Friday, 22 May 2015

Topper's Mountain Wild Ferment Pinotage Viognier 2012

Topper's Mountain Wild Ferment Pinotage Viognier 2012

I really do look forward to the Topper's Mountain wines now. You can just guarantee that every new wine will have character and interest, even if some releases can feel more like experiments (from an occasionally marginal climate) than natural successes. The interest far outweighs the failures these days though.

This red blend is a case in point. Produced from two varieties that I've not had together, this shines a very positive light on Australian Pinotage. Almost too positive (sorry Pinotage).

Co-fermented on skins, this spent a seriously huge 24 months in barrel. Doesn't show it either. A tiny 893 bottles produced.

Maroon red with purple edges. Lovely purple juiciness on the nose - blackberry and boysenberry meets the undergrowth of Pinotage. There's hums of Primitivo like savoury herbs too. The palate starts off with juiciness of fruit, before fanning out into a very bitter, slightly warm palate that flirts with under and over ripeness. There's a real substantial intensity to this, even despite the bitter, slightly green edge. Low yields and serious viticulture (as I would expect).

Good, interesting red now, if not an easy slurp. The world needs more wine like this.

Details: 14.5%, Screwcap, $32CD
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2015-2020
Score: 17/20, 90/100
Would I buy it? Not quite, but I still appreciate it.
Buy online: Toppers Mountain website

d'Arenberg Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2011

d'arenberg Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2011

Wines from hard vintages, when viewed in isolation, are often much better than expected. We can forgive an extra bit of leafiness and the odd palate hole. A little subtlety can also be quite welcome or warm region wines. But when you particularly challenging vintages alongside the very best, then differences become very stark.

I happened to have this shortly after the '10, a context that really showed the challenges of the vintage (and d'Arenberg did alright in 2011).

Dark red maroon with lighter edges. Black earth, red berries and game; the nose rather more secondary than juicy, the bitter and thickly tannic palate showing its high acid and forward nature. A wine that looks much older than 4 years old and a pretty awkward drink. Vintage marking this one with a big x.

Details: 14.3%, Screwcap, $65

Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2015-2022
Score: 16/20, 87/100
Would I buy it? No.
Buy online: d'Arenberg website

Thursday, 21 May 2015

A surprising McLaren Vale Montepulciano

Way Wood Wines McLaren Vale Montepulciano 2013

This is a breakout wine. A wine to make you think 'maybe Monte could really work in McLaren Vale'. Fruit is sourced from a site in the Willunga foothills

Bright purple red, this has that classic dark berry Montepulciano fruit character, supported by coffeed oak and a real thickness to the nose. The dry, firmly extractive palate is hearty and grippy, without falling over into excess extraction, if just a little sour to finish.

This much flavour, tannins and grip at just 13.5% alcohol? Ladies and gentlemen mark this down as one seriously smart, high potential red. Not subtle by any means (though Monte can be that way), but the balance and density here is commendable.

It's a yes from me.

Details: 13.5%, Screwcap, $35
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Drink: 2016-2028+
Score: 17.7/20, 92/100
Would I buy it? I'd certainly drink a glass or two.
Buy online: Way Wood Wines website

Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Rustic and even a little plasticky, the extraction here is a bit raw and it shows - I'd love some more elegance. Still, the fruit underneath is quality and the drying finish is even, suggesting (as usual) this will be a very solid drink in a decade.

Details: 13.7%, Screwcap, $25.70
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Drink 2018-2030
Score: 16.5/20, 88/100
Would I buy it? Not yet.

Tahbilk Shiraz 2012

Tahbilk Shiraz 2012

Tahbilk are carbon neutral now, another notch for what is an environmentally conscientious winery. Good to see.

Historically I'm more a fan of the Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon, but I think this richer Shiraz is more appealing for an immediate drink. Dark red with a faint purple edge, this is typically earthy and rustic, with the slightly rough and tumble style extractive style propped up with chocolate oak sweetness.

Rich fruited, richly oaked, but with that classic hearty core, this is only going to get better, and offer good hearty drinking.

Details: 13.7%, Screwcap, $25.70
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Drink: 2015-2028
Score: 17/20, 90/100
Would I buy it? As a cellaring bargain this is handy, though I'd recommend rather than buy/drink.
Buy online: Dan Murphys, Tahbilk

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

8 fine Aussie and Italian Nebbiolo

8 fine Aussie and Italian Nebbiolo

I'll be the first to admit that Australia is yet to 'crack' the Nebbiolo formula.

Sure, as some of the wines in this tasting show, we're producing good wines. Real good in some cases (with a particular nod to Pizzini and Coriole). But the gap between Australia's best and the best from Piedmont is still formidably large - and particularly with regards to tannin shape and balance.

Yet in the same sentence, Australian Nebbiolo has come an awful long way. Huge strides in Moreso, acceptance of Nebbiolo has never been higher locally, with top wines from Barolo, Barbaresco and even Gattinara appearing regularly on local lists.

It's a good time to love Nebbiolo.

This tasting, put on by Sommeliers Australia, cherry picked a couple of great local and Italian examples too, with the focus here was on the 2010 vintage plus a few likely interlopers added for good measure. 2010, of course, was an excellent vintage in Barolo, perhaps the best since 2001. 2011 is also being spoken of as '10s equal for Barbaresco, but I'm less convinced that the warmer vintage has produced as balanced wines.

The only challenge with this lot? Getting hold of some of these wines is difficult, with demand comfortably outstripping supply...

Wines were tasted relatively quickly but I went back through everything at least twice. Notes are as written on the day. Prices are approximate RRP.

Freeman Hilltops Nebbiolo 2012 $35
Dark ruby. Red cherry, quite heavy oak edge though it's sinking into the wine. Lovely generous fruit style. Quite modern and plush without the clear wildness or tannins of a more revered Nebbiolo, the palate profile full and the finish really quite fresh and vital. Short maceration? Definitely not heavy. The only real downer here is the oak which is an overly large part of this wine, shaping everything. 17.5/20, 91/100

Didi Adelaide Hills Nebbiolo 2010 $60ish
Big heavy bottle. Light ruby with just a little bronzing. Cloudy. Lovely evocative cherry nose. Real high toned red fruit. Lovely glacé cherry fruits continue through the palate, which is light and energetic. A northern Piedmont-esque style. Love the suggestion of tar and sticky edge, but it lacks a little tannin to be really convincing. Quite beautiful though! Light and pretty, if just a bit confected. Lots of interest, if not quite the concentration. 17/20, 90/100

SC Pannell Nebbiolo 2010 $50
Orange ruby. Quite sweet and modern, this looks just a little caramelised in this context. It's distinctively varietal but it feels like a lighter and skinnier expression. Extra points for it's varietal integrity but overshadowed in this lineup and looks a bit plain and advanced. 16.8/20, 89/100

Sottimano Barbaresco Pajore 2010 $100
Bright red ruby. Tar, violets, expression. Beautiful energy here! It's so refreshing - acid looks very balanced. New, expensive oak plays a big part here too, but the tannins and expression feels very swish and power is undoubted. Fine tannins. High quality juice, if just a little light for that oak. Ageless freshness and very long. Highly highly recommended. 18.7/20, 95/100

Ca'Rome Barbaresco Maria di Brun 2010 $150
Ruby red, just a tinge of brown. Backwards nose. Sweet vanilla oak and a rasp of oak tannins. A wall of oak and fruit so far, drying tannins seem very extractive and firm. Old school. Barbaresco meets Barolo. Long term but oaky now. A keeper! 18/20, 93/100

Ferninando Principiano Barolo Ravera 2010 $95
Dark ruby. Love the BBQ meat charcoal edge. A slightly sweet and sour palate but there is a beauty here too - sausage meat and drying tannins, but lightness too. A quite oxidative style but really refreshing. Some of the extraction is a bit cumbersome? Quality though. Real stuff. 18.5/20, 94/100

Massolino Barolo 2010 $95
Dark ruby. Open knit nose. Indeed it's even a bit jammy. Sweet and sour palate has authentic Nebbiolo spirit but it feels a little lean and every bit the more entry level Barolo with its slightly sweet and sour expression. Good but doesn't scale the heights. On it's own, however, this would probably be still impressive, but here it looked a fraction underpowered. Important plus sign. 17.7/20, 92/100+

Poderi Colla Dardi Le Rose Barolo Bussia 2010 $140
Bright, deep ruby. Menthol, Caramel and tar. My bottle was freshly opened and it looked it. Tar and a very backwards and slightly warm palate. It's classic in its tarry expression, but that furry tannins and warm alcohol is just a bit confronting. Lots of sand in the soil here? This needs a decade. That savoury tarry character is quite impressive, but the extraction and alcohol detracts a little. Will live forever. 18/20, 93/100+

Artiste Eden Valley Viognier 2014

Artiste Eden Valley Viognier 2014

A 'light and vibrant style' of Viognier according to the back label. Noble intent, but clearly taken too far here.

Apricot and white peach, the flat and slightly washed out palate lacks much in the way of flavour, bar some odd late palate warmth. There is little to mark the variety either besides a dash of apricot.

It's not offensive, but that's the problem - not enough of anything.

Details: 12.5%, Screwcap, $22.95
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2015-2016
Score: 15.5/20, 84/100
Would I buy it? No.
Buy online: Collective Wine Company (maker of Artiste) website

Artiste Eden Valley Chardonnay 2014

Artiste Eden Valley Chardonnay 2014

Green straw. Awkward oak sits over a citrussy, light palate that lacks concentration.

Simple and ordinary, with lean fruit and no complexity. Can't see the point.

Details: 12.5%, Screwcap, $22.95
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2015-2017
Score: 15/20, 83/100
Would I buy it? No.
Buy online: Collective Wine Company website (maker of Artiste)

Redman Coonawarra Cabernet Merlot 2009

Redman Coonawarra Cabernet Merlot 2009

I was banging on just last week about the need to drink Redman Cabernets with bottle age. Consider this, a six year old, as prime evidence,

Mid red with minimal signs of age judging by the colour. The nose here is Coonawarra Cabernet to the core - mint, red dust blackberry plus a little leather and horsehair for good measure. The dry, slightly advanced, leathery and savoury palate matches this with more black berry fruit to finish.

Still burly and dry, I like the ageless honesty here - it's a wine you could imagine wearing a Drizabone. Technically it's not going to win any show awards, but the chewy and substantial profile will be a Coonawarra lovers dream.

Details: 14.5%, Cork, $41.50
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Drink: 2015-2030+
Score: 17.7/20, 92/100
Would I buy it? I'd drink a glass or two.
Buy online: Dan Murphys, Redman website

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Artiste South Face Eden Valley Riesling 2014

Artiste South Face Eden Valley Riesling 2014

A slightly sweeter Riesling in the Artiste range, again showing that residual sugar and Eden Riesling doesn't mix. Not quite oil and water, but yet to taste anything from Eden Valley that is off dry and especially convincing

Light straw. Tangy lemon juicy nose feels cool and coiled - a cold site? The palate is quite generous and sweet fruited in contrast, some base residual sugar softening out the edges. Easy and pleasant, though the sweetness softens this just a bit too much for it to be stunning. Pleasant drink, but would be better as a drier style (methinks).

Details: 12%, Screwcap, $22.95
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2015-2018
Score: 16.5/20, 88/100
Would I buy it? No.
Buy online: Collective Wine Company (maker of Artiste wines)

Hanging Rock Macedon Ranges Pinot Noir 2013

Hanging Rock Macedon Ranges Pinot Noir 2013

Hanging Rock is probably better known for its wonderful dry grown Heathcote Shiraz and unique bubbles than Pinot Noir, the cool Jim Jim vineyard sometimes producing leafy wines (here blended with fruit from the Portree vineyard at Lancefield). Still, this is pretty seriously made, with open ferments, twice daily pigeage and 1/3 whole bunches and a little leafy mintiness can be welcome in my books (Mint Slice is a delicious biscuit).

Dark ruby with a little purple; glacé cherry, mint and some stemmy spice on the clear and quite fragrant nose, the palate deft and spicy with cherry fruit and plenty of whole bunch spice.

As ever with Hanging Rock there is no shortage of acidity, which might polarise some, but the clarity and easy spiciness makes this quite appealing in its mode, the extra little bits of meaty cranberry fruit making this ultimately a quite complete wine. Sure, it's a bit angular, but the density and freshness point to real Pinot Noir, probably best enjoyed with something gamey.

I liked this. It's not seductive and juicy, but there's genuine flavour here.

Details: 14%, Screwcap, $35
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2015-2021
Score: 17.7/20, 92/100
Would I buy it? I'd share a bottle.
Buy online: Hanging Rock website

Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

I opened this alongside the Devil's Lair in a WA flagship death match, and they couldn't be any more different.

Sourced exclusively from the Justin Vineyard in Frankland River, planted in 1971. I've tasted a few Houghton Jack Mann's now, and this is built in a similarly slick mode as the '11.

What's magical here is the barrel sample-esque freshness - a vibrance of sweet juicy black berries and fine tannins, the whole wine from go to woah polished and smooth, with a seamless texture that feels like absolute top tier Cabernet and a rare velvety power.

But I almost missed it all. At first, this had an 'I could be from anywhere' oak/fruit thing that could be Napa or aspirational modern Bordeaux or even Tuscany (without the Italianate tannins). It wasn't until 12 hours open that the hints of mint chocolate and textural finesse showed its hand.

Ultimately this is classy stuff. It's such a contrast to the blocky, raw edged Devil's Lair that they could be from alternate planets - yet still obviously high quality and satisfying Cabs. I'd drink the Devil's Lair now, the Jack Mann later.

Two top Aussie Cabernets, both wearing very different (expensive) outfits...

Details: 14%, Screwcap, $115
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Drink: 2018-2030
Score: 18.7/20, 95/100
Would I buy it? I'd like some in the cellar. Not for drinking now though. Not cheap either..
Buy online: Houghton website

Monday, 18 May 2015

Flagship ahoy! Devil's Lair 9th Chamber Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Devil's Lair 9th Chamber Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

The 9th Chamber is Devil's Lair's new flagship Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon, produced from a single parcel that saw extended skin contact and matured for 14 months in new barriques. Sexy new packaging, serious price - the whole kit and kaboodle.

Gee this looks every bit the flagship too. Deep, dark red, it takes the normal, mid-weight Devil's Lair fruit and adds in more new oak cocoa powder and more swagger. The palate also has an extra gear with dark, leafy, backwards heavy set fruit, drying, butch tannins and a raw, raspy, slightly warm finish.

If anything this is slightly too brutish, stamped with the eucalypt and leaf of southern Margaret River fruit, the alcohol and tannins a kick in the tail almost too raw. Still, the way that oak is swallowed up - and the full flow of fruit and tannins - is more like classified growth Bordeaux than standard Devil's Lair Cabernet.

High quality wine.

Details: 14.5%, Screwcap, $119.99
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Drink: 2020-2030
Score: 18.6/20, 95/100
Would I buy it? The price is high, but the quality is up there too. Wouldn't mind a few of these in the cellar.
Buy online: Devil's Lair website

Sunday, 17 May 2015

James & Co. Beechworth Sangiovese 2013

James & Co. Beechworth Sangiovese 2013

An ambitious new Sangiovese from Rutherglen winemaker Ricky James.

Caramel and sweet vanilla on the nose - almost milky oak. Underneath there's a lovely leathery Sangio core but it's just a little sunny and oaky, the fruit a little caramelised to rise above red wine simplicity. Palate structure underneath is excellent though - even and balanced. If only the oak and sweet fruit was dialled back a little!

A name to watch, if not the complete wine now.

Detail: 14%, Screwcap, $30
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2016-2022
Score: 16.8/20, 89/100
Would I buy it? Not quite. In years to come? More likely.
Buy online: James & Co. website

Schwarz Wine Co. Meta Barossa Shiraz 2013

Schwarz Wine Co. Meta Barossa Shiraz 2013

This is the most modern version of a Schwarz Shiraz, using hand picking, wild ferments and some whole bunch action. Just 1030 bottles produced.

It snuck up on me this Shiraz. At first I dismissed it, but the closer I looked, the more I appreciated the more reserved, mid-weight style here. It is just a little jammy for 13.7% alcohol, but the genuine attempt at a more savoury, detailed form has delivered a pretty smart wine.


Details: 13.7%, Screwcap
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2015-2025
Score: 17.7/20, 92/100
Would I buy it? A glass would do.
Buy online: Schwarz website

Friday, 15 May 2015

New from Devil's Lair: Dance with the Devil Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Devil's Lair Dance with the Devil Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

This is a newish label for Devil's Lair, and they've started very well. This is something of an experimental wine apparently, though I'm not sure what that means.

Deep red purple, this has a quite juicy nose of purple berry fruit with a dash of mint. All very easy and juicy but with some regional eucalypt for good measure. Dry, surprisingly savoury, rather well balanced palate is just a bit sharp edged but offers genuine tannins and a real Margs character that matches off with the juicy fruit very nicely.

Not wild, but seriously well made, medium bodied early-ish drinker (though it will last a few years yet) and well priced. Good stuff.

Details: 14%, Screwcap, $25
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Drink: 2015-2020+
Score: 17.5/20, 91/100
Would I buy it? I'd a go a glass or two for starters.
Buy online: Devil's Lair website

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Artiste Riesling 2014

Artiste Eden Valley Riesling 2014

A new name to me, but it turns out that Simon Gilbert is the key man behind the brand. I'm not sure in what capacity, but certainly as winemaker.

This white is the driest Riesling in the portfolio and, for mine, all the better for it.

Green straw in colour, the nose here is all lemon lime grapefruit, with just a little slate. It's quite juicy and full initially, but tightens up through the slightly skinny finish. Crisp, but not bracing acidity, finishes things off.

An easy, well made, early drinker. Not wildly exciting, but there is enough length here to signal quality fruit.

Details: 12.5%, Screwcap, $22.95
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2015-2020
Score: 17/20, 90/100
Would I buy it? I'd drink a glass
Buy online: Collective Wine Company (Artiste is one of their labels)

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Intriguing new Aussie ancestral sparkling from Sassafras

Sassafras Gamay Ancestral 2014

There's much to be said for winemakers emulating their favourite wine style.

While it can produce simple copycats, I'd argue that having a wine starting point and evolving from there can produce seriously great vino.

Witness Tim Kirk adding a little Viognier in with his Canberra Shiraz in the early 90s as one example. Or Joe Grilli air-drying his grapes to produce his own South Australian Amarone (of sorts). Both have ended up producing high quality, utterly Australian wines thanks to an initial inspirational style

This sparkling, from Canberra's Paul Starr and Tammy Braybrook, follows in those (large) footsteps. The inspiration was the Bugey Cerdon wines of eastern France, a regional style of sparkling pink based upon blends of Gamay, Pinot Noir, Poulsard and Mondeuse.

One key element of Bugey Cerdon is the ancestral method of sparkling fermentation (also known as petillant natural or 'pet nat') which involves an alcoholic fermentation started in tank/barrel and then completed in bottle, with the CO2 produced as a ferment by-product giving a natural fizz.

Here, Paul and Tammy have used Gamay sourced from the Johansen vineyard in Tumbarumba - otherwise known as the source of Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay fruit - to craft a textural, interesting pink sparkling.

To achieve that the fruit was crushed, left on skins for six hours and then pressed, the juice fermented until a baume of sugar was left and then chilled down for four weeks of cold settling. After a light filter, it was then bottled and left in the cool Eden Road shed for what Paul calls the 'carbonation phase'.

Crucially, this cool ferment happened slowly, which Paul thinks is essential for ancestral sparkling (he utilises plenty of home brewing knowledge here).

The end result is a lightly cloudy, coppery pink with plenty happening. The lively nose is all pink grapefruit sweet/sour juiciness, topped with a little yeastiness. It tastes drier than expected, with the fizz carrying a sweet edge, backed up by plenty of acid, strawberry fruit and the barest phenolic grip.

Ultimately I liked the character here. It's not wildly intense or long, but stylistically it's a pure rendition of what can sometimes be a wild and rustic style (ancestral sparkling that is). I found myself looking for just a little more oomph (some more skin contact would make this even more interesting) and less sweet and sour, but refreshment was still high enough to enjoy a glass.

Great to see more wines like this in Oz. Power to the innovators! Oh and keep an eye out for more Sassafras ancestral sparklings. There is a Savagnin in the mix next...

Details: 12.1%, Screwcap, $24
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2015-2018
Score: 17/20, 90/100
Would I buy it? I'd buy a glass off a list. That would be about enough.
Buy online: Sassafras website

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Balgownie's new trick - Sangiovese?

Balgownie Estate Black Label Bendigo Sangiovese 2013

Tony Winspear from Balgownie wrote a passionate letter to accompany this Sangio, where he wonderfully described the parched spot where the Balgownie Sangio is planted as 'lizard country'.

Love it.

There's much promise with this Sangio too. As Tony noted, the vines are naturally low cropping (often too low) with small berries and typically good natural acidity (no acid additions needed) producing a wine that Tony's quite proud of.

Fermented in older oak, with careful pre and post ferment maceration to give structure.

Dark red in colour, there is just a little stewed fruit on the nose (a nod to extended maceration), but there is also the classic 'wild berry' Sangio character too. Indeed there is a strong black and red berry streak right through the middle, before a finish of sappy tannins and natural acidity.

Only the fourth ever release of a Balglownie Sangiovese, it needs but a little more swagger (which will come with more vine age) to really kick some goals.

Nice to share the enthusiasm for a new wine.

Details: 14.5%, Screwcap, $29 (Cellar Door)
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2015-2022
Score: 17.7/20, 92/100
Would I buy it? A glass or two would do.
Buy online: Balgownie website

Galafrey Dry Land Reserve Riesling 2014

Galafrey Dry Land Reserve Riesling 2014

I always look forward to the Galafrey wines. That 'dry land' nomenclature isn't just for show; the vineyard is all dry-grown, and typically the concentration improves because of it.

2014 was a warm vintage in Mt Barker and I think this looks just a little fat. Clear green straw in colour, there is a deep ripe fruit width here that is typical Galafrey, though there is this 'Schweppes lemonade out of a can' tinny citrus fruit sweetness that doesn't quite fit. There's a broadness through the middle of this, tightened up by very firm acidity, all making for a sweet and sour style that clunks along. Great intensity of flavour but it doesn't quite reconcile, and the pineappley aftertaste jars too.

Impressive intensity, but not quite a complete drink.

Details: 11.5%, Screwcap, $25
Tasted: May 2015 (sample)
Best drinking: 2015-2028
Score: 16.8/20, 89/100
Would I buy it? No.
Buy online: Galafrey website