Sunday, December 31, 2017

Spinifex Moculta Eden Valley Shiraz

The Moculta Shiraz is an unusual wine for Spinifex. Initially, Peter Schell never wanted to fashion a 100% Shiraz, but preferred blending wines. However, this is now the third different pure Shiraz wine for him. What is more, it even specifies the vineyard area. Normally, Peter Schell is very coy about his sources. I assume the fruit comes from the highly regarded Fechner vineyard, which also supplies many other well known labels.

The way the first 2010 Spinifex Moculta Shiraz came about, was that Peter Schell noticed different characteristics in this fruit and decided to bottle this separately, even though the fruit profile did not fit his usual interest in fresh and lively characteristics. This one has more of a Penfolds profile of a denser wine with coarser tannins. According to Schell:”it is what it is.” Volume is small.

Yesterday, I opened the only bottle I have of this. The wine is indeed quite weighty, with dark fruit flavours and some meat and charcoal. The wine was matured for three years in large new oak barrels, and the oak complements the still dominant fruit well. This is a big, ripe wine, but still lively. In fact, it will live easily for another 10 years.

While the first vintage was not planned, Spinifex has continued to produce this wine.

Score: 94/++

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

What Did We Drink This Christmas?

In some years, I splash out on Christmas drinks. This year, we had good quality wine, but nothing outrageous pricewise. The 2016 Juniper Estate Tempranillo went well with some ham. The cherry flavours were fresh and very lively, although there is not much depth to this wine.

The highlights on Christmas Day were two wines from the not very special 2007 vintage. The 2007 Kreglinger (formerly Pipers Brook) Vintage Sparkling was a perfect complement to the prawns with good depth and yeasty notes matching the effervescence of this Sparkling. This is a top quality Sparkling, matching high quality Champagne. But the real highlight was a 2007 Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon. If I am not mistaken, this is the most highly decorated wine in Australia. Not that I am a big advocate for wine shows and medals as a guide for quality. The wine was still fresh, but started to develop hazelnut and honey notes which went perfectly with the white fish and rich salad.

On Boxing Day, it was time for more red wine. The choices were a 2009 Thomas Wines Kiss Shiraz from the Hunter Valley and a special 2004 Henschke Tappa Pass Shiraz from Magnum. The former started to display beautiful velvety tannins, and the latter the typical Henschke Shiraz profile of mulberry and aniseed. 

Now, more importantly, what did you drink for Christmas? I have readers from all over the world. Don't be shy. What did you enjoy, what was disappointing? I want you all to write in.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon

The strip of Terra Rossa soil in Coonawarra was the first soil type which became famous for wine production in Australia. This red clay, combined with warm weather, produces a quite distinctive flavour profile with very intense fruit characteristics. It was noticed, as this stood in stark contrast to the more mineral and structural wines from France. In the last couple of decades, this has become less of a unique feature. French wines  bulked up, and the Parker phenomenon lead to very concentrated wines in other parts of Australia and the world.

Looking at a typical Coonawarra wine today, it is less appealing to me. Yes, the fruit intensity is a plus, but the wines are often not very complex, and the finish can be earthy and broad.

Against this background, the 2015 Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon is an attractive wine. The wine from this warm vintage is bright and juicy, with concentrated red and blackcurrant fruit. It is a bit full-on on the front palate, but there is sufficient acidity to balance the big fruit. The tannins are firm. Overall, this wine has a well balanced structure. This wine is quite an achievement for a very large production volume.

Is this the best Black Label ever? It would come close, which is fortuitous, given it celebrated the 60th vintage. I recommend to put the wine down for at least five years. The wine will benefit from mellowing of the fruit and tannins.

Score: 93-94/+  

Monday, December 18, 2017

Voyager Estate Tom Price Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2004 Voyager Estate Tom Price Cabernet Sauvignon is a fairly rare wine. It comes from the best barrels of the year and is named after Thomas Price. He was a partner of Peter Wright and Lang Hancock and helped establish the famous Hamersley Iron Company in the Pilbara. The Wright family is of course the owner of Voyager Estate.

The front label is peculiar, as it is probably the only one in the world which talks exclusively about iron ore. But in any case, what is in the bottle?

The wine is still bright, showing very concentrated fruit, tasting of redcurrant, blueberry and cassis. It delivers quite a thick mouthfeel upfront, but fresh acidity balances the fruit well. The wine has been matured in French oak, 50% new, for two years, but the oak is well matched by the fruit. However, there is a hint of a hole on the mid-palate, often seen in Cabernet Sauvignon. The tannins have softened, the structure still stands firm. I found the finish arriving a bit suddenly.

This is a typical case often found with best barrel selection. Best barrel inevitably means most concentrated fruit. This comes at the expense of nuance and often elegance. This wine is not too powerful and is reasonably elegant, but it does lack finesse. This wine will appeal to many consumers, but did not quite hit the high notes for me.

Score: 93/+ 

Friday, December 15, 2017

2015 Vintage - Which Reds To Buy?

2015 has been a great vintage for red wine in many parts of the world. Where can you find the absolute outstanding wines? Following, in very brief form, are my recommendations.

In Australia, Pinot Noir from Victoria, pretty much all regions, is outstanding. Tasmania is good, too. The Barossa had a good vintage for Shiraz, quite warm. Depending on your preferred style, you need to focus on producers who make concentrated and ripe wines or those who prefer elegance and freshness. The differences are likely to be significant this year.

Europe had great results in 2015 and would be my go to continent. The Burgundy wines are the best of the decade so far. Cooler sites from higher elevation are best in this warm year. I would opt for Rhone over Bordeaux for sheer drinkability, in particular Chateauneuf-du-Pape with its ripe Grenache blends.

In Italy, wines from Tuscany are outstanding. On the Iberian peninsula,  I would opt for Portuguese wines from the Douro Valley over Spain - a watershed year.

There it is, in a nutshell.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wilson Riesling

From the most acclaimed Riesling region in Australia, the Polish Hill subregion of the Clare Valley, comes this 2017 Wilson DJW Riesling. This terrific value wine has the typical profile of the area; dry, zesty, and with lime flavours. The special feature of this wine is its strong minerality. The wine comes from a steep vineyard at high elevation. It has a refreshing acidity on the finish. It does not have quite as much drive or is as linear as the Grosset, but this is a mighty fine wine for the hot summer days at less than half the price. 

Score: 92/+++

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Australia's Finest Cabernet

On the weekend, I organised a tasting to identify Australia’s finest Cabernet. This is, of course, a pretty impossible task. So I decided to pick producers who could be winners and select wines from different vintages, ranging from 2000 to 2014. Each participant had to rank the wines from 1to 9. The one with the lowest overall score would be the winner.

 A number of things emerged:

1) The quality of the wines was exceptionally high. As one participant mentioned: There was one clear favorite, every other wine was number two.

2) Five wines were screwcapped, four wines were under cork. The wines under cork did very well, but there was no systematic difference in the ripening profile between the closures.

3) The top 4 wines came from very different geographical regions,the Barossa Valley, Margaret River, the Yarra Valley and the Hunter.

4) The top wine, by quite a margin, was the 2004 Penfolds Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine comes from the oldest known Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in the world, part of Barossa’s Kalimna vineyard, planted around 1880. It is only made once a decade or so. The flavours are incredibly intense and go on and on, very similar to a great Grange, in fact (99 points).

5) Wines 2 to 4 were very close, with 2007 Cullen Diana Madeline at number two, followed by 2000 Mount Mary Quintet and 2014 Lake’s Folly Cabernet (96-97 points). The young upstart, 2011 Cloudburst Cabernet Sauvignon, was fifth. 

I would drink any of these wines happily any time a Cabernet is suitable. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Maude, Valli, Burn Cottage Pinot Noir

Maude, Valli and Burn Cottage are three interesting Central Otago producers. The following is a quick review of their current Pinot Noir releases.

Maude is a small family company, based in the isolated Maungawera Valley near Lake Wanaka. I visited the winery a couple of years ago and was impressed with their complex savoury Pinot Noirs. They produce two Pinot Noirs. The 2016 Maude Central Otago Pinot Noir is from purchased fruit in Central Otago. It shows quite fruity ripe dark cherry with medium length (90 points). The 2016 Maude Mt Maude Vineyard is from the home block. The wine has strong lifted aromatics. Black cherry on the palate has good intensity. Whole bunch adds to the wine's complexity, but fruitiness still dominates (93 points). I prefer the 2014 wines.

Valli is Grant Taylor's venture since 1998. Previously he was winemaker at Gibbston Valley for 13 years. His interest is to show off the characteristics of Central Otago's subregions. The 2015 Valli Waitaki Pinot Noir, from a cooler subregion, has a perfumed aroma and is quite light on the palate. Having said this, the red berry fruit shows good concentration. The 25% or so new oak is well integrated (92 points). The 2015 Bannockburn Pinot Noir is from a cooler site than is typical here, as the vineyard sits on the high altitude terrace. The wine is complex, with cherry, plum, olive and thyme flavours noticeable. The wine is quite reserved now. 30% whole bunch add to the savoury character of this wine. It is my wine of this tasting (94 points).

Burn Cottage is totally focussed on Pinot Noir. The 2015 Burn Cottage Moonlight Race Pinot Noir includes 30% fruit from the estate vineyard, the rest is bought from two other vineyards. This is a very soft and smooth Pinot Noir. This is quite an elegant wine, not too much to think about (92 points). The 2015 Burn Cottage Pinot Noir from the estate vineyard shows that softness as well. Dark cherry and chocolate on the palate, good concentration and a savoury finish (93 points). In 2014 they did something interesting. They exchanged the fruit with Valli, to see what the other winemaker would do with the fruit. The 2014 Burn Cottage Valli Pinot Noir is the most concentrated of the three, but not overly so. The cherry flavour is ripe and smooth. There is raspberry and tobacco, too. The tannins in the Burn Cottage wines are less pronounced than in the other two producers (93 points). 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Garagiste Current Wines

Garagiste is a relatively new project on the Mornington Peninsula (less than 10 years). I am amazed the EU intellectual property nazis have not come down hard on this name, given it characterizes the right bank of Bordeaux movement, meant as an antithesis to the large chateaus on the left bank. In any event, it relates to small scale low budget winemaking, which it is for this Victorian winery.

I am tasting current releases. The first wine is the 2016 Stagiaire Chardonnay. This is the entry level label with fruit from several vineyards. The wine is made using wild yeast, no fining and filtration, I think. The wine is citrus driven, quite fresh, a bit simple, but well made (89 points). The 2016 Merricks Chardonnay, from 20 years old vines is from the home block. It straddles the two dominant Australian Chardonnay styles, the fresh and crispy and the fuller more oak influenced style. Not sure that this works, but I like the minerality in this wine and the more intense fruit. 50% new oak in this wine (92 points).

The 2016 Stagiaire Rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir fruit. It comes from a block where the skins of the grapes are quite thin, well suited to this wine. The wine is clean and crisp, but a bit fruity (89 points). 

There are three Pinot Noirs in the range. The 2016 Balnarring Pinot Noir is from the warmer flats of the Peninsula. The fruit includes 50% whole bunch. The fruit is good, but the wine is a bit broad with a soft bland finish (89 points). The 2016 Merricks Pinot Noir is a more impressive wine, with darker cherry fruit and more driven on the palate. It is balanced with solid acidity, but overall, the wine is a bit fruity (91 points).

The flagship wine is the 2015 Terre de Feu Pinot Noir. The name 'land of fire' relates to the ironstone in the soil of this single block wine. Smaller grapes deliver more fruit intensity, and 100% whole bunch provides more savoury complexity. This wine is quite stalky on the nose. I find this wine still a bit soft and lacking some energy (92 points).

I noticed that Campbell Mattinson and Gary Walsh of the Winefront, who I respect a lot, give these wines much higher scores. Does the catchy name have a supple influence here? I find these wines average to good, but there are much better producers on the Mornington Peninsula.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Powell & Son Red Wines

It was always clear that David Powell would not disappear from the scene after he lost control of Torbreck. While the 2014 wines of his new venture with his son Callum were a bit uneven, I am pleased to be able to report that the 2015 and 2016 red wines are very strong indeed. This tasting came just after the release of the Wine Spectator Top 100 for the year, where his US entry wine was one of five Australian wines or so to feature.

The 2015 Powell & Son Grenache Blend is very similar to Torbreck's Steading, which was always Powell's favorite wine. Grenache dominates in this GSM. Raspberry, strawberry and cherry fruit engulf the palate with fresh flavours. The components are seemless, and the wine finishes with soft tannins (93 points).

The 2016 Mataro 'Kleinig' for me was the highlight of the tasting. This is because this wine has a very distinct personality. Again, there is a Torbreck analog, the Pict. Fruit is not the key to this wine. This wine is rustic, spicy, meaty and with great weight on the palate. The image I had was to sit on an old, rusty truck driving over a potholed dirt road (95 points).

The 2016 Shiraz 'Loechel' consists of the Eden Valley component of the Torbreck Struie. The vineyard is near the Eden Valley township. From a more balanced vintage than the warm 2015, this wine is fresh and lively. There is the typical Eden Valley spice and the mouthfeel is very satisfying (95 points).

The 2015 Shiraz 'Steinert' comes from an Eden Valley vineyard at Flaxman's Valley, at an altitude of 480m. David Powell believes this to be an amazing wine, and it is certainly priced that way. There is blackberry and blueberry on the palate. The flavour is weighty and juicy. I find the wine a bit big and fat, but it has a lot of depth. Alcohol is noticeable on the finish (92 points).

Overall, the wines are seductive and quite delicious. David Powell is back.

PS: Callum has just had his last exam in Oenology. Let's see what influence he will have in the future.   

Friday, November 24, 2017


I have enjoyed Dalwhinnie wines from way back. But I lost interest about 10 years ago, when the winemaking shifted, in my view, and an attempt was made to make these wines bigger, more South Australian like. As a result, the Shiraz lost its charm.

I can now report that the wines are back to great form. The 2014 Dalwhinnie Moonambel Shiraz shows clean blackberry fruit and is quite peppery. The tannins are fine and silky (94 points). The 2013 South West Rocks Shiraz is more concentrated and a bit ripe (91 points). The absolute star of the tasting is the 2013 Eagle Shiraz, the super premium wine. What bowled me over, were the amazing fruit flavours of this wine. Blue fruit dominates here. Often you have a hint of blue fruit, but this wine has blueberry and mulberry flavours in spades. This is quite a unique palate sensation, and it is backed up by light touch, but persistent tannins. Superb, but also very pricey (97 points).


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Shaw and Smith and Tolpuddle Premium Releases

I was looking forward to this tasting. Shaw and Smith is royalty in the Adelaide Hills, and the purchase of the Tolpuddle Vineyard in the Coal River region, Tasmania certainly proved to be a very astute one, certainly from a wine quality point of view.

First up is the 2015 Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay. Citrus dominates the palate. This is a very fresh wine with good acidity, but certainly not the best year for this wine (92 points). The 2015 Tolpuddle Chardonnay is a revelation. I felt that in the past, Pinot Noir from this vineyard was more impressive, but this wine turned out to be the wine of the tasting. Again, citrus dominates on the palate. What impresses, is the drive on the palate. This wine is tightly wound with beautiful fruit and acidity integration (95 points). 

The 2016 Tolpuddle Pinot Noir is more similar to the 2014 than the outstanding 2015. The fruit is strawberry and red cherry, beautiful fruit in a wider, somewhat looser expression on the palate. For that, it is not quite big enough in its mouthfeel. The finish is long (93 points). The 2016 Shaw and Smith Pinot Noir is the more traditional wine, in the cherry spectrum, with savoury mushroom characters adding to its complexity (93 points).

Shaw and Smith do some experimenting under the 'The Other Wine Co.' label. You have to in the Adelaide Hills, don't you? I tasted the 2017 Grenache. It shows typical raspberry flavours. It is meant as a fresh wine, but I found it too fruity (88 points).

Shaw and Smith shows it is a top quality producer. Some wines are better than others, but the quality bar sits high here.  

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Two Interesting Articles

I do not normally publish third party content, but yesterday I came across two good articles you may be interested in.

The first is about earliest winemaking

The second is about natural wines

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Torbreck The Sporran

When Torbreck analysed the wet 2011 vintage, it assessed that most grapes were not good enough for their high priced branded wines. So a new brand was created, The Sporran.

The 2011 Torbreck The Sporran shows the typical Torbreck style: plum and blackberry fruit, quite a big mouthfeel, and very ripe. This wine does not have the concentration or length normally associated with Torbreck wines, and the tannins are quite harsh, leading to a rough finish.

Score: 86/-

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Jane Eyre Volnay

Jane Eyre, an Australian winemaker, has been working in Burgundy since 2004 - mostly as assistant winemaker at Domaine Newman, but increasingly also building her own portfolio of wines. Low yielding fruit, minimum intervention, and the use of one and two year old oak characterizes her approach.

This 2015 Jane Eyre Volnay bottle, which is quite heavy, by the way, did not fit where I wanted to store it, so I decided to open it last night. This turned out to be a mistake. Despite decanting, the wine was very closed. It clearly has entered its dormant stage. It tasted more like a dry red than a Pinot Noir. Unusual for Pinot Noir, the fruit, such as it was detectable, tasted of raspberry. The structure and balance of the wine is good, and after a while, the fruit flavours opened up a little. Some depth was coming through, but the wine lacked the generosity associated with the 2015 vintage. There was good length on the palate, before the lean finish. It would not be fair to score the wine based on this tasting. I highly recommend not to open this wine for another three years.

By the way, if you want to learn more about the 2015 Burgundy vintage, you can read my article 'Touring Burgundy' in the Gourmet Traveller Wine (for Australian readers) in the October/November edition.    

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Dinner with Jancis Robinson

At this dinner a couple of days ago, Mrs. Robinson showed eight wines from grape varieties not grown in Australia. The wines were from Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece and Switzerland. Given her reputation and access to wine, I had expected quite sensational wines, but these were mostly quite modestly priced wines. Well, she has reviewed wines sold by Tesco. Any real discoveries or bargains here?

I found six of the eight wines quite unspectacular, and as they are real rarities, it is not worth while to mention them here. Two wines, both white, were interesting, however. The first was from the isle of Crete, a 2016 Lyrarakis Dafni. Jancis mentioned that this wine had one of the most distinctive aromas she has ever encountered. I had to agree. It had a strong smell of fennel and herbs, which continued on the palate. It would go really well with Chinese food. Not an outstanding, but very interesting wine (89 points).

The wine of the night was the 2015 Rafael Palacios As Sortes Godello from Galicia, Northern Spain. Godello is gaining some interest, but many wines are quite ordinary and industrial. This wine was top notch. It had great fruit weight, but a certain flintiness as well. I tasted citrus, grapefruit and white peach. This was perfectly balanced by fine acidity (94 points). Apparently it is as rare as hen's teeth.

It was an interesting evening topped by a story about wine tasting at the Palace with the Queen (she is an adviser), which we promised not to share - sorry.

Two Hands Zippy's Block Shiraz

Two Hands is best known for its Garden Series of Shiraz which showcases Shiraz from different wine regions. Building on this reputation, Michael Twelftree then bottled some single vineyard wines from special locations - and Roennfeldt Road in Marananga is certainly one. There is quite a lot of quartz in the soil here, which makes the conditions in this warm area even hotter. If grapes are picked at the right time, they contribute very silky and attractive tannins.

Two Hands has always aimed its production at the US market first of all. This meant pleasing Robert Parker with big and ripe wines. So here we have a special bottling and that from a drought year. What can one expect?

The 2007 Two Hands Zippy's Block Shiraz is certainly a great example of the excesses of the 2000s. This wine is high in alcohol, overripe, maybe 200% new oak. This is a shame, because the blackcurrant flavour in this wine is (theoretically) superbly intense, pure, and deep. The fruit weight makes an early impact and stays long on the palate, but I could only just manage to finish the first glass.

Score: 87/- 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Domaine Dominique Mugneret “Alliance des Terroirs”

When drinking a well priced red Burgundy (well priced for Burgundy standards), you have to worry, even more so, when the vintage is cool like 2012. So my expectations were not high when opening a 2012 Domaine Dominique Mugneret “Alliance des Terroirs”. On the other hand, this blend of village vines is all from Vosne-Romanée where the wines tend to be more full-bodied than other parts of Burgundy.

And yes, this wine needed a bit of help out of the glass. It was certainly fairly lean. However, the cherry flavours were very pleasant and the wine was not overoaked, but rather well balanced on an acidic frame. This is not an amazing drink, but a good food wine.

Score: 88/0

Friday, November 3, 2017

Disappointing Cloudy Bay

Cloudy Bay certainly was the poster child of good quality, high volume Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in the earlier years. As the standard Sauvignon Blanc was getting under fire from wine critics (not the public), Cloudy Bay upped the ante with a Sauvignon Blanc matured in oak. This was the Te Koko, and there were examples I quite liked, but I have not tried this wine for years. So I was interested to taste it again.

This time it was the 2013 Cloudy Bay Te Koko. Yes, this wine is meant to age for some time. Wow! The fruit is intense: peach, peach, and more peach. There is also marshmallow and  the inevitable grass. This wine is really in your face, and not the anticipated refinement. I did not like it.

Score: 85/--

Then there was the 2014 Coudy Bay Te Wahi. This is the first vintage of a blended Pinot Noir from Central Otago. The first bottle was corked. Yes, this is one of the few New Zealand offerings under cork. Probably not a good idea, as the Portuguese can take revenge on New Zealand's move to twist tops!!

I found this wine quite strange. It is quite ripe, with black cherry and plum flavours, but the fruit flavours are not overt nor fresh. There is five spice from the oak, which did not add much. I enjoyed the silky tannins. This is not a badly made wine, but what does it stand for? Not the mighty fruit from Central Otago, not an ethereal character found in great Pinot Noir. It is probably best consumed with food, such as duck.

Score: 89/- 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Marquis La Feuille Taru Kai Noir

I have not posted for a while, not because I follow Ocsober, but because I am in Japan and mainly drink Sake here. But there is, of course, a significant still wine industry here as well. The 2015 Marquis La Feuille Taru Kai Noir took my fancy, because I did not understand anything about the label.

When it comes to food and drink, the Japanese like to use French terms, as it is associated with quality. The winery is also known as Maruki Winery and is Japan's oldest, founded in 1891. La Feuille is a label. I have no idea what Taru stands for. Kai Noir is a Japanese grape variety, a crossing between Black Queen and Cabernet Sauvignon. Black Queen is a crossing itself, and it gets too complicated here for this blog. The grapes are quite large, with a thick skin and a low tannin structure. Quite the opposite to Cabernet Sauvignon, obviously.

This is a light to medium bodied wine , with a light Pinot Noir like colour 🍷 . The fragrant aromas are quite appealing and the wine is finely crafted. However, there is not much happening on the front palate. Black cherry describes it best. This wine does not have much body nor mouthfeel. It is growing towards the back palate with an attractive smooth finish. This wine goes well in support of many Japanese foods, even sushi or sashimi.

Score: 87/+

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Bass Phillip Ultra Premium Pinot Noir

A few days ago, I had an opportunity to taste the three 2015 premium Pinot Noirs which stand at the top of the Bass Phillip tree. They were extraordinary.

The 2015 Bass Phillip Issan Pinot Noir comes from a relatively new vineyard not far from the estate vineyard. I think it was planted in the early 1990s. It is very densely planted and cropped at low yields. Phillip Jones links its characteristics to Chambertin in Burgundy. This vintage is by far the best of this wine and moves it beyond the standard Estate wine. The dark cherry fruit is intense, but the key feature is the minerality on the back palate. This wine has great texture, enticing tannins and a very long finish.

Score: 95/+++

The 2015 Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir, matured in 100% new oak (as is the reserve), is simply sensational. The wine has a beautiful aromatic nose, very intense rose aroma. The flavours are multi-layered. There is cherry, spice, cinnamon, even black olive. The oak is hardly noticeable. This wine sings on the palate. It is powerful and has great drive. The tannins are as silky as and the flavours expand on the finish. This wine is already approachable, but will reveal its full potential in 5-7 years. One of the best Pinot Noirs ever made in Australia.

Score: 98/+++

The 2015 Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir is a strange beast. It is a high quality wine, no doubt, with intense and multi-layered flavours. It is more closed at this point than the Premium. The shape of the wine is quite round, as opposed to driving down the palate. Phillip Jones says this wine will need a lot of time, but will ultimately outshine the Premium. I am not so sure. I went back to taste the Premium after the Reserve, and normally when you taste backwards, the 'lower' wine will fall short. That was not the case this time. Having said this, the Reserve is an excellent wine, with velvety tannins and a long finish. But then, it is $650-700 per bottle - not for me.

Score: 96/++

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Margaret River 50th Anniversary Tasting

Let me get my frustrations out of the way first. I do not attend many region tastings anymore: too crowded, too many ordinary wines. I thought this would be a bit special, given the title, however, it was just a new releases tasting with leading players Leeuwin, Moss Wood, Cullen missing. Also, the small tasting glasses were a joke. Anyhow, once there, you persist. I tasted the two signature varieties from Margaret River, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and blends.

Amongst the Chardonnays, the 2014 Clairault Estate Chardonnay and the 2015 Cape Mentelle Chardonnay were the favorites (94 points). These Chardonnays had the best drive or line on the palate. The 2015 Flametree SRS Wallcliffe (flinty, smoky), the 2016 Vasse Felix (yeasty, Burgundian) and the 2015 Hohnen Burnside Vineyard (tropical fruit) were also good (92 points). I thought the 2013 Devil's Lair 9th Chamber Chardonnay had a dull finish. In general, new oak took a back seat, with mainly between 20 to 40%.

On the Cabernet front I enjoyed four quite different wines (all 94 points). The 2014 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon displayed a very dark and dense blue colour with pure and intense blackcurrant and mulberry fruit and a long finish. Woodlands continues on its road to excellence. The 2014 'Margaret' Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Malbec is an elegant wine, at peace with itself and quite approachable now. In contrast the 2014 'Matthew' Cabernet Sauvignon is more reserved and closed, but the fruit is excellent and the well integrated oak will deliver a very elegant wine in due course. Even more restrained was the 2013 Vasse Felix 'Tom Cullity' Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec, the newly labelled flagship wine. It is quite a savoury wine, very long. It needs decanting.

There were a number of other strong wines, the 2013 Fraser Gallop Parterre (fragrant, violets), the 2014 Fraser Gallop Palladian, the 2014 Howard Park Leston (easy drinking, a bit sweet), the 2013 Voyager Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, the 2014 Xanadu Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon.

I was not so impressed with the 2015 Flametree Cabernet/Merlot, the 2014 Devil's Lair Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2014 Deep Woods Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2013 Clairault Cabernet Sauvignon.

Overall, nothing particularly new in these wines. Only top producers succeed with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Blends tend to work better, and I note the enhanced role Malbec seems to be taking.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Bass Phillip Rosé

I was interested to taste this new offering from Bass Phillip, the 2016 Bass Phillip Pinot Rosé. I was expecting the unexpected, and I was not disappointed.

This Rosé is a funky wine. The colour is slightly cloudy, which distinguishes this wine immediately from the many others. The fruit is high quality, all estate grown. Flavours of raspberry and strawberry attack on the front palate. This wine has a great mouthfeel. The texture may be volatile, but there is sufficient acidity to hold up the wine.

This wine is delicious, with a great fruit feel, but it is also surprisingly strong and long for a Rosé.

Highly recommended.

Score: 94/+++ 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Silkman Reserve Semillon

Very few new wineries in the Hunter Valley have managed to reach the top echelon occupied by Brokenwood, Tyrells and Mount Pleasant for a long time. The last winery was Thomas Wines. Silkman, however, may get there. The very talented Liz Silkman, who was the successful winemaker at First Creek for a number of years, continues to craft excellent Shiraz, Chardonnay and Semillon.

This is a review of the 2015 Silkman Reserve Semillon. This wine is a bigger style than some others from the Hunter Valley. The wine has good drive, despite the bigger, lime fruited mouthfeel. There is enough acidity to give the wine a solid structure, and the finish is quite long for Semillon.

I suggest to drink this wine while young.

Score: 93/++ 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz

When Penfolds first released the Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz, it created quite a stir. Not so much because of the quality of the wine, but because this master blender released, for the first time, a wine if not from a single vineyard (although it may have been), from a single sub-region of the Barossa. Of course, I had to buy this first release, the 2008. I believe the wine comes from vines owned by Seppeltsfield and leased to Fosters, but I cannot be sure of this.

A few days ago, I opened my last bottle of the 2008 Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz. It is an impressive wine. The concentrated blackberry fruit delivers a big mouthfeel. Vanilla flavours from the new American oak are also prominent, but fairly well integrated. I am normally not too keen on prominent sweetness in Shiraz, but the blackberry/vanilla combination works quite well in this wine. The firm tannins have mellowed and lead to a persistent finish.

While this is no doubt an impressive wine, still I cannot warm to the strong American oak influence. The wine has clearly improved over the last few years, and I would recommend to hold it 2-4 years longer. This wine has the structure to carry itself further for quite some time.

Score: 94/0

Friday, September 1, 2017

Moorooduc Estate Wines

Moorooduc has been a dependable wine producer of the Mornington Peninsula for many years. They would probably just scrape into my top 5 from this region. The latest releases confirm this view.

Interestingly, the Chardonnays are matured longer than the Pinot Noirs. The 2014 Estate Chardonnay shows a deep yellow colour and is quite a big and open wine. Stone fruit and mango are accompanied by biscuit flavours. The acid manages to cut through it and delivers balance (92 points). In contrast, the 2014 McIntyre 'The Duck' Chardonnay is much tighter, while of a similar flavour profile. I would have enjoyed a bit more definition in this wine, but it will open up well in the next couple of years (92 points).

Something unusual is the 2016 'Pink' Pinot Gris - On Skins. This wine has a beautiful bright pink colour, and on the front palate is similar to a Pinot Noir based Rosé. Unfortunately, the finish is disappointingly short (88 points).

The stars are the Pinot Noirs. The 2015 Robinson Vineyard Pinot Noir has flavours of red cherry and strawberry and is a very smooth wine (93 points). The 2015 McIntyre 'The Duck' Pinot Noir is more profound, with a bigger mouthfeel. It is pretty and open, and quite complex on the palate, with mushroom flavours as well. The tannins are silky, and the taster experiences a wonderful expanding finish (95 points).

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Henschke Mt Edelstone

It is always a pleasure to drink this iconic wine. This 2004 Henschke Mt Edelstone Shiraz has developed an interesting profile at 13 years of age.

The flavour of this medium to full-bodied wine is quite complex. Blackberry and mulberry fruit is matched by aniseed, exotic spices, earth, eucalypt, licorice and bitter chocolate. The wine has mellowed and is elegant with firm, but silky tannins, and the finish is long.

The 100 year old ungrafted vines produce this unique profile, usually bolder than Hill of Grace. For an experienced taster, it can be easily recognized in a blind tasting of various Shiraz wines.

The wine is probably at its peak now, supported by a screw cap closure, and has a number ofgood years ahead.

Score: 95/++   

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Wynns Black Label Shiraz

Shiraz has always played second fiddle to Cabernet Sauvignon in Coonawarra, and most of the famous Terra Rossa is planted to Cabernet. Yet, there are some sizable Shiraz plantings as well. It is not generally a go to area for me for Shiraz, but I thought I make an exception for the excellent 2010 vintage. I am not a fan of the Michael (too much new oak), so this a review of the  2010 Wynns Black Label Shiraz. As it turned out, it was no coincidence that this was the first vintage of the 'ordinary' Shiraz which was given the black label status.

The bouquet is strong and beautiful, with an aroma of forest berries rising from the glass. This is a medium to full bodied wine with concentrated blackberry and plum flavours. The wine is nicely balanced, as the firm tannins have softened and are in great harmony with the fruit. The result is an elegant and deeply flavoured wine. Wow! At this price and high volume! The slightly metallic tinge on the finish does not distract too much from the overall impression.

This is a serious wine for a low price. The other thing to note is that more than most others, Wynns wines need to be cellared for a few years before they are ready to drink due to their firm tannin structures. This is a beauty now. If you come across this wine at auctions, go for it.

Score: 92/++

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Spinifex La Maline Shiraz

After some disappointments with Shiraz from the supposedly great 2010 vintage, I have been rewarded with the 2010 Spinifex La Maline Shiraz.

This wine is smooth and simply delicious. It is medium weight and elegant. Blueberry and blackberry flavours sit on top of silky and dry tannins, well integrated. This wine used to be a Shiraz/Viognier, and the flavour profile suggests a small component of Viognier is still in this wine. The mouthfeel is perhaps a little lean, but preferable to the overblown and overripe wines I tasted lately from this vintage. This wine has an excellent balance and a very satisfying finish.

Peter Schell has a knack of finding great fruit at reasonable prices for his wines. Vineyard location is important to him (often the higher slopes on the Eastern ridge), but the sources can vary from year to year. He is not wedded to a single vineyard terroir, but prefers to blend to his style of wine. By the way, 'maline' means 'clever'.

Score: 95/+++ 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Vieux Télégraphe Piedlong

As I am waiting for the apparently amazing 2015 Rhône wines, I thought I might wet my appetite with a wine from one of my favorite producers, Vieux Télégraphe. The 2012 vintage was generally not great in France, with the exception of the Rhône. Therefore I was looking forward to the 2012 Vieux Télégraphe Piedlong.

Daniel Brunier, the half owner and winemaker, is a serious and intelligent man. He is modest and not interested in wine fashion trends. His objective is to make authentic wines speaking of the soil the grapes are grown on (I know this sounds like a platitude these days, but it is true in his case.)

The Piedlong comes from the heart of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, just north of the village, from a vineyard with heavy clay and many rocks or pebbles. This wine is full-bodied, with raspberry and blackberry flavours. It is basically dark fruited. Despite the Grenache dominance,  it is a savoury wine showing a lot of minerality and some leanness. The wine is fresh and elegant and has good length.

I liked this wine a lot.

Score: 92/+++

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ariel Dealcoholized Chardonnay

The other day I went into a large liquor store to try to find a low alcohol (5-6%) dry wine. This of course is difficult, as low alcohol means not all sugar has been fermented. The search was unsuccessful. I then saw the isle with non-alcohol wine. I had never tried one, so I thought it is time to select such a 'wine'.

Most attractive seemed to be this Chardonnay from Ariel, based in California. If you look carefully at the picture, you notice that the bottle is still half full. But alas! I did not drink the other half. This wine is disgusting! I expected to taste perhaps grape juice, but this 'wine' tastes of apple juice, a bad slightly overripe one, and is full of sugar. If I had had a magnifying glass, I could have found this out from the back label, but it was hard to read and also to interpret.

There is no point drinking this. Buy a good fruit juice for a third of the price instead.

Score: <70 p="">

Monday, August 14, 2017

Hewitson The Mad Hatter Shiraz

Let me start this review with a sweeping statement: Generally speaking I prefer Barossa Shiraz to McLaren Vale Shiraz. Why? I think the Barossa fruit flavour profile is more complex. McLaren Vale is often pure plum (can be beautiful), whereas Barossa can be plum, blackberry, blueberry, mulberry. I thought I put this out there.

I was reminded of this when I tasted the 2006 Hewitson Mad Hatter Shiraz. This wine shows intense

plum flavours. It is quite a ripe and dense wine. It has been matured for 21 months in new French oak, and you notice the generous lashings of oak on the palate. It is distracting. The tannins are soft and the finish somewhat short.

This wine could have been structured much better.

Score: 86/-

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Hoddles Creek 1er Yarra Valley Chardonnay

The '1er' in the name is supposed to create an association with Burgundy, I guess. After drinking the 2014 Hoddles Creek 1er Yarra Valley Chardonnay, I would say this is well justified.

Citrus, grapefruit and orange peel flavours create complexity on the palate. Oak is there, but lightly handled. Acidity weaves through the palate. This wine has drive and is long rather than broad, but it is not a lean wine.

This wine is a great, thoroughly modern packaged Chardonnay.

Score: 95/++

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Aurora Vineyard Syrah

The Aurora Vineyard sits in a great spot in Bendigo, Central Otago. It has been a bit of a side project for its owners, and despite good success and medals, they decided to sell the grapes to Woolworths for a little while. However, wine is available at retail again, according to the website.

The wine I am reviewing today is from the earlier period, the 2007 Aurora Vineyard Syrah. As the name suggests, this is a Shiraz made in the cool climate style. The wine is medium-bodied and still quite fresh. Flavours of blackberry, forest berries and green peppercorn hit the palate, but fan out a bit towards the back palate. Fine grained tannins are strong enough to maintain a balanced structure.

Score: 92/++

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Chiara Boschis E Pira Via Nuova

Chiara Boschis has been an important personality in Piedmont, since she became the winemaker at E. Pira in 1990. Via Nuova is one of her two single vineyard Barolos, made from the Terlo vineyard south of the village of Barolo.

The 2008 Chiara Boschis Via Nuova is quite austere, with dried flowers and red and black cherry flavours. It is an elegant wine, quite long on the back palate, but a little lean, which is accentuated by the dry tannins of this wine.

Score: 93/++   

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Points Festival

Wednesday night, James Halliday released his 2018 Australian Wine Companion, yes 2018! I have written about this before, but I cannot help myself to address this again. As expected, the points awarded have been higher than ever before. 94 points is now a bad result.

Mr. Halliday defends himself by saying Australian wine is now of better quality and relativity has been maintained. The wine of the year is Henschke's Hill of Grace at 99 points (no guts for 100?), and many unexceptional wines have received 96 and 97 points. What kind of relativity is this?

Over the last 48 hours, I have received many emails from different wineries, listing the high points they have been awarded. So this is how it works: wineries are happy because of their high points, they provide free advertising for Mr. Halliday, he sells more books. Bingo! I find this point-less, and very dis-appointing, because Mr. Halliday and his tasters write some good notes, which will remain un-noticed.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock

I have recently been disappointed with high alcohol wines from the Barossa. It seems that Jasper Hill gets full-bodied wines right.

The 2008 Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock is a full-bodied, powerful wine. The concentrated redcurrant and earthy flavours are still fresh and have drive down the palate with a bit of lift towards the finish. The tannins are firm and the finish is long. This is a solid winter wine.

Score: 93/+++

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Chateau Clerc Milon

There are a number of lessons in drinking the 2003 Chateau Clerc Milon. The first is about the vintage. When it came out, it was hailed as a top vintage for the last ten years, then the 2005s arrived, and when the 2009s and 2010s were released, 2003 was almost forgotten. Yet, there were many generous and elegant wines produced from this vintage, and this is one of them.

The second issue is about ageing Bordeaux wines. I remember drinking this wine some years ago. The tannins seemed harsh, and the wine not well balanced. Now at 14 years, this is a very harmonious wine. A decent Bordeaux should be cellared for at least 10 years, a top wine for 15 to 20 years minimum. To be frank, it is a waste of money if you don't do this. Also decanting is important. I did not do this on this occasion, but the wine was better on the second day after opening.

Blackberry flavours dominate above a mocca background. The wine is not overly complex, but smooth and elegant, with soft tannins providing a rounded finish.

Score: 93/+++

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay

So I open a bottle of the 2011 Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay. This brand is the most consistent high quality Chardonnay in Australia. But, you know what? I was bored. It was the typical combo of mango and cream. In some years, the fruit is more tropical, in other years more citrus. You know basically what you get. But isn't this what winemakers try to achieve? A typical signature for their wine? It is a conundrum: meeting expectations while keeping it interesting.

This wine has good fruit weight and balance, backed by just the right amount of acidity. However, for me, it was too predictable.

Score: 95/0 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Barossa Shiraz

My award winning book about Barossa Shiraz is now available in Mandarin. To my Hong Kong and Chinese readers: go and get it, if you want to learn about Barossa Shiraz in-depth.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Benjamin Leroux 2015s

Benjamin Leroux, the Wunderkind Burgundian winemaker, who started to get interested in winemaking at age 12 and was appointed as chief winemaker at Domaine Comte Armand at age 24, is now well established on his own. He began with his own label in 2007. These days, he produces more than 35 different bottlings, mostly at minuscule volumes. They come from all over Burgundy, but the core is at Volnay. He is keen to expand his estate wines, which at present come from 8ha of owned vineyards.

I had an opportunity to taste 11 of his wines from the great 2015 vintage, five whites and six reds. The general theme is about fruit freshness. Leroux seeks out vineyards at higher elevation and has reduced the use of new oak to 10-20% in most wines. Many are now matured in large barrels.

The whites were
Bourgogne Blanc: pineapple, hazelnut, a little plump in shape (91 points)
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Baudines: white flower, apple,quite delicate, creamy, excellent wine (94 points)
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Embazées: bigger fruit, a bit bolder, well balanced (93 points)
Meursault 1er Cru Les Porusots: earthy, almonds, not as fat as typical for Meursault, lingering on the palate, enough acidity? (93 points)
Corton-Charlemagne: rich, honey, hazelnut, very elegant, very long, excellent (95 points)

These wines express their respective terroirs very well. I have a slight concern about the levels of acidity in these wines.

The reds were
Bourgogne Rouge: fruity, red cherry, smooth, soft finish (91 points)
Savigny-les-Beaune: dark cherry, a bit sour, drive, well balanced, length (93 points)
Vosne-Romanee: dark cherry, a bit lean, silky finish (93 points)
Gevrey-Chambertin: better mouthfeel, a bit broad, smooth (93 points)
Volnay 1er Cru Les Mitans: 100% destemmed, beautiful perfumed nose, good fruit depth, very silky and elegant with expanding finish, wine of the night (95 points)
Pommard 1er Cru Rugiens Hauts: deeply flavoured, underbrush, very structured, 50% whole clusters (94 points)

The red wines were strong. My only reservation is that Leroux's focus on freshness has perhaps prohibited him to take full advantage of the richness the 2015 vintage can offer (based on my visit and Burgundy tastings of two months ago). 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Torbreck The Struie

Continuing on with Shiraz reviews. The Struie is usually a blend of Barossa and Eden Valley grapes, with the Barossa grapes providing the richness, and the Eden Valley grapes the freshness for the wine. In the excellent 2010 vintage, Torbreck decided to use only Barossa Valley grapes, as they felt there was enough freshness in them. I remember tasting the 2010 Torbreck The Struie on release, and it seemed like an excellent wine then.

What is this wine like today, seven years after picking? The news is not so good. The wine has maintained its dark purple colour, but the freshness - not unexpectedly - has gone. The fruit is dense, with blackberry and fruitcake flavours. The main issue is that the wine is now dominated by alcohol, with a sharp, hot finish. The fruit could take it in 2012, it can't take it now.

Score: 86/-- 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Felton Road Chardonnay

Drinking Chardonnay at three years of age is perhaps not a good idea. You miss the early freshness, and the mature structure has not yet developed. These were my thoughts when I tasted the 2014 Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay.

The wine has a golden colour. There is not much of a bouquet on the nose. On the palate, this wine is quite full and fruity. Flavours of yellow peach, mango and in particular starfruit are matched by the vanilla of new oak.

This is a well structured wine, but I am not sure what it stands for. It is not refreshing, it is not strictly a food wine like the white Rhône wines, it is not a big and mouthfilling fruit drop. Maybe the three year hitch.

Score: 90/-

Monday, July 17, 2017

Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz

It is a cold winter in Sydney this year. This means it is Shiraz time. Today's review is of a mature 2002 Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz from McLaren Vale. Fox Creek made an immediate impression in the 1990s with its full-bodied, yet often elegant Shiraz.

This 15 year old wine still shows a fresh deep purple colour. On the palate, plum flavours dominate. There is also some underbrush coming through. It is a harmonious wine, in the Parker style. There is a sweet, slightly syrupy core. The finish is not long and slightly alcoholic.

I suggest to drink this wine now.

Score: 89/0 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Spinifex Bête Noir

If wines were athletes, the previously reviewed Kalleske Eduard would be a shot putter or hammer thrower. This 2010 Spinifex Bête Noir would be a middle distance runner. This wine is lean, but sinewy. Blueberry notes dominate the palate. This wine is still fresh, with considerable acidity (some added?). The shape is long, rather than round, but I find the mouthfeel a bit rambling.

Peter Schell said he would never make a typical Barossa Shiraz. And for a while, he did not make a 100% Shiraz at all. Then came this wine, based on fruit from higher altitude vineyards, picked early. This is an interesting wine. It has not fully delivered, in my view, but the freshness and drinkability which Peter Schell is after, is certainly there.  

Score: 93/++

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Kalleske Eduard Shiraz

From a very old organic vineyard comes the 2008 Kalleske 'Eduard' Shiraz. This wine is a great example of the 'big Barossa'. It takes many dimensions close to the limit, but not over the top.

The colour of the wine is an impenetrable dark purple. This is a full-bodied wine of intense plum flavours. The fruit is pure, not overripe, and the oak is well integrated. There is  sweetness at the core, but not too much. The tannins are ample, but fine grained.

This is the perfect wine sitting next to the fire place. And you may even want to drink a second glass.

Score: 94/++   

Friday, July 7, 2017

Can You Criticise Wendouree?

There are some people or businesses in life that by strategy or luck seem to be beyond criticism. In music, Radiohead comes to mind, as they have not produced anything decent in the last 15 years, yet have maintained their reputation. Could this apply to Wendouree in wine? This thought occurred to me as I was tasting the 2002 Wendouree Shiraz/Mataro. Wendouree has this cult status, as its wines are not easy to buy and because of their apparent legendary longevity.

Therefore I was not worried about opening this 15 year old wine. The cork was perfect and the colour still deep purple. The bouquet did not give too much away. On the palate, however, I was disappointed. The plum and mulberry fruit flavours are accompanied by eucalypt (which happens at Wendouree a fair bit and I do not like too much) and some spice. However, the fruit is overtaken by licorice and plenty of it. The structure stands up, but the flavours are not well balanced. The finish is medium with firm tannins. On day two, the wine is better balanced, but licorice still dominates.

Wendouree wines need a lot of airing, but against high expectations, this wine did not deliver.

Score: 88/--

Monday, July 3, 2017

Dormilona Clayface Chardonnay

You probably have not heard of this Margaret River winery. However, Jo Perry won the prestigious 'Young Gun Of Wine' in 2016. She sources fruit from organic or biodynamic vineyards and only adds minute sulphur at the end of the winemaking process. Volumes are low: only 600 or so bottles are made of this 2016 Dormilona Clayface Chardonnay. The label is striking. Is it a face? Actually, it is a tree and a number of old fashioned and natural elements around it.
There is no information on the front label, there is no back label. Instead, the required data, such as alcohol content and address, is written on a tag dangling on the neck of the bottle. The wine is matured in clay amphora. These vessels are slightly porous. There is some exchange with the environment. As an aside: is it not curious that people want to eliminate any breathing with screwcaps, but then clay amphoras are fashionable? This bottle's closure is cork, sealed by wax, as you can see.

The colour of the wine is pale green. This is a very clean, and slightly understated, fresh wine. The palate is complex, with pear, apple and white peach flavours, as well as ginger and lemongrass. The wine starts quite wide on the palate, but gets leaner towards the back. It is an enjoyable wine, but you pay for its quirkiness.  

Score: 93/++

Saturday, July 1, 2017

August Kesseler Cuvee Max Pinot Noir

Global warming is threatening traditional wine growing practices, but it is opening up new opportunities as well. One of these is the growing of red wine grapes in Germany. This has improved in leaps and bounds in recent years.

The 2012 August Kesseler Cuvee Max Pinot Noir consists of grapes from two Rheingau grand cru vineyards; Ruedesheimer Berg Schlossberg and Assmannshausen. The nose is very harmoneous and aromatic with a black cherry and forest berries bouquet.

On the palate, the wine is medium-bodied. The berry flavours are not overly complex, but this wine delights with its seamless blend of fruit and savoury characteristics. The tannins are fine grained and silky. The wine is a bit light on the back palate.

Score: 93/++

Monday, June 26, 2017

Quinta Do Vesuvio

Some facts are hard to comprehend. The Symington family owns 27 wineries in the Douro Valley. The focus is Port, of course, with its famous Graham's and Dow's brands. But there is also a serious table wine effort under way. The leading winery for it is Quinta do Vesuvio, and the leading red carries the same name.

The 2015 Quinta do Vesuvio, from a great vintage, is a multi variety wine, with Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca being the main contributors. The colour of the wine is deep purple. Blackberry aroma jumps from the glass.

Concentrated blackberry and bramble flavours hit the palate. This is a pretty full-on, full-bodied wine, yet the wine is quite elegant: a modern version of the Douro red. Acidity gives the wine freshness, despite the fruit weight. The wine is balanced, with firm tannins, and needs time to mellow.  For me, it is a bit too much of everything. I suggest drinking from 2020.

Score: 93/+

Monday, June 19, 2017

Conceito Bastardo Red

I am pursuing more intriguing wines and varieties from Portugal. The Bastardo (not a great name?) grape variety is known in the Jura of France as Trousseau. Apparently there is some in the Barossa Valley, named Cabernet Gros (another bad name), but I have never come across it.

The 2014 Conceito Bastardo has a pale pink colour. It comes from a high altitude vineyard in the Douro Superior and therefore a slightly cooler plot in this hot area. The grapes are picked early. The flavour profile is a bit like Pinot Noir, with red berry fruit, but more towards raspberry than strawberry or cherry. There is also some spice, and a lot of acidity. The alcohol level is 13%. This wine did not see any oak. I find this a fresh and attractive, though slightly unbalanced wine for the hot Portuguese inland summer climate.

Score: 91/+

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Passagem Reserva

The 2013 Passagem Reserva from the Douro Valley  superior region in Portugal has a dark purple, inky colour. It is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinto Cao. It is a full-bodied wine. Blackberry and cassis are joined by mocca flavours on the mid-palate. The wine is not overripe, but quite dense, and the tannins are a little coarse.

Score: 89/-

Monday, June 12, 2017

Marcel Lapierre Morgon

I am currently in Burgundy, researching and wine tasting for an upcoming artice in Gourmet Traveller Wine. Therefore, I cannot share my tasting results on this blog right now. However last night, I tasted a wine outside of this effort. It was the 2015 Marcel Lapierre Morgon.

Beaujolais has come a long way since it created the marketing success of Beaujolais Nouveau. This is now fading somewhat, but serious wines from the Gamay grape are emerging right now. There are ten crus in Beaujolais: Brouilly, Regnie, Chirubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Saint-Amour, Chenas, Julienas, Morgon and Moulin a Vent. The last two have the best fruit weight and tannin structure.

This wine from Marcel Lapierre is from Morgon. It has a medium deep crimson colour and a beautiful sour kirsch/redcurrant bouquet. This is a medium bodied wine, coming in at a solid 14% alcohol. It tastes of redcurrant and cranberry, and fills the mouth nicely, with an emphasis on the mid-palate. This is a serious wine, quite savoury, with a strong acidic structure. Tannins are not so noticeable. This Gamay wine is about filling the mouth nicely and in a round way, while Pinot Noir is all about line and length.

Score: 91/++

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Pio Cesare Il Nebbio

For a long time, Piedmont producers made a Dolcetto, a Barbera, and one or more Barolo or Barbaresco wines. Only the latter are made from the Nebbiolo grape and cost four times or more than the Barbera wines. Therefore, tasting wines from Nebbiolo was only possible for a lucky few. Yet, it is an exciting and very unique grape. In the last few years, increasingly, wine producers have also made Nebbiolo wines, which do not follow the strict requirements of Barolo production.

One excellent example is the 2015 Pio Cesare Il Nebbio. The grapes were picked early. This wine does not see any oak, has a short maceration and maturation period. The wine has a beautiful nose, with lifted cherry aromas jumping out of the glass. It is fresh and vibrant, with red cherry flavours, some green leaf and peppers. The freshness and fruit upfront determines the character of the wine, but down the palate savoury flavours and light dry powdery tannins take over. Overall, the mouthfeel is a bit shallow, but very harmonious. And the price is less than the Barbera.

Score: 92/+++

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico

The Peppoli wine brand is high volume, yet a cut above industrially made wines.

The 2014 Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico tastes of red cherry and warm spices. The wine is well balanced, and the acidity creates a line through the palate. The wine is medium in concentration and mouthfeel. It is quite elegant, with firm, but not coarse tannins, as it comes to a harmonious finish.

Score: 91/++

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Frescobaldi Pomino Pinot Noir

This is the first of a few posts on Italian wines. Italy produces red wines of all kinds and with high quality, but it is not known for Pinot Noir. I was curious to experience what a Pinot Noir from Tuscany would be like.

The 2013 Frescobaldi Pomino has a medium intensity crimson colour. The aroma is fruity and lifted.  This is a light-bodied wine with red cherry flavours on the palate. There are savoury notes as well. There is not much depth in this wine, nor complexity. The mouthfeel is pretty, but a little weak. The finish falls short.

Score: 86/0

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Tolpuddle Pinot Noir

When Shaw & Smith purchased the Tolpuddle vineyard in Tasmania, it was one of the biggest wine news to come from there in the last 10 years. Expectations were high. With the 2015 vintage, they are starting to be met.

The 2015 Tolpuddle Pinot Noir shows a dark crimson colour. This wine is complex on the palate. The black cherry fruit is concentrated. You can taste the stalks and cedar of this moreish wine. There is some fruit sweetness at the core before it turns savoury on the back palate. The tannins are firm and the finish is long. My only gripe: what is gained by intensity is somewhat lost in definition. The wine is a little broad for perfect varietal expression, but not too much.

Score: 94/++

Sunday, May 28, 2017

International Chardonnay Tasting

In the recent international Cabernet tasting, the French wines were the clear winners. In this Chardonnay tasting, organised by a different group, the Australian top wines held their ground.

The top wines were
-  2007 Domaine des Comtes Lapon, Meursault-Perrières, tasting of green apple, with great length and beautifully integrated acidity (96/+++)
- 2014 Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay, white flower, apricot, weight and power (95/+++)
- 1998 Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay, earthy with truffles, still some acidity, but a bit tired (95/++)
- 2014 Benjamin Leroux Meursault 'Les Vireuils', great village wine on the high slopes. Very elegant, linear, but mouthfilling as well (94/+++)
-2015 Savaterre Chardonnay, citrus, stone fruit, orange peel, minerality, good line and length with lingering finish (94/+++)

The next group was good, too
-  2015 Chavy Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Folatieres, quite intense, a bit broad and oaky, good acidity (93/+)
- 2014 Felton Road Chardonnay, natural fermentation, grapefruit, marzipan, quite tight (92/++)
- 2015 Curly Flat Williams Crossing Chardonnay, lime, honey, stone fruit, quite rich, but lively acidity, great value for money (91/++)
- 2014 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis 1er Cru 'Vau de Vey', from an almost unknown site, not as refined as other 1er cru Chablis, but typical character, lime and minerality, finish a bit short (91/+)
- 2014 Giaconda Chardonnay, very golden, citrus up front, almond, caramelized, powerful (91/0)

Still quite good, but not in the same league
- 2016 Montalto Pennon Hill Chardonnay, citrus, fairly light, easy drinking (88/0)
- 2016 Woodlands Wilyabrup Chardonnay, citrus and white peach, a bit tight, but will open (89/+)
- 2015 Jean-Marc Brocard Petit Chablis, grean melon, salty, lean, minerality (88/0)
- 2014 Bruno Colin Bourgogne, flavours a bit plump, nutty, good mouthfeel (89/+) 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Brimoncourt Champagne

18 months ago I reviewed the brut Champagnes of Brimoncourt, a relatively new entrant to the Australian market, which has established itself well, in particular at leading restaurants. This time I am reviewing the remaining two Champagnes.

The Brimoncourt Brut Rosé is composed of the three Champagne grapes. It has quite a deep salmon pink colour. On the palate, strawberry and raspberry notes are prominant, but this is not a sweet wine. On the back palate mushroom flavours add to the savoury component. This is an elegant Champagne of substance, not a pink party drink.

Score : 94/+++

The Brimoncourt Blanc de Blancs opens to a finely structured effervescence. The emphasis of this Champagne is on the fruit, with refreshing grapefruit and citrus flavours. At the same time, there is depth in this wine, with nutty characters and mineral notes, leading in a fine line to a complex and dry finish. This wine is nicely balanced between fruit and creamy features of excellent quality.

Score: 94/+++

Brimoncourt is a valuable addition to the booming Australian Champagne market. For a little extra money, you can experience much more interest and personality than with many of the large Champagne houses.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

International Cabernet Tasting

Top Australian Cabernets were put against some pretty smart Bordeaux from excellent vintages and a few Napa wines. Two French wines came out on top (not just in my opinion) against Australian wines, which many 'independent' wine critics have given 98 points plus. Does this mean the French were 102 points? It goes to show how ridiculous the rating system has become in Australia. It seems only the keeps to a sensible scoring system.

The best wines were the 2000 Chateau Palmer, Margaux and the 2005 Chateau Prieuré-Lichine, Margaux. Both wines had plenty of rich and lush blackberry fruit and cassis. The fruit is concentrated, yet elegant on the palate. These wines had silky tannins and a long finish. The Palmer was a bit more reserved, with the Prieuré-Lichine offering a full-bodied mouthfeel.

My favorite Australians were the 2015 Cullen Diana Madeline, which I reviewed in a recent post below, and the 2014 Lake's Folly Cabernets, from a 100 year vintage in the Hunter Valley. This is the first time I tasted this wine. The palate is complex, with dark fruits, cedar, and a hint of Christmas cake. Impressive is the stylish long finish.

In the next category would be the 2015 Te Mata Coleraine with its soft, feminine features: an elegant wine with good length. The 2005 Chateau Montrose is elegant, but with a strong tannic backbone. I also liked the 2012 Matthiasson Oak Knoll District Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. It is very aromatic with beautiful fruit on the palate, and a slightly uneven finish. The 2014 Yeringberg Cabernet is impressive. This is an elegant wine, with good depth and some grip. I preferred it to the Mount Mary.

The next group was still very good, but my choices would obviously be the wines above. It included the 2014 Mount Mary Quintet, the 2010 Chateau Latour le Pauillac de Latour (3rd level wine), 2012 Mount Eden Cabernet (Santa Cruz Mountains), 2013 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley).

I was less impressed with the ??SC Pannell Cabernet/Shiraz (too fruity), the 2011 Man O War Ironclad Bordeaux Blend (a bit simple), the 2008 Puriri Hills Reserve (fruity and alcoholic), the 2014 Rockford 'Rifle Range' Cabernet Sauvignon (sweet), and the 2012 Mount Brave Cabernet (alcoholic).

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache

A few days ago, I walked into a large liquor store to buy a straight Grenache. They offered a choice of two (!) - out of hundreds of bottles. I opted for the 2016 Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache. This is obviously very young, but I wanted an easy drink, and I trust Yalumba and its very capable winemaker Louisa Rose.

The wine smells of raspberry fruit, which is also dominant on the palate. The wine is clean, and there is quite good fruit intensity, but it is quite sweet, which the slight spices cannot overcome. There is this lolly-water flavour in this wine, which I thought we had outgrown. I was surprised. With vine age of 35-80 years, I expected more savoury components, and I would have liked more line and length.

Score: 84/--

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz

The Meshach is Grant Burge's flagship wine. In a recent blind tasting I participated in, it beat all other premium Shirazes. It tends to be juicy and full-bodied, quite a crowd-pleaser.

A few days ago, I tasted the 2002 Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz. The colour of the wine is still lively. On the palate, there is very ripe blackberry and dried plum. This wine is fat, maybe even obese, and does not have much shape. There are lashings of oak. The structure is still holding up, due to the firm tannins and a good lengthy finish.

One glass is ok.

Score: 90/0

Friday, May 12, 2017

Cullen - New Flagship Wines

What a day Tuesday was for the wine enthusiast in Sydney. There was the Hill of Grace release dinner, and separate tastings of Xanadu, Cape Mentelle, and Cullens: a Maragret River invasion. Spoilt for choice. I went to the Cullen tasting of its flagship wines with the remarkable, but quite shy Vanya Cullen.

The opening act were the current release of the Mangan Vineyard Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc and the Amber wine (reviewed in this blog previously). The Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc was impressive. It was fresh as expected, but also seamless and elegant.

Then came the 2015 Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay. I have in the past not warmed to this wine as a leading Australian Chardonnay brand. However, I enjoyed this vintage. The flavours are complex: citrus, grapefruit, white peach, and almonds. The wine was matured in 73% new oak, which is quite noticeable, but smartly treated. The wine has a precise line, and is penetrating with a long finish.

Is it at Leeuwin's level? Not quite.

Score: 95/++

The 2015 Cullen Diana Madeline has been reviewed a lot already. The points-master and other reviewers have gone to the top drawer as usual. I won't dwell on general descriptors too much. The wine has hints of vibrancy, but is a little closed at present. The bouquet of red and black berries flows onto the palate. The main point I want to make is that this is a more concentrated wine than recent releases with more ripeness and depth of fruit, supported by fine tannins.

I think in a number of years, the power and intensity of the wine will blend with the finesse and elegance in a potentially amazing way. This wine needs to be put away for at least five years. I will not drink it before 10 years.

Score: 96/+++ 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Chateau Malescot St. Exupery

The Margaux sub-region is known for the softest and most fragrant wines in Bordeaux. And Chateau Malescot has been described as making the most Pinot Noir like wines in Bordeaux. This might just be the right thing for the hot 2005 vintage.

The 2005 Chateau Malescot St. Exupery Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot has a big, beautiful bouquet of bramble. Actually, I have less of a flavour association with this wine, than an image. It smells like walking through a thick forest after the rain, with the dampness of complex aromas rising through the air.

On the palate, this is an elegant and smooth wine. The wine is quite ripe, with blackcurrant and secondary earthy flavours blending well together. The mouthfeel is big, with a good balance between filling out and length. The tannins are fine and in a support role.

This is clearly an old world wine, but with new world generosity. I like it a lot.

Score: 95/+++

Monday, May 8, 2017

Best's Bin 1 Shiraz

Best's of Great Western is a remarkable winery, with very old and traditional underground cellars and beautiful old vine vineyards, the home block comprising many varieties. The main game is Shiraz.

I am tasting the 2011 Best's Bin 1 Shiraz, the second (or third, depending on your point of view) label if you will. This could be challenging: a cool climate Shiraz from a cool and wet vintage. The bouquet is intense, smelling of pepper and berries. This is a peppery wine, no doubt, on a fairly light frame. But the wine is vibrant and smooth. The fruit orientated flavours are mainly red plum. The mouthfeel is a bit weak, but the structure of the wine is good, with acidity prominent.

This wine is perhaps not so satisfying on its own, but would be great with pasta and pizza dishes. It is a great winemaking effort in this tough year. Great value for money, too.

Score: 91/+++

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

New Zealand Pinot Noirs With Personality

Over the last 10 years, the quality of Australian and New Zealand Pinot Noirs has gone up in leaps and bounds. One even does not encounter lolly water in value for money Pinot Noirs any more, and the good ones can take on Burgundy premier cru. Unfortunately, there seems to be an almost formulaic approach by most producers, and it is not often that individual wines stand out.

At a recent tasting, however, I found that three Pinot Noirs from New Zealand had great 'personality'. As I tasted these wines very quickly, no scores were given, but they would have been in the 90-95 points range.

The first was the 2013 Charteris The Winter Vineyard Pinot Noir. The vineyard is on Felton Road in Central Otago, opposite Mt. Difficulty. This Pinot Noir does not taste anything like a Central Otago Pinot Noir. This wine is much leaner than your typical example.While there is good fruit intensity, there is also bay leaf, and the tannins are dry, but soft. This is partly due to the location near the water, partly due to long maceration.

The 2015 Schubert Marion's Vineyard Pinot Noir comes from Wairarapa (the larger Martinborough region). This location was searched out by a German winemaking couple after a world-wide search. The fruit here is bigger. Earthy notes and fragrance remind me of Nebbiolo.

The cult Pyramid Valley winery is owned by an American and is currently being sold (to another American, I believe). It is located in the Canterbury district and quite unique in many ways. The 2014 Pyramid Valley Angel Flower Pinot Noir has an almost orange colour. The wine is soft and smooth, and almost Burgundian in its character (and price).  

Monday, May 1, 2017

Joseph Phelps Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon

This post should be read in conjunction with the previous one.

The other wine I took home from that Napa Valley trip was the 2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia. This is one of the famous and very consistent Cabernet Sauvignons from the Napa Valley, in its chunky, standing out bottle.

This wine has more depth than the Stags Leap SLV, and a big mouthfeel. The blueberry and blackberry flavours are quite clean and elegant. Paradoxically, this wine is less complex than the SLV, with a focus on fruit intensity and concentration. The tannins are firm and well integrated. The finish is quite dry. This wine needs protein.

Score: 94/++