Monday, 31 August 2009

19 Assorted Pinot Noir & Chardonnays + interlopers

I've been a bit slack in transcribing my notes from the messy scribbles of my wine wankerish notepad into electronic form, so this is the first of a few compilations to come.

Enjoyed over a degustation dinner at Sydney's a'Mews restaurant, the wines here revolved around the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir form, with a few obvious variations.

Bracket 1 - Voyager was my preferred wine, but enjoyed the differences between these three.

Voyager Chardonnay 2005

This bottle was rather backwards indeed. Spicy oak dominant, with a tight & quite lean nose, this showed its class in its construction, even if the oak was just a little dominant. Still dense and tightly packed for what is a warm year Chardonnay. Leave it for a year or two. 17.5/92+

Main Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2006
Clearly high quality if just a little awkward, this had a high toned, grapefruit and lees nose in a style that is restrained and mealy, if also quite worked. The palate is smooth & again spicy, with a mealy mouthful of lightly creamy fruit and something akin to creamy apple juice. High acid and a crisp minerality infused this with real class, but also gave it that awkwardness to prevent higher points (for now). 16.8/89++

Ten Minutes by Tractor 10x Chardonnay 2006
Solidsy, heavily worked, but still pure nose leads to a elegant palate that seems just a smidgen obscured by winemaking artefact. May well lengthen out in time, certainly classy wine. 17/90+

Bracket 2: Personal preferences again took over here. No doubting the class of the Penfolds though.

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2004
Probably just a tad old for what is only a mid tier wine (though more recent vintages should live longer). Spicy, custard oak and apricot on the opulent nose, but in this instant it is much more settled and integrated than the preceding wines. Peach & apricot fatness derails the crisp Kumeu style with a fair whack of alcohol on the finish. Still a good drink though. 16.6/88

Penfolds Bin 03A Chardonnay 2003
Rich, cossetingly rich, oaky, powerful, full flavoured, Penfoldian rich. Very Australian. Definitely oak influenced but quite positively, with a long, quite chunky, but unarguably polished palate. Really rather tasty, in an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style. 17.8/93

Tyrrells Vat 47 Chardonnay 1997
Unquestionably older, yet also delightful, this fairly polarised. Toasty nose, in an old Semillon like fashion, and also quite warm, this convinced me by its so generous, yet absolutely dry heart, with the unspoken acidity that Hunter whites (and Vat 47 in particular) do so well. I loved it, but I can also understand its slightly oxidised nature won't win everybody over. 17.9/93

Bracket 3: The Blain came from my cellar, and it's a style that I absolutely love, so obvious bias. Otherwise this was a pretty mixed bracket.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 1994
On the decline. Varnishy, volatile nose, with caramel donut old buttery chard style development. Palate is drying out, with the wood tannins becoming quite noticeable. Curio at best. 14/77

Blain Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet 'La Boudriotte' 1er 2006
Starting to close down from its opulent release peak. Dense nose in a milky and somewhat oaky
style that only hints at the flavour below. Palate is very tight and youthful, if a tad plain, with quite serious acidity (particularly for the vintage). Needs a few years at least. 18/93+

Chavy Puligny Montrachet Les Folatieres 1er 2000
Just past its prime for mine. Buttercake, almond meal & orange rind nose with plenty of developed Chardy overtones. The palate is still quite dense and chewy, which makes me think this would have been very good once, but its all getting a bit caramelised through the middle. Average. 16.0/85

Bracket 4: On to the reds and an average to good bracket.

Giaconda Nantua Pinot Noir 2004
Sappy, chocolatey oak & some herbaceousness in the background. Definitive full nose that is slightly volatile and unquestionably rich & heedy. A bit of soapyness in there too which I'm not particularly fond of. Underneath its all quite bright, red and fruity, but with some metallic acidity towards the end. Rich strawberry fruit saves the day, but its still disjointed. May well come together with more bottle age. 17.1/91

Domaine Bart Bourgogne 2006
Funky, stinky, fault ridden and simple, yet not without its charms. Its actually not a bad drink underneath it all, with leaf mulch development actually making things more interesting. 15.8/85

Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 1998
Presented blind and definitely not smelling or tasting its age, this was a pleasant surprise. Minty sweet fruit with a tinge of greenness and suggestions of what may have been a quite oaky wine in its youth. The palate though shows a delicious sweetness of fruit that fair belies its slightly hard nose, even if it ends up with quite an astringent finish. Still, the core of this wine is quite attractive indeed. 16.5/88

Bracket 5: I am a big, big fan of the Pyramid Valley wines, but no questioning the winner in this bracket. The grand old dame beat everything else.

Pyramid Valley Eaton Family Pinot Noir 2007
Clearly glowing with the health of the 07 vintage, this was very bright, with sweet cherry and raspberries dominating what it is a simple and youthful nose. Rich, smoky and long palate, with quite big alcohol and a creamy back end. Long, elemental and so very pretty, this just got better as it opened up. Beautiful Pinot. 18.1/93+

Springvale Pinot Noir 2002
Green, harsh, astringent and awkward. Can't see why this was released. 11.8/60

Mt Mary Pinot Noir 1977
Yes, thats correct, this is a 77 vintage Pinot. And what a wine it is. Old Muscat, brownish red in colour, though more like a deep dark red with the redness leaked out. Dropping a large amount of sediment. Aged, volatile, metallic earthen nose that smells somewhat lifeless compared to the palate. Big palate, with real richness to it. In fact, it has an almost Shiraz like beefiness to it, a roasted meat and plummy chocolatey-ness that is quite unpinot like, but delightfully winey in its intensity. Silken, fully mature, and utterly seamless wine. Obviously an excellent bottle. Perhaps the WOTN, if purely for interest. 18/93

Bracket 6: Odds and sods, the Lakes Folly's were produced more as a respect to Max himself, whom passed away in the days leading up to this dinner.

Lakes Folly Chardonnay 1985
Sadly corked

Lakes Folly Chardonnay 1996
Considerably older than I would have opened this, but still looking youthful-ish. Creamy butterscotch like development, mixing with more characteristic peach and apple strudel fruit. Palate is rich but the acid dips and crests throughout the palate, finally taking over the tail end. Ok, if a little old and tart. 16.2/87

Bass Phillip Village Pinot Noir 2003
Caramelised, pooey nose with bacon bits and menthol obscuring whats left of the fast maturing fruit. Drying out and meaty, I didn't get excited at all about this, but many others did. Definitely made in the Bass Phillip house style regardless. 16.6/88-

Bullers Rare Muscat
Never been a big fan of the Bullers fortifieds, yet I seem to be in the minority. This was rich, black and raisined with obviously old material, the whole lot lacking real freshness. Could be an older bottle. 17/89

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Summerfield Reserve Shiraz 2000

It's another less detailed note this one, of a wine that is more of a fine representation of the Summerfield house style than a great wine, worthy more for its style and context than its absolute fineness.

The context in question is centred around the Summerfield family, one of those revered multi generational operations that our wine industry is built upon: Blood, sweat and tears style winemakers who live and breathe their land and their wines. The Summerfield version of this wine story is now 30 years strong, with their success focused on an unwavering desire to craft one thing only - glorious full flavoured red wines. It's a desire that, judging purely by how quickly the wines sell out, must be producing results - the current 07 release, for instance is largely gone, with the 08's barely in bottle yet. Just check out the frequency of 'Sold Out' on this order form.

For me personally, my experiences with Summerfield have been brief - the odd encounter with the very black, rich and textural Summerfield wines have been good, but decidedly few and far between. Even tonight I wouldn't have called a stop at the Summerfield stand a priority, but that was until having a chat with Mark Summerfield himself.

Mark, and his family, are in a unique position. They, unlike many in the industry, don't have to work too hard to sell the wines. Rather, the quality is so good, that the loyal mailing list customers, combined with the Cellar Door and a small trickle of exports and retail sales, snaffle up nearly every Summerfield morsel available, leaving them in the enviable position of not having to sell their wines (and their souls) to anyone they don't want to.

It's not a situation bad eh? But I asked then why then would he be at a wine trade show/fair tonight? Showing a range of wines that are basically sold out to a bunch of drunks?

It's all about the future. With two excellent vintages on the way, and plenty of wine to sell from both of them, he figures that if he gets out and shows the trade/consumers just how good the Summerfield wines are, that when the (even better!) 08 vintage is released, he should already have built up some enough momentum to (hopefully) lead to them finding a place in even more homes at a faster pace than ever before. By similarly touring the 08's around at tastings nation (and world) wide, he figures that the 2009 wines should thud basically sell themselves.

It's a long term strategy that (arguably) only family winemakers can pull off, but it also reflects smart business practises, coupled with an unquestioning confidence in how damn good your wines are. And, tasting how consistently good the 2006 & 2007 vintage wines are, I don't think he will have any trouble selling them. Indeed, he had wine scribe Ralph Kyte Powell in the barrel hall last week, and told him that 'you can taste from absolutely any barrel of 08 vintage reds. They are all that good'

Confidence indeed. But I don't blame him. The 07 'Medley' is still available (though not much left according to Mark) and it has to be one of the most genuinely impressive $25 wines I have had this year. It would easily put many $50 examples to shame, such is the convincing intensity and depth at hand, yet it is still the 'entry level' wine for the Estate. What's more, each and every wine in that 07 lineup is a stunner (if you like the style of course) and the $47 (less 10% for those on the mailing list) sum for the Reserve wines is actually genuinely good value - again a rarity for wines $40+ a bottle.

In the end though,he doesn't need me to talk up his wines. They will all ultimately sell themselves on simply how consistently good they are.

Summerfield Reserve Shiraz 2000
There is a distinctive house style about these wines that appeals deeply to me, yet I could also see how they could be a turnoff. This is, like all of them, an intensely rich, ripe, and full bodied wine. Unequivocally full bodied and ripe. This ABV Nazi though really doesn't find them hot or raisined or overripe, which is somewhat rare. Nor do I find them intensely oaky, even though oak plays a significant part in their genetic makeup. Rather, like many central Victorian Shiraz, it is the richness of texture that I find appealing. It is a richness that also draws me to the various Best's Shirazes, along with those of Greg Clayfield and the older Seppelt's. It is a richness to me that represents the very best of Australian Shiraz. And I love it.

This 2000 then takes this richness and mixes it with the first gameyness of age. The sweet chocolatey black fruit core is there, but so is the overtones of meat and leather and spice, with licorice for good measure. Whilst the palate is just starting to peak and is really softening, it is the kick of tannins that help to propel this beyond just another 9 year old red.

The overall effect is of a wine that is quintessentially Summerfield in style, but with a feral edge, a wine that is probably not brilliant, but just reminds how bloody consistent these wines are. And thats where the significance lies for me - it is this notable consistency, apart from anything else, that is ultimately the key to Summerfield's success. 18

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Meerea Park Alexander Munro Shiraz 2007

Meerea Park Alexander Munro Shiraz 2007 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
$65ish [I think], Screwcap, 14%


Just a general note on this one, as I really wasn't taking notes, I was drinking it. Drinking it at a wine tasting where I was supposed to be just 'tasting'. It's the wine's fault you see, it was simply that good that I ended up unconsciously drinking it. Damn you Eather boys.

It's red in colour. I can't really tell you much else with regards to the colour except that it really wasn't ridiculously dark. Mid red even. On the nose, it's simply a great Hunter Shiraz. It's a careful match between slightly meaty, earthen deepness and some well judged milk chocolate oak (very finely integrated). It smells rich and inviting and new leatherish, hardly confronting, but just, well, perfectly formed. No screaming, just clear signals of what it is.
On the palate though is where the greatness is. Full, but not heavy, you taste not fruit, but wine. Ok, maybe some sort of blackberries or plums or the like, but nothing actually tastes like grapes, which I think the best red wines show. Moving on, the fair proportion of stems make their presence felt on the back palate, injecting pepper and that animale edge that I really like. Tannins are long, but soft things, grippy, but not mind bendingly powerful, just subliminal really (no acid added, incidentally, hooray for that). Drinking the stuff, you realise thats actually not that thunderously powerful, just lithely intense. Really like that too.

The overarching impression of this wine then is of balance, built upon a theory of 'everything, in its right place' and a product of what was obviously blindingly good fruit. It is, without question, a near perfect Hunter Shiraz, but beyond that, it's also a top class, exceptionally well built, medium bodied, drinking red wine. I'll be buying some. 19.0

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Cape Mentelle Zinfandel 2004

Cape Mentelle Zinfandel 2004 (Margaret River, WA)
$45, Screwcap, 16%

It's time I came clean about something. I would like to admit, to everyone, that I am an ABV Nazi. It's a source of bias, perhaps, but indicative of my personal preferences, that I almost unconsciously find myself driven away from high alcohol wines. What's more, I tend to find alcohol poking out of even seemingly lower alcohol drinks, just waiting to destroy everything with its spirity ways. It's not just wine either, I can't drink Cognac, Brandy or Whisky (neat), as all I taste is alcohol, alcohol, alcohol.

As a result, I simply can't enjoy wines like this, as I just can't get past the booze. Not now, not ever, no thankyou. And even though the theory is oft repeated, high alcohol is so rarely, if ever balanced. So there.

The wine then - Deep blood red in colour, with a volatile Boysenberry nose. Too volatile. There is also a mixed ripeness, a meaty hardness to the nose too, a hint of stewed cooked fruit and uneven bunches, with the oak sitting beside the fruit, having not quite integrated properly. Fruitcake with lots of brandy is the overriding impression. But I quite like fruitcake though, so down it goes.

The palate is a big boozy ride of spirity, rum and raisin, fruitcake & fig jam fruit. Lots of quite luscious flavour, but also LOTS of alcohol, the oak again besides the fruit. To me its plain unbalanced but the redeeming factor is the big hearty richness. It's massive and broad, but that's kind of the attraction too. It's a big mouthful of unstructured fruit, and, whilst I was no fan, it had the rest of the dinner table singing its plump praises.

My score then gives a half nod to that meaty attraction, but also half a nod to my own dislikes (which means my head is thus spinning round in circles). 16.5

Pig in the House Cabernet 2007

Pig in the House Cabernet 2007 (Cowra, NSW)
$14.50, Diam, 13%

Certified Organic products are hard to find under $20, presumably because organic viticulture is more cost intensive than traditional farming. So I was rather excited to see this land on my desk. The label looks fun, the price is excellent, expectations where high. But it just didn't deliver.

Dusty, corky and oaky on the nose, it smells like dody old oak. Old oak, edged with caramelised, super ripe, rubbery red fruit. It's a sadly unappealing nose that's confected and dull. On the palate it tastes cooked, hard and resinous.

Geez I hope this is a dud bottle. 13

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Ballewindi Pinot Noir 2008

Ballewindi Pinot Noir 2008 (Mornington Peninsula, Vic)
$28, Screwcap Luxe (a good looking screwcap), 14%?

Crafted by the Mornington Master, Sandro Mosele, this is a Vintage Cellars exclusive product, featuring in their current catalogue at $20.99. Good buying at that price, though pushing it perhaps at $28.

Bright ruby red in colour, this exudes typically attractive, ripe red Pinot fruit aromatics in a pretty, delicious, warm year style. The bottle I tried had been open for a while and showed just a twinge of oxidation, but there was no doubting that musky, lightly sappy, generous & open red fruit attraction.

On the palate its sweet fruited, yet without any notion of sugary sweetness, just obviously well ripened fruit. Save for some stemmy whole bunch characters, the palate follows the pretty, forward nose with a light to medium bodied expression of Mornington Pinot. It's not the most intense wine, but it is quite well formed and has genuine Pinosity.

As a complete package, there is much to like here. It's a perfect dinner party Pinot, with all the good bits about Pinot highlighted, without the challenging structure/the odd gamey whiff to turn non Pinotphiles off, whilst still retaining enough character and interest to keep the fans happy. I'd be drinking this sooner too.

Good stuff. 17.5

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Finally, some good news

In amongst a solid stream of negative press, I was pleased today to see a clever initiative from the Australian wine industry, and yet again it is driven by medium sized family wine companies.

A group of 12 of, arguably, Australia's finest family wineries, has joined together to form a marketing organisation (ala NZ's very successful Family of 12) with the aim to promote super premium Australian wines from real family wineries.

Beyond just the idea, however, the price of admission to this surprisingly exclusive club is set particularly high, with stipulations on environmental ideals, along with ownership of vineyards with a vine age of 50+ years.

Members wineries include

Brown Brothers
Campbells
d'Arenberg
De Bortoli
Henschke
Howard Park
Jim Barry
McWilliam's
Tahbilk
Taylors
Tyrrell's
Yalumba

You can read Max Allen's take here or on Decanter here to get the skinny on the exact details. In particular take a good look at all the wineries involved and marvel at what an impressive list it is. From each and every one of these wineries I could name at least one (and in the case of a few, many) wines that I personally get excited about.

Each and every winery on that list deserves their spot without question, serving to represent the real 'face' of Australian wine, which contrasts sharply with the shallow, corporate, 'industrial' image that is perpetuated by our larger wine companies.

Well done to all involved.

Oh and finally, another venture worth mentioning is acclaimed Australian wine ambassador Hazel Murphy, who is still doing her bit for Australian wine. Have a look at here latest initiative (below)

Wine legend Hazel Murphy confirmed to TWTW this morning that she is cranking up the old Wine Flights and it’s going well. Wine Flight 2010, set to touch down in February, has 32 members of the wine trade and press confirmed and just eight places remain. “It is really exciting to see the response from the old hands and the new Flighters too, so I have my fingers crossed that before the end of September we will have all the places sold,” Hazel told TWTW. “I am over in Australia for a couple of weeks but not really work, more a holiday, but back in November to get the trip sorted. I am sure it is going to re-enthuse those on the trip and give us new ambassadors too! I can’t wait to show them all the regions and wines that defy the doomsayers (if that is a word). Well, I think so anyway!

“In 1992 when Australia was considered a relatively new wine producer to many in the UK, the idea was conceived to take a sizeable group from the UK trade out to the wineries to let them see what Australia had to offer first hand. With the assistance of a dozen wineries we were able to put together the first Wine Flight of a Lifetime. That trip helped unequivocally to put Australia on the wine map. The group numbered 110, amongst them several writers including Oz Clarke, Robert Joseph and Tim Atkin and all were blown away by the ‘can do’ attitude of the people, the fabulous wines and the excellent and imaginative food. They became some of the best ambassadors for Australian wines and still are. We went on to organise a number of subsequent trips over the years, and after much discussion and with the full backing of Wine Australia, I have now undertaken to organise this Wine Flight. The group will again comprise a mix of press, importers, retail buyers and sommeliers; new ‘Flighters’ as well as old hands and most places were snapped up as soon as whispers of the trip began circulating. It’s the ticket to see what Australia in the 21st Century is all about.”

Make no mistake, folks, this initiative by Hazel has the potential to turn around the fortunes of the Australian wine industry and silence the critics. Email Hazel and tell her she’s doing a bloody good job: hazelmurphy@onetel.com

(this comes from TWTW, I'm sure Anthony & the crew won't mind, particularly if you buy a subscription to WBM)

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Carmes de Rieussec 2005

Carmes de Rieussec 2005 (Sauternes, France)
Cork, $30, 14%

The second label of Rieussec and produced in the same manner as the grand vin, this is 85% Semillon, 10% Sauv Blanc & 5% Muscadelle, spending 18 months in oak. Very serious then.

Golden yellow in colour, this shows an authentic Sauternes nose of honey & lemon lime tart, with a bit of custard for good measure. It's a cake shop of a nose and rather appealing, even if its a bit compacted and dense for real sex appeal. The palate follows this with a firm, perhaps too firm, expression thats dry and all a bit too much structural bulk (and warm alcohol) for the fruit on offer.

Will definitely get better with time, it's just a bit hard going at present. 16.3+

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Max Ferd Richter Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett 2007

Max Ferd Richter Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett 2007 (Mosel, Germany)
Screwcap, $37, 8.5%


I've included a picture of the label (though this is for the Sonnenuhr Auslese) just so we can all revel in the totally excellent, ornate Mosel label.


Straw yellow in colour, this off dry, traditional Mosel Kabinett has a floral, beeswax, stones & grapefruit nose to it that is so Mosel, so pure and terroir driven that it is intoxicating to smell (once you get past the Sulphur of course). The palate is long and complex, with honeysuckle fruit and intensity right through the finish - no doubting the fruit quality here - though it's also carrying a hardness to it that is a little distracting and hardcore in its stony terroir interpretation. To my palate, I think this would probably work better if it was picked later & produced in a Spatlese style, or wait a few years for it to soften a little more.

Good stuff regardless. 17.0+

Friday, 14 August 2009

Tyrrell's Brokenback Shiraz 2001

Tyrrell's Brokenback Shiraz 2001 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Cork, $20, 12.8%!

12.8% alcohol! Now that's what I like to see on an Aussie Shiraz. Thankyou Hunter Valley for delivering, yet again.

Light terracotta in colour and definitely looking eight years old, this very typical (in a great way) maturing Hunter Shiraz has a rich, earthen, 'look kids, it's a Hunter Shiraz', utterly unmistakeable nose. The smell of red Hunter dirt is so all pervading, that I think many would/could dislike it. I, on the other hand, love it.

It tastes then much like it smells. Earthen. Hunterish. Mid weight yet appreciably rich, with plenty of meaty, Bonox & cocoa powder flavours. The acidity is high, the tannins soft, chocolatey and sneakily ending this wine off with a punch. Yum. My only criticism is that it's just a little bit awkward in the flow across the palate, but I think if you drunk this with, say, Roast Beef & Baked Potatoes, the slightly drying acidity would integrate further.

Even without a dinner plate in hand though, this lovely example of the Hunter Burgundy style is much to my liking. It's hardly an incredibly serious wine, nor is it super concentrated or particularly intense, but it does show off its terroir to perfection. The Hunterishness itself may polarise some drinkers, but I say 'more please'. 18.3

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Giaconda McClay Road Wines

The second label of Giaconda, The 'McClay Road' range was first introduced with the smoky 2003 vintage, which was entirely declassified. This pair comes off the Warner Block (Shiraz) & the younger vines on the Estate Vineyard (Chardonnay).

What I am also interested in is the relationship between this pair & the 'RK' Vintage Cellars exclusive Shiraz & Chardonnay, which even look similar in their labelling....

Giaconda McClay Rd Chardonnay 2008
Carries the funky, solidsy, wild ferment-meets-rich fruit style of Giaconda. Lots of family resemblances then. This then has a mouthfilling texture, like it should, but in a quite restrained mould. Very young and quite lean then, with much to come. It's Giaconda then, but a baby of a wine, without the complexity or density of its bigger brother. Pushing it at $42. 17.2+

Giaconda McClay Rd Shiraz 2008
Stemmy, Rhonish, slightly pooey stink, which leads on to a soft, whole bunch influenced purple fruit palate. Certainly stylish winemaking, but this lacks intensity and really falls away on the back palate. Should be half this ($42) price. 16.7

Monday, 10 August 2009

Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 2006

Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 2006 (Clare Valley, SA)
$80, Cork, 13.7%

Exclusive wine, slightly exclusive pricetag (though not from the mailing list) and even the labelling take minimalism to the extreme. But the argument is - with a reputation like this, do you need to do any more?

On night one, with an hour or so in the decanter, this was quite awkward, with a surprising uneven ripeness to it. So I stuck back in the fridge, eschewing the bottle and leaving it in a big Riedel (which looked ridiculous) and now, on day two, it seems much more composed.

In the glass it's a deep, dark, boysenberried, right to the rim, mega old vine colour, looking dense and serious. I really like that boysenberry ripple purple colour, it looks excellent in the glass and seems to promise much. Nose does too: It's tight, compacted, yet fresh and distinctively Clare Valley-ish. Eucalypt, mint, crushed up dried leaves, fruit cake and ripe red fruit. Needs lots of time, judging by the nose alone.

At first sip, however, I thought this was a dud. Surprising to say, but this initially seemed too ripe, too plush and even a bit stewed in its flavour profile. But something had me coming back. Something grainy about the tannins, the sour, licoricey back end, or the sense of lightness & freshness to the deep red fruit.

This Wendouree then is a quite surprising wine. It's softer, sweeter, less minty and nowhere near as astringent as past Wendouree Cab Malbec's (though I've not had any of the past three vintages, when apparently the style changed), and I'm really not convinced that its a particularly good vintage for this wine, but its still got that beguiling, mystique ridden, uniqueness of the finest terroir driven wines, even if it requires some coaxing. If I had this in my cellar, I would treat it like any other Wendouree and forget it exists until its 10th birthday, but I don't, and my dollars would go to the 06 Shiraz over this. 17.7+

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Cullen (Diana Madeline) Cabernet Merlot 93-01

Tasted recently over dinner at Rubyo's in Newtown (Sydney), this vertical tasting reminded, quite simply, why this wine is considered to be one of Australia's best (and we didn't even get started on the more recent vintages).

I won't ramble on too much about the winery, or the wine's history, for you can go to cullenwines.com.au for that. What I will say is that I wouldn't recommend drinking these before they are 10 years old (in my opinion at least).

The notes below are exactly as I wrote on the night (so please excuse the halting style & lack of flow) with the notes from the back label (and the rest) in italics. The older wines (pre 1999 I think) where decanted an hour earlier and then decanted back into the bottle. The rest where opened and drunk with only a 10 minute decant. Good to see no cork problems and so many 'good' bottles, particularly the 84.

The wines:

Cullen Cabernet Merlot 1984
'65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. 2 years in Nevers oak. Harvest 6-20.3.84. Bottled 26.2.86. pH 3.5. TA 6.5. Alc 13.5%.'
Obviously a great bottle. Excellent freshness for its 25 years. Big nose - definitely a ripe vintage. Slightly tawny edge to the colour, but appreciably red. Old leather, cassis, deep, Cabernet dominant nose. Graceful, peppery older Bordeaux blend nose, still fruit driven though. Rich & ripe palate that also tastes Cab dominant with excellent power, but with some heat on the finish. Choc bullets and kirsch. Smooth, but starting to deteriorate on the back end, with the acid starting to dominate. Drink now, but not tiring, its a very tasty old Cabernet. For its age this is a relative blinder, though it's probably just past it's peak. 17.5

Cullen Cabernet Merlot 1993
'The 93 vintage was cool and dry, producing a wine with more elegance & refinement than warmer vintages'. 21 months in French oak. Reserve wine made in this year. 13.0% alc
Slight bricking at the rim. Quite youthful nose, with age an overtone. I imagine this could have been slightly leafy in its youth, though this has been integrated back in with bottle age. Wet brick, cedar and distinctive cool climate Cab aromatics. Palate is cedary, resolving, medium bodied and long, with long tannins and highish acidity. Falls away just a tad, though tannins are still full and sprightly. Elegant power. Such a lovely expression of Cabernet! Great start. Drinking at its peak, but still lots of life here. 18.5


Cullen Cabernet Merlot 1994
Produced off the original Cabernet block (22yo at the time), this is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc . 22 months in oak. Reserve wine made this year. 13.5%
Tighter, riper & less expressive than the 93, with a single flow of ripe berries. Mono dimensional, hollow, volatile, but still richly proportioned, if slightly caramelised. Lacks the delineation of top vintages. Still some improvement to come here. 16.5

Cullen Cabernet Merlot 1995
'2nd vintage of warm weather & low yields. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 17 months in oak. 13.5%'
Getting lighter at the edge, but bright ruby red. Nice to see some varietal leafiness here. Really red fruited, almost Pinot like in its fruit expression. Open, meaty and pretty. Palate is lovely, quite resolved and medium weight, but such a classic expression of elegant red fruit. Really pure and long, with just a slight dip of alcohol heat. Quite a beautiful wine. Yum. Will live for many years yet, though its definitely on the plateau. 18.8


Cullen Cabernet Merlot 1996

75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. 13.5%
Very youthful in colour, real purple edge here. Really rich, decadent nose, Violet Crumble & blackberries, with a lacquered, vanilla oak veneer. Sweet, powerful and raw palate. Very young & big, its just a bit brutish for real love (yet) and definitely in the sweeter, less herbaceous and riper mould. The tannins feel quite classic too. Lots of potential. 18++


Cullen Cabernet Merlot 1998
69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc. Warm weather and then cooled down, making the vintage stop and start. Grapes harvested after the rain were very high quality. 20% new, 35% 1yr old & 45% 2yr old oak for 18 months.'
Deep colour, colour thins out dramatically at the rim. Leaner, leafy, black pepper & spice on the nose. Mixed ripeness, with greenness underscoring it all. Chocolate oak in there too, though well integrated. Much lighter in colour - ruby red rather than deep red - next to the 99 & 96. Sappy, smoky palate is light & full of thin, sappy, just ripe fruit, edged with the more confected late picked fruit characters. Falls away towards the finish. Lesser wine, and the least impressive of the lineup. 15.5

Cullen Cabernet Merlot 1999
'Exceptionally good vintage for red wines, early summer was cool, with Cyclone Vance threatening the harvest. After this, nature turned on one of the most glorious Indian summers. 74% Cabernet, 20% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. First time for the Petit Verdot & hope to increase the percentage with time. 18 months in barriques. Bottling in Dec 2001. 14%'
Deep red, even purpley black in colour, with a big brooding, monstrously ripe nose. Just a twinge of mint & leaf to remind that this is from Margs and not the Barossa - its that big and generous on the nose. Tarry, licoricey. Palate is big & very ripe, with soft fruit and almost inconspicuous tannins. Very plump and luscious. Ripe, generous, fruit slut of a wine, with just a little alcohol on the finish. Will it get better? Not sure, probably just softer. Such a crowd pleaser of a wine regardless. 18.6

Cullen Cabernet Merlot 2000
65% Cabernet, 21% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc. First time with Malbec. 13.5%
Sweet, forward & quite oaky, open & slightly confected, if quite opulent nose. There is though a dullness, a one dimensional simplicity to the nose that marks this as a lesser wine. Palate is straighforward, open & rounded, easy drinking even. Not going to get much better for mine. 16.5

Cullen 'Diana Madeline' Cabernet Merlot 2001
75% Cabernet, 25% Merlot. 18 Months in oak, 40% new. First year as the 'Diana Madeline' Cabernet Merlot. 13.5%
Toasted nuts, vanilla and pan juices on the nose. This smelt 'different' to previous vintages. More modern, serious even. Red berries, plushness. Still unfurling. Palate is tight, warm and very long. Alcohol tastes like more than 13.5%. The most tannic wine in the whole lineup. Very dry & powerful. Could be a stunner, but a bit too bold at the moment. 18.3++

Chateau Guiraud 1995
Bronzed orange colour. Lemon tart, quince jam, fairy floss, but also with something vaguely gumball like. Palate is initially quite short with lime tart/custard apple & toffee & a cut of orange & lemon apricot, but lengthens out with custard through the finish. Finishes awkwardly with a slightly fat & dull expression of advancing flavours. Not to my taste & can't say its going anywhere good. 16.5

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

An excellent view on biodynamics

Biodynamics. Like it, love it, despise it, laugh at it, whatever, it's a very hot topic amongst serious grape growers/producers. Biodynamics is increasingly viewed as the ultimate in 'green' farming, giving the ultimate in environmental credibility to whoever proclaims it as gospel.

The problem is that Biodynamics, due to the fact it all revolves around the teachings of a very eccentric & unusual guy, is weird. Weird in the way that it embraces spirituality and mysticism and transposes this into the very practical and pragmatic methodologies of agriculture. Methodologies that are based upon science, experience and 'give us a look' pragmatism. Practices that revolve around both time honoured, well tested ideas as well as modern scientific & technological advances.

As a result, Biodynamics, even if it could produce paradigm shifting results, is viewed largely with scepticism. And the most severe scepticism is reserved for two of (arguably) its most central themes - the Biodynamic Calendar (root day anyone) & the preparations-buried-in-cowhorns.

It seems, however, that some of the exponents of a full Biodynamic regime do understand how weird these elements are. One of those disciples is Nigel Greening, of glorious Central Otago winery Felton Road, and here is a small article that I really liked, which takes a refreshingly normal view of the extremes of Biodynamics.

Read it here

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Agreeing with Andrew Jefford

Andrew Jefford, beside having an excellent first name, is certainly one of the more contentious critics of Australian wine.

He is known for his views on Australia's (perceived) lack of terroir driven wines, long criticising elements such as the use of added acidity, tannins and general winemaking edifice in lieu of actually crafting harmonious wines.

Jefford, however, is actually investigating whether this perception is correct, having spent the last 9 odd months ensconced in Australian wine academia at the University of Adelaide, principally to examine the role of terroir in Australian wines.

Along the way, Jefford has posted notes on his blog, detailing some of his travels and travails, with articles also published in Decanter Magazine and Jancis Robinson's website. Much of what Jefford has written is very provocative indeed, certainly helped by the very high quality of his writing, even if I find myself disagreeing somewhat with many sentiments (though that might be because I'm a parochial Australian).

It was good then to read the latest update to his blog, which details some of the better wines he has uncovered, highlighting the good 'terroir driven' wines which Australia can produce. I found myself then, in contrast, nodding in agreement with many of Jefford's picks.. (here)

Monday, 3 August 2009

Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Wairau Valley, Marlborough, NZ)
Screwcap, $25, 13%
Winery Website

You could call Goldwater a pioneer of sorts, pioneering the way for many winemakers to add a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I wonder if they realised 15 years ago just how big the phenomenon would grow to be.... Oh and this won trophies at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.

Pungent, intense & traditional Marlborough Sauv aromatics, with the love it or hate it, gooseberry and cat pee/asparagus nose that was once the hallmark of Marlborough Sauv (before the machine harvesting and overcropping). I much prefer this style of nose. It's a no bullshit, this is how you do it aromatic explosion of Savviness.

On the palate, the trophy winning intensity continues, with a long, fiercely acidic, herbal, citrussy, methoxypyrazine laden palate of wonderful rippling power, uncompromising in its power and expression. Again, its a full on style of Marlborough Sauv (which I like), that will divide opinions, but is absolutely true to its origins. What's more, compared to many of the weak, washed out and tropical 08's, this is still full of freshness, with none of the dull tinned pea early development of so many from this Marlborough vintage.

Brilliant wine and thoroughly deserving of its trophies. Good value too. 18.6

Saturday, 1 August 2009

BEER: Monteith Doppelbock

Monteith Doppelbock (Greymouth, NZ)

For one of the bigger players in the Kiwi brewing industry, Monteiths make some particularly high quality drops. They are, to draw Australian comparisons, like the James Squire of the South Island, and its excellent to see them on Australian shelves.

This special winter release aims to emulate the rich, dark 'double Bock' German dark ale style, which, considering my love of Bock, is immediately attractive. I think the attraction revolves around its rich malty warmth and alcohol kick (6% or so for this one) making for a beer that will never qualify as 'sessionable', but is such a satisfying, who-really-cares-whats-happening-outside-I'm-staying-here, 'quiet ale' beer of intensity and flavour.

On the palate, this is dry and warming, without obvious sweetness. After drinking a fair bit of the Harviestoun, which is much more of a stout style, this seemed quite lean and nowhere near as luxurious, but after bottle number two I think I had this figured out. It's actually lighter, less smoky and chocolatey than a more classic stout style, with more bitterness and a drier finish making it slightly more refreshing and a little bit more amicable than the Harviestoun, though also a little less satisfying.

In the end, this is a finely made 'big bottling' brew, with much to like in flavour and style, even if I was wanting just a little bit more