Saturday, October 29, 2011

2009 Pattes Loup Chablis 1er Cru Montmains

Pattes Loup, which was only established in 2005, is getting a lot of positive press in the world of Chablis, with Antonio Galloni having this to say this about the winery – “Simply put, these are some of the most groundbreaking, intensely captivating wines being made in Chablis today”.

Montmains is a south-east facing Premier Cru site in Chablis. The soils are composed of light, sandy topsoil with the Kimmeridgian (limestone-rich) subsoil that defines Chablis more generally. Apparently this Premier Cru also has a unique micro-climate, though as much as this unique microclimate is referenced with Montmains I’m yet to read anything that discusses what this micro-climate is or what impact it has on Chablis from this site. Any thoughts or comments on this point would be appreciated.

It’s a slightly fuller, richer Chablis than I might have expected, though this is probably a product of the 09 vintage. The thing that stands out however, is the wine's length. From go to woe, it never wavers, and has fantastic persistence. Lovely flavours of lime and peach are matched with some spice and floral notes, and all underpinned by that classic chalky minerality which is typical of Chablis. The balance and length suggests that this will age nicely, but the richness of flavour makes it’s pretty approachable now as well. Very nice wine. 4 stars.


ABV: 12.5%
RRP: $60


Thursday, October 27, 2011

The turning of the Worm . . .

The past 12 months have represented a turning point when it comes to international opinion of Australian wine.

You may have watched political debates where the audience have handsets that produce a graph of viewer approval, which can look sort of like a worm inching along, rising and falling in response to the debate. For much of the noughties the worm headed south and well and truly into negative territory, as Australian wine came to be viewed internationally as industrial, alcoholic, and uninteresting. However, just in the last 12 months the worm has ticked back in the right direction. It is still a long way from positive territory, but it is a start. All of a sudden there are positive things being written and discussed about Australian wines by international commentators and critics. Whereas 3 or 4 years ago an opinion piece on Australian wine was invariably all about the negatives and stereotypes, now you can read pieces from British and American wine writers who are excited about what is coming out of this island continent.

The latest and perhaps strongest example of this is James Suckling's two week tour of Australia. The thing that I have liked most about his trip is the length, depth and breadth of what he is doing. As opposed to just visiting for a specific event, or one particular region, he’s covered 4 States, and multiple wine regions over a fortnight. His positive findings in terms of some of the wonderful wine Australia is now producing, may be self-evident to passionate wine people here in Australia, however, it is also very apparent that the message he is conveying in terms of the interest, quality, and character of Australian wine, is being heard for the very first time by many consumers overseas, particularly in the US.

The message that Suckling and other international commentators are beginning to deliver is that Australia is producing wines of moderate alcohol that express a true sense of place. The reality is that this has always been on offer with Australian wine if you knew where to look. These types of wineries were, however, in the minority in the recent past, and the international perception of Australian wine certainly didn’t allow this view of Australian wine much of a look in. Now, however, these types of Australian wines can be found without huge amounts of effort or knowledge. There are seemingly a multitude of wineries from every significant Australian wine region, producing unique, terroir driven wines. Seeing a winery like Mac Forbes in 2010 producing 6 different Pinot Noirs from 6 different sites in the Yarra Valley, is perhaps a somewhat extreme, yet also perfect example of this trend. Some great reviews by Mike Bennie of these wines are up on the

The naughties will be remembered as somewhat of a nadir for Australian wine. Criticism and tough times in any industry, however, often result in greater levels of innovation and a push for quality, and this is what we have seen in Australian wine, particularly over the past 5 years. I’ve previously written about how positive trends around the expression of site, vine age, clonal selection, organic/biodynamic practices, and screwcaps, are all leading to a golden age in Australian wine in the coming decade

For this renaissance to ring true however, it requires critical acclaim to provide support and succour for the great efforts of our winemakers. It now looks like this acclaim has moved beyond just Australian commentators (who rightly or wrongly could always be accused of parochialism when it comes to their own wines), and is being taken up by prominent international critics. I’d best buy up for my cellar now, while there is still so much amazing value out there.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

2009 Sons of Eden Kennedy Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre

I have to be upfront and admit that I have a vested interest in this wine – I tasted the old vine Grenache and Mourvedre that went into the Kennedy GSM when it was maturing in the barrel in Spring 2009, and from that point on was looking forward to trying the finished product.  That trip to the Barossa Valley involved us visiting several wineries, including Sons of Eden. The warm hospitality from people like SoE viticulturist Simon Cowham helped motivate me to develop this blog (co-opting ‘Red’ in the process). However, fond memories do not a good wine make, so on to the 2009 Kennedy GSM:

Based on the wines tasted to this point, 2009 was a surprisingly good, if low yielding, vintage for Grenache in the Barossa Valley. To back this view up, the 50+yr old vine Grenache and Mataro are the winners in this wine. They add a nice mix of juicy, spicy black cherry, raspberry and blackcurrant flavours, with the 40% of Shiraz providing some chocolate, black fruit support without dominating. There is a nice, earthy smooth tannic kick at the finish, combined with more lingering, clove, allspice and red fruit flavours.

There is a nice, voluptuous harmony to this wine – sweet fruited without being stewed or overdone. The Kennedy is listed at 14.5% abv, and could well be higher, but it is not overly noticeable.

The Kennedy is a moreish and approachable wine that will please many. A wine to be enjoyed, not contemplated. It is drinking nicely now and will do so for a few more years. As with other juicy GSMs, this wine can be served at below room temperature to maximise the fresh Grenache fruit in the wine, or served at room temperature in the middle of winter for some cold weather comfort!

Rating: 90pts
RRP: $22
ABV: 14.5%

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

2011 Lark Hill Viognier (Dark Horse Vineyard)

Lark Hill have been making some impressive wines recently, and their 2011 Viognier is a surprisingly good one. It is a fresh, juicy, yet textural wine (with a slatey minerality). It has the characteristic Viognier apricot and ginger spice, though the apricot flavours are not overpowering or of a dried apricot nature, and the ginger is fresh, flowing through from the nose to the back palate. The wine  finishes with lingering and pleasant smokey ginger spice. Lark Hill have managed to avoid the phenolic harshness, high alcohol and flabbyness I find in a fair few Australian Viogniers (ABV is only 12.5%).  This would match niecly with a wide variety of foods (in my case, some five spice roast duck in an asian style orange sauce).   

Rating: 91 pts
ABV: 12.5%
RRP: $25

Sunday, October 16, 2011

2010 Head Brunette Syrah (Barossa Valley)

Put simply, this wine is awesome. I tasted it over 3 days and it just got better and better in that time. From a single vineyard in the Moppa sub-region of the Barossa.

It’s beautifully perfumed and aromatic. It has a bouquet that continued to evolve and at various stages produced notes of blueberry, chocolate, lavender, citrus, five-spice, and a savoury meatiness.

To drink it’s an almost perfect rendition of a balanced, restrained style of Barossa Shiraz. Which is to say it still has a power and richness to it, but it’s all kept in check with lovely natural acidity, and low-ish alcohol. There’s a wonderful complexity of flavour, with many of the same flavours as on the nose, along with a hint of steminess that adds rather than subtracts from the wine, and a lovely earthy minerality. The flow and length of the wine along the palate is a thing of beauty.

It’s a beautiful wine now with a bit of air, but will undoubtedly be better in 5-10 years time. Everything is there to suggest it will age a lot longer to. $45 and worth every penny. Loved it. 4.5 Stars


ABV: 13.8%


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cork. To buy or not to buy . . .

The Cork vs Screwcap debate is a well trodden path within wine circles. If it’s not apparent from what I have written then I am very firmly in the screwcap camp. Eschewing all the real and pseudo debates in this area, my reason for being pro-screw cap is very, very simple. I literally cannot remember the last time I opened a screwcap sealed wine that had a closure issue. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but in reality it’s few and far between. Unfortunately I can’t say the same about cork. I reckon my cork issue rate is at least 10%. That is, at least 1 in 10 cork sealed wines that I consume (or at least attempt to) have some sort of issue. Very mild TCA, obvious TCA, and oxidation are all issues I encounter all too often.

And yes, wines under screwcap age. I’ve had numerous 5 year through to 13 year old screwcap wines, and they are aging wonderfully. People who argue otherwise may as well be arguing that the earth is flat.

All of which leads me to an ongoing dilemma of mine. Whether to purchase cork sealed wines or not? Firstly, I do buy cork sealed wines. Possibly my favourite wine is Barolo, and therefore there’s no avoiding purchasing cork closures there at this stage (though the first good Barolo producer that uses screwcap will win my hard earned).

My issue, however, is more in Australia, where screwcap is now the dominant closure and no one bats an eyelid when opening a screwcap wine. It has become the norm. Despite this, there remains wineries that continue to use cork, and predominantly these are for premium wines. Whereas you’d struggle to find a $20 Australian wine under cork nowadays, jump up to $50 or more, and they are far more prevalent. Of course this seems to me entirely counterintuitive. Making a premium product and sealing it with a closure that has a higher failure rate doesn’t make much sense to me.

In any case, at these price points you get some of the more interesting and desirable Australian wines. Often single site wines that represent a winemaker’s best efforts. It might be, for example, a Pinot Noir that I love the sound of. With the wonderful development of Pinot in this country in the past two decades, however, there is more than just one $50+ Pinot that I lust after. They are now numerous, and with a monthly wine budget that I try to be reasonably disciplined about (not always successfully), unfortunately I can’t purchase all of them and therefore have to make decisions. As a result, a wine’s closure has become a key factor in helping me decide what wine I buy. I might be trying to make a decision between two exciting Victorian Pinot producers. If one is under screwcap and the other under cork, then that will make my decision a much easier one.

Now, if a winery wants to bottle their wine under cork for historical, romantic, or export reasons I can completely understand this. But why not give consumers a choice? Bottle half under cork and half under screwcap. If people still want to buy wine under cork they can, but I’d of thought that within Australia at least the screwcap allocation will sell out a lot more quickly than cork. Moreover, doing this consistently over say a decade or so, would enable a winery to genuinely determine which closure is the best for their wine. Quite often when I ask a winemaker why they are still using cork (in a polite manner), I get a somewhat testy and emotional response. Now I’m all for passion and emotion in wine, but in this instance I’d rather hear a response along the lines “We bottled a small batch of wines under screwcap for 5 years, and at the end of it, we still found cork to be the better closure for our wines”. Even if I still might disagree, I’d respect this response a lot more than the throw away lines you normally get.

Greatness in any field involves leaving no stone unturned. Not at the very least exploring how screwcap works with your wine, is a step back from this endeavour.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

A few 2011 Hunter Valley Semillons

My aunty, who lives in Canberra, was telling me the other day that she found a 1973 Rothbury Estate Semillon in a corner of her cellar. She reckoned that it was probably the first serious wine that she bought and cellared back in the early 70s. One might expect that in 2011 this wine would be way past it, but having carefully pulled the cork, what she instead found was a beautifully fresh, yet complex Hunter Semillon. It’s amazing to think how long the better, current day Hunter Semillons will cellar under screwcap.

Brown and I have a bunch of Hunter Semillons to review and below is an initial trio -

2011 Pepper Tree Tallawanta Semillon ($28, 11.5% ABV) – I don’t often think of young Hunter Semillon as elegant, but this wine certainly provides that sense. It has a lovely unobtrusive acidity, and some nice texture and grip. Citrus, florals, and with a hint of honey it finishes with impressive length. One for the cellar. 4 Stars

2011 Thomas Braemore Semillon ($28, 11.5% ABV) - I loved the 09 and ’10 vintages of this wine, but not so much this wine. Its length and clean acidity mark it out as being of impressive pedigree, but the tropical fruit profile and some grassiness reminded me a little too much of a Sav Blanc in terms of flavour profile. I tried it again after a couple of days and the tropicals had happily subsided to some extent. Definitely a wine that needs some time to see its best. 3.5 Stars +

2011 Tulloch Semillon ($16, 11.3% ABV) – This might be the lowest scoring of this trio, but it is the most enjoyable to drink now, and perhaps the most easily identifiable as a Hunter Semillon. If you find yourself sitting in front a plate of Sydney Rock oysters this summer or next, crack this open and enjoy. Fresh, crisp, and with prominent acidity, it has lovely ripe citrus flavours and a good length of finish. It might surprise in the longer term but it’s open for business now. Great value. 3.5 Stars

Three quite different wines, and in the broader scheme of things, all very good value. The Tulloch is for now, while the Thomas and Pepper Tree should be popped in the cellar. I’m not sure if either of them will do 38 years like the ’73 Rothbury, but then again, betting against the Braemore or Tallawanta vineyards is a brave thing to do.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

2006 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino

Argiano is one of the oldest estates in Montalcino, with the villa having been established in 1581. From what I can gather there has been wine production in some form or other since that time. Wonderful history.

2006 was a good, yet warmish vintage in Montalcino and this is reflected in this wine. It starts with a very seductive nose. Notes of cherry, mocha oak, sweet earth, leather and tobacco all revealed themselves over two days. A lovely bouquet no question. To drink it’s medium to full bodied, and still predominantly primary and tannic. Ripe cherry fruit gives way to notes of spice, liquorice, and earth. I’d of thought it would age well, but there is just a suggestion of alcohol heat on the finish. Barely noticeable, but it’s there. It will be interesting to see where this wine is in 5 years time. I’m hoping the beautiful fruit and inherent complexity wins out, but it might just be that the alcohol does. A very enjoyable wine to drink now regardless.


ABV: 14%
RRP: $60


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Squirrels and Woodchips: Autotune and the Over-use of Oak in Wine

“This is anti-autotune, death of the ringtone
 This ain’t for Itunes, this ain’t for sing-along
I know we facin a recession
But the music yall makin gonna make it the great depression”

Jay Z – D.O.A (Death of Autotune)

I am more a fan of indie guitar music, but Jay Z has a point in D.O.A – the proliferation of songs filled with autotune is not a promising trend for music, especially any musician aiming for some form of artistic credibility.

Personally, I see the overuse of oak in wine as the oenological equivalent to over use of (or in my view, 'any' use of) autotune in the production of music: if the fruit was top quality, the wine would likely be just as good with the oak turned down a few notches. If the fruit was poor quality, no amount of oak will ever fully mask this fact. As with 99% of autotune-heavy music, neither style of wine will live long in the memory, and if it does, it is likely to be for the wrong reasons.

For those not familiar with autotune, it is the computer voice tuning/pitch assistance program that enables even the tone deaf to sound bearable when recorded, and can be tweaked to create a ‘unique’ vocal effect. Musical sadists like T Pain and the Black Eyed Peas have embraced the software, and music has not progressed artistically one iota as a result. Luckily, in the years since Jay Z downloaded on autotune not many artistically credible musicians (across multiple genres) have embraced autotune in the same way as T Pain.

There was consternation in the wine cellar when cult contract wine maker Brice Dickenson suggested their wine could have used a little more new American oak.
Ironically, unlike music with autotune, the wine industry seems more inclined to drown a wide range of different wines - excellent, underrated, average and ordinary - in a layer of oak. Perhaps the lower incidence of death by autotune vs death by oak at the above average to elite level is due to the added production options when making music compared to wine.

The tragedy with overuse of oak in wine is that many wineries inflict it upon their best grapes: their reserve crop. If I had a dollar for every time I tried an estate wine that was far superior to the more expensive liquified oak tree reserve, I would be a millionaire (ok, maybe if I had $150k for every time). Somehow I cannot see Paul McCartney in the studio wanting to add an electronic autotune robot voice to the verses in Yesterday (noting  Yesterday was his Beatles, not Wings era), or Kurt Cobain insisting he have his grungy growl in the chorus of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' soar like a chipmunk as in Cher's horrendous autotune defining song, ‘Believe’.
Do you believe in wine without oak? I can taste some fruit in this glass,
but really can’t taste it strong enough”
I am not saying every winery does this –unless rudely oaked wine is their house style, the elite winemakers get it right more often than not depending on the fashion of the day. Furthermore, in some very lucky vineyards it is harder to make a bad wine than a good/great one. 

Unfortunately, I have had too many glasses of (relatively) expensive, cellared, over oaked wine; the fruit trying valiantly to peep through in its death-throes. In these situations, I cannot help but think that there are many similar wines out there that could have been timeless classics, were it not for too much tinkering with the oak meter.

For our non-Australian readers, the Australian wine industry has battled its oak (and acid) demons for some time now. You need only compare a late 1990's/early 00s (Parker Points aspiring) Hunter Valley Shiraz with their equivalents being made today to realise how much of a positive difference reducing the amount of new oak had made to the wines. The Region’s ‘voice’ is heard, unaccompanied and solo: infinitely more enjoyable and long lasting without the wine equivalent of autotune smothering it. This example is one I would love to see more often in some other regions.

The Black Eyed Peas inspect one of their many low-yielding, biodynamically grown Pinot and Riesling vineyards in between recording of their new autotune-lathed album.

At the lower end of the wine market, it is all out marketing and stylistic warfare. We have wine companies marketing non-vintage fruit and herb infused cooler as wine, low calorie fizzy alcoholic grape juice as wine, and the topic of this post, cheap, sweet, heavily oaked (chipped) reds and whites.

At this end of the wine and music market, the use of oak and autotune is not so much of a tragedy as a lazy lost opportunity. The $5-$15 wine segment is as much awash with sugary sweet wines as it is heavily oaked wines – most commonly in combination, though there are more than enough straight out sweet wines.

As with the lower end wine market, the music industry is overflowing with sugary sweet pop and RnB songs that chart one week and are forgotten the next. The music is generic, the style derivative, the attention span of the listener fleeting, and the cultural impact of the song, negligible.

Part of me would love to see smarter, well-crafted throw-away pop songs being produced, or a higher percentage of intelligently conceived, quaffable wines released.

One is, stupid, cynical, sickly sweet, infantile and supposedly attractive to the 25- 35 year old female demographic. The other is David Beckham
However, in this segment of the music and wine markets, autotune and heavily oaked wine is merely one of a multitude of problems facing both industries and the topic of a much longer conversation (to be held with a glass of oaky Cabernet in hand and the dulcet, autotune-affected tones of the Black Eyed Peas playing in the background. Not.)
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