Monday, April 26, 2010

2005 Huntington Estate Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Cellar Door)

Huntington is arguably Mudgee’s most famous winery, having been started in 1969 by Bob Roberts. Bob Roberts was one of the Bulletin Place crowd of the 60's and 70's that was headed by Len Evans and included other like James Halliday. Whereas Halliday and Evans set up wineries in the Hunter Valley, Roberts decided to go further afield and settled on Mudgee. Given this history, I was really interested to try Huntington wines on my recent visit there.

Good Mudgee reds tend to have a rusticity to them that I personally find appealing. Typically they will be held back a few years more than wines from most other regions and in terms of characteristics generally display an earthiness, along with elegant, drying tannins. As such, the 2005 Huntington Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is very much a Mudgee red.

It’s not the darkest of reds and this wine already has a brickish element to it. The lovely bouquet on this wine is its highlight, with well integrated aromas of chocolate, berry fruit, earth, and a hint of coconut. It’s one of those wines that you keep going back to the nose, with its complexity always offering something slightly different. On the palate its medium bodied, has decent line and length, with those lovely chocolate and berry flavours and a pleasant drying earthiness. The only issue I have with it is a bit of volatile acidity, but this doesn’t detract too much from the overall enjoyment that the wine delivers. It’s a wine that is nicely balanced between its earthy, rustic characteristics, and it’s sweeter, fruitier elements. It’s drinking really well right now, and as long as that touch of volatile acidity becomes better integrated, I think it could become quite a beautiful aged Cabernet in 5-10 years.


ABV: 13.0%
RRP: $35


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Face-Off: Right Bank – Merlot Blends: 2007 Blue Poles Allouran, 2006 Alluviale Merlot Cabernet Franc, 2005 Chateau Corbin Montagne Saint Emilion

“No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f#cking Merlot!”

This classic quote from the movie Sideways probably sums up the attitude of Red to Brown towards Merlot up until a couple of years ago. Given that we’d only been exposed really to entry level Australian and American Merlot, I’d say it was an understandable attitude. More recently, as we’ve had the opportunity to try some Merlot blends from Bordeaux and Hawkes Bay in NZ, we are starting to look at the variety quite differently. Of late we’ve even had a few Australian Merlots that have been impressive. As such we thought we’d put Australia, NZ, and France to the test in a Right Bank Face-Off.

Given the scarcity of Australian merlot blends we reckon we did pretty well in lining up 3 wines at similar price points and from similar vintages (both in terms of age and quality).

The Chateau Corbin was a wine I purchased in Paris for 15 Euro (about $A22) and is from the much hailed 2005 vintage in Bordeaux. Montagne Saint Emilion is a satellite district to the famed right bank commune Saint Emilion.

The Alluviale from Hawkes Bay in NZ costs $30 NZD ($A24) and 2006 is meant to be a good but not great vintage. We’d had the 2007 Alluviale previously, and it is a beautiful wine. Unfortunately we couldn’t get our hands on an ‘07 for the night, so the ’06 got the call-up.

The Blue Poles Allouran is $25 a bottle and is from the fantastic 2007 vintage in the Margaret River. Blue Poles is one of the relatively few wineries in Australia that produce Right Bank style, Merlot dominant blends.

All three wines from $20-$25 AUD and all from good to excellent vintages. We tasted them single blind, and then enjoyed them with some slow roasted Venison afterwards. So how did we go?

Wine 1 – 2006 Alluviale Merlot Cabernet Franc

Red: The wine was a vibrant crimson colour and reasonably transparent. The nose was fragrant, with red fruits, hints of cherry and plum, along with some more savoury notes. The palate was juicy, with some nice sweet fruit on the front palate before turning savoury with a hint of sourness through the finish. Some nice spice, good tannins and persistence of flavour. Decent length.

Brown: Aside from the notes above, I found a bit of inoffensive greenness on the palate, and a bit of mocha/chocolate on the back palate. A refined and elegant wine that had a very nice nose and good length.

Wine 2 – 2007 Blue Poles Allouran

Red: This had a deeper, purpler colour. A beautiful and interesting savoury nose. There was a hint of sweet, red fruit but the more prominent aroma was a lovely savoury smell which reminded of frying lightly salted mushrooms. The front of the palate is surprisingly sweet (in a good way) given the nose. It is mouth filling with nice drying tannins, and lovely hints of those savoury, mushroom flavours flowing through the long finish. A nice level of complexity to the wine and should age well. My favourite of the three.

Brown: To anyone reading this who does not like the smell or taste of mushrooms, rest easy – you will still love the 07 Allouran. Personally, I did not get the mushroom in a glass vibe from this wine (just kidding Red). Compared to the other wines, the Allouran was sweeter on the nose and palate, though only in a relative sense; this is a restrained wine and not jammy in any way. Given the blind tasting, and my relative inexperience with this blend, I assumed this could be the Bordeaux wine (cultural cringe kicking in?). Chalk that one down for experience – it was Australian and a clear favourite for me on the night.

Wine 3 – 2005 Chateau Corbin Montagne Saint Emililon

Red: A similar darker, purplish colour to the Allouran. The wine had an aromatic, sweet nose of berry fruit and oak. On the palate it was the lightest of the three wines, being also a bit dilute. It has some pleasant berry flavours and very light tannins. Ok length. A nice wine but my least favourite of the 3. Given its colour, and sweet nose of clean fruit and oak I confidently predicted that this was one of the New World wines! How wrong I was.

Brown: This is not a bad wine. However, like Dorothy finding out the Wizard of Oz was just an ordinary human, my naive wine tasting mind was (predictably?) brought back to earth with the knowledge that a true entry level Right Bank Bordeaux Red is not going to necessarily blow my socks off. Another lesson learned on the wine journey.
This was considerably more dilute than the previous wines. It had pleasant fruit on the palate, a bit of plumb and also a hint of vanilla. It finished with average intensity and was sweeter on the nose than in the mouth. If I picked this up for its French retail price, it would be a good wine. If I were to pay double the price as an imported wine I would not be happy.

Summary – A nice collection of wines and an interesting Face-Off. The Blue Poles was our favourite being the most enjoyable, complex, and cellar-worthy. It was also the only wine to provide a bit of Face-Off controversy, with Brown finding the nose to be more sweet-fruited compared to the others (while still acknowledging the savoury notes), while I thought the nose was predominantly savoury (while still acknowledging the sweet fruit). One interesting thing was how well all three wines performed as food wines. They all complemented the food and a wine like the Chateau Corbin gained extra appeal in this context.

In a Merlot blend Face-Off in which we pitted an Australian wine against a Hawkes Bay and a Bordeaux I wouldn’t have expected the Australian wine to show itself to be the most savoury and complex of the wines. A great achievement from Blue Poles, and hopefully more wineries in Australia follow their lead; firstly, by taking Merlot seriously, and secondly by blending Merlot with Cab Franc and Cab Sav as they do with the great wines of the Right Bank in Bordeaux.

Brown: All I have to add is that it is promising to try two new world wines based on Merlot that were superior to their equivalent French cousin. There is a long way to go, though the regions (Hawkes Bay) and wineries (Blue Poles) focusing on this style are already showing signs of success. An interesting and educational tasting. Thanks to Red for providing the slow roasted venison, which complemented the wine nicely.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Barossa Valley 'Icon Shiraz' Tasting - Oak Barrel Cellars Sydney

Last Tuesday RedtoBrown attended another excellent tasting at Oak Barrel Cellars in the Sydney CBD. The theme of the evening was ‘icon Barossa Shiraz’. The headline acts were a bottle of Chris Ringland’s 2003 Shiraz (formerly Three Rivers) and a 2005 Torbreck ‘the Laird’. The other icons were a bottle of 2006 Kaesler ‘Old Bastard’ and a 2006 First Drop ‘The Cream’.
Aside from this impressive lineup, what made the night even more enjoyable was the inclusion of some entry level Barossa Shiraz from the same wineries (plus two surprise last minute inclusions), and the fact the tasting was served blind, with the icons and entry level wines interspersed. Brief tasting notes / recollections of the icons and entry level wines from the both of us are listed below:

2006 First Drop ‘The Cream’ Shiraz
A bit of chocolate on the nose, the fruit is not as ripe as the other icons though strong in alcohol in the mouth and on the finish. Still, a blockbuster in a similar mould to the others, though with slight differences in the fruit profile that some may prefer.

2006 Kaesler Old Bastard Shiraz
Barossa black in colour with some spice and old/quality oak on the nose. Yet to reach its blockbuster crescendo, has nice tannin, impressive length, and finishes with dark chocolate and a liqueur element on the finish. Tastes like it is built to age and will improve greatly with cellaring.

2003 Chris Ringland Shiraz
This is a massive behemoth of a wine with a complex nose of ripe black fruit, sweet spicy French oak and liqueur. On the palate it has lashings of sweet blueberry, blackberry and plum, gorgeous fruit with a positive (for me, though not others) vintage port element. The fruit and oak – both very powerful – are suprisingly integrated (relatevely speaking, given there is lots of oak, lots of fruit here), though there is a slight raisin characteristic in the mid palate that once again might be off putting for some. It has impressive length, and does not finish as hot as the alcohol might suggest. It is a sweet wine, powerful, supple and plush. A superb result for the very hot 2003 vintage, and a lovely, if unique wine.

2005 Torbreck ‘The Laird’ Shiraz
This was my favourite wine of the night and another Barossa Valley Shiraz of glorious gargantuan proportions. The colour is dark purple, yet with an almost brickish edge. One sniff and you are hooked - sweet vanilla laced cedar wood oak, spice, milk chocolate liquorish, you name it – one could sniff the Laird for some time and still unearth new scents. The Robert Parker description of ‘gobfuls’ of fruit flavour rings true with the Laird – in the mouth it is round, rich, full bodied and packed with sweet round, porty black fruit, more spice, liquorice and loads of sweet cedary oak (you get the message!). Though powerful, the wwine is still approachable now. The strong oak is somewhat integrated with the fruit (though it may take some time before this heady brew comes together, and fully intergrates with age). The length on this wine is impressive to say the least, as is the way the high alcohol content (14.8% on the bottle, 15.58% in the tasting booklet) does not hijack the finish. Laird is both elegant and extremely powerful at the same time – a delicious, muscular, sweet, sexy wine.

2007 Hobbs Shiraz, 2007 Hobbs Gregor Shiraz
A special inclusion at the end of the tasting, the Hobbs Shiraz is made from Shiraz grown in the Hobbs family vineyard adjacent to the vineyards of Chris Ringland (Allison and Greg Hobbs hosted Red and I for a tasting last year, and they are lovely people). This wine was the most popular of the night amongst tasters when all the scores were added up, and it was not out of place amongst the other Icons (despite being at the end of a tasting of some strong, big wines). Also tasted was the 2007 Gregor amarone style Shiraz, which was a rich, ripe and sweet wine. The concentrated flavours gained from the amarone style of sun-drying the fruit prior to fermentation is apparent, and it finishes smooth and sweet, despite its considerable alcohol content (forgot to check, but would be 15-16% based on previous vintages).

2008 Torbreck Woodcutters Shiraz
The baby brother of the Torbreck wines, the Woodcutters Shiraz still impressed many of the people at the tasting. The oak is restrained, and there is a slightly jammy nose. On the palate it has fine, soft tannins, with red and black sweet fruit and pleasant acidity.

2008 First Drop Mothers Milk Shiraz
Once again, another popular wine at the blind tasting. The Mothers Milk has pronounced French oak, a hint of liquorice, and spice on the nose. Grippy tannins give way to a surprisingly dry finish.

2008 Kaesler Stonehorse Shiraz
Red and I both liked this – it seduces with the sweet new oak (and lovely all-round smell), and seals the deal with sweet powerful black fruits in the mouth. Thought this could have been the Woodcutters, and it is similar in style, if not a bit more bombastic with more obvious oak and riper fruit. A drink now wine, but one the majority of the dinner party of regular punters (like me) is bound to enjoy.

2008 Chris Ringland Barossa Valley Shiraz
The first wine of the evening, so it had the most difficult gig. A bit of cherry on the nose, fine powdery tannin and red to black fruit flavours. Decent length with a fresh, lifted finish. Not amazing, but at the price ($20) it is a good value quaffer.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

2006 Rosby Cabernet Sauvignon - (Cellar Door)

I’ve previously written about the unique nature of the Rosby vineyard in Mudgee and their 06 Shiraz -

Their 06 Cabernet Sauvignon and 06 Shiraz are two wines that absolutely smell and taste of being from the same place, however the Cab Sav is a step up from the Shiraz (noting that I really enjoyed the Shiraz). The difference between the two wines is the natural difference between the grape varieties and the fact that cab sav performs better in Mudgee (in my opinion).

A rich, fragrant nose of blackcurrant, plum, earth, and chocolate. On the palate it has structure, balanced tannins, and persistence. The flavours on the front-mid palate are those which are on the nose, but the finish of the wine is slightly more savoury, with a hint of sourness. As a wine it really has a lot in common with its Shiraz sibling from the same vineyard, but it is just that much more complex, structured, and simply enjoyable. Has at least another 5 years in it, and possibly a lot longer. Fantastic value at $18 a bottle!


ABV: 13.6%
RRP: $18 (in a case, cellar door)


Monday, April 12, 2010

2006 Charles Melton Nine Popes - Barossa Valley

It was a bottle of Nine Popes a few years back that really ignited my passion and love for wine. It’s a wine I’ve had a number of times since then. This is the first bottle I’ve had of the 2006 vintage and I reckon it’s the best Nine Popes I’ve had . . .

This is a superb expression of a Barossan style Rhone blend (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre). It’s a wine of elegance, structure and well integrated oak and yet still has the power, drive, and lovely ripe fruit that are hallmarks of any Barossan red worth its salt. The wine flows powerfully in a beautifully direct line along the palate, before finishing with great length, fine tannins, and persistence. Complex flavours of berry fruits, some gamey notes, and a touch of spice. It’s a beautiful wine to drink now, but everything is in place to suggest it will just get better over the next 5-10 years. This wine represents the Barossa at its best . . .


ABV: 14.5%
RRP: $57.50


Saturday, April 10, 2010

2008 Yelland & Papps Old Vine Grenache (Devote Range) RRP $32 (Sample)

It is no secret that RedtoBrown is a fan of this winery. In a short space of time, Yelland & Papps have developed a reputation for consistency, regardless of vintage conditions. Given the relatively small size of the winery, Susan and Michael Papps add a very personal touch to their wines. Based on the quality of the 2008 Old Vine Grenache (in my view their signature wine), they have achieved success with what was arguably the most difficult vintage for several years.

The Old Vine Grenache is a single vineyard wine made from dry grown vines planted in the early 1960’s in the Greenock sub-region of the Barossa Valley. It has spent 20 months maturing in old French oak, and as is the case with all of the Yelland & Papps Devote range of premium wines, is bottled unfiltered.

In the glass the Old Vine Grenache has an attractive bright warm crimson colour, and there are scents of strawberry, vanilla musk and some soft sweet spice. It is a medium to light bodied wine, with raspberry, a bit of cherry and red fruit from the front to the back palate with a touch of subtle spice also throughout. The tannins are fine, soft and ripe, yet with some nice grip at the end. It finishes dry and with more pronounced spice.

What I love most is its focused line and length, relative elegance and the level of restraint Yelland & Papps have managed to achieve. The old oak is in the background, the structure or ‘architecture’ of the wine is rock solid, and there is none of the sweet flabbiness that is often associated with Australian warm climate Grenache. The acid is balanced nicely with the fruit, suggesting that as with the 2007 Old Vine Grenache, the 2008 model will also age well and gain some very nice tertiary characteristics in the cellar.

The 2008 vintage in the Barossa saw early ripening in January (as a result of the drought / lack of rain) and an unbroken two week heat wave in March. With this in mind, I have to say it is a relief to taste a 2008 Barossa Grenache made in this style; it says a lot about how the winemaker can mitigate the impact of the adverse vintage conditions Mother Nature sometimes throws at you (through careful selection of fruit and other winemaking techniques). RedtoBrown will be reviewing the remainder of the Devote range of wines from the 2008 vintage in upcoming weeks.

For me, the result is a wine that does not display any obvious over-ripeness of fruit, nor overt alcohol warmth on the finish (as can be the case with some warm climate Australian Grenache). All in all the Old Vine Grenache is a comparatively elegant, restrained and age worthy example of the variety – a wine that Yelland & Papps should be proud of.

14.5% ABV
Release Date: May 2010
Winery Website:

Footnote: New Yelland & Papps Winery
Yelland & Papps have also recently gone from a virtual winery to a bricks and mortar winery, moving to Lot 501 Nuriap Road, Nurioopta. We look forward to seeing how the winery develops over upcoming vintages with an established home and added flexibility of estate vineyards.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

2006 Rosby Shiraz – Mudgee - $16 (cellar door)

Rosby was a winery that I hadn’t heard of before I visited Mudgee last weekend. It’s now a winery that I think I’ll be following with interest.

It's a bit off the beaten track. Whereas most of the vineyards and wineries in Mudgee are visible from the main roads, Rosby is a hidden away single vineyard at the end of a long-dirt track in an undulating part of Mudgee. A 15 acre single vineyard on a gentle slope containing Shiraz and Cab Sav, in a picturesque setting. It sounds great, looks great, and importantly there is the substance to support it.

There are two unique things about this vineyard that distinguish it. Firstly the vines are planted on a red basalt soil that is different from any of the surrounding soils. It’s a soil in which the vines have to struggle. Secondly, at 530 metres in elevation it is about 100 metres higher than most other vineyards in the region, giving it a cooler aspect throughout the year. The vineyard yields 2 tonnes per acre.

The result is a medium-bodied shiraz of balance that has lovely ripe fruit. It has a distinctive nose of plum, a gentle earthiness, and a hint of chocolate. It is smooth and tasty with the same flavours carrying down the palate with decent length and gentle tannins. It’s a highly enjoyable wine and at the price, superb value. You could cellar it for a few more years if you wanted to though I think it’s drinking very nicely right now. Their other wine from the vineyard is the Cab Sav and I think that this is an even better wine. I’ll be reviewing this soon.

With the vines only being 15 years old and the vineyard moving towards organic management, the best is certainly yet to come with Rosby.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Mudgee Matters . . .

I’ve just spent a couple of days with the missus in Mudgee and I’m excited about wine from this region.

It was the first time I’ve been there, and as well as being a lovely place to spend a weekend, it’s also a pretty wine region of largely small, family owned wineries, largely concentrated just to the north of the town of Mudgee.

The interesting thing is that it's well and truly off the radar. It doesn’t receive much press. Its wines don’t get reviewed as much as other NSW wine regions, and the wines are even hard to find in Sydney. If there was any city where you’d expect there to be a bit of a presence it would be in Australia’s biggest city, being only 3 and a half hours away, and yet I reckon you’d struggle to find a single bottle of Mudgee wine in plenty of Sydney bottle shops. The other issue with the region is that it’s not entirely clear which grape variety it does best. Most other wine regions are synonymous with particular varieties (Hunter = Shiraz & Semillon, Orange = Chardonnay etc.), but with Mudgee is it Shiraz, is it Cabernet, or is it an Italian variety?

Well, after a couple of days there, I have a much better appreciation for the wine of the region. While I don’t think the point should be laboured, Mudgee’s climate does have some similarities to Tuscany. It’s continental, with warm days and cool nights, in an undulating region, with vineyards generally at about 400-500 metres above sea level. The validity in the comparison comes because I think that the region’s two best varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese (with some decent Merlot as well). I think there is some complex, age worthy Cabernet being produced. Much of the Sangiovese I tried was varietal and of genuine quality. Finally a few of the Merlots I tried had tannin and structure and therefore were a step up from the average Aussie Merlot.

When drinking a Mudgee red you can expect some earthiness along with a hint of chocolate. The majority of the reds that I tried (regardless of the variety) had a very appealing earthiness on the nose. You might be thinking this sounds a bit similar to the Hunter, but it is discernibly different (though I would struggle to articulate exactly why Mudgee’s earthiness is different from the Hunter’s!). There also tends to be a lovely hint of chocolate with many Mudgee reds.

In terms of vintages, 2005 and 2006 were excellent and there are still plenty of 2006 reds available at the cellar doors or by mail order. 2007 and 2008 were tough, though depending on the variety and vineyard location and management, there were still plenty of successes. I tried some excellent wines from both vintages. 2009 is looking very good, though is perhaps too early to tell. 2010 was tough again, with rain coming at the wrong time. Happily, when talking to winemakers and people working at the cellar doors, they are more than open and honest about the difficulties of various vintages. This is refreshing when compared to other regions/wineries where you’ll get the spin about the “vintage of the century”, or the dud vintage that is talked up as being good.

The reason I’m excited about the region’s wines, is not only because I’ve found a new (for me) wine region whose wines I like, but because as with many wine regions around Australia I think the best is yet to come. The best is yet to come because the judicious use of oak is on the increase. The best is yet to come because better clones of certain varieties are now being used. The best is yet to come because increasingly the right varieties are being planted in the right locations. Finally, a lot of the vines, particularly with the Sangiovese, are still relatively young, so you can expect the quality to continue to improve as the vines age. If Mudgee can have some luck in terms of weather conditions in upcoming vintages I think there will be some wonderful wines produced.

With limited time I probably didn’t even get to half the wineries in Mudgee that I would have liked to, but the wineries I went to that I really enjoyed included Rosby, Lowe, Huntington, Di Lusso, and Robert Stein. I’ll be reviewing some of their wines in the coming weeks . . .


Friday, April 2, 2010

2006 Tahbilk Shiraz – Nagambie Lakes - $15 (Retail)

Last year, Brown and I consumed a 1991 Tahbilk Shiraz. It was one of my most memorable wines of the year. Part of the wine’s appeal on that evening was the fact that it was still drinking well. At 19 years of age, and under cork, I had doubts as to what would be revealed once the cork was popped. Would it be past it, would it be corked? Happily it revealed itself as a beautiful, aged Shiraz. From that point onwards I resolved to buy at least a few bottles of this wine each vintage. At $15 a bottle it’s one of Australia’s best value, cellar worthy reds. Onto the 2006 . . .

This was a wine that just got better and better the more it breathed. Initially all I could really say for the nose was that it had a deep aroma of dark fruits and some nice oak. It evolved beautifully and I gradually picked up berry and plum fruits, some earthy/leathery characteristics, and just a hint of eucalypt. The palate was nicely balanced between sumptuous fruit at the front, and lovely savoury flavours on the finish. It had nice length, drying tannins, and a persistence of flavour.

A beautiful wine that is just going to get better with age. I’d be leaving this for 10 years, and I reckon it would be worth leaving at least one bottle in the cellar for a 20 year stint. Based on the quality of this wine, along with its pedigree, I reckon it will go the distance, and happily, being under screwcap now, you won’t have to fret about the vagaries of cork!

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