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