Friday, 31 July 2009

Albert Mann 'Cuvee Albert' Riesling 2007

Albert Mann 'Cuvee Albert' Riesling 2007 (Alsace, France)
$38, Screwcap, 12.5%

Winery Website

Another day, another lovely entry level European Riesling.

Light yellow colour, quite full coloured considering its youth, though not advanced, and especially not for Alsace. The nose is honeyed, rich and full, with golden syrup, baklava, quince & some floral overtones. This doesn't translate onto the palate however, which is dry and quite restrained, citrussy but not showing the intensity that the nose promises. Still, it finishes with quite brisk, if soft, Clare Valley-esque acidity.

Step back, walk away and come back for another mouthful and you really get a greater sense of how honest this is. It's an entry level wine that falls away somewhat after about the mid palate mark, but it's still absolutely representative of where it comes from and it's maker. It is, to draw comparisons, the Pewsey Vale Riesling of Alsace (which is a complement indeed). 17.1

Thursday, 30 July 2009

FX Pichler Urgestein Terrassen Riesling Federspiel 2007

FX Pichler Urgestein Terrassen Riesling Federspiel 2007 (Wachau, Austria)
$45, Screwcap, 12.5%
Winery Website

The more Austrian whites I try, the more I love them, especially the Pichlers. Put one on your 'must try' list, and get a couple of the Gruners too. I only wish more Austrian whites made it to Australia. I wonder if Arnie ever gets parochial and gets stuck into a few of these? (I'd gladly take a bottle of this over most Cal Chardonnays...)

Oh and on the packaging - this comes in a giraffe like, long necked, mega Mosel bottle, just for extra impact (though the labelling itself is very low budget).

In the glass, this is a yellow straw colour, looking bright, but fairly innocuous, which serves as quite a contrast to the nose, which is stunningly dense and opulent, sharing more with sweet German Riesling than anything else. Aromatics include perfumed Gardenia, pink grapefruit, rose water and slate, in a nostril filling, 'check this out' style that I can't stop sticking my nose in to catch again. What a nose! I love it!

The palate doesn't disappoint either - quite rich and full of weight, with just a splash of sweetness on the back palate. Think Spatlese Trocken ripeness, with rich honeysuckle, blackcurrant and tropical fruit, reinforced with brisk, perfectly balanced rocky soil acidity. It's a gloriously full wine, that retains its freshness with natural acidity and cries out for some sort of rich, typically Germanic, Sausages & Sauerkraut type food.

What a delicious wine. Convincingly rich, perfectly weighted, fresh, pure and utterly more-ish. What's more, It's only entry level on the FX Pichler scale, with the wines above this becoming even more profound and intense. Much to look forward too then. 18.4

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Mills Reef Elspeth Malbec 2004

Mills Reef Elspeth Malbec 2004 (Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, NZ)
$NZ40, Cork, 14.0%

Winery Website

This was bought from the lovely cellar door at Tauranga, kiwifruit capital of NZ and home to excellent roadside fruit stalls. Just stay away from those 'Kiwi berries' - awful things.

Dark ruby red colour, this smells sweet, soft and rich, with cedary, quite roasted, peppery, meaty fruit, showing traces of both ripe and underripe characters, yet still framed quite invitingly. The palate is oak dominated, with just enough meaty Malbec varietal character to make it drinkable, then finishing with drying, cedary oak tannins. It's not a bad wine, with it's best years ahead, but finding the generosity and fruit in amongst that oak is a somewhat unwelcome challenge. 16.4+

Xabregas 2009 Rieslings

Xabregas Show Reserve & Sweet Riesling 2009
(Mt Barker, WA)

The colour on this pair is amazing. Somewhere in between water, greenish water and water again. Quite remarkable really, if easy to confuse with a bottle of Mount Franklin (though also very refreshing). I'm tasting these two together, though there is a full $10 between the Sweet Riesling ($17) and the Show Reserve ($27), mainly to see how the acidity vs sugar balance compares. Incidentally, the Sweet Riesling even comes in a Mosel Green bottle, as if it to give a silent nod to the German style it imitates.

On the nose, it is the Show Reserve that gives away the most, with an open knit, honeysuckle and passionfruit edged ripeness that zings with freshness. The Sweet Riesling, in comparison, smells plasticky and at first seemed quite reduced, but opened out to reveal some more pineapple fruit, even though it never convinces. The sweetie continues its move to dullness on the palate, lacking the concentration to make for a satisfying drink, even though the sugar and acidity seem well balanced. It's a Kabinett style Rizza then, which is simple and refreshing, but ultimately missing the requisite intensity or flavour for decent marks. 14.9

The Show Reserve, then is a fair step up, particularly in intensity. The palate is long and dry, with satisfyingly limey, honeysuckle edged acidity, making for a wine that hangs around well after the liquid has gone. In fact, the whole wine seems to be hung on its acidity, with it dominating every facet (for the time being at least) of the wines personality, filling every nook and cranny with acid dryness.

As a drink, right now, it's a slightly coarse, if certainly well structured, WA Riesling, that lacks the delicacy of some of its peers, but promises much with a few months or years of development. 15.8+

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz 2006

Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz 2006 (Mclaren Vale, SA)
$70, Screwcap, 14.5%
Winery Website

This comes in a very tall vodka style bottle, which looks both overly large and imposing, all at once. I do like the mass of it, but in these enviro conscious, how-much-does-your-bottle-weigh? times it's probably excessive. Few people are really going to care though, for the wine itself sits in a price bracket & style that caters for a bit of excess and impact.

The colour is suitably befitting: It's deep, dark, reddish/black/blood red, looking broody and extracted & ripe and, well, reserve wine-ish in its density. On the nose, its all sweet oak and sweet fruit. Lots of oak & lots of fruit, yet without volatility, just sweetness and ripeness. It's hard to get past the oak at first, but its of the clever, very high quality french oak that ripe wines like this absorb quite easily.
There is just a hint of dead fruit in amongst the cocoa, formic and blackcurrant liqeuer aromatics though, but where that goes remains to be seen.
It does smell inviting then, if bluntly oaky and very modern in style.

Palate wise, its a long and treacly flow of smooth, mega ripe fruit, with no sharp edges, just heaps of oak melted into the ripe fruit, like butter into a slice of warm chocolate cake. Actually, chocolatey and very rich is the best way to describe the palate, with 'decadent' another goodun. Tannins are really not a big part of a wine like this, though they are there, along with the obligatory (added) acidity. This wine isn't about structure though, its about intensity.

At this stage, the Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz is very oaky and young, but its also unashamedly Fox Creekish. The fruit is leaning toward overripe, though fresher than the 05 vintage, with just oodles of everything. It's a wine of richness and density and weight and power, built in a style that exploits warm Mclaren Vale sunshine to produce mega ripe wines that most big red lovers will love. Personally, I find this too ripe, too oaky and quite a hard drink, hence why I don't have anything like this in my cellar. But from a drinking point of view, I understand exactly what the appeal is, and even who it appeals too, and if I take off my technical wankers hat for a second, its actually really good in its style, and certainly much more appealing than the 05. It's just that its not my style of wine. 17.2

More on Terroir in the new world

This comes from David Farmer, of website, and gives an interesting perspective on terroir and soils.

Read it here

Of particular note is the relationship between where we plant and the most suitable varieties - it's well worth a read.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Mr Frog Pinot Noir 2008

Mr Frog Pinot Noir 2008 (Yarra Valley, Vic)
$14, Screwcap, 13.5%

The name is light and fluffy, the story clever, the packaging simple and fun. It's all ticks from a marketing point of view, with much to grab on too, not least the particularly modest price (for a Yarra Pinot no less).

Bright red colour, moving to a very light, candied red fruit nose - strawberries, mint, and sap. It's a Pinot Lite nose - with all the varietal characters of Pinot Noir, yet light on the stemmy funk so everyone can get their head around it. It actually smells really good, with plenty of the brightness of ripe Pinot fruit. No surprises either on the palate, which is all grapey juiciness followed by non existent tannins. In fact, besides a lick of acidity, there is next to nothing after the mid palate mark, with it all falling away in a forgiving sort of fashion.

Forgiving is a great way to describe this wine then, with its lightness, brightness and simplicity making for an appealing drink that's hardly memorable, yet also so friendly and easygoing that you know everyone will like it (though it's probably too light for hardcore pinophiles).

Personally, I see much to like here, not least the price. It's the sort of wine that could make Pinot even more mainstream, even if it is really just a simple (and very light) wine. It's the 'first bike' of Pinot land, yet made with enough seriousness to ensure that RS sweetness is not the dominant flavour. Good stuff. 16.0

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Xabregas Show Reserve Shiraz 2007

Xabregas Show Reserve Shiraz 2007 (Great Southern, WA)
$26, Screwcap, 15%
Winery Website

Xabregas - It sounds like some sort of Greek God, complete with flowing robes, beards and lightning bolts. In truth, Xabregas is 'a place on the border between the parishes of Marvila and Beato, Lisbon. Here lies the Monastery of the Mother of God (or Monastery of Xabregas)' (thankyou Wikipedia Portugal). I'm not sure of the relevance, but it's certainly exotic and evocative, and when combined with the clever contemporary packaging, it looks more expensive than it actually is. (High fives for the Xabregas Marketing Department) I'm happy to report it tastes pretty good too.

Deep, blood red in colour, it looks dense (which is unsurprising considering the alc.). The nose is delicious - star anise, stewed plum, pepper and pretty purple fruit. It's very ripe and open on the nose, with obvious upfront appeal: It's trophy winning, crowd pleasing stuff. Palate wise it follows the same formula - a high octane rush of purpley black fruit and gritty tannins. It's just a little too ripe for my palate, but there is no heat on the end, just a block of squishy fruit.

Looking into my wine crystal ball, I can see this wine winning fans easily. Technically, it's quite a simple & very ripe, but with undeniable charm and feel good fruit. Good drinking fare. 17.3

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Alkoomi Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Alkoomi Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Frankland River, WA)
$15, Screwcap, 12.5%
Winery Website

I really quite like the normal 'black label' of Alkoomi, it looks authentic and even elegant. This 'white label' however looks (and feels) plasticky, which the wines themselves don't deserve. I've never liked the push to simple primary colours on second (& third) labels, it so rarely does anything but cheapen a brand and I find the green here almost garish in its, well, greenness.

Ignoring the labelling (which is of little consequence really, I'm just nitpicking) and focusing on quality vs value terms, this has always been impressive, which fairly reflects the high quality of the Alkoomi whites in general.

The wine itself is water green in colour, with a nose that shows smoky, mildly herbaceous tinned passionfruit characters with an obvious cool ferment subdued freshness. It's a forthright nose that smells like grapes grown for quality, not yield.

Palate wise, its more limey than the nose and actually quite long, full of green bean meets passionfruit flavours in a simple, but yet appreciably fruit sweet & mouthfilling mould. It even finishes with flinty, green acidity, just to push the refreshment factor up a notch.

For the meagre $15 (less on spec) price this commands, there is much to like here. Big value tick from me. 17.0

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Sir Paz Shiraz 2007

Sir Paz Shiraz 2007 (Yarra Valley, Vic) $30, Cork, $14.0%
Winery Website

This landed on my table today and I almost ignored it, save for the gleaming 'Gold Medal Yarra Valley Wine Show 2008' circular disc on the label. I don't think we ever stop being distracted by shiny things, do we?

Anyway, this comes from hand picked vines planted in 1997 and located in the Southern Yarra Hills. It spent 18 months in French oak and, from what I can ascertain, is the latest release. From a packaging point of view, it reminds me of a circa 1998 Cruickshank Shiraz/Chambourcin (don't get me started on the Cruickshank's. More brett than wine) with a simple label and, now old fashioned, natural cork. I can see the appeal, but placed up against even a simple Grant Burge Cameron Vale Cabernet it looks positively dated.

Thank god then that the wine itself is pretty good. The nose is a bit smoky, wood fire and Brazilian Churrasco style, with a whiff of pork sausage thrown in for good measure. Very 07 Yarra then, but its not offensive. On the palate, what's immediately obvious is that the ripeness is, from a Yarra Valley point of view, really quite consistent, making for a plump and quite generous wine that's atypical for the Yarra Valley. Through the finish it's again rich, savoury and really nicely handled. Lot's to like. Unfortunately, there is still the cloak of bushfire smoke sitting like a shroud over the palate, covering up some of the really good bits with its blackness, but again, its not offensively smoky.

Full of charm and promise, this is suffering only from the vagaries of the vintage. Much to like underneath and, on current form, the 08 version should be keenly looked out for.. 16.5

Monday, 20 July 2009

Cullen 07 releases

Tasted at the ever enchanting Ultimo Wine Centre just a few days ago, this lineup yet again reminded how much the Cullen wines have evolved. No sign of simple fruit flavours in this collection, instead, these are complex, thought provoking, even challenging wines. What I like the most, however, comes in the tannin structure of the reds. The Diana Madeline below has a tannin intensity that is largely missing in most Australian reds, tannins that seem mature, even old world in their authenticity.

It's great to see.

Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2007
The challenging wine. Golden Circle tinned pineapples play a surprisingly dominant part here, particularly on the nose. Behind this lays slightly raw, hay and pear barrel characters. The nose then is somewhat of a jumble, even if it posesses all the elements for possible future integration. The sweet and sour palate is similarly dry and almost jarring, with citrussy acidity and length in abundance, all sitting with unquestioning intensity, yet making for a wine that is nowhere near drinkable or even particularly enjoyable.

This wine then is a conundrum. It's seriously serious and all that, but it's also rather hard to love right now. The score then is a nod to the future, but also a reflection of awkwardness. 17.1

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot 2007
Classic nose. Pencil shavings, dill, cedar and red fruit in a really fragrant and nearly perfect style. Great. Very light and pretty for Wilyabrup. The palate though is brutally uncompromising, with force-your-mouth-together tannins that are amazing, yet at the same time so unequivocal that this is simply not for drinking right now. 20 year wine. Buy some and forget about it, or decant for days. I'm giving it a conservative score, based largely on the impressive shell behind the wine. Take note of the all important plus signs at the end. 18.5++

Cullen Mangan 2007
Easily the best Mangan ever and so approachable and drinkable when compared to the two wines above. The nose seems quite Francish in its red fruit fragrance (though there is no Cab Franc here, only Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot) backed by red meat and some aromatic, slightly herbal nuances. The real beauty though is on the medium bodied palate. All the flavours, the layers, seem perfectly delineated, like a classic blend should be. It feels light and elegant, opulent, but with surprise tannins, just to keep it all in shape. It is, in short, a beautiful wine with so very much to like. 18.6

Sunday, 19 July 2009

By Farr Viognier 2006

By Farr Viognier 2006 (Geelong, Vic)
Cork, $29.95 (on spec), 13.0%

Winery Website

Of all Gary Farr's wines, this is (arguably) lesser, falling behind the Chardonnay, Pinot & occasionally the Shiraz in the quality stakes. Still, being a Gary Farr wine, you well know that it's going to be (at least) interesting.

Indeed, it smells fantastic. Obviously dipping the lid to Condrieu, this smells like rich and complex, finely balanced Viognier. It's quite a floral nose, pretty and not too sweet, the headiness of Viognier tempered somewhat by lees and barrel work, making for a really inviting and classic nose.

It's the transition to palate where things come unstuck. It starts with the apricot bar and sweetened condensed milk like flavour of modern Viognier, but the pretty and quite complex nose really struggling to translate into any sort of length. Indeed, from about mid palate onwards this just falls away to nothingness, with a little fillip of acidity the only remnant.

In fact, after about the third glass this simply fell to pieces. I actually ended up leaving half a bottle in a friends fridge as I moved back onto trusty, tasty James Squire Golden Ale to look for some sort of flavour fix.

If you have any, drink up now and enjoy the deliciousness promised by the nose, for that's the most joy to be found here. 16.0

Friday, 17 July 2009

Stonier KBS Vineyard Chardonnay 2005

Stonier KBS Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 (Mornington Peninsula, Vic)
$50, Screwcap, 14.5%!

Winery Website

From the (notable) McFaul era of Stoniers history, this single vineyard Chardonnay was purchased at the cellar door about 2 years ago, with the intention to stick it away for, hmm, about 2 years. Quite happy to have a few more on the rack actually after this bottle.

This smells like buttered popcorn. Very distinctive and tied with fond memories of pashing girls up the back of my local Hoyts Megaplex (back when it was just a little Hoyts) cinema. As this warms up, the buttered popcorn just gives way to vanilla oak and peach - drink it cold for maximum enjoyment. Beyond this, the palate presents as rather artful and complex - it has the mealy, slightly chewy, oak and fruit melange that good Chardys do so well. Dare I say it, this tastes quite Burgundian in its flavour complexity and density, with sweetness of oak, leesy cheesy overtones and lemon fruit underneath. Wonderful complexity. In fact the only negative here comes towards the back of the palate, and its all hooked in with that 14.5% alc level. You see, its the ripeness that is both the source of the glory, as well as the thorn in it's side. It's a caramel lolly blandness, followed by alcohol heat, all serving to remind that the grapes got not only ripe, but ripe.

Stepping back, this is a very complex and rather delicious Chardonnay, showing the complexity and interest that you really want in your Chardy, let down, if only slightly, by the very thing that makes it right - ripeness. 18.2

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Jean Foillard Morgon Cuvee Corcelette 2007

Jean Foillard Morgon Cuvee Corcelette 2007 (Beaujolais, France)
$55, Cork, 13.0%

Ahh, lovely. Natural wine done good. This is the companion to the Cote du Py tasted earlier this year, this wine coming off a single vineyard on more granitic soils than the Cote du Py. The average vine age is 70 yrs+ and this is made with minimal manual handling, no additions of any kind (bar a tiny drop of SO2) and no fining or filtration.

In the glass it is a cloudy, muddy strawberry juice colour (not helped by the flecks of stupid wax from the seal), with a ruby brightness to it that accurately reflects this wines bright, 'come hither' personality. On the nose, this has lovely sweet & pure raspberry fruit, a hint of menthol and then more fruit. Its red grape juice, unadorned by winemaking edifice, just reflecting nice ripe grapes, with a little bit of rustic funk, almost like we need reminding that its 'natural wine'.

No surprises then that the palate just backs up the nose, the absolute juiciness driving the textural fun - It's the sort of light and mouthfilling fruit generosity that makes Rose so quaffable, yet there is no trace of residual sweetness here. Rather, the back palate finishes with some sticky, sour acidity, real strawberry and non existent tannins, the final back palate rubberiness giving away its Gamay heart.

It's hard not to like wines like this - exuberant, 'fruity' and structurally quite simple, winning over people with just purity of expression and sheer beauty. Of the price, I'm sure that in its homeland this sells for half this amount, but on the other side of the world, it does seem a little steep. If we compare this wines quality vs price however with its neighbours from Burgundy, then this seems like an absolute bargain. 18

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Tyrrells Vat 1 Semillon 2000

Tyrrells Vat 1 Semillon 2000 (Hunter, NSW)
$40, Cork (which snapped in half), 11.1%
Winery Website

The most curious thing about this wine comes from the back label, which announces 'excellent drinking now and through until at least 2008'. That's mighty conservative for Tyrrells, whose 98 vintage Vat 1 is still accumulating silverware on the show circuit. Erring on the side of caution?

Regardless of what the label says, this is still developing. Yellow, green yellow in colour the nose is a little shy, with lanolin, citrus and yellow apples, leading to a palate that is just beginning to get the lactic, 'are you sure there's no oak in here' richness of older Hunter Sems. Behind that there is a dry, green apple dryness and pithy, lingering acidity that is all so very Vat 1 in its intensity.

It's a wine in progress, this Semillon, with the first flesh of age injecting some roundness to the mid palate, yet without taming the crisp 'I am still green' fruit flavours. It's only an average Vat 1, with a little ill defined soapiness on the palate, yet when viewed as a white wine, when placed up against the sweet Sauvs and insipid Pinot Gris that flood the Australian wine market, this presents as a very drinkable, exceedingly well structured drop. 17+

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Glories of the Hunter - The Notes

Following on from my gushing exposition on the joys of the Hunter Valley (here) these are a few recent wines from this classic wine region, with plenty to inspire.

The finest winemaker in the Hunter? I think so, but I am almost a Tyrrells groupie...

Tyrrells Stevens Semillon 2005
Interesting to match this up to the (brilliant) 05 Vat 1, this is much more transitional yet also less ripe. Its a typically linear, dry & very green wine with the grassy, sandy edge that Stevens Semillons often carry. Excellent wine that needs a few years in the bottle to compose itself. 18+

Tyrrells HVD Semillon 2003
Often my favourite Tyrrells Semillon and characterised by a floral, expressive edge that I really enjoy. This shows the typical perfume & weight of the vineyard, but a slightly soapy and broad edge here (no doubt due to the warm 03 vintage) that detracts from the final drink. Still good. 17.3+

Tyrrells Vat Semillon 2008
Tyrrells had some rather mixed thoughts on the 08 Semillons, and when I tasted the Stevens and Belford 08's at this years Sydney Wine Show they were just a bit unappealing. Judging by this however, they probably just needed a few more months in the bottle.

Notably herbal and green on the nose, with an edge of cheesy sulphur. The palate is solid, incredibly acidic and firm. Big, but a little ill defined, this may well end up as a classic wine, but it's still sorting itself out. Leave. 18++

Tyrrells Vat 1 Semillon 2005
Classic in the making. A very pure and quite ripe Vat 1 that carefully judges ripe fruit and acidity. Apparently many 09's also follow this recipe (great). This is just entering the drinkable phase, but the secret is the length. Really long, long finish and typically perfect acidity. It just keeps going. Wonderfully approachable already, this will only get better. Great wine. 18.9+

Tyrrells Vat 8 Shiraz 2006
This used to be a blend of Hunter Shiraz and Coonawarra (or Mudgee) Cabernet, now its a straight Hunter Shiraz. Lamentable perhaps, but only by those who had a good example when it was still a blend (ie not me). I found this surprisingly grunty, especially for the 06 vintage, which delivered mainly mid weight, typically elegant wines.

Starting with an earthen nose, with just a hint of saddle, but this doesn't come through as any palate sweatiness. Interesting to note also some oak richness also, which is quite unusual for Tyrrells Vat reds. It's definitely a more modern Hunter Shiraz yet, at only 13.3% alc. feels perfectly balanced and very unforced. Very good and will get even better. 17.5+

Tyrrells Vat 8 Shiraz 2007
Ripe, sweet, juicy, modern and just plain delicious. Very polished Hunter Shiraz, carrying the unmistakable bright, youthfulness of the vintage. Simply delicious stuff. Highly recommended. 18.5+

Tyrrells Single Vineyard Canberra Shiraz 2008
The first release of a Canberra wine for Tyrrells, largely driven by the lack of Hunter reds from the 08 vintage. This will hopefully be a permanent addition to the range, and certainly much to like here.

Distinctively Canberra Shiraz, even given the warm vintage, with that spiciness and musky, candied purple fruit that Canberra Shiraz does so well. Lovely aromatics. The mid weight palate seems a bit simple and sweet at present, but I think this is just the youthfulness talking. Very drinkable and tasty. 17.4+

Tyrrells Hahn Shiraz Mourvedre 2008
Exuberantly fruit driven, this is bright & juicy fruit driven stuff, all backed by a bit of Barossan chocolate. Mid weight and again tasty, but lacking just a bit of length for the price. 17.2

Tyrrells Old Patch Shiraz 2007
This is the second time I've tried this and, if possible, it has become even better again. This is, quite simply, a world class wine, to be held up with the very best of the Rhone and Barossa/McLaren Vale as the finest Shiraz based wines on the planet.

Sourced from the 'Old Hillside' a section of the Stevens vineyard that was planted way back in 1867 - special vines then - Beguiling colour, with a boysenberry purple tint that is sort of like a cross between Shiraz Viognier and mulberry juice. I've never seen a Hunter Shiraz that colour before, which is perhaps a sign of this wines unique brilliance.

Nose is very bright, almost candied in its sweet fruit & perfumed with licorice, spice and rosewater. Most unusual. The palate is medium bodied and so polished and pure, but with textured layers of fig and fruit cake before finishing with fine tannins.

It's a very unusual and just plain beautiful wine, astounding in its complexity and youthfulness. This, for me, sits on a pedestal with the 04 Grange as my red wine of the year. This however was $80 a bottle at cellar door, the Grange $550. I thus own three bottles of this and no bottles of the Grange...19.2

Meerea Park Hell Hole Semillon 2009
A very approachable and open style this year, with a soft ripeness that is almost tropical in its juiciness. A Sauvignon Blanc drinkers Semillon then, that's simple and delicious and begs the question, why would you drink residual sugar propped, young vine Marlborough Sauvignon over this? 17.5+

Meerea Park Alexander Munro Chardonnay 2008
Looking very green & lean, this is all structure (or more correctly, all acidity) with none of the fleshy lactic Chardonnay softness in sight. About as close to Chablis as the Hunter gets, the oak here is very cleverly managed, but its so awkward and borderline unripe that its no fun at all. Will live for many years regardless and, if I look into my wine crystal ball, I see a great future for this wine (thanks to that acid backbone). Just not now. 17+++

Meerea Park Aunts Shiraz 2007
Interesting wine this. The nose is old school Hunter - leather, plums and dirt. The palate is new school Hunter with sweet fruit and oak, all polished to perfection. Its attractive, but all a bit confusing at present, which is reflected in the score. 17.1+

Meerea Park Botrytis Viognier 2006
What a lovely sticky this is. A generous, very sweet sticky with mouthfilling, but not fat and apricotty like some Viogniers cane be, with peach & stonefruit flavours and quite low acidity. Straightforward and good, this was flying out the (cellar) door whilst I was there, and well done Meerea Park.

Australian winemakers take note: Your Viognier belongs in delicious sweeties like this, not blended with Shiraz. 17

Thomas Braemore Semillon 2009
Long time Tyrrells winemaker and no bullshit man Andrew Thomas proved last year that he can make epic Semillons. This is no exception.
Of note is the alcohol on this, which was closer to 11.0% this year, which is hardly boozy, but its an important element to note, for this is a deliberately riper wine than the strenuously acidic 08 vintage. What this means is a slightly richer, powerful wine that shares much in common with the 05 Vat 1 from earlier, balancing perfectly ripe fruit with acidity, in a perfect vinous tug of war that suggests a long life ahead.

Put it simply, this is a glorious wine. Grapefruit, citrus, green melon and green apples on the nose, which is obviously very fresh and well settled already. The palate is bracingly pure, dry and green, feeling very young, but with no hardness, just long acidity and plenty of flavour.

I tasted this at the Sydney Good Food & Wine Show and it felt like a wine from a different quality realm - like a rider from the tour has decided to come and ride your local club race, smashing everyone whilst only riding at half pace. This is that wine. World class. 19

Mistletoe Grand Reserve Shiraz 2007
Produced off 40 year old, non irrigated vines up in the hill at the base of the Brokenback range. This is, and I hate to use this term again, a classic Hunter wine. Ken Sloan believes this vineyard benefits greatly from its afternoon sun protection, which perhaps explains the restraint in what is a quite opulent vintage. Again, the aromatics are very attractive here - rich, red plum fruit with a lifted, prettiness to it all.

The wine then is utterly mid weight, with a slightly lean, give-me-more mid palate that makes the whole package feel light and rather elegant, the ripe fruit held in perfect balance before some chocolatey tannins. Really attractive wine that feels almost perfect in its expression. Wonderful. Great value @ $40 too. 18.5

Saturday, 11 July 2009

The glories of the Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley is back.

After years as some sort of vinous backwater (or at least it was generally conceived to be one for some time), the Hunter is producing fine, attention garnering wines once again. And I put the blame squarely on Tyrrells.

Tyrrells, one of Australia's oldest family run wineries, are arguably the most important wine producers in the Hunter Valley, with the largest production (along with Mcwilliams) of any single maker in the region. To get a sense of their resources, drive up the Broke Road to the Tyrrells front gate and look around you. Every row of vinous stock within sight either belongs to, or is contracted to, Tyrrells. What's more, Tyrrells have also got dibs on some of the best fruit coming out of the Hunter in general. Look only at the old Stevens vineyard, source of arguably the finest Shiraz (and Semillon) grapes in the region, the fruit shared between some of the most respected names in the region, much of it going to Tyrrells.

But beyond just volume, it has been the somewhat prophetic message of single vineyard wine production that has had the most influence. Suitably, the first single vineyard wine Tyrrells released was a Stevens wine, sourced from the 1993 vintage - that was 1997, and since then the range of single vineyard wines has burgeoned, with every year bringing new, interesting single vineyard Tyrrells releases (like the Canberra wine below). Mcwilliams has also led the push to single vineyard releases, although with a slightly more narrow focus.

What this has ultimately done is to highlight the fantastic, underrated terroir and vineyard resources that the Hunter has to offer, a fact overlooked (or perhaps just unrealised) by so many wine drinkers. It has meant that the emphasis of the Hunter Valley has (smartly) focused back on what it does best - old vine Semillon, Shiraz (and occasionally Chardonnay).

The result has been both more interesting, terroir driven, high quality wines for us to drink, coupled with a silent, even more beneficial purpose - encouraging more Hunter makers to celebrate their great vineyard resources with high quality single vineyard bottlings.

To witness this first hand, pop into a few established Hunter vignerons whilst you are up at Tyrrells, and check out the proliferation of premium, largely single vineyard releases, each and every one of them serving to highlight Hunter terroir, whilst also driving up quality of regional expression. Even the average examples are a monumental step forward from the sweaty, heavily sulphured wines of yore.

Besides Tyrrells, although firmly backed by them, the other driving influence to rising wine quality is the Hunter Valley Vineyard Association (HVVA). A pertinent example of a well organised regional wine industry body, the HVVA has been credited with raising the profile of the region and also by bringing the occasionally fragmented community together. If politics doesn't get in the way, it is these sort of industry bodies that can drive the success of an entire wine region. For clues as to why the HVVA has worked, just look at the high calibre committee (here).

Finally, the last reason why the Hunter Valley is back on form comes down to winemaking talent. The new generation of Eather, Thomas & Iuliius have all hit the scenes in a flurry of brilliance, coupled with the continuing high standards of Spinaze, Margan, Riggs & Ryan, not to mention the reinvigorated Tulloch, now back in very competent family hands. It all results in a gaggle of smart makers, all with an eye firmly on the future, all making wines that pay homage to the classic Hunter Valley wine styles. (I've probably left out a few great names too).

It's a great time to be drinking Hunter wine...

I'll be publishing the notes from a few new Hunter wines tasted recently (once the notes make it from notebook scrawl to online) that really inspired this Hunter love. Two wines in particular, a Tyrrells Shiraz and a Thomas Semillon, were some of the most impressive wines I have tasted this year...

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Ara Composite Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Ara Composite Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Marlborough, NZ)
Screwcap, $25, 13%?
Winery Website

I've never been a fan of Kiwi Savvy, but I can certainly understand the appeal. From a pure drinkability point of view, I can see how easy it would be to empty a bottle full of this with some fish & chips on a Friday night. I'd argue that a good Clare Riesling could do the same or better, but who am I to dispute Australia's favourite white wine?

This is another product of the Ara subregion/appellation/thing, and another astute wine. Wineries new to the market could learn alot from the attention to detail here - the eye catching packaging gives an implied level of sophistication, which is then backed up by what is well made & drinkable wine, at a very reasonable price, and all with a story (check out the website). No product of South Eastern Australia here.

Bright green in colour, it smells like traditional, methoxy edged Marlborough Sauv. Nettles, stalks, green grass & just a hint of smoked asparagus like development. The palate shows some juicy mid palate richness, supported by just a splash of residual sugar and drying, green fruit acidity.

Well balanced and entirely likable, this leans towards the more classic Marlborough style which I really prefer. It finishes a bit early, but in all honesty, its intended drinker will never notice. This Composite is bound to be popular, leaving only the real Savvy enthusiasts wanting. 17.1

Monday, 6 July 2009

Central Otago 'Winter Wonderland' Tasting

I've never been to Central Otago. Indeed, the closest I've come is Wellington, in the very bottom right hand corner of New Zealand's North Island. However, with images like the one above (of the vineyards at Chard Farm) the region has to rate very highly on the 'dramatic looking wine country' list. The only wine growing area more picturesque (and marginal) is the ridiculous looking slopes of the Rhine (though Central Otago wins thanks to the snow capped mountains in the background). Either way, it looks like an amazing place, and the recent airfare deals keep beckoning me to cross the Tasman and see more.

Beyond the location, the wines aren't half bad either, as witnessed by this tasting. Organised by the Central Otago Winegrowers Association, an industry body that encompasses most of the regions producers, the lineup included plenty of new labels as well as consistent performers, all with interesting wines to sell. Actually, the quality of the wines, particularly the 07 Pinots, were so high that the accolades look set to continue rolling in for this 'so hot right now' wine region, buoyed along by what must be the highest per bottle average price of anywhere throughout NZ.

The following wines were all tasted in typical trade tasting conditions - at speed, whilst trying to juggle a glass, tasting notes book and biscuit with cheese on it (love of dairy again) & listen to winemaker talk about oak treatments.

Olssens Riesling 2007Forget Pinot Gris and the rest, Central Otago is Riesling country (much more so than Marlborough I think). Riesling and Pinot, that should be the varieties to concentrate on, and its wines like this that can help the cause. Lightly toasty, but very backward and pure, with a metallic citrus nose. Really stony, cold nose. The palate is just off dry, but ripe and full in a dry Spatlese style. The lightly apricotty palate has real richness to it, the sugar and acid carefully matched (8.0g/l of acidity and 9 of sugar) making for a wine that couples the sweet richness of melon and pawpaw with a dry acid backbone. Delicious stuff. 17.7

Olssens Gewürztraminer 2008
Musky apricot nose, tropical even. Tingling, musky & dense palate. Really fresh, if a little too much lychee liqueur (I hate lychees). Good. 17

Olssens Jackson Barry Pinot Noir 2006
Very typical 06 Central Otago Pinot nose - caramelised edge to the fruit, with soy and black pepper. The palate is actually quite ripe with noticeably high acid and a raw finish. Lacks a bit of flesh, but it should improve with a few years in the cellar. 16.8+

Olssens Jackson Barry Pinot Noir 2007
Immediately sweeter and riper than the 06, with a real opulent sweet fruit nose. Very sweet & youthful palate. So much fresher and more vibrant than the 06, its actually very soft & pretty in a sweaty, polished style. Lovely wine, if quite a departure from the very serious 06. 17.7

Mt Difficulty Pinot Gris 2008
Smoky, sulphured, reductive nose (I read on the Mt Difficulty website that this had rather reductive handling in the winery and this bottle was freshly opened in front of me. A few hours in the glass would have helped alot). Palate is very dry and clean with raspy acidity. Surprising to see how dry this was, can't help but feel it could have done with a bit more RS. A few years bottle age should also help this along too. 16.5+

Roaring Meg Pinot Noir 2008
What a great value slice of Central Otago Pinot this is. Sappy, classic Pinot nose of red fruits and seasoned with toasty oak. The palate is a bit firm at present, but much to like here - authentic, juicy, well structured and still more improvement ahead. Highly recommended stuff. 17.3

Mt Difficulty Estate Pinot Noir 2007
Aromatic nose - cinnamon, cloves, raspberries. Tight, firm & very dry palate is quite backward compared to come 07s, but much to look forward too. Very good 17.5+

Mt Difficulty Pipeclay Terrace Pinot Noir 2007
After the Estate Pinot, this is immediately oakier and chunkier on the nose, riper but also wilder. The palate is similarly more aggressive, with rich, powerful redcurrant fruit thats almost Shiraz like in its power, in a very serious mould indeed. Long, astringent powerful palate. Very serious & undeniably top shelf, if just a bit too burly for immediate enjoyment. I was impressed regardless. 18.2++

Wooing Tree Rose 2008Very light, lean rose thats very pretty but all too short (my common complaint for this style) the light, white wine like palate failing to satisfy. 15.9

Wooing Tree Pinot Noir 2007
Fleshy, opulent and open nose thats very inviting and just plain delicious. Lightly confected, but its all well balanced. Nice earthen edge to the finish. Just plain yum and good value too. 17.7

Wooing Tree Sandstorm Reserve Pinot Noir 2007
Sweetly grapey nose, much like the standard label Pinot in its opulent ripe grapeyness, with an extra level of oaky richness to the the palate, though the mid palate is quite raw in its expression, with oak tannins drying up the tail. Long way to go. I prefer the standard wine at present, though time will change things. Excessive pricing ($120). 17.3++

Desert Heart Seduction Pinot 2007
Excellent packaging on these Desert Heart wines, really clever. The wines aren't quite there yet, but should do with time. This has a really fun, open again fleshy nose, the palate 'plush like a pillow' yet with a dry edge. Rich and fruit sweet, though a short finish detracts just a little. Good stuff regardless. 17.1

Desert Heart Estate Pinot Noir 2007Soapy (oak?) edge to the nose, palate is sour and shortish. Its obviously very well structured and built for bottle age, but still a little plain and ungenerous. 16.8+

Desert Heart Estate Pinot Noir 2006
Mulchy & vegetative nose, palate is already drying out, finishing dry and lean. Not much fun now, could sort itself out with time. 15.9+

Amisfield Pinot Noir 2007
Classic nose, really perfumed and bright, the palate is similarly lifted, yet not sweet, presenting as the perfect Pinot Noir. Even a bit of funk for interest. Excellent and very pure indeed. 18

Amisfield Rocky Knoll Pinot Noir 2007
I actually prefer the standard wine at present and the score represents it. Funky, slightly rubbery and compacted nose, giving fair indication of the big and extractive palate. Its undoubtedly powerful and well built, but really needs some bottle age. Score will improve greatly with time. 17.8++

Carrick Unravelled Pinot Noir 2008
Disappointment. I'm quite a fan of the Carrick style, but this seems lacking. Sweet, simple, hollow nose, to the point of confected. Similarly too lean palate. Ordinary. 15.4

Carrick Estate Pinot Noir 2007
Typically burly Carrick style. Big, punchy, powerful nose. Very firm and tannic, its a hulking Pinot Noir of serious extract. A steak drinkers Pinot. 17.6+

Carrick Estate Pinot Noir 2005Slightly thin & mousy, raspberry/cranberry nose, the palate has serious mid palate and grippy finish, but it also feels like the fruit is struggling to keep up. Don't know how this one will age..16.7

Carrick Estate Pinot Noir 2004
Maturing, animale & roasted nut nose, nice to see some Pinot stink. Palate is carrying a bit of stewed gameyness that will only increase with age, but I like the real expression here. More attractive than the 05. 17.1

Carrick Pinot Noir 2003
'Roasted duck with orange glaze' is written in my notebook (I must have been hungry) but gives indication of how appetite inducing this woody, meaty maturing Pinot is. I liked it. 17.1

Two Paddocks 'Picnic' Pinot Noir 2007
Sweet red fruit & sap nose, underneath its very light, pretty and openly structured, perfectly suited to drinking at a picnic. Simple and tasty - Nice stuff. 17

Two Paddocks Pinot Noir 2007
I really enjoy these Two Paddocks wines, really silken and very attractive indeed. This more serious (after the 'Picnic') has lovely sweet, fruit cake and spice, leading to a pure and, dare I say it, almost minerally palate. Very light footed, without being sweet or flabby. Big fan of the style. 17.7

Rockburn Devils Staircase Pinot Noir 2008
Rockburns cheapie and I was no fan. Bubblegum and cherries on the hollow, thin nose, the palate is very sweet and dull. Vanilla edged fruit juice. 15.0

Rockburn Pinot Noir 2007
Really sweet edge to the nose, the palate is classical in its fleshy, mid weight styling, though I find the oak a little heavy handed. Should integrate better with some bottle age, the rating reflects this. 17

Prophets Rock Pinot Noir 2006
Winery to watch. Dry, sawdusty nose that is typical of many 06 pinots here, coupled here with some caramelly oak. Palate is very dry and backward, desperately in need of some time, though it may still be a bit too hollow. 16.5+

Prophets Rock Pinot Noir 2007
Oaky & firm again, this has enough fruit though to carry it off. Big, powerful, firmly structured and very serious, if not together yet. Should be very good. 17.5+

Prophets Rock Riesling 2007
Tipping its lid to Alsace, this has seen some barrel time and lees work, making for a rather funky, rubber & turkish delight nose, the palate is undoubtedly interesting, though just a tad underpowered for all the winery action. Definitely a wine to watch in future vintages though. 17

Prophets Rock Pinot Gris 2007
More Alsatian style again, this is rich & plump, driven by full apricot and grape hubba bubba flavours. This is arguably an even more impressive wine than the Riesling, the extra richness and sweetness seeming more natural than in the Riesling. I like the style alot, even if it doesn't totally convince. 17.1

Saturday, 4 July 2009

An impressive Californian red

Joseph Phelps Insignia Cabernet Blend 2004 (Napa Valley, USA)
$300 on spec, Cork, 14%?
Winery Website

It's a rare opportunity to drink a wine like this in Australia, if purely for the scarcity of American wines in our wine market. It's a situation largely dictated by price, with the burden of unfavourable exchange rates and taxes pushing the often 'interesting' prices of great American wines to ridiculous levels, especially if any notion of value is to be taken into account. Sad, as the great Californian Cabernets, if we are to pick on this one style, are truly world class wines.

Personally, I was lucky enough to spend a week driving around Napa/Sonoma in the early 00's that opened up my eyes to Californian wines, but since then its only been the rare interloper since to remind of how much I like the style.

What I like most about this Joseph Phelps Insignia (and many Napa cabs) is that it does one thing particularly well: Balance extract with drinkability (though you wouldn't always guess so).
From the opening whiff, this presents as fully extracted & powerful - it's a massively concentrated, densely proportioned red. Alcohol (which I didn't write down) was circa 14%+, which, although it didn't poke out on the palate, certainly reminded how ripe the grapes were to start with. On the palate, the big cocoa & black fruit characters match up with similarly bracing tannins. Massive tannins in fact, drying and late, just like great tannins can be, all serving as reminders of the little, thick skinned Cabernet berries that lie at its core.

But, after all this swagger of ripeness, set in lavish, American and French, 707ish oak, what actually come out of this was classic iron-fist-in-velvet-glove stuff. Stylistically, it takes the ripeness of Moss Wood, but set in a less sweet & generous, more dry and serious frameset.

In the end, this is a ripping Cabernet. Its big, but surprisingly dexterous, with real, grown up, 'these are tannins' and all backed by proper Cabernet flavour. More please.

The only problem is the price, which is just plain silly. You could get a bottle of excellent second growth Bordeaux and with enough leftover for a bottle of Moss Wood with these sort of dollars. Still, an interesting experience and a great expression of a wine style that I thoroughly enjoy. 18.5

Wine tasting at its best

I came upon this report by the undeniably concise Geoff Kelly, with his take on some new releases from the beautiful Waiheke Island (off the coast of Auckland).

I have nothing but respect for the rigour with which Geoff approaches his wine tasting. Whilst our opinions might diverge on certain wines, the attention to detail here is breathtaking. Technical tasting at its finest.

Read it here

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Ara Composite Pinot Noir 2008

Ara Composite Pinot Noir 2008 (Marlborough, NZ)
$25, Screwcap, 13.5%
Winery Website

The packaging on this is stunning: The embossed, Chateauneuf style bottle; The raised lettering on the label, the modern art/magic eye label; Right down to the sleeve of the screwcap. Obviously some clever designers have been let loose on this bottle, and I can't help but approve. The concept behind the label is interesting too, revolving around a single 'appellation' called Ara that is intended to serve as its own mini subregion. It's very ambitious, however I can't help but worry about what will happen to this huge project (its a 1600 hectare vineyard) in the face of the current financial climate. If this wine is a typical example, then the quality at least is assured, but 1600 hectares is still, high quality or not, a shedload of grapes.

Raspberry cordial in colour, the nose is bright, open and red fruited. It smells invitingly fresh and quite pretty, with a sappy, peppered edge to the red fruit that is straight out of the annals of Marlborough Pinot Noir. The palate is similarly crowd pleasing, with just a touch of the fruit slut about it, the only interruption being some rather raspy, drying acidity that pokes out just a tad, though that should integrate back in with futher bottle time.

The slight quirks aside, its a very easy Pinot to like, with lots of pretty sweet red fruit and just enough pinosity to make for a good drop. Its the sort of wine to give to first time Pinot drinkers, with nary a smelly forest floor or waft of bacon fat to discourage the Pinot Virgin. If this was available at $20 a bottle, I'd say it was a good value drop too.

Good start for the label, this is a simple and pleasurable wine. Personally I think it ticks alot of boxes, even if I find it a tad too mono dimensioal for excitement. 16.5