Friday, 28 October 2011

The Marlborough Diaries: Day 2

The Marlborough Diaries: Day 2

Marlborough looking particularly mysterious.
Taken from Dog Point
To kick off today's instalment, a question: Do you drink Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc? If you do, what do you think of the worked oaked Sauv Blanc style? Or if you aren't a fan of 'classic' Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, do said worked styles at least hold more appeal?

I ask this largely as the movement towards more 'wilder' styles of Sauv seems to be front of mind for many winemakers here in Marlborough (not just winemakers actually, but all the wine people) and provided plenty of discussion today. One such conversation was with some of the Auntsfield winemaking team, who recently explored - as one of a group of local winemakers - the idea of giving this new Sauv Blanc category it's own designation, something sort of like a cross between the Cadenzia project and a 'riserva' style designation.

The point of such a move would be to create a whole genre, a genre which would serve to evolve the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc brand and also help customers work out what sort of style they would be getting in the bottle. I'm quite a fan of such an idea (especially with my marketing hat on) but understand that it will need careful local branding (and a feasible/minimal level of regulation) to make it a winner.

Fittingly, I also tried several interesting wines today that slotted into the 'wild Sauv' category, and unsurprisingly perhaps both of them carry Cloudy Bay DNA. They were:

Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc 2007
The original wild Sauv. It's always been a divisive wine and I've definitely not always enjoyed it. Again I'm not sure that I could drink all that much of this wine, but I firmly appreciate the form. It is an absolute biggun' in Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc terms, with barrel ferment, lees and oak influences all imparting a serious level of richness and weight. Interestingly enough though it looks less like the old oaky asparagus juice of yore, with that overtness toned back a fraction (no doubt helped by extra bottle age).

What I like about this wine is that the weight, penetration and length particularly impress, the finish long and the complexity dial turned up to 11. It's still something of a blunt object in many ways, yet also a well shaped blunt object (if that makes any sense) that I can't help but admire. 17.6/91

Greywacke 'Wild' Sauvignon 2009

Greywacke is the newish label from the man who helped start Cloudy Bay, Kevin Judd. Kevin hasn't really strayed too far from his roots in some ways, with this wine made at a facility he shares with Ivan Sutherland and James Healy, both of whom worked with Kevin at Cloudy Bay. Several of the Greywacke wines are produced using fruit bought from Ivan and James' Dog Point vineyard to boot, just to complete the circle.

What I'd really like to do is put this wine up alongside the similarly styled 09 Dog Point Section 94 (that I had last night) too, just for comparisons sake. I think this Sauv has the slightest edge right now but I they may switch in 12 months time, with the Dog Point's more lean and citrussy style still a year off it's best.

The Greywacke though is a lovely wine, the wild ferment giving it a mealy richness to the nose without shading the herbaceous Sauv characters. In that fashion it's much more of a Sauvignon Blanc than the Chardonnay-esque Te Koko, and - like the Section 94 - seems to trade on all the good bits about the grape (aromatics and backbone) whilst softening the hard edges and filling in the (palate) holes. A quieter version of the Te Koko, I very much liked this (and so did many other tonight for that matter). 18/93

A Nautilus at Nautilus
The second hot topic of today was all about stems.

As in Australia, the use of whole bunches in red wine production is much talked about, with the traditional Marlborough ethos strictly biased towards Pinot Noir produced from destemmed fruit. The rationale behind that is the Marlborough Pinot style has always been about generosity of fruit, not firm tannins, that the wines are typically released early with the intention that they are to then be drunk reasonably early. Further, to get stems lignified (hard and brown) enough you need to leave the fruit on the vine so long that they get too ripe and you lose vibrancy.

Flying in the face of such theories (of sorts) were the results from today's activity: Pinot blending at Nautilus (or at least my group was at Nautilus. Groups were farmed out to different wineries throughout the region).
For this blending exercise we were broken up into teams and given Pinot Noir samples sourced from several different blocks on a certain vineyard. Our job was to blend these together to give a final wine that was 'most in the Nautilus style' (or at least what we thought looked best)

Sadly my team didn't win said challenge (second again) but what was most interesting was that the component that looked the best (I thought so) was the one that had 20% whole bunches in it. What that particular sample showed was an extra layer of tannin and structure over the rest of the wines. An extra layer that I really enjoyed (and the winemakers did too) and was the catalyst for me (and others) to start asking questions about why they didn't use more whole bunches more often.

To answer that question, the retort again came that those dry tannins aren't considered favourable by many. Yet in the same breath, there is absolutely no question that Marlborough has become much more serious about Pinot Noir in the last few years - a fact that you can see just by tasting the latest releases - and as part of that seriousness you're going to get firmer tannins. What we found going around the room (with plenty of winemakers in attendance) was that many wineries too are experimenting with whole bunches, as they are playing with longer pre/post ferment maceration times, using less oak and tending towards exclusively natural ferments (like at Nautilus, which has been fermenting naturally for some years).

Now I'm not suggesting that whole bunch ferments are the golden bullet - far from it - but the fact that winemakers are playing with such 'Burgundian' (cliched I know, but apt) techniques should be a signal that there is a new found attention on making ageworthy Pinot Noir in Marlborough, that you're going to see a greater divergence between the top Marlborough Pinots and the more conventional commerical wines.

Mark my words, Marlborough Pinot is about to ratchet up a few notches.

The mysterious Gruner
Rather than talk about Pinot though, I want to finish today's little diary entry on a tasting note for a wine I really didn't expect today: a Kiwi Gruner Veltliner.

Said Gruner also came from Nautilus and is yet to be released. Suffice to say that Gruner is the newest "wundergrape" here in Marlborough and everyone is keen to have a play. Based on this sample there is unquestionably some potential here:

Nautilus Gruner Veltliner 2011
The first crop for the Nautilus Gruner block, with the cuttings grafted onto some older Sauvignon Blanc vines. Made in a dry style (probably Federspiel level) with 13% alcohol and minimal residual sugar, the aim here is for retaining aromatics but also with texture, with fermentation taking place in old oak barrel and some time spent on lees. What's most assuring about this is that it actually smells like Gruner, the white pepper spice on the nose reassuringly varietal if a fraction lightish compared to equivalent Austrian examples. The palate is quite light, clean and spicy, again showing that pepper and crunch thing that Gruner does so well. A rather tasty indicator of what the variety could show in Marlborough, I definitely enjoyed this. 17/90 

The Marlborough Diaries: Day 1

Marlborough - a very attractive part
of the wine world.
The Marlborough Diaries: Day 1

It began in Africa...

Actually, it began in Sydney (or my day did at least) with a pre-dawn wake up call to get to the airport for a 9:25am flight. I was there so early purely to cater for the anticipated customs strike related delays, though thankfully said delays never happened (with the workers replaced instead by a notably friendly army of trucked in substitutes).

My day however is ending in Marlborough, arguably New Zealand's most important wine region and the location for the Marlborough Wine Weekend (an event that I'll be spending my weekend attending).

Before I got to Marlborough today however I was abused by a taxi driver with a penchant for easy listening music, ran 3kms in my jeans and was wolf-whistled at by a random kiwi at a caravan coffee shop. It's a hard knock life this wine gig sometimes (yeah right).

It's not hard right now though - I'm currently holed up in the rather stunning Belltower Boutique Lodge, a converted guest house that is part of the Dog Point Vineyards empire. Belltower will be my base for the next few days and I'm particularly looking forward to kicking the Dog Point dirt first thing tomorrow morning before a full day of Marlborough action.

Tonight however was settling-in time, with this evening's dinner hosted by Ivan Sutherland (or his wife Margaret more correctly) who is one half of the Dog Point Vineyards operation. Ivan opened all his recent releases tonight, along with a smattering of older wines, plus the odd serious Burgundy with it all matched to a menu that include local lobster, local lamb and local whitebait (did I mention that it's a hard knock life?..).

Dog Point Sparkling.

Now I won't go into too much detail here about the evening, largely as the clock has just struck 1am and I'm meant to be getting up early to prepare myself for a sparkling brunch thing.

Suffice to say however that these Dog Point wines sit up at the pointy, high quality end of the Marlborough wine tree, drawn from fruit that is all hand picked (even the basic Sauv Blanc), off their own vineyards (which are certified organic or in-conversion) and made by a team that includes Ivan (ex-cloudy Bay viticulturist) and James Healey (ex-Cloudy Bay winemaker).

Heck, these guys sell plenty of grapes to Cloudy Bay still (for top dollars) and even Kevin Judd himself is making his Greywacke wines in their winery, using their fruit. Pointy end Marlborough wine production indeed.

Unsurprising then that tonight's wines were good. Well good even, with a vitality and surety that comes from knowing both your vineyards and your craft back to front and back again.

Some of the evenings highlight's included:

Dog Point Vineyards Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2009
An oak aged Sauvignon Blanc drawn off a particular patch of vines that Ivan has managed for many years. What this wine shows is the punch of overt Marlborough Savvy character but tempered with oak richness. It smells of Sauv, but tastes more like acidic Chardonnay, with that tension working in complexities favour. Holding up very well, I'm calling another two odd years before it's current plateau peak, with plenty of scope for even more bottle aged enjoyment to come. Nice, layered wine. 17.9/92+

Dog Point Vineyard Chardonnay 2006
This isn't actually a current release, as that honour goes to the 2009 version. This 2006 though is right in the groove now, the oak mellowing significantly and the bottle age/solid year gives the wine a much more savoury, white peach/vanilla milkshake golden richness that is oh-so classic Chardonnay. We placed this up against a 1er cru Ramonet Les Caillerts which looked much more savoury, minerally and solidsy heavy but genuinely didn't have the balance and richnes of this wine (even though the Dog Point is one third of the price). Big win, with the 2009 also solid, if looking just a little big for serious love. (2006 - 18.4/94 2009 17.7/92) 

Dog Point Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009
My wine of the night. Apparently the quantities of this were reduced by 40% due to some extra vigorous sorting table action, mainly due to the hot conditions which left some slightly baggy looking grapes. Suffice to say that this attention has resulted in a rather classic Marlborough Pinot, one that carefully balances sappy, bacon bits and red fruit, warmly extractive Pinot character with fleshy red fruit to make for a quite big wine but one that looks structured, serious and well built for the region. I like the power and weight on this, it looks very grown up and oh so Pinoty. Big fan. Yes please. 18.5/94
Serious vino this

Also opened tonight was a rich, Bollinger-esque magnum of the 'inner sactum exclusive' Dog Point Two Shady Dogs Batch One NV, an oak fermented, long lees aged not for the public Chardonnay dominant fizz of weight and creamy intensity, the Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2011 which I thought looked a little attenuated if very tropical and varietal and to round off a Dog Point Vineyards Pinot Noir 2004 which looked resolved and rather elegant if a little disjointed and light compared to the 2009.

Oh and I almost forgot the two cheeky red Burgundies that made a (very late) appearance, namely a Anne Gros Chambolle Musigny 2005 which looked meaty, bacony and Burgundian if a little raw and big at present, plus a Pascal Lachaux Bonnes Mares Grand Cru 2005 which was a deep, dark and tannic beast of a Burgundy that really should not be drunk now unless you are going to give it a solid stint in a decanter.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to collapse in an overzised, well stuffed bed so that I can catch enough sleep to last through several more days of this hard knock life...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Wirra Wirra Woodhenge Shiraz 2010

Wirra Wirra Woodhenge Shiraz
Worth it's trophy
Wirra Wirra Woodhenge Shiraz 2010
14.5%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

There is a certain smug pleasure (that I enjoyed tonight with this wine) in being impressed with a wine that you've previously sung the praises of. It's that 'hey, I got this very right' realisation that has you wishing that personal high fives were possible (they're not, I just tried).

When I first tried this wine however the context was rather different to tonight. That first taste was at Wirra Wirra'a annual Trott cup, a celebration of the life and times of Greg Trott and the winery that he literally built with his own hands. I had the privilege of attending said festival of vino this year (for the second time in a row. It's a great event) and actually enjoyed this very wine with one of Trott's creations, a magical, butter-laden masterpiece known simply as 'Trott's Shiraz pie'. But I digress...

What made the first taste of this wine interesting was not strictly the wine itself but the ensuing discussion (and consternation) that flowed from it.

Said tasting actually started very normally, with this wine placed in a lineup of other Wirra Wirra reds, including the 2009 RSW Shiraz and 2009 Catapult Shiraz (with the Woodhenge one of the few from the superb 2010 vintage). What caused a kerfuffle (great word that) though was my suggestion that - of all the wines in the bracket - the Woodhenge was my favourite. That it edged out the more lauded RSW (in particular) thanks to an extra vitality of fruit and general shapely restraint, a vitality that I thought was lacking in the slightly heavier, hotter 09's. In turn, the comment brought lively rebuttal from the table, with Winewise editor Lester Jesburg proclaiming that I was wrong, that the Woodhenge was a fruit bomb and that the others were perfectly ripe and superior.

Now normally we would just all accept that we have different tastes and like different wines (and all then moved on). But the discourse instead became rather animated, with Jeremy Pringle and myself proposing that ripeness levels were a subjective matter, and that one man's ripe is another's underripe (and so on). Yet, as Jeremy details here (and detailed well. A much better writer than me, though don't tell him I said that) this just brought more stern rebuttals as we were clearly 'wrong' and it would take many more years of show judging for us to be able to say what is ripe and what isn't. Naturally I disagreed, naturally things got grumpier (though really entertaining. Or at least I was entertained) and now (naturally) I don't think I'm on Lester's Christmas card list any more...

What is most smirk-worthy about this whole little saga now is that - perhaps to Lester's chagrin - the 2010 Wirra Wirra Woodhenge Shiraz won a trophy at last week's McLaren Vale wine show, picking up the silverware for Best Shiraz between $25-50. Make of that what you may...

Anyway, back to this wine. It is, especially when placed in the context of other Wirra Wirra reds, a great McLaren Vale Shiraz. Said context came from the the freakishly good, $100 (when it was released), 2002 Wirra Wirra Chook Block Shiraz which was also opened at Trott's cup just a few hours after the Woodhenge. Whilst the Chook Block now sits in my mind as one of the finest McLaren Vale Shiraz I've ever had, I can happily report that this, a $35 'mid priced' Shiraz, has more than a little of the glories of the Chook Block character in it.

That character comes through on the very first whiff too, with dense licorice, chocolate fudge, dark berries and just a little alcohol lift. It's a very solid, rich and concentrated nose, perhaps a little obvious for some but that obviousness is more just regional character to me. The palate too is utterly Vale derived, with more chocolate fudge-moccha rich fruit and oak, built full bodied, rich and decadent with that lovely tarry/red berried middle that the Vale does so well. Long, even, ripe and powerful, it's just a little warm to finish though that's probably not going to bother the real fans.

It feels a little bit like I'm sticking my thumb out and blowing raspberries to be talking this wine up so highly, yet I just can't deny the quality in the glass. Top Mclaren Vale red. 18.5/94

Longview Yakka Shiraz 2008

Longview Yakka Shiraz 2008
I struggled..
14.5%, Screwcap, $27
Source: Sample

Sad to say that I really struggled with this wine and I'm levelling much of the blame on the vintage - the 2008 vintage heatwave seems to have sucked the life out of this wine.

This already looks slightly tawny around the edges, suggesting premature ageing. On the nose it carries the treacled heaviness of roasted fruit with stewed plums, dates and caramel. It smells of shrivelled little berries, of heat and hardness. The palate too is rich, concentrated, and desiccated and all I can think about is fruit that has started to shrivel and dry out, with the wine finishing with some raspy acidity. I'm not a fan of such dehydrated wines and I didn't enjoy this. A bad bottle? Entirely possible but I'm just not sure... 14.5/80

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Clairault Estate Chardonnay 2010

Clairault Chardonnay
Work in progress
Clairault Estate Chardonnay 2010 (Margaret River, WA)
13%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

A wine in transit this one, still very much coming together in the bottle. Hand picked, whole bunch pressed, barrel fermented (1/3 new oak) and nine months in oak with battonage but no malo. A serious regional style if ever there was one just in need of some down time.

It's a mealy, rich and oak drawn wine this one, carrying that melon fruit fullness of Margaret River Chardonnay if just a bit tropical and overt. Texturally it's nutty, mealy and full, the oak sitting on top of the fruit a fraction a  but with this white peach, figgy palate that is pure Margaret River. It's just a little raw but the length, acid and flavour depth are assured. In fact it's almost got too much flavour and looks a bit bit blobby at times, though they seem to be fleeting moments.

I'm backing that this just needs some time to come together, though a question mark remains over that slightly blunt oak. 17.5/91+

Monday, 24 October 2011

Mitchell Harris Rose 2011

Mitchell Harris Rose
Great colour!
Mitchell Harris Rose 2011 (Pyrenees/Macedon Ranges, Vic)
12.5%, Screwcap, $21.95
Source: Sample

It hit 34C here in Sydney today which makes it officially rosé weather. I well realise that I'm two weeks early for the Rose Revolution but I'll take that to mean that I'm two weeks ahead of the pack...

This is produced from early picked Pinot Noir from the Macedon Ranges and the Pyrenees coupled with a little Pyrenees Sangiovese saignee juice. It spends circa 5 months in old barrels before bottling. Proper rosé then (and a proper salmon colour too).
Interestingly it smells of very little, the nose on the shy side with just a hint of nutty rose water escaping through that acidity. Underneath it's fine restrained and light, as much a strawberry edged, textural white wine as it is a pink. That texture though is a winner, a light, crisp and finely detailed thing that looks like great sparkling juice without the bubbles. The only worry actually is the acidity, which is very firm (like so many 2011 SA/Vic wines) though the rose water and strawberry through the finish looks up to the task

A nicely finessed wine this, if quite a different wine to last years iteration. Quality rosé regardless. 17.5/91

Coriole Barbera 2010

Coriole Barbera. A goodun'
Coriole Barbera 2010 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $30
Source: Sample

Barbera - one variety that we don't see/talk about enough here in Australia.

At it's best, Barbera makes for some deliciously gluggable reds (it's the drinking wine of Piedmont after all), combining berry laden fruit joy and sprightly acidity to deliver drinking pleasure. It's the sort of drinking pleasure that Merlot was always meant to deliver actually (but rarely did/does outside of Bordeaux). Of course bad Barbera is as just as forgettable as bad Merlot, but thankfully we generally only see the creamier parts of the Barbera crop here (if you get my drift).

Speaking of better Barbera, no question that this example from Coriole fits that bill. Mark Lloyd and the team at Coriole seem to have quite a knack with Italian varietals, as evidenced by the evolving quality of the Coriole Sangiovese and the recent gem discovery Fiano, both of which provide interest and varietal character at affordable prices.

What I most like about this wine though is that it's looking better today than it was last night. That may seem like an odd thing to be applauding perhaps, but the notion that this wine is still looking sprightly after 24 hours suggests to me a wine of mettle, of depth, of substance. It's kind of like a time trial stage in the TdF, one the stage they call, aptly, the 'race of truth' and the one day where you can't hide behind your team mates/sit at the back of the peleton. It's that one time where the real talent shines, as it's ultimately just you, your bike and the road (plus several thousand crazed spectators and some unpredictable team cars/camera motorbikes).

Truth is a good line to pick up on with the wine too, as this is true both to it's variety and true to it's region, carrying red and black berries and some cranberry juiciness on the nose, tinged with some sweeter oak around the edges. The palate is a restrained one, a medium bodied wine with typically fine tannins and plenty of acidity backing up what is a generous, fruit-rich middle of black and red berries with a generosity that is Mclaren Vale through and through.

In classical Barbera terms this is an Alba not an Asti style with plenty of heart. Perhaps the only criticism with this wine is that it's still a simple one for the dollars. It's a very tasty drink but on the complexity scale the cheaper Sangiovese might have the edge. Still, that's probably a minor quibble in the scheme of things. Good stuff. 17.6/91

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Cloudy Bay new releases

Cloudy Bay new releases

If you're looking for me next weekend
this is where I'll be. Stunning!
Cloudy Bay. THE Marlborough icon. The winery that, along with Brancott (nee Montana), really propelled Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc into the popular headspace. Yet it's also a winery that - and correct me if I'm wrong - doesn't seem to have the cache that it did say six or so years ago. What's most surprising perhaps is that, as these wines can attest to, the quality of the range itself hasn't exactly waned. Is this popularity drop purely due to a now crowded Marlborough market, or does this perception go a little deeper than that?

Regardless the wines are good. Well made good. Regionally and varietally assured good, if perhaps not strictly exciting (though how can they be given the brand/style?) good. In other words, they're good.

On the topic of Cloudy Bay I'm actually going to be visiting the estate this week, as a trip to the Cloudy Bay vineyards is part of the itinerary of the Marlborough Wine Weekend (which I'll be attending. I'm quite excited actually). How much (brand) digging that I'll be allowed to do whilst we're there is questionable, but I'm hoping to at least get a better perception of the state of play.

What's more interesting perhaps is the general reaction I get when I tell Australian wine trade members where I'm going. That reaction usually goes like this 'Marlborough eh? A weekend of Sauvignon Blanc? Hate the stuff' (or the like. Cue diatribe about Sauvignon Blanc).

It's an attitude that I'm actually really surprised by - sure on a commercial level Marlborough IS Sauvignon Blanc, but it's puzzling to hear wine people echo the sentiment. Have they not had a Marlborough Pinot Gris/Noir lately? Has Marlborough become a one trick pony? More to the point perhaps, why is Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, as a wine style, treated with such disrespect? Surely I'm not the only one that can see that it's an entirely valid grape and terroir expression?

Anyway, those sorts of questions are (hopefully) ones that I'll be attempting to answer this week (so expect a lot of Marlborough talk here on the blog. Oh and Marlboroughians it's my first visit to your part of NZ so be gentle).

Now back to these Cloudy Bay wines:

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2011
(Marlborough, NZ)
All stainless ferment (no oak). pH 3.2. TA 7.5. 13.5% alc. RRP $35
From first whiff this is unmistakeable Marlborough Sauv. It smells thoroughly classical, with fresh passionfruit, gooseberry and herbs with just the slightest lilt of tropical melon. The palate follows with a rather high acid form that looks a fraction angular has a great penetration through the finish. Perhaps the main criticisms here are that the acidity is rather searing, making for a wine that is anything but soft. I rather liked this, particularly with some chilli soft shell crab action, just showing again how spicy Asian food works so well with this style. 17.7/92

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2008 (Marlborough, NZ)
Hand picked and barrel fermented with one year in oak. pH 3.22. TA 6.78. 14.5% alc. RRP $45
Lot of play-doh oak on this, with that barrel ferment richness dominating everything. It's still noticeably Marlborough in style, with a quite classic, nougat/vanilla slice/cream and white peach nose, even if it's all a case of toasty oak. Palate too is tinted with caramel oak, the fruit underneath rich and quite textural, finishing long if rather alcoholic. Chewy end. I actually started with a much higher score on this but after a while that oak toastiness became a slight turnoff. Not quite. 16.8/89

Gewurtz got back
Cloudy Bay Gewurtztraminer 2007 (Marlborough, NZ)
Sourced from estate vineyards at Rapaura in the Brancott Valley and off vines that yield just 2.5 tonnes/hectare (compared to up to ten tonnes to the hectare for the average Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in Marlborough). Hand picked fruit harvested at 24.9 Brix, pH 3.87 and TA 4.5. Hand picked, whole bunch pressed and fermented naturally in old oak barrels where it then spent 6 months on lees. Final figures: pH 3.61, TA 4.5, RS 8.6g/l, 13.6% alc. RRP $40
A sleeper. This really snuck up on on me. At first it looked plainly too sweet and rounded, but as it warmed up it just became really rather interesting (don't serve it too cold). From what I can see this is very much a winemakers plaything and to me it tasted like the most loved and skillfully made wine in the lineup. Big yes from me, though I think this is a pretty divisive wine.

A big, floral lychee varietal nose on this one, looking ripe and full. Palate looks initially quite light but as it warms up it looks more and more viscous and hedonistically rich. Low acid evident on the palate with just a bit of oily flab, yet with lovely, concentrated, musky graininess through the finish. A fat bottomed girl to make the rocking world go round (and sure to improve with more bottle age) though probably not fat enough for Sir Mix-a-lot. The wine I want to take home. 18.1/93

Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 2009 (Marlborough, NZ)

Six clones of Pinot used with the fruit arriving at the winery with average figures of 24.3 Brix a pH of 3.24 and TA of 8.6g/l. Fruit was 100% destemmed and spent several days cold soaking. Natural fermented with three weeks on skins. One year in oak, half new. Final figures: pH 3.66, TA 5.6, 14.1% alc. RRP $45 1
Surprisingly serious Pinot! It looks just a little charry and stewed at first, with an extractive and full nose that looks very pinoty if just a bit dense.. The palate is much fresher and lighter, the cherry/raspberry/redcurrant mid palate generosity filling things out nicey, everything cast in some nice vanilla oak. There's a slightly soapy warm edge but the tannins, backbone and structure are really genuinely high quality. Very nice form really! 18/93

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Shaw & Smith Sauv
Not feeling the love this year
Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
12.5%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

Don't believe the (2011 vintage) hype.

Seriously don't, for the 'worst vintage ever' generalisations are probably best described as 'inadequate' and at worse described as 'misleading', particularly when the strength of the '11 WA or Hunter Valley vintages are taken into account.

It was a problematic (wet, cold and wet again) vintage in the Hills though and - to my tastes at least - said conditions have taken a toll on this wine.

Typically a very reliable and consistent white wine, this 2011 Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc carries a quite neutral, grassy nose over a slightly unripe lean palate. It starts correctly, with some passionfruit juiciness, but the hard and acidic finish is stunted and the length missing in action. It's obviously well made but I'm not convinced that the base juice itself looks balanced enough for real satisfaction. 15.8/86

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner 2011

Lark Hill Gruner
Great packaging too
Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner 2011 (Canberra district)
12%, Screwcap, $40
Source: Sample

Just a few (3) vintages down now and already kicking goals. I can't say I love this as much as the 2010 iteration, though it's still a wine with plenty of appeal. All that is missing in fact is that peppery, pear varietal edge that many similarly styled - say Federspiel level - Austrian Gruners show. It's a character that should come with more vine age though (so the future looks assured).

What I found most curious about this wine was how Riesling-esque it was. And Clare Valley Riesling-esque at that, with ripe melon and lime fruit over a quite ripe, soft and rounded mid palate before finishing with pithy lemony acidity. It has this lovely lusciousness and generosity that Gruner does so well, but it still says 'I can't believe I'm not a Riesling'. Regardless, I still enjoyed my glass and the label is absolutely one to watch. 17.4/91

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Trio of twentyeleven Tulloch Semillon

Trio of twentyeleven Tulloch Semillon
A trio of Tulloch Semillon
Don't ask me what's happening in the
background though...

The Tulloch resurgence continues.

It's been ten years since the Tulloch family bought back the farm from Big Wine, ten years spent rebuilding, rebranding, refocusing and reviving a famous Hunter label that had been neglected under the previous owners corporate stewardship.

Now, in 2011, things are looking rosy again. The wily and dynamic Christina Tulloch is now in the drivers seat and pushing the business forward at speed. The wines look brighter, fresher and more carefully made than they have in years (thanks to the steady hands of Liz Jackson and Greg Silkman at First Creek, with involvement from the Tulloch family) and look more regional to boot. Heck, even the cellar door is a busy place again.

Perhaps the only thing still remaining for this reborn Tulloch label then is the push back into super premium wines. That process is well under way with the revivalist Private Bin Shiraz label, yet you'd have to argue that, in comparison, the whites are still some way off that level of greatness.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way to this little trio of Semillon.

The following three new release wines showcase exactly where the family is at on the Semillon front, with the Tulloch Semillon range having now broadened to a three tiered one, ranging from the basic Tulloch Semillon to the more seriously intentioned JYT and Julia.

What's most interesting though is that, of the three, it is the basic wine that still has the most upfront appeal. No questioning that the Julia is the best wine of the three, but I'd wager that if you were to present this trio to your typical drinker it would be the $15 wine that would take out the points. What does that prove? Not much really, if only to remind that perhaps the core of the Tulloch offering is still overperforming varietal wines and not superstars. Value over bling.

Tulloch Semillon 2011 11.3% $15
Bright green in the glass, this looked open and generous, the nose all tropical fruits, ripe melon, clarified (not the better cloudy stuff) apple and pineapple juice. It may well be a dirty word in the Hunter but I think this looks rather Sauvignon like in it's acid driven, tropical fruit lift. The palate too is light, slightly tart and juicy, all pineapple and apple juice (think pineapple and apple popper but without the sugary sweetness) that finishes quite softly and slightly sweet.

An approachable, serviceable and very affable wine, what I like here is that it really does look inviting (which not all young Sems can do). Simple Sem, done well. For $15 you're getting a whole heap of enjoyment here. 16.5/88

Tulloch JYT Selection Semillon 2011 10.5% $25
Drawn from the pioneer McDonald family's original plantings in Pokolbin.

A much more classical wine in form and shape this one, with a slightly reduced, prickly, green apple nose that looks rather bound up in banana esters. The palate too is acid driven, greenish and slightly the fruit simmering in there fighting with that quite spiky acidity. A rather different wine to the entry level prospect, that acidity makes for slightly hard going at present. The shape underneath is a reasonably good one but, in this context, this isn't quite there yet. 16.5/88+

Tulloch Julia Semillon 2011 11.5% $28
Drawn from the 1.5 acre Julia vineyard planted in 1988 in the Pokolbin foothills.

A clean, fleshy and perfectly ripe wine this one, carrying that fresh melon character that a few of the '11 Sems are carrying. It's clean, fleshy, limey and open, with a nose that is already quite attractive. That carries through to the lemon lime melon spritzer palate, the fruit richness held by tighter acidity and tighter structure although still a ripe wine. This wine looks much closer to the base Semillon actually, that generous lemon/lime palate with sherbety undertones all finishing with some classic Hunter Semillon fleshy length.

Strictly speaking this is not a classic Hunter Semillon, but the length looks great and the flavours do to, all making for a wine that is, ultimately, hard not to like. 17.5/91

Monday, 17 October 2011

Clos Clare Shiraz 2008

Clos Clare Shiraz
Good work
Clos Clare Cemetery Block Shiraz 2008 (Clare Valley, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $27
Source: Sample

They have a magical touch the young Barry boys, producing Clare Valley wines under this label that at times manage to even outshine the more illustrious family label (which bodes well for the future of Jim Barry wines at the least). With this wine they've obviously used more than a little bit of the magic to craft something good from a loveless, heatwave vintage.
Unsurprisingly it's a generous and warm wine then - sweet and chocolaty on the nose, carrying some of that typical Clare Valley mintiness mingling with rather sexy, choc vanilla milkshake oak. That oak sweetness is a viable foil here for the hot, rum 'n' raisin, scorched plum fruit vintage fruit characters, giving back some generosity in the process that looks to have been cooked off.

The palate is even better, fresher and richer, the fruit flavours slightly compressed and raisined, but still with that choc mint richness to carry things off. It finishes rather warm and the alcohol lingers through the finish but I still came away thinking that this looked very solid, regional and representative. Kudos to the craftmanship on show here. 17.4/90

Sunday, 16 October 2011

What is grower Champagne?

What is grower Champagne?

Champagne sir? Make mine a 'farmer wine'
A version of this article appeared in LattéLife magazine last year. I'm reprinting it here as I think this general overview is worth repeating. If you're already across the grower Champagne topic then skip ahead.

When we're talking about the wines of Champagne, what we're really talking about is Champagne brands. Famous brands like Moet, Veuve Clicquot, Louis Roederer and Bollinger, all household names(to various extents) and all propelled along by unrivalled marketing, packaging and brand placement. 

But there is much more to Champagne than just big names and big producers, a fact best explained by delving into the Champagne production process itself.

We can start by looking in the vineyard, where it might surprise to know that many of the famous Champagne ‘houses’ don’t own their own vineyards. Instead, a vast network of independent growers – numbering more than 15,000 – grow the grapes whilst the Champagne 'houses' make the actual wines.

In this fashion, the most famous Champagne houses will utilise growers all over the region, taking parcels of grapes from a range of varieties and sites, blending artfully to create the most consistent, high quality ‘house style’ wines and effectively promoting a system that separates winemaker from grapegrower. A two tiered production system if you will, which is unlike most other traditional notions of wine production.

The challenge with this sort of winemaking ethos is the loss of ‘a sense of place’, with wines that can arguably lack ‘terroir’ and character, a product more of winemaking rather than grape character. Enter then the modern counter for this homogeneity: The grower Champagne.

In essence a grower Champagne is simply one produced by the same estate that grows the grapes. Vineyard and winery, reconnected once again, identified by the letters ‘RM’ on the label, which stand for ‘Recoltant-Manipulant’ – effectively grower and winemaker – as opposed to ‘NM’ (negociant and winemaker) for the Champagne houses.

Given that approximately one in four Champagne growers do make their own wine, it's actually quite a surprise that up until recently these little known bubblies would never have made it past the growers dinner table (with many of these grower bubblies known as simple, variable ‘farmers wines’ as a result).

In the last decade however several of the most progressive growers – many of whom practise organic and biodynamic viticulture - have realised that there is a demand for Champagne that proudly proclaims exactly where it was grown and produced. Champagne that speaks of grapes and winemaker, not just house style.

The good news is that several of these grower Champagnes can be found in good Australian bottle shops, from producers such as Larmandier-Bernier, René Geoffroy, Egly-Ouriet and Agrapart (to name just a few). What’s more, these sparkling wines can often be cheaper than the big name Champagne’s, or at least offer more interesting offerings for comparable prices.

So what are you waiting for?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Head Wines 2010 red duo

Head Wines 2010 red duo

A sexy Head Blonde
The Brunette is
still my favourite

Is it wrong to describe a Barossan red as 'a little bit Rhoney'?

I called one of Alex 'Heady' Head's Shiraz wines 'Rhoney' today and had a bit of a double take. I mean, they really are very different regions (the Barossa and the Rhone), producing very different styles of Shiraz/Syrah (in the northern Rhone at least. More convergence with the Barossan style in the south, albeit in an oft blended form). So how can they be Rhoney?

To answer that I'm looking at the restraint and the line through the finish on these two, a form that really did look rather Rhone inspired, carrying some Rhonishness inspired by old Hermitage (which I know Alex loves). A case of 'drink great savoury Syrah, make wines that channel the best bits from them' (which is a great formula).

The story for these two follows a quite simple path. Both are single vineyard Shiraz drawn from two quite different Barossan sites and made subtly differently, crafted to stand out as individuals rather than as a strict terroir exercise. They're wines made to represent their site but also to fulfil a style, a wine form following terroir, a style dictated by site and channeled by winemaking ideals. Big win and character to burn. The only limitations? 200-250 dozen of each means that these are already endangered species just months after release...

The wines:

Head 'Blonde' Shiraz Viognier 2010 14% $45
Sourced from lighter limestone clay (hence the 'Blonde') soils in the Stonewell subregion of the Barossa Valley, this is a blend of 98% Shiraz and 2% Viognier (the Shiraz seeing a little Viognier skins during fermentation). Personally I think the Viognier component is unnecessary, as this is clearly pretty sexy juice without the V weed fleshiness. But then again, my prejudices against Viognier are pretty well known...

What makes this good however is that it carries richness and ripeness without sweetness. Alex is consciously trying to avoid obvious sweetness in this wine, with the oak regime in particular all about lightly toasted oak and a balance between new and older wood. It still carries a quite floral nose, with the Viognier prettying up things noticeably (in context). The palate is purple and juicy too, a quite elegant and restrained expression of Barossa Shiraz with a lightly berried edge, everything finishing dry and quite vibrant.

Truly a feminine expressoin of Barossan Shiraz, there is no questioning the joy and vitality of this mid weight, floral style. 18.2/93

Head 'Brunette' Shiraz 2010 13.8% $45
This comes off a vineyard on the Moppa Hill in the NW Barossa (the site of an old gold mine actually), a part of the Barossa better known as 'Grange country'. The dirt up there is a darker, redder clay/loam that generally produces richer, fuller wines. No surprises that this is a richer, darker wine, that red dirt/ironstone character making for more heartier, chocolatey wines. Oh and this also includes some stems in the mix too, a factor which (I think) gives this wine that extra edge through the finish.

Whilst the Brunette is still a Barossan Shiraz, again the message here is a measured one, that dark rich fruit tempered through the mid palate before ending stemmy and quite firm. It's a ferrous, dark wine, a more broody red than the pretty Blonde (classic style) but with more well formed stem tannins to give depth and drive through the finish. Again this is dry, but not dried, a wonderfully mid weight, perfectly ripened Barossan Shiraz that is a little uptight to seduce just yet but has all the hallmarks of greatness. Lovely stuff. 18.6/94+

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Blind Corner 'A' Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Blind Corner 'A' Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Margaret River, WA)
14%?, Screwcap, $45
Source: Poured by Sommelier of the Year and champion of great obscure wines Stu Knox

Blind Corner
'A' Cabernet
A+ wine
22 cases made. That's one measly barrel. Suffice to say that this is one rare, special wine. A rare, special wine worth seeking out (and selling fast).

It's made by Ben Gould, a former Young Winemaker of the Year finalist and general overachiever whom manages the tiny 4 hectare, Biodynamic (in conversion) Blind Corner vineyard on the banks of the Wilyabrup Brook. Ben's family established the Deep Woods estate and it was here that he learnt his craft, spending 10yrs in the family business before jaunting off overseas, only to return home to this little Blind Corner project.

Fittingly this wine is a unique one, produced from handpicked grapes that are air dried for two weeks after picking. They are then foot crushed, hand plunged and basket pressed into French oak where the wine spent a further 12 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.

If that already sounds like an involved project, then the fact that this precious barrel of Amarone styled Cabernet also accompanied Ben on his family beach holiday is probably of little surprise. Ben quite simply didn't want to leave it alone, so he chucked the barrel in the back of the ute to take on holidays along with his young family. Now that's commitment.

As for the wine? Wow. It marries all the fresh varietal intensity of Margaret River Cabernet with the extra layers of richness that the air drying process injects into it. It carries a lovely choc-berry trifle, oak-and-fruit richness on the nose that is really rather attractive. It's a nose of vitality and freshness even despite the drying process. The palate too is fresh, rich, long and choc-berried, carrying lots of blueberry and blackberry fruit and a kick of firm tannins to finish. It's a wine of power yet structure, a reasonably upfront wine yet with a proper backbone behind it. Perhaps the only quibble is that the oak is a fraction dominant now, but that is a trifling complaint (guffaw). Great booze, great story and no shortage of interest here. 18.3/93+

(Ben also does a great sparkling chenin too)

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Domaine Belluard Vin de Savoie Ayse Mont-Blanc Méthode Traditionnelle Brut-Zéro 2006

Domaine Belluard Vin de Savoie Ayse Mont-Blanc Méthode Traditionnelle Brut-Zéro 2006 (Savoie, France)
12.5%, Cork, $48
Source: Retail

Belluard Ayse Brut Zero 2006
Made right near the Mont Blanc pen factory?
Domaine Belluard is a biodynamic producer located in Savoie, a wine region located on the French-Swiss border not far from the ski resort of Chamonix (and in the shadow of Mont-Blanc), producing wines mainly from the Savagnin-like (though even older genetically) Gringet, a variety that is native to Savoie and thought to be reduced to just 20ha of plantings worldwide (of which Domaine Belluard has 8ha). Dominique and Patrick Belluard are champions of the rare Gringet and craft it into a whole range of styles (plus a few Mondeuese and Altesse oddities), with this zero dosage sparkler sitting at the, erm, sparkling end. (Dave Brookes gives some more background about Gringet here).

If there is one thing that this sparkling wine isn't however, it's Champagne, with the pronounced varietal quirkiness (or what I think is varietal quirkiness, not that I've ever tried a Gringet) making for one unusual wine. Think somewhere in between an ultra-stony Prosecco and a Jura Savagnin and you're heading in the right direction, carrying a nose that is more table wine than sparkling (and with nary a Champagne smell in sight). It's quite yellow/orange in the glass too, a nod to what looks like some quite oxidative handling (the Belluard's ferment in concrete eggs and amphorae after all) and the 4yrs this wine spent ageing.

That nose really is intriguing stuff, showing a hint of cut apple oxidation before heading into tangerine and peach juice, that acidity positively lifting out of the glass. Think the juiciness of old vine Moscatel but leaner and more tangerine. No surprises to see a palate that is both full of tangerine fruit juiciness matching to soul defining acidity and even with a suggestion of flor brininess. Plenty of layers on the palate too, even if the acidity drenches everything.

To be honest it was plainly too acidic and tart at first, a rather overt and oxidative beast that I struggled with. As it warmed up I warmed to it however, that peach and tangerine fruit richness balancing out the ski slope edges to make for a rather intriguing sparkling curio. Rating it is a harder proposition (like most natural wines) as it doesn't really fit into any normal paradigms (and is still quite divisive). 16.8/89 (I think three topless squaws - though not quite five - would also be appropriate).

(Imported by Living Wines, who have a fabulous range of quirky wines just like this one).

Saturday, 8 October 2011

BEER: Holgate Temptress Chocolate Porter

Holgate Temptress Chocolate Porter
Quite the temptress
BEER: Holgate Temptress Chocolate Porter
6% alc.

I've spent the day in the car today, driving to Canberra (and back) for the public tasting of the Canberra International Riesling Challenge. Now, after a long day of driving and tasting, the only way to properly refuel is that magical food/drink combination: Pizza and beer.

Tonight's pizza of choice was a Mexicana (cheese, pepperoni, capsicum, onion, garlic, chilli) with anchovies (my favoured additional topping. Love that salty/fishy goodness), matched to a icy cold Little Creatures Pale Ale. Sadly the Little Creatures was too tasty and barely touched the sides, leaving only this Holgate in the fridge. A rather enjoyable back-up plan it was too...

Described as a classic Porter with a 'tempting twist', this is infused with Dutch cocoa and whole vanilla beans, which sounds more like a beer plaything than a proper Porter. Yet this is pretty good - a rich, mid-weight and smoky porter with a sweet, chocolate milkshake vein through the palate that lingers rather nicely through the finish. I can't imagine drinking more than one but, right now, with a Wagon Wheel (quiet night at home dessert of choice) it's going down quite nicely.

Friday, 7 October 2011

13 #Semsational new release Semillons

13 #Semsational new release Semillons

Whole lotta Semillon
Tasted so fast the camera couldn't keep up
This month sees the annual 'Hunter Valley Uncorked' program of events kicking into full swing with a set of tastings, masterclasses and general Hunter themed shennanigans that are set to take place in the coming weeks, all culminating in the big Hunter Valley Uncorked tasting festival held in early November at Sydney's Balmoral Beach (full details here).

To start the Hunter lovefest, a group of the regions winemakers are first coming to Sydney for an event known as #Semsational, a night focused on all things Hunter Semillon (with a few Shiraz and Chardonnay for good measure) and featuring some decidedly new school wine activites - including a winemaker speed dating session, DJ's and a tweetup element.

For the region this Semillon celebration is a big deal, a key event designed to show that the Hunter Valley can be indeed be cool, that it produces high quality wines made without pretension and crafted by winemakers that are young, dynamic and knowledgeable.

I'm going to examine this broader rebranding exercise in more detail in a future post (and work out how successful it is), but for the moment I'm going to focus on a few of the new release Semillons that will be the key drawcard of the upcoming #Semsational event. (More information about #Semsational)

This following collection of new release Semillons then are all - bar one interloper - drawn from the 2011 vintage, a year that in the Hunter was wet and dry, with a heavily drenched pre-Christmas period which was then followed with a dry and warm January and February, punctuated with a week of heat at the end of January. Compared to the rest of Australia, the 2011 Hunter vintage is an anomaly (excluding WA) in that everything got fully ripe, and late season disease issues just didn't happen.

Strictly speaking it's not a classic vintage for Semillon though, with the wines probably less steely and much more opulent, particularly for those growers who weren't quick enough to pick their grapes during the particularly hot, post Australia Day period. Still, good wines have been made by the attentive and the Chardonnay and Shiraz in particular look very good. It will be a smart Shiraz year in particular (based on some early barrel samples).

With these Semillons though I was looking for that combination of freshness, length, intensity and balanced acidity. Actually, the topic of acidity is an important one this year, as whilst Hunter Semillon doesn't normally need to have acid adjusted, this warm vintage saw many makers adding acid to the wines in a bid to keep them taut and clean. Such adjustments were met with varying levels of success however...

The wines:

(My extra notes are in Italics, including some info from the winery when suitable. Most of these were tasted twice from two different bottles for consistency. Notes are as written on the night).

Tempus Two Semillon 2011
10.5% alc. RRP $30. This still comes in the rocket shaped bottle and is the only wine in this lineup sealed in cork. I think that's a questionable decision driven by the distinctive bottle shape and one the ultimately produced a duller wine because of it.
Broad, citrus driven and slightly bland nose over a tart yet broad palate. Like to see more length and delineation here as it's all over the place. Might well improve with more time in the bottle, particularly as the Zenith Semillon is always pretty smart... 15.8/86 

Scarborough Green Label Semillon 2011
11% alc. RRP $25. This is sourced off the richer red soil section of the Scarborough vineyard, though it still looks quite classical in style. For the $19 a bottle at cellar door this is convincing wine and perhaps the most convincing it's been of the last few years.
Smells clean pure and quite grassy. Good delineation here with both grass and citrus over a softish but not flabby palate. Looked fresh and solid and really kicked goals this year. Ready to drink. 17.8/92

Tulloch Semillon 2011
11.3% alc. RRP $16. Priced cheaply yet not made cynically this is quite a success all things considered.
It's a little flat on the nose with lot of direct lemon juice aromatics, edged with a little lawn clipping for balance. Palate is juicy, quite soft and reasonably generous if rounded off with some well judged (if added) acidity. What I like about this is just how fresh and lively it looks even if it's not super delineated. Bargain no question. 16.7/89

Bimbadgen Semillon 2011

10% alc. RRP $20.
A little green and flat, this just looked dull and tart in this lineup, the finish showing a bit sweet and sour for my liking. Underripe? 16/87 

Brokenwood Semillon 2011
11% alc. RRP $20. Here is an example of how to use acid to advantage. This looked very pure and had an excellent shape to it, the acidity sharpish but really helped define the wine. Success. I often don't love this wine sometimes finding it a little shapeless. Not this year.
Direct, pure and grassy nose - looks sharp and well defined. Palate has great intensity to and is pure, long and taut through the finish. A much more defined wine this year. Good stuff. 17.7/92

De Iuliis Semillon 2011
11.5% alc. RRP $18
Has a creamy richness to it that I find just a little distracting. Lemon balm, lemon pie and just a bit more fleshy sweetness. Pleasant and easy going style, if not quite serious enough for bigger points. Good value though. 17/90

Glandore Estate The Elliot Semillon 2011
RRP $30. I didn't get to try this from a second bottle.
Pours yellow in the glass. Suggestion of oxidation even though there's fruit in there. U/R as I don't think this was a representative bottle.

Tower Estate Semillon 2011
11% alc. RRP $22
A wonderful intensity on the nose, though there's just a hint of that straw character of riper Hunter Semillon. The sherbety lemon nose leads here onto a palate which is jsut a little fat and slightly caramelised through the finish too. Ultimately a little broadish for bigger points though should improve. 16.5/88+

Pepper Tree Tallawanta Semillon 2011
11.5% alc. RRP $28. This comes off the red dirt Tallawanta vineyard and is made in a riper style. Seems to have worked pretty well in this instance though.
A richer, almost candied nose on this wine with the barest hint of barley sugar. A richer and nicely handled palate with less acidity but lots of more richer flavours. Attractive if less classic stuff. 17.5/91

Some likely #Semsational suspect
Briar Ridge Dairy Hill Semillon 2011
11% alc. RRP $29. Briar Ridge believes that it's best Semillon comes off the Dairy Hill vineyard and this looks to attest to that. Balances juiciness and refreshment well.
A twist of sherbet and some proper intensity on the nose announces this as a contender. Lifted and lemony fullness to the nose that is quite attractive. Good palate intensity and quite a long finish. Refreshment value is very high here. Very good, vitally juicy Semillon. Liked this. 18/93

Thomas Wines Braemore Semillon 2011

11.5% alc. RRP $28. Time for the big guns. This was the most popular wine when I opened this up for a few work colleagues, with that juiciness on the nose truly seductive. A close race between this and the Vat 1 this year, though I think I marginally prefer the 2010 version.
Easy the most juicy wine this with ripe passionfruity fruit and a whiff of peach on the nose. Underneath it's much more serious, an extra layer of phenolics through the finish and capped off with soft acidity. Everything in it's right place, though just pipped by the intensity of the Vat 1. Regradless this is absolute top shelf Hunter Sem, with length to burn. 18.5/94

Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon 2011

11.5% alc. RRP $35.50 (Private Bin Members price). Interesting to try this in a lineup in amongst non-Tyrrell's wines. Have a squizz here first.
Full and very deep - that extra intensity and concentration is obvious from the first whiff. It's denser on the palate too, a further layer of quite perfumed ripe rich fruit, tending almost pineapply through the finish. Intensity is high this year, the palate a full and rich beast, if just a little plump to be classic. Much to like for a Semillon fan here. 18.6/94

Brokenwood ILR Semillon 2006
11% alc. RRP $45. This was brought along by Geoff Krieger the GM of Brokenwood and made a more than worthy addition to the lineup. The wine I would most liked to have taken to dinner. It's due for release shortly.
Quite a generous wine this year, a softly, toasty almost gentle style, the nose open and fresh if quite forward in the scheme of things. The palate too is open, yellow fruit driven and toasty around the edges. That gentle toastiness (and less primal green fruit) makes for one quite accessible Semillon, if not quite the superstar penetration or acid driven length. Enjoyable stuff regardless. 18.3/93

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Chapel Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Chapel Hill Cabernet 2009
Lots of varietal character for a Vale Cab
Chapel Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $30
Source: Sample

2009 was a tricky vintage in McLaren Vale, with that veraison heatwave really drying things out (and Cabernet seemed to particularly suffer). Still, when you put most 2009 McLaren Vale reds next to their 2008 and 2007 counterparts it's the 09's that win. Until the glorious 2010 reds come out that is (seriously, get excited)....

What I like about this is just how Cabernetish it is - I'm genuinely excited to see some nice varietal character in here, albeit cast quite ripely. There's that whiff of pencil shavings fruit/oak combo, a real classic Cabernet aroma that I rather enjoy. That HB smell sits alongside full choc berry pie fruit, a hint of mint leaves and a little condensed milk oak. It's a fullish nose, a little confected around the edges perhaps but certainly quite substantial. The palate too is welcomingly run by tannins -  tight, gritty tannins - sliced with very high quality vanillan oak and some warmer, sweeter berries, tending confected again around the pointy bits. No desiccation in there though and the line through the finish is fresh and pure.

Ultimately a welcomingly dry and tannic red with quite good form, it's just a little warm and drying but certainly good stuff. 17.5/91+

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Shaw Vineyard Premium Shiraz 2009

Shaw Vineyard Shiraz
Bound for bling glory
Shaw Vineyard Premium Shiraz 2009 (Canberra District)
14.5%, Screwcap, $22
Source: Sample

I'd imagine that this will/has one a little wine show bling along the way, largely on the strength of the nose - it's a very rich smelling Shiraz this one, with plum liqueur, glycerol-rich, juicy sweet fruit jumping right out at you. But when you actually sit down to try and drink it (like I did) it just looks a little jammy and over-sweet (fruit sweet not sugar sweet that is).

That full and very fleshy nose is quite typical of the 09 Canberra reds, though in this case it's just burnt off the regional pepper and spice in the process. It's a rounded nose actually, one big ripe macerated plum drenched thing that's ultimately volatile, broadish and heavy.

No surprises that the palate is soft, fleshy, warm and very ripe, a blob of a thing, full of sweetly liquered fruit, topped off with raspy acidity on the finish.

Sure to find commercial success but a little too concocted and sweet for me. 15.8/87

Soul Growers 'Equilibrium' Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre 2009

Soul Growers SGM
Good value too
Soul Growers 'Equilibrium' Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre 2009 (Barossa Valley, SA)
15%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

If there is one thing that I really like about these Soul Growers reds it's how congruent they are. By that I mean that the philosophy (they way they grow grapes/make wine/approach everything) of the guys behind the label - Paul Heinicke, David Cruickshank and the Lindner Brothers - is reflected in the wines. I'm talking no bullshit wines from no bullshit - yet quintessentially generous - guys. You can't help but respect that, even if the big and hearty products of this approach aren't quite what you're into.

Speaking of the wines they're all open fermented, basket pressed and usually spend plenty of time in oak (yet rarely look oak dominated. There is a skill in that). Think Rockford with a sprinkle of Torbreck sexiness and you're on the right track.

This particular red is a blend of 41% Shiraz, 39% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre and looks very solid indeed - it smells of vibrant Grenache and rich Shiraz with the Grenache in particular giving loads to the nose. The palate - as usual with the Soul Growers wines - is where the party really starts though, showing a dry, serious and deepset form that is savoury and earthen, the oak imparting a little chocolate and the fruit giving a little flirtatious sweetness. What is most impressive is the balance here - there's just a hint of jamminess on the nose, yet the palate looks fresh and carries it's alcohol surprisingly well. The line through the finish in particular is very nice, the tannins quite fine and lightish yet look natural and work for the blend.

Another excellent 2009 Barossan GSM style showing the strength of the blend in the vintage (2009) and overall for the region. An easy recommendation here. 17.8/92

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Mcguigan Shortlist Chardonnay 2009

Mcguigan Shortlist Chardonnay 2009 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
13%, Screwcap, $28
Source: Sample

From the Shortlist range of regional wines which are generally quite solid drinks. This comes from the Schubert Vineyard and was wild yeast fermented before spending 8 months in new French Hogsheads.

Oh and what do you think of these Shortlist labels?

It looks surprisingly oaky considering it only spent 8 months in oak, reflecting perhaps a barrel choice that gives more overt oak flavours. Beyond the oak it's mealy, clean and well proportioned, a thoroughly modern Chardonnay with a medium weight, slightly pineappley palate and softish acidity. Solid Chardonnay if nothing more, that oak pokes through on the finish but can't derail most of the good work behind it. Good. 17/90

Tintilla Tarantella 2009

Tintilla Tarantells
Had me singing Pendulum
Tintilla Tarantella 2009 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
13.5%, Screwcap, $30
Source: Sample

For the life of me I can't find any reference to a vintage on this bottle. It might be in the small print somewhere on the back but I couldn't spot it. Maybe that's the next fad - non vintage reds....

This is a blend of Sangiovese, Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot which I'm sure you'll admit is an odd recipe for the Hunter Valley (though not for Tuscany, the inspiration for this wine). What's more, the Sangiovese spent 2 years in oak, which is odder still for the region (where oak is more and downplayed these days). Given all this oddness I gave the wine a full 24 hour look-see to try and wrap my head around it (I'm thorough. Sometimes). Oh and Tarantella is a dance from Puglia in southern Italy, so named as it looks like you're a spider freaking out and waving your multiple legs around (or such).

It certainly smells Italianate, with the first whiff one of Italian sausage. Italian sausage, wrapped in slightly candied red fruit and then rolled in a little red Hunter dirt. That candied edge is intriguing actually, and it curiously made me think about Lambrusco. I almost expected a hint of spritz on the palate, such was it's tutti-frutti action. Yet it tastes completely Sangiovesean (of Sangiovese) with a sweet and rich, oak reinforced tannic palate that has some weight to it, though with something of a big hole through most of the back palate, then finishing with drying oak tannins.

It's actually pretty solid, an entirely pleasant wine, if just a bid odd and jumbled. 16.5/88

Williams Crossing (By Curly Flat) Pinot 2009 - Value! Value!

Williams Crossing (By Curly Flat) Pinot 2009 - Value! Value!

Williams Crossing Pinot Noir
One of the best value Pinots in the country
Williams Crossing Pinot Noir 2009 (Macedon Ranges, Vic)
13.6%, Screwcap, $24 (Cellar Door0
Source: Wine list

I'm not sure if this is still available from the Curly Flat cellar door (I can't see it on the order form) but if it is I'd buy some immediately. Suffice to say that this is - along with the equally fast selling Hoddles Creek - amongst the best value Pinots in the land.

Produced from the lesser barrels of the Curly Flat Pinot, this carries all the style and fragrance of the 'grand vin' yet sells for half the price. In effect you're getting a wine that is probably only a fraction behind the top wine (quality-wise) for 50% less dollars...

From first whiff this looks right to, built in a bright and juicy style that glows with pinosity and fragrance. It's a fleshy nose, with a lifted, macerated cherry lift suggesting warmish ferments and ripe fruit. Yet it's serious too, with a trademark edge of Macedon mint and sappy redcurrant that is pure regional glory (all of which grow in the glass). The palate too is bright, open and fruit driven, yet backed by firm stalky tannins to underlie just how serious this wine is, with it all capped off with excellent length.

Simply put I can't talk this up enough. Bargain stuff (and bodes very well for the 09 Curly Flat Pinot. I'd best start saving now...) 18/93

(If there is one thing I do dislike it is the Williams Crossing label. I think it looks cheap, particularly when you put it next to the normal Curly Flat label. Thoughts?)

Monday, 3 October 2011

Meerea Park Alexander Munro Semillon 2006

Meerea Park Alexander Munro Semillon 2006 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
$35, Screwcap, 11%
Source: Wine list

Classic Semillon
I had this for lunch at Sydney's Longrain on Friday, just to test out whether it would match with high end Thai food. It passed with flying colours (as did the Singha to start. Great beer that).

Now, this Semillon comes off the Braemore vineyard (which is also the source of Andrew Thomas' scintillating 'Braemore' Semillon) a plot producing some of the finest Semillon grapes in the Hunter Valley. The vintage too was a good one (for Semillon), a warmish, even year that produced reasonably classic Semillon.

Suitably, this is sitting in a good place, with a very typical nose dominated by lemon curd, lightly toasty bottle aged richness over greener, appley primary fruit. It's still very much in a primary stage with that lemon curd openness makes for a very nice fruit/development contrast. The palate accentuates this even more, with a real lemon tart acid/richness balance that makes for a wonderful mouthful of wine. It's supported by an effortlessly long finish and soft natural acidity (as opposed to hard added acidity) rounding things off. 

A long, perfectly formed, green fruit meets yellow bottle age, five year old Semillon with power and style to burn whilst still being approachable enough to woo non Semillon drinkers. World class Semillon. 18.7/95

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Assorted goodies from Fine Wine Partners

Assorted goodies from Fine Wine Partners

So my liver has been taking a pounding of late, with wine tastings/drinkings/dinners/masterclasses aplenty. Not that I'm complaining of course (for there has been some mighty fine booze consumed along the way), but the results from this excess of springtime activity has been that the pile of tasting notes besides my computer has grown quite significantly, whilst my stock of milk thistle (which is magic stuff by the way) has inversely diminished.

As a result I'm in catchup mode here at Ozwinereview HQ, wearing my typing fingers to the bone in a blind attempt at reducing said tasting note stockpile into something more manageable (or at least that's what I'm telling myself).

The following (slightly waylaid) tasting notes then come from this years Fine Wine Partners boozeapalooza, a massive trade tasting showcasing the FWP portfolio (which is one of the largest in the country) and featuring everything from Bollinger through to Petaluma, St Hallett to Drouhin, Villa Maria to Henschke and many more in between.

What I find the biggest challenge to be with a tasting like this is simply how to deal with the embarrassment of riches, that eye-blurring dilemma you face when attempting to work out which of the several hundred wines on taste you can actual get around to see in a limited time frame. I went mainly for a few imports on this occasion, but to turn to leave and realise that you've barely scratched the surface is a disheartening feeling indeed, particularly for a mega wine geek like me...

Wines (all tasted non blind. Notes in italics are supplied by the winery).

Joseph Drouhin AC Chablis 2009
Slightly tinny but correct Chablis nose, built surprisingly lean for the vintage. The palate is lean too, a wine made with freshness but not complexity in mind. There's some of that briny oyster shell richness on the back too but it still can't talk up what is a mono dimensional wine. Still refreshing and drinkable, if unremarkable. 15.9/87

Joseph Drouhin Clos de Mouches 1er Blanc 2007
Sexy label on this, with that old school, ornate Burgundy scribbling (that I quite like). It's a deep and rich wine, if still slightly metallic, with a very dry, just creamy palate that looks a fraction heavy and oaky. A disjointed back end muddles the flavours, though that generosity is still proper serious and genuine. Still not quite the delineation though. 17/90 

Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio 2006
If the world was a kinder place this wine I could afford to drink more of this wine. Suffice to say that this is a rather tasty modernish Barolos showcasing so much Nebbiolo goodness, focusing on deep black, figgy ripe fruit and integrated tannins. The palate particularly has a wonderful line to it, a balanced flow of dark, rich and slightly oak fruit built quite large but genuinely delicious. The kicker though is the balance between tannins and richly extractive fruit. Crying out to be in my cellar.... 18.3/93+

Wither Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011
In wine writer land it's probably pretty uncool to say this, but I think this is a genuinely good wine. In fact I've shared a bottle of this very drink recently with some seriously ordinary Thai food. The wine came out looking good....

It's very much a ripe and passionfruit driven style this one, the style leaning toward the bigger and riper end of the spectrum. The nose - as is typical of the style/variety - is where the party is, with the palate just reinforcing things. It's a sharp wine with sharp acidity but also balanced out with enough juiciness to keep everyone happy. Entirely serviceable Sauv Blanc this. 17.3/90

Wither Hills Rarangi Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Sourced from a seaside vineyard below the Richmond Ranges.

I managed to snaffle a piece of sushi to have with this Savvy and it just made the wine even more refreshing, that reminder of why Marlborough Sauv is so widely loved - it's just a good easy drink.
Conversely though this is not quite a simple wine, built instead as a single vineyard release designed to showcase fruit intensity but built up with 6 months on fine lees. What that translates to is a Savvy where the flavours have been turned up a fraction, the intensity, drive and palate weight all much more serious. What's more impressive is how it's holding up to the extra bottle age, with no sign of it tiring any time soon. Pretty impressive Savvy. 17.7/92

Wither Hills Marlborough Pinot Noir 2009

100% destemmed. 14 months in oak. Lightly fined and filtered.
For a big volume wine this looked pretty clever. It's built juicy, ripe and fruit forward, the quite simple vibrant strawberry fruit an easy open hit on the nose. Yet still the palate is spicy, ripe, finely tannic and appropriately long, built without a hint of commercial cynicism yet still crafted for an everyman palate. Approachable, generous yet pinoty, this is an easy Pinot to recommend, even if it's not super complex. 17.7/92

Mt Difficulty Long Gully Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009

 A small amount of whole clusters used during (warm) ferment. Extensive cap plunging during ferment and post ferment maceration (up to three times a day!). 14 months in barrel. 14% alc. pH 3.6
One of three Mt Difficulty single vineyard wines, I've occasionally struggled with the extraction of these Pinots and the 09 trio is no exception.

This is easily my least favourite wine of the three though perhaps showing the most potential. Tightly coiled, dark fruited and even slightly reductive on the nose, the palate looks a little hard and extracted, finishing warm and astringent, the fruit not quite up to all that winemaking. Still attractive though I wanted more. 17.3/90+

Mt Difficulty Pipeclay Terrace Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009
Similar handling to the Long Gully. 14% alc. 3.7pH.
A thicker, richer, full style with pippy, macerated and rather ripe, typically Otago red fruit on the nose. Again it's dry and serious on the palate but longer, fresher and cleaner here, that dry cherry ripeness carrying the whole way through. A quite charismatic Pinot if still just a fraction stunted, this shows off plenty of the good things about Central Otago Pinot 17.7/92+

Mt Difficulty Target Gully Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009
25% whole bunches. 9 days post ferment maceration. 16 months in barrel. 14% alc 3.6pH.
Easily the most lush, plush and open of the trio, this looked estery, pretty and inviting. That carries through onto the generous if slightly sweet and sour palate with the concentration of fruit matched up with drying, slightly dessicated tannins. A big and juicy Pinot with no shortage of power and weight. Distinctive and good. 18.3/93+

Pedestal Vineyard Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2010

60% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Semillon. 10% new French oak used for fermentation.
The Pedestal Vineyard is one of Larry Cherubino's (many) projects, with him working in conjunction with the Pedestal Vineyard owners to market the brand. The Pedestal Vineyard itself is well situated indeed, located behind the Woodlands vineyard on Caves Road Margaret River, sharing some of the prized Wilyabrup loam and gravel soils of Woodlands along with some more sandy patches.

I thought this looked pretty good, even if I believe that the '11 would have looked even better. A greenish, grassy nose, the Sauv dominance stamping gooseberry and melon all over the nose. The dry, slightly herbal and greenish palate looks long, quite neutral and pure, driven by good lines if just a little soft through the finish. Good wine. 17.8/92

Pedestal Vineyard Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2009

Ahh Margaret River Cab Merlot, how I love your distinctiveness. This looks fittingly herbal, pure, leafy and well dense, the drying tannin and leafy heart signalling a grown up wine with grown up structure. Some may find it a little too leafy but it's perfectly lean and svelte for my tastes (and will only get better. Good. 17.7/92

Pedestal Vineyard 'Elevation' Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Hand picked, berry sorted. 12 months in oak and 12 months in bottle before release.13.8% alc
Ahh, a wine crafted with tannins! Lovely. Ripe and cedary, leafy and dark fruited, with dark mulberry fruit, firm tightly grained oak and red dustiness. The kicker of course is the tannic length, the tannins themselves ripe but prominent, not quite Bordeaux-ish in their dry perfection but fleshier and 'redder' regional Wilyabrup tannins. I like 'em and I like this wine very much. 18.5/94