Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Oregon Pinot Noir

It is not easy to sell American wine in Australia. To start with, in many ways, the flavour profiles and structural characteristics are similar. Prices for these wines are high in the US, and much worse in Australia, obviously. As a result, US entry level wines compete with premium Australian wines. However, some Oregon producers are trying.

Elk Cove was one of the first ten wineries in Oregon. The 2016 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a fairly high volume production (12,000 cases). It offers strawberry and sweet raspberry flavours on the front palate. There are some earthy notes down the palate, but the wine lacks seamless integration of the different flavours and oak (88 points).

A to Z is a co-operative which sources fruit from many different vineyards in the valley. The 2015 Pinot Noir shows pretty cherry flavours, but the mouthfeel falls flat (88 points).

Cristom is a more upmarket producer. The  2017 Mount Jefferson Pinot Noir is the entry level wine, blended from three vineyards. The winery is biodynamic and it uses natural yeast. This shows on the palate with a smooth and well integrated texture. The wine is light to medium-bodied (91 points).

Eyrie Vineyards is another of the first ten wineries in Oregon. It is organic and uses no fining and no filtration. The colour of the 2015 Pinot Noir is already quite developed. The palate is savoury, with mushroom flavours dominating, but there is still some freshness in this wine (90 points).

Evesham Wood is another organic winery. The 2016 Le Puits Sec Pinot Noir comes from the same subregion as the Cristom wine. Flavours are in the dark cherry and savoury spectrum. Like all the other wines, it lacks tannin in its structure (90 points).

The wines reviewed here are entry level wines and will not benefit from further cellaring. There is an effort made to balance fruit and savoury flavours, but structurally, these wines leave a bit to be desired.

I had entered a single vineyard Cristom wine in my four nation eight Pinot Noirs challenge. It drank well, competed against top notch wines, and came in fifth. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Using My Blog

I have now published over 1400 blog posts, and would today like to discuss some aspects of this blog.

As I have reviewed so many wines here, you should not just read the latest post, but also look at the archive. You can do this in three ways. Firstly, enter the wine you are looking for into the search function. Secondly, you can find on the side bar grape varieties and regions listed, and you can search by them. Finally, you can click on different months and find the posts for that time period.

All posts are my original writings and cannot be found anywhere else. I am not seeking any sponsorships or other financial incentives. This blog has no commercial aspects and is therefore truly independent.

Sometimes I get wines sent for review, and this is fine. However, I make clear I review them as if they came out of my cellar. Some blogs, when they receive wine, they will only review wines they like and ignore others. I give no such guarantees.

The layout of this blog is quite serious; text and wine bottles. This can be a bit boring, but this is not an Instagram account. I want the reader to read, not just look.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please give me feedback. Thank you.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Tyrrell's Masterclass (Part 3) - The Red Icons

After the tastings at the winery, it is off to the Muse restaurant to taste the four Shiraz wines from single vineyards more than 100 years old. But before, we have time to taste the 2017 HVD Chardonnay, from perhaps the oldest Chardonnay vineyard in the world, planted in 1908. The second oldest is in South Africa, and France does not come near it.

There is flintiness in this wine, which saw no malolactic fermentation, but also some weight on the palate. White peach and passionfruit flavours complement the citrus. The wine is a bit like a Meursault, a little fat on the finish (94 points). 

The review of the reds starts with the 2018 8 Acres Shiraz. The production of these wines is only 200 cases each, so it is a rare privilege to taste them all side by side. Otherwise, they are only available to club members, and even there is a wait-list. The 8 acres vineyard was planted in 1892. The fruit flavours are in the blackberry and blueberry spectrum. This is an elegant wine, very young obviously, medium-bodied. The tannins are quite slight (94 points).

The second wine is from the even older 1879 4 acres vineyard, the mothership from which cuttings for other vineyards are taken. The 2014 4 Acres Shiraz has a similar flavour profile, with a bit more age to it. It is a very smooth wine with a silky texture and a 'quiet', steely penetration (96 points).

The other vineyards are based on red volcanic soil, whereas the 2014 Johnno's Shiraz was grown on sandy soil. This wine has a very fresh and lighter mouthfeel. It is a very lush and feminine wine. The structure does not have quite the backbone of the other three (94 points). 

Finally the 2014 Old Patch Shiraz, from a vineyard planted in 1867 - 150 year old vines. This wine is absolutely singing on the palate, with lifted flavours of blueberry and forest berries. The intensity of the flavours goes on and on, although the wine still feels tight. The mouthfeel is fantastic with silky tannins creating great harmony. The finish is long and lasting (98 points).

Participating in this tasting has been a rare treat. This was world class Shiraz at its best.  

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Tyrrell's Masterclass (Part 2)

Before I continue this review, let us briefly reflect on how many icon wines leading wineries produce: Cullen - 2; Leeuwin - 1-2; Mount Mary and Yarra Yering - maybe 3; Henschke - maybe 4-5; Wendouree - 4-5; Penfolds - 6-8; you get the picture: not too many.

Then there is Tyrrell's. We had 4 icon Semillons in the last post; there is perhaps 1 in this post, and there will be at least 5 in part 3. This is astonishing. You may say, many of these are very small volume wines, but this has not been an argument against Burgundy quality.

On to the second part of this Masterclass, which followed a similar format to the Semillon tasting for Hunter Valley Shiraz. First, a mini vertical of the Vat 9. The Vat 9 Shiraz is a blend of old blocks (at least 50 years) from the Weinkeller, 8 Acres and Short Flat vineyards. They all share red volcanic clay over limestone soils.

I tasted the 2017 Vat 9 Shiraz twice on this weekend, with similar results. It is a bright and elegant wine. The purity of cherry and forest berry fruit stands out. This is a medium-bodied wine with some fruit intensity. However, the hot vintage did not translate into any heat in the wine - a result of old vines knowing how to behave, I think. This wine is very smooth, with velvety tannins and a silky finish - a beauty (96 points)!

The 2014 Vat 9 Shiraz is even better. It is similarly built, but a bit more savoury now, with a fantastic silky and intense finish (97 points). 

The 2009 Vat 9 Shiraz could not match the former two. It was a bit firmer in fruit, and not as elegant. There was clearly more focus on extraction and the tannins were a bit coarser (93 points).

The single vineyard horizontal tasting consisted of the 2017 vintages of Mother's Shiraz, Old Hut Shiraz, and Stevens Shiraz. The fruit from these vineyards is quite young. The wines show good promise, but at this stage are not at the same level as the Semillon wines (91-93 points).

Friday, October 25, 2019

Tyrrell's Masterclass (Part 1)

As part of the Wine Media Conference in the Hunter Valley, a group of 20 participated in an extensive Masterclass with Chris Tyrrell. It started off in their cellars with a review of Semillon.

Yours truly, 3rd from right

This was a very exciting tasting, as Tyrrell's have four of the five best Semillon vineyards in the Hunter, which may mean in the world.

The first part was a vertical tasting of the famous VAT 1 Semillon. It is a blend of three vineyards, the Short Flat, Johnnos, and Debeyers, with vines up to 110 years old. The Short Flat is the key vineyard.

The 2019 VAT 1 Semillon has lifted and floral characteristics. The citrus flavous and acidity deliver a good linear drive to a balanced finish. The wine has been left on lees for 6 weeks and is inoculated by 'neutral' yeast (95 points).

The 2009 VAT 1 Semillon, 10 years on, still has a light colour, and is crisp on the front palate, but is starting to get some nutty flavours (95 points).

The colour has turned golden with the 1998 VAT 1 Semillon. Almond and toast flavours now dominate. This wine is broader on the palate, but not oily or heavy (94 points).

Drinking these wines next to each other shows the clear line which links them. Even more exciting to me was the comparison of the single vineyard semillons from the almost perfect 2014 vintage.

First up was the 2014 Stevens Semillon (12% alc.) from a vineyard planted in 1911. This vineyard has darker soil than the other Semillon vineyards, and the grapes ripen here first. The resulting wine is the most delicate, quite light, with minerality and some notes of slate, almost like a German Riesling. There is good energy in this wine (95 points).

The 2014 Semillon from the famous 1908 HVD vineyard (10.5% alc.) is grown on free draining sandy soil. This vineyard is cropped at a higher level (not sure what). The result is a broader wine with a bigger mouthfeel (93 points). 

And finally the 2014 Belford Semillon (10.5% alc.) from a secluded vineyard in the north, planted in 1933. This vineyard is based on broken-down sandy soil, which feels almost like talcum powder, according to Tyrrell's, and is cropped at 1.5-2t/acre. The vines here get minimal nutrition, and the grapes are picked last. The result is a more intense, slightly honeyed Semillon, a bit like a Chardonnay. I liked this Semillon the best (95 points).

So here were three Semillons from the same year, and different vineyards, with very different expressions and characteristics. This really only comes clear in such a comparative tasting.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Root Cause

Quite a few films with wine as a main topic have been made over the last ten years or so. It is a difficult proposition. If the film gets too specific, it looses its broad appeal. As a result, most films have been comedies with very little serious wine content. One film which had wider appeal despite being clearly about wine was 'Red Obsession', but otherwise?

Now I have come across and read a book which is a thriller with wine as a main topic. Somebody is poisoning vineyards with a new type of phylloxera. American rootstocks are not resistant to this new 

pest. A chase around the world ensues to hunt the culprit(s) down, as the catastrophe develops rapidly from vineyard to vineyard. The story has enough twists to keep the reader interested, and the book finds a great balance between general plot development and some interesting details about the wine world. I learnt something new about Champagne cellar tunnels  (even though I have been there), as an example. It is obvious that the author has a good understanding of wine and knows the regions featured in the book, which are many. 

This book is easy to read, but not silly. It is entertaining, a bit educational, and turns into a page-turner in the second half. Minor annoyances, such as an obsession with scarfs and an overly simplistic 'Alison' character do not detract from this worth while entertainment for the wine enthusiast. I recommend this book, published this year.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Sake Award

 You can now find my WSET Sake Award in the right column of my blog. Level 1 is not hard, but this knowledge will allow me to drink sake better.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Mini Vertical

This mini vertical of Sassicaia was one of my most unusual and perplexing vertical tasting experiences. We tasted three wines: 2014, 2011 and 2004 Sassicaia. 

This was an informal tasting with friends, and I took no notes. Therefore, the descriptions are brief. The picture below shows the 2011  in the glass on the left side, and the 2014 on the right side. The 2014 has an almost pink colour like a Pinot Noir. Sassicaia is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. The taste of the 2014 suggests almost the reverse. Cabernet Franc style flavours dominate. It is a fragrant wine, not much depth nor length (88 points). 

The 2011 has a more typical colour profile. Again the wine is medium-bodied, with blackcurrant flavours. This is an elegant wine with a decent structure, but not much complexity on the palate (92 points).

The 2004 was clearly the best of these three and what I had expected. The flavour profile of this full-bodied wine is profound: blackcurrant, black cherry, olive, mocca, some spices. The texture is elegant and the structure perfectly balanced. The tannins are smooth and lead to a long and satisfying finish (96 points).

Friday, October 18, 2019

Maude Pinot Noir

There will be another review from the Wine Media conference, but right now, it is a review of the 2014 Maude Mt. Maude Vineyard Pinot Noir.

When would you call a wine a gem? It has to be precious, and it has to be rare. This is one such wine. This wine comes from a small vineyard in the Maungawera Valley, outside of Wanaka, Central Otago. It is Maude's beautifully located home block.

Flavours of black cherry and forest floor move down the palate in an elegant, but also somewhat brooding fashion. This is interesting, not a Central Otago blockbuster, but not a lightweight either. The tannins are fine, and the oak well integrated. Savoury notes dominate on the elegant and satisfying finish.

Score: 95/+++

By the way, their standard 2017 Pinot Noir won New Zealand wine of the year, and it will be reviewed here shortly. 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

9 Tips How To Drink Better And Cheaper

This was the topic of my ‘Lightning Talk’ at the conference. These are five minute talks, which are supported by 20 slides. They get moved forward every 15 seconds. These talks are half humorous, half serious. Mine was as follows:

I will share with you 9 tips how to drink better and cheaper. First to the whites.

1) You are bored with Sauvignon Blanc. You wonder why Pinot Grigio is more expensive than water. Other White varieties ending with ‘o’ are hit and miss. Try Grüner Veltliner - a more interesting palate at the same price point. Pair Grüner Veltliner with salad or white fish. The spices match lightly spiced Thai food really well, too.

2) You like dry German Riesling, but you are concerned about the sweetness in many wines. Try Silvaner from Franken instead. Interesting texture and minerality instead of fruit. It comes in a great Boxbeutel bottle. The only challenge for English speakers is the pronunciation. And Silvaner is a lot cheaper.

3) We are in the Hunter. I need to talk about Semillon. I am not a big fan of young Semillon, to be truthful. But I suggest you put a few bottles down - 10 years at least. Mature Semillon is a perfect match with tuna steak.

4) To the reds: You like Burgundy, but it is a bit expensive for most of us. Try serious cru Beaujolais. I suggest the M-subregions: Moulin-à-vent or Morgon. Wines from there can be deep coloured and silky. Don’t be fooled by the Beaujolais Nouveau craze and the fact the grape is Gamay. These wines can be as good as Burgundies.

5) And don’t be silly and buy Bordeaux. The Chinese have deeper pockets. Margaret River Cabernet is at least as good at 1/3rd to 1/10th of the price. From Cullen and Moss Wood at the top of the tree to the great value Domaine Naturaliste and anything in between.

6) And go for #2. The smart Americans in the audience know not to buy Napa Cabernet, of course, and instead look for beautiful Syrah or Rhône blends up and down California’s coast. I love Dumol, for example. If you like Australian Shiraz, mature some from the Hunter rather than South Australia. As these wines age, the tannins in South Australian Shiraz can get blocky and dull, whereas good Hunter Shiraz develops in their tannins a beautiful velvety character.

7) The craziest thing is that most wineries put their ripest grapes into their flagship wines turning them into alcoholic monsters. You can only drink one glass. And who can sit on that for a whole evening? So instead, buy mid-level wines. If you are thinking Torbreck, for example, for Shiraz, buy the Gask, not the Factor; for Grenache, buy The Steading, not Les Amis. This will save you a lot of money.

8) Even crazier is Rioja. The large wineries put their best grapes into the Reserva. Then they overwhelm them with oak, so you can't taste the fruit. Instead, buy the younger and cheaper Crianzas or wine outside the regulations. There is plenty to choose from, and these wines are actually enjoyable.

9) Be curious! There are fantastic red table wines to be had from Portugal and Uruguay. Quinta do Crasto and Bodega Garzon are examples.

If you follow these nine suggestions, you drink better and for a lot less money.

 The Opening Night at Brokenwood

Hunter Valley Shiraz Should Be Revisited

I was at the Wine Media Conference in the Hunter Valley for the last three days. This conference used to be called wine bloggers conference, and was held once a year in the US. This year it moved, for the first time, to Australia, the Hunter Valley, and with a new name.

Cooking up a Paella storm

Add caption
 It is a good time in the Hunter. Typically, a good vintage happens here every four years or so. Summer rains are a problem, as much as heat spikes. However, recently it has looked different. The 2014 vintage was great, and so are the 2017 to 2019 vintages.

This was on display during the Live Wine Social session, a kind of speed dating, where wineries move from table to table every five minutes and have the chance to present one of their top wines.

Some of the Shiraz were very big, as if to say, look we can do 15% alcohol, too. These included the 2018 Ivanhoe Pressings Shiraz, the only pressings wine in the Hunter, the 2017 Audrey Wilkinson The Lake Shiraz, the 2017 1813 The Governor Shiraz, and the 2009 Wombat Crossing Hermit’s Block Shiraz.

A very good wine was the 2017 First Creek Winemakers Reserve. This was a medium-bodied, soft Shiraz. Blackberry flavours and ripe tannins are well integrated. The wine has been matured in new and old 500l barrels, which is now the dominant storage barrel in the Hunter Valley(94 points).

The 2018 Briar Ridge Dairy Hill showed complex flavours of dark cherry, spices and mocca. This is an appealing fresh and soft wine (92 points).

Then there were a couple of different variety wines, which speak to the experimentation in the context of climate change. The 2018 De Iuliis Shiraz/Touriga, a 70/30 blend, is grown on heavy clay. The wine is spicy, earthy, but also lifted with medium length (92 points).

Glendore has made Tempranillo since 2004. The 2017 Glendore Tempranillo is red fruited, savoury, spicy, and an elegant wine. It is slightly short on the finish (93 points).

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Pinot Noir From Four Nations

I conducted a  blind tasting of Pinot Noirs to establish the winner between Australia, France, New Zealand, USA. Who makes the best?

The wines were:
From Australia:
- 2015 Bass Phillip Premium 
- 2013 Main Ridge Half Acre
From France:
- 2015 Chanson Le Bourgogne (a low cost ring in)
- 2015 Georges Noëllat Vosne-Romanée 1er cru Les Petits Monts
- 2015 Mongeard-Mugneret 1er cru Les Petits Monts
From New Zealand:
- 2013 Ata Rangi
- 2013 Kusuda
From the US:
- 2015 Cristom Jessie Vineyard
- 2013 Kosta Browne Kanzler Vineyard

Guests were simply asked to rate the wines from 1 to 9. The joint winners were the Kosta Browne wine and the Mongeard-Mugneret. In third place came the Georges Noëllat. Overall, France won, ahead of the US, Australia, and New Zealand. The Bourgogne wine, which I once enjoyed at a Bistro, came in last.

I was disappointed that no Antipodean wine made it to the top three, despite one of the best Ata Rangis (came in 6th) and Bass Phillips (came in 4th) in the line-up.

The American wines, not unexpectedly, delivered the biggest, but well balanced mouthfeel. The French wines showed finesse and beautiful tannin structure. Against this, the Australian and New Zealand were more fruit forward.

It was an interesting result, and demonstrates that even the best Pinot Noirs in Australia and New Zealand still have some catching up to do.    

Monday, October 7, 2019

Irvine Grand Merlot

The story of Merlot in Australia is not a happy one. It is difficult to find a pure varietal wine of great quality and interest, while it is a perfect component in the Margaret River Cabernets. It is therefore brave to make Merlot the flagship wine. This is what Irvine has done for some time. And they are not shy in calling the wine Grand Merlot.

The 2012 Irvine Grand Merlot is too ripe and sugary sweet. The alcohol overwhelms the underlying attractive purity of fruit.

The search for very good Australian Merlot continues.

Score: 88/--

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Hoddles Creek Pinot Gris

You may have often wondered why Australian Pinot Gris (and certainly wine labelled Pinot Grigio) is more expensive than water. A new approach was needed. This is expertly performed by Hoddles Creek.

The 2019 Hoddles Creek Pinot Gris is not gris, but shows a rather rosé colour. This stems from an extended period on lees.

This wine is refreshing, with flavours of lemon rind and orange peel. This creates a very round and satisfying mouthfeel and a crisp finish.

This is the best Pinot Gris I have tried in ages - and attractively priced. Get some!

Score: 93/+++ 

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Hoddles Creek New Releases

Hoddles Creek is an interesting winery in the Upper Yarra Valley. It has a strong cost focus, while at the same time having access to high quality fruit. As a result, the consumer wins.

The 2018 Hoddles Creek Estate Chardonnay is the winery's work horse. It is a pleasant wine of apple and pear flavours, with a good structure and underlying acidity. 2018 was a warm year. Therefore, this wine lacks some of the raciness of previous years (91 points).

The 2018 Hoddles Creek Estate 1er Chardonnay, from a vineyard at 500m elevation, has more depth and elegance, as citrus and grapefruit flavours are balanced with some spicy oak (93 points).

The 2016 Hoddles Creek Estate Road Block Chardonnay comes from a young vineyard. At 300m it is not the highest, but it is the coolest, as it is east facing. This new label is currently a bit broad on the palate, but it has some persistence and will be the one to watch in future vintages (92 points).

The best wine in the line-up is the 2018 Hoddles Creek Estate 1er Pinot Noir, probably a first, as Hoddles Creek is better known for its Chardonnay. This Pinot Noir tastes of red and black cherries, with mushroom flavours in the aftertaste. This is a fairly light, but complex and well balanced wine (94 points).

The 2018s should probably be drunk earlier than the previous two vintages, as a result of the warm vintage. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Rodda 2018 Chardonnays

Adrian Rodda makes three Chardonnays, and he likes elevation. The wines are all made the same way, no malolactic fermentation, but the juice spends time on lees to soften the acidity.

The 2018 Baxendale Vineyard Chardonnay Whitlands comes from the highest of the three vineyards, at 600m elevation off Beechworth. The vines are 24 years old. It is a fairly light wine with citrus and stone fruit flavours. This is a refreshing wine with fine acidity (92 points).

The 2018 Willow Lake Yarra Valley Chardonnay from the Upper Yarra is based on fruit planted in 1979. This wine is similar in style, but with more intensity and a longer finish (93 points).

The 2018 Smiths Vineyard Beechworth Chardonnay comes from vines planted in 1978 at 550m elevation. This is quite a soft style, but with some energy. Texture is more prominent than the citrus and stone fruit flavours (93 points).

Overall, these are gentle wines, with the Yarra Valley wine being the most intense. I am thinking that 2018 is perhaps not the best Chardonnay year. The vintage was too easy, and Chardonnay likes a challenge.