Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Penfolds 389 Cabernet Shiraz

I reviewed the 2006 Penfolds 389 Cabernet/Shiraz in 2013. Today I will describe how it has evolved since then.

This is an attractive wine at 13 years of age. This full-bodied wine still shows plenty of primary fruit. Blackberry and plum flavours lead to a rounded mouthfeel. Six years ago, the wine was more powerful than elegant. The balance has now shifted. Secondary flavours of earth and meat are a support act. They add complexity, but stay in the background. The firm tannins have further mellowed.

Most Penfolds wines are drunk way too young. This wine is more satisfying now than at seven years of age. This is the Penfolds style. It takes many years for their better wines to develop complexity, to balance and become truly harmonious.

Score: 94/++

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon

I am not showing a picture of this bottle. The label has not changed for 60+ years. And good on them for that.

However, the review of this 2015 Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon will be anything but. This is quite a lean (and mean) wine. The typically famous generous Coonawarra fruit is very subdued in this bottle. The flavour here is of vinegar, with some muddy notes accompanying. There is also a sugary flavour on the palate.

This has me puzzled. Has the fermentation not completed? But why then are the fruit flavours almost non existent? I had a close look at the screw cap, and could not detect any leaks.

I poured out most of the bottle.

Score: 78/---

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Giant Steps 2018 New Releases

For some time, it has been difficult to know what you get in a bottle of Chardonnay you do not know. Is it crisp and refreshing or full-bodied, with butterscotch flavours? Similarly, with Pinot Noir, you may end up with a black fruit focussed wine or a more ethereal strawberry flavoured drop.

It is therefore good to know where different wine producers sit on the spectrum. This tasting of four Chardonnays and four Pinot Noirs gives clear answers for Giant Steps, and some insights into the terroir of the Yarra Valley.

The 2018 Giant Steps Chardonnay is Steve Flamsteed's entry level wine. It is a blend from his different vineyards.The wine is fresh, with green apple flavours, nicely balanced acidity, a bit on the lean side, but very agreeable (94 points). The Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay, from a warmer side on the valley floor, has a much bigger mouthfeel, but is a little broad (91 points). The Applejack Vineyard Chardonnay is from a site at higher elevation. The grey clay soil makes it hard for the vines. This a very lean and linear wine, with citrus flavours dominating (93 points). The Wombat Creek Vineyard Chardonnay is from a site a further 100m higher, and on deep red volcanic soil. Citrus and grapefruit flavours make this wine a bit more complex, with acidity playing a major role, too (94 points).

Clearly, Giant Steps Chardonnay is on the crisp and refreshing side. Interestingly, I found the entry level blend almost the best wine, as it combined the crispness of the altitude sites with the generosity of the valley floor. Single vineyard is not necessarily the best!

The Pinot Noir story is different. The entry level wine is a little soft, and a bit lean at the same time - the grapes not first rate (89 points). The Sexton Vineyard Pinot Noir delivers dark cherry flavours, spice as well, and a generous mouthfeel (92 points). The Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir is more refined, with mushroom and forest floor flavours delivering complex and savoury sensations (94 points). The Wombat Creek Pinot Noir is quite different. The soil is probably responsible for the red cherry fruit, the altitude for a relatively lean, and perhaps too pretty mouthfeel( 93 points).

These Pinot Noirs are well made, but lack perhaps some impact on the palate.   

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Bindi Original Vineyard Pinot Noir

The label of the Bindi wines has changed some time ago to a more modern version, but the winemaking principles remain. This 2014 Bindi Original Vineyard Pinot Noir is a medium-bodied wine. Forest floor flavours engulf the red and black forest fruit to create an overall savoury taste. This is an elegant wine with a silky texture, well made, as it moves to a soothing finish. Just a bit more cut-through would have been nice.

Score: 93/+++ 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Price Vs. Quality - An International Comparison

At the end of each year Wine Spectator publishes information about their ratings by country and average price. Below, I have graphed this information to show where the bargains are, and where you pay too much.

Key: NC=Napa Valley Cabernet; CP=California Pinot Noir; O=Oregon; FBu=Burgundy; FBo=Bordeaux; FR=Rhone; IT=Italy Tuscany; IP=Italy Piedmont; G=Germany; Au=Austria; SA=South Africa; P=Portugal; S=Spain; Aus=Australia; NZ=New Zealand; Ch=Chile; Ar=Argentina 

The x-axis in this graph shows how expensive the average wine reviewed is, the y-axis is a measure of quality. The results here are very broad-brushed, and they deliver some expected outcomes, but also some surprises.

The most overpriced wines are the Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley, followed by the Bordeaux wines. This is expected. Surprisingly, while expensive, Burgundy delivers on quality. Over-delivering are the Rhone wines and wines from Tuscany. German and Austrian wines score well, too. Everything above the line is doing well, below the line is poor value for money.

Some surprises: Oregon Pinot Noir does exceptionally well on quality. And while this is expected from Piedmont wines, they are not as expensive as one would have thought (probably some Barbera has sneaked into the mix). On the negative side, and also surprising, wines from Australia and Portugal are too expensive for what they offer. In Australia's case, the very expensive Grange and Hill of Grace wines would have impacted on the average.

Argentina and Chile still score a little low on quality, as does New Zealand. The latter quite inexpensive, and the results no doubt influenced by the Sauvignon Blanc wines.

Make of all of this what you will. I thought it was worth sharing. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Castagna La Chiave

Those of you who read my posts regularly may have seen me dismissive about the hype of so called ‘ alternative varieties’. My point has not been that it is not worth while to explore varieties which may be better suited to warmer climates of the future, but simply that the Tempranillos, Nebbiolos, Touriga Nacionals and Montepulcianos grown in Australia are generally not yet up to the European standards. One exception has been Castagna's Sangiovese.

I was therefore looking forward to my last bottle of the 2008 Castagna La Chiave. The wine showed a garnet colour as I poured it, which made me a little nervous. This was justified, as I soon found out. The wine was quite developed, with its primary fruit almost gone. Secondary flavours of forest floor and a little ash dominated in this medium to full-bodied wine. The acidity was not showing as much as expected in this Sangiovese, and the tannins had mellowed past their best.

If you have this wine in your cellar, I suggest you drink it now, and maybe slightly younger vintages as well.

Score: 89/-

Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino

Last Wednesday was World Malbec Day, quite a clever marketing ploy. What better way than to celebrate with a wine from Argentina's most famous winery, Catena Zapata.

The Malbec Argentino is one of Catena's premium Malbecs, with the name indicating the important role Malbec is playing in Argentina's winemaking. 

The 2012 Catena Zapata Argentino has all the hallmarks of modern red winemaking: 100% barrel fermentation, wild yeasts, no filtration, no fining, 24 months in French oak barrels. It it a blend from their two famous high altitude Uco Valley vineyards Adrianna and Nicasia. There are small components of Cabernet Franc and Viognier in this wine.

This wine is almost an anti-Malbec. It is not the juicy, fruity wine of Argentina's Malbec reputation, but rather a pared back, high altitude version. Flavours of sour cherry have a slight spicy and medicinal note, based on crunchy minerality. The strength of the wine is its drive and line with firm tannins on the finish. 

This wine is not everybody's cup of wine, but I like it.

Score: 93/++  

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Vik Milla Cala

This wine from the Cachapoal Valley in Chile is a typical Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenère blend. Vik is a well known Norwegian in South America, best known for his luxury resorts in Uruguay. The 2012 version of this wine, from a young 2006 vineyard, made it to #22 on the top 100 of the 2018 Wine Spectator list. I tasted the 2013 Vik Milla Cala.

This wine offers a complex spectrum of red and black fruits. It starts fresh and elegant, then it gets a bit dense. This is a full-bodied, fruit focussed wine with a medium length finish. I am not sure the structure will hold, but it is pleasant to drink now with protein.

Score: 91/+

Monday, April 15, 2019


My blog just passed 400,000 views. Most of these come from Australia and the US, with France coming in third. And there are many other countries looking as well. Thank you for this, and keep coming back.

The comments have been a bit thin on the ground lately. I know everybody is busy, but comments make this blog lively. So please take a minute if you have a question or want to share a point of view.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

SC Pannell Tasting

Stephen Pannell is a highly acclaimed winemaker, but up to this point I have not quite understood why. The wines I have tasted from him have all been fresh and well made, but lacked the complexity I am looking for in outstanding wines. This tasting was a good opportunity to revisit my assessment, in particular as I could taste the wines from the exceptional Koomilya vineyard. Stephen makes many innovative wines, but I focussed this tasting on the McLaren Vale stalwarts, Grenache and Shiraz.


The 2018 Basso Granacha is an easy drinking wine, tasting of fresh raspberry and redcurrant fruit, almost as if eating the grapes themselves (88 points). The 2017 Clarendon Grenache, from a limestone vineyard and 63 year old vines, is a big step up. Raspberry flavours are a little sweet, but minerality takes over, before the soft tannins deliver a satisfying finish (92 points). The best Grenache is the 2017 Old McDonald Grenache from 75 year old vines at Blewitt Springs. There is more depth of flavour in this elegant wine with its fine tannins (94 points).

Then I tasted the 2016 The Vale, a 70/30 Grenache/Shiraz blend. Again, this is a pure and elegant wine. Blackberry flavours dominate here, but do not have the strength to carry evenly through to the back palate (92 points).

The labels of the Koomilya wines are very basic. They emphasize the past in the simple writing and do not want to detract from what is in the bottle. The vineyard is quite special. It was first established late in the 19th century, although the vines for these wines are much younger. The vineyard is totally surrounded by native bush and forest, moderating the climate. Complexity is added by three different soil types in the vineyard. 

The 2015 Koomilya Shiraz is a very delicate, yet intense wine. The blackberry flavours are very long on the palate. There is a great line in this wine with an elegant long finish. This is majestic, but not overwhelming (96 points). The 2015 Koomilya Cabernet/Shiraz is an 80/20 blend. The Cabernet vines are 70 years old, the Shiraz vines much younger. Similar to the Shiraz, this is a medium-bodied wine of great intensity with layers of dark fruit flavours dominating and firm, yet silky tannins coating the mouth for a long finish (96 points).

I was very impressed with this tasting.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

D'Arenberg Tasting

Chester Osborne is a man of wild phantasies. Some of these have been incorporated in the Cube, one of the most innovative wine tasting buildings I have encountered. It has certainly been the talk of McLaren Vale, if not Australia in the last couple of years. Fittingly, as I visited, it also housed a Salvador Dali sculpture exhibition.


At the same time, Chester Osborne is very serious about winemaking, and in particular terroir. As we share these interests, he organized a tasting of eight components of the Dead Arm, d'Arenberg's flagship wine. These components come from different vineyards, all relatively close to the winery, and identified as district 10 and 17 in the scarce earth program. 

The geology plays a major role in McLaren Vale, in contrast to say, the Barossa Valley, where soil is the dominant ground factor. This is because there are areas where the soil is quite shallow, and the geology varies in age significantly between districts.

Wild imagery does not stop at the Cube. The wines I tasted, which can be bought separately, have names such as Fruit Bat, The Swinging Malaysian, Dipsomaniac, The Sardanapalian etc. As these wines are quite rare, I will not review them separately. They were all from the 2012 vintage.

A common trait, and a d'Arenberg signature, is the firm and often coarse tannin structure. Apart from that, these wines were quite different from each other in flavour and texture. There were a number of influencing factors: age of the geology, soil, age of the wines (some 25, some 50 years old) and aspect. Some general observations

- Red brown earth produced a bigger mouthfeel and blocky tannins as opposed to limestone
- The 50 year old vines expressed more spice and earthy flavours
- Sand on sandstone delivered silkier, more elegant wines with a long finish

These differences were as expected, which is a good thing.

My favorite was the 2012 Sardanapalian, from a vineyard on 56 million year old sandstone (this is old) and sandy soils. The vines were only 25 years old. It had interesting savoury flavours, some mint and rhubarb. This is an elegant wine with a silky and long finish.

I would rate all the wines tasted in the 91-94 point range.

The one finished wine I tasted was the 2016 The Ironstone Pressing, d'Arenberg's leading GSM. It has quite a strong raspberry flavour, but is not overwhelmingly sweet. The firm, but fine tannins lead to a long finish (94 points).

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Hickinbotham Tasting

Hickinbotham is the neighbour of Yangarra Estate, both owned by the Jackson Family of America. The Hickinbotham vineyard, planted in 1971, is situated in Clarendon and, I have no doubt, will become one of Australia's legendary vineyards over time. It is large, and the hilly area allows the growing of vines in all directions. Previously, grapes were supplied to Penfolds and Clarendon Hills. The original intent was to make wine for the US market, but the majority is now sold in Australia. The main focus is on Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, in contrast to Yangarra, where Grenache plays a major role.

I tasted the three key wines from the 2016 vintage. The 2016 Brooks Road Shiraz is denser and more compact than the Yangarra King's Wood. Blackberry and blueberry flavours blend in with clove and mocha. The complex flavours are surrounded by firm, yet elegant tannins (94 points). 

The 2016 Trueman Cabernet Sauvignon delivers very pure blackcurrant flavours; black cherry as well. The texture of this wine is very smooth, and the wine delivers an elegant mouthfeel. Overall, I find the wine a little bit inky (93 points).

Interestingly, the best grapes are saved for the Cabernet/Shiraz, continuing an old Australian tradition. The 2016 The Peake Cabernet/Shiraz is not named after the peak of a hill, but after Edward Peake, who developed the vineyard first in the 1850s. The blend is 57% Cabernet Sauvignon and 43% Shiraz. This wine is very elegant with great depth of blackberry and raspberry flavours. It is a tighter wine than the Brooks Road: the amazing length beats the generous mouthfeel in the end (96 points).

These three wines were impressive, largely for their pure varietal character and how they marry elegance with depth of flavour. These are great examples of how I think full-bodied Australian wine should taste.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Yangarra Tasting

Yangarra flies a little bit under the radar for many wine drinkers. It is time for this to change. It is headed up by the very talented winemaker Peter Fraser. The vineyard sources in Blewitt Springs  are first class.

I reported on one of their white wines a few posts earlier. This is about their premium reds. Unfortunately, the tasting was a bit rushed and chaotic. My notes are not very detailed.

The 2016 Ovitelli Grenache is the second wine from the top. It is fragrant and perfumed, but quite savoury on the palate. It has a very balanced structure (93 points).

The 2015 High Sands Grenache, from the famous 70 year old vine, small berries and sandy vineyard, has phenomenal depth of red fruit, with nuanced and layered flavours. The overall impression is of a powerful and savoury, yet gentle wine with a very long finish (96 points). 

The Shiraz wines come from the home vineyard. The 2017 King's Wood Shiraz, matured in foudres is quite elegant. The black fruit flavours are quite aromatic, with meaty notes adding to its complexity (92 points).

The 2015 Ironheart Shiraz, from a special block in the home vineyard with layers of ironstone, is a more powerful wine, with deeper blackberry fruit. It retains its elegance along the palate and finishes long. This is an excellent example of a full-bodied Shiraz, which is balanced and not over the top (95 points).