Monday, August 30, 2010

2007 Thomas Wines Individual Vinyard Sweetwater Shiraz – Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley is an underrated and underappreciated wine region. Its rich history and ageworthy Semillons and Shiraz deserve a wider audience locally and internationally. Sometimes I think that if the people of New South Wales were more parochial, or if the Hunter Valley was further away from Sydney, had less golf courses, Bed and Breakfast accommodation etc, it would be better known and more appreciated.
At the present time, you would be hard placed to find better examples of Hunter Valley Shiraz and Semillon than those produced by Andrew Thomas. The Thomas Braemore Semillon is up there with the best of Tyrrell's, Brokenwood and Mount Pleasant, same for the Kiss Shiraz.
Prior to a recent trip to the Hunter Valley, I nabbed a bottle of the Thomas Sweetwater Shiraz, one of many ‘individual vineyard’ wines in the Thomas range.
The Sweetwater has red fruit aromas, with raspberry and all-spice prominent. There is nice, and quite obvious vanilla (oak) scent on the nose, though not on the palate. In the mouth the wine has a juicy texture, silky tannins and dominant fruit and it finishes with a bit of sweetness and persistence. This is a moreish wine – the fruit is to the fore. I found myself onto my second glass in a flash, such is the effortless enjoyability of this wine.
To provide some indication of its cellaring potential, on the second day the vanilla oak was still apparent on the nose, and the wine was more savoury on the palate. The red fruit flavours had subsided somewhat, with subtle liquorice, aniseed and slight dark chocolate flavours emerging. The acidity was a bit more pronounced.

Summary: a lovely, highly drinkable and individual wine from a very capable winemaker. (2 asterix are for the uniqueness of this wine - the trend towards single-site Hunter Valley wines is something that I am happy to see, and look out for (eg Tyrrell's single site/vineyard Semillons and Shiraz).


RRP: $35
ABV: 13.8%

Saturday, August 28, 2010

2009 Blue Label Scarborough Chardonnay (Hunter Valley, Sample)

Scarborough’s Blue Label only sees old oak, and is made in a clean and fresh style. It is in marked contrast to the heavily oaked Yellow Label, and your preference between the two will depend largely on what style of Chardonnay you like. It has a nose of peach, lemon, and a bit of tropical fruit. On the palate there is a reasonable amount of richness along with a touch of spice. The flavours move more towards grapefruit as it delivers a decent finish. Good, easy drinking and well priced. A wine to be drunk and enjoyed now.


RRP: $19

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

2008 Bellarmine Riesling Auslese (Pemberton)

I was in a rush to get to a Japanese restaurant the other day and quickly popped in to my local bottle shop to grab a bottle of Riesling. I saw a Bellarmine Riesling in the fridge, and having heard good things about Bellarmine wines decided to grab the bottle.

Once I got to the restaurant I pulled off the brown paper bag and looked at the wine a bit more closely at which point I felt a bit crestfallen . . . the label said Riesling Auslese . . .

Auslese is a sweeter style of German Riesling from late picked grapes. It's a style of wine that defies definition in a way in that it's not quite sweet enough to be a proper dessert wine but is nevertheless sweeter than what would normally be consumed as a table wine.

As it turned out, while I don't think it was the perfect match for Japanese, it nevertheless ended up going down very well.

The wine has a nice golden colour. The nose was rich and aromatic with aromas of apples, lime, and honey. On the palate it is sweet, but it is a lovely intense sweetness that then actually finishes relatively dry on the back palate. The sweetness is importantly matched by lovely acidity. Nice balance and length. Everything is in place to suggest this will age pretty well.

An enjoyable and interesting wine that strikes as a very good Aussie interpretation of a classic German Riesling style. One of the best things about this wine, and Auslese more generally, is the low level of alcohol. At 7.5% ABV, my wife and I polished off the bottle with little fuss. If I was drinking this wine again I would have it with some Thai food or maybe as a pre-dinner drink with some nice nibblies. If you want to try something a bit different, at $18 I recommend picking up a bottle of this.


RRP: $18
ABV: 7.5%


Saturday, August 21, 2010

2007 Juniper Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Margaret River)

A long-term Margaret River Cabernet of genuine complexity.

I don’t often remark on the colour of a wine but this wine is a beautiful crimson purple. The impression the colour creates is more than backed up by what comes next. The wine delivers a complex nose that is at this stage just giving hints of what will almost surely be a magnificent bouquet with another 10 years. Over the course of two days it opened up revealing different aromas at different stages including blackcurrant, berries, chocolate, cinnamon, violets, gravel, and herbs. A lot of descriptors I know, but such is the quality and complexity of the wine.

As with the nose, the palate is yet to unfurl itself, and at this stage is more about its impeccable structure and sense of balance. There’s beautiful ripe fruit with many of the flavours listed above along with some earthiness, all of which is supported by good acidity, fine tannins, and a long savoury finish.

This is a wine that is understated and yet delivers in all areas. It should be left alone for at least another 5 years before being opened. Top shelf Margaret River Cabernet. 4.5 Stars.


RRP: $44
ABV: 14%

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

2009 Penfolds Bin 23 Pinot Noir

I have been meaning to try this new entry in the Penfolds Range for a while, and purchased it on a whim.

The colour is off-putting. I know colour can mean little and may even be a psychological barrier to enjoying some wines, but for a Pinot Noir this baby is dark – rich Grenache / ‘Syrah’- style dark.
It smells like cinnamon sprinkled on cherries with a bit of added vanilla from the oak. In the mouth the cherries are once again apparent (considerably so), as are the tannins (which are firm and robust).There is a sour edge to the cherry fruit, and the finish is quite savoury and stalky, though not in a raw and unpleasant way.
This wine does not scream out as being varietal, though it has enough tannin and fruit in balance to suggest it will develop if you give it time. Not sure it will please many of the Pinot Noir devotees out there, though it is a solid first effort from Penfolds, provided you ignore the RRP.
However, on that note, at $40 a bottle there are numerous examples of Australian and New Zealand Pinot Noir that are far superior – from a value for money perspective and an overall quality perspective. Still, as a ‘Bin’ wine, Penfolds are aiming high, and it will be interesting to see how this evolves in style in future vintages.

RRP: $40
ABV: 13.9%

Sunday, August 15, 2010

High Alcohol Shiraz

Lower alcohol levels in Shiraz are an increasing focus of many winemakers, and a regular discussion point when it comes to Australian wine. The general premise behind this trend is that the closer a wine gets to 15% ABV (and beyond), the less likely it is to age well. While they may be powerful, rich and voluptuous in youth, these wines will start falling over after the 5 year mark. Wines of 14% and less are seen as generally more desirable in order to deliver balance and cellarability. Indeed I have read about some wine retailers and restaurants in the States that have banned the sale of wines in excess of 14.5%

So are wines of 14.5% and more only short-term wines? Like a lot of these assertions I believe there is a large degree of truth to this, but that it is not a given, and that there are wines approaching the 15% mark that age/will age well.

Being a very unscientific person, I decided to conduct a bit of a quasi scientific experiment with two high alcohol Shiraz that are at the 5 year mark.

2004 Fireblock Old Vine Shiraz (Clare Valley, ABV: 15.5%, RRP: $20) – Lovely fragrant nose of berry and hints of chocolate. The palate drinks well with still plenty of nice primary fruit, liquorice, and chocolate, along with a hint of spice, before delivering a dry, savoury finish. Carries its alcohol well. Not a lot of complexity but its drinking nicely, and should continue to age for the next five years. 3.5 Stars.

2005 Carlei Estate Green Vineyards Shiraz (Heathcote, ABV: 14.9%, $RRP: $26) - Interesting, complex nose of menthol, liquorice, malt, and rose. It’s ripe and plush in one sense and yet still maintains quite a light mouth feel. While arguably a more complex and interesting wine than the Fireblock, there is a bit of alcohol heat. Despite having the notionally lower ABV, this wine does appear a touch unbalanced in this regard. It's good drinking but it might have issues as it approaches the decade mark. 3.5 Stars.

As sub-$30 Shiraz I think both wines deliver, and will almost certainly provide good drinking for the next couple of years. If I had to pick one of these wines to reach its 10th birthday and beyond, it would actually be the Fireblock at 15.5% ABV. It’s a wine of balance and no noticeable alcohol heat. Ultimately though the proof will be in the drinking, and it would be interesting to see where both these wines are at in 2015.

I think the trend towards lower alcohol Shiraz is a positive one, and will broadly lead to wines of better balance and cellarability. With a wine of say 14.5% or 15%, alcohol heat is always something to be on the lookout for, especially if you are considering cellaring the wine. But if such a wine has no noticeable heat and provides a sense of balance, then the fact it’s at 15% ABV is not by default going to prevent it from ageing well.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

2008 Yelland & Papps Devote Greenock Shiraz (Barossa Valley, Sample)

This wine is a pretty good result for what was a tough vintage in the Barossa.

An intense, brooding nose of dark fruits, charcoal, malt, along with a touch of sweet oak. On the palate there is some rich, voluptuous fruit, but there is also nevertheless a sense of restraint. It has flavours of berries, plums and dark, bitter chocolate, before delivering a relatively savoury finish. There is a touch of alcohol heat, but it doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment the wine delivers. Good drinking and I reckon this will be at its best over the next 3-5 years.


RRP: $30
ABV: 14.5%

Monday, August 9, 2010

Commentary - The Rise of Wine-Related New Media and its Effects on Wine Writing/Wine Appreciation

It may sound pseudo intellectual, but I believe the making of, and appreciation of wine is very similar to the making of, and appreciation of art/specific artforms. It is the romance, history and complexity of the world of wine that separates it from being a mere beverage. With this in mind, as I love both wine and music, I can see many similarities between the making of, and appreciation of both ‘artforms’.

The similarities are endless: A hot new band can have swagger, an x factor, a ‘unique new sound’ or a charismatic front person. The band can make their music at a certain time and place that maximises sales and exposure, work really hard to generate hype/a loyal following, or could just get really lucky. All of these factors can elevate a band’s music beyond the sum of its technical parts. This can be the case for consistently successful artists, stars that burn bright and quickly fade away or for artists that shun popularity and seek a more underground audience.

Wine, wineries, wine regions and wine trends share similar features to their music equivalents in this regard– a style of wine can emerge from nowhere, when previously it was derided and dismissed: it can suddenly become a ‘wow factor’ style of wine, and on the lips (figuratively and literally) of thousands of trendy consumers. Wine styles of a previous era can be ‘re-invented (or just re-introduced) and gain newfound popularity. Cool new wineries, exciting new wine makers, etc can emerge like vinous rock stars and let their charisma drive further sales.

Like music trends (disco, glam rock, grunge), a group of consumers or wine drinkers can all collectively become disillusioned with a winery or wine style and make a gradual or sudden shift to something new (either spontaneously or more commonly being influenced by market forces). Finally a wine drinker can be gradually be worn down by a dominant wine style, and then seek out a new, fresh, fully marketed alternative that they embrace.

I could go on (and hope to post some semi-serious stories on the same topic in the future), suffice to say these similarities between the two ‘artforms’ also apply to the people who commentate on music and wine. The evolution of commentary on music has also occurred with wine, albeit at a slower pace. This is the primary topic of the article.

As a wine blogger and user of Twitter, I read with interest a print-media article by MW Andrew Corrigan in the July/August edition of the Australian wine magazine ‘Winestate’ titled ‘Writers, Bloggers and Tweeters’.

It seems Corrigan does not believe wine blogs contribute positively to wine discussion. In fact, he argues that bloggers may have a negative impact on the world of wine. In the article, Corrigan argues that wine blogs are too long, irrelevant, ‘not very good’, ‘gushing with enthusiasm and technically poor’. Corrigan argues that the common use of terms such as ‘seriously good booze’ in wine blogs is unhelpful, and prevents a potential buyer from properly assessing the merits of a wine being reviewed.

Following my initial feeling of ‘just don’t read small-scale wine blogs’ (to save further angst and frustration), I started to realise that Corrigan’s argument ignores or skims-over the nature and rationale behind the rapid and ongoing growth of online discussion and online content (across a large number of different topics, including wine).The world of wine journalism is not alone in being affected by this growth; indeed, all forms of journalism are experiencing similar problems. However, this is not a bad thing for wine appreciation or wine consumption.

The increase in the number of part-time/amateur/serious wine blogs is merely the result of the online presence of wine ‘catching up’ to the online world of music, sport and food commentary. The exponential growth of mobile broadband-enables smart phones, iPads/tablet PCs rapidly increases the number of hours in the day a consumer can read about topics that interest them.

Noting the aforementioned similarities between the worlds of music and wine, topics like music, sport and food have thousands of related websites on the internet, from the most basic blog, MySpace music sites and expensive, well-organised websites. The fact that wine is starting to see more and more small scale, part time blogs emerge is symptomatic of this broader, irreversible online growth.

In many ways, what separates the part-time wine blogs from the more serious blogs and the fully-paid websites is the fact Bloggers are indulging in a passion on the side – Wine is a prominent part of many people’s lives, but it may not generate the primary income of a blogger (as much as many would want it to). Therefore, most wine bloggers are no different to music bloggers, or film bloggers or food bloggers – they are indulging in a part time passion with no entry requirements based on the quality, accuracy or frequency of their output.

Print journalism has been in gradual and relative decline for years – well before twitter / / WordPress were launched. In the face of this decline in revenue from print media, the ‘old media’ organisations like News Ltd have been grappling with how to monetize online content for some time now, and are yet to find a workable solution. Understandably, if the number of full-time, print media news journalists is declining, the number of more specialised full time, specialised wine journalists is also likely to decline. However, this is not necessarily caused by the growth of wine blogs.

The increase in wine-related information using new-media is the result of the availability of this online forum to express oneself and share in a passion than it is to try and ‘muscle-in’ on established wine writers, or forge a career from wine (by and large). With this growth comes the explicit understanding that not all online content can be taken on face value or treated like it is as valid as a wine review from Jancis Robinson, Robert Parker Jr or James Halliday (noting how subjective wine reviews are, and how reviewers like Parker in particular can polarize opinion).

As with ‘conspiracy theory’ blogs, or amateur music blogs, most readers of online content can make an educated call on how trustworthy or respectable an online source is – wine blogs will not lead to the end of days.

Quite the opposite - the growth in wine-related online content should see an increase demand for output from respected wine writers as the casual wine enthusiast progresses from a part-time blog to a more professional wine writer (and probably back again to the more specialised wine blogs). This new demand generated from online interest would include the purchase of more traditional hard copy wine books, though also increased subscriptions to wine websites and Iphone/smartphone wine applications.

Therefore, the proliferation of blogs will probably continue. The collective quality of the output of these blogs and twitter feeds is not guaranteed to improve, and may get worse. Many sites and wine-related Twitter accounts have, and will continue to spark and fade, with a handful gaining enough of a toe-hold to establish themselves and improve with experience. None of this should be seen as damaging to the world of wine appreciation, wine consumption or wine writing: the growth of new media and its use by wine writers and wine buffs will only expose/ introduce more and more people to the world of wine, with all its history, romance and complexity. The challenge for the capable online and offline wine communicator is to educate and shape the increased number of people reading about wine online in a way that suits both parties. Surely this is a positive, not a negative. After all, if you do not like what is being posted, you can always switch off your iPad or laptop!

PS: Just throwing this out there, and not intended to offend. All comments / alternative views more than welcome.

2007 Scarborough Yellow Label Chardonnay (Sample)

I was impressed to find that Scarborough wine maker, Ian Scarborough, specialises in making Chardonnay (The Hunter being established Semillon and Shiraz territory). My personal favourite of their range (Blue, Yellow and White Labels) is the White Label, which I think resembles a white Burgundy style as closely as any Chardonnay in the Hunter.
The Scarborough Yellow Label Chardonnay is made in a relatively powerful 'Australian' style. It is bright straw/yellow in colour, and smells of lightly caramelised nectarine, subtle fruit salad and a bit of spicy oak.
On the palate, nectarine and melon fruit is balanced with similar levels of spicy French oak. Importantly with a Chardonnay in this style, the oak is nicely integrated, and the fruit does not stray into over-ripe fruit salad territory (fruit salad flavours being my Hunter Chardonnay ‘trigger’ descriptor, for better or for worse).
There is nice creamy texture in the mouth (the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation) and it finishes with decent persistence and a hint of crushed cashew and grapefruit. I would personally recommend drinking the Yellow Label young, unless you don’t mind the oak growing in prominence with age.

In summary, an affordable, versatile wine that does not overpower with oak or sweet fruit, and is nicely balanced with admirable structure.


RRP: $21
ABV: 13%

PS: I recommend a trip to the award-winning Scarborough cellar door if you ever visit the Hunter Valley.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

2007 S.C. Pannell Nebbiolo (Adelaide Hills, Retail)

This is a wine that has me excited.

Ever since my wife and I visited Barolo during a trip to Italy in May last year, I have become somewhat obsessed with the Nebbiolo grape, and it has fast drawn alongside Cabernet as my favourite variety.

In loving this grape variety, one of my hopes is that a region can emerge in Australia that produces quality Nebbiolo on a consistent basis. At present the Adelaide Hills, Heathcote, and the King Valley are all throwing their hands up, however, I think another 5-10 years is needed before a clear winner emerges (not that there needs to be a winner – all three regions producing quality Nebbiolo would make me very happy).

This wine is from the Adelaide Hills and is the closest I’ve got to Barolo since my visit there. I tasted it over 3 days and it just got better and better in that time. It’s brickish and light in colour. It has a beautifully aromatic bouquet of roses, cherry, earth, and tar, along with a hint of chocolate. On the palate it tastes of sour cherry, spice, licquorice, and chocolate before delivering a long finish that has some tarry and tobacco notes. Young Barolo is almost invariably very tannic, and while this wine has beautiful, drying tannins, it’s actually less tannic and more approachable than young Nebbiolo often is. I believe it’s going to age superbly, and could be something quite special by the time it hits its 10th birthday and beyond. I toyed with a higher score but for now it’s a comfortable 4 star wine, but with plenty of +’s for the future!


RRP: $45
ABV: 14.0%


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

2004 Trevor Jones Dry Grown Shiraz

I love the 2004 vintage when it comes to the Barossa Valley. This admiration is partly based on a trip where 2004 wines were being sold, largely based on what I have tasted in the glass. Last Friday I opened a bottle from this favoured vintage.

First impression is the strong hit of French oak on the nose, imparting a sweet, coconut milk chocolate smell (uses 100% new French oak).
Flavours include dark berry fruits, a bit of stewed raspberry followed by considerable dark chocolate which carries through to the finish. The structure is solid, though it pushes the boundaries on the finish with its strong oak and noticeable alcohol heat. If you are used to the big, powerful style it will not shock, though be warned.
The Dry Grown Shiraz has enough fruit flavour to suggest it will age for a few more years, though I fear the oak will swamp it in time. I have a few more of these, so will ‘monitor’ the situation :-). Ironically, the 2004 Kellermeister Black Sash Shiraz (from the same winery) uses old French oak and appeared a better cellaring option based on previous tastings.

Rated: ***1/2
RRP: $30
ABV: 14.8%
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