Saturday, 31 March 2012

Riesling love: Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010

Dönnhoff goodness
Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010 (Nahe, Germany)
8.5%, Cork, $50
Source: Retail

Simply put, it's wines like this that make me glad I love wine. More correctly, they make you realise why Riesling is such a noble grape. Or at least I think so. Admittedly many may shrug their shoulders at why a wine like this garners such enthusiasm (my enthusiasm in this instance) but the purity, the expression, the vinous joy of a wine like this deserves a shitload of excitement just for being. Nectar of the gods indeed.

Anyway enough of that sappy junk and back to the wine. What makes this particular white special is actually really simple - it's that perfect balance between the sweetness of residual grape sugar matching with the punch and drive of sky high natural acidity. Ying and yang. Acid and sweet, dancing together in the classic Riesling form.

Speaking of form, this looks to be a rather moderate wine this vintage, without the fullness and power of 09 or 07 and less acidity than 08. I like moderation however and it has delivered a beautiful wine here, all candied limes and rockmelon sweetness over grapefruit juice acidity. Beautiful lines and just an unforced, utterly grapey simplicity to it that is hard to not love. Others may toff at the high score for what is quite a straightforward wine but I don't care at all - that purity needs celebrating. 18.5/94

Rieslingfreak Off Dry Riesling No.5 2011

Rieslingfreak No.5
Not easily confused with Chanel No.5
Rieslingfreak No.5 Off-Dry Riesling 2011 (Clare Valley, SA)
11.5%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Sample

I think that off-dry was a good option for many 2011 South Australian Rieslings, if purely just to counter the elevated acidity. There is still much tinkering to be done with the style though (for mine)...

It's interesting to how forward many of these '11 vintages Rieslings are considering their acidity levels though. That's the perils of what was a shitty vintage (in most parts of SA) to grow grapes.

Anyway, this looks slightly advanced, with a quite juicy and round lemon-lime nose with a nice sherbety edge. Authentic Clare sort fruit characters too if a bit ill-defined (though the RS doesn't help with the definition). Limey palate looks broadish, finishing a with softening sweetness and a twang of gritty citrus acidity. That acid is just a bit gritty (in my opinion) but the sweetness looks about right.  Falls away a fraction and shows some development on the finish too but still well built. Solid enough. 16.5/88

Friday, 30 March 2012

The Marlborough Diaries: Day 3.5555

The Marlborough Diaries: Day 3.5555

The draft Marlborough sub-regions
Click on the image to enlarge
Back in November I was lucky enough to attend the Marlborough Wine Weekend, essentially a several day long celebration of all things Marlborough wine (and food) targeted mainly towards trade, interested wine enthusiasts and other assorted wine enthusiasts.

Over the course of said weekend I managed to pen the first few parts of a Marlborough diary (you can read them here and here) with the intention of then wrapping it all up in one summary post.

Sadly, life got in the way of me actually writing the super concluding post during the weekend, but I still really want to talk in this post about one key learning that came out of the weekend that I think is really important. A single focal point that I found cam up most often when to talking to producers and trade over the course of the weekend: The Marlborough sub-regions.

Now brand Marlborough is strong. Very strong. Pushed along by clever marketing and the all conquering power of it's Sauvignon Blanc (and growing Pinot reputation), the region continues to kick goals internationally. But that's not enough. No. Nor should it be for that matter, as I think that all passionate vignerons want their wines, their brands, their region etc to evolve.

The good news then is that this evolution is happening. That said vignerons are acknowledging (and attempting to address) a perceived weakness of the region (to my mind at least).


It's not hard to see this homogeneity in action. Look at a bracket of under $20 Sauvignon Blancs for a perfect example, with formulaic wine after formulaic wine stacking up to remove any idea that there might be more to Marlborough than simple grassy Sauvs.

So how do the Marlborough producers address this homogeneity? Acknowledging terroir - and all it's variability and individuality. Structurally, critically, it means moving away from the heavy yielding 'potato country' areas on the flat alluvial plains - or at the very least controlling the vigour on these sites - and planting vines in more marginal country on the ridges and fringes. It means exploring clones, tinkering with barrel ferments and wild yeast and whole bunches. It's about pushing the boundaries beyond the - often quite 'safe' - Marlborough style boundaries in a bid to find more vivid expressions of terroir. It means generally experimenting, refining, redefining and evolving.

In case you haven't guessed it by now, all of this activity points to a focus on sub-regionality, a focus on the similarities - and differences - found within the greater Marlborough region.

Now before I go any further I want to show this little table, brought to you by the (very capable. And I'm not just saying that because they invited me over to NZ) Wine Marlborough organisation.

As you can see what this table identifies is some of the (proposed. They've not been fully defined as yet) Marlborough sub-regions. What's interesting about these sub-regional designations though is the differences. Subtle differences that make for subtly different wines. Subtle differences in soil type, moisture, heat the lot. Subtle differences that, when identified and worked with and adapted to, ultimately make for more interesting wines (or at least I think so).

Wine Marlborough realise this too so during the course of the Marlborough Wine Weekend the wines were often bracketed with their relative sub-region relatives, allowing for some very handy comparisons across varieties. In this fashion it was fascinating to compare the slightly more herbaceous and flinty Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blancs with the much richer and more tropical Wairau examples, or to see a certain dark fruit richness exhibited across the Southern Valley Pinot Noirs that wasn't as evident in the Awatere wines. Again they were subtle differences but distinctive enough to be noticeable (and enjoyably so).

Of course I think everyone is aware that this push towards sub-regionality is not without its pitfalls...

The fact that the the sub-regions aren't technically mapped out yet is one of such pitfalls (and a contentious one), a pitfall that also fails to acknowledged just how variable this landscape can be (particularly in the Awatere) containing a whole melange of different soil types, aspects, slopes, altitudes and more.

These sub-regional plans also ignore just how young Marlborough is as a wine region, with a history that only dates back to 1973 (for modern commercial plantings that is) and with whole tracts of very recent plantings within it's boundaries. New plantings that aren't exactly accurately reflecting their terroir just yet.
Marlborough looking green and varied.

Regardless of the fledgling nature of these proposed sub-regions though it was hard not to be moved (or at least interested) by this evolution. It's an evolution that I think is rather natural (and enjoyable for all). It's that push to identity what is that makes wines tick, that quest to improve the quality of finished wines by concentrating on the most important part - the grapes.

Better than just talking about it though I was impressed to see this evolution in action, to hear from the makers whom were searching for new places to plant Pinot in the heavier clay soils of the Southern Valleys. Who were grafting Chardonnay across to Syrah in the Wairau and celebrating off dry Riesling from the Awatere.

Ultimately it was plain motivating stuff and enough to convince me that despite the homogenous reputation of this powerhouse wine region, there is much more to Marlborough (and even more to come)...

(I've quite a backlog of tasting notes to publish from this trip too. That's next on the list...)

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Still great value: Wirra Wirra Church Block 2010

Wirra Wirra Church Block 2010
'Check my bottle out'
Wirra Wirra Church Block 2010 (Mclaren Vale, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $24
Source: Sample

I wrote earlier in the year about how much I appreciate the superstar value and classic honesty of Church Block (you can read about it here) and I'm happy to say that this 2010 vintage iteration only helps to reinforce my opinions (and some).

Suffice to say that this is the best Church Block since the cracking 2004 (which is still drinking well by the way) and fulfills the Church Block dictum of a ‘smooth, soft red wine that balances the complexity sought by aficionados, with the approachability desired by those seeking pure drinking pleasure.’ with aplomb. Nice work 'Smithy' and 'Carps' (the Wirra Wirra winemakers).

Before I talk about the actual wine though, I want to quickly discuss glass. Glass bottles that is. More particularly, I want to draw attention to the new 'proprietary bottle' that this wine is contained in. A bottle with ridges and sculpted edges and rounded bits all designed help it stand out as being a Church Block firstly but also as from the Wirra Wirra stable.

What is really noticeable about this glass receptacle though is the weight - I had this red in a lineup of more conventionally bottled wines and had to do a bit of a double take when pouring from it. Was it slightly empty I thought? Was I drunk and had finished a glass without realising it (a large glass did go into spaghetti bolognaise). No, it's just lighter. Lighter - with no detriment to what is inside or to the quality of the packaging - and ultimately smarter packaging for the upcoming teens (yes, I said teens. Feels odd doesn't it). Anyway, I dip my lid to Andrew Kay MD of Wirra Wirra for the new bottle. Well done.

As for the juice itself, this looks happily Church Block in every way, leading with a rich, polished, Cabernet driven nose of vanillan dipped licorice and red/black fruit in that plummy, chubby Vale mode. It smells of oak, which is not surprising considering that 100% of this is barrel matured (though with only circa 15% new oak it's a feature - not the main character), yet in a proper sort of fashion, the oak used as a part of the uniform if you like, much like the way bankers wear dark suits pants (though that may just be the need to wear pants to cover up their pale legs).

Beyond the choc rounded nose, the palate looks approachable without being flat - slick and chocolatey and filtered and bright but also with fruit tannins and a bit of heft through the back palate too. It's just a fraction warmish and doesn't quite flow through the finish with precision - being more of a redcurranty tide than a proper punctuation mark - but I think that also is part of the charm (much like the sometimes cumbersome Penfolds Bin wines can be).

Ultimately though this is just a good Australian, genuine red (that can be picked up for well under $20). A wine of smooth lines, of fruit and oak richness, of warmth and body and a bear hug like enveloping weight. It's not especially savoury, nor sophisticated, nor particularly firmly structured (which is reflected in the score). It is though, quite simply, exactly what you would wish a Church Block could be. 17.3/90

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Tempus Two Copper Series GSM 2010

Tempus Two Copper GSM 2010
Tempus Two Copper Series GSM 2010 (Barossa Valley, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Sample

Good packaging, correct price and solid branding. What is missing here though is heart...

In fact it looks subdued in every way, slickly oaked and shapeless, the nose not really smelling of much at all, even after 24 hours in the decanter. I keep waiting for the flavour to drop on the palate too but save for confected Grenache and sticky red berry Shiraz this looks light and simple.

Mono-dimensional light and simple this should improve sure but not much love really. 15.5/85+

Cumulus Shiraz 2009

Cumulus Shiraz
Orange Shiraz goodness
Cumulus Shiraz 2009 (Orange, NSW)
13.5%, Screwcap, $30
Source: Sample

Effectively the flagship Cumulus red, this is sourced from two blocks within the estate, both of which sit above 600m altitude. 5% whole bunches, a pre ferment cold soak and plenty of winemaking love is heaped upon this. Looks pretty slick too. Clearly the Cumulus winemakers get to 'play' with this wine.

A rather minty cool climate Shiraz, this has more than a few St Joseph pangs about it with lead pencils, gherkins and blackcurrant on the nose, interlaced with rather fine vanillan oak. Palate wise it's refined, just medium bodied and very silken, with a smooth, milk chocolate richness that makes it all just that little bit more lithe and slippery. It's hardly an intense wine, nor is it especially tannic, but it is shapely, feminine and long. I kept thinking of long legs when tasting this wine (though that might be more about me than anything else).

Nice lines. 17.6//92

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Lazy Ballerina Shiraz Viognier 2009

Lazy Ballerina Shiraz Viognier
Love that colour
Lazy Ballerina Shiraz Viognier 2009 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

The Lazy Ballerina are wines are effectively the side business of notable McLaren Vale viti man James Hook. You can check out some of James' work over at the DJ Growers blog. When he's not handing out grape advice he also makes this red, along with a few others under the Lazy Ballerina label.

What I like about this wine is how hearty it is. How much it talks of the Vale, of the hot (heatwave) 09 vintage summer sunshine, of open ferments and traditional winemaking. What I don't like as much is the alcohol, the scorch, that hint of heaviness that comes from such a vintage. For mine the second characters mar the joy of the first, the dessication something of a distraction.

It all starts with a lovely purple black colour. Like black bitumen with a purple layer. That inky concentration, like a wine reduction (the sauce, not reductive wines) continues on the nose too, along with black lollies and black fruit. It's a concentrated, lightly confected nose with just a hint of dried peach Viognier. Lots of glycerol on the palate too, all big and rich flavours. It gets a little hard by mid palate and looks more raw and rather hot towards the back, the acid a spiky kick to finish.

I want to like this as it has heart. I just can't get over the heat and harsh edges though... 15.8/86

The best value Pinot in the land? De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir 2010

Windy Peak Pinot Noir
New label looks good.
De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir 2010 (Victoria)
13%, Screwcap, $14
Source: Sample

The most important thing to consider with this wine is that pricetag. Simply put, I can't think of a Pinot Noir that tastes as much like an actual varietal Pinot and can be readily found for just over $11. Of course it's not a polished wine, nor is it particular dense or long. But, again, it's got real Pinot stylin'. Top vintage for this wine.

Ruby red in colour, with a ruby red cherry nose. All fruit on that nose really, Pinot fruit. A bag full of berries and a whiff of bark. A little volatility in there too. Simple cherry and briar palate is unashamedly light and fruity but still has enough pinosity to account for itself. Slightly spiky finish and a little skinny perhaps, the higher yielding fruit showing just a smidgen.

All this for $14 though? Best value Pinot in the land. Ignore the score, score the value. 16/87

Monday, 26 March 2012

Singlefile Reserve Chardonnay 2009

Singlefile Reserve Chardonnay
So very close.
Singlefile Reserve Chardonnay 2009 (Great Southern, WA)
13.9%, Screwcap, $39.95
Source: Sample

The Singlefile packaging has changed recently and definitely for the better. This label still looks odd with it's jaunty angles. Distinctive though.

As for the wine it almost looks great. Another wine that promises plenty on the nose actually, with that deep, nougat and toasted cashew richness that Great Southern Chardonnay often carries (and I like). A wine of sunshine, of long days and nutty medium toast plus oak. A Chardonnay built with concentration over finesse (in a good way) and intensity to burn.

I only wish it could carry that through the palate which looks dull and oak tannin etched. Dull edged palate falls away to, well broadness and oak. Nice nose, average persistence and feeling like it's lacking some vibrancy. So close. Again. Others may well find this more impressive (it has some shiny bling on the label too) but I just wanted just a smidgen more precision and delicacy. 16.8/89

Cornelius Pinot Gris 2009

Cornelius Pinot Gris
Cornelius Pinot Gris 2009 (Bellarine Peninsula, Vic)
14%, Screwcap, $40
Source: Sample

I find myself mildly annoyed by these Cornelius wines. The packaging is good, the back label information is almost unmatched, the story is great, the price is up there. Expectations are thus high. Yet I'm still waiting to be really impressed, waiting for one of these wines to really show their value. Still waiting here though this is closer...

Light straw in colour (consistent with a 3yr old Gris). Nose of pears, creamy oak, a little more pears. That vanilla bean oak is top shelf actually. Sexy oak. Like expensive vanilla bean icecream. The palate shows something of the pears 'n' cream richness and viscosity that I want in a Gris like this but it't not quite enough to match up with that alcohol burn.

Oh how I wish this was richer, fresher and less alcoholic for it promises much... 16.5/88

BEER: Burleigh Brewing 28 Pale Ale

BEER: Burleigh Brewing 28 Pale Ale

Nice packaging on this. Burleigh Brewing are doing good things from what I can see, albeit in a quite commercial vein. This almost looks the part too.

I say almost as it smells good, stars well and then doesn't seal the deal. Lifted hop fragrance on the nose, initial hop drive on the palate but a little gritty and short after that. Sour and weedy sort of palate is nicely creamy but just looks a bit odd and incomplete.

Almost there but ultimately more simple than it needs to be. I want more really...

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Blocks by Penfolds: Wine-bar-meets-art-installation

Great space for this - on the wharf at Walsh Bay.
The Blocks by Penfolds: Wine-bar-meets-art-installation

Art and wine. Wine and music. Music and art. All three share synergies, parallels, artistic ideals, the lot. Obviously wine is just a bit more cut and dried than the other two (arguably), yet the commonalities are unmissable (or at least I think so).

Given these commonalities then it's probably quite surprising that we don't see more art inspired by wine, especially given that the stereotypical artist drinks plenty of the stuff (particularly at gallery openings) and is probably particularly inspired when influenced by wine. Yet we rarely see much in the way of art dedicated to wine.

Penfolds, however, have attempted to address that gap with this latest project. Called 'The Blocks', said project is a collaboration between London designers Studio Twogood and Penfolds, with the art-installation-meets-wine-bar-concept focused particularly on a set of large wooden totems - essentially large wooden sculptures - that are then prepared by a perfumer to showcase some of the scents you might find in (Penfolds) wine.

One of the 'blocks'.
That's someone famous in the background too.
The way this 'multi sensory environment' then works is that you wander around the exhibit - which is housed in a pretty cool wharf warehouse space in Sydney's Walsh Bay - accompanied by a 'sommelier' who guides you through the art installation with a selection from the Penfolds Bin/Luxury range to taste as you go.

You thus enjoy a glass or two of wine, accompanied by a tasting menu prepared by Magill Estate Executive Chef Jock Monfrillo, and spend plenty of time smelling wood and loitering around looking at art.

I was one of said loiterers at the launch a week or so ago, largely to see what Penfolds - whom have a history of toying with art and wine - had managed to bring together, but also to see what this intriguing wood scented totems shenanigans was all about.
Now I'm the first to admit that I'm not much of an art critic. I like quite my art classical really (with exceptions), so I'm not probably not very well placed to comment on the quality of the works themselves. Moreso, as one of the few 'wine' people at the launch party I think I stood out as one of the least arty types there - with my distinct lack of rolled up jeans, boat shoes and carefully coiffed hair (for guys). For girls it was one-piece jumpsuits (which apparently are 'so hot right now') and more big hair. Or such.

Regardless of such fashion comments, I still liked the exhibtion and thought that the execution was good. The whole operation has an air of professionalism to it, the work clearly created by talented artists. It didn't move me (the art at least) but I was entertained by attempts to pick up scent 'interpretations' from big pieces of wood. Suffice to say that anyone who is used to playing with Le Nuz De Vin or other professional scent kits might be a little baffled too..

As for the wines, there was one particular new release from the Penfolds range that stood out (for me at least). That was the 2010 Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, which I think might be the best 128 I've seen in years..

What makes the 128 work is all about simplicity - it's a thoroughly medium bodied Shiraz (as Coonawarra Shiraz should be), with trademark Penfoldian richness but also with a hint of leaf and grainy tannins. Medium weight, understated yet also bold enough to carry the red Penfolds cap. Everything in it's right place. Perhaps a little bit 'airbrushed' but no questioning the appeal. Considering that it's a relatively affordable part of the Penfolds range, it's not hard to give it a big thumbs up. I went back for seconds.
Another block. A phallic one.

On another tack, they were serving a particularly interesting cocktail on the night too (an expensive one to replicate perhaps) that mixed Bombay Sapphire gin, Lillet and Penfolds Grandfather tawny to make a thoroughly boozy, if quite intriguing (the richness of the old fortified worked great against the straight spirits), mixed drink of choice. Liked that too. Seconds again.

Besides the drinks (I saw so little food that I can't comment on what was served. There was 'things on spoons') the whole experience then was a good one. The verdict then on 'The Blocks' is pretty simple - hardly a serious wine tasting experience, but well worth a look, particularly given that it's free (to wander around at least).

I can't vouch for what to wear when attending though...

(The Blocks will apparently be in Sydney for a few more weeks and then heads on to Melbourne and beyond. Full details check out

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Rise Watervale Riesling 2011

Rise Riesling
Rise Watervale Riesling 2011 (Clare, SA)
11.5%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Sample

It's been interesting (or I've found it interesting) to see how winemakers have handled the higher acidity of the 2011 South Australian vintage.  Many makers they haven't handled it at all, producing hard, green wines that lack flesh (and drink poorly). The more adaptive/switched on producers though have realised that the year required wines to have more sweetness and juiciness to balance out said acidity (and have made good wines because of it).

That sweetness balance is evident here too, a flourish of limey generosity that, whilst not evident on the nose, rounds out the palate nicely. It's a slightly unfriendly nose actually, all unripe citrus and not much else. But the lemon Solo sweetness of the palate more than makes up for it, cancelling out the jagged edged, vintage derived acidity to make for a sustainable good drink. Should look even better with age too. Good stuff. Well priced too. 17.7/92+

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The blind game - options wine fun at it's best

The blind game - options wine fun at it's best

I often wonder if the late Len Evans OBE really did come up with the 'wine option' game (what's a wine options game you ask? Read this for example)? By all accounts he coined the phrase - and hence the game - but the whole concept seems like an age-old one to me. It's principally just a wine guessing game. A wine guessing game of the best kind.

Anyway, semantics aside, wine options games are highly entertaining pursuits (and who wants to hear about semantics anyway? Who am I to argue about what Len did either? I only met him a few times at the tail end of his life. The last time I was at a dinner and he was berating everyone for not trying hard enough to push Australian wines internationally). They're educational pursuits too, for they force you to match up nose and palate with reference points in your brain (and help to establish new ones at that).

The best part about such games though is not getting a wine right, it is getting it wrong. The more wrong the better even. It's about being blown away by a relatively unheralded wine from a good season. About picking a cheap Cabernet as a top Bordeaux. About laughing at your own group ineptitude as you get a wine badly wrong. Again.

Friday afternoon was such an occasion. The laneway behind Bests Cellars was the venue. The crew was mainly young and talented wine peeps (with a few more grizzled types for good measure) and the environment was competitively good natured. The stage was set for some serious options action.

Wine #1 lobbed. Obviously Chardonnay. Obviously fine. Sophisticated. Well made. A lick of oak but not too much. A grapefruit lightness to it that I thought said 1er cru Chablis, with a bit of oak, from a warmer year. The acidity was right, the profile too. I was wrong...

Rick, ex Bests Cellars crew, clasping a
stonking stumper of a Chardonnay.
Not sure about the stupid grin though
I called northern hemisphere. It was southern. I called 2009. It was 2008. I called Tumbarumba or Tasmania. It was Margaret River. I got it so wrong. Most people, however, thought it was more expensive and from overseas too (so at least I wasn't alone).

Wine #1 was eventually revealed as the 2008 Voyager Chardonnay and what a wonderful surprise it was. Wonderful because it carried so much persistence, so much style, such style in a package that can be purchased this very moment for $32 a bottle. As it warmed up it looked a little fatter, a little less delineated and a little more nectarine and grapefruit, yet still the quality was on show. Gold medal wine at a silver medal (or less) price. 18.5/94

Righto so after that debacle I was ready to redeem myself with wine #2. I was focused. The game face was on. This wine though was worse. Worse because I don't think it was a representative bottle. It was delivered only 24 hours before opening so I'm going to say that it was bottle shocked. Not everyone agreed...

So this wine was tricky. Peachy, broad and honeyed, the nose was Viognieresque in it's fullness and fatness. The palate too was rich and expansive but also blunt and wobbly, the powerful fruit edged with coarse oak tannins. It looked flat and cheap and harried. I picked it as a Viognier Chardonnay blend (just for contrariness), though I probably should have gone with my first words 'it's a Chardonnay. A cheap one.'

The odd Sorrenberg Chadonnay
No one got this right though. Not until the final few stages of the options had been revealed. At least I started well...

First question - Australian or imported? Nailed that (Australia). Vintage? I picked older. '08? It was '10. Blend or straight variety? My blended Viognier Chardonnay pick was clearly off. It wasn't until the regional choices 'Hunter, Mornington, Beechworth' (or the like. I think the Hunter wasn't an option) that I finally got something right (by picking Beechworth).

When the covers finally came off to reveal that wine #2 was the 2010 Sorrenberg Beechworth Chardonnay there was gasps (or at least a stray 'woah'. Maybe from me). It didn't look right at all, or at least I don't think it was right. Bad Diam (I think it was Diam)? As a result I'm going to call it a 'retaste required' (or it's a 16/87ish wine). Interested to hear if anyone has had the same experience with this (as the 09 was very smart indeed...).

Two failures down and, like everyone, I was keen to pick up again with wine #3. Happily, this was speaking to me. In a clear voice. It was saying '2010 Yarra Pinot' and I was clearly listening (I told everyone too. Have to at least get one thing right). The only challenge was to pick producer. Which I couldn't do...

The wine itself was a gem. An archetype (of sorts). The style of wine that I'd want to make (and buy - I want some now). It was a little hazy - but still ruby red in colour - and had a nose of pithy cherries, of a hint of bark and a little meaty whole bunch briary action. That nose was intriguing actually, a nose of Pinosity but not actually fruit. More winey, not juicy (if you get my drift). What hooks you in though is that restraint. Those bubbles of nothing that make it really something.

On the palate it follows the script too - tight and sappy, yet also with enough richness to make it interesting. It is, to follow a cliché, a French wine made from Yarra fruit. And I loved it. Drank it with relish.

The Wanderer Upper Yarra Pinot 2010
Buy some.
When it was revealed I wasn't surprised. Just happy. Happy to see a good producer crafting good wines in a good vintage. All good...

Wine #3 then was the 2010 The Wanderer Upper Yarra Pinot Noir. Apparently it is almost sold out now so, all I can say is that if you like Pinot Noir, like Yarra Pinot Noir, you need to buy this wine immediately (I think straight from the winery?). Heck, if I wasn't on a 'no wine purchases' self imposed black ban I would have bought some on Friday night...

For $55 you can't go wrong with this superstar expression of Yarra Pinot (on that note, I've still go to try the 2010 Hoddles Creek 1er Pinot Noir which should be in the zone too). 18.9/95

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The joy of the unpolished: Galafrey Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Galafrey Reserve Cabernet
Nice to see a currently available 04 too
Galafrey Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Mt Barker, WA)
13.5%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

I've got something of a soft spot for Great Southern Cabernet. In fact, I'd have to say that I generally prefer the Cabs to the Shiraz from said part of the world, though that might just be me showing my Cabernet bent. I blame Howard Park for helping foster this Gt Southern Cabernet love *shakes fist*.

Anyway, there is much to like with this Mt Barker Cabernet. It smells and tastes like it has been produced from somewhere, by actual human beings. It's slightly stinky, hearty and happily rough around the edges. It has a density on the palate too, that low yielding, dry grown (or sparingly watered) concentration that indicates grapes grown for flavour and not yield. Lots to like.

What I particularly like is the tomato leaf vitality of this wine. It's a varietal leafiness, but also with a meaty, sort of fatty meat secondary character. The palate is ferrous and tannic, with firmness and length aplenty. A furry, undergrowth character in there too.

Unpolished, genuine and interesting, this is 'winey' wine in the proper fashion. 18/93

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Vale Cabernet and solid as ever: Woodstock Cabernet

Woodstock Cabernet
Big on the Vale action
Woodstock Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14.5%, Source, $25
Source: Sample

I think McLaren Vale Cabernet tends to get forgotten in the scheme of things, passed over in favour of more Cabernetish Cabernets from places like Coonawarra or Margaret River. Some may argue that that is a good thing, particularly as Vale Cabernet tends to taste more like red wine from McLaren Vale than a Cabernet Sauvignon from McLaren Vale, yet such an attitude fails to acknowledge the simple, blackberry jam appeal of a wine such as this one.

There is an unusual sort of charcuterie-meets-berry-jam character on the nose of this wine actually, a fruit and oak trail mix thing (or is it the B word?) that looks a little bacon fat/chook poo shitty in it's meaty richness, but also attractive because of it. It makes me want to gnaw on slow cooked shin bones - or just slow cooked meat on bones - actually and drink this wine with it. I'll call that appeal actually, particularly for a carnivore such as me.

Interestingly, the big and chunky palate is quite conventional after the nose, it's a big, mid palate driven, slightly bitter/rich choc oak and blackberry jam sort of wine, full of fruit (grapes even), fruit and more fruit, all finished with lightish tannins and a warmish tail. A winey tail even, a rich 'full of stuffing' finish that is utterly Vale and going to win you over (if just a little bitter).

No questioning the appeal of this berry jam style. Day two and it was even more convincing in its blackberry jam solid richness too. Good stuff. 17.3/90

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Grant Burge Cameron Vale Cabernet 2010

Grant Burge Cameron Vale Cabernet
Grant Burge Cameron Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Barossa, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $24
Source: Sample

Solid wines in this Burge 'vineyard range'. I had a really interesting conversation with a friend on Sunday about wines like this actually, wines that value consistency over intrigue. She explained that for her it was just about finding a good drink, something that would always taste good (and the same good) so she can drink it every time.

For me, personally, I can't think of anything worse than being locked into a single wine with no desire to change. Not just wine either but bread, restaurants etc. Variety is the spice of life surely? We can all have favourite's but who's to know that a new, even more 'favourite' favourite might be just around the corner? Or am I alone on this?

Anyway this is very much the part. Slightly dull perhaps but certainly what you'd expect. That means a nose of quite charry oak, a hint of menthol, an edge of volatility and a solid core of rich, sweetened blackberry fruit. There is even a bit of minty (slightly underripe) varietal Cabernet character in there too.

Said mintiness comes through on the palate too, a blip on the radar of the good ship 'Blackberry Fruit', with everything backed by spreading alcohol warmth, edged with slightly bitter tannins.

Very young, thick and rich, fitting snugly into the Barossa stereotype (that apparently everyone adores).  A round and commercially appealing stereotype of generosity and richness. A wine of weight and fruit but little in the way of excitement. 16.5/88

Serious Margaret River Cab: Clairault Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Clairault Estate Cabernet
Serious. Mega serious.
Clairault Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Margaret River, WA)
13.5% $50
Source: Sample

Clairault is changing. Or appear to be changing, with the wines resplendent in new labels (like this one) and apparently with a new direction. Hopefully they can tap into the form that won them a whole swag of trophies and assorted shiny things back in 2007/08.

This certainly smells the part, full of varietal, gravelly and slightly herbal Margaret River Cabernet character on the nose. That nose is quite addictive actually, all green peppercorns, roast beef and the like all suggesting serious fruit and wine craftsmanship, if just on the edge of ripeness. The palate too flirts with mixed ripeness, with a dusty, herbal warmish rich fruited middle before finishing off with quite gruff, coarse grained tannins and surprising warmth on the finish.

A stern and slightly minty, rawish wine, this is a serious 'don't come back for 5 more years' Cabernet that clearly shows that it was derived from some very tiny Cabernet berries indeed. The cellar is calling. 17.8/92++

Mitchell Harris Pyrenees Shiraz 2009

Mitchell Harris Shiraz
Almost loved it.
Mitchell Harris Pyrenees Shiraz 2009 (Pyrenees, Vic)
14%, Screwcap, $30
Source: Sample

As per last vintage, this has a sprinkling of Viognier in the blend (which I think rather helps to soften the Pyrenees power. Pyrenees power - it sounds like an energy company. Or an odd superhero. Maybe).

2009 was the last of the recent drought years in the Pyrenees and you can see just a shade of that in this wine. I know I bang on about vintage quite a bit - and many hate the generalising that it brings - but there is a certain 'scorched earth' character in these warm, drought year (there was three: 07-09) Pyrenees wines that sticks out in many wines when placed together in a lineup. There are exceptions, naturally, and there remains plenty of appeal with this Shiraz.

Said wine looks a little volatile and warm on the nose, the fruit showing slightly stewed redcurrant and hammy whole bunch Shiraz fruit with black jubes and black pepper. The Viognier works well here, 'jubefying' (I made that word up. Confecting even might work) the nose to give it just a hint of glycerol sweetness. That makes the palate is a little syrupy perhaps but underneath it's all tasty chocolate graininess with drying, slightly desiccated tannins and finishing warm. The whole effect is just a little cumbersome but has density.

Good but not quite great (yet). Scope for improvement with some bottle age. Plenty of heart though. 16.8/89+

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

2008 strikes again: Cornelius Syrah 2008

Cornelius Syrah 2008
So close yet so far...
Cornelius Syrah 2008 (Bellarine Peninsula, Vic)
15%, Screwcap, $65
Source: Sample

Cornelius is the top label for Bellarine Peninsula producer Scotchmans Hill, a range of wines typically showing plenty of style and swagger with these wines too, plus some of the most detailed, excellent back labels in the industry.

In fact, the only thing working against this wine in particular is the vintage, with the 2008 heatwave stamping it's mark all over it (as witnessed by that 15% alcohol reading too). Shame really as there is unquestionably some style here. I'll look forward to the followup vintages...

It kicks off with some mighty sexy smelling vanilla cream oak, the sort of oak that you would want for your own wine (if you like that sort of thing). Besides the oak it's all super ripe caramelised fig, rum and raisin chocolate and liberal dose of tar. That oak sweetness offsets the volatiles of the nose but no mistaking the cooked edge of the fruit. Palate too is hard, warm and spiky, finishing short and looking very much the overripe wine. Shame. Nice sweet oak can't give this the freshness it needs... 14.8/84

Monday, 12 March 2012

Scarborough White Label Semillon 2011

Scarborough White Label Semillon
Scarborough White Label Semillon 2011 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
10%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

This is the top of the Scarborough Semillon tree and is principally their more 'classic' Hunter Semillon. Looks quite backwards too, though backwards can be great for Semillon (and video clips. Just look how much more fun the backward bits are in this Ok Go video clip. I like their new one too).

Green fruit on the cusp of lemon nose. Super tight but potential. Rather soft acidity considering the buy-now, drink-later style. Light and cleansing, pure Hunter Semillon palate, the finish long and assured. It's not quite got the intensity of say - a Braemore - or the like, but an enjoyable wine for the classicists (like me) with the future equally assured.. 17.6/91+

Well priced Adelaide Hills Shiraz: Nepenthe Shiraz 2010

Nepenthe Shiraz - value stuff.
Nepenthe Shiraz 2010 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $19.95
Source: Sample

Cracking year in the Hills - for reds at least (I'm less convinced by some of the slightly broad '10 Adelaide Hills whites). This is easily the best Shiraz that Nepenthe have made (for mine) too.

Lovely bright cherry purple colour. It's almost Viognier licked such is the purple edge. Licorice, blackcurrants and blackberry varietal fruit on the nose with a whiff of volatility and some play-doh oak too. A generous and quite correct nose really. The palate is initially quite smooth but then kicks up with bitterness and briary black fruits. Good bitterness though (or I like it at least). I'd like to see a fraction more density and richness through the back end but, considering the price that's probably a quibble.

Very good drinking for the dollars. 17.7/92

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Two Brothers Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Two Brothers Semillon Sauvignon Blanc
Two Brothers Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Margaret River, WA)
12.5%, Screwcap, $15
Source: Sample

The second label of the Blind Corner label. I like this description of the wine from the Two Brothers website. "Fresh, crisp and here for a good time-not a long time".

Green colour. Slightly green nose hint of honeydew and green mango. Freshness and direct fruit. Citrus hints too. Grassy, green fruit palate is just a little too green for me, the acid spiky and a bit short. Freshness but a little too simple for mine. Can see the purpose of this wine though (and the price is right).

Simple drinking. 15.5/86

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Port Phillip Estate Salasso Rose 2011

Port Phillip Salasso
Pale. Very.
Port Phillip Estate Salasso Rosé 2011 (Mornington Peninsula, Vic)
12.5%, Screwcap, $28
Source: Wine list

The march of the pale, savoury, orange coloured rosé continues. I'm quite a fan of this wine but my dining companion wasn't so sure. 'It's not fruity at all' she said. When I mentioned that it is modeled on a Provençal style (in theory) she warmed to it greatly. Moral of the story? Reference points are really useful with wines such as this (or at least I think so).

As for the wine itself, it still needs another 6 months in bottle and was - once it got above 'ice bucket cold' - really quite enjoyable. A little sternly dry perhaps, but enjoyable. The colour looks super serious too, a pale pale orange shade that makes it look more like a white with a little skin contact than anything drawn from red grapes (though much brighter). It smells restrained too, a hint of strawberries, orange rind and 'not fruit'.

The attraction of this 'blush' though is largely through the middle palate, which has barrel ferment richness and maybe just a hint of red berries (it's produced from Shiraz fruit after all). It finishes dry, long and citrussy though not unripe, making for a wine of some balance and style. Plenty of intrigue here. 17.7/92+

Monday, 5 March 2012

Found - Australia’s most interesting rosé?

Between 5 Bells label - top stuff
Found - Australia’s most interesting rosé?

This article first appeared in January's LatteLife Magazine. As usual the style here is a little more chatty and a little less analytical than is usual for this blog, but it deserves publishing here regardless (or at least I think so).

Rosé – that’s the sweet, bright pink coloured wine that you drink when on holidays yes? A less-than-serious wine style which is fun and refreshing but not really built for too much contemplation?

For the large part that’s a fair appraisal of many ‘typical’ Australian pink wines. Even the ‘traditional’ top Australian rosés – from makers like Turkey Flat and Charles Melton – can be a little on the simple side (though still enjoyable drinks).

Yet not for one rosé it’s not. One pink wine that is deliberately built to be - as winemaker (of sorts) David Fesq puts it - ‘dry, crisp, textured and moreish’. That wine is the Between Five Bells Geelong Rosé and it is, I’m not afraid to say, perhaps the most interesting rosé in the nation, even at a time when savoury rosé is well back in the spotlight.

What makes it so interesting you ask? How do you get a rosé to be moreish and textured?

Naturally it all starts with grapes and the 2011 Between Five Bells Rosé has no fewer than seven different varieties in the blend, including Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Grenache and Zinfandel, sitting alongside Chardonnay, Riesling and Muscat. You read correctly. White and Red grapes. It's an eclectic blend indeed...

In the winery too this is not treated like a conventional ‘pink’ – more like a red wine actually - with the juice handled ‘oxidatively’ and treated with minimal additions of any kind (acid, yeast, sulphur etc all largely ignored) before maturing in old oak barrels before bottling.

Given this unusual treatment it’s probably of little surprise that it looks weird - it’s a little cloudy, a little orange and definitely not lipstick pink in colour. It looks weird, but the best thing is how it tastes – it is one of the oddest rosés around, immediately juicy but also dry and chalky, the white wine in the blend giving a wonderful peachy textural richness to the just strawberry fruit that is quite addictive. Odd perhaps, but addictive.

Finally, the label itself is a mindbender too, as they feature the infographic stylings of renowned designer Nicholas Felton with this particular wine featuring coloured bands around the bottle depicting (graphically) things like growing season temperatures, rainfall and the proportions of each grape in the blend. It’s the sort of label that will have you enthralled even once the bottle is empty.

Ultimately the joy with a wine such as this one is simply just how little compromise has been made. It's a rosé made like it should be. Made without a cynical marketers hat in sight. Simply put, if you’re looking for the pinnacle of interesting Australian Rosé, this would be a great place to start.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Tower Estate Meadowbank Vineyard Riesling 2011

Tower Meadowbank Riesling
Tower Estate Meadowbank Vineyard Riesling 2011 (Tasmania)
8%, Screwcap, $28
Source: Sample

It seems rather bittersweet to be opening up this wine given that the Meadowbank vineyard was hit hard by fire only this week. Let's hope the recovery process is a speedy one. The Ellis family certainly seem positive enough.

I'm feeling positive about this wine too, an off-dry Tassie Riesling that satisfies, even if it's a slightly simple wine. That simplicity is a joyful one though, an essay in clean Riesling fruit.

It's sugar that dominates this wine from the first whiff though, the blossom, honey and candied fruit of residual sweetness dominating the nose. That sweetness is balanced out by cleansing grapefruit acidity on the palate too, the push/pull of sweet/sour balancing out into a wine that is obviously sweet - yet not over sweet - finishing clean and long. It doesn't quite have the intensity of an equivalent top Mosel Spatlese style (which this is obviously modelled on) yet the style is spot on.

Enjoyable, generous stuff. 17.5/91

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Dandelion 'Wonderland of the Eden Valley' Riesling 2011

Dandelion Riesling
Dandelion 'Wonderland of the Eden Valley' Riesling 2011 (Eden Valley, SA)
11.5%, Screwcap, $24
Source: Sample

Sourced from a vineyard that turns 100 this year, this was whole bunch pressed and delicately handled to encourage freshness and texture. Good work. Clever packaging too (like all of the Dandelion wines). It's a rather complete operation is Dandelion actually, even if the wines don't always move me like I want them too.

This wine too is quite an achievement for the vintage, showing none of the hints of rot and awkward acidity that blights many of the 2011 Eden Valley Riesling. It certainly smells the part too, all sherbet over slate on the nose, though perhaps a little forward considering the low alcohol and obviously high acidity. The palate is slightly forward too, the edges looking a little toasty whilst the middle is still briny and tight, the acidity prominent but still soft.

That softness of acidity is one of the things I most like this wine - a sense of proper ripeness and cohesion and generosity. It's not quite as persistent as the 2010 iteration but again this is rather drinkable Riesling. 17.1/90