Monday, February 28, 2011

2006 Pio Cesare Barolo (Piemonte, Italy)

Sticking my nose into this wine instantly took me back to my visit to Barolo. It had a classic nose of roses and cherry, with some lovely earthiness and notes of polished wood. Unfortunately I don’t get to stick my nose into enough Barolo. While it’s reasonably priced when you’re in Italy (this wine would roughly be $50 when there), once it gets to Australia it pretty much doubles in price thanks to the costs in bringing it out here (understandable), but also because of the taxes on imported wines (protectionist and ultimately counterproductive). I decided to open, however, one of the 3 bottles I had bought for the Open That Bottle Night - -
an event that gives me the excuse to open an expensive bottle of wine without the requisite special occasion!

The wine smelled beautiful, as Barolo is wont to do, but then the palate was all class as well. In Barolo terms, it is medium-bodied and not overly tannic, and in that regard it is quite approachable now. However, to be drinking it now is to be drinking it years before its peak. It is a superbly balanced and structured wine with everything in its right place. It’s predominantly savoury, with drying tannins, but also has some lovely cherry fruit and that beautiful lick of liquorice that is Barolo to a tee. It’s all underpinned by a fine acidity. It’s a wine that feels like the complete package and just needs to be given a numbers of years in a cool cellar to express itself.

I was initially 4 stars with a “+” sign for the future on this wine, but as I had the last few mouthfuls on the second day of it being opened, it delivered that intensity and persistence that mark it out as something a bit special, so I decided to give it a nudge.
4.5 stars.


RRP: $100
ABV: 14.5%


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Royal Sydney Wine Show - 2011

Anyone who follows wine shows would realise that they come up with some strange results. I can partially understand this. Tasting in groups, in a very short period of time, and the inevitable palate fatigue that comes with tasting multiple wines, will inevitably lead to some slightly odd results. However, even accepting all that, the results I see each year at the Royal Sydney show are bizarre and generally at all odds with how the same wines are critically reviewed in other contexts. This year’s Royal Sydney Wine Show was true to form in this regard. Some less than impressive wines won Gold Medals and even trophies, while plenty of superb wine didn’t even merit a Bronze.

In any case I shouldn’t complain too much as the show affords me with an opportunity to taste an amazing range of quality Australian wine. Generally speaking I was most impressed with the Semillons and the Cabernets this year, with numerous wines showing beautifully.


This was probably the one varietal where the Show results came close to approximating the quality of the actual wines. With a couple of different classes on show I was able to taste Semillons from 1999 through to 2010. The best examples have years ahead of them. Several vintages of Tyrrell’s Vat 1, Thomas Braemore, Meerea Park Alexander Munro, and Mount Pleasant Lovedale all impressed. I haven’t previously had many Lovedales, but tasting through a number of different vintages highlighted to me the outstanding pedigree of this vineyard and wine. It certainly tastes like it’s from somewhere, and the texture with this wine is lovely. It might be an expensive Hunter Semillon, but all things considered I think it warrants it.


The quality of Cabernet coming out of the Margaret River shone through here. Cape Mentelle, Voyager, Juniper Estate, and Vasse Felix all had several vintages of their premium Cabernet on show, and more or less across the board they presented beautifully. I’ve previously mentioned how much I was looking forward to trying the 08 and 09 Juniper Estate (, and this was my first taste of both, and there was certainly no let down. Both looked great. Quality, complex Cabernets. From 2007-2009 it’s pretty hard to go wrong with any of the above wineries. Of course many of these wonderful wines didn’t even warrant a bronze apparently.

Heading a bit further South down to Great Southern I tasted my wine of the day in the 2008 Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet. This wine actually got a deserved gold medal. It tasted like a Jack Mann and a very, very good Jack Mann at that. I found it hard to wipe the smile off my face as I tasted this wine. Power with restraint, a balance between the fruit and savoury flavours, tannic impact and great length. No spitting here. A wine to save your pennies for.

The other Cabernet I was very impressed by was the 08 Lindeman’s St George from the Coonawarra. A beautifully structured single vineyard wine with rippling tannin, I need a few of these for the cellar as well. It’s great to see the revival of this wine.

All up a great day of tasting. The trick is to ignore medals and instead focus on maker and vintage.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hawke's Bay Tasting - Spitbucket at Coast Restaurant

How to make Hawke’s Bay Cabernet sexy? A significant challenge for any marketer in Australia I would imagine. New Zealand and Pinot are somewhat synonymous and fashionable, but NZ and Cabernet are not. Moreover, Cabernet is positively uncool as a varietal in Australia at the moment. Pinot is trendy, Shiraz is ubiquitous, and everyone’s talking about the wonderful turnaround in Australian Chardonnay. In the Twitterverse there has been a Rose Revolution and a Summer of Riesling. However, Cabernet kind of sits outside a lot of the discourse about wine in Australia at the moment.

This is something I find a bit incongruous given I continually find Australian Cabernet as impressive as any other variety that we do, and indeed I’m as impressed with Hawke’s Bay Bordeaux blends as I am with any other red wines from New Zealand. However this doesn’t seem to be a view held by many and is seemingly well illustrated with the just released New Zealand wine liftout/magazine from Decanter magazine where Hawkes Bay Cabernet barely rates a mention. Fortunately Dan Coward ( and Poppy Greeson ( are not of this view and organised a great Hawke’s Bay tasting at Coast Restaurant in Sydney last week

The tasting started off with some Hawke’s Bay Syrah. There’s plenty of critical acclaim for these wines, but to be honest, apart from a couple of exceptions, I’m yet to be really impressed by their Syrah. This possibly reflects a bit of ambivalence on my part for cool-climate syrah. I often find a bitterness and/or stalkiness in these wines that doesn’t quite work for me. Funnily enough I don’t mind a bit of stalkiness and bitterness in my Pinot, but in Syrah it's rarely my thing.

We then moved on to the Bordeaux varietals at which point the interest and appeal of the wines increased and indeed found a crescendo with the final two wines of the night. All of a sudden I remembered what I love about Hawkes Bay. Beautifully balanced Bordeaux blends that are generally medium-bodied but that don’t lack for anything in terms of intensity and grip.

My favourite of the final two, and my wine of the night, was the 06 Newton Forrest Cornerstone Cabernet Blend. It had a complex, savoury bouquet that had an appealing whiff of varnish. On the palate it had a beautiful intensity of savoury flavours, lovely tannins, and a touch of leafiness. A quality Cabernet with just a bit of an X-factor to it.

The other wine was the 07 Trinity Hill The Gimblett, which for me was just a whisker behind the Cornerstone. It was in a richer, more fruit forward style, reflecting a greater Merlot component, but was of undoubted quality. Lovely blackcurrant and plum flavours, excellent quality oak, and nice tannins in support. It should age nicely.

Hawke’s Bay Bordeaux blends may be a bit of a tough sell at the moment, but I do hope the region continues to focus in this area, because to my mind it is one of the New World’s most impressive styles of wine.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

1998 Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling (Clare Valley) - Cellar Release

This wine is as good an advertisement for screwcaps as I’ve tasted.

James Halliday’s review of the wine back in 1998 gave the wine a score of 90 points and a drinking window until 2008. He described it as a “classic in the making which is quite certain to achieve significantly higher points when mature”. I’m not sure it has quite reached classic status, but time has indeed been good to this wine and its travelled well beyond 2008.

I tasted this at Glass in the Hilton Hotel in Sydney. I rarely care about the colour of a wine, but this Riesling had a beautiful bright golden hue. The nose was appealing, yet reasonably restrained with some toasty marmalade like notes, and just a whiff of petrol. On the palate the first thing that struck me was the vibrant acidity. It defines the wine beautifully. This acidity is balanced by developed, toasty, citrus flavours along with a touch of honey. Lovely drinking. The balance and structure of the wine suggests it could go on for another 5 years at least, though as it’s not a Riesling of amazing complexity I think it’s probably drinking at its mature peak now.

The thing that excites me is that this is typically a safe and sound Riesling that can be picked up for under $20 upon release, and hasn’t typically had any claims to greatness. And yet under screwcap it is showing beautifully at 13 years of age. What this means for many of the more premium Rieslings that have been under screwcap since the early to mid noughties will undoubtedly be a joy to uncover in the coming decade.


RRP: $45
ABV: 12.5%


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2008 YarraLoch Stephanie's Dream Chardonnay (Yarra Valley)

There have been 96 point scores left, right, and centre for this wine, so I was pretty excited to try it. It’s from the 2008 vintage in the Yarra Valley, which was initially called by some as a bit of a heat affected vintage, but from which I’ve subsequently tasted plenty of fantastic wine.

Straight off the bat it had an expressive, complex nose of smoky, spicy, nutty grapefruit, with a touch of coconut cream. The palate, in contrast, is somewhat understated at present. It presents as refined and balanced with excellent length. There’s a touch of creaminess on the mid-palate and an appealing bit of bitter pith through the long finish. It’s a quality Chardonnay, no question, and yet it left me wanting more of something . . . weight, intensity, grip, not sure but it’s a sense I have with plenty of Oz Chardonnay at present. Is the quest for elegance resulting in a loss of character? The optimist in me hopes that these types of Chardys will blossom at about 5 years and beyond, at which point my quibbles will prove to be ill-founded. 4 Stars for now and “+” for a few years down the track.


ABV: 13%


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Australia's Old Vines - Our Unique Inheritance

(1850s Cirillo Estate Old Vine Grenache)

“Narrative is what Australia will have to develop in order to regain its rightful place on the shelves and, especially, to acquire the respect that its best wines deserve. Australia never delivered a narrative. Instead, they confused a cheap price with a good story”

Matt Kramer, Wine Spectator, 1 Feb 2010

But we do, we do, we do have a narrative . . . it’s just that we haven’t quite articulated it to ourselves, or to anyone else for that matter.

When considering a wine, a sense of history is just about as important to me as a sense of place (though happily the two are often inextricably linked). I'm a lover of history more generally and I bring this interest of mine to the way I look at a wine, a winery, a wine region, and just trends in the wine world more generally. This sense of history can provide me with both incredible inspiration and excitement in my wine journey, and at other times disappointment and frustration. History generates much of the romance that exists in wine. It also generates a narrative.

I think there are a number of great stories that Australian wine can tell, many of which are modern narratives, but one area in which we are particularly blessed are our old, gnarly vines. Australia has numerous vineyards that were planted in the 1800s that are still producing quality grapes today. Vineyards I'm aware of include -

Barossa Valley

1843 - Freedom Vineyard – Shiraz (possibly the oldest Shiraz/Syrah vines in the world currently producing the single vineyard Langmeil Freedom 1843 Shiraz)

1847 - Moorooroo Vineyard – Shiraz (currently goes into the Schild Estate Reserve Moorooroo Shiraz)

1847 - Turkey Flat – Shiraz (grapes from this vineyard go into the Turkey Flat Shiraz)

1850s – Cirillo Vineyard - Grenache (oldest Grenache vines in the world and make the single vineyard Cirillo 1850s Grenache)

1853 - Old Garden Vineyard – Mourvedre/Mataro (oldest Mourvedre/Mataro vines in the world that make the single vineyard Hewitson Old Garden Mourvedre)

1860s - The Grandfathers Block – Shiraz (the oldest block in Henschke’s Hill of Grace Vineyard)

1875 - Kalleske Vineyard - Shiraz (produces the single vineyard Kalleske Johann Georg Shiraz)

1888 - Kalimna Block 42 – Cabernet Sauvignon (possibly the oldest Cabernet vines in the world and in great vintages goes into the single vineyard Penfolds Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon)

Hunter Valley

1867 - Old Patch Vineyard – Shiraz (produces the single vineyard Tyrrell’s Old Patch Shiraz)

1879 - 4 Acres Vineyard – Shiraz (produces the single vineyard Tyrrell’s 4 Acres Shiraz)

1880 - Old Hill Vineyard – Shiraz (goes into the Mount Pleasant Old Paddock & Old Hill Shiraz)

Nagambie Lakes

1860 - Tahbilk – Shiraz (produces the single vineyard Tahbilk 1860 Vines Shiraz)

The Grampians

1866 - Concongella Vineyard – Shiraz (produces the single vineyard Best’s Great Western Thomson Family Shiraz)

Mclaren Vale

1892 - Block 6 – Shiraz (produces the single vineyard Kay Brothers Block 6 Shiraz)

Langhorne Creek

1891 – Metala Vineyard – Cabernet Sauvignon (grapes go into the Metala White Label Shiraz Cabernet)

Quite a list, and I’d hazard a guess there are a few more that I’m unaware of. These vineyards are not just amazing simply because they are 120-170 years old. Indeed with such old vines there is no guarantee they will produce good fruit. However, in this case virtually all these vines are producing fantastic wines. Whether you are looking at the Hewitson Old Garden Mourvedre, the Tahbilk 1860 Shiraz, or the Tyrrell's 4 Acres Shiraz as examples, you are tasting single vineyard wines that are great performers regardless of the age of vine (but also because of their age).

They are then all the more remarkable because they are pre-phylloxera vines. Phylloxera was of course the plague that swept through the vineyards of Europe, wiping virtually all the vines out there from the 1860s-1890s. While Phylloxera did reach here in the 1870s, Australia was to some degree spared, and as such we have this unique inheritance. A concentration of pre-Phylloxera vines that seemingly no other country has.

To my mind this should all be clearly documented, celebrated, and promoted. Instead it’s all a bit under the radar at present. At a time when Australian wine is still being questioned for it’s supposed lack of personality and terroir, and indeed narrative, we’ve got this amazing story that’s not expressly being told. We’re like a boxer constantly being hit with jabs who doesn’t quite understand he has this big overhand right that will put paid to that incessant jabbing.

Maybe there is a document somewhere that lists all the vineyards that are say 100 years old, or were planted in the 1800s, but I’m yet to find it. And while individual wineries and sites do indeed highlight their old vineyards, it’s still not something that’s well understood more broadly. The vast majority of wine consumers both in Australia and abroad would have no idea about this wonderful aspect of Australian wines. There is the Yalumba Old Vine Charter (, which is heading towards what I am talking about, but I’m not sure it’s moved much beyond relating to the wines Yalumba produces.

This old vine inheritance has to be part of the narrative Australia puts forward to both its consumers here and overseas. For the Barossa alone it is stunning to think that you could go there and taste wines from arguably the oldest Cabernet, oldest Shiraz/Syrah, oldest Mourvedre, and oldest Grenache vines in the world. If this was promoted to anyone with the slightest sense of history and a love of wine it should be like drawing moths to a flame. If you go to the Hunter Valley you can visit Tyrrell’s, a family owned winery established in 1858, and try their two single vineyard wines from the 1800s, the 4 Acres and the Old Patch. If drinking a glass of Tyrrell’s 4 Acres Shiraz doesn’t provide one with a sense of history and weight beyond just enjoying what’s in the glass, then I don’t know what will.

Of course this is only one part of what I believe to be a very exicting time in Australian wine more generally, and there are many stories to be told. But this part of the story, that of ancient vines, is truly unique, not well known by the broader public, and directly answers the challenge as to whether Australia produces wines with both a sense of place and narrative. It deserves to be heard.


P.S. If anyone has a comprehensive list of Australia’s pre-phylloxera vines I’d love to see it (or let me know of any vineyards I’ve missed out on in my own list)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

2010 Clonakilla Riesling (Canberra)

Having been overseas for most of January I’ve missed much of the Summer of Riesling , however I’ll endeavour to attend some of the remaining events in the next week or two.

This has a floral nose of citrus, talc and an appealing note of aniseed. It seemed a touch disjointed on the palate initially but with some time and moving towards room temperature it came together nicely. Excellent line and length of generous flavor, that’s supported by a clean and prominent acidity, and a nice touch of minerality. It has just a smidgen of residual sugar, which isn’t necessarily always to my tastes, but it works pretty well here. Quality Riesling, and a nice departure from my Eden Valley and Clare Valley staples.


RRP: $25
ABV: 12.5%


Sunday, February 6, 2011

2007 Mount Langi Ghiran Billi Billi Shiraz (Grampians)

The Hunter Valley, the Barossa Valley, and the Grampians sit at the top of my personal Shiraz tree. All three regions produce quite different styles of Shiraz, and yet all hold immense appeal for me. Grampians Shiraz generally displays a wonderful balance between the generosity and plush fruit of a warm climate Shiraz on the one hand, and the savouriness and spiciness of a cool-climate Shiraz on the other. This 07 Billi Billi fits right into this mould.

It’s great value and the kind of mid-week Shiraz I want to drink on a regular basis. It straddles the line nicely between being eminently gluggable, while also having enough grip and complexity to make it worth contemplating. It has a nice line and length of beautiful, regional plummy flavour, along with some spiciness and a touch of eucalypt in support. Really enjoyed drinking this and it should continue drink well for the next few years. 3.5 Stars.


RRP: $15
ABV: 14.5%


Thursday, February 3, 2011

2005 Huadong Merlot (Shandong, China)

Huadong is one of the largest and most prominent wineries in Shandong Province.

I bought this bottle while in Qingdao, and consumed it with some good friends we were staying with. It had quite a promising nose of berries and plums that tended towards being a bit jammy, along with a bit of spice and a savoury tobacco leaf note. If the palate could’ve matched the nose it would have easily been the best Chinese wine I had had. Unfortunately the palate was a bit of a let down. It still drank reasonably well, and worked as a serviceable quaffer. Those same fruit flavours were evident, though it lacked length or intensity.

Had it cost half the price I would have thought it to be ok value. As it was I thought it to be a good example of Chinese wine at present - on the improve, but at the present overpriced and lacking complexity.


RRP: 180 RMB/$30 AUD

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