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.