Monday, March 30, 2020

Kusuda Pinot Noir

Kusuda is one of my favorite producers, not just of New Zealand, anywhere. Imagine you are in the fruit department of a major Tokyo department store, and you look at the individually packaged apples. Each apple looks the same; same size, same colour, same ripeness. This is how the grapes enter the fermentation at Kusuda. Everything is done by hand, very small volume, high reject rates.

The overall impression of the 2014 Kusuda Pinot Noir is absolute harmony. This wine is dark fruited, intense and pure flavours of black cherry and black olive. The wine is beautifully crafted and elegant on the palate. The oak is seamlessly integrated. Balanced acidity provides drive to the long finish which almost delivers a Burgundian peacock tail.

Score: 96/+++  

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Eperosa Magnolia Blanc

Adjustments have occurred in the Barossa for some time, but the focus has mainly been on red wine. Now I have come across something interesting in white wine.

Eperosa is a small producer. Their white wine is 100% Semillon, but is called Blanc, maybe to indicate the treatment is a bit different from most Australian Semillon. The wine comes from the Magnolia vineyard in Vine Vale, characterized by deep sandy soil, similar to the best Hunter Valley locations. The vines are at least 45 years old.

I am tasting the 2017 Eperosa Magnolia Blanc. This wine has a brilliant golden colour, quite different from the often light green in Semillon, no doubt as a result of being barrel fermented. On the nose, there is lemon, but also hints of tropical fruit. The palate is quite complex and layered for a young wine, with citrus and peach dominating. The acidity is firm, but there is also some smoothness in this excellently structured wine.

This wine is good now, but will settle down a bit more in a couple of years and improve for ten years plus.

Score: 94/+++

Main Ridge Merlot

In the quest to find excellent Australian Merlot, I tried a 2016 Main Ridge Merlot a couple of days ago. Merlot is a very small side project of this legendary Pinot Noir pioneer.

This wine delivers pretty fruit on the palate, red plum and mulberry with decent acidity in support. But the structure of this wine is not great. The wine is round in the mouth, rather than long, with a short finish. In the end, this is a pretty quaffer.

The search for outstanding Australian Merlot continues.

Score: 88/0

Monday, March 23, 2020

Cigliano Chianti Classico

The Cigliano wine comes from an original Antinori estate and has become a leading producer in the area. The 2016 Cigliano Chianti Classico Riserva is an excellent Chianti expression.

This wine has a bright ruby colour. The key aspects of this medium- to full-bodied wine are its vibrancy and structure. Red cherry, cranberry, tea leaves and black pepper are balanced by lively acidity. This wine has drive and elegance in spades. The finish is quite long.

Score: 95/+++

Saturday, March 21, 2020

A Wild And Exciting Blind Tasting

This tasting had a bit of everything, and mostly surprises.

The 2013 Nicolas Joly, La Coulée de Serrant from The Loire had a pale copper colour and was as dry as the Atacama desert - and a Chenin Blanc.

The 2013 Remoissenet Père et Fils Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatières tasted like a Marsanne/Roussanne from the Rhône.

The 2009 Petersons Back Block Shiraz was powerful and high alcohol - and this from the Hunter Valley

The 2005 Cullen Diana Madeline was masculine - possibly the last year when it was

The 2016 Vieux-Télégraphe La Crau burst out with fruit - normally a savoury style

This was a wine taster's nightmare, no, it was the wonderful world of wine.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Felton Road Block 5 Mature Pinot Noir

Many years ago a well respected wine critic suggested that the Felton Road Pinot Noirs do not gain much from ageing. So I decided to put their arguably best wine, the Block 5, away for many years. Today is the big reveal.

The first wine I open is the 2007 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir. This was a wine which was good at release. The wine is still fresh and quite fruit forward with plum and black cherry flavours. There is a savoury backbone with mushroom notes and a more umami taste than on release. The tannins have mellowed somewhat, but not a lot.The finish is long and balanced. In conclusion, this wine is not that different from release - pretty amazing after 13 years. But it raises the question of the value of cellaring this wine.

Score: 96/+++

I then taste the 2008 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir. The fruit profile is similar, but the mouthfeel not as big. Savoury components dominate this wine. There is also minerality and a salty taste in the mouth. This wine has probably peaked a couple of years ago, but it is still a balanced and very interesting Pinot Noir.

Score: 94/++

Overall, it is probably true that these wines have not changed that much with ageing. My notes may have pointed to more change than there really was. The obvious question: is this due to screw cap? I am not a big fan of screw caps for red wine. My question always is: if you had to chose between a perfect cork and screw cap, would you use screw cap? And corks are becoming much more reliable.

The other issue I want to investigate more is the issue of acidity. There is no question that there is less acidity in down under Pinot Noirs (or other wines, for that matter) than in Burgundy. What does this do other than obviously creating a different mouthfeel?  

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Penfolds Gems

At a recent lunch, I sampled three Penfolds wines, none of which disappointed. The first was the 2013 Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz. This is perhaps an underestimated brand, as it is newer than other Penfolds wines. However, the wine comes from perhaps the cradle of the Barossa Valley. The colour of this wine is purple with a slight, very slight orange tinge. The fruit is blackberry, even more blueberry. This is a full-bodied wine with good concentration, but more elegant than ripe flavours. French and American oak is significant, but well integrated. The tannins are dry, but surprisingly mellow, and the finish is smooth and long. This is a great example of a full-bodied Barossa Shiraz, full-bodied, with great flavour and some harmonic texture to boot.

Score: 96/+++

The 2009 Penfolds Grange is more of a beast. The colour is still black, the aroma smells of fruitcake. This is a pretty dense wine with very complex flavours; blackberry, black currant, mulberry, black olive, black pepper, sage. This is a full-bodied wine with big fruit weight and mouthfeel. The different elements of this underrated wine are pretty well integrated and balanced. This wine is not at its peak yet. The firm tannins still have a strong grip. The finish is very long. This is a ripe wine, but not outside the envelop of drinkability.

Score: 97/+++

Interesting to compare this with a  'baby' Grange, the 2008 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz. There are black and red currant flavours on the palate, but the fruit tastes dried. There is sweet vanilla oak on the palate of this full-bodied wine. Baby Grange is probably a correct naming; the wine is a little fat, not as layered. The tannins remain firm, and the finish is smooth

Score: 95/++

I could imagine still being satisfied drinking these wines in 5-10 years.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Rusty Mutt Wines

Rusty Mutt is a very small producer from McLaren Vale. You may not be able to track down these wines, but they deliver good value.

The 2018 Joven Tempranillo delivers dark cherry flavours with good depth of fruit. The acidity brightens up the wine. It is not very complex, but ticks all Tempranillo boxes. This is a satisfying wine with a balanced finish to boot (92 points).

The 2018 Rocky Ox GSM is very much Grenache dominated. The different flavours of raspberry, blackberry and plum are well integrated. The mouthfeel is smooth, with earthy flavours rounding out the fruit. This is not a challenging wine, but it is pleasantly serious, balanced, and with good acidity. The finish is a little short (93 points).

The 2016 Original Shiraz is a bigger wine. However, the vibrant acidity brightens up the blackberry and black cherry fruit. There is some Shiraz sweetness on the mid-palate in this medium- to full-bodied wine. I enjoyed the refreshing finish (93 points).

The Rusty Mutt wines are not pretentious. They are well made balanced wines with good acidity. As a result, they are quite a satisfying drink.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Standish Wine Company (A Must Read)

I was lucky enough to be the first Australian reviewer of the new 2018 Standish wines. They have only been tasted by Joe Czerwinski of the Wine Advocate prior. The conclusion is clear: Dan Standish currently makes the best Barossa Shiraz - there, I said it. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, his wines are powerful (as they should be), but with a lot of energy and drive at the same time. Secondly, there is sufficient acidity in these wines to give them freshness. The reason might be that his yields are very low: 0.5-1t/acre. As a result, the grapes ripen a bit earlier and can be picked earlier while fully ripe. Thirdly, the terroir really shines through in these wines. So lets get to it.

Relic, The Standish, Andelmonde,Schubert Theorem, Lamella

The 2018 Andelmonde comes from an east facing vineyard in light pass. The soil is sandy and the vines are 60 years old. This wine is the most fragrant (well, the only fragrant) wine in the line-up. It is fresh, elegant and made with a lot of finesse. There are beautiful spice flavours on the palate, and the dark fruit shows excellent depth, before finishing on fine tannins; a beauty (97 points).

The 2018 Relic comes from the 1912 Hongell Family vineyard on rocky soils in Krondorf. It includes 2% Viognier. It is dark fruited and a classic Standish. The blackberry and plum is rich, with licorice and mocca in the mix.  This wine has a lot of energy driving the complex flavours down the palate. This is quite a tannic wine with a very long finish - an absolute Barossa classic (99 points*).

The 2018 The Schubert Theorem comes from 6 parcels on Roennfeldt Road in Marananga. This is a strange label, because it is impossible to read. It shows the mathematical formula, which basically means, to solve the overall problem, you can do it by looking at each component and putting them together. The analogy is putting the wine together from these different parcels - and the core vineyard is the Schubert vineyard. The vines are surprisingly young: 20-25 years, but they produce powerful fruit from the hot micro-climate and the quartz infused soil. The fruit profile is the most complex in the line-up: lavender, blueberry, red and black plum. These flavours are very layered. The wine has big palate weight and is very intense with a round mouthfeel. Drying tannins lead to a solid finish (98 points).

The 2018 The Standish comes from the Laycock Family vineyard in Greenock. The soil includes very heavy ironstone, and the vines are 20 years old. In its profile, the wine is similar to the Relic; long rather than wide in the mouth. This is the most tannic wine in the line-up. The dark fruits, blackberry and plum, are intense. Some have compared the flavour profile of this label to Grange. The wine has a massive, but balanced structure. The drying tannins lead to a super long aftertaste (99 points*).

The 2018 Lamella comes from the 100 year old Hutton Vale Farm in Eden Valley. This vineyard is situated between Mt. Edelstone and Hill of Grace. The higher altitude is responsible for a different flavour profile. Raspberry, pomegranate, even rhubarb, and white pepper deliver the complex flavour. Again, the tannins are long and dry. This label has gained quite an interest, as Eden Valley becomes more popular during our warming climate. However, on this occasion, I found the Barossa wines more dramatic and impressive (97 points).

This has been an extraordinary tasting. The wines are not cheap in absolute terms, but given the lofty standard, they are great value when compared to the top Henschke or Penfolds wines.

*I have in the past been critical of a 99 point score. If it is that good, why not a hundred? However, I could not quite get convinced these wines could not get any better.

Barossa Shiraz Book

My book on Barossa Shiraz is totally sold out. Two friends of mine are very keen on a copy. If anyone no longer requires his/hers, and it is in excellent condition, I would like to buy it back. Please email me. THANK YOU

Monday, March 9, 2020

Torbreck New Releases

It is good to have a first look at the 2018 vintage at Torbreck. I therefore focus on the red wines. The first is the 2018 The Steading. There has been a change in style. Shiraz is now the largest component in this GSM. The winemaker tells me that Shiraz is still the consumers’ favourite; so there. The wine has been matured in French foudres. There is now more fruit weight in this wine, and the alcohol is high at 15%. I am not convinced the style change makes this a better wine (91 points).

The new foudres at Torbreck

I then taste a relatively new wine, the 2018 Harris Grenache. It comes from an east facing block (no late afternoon sun) in Marananga. I drove past this vineyard. The vines are low sitting bush vines, maybe 30-70 years old. The wine is also matured in the foudres shown above. The fruit concentration is good. There is power and vibrancy in this wine, showing the strength of the 2018 vintage. The ironstone soil contributes for the savoury flavours to remain strong along the palate. This wine is both fresh and serious at the same time: an absolute winner (93 points).

We went on to the 2017 Les Amis, to complete the Grenache set. 2017 was a cooler vintage. This has served this normally super concentrated wine from very low yielding 110 year old bush vines well. There is some lightness in this very smooth wine, where the silky tannins shine on the finish (96 points).

The two Mataro wines are first the 2018 Kyloe Mataro. This wine comes from Moppa and Ebenezer. It is a savoury and meaty wine, brooding, with chunky firm tannins. It would not be everybody’s cup of tea, but is a good expression of Mataro (92 points). The premium Mataro, the 2017 Pict, comes from the Materne vineyard in Greenock. There is a bit more fruit weight here with very firm tannins (93 points).

The main Torbreck focus, though, is Shiraz. The 2018 Struie is an excellent wine. The Eden Valley component at 25% is a bit less than normal, due to frost. With blackberry fruit at its core, this wine has good complexity with mulberry flavours and mocca in its mix. This is a smooth wine with depth and a firm, balanced structure (95 points).

I compared this with two much more expensive wines from 2017. The 2017 Factor is red and black fruited, a bit saline, and not as big as the Struie. It finishes tight (93 points). The 2017 Descendant, which includes 8% Viognier by weight, but only 2% by volume is quite smooth, but lacks a bit of fruit weight, with the fruit quite dry (93 points).

The final wine is the 2015 RunRig. 2016 is sold out and 2017 not yet released. As usual, it comes from six vineyards across the Barossa, with the southern vineyards on sandy soil contributing lushness, and the northern vineyards power and tannins. This is quite a good wine, with dark fruit intensity. The wine is very ripe, as usual, but also elegant, with a long finish (95 points).

This was an interesting tasting. The 2018 vintage shows very strongly in the mid priced wines. In Shiraz, it clearly beats 2017. It will be interesting to see, if the 2018 ultra premiums will be too over the top for this reviewer.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Chateau Musar Hochar

I always wanted to try this legendary wine from the stalwart of the Lebanese wine industry. This winery operates under extreme difficulty in this war torn country. The Hochar is a single vineyard wine, grown not far from Beirut at an elevation of 1000 metres. It is a blend from old, low-yielding Cinsault, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2013 Chateau Musar Hochar Père et Fils is a red fruited wine with earthy characteristics as well. The wine is of medium weight and medium intensity. It is very elegant and harmonious with velvety tannins.  This is quite a serious, but easy to drink wine. It tastes French, but neither from Bordeaux nor Rhône. If you have a chance, you should try it.

Score: 93/+++

Friday, March 6, 2020

A Strange Day In The Barossa Valley

On this day, I tasted wines from Spinifex, John Duval, and David Franz; the first two at Artisans of Barossa, the last at the winery.

The situation with Spinifex was a bit unfortunate, as their highly anticipated premium 2018s would only arrive the following day. I tasted the 2018 Garcon, a light Grenache. This wine is easy drinking. There is some whole bunch in the wine, which makes the mouthfeel more savoury and rounded (90 points). The 2018 Aglianico is actually sourced south of Williamstown, really from the Adelaide Hills. The fruit is late ripening, and the acidity and firm tannins stand out in this wine (88 points). Finally, the 2018 Syrah (notice the spelling) is a very fresh, juicy wine, with good acidity and varietal character, but not much depth (91 points). I am looking forward to tasting the other 2018 wines.

I tasted a fuller range of John Duval wines. The 2017 Plexus shows pretty fruit and good balance. 50% of this GSM is Shiraz, which took over from Grenache to give the wine more weight. The mouthfeel was not as rounded as in some previous years (91 points). The Annexus wines are relatively new. They show particular components of the Plexus, worth bottling separately. The 2017 Annexus Grenache comes predominantly from the 150 year old Eden Valley Stonegarden vineyard. This is a well structured wine, showing raspberry fruit and minerality on the finish. In this relatively cool year and higher altitude, the fruit weight is a little weak (91 points). The 2017 Annexus Mataro, suffering from this vintage, is muscular, and a little bitter and tannic (88 points).

There will be a lot of interest in the 2018 Entity, the follow-up to the outstanding 17. Again, the Shiraz fruit is 50/50 Barossa Valley, Eden Valley. This wine shows good depth of fruit and great harmony. This wine is not overly extracted, which could have been a temptation (94 points). Comparing this wine to the 2016 Eligo, which consists of Duval's best fruit, I give the crown to the Eligo. It is a more powerful wine, with darker fruit and bigger fruit weight. This wine makes a statement. The tannins are firm and the finish long (95 points). We now cannot wait for the 2017 Eligo. Will it beat the 2017 Entity?

The tasting at David Franz was the worst tasting I can remember for many years. Why does this winery show in its premium range wines from the very wet 2011? The 2011 Benjamin's Promise Shiraz is brown in colour and tastes of stewed fruit. There are confectionery notes and the tannins are very soft; unpleasant (84 points). The 2011 Alexander's Reward Cabernet/Shiraz is very similar, a bit more lively with acidity (85 points). I was relieved to leave 2011 with the 2014 Georgie's Walk Cabernet Sauvignon, only to find that the redcurrant flavours were overshadowed by herbal notes. There is a strong American oak influence in this oxidated wine (82 points). Finally, I tasted the Larrikin VII, a non vintage blend of Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot and Grenache. This wine seemed to include all components that could not be used otherwise (not rated).

The good news is, I can report on two excellent Barossa tastings in posts to come.  

Monday, March 2, 2020

Bindi Dixon Pinot Noir

Initially I was planning to bring a Bindi Pinot Noir to the tasting reported in my last post. However, I could only put my hands on a Dixon (Level 3 in the Bindi hierarchy), which I thought may not quite measure up. This was probably the right decision, although this is a good wine.

The 2014 Bindi Dixon Pinot Noir has a light to medium purple colour. This translated into a medium weight wine with predominantly black cherry and  black olive flavours. The wine has a good structure. This is an elegant wine, based on smooth silky tannins. The finish could have been a bit longer.

Score: 92/++