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