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/+++