable for a wine of this age. And it still has many years to go.

Score: 95/++

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Oakridge 864 Chardonnay Vertical Tasting

When David Bicknell became chief winemaker at Oakridge in 2002, he changed the style of its Chardonnay dramatically. The focus was now on freshness and fruit, no longer on oak, butterscotch and cream. In this way, he found himself at the forefront of a new wave of Australian Chardonnay with high ratings, and the Oakridge 864 Chardonnay became an icon wine.

Chardonnay is a perplexing variety. It has less of an ingrained varietal character than any of the other premium grape varieties. It grows in many different areas and climates, and its profile is heavily influenced by the winemaker's decisions, predominantly in the winery.

David Bicknell's approach was to do very little, not so revolutionary now, but not common for Chardonnay at the time. His view was that barrels clutter flavour, therefore maturing in 500 l pungents, only 20% new. The grapes are picked early, whole bunch pressing, only natural yeast is used, and no malolactic fermentation.

Given the status of his flagship wine, I was interested to participate in this rare opportunity to taste a number of different vintages, but I left a bit underwhelmed. More on this later.

The wines on tasting were the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 Oakridge 864 Chardonnays. I was surprised to learn that they came from three different vineyards, and the earlier Chardonnays from a fourth one.

The first bracket consisted of the older wines. The 2008 and 2009 were made from fruit of Seville's van der Meulen vineyard, the 2010 from the famous Lusatia Park. The group generally agreed that the 2009 was the best wine in this bracket, but the reasons given varied widely. My notes are:
-2008: tropical fruit from a hot year; melon, guava, papaya. Not very acidic, good structural balance (92 points)
-2009: very similar in flavour profile, but livelier and with better line (93 points)
-2010: less tropical, fine and long, with more acidity and minerality (92 points)

The wines of the second bracket come from the 1990 planted Funder&Diamond vineyard, situated at an elevation of 240m. Here, the 2014 stood out. In fact, this was my only outstanding wine in the line-up.
-2012: a disappointing wine, dull&flat, has reached its peak already (89 points)
-2013: a fine and bigger wine, but lacks acidity and specific interest (92 points)
-2014: this wine is quite different, and David Bicknell said it was some departure from the past (I did not get what he did differently). This wine has a bigger mouthfeel, it seems to have an additional dimension. The wine is balanced, with a good line, some creaminess and a lasting finish (95 points)

Overall, I found the wines pretty, but lacking personality. This is perhaps changing with the 2014 vintage. Dialing manipulation back in the winery was definitely a good thing, but the resulting wines were perhaps too easy going, lacking some depth and grip. Hopefully, 2014 is not an outlier because of the very low yields in that year, but the start of an interesting Chardonnay with unique personality.           

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Barbera - The poor cousin of Nebbiolo. Only ever gets second choice on the rolling hills of Piedmont. Yet some producers have started to focus on this grape, which is popular in Italy, but not grown much outside of it. Its main characteristic is its strong acidity. It is therefore a good match with tomato based dishes, such as pizza and some pasta.

Unfortunately, the two examples I tasted recently did not live up to the grape's potential. The 2011 Matteo Correggia Barbera d'Alba shows a typical purple colour. Strong 'legs' emerge in the glass quickly. This wine has a strong alcohol content (14.5%).  This is a full-bodied wine with sour cherry flavours, true to the varietal character. The wine is a bit broad, and unfortunately, its high acidity is killing the fruit on the palate. This wine lacks balance.

Score: 86/--

The 2012 Mauro Veglio Barbera d'Alba is from a better known producer, but the wine has a similar profile. It is a bit softer and elegant, but the acidity is too strong and the finish quite harsh.

Score: 87/--

I will try to hunt down something better. It does exist. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Salomon Undhof Riesling

The world of Riesling is incredibly varied and rich: from dry to sweet, from lean to full-bodied and so on. Austria produces some outstanding examples, and they are quite unique.

Today I am tasting the 2013 Salomon Undhof  Kögl Riesling. The vineyard is located in the Krems region, one of the best in Austria. The vines are grown on southern slopes, consisting of thin chalk layers above crystalline schist.

This is quite a full-flavoured wine, but it is never fruity. Ripe citrus flavours dominate. The wine is quite complex on the palate, with peach, passionfruit, and green olive notes adding to the picture. The mouthfeel is very satisfying, based on the nicely balanced structure. The acidity is non-intrusive, but builds a strong backbone to the wine. Minerality comes through on the dry and lasting finish.

Score: 94/+++

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Toolangi Emanai

What to do with Viognier? Blending it with Shiraz does not require many grapes, as anything over 5% would dominate the aroma and change Shiraz too much. Bottling it on its own? This is most certainly commercial disaster.

The owners of Toolangi have come up with an interesting idea. The 2015 Toolangi Emanai is a blend of Chardonnay and Viognier, co-fermented. The fruit comes from the Dixon Creek vineyard in the Yarra Valley. The Chardonnay is low cropped and hand harvested. The result is a high quality quaffer. The Viognier adds a bit of an exotic flavour to the Chardonnay. The wine is clean and crisp, with green apple, pear flavours and mild spices. This is a dry wine, with a remarkable mouthfeel for the price. The finish is a bit broad, but this is a bit nitpicking for a wine below $20 per bottle.

I highly recommend this for everyday drinking.

Score: 90/+++

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Marchand & Burch Mount Barrow Pinot Noir

There are not many Pinot Noirs coming out of Western Australia. It has been suggested all remaining Pinot Noir grapes in Margaret River should be ripped out, as it is too hot. The Great Southern region has a different story, however. Here it is cooler, and it rains more, and there is some elevation.
The Mount Barrow vineyard is the highest vineyard in elevation at 380 meters altitude, and it is south facing - a very different proposition from Margaret River.

The 2009 Marchand & Burch Mount Barrow Pinot Noir is medium-bodied. Raspberry and forest berry flavours dance on the palate. However, savoury notes of forest floor dominate this smooth and soft wine. This wine has a lovely texture, a good line, and silky tannins, sliding along the tongue beautifully.

Score: 95/+++ 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Tscharke 'The Master' Montepulciano

Montepulciano is a confusing word. It refers on the one hand to the Montepulciano sub-region of Tuscany, on the other to a red grape variety, mainly grown south of Tuscany. In the Barossa Valley, a number of winemakers have become concerned about the impact of climate change and rising temperatures, on the quality of Shiraz and Grenache. Some have started to look for varieties which supposedly can stand the heat better. Tempranillo and Montepulciano are two front runners.

Damien Tscharke pursues a two-pronged strategy with the release of traditional Rhône varieties on the one hand, and alternative varieties on the other. I am drinking the 2009 Tscharke 'The Master' Montepulciano. The fruit is nice, but a bit one-dimensional. The wine is quite lean on the finish, and a bit alcoholic (15%).

I am not sure this is the answer to higher temperatures in the Barossa, although one would have to be patient and think in long time frames. Another approach, though, surely, is to pick Shiraz earlier. This variety can ripen in shorter time.

Score: 89/0 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Spinifex Bête Noir Shiraz

It has been a long time between drinks, so to speak. Sorry about that.

Today, I am reviewing Spinifex's only 100% Shiraz. Peter Schell is the master blender of the Barossa, blending up to about 10 varieties into certain wines. He is reported to have once said: "Before I make a traditional Barossa Shiraz, I am going to shoot myself." No surprise than that his Shiraz is called 'Black Beast'. Should he shoot himself?

The 2009 Spinifex Bête Noir is a full-bodied wine, with very concentrated fruit, but there is also freshness in the wine. Plum and lifted blueberry flavours dominate. This wine has a big mouthfeel, yet it is elegant and smooth as well. The tannins are graceful and well integrated. The finish is pleasant, maybe not as precise as it could have been, with a whiff of alcohol coming through.

Should Peter Schell shoot himself? Well, you would not mistake this wine for a cool climate Shiraz. However, it has a vibrancy which the 'Big Barossa' often lacks. I think he just got away with it.

This is a profound wine in a modern style, which should please many.

Score: 95/+++

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Domenico Clerico Ciabot Barolo

Drinking the 2000 Domenico Clerico Ciabot Barolo is a lesson in cellaring good wine for a long time. I remember tasting this wine from barrel. It was tough. The tannins were harsh, and the wine out of balance. Now, 15 years later, it is a different story. (So much for the saying, what is not great in the beginning will never be great.)

On opening the bottle, a huge aroma of cherries, fragrants and cinnamon arises out of the bottle. Elegant black cherry flavours coat the palate. Savoury elements, earthy and meaty notes add to the complexity. This is a very precise wine, with a finely balanced structure. The tannins are firm, but also silky. The finish is dry, long, powerful and a little dusty.

This wine was clearly built for the long haul. It needed time to integrate and soften. This is true for most outstanding Barolos and also Bordeaux wines. To get the best out of them, you need to be patient.

I have been lucky lately, with another outstanding wine.

Score: 97/+++  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Penfolds Grange

I have been thinking that the 1990s are perhaps the golden decade of Penfolds Grange. Why? Since the 1990 Grange, there has been a slight shift to more fruit orientation at the expense of oak. No doubt, this has been a positive. Secondly, during this period, Penfolds has had access to quite a number of outstanding grower vineyards. Subsequently, many have moved to bottle their own wine or shifted, when they came out of contract. Penfolds have since planted the very large Waltons vineyard, but it will take a long time before the vines reach maturity.

The 1991 Penfolds Grange certainly supports my assertion. This is close to a perfect wine, and a fantastic follow-up to the legendary 1990. Cherry and wild berry aromas jump out of the bottle/glass. This is an excellent bottle. I took several Grange bottles to the recent Penfolds re-corking clinic, but not this one. At 25 years, it still had a very high shoulder.

This wine ticks all the right boxes on the palate. Upfront, it is still fresh, with a complex mix of blackberry and plum flavours. Secondary bacon and spice flavours are present as well. The wine delivers a very satisfying, generous and full-bodied mouthfeel on the mid-palate, and is very long and persistent on the finish. The fruit is intense and penetrating, but there is enough acidity to avoid any fruitcake characteristics. The tannins have softened and are quite silky.

Score: 98/+++  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

100 Rosés

Rosés are probably the flavour of the month, but to attend a tasting of 100 odd Rosés is a seriously bewildering affair for a number of reasons. You would never have heard of most producers. Rosé can be based on pretty much any red grape variety (I encountered Black Muscat), although Grenache, Sangiovese and Pinot Noir are most prominent. There are a number of quite different production methods, and maturation can be in tank or oak. All the major wine countries, like France, Spain and Italy produce Rosé, but I will simply highlight three Australian wines which impressed me.

The 2015 Farr Rising Saignée is a 'serious' wine. Based on Pinot Noir, it has quite a dark colour, as the juice had considerable skin contact. Maturation in oak gives this wine a solid tannin structure.

The 2015 Chalmers Rosato from Heathcote is quite a different wine. The family is committed to Italian varieties and different ones go into the Rosato, depending on the vintage. Aglianico, Sagrantino and Negroamaro have been used. The colour of this wine is salmon pink. The wine is bone dry, with chalky notes.

The 2016 Schmölzer & Brown Prêt-a-Rosé from Beechworth has quite a big mouthfeel. This is an up and coming winery and the Rosé is a good example. It is made from Pinot Noir and Sangiovese. The wine is certainly bigger than the Chalmers, with more obvious fruit, but it finishes dry - a happy compromise.

Overall, the fruity wines were in the minority, and the future seems bright. The three wines above should satisfy serious wine drinkers.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Australia's Best Chardonnay Producer?

Toolangi is not a household name as a leading Australian wine producer. This is perhaps because it has no winery of its own and no cellar door. The focus is on producing great fruit near Dixons Creek in the Yarra Valley and then have leading winemakers make the wine. They have three tiers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and produce a Shiraz. The four top wines coming off their own vineyard are the Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and the Reserve wines, which come from especially designated blocks.

The 2015 Toolangi Estate Chardonnay is made by David Bicknell from Oakridge. Wild yeast fermentation is his trademark. The wine underwent no malolactic fermentation. It spent 8 months in 500 litre pungent barrels, 50% new. Citrus and white peach flavours. The fruit weight is terrific, not too little, not too much. This is a very harmonious wine showing a good dose of minerality. The acidity provides a perfect balance. Drinks well now and will age for 10 years.

Score: 96/+++

The 2012 Toolangi Reserve Block F Chardonnay is made by Rick Kitzbrunner of Giaconda.  Many ask how this came about, as Rick does not make wine for anybody else. When Kitzbrunner started Giaconda, he had no winery to begin with, but Gary Hounsell, the Toolangi owner, had a little facility nearby and allowed Rick to use it. So Rick is now returning the favour. This Chardonnay is a bigger wine, made in the style of a Burgundy Grand Cru. The yield for the grapes is 1t/acre (2t/acre for the Estate wine). After undergoing malolactic fermentation, the wine is matured for two years in barrique, 50% new. This is quite a powerful and rich style, but it is not buttery. Hazelnut and almond flavours add to the complexity of the fruit. The oak adds some spice. Not many Chardonnays are made this way in Australia, but it all hangs together. This wine makes a statement.

Score: 96/++

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Felton Road Pinot Noir

This is the second review in the series of reviewing the five Felton Road Pinot Noirs. Today it is the Bannockburn Pinot Noir. This is the highest volume wine in the portfolio, and the only non single vineyard wine. In some cases, one would call this the entry wine, but the quality of this wine exceeds many premium wines. Maybe I could call it the base wine, as it is a blend from the three Felton Road vineyards, the Elms, Calvert and Cornish Point.

Again, I am tasting a wine from the 2009 vintage. In comparison with the Calvert I reviewed before, the 2009 Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir is more open and approachable. The shape is not as focused and pencil sharp. The mouthfeel is rounder. The fruit flavours are not as intense, but the texture of the wine is excellent, with very fine tannins.

The top fruit from these vineyards goes into the single vineyard wines, therefore you expect this wine to be a bit lower in quality. However, a couple of things have happened in recent years. As the vineyards mature, the quality gap between different fruit parcels seems to reduce. And because of the sourcing from different vineyards and soils, the complexity can be quite high. Therefore, on occasions, this wine has recently been rated higher than the more fancied single block wines. This makes the Bannockburn an excellent buy.

Score: 93/++

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Henschke Mt Edelstone Shiraz

The 2005 Henschke Mt Edelstone is quite an extreme wine. This is not surprising. We were entering a drought period, and Robert Parker, whose influence has since waned, was the most important critic at the time. Being from Eden Valley, though, with higher altitude and cooler nights, there is no dead or dried fruit flavours in this wine.

What this wine has, however, is extremely intense fruit flavours, not fruitcake, but just very ripe mulberry fruit. Aniseed is present, as are five spices, and a hint of eucalypt. The wine has a great mouthfeel. The first experience on the palate is sensational, so intense. The structure of the wine holds up and there are even lifted aromas on the long finish.

This is a showy wine, and what happens with showy things, when you look again, it does not create quite the same excitement. The alcohol is rated as an acceptable 14%, and it does not show, but the second glass is harder to drink. Nevertheless, the first one was excellent.

Score: 95/++     

Monday, September 5, 2016

34 Pinot Noirs

This annual Pinot Noir tasting in Sydney tends to give a good overview of the state of the nation as far as Pinot Noir is concerned. Unfortunately, this year, a number of the big names were missing. Still, when you have the option to taste 150 wines in a couple of hours, I tend to drift to the better known wines, where I can expect good results. I should do it differently next time and seek out the unknowns who's bottles don't even get opened - sad.

There was one wine which stood head and shoulders above the others. This was the 2014 By Farr Farrside Pinot Noir. This is a very complete wine, with dark fruit, very silky, with soft notes, but a firm finish. This is now the best By Farr wine (96 points).

In the bracket of outstanding wines (93/94 points) were
- 2014 By Farr Sangreal ( quite powerful, with overt cherry flavours, silky tannins)
- 2014 Lerida 'Josephine' (relatively light, strawberry and earth, long finish)
- 2012 Glaetzer-Dixon 'Reveur' (good intensity, mushroom notes, lively)
- 2012 Bannockburn 'Serre' (black cherry, silky, good length)
- 2015 Soumah 'Equilibrio' (strawberry flavours, quite ripe and silky)

In the next bracket (90-92 points) were a number of well known wines. They were good wines, but either had no feature that stood out (like the Curly Flat), or some detracting aspect (like the Paringa Estate). I put in this group the 2013 Curly Flat, 2014 Lerida Estate 'Cullerin', 2013 Stonier Reserve, 2014 Oakridge 864, 2015 Marchand & Burch 'Mt Barrow', 2012 Paringa Estate, 2013 Bannockburn Estate, 2015 Garagiste 'Balnarring',  2012 Savaterre (could have gone in the group above), 2015 Farr Rising, 2013 Brokenwood 'Indigo Vineyard', 2015 Holm Oak (outstanding fresh fruit), 2014 Shaw & Smith.

I rated the following wines a bit below this group (89 points): 2011 Curly Flat, 2013 Yering Station Estate, 2014 Scorpo, 2013 Picardy, 2013 Gembrook Hill, 2013 Moorooduc Estate 'Garden Vineyard', 2013 Yeringberg (disappointing!).

The disappointing wines (85-88 points), given their reputation, were
- 2014 Ashton Hills Reserve (lacking structure)
- 2015 William Downie Gippsland (juice, fault in winemaking or bottle?)
- 2014 Freycinet Estate (fruity)
- 2013 Kooyong Estate 'Haven' (drowning in sulphur)
- 2014 Holyman (unbalanced and thin)
- 2013 Moss Wood (why do they stick with it in Margaret River?)
- 2014 Pooley 'Butchers Hill' (too sweet)

A caveat to these rankings: the tasting was in a crowded room, the glasses were small and there was not much time.

With a couple of exceptions, there were no lolly water Pinot Noirs. These times are thankfully over. Given the line-up, I had expected a few more examples of truly outstanding wines with great personality. Usually, in large tastings like this, I do a taste-off with my three or four favorites. I was not inspired to do that this time. Power in the Pinots has been scaled back, which is a good thing, but now that many winemakers have mastered the art, they seem to go for 'safety first'.    

Sunday, August 28, 2016

St. John's Road Eden Valley Riesling

Over the years, as a collector, one develops a list of favorites, and it takes a real effort to stray from the known and trusted. Every now and then, I try to push myself to try a wine I have not heard of to keep abreast of something new and potentially exciting.

The 2014 St. John's Road Eden Valley Riesling is a wine I know nothing about. It has a golden colour of medium depth. Floral aromas emerge from the glass. Citrus and floral notes dominate on the palate. This is a clean wine. What is interesting is that it has the elements of a great wine, but not enough to really make it one. There is some definition along the palate, but it could do with more, similarly, I would have liked more acidity to balance the intensity of the fruit, and a firmer finish.

This is a dry, modern Riesling for easy drinking. Would go well with salads.

Score: 88/+

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Felton Road Pinot Noir

Felton Road is perhaps the most important Pinot Noir producer of the Southern Hemisphere. How can I say this? Apart from the consistent very high quality of the wines, the winery has a strong focus on organics and biodynamics, as well as the terroir the grapes grow on. Also, it is highly regarded world-wide.

Therefore, today I will begin a brief series on its five Pinot Noirs, as not many have the opportunity to taste them all. I will review an individual wine each time, and discuss some of the typical aspects of the respective brand.

I begin with the 2009 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir. This wine has a ruby colour. On the nose, exotic five spices aromas rise from the glass. The wine has the typical Central Otago fruit concentration. In this wine, there are black and red cherry flavours on the palate. The wine is very focussed and a bit leaner than the other Felton Road Pinot Noirs. The tannins are firm and silky. Fruit and tannins expand on the satisfying finish.

Score: 95/+++


The Calvert vineyard is relatively new in the Felton Road stable, as it was planted in 2001. It sits 1km east of the Elms vineyard (the Mother vineyard) on Felton Road. It is at lower altitude, and the fruit ripens earlier. The soil is consistent throughout the 4.6 ha. It consists of sandy loam, quartz gravels, and some calcium carbonate. Some characteristics of this wine are its slight angularity, and its strong minerality and saltiness. This is clearly a function of the earlier picking and the soils. Despite its relatively young age, wines from this fruit tend to easily age for 10-15 years.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Giaconda Chardonnay

Lately, it has not been fashionable to show oak in Chardonnay.  The serious ones all have it, but you are not supposed to notice a strong oak contribution. Well, Giaconda Chardonnay is different. This is about a marriage between fruit and oak.

I opened a bottle of the 2008 Giaconda Chardonnay. The colour is still a relatively pale golden, with a green tint (the bottle was screw-capped). This is a full-bodied wine with a lot of power (alc. 13.5%). The flavours are concentrated and complex. Ripe yellow peach and passionfruit is complemented by almond and medium toast. As the wine moves down the palate, it becomes more nutty, partly due to its 100% malolactic fermentation. The mouthfeel is excellent. This wine is clean and elegant, while carrying quite a punch, before it finishes long and smooth.

This wine has many years to go.

Score: 95/+


My blog has been named in the top 100 wine blogs in the world. Nice one,

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The high points debate

The issue of points inflation is certainly gaining momentum, as the points-master James Halliday published his 2017 guide. (There is also an inflation of publishing guide books early). Huon Hooke, the well respected Sydney Morning Herald wine writer, has been critical on Radio National, calling the 100 point scale increasingly useless. There is certainly a virtual circle of scoring high. It ensures you are quoted on the winery's website and get bottles submitted next year. The wineries obviously like it and the quoting enhances the reviewer's brand. James Halliday defends by saying while his scores are high, there is internal integrity to the system and Australian wine has improved. But what is the point of a system that essentially ranks wines without fault between 94 and 98 points? The comment of 'don't look at the points, read the notes' is lame, as everybody looks at the points. Overseas reviewers have been puzzled by this high scoring, and there is a risk that Australia is not taken serious as a result of it.

Independence is important. I do not rely on samples, although I do not reject them. I do not rely on being quoted, as this blog persues no commercial interest.

Any thoughts and comments?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Yealands Land Made Sauvignon Blanc

Yealands has developed a layered structure for its Sauvignon Blancs. Some time ago I reviewed their single vineyard wine, which was propagated as best Sauvignon Blanc in the world. It clearly wasn't the best from New Zealand, let alone the world.

So it was with some trepidation that I tried the wine 'below' it, the 2014 Yealands Land Made Sauvignon Blanc. This is a wine made from many different vineyard parcels. The aroma is true to what one would expect from Marlborough: gooseberry and grassy notes jump out of the glass. On the palate, these flavours are reinforced and very strong. This is a fruity wine. It is clean and well made. Nothing complex in this wine, which finishes dry.

Score: 87/-

Friday, August 5, 2016

Chateau d'Yquem

I am writing this review with some trepidation. Famous wine writers have of course reviewed this wine, and I am not very experienced with Sauternes. However, this is a blog of my personal experiences. So here come my impressions of the 2005 Chateau d'Yquem. 

2005 was a great vintage for red Bordeaux, but not so much for Sauternes in general due to the warmth of the vintage. However, this is a terrific wine. The flavours on the palate are complex: stonefruits, pineapple, honey and almonds. The wine is intense and rich, but has a lightness on the finish. The acidity is perfectly balanced. There is a long and balanced aftertaste. This wine has sheer class.

If you enjoy everyday dessert wines, I suggest you skip the next five or six and buy this wine once. It will change your view of what a dessert wine can be like.

Score: 98/+++

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Cono Sur Bicicleta Syrah

I am on a bit of an international tasting tour. Cono Sur (get it?) is a Chilean producer of large volume wine at generally great value for money. I have enjoyed their Pinot Noir in the past. This Syrah is called Bicicleta, because the workers apparently care for the vineyard on bicycle (go figure).

I tried the 2014 Cono Sur Bicicleta Syrah. This is a pretty basic wine. The red plum flavours are not very intense, but the wine is clean and uncomplicated. It is reasonably balanced, and as long as it is consumed with a hearty dish, such as a hamburger, it can be enjoyed in a supporting role.

Score: 85/0

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Burn Cottage Pinot Noir

My first exposure to this cult producer from Central Otago. I am tasting the 2014 Burn Cottage Pinot Noir. This medium-bodied wine is quite complex on the palate. There is red cherry, spice, dried herbs, earl grey and forest floor notes. However, this is not a cocktail, but a singular expression of the site, with good depth of flavour. The wine is precise and elegant, maybe a bit fruity, if I want to be picky. This wine has a silky and polished finish. It will improve and drink well for ten years.

Score: 94/++

Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet

Joseph Drouhin is one of the larger producers in Burgundy, with significant holdings as well as purchased grapes. This Chardonnay comes from one of the three classic white wine growing areas south of Beaune. It is a village wine i.e. not a premier or grand cru. The soil here is a complex mix of limestone, marl and clay. I tasted the 2013 Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet. The vintage was very cool, producing classical wines.

I was not quite sure what to expect. It could have been richness, as associated with this area, or more a Chablis style, given the vintage. Citrus is certainly the dominant flavour, but this is a more generous wine than a Chablis. There is candied fruit and gingerbread on the palate and floral notes on the finish. The acidity is surprisingly low for the vintage. This is a very smooth and elegant wine, quite soft, maybe lacking some definition.

Score: 93/++

Monday, July 25, 2016

Ribera del Duero

My visit to the region was very exciting. The qualities of wines I tasted was very impressive, indeed. Unfortunately, I am not able to report in detail, as I am writing an article about this experience in one of Australia's leading wine magazines. I will just say that I had three world class experiences
- visit and tasting at Vega Sicilia, which is undergoing an interesting evolution
- an overnight stay at Abadia Retuerta, an outstanding vineyard accomodation
- the Atauta valley, remote, pre-phylloxera, literally hundreds of sub 1ha plots of 100+ year old tempranillo vines, culminating in the astonishing wines of Dominio de Atauta

If you visit Spain for wine, don't just visit Rioja, visit Ribera del Duero.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pesquera Millenium Reserva

To get in the mood of Ribera del Duero, which I will be visiting for the next three days, I tasted the 2002 Pesquera Millenium Reserva, only the second release of this wine since 1996.

This wine is very attractive on the palate, with black cherry, bramble, smoky bacon and spices from French oak coming together very well. The wine is quite intense and brooding, yet elegant and harmoneous. I liked the French oak treatment and the velvety texture of this wine. This Tempranillo is pure and penetrating with fine tannins on the lasting finish.

This wine is still youthful revealing a very balanced structure. If this is the standard I will be getting for the next three days, I will be in for a treat.

Score: 95/+++

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Kalleske Old Vine Grenache

Grenache is still fighting to be taken seriously. Does it need to be blended? Look at Garnacha from Priorat. Can it improve with age? Sure, just look at Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

This 2007 Kalleske Old Vine Grenache is now 9 years old. It is quite a savoury wine, with an earthy elegance, like a wise old man. Raspberry and strawberry flavours are still coming through. The wine is ripe and full-bodied, with good depth of fruit. There is no dead fruit here, and the wine is not overpowering. The tannins are smooth and silky on the finish.

This is a top flight Grenache. Highly recommended.

Score: 95/+++

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Farnese Edizione Cinque Autoctoni

The 2012 Farnese Edizione Cinque Autoctoni has been bestowed with  extraordinary acclaim: best Italian red wine 2015 and 99 points (and not even by the points master James Halliday). It is an unusual wine, in that it blends Montepulciano and Sangiovese grapes from Abruzzi with Primitivo (Zinfandel), Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera from Puglia. Therefore the name Cinque Autoctoni. Montepulciano, Sangiovese, and Primitivo are the dominant grapes of the blend. This signals acidity and tannins.

Lifted aromas emerge on opening the bottle, blackberry and cocoa. On the palate, there is plum and sour cherry to start with. The wine is quite dense and meaty, filling the mouth well. It is an elegant wine on the front and mid palate, with the acidity cutting through the concentrated fruit. The tannins are a little coarse, and detract from an otherwise fine finish.

This is an unusual and serious wine. But almost perfect (99 points)? Not close.

Score: 94/++

Monday, July 11, 2016

Torbreck Woodcutter's Semillon

Australian Semillon is typically associated with the Hunter Valley, where it is a signature grape. Not many know that the highest volume Semillon in the country is bottled by Peter Lehmann, from Barossa fruit. There is a fair bit of Semillon in the Barossa Valley.

Torbreck's entry level is the Woodcutter's range. Today, I am reviewing the 2014 Torbreck Woodcutter's Semillon from the Barossa Valley. The colour is a deeper golden than Hunter Valley Semillon. There is more flavour complexity on the palate. Next to citrus, pineapple and grapefruit flavours emerge. This is a fuller, richer Semillon (it is Torbreck after all), yet it has retained some freshness. The wine does not have much acidity, yet is well balanced at present. The finish is relatively short, but I enjoyed the wine.

Whereas Hunter Valley Semillon is best enjoyed with fish, in particular sashimi, I would suggest this wine to go particularly well with salads. Best to drink now, while fresh.

Score: 89/++ 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

William Downie Gippsland Pinot Noir

The 2008 William Downie Gippsland Pinot Noir was the first Gippsland release for William Downie. And what a release it was. Today, this wine still shows a ruby colour. It still looks and smells like a younger wine.

There is red cherry and a hint of strawberry on the palate, and a slightly sour taste. This is still a vibrant wine with depth and minerality. The texture of this wine is excellent. The palate is engulfed by the wine's acidity and its subdued silky tannins. This is a very smart Pinot Noir, very varietal, like a Burgundy from a very good year.

Score: 96/+++ 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

William Downie Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir

William Downie is one of Australia's leading Pinot Noir winemakers. He trained under Phillip Jones of Bass Phillip for a while. William Downie makes three different Victorian Pinot Noirs from the Mornington Peninsula, the Yarra Valley and Gippsland.

This is the 2008 William Downie Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir. The colour of the wine is between red and garnet, showing some development. The colour is still deep. The complex flavours of red and black cherry, as well as savoury notes have good intensity, but also some ethereal qualities on the back palate. Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir is sometimes accused of being too plummy or one dimensional, a Shiraz drinker's Pinot Noir. This wine is not like that. It is well balanced between fruit, oak, acids, and tannins. This wine is pleasingly long on the finish, expressing excellent varietal character.

This Downie is a smart and sophisticated wine, good to drink now.

Score: 95/+++  

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Standish Wine Company 'The Schubert Theorem'

I thought a special wine was in order on election night in Australia. The Schubert Theorem states that every knot can be uniquely expressed as a sum of prime knots. Well, didn't the election turn out to be a knotty affair. Translated into the wine world, the vineyard from which the grapes come is the Schubert vineyard on Roennfeldt Road, Marananga, Barossa Valley. The analogy to the Theorem is that the vineyard has been deconstructed to take the best parcels of fruit from different sections and then assembled to hopefully more than the sum of the parts. I was really looking forward to this.
 Now, the label is probably the weirdest I have ever come across. It is totally black, and the mathematical formula of the Theorem is on the front. If you enlarge the picture, you may identify some scribbles. The back label looks the same, with minimal, by law required information. Clearly not made for marketing, but for mystique.

I am drinking the 2010 Standish 'The Schubert Theorem'. When I pour the wine, another first happens. This wine is black. I have never described a wine colour thus. On the palate, there is a lot of complexity. Fruit flavours are blackberry, and very intense, but also blueberry with freshness. There are also earthy and mineral notes. This is clearly a massive wine. It is not overripe, but like jam without any liquidity. The alcohol is noticeable, although notionally 'only' 14.5%.

This wine is made in the tradition of big Barossa Robert Parker wines, but it is a bit smarter. I found the first glass absolutely great, but the second a bit of a struggle. If you enjoy wines from Greenock Creek or premium Torbreck wines, you must give this wine a try. It will live for 20 years.

Score: 95/++

Friday, July 1, 2016

Amazing Australian Shiraz Tasting (180 Current Releases)

A full house at this tasting

As you can imagine, this was a pretty comprehensive tasting. Still, some significant producers were missing, most notably Penfolds. However there were a lot of interesting wines to try. I managed about 30, mostly ultra premium.

The overall impression? A move to elegance, elegance, elegance, with elegance and power being the holy grail. 

The two most impressive wines for me were the 2013 Langmeil Orphan Bank, and the 2012 Clarendon Hills 'Astralis'. These were quite different wines, though. The Langmeil Orphan Bank has an interesting history. It consists of individual very old vines (100 years plus), which have been moved and put together into a vineyard near the winery. Thus the name. The vineyard is near the Para River on alluvial soil, which is quite rich. The wine is elegant, with significant, but not overpowering fruit depth. This is a well balanced wine with a lasting smooth finish. The Astralis is a bigger, full-bodied wine, yet elegant as well. The tannins are silky, and so is the finish. The second Clarendon Hills wine on tasting, the 2013 Domaine Clarendon shared some of these characteristics. It is not as intense, but excellent value at a fraction of the price.

Six other wines stood out for me:
- 2012 Head Redhead, from a high altitude vineyard in Eden Valley (very elegant)
- 2014 Glaetzer Amon-Ra, with beautiful blackberry fruit and a similar profile to the Langmeil wine, but not as precise and penetrating
- 2013 Anstead & Co No 1 from Bendigo, a well balanced wine from a producer I know nothing about and cheap as chips
-2013 Mount Langi Ghiran, with its usual pepper flavours, a smooth wine with good length
-2014 Spinifex Bete Noir, black fruited, smooth, and feminine
-2013 Spinifex La Mouline, a more masculine wine with grip, but still elegant. 

The next group of wines were good, but not outstanding: 2013 Sidewood Mappinga, 2014 SC Pannell, 2014 Andrew Thomas 'Sweetwater', 2012 Elderton 'Command', 2012 KT 'Churinga Vineyard', 2013 Two Cells, 2012 Craiglee, 2014 Head 'Brunette', 2014 Teusner 'Big Jim, 2013 Teusner 'Albert', 2012 Teusner 'Righteous' FG

Then there was a group of highly regarded wines, which were generally good, but lacked in one aspect. This I will mention. If this does not bother you, these may be for you
- 2012 St. Hallett Old Block - a bit light
- 2012 Henschke Mt. Edelstone - minty, quite ripe
-2009 Jim Barry 'The Armagh' - oak quite pronounced
- 2013 Brokenwood 'Graveyard' - an element of harshness
-2014 Head 'Blonde' - a bit light

The disappointments were
- 2014 Best's Bin O - very minty, not balanced
- 2014 Heathcote Slaughterhouse - faulty?
- 2014 Tyrell's Stevens - basic, but almost made the 'good' group
- 2012 Kay Brothers Block 6 - traditional, in your face
- 2012 Smidge 'The Smitch' - plastic taste, brett

Overall, an impressive showing, with many different expressions of Shiraz. South Australia still dominates. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Torbreck RunRig Components Tasting

Torbreck was the first winery in the Barossa to emphasize the subregional differences in the flavour and structure of the grapes which are supplied to them. This emphasis was actually a key factor in my analysis of the Barossa subregions, and the subsequent book Barossa Shiraz.

RunRig uses supply from typically eight different vineyards. In this tasting, we tried six components of the 2012 Torbreck RunRig. The two vineyards from the Southern part of the Barossa, Lyndoch and Rowland Flat, were lighter in colour and fruit weight than the others, and showed vibrancy, acidity, some red fruit, graphite and pepper. The Renshaw vineyard fruit (Seppeltsfield) is much richer, and delivers a fuller mouthfeel. There is a vanilla flavour, although the juice has only seen old oak. The Materne vineyard fruit (Greenock) tastes also big in the mouth, but its firm tannins provide lasting structure.

The last two were from the Northern Barossa. The Moppa vineyard produces big and ripe fruit, but  is also refreshing, probably due to the higher altitude. The sweet and ripe component comes from the Hoffmann vineyard at Ebenezer. This vineyard has a significant influence on the overall flavour and structure of RunRig. Only very little Viognier needs to be added (1.5%), to give the final wine a lifted character.

The tasting very much aligned with my understanding of the Barossa subregions. Unfortunately, we did not get to taste the finished 2012 product, but tried the 2013 Torbreck RunRig instead. I was not too impressed by this wine. It was quite sweet and plump, and the Viognier influence was too strong. I thought the Materne vineyard component and the Hoffmann component from 2012 were better than the 2013 finished product.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Tscharke Marananga Shiraz

A little while ago, I was offered the wine pictured above for an incredible price of significantly less than $20 per bottle. Damien Tscharke is a young, promising winemaker, and Marananga is arguably the sweet spot of the Barossa. I know that his vineyards in the area are mature. 2011 was a very wet vintage, so I thought maybe the wine will be a little bit thin, but it should do for a quaffer.

I should have done more homework. What I got was a total surprise. This is a 15% alcohol wine. The only way, in my opinion, this could have been achieved in this year is by reverse osmosis, where water is reduced from the liquid to improve must concentration, which also increases the alcohol level. It appears the fruit was also picked very late, as it tastes burnt and dead. The wine is very oaky, fruit and oak are not well integrated. This wine is badly made, trying to turn a poor natural outcome into something else, to then only resulting in something worse. It goes without saying that the wine tastes hot on the back palate and leaves an alcoholic after taste.

It is a shame that the label mentions Barossa Grounds, as this is the name of the worth while terroir project in the Barossa. I know a bit about terroir in the Barossa, and this wine has none of it.

Score: 80 or less/--- 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Rhone Rangers

The term Rhone Rangers was coined for Californian wine makers producing wines from Rhone varieties, in particular Shiraz and Grenache. It should really be a term for Australian winemakers, as Shiraz, Grenache and blends are much more prominent in Australia than in the US.

At this particular tasting, 14 wines were presented, 2 whites and 12 reds. The whites were nothing special, so I will focus on the red wines. I will describe them in three tiers of quality

The wine of the night was a real surprise. It was the 2014 Tellurian Heathcote GSM.  This wine was lively with lifted and spicy aromas, and a good intensity of plum, raspberry and strawberry flavours. The fine tannins lead to a smooth finish. The other wine at this level was the 2014 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier. This wine showed the typically fragrant bouquet. On the palate, dark berry flavours stood out, leading to a very long and silky finish. I just found the lifted element of the Viognier a bit too much.

In the second tier were the 2012 Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache with rich raspberry flavours and some earthy notes, but a slightly alcoholic finish. The 2014 Sons of Eden Kennedy GMS has a focus on ripe red fruit, cherries and wild berries, and was well balanced. The 2012 Spinifex Esprit, also a GSM with some Cinsault and Carignan thrown in, was fresher and more elegant, with good complexity, but lacking mouthfeel a bit.

The best in the third tier was the 2014 Tahbilk GSM. Grenache flavours dominate in this wine, but oak is more prominent than fruit. Having said this, the wine is quite harmonious and elegant. The wines I liked less were the 2012 Evans & Tate Redbrook Shiraz (harsh tannins), the 2014 McWilliam's Appelation Canberra Syrah (lacks mouthfeel), the 2015 Purple Hands MSG (not balanced), the 2013 John Duval Annexus Grenache (big and plump), and the 2014 Schild Barossa GMS (raspberry bomb).         

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Two Hands 'Zippy's Block' Shiraz

I have been looking forward to taste the 2007 Two Hands 'Zippy's Block' Shiraz. Two Hands is mainly known for its Garden series, a range of Shirazes from different regions of Australia. This is the first time it made a single vineyard wine, to my knowledge. I thought this is a major challenge for three reasons
- Two Hands likes to make ripe wines, focussed on the US market
- 2007 was a hot, drought vintage
- Zippy's vineyard is on Roennfeldt Rd, Marananga, the golden mile of super charged Australian Shiraz

Will this wine be overripe and dead after eight years?

What a surprise I got! The bottle is very dark, so you cannot see any colour of the wine. And after opening, it is the bouquet which hits you first. Strong aromas of blackberry and plum, as well as oak flavours dominate. On the palate, this is of course a full-bodied wine, but it is balanced, with some charme. This wine is a perfect example of the 'Big Barossa', a wine style quite unique in the world. This Shiraz fires on all cylinders, it may be too much for someone used to a four cylinder car, but everything seems to be in proportion. The 14.7% alcohol is taken well by the fruit, as is the oak. The intensity and depth of the fruit is exceptional, a bit like a first class jam. Drinking a second glass could be a challenge, but I could not resist this exciting package. This wine will go well for another 7-10 years easily.

Score: 97/++

Monday, June 13, 2016

De Iuliis Charlie Shiraz

De Iuliis is one of the serious Hunter Valley Shiraz producers (not all of them are). The Charlie is their flagship wine.

I tasted the 2009 De Iuliis Charlie Shiraz. This is a medium-bodied wine. At seven years of age, it is still refreshing. The wine is well rounded with some spice, like a cool climate Shiraz. It is silky on the side of the palate. The finish is clean, slightly short. This wine made me want to drink a second glass.

Score: 94/++

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Marchand & Burch Villages Chardonnay

The wines by Marchand & Burch seem to fly under the radar of most wine consumers. This is a pitty, as these Burgundian inspired wines in this French/Australian partnership of experienced winemakers are well worth seeking out.

The 2014 Marchand & Burch Villages Chardonnay obviously means in analogy to Burgundy that the grapes come from different vineyards, in this case from Porongurup in the Great Southern region of Western Australia. The colour of the wine is light golden. The flavours are pure, and the wine tastes of passionfruit and pineapple, with minerality underlying the palate. This is a well balanced, medium-bodied wine with a dry finish. More precision on the palate would have allowed an even higher score. Great value.

Score: 93/+++ 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Vina Muriel Reserva Rioja

Tonight, I am drinking the 2008 Vina Muriel Reserva. This is probably because I spent the last couple of days preparing my trip to Spain, where I will be visiting the wineries of Ribera del Duero in a month's time. However, this wine is a classically made Tempranillo from Rioja.

The colour is a bright ruby red, still. On the palate, there is the expected red cherry flavour. It is quite concentrated and deep, and also quite pure. Herbs add to the flavour spectrum, which otherwise is not too complex. The wine is quite acidic, and the tannins are surprisingly firm for a Tempranillo. The wine finishes quite dry.

Score: 92/+

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling

There is a lot of agreement that Grosset's Polish Hill is Australia's best Riesling - probably more agreement than about any other major variety. What stands out year after year is the purity and precision of the citrus flavour, the perfect balance and the long finish. But what happens with an aged wine?

Today, I am describing the 2008 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling. This middle aged wine has a brilliant golden colour, still quite light. On the palate, the flavours have shifted and become much more mature (more than I expected). The wine now tastes of glazed pear, macademia nut, and slightly toasted. The acidity and balance is still excellent. And the purity and precision are still present, leading to a long finish. The minerality lingers on the tongue for some time.

Score: 96/+++ 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Henschke Mt. Edelstone Shiraz

There are many Australian Shiraz lovers who rate the Mt Edelstone amongst their favorite wines. And there many very exquisite examples of this wine. However, vintage variation is significant. Yesterday, I had a bottle of the 2005 Henschke Mt Edelstone. How did it compare?

This bottle opened up to an intense forest berry aroma - remarkably fresh, but this is a screw capped bottle. On the palate, dark berries, mulberry and aniseed flavours combine to an exotic and intense mouthfeel. This wine is quite ripe, very smooth, with a slightly sweet core. You notice the alcohol, but it does not overpower, and the long, well structured finish is satisfying.

This wine is walking a tightrope of ripeness, but the wine holds together for a distinguished experience.

Score: 95/++ 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Page views

My page views have more than tripled in the last few weeks, with big numbers from the US and Australia. Thank you and keep it going! 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Australian Shiraz tasting

A wine connoisseur friend needs to take an Australian Shiraz to an international conference in Shanghai, where it will compete with  Shirazes other participants will 'throw into the ring'. In order to improve his chances to win, he decided to invite a number of wine drinkers to rank eight different wines, from different parts of Australia and different vintages. He would then trust their judgement and take the winning wine. To cut a long story short, these were the wines and the final ranking:

1) 2009 Grant Burge Meshach, Barossa
2) 2010 Bird in the Hand Nest Egg, Adelaide Hills
    2012 Elderton Command, Barossa
4) 2003 Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier, Canberra District
5) 2008 Yalumba, The Octavius, Barossa
6) 2003 Voyager Estate, Margaret River
7) 2010 Giaconda, Estate, Beechworth
8) 1990 Penfolds Grange, South Australia (this wine was corked)

Surprising to me was the poor performance of the Giaconda Estate. I did not rate the wine very highly either. It was a bit weak on the mid palate and musty.

I picked the Grant Burge Meshach as the winner as well. It won clearly. This wine impressed with its silky tannins and long finish. In a month's time, I will know how it will have fared against wines from the Rhone, California, New Zealand. I rate the chances as quite good. It is a full-bodied wine, with a solid fruit core, but not overripe. It should also appeal to European palates. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2004 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon still displays quite a bright deep red colour. On the nose, there are currants and herbs.

On the palate, redcurrants dominate. The fruit is lively, but tastes a little underripe. As a result, the mouthfeel lacks somewhat. On the plus side, there is good balance between fruit, acidity and tannins. Cape Mentelle used to have strong chocolate flavours in their Cabernet, and sometimes brett. This wine is quite a departure. Freshness seems to be a new objective, and this wine still shows it after 12 years. With it come capsicum flavours and some greenness. Unfortunately, it also has the famous hole on the mid palate. Altogether, this is not a convincing wine, if you want to be in the top tier of Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon.

Score: 90/-

Monday, May 16, 2016

Rockbare Coonawarra Cutie

Releasing new labels is increasingly difficult. How to stand out from the crowd? This wine tries it with a racy label, but then, it is on the back of the bottle.

So what about the actual wine? The 2013 Rockbare Coonawarra Cutie Cabernet Sauvignon has a deep dark red colour. The bouquet smells of ripe berry fruit. Flavours on the palate are intense, in a typical Coonawarra style. Blackcurrants, mulberry and black olive dominate. There is also vanilla from the oak, but in a supporting role. The tannins are subtle and soft. This is quite a seductive wine, with immediate appeal. I would not keep it longer than a couple of years, beyond which this wine might lose its attractive primary fruit flavours.

Score: 91/++

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Swimming Against The Mainstream

When a tasting of Cullen, Bindi, and Ata Rangi wines is announced, you can't be anything but excited. I certainly was, given I have wines of  these producers in my cellar. But it is interesting to note what happens when three things come together
- High expectations set you up for a fall
- The setting of the tasting, including glasses is poor
- Some of the wines are not outstanding

I was aware of the influence of the first two factors and tried to be objective (from my point of view), as much as I could. This is what I thought:

The Bindi wines tasted are new labels and  in part from new blocks of the home vineyard.
- The 2015 Kostas Rind Chardonnay (formerly Composition Chardonnay) was very floral and a bit broad (88 points)
- The 2015 Dixon Pinot Noir ( formerly Composition Pinot Noir), which includes fruit ftom a new block K), tasted of kirsch and was very young and fruity (89 points)
These wines are too expensive for what they offer

In some quarters, the 2014 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir has been described as even better than the sensational 2013. I tasted
- The 2014 Crimson Pinot Noir. This is not a bad wine for a second label. It is savoury, with mushroom and licorice flavours on the palate. The wine is a little light (91 points)
- The 2014 Pinot Noir. The bouquet smells of roses, quite intense and unusual. On the palate, the mouthfeel is balanced, but not huge. The wine is savoury with good length and dry tannins leading to an expanding finish. This wine will increase complexity over time (94 points)

With Cullen, I have a mixed relationship. I simply do not 'get' the Kevin John Chardonnay, and while I appreciate the increased delicacy of the Cabernet, I wonder if some depth has come out of the wine.
- The 2014 Kevin John Chardonnay shows peach flavours and good lashings of (high quality) oak. I find the wine a bit broad (92 points)
- I was impressed with the 2014 Diana Madeline Cabernet. It has good depth of blackberry and blueberry fruit. The flavours penetrate without being heavy. It is a very harmonious wine with firm dry tannins on the finish (95 points)   

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Michel Rolland Clos de los Siete Malbec

Argentinian Malbec has improved dramatically over the last 10 years. The hot spot is the Uco Valley, approximately 50 to 80 kilometres south of Mendoza. Many new projects have been started here, some architecturally spectacular wineries been built. The attraction is the altitude, 1000 to 1500 meters. Warm days are balanced by cool nights, leading to a long and even ripening period.

One of the most ambitious projects is the Clos de los Siete, a large compound with a huge vineyard as its centre piece, and seven wineries built around it. It was the idea of Michel Rolland, the famous French wine consultant. The project has run into problems, with a number of participants, among them the Taittinger family, withdrawing. A lot is shrowded in secrecy, but Michel Rolland is pushing on.

I am drinking the 2013 Michel Rolland Clos de los Siete Malbec blend. This is an outstanding wine.   Malbec dominates, but Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz grapes are included. The nose is an intense cocktail of red plum, cherry and pepper. This continues on the palate. This is a full-bodied wine with concentrated ripe fruit and a strong acidic backbone. The wine has a great line, as it moves smoothly to the back palate. It remains strong in the mouth along the way. There are smoky tones, but the oak treatment is restrained. The finish is silky, fresh and acidic at this point in time.

This wine combines the lushness of a sun-drenched vineyard with French winemaking to beautiful effect. The wine is too early to drink, but no doubt, the components will integrate perfectly. This wine is also attractively priced for the quality.

Score: 94/+++

Friday, May 6, 2016

Mount Langi Billi Billi Shiraz

The well-known Mount Langi winery produces a number of well priced Shiraz which can offer astonishing quality. One such wine is the 2012 Mount Langi Billi Billi Shiraz. The colour is a fairly dense purple. Black and red pepper, as well as berry fruit feature on the strong nose.

The first thing that comes to mind on the palate is complexity. Black and red berries, spice and earthy flavours battle for your attention. The next thing is harmony. This full-bodied wine is in fine balance. The fruit does not have the intensity of the premium wine, but oak is applied sensibly and the fine grained tannin profile rounds out this wine. On the finish, the signature note of Mount Langi takes over: black pepper!

This is an interesting and attractive wine, which can be drunk now or cellared for five years.

Score: 92/+++