Monday, August 31, 2020

Felton Road Chardonnay

 Some of the leading wineries in Australia and New Zealand do not seem to care much about the appeal of their label; think Penfolds or Felton Road. I guess they do not have to. Today, I will review the 2018 Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay. Here is a bottle shot. It may be the last Felton Road one.

Felton Road is mainly known for its Pinot Noir, but it produces fine Chardonnay as well. This wine is still very tightly wound. It is precise. There are many modern aspects to this wine: Biodynamic viticulture, whole-bunch pressed, indigenous yeast, no fining, no filtration, used oak only.

Citrus and grapefruit flavours are balanced by creamy notes from the malolactic fermentation. The wine is energetic, with mineral notes towards the finish. Schisty soils define Block 2. Everything is right here, just missing the x factor at this stage for an exceptional score.

Score: 94/+++


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Keller von der Fels Riesling

 The internationally best known German Riesling estates are from the Mosel; think Dr. Loosen, J.J. Pruem etc. This is partly due to their marketing skill, partly the American sweet tooth and their interest in Auslese and Spaetlese wines. In Germany, wines from the Rheingau and Rheinhessen are held in the highest esteem. The Keller wines sit right at the top.

A little while ago, I reviewed an astonishing Riesling from Keller. Today we step down from those lofty heights, and I will review a still very good Kabinett Riesling from Rheinhessen.

The 2015 Keller 'von der Fels' Riesling shows a brilliant green-golden colour. This wine from a warm vintage fills the mouth with grapefruit, stone fruit and some tropical flavours, yet has enough energy and acidity to drive down the palate to a dry finish. This is an elegant wine, a little forward perhaps, but the focus and fine finish are rewarding.

Score: 90/++ 


Friday, August 21, 2020

Identifying Cabernet Sauvignon Across The World

 In a recent tasting, a group of us compared premium Cabernet Sauvignon across France, Italy, Australia and the US. A common view is that old world and new world Cabernet is becoming more difficult to distinguish as warmer climate in Europe makes these wines more 'new world', while efforts to reduce ripeness in Australia and the US makes these wines more 'old world'. As we found out, the Cabernet world is more complicated than this and distinctions remain.

Starting with premium French Cabernet (Bordeaux), the most important issue is that one should not open a bottle less than 10 years old. This is the minimum time for its complexity to unfold and the new oak to integrate. So what is typical? Well, in comparison with the Italian Cabernets (we tasted four very good ones), it is the 'completeness' of the wine. Little expense is spared in the winemaking process. The tannin and oak management are excellent, and all this leads often to a house style. If you have been lucky enough to drink a number of vintages of Mouton and Lafite, you would never mix them up in a blind tasting although they are neighbours. 

In comparison with the 'new world', the main difference is the shape of the wine in the mouth and acidity. Acidity is higher in the French wines, and the wines tend to be more linear. The fruit weight has increased with warmer vintages, but the shape of the wine is still 'old world'.

I do not have great experience with Italian Cabernet, and the tasted wines (San Leonardo, Grattamacco, Ornellaia, Guado Al Tasso)  were quite different from each other. Yet they shared characteristics, too. Overall, they were less polished than the French wines, not always balanced, some showing green character and the famous hole on the mid-palate. They had character. As one participant mentioned: "The Italian wines show the vineyard, the French wines the winery." The Ornellaia is perhaps an outlier, being very elegant, and also very sweet, playing to the American palate. Similar to the French wines, acidity in Italian Cabernet tends to be pronounced and the wines long and linear rather than broad.

We tasted only one Napa Cabernet, but it showed the expected profile. These wines are sweet, ripe, and broad in the mouth, even for 'middle of the road' wines as this one was. The blockbuster wines show extremes on these characteristics plus high alcohol.

How does Australia fit in? The key give away is the subdued acidity in most Cabernet, leading to plush wines. They are not on steroids as Napa, but they tend to be more 'sun-kissed' than the European versions and riper.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz

 The Penfolds Bin 389 is often called 'Baby Grange', because it is matured in oak previously used by Grange. And it has in common the finalization of fermentation in barrel. However, the fact that it is a Cabernet dominant blend makes it quite different. I will now call it 'Old Faithful'. It has been around for almost 70 years, and you know what you are getting.

The 2010 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz has an almost black colour, very inky. There is blackberry on the nose, and the eucalypt gives the Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon away. I never thought I would use the term 'fresh' in describing a Penfolds wine, but this wine is still vibrant at 10 years. The wine is elegant yet very full-bodied. The energy in the wine makes it long rather than round. The wine is not heavy, despite the 14.5% alcohol. The tannins are fine grained, and there is a long finish of black fruit.

On day two, strong espresso notes became prominent, and the fruit was a bit dry. Therefore only

Score: 95/++   

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Domaine Faiveley 1er Cru 'Le Clos Du Roy'

 Yesterday was International Pinot Noir day. And while these days are a marketing nonsense, I decided to open a red Burgundy. Domaine Faiveley is a larger producer and manages to make 1er cru at a value price, at least for Burgundy. This has to be applauded.

The 2016 Domaine Faiveley 'Le Clos Du Roy' is from a Mercurey vineyard from the Côte Chalonnaise, just south of the Côte de Beaune. Red cherry and light forest floor flavours are overwhelmed by acidity and salt bush notes. The elements of a very good wine are there, but this wine is not in full balance. Apart from the lighter vintage, could high yields be a reason?

Score: 89/0

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Le Chiuse Brunello


The 2010 Le Chiuse Brunello di Montalcino from a good vintage would have shown  medium fruit weight of black cherry and tobacco and elegance on release. Unfortunately, the fruit has now dried out, and the wine is thin in the mouth. Dusty tannins are now quite prominent, but there is little of interest left in this wine.

Score: 87/- 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Penfolds Grange (edited)

 It had to be done. I recently opened my last bottle of the legendary 1990 Penfolds Grange ( legendary, because it was the first year when the term 'Hermitage' was dropped from the label, and when it became the world number one wine in Wine Spectator putting the wine on the world stage). This bottle was re-corked at one of the Penfolds clinics in 2016. As a result, this wine had a very high shoulder (see image).

The wine was decanted over a meter away from me, yet I immediately took in the strong and unmistakable Grange aroma: intense dark fruit and sweetness. It is unmistakable because of the extraordinary choice of grapes Penfolds has, and the fermentation process, which gets completed in new American oak. 

Much has been written about this wine. The highlights of this bottle were the extraordinary freshness after 30 years, and what Robert Parker coined 'skyscraper structure'. Within the skyscraper were layers and layers of fruit, and mocha.  On the back palate were meaty flavours. I had paired this with wagyu beef. The wine and food were totally in unison. In fact, if there was not the difference between liquid and solid, I would not have picked the difference. And then, the finish of the Grange went on and on.   

Those who have followed my blog for some time would have noticed my increasing dislike for overripe wine. Experiencing a full-bodied Grange is different. This was a remarkable Penfolds Grange.

Score: 98/+++

Monday, August 10, 2020

Marina Coppi Sant' Andrea Barbera

 If you think about an underrated red grape variety, Barbera would be on top of my list. It lives in the shadows of Barolo and Barbaresco, yet can be a concentrated and elegant red wine. It is mainly grown in the regions near the towns of Alba and Asti. Yet today's example comes from Castellania further east, but still part of Piedmont. It is the 2018 Marina Coppi Sant' Andrea.

Marina Coppi is the granddaughter of Fausto Coppi, the famous Italian bike rider. He has a museum and mausoleum in town. Anyway, on to the wine.

This Barbera is medium- to full-bodied with quite intense black cherry flavours. The wine is not too complex, but has a well rounded mouthfeel. The acidity plays a support role (it can be overwhelming in some Barbera), and contributes to the freshness of the wine. The tannins are mild, and the finish is a bit short.

I find this a satisfying wine due to the mouthfeel, and it is great value for money.

Score: 91/++  

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Penfolds Collection 2020

This is a big week in Australian wine. Last night, the winners in James Halliday's Wine Companion 2021 were announced, but also Penfolds winemakers launched the new releases in an online tasting event. This post is a bit unusual, as I will briefly comment on this event without having tasted the wines. I will do this, because tastings are rarer these days, not many would have seen last night's virtual tasting, and yes - a Penfolds release is important.

The release covers five vintages, from a 2020 Riesling to 2016 Grange. I have to say this virtual tasting was incredibly professional. What needed to be said was said, and no extra waffle. I want to focus here on the 2018 vintage, which in previous posts I mentioned is pretty special.

At the value end are Bin 28 and Bin 128. Both wines appear to be pretty good. They are quite different from each other. Bin 28 Shiraz is a multi-region blend, with the Barossa claiming the lion share. As a result, and courtesy to the 2018 vintage, this is a full-bodied wine with red and black fruit characteristics. If you like your wine big and sweet, this one is for you. The Bin 128 Shiraz, in contrast, is from Coonawarra. It is medium-bodied and more savoury.

Then there is Bin 389, the classic Cabernet (57%)/Shiraz blend. The Cabernet fruit seems to be of particular high quality, expressing rich, dark and plush flavours. Power and elegance is how this wine is described. Like with Grange, fermentation finishes in barrel, which delivers a special sweetness to the wine and the Penfolds house style. Unfortunately, I missed the discussion of the RWT, as I had another commitment.   

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Langmeil Orphan Bank Shiraz

Langmeil is a Barossa winery which largely swims under the radar. Yet it is very important in the history of Barossa Shiraz. Its Freedom vineyard is most likely the oldest Shiraz vineyard in the world. In an effort to preserve more old vines, some generations ago, the Lindner family collected old vines and put them together in a vineyard next to the winery. It was named the Orphan Bank. Today I report on the 2013 Langmeil Orphan Bank Shiraz.  

This wine impressed me on release, and after seven years, I find it a good example of classic Barossa Shiraz. This is a full-bodied wine, but not a monster. It is juicy, with a sweet core of blackberry and plum fruit and a round mouthfeel. Mocca flavours add to complexity. The originally coarse grained tannins have mellowed, and are quite soft now. Maturing for two years in French oak left its mark. The finish is long. 

I find it interesting how really old vines seem to deliver a measured balance which is difficult to find in younger vines full-bodied Shiraz.

Score: 94/++ 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Spinifex Bête-Noir

The 2012 Spinifex Bête-Noir is a good example of a typical, high quality Barossa Shiraz. At eight years of age, this wine is still quite refreshing, while displaying concentrated fruit aromas of plum, blackberry, and forest berries. The fruit would have been picked relatively early in this excellent vintage. The acidity is lifting the wine, while the tannins are finely grained and firm. I would happily drink more than one glass of this well balanced wine.

Score: 94/+++