Thursday, March 31, 2011

A question of style vs personal taste: Moppity Shiraz 2009

Moppity Shiraz 2009 (Hilltops, NSW)
13.9%, Screwcap, $28
Source: Sample
www.moppity.com.au

It's something of a personal conundrum this wine, if purely on the scoring front, but also in the context of personal objectivity.

Put simply, I don't really like this Shiraz. By that I mean I can't imagine actually drinking all that much of it and wouldn't choose too. However - and here is where it gets a little blurry - I know plenty of people who would. That's not a vague attempt at condescension, but just a straight admission of what I think about the style. It's a style that I think has plenty of appeal, yet little appeal to me. The challenge, however, is how then to score and how to approach such a wine. Do you mark it down because you don't like it, or mark it midway and appreciate the stylistic intent?

The thing I'm really trying to grasp is where objectivity ends and subjectivity begins. This whole wine reviewing caper is all about objectivity in premise, yet still utterly subjective in application, with all of our tasting impressions hinged on our own personal wine experiences. Those experiences and approaches can be shaped by others, but it's still a case of a personal drinking context and personal taste.

Which brings me back to this wine. The problem that I have with it is that it is too polished. Too ripe and round and slippery, too glistening with new oak and fruit sweetness. Too much generosity, Viognier edged richness and not enough structure, Yet I can also see that, like vanilla icecream, sometimes rich, sweet and generous simple flavours are awesome, and that in it's mode it's a seriously well made wine, with really high quality fruit. It's so generous and silky and giving that I think I'm in the minority by proclaiming that I don't like it. I even sat on the bottle for 3 days to see if I would come around to it's way of thinking, but in fact it just looked more oaky and sweetened the longer it was open.

In the end I've just realised that this wine is not for me, that I'm no fan of Shiraz Viogniers made in this way, and that I need to draw the line in the sand (my sand). The score below then is a low one considering the raw quality behind the wine itself, but the only score that I could say I honestly agree with. 16.3/87

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Les Courtilles Cotes du Rhone 2009

Les Courtilles Cotes du Rhone 2009 (Rhone Valley, France)
14%, Screwcap, $19
Source: Sample
www.fourthwavewine.com.au

I'm liking these two cheeky imports from Fourth Wave (this and the La Vendetta). Both are essentially quite simple quaffing wines, but at the same time they show well enough regional flavour and style for some love. If your looking for some more Rhone in your life then this is right up there for under a lobster.

A rather Grenache dominated is this, with that juicy, earthen red cherry nose of Grenache goodness. It's a pretty and juicy, slightly stinky nose of simple fruit (can't see much oak in here, probably all old) with a slightly roasted edge. Palate is juicy, simple and slightly roasted with a hint of pepper and some more juicy fruit. Lightly grainy tannins. Warmish finish.

It's probably not going to get any better, and it's hardly earth shattering in it's penetration, but regional fun this is. 16.5/88

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Penfolds Bin release: Looks like my sources were correct....

Penfolds Bin release: Looks like my sources were correct....


After first letting slip the rumour that Treasury Wine Estates staff were seen filling their cars with Penfolds Bin wines, it looks like that rumour has been confirmed today....

From milk wars to wine wars at Coles

What is even more interesting is that I was contacted by an (anonymous) reader of this blog who claimed to  be well versed with the TWE side of the affair. This person asked that no part of their (interesting) clarifying email(s) be republished on here, which I'm still going to abide by, even though this person did vehemently deny the 'car boot of 389' story detailed above.

The affirmation of this rumour does however suggest is that TWE is taking a much more proactive approach than they normally would with their brands. Could they be back on the up again? I sense some firmer hands on the TWE tiller than there has been in previous years, which can only be a good thing for the wine industry.

Talking about firmer hands, it looks like the proactive approach is going all the way to the top (Fosters) according to this article. Suffice to say that it will be interesting times ahead if the suppliers vs supermarkets war heats up. With luck it will all lead to a more diversified (and healthier) wine industry.

Jamsheed La Syrah 2009

Jamsheed La Syrah 2009 (Yarra Valley & Great Western, Vic)
13.5%, Screwcap, $21
Source: Sample
www.jamsheed.com.au

60% whole bunches, extended maceration, natural yeasts. It's one of the most seriously produced $21 bottles of wine you'll find. But talk about polarising...

If your diet consists of some rhoney poney French reds you'll probably be right into this wine. Or at least be tolerant of its eccentricities. It smells of meat, of steak with black pepper sauce, more black pepper, tobacco, spice and stems. Throw in a trip to the smallgoods window and you're about set. It's a wacky nose, but also interesting, showing perhaps a slightly ashen edge, but also a serious depth of flavour. Palate follows with a meaty, tangy, slightly awkward shape that is interesting, but ultimately a bit jagged - with nervy acidity - for real love.

All in all I definitely enjoyed some parts of this beast, but at the same time gee it's a peppery, stemmy and hardcore style. Score is still reasonably high in the scheme of things as I think there is some real outré interest in there..16.5/88+

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

La Vendetta Barbera Nebbiolo 2007

La Vendetta Langhe Barbera Nebbiolo 2007 (Piedmont, Italy)
13.5%, Screwcap, $19
Source: Sample
www.fourthwavewine.com.au

I opened this up alongside a brace of five wines under $25 and I think this was one of the wines I'd most like to drink. Looked a bit pointy on the first day, but 24 hours in the bottle did it wonders. Smart packaging too.

It's typically light in colour, with a nose of red cherry, a waft of volatility and some spicy cherry, overlaid with some meaty earthiness. It's a pretty simple, black fruited, earthen and straight forward nose in truth. But the attraction here lies not on the nose but on the palate. Or, more specifically, the proper 'Piedmont action' grainy tannins, which turn the shape of it from a sort of lightly caramelised and rustic meaty thing into something properly quaffable.

Good drinking, with the tannins a real winner. Score doesn't quite do the drinkability justice perhaps, but that's largely due to the fact that it's still an intrinsically simple wine. Still, plenty to like here. 16.3/87

The $11 Japanese beer: Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale

BEER: Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale
7%, $11 per 330ml!

I spotted this in the bottleshop on a fruitless quest for White Rabbit Dark Ale tonight. I didn't actually look at the price, such was my commitment, but shit it was a shock at cash handover time. Still, I pushed on, absolutely intrigued by an $11 Japanese ale. At the very least it would be interesting, right?

On that count at least I can confirm it's unique. Brewed in a strong Belgian ale style - Delirium Tremens-ish in a way - with a side of red rice thrown into the brew, it actually pours pinkish. It's reddy pink in colour, looking freaky-deaky in the glass, sitting sort of halfway between a modern 'pale, dry and savoury' salmon rosé colour and a Bellevue Kriek style Belgian fruit lambic. Regardless, it's wacky and I like a bit of wacky beer action now and again.

It smells reasonably normal given the colour, with a boozy, malted nose that carries a sneaky hint of strawberries (or maybe that's just my auto suggestion bouncing off the colour). I quite like the nose actually, it smells generous and interesting, floral even. Happily, it's pretty tasty on the palate too, with a rich, if even slightly restrained (for a Belgian strong ale) palate. Heck, there's a palpatable hint of rice in there too.

Like this alot. I can't imagine drinking much of it, but I did rather enjoy this solitary ($11) bottle.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis 2006

Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis 2006 (Piedmont, Italy)
14.4%, Cork, $250
Source: Instore tasting (I went back for seconds)
http://www.sandroneluciano.com

Ahh Barolo (and Barbaresco for that matter), I love thee. I can't afford to love thee, but I do anyway. It also doesn't help that plenty of others love thee, which means that the prices are almost universally high. Often too high for that matter. Still, you can't gripe when the wines are as good as this.

It's a modern - yet not overly modern - style of Barolo this one, with Luciano using 500 litre tonneaux (approx 30% new here). This particular wine is drawn off the Cannubi cru which is one of the more celebrated spots in Barolo (hence the price).

Speaking of oak, it certainly plays a part in this Barolo. It's sexy oak sure, but that chocolatey richness is evident on the nose and gives an edge to the tannins. Beyond the oak plumpness though that Nebbiolo fragrance is hard to hide, the meaty richness and mid weight fruit all sitting in a very linear, tight and firm frameset, all looking rather classic and unforced, with proper length and sandy tannins. Wonderful tannins actually, long and powerful without being intrusive.

Whilst this is so young - and looks still very tight - I'd happily drink this now (with comte) if someone would buy me a bottle... (Christmas is coming right?). 18.4/94

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kowhai Point Sparkling Pinot Gris 2008

Kowhai Point Sparkling Pinot Gris 2008 (Marlborough, NZ)
13.5%, Cork
Source: Sample

Right so here is an oddity for you - a sparkling Marlborough Pinot Gris. As was pointed out on twitter, it certainly ticks all the boxes for 'market potential', though marketability and quality are often somewhat distant bedfellows. This has been made with some reasonably serious base wine though, even if it's arguably too ripe for serious sparkling. 

It certainly smells ripe and varietal, with a nose of Golden Circle Fruit Salad - all peachy honeyed goodness. It's a juicy, sweet fruited and open nose of simple grape characters. The palate generous, round and sherbey with passionfruit and pineapple Pinot Gris varietal fruit that sits quite nicely through the middle, but all falls away through the finish. It all ends, dry and rather short with average length.

All in all this is tastes exactly of what it is - a serious dry Pinot Gris with bubbles. But a serious sparkling Pinot Gris it ain't. 16/87

Wine Survey: Wine sensory characteristics and their influence on purchase decisions

I was recently approached by Anna Crump, a PhD student at the University of Adelaide, who is currently researching oak compounds and alternatives to oak maturation. As part of her research there is a consumer survey component that aims to investigate wine consumers’ knowledge of winemaking (including the role of oak maturation), wine style preferences and purchasing decisions. She has asked me to post a link to the survey on this site purely as a way of attracting more responses. Whilst I don't normally do things like this (and I'm not going to make a habit out of it) the research looks both valid and interesting. I've got no connections other than helping out a fellow wine student.

The survey can be found at: http://bit.ly/wine2010

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Meerea Park Terracotta Shiraz 2009

Meerea Park Terracotta Shiraz 2009 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
?%, Screwcap, $55
Source: Sample

www.meereapark.com.au

Now I'm not much of a fan of Shiraz Viognier per se (which you can probably pick up by regularly reading this blog), but I can see how it can be used for commercial advantage, with the beautifying, softening, rounding (and purpling) action of Viognier helping to make old Shiraz that little bit more approachable.

By extension then I think that Viognier actually works best with the driest and/or leanest Shiraz fruit (which is why it works in Cote Rotie) and conversely works least well with sweet rich Shiraz fruit (which is why it should be banned in the Barossa and the Vale). Trying this wine alongside the 09 Hell Hole (which shares the same base Shiraz grape source) and you can really see how much more open, easy going - and commercially attractive - this looks. As a purist though I still can't quite embrace it..

Interestingly, whilst the floral, pretty, sweet and wildly juicy nose shows plenty of Viognier character but there is less of the Viognier sweetness on the palate. That palate too is super silky and very polished, but perhaps too much so. Palate is glossy, super smooth and berried, with good earthen Shiraz flavour buffed up by the Viognier addition. Fine tannins to finish are entirely attractive.

Glossy, pretty, mid weight Hunter Shiraz Viognier that is entirely attractive but just a bit too juicy and flashy for mine. 17/90

Meerea Park Alexander Munro Shiraz 2009

Meerea Park Alexander Munro Shiraz 2009 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
?%, Screwcap, $75
Source: Sample
www.meereapark.com.au

This looks a little lighter than several recent vintages of this wine (05,07) but it's still a seriously full flavoured/styled Hunter Shiraz. It needs years and years to show it's best (at least another 5 years yet) in true Hunter fashion - indeed it's not even released for a little while yet, which is why I'm using the 07 vintage label.

Deeply and densely coloured, this looks much darker than nearly any other 09 Hunter Shiraz, which just gives cues about the style here. Simply put it is a large one, with a backward, licoricey and rather limitless depth in there. Biggun' swagger. Perhaps a tad too ripe even, with some estery volatiles on the nose. The palate is a firm, black fruited, tannic and gritty, with a real blackness to the fruit flavours in a Hunter-meets-Barossa style, yet with more fine tannins and without the sweetness. If anything you can't see much here at the moment, such is the foursquare style. Interesting tannins too, late bloomers they are, with a lovely grainy after the fact kick. Tannins are what really convinces of the quality actually. Long termer+. 18/93+

Meerea Park Alexander Munro Shiraz 2003

Meerea Park Alexander Munro Shiraz 2003 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
14.5%, Cork, $70
Source: Sample
www.meereapark.com.au

This was opened up alongside the 05, 07 and 09 vintages, and for drinking right now it was difficult to put this down. Garth Eather (who runs Meerea Park alongside his brother winemaker Rhys) believes this to be the best vintage they've ever made. It certainly looked the goods in this capacity.

It's something of a polarising wine on the nose though, with roasted meat, mushrooms, bonox and truffles. It's a fully evolved, earthen, classically Hunter nose, in a very 'winey' form, but I can see how it could be a little too meaty for some.

The palate is surprisingly clean and juicy after that nose, looking quite youthful even, with rich, bitter chocolate meets beefy savoury flavours, with a silken texture and firm grained tannins. There is still some truffled wildness on that palate, but in a lovely meaty form. It's a big ball of earthen goodness, topped off with still grippy tannins. Lovely evolved red with years to go still. Win. 18.7/95

Two Hunter wineries hitting their straps: Meerea Park & De Iuiliis

Two Hunter wineries hitting their straps: Meerea Park & De Iuliis

You'll have to forgive the volume of Hunter Valley love on this site at the moment, but I seem to be surrounded by everything Hunter at the moment. That includes both a solid flow of good Hunter vino coming through my door, plus a Hunter themed function or too and topped off with a quick detour to the valley that happened over the weekend.

Whilst said visit was ostensibly focused on the more touristy side of the Hunter Valley - fudge factories, Smelly Cheese shops etc. - I did managed a quick whip through of the wines from two new-gen Hunter producers, namely Meerea Park and De Iuliis, with both Garth Eather and Mike De Iuliis respectively on hand to talk us through their vino.

Now quite a few wines did follow me home from the Hunter, and I'm going to write them up (eventually), but until I do, here is a quick wrap up of some of the pertinent points.

Meerea Park
On current vintages: The boys (Meerea Park is run by two brothers, Winemaker Rhys and General Manager Garth Eather) echoed many local sentiments by mentioning how confident they are with the '11 fruit. It will be (apparently) be a good Shiraz year at the very least, and for many growers a better season than 2010. Garth believes it to be similar to (the good, quite traditional) 06 vintage in many respects. 

Stems and filtration: Over the past few years - ever since the 07 XYZ Shiraz actually - the boys have been experimenting with more stems in their Shiraz, with increasingly strong results. As a result the top wines have more whole bunch fermentation and more stems than ever before, which they feel only adds to the structure and helps with tannin. The tannins look bloody good in the 09's I tried, so this looks to be a very smart move indeed.

On a different tact, they've been playing around with different filtration styles and levels too in a bid to try and eliminate some of the Brett problems that have floated around both their own and plenty of other Hunter wines. The boys believe that their wines now are cleaner and will live longer than ever before. Whether that might rob the wines of some complexity though is the main side effect of increased filtration, though time will tell whether the more recent wines look actually look lesser. The jury is out... 

Holding back releases: The top Meerea Park releases - Alexander Munro Semillon and Shiraz - are typically released with a few years of bottle age under their belt as it is, with the Shiraz also released as a ten year old cellar aged style. The good news is that this practice will be expanded to include the Semillon too, so expect to see some 10 year Alexander Munro Semillon popping up in years to come (and in quite fair quantities). Will be right in the groove at ten methinks, especially under screwcap.

The wine:

Meerea Park Alexander Munro Shiraz 2005 ($70):
I tasted 4 vintages of Alexander Munro Shiraz and I think this was my favourite, though consistency is admirable to say the least, which makes seperating them on a quality basis rather futile. The story here is all about power, black fruited power. It's power without obvious sweetness though, in the earthen Hunter fashion, with lingering, sneaky, proper fruit tannins that will have you coming back for more and more. Glorious tannins those. I've got no doubt this will be still chugging along in 2025 and still drinking well. Absolute top shelf booze. 

De Iuliius
On demand for Shiraz: Mike let slip that his 2009 Show Reserve Shiraz is now essentially sold out, which is well before the next vintage has even bottled, an event that is something of a rare occurrence in the wine industry at present. Said (particularly clever) Shiraz has been snapped up by Qantas for domestic business class, a deal which always makes small winemakers smile. Mike was smiling...

On that topic though, I'd argue that this sort of demand is driven by the fact that the Hunter has hit a purple patch - it's taken at least a decade, and a whole breed of new producers, but it's hard to argue with the quality (and marketability) of the latest Hunter wines (and their makers). Mike just typifies this new breed.

Bigger barrels are better: It seems to be a prevailing theme throughout the Hunter these days (and in a few other regions for that matter) and in many ways it has (arguably) been driven by Tyrrell's. That theme is the move away from 220 litre 'small oak' barriques and into larger format oak, notably hogsheads (300 litre barrels) and puncheons (500 litres) with Tyrrell's using massive (2250 litre) 'large oak' barrels.

The theory behind the move is the perception that medium bodied, 'classic' Hunter wines are better served by oak maturation in very large barrels. Not everyone agrees of course, but Mike believes that the increased use of larger hogsheads (and larger) has led to better oak integration in his final wines. Judging by the quality of the more recent wines it's hard to disagree. 

The Wine:

De Iuliis 'Steven Shiraz 2009 ($40): Another winery, another lovely purple 09 Hunter Shiraz. The vineyard source for this one is the 'Steven' vineyard - which was once the old Lindemans 'Steven' vineyard - planted in 1968 on classic Hunter red loam. It's a famous vineyard, producing absolute first class Shiraz grapes. The resultant wine is first class to, set in a medium bodied, earthen, vibrant style with grainy tannins and length to burn. This sits at just 13% abv yet still looks beautifully ripe and full. Classy booze at a plain low price. Get some.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The saga continues: Penfolds Coonawarra Claret Shiraz Cabernet (Magnum) 2009

The saga continues: Penfolds Coonawarra Claret Shiraz Cabernet (Magnum) 2009

14th March: I'm reposting this article again purely as the Penfolds Bin releases episode has continued to unfold over the past week.

Now I'm relying on updates from reputable people close to the source, but these are still just allegations and should be treated as such...

So firstly, allegedly, Treasury Wine Estates are angry. No surprises there, but it's their response that is of interest, including the allegation that they refused to resupply Woolworths and Coles (with the Penfolds Bin products) once the wines were publically advertised so far below cost. This sounds highly unusual (and a legal minefield), but short supplies last weekend in many chain stores adds veracity to these claims.

Further, it seems that Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) staff were also allegedly seen filling up their cars with all the 389 they could purchase from one of the main antagonists in this saga, Coles discount store 1st Choice, last weekend too.

Given that the store was selling the 2008 Bin 389 for just $36 a bottle (which places it at almost half the RRP of $65 and 25% off the normal wholesale cost price) this is actually a reasonably smart move, as it's only striking a blow back against Coles in the long run, as Coles are running this as a loss leader to drag people into the stores, which thus fails if those people are TWE staff buying back stock below cost...

Crazy times...

Penfolds Coonawarra Claret Shiraz Cabernet (Magnum) 2009 (Coonawarra, SA)
14.5%, Cork, $notforsale
Source: Retail sample

Penfolds Coonawarra 'Claret' Shiraz Cabernet (Magnum) 2009

It's something of a special wine this - or at least it's not actually available for commercial sale - with the wine offered as a 'value add' to those who purchase Penfolds Bin wines through independent Australian wine retailers.

From where I sit the purpose of a product like this appears to be twofold: Firstly, it keeps independent retailers happy, for it gives them a point of difference over the supermarket backed chains, with whom the indies can't compete on price. Secondly, by offering something 'not for sale', that is so limited in number, they are gently nudging consumers into filling their wine fridges with Penfolds wines sooner rather than later.

In many ways it's actually very clever marketing, particularly as the Bin range has taken something of a reputation hiding in recent years, with the supermarket-led discounting rendering the Penfolds RRPs as a running joke, even whilst these same RRPs jump significantly every year. What I'm guessing Penfolds are attempting to do is to reinject some value into the range again, perhaps by effectively moving the focus away from a straight, race-to-the-bottom, price driven annual release scenario and into a 'what goodies will come up this year'.

What is interesting is the way that these magnums (for they are released only as magnums) are actually being supplied. Of particular note is that the magnums are not actually dispensed by retailers, with a particularly laborious claims process utilised instead. By doing this I'm assuming that Penfolds are attempting to stop retailers onselling the magnums, whilst also regulating the supply (which again is fair thinking, if overly controlling).

What is slightly grating about this method though is that not only are the magnums restricted to just one per household, but the delivery price is an erm, 'fully priced' $22 per magnum, with it all rubbed in by the fact that you'll be lucky to actually see them delivered before mid June.

Regardless of the process however, it already appears that the whole, carefully controlled deal has allegedly blown up in Penfolds face, with both Dan Murphys and Vintage Cellars allegedly responding the best way they know how - by putting the Bin wines out at prices that are almost half of the (now almost mythical) RRPs. I'm only speculating that this is their motivation of course, but VC are even throwing in a Cellar Share and some free Riedel glasses just to rub it in.....

These prices are actually serious loss leaders even for the supermarkets, which just goes to show that they are being offered just to make a statement, particularly given that they are considerably lower even than said independents wholesale (so excluding tax) prices are and lower than last year. In my view this sort of pricing policy is really only serving to show who, allegedly, controls who in the liquor business.

To be completely honest it's actually a pretty sad state of affairs, and really shows just how dangerous the supermarket duopoly is for wine businesses. With several friends working for Treasury Wine Estates as sales reps I feel sorry for them too, stuck in the middle of what is just a business power play. I also feel for the hardworking winemakers/vitis/cellar hands etc whom are still making good to great wines (particularly the Chardonnays), even though the wines are now just political (wine politics that is) footballs.

Speaking of good wines though, it's time to talk about the wine itself, for out of all this messy business it's actually really heartening to see that what is in the (attractively retro packaged) magnums is actually genuinely good booze. I think it might even be my favourite wine of the 2011 Penfolds Bin releases.

In the glass it pours rich, dark blood red, looking every bit a Penfolds wine. It smells like one too, with a pure, rich and generous nose of chocolate oak and purple fruit, carrying quite a bit of oak sweetness but also a cheeky brambly peppery edge (which looked properly Coonawarran). It's still a very rich and ripe nose for Coonawarra though and noticeably riper than the 128 of the same vintage.

That follows on the palate too which is more Penfolds than it is Coonawarra, with that very rich, solid and hearty firmness that Pennies is all about. It's a fraction too vanillan and sweet for real love right now, but with some nice fine tannins on the finish it's probably going to be a pretty srmart wine in another 2-3 years time.

Speaking of those tannins, they're actually quite a bit lighter than the 08 389 (also in this 2011 release), which suggests that this isn't going to live as long. But what this wine lacks in outright power it makes up for in freshness, which I think actually led me to ultimately like this over the 389, and even after 24 hours in the glass it still looked pretty damn good, boding particularly well for the future.

To wrap it all up then I'm calling this a rather smart wine that anyone with a penchant for Penfolds wines will enjoy. Strictly speaking I'm not the biggest fan of the chunky, oaky and Penfolds brand® tannin finished style but I can absolutely appreciate the inherent quality on hand. The politics behind this wine though are far less clear and attractive.........18.2/93

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thomas Wines Motel Block Shiraz 2009

Thomas Wines Motel Block Shiraz 2009 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
14.5%, Screwcap, $45
Source: Sample
www.thomaswines.com.au

Its' a brand spanking new addition to Andrew 'Thommo' Thomas' wine range this one, drawn off a dry grown 2.8ha vineyard on Hermitage road planted in 1967. Apparently the berries were tiny little things that vintage, which no doubt contributes to the power of this wine. It was quite a brute when first opened, but after a solid 24 hours for this to start really hitting it's straps.

Like many top shelf Hunter Shiraz, it has a beautiful purple colour. Love it. The nose is typically ibrant too, with purple dark berry fruit, edged with high end vanillan French oak richness. There's some base level volatility on the nose, with some lifted spirituous warmth in amongst the purple fruit. It's a nose that is bright, licoricey and almost Shirognier like in it's youthful lift, though no question about the seriousness and power here - no light and pretty wine this.

No surprises then by the power on the palate too, though it's in an earthen Hunter style. It's a fraction creamy oaky dominated at the moment, and with the ripeness of the fruit it does look a little chunky sweet at present. That is discounting the unforced purity and power though, which all bodes so well for the future. Loads of length and proper fruit tannins plus pristine winemaking all adds up to a solid, full powered modern Shiraz of real authenticity. Like. 18.2/93

Friday, March 11, 2011

First Drop Mother's Ruin Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

First Drop Mother's Ruin Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample
www.firstdropwines.com


I'm a massive fan of the First Drop branding/naming/labelling, with the clever, detailed and fun themes all suggesting a creative mind or two, and wholly supported by wines that are typically smart to say the least. This Mother's Ruin is a great example, with a cheeky nipple or two sneaking on to the front label Where's Wally style just for good measure.

Whilst the packaging is bang on, the wine itself isn't quite as complete. It smells and tastes of the heat wave season (though it's not strictly cooked) carrying an edge of dullness that is hard to ignore. Stick that aside for a moment though and the winemaking looks entirely sound, with judicious, creamy oak just adding some palate weight and everything else in the right place.

It's a wine that is challenged then by the season, not the stylin', with that strained, minty desiccation and astringent drying tannins dominating the careful craftsmanship. Fair. 16.3/88

Monday, March 7, 2011

Some highlights from the Eurocentric range

Some highlights from the Eurocentric range

Eurocentric is the wine importing business of former journalist Neville Yates, whom threw in the whole writing-for-a-living shenanigans to travel the world to find great booze to import (or at least that was his plan).

Whilst Nev himself would admit that it has been a challenging exercise to turn the business into a profitable one, what has not been in question is the calibre of the wines, which have been impressive from the get-go. The range itself has evolved from a collection of German Rieslings and some unconventional kiwi wines into one that now includes cult South Africans, stunning grower Champagnes and some particularly good value Beaujolais and Red Burgundy, not forgetting stunning German Rieslings and interesting Kiwis (Nev also does the distribution for giant slaying Canberra winery Capital Wines).

Today I had a brief look at some of the latest Eurocentric releases, spanning a whole gamut of different styles, regions and flavours. It was a brief look, but some of the highlights really do warrant a mention (the price in brackets is the RRP).

Champagne
Vouette et Sorbee Blanc d'Argile 2005 ($250 for magnum): Stunning Champagne. Powerful, dense, and creamy style with shedloads of acidity and no shortage of complexity. Wild, opulent, firm and complex, all at once. If anything it's more like a sparkling Puligny than a Champagne (in the best possible fashion).Worth every cent. I want some. 18.8/95

White Burgundy
Benoit Ente Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain 2008 ($150) What I most like about this  is the spine of clean, almost Chablis-like, oyster shell tinged mid palate. It's pretty much everything that you'd want in a White Burgundy actually. Or at least everything I want. 18/93 The Benoit Ente Chassagne Montrachet Les Houilleres 2008 ($89.95) is really not that far behind either. 17.5/91

Red Burgundy
Dupont-Tisserandot Gevrey Chambertin VV 2008 ($79.95) Typically the bargain of the range (in Burgundy terms at least), this carries a delicious, classically juicy red fruit nose over a firm palate. It's a little too firm at present, but it all bodes well for the future. Value is very good, all things considered. 17.5/91+

German Riesling
Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett 2008 ($42.95) Superb Riesling. The reason why this hits the really high heights is that it gets the sugar/acidity balance absolutely perfect. I'd actually argue that this is an even better wine than the 2007 version, with the extra acid drive making for a very complete wine. Superb stuff. 18.4/94 

Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Kabinett 2008 ($38.95) Another damn fine 08 Kabinett. It's not quite as perfectly defined as the Willi Schaefer but shares the same firm acid drive through the back end. Clean, long effortless. Beautiful. 18/93

South Africa
Sequillo Cellars Chenin Blanc blend 2009 ($44.95) Produced by cult South African winemaker Eben Sadie, this carries a creamy, complex and slightly wild expression that is sort of halway between a slightly out there, if cool, Stellenbosch Chenin and a layered and full white Chateauneuf (which is of little surprise given that Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussane make up the blend). The end result is nothing if not interesting. Good stuff. 17.8/92

New Zealand
Dada 1 2007 ($59.95) A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Gewurtz, this is putting on a little weight now that it has had some more bottle time, making for an even more complex style of Bordeaux inspired dry white. It's got a slightly rounded edge to the herbal, mealy palate that both works with and against this wine. Texture is spot on regardless. Nice wine. 17.7/92

Saturday, March 5, 2011

BEER: Malt Shovel New Norcia Abbey Ale

BEER: Malt Shovel New Norcia 'Abbey Ale' (Sydney, NSW)
7.0%


This is brewed by the Malt Shovel Brewery, producers of  the James Squire range (amongst others), with this beer an authentic Abbey Ale (having been brewed for the New Norcia monks of Western Australia. The intention with this one is to craft a Belgian style, full flavoured golden ale with the emphasis on richness and power.

If anything the result is about as close to an 'Abbey style' golden ale as Australia gets, however the reality is that that is still a fair step behind the Belgian examples it's trying to imitate. The problem, that I can see, is simply that it is too clean - there is none of that funky, yeasty, bottle age complexity through the back palate, with none of the length or finish that the Belgian gear (Hoegaarden Grand Cru and Duvel for example) carries.

It's actually not a bad beer, but I can't help but feel that it's like a dulled down, filtered version of what it should/could be. I'd still drink it if handed a bottle, but I can't say I'd be bothering to buy it again.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Penfolds Coonawarra 'Claret' Shiraz Cabernet (Magnum) 2009

Penfolds Coonawarra Claret Shiraz Cabernet (Magnum) 2009 (Coonawarra, SA)
14.5%, Cork, $notforsale
Source: Retail sample
www.penfolds.com

Penfolds Coonawarra 'Claret' Shiraz Cabernet (Magnum) 2009

It's something of a special wine this - or at least it's not actually available for commercial sale - with the wine offered as a 'value add' to those who purchase Penfolds Bin wines through independent Australian wine retailers.

From where I sit the purpose of a product like this appears to be twofold: Firstly, it keeps independent retailers happy, for it gives them a point of difference over the supermarket backed chains, with whom the indies can't compete on price. Secondly, by offering something 'not for sale', that is so limited in number, they are gently nudging consumers into filling their wine fridges with Penfolds wines sooner rather than later.

In many ways it's actually very clever marketing, particularly as the Bin range has taken something of a reputation hiding in recent years, with the supermarket-led discounting rendering the Penfolds RRPs as a running joke, even whilst these same RRPs jump significantly every year. What I'm guessing Penfolds are attempting to do is to reinject some value into the range again, perhaps by effectively moving the focus away from a straight, race-to-the-bottom, price driven annual release scenario and into a 'what goodies will come up this year'.

What is interesting is the way that these magnums (for they are released only as magnums) are actually being supplied. Of particular note is that the magnums are not actually dispensed by retailers, with a particularly laborious claims process utilised instead. By doing this I'm assuming that Penfolds are attempting to stop retailers onselling the magnums, whilst also regulating the supply (which again is fair thinking, if overly controlling).

What is slightly grating about this method though is that not only are the magnums restricted to just one per household, but the delivery price is an erm, 'fully priced' $22 per magnum, with it all rubbed in by the fact that you'll be lucky to actually see them delivered before mid June.

Regardless of the process however, it already appears that the whole, carefully controlled deal has allegedly blown up in Penfolds face, with both Dan Murphys and Vintage Cellars allegedly responding the best way they know how - by putting the Bin wines out at prices that are almost half of the (now almost mythical) RRPs. I'm only speculating that this is their motivation of course, but VC are even throwing in a Cellar Share and some free Riedel glasses just to rub it in.....

These prices are actually serious loss leaders even for the supermarkets, which just goes to show that they are being offered just to make a statement, particularly given that they are considerably lower even than said independents wholesale (so excluding tax) prices are and lower than last year. In my view this sort of pricing policy is really only serving to show who, allegedly, controls who in the liquor business.

To be completely honest it's actually a pretty sad state of affairs, and really shows just how dangerous the supermarket duopoly is for wine businesses. With several friends working for Treasury Wine Estates as sales reps I feel sorry for them too, stuck in the middle of what is just a business power play. I also feel for the hardworking winemakers/vitis/cellar hands etc whom are still making good to great wines (particularly the Chardonnays), even though the wines are now just political (wine politics that is) footballs.

Speaking of good wines though, it's time to talk about the wine itself, for out of all this messy business it's actually really heartening to see that what is in the (attractively retro packaged) magnums is actually genuinely good booze. I think it might even be my favourite wine of the 2011 Penfolds Bin releases.

In the glass it pours rich, dark blood red, looking every bit a Penfolds wine. It smells like one too, with a pure, rich and generous nose of chocolate oak and purple fruit, carrying quite a bit of oak sweetness but also a cheeky brambly peppery edge (which looked properly Coonawarran). It's still a very rich and ripe nose for Coonawarra though and noticeably riper than the 128 of the same vintage.

That follows on the palate too which is more Penfolds than it is Coonawarra, with that very rich, solid and hearty firmness that Pennies is all about. It's a fraction too vanillan and sweet for real love right now, but with some nice fine tannins on the finish it's probably going to be a pretty srmart wine in another 2-3 years time.

Speaking of those tannins, they're actually quite a bit lighter than the 08 389 (also in this 2011 release), which suggests that this isn't going to live as long. But what this wine lacks in outright power it makes up for in freshness, which I think actually led me to ultimately like this over the 389, and even after 24 hours in the glass it still looked pretty damn good, boding particularly well for the future.

To wrap it all up then I'm calling this a rather smart wine that anyone with a penchant for Penfolds wines will enjoy. Strictly speaking I'm not the biggest fan of the chunky, oaky and Penfolds brand® tannin finished style but I can absolutely appreciate the inherent quality on hand. The politics behind this wine though are far less clear and attractive.........18.2/93

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Terre à Terre Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Terre à Terre Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Wrattonbully, Vic)
13%, Screwcap, $26
Source: Sample
www.terreaterre.com.au

Terre à Terre Sauvignon Blanc
The third release of this oak aged Sauvignon Blanc and it's built in a similar (clever) vein to last year. Again it has seen 6 months in large/old oak with regular lees stirring along the way.

Whilst it has been made in a similar fashion to the 2009 it looks a little riper and fuller this year, trading the creamed herbs for a much more fruit rich, lemony, grapefruit expression. It's still an attractive nose though, with chalky, pine-lime Splice fruit in a nose-filling form. The palate is even better than the nose, with a fine mix of vanilla pod (background) oak, firm citrussy acidity and more grapefruit, all built lightly textural and layered. It's perhaps slightly raw at this stage, the acidity very prominent, but everything is in the right place for the future.

I'm not sure if it tops the 2009 (which I underscored in retrospect), although it's hard to call it without them in front of me, yet no questioning the attraction here. It's a lovely, precise antithesis for most Australian Sauvignon Blanc. Good stuff indeed (and fine value too). 18/93

Scarborough White Label Chardonnay 2009

Scarborough White Label Chardonnay 2009 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
14%, Screwcap, $30
Source: Sample
www.scarboroughwine.com.au

Scarborough White Label Chardonnay
Whilst the Australian Chardonnay evolution (towards a more finer, acid driven style) continues apace, it's heartening to see that producers like Scarborough realise that good Chardonnay need not be lean (and particularly not from the Hunter Valley). This one needs bottle time to show it's best, but plenty to give for the moment.

In the case of this Scarborough White Label Chardonnay, the message is all about varietal power. It leads off with a rather overt nose of whipped butter, fine grain, French vanilla oak, the oak looking particularly dominant when the wine is cold. As it warms up, the white peach fruit pops out and everything looks more settled, if large and a little volatile. The palate too is large and full, in an unashamedly Hunter form, with a grapefruit, peaches-and-cream, grilled nuts oak and fruit amalgam, finishing with chewy acidity and alcohol warmth.

It's a big wine, no question, but a real mouthful too, with old school length and power. Much to get your mouth around then. It could do with a fraction more delicacy, and it's got some late palate alcohol burn, but having cut my teeth on this style, I'm something of a fan. Good stuff. 17.8/92+