Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Canberra District Diaries

The following notes were collected from a whirlwind 7 hour tour of the Canberra district, during the Canberra Harvest Festival. The notes are thus very whirlwind and attenuated... As usual, if you are a Canberra winery whom I missed, or you think i got it very wrong, send samples to this address.

I've detailed some observations below, but it might be best to start here.

Generally, in my opinion, the right formula for what 'works' in Canberra district vineyards is still up for debate. It hardly helps that the Canberra district is a very varied wine region (it is genuinely huge too, I know, I circumnavigated the place) with a wide range of altitudes, aspects, soil types and relative microclimates. Yet it is this variation that makes the Canberra District both an emerging hotbed of wine experimentation & also an embryonic region in flux.

To witness this, simply look at the breadth of grape varieties planted in Canberra district vineyards, and often in the same vineyard. The climate around Hall & Murrumbateman (where the majority of the wineries are) is apparently similar to that of central Spain ('between Rioja and Valladolid' according to Surveyors Hill) yet the varieties here originate from Alsace to Portugal & everywhere in between.

Diverse yes, however it is also reflective of a very formative, splatter-gun, new world approach to grape growing - plant everything and then use clever winemaking and attentive viticulture to produce commercially viable wines from the lot. Eventually, Darwinism highlights the right varieties for each site and the focus switches to refining the 'right' varieties, with the long term aim to arrive at a set of (highly desirable) 'regional heroes'.

What this does in the interim for Canberra however, is that it makes the whole region feel more 'emerging' than 'established' - arguably cheapening what sits up there with the Hunter Valley as NSW's finest wine region (Orange coming in 3rd).

Perhaps I am (typically) examining and deconstructing this wine-region-on-the-rise a little too closely. As you can see by the notes below, alot of the wines I found interesting sit outside the traditional (for Australia) varietal range, and some of the highest pointed wines were indeed 'traditional'. Notably, however, the most consistent wines, with a real 'Canberra' style to them, were Shiraz (with & without the Viognier) & Riesling. Thats hardly news, but the sooner the region vaults these two varieties forward, both publicly & privately, as its 'regional heroes', the better. And graft over (with very few exceptions) all the Pinot.

Anyway, enough boring verbiage. The wines:

Jeir Creek
Rustic, older style cellar door. Friendly staff, yet a range of wines that, aside from the Riesling, were uninspiring.

Jeir Creek Riesling 2008Clean, lovely florals in the almost Passionfruit and citrus style found in the other Murrumbateman & Hall wineries (Helm, Clonakilla, Shaw etc). Crisp & perfumed, with a real drive of sweet fruit & crisp acidity. Lively. Very good. 17.9

Jeir Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Clean, herbaceous nose. A slightly muted, grassy style with a slightly dilute, albeit refreshing palate. 16.2

Jeir Creek Unwooded Chardonnay 2008
Lovely freshness in these Jeir Creek whites. This again is a very pure style, with really quite un-Chardonnay like florals & a light, faintly milky palate. It's quite tasty, all things considered. 17.0

Jeir Creek Chardonnay 2006
Very clean, but blunted by vanilla & whipped butter oak. Could reappear in time. 16.2

Jeir Creek Pinot Noir 2005
One of many disappointing Canberra Pinots. Slightly metallic, maturing, earthen, dried out nose, the palate lacks fruit or charm, No. 14.8

Jeir Creek Cabernet Merlot 2004Looks to be a hard sell at cellar door. Graft it over to Shiraz I say. Another maturing, dried out nose, leading to mulchy, eucalypt and metallic palate that is recognisably Cabernet, but a little lean & simple. Ok 15.5

Jeir Creek Shiraz Viognier 2005
Interestingly, Jeir Creek will be moving back to a straight Shiraz, as they think that Shirognier is faddish and ordinary. This Shirognier skeptic nodded. Very dark colour on this, with a raspberry jam & pepper nose, leading to a powerful palate that is bristling with ripe, jammy fruit & prickly acidity. A little unwielding at present, but definite potential. 16.7+

Jeir Creek Sparkling Shiraz Viognier 2005Apparently the first of its type in Australia (?). A very popular wine at cellar door and I can understand why. Sweet & funky, cherry & raspberry nose thats a bit Bellevue Kriek-ish. The palate is surprisingly secondary, slightly leathery, peppery & delightfully rich. It was quite appealing actually. 17.1

Jeir Creek Botrytis Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Very dry, woody nose, quite lightly, fragrant & honeyed style that only just sweet & quite feminine, with noticeable savvy characters in there too. Good stuff! 17.1

Jeir Creek Muscat NVA rarity indeed. Chunky, sticky & black with a treacle like consistency thats very sweet & cloying. Simple & enjoyable enough. 16.8

Surveyors HillEssentially just a shed on the side of a typically large, bare, volcanic Canberra hill. The chili jam was worth the trip alone, let along the eclectic wines. Should have bought the apricot jam....

Surveyors Hill Riesling 2008
More lovely florals, leading on to a quite big, powerful wine that is just a teensy bit forward. Still, this had real character and texture. One to watch. 18

Surveyors Hill Semillon 2001Amazing freshness for its age. Really clean & crisp, it reminds me somewhat of a slightly honeyed Mudgee Semillon with some age on it. Simple, good drinking at under $15 at the cellar door/shed. 16.7

Surveyors Hill Chardonnay 2008Another crisp, lean, Chablis-without-the-limestone style, but this is simply too lean and simple for real joy. 16.1

Surveyors Hill Rose 2008All Cab Franc and quite a success. Dry acid backbone, candied cherry fruit on the palate, all making for a rather simple, food friendly Rose. Quite nice. 16.5

Surveyors Hill Touriga 2004A straight Touriga! Leather, truffle & musk on a nose that smells like a youthful new world Nebbiolo. Savoury, dry, slightly leathery palate is interesting if not totally convincing. Promise here. 16.8

Surveyors Hill Cabernet Franc 2004Very fragrant & fresh nose - its Cab Franc being all pretty and quite light on its feet. Actually quite convincing. 17.1

Surveyors Hill Touriga Shiraz 2005Don't imagine there is to many of these blends out there (I think St Hallett's GST might be the exception?). Anyhow, if I could sum this is up in one word it would be Leathery. The Touriga gives it a real earthy, meaty, Tempranillo like character to it that not all would like (Portuguese Port lovers might). Unusual tang on the back palate. Sweet, caramelised fruit works against the savouriness, but no doubting the interest. 16.9

Surveyors Hill Autumn Gold 2004
I wasn't convinced by any late harvest styles tasted on the day, this is no exception. Green nose, dry & slightly clumpy style that is a bit bland & off kilter. 16.0

Surveyors Hill Sweet Touriga
Unsurprisingly sweet, tangy (there it is again - its a Touriga character alright. Touriga tang), malted sweet fruit. No noticeable spirit (which is good). Let down by over sweetness. 15.9

Brindabella Hills
Now here is a winery well worth the short trip off the map. Very well priced, bright wines of substance and style. Was very close to buying several bottles here (but have promised myself to not buy anything on this trip. Research only). For anyone keen to experience some distinctive Canberra wines, pick up a few of these inexpensive wines.

Brindabella Hills Riesling 2008Simply delicious. Big, bold, lime juice nose, the palate is dominated by brisk acidity & an extra dimension of floral depth. A near perfect Canberra Riesling at an excellent price ($20). 18.5

Brindabella Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2008Fresh Passionfruit is all through the nose, with the palate showing paw paw and more passionfruit. Bright, crisp, aromatic, tropical styled Savvy. Appealing. 17.1

Brindabella Hills Aureus Chardonnay Viognier 2007This is essentially the flagship wine for Brindabella Hills and its a very stylish & somewhat unusual wine. I actually enjoyed a glass of this over lunch, which was a very rare indulgence indeed when I'm on a dedicated wine mission such as this. Really enjoyed my glass though.
Quite a shy nose, this shows only a smidgen of the typical Viognier apricots on a tight and highly textural, mealy palate. It is actually closest to a Rhone style Viognier than anything else, though with the Viognier's inherent apricot downplayed by delicate Chardonnay.
Anyway, its desperately in need of time and an unequivocally interesting drink, though I may be being a points miser with the score. $25. 17.4++

Brindabella Hills Shiraz 2006Beautiful wine, simply stunning value ($22 by the dozen). Lovely lifted & very pure berry fragrance that reminds me of a cooler version of the gloriously pure & seamless Meerea Park 07 reds. Very bright, polished & finely spiced wine of spicy texture and lightness. Could imagine drinking heaps of this. Winner. 18.5

Brindabella Hills Sangiovese Shiraz 2005This was under $20 (maybe even under $15?) at the cellar door and it would make for a near ideal quaffer. Again that lovely bright red fruit purity of the Shiraz component, but with some more gamey Sangiovese woven through the wine. Tannins are fine grained, the whole palate really polished and, well, palatable. Good stuff and great value. 17.2

ClonakillaI was lucky to catch it at a lull - apparently the place was heaving during the weekend, up to four deep at the tasting bar. As I left, two mini buses pulled up and I immediately understood....
If you are ever in Canberra, don't miss out on a trip to Clonakilla. Its conveniently located just off the road between Yass & Canberra (though closer to Yass) in the middle of the rather tiny, one-petrol-station-and-a-pub town of Murrumbateman. Even the Shiraz Viognier, when its available, can even be sampled for free at the cellar door... No pretensions here, just consistently brilliant wines.

Clonakilla Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008
On occasion this has really done it for me, but only Very Good today (only!). Quite a tropical and ripe nose, the palate is citrussy and rounded, with natural acidity keeping things from getting fatty. The length though is the winner here - it tastes much more convincing than its price tag. 17.6

Clonakilla Riesling 2008A repeat performance after sampling this last year, this seemed even bigger, riper and more tropical than last time, with a quite large and overt style. Again very drinkable. 18+

Clonakilla Viognier 2008
Only released a week before tasting. Lightly apricotty nose, very tight, coconut oak edged apricot & peachy palate. Very tight & oaky palate. A veritable baby, with joy to give, it just needs time. 17.0+++

Clonakilla O'Riada Shiraz 2007
2% Viognier. Brilliant. If this is any indication of the Estate Shiraz Viognier, it almost deserves its secondary market price tag. Musk & red berry, black pepper & polished black fruit. Long, lovely & polished, if a little bit raw. Big and brawny, love the layers of flavour here. Excellent tannins. Winner. 18.3

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2007I may be the only person who doesn't quite get this. Its just too ripe, too bold to be brilliant. Tight, big & firm, with a very tannic & meaty palate. Love the really ripe fruit, but its still too bulky for love. Yet..17++

HelmIt's always a joy tasting with Ken Helm. Endless stories, local anecdotes and a genuine showmanship to his whole persona. Really like his wines too.

Helm Classic Riesling 2008For my palate the Helm Rieslings seem just a little too forward compared to when first tasted some months ago. An awkward development stage I think. This is nosefilling & generous, broad & lovely, limey & still quite floral. Quite a classic, if not quite brilliant. The palate is a big mouthful of lemon & grapefruit, with a greenish, slightly jarring edge. Still a very good wine, if just a little transitional at present. 17.3+

Helm Premium Riesling 2008
Very similar to the Classic with its broad limey nose. The palate however is shutting down, the greenish acidity taking hold of the palate in a bear hold of structure. If you've got some, leave it be for some time - it will come back. 18++

Helm Cabernet Merlot 2004
Now here is a surprise - a very good Canberra Cabernet! Nicely fragrant, herbaceous nose of blackberry & cassis. The palate is medium bodied and well structured, with no greenness and no over ripeness in site. It's sort of like a cross between a Tuscan Cabernet in ripeness, with a 'lunchtime Claret' palate weight to it. Really very tasty. 17.5

Helm Premium Cabernet 2006
Quite chocolatey, yet also reasonably shy on the nose, the palate is ripe & deeply, intensely flavoured, with a cocoa powder edge. Ultra small red berries, in a Canberra Cabernet? It's actually very Eden Valleyish in style and flavour, like a baby Cyril or the like, mixed with some of the intensity of an old vine Clare Cab. Whatever it is, its, well, delicious. 18.3+

Lerida EstateGreat spot, excellent cellar door, lots of potential. The wines are good enough, though particularly overpriced, especially when placed in the context of the wineries above.

Lerida Estate Chardonnay 2007
Creamy, light & figgy Chardonnay. Simple & approachable. 16.5

Lerida Canberra District Shiraz 2008
Simple, juicy, gamey Shiraz. Light, flavoursome & quite delicious, but it tastes more like a $17 wine, not $28. 16.5

Lerida Shiraz Viognier 2006Big, sweet, choc berry nose, big, ripe & gamey palate. Its unquestionably polished but actually quite simple. Lots of bling. Ridiculous price @$65. 17

Lerida Botrytis Pinot Gris 2007
Surprisingly, my favourite wine in the range. Lovely, quite tropical palate, with nicely honeyed & rich palate. Nice, simple, tasty, good. 17.1

Mt Majura
In time, this will be one of the finest producers in Canberra. The site here is near perfect: Aspect, elevation, slope, soil, the lot (and an excellent mountain bike track at the foot of the hill). The winemaker (Frank Van de Loo) is also one of Canberra's finest. It just needs time. At the moment the range, whilst all high quality & no doubt appealing at cellar door, is simply too vast for my tastes.

Mt Majura Riesling 2008
Always one of the better wines from Mt Majura, this is a lemony & very approachable, simple wine. Simple, pure, tasty. 16.8

Mt Majura Pinot Gris 2008A simple, pure, fruity white, nice, ripe and juicy pear fruit. One dimensional, but delicious. 16.8

Mt Majura Chardonnay 2007It may surprise, but to my taste, this is the finest white this winery makes. Excellent balance between very fine, very well handled vanilla bean oak (very little oak makes this wonderfully bright and light). Great acidity thanks also to limited malo. Great stuff! 17.8

Mt Majura Rose 2008Merlot based. Sweetly caramelised Rose, with candied sweetness and simple flavours. Simple, fun, eminently drinkable. 16.1

Mt Majura Woolshed Creek No.4 TempranilloFurther proof that Tempranillo, along with Shiraz, is the most promising variety here. Sweetly meaty leathery, varietally correct nose. Varietal & clever. The score doesn't give credit for the drinkability. (and relative value). 16.5

Mt Majura Pinot Noir 2008Should be one of the first to be grafted over in the whole district (IMHO). Bright, fruity nose, really bright and open. The palate however is harsh, ripe and disjointed. Not for me. 15.5

Mt Majura Graciano 2007Really interesting. Funky, sappy fruit, sticky, slightly ill defined young vine palate but I really like the intensity here. Great for the interest factor alone. 16.8

Mt Majura Merlot 2007Variety number two for the graft. Sweet mulberry nose, very sweet, admirably approachable and drinkable, but ultimately mono dimensional. 16.1

Mt Majura Shiraz 2007
Distinctive, pure and just plain delicious. It's such a baby, but already greatness is written here. Its a peppery, mid weight, cool climate Shiraz with distinctive ham & spice aromatics and a lovely pure palate. This is much more light, pure and peppery than the rich Murrumbateman wines, but the elemental style is great. Buy some, then wait a year or so before drinking. 18

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Lane Range

Had a visit this afternoon from the affable Ben Tolstoshev, who's family runs The Lane, an Adelaide Hills vineyard with a suitably interesting range of wines.

The Lane Vineyard was actually the original source of the Starvedog Lane wines, with the family involved in a joint venture with Hardys until its takeover by Constellation. Recently, the emphasis has been largely on export markets, hence the smallish local presence, but I can see a ready market for the wines like this in the high end on premise market (the prices are a tad high for traditional retail me thinks).

What is also worth mentioning is the seriousness of the operation - BD but not certified, minimal handling, wild yeast ferments, extremely low sulphur regimes and a highly sophisticated water system (like all Adelaide Hills wineries, water use & recycling are fundamental parts of the operation, due to the Hills Catchment Area status).

Definitely one to watch.

The Wines:

The Lane Vineyard 'Gathering' Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008
Forward, lemony, slightly muted & quite green nose, but flecked with some creamy yeast influences. The palate has grassy green pea & citrus fruit in a rounded style, with some good textural elements, if a little forward. Ringing metallic twinge on the finish. Can't help but feel this might be a bit vintage affected, but I like the interesting mouthfeel on offer. $40. 16.5

Off The Leash 'Max' Shiraz Viognier 2006
Light red colourwith a bricking rim. Fruit driven Shirognier nose in a simple, slightly open, confected style of easy appeal. The palate follows a similar route, with open, sweet berry flavours, though with some more complex roasted notes. It's a friendly BBQ red, though the price could be a bit sharper. $25. 16

The Lane Vineyard 'Reunion' Shiraz 2007
Purpley red in colour, this is an interesting take on Adelaide Hills Shiraz. The nose is almost Amarone like in its slightly skinsy, sweet, caramelised cherry liqueur style, with some oxidative notes too. The palate mirrors this, with sweet, soft, pulpy fruit amidst some woody, peppery & slightly astringent structural elements. Its not quite cohesive as yet, but it is unquestionably interesting. $55. 17

The Lane Vineyard '19th Meeting' Cabernet Sauvignon
My pick of the reds. Dense, cassisy cool climate Cabernet characters with a lick of coffee oak. Its on the fragrant & utterly cool climate end of the Cabernet spectrum, with the hardwood & coffee bean aromatics to match. The palate follows with astringent tannins, but just enough generosity to match. It reminds me much of 85% cocoa chocolate, with the firm dryness and chalky, cocoa bean edge. Some slightly stewed characters on the end are the only detraction. Built for the future, but utterly fine grained and again interesting. Good. My only negative is the somewhat questionable value @$55. 17.3+

Blue Pyrenees Reserve Red 2004

Blue Pyrenees Reserve Red 2004 (Pyrenees, Vic)
$40, Cork

40 years young, and still sporting the same label from 10 years ago (the pic to the left is of the 02 vintage, but little change for the 04). That's Blue Pyrenees for you & I can't say that I would want it to change. I like 'em. I like the beefy, herbaceous, eucalypty, dense & minty wines, the no nonsense whites and I really like the prices, however I can understand why you could be turned off - they are unique. To me, these wines have an applaudable depth of fruit & complexity that only comes from old vines in the right spot, and that alone deserves celebration.

The nose of this wine then is, almost predictably, spearminty & eucalypty. Its almost like someone cleaned the glass with Colgate & Vicks. Importantly however, I don't think this is unripe - though the nose will clear the sinuses. The clearly ripe fruit comes through on the densely packed, particularly well built, muscular palate. Its big, increidbly tannic and almost antiquated in its density & chewiness. Nothing to cuddle here. Rather, like Cabernet based wines of yore, it actually needs cellaring. It won't just get softer and rounder, it will actually evolve, like a sullen teenager who comes out of his shell and becomes a top bloke. It just needs patience.

This is a wine for woodchoppers, sailors and other gruff types. It's so very masculine, yet, don't tell anyone, its actually really well balanced (if you can hack the mint & eucalpyt) & will, quintessentially, reward the patient like few other modern Australian wines.

I'll be buying some. 18.4++

Monday, 27 April 2009

Heemskerk Coal River Chardonnay 2006

Heemskerk Coal River Chardonnay 2006 (Coal River Valley, Tas)
$50, Screwcap

The Fosters paradox - How can a wine company, in such terminal flux and confusion, still manage to pump out wines such as this, that are so contemporary, well packaged & good quality? The answer is that, in amongst the mismanagement, there are a great many mismanaged, intelligent employees (Look only to Peter Gago, Oliver Crawford etc).

A bright, pale yellow colour, the nose is mealy, faintly sawdusty, grapefruity & quite high toned. It smells like well made, new world, cool climate Chardonnay in an obvious, yet quality mould.
The palate is faintly peachy with some upfront fruit sweetness, leading to a quite lean, crisp, somewhat oaky palate that still feels quite tight & vanilla bean oak driven. The finish is high enough in acid, if just a little muddled, and continues to be attractive.

A good new world Chardonnay then, that certainly needs some time in the bottle, yet shows an elegance and restraint that works quite well here. I find the oak a little intrusive & the nose is nicer than the palate at present, but I like the wines general persona, packaging and general style. Good. 17.3+

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Jancis on the ethics of Wine Writing

A brilliant piece that sets the standard for independent wine writing:

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Teusner Albert Shiraz 2006

Teusner Albert Shiraz 2006 (Barossa Valley, SA)
$45, Cork

It's hard not to like the wines of Kym Teusner - old vine derived (45-90yrs old) Barossan reds that are sensitively oaked (24 months in 30% new) French and intelligently made. Lots of boxes ticked there...

A dense, purple edged red colour, the nose is soft & distinctively Barossan - a touch of VA at first, then deep plum, blackcurrant, and vanilla bean characters in a plush & open knit style. The palate has that magic combination of plush fruit of limitless depth, and an enhancing twist of choc vanilla oak that makes for a mouthfeel of cosseting flavour. It feels like a warm embrace of ripe, sweet fruit that flows right through the palate, with only a dry edge of tannins to limit the love.

Delightfully Barossan, its this sort of soft bear hug of a wine that Australian palates like to drink. Its quite sweet, ripe and only medium bodied, with a structure skewed towards plushness over savouriness, yet also wonderously dense, concentrated and unquestionably pure. It's a typical Australian style, done incredibly well. 18.4

Another Day, another ridiculous attack on the drinks industry

'Booze industry big tobacco tricks'


A news story based around 15 year old data - hardly cutting edge, but the sentiments in the comments are a real worry for the drinks industry...

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Jean Foillard Morgon 'Cote du Py' 2007

Jean Foillard 'Cote du Py' 2007 (Morgon, Beaujolais, France)
Cork, $60

This wine is, without a doubt, as far removed from typical Beaujolais as you are likely to encounter. Instead, consider this to be more closely aligned with a light & fragrant Burgundy than anything else. What makes this wine even more unique is that it is made without additions of any kind. Not even sulphur dioxide. Indeed, it is about as 'natural' as you can get. And it tastes gloriously unique.

The colour is particularly dark given its humble Gamay origins, again more Burgundian ruby red, with a reasonable depth to it. It's also cloudy & my glass come with some floaty bits - just to emphasise how absolutely natural it is.

On the nose, this is brimming with life. Perfumed sweet, ripe redcurrant, a twist of licorice, and something earthy and ferruginous in there too. Very fresh indeed (who needs sulphur? Though will it age?).

The palate is similarly perfumed, curranty & intensely pure, with quite high acidity & proper grape tannins on the tail. It feels very young, and finishes slightly bitter, but there is no hiding the absolute beguiling, crystalline red fruit character.

Extremely impressive advert for the natural wine movement. 18.0

Monday, 20 April 2009

Biodynamics - Pseudo Science?

An excellent article on the question marks over biodynamics. It even has the appropriate references required for inclusion in a peer reviewed Science Journal.

Well worth a read

Friday, 17 April 2009

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Stefano Lubiana Pinot Noir 2004

Stefano Lubiana Pinot Noir 2004 (Tasmania)
$45, Cork, 13.5%
Winery Website

Tasmania is often heralded as the ubiquitous 'next big thing' in wine circles and I, for one, am looking forward to it. More fragrant whites & savoury Pinots (not to mention the sparklings) please!

It's not often, however, that I try a Tasmanian Pinot with any sort of bottle age on it (Domaine A excepted), so this bottle is a rare experience indeed.

This Stefano Lubiana Pinot then is a light ruby red colour with tawny edges, showing a subdued nose that is rather secondary in nature, the gamey, leathery sappy elements taking over, crushing the primary fruit verve. On the palate the licoricey, red fruit & mulch of the mid palate is a winner, but the dried, slightly metallic & minty back end is quite drawn and not particularly attractive.

A somewhat faded style, this is still drinkable in its maturing Pinot mould, however it lacks the freshness, complexity or interest to save it from averageness. 16

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Pyramid Valley Grower Series Pinot Blanc 2007

Pyramid Valley Grower Series Pinot Blanc 2007 (Marlborough, NZ)
$50, Screwcap, 13,9%

Winery Website

They don't come more 'cultish' than Pyramid Valley. Comfortably sitting up there with Dry River or Puriri Hills on the scale of ultra serious, boutique Kiwi makers with seriously cultish reputations. Curiously you can still pick up some of their wines from the (low-tech) website above, at very reasonable prices. This is my first experience with this label & judging by this bottle, I wouldn't hesitate in recommending jumping head first into the rest of the wines (though availability in Aus could be somewhat of an issue).

Golden yellow & slightly cloudy in colour, with one finger of tartrate crystals in the bottom of the bottle, reminding of the minimal filtration & 'natural wine' approach here. A cultish approach even. The nose is rich & full, with honeyed, glace fruit & just a nuance of lifted florals. The nose is serious Pinot Blanc, but blunter than the best Alsatian benchmarks.

This carries through to a powerhouse palate, dominated by the same honeyed richness shown on the nose & creamy generosity filling out the palate. Its big and ripe, but also somewhat hot & bulky. Lovely density & texture on the palate, but just a little hollow & overripe.

Still delicious and utterly genuine in nature regardless. 17.5

For another perspective, check out Edward's (the wino sapien) review on this same wine here

Wine may increase healthy fats in the bloodstream

More good news on the wine and heart health front:

'Moderate alcohol consumption has long been known to be protective against mortality from coronary heart disease, but the biological mechanism of this effect is unknown. A new analysis suggests that drinking wine may alter the composition of healthy fats in the blood, mimicking the beneficial effects of seafood consumption and conferring protection against heart disease.'

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Sydney International Wine Competition 2009 - The Reds

Best to start here

This is the rose, red & fortified continuation of the notes from the Sydney International Wine Competition 2009 Tasting, separated by category.

As usual, these notes are done at relative speed, so the notes are more qualitative & less quantitative....

Category 7 Rose Wines
One clear winner here!

Dal Zotto Rosato 2008
Trophy winner. Lovely pink colour, the nose has typical red fruit but also a little creaminess which adds interest. The palate is perfectly dry but with quite generous fruit on the palate, making for a rather balanced wine indeed. Very good! 17.8

Logan Hannah Rose 2008
Strawberries & cream on the nose, this is a lovely richer & pinoty style that is mouthfilling, if a little fat. Quite drinkable (excellent labelling too). 17.1

Symphonia Wines Tempranillo Rosata 2008
Meaty, leathery, Tempranillo nose. Sweet, slightly feral, lunch meat & cherries on the palate. OK, if just a little meaty for real attraction. 16.1

Category 8 Pinot Noir Wines
Watch out Australia! Not one Aussie Pinot in amongst the points here....

Bald Hills Single Vineyard Pinot 2007
Truffle, mushroom & beef on the nose, the palate is quite grippy & savoury with excellent proportions. Superb pinosity. Delicious. The first of many excellent 07 South Island Pinots. 18.3

Bald Hills Single Vineyard Pinot 2006
Drier, more dull & backward nose than the 07, the palate has a spicy acid tang but it all falls away by the finish. Massive step down. 16.7

Blind River Pinot Noir 2007
Beautiful, obvious, choc berry nose. Noticeable oak & rich plumpness of Raspberry fruit. Very drinkable & pure. 18

Coal Pit Tiwha Pinot Noir 2007
Apparently just pipped at the post for best Pinot here. Excellent pinosity. Distinctive regional characters. Slightly stewed, red fruit nose, the palate has high acid & a tangy, spicy palate, with a sinewy finish. Bitter tannins, but no astringency. Superb structure & line. Very convincing. 18.6

Drumsara Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007
Worthy trophy winner. Lovely opulent nose that has the perfect expression of density & power, plus the femininity that Pinot does so well. High acid doesn't intrude onto very pretty red palate. Simply lovely. Great value too, all things considered. Now to find some. (Which is actually quite hard unless I want to ship it from NZ). 18.7

Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir 2007
What has happened to Gibbston Valley? The prices have gone up, yet the quality has gone down..Upfront, sweet fruit, very simple. No complexity. Still a good wine, but missing something.. 16.5

Peregrine Pinot Noir 2007
Rather simple nose is a direct contrast to the palate which is quite long, meaty and surprisingly chewy. Nice tannins. The whole package grows on you with more time in the glass. Hold. 17.5+

Van Asch Pinot Noir 2006
Again showcasing the vast gap between the 06 & 07 wines. Slightly sweaty nose, the palate is rich & very dense but also muddy & soupy. Ok only. 16.2

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2007
Stick aside your Villa Maria prejudices and just enjoy this. Polished, bright & open nose, similarly open, sweet fruited & juicy palate of big fruit, plenty of oak, and lots of ripe Marlborough fruit. Hard not to appreciate really. Winning price and freely available. 18.3

Category 9 Lighter Bodied Dry Red Wines

Blackjack Shiraz 2005
Hardly light bodied but a winner all the same. Rich, choc-formic, choc bullets oak Bendigo nose. Very ripe, very sweet & tarry palate. Lots of sweet cocoa berry fruit, so lush & charming and never feels heavy or too ripe. Very youthful. Delicious. 18.2

Kangarilla Road Primitivo 2006
Light red colour. Stewed, bitter & alcoholic palate. Strained, hot & lacking in fruit. 14.9

Kangarilla Road Shiraz 2006
Whats going on Kangarilla? Another disappointment. Big, sweet oak nose, nice & rich dark fruit, finish though is bitter and overly alcoholic. 16.0

Kilikanoon Medley GSM 2006
Nice, candied Grenache dominant nose, sweet cinnamon & star anise complexity. Nicely layered & well put together. The ideal GSM blueprint, if not overly intense. 18

Kirrihill SVS Baile An Gharrai Shiraz 2006
Furniture polish, rum & raisin icecream & blackcurrant & mint patties on the rather delicious nose. Very clean & polished palate that tastes mid weight and interesting. Very good. 18.1

Mission Estate Jewelstone Syrah 2007
Oaked blackberry juicy nose with a liberal dash of pepper. After this it falls down a bit, becoming hollow through the middle, before picking it back up again on the tail. Halfway there. 16.8

Old Mill Estate Touriga Nacional 2007
Sweet & quite fresh berry nose, juicy, spicy, savoury, hemp & leather palate that is unusual and unsurprisingly gamey. Interesting, with real potential for future vintages. 16.9.

Paxton AAA Shiraz Grenache 2007
A rather big step down from the 06, this is simply too sweet - like sucking on a cherry ripe. 07 SA vintage strikes again! 16+

Sanguine Estate 'Estate' Shiraz 006
Typically Heathcote big, ripe and plush palate. Alcohol derails the finish. Nice enough, if unremarkable. 16.9

Category 10 Medium Bodied Dr Red Wines

Anvers Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Simple nose, one dimensional palate. Its obviously very tight & youthful, yet it seems to lack the stuffing or interest to really convince. 16.8+

d'Arenberg The Galvo Garage 2006
Tight, densely packed nose, very ripe and full palate, with firm blackcurrant of impressive length. All it needs is time. Amazing to place the above wine next to this - so similar in style, yet the d'Arenberg seems to be so much more dense, interesting & promising. 18+

Elephant Hill Hawkes Bay Reserve Syrah 2007
No elephant, just ham. Ignore the hammy nose & slightly sour edge to the palate, for underneath its a stalky, meaty red of good fruit purity. Good, but I'm a bit wary of the piggy smells on the nose. 16.8

Grove Estate Nebbiolo 2007
Cherry & musk on the very open nose, sweet & utterly upfront. But thats the problem. Its just simple fruit. Only very light tannins & distracting sweetness, barley recognisable as a Neb. No. 15.3

Langmeil 'The Freedom' 1843 Shiraz 2006
Sweetly oak & fruit crammed nose of limitless depth - old vine Barossa to the core. Really dense & chocolatey & long. Yum. Long, alcoholic, beautifully generous & textured palate. Lovely Barossan Shiraz, lacking only a smidgen of intensity on the finish. 18.4

Mission Estate Reserve Syrah 2007
Big step up on the standard Syrah. The nose is much more Northern Rhonish, leading to a slightly bitter, stalky palate that is tight, layered & stylish. Proudly mid weight. Very attractive indeed! 18.2

Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo 2007
very youthful, freshly bottled like nose. Some horsey Tempranillo on the nose, but its all lost in the ripeness & the oak. Could be very good in time. 17++

Villa Maria Estate Reserve Syrah 2006
Lots of sweet oak on the nose, licoricey, dense, sappy & slightly palate. Good, but doesn't quite flow like it should. 16.8

Voyager Estate Shiraz 2006
Reticent nose, really closed. Savoury & deep palate. Firm, well structured & brooding. Lock it away in the cellar. 17++

Wirra Wirra The Angelus Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Black, warm McLaren Vale fruit yet with some obviously earlier picked, minty, more varietally correct fruit underneath. Thats the message here and its both sour and rich and rather satisfying (If you don't mind the minty edge). 17.7

Westend 3 Bridges Reserve Shiraz 2006
Sweet & sour black fruit on a big & juicy, very ripe palate. Its all quite one dimensional and somewhat alcoholic grape cordial, but thats detracting from the juiciness, which is still quite appealing. Should improve with age & a reasonable quaff at the moment. 16++

Blackjack Shiraz 2006
Sweet coconut & raspberry nose, loads of sweet fruit & oak. Same on the palate. Very youthful, but overly sweet. Such a different wine to the 05 tasted earlier. 16.8++

Category 11 Fuller Bodied Dry Red Wines

Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
McLaren Vale cab to the core! You know the drill - its blackberry juice, hardly 'varietal', but so delicious and rich and moreish, all mid palate generosity & proper tannins. Its wine like this that win friends and influence people, with even the most jaded OZ critic happy to drink a glass on the side. Chunky, full bodied, even some leafiness in there too. Winner. 18+

Fox Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
An excellent wine to follow the Chapel Hill as they share so much, not the least of which is the 2006 vintage, which I think is a great one in McLaren Vale. This has more funk than the Chapel Hill on the nose and a stupidly tannic, beasty palate of monolithic proportions. After all that though, its actually again a very drinkable wine, if cast in a bigger mould than the Chapel Hill. Both wines are well worth a punt. 18+

Jacobs Creek 35th Anniversary Padthaway Shiraz 2005
Trophy Winner (& a Stodart winner from 06), I'm guessing this is Lawsons under a new label and given some special treatment. Whatever it is, its a winning wine. Intense, hugely sweet & oaky in that bright, musk sticks and iced coffee style, with some of the unusual florals and complexity that this famously unusual vineyard can produce. Very smooth. Huge. Almost too big & sweet fruited. 18.5

Kalgan River Ciprian Shiraz 2007
Trophy winner. Rubbery, young vine nose, a little Viognier? Sweet redcurrant in a very simple style. Average. 15.8

Mcwilliams 1877 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2004
Coonawarra Cabernet dominated by the smell of things. Quite conventional, dry, tobacco, leafy nose. Rather lacking in freshness & feeling dried out indeed. 16.9

Mitchelton Print Shiraz 2004
Stupidly heavy bottle. Some welcome bottle age has helped this become integrated & soft, with nice polished black fruit & sweet oak. The oak however feels a little green & harsh on the back palate. Might work itself out with time. 17.0+

Mount Cole Wineworks Fenix Rising Shiraz 2005
Big black ball of fruit power on the nose, extremely long, polished, sweet fruit palate. Lovely Grampians Shiraz. $40 and worth every cent. 18.7

Murray Street Vineyards The Barossa 2006

Strange nose. Licorice, red berry, cabbage, the lot. Palate is hot & confected. Both ripe & underripe. No. 14.5

Murray Street Vineyards Shiraz 2006
Dense, tight, chocolatey nose. Smooth blackberry fruit is noticeable ripe but enjoyably plush. Good, if a little overripe. 16.5+

Neagles Rock One Black Dog Cabernet Shiraz 2005
Seriously dense, its one black wine. Cast in that massively concentrated style that Leasingham was (previously) known for. You spit oak chips out when moving onto the palate, but I think it has the concentration to outlast the oak. Hold. 17++

Plunkett Fowles Upton Reserve Shiraz 2005
Huge bottle & theatrical wax seal. Huge, mega sweet oak nose, palate is suitable chunky & black fruited, with just an edge of bitterness to remind of its cool climate origins. Very polished. Good stuff. 18

Plunkett Reserve Shiraz 2005
How can the two come from the same maker? Stalky, green fruit & lots of pepper on the nose, palate is bitter yet also overripe. All over the shop. 14.5

Reschke Empyrean 2004
Very tight, quite herbaceous nose. Palate is really medium bodied and obviously built for age, but its also lacking in absolute stuffing & just a little too leafy. Should get better with time, however at the stupid $120 price few will take the punt to find out. 16.8++

Cat Amongst the Pigeons Nine Lives Barossa Valley Shiraz 2007
Picked up a big gong here, but it does little for me. Still, if you can pick it up for $14 its quite fair value. Jubey & youthful nose, the palate is slightly sour & rough. Not bad, but hardly great either. Another 07 Barossan dud. 15.0

The Old Faithful Wine Company 'Top of the Hill' Shiraz 2006
I picked this as McLaren Vale from the get-go. Its that distinctive & great. Just list the usual McLaren Vale Shiraz descriptors, they all apply - it's a dense, intense, cossetingly ripe Shiraz of unquestionable appeal. Great. 18.2

Category 13 Fortified Wines

De Bortoli Show Liqueur Muscat NV
Richly honeyed & thick. Its a quite dry style - not as sweet as many other similar Muscats, which works quite well here. Very good & well priced too. 17.5

Mcwilliams Hanwood Classic Muscat NV
Much lighter & more youthful. Nutty oak nose & obviously younger material. Nice & fresh all the same though. 16.8

Morris Old Premium Liqueur Muscat NV
How do you score this? Simply put, this is one of the finest fortified wines in the world. Amazingly rich, super intense, with a finish that lingers for half an hour. Decadent. Magnificent. Aside from the very rare older Morris super special releases, this is hard to beat. The score reflects that. 19.5

Morris Old Premium Liqueur Tokay NV
The only challenge is spitting it out. Every taste reveals something new. Beguiling, Coffeed Tokay flavours. Unctuous. Unforgettably delicious. You get the drift. 19.5

Yaldara Reserve Muscat NV
Good effort. Nowhere near as astoundingly fresh as the Morris, nor as unctuous, yet its still lovely and rich. Good. Yum. 17.7

Akarua Cadence Pinot Noir 2006

Akarua Cadence Pinot Noir 2006 (Central Otago, NZ)
$NZ40, Screwcap, 14%

New Central Otago Pinot producers seem to be popping up at an amazing pace of late. I'm all for it, however keeping track of the labels can be quite a challenging experience, particularly given that the asking prices start at $AUS40, and distribution is usually taken care of by niche wholesalers (which lessens the opportunities to taste at trade events).

This bottle, however, was purchased at an Auckland bottleshop, and the winery itself has somewhat of a proud history, with the 2002 vintage of this wine winning 'wine of show' at the 2003 Air New Zealand Wine Awards. The 2006, however, comes from a much more challenging vintage in Otago, which really shows here.

A truly bright, mauve/purple/dark fuschia (not my word, but excellent, colour chart worthy stuff) colour, this looks very appealing in the glass. On the nose it has ripe cherries, musk & pepper, mixed with a little sweaty funk. The palate starts with a hit of ripe, musky fruit, but then falls away dramatically, the mid palate full of holes, with alcohol heat the only resounding element of the back end, the 14% alcohol making its presence well known.

So this slightly harsh & warm Pinot simply reminds that Central Otago is a marginal wine region, and Pinot Noir is a bitch of a variety. This 06 is current release, but I would be holding off for the much more favourably framed 07 vintage wine. 15.0

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Two simple sips

I apologise for the slightly vague tasting 'vibes' below, but these two were both 'drunk' as opposed to 'tasted'.

Le Vigne di Alice Brut 'Doro' Prosecco di Valdobbiadene 2007
A proper Prosecco this is, and delightful in its style. Honeyed, quite floral, very crisp and slightly off dry, its light on its feat and juicy in a style that Prosecco does so well. Personally I prefer my Prosecco's just a little drier, but as an aperitif style this is simply attractive. 17

Penfolds Bin 138 GSM 2005
A winner. Utterly Penfoldian in its chocolatey richness, utterly Grenache dominated with its candied red fruit character & typically Barossan in its generosity. I'm not always a fan of the oaky, massaged Penfolds Bin wines, but this has character at a very real price. Showcasing the best of the 05 vintage, this is a much better wine than the current release 07. Well worth finding. 17.8

Friday, 10 April 2009

Blain Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet 'Clos St Jean' 2005

Blain Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet 'Clos St Jean' 2005 (Burgundy, France)
$105, Cork

I don't really 'buy' much white Burgundy. I taste a bit, think about buying a bit, but end up actually purchasing very little. It's a curious situation, given I have quite a penchant for Chardonnay, and will happily fork out my dollars for top shelf Chardonnay based wines from elsewhere. But if ever I needed reminding why I buy so little, it is in this bottle.

The challenge is that buying white Burgundy has become a lottery. Like buying wines at auction, you never really know what each bottle is going to be like, even if you are completely in control of the wines providence. If its not the dreaded random oxidation (randox), its cork taint. If it's not cork taint then it can just be the all encompassing 'bad bottle'. Finally, if its not a bad bottle, its just an average wine, or a good wine that has developed, often prematurely, into an average wine.

So, faced with this situation, the attraction of forking out considerable sums (especially in our exchange rate challenged nation), for what could potentially be a very expensive bottle of average wine, is rather lessened.

This wine then is an ideal example. Having tasted (and enjoyed) the 06 vintage of this very wine, and being a fan of the other Blain Gagnards, I popped one of these in the basket. At $105, its hardly cheap, especially given that I can pick up two bottles of superb Australian, New Zealand, even French, Chardonnay based wines for the same price. But, the rationalisation is that its top quality and thus deserving of the sum.

The wine, however, ultimately falls well short of what is both expected and desired. To make things worse, the variability spectre hangs over the whole experience. You can't just write the wine off with some authority as a 'dud', as you simply can't tell what the next bottle will be like. Will another bottle be better or worse? This didn't smell oxidised or tainted, so we can cross that off, but perhaps its just a ubiquitous bad bottle? Without opening up yet another (potentially average) $105 bottle, I may never really find out...

This Blain Gagnard itself mid yellow in colour, quite bright even, with a nose that is pure white Burgundy. Caramel development, some golden fruit, mealy oak & a slatey, slightly metallic edge. Not bad so far. From here the palate starts out creamy & fat, rich & mouthfilling, but like sand through your fingers, it just falls away. Butterscotch development ultimately renders the back end all awkward and quite unpalatable, ending chunky, ugly & even astringent on the finish, leaving a rather sweet, burnt butter aftertaste. Its all flab and no fruit, with no freshness to be seen

The wine then isn't particularly enjoyable, reminding more of an older Margaret River Chardy, from an indifferent vintage, than supposedly Premier Cru (from an exceptional vintage) white Burgundy.

What this wine also does is remind, yet again, how much I take for granted consistency. The knowledge that most likely, my chosen bottle of (screwcap sealed) Clare Riesling, Marlborough Chardonnay, Alsatian Pinot Blanc, Austrian Gruner, German Riesling & Tasmanian Pinot, will taste near to, or exactly, as the maker intended. Furthermore, until the perilous reliability situation of white Burgundy changes, I won't be buying much in the near future. 15.5

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Taltarni Cephas 2003

Taltarni Cephas 2003 (Pyrenees, Vic)
$40, Cork

Quite imposing packaging for the Cephas. Huge bottle, sexy black label, the lot.
The Cephas though is a somewhat forgotten wine though in the scheme of things, despite its two glinting gold medals on the label. Taltarni's profile continues to be very low indeed (aside from the Clover Hill)

Dry, volatile nose that really needs come coaxing in the glass to come back to life. Minty, dense and a little stewed/vegetal. The palate is dried out and drawn, very strong tannins dominating what is left of the fruit. Heading nowhere good either (metallic finish doesn't help). Average. 14.9

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Sydney International Wine Competition 2009 - The Whites

I rather like the premise of the Sydney International Wine Competition, especially the 'tasting with food' premise that underlies the blue gold section of the awards. I also applaud the decidedly international flavour of the judges, giving a different perspective than seen in the typical Australian wine show.

The net outcome of this more unique take on the wine show format is the results can be quite eclectic. Thankfully I like eclectic, and there was plenty to like here - a high standard indeed.

For the complete results, go here.

The notes here are raw and largely as written in my trusty Spirax notebook. I have broken them down into Sparkling, Whites & Dessert wines to start, the rest to follow in a further post.

Category 1 Sparkling Wines

Besserat De Bellefon CDM Blanc De Blancs NV
Obviously creamy Blanc de Blanc style, big palate is just a little tinny. Good intensity & some complexity. Good. 17.3

Besserat De Bellefon CDM Brut NV
Shy, slightly muted cheesy nose. Cheesy palate with sour fruit. Not quite. A little sour and unenjoyable. 16

Charles Heidsieck Brut NV (2008 disgorgement)
Dense nose, nice yeast development, lovely richness to the palate. Really nice. Still one of my favourite NV's. 17.9

Giesler Brut NV
Nice full yeasty nose - worked & full. Creamy palate. Palate is generous but a little heavy on the dosage for top marks. 16.9

Category 2 Aromatic Whites

Bay of Fires Riesling 2008
Tight, green apple & lemon nose, tight & quite lean palate that is all citrus & acidity, Needs time - gives little away at present, but potential plus. 17++

Haymaker Waipara Riesling 2008
Fat & quite limey almost Clare like nose, lilt of tropical sweetness on one dimensional, pure palate. Light & thin but crisp. 16.2

Jacobs Creek Reserve Riesling 2008
Intense nose is pure Eden (plenty of Eden fruit in here I'll wager). Palate starts tight, getting bigger and more intense as it builds. Another winning Jacobs Creek wine. Buy some. 18

Kilikanoon Morts Block Watervale Riesling 2008
Genuine Watervale lime juice nose - yum. Much more backwards than most Clare 08's. Palate is chalky & dry with dense, limey power just below the surface. Really good, though lacking the intensity for higher marks. 17.0

Palandri Frankland River Riesling 2006
Won a trophy here, though did nothing for me: Big, fat, obvious toasty developed style. Quite soft palate is all toast. I like toast. But wine should be more than just toast. One dimensional & ordinary. 15.1

Schild Estate Frontignac 2008
Big, honeyed, floral Fronti nose, big, rich sickly sweet palate has prickly honey fruit and a big hole through the middle. Awkward, unbalanced. No. 14

Trevor Jones 'Boots' Eden Valley Riesling 2008
Tight, typically 08 Eden tight - love em. Palate matches this with good intensity, if just a little chunky. Excellent acidity. One of those wines where you think about it 2 minutes later and realise 'Hey, that was really good.' 17.2

Category 3 Sauvignon Blanc
I was really impressed here - many good quality 'reserve' wines showing the expected intensity and style.

Huntaway Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Trophy Winner. Nicely intense nose in the capsicum and gooseberry, leaner realm of Marlborough Sauv. Slightly sour, tinny, developing palate. Disappointing. 16.0

Hunter's Khao Roa Oak Aged Sauvignon Blanc 2006
Oaked herbs. Dill. Lovely interplay here between herbs and oak and remarkable freshness. Quite creamy palate with no off putting bits. Very good! 18

Mud House Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008
It's been a while since my last visit to the Mud House & I've been missing out. Nicely varietal nose that is herbaceous, citrussy & fresh. Great fruit quality - none of the overcropping shown in many Marlborough 08 Sauv's. Quite textural too. Well done. 18

Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008
This time around and its worth its pricetag. Tightly packed, dense nose that feels like double strength Marlborough Sauv. Intense, green fruit, razor sharp intensity, big acid. Just the perfect Marlborough Sauv. 18.5

Tohu Wines Mugwi Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Another reserve wine that felt like reserve quality fruit. This actually had some creamy yeasty influences on the nose, suggesting some clever winemaking influences. Very fresh & big, chewy palate of serious intensity. Power and style. 18

Triplebank Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Perhaps my favourite of the lot. Quite a traditional gooseberry-meets-tropical-fruit nose. The palate deftly matches herbaceousness with the requisite ripe fruit generosity. Very high quality & 'classic'. 18.2

Vavasour Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2008
I think this suffered due to being served too cold. Slightly shy, green bean nose, another traditionally proportioned palate, but lacking intensity. Still good quality. 17

Category 4: Lighter Bodied Dry Whites

Astrolabe Marlborough Pinot Gris 2008
Slightly sweet & a bit bland. A decent attempt at the richer Alsatian style but just comes across as a tad simple. 16.5

Bimbadgen Signature Mcdonalds Road Semillon 2006

Trophy Winner. Sadly, not my style of Hunter Sem: Carrying the green pea and straw character that I dislike in certain youngish Hunter Semillons. Still, I can appreciate the structure, which is powerful and built for the long haul. 16.2+

Chrismont La Zona Albarino 2008
Trophy winner. Big disappointment. Nothing nose, hot, ill defined palate. Lacks thrust, varietal character & appeal. 15.0-

Esk Valley Black Label Chenin Blanc 2008
Nicely crisp, varietal, honey & passionfruit nose. Lovely generous rich palate, very forward and drinkable. Very appealing, if not terribly complex. 17.0

Trentham Estate Albarino 2008
Starts superbly. Nicely ripe nose, full of appeal. Palate lets it all down. Had me convinced someone had poured Riverina Sem Chard in there by mistake. Watery & cheap tasting. 14.5

Vasse Felix Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008
I love this style of wine. Really love it. Love drinking it, love the definition, love the freshness, love the absolute pristine varietal characters most importantly. This is cast in a aromatic, herbal Sauvignon Blanc meets the more mid palate based generosity of Semillon and they hookup in a perfect symbiotic pairing. Lovely. 18.3

Wither Hills Marlborough Pinot Gris 2008
Wishy washy, 'grey' pear nose. Palate though makes up for it - ripe & textural with phenolic grip matching some RS sweetness. Clever. Tasty. Good. 17.9

Category 5 Medium Bodied Dry White Wines

Arlewood Estate 'Sussex Location 3391' Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2006
Almost predictably brilliant, though as noted above, I'm a sucker for the style. This reminds me much of the similarly top shelf 06 Wallcliffe Sem/Sauv. Both showcase how well this style did in the chilly 06 vintage. Oaky, full & powerful nose, oak interwoven with lean grapefruit & white peach fruit, underlayed with the citrus fruit and dry finish that marks this style. Chardy like palate weight, but leaner and drier. Yum. 18.5

Juniper Estate Chardonnay 2007
Screams 07 Margaret River. Big, full, very ripe oak & golden fruit nose. Big, slightly hot, but utterly full steam palate. Nutty MR regionality. Great value. 17.5

Juniper Estate Semillon 2007
Nicely herbal nose. Another 'big oak' nose. Palate is fresh but dull and a little grey & neutral, the oak running the show. Nice dry finish. Needs about 12 months to come together. 16.8+

Millbrook Estate Viognier 2007
Quite light in colour, the nose is quite restrained and varietal. The palate however is big & alcoholic, the alcohol heat throwing the whole wine off balance. 16

Mount Dottrel Pinot Gris 2008
Light pear nose, palate shows good sweetness balance. Ultimately however its just too simple for top marks. 16.4

Spy Valley Pinot Gris 2008
Another grey, nothing nose. Overly sweet, dull palate. Disappointing. 15

Te Whare Ra Pinot Gris 2008
Growing tired of these watery, ill defined Pinot Gris. This has much better balance & drinkability, with proper concentration. Still a simple wine... 16.9

Tyrrells HVD Semillon 2003
Magic. Dense, old vine nose. Toast, lemony power, powerful, perfectly built palate. The secret here is just the intensity and complexity - it moves from green acidity to rich toasty development and back again with every sip. World class wine that could hold its own with German Riesling, White Burgundy, Alsatian Gewurtz's, Loire Chenins, all of them. 19.2

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2007
Big & massive & full on nose. Its full on Viognier done well. Chubby apricotty palate is just so generous and rich. Really tasty & convincing! 18.3

Fuller Bodied Dry White Wines

John Forrest Chardonnay 2004
Really good! Tight, milk & custard nose. Long, creamy & intense palate in a rounded, yet well structured Marlborough mould. I often find the Marlborough Pinots have the same trait - curvaceous yet fit. There is some bubblegum like development/winery influences here, but they can't detract from the drinkability. 18

Evans & Tate Wildberry Springs Chardonnay 2005
Dense & oaky. Heavily worked and just dull, almost sickly in its cheesy worked expression. A caricature. 14.5

Mission Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2007
Bright & modern nose. Quite oaky and generous and rich. Could be from just about anywhere however, which detracts from the final appeal. Would look better if presented by itself however. 16.8

Montalto Chardonnay 2007
Quite a rich, caramel & fig nose. Big and good quality if a tad broad. 17.2

Vavasour Anna's Vineyard Chardonnay 2006
Complex, figgy & layered style. Rich & well balanced. Obvious step up in quality & style. 18

Wills Domain Chardonnay 2007
High toned & quite elegant for the vintage. Quite a bright and airy palate. Nice. 17.6

Yalumba FDW7C Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2007
Milky, incredibly well made, golden Chard thats cleverly worked. Finishes dry and interesting. Polished stuff. 17.8

Category 12 Dessert (unfortified) wines

Josef Chromy Botrytis Riesling 2007
Multiple trophy winner here. Floral, but grapey and only lightly Botrytis influenced nose. Long & juicy, lighter apricot & peach style. Nicely done. 17.5

Villa Maria Estate Reserve Noble Riesling 2006
Pungent & juicy, Marmalade nose. Hugely proportioned palate. Enormously sweet & fat, but tasty all the same. 17.5

Schild Estate Shiraz 2006

Schild Estate Shiraz 2006 (Barossa, SA)
$20, Screwcap, 14.5%
Winery Website

Schild Estate - You don't get any more Germanic than that. Should be drunk with some sort of spiced sausage & sauerkraut too. I like the Schild Estate wines - genuinely Barossan wines at genuine prices.

This is a nice enough drink, but it's a much lesser prospect than the previous vintage. 06 in the Barossa seems to be like that - rather variable. The nose is soft & sweetly red berried, liquered & ripe, but also slightly dull & mono dimensional. The palate is soft and flowing with milk chocolate and red fruit that all falls away at the finish. Very weak on the tail this is.

I think this should fill out with some time in the bottle, but at present its just too bland to be convincing. 16.2+

Monday, 6 April 2009

The weekend that was...

800kms. 130+ Wines. 2 x 10km Runs, 7 Cellar Doors. 2 Large Bondi Meals. 1 White Chocolate Magnum. 1 Wine Competition Tasting. 1 Harvest Festival.

Welcome to my weekend.

A weekend where I attempted to jam as many activities as is humanly possible into 48 hours of freedom. A weekend where the entertainment was varied, but with much of it wine centred (except for the chicken burgers).

From Alsatian whites with Japanese Tapas on Friday night (detailed here), to the Sydney International Wine Competition tasting on Saturday (tasting notes to come), to watching the Swans smash the Hawks at the pub on Saturday night (accompanied by tasty Barons Lagers). To a marathon drive from Sydney to Canberra, around and around Canberra's wine regions (notes to come), then back to Sydney again...

It was awesome.

On the wine side of things, I came to a couple of broad, subjective & probably inadequate/inaccurate conclusions:

1. Good: 2007 will go down as a watershed vintage in Central Otago and Southern NZ. The quality of the 07 Pinots are uniformly excellent, especially when placed next to the 06 wines.

2. Bad: 2007 in South Australia, however, reminds me alot of the 1997 vintage. Simple, upfront wines lacking depth that need to be drunk young.

3. Bad: Few wineries are heeding the message to go green and move wines into lighter bottles. The amount of 'Reserve' labels in heavyweight glass seems to be increasing.

4. Good: Very few overtly oaky wines tasted over the weekend. Hooray!

5. Bad: Ignore what you hear in the commercial press. 2009 is a challenging vintage in Canberra, facing the same problems with heat and drought experienced throughout Vic & SA.

6. Bad: Pinot has little future in most Canberra vineyards. One winery won't even pick theirs this year. Graft it over to Shiraz, or Tempranillo, or Touriga etc. Cabernet is also mercurial here.

7. Good: 2008 Canberra Rieslings really are that good.

8. Tiresome: The Canberra 'District' is enormous. Second only to Tasmania or Great Southern in how geographically diffuse the wineries are. Lots of time for me to listen to songs from the Triple J feature album yet again.

Friday, 3 April 2009

06 Moss Wood Cabernet & Moss Wood new releases

I asked Keith Mugford which variety he would plant (if pressed) on the Moss Wood estate vineyard.

'Cabernet... Maybe a little Malbec & Petit Verdot, but otherwise, just more Cabernet'

That succinctly describes the Moss Wood ethos. Its all about Cabernet. Maybe a little Chardonnay and Semillon for interest (Keith didn't even talk about Pinot, thankfully), but its Cabernet that remains the focus of this blue chip Margaret River winery.

The release of the 2006 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon then is particularly interesting in the scheme of things, given both the quality of the 2005 vintage Moss Wood Cabernet that preceded it and the generally rubbish (for Cabernet particularly) conditions that marked the 2006 vintage.

What I am happy to report is that, in contrast to many other MR wineries, there is not a trace of greenness in the 06 Moss Wood Cabernet, and when placed alongside the other wines from this portfolio it looks appropriately house styled and, well, good.

However, and there is a definite however, there lies another wine in this range that I would happily consume over said 06 Estate Cabernet. Whats more, its priced at just under a third of that of the grand vin. It's name is Amy and this tasting reminded me of how glorious she is, albeit cast in a style that is much more immediate and short term.

Read on:

Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Vineyard Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Chunky citrus nose, some gooseberry Sauv aromatics but it all feels too ripe to be even slightly herbaceous and varietal. Actually, it was quite shy at first, but after some time in the glass it showed its true self, which is tropical guava meets citrus and typical Moss Wood flavour. Very good, but a little too rounded for me. 13.5% 17.5

Moss Wood Semillon 2008
Last time I tasted this it tasted like very little, this time it tasted like someone had taken the very little and added some nuts. Very tight green nose, nutty (almonds maybe) with a tinge of buttery oak/malo/yeast influence & melon. On my sheet here I have written 'nutty bag of acid'... Not much joy as yet. The score reflects this. 14.0% 16.8++

Moss Wood Chardonnay 2007
Can I call this a typical Moss Wood Chardonnay or is that just lazy? Whatever, it's not for those who like Chardonnay in the minerally, 'white peach & milk', cool climate style. Rather, its a fully ripe, red wine drinkers Chardonnay.
Creamy, yeast & cashew nut nose, obviously generous, oaky and ripe (though the oak is very high grade vanilla - it almost smells like money, the oak is that good). The palate is unashamedly brash, full flavoured, oaky and yet still it all works, finishing quite tight & lean.
Stuff the subtlety, this just over delivers on flavour, I just know that Moss Wood fans will love it. Will get better too as everything integrates. 14.5% 17.6+

Moss Wood Pinot Noir 2006
Who buys this? It's like that damned 20 to 1 show on Channel Nine. They keep running it, with old moon face hiding his embarrassment at the obvious, lazy programming shiite that it is. But somehow it keeps on turning up every week, so someone must be watching it.

This Moss Wood is a much better wine than that, but in all honesty it's a waste - that land could, as Keith said, be turned over to making more glorious Cabernet. Maybe its a mother in law wine, made only for the inlaws to shut them up (what are the in laws like? They might be lovely people. Keith should make them a special wine from Cabernet grafted onto Pinot rootstocks).

But back to the wine - it actually smells really good and Pinoty, albeit in a big and ripe sappy style. Big, heavily extracted, eucalypt and sap, but nice. The palate however echoes the extraction with heat and general clumsiness. Still drinkable, though really not enjoyable. 13.5% 16.4

Moss Wood Amys Cabernet Blend 2007
Last time I tasted this I urged everyone to try a bottle. This time, that urge has now become insistent, nay loudly insistent. Buy some. Buy 6 at least. Its the best value Moss Wood ever. It reminds me alot of the equally brilliant Woodlands Margaret Cabernet Merlot 2007 of a week or so ago, another great value wine. 07 Margaret River reds just look better and better.

A dense, luxuriously dark colour, the nose has dark fruit, chocolate coffee oak, cedar and really perfectly regional, aromatic fruit. Sniff after glorious sniff, it urges you to come back for more. Yum Yum. The palate just mirrors that - deliciously plus in that style that Moss Wood does so well, perfectly balanced with a thrust of tannins to finish. Background leafiness reminds of its cool clime origins, again welcome and delicious. Already drinking well. Winner. 14% 19.0

Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Merlot 2007
Hard to pin down this. So tight that it hurts. Its seriously good, but in a limited tasting situation like this, this just come across as closed. Very tight nose, tightly packed with whispers of chocolaty french oak, the palate has mulch and some hidden Merlotish blueberry/raspberry soft fruit in there somewhere. The tannins however just close it all back down again. Needs years. Serious indeed! 13.5% 17.8++

Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Cabernet Merlot 2007
If i thought the last wine was closed and tight, I wasn't prepared for this. Its like an iceman, stuck in an ice cave at the bottom of a glacier. Stuck. Still, it has more dark fruit on the nose, but with little else escaping, save for the alcohol on the back end and the oak through the middle. Hold. Hold. Decant. Could be amazing. 14.0% 17.9++

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
This even has its own different coloured capsule to remind that it is the best, chuck out the rest.

Classic Moss Wood nose. It smells plush & ripe and sweetly oaked/fruited but also elegant. Another tight nose, edged with volatility, but smelling distinctly cassisy in a red soil derived Margaret River fashion & edged with chocolate oak that is pure Moss Wood (and addictive).

All good so far.

The palate is slightly woody, though not green, more just a little awkward and edgy, lacking the perfect flow of ripe fruit. It feel like Moss Wood Cabernet & tastes like it too, but it will never be a great wine, always running at 9/10ths. Should be reasonably long lived nonetheless. 17.7

Two 2007 Alsatians

Consumed with Japenese Tapas (Confused cuisine that was hardly convincing) these two illustrate how good 2007 was in Alsace. My sort of wines.

Domaine Joseph Cattin Pinot Blanc 2007
2007 appears to be a great year for Pinot Blanc in Alsace, judging by the early handful that I have tasted, each one reminding of how delicious and upfront the variety can be. This example was a little reticent and lacked the seamlessness of the finest wines, but the flow of delicious honeycomb fruit + modest residual sugar makes for a mouth filling and convincing honeyed 'dry' white. Very good. 17.9

Jean Luc Mader Pinot Gris 2007
From Blanc to Gris and from yellow to grey in my book. This had all the intensity and high toned half rich pear and apple fruit, but it all feels a little shy. The acid again is quite prominent, but the end impression is all smoke & no fire then for this one, though it may well turn around with some bottle age. Still good. 17.1

Thursday, 2 April 2009

St Urbans Hof Piesporter Goldtropfchen Kabinett Riesling 2007

St Urbans Hof Piesporter Goldtropfchen Kabinett Riesling 2007 (Mosel, Germany)
$36, Cork, 9.0%
Winery Website

I froze this. It was stupid I know, but I stuck the bottle in the freezer to chill it down fast and it froze. It wasn't entirely frozen, but there was quite a block of ice where wine should be. It took just over an hour and a bit to freeze, which was quite remarkable (must be the low alcohol content?) Thankfully it doesn't appear to have affected the wine, though its certainly nice and cool....

Brightly green/yellow in colour with a little bit of spritz, The nose has honeycomb, lemon and a hint of marmalade. It's a sweeter style of Kabinett, though it doesn't smell obviously sugary on the nose - more fresh citrus than anything else. The palate is absolutely wonderful - all freshness and light, with the sugar matching up to the dry, I've-come-from-rocky-soils acid backbone. It all finishes a little sweet and dense for my liking, but this should iron itself out with some bottle age.

Really delicious Mosel Riesling. 18+

A bad news day for small producers

In todays news, Wayne Swan has decided to stick the knife in to small producers, by threatening to remove the WET rebate that so many rely on to keep small wineries profitable.

More here

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Fox Creek Vixen NV

Fox Creek Vixen Sparkling Shiraz Cabernet Franc NV (McLaren Vale, SA)
$25, Cork, 13.5%
Winery Website

Ahhh Sparkling red. Every time I come back to Sparkling reds, its like bumping into an old, great mate. A mate that is uniquely Australian, matches with nearly any food type, will live and mature in the bottle for decades and looks fantastic in the glass. To further sweeten the deal, few will cost you much dough either. Particularly this one.

(For reference, this had a 'NV14' printed on the back label - any relevance?)
Deep Purple/Mahogany red in colour with those beautiful maroon/purple bubbles. Super dense colour. The nose has tarry, rich, plum & fruit cake, typically Mclaren Vale Shiraz characters with just a hint of menthol and bottle age, which follows through onto a quite tannic palate, the sticky tannins coating your gums and feeling more glycerous than anything else. Initially the palate is full and sweet, with a big flow of obvious generous sweetness, however the mid palate rings hollow, dry and slightly astringent, which clashes somewhat with the sweet front end. Its probably not enough to derail the package, but its a distraction nonetheless. The sticky tannins linger long after the hollowness is gone however, redeeming the wine to a certain degree.

In the end this is a sweet and generous entry level sparkling that is good value and distinctively regionaljust a little harsh to be truly convincing. A Vixen with rough edges? 16.6

It's in....1.6MT for 2009

Figures just released by ABARE put this years harvest at 1.6MT or 13% down on last year. The argument is that that figure is still about 1000 tonnes too many. What's more, the same figures predict a return to 1.8MT+ for the next few vintages, even in the face of falling demand.

We ain't seen nothing yet......

Bottleshock The Movie

Went and saw the Bottleshock movie last night - Based on the now infamous 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting from a particularly feel good, David & Goliath American angle.

It's quite an entertaining movie, although its best to ignore the facts and simply roll with the storyline (apparently the 'brown bottle event' is purely for suspense). I did feel sorry for old Steven Spurrier though, as he is cast here as a snobby English wanker who knows nothing about Californian wines, though reputedly nothing is further from the truth.

Well worth a look all the same.