Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2010

Probably appropriate that this photo
is slightly out of focus..
Shaw + Smith Chardonnay 2010 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
13%, Screwcap, $40
Source: Sample

It's an unsual wine this one, a much riper one in the context of M3 and oddly pineappley. I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt but no question I struggled a fraction.

Has a real lactic nose this wine, a contained, tight and fine French oak etched nose over a palate that you're just expecting more from. There's a pine-lime Splice character on the palate that is divisive and ripe-ish, even though the acidity is still sprightly and the length assured. Actually the length is really very good, an indicator that this could just be in a phase. By day two it just looked broader and more pineapple through the middle, missing the finer details perhaps even though the acid line and the proper length are still there.

Curious. 17.3/90+

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

NZ's Dry River - not so dry?

NZ's Dry River - not so dry?

Caution - wine wankery/vineyard trainspotting ahead. Tune out now if bored by such geekiness. I'm highlighting this here as it sparked much debate and the response is an excellent one.

Everyone loves a bit of a scandal. Or even just a whiff of a scandal. Clearly I do (and have too much time on may hands) as my interest was piqued when I read this article recently in the Dominion Post:

'Pinot Pioneer Neil McCallum retires'

What actually caught my eye though was this line:

'..there's no sign of a harvesting machine or a bottling machine for that matter. While other vineyards typically boast irrigation systems, Dry River doesn't have a hose or tap in sight, believing that drier vines give more intense wine flavours.'

To most people it wouldn't mean much, except for the fact that the eagle eyed (wine nerds. My hand is up) would have spotted some black hoses in the photo of Neil that looks suspiciously like irrigation lines (the white arrows point to them in the image below. Image derived from here)...

So intriguing (to me at least) where those black hoses then that I put the question out on twitter.

'Is it just me or are those irrigation lines in this photo of Dry River?'

Suffice to say that, considering we are talking about Dry River, most people thought that it couldn't be an irrigation system. Several suggested it could have been rolled up bird netting, others that it might be for fertigation, others still that for watering the gardens nearby. It sparked much debate...

Ultimately though there was only one way to settle whether they were indeed irrigation lines. To go straight to the source. So I asked Dry River themselves.

I'm really thankful then for the new Dry River viticulturist Robert Wills for providing a response (and allowing me to publish it here), particularly given the context of the vineyard.

Why the impact of this response? Why is this newsworthy? Because I emailed back in December and only got a response now and honestly didn't expect to get one. Because historically Dry River has been something of a closed door operation, the veritable cult winery of Martinborough (of sorts) and something of an enigma. A vineyard that has no cellar door and operates largely via a closed mailing list. An operation that has mystique and intrigue and produces wines that are special (or at least I belive so).

In an Australian context the best example I can think of is Wendouree, yet obviously without the strange crayon colours on the mailing list order forms (and more than just a fax machine to communicate with). Dry River is, like Wendouree, one of the pioneers of the region (with the old vines to match) and is renowned for not only for the artfully made wines produced but also the meticulous, super precision viticulture practised (have a read of Jamie Goode's article here for an appreciation).

For anyone interested in 'dry' viticulture then this response is worth a read. It really is the very pointy end of wine production...

'Thanks for your email and the very good question that you have asked. I should also say "well spotted that man"!

Anyway, to your question about irrigation at the Dry River vineyards. We do not irrigate our cropping vines. We do however install drip irrigation for new plantings, and leave those lines in place for the first four years of the young vines life. The photo referred to shows Neil McCallum with our new Pinot Gris block in the background and as observed, the visible irrigation lines don't match the newspaper article's line that "Dry River doesn't have a hose or tap in sight".

This Pinot Gris block was planted following the removal of our old original Sauvignon Blanc vines.  Our policy in the first year of a vine's life is to see that they have adequate soil moisture to survive. In the next year we follow a similar routine but moderate it depending on the season and the status of the vines.  

It's worth noting that Martinborough is in one of the driest regions in New Zealand and so the risk of young vine failure is a very real one here. The block in question has not had any irrigation this season (and won't), and I don't believe it had any last year either.  In 2011 we picked 400 kgs off that block of 1.16 acres and in 2012 we expect the handsome total of about 1 tonne! 

That particular block was replanted over two years so vines there are four and five years old.  For most vineyard operations these days, a cropping regime of less than 1 tonne/acre off five year old vines would be a recipe for ruin, but then Dry River has always been"a bit different".

I compare that approach to a situation I had in Australia,where I worked for many years. In a new Shiraz block we took a 1.5 tonne/acre crop off in the vine's second year and the winery paid us a quality bonus!

Back to the photo and associated article. We have 43,225 metres of row length at Dry River. The now redundant irrigation lines cover 1,881 metres, ie 4.3% of the total area.

We care about and for our vines because wecare about making good wine. So we particularly look after our"youngsters". Looking at that block this season, I think that we are going to have some very nice fruit. But then, only time will tell.'

Robert Wills, 16th January

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Wolf Blass range

Wolf Blass Platinum
Flashy. That's Chris Hatcher standing in behind
there (in front of the view of the bridge).
Wolf Blass range

'Better than I thought'.

That's the impression I came away with after this tasting of the latest releases from the Wolf Blass range. Admittedly we're still talking about utterly commercial, price-point focused wines (and the scores reflect that), yet there remained more than a few surprises in amongst the wines.

What was most interesting actually was just how much stronger the whites were than the reds (except for the very top end), a reflection perhaps of some stronger recent vintages but also just how old fashioned and classically over wrought the Wolf Blass red wine style can be. Obviously the winemakers are reluctant to mess with the style that made Wolf famous (and it still works on Black Label etc) but less oak, less added acid and more restraint would be quite welcome...

As for this tasting I will freely admit that the Wolf Blass house style is not my preference, a bias which may well lower the scores - you be the judge. I deliberately aimed for objectivity (whatever that actually means in the world of wine scoring).

Notes are as written during the tasting with the talicised lines winemaker notes. Oh and I believe there are new vintages out formany of these wines.

Wolf Blass Red Label Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2010
60/40 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc
Simple, washed out citrus style. Noticeable residual sugar. Simple peachy melon flavours, with tart added acid finish. No flavour but nothing abhorrent really. 14.5/81

Wolf Blass Red Label Shiraz Cabernet 2010
Stewed and confected red berry nose. Highly cropped, red peach juice and cooked jam flavours. Empty palate and sharply acidity finish. Tastes very cheap this one. 13.5/78

Wolf Blass Red Label Cabernet Merlot 2010
More varietal Cabernet leaf characters in here. Mint chocolate and even some tannins. Harsh acidity through the finish destroys any early joy. Shame. 14.5/81

Wolf Blass Yellow Label Riesling 2010
Clare and Eden Valley fruit. 4g/L RS.
Dull, metallic nose but with some proper sherbety Riesling hints. Broad and juicy, forward lemon lime style with plenty of juiciness. Tingly acidity. Shows plenty of Riesling character for the dollars really (I've seen this for $11 around the traps). 15.8/86

Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay 2010

Really quite genuine white peach and melon nose. A little simple and the oak looks like staves not barriques but otherwise really quite solid. Bright modern Chardonnay palate with melon fruit richness and quite taut acidity. Simple wine no doubt but still much to appreciate in the scheme of things. 16.3/87

Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Warmish, molten caramelised fruit nose. Sticky, spicy, tarry and very ripe. Minty too. Palate is rich and sweet, the lack of genuine fruit richness compensated with residual sugar, though it can't cover the hard acidity and green notes of overcropped fruit. Awkward finish. Quite a step behind the rest of the Yellow Label range. 14.8/82

Wolf Blass Gold Label Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2007

Adelaide Hills fruit. 
Quite a rich and yeasty nose. Spends 18 months+ on lees and it shows here with some nice honeyed leesy richness. Palate though isn't quite as intriguing, broad and generous with rather sharp and pointed acidity. Wish the palate would match the nose, for this then would be a cracking wine. Still pretty good. 16.5/88

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2010

Adelaide Hills fruit.
Very tight wine this. Nose shows quite a bit of obvious vanilla oak but little else. Slow burner. Oaky, melon palate. Looks a fraction sweet and sour/peaches and mango cream but I think that is also a product of the slightly blunt oak and (again) pointy acidity. I see potential here with time though, even if it's all arms and legs (and oak and acid) at present. 16.8/89+

Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz 2009

Barossa fruit. 15% alc.
Heavy, jammy and ripe style with a big density of super ripe fruit on the nose. Dead fruit even. Very sweetly rich, plummy and concentrated entry before jagged raw finish interspersed with hints of dried plum and raspberry fruit. Overripe. Hard acid to finish. Not much joy (for my palate at least). 15/83

Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz Cabernet 2009
Robe/Mt Benson fruit.
Sweet, cocoa powder American oak richness but matched by more fruit here. Sweetly red berried juiciness meets heavy toast oak. Classic Wolf Blass nose. Like a cherry ripe but with more darker fruit. Quite fine tannins with more fruit richness through the finish too. Sharp acidity on the tail and noticable alcohol heat. A big wine but a solid one in the Wolf Blass idiom. Fans buy with confidence - it's not my preferred style but I can see the appeal. 17.5/91

Wolf Blass Black Label Shiraz Cabernet 2007

Huge, classic formic oak driven nose. Langhorne mintiness in there too. Sweetly minty but full and ripe and generous, not flat. Sappy edge in there too. Very rich and sweet palate but not quite the tannins of the best vintages with a hole in the back palate. Lovely choc oak goodness though. Has it's place. 17.8/92

Wolf Blass Platinum Label Shiraz 2008

Single vineyard Shiraz from the Barossa.
Very sleek, juicy and concentrated nose. Really plump but still sophisticated. Seriously oaky, utterly Australian but also very good in it's mode. Richly oaky, sweet and generous yet without the brutality of the Black Label. Much sexier. Creamy and silken even. Can't deny the Barossan rich goodness of the style with that limitless old vine depth to it all. Quite classic and even Grange-like vino. 18/93

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Wirra Wirra Church Block - a great way to spend $20

(A version of this article first appeared in the December issue of LattéLife magazine. Again it was written for a slightly different audience than this blog normally caters for but I think it works regardless. I'm interested in what you think, for it probably lacks the criticality I usually write with. Or maybe that's just me being over critical!).

As a wine writer it’s genuinely easy to get carried away about ultra premium wines. Ultra premium wines, with ultra premium price tags and found in the ultra premium section of ultra premium wine stores.

But, in reality, so few of us will ever get to enjoy such unobtainable luxury tipples that they’re basically irrelevant (except for a very select few).

Instead, what is perhaps more exciting is when we stumble across a wine that is both tasty AND affordable. Something that – if you shop around – can be picked up for well under $20, yet is genuinely well made and good quality whilst also being produced by one of the ‘good guys’ of the wine industry to boot.

I’m talking particularly about the humble Wirra Wirra Church Block (current vintage is 2009), a red wine that most Australian wine drinkers would easily recognise - particularly given how popular and widely distributed it is – and probably walk straight past.

What makes it worth the double-take however is what it isn’t. It’s not pretentious. It’s not produced from newly fashionable, unpronounceable indigenous Italian grape varieties. It’s not made in the hottest cool climate region of the moment, nor is it natural or preservative free. It is, in the scheme of things, a slightly unfashionable blend of Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot, made in an oak rich, full bodied form that has changed very little since 1972.

It’s that unwavering, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ commitment to the style though that ultimately makes the Church Block such a satisfying drink, a commitment to producing a wine that will always be - and I’m quoting the winery directly here - a ‘smooth, soft red wine that balances the complexity sought by aficionados, with the approachability desired by those seeking pure drinking pleasure.’

Better still, the appeal of the Church Block red doesn’t just lie in its immediate drinking pleasure either, with a recent tasting of the 04 vintage suggesting that this humble wine should get even better with bottle age too, a characteristic not often found in your typical sub $20 red wine.

Ultimately what really drives the Church Block though is that it is a quintessentially Australian wine. A wine that carries its Mclaren Vale identity with distinction, acting as an accessible mascot for both the region and the style, helping to communicate quite clearly what it is that the Vale does so well – namely rich, soft, delicious and full flavoured red wines that simply over deliver for intensity and depth of flavour whilst also showing almost unbeatable value.


Monday, 16 January 2012

Xabregas Riesling range

Xabregas Riesling range

With the Summer of Riesling now well underway it seems only appropriate to be looking at a range of Australians Rieslings that are pushing the boundaries a little. In this instance I'm talking about the Xabregas Riesling range, a collection of serious, off-dry and interesting Rizzas from WA's Great Southern produced by the 'Riesling madmen' - Paul Hogan and Martin Cooper.

Strictly speaking Xabregas have only been making boundary pushing Rieslings for a few years (although have been producing good Riesling for considerably longer) so this little lineup represents some wines that look like works in progress (from a WA vintage that I don't think was particularly well suited to Riesling either).

Regardless of the slightly variable results, I'm excited by the effort and passion behind these wines.

(These notes are a little stunted as were written on the run. I think you get the gist though).

X by Xabregas Spencer Riesling 2010 10.9% $40
Orange blossom, tangerine. Nice florals. Carries its sweetness on the nose. Just a little funk in there too. Lovely solid sherbet and lemon-lime solo nose with a concentrated orange juice sweetness to the palate. Just a little bluntly sweet but has a nice lime lifesaver tang to it. Good Riesling here. 17.4/91

X by Xabregas Figtree Riesling 2010 11.8% $40

Not quite the florals of the Spencer, a little more lime-lemonade and perhaps more subdued. Extra phenolic seriousness here, an extra degree of tang and weight that I rather like. Sweetness balance looks better here too, even if it's still too tight for more love. Lots of potential here, even if it just needs more acidity to cover that orange tang sweetness. 17.7/92+

Xabregas Mount Barker Riesling 2010 11.4% $23
Lots of obvious sweetness here. Candied. Phenolic palate with seriously obvious sweetness. Can't get past that overt sweetness, even though it's commercially attractive. 16/87

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Sauvignon Blanc is dead. Long live Sauvignon Blanc!

Sauvalicious. Sort of.
Sauvignon Blanc is dead. Long live Sauvignon Blanc!
(A version of this article appeared in the November edition of LattéLife magazine. It's written for a much different audience than this blog but I think it's worth publishing regardless. You be the judge)

After five years of utter domination, it seems the ‘Savalanche’ has peaked.

What’s the Savalanche you say? That’s the label given to the recent meteoric rise of Sauvignon Blanc in Australia. A meteoric rise that has seen Sauv Blanc consumption grow at a rate of up to 42% year-on-year, with the variety now claiming the title as Australia’s favourite white wine (usurping Chardonnay in the process).

Yet all that is changing. Sauvignon Blanc may still be our most enjoyed white, but over the last year the growth has slowed to (just!) 10%, with other varieties such as Pinot Gris now creeping up to take the mantle.

As to why the variety is losing favour (of sorts) it’s perhaps a whole range of factors: Drinking fashion, a flood of average quality Sauvignon Blancs that have swamped the market, or even blame it on the fact that the Kiwis - who grow more Sauvignon Blanc than anyone else - took the World Cup from us (or some people might. Tenuous I know but rugby fans would take it very seriously. Maybe).

The real story however is that Sauvignon Blanc has become boring. Or at least the mainstream style of Sauvignon Blanc that we find on liquor store shelves has become boring, with a certain homogeneity now destroying the variety (or at least I think so). A homogeneity that has seen grapes picked earlier, fermented quicker and bottled with more residual sugar, all in the attempt to make the wines cheaper and more 'commercially attractive' (read sweet and inoffensive).

A recent trip to New Zealand however reminded that beyond these ‘typical’ Sauvignon Blancs there lies a whole world of Sauvignon fun. A world where ‘Savvy’ can be crafted into richly textured, layered wines that show complexity and power and interest. The sort of wines that will live and grow with cellaring, evolving nicely in the bottle, instead of looking good for 12 months and then fading away (like most do). Wines that even grumpy wine writers (like me) find interesting.

For a perfect example of what can be done with the variety look only at the Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc, a Kiwi Savvy produced by Ivan Sutherland and James Healey, themselves some of the original staff at Cloudy Bay.

What makes this wine appealing is that it is a Sauvignon Blanc treated with the love it deserves in the vineyard (cropped low, farmed organically, hand pruned and hand picked) and then given a whole lot more work in the winery (wild ferments, oak maturation, bottle ageing etc) to produce a complex and intriguing wine that is proudly different to typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs and, in my opinion, all the better for it (cellar worthy too. The current vintage is a 2010 and it’s still a year or so off its best. The 2006 vintage is drinking rather well right now).

Locally you can see examples of this Sauvignon stylistic evolution too. Look at the Mitchell Harris Sauvignon Blanc Fumé for example, a particularly sexy, textural Sauv Blanc produced by new gun winemaker John Harris from premium Pyrenees fruit. It's a Sauvignon Blanc that carries none of the  cat wee and gooseberry laden 'aromatics first, texture last' failings of so many boring Sauvs and instead swaps it for crunchy herbs and creamy complexity.

Finally, it would be remiss to not mention Sancerre when talking about interesting Sauvignon Blanc, as this French winemaking region is considered to be the home of the grape. Look for example at the enthralling wines of Domaine Pascal Cotat, Domaine Riffault or Domaine Daniel Chotard to taste some of the new breed of wonderful Sauvignon Blanc based wines.

All I am saying, is give (interesting) Sauvignon Blanc a chance!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Early highlights from the Summer of Riesling

The Riesling brothers in action outside Fix St James
Early highlights from the Summer of Riesling

This week marks the start of the Summer of Riesling (#summerofriesling on twitter), a season long celebration of all things Riesling (and Riesling related) that is aimed at building a greater love and understanding of this truly noble grape via a series of tastings, dinners and other events.

The drivers of this Riesling lovefest are the dynamic Riesling duo of Fix St James proprietor (and Sommelier of the Year) Stuart Knox and wine distributor (and the only person I know who has Riesling instead of blood) Jason Hoy, with the pair building upon the good work of Summer of Riesling founder Paul Grieco (of Terroir wine bar in New York) to help push the Riesling cause evern further.

Now in it's second association season locally (check out some snippets from last year), the movement (it's actually now a not-for-profit) this year is noticeably bigger, brighter and more professional than 2011, with the initiative now pushed along by more events, more wines and, most importantly, more Riesling focused merchandise...

To kick off proceedings (and showcase the new merch) the association is hosting 4 nights of intensive Summer of Riesling tastings this week, with each night deliberately dedicated to a different part of the Australian Riesling world (bar Thursday when the rest of the globe gets a look in). So far that has meant a night of South Australian Riesling (Monday) and West Australian and Victorian Riesling (Tuesday), with NSW, ACT and Tasmanian Riesling to follow Wednesday evening.

Whilst I've thus been lucky to sample 70+ wines over the last few nights, I haven't actually been taking comprehensive notes (what sort of a writer am I? Shit!) so actually coming up with too many highlights is more challenging than expected. However I did manage to jot down a few notable gooduns'. I'm going to list them here in point form, purely for ease of notation.

South Australia

- Jim Barry Florita Riesling 2011 - Shitloads of acidity but for the patient it should evolve well.
- Jim Barry Botrytis Riesling 2011 - The Barry's clearly did well for the year. Sweetness balance spot on.
- Pikes 'The Merle' Riesling 2011 - As above but with the acid toned down half a notch. Very good length too.
- Pewsey Vale 'The Contours' Riesling 2006 - Delicious. Everything you'd want in a 6yr old Eden Rizza. Toasty, long and dry. Wonderful.
- Vinteloper Odeon Riesling 2011 - Dave's a mate so I'll accept the bias, this did look much more palatable than most though. The particular bottle did look a fraction oaky too which was interesting (though not intrusive). Definitely a year where the extra winery 'work' helped build texture and drinkability.

Western Australia and Victoria
A prime pair from Porongurup

- Castle Rock Riesling 2011 - Wonderful. Crunchy (too crunchy for some) crystalline acidity and citrus power. Superb.
- Abbey Rock Riesling 2011 - As above but with slightly less acidity and more florals. Another winner.
- Frankland Estate Netley Road Riesling 2011 - In truth either this or the Poison Hill was my wine of tasting. The Netley Road won purely on the back of it's spicy edge. Classic Australian dry Rizza. Get some.
- Mac Forbes RS19 Riesling 2011 - A Strathbogie number and what an unusual beast. Gherkins, dill, whitebait on the nose and a deft dance of residual sugar to match that just ripe acidity. Intrigue! Polarising wine though.
- The Story Henty Riesling 2011 - Minty and only just ripe, this is another unusual wine but also rather refreshing, the finish surprisingly soft considering the vintage. Entirely drinkable and interesting.

Whilst both lists are the same size, there's no question the South Australian lineup was a struggle, largely because of the challenges of some of the 2011 vintage wines. So many tough and overly dry Rieslings. So much hard malic acidity, hints of rot and flat wines, particularly from the Eden Valley. Ouch.

By contrast I only picked a few highlights in the WA list but suffice to say there were many more strong 2011 Great Southern Rieslings, with Larry Cherubino and Howard Park also lobbing up with good wines. As a result - if pressed - I'd be heading west for my drinking rizzas this year, for the WA examples looked endlessly more palatable (out of 2011 at least). In the longer run I think the more balanced '11 Clare wines in particular should deliver, but it's a Riesling mindfield...

More Riesling to follow in the coming weeks...

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Best's new(ish) releases

Best's new(ish) releases

I'm a little slow in writing up these wines as I somehow managed to misplace the notes for them in the bowels of my iPhone. Smartphone notes 1 Andrew 0.

As for these new (or at least most recent) Best's releases there's no doubting their commercial appeal (even if I'm not wooed by all of the wines) which is a firm nod to the winemaking savvy of (now ex) Best's winemaker Adam Wadewitz. However it is a decidedly noncommercial red that is my pick of the wines, in particular a singular varietal that I'm intrigued with (in both still and sparkling form).

I'm talking about Pinot Meunier, a grape that I think believe Best's should make more noise about, particularly given both it's uniqueness and history with Best's. Forget Shiraz, Riesling et al. for in the context of Best's, Pinot Meunier is where it's at...

Best's Concongella Sparkling Cuvee 2005 (Great Western, Vic)

Largely reserved for the Thomson family though this also sees a limited release through the cellar door. Blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Clean dry and generous nose with plenty of bottle development. Generous palate with sherbety fruit and some bready lees driven richness. Off dry finish offsets slightly twingy acidity. Pleasant, if slightly broadish style, with plenty to like. Affable and well made. 16.8/89

Best's Riesling 2011 (Great Western, Vic) 11.5%
Again a move towards more sweetness in this wine, though the extra acidity in this 2011 iteration balances it out quite nicely. 10g/L residual sugar I believe.

That sweetness is obvious from first sip too, the wine limey and juicy with lemon sherbet residual sweetness and a real liveliness to proceedings. Generous, soft, off dry finish doesn't quite have the cut to deal with that residual sugar, but gee it makes for an attractive (well chilled) summer drink. 17.5/91

Best's Chardonnay 2010 (Great Western, Vic) 12.5%
Toasty, generous, slightly old school style this, with leesy, creamy, peachy/rice custard oak driven richness on both nose and palate. Soft and and expansive through the middle and then fresh to finish, this has has reasonable vitality though it's not pushing any boundaries. 16.5/88

Best's Pinot Noir 2010 (Great Western, Vic) 12.5%
Caramel, raspberry red fruit and mint. Raspberry red cherry palate. A tad warmish and flat on the finish. Note enough delicacy for mine. 15.8/86

Best's 'Young Vines' Pinot Meunier 2010 (Great Western, Vic) 12%
'Young Vines' in this instance refers to vines planted in 1971 (hardly young in the scheme of things) themselves drawn off cuttings from the original 1867 plantings. Style-wise this sits closer to cru Beaujolais than anything else, sharing Gamay's brightness and deft touch without losing that grip and loose-but-dry structure. A slightly ferrous note in there too only enhances proceedings.

Lovely vibrant cherry nose with some hints of cinnamon and white pepper. That cinnamon edge is really quite beguiling and unique. X-factor. Cherry red fruit palate is generous and Gamay like in it's roundness before finishing quite dry and savoury with a Pinot flick to the tail. Yes! All that is needed for this to vault into the superstar realm is a little more concentration. Big fan. 18/93

Bests Bin 1 Shiraz 2010 (Great Western, Vic) 14.5%
After the plushness of the 09 this returns to a much more classic persona (and is all the better for it). Carries the plum essence regional character nicely, if still looking a little sullen. There's even a hint of herbs in there too. The palate is a concentrated plum liqueur ball at present, the oak sitting on top of everything too, leaving just alcohol warmth to finish. Lots of latent power in this Shiraz! Grampians Shiraz fans can buy with confidence for this is a welll built. full bodied, modern Shiraz, if one in need of time. 17.7/92+

Bests Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Great Western, Vic) 13%
A lighter wine this year with signs of uneven ripeness - There's a certain blackberry fruit juiciness to the lightish palate but it becomes more angular and herbal before finishing with quite astringent tannins. There's length and more to come here, but not quite there for mine. 16/87

Bests Sparkling Shiraz 2009 (Great Western, Vic) 14.5%
Exactly as you'd want this style of sparkling Shiraz to be really. Big, chocolatey, brambly berry fruit with the dry and grainy Shiraz tannins offset by judicious dosage sweetness. It's surprisingly dry actually and dusty, that plum essence regional character working in the styles favour. A simple wine in the scheme of thing perhaps but in it's mode a pleasure vehicle indeed. Imagine this would be popular. 17.5/91

Bests Thomson Family Shiraz 2008 (Great Western, Vic) 14.4%
Drawn from the original 1867 plantings. 2008 was a heatwave vintage but the old vines coped particularly well. This very limited wine is already sold out I believe.

Minty, plum liqueur fruit echoes the Bin 1 style but deeper, richer and carries more limitless depth. Slightly roasted fruit elements are a little distracting but no questioning the joy of that intense purple fruit, the warmth of the vintage only serving to concentrate things (or at least that's the impression that I get). It's a sweetened fruit entry to a dark black fruit palate, finishing with bitter tannins and a swish of spirituous warmth. A little sweet and sour perhaps but impressively concentrated. That slightly roasted fruit element is the only distraction.

Old vine Shiraz power the winner here, no question about it... 18.1/93+

Friday, 6 January 2012

On the perils of 2011 Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blancs

On the perils of 2011 Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blancs

A pack of Sauvs
None battered though..
There's no escaping the fact that 2011 was a tough year in the Hills. You need only to read the Shaw + Smith blog to get a little background as to the challenges of this most peculiar vintage. Still, as in every vintage, there is/will be exceptions - standout wines (and standout wineries) that defy any vintage expectations to hit serious heights. I'm not sure if said highlights are amongst these four wines though...

The main problem, or at least I think so, with many of these 2011 Adelaide Hills wines centres around the shape of the acidity (which sounds ridiculously esoteric but bear with me), with elevated malic acid and lower sugar levels making for wines that have a hardness of acidity to them, an unripe hardness to them even that is rather difficult to ignore. Couple that with the muddling, muddying effects of botrytis (which was particularly widespread in the Hills this year with whole vineyards left unpicked. It was quite a surreal sight driving through in June and seeing grapes still hanging on the vine) and you've got hard wines that don't taste right.

Now, again, I don't want to tarnish all the 2011 Adelaide Hills wines for, as mentioned, there will be great wines made, with the key to this greatness being largely centred around how much work was done in the vineyards. In 2011 for instance handpicking was essential and diligent spray applications really paid off, with those who didn't adopt either (or not throughly enough) ultimately paying the price with fruit that was often unripe or so heavily botrytised that the resultant wines needed to be pasteurised and heavily filtered (or they'd end up as hard, brown coloured wines).

Bringing it all back to this little bracket of four 2011 vintage Adelaide Hills Sauvs and I found that, for my tastes at least, the better wines were the ones that countered this hardness with a little winemaking nous, the wines that used oak or a little residual sugar (or whatever really) to deliver more harmonious and more integrated wines. Regardless, there was less love here than you'd normally see in a bracket of well regarded Adelaide Hills Sauvs...

The wines:

Tempus Two Copper Series Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
12.5%, Screwcap, $19.95

A thoroughly varietal beast this carried a snow pea nose that looks fresh and reasonably pure, with a nice hint of mushroomy lees characters on the edges. Palate is nicely balanced too with a little sweetness and the textural lift of oak richness to counter the crunchy, slightly sour acidity. I thought to this be just a little short but entirely pleasant, the acid still carrying the grittiness of the vintage but with a softer edge than the others. Definitely pleasure to be had here and the easy leader of this pack. 17.5/91

Longview Whippet Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
10.5%, Screwcap, $18

There's a crystalline purity to this that is really quite attractive, though I may be mistaking purity for simplicity.... Anyway, this is all herbs and lime juice, dancing along with tangy, almost salty acidity, making for almost a Sauvignon Blanc margarita! Acidity seems more natural and less forced here too, though the palate ends pretty quickly and leaves something of a herbal aftertaste. Still, considering the $$ this is really a rather solid wine. 16.5/88

Grant Burge Kraft Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
12.5%, Screwcap, $21

Sadly I really struggled with this wine - it looked hard and parched and ungenerous, a story of herbs without fruit. The palate too looked sweet and already quite advanced, with abrupt acidity and little in the way of fruit sweetness (just sugar sweetness). Not much of a fan I'm afraid. 14/80

Nepenthe Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
12.5%, Screwcap, $19.95

Another slightly unfun wine, kicking off with a somewhat flat, dull nose that was like washed out, grassy lime cordial capped off with a hint of botrytis in there too. The palate has a woody hardness that suggests unripe fruit to boot, though not quite as abruptly or awkwardly as the Kraft. Quite a margin off Nepenthe's best Sauvs this one... 14.5/82

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Catching up: Pinot Noir

Catching up: Pinot Noir

A Pinot Noir bunch
Tight and sexy looking bunch isn't it?
In typical festive season style I've been doing plenty of drinking and comparatively little note taking of late, a situation which I'm totally ok with but one that's generally not conducive to good blogging (or such).

So, perhaps vainly, I'm going to attempt to redress that balance right now with a round-up of a few of the Pinots that I enjoyed recently. Sadly the notes for these are just a little on the short side though hopefully you get the gist...

Oh and if you haven't started stocking up on these 2010 Yarra/Macedon/Southern Victorian Pinots then start now. You've been warned...

Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir 2010 (Yarra Valley, Vic)
This is the best value Pinot Noir in Australia, which is probably why this wine is either already sold out or not far off. It looks firmer, denser and more powerful this year, the nose still reticent and the palate rippling with tannins, the wine quite masculine for the Yarra (and Hoddles) but with the flesh to match. Yes. Buy some. 18.3/93+

Punt Rd Pinot Noir 2010 (Yarra Valley, Vic)
Immediately prettier, softer and less serious than the Hoddles but with a juiciness that's worth highlighting, the lightly sappy red fruit sure to have commercial appeal. Very pleasant, affable, yet not contrived wine with enough pinosity to convince. 17.2/90

Bress Silver Chook Pinot Noir 2010 (Yarra Valley & Macedon, Vic)
Pepper! Pepper and green olive stemminess with charry oak overtones and a dose of 'charcuterie plate' in there for good measure (salami maybe). Really very serious wine considering it's $22 price point, this looked just a fraction young but also a wine of some density. Good. 17.3/90+

Oakridge Pinot Noir 2010 (Yarra Valley, Vic)

So very Yarra this with that red fruit brightness of warmer year Yarra Pinot (attractive character it is too). Palate has sappy, glace red fruit, some slightly sweet caramel oak and a proper dry savoury finish. Pretty, yet structured too. Easy recommendation this and immediately drinkable. 18/93

Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2010 (Tamar Valley, Tas)
Tight. Ultimately too young Pinot with a pippy, peppery cherry nose that gives away little of the goodies to come. Palate is both glossy and sweet with musky fruit at the edges but closed through the middle and pulls up a little short. I'm calling this as a slow burne,r for there is richness in there underneath it just needs time. Retaste needed. 16.8/89+

Holm Oak Pinot Noir 2009 (Tamar Valley, Tas)
Riper and almost slightly roasted style this vintage with a level of extraction and power I haven't seen before, the fruit almost heading into gamy, Martinborough levels of ripeness. Black pepper, spice, tannins, heart and power. Maybe a little too big but certainly a mouthful of a wine. Will be interested to see how this develops in bottle. 17.4/90+

Bindi Composition Pinot Noir 2010 (Macedon, Vic)
I actually had this last night so it's something of an addendum to this lot (but entirely worth including). Like a few of the wines above it's a masculine wine in the context of Bindi Composition Pinot but in the best possible fashion (with no delicacy really sacrificed as a result). There's a subliminal (actually it's probably more latent than that) minted red fruit power to this wine that screams quality (or it did to me at least) with a thick and dense mid palate and tightly woven tannins, the wine still carrying a sheen of oak to sweeten everything up. A wine for the future (don't drink it now) I can't help but want (more) of this in my cellar. Ballsy without losing elegance. Yes. 18.4/93+

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Jim Barry Pb Shiraz Cabernet 2005

Jim Barry Pb Shiraz Cabernet 2005 (Clare Valley, SA)
14.9%, Cork, $50
Source: Sample

Jim Barry Pb
Nothing to do with lead
Wines just don't come more Australian than this. In fact, any more 'Aussie' and it may need a baggy green (or some other Australiana type paraphernalia).

By 'Aussie' I mean that it's cast in a particular style, a style that is quite representative of the sort of red wines that are (stereotypically) made and enjoyed here.. It's a style that is criticised by many English/European wine media, whilst being celebrated by both Australian and American wine media. A style that is unashamedly reflective of where this wine is grown and the context of the Jim Barry winemaking idiom. A wine that many may dismiss as somewhat old school, but of a form that I think needs to be celebrated and cherished, particularly for how well that Clare Valley 'regional mode' and Barry hand is transmitted. A big Clare Valley red, built with lots of everything (and proudly so).

The wine itself is something of an homage, not to the winery namesake Jim Barry but to his son Peter Barry, current head of the Barry clan and someone who clearly appreciates this sort of wine. A blend of 70% Clare Valley Shiraz and 30% Clare Valley Cabernet, the 2005 Pb is ostensibly a combination of McRae Wood Shiraz and Benbournie Cabernet parcels, coupled together to create a proper Australian red, built in a form that Peter Barry originally conceived as a 'personal wine' harking back to the red blends his (late) father made in the 70s.

Given that context it's probably little surprise as to how this wine looks - it's a super concentrated wine still looking beastly 7 years down the track. That beastiness is announced with a little volatility, mint slice/choc oak, and rippling choc plum fruit. It's a big, warm and thick nose bristling with mint edged Clare Valley richness and heart.

That style flows through to a palate that is seriously intense, flowing with black licorice, darkly savoury and inky fruit cake and roasted plum fruit flavours, carried through with a warming, hearty bitter tannic edge that is most addictive, if just a fraction overt. Tannins too are grainy, chocolatey and obvious, the finish boozy - but not overripe - and very long, the aftertaste a lump of fruit, oak, tannins and alcohol (and plenty of each)

Ultimately it's that 'plenty of' form that makes this red both great and divisive. It's a big, alcoholic and anything-but-delicate wine that's driven by very ripe fruit and much oak, yet also - in it's genre - is a wine to be highlighted (heck, it won a trophy in the 2007 Great Australian Red wine show thingie). I'm scoring it highly as a result, even if it is - strictly speaking - something of an overwhelming wine. 18.5/94

Monday, 2 January 2012

Domaine A Stoney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010

Stoney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010
I can vouch for it's drinkability with Peking duck
Domaine A Stoney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 (Tasmania)
13.5%, Cork, $35
Source: Sample

Effectively the second label Pinot for Domaine A, what's most intriguing about this release is what it's not - which is herbal. For, historically speaking at least, when you opened a Stoney Vineyard red - Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon - you just expected some herbal, unripe fruit characters in the mix, particularly as the Stoney Vineyard label is/was often reserved for the less ripe Domaine A wines.

Yet this isn't unripe at all. Rather, it's actually quite juicy, carrying a brightness and energy that is entirely upfront and appealing, yet without ever looking sweet. In fact, the only thing working against this Pinot is it's youthfulness, the wine still bound up through the mid palate, the gap between mid palate and tannins rather palpable.

Flavourwise it's very much a red fruit Pinot style this, with an almost Central Otago-esque prettiness on the nose and a delicacy on the palate that I really quite like. It's still a bit too upfront and bouncy/youthful to really love just yet, but no question marks about the delicacy and class. 17.7/92