Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Houghton's New Bandits

Firstly, kudos to Houghton for the packaging - the labels, the polished screwcap, the vertical arrows on the capsule, the whole lot looks fun. A graphic artist went nuts with these labels and the result is rather good work. The blends are switched on too.

Houghton 'The Bandit' Sauvignon Blanc Pinot Gris 2008 (Western Australia) Screwcap, Approx $19

Green and very bright, the green bottle only highlights the brightness. The nose is all Savvy - its herbaceous, pungent and slightly volatile, but with a musky passionfruit edge, the Pinot Gris component largely hidden behind youthful Sav. The palate is soft, very young, with green tart acidity sticking out on the back end, the fruit is lemon citrus, with some pawpaw fruit. The palate is fleshy but dry (and still raw in its youth), unashamedly one dimensional and grapey, with again the only input from the Pinot Gris likely to be some green apple richness.

Pristine freshness and simple fruit, its quite an enjoyable drink for the upcoming summer. Well done Houghton. 16.9

Houghton 'The Bandit' Shiraz Tempranillo 2007 (Western Australia) Screwcap, $19ish

Shiraz Tempranillo - France vs Shiraz, a Mediterranean coupling that's appearing more frequently in recent years, but still there is little precedent (Though Julian Castagna swears that his Mediterranean Sangiovese Shiraz is his best blend). There will be struggling with the pronunciation of Tempranillo though. I can envisage people walking into a bottle shop and saying 'Houghton Bandit red thanks'.

Anyway, this is a bright purple colour, tending mulberry. On the nose its raisins, vanilla oak, raspberries and wet bricks. Its a simple, slightly volatile & very youthful nose and suggests sweet berry fruit, but there is enough deeper interest to warrant a closer inspection. On the palate it's way too young, but surprisingly full in its structure, with grainy tannins closing the package off. There is a little of the dried meat character of Tempranillo in there, but otherwise its Shiraz that creates all the interest here, giving the sweet berry generosity. The finish is a little hard, with oak tannins that linger long after the wine is gone.

I'm not taken by the blend, but I like the cutting edge inventiveness. This wine needs some time in the bottle to come together, but even then it may be just a little awkward. 16+

Sunday, 28 September 2008

BEER : Knappstein Enterprise Reserve Lager

Knappstein Enterprise Reserve Lager (Clare valley, SA)
$15 a 4 pack from Vintage Cellars

Following a growing (and extremely welcome) trend, this brew is produced by the Knappstein winery (nee brewery) in the Clare Valley. I have been less than bowled over by much of the Knappstein range of late (bar the Riesling) but this is one particularly fine beer.

Touted as a Bavarian style lager, this has a fragrant hop driven nose with some yeasty richness, the palate cleverly layered with both bitterness and sweetness in a particularly well balanced mould. I'd compare it to the Little Creatures pale ale but with a little more palate weight.

Definitely worth a try.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Book Review : 1001 wines to try before you die

Compiled by Neil Beckitt and with a foreword by Hugh Johnson, this quite intriguing book 1001 Wines to try before you die is the latest instalment in the '1001 series' - though I can't say I've had any experience with these books before.

The premise is simple: 1001 wines that a varied assortment of wine critics from around the world believe that you should try before you die. The emphasis is placed more on interest rather than purely aiming for the best of the best - many of the vintages highlighted here are top examples (such as the 05 DRC) but there was obvious care and attention to see some wines picked from lesser regarded vintages (like the 99 Chris Ringland Shiraz). On the Aus/NZ front, Bob Campbell and Huon Hooke both put recommendations forward (which helped ratchet up my tally considerably) and i do like the eclectic mix they went for - from 71 Grange (an all time top wine) to the humble (yet noteworthy) 2007 Jacobs Creek Chardonnay (which is freely available worldwide).

The biggest problem with this book actually comes down to Geography - with the state of the wine markets in Australia and NZ heavily biased to local product, much of the wines in this book are simply not brought to our end of the world. Most of the writers perspectives are skewed towards old world regions and styles (quite naturally) and with our distance from these markets (both geographically and figuratively) we just don't have access to the lesser known (for example) Pfalz or Loire producers products. I went on a (online) hunt to try and find a few of the wines listed in this book to purchase domestically and after 15 different attempts could nary find more than one available for purchase (at a quite ridiculous price) let alone the vintages specified.

What this book does brilliantly however, is to highlight diversity - if the quality found in the Australian and NZ examples is anything to go on, there should be some very interesting and varied vinous experiences to be had in getting to know more of these 1001 wines - If I had a limitless budget I would treat this as my virtual wine shopping list, drinking my way around the world in an orgiastic frenzy of great wine.

In the meantime I was just happy to know that I had at least experienced 10% of the wines in this book. 50 wines of the 1001 I have physically tasted, with another 51 of them I have tasted other vintages of the specified wine (some of them numerous times - there is some well known wines in there). I look forward to ticking off more in the years to come....

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Lake Chalice Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Peter Douglas Bulge Hoop 2004

Lake Chalice Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (Marlborough, NZ)
Screwcap, $22

Tracing back to 89, Lake Chalice is a veteran (in Marlborough terms) and produces consistent varietal Savvies - though I couldnt tell you anything more about the range than the Savvy - Such is the perils of being a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc producer.

The warm 2007 vintage produced lots of riper full bodied styled Marlborough Savvies with many of them ageing quite quickly (but reasonably gracefully) as a result. This wine seems to be holding together quite nicely, though I've got to say that I prefer to drink most Marlborough Savvies within about 6-10 months of release. The massive 2008 vintage will also produce some cracking wines. (though overcropping could prove perilous).

A bright, just yellow greenish wine, this has lifted aromatics - its sitting on my desk and the grassy passionfruit aromatics wafting out are migrating all the way their way from one end of the desk to the other, like a distant smell of perfume. The only downside to my nostrils is that the aromatics are showing the tinned pea character that savvies get with a little bottle age. On the palate it is quite textural, with grassy richness mixed with just a bit of tropical fruit. The acid is well integrated and the whole package is balanced and enjoyable.

Would have been even better 6 months ago. 17

Peter Douglas Bulge Hoop Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Coonawarra, SA)
Screwcap, $45

The bigger brother of the Chime Hoop this is made by the famous Peter Douglas - A man who crafted some of the super fine Wynns reds of the early 1990's. These days he is employed crafting the impressive Reschke wines - an ambitious Coonawarra operation with serious vineyard resources and a century of family history in Coonawarra.

Dense dark red in colour (which goes all the way to the rim). The nose is ripe but typically Cabernetish with blackberry and cedar & an edge of vanilla. Its a big, open nose, signalling this wines intentions from the start. The palate is a definitive work in progress - jammy, blocky fruit that's very ripe and a little hot, the tannins are just a little coarse. The whole wine is wound up in big ripe sour perhaps slightly overripe fruit that is going to take some time to unravel.

Given time this wine may resolve itself. Hard work at present. 16.8+

Saturday, 20 September 2008

St Hallett Blackwell Shiraz 1998

St Hallett Blackwell Shiraz 1998 (Barossa, SA) .
Cork, $25 on release

I swear this wine is released much earlier these days, as this would have been current vintage no more than 6 yrs ago (and the 06 is current release). The Blackwell is a satisfyingly consistent wine, in a luxuriously plush, classic Barossa, rich fruit and oak style.

Showing some mushroomy development on the nose, there is no mistaking the sweet, choc cherry like aromatics of Barossa fruit. Its dark chocolate Cherry Ripe and it is quite distinctive and delicious, with the bottle age injecting some meatiness. The medium to full bodied palate shows more of this mushroomy sweet fruit, mixed with coconut oak and finishing with some alcoholic warmth - its drying out a little on the palate without the immediate attraction of the nose, but its still quite tasty in its mould.

A nicely mature Barossa Shiraz. 17.5

Friday, 19 September 2008

Grosset Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Grosset Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Clare Valley & Adelaide Hills, SA)
Screwcap, $32

I really like the packaging of Mr Grosset's wines. The green bottle picks up the green highlights in the label and the blue screwcap just finishes it off - It screams quality, right down to the flowing 'Semillon' font on the front label.

The colour is green straw and very bright. The nose is intense & seems to presuppose the latent palate acidity. - its a super clean, limey and citrussy nose of purity. That's what this wine is all about - purity. The palate is actually sweet at first: Its deceptively sweet in fact, the flow of textural Semillon is quite ripe and tropical in profile. From here however the acidity sweeps through in a wave that then takes over the entire back palate, a tsunami of searing, yet natural citrussy acidity. The finish hints at the lemony power and potential still to come.

This is actually quite a beguiling wine - at first I was far from taken and was about ready to pan it - the sweetness seemed disappointingly endemic of some late picked 08 fruit, but after a little time in the glass I begun to understand this interesting wine a little more. Its a wine that I think takes some quiet contemplation to really appreciate - that sounds terribly wine wankerish, but this one needs to be sat on for a while to really appreciate it. Will be even better in a few months time. 18.5+

Rest in Peace Bailey Carrodus

News in late last night was that Bailey Carrodus, late of Yarra Yering winery in the Yarra Valley passed away after a short illness.

I tasted my first Yarra Yering wine this year, when I was served by the man himself at the cellar door only a month or so ago - he seemed in good health at the time, but perhaps that was just a public face. I was very taken by his wines and can only hope that the ownership of the estate falls into good hands - for those unique wines where truly something special....

Thursday, 18 September 2008

TN: St Hilary 2006 & Jacobs Creek Johann Shiraz Cabernet 2001

Both of todays wines come from the global monolith that is Pernod Ricard, both of these within their style are top shelf, both come resplendent with capital city wine show gold medals, yet I think that both these wines are slower sellers than they deserve to be.

Orlando St Hilary Padthaway Chardonnay 2006 (Padthaway, SA) Screwcap, $18

Is there a more underrated commercially available Chardonnay out there? Widely available and reliably good quality, yet suffering under its own image problem, discarded in favour of lesser Sauvignon Blanc & Pinot Gris and perhaps a victim of its own oak driven, stylistic shortcomings.

A golden straw colour, the nose is vanillan with some leesy floral characters & a little honey oat bran. On the palate it is somewhat broad and generous, with oak derived richness alongside sweet vanilla & a little custard. The finish is innocuous and falls away quite quickly, leaving only wood tannins in its wake. Its arguably oak driven, but its also quite well balanced. Drinkable, but not memorable.

I think, again, the problem with this wine is that its not cool. Its made in an oak derived style that may have garnered friends five yrs ago, but just doesn't cut the mustard in the more modern, complex & minerally Chardonnay time where the Chardonnays that gain attention are increasingly cooler climate examples. 17

Jacobs Creek 'Johann' Shiraz Cabernet 2001 (South Australia) Cork $60

I can't say i am taken by the packaging on this - I liked it better when it was the old Jacobs Creek Limited Release. I like Jacobs Creek, the brand and the wines, even though the trend is to lay shit on our bigger winemakers at present (and often because they deserve it).
But back to the packaging - The trophies down the bottom of the label just don't have the same impact as when you see golden stickers all over the place (all that bling would be impressive too). Or maybe its just me - I quite like the old school stylings of the Henschke label for instance (conversely I also love the impressive, contemporary Cumulus labels). The show awards for this wine apparently run to 5 trophies and 35+ gold medals!

This wine is beautifully dark red in colour, with a real dense redness that shows no sign of bricking as yet. On the nose its densely compacted, with tarry, very ripe dark fruit & a little raisined volatility escaping, but otherwise the rest of the aromatics are bound up completely in the wine. In this way it smells like a very traditional Barossan red, yet no fruit source is stated for this wine. Its rather Grange like in fact. The palate follows suit, with an endless flow of sweetly rich black fruit overlaid with some vanillan oak and finishing with not unsubstantial tannins. There is a hint of overripeness to this, the fruit quite sweet and tarry, with just the faintest edge of meaty development, but the balance and drinkability remains high class.

All in all its actually a very traditional South Australian red - its quite heftly proportioned and undoubtedly built for the long haul, but its at no time hard to drink. On its own I think its a little too powerful, but again a quality steak and i think this would be winning over hearts and minds. Drinking very finely at present, but with another decade to live for, this is one top shelf red 18.7/20

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

TN: Blue Pyrenees Sauv 2008, Terra Nova Pinot 2006, Blue Pyrenees Reserve Red 2002

Blue Pyrenees Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Pyrenees, Vic) Stelvin Luxe , $18

Victorian straight Sauvignon Blanc's - I can think of only a handful of Yarra examples that I would recommend, the rest fall into the 'grassy, fresh but boring' category. The question is why?

Anyway, this is very light yellow in colour, showing grass, gooseberry and some ferment characters on the nose. Its clean, fresh and a little volatile. On the palate it is surprisingly blocky, with lemon and citrus characters that sit like a big wedge of acid bound fruit. Its wound up in itself at the moment, but I'm not sure whether the definition will ever come - it may just get broader. In fact the whole package feels strained and hard. Crisp and clean finish at least adds some redemption. Not for me. 15.5

Terra Nova Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2006 (Wairarapa, NZ) Screwcap, $22

Trying to find more information on this wine is like panning for gold in the bath (an amusingly futile exercise, unless you bathe in gold). Still, the back label suggests it comes from Masterton which is just outside of Martinborough, NZ.

This has a lovely meaty, stewed cherry & spice nose, with a quite classic Pinosity to it. On the palate it is meaty, medium bodied and slightly chewy. The whole affair is quite developed, but actually the more I contemplate whats in the glass, the more I like it. Its real Pinot and at a very fair price. Good form. 17.3

Blue Pyrenees Reserve Red 2002 (Pyrenees, Vic) Cork, $45

This is the last of the Blue Pyrenees in the box and its been an interesting delve into some varied wines that all show a clear stamp of terroir to them. This is the most impressive wine of the lot and a short essay on the benefits of ageing with this wine style.

A deep dark red colour with just a trace of bricking. On the nose its a classic Victorian Shiraz - tar, blackberry and loads of eucalypt. Its a lovely nose of real appeal. The palate similarly shines in a perfectly balanced, medium bodied framework. Its minty, firm and red berry laden, with just the right mix of syrupy fruit and real tannins. There is no greenness, but its distinctively cool climate and dry. Complex & enjoyable & I think this would go even better with a pepper steak. Some years ahead of it too, where it will develop attractively - one of those wines that will develop, not just soften, in the cellar. 18.5

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Blue Pyrenees Rose 2001, Framingham Pinot Noir 2006

Blue Pyrenees Rose 2001 (Pyrenees, Vic)
Diam, $28

Another diam cork and yet again another painful thing to open. Memo Diam - Your sparkling corks aren't particularly user friendly. I'll forgive you purely on the basis of a mutual dislike for cork taint.

Anyway, this is a very light blush colour - Its lightly pink/light orange in colour. On the nose it is properly yeasty and showing some clear bottle age characters & a whiff of autolysis. No obvious fruit to speak of, the nose is slightly fragrant & more reminiscent of Champagne than Australian Sparkling. Pity it doesn't transfer to the palate, which starts with stalky fruit and ends in biting, citrussy acidity, the acidity gobbling up any palate generosity and turning this into one hard drink. I can still taste it 3 minutes later, the acidity is very fresh, but unmistakeably that of unripe grapes. Sad to see after the promise of the nose. 15

Framingham Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 (Marlborough, NZ)
Screwcap, $25

It's been a while since a Framingham has passed my way, but I have always been a fan of their Rieslings (lovely) and been regularly impressed by the Savvy. They are first and foremost a producer of aromatic whites and as the website proclaims, the Pinot Noir is more of a complement to the range - as this wine clearly shows.

Toasty oak is the first element that escapes on the nose, followed by red cherry & a little musk. It is a light, volatile and slightly stewed nose of limited appeal. The palate is better, with a warm heart of blocky, fully ripe red cherry fruit that comes through in a simple vanilla edged rush. The finish is just the faintest bit green, but there lies potential for improvement with some bottle age.
Given another 12 months in bottle this wines score may improve, but for the moment this seems strained and a little clumsy. 15.5

Monday, 15 September 2008

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Wynns Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 (Coonawarra, SA) Cork, $20

Every time I taste an older Wynns Cabernet, I am reminded how much of a cellar friendly bargain this is. It will unquestionably last ten years in the cellar without effort, with the greatest vintages for even more extended periods.

This vintage is undoubtably a product of a tough year in Coonawarra, though it is one absolutely technically correct Coonawarra Cabernet. A dense, dark red colour with evidence of some bricking around the edges. On the noes its textbook maturing Cabernet with dusty, cedary blackcurrant, roast beef and cocoa. The palate is a very typical lean Cabernet - the acid sticks out a little too much, the redcurrant fruit seems artificially sweetened and there are two massive holes in the palate. The first hole is at the front of the palate with another big hole near the end before prominent tannins take over.

All in all its not a bad wine, quit refreshing in a claret like mould and I firmly believe that in time it will flesh out more, but the challenge of the season has given it a leanness and hardness through the palate. Best drink it now with a decent decant or stick it away for another 12 months or so. 16.5

Saturday, 13 September 2008

2 out of 3 ain't bad

Jansz Rose NV (Tasmania)
Cork, $25

Sparkling Rose is obviously very hard to get right. Too often these delightful drinks are marred by excessive tannins, unbalanced acidity or worse - both these things, covered up with a high dosage. As a result, sparkling Pink's can often be painful things to drink, often at higher prices than their less blush counterparts.

However when done right, Sparkling Rose is a truly complete sparkler ... and this great value pink is such a wine. Salmon in colour, it has more of a standard Pinot Chardonnay nose, with slatey, grapefruit armotics & just a hint of strawberry, moving on to a cosseting soft, strawberry and (faintly) peach flavoured palate. The finish is dry, clean and well mannered, leaving just the slightest stalkiness as an aftertaste. Overall it is impressively soft, yet also built like a proper, grown up sparkling wine, with no bullshit attempts at being anything less than likeable.

Great stuff, great value, well done all involved. 18.3

Bremerton Verdelho 2007 (Langhorne Creek, SA)
Screwcap $18

I like the Bremerton operation, all the wines are heartfelt and juicy varietal expressions at very reasonable prices. But if ever there was an argument about always drinking Verdelho shortly after release, this would be that wine. Served cold, the aromatics are muddled, with the first toastiness of bottle age shading the fruit (and not in a good way) which is of the red apple & mango variety. The palate then is tiring, with citrus, pineapple and yellow pear. The whole package is like a drowning fat kid who can't waive his arms for help because he is to busy eating.

The thing is, that as a young wine, I think this would have been a lovely generously fruited drop with great 'drink me with anything' potential. But then that was probably 4 or 5 months ago, and now the love has gone. 15

Orlando Steingarten Riesling 2001 (Eden Valley, SA)
Screwcap, $26

'Eden Valley Riesling, I love you' - A new book by Andrew C Graham, exploring a love affair between a man and a South Australian grape variety.

Yes, I am this man. I'm not sure what would be in the book besides outpouring of love and longing - maybe a few recipes for BBQ Whiting? Whatever it would be, this wine would be included in the dedication. Its a near perfect example of aged Australian Riesling, drinking magnificently, but a wine that most people will never really 'get'.

The colour is a youthful light straw, the nose a complex and delightful amalgam of Eden Valley Slate, voilets, toast, a little petrol and then heaps of lemon lime. The palate follows this nicely, but seems even cleaner and more defined than the nose, its acidity so fresh, precise and pure that this wines future is well assured. The limey palate is just so deliciously dry and when coupled with the slightly sweet toasty characters on the nose makes for an inspired food wine of real character.

Bravo! Now to find myself a publisher..... 19

Friday, 12 September 2008

TN: Three for Friday

Barwick Estate 'White Label' Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Margaret River, WA)
Screwcap $15

The previous vintage of this wine was one heavily lauded wine - Ray Jordan gave it a particularly good wrap, naming it one of his bargain favourites - Its easy to see why it was so popular.

The 2008 vintage for this wine is undoubtedly a riper style - On the nose its capsicum meets passionfruit & pineapple & a little spray of herbs. The palate is light, crisp and fresh, with very soft acidity and a short finish (the added acidity not doing much for the length). Altogether its very fresh, simple and easy going if a little fatter than last yr. Top value, no extra thought required. 16

Stoneleigh 'Rapaura' Pinot Noir 2006 (Marlborough, NZ)
Screwcap, $27

Stoneleigh seems to have fallen behind in the race for palates - it was once the number one Kiwi Savvy name in the under $20 market, but I think its light has dimmed somewhat recently.

On the nose this has clear pinosity, with that meaty stewed plum & cherry character that I really like, however in this format it is more than a little muddied by what is a soapy volatility that is quite unattractive. Still, at least it smells like Pinot. On the palate it starts really well - nicely balanced, silky smooth meaty red fruit (good star)t. But by mid palate the alcohol starts to cut in, elbowing aside the plush fruit, leaving nothing but a empty shell of heat and forgotten pleasantries. Such a pity. 15.3

Blue Pyrenees Shiraz 2005 (Pyrnees, Vic)
Stelvin Luxe $18

I've slowly made my way through the Blue Pyrenees range over the last couple of weeks and I've decided that the wines epitomise old school winemaking and viticulture. The tannins are gruff (even in the Merlot), the fruit on the leafy side, the oak also big, with real palate acidity to match. The wines are all bone dry (no RS softness here) and if you don't like the smell of eucalypt you'll hate the reds.

But beyond that, if you like your wines to have guts, then Blue Pyrenees should be your winery. This Shiraz typifies the wines: On the nose it has eucalypt, spearmint and lifted, spicy, stalky berries. The palate has a medicinal edge (I think that will dissipate with some age) but its unquestionably well fruited and whilst rather blocky, is clearly regional and varietal. The tannins are quite fierce and the alcohol obvious. In fact, it would be quite easy to knock these wines as outdated throwbacks, but I see more than that - there is a real sense of local terroir in here, right down to the omnipresent eucalypt.

I think if you where to stick some of this away for a year or five you would be pleasantly surprised - there will be no golden egg, but there may be some good authentic cool climate Shiraz drinking. 17

Thursday, 11 September 2008

De Bortoli Emeri Sauvignon Blanc NV

De Bortoli Emeri Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc NV
Diam, $16

There are, to my knowledge, only three sparkling Savvies produced in Australian and NZ - This is the third one. Its quite a bizarre wine (nothing like a Loire cremant either), but I can see the rationale behind it - Take early picked Sauvignon Blanc and add bubbles: Sauvignon Blanc is very popular, cheap bubblies are very popular. Hence a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc must be very very popular!

A greeny blue bottle & a almost translucent green colour (of the wine that is) make this a strikingly presented sparkling (Smart marketing department at work). It has almost no bead to speak of, suggesting that it was probably made via the tank method. On the nose it is ripe Savvy fruits on a patch of grass - think passionfruit, a slice of mango even, following through onto a surprisingly sprightly palate which is dry and quite acid driven, with lingering grassy acidity on the back palate.

This is actually quite a clever wine - the winemaking is first rate, the base Sauvignon at this wines core would probably rate quite well at the $15 mark. The question here is whether the market can get its head around what is essentially a dry Sauvignon Blanc with bubbles. Personally I like the concept, appreciate the winemaking, but could never see myself actually drinking it - but I think that as a twentysomething wine wanker, I'm hardly the target market. My sister however.....

16.5 for the wine, 18.8 for the idea

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Taylors Jaraman Shiraz 2005

Taylors Jaraman Shiraz (Clare Valley, Mclaren Vale, SA)
Screwcap, $28

I think this has merit for a blend - Minty, powerful Clare Shiraz meets the mid palate of Australia. It certainly caught the attention of a few judges so far: Plenty of bling on this bottle. The thing to note however is that most of the silverware appears to be from overseas wine shows - on the Australian front this rates little more than a Bronze.

Sadly, I am going to be a Bronze Aussie sheep in this case, as I can't muster up enough love for this wine. On the nose its coconutty, raisined and oaky, with soupy, heavy fruit that is volatile and a little ungainly. The palate follows the same form - its oaky, big and minty, with chewy oak tannins and hot alcohol on the finish. Its unquestionably too young and will get much better in a yr or 5, but for the moment its just rough and unappealing. 15.7

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Quick Impressions of the Petaluma range

Petaluma had a Sydney wide Tasting Day on Sat 6th, whereby multiple stores had tastings of the range all at the same time (3-6pm). I was lucky enough to have a handful of locations to choose from which just made it more than convenient.

More large wine companies should do this - as long as its well publicised, this could work out to be a strong brand event, along the lines of the traditional 'Wynnsday'. Every year you could mark down in your calendar 'Petaluma Saturday' and around the country there would be tastings all at the same time around the nation. At the cellar door I'm envisioning facing painting, an oompah band and pony rides. In the weeks leading up you could have verticals and tastings for the Press and retailers, creating a ground swell of Petaluma love.

But as if that would ever happen in the wine industry!

Anyway, back to the wines:

Petaluma 'Hanlin Hill' Riesling 2008 - From a superb white vintage, this is a very good release from this label. Its typically limey in its aromatics, if still a little closed on the nose. The palate is tight and incredibly grunty - There is some serious citrussy power to the palate, with a whack of phenolic grip to back it up. Acidity is strong and well handled and the overwhelming impression is of another smart wine. 18.5

Petaluma Viognier 2007 - I've never appreciated this wine, and this just further confirms it. The aromatics are tight and a little reticent to show themselves at first. The palate is also lean and somewhat unfocused, with the fruit really not making enough of an impact to be convincing. Middling and expensive. 16.5

Petaluma Chardonnay 2006 - I'm putting it out there right now - I've not been impressed by this in a long time. This does nothing to help the situation. On the nose it is plain with grainy, ugly soapy oak covering the faintly peachy fruit. The palate has an excellent acid backbone, but otherwise has little of remark to excite, the awful oak continuing onto the palate. No. 15.5

Petaluma Shiraz Viognier 2006 - I tasted this, but I have no notes and I only remember thinking that it was good, but not great and rather expensive. NR

Petaluma Coonawarra 2005 - Bang! Everything snaps back into focus with this wine. Its a caricature (in a good way) of modern Coonawarra Cabernet. The nose is focused blackberry, stewed plum and dark chocolate, the palate is both fruit heavy but with a linear, perfectly defined structure to back it up. Excellent balance, the tannins and fruit here fight a happy fight and the future is assured. It deserves a place in the cellar and will be very long lived. An excellent vintage for this wine. 18.7

Petaluma Merlot 2004 - I'm just a little unsure of this wine. On the nose it is very cedary, with a quite cool, stalky nose. The palate is lean and slightly astringent, the whole package feeling like a work in progress. However there is tannins and acidity to burn and I actually think this may end up somewhere nice with a few yrs under the belt. Maybe. 17

Friday, 5 September 2008

Brown Brothers Liqueur Muscat NV

Brown Brothers Liqueuer Muscat NV (Victoria) Cork, 375ml, $17
This bottle would be about a (unopened) yr old now, when it was bottled however is a mystery. (All fortified makers with a NV product should follow the Spaniards lead and date stamp).

The colour is a ruddy, red brown colour - its quite dark for a base level Muscat. The nose is treacly & honeyed, but without that absolute raisin richness. The palate is warm and rich, but its short and with a heaviness that lingers and detracts from the whole palate. Its not stale, but the richness is just not there.

A very long way from the Rutherglen highlights of Morris, Chambers or Campbells, though i would question whether the freshness plays a part here. 15.5

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

19 Wine highlights

Today's tasting comes courtesy of renowned wine distributors Fesq & Co. With a portfolio that includes such leading lights as Leeuwin Estate, Pierro, Moss Wood, Margan, Bests, Carlei & the revitalised Leconfield, it was an embarrassment of riches. I handpicked just a few new vintages & odd labels as time was limited.

Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling 2008 - Tight, incessantly dry, with fantastic acidity. Needs some time, but glory awaits (I still prefer Larry Cherubino's Whispering Hill Riesling 2008 over this though). 18.6

Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Vineyard SSB 2008 - To tell you the truth, this was somewhat of a disappointment. Tropical and open on the nose, with a fleshy, pineappley palate that whilst still carrying some banana fermentation esters its rather broad and simple. Don't get me wrong its a lovely drink, but poor value. 17

Moss Wood Semillon 2008 - Wrapped up tight. There was absolutely nothing escaping here but some citrus. Leave it alone. NR

Moss Wood Chardonnay 2007 - Lavish vanillan oak and cashew on the nose, its finely oaked and very fresh and bright. The palate is rich warm and still oaky. Delicious, if oaky and quite tight (in a fleshy Moss Wood way). Needs at least another 12 months in the bottle. Very expensive. 18+

Moss Wood Amy's Cabernet 2007 - Stop right here. Buy this. Its substantially cheaper than the rest of the Moss Wood reds but carries the same trademark lusciousness. Lovely bright purple colour. Perfumed, clearly varietal lush dark berry nose sprinkled with vanilla. Soft, silky palate with a perfect flow of fruit and chalky tannins. Ripe and moreish, yet well structured all the same. Bargain. 18.5

Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Merlot 2006 - I had to do a double take to check this, but yes, it was indeed an 06 vintage - a year that is characterised by leafy, light wines. Nobody told Keith Mugford, for this could come from the ripe years either side of 06 as it is just so dense. Its a big and chunky style, with lots of oak and again framed in a lavish style. Its very tasty & super smooth, but barely recognisable as cool climate Merlot. 17.6

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - Alot has been written about this wine already and as expected, it is a standout. You could probably say that this is a near perfect Moss Wood Cabernet. If you like the style, the lush, beautifully textured, characteristic dusty blackberry Cabernet style of Moss Wood then you should already have at least 6 of these in your cellar. What is more impressive is that you can drink it now (right now, this instant) or in 20 yrs time., the balance is that good. 19

Pierro LTC Sem/Sauv 2008 - I tried this soon after the Ribbon Vale SSB above and the two wines sit at absolute poles apart. This has a tropical nose, but restrained and very fresh, the lemon fruit clearly interwoven with some grassy aromatics. Its a tight estery palate, but there is very very clever winemaking at hand, resulting in a very balanced and interesting Margaret River Dry White. 18.3+

Pierro Chardonnay 2006 - Another wine with some huge (deserving) wraps already. If you like the rich, Margaret River mouthful style of Chardonnay, then this will be your bag. Tight, nutty nose, the palate is very clear and precise with a complex, multi faceted palate. Its creamy, with vanillan oak but rounded off by bracing acidity. It needs time, there is a little alcohol heat on the back, but gosh its stylish, very well made and incredibly powerful. 18.6+

Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - A pre release sample, this really had its all made. Spicy, varietal nose in the green herbs, lemon grass & passionfruit style that shows a smart winemaker. The palate is intense, with well judged mid palate texture that was very attractive. Dry and very well balanced indeed. 18.5

Seresin Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2007 - Its a yr older than the wine above and that tinny asparagus meets tropical fruit character of aged Sauv comes through on the nose. Its a turn off to me as I tend to prefer Marlborough Savvies as fresh as humanly possible. The palate though is cleverly textured, with some barrel characters and obviously high quality fruit. I'd take two bottles of the standard label over this however, as the price is ludicrous $45. 17.8/20

Lucien Crochet Chene Marchand Sancerre 2005 - Little wonder that NZ Sauv has such traction in the UK. This is obviously from a warm yr, but considering the makers reputation, this is very poor. Cooked, smoky, nose with hot tinned passionfruit and a wobbly palate. Its not developing anywhere nice and its ultimately expensive and disappointing - Especially compared to the much cheaper De Ladoucette from a month or so back. 14.5/20

Delas Freres Crozes Hermitage Le Clos 2005 - I've had mixed experiences with Crozes Hermitage - so often too meaty and surprisingly lean to my palate. Not this wine. The nose is meaty, peppery and typically rustic, yet not unattractive. The palate is savoury-ripe with a beautiful soft texture that was quite Pinoty in its red fruit femininity, the palate finishes with grainy tannins & no heat. Delicious stuff and (happily) very well balanced. 18.8

Lethbridge Shiraz 2006 - A lovely contrast after the Rhone red, this was a peppery, cool climate style, with lithe red fruit on the nose, tending to a little hammy spice. On the palate it is lean and sinewy at first, but filling out with some spicy red cherry fruit. Quite attractive. 17.8

Lethbridge Indra Shiraz 2006 - A step up from the standard Shiraz, this has more obvious oak and power, filling in the slightly leaner aspect of the former wines palate. Black Pepper on the nose, with a meaty palate edged with red fruit. There is a savoury edge to this that immediately made me think of Julian Castagna's wines. Finessed and very clever. One to watch. 18.3+

Cascabel Tempranillo 2007 - A rather tasty interpretation of Australian Tempranillo in a light, drink me now style. The nose is ripe and fruity, with dusty pepper and plum, the palate showing really classical acidity, lacking only the tannins to propel it into the big league. Good value and very drinkable. 17.3

Bests Bin 1 Shiraz 2005 - Lovely. Perfumed fruit with a purity of spiced red fruit and dark chocolate. Its a very pristine, red fruit vitality that is so aromatic and attractive. The palate is a long flow of linear fruit and oak (plenty of oak). Freshness is the key here, this tastes like it was bottled yesterday, but with the structure and perfect balanced to last for years. Buy some. (Top value to boot). 18.6

Bests Bin 0 Shiraz 2005 - I only came to Bests quite late in the game, the 04's being the first to see a place in my cellar. I wish I had paid more attention earlier... This is one magnificent Shiraz. Its a step above the Bin 0 in concentration, with that same purity of red fruit. The palate is denser, but carries the same freshness and definition, with nutty, chocolate oak and endless dark chocolate richness. Its quite beautiful, plush and near perfect, seemingly polished to perfection. 19.1

Bests Thomson Family Shiraz 2005 - An under the counter job, this was so obviously a baby that tasting it now seemed sacrilegious. Again with the red fruit, again with the spice, again with the dark chocolate. This had further quirk nuances, with cloves and more open vanillan oak. The palate though is largely shut. It carries the character of the finessed 05 but its so densely wound up in tannin and acidity that it will need several years to show its glories. Leave it alone. On the day I preferred the silken Bin o over this, but I think the ratings will reverse if you can have the patience to wait 5 years before drinking. 18.9

Monday, 1 September 2008

Irvine Wines

Merlot - It's a much maligned grape. In Australia, it rarely produces a wine of distinction, oft requiring the bolster of Cabernet & its Bordeaux blend cohorts to scale the vinous heights.(arguably due to poor clonal material - a friend tells a story of a well known winery with Cabernet Franc labelled as 'Merlot' due to confusion about the vineyards true genetic origins, apparently a common occurrence in Oz). Aside from a handful of one-off releases and random vintages, there is very few straight Australian Merlots I would happily recommend with any sort of regularity. (I have tasted a handful that are exceptions to this rule, but they tend to be by nature, odd exceptions).

Even our Kiwi friends utilise Merlot (particularly successfully in Hawkes Bay) in more of a 'Merlot dominant blend' capacity than a stand alone varietal. In California, Merlot has had more attention, yet will forever sit in the shadow of Cabernet Sauvignon, with only Right Bank Bordeaux left as the varietal flag bearer.

However no one told the Irvine Family that. James Irvine is a vocal Merlot supporter, crediting his own love affair with the grape to an experience with Chateau Petrus some years ago (I'm still waiting for my own Petrus experience). As a result, the focus of the endeavours of the Irvine Family Winemakers is Merlot, with the eponymously named 'Grand Merlot' standing forth as a rather Grand interpretation of the style. Based in the Eden Valley, yet taking fruit from the Barossa, Eden Valley & Adelaide Hills districts.

Sadly the Grand Merlot wasn't on for tasting, so it was left to experience a few of the other wines in the Irvine portfolio.

Irvine Meslier Brut NV An oddity, this is the one and only Meslier in Australia. Meslier is a French variety renowned for carrying its acidity in warm years (Great Meslier info here). It's largely gone in Champagne, but Irvine still flies the flag. On the nose there is appley, lightly honeyed aromas with a hint of Muscat like richness. On the palate it is all tart green apples, in a rather fruity, slightly sweet and simple style. It's rather fresh, fruity and not for me, but I can understand why it has commercial appeal. 15.0

Irvine Albarino 2008 An uber cool variety in the wine world, this Spanish grape, when its done well, makes for a lovely textural, yet grippy style that is rather food friendly. In this context it had nice fresh if subdued aromatics, with the palate the source of attention. Duly, this had quite a phenolic palate, with some grapefruity fruit and a dash of lemon, matched with firm acidity. It actually drinks ok, but the fruit definition (or lack of) leaves only the palate structure to carry it through. I can't help but think how much more I would prefer to drink Eden Valley Riesling than this - especially from the fine 08 vintage. (Plus its stupidly expensive - $32!) 16

Irvine Merlot 2005 I like oak. It smells luxurious and warm and comforting. Its like the smell of leather, it just smells right. But I don't like it to be noticeable, and I definitely don't want to be able to taste it. This sadly is an oak monster, with lovely toasty, choc vanilla bean oak serving as the headline act, the backup dancers and the roadies. The palate itself is lovely and smooth, with a really attractive seamless flow of flavour on the palate, the Merlot living up to its plush reputation in this instance. Its very soft and quite luscious, but ultimately the taste of oak is so prominent that its difficult to drink even more than a little bit of this. 15.5/20

Irvine The Baroness Merlot Cab 2005 Normally this is my favourite of the range and this is no exception. The aromatics here have more spice, some black fruit and some more obvious varietal Cabernet (Sauvignon & Franc) that serve to define it more. The palate again is swamped with vanillan oak, but some welcome definition gives this a bit more than red fruit and oak to brag about. It's quite drinkable, but could be so much better if the oak button hadn't of been left on. Poor value again @$55. 17/20

Irvine Sparkling Merlot NV Hello varietal Merlot! This finally tasted like Merlot grapes, with some obvious aged material making its way into this blend, crafted in a quite soft style with reasonably high dosage (incidentally this was strangely served with a white cheesecake dessert which was like a wine/food matching train wreck). It had plummy, slightly stemmy Merlot fruit with some meaty development and a rich, soft palate. Quite drinkable and refreshing, if simple style. 16.5/20

TN: Craiglee Sunbury Shiraz 2006

Sourced from gnarly old vines at the glorious piece of wine history that is Sunbury's Craiglee - Still gravity fed & using the winery structure that dates back to the mid 1800's

I am quite a fan of the Craiglee style, but there is considerable vintage variation. In warm yrs, the big red fruits come to the fore in a style that is decidedly opulent, whilst in cooler years it is the spice and meaty pepper of cool climate Shiraz. I actual prefer the spicier wines for the long term, as the ripe vintages can lack definition.
This is undoubtedly a warm year wine, carrying the trademark red fruits shining bright (kinda like Rudolph)

First tasted at the Annual Craiglee Open Day at the end of July, it was interesting to try this compared to the 05 vintage - which seem richer and absolutely mouth filling in its generous texture. I was initially swayed by its buxom glory, yet the 06 seemed to be the purists wine, with more noticeable acidity and probably closer to my preferred style.

So I thus rather looked forward to a second drink, this time from a half bottle & tasted over three days. A rather inky, dark red colour (Its almost a boysenberry red) the nose opens up with opulent red fruits - lovely luscious redcurrant and red licorice fruits. The palate has quite powerful fruit & structure, with firm acidity (yet not natural acidity?) on a red fruit and raspberry liqueur palate. The finish is warm, with noticeable alcohol heat.

On day one, straight from the bottle it was a very firm wine indeed, so I stuck the cap back on and left it for 48 hrs. Coming back again on night three, the red fruit was still there, but the alcohol had reared up and was now the dominant factor. In fact the whole wine had taken on a brandy like heat and hardness that was not even slightly attractive.

So in the end I am very torn. I was lucky enough to try a 20 yr vertical of Craiglee Shiraz about 4 years ago that served to reinforce the sheer ageability of this wine style - besides a dip in the mid 90's, its a surprisingly cellar-able Shiraz that really hits its straps at the 10 year mark. However I'm just not sure about this one - that hard alcohol heat isn't going anywhere, although the rest of the wine seems built for the long haul. 17.3/20