Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay


Over the last 10 years, Leeuwin has embraced a slightly leaner, more precise style of Chardonnay. This 2015 Leeuwin Chardonnay, however, is quite big and powerful. The flavours are intense: citrus, pineapple, yellow peach, nectarine deliver a powerful mouthfeel. Biscuit and cashew flavours from the new French oak are well integrated. This is a precise wine despite the many flavour sensations. The fine acidity structure delivers a seamless texture. This Chardonnay has a long finish. It still feels fresh and will live for many years to come. A top Chardonnay

Score: 96/+++  

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Producer Selection In Terroir Orientated Wine Regions

 In my post on the white wines of Corton, I emphasized how important it is to look at the producer, not just the terroir in Burgundy. As an example, the Domaine Ponsot Corton Bressandes is about US $400 per bottle, the Domaine Poisot Corton Bressandes can be had for about US $100 (and there is only one letter difference in the name, haha).

Another terroir and vineyard focussed region is Piedmont. Yesterday, I came across a detailed analysis of the famous Rocche dell'Annunziata vineyard in La Morra. This vineyard is shared between 9 producers. Here are the prices of some of them for their bottles, from high to low.

Roberto Voerzio, US $280

Paolo Scavino $180

Renato Ratti $125

Mauro Veglio $80

Aurelio Settimo $53 (largest vineyard holdings)

Rocche Costamagna $45

The vineyard has special characteristics; attractive aromatics and elegance. But within this, there are significant differences between producers. And in the case of Piedmont, I suggest 75% of the price differences are explained by quality, 25% by positioning, marketing, and scarcity. In the case of Burgundy, it may be the reverse, as it would normally be by 'cult' producers, for example Screaming Eagle, Bryant Family, or Colgin in the US.    

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Jasper Hill Nebbiolo

 Those who have followed my blog for some time will know I am quite partial to Barolo. You would also know that I have been a bit sceptical about the enthusiastic embrace of so called ‘alternative varieties’ in Australia (mainly Italian varieties, white and red). This is not because I don’t think it is a worthwhile pursuit. It is just that it is likely that these efforts will take quite some time to reach the quality levels of the leading overseas examples. Enter the 2017 Jasper Hill Nebbiolo.

This wine opens up with floral and aromatic notes, as expected. It has more open fruit than a Piedmont Nebbiolo. Red cherries, raspberry, and attractive licorice flavours occupy the palate. There are smoky notes as well. The balanced mouthfeel is rounded out by dry, dusty and caressing tannins, before the long and lasting finish.

This Nebbiolo is a prettier wine than its Italian counterparts, but by no means forward. It has a Pinot Noir like finish. This wine is a revelation of what an 'alternative variety' can be in Australia. This wine has the same complex structure of Italian Nebbiolo, but it has an Australian element, which is the more overt fruit. The strength of this wine is that this 'fruitiness' does not come at the expense of varietal typicity. I really enjoy this wine.

Score: 94/+++  

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Hill of Corton, Red Wines

 The Pinot Noirs of Corton are grown in the mid to lower parts of the hill, mostly east facing, on red marl, limestone, and iron infused soils. These are the only grand cru wines of the Côte de Beaune. The pricing, generally speaking, is much more attractive than grand cru wines of the Côte  de Nuits. The larger vineyards, as shown in the map below, are the better known grand cru.

Six wines from different producers, age, and vineyards were tasted, discussed here in the order of tasting. If wines are sourced from a single vineyard, its name may be appended to the designation ' Corton'.

We started with the 2012 Domaine Poisot Corton-Bressandes. This wine showed a complex palate of black cherry and licorice, but also herbaceous and exotic spice flavours. The oak was noticeable in this powerful wine. This wine showed the expected muscularity of the largest lieu-dit of Corton really well (96 points).

This was followed by the 2017 Jane Eyre Corton-Maréchaudes. Jane Eyre, an Australian winemaker, has now been in Burgundy for some time, and is increasingly highly regarded. This wine has lifted aromas and is quite fruit forward. It is a pretty wine with velvety tannins. It could not be more different than the previous wine. The style suits the vineyard, which is at low altitude and warmer, quite well (94 points).

The next two wines were from two different sites and different years, both made by Thibault Liger-Belair. The first was the 2010 Thibault Liger-Belair "Les Renardes". This was quite an alluring wine, feminine, red cherry fruit, gamey flavours (for which this vineyard is known) as well. The wine had an ethereal feel, with silky tannins and an expanding finish (95/96 points).

But the wine of the night was the 2005 Thibault Liger-Belair "Les Rognets". Its full-bodied cherry flavours were concentrated and lush. This is a powerful wine, which is now in perfect balance, as the oak flavours have softened. The wine has a firm line leading to a long finish. This is an excellent example of a grand cru Pinot Noir (97 points).

The last two wines split the tasters. I found that the 1999 Chandon de Brialles Clos du Roi was past its best. Clos du Roi is perhaps the most highly regarded lieu-dit of Corton. The site is quite steep and pebbly, delivering wines which require ageing. But maybe not as much as in this case. Flavours of vegetables, roots and herbs dominated the palate. Fruit flavours were no longer very present. Having said this, the structure of this wine was well intact (92 points).

The last wine was the 2006 de Montille Clos du Roi. This was a tough wine, quite old school. Muscular and earthy, it tasted a bit like burnt rubber, with astringent tannins and oak quite present. Again, the structure still good (92 points).

This was a very enjoyable tasting of six grand cru. It showed a wide range of flavours. You need to know what you are looking for, and an old maxime is more true for Burgundy than anywhere else: "try before you buy". Of course, this is not always easy.

It was good to see when the interest of the wine maker is matches by the characteristics of the terroir, as was the case with Jane Eyre and Les Maréchaudes or Poisot and Bressandes, for example. 


Monday, June 21, 2021

Sami-Odi 'Mahé & Ribo' Syrah

 It is hard for wineries to differentiate themselves. There are so many competitors! However, I wish the differentiation would occur in the bottle, not with the bottle. The demijohns of Fraser McKinley are not easy to store, but let's get to the wine.

The 2015 Sami-Odi 'Mahé & Ribo' Syrah comes from old blocks of the Dallwitz vineyard in the Northern Barossa. Adrian Hoffmann, the vigneron, hopes to elevate his vineyard to similar provenance as the To Kalon vineyard in Napa Valley. He is on the way with fruit sales to all of Barossa royalty.

The vineyard is situated in the hottest part of the Barossa, and 2015 was a warm vintage, yet the bright purple colour of this wine suggests some freshness. There are intense red fruit aromas emanating from the glass.

Raspberry and boysenberry flavours dominate the palate. No black fruits here. The fruit is concentrated and lively while a bit rustic as well. there is an acidic backbone to this wine, before this Syrah finishes intense and long. Clearly, picking has been quite early, and pressing not too hard, but still, the alcohol raises its head, just a little bit.

Score: 94/++  

Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Hill of Corton, White Wines

 Burgundy is widely regarded as the most complex wine region in the world. However, all you have to initially understand are three principles about its structure. One, it is vineyard based (as opposed to winery based). Two, there are distinct subregions, displaying quite distinct characteristics. Three, there is a hierarchy of wines, starting from grand cru and going down. What makes it complicated for non French people is the labelling, but let us just ignore this here.

However, within Burgundy, there is one region which is really complicated, and this is the Hill of Corton. The following map shows its terroir. As can be seen, vineyards can point in all directions other than North. There are also major differences in altitude.


Corton is the largest grand cru area in Burgundy. The white wines are mostly labelled Corton-Charlemagne. I will review three of those wines here. The first is the 2010 Louis Jadot Domaine des Héritiers Corton-Charlemagne.

Louis Jadot has a negociant business with varying quality. This wine, from a south facing owned vineyard, is excellent. It has the hallmarks of a white grand cru: good fruit weight, good length, and power. Yet it starts with a fragrant nose, but then builds on the palate via intense fruit flavours and minerality to a lasting finish.

Score: 95/+++

The second wine, the 2012 Henri Boillot Corton-Charlemagne, is vastly different.

This wine is two years younger, yet the colour is more advanced and golden. Primary fruit is not the prominent feature here any more. The flavours are creamy, with nougat and hazelnut on top of wet stone minerality. This wine has a big mouthfeel (like Meursault) and good intensity.

Score: 94/+++

The third wine is the 2015 Buisson-Charles Corton-Charlemagne. This wine is the total opposite to the last wine. This is a delicate wine, despite hailing from a very warm vintage. The colour is quite pale.
Pineapple and passion fruit flavours dance lightly on the palate. The wine has good drive, but is perhaps a little thin on the back palate.

Score: 93/++

Conclusion: We have three wines here from the same subregion, yet they are totally different: the Jadot a grand cru classic, the Henri-Boillot a big and ripe wine, and the Buisson-Charles delicate and light. 

Let me come back to my introduction. The Burgundy principles are not that hard, but the key to understand and appreciate it, is to understand the producer. If you had tasted one of these wines, and you thought you knew what Corton tastes like, you could not have been more wrong. And this is what makes the Hill of Corton particularly difficult. The range of expressions here is probably wider than anywhere else in Burgundy.  



Sunday, June 13, 2021

Château Prieuré-Lichine

 Margaux is the largest subregion of the left bank of Bordeaux wines. It is quite diverse with many different soil profiles. The wines, still dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, have a higher percentage of Merlot in them than the other left bank wines. Margaux is known for more aromatic wines than any other wines from Bordeaux. This puts them in good stead as the climate warms.

This is a review of the 2010 Château Prieuré-Lichine. I once had a memorable lunch at this property and have enjoyed their wines.

Normally, there is a risk of drinking red wine too warm, but in this case, I opened it when it was too cold. It had not opened up too well. This review is of the wine on day two, when the temperature was much better.

The expected feminine aromas were on display from this wine of deep purple to black colour. This is a full-bodied wine delivering a complex palate of blackberry, black olive, mocca, and earthy notes. The wine has good balance. The elegant mouthfeel gets overtaken by firm, slightly coarse tannins, but then, the finish is long and almost lifted.

While not perfect, I enjoyed this wine. It delivered satisfying flavours and good length.

Score: 93/+++ 


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Hill Of Grace (again!)

 For a special occasion, I pulled my second last bottle of Hill of Grace from the cellar (I do not buy this wine at the current price point any more). It is a 2010 Henschke Hill of Grace.

I reviewed this wine five years ago and not much has changed. Interestingly, the Henschkes attribute this good vintage to the amount of light during the growing season. This is only rarely talked about, but can deliver flavour and colour, in particular.

In any case, this wine is very aromatic and vibrant. The palate is complex, with mulberry, blackberry, eucalypt, white pepper, and tender meat flavours. It is a very elegant and velvety wine. The oak is noticeable, but in contrast to the 90s wines previously tasted, this now has 40% French oak, which improves the balance and integration, in my view.

This is a full-bodied Shiraz, but more on the medium side. The fruit weight carries the 14.5% alcohol well. This wine hits some high notes and finishes long, but I did not find it totally remarkable.

Score: 96/+++ 

Friday, June 4, 2021

The Two Dilemmas of the Australian Wine Industry

 The first dilemma has to do with our professional wine writers and influencers. Many of them are Masters of Wine or Master Sommeliers. In order to achieve these accolades, you have to taste widely, which means mainly northern hemisphere wines. There is nothing wrong with that, but it means these palates are geared towards such wines. As a result, they do not value higher alcohol, higher fruit weight wines as highly. As an example,they love Syrah, but not Shiraz - you know what I mean. However, the sun kissed South Australian wines are unique in the world. The low alcohol wines, by contrast, get lost in similar wines from all over the world. The issue here is drinkability. In the same way in which grand cru Burgundy is about power and elegance at the same time, South Australian wines need to aim for the same. But let's not give up on the unique positioning some of our wines can enjoy.

The second issue is about climate change. No doubt it happens. Cooler regions, such as Tasmania, the Macedon Ranges and the Southern Highlands in NSW are now attractive new locations. More controversial is the switch to varieties which can deal better with hot climate, for example Southern Italian varieties such as Montepulciano and Aglianico. They can produce decent wine, but there is no evidence in Europe that they can reach the heights of Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. Touriga Nacional from Portugal would be my pick in this context So what about the adaptability of key varieties, such as Shiraz and Chardonnay? They grow in many different environments. Would earlier picking prevent overripeness and still deliver complex wines?

So let's hope people do not forget where our competitive advantage lies, and let's be open to different approaches to climate change.       

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Hill Of Grace Vertical Tasting

 I grew up during a time when the Beatles and the Rolling-Stones split the teenagers. The good kids loved the Beatles, the bad kids loved the Rolling-Stones. There was no crossover. I feel it is a bit like that with the two icons of Australian Shiraz, Hill of Grace and Grange. Who is the good guy here? Maybe it is a bit different: Hill of Grace is single vineyard, Grange is blended. Grange is about power and fruit weight, Hill of Grace more about grace? This post is about a rare opportunity to taste four Hill of Grace wines, all more than 20 years old.

There is a view the label has never changed. Not true, as seen here

We are tasting these wines from old to young. This is often done to capture the nuances of old wine, which may get lost when you taste them last. The 91 and 99 wines are from warm vintages, the 92 and 98 from relatively cool ones. This will be interesting.

The colour is a deep brown. The primary fruit of the 1991 Henschke Hill of Grace is largely gone, but the structure is holding up. The wine is still concentrated and rich in the mouth, maybe a little broad. The wine has an elegant and earthy texture with silky tannins and still a long finish. It will still drink well for a number of years.

Score: 94/++

The 1992 Hill of Grace has a similar colour. There are intriguing herbal, spice and honey aromas. This is a slightly fresher wine with plum, earthy and leathery flavours. This wine is very special and quite long in the mouth.

Score: 96/+++

The 1998 Hill of Grace has a brighter, crimson appearance. This is quite a big wine. Blackberry fruit, licorice, and spice. Some mocca on the back palate. Good focus in this wine, lithe tannins and a very long, silky finish.

Score: 96/+++

The 1999 Hill of Grace comes from one of the hottest vintages on record - and it shows. Plum, roasted meat, and tar are the main flavours. There is sweetness in the core and overall complexity. However, this wine is a bit fat and short. The tannins are very dry and dusty.

Score: 93/+

Temperature and rain were the two main variables across the vintages. Overall, the cool vintages showed much better. What are the commonalities, the signature of Hill of Grace? Aniseed is a common flavour, and the fine silky tannins typical. The other element which showed quite strongly was the American oak still prominent in these wines. In later years, more French oak was employed, which suits this wine much more. 


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Beechworth Gems

 Beechworth is not an Australian wine region which is top of mind. It also used to be equated with Giaconda, and that was it. However, a number of other wineries have delivered first class wines from there for many years. These days, it deserves to be called a region. I recently tasted two outstanding wines from there.

The first was the 2019 Savaterre Chardonnay. In contrast to Giaconda, which can sometimes come across as a little overworked, this wine was made with minimal impact. It starts with the granite soil, not so common in Australia. Natural yeast used for fermentation. Flavours include citrus, white and yellow peach, and pear. This wine has a great line and energy. There is balanced minerality on the back palate, before the long finish. This is a more complex Chardonnay than most in this country without compromising its elegant mouthfeel.

Score: 96/+++

The second was the 2006 Castagna Genesis Syrah

At 15 years of age, this wine opens with enticing floral and forest floor aromas. Black cherry flavours lead to an overall savoury mouthfeel of a cool climate Shiraz. This wine still has good drive, supported by peppery freshness. Lithe, but firm tannins lead to a long finish.

This is a wine I would happily drink a second glass of, if not more - great balance, interesting flavours, and a satisfying finish.

Score: 96/+++