Sunday, April 29, 2012

2010 Tarrawarra Chardonnays (Yarra Valley)

I’m a big fan of Tarrawarra Chardonnay and a big fan of the 2010 vintage in the Yarra Valley. I therefore had high expectations with these wines. Happily, they didn’t disappoint.

2010 Estate Chardonnay - $22 - This is a ripe, approachable chardonnay, that’s good to go now but will be better again in another year or two. The nose is expressive with aromas of pineapple, peach and some nuttiness. To drink you’re offered lovely ripe fruit from the get go, that’s then joined by some spicy oak, grilled nuts, and a creamy texture. The finish turns savoury with some nice bitter pith. Nice wine. 3.5 Stars

2010 Reserve Chardonnay - $50 - The Reserve is an altogether more serious wine, and a noticeable step up from the Estate. Refined, long, and poised, this is what a Chardonnay of real class tastes like. Citrus, stonefruits, grilled nuts, and spicy oak. It doesn’t let up through the long, balanced finish. It can be drunk now with a bit of air, but in reality deserves a few years in the cellar first. Greater generosity and complexity will be the result. It may well match the 2005 given time. 4 Stars +


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Barbaresco Tasting @ 121BC

When I spent a few days in Barolo in 2009, I visited Barbaresco almost by accident. There was so much to see and do in a few days that I had planned just to focus on the “King” of Italian wines, rather than venture across to the domain of the “Queen” in Barbaresco. Someone had highly recommended Sottimano as a winery to visit however, and I booked an appointment with them before I even realised that the winery was actually in Barbaresco. As it turned out I was very glad my wife and I made this detour, as it was a fantastic tasting we had with Sottimano. It smashed any notions I may have had that Barbaresco was any less worthy of my time and wine appreciation than Barolo (especially when price is considered). Since then I’ve continued to be impressed by the Barbaresco that I’ve had the opportunity to drink, and the 2004 Produttori Del Barbaresco Rabaja that I shared with Brown on New Year’s Eve was one of the best wines I’ve had in the past year.

A Babaresco tasting at wine bar 121 BC in Sydney provided a great opportunity to gain further insight into the wines of the region. It was matched by some absolutely superb regionally influenced food that made it an altogether memorable tasting. All wines were served blind initially. I’ve slightly edited my notes (in italics) from the night for readability.

Flight 1 – matched with Carne cruda di manzo, artichoke, walnut, and parmigiano

Wine 1 – 2009 Moccagatta Buschet Chardonnay – a nice surprise to see a white wine first up. Straight away I’m thinking Chardonnay, though as ever with Italian whites you have thoughts as to whether it might be some obscure variety you’ve never heard of. Nice oak, ripe fruit and some lovely creaminess are evident, though its not without restraint. Nice length to finish.

Wine 2 – 2009 Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolostrawberries and a bit of burnt rubber on the nose. A bit of a rustic feel to this wine, some nice sour cherry and a hint of bitterness. Better with a bit of air. Thinking it’s a Langhe Nebbiolo but a bit unusual.

Wine 3 – 2008 Ca’du Rabaja Langhe NebbioloComes across as a more standard Langhe Nebbiolo offering. Perfumed nose, roses, and a hint of that burnt rubber again. Nice depth of sour cherry fruit and lovely tannins. Very good.

Wine 4 – 2009 Sottimano Langhe NebbioloStands out as the wine of the flight. A Barbaresco? A beautifully perfumed nose with classic hints of tar. Beautiful fruit on the palate with notes of liquorice and tar. Great length and tannins. The reveal shows it to still be a Langhe Nebbiolo rather than a Barbaresco, but given the quality not surprised to find out the producer is Sottimano.

Flight 2 – 2007 Barbaresco matched with Chestnut soup, Toma della Rocca

Wine 5 - 2007 Produttori del BarbarescoA ripe strawberry nose, and that ripeness comes through on the palate, being generous and warm with some lovely spice. Pretty accessible but lacks a little of the structure I’d like to see with a Barbaresco.

Wine 6 - 2007 Taliano Michele Barbarescodisjointed and needs time. Time in the glass saw it flesh out a bit but still a long way off being accessible. There’s some good fruit and complexity there so would be interested to see this again in 5 years time.

Wine 7 - 2007 Castello di Verduno Barbarescoa bit closed on the nose but the palate reveals a wine of real quality. Lovely fruit, ripe tannins, and excellent persistence, this is a wine of real balance. Should age very nicely.

Wine 8 - 2007 Traversa Staderi Barbaresco the wine of the flight, and perhaps unsurprisingly this is the one wine that sees barriques as opposed to the traditional big format Slavonian oak. Personally I prefer to see slavonian oak used, but for a young Barbaresco, french oak tends to produce a more approachable wine. A seductive nose is matched by a beautiful palate with a distinct earthiness and lovely tannins. A beautiful barbaresco that is good now or in 10 years time.

Flight 3 – 2001 Produttori del Barbaresco from the following vineyards – Ovello, Rabaja, Asili, Montestefano – matched with Rabbit Agnolotti (which was an amazing dish)

Wine 9 – 2001 Produttori del Barbaresco Ovello – Ovello is a west/south west facing sight at an altitude of 220-280 metres. An understated yet perfumed nose. On the palate – lovely liquorice, beautiful tannin, and a long, warm (in a good way) finish. Plenty of yum factor and should be better again in another 5 years.

Wine 10 – 2001 Produttori del Barbaresco Rabaja – By reputation one of the greatest Barbaresco vineyards. A South-West facing site that is renowned for a muscular expression of Barbaresco. A bit of funk and burnt rubber on the nose along with some notes of liquorice. On the palate this wine is marked out by its beautiful spice. It’s still very tannic, but the beautiful fruit is more than up to it. This wine has years in front of it. This is Barbaresco. Thinking that either this or wine 1 is the Rabaja.

Wine 11 - Produttori del Barbaresco Asili – Rivals Rabaja in reputation but is famous for a more elegant expression of Barbaresco. My wine of the night. It has an amazingly supple and elegant entry before building in power and complexity through to a lengthy finish. Wow. Elegance and power at once, the beautiful fruit and tannins have largely integrated. Complexity plus. Once again years in front of it. That elegance is surely Asili.

Wine 12 – Produttori del Barbaresco Montestefano – Montestefano, which sits on a steep, south facing site, is often referred to as the Barolo of Barbaresco, producing a typically powerful and tannic wine. As with wine 10 there is a bit of funk on the nose along with some spice and liquorice. It’s still very tannic and a bit disjointed. Some air saw the fruit build but it’s a big barbaresco and needs some more time in the cellar. Good but perhaps the lesser of the 4 wines in this flight.

Flight 3 was a real highlight, with Rabaja and Asili, in particular, strutting their stuff. A great exposition on the influence and interest that terroir brings to wine. Same vintage, same producer but four distinctly different wines.

None of these wines are cheap, but in the context of great imported red wines you could purchase, Barbaresco represents some fantastic value. Langhe Nebbiolos are generally around the $30-$40 mark. The "entry-level" Barbaresco tend to weigh in at around $70. Then we get to the single vineyard wines. Rabaja and Asili are unquestionably grand cru vineyards, that produce wines of wonderful complexity that can age for three, four, sometimes five decades. The Produttori del Barbaresco wines from these great sites can be bought for a bit over $100. A lot of money no question, but nowhere near what you’ll pay for any rough equivalent from Burgundy, Bordeaux, or even Barolo in many cases. Depending on your budget, all three tiers of wine are worthy of exploration and drinking.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pio Cesare ‘Il Nebbio 2009 (Langhe DOC, Italy)

When it comes to wines from Northern Italy, I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry – laugh that the cost of these wines have yet to be hyperinflated by the Chinese market and Parker Points, or cry that these wines have such a high import duty slapped on them when entering Australia.

This relative cheapie in the Pio Cesare range hails from the Langhe DOC and is an approachable, youthful, medium bodied wine that sees no oak. On the nose and the palate there are varietal cherries and earthy notes, plus some nice florals and red berries. It finishes with some subtle spice and nice contemplative tannins that assert their presence without coating your mouth.

While on holiday in the US I picked up some Barolo for a third of the price it is sold in Australia. I note that this wine can be found in Europe and the USA for half the price it is in Australia. If I could buy the Il Nebbio for $15-20 I would be smiling all the way to (and from) the decanter, though as it stands I am just pleasantly satisfied - such is life (and the nature of Australia’s terrible importation taxation system).

Rating: 89pts
ABV: 13.5%
RRP: $29-30AUD
Website - (Warning - A Flash Player monstrosity)

PS - See this article from Red on the price of imported wines into Australia (LINK) - Baffles and frustrates us both to this day.

Friday, April 20, 2012

2009 Martinborough Vineyards Pinot Noir (Martinborough, NZ)

I love and have cellared the 2006 and 2008 vintages of this wine. Then came the 2009 vintage in Martinborough, which came with a lot of hype, and was described by many as near ideal. With a wine I typically love and an apparently great vintage, I bought 3 bottles of the 2009 Martinborough Vineyards Pinot Noir without a second thought.

Upon opening my first of these 09’s and tasting it over 3 days, however, I ended up disappointed. While there is an undoubted quality to the wine, there is also a distracting bitterness that sticks out and cannot presently be balanced out by food. Upon throwing some comments on twitter about the wine (as one does these days), Paul Mason, winemaker at Martinborough Vineyards, was kind enough to engage my critique. Interestingly 2009 was not a great vintage from his perspective, with many days seeing temperatures well into the 30s. He indeed prefers the 06 and 08 wines I have cellared. Personally, I always appreciate it when a winemaker hasn't bought into the hype that has been bestowed upon a vintage or wine, and is able to give you a more nuanced view. That being said Mason does expect the 09 to look a better wine in 5 years.

On day 1 this wine looked too acidic, tangy, and bitter, but it subsequently fleshed out nicely over the next few days. The beautiful dark cherry fruit, spice, and game that I typically love emerged, and began to balance out the wine. Proper tannins and good length underscore the quality that is always evident with Martinborough Vineyards Pinot. The one problem remained that overt bitterness. Personally I find it too distracting to enable a great deal of drinking enjoyment at present. Nevertheless, everything else is there, so maybe time is what this wine needs . . .


Price: $65
RRP: 14.0%
Closure: Screwcap


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bloodwood Wines and the 2006 Maurice (Orange)

In his 1980 thesis on site selection, Stephen Doyle identified Orange as the site in NSW with the greatest potential for cool climate winemaking. The thesis, which he did while at Roseworthy college, focused on the central tablelands. During my visit to the winery, Doyle showed me the actual document itself, which demonstrated a fantastic level of detail in researching many potential sites in NSW. Produced on a typewriter and with a myriad of hand drawn graphs and charts, it was from a different age, and yet remains highly relevant today. His ultimate conclusion was that the area to the immediate west and north-west of Orange offered the greatest potential in the Central Tablelands, and that Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay would likely be the star varieties.

With his thesis done, Doyle and wife Rhonda decided to make the dream a reality. They found the site they were looking for on sloping gravel soils. These ancient soils were what Doyle was after, in particular because he believed they would ensure that the vines didn’t grow with too much vigour. Having found the right site, the Doyle's planted the first vineyard in Orange in 1983 and Bloodwood was born. Looking at the photos from 1983 it looked a very tough and Spartan beginning. A genuine pioneering adventure, but one that has blossomed beautifully in the ensuing 30 years.

The first vines planted were red Bordeaux varieties. As part of his thesis, Doyle looked at historical patterns in terms of temperature and rainfall across numerous sites in the Central Tablelands. Not only did Orange look to be the best site in NSW from this perspective, but there were also striking parallels with Bordeaux in these patterns, with the one point of difference being a drier autumn for Orange. Gravel soils and a similar weather patterns to Bordeaux don’t of course inherently mean Orange will make great wine. The proof ultimately is in the bottle, but 30 years of refinement at Bloodwood has I believe proven Doyle's orginal thesis correct. There is some impressive Cabernet to be had here.

Upon arriving at Bloodwood, my wife and I got to help Doyle pump over his Cab Sav and Cab Franc that he had picked about a week earlier. He lets indigenous yeast do its work, and the pump over is
meant to try and keep that yeast healthy. Having had a taste of both varieties they looked excellent. Great colour, lovely ripeness, and none of the greenness I might have presupposed with this wet 2012 vintage. As it turns out the later ripening Cabernet grapes were not overly affected by the deluge in February, and the beautiful weather in late March/early April has seen some very nice fruit come in.

While there I also tasted the Merlot Noir (Doyle insists on Merlot being called by its proper name), Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2006 Maurice. All these bordeaux varieties were impressive wines, with a savoury bent, and the tannin and structure to age nicely. There was also a very impressive 2008 Shiraz, which if tasted blind I would have picked as being from the Northern Rhone. The highlight, however, was the Maurice.

2006 Bloodwood Maurice ($36)

This wine comes from a selection of the best barrels of red from the vintage, and hence the blend is always somewhat different. The name is a tribute to legendary Hunter winemaker, Maurice O’shea, who made a wonderful habit of blending the best barrels from not only his vineyards, but also from further afield. Doyle simply looks amongst his own 8 hectares.

The 2006 is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with a bit of Cab Franc, and also a touch of Shiraz and Malbec I believe. It’s a savoury, medium-bodied Cabernet that drinks beautifully. It opens with an appealing nose of cedar, tobacco, dark berries, and a hint of eucalypt. To drink it presents a refined line and length of flavour that starts with lovely fruit before turning predominantly savoury. Acidity and fine tannins provide a nice sense of texture and grip. The sense of balance to this wine and the fact that it drank increasingly well over 3 days should see it age gracefully for the next decade. I love the fact that this is the current release of this wine. It is more than affordable as well, given the time and care that has gone into it. 4 Stars +

ABV: 14.0%
Closure: Screwcap

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cabernet Franc to become Orange’s calling card . . .

Well, I might be overstating the case, but the most impressive red wines I tried while in Orange over the Easter long weekend were all Bordeaux varieties with Cab Franc in the mix. The standouts were -

2006 Bloodwood Maurice – A Cab Sav that included some Cab Franc pressings in the blend

2008 Canobolas Smith Alchemy – a blend of Cab Sav, Cab Franc, and Shiraz

2009 Phillip Shaw No. 17 – 50% Merlot, 40% Cab Franc, 10% Cab Sav

2010 Ross Hill Cabernet Franc – 100% Cab Franc

I was keen to focus on the region’s red wines while there and get a sense of where things sit. I have a reasonable appreciation of Orange whites, in particular Chardonnay. Moreover, if you put a gun to my head and asked me to choose a New World Sauvignon Blanc to drink I would actually choose Orange as my go to region. On the other hand I haven’t had too many standout Orange reds. In fact I have had plenty of disappointing red wines from Orange over the years. More recently wine critic, Gary Walsh, made the comment that the region’s reds were a contender for the wooden spoon in Australia. Perhaps a bit harsh, but similar thoughts had crossed my mind.

A few days in the region gave me a more concentrated crack at the regions red wines. As a result I’m much more positive and optimistic than I was, particularly when it comes to Bordeaux varieties. The above 4 wines I have highlighted, across 4 different vintages and 4 different winemakers, demonstrate to me that there is potential greatness in the region’s reds. These are wines of character and interest that will almost certainly age well. Perhaps significantly, these four wineries represent some of the oldest wineries in the region, and hence have had time to get things right. They are not however, in the majority, and there are undoubtedly broad issues of site and clone selection, vine age, and winemaking experience that hinder quality more generally, but another decade may well do wonders for the overall quality emanating from Orange.

Can Bordeaux blends or indeed Cab Franc itself become a calling card for the region? I reckon the potential is there but it is probably not the easiest sell. Firstly Bordeaux blends are not exactly trendy in the Australian wine market, and secondly there seems to be an almost automatic association in Australia with cool climate regions and either Pinot Noir or Shiraz, not necessarily Cabernet.  However, one only has to drink Domain A Cabernet Sauvignon or Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1, to know that our cool climate Bordeaux blends can be world class. Promoting and selling cool-climate Cabernets is not exactly a marketers dream (at least not in 2012), but I think it might be where greatness lies for red wines in Orange. A great conversation I had with Bloodwood winemaker Stephen Doyle, just reinforced this notion, and I will look at the Bloodwood story in some depth in a separate post.

Orange Cabernet . . . I’m not sure how easily it rolls off the tongue, but I certainly think it can roll generously down our palates if focus and attention is afforded this style in the coming years . . .


Friday, April 6, 2012

Tallavera vs Tallawanta: 2010 Pepper Tree Tallavera Shiraz & the 2010 Pepper Tree Coquun Shiraz

Two single vineyard wines from the Hunter Valley. Similar in name, but quite different in nature.

Tallavera is in the Mount View sub-region, and the 15 year old vines at this site are growing roots in red soils and limestone. It’s a site of significant potential. Tallawanta, on the other hand, is of proven pedigree. Planted in 1920 on a red soil site just off Broke Rd, it produces beautiful old vine fruit.

2010 was a decent but not great vintage for Shiraz in the Hunter, but through vineyard care and intelligent winemaking, Jim Chatto has allowed these two vineyards to sing.

2010 Pepper Tree Tallavera Shiraz ($45) – A beautiful medium-bodied Hunter Valley Shiraz. It has a bright expressive nose of cherry and spice with the oak nicely tucked in. To drink it shows plenty of poise and length. Lovely acidity and fine tannins frame the wine nicely. It should age very nicely. 4 Stars +

2010 Pepper Tree Coquun Shiraz ($45, Tallawanta vineyard) – there is just a bit more stuffing and a bit more latent complexity with the Coquun as compared to Tallavera, with that old vine fruit strutting its stuff. There’s also a bit more obvious oak input as well. A seductive nose of cherry, spice, creamy oak, and just a hint eucalypt. As with the Tallavera there is a refined line and length of flavour, but it’s a bit more than medium bodied with some lovely choc-cherry flavours, and hints of that classic Hunter earthiness. Once again, this should age very nicely. 4 Stars +

With a bit of air both wines can be enjoyed now, but really both should be put in the cellar, and I plan to revisit them both at ten years of age.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bordeaux 2011: Vintage of the Epoch

We’re going to call it early and call it now, but at RedtoBrown we believe the 2011 vintage in Bordeaux to be the greatest in many millennia, and indeed the Epoch.

The RedtoBrown team has just spent the week in Bordeaux during the official En Primeur week (unlike some of those other pesky critics who jump the gun and taste the previous week). We started each day tasting through 150 wines before breakfast, another 150 before lunch, and depending on how we felt, sometimes another lazy 100 wines in the afternoon. Over the course of the week the quality of the vintage became clear. The samples have barely gone through malolactic fermentation, it's unclear if these samples are representative, and we’ve no idea what the final blends will look like, but we’ve seen enough to know a vintage of the Epoch when we see one.

Highlights included Chateau Margaux (99-100 points), which displayed a tannin structure reminiscent of the 1374. The Lafite (98-100 points) was quintessential Pauillac and should peak in about 3 centuries. Finally the Latour is we believe the greatest wine ever made and we are giving it our first ever 101 points!

During the week we were also fortunate enough to go to a dinner where we were able to taste through a vertical of Petrus back to 1109. It was a truly magical and decadent dinner (reminiscent of dinners we’ve had in Hong Kong), with the 1492 and 1776 the highlights.

Get in early once the Chateau start pricing their wine (particularly now that RedtoBrown has “called” the vintage), as they will undoubtedly be great investments in the long-term.

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