Thursday, November 29, 2012

Celebratory Champagne for my first child – Billecart Salmon - 1998 Nicolas Francois Billecart Cuvee

My wife and I welcomed our first child into the world last week. It has been an amazing time since then, and a distinct lack of sleep seems to be barely an issue when you hold a newborn in your arms (though I’m sure that will be tested once I return to work).

The celebratory Champagne I bought for the occasion was the 1998 Nicolas Francois Billecart Cuvee from Billecart Salmon. I’d perused wine shelves and websites to see what Champagne would meet the occasion. In this wine I found a great producer and cuvee from a highly regarded vintage, and importantly it weighed in at a relatively reasonable price of $140 (most rationale people wouldn’t consider $140 for a bottle of champagne reasonable, but in the realms of top quality vintage champagne it is far less than you might pay for other marques).

Opening this with my family I was very glad I made the effort to point this away from anyone in the room, as the cork hit the roof like a rocket, which in itself somehow seemed appropriate for such an occasion, and now there is a permanent mark in the roof of the Prince of Wales hospital that signifies the birth of our son.

Given all that as background, it might sound like a funny thing to say but this wine snuck up on me. It’s certainly not an overtly rich and powerful champagne that immediately grabs your attention, and as the conversation flowed around the family while gazing at the newborn I was rather distracted, and it wasn’t until I was more than halfway through my glass that it dawned on me that I was drinking a damn fine champagne. Elegant and refined, with a great purity of fruit, this champagne has plenty of complexity with flavours of brioche, citrus, and flowers. There is a savoury/saline profile that takes over from the mid-palate that makes it so drinkable and a great foil for the oysters and sashimi we had on the day. It drives through to a lengthy finish that is marked by a refreshing minerally acidity. Cork permitting this will live for many years, with all elements of the wine in perfect balance. Great Champagne. 4.5 Stars

The next act will be to look at birth year wines from the 2012 vintage . . . Eden and Clare Valley Riesling will likely be my first port of call.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

2006 Canobolas Smith Alchemy (Orange, NSW)

Bordeaux varieties, and in particular anything with some Cabernet Franc in it, work well in Orange. The 2006 Alchemy from Canobolas Smith is a lovely example of this. It’s a blend of Cabernet Franc (60%) Cabernet Sauvignon (35%) and Shiraz (5%).

This is a Cabernet that is ageing nicely. There is still plenty of primary fruit, but savoury, secondary characteristics are becoming increasingly prominent. Beautiful plum and milk chocolate are paired with leafy/tobacco notes and an earthiness that became more evident over 3 days of tasting. Very moreish, this wine is underpinned by a lovely acidity, and is great with red meats. Its good to drink now but will also age gracefully over the next 5-8 years.


RRP: $45
ABV: 13.7%
Closure: Screwcap
Drink: 2012-2020


Saturday, November 17, 2012

On wine descriptors . . .

I was at a dinner with colleagues when I described a wine as smelling of tomato bush. Some of my more interested and engaged colleagues stuck their noses into the wine and picked up the same aroma. Others just thought I was being my typical wine wanker self (which I undoubtedly was!). The question that then came as to how a wine should be described. Below is an explanation and elaboration on my answer to that question (and a more sober one at that) . . .

In whatever way works for you. As long as your descriptors are a faithful interpretation of what you have tasted, I personally think there is no issue in describing a wine as simply as you want or with as much complexity and as many descriptors as you’ve uncovered. How different people react to your description or style of tasting note, is of course another question. There’s no doubt that wine can evoke flavours and aromas that are quite specific and unique. Moreover, a wine of great complexity can elicit numerous aromas and these descriptors can evolve over time. How you choose to capture and describe these elements, however, is completely up to the individual.

That’s my conclusion for those not interested in a wine-tragic debate about the nature of descriptors and tasting notes, but for those that are read on . . .

While in the Hunter Valley earlier this year, I went with my wife to the Hunter Valley Gardens. Not the kind of place I would normally volunteer to go to, but it was surprisingly good and enjoyable, and worth the visit if you are in the Hunter (and want a break from wine tasting). Anyway, one of the gardens is a rose garden that has probably 30 or 40 different roses. Walking around it, I was amazed how different the fragrance was for each different type of rose. Not only did red roses smell different from white roses, yellow roses, and from purple roses, but there are many different types of red rose, white rose etc. and a Marlena red rose smells discernibly different to a Lincoln red rose.

Anyway, this experience solidified in my mind some thoughts I’ve had for a while now on tasting notes and the descriptors that people use when describing wine. The reason my rose experience is important is that you will see plenty of tasting notes that talk about “floral” aromas, or more specific references to a wine smelling of roses for example. Now for most people, whether they be just the average wine drinker or even a professional wine critic, referencing rose-like aromas in describing a wine would appear quite specific and detailed. Some would even argue that it is wine wankery to get into that level of detail. And yet I could see a Don Burke or even your local florist easily being able to nominate a specific type of rose when smelling a Barolo or any other wine with those type of aromas.

This will be the case with many other wine descriptors. “Grassy” is a common descriptor, looking to describe aromas or tastes that equate somewhat to that of grass. Most of us as kids having eaten grass at some point, and regularly smelling grass, it would seem quite a specific, detailed, and more than adequate descriptor. However, if I’m Les Burdett, or someone else who specialises in curating lawns, ovals, golf courses etc. I’m sure grassy would be seen as a very broad term. Couch grass, Bermuda grass, Red Fescue all have different tastes and aromas.

Of course, the most infamous descriptor in wine is the term minerality. Controvesial because people debate what the source of this minerality is, as well as whether it actually an appropriate descriptor. Wine writer Philip White has argued that you need to be far more specific in describing which mineral you mean, given that there are so many minerals. Is this actually the case?

At the end of the day there is an almost infinite level of detail and complexity you could get into with any wine descriptor you choose to use. Any expert in the field of flowers, plums, tobacco, rocks, or earth could easily provide a far more detailed and arguably accurate descriptor, and each of us will have an area where we naturally can discern aromas and tastes at a more detailed level just given our life experiences and interests.

So does this behoove wine writers to become far more knowledgeable and accurate in the fields from which you draw most of your descriptors? You could do, but I think this is entirely impractical, and not necessarily desirable.

Descriptors can and should be the subject of debate and discussion when looking at a wine, however, they should never be the subject of proscriptive comment, whether it be someone critiquing a term that is supposedly too specific and fanciful, or someone decrying the lack of specificity in your descriptor. I think less is generally more when it comes to descriptors, but ultimately it’s a case of each to their own, and indeed each wine to their own.  Looking back through my own tasting notes, for some wines I have used 6 or 7 quite specific descriptors, while occasionally I have written tasting notes with not a single specific flavour or aroma descriptor (and this has been for some quality, complex wines). I come back to my original statement, which is that as long as your description is faithful to what you have tasted, it doesn’t really matter how many descriptors you use, or the level of detail that your descriptors are at. Sometimes, you don’t even have to use descriptors at all.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

2010 Borgogno Langhe Nebbiolo (Piedmont, Italy)

If you are after an affordable Nebbiolo hit from Piedmont then this does the trick superbly. There have been some good noises made about the 2010 vintage and this wine would seem to bode well for the Barolo when they come out in a couple of years.

It’s worth noting upfront that there is a nutty bitterness to this wine that I find very appealing, but it may be a source of less favourable views depending on peoples tolerance for bitterness in wines. In any case once it’s had with food it becomes less evident.

It opens with a nebbiolo nose of strawberries and roses, along with hints of tar. To drink there is some nice fruit sweetness and warmth, but it remains medium-bodied and turns very dry and savoury through the finish, with said nutty bitterness in tow. Lovely liquorice and latent earth and leather add complexity. Great to drink with game meats, and works either now or anytime over the next 5 years plus. Plenty of drinking satisfaction here. 4 Stars

RRP: $30
ABV: 14.5%
Closure: Cork
Drink: 2012-2020


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gruner Veltliner Face-Off: 2012 Hahndorf Hill (Adelaide Hills) vs 2012 Lark Hill (Canberra District)

A lovely dinner at the Brown household last month proved a great opportunity to try some interesting wines both single and double blind. With the recent emergence of Gruner Veltliner, and having received samples from Hahndorf Hill and Lark Hill, we thought a good way to kick off the evening would be with a Gruner Face-Off. Below are our notes and thoughts

2012 Hahndorf Hill Gruner Veltliner - $28 (Tasted Single Blind)

Red: Quite a mute nose. On the palate there is some generous citrus fruit with hints of more tropical fruits. Some nice spice and interesting herbal notes as well. Good acidity balances the fruit nicely and it finishes with decent length. Good drinking over the next few summers, and fair value at $28. 90/91pts

Postscript: I got to drink this over subsequent days and it drank very well. Lovely aromas of apple emerged, as well as an interesting rocket lettuce note. Good wine. 91 pts

Brown: Subtle tropical, floral, pear and mixed spice nose, texturally fine boned or even dilute. Nice, crisp acidity. Spiced pear and a touch of lemon/citrus on the palate. Not an intense wine, more light and fragrant when tasted. Not much discernible white pepper, though some mixed spice. More in the citrus/pear spectrum than vegetal. 90pts

Postscript: Lean but not mean. Struck me as a little closed when opened, and happy to hear it evolved in subsequent days.

2012 Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner - $40 (Tasted Single Blind)

Red: Immediately reveals a nose of pears and some more tropical fruits. The palate follows this up with some nice richness, including notes of apricot. It’s a touch oily and has some nice spice. What’s missing though is the acidity to provide balance and restraint. Finishes with ok length, and is decent drinking, but a touch too broad for mine. 87/88 pts

Postscript: Was surprised to see it revealed as the Lark Hill as it bears little resemblance to previous impressive vintages. For those that talk about embracing all the vagaries of vintage variation this wine represents an opportunity to walk the walk.

Brown: A nose of ripe pear and lycee, preserved lemon with some florals, more spice and less pepper than previous vintages. Pear, lemon and a trace of lycee once again show up on the palate, the texture is nectar-like (I jotted down mango nectar as one of my initial textural references).  The acidity is fresh and clean, but not as prominent as previous vintages, and is rounded in step with the fruit.  The minerality is calcium-like. Finishes with some spice and a bit of oiliness. 88pts

Postscript: The wine held up well over 2 days, and developed a more nuanced nose. Still, texturally different to previous Lark Hill GV's. I personally preferred the Lark Hill Viognier from the same vintage (to be reviewed soon), though given the wet vintage, this is still a solid effort. It is promising to see our Austrian new arrival can handle tough Australian conditions..

Thursday, November 1, 2012

2011 Drayton's Heritage Vines Semillon (Hunter Valley)

The thing that is appealing about a number of these Heritage Vines range of wines from Drayton's is their Hunteriness (for want of a better word). From their estate vineyard planted in the 1890s.

An appealing nose of citrus, hints of honey, and an interesting reductive tennis ball aroma. To drink there’s some nice fruit up front with an early bit of spritz , but it’s ultimately very dry, and a touch austere at this stage. There’s complexity here with some nuttiness and a minerality that emerges with time. It finishes with an assured length. The pricing is arguably ambitious for a Semillon, but there’s no doubting the quality or its uniqueness. Needs some time in the cellar.


RRP: $60
ABV: 10.5%
Closure: Screwcap
Drink: 2015-2025

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