Friday, 27 March 2009

Craiglee Chardonnay 2006

Craiglee Chardonnay 2006 (Sunbury, Vic)
$28, Diam (and a challenge to get out too), 14.5%
Winery Website

Australia needs more wineries like Craiglee. Hands on in every sense of the world, the gravity fed winery true to its century old (reborn) history. The wines themselves are distinctively variable according to the vagaries of vintage, and absolutely true to their terroir - they will also age quite handsomely, even the Chardonnay will live for a decade + from good years.

The challenge with such an operation however is that results can be fickle, as this Chardonnay shows. From an obviously warm vintage, this (and its more renowned brother, the Shiraz) has an air of overripe fatness that is atypical for this winery and not entirely appealing.

A golden yellow colour & a with a layer of tartrate crystals that just emphasises the 'naturalness' of this wine (no interventionary cold stabilization here). The nose is rich & ripe, with caramel, figs & vanilla custard, smelling both invitingly generous and overly big & chubby. The palate follows the nose with more chunky delicious ripeness, interlaced with marshmallow and butterscotch icecream. The problem (or at least, it doesn't sit well with me) is the alcohol. The 14.5% alc/vol burns the whole way down here and derails the enjoyment quite considerably.

In the end, this comes across as happily natural in its construction but also simply too overripe and alcoholic. Plenty to like however, especially if you like some balls in your Chardys.

Oh and if you ever get a chance to go to the annual Craiglee open day, do it. Held in the (draughty) old cellar, there are a host of older vintages available for tasting that just serves to highlight how interestingly (and occasionally brilliant) the wines from this historic winery can be. 16.6

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Vietti Perbacco Nebbiolo 2004

Vietti Perbacco Nebbiolo 2004 (Langhe, Italy)
$50, Cork, 13.5%

As great as Nebbiolo is, its unquestionably a grape for masochists (As noted by Halliday amongst others). Mid weight, light coloured, with an aroma threatened by excessive oak & often hobbled by the oxidative rich production method and a palate threatened by the very thing that makes Neb great: Tannins. As a result, Nebbiolo is, even from its Italian homeland, a challenging wine to get your head around. Personally I love the stuff (my bank balance doesn't), yet I can understand why big JH himself can think of it as hard going - I struggle myself (like with the Sito Moresco, a Neb blend that never came good).

This 'Baby Barolo' starts off as a true masochists wine. Mid ruby red in colour with tawny orange edges, the nose has tar, truffles, aniseed, VA and old wood. Typical Neb nose then. The palate is dry, somewhat oaky and noticeably acidic, with some quite chunky richness on the mid palate. Up until this stage it just smells and tastes like a slightly oxidised, closed red. But then everything changes. Like the rush of chilli heat, the tannins hit you in a chewy wave, making the whole wine feel complete, lingering on with their bitter, aniseed astringency. They aren't suck the moisture out of your brain tannins, but they just remind how bloody great tannins are.

With some more air, the nose opens up, the package gets richer, more oaky and more meaty, finally resulting in a wine that features complexity and interest at its centrepeice, the leathery, Biltong and cherry flavours, mixing with the drying, grown up tannins, making for a surprisingly approachable, needs-food, dry red.

Baby Barolo indeed. 17.5+

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Penfolds to make French Champagne

April 1st is still a week away. But.....

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Taylors Estate Gewurtztraminer 2008

Taylors Estate Gewurtztraminer 2008 (Clare Valley, SA)
$18, Screwcap, 13.5%
Winery Website

When I first started 'falling' for wine nigh on a decade ago, it was Clare Gewurtz that tickled my fancy - numerous Knappstein Gewurtzes followed me home after work, delighting with their obvious richness and delectable florals. More recently, the odd Alsatian Gewurtz has particularly impressed, with several Kiwi and Taswegian versions also showing strongly. Gewurtz, however, is still a fringe dweller and rarely, in my opinion, 'works' outside truly cool climate regions. This is a case in point....

A very light yellow/green colour the nose smells fat - ripe tinned apricots, musk and old school Cologne with a slightly tinny edge. The palate is really quite neutral, sour and bland, with little of the ripe fruit carrying through onto the palate, finishing with seriously blunt acidity. Carrying none of the phenolic grip, spice or interest that this grape can show, I find it hard to get excited about this style of Gewurtz... Another middling Clare 08 white.. 15.6

Mudgee: Another perspective

Personally, I've never considered myself as a 'fan' of Mudgee wines, but as Andrew Paterson reports below, things may be changing after this 2009 vintage..AG

Mudgee, the oft frowned upon place west of the great divide, is a delightful place to spend a couple of days, especially during vintage time. Vines are being harvested, grapes crushed and juice is settling into tanks. Anxious faces are trained to the skies, as the grapes are brought in.

Will this be a good year?
‘So far so good’, says Drew Stein of Robert Stein. ‘It could be the best in 30 years’ he replies with a wry grin. ‘We have seen many ups and downs, but this year is definitely looking good’.

Over at Bunnamagoo Estate, the new venture of Broome’s Paspaley Pearls, Chief Winemaker Robert Black predicts it to be the best in his 8 years in Mudgee. He is in the midst of crushing a small load of Chardonnay grapes to finish off the white harvest.

The region’s Shiraz grapes are waiting now for the last few days of summer to ripen fully, only about 1 or 2 degree Baume to go before being called into the waiting hoppers.

On the other side of the valley, at Eurudgeree Estate, site of the Rosemount Mountain Blue vineyard, the vines are looking healthy under a large crop of grapes. Canopy management has made the most of the abundant sunshine in this part of the world.

Rosemount Estate’s huge vineyard, on the Gulgong road, is looking a picture - acres upon acres of leafy rows, held up by small posts.
I ask out loud ‘I wonder what their wines will be like this year?'
‘Better go and ask somebody’ my friend adds..

So all in all, the vintage is looking great, winemakers are happily going about their business & the cellar doors are buzzing. Mudgee Vintage 2009 is looking good!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Wine 'Ingredients' to be listed on label...


Sadly the wine industry is again challenged by ignorance. How can products used in the production process be classed as additives when no traces remain in the final product.....? Even yeast is on this list!

Barrett Reserve Pinot Noir 2006

Barrett Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
$45, Screwcap. 14%
Winery Website

A new name to me, though apparently Barrett has been around for 15+ years now. A hidden Adelaide Hills gem?

Slightly murky, mid red colour, the nose is ripe, sappy and slightly jammy, with a touch of fragrant mint - It smells big, juicy and still clearly Pinoty. On the palate it is medium bodied, chunky, ripe and bountiful, with the stewed red fruit carrying some lovely sap, redcurrant and red meat flavours. The finish is dry and somewhat minty, finishing with fresh acidity and a chewy finish.

Bouncing with ripeness, this is a quite plump and generous Pinot of juicy mouthfeel and flavour. Its marginally over ripe and feels built for the shorter term, yet still so firmly delicious. 17.6

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Spinifex Esprit 2006

Spinifex Esprit 2006 (Barossa, SA)
$26, Diam

'So far as I am concerned Spinifex out-Torbrecks Torbreck'
That's James Halliday, gushing over Spinifex in his latest 2009 Wine Companion. Its this sort of sentiment that has catapulted Spinifex into the exclusive league of Barossan cult producers that includes the likes of Torbreck, Massena, Chris Ringland, Greenock Creek, Glaetzer, Rockford etc. What's more, Spinifex has only been around since 2001, making the speed of their rise particularly significant and even more remarkable.

Thankfully, the Spinifex secret is built more upon complexity and interest than many other cult producers (like Torbreck) which definately strikes a chord with me. Most of the wines are modelled on Southern French 'field blends', utilising old vine Barossan Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvedre & Cinsault as well as the oddities of Grenache Gris & Ugni Blanc.

This wine is a blend of Mourvedre (34%), Grenache (31%), Shiraz (30%) & Cinsault (5%) and was made in a very traditional hands on manner - open fermenters, long macerations, wild yeast ferments etc. After a necessary hour in the decanter (it really needs it) this presents as bright ruby red/purple in colour, looking youthful indeed. The nose is tightly wound, with only some very ripe, almost syrupy red fruit escaping, along with some sweet chocolate oak - It smells luscious indeed. The palate is medium bodied, rich and slightly meaty, with integrated (plenty of older oak in here I'll bet) oak and malted fruit.

Its juicy and very drinkable, yet it also feels and tastes quite mono dimensional, the liqueured red fruit flowing richly and smoothly like caramel throughout the palate, but also not presenting with anything to excite. Its quite delicious, but I'm ultimately left wanting more complexity (and its only going to get softer and rounder from here, not more complex). Perhaps this wine isn't about complexity though, its just about good, generous drinking. 17.0

Friday, 20 March 2009

Delamere Rose 2008

Delamere Rose 2008 (Pipers Brook, Tas)
$22, Screwcap. 12.1%

Rose - derided by winemakers, pissed on by wine judges, revered by the public. I count myself as quite a fan of 'blush' but only when its nice & dry. Too often Rose is sweet and poorly made, an afterthought at best (and often accused as being the byproduct of the odd stuck ferment).
Charlie Melton's Rose of Virginia does it for me every time, with bottles curiously draining during humid Sydney summers, but its probably only one of a handful of gooduns.

This style of Rose though shares much more DNA with its more prestigious Sparkling Rose brethren. A very light orange/pink colour, the nose smells like Rose Champagne, with just a hint of strawberries nestled amongst what could almost be virginal yeast development. You can almost smell the acid. This follows nicely into the very fresh and acid driven palate, again the odd nuance of musk stick and strawberry in amongst all that acidity, with just a tinge of greenness on the back palate.

So this wine then is more flat Rose Champagne than anything else, feeling slightly underdone & lacking the softness of bubbles. Its still deceptively drinkable and refreshing, but could do with just a thimble full of generosity. 17.3

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The best value Pinot of 2009?

Delamere Pinot Noir 2007 (Pipers Brook, Tasmania) $26, Screwcap. 13%
Winery Website

Another day, another winning wine. This one has to be the best value Pinot I've tasted in a while too. Sadly I don't think the run can continue, as the load of winery samples that came in this week looks far less promising. You can often spot the dross by the brightly coloured labels and emotive heavy back labels.....

No need for such adornments here though - just good Tassie Pinot.
Dark ruby red with faintly purple edges, the nose I find quite intriguing: Quite typical, slightly volatile, sappy redcurrant pinot fruit, but with a spicy, peppercorn & musk wildness to it, adding interest in the process.

Its a little surprising then that the palate is quite closed and structured. Slightly sappy, animale edged, the palate is stongly driven by a solid core of red red fruit and high acidity, the acidity flowing succinctly through the whole palate. Firm, fine grained (an over used term, but practical) sappy tannins seal the deal. It feels big but restrained, balance the real key - I particularly like the acidity here and the clear varietal character. Applaudable.

In the end this is an attractive young Australian Pinot, with ripe fruit, real tannins, grown up acidity and a sense of poise. Its a little young and raw at present, but geez its convincing. At the cellar door price (under $26 a bottle by the six) its a buy now bargain. 18.0+

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Woodlands 'Margaret' Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2007

Woodlands 'Margaret' Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2007 (Margaret River, WA)
$33, Screwcap
, 13.5%
Winery Website

Firstly, I have to admit a certain bias with this label. The Woodlands style sits very easily with me, with the savoury, medium bodied, cellar worthy, terroir driven wines never failing to excite me. Woodlands is thus, along with Meerea Park, well represented in my cellar.

What I'm trying to say is that this wine, this winery, this style, is The Shit, and I'll tell anyone who cares to listen. I actually tried some of the components that went into this particular wine from barrel just under two years ago, guided by the Bordeaux loving proprietor, big Stuart Watson himself. At the time he was so excited by the 07 wines he could barely contain himself...

To the wine - purple red in colour, the nose is classic Margaret River Cabernet blend: Blackberry and blackcurrant, rosemary, spice, leather & fragrant herbaceous overtones, backed by low level, edge smoothing oak. Its so perfect and pure and awesome-o. The palate? The palate just relays the perfection of the nose, with red berries, cedar, gum leaf & tannins that go on and on. Its almost perfectly ripe erring on the leafy side (which I like) and sits at the ideologically perfect 13.5% alcohol mark.

Already a lovely drink, already balanced (in the true style of great wines) and it will continue to evolve for a decade without quibbles. The price? at $33 (ex cellar door by the 6 pack) this is a back the truck up bargain.

Buy it right now. 19.0

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Wittmann Estate Westhofener Riesling 'S' Trocken 2007

Wittmann Estate Westhofener Riesling Trocken 'S' 2007 (Rheinhessen, Germany)
$50, Screwcap

Sadly I don't have a picture of the elongated Riesling bottle this wine is packaged in: With its stretched long neck and screwcap adornment it looks particularly high quality & prestigious, though difficult to fit into the fridge.

From a producer that has been organic since 1990 and with a family viticultural history that stretches back to 1663, its of little surprise to taste the quality here. The wine itself is a shy thing, its hidden layers take a while to really show through, though the acid on the back end is never far away. To be honest, this came across initially as simple, lemon/honeyed and one dimensional, and it wasn't until it had spent some time in the glass that the wine showed some of its goodies. And good they definitely are.

A truly bright greenish yellow colour, the nose is actually deeply pure and intense yet I can understand why I would pick it as simple to start with - its just pristine lemon and slate juice, tinged with honeysuckle ripeness. The palate similarly strikes a chord with its pure simplicity, the flavours run with long lime juice and a integrated barley sugar sweetness, matching up with the blistering acidity. Its acidity that burns more like alcohol, hitting late and strong.

In the end its another great 2007 German Riesling, featuring the tug of war between acid and sugar as well as the delicacy of Riesling. Very good, if verging on the cusp of being great. 18.0

Minko Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Minko Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Southern Fleurieu Peninsula, SA)
$28, Screwcap

The final Minko wine from the box and by far the finest wine, if lacking in enough brilliance for a higher mark.

Deep red, inky red almost black in colour, the nose is tight, cedary and red berry laden with tomato leaf, dusty cool climate Cabernet characters. It reminds me, perhaps unsurprisingly, of Adelaide Hills Cabernet on the nose. The palate is similarly dusty and cocoa laden, finishing slightly astringent and awkward, the finished product never quite feeling completely ripe or balanced.

Whilst this impression sounds quite negative, there is a certain rustic charm here that hints at possible joy with some cellar time. 16.7+

Friday, 13 March 2009

Minko Pinot Noir 2005 & Cabernet Merlot 2004

Two wines from a little known South Australian wine region, the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Minko Pinot Noir 2005 (Southern Fleurieu, SA)
$20, Screwcap, 14.0%

Winery website

Minko apparently have a cellar door smack bang in the middle of Willunga, though the wines come from Mt Compass on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Lightly tawny, mahogany red in colour, this shows a slightly volatile, creamy, red berry & iced coffee nose that smells more Shiraz than Pinot (or did I mix my glass up?) . The palate follows this again with rich, slightly warm, red stewed plum fruit & nary a forest floor in site. More of a dry red, this finishes with some alcohol heat and oak tannins on the tail.

Distinctively un Pinot like, I wasn't particularly convinced, though as a dry red its ok. 16.0

Minko Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2004 (Southern Fleurieu, SA)
$19, Screwcap, 14.5%

I have to confess that I know very little about the Fleurieu Peninsula. Aside from the trails of Kuitpo, I know zilch. On the wine side, Brian Croser is said to be doing smart things on the Peninsula and Mt Jagged have impressed on occasion (particularly the sparkling red) but thats where it stops. Anyone else fill me in on the Peninsula lowdown?

Back to the wine. Deep red in colour, the nose shows dusty, vegetal tomato leaf & pencil shavings Cabernet varietal characters. The palate starts with a burst of fruit richness but from here on in it descends into a mix of over and underripe flavours that are drying out with age, finishing hot and oak tannic. Average. 15.2

The end of $2 cleanskins?

Its a subject that has been danced around for some time, but a Rudd Government advisor has floated the possibility of a standard 'price per standard drink' floor...

'The policy would set a price per standard drink across all types of alcohol that retailers could not discount below'.

Fraught with danger or smart idea?

Read More

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Australia's finest Italian Varietal?

The search is over.

After years of promise, suggestion, innuendo, perseverance and unendingly positive press coverage, an Australian wine producer has finally produced a great wine from a traditional varietal. It will come as little surprise to find that the producer is Pizzini, and the wine in question is the 2003 Coronamento Nebbiolo.

I had the pleasure of tasting a lineup of Alf & Joel Pizzini's latest releases with Alf himself this week, and can happily report that the standard releases are even more credibly Italianate than ever before, with the aforementioned Nebbiolo serving as the most convincing wine of its type I've tasted from an Australian winery. Ever.

Thank God for that.

The wines:

Pizzini Il Soffio NV
A sparkling rose produced using the saignee ('bleeding') method from Sangiovese and Shiraz grapes. Its quite a curious wine, due to its tannic and meaty Sangiovese backbone and particularly dry palate. An interesting food style.

Brilliant pink in colour, the nose shows the Sangiovese influence with that lovely roasted meat and forest berry aroma that's pure Sangio. The palate is bone dry & savoury with noticeable high acidity, with some very fine tannins also making their present felt.

To my tastes this was quite an intriguing, if a little affronting, Rose style, the acidity prickly, the palate simple too dry and the tannins a questionable component for what is pitched as an easy drinker. On the flipside, I think this would be a really useful food wine that if matched properly would be simply magic.

So the score then is a little low, but with real potential given the right circumstances.
16.5 (+?)

Pizzini Arneis 2008
Very youthful and probably in need of some time to flesh out. Dry, chalky, red apple nose with a strongly dry, similarly chalky palate thats lean & super crisp. Alf Pizzini is working very hard to bring down alcohol and sugar levels in his wines, the firm acidity here is a testament to that. Another style built for food, not tasting. 17.4+

Pizzini Pinot Grigio 2008
As 'Grigio' as it comes. It could come from Northern Italy, not Northern Victoria. Traditional, neutral nose with lightly floral, flowery aromatics. Similarly dry palate, thats lightly phenolic & grippy. At first I was a little blah about this, but its light & sprightly character grew on me. 17.1

Pizzini Sangiovese 2006
Perhaps Pizzini's most famous wine, but this let me down on the palate. Meaty, motor oil & dried roast beef nose that's authentic and interesting. The palate though is modern, simple and rounded, with sweet chocolatey oak & drying tannins. Obviously in need of time, it feels bland but embryonic. Leave it for 3-5. 16.5++

Pizzini Nebbiolo 2003
You could put this in amongst a lineup of second string Barolos and it wouldn't look out of place. The problem is that it also shows all the challenging aspects of Nebbiolo. Volatile, typically Neb nose, the palate is typically dried out with strong, but not breathtaking, tannins and just a trace of vanillan oak influencing the rear end. With cheese this sorted itself out into something quite tasty, but it just wasn't totally convincing or special for $65. 17+

Pizzini Nebbiolo 2000
This just felt like an old Neb. Leather, pepper, oxidative nose, with a woody, dried out palate. Not quite. 15.0

Pizzini Coronamento Nebbiolo 2003
I never realised that this was a single vineyard wine, which subliminally impressed me even more. Such a step up from the standard! Neb. Immediately fresh on the nose which is such a surprise for a Nebbiolo, let alone an Australian one at 6 years of age. The palate is long and quite rich with beautiful savoury black and red fruit. Bigger, richer, deeper and with real, stick your mouth together Neb tannins. Really brilliant and simply delicious. 18.6

Pizzini Brachetto 2008
For all the awkwardness of the Il Soffio, this was smack on perfect. Lovely, bright red/orange in colour with a real Muscaty juicy sticky richness. Red berries, red licorice, cherry liqueur and heaps of sweet cranberry fruit, finishing surprisingly dry. Really refreshing and good. 17.0

Singlefile Estate Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Singlefile Estate Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Denmark, WA)
$24, Screwcap

Amazing colour on this - its like stream water, with just a faint sheen of green between a glass of this and the glass of Warragamba's finest sitting next to it. Bright and alluring indeed.

The nose shows very light green grass & fresh passionfruit, infused with musk, leading to a palate that is surprisingly full and intense, with citrus & grapefruit fruit cut with guava. It all finishes with sprightly, zingy acidity, with more musk rounding out the tail.

I like the hidden power on display here - the nose is quite feminine and that pristine green colour seems to suggest something delicate and watery, yet the palate is spiky and surprisingly mouthfilling. It could do with a little more definition, but a good first up release. Would be a very fair drink at the $19 mark. 16.8

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Yves Cuilleron VDP Des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah 2007

Yves Cuilleron VDP Des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah 2007 (Northern Rhone, France)
$35, Cork

I read today that the French wine industry has won its very important battle against the neo prohibitionist movement, finally allowing the French to advertise wine online. The changes to French regulations also rebuking some of the ridiculous extremes of the notorious Edin Law which threatened to ban wine tastings of all kinds in France (more here). To celebrate this quietly important victory comes a distinctively French red.

Firstly the packaging - raised lettering, simple labelling (including the production figures:12,500 bottles) and perhaps the finest cork I've seen in ages. Cuilleron has nailed it there.
The wine itself is bright purple, extremely purple even in colour, the nose is pure Rhone - tomato leaves, tobacco, stewed fruit, roasted meat & leather in a rather fragrant and characterful style.

The palate itself is spicy, rich and mulchy, with sour red fruit running right through the mid palate, confirming this wines absolute youth. Its just a little light, but the stylish, slightly bitter finish and lingering tea leaf tannins make for a wine of real appeal. Its just 12.5% alcohol and all the better for it too.

Real Rhonish and commanding to be drunk with pizza, I'd drink this delicious red sooner rather than later. 17.8

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Man O War Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Man O War Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (Waiheke Island, NZ)
$22, Screwcap

The Man O War setup is an interesting one. Set on the wild Eastern edge of Waiheke Island, the vineyard is actually a series of vineyards, each with different aspects & mini terroirs - its a beautiful part of the world. The first wines I tried from this vineyard where the absurdly good Ironcald Cab Merlot and the Dreadnought Syrah, both from the 2007 vintage and both setting the bar very high.

This Sauvignon Blanc though is more of an entry level wine at a very typical price. Personally I'm still not really sure that straight Savvy is the ideal varietal style for the region however and this wine didn't help. Opening up with a light straw yellow colour, the nose is finely nutty with an edge of mushy peas - Certainly a far cry from the more overtly aromatic Savvy style of its Southern cousins, with more than a passing resemblance to Aussie SSB. The palate on this one though is just a bit weird; the nutty, almost gritty, smooshed green pea characters sitting low and awkwardly, finishing with a sense of chewy greenness that doesnt work very well at all.

So count this as a cross from me - it just doesn't taste all that good. Maybe some Sem would help? 15.9

Monday, 9 March 2009

The Great Southern Diaries: West Cape Howe

This is the final chapter in the Great Southern Diaries, covering what was only a brief, yet suitably poignant visit, with perhaps the most welcoming atmosphere of any cellar door on our trip.

To set the scene: 430pm, December 31st 2008. I am still dragging my now humourless partner around to yet another cellar door, with the knowledge that this would be the last winey experience of our Great Southern Adventure (Caryn, thanks for putting up with my wine geek ways, you're awesome).

We arrive at the West Cape Howe cellar door and the carpark is full. The sounds of a bluesy violin eminate from the lawn outside, where a free concert has apparently just started. Families stream past us, carrying picnic blankets and chairs. The air is full of excitement, carrying the scent of promise and anticipation that is NYE - the one night where drunken celebration is encouraged, where parents can get pissed, whilst kids play with firecrackers.

So we stand there and watch, as people flow in one door of the cellar door and out through the other, carrying bottles of fresh dry whites and approachable reds, laughter eminating from everywhere and everybody. The staff behind the counter look just as keen to start drinking the wine that they are serving. The large range of West Cape Howe wines seemd to exude a bright sense of drinkability, nee gluggability, that few others on the trip could match, at prices that commanded that you buy a bottle and join the throngs on the lawn outside.

We felt a little like outsiders, but it wasn't hard to appreciate the setting. Its experiences like this that make winery reputations - no gimmicky advertising campaigns, no ageing rockers and high ticket prices, just people drinking wine in environments where wine seems like a natural addition. Kudos then to West Cape Howe for getting things very right and we only hope that your move to Mt Barker only enhances the wines.

I didn't take much notes, but these where just two of the wines available at the cellar door:

West Cape Howe Tempranillo 2007
Another drinkable Tempranillo. Slightly tawny red colour this shows some meaty 'biltong in red dirt' characters that seem altogether regional and varietal. The palate is savoury, slightly choc oaky & presents as a solid mouth of meaty red. Its a little simple but the signs are there. Good value @$16. 17

West Cape Howe Viognier 2008
It's a lighter and slightly undefined Viognier but the varietal richness and juicy mid palate are all there. Some more grip & complexity wouldnt go astray but it makes for a good enough drink. 16

Fontys Pool Cabernet Merlot 2007

Fontys Pool Cabernet Merlot 2007 (Manjimup, Great Southern, WA) $18, Screwcap

After the notably impressive, crunchy Fontys Pool SBS of last week, I pulled this out with a sense of hope....Have Fontys finally 'cracked it'? Have they capitalised on their beautiful setting to (finally) produce wines of distinction? Or will this be another weedy, challengingly meaty non event, blunted by unripe fruit & brett...

Bang! Cue the applause! Streamers & balloons fall from the ceiling as Daryl Somers mysteriously appears with a winners trophy...
The trophy is for this very impressive wine: built in a delicate, well balanced style of real drinking appeal that I can't help but appreciate.

Purple/mahogany red in colour and rather dark considering its quite mid weight stature, this wine opens up with some distinctively cool climate Cabernet aromas - leafy, dusty, dark berry fruit that's ripe but appropriately herbaceous. The palate follows the same formula - herbaceous, but not green, & refreshingly light, with cedary, lightly minty fruit that is similarly well handled. Did I mention oak? No, no sign of it. Alcohol? Perfectly ripe @ 13.5% - a commendable figure that suggests well sorted viticulture indeed.

The message here is balance. Some people may find this a little too herbal, but to my tastes this is a near perfect cool climate Cabernet. Ridiculously good value too. 18.5

Friday, 6 March 2009

The Great Southern Diaries: Howard Park

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Howard Park cellar door was one of the vinous highlights of the trip.
Along with Castle Rock, the message here was consistency - High quality wines across the whole varietal spectrum. Nice cellar door too.

The wines:

Howard Park Riesling 2008
Lime & sherbet on the quite delicate, citrussy nose, leading to a palate that is proudly powerful & limey, with long fruit tingly flavours over prominent acidity. I like the combination of delicacy and strong acidity. A winner. 18+

Howard Park Sauvignon Blanc 2008
A complete surprise! Varietally perfect, green grass & gooseberry in the intensely aromatic, grassy mould, the palate matches this with just enough tropical fruit richness. Excellent stuff. Real vitality. 18.5

Howard Park Chardonnay 2006
Another quite complete wine, though its perhaps bluntly oaked, but not doubting the lovely, cashewy, nutty rich fruit & oak combo. Very good. 17.8

Howard Park Leston Shiraz 2005
A nice mid weight wine without quite hitting the high notes. Slightly candied bright red fruit, polished palate and some nice rhubarby, meaty cool climate schtink. Good, but just a little dull. 16.8

Howard Park Scotsdale Shiraz 2005
Very good interpretation of Great Southern Shiraz, Sweet red fruit that is ripe, yet still savoury. with a firm depth of mint edged, plum, fig and truffle flavours. Good stuff. 18

Howard Park Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Note the name change (after Jeff Burch's great Grandfather).
Brilliant. Almost entirely Cab Sauv this vintage & biased towards Great Southern fruit. The nose is powerful, red & black fruited, with an edge of roast meat, dashed with BBQ tomato relish. The palate shows hardcore powerful fruit & firm ripe tannic power - real classic line & length. There is a slightly stewed edge here, which I think comes from the warm vintage and particularly ripe fruit. Some may not like it, but it worked for me on the day - I found this to be the most perfectly formed WA Cabernet, winning me over with a balanced mix of savouriness and fruit power. 19

Fontys Pool Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008

Fonts Pool Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008 (Manjimup, WA)
$18, Screwcap

I've got qutie fond memories of Fontys Pool - having stayed at Fontys Pool as part of our Great Southern Trip 08/09, ending up at the well situated Fontys Pool Caravan Park (after a surprisingly lacklustre visit to the truffle farm).

Located in the rolling hills of Manjimup, Fonty's Pool was named after a local landowner ('Fonty') whom dammed up a natural spring to create the first 'Manji' town pool almost 80 years ago. The pool is still a focal point for the region, drawing people in from all over the place on a hot summers day. Fontys Pool - the vineyard - is over 100 hectares in size and is situated along side the pool itself, sandwiched between the caravan park and prime local orchards (great apples).

Previously I have found the Fontys Pool wines to be quite variable in nature, particularly the reds which seem to struggle with proper ripeness. No such qualms here though.
The Fontys Pool Sauv Blanc Sem is almost water green in colour and looks very youthful indeed. The nose is perfect - herbal, green and pungent, with some deeper kiwi & grapefruit sitting underneath. The palate is searingly dry, crisp and long, tingling with citrussy acidity and just a hint of greenness, finishing slightly tart but impressively long and lingering.

I really like this - a great version of this classic style at a brilliant price. 18.4

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The Great Southern Diaries: Forest Hill

Situated just out of Denmark, yet with its brilliant old vineyards located in Mt Barker (a very common arrangement in the Great Southern) is the modern home of Forest Hill wines. A brand new complex, complete with restaurant and surrounded by a few hectares of well situated young vines its visually quite impressive.

I've got to say however that the experience was just a bit ordinary. The day we visited was NYE, so the tasting room was chockers, with just one bedraggled staff member attempting to prop the place up, entertaining the drunks, while I stood there like a dickhead with an empty glass. Unfortunately the wines were similarly, perhaps unusually, disappointing. I normally rather enjoy the Forest Hill style, not to mention the underlying value of the wines.

Not on this visit though.

In truth, I need to try the wines at home in a more structured environment, as the setting (and my increasing grumpiness) wasn't conducive to real objectivity. Put that on the to-do list.

The wines:

Forest Hill Riesling 2008
For every sublime Great Southern 08 Riesling there is a disappointment. This is the latter. Its much the same for the Clare this vintage too - real variability.
A forward, toasty and dull nose, the wine is only redeemed by an excellent acid structure - sprightly and clear. I'm a big fan of sprightly acidity. Beyond the backbone though, the rest of the wine is maturing fast. Time may help, but buy yourself a few more Castle Rock Rieslings instead. 16.5

Forest Hill Block 1 Riesling 2007
In an in-between patch right now, this had some quite nice lemon toast on the nose, just teetering on the brink of development. The palate again has the brilliant clean acidity, but its not really much of a drink at present - its stuck in the transit lounge. 17.0+

Forest Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Green nose, sweet palate. unremarkable for the price. (No more notes and I can't even remember the wine...) 16.1

Forest Hill Chardonnay 2007
Reeks of high quality vanillan oak which sadly shades the fruit. It should emerge out the other side, but I was unimpressed. 16.0+

Forest Hill Block 8 Chardonnay 2005
The 06 has a whole swag of critical reviews, yet I think the 05 was left behind in the rush, hence why it was served at the cellar door.
Intense fruit in the very ripe, peach & melon end of the spectrum with some quite obvious oak. Big, bold and slightly unwieldy this was a better drink than the standard Chard, though not quite convincing enough to warrant the price. 17.3

Forest Hill Block 5 Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Ding! Suddenly the lights come on. Like a lighthouse in the storm, this was a beacon of quality in amongst a rather ho-hum range. Very ripe, red and black fruit with cedary, cool climate leafiness served with a healthy serve of dusty cassis. The palate is long, deep and dark chocolatey, with well judged old vine fruit and drying tannins. Feels quite complete already, but will get even better with some time in the bottle. 18.3+

Singlefile Estate Chardonnay & Reserve Chardonnay 2008

Two Chardonnays from a 20 year old Denmark vineyard. I particularly like the low alcohol here - refreshing trend.

Singlefile Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2008 (Denmark, WA) $22, Screwcap, 12.8%
Winery Website

Very light yellow/green in colour, the nose has faint white peach, grapefruit and just a fleck of cream. The palate is similarly softly spoken, with a creamy, peaches & lime character that is clean & very fresh, if just a little metallic. Ultimately the wine is a little unfocused and light, but its certainly refreshing enough, in a lemon/grapefruit meets Chablis style. Personally, I want a little more intensity & definition for $22 and can't help but feel that there are more convincing Unwooded Chardonnays in this price point. 15.3

Singlefile Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2008 (Denmark, WA) $45, Screwcap, 13.4%

Initially I wasn't overly impressed by this, but as it warmed up to me, I warmed up to it. The cautionary tale then is that Chardonnay isn't always well served when served well chilled.

Less green in colour & an immediate step up from the Estate in intensity, with a much fuller nose of spicy french oak and white peach, the oak imparting more richness and obvious appeal. The palate is quite complex, showing some nifty barrel work which serves to impart a creamy, layered mouthful of worked Chardy. A streak of sweet apricotty fruit injects some generosity and the whole palate finishes dry and clean. Good stuff. 17.5

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The Great Southern Diaries: Alkoomi

I've been a bit slack on getting these last chapters up, which I promise to address ASAP.

This chapter in the diary is unlike many others, with the cellar door in question (Alkoomi) taking a form that is quite unlike the traditional format. Its more of a quasi cellar door, lying a fair drive South of the actual winery (and 'real' cellar door, located in Frankland River) in an apparently much more tourist friendly location - downtown Albany.

In truth its more of a shopfront than a cellar door, with a considerably scaled down range as a result. Still, it was worth the trip for two highlights.

Alkoomi Shiraz Viognier 2007
My aversion to Shiraz Viognier is mainly built upon producers who have embraced the style only recently, leading to wines that are nowhere near balanced, nor believable. Alkoomi however have been at the Shirognier caper for longer than many and geez it shows - No apricotty red here!

Smart, slightly stalky, peppery nose of red fruit & pink roast beef, the palate is vibrant, youthful and red fruited, with mid palate chocolatey oak and real tannins. It tastes like a good cool climate Shiraz should - medium bodied, aromatic, spicy and savoury. Really smart. 18

Alkoomi Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Indelibly marked by the challenging vintage, yet with real class apparent at every turn. Leafy, slightly herbal, red capsicum nose, the palate is slightly short and sappy, but it never feels harsh - just simple. Would be a stunner in 07 if the Shiraz/V is anything to go by. 16.8

The Story Grampians Shiraz 2007

The Story Grampians Shiraz 2007 (Grampians, Vic)
$20, Screwcap

Winery Website

A winner in every way. Let's start with the packaging: Squat, screwcapped bottle with a finely textured front label (no back label). The lightning bolt label is distinctive and I love the blue colour scheme carried through the text. Kudos Rory Lane for a great contemporary design.

Next comes the wine. Purpley black in colour with a super charged, ribena purple edge. The nose is deep & closed, with plum jam wafting through. Superbly polished, the palate is deliciously fleshy and generous, but with a deep core of black fruit that is positively slurpable. Its plum jam, black plums and Muscadelle with licoricey blue/ black flesh carefully matched by acidity and fine, very late tannins. There is some back palate bitterness to remind you just how youthful this wine is, but
otherwise it already feels complete.

Delicious stuff. Soft, yet with a real core of power and length. Its hard not to get enthused about this wine. The price is right, the wine is right, the packaging is right - its ticks all round. Get in quick as this wine is a notoriously fast seller. 18.6

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

NSW Wine Week Cellar Door Tasting

These came from the NSW Wine Week Tasting/Wine Fair held on Sunday, March 1st, at Sydney's Hyde Park.

The setting was perfect - the sun was out, the birds were tweeting, the wines were good. What was most surprising however was a statistic I read on the day (detailed here): That NSW wine only makes up 6% of all wine sold in NSW from off license (ie bottleshops) premises and apparently even less makes it on to restaurant wine lists. The question then is - is this an indictment on NSW wine or the marketing of NSW wine I wonder?

What's not in question is the wine quality apparent both on the day and throughout the NSW wine industry. The Hunter valley, to take the most obvious example, seems to be undergoing its own quality revolution of late, led by passionate winemaking, backed by old vines and an appreciation of the glories of this iconic region. The names speak for themselves (and curiously plenty of Andrews at that): Andrew Thomas, the Eather boys, Andrew Margan, Andrew Spinaze, the De Iuliis family, not to forget Phil Ryan or Iain Riggs. Beyond the Hunter, Canberra is establishing itself as a Riesling and Shraz powerhouse, Hilltops with Shiraz and Cabernet, not forgetting the Sauvignon Blancs of Orange, which swept the trophies at this years Sydney Wine Show.

So, the future is looking rosy for NSW wine then? Or is it? What more do NSW wineries need to do to get over the line and broaden their appeal?

Anyway, onto the wines.

Angullong Sauvignon Blanc 2008
The aforementioned winner of two trophies at the Sydney Wine Show and coming in at the sum of just $15 a bottle. Simply put, Australia needs more Savvies like this - crisply varietal, with lifted, grassy, pristine, fresh Savvy characters in a mould that is grassier and more pure than those of most Marlborough Savs. It's a worthy winner at a worthy price. 18.5

Brangayne Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Interesting to see this straight after the Angullong. Its deeper, more sour and more intense, with more fullness & an edge of Asparagus that isn't quite as appealing as the Angullong, but still admirably defined. Smart and rather impressive, this is good, smart stuff. 17.8

Margan Semillon 2008
An essay in stucture, this wine is so far from the image of obvious, mass produced Australian wine that it should be paraded around for the world to see, like a mascot for terroir. So obviously a product of the vintage, this is, in truth, rather a hard drink. It tastes of lemon, green apple and acidity so glorious that it sweeps everything before it. Brilliance, but in a design that is so hard to quantify that I doubt anyone will get it. (my GF certailny didn't 'It tastes like nothing but acid'..) 18.7

Margan Verdelho 2008
Whilst the Semillon is a marvel of power and structure, the acidity here detracts from the juiciness that is the trademark Margan Verdelho style. I'm not sure what you would do with this, other than drink it with fish. 16.5

Brokenwood Forest Edge Vineyard Chardonnay 2007
From Brokenwood's Orange vineyard, this is somewhat less convincing. Overt oak on the nose with a clean, peachy palate that is simple and a little dull. 16

Capital Wines Tempranillo 2007
Of all the Meditarranean varieties, Tempranillo seems to show the most promise in cooler climate Australia. This chocolatey, slightly baked Tempranillo is savoury, semi sweet and slightly caramelised, with a meaty palate of good length and style. Its a pretty simple wine, but ultimately its surprisingly good. 17

Capital Wines Kyeema Vineyard Reserve Shiraz 2007
Another promising Canberra Shiraz. This has a nose of red fruit, leading to a palate that is quite prickly and sappy but shows real promise for the future. Incidentally this comes from the same vineyard as does the similarly impressive Collector Wines Reserve Shiraz. Slightly hot finish a minor distraction. 18

Barwang Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
The good news is that this is a more than worthy followup to the all conquering 06, showing the same firm, dark, powerful flavours with a real savoury edge. Better still, it will sit at the same $15 pricetag. Real overperformer that if you can buy a dozen and stick it away for a stint, it will really repay the patience. 18.3+

Meerea Park Shiraz 2008

Meerea Park Shiraz 2008 (Hunter/Hilltops)
$15, Screwcap

2008 was a vintage of contrasts. Over in the beautiful South Western point of our broad brown land it was a quite warm, even vintage, only threatened by some late vintage rain and the odd pesky bird. Contrast that to SA and Victoria, which, after a mild summer, exploded with a burst of record breaking heat in early March (this time last year in fact) that compressed 6 weeks of vintage down into 1 week. If you picked early, life was great, with some truly brilliant whites and early picked reds of rare form and natural acidity.
Anything left out in the 15 days of extreme heat however was basically cooked, with reports of fruit coming in at 30+ baume - that's a potential alcohol of 30%...2008 in South Australia particularly will be a vintage of two very definite halves.

Finally, in stark contrast, the Hunter Valley had a soul crushing vintage - cold, wet and miserable, with what little hope of ripe red grapes destroyed with incessant weeks of rain. Suffice to say it was a challenge, with much of the reds simply left on the vine. The flip side of this is that the white wines from 2008 have some of the most brilliant acid structures you will likely see in Hunter Valley whites - 2008 Hunter Semillon's may well live forever.

The Eather boys of Meerea Park were not spared the misery, with much of the red grapes simply picked onto the ground or left for the birds, having never achieved real ripeness. There will likely then only be two 2008 reds from the Meerea Park stable - this wine & the Shiraz Viognier.

This Shiraz then is delightfully true to its reputation - its bloody good value. Boysenberry purple in colour the nose has some peachy, squishy sweet fruit with just an undertone of black soil & leather underneath. The palate is all primal and angular, with quite big ripe flavours and firm old oak edges. Still, the finish is spot on and it never feels overdone, it just a bit raw and young.

Notch up yet another tick then for Meerea Park - fast becoming my favourite Australian winery. This bright & youthful red feels just post ferment and could do with another 6 months in the bottle to come together, yet never feels aggressive, oaky or overly sweet. Will continue to improve for another 5 years too . Not bad for a $15 wine.. 17.0+

Fosters to let 35% of its Coonawarra vineyards go

Some expert detective work by a regional newspaper brings us this breaking information.
The question is - who wants to buy a vineyard?

Some of the vineyards in question are on prime terra rossa land and in the right hands could be vinous gold. Opportunity knocks, but who is going to dig into their pockets?

Full story here from the Border Watch

Monday, 2 March 2009

Singlefile Estate Rose 2008

Singlefile Estate Rose 2008 (Denmark, WA)
$18, Screwcap
Winery Website

This is an interesting Rose, though the RS lolly sweetness and the minty mid palate makes this feel quite disjointed. The Cabernet in this Rose style I find too raw and overtly minty to make for a truly harmonious wine, with the RS serving as a foil that doesn't quite drown out the menthol.

Light, bright orange/pink colour, the nose has strawberry & cream lollies, musk & cranberry. The palate shows its residual sugar sweetness to start, with an initial burst of sweet pink fairy floss, from here the palate gets drier with the red berries departing and the back end taken over by cool climate Cabernet menthol & mint, just teetering on the edge of greenness, with a slight rasp of sap on the tail.

Not for me I'm afraid. 15.0

News from Yarra Yering

I'm a little conscious about regurgitating press releases on this site, I'll leave that to Firstpress or the like.

However interesting information sometimes passes the desk, and in this case its news from a winery that is not know for its communications and its interesting and relevant news.

Personally I count myself as a fan of the Yarra Yering wines (though rarely the whites) and was lucky enough to meet the late Doctor for the first time late last year. I don't know if he had much time for me though - I was asking way too many questions...

The letter below (I am presuming) went out to all people on the YY mailing list. I duly hope I'm not out of line for posting this on the web.

From Tim Hampton, Yarra Yering GM

I am writing to you on the verge of the 2009 vintage to give you some news on how Yarra Yering is faring since the loss of Dr Carrodus and to let you know about some new developments.

Mark Haisma and Paul Bridgeman our winemakers have just finished bottling the 2007 vintage for release in May.

This is a small vintage but good quality and 2008 is looking very similar in terms of size and quality. The notable difference between the two is that there is a very small quantity of Dry Red Wine No.1 in 2007, and not much shiraz based wine in 2008, no Underhill at all in fact.

As a balance to this I am pleased to say that we are very happy with the development of the sAgincourt Cabernet Merlot and this is in good supply in both ’07 and ’08.

2009 as I’m sure you are aware has been a difficult year in some respects. A wet lead up to Christmas made for a constant struggle with mildew, and then after the break came as hot a period as I can remember in the valley. Four mid forties days in a row scorched the berries on the west side of the vines and the follow up was of course the fires that did so much damage to so many throughout Victoria.

The upshot of all this will be the third small vintage in a row. As I am writing to you we have the chardonnay and the pinot in the barrel and while the quantities are very small the quality of both looks exceptional.

Our feedback from the market for some years has indicated that although most people understand the Yarra Yering wines benefit greatly from time in the bottle, most people find it difficult to hang onto them for the requisite time. With that in mind and taking advantage of our increased vineyard area we are releasing for the first time with the ’07 vintage a shiraz based wine made for early drinking and at a reduced price point. $35 per bottle. This wine still exhibits the trademark YY intensity of fruit and long clean finish, but is softer and more approachable as a young wine. For the ’08 vintage we will release a cabernet based version of this wine and from ’09 on, vintage variation allowing both wines will be a permanent part of our portfolio.

At the other end of the range 2007 will see the first release of the Carrodus wines. The Merlot and Viognier will carry this label along with a Cabernet Merlot and in future years a Shiraz. The new wines are a special selection that will only be released when the quality is there with no compromise to the existing wines. The two new wines will share the same price point as the Merlot and Viognier and will be in very small quantities.

I also wish to let you know that in accordance with Dr Carrodus’ will, the executors of his estate are now commencing arrangements for the sale of Yarra Yering. It is to be sold as a going concern with the existing staff and all their experience of Dr Carrodus’ viticultural and winemaking methods retained.

We plan to go on producing great wine and nurturing this unique piece of terroir for many more years.

Our best wishes to all and release notices will be sent out in April.

Tim Hampton
General Manager
Yarra Yering Vineyards

Winery Website