Thursday, July 29, 2010

2005 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz

Ripper of a wine. There’s something about it that could only be Penfolds, and something about it that is very South Australian. Classic nose of plum, blackcurrant, licquorice, and lovely oak. It’s rich and voluptuous on the palate, but is nevertheless nicely balanced. It has a wonderful drive and intensity through the mid-palate, before delivering a long finish supported by fine tannins. Beautiful to drink now and will just get better over the next decade and beyond . . .


RRP: $58
ABV: 14.5%

Sunday, July 25, 2010

RedtoBrown Scoring System (Modified)

Scoring wine is a constant source of controversy in the wine world. Wines themselves evolve with time; the palates of wine drinkers, bloggers and critics vary greatly, as do consumer wine drinking fashions. However, after much discussion and debate amongst ourselves, we have decided to introduce a dual scoring system of our own.There is no ‘perfect’ or universally agreed scoring system. With this in mind, we have decided to use a 5 star system alternatively linked to a 100 point system. We decided to use a dual system for a variety of reasons – a reticence to rely solely on a 100 point scale, (given the obsession by some on wines that score 90 and above), the desire for the comments to be considered as more important than just the score, but also an acknowledgement that the 100pt scale is commonly understood and accepted by many all contributed to our decision.
We had initially intended for the The RedtoBrown 5 Star System to not be modelled strictly on the traditional 100 point or 20 point systems, instead being more of a kindred spirit of the 5 star rating system employed by David and Margaret on ‘At the Movies’ (for those of you familiar with the film review show on the ABC). Though we still want to convey an 'At the Movies / Roger Ebert' vibe, we will also, from time to time, provide only a points rating with the wines reviewed.
Below is a brief explanation of the different ratings to act as a guide, including a table outlining how stars convert to points. We can also extrapolate in the comments section if you have follow-up questions on our rating of a particular wine:

The RedtoBrown 5 Star Wine Rating Scale:
0-2 Stars - If you have had a wine in this range, it is memorable for all the wrong reasons!
2.5 Stars – An ok wine, quaffable if at the right price. Best left on the shelf if it is not in the ‘bargain’ price range.
3 Stars – A nice, enjoyable wine. Safe, ‘drink now’ with minimal complexity and limited ability to cellar, though still very tidy. The kind of score we give to a good quality quaffer, though a somewhat disappointing score for a premium wine.
3.5 Stars - A good quality wine that is a bit of a step up in terms of structure, flavour and enjoyment from a 3 star wine. A great score for a quaffer, and a good score for a premium wine
4 Stars – A very good to excellent wine. Delivers highly in terms of flavour, complexity and cellarability.
4.5 Stars – Exceptional wine. Love it. If you can afford it, buy it.
5 Stars – A wine that leaves you a bit speechless, and forms the basis of wine drinking ‘war stories’ later in life. You won’t see many 5 Stars given on this site, as this score will be reserved for those truly magical bottles . . .

Additional Scoring features – Some additional scoring features that represent some of the nuances of a particular wine:
* (The Asterisk) - An intangible quality to the wine that separates it from more industrial/ more predictable wines, or just a wine that has grabbed the attention of Red or Brown in a particularly positive or beguiling way. Not necessarily a point of difference that everyone will like. Multiple asterisks = “Wow, massive (subjective) X Factor wine”
+ (Plus sign) – The commonly used plus sign indicates that Red or Brown have a feeling that this wine will get better with age. Will often be seen with cellar-worthy Reds with a history of surviving a decade or so in the cellar, though could also apply to some of our favourite Chardonnays, Semillons and Rieslings.

Stars to Points Conversion Table:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

2007 Seville Estate Pinot Noir (Yarra Valley)

Smoke taint has affected what would have otherwise been a very nice Pinot Noir. It has a lovely aromatic nose of cherry, cinnamon, and sap, along with just a hint of smokiness.

On the palate it drinks well, until you get right to the finish. There’s some sweet cherry on the front palate, before it turns largely savoury and sappy, supported by some fine tannins. Where there would have been a persistence of enjoyable flavour on the finish, there is instead an element of ashtray smokiness. It certainly doesn’t make it undrinkable, and indeed I largely enjoyed drinking this wine. However, the smoke taint is noticeable, and you’d think that this is a trait that will become more dominant with age. With this in mind I’d be drinking it now if you have some of this.


RRP: $30
ABV: 14.0%


Sunday, July 18, 2010

2008 Growers Co-Op Chardonnay (Retail, Eden Valley & Tumbarumba)

I was out of cheap white wine, and needed some for a Risotto I was doing, so I went downstairs to Vine, an excellent independent bottleshop, just around the corner from where I live. I spotted a bottle of this wine at $10. Price wise it fitted the bill, but I also held out hope that it might be a half-decent wine. Given the grape glut at present in Australia, I figure it’s a pretty good time to be buying a Co-op wine like this, given that it should in theory have some half decent grapes going into it. It’s also from two interesting regions for Chardonnay, the Eden Valley and Tumbarumba.

Normally you’d be well advised to avoid a lot of $10 chardonnay, but not in this instance. This Chardy provides simple, yet smooth and enjoyable drinking. The perfect wine to add to your cooking (from a cost perspective) and then have a glass or two of it with your dinner.

It has a varietal nose of grapefruit and peaches, along with a touch of oak. On the palate it has some nice sweet fruit on the front palate, before moving towards more sour, grapefruit flavours along the back palate. Good length. A bit of minerality. A touch of woodiness on the finish my only real criticism.

Not sure how many $10 Chardonnays I’ve consumed, but this would be just about the best I’ve had at this price point.


RRP: $10


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Otto Ristorante, a Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay, and a Yarra Valley Syrah

I had a work lunch at Otto in Woolloomooloo, Sydney last week. Otto is a One Chef’s Hat restaurant at the beautiful location of Woolloomooloo Wharf. It’s an area and a restaurant where you can see some of the “beautiful’ people on a Friday afternoon. Given all this, I feared this might be the type of restaurant that rests a bit on its reputation and location. Happily I can say it exceeded my expectations. The food was superb, with everyone at the lunch commenting on how wonderful their respective dishes were. My highlight was an entree of twice baked pecorino and truffle soufflĂ© with hazelnut and eschalot sauce. In fact it’s the best dish I’ve had at a restaurant all year. It sounds amazing when you read it on the menu, and it was even better to eat. Make sure you order it if you happen to go there.

Anyway, along with the food we had some pretty smart wine . . .

2008 Ocean Eight Verve Chardonnay (Mornington Peninsula, RRP: $35)

This is a tasty chardonnay. It’s in a leaner, almost Chablis style, and has great intensity and acidity. Aged all in old oak.

It has an understated, yet varietal nose, but it’s on the palate that this wine shines. With flavours of lemon and grapefruit it has great drive through the mid-palate, and has a long, somewhat nutty finish. A nice hint of spicy oak. Fruit purity and intensity, lovely texture, and great acidity. Should age very well.

2008 Jamsheed Gruyere Syrah (Yarra Valley, RRP: $40)

I’ve read a lot of great stuff about Jamsheed’s Syrahs, so when i saw it on the wine list it was an easy choice. Interestingly if RedtoBrown employed a scoring system this is the kind of wine I would give a high score to and yet would not be raving about. It’s a quality wine, and I can see why plenty of people have talked it up, but it’s in a cool-climate Syrah style that’s not always my thing.

It has a lifted, fragrant nose, with aromas of cherry pie and pepper, along with some gamey notes. On the palate there is some lovely ripe berry fruit, along with pepper, spice, and some stalkiness. Balanced with excellent length. Very good wine it its style, and if you like this type of Syrah then buy up.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Hoddles Creek Estate & the 2010 Vintage

Hoddles Creek Estate is a winery that has received a lot of fantastic press over the past couple of years, and personally I think it is all entirely justified. My first experience with Hoddles Creek was when I bought a mixed case of their 08 Pinot Noir and 08 Chardonnay last year. Upon drinking a bottle of each, I quickly popped the rest in the cellar. Their quality was evident, but they definitely need to be aged for a few years before they start to show their best.

While in the Yarra Valley, I met with winemaker Franco D’Anna for a look at the winery and their 2010 vintage.

Hoddles Creek vineyards range over a few consecutive hills in the Southern Yarra, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir the main grape varieties, along with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Blanc. Most of the older vines go into Hoddles Creek Estate wines, while some of the most recently planted grapes go into the second label, Wickhams Road. Franco reckons that some of the grapes going into the Yarra Wickhams wines are more or less too good for a second label. Upon trying the Yarra Wickhams samples I’d have to agree with him. Other Wickhams wines come from non-estate grapes, including Gippsland, Macedon, and the Mornington Peninsula.

I was given a comprehensive tasting through all the 2010 barrel samples for both ranges of wines. Across the board they are looking excellent. They are characterised by even ripeness, excellent structure, and most noticeably, great natural acidity. The 2010 Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir and Chardonnay should both end up being superb wines, and at $20 a bottle will be absolute no-brainers as purchases. The Chardonnay samples all had a beautiful texture and acidity, while the couple of Pinot samples that will go into Hoddles should produce a wine of complexity and structure.

If the Hoddles Creek wines are no-brainers, then the Wickhams wines are nothing short of ridiculous. At $15 a bottle, i think they will end up being the kind of wines you would happily pay double the price for. I was particularly impressed with the 2010 Gippsland Pinot Noir, which was was beautifully aromatic. They are also producing a new Wickhams Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula, which was immediately identifiable as a Mornington Pinot, and once again should put many more expensive Mornington Pinots to shame.

The first of some of the 2010 wines will come out later this year. Franco happily admits that the wines are released too early, however, this is the only way he can keep the prices down at these low levels. He has no plans of significantly upping his prices, so as long we the consumer are happy to hold onto these wines for a couple of years upon purchase, we’re all onto a winner.



Tuesday, July 6, 2010

2008 Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir (Central Otago, Sample)

Grasshopper Rock focuses on Pinot Noir and nothing else. The winery has an 8 hectare Pinot Noir vineyard located in the sub-region of Alexandra in Central Otago. Alexandra was actually the first area to have grapes planted in Central Otago in the 1860s. However, as areas like Gibbston and Bannockburn gained popularity and attention in the past couple of decades, it became something of a forgotten sub-region.

Alexandra is arguably the Southernmost wine region in the world, and as such could be considered a marginal wine growing area. However, it is evident that some very good wine can be made from this area, provided the winery has given some consideration to its site selection. Talking to one of the co-owners, Phil Hanford, finding the right location was the first and most crucial step for Grasshopper Rock. The single site that was selected (vines planted in 2003) has a north facing aspect on a gentle slope that receives suitable sunshine and has a warmer microclimate compared to surrounding areas. This careful site selection is already paying dividends. RedtoBrown have tried the first two vintages of the Grasshopper Rock Pinot, from 06 and 07, and have been suitably impressed. The 08 continues this good form.

The nose was initially quite meaty with hints of forest floor, though quickly opened up with aromas of cherry, some sweet oak, and musk. In the mouth the wine has a nice sweet-savoury balance, with cherry, herbs, and a touch of spice. It is medium-bodied (in Pinot terms), has a nice yet unobtrusive acidity, and finishes long and dry. There is a tiny touch of alcohol heat on the finish, though this is a minor quibble. It still needs a couple of years before it starts drinking at its best. A very nice wine that compares favourably with some of its more expensive New Zealand brethren.


RRP: $35-$40 AUD
ABV: 14.0%

Sunday, July 4, 2010

2009 Coldstream Hills Chardonnay (Yarra Valley, Cellar Door)

With the heat and smoke taint associated with the tragic Black Saturday bushfires, the 2009 vintage is generally going to be one to avoid in the Yarra. As such, the 09 Coldstream Hills Chardonnay is a bit of a revelation. At only 12.0% ABV and with not a hint of smoke taint that I could detect, Coldstream Hills have not only seemingly beaten the ravages of the vintage, but also produced a lovely modern expression of Australian Chardonnay

Lovely nose of peach, understated oak, and a sweet note of something akin to palm dates. On the palate it provides enjoyable, smooth drinking with flavours of peach and grapefruit supported by spicy oak and good acidity. There’s just a touch of nice buttery texture to the wine as well. The smooth, long finish is excellent. It went beautifully with a Moroccan chicken dish. Fantastic wine given the vintage.


RRP: $28
ABV: 12%


Thursday, July 1, 2010

2006 St Huberts Cabernet Sauvignon

St Huberts is a winery of real history. It was founded in 1862 and had a rather illustrious history in its first 50 years, but then like the rest of the Yarra it was turned over to dairy in the first half of the 20th century as the effects of the Great Depression hit hard. St Huberts returned in 1966 as one of the first to replant vines in the Yarra Valley.

This is a wine that grew on me as it opened up over a couple of hours. It’s medium-bodied and well balanced. It’s a Cabernet that has a nice bit of style about it. The leafy nose is supported by aromas of blackcurrant, plum, and a hint of Christmas cake. The tasty palate has the same flavours along with some toasty oak. There is a slightly hollow mid-palate, as can be the case with Cabernet, but it has a good, slightly sour finish supported by fine tannins.

Not a wine to be blown away by, but one that fans of Cabernet will enjoy. I think it will continue to improve over the next 5 years, and possibly longer depending on how the cork holds up.


RRP: $30
ABV: 14.5%

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