Monday, December 31, 2018

Leeuwin Estate and Giaconda Chardonnay

Leeuwin Estate and Giaconda  used to be the kings of Australian Chardonnay. Then a few things happened. Penfolds started to make a serious effort in the 1990s to bring high quality Chardonnay from cool climate sites to the market. Other producers from Margaret River (think Pierro, Cullen, Vasse Felix, to name a few) made complex wines to challenge Leeuwin. But probably most importantly, the style changed, with in particular Yarra Valley and Tasmanian Chardonnays pushing a leaner, more linear style, where drive and vitality became more important than complexity.

This in turn had an influence on Leeuwin Estate and Giaconda. This is obvious when I compared the 2011 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay and the 2008 Giaconda Chardonnay over Christmas. What sometimes used to be a bit of a tropical fruit salad on the palate of the Leeuwin Chardonnay is now more focussed and includes citrus flavours like lemon curd. The Giaconda wine is less oak dominated than in the past.

Talking about oak is important here. Many of the new wave Chardonnays have reduced the component of new oak. It only plays in the background, and this is largely a positive, given the great Chardonnay grapes we can grow in this country. Having said this, it is a great pleasure of drinking Chardonnay which can absorb 100% high quality French new oak without developing a butterscotch wine, as is the case with the two wines here.

The Leeuwin Chardonnay, at 7 years of age, is still young and fresh, with a mix of citrus and tropical fruit flavours, and an excellent balance. The finish is very long. The Giaconda Chardonnay shows the typical rich yellow colour. It is built on a bigger frame, with the oak more noticeable. This is the more powerful wine, with nectarine and hazelnut flavours dominating. Detailed acidity is driving the wine towards a long finish, also. 

Both wines: 95/+++

Sunday, December 30, 2018

What Did We Drink For Christmas?

It was hot where I was (north of Sydney). As a result, my Christmas drinks were a bit different from previous years, and I did not splash out as much. Yet, I enjoyed what I had.

For lunch, it started with a relatively unknown Grower Champagne, then on to some Rosé, and some Bourgogne. For dinner, it got more serious: Chardonnay from Leeuwin and Giaconda. I will report on this in a separate post.

What did you drink for Christmas? I want many of you to comment, please. Let's make this more interactive.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

De Salis Lofty Pinot Noir

Right next to the Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir I reviewed below, I found another Pinot Noir from a marginal climate in my cellar: the 2013 De Salis Lofty Pinot Noir. It comes from the lofty heights of over 1000m at Orange.

This is not a much heralded small winery, but what a revelation this wine is. It also shows a bit of age, but still has a lovely strawberry and red cherry flavour on the front palate. It then morphs into mushroom flavours further down the palate, where it delivers quite a punch. The way this wine expands, and its silky tannins make this wine quite Burgundian in style. This is a balanced, sophisticated Pinot Noir with great varietal character. It drinks great now, but will remain attractive for another three years.

Score: 95/+++ 

Monday, December 24, 2018

Pyramid Valley Angel Flower Pinot Noir.

This is one of those cases you need to be careful about. Mike and Claudia Weersing, from the US, were looking for an ideal Burgundy-like vineyard and settled in Canterbury in 2000. Mike Weersing has extensive winemaking experience from stints all over the world. Pyramid Valley had to be perfect. The model is Burgundy. The key features of this venture are a biodynamic regime from day one, densely planted wines, clay-limestone soil, and a marginal climate. The vineyards look beautiful in their isolation - the perfect set-up for a cult winery.

My first experience is the 2012 Pyramid Valley Angel Flower Pinot Noir from their north facing Angel Flower block. The wine is made without fining and filtration and only a little sulphur (or maybe none?) pre-bottling. The colour of this wine is dark brown, too early for a 6 year old wine.

If you had a continuum between fruit flavours and savoury, this wine would be right at the end towards savoury. It reminds me of wet forest floor. The tannins are a bit green and underripe. Certainly in this year, the climate must have been too marginal. Also, the winemaking should prevent deterioration after only a few years. The wine would have been attractive on release, but this is not good enough.

Score: 86/- -

Friday, December 21, 2018

Katnook Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon

In my opinion, oak should always play a support role. So when I tasted the 1998 Katnook Cabernet Sauvignon shortly after release, I was impressed by the concentrated fruit, but taken aback by the very strong vanilla oak flavours which dominated the palate. I decided to put a Magnum away for a long time. After 20 years, it was time to find out what happened. Did the oak integrate? Yes, wine can be a long waiting game.

On opening the wine, my nose was hit by a very strong and intense blackcurrant aroma. So far, so good. On the palate, the blackcurrant tasted like a concentrate, quite dry, too. The oak was less dominant, but still quite present. This wine has fantastic fruit intensity, but overall is not well balanced, and a bit harsh on the back palate.

A case of what is not right at the start can never be right later on? Maybe, but the wine had improved, and is there for another 10 years, at least in a Magnum bottle.

Score: 90/0

Monday, December 17, 2018

Produttori del Barbaresco Montestefano

Co-operatives are usually best avoided by wine consumers who appreciate high quality. This is because most of them focus on volume, i.e. high yield. There is one major exception; Produttori del Barbaresco. This co-operative lifted its game big time in the 1990s. It has access to a number of top class vineyards, maybe even better than Gaja in Barbaresco. The Montestefano is one of their finest.

A few days ago, I opened a bottle of the 2000 Produttori del Barbaresco Montestefano Reserva. The 18 year old wine is probably drinking at its peak now. The flavours are an intriguing mix of red cherry, tobacco, some green leaf, and (non sweet) marzipan. The structure is still great, with  delicate acidity shining through.

This wine is very dry, Nebbiolo-like, with silky tannins and long flavours. The only downside; this full-bodied wine is slightly alcoholic on the mid-palate. As a compliment to protein food, it shows its strength particularly well, and the alcohol is not very noticeable.

Score: 94/+++  

Friday, December 14, 2018

Penfolds 2018 Release Tasting

Penfolds is known as a red wine company in the wider world. However, it has chipped away at becoming a major force in quality white wine for over 20 years, since the release of the first Yattarna Chardonnay.

Yesterday, I just tasted four wines of the recent spring release.

First was the 2018 Bin 51 Riesling. This is a 100% Eden Valley wine, and I expected a floral bouquet. However, this wine is about lime, lime, and lime. The wine is very dry, with good linearity and balanced acidity. The minerality on the back palate reminded me more of Clare than Eden Valley. This is a very fresh, modern Riesling (92 points).

The 2017 Bin 311 Chardonnay has three main fruit sources; Coal River, Tasmania, Adelaide Hills, and Tumbarumba. The main flavours are citrus and rock melon, but there is also a green tinge on the palate. The wine is dry and quite acidic, yet balanced (90 points).

Of the four wines, the 2016 Bin 138 GSM was the least impressive. It is actually a bit of a misnomer, as 72% of the wine is Shiraz. The wine is quite fruity, well supplemented by used French oak. The finish is a bit harsh. I would call it a barbecue wine, but in fairness, the ambition does not go beyond that (89 points).

This was a good year for the 2016 Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz. This brand will never lose the image of 'baby Grange', but the reasons are different from what is generally believed. Most people think the name stems from the fact that the wine is matured in one year old American oak, previously used by Grange. However, the main reason is that the grapes for Bin 389 come from a Grange and Bin 707 selection, but which ultimately don't make it into the flagship wines. Those grapes can't go into RWT (French oak) or Bin 169 (Coonawarra only). The 2016 Bin 389 is a dark coloured, big, full-bodied wine. The wine hits you like a brick on the palate with blackberry and black currant flavours. The fruit is very concentrated and the flavours are long. The firm tannins need some time to soften (94 points).


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Demystifying The Hill Of Grace Vineyard

Hill Of Grace is often described as the most famous single vineyard wine of Australia, and rightly so. I reviewed a 10 year old version a few posts below. It is also often described as a vineyard of 150 year old vines. This, however, is misleading.

Hill of Grace Vineyard
Some Grandfathers

The Grandfathers, as these vines are called, represent only 14% of this 4ha vineyard. A further 8% of vines are 100 years old and the rest is 60 to 65 years old. The percentages of  the oldest vines might even be lower, as dying vines within the block get replaced. The vineyard is thus divided into 8 Shiraz blocks ( there is also Riesling, Semillon and Mataro grown on this vineyard). The fruit of the two youngest blocks, less than 30 years old, does not go into the Hill of Grace, but into the Hill of Roses.

There is also a variety of soils in this vineyard. The oldest vines are on red, clay-rich loams topped by sandy loams with good moisture-holding capacity. Some other blocks have more gravel, and the clay is free draining.

As a result, the grapes from this 'single-vineyard' are not homogeneous at all. Some deliver red, other blue and black fruits; some have a lot of spice. Berry size and fruit concentration varies.

All this delivers a 2+2=5 result. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ruggabellus Sallio

Stephen Pannell is sometimes described as a winemaking genius. However, I find his approach quite straightforward - nothing genial about it. By contrast the label might fit Abel Gibson, the young winemaker of Ruggabellus. He started out by crafting four red wines, all different proportions of Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvedre. He used whole bunches and other interesting techniques to good effect, all this out of a small garage. His father Rob Gibson, who introduced the famous grape grading system for Penfolds, was not always pleased with his son's ideas.

Gibson has now turned to white, or shall I say orange wines. I am reviewing here he 2016 Ruggabellus Sallio.
The Sallio is a blend of Semillon, Riesling and Muscat. The grapes have spent time on skins, some a few days, some weeks. The colour of the wine is a fairly ugly orange/brown. However, this is a much more interesting wine than the orange wine from COS, which I reviewed recently.

The dominant flavours are citrus and orange peel, obviously driven by the skin contact. There is also ginger. The mouthfeel is big and chalky. The finish is slightly bitter. This clearly is an interesting and different wine.

I am rating it well for its personality, but the overwhelming taste of dried fruit and peel is not to my liking.

Score: 92/0

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Key Trends And Messages In 2018

1) Rosé offerings are proliferating. Most are good.

2) Grower Champagne is becoming more and more popular

3) The time has come for very good Pinot Noir under $30/bottle

4) Burgundy Pinot Noir can be inexpensive and excellent (2015 Bourgogne)

5) Pinot Grigio or water? - Enough said

6) Mature Cabernet from leading producers of Margaret River is excellent

7) Alcoholic Shiraz from South Australia is a difficult sell

8) Alternative varieties are still a hard sell

9) Riesling is still niche

10) Chardonnay is claiming top spot for quality whites

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Cos Pithos Bianco

When one discusses the top 5 alternative winemakers, Cos would always feature. To test the quality of  this órange' wine, I put the 2014 Cos Pithos Bianco away for a few years. The wine comes from Sicily, in a bulky, short bottle, and is based on the Grecanico grape. 

This wine offers little fruit flavour. There are hints of candied orange and dried apricot, but the main feature of this wine, which is orange in colour, should be the texture. In my view, it does not offer as much interest as Roussanne/Marsanne blends. However, the structure is holding up well. It is just not a very interesting wine. A good food pairing could be eggplant.

Score: 88/0

Friday, November 30, 2018

Henschke Hill Of Grace

2008 was a year still in drought, after the very dry 2007 in the Barossa. It is said that Hill of Grace comes into its own after 10 years, but should I be worried, given this could be quite a ripe wine? But then I took confidence from the very old vines. They are so old because they have survived harsh conditions before.

Notice the Vino-Lok glass stopper

When I opened the wine, I got a little bit worried, though. The dark violet colour was tinged with orange/brown. This would be interesting. I need not have been concerned. On the palate, the wine delivered its typical flavours: dark plum, kirsch, aniseed and five spice. There is no other wine in Australia which expresses the terroir as distinctly as Hill of Grace. Oak was noticeable in a support role, and the tannins were incredibly smooth and silky.

The mouthfeel of this wine was quite big, but very layered. The beautiful texture was well balanced with savoury notes. The flavours went on and on at the back of the palate and on the finish; beautiful.

This is a 10-20 year wine, not a Grange 30-50 year stayer, but it delivers everything it needs to deliver now.

Score: 97/+++ 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Agathist Alchemy Grenache

Agathist is the private label of Chris Isbel, former long time winemaker at Torbreck. This Grenache is called Alchemy, and it seems appropriate for the 2016 Agathist Grenache. I found this a most unusual wine. The flavours are big (as you would expect from Chris Isbel), raspberry dominant. This is a juicy wine, but dry at the same time. This is a funky Grenache, a bit like a big kid in a china shop, not totally balanced. The big mouthfeel is exciting, but a bit unbalanced and slightly harsh on the finish. I liked the wine for its exuberant personality.

Score: 91/+++  

Saturday, November 24, 2018

A. Rodda Chardonnay

Adrian Rodda won the James Halliday Chardonnay challenge this year. This is quite an achievement, as many of Australia's leading Chardonnays participate. The 2017 A. Rodda Chardonnay comes from the Willow Lake Vineyard in the Yarra Valley, a (relatively) high altitude vineyard known for the quality of its Chardonnay fruit.

This wine is on the richer side of the Yarra Valley spectrum. Tropical flavours, such as melon pineapple and passionfruit hit the palate. It is a much bigger wine than the Oakridge Chardonnay from the same vineyard. The wine is showy, not meant as a negative in this case. The mouthfeel is full and smooth, and there is sufficient acidity to drive the wine down the palate. This is an elegant, smooth and satisfying Chardonnay, for me slightly on the broad side. It will be interesting to see if it develops more complexity with age.

Score: 95/++

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Chinese Wine

It is not often you have an opportunity to taste Chinese wine in the west. Yet, China is the sixth largest producer of wine in the world. Production has been pushed very hard, in particular in the western Xinjiang province. There is now a surplus of Chinese wine, as consumption is still focused on the major cities, where the wealthy prefer imported wine, anyway. And these companies are not well equipped to export their product either.

Broadly speaking, there are three major regions. The coastal region, where vine growing has been going on for a long time, the middle region, and Xinjiang in the west. While the focus is on Xinjiang, conditions are difficult there. The winters are very cold, and the vines need to be buried. This is very labour intensive.

I tasted five wines. The 2014 Helan Mountain Chardonnay is from the middle region. It was well made (by Pernod Ricard), but I found the wine a bit sweet (85 points).

Next was the 2016 Zenithwirl Cabernet Gernischt by the Changyu Pioneer Wine Company. Cabernet Gernischt is a Chinese variety which was introduced to China in 1892 by Changyu. It was the European grape Cabernet Gemischt (meaning 'mixed'), now extinct there. It has been shown recently that this variety is identical to Carménère. This was an earthy wine, a little plump (84 points).

I then tasted the premium bracket. The 2016 Niya Xinjiang 'Manas' Cabernet Sauvignon was quite fruity, featuring red berry fruit, including some raspberry fruit. I did not find this very varietal (82 points). 

The 2015 Helan Mountain Premium Cabernet Sauvignon was a much better wine. Darker fruited, with oak and date flavours, this is quite a soft wine, with earthy undertones (88 points).

The best wine was the 2014 Áo Yun' Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc, made by Moet Hennessey. This wine is from the very humid Yunnan region, bordering on Laos and Myanmar. This is a classy wine, red fruited, with a good tannin profile. This medium-bodied wine is still quite tight, but an elegant drink with a balanced structure (93 points). It was performing better than the A$200 2013 Taylors Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon bottle, which it was paired against.

I don't normally talk about pricing, but it is interesting here. The main task for China consumer goods is to establish a brand, the product comes a distant second. So you find the Zenithwirl priced at A$100-120 per bottle. The winemaker is French. The better performing Helan Mountain is only $15-20 per bottle. And finally, the Ao Yun is China's most expensive wine, at a whopping A$500 per bottle, positioned like that by Moet Hennessey.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

S.C. Pannell Tempranillo Touriga

Let me say this upfront: I do not get Steven Pannell's wines. He is very experienced and highly acclaimed for his no nonsense winemaking, but I have found the wines I have tried so far (and I have not tried his ultra premium wines) straight down the line, but not exciting. Today, I am reviewing a new offering, the 2016 S.C. Pannell Tempranillo Touriga.

This wine is fresh and easy drinking. Dark cherry fruit is a bit lifted. There are raspberry flavours as well. The wine is not very complex. The tannins are firm and quite dry. The high point of this wine is the balanced finish. But where is the excitement?

If you call Tempranillo Tinta Roriz, you have two leading Portuguese varieties in this wine. A few posts below, I reviewed the Crasto Tinto Superior from the Douro Valley, which, at a similar price point, has more depth of flavour and delivers a more interesting wine.

Score: 90/+ 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Henschke New Releases

The famous Henschke winery is now a pretty substantial winery with 36 (!) different wines. They have four major vineyards: Hill of Grace, Mount Edelstone, and the Eden Valley vineyard, all in the Eden Valley, and the Lenswood vineyard in the Adelaide Hills. A couple of days ago, I tasted a number of the new releases. Following are some general impressions.

The white wines were all from the Eden Valley vineyard. They were from 2017 the Peggy's Hill Riesling, the Julius Riesling and the Percival's Mill Gruner Veltliner. Then there was the museum's release 2005 Julius Riesling. I found these wines quite Germanic in style. They deliver a broader mouthfeel than, say, Rieslings from the Clare Valley. Lime and floral flavours dominate the Rieslings, with the Julius more intense in style. The 2005 had expected toasted characters on the palate. I did not find the Gruner Veltliner true to varietal character, maybe a work in progress.

Of the medium priced reds, I enjoyed the 2016 Stone Jar Tempranillo. It attacks with very fresh red cherry fruit. This is a vibrant wine, very crisp and balanced. The 2015 Johann's Garden GMS is 70% Grenache, and the raspberry fruit shines through. There is spice as well in this easy drinking wine. The workhorse, the 2014 Keyneton Euphonium was a surprise. This is a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Franc is a minor component, but it dominated the palate with its spicy and forest fruit character.

Then came three premium priced Shirazes. They were a real revelation. The first two were from the excellent 2015 vintage. The Wheelwright Shiraz from the cool Eden Valley vineyard is a new wine, but the vines are actually 50 years old. And what a wine this is. Elegant and super delicious with bright and pure fruits of the whole spectrum (red, blue and black). The tannins are silky. This wine moves seamlessly along the palate. The spices are sweet rather than sharp, and the finish is long. The Tappa Pass is from three vineyards across the ridge near Light Pass in the Barossa Valley. The fruit is darker and more concentrated and ripe, but the wine is not heavy. Dried fruit and wood mellow the character of this very drinkable and smooth wine.

The 2013 Mount Edelstone is from a very dry vintage and was released later than usual, in fact after the 2014. This is an intense, quite dense wine, showing off the typical character of this wine: dark plum, blackberry, olive, aniseed, mocca and pepper. It is immediately recognizable, and despite the concentration and strong tannins is well balanced and not overwhelming.

Overall, the red Henschke wines have evolved over the last decade from intense wines to wines with beautiful purity of fruit, elegant and still retaining the expected power.     

Friday, November 9, 2018

Kusuda Pinot Noir

I have been fortunate to taste a number of vintages from this high quality, very small volume cult producer of Martinborough, New Zealand. I found the young Pinot Noirs quite mesmerizing and exciting.

This time is the first time I tasted an older Pinot Noir, and the results are not quite as exciting. The fragrant aromas and lifted flavours on the palate are gone from this 2012 Kusuda Pinot Noir. This is still a very good wine, but it has lost some of its ethereal mystique. The fruit flavours have moved from strawberry/red cherry to red and black cherries. The wine is still smooth and the tannins silky, but eventually the wine flattens out on the finish. It seems like this wine has been hauled back to the pack of good New Zealand Pinot Noirs.

Score: 94/++ 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Crasto Tinto Superior

Quinta do Crasto is Portugal's best winery of table wines. The focus on quality, as exemplified by the management of the sorting table, for example, is second to none. It's best wines are field blends of old single vineyards, containing an astonishing 50+ varieties. The wine reviewed here is different.

The 2015 Crasto Tinto Superior comes from a newly planted vineyard (14 years old) in the Douro Superior subregion. This is the warmest of the three subregions, close to the Spanish border and furthest from the ocean. The plantings are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinto Roriz (Tempranillo) as recommended to focus on by the Government, as well as Souzao, a variety with high acidity. This is sensible to include in a warm region such as Douro Superior.

The first impression on the palate is the round mouthfeel and slightly velvety character. Black fruit delivers intensity, and blue fruit elegance. The flavours are not too complex, but the different varieties add interest. The tannins of this wine are firm, showing the Touriga Nacional influence, and a little coarse. Together with the concentrated fruit, the tannins deliver a long finish.

I imagine this can be a fantastic wine with increased vine age.

Score: 93/+++ 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Felsina Chianti Classico

Felsina is one of the stalwarts of the Chianti Classico style: you get the Sangiovese profile, high acidity, good with food, in particular tomato based dishes.

The 2013 Felsina Chianti Classico is very savoury. Actually, it is surprisingly tart and lean. Red cherry and olive flavours are drowned out by acidity and firm tannins. This still makes it a reasonable, but ultimately not very interesting food wine.

Score: 89/- 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Beyond The Standard White Wines

Do you belong to the 95+% wine consumers who only drink Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, dry Riesling, maybe Pinot Grigio when it comes to white wine? Well, there is a whole other world of white wine out there, which would make the experience much more interesting. Let me suggest four other varieties and styles to try.

1) Assyrtiko. This Greek variety from the island of Santorini, grown on volcanic soil, is crisp and fresh, with strong minerality. This full flavoured wine often tastes of apple or citrus, and the acidity is good. It is now grown in Australia as well. Drink it instead of Sauvignon Blanc. You find a couple of reviews in my index.

2) Gruner Veltliner. This is an Austrian specialty, and these wines are widely available internationally. The key feature are the spicy flavours in this wine. It is one of the few wines which goes well with Asian, in particular Thai food.

3) Alsace Riesling. These Rieslings are very different from German, Austrian or Australian Rieslings. They are much richer and emphasize the texture of the wine. They can have honeyed flavours, even though the standard wines are dry. There is often spice as well. I like these wines with rich fish dishes.

4) Roussane/Marsanne. This is becoming a favourite of mine. These wines, originally from the Northern Rhone - and highly praised there -, but now planted in many places, are all about texture, not the fruit. The colour is sometimes off-white. Pear, nut and honey flavours characterize this rich wine style. It pairs extremely well with all kinds of food.

If you have not tried wines from these grapes, I suggest you do so, and you will discover much more variety in white wine. And then, I have not even talked about the white varieties of Northern Italy, Northern Spain, Turkey, Georgia and so on.   

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Standish Wine Company Andelmonde Shiraz

Dan Standish is currently achieving something almost unique. He gets high ratings from the Parker reviewers, but also from those Australian reviewers who lean more towards European style wines. He seems to be the new star, following Peter Schell at Spinifex, who followed Dave Powell at Torbreck, who followed Rober O'Callaghan at Rockford. After all, winemaking is a fashion business, isn't it?

His operation is no compromise. All wines are Shiraz, mostly single vineyard. The wines are expensive - although maybe not for what they are - and there are no entry level wines. While I have not tasted the current releases so far, I thought I open an older bottle to see what this high praise is all about.

The 2012 Standish Andelmonde Shiraz comes from a vineyard in Greenock. The soil is ironstone gravels and schist over red clay. The label is white with nothing other than the name on the front.

In contrast, the wine in the glass is black. Blue and black berry aromas jump out. On the palate, there is the classic Shiraz dark plum flavour, but more so blueberry and blackberry. Spice and earthy notes add to the complexity. The fruit is pure, very dense and deep. The wine has a big frame, but surprisingly, it is not heavy. It has drive down the palate, and the intense fruit flavours deliver harmony and elegance. The tannins are firm, and velvety.

This wine is an amazing accomplishment. It delivers the unique intensity of Barossa Shiraz, but not at the expense of drinkability. This is a significant step forward for full-bodied Shiraz. 

Needless to say, the wine was fresh and will easily live another 20 years. As an aside, you would have noticed the wax seal. It was not difficult to push the cork screw through and in breaking the seal pull the cork out.  
Score: 98/+++

Monday, October 1, 2018

New Zealands Current Best?

I recently tasted a number of New Zealand's best wines at the 'Family of Twelve' tastings. This a a marketing organization of some of New Zealand's small and medium sized wineries.

The top wine for me was the 2016 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir. This wine is quite steely, and a bit edgy. It has an ethereal texture with very fine and silky tannins and an expanding finish. Ata Rangi seems to be able to produce this character year after year. Is it due to the clone they stole from Romanée-Conti? Maybe it is. The 2013 Ata Rangi McCrone Pinot Noir is made from the Dijon clone and does not come near it. But also, the vines for this wine are a lot younger.

The surprise second best wine for me was the 2015 Neudorf Moutere Pinot Noir. I enjoyed its deep fruit set, and again an elegant, silky structure.

In third place came the 2017 Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir. The dark cherry flavours were quite smooth, and the tannins silky, a bit bigger than the previous wines. In contrast, the 2017 Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir, a blend from three vineyards, was not as differentiated, with a slightly flat patch on the mid palate.

So there you are: three different vintages from three different regions, but a trifecta for Pinot Noir.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Grenache, Four Ways

A few days ago, it was World Grenache Day, whatever this means. At least, Grenache is grown in many parts of the world. It is most famous as the dominant blend in Chateuneuf-du-Pape, but as a single variety, Spain would be its most famous origin.

The winery Capcanes has come up with a fascinating exercise of producing in the same manner 100% Grenache wines grown on different soils: there is sand, limestone, slate and clay. If you are skeptical about the influence of terroir, I suggest you try these four wines.
The key are the crosses at the top showing different soil types

I tried these wines over the last few days. The Grenache grown on sand was beautiful:  pretty raspberry fruit, flavoursome, but not sweet, lush, fragrant and aromatic. I had more trouble with the limestone wine. The minerality was very strong and not matched by the fruit flavours. This wine lacked some balance. The wine grown on slate was very different: dark fruit, muscular, with great intensity and a long finish. The Grenache on clay was also concentrated, but this wine lacked some definition. It was quite broad and a little fat in the mouth (like the soil is).

The outcomes were what one would expect from the soil. Was I biased? I wish I had tried these blind, but even so I am confident of my descriptions. My favourite soils were slate and sand. Clay was a little boring and the limestone soil did not seem to work with this wine.

Most wine is grown on clay and limestone, I think. Makes you wonder. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Giaconda Chardonnay

Giaconda produces the most complex and Burgundy-like Chardonnay in Australia. I get hot and cold over it, find it sometimes too overworked. In 2014, Rick Kinzbrunner got it right.

The 2014 Giaconda Chardonnay delivers a complex flavour profile of ripe stone fruit, in particular yellow peach, almond and vanilla. The wine has good intensity, but is not heavy nor too big. New oak and malolactic fermentation deliver a wine round in the mouth, yet with good drive and cereal type minerality on the back palate. The finish is nutty rather than acidic.

Score: 96/++

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Castel Rift Valley Chardonnay

Ethiopia’s claim to fame is its invention of coffee. When monks threw wild growing coffee beans into the fire, they were pleasantly surprised by their pleasant aroma. The rest is history. What is less well known is that wine has also been made here since the 16th century. It is grown in the famous Rift Valley ( famous for its runners) at 1600m altitude.

The number one winery is French owned Castel. They produce an astonishing two million plus bottles each year after they imported 750,000 vines from France in 1997. The vineyard is unusual, as it is surrounded by a two metre high wall to deter pythons, hippopotamuses and hyenas - not your average environment for grape growing. I tasted the Cabernet Merlot and the Syrah from their red grapes. These are not wines that would succeed internationally as fine wine, although 50% is exported.

The Chardonnay, only 10% of total production, is a different cattle of fish. The 2017 Castel Rift Valley Chardonnay is a crisp wine, with citrus and passionfruit flavours. The fruit is finely balanced by an attractive level of acidity. This wine is not complex, but perfectly suited to equatorial climates. It finishes dry.

Score: 85/++

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Domaine des Senechaux Blanc, Chateauneuf-du-Pape

95% of the grapes grown in Chateauneuf-du-Pape are red, and this is what the region is known for. However, there are also some interesting white wines made there. In keeping with the philosophy of the region, many varieties are blended together.

Only 1000 cases were made of the 2016 Domaine des Senechaux Blanc. The property is owned by the Cazes family of Chateau Lynch-Bages, so you can expect good quality. The main varieties in this wine with about a third each are Roussane, Clairette, and Grenache Blanc. The first two undergo a cold soak before fermentation to extract more fruit.

On the palate, this wine has grapefruit, pear, and hazelnut. The wine is quite fresh and has more acidity than many Rhone whites. This gives the wine a bit of drive while retaining food friendliness. The year was very successful. This shows in the smoothness and balance of the wine, and the good line to the well-rounded finish.

Score: 93/++

Monday, August 27, 2018

Grenache Blends

Ýou get what you pay for' sometimes works in the wine world, sometimes it doesn't. In this line-up of attractively to medium priced Grenache Blends it worked, although not perfectly. 

Here are my results for three price groups with very brief comments:

1) $20-$30 per bottle

- 2017 Kalleske Clarry's: a light wine, a little sweet with a soft finish (87 points)
- 2017 Teusner Joshua: unoaked, fruity, but good fruit (88 points)
- 2016 Torbreck Juveniles: unoaked, raspberry, earthy, more complex, one year older, barnyard flavours (86 points)

2) $30-$35 per bottle

- 2015 John Duval Plexus: medium weight, good varietal integration, good length (92 points)
- 2015 Teusner Avatar: excellent fruit, good intensity, vanilla flavours, but will integrate well (92 points)

3) $40-$45 per bottle

- 2015 Penfolds Bin 138: raspberry fruit and firm tannins (90 points)
- 2015 Marius Michaud Chateauneuf-du-Pape: fragrant, smooth, fine grained tannins (90 points)
- 2014 Torbreck The Steading: medium body, darker fruited, well balanced with smooth and dry finish (94 points)

The middle group excelled, largely because of the skill of two outstanding winemakers; John Duval and Kym Teusner.   

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Kooyong Meres Pinot Noir

The Meres Pinot Noir is the most fragrant and feminine of the Kooyong single vineyard Pinot Noirs, maybe because the vineyard is surrounded by water. I reviewed the 2012 Kooyong Meres Pinot Noir some years ago, and on trying my last bottle, I still like it a lot.

The fragrant bouquet is still strong. It has the smell of spring flowers on the nose. Red and black cherry flavours offer an attractive mix on the palate. This is an elegant wine in an ethereal style, not overly concentrated. The flavours are long on the palate. Smooth tannins coat the tongue before a persisting finish leaves you very satisfied.

Score: 95/+++ 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon

Wynns is one of those producers who make wine for the long term. I was therefore not too concerned to open a 2006 Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon. John Riddoch gets the best fruit from Wynns' substantial Coonawarra holdings. It also means big and concentrated.

As it turns out, this wine is very dry, and 80% of the primary fruit is gone. I can still taste the concentration, but the wine is now quite meaty and vanilla flavours from the oak are strong. This wine is 12 years old, but should be fresher and more balanced.

For my money, I prefer the latest Black Label offerings, which are terrific drinking styles.

Score: 89/- 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Two Classic Tasmanian Chardonnays

Chardonnay from Tasmania does not grab the headlines quite as much as Pinot Noir, but recently I tasted two Chardonnays which are very good, indeed. They are made in quite different ways.

Derwent Estate make quite a big deal of their Chardonnay release dates, and the 2016 Derwent Estate Chardonnay deserves this. This wine is made in a fresh style, with lime and pear flavours. There is malolactic fermentation, but you would not know it. Lemony acidity glides down the palate, not aggressive, but always present. This wine has power and elegance at the same time (94+ points).

The 2016 Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay is made in quite a different style. There is more new oak, more cream (80% malolactic fermentation), and more complexity on the palate. There is grapefruit and white peach, hazelnut and spicy oak. Acidity is strong, and the flavours are very long. Everything comes together in a balanced fashion (94+ points).

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Tasmanian Pinot Noir

I recently tasted a number of leading Tasmanian Pinot Noirs. A number of conclusions stood out:

1) There is now a lot more consistency in these wines
2) Prices have crept up a lot. We are now talking $50-$100 per bottle, driven by small volumes and increased demand.
3) Vintage variations are significant. 2016 produced light and perfumed wines across the board, whereas 2015 and 2017 Pinot Noirs are much more intense.
4) Almost all producers have settled on a regime of 10-30% whole bunch inclusion, and 20-40% new French oak for the premium wines.

Two Pinot Noirs stood out for their barnyard flavours: the 2016 Barringwood Mill Block (89 points), and the 2015 Delamere Block 8 (90 points).

Other brief notes:
- 2017 Holm Oak 'The Wizzard': dark cherry, savoury, dry (93 points)
- 2015 Tamar Ridge Reserve: medium-bodied, red cherry focussed on front palate (91 points)
- 2015 Tamar Ridge Single Block: more intense and tannic (93 points)
- 2016 Bay of Fires: light, pretty and delicious, red fruited (90 points)
- 2014 Dalrymple Cottage Block: smooth, earthy and spicy, lacks structure (91 points)
- 2014 Dalrymple Coal River Valley: bigger fruited and quite fruity, soft tannins, lacks structure (89 points)
- 2017 Pipers Brook 'New Certan': pretty fruit, savoury, dry,  lacks finish (92 points)
- 2015 Derwent Estate Çalcaire': dark fruited, intense and savoury (94 points)
- 2016 Glaetzer Dixon Mon Père: black cherry, savoury, great for the year (93 points)
- 2016 Tolpuddle Vineyard: quite light, strawberry flavours, elegant (92 points)  

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Dappled Wines

New offerings from the Yarra Valley are arriving all the time. There is a renaissance on the one hand, but a real threat of phylloxera on the other. The Dappled wines shot to fame a year ago, when they were crowned best new winery by James Halliday.

The 2017 Dappled Áppelation' Chardonnay is the entry level Chardonnay with fruit from lower and upper Yarra Valley vineyards. This is a crisp and fresh wine with excellent balance (92 points).

The 2017 Dappled Çhamps de Cerises' Upper Yarra Macclesfield Chardonnay is a bit of a mouthful (pardon the pun) of a name, but should not detract from the quality of the wine. The fruit comes from a cool single vineyard. Citrus and apple flavours show restraint, but good intensity at the same time. The wine has a lasting finish (94 points).

The 2017 Dappled Çhamps de Cerises' Upper Yarra Macclesfield Pinot Noir shows strawberry flavours, typical of the cooler Yarra Valley sites. This wine is interesting, because it has a certain smokiness, smooth tannins, and good persistence (93 points).

The 2017 Dappled 'Fin de la Terre' Steels Creek Syrah is the weakest wine in this line-up. It comes from a warmer site, and includes 100% whole bunch. This is a pretty wine, a bit fruity, though. The finish is balanced (89 points).

Overall, this tasting reveals very careful winemaking. The  wine names obviously link to French winemaking and an interest in terroir. I found the wines very truthful to grape varieties and location. A winery to watch!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Jim Barry Tasting

Jim Barry is an unusual family wine business, maybe only comparable to Yalumba. It produces wine in large commercial quantities, like more than 100,000 cases, as well as high quality specialty wines. Based in the Clare Valley, the focus is on Riesling and Shiraz. The other day, I tasted most of the line-up.

The 2017 Assyrtiko is a welcome addition to the portfolio. It is the first Assyrtiko (native to Santorini, Greece)  commercially available in Australia, planted as recently as 2012. This is actually an excellent summer wine: crisp citrus, acidic, dry (90 points).

The 2018 Watervale Riesling is the high volume product, and it shows. This wine is straight forward and quite fruity, but not unpleasant (86 points).

The Clos Clare Riesling is a side project by third generation Tom and Sam Berry. It is actually a little block at a corner of the famous Florita vineyard. The 2017 has reasonable fruit weight, but is a little broad (89 points). The 2012 is quite different, maybe due to the ageing. Earthy flavours dominate this wine (89 points).

The 2012 Lodge Hill Riesling has more power. It is on the fruity side, but dry (90 points).

The game changes with the 2017 Florita Riesling from this exceptional vineyard, established by Leo Buring in 1962. This is a world-class dry Riesling. The colour is straw green. On the palate, the wine is delicate, but powerful at the same time. Citrus flavours dominate, but the key here is the steeliness and linearity of the wine delivered on the back of firm acidity. This wine will live for a long time, but is excellent to drink now as well (96 points).

Of the reds, I tried the 2014 McRae Wood Shiraz. The fruit is covered in  American oak. At four years of age, this is too much and unlikely to lift (89 points).

Then we come to the Armagh, one of Australia's most highly regarded Shiraz. The 2013 Armagh has some trouble to live up to that lofty expectation. This wine is still young and quite closed. It needs decanting. Blackberry and plum flavours are concentrated. Vanilla oak flavours hit on the front palate, cream and mocha on the back. The structure is impressive and not alcoholic, but will it all come together? (93 points).


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Taste Champagne - The Biggest Champagne Showcase In The World

79 Champagne Estates have come together to showcase their products in Australia. This is because Australia is the seventh largest Champagne market in the world and growing strongly in unit imports as well as value. A tasting of this kind is a bit different from your average wine tasting. The atmosphere is a bit more hushed and serious.
 The trade tasting. Bollinger was the most popular stand

What was I looking for when the choice was between over 200 different Champagnes to taste? I have a lot less experience in tasting bubbles compared with still wine, but I know what I like: freshness, complexity of flavour, and some toastiness, all in balance. These were my findings:

Overall, the quality was very good, but there was not much wow!, I must say.

Vintage vs. Non-Vintage: The proportion of vintage Champagne sold in Australia is very small, smaller than in most other countries. This, no doubt, is due to the high pricing for these wines, particularly in Australia. And this tasting did not convince me. Freshness was lacking in many vintage wines, in particular the Bollinger La Grande Année 2007. But then, the Charles Heidsieck Brut Vintage 2005 was my Champagne of the day. Still fresh, with great depth, balance and elegance. 

The second debate is between the quality and distinctiveness of the large Champagne houses versus the increasingly popular grower Champagnes. I would call this a draw. I was impressed by Ruinart, Billecart-Salmon, Charles Heidsieck, Larmandier-Bernier, De Sousa, André Clouet and Jacquesson.

Then there is the question of Rosé. A number of Champagnes in this category were a little sweet, but I can recommend as dry Rosés the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV and the Bollinger Rosé Brut NV.     

Friday, August 3, 2018

Felton Road Riesling

Felton Road is mainly known as one of New Zealand's leading Pinot Noir producers. However, Felton Road also makes very good Chardonnay and Riesling.

The 2017 Felton Road Dry Riesling delivers a round and quite intense mouthfeel, more like a modern German Riesling than, say, a dry Clare Valley wine. This wine gives you a fruity impression, yet it is dry.

The main flavours on the palate are apple and jasmine. There is enough acidity to drive the flavours down the palate to a finish which is a bit of a non-event. This is a smart wine,  but not quite my preference for more steeliness.

Score: 93/0  

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah

The Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah was launched in 2002 with the intention to create a New Zealand Grange in terms of fruit weight, oak treatment and longevity. This is the 2007 Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah. I last reviewed this wine four years ago in quite glowing terms. How has it held up?

In summary, this is still a very good wine, but slightly past its peak. The freshness that stood out some years back as a counterweight to the intensity of the wine is not quite there anymore. The blackberry and blueberry flavours are still strong. Peppery and savoury notes add to the wonderful complexity of this wine. There is good depth on the palate, and the mouthfeel is smooth.

The structure of this wine is still good, but I suggest to drink it within the next three years.

Score: 94/++

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Mac Forbes Wesburn Pinot Noir

Mac Forbes is doing to the Yarra Valley what David Powell has done to the Barossa. He is defining different subregions with different terroir. Amongst people who believe in the impact of terroir, there is a debate, at least in Australia, to what extent the focus should be on subregions or on exeptional sites. To me, this is simple, different subregions have different climatic and soil conditions. Within this, some sites are better suited for outstanding wines than others. As an example, the characteristic of Vosne-Romanée Pinot Noir is different from Pommard, but then the grand cru sites deliver the outstanding expressions of the area.

I am writing all this, because Mac Forbes has done a great job building on different  subregions in the Yarra Valley, but I am not sure he has exceptional sites in each. This comes out in reviewing the 2012 Mac Forbes Wesburn Pinot Noir. The grapes come from a cool area at relatively high altitude. When I first tried the wine on release, it was not very accessible. This was not so surprising, but opening a bottle now, the wine has actually aged quite quickly. Sour cherry flavours are fairly lean. It is perhaps a classic Burgundy profile on entry, but not in the finish, which is a little harsh.

On day 2, the sharpness in the wine was gone and the wine was more balanced.

Score: 90/+

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Wendouree Shiraz

What makes a wine a cult wine? The terminology started in the US. Criteria were: a new wine, small volume, difficult to buy, high pricing, high alcohol. So why are Wendouree wines called cult? This winery is as old fashioned and traditional as they come. Yes, you had to be on a mailing list, but it was managed by snail mail, and an obscure coloured dot system determined where you were in the ordering hierarchy. The pricing of these wines is quite reasonable, so is the alcohol. The wines are difficult to get, but cult wines? Not according to my definition - just obscure.

The Wendouree wines are known to be long lasting. I was therefore not worried to open a 2002 Wendouree Shiraz. The cork came out perfectly, and it turned out this 16 year old wine is good to drink now. 

Wendouree wines have the reputation of being monsters. This wine is full-bodied, but only just. In fact, the alcohol level is 13.7%, much less than many other Shirazes. This is not a bold wine. The oak has been subsumed by the fruit, which is blackberry and some eucalypt. I am not keen on eucalypt flavours, it is just borderline in this case. There are also herbal flavours on the palate. The finish is firm, and the aftertaste is pleasing.

This is a fine wine, but it is not exceptional. I expected something a bit more special.

Score: 93/0 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Barossa Be Consumed

This was the biggest show of Barossa wines in Sydney I can recall. The title 'Barossa. Be consumed' seemed a little dangerous, given there were over 100 wines to try. In any case, people turned up and seemed to enjoy themselves.

I decided to taste the premium offers from about half the wineries represented. I was not disappointed. The days of 15% alcohol plus and jammy wines seem truly gone, even as most wines presented were from the warm 2015 vintage.

Another interesting aspect was that blending is alive and well - and why not. Wineries such as John Duval, Spinifex and Sons of Eden have developed a certain style which is best maintained by blending. It is done much more smartly than say, 10 years ago. There is now a much better understanding of the different characteristics of the different subregions. As a basic example, many wines include grapes from Eden Valley and Barossa Valley to capture the freshness of the former and the richness of the latter.

My favorite wine was a single vineyard wine, though; the 2012 Cirillo 1850 Ancestor Vine Grenache. This is from a sandy vineyard on the valley floor. It shows intense savoury flavours and great length.

Other favorites for me were the 2016 Entity Shiraz (good depth) and the 2015 Eligo Shiraz (very elegant) by John Duval; the 2015 Rolf Binder Heysen (intense and elegant); the 2015 Sons of Eden Romulus Shiraz from the Barossa Valley (great balance); the 2015 Spinifex La Maline Shiraz (includes 1% Viognier; elegant and fresh); the 2014 St Hallett Old Block (subtle and soft; 30% Eden Valley fruit). 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Two Spanish Beauties

It is interesting that imports in the major wine producing countries are increasing. This is because wine consumers are looking for new experiences, and they are looking for wines with personality. This is where two amazing Spanish wines, I had the good fortune of tasting a few days ago, come in.

 The first wine is very rare, only 800 bottles were made. The label is pretty confusing. The winemakers are Barbier and Perez, and the wine is a 2013 Partida Bellvisos White from Priorat. The grape would have been Grenache Blanc. And look at the alcohol: 15%! The golden colour of the wine was amazing: clear and vibrant. Not like a wine you expect butterscotch flavours from - and we did not get them.

In fact, this was an elegant wine with beautiful texture. The richness of the fruit subsumed the alcohol, which was barely noticeable. The main flavours were walnut, chestnut, biscuit, but vibrant, not like a mature wine or a Rhone variety. I have never tasted a wine like this.

Score: 96/+++

The second beauty is better known: the 2012 Vega Sicilia Valbuena. This is the second wine from the Penfolds of Spain and its current release.

This Tempranillo tastes of black and blue fruits. The flavours are intense and penetrating. The wine is medium- to full-bodied and sits on an elegant frame. It has a great line, with soft tannins and a long finish - an excellent package.

Score: 95/+++ 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Kumeu Village Chardonnay

Kumeu River is known as one of the best Chardonnay producers of New Zealand, and is particularly known for its single vineyard wines. However, I just came across the 2016 Kumeu Village Chardonnay and was bowled over by the quality of this wine at a very attractive price.

Village is probably a reference to Burgundy and its system. The grapes would have come from a number of vineyards, not all estate owned. There are some attractive aspects to this entry level wine; it is hand harvested and fermented with wild yeast.

The wine shows very pure fruit flavours. Melon, white peach, and some nutty flavours deliver an attractive mouthfeel. The wine is of medium intensity in a rich, but elegant texture. This wine is more appealing than many Chardonnays twice the price. It offers fantastic value for money.

Score: 92/+++ 

PS: The Brajkovich family owners are probably celebrating with something a bit more special tonight, as Croatia reaches the world cup soccer final for the first time.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Zuccardi Malbec

The Zuccardi family started out as a bulk producer,and over the years moved into bottled wine, and from Maipu near Mendoza to the higher altitude Uco Valley.  A new winery was opened there in 2016. The third generation continues to experiment.

The 2016 Zuccardi Malbec Concreto is the result of such experimentation, as the wine has been matured in egg shaped concrete vats. The fruit is a mixture of the warmer Maipu district and the cooler Uco Valley. This is a full-bodied wine with intense Malbec fruit. Black cherry and blackberry fruit flavours express the typical character of this grape. I found the wine a bit jammy and lacking other elements of complexity.

Score: 88/0

The 2013 Zuccardi Malbec Valle de Uco shows dramatically the effect of the cooler sites. This wine is a blend of several high altitude sites. Apart from black fruits, blue fruits and violets are present as well. The wine has more energy and drive and is quite elegant. The tannins are firm, yet also silky. The finish is fresh.

Score: 93/++   

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Angel Rodriguez Martinsancho Rueda Verdejo

Continuing on my journey of international wines, here is a wine which suits people who
- basically enjoy Sauvignon Blanc, but got tired of it or
- who enjoy the texture of Sauvignon Blanc, but do not like the grassiness or
- who potentially enjoy Sauvignon Blanc, but do not want to be seen drinking it.

The 2016 Martinsancho Verdejo comes from the Rueda region, which is north west of Madrid, near Ribera del Duero. The Verdejo grape is not related to Verdello, but comes from North Africa.

This wine is fresh and zesty. It has a full mouthfeel, while moving down the palate with good drive and energy. Guava notes and a hint of citrus, grapefruit and minerality form a  complex flavour profile. Excellent acidity balances the fruit. It would also be interesting to drink this wine in a few years.

Score: 92/+++

Friday, July 6, 2018

Clerico Ciabot Barolo

Domenico Clerico was one of the most influencial and passionate 'modernists' in Piedmont. He died, aged 67, about a year ago. When I met him at his winery many years ago, one incident demonstrated his dedication to the art of making wine. I was visiting with a French couple, and at the end of the tour and explanation they wanted to buy some of his wine. He got furious: "I am here to explain my philosophy and show you my wines, if you want to buy, go to an Enoteca." 

His wines are not for the faint hearted: there is oak, acidity and firm tannins. I was interested to see how my 2000 Clerico Ciabot Barolo has mellowed. I decanted the wine, and the early aromas were not encouraging: volatile acidity was strong. The result is an unpleasant flavour of vinegar. If it is strong, the wine becomes undrinkable, if it is weak, it can add complexity to the wine. Volatile acidity is present in quite a few Italian wines, and is often linked to less than clean wineries. I thought Clerico was pretty clean, though.

In any event, after half an hour, the effect became quite small, and the wine started to show its powerful structure. Intense dark cherry fruit was somewhat dominated by high acidity and coarse tannins. They were certainly dialed up high. Despite all this, there was an underlying elegance, which made the wine quite attractive. This wine was not a shrinking violet and made for a very long life. 

I felt the balance was not quite there in this wine, and I was somewhat disturbed by the volatile acidity experience.

Score: 92/0

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Casa Fresci Ragazzi Nebbiolo

Casa Fresci is one of the leading Nebbiolo producers in Australia. The 2013 Casa Fresci Ragazzi Nebbiolo is a good example of its style.

This wine delivers a good expression of the typicality of Nebbiolo. This wine shows a bit more open fruit, and the tannins are less severe than its Italian counterparts. Yet the tannins are certainly there, and they are dry and firm. This wine was very approachable when young and will not last as long as good Italian Barolo, but at five years of age it is still lively and fresh.

Sour cherry is the dominant fruit flavour. This Nebbiolo is not super complex, but quite elegant. It offers an attractive mouthfeel from beginning to end. It is a pleasure to drink and very affordable.

Score: 93/+++ 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Australia vs. France Shiraz

Australia narrowly lost the soccer match, but it narrowly won this Shiraz comparison. Here are the wines by country and order of score:

2016 Giaconda Warner Shiraz: ripe plum fruit, not caked, depth and elegance, balanced, dry finish (95 pts)

2016 Bests Bin O Shiraz: lush, pretty and elegant, mixed berry fruit, some spice, medium weight (93 pts)

2015 Yeringberg Shiraz: blueberry and cherry, elegant and balanced, great structure, the lifted Viognier character detracts from the beautiful Shiraz fruit (93 pts)

2016 SC Pannell Adelaide Hills Syrah: superbly pretty blue fruits, soft, vibrant (92 pts)

2014 Craiglee Shiraz: blue fruit, some eucalypt, licorice, quite fruity, smooth finish (91 pts)

The French wines were from the Northern Rhone at more or less the same price points.

2015 Ogier Cote Rotie Village: dark fruit, licorice, energetic, good balance, firm finish (94 pts)

2015 Yann Chave Crozes Hermitage La Rouvre: well rounded, pretty, a bit fruity, straightforward finish (92 pts)

2015 Ogier La Rosine Syrah: balanced blackberry fruit and olive and smoky savoury notes, firm tannins (92 pts)

2015 Pierre Gaillard St Joseph: quite big, blue fruited, very spicy, very Victorian (91 pts)

2016 Maxime Graillot Domaine Des Lises Crozes Hermitage: good fruit and energy, but quite slim with a flat mouthfeel, smooth finish (90 pts)

There was as much difference between the Australian Shirazes as between the Australian and French wines.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Frescobaldi CastelGiocondo Brunello

The 2010 Frescobaldi CastelGiocondo Brunello has the appealing mix of black cherry, mocca and earth, typical of Brunello. However, the mouthfeel is a bit flat and the acidity level is too high in comparison to fruit and tannins (and I had it with Italian food). This is a somewhat disappointing effort for the esteemed 2010 vintage of Montalcino.

Score: 90/-

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Domaine Buisson-Battault

Meursault is one of the most famous and prestigious regions for Chardonnay in the world. Interestingly, this subregion of Burgundy does not include any grand cru vineyards; however, there are a number of 1er cru vineyards, as shown on the map below.The Chardonnays of Meursault are known for being big, sometimes buttery, and built predominantly with new oak. As such, they are geared to the American palate and Robert Parker reviews. Does this reflect the terroir, which the Burgundians are so obsessed about? It is questionable, given the wines from Puligny-Montrachet are totally different and not far away.

The wines of Domaine Buisson-Battault are made in a more traditional way, with only 20% new oak applied. They are not the most fashionable nor the most expensive, and I was looking forward to taste four of the wines from the warm 2015 vintage.

The 2015 Buisson-Battault Meursault Vielles Vignes is quite a light wine, in the apple spectrum, a bit juicy and not much drive. Having said this, the dry extract lingers attractively on the palate (90 pts). The 1er Cru Porusots (see map) has much more depth and fruit concentration. It is also in the apple spectrum. The wine is more complex with its toasty flavours and fleshiness. The finish is smooth (94 pts). The 1er Cru Gouttes dÓr is broader, with less definition and the fruit is more exotic (peach) (91 pts). The 1er Cru Genevrieres comes from a rockier vineyard, and this translates into the wine. It is fresh, not a big wine, with apple and pear flavours, and good energy. There is minerality and a sour edge on the finish (94 pts).

This tasting raises as many questions as it answers. The wines are much lighter and fresher than the vintage and location would suggest. The 1er cru wines are all different, but how well do they reflect the terroir? I think the Genevrieres does - not sure about the others. In all cases, the winemaker influence is significant.   

Monday, June 11, 2018

1990 Penfolds Grange - 100 points

Most Shiraz is best drunk at 7 years of age. The 1990 Penfolds Grange was great at 5 years, and won the Wine Spectator wine of the year. It was even better at 15 years, when most fine wine starts to deteriorate. I opened a bottle yesterday, and at 28 ears of age, it is even better now.

When the wine arrived on my table, in a decanter, the bouquet was overwhelming. Complex flavours of ripe squashed black fruits emanated from the decanter. The nose was incredibly intense, yet still very lively. This wine, which by the way had a very high shoulder in the bottle, has not yet reached its peak.

The layers and layers of fruit explode on the palate. This wine has power, but also finesse. A lot has been written about its flavours. I cannot add to it. What I should say is that the wine is as impactful on the front-, mid-, and back-palate, and the finish lasts and lasts. It is one of a handful of wines the taste of which I will remember for years to come.

Grange has its detractors and not everybody likes this style, but you have to be in awe of the uniqueness of this wine.

Score: 100/+++    

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Caillard Mataro

Andrew Caillard is a man of many talents: reviewer of fine wines, auctioneer, Master of Wine. He also paints the colourful labels for his side project, wines from the Barossa Valley.
Mataro in the Barossa is mainly used as a component of the GSM wines, but this 2012 Caillard Mataro is 100% Mataro or Mourvedre. The Mataro grape tends to be quite tannic, and is used as a counter-point in its savoury and earthy character to the often jammy Shiraz.

This wine is full-bodied, with ripe plum and cassis flavours. This is a big, concentrated wine, quite smooth and lush on the front palate with good energy; more savoury on the back palate. The finish is a bit thick and not very differentiated - the problem with this grape variety, because it needs to fully ripen. Having said this, the wine is well made and a good example of Mataro.

Score: 92/+

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Red Wine Bargain Of The Year

The bargain of the year is from Burgundy? It is from 2015? Yes, it is. It is not only a vintage with stratospheric prices for exceptional wines. This exceptional vintage has allowed some producers to focus on high quality grapes and still generate higher volume. Domaine Chanson is owned by Bollinger and this is what they do very well.

The 2015 Domaine Chanson Le Bourgogne Pinot Noir includes grapes from across Burgundy. The colour of the wine is bright red with alluring rose petals on the nose. Intense red cherry flavours hit the palate with great purity and charm. This is an elegant wine which delivers a great mouthfeel and drive to the back palate. The wine has a strong backbone of acidity and firm tannins kick in on the dry and savoury finish. This is a wine of beauty and great drinkability. And the price? A$30 per bottle. You can enjoy this wine now or cellar for 5 years.

Score: 94/+++

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Another Medal

You sometimes wonder who the people are who can reward blogs and award medals. But in any case, my blog has been included in a list of Australia's top 10. Here is the list

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Henschke Tappa Pass Shiraz

Henschke was one of the first wineries to support a glass closure. The argument was: tight seal, no chemicals involved. However, it never took off. The 2006 Henschke Tappa Pass uses this closure, and the wine is perfect after 12 years.

Tappa Pass is a premium offering from Henschke, just across the ridge from their famous Eden Valley vineyards. Soil and climatic conditions are similar, but the vineyards are grower owned and not as old.

The wine has a core of blackberry and aniseed flavour, with a hint of eucalypt. It is more forward and not as complex as the Mount Edelstone, but the flavours are similar. The main difference is on the back palate, where the wine is not as differentiated, and a little fat. There are also no noticeable spice flavours in this wine. Having said this, the wine has good depth and intensity and a lasting finish.

It is in the perfect drinking window now.

Score: 93/++

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Vinosphere, Part 3 - Other Red Varieties

In this bracket, I tasted all red varieties, other than Pinot Noir. Many wines were international, but I also tried some Australian icons. Here are my brief notes.

- Quinta do Crasto: 2015 Superior Tinto, Douro Valley: intense flavours, blackberry, forest fruit, elegant (94 p)
- Escondido: 2015 Meio e Meio, Langhorne Creek: well made, but a bit basic (90 p)
- Balnaves: 2012 The Tally, Cabernet Sauvignon: black, black, deep and concentrated and elegant, wine of the night (96 p)
- Casa Fresci: 2015 Nebbiolo, Langhorne Creek: a light version of Nebbiolo (88 p)
- Jasper Hill: 2016 Georgia's Paddock Nebbiolo: good fruit, lacks typical backbone (91 p)
- Elvio Cogno: 2013 Barbera d'Alba: plum, a bit simple, good length (91 p)
- Elvio Cogno: 2013 Barbaresco Bordini: quite light, clean, pretty fruit, good length and silky tannins (94 p)
- Ferdinando Principiano: 2013 Barolo Serralunga: fragrant, savoury (93 p)
- Ferdinando Principiano: 2013 Barolo Ravera: more intense, more elegant, long finish (95 p)
- Girolamo Russo: 2015 Etna Rosso Cru San Lorenzo: made from Nerello Mascalese, lively red fruit, strong tannins (93 p)
- Santa Maria la Nave: 2015 Etna Rosso Calmarossa: light and lifted, red fruited, elegant (93 p)
- Talenti: 2012 Brunello: earthen, not well balanced (89 p)
- Gianni Brunelli Chiuse di Sotto: 2012 Brunello: black cherry, mocca (92 p)
[ there are outstanding 2012 Brunellos; the last two are not amongst them]
- Antiyal: 2011 Vinedo Escorial Carmenere, Chile: strong barnyard flavours (86 p)
- Mont-Redon: 2015 Chateauneuf-du-Pape: red fruit, medium intensity (92 p)
- La Barroche: 2015 Chateauneuf-du-Pape: sweet fruit, smooth, good balance (93 p)
- Clonakilla: 2016 Shiraz/Viognier: deep plum, blackberry, lifted on medium weight, elegant and long (95 p)
- Thomas Wines: 2016 Kiss Shiraz: Plum fruit hits the palate, elegant, soft tannins (94/95 p)
- Castagna: 2015 La Chiave: fresh, quite soft, balanced, soft tannins (95 p)
- Castagna: 2015 Genesis Syrah: red and black fruited, quite lifted and elegant (95 p)

The Australian wines were the clear winners in this bracket. It is a little unfair, as these were all icon wines, whereas some overseas wines from great vintages, such as 2013 in Piedmont, 2012 for Brunello, and 2015 Chateauneuf-du-Pape are not from leading suppliers.