Wednesday, 31 August 2011

3 Bridges Durif 2009

3 Bridges Durif 2009 (Riverina, NSW)
14.5%, Screwcap, $22
Source: Sample

Sorta sounds like
Dew Woof
Do people actually buy Durif? I mean, surely someone must because wineries keep producing them, but do people genuinely go out with a mindset of 'I must trackdown more Durif'.

I only ask as it's a variety that's full of heart, shows plenty of promise, yet is still largely unknown. An alternative variety (which makes it cool by default), but an odd one (making it less cool) that has been around for decades yet never really hit any sort of stride.

In that vein the good thing about Durif is that - despite it's unsexy persona - it's actually very well suited to the warm parts of Australia. Further, it's so obscure on a world stage (albeit for a smattering of serious attention in the states as Petit Sirah or Syrah or whatever spellings they want) that we could probably Australianise it Russell Crowe style if we really wanted too.

Anyway I can't quite answer any of these questions (worth asking though) without delving into more rambling so I'll stick to the wine. This is produced by the Calabria family whom are long time Griffith producers with a solid range of varietals. Think well established Italian family, whom have been making wine the Riverina since the second world war and know how to make sunny, ripe wines.

Fittingly this is ripe and full too, jam packed full of well ripened grapy goodness, polished off with sweet vanilla oak and thick tannins. It's a black wine, black in colour, black in fruits, covered over with coffeed richly toasty oak. That oak and fruit combination gives it something of a chocolate fudge and cocoa powder nose that is dense and really quite attractive. No surprises to see that the palate matches this, with heaps of rich, grainy choc fudge flavors. It's a fraction too raw and hard around the edges but I kinda like it. I like just how much balls this has, how much density, yet without obvious overripeness. Indeed it's quite a svelte and polished Durif in the scheme of things, the extract and balance pretty well spot on.

If you like your reds rich, dense and healthily proportioned (yet not OTT) then this is an easy goto wine. 17/90

Monday, 29 August 2011

Tapanappa Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay 2010

Tapanappa Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay 2010 (Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills, SA)
12.8%, Screwcap, $39
Source: Sample

Tapanappa Chardonnay - Woah
Sourced off younger, close spaced vines in the Tiers vineyard, this is effectively the second wine to the 'Tiers' Chardonnay and carries more than a little of that worthy DNA. Think hand picking, alcohol and malolactic ferment in barrel (50% new) where it then spent the next 10 months before bottling without filtration.

If there is one thing that Brian Croser clearly knows it's his oak. You can tell that simply by sticking your nose in the glass here, with one of the first whiffs being one of oak. It's sexy time oak, even it's just a fraction too dominant right now. It's the sort of oak that I'd want my Chardonnay in (if I was making a Chardonnay like this).

Beyond just the oak, there is - again - much to like here. It's still very tight, with the mealy, slightly grainy oak mingling with some gummy barrel ferment, white peach, oatmeal and whipped cream. Tight as. The palate is even tighter again - if that's possible - and unbelievably fine, tight and long, an artisinal wine of wow length and exceptional acidity. That oak is still prominent but everything around it suggests a superstar wine. Texturally it balances a lot of acidity with just the first whisper of peachy viscosity, a tightrope walking exercise in a classic, rich fruit/rich oak/sour acidity fashion that typifies good modern Chardonnay.

Long, detailed, long again and exceptionally well crafted this is wow wine just aching for time in the bottle. The score will only go up from here (once the oak integrates in particular). 18/93++

(If this is what the second label tastes like, I'm excited at how good the 2010 Tiers is going to be...).

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2009

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2009 (Martinborough, NZ)
14%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Wine List

Noble concepts here
'Crimson' is ostensibly the second label Pinot Noir for Ata Rangi, sourced from younger vines but still made in the Ata Rangi house style. Proceeds from the sale of this also go towards 'Project Crimson', a conservation project setup to replant the Pohutukawa - the 'New Zealand Christmas tree'.

It's normally a reliable little number is the Crimson, if somewhat simpler than the sexy 'I'm New Zealand's best Pinot Noir dammit' Ata Rangi Pinot Noir. Not sure if it's quite 'got it' this year as it just looks, well, a little bit sappy and monochromatic for mine.

Glossy ruby red cherry colour. Sappy, bright, pure simple fruit nose. No question about the variety here - Pinosity  a go-go and Martinborough Pinosity at that (which is my favourite flavour of Kiwi Pinosity). Still, it's a sweet fruit, plum and glace cherry nose. Slightly sappy, surprisingly high high acid, creamy vanilla edged palate, with a rather dry, but stunted and awkward pointed finish.

That awkward, sappy, slightly holey palate is the ultimate drainer methinks. It just stops you falling in love really, particularly when placed in the context of it's big brother which combines plushness, power and acid in all the right doses. Should improve in the bottle though.. 16.9/89+

Friday, 26 August 2011

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2010

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2010 (Hilltops, NSW)
14%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Cellar Door

This has no right to be this good. I mean, the 2010 vintage was a hard one in Canberra/Hilltops (though slightly easier in the Hilltops) and characterised by cold, wet weather and random outbreaks of mildew and widespread Botrytis, all of which made for quite variable crops and de-rigueur bunch-by-bunch sorting.

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2010
Yet this smells good. It's spicier, Rhonier, lighter and much more fragrant than in previous years, smelling of red cherry fruit, violets and stems. In fact it smells much more Canberran than Hilltops-y and with a colour to match (Actually, all I can think about is my wine when I stick my nose in the glass). Anyway, it's a good smelling wine, albeit a different one to the chunky/ typical Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz. Oh and did I mention it needs a decant to smell 'right'? The red fruit (and the oak richness) only comes out with some air, otherwise it's a slightly skinny smelling thing dominated by a bit of dandelion/herbal/spicy whole bunch Shiraz fruit thang.

As for the palate, again it's a fraction reticent, but also polished and pure. Light to medium bodied, high in acidity, genuinely savoury and not fruit sweet, it again has that glace cherry meets peppercorn, my-address-is-in-Murrumbateman style and a pointed, fresh finish.

In anyone else's hands I can't imagine that this would be anywhere as near as good as it is. That juiciness, that cherries meet late acidity meets light tannin balance has great winemaker written all over it.

I like this. It needs air though (or it can look a bit too lean) and it's not for everyone. But I like it. 17.6/92

Chapel Hill Tempranillo 2010

Great packaging here too
Textured label a real winner
Chapel Hill Tempranillo 2010 (McLaren Vale & Adelaide Hills, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Sample

Australian Tempranillo. Think it's going to be as huge as it's purported to be or is the industry just pumping up a bit player?

I think it's way too early to be calling anything just yet, but the basic signs already point to promise. Earthy, chocolatey promise. Perhaps the only setback with Tempranillo is that it really isn't all that distinctively varietal? I mean, Rioja is as much about oak as it is about the grapes inside of it. The joys of Tempranillo don't lie on the nose but through the texture and tannins. Then again, 'joven' styles are certainly still varietal beasts...

Anyway I digress. This is an unquestionably pleasurable wine.  A blend of 80% McLaren Vale and 20% Adelaide Hills fruit, this is all juicy red berries and earth on the nose. The palate is squeaky - and I mean absolutely pristine - clean, which makes it juicy but also dulls the character a fraction. Driven by mid palate generosity this doesn't quite have the tannins or length for big points, though still a very affable and wine. 16.5/88

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Nick O'Leary 2011 Releases

Nick O'Leary 2011 Releases

Canberra - as a wine region at least - is so-hot-right-now, spearheaded as it is by the rise of spicy mid weight Shiraz and a push into savoury alternative varieties (like Tempranillo). And if there is to be a poster kid for this new generation of Canberra producers then surely Nick O'Leary is it (though he might need some photoshopping).

Nick has been involved in wine retail, wholesaling, viticulture and retail over the years and seems to have a pretty firm grasp on what it is that makes for good Canberra wines (or at least I thought so. He even laughed at one of my crap jokes), helped by the fact that he's got good vineyard contacts and some clever winemaking peers to work with (Alex McKay for an example). The prices of his wines too are more than reasonable given the detail and attention that went into them. Well worth tracking down.

Nick O'Leary Canberra Riesling 2011
Whole bunch pressed with oxidative winemaking and natural ferments. 'Nice green, clean bunches even despite the vintage. Lots of fruit dropped'. 11.8% alc. 6-7g/L RS. $28 RRP
Very green, talc and florals nose with a whisper of sugar. Very dry but juicy green juice palate. Not unripe but genuinely very tight. Great line through the finish with the sugar giving generosity. Would probably be a hard wine without the sugar but here it looks balanced and very pure. A lovely Riesling with detail and style. 18/93

Bourke St Canberra Sauvignon Blanc 2011
11.5% alc. $23 RRP.
Wine love Canberra style
Quite neutral, banana ester nose, looks barely bottled on the nose. Very tight and green palate is friendly if just a fraction unwielding at this stage. Linear back end certainly appealing. A little tight but certainly already juicy and drinkable, simple melon fruit style. 16.5/88+

Bourke St Canberra Chardonnay 2010
Wild yeast fermented, matured in 1-3yr old oak. 13% alc. $23 RRP
Lovely wild yeast bubblegum nose. Worked but delightfully minerally nose. Palate too is creamy, refined and really quite sexy. Nice acid line too. Melons and yeast. Very much a carefully crafted modern, acid driven Chardonnay this, it needs just a fraction more power to be a superstar. Good stuff. 17.7/92+

Bourke St Canberra Pinot Noir 2010
Sourced from a high(ish) altitude vineyard near Bungendore on the escarpment above Lake George. 13% alc. $23 RRP.
Light nose, spicy bark, pepper and bacon bits - very much in the Canberra Pinot mould - and looking quite forward and evolved if a fraction roasted. The palate too is dry, quite extractive and brackish but with some good spicy 'heart'. I'm still not convinced by many Canberra Pinots and this doesn't quite do it for me either (though in context it's not a terribly bad wine). 16.5/88

Bourke St Canberra Shiraz 2010
30-40% whole bunch fruit, with 20% new and the rest in 1-4yr old oak. 13% alc. $23 RRP
Dry, serious and delectable, whole bunch tipped nose. A nicely 'winey' nose on this that suggests plenty of latent power. Excellent peanut brittle (thanks GW) regional characters too. Stewed plum and blackberry fruit with sturdy tannins to cap it off. My this is a lot of wine for $23! If you like spicy whole bunch Shiraz then climb aboard. 17.9/93+

Nick O'Leary Canberra Shiraz 2010
Less than 2,000 cases of this produced. Sourced from the Fisher and Mckenzie vineyards. 50% whole bunch fruit with 40% new and the rest 1-3yr old French oak. 3-5% Viognier. 13.5% alc. $38 RRP
Woah! Very serious and sexy nose. Lovely bright violets, earth, edgy stalkiness and red cherries. Exceptionally well integrated Viognier in this - no apricots to be seen. Mid weight, slightly warm palate with redcurrant fruit and brisk tannins. Really rather pretty but still properly savoury and dry, this is pure gold medal gear. 18.5/94

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Range

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Range

Cellar Reserve =
One of the good things about being the most profitable part of the Treasury Wine Estate (nee Fosters) empire is that you really can dictate terms.

By that I mean that (apparently) Peter Gago (Penfolds Chief Winemaker) and his team have more independence and control over their own operation than anyone else in the TWE machine. So much so that they even spend plenty of time in their own exclusive little outpost - Magill Estate - which is conveniently located 85.4km away from the TWE megaplex at Nuriootpa.

And what happens when the cat is away? The mice will play. Or such.

Which brings us to the Cellar Reserve Range. From what I can gather it's a range of wines that are as much Peter Gago's plaything than anything else, the gear where he can indulge his passions, push the boundaries a fraction and generally make the wines that Peter Gago wants to make. They're still built within the Penfolds South Australian idiom (of course) so you're not going to see a cloudy, natural Barossan dry Muscat (though that would be fun) but you might see some interesting wines.

The following Cellar Reserve wines then are (I believe) only available at the Penfolds Magill cellar door and are only made in very small quantities. Given the quality on offer I've got to say that it's worth a trip to Magill alone just to try them for yourself. Lot's of enjoyment here, even for someone who is hardly a Penfolds fanboy.

Oh and I had the good fortune of tasting through the wines with young Penfolds winemaker Steph Dutton, who shattered the perception of Penfolds winemakers as wisened old folk (men) whom have Barossan Shiraz for blood and Max Schubert's signature tattooed on their (ass) cheeks. Rather, Steph is a bright, Melbourne born wine wanderer with a sharp mind and a solid understanding of where Penfolds sits and where it needs to be sitting. She was exactly the right person to be talking about what is really the experimental end of the Penfolds program: Steph should be the one to talk about the Cellar Reserve Tempranillo to skeptical pricks like me who were in high school when the 90 Grange came out, whilst Gago takes devout fans through Bin 128 verticals (my least favourite Bin wine).

The wines:

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Traminer 2010 (High Eden, Eden Valley, SA)
The 'Traminer' nomenclature is a nod to the labels of yore where Gewurtz was always labeled as Traminer. This is sourced from the Woodbury vineyard in High Eden that is apparently 20 years old now. 13.5% alc. 10 g/l RS. RRP $35
Juicy! Lychee richness to the nose shows serious,slightly candied, residual sugar lifted opulence. The palate is a wonderfully textured and intense thing, quite luscious and full but still wonderfully fresh. Real intensity here! Seriously good Gewurtz with a good line through the finish and plenty to give. 18.1/93

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Pinot Gris 2010 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
5% barrel ferment. 13.5%. RRP $35
Fleshy, chalky pear nose. Light, white peach and white flower fruit. Nice and clean if just a bit 'vanilla' and boring in this context. 17.3/90

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Chardonnay 2010 (Balhannah, Adelaide Hills, SA)
Sourced from a single vineyard in Balhannah. 35% new oak, wild yeast fermented. 13.5%. RRP $35
Whipped butter, lovely oak and white peach on the nose. Very fine, white peach and nectarine creaminess. Lovely length, fresh, vibrant and long. Classy, fine Chardonnay this even if it's very young. 18.5/94

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
Produced in open fermenters with heading down boards. This spent 9 months on gross lees with little or no sulphur added. Gago unashamedly makes this as a full bodied style. 14.5%. RRP $45
Ripe and full, slightly stewed nose. Spicy, glace fruit if just a fraction overripe. The palate too is very full, extractive and hard, with roughly hewn tannins and bitter astringent tannins. There is obviously fruit substance here but it's just not delicate enough really, though I think it should improve greatly with further time in the bottle (hence the fairish score). 16.5/88

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Tempranillo 2009 (McLaren Vale, SA)
Also produced in open fermenters and basket pressed. 14.5%. RRP $45
Rich meaty style with very sweet ripe red fruit and dark chocolate oak. Earthen, soft and rich palate with gritty tannins and lots of good flavour, if just a fraction overripe. Fruit sweet but with good tannins this is entirely likeable (and should improve with age too). 17.5/91+

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Sangiovese 2006 (Barossa Valley, SA)
Sourced from two Penfolds vineyards in the Barossa - at Kalimna and Marananga. Natural ferment, 4 and a half weeks on skins post ferment before being basket pressed. 12 months on gross lees without sulphur in 5yr old French barriques. Unfined and unfiltered. Gago's favourite plaything apparently. 14.5%. RRP $50
Rather forward and meaty with a rather authentic, evolved nose, this looks proper spicy and varietal. Evolved, chunky and savoury palate with excellent gritty tannins. Intensity, flavour and style. I really liked this just because of how Sangio it is. Rich Barosssan Sangio - not Chianti - but still tasty! Such a surprise. Will look even better with more bottle age too. 18/93+

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Barossa Valley, SA)
There's a little Block 42 Cabernet in this which Steph reckons sticks out prominently (such is it's distinctive glory). 18 months in 100% new French oak hogsheads. 14% alc. pH 3.44. RRP $200
Boom! Cedary, choc cedar nose, it's very ripe and full, if just a fraction roasted and blocky. Lots of thick, extractive, vanilla black and blueberry fruit in the Barossa first, Cabernet second mould. The kicker is all about the Penfoldian thick tannins, which are long and dry, if just a little oak driven. Still, this is one seriously fine wine, no question about it. If you like Penfolds reds, you're going to love this. Baby Block 42 without question. 18.6/94+

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Viognier 2010 (Lyndoch, Barossa Valley, SA)

A late harvest style, this is ice-wine lite, made up of late picked Lyndoch fruit that is then frozen before fermentation (just to further concentrate the flavours). 150g/L RS. 9% alc. pH 3.06 TA 7.1g/L. $25 for 375ml
Passionfruit, guava and supercharged, super concentrated, very ripe peach fruit. Sweet and juicy, if just a fraction broad. It's juicy and fun if a little simple. Tasty. Liked it very much. 17.7/92

(We recorded a video with Steph at the end of the tasting too where she talks more about the philosophy and methodologies. Well worth a quick look here)

Friday, 19 August 2011

Talking about the ageworthy qualities of Tahbilk

Talking about the ageworthy qualities of Tahbilk

About a month ago I had the good fortune of an afternoon with Alistair Purbrick and Michel Chapoutier, looking at Rhone style whites and reds from both Tahbilk and Chapoutier respectively.

Now whilst I haven't quite got around to writing up the (excellent) tasting, I've got a little article in this month's LattéLife talking about one of the highlights - the old Tahbilk Shiraz.

Check out the article here:

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Charismatic imports from Xavier Bizot's Terroir Selections

Charismatic imports from Xavier Bizot's Terroir Selections

Nice lineup of imports here..
I've talked before about the good work of Xavier Bizot, Tapanappa and Terre a Terre GM, but that's previously been largely in an Australian context. Xavier, however, has - with wife Lucy - also been quietly working on a portfolio of exclusive imports, distibruted under the name of 'Terrroir Selections'. This range features wine sourced from several renowned old world producers, most of whom have wonderfully rich histories behind them. For some examples of such illustrious makers think Clos du Tart, Marcel Deiss and Domaine de la Grange des Pères (to name just a few).

Now Xavier was in town recently and was kind enough to swing by with a brace of said goodies (I'm always happy to see such visitors) for us to taste, all of which showed no shortage of genuine style and charisma - A brace of Real wines, each and every one of them. Of course you pay for such prestige, and the prices do tend to reflect that (however the figures below are all bound to be wrong, so watch this space) though that's not to say that there isn't value in the lineup.

As you can see the notes are unashamedly positive, purely due to the challenge of finding real faults with such consistency (even though I didn't love the Dolcetto or the Moscato).

Scribblings are as written on the day, with some brief winery-type notes in italics.

For more information check out the Terroir Selections website

Ceretto Blange Langhe Arneis 2010 (Piedmont, Italy) 12.5% $33
A big volume wine apparently, but shows all the Arneis good bits.
Green apple fruit, chalky (but lowish) acidity, good phenolic grip on the finish, softened by some subtle residual sugar. A lunchtime white with character and texture. 16.7/89

Pascal CotatLes Monts Damnés Sancerre 2010 (Sancerre, France) 13% $75
Barrel fermented in old oak. The Monts Damnés vineyard is a lieu-dit in Chavignol. Pascal owns 1.5 hectares in the higher parts, facing due north, and the vines are around 35 years-old.
Classic Sancerre build this, with that flinty 'grey' rocky nose and just the first hint of melon fruit richness. Lovely long palate with a rocky, yet quite generous, palate topped off with chalky acidity. Lots of Sancerre heart and style - it feels very classic and pure. Nice wine. 18.5/94

François Lumpp Givry 1er cru Crausot blanc 2009 (Cote Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France) $66
From the Northern Cote de Chalonnaise. The Crausot Premier Cru is at the top of the hill.
Quite a full nose with mealy fine oak that is just a fraction obvious. Very youthful, estery nose. Lovely rich, whipped cream palate is quite rich but restrained by lovely chalky acidity. Like this. 17.8/92+

François Lumpp Givry 1er cru Pied de Clou Rouge 2009 (Cote Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France) $53
The Pied de Clou vineyard is located next to the winery on the outskirts of Givry, on the very gentle lower slopes where the soils are deep "argilo-calcaire".
What a bargain this is. Lovely bright pink/reddish colour. Red cherry nose over a slightly pointed palate
that looks surprisingly sappy and backwards considering it's station. Fillup of tannins very welcome through the finish. A happily surprising 'bargain Burgundy' (an oxymoron I know) this is, if just a fraction lightish. 17.3/90

Ceretto Dolcetto d'Alba Rossana 2009 (Piedmont, Italy) $30
Juicy, grapey, simple juice Dolcetto style though not without charm. 16/87

Ceretto Nebbiolo d'Alba Bernardina 2008 (Piedmont, Italy) $40
Washed out brick colours, slow cooked beef and roasted red fruits on the nose. Drying, old school palate with firm tannins that look just a fraction desiccated. Quite classic Nebbiolo if just wanting more weight and flesh. 16.6/88

Ceretto Barolo Zonchera 2007 (Barolo, Piedmont, Italy) $75
Multi vineyard blend. 2-3yrs in new and old Slovenian oak.
Truffles, merde and an essential Barolo-esque wildness. Slow cooked beef again, the palate is a step up in juiciness, vanillan oak and serious tannins. Unmistakably serious, yet quite quite juicy wine. Rather tasty. 17.5/91

Ceretto Barbaresco Bernadot 2007 (Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy) $118
Rather opulent after the Barolo, this looks fleshier and pretty even, perhaps too modern and fleshy for very big love, with cherry fruit and softened tannins. Plush and pleasant though not quite breathtaking. 17.1/90

Ceretto Barbaresco Bricco Asili 2007 (Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy) $195
Vineyard planted in 1974.
An immediate extra layer of oak but also extra fragrance, more roses and red fruit. Lovely tannins, proper tannins. Quite a soft and rounded mid palate before the tannins kick in. Quite regal and even quite pretty wine. Seriously wine. 18.1/93

Ceretto Barolo Prapo 2007 (Barolo, Piedmont, Italy) $135
A very dense and meaty expression here, edged with creamy vanillan oak. Very young and plush this is rich, creamy and generous with classic tannins and balance. Supple tannins and power. Evenly balanced and proper proportioned. Grown up wine. 18.3/93

Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche 2007 (Barolo, Piedmont, Italy) $345
Rather wildly perfumed and rich, there's again a wild, almost floral edge to the nose. Very ripe, though not desiccated nose. Generosity on the palate makes this very more-ish, yet it's also quite backwards and restrained. Firm, yet well integrated tannins are vibrant and classic. Such richness and power! Wow wine. 18.7.95

Ceretto Moscato d'Asti 2010 (Asti, Piedmont, Italy)
The only wine in this lineup I didn't enjoy. Lovely grape juice nose but the palate just looks a bit flat and flabby. The bottle was a bit warm though, yet I can only judge on what was presented. 15/85

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

2011 Winestate World's Greatest Shiraz Challenge Tasting

2011 Winestate World's Greatest Shiraz Challenge Tasting

This year marked the sixth iteration of an event known as the 'World's Greatest Shiraz Challenge', a tasting which is effectively an expanded Winestate Magazine panel tasting, held annually, that cobbles together a collection of the best Shiraz in the world and tastes them in traditional Winestate style (blind, over several days, with a varied assortment of judges).

Now what makes this event/show useful is not the results themselves (which follow typical wine show lines, bringing all the advantages and foibles of the show system), but the public tasting that goes along with it, which feature a seriously impressive lineup of wines from all over the world.

This year I was lucky enough to be in sunny Radelaide for said boozefest and managed to hop along and taste a fabulously varied range of global Shiraz styles over the course of a couple of hours, interrupted only by a slightly bizzare interview with Channel 7 Adelaide (apparently my mug had a fair bit of exposure on the Saturday night news, black teeth and all).

The following wines then were some of the those open at the tasting and, as you can see, there was some shit-hot wines amongst them. What was great to see was just how interestingly diverse and high quality the Australian and New Zealand wines were on offer, presenting a whole quiver of different styles and flavours at often quite realistic price points. Apparently, in this years Challenge, Australian and Kiwi wines took out nearly all of the top 30 too, as if to further prove the point. Shiraz done good.

All notes are as written on the day (with a very light edit) and were written at speed, thus they are rather haughty and stunted. Hopefully you get the gist. Additional comments in Italics.

What it's all about. Love to have some
of this in the cellar...
René Rostaing 'Cote Blonde' Côte-Rôtie 2007 (Côte-Rôtie, Northern Rhone, France)
Glacé fruits, black pepper and a very nice lift. Floral and Rhoney. Lovely sappy palate. A mere baby, with slightly bitter tannins. Very young, but so effortlessly proportioned. Long term star. 18.3/93+ (I could be underrating this. It was way too young though). 

Jean-Luc Colombo Les Ruchets Cornas 2004 (Cornas, Northern Rhone, France)
Evolved and ferrous nose. Grainy, maturing palate with a very dry tannic end. Not much love. Raspy acidity. Fair, but drinkable savoury and not without some appeal. 16/87

Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2009 (Santa Cruz, California, USA)
Earthen, medium bodied and rather lively looking Syrah style, with good penetration. Quite restrained and coiled wine with peppery, pan juice savoury edges. Very young but nice modern wine. 17.5/91 (whilst tasting this I looked up to see a camera filming my spit. I ignored it, expecting the camera to keep moving. Until I looked up to be confronted with an oversized microphone and the question about what I thought the appeal of Australian Shiraz was. A hard question to answer with a mouthful of Californian Syrah....)

Domaine Durand "Les Côteaux" Saint-Joseph 2008 (Saint-Joseph, Northern Rhone, France)
Classic, black pepper infused lamb rack nose. Sappy, meaty and slightly pointed palate. Quite an acid driven style, with plenty of character. Pretty smart. 17.7/92 (apparently this is only $45 a bottle! Quite an authentic wine at that price). 

John Duval Plexus 2009 (Barossa, South Australia)
Sweet vanillan sheen to the nose. Oak dominant. Sexy oak sweet palate.. Lots of oak but excellent red fruit persistence. Lingers. Long! Good stuff. 17.8/92++ (Way too young. Also an outcast in this lineup, simply due to the fact that it is Grenache, not Shiraz, dominant. A worthy investment for the cellar though.

Blurry photo purely due to how hard it was
to elbow someone aside to get a photo...
Busy tasting!
Yves Cuilleron L'Amarybelle Saint-Joseph 2008 (Saint-Joseph, Northern Rhone, France)
Light, just peppered nose. Sour, evolved and meaty palate. Looks a fraction washed out. Flavour is very correct but just a fraction angular at present. 16.7/89+  

Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2009 (Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, NZ)
Woah. Touched up, overly glossy nose. Red lipstick red fruit, juicy medium weight palate. Far too much oak, far too smooth and sweet. Built to win show medals really. But silky smooth and very polished.. 17/90++ (My score may look a bit generous in light of the notes, but I'm quite torn. On the one hand it's a 'made' wine and horribly so, yet on the other there is more than a little seduction here. I'd probably still drink it too, so the objections are more on a style basis really. A personal score if ever. Those plus signs are also very important).

Bernard Faurie Greffieux Bessard Hermitage 2008 (Hermitage, Northern Rhone, France)
Quite a candied nose. Red fruited and rather pretty. Lovely elegant and finely nuanced palate, with superb tannin and definition. Perhaps a fraction roasted but absolute top draw wine. 18.5/94 (Now this is great stuff. Yes) 

Bilancia La Collina Syrah 2008 (Hawkes Bay, Syrah)
Very juicy, lightly peppery and proudly boysenberried palate. Very young and glossy but also a high toned and obviously fine thing. Strongly sappy, whole bunch-ish palate with strong tannins. Very warm, distracting alcoholic finish. That alcohol is the only blemish on what is otherwise a glorious, detailed wine. 18/93.

Delas Frere Les Launes Crozes-Hermitage 2007 (Crozes-Hermitage, Northern Rhone, France)
Rustic, fatty, meaty nose. Earthen, sour, mid weight palate with a hole in the back palate. Sour but still tasty old school squishy red. Entirely pleasant and very drinkable with plenty of personality. 17/90 (For $33 a bottle there is lots of Rhonish pleasure here). 

Guigal Vignes De L'Hospice Saint-Joseph 2007 (Saint-Joseph, Northern Rhone, France)
Oooh a 'special nose. Bacon bits, lots of density and oak, rich, full and meaty nose. Wonderfully Rhoney spice, black olives and beef. Rich full and slightly sour palate looks a fraction too oaky but also nicely full. The density is the kicker here - medium bodied but so meaty and powerful. Epitome of Rhoney goodness. 18.7/95 (Yes!)

Sequel Syrah 2006 (Columbia Valley, Chile)
Black Cola juice. Very 'hand of man'! Lovely cola tannins but also loads of heat. Is this soulless or just too polished. A trophy winning wine but also such a 'winemakers wine'. 16.8/89 

Lethbridge Que Syrah Syrah 2009 (Geelong, Vic)
Fine boned, redcurrant nose. Very pretty and juicy. Sappy and very fine palate has lovely tannins and such polish! Excellent acidity too. Yes! 18.5/94 (This is bloody cheap in the scheme of things. $25! I had no idea of the price of this and am not usually the biggest Geelong Shiraz fan, which made this the happiest of surprises). 

Forest Hill Block 9 Shiraz 2008 (Great Southern, WA)
Lots of cocoa powder oak over a sour, oaky, formic edged palate. Quite fine and elegant with a muscular palate and full flavoured, berried fruit. Too much oak perhaps but good wine underneath. 17.5/91+ 

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2008 (Coastal Region, South Africa)
Slightly rustic, peppery and pan juice nose with a suggestion of merde. Ferrous, meaty and only medium bodied palate is very complete with beautiful savoury, black fruit palate. Nicey. 18.3/93 (lots of character here. Genuinely intriguing and charismatic wine) 

Haskell Pillars Syrah 2007 (Helderberg, Stellenbosch, South Africa)
Very ferrous! Roasted and quite evolved. Long, sour palate. A little too roasted and meaty for me but certainly an interesting, defined and well made style. 17.5/91

Herve Souhaut Vin de Pays de L'Ardeche Syrah 2007 (Ardeche, France)
Woah. Extremely herbal and definitive nose. Very dusty, herbaceous and green olive styled wine with high acidity. Just too unripe for my tastes. 15/85

Bilancia La Collina Syrah 2009 (Hawkes Bay, NZ)
Sexy nose. Blackcurrants, black jubes and white pepper if just a fraction reductive. Lots of oak at this stage. Polished and very juicy, licorice laden palate has lovely persistance and boysenberry wildness. Raw, alcoholic finish again the only downer. 18.3/93 (A degree less alcohol and this would be a top gold medal winner as otherwise it's fabulous. Quite a step up on the 08 too.) 

Pangea Vina Ventisquero Syrah 2006 (Colchagua Valley, Chile)
Ridiculous heavy bottle. Mousey, bretty stink and horrible nose. Acrid palate. Hope this is not a representative bottle. 9/40

Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2008 (McLaren Vale, SA)
Strong 'Vale' nose with lots of rich plum fruit and oak. It's a very heavily toasted/coffeed oak that covers most of the bright gummy red fruit underneath. Good fruit in there somewhere. 17/90 (Ugly oak on top, but I've got faith here that the structure is pretty good).

Old Faithful 'Top of the Hill' Shiraz 2007 (McLaren Vale, SA)
Nicely evolved, slightly candied red fruit nose. Lots of perfectly formed, earthen old fruit on show here if just a fraction drying and boozy. Still pretty sexy though. Genuinely smart regional vino. 17.8/92 (I've always enjoyed these Old Faithful wines, though they can be a bit warm)

La Curio Reserve Shiraz 2009 (McLaren Vale, SA)
Again a properly regional, tarry red dirt nose. it's perhaps a bit too vanillan and sweet, with choc oak dominated but has lots of vibrancy underneath. Fresh finish. Very drinkable again. 17.7/92 (Easy recommendations these two. McLaren Vale fans buy with confidence).

Old Faithful Cafe Block Shiraz 2006 (McLaren Vale, SA)
Again quite correct and settled style, with meaty, maturing McLaren Vale tarry, dusty red fruit on the nose. Again a little too oak rich, but nicely proportioned and powerful though. 17.5/91

De Martino 347 Vineyards Syrah 2008 (Maipo Valley, Chile)
Reductive and oaky nose. Lots of oak, lots of sweetness too. Light finish. Sort of juicy and spicy red fruit style, but a struggle. 15.5/85+ (a fraction too young, though still awkward)

Shingleback Unedited Shiraz 2009 (McLaren Vale, SA)

Guigal style and loving it. As you can see, many
others wanted a piece too...
Inky, oaky sweet and chocolatey, Sweet, hot and desiccated palate. Generous and full though ultimately too hot and hard for love. 16.2/87 (too warm ultimately)

Houghton Wisdom Shiraz 2009 (Great Southern, WA)
Mid weight, silky and very polished style. It's too oaky now but that palate has sex appeal, vibrancy and length. Very mid weight and all the better for it. 17.6/91+ (One to put away if you see it on special methinks).

Terrace Edge Syrah 2009 (Waipara Valley, NZ)

Lifted, volatile, just ripe nose with white pepper and cranberries. Lightly herbal, cranberry laden palate with some rhubarb in there too. Pleasant enough 16.5/88 (just straddles the edge of ripeness does this wine. Quite graceful though)

Guigal Château d'Ampuis Côte-Rôtie 2007 (Côte-Rôtie, Northern Rhone, France)
Loads of oak, super dense red fruit and sweaty, peppery wafts. A fraction roasted and very ripe, but so effortlessly deep, dark and rich. Effortless, seamless and powerful. Long and surprisingly exuberant palate. Sexy! Power of fruit, power of tannins and persistence plus. Peppery, complex and long finish rams it all home. Wow. 19/96 (Superstar wine, no question about it. Double wow).

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Larmandier Bernier Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru NV

Larmandier Bernier Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru NV (Champagne, France)
12.5%, Cork, $90
Source: Retail

Larmandier Bernier Blanc de Blanc
Oh yes, don't mind if I do
'Do things with passion or not at all'

There's a reason why Grower Champagnes (such as this one) are rewriting the Champagne rules. Simply put, they're just better.

I say that with a caveat (of course), because such sweeping generalisations are obviously completely subjective and such. But when you have wines of this quality, selling at prices like this, the normal rules go out the window. I mean, this is as fine as many a 'big house' (Why is that only Champagne has houses by the way? Is it because they have espouse a house over a chateau? I'd prefer the chateau myself) vintage wine...

When you read the production description though, it's really of little surprise that this is as good as it is. Best practice wine, made more like white Burgundy than Champagne. More than that though, it's crafted with passion, with attention to detail and 'hands-on', 'we know how to make it properly, and it requires humans' winemaking

A 100% Chardonnay Champagne, it's crafted from the Vertus 1er cru and Cramant, Avize and Oger grand crus, with all of the vineyards farmed organically. Most of this blend was drawn from the 2008 vintage, with 40% reserve wine included in the final cuvee (which is huge for a standard NV). Fermentation is completed naturally (which is again an oddity for Champagne) in stainless steel. Manual disgorgement (!) with 4g/L dosage.

In the glass it has a very fine, superstar bead, and a tight, fine grapefruit nose. It smells youthful, of crystalline melon fruit with a swizzle stick of yeast richness sitting over the top. The palate is a tight one and a dry one, looking very restrained and Chablis like in it's minerality. Whilst labelled as extra brut, and topped off with just 4g/L of dosage, it actually tastes slightly sherbety on the finish, which gives an edge of generosity that I both enjoyed and didn't. Still, it's the only wavering quibble on what is a finessed, crisply restrained, yet still buxom Blanc de Blanc itching only for more bottle age to become a true weapon of seduction.

A Champagne to win over anyone regardless of their Champagne convictions, it's not hard to recommend this (although the zero dosage Terra Vertus really is next level better again...)

Yes. 18/93

SUNDAY MUSINGS: Pizza + Little Creatures Märzen

SUNDAY MUSINGS: Pizza + Little Creatures Märzen
Pizza + beer = smiles

It's Sunday evening and, after a massive weekend of running, riding, paddling and other foolish outdoor pursuits, the main thing on the agenda is winding down, or something along those lines (which sounds odd. Isn't the weekend meant for winding down? Who knows anymore. 48hrs to live or just an extra 48hrs to live?).

As part of such winding activities, tonight's menu is all about simple indulgences. Pizza and beer. TV instead of study. Falling asleep on the couch. Chocolate biscuits. Trackpants.

The main course then is all about wood fired pizza and good beer. Good pizza too, from Zesto, my closest pizza palace and a venue that is doing pizza right. I'm not pizza critic (or such) so I won't critique the pizza, but suffice to say the base was thin, the topping well proportioned and the taste was fucking unreal. Or at least I think so.

The beer? It's another Little Creatures Single Batch, this time a Märzen, the great beer of, well, March. I'm note sure if it was brewed in March (which would mean that its now 5 months old), Perhaps it is, which might explain why this looks, well, a little dull. It's grainy and lager-ish, looking more like a slightly more sophisticated Coopers Sparkling Ale than a serious small batch beer.

The question then centres around whether this is just an average take on the Märzen recipe (which is pretty blurry from what I can understand) or is it a dud/fading bottle? Moreso, it highlights the relative perils of the experimental small batch beer formula. How do you benchmark a style like this when a) we don't actually see many Märzen brews here b)our interpretation of March is completely different to that of those crazy Bavarians.

Regardless, this is a drinkable, yet ultimately simple quaff. I drank it nonetheless, as pizza without beer is like, well, pizza without beer. It still didn't quite satisfy as much as I thought it would though (or maybe I'm just being a grump?).

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Cabernet time at the Graham house

Cabernet time at the Graham house

Stop! Cabernet time
What's the biggest challenge with attempting to judge young Cabernets? They typically show poorly in their youth... As barrel samples Cabernet can look great, but once in the bottle most straight Cabernet Sauvignon looks gruff, gangly and frequently, well, rubbish.

This lineup of eight Cabernets was a perfect case in point. Day one I opened and double decanted all of these and followed it up with a proper ghetto decant* an hour later (All best practice tasting there).

On the first day I was underwhelmed. Depressingly underwhelmed. So underwhelmed that I started to worry that my love affair with Cabernet might be ruined (did I mention that there is more Cabernet/Cab blends in my cellar than any other variety?).

Thank God then that I stuck the bottles back in the fridge. Thank God for 24 hours of air time (in the fridge). For that sleep did wonders for some of these wines. Almost to the point that I was considering two very different tasting notes for several in true chameleon style. Still, no questioning that many of these come from very difficult vintages, which shows rather obviously...

The following notes then may look a little discombobulated and schizophrenic, but I can't stress enough how much just a little bottle age would/could help turn some of these frogs into princes (or at least just better looking frogs. Maybe).

Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Goulburn Valley, Vic) 14.5% $24.80
Like all Tahbilk reds (seriously all of them) this needs time. It requires patience and a cool cellar. I'm just glad that I gave it a full 24 hours to reveal itself...

A "challenging vintage" according to the Tahbilk notes, and I hate to say it but that's obvious from the first whiff. It smells of a warm and hot year, of caramelised, slightly strained fruit, of raisining and dustiness. Yet by day two that fruit begins to settle back in again, almost as if it's found a second wind. The palate is fresher, with a flush of berries to complement the drying tannins. Actually, the tannins are the hero for this wine, they look a little desiccated and dried out on day one, but by day two they were holding everything together.

So where does that put this wine then? It's still a Tahbilk Cabernet, so it's still a stout and well made wine. It's perhaps not the best example of the lineage but, with a decent decant, this is actually quite solid drinking. Patience...  16.5/88+

Clairault Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Margaret River, WA) 14% $29
Produced off exclusively estate fruit, this was given 10+ days on skins and spent 18 months in (30% new) French oak. Normally a very reliable drink, I think it's a somewhat riper wine than is usual for this label, a perception which is announced via some of volatility on the nose, over concentrated and warm, dusty, jammy berry fruit. It's ripe on the palate too, perhaps a fraction too much so, with the berry fruit looking a little cooked and bitter, the tannins a fraction sticky and dry.

Recognisably Margaret River and carrying some proper regional eucalpyt and cedar, it's pleasant enough though probably overripe in the scheme of things. By day two it looked a little more composed, but only fractionally so, with hard tannins and with more pronounced oak too.

Not much love from me I'm afraid. 15.7/86

Mount Avoca Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Pyrenees, Vic) 13.5% $25
From a hot, warm and windy vintage, this includes 10% Cabernet Franc in the blend.

It carries the touch of a warm year too, with minty, leafy Pyrenees fruit that looks a little confected and desiccated, with a figgy edge. That juiciness is the key feature, but it can't cover up the dulling hessian characters of slightly dried out Cabernet. Should improve in the bottle and not a bad wine, but I just didn't quite feel the freshness. 16.2/87+ 

Hollick Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Coonawarra, SA) 14.5% $29.95
Sourced mainly from the older Hollick plantings (all 25yrs+ and planted on prime terra rossa soils) this spent 20 months in French oak (30% new).

A slightly odd smelling wine this one, with grilled capsicum and smoky, squished berry fruit, In this case it's all about mixed ripeness, both over and under. The medium bodied palate is quite fresh, all things considered, with rather dry tannins and finishing with slightly astringent, capsicum edged tannins. Fair, but hardly earth shattering, though the freshness is welcome after the last couple of wines, this ultimately just lacks the extra punch to really make it a winner. 16.5/88

Mcguigan The Shortlist Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Coonawarra, SA) 13% $28.99
10 day open ferment, new French and American (!) oak for 16 months. I'm still puzzled by why you'd be using American oak with Cabernet (it works for 707 I s'pose).

This looks positively ruby after the last couple of wines. Raspberry, cedar and licorice with hessian oak overtones. Looks very coiled actually, with swirls of boysenberry fruit popping out too. Quite a vitality to that fruit, even if, again, it looks to have come from a warm vintage. Nicely unforced red fruit palate looks positively glossy and even pretty in this context, even if it's just a fraction desiccated. There's pleasure here though, a welcome freshness even if it's just a teensy bit dried out. By day two it looked rather appealing actually, the finish and balance feeling quite pleasant and feline. Genuinely good booze. 17.2/90+
Terre a Terre Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
The pick of this lineup

à Terre Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Wrattonbully, SA) 13.9% $35
Extended (2 weeks) cold maceration post ferment. 21 months in oak, 100 days (exactly) in a 4,000L foudre. Close spaced (1.5m x 1.5m) plantings. The real deal. Such attention to detail makes this wine.

Real deal indeed. Lovely vibrant voilet/red colour and lighter than anything else in the lineup. Immediately more vibrant on the nose too, more composed if still carrying the pippy red fruit ripeness of the vintage. Dry and juicy with excellent grainy tannins make this a really attractive style. Excellent tannins. Long and poignant, with a whole other realm of balance and tannins compared to any other wine in this lineup. Should get even better with age too. 17.9/92+

Flaxman Shhh Cabernet 2008 (Eden Valley, SA) 14.5% $35
I like the amount of love that all the Flaxman wines get. Open fermenters, minimal pumping, 20 months in French oak. There was only 85 cases of this wine made apparently. Drawn from a vineyard in Moculta (which is on the Barossa/Eden Valley edge).

Lot's of flesh with this wine too, with a very sweet fruit nose of chocolate edged blackberry jam. Unbelievably blackberried. Has a very sweet and plummy, fleshy palate too with some slightly odd, warm year apricot fruitiness. Light tannins to finish. Drawn from a hard year and looks very light and easy because of it. Caramel edges. Just not quite serious enough but fleshy caramel pithy fruit will appeal to many. An odd wine though in the wash. 16/87 

Clairault Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Margaret River, WA) 14.5% $45
92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot. Comes off the estate's original 1976 plantings. Open ferments, 10 days skin contact, 18 months in French oak (40% new).

Boom! Step up for real Margaret River Cabernet character. Darkly leafy nose, hello meaty deep fruit. Serious. Minty and dry palate is muscular and deep if just a fraction forward. Perhaps an acquired taste and a minty/meaty wine with a suggestion of horse, but there is genuine form and depth here. 17.7/92

*A ghetto decant involves pouring a glass out of a bottle and then, using the headspace left in the bottle to 'decant' by shaking vigorously until the wine is frothy. Can also be done by pouring into a glass and placing a hand over the glass. Special note to make sure the bottle/glass has a well secured lid/hand over the top or otherwise serious spillage can occur.

Monday, 8 August 2011

A mini Hunter Shiraz vertical

Old Maurice would be proud...
A mini Hunter Shiraz vertical

I'm a little tardy in writing up these notes, but the following Hunter Shiraz vertical was held in Sydney a few months back. As you can see it threw up more than a few gooduns', though my notes are pretty rough and hardly definitive.

Oh and I'll also accept that as an unabashed Hunter fan my points for wines like these are naturally higher, purely because it's a style I enjoy drinking (and Hunter wines are thus heavily represented in my cellar) and think several of these wines represent great examples of the genre.

Tell me if I do sound biased though. Actually, I probably am biased, but I figure that if you enjoy the style like I do you might appreciate the context. Thoughts?

Mcwilliams Mt Pleasant Maurice O'Shea Shiraz 1996 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Pepper and meat, ballsy rich earthen red. Fully mature and evolved with hung game meatiness but no stink. Indeed it's pretty polished all things considered. Long and tasty, medium bodied Shiraz with that classic, rich-but-not sweet, red earth and leather Hunter Shiraz style. Fine tannins to finish. Steakworthy and deliciously drinkable. Great stuff. 18.3/93

De Iuliis Show Reserve Shiraz 1997 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Lightly caramelised, resolved and soft nose. It's a bit washed out actually, looking a little mono-dimensional after the O'Shea. Light, soft and rounded palate is a little subdued and just hanging together, but in a kinda sexy old Hunter way. Fair effort. 16.5/88

Mcguigan Personal Reserve Shiraz Shiraz 1998 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Lots of oak richness on this one. It smells of chocolate and vanilla and coconut, a little volatile too. Underneath all that it's warm and rich with plenty of power (if plenty of oak too). A better wine perhaps than the De Iuliis but not necessarily a better drink. 17/90

Meerea Park Alexander Munro Shiraz 1999 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Very dense with some classic animale Hunter stink. Leather and spice. Firm, dense and very serious nose. Rather drying and brambly palate with excellent powdery tannins. So very powerful and classic, with it's best years ahead of it. Delicious really. 18/93+

Tower Shiraz 2000 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Volatile and slippery. Hot, treacly edged palate is tarry and dense and full of flavour if just a bit too forward and obvious. Ok. 16.5/88 

Keith Tulloch 'Kester' Shiraz 2002 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Stinky, bretty nose over red dirt and spice fruit. Lots of bretty stink actually. Yet it's not without charm, that red dirt thing carries through the medium bodied palate to just give it a rustic feel. Divisive stuff form a hard year. 16/87 

Scarborough Shiraz 2003 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Right in the zone this is. Roast lamb, roast onions and red dirt on the nose. Really quite settled and meaty and resolved yet powerful. Sweet and generous, open knit palate with a mid palate kick and drying tannins to finish. Really rather drinkable. 17.5/91

Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2004 (Hunter Valley, NSW)

Lovely gear. Didn't expect this to be as good as it was. Dense, tapenade nose looks very powerful and coiled, with plenty of polish. That initial brashnes of youth has integrated in nicely. Licoricey mid weight palate looks both concentrated and soft, all at once. Sneaky good. Lovely stuff. 18.3/93

Thomas Wines Kiss Shiraz 2005 (Hunter Valley, NSW)

Supercharged, backward and firm style, looked very young and powerful and utterly classic. It's a quintessentially modern wine, with the French oak sweetness a testament to that. But no hiding the very serious layers of dense, dusty black fruit. Yes. Double yes. Hunter fans buy it. 18.7/95 

Tulloch Private Bin Shiraz 2006 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Hunter Burgundy? No hiding the inspiration. Old school earth, leather and red fruit. Laidback, unforced, low alcohol style just primed for a long life in the cellar. Ageless even. Maybe a little too light for some? Cellarific. 18.3/93+

Tyrrell's Vat 9 Shiraz 2007 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Still so very primary! All fruit still at present, with gummy berry red fruit. Generous and full and almost pretty. Soft and long palate is deceptively light and juicy. Achingly young though. Leave it in the cellar. 18/93+

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Bollinger - a quick snapshot of the range

Bollinger - a quick snapshot of the range

100 years of Bollinger Special Cuvée
I like Bollinger.

I like their uncompromised winemaking approach and I like their understated marketing. No flashy Moët-esque packaging either, just class.

In fact, the only impediment to me 'loving' Bollinger is that the NV (Special Cuvée) has been a slightly variable beast at times, largely due to some very questionable parallel imports that popped up recently (which were in very poor condition. Caveat emptor for anyone buying a bottle not wearing the official 'imported by Fine Wine Partners' back label) and made buying Bollinger outside of a bottleshop something of a lottery.

I believe that the parallel supply has dried up now though and, as you can see below, the 'official' stock is tip-top stuff.

The following Bollinger wines then were tasted at a fabulous sit down masterclass earlier in the year, put on to celebrate 100 years since the naming of the Bollinger Special Cuvée. Not a bad milestone that one....

Notes from the winery are in italics.

Bollinger Special Cuvée NV (Champagne, France) 12.5% RRP $110
Based on Pinot Noir (60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Meunier) with approximately 80% of the grapes sourced from premier or grand cru vineyards. It spends three years on lees with 20-35% fermented in barrel, the rest in stainless steel. 5-10% reserve wine (from magnum) is included in the blend, with the reserve wines up to 15yrs old.
Probably the best looking Special Cuvée I've seen in some time. Fresh, lively and really quite impressive. Clear colour, fine bead and lifted with a hint of oak richness it looked very Bollinger (in a good way). Palate is dry, pure and lean but with nice layers of creamy yeast, oak and fruit. Complete NV and very drinkable. 17.5/91

Bollinger Coteaux Champenois
A still Bollinger oddity.
Bollinger Coteaux Champenois La Côte aux Enfants 2002 (Champagne, France) RRP $220
The only still wine in the Bollinger range, this has been made for for 100 years+. Produced from a single, south facing 1 hectare grand cru vineyard near the heart of Aÿ. Fermented cold for 10-12 days and then aged in 3-5yr old 205 litre oak barrels for 2yrs. A portion of this is blended with the Grande Année white to produce the Grande Année Rosé. Picked at 12 baume, with 7g/l acidity. Interestingly, it's still cropped at 8 tonnes hectare, which is fine for Champagne but would make Burgundians weep (with envy. A $220 wine cropped at 8 tonnes a hectare? Wow). Just 4,300 bottles produced.
This was served cold which was a plain puzzling move, for it's not exactly fruit sweet. As it warmed up the dense, yet restrained nose showed little more than ferrous, under-ripe Pinot Noir. The palate is quite a surprise then, with the sharp and metallic edges softened thanks to bottle age and some rather stylish if metallic fruit. Whilst ultimately a slightly hard, ungenerous and aggressively tannic wine, there is some elegant, non-fruit winey characters in there to keep it drinkable.  16.8/89

Bollinger Rosé NV (Champagne, France) RRP $170
62% Pinot Noir, 24% Chardonnay, 14% Pinot Meunier. 85% premier and grand cru fruit with 5% still Pinot Noir from Cote d’Ay and Verzenay. 8.5g/L dosage. Served from magnum.
A very pretty smelling wine this one, with sweet sherbety, strawberry and talc on the nose. Lovely bead too, very nice. The palate is really quite tart in comparison, a little short, tight and sweet, all front, then a hole and then dry through the finish. Disjointed. It's odd to say this, but I think that more bottle age is needed to try and bring everything together (or at least this bottle). 16.5/88+

Bollinger La Grande Année 2000 (Champagne, France) RRP $250
16 Crus used in this blend, 76% grand, 24% premier cru. 63% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay. 100% barrel fermentation. 7-9g/L dosage. Tricky year this one according to Bollinger winemaker Stephen Leroux, with 20% of Champagne lost to botrytis. Incidentally he also mentioned that 2001 was an 'ordinary' Champagne year and that up to 35% of the 2010 crop was lost to Botrytis.
Golden yellow colour. Very mealy, rich and full nose on this one, with a real biscuity, smoky yeast and oak fullness to it. Perhaps a fraction forward and mature but also in the prime of it's life. Delicious. Palate too is full and golden, rich and just teetering on the edge of being brassy, the richness of bottle age and the oak ferment giving sweetness, contrasting against the acid backbone. Very nice wine for immediate drinking pleasure. 18.2/93

Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 1999 (Champagne, France) RRP $320
17 villages used with 82% grand, 18% premier cru vineyards. 65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay. 100% barrel ferment. Cellared in magnum under natural cork. A blend of Grande Année sparkling with 7-8% La Côte aux Enfants still wine. 7-9g/L dosage. This vintage is apparently comparable with 1970 and 1983.
Lovely salmon orange colour. Carries that same rich and biscuity nose like the 2000 'white' does. Again a lovely fine bead. Rich palate contrasts with the drying tannic heaviness of the base red wine making for a back palate that is stripped a little of it's sexy generosity. Still, you'd have to argue that this should be a stunning wine with another decade of bottle age, particularly given how structurally sound it is. Hold! 17.3/90+

Bollinger R.D. 1997 (Champagne, France) RRP $395
Essentially the 1997 La Grande Année held back on its lees (in magnum) for at least 8 years, whilst this particular bottle was disgorged in July 2010. 3-4g/L dosage. 1997 was an inclement vintage that eventually ended dry and hot. Served from magnum.

1988 Bollinger R.D
Would love to see a fresh bottle of this
Wow. Stunning nose. Slightly cheesy, prominent autolysis yeast richness, with a hint of almost floral wildness. A hint of caramel and butterscotch too. Sexy stuff, proper Champagne indeed. Massively concentrated and powerful palate fits the nose perfectly, with a finish that is clean and quite pure. Full, powerful and chunky, with a quite warm finish. Surprisingly sprightly acidity too. Such length! I want to take this home and drink it all night long. Superb wine. Lovely Champagne this. 18.6/94

Bollinger R.D. 1988 (Champagne, France) RRP $?
17 crus with 66% grand and 34% premier cru vineyards. 72% Pinot Noir, 28% Chardonnay. pH 2.97. Disgorged circa 1998 and has spent the last 13yrs in the cellar of Paul Boothy of Fine Wine Partners. Served from magnum.
Sparse but fine bead, this looks more like a still wine than a Champagne. Flat, somewhat caramelised nose is just a bit decayed and broad, aldehydic wafts. Palate is surprisingly lean if mushroomy at the edges, with still very firm acidity. It's obviously on the decline but still complex and layered. Would have been a stunner a few years back. Still plenty of interest here. 17.7/92

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Burge's fortified treasure trove

Burge's fortified treasure trove

(FYI: I've written this with my 'print publication' hat on so the tone is a little different to most of the rest of the posts on this blog)

Grant Burge's new Flor yeast starter
Has sex appeal for yeast addicts
What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think Grant Burge wines?

For me it's Shiraz, American oak and rich old school flavours. Grant Burge, in my head, stands for traditional Barossan styles, of solid, full flavoured wines that pack plenty of punch for their respective pricepoints, yet aren't strictly all that exciting (though there's exceptions of course, such as the sexy 'Abednego').

But there's another layer to Grant Burge wines. A layer that fits in with this 'classic Barossa' ethos particularly well, something that I really wasn't expecting to be impressed by during a recent trip to Grant Burge.

I'm talking about fortifieds, the forgotten soul of this part of the wine world. Specifically, I'm focusing on sherry, muscat, port et al, all of which just aren't all that cool in the Barossa anymore.

I don't think anyone told Grant Burge that though. Or at least he doesn't listen to them.

Speaking of Grant, he seems to be a joyously headstrong character, with even his sons (who work as viticulturists and winemakers within the family business) butting heads with him over ideas. Grant is very much a self-made man, with his methods shaped by many years of having to build, grow and protect what has become one of the Barossa's largest family operations. In fact, Grant Burge wines have the most vineyard plantings of any family in the Barossa, with Burge still vigorously planting at his new Corryton Park vineyard at the southern end of the Eden Valley.

Given the scale and success of this business then it's of little wonder that Grant is so confident of his approach. The only challenge, perhaps, comes from the issue of just how dominant Grant obviously is within the business, which I'd argue may be limiting the innovation (by stifling others ideas) of the table wines in particular. Still, as his sons begin to stamp more of their personality on things you'd expect this to change, and the recent flow of new sparklings and moscatos (plus less new oak for the reds) show that evolution is happening. Watch this space.

On the flipside, this patience and love of traditional methods and styles is very conducive to fortified wine production, which probably explains why Burge is the only Barossan winemaker I know that is ramping up his fortified production. Heck, Grant's even cultivating a population of flor yeasts for sherry production (see the picture above), which is positively archaic (but welcome) in the scheme of things.

The Grant Burge fortified winery
Lots of fortified love
The photo to the right probably doesn't do the place all that much justice, but it does give a little glimpse into how serious this fortified operation is. No forgotten warehouse here. Pictured is the main Burge fortified storage area, with extensive stocks of mature tawny port and Muscat taking pride of place. Burge is also working on a Pedro Ximénez to go alongside the aforementioned sherry project too (it's about 5 years off yet), just to underline the attention this fortified lover is receiving (did I mention how much I love good PX? A barrel sample of Burge's wine was already looking slinky).

My only question then is why? Why pursue fortifieds in an era when the style itself is dying? I put that question to Grant himself, and his main answer was that he felt it was part of his legacy, that this was a part of Barossan wine history that really needs to be preserved and nurtured.

Speaking of nurturing, the Burge team are exploring some innovative ways to market their tawny (the tawny being the main Burge fortified) too. One such idea is to have a cooper build branded 30 litre oak barrels and then fill them with youngish tawny, with the barrels essentially offered at just the price of the tawny within it to both trade and public. Apparently the takeup has been unexpectedly strong, as publicans and anyone with a home bar see this as a way of adding some old school bar stylin' on a budget.

Just how good is this tawny you ask? Well, the 20yo has a raft of bling to it's name, including Best Sweet Fortified over £10 at the 2010 Decanter Wine Awards, so it comes well qualified. Tastes it too, with all the effortless sweetness and richness that you expect of South Australian tawny port styles, yet with a savoury vein. A welcome savoury vein at that.

The wine that seduced me, however, was not this 20yo but an older Barossan tawny port style, a wine crafted using solera matured fortified Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvedre and a wine that is 'estimated' by Burge to be approximately 50 years old. This wine is known as 'Percy's Particular' and is largely kept aside as the ultimate pinch hitter, with tiny drops added to the 20yo wine to give it that extra edge of complexity.

Sadly, I can't begin to explain how expansive, decadent and powerful Percy's Particular is really, for I had one of those world stopping, 'shit this is good' moments that was really very emotive (and deeply memorable) and stopped me actually writing a tasting note. It's that good. The only thing that I can compare it to is the 100yo Seppelt Para ports, of which I've been lucky to try a few vintages of and count as some of the most memorable wine experiences of my life.

I wrote this note at the time of trying Percy's however, and whilst it doesn't make all that much sense really I think you get the gist:

Percy's Particular Tawny (barrel sample)
'Immensely syrupy, warm, powerful and full, burning, long, syrupy, choc richness through the finish. Sex wine. Choc caramel brown sugar sex wine. Achingly intense. Parker-like counting the minutes of the finish. Fucking amazing 19.2/96'

Suffice to say I liked it. Again, what sets this apart is that it never seemed overly sweet, unlike say Penfolds Grandfather, which always looks just too overtly oak-sweet and flashy. It's a very soft style though, all about sugar rather than tannins, but the seduction is through the roof and the length is other-wordly. It lingered and lingered and lingered. Wow wine.

Grant Burge 1956 Muscat
Amazingly concentrated stuff

As if that wasn't enough, Grant brought out one further wine to up the ante - a barrel sample of a 1956 Barossan Muscat. To say it brought out a few 'ewws' and 'arrs' was to put it mildly. Personally, I found Percy's to be a more complete wine, as the Muscat just looked a fraction volatile and heady, but no doubting the layers of chocolatey, richly raisined fruit that were so amazingly concentrated and dense that they also stopped time. I think fellow blogger Patrick 'The Wining Pom' Haddock remarked that he could 'bathe in this stuff' at the time (I snidely reminded him that as an Englishman it would be his first ever bath ;)).

After trying these little snippets of Barossan fortified history it was interesting to come right back to the 10yo and 20yo tawnys, with both wines showing welcome depth (the 20yo in particular) for a very fair price. I'd gladly have the 20yo on my kitchen bench.

In fact, looking at any of these wines and it's blindingly obvious just how fine they are. World class is a modest description I think, for even top Portugese tawny port can't match the unctuous depth of these babies (vintage port is a different story). Yet still they don't get the recognition they deserve.

As we eventually shut the doors on this quiet old winery I was still left with questions. Can sweet fortifieds make a come back? Who, besides me (and Grant), still drinks them? How are we going to let the rest of the world know about these world class fortified treasures?

I still don't know the answers....

Footnote: Special thanks to Grant Burge wines and Will Fuller/all the staff at Fuller for organising this trip.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Wynnsday 2011 Wynns Releases

Wynnsday 2011 Wynns Releases

Wynnsday Sydney party
Today is Wynnsday, the one Wednesday of the year when all things Wynns are celebrated. No matter what you think of Wynns themselves, it's not hard to appreciate the continuity of this annual Wynnsday celebration and the history and prestige of the label itself, though whether it's always been managed like it should be is an entirely different prospect.

From where I sit it seems that Treasury Estates (owner of Wynns) though are placing more attention on the wines than ever before, with extensive mainstream Wynnsday print and digital advertising, plus no shortage of expense dropped on the live events today.

Here in Sydney that meant hiring out a sizable room Pyrmont's Doltone House and inviting 120 trade guests (independent retailers and restauranteurs mainly) to taste the wines, eat hors d'oeuvres and watch a live video linkup direct from the panel tasting in Coonawarra (where the likes of James Halliday, Jeremy Oliver and Peter Bourne tasted the wines with winemaker Sue Hodder and viticulturist Allen Jenkins).

Given the scale of the tasting, and considering that similar tastings were simultaneously taking place in Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide (with Hong Kong to follow), there was little questioning the commitment to the Wynnsday concept

All this pomp and ceremony amounts to naught though if the wines don't perform, especially given that a few of this wines come from the problematic 08 vintage (so dangers abound) in particular. Wits were thus kept...

The best thing about this tasting though was just to look at the wines in a proper, back-to-back lineup. Nothing like sitting there with a glass of 09 Black Label, 08 Riddoch and 08 Davis Cabernet in front of you to truly deconstruct the range. Wine geek heaven. Kicked up some interesting results too.

Broadly speaking this is a solid lineup of wines, even if not all of them are strictly to my tastes, with the only real obstacle being that of extreme youth. Plus signs are super important in this context.

The wines (notes in italics come from the winery):

Wynns Coonawarra Riesling 2011

Stainless steel maturation, 12% alc. "Crisper than we've seen in the last couple of vintages" Sue Hodder. RRP $23
Looks very fresh and very clean this year. Purity plus and looking more 'cool climate' than ever. It's limey too, very limey, with much more lime juice and talc than usual. Achingly fresh even. Dry and brisk palate is rather natural and crisp, if still a fraction too ill-defined for big love. Certainly the best Wynns Rieslings in some time though and will only get better with bottle age. Unquestionably drinkable. Drink now - 2015+. 17.3/90+

Wynns Coonawarra Chardonnay 2011

One third matured in seasoned French oak and the rest in stainless. 12.5%. RRP $23
Another achingly fresh white, this looked rather disjointed too, with nutty (oak chip?) oak sitting on top of everything. Beyond that it's peach and melon fruit over a rather sour, melon and white peach palate. Texturally stunted, the acidity is prominent but the wine falls very short and sharply, it's freshness the only redeeming feature. Simple and so ridiculously backward, this looked far far too young. Drink 2012-2015. 15.8/86++

Wynns Shiraz 2010
10 months in French and American oak. 14%. RRP $23
Very pulpy, ripe and purple fruit nose, it's a fraction volatile but also so very juicy, open and fluffy. In fact, it looks very un-serious considering the heritage of the label, with a cavalcade of round peppery fruit on parade but little else. Open knit tannins don't really help things either. Strictly speaking it's too young to pass judgement, yet coming back to this at the end it looked just a fraction simple, forward and lacking in tannins. There's still plenty of 'Coonawarra' in it though, which bumped up the score. Drink 2012-2017+. 16.5/88+ 

Wynns 'The Siding' Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
12 months in new and seasoned French and American oak barrels. 14%. RRP $23
Apparently this 'green label' can be found for $14, at which price it's quite fair Coonawarra drinking. A very purple coloured red, this smells of brambly, red earth tinged blackberry fruit. In fact the only key thing it lacks is that deep cedary Coonawarra varietal/regional thing, instead looking much plumper and a bit too sweet through the grainy finish. Still pleasant drinking on a budget. Drink 2012-2015. 16.8/89

Wynnsday Merchandise
Seriously good pen too!
Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Matured for 15 months in both old and new French and American oak barriques. 54th release of this wine. 14% RRP $35
Immediately more redder and darker than the Siding, this looked the real deal. Smells it too. There's a big does of slightly gluey, caramel oak on the nose which can be a bit distracting (and why are they still using American oak for this?). Underneath it's proper dark chocolate and dusty choc/mint leaf Coonawarra goodness though. I like that. I like how dry and 'typical' Black Label this is, even if it's a slightly skinny, sweeter wine than some vintages. What really seals the deal though is the finish. It's long, regal and very Coonawarra, looking even more ageworthy and proper when compared to the rest of the Cabernets in this lineup. Buy with confidence. Every time I came back to this I liked it more. Drink now-2020+ 18.1/93+ 

Wynns V & A Lane Shiraz 2009
Matured for 15 months in 70% new and 30% one year old French oak. 13.5%. RRP $50
Very sweet. Lavishly sweet and oaky from the get-go. It's bound to seduce but I think this is a slutty, sweetly shallow wine that is very ripe, cherry ripe-ish and fat, the fruit profile showing strained overripeness and a skinny finish, the acidity particularly pointed on the finish. I'm not a fan but I can see why people would like this. Plenty of scope for improvement in the bottle though. Drink now-2016. 16.5/88+ 

Wynns V & Land Cabernet Shiraz 2009
70% Cabernet, 30% Shiraz. Matured for 15 months in 67% new and 33% one year old French oak. 13.5%. RRP $50
That overt juiciness of the above wine drags this down in my books, marring the darker, drier Cabernet fruit underneath. I think this might well come good with some time in bottle, as the Cabernet component looks rather fine. Drink 2012-2020. 17.5/91++

Wynns Davis Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Sourced from a vineyard that was planted in 1957 and 'renovated' in 2003. One of the oldest blocks in Coonawarra it is located in the centre of the strip just south of the winery. Matured in 50% new and 40% one year old French oak. 14%. RRP $50
Marked with the thumbprint of the vintage this one, of wines that seem to have been pressed off skins a little earlier and left with more residual sugar than in previous years, leading to finished products that don't have the same tannins or firmness of the best vintages.

In this case it transpires as a quite jammy and overripe wine (on the nose at least) with that under/over mixed ripeness character of the year. Raspberries and leaf. Surprisingly, it looks much fresher, tighter and attractive on the palate though. There's a freshness and openness of the palate that is also a vintage character, a real open 'fruity' character that is appealing but also not quite classic. I can again see the appeal here, though it's ultimately a more simple and less satisfying wine than the more rugged, less polished 09 Black Label. Drink now-2018. 17.1/90+

Wynns Michael Shiraz 2008
Matured for 14 months in 60% new and 40% one year old French oak. 14.5%. RRP $90
Time to crack out the big boys! A much less oaky wine than some previous Michaels this too. It's layered with creamy oak sweetness still, coffee cream oak along with red cedar fruit. Seriously structured and masculine, the only real downer is the sweetness. It again carries the openness of the vintage, with just a little fat in there (that should settle down) and not quite the tannic length. Perhaps too sweet for immediate drinking, though will settle. Nice wine, if not in the realm of the Cabernets. Drink 2014-2020+. 17.6/92++

Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Matured for 22 months in 53% new, 40% one year old, 7% two year old French oak. 14%. RRP $90
So interesting to see this next to the Black Label and to move back and forward between the two. This, for a Riddoch, looks almost pretty and quite open, imbued with a vintage derived plushness to the whole package. Indeed it's really quite red fruity on the nose, generous and fleshy without those gritty tannins of most previous releases. If anything it's not gritty or structured enough for me, looking sweet next to the less plush 09 Black Label. Still, I think it's got the legs for at least medium term cellaring and no doubting that it's still classy. I'm hanging out for the 09 though based on that Black Label...Drink 2014-2022+. 18/93+

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Derwent Estate Riesling 2010

Derwent Estate Riesling 2010 (Derwent Valley, Tasmania)
12%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

Derwent Estate Riesling
Drink it by the jug
If anything, Tasmania remains the promised land of Australian Riesling, a part of Australia that has always hinted that it could be a superior place (for this most superior grapes), but has yet to produce a definitive wine. In many ways this is a style issue, as 'Tassie style Riesling' really doesn't stand for all that much right now. It will though, and I think if anywhere in Australia can pull off an 'off dry' Rizza it's Tasmania. Watch this space....

As for this wine? Well it's simply delicious. Simple because it's not a super complex wine, nor is it blindingly intense, but what it does do is present a rather juicy, lightly sweet style that is refreshing, surprisingly minerally and altogether quite well balanced. It's the sort of wine that you're halfway through a second glass before you begin to acknowledge it's more serious side and then follow it up with another glass. Drinkability is not a problem here, though it's not quite at the 'I'd bathe in it' stage'.

It's a quite green appley wine actually, with a floral, jasmines and apple nose that is sweetened by just a hint of sherbety residual sugar. The palate is quite a tangy thing too, a bit of a an apple margarita wine with a spoonful of sugar and a lovely acid line through the finish. Clear, vibrant and pebbley fresh it's a rather friendly wine if ever there was one.

I liked it and it went down well with the small group of imbibers/booze hounds with me, even though a few remarked that they found it just a little simple (which I'm not going to disagree with). Nice wine regardless. 17.6/91