Monday, January 31, 2011

A Sino Symposium: Wine in China

I lived and worked in Shanghai for 5 years from 2002 to 2007. It was a fantastic time to be in this decadent town as it grew at breakneck speed and emerged as a global city. The only real drawback for me personally was my inability to pursue my love of wine during this period. During the time I was there, there really wasn’t much of a wine scene to talk about. Most Chinese wine that could be purchased was not worth seeking out. Some decent overseas wine could be purchased in the large Western supermarkets that exist in Shanghai, but the range was very limited, and the price was typically double what you might pay for the wine in Australia. There weren’t any wine bars. Some interesting and quality wine could be had at some of the top Western restaurants but the mark up was ridiculous. As such 2002 to 2007 marked a significant hiatus in my wine journey.

Now, three and a half years later, my wife and I have just come back from a 3 week holiday in China. It was our first time back there since returning to Sydney in 2007. For my wife it was a chance to see her family who are in Sichuan, while for me I still have plenty of friends up there so it was a great chance to catch up with them. While we were pretty busy and did lots of travelling in between cities and provinces, I did also get a chance to look at how the wine scene has changed, through the time we spent in Shanghai, Beijing, as well as a visit we made to Qingdao, the capital of Shandong province, which is the largest producer of Chinese wine (and indeed where Chateau Lafite is developing a vineyard).

The wine scene in China

You have possibly read about the explosion of Chinese purchasing top global wines, in particular Bordeaux. Auctions in Hong Kong have seemingly come to fetch some of the highest prices globally for rare wines. Chateau Lafite placed the Chinese symbol for 8 on the 2008 Lafite, and apparently the auction price rose by 20% overnight. This rise in Chinese interest in wine is also now evident within China as well. The change in a place like Shanghai has been remarkable. Wine bottleshops and wine bars are evident throughout the centre of town, where 3-4 years ago they didn’t exist. Within these vinous locations, moreover, good ranges of quality wine can be found. Beijing is similar though perhaps not to be seen in quite the same numbers.

In Qingdao, there is a pretty impressive Wine Street that was opened in 2009. The street has about a dozen different wine retailers. These stores all have slightly different focuses, with one for example selling solely French wine, some selling solely Chinese wine, and some selling a combination of local and imported wine but with perhaps a focus on Chilean wine for example. On this street there is also a wine museum, which was actually a very impressive venue. You walk down a tunnel that takes you a fair way underground and there is then a labyrinth of displays and presentations that is very informative and well set out.

(The entrance of the Wine Museum in Qingdao)

This wine scene, whether you be in Shanghai, Beijing, or Qingdao, is dominated by red wine with apparently about 85% of the wines China imports being red. For many Chinese people, wine is red wine. They have their own sorts of golden and straw coloured alcohols, so to drink wine is to drink something red. What will be interesting to me is how that percentage changes as it becomes a more knowledgeable wine drinking market. The reason this interests me is that to my mind a lot of Chinese food doesn’t actually go that well with wine, and yet in a sophisticated wine market matching food with wine is a common behavior, even if it’s as simple as matching white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat. However, a lot of Chinese food is heavily flavoured and overpowers most wines. At the same time a Chinese meal normally has multiple dishes on the table at one time, of often very different flavours, textures, and meats. Picking a wine to go with such a meal can be a bit of a challenge. There are some obviously successful matches, like Pinot Noir and Beijing Duck, but I would argue that they are the exception rather than the rule. If the Chinese start to make specific matches, like matching Riesling with a Shanghai style fish dish, then perhaps we will start to see the percentage of white wine increase. If however, it all proves a bit difficult, as I have often personally found, then red wine may remain dominant, as a drink that is consumed somewhat separately from local food.

It would also be fair to say that the wine scene is dominated by French wine. This is perhaps understandable given France’s primacy in terms of reputation as a wine producer, but the French have also definitely made a concerted effort to reinforce this. The French expat community in Shanghai for example, is now the second largest only behind the Japanese, and a significant number of them seem to be in some way involved in exporting and marketing wine in China. That being the case, how is Australia doing?

Australian Wine in China

From the get-go it became apparent that we are doing in China what we have seemingly failed to do in places like the UK and US. Excellent Australian wines can be found in the bottle shops and wine bars. Indeed I think the bottle shops in Shanghai have a far better selection of Australian wines than do most London bottle shops. I was in London in May of 2009 and was generally depressed at the crap that represented Australia wine on the shelves of most wine retailers. In contrast, of the 5 or 6 bottle shops I walked into in Shanghai I think there was only one Australia wine that I would classify as a critter wine, while the vast majority were from good Australian producers that I would happily buy in Australia. Cape Mentelle, Dalwhinnie, and Shaw & Smith are examples of wineries that were well represented.

(A somewhat blurry photo of a range of Cape Mentelle wines in a Shanghai bottle shop)

In the couple of wines bars I went into there were similarly good Australian options to choose from. The only place where the selection of Australian wines was less inspiring was unsurprisingly in supermarkets. However, even then it was more a case of shelf space with Penfolds and Jacob’s Creek, which perhaps while less interesting, still represents Australia well in my opinion, as opposed to wines I’ve never heard of with pictures of wombats on the label (of which there were a few, but they were far from prominent).

So Australian wine seems well positioned in China at this early stage of the game, though I didn’t necessarily get the feeling that we are making the concerted effort that the French are. As yet it is by and large an unsophisticated wine market that has a broadly favourable opinion of Australian wine, and is mostly unaware of the criticism of Australian wines for being over oaked, too alcoholic, and lacking personality. In any case if a local in Shanghai has read or heard a bit about this negative view of Australian wines there is every chance they'll find wines that show this stereotype to be a falsehood.

Local Produce

So Australian wines are shaping up well in China, but what of the local produce? Well, if there’s not any Chinese wine in your cellar you needn’t be overly concerned at this stage. It’s not that there isn’t decent wine being produced there, because there is, it’s just that it seems overly expensive and not especially complex at this stage. It’s certainly on the improve, but generally I get the feeling that China is about a decade away from producing wines that you would go out of your way to purchase. That statement, however, needs to be qualified with the acknowledgement that I didn’t get to try nearly as many Chinese wines as I would have liked, the reasons for which I explain below.

The cost of Chinese wines is stunning given their general lack of pedigree and the comparatively low production costs. I’d go into a wine bar, keen to try some local fare, only to end up ordering a glass of Australian wine because it was half the price of the Chinese wine and I knew it to be something I’d enjoy. I did bite the bullet on a couple of occasions and fork out the extra money for a local wine, but was generally a tad disappointed with what was in my glass.

Another issue I found was the lack of tasting opportunities at wine venues. When I visited the Wine Street in Qingdao that I mentioned above, I was quite excited as I thought this might be my opportunity to taste a large range of Chinese wines, even if I had to pay a bit for the tastings. Alas, of the dozen or so stores I went into, not one offered wine by the glass, let alone a free tasting, and all that was offered was to purchase wine by the bottle.

After this unsuccessful effort, we went to the museum on the same street. We had been told that when we got to the end of the museum tour we would get to taste some wine. I assumed it would be something local, instead it was some non-descript Chilean Cabernet!

(While in Qingdao, I also went to the brewery that produces this famous Chinese beer. The brewery has a strong German heritage . . . )

We also inquired about going out to some of the wineries themselves in Shandong province, but it seemed as though one was making a slightly strange request, and that the wineries weren’t really set up to receive visitors. It all seemed a bit too difficult.

I guess this comes back to my original comment that China is as yet an unsophisticated wine market. Most people are buying wines based on apparent reputation and high price tags, and the importance of being able to taste wine before purchasing is not yet appreciated. As such there is very little opportunity to taste a lot of local wine unless you want to buy a bunch of wine at $30 a bottle, $50 a bottle, and a lot higher.

You might question how Chinese wineries selling overpriced wine could be viable, let alone successful, but when you see the number of super wealthy locals paying $1 million for their 2nd Bentley (the tarrifs on imported luxury cars in China are ridiculously high) then paying $50 or $100 for a wine is probably not an issue. Nor for that matter is forking out $10,000 for a rare Bordeaux.

For all this, it became apparent to me from the wines that I did actually try that the quality of Chinese wine had improved since I first tried some examples in 2002 and 2003, and I’ll review an individual wine that I had in a separate post.

All in all an interesting time to visit China from a wine perspective. Their consumers are already starting to make their presence felt in the world of wine, and its hard to see this trend reversing. It’s very conceivable that at some point we will see a Chinese Robert Parker, who through their reviews and taste preferences shapes the way wine is made in certain parts of the world. There’s also no reason not to believe that there aren’t special terroirs in China that won’t produce world class wines that we will all clamour for. In both cases however, I’d suggest that it’s still another decade or two away from occuring.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wickhams Road Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2010

When you are relaxing on a lazy Saturday you can sometimes have lapses of concentration - like opening your one and only Wickhams Road Mornington Peninsula Pinot instead of one of the two Wickhams Road Gippsland Pinot Noirs you have at home. Nevermind, another order may have to be on the cards :-)

The 2010 Gippsland Pinot was reviewed (and enjoyed) by Red here, and the Mornington Peninsula version is also on the money (a bargain price of $16 at that). This is an accessible wine that is not a shameless sweet populist. Varietal juicy red fruits (including strawberry, some rasberry) are nicely balanced with a sappy element that is pleasantly bitter without straying into vegetal territory. There is minimal/no residual sweetness nor excess alcohol heat. The mouthfeel is soft and generous, though not flabby. It finishes with surprising persistence. This is still probably in its developmental stages, and I can see it settling further in the bottle and gaining more focus and zing. At the moment it is a relatively generous yet still restrained, highly enjoyable Pinot that should please many. For $16 how could it not?

/ 90 pts

RRP: $16
ABV: 13.2%

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

RedtoBrown Update - Red is Back!

Reports have surfaced that one half of RedtoBrown has returned from a 3 week wine research trip in China (eg: a holiday). Well, wine wasn't the primary aim of the holiday, but Red has promised RedtoBrown that there will be a few articles posted on the Chinese wine scene and maybe even a few tasting notes on some Chinese wines. I am particularly intrigued to see if any rip-off bottles of Penfolds (Prenfolds/Pennfolds, etc) was consumed and whether it tasted like wine.

As for me, with Red back, I may now have time to expand on some thoughts about the language of wine reviews and why a term like 'barnyard' or forest floor' are acceptable terms for non wine nerds/wankers.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Brown's Belated Top 5 for 2010

In December Red posted his Top 5 Wines for 2005 (link), and I have finally jotted down some 2010 highlights of my own. The wines have been shortlisted based on their enjoyment factor. There were more complex, expensive, expressive wines consumed in 2010, though many of these were at tastings / conducted in a tasting (as opposed to drinking) setting. All of the wines below were accompanied with a nice meal, except for #5 which is not a wine, and was not 'consumed' while eating :-)

Top 5 Wines consumed / Wine related events for 2010:

#1 - Coldstream Hills Reserve Chardonnay 2006 – Yarra Valley
This wine is made in a style that I love – it has oak, a creamy grapefruit flavour profile, and packs some punch, yet does not go overboard: A bit of a halfway house style. This was the perfect accompaniment to a roast chicken with chicken liver, thyme, garlic and rosemary stuffing. The 2 remaining bottles will be opened and enjoyed in the next few years.

#2 - Thomas Sweetwater Shiraz 2007 – Hunter Valley
Thomas wines in the Hunter Valley is one of the premier up and coming wineries in NSW. Andrew Thomas’s single site range of white and red wines are doing a great job of highlighting the differences in terroir that exist in the Hunter, and are also dispelling some of the myths about what defines Hunter Valley wine. The Sweetwater was an effortlessly enjoyable wine – sweet red fruit and approachable tannins, juicy and fulfilling. It is the lighter, more easy going partner to the 07 Kiss Shiraz - a fantastic wine that will live for 25-30 years with ease. Exciting times in the Hunter.

#3 - Toolangi Pinot Noir 2006 – Yarra Valley
The Toolangi Pinot Noir was blind tasted in one of our Face Offs (link) and acquitted itself very well. I had tasted a bottle of it before and after this tasting and on all occasions felt it was a wine that punched above its weight (especially when going up against more expensive Pinots from Mornington Peninsula and New Zealand). With Hoddles Creek/Wickhams Road and DeBortoli releasing top quality though affordable Yarra Pinot (vintage conditions permitting), the Yarra Valley is increasingly able to produce good quality Pinot Noir for under $20. I hope to see that trend continue in 2011 and beyond.

#4 - Teusner Independent Shiraz Mataro 2009 – Barossa Valley
This is one of those wines I have yet to ‘taste’ and take detailed notes - it is too delicious and moreish. The Independent (and Teusner winery in general) represents all that is good about the Barossa Valley and little of what it sometimes is criticised for: Oodles (or, dare I say a ‘gobfull’) of red and black fruit, some chocolate, but not of the bitter kind, nicely balanced oak and tannins, and a relatively savoury and restrained finish.
For less than $20 this wine represents bang for your buck on a scale that makes me shake my head and smile at the same time – give me one of these over 3 bottles of industrial mass produced red wine 130% of the time.

#PS - The 2008 and 2009 Dog Strangler were also highlights of 2010, as were a few of the Barossa Valley Grenache and Mourvedre released in the last year from producers who focus on these varieties. A very promising trend for the Barossa Valley.

#5 - James Suckling Promotional videos
I loved these videos, probably irrationally and disproportionally. They remain a highlight of my wine year in 2010, and worthy of a top 5 position. As noted in my rambling analysis of the videos (here) I am hoping James takes them to an absurdist/surrealist level and creates more of his ‘art’ for my amusement.

As an aside, I thought I would briefly stray into ‘foodie’ territory and list 3 memorable meals (served with wine) for the year. Going to Tetsuya’s in the month prior to it losing a Good Food Guide toque was an interesting, if inconsistent experience (I still question that decision and put it down to Terry Durack wanting to shake things up). The wines served at the Tetsuya’s degustation were almost 100% Australian – quite rare for a fine diner, and interesting in light of the #allforonewine 'drink Australian' initiative that has been so controversial in January.
Other finalists that didn’t make the cut include a night at Restaurant Balzac (in the year they too lost a toque!) and one of the many simple fish and chips meals we had at the beach in early 2010 (accompanied invariably by an Eden Valley Riesling).

Top 3 Restaurant/Cafe meals for 2010:
#1: Sepia (Sydney CBD) – For once I went to a restaurant on the rise, not suffering a Good Food Guide setback. Was lucky to have booked Sepia 2 months before it received a well-deserved second toque in the Good Food Guide, and experienced a consistently high quality meal with above average service. Of particular interest, the wine list for the degustation was 90% international, quite quirky and well-matched to the food – a chance to try new wines I rarely taste and the other side of the #allforonewine coin.
PS: There may already be a backlash against it, but the Sepia Forest Floor desert has to be seen/consumed to be believed. I still have a hankering for it 4 months after going there!

#2: District Dining (Surry Hills) -  Number 2 on the list primarily for the pork belly in lime salt (accompanied by a Shaw and Smith Chardonnay) and the lovely evening that was had. If we can see more restaurants in Sydney serving this type of share plate food I will be happy. Will have to go back here in Winter and with friends.

#3: Nancy’s Bacon and Egg Rolls (Randwick) – Nancy’s is one of our regulars in the North Randwick area, and we probably consumed too many of their bacon and egg rolls in 2010. The tangy aioli, melted gruyere cheese and semi sun dried tomatoes add a twist to a usually predictable formula. The roll is a Panini sourced from Sonoma bakery, and it is all matched with lashings of bacon and a drizzly egg – yum.

Bring on more fine wine and nice food in 2011!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fact or Fiction: More than 5 primary flavour descriptors in a wine review = wine bullshit?

As is the case with most topics on wine, there is a 3000 word treatise waiting for me to post on the topic of wine writing bullshit, and all the associated reasons behind why this term exists in the first place.
Irony being a wonderful thing, I am probably contributing to this topic at the moment (to add to the collective mass of wine writing bullshit, look out for a comparative analysis on wine wankers and wine snobs coming soon).

However, to focus on the second fact or fiction question (first one is here), it is a relatively narrow and qualified one: if you read a wine review that has more than 5 primary flavour descriptors do you tune out, become angry or condemn it as being wine bullshit?

If your answer is 'fiction'/5 descriptors is fine, would you draw the line at 10 descriptors? 15?  If your answer is 'fact'/5 descriptors is too much, to quote You Am I, how much is enough? 3? 2? a generic 'tastes like red/white wine'?

Interested to hear your  thoughts on this as there are many variables (Grange vs Yellowtail = considerably different number of flavour descriptors, etc), and I have not even mentioned how many descriptors should be used to define a wines nose/bouquet.......

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Margan Shiraz 2007 - Hunter Valley

The 2007 Margan Shiraz has a big H Hunter Valley nose of earth, leather and red berries. The flavours on the palate are predominantly in the red fruit spectrum with some nice dark plum, spice and the distinctive Hunter Valley earthyness that adds character and charm. The acidity is pleasantly sour/tangy (especially on the finish), the tannins chalky and less prominant than when I tasted another bottle in early 2010.  Given the vintage and the development in between tastings, this should age nicely for a while yet, though it is drinking very well now.

/ 89+Pts

Price: $20-25

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2007 Mollydooker Two Left Feet Shiraz Cabernet Merlot

Edit: After reading a set of reviews posted by Andrew Graham on his Australian Wine Review blog (see the reviews and comments HERE), I did a quick browse of my own scores for certain wines. Looking at this review, it is painfully obvious that I over-rated it. At RedtoBrown, we have tended to post reviews of wines we rate above 85. For me personally, I do not want to spend my (increasingly limited) spare blogging time savaging a wine when I can praise, or critically asses a much more interesting, challenging wine (or try and produce some wine satire that invariably misses the mark, while drinking an interesting wine :-) ).

Nevertheless, I have written up notes on a few wines that I did not enjoy, partially to discuss the style of wine in question or query the judgement of the winery/corporation in releasing certain wines (see the Rosemount Botannicals post  (LINK) for arguably my most strident, negative review).

I did not enjoy this wine. It did not grow on me. It is made in a style I am not a fan of (a style foreign wine drinkers and critics think of when discussing Australian red wines). Looking back on the tasting notes, and my thoughts on the 2 bottles I tried 6 months apart, a rating of 86 points/3 stars is wildly inaccurate, and has to be addressed. The new, more accurate (in my view) score is below. Apologies for the flip flop; I do not have the time or desire to re-taste some wines I have my doubts on (and largely, I am happy with the calls made on most of the wine notes posted), but this one had to be addressed.

PS - thanks to Andrew Graham for leading the way in posting notes that are an honest view of what ones palate is telling them and not a complex calculation of fashion, wine trends, expectation and cliches.

I will have to come out first by stating that as an Australian, I had never heard of the slang term ‘mollydooker’ being used to describe left handed people until the winery of the same name stormed onto the scene in a rush of Parker points around 2005. If forced to offer up an Australian slang term for a left hander, ‘cackhanded’ would be my pick. Though not a national or personal emergency if it happened, the winery may be partly responsible for convincing Americans that we walk around our outback towns calling left handed people mollydookers.

In much the same way, Parkerised wines like the Mollydooker Two Left Feet have for some time been convincing Americans that Australia makes two styles of wine – the very cheap critter variety (Yellowtail, Koala Blue, random labels most Aussies will have never heard of) and the 90+ pointed Robert Parker blockbuster fruit bombs. Unlike the use or misuse of Australian slang, this perception, whether true or imagined, is definitely not the reality, and is not healthy for the Australian wine industry.

To set the scene, the wine being reviewed, the Two Left Feet is black-purple in colour. Following a ‘Mollydooker shake’ as instructed, its sweet nose of liqueur black fruit and tobacco enmeshes with spirity, pure alcohol fumes. There are porty black fruit flavours on the front palate, leading to bitter dark chocolate (both from heavy oak and fruit) on the middle and back palate, finishing in a crescendo of more bitter dark chocolate, porty black and some blue fruit, salty hard liquorice and a hit of powerful alcohol heat. The wine is not structurally out of control, though the alcohol is out of balance with everything else.

On day two, with ample time in the decanter, the flavour profile had not budged – if anything, the alcohol was more prominent. 2007 was a difficult vintage in the McLaren Vale, which would explain the harsh, bitter tannins evident (quite common in many of the MV Shiraz and Cabernet I have tried from that vintage), and might also explain the very high alcohol level that dominates the wine. However, this wine has obviously been made in a certain style regardless of vintage conditions, and it shows in the glass.

On reflection, the 07 Mollydooker Two Left Feet fits the pantomime villain description you see in wine forums criticising the style of Australian wines highly rated by Robert Parker and Wine Advocate. Unlike some of the Australian wines Parker rates highly, this wine conforms to many of the stereotypes: high alcohol clearly evident (16%abv, but more like 18%), porty, liqueur black fruit, difficult if not impossible to match with any food and too much to drink by itself (or to have more than one glass in one sitting). Yet this style of wine still sells in America, albeit in reduced quantities and for reduced prices.

However, there is hope. The way Australian Chardonnay has evolved since the ‘Sunshine in a glass / Dolly Parton’ era shows that the style of wine being made by wineries previously blessed with ‘Parker points’ could evolve in time, turning down the alcohol levels by several degrees, selecting fruit that is less over-ripe, and reining in the use of new (mostly American) oak.

Furthermore, the introduction of Lisa Perrotti Brown as the Asian/Australian rep for Wine Advocate (and noting her relatively high scores given to some Hunter Valley Reds early last year) suggests that such a move may actually be rewarded and not punished by Wine Advocate in the future.

Whether the aforementioned hope is realised, and whether wines made in the style of the Two Left Feet evolve accordingly remains to be seen. However, in light of the milieu the Australian wine industry finds itself in, it would be of assistance if this was the case.

77 points (formerly 3 stars, 86 points)

Closure: Screwcap

Saturday, January 15, 2011

2009 Yelland & Papps Delight Shiraz Grenache (Barossa Valley, Sample)

This is an enjoyable, fruit-driven wine that would go very well as a quaffer over this summer. The thing to note though is that it is a wine on the sweeter side of things. It is in no way confected or forced, but fruit sweetness is evident. The nose smells of freshly crushed berries, and is very appealing. On to the palate it provides lovely, smooth drinking. There's a nice line and length of flavour with berries, sasparilla, chocolate and spice. Fine tannins are in support. Normally I like a bit more of a savoury aspect to my wine, but this nevertheless provided plenty of enjoyment, which is the primary aim of the Delight range, and a recurring feature of many Yelland and Papps wines. 3.5 stars.


RRP: $19


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner 2010 (Canberra District) Sample

Gruner Veltliner is the dominant white wine of Austria, and is now happily being grown in several parts of Australia (including Tasmania and the Canberra District). It is one of the few white wines in Australia to deserve a trendy “up and coming” reputation (eg: the opposite of Pinot Gris). Personally, when someone utters the words ‘Gruner Veltliner’ it conjures up images of brown leather suits and camp Germanic accents. This does not detract from my enjoyment of the wine, quite the opposite (what is not to love about a 1970s leather suit?).

RedtoBrown have tried a few of the more affordable Austrian Gruners, including the entry level Domane Wachau (link) and the 09 Nigl Gartling (review to follow), and have been impressed.

With this in mind, RedtoBrown were very keen to taste the second vintage of Gruner Veltliner from Canberra District winery, Lark Hill. Lark Hill is fully bio-dynamic and one of a handful of Australian wineries leading the charge with locally produced Gruner Veltliner.

The Lark Hill GruVee is a generous and vibrant wine. It has a seductive nose of citrus, herbs and subtle spice. On the palate, ripe pear, sweet root vegetables and subtle lemon are combined with a relatively soft but supportive acidity. The wine has a minerality that adds tightness, though is not dominant. It finishes with a hint of pepper and a pleasant hit of herbal bitterness that adds complexity.

The 2010 Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner is an enjoyable, approachable wine. At $45rrp it is not cheap, though the winery is not aiming for ‘cheap and cheerful’ with this wine. I respect that. The vines are young, and I will be interested to see if the wine evolves over the years to gain more minerality and secondary pepper and spice.
Aussie wineries like Lark Hill, Handorf Hill and a handful of others growing this grape should be commended – it is food friendly, should be attractive to a wide range of wine drinkers.

/92pts* (* for the level of drinking enjoyment AND a for being new, rare wine variety grown in Australia - the two don't always go together!)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Face-Off: Canberra District, Tasmanian, Great Western and Frankland River Rieslings

If you have stumbled across this site even once or twice, you might get the impression that we both love our Riesling. For all the Riesling fans out there, in the next few weeks there will be a series of wine tasting events to celebrate the ‘Summer of Riesling’. A link to the Summer of Riesling Website can be found here.

For any Sydney residents who work in or around the CBD, wine bar/restaurant Fix St James is hosting the Sydney Summer of Riesling launch party and several top examples from Australia and around the globe will be available to taste. Entry to the tasting is free and I would highly commend it to you.

With the Riesling festivities about to begin, RedtoBrown decided to take a trip down an Australian Riesling road less traveled by. Being huge fans of Eden Valley and Clare Valley Riesling, we decided to run a Face-Off tasting Rieslings from regions we are less familiar with (in terms of their Riesling at least).

Included in the single blind tasting was a bottle of 2010 Freycinet (Tasmania), a 2010 Whicher Ridge (Frankland River WA), a 2010 Best’s Great Western and a 2009 Mt Majura (Canberra District).

Wine 1 (2010 Freycinet Riesling)

(Red) –Reveals itself straight away as an off-dry style with its sweet, expressive, floral nose. On the palate the sweetness is equally to the fore, though it’s matched by some nice acidity. It tastes of apples, citrus, and a touch of tropical fruit. Excellent length on the finish. Not really my thing but a very good wine in its style. Fans of off-dry Aussie Rieslings should enjoy this. – 4 stars

(Brown)- Floral, ‘feminine’ nose with a little gewurtz-like spice. Varietal lemon and lime became more obvious on the second day (with red apple and traces of lycee evident on opening). Had a pleasant slippery texture with natural acidity to the fore, but not blocking the view. With cellaring, my guess is this will shed its tropical nose and flavours and become more focused. At present an almost off-dry wine (without obvious residual sugar or a cloying finish) that would be well suited to spicy foods. – 4 stars* (Was far superior of the second day and I am confident it will be even better after 1 more year in the bottle).

Wine 2 (2010 Whicher Ridge Riesling)

(Red) - In comparison to Wine 1 the nose immediately appeared a lot more muted, but nevertheless revealed appealing aromas of citrus and talc. On the palate, it once again was less expressive than wine 1 and with more subtlety. There were citrus flavours, but the impression was more about its very fine acidity and a nice minerality. Excellent length. This was my second favourite during the blind tasting. As we then consumed it over dinner and the wine got closer to room temperature, that minerality and a sense of texture really came to the fore. The driest of the four Rieslings. Highly impressive and quite similar to the 09 Whicher Ridge Sav Blanc for its sense of texture. – 4 stars

(Brown) ¬ Obviously more flinty and mineral than the Freycinet when tasted blind, lemon and lemon rind, slate and flint flavours up front, matched to a fine chalky/wet chalk texture that combined well. More bitter lemon and citrus tang on the long finish. An austere style that uses texture and minerality as its weapons, though if I had a minor quibble it would be that the fruit could have been a little more expressive. A very interesting point of departure from the Riesling I normally consume nevertheless. – 3.5 Stars

Wine 3 – (2010 Best’s Riesing)

(Red) – This wine sat in between wines 1 & 2 in terms of style. It’s a dry Riesling with some noticeable residual sugar. It’s a good wine but it didn’t show up well against its 3 competitors on the night. Apple and citrus flavours were supported by a gentle acidity that just seemed a touch disjointed and didn’t really match the sweetness in the way I would have liked. I was surprised when it was revealed as the Best’s, given that it has been rated highly by a number of critics and reviewers. 3.5 stars

(Brown) – Not a bad wine by any means. Probably came across as rounder and sweeter following the quite austere and mineral Whicher Ridge. On the night it had tropical roundness, sweet fruit and soft acidity and was a little sweet for my liking. There is pleasant and ripe apple fruit on the palate to complement the tropical fruits and citrus, and the finish is pleasingly drier than the nose and front palate would suggest. Once again, curious to see if this develops with more bottle age, as it composed itself on day two of tasting and might develop more focus in that time. Will report back next summer!. 3.5 stars+ (for pure, populist enjoyment and quaff factor, this gets a +).

Wine 4 – (2009 Mount Majura Riesling)

(Red)– My favourite Riesling during the blind tasting (the Whicher Ridge drew alongside it over the course of the dinner), and perhaps not surprising given that I find that an extra year makes a big difference with young Riesling. An almost savoury nose with aromas of citrus, bath salts and something that I wrote down as a “nuttiness” to it. On the palate everything is nicely balanced and proportioned. Nothing sticks outs awkwardly, and instead the citrus flavours, the minerality, the acidity and just a tiny amount of residual sugar all fall in beautifully. Excellent Riesling. 4 stars.

(Brown) – If Paul Keating’s 1988 Federal budget was the one that brought home the bacon, the Mount Majura was the Rizza that pleasingly ‘brought back the funk’ on the night (relatively speaking). After two wines leaning towards apple/tropical, and one in the austere lemon and slate camp, this had some funk, possibly due to bottle age. The nose smelt of citrus, yeast, and a slight whiff of kerosene, and the wine tasted primarily of lime (almost reminiscent of a savoury version of Schweppes Lime cordial (a positive in my view)). The fruit was balanced nicely with tight, pleasant acidity, a dry chalky texture and at the finish there was a bit of smokiness and traces of lemon zest. Nice balance and focus. 4 Stars.

In conclusion, all 4 wines had their strengths and weaknesses. The styles on display showed that there are definitely emerging and lesser known wine regions in Australia that are producing nice Riesling, and also that this grape can be crafted into wines that can and should please most tastes. The Summer of Riesling is here – crack open a bottle!!

Winery Websites:
Whicher Ridge:
Best’s Great Western:
Mount Majura:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2010 Kalleske Clarry’s (Grenache Shiraz Mataro, Barossa Valley)

2010 is shaping up as a great vintage for some regions that have had it pretty tough of late in terms of vintages such as the Yarra, Heathcote, and the Barossa. This is the first red wine I’ve had from 2010 in the Barossa and it bodes very well for other offerings from Kalleske as well as wineries more generally in the region.

It’s similar to the 2009 in many ways, but the main difference is that it’s a step up in quality and enjoyment (and I liked the 09). It has a lovely perfumed, floral nose with an interesting touch of smokiness. The highlight for me of this wine, however, is its intensity and drive. An intensity and drive that made me sit back and take notice, especially when you are thinking you’re just going to be drinking a pleasant, early drinking GSM. Flavours of berries, spice, and liquorice course with a sense of purpose through the mid palate before delivering a long, earthy finish. Fine, yet grippy tannins provide a satisfying chewiness at the end.

The fruit and structure of the wine certainly point towards ageworthiness, though to be honest it’s so enjoyable now that I’d be drinking it over the next couple of years. With an $18 RRP, and as something that can be picked up even cheaper, it’s a no-brainer of a purchase. Most importantly of all it received the seal of approval from the Missus. 4 Stars.


RRP: $18
ABV: 14.5%


Monday, January 3, 2011

A Red Christmas

Christmas in our family typically involves a big seafood feast on Christmas Eve, and then on Christmas Day we do the traditional roast turkey. It also involves pulling some good wine out of the cellar. The vinous highlight was to be a 1995 Grange. Sadly the cork was crap, falling apart on opening, revealing a wine that was badly oxidised. When I see all these wine people coming out at present attempting some sort of cork counter-revolution I don't know whether to get angry or just laugh it off.

Anyway, not the time for an anti-cork rant. Some highlights over the two days were

2004 Lombard Grand Cru – Absolutely loved drinking this. Could only be Champagne. Beautiful gentle acidity, nice complexity of flavour and excellent length.

2008 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling – Quality Riesling. Classic nose of citrus and bath salts, and a beautiful long palate with a wonderful sense of minerality. Perfect match for fresh seafood. A few members of my family are not typically white wine drinkers but they all came back for a second glass of this.

2008 Gembrook Pinot Noir – Same impressions as when I reviewed the wine with the addition of a twiggy, fresh forest floor scent that I didn’t pick up six months ago ( Drinks beautifully now but will get better and better over the next 5-10 years.

2008 Martinborough Vineyards Pinot Noir – Needs time though tremendous quality of the wine is evident. Cherry, musk, hints of mushrooms, and a meatiness mark it out as both a Martinborough wine and a Martinborough Vineyards wine. Not quite there on the palate yet but it’s built to last, and I think it will be great in time.

2006 Charles Melton Grains of Paradise – My kind of Barossa Shiraz. It’s undoubtedly from the Barossa and yet shows a sense of restraint being almost medium-bodied (in context). Beautiful fruit is evident with lovely flavours of plum and berries, along with some spice and a touch of chocolate. The palate finished long, without anything being overdone, all of which was underpinned by a smooth acidity. One of those wines that can be enjoyed now for its lovely primary fruit, but that also has everything in place to suggest it will age well over the next 10 years.

Now that we’re in the first week of January, I’m a few kilos heavier than I was a few weeks back, but that to me is a sign of a properly enjoyed festive season, surrounded by family, good food and great wine. Now to the gym . . .

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