Sunday, December 6, 2009

Red to Brown 'Face-Off' : Shiraz Blind Tasting - 07 Shaw & Smith, 07 Cape Mentelle, 07 Tyrrells Stevens, 06 Heathcote Estate

This is the first of what will hopefully be a steady stream of 'face-offs' from Red to Brown involving wines we have both tasted. It is hoped that in future months some more blind tastings with approproiate food matchings will be posted, including an Australian vs New Zealand Pinot Noir and Multi-regional Cabernet Sauvignon tastings.

(Red) Brown, myself, and our better halves had a dinner the other night where we kicked things off with a blind tasting of four Shiraz from four different states – NSW, Vic, SA, and WA. We'd each brought two of the wines, mine from NSW and SA, and Brown's from Vic and WA, so we knew the identity of two of the wines in the line up, but were clueless as to the other two.

Wine 1 (2007 Shaw and Smith Shiraz) (Red) - Beautiful aromatic nose of berries and French oak. On the palette the wine had a great mouth feel, with good length and nice tannins. Berries and a pleasing bit of spice. First up wine and I loved it. Correctly picked this as the Shaw and Smith (my only correct pick of the night!!)
(Brown) - On the nose I picked up the strong scent of French oak (perfumed, not over-done), along with some vanilla and a hint of spice and pepper. This wine had by far the strongest nose of the 4 out of the bottle. On the palette it had typical black and red fruit, a hint of pepper and some sour notes (in a good way). It was medium bodied with very good length and a tight structure, finishing smooth with perfectly ripe fruit. Knowing Red was bringing SA and NSW wine, the spice and use of French oak (and the fact it was obviously not from the more familiar Barossa, Mclarenvale or Clare Valley) made me assume it was a newer style Coonawarra Shiraz (Ba-bow! wrong). The other half gushed about this wine, and it was the consensus pick for the night.

Wine 2 (2007 Cape Mentelle Shiraz) (Red) - As we were to discover this wine needed a good decant. There was virtually no nose at all at this stage, maybe a bit of French oak. On the palette the distinguishing feature were the pepper notes to match the berry fruit. Decent length and stronger tannins than the Shaw and Smith. Had no idea where it was from, but the given the pepper I figured it was one of Brown's wines
(Brown) - Classic example of why decanting is good for even young wines, why this wine deserves its universally high rating, and why it will also age wonderfully. Even factoring in my terrible sense of smell, the Cape Mentelle had no nose when first opened. You had to work the wine like a rusted FJ Holden to get some life out of it initially (eg minutes after opening). My notes highlighted the subdued nose, which had sweet hints. The tannins were powdery and fine, it had structure, even if the fruit had not yet opened up to flesh out the wine. There was no obvious new oak. I assumed this could have been the Cape Mentelle, without really having much of an idea (had not tried that many south Margaret River Shiraz). As it turned out, this wine really opened up during the night and on the next day. So much so that by Sunday night it was very nice – the pepper had peaked on Saturday night, and though it was still there, the fruit had come out and the overall package was a very nice, fruity, fully flavoured, yet elegant wine.

Wine 3 (2007 Tyrrells Stevens Shiraz) (Red) A bit of earth, sour cherry, and well integrated oak. Medium bodied, with good length, gentle tannins, and a hint of spice. Very nice wine. Reading my own notes it's amazing that I didn't pick it as a Hunter (especially given that I'd bought the wine!!!). My two poor excuses are firstly the touch of spice on the palette got me thinking about WA and Vic, and secondly while tasting the wine I had one of those absent minded swirling the wine moments where I swirled just a bit too vigorously and spilled the wine all over myself!!!
(Brown) - Having survived Red spilling wine on himself (at the end of a boozy night maybe, but after 2 small tastes, quite amusing :-) ), I noted that the wine was an almost blackish red (contrasting with the other two). On the nose there was aniseed/fennel, spice (cloves). In the mouth it was savoury and meaty, yet juicy and medium-full bodied. It finished with a bang of (non-fruit bomb) ripe juicy fruit and had admirable length and intensity. I successfully picked this as a Hunter Valley Shiraz (the only wine I can lay claim to confidently outing!) – the taste of the previous two wines, the odds of one of the last two being the Heathcoate and the meatyness to this one swung it for me. The Stevens shows that though a modern Hunter Shiraz can stay true to the traditional style (earthyness, meatyness) yet also have secondary characteristics like spice and nice, juicy fruit.

Wine 4 (2006 Heathcote Estate Shiraz) (Red) Blackberry, sour cherry, a hint of a pepper and chocolate. Reasonably savoury and not quite full bodied. Good tannins though less well structured than the previous three wines. Given that I had (incorrectly) deduced that none of the previous three wines were the Stevens shiraz, I let myself be convinced that the cherry notes in the wine, as well as its bit of savouriness, indicated it was a Hunter. It certainly wasn't an obvious Heathcote, but once again reading my notes it definitely wasn't a Hunter!!!
(Brown) - This wine had an elegant nose, with coconut scented French oak evident, yet not overpowering . Given that we made notes in silence, I concurred with Red that sour cherry was on the palette (having not identified sour cherry in the previous wines). Once again there was a hint of aniseed and spice, though with stronger, almost syrupy black fruit underpinning the wine. The Heathcote Estate had decent intensity, and drying, pleasant tannin. I picked up an almost citrus tinge at the end, possibly due to higher than usual acid.

(Red) - Very enjoyable tasting. Following the tasting, we then proceeded to drink the wines over the course of the evening while eating a leg of wild boar. The Shaw & Smith was my favourite wine during the tasting and remained my favourite throughout the evening. The Cape Mentelle really opened up. The pepper remained, but berry fruit and liquorice started to come through. Beautiful medium-bodied wine. The Stevens was a wine of real character, and I'd love to drink it in 10 years time to see how it had evolved. Given the quality of the other three, the Heathcote Estate was probably my least favourite. If I'd drunk it on its own, I reckon I would have really enjoyed it and talked it up (it is a very nice wine), but against the other three it seemed just a very slight step down.
Overall, I think it was a good snapshot of where a lot of quality Australian Shiraz is heading. The wines were all closer to medium bodied rather than full-bodied, the highest level of alcohol was the Heathcote at 14.5%, and the use of oak was French and reasonably subtle. All four wines could be cellared for at least 10 years and possibly a lot longer.

(Brown) - I concur with Red, very strong group of affordable reds, underlining the fact that Shiraz is Australia’s signature grape (whether you love it or loathe it), that the different states and wine regions can produce diverse styles and that with trend towards Pinot and lighter styles of wine, Shiraz is amazing value for money.
For me the Shaw and Smith was the most instantly appealing wine, followed by the Tyrrell’s. Both will age for a decade or more. I agree that the Heathcote Estate wine came last, though was not disgraced – it is a quality drop, if a little atypical of some of the bigger, bolder Heathcotes out there. Based on my tasting of it the following evening, I doubt it will develop greatly over time, but will retain its primary characteristics. In my opinion, the Cape Mentelle will evolve into the nicest wine of the 4. As the night went on, and especially on the following evening, the Cape Mentelle developed more fruit flavour and complexity. It will hopefully age gracefully in the years to come.

*Compliments must go to the Chef (Red) who sourced a delicious leg of wild boar – the meat was perfectly matched to the wine – wonderful!


Chris Plummer said...

I love your assessment here fellas, as well as the way you have conducted the tasting - very informal yet fun, social and communicable - it's right up my alley. Especially admirable is how you have obviously 'drunk' the wines. I think there's no better way to drink wine...... ;)

I totally agree with your calls on both the Shaw and Smith 07 and Cape Mentelle 07, both of which I've found the best vinatges I've had of each.

Sounds like a fun night and I look forward to reading about your future face-offs!

Chris P

Brown said...

Cheers Chris, thanks for your comments. The night was definitely informal and lots of fun.
We hope to 'put to words' some more of our evenings that involve the consumption of (mostly)nice wine :-)


Rod (aka 'Brown)

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