Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Five smart new 2012 Shiraz under $30

Five smart new 2012 Shiraz under $30

I actually picked this five out before noticing that they were all 2012, but that's of no surprise. It was a vintage that had many South Australian and Victorian Shiraz makers wetting themselves with excitement. The Eden Road is carried more on skillful winemaking than a superior vintage, marking another success for the Eden Road crew.

Eden Road Long Road Shiraz 2012 (Gundagai)
13%, Screwcap, $28

Unusual fruit sourcing for this re - 92% Gundagai, 5% Canberra and 3% Hilltops. The Eden Road boys aren't afraid of taking a different approach and it certainly works here, balancing up the open easy, grape Hubba Bubba fruit richness (lifted up thanks to a little Viognier) with a dash of whole bunch spiciness. That 15% whole bunch makes plenty difference actually, giving shape and twiggy tannic firmness to what is a quite juicy, lightish sort of a wine. Pretty smart drinking, all said and done.
17.5/20, 91/100
Buy online: Different Drop, Eden Road website

Soumah Shiraz 2012 (Yarra Valley, Vic)
13.2%, Screwcap, $25

Attractive packaging, refreshing wines. That's the Soumah ethos, with this wine towing the light and fresh mode nicely. It smells of black pepper over black plum, the fruit and oak quite full considering the mid weight, cool clime style, the palate carrying plenty of acidity to keep everything quite vital, the tannins quite pithy. Too plummy and oaky to be confused with a Euro Syrah, yet carries the freshness to make it rather tasty. I liked. 17.7/20, 92/100+
Buy online: Soumah website

Veronique Foundation Shiraz 2012 (Barossa, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $22

A new name to me and very sharply priced. Sourced from vineyards in Greenock and Eden Valley, this spent 20 months in French and American oak with just 570 dozen produced. Gee it's impressively full flavoured too, perhaps verging on overripeness with a nose and palate heavy with the sort of boozy, choc bullet ultra concentration (low yields my guess) and sweet coffed oak. For many other Greenock sourced wines you'd expect to pay double this price, making the $22 ultra impressive. Full, decadent and heady, full tilt Barossan Shiraz. 17.5/20, 91/100
Buy online: Veronique website

Chapel Hill Parsons Shiraz 2012 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $16

The Parsons Nose has become more and more of a Chapel Hill Shiraz in recent years, with the house style more evident than ever (which is a good thing). Full red berry richness on the nose, the palate grunty and rather grown up for this price point - big and round and inky. No finesse and less than perfect tannins, but gee this packs a helluva big black fruit punch for the dollars. 16.8/20, 89/100
Buy online: Dan Murphys, Auswine, Chapel Hill website

Taltarni Sparkling Shiraz 2012 (Victoria)
14%, Cork, $26

A new release from Taltarni and already looks the goods. I'm guessing that there is a fair bit of Pyrenees and Heathcote fruit in the blend given the mint and dark chocolate nose. The palate concentration is pretty impressive too, with full and ripe berried fruit before a surprisingly dry, tannic and spearminty finish (which points towards Pyrenees fruit for sure). Quality base wine methinks, with plenty of weight to really carry this forward. I'd drink it for sure.
17.5/20, 91/100
Buy online: Taltarni website

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

'Buttery' Chardonnay - the Hunter's secret weapon (feat. Scarborough's 2011)

Scarborough Yellow Label Chardonnay 2011 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
13.5%, Screwcap, $23CD

When I first entered the wine industry, 15 odd years ago, Chardonnay's popularity had already peaked. It was still the most consumed white wine mind you, but the change had begun, with tastes moving away from Chardy and into more aromatic/lighter bodied white wines.

Of course that shift did result in the (arguably misguided) Verdelho boom of the late 90s/early noughties (poor Verdelho. Always the chubby bridesmaid), but arguably we ended up with a much more diverse white wine drinking diet because of it (save for the overt dominance of Sauv Blanc).

The main casualty of this taste evolution, however, was the rich, oak (and more oak) driven Chardonnays of the 90s, with wines like Rosemounts Oakasaurus (aka Roxburgh) shuffled into an appropriately full bodied retirement.

While this was a good move in some ways (Chardonnay does not need 100% new oak), the swift abandonment of a mainstream full and 'buttery' Chardonnay style left a hole in the market. All those drinkers who prefer softer, more rounded wines were not going to be content drinking dry and sharply defined Sauvignon Blanc, with the Chardonnay styles themselves also becoming drier, leaner and less generous too.

Enter the Hunter Valley vignerons. Despite being regularly viewed more as tourism operators than winemakers, what some of the region's canny winemakers realised was that the full flavoured style of Hunter Valley Chardonnay had a place after all. Sure, it did require some tinkering (like careful oak treatment and MLF retardation), but what producers like Scarborough, Tyrrell's, Mistletoe, De Iuliis know is that many people, myself included, prefer Chardonnay to be rich and ripe, the leanings more towards Montrachet than unwooded Chardonnay.

The results of this regional realisation are plain to see. Mistletoe continues to pick up bags of silverware for their Reserve Chardonnay. Tyrrell's have an ever expanding range of single vineyard Chardonnay, all built full and proudly Hunteriffic. Lake's Folly Chardonnay now sells out as quick as it did back in the 90s.

If you had to pick just one wine to showcase the value of a 'buttery' (which is how such styles are often referred to as) Hunter Chardy, however, it would be this Scarborough Yellow Label Chardonnay.

Back in the late 90s, when the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement first gathered steam, it seemed to the Scarborough family that their Chardonnay would fall out of fashion. Indeed they started producing a 'Blue Label' Chardonnay that was built leaner with less oak and more delicacy in response.

But then a funny thing happened. Instead of ol' Yellow Label dropping away, sales increased. In fact, sales of full bodied Chardonnay went up so much that Scarborough's introduced a third, more premium full bodied Chardonnay into the range, tapping into that demand for full-bodied Chardonnay that wasn't being met elsewhere.

This new 2011 Scarborough Yellow Label Chardonnay is a perfect example of the 'house style' too. Produced from a warm vintage in the Hunter (more of a Shiraz vintage than Semillon) it has that 'buttery' richness that so many drinkers still love. - a combination of golden, 'peaches and cream' fruit and oak, over a palate that is full, low on acid and utterly mouthfilling with its honeyed richness, all without looking sweet or lifeless.

Sure, it's not minerally, it's not finely delineated, it's even a little bulky. But for anyone who can see the charm of Chardonnay with guts, it is a very natural go-to recommendation.

Tasted: March 2014
Source: Sample
Drink: 2014-2019
Score: 17.3/20, 90/100
Would I buy it? Yes. Still lots of pleasure here.
Buy online: Scarborough website, Wine List Australia

Monday, April 14, 2014

The 40th anniversary Wirra Wirra Church Block + a great press release

Wirra Wirra Church Block Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2012 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $25

I love a good press release.

Nailing the balance between being informative as well as injecting a little character into a press release is a skill - a rare one at that.

The team at Wirra Wirra (and specifically MD Andrew Kay), however, seem to be able to turn out golden press releases time after time, channeling the wild creativity that founder (of the modern WIrra era) Greg Trott would be proud of.

For the perfect example of the typically offbeat Wirra press release approach, look no further than the one below that accompanied this new 40th anniversary edition of the famed Church Block red - inarguably Wirra Wirra's most well-known wine.

As you can see, the joy of such a written piece is the weaving of facts in with story, giving much more of a human context to the somewhat cut and dried world of wine production.

I dig it.

Better still, this new Church Block is an excellent budget wine too. 

Still a Cabernet Shiraz Merlot (the blend changing relatively little over the years) it carries the deep purple colours of 2012 McLaren Vale reds with the nose to match - all coffeed oak, super plush fruit and a slippery choc bullet palate. It's just a little warm to finish, which obscures the back palate a little, and more broad McLaren Vale red than defined Cabernet, yet the level of concentration and purple/black fruit lusciousness makes this easy to like and very easy to recommend. 

Unequivocally good rich red wine that will please many. 

Tasted: March 2014
Source: Sample
Drink: 2014- 2020
Score: 17.5/20, 91/100
Would I buy it? On your average pub wine list this would be a shining light of quality.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

April tasting note folder clean-out (part deux)

April tasting note folder clean-out (part deux)

(Probably best to start here).

Tulloch Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (Hunter Valley & Orange)
13.2%, Screwcap, $16

Clean, varietal and bright fruited - what an attractive little wine this is! All dark dusty blackberries and bright Ribena juice. Has lots of flavour, a clean finish and lots to like really - feels earthen and unforced. Really well made and altogether attractive for what is a simple wine. $16 well spent. 16.8/20 89/100

Lark Hill Pinot Noir 2012 (Canberra)
12.5%, Screwcap, $35

I've never been the biggest fan of Lark Hill's Pinots, preferring the aromatics and the (Murrumbateman sourced) Shiraz over this wine. In 2012, however, the stars aligned to provide a fleshier wine without the dry red overtones - a wine of delicacy even. It still has the meaty, smoking chips and dark berry density, but there is a nice cherry push through the middle. Particularly dry, sappy tannins and sharply focused acidity will see this still not everyone's ideal Pinot Noir, but the structure and lines are impressive. 17.5/20, 91/100+

Eden Road Long Road Pinot Noir 2012 (Tumbarumba, NSW)
12.5%, Screwcap, $30

In time, Tumbarumba may well be considered to be among our finest Pinot Noir regions (particularly with a little climate change in the mix), For now, however, it remains a marginal place for red table wine production, as wines like this show. Produced by the boys at Eden Road (who are really on a roll of late, particularly with Chardonnay), there's all the hallmarks of clever winemaking here, just desperately looking for a little more ripe fruit. You can see that in the colour alone, with more than a little orange, leading to fragrant, lightly stemmy nose stamped with the ferrous notes of very cool clime Pinot Noir (think Coteaux de Champenoise).The challenges come on the palate, which has stern acidity and slightly bitter tannins, finishing with a fine boned delicacy. In some ways this is a rather beautiful and fragrant wine, but still, you just can't shake that want for more grape ripeness. 16/20, 87/100

Hither & Yon Nero d'Avola 2013 (McLaren Vale, SA)
12.5%, Screwcap, $25

Light, fun and uncomplicated - the epitome of the Nero style I discussed last night. No thought, just slurpability. Light purple, plum colour. Plum nose and palate. Musky, young vine lack of varietal intensity on the palate which is short, tart and plump with light airy tannins. Needs more intensity to be convincing, but fair promise. 15.5/20, 85/100

De Bortoli La Boheme Act Two Dry Rose 2013 (Yarra Valley, Vic)
13%, Screwcap, $25

Still amongst the best dry rosé in the country, particularly since de Bortoli stopped making their 'Estate' rosé. Coppery coloured, the nose reticent at first but blossomed on day 2. Pink strawberry fruit but not sweet, the palate balancing lightness and acidity with just enough fruit sweetness, the pink fruit and acid warmth a soft but lively finish. Bloody composed and seriously good, serious and savoury pink. 17.8/20, 92/100

Woodstock The Stocks Shiraz 2010 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14.9%, Screwcap, $65

A big McLaren Vale Shiraz with the sort of flavour richness that wins trophies (or used to). Produced from 31 rows of Shiraz planted circa 1900, this is black black in colour - like ink. Super concentrated nose too smells coffeed and syrupy, a riper expression with very unctuous, rather oaky, black sweet coffeed caramel flavours. Inky, porty but not ugly palate is super smooth, incredibly sweet and muscat like in its slightly shrivelled fruit weight. Big boy Shiraz at a big boy price. Still, pulls it off mostly (and deserves the highish score because of it). 18/20, 93/100

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Good drink or good wine? A drinkability discussion feat. a smart new Nero d'Avola

Good drink or good wine? A drinkability discussion feat. a smart new Nero d'Avola

'Nero (is) pretty much always a great drink first, a great wine rarely'

That's the typically cutting opinion of fellow scribe Gary Walsh, talking about Nero d'Avola on twitter yesterday.

Gary is right too (don't tell him I said that), as Nero based reds are typically about fruit, not structure - wines to be consumed, rather than to be consuming.

What's more, it's not just Nero d'Avola that falls into that camp - you could probably say the same thing about Moscato, or Dolcetto, or Soave or even AC Chablis. Simple wines, all of 'em, made in an uncomplicated fashion and loved for their drinkability.

Of course there are exceptions to that rule, with wines like Pra's Monte Grande or the Cos Syre perfect examples of how far such styles and varieties can be taken.

Still, when we exclude the outliers, the standard Soave or Nero is about simplicity, not complication.

On that note, I can't help but ask - is there anything actually wrong with straightforward, fruity wines? How do you score great wines that aren't actually all that complex (but delicious)? Do we need to go looking for complexity, when satisfying drinks will do just fine?

You can probably ask a similar question about beer actually, with plenty of wine people poo-pooing complex beers in favour of simple, 'sessionable', flavourless lagers (not me). Chocolate falls into a similar category; with some of the wildest single plantation dark chocolates much harder to enjoy than basic milk chocolate.

It's a muddy topic though, for there is genuinely a place for both simplicity and complexity.

All of which brings us back to Nero - to this Lethbridge Nero actually, which is the wine that Gary mentioned in the tweet above (and a red that doesn't quite fit the 'simple wine' paradigm).

Lethbridge Nero d'Avola 2012 (Heathcote, Vic)
13%, Screwcap, $42

It's all about the detail. From the careful textures on the label to the 'further recommendations' list of likely suspects. It all points to an awareness of just what can be done - a knowing nod of what is required to make decent wine.

There's finesse in the winemaking too, with a cold soak, wild fermentation in older oak and old school pigeage all making for the perfect context for seriousness.

You know what? It almost gets there too. This isn't just trying to be a good drink, it's pitching for greatness, carrying the plum/blackberry jam fruit thickness and concentration that typifies traditional, 'grown under endless sunny skies' southern Italian Nero, yet also with the fine tannins and savouriness to make for something altogether more grown-up.

Ultimately this is still a bridging wine - too juicy to be a keeper, too tannic to be a quaff. But that's not doing this Lethbridge red justice, as it is genuinely delicious (and that's all that counts). 17.7/20, 92/100

Sunday, April 6, 2014

April tasting note folder clean-out (part 1)

April tasting note folder clean-out (part 1)

It's been ridiculously wet in Sydney today, with the sort of torrential rain that makes bed the place to be (I still went running in the downpour anyway. Idiot).

Besides sleeping, what such indoors-friendly weather is really good for is reorganising things - tidying, filing, reordering, compiling. That sort of thing.

This post then is a little tidy up of my tasting notes folder - a wrap up of wines tasted over the past few weeks that haven't quite made it to the 'publish' stage as yet. 

The notes are perhaps a little shorter than usual, but that's mainly as I've dropped some of the meandering intro bits and concentrated on the meaty wine stuff. Succinctness is an art form after all...
Just some of the tasting notes to be written up

Galafrey 'Savvy' Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Mt Barker, Great Southern, WA)
13.5%, Screwcap, $20
Dry grown - and all the more intense because of it. Water clear, if the bottle wasn't lightly tinted this would be almost water. Grassy nose and lightly grassy palate has good concentration and excellent penetration. Very firm acidity and a bit raw to finish. Pretty serviceable Savvy in the full and ripe, mega varietal grassy mode. 16.5/20, 88/100

Cirillo 1850 Old Vines Grenache 2009 (Barossa, SA)
14.2%, Screwcap, $50

Typically complex and deep old vine Grenache this, if looking big, quite forward and tarry this vintage. I think this is just a bit too compressed and concentrated to be great right now, but clearly an animal of power and weight. Going to need time to unravel though as it is broody and ultra savoury. Tough love for the moment. 18/20, 93/100+

Cirillo Vincent Grenache 2012 (Barossa, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $20

While the 1850s Vines is all about concentration, this is sheer Grenache prettiness - with lively cranberry red fruit flavours and fine tannins. It's a joyful little wine with some tarry wildness too. Barossa Burgundy in a bright and generous early drinking style with plenty of savouriness too. Not quite as serious as the Old Vines wine but more pleasant to drink now. 17.7/20, 92/100

Willow Bridge Solana Tempranillo 2012 (Great Southern, WA)
12.9%, Screwcap, $28
Tasted blind. Surprisingly ripe and liquered given the alcohol, though also vibrant and carries some half decent acidity. Intrigue.Rather juicy and red fruited, if sweetly oaked. Is that alcohol right? Looks much warmer than 12.9%. Could it have been better with more concentration? Certainly fresh and mid weight. 17/20, 90/100

Lark Hill Auslese Riesling 2013 (Canberra)
9.5%, Screwcap, $30 (375ml)

For all of its Auslese labelling this looks really quite dry. Not quite Auslese Trocken but certainly not as sweet as expected. Slightly volatile, concentrated and super citrussy nose - real mandarin concentration there. Dry and citrussy palate is rather crisp for an Auslese style, much more mid weight and looks rather less driven by botrytis than many German Auslese (clean too, save for a last minute botrytis hit). Airy finish - a little short maybe? Good without quite nailing it. 17.5/20, 91/100

Singlefile Porongurup Riesling 2013 (Great Southern, WA)
12%, Screwcap, $29

Harder than it should be.Sherbet and talc on the lean, grapefruit acid driven nose. Curiously, the palate is both slightly forward and also raw, the acidity bristling and jagged vs the quite demure and chubby fruit. Acid wins over balance. 16.2/20, 87/100

Alkoomi Chardonnay 2011 (Frankland River, WA)
13.5%, Screwcap, $21 

Always reliable wine this. Creamy, nutty, lightly buttered Sao yeast and barrel nose, the creamy palate topped off with crisp acidity. It's a little winemaking heavy - and that oak ain't for everyone - but otherwise impressive Chardonnay for bugger all dollars. Great length too. 17/20, 90/100

De Bortoli Deen Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Various)
$12.90 13.5%

Solid wine. Absurdly cheap. Dusty, genuinely varietal nose, the palate driven by pressings and added acid with some residual sugar sweetness. Raw to finish but plenty of flavour and clean and seriously varietal. Green tannins the only drawback. Fair. 15.5/20, 81/100

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The glorious 2010 Guigal La La's - totally unaffordable benchmark Syrah

Tasting the 2010 Guigal La La's - totally unaffordable benchmark Syrah

Boom! The 2010 Guigal La Landonne hits you like a freight train, all brutish tannins and huge flavours, the wine almost mocking you for daring to open it so young.

Still, although it is the least approachable Shiraz/Syrah I've had in some time, there remains enough magic about it that makes you want to drink it - not just stick it in the cellar. You're compelled to drink it even, just to revel in that massive structure and perfect lines.

But gee its expensive. Circa $700/bottle expensive. So expensive that you need to step back and have a rethink about what's in front of you in the glass - is it really that good, or is it simply a case of getting caught up in the emotion of tasting a famous wine, from a famous maker, in a famous vintage?

I say yes. Actually, if I had enough money I'd be stocking up on all three of these new 2010 La La's, for they're seriously brilliant wines.

Of course I can't afford any of them - I was only gifted the opportunity to try these three wines thanks to the Working With Wine Fellowship; a biannual education programme (run by renowned wine importer Negociants Australia) that famously offers Australian 'wine professionals' the chance to taste the great wines of the world in a set of seminars led by industry experts.

This Guigal trio was the centrepiece of Tuesday's first seminar of the 2014 Fellowship, the tasting including a spread of CNdP; a line up of Hermitage; plus a few great Australian Shiraz. Better still, Aussie wine luminaries including Tim Kirk (Clonakilla); Louisa Rose (Yalumba), Iain Riggs (Brokenwood) and John Duval, plus Phillipe Guigal (Guigal) on hand to talk us through the wines.

In other words, great wines and smart people to talk about it. An awesome day.

The wines

All of these were tasted non blind relatively quickly. Extra background bits in italics. Scoring proved more challenging than expected...

Guigal La Mouline 2010
89% Syrah, 11% Viognier. From what is the oldest vineyard in Cote Rotie, with a single hectare of vines, including some plantings dating back to the 1890s. 42 months in oak.
Is it wrong to call this pretty? Very fragrant, with ham, dandelion and some sort of expensive perfume on the nose, though with less force and much more openness than either of the other two, complete with just a hint of herbs. It's almost gentle on the palate, mouth filling and open and very pretty - such an unforced red. You could smash a bottle of this already! Such fragrance and beauty for what could be a monsterous wine unexpected really. Silky palate and quite grainy tannins let this flow beautifully. Near perfect. Actually, some warm alcohol is the only filip. Beautiful. 19/20, 96/100

Guigal La Turque 2010
93% Syrah, 7% Viognier, Sourced from the Cote Brune with circa 35 year old vines. 42 months in oak.
Certainly less fragrant and more masculine than the La Mouline. It seems a little more subdued, more tannins and more grip. Still, there is a long, rare roast beef chocolatey richness here. More mystery than the La Mouline yet without the fragrance - riper and fuller. Cocoa on the nose, the palate channels kidney and some meaty wildness, the Viognier giving late flesh. Maybe more masculine, less smashable than the La Mouline, but the tannins are more mature and longer. Exceptional depth and power but perhaps a little less sexy and perfect compared to the La Mouline. Bloody hard to choose between them. 18.9/20, 96/100

Guigal La Landonne 2010
100% Syrah. 100% whole bunch. 42 months in oak. 'A little more than normal produced in 2010' according to Phillipe. 2500 bottles produced. 
Massive wine. Has a huge nose of enveloping stems that is quite unlike the other Cote Roties - it's almost Australian in its brawniness. Such extract here - it almost laughs at you, a big beefy red with chocolate flavours and heroic, live-for-50-years tannins. In the longer term this will be the winner of this trio but untouchable now. Unbelievable tannins. Superstar tannins. Aggressive tannins perhaps. But woah. Magnificent wine. Benchmark resetting wine. 19.2/20, 97/100

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Two superb new Rieslings from WA's Great Southern

Two superb new Rieslings from WA's Great Southern

Now here's a new name to look out for in the world of WA wine.

Snake + Herring is the catchy label of marketer Redmond Sweeney and ex Howard Park (and Millbrook Estate) winemaker Tony Davis, the wines made using contract fruit sourced from prime vineyards throughout the Great Southern and Margaret River.

While the range includes a very smart Chardonnay (and others), it is this pair of Rieslings that are ultimately the end game, with the label first started largely as a vehicle to produce Great Southern Rieslings.

What i like most about these wines is the combination of ripe fruit and acidity - with no acid additions and with a portion fermented naturally in older oak, the wines seems juicier, softer, less aggressively dry than many other Australian dry Rieslings, all without losing the penetration.

If pressed I think I like the Mout Barker wine just a fraction more, but it's a close run thing - both hit the spot. Fairly priced at $28/bottle too.

Snake + Herring 'Teardrop' Riesling 2013 (Mt Barker) 12.5%

There's a lees/oak/yeast derived fleshiness to this wine that makes it almost cuddly. Almost. Still, the main flavours are all cut lemon and grapefruit, which is entirely classical for Mt Barker Rizza. The palate is slightly forward with a 'big fruit' richness of flavour that made me think of Jeff Grosset's Springvale Riesling, although less limey and more grapefruit sherbet. After such a full palate this finishes dry, and clean - everything in its right place, though still a little wilder than the Mt Barker norm. A lovely wine, my only qualm is that it might be just a little forward (though many '13 Mt Barker Rieslings are); Nice drink regardless. 18.1/20, 93/100

Snake + Herring 'High + Dry' Riesling 2013 (Porongurup) 12.5%

From the outset the stamp of the Porongurups is evident here, with the custard apple/white pepper aromatics and stony acidity that typifies Porongurups Riesling. There's some slightly outré wildness here too, which only adds to the interest. The grapefruit and white melong palate doesn't quite have the affability of the Teardrop Riesling - it's a little more edgy than that - but the acid profile seems even more natural and focused. Lovely wine, again. 18/20, 93/100

Monday, March 31, 2014

Kicking off #QldWineWeek with 2 very different alternates

Kicking off #QldWineWeek with 2 very different alternates

Today is the start of #QldWineWeek, a (now annual) week-long celebration of all things Queensland wine, first started with a pilot project last year and now growing into something much bigger (hopefully).

Firstly though, let's address the elephant in the room...

'They make wine in QLD?!'

That was the response I got just this afternoon after announcing that there would be plenty of QLD wine in the Graham household this week. Such an attitude, sadly, reflects the challenges that QLD wines are burdened with, as the common perception is that the 'Sunshine State' is simply too warm to grow winegrapes.

In reality, there are several QLD regions that are winegrape suitable, with two spots standing out - the Granite Belt, straddling the Great Dividing Range in the far south of the state, and the South Burnett, located inland NW of Brisbane.

Importantly, both are actually much cooler and less humid than the warm and moist coastal regions QLD is best known for, with the elevation of both regions helping to slow things down. Heck, they get snow in the Granite Belt on occasion! Vintage rain is always an issue, however, and disease risk is high which makes vineyard vigilance so very important.

Perhaps the bigger issue, however, is simply how young and relatively unserious many QLD wineries are. There are but a handful of producers with a real focus on high quality wines, and the isolated nature of both regions means that tourism is still in its infancy. Worse still, the perceptions of the QLD wine industry are often shaped by the wineries located closer to the coast, many of whom make their money in weddings, not winemaking.

Such challenges are part of the reason why #QldWineWeek is important, for it offers us a week-long excuse to highlight all the good bits about QLD wine - and there are good bits to be had.

Now, before delving into tonight's wines, a shout out to the Brisbanites that helped make this #QldWineWeek thing happen - Stu Robinson, Peter Marchant, Michael Ellis and Steve Leszczynski. Kudos to you all.

As for the wines - fittingly, the two I opened tonight illustrate the highs and lows of QLD wine; the variability and the potential.

Ballandean Estate Saperavi 2012 (Granite Belt)
15%, Screwcap, $42

Ballandean's first ever Saperavi, from a plot planted in 2009. Ballendean are QLD's oldest producers with one of the better reputations, with wines first made on the property in 1932. The Ballandean estate is located just off the New England Highway not far from the QLD/NSW border.

What's great about this Saperavi is how authentic it is - you can just see the classic inkiness of the variety at every turn. Deep blood red colour, with viscosity evident from the legs alone, this has a deep and intense berry nose - luscious and tarry. Bold and inky palate has loads of treacly concentration, polished with sweet oak vanillan and fine grippy tannin.

An intense, typically monstrously proportioned Saperavi, this is more of a fruit bomb than a strictly structured Sap. but has no shortage of dried fruit concentration, licoricey furry undergrowth wildness and topped with a bitter finish.

Genuinely interesting and altogether impressive.
17.7/20, 92/100

Clovely Estate Left Field Sangiovese 2013 (South Burnett)
13.5%, Screwcap, $22

Clovely is undoubtedly one of the stars of the South Burnett, just needing time to hit the high notes. The Left Field range is utilised for the winemaking experiments.

This wine, sadly, looks odd. It's a Beaujolais inspired Sangio with a colour that is more light red cordial than red wine. It smells light too - of lightly candied red fruit that doesn't quite fit with Sangio. There's some nice florals but they're all too fleeting before a palate that tastes meaty, beefier and warmer than expected, finishing spiky and awkward too, just to confuse everyone.

Ultimately this is an experiment that I just don't get. Still, if that floral juiciness on the nose could be harnessed this would be a winner...
14.5/20, 81/100

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Glaetzer-Dixon überblanc Riesling 2013

Glaetzer-Dixon überblanc Riesling 2013 (Tasmania)
11.9%, Screwcap, $26


Every vintage this überblanc gets a little more finessed, a little more pure, a little more... right. This year the balance is near perfect in a Tasmania via Mosel style, though with less phenolics and more delicacy than your average dry Mosel Trocken, despite spending 9 months on lees and with 25% of the fruit seeing some skin contact.

It smells of pepper, green melons and celery, though with enough citrus to stop everything falling into unripeness, the palate gentle with an initial sweetness that fans out cleanly and effortlessly. It's perhaps a little light on the concentration, but great composure and freshness.

Source: Someone else's bottle.
Tasted: March 2014
Drink: 2014-2020
Score: 17.7/20, 92/100
Would I buy it? Yes.
Buy online: Cracka Wines, Glaetzer-Dixon website, Wine Searcher

Knappstein Shiraz 2012

Knappstein Shiraz 2012 (Clare Valley, SA)
13.5%, Screwcap, $24

The best Knappstein Shiraz in years.

Coffeed, well integrated oak, big plummy fruit and an open heartiness. For all that fullness it's actually quite well built too with robust tannins and a hearty finish. Hardly a nuanced wine, but has density and flavour in an old school Clare Valley way.

Great value.

Source: Sample
Tasted: February 2014
Drink: 2014-2020
Score: 17.5/20, 91/100
Would I buy it? Recommend yes, buy? Not quite - just a little raw for that. Many will love this so don't mind me.
Buy online: Cracka Wines, Dan Murphys, Grays Online, Winery website, Wine Searcher 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Topper's Mountain new releases

Topper's Mountain new releases

Tonight I have the new releases from Topper's Mountain on the bench, with both wines again showcasing the blinding intensity that this fine New England producer is famous for (and great packaging too).

Actually, the only hurdle to the success of these unusually detailed, acid driven wines is that the styles and blends don't quite feel complete, with winemaker Mike Hayes and vigneron Mark Kirby still fiddling in the quest for greatness.

Regardless, I can't praise the varietal intensity of these wines enough. It's rare in an Australian context to see such definition and liveliness each and every year, especially given that the vineyard is in a marginal climate on the spine of the Great Dividing Range at 900m altitude (actually rain has interrupted the pick just this week, with the 2014 Nebbiolo harvest under threat).

Topper's Mountain Gewurztraminer 2013 (New England, NSW)
$35, Screwcap, 12.8%
Classic essence of Gewurtz nose - piercing, earth shattering detail, complete with musk and lychee fruit notes without ever looking overripe. What a stunning nose! Near perfect even. But the palate is just too dry. Achingly acidic even with the sort of spine-tingling, enamel stripping natural acidity that many makers require boatloads of tartaric to emulate. It ultimately makes for a very refreshing package, but a brutally dry one too, without quite the flesh to really back it up. I do wonder if a little malo would be useful here? Still, remarkable length and that nose is absolute perfection. Remarkable wine in context.
17.5/20, 91/100

Topper's Mountain Red Earth Child 2011 (New England, NSW)
$38, Screwcap, 13.4%
A blend of Nebbiolo, Shiraz Tempranillo and Tannat, with this blend changing according to the whims of the year.
It smells.. like dirt. Red, baked earth and coffee grounds, which is a character you also tend to see in certain Mudgee reds too (and is quite intriguing) - no surprises where the 'red earth' name came from. While thus its more of a site expression than variety, the Nebbiolo is still mighty noticeable, with high cherry tones, tannins and acidity aplenty, though then filling out with deep palate richness too. Think Northern Piedmont meets Mudgee (or something in between) and you're on the path, everything finishing with firm acidity.

An intriguing, distinctively regional wine, it took me a while to warm to this, but gee there is charisma aplenty. A wine to admire, if perhaps a divisive drink.
18/20, 93/100

Pizzini Sangiovese 2012

Pizzini Sangiovese 2012 (King Valley, Vic)
13.5%, Screwcap, $26

I've always struggled to love the Pizzini Sangiovese. It's clearly well made and such, but it always feels short of a length (without the bounce).

This 2012 is fun, but you kinda want more than fun for $26. There's a dusty nose - a little reductive too, which is never good for Sangio - over some nice pretty red fruit underneath in the lighter shade of the spectrum. The juicy palate is all fruit, with light tannins and a slight lack of shape, possibly as a result of the ordinary vintage (2012 in NE Vic ended up very wet), but also surprising for what has been a more structured wine in the past.

Ultimately an easy-going Sangio, but doesn't do enough more.

Source: Sample
Drink: 2014-2020
Score: 16.5/20, 88/100
Would I buy it? Not quite.
Buy online: Dan Murphys, Cracka Wines, Pizzini website, Wine Searcher

Calibration Cabernet: Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 2008

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 2008 (Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France)
13%, Cork, circa $300

I'm calling this is a recalibration wine, just to remind what a super second like Ducru could do in a tricky vintage like 2008.

It all starts with deepset oak and a fudgey richness - loads of oak and extract. Quality, coffeed oak, but loads of it none the same. Serious oak even. There's some of the classic St Julien cedar, but also the headiness and bitumen of the warm vintage, with just a little desiccation.

In contrast, the palate starts classically, fine and refreshingly tannic, but it gets warmer and less perfect as it goes along - the hot vintage corrupting the Bordeaux structures. Still, those long, powdery tannins, the endless finish - it's all top of the tree stuff, if not quite as perfect as it could be in a truly great vintage..

Personally, I don't love this and don't think I could drink it anytime soon. Yet you can't help admire it and score it appropriately.

Source: Tasting
Drink: 2014-2030
18.5/20, 94/100
Would I buy it? No. But I can admire it.
Buy online: Dan Murphys, Wine Searcher

Monday, March 24, 2014

$30 Shiraz off - 2012 Hugh Hamilton Rascal vs Old Plains Power of One

$30 Shiraz off - 2012 Hugh Hamilton Rascal vs Old Plains Power of One

A very simple premise for tonight's tastings - two South Australian Shiraz, both from 2012 and both retailing at circa $30.

As befitting the reputation of the vintage (11/10 for many South Australian producers. Enthusiasm abounds) this pair of reds looked very strong. Impressively strong really given that $30 isn't a helluva lot of money.

Better still these are two quite different wines - different enough to appeal to divergent drinkers methinks, and I'd recommend both (for very different reasons).

Hugh Hamilton 'The Rascal' Shiraz 2012 (McLaren Vale, SA)
15%, Screwcap $29.50

What a big, inky beast this is, carryingies that concentrated, licoricey blood plum richness that you often see from Shiraz sourced from the warmer parts of McLaren Vale. Importantly, there is no hint of overripeness in this luscious, dense and licoricey red, although the alcohol does give a warm kick through the finish.

A big, concentrated ripe red (and proudly so), this bombastic wine may be just a little too heady for me to love, but no questioning that it offers a shedload of flavour for $30. Drink sooner rather than later and revel in the power! 17.5/20, 91/100.
Buy online: Hugh Hamilton website

Old Plains Power of One Shiraz 2012 (Adelaide Plains, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $30

The latest of Dom Torzi's 2012 reds to hit the market and gee this is another affable, loveable beast.

Sourced from some forgotten old vineyards in what is now outer Adelaide suburbia, the key here is that smoothness of texture that all of Dom's reds show. Much of that comes from great fruit, but ably supported by carefully coiffed vanilla oak which adds further layers of milk chocolate decadence to the whole packgae.

While the Hugh Hamilton wine wins you over with absolute force and extract, this wine is all about texture, the style sweeter and all together more rounded and voluptuous if not quite as intense.

Intriguingly, I don't think you don't really pick this as being from the 'inferior' Adelaide Plains until somewhere near the finish (which is just a bit rugged). In fact, if I had of told you this was a Barossa Valley floor Shiraz I don't think you'd bat an eyelid (I wouldn't).

Leveraging to good effect the joy of ripe old vine Shiraz in a very good year, this is about the best advertisement for Adelaide Plains wines that I can think of. 18/20, 93/100
Buy online: Old Plains website

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A flying trip + Voyager Sauv Sem, Bird in Hand Chardonnay and new StHallett Shiraz

I'm off to Perth tomorrow for the ultimate flying trip - 9 hours flying (round trip) for lunch, tasting and dinner...

Suffice to say Australia is really f*cking big. The wine should be worth it though, with the promise of multiple vintages of Houghton's Jack Mann on offer (and plenty of reading time on the plane. That's what planes are for - reading, sleeping and watching movies you'd bother sitting through at home).

On the bench tonight

Voyager Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2013 (Margaret River, WA)
13%. Screwcap, $24

Voyager - still killing it. This is as well made and 'fit for purpose' as ever - all bright, punchy, ripe fruit (proper ripe) and acidity; the nose all Sauvignon, the palate fleshed out with Semillon. Why would you drink a mono-dimensional straight Sauvignon Blanc when you can get a much more grown-up wine like this? A wine of fruit (not complexity) but wonderful because of its freshness and balance. Yes.

17.5/20, 91/100
Buy online: Winery website, Aussie Wines

Bird in Hand Chardonnay 2012 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
13%, Screwcap, $35

A curious wine this. So much promise, yet also not quite the follow through. There's a warmish edge that suggests the fruit might be just a little riper than desirable. The nose and barrel work looks assured so I don't think the winemaking is the culprit. Could be a slightly cooked bottle? Especially given the pineapple flavours and a smudge of volatility. No shortage of palate weight, but just a bit spiky and sharp edged regardless.

16.5/20, 88/100
Buy online: Cracka Wines, Bird in Hand website

St Hallett Butcher's Cart Shiraz 2012 (Barossa, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $30

A brand-new label for St Hallett started In honour of the original Lindners and their horse drawn cart. Looks to sit in between Faith and Blackwell in the St Hallett Shiraz heirarchy.

Gee this is going to be a popular wine - a real essence of Barossan style. Purple black colour, the nose oozing with sweet juicy purple fruit - liquid purple fruit/choc drops. Very careful vanilla bean oak, and so much cola sweet fruit. Riotous juiciness. Looks like American and French oak? Lovely sweet juicy palate is full and plump, if maybe the teensiest bit skinny and short of tannins. Regardless, this is a truly seductive, ultra-smooth wine that will be unbelievably popular. St Hallett kicks a goal.

17.7/20, 92/100 - probably worth an extra point or so in a few months too.
Buy online: St Hallett website

Dinner: Isole e Olena at Balla

Dinner: Isole e Olena at Balla

Sometimes this wine writing gig has its upsides. Sure the money is almost mythical, the prospects limited, the hours long. Yet at least you get to eat and drink well.

Or at least that's how I justify it...

A recent dinner with Paolo de Marchi at Sydney's Balla happily fell into the last category, providing the sort of food/wine/company combo that makes it all worthwhile. Now if only I can work out how to use wine to pay rent...

The venue: Balla, Steve Manfredi's 'osteria' located within The Star precinct.

Who: Isole e Olena proprietor Paolo De Marchi, with the event arranged by Ian Cook from Five Way Cellars, in conjunction with The Star and Negociants (Australian importers of Isole e Olena). Steve Manfredi was on hand to talk through the food (and confess his love for Paolo's wines).

Crowd: Mainly consumers, who had all paid to attend the dinner. I was a glad freeloader.

Food: The ravioli and bistecca, in particular, were big highlights - seriously good. Lovely 'Tuscan inspired' flavours on offer, which just made me want to go even more (Chianti is on the cards for August, Bring it).

Story: This is Paolo's 38th year of winemaking. he 'hopes to be able to relax a little bit soon'.

He really doesn't seem to be slowing down though. Rather, he's very keen to push the wines of his son, sourced from the original family farm in northern Piedmont.

Said vineyard is located in the foothills of the alps 'between Val d'Osta and the big lakes' and is actually a forgotten gem, as Paolo explained:

'This was an extremely important region and then it changed. 98% of vineyards lost to phylloxera and never replanted. Small properties and a textile industry that was flourishing meant pragmatic vignerons forgot about vineyards and didn't replant. Now less than 1000 hectares across 12 appellations.'

There has also been considerable change in Chianti, where the main estate winery is located, with a huge shift in the nature of land use.

Much of it happened very quickly too, as Paolo described:.

'From the 50s to the 60s Chianti moved from a medieval economy to a modern one, with and average of 120 people working per farm in the 50s, and by the 60s it was 14 people'

The change came on the back of a cultural evolution too, with wine evolving from 'food for the peasant' to a legitimate business focus.

While Paolo loves to talk about Piedmont, his lifelong focus ultimately remains rooted in Tuscany:

'My story is understanding Chianti'

The wines:

My expectations were high (and I have some Cepparello in the cellar) and the wines delivered. These are charismatic and genuine wines reflective of their maker and region. I didn't quite love the Nebbiolo pair but I can fully appreciate the style and mode. A personal preference thing perhaps.

These wines were all drunk over dinner (ie with food and at a leisurely pace). Background notes in italics...

Isole e Olena Collezione de Marchi Chardonnay Toscana IGT 2011 (Tuscany, Italy) $65
Chardonnay was introduced as a blending grape, intended to help lift up the basic Tuscan white blend - what Paolo called 'an ordinary wine style' (largely Trebbiano based). The Chardonnay was eventually kept separate.

Quite a heavy oak nose. Lotsa oak. Full barrel flavours and a sulphide funk. Maybe a bit obvious, replate with firm oak tannins (which is not much fun in a wine like this) but has length and a fine acid backbone.  17.5/20, 91/100

Isole e Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2010 (Chianti Classico, Italy) $38
This includes a little Syrah, planted to help give something to the blend. 

What a delicious wine this is. An ad for Chianti if ever there was one. It doesn't have the complexity of Cepparello or even the power of similar Brunellos. But gee this is pure and beautiful - all red fruit, minimal oak and sandy tannins. Energy and juiciness in a savoury form. I came back to this at the end of the tasting and no doubting it's a simpler beast in this company, but a beautiful one all the same. Buy buy. 17.8/20, 92/100

Isole e Olena Cepparello Toscana IGT 2009 (Tuscany, Italy) $100
100% Sangiovese, sourced from the estate vineyards in the northern part of Chianti Classico. Aged in French oak barrels.

According to Paolo 'Sangiovese is not forgiving when you make mistakes'. The secret to the success of this wine is all about the best Sangiovese fruit. 

Oak swathed all over the nose. Initially I thought this was too oaky, the oak obfuscating the palate. Thankfully I left my glass and came back to a point where the oak seems to meld into the quite black fruit. It's still a flashy wine - maybe not flashy for Tuscan reds, but flashy for 100% Sangiovese - though clearly the sandy tannins are all Sangio.

Ultimately I loved this wine. It feels so ageless and intense and lively - a wine that will continue to be seductive for decades. The only question remains whether some wildness has been lost at the expense of such oaky polish? I still can't mark it down, regardless. Superstar Sangio. 18.7/20, 95/100

Isole e Olena Cepparello Toscana IGT 2008 (Tuscany, Italy) $100
Already open and ready to drink, the extra evolution of this warm year wine really helping the drinkability. There is all sorts of welcome meaty, blackened chilly and pulled pork smoky wildness here that perhaps makes it a better wine than the 2009. Very Italianate regardless. Meat and meat. Slow cooked ragu. Expressive. I love the open and grandiose Italianate wildness, though clearly it just seems a little uneven compared to the 09 - the acid and tannins a little less fine (though this seems much less oak framed). Ultimately this is another top Sangiovese and a very fine drink now. 18.5/20, 94/100

Proprietà Sperino Uvaggio Coste Della Sesia Lessona DOC 2008 (Piedmont, Italy) $45
Sourced from Paolo's son Luca's vineyard in Lessona. A blend of Nebbiolo with the earlier ripening Vespolina and Croatina. 

Licoricey. Highly toned. Slightly vegetal. All front palate and sucks up through the finish. Misses the grandiose of Barolo. Lots of acid. Quite wild. Has fennel and pepper intrigue, but as a drink this isn't quite long enough. Warm finish. Not quite even enough and needs ripeness to fill the holes. Still rather pretty and full of intrigue. 16.8/20, 89/100

Proprietà Sperino Lessona DOC 2005 (Piedmont, Italy) $100
Straight Nebbiolo and treated more like a traditional Barolo, with a long natural ferment and extensive barrel ageing in a variety of barrels and big oak.

Syrupy at first - pushing the ripeness. Ferns and undergrowth as well as blackness sounds like real marginal fruit. The brackish palate plays the black spice card and teeters on the brink of ovrer-ripeness. Long lived and furry palate starts full but tightens up into slighly astringent tannins. It feels like two wines really - a really rich soft red attempting to be a dry and dusty Nebbiolo. You just want for more phenolic ripeness here ultimately. Still, there is some refreshment and it will live forever. 17/20, 90/100

Isole e Olena Cepparello Toscana IGT 2007 (Tuscany, Italy) $100
From a very warm vintage in Tuscany.
Choc mocha oak. Milky and leafy with a warm hearted core. Feels a little forward and stunted in this company. Coffee. Malt. Cocoa pops. Flat and open and warm. Length not quite of this class.

Isole e Olena Collezione de Marchi Syrah Toscana IGT 2007 (Tuscany, Italy) $90
Leaf and mulch and black pepper. A little horsey, overlaid with cocoa powder. Flirts with underripeness before the oak kicks forward and scores this a big dry dark choc goal. Has intensity but a little bound in itself and oak. Probably worth an each way bet here as it has genuine character and will likely only get better. 17.7/20, 92/100

Isole e Olena Cepparello Toscana IGT 2005 (Tuscany, Italy) $100
In cork. 'We tasted two bottles and people understand why we use Screwcap'. 

A bit of VA and menthol but rather meaty and firm. All bacony secondary. Smoky and little fruit compared to wines around it. Quite bitter and gruff. Is it a wonderful drink? Rather hard and smoky. The ordinary bottle? I see flashes of goodness, but otherwise it looks off key. 16/20, 87/100

Isole e Olena Vin Santo Chianti Classico 2004 (Tusany, Italy) $90
'The lazy winemakers wine'. The quite neutral fruit (Malvesia and Trebbino) for this is air dried, put in small barrels on used lees then sealed for 7 years. VA can be a big problems with this style as Paolo wryly notes 'Sometimes Vin Santo likes to be a sibling of balsamic vinegar'. Apparently this was a very warm year and a simple wine initially, made complex with some of the wildest barrels (hence the volatility). 

Honey, golden syrup and spirit. Ditto on the palate which has Muscat like levels of sweetness rounded off with caramel oak. Bold but beautiful. How can you not love this ? Perhaps it is too simple? Hard to knock otherwise. 18/20, 93/100

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Coriole Redstone Shiraz 2012

Coriole Redstone Shiraz 2012 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $20

Love the new packaging on this Coriole! Superman here we come!

Seriously though it's smart packaging that stands out. Better still the wine is exactly what you'd want in a $20 McLaren Vale Shiraz. 

A bright red colour, this is juicy sweet from the get-go, all berry fruit on a ripe and joyous palate. Sweet oak plays a part in raising the affability, but otherwise its just pure Shiraz fruit generosity. Not a serious wine, with little tannins and a sweet finish, but I challenge anyway to doubt the absolute appeal (and genuine fruit intensity) at a very fair price.


Source: Sample
Tasted: March 2014
Drink: 2014-2019
Score: 17/20, 90/100
Would I buy it? Not quite. But I'd recommend it in a heartbest.
Buy online: Coriole websiteWine Searcher

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Top shelf Mornington Pinot from Montalto

Top shelf Mornington Pinot from Montalto

This trio of wines has sadly been sitting at the back of the sample pile, somehow falling into the 'neglected' department. After tasting them I dutifully owe Simon Black and the Montalto team an apology - they deserve much more love than that.

Firstly, some context about the wines - following the trend of Mornington Peninsula makers like Stonier, Ten Minutes by Tractor, Yabby Lake and Main Ridge and the like (everyone really), this super-premium Montalto range is sourced from a range of different blocks located around the peninsula, with each block vinified separately to give a distinct terroir expression. 

Happily, they are all quite different wines too, with their own distinct characters and flavours. Not having tasted the wines previously I can't comment on whether such characters are consistent with each site, but no questioning the different personalities on offer.

Better still, the quality is markedly high, which just makes spotting nuances all that more enjoyable - I'd happily empty a few glasses of any of the three... 

Montalto Merricks Block Pinot Noir 2012 (Mornington Peninsula, Vic)
13.1%, $65

The sappiest of the trio and perhaps the most feminine and aromatic, this site is multi-clonal and sits at 55m in altitude on a north-east facing slope. Perhaps the most classically regional wine of three and certainly the most delicate, with a real pure red fruitiness and refreshment. Perhaps lacks the drive of some of the other wines but still a beauty.
18/20, 93/100

Montalto Tuerong Block Pinot Noir 2012 (Mornington Peninsula, Vic)
13.6%, $65

The earliest Pinot Noir block to ripen as its located at the warmer northern end of the peninsula. Planted exclusively to MV6 at 30m elevation.North facing slope.

Darker, redder and more soapy this looks a bit more raw and bold in the context of the other two. Still a Pinot built with a very light touch, though more meaty and masculine with bolder tannins. Handy, but maybe a little more aggressive and warm for real love. Certain to look good with more bottle age though. 17.5/20, 91/100+

Montalto Main Ridge Block Pinot Noir 2012 (Mornington Peninsula, Vic)
13.1% $65

Sourced from the oldest block (planted in 1990) at the higher, cooler part of the peninsula, this is closed, smouldering and structured. Easily the most complete wine of this trio with the most staying power - a real step up in concentration. Really impressive balance between red fruit and drying tannins. Lovely, classic Mornington Pinot Noir needing very little. Potential to score even higher in 12 months time. An utterly impressive Mornington Pinot. 18.5/20, 94/100

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Gambero Rosso tasting: Central and Southern Italy

Gambero Rosso tasting: Central and Southern Italy

The Gambero Rosso wine juggernaut finally reached Australian shores today, with the 'Top Italian Wine Roadshow' stopping off in Sydney town for the first ever.

As a result, I spent the afternoon perusing the wines of a range of Italian wine producers that were quite unknown to me, with a significant portion of the wineries on show having no representation within Australia. It was quite refreshing to approach a producer with little preconceptions about quality or reputation actually, even though the odd tacky label gave some of it away...

By the same token, the lack of information about where producers were from made comparisons bloody hard work. Stands were setup alphabetically, which makes sense in the scheme of things but still didn't help for lesser known makers.

Yes, that is a cruise ship back there
A high point of the afternoon was the masterclasses, which involved some shit-hot wines indeed (and they were free. Which means they were very well attended). I spent an hour or so at the Central/Southern Italian masterclass, covering a wide gamut of styles and flavours.

If the tasting gave up anything, it was the reminder that even maligned grapes like Trebbiano can be magical in the right hands. Cheap too.

Now, I have no idea of prices, nor availability for any of these wines (sadly). The newly released 2014 Gambero Rosso might have such info but I totally forgot to buy one...

I've put any background information available in italics. Notes are as written (hurriedly) during the tasting and naming came straight from the tasting booklet.

Valle Reale Trebbiano d'Abruzzo Lupe Reali 2012 (Abruzzo)
100% Trebbiano. Organic. 

Rather floral for a Treb. Chalky and phenolic palate - excellent grip and intensity. Lovely salty tang to finish - really pithy and fresh. Ripe but minerally. Gives away some of its ripeness with a pear fleshiness before finishing with grip and superb length. What length! Excellent refreshment and expression. Delicious. 18/20, 93/100

San Salvatore Pian di Stio 2012 (Campania)
100% Fiano. Biodynamic.

A burst of flesh but it is also a slightly blocky wine - it's a bit foreboding with bitterness. Would be a lovely wine with salty seafood. By itself this doesn't quite satisfy - a bit firm. Just a bit brutal. 17.5/20, 91/100+

Cantine Rallo Bianco Maggiore 2012 (Sicily)
Awarded a 'Best value' award in the 2014 Gambero Rosso. 100% Grillo. Sells for just 7 euros! 

Fun and open nose - pretty and a little honeysuckle. At first this seems a bit broad and cheap tasting, but the finish is dry and classy, flecked with a passionfruit fruit line. Pretty damn good for 7 euros! 17/20, 90/100

Baglio di Pianetto Ficiligno 2012 (Sicily)
Sourced from a 'warm part of Sicily'. A mix of Viognier and Inzolia. 

Pretty nose - well handled nectarine fruit. All aromatics, the palate is juicy and bouncy, without quite the penetration. The finish is pretty and lively and there is this lovely fruit juiciness. A simple wine, but also charming. 17.5/20, 91/00

Tenute Sella + Mosca Vermentino di Gallura Superiore Monteoro 2012 (Sardinia)
100% Vermentino. Old vines. 

Really quite nutty and a little musky. God you could smash this! Intensity is off the charts - chewy and intense. Hardly elegant but powerful with a compact salty finish. Wonderful. Not noble but beautiful. A big, flashing ad for Vermentino. 18.1/20, 93/100

Vigne Surrau Vermentino di Gallura Superiore Sciala 2012 (Sardinia) 

Not quite the wonder of the first wine - a bit flatter and cheaper tasting. Pleasant though - charismatic pear flavours. 16.9/20, 89/100

Tenuta Ulisse Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Nativae 2012 (Abruzzo)
Organic. Wild ferment. Montepulciano. 

Really quite pretty!  Lovely juiciness - direct. It's a young wine but a well made one, light but not awkward with a pretty raspberry fragrance and fruit. This is bloody delicious. Not complex, but delicious light-mid weight red. 17.8/20, 92/100

Villa Medoro Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane Adrano 2010 (Abruzzo)

Ink and oak. Masculine, new leather. Robust and sweetly oaked finish. Feels modern and creamy. Lacks the love of the last wine, though it will get there. Furry and undergrowth and warm and modern. Not the love, this feels a little nondescript. 16.8/20, 89/100

Castorani Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva 2009 (Abruzzo)

Burnt coffee oak on the nose. Lots of oak but has the extract and balls to carry it up a notch. Great, sticky tannins. A slight overripe edge but still a big, brown sugar richness too. A chocolate wine! 17.8/20, 92/100

Cantina Tollo Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Cagiolo Riserva 2009 (Abruzzo)

Ah this is better! Coffee oak and ground nuts but has an extra level of grace. Sweeter and more bacon fat, yet also a little more finesse. Not the blocky tannins but excellent ageless finish. Clever. 17.9/20, 92/100

Di Majo Norante Molise Aglianico Biorganic 2011 (Molise)

Leather. Bark and cloves. Surprisingly light touch considering the black meaty tannins. Marvellous black spice and Christmas cake. Maybe slightly overripe but has an elegance to! Perhaps little simple? Hits some amazing black fruit notes though. Marvellous! A finish that goes on for hours! Idiosyncratic but hugely intriguing charismatic style. 18.5/20, 94/100

Torrevento Castel del Monte Rosso V.Pedale Riserva 2010 (Puglia)
100% Nero di Troia. 

Such concentration! Black like coal. Mushroomy and wild too. Feels a bit straight-laced on the palate. Too linear? Clever though. I could warm to this. 17.5/20, 91/100+

Leone De Castris Salice Salentino 50 Vendemmia Riserva 2010 (Puglia)
Nero Amaro. 

Slippery and black. So much juicy blackness. Comes through in a big black licorice rush but just pulls up a teensy but lacking through the finish. Glycerol rich and juicy, but a concocted wine in many ways. 17/20, 90/100

Cantine Due Palme Salice Salentino Rosso Selvarossa Riserva 2010 (Puglia)

Smoky, toasty oak an bitumen dried back fruit. Lovely juicy blackness. Expensive oak. Creamy edges. A little too creamy and modern? Pretty sexy though.. I liked it. Small doses though. 17.7/20, 92/100

Vigne + Vini Primitivo di Manduria Papale Linea Oro 2011 (Puglia)

Slathed in oak. Coconut oak. A cream sandwich. Silky palate. Hedonist liquid chocolate palate. But it's a falsity - it's oak juice. So close, yet so far - too much sweet oak. Add on a few points if you like wine richer and don't mind a little OTT sweetness. 16.5/20, 88/100

Tenute Rubino Punta Aquila 2011 (Puglia)

Juicy and simple, looks black and licoricey but a little short and has some feral meatiness. Lesser in this lineup. A very cheap wine methinks. 16/20, 87/100

IGreco Masino 2011 (Calabria)
Nero d'Avola. 

Black and alcoholic. Representative but feels quite commercial and simple. Black fruit but also has a skinny finish. A cheapie methinks.

Cusumano Sagana 2011 (Sicily)
Nero d'Avola. 

Has a smoky nose - really juicy and open. Very modern. Big tannins and big alcohol. Very international. Has a place but hard to drink. Inky blackness and big flavours. But I couldn't finish a glass. 16.8/20, 89/100

Firriato Santagostino Rosso Baglio Soria 2011 (Sicily)
70% Nero, 30% Syrah. 

Slighlty reductive and über commercial. Lacks much love but certainly packs a black fruitiness. Simple beast. 15.5/20, 85/100

Settesoli Cartagho Mandarossa 2009 (Sicily)

Lovely. Has some beautiful smoky pepperiness and 'garrique'. Has a wildness and extra comolexity of sticky black fruit. Lovely black tannins too. Sense of mastery here. Lamb roast friendly! Quite new world even. Delicious wine though. 17.7/20, 92/100