Friday, 30 April 2010

Kurtz Boundary Row Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2006

Kurtz 'Boundary Row' Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2006
$18!!!, Cork, 15%
Source: Collective Cellar Door

This is now the fourth bottle of Steve Kurtz's GSM that I have shared in the last month or so and, just like those that went before it, this bottle appears to be draining quickly. It's a simply delicious wine at a great price.

Why am I so convinced? Simple - it's just an essay in how good Barossan GSM blends are. Spicy, mid weight, chocolatey and warm, with savoury red fruits, deep black fruits, subtle tannins, glycerol warmth and a lingering chew.

The end result is comfortable, dry, luscious, satisfying, smooth, textural and actually quite pretty, a wine that wins via clever blending and fruit freshness, with everything in it's right place. Similarly, this GSM is hardly a blockbuster, but just stunningly drinkable, in a style that drips attraction.

Great wine, stunning price. Lots to like. 18/93

Is wine simply not 'trendy' anymore?

I was fiddling around in Google Trends ( - Essentially a tool to gauge what people are searching for on Google's search engine relative to the volume of overall Google searches) today doing something vaguely work related and decided to punch in, just for my own amusement, a search on the trending of the search term 'wine' in Australia.

What this trend search then spat out is interesting to say the least (I've pasted a screenshot of it below).

By the look of that graph (and if you have a google account you can have a look for yourself ) it appears that the term 'wine' is being searched for - in Australia - less often than it was six years ago. Conversely, the amount of mentions that wine is getting in the 'news' section (ie online news & media) has absolutely rocketed, spiking from the end of 2007 onwards.

Now this is just one metric, and one search term, but it does beg the question - is wine, as a product, not as 'trendy' as it was 6 years ago? Has wine gone from being a part of our diet to idle newspaper fodder?

Just for reference I duplicated the search and this time replaced Australia with the UK:

Now it looks like the 'news' reference appears to be a static global figure (and thus a vague measurement at best), but again, the traffic appears to be dropping off in this figure for the UK, and dramatically so in the last 18 months (hello GFC) (I love too how flat the search volume is in the UK over the year vs the Christmas time spike too - very English).

Finally, I broadened the scale to 'worldwide':

And this is perhaps the most damning of the lot, suggesting that wine may indeed be on the wane (at least within Google searches). The drop off in the past two years looks to be particularly dramatic, heading towards a fall of at least 20%.

Is wine doomed?

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Assorted Rizzas

Self explanatory really, this lot were a few highlights picked out of a recent blind tasting for National Liquor News. As such the notes are just a touch haughty, but hopefully they paint a fair picture. Plenty of value picks here which is heartening indeed.

Taylors Riesling 2009 (Clare Valley, SA) $18
Lovely Clare Riesling nose, perfumed, pretty and delicious, with just a hint of early development. Palate has well handled sweetness. Good commercial style. 17/90

Saltram Mamre Brook Riesling 2009 (Eden Valley, SA) $19
Lovely crystalline fruit. Structured grip on the palate is excellent for the price. Lots of Eden Rizza character and flavour. Good stuff. 17.3/91

Houghton Wisdom Riesling 2009 (Frankland River, WA) $30
Top shelf. Somewhat closed nose, but its party time on the palate. Girls perfume florals escape and backed by a deep and sinewy palate. Very serious and very good. 18.5/94

Mcguigan 'The Shortlist' 1440 Riesling 2004 (Eden Valley, SA) $?
I know nothing about this wine and, according to Mcguigan's website, it doesn't exist. In the lineup I mistook it for the 04 Wigan it was that good.Classic Eden Riesling in weight and structure, with that lime tart nose over a very long and powerful palate. Searing acid and blinding intensity. Top shelf! 18.5/94

Monday, 26 April 2010

Flaxman Riesling 2009

Flaxman Riesling 2009 (Eden Valley, SA)
$25, Screwcap, 11.5%
Source: Sample

Hand picked, old vine Riesling that is harvested early and whole bunch pressed. It's a wine made with love, from a part of the wine world (The Flaxmans Valley) that is very much on song at present.

Green. Straw green, green yellow and looking like an absolute infant. Backward. On the nose it's deep and intensely fragrant with that sort of unquestioning intensity that old vines just conjure up. Orange rind, lime, and slate with an oxidative edge (as befitting its whole bunch pressing) that gives it a bit of aromatic wildness. So much intensity on that nose!

After the nose, the palate is all about acidity. Lots of it. Lots of chalky, mouth tightening natural acidity that juts in from the mid palate, cutting off the lime juice and lemongrass fruit flavours with the sort of lingering acid that could clean driveways, though it's all natural so it never feels offensive, just making for an effortlessly long, dry white.

In essence this is one very serious Rizza, built strong and dry, perhaps even a tad austere. And I loved it. (Drink 2010-2020+, Rated 18.5/94)

Friday, 23 April 2010

Tasmania's True Moscato

Tasmania's True Moscato

This first appeared in the February/March edition of Gourmet Traveller WINE, though I think this longer version flows better. I'm republishing this now as the 2010 vintage Holm Oak Moscato is released today.

Moscato – The variety conjures up images of frivolity and utterly unserious drinking - Yet one couple is taking their Moscato very seriously indeed.

Tim Duffy and Rebecca Wilson are that couple, producing their popular Holm Oak Moscato in, of all places, Tasmania’s Tamar Valley. It’s certainly not the first place that comes to mind when producing Moscato, and the extremely high quality is plain puzzling when you see the label. Yet this wine has a story.

The starting point for Tim and Bec’s Moscato is actually Tim’s parent’s farm in Nyah, just outside of Swan Hill in Northern Victoria. Up here, demand for grapes has never been lower, with several varieties from the Duffy Farm simply going unpicked this year. But not Muscat. For this is the stuff of Mocato producer’s dreams: Well tended old vines of the ‘premium’ Muscat variety Muscat a Petit Grains, producing full flavoured, pinkish Muscat grapes. It is these old vines that Tim believes are the key to intensity and flavour of his wine.

However that’s just the beginning of the journey, for every year the grapes are handpicked and transported by truck and The Spirit of Tasmania the 450km+ back to the winery, where it is finally crushed/destemmed and given some careful skin contact for added complexity. When it’s finally bottled, the Moscato has to go into special sparkling mineral water bottles (sourced from neighbouring Tamar Ridge’s mineral water bottling) to cope with the extra sparkle.

The end result of all that effort is one of the most powerful and ‘genuine’ Moscato’s around, with full, deliciously grapey musk stick and spice flavours on a crisp and refreshing palate. As Tim also believes, this wine is the perfect alternative to alcopops, with great natural acidity and freshness as well as sweetness.

I’d find it hard to disagree.

Holm Oak 'Pig & d' Pooch' Moscato ($22)

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Mudgee: More than just mud

Mudgee: More than just mud

The view from David Lowe's cellar door: Mudgee doing a good Tuscan impersonation

The picture above was taken last Saturday at David Lowe's leafy Mudgee cellar door, snapped during what was a very interesting, perspective changing weekend of Mudgee wine.

It's a particularly apt picture actually (though I can't vouch for my photography skills) simply because it is surprisingly attractive. And that's what my weekend spewed up - plenty of surprises.

But before I start detailing all the surprises, I'm interested in the answer to one nagging question:

Would you consider Mudgee to be a wine region of interest, or just another ageing also ran?

Personally, I'd answer that Mudgee is a wine region of interest, but also one of the more variable regions in Australian wine, often producing good drinks, but so rarely producing the sort of wines that you would travel to Mudgee purely to taste.

Do you agree?

Building on my answer, and helped along by the personalities - and wines - of the 'New Mudgee' (I'm coining it that, just because I can) that I was lucky to meet last weekend, I'd argue that Mudgee can, and will, produce the sort of wines that people will find very desirable once again.

It's just going to take time.

So, to help focus on desirable wine then, I've detailed below some of the good, hidden, desirable features of Mudgee wine - and there are plenty - with a few of the not so good/hard bits thrown in for balance.

As always, feel free to comment on these observations in the 'comments' section below the post.

The good bits

Mudgee terroir - The biggest surprise of all. Mudgee has large tracts of lovely red clay loam soils, flecked with glinting blocks of quartz. Lovely dirt that. Combine the nice dirt with some surprisingly steep slopes, plenty of sunshine and a big diurnal temperature range and you have some seriously good viticultural potential.

Mudgee Chardonnay - Mudgee makes surprisingly good Chardonnay. Chardonnay grows just about anywhere, we all know that, but Mudgee can get Chardonnay ripe at low alcohols, whilst retaining plenty of acidity and without sacrificing palate intensity. In fact, many producers see Chardonnay as one of the best grapes for the region.

Some of the prominent 'New Mudgee' winemakers, inc. Jacob Stein (Robert Stein), James 'good' Manners (Robert Oatley) and Peter Logan (Logan), have actually undertaken a very secret project this year, quietly known as the 'Chardonnay experiment', where they have each made the wildest early picked Chardonnay, from the very best Mudgee fruit, in an attempt to show just how modern, and interesting, Mudgee Chardonnay can be.

I tasted three different winemakers attempts (out of barrel) and they were all quite divergent, but high quality, Chardonnays, all of which I could see appeal in. All three had plenty of winemaking influence, minimal oak, high acid, low alcohol and bewildering depths of flavour. I can't wait to see the wines in bottle, for they were so razor sharp and contemporary that they could really propel Mudgee back into the limelight.

Oatley land as far as the eye can see. Expect big things..
The Oatleys: I travelled to Mudgee as a guest of Robert Oatley Vineyards, so I definitely had an Oatley 'indoctrination' of sorts, but I'm well old enough to remember the glories of the Rosemount of yore (and in fact I had, up until quite recently, some old Rosemount 'Mountain Blue' Mudgee Shiraz Cabernet in the cellar). Let's put it this way - the future of Mudgee is brighter with the dedicated Oatley family in it, and I didn't need a free lunch to work that out.

Experimentation: As shown by the Chardonnay project above, there is no shortage of experimentation and innovation at work in Mudgee, focused particularly on the new generation ('New Mudgee'). From David Lowe's unique high altitude project wines (more on that further on) to Peter Logan's new Mudgee Shiraz vs Orange Shiraz terroir project, the 'innovate or perish' dictum is being well followed in Mudgee (and you could argue that it is well overdue too).

Sustainability: Organic, biodynamic and preservative free wines are impressively concentrated in Mudgee, almost as if it these things are de rigueur for the region. Think what you will about such principles/methods, they are nothing if not progressive.

Old vines: Old vines are everywhere in Mudgee, including some of the oldest plantings of the Italian alternates Barbera and Sangiovese, as well as plenty of old vine Chardonnay, Shiraz and Merlot. Potential! Potential!

Tourism: Mudgee has a vibrant tourist scene (or at least there was no shortage of tourists around over the weekend - always a good sign), with plenty of good eateries, decent pubs, good accommodation etc.

Ormiston Free Range Pork: Mmmm. I have some Ormiston Pork Belly lined up for Sunday dinner this weekend. Excitement is building. Would go well with Mudgee Chardonnay too.

Olives and Olive Oil: High quality local olives and olive oil not only flesh out the experience, but also mean that more wineries have oil/olives to taste/devour in conjunction with the wines. Big plus in my world.

More local good things: Excellent cheese and quality local beer, both further add to the appeal.

The Challenges

I'm just throwing out some opinions here. Feel free to comment

Climate: Like the Hunter (and Orange to an extent), it rains at all the wrong times in Mudgee. The rain is actually pretty constant all year round, but the odd summer thunderstorm can devastate Mudgee vineyards. Combine that with late frosts, inconsistent flowering plus very hot summers and you have an environment with seriously high disease pressures, making Mudgee an occasionally challenging place to grow grapes.

For instance, in the last five years alone there has been at least two very challenging vintages (2008 & 2010, though this varies according the producer) where the red grapes - in particular - have faced less than ideal conditions. Equate this to an average decade and that is some serious vintage variation...

Fragmentation: The last five years have also seen the almost total withdrawal of the 'big boys' from Mudgee with both Pernod Ricard and Fosters now fully divulged of their local vineyards and wineries. Whilst that could be seen as a good thing, it has also, arguably, done little for the regions profile.

Of the rest, the Oatleys are now the biggest vineyard land owners, but having only been making their own wines for 4 years, their true impact (and finest wine) is yet to be seen. Andrew Harris, the other somewhat high profile producer, is apparently producing less wine these days too (for undisclosed reasons).

The end result is a large group of often divergent producers, many of whom rely more on the flow of tourists through their cellar door restaurant, than the quality of their wines, to survive. Watch this space for some new allegiances though...

Looking for a hero: Maybe I've been brainwashed by Wine Australia, or perhaps I need to take my marketing hat off, but not one producer could name a single variety or blend that Mudgee does better than anywhere in the land. Even Chardonnay, that I talked up earlier, is not produced as a stand alone 100% Mudgee wine by many producers, so could hardly be called a 'regional hero'.

I believe this is a big problem that could hinder the rebirth of the region in the longer run, yet the producers were more happy to just talk about winery heroes - a certain wine that each winery does well.
I'm not convinced.

Orange (and the Hunter) Only 65kms as the crow flies (though 2.5 hours in the car), yet this neighbour has not only the momentum in the marketplace (plenty of Orange wines in the press) but also a burgeoning tourist trade; a better road out to it from Sydney; a larger local population and arguably better quality (at the moment at least) wines.

The Hunter is even closer to Sydney; has ten times the number of visitors (though that number is unconfirmed); more cellar doors; more established producers and at least two identifiable 'hero' varieties (plus a very active and tight knit local winemaking association).

Eventually, and some producers (like Logan) are already seeing this, more Mudgee wineries should just admit defeat (of sorts) and work wines from the Hunter and Mudgee into their ranges (rather than trying to grow everything themselves).

In this fashion, you could be a Mudgee producer with an Orange Pinot Gris; an Orange Sauv Blanc (mmm turnover); a Hunter Semillon; a Chardonnay from all three regions (terroir at work); a Shiraz from each region (ditto) and then a Mudgee dry red (my pick? Shiraz Cabernet - just like old Mountain Blue).

The (Wine) Highlights

Logan Vintage 'M' Cuvee 2008 ($35)

An unusual (for Australia) 1/3rd each of Chardonnay/Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier blend, this is salmon pink in colour (just like the label) with notable refreshment and proper chalky acids (rare for Australia that). Really smart bubbles (and absolutely flying sales wise).

Lowe 'Tinja' Riesling 2009 ($23)
Sourced from the 1050m Louee vineyard at Nullo Mountain (the highest vineyard in Australia!), this extremely dense Kabinett style Riesling needs years to settle in the bottle (the 04 is drinking wonderfully) but it shows real potential and style. Lots of interest here.

di Lusso Pinot Grigio 2009 ($26)
Sourced from a vineyard near Molong, Orange, this was more like a Gris in weight, with delicious richness and texture with well enough acidity to hold it together. I really liked this!

Logan Chardonnay 2008 ($23)
Also sourced from Orange, this mealy, dry and layered Chardonnay is finely flavoured, dry and almost pretty in a way. Already a fine Chardonnay (and already a medal winner of some description) and with plenty of happy bottle age ahead.

Lowe Family Shiraz 2005 ($28)
Off David Lowe's organic vineyard, this is a good example of a medium bodied, yet richly flavoured, Mudgee Shiraz. There is something about this ageless rich style that is wonderfully appealing, though it needs a decant to get through the rather full extract. A sleeper methinks.

Montrose Black Shiraz 2007 ($29)
The original Mudgee Shiraz, this is incredibly regional, almost to the point of fault. Lots of red dirt, prominent acid and rich, yet savoury flavours. Whilst I am not a massive fan of the style, it deserves to be highlighted just for it's authenticity. Polarising..

Clonakilla Vintage Fortified Shiraz 2007 ($28)
We're not in Mudgee anymore! I brought this along as the ultimate options stumper, purely to cause trouble perhaps. Sourced from a component of the 2007 O'Riada, it doesn't actually taste much like Canberra Shiraz at all, but it is a wonderfully elegant and sweetish 'dry' VP style. Really more-ish, though not for the long haul.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Reschke Bull Trader Cab Merlot 2006 vs Wine By Brad Cabernet Merlot 2008

It's value Cabernet Merlot time!

Today's tussle pitches two traditional rivals - Margaret River and Coonawarra - against each other in a battle for value Cabernet glory. Both these players lie at similar pricepoints ($17 and $19 RRP respectively) and both come from well regarded vintages. The end result should be very close indeed....

Wine By Brad Cabernet Merlot 2008 (Margaret River, WA)
$17, Screwcap, 13.8%
Source: Sample

Back Label fun - by Brad
Think what you may about the juice in the bottle, for what tends to attract the most comments about this wine is the characteristic comic book label, which features 'Brad' (Brad Wehr, winemaker/raconteur/SUP fan) himself alongside his long suffering partner Becky. It's a label which seems to generate plenty of opinion, both for and against, with it attracting comments from anyone spotting it on my desk.
Personally I'd argue that it is absolutely appropriate and contemporary for the pricepoint, but others have referred to it as 'daggy'. I'll let you make up your mind.

The wine itself, thankfully, smells exactly like a proper Margaret River Cabernet Merlot - black pepper, licorice, blackcurrant, pink lamb and some proper Cabernet leafiness. Perhaps a light coating of oak, but otherwise no noticeable wood, just plenty of slightly diffuse berry goodness. Nice and fresh. Palate is fresh too - leafy, noticeable tannic and quite structured, built in a medium bodied, surprisingly firm mould. What I like here is that it is lightish and upfront, with no shortage of fruit, yet it's still properly dry.

A fresh, attractive and user friendly expression of Margaret River red, this is hardly a heavyweight but it's not priced like one either. What it does offer is authentic varietal/regional drinking for minimal dollars.17/90

Reschke Bull Trader Cabernet Merlot 2006 (Coonawarra, SA)
$19, Screwcap, 14%
Source: Sample

I'm still yet to be seriously impressed by a Reschke wine, though that could be purely based around an impression from the cheaper end of the range. Still worth noting though (and on the subject, I would argue that Coonawarra reds are generally more variable than their Western counterparts too).

The wine itself look like it might have something over the Margaret River upstart, as it's immediately darker than the Wine By Brad (WBB), redder and deeper in colour than the younger wine (though that means nothing really - wine colour is overrated after all). But that's where the competition stops. It's smells greenish, showing both under and overripe characters (to use an Oliverism) with a slight whiff of cabbage in with the caramel and red earth. Compared to the bright, aromatic, mildly herbaceous and firmly varietal WBB it's a dull, weedy and unbalanced nose. Score 1 WBB

On the palate too it's sadly lacking generosity, thin and faintly cooked with the dry tannins and lack of flesh making for a rather unrewarding drink. In fact, this barely puts up a fight for the positively exuberant WBB, finishing unbalanced and ordinary. (much like the Shiraz from last week actually). 15/83

Winner: Wine By Brad Cabernet Merlot

Cheaper, fresher, more varietal and with more contemporary packaging, this absolutely smashed the Reschke on every front. Well done Mr Wehr!

Winner by unanimous decision - Brad!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Eden Valley Riesling Death Match: Bracket 2 - Bottle Age is Good!

Eden Valley Riesling Death Match: Bracket 2 - Bottle Age is Good!

6 years old and still bright and fresh
For those who haven't read part 1, it's probably important that you do (just so you get a feel for the context) so have a squiz here.

As highlighted yesterday, the formula here is simple - 3 very similar wines, all pitched against each other in a classic death match of vinous proportions.

In this bracket we see the heavyweights enter the ring, in the form of a few bottle aged reserve Eden Valley Rieslings fighting it out in a brawl of toast, lime and slate.

Let the bout begin!

Wine 1
Peter Lehmann 'Wigan' Riesling 2004 (Eden Valley, SA)
$35, Screwcap, 12.5%

What a leadout! A trophy winning wine that absolutely lived up to its reputation, the Wigan was easily the best on park today. Stunning wine.

Beautiful, classic golden toast over citrus juice in a form that just sings out 'Eden Valley'. Actually, I think it sings out Peter Lehmann too, for the 'Margaret' Semillon appears to carry a very similar bottle age character to it. Regardless, it's pure and distinctive and good.

Palate is similarly wonderfully proportioned and distinctive, though perhaps not for everyone? Long palate starts with some creamy lime custard that gets toastier and weightier as the palate progresses. Lots to chew on with the contrast between creamy bottle age generosity vs severity of the citrus backbone. Epic finish. Just keeps going, lime toast resonating through the finish. Still tight. Trophy wine. 19/96

Wine 2
Penfolds 'Reserve Bin' Aged Release Riesling 2005 (Eden Valley, SA)
$25, Screwcap, 11.5%

Rifling back through my notes, it looks like I've never been a fan of the Penfolds Rizzas, with the 08 Eden Valley Riesling getting (unconsciously) the exact same middling score when tasted last year (I'm nothing if not consistent). I think my gripe with this Penfolds line comes in its form, or general lack of it, particularly in this lineup of (older) wines.

Fleshier than the Wigan, without the definition, this is more flab than anything else with just a big blob of citrus. Palate starts with green pea but falls away pretty quickly to something quite generic and dry, if still recognisably Eden. Not alot to love here, with not enough delineation or length for a higher score.

Absolutely last place in this bout, though not necessarily a bad wine, this was simply outclassed here. 16.8/89

Wine 3
Heggies 'Reserve' Riesling 2004 (Eden Valley, SA)
$26, Screwcap, 12.5%
Smack Down!

A straw yellow wine in a sea of green, this is obviously more forward than the rest. Quite floral though. Almost Alsatian with a hint of orange rind on the nose actually, as if it suggests more palate richness. Palate is layered and long but a bit bluntly toasty with some metallics through the finish.

Interesting, if lacking the absolute finesse of the Wigan, this sure has the complexity and weight, if set in a somewhat chubbier form. Still an enjoyable drink. 17.3/91

Winner: Peter Lehmann 'Wigan' Riesling 2004

A winning wine that absolutely shone in this lineup. Can't rate it more highly and would happily show this off to anyone unfamiliar with Australian wine as the perfect example of what can be achieved.

I'm buying some.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Eden Valley Riesling Death Match: Bracket 1 - The Young Ones

The Riesling Queen?
Eden Valley Riesling The Taste Off: Part 1 - The Young Ones

Righto, after a week of lukewarm reviews and rather mixed wines, it's time to delve into something good. In this case, the good is going to come from an old fashioned Death Match, focusing on one of my most favourite things - Eden Valley Riesling.

The format here is simple: 2 brackets of similar wines, 3 wines in each bracket, with the competitors in each bracket pitched against each other in a classic wine vs wine brawl. For each bracket I've picked several likely competitors to make for a more even fight (though to pitch them against each other blind might have been even fairer) at reasonably comparable prices.

Let the bout begin!

Wine 1
Elderton Riesling 2009 (Eden Valley, SA)
$19, Screwcap, 11.5%

Second cheapest, but not least, this is a classic wine built wonderfully well.

A very green fruited nose that is almost grapefruit, with plenty of slate and green apple. It's a rather tight lemon slate nose, not revealing much, but so perfectly classic and authentic, contrasting with the power of the Mountadam in the best possible way (green fruit vs more yellow green for the Mountadam if you get my drift). Palate is initially quite soft, but in a natural acid sort of unforced way, finishing long and dry. Complete and appealing with plenty of potential I really love this fashion of genuine 'green' Eden Rizza. 17.4/91

Wine 2:
Peter Lehmann 'Dry' Riesling 2009 (Eden Valley, SA)

$17, Screwcap, 11%

A Google search turned this up for just $14 a bottle. Amazing.

Nose is a little less defined and slatey than the Elderton, though not as punchy as the Mountadam, with just a snifter of green pea and honey development. More rounded than the Elderton too, with some gardenia like florals and a bit of sweet fruit on the nose. A bit o\f honeysuckle too. Lovely lemon slate flavours on the palate which is slightly sweeter than the Elderton, but it seems to work well here. Sugar noticeable through the finish, which is broader than the Elderton and lacks the big flavour intensity of the Mountadam.

Marginally the third place getter in this bracket, but for the dollars this is an excellent commercial wine, showing the sort of balance that is unheard of in any other white wine under $15. 17.3/91

Wine 3:
Mountadam 'High Eden' Riesling 2009 (Eden Valley, SA)

$21, Screwcap, 13.5%

Punchy and quite overt nose with big florals, trouncing all over the other too in intensity alone. Talc and kaffir lime. Slightly volatile, which hints at this wines acidity too. Palate is similarly more vibrant and fresher than even the green Elderton, though it's noticeably riper too. Bigger, grippier and more full flavoured if a tad chunky through the middle, not softened with sugar like the Lehmann. Slightly raw through the finish with serious grip and no shortage of length.

A big wine that is sure to develop well, this is built in the Grosset style of Riesling, with lots of ripe fruit, no shortage of acid and built bone dry. When the fruit intensity is up to it, like in this case, it presents a compelling drinking argument. Should develop well too. 17.6/92

The Winner: Mountadam

Mountadam the winner, if purely by its extra grip and fruit intensity. Hard to split the three (as witnessed by the scores) with the only tangible difference coming largely down to style and delineation.

The real winner? Eden Valley Riesling of course, which proved yet again that Riesling, in this classic form, is the best value white wine in the nation.

Bracket 2 (the premier bracket?) to follow tomorrow.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Meerea Park XYZ range

Meerea Park XYZ range

I am, unashamedly, a massive fan of Meerea Park wines. My cellar is full of them, and several more bottles of 04 Alexander Munro Semillon made their way into my cellar only a few weeks back.

But these latest XYZ wines are just a little bit harder to love, and for one obvious reason - they are simply too young. These three are all rather dry, serious and structured wines that clearly belie their pricepoint, particularly with regards to ageability, yet are actually quite cumbersome drinks right now.

In fact you could probably argue that all three represent quite clearly the perils of making somewhat 'old fashioned' (read: dry and low on artifice) styles at the sort of price were wines simply don't get cellared, ever.

The challenge then comes in the scoring, with all the numbers below on the lower side of the scale, reflecting a less-than-easy current drinkability. Very important plus signs with this lot.

Notes in italics are from the winery.

Meerea Park XYZ Semillon 2009 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
$22, Screwcap, 11%
Handpicked off the Howard vineyard (planted 1968). Fermented entirely in stainless steel. 500 cases produced

Very green. Lightly sherbety nose, twinkle of green pea development that gets more sherbety and advanced as it warms up. Subtle and soft palate shows very pleasant soft acid. Lovely balance and shape, though it's slightly transitional character means it's not much of anything showing right now. Leave it alone. 16.5/88++

Meerea Park XYZ Chardonnay 2009
$22, Screwcap, 13.5%Sourced from a mature vineyard in the Broke-Fordwich sub region. The fruit was whole bunch pressed and then barrel fermented with no malolactic fermentation allowed. The wine was then matured in 100% French oak ranging from one year-old to three years-old for seven months. 250 cases produced.

Vanilla and buttered popcorn nose showing plenty of timber, though it's just a sheen and ought to blow off. Palate is very dry, crisp and acid dominated, with wood the main character right now, but lots of acid grip. Leave. Quality fruit in there underneath. Just needs some time. Not enough plus signs really 16.9/89++

XYZ Shiraz 2008 (Canberra District)
$22, Screwcap, 14.5%

Sourced from a mature vineyard at Murrumbateman. Half of the fruit parcel was crushed  and de-stemmed with the remaining half crushed and left with the stems and fermented in open vats. 250 cases produced

Purple red in colour, this is quite a herbal, geranium nose with lots of pepper and stalk action mixed with purple red fruits. Reasonably heady. Hung game overtones. Slightly overripe, but not in a heavily stressed fruit way. Palate is nothing if not complex, with some roast goat like meatiness, lots of pepper and stalk tannins to finish. Somewhat hard finish, yet unquestionably clean. No shortage of acid. Gangly. Will get so much better over the medium term, particularly given that complexity, yet geez it's a hard drink right now. 16.5/88++

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Reschke Bull Trader Shiraz 2006

Reschke Bull Trader Shiraz 2006 (Coonawarra, SA)
$19, Screwcap, 14%
Source: Retail

Firstly, an advanced apology: This is another lukewarm wine review, so tune out now if you are looking for a wine recommendation. Or buy a bottle of the Kurtz Boundary Row GSM 2006, which has been disappearing at alarming speeds whenever a bottle is opened around here. Now that is a cracking bottle of red wine for the dollars (I'll review it down the track).

Anyway, back to this Shiraz. Now I have a suitably middling relationship with Coonawarra Shiraz, as, in my opinion, it is best suited to blending with a healthy dose of Coonawarra Cabernet. In fact, I think that Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz is twice as interesting as Coonawarra Cabernet Merlot, though few people seem to agree (they obviously haven't tried a full vertical of Petaluma Coonawarra).

As a result, I often find myself underwhelmed by Coonawarra Shiraz, and sadly this is no exception.
Mid red with light edges, the nose shows rather developed, secondary characters of pepper and roast beef with mushrooms, casserole like even, which makes it more interesting perhaps, but in the final wash there is little fruit in there.

Following this, the palate is somewhat dried out and tiring, showing liqueured and cedary secondary flavours and little generosity, with pokey acids and chewy tannins. The fruit is on the decline, yet the structure is rather decent, leaving not enough generosity to hang everything on. The end result is somewhat regional and mature, complex at times even, but ultimately just lacking the requisite vibrancy.  15/83

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Granite Hills Shiraz 2004, Merlot 2005, Chardonnay 2008

The Granite Hills (née Knight's Granite Hills) winery reputation was built on two wines: Riesling and Shiraz. For years, the name was synonymous with peppery, utterly cool climate Shiraz, and juicy, lively cool climate Riesling, both of which were sourced from the estates old vines in the frosty heights of the Macedon ranges.

But of late the brand has all but disappeared, withdrawing from the wine trade and the tasting circuit, almost as if it had fallen into some sort of winery blackhole (which claims wineries from time to time, before they get sold/go broke/withdraw into themselves hermit style).

So when presented with an opportunity to try a small lineup of new release, I ticked the yes box, consciously buoyed by a distant memory of some very tasty late 90's wines.

And what a disappointment it was.

I'm not sure what has happened to the fine cool climate Victorian wines of old, but these blunt, confusingly overripe examples are such a departure that I had to do a double take to work out whether I was tasting the right wines. Admittedly, there was no Rizza in this lineup, so I'm not going to completely write off the entire range, but I still can't help but question what the intentions are, given that I see these wines as a departure from the medium bodied style that made the winery famous....

The wines:

(Please note: These are my personal opinions, and I am absolutely intolerant of what I view as excessively ripe wines, hence the low scores. I urge you to make your own mind up about whether you agree or disagree, and feel free to comment about it below).

Granite Hills Chardonnay 2008 (Macedon, Vic)
$20, Screwcap, 13.5%

I am guessing here, but given that the winery has a bright new website (suggesting a renewed focus), perhaps the somewhat variable older wines (such as the two reds below) are just relics of a slightly unhappy period in the wineries recent history? If so, then you could assume that a newish vintage Chardonnay would be the first place where a paradigm shift would be evident?

But I was wrong, for I think this an unnecessarily old fashioned Chardonnay, with all the trademark foibles that people love to hate in this much maligned variety.

It actually looks quite youthful, with a bright, straw yellow colour, but the brightness is somewhat of a misnomer, for the nose is brassy, broad and dominated by sweet coconut and vanillan French oak, caked with bubblegum and white bread yeast characters. It's a heady and powerful if unwieldy nose that smells overwrought and slightly lacking in freshness. Still, dig deep enough and there lies minerals in there somewhere, if it is contained by edifice.. (there is hope yet).

Sadly, the story gets worse on the palate, with harsh, extractive and plain unpleasant oak tannins ruining whatever good work the fruit could ultimately yield. What's left behind is basically stripped of it's freshness, a wine that is so far from the textured, oak-lite and fine modern Chardonnay benchmark that it not only feels dated, but highlights all the bad things about Australian Chardonnay. 14.5/82.

Granite Hills Merlot 2005 (Heathcote, Vic)
$24, Screwcap, 15%

15% in a supposedly cool climate Merlot? Tell em' they're dreaming. Or, at least they're dreaming if they want any sort of varietal character. I understand that it is quite possible to get grapes really ripe in Heathcote, but I would also argue that it does nothing for the quality of the wine produced, notably at the 14+ baume mark, and especially not for Merlot.

Already bricking at the rim and looking less than youthful, this has a slightly volatile, red fruited nose, showing some of the leaf litter character of bottle aged Merlot, if masked by stressed fruit. Ditto for the palate, which shows a smidgen of ripe fruit, which is ultimately overridden by alcohol and inelegant, stressed fruit flavours, finishing bitter.

Ultimately overripe and on the decline, sadly, this might have been a good wine a year or so ago, but for my tastes this is now rather unenjoyable and going backward at speed. 14.0/76

Granite Hills Shiraz 2004 (Macedon, Vic)
$35, Screwcap, 15%

Once the most peppery Shiraz in the land, yet you wouldn't have guessed it by this wine, which just smells like ripe Shiraz grapes from an indeterminable origin. Interesting to note that this spent a massive 3 years in oak.

Blood red in colour with a rather light rim. Nose has searing volatility over cherry liqueur, cranberries, roast beef and chocolate. Positively stinks of alcohol. Underneath it starts quite pleasant, sweet and generous, but the alcohol quickly destroys that, leaving just heat and an empty, sweetly oaked carcass. Hard tannins to finish.

The question here is, what is the point of making a Macedon Shiraz, if you get it so ripe that it stops smelling or tasting like Macedon Shiraz?

A confusingly unenjoyable wine that I think is only going to get worse with age.... 15/85

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Frog Rock Pinot Gris 2009

Frog Rock Pinot Gris 2009 (Mudgee, NSW)
$18, Screwcap, 13.8%
Source: Sample

Frankly, I didn't really expect to like this. It's an under $20 Pinot Gris you see, a grape and style that is more often than not flavourless shit, to the point where most Pinot Gris that land on my desk get little more than a cursory, derogatory glance (with certain exceptions of course) before it gets given away.

Hence I opened this up for a group of thirsty salespeople and almost forgot about tasting it myself. But their cooing of approval had me reaching for the last of the bottle, and I'm rather glad I did, because it is surprisingly good.

Interestingly, this pours yellow in colour but with just the slightest salmon tint, which I rather like seeing in Pinot Gris, mainly as it suggests both ripeness and a bit of skin contact action (and hopefully more flavour as a result). It smells properly ripe too, with a fragrant and somewhat heady nose complete with 80's musky aftershave (Aramis?) and perhaps some botrytis in there too (though the botrytis doesn't detract). Palate follows it up with red apple & corella pear fruit characters in a setting this is much riper, denser and richer than most over Pinot Gris in this category. It is just a tad broad through the finish, which is perhaps the only real downer here.

Surprisingly persistent and varietal (labelled correctly too), I'm happy to proclaim this as a (very rare) good value Pinot Gris. 16.8/89