Thursday, 29 September 2011

Guigal - the agony, the ecstasy, the prices

Guigal - the agony, the ecstasy, the prices

The best in Guigal
When I think of Guigal, one of the things that comes to mind is Penfolds.

That connection may sounds odd, particularly as they are quite different operations, yet I think that if you're looking for an example of wineries that produce large volumes of wine whilst still maintaining a reputation for 'icons' (particularly for Shiraz/Syrah), then these two are it.

Another thing that Guigal and Penfolds have in common is their most popular wines. In the case of Guigal, that's the Cotes du Rhone rouge, whilst for Penfolds it's the Bin 28 Shiraz. What both wines share is a solid, well earned reputation for good drinking (and cellar worthiness) at a very fair price.

Given this consistency, it was something of a surprise to taste through the Guigal range this week and uncover so many wine faults in so many wines.. Not just the odd off-smell either, but brett and sulphide issues a go-go (and well beyond the excusable point). Obviously it's the Rhone, so higher pH's, high sugar and low sulphur tends to encourage the odd stinky wine, but I was amazed at the variability of these current release wines.

In the same breath however - and here comes the ectasy - the highlights really are pretty damn high. You have to pay dearly for said highlights, though anything that gets you this high is bound to cost a bit really...

The wines:

(All were tasted non-blind in the company of Guigal Global Ambassador Brett Crittenden at Porter's Chatswood [here in Sydney]. All prices are as stated on the night [and look competitive for Australia]. Notes in italics are from the winery).

Guigal Cote du Rhone Blanc 2009 $19.99

Primarily Viognier and Rousanne. Fermented in tank.
Quintessentially a broad wine, yet also with some sharp edges. Carries a tinny, sweet, slightly volatile nose with a dash of Viognier apricot richness for good measure. It's a nose you almost love, if only it was more focused. The palate follows this with a warm, lightly viscous and quite generous expression of simple fruit. Quaffable enough. 15.8/87

Guigal Condrieu 2009 $79
What a lovely nose this has, with real vibrant florals and varietal purity all signalling that this is a very correct Condrieu. That 'correctness' here translates as nectarines, peach nectar and fleshy Viognier varietal opulence, which is all very nice indeed. Nice nose. The palate is actually (surprisingly) tight after the open nose, sitting lightly peachy and still quite restrained through it's length, with everything all set in place for future joy.

All good so far! It all goes awry however through the finish, which is - to put it simply - seriously warm and spirituous, leaving a strong alcohol burn that lingers far too long.

Still, there is so much that I like about this wine that I'm still finding firmly in it's favour, even if I wish that it was less boozy (and would have scored it even higher if it was). 17.8/92

Guigal La Doriane 2009
Guigal Condrieu 'La Doriane' 2009 $149
8 months in 100% new French oak barriques.
On the label this wine has a stated alcohol level of 13.5% ABV. Now, technically at least, Guigal are only allowed +/- 0.5% variation on this stated mark. If this is actually 13.5% however then you can call me Ned Kelly. As someone chimed in with on twitter (I think it was that troublemaker from Cogito :0) this 'tastes like burning'.

Putting the alcohol aside for a minute, the rest of the wine is pretty sexy, if ridiculously overt. Colourwise it's quite yellow with golden edges, just hinting at the fully ripe golden grapes it came from. The nose is a big and bold thing too, with loads of floral-ish, sweet caramel oak and creamy, 'let's stir these barrels once more for good luck', leesy richness. In many ways all that artifice obscures the fruit underneath actually, though the pineapple and apricot bits that do poke through look properly concentrated and juicy, and as the oak and such settles down it should no doubt improve. From the nose to the palate that line follows straight through, the flavours cast in a similar vein to the AC Condrieu and still tight and quite long, if dominated by oak. It's still a rather nice sweet/sour, oak/fruit sexiness going on though, even if it's OTT.

All this sounds pretty tasty so far doesn't it? Yet here comes the rub. The alcohol. It burns. It's searing and dominating and seriously unattractive, taking away from the joyous oak and fruit of the rest of the wine and leaving you with nasty burns. It's even more pronounced in La Doriane, as the palate is quite wound up in the oak too.

A slightly challenging wine (of sorts), the only question that remains is what to score this? Strictly speaking it's a very good wine, but how much do you take off for alcohol excess? I'm settling for 17.5/91+, which looks a fraction generous in a way (or not, depending on how you look at it). Why higher than the AC Condrieu you ask? Largely as it's not much fun to drink right now. The scores should swap in the future though (even though the alcohol will not go down).

Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2007 $19.99
50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre.
Always nice to check in with this wine, if just to recalibrate. It's not a bad drink this vintage too, if not quite on the same level as the top 2005.

Already a little tawny in colour this looks utterly Grenache-y on the nose with slightly dirty, slow cooked beef , caramel, soil and a little candied red berries.  If you get into a bit of Grenache then you wont mind the earthen oddities around the edges here for it looks very solid.

The palate looks grungy, dirty, meaty, Rhoney and generally all round good, finishing off with some grainy tannins to boot. It tastes of old barrels, earthen, lightly bretty rustic fruit and meaty medium bodied GSM savouriness. It's not especially concentrated or delineated but no questioning the baseline 'where's my roast beef' drinkability. 16.5/88

Guigal Gigondas 2007 $59.99
God I hope this is a bad bottle. Huge sulphide hit on the nose, horribly so. Palate too is all stink, no fun. After some vigorous swirling I did see a hint of grapes in here, but then the sulphides came back to fuck everything up again. Pass. 13/73

Guigal Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005 $88
A moveable feast of a wine. At first I loved it, but as the night wore on (over about 2 hours) I grew very tired of it. I'm going to split the tasting note up into section a) b) and c) to illustrate:

a) First Impressions - Meaty, white and black pepper, beef ghoulash, pork, peppercorns and biltong. Rather bretty? Regardless the nose is rich and deep and the dry, meaty animale palate is nicely rich and full with plenty of brett sausage action but also plenty of fruit richness. Nice grainy tannins. Intriguing if bretty. 17.7/92

b) The Second Look - Yes it's bretty bit it's also firm and deep and very CdP. I like it still. 17.5/91

c) The Last Taste - Yuck. Band-aid 'bad brett' has taken over and the fruit has gone. Looking hard, bretty and unpleasant now. 14/78

Would I buy it? If you could bottle up the joys of the 'First Impressions' then yes. Otherwise this is a ticking wine bomb of brett...

Guigal Crozes-Hermitage 2006 $38.99
A very traditional Crozes style in many ways, with plenty of that trademark borderline ripeness of yore. There's still some charisma here however and I do think that is drinkable juice.

It all kicks off with peppercorn, ham sandwiches and sappy red fruit on the lean, slightly herbal nose, over a palate that is The something of a contrast to the nose, looking cranberried, beefy but not underripe with some length to shout about. It reminded me of a cool year Coonawarra Shiraz actually (but without the Eucalypt). In many ways it's an odd wine but I think with steak it could satisfy. 16.8/89

Guigal Saint-Joseph Lieu Dit Rouge 2008 $69.99
100% new oak for this puppy and it looks it too. Sexy oak mind you. Oh and love the 'Treasures' label and proprietary bottle for this red. Lots to like!

Some vibrant purple edges on what is a very bright wine (in this lineup). Carries a rather rich, modern and oaky polished nose with lipstick, plums and white pepper. A juicy nose if perhaps too oak driven for big love. Palate is sweet, chocolately and light, with lifted acidity and a rather light finish. Once the oak settles down this should be a solid wine, if a much lighter, polished wine than most of the other Guigal wines. 17/90+

Guigal Hermitage 2005 $115
Now we're getting serious. This took at least an hour and a half in the glass to start hitting it's straps, so I think a decent decant is required to drink it now.

A deep, dark red/black fruited wine with charcoal, roast beef, beef jerky and a hint of truffle. It's a slightly dried out, dusty nose that freshens up with air, though still points straight to secondary flavours with nary a bright berry in sight. The palate too is dry, earthen and linear with a rather brawny mid palate that hooks you in, even though it's very much a mid weight wine. I keep thinking about 'brown' the whole way through this wine (hello pesky synesthesia) and I think this means the wine is a beefy and masculine one.

Still coming together, this is deep, dark and meaty, driven by secondary flavours and loads of structure, which marks it as something of a classic Guigal Syrah. 17.9/92+

Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d'Ampuis 2007 $220
95% Syrah, 5% Viognier.
I raved about this at the Winestate Shiraz Challenge tasting recently and it looked pretty good again here, if just a little Viognier heavy. It's still the archetype for modern Shiraz Viognier, carrying the silkiness that Shiraz/Viog does so well.

It all kicks off with a very sexy nose, one that looks rather fruit driven compared to the other wines of this bracket, the nose carrying more cranberry, pan juices and macerated plum, all prettied up by the Viognier addition. It works wonders on the palate too, fleshing out the very linear, dry, dirt-meets-deep-black-fruit meatiness, all ending with fine grained - if just a little oak driven - tannins.

What I like about this wine is how well the Viognier sits. It's almost like the perfect + 1, the Viognier a pretty ying to the masculine Syrah yang, ultimately producing a complete wine that shows off all the good things about Shiraz/Syrah and Viognier. A Shirognier archetype. 18.4/94

Guigal Ex Voto Rouge 2007
Guigal Côte-Rôtie 'La Landonne' 2007 $650ish (not for sale)
100% Syrah. 42 months in new oak.
A powerfully divisive wine, this carries a distinctive herbal black pepper nose that looks floral, herbaceous and dense (all at once). It's a curious nose, with black dirt, meaty, stalky (though I don't think this is whole bunch) wildness and untamed depth. Woah. Unique indeed. The palate is very firm, large and dense, looking just a fraction roasted, extractive and very long, a big hulking thing loaded with dark dirty tannins and a hardcore dense mid palate. A firm and uncompromising wine this should make very old bones (but I wouldn't drink it now) and deserves appreciation just for how uncompromisingly winey it is. A 30yr wine without question. Heroic stuff and so wonderfully authentic, powerful and focused. 18.7/95+

Guigal Ermitage Ex Voto Rouge 2007 $650ish (not for sale)
100% Syrah.
If La Landonne is the hulking muscle man then this wine is it's pin stripe suited brother. Immediately more modern, less distinctive and much more polished than La Landonne and really rather approachable, though clearly comes from a royal, cellarworthy bloodline. A much more purple wine it is too with jubey, black licorice and flashy oak, tinted with a hint of sweet berry and chocolate for good measure. On the palate it's more of the same with cola, licorice, black fruits and tar, with the thick mid palate wrapped in softening cocoa powder, before quite soft - if still prominent - fine grain tannins.

A Rhone Shiraz doing a very good impression of an ultra high end Barossa Shiraz (Teusner FG, Torbreck Laird etc) but with a more licoricey, less warm heart. It is perhaps just on the boozy side, but no doubting the savoury, cola, berries and earth seduction tactics employed here (and it was easily the most popular wine of the tasting). I'd still take the classicist route and choose the La Landonne in the longer run, but if you were looking for a Shiraz for dinner this makes a pretty compelling case. Very fine Syrah. 18.6/94

Monday, 26 September 2011

Wooed by Henschke

Wooed by Henschke

Henschke Hill of Grace Vineyard
(Photo by Kate Parry)
It must have been 6 or 7 degrees in the Henschke tasting room, perhaps less. Needless to say it was cold. I was cold. The wines were cold too, to the point were I spotted icicles in my Shiraz (ok, I might be lying about the icicles).

Surprisingly though the wines looked great, better even than I thought they would be. I was impressed. I was wooed even, brought over to the Henschke way of thinking from a lightly sceptical, if still reverential, position....

I mean, I've always enjoyed the top Henschke wines - Mt Ed and Cyril in particular - yet the lesser labels have often left me questioning whether this famous marque might be living off it's hallowed reputation.

But not that day. No. The light was on and the wines were awake.

Let's step back a bit then. I was at Henschke on that chilly June morning to finally kick the dirt and smell the air. I wanted to resolve with myself just why this place was considered so special by so many, and with Prue Henschke herself on hand to show us around (with her new little dog too) I was certainly going to get a proper insiders perspective.

Given that Prue is the viticulturist it's probably of little surprise that the highlight of this trip was our visit to the Hill of Grace vineyard, which I've got to say looked like one of the most healthy and 'evolved' vineyards I've seen. By evolved I mean that it was glowing with best-practice viticulture, featuring trials of new native cover crops (a Wallaby grass for those interested) and experimental new fruiting wire systems (in conjunction with the Uni of Adelaide) along with the utilisation of biodynamic preparations and extensive mulching under vine.

The Henschke Cellars with said barrels of dark liquids
Photo: Kate Parry
It was a vineyard that looked every bit as special as the wine that comes from it, a carefully nurtured terroir piece with the Gnadenberg church peering from across the road as if to reiterate that this is indeed hallowed ground.

To be honest, after the vineyard the cellars themselves were more museum than anything else. They're old and ornate, complete with archiac underground vats and odd barrels full of fortifieds and strange liquids. Yet the mystique here is in the vineyard, the winery setup somehow compromised (in my head at least) by the rows of shiny tanks and modern presses, as if to reiterate that wine really is made in the (Henschke) vineyard....

Anyway, onto the wines. All of these were tasted non blind, in early June, at a seriously low temperature. I think I was particularly generous with the scores, but I'll let you be the judge.

Henschke Louis Semillon 2008 (Eden Valley)
Green, grassy, fresh style with simple lean melon fruit and just a whisper of oak/lees complexity. It's maturing rather well, putting on a little extra weight through the middle now which only adds to the attraction. A pleasant, simple white with a spoonful of style. 16.8/89

Henschke Julius Riesling 2010 (Eden Valley)
Really fragrant and quite pretty, this looks zesty, fresh and pure, the palate rather rich for Eden Valley but with soft, genuine acidity. The real attraction though is the late hit of juicy textural lift, a final phenolic thrust that propels the whole wine forwards. Nice wine. 17.8/92

Henschke Joseph Hill Gewurtztraminer 2010 (Eden Valley)
I'm such a sucker for good Gewurtz and I really rather liked this. White pepper, bath salts, lychee juice and no shortage of such aromatic delights. Palate is voluptuous without fat, nay it's even rather pretty with ripe tropical richness and a firm finish. Everything you would want in a Gewurtz really. 18/93+

Henschke Innes Pinot Gris 2007 (Adelaide Hills)
I think this suffered purely due to the extra bottle age. A soft and even a little flat style with a chalky edge but little in the way of varietal push. Just a fraction too broad and simple for me. 16.5/88
Henschke Julius - no icicles
Photo: Kate Parry

Henschke Tempranillo Graciano 2008 (Eden Valley)

An experimental wine and a seriously rare beast for anyone outside the Henschke circle to see. It comes off a vineyard that Prue calls the 'Hill of Unearthly Delights' which is essentially Henschke's own little R & D plot where everything from Tempranillo to Nebbiolo is planted. This particular blend may never see the light of day under a Henschke label, but suffice to say that there is interest here.

It's unquestionably a product of the roasting 2008 vineyard, with the fragrant, black pepper and chilli flake nose just that little bit warm and heavy around the edges. Still, the red/black, savoury and earthen fruit is really rather attractive, if somewhat confected, the palate needing only a little more concentration for big love. An intriguing experiment no question. 17/90

Henschke Abbots Prayer Merlot Cabernet 2008 (Adelaide Hills)

Now here is a surprise packet, a wine that doesn't always do it for me. It's a welcome and varietal beast this year despite the vintage, with a nose of glacé plums, black leafy Merlot fruit, and just a little mint, the whole wine cast reasonably ripely yet with restraint. The palate is a dry one, with firm stewed plum fruit all finishing with excellent, dry, fanning tannins. It's still a warmish beast, yet the tannins and varietal purity make for something really very smart. Nice wine. 17.8/92+

Henschke Cyril Henschke Cabernet blend 2007 (Eden Valley)
Drought year wine with excellent structure, if just a fraction hard. Ripe, slightly desiccated fruit with herbs and chocolate on the nose, backed by a long, dry, chocolate-and-cassis palate looks rather drying and firm. The key feature here is the tannins which are wonderfully long and well formed, yet they can't hide the slight lack of flesh on the bones. The tannins are what gets you with this wine though, the kicker to push it just into 'yes' territory. 17/90+

Henschke Mt Edelstone Shiraz 2008 (Eden Valley)

Solid as ever and a smart wine for the vintage. Red/black fruit nose with soy, chocolate and richly condensed red plum fruit. Has plenty of x factor going for it, even from the outset. Sweet fruit with a dark, sweetened core. It's a forward Mt Ed this one, a generous and plump style that probably lacks the structure of the best vintages though is unequivocably quite more-ish. Point up for the deliciousness, as it really is a tasty wine, though with the reservation that I can't see it improving dramatically in the future. 18/93

Hill of Roses
Sexy packaging!
Henschke Hill of Roses Shiraz 2006 (Eden Valley)
Prue says that the five spice Hill of Grace Shiraz smell is something you can pick it as soon as it hits the crusher, a beautiful aroma that is all pervading and used in small quantities to spice up other wines. For the first time ever Prue believes that she can smell that five spice character in this wine...

The Hill of Roses is produced from a section of the Hill of Grace vineyard known as the Post Office Block, with the vines in it just 19 years of age (too young for inclusion in the Hill of Grace itself).

What I most like about this wine is just how Hill of Grace like it is, with a spoonful of HoG x factor added for good measure. It's a fabulously wild and spicy (yes, five spice even) wine, with dense, soy sauce and reduced plums, a little black pepper, cloves and some black fruit. There's some chocolate oak in there too, a fine cocoa powder oak that is very attractive indeed. The palate fittingly is a serious one, that briary, concentrated, black and red fruit is matched to sweet cocoa flake oak and dry tannins. The whole package is firm, serious and oh so impressive. Stunning Shiraz, paled only by its brother the HoG. Wow wine. 18.7/95

Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz 2006 (Eden Valley)
It is such a treat to have the two 'Hill' wines next to each other. The difference between the two is only vine age, yet next to each other they are quite obviously different wines. What HoG has over HoR is an extra density, an extra wildness, that whiff of bacon fat and even deeper tannins.

To be honest I was amazed at how much I loved this wine. This little Henschke jaunt came just days after the Winestate Shiraz Challenge tasting and I have no doubt that this was of a similar calibre to the top wines in that tasting - ie world class.

Another deep, wildly spicy wine here, full of dark chocolate, five spice and black pepper. It's so classically rich, full and utterly 'Shiraz' in it's form, yet with that fatty meaty perfume of great Syrah. The palate too is all dark fruit, dark chocolate and sinewy tannins. It's worth mentioning those fine tannins actually, for it's always welcoming to see proper natural tannins in an Australian warm climate Shiraz (I'm calling Eden Valley warm climate for this purpose though some may debate that).

An immensely long, dense and satisfying wine this red entirely lives up to it's vaunted reputation... 19/96

(Special thanks to Fiona MacDonald from FWP for arranging this visit. You're a legend Fi)

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Clos Clare Grenache 2009

Clos Clare Grenache - clever
Clos Clare Grenache 2009 (Clare Valley, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

Clos Clare is the wine project of the younger Barry (of Jim Barry) generation, with Sam and Tom producing a select range of quite classic Clare Valley styles under the Clos Clare label. A straight Grenache is probably not the most classic of Clare wines, though if you did have a 40 year old biodynamic vineyard like the one that the Barry boys have access to then you'd probably make a straight Grenache too.

What I like about this wine is just how varietal it is. Every breath, move, taste is of Grenache. In some ways that even works to this wines detriment, showing up all the foibles of this most capricious of grape varieties. But I personally dip my hat to the boys for coming up with something so vibrantly Grenache-y.

In particular, it's the nose that smells the most varietally pure, with cooked plums, wet bitumen, cherries and smoky spice. It's the smell of blood and dirt, of red fruits and licorice density. Great stuff. The nose is rather a bit more traditional, with a concentrated mid palate, rather warm finish and smart grainy tannins. There's a welcome savouriness to the palate too (which I quite like), though as it opens up that whisper of Grenache confection and warm alcohol does take over a fraction.

A real Grenache done well, this has plenty going for it and is constrained only by that slight headiness. 17.8/92+

Holyman Chardonnay 2009

Holyman Chardonnay 2009 (Tamar Valley, Tas)
12.5%, Screwcap, $45
Source: Sample

Holyman Chardonnay. Clever
Tasmania really is sitting at the pointy end of cool climate wine production in Australia. It's like an epicentre of wine excitement, a hotbed of vinous glory, with great wine flowing out of the apple isle almost like magic. In fact, perhaps the only thing working against Tassie's global reputation is a matter of scale, with little outside of the sparkling focused producers - Jansz, Clover Hill, Bay of Fires etc - sitting above 'boutique' size.

The positives of such a focused, 'boutique' predilection is that the wines are generally made by smaller, passionate hands-on operations with a distinct leaning toward more 'premium' quality booze. The flipside of course is that there is less of said wines, they're higher priced and often rather hard to track down (particularly here on the mainland).

If you want a classic example of the sort of goodies that Tasmania can produce, then look no further than this Holyman Chardonnay. Made by Joe Holyman at his Tamar Valley winery, this is produced off vines that are now almost 25 years young (which is rather old indeed for the Tamar) and crafted in a thoroughly modern fashion. Think vineyard selections, whole bunch pressing, wild ferments and careful oak. Attentive winemaking and great grapes.

In the glass it looks thoroughly modern too, walking the tightrope balancing out acidity, underplayed fruit and oak, layered with some yeast derived complexity for good measure. At first I thought it leaned too far towards the sexy, spicy oatmeal oak and grapefruit acid style, but as it warmed in the glass the white peach fruit pulled everything back into equilibrium again.

A tight, restrained and very well formed wine, the beauty here is just how linear that acidity looks, an utterly natural expression of just ripe Chardonnay fruit and a steady winemaking hand. All it needs is just a little more time to put on weight in the bottle and it will be a megastar. 18.2/93+

Friday, 23 September 2011

Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay 2009

Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay 2009 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
13.5%, Screwcap, $40
Source: Sample

Bargain Chardonnay
(in context)
Riddle me this Batman - why is the M3 still so cheap? How is that a single vineyard Chardonnay, made by one seriously talented wine team and constantly lauded by reviewers, be is still so relatively inexpensive? I mean $40 is not inexpensive for many sure, but considering that it's competing in the same quality game as Pierro, Penfolds Bin A, Leeuwin Art Series etc, this is dead set cheap. Or at least I think so.

And this year is another goodun'. It's everything you'd want an M3 Chardonnay to be, kicking off with a nose of pineapple, coconut ices oak and a little malo creaminess that is built tight, defined and perfectly restrained. a quietly spoken young man in a very fine suit. What's the standout feature here is the poise - it  straddles the restraint/power balance pretty well. That palate has a lovely tight and quite delicate balance, with rather soft acidity if just a fraction warm through the finish. Think style and modern Chardonnay restraint, if maybe just a little light on the back palate persistence? Still lovely Chardy though, with a great line of velvet glove power, a proper line and no fat.

Enjoyable wine this, in a very classic Shaw & Smith mould. It almost writes itself really, such is the consistency of this label, again proving just how suitable the Adelaide Hills is for Chardonnay. 18/93

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Yarra Pinot at it's best - Riorret 'The Abbey' Pinot Noir 2008

Yarra Pinot at it's best - Riorret 'The Abbey' Pinot Noir 2008

Yum - lovely Pinot
Riorret eht etsaT
Riorret 'The Abbey' Pinot Noir 2008
13%, Diam, $35
Source: Retail

Riorret (which makes sense in the mirror) is one of Steve Webber's pet projects, a minimal intervention range of single vineyards Pinot Noirs produced from little parcels in the Yarra and the Mornington Peninsula. I reviewed this wines brother last year and liked it rather muchly. But this is even better again.

Drawn from a vineyard across the road from the Tarrawarra Abbey, a single plot planted to MV6 clones planted in 1993. The Webber's call this a Pinot for 'fine Pinot lovers' which I'm going to say sounds like me.

In the glass it certainly looks 'au naturel', with a brown rimmed red colour and an unfiltered murkiness. It's smells absolutely alive too, with a beautiful red fruit juiciness that is classic Yarra Pinot, a real  Strawberry/raspberry cherry meets cloves and stems pinosity that is pure varietal sex appeal. The palate doesn't dissapoint either, a warmish, juicy, classically soft and open Yarra palate of red fruits and spice, velveteen and smooth yet not sweet, just sappy.  What's most appealing is that real softness and surety to the palate coupled with a proper dark tang.

Wonderful Pinot drinking right in the zone. If you like the richly sexy Yarra style then this is your wine. 18.5/94

Perrin & Fils Vacqueyras Les Christins 2007

Perrin Vacqueryas
Perrin & Fils Vacqueyras Les Christins 2007 (Vacqueyras, Sthn Rhone, France)
14.5%, Cork, $45ish
Source: Retail

This was drunk whilst watching the Sydney Swans win a fortnight ago, a much stronger performance than the lame performance against Hawthorn last weekend. Damn you Swannies...

This is a beast of a wine. A thick, rich and dark red with seriously concentrated, dark Grenache fruits. It smells of little berries, unirrigated vines and a warm season, of serious density and latent power and old vines. It smells of it's place, of it's vintage and of it's style. The main impediment is that it's just too dessicated, dark and drying, heavy with blackness and roasted black fruit.

Still, no disguising the quality of the components. It's too ripe - and quite modern and rich - but that dark cola fruit is pretty awesome. Would love to see it in a less roasted vein. 16.5/88

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Behind the curtain: Judging at the NSW Wine Awards

Behind the curtain: Judging at the NSW Wine Awards

27 young Semillons = the breakfast of champions
For breakfast yesterday I had 27 2010 and 2009 Semillons (served blind)....

Ok, so it was more like second breakfast (I had a slightly dry muffin for my actual breakfast. I'd give it a 15/20) but the impact was still the same. Wonderfully bracing...

The reason I was starting my Monday with a bracket of young Semillon was because I was judging at the 2011 NSW Wine Awards, an annual wine show dedicated to finding the finest in NSW wines. My job yesterday was as an Associate - the one judge on each panel who's scores don't count (though they can influence the other judges). Our role (as a judging flock) was essentially as 'stunt judges' (as winemaker Mike de Iuliis called it) with normal bronze, silvers, golds etc handed out, yet with all the silver and gold medal winners then retasted again today by the 'real judges' (essentially many of the same judges - with a few new interlopers - but on different panels).

The aim of such a multi-step process is that it should (hopefully) produce more consistent results, with the Top 40 wines and NSW Wine of the Year the ultimate end game. To further level the playing field in this show there are no restrictions on the size of the producer (unlike nearly all other wine shows) so big company wines are tasted alongside tiny boutique products. Further still, the wines are also sorted by the climate they are drawn from in an to attempt to marry up similar wines (and produce more equitable results).

This show also aims to get a very broad cross section of judges - rather than just the same old faces - for interest, with young punk writers like me, winemakers from both big (Corey Ryan from Mcwilliams) and small (Xanthe Freeman from Freeman Vineyards) NSW wineries and some wisened wine men (like Peter Bourne and Nick Bulleid MW).  It's a balance which tends to give more rounded results. Or at least I think so. You be the judge (when the awards are announced in October)...

Now at this point I can't tell you who won what, or even what looked good as I just don't know what will end up pleasing the judges today. I only hope they nod and agree about everything that our panel kicked up and remark to themselves 'now that was a good panel yesterday, who was on that? Oh I know, that was the panel that Andrew Graham was on'... (that's how it goes in my head at least).

What I can comment on however is styles, trends and vintages, as all played a part in dictating results. Obviously these are broad generalisations, but you get the gist. Of course at the time you judge each wine on it's merit, conscious only of picking out the gooduns' in each bracket and placing any notion of region/vintage etc out of the picture. Still, looking back at my notes now I can see some patterns emerging.
Young Light Red
A more challenging bracket...

In particular I'd have to say that the 2009/08 Young Shiraz bracket was easily my favourite of the day. Given that the 2009 vintage was a particularly strong one in the Hunter, Canberra district (most of Canberra's wineries are actually in NSW so they are eligibly for this show) and Hilltops this is probably of little surprise. Suffice to say I loved this bracket and had to really work hard to pick the best wines from just the 'good' ones (which I'm totally comfortable with). The 2008 Shiraz tasted as part of this bracket however didn't woo as much as the 09s, which again is probably of little surprise given the challenging 2008 vintage (which in the Hunter they just call 'the vintage that didn't').

Conversely, the hardest class of the day to judge was that of the 'Young White Other', which was largely 2011 and 2010 vintage Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer and Viognier. The challenge in this instance was wading through so many neutral wines with high acidity and low varietal intensity. The 2011 Pinot Gris line in particular was a task in itself, the cool wet year throwing up searing acidity and a distinct lack of flavour. Teeth ouch...

Perhaps the highlight of the day though was the hilarious judges dinner last night, an excuse for the older judges to bring out old wines and for us Associate judges to be picked on (though our young wines did go down very well). I'll post on that separately...

In the meantime I just need to wait for my teeth to stop hurting...

Sunday, 18 September 2011

2011 Tyrrell's Private Bin releases

Tyrrells Private Bin releases - the 2011 version
2011 Tyrrell's Private Bin releases

It's always an impressive snapshot this tasting, a litmus test for the vintage if you will, illustrating with some clarity exactly what can be expected from Hunter wines from a given vintage (particularly given the array of single vineyard wines on tasting). Broad vintage generalisations are dangerous I know, but this does give something of an inkling.

(What are the Private Bin wines you ask? Have a squizz at the notes from last year's tasting for some context).

Speaking of vintages, the focus for this tasting were the 2011 white and 2010 red wine releases, with a smattering of 2009 reds thrown in the mix as well. As is the norm with the Hunter, weather has quite a say in the style of wine produced, with the wet start, warm finish (contrastingly warm considering the rest of SE Australlia) 2011 vintage producing (typically) quite open and generous wines with plenty of classic flavours. Picking dates were particularly important this year though, as the wines picked later in the piece can be just a fraction dried out (with even some old vineyards - like the 'Old Patch' Steven vineyard - struggling in the heat). A very solid vintage regardless, with Chardonnay and Shiraz the stars.

Similarly - or contrastingly depending on how you look at it - the 2010 reds are a variable lot, with the stop-start, warm-wet 2010 vintage producing reds that are occasionally a fraction light and simple. or can conversely look a little under and overripe, mirroring the rain/heat/rain harvest conditions. A fair to good vintage then, with big variations between the two.

As ever all these wines are available only via the Tyrrell's Private Bin (club) or via the Tyrrell's cellar door. Private Bin prices are listed below (More information here. Geez I deserve to be on the Tyrrell's payroll - Chris Tyrrell I'll take payment in some of those 09 Vat 9 Shiraz magnums :)).

Tyrrell's Vat 63 Chardonnay Semillon 2011 (Hunter Valley)

60% Chardonnay from HVD vineyard and 40% Semillon from Short Flat and Stevens. Batches kept separately until blending. 260 dozen made. 13.5% alc. $22
Generous, open style this (as always) with lovely peachy, ferment-just-finished style. Generous Chardonnay richness the star here. Easy and open, fleshy and full, yet not fat. Nice, fun juicy wine with plenty of appeal and no excess sweetness. Like. 17.1/90

Tyrrell's HVD Chardonnay 2011 (Hunter Valley)
Sourced from the younger HVD plantings. Basket pressed with a minimal solids ferment and extended lees contact. 250 dozen made. 13.2% alc. $35.50
Again that lovely peachy generous nose - which is very appealing indeed. Open and ripe style here with fleshy, almost tropical melon fruit and some banana esters and banana cream pie richness. Rather gorgeous soft and ripe palate with full flavours yet without excess. Chardonnay opulence, no fat. Really rather appealing and tasty. 17.5/91+

Tyrrell's Vat 47 Chardonnay 2011 (Hunter Valley) - barrel sample

This won't be released for another month or two as the Tyrrell's want to see it spend a little more time in wood. Sourced entirely from the Short Flat vineyard. 25% basket pressed. 13.5% alc. $35.50
A very attractive barrel sample. Cloudy and carrying just a little funk (and all the better for it). A much more serious nose here with sexier oak and a leaner, flintier, firmer palate. The mid palate melon is the killer here, a welcome layer of richness to contrast with the dry jolt of acidity on the finish. Speaking of the finish, it's a long one, signing everything off perfectly. Nice Chardonnay in a quite classic Vat 47 style. 18/93+

Tyrrell's Belford Chardonnay 2009 (Hunter Valley)
Already loaded with bling including Best Chardonnay at the 2010 Hunter Wine Show. Sees much more time in oak than most of these wines (mainly barriques). No malo, basket pressed. 13.5% alc. 420 dozen made. $30.00
Sandier, leaner, oakier, this smells of sexy oak and certainly looks more settled than the previous wines. Nutty, sao biscuit oak it is too, with some richer melon fruit but otherwise just coiled Chardonnay power. Good acidity to finish everything off too. I'd leave it another year or two but otherwise this is one seriously good Hunter Chardonnay in the modern mould. That finish signals it will be a long living wine too. A bargain in this lineup. 18.1/93+

Tyrrell's Stevens Semillon 2011 (Hunter Valley)
Sourced from Neil Stevens 'Glenoak' vineyard on combination of light sand and red clay soils. First of the 2011 single vineyard Semillons to be picked. 11% alc. $22.00
Early picked and looks just a fraction green in my books. Green and a little lettucey on the nose, the palate looks fresh but a fraction metallic, the fruit firm and limey but too green pea for mine. The weakest of the 2011 Semillons (should improve though). 16.3/87+

Tyrrell's Belford Semillon 2011 (Hunter Valley)
Sourced from Belford vineyard owned by the Elliot family (planted in 1933 on own roots). Last of the blocks picked. 11.4% alc. $22.00
A much juicier and even peachy style here, with more melon richness on nose and palate. Whilst the juiciness is attractive, it's a bit too full and rounded for big points I think. 17.1/90

Tyrrell's Johnno's Semillon
Love those long old school bottles
Tyrrell's Johnno's Semillon 2011 (Hunter Valley)
Basket pressed, three days cold settling before fermentation with some solids in the ferment. 11.4% alc. 250 dozen made. $35.50
Again the star of the tasting for me. Textured, long and layered. This wine announces itself with a cheeky whiff of florals, over a rich and quite full palate that initially looks too soft and ripe to be great. Yet there is this wonderful late acidity, a fillip of chalkiness through the back end that just adds an extra layer of intrigue, with an almost subliminal smokiness too. All up it's a stylish white, a wine with more palate weight than most other Hunter Sems, yet still with upright acidity. I like it very much, even though I think it's best years are some way ahead of it. 18.5/94+

Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon 2011 (Hunter Valley)
Sourced from two of the best old blocks of Semillon on sandy soils. 11.5% alc. $35.50
There's lifted florals here again, though still cast in the Hunter mould. Ripe year Vat 1 this one, though it's actually quite condensed, the juicy, generous melon fruit tightening up pretty quickly through the back. Excellent length is the clincher though, suggesting a good Vat 1 (if not quite a great one), though it's still settling into it's skin. Whilst the more flirtatious Johnno's has the edge right now, I think the standings will reverse with bottle age. 18.3/93+

Tyrrell's Fordwich Verdelho 2011 (Hunter Valley)

Sourced from John Tulloch's original block. 12.5% alc. $16
Tropical, juicy, mango and melon nose, though also just a fraction herbal. Palate looks a fraction too thin and lean, not matching that juicy nose with a juicy palate. Didn't move me. 15.5/85

Tyrrell's Vat 6 Pinot Noir 2010 (Hunter Valley)

Sourced from the 4 and 8 acre vineyards. Hand picked with one third whole bunches. Open fermented and matured in French oak barriques with 10% new and 90% 3 yr old wood. $34
The nose here is seriously startling... It smells like proper Pinot Noir! Moreso, it smells of Pinot Noir first, the Hunter Valley second, which is something of an achievement for this wine (it's a goodun' this vintage). Sweetened cherry juice, a hint of bark, smokiness and some bacon bits make up the nose, leading to a sweet and briary, vanillan edged front palate, then moving through a smoky, faintly stewed finish. That caramelised, dehydrated finish is a distraction, though it may well integrate further with time in bottle. In the context of Hunter Pinot this is something of a winner. If you've been raised on a diet of sexy Vosne Burgundy and Mornington Pinot Noir however, steer clear of this delightfully idiosyncratic wine... 16.8/89

Tyrrell's Johnno's Shiraz 2010 (Hunter Valley)
Second release of the Johnno's Shiraz, this is drawn off the sandy Johhno's vineyard planted in 1908. Hand picked. Open fermented and maturation a new 2700 litre French oak cask. Built in a light to medium bodied, '60s style' of Hunter 'Burgundy'. $46
Has that lovely purple colour to it that these old Tyrrell's vineyards so often show - it's almost boysenberry really. This looks rather skinny this vintage though, with macerated cherry and just a hint of merde. Mid weight, skinny and lightish palate has some nice gummy fruit, plenty of acidity but is really lacking the penetration this vintage. It will live for many years though. 16.5/88+

Tyrrell's Old Patch Shiraz 2010 (Hunter Valley)

Sourced from the 'Old Patch' vineyard on Neil Stevens' Old Hillside property on Marrowbone Road, Pokolbin. The Old Patch Block was planted in 1867 and is the oldest producing Shiraz vineyard in the Hunter. Matured in large format oak too. $46
Wonderful purple colour - love it. Smoky violets and purple fruit on the nose. It's very Rhonish this year, with a stemminess that had me questioning Chris Tyrrell about whether there is no stems in it (none for the record). High acid, pretty fruit, this looks darker, wilder and more licoricey though also a fraction disjointed with a hole through the middle and some late sweetness. Still retains that old vine mysticism even if it's not on the same level of the previous vintages. A slow burner regardless and sure to live for many many years. 17.5/91+

Tyrrell's Vat 9 Shiraz 2010 (Hunter Valley)

Made from the oldest/best blocks on the red soil Ashman's property, this is hand picked and open fermented then matured in new and one year old French casks (2700lt).
The pick of the 2010 Tyrrell's Private Bin reds. The advantage with this wine is blending - with such vineyard variability in 2010, the blending option ultimately makes more consistent wines (as Penfolds have so aptly demonstrated over the years). Full purple fruit with blackberry, licorice and earth. Much more weight here after the other wines yet still remains pretty and juicy. Slick finish, proper fine tannins. The real deal. 18.3/93+

Tyrrell's Vat 8 Shiraz Cabernet 2010 (Hunter Valley/Hilltops)
A blend of Hunter Shiraz off the Ashman's property with 8% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Mullaney propery just outside of Young in the Hilltops. Open top fermentation with the parcels kept separately until blending and then finished off in French oak barriques until bottling in May 2011. 
A much more obvious, richer and oaker wine this wine with full and rich purple fruit. Opulent, sweet and black fruit driven, this is probably the most 'contemporary' of the new releases but it ain't Hunter. Just a little alcohol warmth through the finish. Has plenty of style and could pick up a swag of medals on the show circuit. 17.9/92

Tyrrell's Single Vineyard Hilltops Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Hilltops)

Fruit sourced from the aforementioned Mullaney vineyard. Fermented in traditional Tyrrell's open fermenters and matured in French and American oak barriques (30% new). $26
Juicy rich purple blackberry fruit with a hint of eucalypt. Generous and chocolatey though with strong minted blackberry jam fruit. Looks leaner, drier and oakier than the blend but in the context this is a firm, varietal bargain. Attractive. 17.6/92

Tyrrell's Brokenback Shiraz 2009 (Hunter Valley)
Sourced from a swag of vineyards around the Valley. Fermented in a mix of open top traditional fermenters and stainless steel potter tanks. Matured in ex Vat 9 and ex Stevens French oak casks ranging from 3 to 10yrs old. $16
$16 a bottle for this? Woah. Bargain. Sandy, berry fruit with a little chocolate oak but otherwise juicy, pleasant, red earth tinged fruit and fine tannins. So Hunterish. In fact that might be a polarising element, but if you can appreciate the gentle, red-dirt-red-fruit savoury style you'll love this Shiraz. I like it. 17.2/90+

Tyrrell's Stevens Shiraz 2009 (Hunter Valley)

Sourced from Neil Stevens' Old Hillside vineyard (the same one as the Old Patch). Open fermented, hand plunged in open vats this was matured in French oak for 16 months maturation in 30% 225lt barriques, 70% in newer 2800lt caks) before bottling in June 2010.
How have I not seen this yet? I can't remember it in last years Private Bin lineup and if I did I would have bought some. Choc mulberry/blackberry with some of that macerated 09 richness. It's full and firmish, blocky but full of the lovely rich Hunter fruit and heart. It looks a fraction oaky at this stage but the quality writing is on the wall. Excellent stuff. 18/93+

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Still great Kiwi sparkling - Cloudy Bay Pelorus 2006

Pelorus vintage
Consistent stuff
Still great Kiwi sparkling - Cloudy Bay Pelorus 2006

Cloudy Bay Pelorus 2006 (Marlborough, NZ)
13%, Cork, $38 (on special!)
Source: Retail

It's quite intriguing - or it is to me - that NZ doesn't receive more acclaim for it's bubbles. I mean, it's still not Champagne, but the best Kiwi sparklings really are seriously good. When you think about how much Pinot Noir there is planted in NZ - and how seriously the variety is taken, it's almost a surprise to see that there isn't more of an emphasis on making great Pinot Noir dominant bubbles (though there are a few great ones - Huia, No.1, Deutz, Hunter's etc). I wonder why that is? Perhaps some Kiwi readers can answer that?

Anyway, this Pelorus is an old favourite of mine. In fact, I've probably drank more bottles of this than I have of nearly any other 'premium' Australian/Kiwi sparkling (along with vintage Chandon), as it tends to hit plenty of high notes for the relative cost (and widespread availability).

A rich and yeasty style, this looks Pinot dominant (60% Pinot) and appears to have some barrel ferment on the nose too (old barrels only though I believe). After the fullness of the nose the palate is dry and quite lean, a drier and more restrained beast yet still carrying that toasty, almost butterscotch richness. That richness/leanness tension is quite Bollinger-esque in it's form and certainly makes for an enjoyable drink. Through the finish it looks a little sweeter and a fraction unfocused, but that's the only blemish (and from experience it probably just needs an extra 18 months in the bottle).

Enjoyable sparkling. 17.8/92

Serious Sauvignon Blanc - Stoney Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Stoney Vineyard - serious Sauvignon Blanc
Serious Sauvignon Blanc - Stoney Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Stoney Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Coal River Valley, Tas)
13%, Diam, $35
Source: Someone poured me a glass

From the road at least, the Stoney Vineyard/Domaine A site is an unremarkable one. It just looks like another patch of vineyard set in amongst farmland. Like so many great sites though, the secret here is actually in the combination of (decidedly undramatic) details: The ideal north-easterly aspect; the gentle slope; the mix of soils (from yellow clay to gravel) and the low rainfall. All of it - combined with some informed vineyard management - makes for a very special patch of vines.

Fittingly, this special spot also produces some unique wines - from the sometimes challengingly herbal Cabernet (particularly in it's Stoney Vineyard guise), to the polarising and sappy Pinot Noir, right through to the white Bordeaux inspired Lady A Sauvignon Blanc. All of it speaks in a language that is so different to anything else in Tasmania that it defies belief, with Peter Althaus clearly hearing the beat of a different drum.

In this instance, we're looking at a wine that is essentially the earlier drinking, second wine to the oaked 'Lady A', with this Stoney Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc supposedly built with immediacy in mind. Yet it tastes like it could do with 2-3 years in the cellar... It's a Sauv that looks to have gone through MLF (the notes don't say) and may have seen some oak, yet still looks herbal and dry. It's a wine of contrasts and pointy bits and herbs and creaminess. Yet it never looks odd. Rather, it looks like someone has attempted to make a French Sauv in Australia. And succeeded.

That look is kicked off, from, well, the first look. The bottle comes paper wrapped (perfectly may I add, with the tightest paper twist I've seen) and with a capsule of the old school, weighty kind. It looks expensive and serious and old school prestigious - the sort of wine you'd serve somewhere with leather couches (even if the label design and label material looks a bit cheap and dated).

In glass it looks youthful, with a very light green colour. Very light. The nose? It's quite intriguing - Lightly weedy but cast against some MLF richness, with said richness kicking in early before the dill, white pepper and slightest hint of melon step in. It's a fine, rich-yet-dry, suggestive nose that smells happily unusual. I'm not sure if the palate is quite as beguiling, purely as it's just a bit squeezed through the finish. Still, it's a lightly poised, faintly herbal thing, with the final lingering taste one of creamy, just ripe melons squished with green herbs. What also sticks out though is just how natural and 'ripe' the acidity is, carrying the softness that only perfect natural acid can give (though there's plenty of it).

Perhaps the only real quibble then, the only impediment to true Sauvignon superstardom is the herbal tightness on the tail, that slight jauntiness that hits up against the faint hint of residual sugar to lose just a little congruency. It is but a quibble however, for the rest of this package is unquestionably attractive, graceful and refreshingly not mainstream savvy like. It's a wine that could even woo jaded Oyster Bay drinkers and bring them back to the Savvy fold. Heck, it should look even better with another years bottle age too. Yes. 17.8/92+

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Ballabourneen 'Stuart' Chardonnay 2010

Ballabourneen Stuart
Chardonnay 2010
Ballabourneen 'Stuart' Chardonnay 2010 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Screwcap, $30
Source: Wine List

I tried this in the Hunter recently and it again reminded me how much joy there is in the modern style of Hunter Chardonnay. Leaner - but not meaner - than the styles of yore, they're ultimately pretty satisfying sorts of drinks (or the better ones are at least).

And this is a goodun'. Clean, white nectarine fruit with just a whiff of creamed pineapple, fruit-meets-oak richness. Fresh, yet still in the riper end of the Chardonnay spectrum, it's got that bounding Hunter ripeness, yet it's been picked early enough and treated sensitively enough in the winery to make for a crisp, yet delectable, entirely drinkable white. It's an easily aproachably, yet not sweet or overtly dumbed down, drink-now Chardonnay in a clever modern ilk. I liked it. 17.7/92

Soul Growers Resurgence Cabernet Shiraz 2009

Soul Growers
Lots of heart here
Soul Growers Resurgence Cabernet Shiraz 2009 (Barossa Valley, SA)
15%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

No wussy wines in the Soul Growers range, with average alcohols of 14%+, yet in their style - deep, black and fully ripened - they're on the mark. Hearty Barossan fare, if not quite for the faint hearted, yet never straying down the fruit bomb line. Endless depth is the key here.

This, suitably, is black as hell. Tight too, with little escaping, even after several hours in the decanter. There's a little coal, some volatile wafts otherwise blackness. Licoricey blackness. Sweetly rich and surprisingly soft and generous mouthul of a palate is really surprising in it's sweetened, blackberry softness. The more you swirl the more ripe it looks, the fully ripened palate looking rich and decadent though happily not dead fruited, tending more generous and encompassing. Like a rich Barossan embrace really, though the warm finish is a slight distraction. Good stuff regardless. 16.8/89

Delamere Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009

Delamere Pinot Noir
Everything you'd want
in a Tassie Pinot
Delamere Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009 (Tasmania)
13%, Screwcap, $40
Source: Wine list

Here's the sort of wine that is worth more noise. Whilst only 75% of this is sourced from the original close planted, dry grown Delamere Vineyard (the rest from 'Tasmania'), there's no mistaking the class of the majority component (have a read about the Delamere vineyard here).

What it gives is an almost mythical combination of lusciousness and structure, a 'pass me another glass' generosity, coupled to enough proper fruit tannins to see it evolve into something even sexier with time. It's a real Pinot, a wine of density that belies it's pricepoint to look more than a little bit Vosne-y (in the best possible way).

At this stage it's still an overtly youthful beast though, with a swish of vanillan oak to match up with that juicy, plump and opulently red fruit and cloves fruit nose, all set back against some stemmy, wild edges. It's red fruited and pretty, yet there's a serious, no bullshit, take-me-to-Burgundy concentration that keeps you coming back. The palate is long, raspberry and rhubarb fruit riddled with a consistency through the finish to suggest plenty more magic yet.

A lovely wine then and everything you'd want in a Tassie Pinot. It needs only a little more time to propel it into stardom. 18.3/93+

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Clairault Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2007

Clairault Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2007 (Margaret River, WA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $22
Source: Sample

I wanted to love this so much. The nose is just pure Margaret River Cabernet in all it's leafy splendour. The grungy, bretty edges though are working against that lovely varietal/regional goodness. Important plus signs no doubt (damning with faint praise perhaps but there be plenty of heart in this puppy still).

Lovely, varietally assured nose. Peppercorn beef, cedar, a little volatility and density. Dry, slightly dessicated and bretty palate with a warmish finish. Simply put, the nice nose doesn't quite translate onto the palate, which is a fraction dried out, alcoholic and bretty. It still has some appeal - and may well come good with more bottle age - but I don't love it now. 16.3/87+

Hollick Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Hollick 'Stock Route' Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Coonawarra, Wrattonbully)
14%, Screwcap, $19.95
Source: Sample

At the sub $20 dollar mark this can be picked up for in retail land this is quite a handy, juicy red. What It does is marry the juiciness of Coonawarra Shiraz with the backbone of Coonawarra Cabernet rather well (and certainly looks more balanced than the straight Cabernet).

Some juicy black jelly bean, hessian oak, a little roasted plum jam and a nice black and red fruit fragrance on the nose. Juicy and polished, sweet red and black jelly bean palate with a tightly tannic finish. Just a little dessicated but that lovely licorice and jube fruit is really quite attractive. Should flesh out even more with bottle age. Acidity just a fraction jaunty but not distracting. Nice wine. 17.3/90+

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Taltarni Reserve Shiraz Cabernet 2005

Taltarni Reserve Shiraz Cabernet
Worth holding on too
Taltarni Reserve Shiraz Cabernet 2005
14.1%, Cork, $65
Source: Sample

If you've got a spare 6 and half odd minutes then head over to the Taltarni Youtube channel and check out a little video that accompanies this wine. No worries if you need those extra 6 minutes in your day, but it is rather well shot and thoroughly professional (if deadly serious), which suits this old school, Francophile stylin' wine perfectly. What it doesn't help with however is just how backward the wine is - it's a 'come back later' prospect, in classic Taltarni fashion.

A blend of 86% Pyrenees and 14% Heathcote fruit, this 72/40 Shiraz Cabernet was fermented in a range of fermenters before being basket pressed and then transferred to new French oak, where it spent the next 20 months. Interestingly the winemakers notes suggest it can be cellared for up to ten years, which looks conservative at the least...

It certainly smells Taltanian, carrying a minty, slightly stewed, plum liqueur fruits with some dried, cedary wood characters (much like the 95 Cab actually) nose in the extractive, dry and very serious style.  It's not dried out however and still carries a depth of fruit beyond that burliness. Still, compared to the atypical Australian Shiraz Cab style it smells positively prehistoric. Tastes it too, with a length of dry, blackberry fruit then vanilla bean oak flavours leading to some seriously hardcore desiccating tannins. The sort of tannins that linger and linger, sticking to your teeth like they've been sandblasted. Still, and it sounds odd, there is a freshness here, a suggestion that the fruit is there to back up the walls of oak and tannin.

The longer I left this wine the more I like it. It's unashamedly old school and definitely not for everyone but, when put in the context of those older Taltarni reds (like these ones), is a intriguing old Australian dry red of serious capacity (think Wendouree pre-2004 and you're in the mode). All it needs is a very long sleep somewhere dark. Buy some for your kids 21st. 18/93+

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

BEER: Murray's Angry Man Brown Ale

Murray's Angry Man Brown Ale
Doesn't make me angry at all
BEER: Murray's Angry Man Brown Ale

I'm first to admit that, compared to wine, I know nothing about beer (though that's suggesting I know something about wine of course). But I like this. I like it more than any of the other Murray's brews and it had me thinking about another great Brown Ale, Newcastle Brown. But this is stronger, richer and, well, browner. Oh and better.

Did I mention how it smells? Good. Very good. Classic rich molasses and fresh, slightly herbaceous hoppy nose. Rich, full flavoured but not heavy palate with just the right amount of caramel richness. Not too heavy, not too light, real Goldie Locks beer. Warming finish, but doesn't taste like it's 6.5% alcohol.

Wonderful beer this. Bought 2 and they emptied at speed. Admittedly I like Brown Ales (White Rabbit I'm looking at you) so this was bound to appeal on a base level, but I still can't laud this highly enough.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Lark Hill Shiraz Viognier 2010

Lark Hill Shiraz Viognier 2010 (Canberra district)
13.5%, Screwcap, $40
Source: Sample

Lark Hill has hit a new high in recent years, driven by the input (I think) of founding couple Dave and Sue Carpenter's son, Chris, who has taken on a much more prominent role in the day-to-day business of the estate.

This Shiraz (with 6% Viognier) is drawn from Bryan and Jocelyn Martin's Rosehill vineyard at Murrumbateman, is one suitably sexy wine for the vintage, showing well enough fruit depth to manage the overt spice of 2010.

It's a beguiling nose, an unusual one. One moment it's lush, brambly and glossy, the smoky stems and juicy apricot Viognier fruit topping things off nicely. The second whiff is all herbal violets and a hint of prosciutto. Dandelions too. It's a moveable target, an oddly marginal nose given the recent run of warm Canberra vintages, but still something to savour.

The palate starts sweetly though, with vanilla bean oak that descends into red cherry liqueur fruit. From there it gets darker, stemmer, stalkier before finishing with smoky dark tannins. Lots of intrigue on this high toned palate, with the late hit of peachy Viognier juiciness prettying up the finish.

Interesting wine this and a very solid result from an odd vintage. 17.7/92+

Tapanappa Wrattonbully Cabernet Shiraz 2007

Tapanappa Cabernet Shiraz
Tapanappa Wrattonbully Cabernet Shiraz 2007 (Wrattonbully, SA)
13.7%, Cork, $51
Source: Sample

Sourced from one of the hottest vintages ever for the Tapanappa Wrattonbully vineyard and it shows here - not even the high quality oak and astute winemaking can hide it.

Dusty, stewed blackberry, cedar and slightly caramelised red fruit nose. Fresher palate with initial burst of blackberry fruit, yet still carries the caramelised edges of the vintage. Drying, alcoholic finish is a fraction hard too. Just not quite in the freshness zone, though the extraction guarantees that this will make old bones. Winemaking still looks good regardless. 16/87

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Between Five Bells - stylish new Geelong wine

Between Five Bells - stylish new Geelong wine

Is this the best wine label in the country? (Click to view full size)
If you've a chance, check out the Five Bells website. It's not so much the structure of the clever website that's worth a look, but more the images of the labels. Simply put, these are some of the smartest packaged reds I've seen in many moons. 

Drilling down further, it's the information on the label itself that is particularly notable. Ferment temperatures, maceration level, proportions of whole bunches, everything. Eight different sets of data, all represented via some clever graphical waves. What makes it even more clever is that, unless you look very closely, you'd never realise that the graphics are actually data representations. In fact you'd probably just pick it as a bunch of flowing coloured waves unless you had a closer look. Suffice to say it's glorious, cutting edge stuff, particularly for a wine geek like me. I love it.

The grape sourcing of the wine too is equally classy. Grapes all come from the Geelong GI, off the biodynamically farmed Lethbridge home vineyard (planted in 1996) and the Rebenburg vineyard at Mt Duneed (planted in 1970). What's of further interest though - and here is where things get truly offbeat - is the blend itself. Shiraz is the main component, followed by Grenache, Sangiovese and a little Zinfandel. It's a very unusual blend for Geelong and looks it too. It's clearly well thought out (have a squizz here), but, for mine, I think it's not a particularly cohesive one, with the Shiraz having some runs on the board, but the rest looking like bit players (such as cool climate Grenache, which so very rarely works). Hey, it's their first vintage though so slack should be cut.

But back to the story. The winemaking here really deserves a big mention - it's as happily 'old school revivalist' as possible. Pigeage, no temperature control, plenty of stems, everything. Again it screams of attentive winemaking, of an unending desire to make great wine and a 'who cares about the risks' philosophy. It's admirable stuff. No, it's more than that, it's the sort of winemaking style that I'd chose. High five David Fesq and co.

Now, to the wine. It's a provocative thing that's for sure. It smells of candied, sherbery cherry fruit, the carbonic maceration from plenty of whole berry action giving a wildly juicy, pink musk and strawberry sweetness that fairly jumps out of the glass. If anything it's almost too sweet, too pink Lifesaver candied and a little frivolous for me personally but it certainly makes for a very pretty wine. The whiff of stemmy seriousness also suggests that with more bottle time it should settle down with a little bottle time.

From here the palate is a darker affair. It carries a thicker, cherry fruit and veal savouriness and some twiggy bitterness, making for a clever and nicely layered palate of some intrigue. In fact the only downer is that it lacks persistance, the finish a little skinny, skittish and almost young-vine lean. I hate to hang out my prejudices, but I'm laying that at the feet of the Grenache and Sangiovese in particular, both of which really need to come from old vines in the right spot to work (in my opinion).

Still, that's but a wobble for this project. A wobble that will no doubt be tamed with an extra vintage or two under the belt. Regardless, like the special white wax (which has to be specially imported) that the bottles are sealed with, this is a particularly individual wine from one seriously exciting project...

Friday, 2 September 2011

A few Cabernet highlights

A few Cabernet highlights

Voyager Estate
Margaret River goodness
I've been laid low with a rather ordinary stomach bug the last couple of days, one of those illnesses that make life seem genuinely less bearable/enjoyable and generally quite shit. Now, whilst this was unfun just by itself, what I missed due to my malady was most of the celebrations of Cabernet day, the latest international 'grape day' on the calendar (and one of the better ones at that).

I did, however, manage to squeeze in a few cheeky Cabernet examples at the last minute, even if it was rushed and my aching belly made tasting a hazardous exercise.

The following wines then represent a tiny snapshot of a few Cabernets worth mentioning:

De Bortoli Mimi 2010 ($28)

A blend of Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Shiraz (or Syrah as De Borts are calling it. All the cool kids seem to be doing that in the Yarra now), it's an odd concoction but it also sorta works. Carries a slightly sappy, blackcurrant Cabernet and red fruit Shiraz nose, over a roasted cherry and red fruit palate. It's just a fraction ill defined and lumpy for real love but, as a satisfyingly tannic and dry pizza wine, it hits the spot very nicely. 17/90

Brands Patrons Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($75)
Beasty wine in anyone's language. Choc vanillan nose is all formic oak, the fruit well behind at this stage. Still, it's there, beating strongly below that oak, plus it still looks fresh, coiled and vibrantly Coonawarran (but new school ripe Coonawarra). Vanilla tipped blackcurrant palate is super backward and tight too, but shows so much yet to come. Oh so fresh! Score is lowish due to the fact it's still a bit too stunted and oaky. Important plus signs though. 17.8/92++

The Lane 19th Meeting Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($65)
Lots of style apparent with this Adelaide Hills Cabernet, from that sleek, almost feline and slightly herbal, expensively french oaked, chocolate flakes and black fruit nose, right through the very restrained mid weight palate. It's almost too restrained really, a little thinnish and tobacco edged in that borderline Adelaide Hills Cabernet style. Still, the form here is spot on, like an E Series Mercedes (with oak panelling). Should flesh out significantly with bottle age too. 17.3/90+

Howard Park Miamup Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($28)
I felt like a light had switched on when I stuck my nose in the glass here. Margs, you still make Australia's best Cabernet. This Margaret River Cabernet is part of the new Howard Park Regional Series and sits just below the Leston/Scotsdale single vineyard range in price. If this is an indication of what is to come then jump on board without hesitation. Great packaging too.

It carries that 08 Margaret River red fruit ripeness on the nose, a character which I don't always love. It works here though, giving an extra plump juiciness to everything. It's a dusty nose too, a proper Cabernet nose with just a whisper of capsicum. Grainy, mid weight, super-glossy-fruit-meets-dry-tannins palate is a winner. It's everything you'd want in a mid level Cabernet really, with grace and silken style. Like. 17.7/92

Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($45)
More. More delineation, more depth, just generally better. More obvious oak after the Miamup, but it matches the extra concentration too. There's more herbs here as well and more varietal goodness. Lovely dry palate with rather bitter tannins. Very unforced, dusty, cedary red fruit, if a little too bound up in itself right now. Otherwise It's just a heap of polished, modern Margaret River blackcurrant, dust and tannins. Nice to see a consistent house style here to boot. 18.1/93+

Voyager Estate Cabernet Merlot 2007 ($60)
If the Leston is a lovely example of ripe Margaret River Cabernet then this takes it to 'classic' level. Simply put, believe the hype. It's a riper year Voyager, but everything about it screams class, with perfectly judged, dark-yet-leafy, spicy black fruit and polished choc-milk drop oak. There's an almost smoky edge to the palate, the tannins mouth desiccating and long. Real seed and skin tannins those and all class. Classic wine this, classic indeed. 18.6/95

Suckfizzle Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($50)
A walk on the wilder side here. I didn't get a complete look at the Suckfizzle so nothing definitive, yet what I did see is a cedary, 'I'm not afraid of some green bean' Cabernet. The palate too looked long and rather well built if dry and on the mid weight and herbal side of things. Definitely worth a revisit methinks.