Thursday, December 29, 2011

Red's Xmas Wines

Time with family, gorging on wonderful food, and imbibing great wine. That is what Christmas is to me and it’s a time of year I always look forward to. This year has been no exception.

Jacquesson Cuvee no. 734 Champagne – Disgorgement 2 quarter 2010 – Drinking beautifully with fine acidity, strawberry fruit, and a beautiful creaminess. Power and finesse.

2006 Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs Champagne – A nice change up from the Jacquesson and of equal quality. More taut and with more prominent acidity. Lovely citrus and yeasty flavours. Great length.

Both Champagnes were a hit and while different, people generally found it difficult to split the two

2008 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling – not sure if this is a representative bottle as it was surprisingly developed and forward, compared to when I had this a year ago. The toast, honey and kero that often come with an aged Riesling were already apparent on this occasion. As such it was actually drinking beautifully, having moved into a more generous stage of its life, and was consumed with great gusto. I will be interested to see what future bottles bring to the table

2009 Freycinet Pinot Noir – the great thing about this wine is that it works for both pinotphiles and punters. Around the table at Christmas lunch it was universally enjoyed, and yet undoubtedly this wine had the balance, length, and inherent complexity to age beautifully. Enticing aromas of dark cherry, spice, and forest floor lead to a generous yet refined palate that doesn’t let up through a long finish. Loved drinking this, and envisage loving my other bottles over the next decade. With succulent Turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce it was just the ticket.

2006 Charles Melton Grains of Paradise – I’ve had a lot of great Barossa Shiraz of late, that finds that balance between the inherent power it brings to the table and a sense of restraint and elegance, and personally I’m loving it. This is yet another example. Relatively medium-bodied within its style, there is an intoxicating cedar and spice to this wine that really won me over. Beautiful fruit flows through a long finish. Superb.

Morris Cellar Reserve Grand Liqueur Muscat – liquefied dark chocolate. Yes it’s much more than that, with some lovely nutty notes providing some balance, but the overall impression is one of complete decadence. It went wonderfully well with a plum pudding, and afterwards I needed a nap . . .



Red

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's still early in my Bordeaux journey . . .

I’m yet to drink a lot of top Bordeaux, namely because on any regular basis I can’t afford it. While a one off splurge of $200-$300 for a bottle of wine might be fine, doing it on any regular basis or buying half a case of something is not really a sane amount of money for me to be spending, especially if I want to buy wines from other wine regions as well.

In spite of this, I have always wanted to drink more top Bordeaux, and this year through a number of different opportunities and tastings, I’ve drunk far more fantastic Bordeaux than ever. A few First Growths, in Latour and Mouton Rothschild, and a number Second Growths like Rauzan Segla and Montrose, and some right bank stars like Chateau Vieux Certain, have all been in the mix. Below is a collection of thoughts and notes from some of these different tastings

- High acidity – while I’d read about it, and experienced it to some extent previously, I’ve nevertheless loved the high levels of natural acidity in Bordeaux wines I’ve tried of late. Some 15 year old Bordeaux that i tried greatly impressed me with an acidity that was still very prominent (in a positive way). While the ageworthiness of Bordeaux is legendary, it has been nice to actually experience the acidity upon which this is based. As impressive and ageworthy as many Australian Cabernets from places like the Margaret River and the Coonawarra are, it is perhaps more evident to me now than it has been previously why the very best Bordeaux goes that extra mile.

- Savoury profile – with Australian wine the prominence of fruit is almost never in doubt. What is in question, and what sorts the wheat from the chaff, is whether there is a savoury complexity to compliment that naturally powerful fruit. With Bordeaux it more or less seems to be the opposite. A savoury flavour profile is almost a given, with classic tobacco, cigar box, and pencil flavours very much the norm. What is more variable is the generosity of fruit. For me the better Bordeaux are predominantly savoury but nevertheless have beautiful fruit in tow.

- 2009 vs 2010 – 2009 has been lauded by a number of prominent Bordeaux critics, including Parker and Suckling, as near enough to the finest vintage of their lifetimes. The 2010 vintage has also gained plenty of praise as a wonderful vintage, but at this early stage seems to be playing second fiddle to 09 in terms of reputation. I was fortunate enough to attend a tasting where I was able to try a number of right bank wines from both vintages. The two highlights of the tasting were the 09 and 10 of the Chateau Vieux Certan from Pomerol and Chateau Pavie Macquin from Saint Emilion. For me the ‘10s were actually the better wines. Both vintages looked very impressive, with the 09’s quite rich and powerful. The 10’s however looked fresher and more balanced. In particular the 2010 Chateau Pavie Macquin looked stunning. It’s admittedly a very small sample to be drawing conclusions about these respective vintages, though they would seem to align with descriptions that I’ve read, with 2010 being considered by many to be a more classic vintage than the riper 2009.



Some tasting notes on some aged Bordeaux

1996 Chateau Montrose – Saint Estephe (65% Cab Sav, 25% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot) - this is a wine that feels fully integrated, but is still very primary, and has many years in front of it. It has a beautiful, floral nose along with some amazing exotic spices. To drink it is a bit of “wow” wine, with beautiful cassis fruit, fantastic drive through the mid-palate, and impressive length. Some lovely secondary notes of sweet leather indicate where this wine is heading.

1996 Chateau Rauzan Segla – Margaux (54% Cab Sav, 41% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 1% Cab Franc) - A beautifully balanced wine. It’s a touch less expressive and powerful than the Montrose, but no less impressive. Great tannins. Lovely tobacco notes linger on a long finish.

1996 Chateau Haut Batailley – Pauillac (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) - At 15 years of age this wine has a wonderful intensity of primary fruit that just puts a smile on your face. Not without a sense of elegance and restraint this is nevertheless a rich and tannic Bordeaux. Leather and cigar box adding beautiful savoury complexity. Many years ahead of it.


As discussed at the beginning of this post, cost is the only issue with these wines, however, I have seen enough, particularly in the past year or so, to know I should be making the occasional strategic splurge with these most ageworthy of wines.


Red

Saturday, December 17, 2011

2010 Henry Fessy Beaujolais-Villages


When purchasing a $15 Beaujolais-Villages all I’m really hoping for is a light, enjoyable quaffer. This wine, however, delivers a whole lot more than this.

The Fessy family have had wine interests in Beaujolais since 1888. They’ve obviously had some success since that time, currently producing Beaujolais from all the main Crus in Beaujolais as well as this Villages wine. Speaking of which, having had a look at the technicals, there is an average vine age of 50 years for this wine, and the fruit is hand picked and sorted at vintage. It’s perhaps not surprising then that it has more to offer than just as a quaffer.

An expressive nose of dark cherry, flowers, and spice is particularly enticing. While still being a light red wine, on the palate there is more power and fruit richness than one might expect from a Beaujolais-Villages. There is a nice line of acidity and lovely latent earthiness that emerges as the wine breathes, opens up, and delivers a savoury, sour cherry finish.

You can do the whole chilled Beaujolais thing with this wine this summer if you want, but you’ll get more out of it if you let it breathe and warm up a touch. And indeed you could pop it in the cellar for a few years if you wanted to. The florals might be a give away, but I’d hazard a guess that this would often be mistaken for a decent Pinot Noir in a blind line up.

A great value wine and the winery’s logo is a bloke with a tash. What more could you want?

Rated:


RRP: $15
ABV: 12.5%
Website: http://www.henryfessy.com/


Red

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Red's Top 5 - 2011




I can’t quite believe it’s that time of year again. The Silly Season is in full swing, so it’s time to have a crack at my top 5 wines for the year.

As with last year, my criteria remains the same: my Top 5 consists only of wines that I have sat down and tasted over at least a couple of hours and ideally over a couple of days, more often than not with food. The more I taste, drink, and assess wines, the more I am convinced that wine needs to be granted time in order to be fairly assessed and commented on. While a quick assessment may sometimes tell you all you need to know, often it does not, and some of the more interesting wines require contemplation to come around to their way of thinking.

My Top 5 are not necessarily my 5 highest rated wines (though they all have scored well), but more importantly they are wines that I found genuinely memorable and enjoyable. At a time when we increasingly embrace newer varieties, and newer styles of wine, the thing that has struck me is how “traditional” my Top 5 is (the Westend Aglianico excepted). Included are a Barossa Shiraz sourced from multiple growers, a rich style of Yarra Chardonnay, and finally perhaps the least fashionable of all, a Coonawarra Cabernet. As much as anyone, I’m a fan of all the exploration happening in Australian wine (I dream of a benchmark Australian Nebbiolo), but I think sometimes people need to be careful that in their rush to proclaim “cool-climate” this and “biodynamic” that, that the baby isn’t thrown out with the bathwater when it comes to traditional Australian wine styles that are done well. In alphabetical order, my top 5 wines are

2010 Head Brunette Syrah – Northern Rhone meets the Barossa Valley in the best possible manner with this superb single vineyard Moppa shiraz from Alex Head. Complexity plus, and will benefit from time in a cool cellar.

2002 Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz – A wine I only tasted a week or so ago, but it was just so good that it bumped out some other worthy contenders. While different from the Head Brunette, it has many similar traits in that is a relatively restrained and elegant rendition of a Barossa Shiraz that is built to age. Many years in front of it.

2005 Tarrawarra Reserve Chardonnay – A chardonnay reaching its peak. Generosity matched with restraint, power match with elegance. If someone wanted me to the show them what great Chardonnay is (and I wasn’t prepared to fork out for Grand Cru Burgundy), then this is a wine I would put in front of them.

2008 Westend Calabria Private Bin Aglianico – the cheapie in the Top 5. For $15 you get character, flavour, rusticity and importantly some rippling tannin. A revelation for me as a Riverina table wine. Loved drinking this, and everything is there to suggest it should age nicely over the next 5 years as well.

2001 Wynns Black Label Cabernet – One of the first wines I cellared a number of years ago, and this was the 3rd bottle of 6 that I have consumed. I tasted it over 4 nights, and while it was beautiful from the get go, it got better and better during that time. Cork permitting, this will continue to age and improve over the next decade. Wynns Cabernet almost seems to defy vintage and winemaker at times in its ability to age gracefully, and this less than heralded wine is a wonderful case in point.


Some very notable mentions – 2009 De Iuliis Steven Shiraz, 2010 Head Old Vine Grenache, 2011 Henschke Julius Riesling, 2010 Hoddles Creek Chardonnay, 2002 Houghton Jack Mann, 2006 Pio Cesare Barolo, 2009 Sorrenberg Chardonnay




Red

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Scarborough 2010 Blue Label Chardonnay

The Scarborough winery in the Hunter Valley devotes considerable attention to Chardonnay, arguably the global king of white grapes, though a second class citizen in a region (justifiably) dominated by Semillon. Still, they manage to produce very reliable, regionally expressive, modern interpretations of Chardonnay in a variery of styles.The Blue Label is the entry level, accessible wine in this range.
It smells and tastes of subtly spicy ripe peach and yellow nectarine fruit (the fruit flavours being what I like to call the Hunter 'fruit salad' flavour), though on the palate there is also a nicely balancing squeeze of lemon and a hint of lemon zest. Overall there is generous fruit flavour at the front and mid palate, a velvet like texture, finishing gently with some spicy old oak and subtle smokiness.

Good value for money and a nice example of a modern classic hunter Chardonnay: it has the flavour and the fruit, the oak is not overdone, though present, and there is enough zing to make it a refreshing wine to drink with several different dishes. Despite the arctic weather on the east coast of Australia at the moment, it's summertime, drink up.

Rating: 90pts+ (+ is for dinner party versatility and its ability to make a Sauvignon Blanc drinker understand they can get their ‘fix’ plus so much more without resorting to their white wine of choice).

ABV: 13.0%
Price: $20
Website: www.scarboroughwine.com.au/

EDIT: In light of this interesting article on Australian Chardonnay styles by Huon Hooke in a major Australian broadsheet newspaper (link: here), I would specifically note that this wine is on the leaner side of ripe. It may be a symptom of trying more and more of the modern Australian Chardonnays that are in the leaner, 'Chablis' style that I refer to the 'ripe fruits' in this wine. Compared to the derided 'Dolly Parton' 1980's era oaky tropical chardonnay, the Blue Label is more on the taut and trim side of things. However, it is not anorexic (a fate befalling more Australian Chardonnays as the lean trend mentioned in the article continues to gather pace). For the price, I maintain it would be a popular choice for many, especially who like the 'just right' category of fruit to acid/lean balance.
RB 13/12/11

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

RedtoBrown News EXCLUSIVE - Broken Hill International Wine Show launched: “Set to revolutionise the Australian wine industry"

Last night the Broken Hill Chamber of Wine and Food Commerce, in conjunction with the Far West Alternative Wine Growers Collective announced that a new annual wine show would be held in the historic mining town, starting next year. The event, officially titled ‘The Broken Hill International Wine Show’, is scheduled to be held at the same time as the Sydney Royal Wine Show in February of each year.
The Broken Hill International Wine Show
 is set to boost tourism in 'The Silver City'
The concept is the brainchild of former wine marketer and freelance wine judge, Johan Trambly-Churchill. At the official launch, Trambly-Churchill was excited by the possibilities the wine show offered the town and Australian wine drinkers.  “This is a real win for Broken Hill. I commend the winemaking pioneers in this town for supporting me in pursuing my vision”. Trambly-Churchill outlined his plans for the event in an introductory 15 minute sound and light presentation. Included were a history of wine making in Broken Hill and interviews with the owner of the one wine bar in the town.  Trambly-Churchill also revealed that the Broken Hill International Wine Show would have 35 different classes of wine that receive a trophy. As an added extra, 25 special awards would be distributed amongst the trophy winners, for unique classes such as "best young semillon, not from the Hunter, paired with sautéed scallops" and "best single site, 100% whole bunch, cool-climate syrah".

Trambly-Churchill claimed the Broken Hill International Wine Show would also revolutionise the way wine shows are judged in Australia with a unique judging panel concept. “Organisers of this wine show realised that there are issues with wine shows when age-worthy wines of pedigree from a great vintage don't even win a bronze medal, while wines from the riper, cheaper, or "quaffer" category wines are awarded a trophy. To combat this tendency, we developed the ‘Galena Tasting Panel Method’. It will really shake up the wine judging world”.
Such was the excitement following last night's presentation, several wine
 corporations had already submitted samples to be entered into next year's Wine Show (inset)
Trambly-Churchill elaborated slightly on the ‘Galena Tasting Panel Method’ in his presentation, noting that when assessing the entrants, each tasting panel would taste 140-150 wines a day, with a Chairman of Judges and an international judge brought in to adjudicate when there was a disagreement. In response to a question from the audience querying how this new method differed from the traditional show panel system, or how anyone could possibly taste that many wines in a day and be confident in their assessments and scores, Trambly-Churchill was quite vague, mumbling something inaudible that referred to ‘The Galena Stone’ making the final decision on all Trophies, before ending his response by stating that further details on the judging method would be released closer to   the date of the wine show.

The mysterious Galena Stone had yet to be identified when this article went to print,
though some wine exporters believe they may have found it (inset).
As the finale to the presentation, Trambly-Churchill announced an Australian Wine Show first – the introduction of a ‘Rhodium medal’ for best wine in show. Following the presentation, Trambly-Churchill noted that the organising committee had toyed with the idea of a platinum medal for the best wine in show, but "platinum medals have already been awarded in the past”. Trambly-Churchill also highlighted the impact of the new medal. “The focus groups we surveyed liked the idea of a ‘Rhodium Medal’ and we think it will make our wine show really stand out”.

When asked why the Broken Hill International Wine Show was occurring at the same time as the Royal Sydney Wine Show, and whether this would have an impact on the popularity of the event, Trambly-Churchill was bullish. “I am confident that this wine show will stand up to any held in Australia. February is a relatively quiet month for wine shows, but on every weekend in February we still had one or more clashes with a notable wine event. We had to make a call on which one to go up against in February, and the Royal Sydney Wine Show was our choice. We did not want to clash with the Cootamundra, Condobolin, Katherine or Mt Isa wine shows, and holding it one week later in March would then bring us into conflict with the Karratha and Derby wine shows – all of these events are highly influential, so we settled on the clash with Sydney”.
Those in the know believe the upcoming Karratha
Asia-Pacific Wine Show will unearth some real gems

Though the representatives from major wine corporations refused to comment at the launch, it is expected that the Broken Hill International Wine Show will receive thousands of entries from wineries eager to possibly have the new Rhodium medal placed on their bottles. One wine executive who asked not to be named was quoted as saying that the wine show would improve sales of wine in the troubled $5-15 bracket, and could also be used to shift some aged material. “We love these wine shows, despite them being a bit of a lottery. If the public keep buying wines based on the ‘bling’, we will keep submitting them to be tasted amidst 1000’s of other bottles – it is a lottery with nice dividends, money for jam. Literally”.

Monday, December 5, 2011

2002 Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz (Barossa Valley)



This wine represents Barossa Shiraz at its best. It is a refined and elegant rendition of the style of wine that nevertheless lacks nothing in terms of generosity.

The Stonewell Shiraz is Peter Lehmann’s top wine and 2002 was a fantastic, yet cooler vintage in the Barossa. The fruit was sourced from a range of smaller growers.

This is a wine that is now fully integrated, with hints of secondary flavours apparent, and years in front of it. It has a beautiful bouquet of exotic spice, dark fruits, chocolate, and hints of leather. This bouquet creates high expectations, and the palate delivers. Beautiful fruit, mid palate drive, fine tannins, and fantastic length. It has a lovely emerging earthiness, that adds a wonderful sense of texture as well.

The 2002 Stonewell Shiraz will do the next decade in a canter (cork permitting), and where it peaks is likely to depend on your preference for primary fruit vs secondary, savoury characters. A wonderful wine.


Rated:


RRP: $90
ABV: 14.5%
Website: http://www.peterlehmannwines.com/


Red

Thursday, December 1, 2011

2009 SC Pannell Syrah (Adelaide Hills)

I’m a fan of Stephen Pannell’s wines, but this one didn’t really work for me.

It starts off well with a floral, attractive nose with notes of plum, oak, and wet earth. On the palate however, it never quite came together. There was some nice fruit and ok length, but there was some bitterness and sourness that kind of had it a bit all over the place. Now I like a bit of bitterness and sourness in my wine, but in this example it just didn’t win me over. Ok wine.
3 stars

Rated:


RRP: $25
ABV: 14%
Website: http://www.pannell.com.au/


Red

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Eden Valley vs the Adelaide Hills: 2011 Henschke Julius Riesling vs the 2011 Henschke Lenswood Green's Vineyard Riesling



Henschke’s own notes indicate that these two Rieslings will age for 20 years. I’m a fan of such a confident statement, but is it a knowing confidence or more a positive optimism?

I lined these two wines up on a Friday night and tasted them over 4 nights. Each wine got better over that period of time. With the Green's Vineyard, I'd suggest the 20 year call is a tad optimistic, however the Julius is an absolute standout, and should age beautifully.

2011 Lenswood Green’s Vineyard Riesling (Adelaide Hills) – RRP: $25 - this is an enjoyable riesling that will drink very well with fish and chips over the next couple of summers, and should age reasonably well also. It’s quite broad through the palate, but is underpinned by prominent acidity, and strong citrus flavours that push through a good finish. It improved nicely over a few days. 3.5 stars +


2011 Julius Eden Valley Riesling – RRP: $33 - On the 4th night this wine was drinking absolutely beautifully, and certainly lends credence to the 20 year cellaring claim. Tasting it next to the Lenswood, it was clear that this was the superior wine, presenting a much more refined and elegant Riesling. It has a classic Eden Valley nose of lime, apple blossom, bath salts and slate. The same flavours flow along the palate in a very linear, refined manner, underpinned by a beautiful unforced acidity. Detail and persistence are there in spades. A special for the cellar. 4.5 stars

The price difference between these two wine is a reflection in the difference in quality between the grapes that go into these two wines, and it sits well with me. The Lenswood is very good, but with a bit more money you get a world class Riesling in the Julius. The wines also fit nicely within my overall impression of Riesling from the two different regions. Adelaide Hills riesling is often very good, but rarely great, while Eden Valley, in my opinion, produces Australia's greatest expressions of this noble grape.


Red

Monday, November 21, 2011

2011 Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner (Canberra District)



As an emerging variety here in Australia, it is interesting to contemplate where Gruner Veltliner might be in 10 years time. It finds greatness in Austria. Can it do the same in Australia?

Given the well documented struggles of Riesling to gain mass appeal in Australia, despite being arguably the noblest of white grapes, I find it hard to conceive of Gruner Veltliner, with its Riesling like characteristics, gaining broad market acceptance. Nevertheless, in the hands of committed, small producers like Lark Hill, I can see the variety gaining a loyal following. Moreover, given their impressive first few efforts with this variety, there’s every chance that with some vine age, Lark Hill will end up producing some truly memorable Gruner Veltliner.

I really like the length and texture of this wine. It drives nicely through the palate, showing some fruit richness through a long finish, all the while providing a lovely sense of minerally grip. It tastes of lime, melon, hints of white pepper, and an interesting celery/vegetal note. Others may find that celery note a touch confronting, but it appealed to me. The acidity, balance and length of this wine are excellent, and suggest it should age well. A very good wine.



Rated:


ABV: 12%
RRP: $40
Website: http://www.larkhillwine.com.au/


Red

Thursday, November 17, 2011

RedtoBrown Wine News Exclusive: Barack Obama Endorses WBMwinemagazine’s #Top100WineTweeters Concept

November 17, 2011 - 8:51PM.

President Obama casts a friendly eye over the media throng in Canberra

Canberra: US President Barack Obama last night surprisingly endorsed WBM Wine Magazine’s concept of a Top 100 Australian wine tweeters list. Obama, who last night was attending a parliamentary dinner hosted by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard was candid with RedtoBrown reporters when asked about the list. “I love the idea and love Australian wine. In fact, I have known about Australian wine for some time now. My Grandmother would bring home bottles of Aussie wine like Lindeman’s Bin 65 when I lived in Hawaii. She would sit on the porch drinking a glass while I dreamed of change the USA could believe in. I hold those memories dear, and to this day my aides keep me abreast of all the developments in the Australian wine industry”.



Obama is famous for harnessing the power of social media, and as such, is well-versed in assessing the merits of the WBM Wine Magazine’s Top 100 Tweeters concept. In between slices of Australian lamb, washed down with Coonawarra cabernet, Obama praised the WMB Wine Magazine initiative.

“The concept of a top 100 list on Twitter is fresh, untried - I mean, who has seen a top 100, top 20, top 5 list on Twitter in the last 5 years?. It channels and promotes all the positive elements of new media – narcissism, sycophancy, self-absorption, vested interest to gain more exposure and increase company/winery revenue – I like it”.

Obama also stated he was an interested observer of the #Top100WineTweeters hashtag conversation that was occurring when he landed in Canberra on Wednesday afternoon. “I saw people discussing the top 100 list while I was on my way to Parliament House and it brought back memories of when I was trying to make a name for myself in the cut-throat Chicago political system. I liked the chutzpah of the tweeters – largely industry reps and wineries - nominating their friends to be on the list and the others who openly stated their tactics for being placed on the list. Blatant and singular self-promotion once worked for me at a local Democrat Convention, so it all brought a smile to my face”.


Obama was non-commital when asked if he had ever attempted the ‘Mollydooker Shake’
Obama was so positive about the Top100 Wine Tweeters idea that he feared news of the list may overshadow the announcement of a new joint facility in Darwin. “Posting 2500 US Marines in Darwin is big news, but the potential of this list to influence the wine world may put my announcement in the shade – yet another example of the intelligent and original use of social media tools”.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard refused to be put on the record when questioned by RedtoBrown, though it was noted that she was slowly making her way through a bottle of Victorian cool climate Syrah on the night.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

2010 Hoddles Creek Estate Pinot Noir (Yarra Valley)

I’m an unabashed fan of this winery, and loved the barrel samples I tasted of this wine last year - http://redtobrownwinereview.blogspot.com/2010/07/hoddles-creek-estate-2010-vintage.html

So with that positive bias disclosed, the 2010 edition of Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir is a beauty.

With some air the bouquet becomes increasingly expressive and sexy. Lovely aromas of cherry, sap, spice, along with a touch of stalkiness. To drink there is drive and persistence to this wine. Flavours of sour cherry, rose petal, spice, and a hint of bitterness are delivered with beautiful palate weight and fine tannins. The finish doesn’t waver. The word that keeps coming up in my notes on this wine is moreish. It’s a serious, structured wine that will undoubtedly age well, and yet with a bit of air its more than drinkable now, and that moreishness makes it difficult to keep your hands off.

At $20, this Pinot Noir has no peer in Australia in my opinion. 4 stars

Rated:


RRP: $20
ABV: 13.2%
Website: http://www.hoddlescreekestate.com.au/


Red

Thursday, November 10, 2011

2009 Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay (Margaret River)



Drinking this wine left me with a feeling of being unfulfilled.

To explain, Cullen’s Kevin John Chardonnay has been one of Australia’s most lauded Chardonnays over the past few years. Almost without fail, reviews from critics are glowing and scores are very high. Given the wonderful quality of Australian Chardonnay generally this is no mean feat.

This wine is also aiming high, being one of Australia’s most expensive Chardonnays at an RRP of $105 a bottle.

Finally 2009 was for most producers a fantastic vintage in the Margaret River. Cullen winemaker, Vanya Cullen, has labelled it the “Mozart vintage” with all the white and red wines being in perfect harmony and balance.

So when it came time to celebrate my recent completion of my Masters degree, and the meal was going to be a chicken dish, this was the wine I decided that I wanted to splurge on. Given the price, the reputation, and vintage, I hoped the wine would give me one of those wonderful wine vinous experiences.

The wine starts off with tropical, pineapple aromas that soon blow off to reveal a classic Chardonnay nose that’s mealy, nutty, and creamy along with strong grapefruit notes. There is complexity here no question. The palate finds a lovely balance between the generosity of its beautiful fruit and a refined line of flavour, and pushes through to a long, savoury finish. Lovely acidity and a nice bit of texture complete an impressive wine. The one issue I had was that the spicy oak seemed to sit somewhat apart from the fruit on the back palate, though I can see this integrating with time.

I drank it over two days. I decanted it. I drank it both slightly chilled and also at room temperature. I tried to do the wine justice. In the end, the impression I came away with is that this is a quality Chardonnay in need of some more time to come together. Unfortunately, however, at no point over the two days did it surge to greatness or give me that “wow” moment.

The time that this wine will spend in people’s cellars may well make a fool of this tasting note and score, but for mine this 09 Kevin John Chardonnay is a fraction off the greatness that the combination of price, reputation, and vintage implies. A very good wine but I wanted more. 4 stars +

Rated:
+

RRP: $105
ABV: 13.5%
Website: http://www.cullenwines.com.au/


Red

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Face-Off - 1998 Tarrawarra Pinot Noir (Yarra Valley)

Introduction (Red): The ageability of Australian Pinot Noir is something that continues to impress me, and I think it’s only a story that’s going to build as an increasing number of our Pinots sail into their second and even third decades.

My first experience with aged Tarrawarra Pinot Noir was the 2001, which I had earlier in the year at a Tarrawarra dinner hosted in Sydney, and in amongst some fantastic competition it was my wine of the night. It was a seductive Pinot right in the groove with plenty of years in front of it.

Red: The 1998 is perhaps not quite at the level of the 2001, but is still a very good wine and drinking very well at 13 years of age. Funnily enough it reminded me a bit of aged Hunter Shiraz, or put another way, it reminded me that aged Hunter Shiraz starts to look like Pinot.

A lovely aged nose of cherry, pot pourri, caramel oak, and leather. It still has some lovely fruit on the front palate, but then very quickly moves to more secondary notes including earth, tobacco, and sour cherry. It’s finishes with good length and there’s still some fine tannin in support. It’s eminently drinkable and fantastic with food. It could be cellared for a few more years, but I think it’s more or less at its aged peak now.

Brown: I echo Red's comments about the 2001 Tarrawarra Pinot - it was a standout wine on the night of the tasting. Given our mutual enthusiasm for that wine, I was interested to see how the 1998 compared.

Bottle variation may have been at play with my sample, but I did not pick up the same level of fruit on the palate. The nose of the wine I tasted was quite complex, and a definite strength: Primary fruit had given way to somewhat aged characteristics, including wild mushroom, moist earth/soil, forest floor, with a subtle liqueur cherry scent.
On the front palate and to a lesser extent, the mid palate, there was some nice black cherry, all spice, leather and earthiness. The back palate was a bit disjointed, with slightly astringent acidity and possibly alcohol heat at the finish.

Given how alluring the nose of this wine was, I would suggest for this particular bottle it may have been at its peak a few years earlier when the fruit would be more prominent/ in balance at the finish. Still, it settled down with more air, and was a solid wine.

Closing Comments (Brown)  It is promising that Tarrawarra wine maker Clare Halloran managed to produce a Pinot that has survived 13 years (when many of its vintage/era could have fallen over after 4 years). The quality of the 2001 Tarrawarra adds further weight to the opening introduction from Red about the increasing age-worthiness of Australian Pinot. While I would be surprised to see an Australian Pinot emphatically reach its 30th year, I find it increasingly difficult to rule it out based on this teenager from 1998.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

2008 Juniper Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Margaret River)

I’ve written previously how I think Juniper Estate is moving into the upper echelon of Margaret River Cabernet, and that at $45, recent vintages of this wine will come to be viewed as relative bargains given time - http://redtobrownwinereview.blogspot.com/2010/10/juniper-estate.html

A bottle of the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon I had over a few days just reinforced this view. A blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 1.5% Petit Verdot that spent 18 months in French Oak, 50% of which was new.

Within the context of Margaret River Cabernet, this is medium bodied and elegant. It’s a beautifully structured wine that is keeping its cards close to its chest at the moment, but the latent complexity is there. Over 3 days it revealed flavours of blackcurrant, chocolate oak, spice, pencil shavings, gravel, tobacco, and earth. These flavours are moulded by fine, yet mouth filling tannins, and a lovely acidity. The wine stretched out over time to provide a wonderfully persistent and savoury finish. If I can resist I’ll wait until 2018 before opening my next bottle. 4.5 Stars

Rated:


RRP: $45
ABV: 14.5%
Website: http://www.juniperestate.com.au/


Red

Saturday, October 29, 2011

2009 Pattes Loup Chablis 1er Cru Montmains



Pattes Loup, which was only established in 2005, is getting a lot of positive press in the world of Chablis, with Antonio Galloni having this to say this about the winery – “Simply put, these are some of the most groundbreaking, intensely captivating wines being made in Chablis today”.

Montmains is a south-east facing Premier Cru site in Chablis. The soils are composed of light, sandy topsoil with the Kimmeridgian (limestone-rich) subsoil that defines Chablis more generally. Apparently this Premier Cru also has a unique micro-climate, though as much as this unique microclimate is referenced with Montmains I’m yet to read anything that discusses what this micro-climate is or what impact it has on Chablis from this site. Any thoughts or comments on this point would be appreciated.

It’s a slightly fuller, richer Chablis than I might have expected, though this is probably a product of the 09 vintage. The thing that stands out however, is the wine's length. From go to woe, it never wavers, and has fantastic persistence. Lovely flavours of lime and peach are matched with some spice and floral notes, and all underpinned by that classic chalky minerality which is typical of Chablis. The balance and length suggests that this will age nicely, but the richness of flavour makes it’s pretty approachable now as well. Very nice wine. 4 stars.






Rated:


ABV: 12.5%
RRP: $60
Importer: www.eurocentric.com.au
Website: www.pattes-loup.com


Red

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The turning of the Worm . . .

The past 12 months have represented a turning point when it comes to international opinion of Australian wine.

You may have watched political debates where the audience have handsets that produce a graph of viewer approval, which can look sort of like a worm inching along, rising and falling in response to the debate. For much of the noughties the worm headed south and well and truly into negative territory, as Australian wine came to be viewed internationally as industrial, alcoholic, and uninteresting. However, just in the last 12 months the worm has ticked back in the right direction. It is still a long way from positive territory, but it is a start. All of a sudden there are positive things being written and discussed about Australian wines by international commentators and critics. Whereas 3 or 4 years ago an opinion piece on Australian wine was invariably all about the negatives and stereotypes, now you can read pieces from British and American wine writers who are excited about what is coming out of this island continent.

The latest and perhaps strongest example of this is James Suckling's two week tour of Australia. The thing that I have liked most about his trip is the length, depth and breadth of what he is doing. As opposed to just visiting for a specific event, or one particular region, he’s covered 4 States, and multiple wine regions over a fortnight. His positive findings in terms of some of the wonderful wine Australia is now producing, may be self-evident to passionate wine people here in Australia, however, it is also very apparent that the message he is conveying in terms of the interest, quality, and character of Australian wine, is being heard for the very first time by many consumers overseas, particularly in the US.

The message that Suckling and other international commentators are beginning to deliver is that Australia is producing wines of moderate alcohol that express a true sense of place. The reality is that this has always been on offer with Australian wine if you knew where to look. These types of wineries were, however, in the minority in the recent past, and the international perception of Australian wine certainly didn’t allow this view of Australian wine much of a look in. Now, however, these types of Australian wines can be found without huge amounts of effort or knowledge. There are seemingly a multitude of wineries from every significant Australian wine region, producing unique, terroir driven wines. Seeing a winery like Mac Forbes in 2010 producing 6 different Pinot Noirs from 6 different sites in the Yarra Valley, is perhaps a somewhat extreme, yet also perfect example of this trend. Some great reviews by Mike Bennie of these wines are up on the www.winefront.com.au

The naughties will be remembered as somewhat of a nadir for Australian wine. Criticism and tough times in any industry, however, often result in greater levels of innovation and a push for quality, and this is what we have seen in Australian wine, particularly over the past 5 years. I’ve previously written about how positive trends around the expression of site, vine age, clonal selection, organic/biodynamic practices, and screwcaps, are all leading to a golden age in Australian wine in the coming decade http://redtobrownwinereview.blogspot.com/2011/04/beginnings-of-golden-age-in-australian.html

For this renaissance to ring true however, it requires critical acclaim to provide support and succour for the great efforts of our winemakers. It now looks like this acclaim has moved beyond just Australian commentators (who rightly or wrongly could always be accused of parochialism when it comes to their own wines), and is being taken up by prominent international critics. I’d best buy up for my cellar now, while there is still so much amazing value out there.


Red

Sunday, October 23, 2011

2009 Sons of Eden Kennedy Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre

I have to be upfront and admit that I have a vested interest in this wine – I tasted the old vine Grenache and Mourvedre that went into the Kennedy GSM when it was maturing in the barrel in Spring 2009, and from that point on was looking forward to trying the finished product.  That trip to the Barossa Valley involved us visiting several wineries, including Sons of Eden. The warm hospitality from people like SoE viticulturist Simon Cowham helped motivate me to develop this blog (co-opting ‘Red’ in the process). However, fond memories do not a good wine make, so on to the 2009 Kennedy GSM:

Based on the wines tasted to this point, 2009 was a surprisingly good, if low yielding, vintage for Grenache in the Barossa Valley. To back this view up, the 50+yr old vine Grenache and Mataro are the winners in this wine. They add a nice mix of juicy, spicy black cherry, raspberry and blackcurrant flavours, with the 40% of Shiraz providing some chocolate, black fruit support without dominating. There is a nice, earthy smooth tannic kick at the finish, combined with more lingering, clove, allspice and red fruit flavours.

There is a nice, voluptuous harmony to this wine – sweet fruited without being stewed or overdone. The Kennedy is listed at 14.5% abv, and could well be higher, but it is not overly noticeable.

The Kennedy is a moreish and approachable wine that will please many. A wine to be enjoyed, not contemplated. It is drinking nicely now and will do so for a few more years. As with other juicy GSMs, this wine can be served at below room temperature to maximise the fresh Grenache fruit in the wine, or served at room temperature in the middle of winter for some cold weather comfort!


Rating: 90pts
RRP: $22
ABV: 14.5%
Website http://www.sonsofeden.com/

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

2011 Lark Hill Viognier (Dark Horse Vineyard)

Lark Hill have been making some impressive wines recently, and their 2011 Viognier is a surprisingly good one. It is a fresh, juicy, yet textural wine (with a slatey minerality). It has the characteristic Viognier apricot and ginger spice, though the apricot flavours are not overpowering or of a dried apricot nature, and the ginger is fresh, flowing through from the nose to the back palate. The wine  finishes with lingering and pleasant smokey ginger spice. Lark Hill have managed to avoid the phenolic harshness, high alcohol and flabbyness I find in a fair few Australian Viogniers (ABV is only 12.5%).  This would match niecly with a wide variety of foods (in my case, some five spice roast duck in an asian style orange sauce).   

Rating: 91 pts
ABV: 12.5%
RRP: $25
Website: http://www.larkhillwine.com.au/

Sunday, October 16, 2011

2010 Head Brunette Syrah (Barossa Valley)


Put simply, this wine is awesome. I tasted it over 3 days and it just got better and better in that time. From a single vineyard in the Moppa sub-region of the Barossa.

It’s beautifully perfumed and aromatic. It has a bouquet that continued to evolve and at various stages produced notes of blueberry, chocolate, lavender, citrus, five-spice, and a savoury meatiness.

To drink it’s an almost perfect rendition of a balanced, restrained style of Barossa Shiraz. Which is to say it still has a power and richness to it, but it’s all kept in check with lovely natural acidity, and low-ish alcohol. There’s a wonderful complexity of flavour, with many of the same flavours as on the nose, along with a hint of steminess that adds rather than subtracts from the wine, and a lovely earthy minerality. The flow and length of the wine along the palate is a thing of beauty.

It’s a beautiful wine now with a bit of air, but will undoubtedly be better in 5-10 years time. Everything is there to suggest it will age a lot longer to. $45 and worth every penny. Loved it. 4.5 Stars

Rated:


ABV: 13.8%
Website: http://www.headwines.com.au/


Red

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cork. To buy or not to buy . . .

The Cork vs Screwcap debate is a well trodden path within wine circles. If it’s not apparent from what I have written then I am very firmly in the screwcap camp. Eschewing all the real and pseudo debates in this area, my reason for being pro-screw cap is very, very simple. I literally cannot remember the last time I opened a screwcap sealed wine that had a closure issue. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but in reality it’s few and far between. Unfortunately I can’t say the same about cork. I reckon my cork issue rate is at least 10%. That is, at least 1 in 10 cork sealed wines that I consume (or at least attempt to) have some sort of issue. Very mild TCA, obvious TCA, and oxidation are all issues I encounter all too often.

And yes, wines under screwcap age. I’ve had numerous 5 year through to 13 year old screwcap wines, and they are aging wonderfully. People who argue otherwise may as well be arguing that the earth is flat.

All of which leads me to an ongoing dilemma of mine. Whether to purchase cork sealed wines or not? Firstly, I do buy cork sealed wines. Possibly my favourite wine is Barolo, and therefore there’s no avoiding purchasing cork closures there at this stage (though the first good Barolo producer that uses screwcap will win my hard earned).

My issue, however, is more in Australia, where screwcap is now the dominant closure and no one bats an eyelid when opening a screwcap wine. It has become the norm. Despite this, there remains wineries that continue to use cork, and predominantly these are for premium wines. Whereas you’d struggle to find a $20 Australian wine under cork nowadays, jump up to $50 or more, and they are far more prevalent. Of course this seems to me entirely counterintuitive. Making a premium product and sealing it with a closure that has a higher failure rate doesn’t make much sense to me.

In any case, at these price points you get some of the more interesting and desirable Australian wines. Often single site wines that represent a winemaker’s best efforts. It might be, for example, a Pinot Noir that I love the sound of. With the wonderful development of Pinot in this country in the past two decades, however, there is more than just one $50+ Pinot that I lust after. They are now numerous, and with a monthly wine budget that I try to be reasonably disciplined about (not always successfully), unfortunately I can’t purchase all of them and therefore have to make decisions. As a result, a wine’s closure has become a key factor in helping me decide what wine I buy. I might be trying to make a decision between two exciting Victorian Pinot producers. If one is under screwcap and the other under cork, then that will make my decision a much easier one.

Now, if a winery wants to bottle their wine under cork for historical, romantic, or export reasons I can completely understand this. But why not give consumers a choice? Bottle half under cork and half under screwcap. If people still want to buy wine under cork they can, but I’d of thought that within Australia at least the screwcap allocation will sell out a lot more quickly than cork. Moreover, doing this consistently over say a decade or so, would enable a winery to genuinely determine which closure is the best for their wine. Quite often when I ask a winemaker why they are still using cork (in a polite manner), I get a somewhat testy and emotional response. Now I’m all for passion and emotion in wine, but in this instance I’d rather hear a response along the lines “We bottled a small batch of wines under screwcap for 5 years, and at the end of it, we still found cork to be the better closure for our wines”. Even if I still might disagree, I’d respect this response a lot more than the throw away lines you normally get.

Greatness in any field involves leaving no stone unturned. Not at the very least exploring how screwcap works with your wine, is a step back from this endeavour.


Red

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A few 2011 Hunter Valley Semillons

My aunty, who lives in Canberra, was telling me the other day that she found a 1973 Rothbury Estate Semillon in a corner of her cellar. She reckoned that it was probably the first serious wine that she bought and cellared back in the early 70s. One might expect that in 2011 this wine would be way past it, but having carefully pulled the cork, what she instead found was a beautifully fresh, yet complex Hunter Semillon. It’s amazing to think how long the better, current day Hunter Semillons will cellar under screwcap.

Brown and I have a bunch of Hunter Semillons to review and below is an initial trio -


2011 Pepper Tree Tallawanta Semillon ($28, 11.5% ABV) – I don’t often think of young Hunter Semillon as elegant, but this wine certainly provides that sense. It has a lovely unobtrusive acidity, and some nice texture and grip. Citrus, florals, and with a hint of honey it finishes with impressive length. One for the cellar. 4 Stars

2011 Thomas Braemore Semillon ($28, 11.5% ABV) - I loved the 09 and ’10 vintages of this wine, but not so much this wine. Its length and clean acidity mark it out as being of impressive pedigree, but the tropical fruit profile and some grassiness reminded me a little too much of a Sav Blanc in terms of flavour profile. I tried it again after a couple of days and the tropicals had happily subsided to some extent. Definitely a wine that needs some time to see its best. 3.5 Stars +

2011 Tulloch Semillon ($16, 11.3% ABV) – This might be the lowest scoring of this trio, but it is the most enjoyable to drink now, and perhaps the most easily identifiable as a Hunter Semillon. If you find yourself sitting in front a plate of Sydney Rock oysters this summer or next, crack this open and enjoy. Fresh, crisp, and with prominent acidity, it has lovely ripe citrus flavours and a good length of finish. It might surprise in the longer term but it’s open for business now. Great value. 3.5 Stars


Three quite different wines, and in the broader scheme of things, all very good value. The Tulloch is for now, while the Thomas and Pepper Tree should be popped in the cellar. I’m not sure if either of them will do 38 years like the ’73 Rothbury, but then again, betting against the Braemore or Tallawanta vineyards is a brave thing to do.



Red

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

2006 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino

Argiano is one of the oldest estates in Montalcino, with the villa having been established in 1581. From what I can gather there has been wine production in some form or other since that time. Wonderful history.

2006 was a good, yet warmish vintage in Montalcino and this is reflected in this wine. It starts with a very seductive nose. Notes of cherry, mocha oak, sweet earth, leather and tobacco all revealed themselves over two days. A lovely bouquet no question. To drink it’s medium to full bodied, and still predominantly primary and tannic. Ripe cherry fruit gives way to notes of spice, liquorice, and earth. I’d of thought it would age well, but there is just a suggestion of alcohol heat on the finish. Barely noticeable, but it’s there. It will be interesting to see where this wine is in 5 years time. I’m hoping the beautiful fruit and inherent complexity wins out, but it might just be that the alcohol does. A very enjoyable wine to drink now regardless.

Rated:


ABV: 14%
RRP: $60
Website: http://www.argiano.net/



Red

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Squirrels and Woodchips: Autotune and the Over-use of Oak in Wine

“This is anti-autotune, death of the ringtone
 This ain’t for Itunes, this ain’t for sing-along
I know we facin a recession
But the music yall makin gonna make it the great depression”

Jay Z – D.O.A (Death of Autotune)

I am more a fan of indie guitar music, but Jay Z has a point in D.O.A – the proliferation of songs filled with autotune is not a promising trend for music, especially any musician aiming for some form of artistic credibility.

Personally, I see the overuse of oak in wine as the oenological equivalent to over use of (or in my view, 'any' use of) autotune in the production of music: if the fruit was top quality, the wine would likely be just as good with the oak turned down a few notches. If the fruit was poor quality, no amount of oak will ever fully mask this fact. As with 99% of autotune-heavy music, neither style of wine will live long in the memory, and if it does, it is likely to be for the wrong reasons.

For those not familiar with autotune, it is the computer voice tuning/pitch assistance program that enables even the tone deaf to sound bearable when recorded, and can be tweaked to create a ‘unique’ vocal effect. Musical sadists like T Pain and the Black Eyed Peas have embraced the software, and music has not progressed artistically one iota as a result. Luckily, in the years since Jay Z downloaded on autotune not many artistically credible musicians (across multiple genres) have embraced autotune in the same way as T Pain.


There was consternation in the wine cellar when cult contract wine maker Brice Dickenson suggested their wine could have used a little more new American oak.
Ironically, unlike music with autotune, the wine industry seems more inclined to drown a wide range of different wines - excellent, underrated, average and ordinary - in a layer of oak. Perhaps the lower incidence of death by autotune vs death by oak at the above average to elite level is due to the added production options when making music compared to wine.

The tragedy with overuse of oak in wine is that many wineries inflict it upon their best grapes: their reserve crop. If I had a dollar for every time I tried an estate wine that was far superior to the more expensive liquified oak tree reserve, I would be a millionaire (ok, maybe if I had $150k for every time). Somehow I cannot see Paul McCartney in the studio wanting to add an electronic autotune robot voice to the verses in Yesterday (noting  Yesterday was his Beatles, not Wings era), or Kurt Cobain insisting he have his grungy growl in the chorus of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' soar like a chipmunk as in Cher's horrendous autotune defining song, ‘Believe’.
Do you believe in wine without oak? I can taste some fruit in this glass,
but really can’t taste it strong enough”
I am not saying every winery does this –unless rudely oaked wine is their house style, the elite winemakers get it right more often than not depending on the fashion of the day. Furthermore, in some very lucky vineyards it is harder to make a bad wine than a good/great one. 

Unfortunately, I have had too many glasses of (relatively) expensive, cellared, over oaked wine; the fruit trying valiantly to peep through in its death-throes. In these situations, I cannot help but think that there are many similar wines out there that could have been timeless classics, were it not for too much tinkering with the oak meter.

For our non-Australian readers, the Australian wine industry has battled its oak (and acid) demons for some time now. You need only compare a late 1990's/early 00s (Parker Points aspiring) Hunter Valley Shiraz with their equivalents being made today to realise how much of a positive difference reducing the amount of new oak had made to the wines. The Region’s ‘voice’ is heard, unaccompanied and solo: infinitely more enjoyable and long lasting without the wine equivalent of autotune smothering it. This example is one I would love to see more often in some other regions.

The Black Eyed Peas inspect one of their many low-yielding, biodynamically grown Pinot and Riesling vineyards in between recording of their new autotune-lathed album.

At the lower end of the wine market, it is all out marketing and stylistic warfare. We have wine companies marketing non-vintage fruit and herb infused cooler as wine, low calorie fizzy alcoholic grape juice as wine, and the topic of this post, cheap, sweet, heavily oaked (chipped) reds and whites.

At this end of the wine and music market, the use of oak and autotune is not so much of a tragedy as a lazy lost opportunity. The $5-$15 wine segment is as much awash with sugary sweet wines as it is heavily oaked wines – most commonly in combination, though there are more than enough straight out sweet wines.

As with the lower end wine market, the music industry is overflowing with sugary sweet pop and RnB songs that chart one week and are forgotten the next. The music is generic, the style derivative, the attention span of the listener fleeting, and the cultural impact of the song, negligible.

Part of me would love to see smarter, well-crafted throw-away pop songs being produced, or a higher percentage of intelligently conceived, quaffable wines released.




One is, stupid, cynical, sickly sweet, infantile and supposedly attractive to the 25- 35 year old female demographic. The other is David Beckham
      
However, in this segment of the music and wine markets, autotune and heavily oaked wine is merely one of a multitude of problems facing both industries and the topic of a much longer conversation (to be held with a glass of oaky Cabernet in hand and the dulcet, autotune-affected tones of the Black Eyed Peas playing in the background. Not.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

2011 Lark Hill Riesling (Canberra District)

I increasingly enjoy Canberra Riesling. It provides a nice change up from my Eden Valley and Clare Valley staples. This 2011 Lark Hill has an expressive, floral nose of apples, citrus, and a note of slate. It drinks in a very unforced manner, with clean acidity and a nice line and length of flavour. The finish is all citrus. A nice wine that should be better with a bit of time in bottle. 3.5 Stars

Rated:


RRP: $30
ABV: 11.5%
Website: http://www.larkhill.com.au/


Red

Friday, September 23, 2011

2008 Gros Tollot Les Fontanilles (Minervois, France)


Cicero and Pliny the Elder were apparently big fans of the wines from Minervois, so as a lover of ancient history it only makes sense that I try a few more wines from this appellation.

Minervois lies between Carcassone and Narbonne. Carignan used to be the dominant grape here, and maybe that’s what Cicero was drinking after addressing the Roman Senate, but these days Minervois reds are also blended with Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault et al.

Anne Gros and Jean Paul Tollot are well known Burgundy winemakers who have set up a winery in Minervois. Rather than me writing about them and their site in Minervois, I think this video tells their story well

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01mMytKTXwU

The wine itself is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, and Cinsault. It has an appealing nose of berries, chocolate, some leather, and a touch of funk. To drink it’s medium-full bodied, and would go really well with some game meat. It has bright fruit, a real juiciness and a hint of that chocolate before turning predominantly savoury, with notes of dried herbs and a nice salty minerality running its length. Fine tannins frame it all very nicely. It's drinking well now but should also develop some more complexity over the next 5 years. Really enjoyed this.



Rated:


RRP: $60
ABV: 14%
Website: http://www.anne-gros.com/
Importer: www.eurocentricwine.com.au


Red

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Downfall of a Cult Californian Winery

Earlier this year legendary wine critic, Robert Parker, announced that he would no longer be covering California, and would be focusing solely on Bordeaux and the Rhone. Responsibilities for California have been passed to Parker's associate, Antonio Galloni. One Californian winery was not particularly happy with this news . . .

Warning - there are a few four letter words coming your way.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lIvGuCPZOc



Red

Monday, September 12, 2011

Teusner 2010 'The Gentleman' Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon


Teusner’s ‘The Gentleman’ Cabernet Sauvignon appears to be the Cabernet sister to the Riebke Shiraz – same price point, similar labelling, but also similar bang for your buck? Let’s take a look:

Subtle liquorice/ aniseed, molasses, allspice and largely black fruits on the nose,.  Ripe black fruit on the palate, initial cola flavours, yet finishes with a savoury herbal/dark chocolate note, a degree of alcohol heat and pleasantly surprising length. The tannins are ripe and soft, medium to full bodied and a nice intensity and a silky mouthfeel.  
(Almost predictably), at around $18-22 per bottle, this is another promising, good value release from Teusner, alongside the excellent ‘The Independent’ Shiraz Mataro and Riebke Shiraz ranges.  They are a winery on top of its game from a wine making and wine marketing perspective.

Rating – 90points / 3.5 Stars
ABV – 14.5%
RRP: $18-22
Website: http://www.teusner.com.au/

Saturday, September 10, 2011

2009 Sorrenberg Chardonnay (Beechworth)

I love Beechworth Chardonnay and on a value for money basis, Sorrenberg’s is arguably the best of them. As with most Beechworth Chardonnay it undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation, which generally gives the wine a generosity and creaminess that very much agrees with me.

It starts with an expressive, rich nose of peach and spicy oak. Then to drink it is bang on. It has a wonderful balance between fruit and savoury flavours, and then creaminess and minerality in terms of texture. The thing that really marks this wine out though is this beautiful streak of lime juice that runs its long length. It’s a point of difference and gives the wine that bit of an X factor. Give it a good decant and its drinking beautifully now, but ideally leave it in the cellar for another few years yet. Vying with the 05 Tarrawarra Reserve Chardonnay as my Chardonnay of the year thus far. Wonderful wine.

Rated:


RRP: $49
ABV: 14%
Website: http://www.sorrenberg.com/


Red

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Organic & Biodynamic wine tasting

There is an increasing trend in the world of wine towards organic and/or biodynamic vineyard management. By and large I am happy to drink organic, biodynamic, or conventional wines and just assess what I see in the glass. Many people engaged in the debate, however, either dismiss many of the ideas, particularly around biodynamics, or conversely are very passionate in support of these two vineyard approaches, and are generally of the belief that organic/biodynamic wines are inherently superior to more conventionally made wines. A tasting at the Oak Barrel in Sydney, where Gilles Lapalus from Sutton Grange in Bendigo and Eric Semmler from 919 Wines in the Riverland, took us through a number of organic/biodynamic wines, was a great opportunity to explore and discuss this trend towards organic/biodynamic vineyard management.

To first define what each approach is (at least as far as I understand it). Organic wines are simply wines made from grapes where no chemicals, herbicides, pesticides etc. have been used in the vineyard. This organic approach is meant to result in a healthier vineyard, better grapes, and ultimately better wine. To me anyway, it makes perfect sense, and I’ve seen it in other agricultural products like chickens, tomatoes etc. They just generally taste a bit better than their conventional counterparts. The other consideration with organics is the longer term health of a vineyard. While maybe the occasional use of some chemical agent in a vineyard mightn’t ultimately be that detrimental, their consistent use year after year, over decades, must surely start to affect the health of a vineyard and therefore the quality of grapes it can turn out, at least in comparison to an organic approach. Ultimately, I don’t actually see much that is controversial in organic wine, other than it could present vineyard management challenges in a tough vintage when disease is more likely.

Biodynamics is altogether more controversial and much harder to define. To simplify it is organics with a cosmic and spiritual bent. Its starting point are the writings of Rudolph Steiner, and generally result in a more holistic approach to vineyard management. A lot of the more obvious aspects of biodynamics focus on composting and preparations that tie in to some extent with organics, however tend to go a step further into some somewhat obscure practices. The most famous of which is Preparation 500, which involves burying a cow’s horn full of manure in the vineyard in winter, and then digging it up in spring to release a whole bunch of apparently helpful microbes into the vineyard.

After that biodynamics moves into some of its more controversial aspects such as working in sync with moon cycles. Semmler from 919 wines, claims that the key determinant to his vines ripening are the moon cycles. While heat and the season obviously play a major role, Semmler says that the moon moving into a waxing cycle will bring on the ripening he requires to pick, rather than a heat wave or any other factor.

It’s probably quite easy to be cynical about these things (and to be honest I’m still a bit of a sceptic). The thing, however, that I will say in defence of those that practice biodynamics (at least those that I have met), is that they are far from the imagined airy fairy hippies dancing naked around their vineyards. Often they are pragmatic, experienced vignerons who have worked in both conventional and organic/biodynamic vineyards over many years. Experience has shown them what they believe to be a better approach.

So to some of the highlights of the evening -

2010 “919” Vermentino (Riverland)
Vermentino loves the heat and would seem a good grape to be growing in the Riverland. This is a white wine that offers a point of difference. Green apples, citrus, spice and a lovely creaminess. It has a nice sense of texture and grip. Would be fantastic with white meats.

2009 Ngeringa Pinot Noir (Adelaide Hills)
This is an understated Pinot Noir that really sneaks up on you. Light, fresh, and savoury with some lovely sour cherry. It never loses focus, and has a very long finish. Lovely Pinot.

2009 “919” Tempranillo (Riverland)
Once again this wine offers a point of difference. It has a nose of dark cherry and liquorice all sorts. It’s a rich and powerful wine, but retains a sense of balance with flavours of cherry, earthiness and some lovely tannin. Nice

2009 Dard & Ribo Hermitage Rouge (Rhone Valley)
This is such a fresh and sexy wine. Its characterised by beautiful juicy fruit and is dangerously easy to drink. Lovely berry fruits and spice. Mellifluous. Would buy and drink a lot of this if it wasn’t $100 a bottle.

2006 Sutton Grange Syrah (Bendigo)
This wine is a tannic beast, and I love it all the more for it. It has a beautifully perfumed nose with a nice touch of funk. The palate is one of plush dark fruit, spice, and those amazing tannins. If Bendigo Shiraz can ever look like a Barolo then this wine is it.


These wines were undoubtedly wines of character, interest, and terroir. I really enjoyed tasting through such a line up. Did they, however, strike me as inherently better or more enjoyable than a line up of perhaps more conventionally made wines? Not necessarily. The trend towards organics/biodynamics I view as a positive one, but at the same time as just one element in amongst numerous others vineyard and winemaking inputs that go into producing the wonderful end product.



Red

Sunday, August 28, 2011

2008 Masciarelli Montepulciano D'abruzzo (Italy)



I don't often drink Montepulciano D'abruzzo, but everytime I do I tend to enjoy it. I find it combines lovely juicy fruit with with just a nice bit of rusticity, and so it is with this wine.

An expressive nose of red fruits and a nice touch of leather. To drink it's medium bodied, and went well with a mushroom pasta dish. Bright red fruits are joined by earth, a bit of funk, and some tobacco. There's a lovely sour cherry finish to. Altogether a very satisfying and enjoyable drink.

Rated:


RRP: $25
ABV: 13.5%
Website: http://www.masciarelli.it/


Red

Monday, August 22, 2011

Aged Cabernet Dinner

It was the middle of winter, and Brown and some other good friends were over at our place for dinner, so it was time to pull out some big guns. Aged Cabernet/Bordeaux blends that is.

The four wines that Brown and I pulled from their cool places in the cellar were -

2001 Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon (Coonawarra, $30)
2001 Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon (Tasmania, $90)
2001 Chateau Franc Mayne (St Emilion, Bordeaux, $75)
2002 Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon (Great Southern, $105)

At a decade or so old, we thought it would be a great time to see how these 4 wines were travelling. Initially we tasted blind. Tasting through the four wines the Wynns was my favourite in the blind line up showing beautiful fruit and nice tannins, while the Domaine A was also impressive in a more savoury manor. The Chateau Franc Mayne came across as a bit dilute in comparison, while the Jack Mann was initially quite subdued.

We then consumed the wines over dinner, during which time the Jack Mann and Franc Mayne opened up and fleshed out a touch, however, by the end of the dinner the Wynns and Domaine A were still the stand outs. Then a funny thing happened . . . the dinner finished and there was still plenty of wine left in each bottle! Admittedly only 3 of the 6 people were really drinking any great amount (and Champagne and Port bookended the dinner), but in any case I think it must be a sign of us slowing down. The upside was I was then able to taste the 4 wines at my leisure over the next few days, which ended up being a very good thing. While the tasting on the night would have had me writing about at least two very good wines, the chance to taste over a few days has me proclaiming 3 great wines. Below are my notes from this extended tasting -

2001 Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon – This is a wine that I buy every year regardless of the vintage and critic reviews. Factoring in history, cellarability and importantly price, could this be Australia’s greatest wine? A lovely ripe, long Cabernet. Beautiful blackcurrant fruit, mint, and earthiness. It’s still nice and tannic, and over the course of 4 nights lengthened through the finish and became increasingly savoury. Super wine and with careful cellaring and cork permitting I see no reason why this won’t be even better in 5-10 years. 4.5 Stars

2001 Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon – An identifiably more savoury wine than the Wynns and indeed very Bordeaux-like. The nose is quite seductive, smelling like an old chesterfield complimented by lovely blackcurrant. Beautiful ripe fruit on the front palate is soon joined by leafiness, earthiness, spice and sea salt, all providing a wonderful sense of texture through a long savoury finish. Genuine complexity. Fine, yet persistent tannins frame the wine beautifully. Once again this wine drunk well and improved over 4 nights. 4.5 Stars

2001 Chateau Franc Mayne – As a wine that is 90% Merlot and 10% Cab Franc, it would obviously seem a bit like the odd one out in this line up, but it nevertheless had quite a lot in common with the Domaine A. While this wine fleshed out with more air, it remained the lightest of the 4 wines. There’s some nice blackberry fruit but the wine is predominantly savoury, with some Cab Franc grassiness and sea salt coming through on the palate. Throw in some drying tannin and this is a wine that definitely needs food to be seen at its best. Nice wine. 3.5 Stars

2002 Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon – If this tasting over 4 nights was a horse race, then the Jack Mann would have been very slow out of the gates and looking rather disinterested initially. Mid race it would have picked up the pace to be in contention, before storming home in the final straight to just pip the Domaine A and Wynns at the post. This is superb Cabernet, and very much reminds me of other Jack Mann’s that I have had. It has a dusty, leafy nose of berries, black olive and lovely oak. The palate is tannic, powerful and just beginning to demonstrate more secondary, savoury characters. Plush fruit gives way to some nice leafiness and earthiness, before delivering a long, drying tannic finish. Needs another 10 years and who knows how long it will go after that. 4.5 Stars


This tasting provided a fantastic vignette into age-worthy Australian Cabernet. All three Australians are wines of character and terroir. The Domain A and Jack Mann are expensive, but given both the complexity and ageability on offer they can more than justify their price tags. On the other hand if budget is a consideration then on any value for money basis the Wynns Black Label is as good a Cabernet as this country has.


Red
 
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