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.


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.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

2000 Holtsbaum Shiraz (Hunter Valley)

I've had a few bottles of this recently, and when its not affected by cork taint or oxidised, its a lovely aged Hunter Shiraz. To me it's just another example of why screwcap is the far superior closure. The winery itself was appparently sold a number of years ago.

It immediately declares its 10 years of bottle age with a brickish red colour. It has a lovely bouquet to smell of musk, cherry, and earth. It's medium-bodied with nice sour cherry and a classic earthiness. There's still enough fruit and acidity to suggest it will continue to age. It's ABV is just 12.1%. It's not particularly complex, and will never achieve greatness, but I just really enjoyed drinking this.



Monday, September 13, 2010

Larry Cherubino The Yard Shiraz (Frankland River)

Larry Cherubino recently won James Halliday’s winery of the year in his latest Wine Companion. Cherubino produces a number of wines from across different Western Australian regions including a focus on single vineyard wines. I’d yet to have any his wines so when I saw this on special for $26 at Dan Murphys the other day i quickly nabbed a bottle.

The 2008 The Yard Shiraz is from a single vineyard in the Frankland River. It has plenty of interest but doesn’t provide a lot of enjoyment yet. I tasted it over 3 days, and while it got better over that time, it still left me with the sense that it needs a few years before it starts to drink well.

It smells lovely with some aromas of plums, cherries, mint and some nice oak that reminds me of cream cake. On the palate it is medium bodied and reasonably complex. There’s some nice fruit along with some liquorice, pepper and a bit of earthiness. There is however, also a bitterness, and possibly even a bit of stalkiness that sticks out a bit and isn’t properly integrated yet. I think this will come with another couple of years however, at which point it will be a very good Frankland River Shiraz.


RRP: $35
ABV: 14.2%
Website: http://www.yardwines.com.au/

Sunday, September 5, 2010

St Hallett & the Barossa Valley

The Barossa Valley is on the nose amongst a number critics and aficionados. As a region it has become a bit of a whipping boy for many of the apparent ills of Australian wine. Over-oaked, overripe, and too alcoholic are the general criticisms of many Australian wines and of the Barossa in particular. Andrew Jefford has recently even gone so far as to say that the Barossa isn’t a suitable environment for Shiraz (a notion I find laughable).

While I think many of the above criticisms were quite valid in plenty of instances 5-10 years ago, I also think there is an ever increasing number of Barossa producers who judiciously use oak, and whose wines are lower in alcohol, are very much in balance, and are of genuine interest. In particular there is a growing focus by many on sub-regions and single sites.

St Hallett is a winery that definitely fits into this positive trend. I was fortunate enough to go to a tasting earlier this week put on by Fine Wine Partners with St Hallett’s winemaker Toby Barlow. Along with some partners in crime in this wine blog malarkey (www.ozwinereview.com, http://sarahwinehouse.com, www.winemuse.com.au) I tasted through a number of wines in their range, and RedtoBrown will do some fuller tasting notes at a later date. What I wanted to discuss were some of the broad, positive trends in the Barossa and how St Hallett is a great example of this.

Wines of genuine interest – many Barossa wineries are doing some unique things with their wines, including exploring the potential of different varietals, different sites, and different techniques. The line-up that we tasted through included

- A single-site Riesling that has undergone malolactic fermentation (the only Riesling I’m aware of that has this treatment). This was St Hallett’s first attempt at this difficult technique with Riesling and it’s an undoubted success.
- A single varietal Touriga Nacional as a table wine (as opposed to a fortified wine). It was a unique and highly enjoyable wine to taste and one of the aroma descriptors was “Orange Tang” (courtesy of Ozwinereview)!

Cellarability – One of the wines tasted was a 2004 Gamekeeper’s Reserve Shiraz Grenache Touriga. It’s drinking beautifully now having developed some savoury, gamey notes, and has got at least another 5 years in it. As a wine that retails for about $15 this is an impressive effort and underscores the ability of Barossa reds to age well, particular in the better (cooler) vintages like 2004. We also tasted the 2009 version of this wine and I found it to be similar in profile to the 04, but obviously a lot younger and still dominated by primary fruit. It’s a steal of a wine for both enjoyable drinking now, as well as cellaring for a bit more complexity and interest 5 years down the track.

Judicious use of oak – St Hallett’s wines range from the Gamekeeper’s Reserve SGT (above) which sees no oak at all, through to the Blackwell Shiraz which uses American oak, and everything in between (French oak, old oak etc). There is no low oak regime across the board, nor an approach of lavishing up everything with new oak. Oak is matched to the variety as well as the sub-region and vineyard, and tasting through their range of wines, oak had been used intelligently for each of their wines.

Alcohol – Barossa reds are never shrinking violets when it comes to alcohol levels, but the key for me personally when it comes to alcohol is whether there is any noticeable heat, and whether the fruit can match the alcohol levels and provide a sense of balance. All the St Hallett wines that were tasted on the day provided that sense of balance with no noticeable heat.

St Hallett is a traditional Barossa winery that exhibit all the positive traits outlined above. The result is a range of wines of true quality and genuine interest. Importantly, there are plenty of other wineries in the Barossa following a broadly similar path, belying many of the current clich├ęs about the Barossa.

Website: www.sthallett.com.au


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

2009 Mesh Riesling (Eden Valley)

Minerality is this wine’s thing.

The Eden Valley has a varied terrain but much of it is rocky with ironstone and quartz gravels, and the Riesling from this region often has a distinct sense of minerality on the palate. Is this sense of minerality a direct translation of the terroir or just a coincidence? It’s an ongoing scientific debate as to how much the sense of minerality that a wine delivers is a result of the soil that the grapes are situated in. The romantic in me would like there to be a direct correlation but at this point in time the science doesn’t seem overly supportive of this. Whatever the case it’s a trait I love in Eden Valley Riesling and this wine in particular.

The nose of this wine is classic Eden Valley with aromas of lime, apple blossom, slate and talc. On the palate however, it’s somewhat atypical. It doesn’t have as much of the crisp acidity as other 09 Eden Valley Rieslings that I’ve tried, and instead delivers a rounder and fuller mouthfeel. Lovely, pure fruit with flavours of lime and apples along with a touch of spice. The finish is long and is underpinned by an overall sense of minerality. As the wine moves from chilled to closer to room temperature this sense becomes more pronounced and more appealing. It’s not exactly like having pebbles in your mouth but near enough (in a good way).

A quality Riesling that I am looking forward to seeing age over the next decade.


RRP: $26
ABV: 12.0%
Website: www.meshwine.com
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