Monday, 28 November 2011

Coriole Fiano 2011

Coriole Fiano
Calamari friendly
Coriole Fiano 2011 (McLaren Vale, SA)
13%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

For some reason every time I hear the word Fiano I want to sing it. Like this but 'that's Fiano'. Aaron 'Brash' Brasher suggested that he breaks out into Laura Branigan's 'Ti Amo' when thinking about this wine. Both valid I think...

Speaking of valid I'm firmly warming to McLaren Vale Fiano. I particularly like the fact that Vale producers aren't afraid of a little phenolic grip, which I rather like seeing in dry, warm climate white wines. Helps complement the typically lower acidity. Not that there is any lack of acidity in this 2011 version which, ike many other '11 South Australian whites, positively smells of acidity.

Beyond the acidity this is a tangy number, kicking off with a lemon and grapefruit nose with a creamy, saltiness to it too. It's a tighter, leaner and more citrus driven white this year, but the phenolic, slightly spiky palate has no shortage of appeal (particularly as it warms up). Again the clincher is that saltiness, a dry, chalky citrus etching to the palate that makes it a little sullen served cold but an interesting dry white as it warms up. Good, calamari friendly vino. 17.3/90

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Nepenthe Tempranillo 2010

Nepenthe Tempranillo
Nepenthe Tempranillo 2010 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Sample

Tempranillo in the Hills? Well if La Linea can pull it off well then why not. In fact, Nepenthe's vines were first planted in 1998 which places them right at the start of the recent Tempranillo boom. This particular bottle is festooned with medals (including a few trophies) to boot.

It's a distinctive wine too, with a big hit of eucalpyt and spearmint dominating the nose, alongside mulberry fruit and a hint of breadcumb oak and yeast character. You've really got to have a high eucalypt/menthol tolerance to really love this I think, though the sweeter edges to the palate are still quite attractive, softening out the hardness of the minty (borderline ripe?) fruit. With air it all looks more cohesive, that slightly sullen palate opening up to flesh everything out again, even if the finish is on the gruff side. Solid drinking for the price regardless. 16.5/88+

Friday, 25 November 2011

Lark Hil Dark Horse Vineyard Viognier 2011

Lark Hill Dark Horse Viognier
Lark Hill Dark Horse Vineyard Viognier 2011
12.5%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

This is drawn from the Dark Horse vineyard in Murrumbatemen which the Carpenter family purchased just this year. From my understanding Dark Horse has long been a fruit source for Bryan Martin's overperforming Ravensworth wines, so the provenance is assured.

If anything this is a rather slender expression of Viognier, kicking off with a tight, gingery and citrussy nose that blind you'd be hard picked to call as a Viognier. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I think I'd prefer to see a little more varietal distinction. It comes through more on the palate though, a late hit of spicy, gingery apricot richness to fill the palate out a bit, even if it's something of a battle between that fruit and the slightly trill acidity before a quite long finish.

A svelte and quite elegant wine, I can see the clear intent and style here even if it didn't win me over. 16.8/89

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Chapel Hill Il Vescovo Sangiovese 2010

Chapel Hill Il Vescovo Sangiovese
Chapel Hill Il Vescovo Sangiovese 2010 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

I find it interesting that Sangiovese has taken a hold in McLaren Vale. Is it an ideal climate for the variety I wonder? I mean McLaren Vale is hardly Chianti now is it? It's not far off Maremma though (based on climate figures at least) which also begs the question about why we don't see more Super Tuscan style Sangiovese blends in the Vale (they exist I realise that but they're hardly prominent).

To answer that question we can probably just look at this wine - a Sangiovese that smells of McLaren Vale first, Sangiovese second. I don't mean that in a disrespectful way, more a nod to the strength of the regional character, much like what happens to Cabernet in the Hunter or Shiraz in Coonawarra. That being said this is a genuinely well made and yes, still varietal, wine that carries enough of the structural integrity that Sangiovese can bring to make for good drinking.

Said nose is all tarry, slightly roasted red berries and a hint of mocha, all topped off with a bit of estery warmth. Noticeably clever oak on this, so integrated that it looks more like a coat of oak paint than an actual wine component which I think is a nod to the famously fastidious winemaking of Michael Fragos. The Sangiovese part of this wine comes through with a seam of black fruit - black fruit, new leather, a little whiff of sausage meat and pepper. 

The palate is intriguingly more varietal than the nose - or at least the tannins are - with a trademark sandiness to them that I quite like. They're raw though, and some late alcohol heat does pinch the back end a little, Like 'proper' Sangiovese it is those tannins that drive this wine, pushing the savoury factor up a notch and giving this wine an extra degree of seriousness.

Good solid wine this, if not quite great. 16.7/89

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Calabria Private Bin Aglianico 2009

Rustic label too. Cool.
Calabria Private Bin Aglianico 2009 (Riverina, NSW)
14%, Screwcap, $14.95
Source: Sample

I was genuinely happy to see this wine turn up in amongst some recent samples. Happy as there is an air of genuineness about this wine, a simplicity of intent that I rather like. Sure it's a rough and ready sort of red but it still has character and heart, something which is sadly missing in most $15 reds.

A big nose. Ripe, slightly raisined and gruff, with redcurrant and cedary old oak. There's a sort of tarred cherry ripe headiness to it that marks it as warm climate vino, though still with enough of the sort of 'not the usual Shiraz/Cabernet etc' varietal spiciness to it that draws you in. Chewy, rugged palate packs plenty of extraction if little in the way of delicacy, the edges raw, the acid blunt and the style rather rustic and old school. Still can't write it off though and the future should be very kind. Score may look low but there is still plenty of satisfaction in it's 'meatlovers pizza now' mode (particularly for $15). 16/87+

Monday, 21 November 2011

Coriole Sangiovese 2010

Coriole Sangiovese - genuine
Coriole Sangiovese 2010 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $23
Source: Sample

Australian Sangiovese. The perpetual underperformer. Not this Coriole though which continues to look more (welcomingly) varietal every year.

That varietal character comes through largely as a hint of cabanossi on the nose combined with a splash of volatility and fresh, if earthen, lightly roasted red cherry fruit. It's a raw nose too, a slightly brooding and bulky one that pushes the ripeness envelope. Eager quality though. That raw and foursquare style carries through the palate too, the red lolly sweet bits matching the furry, cat-tongue tannins and notable acidity. It's a less polish, more tannins/length wine that definitely has it's place (though needs pizza methinks) and will only get better (genuinely better, not just softer). Good, genuine stuff. 17.5/91+

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Tyrrell's Futures Semillon 1986

Tyrrell's Futures Semillon 1986
Tyrrell's Futures Semillon 1986
A sprinkle of magic

25 years old. 25 years young even. What makes this wine attractive is a matter of simplicity. Of purity and length and 'I can't believe it's 25 years old' youthfulness. In truth it's probably a simple wine, one produced from good - but not top shelf - grapes, and crafted in a style that was probably not intended to still be kicking 25 years on.

It's this combination however that makes this Semillon something of an enigma. An enigmatic wine, produced in an enigmatic wine region and crafted from an enigmatic variety, all of which makes me excited. Excited about it's vinosity, about the fact that it's simple but simply awesome (in it's mode).

Stepping back a bit, this wine came to me from renowned Hunter winemaker Andrew 'Thommo' Thomas (he of Thomas Wines). Thommo brought it down as part of a 10 year vertical of his blingworthy, trophy loving Braemore Semillon, arguably the most famous white wine in the Hunter Valley and, again arguably, one of Australia's longest living white wines.

But hold on, this comes from the Tyrrell's stable, not Thomas Wines, how does that work? Well Thommo made it, watched it go down the bottling line and picked it out as something special. Hence why he's still got some now and why he still shows it.

The value is just how good it looks now. Apparently a variable beast (fuck you cork) this particular bottle looked genuinely vibrant, glowing yellow in the glass and smelling of toast and nuts and buttercups and sweet things, all mixed with lemon honey juiciness for good measure. It's open and generous and comforting, with both sweet open flattering softness as well as 'I'll do it my way' citrus. Ultimately it's an old wine - though not a tired one - with a vibrant yellow apple, custard and buttery opulence finished off with slightly tart acidity and no shortage of length.

Again what I like most about this wine is just how bloody fresh it is. It's 25 years old yet is lighter, more tactile and more layered than many 5 year old showstoppers. As a result I was excited. Others may not have felt it but I loved this wine, loved swishing it around my mouth and reveling in the toasty Semillon goodness. Big yes. A big 'fill that glass back up', 'do you have another' simple loveliness. Mike Bennie put it best with one word - 'life'. Wine alive...

Thomas Bramore Semillon
Fuck yeah
The context 

As mentioned this wine followed at the tail end of a vertical of Thomas Wines Braemore Semillon, a vertical that really deserves a full post of it's own. I didn't take proper notes though so all I can offer up is this little tidbit.. buy some! Buy the cooler, wetter, quixotic vintages in particular like the 06 (which is currently available) or hunt down the 04 (my super favourite) and 02 (the good bottles). Drink them cold, with whiting or sardines or anchovies or calamari or even just by themselves, just to prove to yourself how awesome these older wines are.

It sounds a bit indulgent (and nepotistic given the fact that I'm friends with the winemaker) to describe this as one of the most drinkable white wines in the land but I just don't care. Even the 'off vintages' - like the 2010 - mysteriously disappeared from my glass. Truth be told all that really counted against this group of wines was age (or a lack of it), with the 08 and 09 in particular looking angular and pre-pubescent.

The joy here though is the tension. Those aforementioned younger wines haven't quite got it yet but, chameleon like, once the wines past 5 years of age they seem to metamorphose into glory. The joy, for me at least, is that juiciness - without sweetness - that makes the wine solemn as a youngster but more glorious the longer you can leave it post 5yrs of age (right up until 20 years of age for the top wines).

Ultimately, all I can do is quote Jancis when referring to wines like this:

'Hunter Semillon is Australia's gift to the world'

Nice work Jancis.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Kirrihill Tullymore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Kirrihill Cabernet Sauvignon
Deserving more love?
Kirrihill Tullymore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Clare Valley, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $16.95
Source: Sample

Not for the first time this Cabernet outclassed it's Shiraz counterpart (on the show circuit too judging by the shiny medals on the label) just to emphasise (again) that, if done right, Clare Cabernet can provide great budget drinking. One suggestion for the reasons behind this is that the thicker skins of Cabernet make it more suited to the dry and warm Clare climate, though I don't think that's the complete story (I'm keen to find out that complete story though).

An immediately fresher wine that it's Shiraz sister and interestingly showing more oak too. It's all sweet mulberry/blackberry meets spearmint varietal/regional characters with a much sweeter oak overlay. The Shiraz could surely do with similar richness to pump it up? Palate too is sweeter, juicier and more varietal, the thick tannins working firmly in it's favour. Raw but lots of power and fulness, this is actually a very solid wine for the $16.95 price. Should live too. 16.5/88+

Kirrihill Tullymore Vineyard Shiraz 2009

Kirrihill Tullymore Shiraz
Big but not pretty.
Kirrihill Tullymore Vineyard Shiraz 2009 (Clare Valley, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $16.95
Source: Sample

A warm vintage in the Clare and looks it here, though the winemaking style doesn't help. The argument for this sort of extractive, old fashioned and raw style is that it's what people like to drink. Concentration over polish. But is it really? Surely most would, if presented with the choice, pick a more balanced medium bodied wine over an unbalanced full bodied wine?

Anyway this wine falls into the latter camp - it's an inky purple beast that is streaked with overripeness, the nose like a minty blackberry reduction sauce, complete with fruit concentrate sweetness and topped off with older oak. The palate follows with sticky, sweet and sour, blackberry fruit richness with cedary oak and raw tannins. A rough and ready, old school red made with extraction and concentration but little in the way of delicacy. 14.8/82

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Italian goodies from Mondo Imports

Italian goodies from Mondo Imports

I spotted Anthony from Mondo on the weekend, pouring a range of Italian wines to a few thirsty looking punters on a Saturday afternoon. Whilst I only tried one or two of the tipples he had on pour it did remind me that I've tasted a whole swag of Mondo Imports vino recently (and never quite got around to writing them up).

Rectifying that now with these highlights.

Lucarelli Terre di Sava Bianco Salento 2010 (Puglia, Italy) $14
Produced from a concoction of local white grapes including Malvasia Bianco, Verdica and Bombino Bianco, this shows the sort of value that - the quite maligned - Puglia region can produce.

What makes it good is the weight without fatness, with an initially quite broad, lemon/pineapple fruit expression before it gets lighter and crisper through the finish with an unmistakeable salty tang that had me thinking of McLaren Vale Fiano.

A wine for drinking, not serious appraisal, though with the sort of refreshment that you wish all $15 wines would have. Highly recommended indeed. 16.5/88

Pipoli Aglianico del Vulture 2009 (Basilicato, Italy) $15

Much has been written about this wine and I'm just going to echo the sentiments. A juicy, red cherry and earth style with cherry cough syrup flavours to the max. It's just a little warm through the finish but that's probably the only gripe with this sort of juicy, yet savoury red. Pizzalicious. 17/90

Roagna 'Paje' Barberesco 2004 (Piedmont, Italy)
Caveat - I've bought several bottles of this. It accompanied me to the NSW Wine Awards Judges Dinner and was very well received amongst the judges. Nebbiolo love all round.

A somewhat old school Barberesco this with a dusty, deepset cherry nose with plenty of VA, yet not enough to totally shade the truffles and slow cooked lamb shank meatiness. Underneath it's a firm - if still medium weight - red with slightly oxidative, ferrous edges to what is a quite classically proportioned Nebbiolo.

A cracking wine, my only gripe is that it can be a little variable. Great stuff regardless. 18/93

Monday, 14 November 2011

Hahndorf Hill 'GRU' Gruner Veltliner 2011

Hahndorf Hill Gruner Veltliner
Hahndorf Hill 'GRU' Gruner Veltliner 2011 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
12%, Screwcap, $28
Source: Sample

Hahndorf Hill were the first second (thanks to Paul from Quarry Hill who pointed out that this was the second after Lark Hill) to produce a commercial Gruner in Australia and this vintage sees perhaps the best example in the lineage yet. The style here tends towards the Federspiel end of the ripeness spectrum, favouring refreshment over texture, a stylistic choice that makes it a perfect choice on a 35C Sydney evening. Refreshment plus.

What I most like about this is that it smells like Gruner, of white pepper and melon and spice, the palate lightly phenolic and finishing with proper grip. What's more it's fully ripe too, the acidity firm but not 'unripe grapes' hard, with a sort of fennel and tangerine line through the finish (that I rather like).

A crisp and refreshing style of Gruner with the extra spiciness of the variety working to advantage, this is hardly a super complex wine, tending more to neutrality and line, but it does provide lots of drinking pleasure. Win. 17.3/90

Lerida Estate Cullerin Pinot Noir 2009

Lerida Estate Pinot Noir
Lerida Estate Cullerin Pinot Noir 2009 (Canberra District)
13.9%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

Produced off the Lerida Lake George vineyard, which is a patch of dirt that has historically always produced good Pinot Noir. Canberra Pinot is an endangered species however, as more vintners realise that all but the very coolest spots aren't suited to the variety. This wine doesn't help the cause either.

It's still a very tight Pinot, with a nose that is firmly backward, densely meaty and carrying the menthol and mothballs of overripe fruit. There's some spicy red fruit escaping too but little else.  As it warms up and it looks more open and inviting though riper again. The palate too is firm and slightly dessicated, the acidity raw and the tannins ungenerous and astringent.

Generally lacking in delicacy, I can't find much enthusiasm for this red. 14.8/83

Hahndorf Hill Blueblood Blaufrankisch 2009

Hahndorf Hill Blueblood Blaufrankisch 2009 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

Less. That's what I'd like to see in this wine. Less ripeness, less oak and less extract. Perhaps it's just me but I've always viewed Blaufrankisch as the Beaujolais of Austria and this looks more like a medium bodied Hills Shiraz than anything Gamay-like.

It looks bigger too, a rather rich and mulberry coloured red with a nose that's loaded with blackberry jam and a hint of overripeness, overlaid with a thick lacquer of sweet oak. It's thick, extractive and oak driven on the palate too, again dry red first, varietal second. It's obviously well made but I'm just not seeing enough character for mine. 15.5/85

Lerida Estate Pinot Noir Rosé 2011

Lerida Estate Pinot Rose 2011
Nice pink wine this
Lerida Estate Pinot Noir Rosé 2011 (Canberra District)
11.7%, Screwcap, $18
Source: Sample

Lot's of people will disagree but I think that Pinot Noir is the ideal grape for Rosé production. Of course Grenache does a great job and Cabernet Franc too but Pinot Rosé is where my heart is.

I blame such a predilection on perfume, with the lovely strawberry bouquet that Pinot Noir brings to Rosé a tool of seduction (to me at least). In this case that strawberry juiciness is the first thing that pops into your nostrils and carries right through the palate, a brightness and sweetness on what is a pretty light and simple wine. In fact it takes this whole wine from nothing to drinkable, fleshing out the very light and shortish palate to increase the drinkability factor.

Net result is a fun, simply drinkable wine. Easy. 16.3/87

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Stoney Rise Pinot Noir 2010

Stoney Rise Pinot - smart wine for the price
Stoney Rise Pinot Noir 2010 (Tamar Valley, Tas)
14%, Screwcap, $29
Source: Sample

Ahh Tasmania. The Apple Isle. That bit down the bottom of Australia. A part of the nation that is, to put it simply, cool. Cool in climate and now, in wine terms at least, fashionable cool. And it's wines of this ilk that are drawing winemakers south.

Why? How? Alot of it comes down to climate actually, with the dry (in the wine regions at least) and mild (in the northern part at least) climate particularly conducive to growing grapes. Couple that with a reputation that echoes the 'clean, green' ethos of our Kiwi neighbours across the ditch, along with the notion that plenty of the finest terroirs are yet to be planted and you've got a veritable promised land.

Of course it's nowhere near as easy as that, with a growing number of Tassie producers whom have got more wine than they can sell. There remains very few genuine 'icon' producers to pull the state's reputation forward to boot (and a serious lack of availability for the best too). Yet still the promise remains (as do the great wines).

To make great wines though you've got to start with great vineyards, and this wine is drawn from a rather famous one - the old Rotherhythe vineyard on the western side of the Tamar River. It's a vineyard that was planted in the mid 80's, making it rather old indeed for Tasmania, and situated in a part of the island that our very own Mike Bennie calls 'the QLD of Tasmania' (which means it's generally warmer and more hospitable than down south).

Couple that with careful winemaking (Mr Bennie has a hand in that too, though Joe does most of the pants-on work) and you've got a recipe for goodness.

This Stoney  Rise Pinot suitably delivers too, a Pinot that smells and tastes like much more than $29 worth of wine. It smells of Pinot - which sounds silly, but that's important - with bright warmish cherry fruit, some dirt wrapped smallgoods and background oak. On the palate it's a ripe wine, particularly for Tassie, with a firmness from the mid palate on that suggests somewhere warmer too. The length and tannins too are more mainland than Tassie, the meaty aftertaste very serious and grown up indeed.

All up it's a wine that delivers this one, a Pinot of length and power that is still unveiling in the bottle, showing more and more pinosity as it goes. Smart wine for the price indeed. 17.8/92+

Dominique Portet Fontaine Rosé 2011

Seriously pink
Dominique Portet Fontaine Rosé 2011 (Yarra Valley & Pyrenees, Vic)
13%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Sample

Historically one of Australia's better savoury Rosés is Fontaine (or at least I think it is) and the 2010 version was particularly good. The 2011 isn't quite of the same calibre but I think the Portet's have done a pretty good job considering the vintage.

Surprisingly given the (light salmon pink) colour it's a blend of Yarra Valley Merlot, Pyrenees Shiraz and Yarra Valley Cabernet, with a nose to that shows acidity first and strawberry fruit sweetness (and residual sugar) second. In fact you'd almost pick it as a neutral white wine blind, such is that light and tight nose.

Yet for all those dispersions the palate makes this 'work', that subtle hint of residual sugar softening out the raw acidity, the finish clear and clean. It's still a somewhat hardish wine but it's still a drinkable one in the scheme of things (and likely to flesh out more in the bottle). I'm calling in it's favour (of sorts). 16.5/88

Saturday, 12 November 2011

De Bortoli Este 2006

Stunning packaging and well priced
I'm calling this a winner
De Bortoli 'Este' Vintage Cuvee 2006 (Yarra Valley, Vic)
12.5%, Cork, $35 (approx)
Source: Sample

A brand spanking new release from De Bortoli (with connections to the Phi project) which is, according to Steve Webber, their take on a Selosse Champagne. For mine it doesn't quite have the precision of a Selosse, but gee it's very fine fizz for 1/7th of a bottle of Selosse. Speaking of price, when I first tried this I was expecting to hear that it was a $50 or $60 wine (looks it too), so the $35 odd RRP is amazing. Seriously fine value.

The wine itself is drawn from the Lusatia Park vineyard at Woori Yallock in the Upper Yarra (planted in 1985) which is also the source of the fruit for the Phi wines. Besides the solid fruit source, the winemaking process bears repeating verbatim as it's impressively artisanal:

'Fruit is hand sorted and whole bunch pressed directly to cask. The base wines undergo natural fermentation in older casks and sit on lees until spring. The cuvee is assembled from the two components and tiraged for secondary bottle fermentation. The wine is left to ferment and age on lees for 4 years before hand riddling, disgorging, corking and finishing.'

Sounds good doesn't it? That 'recipe' alone makes the $35 asking price seem like pure madness. Madness I say! (Apparently the hand riddling and disgorging alone costs $3 a bottle)...

Given that this is modelled on the 'white Burgundy with bubbles' Selosse style, it's unsurprisingly a full styled sparkling, kicking off with a nose full of yeast derived brioche richness with a whisper of old oak. The palate too is more Yarra Chardonnay with bubbles than Champagne, yet with extra layers of complexity that four years on lees age will give. There's a broadness too that would make this look a little flabby compared to most usual lean NV sparklings but I think that the textural richness and enjoyment that it gives tends to make you forgive the extra love handles. Length is excellent too for the record.

On the whole I'm really very impressed by this wine. For the price it's a seriously enjoyable and complex sparkling that I'd happily drink. 18/93

(Oh and just a finally comment on the packaging: Besides the sexy bottle you'll also notice a yellow cable tie on the bottle - that's a cable tie of the sort used in the Lusatia Park vineyard to train the vine along the wires. It's a small touch but I love it. Less of a fan of the uncovered cork).

Friday, 11 November 2011

Glaetzer 2010 reds

Glaetzer 2010 reds

Amon Ra
Sexy packaging
Approaching a trio of wines like this can be a problematic exercise. Problematic largely as the wines and the brand carry with them so much preconception and (perhaps price driven) gravitas that you're always conscious about getting your assessment right. To further muddy the waters I also realise that personally I'm rarely a fan of the flashy, 'hugs for Robert Parker' skewed style of wine that these three wines are built in, a consideration that makes objectivity even more of a challenge.

To be fair however these are skillfully made reds, produced from high quality grapes and beautifully packaged. I just wish they'd been picked a little earlier...

Glaetzer Bishop Shiraz 2010 (Barossa Valley, SA) 15.1%
Carries a very jammy, plum/strawberry jam nose that had me thinking about donut jam. The palate though is raw, hard and boozy, the edges firm and the acid all added. All architecture, not enough freshness though the oak is top shelf and for many the concentration will absolutely woo. Way too alcoholic though. 15/85

Glaetzer Anaparenna Shiraz Cabernet (Barossa Valley, SA) 15.1%
Thick, rich and heady, the nose has ultra sexy cocoa powder oak. Fruit looks fresher here, the Cabernet lending some mint and cedar. Still carries that sweet black richness of the Bishop but longer and more savoury. There's still a warming, fanning heat through the long finish that I wish would go away.  Good, old vine Barossan red (with that inky depth of old vine stuff) if just a bit too warmish for big love. 17.7/92+

Glaetzer Amon Ra Shiraz 2010 (Barossa Valley, SA) 15.1%
Super sexy oak. Seductive oak. Rich, choc milk and licorice nose. Serious old vine limitlessness about it. Big plush and dense palate with hints of overripeness at the edges but so impressively concentrated. Acid again is spiky, length is excellent alcohol a burn. 98% a superstar, if it could just shed that porty edge. Still an impressive wine in it's mode (and will no doubt impress further with bottle age. I still couldn't actually drink it... 18.2/93

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Fromm Spatlese Riesling 2009 - refreshing

Fromm Riesling
Fromm Spätlese Riesling 2009
7%, Cork, $NZ28
Source: Tasting

Whilst my third instalment in the Marlborough diaries series has been waylaid a fraction since I returned from NZ (life got in the way), this wine really deserves a mention in the interim. It is, quite simply, a particularly Germanic Riesling produced in a famously un-Germanic environment.

To further reinforce how different it is (in context), I tasted this immediately after a brace of Sauvignon Blancs and it stuck out for it's extra refreshment value - a  refreshment value that saw me unconsciously drain a glass at lunchtime without even trying (which is rare indeed). 

Interestingly enough I think that this sweetness level of Marlborough Riesling is about right, with few of the drier styles working quite as well, leaving only the fully botrytised, super sweet styles to leave a lasting impression.

In the glass it looks rather brilliant too, water clear and bright, with a nose that is precise and clear and lively, showing lemon and barely sugar sweetness with some candied sweet blossom notes. There's just a hint of botrytis in there but it's more of a background component rather than anything dominant. Clean vibrant, juicy sweet, spicy palate with that acidity/sweetness tension of the very best. It's actually a pretty simple beast really but that balance is something to behold. Yes. Double yes. 18/93

5 Clare Valley Riesling: A story of imbalances

5 2011 Clare Valley Riesling: A story of imbalances

Botrytised grapes left to rot on the vine
A common site in the Adelaide Hills
(where this photo was taken) this vintage
Ahh 2011.

A vintage that has been described as 'the worst vintage in 61 years' (that would be outspoken Barossan grower Leo Pech) or as 'the best Riesling vintage in 30 years' (that's Jeffrey Grosset, renowned Clare Valley winemaker). Whatever your take on the vintage, there's no question that 2011 remained a challenging vintage in many parts of the nation (Western Australia and the Hunter excluded to various degrees) whether most people would like to admit it or not.

What made this vintage so challenging was simply a story of unusual weather. Weather that saw (in many parts of the nation) unprecedented summer rain, humidity and a general lack of sunshine through much of the growing season, a set of weather conditions that, when coupled together, made for the ideal environment for the spread of traditional grapevine diseases (such as downy mildew and botrytis).

To further complicate such matters, these conditions were experienced in places that just aren't used to seeing serious disease pressures. Areas like the Barossa Valley or (to a slightly lesser extent) McLaren Vale, areas where some growers had never seen botrytis in their vineyard (and as such were caught completely ill prepared to deal with the effects), with even the old timers reporting that they'd only seen such rain over vintage one other time in the last 50 years (in 1974). Further, if you did manage to avoid 'the rot', a simple lack of heat over the growing season meant that many grapes never achieved full phenological ripeness. Heck there was even a chronic shortage of the very chemicals required to combat grapevine diseases (such as wettable sulphur) so that if growers were ill prepared they couldn't actually control the diseases anyway.

Given such a confluence of perils it is probably of little surprise that stories of misadventure, poor quality grapes and questionable practices abound. Of the rumoured 3 million litres that were pasteurised (call it what you will, but it's essentially cooking the wine) to counter the effects of high laccase enzyme levels (as high laccase levels are immune to sulphur, oxidises phenols and turns red wines brown). Of the large swathes of vineyard that weren't picked (which I can vouch for having driven through the Eden Valley and Adelaide Hills in May and witnessed so many grapes still hanging on the vine), or if picked were promptly rejected by the large producers only to be snaffled up by less scrupulous operators. Of  the large amounts of grape concentrate added to many wines in an attempt to increase the (missing) concentration from such a cool vintage.

The good news, however, is that many of the best growers and the best producers will still make great wines. The age old adage 'always follow the best producers in the bad vintages' rings particularly true in 2011, with those grape growers/viticulturists et al. that managed to open up canopies, apply the required sprays and remove any rot immediately ultimately produced solid, even great (if occasionally atypical) wines. Of course the issue now is that the vintage will always carry that 'worst ever' stigma, with producers such as Brian Croser (at Tapanappa) already envisioning not releasing a single estate wine from 2011, due purely to such dogging, negative perceptions.

Again I can't stress enough that this is a perception, a perception that irks many producers whom worked very hard and have ended up with clean grapes and good wines. Producers in regions like Margaret River where they have enjoyed a very good harvest and don't want to be tarred by the 'worst vintage ever' brush. Producers whom sprayed and sprayed and plucked and sprayed and toiled. Producers whom read the reports that suggested that a La Niña weather pattern was entirely possible and got to work early in the season managing the vineyard. Producers whom realise that vineyard and winery sorting should be de rigueur for anyone purporting to make high quality wines.

Of course if there is one variety that may have weathered the storm (pardon the pun) particularly well it is Riesling, a variety that in it's classical home (Germany or Alsace) is often exposed to serious disease pressures, with botrytis simply part of the deal. Riesling too can be picked early and is well suited to carrying extra sugar and high acidity, all of which make it more suitable to wet cool years.

In practice, however, wading through many 2011 Clare/Eden Valley/Henty/Canberra etc Rieslings is something of a challenging exercise and the biggest problem is simply one of ripeness, with so many wines carrying a peculiar hardness associated with unripe grapes. A hardness that is directly linked to the sensation you get biting into a grape/strawberry/apple that was picked unripe and then chemically ripened in a growers cool room. A sensation - more particularly - of unripe acidity (a topic that really deserves much more attention than this throw-away line) a characteristic that ultimately renders many wines to be one glass wonders.

All of which brings us to this bracket of 2011 Clare Rieslings. A bracket that I approached with an open mind, hoping and praying that the five wines within had all been produced from those grapes that had been fortunate/loved enough to get over the ripeness line.

In reality, the tasting evolved into an exercise of 'pick the ripe grapes', a game that is largely unheard of when talking about Australian wines and something that I can't say I enjoyed. On the flipside though the best wines, the physically ripe wines, may well be the longest living Australian Rieslings ever, spurred along by acidity that is so sturdy it can prop up just about anything. The trouble is simply isolating the gooduns....
Five 2011 Rieslings
Mylanta chaser out of picture

The wines:

Knappstein Handpicked Riesling 2011 (Clare Valley, SA) 12% $19.99

Carries a light lemony withdrawn nose that is tight and unyielding, with just a few whispers of talc to escape. The palate though is trill and hard, the acidity green and chalky. Acid no fruit, with a flatness that suggests average quality grapes that look to have been 'processed. This got flatter by the minute to boot. Not a fan, though there remains a question mark about whether this may improve in the bottle. 14/81

Rieslingfreak No. 3 Riesling 2011 (Clare Valley, SA) 11.5% $23
Immediatley a more floral and 'real' wine, with lifted citrus hints and just a hint of hint of sherbet and slate in amongst the acidity that the nose exudes. Palate too is tight if still expressive, with some sweetness on the through the middle that helps fill out the length, though it just can't compete with the trill sour edge of the vintage. Length is a redeemer, though the lemon/lime acidity is warhead like in it's sour intensity. Clearly more expressive and powerful with much to come in years ahead, I still couldn't quite get my head around the acidity. 16/87+

Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2011 (Clare Valley, SA) 12% $19
There's a flicker of Watervale lime juice here which I was so excited to see. It's reined in pretty quickly though, the bite of lemon juice acidity literally bites hard. Again the extra sweetness helps out here but no escaping the genuinely bitter acidity. Ok length but not quite enough to redeem 15.5/86

Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling 2011 12.5%
Easily the standout in this lineup. Like the Rieslingfreak there is more expression on the nose with some welcome florals over a piercing, slatey and firm palate that is very dry but carries the most welcome lime juice generosity. The longest wine in this lineup, with a solemn finish but nothing unripe about the acidity. Drinkable gear. 17.6/91

Clos Clare Watervale Riesling 2011 12.5%

Sweet and sour nose with just a hint of rot. Has some nice orange blossom floral hints though. Tight and quite angular palate is giving up little, very little, but with a deepness to it all that is quite convincing. Acid surprisingly fresh and balanced. though it's so contained. Little to give but I can see the potential. 16.8/89++

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The new Hunter Valley

(A version of this first appeared in October's LattéLife Magazine. I'm reprinting it here as Hunter Valley Uncorked is on this weekend in Sydney)

How do you rebrand the oldest wine region in Australia? More to the point, why would you need to rebrand a region at all?

That’s a question that the wine (and tourism) producers of the Hunter Valley recently had to ask themselves, after market research revealed that the perception of this most celebrated location is of a somewhat outdated and old-fashioned region that is ‘out of touch with modern life’.

Now such a statement seems as a slap in the face for what is such a well loved piece of the Australian wine landscape. A surprise to for a destination that is second only to Sydney in it's popularity (in raw tourist numbers) nationwide. Moreso, it came as really something of a surprise to anyone who has been to the Hunter recently, or enjoyed one of the region’s wines.

Personally, I think the Hunter Valley has never seemed as dynamic as it has in recent years, with a whole new generation of Hunter winemakers, restaurateurs and tourism operators serving to transport the Hunter from a museum piece to a genuine wine and food destination.

Yet how do you communicate that to a new generation of consumers, many of whom value new over old (or at least that's the perception) and believe that the Hunter is simply a place to go for drunken hens parties?

For said Hunter producers/operators/businesses the answer has been to start again: To literally look at the Hunter Valley as a brand, a brand that might have a very solid reputation (particularly here in Sydney) yet one where perception remains one step behind reality.

The resultant rebranding process - that is now well under way - has meant a whole new approach to the way Hunter wine is ‘sold’, an approach that has seen winemakers embrace pop-up Sydney wine bars, a tweetup called #semsational that was focused purely on the glory of the new styles of Hunter Semillon and even some winemaker speed dating!
Mike De Iuliis.
Needs a haircut in this photo.

Of course this process is hardly going to produce instantaneous results, and as fun as these events have seemed (to me at least) the public hasn't always embraced them (with one #semsational function unfortunately cancelled due to lacklustre ticket sales). Yet that's discounting one of the (not so) secret weapons of this rebranding exercise - wines that have never looked better. You only need to look at some recent wine show results to see how many awards that Hunter wines are taking out (including NSW Wine of the Year and World’s Best Semillon in the past few weeks alone).

Behind these new award winning wines too is a new generation of winemakers, including talented youngish names such as Andrew Thomas of Thomas Wines, Mike De Iuliis of De Iuliis wines, Sarah Crowe at Bimbadgen, Chris Tyrrell at Tyrrell’s and Sam Connew at Tower Estate.

Now whilst it is still going to take more time for the message to sink in, when you taste these wines and meet these makers you realise that the Hunter really is back baby! That beyond the Semillon and Shiraz, the history and the mini-buses, there lies one of the most unique wine regions in Australia.

To meet these Hunter winemakers and try their wines don’t miss Hunter Valley Uncorked at Balmoral on Sunday 6th November. More information at