Sunday, July 31, 2011

2002 Wendouree Cabernet Malbec (Clare Valley)

Wendouree is a winery whose wines I've always wanted to drink. Producing wine from an historic vineyard, planted in 1892, Wendouree have positively eschewed all modern forms of communication and marketing. They still don't have a website. All their wine is sold through a mailing list, that is far from obvious or easy to get on, and yet they don't seem to have any issue selling all their wine. Moreover, it seems that almost as long as I have been reading about things vinous, I've been reading James Halliday's "iron-fist in a velvet glove" description of these age worthy wines. The other point of interest is that are plenty of Wendouree knockers out there, or at least people who think Wendouree wines are not all they are cracked up to be, so to some extent it's a polarising winery.

I've tasted Wendouree a couple of times at tastings, but this 2002 Cabernet Malbec was the first bottle I've consumed. A tasting I had of the 2008 Cabernet Malbec at the Langton's tasting last year put me firmly in the pro-Wendouree camp. It was one of the standouts in amongst an amazing line-up of wines.

The 2002 was one of those wines that upon initial tasting was arguably a touch disappointing (bearing in mind how much anticipation is built into opening a Wendouree), but improved with air, and then by that final few mouthfuls a couple of hours later, it had begun to show the potential that is part of the Wendouree promise. It's a wine that definitely needs many more years in the cellar before it shows its best. It presents as a powerful Cabernet with blackcurrant, mint, oak, and some aged polished leather notes. To drink it has lovely ripe and rich fruit, balanced by some nice spice and earthiness. The signature tannins are still prominent and the wine finishes long and strong. The complexity of the wine is still largely latent, but time will be a friend to this wine. Very good now, potentially great with time.



Thursday, July 21, 2011

Savaterre (Beechworth)

The drive up to Savaterre is the kind you picture when imagining a special vineyard (maybe you don’t imagine special vineyards or driving up to them, but as a wine tragic it’s a regular day dream of mine). Off the main road you take a left onto a steep dirt track that heads up for a 100 metres or so to the top of a hill, from which you get a glimpse of a pretty special panorama. You then continue along an undulating road for a few more hundred metres, until arriving at the winery and vineyard, where you are presented with a commanding view of the hilly surrounds, including site of the snow-capped Australian Alps in the distance. It almost feels like a Piemonte vista (in a very Australian way). Rather than Nebbiolo, however, it is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that do the talking here.

Keppel Smith, owner and winemaker, was actually a policeman in the suburb I grew up in as a kid in Sydney. I was a pretty well behaved kid, however, and Lane Cove is a pretty safe and uneventful suburb, so our paths had not crossed until my visit to Savaterre.

In leaving Sydney and pursuing his wine dream, Smith engaged in a search across Australian wine regions for the perfect site to grow Pinot and Chardonnay. In overlaying a soil map with a topographic map, he found his mark in Beechworth. A cool, elevated, south facing site, sitting on buckshot gravel. The land itself had also been been sought out by other winemakers, however, the farmer there had not been willing to leave. Smith, however, managed to convince the farmer to sell his site by letting him keep a corner of the land on which he could continue to run some animals. And so the land was acquired and the Savaterre vineyard planted in 1996, with the first wines being produced from the 2000 vintage.

Since that time both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have built up formidable reputations, with the Chardonnay having recently been added to the Langton’s classification. While there I tried the 2008 vintage of both wines.

The 08 Chardonnay is a good’un. It’s powerful, yet refined. Rich yet textural. It has a lovely nuttiness and excellent length. In the current debate about “natural” wine and levels of winemaker intervention, Smith’s approach is very much one of minimal intervention (without wanting to wear the “natural” tag). A part of that approach is allowing his Chardonnay to run its natural course through 100% malolactic fermentation. He posits that anything less than 100% Malo is interventionist and a move away from a natural expression of site and grape. It’s a view I’m inclined to agree with.

The 08 Pinot is equally impressive. I tried it while at Savaterre and then also had it over a couple of nights once home. It’s made with 100% whole bunch, and results in a beautifully aromatic Pinot Noir. It smells of cherry, five spice, a hint of sweet oak, and some lovely dried herbs. It’s savoury and structured on the palate, with a lovely sense of texture. Without food it might almost appear too savoury and a touch stalky, but with some duck breast it just drinks beautifully. It’s a Pinot that demands good food. There’s some good drive and intensity through the mid-palate, before delivering a long finish. Fine tannins and acidity are all nicely integrated. It’s probably 3-5 years from drinking at its peak, and cork permitting, should age for a number of years after that.

A beautiful site, a winemaker committed to expressing that site, and two very impressive wines. Great stuff.



Thursday, July 14, 2011

2010 Dominique Portet Fontaine Rose

This looks to be the first Rosé I have reviewed on our blog. I enjoy Rosé, but rarely love it, and while there has been an interesting trend towards Rosé in Australia that is “pale, dry, and textural”, these wines still by and large fail to get me overly excited.

The 2010 Dominique Portet Rosé, however, is one of the most enjoyable Rosé’s I have had. My wife and I polished off the bottle with relish over the course of an evening. For my tastes, it’s perfectly balanced between fruit and savoury flavours, with berries and cherries up against some lovely nutty notes and a hint of bitterness. It’s all underpinned by a fine acidity and a fantastic persistence.

It’s pale enough, dry enough, and textural enough for anyone who wants to contemplate and appreciate their Rosé, but also shows enough pure fruit sweetness and ease of drinking that it can be simply washed down and enjoyed as well. Great stuff. 4 Stars


RRP: $20


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Face-Off: TarraWarra Estate 2004 and 2008 Reserve Chardonnay

The RedtoBrown Wine Review appreciates a nice bottle of Chardonnay. This noble grape is on the upswing, following the Kath and Kim ‘Cardonnay’ backlash and the seemingly irresistible rise of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. Part of this renewed interest in Chardonnay is a result of some very nice leaner (some might say meaner) examples entering the market that have countered the sunshine in a bottle stereotype. Personally, I am just as enthusiastic and excited by what I would term the ‘evolved’ style of chardonnay in Australia that balances robust but controlled fruit flavours with intelligent use of oak (good quality, and a smaller percentage of it new).

In recent years, TarraWarra Estate under winemaker Clare Halloran has produced several examples of this relatively lighter, balanced style of chardonnay. The wines Red and I have tried in the past have been generous, though not overwhelming, flavoursome yet structured.
On 22 June this year we were lucky enough to try two of the TarraWarra Estate Reserve Chardonnays at the TarraWarra Cellar Club Dinner. Tasting notes, Face-Off style are below:

2004 Reserve Chardonnay (13.4% abv, $60 rrp)

Red: A lovely Chardonnay that is drinking at its peak now. It has a generous Chardonnay nose, with some nice nuttiness. Time has seen this wine develop a beautiful richness on the palate and it was perfect with a rich chicken dish. If I’m nitpicking I felt the spicy oak has never quite truly integrated with the fruit, but ultimately this doesn’t detract from the enjoyment that it delivers. 4 stars

Brown: The 2004 is drinking very nicely indeed. There is some evident oak on the finish, though it does not detract from the evolving fruit flavours and developed rich creamy texture. Having enjoyed a magnum of the 1998 Reserve a full 11 years after release, I would not be surprised if the 2004 is still drinking well in several years time. In saying that, it is near its peak (for my tastes), so personally, I would be drinking up.
91Pts/ 4 Stars

2008 Reserve Chardonnay (13.4% abv, $60 rrp)

Red: This is an impressive Chardonnay that I think will rival the great 05 given time. It’s still reasonably tight, but everything is there. Lovely grapefruit. Lovely spicy oak. Just enough creaminess to let you know where it’s going with time. Great structure and length. Everything in balance. It provides plenty of satisfaction right now, but give it a few more years and it will take things up another notch again. A beautiful Yarra Valley Chardonnay. 4 Stars ++

Brown: The 2008 Reserve is made in a familiar TarraWarra Estate style: a style as noted in the introduction that I am a fan of. It has youthful power, balancing grapefruit and lemon pith fruit flavours with cashew nut creaminess, French oak-driven spice and fresh acidity. It is easy to drop the ‘B’ word (balance) in relation to this wine. The wine is not flabby, rather fitting its suit snugly; it is a relatively youthful wine that is drinking well now, but will clearly develop further flavour, complexity and texture. In 2013/14 it will be crying out for some oven roasted chicken to accompany it. 93pts/4 stars

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Golden Ball and the 2005 Gallice (Beechworth)

I was having an argument (a friendly one) with a winemaker the other week who was arguing that Cabernet Sauvignon is not a noble grape because most of the time it is blended with one of the other Bordeaux varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot etc. Being the Cabernet lover that I am, I stood up for my beloved grape pointing to the great Coonawarra Cabernets that are often 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Moreover, I see the blending that typically occurs with other varieties as a path to greater consistency in terms of both structure and complexity, rather than necessarily the source of it.

This conversation was symbolic of a general lack of love for the Cabernet grape in Australia at present. It’s become a daggy grape almost. Go to a Coonawarra tasting and you’ll be by and large surrounded by baby boomers and the war generation. Gen X and Gen Y will be scarce on the ground. Taking a bottle of Cabernet to a dinner party doesn’t win you any kudos either.

Which is a long winded way of getting to the fact that in meeting Golden Ball’s winemaker, James McLaurin, I met a kindred spirit who loves his Cabernet, and is similarly bemused by its apparent lack of appeal at present (that he is thinking of planting Nebbiolo is another big tick, being my other favourite grape). Beechworth is perhaps not immediately obvious as a place for great Cabernet, but as I discovered, Golden Ball are making a good fist of it.

The Golden Ball property was originally owned by McLaurin’s parents, before he bought it off them and planted a 5 Acre vineyard back in 1996. Since that time he has built a reputation for an impressive Shiraz. He is also currently making a Chardonnay from the Smith Vineyard from the 2010 vintage, which is looking very smart in barrel. For all this, however, his main focus is Cabernet. Golden Ball’s flagship wine is the Gallice, a Cabernet Sauvignon that is blended with some Merlot and Malbec.

While there I got to try a number of barrel samples of what will end up going into the 2010 Gallice. Interestingly, McLaurin looks to build further structure and complexity with different picking times and different oak treatments. The fruit that will go into the Gallice was picked in two lots, eight days apart. While perhaps riper, there was no hint of over ripeness in the later picked grapes, which I guess is a testament to the excellent, cooler 2010 vintage. The fruit across both picks is then not only put into new, 1 year, and 2 year old oak, but is also put into barrels made by different coopers. McLaurin enjoys talking and trialling different barrels, and it was interesting to see the subtle differences that two different coopers would have on the same parcel of fruit. Many of the individual samples I tried looked fantastic, and worthy of a good wine in and of itself, and in blending these many various elements Golden Ball should be able to produce an impressive 2010 Gallice.

So to the 2005 Gallice, which I tried over 2 days. This is the kind of wine I find tremendously enjoyable and satisfying to drink. It smells of blackcurrant, eucalypt leaves, chocolate and pencil shavings. It’s medium to full bodied, and presents with lovely ripe fruit on the front palate, before becoming predominantly savoury, with some appealing earthiness. Lovely drying tannin shapes the wine before finishing long with a just a hint of food-friendly bitterness. It’s drinking beautifully now, should do so for the next 5 years, and quite possibly a lot longer. Classic Cabernet. 4 Stars


RRP: $55

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