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 . . .


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.


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?


RRP: $15
ABV: 12.5%


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


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

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.


RRP: $90
ABV: 14.5%


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


RRP: $25
ABV: 14%

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