Saturday, 29 August 2015

Rioja for the long haul: Muga Seleccion Especial Reserva 2010

Muga Seleccion Especial Reserva 2010

I've been a little slow in updates over the last week or so, spending too much time at Spanish beaches. Can't help myself really.

But back to wine. Sadly I couldn't fit in a visit to Muga when I was in Rioja a week or so back and I'm starting to regret it. The standard '11 Crianza seems to pop up in bars all over the country, belying the mixed fortunes of 2011 (with ease). This Reserva is even better again, albeit so backward that drinking it now is folly.

A blend of 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, with the remainder Mazuelo and Graciano. It spent 28 months in oak, mainly French with a little American. Interesting to see the Mazuelo in there, as it's a grape that few Rioja producers persist with (good for acidity though).

This wine looks deep and thick too - deep maroon red in colour, the nose all purple, cola nut fruit and liberal amounts of expensive cocoa butter and cedar oak. The oak is a bit confronting at this stage of proceedings, dominating nose and palate. Yet there is real depth and authenticity to the thick grained fudgey dark fruit and oak- it's meaty, polished and thickly tannic every bit the modern red in a style that is to traditional Rioja what modern right bank Bordeaux is to the old school style.

Built to live for decades, with long powdery tannins, it is ridiculous to think that I bought a bottle of this in a local hypermarket for just €24. Score is conservative just because this is so undrinkable for now. Drink 2020-2040. 18/20, 93/100++

Details: 14%, Cork, €24 (Spanish retail)
Would I buy it? At this price it's hard not too. I need more space in my bag...
Buy online: Wine Searcher

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Ribeira Sacra - beautifully unusual

I've just landed in Porto, a city which seems even cooler than expected (if heaving with tourists).

It was the detour here via Ribeira Sacra that was the most intriguing though.

The crux of Ribeira Sacra's appeal has to be the vineyards themselves. You can't see it in the photo below, but the vineyards are largely situated on terraces cut into the the slope of the valley walls. In some cases it is just a single row on a single terrace, in a style I've only heard about - up close it's absolute viticulture on the edge, and super cool.

In the flesh, it's great to see some of the top Mencia with bottle age too - we seem to only get a taste of the basic wines back home.

I had a bottle of 06 Dominio do Bibei Lalama last night that had picked up some meaty, bacony complexity yet still retained a core of silky red fruit, with a weight that is akin to some of the 'Burgundy' style Barossa Grenache out there. Colour was still super bright too; a nod to the low alcohol and natural acidity of the style.

Definitely worth seeking out though I couldn't help myself when it was just €22/bottle on a local list.

Tomorrow it's all about Douro, another wine region I've always dreamed about visiting.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Moppity Vineyards Reserve Shiraz 2013

Moppity Vineyards Reserve Shiraz 2013

I'm in Rioja today (more on that later) and whilst the Hilltops seems a whole other world away, it's nice to have an Aussie reference point.

This Moppity won the Shiraz Challenge last year and I can see why - it's a style of immediate impact. A style to win trophies and, I'd wager, fans.

Deep, bright, inky purple. Ultra concentrated slick of purple sweet berry flavours, like a flow of molten red berries and supported by savoury, cocoa powder oak. Intensely purple fruited palate, that slick of fruit surprisingly savoury despite the fruit intensity, though the finish is a Br sweet and oaky. Impressive intensity here though - it's hugely berry fruity and yet still retains a largely dry and long palate. Can see the appeal. Thumbs up. Drink: 2015-2025. 18/20, 93/100

Details: 13.9%, Screwcap, $70, Sample
Would I buy it? A little pricey for that. But worth a glass.
Buy online: Moppity website

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Txakoli - a new addiction

It took two nights to pronounce correctly. but I've landed myself a new addiction.

Txakoli (cha-ko-li).

Poured from a height (for a little CO2 injection) into tumblers thougout the San Sebastián pintxos bars, this tart, low alcohol, greenish white wine is just irresistibly refreshing. Sunday night, in particular, I drank the stuff like water, that combination of acid, a little sweetness and a dash of CO2 making for a wine of amazingly drinkable proportions.

Yet this unusual white (largely) never makes it outside of the northern coast of Spain. Today I'm in Logrono, the heart of Rioja, and Txakoli has now been replaced by Albarino from Rias Biaxas and Verdejo from Rueda.


After drinking shedloads of the stuff I'm now convinced that Txakoli has a place in Oz too. Well, not the Hondarribi Zuria to make Txakoli, but rather the style, and I'm convinced that Hunter Sem could be a prime target.

Imagine, for a second, an early picked (even earlier than normal) Hunter Sem, bristling with green fruit acidity, yet also balanced out with just a little residual sugar. Not enough to taste sweet, but enough to refresh and satisfy, topped off with a fine frizzante to match.

It's a wine that could easily knock most average Aussie/Kiwi Sauv Blanc off in an instant.

But I wonder if it will ever happen. Sure, we love some refreshment, but are drinkers willing to embrace a white wine so fresh and acidic?

I'm still not sure. But while I'm waiting, pass me a copa of Txakoli.


Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Australian Wine Review on tour 2015

Airport beers. They taste much better on holidays

I know it's a given, but have you ever tried to use a full sized laptop in a cattle class airline seat?

It's bloody hard.

Particularly for your elbows (or mine at least), which end up perched awkwardly on the armrests, desperately trying to get comfortable without smashing your fellow passengers in the ribs.


Anyway, the reason for the whinge is that I'm writing this on the flight between Sydney and London, filling in that awkward time after your first movie finishes when you're not quite ready for the next one.

Normally I'd wait to land before writing anything substantial but this flight is different. Exciting different! This is the start of a bit of an adventure - a nine week Euro trip wading through Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany and Greece, stopping off at a whole feast of wine regions along the way - including Rioja, Ribeira Sacra, Rias Baixas, the Rhone and lots of other places starting with R.

To say that I'm excited about this sojourn is putting it mildly - I seriously can't wait. So often my Euro trips are a week or so, with long flights bookending things so much that you barely get over your jetlag.

Not this time!

What this trip does mean, however, is that the posts here on Australian Wine Review are going to take on a different tone. While I've got a bag is full of Aussie wines, the general theme over the next nine odd weeks will be more about places. European places

These posts might be slightly more sporadic (depending on wifi) than normal and possibly with more pictures. More blog, less wine reviews.

As a result, if you don't want to see pics of Spanish beaches and possible me in boardies, best to tune out until early October. Or at least until it's too cold for shorts.

You've been warned...

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

A few hours with Gaia Gaja + 2000 Gaja single vineyard range

You'd think that the daughter of Piedmont producer Angelo Gaja - long feted as a king of Italian wine - would be anything but approachable.

Gaia Gaja is exactly that. Seriously attractive, well spoken and disarmingly approachable.

It's quite unexpected really, and when she came to town recently she willingly let slip plenty of thoughts that your average heiress to a wine empire would never say.

It was excellent.

As for the family winery - I'll admit to mixed feelings. That's largely because the indelible hand of winemaker are a little too dominant in the wines of Gaja. Yet the wines Gaia brought with her, alongside that open and honest personality, had me rethinking my opinions.

Sort of.

It seems a very different time and place now from here at Dookie, but these wines were tasted with Gaia a little while back at a Sommeliers Australia event. What a pleasure it was to see some older wines on taste too, even from an indifferent vintage.

A great afternoon, enhanced by endless interesting tidbits from Gaia herself, like this pertinent little quote that sits nicely with Gaja's history:

'Many producers do things based on their own different crazy ideas.'

These notes are as written on the day. All quotes are from Gaia and I've included some of her throw-away lines, just because they're eminently quotable.

Gaja Rossj Bass Chardonnay 2012
'An unusual way to start a Piemonte tasting. If you make white wine in Piemonte you are second rate'. Bass means low, facing north and Rossj is Gaia's sister. This is produced from two family vineyards. 5% Sauvignon in the blend. 'The Piemonte Chardonnay characteristic is acidity, perfumes tend to be quite floral and fruit is white fruits. The spice here is ginger and something earthy. Spice and anise'
Glowing green straw. White peach and white flowers. Oak plays a big part here and supported by elevated acidity and some grippy oak tannins. Blocky, but propped up with fresh acidity. Long, but a blunt Chardonnay and shaped by oak. Good, but not magnificent - it's a bit hard and oak tannic for that. 17.7/20, 92/100

Beyond Piedmont, the Gaja family also have ventured into Tuscany, in 1994 acquiring Pieve Santa Restituta in Montalcino and following that up with the purchase of Ca'Marcanda in Bolgheri circa 1996.

'Montalcino is the first place my father went. Sangiovese and Nebbiolo share lots of similarities. Nebbiolo is more essential than Sangio. There is more juiciness in Sangio, more fruit in the mouth'

On the challenges of clay soil for Sangiovese: 'Clay soil is a problem for Sangio. The plant drinks a bit. It overreacts and can double in size over a week!'

Pieve di Santa Restituta Brunello 2008
Mid red. Bricking edges. Forward and sticky, it feels a fraction stewed, though the tannins are classy. Drying tannins and a little warmish. Not the greatest bottle? Class underneath but average in the scheme of things. 16.5/20, 88/100

Pieve di Santa Restituta Brunello 'Rennin' 2008
Mid red. Just a little bricking at the rim. Wet bricks and a little stewed fruit. Aggressive and alcoholic palate has some subtleties but the forward nature and lumpy alcohol and acid is not perfect. 16.8/20, 89/100

Pieve di Santa Restituta Brunello 'Sugarille' 2008
Dark red and a little bricking at the rim. The reddest wine of the lineup. This smells the most concentrated of the trio, more red fruit and the alcohol looks better balanced; the tannins finer and the balance quite smart. It's still quite truffled and lacks some freshness, but there's a wildness here too. Quality. Love to see this in a great vintage. 17.7/20, 92/100

Gaia on changing perspectives about wine maturation: 'My father never thought that extra ageing in wood would make a greater wine. Lately I more and more agree with him.'

Gaja Langhe 'Sito Moresco' 2010
'2010 is classic in Piemonte. Doesn't lean in one direction it is very straight. Big differences between cru. Nevertheless I find the 2011 charming.' This is a blend of 35% Nebbiolo, 35% Merlot and 30 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Dark maroon red with a little purple on the edge. Juicy and vibrant, yet still quite even, this feels very Nebbiolo young with that classic Neb tannins but fruit too. Flattering, not too generous but lovely even character. Nice wine, if just a little fruity. Lovely Neb tannins. 17.8/20, 92/100

Gaja Barbaresco 2011
'Barbaresco was always trying to be Barolo but seen as lesser. Part of this is because the king was making wine in Barolo. Also, Nebbiolo continued to be made in tough times... Barbaresco is just 800 hectares, whereas Barolo is much larger. Marine soil in both areas. Older soil in Barbaresco. More sand and softer sand in Barbaresco'
Dark red ruby, just a little lighter edges. Molasses and chocolate here, this is very open and flattering. Alcoholic too. Very tight but also just a little alcoholic. Lovely and open, but not classic. A bit caramelised too. But still classy. I'd prefer the Sito Moresco personally, though that should change in time. 17.5/20, 91/100+

Gaja Langhe 'Costa Russi' 2000
From same slope as Sori Tildin. 'Not as earthy as Barolo'
Deep red, just a little brick in there. Quite open and sweet nose, in lovely shape for a 15yr old! Roses, rose cuttings, the moderate and even gentle palate. It's quite moderate and quite beautiful, tannins still grippy, it's not quite as complex as some older Barolo but such refinement! Gentle and lovely, I could enjoy drinking this. 18/20, 93/100

Gaja Langhe 'Sori Tildin' 2000
Hotter and drier vineyard.
Dark red. Darker than the Cost Russi. Bigger and more meaty than the Costa Russi, the style bigger and has more heft. Maybe loses some joy because of this? Still pretty lovely. More weight. Grippy tannins here - wait another few years! 18.5/20, 94/100+

Gaja Langhe 'Sori San Lorenzo' 2000
This became a blend in 1996 - Barbera is cofermented. 'This vineyard is always bright green even in summer. It's like the salad that is sprayed with water in the supermarket... More limestone in the soil here and wine has more extract... Barbera gives a sensation of roundness... 2000 is very interesting, the Barbera was very useful in 2000.'
Dark red. Return of molasses here, but it hides what is easily the most tannic and youthful style. Can't believe this is 15 years old. Much more grip and swagger, compared to the wines before it this has less emphasis on tannins and more on balance. I love this. 18.7/20, 95/100

Gaja Langhe 'Sperss' 2000
'Wet soil, licorice, soil. In Barbaresco more raspberry, more dark berries in Barolo'
Deep maroon with a little bricking. Wet earth and almost aggressive, this lacks some of the beauty of the Barbaresco, it's much more dark earth and chocolate. Guttural, very late tannins. Not as much beauty here, but the hints of fish oil are very classic. 18/20, 93/100

Gaja Langhe 'Conteisa' 2000
'Nebbiolo is an intimate wine. Tannins are a brush that cleans up your palate. Nebbiolo is so delicate that it hits in the back... I drink Nebbiolo up to 5 years old when it is pretty. Wine is like people. Drink then only after 10. 2004 back now. The 90s are marvellous right now'
Dark maroon. This may be dark but it's a much lighter touch than the wines around it. Caramel chews meet fine gamey flavours. A curious wine - fragrant and quite rustic but delicate. Like this. But is it lacking the carry? Lovely wine regardless. 18.5/20, 94/100

Gaia on older Barolo: 'The 74 when you open it tastes like vinegar. By end of day it was lovely'

About the drinkability of Nebbiolo 'When I go out I devote the whole night to one bottle. A magnum'

Gaja Langhe 'Damargi' 2000
Deep red. Leaf and mulch meets caramel. Unequivocally Cabernet, but perhaps a little bitter. It's just not as juicy and pretty as the wines before it. In rude health but I just don't like its aggression. 17.5/20, 91/100

Ca'Marcanda Promis' IGT 2011
A blend of Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese.
Bright red. Generous and modern. Sweet choc oak and a slightly skittish palate. Simple and plump. Not a Gaja by any measure. Skinny but ripe, defined by caramel oak. A little ordinary. 16/20, 87/100

Ca'Marcanda Magari Toscana' IGT 2011
Bright red and a shade of purple. Choc oak and a modern sweet fruit. Could be from anywhere. Smoky chocolate fruit and just a dull fudgey palate. 16.5/20, 88/100

Ca'Marcanda Bolgheri' IGT 2010
Sweet purple berries. Lots of oak. There's a promising depth to this that the simple and ripe skinnier style before it. Still not a patch on the Nebbiolo but there is some chocolatey weight. Some wild berry pretty fruit here, but a bit same same for higher points. 17.5/20, 91/100

Monday, 27 July 2015

One last time around the Dookie nest

I'm back at uni again this week for what should be my last ever on-campus session at Melbourne University's Dookie campus. It's fun to think about how far things have come since I first ventured down here over five years ago, even though the campus itself is even more of a creaking relic than when I started (some things change, some things just get a bit more ragged).

I'm down here for what is a very entry level subject (Australia in the Wine World if you're keeping score) that I really wasn't sure would be like, largely as going over old ground can be torture.

But this doesn't feel that way. Perhaps it is because I've only got a few more days until my big 2015 Euro adventure, yet I think it is more than that.

Rather, I think it is just fun to be learning again. I don't need a touch up on basic wine concepts, but to watch how someone else breaks down the bullshit language and esoterica of wine has been invaluable, particularly now that I do a bit of teaching myself. I'm learning about learning, if that makes sense.

Further, it's enjoyable just to break out of my normal cycle. Dookie is in the middle of nowhere so we all stay on campus and it just feels like school camp. But for grownups.
A school camp, in the country, with a solid hill to run up, minimal pressure to perform and no shortage of drinkable wines flowing like water. Enjoyable times.

Speaking of, this red came up in tastings today and stuck out because its the best Bowen Cabernet I've had in years.

Bowen Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
It's been a while between Bowen Cabernets for me, but this is a standout. No nostalgia either, as this looked quite modern. Notably aromatic, this all dark berries in a surprisingly fragrant form. The palate is typically Bowen generous, but without excess ripeness, just a long, powdery finish. High quality, riper styled Coonawarra Cabernet that doesn't go over the top. 18.5/20, 94/100

Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2015

Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2015

The bigger brother to the Watervale value champion, though at $22 it's hardly much 'bigger'. Again that's crazy value. Stats: TA 7.4g/l. RS 2.7g/l. pH 2.95

Water clear. Instantly more floral than the distinctively limey Watervale, with a little more white flowers. Dry, composed and chalky palate is reserved, long and really quite gentle given the fruit intensity. Excellent limey, almost sherbety back end and a long finish suggest that this is, again, simply delicious juice for $22. So much to like. Drink: 2015-2026. 18/20, 93/100

Details: 12.3%, Screwcap, $22, Sample
Would I buy it? Oh yes. I'd drink most of a bottle too.
Buy online: Jim Barry website

Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2015

Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2015

That this Riesling can be had for just $18 is ridiculous.

It's great for consumers, but an indictment perhaps on how undervalued Riesling is. Kudos to the Barry family though - it's a skill to make cheap wine as good as this.

Sourced from Watervale, which again is impressive to have a subregion in there too.
A few choice stats for those interested: TA 7.4g/l. RS 3.3g/L. pH 2.96.

No surprises about the colour - water clear. Classic Bickfords lime/lemon cordial juiciness too, with a ripeness that nods to the warm vintage, as if the Bickfords has been turned up a notch. It's still very young, still with plenty of ferment esters on the palate, but the concentrated lime juice and lemon fruit powers on through with absolute intensity. Such intensity for a $18 wine! It seems a little more ripe through the finish this year, but no doubt about the quality - a genuinely delicious white wine at a very impressive price. Drink: 2015-2025. 17.7/20, 92/100

Details: 12.8%, Screwcap, $18, Sample
Would I buy it? Yes. For $18 it's a no brainer.
Buy online: Jim Barry website

Pre-release new Pizzini Sangiovese: Forza di Ferro Sangiovese 2013

Pizzini Forza di Ferro Sangiovese 2013

This is Pizzini's unreleased (comes out in January next year) new premium Sangiovese Forza di Ferro - 'strength from iron'. Great name and a nod to the iron oxide in the Pizzini vineyard soil. It seems to be a barrel selection of the 'standard' Pizzini Sangiovese (now called Pietra Rossa).

Medium red, the power of suggestion makes me think it's more ferrous than the other Pizzini Sangios. Ah the perils of reading the label first! It's certainly the deepest of the new releases.. There are some lovely deep tannins driving this too - serious winemaking and some proper cherry pithiness. The tannins seem more even too - classy. My only qualm is the oak - it's just a little chocolatey and sweet, stamping the finish with oak tannins too. It reminds me of some Chianti Riservas, where the extra density is there, but so is the oak.
Those dry ferrous tannins suggests the structure will outpace the oak integration though, and the length is very good, though patience is required.

Ultimately love the authenticity here - this feels very much like a Chianti Riserva. Drink: 2018-2030. 18/20, 93/100.

Details: 13.8%, Screwcap, $60CD, Sample
Would I buy it? I'd share a bottle.
Buy online: Pizzini website

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Calabria Three Bridges Durif 2013

Calabria Three Bridges Durif 2013

Want red wine you can chew on, for a very fair price? Then Bill Calabria is your man. Bill's 'Calabria Wines' (nee Westend) are constant overachievers in the weight-per-dollar equation, with this typically blockbusting Durif Exhibit A. Nice bloke too, is Bill. Hard-working. Shakes everyone's hands in a room. Always excited. Seems much younger than his age, even though he's had as many wins and losses (I talk more about Bill and his Durif here).

Deep, purple maroon coloured, this Durif is exactly what you expect. Hugely rich (oak and fruit rich) with plum and blackberry jam on the nose, alongside swathes of sweet coco vanilla oak, big purple fruit flavours and a real juicy sweetness. Admittedly it's hardy a subtle wine, the finish warm, the acid high too. But bang for buck this is a star. You just know people are going to love this, in all its unapologetic weight and fill. Recommended. Drink: 2015-2025. 17/20, 90/100

Details: 14.5%, Screwcap, $25, Sample
Would I buy it? I don't think I could drink more than a glass. At least not yet. It's just so... enveloping. But it has a place.
Buy online: Calabria Wines website

Friday, 24 July 2015

Big can be beautiful: Schild Estate PRÄMIE Shiraz 2013

Schild Estate PRÄMIE Shiraz 2013

According to my online dictionary, PRÄMIE is German for 'bonus', but the winery tells me that it means premium. I like bonus better.

Anyway, this is a real heavyweight of a Barossan Shiraz. Sourced from two sites in the eastern Barossan hills, this comes in a heavy bottle, has heavy flavours and a heavy price. Aspirational to the max. Works though.

Dark, purple red in colour, this is loaded with thick, ultra-concentrated mudcake and dark berry flavours. Oak plays a big part on the nose, but it smells like expensive oak (and the fruit seems up the task). There's oak on the palate too, giving richness through the middle and oak tannins to finish, only heaping more flavour intensity onto the ripe plum and berry fruit characters.

Luscious, hedonistic and coffeed, the impact here is admirable, the oak deep, the tannins grippy and real. Big but buxom flavours, there is a real guilty pleasure of a wine like this. Quality wine from end to end. Drink: 2015-2030. 18/20, 93/100+

Details: 14.7%, Cork, $70, Sample
Would I buy it? I wouldn't buy it per-se but I'd drink some. Two glasses.
Buy online: Schild Estate website

Thursday, 23 July 2015

St Hugo Barossa Shiraz 2012

St Hugo Barossa Shiraz 2012

I loved the 2010 version of this Shiraz. Nailed it. One of those wines were you think 'where did that come from'.

But this '12 underwhelms just a little. It's still a rich and generous Barossa Shiraz, but that extra level of intensity and tannins just isn't quite there.

Deep red with a little purple, this is chocolatey and plummy, immediately announcing its Barossa openess. Alongside that fruit is a oak. Maybe a little American oak in there? Certainly some vanilla oak on the nose. Lots of oak actually. Boo hiss on the oak. There's gummy, rather sweet fruit underneath, the style pulpy and barrel sample-esque but also a little confected and simple.

Where is the tannins and length of the 2010? Oak tannins to finish as well. Good, but I expected more. Drink: 2016-2030. 17.7/20, 92/100

Details: 14.5%, Screwcap, $54.99, Sample
Would I buy it? I'd drink a glass or so but better off waiting a year or so for more enjoyment.
Buy online: Dan MurphysSt Hugo website

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Topper's Mountain New England Bricolage Blanc 2014

Topper's Mountain New England Bricolage Blanc 2014

If anything, what makes Topper's Mountain - the undisputed hero of New England (the NSW New England, not the American one) - is just how marginal the whole project is.

Marginal because it's an estate focused on alternative varieties, in what is a high, cool frontier wine region, that has almost no profile to speak of.

Triple the fun.

This typically odd blend just works too, marrying 64% Chardonnay, 21% Gewurtztraminer, 12% Viognier and 2% Sauvignon Blanc in what is a textural, fiercely dry (TA 6.69g/L, pH 3.4) white wine of blinding intensity and interest.

Light straw green in colour, it is driven by that Gewurrz component (Topper's make the best Gewürztraminer in the country), yet also the many layers of Chardonnay and supplementary varieties. Long, slightly sour but refreshing, the wildly intense palate has a gentleness to match the spicy Gewurtz, a hint of peach and melon too before that twist of phenolics to finish.

A multi-faceted wine with beguiling, spicy intensity and texture and flavour, I can't help but admire this. Just delicious. Drink: 2015-2023. 18.5/20, 94/100

Details: 12.9%, Screwcap, Sample
Would I buy if? Sure would. I'd probably drink most of the bottle too.
Buy online: Topper's website

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Hanging Rock Heathcote Shiraz 2010

Hanging Rock Heathcote Shiraz 2010

I'm always impressed by the Hanging Rock Heathcote Shiraz. Classy and deep, the concentration a fair reflection of the mature, dry-grown Hanging Rock vineyard. I wouldn't call myself a Heathcote Shiraz fan, per-se, but this presents a good face.

Dark purple black, this smells of choc bullets and purple fruit, presenting a surprisingly graceful, black fruited wine with a real concentration. It's an oaky, warm and rich beast, but that savoury streak brings you back, complete with a little mint to finish. Effortless blackness and lots of appeal, for anyone looking for some flavour density. Drink:2015-2030. 18.5/20, 94/100.

Details: 14.3%, Diam, $75, Sample
Would I buy it? Not cheap, but I'd happily drink a few glasses.
Buy online: Hanging Rock website

(An earlier edition of this post suggested it was the '12 vintage. Typo fixed! Thanks internet publishing)

Alkoomi Black Label Frankland River Shiraz Viognier 2012

Alkoomi Black Label Frankland River Shiraz Viognier 2012

They don't get much credit for it, but Alkoomi got on the Australian Shirognier train very early in the piece.

Mid red, this is spicy, minty number too with menthol, chilli powder and blackcurrant alongside some cocoa powder oak. It's a cool nose, with a slightly marginal climate feel and with imperceptible Viognier. The palate is sweet and sour too, both warm and astringent, the acid and alcohol both high. There's an excellent intensity of flavour, but the firm and very dry, extractive palate is just a bit awkward for mine. Should sort out better in time, and the length and breadth of the tannins are serious - especially for a $24 wine. Drink: 2017-2024. 16.8.20, 89/100

Details: 14.5%, Screwcap, $24, Sample
Would I buy it? Not yet.
Buy online: Alkoomi website

Monday, 20 July 2015

Craggy Range - believe the 2013 hype (mostly)

2013 Craggy Range Prestige Collection

'We set out to make the finest wines from the start.'
Terry Peabody

A noble sentiment, no doubt, but making fine wines from scratch takes some cash. Indeed Terry (Transpacific Industries founder and entrepreneur) has sunk well over $60 million into Craggy Range for starters.

Big dollars.

You only have to visit the beautiful Craggy Range cellar door and peer out at the wild crags of Te Mata peak to realise the appeal of such an investment. Billionaire or not, that's a dream for many of us realised right there - jealousy-inspiring even.

Still, while the estate is nothing if not impressive, I'd argue that the wines have sometimes looked a little over-made. Almost like all that expectation results in the wines receiving 110% the winemaking - including the resultant heavy-handed new oak.

If ever there was a vintage for that to change, however, it is surely 2013. Described by Terry as the 'best vintage we have had for a generation' it was one of those years where everything came together. As Craggy Range Chief Winemaker Matt Stafford put it at lunch a few weeks back, the key here was that in 2013 the sun really shone:

'I think anyone who lives in New Zealand will talk about the 2013 summer. In 2013, we had two weeks forecast with nothing on the radar. Compared to 2012 when we had to fight to work around rain events, 2013 was just exceptional, and we could pick when we wanted to.'

The only challenge with a year like '13 is that it was too perfect:

'The tendency was to push it too far. We've had vintages where that has happened to us - such as 2002 and 1998 in Hawke's Bay' Matt said.

There's caution about getting too excited about a vintage in the trade too:

'2013 followed a very cold vintage. I think people are dubious about winemakers talking up a vintage being so good when you don't make the when the year before' Matt explained.

Regardless, these new 2013 super premiums are the best Craggy Range wines I've had. Even the Aroha Pinot, which I've never loved, looks more lively this vintage. Crucially, the oak looks better integrated than any Craggy Range lineup yet.

2013 Craggy Range Aroha Martinborough Pinot Noir
1000 dozen produced. 'Sourced from 'our own little midslope' according to Matt. From 2008 more whole bunches included. 40% whole bunches. 13.4% alc.
Dark red with a little purple. Ripe, tomato bush meets tomato and rhubarb with some lifted red fruit too. Initially quite closed and masculine, it opens up into something quite mid weight. A vein of vanilla gives depth through the middle. It's just a bit firm and extractive, but quality is high, before a warmish finish. Fine quality, but perhaps not a truly beautiful wine - yet. It's just so compact and structure-led, the oak tannins a full stop. Every swirl. though. gives more prettiness. Will be long-lived and potential is very impressive. It's just a bit hard for me to give higher marks at present. 17.7/20, 92/100+

Craggy Range Le Sol Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2013
100% Syrah. 18 months in oak, 1/3rd new. 13.1% alc.
Dark purple red, there's a purple berry note, a little hint of meat, before a long, fine-grained and finely detailed palate. There's just a little mulberry here. Structured and deep, it's a firm and long term style, layers of very fine purple fruit, firm tannins but a real freshness too. Easily the best Le Sol yet and look at the oak integration! Impressive stuff, if maybe a little contained as yet. 18.6/20, 95/100

Craggy Range Sophia Gimblett Gravels 2013
'My pick of the vintage' says Matt. 'Lovely dried herb note coming through. We were losing the aromatics in the early years'. 62% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc and a dash of Petit Verdot. 19 months in oak. 13.8% alc.
Lovely fragrance here - that nose of dried herb, coupled with lead pencil. Dried palate has very firm tannins and style. Bone bone dry. Extraction again very high - it's just a bit firm, a filip of vanilla oak too. Long though. Shapely tannins. It's awfully backward and even stand-offish but such class! In time, this will overtake the Le Sol, yet I think right now the Syrah is the wine I'd drink. 18.5/20, 94/100+

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Pizzini Pietra Rossa Sangiovese 2013

Pizzini Pietra Rossa Sangiovese 2013

This is the new name for Pizzini's Sangiovese, with 'Pietra Rossa' a reference to the red stone where this wine is grown. A little Canaiolo in the blend too (authentic!).

Dark ruby with a little purple, this has some ferrous tannins and feels really quite grown up, propelled by a combo nose of red berries, bark and a little Italian sausage. Still sweet red fruited, it's both generous and tannic, every bit the real Sangio, if a fraction sweet and caramelised to finish. Drink: 2015-2025. Score: 17.7/20, 92/100

Details: 13.8%, Screwcap, $28, Sample
Would I buy it? I'd share a bottle for sure.
Buy online: Winestar, Pizzini website

Pizzini Nona Gisella Sangiovese 2013

Pizzini Nona Gisella Sangiovese 2013

Love the revamped Pizzini Sangiovese line. Good packaging too. This wine is named after Nonna Gisella, who was Alf Pizzini's grandmother. Nonna Gisella was 'strong, warm and loving'.

Dark ruby coloured, there is a little leather to go along with the Sangiovese cherry here, an immediate step up the Sangio tree, if still very much a wine of berry fruit. Lovely savoury touch here, making for a wine that couples tangy red fruit, a little vanilla and plenty enough leathery savouriness. Nice, clearly varietal Sangio. Maybe slightly sweet on the finish, but has character and easy appeal. Drink: 2015-2023. 17/20, 90/100

Details: 13.8%, Screwcap, $21.50CD, Sample
Would I buy it? I'd drink a few glasses.
Buy online: Pizzini website

Pizzini Sangiovese Shiraz 2013

Pizzini Sangiovese Shiraz 2013

This is the entry level to Pizzini's new extensive range of Sangiovese/Sangiovese blends. High five Pizzini for having a go at really celebrating Sangio.

On the back of the label this is described as a 'light dry red wine', which is about right.

Light mauve, this smells direct and gently juicy with a little caramelised red berry, black earth and cranberry. Light bodied, leathery varietal characters and a high acid finish mark this as a genuine Sangiovese style, if a simple one, punctuated with a little raspberry sweetness to finish.

Pleasant quaffer, without the depth to challenge for more. Drink: 2015-2021. 16/20, 87/100

Details: 13.5%, Screwcap, $19CD, Sample
Would I buy it? A glass would be enough.
Buy online: Winestar, Pizzini website