Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Wednesday in the Blue Pyrenees

Blue Pyrenees Chardonnay 2007 (Pyrenees, Victoria)
RRP $20, Stelvin Lux

I was once a massive fan of this winery - such delicious, intensely flavoured wines at excellent prices. The premium Chardonnay in particular was a stunner. Then they just disappeared back into the Pyrenees (On that, what is happening with Knights Granite Hills of late? Another great winery MIA).

Anyway this turned back up again with some new packaging and resplendent in a Stelvin Lux, which I have decided is tacky and cheap looking, not to mention looks more fragile on the inside with its rubber threads looking rather fallible.

This Chardonnay though is quite good - A rather brassy, old school style with some rich nougat fruit on a leesy, worked bouquet. Its rich, a little too oaky, but impressively concentrated with some lovely cool climate fruit on display.

Interesting to see this in another yrs time - Its a little chubby and obvious at the moment, but there is no doubting the fruit intensity. 17/20

Blue Pyrenees Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Pyrenees, Victoria)
RRP $20, Stelvin Lux

If you don't like Eucalypt (and many don't) tune out now. For the nose announces its regionality with a flourish. The nose is minty, slightly oaky but there is clearly dark berry fruit in there as well. On the palate their is spearmint, blackberry, black plum skins and then tannins, tannins tannins! Its like a tannic bomb is dropped somewhere in the mid palate and it then explodes, flooding your mouth with mouth closing tannins that are only just ripe. There is fruit in there too, but it is locked away behind the tannins.

So if you like old school Victorian reds and have some patience, this wine is for you. It may take yrs for the tannins to resolve (actually this may live for decades), but there is unquestionably fruit underneath it. If you don't like a bit of greenness or don't 'do' Eucalypt in wines, skip it completely. This gets a Silver Medal for its intensity at least. 17.2/20

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Living the life in the Yarra - Day 2

Day 2 and it was an early appointment at Hillcrest Vineyard - A micro vineyard of just a few hectares in the heart of the new uber sub region of Worri Yallock. The emphasis here is on the classic stars of the Yarra - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet, with some seriously old (38yr old) vines on show. We tasted from barrel, we tasted from bottle, but the results were the same - consistently high quality. An artisinal producer doing top things. My favourites were the 06 Premium Cabernet & 06 Premium Chardonnay, with both needing genuine cellar time to show their best. Hillcrest are a name to watch in the Yarra - David, with the help of Phillip Jones, is doing amazing work - but they don't need my praise, the wine sells itself (and quickly too - check out their website and get in before its gone -

The only wine that didn't do it for me was the 04 Estate Pinot Noir - its stemmy, ripe and unmistakeably Pinot but it lacked the x factor - the fruit is just that little bit weedy, the palate that little bit austere & there is a meatiness to it that is not completely convincing.

This leads me to a couple of generalisations about vintages - The more 04 Yarra wines I tasted, the less I like them. The 04's are thinner, meatier, developing quicker and unbalanced compared to the vintages around them. I can't say I tried an 04 wine that did it for me during the entire 3 days. The 05 vintage on the other hand is marked by rich and vibrantly full wines - in the riper end of the spectrum , for reds in particular 05 was a stellar vintage (in my books). There seemed to be some smokiness though that we picked up in a couple of 05 Pinots that jarred, but it was confined to only a few examples (just try before you buy).

Comparing this to 06 and 06 seems to be the purists vintage - like 99 was to 98 in much of south Australia or 91 is to 90. The wines as a whole (and the Valley was awash with new vintage 06's) where tighter, lighter and without the ripeness of the 05's yet also without the obviousness too. For some producers this just translated as lighter, lesser wines. For others this meant more fragrance and more structure. As a whole I like the 06 vintage wines. As for 07 and 08? Many producers made almost no 07 - a challenging yr in the Valley, with widespread frosts combined with drought, although many championed the quality. I would be reserving my decision until more wines are released (we only tasted a handful of 07's, mainly whites, none where terribly impressive) but it definitely seemed like a lesser vintage. 2008 looks like a return to the norm, with good weather and good yields.

Anyway, I digress. Next port of call was a step back in time. From an ultra modern producer embracing old methods, to an old producer that embraces old methods - Yarra Yering. It seems we where fortunate to find the place open, as this cellar door is often not. We where even served be the man himself Dr Carrodus!

Everything about the place was old school - the handwritten wine board, the 70's wine chest, the very old (for the Yarra) gnarled vines. The wines are equally a step back in time, with minimalist packaging (none of that screwcap shit here!) and wine styles that seem etched in stone. But there is also a little magic too: Magic that comes from knowing your vineyard and your own wine intimately. Rockford have exactly the same thing going - Its a 'This is how wine should be made' type aura that eminates from the place, and from very first sniff its obvious. The wines are something else (and brutally, sometimes riduculously, expensive).

The first wine was the 06 Chardonnay ($75) - carrying some bizarre oxidative, flor like aromatics and backed by a faintly cheesy, rustic, yet texturally brilliant palate. A peculiar wine, I am still undecided about whether it actually 'works' or not. The next wine was the 06 Viognier (a staggering $150 a bottle, making this the most expensive Viognier in Australia & up there with the worlds most expensive). Again it has some oxidative handling on the nose, with an ingrained Viognier varietal Apricot character that is powerful, yet restrained. The palate is textural, rich and mouthfilling, charismatic & unquestionably varietal, yet riddled with odd, sulphury flavours. Its probably a better drink, but the dollars are flippin ridiculous. From here we took a tour of the bewildering blends - No.1, No.2, Agincourt, the Underhill Shiraz and a Merlot (a $150 Merlot), with Dr Carrodus installed behind the counter giving curt explanations about the unusual blends. Suffice to say I loved the wines - the Cabernet blends where these perfectly formed tannic reds with a savoury absolute perfection about them. No OTT fruit richness here, just perfect balance. The Dry Red No.2 Shiraz Viognier/Marsanne was one of the most impressive Australian Shiraz Viogniers I have had in a while (topped only by the 06 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier I had in March), the Potsorts an unusual fortified with character and flavour.

I escaped with just a bottle of Dry Red No.1 under my belt (at $75) but I would have readily bought more of the Potsorts, Dry Red No.2, Underhill Shiraz and the Agincourt. I just couldnt afford it!!

Next stop was also in 'Gruyere' (though I think this is the Coldstream sub district - just to confuse things) and to a winery that I thought would be one of the highlights Coldstream Hills.

Now I have enjoyed more than one bottle of wine from this label before and came with high expectations. Expectations that I'm sad to say, didn't eventuate. The cellar door is modern, well set out and they have the super duper gas machines that make sure you never have an oxidised wine at the cellar door. Kudos also to the very friendly staff.

The range stretches from sparkling right through to Cabernet and there is no doubting the consistency - the base wines in particular are typically bright, polished and fresh, with the Chardonnay & Pinot showing as good examples of the grape, the Cabernet is normally a favourite of mine.

But on this occasion, everything was lacking.

The reserve wines are just expensive ($75) the Reserve Chardonnay the only highlight. The Reserve Pinot to me seemed worked, light and simple. Even the standard Cabernet seemed lighter and lacking concentration. We left disappointed (not helped by the $5 tasting charge) and I was worried - the wines seem manufactured and 'big company-ish' without the restless hand of James Halliday stamped upon it. Especially when compared to next door....

Next door to Coldstream Hills is a little winery known as Warramate - A very small operation with some fabulous old vine (planted in the 70's) resources at hand. The vines are dry grown and the original owners bedroom comes off the cellar door. Its all quaint, hands on and even the labels are a little old fashioned. But don't be fooled, behind the superb view lies some vinous intent - The Shiraz here is some of the Valley's best (and best value) and the rest of the range is smart and exceedingly well priced ($20ish a bottle!). The Cab Merlot is sinewy and lovely, the Black Label Shiraz and Cabernet are good drinks. But its the Shiraz that steals the show. - The $45 2005 Shiraz is beautiful - savoury, spicy, full of licorice and dark fruits. Its balanced, with understated power and @$45 its a fair bargain compared to its neighbours. Highly recommended indeed.

From here it was back to Healesville and the new monolith to wine that is the Giant Steps megacomplex. Its a winery/restaurant/bar/fine fooderie/cellar door all rolled into one. And at lunchtime on a Saturday it was cranking. The beats permeating through the great hall were loud, the waitstaff young and very tidy, the pizzas flowing (there is even a proper Fromagerie). If anyone has been to the Little Creatures brewery in Fremantle, then you will see alot in this Giant Steps cellar door/winery/restaurant thing. Phil Sexton, the genius behind Matilda Bay, Devils Lair & Little Creatures is the man who made this and he really, really knows how to sell things. The winery itself lies the other side of a glass wall, the stainless tanks and concrete floor staring through the glass as if they were in another world in outer space.

Anyway, the pizza was good, service was enthusiastic and some of the Giant Steps wines were worth a look. In particular the Giant Steps Tarraford Vineyard Pinot 2006($35) - an alluring and sexy pinot with depth and style. Ditto the Sexton vineyard Chardonnay. Good stuff. Another nice shiraz here to top it off - a peppery Miller vineyard Shiraz($27) that whilst it wasn't quite up to the Warramate, was a nice enough drink. Stop here for lunch, and don't miss the Moscato if you need a change. Its open till 10 at night too, and the wine list is good (and they have some yum Little creatures beer too thanks to Mr Sexton's WA connections).

After too much Pizza, it was time for an afternoon nap before the nights instalment of excess....

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Living the life in the Yarra - Day 1

The Yarra Valley - home of Napa styled glam sham tourist region of drunken bus trips, perfectly manicured Rose gardens & forking out to taste average Pinot's.

Or at least that is what I thought. After 3 days ensconced in this famous wine region I can attest that this isn't the case - what a happy surprise for that I spotted nary a drunken Bucks party on the whole trip & only paid to taste once. I think we picked a good, albeit chilly, time of yr to visit, as we were often lone visitors at cellar doors (and hence got remarkably good service from behind the counter).

Besides the wines we managed to visit a fair handful of Yarra eateries and (thanks to some helpful local advice) really scored some wonderful dining experiences. More on that below.

As an aside, being a Sydneysider I was amazed at how close the Yarra is from Melbourne - its basically outer suburbs!

We finished off our few days in the Yarra at the Craiglee open day (glad I went) and a drive down the Great Ocean Road (didn’t make it to the damn Apostles though).

Day 1 started at lunchtime, which for us was the first stop on the road from Eltham to the Yarra valley - the iconic Chateau Yering and Yering Station. Lunch was at the Chateau's Sweetwater Cafe, which prepared a near perfect char grilled scotch fillet ($28) and some of the best service we encountered in the entire trip. Couple this with a lovely old building and the ambiance is set. Top notch.

From here we sauntered across to the Yering Station cellar door. The service here was enthusiastic and we basically had the place to ourselves. The 04 Yarrabank Sparkling ($40) was the starter and I think it is suffering from the vintage, as it lacked the richness and complexity of previous releases. In the Yering Station range the 06 Chardonnay & 06 Shiraz Viognier ($25) where both standouts for value and style – well made wines at good prices. The range is suitably extensive & I was entertained by the spicy, fortified Shiraz to finish. The 06 Pinot ($25) was less enamouring: dry, lean and lacking in generosity (Could be a bad bottle though).
Onto the Reserve wines starting with the 06 Reserve Chardonnay: A good worked style, though not worth anywhere near the $75 asking price. The 06 Reserve Shiraz Viognier is just a tad too simple and ripe for me – I can understand why it wins show awards, but it could be from almost anywhere, and its poor value when placed next to the ‘standard’ wine.

Overall though this was a positive cellar door experience, with genuinely interested staff and a consistent range of wines. Well worth a visit.

Next stop was Oakridge Estate, which had all its trophies written up on the wall for the 06 Chardonnay (6 at last count) yet it wasn’t for tasting. Thankfully the rest of the range was, with the cheaper ‘Over the Shoulder’ Cabernet Merlot 06 ($20ish) impressing for its perfumed, easy drinking interpretation of Yarra red, the 06 Pinot ($32) also impressing for its purity & pinosity. The winner in this lot though was the Shiraz 06($32ish) – A lighter, quite delicate white pepper style in a mould that I have also seen in the 06 Hunter reds (and rather like). As Gary Walsh says, these are ‘wines that work hardest for you on the dinner table’. Even Dave Bicknell’s Sauvignon Blanc was articulate and tasty – he's a talented man.

A minor crowd at this cellar door (3 people) and the cellar door staff again were friendly and accommodating. Sorely missed the taste of the 06 Chardonnay & the 864 wines though. Especially as the stuff was stacked up in a pyramid of wine, resplendent with its trophies sitting on top, dispelling any ‘we are almost out’ theories.

That night saw us at ‘The Terminus ’ in Healesville – a forgotten nightmarish flash back to an 80’s bistro that only had three wines in the place ‘A Merlot or a Semillon SauvignonBlanc or a Chardonnay’ of unknown parentage – or at last unknown to our friendly waitress, who also informed us that she would not recommend the Salmon as ‘A lot had been coming back lately’!
We should have run for the hills, but we stuck it out, and the food was actually quite edible.

With not a drinkable wine in sight, even in the attached bottleshop (smack bang in the middle of a wine region, with a winery literally at the end of the street) we then ended up at the Healesville Hotel which felt like returning home to a warm house after digging ditches in the snow – a solid wine list, a knowledgeable local behind the bar and what looked like fine food. Damn it!

Here I enjoyed a Clonakilla Viognier 2007 ($15 a glass) – from the ravaged 07 Canberra vintage, yet not suffering on the quality front. Tim Kirk’s Viognier is such an impressive wine in the lighter, fragrant end of the Viognier spectrum (as opposed to the more richer, textural style of Condrieu) but without losing any intensity. Peach fragrance, with a dry, even chalky apricot skin edged palate. Top stuff.

To follow this was a Macforbes Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2006 (also $15 a glass - steepish) which was everything as expected - a deep, firm & slightly stalky Pinot with stewed plum and red cherry fruits. It just had this murky depth to it that I very much enjoyed.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Dinner at Cactus Blue

Last night we visited Cactus Blue in Cremorne (Sydney), a restaurant that has been a favourite of ours over the past few yrs thanks to its excellent food + its location and BYO policy.
The steak in particular is always impressively good & I have never been disappointed with the quality of the food, however the service oscillates wildly between good and farcical.

Last night it fell onto the farcical side, as we amusingly watched our waitress f*ck up nearly every job she had to do. Lucky the food was tops.

Anyway, we enjoyed a De Bortoli Reserve Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2003 which was drinking at its prime. A complex, leesy, worked Chardonnay with obvious barrel ferment weight to the palate and lemon toasty development thanks to a few yrs bottle age. There is a faintly cheesy lemon character that I have noticed before in these De Bortoli Yarra Valley Chardies that is quite distinctive but not for everyone. Needless to say I appreciate it. Rating 18.4/20

This was accompanied by a Antipasto platter with lots of eggplant - Eggplant, such an excellent food! Yum.

For main I had a Eye Fillet on Garlic Mash, which was gloriously good. This matched well with a
Rockford Rifle Range Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 which could have probably done with more time in the bottle. Aromatically it had minty Cabernet characters, dark spicy fruits and a jubey freshness to it that belied its 6yrs of age, with some distinctive licorice characters that stuck out with glee. The palate has dark black fruits of blackberry and more spicy stewed plums, powerfully structured and yet not OTT, with firm tannins and serious acid on the back end that hint that this will genuinely improve with more time in the cellar.
A very old fashioned dry style in its structure, but in a 'we know how to make wine' style that many great old wineries have down pat. A damn good drink in the meantime. 18.5/20

Monday, 21 July 2008

Two Monday Afternoon reds

Killara Estate Racers & Rascals Pinot Noir 2006 - Yarra Valley Vic
I like the packaging here, smartly done, but eh tacky marketing speak back label does very little to back this up. Always a bad sign when a wine talks nothing of the vineyards or the winery....
Anyway, this opened up very flat indeed, if a little reduced. The nose just gives a little sappy cherry away, but otherwise little of merit.
The palate is weak, souped up by oak and lacking any generosity, the tannins on the finish are jarring and harsh, the whole package unconvincing. Considering that this is only a few dollars cheaper than the Mornignton Estate from a few days ago, I know which one I would be choosing. 15.0/20

Peter Douglas PD Chime Hoop Cabernet 2004 -
Coonawarra, SA
Peter Douglas is a man with some history in Coonawarra, leading Wynns in the glory days of the late 80's and early 90's. These days he is the winemaker for ambitious Coonawarra operation Reschke, who have some considerable land holdings in the strip.
The Chime Hoop is the second tier of his new range and the attention to detail is immediately obvious from the back label - its enormous, with a long history of how the wine was made, but little information about the fruit source. I can only guess it comes off that 360 acres of Reschke's?
Anyway I had high hopes that where almost dashed upon opening - The sulphur hit was brutal and I was worried. Luckily this blew off, but there remained a smoky, burnt overtone that could well just be an oak derivation. The palate is tightly bound, with dark fruit hiding underneath, but at the moment the tannins are intrusive and harsh. There is also a worrying theme of under/over ripeness in the fruit that jarred a little too.

Underneath all this however I think that there lays some potential - I would suggest leaving it in the cellar if you have some now, for its a rather hard unattractive drink at present. 17/20

Friday, 18 July 2008

Mornington Estate Pinot Noir 2006

Firstly I would like to qualify that I am a massive fan of Mornington Pinot - It has got to be right up there as one of my favourite Pinot producing regions in Australia & its a beautiful part of the world to boot. Its almost part of the extended Melbourne suburbs these days (lucky Melbournians).

Anyway, this Pinot serves to tick a lot of boxes - The packaging is simple and smart, the price is excellent ($20) and whats inside the bottle is genuinely Pinoty - with faintly gamey, red cherry fruits & a lick of spicy oak on the nose, backed by a smooth, cranberry and black cherry fruited palate, with just a bit of stemminess on the back palate - that serves to reinforce the fact that this is Pinot and not red cordial.

Admittedly its a little simple and the ripe fruit is a little one dimensional, but its unmistakeably varietal and has that particular soft red fruit fragrance that many of the more lighter styled Peninsula Pinots show (a style I very much enjoy).

Good stuff and great value. 18.1/20

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Wines for week ending 14th July

Glen Eldon - a Barossa operation I know very little about. nice simple packaging though

Tried the 05 Dry Bore Shiraz which was enjoyable, if a tad simple & oaky, good value at $25, the 04 Cabernet on the other hand was green, disjointed & average. How is it possible to make green Cabernet in the Barossa?!

Cullen 04 Merlot A nice leafy nose, the palate though seemed propped up with fruit sweetness. Needs some Cabernet stat! By day two it was falling apart, with the acid angrily rising up. 16.5

Jim Barry Coverdrive Cabernet 2006 Really needs some time - big fruit with some serious tannins, but some hollowness that I have seen in a few 06 red. Good value @ $20 but needs some quiet time - the 05 is much more balanced, generous and approachable. 17

Louis Latour Chateau Corton Grancey 1999 I had the 05 of this recently in a lineup and wasn't a fan - overly rustic and forward. But at an instore with a brace of 99 Louis Latour's this stuck out like a sore thumb - power, style the lot. There is a real mid palate richness to this that I liked.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Wines for week ending 07th July

Geoff Merrill Reserve McLaren Vale Shiraz 2002 Bloody good. Classic Mclaren Vale Shiraz with the meaty, ripe fullness that only McLaren Vale can do. A second bottle opened was tighter still, with firmer tannins & opens up after 30 or so minutes. If it was a degree or to lighter in alc (its 15.5%) this would get full marks. 18.5/20

Scarborough Yellow Label Chardonnay 2005 A great vintage for this old favourite. Tried this with the 04, 02 & the 06 white label chardonnay & for drinking right now, the 05 vintage is hard to go past. Very good. 18/20+

Gramps Cabernet Merlot 2005 I've always thought that the Gramps reds are damn fine value indeed (and deserve more praise) and this was the perfect case in point. Undeniably Barossan, lacking only a little polish and a teensy bit of stuffing for real high points. A good drink all the same though 17.5/20

Glenguin 'Aristea' Shiraz 2005 If you like Meerea Park Shiraz then get into this. Made by The Talented Mr Eather, this is one seriously good Hunter red in a modern style - Power, tannin & purity. Built for the long haul, with lingering tannin. 19/20

Meerea Park Hell Hole Semillon 2008 Freshly released and as aromatic as hell. It almost Gewurtz like with its zesty, spicy nose & bucketloads of acidity to back it up. A good year for Hunter Sem and a bloody bargain @$25

The 07 Tyrrells reds They are that good. Believe the hype.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Mid week wines

Brokenwood ILR Semillon 2002 - I can't say I am a massive fan of the ILR - Massive bottle variation is the culprit.
I'll take a Vat 1 or Lovedale every time thanks. This follows suit, but it could just be in a funny stage. On the nose there is a hint of toast, lemon and Golden Delicious apple. On the palate there is more citrus & apple with a bit of toffee thrown in. The acid backbone is very promising though - real structure here. Leave it alone.

The Black Chook MVR 2007 Incredibly ripe, sweet & fruity, its a bit like fruit juice really, but not without charm. A crowd pleaser.

The Black Chook Shiraz Viognier 2007 Waaayyy too sweet. Overplayed Viognier dominates. Its undeniably a crowd pleaser, but its not for me.

Riddoch Coonawarra Cabernet 2004 Not to be confused, this is a second label of Katnook I believe. Green on the nose, but not on the palate, which instead was just shot with holes. No

Three Hills Chardonnay 2006 This is out of the Happs winery, who are probably better known for their Preservative Free Wines than anything else. This however was stunning - a product of the fabulous 06 vintage (for whites), this was the epitome of young MR Chard - Melon & grapefruit, with a veneer of oak, but a core of structured fruit & long acidity. Stylish stuff, even some ABC types on our table where hooking into this.