Monday, 2 March 2015

Refreshing Loire Rouge: Chateau Pierre-Bise 'Sur Spilite' Anjou Villages 2010

Chateau Pierre-Bise 'Sur Spilite' Anjou Villages 2010

Stupidly, I'm not tired at all tonight, as I managed to nod off on the plane back from New Zealand tonight and slept for just a bit too long. I thought I had it sorted really, convinced that after three days I was on NZ time and my body would just assume it was two hours ahead...

Anyway, this deliciou Anjou is a great distraction for insomnia - as it's just bloody delicious. Imported by Xavier & Lucy at Terroir Selections, it's a 5:50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, from a renowned volcanic vineyard, that captures the beauty of Anjou.

Matured largely in tank, it's a spicy, juicy style yet with some of the most detailed, drying, sophisticated tannins around. It's just a joyful wine really, with an energy that comes from maturation without oak, yet with a length that completely belies the notion that great Cabernet needs oak.

Personally, I could drink loads of this, the 'Beaujolais in pin stripes', juicy-yet-tannic style both refreshing and satisfying, with none of the green edges or confection of some Anjou.

It's perhaps not the most complex wine in the world, but I can't fault the style otherwise. Cheap (in context) too.

Big yes from me.

Details: Cork, $35
Tasted: February 2015. Scored a glass from someone else's bottle.
Best drinking: 2015-2020+
Score: 17.7/20, 92/100
Would I buy it? Would I ever. A perfectly valid Pinot diversion.
Buy online: Oak Barrel

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The essence of dry Riesling joy: Wittmann Morstein Riesling Grosses Gewächs 2013

The essence of dry Riesling joy: Wittmann Morstein Riesling Grosses Gewächs 2013

This is, quite simply, an uncommonly magnificent wine.

I know it's uncommonly magnificent because I had it alongside a whole lineup of great Rieslings - and it shone like a beacon.

The lineup was 'Riesling Unleashed'; a tasting put on by noted Riesling wholesalers Cellarhand. As you can gather, the focus was Riesling and featured a whole swathe of famous names - including the likes of Dönnhoff, Loosen, FX Pichler, Bründlmayer, George Breuer and Frankland Estate.

Importantly, all of these famed estates had their latest, mainly dry, Rieslings on pour, making for the perfect opportunity to try like for like - Grosses Gewächs vs. Grosses Gewächs.

Naturally, given the quality of what was on offer, the bar was set high. The 2013 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle GG was a particular feat of majesty, the steel of a high acid vintage fortifying its structure but the beauty of ripe, white peach fruit giving generosity.

But it was this Wittmann that stole the show...

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Best's Great Western White Gravels Hill Shiraz 2012

Best's White Gravels Hill Great Western Shiraz 2012

This is largely a cellar door only job, but one worth hunting out (though Great Western really is the middle of nowhere, so maybe just buy it online). The memory of the 1997 Best's Shiraz is still lodged within my brain and this has plenty of that classic DNA. Good memories.

While this is sourced from the original Concongella vineyard, it comes from a higher, gravelly spot (the white gravel is a reef quartz), above the winery, planted in the 90s. There's more whole bunch compared to the Bin 1 Shiraz too, giving this more meatiness and less sweet fruit.

It's packed full of Great Western Shiraz goodness too, with that classic plum essence cast in a warm year, fully expressive mode of plum, mulberry and spice. Actually it's quite moderate, coiled and almost black fruited - definitely less fruit driven than the Bin 1. Works too. Still a warm year wine in its thickness, and maybe a little chubby to be great. But still, this has that expansive plum fruit without excess sweetness that makes Great Western Shiraz good.

Score has scope to go up methinks. Like.

Details: 13.5, Screwcap, $35
Tasted: February 2015, Sample
Best drinking: 2016-2025
Score: 18/20, 93/100+
Would I buy it? I'd drink a half bottle no sweat, but it needs another 3 years for the real love.
Buy online: Best's website

Petaluma White Label Pinot Noir 2013

Petaluma White Label Pinot Noir 2013

Ugh. While the white mashup Petaluma label might polarise, at least the juice was ok.

But I think this is ordinary. It shows the difficulty of making balanced Pinot in the Adelaide Hills (in a warm vintage). with a combination of both overripe, hard fruit and minty edges (suggesting mixed ripeness), all topped off with hard acid and noticeably warm alcohol.

An ungainly wine that is genuinely tough going.

Details: 14%, Screwcap, $27
Tasted: February 2015, Sample
Best drinking: 2016-2018
Score: 14/20, 82/100
Would I buy it? No.
Buy online: Mcguires Wines Direct, Winemarket

Out of Step Lone Star Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Out of Step Lone Star Creek Yarra Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2014

This is one of the more tasty wines in the Out of Step portfolio methinks. A fumè, but more 'fumè lite' than the 'creamed asparagus' mode seen in other oaked Sauvs.

Sourced from the Lone Star Creek vineyard (which sells fruit to quite a few notable makers), this was barrel fermented with some lees stirring and a short oak maturation. No surprises that it's reflected on the nose, which is enriched with banana cream and lime, the barrel ferment showing its hand in textural softness. What makes this enjoyable is that the palate balance is very good, the oak and lees backing off to allow more gooseberry and grapefruit acid to remind you of its Savviness.

I didn't mind this at all. That oak is just a little raw, but the 'fruit-with-a-side-of-barrel' style seems quite sorted.

Not bad at all!

Details: 13%, Screwcap, $24
Tasted: Feb. 2015, Sample
Best drinking: 2015-2018
Score: 17.7/20, 92/100
Would I buy it? On a list, I'd drink two glasses of this no sweat.
Buy online: Farmhouse Direct

Monday, 23 February 2015

Lethbridge Allegra Geelong Chardonnay 2012

Lethbridge Allegra Geelong Chardonnay 2012

This sits on the cusp of greatness.

Sourced from the ultra low yielding Rebenburg vineyard at Mount Duneen, this was produced from handpicked grapes, whole bunch pressed to new oak, the natural ferment in barrel followed by 15 months maturation on gross lees in oak.

You can see that absolute pursuit of flavour too, in a wine that has almost too much going on. Too much ripe fruit, too much golden honey and butter oak, too much yeasty fullness. It all makes for a mighty mouthful of Chardonnay flavour, yet perhaps too chunky and without enough acid to be really refreshing.

Full-tilt Chardy, impressive for its concentration, just needing more restraint to be a super hero.

Details: 13.5%, Screwcap, $75
Tasted: February 2015, Sample
Best drinking: 2015-2017
Score: 18/20, 93/100
Would I buy it? Not quite, but I'd drink a glass.
Buy online: Lethbridge website

Bleasdale Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Bleasdale Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2014

By the numbers Sauvignon Blanc, in a clean and bright styl.. If you love the big, sweaty passionfruit thiol driven style, this will be right up your alley.

Freshly mown grass, asparagus and lemon - it's an early picked style, the nose singing with herbal Savviness. Thankfully the palate is not aggressive, just simple lemon fruit with a sour, raw finish.

Distinctive and varietal, but a style that I think is jut a bit tiring after a while.

Details: 12%, Screwcap, $19
Tasted: February 2015, Sample
Best Drinking: 2015
Score: 16/20, 87/100
Would I buy it? No.
Buy online: Winebox Warehouse, Bleasdale website

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Mornington Glory: Ten Minutes by Tractor Estate Pinot Noir 2012

Ten Minutes by Tractor Estate Pinot Noir 2012

This is the best 'Estate' Pinot Noir that Ten Minutes by Tractor have produced. In fact, I like this blend more than some of the more fancied single vineyard wines above it. Just delicious Mornington Peninsula Pinot.

It smells like Mornington Pinot at its best - sap, raspberry, red cherry and just a little hint of proscuitto and eucalypt. There's a wavering on the nose between red fruit and something deeper and more meaty, without losing pinosity. The whole suite of Pinot aromas on show.

It tastes ripe, full and powerful, but again the balancing act of red fruit with a silken tail. There's some late grunt, giving the red cherry fruit some grounding. Still, silken, ripe red fruits are the key here, the ripeness just held back enough to be balanced.

I can't think of much else you'd want in a Mornington Pinot. Deeply satisfying.

Details: 13.5%, Screwcap
Tasted: February 2015, Sample
Best drinking: 2015-2020
Score: 18.7/20, 95/100
Would I buy it? In a heartbeat.
Buy online: Ten Minutes by Tractor website

Pizzini King Valley Riesling 2014

Pizzini King Valley Riesling 2014

Curiously off form here. Close, and has intensity, but just a bit forward and sweet/sour.

Indeed it already shows some development on the nose, the flavours stuck between really intense limey acidity and toasty lime fruit. Lovely intensity, but just a fraction jumbled. Probably just an awkward phase.

Details: 11.9%, Screwcap, $18
Tasted: Feb. 2005, Sample
Best drinking: 2017-2022
Score: 16/20, 87/100+
Would I buy it? Not yet.
Buy online: Winebox Warehouse, Pizzini website

Out of Step Willoughby Bridge Heathcote GSM 2014

Out of Step Willoughby Bridge Heathcote GSM 2014

I like the concept here - Beaujolais meets Heathcote GSM. Fun packaging too.

It starts with a little CO2 spritz, before licoricey, carbonic edged red juiciness with some lovely purple gummy fruit. Juicy, light, a fraction warm to finish, it's a fun, clean light red for immediate drinking, the dry finish giving this enough seriousness to rise above most light reds.


Details: 14%, Screwcap, $30
Tasted: Feb. 2015, Sample
Best drinking: 2015-2018
Score: 16.5/20, 88/100
Would I buy it? Just a bit expensive for that. A glass would be nice though
Buy online: Out of Step Wine Co. website

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Sangiovese - the Australian grape 'also-ran'

Sangiovese - the Australian grape 'also-ran'

(I wrote this article for a print column late last year. Interested to hear if you agree)

Do you know what one of the greatest things about making wine in Australia is?

We can grow any grape variety anywhere.

That may sounds silly but in the classic wine regions of Europe, where regulation dictates what can be grown where (and how), the freedom to plant whatever you please is a real luxury.

What’s more, in Australia there’s a genuine sense of admiration when a winemaker can produce a whole fruit salad of different wine varieties from just one vineyard, with a focus on just a few grape varieties sometimes seen as a commercial hindrance than a specialisation.

There are some grapes, however, that just don’t seem to ‘work’ locally. Grapes that, like Indian cricketers, just don’t perform as well away from home...

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Cloudy Bay Marlborough Chardonnay 2012

Cloudy Bay Marlborough Chardonnay 2012

I'm deep into a cold this week, which means that I can't smell or taste much at all - I missed a vertical of Te Mata Coleraine just this morning, to rub it in. Even the hardcore Codral - the sort kept under the counter) isn't helping.


This Chardonnay, though, I drank on the weekend, before things got bad. It's on the list at the Sydney Open Air Cinema and it's now a go-to drink every visit.

The key to the appeal here is it's old school Marlborough Chardonnay richness, with caramel, biscuit oak and ripe peach fruit very much a part of the design, backed by grapefruit acidity.

The only distractions here is the warmth and slight flab through the middle, which makes it just a little heavy after a while, Still, this feels like the best of last generation Oz Chard - properly ripe fruit, given top shelf oak and built for mouthfeel, yet with acid cut.

Enjoyable drink.

Details: 13.5%, Screwcap, $48
Tasted: February '15
Best drinking: 2015-2019
Score: 18/20, 93/100
Would I buy it? Yes, clearly
Buy online: Dan Murphys, Moet Hennessey website

Monday, 16 February 2015

2015 Sydney Wine Show - Results + Tasting the Winners

2015 Sydney Wine Show - Results + Tasting the Winners

Last week saw the 2015 Macquarie Group Sydney Royal Wine Show (to use the full name) winners announced and, carrying on a tradition that now dates back to 2009, I managed to get a look at some of the trophy winners (and more) firsthand at both the trophy dinner and the exhibitors tasting on Friday.

Now I'm a little closer to this show than many, given I'm on the Sydney Wine Show Industry Consultative Committee (which provides industry feedback to the show organisers) and I admire the rigour with which this wine show is run.

Still, I remain unconvinced that any wine show with large classes (particularly of young full bodied reds) can deliver results that I completely believe in, especially when we see cheap-and-cheerful, fault-free, affable wines take home the silverware, perhaps because they're perceived as better quality than something more serious and less approachable. as Gary Walsh points out:

Then again, it's difficult to argue against a move towards rewarding more immediately drinkable wines really, as for too long we've had oak-heavy, fruit-heavy wines picking up all the medals, almost to the detriment of enjoyment. Ten years ago it was all about structure and impact first, balance and drinkability an afterthought. I can only thank God those days are (largely) over, while the best 'big and beautiful' wines still pick up medals. Seems much more fair.

It does pose an interesting conundrum though - do you judge on outright brilliance or outright deliciousness? I'd argue a little bit of both, but what do I know, eh?..

Anyways, there is much to like in this lot, with the standard, as a whole, pretty damn good.

The following wines then were tasted at the awards dinner and next day at the exhibitors tasting. Sadly I only managed an hour or so at the tasting, which was shit given how much good wine was open in one room. It's an annual regret as I never get to to do it justice.

As a result this was a quite rushed look at the wines. Still, I think I got my head around most of these....

Friday, 13 February 2015

Australia's top Gruners - the annual face-off between Lark Hill and Hahndorf Hill Gru

Australia's top Gruners - the annual face-off between Lark Hill and Hahndorf Hill Gru

Following what has become a semi-regular tradition, today I'm looking at what is arguably Australia's top Gruner Veltliners in a proper face off.

Both of these wines come from the 2014 vintage, which wasn't easy for either Canberra (hot summer and then wet) or the Adelaide Hills (cool, then hot and with a downpour). Still, both wineries seem to have made a good fist of it.

From where I sit this is a pretty well matched contest. I've liked the extra weight in the Lark Hill before, but the freshness of the Hahndorf can also make it an enjoyable drink. In the future I should probably compare the 'Gru 2' (Hahndorf Hill's richer new Gruner, see below) to the Lark Hill, but the Hahndorf has put on some weight recently too. Anyway, It's going to be close.

So, in the white (wine) corner we have the Hahndorf Hill Gru Gruner Veltliner 2014 - sourced from the beautiful (and well located) Hahndorf Hill winery in the Adelaide Hills, the plantings dating back to 2006, the style dry (TA 62.g/L, pH 3.18, 2.9g/L RS) and made using various components, some picked early for freshness, some later, with wild fermented batches too. It's perhaps most akin to the crisp and aromatic Federspiel style (to get all Austrian. Hahndorf Hill's 'Gru 2' is picked riper and built in a more Smaragd-ish style of power and weight). I noticed the Gru picked up a gold medal at the Sydney Wine Show too...

De Bortoli Deen Rverina Bortrytis Semillon 2009

De Bortoli Deen Riverina Bortrytis Semillon 2009

For my money this is the best value sweet wine in the country. No question. In fact, I'd probably choose this over De Bortoli's more favoured Noble One most of the time.

This bottle looked a little lighter than some vintages, but still good. There seems less botrytis this vintage and its caster more fresh and juicy, which puts this in an 'apricots in syrup' form rather than marmalade. It lacks the concentration of its more fancied rivals, but still with energy and 'fruit'.

Simple wine, but in the Botrytis Sem stakes this is a value winner.

Details: 11%, Screwcap, $13.90
Tasted: February '15, Sample
Best Drinking: 2015-2019
Score: 17/20, 90/100
Would I buy it? Yes. I don't buy cheap sticky often, but if I was this would be a go-to
Buy online: Dan Murphys, Qantas epiQure

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sons of Eden Kennedy Barossa GSM 2013

Sons of Eden Kennedy Barossa GSM 2013

I was banging on earlier about drinkability in reds, and this is a prime example of a wine that 'gets it'.

Sons of Eden is the label of Corey Ryan (chief winemaker for Woolworths' huge Dorrien Estate in the Barossa) and grapegrower Simon Cowham (who manages a host of Eden Valley/Barossa vineyards). Between the two of them they see an awful lot of fruit, which is no doubt one of the reasons why this works.

The backbone of this Grenache blend is an old Grenache vineyard at Light Pass planted by the Kennedy family (hence the name), supplemented by Grenache from Rowland Flat; Shiraz from Seppeltsfield and Gomersal, and Mourvedre from Moppa and Light Pass.

Unsurprising, too, that Grenache plays a a starring role in the style, with that Grenachey joy of redcurrant, red licorice and raspberry running riot on the nose. Wonderful smells. It tastes great as well, with more red fruit, light sandy tannins and a gentle, warming finish.

The only thing I can find wrong with this is that's it's a little soft. Otherwise, a bloody bargain of Grenache goodness, without excess acid addition or oak intrusion.

Nailed it.

Details: 14.5%, Screwcap, $25
Tasted: February '15, Tasting
Best drinking: 2015-2021
Score: 18.1/20, 93/100
Would I buy it? For sure. Chorizo and a bottle of this would be hard to resist
Buy online: MyCellars, Winestar

Hugh Hamilton The Mongrel Sangiovese Blend 2013

Hugh Hamilton The Mongrel McLaren Vale Sangiovese Blend 2013

This is described on the Hugh Hamilton website as 'luncheon wine', with a great description of how important good drinking wines are.

Yet this just Sangiovese Shiraz blend feels a little sweet and awkward to be drinking much of. Slick, ripe and tarry, there's a syrupy character to this but without the body to back it up, the palate lightweight and lacking definition or intensity. That missing varietal intensity suggests either young vines (or high cropping), but it still doesn't quite explain the over-sweet, warm, and shallow palate.


Details: 14.5%, Screwcap, $24.50
Tasted: February '15, Sample
Best drinking: 2015-2018
Score: 15/20, 83/100
Would I buy it? No.
Buy online: Hugh Hamilton website

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Cheap Australian Chardonnay - is it dead?

Cheap Australian Chardonnay - is it dead?

It was all about Chardonnay today, with this afternoon's National Liquor News (NLN) panel covering 22 blind Chardies at a whole spectrum of price-points.

The price-point focus is what makes this monthly tasting valuable, as the wines are grouped in blind brackets sorted by wholesale price. As a result, it's an opportunity to taste wines up against their absolute peers, with the line-up typically covering a range of well-known small, medium and large production wine producers.

What today's tasting showed, however, was just how far 'budget' Chardonnay quality has fallen. While the wines from premium brackets (over $25 RRP equivalent) were mostly very good, the brackets covering wines below that were more than disappointing - they were rubbish. More rubbish than when when the same we've looked at Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz or even Cabernet Sauvignon in a similar format.

So what has happened? Why the Chardonnay fall from grace?

There is a project into Chardonnay's popularity in Australia actually (which may be ongoing, I can't find any evidence of a finishing date), supported by the old GWRDC (now the AGWA) and charged with studying consumer perceptions of Chardonnay.

Some of the project studies (a good one here from CSU) show that Chardonnay has been a victim of its own success really, with prices per tonne for grapes falling while plantings has increased - as seen in the figure below.

Monday, 9 February 2015

A good Aussie Pinot Grigio from Pizzini

Pizzini White Fields King Valley Pinot Grigio 2013

Sadly, Pinot Grigio is rather bastardised in Australia, with too many wines that taste either like alcoholic water or some sort of frankenwine, with early picked hard acid and odd sweetness.

This Grigio, from Pizzini, is neither of these things, which is not surprising really given just how seriously the Pizzini family take their Italian varietals.

On that, part of the reason why Pizzini's Italian wines are that much better than many Aussie iterations is actually because of phylloxera, with the family literally forced to replant their vineyard and start again some years ago due to the vine louse being found in the valley.

When they did replant they used more suitable rootstocks, more favourable clones and the right setup. A clean slate, though it would have been painful at the time...

This particular wine comes from White Fields, which is the original name for Whitfields,

Blue Pyrenees Botrytis Riesling 2010

Blue Pyrenees Pyrenees Botrytis Riesling 2010

This won 2013 International Sweet Wine of the Year at the International Sweet Wine Challenge, a lofty title indeed for a wine that can be picked up at the members price of $15.95.

You know what? It's alright too...