Monday, 28 September 2009

Hungerford Hill Hilltops Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Hungerford Hill Hilltops Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Hilltops, NSW)
$25, Screwcap, 14.5%

On the back label of this Cabernet it calls Hilltops a 'cool climate region'. Now, I'm not sure about you, but I'd hardly call a region that's even warmer than the Barossa (as measured by Heat Degree Days and Mean January temperature) a cool climate.... But am I missing something? Most of the region sits at 450m altitude, so perhaps it is cooler than I think?

Anyway, this hardly looks, smells or tastes like an elegant & sophisticated cool climate wine. Rather, this is more like the traditional Aussie stockman of wine, with a broad smile and a well worn pair of RM Williams boots.

In this wines case, you can tell its going to strong willed simply by looking at it, with the glass full of deep & darkly black juice with blood red edges. Curiously though, the nose starts with a curious dollop of mint/menthol (there is the cool climate). Service is resumed quickly though with eucalypt, plum jam and volatility aplenty, in a heady and concentrated formula of concentration and power.

Unsurprisingly the rugged and chewy palate matches the nose with suitable chunk & muscularity, with the sort of hearty, traditional flavours that could theoretically put hairs on your chest (plenty of oak in there too, though it's been eaten by the fruit). It's a wine for drinking after spending the day herding sheep, chopping wood and other manly pursuits, and is to be consumed with the largest hunk of bloody beef available.

In amongst all that concentration however, the finish is actually quite balanced, with the 14.5% hardly announcing itself, lost perhaps in the extract. The palate never feels harsh either, which indicates that Phillip John knew what he was doing with this beasty. Good value too.

The challenge that remains then is scoring this. Arguably it's a caricature of a wine that will probably fall over in a year or so, or get taken over by structure, oak and alcohol. But, on the same hand, I can see the appeal too - it's a workmanlike wine, but made with alot of heart and stuffing, even if it is roughly hewn.

I'm settling with a lowish 16.5 then, but I suspect with said steak and an open fire I could come to man up and love the stuff. The 'cool climate' argument however might require more than just meat & wine....16.5/20

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Karra Yerta Riesling 2009

Karra Yerta Riesling 2009 (Eden Valley, SA)
$25, Screwcap, 13%
Winery Website

I'm getting to this a bit late, with two renowned tasters, Gary Walsh & Julian Coldrey, having already announced the quality of this wine during the week. Suffice to say, I am going to merely add to the chorus and say that this is a very impressive dry Riesling, and perhaps the best yet under the Karra Yerta label.

What's most impressive here is the acidity, with the whole wine driven to greatness by its startling acid backbone (witness the pH and TA levels - 2.82! and 7.85g/ltr). In the case of this Karra Yerta Riesling, the blinding citrussy acid structure makes for a wine of serious impact, which, when coupled with grapefruit, lemon and apple Martini regional Riesling fruit characters, makes for a pure and simply beautiful Riesling in the intensely dry Eden Valley style.

Winning wine for drinking over the medium term +. 18.8

Bouchard 2007 Masterclass

Led by Luc Bouchard and co hosted by the Ultimo Wine Centre, this masterclass focused on a horizontal of the 2007 vintage Burgundies from Bouchard Pere et Fils.

In the words of Luc himself, the 2007 vintage was late and long, with a cool and rainy summer resulting in uneven ripeness, particularly in the Pinot Noir, but also producing grapes with exceptional levels of natural acidity. In view of this, the general conclusion is that 2007 will be a vintage for the cellar and, more importantly, a vintage where white wines excelled.

Bouchard is probably best known for its whites, and given the conditions of the 07 vintage, it was definitely the whites that were the stars in this tasting. What was most impressive though was the performance of several of the Premier Cru wines, and if I was going to buy anything it would be the relatively good value 1ers. My scores are all on the low side just because they are were almost all abrasively acidic and young.

Oh and the new labels are rubbish.

The whites:

Bouchard Bourgogne La Vignee Chardonnay 2007 ($34.95)
Stainless steel ferment
Lightly creamy and simple babyfat creaminess mixed with nectarine ripe fruit. Clean, very light, if hollow palate. Simply fare, average value. 15.5/20

Bouchard Mersault 'Les Clous' 2007 ($89.95)
15% new oak, 85% 2 year old barrels 'chalky soil'
Bloody expensive for a village wine, but this is serious stuff. Correct nose with Aramis aftershave and musk, all firmly wrapped in chalky acidity. Very backward palate with some surprising oak tannin in there too. This really needs years, as its hard going at present (hence the low score). Should be beautiful in time. 16.5+

Bouchard Mersault 'Le Porusot' 1er 2007 ($161.95)
The weakest of the 1ers, this had a much more obvious vanillan sawdusty oak nose. Almost new world in its ripe, round palate. Really needs a bit more punch through the finish for higher points. Oaky. 16.5

Bouchard Mersault 'Charmes' 1er 2007 ($161.95)
Charming by name, charming by nature. Back to a much more classic Burgundy nose, with lovely hints of whipped butter in there. Fragrant & spicy. Long serious palate with layers of flavour. Proper Mersault this one and very serious. Score is only lowish as its so very young and tight. Will be a brilliant wine in time. 17.7+

Bouchard Mersault 'Les Gouttes D'or' 1er 2007 ($161.95)
A more honeyed (and golden nose) leading to a really quite full and big palate. So much riper and fuller than those around it, with noticeable alcohol. Super smooth though, if just a bit dull. 17.4+

If I had the dollars, I would be buying magnums of these next two ($314.95 each) for the cellar without hesitation.

Bouchard Mersault 'Genevrieres' 1er 2007 ($161.95)
The spiciest and most powerful wine so far in the lineup. Obvious new oak on the nose. A big, chewy, beautifully formed palate with oaky power and tannins! A wow wine, even if its a big and almost brutish white at present. Delicious stuff for the cellar. 18++

Bouchard Mersault 'Perrieres' 1er 2007 ($161.95)
Great companion piece to the Genevrieres, this was just behind it on the day, but I think the quality is on a very similar level. Really tight & backwards nose. Closed and compressed. Very precise acid driven palate. Long, clean and gloriously acidic. Stayer. 18++

Bouchard Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2007 ($282.95)
28% new oak. Record long fermentation
Looks almost green in colour when poured next to the Chevalier. Tastes almost like a blanc de blanc Champagne in its chalky Chardonnay richness. Long & very spicy palate is simmering below the surface. Needs so many years. Huge dry white. 18.2++

Bouchard Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2007 ($471.95)
Vineyard has 1m of soil, otherwise just big chalk rocks
Pear & apple with a bit of grapefruit. Picture perfect Chardonnay. Really complete and powerful palate. Creamed green apple & grapefruit flavours, with oak swallowed perfectly. Classic stuff. Blindingly clear and powerful. Top wine. 18.6+

The reds:

Bouchard Bourgogne La Vignee Pinot Noir 2007 ($34.95)
I like my tasting note monologue here:
'Dud bottle. Sulphur and mercaptan. Maybe its just me. No, its not me, this is undrinkable. Dud bottle.'
Interestingly no one else complained (maybe it was just me)

Bouchard Monthelie 'Les Champs Fuilliot' 2007 ($71.95)
Smoky, licoricey and full nose, even if its a bit angular and brackish. Robust palate that is just a bit hard and dense for real enjoyment. Should sort itself out with time but all over the place at present. 16.5+

Bouchard Volnay ' Caillerets' Ancienne Cuvee Carnot 1er 2007 ($164.95)
80% new oak, picked first
Old school. Mushrooms and kidneys on the nose. Yes, kidneys. Gamey. Gameyness actually serves to obscure the palate. Nay. 15.8

Bouchard Beaune-Greves 'Vigne L'enfant Jesus' 1er 2007 ($204.95)
85% new oak
The Bouchard Burgundy icon, this is probably not a top vintage for this wine, but you can't argue with the style. Very pretty & open, with a nose that is quite Central Otago like in its fleshy red fruit, but definitely mintier this year. Good stuff, but will be better with some medium term bottle age. 17.4+

Bouchard Le Corton Grand Cru 2007 ($179.95)
Twiggy nose, dense and full, hardish and sinewy palate that's full but more dry red than Pinot. Inelegant but should get better with time. 17.1+

Bouchard Nuits St Georges 'Les Cailles' 2007 ($194.95)
Really licoricey, a bit rustic & verry tannic. Hearty. Just a bit metallic on the palate. 17+

Bouchard Chambertin Clos de Beze Grand Cru 2007 ($509.95)
Obvious step up in quality. Roasted beef & slightly minty nose, but obvious quality. Very firm core with quite hard acids. Really firm & unforgiving palate, though time should sort it out. 17.7+

Friday, 25 September 2009

Singlefile Estate Shiraz 2008

Singlefile Estate Shiraz 2008 (Denmark, WA)
$33, Screwcap, 13.7%
Winery Website

Reading back through my notes, this 2008 version sounds particularly similar to the 2007 vintage Singlefile Shiraz tasted back in February. That's good consistency for a new producer, but no doubt helped by two excellent vintages in the West. Will be interesting to see how producers coped with the slightly more challenging 09 vintage though...

From the outset this Singlefile wine is a distinctively cool climate Shiraz, with a nose of redcurrant, white pepper, red meat and stalks, showing mixed ripeness that contributes complexity, though I can see how it could be divisive. Interestingly, the palate contrasts this with very even redcurrant and chocolate fruit flavours in a riper, and surprisingly richer style , especially given the hint of twigginess on the nose.

As a drink this is smooth, well formed and entirely enjoyable, built savoury and dry, yet soft enough for early drinking. Nice wine. 17/89

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Mantra [Abundance] Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Mantra [Abundance] Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Margaret River, WA)
$20, Screwcap, 13.5%

I've never actually met Brad Wehr, producer of both this Mantra and the cannily labelled Wine By Brad range, yet I can imagine him as one of only a select group of people who can pull off a Hawaiian shirt without looking like an American tourist. (though I could be wrong)

After sitting with a glass or so of this, one of Brad's newest babies, for about an hour, I think I finally have this wines measure. Took me a while though, as it's quite an oaky and ripe beast, that initially pours very sweetly. Give it a good decant then if you don't like chocolate milkshakes.

Eventually I decided, and some might scoff, that this has more than a little baby Moss Wood about it. It's certainly a lighter wine than your typical Moss Wood, and the fruit struggles to keep up with the oak, but its the texture that had me thinking of Keith Mugford's Wilyabrup baby.

Flavour wise its all dark chocolate, black pastille lollies and medium toast oak, sitting in a very plump, yet still dry and unequivocally Margaret River warm vintage style. It's upfront and voluptuous then, but with enough grunt to keep things interesting.

Personally I'd like to see a less toasty oak, as its just a little too dominant for me, but that's more an indication of personal preference. In truth, it's hard to disagree with how personable this is. Very few people are going to dislike it, and especially not at the price. 17/90

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

BEER: White Rabbit Dark Ale

White Rabbit Dark Ale (Healesville, Vic)
$23 6 pack, 5.2%

The latest addition to the Little Creatures empire, this essentially artisan brew is produced in a spanking new facility in Healesville, located (suitably) next door to Little Creatures founder Phil Sexton's Giant Steps megadoor (it's not a cellar door, it's a small village).
With a setup that was spared no expense, featuring brewing equipment trucked in from both Little Creatures Fremantle brewery and all over Europe, the framework was set for some seriously fine beer.

Production of this beer then sounds more like classic winemaking than brewing, featuring traditional open fermenters, whole hops and hands off methods, echoing the brewing of yore, yet coupled with modern technology to encourage consistency.

The end result, I'm happy to say, is simply great beer. A creamy and quite textural dark ale with excellent freshness, it had me thinking 'session beer' as opposed to 'quiet contemplation', largely thanks to its lightness and how quickly the beer emptied.

It's not ultra serious, but it is made particularly seriously, which I have plenty of time for.

More please.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Quick impressions on 17 wines that deserve more attention

It's been a long week.

A long week, punctuated by a shedload of interesting wines, but also by a distinct lack of note taking on my behalf.

The following notes then are some all too brief impressions on a few wines tried this week.

Dalwhinnie Chardonnay 2006: No alarms, no surprises. Typically good, elegant, slightly gummy cool climate Chardonnay. Not a brilliant vintage for it though. 17.5+

Heggies Riesling 2009: Very pretty, quite opulent and drinking perfectly already. Wonderful and fresh, its a ripe, drink me now vintage that rates sky high on drinkability, even if it might not be particularly long lived. I could be underrating this actually (and will drink a few more just to check :)). 18.1

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2008: I think this is the best release yet under this label. Textural and rich, like a Viognier should be, but with an excellent acid backbone. Brilliant. 18.3

Dalwhinnie Shiraz 2007: A beautiful release under this label, its sexy smooth, rich and classy stuff. Really the epitome of elegant cool climate Shiraz, this is a feminine, yet quietly powerful wine of enormous appeal. 18.5

Martinborough Vineyard Te Tera Pinot Noir 2008 - Mixed. Loved the nose, beautifully perfumed with classic Martinborough Pinosity. Palate though feels just a bit hollow. I'm calling for a retaste. 16.5

Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - Glowing with the health of the season, this had a classic Cabernet aroma and a very tight, powerful and delicious palate. Excellent, should get even better when it settles into the bottle more. 18.1+

Picardy Tete du Cuvee Pinot Noir 2005 - At first I found this to be too minty, lean and assertive, but as the wine opened up, the meaty mid palate richness and rather beautiful fragrance won me over, even if the acidity pokes out a little. Dry and sophisticated, this commands a decant and then match it with duck or pork (I only did the match with pork bit, which worked superbly). 17.5

Lazy Ballerina Viognier 2009: Sadly I wasn't a fan. A very lean style of Viognier with a sweet expression of fruit but a quite hollow, simple and occasionally blowsy palate that lacked acidity. Everyone else in my drinking party however loved it. 14.5

Blue Poles Viognier 2009: Another quite lean Viognier, this interpretation however had the acidity to match. Far too young at present, this could be a good drink in 6 months time. 16.5

Atlas Riesling 2009: From a very old dry grown Clare Valley vineyard, this again showed how approachable and marvellously drinkable the 09 Clare and Eden Riesling's are. Loved the citrussy acid backbone too. Winner. 18.3

Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2007: I find myself less attracted to Sancerre every time I drink it. This Jolivet however is a very good example, so I put my prejudices aside, even if I struggle to get past the weedy savvy characters. Went very well with a salmon and sorrel dish however. 17.0

Blue Poles Allouran 2005 vs 2006: Interesting to see these together as they show the expression of their seasons particularly well. The 05 is meatier, firmer, richer and more powerful but is also a tad bulky and inelegant. I actually found myself more attracted to the 06, which is sappy, leafy and light, with awkward acidity but also enough fragrance and freshness to make for a more convincing drink. 16 & 16.2

Canon De Brem Canon Fronsac 2003: Looks to have survived the heat wave conditions well. What i particularly like here was the chewy tannins and Cab Franc perfume. 17.5

Blue Poles Allouran 2007: A big step up from the two previous vintages, I thought this perfumed and savoury blend had plenty of sappy appeal. Very good. 17.5

Blue Poles Reserve Merlot 2007: Surprisingly rich given the rest of the range, this had a lovely textural generosity, matched with the sinews of proper Merlot structure. Bloody good Australian Merlot with an air of sophistication to match. 17.9

Grand Pontet 2005: Classy stuff, this medium weight, suitably tannic red was very tight but also deliciously powerful, modern even in its fruit expression. I found myself unconsciously drinking this and now want more. 18.3

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Karra Yerta Shiraz Cabernet 2006

Karra Yerta Shiraz Cabernet 2006 (Barossa & Eden Valley, SA)
$25, Screwcap, 14.5%

There are, according to the Australian & New Zealand Wine Industry Directory, 2320 wineries in Australia (as of this year). Karra Yerta, with an annual production of only several hundred cartons, is one of the smallest amongst them (the website tagline is 'one of Australia's smallest wineries').

What Karra Yerta shares with Australia's finest wineries, however, is character. Character derived from old (up to 80 year old) vineyards, in an exceptional grape growing area (Chris Ringland's 'Three Rivers vineyard' is several hundred metres away, with the original Pewsey vineyards also close by) and produced with passion (converse with the energetic Marie Linke, caretaker of the vineyard with her partner James, and you will get a sense of this).

The ultimate results are fine quality, handmade, unpretentious wines, made in tiny quantities and happily representative of the patch of dirt they were produced of.

A formula that sits very easily with me.

This Shiraz Cabernet then is produced from 87% estate Shiraz, blended with some Barossa floor Shiraz and topped up with 13% Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Surprisingly this spent 24 months in oak, a heroic level for what is a $25 bottle of wine, but it doesn't do this any disservice.

Judging by the colour alone, this looks like quite a beast: It pours deep blood red and is rimmed with youthful purple. The nose matches the sentiment, with rich blackberry jam, vanillan oak and a twist of formic. It smells deep and warm and cosseting and, well, Barossan.


Matching the nose, the palate is rich and sweetly red berried, the oak driving the palate weight forward and edging it with vanillan sweetness. Initially I thought this was just a tad too obvious and full, but the hints of Eden Valley milk chocolate through the middle had me hooked.

Just to reinforce the quality, the tail end has a great flow of flavour and thrust, coupled with a complete absence of heat (good to see in a 14.5% ABV red).

Nice again.

It is hard then to argue with any element of this red. The oak is a bit prominent and sweet, but I'm not worried about it integrating, so there is little case for any discordance. Really all I can do is join the chorus and rave about how good this is.

So what you get is a genuine Barossan red, that will cellar well, with plenty of the aforementioned character and appeal, for just $25 a bottle. Bargain. 18.2/93

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Fraser Gallop Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Fraser Gallop Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Margaret River, WA)
$30, Screwcap, 14.5%

Winner of both the Decanter trophy for best Australian Bordeaux blend over 10 pounds and international best Bordeaux blend over 10 pounds, which is a fine effort for a $30 wine, produced from a 9 year old (at the time) vineyard.
Traditional, yet still contemporary packaging only enhances the overall appeal.

Good to see.

In the glass, the Fraser Gallop Cabernet Sauvignon is a dark purple red, tending more purple towards the rim, looking ripe and youthful. It is the nose that, I believe, is the element that won this wine the trophies. It is such a classic, cedar & blackcurrant, varietally correct, deliciously aromatic thing that would have impressed the judges even in a large class of similar Cab blends. The only mild distraction is a waft of volatility.

From here, the flow through the palate is again spot on. It's dry, medium bodied and driven by classic (there is that word again) tannins and a quite rich, blackcurrant liqueur mid palate. The mid palate is just a little too ripe, but the linear tannins through the finish tighten everything up pretty quickly.

Quite simply, this is a delicious Margaret River Cabernet that thoroughly deserves its trophy wins. It perhaps doesn't have the raw impact, complexity or cellarability of Moss Wood or Cullen, but it doesn't have the pricetag either.

Beautifully correct Cabernet for drinking now and over the medium term. Excellent value too. 18.2/93

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2006

Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2006 (Kumeu, Chardonnay)
$50, Screwcap, 14%

Because I am both lazy and the text itself says everything appropriate, I'm going to start with an excerpt from a (2 year old) press release.

'In 1993 we introduced the idea of single vineyard Chardonnay expression with Mate’s Vineyard and in 2006 we have taken this a step further by identifying the Coddington and Hunting Hill vineyards as sites that deserve single vineyard status. These outstanding vineyards have for many years shown fantastic personality and individualism of character, and have contributed this to the Kumeu River Estate blend. They now have the opportunity to show this off all by themselves as well.'

What this means is that Kumeu River, already the producer of (in my view) NZ's finest Chardonnays, now have a full brace of three single vineyard wines to prove it.

So to work out whether this is a good move, or whether it may actually detract from the absolute quality of the Estate Chardonnay, we start here, with the first release from the Hunting Hill vineyard.

Bright straw yellow in colour, this looks typically youthful and pure, with a nose that gives away very little. It smells of spicy vanillan French oak, with a white peach and grapefruit character appearing as the wine warms up. It's a neutral, oaky and entirely backward nose, signalling the renowned Kumeu River cellaring intent.

On the palate, this comes across as less creamy and textural than the Mendoza clone Mate's vineyard wine, even though it is sourced from what is an adjoining vineyard & produced in an identical fashion. Much like the nose, it's still an entirely backward wine, with extra time required before it will be able to fully reveal itself from underneath the dominant vanilla oak.

What it lacks however is that extra acid and length of the older vine (6yrs old for the Hunting Hill versus 18 for Mate's) produced flagship, with the 14% alcohol jutting out into the finish. This leaves the palate to taste of vanilla oak, acid and alcohol and (at this stage) little else.

The end result is a wine that will no doubt provide great enjoyment in the future, but at the moment, I'd call it a disappointment, or at least in a very dumb stage. Important plus signs though.

Keen to try both the 07 vintage, to see whether it might be a stage, or at least retry the 06 Estate to see whether it is missing some oak and acid. 17/90++

Friday, 11 September 2009

Clonakilla vs Yves Cuilleron

Held at two hatted wine hotbed Bentley Restaurant & Bar, this dinner pitched Australia's own Rhone inspired superstar Clonakilla against contemporary Northern Rhone wonderkind Yves Cuilleron, in a fittingly modern, new school Rhone battle.

Besides the high quality food & wine, what was most pleasing about the event was (for this parochial Aussie) how well the Clonakilla range fared, particularly when the price list was brought into consideration.

To reinforce the respect I have for said Canberra wicon (thats wine and icon combined, its my new term and I like it) Tim Kirk was on hand to talk us through the wines (or his ones at least). For those who haven't met him, Tim is one of the more genuine wine industry characters, with a solid religious grounding and a sincere honesty & intelligence about him that is rather endearing.

Onto the wines:

Clonakilla Riesling 2009 ($25)
I've bought some of this previously and more will be following me home this year. Tight nose with lemon and grapefruit, overlaid with lavender lime florals. More lavender and lemon then compared to the limey Clare style of Rizza. Palate is really pure and tight, with a solid floral ripeness to it that makes for a very enjoyable drink already. Long, pretty and simply delicious. 18/92

Ravensworth Marsanne 2008 ($20)
The ringer in this lineup, but introduced as a foil for the glorious St Joseph below. Opens up with a brightly opulent, honey peach aromatic blitz that is open, fresh and forward. Palate is quite sweet with peach skin like ripeness and a lightly dry palate. Initially I was particularly impressed by this, but after moving on to the wines below, a retaste showed this to be candied and overly sweet. 16.9/89

Cuilleron St Joseph 'Lombard' Marsanne 2007 ($70)
Sneakily delicious and appeared ever more impressive every time it was retasted. Spicy & quite heady nose, this slowly unveils its fruit conserve richness with a creamed peach viscosity and a very dry, quietly rich palate of perfect dry vs sweet contrast. Winning stuff. 18/92

Clonakilla Viognier 2008 ($46)
Desperately in need of bottle time, this was spicy & fat, with a very big and rich big nose, the palate bulky & oaky, but with the sort of richness and impact that suggests bottle age might integrate everything further. Leave for 6 months for best drinking. 17.2/91+

Cuilleron Condrieu 'Les Chaillets' [Viognier] 2007 ($150)
Yes, that price is correct. Whichever way you approach it, $150 is alot to pay for a bottle of Viognier. This had very classic honeyed denseness with mega rich apricot varietal character and a long and powerful palate. The whole package though is let down some particularly intrusive alcohol heat. 17.6/92

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2008 ($25)
Sadly, I have never 'got' this wine. It has always struck me as roasted, meaty and hard, which is such a definitive contrast to the rest of the Clonakilla range. This shows cloves, kirsch and really ripe fruit on the nose, tending to almost pruney and dehydrated. The palate shows bubblegum sweetness and an awkward hardness to it. Awkward in this company. 15.8/86

Cuilleron Cornas [Shiraz] 2006 ($165)
I am often no fan of the bacony stylings of Cornas, but this had real charm and length. Smoky, deep and, yes, bacony nose, with black black fruit and a long, slightly smoky, whole bunch powered palate of mighty, serious elegant power. Quite a sleeper, this got better and better. Excellent length. Very good. 18.2/93

Clonakilla O'Riada Shiraz ($36)
Bargain. Half the price of the flagship, but really not that far behind in quality. Pretty, sweet liqueured and musky nose with attractive polished red fruit, blackberry jam, boot polish and a hint of the lolly shop in there. Similarly quite sweet (but not sugar sweet) and polished generous palate. Just a tad boozy, but seduction plus. Buy some of this to drink whilst your Shiraz Viognier matures. Yum. 18.1/93

Cuilleron St Joseph 'L'Amarybelle' [Shiraz] 2006 ($70)
Just a bit lacking after the wines above. Volatile and just a bit shy on the nose, but really not giving away much. Palate is surprisingly leafy and dried out, jubey even and quite simple. Needs much more length and flavour for this price. 16.9/88

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2008 ($80)
Again big and quite volatile on the nose, this time even more kirsch laden than the O'Riada, yet with a firmer, more hardcore tone. Really very closed and tight, with a pretty, yet tannic palate of long, powerful and very ripe fruit. Boot of alcohol heat on the finish.

After some time in the glass, more kirsch fruit richness escapes and everything starts to take shape. This is a formidably structured red, with the sort of power and length you would associate with a great wine in a great vintage - very cellarable indeed. Just don't touch it. 18.5/94+

Cuilleron Cote Rotie 'Bassenon' 2006 ($130)
I've actually scored this lower than the Clonakilla, but I think in time they will sit on similar points, even if they express themselves differently. This shows horsey, peppered red berries and salami in a real typical North Rhone frameset (ie you have to have some tolerances for smallgoods in your wine). The palate is warm and just a bit cherried in its ripeness, but with this seemingly limitless depth of flavour. It finishes with some rather dark leafy tannins too, just to reinforce its desire to be in the cellar. Far too young. 18/92+

Clonakilla Syrah 2006 ($80 on release)
Again, I seem to be in the minority who prefer the Shiraz Viognier blend in this vintage. I always expect to like the straight Syrah over the blend (considering my intolerance to Shirogniers) but it never happens. Sum is greater than the parts then.

What this does have though is prettiness. It's almost Cab Francish on the nose, with a red currant and dill character that always brings up thoughts of Franc. Following this, the nose also shows meaty extract and a liberal dose of musk. The palate is actually quite linear, with back palate heat that derails the finish. I like the grainy tannins, but the palate still feels just a little stewed and ungenerous compared to the blend. 17.7/91

Cuilleron St Joseph 'Les Serines' 2006 ($110)
I'd actually call this fair value when place next the Cornas. I certainly liked it more. Black, leafy nose is more mulchy and stalky than the Cornas, interspersed with a hint of tomato leaf too. The palate though is the star, ripe, long, meaty and cedary, with well integrated chocolate oak and the best grippy tannins. In fact the tannins are the clincher, sitting nicely in with the character here for major impact. Really good stuff. 18.2/93

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2004 ($140)
The options wine, at first I was less than taken by this, but the longer it sat in the glass, the more youthful it appeared (I had it first billed as an 01). Cherry & boysenberry on the nose, with a hint of leaf & chook poo. Palate is really bright with a boysenberry red fruit sinew and just the most perfectly weighted silky smooth palate. Excellent. 18.4/94

Cuilleron Condrieu Condrieu 'Les Ayguets' 2007 ($120)
An exorbitantly priced dessert Viognier, this was so very tropical and rich, with a caramel, toffeed sweetness to it that was admirably restrained and well balanced. It was still just a bit dull for the pricetag, though influenced by my dislike for fatter sticky styles. 17.6/91

The Story 2008 Grampians Shiraz 2008

The Story Grampians Shiraz 2008 (Grampians, Vic)
$24, Screwcap, 13.5%

'Natural yeast, wooden fermenters, unfined, unfiltered and finally a full time occupation'

What an impressive line to see on an under $25 bottle of wine. The 'full time occupation' references Rory Lane's evolution from part time producer into full time vigneron.
Smart move if the quality of previous releases is a judge.

This wine also shows a deft touch, with an element of natural winemaking about it that I find very attractive. Purple/mauve in colour and looking youthful, the nose shows blackberry jam & plum conserve, with skinsy, peppery overtones, without straying away from that bright purple, Grampians Shiraz plum jam richness.

Suitably, the palate follows this with a lovely soft and expansive flow of blackberry fruit, in a plump, yet quietly powerful expression of fruit richness. The boysenberry & licorice sweetness kicks up at the mid palate mark, before just a hint of back palate grip & Licoricey overtones. It's a little attenuated on the finish, though this probably reflects the fact that it was practically bottled yesterday.

Drinking this actually reminded me of Foillard's Morgons in its juicy, understated brightness, a style of wine that I can drink by the bucketload. Love that naturalness in my wines.

This then is great stuff at a great price. 18/92+

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Wine Focus Australia - the notes

The following notes come from Wine Focus Australia - a boutique skewed wine exhibition held annually at Sydney's MCA that regularly throws up interesting tastes & experiences.

The main drawcard for this event then was a Savignin (née Albarino) masterclass which I will report on later, with the wines below just some of the other wines on offer.

Plantagenet Riesling 2008
Back in January this was a tight, confused, work in progress. 9 months later and its still tight, but now blessedly so. It's a big, bone dry Rizza that smells of granite and lemon, backed by a powerfully grippy palate of maximum acid driven power. Awesome potential, this really deserves a spot in my cellar. Drink: 2012-2018+. 17.8/93+

Yarrabank Cuvee 2004
Struggling with the vagaries of the vintage, I thought this smelt tinny, stemmy and dull on the nose with lovely yeasty overtones the only saving grace. The palate hardly improves the situation with a slightly fat and lemony expression of ageing fruit. Ugly, awkward acidity. Drink: Now. 15.5/83

Yering Station Chardonnay 2006
Another Yering disappointment, this similarly dull, oak heavy Chardonnay smells fat and cheap on the nose, with a palate that is clumsy and woolly. A very poor showing for this former top value drop. Drink: Now. 15.2/81

Xanadu Estate SSB 2009
Like the new Xanadu packaging - quite classy. This though felt like it had been bottled the night before, with grassy aromatics mingling with banana ferment esters leading to a tight, ill defined palate. Retaste required.

Xanadu Estate Chardonnay 2008
Okay, now a pattern is forming. This tasted less freshly bottled and more simply dull. Nutty, oaky nose and palate, crisp acidity the only highpoint. Drink: 2010-2012. 16.5/87

Xanadu Reserve Chardonnay 2008
Obviously a step up from the standard bottling and, like the SSB, desperately in need of some time in the bottle. Volatile nose, this smells like expensive French oak and little else. The palate is similarly all acids and oak. Good wine in there somewhere (hopefully). Drink: 2010-2013. 16.5/87+

Mcwilliams Mt Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2003
Showing the perils of a less than ideal Semillon year (though a good one for Hunter Shiraz), this is a quite forward and grassy Lovedale, showing a typical straw and hessian over green apple profile that I don't enjoy in developing Hunter Sem (Brokenwood gets the same character in its bottle aged Sem). Should get better with age, but still an average Lovedale. Drink 2012-2018. 16.6/88+

Mcwillliams Mt Pleasant Phil Ryan Signature Semillon 2007
Drawn from younger Lovedale vines, this had a creaminess to the citrussy nose that was quite surprising. The palate is very green, with that aforementioned straw character just beginning to creep in. At an awkward stage, but even less drinkable than the Lovedale above. Drink: 2012-2017. 16/86+

Taylors Jaraman Riesling 2008
Another vintage affected wine, this had a simple, developing and volatile nose over a mid weight palate. Tasting as if it was already falling into the Riesling hole, yet also with a touch of well ripe fatness to the mid palate this disappointed quite a bit. Falls away somewhat at the finish, but underneath everything, I think this may well emerge butterfly like eventually, as the intensity of the fruit on offer is actually pretty good. Important plus signs then . . . Drink: 2013-2018. 15.5/84++

Protero Viognier 2007
Clean & apricotty nose has light and well judged varietal characters, with the only thing missing is some fruit intensity. Nice flavours though. Drink: Now. 16.5/88

Chrismont La Zona Prosecco NV
Varietally correct sour green apple sparkler that shows how much potential this style has in Australia. Appealing and simple. 16.8/88

Chrismont La Zona Sangiovese 2006
Dry & savoury, this shares plenty of DNA with Arnie Pizzinis's brother Alf's Pizzini Sangiovese. It's a dry, slightly rustic and savoury Sangiovese that tastes authentically savoury & meaty with dried berry flavours and excellent dry tannins. Really quite enjoyed this. 17.2/91

Mt Langhi Ghiran 'Langhi' Shiraz 2006
I may be one of the few Shiraz drinkers in Australia to say so, but I don't particularly like this wine. Over the years the Langhi has been lauded from ever corner, from shows to journos, and I have never like it.

I feel different.

However, this release I can at least appreciate why people like it.

The nose is raisined and super ripe (no wonder I don't normally like it), with a musky, stewed licoricey character to it that I associate with overripe grapes (my normal bugbear with the Langhi). The palate is similarly heavy, prunish and blocky with dense fruit driven flavours and unquestionable power, if served without charm. What saves it though is a chalky depth to said fruit flavours - a sign that underneath it all lies some pretty special grapes. So if I thus ignore the dead fruit overtones, underneath it I can see some beautiful richness and real quality.

Pity the rest of the wine gets in the way. Drink: Now - 2012+. 17/89

Nicholson River Chardonnay 2007
Like a comfortable pair of jeans this fat, smoky, oaky Chardonnay is hardly spotlessly clean, but it does feel familiar and generous and drinkable. I can imagine many a bottle of this being consumed by long time favourites & couldn't help but draw some similarities with the Scarborough Yellow label Chardonnay too. I would drink this. Drink: Now. 17.5/91

Nicholson River Syrah 2006
Smoky, hammy and stinky this Northern Rhone styled red is built in a whole bunch, stalks and all, would-you-like-ham-with-that fashion that is bound to polarise. But underneath all that schtink lies some beautifully warm and savoury musky red fruit, in a medium bodied package that I could again imagine drinking (with smoked sausage pizza). Drink: Now-2012+. 17.4/91

Protero Nebbiolo 206
Again proving that the Adelaide Hills is a good place for Neb, this slightly stewed and caramelised fig scented wine has enough varietal correctness for drinking enjoyment, with only the muskiness of the very young vine fruit stopping a higher score. Lovely, authentic dry tannins too. One to watch. Drink: Now-2012+.17/90

Protero Gumeracha 2005
Surprise packet. Really impressive Merlot Cabernet blend in a powerful & almost Tuscan mould. Powerful, sappy red currant & eucalypt nose with a leafy and punchy palate of real structure. Liked this alot. Drink: Now-2014+. 18/92

Protero Gumeracha Merlot 2006
A purists Merlot, but also a step behind the blend (though the vintage hardly helps). Cherry, cloves and sappy just ripe fruit with another high acid palate. Just lacks that lit bit of intensity and thrust for higher points. Drink: Now-2014+. 17.3/91

Protero Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
This could be the star wine from Protero. Savoury, black licorice and eucalypt leaf nose with a beef stock, leather and bramble palate of real gruff appeal. Really love the old world power here. Very good. Drink: Now-2015+.17.5/91

Longview Cabernet 2007
Sticky, simple, rich and forward this smelt quite confected, youthful and rather new worldish, adorned with a fair slathering of vanilla bean oak too. Palate shows all the polish and super smooth oaky flavours expected, coupled with some nice tannins. Just a bit one dimensional for me. Drink: 2010-2013+. 16.7/88

Longview Yakka Shiraz 2007
Very obvious, upfront and powerful, this is bound to win friends. Big hit of grape Hubba Bubba characters on the nose announce the Viognier presence, as does the purple colour. Very pretty, lush and smooth palate is sweet and crowd pleasingly ripe, with an amarone-ish, concentrated ripeness to the edges. It's hardly a subtle or sophisticated wine, but it does pack lots of flavour for the very meagre ($26) pricetag. Definitely a recommended buy for fans of smooth and rich reds, the score is a nod to its hedonism. Drink: Now-2015. 18/93

Château Tanunda Lyndoch Shiraz 2007
Reeling from the dud vintage, this still shows excellent Barossa fruit characters, even if the structure is rubbish. Classically big, oak & formic black fruit nose, backed by a sweet and sour palate that is kirsch-ish and confected, the flavours a jumble of under and overripeness. It's hot & cold, sweet & sour and ultimately missing some important pieces. Drink: 2010-2015. 15.5/86

Monday, 7 September 2009

De Bortoli Windy Peak Nouveau Shiraz 2009

De Bortoli Windy Peak Nouveau Shiraz 2009 (King Valley, Vic)
$16, Screwcap, 13.5%

With more than a passing resemblance to George Duboeouf Beaujolais (intentional?), this latest release from De Bortoli again reinforces how much care and attention Steve Webber and his crew lavish upon their wines. For evidence, just have a read of how seriously this $15 (less on special) wine has been taken. (lifted straight from the De Bortoli website).

'Vintage Conditions The King Valley had a warm, long growing season, finishing quite late. Perhaps the best season in 10 years. Heathcote’s was hot and early, but some interesting flavours resulted. The Yarra had bushfires, drought and heat but we managed to make a small parcle of 100% whole bunch Syrah, that would normally go to Reserve that was a nice fit for this blend.


All fruit is hand picked. Because we are making a delicate detailed style, the best sections of the blocks are picked to try to avoid any variation within a vineyard and we certainly keep away from any gum tree perimeters.
Fruit is whole bunch fermented with a mixture of foot treading and carbonic maceration (untouched bunches fermenting and extracting under their own steam).'

Sounds impressive, doesn't it? Reserve quality fruit, produced like a cru Beaujolais, put out at Nouveau prices.

Only at De Bortoli.

And the wine? Bright purple in colour, this smells like it has only just finished fermenting (which it theoretically has). The nose juicy, stinky & black peppered with berryliciousness that showcases the hand picked fruit & carbonic maceration. There is a slight dullness to the expressive nose, but I think that might just be some post bottling jitters that should sort themselves out with a few more months in bottle.

After the fun aromatics however, the palate has a surprisingly serious kink. The flavours are still berried & juicy and light bodied, but there is grit and power through the back end, countering the slight rubberiness of carbonic maceration with chewy ground pepper Shiraz tannin.

It's this air of seriousness that turns what is billed as a light, quaffable dry red into a particularly impressive drink. The palate profile is still simple, the edges are just the teensiest bit harsh, and just a little more RS would probably have made for an even friendlier drink, however the style & the skill apparent here is admirable. Actually it's more than just an admirable wine, it's a very very good drink at a very good price.

Winner. 17.2/91

Friday, 4 September 2009

Tidbits from Wolf

I couldn't let this slip by.

The following comments come from the venerable Wolf Blass, 75 years young this week. An outspoken wine industry icon, Wolf is credited with much over his years, yet you wouldn't know judging by the quality of much of the wines that presently bear his name.

I mean, have you tried the latest Wolf Blass wines? Embarrassing caricatures, weedy rubbish, and commercial shiite, only salvaged by the high quality Riesling & the odd Gold Label Chardonnay & Black Label red.

Yet old Wolf has still got it in him, even if I don't agree with everything in this excerpt (like making Australia famous for spritzy sweet wines. Erm, no thanks).

Interesting nonetheless.

Wolf speaks out

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Howard Park & a global perspective on Cabernet masterclass

It's hardly an original formula - pit a single, often new world, premium wine up against contemporary benchmarks from both the old and the new.

What it often does do, however, is throw up some surprises.

So today it was Howard Park's turn to throw out the challenge, with Jeff Burch himself on hand to take us through a comparison of the latest vintage of Howard Park's flagship Cabernet, now known as Abercrombie, to several peers from around the globe. With some high class Europeans and relatively unknown new world drops in the mix, the results looked to be skewed from the start. But, as is often the case, things weren't that clear cut. What's more, the HP wasn't embarrassed either.

The wines then were served in effectively one flight, although the order of the wines - moving from old to new world - was quite deliberate.

Wine 1: Château Durfort Vivens 2005 - Margaux, France ($89)
Rich, black & classy. A licorice & cedar nose that is both leafy and classic, but with a scorched ripeness to it that is particularly attractive. The palate is very tight, elegant & classic with mouthcoating tannins and notably high alcohol. Beautifully integrated oak and nice full flavours. Very attractive 10-15yr wine. Kept coming back to this, and enjoyed it thoroughly, though the alcohol poked out just a little. 18/92

Wine 2: Château Lagrange 2005 - St Julien, France ($119)
Disappointment. Clearly high quality at its core but obscured by heavily toasted oak. Purple rim, with heavily toasted oak dominating the nose. The palate is lush, rich and shows excellent fruit, with nicely balanced tannins, the oak protruding again into the finish.

Should improve markedly with age, but certainly could be much better oaked. 17/89+

Wine 3: Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2004 - Bolgheri, Italy ($185)
The second of two bottles opened and less than representative, this had a tawny rim, with a meaty overtone and a roasted palate. An average bottle, showing less than its best. 15.0/82

Wine 4: Tenuta Dell'Ornellaia Ornellaia 2006 - Bolgheri, Italy ($230)
Stunning. I want some. Wild & pretty and rather modern in style, with big oak and equally big purple fruit, all simmering away in a brawny, powerfully dense fashion. It's like a sleeping giant on the nose really. But the magic doesn't stop there, for the beautifully dense, Italianate palate is classic in its power and polish, with long, whole mouth tannins. It actually reminded me of the Balnaves Tally, with that same black density and endless power, yet with classic Italian tannins. Excellent already, though it really needs a decant. 18.5/94

Wine 5: Gaja Darmagi 2004 - Barbaresco, Italy ($325)
Apparently 'Darmagi' means 'what a shame', a remark attributed to Angelo Gaja's father Giovanni after this vineyard was planted to Cabernet. What is most delightful about this wine is that it tastes so much of its region first, varietal second. The nose is almost Nebbiolo like in its long & leafy, tea leaves and spice, yet with a distinctive mintiness that over time wore me enjoyment down a tad. Really long, very dry and fully extracted palate with a magical mouthful of tannins that had me returning for more. The only detraction was a slightly green edge to all this glory, so the score is just a little conservative, though all those plus signs mean something. Another wine I would like in my cellar, for the long term. 18.0/92++

Wine 6: Torres Mas Le Plana 2004 - Penedes, Spain ($69)
A sexy looking bottle that failed to deliver. Stinky, cooked green tomatoes and minty nose, with a heavy caramel oak sweetness to it. Underripe and overoaked. The palate is better than the nose, showing a plushness & open richness to it, but again its all very oaky. Like to see more than just the oak. Each time I came back to this I was less impressed, the wine losing points by the minute. 16.0/86

Wine 7: Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet 2006 - Franschhoek, South Africa ($89)
Another chunky bottle, though this wine certainly showed some promise. Apparently from a vintage that ended with late rains and slightly uneven ripening, which was apparent on the just slightly hard palate. Nose of freshly sawed logs (timber!), tea leaves and chocolate oak. Nicely varietal, if massively proportioned & oaky. Palate is just a bit dull edged and dry, but with again some very nice tannins. Noticeable alcohol through the finish, but certainly much to like here. I'd prefer a bottle of 06 Wynns John Riddoch over this anyday (would get $20 change too, but certainly much to like. This actually reminded a little of some of the 06 vintage Margaret River reds, but with just an inch more ripeness. 17.2/91+

Wine 8:Vina Ventisquero Queulat Cabernet Sauvignon - Maipo, Chile ($21)
Produced by John Duval. Whilst he is a very talented winemaker, this thin & rubberish wine does him no favours. Obviously off very young (or overcropped) vines, this smelled like violet scented weedkiller, with a simple squeaky clean palate of limited appeal. $10 wine, no more. 14.5

Wine 9: Howard Park Abercrombie Cabernet 2005 - Western Australia ($89)
The second time I have tried this now and much less impressive the second time around. I definitely prefer the stunning 04. Dried wood nose, with redcurrant & blackberries in a quite restrained and leafy style. At first I thought I had this confused with the next wine, but I hadn't. It's actually quite minty, surprisingly minty and leafy. I left it alone for a while though and on the second revisit had come around to the style a bit more. The palate builds power in the glass, becoming richer, but also showing that it's quite a different wine to previous releases. Needs some time I think. Still stylish though. 18/92+

Wine 10: Howard Park Leston Cabernet 2006 - Margaret River, WA ($32)
The only single vineyard Howard Park red released in 06 and you could argue that it probably shouldn't have been released. Not a bad wine, but certainly not a patch on the vintages preceding it. Minty, to the point of menthol on the just ripe, slightly stripped nose. Palate starts well, but hits a roadblock of hardness at the midway mark that may never resolve. Washed out tail. Drunk with a big piece of steak this would be an ok wine, but its just not quite up to its $32 pricetag. 15.5/85