Sunday, September 26, 2010

Coriole Shiraz 2008

Coriole Shiraz 2008 (McLaren Vale, SA)
$28, Screwcap, 14%

Source: Sample
www.coriole.com

There appears to be two quite disparate styles of red wine coming out of the 'challenging' 2008 vintage in McLaren Vale. On the one hand you have the lucky ones, the gooduns' - those wines that have escaped the March heatwave with their freshness in tact. On the other hand lies those wines that suffered: Forward, caramelised and prematurely evolved reds that taste like all the vitality has left the building.

Thankfully this Coriole falls into the former camp, with plenty of positives to it's name. On the nose it carries warm raspberry fruit, licorice, chocolate oak and bitumen in a proper McLaren Vale Shiraz style, if heading towards overripeness. It doesn't taste overripe though - rich and warming sure, maybe a fraction short, but proper plump and powerful through the middle. I quite liked this actually, as witnessed by the fact that I went back for a second glass. Good result. 17.2/90

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Changes

Changes

Firstly, apologies for the tardiness on the posting front this week. I've got an excuse though you see, for it's been a big week in my world. As this week I've officially joined the Cracka wines team, where I'll be writing content for the Cracka website and managing the social media side of the business.

What's the relevance for this blog you ask? Purely that the posting over the next week or two will be a little slow whilst Cracka gets going. On the good news front, I will be able to taste more wines than ever before, with the explicit understanding that this website will remain completely independant and unbiased.

So, in other words, please excuse the lower volume of posts to follow over the next week or two. Normal service should return quickly.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Random Wine Roundup September

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Vintage 2002 $120
Whilst non vintage Champagne from the bigger houses can be something of a quality gamble, the vintage versions are typically much more predictable. And predictable this is, in the very best possible way. A polished, powerful, firm and dense Champagne, in a blind lineup this absolutely glowed with class and distinction. Bloody good stuff. Given that you can pick this up for $100 around the traps it's actually reasonable value too. Yum.18.5/94

Elefante Castila Blanco 2009 $12.99
A cheeky little Spanish white is a blend of Macebeo, Verdejo and Viura with a dash of Sauvignon Blanc.Grapefruit and citrus green fruit nose that has some fleshy Riesling character to it. Palate is dry, clean and tangy, dominated by green fruit if just a fraction green. Clean and fresh, this is an entirely serviceable dry white, if not overflowing with character. 16/87

Elefante Tempranillo Shiraz 2009 $12.99
The companion piece to the white above (with both imported by Fourth Wave Wine Partners), this again smells fresh and clean, indicating some switched on new world attention to clean winemaking. The nose is fresh, youthful and berried, with a nice dose of leathery Tempranillo fruit and little oak. Palate follows with a quite rich, tangy mouthful of caramel berry fruit. It's just a little unfocused for decent marks, though it's again entirely serviceable. Very fair value. 16/87

Knappstein Shiraz 2008 $23.99
Extremely tough year in the Clare Valley (for reds at least) and wines like this are bound to suffer. Suitably it smells very ripe, leaning into the licoricey, warm jam fruit end of the spectrum, though still fresh enough. Palate too is rich and caramelised, heady through the finish. It's not a bad wine and if you picked this up for circa $15 (like it gets down to) you could call it good value (though I'd wait for the 09 personally - marked difference in quality between the years). 16.5/88

Friday, September 17, 2010

Westlake Vineyards Shiraz Trio

Westlake Vineyards Shiraz Trio

So here it is. Those wines (best to have a read of this first). Now that I know that all three of these reds have mid 90's Halliday scores I figure that they are all fair game. The only thing I worry about now is that my own prejudice might be driving the scores down.

Judge for yourself.

Westlake Vineyards Albert's Block Shiraz 2007 (Barossa Valley, SA)
$28, (Good looking) Cork, 14.5%


18 months in a combination of French and American oak. Unfined and unfiltered. 200 dozen produced.

Curious nose on this wine. It's all bacon fat, scorched berries and liqueur cherries, sitting just a bit oddly, if quite sweetly and unquestionably ripe. Palate too is very ripe. Very ripe. In fact once you get past the sweetly oaked middle, it's just alcohol, the finish just warmth, sweetly oaked warmth.

Already drying out, this is a carcass of a wine, wanting for more flesh. 14.5/81

717 Convicts ' The Warden' Shiraz 2006 (Barossa Valley, SA)
$45, Cork, 15.5%


Produced as a tribute to the original Westlake (Edward) whom was one of the original 717 convicts that came with the first fleet.

Massively ripe nose. It's a nose that is absolutely baked, skinny and lacking in flesh. Thankfully the palate is richer, rounder, with more flavour to fill in the bits where there isn't alcohol. It still feels like it's been left out for a couple of days too long, the sweet fruit hobbled by oak tannins, the booze further hobbling the freshness. Though at least this one has a finish. No. 15.5/85

Westlake Vineyards Eleazar Shiraz 2006 (Barossa Valley, SA)
$55, (Another long and attractive) Cork, 15.5%


Eleazar is Hebrew for 'God has helped'. God may need to help pick up this bottle given how hefty it is. 65 cases produced.

Sweetly oaked nose. Lots of curranty sweetness and dusty oak. A bit of American oak in this. Still can't shake the volatile wafting out of the glass though. The palate is again sweet, generous and oaky, with oaky meaty edges in amongst the sweet bubblegum fruit. It's generous, plump and rounded, with no shortage of impact. Ultimately though the alcohol is just sitting there waiting to fuck things up. Once the berry fruit quietens down, along comes the booze, sucking the life out of the fruit, though not to the same extent as the wine above. Hard alcohol. Some good bits though and it's longer. Just not fresh or long enough to counter the deadness. 16/86

(all three were sample bottles).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The wine critics dilemma - to publish or not?

The wine critics dilemma - to publish or not?

Being a wine blogger/critic/writer/whatever sounds like a sweet life. All you do is drink (typically) free booze, often accompanied by fine (free) food and with the only obligation being to bash out a couple of lines talking about whether you liked said booze or not. Straightforward right?

Not quite.

What that idyllic description fails to convey is the inherent challenge of the free sample. The challenging power dynamic that underpins anything free and tends to beleaguer even the finest critic. It's a dynamic that actually seems very simple until you come to one question:

What do you do if you come across a real dud?

If you are a typical mainstream reviewer (mainstream in the nicest possible way) you simply don't write about it. End of story. Or if you do, you only write about it if - as the wise Rory from Story Wines put it - 'the winery should know better' or you've got a point to prove/axe to grind/story idea/etc.

The justification for many reviewers - and it is largely driven by publishers and editors - is that there are too many wines out there and not enough time to review them all. So the instruction is thus to just talk about the good ones. Or something like that.

That attitude, however, leaves behind a lingering, unspoken question - what about those average wines? They are still out there, aren't they? And how will people know that they are - when compared to their peers - average (and poor value) if no one is saying so?

That is when the 'good bits' only argument starts to look a bit fragile. Until, of course, you are that reviewer, and suddenly it all begins to make sense.

For when you are that reviewer, or any reviewer really, you begin to understand what goes into every bottle. The blood and sweat and more sweat and more blood, all squeezed out of people who spend every day out there in the vineyard, work shit hard, pay their bills on time and are genuinely good people, trying to make the absolute best booze they can.

That's when you stop and think - do I really need to write this nasty review? Or do I just quietly jot down an average review in my 'non publishing notebook' and open something else? It is much easier to do the latter for everyone involved, so why dwell on negatives? Mum always said that if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all, right?

But that's a cop-out, no? A blow to objective integrity? The question then is at what point do you decide to cut someone some slack? Or don't you? It's complicated!

Which brings me to the point of this story.

I've got in front of me 3 South Australian reds, from a producer I've never heard of before (or at least I hadn't until the samples turned up) and I'm really struggling to find positive things to say about them. All 3 are north of 14.5% alcohol, are not particularly cheap and all 3 look overripe, strained and, to my tastes at least, unattractive.

Now if these three wines came from a known producer - someone who should know better - then I would have no trouble writing them up and calling them shit (or not quite shit, but average) and do it with a clear conscience.

But these wines aren't from a known producer. They are from a tiny family operation that sound (from the notes on the website) just like the aforementioned hard working wine people. What's more, the production is so tiny that if everyone who visited this website on a daily basis bought a case, the whole annual production would be gone in one hit.

Which is where it begins to get messy. My question then to you, reading this right now, is do you really want to read some rather average reviews of wines that you'll probably never see? Is that what we really want?

For me, I'm in a holding pattern, currently sitting on them as I'm still undecided what to do. On one hand, the critic in me just wants to publish them, largely as it feels more honest to do so. It's a feeling that will get stronger in time too, that desire for absolute blunt honesty, burning like a wad of pineapples in your pocket after payday.

On the other hand though, the human in me realises that I'm just another arsehole with an opinion, that publishing these notes would do more harm than good, supporting my aforementioned prejudice against boozy reds perhaps but really just sticking the knife into some hardworking wine family.

So where to go from here?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Two (successful) oddities from St Hallett

Two (successful) oddities from St Hallett

I've already covered most of the current St Hallett releases recently (here), but there remains two cellar door only additions that are worth a mention. Worth a mention as they show that this winery is on top of it's game, a fact that I didn't really need a free lunch (at Jeremy Strode's recently toqued, superb Sydney restaurant Bistrode) to realise (though I did very much enjoy it).

Much of the credit for this pair has to lie with St Hallett winemaker Toby Barlow. Toby is now the main man at St Hallett, with Stuart Blackwell serving more as roaming global ambassador and brains trust than actual hands on winemaker, though he does lend an opinion at blending time.

The thing I like about Toby is that he gets it. He understands that the St Hallett ethos is all about genuine Barossa styles, that the future for the brand is about polishing these styles to make them more refined, more subtly powerful, more authentic, with evolution not revolution. No alarms, no surprises, just refinement. And it's working.

These two wines though are Toby's babies. They are, fittingly, old varieties, from old vines (particularly the Riesling) that trade off old styles, just done differently. Differently, interestingly, successfully.

St Hallett Winter Riesling 2009 (Eden Valley, SA)
From a single plot of old vines located high up in the (wonderful) Eden Valley, this is one unusual Riesling. For starters, it is - by my reckoning - the only Riesling I have ever tasted that was deliberately put through malolactic fermentation. It spent a further year on it's yeast lees too, which is almost unheard of in terms of Australian dry Riesling production.

Curiously, the end result is actually much drier and leaner than expected. Put next to the 09 vintage 'standard' Riesling it looks positively pre-pubescent too, almost confrontingly so. But as it warms in the glass (and after a good swirl) this looks better and better.

As for the flavours, it's all about lemon citrus, pithy citrus, but fleshed out like a richer style of lemonade. Acid, despite the softening effects of the secondary fermentation, remains a prominent part of this wine, cut in a form that is softer but not stamped out. It actually looks as much like a firm, limey version of a Barossa Semillon as it does a more traditional Eden Valley Riesling, though that shouldn't be viewed as a negative.

The only question that remains is whether it was any good. At first i wasn't all that keen, a little startled even, but without realising it (or intending too - it was lunchtime after all) I was reaching for a top up. Would have taken the bottle home too. Based on that realisation alone (I'm a picky bastard about what I actually drink) I've got to say that this unusual wine is an absolute winner. Well done. 18/93

St Hallett Touriga Nacional 2009 (Barossa Valley, SA)
What few people realise about St Hallett is that it is basically a small operation, bar one wine: Gamekeepers Reserve. And the secret to the success of Gamekeepers is - in the view of the St Hallett team at least - the Touriga. Each year the percentage of Touriga in the blend has increased, with St Hallett now sewing up all of the Touriga in the Barossa (and planting more too).

Whilst the Touriga is thus an important part of the blend, it's not normally bottled as a stand alone wine. In 2009, however, it looked might fine indeed, which ultimately led to the creation of this cellar door only bottling.

So what's it like then? Think Grenache, but savoury, not confected. Mid weight, bright fruited, rich and pretty, it's quintessentially Barossan. But what it does have is the most unusual mandarin citrus twang right through the middle of the palate. I credit Andrew 'Red' Ash from Red to Brown for helping to come up with the 'orange tang' descriptor, for it describes this character perfectly. The whole package finishes dry, vibrant and fresh, making for a plain delicious red.

Mark it down as another success for St Hallett. 17.8/92

Chris Ringland (Three Rivers) Shiraz 2000

Chris Ringland (Three Rivers) Shiraz 2000 (Eden Valley, SA)
$700 (approx), (Beautifully long) Cork, 15.3%


Chris Ringland Shiraz 2000
There are times in my life when I wish that I was a more talented writer.

I mean, I can string sentences together - and even occasionally say the right things - but I can't shake a sense of disquiet, a nagging unease that comes from an inability to fully articulate certain thoughts and emotions.

In the case of this wine, the unease comes from brain overload, from a confluence of conflicting ideas that I'm struggling with enough to rewrite this introduction at least ten different times.

But why the commotion? It's just a wine right?

It's just a wine, true, but it's a wine that is, to put it impolitely, fucking with my prejudices.

For, as anyone who has read a few posts on this website may have gathered, I've got an alcohol prejudice. In my little world, I see (or taste) obvious alcohol in table wines and call it a fault. But, and here's the rub, I'm starting to realise - with thanks to wines such as this - that said prejudice is hobbling my judgement. That whilst 'heat' is still not something I prefer, alcohol itself is not the demon I've been proclaiming it to be.

Which brings us (sort of) back to this Shiraz. The Chris Ringland (née Three Rivers) Shiraz is a wine that sits at the pointiest part of the pointy end of the 'Parker wines'. It's a wine that has - on more than one occasion - received full marks from His Bobness, and was at one point the most expensive Australian current release red wine on the market.

This particular bottle of said 'Parker wine' (it received a 96 by the way) was brought out of Chris' cellar (note the 0000 bottle number - all of Chris' private stock is labelled as such) on Sunday afternoon, hauled out simply as Chris' feels that it's drinking pretty nicely now (after a 6 hour decant).

But what threw me, what inspired the whole long winded introspective trip, was that whilst this red weighs in at 15.3% alcohol, the wine itself was structured, long and quite vibrant, an utterly delicious Shiraz that totally defied my unspoken 'nothing over 15% alcohol can be balanced' dogma.

It even came from a dud vintage to boot.

It's a wine that I didn't expect to be returning for a second glass of. A wine that I wanted to dislike, just to help satisfy my beliefs. But I didn't. I just drank it, and liked it. That simply.

When it came time for the refill of my glass I paused, struck by the thought that maybe I was just stuck in a moment, wooed by the significance of drinking a famous wine in the company of a famous winemaker. So just to be sure I wrote the following (raw) tasting note as objectively as possible.

'Molasses, licorice and black fruit in an unquestionably ripe frame-set. Palate is firm and warm but not hot. Persistent black fruit. Very long. Surprisingly long. No dehydrated fruit through the finish either. Length! Lots of oak in there. Finish is ungenerous. Still such an impressive wine. 18.3/93'

What I like is that (in the note above) I still picked out the wobbles and scored it accordingly. It's ultimately a very good wine, but not a great one.

The quality is secondary though. The benefit here is the lesson. Once again I realise that wine really is the most movable, variable, extraordinary and plain challenging product on the planet.

And I love it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pyren Vineyard new releases

Pyren Vineyard new releases
After documenting just 3 Pyrenees producers here, I'm happy to be following that up with a look at a few more new releases from this (unfairly) forgotten wine region.

The two reds below come from the Pyren vineyard, two blocks (75 acres in total) of Shiraz, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot situated on the northern slope of the Warrrenmang valley. Apparently the viticulture at Pyren is first rate, as witnessed by Cabernet that is fully ripe at 12.5% alcohol.

Pyren Vineyard Broken Quartz Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Pyrenees, Vic)
$17, Screwcap, 12.5%
Source: Sample
http://www.pyrenvineyard.com/


Direct from Pyren this is just $180 a dozen ($15 a bottle) which is just great value drinking. It's wines like this - fully ripe and delicious at low alcohols - that reinforce just how suitable Cabernet Sauvignon (and blends thereof) are to the Pyrenees (or at least I think so).

An interesting wine too, as it belies said alcohol modesty with a whole fruit bowl of bright grapey fruit lusciousness. It's all about purple berries - mulberry, blueberry et al, topped off with Pyrenees mint. It's not especially varietal on the nose, but it is surprisingly pretty. Palate is mid weight, rounded, and full of boysenberry fruit essence flavours, though in a sort of savoury and restrained framework (helped by the absence of heat too). Tails off through the fnish, but there is light tannin in there too.

For the price this is simply great - a modest wine in price, alcohol and structure, but full of vibrant drinking appeal. 16.7/89

Pyren Vineyard Block E Shiraz 2008 (Pyrenees, Vic)
$29, Screwcap, 14.5%
Source: Sample
http://www.pyrenvineyard.com/


From a challenging Pyrenees vintage which shows here with a sort of warm, juicy shapelessness. Should be an impressive drop in a better year though.

What this does show is that same purple fruit of the Cabernet - hello vineyard character! Purple colour too. There is more immediate ripeness here, exhibiting as volatility on the nose, with everything framed thicker and richer. It smells too of ripeness, of liqueur cherries, pepper and some quite pretty mulberry fruit. The palate follows this up with gritty chocolate oak and vibrant purple fruit sweetness. There is a skinny streak through the mid palate, a lightly stressed fruit character, but it's fleeting. Grainy oak tannins and warmth to finish.

Attractive enough, I can see the appeal of the luscious, almost Grampians-esque plum fruit here. I just want for a little more structure and line myself. 17.2/90

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Floods and wineries

Floods and wineries

The past week or so has seen a tremendous amount of rain falling throughout South Eastern Australia, with some exceptional results. Of most immediate concern from the massive downpour (up to 93mm in 24 hours in parts of Victoria) is the ensuing flooding currently experienced in Northern Victoria.

Of note, hundreds of homes have been evacuated, particularly in Wangaratta, Bright and Horsham, with Shepparton also now under threat. But the rain hase affected more than just homes, judging by some of the pictures that have been coming through. One of the areas hit hard by an onslaught of water has been the King Valley in Victoria's North East, with several winemakers literally watching their vines go under water.

One such vineyard is that of Dal Zotto at Whitfield, whom apparently lost over $120,000 worth of pumping equipment in the floods. An amazing video of which is below:



Sitting quite close to the Dal Zotto vineyard is De Bortoli King Valley vineyard (source of their celebrated Sero range amongst others) which similarly went underwater this week: (All of these De Bortoli pictures were posted on twitter by Leanne De Bortoli, I hope she doesn't mind me republishing them, for they are dramatic to say the least).

Sauvignon Blanc vines underwater
A sodden row
The aftermath = serious cleanup, fence repairs, debris removal..

The flipside of the floods? Water. Lots of it. Lovely fresh rainwater. There are parts of Northern Victoria where dams are now full that haven't been so for a decade. In fact, farmers describe rain like this as 'money falling from the sky' as it means healthier crops, healthier (fatter) stock and ultimately healthier rural economies.

On the viticultural side, that much rain in the dormant (winter season) is almost ideal. In fact, flood irrigation - where the vineyard is deliberately flooded - is utilised regularly in South Australia's Langhorne Creek with extremely favourable results. The benefits of such large amounts of 'good' water is that it reduces soil salinity, increases moisture content down through the soil horizons, and encourages the growth of desirable winter cover crops, all of which tends to produce healthier vines, better yields and ultimately better winegrapes. The fact that all this rain is falling just before the growing season commences is also near perfect timing, almost like a gift from the gods of agriculture.

Suffice to say that once the tidy up is done (with respect to the unfortunate losses at Dal Zotto) and the vines start growing furiously in the spring sunshine, there will be some happy grape growers in Victoria (and South Australia) looking forward to another top vintage...

Monday, September 6, 2010

BEER: Bright 'Staircase' Porter

BEER: Bright 'Staircase' Porter (Bright, Vic)
5.7% alc



It's cool but not cold here in Sydney tonight, which too me is dark beer drinking weather. Or at least thats the excuse. This came as part of a mixed 6 pack I picked up from Jules at North Sydney Cellars, one of my local fine wine merchants who carries a range of fine ales.

And fine it is, with a toasted, choc malted grain nose, leading to a palate that is chocolatey, bitter and smoky, with charcoal malted grain overtones balanced with just enough palate richness. The back of the bottle gets it very right suggesting smoky cocoa powder flavours and a late whiff of black forest cherry.

A delicious, chocolatey dark ale/stout this is rather delicious, hearty and long, finishing bitter, but refreshingly so. Tasty stuff.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Coonawarra Roadshow 2010 - quick snapshot

Coonawarra Roadshow 2010 - quick snapshot

I was particularly slack at this years Coonawarra Roadshow (an annual Coonawarra fest that moves around Australia, spreading the word on all things Coonawarra wine, via some old school mega tastings), spending more time chatting to winemakers and the like rather than actually tasting all that much wine. But I still got what I came for - which is typically to find out who is doing good things and how the vintages are looking.

On that topic, the predominant vintage on pour this year was 2008, a vintage brought forward perhaps by the tiny frost driven yields of 2007 and being spruiked by many as a strong one.

Personally, I found many of the 2008 Coonawarra reds to be noticeably rich, ripe and consumer friendly, built in a style that already looks attractive. This contrasts to the almost non existant, highly variable 07's, the mid weight and also variable 06's, the very good, ripe, full 05's and sublime, classic 04's. The only challenge of 2008 was that, given the heatwave conditions that much of these grapes ripened/were picked in, the alcohols and impact were up a notch.

In the right hands that just means more open and full flavoured wines, but alcohol heat marred more than a few wines in this lineup. More to the point, I think that this is a decidedly unclassical Coonawarra vintage, leaving a slew of wines that lack that lovely, dust,y red earth varietal/regional interplay that Coonawarra Cabernet in particular does so well. On the flipside, the wines that still showed some restraint and varietal character looked very smart indeed.

In other words, it's a vintage were generalisations just don't cut it....

Oh and before we get into the tasting notes themselves a word of caution about scores. Young Coonawarra Cabernet rarely shows well and even young Coonawarra Shiraz can be a handful, so take careful note of the plus signs. They are very relevant.

Highbank
The artisan Coonawarra winemaker (and organic at that) Highbank typically offers a refined expression of Coonawarran reds. Wasn't quite feeling the love with the Merlot, but the Cabernet is the sort of wine you would want to take to dinner. Somewhere with nice napkins.

Highbank Merlot 2005
Choc mint and leaf nose, palate is mostly velvety smooth but ends with a metallic twang. It's not without charm, though I was looking for more. 16.5/88

Highbank Cabernet Blend 2004
Looked almost out of place amongst these younger wines. It's actually a rather graceful wine, which rarely makes for a standout in a mega tasting. Nose is nicely regional with leaf, mint and red fruit. Palate is nicely resolved but still firmly dry and structured. Balanced and entirely drinkable. 17.8/92

Balnaves Cabernet 2008
A big'un. Thick, rich, mildly reductive nose of oak and lots of ripe ripe fruit. Palate is impact and power but not quite at the expense of drinkability (though boozy). It's a wine still fitting into it's skin, but certainly itching with fair potential. 17.2/90+

Parker Estate Terra Rossa Cabernet 2006
Shitloads of chocolate oak, with more oak than fruit. Oak tannins to finish. It will get better with bottle age, but it may always be too oaky. 16.2/87+

Parker Estate First Growth Cabernet Blend 2006
Big choc oak hit on the nose, palate too crammed with fruit and oak. Warm, oaky and rich with a golden heart. Oak driven, but not terrible. Should improve. 17.1/90+

Wynns Glengyle Cabernet 2007
The perils of 07. Quite a mid weight, almost pretty nose, with reducrrants and red fruit. Slippery palate is properly Cabernetish but has a big hole through it, as if something was left behind in Coonawarra. If they find it, the score should go up. 16.4/88+

Wynns Black Label Cabernet 2008
Wynns fans rejoice (that's me), your maker has delivered the goods. It's a ripe year wine, ala 98 Black Label, and framed sweeter as a result. But the black fruit and proper tannins of this ripe and full Cabernet are pretty impressive all things considered. Hang out for someone to sell this at $20 a bottle and fill the boot I say, for this is a goodun'. 17.5/91+

Petaluma Coonawarra 1998
I couldn't get near the Petaluma table as it was swarming with fans, but I did sneak in a sip of this. It carries a tobacco, pepper, mint and meat bottle aged Cabernet nose, with a roundish palate and fully resolved tannins. Dinner table wine. Lamb please. 17.9/93

Bowen Estate Cabernet 2008
15 odd percent alcohol and withering. Barely recognisable as being from Coonawarra. Berry fruited, strained and raisined nose with light and sweet palate. Falls away quickly (but the alcohol doesn't). Very simple wine. 15.7/85

Lindemans Limestone Ridge Shiraz Cabernet 2008
Continues the fine recent run of this label. Looking very young, sweet and a bit oaky at this stage, but still the palate feels rightly proportioned, with nice tannins and proper weight. Bottle age winner. 17.6/92++

Lindemans Pyrus Red Blend 2008
Again very youthful, looking sweet and boysenberried but again just about right. Nice definition behind that youth, with classic length, a long palate and no shortage of tannins. Like. 18/93++

Lindemans St George Cabernet 2008
Looking particularly varietal this vintage, with mammoth tannins, the only thing standing in this wines way is the warmish finish. Long term wine but a masochists drink for now. 17.2+++

Majella Cabernet 2008
Historically I've been quite a fan of Majella reds and this is no exception. Nice to see some herbaceous varietal character here, intermingled with that trademark Majella oak/fruit richness that wins friends everywhere. Really long too. Loved it. 18.3/93

Leconfield Cabernet 2008
Surprisingly round and creamy oaky, as if in an attempt to further distance itself from the weedy Leconfield Cabs of the early noughties/late 90's. What saves it is the shut up tight finish, which jolts you back into realising that this is just plain too young. Leave and it should come up well in time. 17.2/90++

More good news for Aussies at Decanter Wine Awards

More good news for Aussies at Decanter Wine Awards

I first reported about the good results for Australian wines at the 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards back in May, but since then we've had an update, with the international trophies announced just this week.

The good news is that, according to Decanter, Australia makes both the best Chardonnay over $18 and the best sweet fortified in the world. Whilst we can argue that it's just another wine show, the Decanter World Wine Awards carry particular traction in the UK, a market that is particularly important to the Australian wine industry.

Even better news is that both of these high quality, proudly regional wines come from the sort of conscientious, regionally focused wineries that deserve to win trophies.

Great to see.

The winners:

Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2007 International Trophy: Best Chardonnay over $18
Grant Burge 20 Year Old Tawny International Trophy: Best Sweet Fortified

(Full results here)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Three flavours of Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc

Three flavours of Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc

Astrolabe Sauvignon threesome

Whilst I'm not strictly a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc fan, I figure that the job of a good wine critic is to set aside any prejudices and just judge the wines on quality. Thankfully I'm not a good wine critic :) but I don't feel like I'm taking one for the team with this trio, as I believe that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc does have merit, with the better wines (such as these three) entirely deserving of the attention.

The real question perhaps is what does make for a 'better' Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc? A matter of personal preference perhaps but I'd argue that the best wines show freshness and intensity, with a nose that is not afraid to be herbal/gooseberry laden and a palate that doesn't rely on residual sugar to fill in the holes.

These Astrolabe Sauvs give that ideal a fair shake, making for wines that I feel entirely comfortable recommending..

Astrolabe Voyage Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - $22
The entry level wine in the range and built to be approachable.

Whilst we are on the topic of personal preferences, the one thing I can't stand is ageing herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc. That tinned asparagus and green pea character that many (cheaper) Marlborough Sauvs get after circa 12 months+ bottle time is my idea of wine hell (am I alone on this?).

But the Astrolabe Voyage doesn't show any of that. It smells like it has just been squeezed into the bottle - fragrant, fresh and screaming 'love me, I'm from Marlborough'.

Getting into specifics, it's a fragrant and direct nose, showing bright passionfruit and faintly herbal/white flower aromatics. The palate is perhaps a bit broad and rounded for my tastes, sitting in the generous n' juicy end of the spectrum and falling away a smidgen toward the tail.

Given the pricepoint and intention, you'd probably argue that this is just about right, even if it's not for me. 16.5/88

Astrolabe Discovery Awatere Valley 2009 $25
A more channelled, subregional tilt at Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, this is all about intensity and expression. Interestingly (it may have just been the glass), I noticed a fair bit more CO2 in the glass of this 'Discovery' Sauv, as if hinting at some more seriousness. The nose certainly shows the intentions, set much more herbal and drier than the Voyage, with much less opulence and more flint. It's lightly floral too, with white flowers and currants (a character the winery tasting notes suggest and I think rings true). Palate is dry, long, linear and tangy, with both herbal and flinty bits. No shortage of length either, with a (still) quite juicy and rounded entry. Good stuff. Appreciable step up over the Voyage. 17.5/91

Astrolabe 'Taihoa' Sauvignon Blanc 2009 $36
Sourced from a vineyard at Kekerunga, this was hand picked, whole bunch pressed and wild yeast fermented in old oak.
Now this is my bag. Interestingly, I couldn't help but think of the complex Lis Neris whites when tasting this, with both sharing that lovely, layered 'oow I just tasted something else' palate. I could imagine draining a bottle of the Taihoa with some sort of grilled salmon quite easily....

Lovely cream and herbs nose. Dill, chives and cream even, which made me think of smoked salmon blinis (without the fish). Regardless, it's very attractive. The palate doesn't dissapoint either, with levels and layers of sour, lemon (preserved lemons even) flavoured herbs and a beautiful, mandarin flavoured acid tang through the middle. The tang clicks through the finish and lingers beautifully too, cleaning up everything nicely.

As a wine this is nicely complex and interesting, with enough subtle savouriness to appeal to the sancerrophiles amongst us, whilst keeping it's Marlborough undies on. Long, lemony and very good modern Marlborough Sauv. 18.1/93

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bests Wines 2010 releases

Bests Wines 2010 releases

In something of an innovation for Australian wine marketing, Bests have turned the release of this years 2009 Bin 1 Shiraz (and 2009 Great Western Cabernet + 2010 Great Western Riesling) into a social media event of impressive proportions. What this entailed was a giant 'tweetup' whereby 20+ prominent tweeters - mainly wine commentators, but also several food writers and social media celebrities - were sent a sample pack of the three new releases, all provided with the intention that everyone sat down at a certain day (today) and talked about them on twitter.

The tweetup itself is still going on tonight (you can follow it on twitter by searching for the #bestswines hashtag) but given the attention that the brand received, and the sheer volume of good publicity that the event generated, I'd call it a blinding success.

As one of said commentators (or such), I too delved into the new releases tonight and wrote down some hasty notes in the process (which are below). What is most interesting is to reread these notes and then compare them to some of the impressions in the tweet stream (here), as well as those from Julian and Jeremy, all of us offering differing opinions (which I really like).

The only other challenge with this tasting was how young all three wines were - movable beasts the lot of them, making a definitive assessment and score something of a challenge. I've erred on the positive side though.

Best's Great Western Riesling 2010 $22
11.5%. 8g/l residual sugar
Interestingly enough Simon Clayfield (former Bests winemaker) believes this carries a little too much residual sugar. Initially I agreed with him, but with more time in the glass I think it's just about right.

Lemon, citrus and chalk on the nose, in an open, lemon buttercup form - it's fresh, lively and already open for business. The palate is soft, rounded and generous with nice soft lemony length. Sweetness is a smidgen obvious, sitting on top of the palate somewhat, though it makes for a very pure mouthful of soft wine love. As it sits longer in the glass, the lemon tang of the raw, youthful acidity pokes out more, rising up to match the sweetness like a rising tide, balancing the two halves. It's not fully cohesive as yet, but I would happily drink this. I also think it'll last (which is contrary to some others opinions). 17.5/91+

Bests Great Western Shiraz 2009 $25
14.5% alc
A strong release for the label. It's not my favourite wine of this trio but no doubting the quality and appeal.

This changed significantly over the space of half an hour - at first it was porty, minty and looked to be carrying some mixed ripeness, given the whiffs of stewed fruit and sap emanating in the glass. But in the glass it morphed into something more rounded, more lush and more Great Western-ish, as if it heard that we were saying bad things about it. Palate though is much more typical with a soft, spicy, plushly oaked palate shows oodles of rich purple fruit, backed up by that solid core of Grampians goodness (and proper fruit tannins). It's just a little plump and diffuse for my tastes, but it's right in the groove for Bin 1. 17/90

Bests Great Western Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 $25
13% alc
Polarising. I noticed that more than one person (including the eminent Mr Walsh from Winefront) thought this looked a bit overtly peppery and skinny. I can definitely see that here, but it was the structure that I enjoyed.

Cabernet. That's what the nose says, with it's combo of mint, menthol, bark, meat, a clip of pepper and woody herbs. It's a secondary and nicely cool climate nose. Polarising even. The joy is on the meaty, dry, long and well built palate, with excellent tannin grip and a solid core of sweet blackberry fruit to hang your hat on. The most cellarable of this lot, I think this will only gain weight (and interest) with bottle time. Should live and live too. 17.5/91+