Saturday, 30 July 2011

Yalumba - doing it Cabernet Shiraz style

Yalumba - doing it Cabernet Shiraz style

I'm always puzzled why Cab Shiraz isn't more popular than what it is. Why isn't Cab Shiraz, 'our blend', the national hero wine?

Yalumba Cabernet Shiraz
Blending done good
There's probably a whole swathe of answers as to exactly why, not least the unspoken Australian fear of blends, but really I'm not here to answer the question. Rather, I just want to talk about one Australian wine company who are flying the Cabernet/Shiraz flag with enthusiasm.

I'm talking about Yalumba, champions of Cabernet Shiraz and a general champion of a wine company. Yalumba epitomises the sort of medium sized, quality and value focused wineries that you're always happy to support. One of the good guys, if you may, that aren't really making 'sexy' styles (and can be rather old fashioned at times), but are more about consistency and heart. Which ties in nicely with the Cabernet Shiraz mission actually....

The following wines then are some of the more recent Cabernet Shiraz releases from Yalumba. All taste of the Barossa, all roughly adhere to the 60-40 Cabernet Shiraz split, all have lowish alcohol, all have oak as a key component to the wine and all will improve in the bottle, in some cases for decades. It's a formula that seems to work very well judging by these reds, all of which you'd be happy to show people as good examples of Australian wines (at their pricepoints).

Yalumba 'The Scribbler' Cabernet Shiraz 2009 - 13.5%
A 'youthful embodiment of The Signature' according to Yalumba, which I'd say is reasonably accurate. On the first day it looked a little jubey and confected but by day too I was very impressed. Very.

Bright berried nose, really juicy and lifted. Dark and juicy it carries some oak richness on the nose which tends to fill things out underneath that somewhat simple red fruit juiciness. The palate - like Signature - is a chunky, chocolate oak edged and savoury style, if not quite as tannic or long as it's obviously older brother.

Signature Lite this is, no question about it. For the dollars ($20ish) it's really very impressive. Drink 2012-2015 17.6/91+

Yalumba 'FDR1A' Cabernet Shiraz 2008 - 13.5%
On the first day this was a much classier drink than the Scribbler, which looked rather mono-dimensional in comparison, but 24 hours later this just looked a fraction dessicated and 08 Barossan roasted. Interestingly, this is done with French and Hungarian oak whilst the rest of this little Cabernet Shiraz lineup sees mainly American. That itself imbues it with a subtlety that I think is quite attractive, with only the vintage letting the side down (the 06 iteration of this wine is a serious overachiever).

Dense and quite black, cola nut, capsicum and red fruit on the nose, this looks full and ripe and dark chocolate grainy. Lovely palate texture here shows probably the best integrated oak of this range, with a real dry savoriness that was very appealing. I still couldn't quite conquer the somewhat overly dried, sweet but tannic style. Drink 2011 - 2015 17.3/90+

Yalumba 'The Signature' Cabernet Shiraz 2006 13.5% $45
Good Signature this. Buy with confidence. It's very very young and feels every inch like a 20 year wine. Very Signature though, which means quite a dose of overt, grainy, chocolate toasty American oak on the nose. Lots of oak. Much more freshness on the palate however, which has that dark and dense, chewy  cocoa powder and briar thing that marks a classic Barossan red, if an oaky one. Structurally it's built upon a framework of power and tannins, built to last and built to just unfurl as it gets older. Interestingly it's tight and vibrant through the finish too, with a balance and evenness through the back end that bodes very well indeed.. Serious wine this. Long termer +. Drink 2015 -2026 18.3/93+

Yalumba 'The Reserve' Cabernet Shiraz 2004 13.5% $120
Decadent wine. Impress your in laws at Christmas time decadent. A flattering wine that acts like an advertisement for Barossan reds 'come to the Barossa and we'll show you more wines like this'. What I like most is just how savoury it is, how perfectly ripe the whole package is. No excesses of alcohol, no overt sweetness, just proper deep dark choc oak fruit amalgam. Kudos indeed. Oh and The Reserve is actually a 'best Signature barrels blend' by the way, released only when the barrels really impress.

Heady nose on this. Very dense too, with lots of American oak still in residence. It's evolving though, developing more wildness and interest to counter the rich choc toasty oak. There's even more varietal Cabernet cedar too. The real joy is on the palate, which is regally tannic, dry and long, with a structure that is more ripe Bordeaux than Barossa. Firm, long and dry. Very dry. Those tannins are the clincher. Chewy, perhaps a little oaky but ultimately satisfying. Lengthy and quality framed.

A wine that looks and tastes like an expensive wine, there aren't many question marks about the quality here... Drink 2012-2030 18.6/94+

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Celebrating Cadel with average Champagne....

Celebrating Cadel with average Champagne....

Cadel crossing the finish line. Emotional stuff.
Gee I've spent a few weeks of late nights in front of this tv recently...
Apparently 2.4 million Australians watched the final stage of this years Tour de France on Sunday, a number which is said to be double that of last year. I was one of those 2.4 million bleary eyed fans, celebrating what is inarguably the finest moment in Australian cycling history: Cadel Evans mounting the podium to be the first Australian (and only third ever non European) to win the Tour de France.

Now as someone who dedicates a whole drawer to bike/outdoor/adventure (etc) clothing and may have spent far too much time putting together a Tour de France Fantasy team, you can imagine how exciting this was. Actually, I think any sports fans would have enjoyed Cadel's win, particularly given how long (and at times heartbreaking) the journey has been to get there. The clincher though was the raw emotion on Cadel's face, that look of someone who has worked so hard, for so long and failed so many times in the process, yet finally realises their dreams.

Suffice to say it was a rather emotional little period, and there may have been some moist eyes in the household.....

Pierre Gimmonet Paradoxe 2004
Not quite up to the task
But back to this Champagne. I grabbed it in a hurry at a large local liquor store (a store with a very vanilla range of Champagne), swayed by a positive Tanzer note and decent wines from the label before, hoping that a (somewhat) well regarded, small house Champagne, from a top vintage, may have been up to the task of toasting a great achievement (and considering that Paris is so close to Champagne, it seemed that only Champagne would do).

Sadly, this wine didn't do Cadel justice. I enjoyed my night so much that a slightly disappointing bubbly wasn't really going to derail the fun, but it still irks when you fork out $85 for something so far off the mark...

Pierre Gimmonet et Fils 1er cru 'Pardoxe' Brut 2004 (Champagne, France)
12.5%, Cork, $85
Source: Retail

It actually smells pretty good, with a richness and sherried and caramel lees development edge that is quite appealing. The problem lies on the palate, which has loads of acidity but little else, a thin, tart and lean/mean/green (fighting machine?) disjointed beast. Arguably it's too young, yet I'm just not feeling the balance on the palate, which doesn't have the depth to fight with that mount molesting green acidity. Hard going indeed (with even my less clinical Champagne drinking partner unable to get her head around it). 16/87

Monday, 25 July 2011

A mid-weight Shiraz comparison

A mid-weight Shiraz comparison

One of the challenges of being an unpaid wine blogger is that you don't have minions. Minions to catalogue your samples, clean glassware, take photos, give backrubs and open bottles for you. A general lack of minions of course also means no one needs wages (or the like), yet it also means that - crucially - there is no one to set up blind tastings.

Blurry picture, sharper wines
That's not really a problem as I think I'm pretty even and relatively unbiased (hopefully), yet to try and be more accurate I do try to open like-with-like, to put brackets of similar wines together and match them up in a proper wine death match. It's not as infallible as blind tasting obviously but hopefully it brings fair results (you be the judge of that).

With the following posse of wines then I was aiming following this process to match up some mid-weight, mainly (but not exclusively) cool climate styles in a Monday night Shiraz comparison. As you can see, I managed to unearth a few gooduns' and generally enjoy most of the wines tasted. An enjoyable Monday night tasting no question.

Hunter Valley Legends Shiraz 2009 (Hunter Valley, NSW) 13% $18
I believe this is made by the HVWIA and sold exclusively by Wine Selectors.

Bright red ruby colour. Quite a classic cranberry 09 Hunter nose, with avery pretty red fruit style and that red strawberry lolly 09 edge. Mid weight, earthen, quite bright red fruit palate, with some slightly astringent oak influenced tannins and pointy acidity. It needs a few years to integrate that acidity but certainly plenty to like. It's plenty Hunterish too if a little light. Pleasant indeed.

(Disclosure: I write for Breathe Magazine which is run by the HVWIA).

Westend Cool Climate Series Shiraz 2009 (Hilltops, NSW) 14.5% $14.95
A Hilltops red, no doubt about it, with that cherry/blueberry 'I can't believe there's no Viognier' nose. It's been made in open fermenters and seen 12 months in oak which is pretty upbeat handling for a $15 wine too.

It's a quite opulently fruity style this Shiraz, with a whole basket of fruit slut juiciness on the nose, even if it carries a slightly cheap tinniness. On the palate it again shows plenty of fruit generosity yet falls away pretty quickly, with added acidity through the back palate.

Fair booze for $15 but still tastes budget conscious and light. 15.3/85

Audrey Wilkinson Shiraz 2009 (Hunter Valley, NSW) 14% $20
A riper wine for the Hunter and certainly looks 'bigger' because of it (especially in this lineup). $17 from the cellar door and rather fair drinking for that price.

Rich ruby colour which looks deeper and richer thanks to the fruit ripeness. Full red fruit nose is actually quite pure an authentic. Reasonably muscular (for the Hunter) but lithe palate is somewhat broad and fleshy with creamy oak edges. Still a rather tight wine there's no doubting the solid appeal here. It needs some time but certainly competently made. Nice even finish suggests it will mature well too. Good! 17.3/90+
Mount Avoca Shiraz
Winning vino

Mount Avoca Shiraz 2009 (Pyrenees, Vic) 13.5%, $25
I'm taking the cellar door price here as it just makes this look like bloody great value. This was co-fermented with a little Viognier and matured in a combination of French, Hungarian and American oak (winemaker John Harris likes to tinker!).

Vibrant and full mulberry colour. Peppery, plum jam nose, with the Viognier working to advantage here, adding an extra weight of pure juiciness and a little floral sexiness.. Nice flick of Pyrenees mint and menthol too. Palate is very tight yet honest and quite pure. Silken, purple, plum jam palate is juicy, ripe and generous yet also savoury, the texture just about perfect. Integrated oak, fleshy blueberry finish. Late, proper tannins. Lovely Viognier integration here, all blueberry edges and a bright and rounded palate with style much above the pricepoint. Winner! 18/93

Singlefile Estate Syrah 2009 (Denmark, Great Southern, WA) 13.5%, $32.95
Labelled Syrah to differentiate from the other Singlefile Estate Shiraz (this is cast in a much more elegant mould).

Quite pretty mulberry, cherry pie/rhubarb and sweet fruit on the nose. Prominent, slightly gummy french oak on the sweet palate. That oak is a smidgen prominent. Sappy tannins are good but there is a fair hole in the back palate, which looked particularly noticeable after going back to the Mount Avoca. This is ultimately a bit stunted and oaky at present, this should hopefully blossom with bottle age. 17/90+

Shaw & Smith Shiraz
Stylish Shiraz this
Tahbilk Shiraz 2008 (Goulburn Valley, Vic) 14.5%, $24.80
Produced from one of the earliest Tahbilk vintages in quite a while, this includes some more younger vine fruit this year to boot up the freshness.

Full, very dark ruby colour. Ripe and quite figgy nose with a hint of caramel overripe fruit in there, though still with black fruit generosity. Palate is all broad, dusty fruit. Some nice chewy tannins still underline everything but it just doesn't quite have the drive of the best vintages. Drinkable still. 16.7/89

Shaw & Smith Shiraz 2009 (Adelaide Hills, SA) 14.5%, $40
I really quite like the packaging on these Shaw & Smith wines. Simple, clear and stylish.

Lovely looking and smelling wine too with a very bright purple-red colour. Exotic cranberry wildness on the nose, all five spice and plum. It carries just a slight dullness at the edges though, a reminder of the heat wave vintage. Palate though is really quite sexy, with a modern, carefully constructed slick cherry and plum palate of evolved texture. Very grown up! That same whisper of dehydration the only thing standing between it and greatness. Clever stuff though really. 17.8/92

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Domaine de Vigneau-Chevreau Vouvray Cuvée Clos Baglin 2005

Domaine de Vigneau-Chevreau Vouvray Moelleux Cuvée Clos Baglin 2005 (Vouvray, France)
12%, Cork, $55
Source: Retail 

Vigneau-Vhevreau Vouvray
Fabulous juice
It was a bit of a Chenin evening for me last night as I drank another bottle of the Blind Corner Cremant (which went down very well, again) and then finished off this Vouvray whilst watching the Tour (I think I needed a calming drink last night too).

Produced off a certified organic (and actually farmed biodynamically) vineyard on prime limestone, clay and silex (famous white Loire Valley pebbles) soils that has been farmed by the same family since 1875. Made in a Moelleux (sweet) style, though it's built more on fully ripe fruit than residual sugar, what this wine reminded me of was simply how much drinking joy there is in textured, rich and ripe (yet not fat) whites of this nature and calibre.
It certainly smells full too, with a dense, mandarin and orange juice nose of quite serious weight and depth. A serious full, powerful and wild nose (with just a flicker of that old socks Vouvray bottle stink too) this definitely is. That thickness and power extends right through the wine too, with candied orange and some smoky yeasty mid palate complexity adding even more interest. Strong biting tang of sour acidity matches nicely to the weight of extract and a little residual sugar to make for a wine that is both sweet and dry, with that same quince and orange fruit right through the finish.

I absolutely enjoyed this. It's a very fair wine for the price too, with everything you could ask for in a good sweet/ripe style of Chenin. I'd buy it again in a heartbeat (and may even be underrating it). 18/93 (Drink now - 2020+)

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Beef and Cabernet: Made for loving

Beef and Cabernet: Made for loving

Sauternes and Roquefort. Caviar and Champagne. Sparkling Shiraz and turkey. Beef and Cabernet.

The menu: Never knew they made Taltarni
Cab in Tassie..
All of these things are ideal food and wine matches. Classical matches if you will, honed over many years of hard drinking and eating. In many ways they are pretty boring matches actually, particularly as people tend to follow such combos slavishly.

Yet last night I had the good fortune to give the last duo - beef and Cabernet - a thorough working over. That's not to say I don't regularly give the match a touch up, but last night's outing placed a particular emphasis on this classic pairing (with great results).

For last night, at Sydney meat and crustacean outpost Kingsleys Steak and Crabhouse, I was a guest at the relaunch - if you will - of the Bordeaux and Beef Steak club, an 18th century London society of renowned booze hounds and carnivores. What set this little club apart was the combination of exclusivity - membership was by invitation only, and the patrons were generally considered to be men of wit and talent - as well as the singular focus on Bordeaux and beef.

Such was the exclusive nature of this secret meat and wine society that even the future king of England was only deemed worthy enough of a spot on the waiting list. Suitably, the plan for this new iteration is to maintain the invitation only plan, limiting numbers to just 24 people in total, with only every second diner gaining an invite to the next event with each of them thus given just a single plus one (so it paid to be friendly with the person next to you).

Personally I like the concept, like the enforced exclusivity of the event and - if the food and wines are always of this standard - would like to be a card carrying member. Suffice to say that it was an awesome night, made particularly so by the shit-hot aged wines and lovingly prepared, delightfully old school food.

The wines:
Meat, glorious meat!

Clover Hill Sparkling Brut 2006 (Tasmania)
Nice sparkling, if not quite climbing the heights of the best vintages. Really quite a caramelised yeast note on the note, real brandied richness there that is just a fraction heavy, if certainly convincingly rich enough. Palate is all in the green apple spectrum with briny acidity and some sweetness on the finish. It just needs a fraction more delicacy for bigger points, though it's certainly still perfectly palatable. The rich soup was a reasonably good match too. 17/90
Matched with: Onion & Porter soup w/ a rock oyster

Taltarni Three Monks Fumé Blanc 2010 (Tasmania)
I've reviewed this here and there wasn't all that much change to be had. If anything it looked even tighter and more structured in this lineup. Again, considering it's relative pricepoint this is is smart booze. The artichoke and richness in the food was a bit of a clash with the wine however - artichoke seems to be a tricky one?
Matched with: Marron & artichoke salad w/ scampi mayonnaise

Taltarni Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 (Pyrenees, Vic)
Chateau Langoa-Barton 1995 (Bordeaux, France)

Boom! Step up to the big boys table! No messing around now. The differences between these two wines was quite apparent here, as the Langoa looked like a rather more stylish and structured wine than the Taltarni. I thought the Taltarni looked a little stewed and forward in the context (even though it's probably only 13% alc.) with some evolved, bacon-bits bottle age characters over a rather generous, if still minty and regional palate. The rich heartiness here certainly matched the Bordeaux and it has much more stuffing, but it's just not as well built as the Frenchie. 17.5/91

In contrast, the Langoa had a rather intriguing mushroom (Swiss Brown I reckon;)) nose over a typically juicy, warm year Bordeaux palate. The shape of this wine was really quite different, as it's middle was fuller, whilst the tannins and line through the back were much more defined. It's hardly a super complex wine - perhaps a little too full for that - but it does have Bordeaux character and proper 'black' graphite tannins and should get even better with more time. 17.8/92+

I can't forget the food though. Chef Lars Svensson proudly paraded the lovely pink beef around before serving and it was one good looking, seriously delicious piece of dead cow. And the bone marrow desiree cakes? Awesomeness.
Matched with: Pasture fed Angus rib roast (carved at the table) served with; Desiree bone marrow potato; winter radicchio salad; green beans, bacon, chestnuts

Taltarni Cabernet
Going strong! 
Taltarni Cabernet Sauvignon 1987 (Pyrenees, Vic)
Taltarni Cabernet Sauvignon 1977 (Pyrenees, Vic)

It was almost as if we'd entered another realm with this duo, with a step up that was really quite a surprise actually. The 77 in particular was almost revelatory, showing everything you'd want in an old Cabernet from any country. What was most intriguing was just how much more interesting either wine was than the much more famous Langoa. That's likely a product of bottle age serving to fully resolve these older beauties, but I don't want to discount the fact that these are likely just better wines. Suffice to say I was excited. More than that I was draining glasses, even though it was a school night and I wasn't actually in drinking mode. Great wine will do that to you.

Of the two, the 87 is a riper styled wine, with a bit of that cooked fig warmth on the nose, the palate too suggests a warm year, with an opulence and big hit of richness. Yet after all this weight, the tail end is cool, taut and minty, the tannins regimented and dry. What really kicks this up a gear though is that as it sits in the glass it gets cooler, the hint of overt ripeness dissipates and the whole package looks blacker and more sophisticated by the minute. Lots of meaty satisfaction with this one. 18.1/93

Intriguingly, the 77 is an entirely different beast all together. It's fully resolved and curranty with a mince pie sweetness on the nose that is really rather sexy. The palate is almost Burgundian such is it's velvety black fruit texture and then topped off with fine, powdery tannins. Surprising, heart warming, genuine, brilliant tannins.
A magnificent wine this one, with a style that teeters between softness and structure all in one. Loved it, and particularly enjoyed it with the Eccles cake, which was like a little pastry fun box that appeared both savoury and sweet (much like a mince pie really). 18.6/95

It would be rude of me not to mention the cheese too, which I scoffed (even though I think it might have been too blue and rich for these oldies).
Matched with: Dows 04 LBV Port drenched Stilton cheese and Eccles cake  

Special thanks then to Kingsleys for inviting me (though the food and vino was so good that it would have been worth the $95. No bull) and keep an eye out for a 77....

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Robert Oatley Limited Release Great Southern Riesling 2010

Robert Oatley Limited Release Great Southern Riesling 2010 (Great Southern, WA)
12.2%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

Robert Oatley Great
Southern Riesling
Check out the lid on that!

The particular screwcap luxe sealing this bottle was one sexy seal. I'm not a massive fan of the gold bands of the rest of the label, but the screwcap is one attractive beast. I do wonder if this might have been a slightly less than perfect bottle however, as the juice inside simply didn't quite perform. It didn't show any obvious signs of a bad bottle though, so I'll just have to call it as I see it.

This comes from a vineyard on the edge of the Porongroups near Mt Barker, WA, and was made by the talented Larry Cherubino (so no problem with the provenance).

What strikes me though is how forward it is. There's a certain forward, flabbiness that quite a few of the '10 Great Southern rizzas have and it seems most apparent here. It's almost a burnt sugar edge, a cooked floral note that's a fraction distracting. The palate is unquestionably intense with a very dry grapefruit fruit character, yet it also seems overly sweet, with a caramelised, sherbety edge that gets more prominent as the palate progresses, finishing broad, sweet and awkwardly.

Sad to say I really didn't enjoy this at all - it just looked broad and surprisingly flabby considering the context. 15.8/86

Galafrey Dry Land Riesling 2009

Galafrey Riesling
I heart Rizza

Galafrey Dry Land Riesling 2009 (Mt Barker, WA)
11.5%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Sample

Of all the Rieslings I opened tonight, this is the one that I'd be choosing for my cellar. It's in a bit of a development hole perhaps, but the depth and genuine intensity is there in spades. A real Riesling, no question about it.

It's not offering all that much on the nose though, save for a whiff of petrol that blows off with air, with the rest of the bouquet still very much 'under development'. The palate builds slowly too, all coiled citrus and some honeyed green apple fruit. As it travels (and with more airtime) things flesh out though, giving that lovely blend of generous slightly honeyed lemon/grapefruit fruit characters and prominent acidity which Great Southern rizzas are known for. A proper persistant, dry and lengthy natural finish again signals this wines class and drinkability.

I'd be waiting a few more years before attacking this again, but no questioning the attraction. Good indeed. 17.7/92+

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Mcguigan The Shortlist Riesling 2010

Mcguigan Shortlist Riesling
Clinical vino
Mcguigan The Shortlist Riesling 2010 (Eden Valley, SA)
11.5%, Screwcap, $29
Source: Sample

Interesting to try this next to the 05. It's a much more generous wine, if still utterly clinical and very dry, with the net result of an ultimately more drinkable wine next to the aged example.

Another dry, neutral and lemony nose here, looking very tight. Palate has that same laser sharpened edges of the 05 but with some welcome juicy lemony flavours to boot. Did I mention the serious acidity? Blinding acidity, hard acidity again. Finish too is very tight and surprisingly short, that acidity also attenuating things.

A 'flash in the pan' of a wine perhaps, yet still with attractive elements to it. Unquestionably more drinkable (and perhaps finer) than the 05, if again a particularly pointed wine. Should indeed improve with bottle age too. 17.4/91+

Mcguigan The Shortlist Riesling 2005

Mcguigan Shortlist Riesling 05
Much sharper than the photo
Mcguigan The Shortlist Riesling 2005 (Eden Valley, SA)
12%, Screwcap, $29
Source: Sample

Groaning under the weight of wine-show bling is this wine. Multiple gold medals and trophies galore. I can see why too - from a winemaking perspective it's nearly perfectly made, clinical even, with nary a hair out of place and no shortage of fruit intensity. I couldn't drink a glass though....

The problem is that it's ultimately a severe wine, built so unyielding, dry and firm that there's just no love, no give. That's evident from the nose alone, which is bombastically toasty and almost carboardy in it's bottle aged Eden Riesling expression. The palate follows this with a hard, acid driven form that has some nice mid palate richness yet also razor sharp, ultra-firm acidity.

Net result of all of this is an impressively built wine of stature and delineation but also such hard edges that I can't quite love (or really enjoy as a drink). The score then is an in-between point, a nod to the contradictions of form and style that this wine presents. I think the plus sign may well be important with this one, though only if the acidity begins to integrate more... 16.5/88+

Heaslip Riesling 2010

Heaslip Riesling
Heaslip Riesling 2010 (Clare Valley, SA)
Screwcap, $14
Source: Sample

I've got 4 Rieslings open on the bench tonight, with this the cheapest - though not least impressive - of the lot. This comes off the first Riesling crop from an organically farmed, dry grown vineyard in the unofficial 'Armagh' Clare Valley sub region.

It's got a nice Bickfords lime cordial nose too, looking dry and quite perfumed in a typical Clare form. Palate too is generous and ripe, though not without acidity, looking every bit like a proper Clare rizza needing only a fraction more delineation to be really impressive.

A mid weight, biggish style, I like the signs of potential behind it, with only a little more vine age required to make for something rather convincing. For the price though it's a bargain. 16.5/88

Friday, 15 July 2011

Jamsheed Madame Chard 2010

Madame Chard
Jamsheed Madame Chard 2010 (Yarra Valley, Vic)
13.5%, Screwcap, $18

Source: Sample

Of all the Jamsheed white label (if they are called as such) releases I actually liked this one the least, which is quite surprising as it ticks boxes that I like ticked. Single vineyard Yarra Chard, whole bunch barrel ferments, clever oak etc etc. I think it might just be a little too overt at this point in time perhaps. Regardless the style intentions are very good.

It smells quite malted actually, with that trademark older oak hessian that you occasionally see in white wines that have seen less new wood. Beyond that is some clever textural richness, again giving weight to flesh things out. My only real problem is with the slightly sour and angular shape of the palate which doesn't quite match everything together.

Regardless, it's a whole heap of wine for the dollars, even if it's just a fraction awkward.

Jamsheed Jose Rose 2010

Pink. Sexy pink
Jamsheed Jose Rose 2010 (Yarra Valley and Great Western, Vic)
14%, Screwcap, $18
Source: Sample

I'm a little late with this one as it has, quite possibly, already sold out. Needless to say if you still have some you are on a winner, as it's an unquestionably smart pink. It's made from Shiraz mainly with a small sprinkle of Chardonnay too. He's a clever man is that Gary Mills (Mr Jamsheed).

It's juicy stuff that's for sure, with strawberries etched with a lemon tang and background vanilla on the noes. Palate too is all juicy fruit rounded out by leesy textural weight (It spent 10 months on lees in an old barrel). That citrussy tang suggested on the nose backs everything up, counterbalancing the barrel weight. In some ways this is more light red than rose, but that sexy round juiciness makes it plain titillating.

I'm all for titillation. Good booze indeed. 17.7/92

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Derwent Estate Pinot Noir 2008

Derwent Estate Pinot
Derwent Estate Pinot Noir 2008 (Derwent Valley, Tasmania)
13.5%, Screwcap, $33
Source: Sample

There's a fabulous view from Derwent Estate, looking down upon the Derwent river from high up on the southern side of the river looking North. It's an enviably aspect and one that clearly produces fine grapes, particularly Chardonnay (with Derwent Estate said to produce a key component used in Penfolds Yattarna).

This too looks delectable and fine, if set in a very juicy style. A deep ruby red colour, the nose is all red cherry raspberry fruit in a clean, pure and generous style. The palate follows too with very pretty red fruits, light tannins and absolute freshness. It appears to be all fruit, no stalks, all bottled in a style that emphasises grapeyness over structural grip, finishing quite sherbety.

A vibrant and fresh, though not frivolous, Pinot, this is fleshy and tasty indeed, if not super seriously structured. Still enjoyable drinking. 17.8/92

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

McLaren Vale: Highlights from the new generation

McLaren Vale: Highlights from the new generation
If I was in the mood for cliches, this article could be called 'Mclaren Vale: The next vintage' or 'McLaren Vale's new crop' or such. But I'm ditching all of that today, for I simply want to talk about a few McLaren Vale makers crafting good wines. Most importantly, these are three producers that are largely winemakers, not vignerons, producing wines from trusted grower fruit and not afraid of travelling all over the countryside to find it.

Dave 'Vinteloper' Bowley
Looking every one of his seven feet in this photo
More than that though, these are three winemakers that like to drink, who realise that to make great wines you've got to have tasted great wines. That might sound like a given, but it constantly surprises me how narrowly many winemakers drink, with a liquid diet that often rarely strays beyond Coopers (if you're in South Australia at least) and some old favourites (or, worst still, just their own wines). The end result is winemakers who make the same old wines in the same old styles without even a whisper of innovation.

Want an example? One well known winemaker said to me, and I quote, 'some of those organic wines are alright, but there aren't many good ones'. Said winemaker also wore shiny leather pants to a function (so probably can't be trusted). Regardless, it's almost a constant that great winemakers drink great wines, and I'm never surprise to spot some famous empty bottles on his/her winery shelves (or help empty the bottles with the winemakers themselves).

Anyway, back to the Vale and these three new(ish) producers, all of whom present a whole new interesting face to McLaren Vale.

First up is a deep thinking, considered winemaker (and noted basketballer) whom has only really been making wines under his own label since 2009, even though he's been a winemaker for a decade. Many of those years however were actually spent on the other side of the fence - working in compliance with Wine Australia, a job that he credits with making him a more considered - and ultimately artisanal - winemaker.

That man is David Bowley and his label is called Vinteloper wines.

The premise behind Vinteloper is a simple one - find good grapes, make good wine. What sets the operation apart is that Dave is part of the new vanguard that insists upon making minimal interventionist wines (crafted basically in his back shed) and it was Dave's most 'natural' wine that effectively made his reputation.

Said wine was the 2010 Vinteloper 'Odeon', a Watervale Riesling that was, quite by accident, produced with wild yeasts; spent 2 months in oak, 2 months on less; made without temperature control and with only a spoonful of sulphur added. It is, in Clare Rizza terms, a delightfully textural, alive and complex wine that represents quite an intriguing departure from the norm.

The Alpha Box & Dice 'Laboratory'
Sadly the Odeon is now sold out (and the '11 is a few months off yet) but another new release from the big man to tickle my fancy is the 2010 Vinteloper 'Adelo', which is yet another thoroughly unconventional wine in the best possible fashion. Adelo is a blend of McLaren Vale Touriga, McLaren Vale Shiraz and Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir, all coupled together in the perfect example of what can be done with some clever winemaking. It's looking a little tight at present, with the oak needing some time to integrate, but what I like most about is how savoury and persistant it is, a dry, rich and full - yet not extractive - style, with the welcome savouriness of Touriga driving the party. I like it muchly, reflecting as it does the attraction of Dave's winemaking Modus operandi.

Speaking of quirky blends though, another producer with a passion for the unusual cuvee is Justin Lane, a fast talking and intuitive winemaker whom has perhaps the most acute appreciation for the fine wines of the world than anyone.

Justin's approach, exhibited under his 'Alpha Box & Dice' label, is to make interesting blends (for they're almost ubiquitously blends, the man can't seem to help himself) with no shortage of character. His wines mirror the man himself, a reflection of a restless man and a restless drinker, the ultimate wine tinkerer. In that fashion his blends don't always work (and he's often relying on quite young vine material, so the definition is not always spot on) but the wins are big ones (such as this one)

Of these, I tasted out of barrel some brilliant '10 Barbera that even I thought had some Piedmont leanings, with Justin letting slip that he has Mascarello in mind when crafting this. From the current releases (and there's plenty of them, with each wine represented by a letter of the alphabet) I like the impressive 2009 Alpha Box & Dice 'A' Apostle Shiraz Durif, which has a richness and tannins that felt much more European in it's style, or the plain joyful 2010 Alpha Box & Dice 'D' Dead Winemakers Dolcetto.

Justin Mcnamee - lunch break
(Source: Samuel's Gorge website)
There are less successful wines of course, including the 'Golden Mullet Fury' Muscadet which doesn't quite nail the rich, slightly phenolic Loire style, yet you can still see the intention, taste the attention. It's a work in progress no doubt, redeemed just by how interesting it is, indicative again of a motivated and skillful winemaker on the up.

On a more conventional note, the final maker in this little McLaren Vale triumvirate makes perhaps the most traditional styles (in a way). I'm talking now about Samuel's Gorge, led by the wild haired, wonderfully eccentric Justin Mcnamee (just have a read of my first experience with the man himself here). Again, like all of these gents, Justin and his crew drink widely (and proudly so, every time I've been in there they are hungover and spouting stories of great wines) and have a very fair understanding of what good vino tastes like.

Like the other Justin, Justin Mcnamee's method is one of experimentation, with his cluttered winery full of different barrel sizes/formats and a big wooden fermenter sitting as a centerpiece. The desire for Justin again is for complexity, for a more rich expression of some McLaren Vale styles, with the reds given extended maceration, made with natural yeasts and left to their own devices to build more wildness and character.

Whilst it is the reds then that underpin Samuel's Gorge (Shiraz, Grenache and Tempranillo), it is the whites where the skill is really on show. Justin chooses cool Tasmania for his white grapes, shipping them back across the water as juice (though for how much longer he'll venture to Tassie is up for contention) and finishing the wines off in the Vale. Of particular note amongst these Tasmanian interlopers is the stunning 2010 Samuel's Gorge Tamar Valley Gewurtztraminer, sourced from some seriously old vines on the Western side of the Tamar Valley (that belong to the Pipers Brook operation and were recently pulled out). It's a stunningly floral, evocatively fragrant wine with weight, acidity and proper phenolics, making a lovely counterpoint to the rest of the rather full and rich McLaren Vale red range. I'm a massive fan of this (and it's Relbia Riesling brother).

Samuel's Gorge Gewurtztraminer
Bloody delicious
Perhaps even more intriguing though is the new, unreleased 2010 Samuel's Gorge Mourvedre/Mataro (whatever you want to call it) which I also tried from barrel. Suffice to say I was excited. It was exciting, with the component to come from the Gillet barrel being particularly stunning, showing everything you'd want in a Australian Mataro - meaty, minerally, densely savoury dark fruited red fruit character with so much latent power, tannins and depth, yet without any excesses of sweetness or edifice. Deep and savoury Mataro to the max.

There remains only one challenge with the wines of these three producers: Finding them. Cellar door/mailing list/online seems to be the key, for none of them have widespread distribution and volumes are low.

If you can deal with this however, and you're after wines with character, made by characters, then I can't recommend these wines enough - they're wines that I personally would want to buy and drink.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Dard & Ribo Hermitage Blanc and Rouge 2009

Dard & Ribo
Note the hand written labels in the background there.
Dard & Ribo Hermitage Blanc and Rouge 2009

René-Jean Dard and François Ribo first established their domaine in 1984 and now count 7.5 hectares in Crozes-Hermitage, Saint Joseph and a couple of rows in Hermitage to their name, all of which are farmed biodynamically.

Suitably the wines are also made with minimal intervention of any kind, with no temperature control, added yeasts etc etc. It's natural wine here no question about it. As with so many natural European producers, the wines are all sealed with the most ridiculous plastic corks ever, the sort of hard plastic rubber bullet looking things that really shouldn't be allowed anywhere near wine in the first place, let alone with super premium Rhone goodies.

Then again the duo also believe that there wines should be able to be drunk soon after release (a bit about that here) and thus are also less worried about the fallability of shit plastic corks. The argument there is that they don't want natural corks (cork taint) and don't like screwcaps (too reductive for natural wines) so plastic stoppers are the only answer. Clearly they've not drunk any screwcap sealed Pyramid Valley recently then....

Regardless, these are seriously interesting wines, with all the vitality and life that you'd want/expect. The reds generally are more successful than the whites and these 09's are particularly successful (whilst many of the 08's are said to be refermenting in the bottle).

Oh and besides the crap plastic corks, the labels are also very hard to tell apart, with the single vineyard Crozes Hermitage having the vineyard name literally painted on the bottle in what looks like liquid paper and the back labels routinely wonky. Handmade to the max...

The wines:

Dard & Ribo Hermitage Blanc 2009 (Hermitage, France) 13% $100

100% Roussanne this one and built in a classically oxidative, nutty 'natural' style. What's most remarkable about this white is just how fresh it is. Oxidative but fresh, like the very best, although this certainly pushes the edges a little with it's overt cut red apple styling. Moreso the acidity in this is bracing and even a fraction abrasive, giving the back end a little fire and fury. In the end I rather like it, and it does taste wonderfully winey, with no shortage of textural  stratum to have you coming back. It's still an odd and divisive white wine though, which has to be taken into account. I'm calling it favourably though, particularly given the persistance. 17.5/91

Dard & Ribo
Wonky back label
Dard & Ribo Hermitage Rouge 2009 (Hermitage, France) 13% $100
All the Dard & Ribo labels seems to have 13% on them, so it's probably just an arbitrary mark. No matter when the wine lives up to expectations though (like it does here).

What's most delectable about this wine is how refreshing and unforced it is. No shortage of structure or flavour either, which just goes to show that you don't need shedloads of ripeness to get structure. Important message there.

It smells plain juicy actually, with a peachy 'au naturel' oxidative edge in there (just for consistency of course) alongside some slightly subdued sinewy red fruit. What I love is the dry, perfectly weighted rocky dark fruit juiciness to the palate, all set with a nutty edge. The tannins are a triumph for Shiraz/yrah with sprightly acidity to match, all combining to make for a most attractive, just medium bodied style.

In many ways this is a somewhat challenging wine to fully describe - there's a purity here but also more than a dollop of weird natural wine acidity. The lightness though ultimately makes for a wine that is dangerously drinkable and plain intriguing. Like. 18.4/94

Dandelion Red Queen of the Eden Valley Shiraz 2008

Danelion Red Queen of the Eden Valley Shiraz
Great packaging!
Dandelion Red Queen of the Eden Valley Shiraz 2008
(Eden Valley, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $85
Source: Sample

Sourced from a 97 year old (in 2008) vineyard, it's hard to fault the providence of this wine. Open fermenters, natural yeasts, serious oak and some of the smartest labelling/packaging around. In fact there's only one thing working against it - the vintage. The grapes for this were picked post heatwave and, although everything else is top shelf, the fruit itself does appear to have been slightly clipped by the heat. You can see it in the simple richness and lack of real phenolics through the back end, of a fruit profile that looks rich and plump (and probably pressed off early to keep that juiciness) but doesn't quite have the depth of the very best from Eden Valley.

The net result is an unquestionably attractive, soft and slightly sweet style with very well managed oak and no shortage of chocolatey Shiraz fullness, yet one without the tannic thrust (or natural acidity) of the best Eden Valley Shiraz, which, given the price point, is where this is pitched at. Good but not great. 17.3/91

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A quick rant about Dry July

A quick rant about Dry July

I encountered no fewer than three wine professionals today who are all on the Dry July bandwagon (what is Dry July you ask? more information here, but essentially it's a month long movement to refrain from drinking alcohol in the name of charity) all happily drinking water and abstaining in the name of the cause (the cause being that of supporting cancer victims. It's a great cause by the way, no doubting that, I'm not quibbling with anything on the charity side).

From my seat though, I've got to say that I'm no fan of Dry July, purely because I've got a philosophical issue with the concept itself (and not just because I work in the liquor industry).

More specifically, I'm not comfortable with the associations perpetuated by this boom/bust, drink/abstain philosophy, of the belief that you either drink to excess or you don't drink at all, of the 'need' for a dry month and the likely 'wet' month that will follow. Couple that with slogans such as 'clear your head, make a difference' and you've got to say that it paints a very dark picture of drinking all together.

Now I'm not about to deny the problems that Australia has with alcohol as I've seen the stats (and it's hard not to see the ugly side of booze on any given Saturday night in a major city) but I just can't see how a month of encouraging people not to drink does anything more than postpone the issues for a few weeks (before it returns with a bang).

As Kendall Hill basically outlines here, the answer is that we need to embrace a message of moderation, that encouraging a dry/wet culture will only continue to fuel the binge drinking problems that are such an issue, and that we instead need to examine the way we drink.

I'd like to stress that I'm not trying to take a puritanical stance here, as big nights are part of my gig (and I'm a booze peddler after all), but anyone can see that the 'drink in moderation' message needs more emphasis, and that it would be in everyone's best interest to drink less but better.

As a result, I'm calling for a 'Drink Less But Better July' - a movement that embraces fine wine, craft beer, top spirits and fortifieds (anything decent and boozy), all of which are drunk only in moderation. Of spending more because you're drinking less. Of making drinking a contemplative sport rather than a competitive one.

Who's with me?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

A little label fun

A little label fun

I couldn't help but notice the similarities in this pair. Lazy designers at Houghton/Accolade/whatever they're called now or is it just a classic design?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Sally's Paddock 2009

Sally's Paddock 2009
Hard work
Sally's Paddock 2009 (Pyrenees, Vic)
14%, Diam, $60
Source: Sample

I've really struggled with the most recent Sally's Paddock red releases, with all of them carrying the mark of a few hard drought vintages on their sleeves. Thankfully, that drought has well and truly broken (the area flooded three times this summer), the vineyard itself is proven (the glorious 97 sticks firmly in my memory) and the traditional, hands-off winemaking is right on the money (I appreciated it here). All of which means that things should be on the upswing again.

I certainly hope so, for I definitely don't love this wine. In fact, I struggled to finish a glass. It's a firm, hard and desiccated red that's heavy with extract, mint and volatility. Everything about it looks dried out. The palate mirrors this with a structure-heavy form and not enough fruit freshness to carry it off - there is some rich stewed red fruit through the middle, but it just hides behind the extract. The finish is particularly angular with raspy, astringent tannins and alcohol warmth.

No doubt this is going to improve, and the structure should keep it going perpetually, but, in my opinion, there's just not enough life in it to make it appealing. A difficult wine to love. 16/87

Karra Yerta Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Karra Yerta Cabernet
Friendly as hell
Karra Yerta Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Eden Valley, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

This comes from High Eden (which is the only official Barossan subregion by the way, the rest are unofficial. That's David Wynn's doing) and, with only 32 cases produced, it's a rare beast indeed. I don't think it's as dark, concentrated and sinewy as the 'estate' Shiraz, though no doubting the appeal.

The core of that appeal is just how bright it is. Bright and juicy, looking ripe if somewhat simple in style. There's a nose of blackberry, etched in sweet and easy French oak, and then more light sweet blackberries. Palate too is all easy openness and light, with bouncy blackberry fruit and even, soft tannins.

I actually thought this might be a little too simple real enjoyment, but considering that it still looked vibrant (and surprisingly serious) the next day, I'm erring in it's favour. 17.1/90

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Pyramid Valley Earth Smoke Pinot Noir 2009

Pyramid Valley Earth Smoke Pinot Noir
Just an amazing wine experience
Pyramid Valley Earth Smoke Pinot Noir 2009 (North Canterbury, NZ)
13.8%, Screwcap, circa $140 retail
Source: Wine list

I have to thank fellow blogger and good friend Patrick 'The Wining Pom' Haddock for this stunning Pinot, as I think he purchased this last night (I just drank it). It was, as all of us agreed at the time, an absolutely shit-hot wine. The sort of shit-hot wine that sticks in your memory, a benchmark that reminds you just how fine the finest of fine wine can be (very fine). It's a wine to get emotional about, plain and simple, and I'm happy that it lived up to expectations.

Now before talking about the wine itself, I'm going to quote a whole block of text from Pyramid Valley describing exactly how this wine was made. Whilst I don't think it's a recipe for success, the fact they put so much detail on the website is just a reflection of the passion of the Pyramid Valley operation. Have a read:

'32 hl/ha from our east-facing home block; nine year old vines. Deep, well structured, clay-limestone soils: 30% clay, 12-15% active lime. Also biodynamic from inception.

Late April pick, hand destemmed, 10% whole cluster. Ambient soak of 5-7 days, warm vineyard yeast fermentation (33C), 27-28 day cuvaison. Natural, spring malolactic. Ten months on original lees, in French barriques, 25% new, then held a further 6 months in tank. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, in September 2010. Alcohol 13.8%. Production: 330 cases.

A bit cloudier still, and a shade more towards brick (the wine refused to settle naturally, and we in turn refused to fine or filter).'

The only thing they omitted from this detail is pH - a wild 4.2 (thanks to Dave 'Vinofreakism' Brookes for that interesting tidbit) which just shows how much of a knife edge (natural) wine this is.

I do like knife edge vino though, and this wine certainly look the goods. Actually, it looks cloudy and murky, a hazy, deep red and almost tawny coloured wine that looks as wacky and natural winey as they come. Yet on the nose the story is one of brightness, of lovely strawberry fruit and just a hint of that natural wine acetic acid volatility. The palate is where the excitement steps in, with a melange of quite creamy rich fruit, edged with a hint of vanilla oak. It's just the most life affirming, astoundingly soft and vibrant redcurrant/red fruit laden palate, edged out with orange juice acidity and a final fanning finish.

The story here is the texture, which is so unusually juicy (I think that's a low pH thing too) with such big redcurrant flavours and fine chalky tannins that it just makes you go 'wow'. So round, yet also so powerful and acidic. A wine of contradictions for sure.

Ultimately the joy here is just how winey it is. It's a wild Pinot, no doubt about it, but it also has so much 'fruit' that you well know it comes from grape juice. Perhaps the only question really is what will happen as it ages, particularly given that pH. For mine though I'd be drinking every bottle of this I could find within the next 12 months, such is the enjoyment factor.

Bloody brilliant cloudy Pinot and the sort of wine that I want to drink more of. More! 18.8/95

Vinden Estate Verdelho 2011

Vinden Estate Verdelho
Lots of v's
Vinden Estate Verdelho 2011 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
13.5%, Screwcap, $21
Source: Sample

When is the Verdelho revolution going to take place? I'd really like to see more interesting takes on this beleaguered grape, though I'd probably also have to go back to the early 90's for people to take me seriously (I wrote an article about old Verdelho a few years ago actually. Read it here).

This wine probably isn't going to change anyone's opinion either. It's a simple Verdelho that looks awfully disjointed at present. It smells pretty good, with a bright fruity, slightly sweaty nose of pineapple and melon, edged with banana post ferment esters. There's some lovely fruit on the palate too, with again some juicy melon flavours. But the acidity is completely wrong, with a harshness to it that looks anything but natural. I'm guessing that this was acid adjusted just before bottling and it just hasn't integrated as yet, making for an overly tart wine that just doesn't do the fruit justice.

I'm including the plus sign as that acidity could well settle, but for the moment it's derailing all the good work of the rest of the wine. 15/85+

Galafrey 'Dry Grown' Merlot 2008

Galafrey Merlot
Real Merlot
Galafrey 'Dry Grown' Merlot 2008 (Mt Barker, WA)
13.5%, Screwcap, $28

Source: Sample

Great to see a Merlot that both tastes like Merlot and is not afraid to carry some tannins and stuffing.  The only thing I'd stress is that it needs a spell in the decanter before serving - I tasted it over 24 hours and it looked a far better wine on day 2.

The fruit for this wine comes off 1977 plantings, from a vineyard that yields just two tonnes a hectare - that's seriously small crops of tiny berries.

It's a darkly coloured Merlot this one, a real deep blood red colour that fully supports the low yielding, dry grown fruit message. It smells serious too, with intense, slightly leafy red berry fruit, integrated background vanilla oak all topped off with a slightly wild, smoky edge that I think adds a bit of character.

The palate too is all Merlot goodness - it's dry, structured and meaty with that same smoky, sausagey edge seen on the nose. The tannins are impressive things too, quite gritty and prominent but not obtrusive, rather just giving the wine a decent kicker to finish. I bumped the score up a little as it did look even more appealing on the second day. Good, hearty, real Merlot this. 17.4/91