Friday, December 31, 2010

James Suckling and R Kelly – Searching for (unintentional) satirical perfection

 
"I'm here with Red to Brown"
 
 If you have a passing interest in wine and how it is covered on the internet and social media, you may have noticed the promo videos put out by wine critic James Suckling for his new website.

For those not familiar with James Suckling, he is the former Senior Editor and European Bureau Chief of Wine Spectator Magazine. Suckling recently gave up this dream role to strike out on his own and try to shake up the wine world, with a newly created subscription wine website the first step in that process. Unfortunately for James, the wine video ‘teasers’ released prior to the site going live have been panned by a few people on the internet, generating considerable comment and critique in the process.

The critiques range from the relatively civilised and considered to the rather crude and fully anonymous.  For a pretty broad overview of the new media critique on James, the following link is a useful backgrounder: (Link)

To momentarily get serious, this post is not a defence of James Suckling. However, I must say that he has probably been given a bad rap – the talk of him being evil, exploitative and a douche are going too far, and arguably highlights the wine snob tendencies of some critics. His promo clips are objectively pretty bad, and I will not subscribe to his website (for financial reasons and the fact I can get better wine advice from other subscription sites). Though he is a well respected wine critic and has every right to try and make money with his wine website and pitch it to a certain type of wine buyer if he wants to. If you don’t like his approach, try to create something positive to compete with it (free, subscription, whatever). A topic for another post, and not the primary focus of this post, though I feel it needed to be said.

What amuses me about the subjectively awful promo ‘teaser’ videos is that they are so bad they are actually good. Furthermore, they remind me of a legendary set of video clips/songs by an artist from a different genre: R Kelly and his HipHopra opus: Trapped in the Closet Episodes 1-12.

Of the several Suckling promo teasers, two stick out - the “Searching for Perfection” video (or ‘I’m XY points on that’) and the “Im Here with” teaser.
The by-line from the first video has already been appropriated as a favoured term/meme on various social media forums – eg: “mocking the James Suckling promo videos? – I’m 92 points on that”. As if this gem wasn’t enough, I would personally argue that his ‘I’m here with’ teaser takes it to another level with his subtle and mysterious “I’m here....” closing line. James – what are you here for? Some more wine reviews at an elite winery?, some subtle seduction? Where is here? Bordeaux?, Burgundy? Piedmont?, the Cessnock Pub?

Both clips in my wine nerd /wanker view are pieces of unintentional satirical comedic genius. That might be taking it a bit too far, but I must say that the clips grow on me over time and become more funny than they are pretentious or condescending.

I find the James Suckling promo videos amusing as wine satire to the point it is still hard to believe he produced these videos as serious vehicles to generate hype for his website. If Suckling came out tomorrow and said “it was all a viral ploy to generate a bit of hype for the website, but primarily to poke fun at wine critics from the inside out” I would applaud him. As of the time of writing, the joke has not been called, so we must assume the Suckling teaser videos are serous and sincere.

To add to my enjoyment of the suckling clips, the teaser videos remind me of R Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet series of songs/video clips. (If you are yet to be introduced to the best example of “so bad it is good’ pop culture, go here for a taste).


"Don't make me pull out the wine equivalent of my Beretta"
 In terms of similarities, both were released in regular instalments (episodes 1-5 of Trapped...) over a number of weeks, presumably to let the suspense build. Self evidently, they are both so bad, that for me they are actually quite good. Thirdly, there is ambiguity regarding whether both sets of clips were intentionally or unintentionally funny, adding to the intrigue and enjoyment (unintentionally creating satire is a feat to be admired, even if the creator tries to defend or distance themselves from the end product).

R Kelly has argued that Trapped in the Closet 1-12 was intentionally tongue in cheek, and that his initial claims to have invented a new genre of music (hiphopra) were part of the gag. His less impressive (or less amusingly cringe worthy) follow-up ‘Trapped in the Closet 13-22 was arguably an attempt to further paint Trapped... as a joke and not a serious piece of art so poor it was assumed by most to actually be a joke.

Noting that Suckling does not look like coming out like R Kelly and admitting his clips are a joke, part of me would love to see Suckling go loco and really shake things up – eg: move into avant garde wine clip territory and release a teaser clip that is the wine equivalent of a Zaireeka era Flaming Lips song. Based on his ‘serious’ wine teasers, such a clip would make a 100pt Robert Parker Jr wine review or a Gary Vaynerchuck ‘sniffy sniff’ Wine Library TV review seem even more pass├ę, smallfry and decidedly conventional (even if delivered from a helicopter).

Wine nerds/wankers like me can only dream of such an outcome in the wine entertainment world, but for now I will have to settle on James Suckling searching for perfection in one of the many locations of the world he is visiting and monitoring the at-times amusing backlash against the promotion for his website. Go easy on him:  it may turn out to be serious, or a joke, but it is entertaining regardles. For that, James Suckling should be sincerely commended.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Importance of Vintage in Australia: the failure of overseas commentators and publications

Once you have the wine bug, the vintage bug follows shortly after. This bug is the obsession with all the vagaries and variances that each different season brings to a wine. You want to find out what are considered the historic vintages from different regions both within Australia and overseas, and then if you can, pick up some wines from these vintages. You want to know how the latest vintage of your favourite wine region is shaping up. You start to become aware that warmer vintages often produce wines that show well in youth but are not necessarily great long-termers, while on the other hand the relatively cooler vintages often produce the wines that are built to age. You look for those winemakers who can produce gems from a tough vintage.

All this focus on vintage is not just an academic interest, but rather because it’s a key determinant in the quality of a wine. Classic cases in point are the vintages of 2007 and 2008 in the Hunter Valley. 2007 is one of the best vintages in recent memory in the Hunter, particularly for Shiraz. I’ve put/will put plenty of 07 Hunter Shiraz in the cellar. Conversely 2008 was more or less a write off for Hunter Shiraz because of rain. If you do see an 08 Hunter Shiraz in a bottle shop (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one actually), move on and buy something else.

All this leads to a big gripe of mine and the main focus of this post, and that is the laziness and/or ignorance of many overseas wine commentators and publications when it comes to vintage assessment in Australia. It is actually the exception rather than the rule that you will read anything useful from an overseas commentator or publication on the quality of different vintages. The problems tend to fall into two main categories –

1. Giving the whole of Australia a vintage rating – in numerous world wine guides and publications, such as Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide as an example, Australia as a whole is given a vintage rating. There’s no breakdown by region or even by state. To produce one vintage rating for Australia is either the result of ignorance, borne of the belief that an entire continent is just one flat plain subject to the same weather patterns. Alternatively it’s the result of trying to condense a vintage chart that includes all the world’s major wine producing countries. I appreciate that this wouldn’t be an easy exercise, but if you can’t do something well, why do it at all? A cursory glance at any recent vintage in Australia will give one a sense of the meaninglessness of a single vintage rating for Australia -


- 2006 – Barossa Valley – very good, Yarra Valley – very good, Hunter Valley– average-good, Margaret River – poor-average

- 2007 – Barossa Valley – poor-average, Yarra Valley – poor, Hunter Valley – very good, Margaret River – very good

- 2008 – Barossa Valley – poor, Yarra Valley – average-good, Hunter Valley – write-off, Margaret River – very good


Even that summation above is pretty crude (and I’m sure debatable), and in reality the picture is more nuanced. I’ve labelled 06 in the Margaret River as poor-average, but this is largely based on red wines. If you were looking at the whites, however, it’s actually a pretty good vintage. In any case the big picture is that for each year that I’ve listed one of Australia’s main wine regions has had an excellent vintage while at least one has had a very poor vintage. To give Australia one single rating, good or bad, would completely miss the mark for one of Australia’s most significant wine regions. Moreover, giving half a thought to the size of Australia, and the fact that the Hunter Valley and Margaret River are about 4000kms apart, which is further than any two individual European wine regions, this should be blindingly obvious. Sicily is a relatively paltry 1500kms from Champagne and yet I doubt anyone would ever be silly enough to include these two wine regions in one single vintage rating.


2. Vintage Assessments that are at odds with all local assessments – Now there are of course overseas commentators who do distinguish between regions in Australia when discussing vintages, but unfortunately I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read or heard an assessment of a vintage that is completely at odds with both local assessment and my own personal experience. Of course, vintage assessment is not a purely objective exercise. People who more or less drink the same wines often come to somewhat different conclusions as to the quality of a vintage. However, what I am talking about are glaring differences that to my mind bear no resemblance to the wines that came out of that specific vintage. An example of this is Wine Spectator – www.winespectator.com – whose vintage chart has the Barossa and McLaren Vale rated a 96 for the 2005 vintage, while 2006 is rated an 88! This is in marked contrast to the assessment of James Halliday who rated 2005 in the Barossa a 7 out of 10, and 2006 a 10 out of 10. While I’m not sure that I would consider 2006 a 10 out of 10 vintage, I nevertheless concur with the proposition that 2006 was a very good vintage, and definitely a better vintage than 2005, which to my mind was decidedly more mixed.

Another example is from Robert Parker, the world’s most influential wine critic over the past couple of decades. In his vintage chart he rates the 2006 vintage in Western Australia an 89, while the 2007 vintage is rated an 86. Anyone who has consumed a reasonable number of wines from Western Australia from both vintages would find it very hard to come to the conclusion that 2006 is the better vintage. In 2006 red varieties struggled to ripen, enduring the coldest summer in a number of decades, and indeed a number of wineries didn’t produce their “Premium” red wines from the vintage. 2007, on the other hand is an excellent vintage, and to me is clearly the better vintage in Western Australia taken as a whole, and that has been the consensus from all local points of view that I have read or heard.



What’s the effect of this combination of laziness and/or ignorance when it comes to assessment of vintages in Australia? Well at a time when the image of Australian wine overseas has taken a bit of a beating, it certainly doesn’t help our cause that commentators in countries like the US and UK can’t produce useful guides to vintage. It’s far from being the main source of our image problem overseas, but is one of those things that undoubtedly has a cumulative effect. Has an American consumer who had heard good things about Margaret River Cabernet made a decision to buy an 06 instead of an 07 off the back of Robert Parker’s vintage ratings? With the purchase of an 06 they could well be wondering what all those Aussies were raving about when it came to Margaret River Cabernet. Had they been guided towards an 07 they would more than likely see what the fuss is about.

There are plenty of efforts at present on the part of people involved in Australian wine to improve our image overseas, and in particular to highlight the diverse range of wine regions in this country. Part of this work is undoubtedly an effort to highlight the many different terroirs and climactic conditions that exist in Australia. A sign that these efforts have really had an effect would be when we get some more accurate and detailed Australian vintage charts from overseas commentators and publications.


Red

Saturday, December 18, 2010

2009 Whicher Ridge Sauvignon Blanc (Geographe, Sample)

(Mike Hussey hitting a cover drive for four against Graeme Swann in Perth)


A quick look through our archive of posts reveals that we’ve only done one Sauvignon Blanc review, and that was in fact Brown’s review of the Rosemount Botanicals Sav Blanc (http://tinyurl.com/28zrvlz). The lack of Sav Blanc reviews reflects our general dislike for the variety. I’m possibly a bit more equivocal than Brown, but nevertheless it’s a varietal I virtually never buy of my own accord.

The reasons? First and foremost the flavour profile generally does little for me. In far too many examples I get cat’s pee (or an ammonia like smell), grassiness and passionfruit. The second reason is its general lack of complexity and cellarability as a varietal. Of course this criticism I have of Sav Blanc largely refers to Kiwi and Aussie examples. If you taste Sav Blancs from the Loire Valley in France, however, I generally find the flavours more appealing, without necessarily being enamoured with them, and there is a sense of complexity to these wines.

Which leads me, by way of a long introduction, to the 2009 Whicher Ridge Sauvignon Blanc. This is an Australian Sav Blanc from the Geographe region in Western Australia that nods its head to the wines of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume.

It has a pleasant nose of citrus, just a touch of varietal pungency, and a bit of what I can only refer to as fly-spray. I know that final descriptor sounds both strange and unappealing, but I get it in quite a lot of wines and in a small dose (as in this wine) I actually quite like it.

On the palate this wine shines. It’s long and poised, and has a lovely balance between its acidity and minerality on the one hand, and a nice touch of oiliness on the other. All of which leads to the wine having a fantastic sense of texture. Jeremy Pringle writes about this in his review of the wine (http://tinyurl.com/24hl4qt) and I very much agree. Texture and persistence are the lasting impressions with this wine, and as such mark it out as one of the most impressive, if not the most impressive Australian Sauvignon Blanc I have tried.


Rated:


RRP: $22
ABV: 12.9%
Website: http://www.whicherridge.com.au/


Red

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

2010 Wickhams Road Gippsland Pinot Noir



I tasted this out of barrel when I visited Hoddles Creek Estate back in June (http://tinyurl.com/24osofq) . At the time it was the highlight of the Wickhams range of Pinots (Yarra, Mornington, Gippsland), with its beautifully fragrant nose. Now in bottle, its living up to the potential it showed back then.

Indeed, if you are looking for a cheap Pinot to drink over the next couple of years then you need look no further. At $16 a bottle, it’s about as cheap as Pinot of any quality gets, and yet it’s a step up from many similar priced wines. The colour of this wine is very inviting with its beautiful clear crimson hue. Moving from a beautiful colour you’re straight into a fragrant and floral nose. Strawberries and cherries are evident along with a positive contribution from the oak. The beautiful fruit that is apparent from the colour and nose is confirmed by the palate. Light and supple to drink, there’s a nice touch of sapiness and spice. The floral component that was there on the nose is also there through the mid-palate and in some ways reminds me of a Cru Beaujolais. Finally, sour cherry comes through in the long finish. All of which is supported by fine tannins and a gentle acidity.

With some air it’s drinking remarkably well now for such a young wine, though it will also undoubtedly be better with another year or so in the bottle. 3.5 Stars for now and a “+” for another year or two in the bottle.

Ripper of a Pinot for the price.


Rated:
+

RRP: $16
ABV: 12.5%
Website: http://www.hoddlescreekestate.com.au/


Red

Sunday, December 12, 2010

2008 Yelland and Papps Divine Shiraz (Sample)

The Yelland and Papps Divine Shiraz is an ambitious wine. Gorgeously packaged with a smart label and a weighty, impressive bottle, Susan Yelland and Michael Papps have bravely chosen the ‘difficult’ 2008 vintage to launch their premier and limited release Divine series. The Divine sits above the Devote and Delight Series, and only 700 bottles have been produced.

Like most of the Yelland and Papps range, the 2008 Divine Shiraz uses grapes sourced from the Greenock sub-region of the Barossa Valley (in this instance off vines planted in the mid 1980s). It has been basket pressed, given 3 months lees stirring and was aged for 10 months in 50% new American and French oak.

The Divine Shiraz is a powerful wine that may polarise opinion between the powerful flavoursome warm climate posse and the cool climate peppery Shiraz crew. It has a nose of toasty, coffee/vanilla oak and ripe raspberry and mulberry fruit. On the palate the wine has powerful, concentrated, supple blackberry and black plum fruit with lashings of toasty oak, salty liquorice and Lindt dark chocolate, especially on the back palate/finish.

The fruit shows some of the stress of the 2008 vintage, though the small production volume has led to careful selection (in a single site), avoiding the ‘dead fruit’ characteristics and overly harsh tannins that the 2008 vintage has thrown up all too often in South Australia. The tannins have an emery board grip to them that puts some brakes on the fruit in the mid palate, complementing the dark chocolate and liquorice finish. The alcohol is listed as 15%, and given the vintage may actually be higher than this. Luckily, it is sufficiently integrated into the wine to provide some pleasant warmth, yet does not throw out the overall balance – it is a balancing act, but given the vintage, an impressive feat. The American and French oak is quite prominent, though at only 50% new it doesn’t overpower the fruit, nor do the Yanks overwhelm the French as much as you would assume. Most pleasingly, the Divine finishes surprisingly savoury, relative to the style and black fruit and chocolate flavour profile.

As noted, this is an ambitious wine with a (relative) price to match. Given how tough the 08 vintage was, this is a promising first up premium result from Yelland and Papps, and yet another endorsement for the north/north-west sub-regions of the Barossa Valley (Greenock, Moppa, Ebenezer, etc). It is a statement of intent by the winery, and I look forward to seeing more of the Divine range from the superior 2009 and 2010 Barossa Valley vintages.

Rated



RRP: $65
ABV: 15%

Thursday, December 9, 2010

2008 Fire Gully Chardonnay (Margaret River, Sample)


This is a wine that definitely benefits from a good bit of air. The first day i tried it seemed a bit disjointed, but by the second day it came together quite nicely.

It has a varietal yet somewhat sweet chardonnay nose of grapefruit, pineapple and oak. That sense of sweetness carries through onto the palate, though is certainly not unpleasant or over the top. It drinks smoothly, with decent structure and length, along with a nice bit of butteriness. Oak is evident throughout.

My final assessment ended up being that this Chardonnay works really well as a nice quaffer. It’s never going to reach any great heights but for the next couple of years will drink very well as a casual glass of Chardonnay.

Rated:


RRP: $25
ABV: 14.5%
Website: http://www.firegully.com.au/



Red

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Red's Top 5 - 2010



It’s that time of year isn’t it. There are plenty of ‘best of’ lists for 2010 popping up, so I thought I’d do a little list of my own.

To clarify, my Top 5 consists only of wines that I have sat down and consumed over a couple of hours and sometimes over a couple of days, more often than not with food. I have tasted many wonderful wines at tastings this year, not least of which was the Langton’s Classification V tasting. However, I find mass tastings, or tastings where you only have a short period to assess the wine, an inherently fraught process, with the distinct possibility of overrating or underrating a wine. As such, wines tasted at wine tastings have not been considered.

So on to my Top 5. These are not necessarily my 5 highest rated wines (though they all have scored well), but more importantly they are wines that were genuinely memorable and enjoyable. In alphabetical order they are –


2007 Juniper Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Margaret River) – 4.5 Stars – A beautifully complex Cabernet of impeccable structure that demands 10 years in the cellar. The 2008 should be one to look out for as well.


2005 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz (South Australia) – 4.5 Stars – This is a wine that ticks all the wrong boxes for some wine cognoscenti in that it’s

- a multi-regional blend
- from warm climate regions in South Australia
- made by Penfolds, who are owned by Fosters

For me however, it ticked all the right boxes in that it just tasted so good. Wonderful intensity on the palate and the best 389 I have tried from the noughties.


2006 PHI Pinot Noir (Yarra Valley) – 4.5 Stars – I’ve had plenty of very good Pinot this year, but this one brought home the bacon. Wonderful complexity with its lovely balance between sweet and savoury flavours. I'm looking forward to seeing how this wine shapes up from the brilliant 2010 vintage in the Yarra.


2007 SC Pannell Nebbiolo (Adelaide Hills) – 4 Stars + – One of my most passionate wine hopes is that Australia will discover regions and sites that consistently produce world-class Nebbiolo. This wine has me very optimistic that we are well on the way to doing this. If you haven't had much Nebbiolo, or find Barolo in Australia too expensive, then this wine is highly recommended.


2009 Teusner the Dog Strangler Mataro (Barossa Valley) – 4 Stars – The relative cheapie in this top 5 was beautiful to drink with its complex spice, and as a single variety Mataro provides interest to boot.


All in all, five quite different wines but all wines that at some point provided that moment of true sensory pleasure that is all encompassing and is what drinking wine is ultimately about.


Red

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

2007 Te Mata Estate Awatea Cabernet/Merlot (Retail)

Based on some of the press coming from New Zealand, the Hawkes Bay wine region has aspirations of matching Bordeaux in terms of the quality of the Cabernet blends they produce. Aim for the stars to clear the trees I say. RedtoBrown have been impressed with the wines we have tried from Hawkes Bay in the past, and at the entry-level, the Awatea is one of them. What stands out primarily with the Awatea (and also its TeMata big brother, the Coleraine) is its relative 'New World' austerity and restraint. There is sometimes balancing act between restraint and lack of fruit flavour/diluteness, though that is not an issue for this wine.

The Awatea (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot) has a slightly herbaceous nose with capsicum and tobacco, though a pretty blueberry scent dominates. It is medium bodied, no more, and savoury.
An understated entry gives way to blackcurrants and medicinal herbs on the mid palate. Some more tobacco pops up on the finish, along with a prominent herbaceous bitterness (which may divide opinion, but I was a fan). Tannins are very fine and chalky, and the oak is subsiding a bit from when I first tasted it (yet not overpowering the fruit).

In summary, an elegant, restrained wine that may lack the oomph of some of the Aussie versions I know and love, though has enough weight to support its fine boned structure. I would like to try this wine with 5-10 more years of bottle age.

Rated



RRP: $45
ABV:14%
Website: http://www.temata.co.nz/

Monday, November 29, 2010

2010 Scarborough White Label Semillon (Hunter Valley, Sample)



The White Label is Scarborough's premium Semillon, though at $25, it gives you an idea of what a bargain Hunter Semillon generally is.

Everything is in place for this Semillon to age well, and yet as I’ve found with a number of 2010 Hunter Semillons, it has a touch more generosity than you might typically expect as this stage of youth. It has a lovely line of citrus flavour that’s underpinned by a clean, yet unobtrusive acidity. Excellent length and persistence of flavour, along with a beautiful streak of minerality.

The first half of this bottle I shared with Brown at a boozy Friday lunch at a Teppanyaki restaurant, and it was lovely with some seared tuna. The remainder of the bottle I had at home a couple of days later, at which point it had developed some nice oily, lanolin notes that point to where it will confidently head under screwcap over the next 10 years.

Quality Hunter Semillon. 4 Stars.


Rated:


RRP: $25
ABV: 10.5%
Website: www.scarboroughwine.com.au


Red

Saturday, November 27, 2010

2009 Kalleske Clarry's Red - Grenache Shiraz Mataro (Barossa Valley)

Similar to many of the old vines they tend, the Kalleske family have deep roots in the Barossa. They have been growing grapes in the Greenock sub-region of the Barossa since 1853. Current grape growers and winemakers, Troy and Tony Kalleske, are the 7th generation of Kalleskes to tend their vineyards, but the 1st generation to retain Estate fruit for wine under the "Kalleske" label, as opposed to selling it off to other winemakers. Brown and I visited the winery last year, and it was a highlight amongst a week of many great experiences.

This GSM (Grenache Shiraz Mataro) is aged entirely in old oak and provides interest and complexity in a drink-now style.

It has a lovely floral nose along with red fruits and spice. When drinking it goes down very easily, perhaps dangerously so, but interest and the desire to savour the wine slowly is maintained by a nice balance between sweet and savoury flavours. It has a core of lovely rich fruit, along with aniseed and dried herbs. Good length, very good drinking, and could even be better in a couple of years time.

Rated:
+

RRP: $18
ABV: 14.5%
Website: www.kalleske.com


Red

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

2006 Coldstream Hills Reserve Chardonnay (Cellar Door)

Not a hard job reviewing this wine - I enjoyed the 2006 Coldstream Hills Reserve Chardonnay at the cellar door a few years ago (purchasing a few while I was there) and after a couple of years developing in the bottle it has lost nothing.  The Reserve has a flavour profile I love when done well – subtle melon, just-ripe grapefruit and freshly cut white nectarine fruit flavours, nice acidity that adds freshness, all backed by toasty, cloves/spicy oak. A round creamy texture in the mid and back palate that doesn't go into malolactic overdose adds to the enjoyment. To top it all off, the wines persistence is also noteworthy (flavours lingering long enough for the next mouthful of roast chicken, oven baked fish or whatever other rich dish you chose to pair with this).
A few Sundays ago this was matched very nicely with a seasoned organic roast chicken and herb dusted vegetables roasted in goose fat.
The Coldstream Hills Reserve Chardonnay should continue to evolve for several more years (hense the +), though drinking very nicely right now.

In summary: An impressive weighty expression of Yarra Valley Chardonnay. Complexity matched with drinkability: Delicious.

Rated
+*

RRP: $50
ABV:14%
Website: http://www.coldstreamhills.com.au/

PS .The star (*) is for this wine being an oaked, creamy chardonnay done very well. The Yarra Valley often makes top quality chardonnay and this is an example.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2008 Fire Gully Shiraz Viognier (Margaret River, Sample)

The frustrating thing about this Shiraz Viognier is that it could have been a really nice wine. The 9% co fermented Viognier is actually in no way overpowering (as I actually find with much Australian Shiraz Viognier), and provides the wine with nice lifted aromas. The wine however, is ultimately marred by alcohol heat and bitterness.

The nose presents some lifted aromas of plum, cherry, chocolate oak and a touch of meatiness, however there is also a hint of the issues that are to come. If you rest the wine just on the front palate you get a sense of what a nice wine it could have been with many of the same tasty flavours presenting themselves very nicely. From the mid palate however, bitterness and a sense of heat becomes distracting and dominant. I gave the wine a couple of days to try and sort itself out, but it never did. I don’t mind bitterness in some wines and I’m certainly no alcohol wuss, but in both instances they are too dominant in this wine.

Rated:


RRP: $24
ABV: 14.5%
Website: www.firegully.com.au


Red

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rosemount Botanicals Sauvignon Blanc infused with lemon and elderflower (NV) (Retail)

Polonius: [Aside] “Though this be madness, yet there is method in't”.
(Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 193–206)

What works on paper, has the tendency to ride on vapor
Fading into Obscurity – Sloan

Some concepts look great on paper and work perfectly in theory. Sometimes market research and focus groups can anticipate consumer trends, assisting a company/industry to make a tidy profit in the process. On other occasions all the planning, research, brainstorming and marketing spin can make no difference whatsoever to the end result (just ask the Federal Australian Labor Party).

According to the Group Managing Director of Rosemount, the Rosemount Botanicals range of white wines are ‘aimed at making wine more attractive to drinkers who previously avoided it and to wine drinkers who would not normally drink during the day’ (Link)

The Botanicals range consists of three white wines that are lightly carbonated and infused with different fruits and florals - Chardonnay with apple and cucumber; Pinot Grigio with blood orange and rosewater; and the subject of this review, Sauvignon Blanc with lemon and elderberry.

I must admit, I was intrigued to see if these wines tasted as bad as they sound (in my opinion at least). It would be hypocritical to criticise the Botanicals range and snigger from the sidelines without trying them.

The colour of the wine is almost clear – like a glass of carbonated water with a teaspoon of Bickfords lime cordial. It smells sickly sweet - lychee, gooseberry and florals. It tastes sickly, cloyingly sweet - simple, green pie apples, lychee, and sugared ripe honeydew melon flavours are followed by an unpleasant bitter lemon rind finish that not even the high residual sugar can mask. Finally, there is no pretence of structure, length or intensity. One glass was enough to get the idea, and that was a struggle.

Rosemount are promoting the Botanicals range as chic and new, the fruit and floral infusions enlivening the wine. The cynic in me would argue that no amount of spin or marketing can make this range anything more than an over-engineered 2010 version of West Coast Cooler in a pretty, Bombay Sapphire-inspired 750ml bottle. Unfortunately, stranger things have happened.

All in all, I would have to say that there is no method in the fruit and herb infused madness. Surely there are more effective ways of converting non-wine drinkers to the joys of wine – making wine and not fizzy wine cooler might be a start.


     Rated



    RRP: $17.99
    ABV:8.5%
    Website: http://www.rosemountestate.com.au/

Bay of Fires Tasmanian Cuvee (Tasmania)



With the warmer weather and the missus being a lover of bubbles, we’ve been drinking a bit more sparkling of late. This Bay of Fires Tasmanian Cuvee is a decent sparkling but when compared to the Brown Brothers NV reviewed on this site last week, it’s clearly of lesser quality and another $10-15 more expensive.

This would go down well at a stand up event this summer with its nice red fruit flavours, along with some lovely rich, creaminess. If you’re in a bit more of a contemplative setting however, it won’t bear up quite so well with a lack of focus on the palate that is supported by less than smooth acidity. In the end a decent enough sparkling that has just enough flavour and complexity to get it over the line for 3.5 stars.

Rated:


RRP: $31.50
ABV: 12.5%
Wesite: www.bayoffireswines.com.au


Red

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Brown Brothers Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier NV (Victoria)



In Australia we’re in the habit of comparing our wines against what France has to offer. In a lot of these benchmark type tastings it seems we do very well, however, one area in which i think there is generally a big difference is Champagne vs Aussie Sparkling. Notwithstanding some pretty impressive sparkling coming out of Tasmania, Aussie sparkling often seems a touch harsh after a Champagne. That said, each wine deserves to be considered on its own terms, and when one considers that this Brown Brothers NV has an RRP of $20, it’s an impressive wine.

The thing that sets this sparkling apart from its similarly priced alternatives is balance and length. Nothing sticks out and the length of finish really is fantastic for a wine of this price. It’s dry with citrus flavours and some lovely creaminess. Not especially complex but entirely enjoyable. I ummed and ahhed between giving this 3.5 and 4 stars, but given that fantastic length, and given I'm in a parochial mood, I’m going to give it a nudge . . .

Rated:


RRP: $20
ABV: 12.5%
Website: www.brownbrothers.com.au


Red

Thursday, November 11, 2010

2009 Finca Flichman Oak Aged Roble Malbec (Argentina)




A few weeks ago (3 to be more precise) a few friends and I were at our local - only - wine bar in Randwick, Sydney. Hungry and thirsty, we wanted a relatively affordable red to go with our assorted Tapas that was on its way to the table.  I am always up for trying a new Malbec (and am heading to Argentina in February whilst heading to a mates wedding), so we settled on the 2009 Finca Flichman Aged Roble.
Aged for 4 months in oak and another 3 in the bottle prior to release, the wine was approachable from the outset without being too simple/jammy. On the palate there were soft, plush, juicy dark cherry and dark berry fruit flavours, with an earthy dark chocolate and spice finish. Oak imparted tannins were in the background, though sufficiently prominent to provide enough structure to support the juicy fruit.

This is an affordable, easy drinking, approachable and versatile wine. It will not dazzle with its complexity, though it went very well with a range of tapas dishes and would also be a nice match with a medium-rare slab of steak (is there a Malbec out there that does not?).

Rated:
+ *

RRP: $15-20
ABV:13.5%
Website: http://www.flichman.com.ar/ingles/home_esp.htm

PS -  + for the relative value of the wine at the wine bar, * for the fact it is a 'dinner party stress reliever' - eg: you can order two bottles of it for a table of mixed guests and not upset the wine geeks and wine neewbies

Sunday, November 7, 2010

2008 Cape Mentelle 'Trinders' Cabernet Merlot (Margaret River)


Another 08 Cape Mentelle wine, only this time it’s the Trinders Cabernet Merlot. Same score as the Chardonnay, only this wine provides more interest and appeal at this stage. In fact, looking at the note I wrote on this wine, I could just about have used the note I wrote on the 07, which was a wine I really enjoyed as well

The nose has a bit of sex appeal with some lovely integrated French oak, blackcurrant, black olive, tobacco, and touch of eucalypt. On the palate it turns decidedly dry and savoury. Its medium bodied with some chocolate, dried herbs, and a long, slightly sour finish. All of which is supported by unobtrusive acidity and fine, powdery tannins. As with the 07 it’s beautifully poised and if cellared well, should do 10 years in a canter.

Given that this can be picked up for under $25 in many places there aren't to many classier Cabernets going around for the price . . .

Rated:


RRP: $32
ABV: 13.5%
Website: www.capementelle.com.au



Red

Thursday, November 4, 2010

2008 Cape Mentelle Chardonnay (Margaret River)


This is undoubtedly a high quality Chardonnay and yet for me it lacked a little something in terms of either intensity or generosity.

A subtle nose of citrus, fig, and spice is followed by a palate that’s smooth, balanced, and with a nice line of flavour. It tastes of grapefruit, cloves and just a touch of creaminess before delivering a long finish. It’s just about a picture perfect rendition of modern Australian Chardonnay providing a sense of restraint and demonstrating a judicious use of oak. But that might be the problem as well in that it lacked a bit of personality or interest. Perhaps, however, I’m just drinking it a bit too young and time could very well be kind to it, as it undoubtedly has the balance to age well. I'll leave my other bottles of this in the cellar for at least a few more years.

Rated:


RRP: $42
ABV: 13.0%
Website: www.capementelle.com.au


Red

Saturday, October 30, 2010

World Class Australian Cabernet – Langton’s Classification V Tasting

Brown and I attended the Langton’s Classification V Tasting in Sydney earlier in the week. It was a bit testing at times in terms of the crowds, but nevertheless a wonderful tasting. It afforded me the opportunity to try numerous wines that are considered genuine Australian benchmarks, many of which are either too expensive or too rare for me to typically get my hands on. While I certainly didn’t get to try every wine there, I did manage to try pretty much every wine I hadn’t tried previously, as well as a number of great wines that I had.

There was some amazing Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot, and Shiraz to be had on the night, but the highlight for me really was the Cabernet. As a Cabernet lover this is perhaps not surprising, but I genuinely thought the quality across the board was outstanding. I’ve had a few people who have drunk plenty of Bordeaux suggest to me that, with the exception of the very best bottles of Bordeaux, Australian Cabernet is the equal of any on the world stage. The Cabernet I drunk this night would certainly be supportive of this supposition.

Margaret River stood tall, with many 07s and a number of 08s on show, reinforcing my belief that it’s Australia’s greatest combination of region and grape variety. Coonawarra was also well represented with some wonderful wines. This of course is what you would expect from Australia’s two premier Cabernet regions. There were however, also, some wonderful examples from the Clare Valley, Tasmania, and the Yarra Valley. Below were my favourite Cabernets on the night

2008 Yarra Yering Dry Red No.1 (Yarra Valley, $75, cork) – This is one of those wines that had me with my first sniff of its fragrant, yet complex bouquet. On the palate it’s medium-bodied and elegant, and yet still intense with beautiful sweet and savoury flavours. Defined more by its natural acidity than its tannins. This is just going to get better and better. My wine of the night.

2001 Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon (Coal River, $91, cork) – I’d always been intrigued and bit sceptical of this wine (not having ever tried it) as a Cabernet from Tasmania. Tasmania being more or less the coldest part of Australia is more readily associated with Pinot Noir. Like any broad regions however, specific sub-regions and sites can make a huge difference and according to Peter Althaus, Domaine A’s winemaker, their site for Cabernet Sauvignon in the Coal River has less problems ripening grapes than Bordeaux does. Peter had brought along the museum release 2001 for people to taste so as to demonstrate how this wine ages. For me it stood out as different from the other Cabernets I tried on the night and yet also a quintessential Cabernet. Some lovely leafy and capsicum notes mingled with berry and blackcurrant fruit. Perfectly balanced and built to age. All scepticism has been wiped away.

2008 Wendouree Cab Malbec (Clare Valley, Cork) – Wendouree has been one of those wineries that has held a bit of a mythical status for me ever since I first read some of Halliday’s writings about them a number of years ago. As he wrote about them requiring 20 years minimum in the cellar and described them as an iron-fist in a velvet glove it immediately enamoured me to Wendouree and made me think that it was a winery that ought to be part of any cellar I was going to build. The fact that they have been so removed from the mainstream of websites, cellar doors, and sample sending only increased my interest in the winery. In the past couple of years as I have had both the means and the opportunity to purchase some Wendouree, however, I’ve just held off as I’ve heard and read quite a few dissenting voices who have questioned the quality of these wines. Having now tasted the wine I can cast these doubting voices aside and look to add Wendouree to my cellar shortlist. The 2008 is very much as Halliday has often described the Cab Malbec with a lush, fragrant nose followed up by a powerful, rich and mouth smackingly tannic palate. Love it! Happily these wines will apparently be under screwcap in future as well (the Cabernet that never dies?).

2007 Cape Mentelle (Margaret River, $85, Screwcap) – Prior to trying the Cape Mentelle I tried the 08 Cullen Diana Madeline, which I found to be an interesting, atypical Margaret River Cabernet. I doubt I would have picked it blind as being from Margaret River. It was in a medium-bodied, almost dilute style, that doesn’t deliver much in the way of enjoyment now, though the quality is there to suggest it could build with time in the cellar. Anyway, the reason for that little aside on Cullen, was that it contrasted so vividly with the Cape Mentelle which to me was just classic Margaret River. My beloved gravel was there on the bouquet, and it was a ripe, powerful yet nevertheless restrained Cabernet. Beautiful structure. Could drink this sought of wine with alarming regularity for my bank balance

2006 John Riddoch (Coonawarra, $75, Screwcap)- Rippling tannin. I love to see powerful tannins in young wines and the John Riddoch has this element in spades. Importantly, however, the tannins never overwhelm the wine and the fruit is more than up to the task through the long finish. This should age into something quite special over the next couple of decades.

I already have some of the John Riddoch in the cellar. Now to explain to the missus why the other four Cabernets are such must buys despite the price tags . . .

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Knappstein mini Riesling vertical tasting - Ackland Vineyard, Hand Picked etc - Summer of Riesling Part 2

A quick search of the RedtoBrown Wine Review will reveal that we are fans of Riesling. Despite being the commercially dominant white wine variety of the 70s and early 80s, sales of Riesling have remained relatively static for decades as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and even Pinot Gris/Grigio have attracted most of the commercial attention. Though Riesling is not dominating sales and wine shop shelf space, the overall quality of Australian Riesling has never been better.
Furthermore, we are increasingly seeing slight stylistic deviations from the traditional dry lemon-lime-chalky-mineral wines we know and love (personally at least). These deviations, including off dry, Riesling blended with other grapes and the use of some oak when aging the wines are now becoming a bit more common on wine shop shelves in Sydney. The risk that these new styles could muddy the waters between dry, off dry and sweet Riesling styles in the minds of consumers has been discussed in another post. However, despite this potential problem, if quality and ‘something new’ have any effect on influencing consumers, Riesling is as well placed as any grape to carve out a greater market share.

Recently, RedtoBrown were treated to a tasting of several Rieslings from Knappstein winery (Clare Valley) hosted by Knappstein winemaker Julian Langworthy. Joining us at the tasting were Andrew Graham of the Ozwinereviw, Kate Parry and a cameo from Mike Bennie. The mini vertical included a number of aged and current release Rieslings yet also some of the ‘experiments’ and small run new blends that are emerging out of Knappstein.

The highlight of the evening (unsurprisingly), was the Ackland Vineyard Watervale Rielsings – from the 2010 and 2005 vintages.

The 2010 arguably needs another few months to settle in the bottle before showing at its youthful best, though it was still an impressive wine. The first and lasting impression were the attention-grabbing florals on the nose, combined with passionfruit and even lychee scents.
On the palate the 2010 there were some melon and almost tropical fruits and a trace of passionfruit accompanying the more typical lemon flavours.  Given time to settle, I can envisage it remaining a powerful, flavoursome young wine for a year or two, before continuing on for several years developing more restraint and complexity.

The 2005 Ackland was an even more powerful wine in its youth than the 2010: big boned and filled with ripe apple, lemon, and enough acidity and tannins on the finish for it to be a pleasurable wine to drink young. Tasting it with 4-5 years of bottle age, the 2005 has grown up and matured, and has not fallen in a heap (unlike me!). The nose was a more of what I would consider a 'typical' of the Clare Valley  though it still gave off a lovely floral perfume (for me a common Watervale characteristic). In addition, there was a whiff of kerosene and spice to add complexity, framed by rounded lemon, fine, chalky tannins, refreshing acidity and a focused finish. Though the 2005 is not a wine to cellar for another 20 years, it was by no means on its last legs – with more air it evolved further complexity. All-in-all a pleasant surprise given it was a well respected crowd pleaser when young yet is still winning over the fans in middle age (and I think both Red and my favourite wine on the night).

Knappstein Hand Picked Riesling 1994, 2002, 2005 and 2010.
The handpicked is Knappstein's entry level Riesling. With the 2010, once again, the nose is what held my attention the most – riper lychee and passionfruit than the Ackland, mixed with the previously encountered florals and lemon. As with the Ackland, the 2010 Hand Picked probably needs a few months to settle as the acid is a bit nervy and some of the flavours more rounded and ripe.

Under Langworthy's watch, the Hand Picked is made in a ‘drink now’ style and not necessarily for contemplation or long term cellaring.  It is one of an increasing number of affordable Rieslings that are in a more popularly accessible style – while not being a Sauvignon Blanc killer/competitor, I would argue fans of Sauv Blanc would also like this wine (I would argue they would love 80% of Rieslings if they bothered to try them, but that is a rant for another post). The 2010 Hand Picked is more in the more ripe apple, lemon and passionfruit flavour spectrum than the steely, taut lime and lemon style I prefer. It still has the structure and balance of flavour, acidity and tannin to make it a versatile wine to drink alone or with food.
The 2005 Hand Picked had undergone a similar development to the 2005 Ackland (more complexity, more developed flavours), though with the intensity and length turned down a fair few notches. It was not ageing with as much grace as the Ackland, though still had primary lemony fruit intermixed with some harsher kerosene complexity and decent acidity.

The 2002 Hand Picked was arguably fresher and more vibrant than the 2005 – one to hang onto a bit longer if you like your aged Riesling.

Unfortunately, the Magnum of the 1994 Hand Picked we tasted was slightly oxidised and probably not a typical example. It had a golden/green hue and had a waxy, toasty, oily texture, with toast and almost woodchip flavours over the top of gentle, soft lemon. Nevertheless, an interesting curio on the evening, with the bottle being a funky retro 'bottle green' that reminded me of the 1970s.

Finally, to round off the wines tasted, we tried the 2010 ‘Three’ – a blend of 72% Gew├╝rztraminer, 18% Riesling and 10% Pinot Gris and the 2010 'Insider' - one of a number of experimental wines Langworthy is developing.
In regards to the Three, this is a style of wine that goes hand in hand with asian food - spicy asian food at that.  Coming from Sydney, I find myself at an Asian restaurant every second weekend in summer, and the Riesling is the wine weapon of choice more often than not.  However, I have purchased the odd lower alcohol Gewurtz when the chilli and spice is turned up to 11.
The alcohol level (13%) and residual sugar (4.8g/l)  in the Three are both low enough to allow the sweet, spicy/lychee aromatics and clean drying acidiy on the finish to come to the fore without the harsh, short, phenolic finish and oily alcohol heat that I find with many Australian Gewurtz/Gewurtz blends.
The use of 10% of Pinot Gris adds some texture to the wine that differentiates it slightly from a straight Gewurtz or Riesling (once again, without the oily, flabbiness I find unappealing with some Pinot Gris). The Three is not a thinkers wine, it is a wine for enjoyment.  I could see white blends like it replacing a Moscato or Sauvignon Blanc on the restaurant table without too much trouble.

Finally there was the 2010 'Insider' (though tasted near the start of the evening). Julian has considerable resources to experiment with at Knappstein (hectares of old vine fruit and various varieties) and the yet to be officially named or released 'Insider' is one of the end products of this ongoing experimentation. The Insider consisted of machine harvested fruit that had underwent a wild ferment and was then aged on lees.
The 'Insider' was an advanced release sample and was probably not showing at its best/most representative (exuberant youth, bottle shock, culture shock from being in Sydney :-)). Suffice to say it still had clean lemon / honey dew melon flavours and a perfumed floral aspect that would be well suited to a warm summers day in Sydney. An approachable style that aims to show another side to the Clare Valley many would not get to see and one that would win over many mainstream punters, if not the traditional Riesling drinkers.

Overall, the evening was a very informative experience.  Talking to Julian it was clear that Knappstein are increasingly prepared to tinker with their previously established wine making formulae in order to seek out new approaches, styles and perspectives on Riesling. This shows promise for the future as I would argue Knappstein had previously underachieved and somewhat lost its way in the early 'noughties', despite its substantial resources.  Newer Riesling/riesling-based wines like the Three and the recently released Grosset off dry might be just what Riesling needs to increase its profile and  sales in the very image consicous and fickle white wine market. In saying that, the more traditional 2005 Ackland reminded me why I like Clare Valley Riesling and Riesling so much in the first place!

Thanks to Dan and Fiona for arranging the tasting, Andrew, Kate and Mike for the company and many thanks to Julian for the informative chat and run-through of the wines.

Winery Website: http://www.knappstein.com.au/

The Diversification of Riesling Styles in Australia: The Positives and Negatives (The Summer of Riesling Part 1)

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary Of Defense 2002

Sauvignon Blanc in the New Zealand Marlborough style is the wine equivalent of a Donald Rumsfeld ‘known known’- consumers are all familiar with the style and 90% of readily available bottles have a very similar flavour profile. As a result, it can be marketed quite easily and wineries do not have to waste time trying to differentiate Sauvignon Blanc from other varieties.

Whether as a response to the recent commercial dominance of Sauvignon Blanc, or a desire to diversify, wine makers of other white wine varieties such as Riesling, are increasingly deviating from the 'traditional' style we have become familiar with. For example, there are a number of ‘off dry’ Rieslings that have been released in the last year; Grosset and Petaluma being two high profile examples. Furthermore, I am noticing an increased number of affordable ‘drink now’ Rieslings that have softer apple or tropical flavours (relatively speaking) than the usual lime/lemon. However, a swallow does not make a summer and 2 off dry Rieslings and a few more approachable Rieslings do not make a structural shift away from traditional dry Riesling. If this does represent even a slight, subtle trend towards the diversification of Riesling styles being produced in Australia, what are some of the the positives and negatives of such a move?

Positives:
Most of the positives I can identify are based around increased sales of Riesling and interest in Riesling.

The small-scale production of different styles may increase and broaden the level of interest in the grape and possibly increase sales across all styles in the process (eg: make it the next ‘it’ wine).

It could be argued that in the face of commercial realities (outstanding Riesling has been produced consistently in the last 10 years, though sales have not risen dramatically), a move to produce small batches of high quality examples of different Riesling styles could boost interest – eg: promoting it as a new, fresh approach to a respected wine. It could also keep the sales of Riesling ticking along until tastes or fashion changes (for the better).

Negatives:
By releasing more off dry Rieslings, local wine makers are possibly creating some Rumsfeld ‘known unknowns’ amongst consumers. A sweet tooth, Sauv Blanc-buying wine consumer would only need one glass of a lemon/lime/chalk and steely acid Riesling to run screaming back to the soft fruity warmth of their New Zealand old faithful. Similarly, a person seeking a dry, crisp white wine would not take kindly to picking up an unmarked Riesling with 22g/l residual sugar when they were expecting a dry wine to have with their steamed fish (probably playing it safe with Chablis thereon in).

An unregulated growth of off-dry/sweeter Rieslings could undo the hard work of Australian Riesling winemakers who have promoted their wines as being (bone) dry for several years. Given that predictability of style is one of the strengths of Sauvignon Blanc, if Riesling were to suddenly become stylistically schizophrenic, it could lead to people avoiding Riesling based on ‘style ambiguity’ alone.

It could also be argued that any wholesale move towards a ‘Sauvignon Blanc Killer’ style is doomed to fail as was the case with the Australian red wine making regions other than in South Australia who tried to mimic the Robert Parker Jr ‘Fruit Bomb’ style in the early noughties. Such an approach is arguably a lose-lose situation. Whether a small scale move (eg: only a small percentage of the wine produced is of a new style) has the same negative impact in the Australian world of Riesling as it did with Shiraz remains to be seen.

Some would argue, with history backing them up, that the dry style of Riesling is dominant for a reason – the dry style produces the finest Riesling. Why change something or dilute something that obviously works (even if it is not appreciated in the mass market)?

Note: Would love to hear of any additional positives and negatives not covered here.

A Solution/Compromise/Way Forward?
I am unsure if there is a perfect solution to address the quandary of diversifying Riesling styles. However, avoiding confusion amongst consumers– through education, marketing, and regulation by wine makers and/or Riesling wine representatives could all assist. Andrew Graham of OzWinereview and others have previously advocated the use of a Riesling sweetness scale on bottles or in shops to avoid style confusion (eg: the International Riesling Foundation’s Riesling Scale, German Wine Classification). I think this is a good idea (on a much simpler level, it worked with alcoholic cider – sweet dry or draught).

However, any use of a scale or standard needs to be backed up with further ongoing education in the broader wine drinking community: A sticker on the back of a bottle will help some people, though for it to be successful, the different Riesling styles in the scale need to be known almost instinctively by consumers to boost sales and avoid confusion – (eg: dry = fish, off dry = spicy Thai, sweet = desert wine). Riesling – dry or off dry- is such a versatile wine to have with food, its versatility deserves to be more widely known amongst consumers. Education, marketing, word of mouth and luck may all come into play in this regard.

In conclusion, there are positives and negatives related to the diversification of Riesling styles in Australia. A diverse range of Rieslings have always been made in the country, and at certain stages sweeter/off dry versions were much more popular and dominant relatively than dry Riesling is today. If some of the aforementioned negatives can be overcome, and if the wine makers themselves can continue to make increasingly good quality, balanced and not over-sweet alternative styles of Riesling, I see no reason why Riesling cannot start eating slowly and subtly into the market share of more dominant white wines.


PS: Once again, throwing this article onto the blog to hopefully generate some friendly debate: we are fans of Riesling, but are open minded on its future. Interested to hear peoples thoughts (be they about off dry Rieslings, traditional Rieslings, progressive german house music, etc :-) ) RB

Monday, October 25, 2010

Juniper Estate

It wouldn’t surprise me if in a decade’s time we are talking about Juniper as one of the very top Margaret River estates . . .

On the surface of things you’d think it would already be one of the premier Margaret River wineries. It was one of the earlier vineyards planted in Margaret River, being 1973, so the vines have a nice bit of age to them. The vineyards are also in the prestigious sub-region of Wilyabrup, and its neighbours are Vasse Felix and Cullen. With this combination of age and location you’d think you might be on to a winner. Of course producing great wine is never quite so simple

The vines themselves need to be in robust health, and this was lacking when Roger Hill and Gillian Anderson bought it off the original owners in 1998. At the same time Mark Messenger came across from Cape Mentelle as the winemaker. From that time work began on restoring the vineyard including retrellising along with new plantings. Mark reckons that this work in the vineyard really started to demonstrate its worth in the 2005 vintage. 2006 was of course a bit of a tough vintage in the Margaret River (especially for reds), but then 2007 came along and this could well be the breakthrough year for Juniper.

I’ve written about the 07 Cabernet Sauvignon in a previous post - http://tinyurl.com/26bvpfv - and I was able to try it again at an excellent tasting at North Sydney Cellars, where Mark Messenger guided us through a range of Juniper wines. It was an impressive collection across both their entry level “Crossing” wines as well as their Estate wines. As well as the traditional Margaret River varieties, Juniper are doing some interesting things with both Tempranillo and Zinfandel. The only wine I wasn't such a fan of was the Sem Sav Blanc, but that might say more about my tastes than the wine itself. The highlight, however, remained the 07 Cab Sav. It just reaffirmed my view that it is one of my wines of the year thus far and the best Margaret River Cabernet I have had from the 07 vintage.

After the tasting I had the opportunity to have a good chat with Mark. He’s a lovely, modest guy, who nevertheless demonstrates a real passion for what he is doing and is very forthcoming in talking about all things wine. An interesting aspect that we discussed was the importance of the addition of 1-2% of Merlot, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot in the 07. Apparently the straight Cab Sav would have made a good wine on its own, but lacked just a little both in terms of length and complexity. It took a long time to get the blend right, but once in balance, these small amounts of Bordeaux varieties were really important in building the wine into something special.

This 07 could well be backed up by wines of similar or even greater stature in 2008 and 2009. Mark is of the opinion that these two vintages will ultimately prove to be better than the much proclaimed 2007 (interestingly while he thinks 2010 is a decent vintage, he’s of the opinion it’s certainly not a great vintage). Cabernets from 08 and 09 mightn’t initially show as well as 07 but will likely prove more classic, finely structured vintages. Specifically for the Juniper Cabernet these excellent vintages are matched by the continuing improvement of the vineyard, and as such has Mark pretty excited about the next two releases.

I’m generally too young in wine drinking years to be able to reminisce about when such and such a wine was only $7 and the like, and while $45 is no bargain basement price for the Juniper Cabernet Sauvignon, it may well look inexpensive 10 years from now . . .


Red

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

2009 Teusner "The Dog Strangler" Mataro


A bit of a Mataro focus for me at the moment.

This is the kind of wine that provides a lot of immediate drinking pleasure, and yet is also interesting enough to be a wine to enjoy contemplating. Lovely, complex spice is its calling card.
It smells of ripe berries, chocolate, violets, and five spice along with just a touch of meatiness. On the palate it’s mouth filling in its ripe fruit, with intensity provided by exotic spice. This is underpinned by a clean acidity and lovely earthiness. It finishes nice and savoury. A tiny bit of heat on the finish, but it didn’t prevent me from loving drinking this wine. Another notch on the belt for Barossa Mataro . . .

Rated:



RRP: $25
ABV: 14.5%
Website: www.teusner.com.au


Red

Sunday, October 17, 2010

2010 Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon (Hunter Valley)



You normally see this wine in bottle shops as a 5 year old cellar release, so I nabbed this when I saw it the other day.

Very young Semillon often doesn’t provide a lot of drinking pleasure, and the less than great examples I often think are akin to drinking water with a squeeze of lemon. Generally speaking greatness and drinking pleasure for Hunter Semillon comes with some time in the cellar.

2010 Hunter Semillons might be touch different however. I tasted the 2010 Tyrrell’s Semillons a few weeks back and found them to be richer and more expressive than I would have expected. This 2010 Elizabeth follows the same trend.

If I’d smelled this blind when just out of the fridge I reckon I would have picked it as a Riesling. It initially has a very riesling-like floral and citrus nose. Once warmed up a touch it revealed its origins more clearly adding in some subtle tropical notes. It drinks pretty well now with a nice balance between its acidity and citrus flavours on the one hand, and rich honey-like flavours through the mid-palate on the other. It possibly comes up a touch short on the finish, but as a wine that you can typically pick up for $10-$15, it’s a very minor quibble. 3.5 Stars for now and a “+” for where it might well be in 5-10 years time. A lovely Elizabeth.

Scored:
+

RRP: ?
ABV: 11.5%
Website: www.mountpleasantwines.com.au


Red

Sunday, October 10, 2010

2007 Toscar Monastrell (Alicante, Spain)

Mataro (Mourvedre if we are in France or Monastrell if we are in Spain) is a variety I want to drink more of. As a single variety they’re relatively rare in Australia but I’ve really enjoyed those which I have tried, particularly from Hewitson and Teusner, both in the Barossa Valley. Earth, game, and spice are often matched with a core of lovely ripe fruit in these wines, and as such really tickle my fancy.

The 2007 Toscar Monastrell broadly fits this mould, though is obviously different given that it’s from an entirely different country. It’s appealingly rustic and a good quaffer in the best sense of the term.

The nose isn’t especially expressive but has some nice aromas of plum, oak and some dried herbs. On the palate there is a bit more going on with that core of plum fruit enmeshed with flavours of spice, game, and herbs. There’s also a lovely smokiness throughout.

A great food wine and appealingly different from what I normally drink.

Rated:


RRP: $15
ABV: 13.5%
Website: www.salvadorpoveda.com


Red

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2008 Willow Creek Tulum Pinot Noir (Mornington Peninsula)



The Mornington Peninsula possibly makes my favourite Oz Pinot Noir, though both the Yarra Valley and Macedon could well challenge that favouritism given what I’ve tasted of late. This wine is certainly a credit on the Mornington Peninsula side of the ledger.

There is a lovely balance between cherry and savoury flavours with this wine.

It becomes increasingly fragrant with air and has aromas of cherry, spice, some floral notes, and lovely oak. On the palate it is beautifully structured with a tight line and length of flavour. It tastes of sour cherry, dried herbs, some earthiness and hint of chocolate. There's a nice spiciness throughout as well as an attractive sea salt note. The finish is long and very dry. With a good decant this drinks well now, though i reckon it will continue to get better over the next 5 years at least. A quality Pinot.


Red


Rated:
+

RRP: $40
ABV: 14.0%
Website: www.willow-creek.com.au

Saturday, October 2, 2010

2008 Tar & Roses Tempranillo (Heathcote, Alpine Valleys)



I’m yet to have a Tempranillo moment.

In the past few years, as my tastes have really expanded beyond the Aussie staples of Cabernet and Shiraz, I’ve invariably had a moment with other red varietals that have grabbed me, excited me, and made me want to go out and drink and purchase as much of the wine that my budget allows. Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Nebbiolo are all examples of where this has happened.

My Tempranillo moment may well come as I try more Spanish examples, as well as an increasing number of good quality Australian examples, but for whatever reason Tempranillo has thus far failed to grab my imagination.

This wine is good drinking and worked well while watching footy finals the other week with a pizza. Nice nose of red fruits, five spice and maybe a touch of tobacco. Oak is there but not unpleasant. To drink it’s a bit overripe but nevertheless has some enjoyable flavours of sour cherry, sarsaparilla, and liquorice. Medium-full bodied. Good wine and fairly priced. My score might be considered a bit miserly for those who have more of a taste for Tempranillo.

Rated:


RRP: $25
ABV: 14.0%
Website: www.tarandroses.com.au

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Red to Brown feature: 'Fact or Fiction' Topic 1 - 'Savaging Sweetness’?

Below is the first of a semi-regular series of posts to encourage further debate or discussion about a particular wine topic. In a way, it reflects the banter that goes on between Red and myself at a tasting, dinner or any related function where wine is being discussed or consumed . All thoughts and opinions are welcome.

‘Savaging Sweetness’?
Looking over our tasting notes, and the notes of many other published and amateur wine writers / bloggers, it appears that sweetness in wine is seen as a negative characteristic, and not only when it is in the overt ‘syrupy’, ‘cloying’ range (note: I am thinking more of dry table wines, rather than those intended to be made in a semi-sweet / off-dry/amarone style). Given that many of the highest selling wines tend to be sweeter than they are savoury, it brings me to the first RedtoBrown Fact or Fiction Question:


Fact or Fiction: Is the existence of sweetness in table wine treated by wine critics and bloggers in a similar way to the existence of bacteria in the water we drink – tolerable, though only at minute levels?

Is this true or false? Is sweetness derided so strongly by many/some? Is there a common tendancy to tolerate sweetness to a point, but go to town if it is obvious / put a caveat on any good wine that is sweet? This observation throws up some related questions/hypothetical questions, such as:


• Does a red wine have to be savoury, or at least have a spine of savouriness running through it to be considered top quality?;
• If the ‘savaging of sweetness’ does exist in wine writing, is it driven by snobbery/elitistism?
• Is a red table wine with overt sweetness considered flawed from a viticultural and wine making perspective in every instance?
• Is the number of sweeter wines being sold a result of the region the grapes are grown (eg high crops, irrigated vines, dry, warm climate) or is it a result of consumer demand for this style of wine?
• Will the tastes of consumers in the premium bracket change to once again seek out sweeter table wines?
• Has Robert Parker Jr had a positive/negative impact on the appreciation of sweeter wines (or any other critic, including those who praise super-savoury wines)?


While the questions will not keep Andrew Jefford or Jancis Robinson awake at night (and have no doubt been posed 1000 times before), I hope they generate some thoughts for some. Interested to hear your view!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Face Off: Cote-Rotie/Shiraz Viognier



Red - When we received a sample of the 09 Head Blonde Shiraz Viognier a few weeks back the temptation was to taste and review it straight away. Thinking on it a bit though, we realised that RedtoBrown hadn’t got around to a doing a Face-Off for a while, and that this wine could be a part of a very interesting Cote Rotie/Shiraz Viognier Face-Off.

Cote Rotie is the appellation in the northern Rhone Valley whose wines are typically a blend of Shiraz and a small percentage of Viognier. This addition of Viognier to the Shiraz tends to give the wine lifted aromatics. In the past decade an increasing number of Australian wineries have tried emulate this style of wine. In the Australian context it can on occasions be a bit of a polarising wine, and indeed this is somewhat reflected with myself and Brown.

I’ve generally been a bit of a sceptic when it comes to the blend, although just in the past 12 months I’ve had several examples, both Australian and French, which have demonstrated to me that at its best, this blend can undoubtedly produce beautiful wines. Brown on the other hand is a fan, with plenty of Clonakilla in the cellar to show for it.

So we had the Head Blonde, and thought we should get another Aussie example, along with a Cote Rotie. For the Aussie we decided on the 06 Turner’s Crossing Shiraz Viognier. Like the Head it’s an Aussie example that we have both been impressed by in the past, as well as being very reasonably priced at $25 RRP. For the Cote Rotie, it was basically a case of finding the least expensive bottle we could. With Cote Rotie generally being very small production, and factoring in import costs, you struggle to find any Cote Rotie in Australia for under $100. The 07 Les Vins de Vienne Cote Rotie Les Essartailles was found at Dan Murphys for $85.

While the three wines come from different years they are all from good to excellent vintages in their respective regions. We initially tasted the wines single blind before then going on to finish them over dinner.

Brown - It's Face-Off time again. As Red notes above, we roadtested 3 examples of arguably the red blend of the ‘noughties’ in Australia, Shiraz Viognier.

Shiraz Viognier is a blend that has arguably entered the tall poppy backlash zone for some, such is its relative ubiquity. The sticking point with the blend appears to be the occaisional use of too much viognier in some (many?) examples, which imparts a sweet dried apricot flavour and aroma. If you hate viognier or apricots, there may be quite a few SV blends that do not take your fancy. I love dried apricots, but not overtly in my wine.
Personally I am a fan (or definitely not a sceptic) of a good Shiraz Viognier blend, and I also happen to appreciate a good example of a straight viognier as well. My favourite bottles of SV tend to be ones that the winery have taken some care in making (eg: not just a wine to make up the numbers at the cellar door or tap into the demand), and also wines that have a relatively small amount of viognier in them to provide the aforementioned floral and spicy lift. With all this in mind I was intrigued to find out how these wines would shape up blind, and tasted back to back.


Wine 1 (07 Les Vins de Vienne Cote Rotie Les Essartailles, $85)

Red - this wine opened with a nose of spice and cinnamon and some nice vanillin oak, but then over the course of dinner the Viognier became more evident with apricot becoming quite dominant, and ultimately a bit distracting for me. It has good line and length on the palate with ripe, yet balanced fruit, supported by an interesting and appealing citric acid. Based on it’s nose while tasting blind (and before the Viognier started to dominate) I thought it might have been the Turner’s Crossing. 3.5 Stars

Brown – Same nose for me (vanillin oak the most obvious at first). Initally only a suggestion of apricot, though the palate was quite stewed and ripe with some meaty, olive flavours. With more air the wine came to life, and more vibrant black fruit and acidity, though as noted, apricot, white pepper and mixed spice were dominant. Assumed this was from a warm vintage / warm wine growing region. 3.5+*Stars - Good point of  difference to the Australian SV's, though the RRP was a bit steep, though that was the fault of the import duties, not the aspirations of the wine.

Wine 2 (2006 Turner’s Crossing Shiraz Viognier, Bendigo, $25)

Red - There’s a nice complexity to this wine. While tasting blind it appeared to have more evident Viognier on the nose when compared to Wine 1, but then over the course of dinner it grew in complexity and the lovely berry and five spice aromas came to the fore. There’s a lovely ripe, richness to the palate while still retaining a sense of restraint. The tannins didn’t seem completely integrated yet, but it delivered a long finish. Really enjoyed this and reckon it’s one for the cellar. 4 Stars

Brown – The nicest wine when tasted shortly after opening. More expressive nose, fruity, primary. Apricot was evident, though not obtrusive and in balance with the other fruit aromas and flavours. Medium bodied, with similar black fruit flavours to wine 1. Some sweetness and a bit of apricot and unobtrusive bitterness at the finish. With air some cinnamon and all spice became more noticeable, though the tannins remained quite robust. A very solid wine (especially for the price). 3.5 *


Wine 3 (2009 Head Blonde Shiraz Viognier, Barossa Valley, Sample, $30)

Red – During the blind tasting this was the least impressive wine, having a fairly closed nose and tasting almost dilute on the palate. It was completely different from the previous two wines, and as such I assumed it was the Cote Rotie. Suffice to say I was very surprised to find out it was the Head Blonde. Then, however, over the course of the next couple of hours it just built and built in the glass. In the end it showed itself as a beautiful wine. Berry fruits, chocolate, spice, and just a hint of apricot. Far from being dilute, once unwound it delivers beautiful layers of lovely fruit, supported by fine tannins and nice acidity. Looking forward to seeing how this shows up over the next 5-10 years. 4 Stars

Brown - The most intriguing wine of the night (noting Reds comments about it building with air), and a lesson for us in needing to decant certain wines for several hours to try it at its best. A clear point of difference from wines 1 and 2 when first opened. Subtle apricot on the nose, and initially lighter bodied, raw and generally thinner than the last two. Any apricot flavours were restrained and not over-ripe or dried. Strong, slightly edgy but balanced acidity evident. With air, the wine underwent an impressive transformation - really fleshing out. The elegant yet powerful black fruit was balanced with a nice, clean citric acidity. Like Red, assumed this was the Frenchie, purely for how different it was to the others, though I must say I had a smile on my face when I found out it was a wine from the Barossa Valley that had the balance and integrated acidity to suggest it would age as well as any tasted on the night. Maybe Andrew Jefford should tuck into some of these babies.


Conclusion

Red - Ironic that the overt Apricot style of Shiraz Viognier that I'm often critical of in Australian blends was in fact the Cote Rotie. The two Aussie examples are both excellent wines and excellent examples of the style. At their respective prices i'd highly recommend both the Head Blonde and the Turner's Crossing.

Brown - Another very interesting night where we both learned more about a wine (or a blend) and the different regions that they come from. Both Australian examples on the night were representative of the style of SV that I like drink, and I would recommend them both. Thanks to Red to a lovely meal that complimented the wines very well (roast rib of beef on the bone with a northern Rhone red wine jus).

We would be interested in everyones thoughts on the Shiraz Viognier blend, and also would love to get any recommended imports at a reasonable price.
 
Blog Design by: Designer Blogs