Tuesday, 29 December 2009

2009 Tri Nations Wine Challenge (Mega Tasting)

A tasting I never miss, if purely for the opportunity to try some of the best from NZ and South Africa all in one spot. The premise here is to hold a wine competition that pits a selection of the best Australian wines versus their equivalents from SA & NZ. The range of wines invited are picked by industry doyens (Fridjohn, Campbell & Hooke respectively) and thus the standard is very high indeed (just check the very high average score!).

If your interested, check out the Tri Nations website for more information www.trinationswine.com and don't miss checking out the list of wines invited. Sadly, infuriatingly, most wines were already gone within 15 minutes of the tasting opening, so I missed out on some of the most popular labels. yet I at least got around to a few interesting examples.

Oh and this tasting was done at speed, standing up and non blind. Apologies for the slightly random ordering and stunted notes.

White Wines

Vergelegen Stellenbosch White 2007
Semillon dominant white Bordeaux blend. Nose of honey & smoky oak to the quite developed nose. In a transitional period - better a year ago as a fresher wine or in another yr or two as a more complexed age style. 16.8/89

De Morgenzon Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc 2007
Sweaty lemon & citrus nose, backed by a lemon peal & citrus acidity palate. Really nice wine but just lacking a little follow through. 17.0/89

Ata Rangi Craighall Martinborough Chardonnay 2007
Rich peach nose, with plenty of mealy oak. Big & full, rounded & ripe palate that turns quite tropical through the back. Lots to chew on, if just a little hot. Good stuff. 18/92

Kumeu River Mates Kumeu Chardonnay 2007
Full, sawduty oak nose, with very dry, acid driven palate that is citrussy, long if slightly un-generous. All potential at the moment. 17.5/91+

De Bortoli Reserve Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2008
Lots of solids on lean, grapefruit & white peach nose. Very refined & grown up palate. Lots of acidity and restraint here, just needing more bottle time. 18/93+

Howard Park Great Souther/Margaret River Chardonnay 2007
Surprising bubblegum nose with plenty of ripe fruit on offer. Quite opulent and ripe, chunky palate. I like the fullness, yet in the wash it's just a little blunt. Prefer the 06. 17.3/91

Shaw & Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2008
A much bigger wine this vintage. Vanilla, banana & fruit loop ripe fruit. Creamy & very rich, but just a little hot for my tastes. 17.2/91

Neudorf Moutere Nelson Chardonnay 2007
Almost breathtaking. Almost. Classic nuts & creamy Neudorf style, with beautiful richness and beautiful mid palate texture. But, very late on the palate comes the hessian. It could be an old oak character, it could be brett, but whatever it is it stops this from becoming a glorious wine. The highish score reflects the 90% of glory. 17.5/91

Vinoptima Gisborne Gewurtztraminer 2006
Crazy rich, fat, hugely ripe nose. Lovely fruit weight on the palate, but everything is tainted by some late palate heat. Still so much to like. 17.3/91

La Motte Pierneef Franschhoek Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Big, sweaty nose. Smoky, weighty and almost agressively intense palate. Caricature but with excellent intensity. 18/93

Tokara Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2007
Perfectly varietal, crisp and delineated nose. Cleverly underjudged oak on complex, texture-meets-freshness palate. Delicious. 18.5/94


Martinborough Estate Pinot Noir 2007
Utterly full throttle style but with real pinosity. It's perhaps a tad too rich & ripe through the back end, but a great vintage for this label. Really very good. 18.3/94

Cape Chamonix Reserve Franschhoek Valley Pinot Noir 2007
Volatile, ripe-ish nose, palate is tight & well packed with much to come. Nuanced & stylish palate. Quite tannic. Real length and style here. Excellent modern Pinot. 17.7/93+

Foxeys Hangout Reserve Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2007
Nicely varietal with sweet red cherry fruit & real pinosity. Good length too. Really quite delicious Mornington Pinot. 18.3/94

Clemens Hill Coal Valley Pinot Noir 2007
Sap, eucalypt & oak style that is quite extractive and somewhat leafy. Powerful, if a tad gruff, but potential plus. 17.5/92++

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Barossa Sangiovese 2007
Dominant Penfolds oak & obviously very young, with a lovely berry nose. Probably not terribly varietal but certainly interesting. 17.2/91

Marchand & Burch Great Southern Pinot Noir 2007
The second time I've tried this and I'm still unconvinced. Very ripe nose announces that this is more dry red than Pinot, with a sappy, heavily extracted palate of quite overripe fruit. The intensity is good, but it's just not convincing enough, given the $65 pricetag. 16.5/89

Meerlust Stellenbosch Pinot Noir 2006
Spicy, bacon bits & redcurrant nose. Smoky, dry & offensively gamy palate. No. One of a few stinky & questionably ripe SA Pinots. 14.5/81

Oakridge Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2008
Tight nose that is quite backward given the vintage. Texture is sexy smooth and deliciously ripe though. Great stuff. 17.8/93+

Hamilton Russell Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pinot Noir 2007
Stinky, bacon bits & undergrowth on a tough, meaty brackish palate. Not my style of Pinot at all. 15/83

Dog Point Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006
Lovely opulent raspberry/mulberry nose, leading to a super smooth, up front and perfect palate of classic Marlborough sexy style. Simply delicious. 18.6/95

Kusuda Martinborough Syrah 2007
A bit of slimy ham but seems ripe enough. Quite attractive salami & white pepper nose with dominant vanillan oak. Palate a bizzarre black jube and pine tar mish-mash with sharp edges. Disjointed. No. 15/83

Spinifex Esprit Barossa MGS 2006
Gummy, oaky, confected fruit nose. Nicely textured and interesting palate but late acidity is derailing. Finish falls away too. 16.8/88

La Motte Pierneef Franschhoek Shiraz Viognier 2007
Pretty, skinsy, wannabe rhonish, cool climate shirognier nose, saved by a delicious, sexy time textural gift of sweet red fruit. Nice stuff. 17.5/92

Craggy Range Le Sol Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2007
Deep, polished and very modern. Oak and fruit fighting each other, with choc/formic/expensive oak winning at present, but certainly well built and solid behind that timber. Brutish structure suggests more to come. Watch this space. The first time I have really enjoyed this wine. 17.8/93++

Spinifex Barossa Shiraz Viognier 2006
Struggling with these Spinifex reds. Red fruited style with a confected edge and very simple gummy fruit. Surprisingly minty edge to the palate with uneven ripeness throughout. Not a fan. 15/82

John Duval Entity Barossa Shiraz 2006
Quite brilliant. Crammed with super expensive oak, but in a finely integrated style. Grange like formic/VA/plush nose. Rich and cosseting in its fruit intensity. Delicious, winning Shiraz. 18.5/94

Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007
Slightly hammy nose, big palate, hard acid & very dry back end. A tad disjointed at present, though certainly lots of potential. 16.8/89++

Charles Melton Nine Popes Barossa GSM 2006
Tight & oaky nose, all redcurrant and licorice. Oak dominated palate is very attractive & textural, but struggling under the weight of timber. I'm scoring this well as it seems like good stuff underneath all the oak. 17.5/91++

Meerlust Rubicon Stellenbosch Red Blend 2005
Just ripe. Teetering on the brink though. Herbal, black fruit nose. Powerful, if smoky and undergrowth edged palate with a creamy oak sheen. Interesting, if a little tough to love. 17/90

Wolf Blass Black Label South Australian Cabernet Shiraz 2005
Masses of malted choc mint fruit and oak. Hugely oaky and an absolute caricature, though not without appeal, if for the intensity alone. Dud acid on the back palate. Ok to good. 17.0/90

Spinifex DRS Barossa Durif 2006
Bitumen and stewed fruit. Lots of it. A big, almost limitless wine of absolute fruit depth and power. Just a little hard to drink, but interesting nonetheless. 17.2/90

Rustenberg John X Merriman Stellenbosch Cabernet blend 2006
Straddling the ripeness fence, this is lean & leafy in the very dry Stellenbosch style. with a very dry and acidic palate. Just a bit hard, if clearly too young. 16.7/89+

Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2007
Very big, if polished style with just mountains of hidden power. Lovely structure and style. Lots to like. 18/93+

Vergelegen V Stellenbosch Cabernet Merlot 2005
Black fruit, tobacco & leaf mulch. Lean, but perfectly so. Smoky, long and intriguing palate. Spicy, interesting and plain delicious classic South African Bordeaux blend. 18.5/94

Meerlust Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Leafy. High tolerance for the tobacco leaf Cabernet style (which I find distinctive and interesting) required but it's so clearly delineated and varietal that you can't help but like it. Palate surprisingly ripe, almost caramelised even. Really like this. 18/93

Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Much riper and tighter after the Meerlust this felt just bottled (and thus difficult to rate). Clean, ripe and quite promising though. 17/90++

KWV Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Sweet and ripe, perfumed and aromatically appealing. Palate starts well and then comes to a grinding halt with a wall of unripe tannins. No. 15/83

Dessert Wines

Framingham Marlborough Botrytis Riesling 2008
Clean nose shows no sign of botrytis and promises much. Palate similarly starts well but falls away through the finish. Quite drinkable regardless. 17/90

Delatite Catherine Victorian High Country Late Picked Gewurtztraminer 2008
Where have you been Catherine? Lovely stuff. Pure & fresh nose. So fresh and clean! Lively, spicy and plain refreshing palate. Extremely stylish and more-ish late picked style. Wonderful. 18.5/94

Pegasus Bay Encore Waipara Riesling 2007
Really rich, tropical and unctuous. Yet balanced out by wonderful acidity. Apricotty and obviously very ripe but quite refreshing. Good stuff. 17.8/93

Paul Cluver Weisser Noble Late Harvest Elgin Riesling 2008
Heavy, golden syrup & with a real botrytis stink. Intensely, marmalade jame palate of huge intensity. Just a little too much for high marks. 17/90

Forrest Estate Marlborough Botrytis Riesling 2008
Unsurprisingly top quality. Big, rich, late harvest Riesling nose and apricotty palate saved by long acidity. Really well built and plain delicious. 17.8/92

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas with the Flaxman's

It's Christmas Day, heading into the early afternoon now, with the last slices of Pavlova sitting out willing someone to return for yet another piece. On the wine front, I put two sample bottles up to the ultimate test today - The Christmas Lunch - and can happily report that both went down well with the family, one particularly so.

Food wise, today's Christmas lunch featured typical Australian fare - prawns, oysters, calamari and a whole ocean trout, plus a nod to tradition with cold turkey. Dessert was chocolate pavlova with strawberries and blueberries. Matching up with this smorgasbord came two contenders, the Flaxman Sparkling Shiraz NV ($35) & the Flaxman Dessert Semillon 2009 ($20).

Now given how good the standard Flaxman Shiraz is, I'd be lying if I didn't expect this to be good, hence why it got a guernsey on Christmas day to begin with. But it's even better than that, and the bottle emptied before any other at lunch today (well in front of a grower Champagne double it's price & a Grosset Polish Hill Rizza) as if to prove the point. This is actually drawn from fruit provided by James Linke (Karra Yerta) and with only 60 dozen produced it isn't going to last long.

A lovely bright purple colour with that awesome purple froth of young sparkling red, this smells youthful, rich and enticing, with a chocolate and red berry nose carrying just a hint of the fortified Shiraz that was used as dosage. The palate is almost atypically well structured with a dry, savoury and tannic style that, when matched to the rich solid berry richness, makes for a seriously delicious, medium bodied, sweet-meets-dry red. Winner. 17.7/92

Moving onto dessert, I think that the richness of the Pav was a little too much for the Flaxman Semillon, a cordon cut Eden Valley sticky drawn from old hand picked vines. Light yellow/green in colour, it's youthful stuff, showing marmalade and quince on a dense and sweet, dried fruit palate. A simple, well made wine, it's just a tad too simple and blocky for real high points. 16.5/88+

Now that's all done, I think it's time for an afternoon nap...

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Two simply good drinks

Prager 'Hinter der Burg' Gruner Veltliner Federspiel 2007 (Wachau, Austria)
$36, Cork, 12.5%
Source: Retail

Given my obvious love of Riesling it's probably of little surprise that I very much appreciate the charms of good Austrian Gruner, particularly in this dry, yet textural, Federspiel form.

A typically smart example, this has a quite ripe, yet soft nose (that would probably be even fresher under screwcap) showing white pepper and a hint of dried fruit. On the palate this is again soft and almost chubby in it's expression, before a delightful twist of Gruner spice and phenolic grip that gives this real appeal and drinkability, before finishing dry and clean.
Tasty stuff indeed and a glorious match with mixed Tempura. 17.5/91

Woodstock Botrytis White 2005 (Mclaren Vale, SA)
$18, Screwcap, 10.5%
Source: Retail

What a delightful surprise this was. Produced from botrytised Semillon and with the fermentation stopped quite early, this Woodstock white was surprisingly fresh, offsetting its deeply toffeed, quince jam richness, with a light, yet suitably intensely flavoured palate. Everything you want in a full Australian sticky and without the heaviness, this went so well with pancakes, fresh banana and caramel sauce that the bottle was empty in no time. Yum. 17.6/91

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Turkey Flat Rose 2009

Turkey Flat Rose 2009 (Barossa Valley, SA)
$22, Screwcap, %?

Perhaps its wrong of me to do so, but I had a quite serious look at this, which perhaps might be a little too serious judging by the wine. But I really couldn't help myself. This is normally such a good wine that I expected to be at least wowed by the drinkability (especially on a warm Sydney night straight after a run). Yet I was really quite surprised by the results...

For starters, it looks fantastic - it's like fluro pink/red coloured water, looking bright and positively radiating health. This smells the goods too, like candied raspberries and pretty pink lollies. Yet the taste is underdone and surprisingly thin - it's not even that sweet - with a palate that starts off correctly, with juicy raspberry juice, but falls away before the mid palate has even begun, almost as if the back half of the wine has fallen down the back of the couch. It finishes with a textural tartness too that is almost tacky and just a bit hard too swallow. It's almost as if it has been through some super harsh filtration and they have removed all the flavour (and acidity) in the process.The end result is awkwardness, awkwardness in a wine known for it's simple drinkability, and awkwardness makes you question what all the fuss is about.

Big dissapointment. 15.0

Friday, 18 December 2009

Flaxman Eden Valley Shiraz 2007

Flaxman Shiraz 2007 (Eden Valley, SA)
$45, Screwcap, 14.5%
Source: Sample

'Dry grown fruit from 55+yr old vines, yielding 600kg/acre (Wow!) to the acre. Matured in 50% new French oak for 24 months. Open top fermentation, pigeage, minimal pumping and extended time on lees. No filtering or fining.'

When I read a winemaking description like that I get excited. Excited because every element of that 'recipe' sends out a message of quality without regard to cost. Quality and absolute raw passion (pigeage!). And any wine made with real passion I am interested in. Hence I'm excited to taste this, and can only wish that more wines come with such a story. (Do you make wines like this? Send them my way...)

From the now plainly very poor 2007 vintage, this is the sort of wine that would be a superstar in the right vintage (such as 04) and is only hampered by the rough deal that the plainly nasty 07 harvest has dealt it.

The wine itself has a violet tinge to the ruby red juice, and looks particularly youthful indeed. On the nose it's quite meaty and nutty, with bretty beef and mushroom overtones, backed by proper boysenberry and bitumen Eden Valley Shiraz fruit.

It's perhaps a little warm and forward fruit-wise on the palate, however the length of this wine is world class, Henschke-ish even in the way it seems to get richer and fuller through the middle and back end, finishing with mouth grating back palate tannins - I really dig that sort of uncompromising length - The rest of the wine is a little touched by the heat and mixed ripening of the 07 SA vintage, yet definitively fresher and much more composed than most I've tried so far, showing nothing unripe or overtly porty.

This Flaxman Shiraz then is a perfect example of how fastidious winemaking and top shelf old vine material can combine to produce something good in the face of a plainly shit vintage. 17.6/92

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

BEER: Moo Brew Pale Ale

Moo Brew Pale Ale (Tasmania)
$4.50, 4.9%

A recent highlight from my trip to Tasmania was a visit to Moorilla Estate, one of Hobart's oldest wineries.

To begin with, The Moorilla Cellar Door itself is more of a giant multi level bar/restaurant/resort complex thingy with a concierge, massive lawns and a Leeuwin style outdoor amphitheatre. Not unusual for modern cellar doors but particularly contemporary for Tassie. Fittingly too, that the wines then are served at a stylish bar, by a well presented and passionate wine lover, from proper glassware, ticking plenty of 'best practice' boxes in the process.

What makes the experience even more enjoyable however was the not just range of interesting wines, but the equally high quality range of winery beers. This pale ale is only one of the 'Moo Brew' Moorilla beer collection that I enjoyed, as all five of them are the sort of well made, smartly presented (the labels feature John Kelly artworks) and just plain tasty beers that we can always do with more of.

The Moo Brew Pale Ale then is built in an 'American Pale Ale' style: Dry and characteristically hoppy, with the typical Pale Ale-ish, sappy, hop derived astringency which lasts all the way through the finish.

Indeed it reminds me much of the Little Creatures Pale Ale, though this isn't (perhaps) quite as overtly hoppy on the nose, yet carries the same refreshment, character and hoppy deliciousness. (hops - such a wonderful plant).

This Moo Brew 'winery beer' then is delicious stuff, and I'm recommending it without hesitation.
Big thumbs up and thoroughly enjoyable indeed.

Babich Headwaters Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Babich 'Headwaters' Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Marlborough, NZ) $25, Screwcap, 13%
Source: Sample

Apparently one of only a very limited number of certified organic Kiwi vineyards, which is a quite curious situation given the 'clean green' image of New Zealand wine. I can only guess that Perhaps the producers figure they can sell their grapes without organics, so feel no need to bother with the rigidity of certification?... Thoughts?

The wine itself doesn't quite mount a resounding argument for the organic difference though, with a character that is a little blunt and appears to lack the flourish & generosity of top Savvies. The wine itself is a clear, but not translucent coloured Savvy, with a spiky citrus nose, lemon and something pine needle-ish && menthol like in there too.

On the palate it's quite rounded and complex, yet finishes with spiky acidity and some greenness, again with the drying astringency that detracts from the ultimate drinkability.

It's ultimately a good Sauvignon then, but just not complete enough for high marks. This should, uniquely, improve in the bottle though. so I'd hold off drinking this until early 2010 (onwards). 17.2/91+

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Tapanappa Range

A product of the ever restless wine doyen Brian Croser, Tapanappa is a particularly focused and aspirational Australian project serving to pickup where Croser left off (with Petaluma).

The project itself was setup in partnership with the Cazes (of Chateau Lynch Bages) and the Bollinger families and was formed soon after the sale of Petaluma in 2001.

There is plenty more to the story behind the Tapanappa name, the projects intentions and plenty of terroir focused information (including the very apt vineyard nomenclature) on the Tapanappa website so in truth you probably don't need too much information to fill in the back story. In fact, Croser himself tends to bring the attention with him, and the Tapanappa project has already had plenty of airplay (in Australia at least).

What's more interesting then is how much of a second generational family project this really is: You have Brian Croser as the man behind the concept, but ably supported by his daughter Lucy Croser, the Business Manager of Tapanappa. Lucy is then married to Xavier Bizot, of the extended Bollinger Family (whom are an aformentioned Tapanappa partner). Xavier then is the General Manager of Tapanappa as well as maintaining a spit on the Bollinger board.

Just to further enhance the family connections, the Tiers vineyard, source of the wining Chardonnay below, is still owned by Ann Croser, who now divides the fruit between Tapanappa and Brian's previous project, Petaluma (though this will resort to being all Tapanappa fruit in time).

It's an interesting collaboration too in a wine business sense, as the setup mirrors the old vs new investment pattern that has been repeated all over the wine world, yet has largely (with exceptions) skipped super high quality Australian wineries. It will be fascinating then to see what happens to this partnership in the longer term, and see if is this sort of business model gains more traction in the process.

Regardless, and perhaps thankfully, the wines are already full of character, with the utmost care and intention given to finding real quality terroirs and serious vineyards helping to sort that out early. All that remains now is the requisite time for it all to come together...

Onto the wines:
These were tasted with both Xavier & Brian in attendance & all served in quality glassware (which helps no end).

Tapanappa Tiers Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2008
Quite brilliant. Rich, exotic, powerful modern Chardonnay. Oaky, nougat nose with ultra fine wood showing quite prominently, before a sour and textural, finely spicy palate thats very much in the oaked grapefruit style contemporary cool climate style. Very finely delineated wine that, with time, is going to get even better as the oak integrates further. 2 years should do the trick. 18.2/94+

Tapanappa Foggy Hill Fleurieu Peninsula Pinot Noir 2008
Much more enjoyable than the last time I tasted it (big bowled Riedels help) this is definitely not a Burgundian Pinot, yet it's still a stylish wine. Sour cherry and rhubarb on a stalky, rather masculine and brawny nose. It's missing some intensity on the middle palate which is not surprising given it's only the second crop, finished off with well integrated acidity.
Should be even more impressive given further vine age. 17.3/91+

Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard Wrattonbully Merlot 2006
Apparently the Whalebone vineyard turns 35 this year, with Brian first sighting it back in the early 80's when he was working with Geoff Weaver (who was producing Cabernet from it). The vineyard shares the same celebrated soil structure as its Coonawarra neighbours, so it's of little surprise that Croser was so likely to source it out again.

It's a bit of a challenging wine to rate though this wine, most likely due to the deficiencies of a stand alone varietal Merlot. The nose shows spearmint and eucalypt in a quite leafy and even herbal style, a character that I don't mind but it can certainly polarise. From here it's a dry, dusty, taste-the-red-soil savoury dry red of proper appeal and nice dry tannins. My real quibble though is the warm, liquered finish, which derails all the good work of the rest of the wine, literally leaving a rather average taste in your mouth. No doubt it will improve with time, but that heat may only get worse. 17.0/90+

Tapanappa Wrattonbully Shiraz 2007
The only stuggler in this lineup (though it is the cheapest), maligned by the perils of this ridiculously hard vintage. Day old roast beef nose with some curious, gumbooty overtones, it smells sweaty, horsey and dried out, leading to a sweetly minted, mixed ripeness palate with the oak further sitting on top and a herbal finish. It's actually a much better drink than it sounds, but it's just a tad unbalanced. 16.0/86

Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard Wrattonbully Cabernet Shiraz 2006
One of a very limited number of single vineyard Cabernet Shiraz blends, this savoury, firm and rather old world inspired red blend is extremely classy but also desperately in need of time.

With a bright, yet dusty, red/black fruit & red dust nose, tinged with a touch of volatility. The palate is tight, just medium bodied and firmly built with dry tannins and a sawdusty, earthen, and fruit backward expression that is quite appealing. A little heat on the finish is again noticeable, though it seems better integrated here than the Merlot. Still, this is a high quality, interesting wine that will only get better with 5-8 years bottle age. Good stuff. 17.6/92++

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Two from the Hilltops

From the vineyard where the 2009 Jimmy Watson winner was sourced, this is two of the latest (multi award winning releases). Certainly much to like...

Moppity Vineyards Hilltops Shiraz 2008
- Roasted Cherry, Cranberry and musk red fruit, with just a twinkle of hammy stink, leading to a palate that tastes of a little stem influence. It's cherried, musky and just medium bodied trailing away on the back palate but still savoury and stylish enough for real enjoyment. Good. 16.8/89

Moppity Vineyards Reserve Hilltops Shiraz 2006 - Much more purple in colour, this has a suitably ripe nose of stewed, meaty red fruit and a liberal dose of black pepper. Surprisingly, the palate is much more medium bodied and almost pretty in its peppered red currant flavours. I was initially expecting this to be cooked, but instead it carries the stewed red fruit and pepper style of Hilltops Shiraz off with some aplomb. It's perhaps a little baked, which I'm no fan of, but it hasn't lost its freshness as a result. Quality wine. 17.5/91

(Both wines were sample bottles).

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Random Wine Roundup

Just a few random wines from the past week:

Salomon Von Stein Reserve Kremstal Gruner Veltliner 2007
Just a bit flat on the nose, lacking the customary spice and crispness of the best Gruner, this seemed flabby and quite rounded, a stroke of residual sugar helping to redeem things a little, but still quite a dissapointment (if a drinkable one at that). 16.0/87

Turkey Flat Eden Valley Chardonnay 2008
Bright yellow colour. Sour grapefruit & white peach flecked with butter nose that tends citrussy the more time it spends in the glass. Smells raw. Palate too is raw, the oak used feels sharp and sits on top of the fruit, which itself is surprisingly warm given the moderate alcohol. Sharp tail. Jangles of arms and legs. May improve but felt like it was lacking in vitality. 15.5/85

Smallfry Eden Valley Riesling 2008
Gently toasty, apple juice nose. Neutral and soft and very much stuck in the development hole. Again a softly toasty palate that had me thinking of Steingarten in it's stony flavours. Apple juice. Late burst of sweetness. Friendly wine thats in a bit of a developmental hole right now, but certainly much to like. 16.8/89+

Tatachilla Mclaren Vale Shiraz 2007
Volatile and lacking in its customary punch and generosity, this is an ok result for such a challenging vintage. Still showing the under and overripeness of the 07 vintage but some sweet fruit on the palate helps it along a bit. Still hard to like. 15.4/85

Bilancia 'Tardi' Gimblett Gravels Late Picked Viognier 2007
Stunning. The best dessert style Viognier I have from outside of the Rhone. It has the intensity and Apricot essence like flavours in a wall of richness and textural deliciousness. It's unquestionably a big wine, but it's still very stylish indeed. 18

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Head Wines The Blonde Shiraz Viognier 2008

Head Wines 'The Blonde ' Shiraz Viognier 2008 (Barossa, SA)
$28, Screwcap, 14.8%
Source: North Sydney Cellars

The companion wine to The Brunette, this is probably not my my favourite wine style, being a very ripe Barossan Shirognier (why, I ask, would you mix the petulant underperformer Viognier with as noble a creature as Barossa Shiraz? It's like adding Coke to 30 yr old Macallan), yet I can still see the attraction here.

Undoubtedly ripe, this quite jammy red starts off with a volatile and slightly baked meaty fruit expression that seduces with its opulence but also shows a smidgen of stewed fig overripeness. It's still fresh and lively however, so that's not such a problem as yet, though it's a character that I think intensifies with age. The palate is again sexy, with a textural richness of deep and mouthfilling Barossan dark berry fruit, al licoricey and berried, that carries through onto a rather warm finish, the warmth spreading out in your gullet like said Macallan.

What I do like here is the integration of fruit and underplaying of the Viognier. The only telltale signs of the V weed is the purple sheen to the juice, and the fact it says so on the label.
Don't tell him (Alex Head, the winemaker) I said so, but the oak integration is rather fine too, all adding up to a particularly well made wine.

This Blonde then is very attractive, well put together and is no gold digger ($28 well spent). Ultimately though, whilst gentleman may well prefer blondes, I would rather take home this wines more classy sister - The Brunette. 17.6/92

Saturday, 5 December 2009

3 Australian whites with personality

If you were looking for Australian wines with 'character' what would you choose? and would the 'character' lie with the winemaker or the wine itself?

Outgoing President of the Wine Communicators of Australia, Darren Jahn, offered his take on the question at a dinner thrown in his honour this week, highlighting a few wines of 'character' that were firstly good quality, but also were made by 'Characters'. (Speaking of character, Peter & Margaret Lehmann were also in attendance, their stories - and general demeanour - highlighted again why they are so highly regarded in the Barossa).

The highlights:

Frankland Estate Poison Hill Frankland River Riesling 2009
An estate that has made their name via top class Riesling, this was typically refreshing and delicious, with a quite exotic and aromatic nose of aftershave and bath salts. The palate too is similarly striking, with unusual cassis characters on a dry, grapey, soft and earthen palate.
Fresh and interesting, this is a very good Australian Riesling, needing just a little definition for higher points. 17.8/92

Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon 2004
I've been lucky to have had several vintages of this wine over the year and this seems the most backwards of the lot. With a nose that announces it's toasty bottle age with a character that smells curiously, but delightfully, of grilled lobster (with lots of butter), this Semillon is ultimately a wine of contrasts, with the sour citrus of youth still utterly dominant throughout, leaving just the richness of bottle age just sneaking into the gaps. Acidity at this stage is a little awkward, but that's just a reminder of this wine's cellarability. It's an unequivocably intense wine, and I can see how it could polarise drinkers, but to me this is a distinctive white that is chock full of character and will only get better. 18/92+

Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 2009
I couldn't stop drinking this, which is rare indeed for a 'dessert wine', and such a contrast to the heavy, 1-glass-is-well-enough, typical Oz sticky style.

Nose is all lime juice and honeysuckle, but more just Clare Riesling x 2, almost like the normal Mount Horrocks Riesling has been turned up to 11. The nose itself doesn't actually smell sweet either, which I really like. Moving on, the palate has a buzzy, honey and lime fruit flavour that had me thinking of lime Icy Poles, but better, drier, crisper. Just like an icy pole though, this was so refreshing and tasty that I almost forget the simple perfection on offer. This wine has to be the best Australian dessert wine I have had in a very long time. Outstanding stuff. 18.7/95

Friday, 4 December 2009

Taylors Jaraman Shiraz 2007 (Tasting Notes)

Taylors Jaraman Shiraz 2007 (Clare Valley & Mclaren Vale, SA)
$26, Screwcap, 14.5%

Source: Trade Sample

Not a bad showing, all things considered, but gee 07 is shaping up to be a tough vintage in Clare/Barossa et al.

Stewed fig & raspberry, bitumen nose, just a bit volatile and stewed on the nose but still consciously ripe and luscious. Somewhat dead, raspberry fruit palate still shows an inch of freshness over the wines from earlier in the week. Sweeter fruit and some more clever oak is the saviour here. Quite a tough finish, with prickly heat.

Just a tad hard to love. 15.2

Thursday, 3 December 2009

An interesting piece from Jancis

The ever unflappable and perceptive Jancis Robinson (who is my favourite wine writer) published a typically stimulating article up on her website www.jancisrobinson.com yesterday, focusing on the move towards 'lighter' red wines (read it here) a trend that is, to a certain degree, being echoed around the world, even though Australia is largely perceived to be lagging behind.

Of particular note is this paragraph describing a presentation from a Spatburgunder (German Pinot Noir) producer:

He therefore showed us not just the highly successful 2005 vintage of the top bottling from his Ihringer Winklerberg vineyard and the transitional 2001 vintage, but also a 1999 that was probably quite flashy in youth but had already lost its fruit, and the really dried-out 1993. He admitted that in the 1990s, at the start of the Spätburgunder renaissance, he and most German winemakers had tended to pick too late, a hangover from Germany’s worship of high must weights for their white wines. They also tended to over-extract what was in the fruit, and used oak heavy handedly, too much like a seasoning rather than as a vessel with useful physical properties. ‘We used hi-tech methods then,’ he told us. ‘Today we use lo-tech methods, more or less like the way that 1959 was made.’ The other winemakers nodded in agreement.

Sounds familiar doesn't it? It's a similar story to that of many small Australian producers, particularly in the cooler climes, who have realised that restrained and delicacy are indeed desirable characteristics, even for Shiraz.

Personally, I'd argue that a little bit more of this 'moderation' with regards to said picking dates, ripeness levels, oak use and extraction rates could do wonders for the image, age-worthiness and indeed raw quality of many Australian wines, particularly from the warmer bits of South Australia, where dried out, prematurely aged wines are rampant.

But I'm hardly breaking new ground with those sort of comments (I can just hear the sounds of your eyes glazing over), as any Australian wine lover has already had this 'lighten up' message rammed down our collective throats by condescending foreign wine writers ad nauseam over the last 12 months. Still, just have a read of some of my recent wine reviews for numerous examples of current release wines that could really do with a lighten up.

Just to further complicate the issue, have a read of the response to Jancis's article by another smart commentator, David Schildknecht, who touches on the need to maintain your own style & not blindly follow trends if you (the producer) are already making a balanced and distinctive wine.

The extension of this is that we don't want terroir driven styles to change in response to a perceived 'lightness' fad: Reds from Chateaunuef du Pape or McLaren Vale, for example, are really at their best when they are ripe and full, and any meddling with the style is just that - meddling.

Beyond the assertions, I think that both views are arriving at the same conclusion - that the best wines are produced from perfectly ripe grapes. The challenge is actually working out when a grape is perfectly ripe, when the answer is elusively subjective as perfection itself . . .

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

A $15 comparison - Three 07 Cabernets (Tasting Notes)

Just for interest, today I opened up 3 Cabernet based wines, all from the 2007 vintage, all available for $15 a bottle (though the Angoves & the Taylors have a higher RRP), from 3 different regions.

It's always an entertaining exercise doing a comparison like this (or I think so), as it tends to unearth/confirm/deny trends. What it can also do is highlight wines that you wouldn't normally expect to win.

Whilst this comparison doesn't actual sound that complimentary to the wines below, it serves as a great reference point for value benchmarking which I always like to see.

Onto the wines:

1.Taylors Cabernet Sauvignon (Clare Valley, SA)
$15-$17, Screwcap, 14.5%

From a tough (hot) vintage in South Australia, this has always been a value staple, though the Taylors reds of late seem to have become tougher and more overripe than they used to, possibly due to several warm years in SA.

This certainly smells warm, and young, and very ripe indeed. It carries a nose of dominant caramel oak over some faintly strained red fruit, showing both under and overripeness, matched to a warm and tannic palate that is full of grunt, but lacking in polish, with a green streak through the middle and quite harsh edges.

The overall impression is of a tough wine made from a tough season, with some potential to improve with bottle age but not much to love right now. 14.9/81+

2. Angoves Brightlands Cabernet Merlot 2007 (Limestone Coast, SA)
$15-$18, Screwcap, 14%

Angoves have made their reputation on value for money wines, showing that fruit driven, well made quaffers are always welcome. This newish addition to the range comes from the Limestone Coast, a somewhat untapped massive wine region that has always promised greatness, but never quite delivered.

It's definitely another fully ripened red, with a nose that is slightly baked in its fruit expression, topped with a whiff of formic and again both under (green, peppery elements) and over (fruit cake) ripeness. The palate is much more restrained and medium bodied than the Taylors above, with some more varietally correct dark berry flavours, intermingled with mintiness and some dry tannins.

Again this is a challenging wine to really like, though the added perfume and 'calmer' (strange expression perhaps, but this felt much more easy to slip into than the Taylors) palate made it somewhat more drinkable. The end result again is just ok. 15.3/82+

3. Barwick White Label Cabernet Sauvignon (Western Australia)
$15, Screwcap, 14%

The relative unkown player in this trio, Barwick is a Margaret River based producer who bottle quite a range of bargain wines, particularly some very fine value whites. With the awesome 2007 WA vintage behind them, I fully expected this to be drinkable.

Immediately lighter in the aromatic stakes, with a much more reticent nose showing dill, redcurrant and dusty red berries. The palate feels rather balanced and tame after the previous two, if more rounded and decidedly less intense. What makes this a much more pleasant experience however is this lack of intensity: After the previous two wines 'sensory attack' approach, this felt so much more welcoming and, ultimately drinkable.

The Barwick White Label Cabernet is ultimately a simple wine done quite well and certainly tastes BBQ friendly and drinkable. 16.1/87

Whilst its far too small a sample for real results, I still found this to be an interesting, if unsurprising, exercise. The two 07 South Australian reds showed the (sadly) expected challenges of an extremely tough vintage, and I would struggle to really recommend either of them. Conversely, the WA red was almost pre-ordained to be the pick of the bunch, with it's perfect vintage conspiring to produce goodness.

However, I think that in a more suitable vintage there probably wouldn't be such a chasm in quality between these wines. In such an instance then, I'd actually put my money on the Angoves to be the leader of this trio, as underneath all its mixed ripeness foibles, it was the only one of this three to show some real personality.

But personality or not, on this showing the absolute winner of the lot is the Barwick. It showed - Bradbury style - that mild manners and consistency will beat out more favoured opposition when they all fall down. More power to it.

(All bottles in this tasting were trade samples)