Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Clarendon Hills Romas Vineyard Grenache

Some have said the Romas Vineyard in Blewitt Springs, North-East McLaren Vale, is Australia's greatest Grenache vineyard. The bush vines are now 99 years old. The vineyard is very steep, and the yield a very low 0.5t/acre.

I am tasting the 2012 Clarendon Hills Romas Grenache. The wine has a very dark colour and a deep black fruited aroma.

The very ripe raspberry fruit delivers a big mouthfeel on the palate. There is a sweet core, but it is actually dominated by alcohol and coarse, dry tannins. If you know Torbreck's Les Amis, this is the McLaren Vale equivalent. I find the wine not particularly refined, and the alcohol starts to burn the mouth on the finish.  

This wine clearly makes a statement, and it is far removed from delicate, sometimes sweet Grenache. Some will like it, but this wine is too much on steroids for me.

Score: 92/-

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Bass Phillip 2017 Releases

I had an opportunity to taste the highly anticipated 2017 releases from Bass Phillip yesterday, in their first showing. The line-up did not disappoint.

The Chardonnays are quite different from the Australian norm, or any norm for that matter, and it takes a bit of time to get your head around it. The 2017 Estate Chardonnay has its focus on texture. There are nutty characters on the palate, cashew and almond, and if you want to describe fruit, you would pick white peach. There is not much of citrus and the acidity is subdued. It reminds me of a Rhone white (92 points).

The 2017 Premium Chardonnay, from a different vineyard, has similar characteristics, but is more intense, and more elegant at the same time. The 100% new oak in which the wine was matured is only lightly toasted and provides some softening and balance, not really flavour. The wine has a long acid profile along the palate and great energy towards the finish. This is quite an exceptional wine (95 points).

Bass Phillip has two main Pinot Noir vineyards. The  smaller home vineyard, 40 years old, and the Leongatha vineyard, 20 years old. The fruit sourcing has recently changed a little bit. The 2017 Crown Prince Pinot Noir remains the work horse of the Leongatha vineyard. The aromatics on the bouquet are very intense and complex. The complexity continues on the palate and is a major departure from previous years. Dark cherry and forest floor notes dominate. There is also some Asian spice. The wine has more power on the back, and remains strong on its fruit flavours. Silky tannins round out the picture (93 points).

The 2017 Estate Pinot Noir is now a blended wine from the two vineyards mentioned above. Basically, more fruit from the home vineyard goes into the Premium, so the Estate is supplemented with the best fruit from Leongatha. This has not at all diminished the quality of this wine. It has a similar profile to the Crown Prince, with strawberry flavours and olive notes in addition. The purity of this wine is excellent. It is very harmonious and elegant. This wine is quite open now and very long on the finish (97 points).

The 2017 Premium Pinot Noir is more closed now. It seems a bit meaner and leaner, but the fruit intensity is very high, easily covering the 100% new oak. This wine goes on and on. In fact I experienced something most unusual on the finish: the flavours seemed to finish, but suddenly came back. This wine clearly has what is termed a 'peacock's tail', an expanding finish in the mouth found in some Burgundy grand crus. This wine needs to be cellared for at least seven years in order to experience all its components more fully (98 points). 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Mount Mary Pinot Noir

When the 2013 Mount Mary Pinot Noir came on the market, it was hyped a lot, and there was some scramble to get any bottles. I was pleased I was able to secure some. Yesterday, I opened the first of these bottles.

I find this an unusual Pinot Noir. It is big fruited, but not in the dark fruit spectrum of, say, Central Otago. It brims with red cherry fruit on the front palate. It is not sweet and rather elegant, with silky tannins in a support role. Unfortunately, the wine cannot sustain the attack on the front palate. Therefore the structural profile is the opposite of a Burgundy, which is expansive on the finish. This Mount Mary says it all upfront. I guess, this often works with wine judges.

This is still a very good wine, but not my preferred style. If you have any bottles, I suggest to keep them a few more years. The wine still tastes very young and should develop more complexity.

Score: 94/+

PS: The cork closure was perfect 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Wine Masters, Italy

Wine Masters is a very high quality series of films on leading wine families in the best known wine regions of the world. Series 2 portrays five Italian regions. It follows the same format as series 1 on France: a leading family in each region is interviewed interspersed with vineyard and winery photography. Three wine writer experts follow up commentary with some more in-depth information.

As before, the cinematography is stunning. However, films on wine are difficult to make exciting. There is an inevitable repetition of vineyard shots, bunches of grapes, pruning and barrels in the winery. The key interest needs to come from the interviews.

The first one is Angelo Gaja. This is a great choice, because his big ego comes across well on film. It is also fascinating to learn how his daughters set slightly different priorities. There is a good discussion on Barolo vs. Barbaresco. Unfortunately, the differences between his single vineyard Barbarescos are not explored, nor the different Barolo terroirs.

I found the second film on Campania a bit confusing, maybe because I do not know much about it. The main focus is on the Taurasi wine, and the film certainly made me curious. The Antinori family represents Tuscany in the third film. The core wine types and the development of the super Tuscans is explained well. The fourth film on Veneto is also quite informative, with the Masi family describing the components of Valpolicella and the process of making Amarone and Ripasso.

The Sicily film is a bit weaker, the story of Tenuta Regaleali not quite as rich. However, the landscape shots are spectacular.

The link is https://vimeo.com/ondemand/winemastersitaly . The films need to be purchased, either individually or as a series.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

De Salis St EM M

Some time ago I was quite impressed when I drank Pinot Noir from De Salis, an Orange based winery. Today I am reviewing the strangely named Bordeaux blend, which is predominantly Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

The 2012 De Salis St EM M is a medium-bodied wine. Cherry and redcurrant fruit is a bit simple on the palate. The pluses are this is a lighter wine, quite harmonious with some savoury notes. The wine fizzles out on the finish.  

Score: 89/+

Thursday, July 18, 2019

A. Rodda Chardonnay

Adrian Rodda is not quite the household name, he perhaps deserves to be. His label is a bit downbeat, reflecting the hard vineyard work, but his wine is certainly not.

The 2017 A. Rodda Willow Lake Chardonnay comes from a well regarded vineyard in the Yarra Valley. His former employer, Oakridge, makes a wine from there. This wine is a fuller expression of grapefruit, passionfruit, and white peach. The wine is elegant and smooth, with a firm acidic backbone and a balanced finish.

This is a modern take on Chardonnay, but not of the wimpish kind which tends to be so popular right now.

Score: 95/+++

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Barossa Wine Tasting

An in-going strategy makes sense to get the most out of a large scale tasting event. So for this Barossa tasting I decided to focus on Grenache and Shiraz (obviously), and to taste mid-level wines rather than the most expensive ones. The reasons were one, to see if I could find an outstanding wine in this price category, and two, to avoid the highly extracted wines, which tend to be the expensive ones.

The best wine from this approach turned out to be the 2016 Spinifex Bête Noir. This is an elegant wine, smooth, and at peace with itself (94 points).  

But then I deviated from my strategy, as I saw high end favorites, mid level was not available from certain producers, and top wines were simply put in my glass. So the best wines from this tasting ended up being expensive wines.

When it comes to Grenache, Cirillo is probably Australia's best producer, year after year. The 2013 Cirillo Ancestor Vine Grenache delivers the perfect mix of fruit weight, black fruit flavours over red and savoury notes (95 points). This old vineyard comes from the sandy floor of Vine Vale. It also delivers for Yalumba, who is next door. The 2017 Yalumba Carriage Block Grenache is much brighter, quite light and lifted, but not sweet (93 points).

Rolf Binder has needed many years to sort out his various brands and focus on the Rolf Binder label. Also detracted from his quality may have been the fact that he operated a contract operation for cheap blended wine at his winery. However, he has an outstanding vineyard behind the winery, and his best wines are never over extracted. His 2015 Heysen Shiraz is still quite closed, with its blackberry flavours leading to an elegant finish (94 points). The 2015 Hanisch is a bit more intense, yet still elegant with a long finish (95 points). This was my wine of the tasting.

Other wines I quite enjoyed at this tasting were the 2017 Hentley Farm Old Legend Grenache with smart oak treatment, and the 2015 Poonawatta 1880 Eden Valley Shiraz.  Many other wines were close behind, as the focus has shifted from high alcohol and ripeness to elegance.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Elio Grasso Ginestra Casa Maté

The typical Barolo descriptors of tar and roses, and firm dry tannins do not apply in the first instance to the 2010 Elio Grasso Ginestra Casa Maté. Elio Grasso is sometimes referred to as a super star of the region without having this label. And the fact he makes good wine is certainly helped by the terroir he owns.The Ginestra subregion of Monforte is its most famous, and the Casa Maté vineyard highly regarded within.

This wine shows more dark fruit than is typical for Barolo. The wine is elegant as opposed to overly powerful, and the tannins have softened with time. There are lifted aromas as well, and the overall package is very harmonious. The wine has a long and persistent finish.

One peculiar aspect were the little clear crystals, which showed up in the last glass of the bottle. This is tartrate acid, a harmless compound, which can form as part of the winemaking process. Sometimes you see them sticking to the bottom of a cork.

Score: 96/+++   

Monday, July 8, 2019

Torbreck The Sporran

In a bad vintage year, many wineries declassify their best fruit and add it to their more basic wines. Their base wines are than marketed as a great opportunity to purchase best vineyard fruit at a reasonable price. Does it work or is the overall fruit composition just not that great? In my experience, it is about 50/50. Sometimes the result is good, sometimes not so much.

With the challenging 2011 vintage, Torbreck did something a little different. It did not make the top wines, but instead of dropping the fruit into, say, the Woodcutter's Red, it created a new brand, The Sporran. I kept it back until now, to give it a good test.

The 2011 Torbreck The Sporran has elements of the typical Torbreck style; there is the sweet plum and blackberry core, there is the high alcohol. But there are also characteristics of this vintage; the fruit weight is less than typical for the Barossa, and certainly Torbreck, and the acidity is higher.

Overall, this is not a bad wine, while not necessarily typical Torbreck. The wine has some freshness, and the structure is good. However, the alcohol is too high for this fruit.

Score: 91/+   

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Vinosphere 2019

There was an enormous number of wines on tasting at this very large event. I have a principle to report on good and poor wines when I attend such tastings, but I must make an exception this time. I tasted too many wines to report on them all. It would be very laborious. I will, on this occasion, mention the wines that stood out for me across the four brackets I tasted them in.

In white wines, I was impressed by two Tasmanian Chardonnays. One was the 2018 Pooley Butcher's Hill Chardonnay from the Coal River. The fruit used to go into Penfold's Yattarna. This is an elegant wine, quite big flavoured, with peach, cashew, and cream flavours coming to the fore. The wine has enough drive to keep interesting, despite the big mouthfeel. The 2016 Dawson James Chardonnay could not have been more different. From a cool vintage, this wine is Chablis-like, with citrus and apple flavours and a slightly green tinge. The acidity is nicely keeping the fruit in check.

The two best Pinot Noirs were of very high standard. You would not expect anything less from Bass Phillip. The 2017 Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir has great depth of cherry fruit, but is a little closed right now. When the fruit wakes up, it will blend with the very silky tannins to an elegant style with a long finish. Less known is Levantine Hill from the Yarra Valley. I was most impressed with the 2015 Levantine Hill Colleen's Paddock Pinot Noir. Mushroom flavours dominate the dark cherry flavours in this brooding and harmonious wine. The finish goes on and on. I was not familiar with this producer, but it is worth seeking out. As an aside, both wines are fastidiously made, and you will have to pay for it.

The third category were Italian varieties. Sangiovese was not well represented, and the Nebbiolos from Piedmont were from what I would call second tier producers. There was one Barolo I liked very much, the 2015 Mauro Molino Barolo Gallinotto. This is the family vineyard in Berri, not far from La Morra. Being in the Northern part of Piedmont, you expect a more fragrant wine, and this is what you get. The fruit intensity is good (2015 was a warm vintage), but the highlight is the generous and expanding mouthfeel, not unlike a very good Burgundy. And I need to put the 2017 Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock Nebbiolo in this category. This is the first time I rate an Australian Italian varietal wine on the same level as the outstanding Italian wines, but Ron Laughton has been at this for quite a long time. This is good Nebbiolo. Rose petals and lifted aromas on the nose, an elegant mouthfeel, and a smooth finish. Nothing is out of place here, the tannins not too strong.

In the icon category, I tasted wines from Clonakilla, Castagna and Jasper Hill. Lately, I have  not enjoyed the stylistic development of the Clonakilla flagship wine. The 2017 Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier is quite soft, with the Viognier coming through quite strongly. The wine has silky tannins and great length, but a bit feminine for me. The 2015 Castagna Genesis Syrah is also quite a soft wine, but it has dark fruit flavours at its core, and a smooth finish. The wine of the night, just edging out the Pinots, was the 2017 Jasper Hill Emily's Paddock Shiraz. The Georgia's Paddock is the more voluptuous wine, and often the favorite. But the Emily's had layers and layers of fruit, and a leathery character on top of it. This made for a mysterious flavour, very elegant and long.