Monday, September 30, 2019

William Downie Pinot Noir

Opening a nine year old Australian Pinot Noir is a little risky. I was not sure how the 2010 William Downie Gippsland Pinot Noir would perform after this time. On the other hand, the wax seal is a good closure.

As it turned out, this wine still had some vibrancy and had aged nicely. Dark cherry and savoury flavours were engulfed by silky tannins so special to Gippsland Pinot Noir. It finishes very dry. This wine is not quite as lush and oppulent as on release, but still a very satisfying drink.

Score: 93/++

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon

Moss Wood is my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia. Tasting the recently released 2016 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon did nothing to change my view. Apart from the dominant Cabernet Sauvignon, there is 4% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Franc in this wine. It seems to be a growing trend to add small components to Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz to increase complexity.

This 2016 Moss Wood is a thoroughly modern Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine spent 30 months in 70-80% new oak. It shows the usual dark colour, but despite this, it starts with a light touch on the palate. This is a bright young thing, with blueberry and blackberry notes and light spice. It runs beautifully down the palate, no hole in the middle. This is an elegant wine with great balance. The fine grained tannins lead to a long finish.

Score: 97/+++

(For a higher score, it would have needed a special X-factor)

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Guigal Tasting (part 2)

This blog will include a contrarian view on the La La La wines, but first, I want to look at two more wines from the tasting.

The 2015 Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde includes 5% Viognier and includes the grapes from the two famous steep vineyards facing each other in the Northern Rhône, one with darker, iron infused soil, the other more sandy. The Viognier component makes this a lighter, more open wine, which can be drunk young. The Shiraz component, however, shows rich and silky blackberry and cassis, with ripe tannins (93 points).

The 2015 Côte-Rôtie Chateau d'Ampuis is a blend of seven vineyards. The wine is matured for 36 months in new oak. This is a serious wine, more red fruited than the 'Hospice', and very complex. The black raspberry fruit is very concentrated and ripe. Mocca and meaty flavours appear on the back palate, and the oak is noticeable. This can be a bit much for some, but it is a very well made wine (95 points).

To the La La Las, the pinnacle of Guigal winemaking, the Grange of France if you will.

La Mouline is always the more feminine wine of the three, and this is true for the 2015 La Mouline. The grapes come from 100 year old vines with very low yields. This Shiraz includes 10% Viognier, and the wine is matured for two years in new oak. There is no whole bunch included. This wine without doubt was the wine of the night. Fragrant, opulent, fresh, elegant, velvety, pure, silky, spicy; this comes to mind rather than any fruit descriptors. This full-bodied wine has incredible length and stays with you for some time (98 points). 

The 2015 La Turque is quite a different proposition. This wine includes 7% Viognier and 20% whole bunches. This is an intense and brooding wine. Others have lauded this dense and powerful Shiraz, but for me, it lacks the layers of fruit and the differentiation one sees in the cooler vintages of this wine. The long finish compensates to a degree (95 points).

La Landonne is the counter piece to La Mouline, and this is largely because of the inclusion of 100% whole bunches and no Viognier included. The 2015 La Landonne is incredibly rich and concentrated, but the same comments I made for the La Turque apply here. The ripeness eliminates detail, and the mouthfeel is not as exciting as with La Mouline. Despite this, there is undoubtedly elegance in this wine, which is quite an achievement, and the finish is very long (95 points). 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Guigal Tasting (part 1)

I am very sorry about the lack of new posts lately. I have not had time for this, unfortunately. As the next Rioja post will be quite comprehensive, I will report on a Guigal tasting in the interim. In this first part, I will review a couple of whites from 2017, and a couple of reds from 2015.

The 2017 Guigal Condrieu La Doriane is a 100% Viognier wine (as required from Condrieu), matured in 100% new oak. It is a fresh wine with vibrant acidity, engulfing the flavours of pear, vanilla and light spices. The wine has an oily character with a long elegant finish. This is a good wine, but as always with Viognier, I never quite know what it stands for (92 points).

The 2017 St. Joseph Lieu-Dit Blanc is a single vineyard wine, 95% Marsanne, 5% Roussanne. This is a terrific wine with a bigger mouthfeel and richer character, such as ripe melon, toast and almond. Still, this is balanced with lively acidity before a very smooth finish (95 points).

The 2015 St. Joseph Lieu-Dit Rouge is a lighter wine from this warm vintage. It is dark fruited, with vanilla and spice adding complexity. I find it a bit upfront, yet it has an elegant texture (92 points).

The 2015 St. Joseph 'Vignes de l'Hospice' is a big step up. This Shiraz is aged for 30 months in new oak. The dark fruit is intense and ripe, but the palate has great shape, and is driven by underlying acidity. You can hardly notice the oak in this full-bodied wine. The smooth tannins deliver an attractive finish (96 points). 

More, including the La La La wines, in the next post.

Friday, September 13, 2019


Valenciso is a small, 21 year old winery in Rioja Alta. It produces 150,000 bottles per year from 19 plots of mainly calcareous soil. It is now in its first year of organic production. Like with many vineyards in Rioja, some are bush vines, some are trellised vines. There does not seem a pronounced preference of one over the other.

Valenciso stands out, because everything about these wines is about finesse. The very smart and reflective owner Luis Valentin took me through the wines shown above, except the 10 year old wine was the 2007. The 2018 Rioja Blanco was the best white wine I tasted on this trip - and what a wine this is! 70% Viura, 30% Grenache Blanc and fermented in Russian oak, creates a delicate wine with excellent depth. The acidity is firm, but does not distract from the harmonious citrus flavours.

The Rosé is produced in the saignée method. Melon and strawberry flavours are built on a solid foundation of minerality. This is a really smart wine.

The flagship is the Rioja Reserva, based on Tempranillo. But in contrast to many producers, this is not about how long the wine has spent in barrel, but reflecting where the wine comes from. The primary fruit in the 2002 wine is almost gone.  Exotic spices now characterize the wine, and the acidity gives it a good structure. Maturing took place in light and medium toasted French oak. The 2012 shows great purity, with red and black cherry character. The focus here is on the fruit, and the finish is very long and balanced. 

The top wine is the 2007 '10 years postres'. This wine was aged 50/50 in Russian oak and concrete vats. The ageing is about adding to the texture of the wine, not to impart flavour. According to Luis, the concrete stabilizes the colour of the wine. The fruit here is absolutely delicious, backed by firm tannins.

Try to get your hands on some of these wines. They are a revelation. Rioja never tasted this good.      

Wednesday, September 4, 2019


I am in La Rioja, Spain. Traditionally, red wine has been grouped in Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, according to the age profile in barrel and bottle. Other criteria, mainly maximum yield, are not particularly demanding. As a result, there is a huge investment in barrels, as Reservas are the most prominent wines for many wineries.

Over the last few years, this system has come under strong criticism from wineries who wish to show vineyard terroir on the basis that wine ageing does not say anything about quality nor origin. So from the 2017 vintage onwards, wineries are allowed to show individual vineyards within the Rioja classification on the label. Three soft criteria need to be fulfilled, and the wine needs to be approved by a committee. This system is neither objective nor does it guarantee quality, claim a number of leading wineries who have opted out of the system altogether.

So at first blush, it looks like a traditionalist vs. modernist scenario similar to what happened in Piedmont in the 1990s. However, it is much more complicated than that. What the argument is largely about is the dominance of fruit or oak. Yet, as I found out on day 1, there are many ways to skin the cat. These are the approaches of the wineries I visited.
- Rioja Alta: Traditional approach, but a second winery with single vineyard focus.
- Roda: French oak (American is traditional) to reduce oak impact, blended wines, but no crianza, reserva etc. labelling
- Marques de Riscal: traditional
- Lopez de Heredia: American oak, but fruit orientation by using 8-15 year old barrels

On day 2 I visited wineries which have opted out of the system altogether using mostly French oak and shorter maturation periods.

I will report on tastings in the next few posts.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Penfolds St Henri

The 2015 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz is an unusual wine for this label. It is usually the wine which people pick who prefer fruit over oak, as it is matured in larger used oak casks. However, 2015 was warm, and this is a dense and wiry wine. Blackberry and blood plum flavours are intense and concentrated leading to a big, slightly fat mouthfeel. The tannins are firm and the finish is long, but a bit hot.

This is the biggest St Henri I ever tried. You need to cellar this wine for at least 10 years to get the benefit of better integration of its components and some mellowing of the tannins.

Score: 93/+