Thursday, 28 June 2012

Henschke Hill of Grace 2006 vs 2007

What a view... to a kill.
err, not really. Nice food and wine though.

Henschke Hill of Grace 2006 vs 2007

Never let it be said that I don't suffer for my craft...

The picture right was taken (by me) last night at Black by Ezard, one of the newer outposts of fine dining that has taken up residence in Sydney's 'The Star' (nee Star City) casino, a destination that is clearly just where I spend my Tuesday evenings...

But back to the picture. In the foreground you can see a Wagyu flank steak, one of the restaurants specialities. Behind the meat (and the neat stack of potato) lie two glasses - the one on the left holds a healthy pour of 2006 Henschke Hill of Grace (left side) the other an even healthier splash of the 2007 Henschke Hill of Grace. Looking further a-field, behind the expanse of glass, you can see the bright lights of the Sydney city skyline, the lights looking slightly blurred on a cool, wet and dull winter's night.

It's a pretty appealing looking pic isn't it? A scene that makes you think 'gee, that Andrew leads a good life. Maybe I should become a wine critic'.

Truth be told however that scene is an all too rare one for this wine freeloader. For if it was a normal event the view would be behind my back, the pours would be smaller (or I'd be spitting) and I'd be furiously writing - just to keep up - before the glasses were emptied. Oh and someone would be talking at me.

But last night I hit the jackpot. The wine writers nirvana. The food was tasty, the seat next to me was regularly empty (or occupied by someone interesting and understanding) and the glasses were well filled. I was drinking, not tasting, under perfect race conditions, with that Wagyu flank the sort of meal that such a wine should ideally be consumed with.

The net result? A great back-to-back comparison of two very different Hill of Grace vintages. Two contrasting wines that perfectly illustrate just how much variation should be expected in a single vineyard wine. Two wines of authenticity, detail and intrigue. I've had them both seperately at different times, but never in situ like this. Good times...

The wines:

Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz 2006

Harvest date: 22 March-13 April. Alcohol: 14.5%. pH: 3.5. Acidity: 6.3g/L
After a late break in mid-June 2005, winter and spring rains were some of the best for years in the lead-up to flowering in early summer. Some varieties, such as riesling and shiraz, suffered more than others from poor set, leading to ‘hen and chicken’. While there was some damage in Eden Valley from frost, this had only a minor impact on the overall yield; however, yields in most varieties were down by 15-20%. The summer was mild with southerly winds, reminiscent of 2002. Brief heat waves occurred in late January and mid-February but were early enough not to affect quality, with only minor sunburn on exposed fruit. Matured in new French (65%) and American (35%) hogsheads for 21 months prior to blending and bottling.

Yum. Oh and I didn't even talk
about the Johann's. Solid booze.
Instantly brighter than the 07 though perhaps less deep, this is proper ruby red in colour. All correct there. Most importantly, that famous 'five spice' that Prue Henschke talks about as characteristic of HoG appears to be even more prominent here, sitting alongside the graphite, deep black pepper and cloves (with a little cinnamon) nose of classic HoG. The bacon fat pops up again too, a mark that I see in all the very best rich Shiraz and I really dig. That sliver of bacon fat carries through the palate, initially it's even quite fatty, then filling out with a sort of black savoury richness through the finish.

Again wonderful, every sip reminds why this is world class juice - exceptional length and a dry-yet-rich character that is simply delicious. Great Shiraz indeed. Yes. 19.1/96

Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz 2007
Harvest Date: 16 March-4 April. Alcohol: 14%. pH: 3.58. Acidity: 6.4g/L
One of the driest winters in years, with little rain in the critical lead-up to flowering. Frost in December lead to losses of 20-25%, compounded by the drought and lack of subsoil moisture with overall losses of 50%. Brief heat waves occurred during January; otherwise, it was mild and dry, with just a little rain at veraison. February was recorded as the hottest for 100 years, which brought the already reduced crop to an earlier ripening phase. Matured in 100% French oak hogsheads for 18 months, this is the first Hill of Grace in years not to include any American oak barrels in the final blend, largely due to how dominant those components proved to be.

What a tough gig to be following the 06. Served blind you'd be forgiven for thinking this came from a different vineyard, such is the contrasting shape and structure.

Notably, this is immediately nuttier, harder and less decadent than open 06, with less spice too. No five spice at all actually, with more dried figs and currants on the nose of this, as befitting the vintage. The fruit looks a little caramelised around the edges too, the palate more rounded and less generous than the perfect lines of the 06.  There is still an attractive core of concentrated, hardish red fruit but it doesn't have that thrust like the 06 does. The tannins aren't in the same league either, shorter and less well formed.

Viewed by itself however this is still a wine of swagger, a reticent and tight wine that has a firm hit of stewed plum fruit with seriously dark tannins. Plenty of flesh through the middle, but long and lean, this is still years away from its best.

Never to be a great HoG perhaps, but still very well made and distinctive, this suffers so badly next to the 06. On its own, a smart wine perhaps? 17.7/92

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Marcel Deiss 'Schoenenbourg' Grand Cru 2007

Marcel Deiss Schoenenbourg Grand Cru 2007
13%, Cork, Circa $175
Source: Tasting

Love the medieval label.
Click the picture for a closer look

Perhaps one of the most fascinating white wines to pass my lips in recent times, this wine probably deserves an essay, such is its beguiling story and complexity of character. Indeed just the label itself is worthy of a serious contemplation. Needless to say that tasting this entrancing and occasionally challenging wine is something of an experience. I hope I can do it justice.

Part of winemaker Jean-Michel Deiss' 'Vins de Terroirs' range, this white is drawn from a 50 year old vineyard on the famous Schoenenbourg hill, the plot itself located above Riquewihr next to an old sulphur mine (with the resultant levels of natural vineyard sulphur helping to add an anti-oxidative effect to the fermenting wines, though also raising the spectre of possible problems with reduction. I picked up 'sulphur' on the nose of this actually, though more elemental sulphur than S02 sulphur. Beguiling wine indeed).

In the vineyard, Jean-Michel actively embraces biodynamics, low yields (25-30 hectolitres/hectare for this wine), low sulphur regimes and notably late picking, with the grapes handpicked and pressed before a very slow natural fermentation in old oak (the fermentation further slowed due to how low in nitrogen the musts are). Most of Deiss' wines are field blends, largely because he believes such wines to be the ultimate expression of terroir in Alsace, even lobbying INAO recently to have the labelling nomenclature of a wine from the Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim changed to reflect the fruit salad of grapes that go into it.

Speaking of the vineyard, Schoenenbourg itself is (historically) ideally suited to the slow (and at times difficult) ripening of white grapes, with a noted predilection towards noble rot. Jean-Michel however believes that botrytis is merely part of this terroir, with most of his wines showing at least a little rot.

Fittingly, this wine is produced in something of an off-dry mould, though the high latent acidity tends to counteract the residual sugar levels (40-60g/L RS) in the best possible fashion. It's hardly dry, though the style seems to demand the sweetness for balance.

Mostly Riesling, with approximately 5% Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Gris, Jean-Michel claims this particular style will typically live for 15-20 years, though in many ways this could be an even longer long-lived wine (though its evolution could be odd and overt). I think I'd like to see it with a few more years bottle age, though I'd drink this now (with pork belly I think).

Right now though this pours a straw yellow colour, looking really quite bright if deeply coloured. No sign of premature ageing on the nose though, which is still quite tight and even austere which is something of a surprise. The good bits all start to appear as this gets warmer, with layers of pear fruit with and a tin of Golden Circle pineapple juice. It's a ripe and full nose, though no hiding the slatey minerality underneath, making for a complex, intriguing, fascinating sort of nose. Or at least I appreciated its layers.

That complexity is writ large on the palate too, with orange and lemon juice, marmalade and residual, mandarin juice sweetness all edged with briny slate. It's a sweet palate perhaps, though with a concentration to carry the sugar sweetness, the underlying slate helping to counter the botrytis induced unctuousness.

A Riesling (mainly) of golden light and richness, this I thought this even looked contained at times, whilst simultaneously being an overwhelming sort of a drink, finally leaving a trail of late hefty extract, nectar like residual sugar sweetness and alcohol warmth. Intrigue+ 18.8/95

Ceretto Bricco Asili Barbaresco 2008

Ceretto 'Bricco Asili' Barbaresco 2008
14.5%, Cork, $195
Source: Tasting:

Tasting young Barberesco can be a challenging exercise at times, much like top Cabernet really, with the wines temperament anything but settled. This single vineyard Barbaresco, from a plot planted in 1974, was looking particularly attacking in this instance, all bustle and little finesse. No doubt it's going to improve but something of a challenging drink now. Nebbiolo you bitch.

Riper this year. Carries the turkish delight lift if cached in more slightly stewed fruit and prominent chocolate oak. A little volatile and roasted almost as if this is from Barolo not Barberesco. The palate is bolder than previous years too with a certain juiciness without quite the line of previous vintages. Desperately searching for a sense of compusure. finishing with very dry and slightly desiccated tannins. Hardish beast really.  16.8/89+

Saturday, 23 June 2012

The return of Leeuwin's Chardonnay

The return of Leeuwin’s Chardonnay

(This article first appeared in the May edition of Latte Life. It's written in a 'lifestyle' tone but the message is simple - Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay is evolving in the right direction. The Cabernet is also improving out of sight).

It’s hard being the best. Or, more correctly, it’s hard to stay the best. Ask any chef who has lost a prized chef’s hat or an Olympic swimmer who can’t quite put in the gold medal winning laps any more. Either will tell you just how hard it is to keep on performing, to keep on winning.

What’s even more challenging perhaps is to realise when you’re slipping before it’s apparent you’re slipping. To nip a problem in the bud before it is even a serious problem. To take an A game and make it an A+ plus game.

All of which brings me to the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay. A wine that is, arguably of course, Australia’s most famous, most revered Chardonnay, built in a style that, for the past 15 odd years, all of our Chardonnay makers have wanted to emulate.

Not any more...

Well, not quite any more. For, in the last few years at least, perceptions have changed. Tastes have changed. Australian Chardonnay has changed. Changed from a model of richness and opulence and intensity to something more refined, more minerally, more... of less. It’s now about a style that is set in a cooler climate, with the new benchmark wines on lighter, drier, less oak driven, less rich and less overt than they were before.

The problem for Leeuwin is (or was) that this ‘new’ style is not what was selling. It wasn’t what LEAS (as it is affectionately known) drinkers were clamouring for, and nor was it what the winemakers really thought needed to be done (particularly as sales were still strong). It was more just a perception (one probably perpetuated by wine writers like me).

Yet, like the aforementioned athletes and restaurateurs wish they’d done, what Leeuwin realised was that whilst the star power was still there, the brightness of the star wasn’t quite as apparent any more. They needed to adapt to stay up at the top of the tree.

So what they – and I’m particularly talking about newish winemaker Tim Lovett here – have done is to reinterpret the style. Tim’s cut back on the new oak, reigned in the malolactic fermentation and picked the grapes earlier. He’s taken all the good bits – that wonderful fruit intensity and that serious ‘take me to the cellar’ structure – and seen how they can be tightened up. He’s cut the fat and removed the artifice, all making for wines that taste fresher and tauter without losing that trademark swagger.

All of which is laid apparent in the soon to be released 2009 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay ($85), a wine that – despite the warm vintage – looks fitter, svelter and just plain more drinkable than it has in years. It’s a wine that you’d now reassert as the benchmark Chardonnay it is/was/should be - a famous wine, with a long history, packing a lauded reputation for greatness.

Of course it’s still not perfect, and the alcohol still pokes out a little, yet it feels like a step back in the correct direction.

Chardonnay love

The wines:

(I wrote these notes at a vertical of Leeuwin Estate wines held recently in Sydney. Tim Lovett was in attendance and I must say he seems both keen and informed. I was intrigued just to see that he has been able to make his mark on the style. What was most amazing to me though was just how far along the Cabernet has come along. No longer a leafy and dried out also-ran, it now looks proper ripe and really quite impressive.

The following notes are largely as written on the day. Notes from the winery are in italics too).


Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2005
14.5% alc.
Sour lactic nose. Big volatiles. Nose is blunted by volatiles. A honeyed alcoholic sort of beast with richness aplenty, the flavours all about buttered sourdough richness and alcohol. Raw and held together by alcohol, though so much power and weight. Hard one to score. More shell than wine. More statement even. 17/90+

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2006
14.5% alc.
Full malo. Looks very backward, with a milky and completely backward and unusual nose. Very composed and lean sort of wine underneath with white flowers, white peach and fine flavours. An atypical Art Series Chardonnay and a rather solidsy and long, super defined wine. There is a coiled length and detail here that is quite exciting.  Excited. Such an odd wine though. May live forever too. 18.7/95

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2007
14.5% alc.
Shows big alcohol esters on the nose with butterscotch underpinnings. Back to normal LEAS. A big and slightly raw palate of big open flavours and a sort of heartiness to it. Grapefruit acidity is quite impressive though alcohol detracts a fraction. Lots to like but the alc. hurts a smidgen. Classic LEAS Chard. 18.3/93

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2008
13.5% alc.
Looks warmer and has an open, gaytime-esque richness. It's a fraction more mealy too, a little toasty and oaky and just a bit broad trough the middle. Golden sunshine style without the detail. All through the middle and not quite the penetration, though the middling characters may be something of a passing, dumbish phase? 17.7/92+

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2009
14.5% alc.
Definitely a more restrained wine this one, closed but more grapefruity too, with very fine buttered nougat flavours and just a fleck of melon. Long finish seems less encumbered by alcohol and certainly a rather smart wine. Everything in its right place, with that typical mouthful of Leeuwin richness and weight. Ligher and more exuberant with real joy. 18.5/94+


Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
13.5% alc.
Lovely mulberry eucalypt nose. Ripe but also laid-back minty. I think you've got to be mint tolerant, but there is depth underneath. Age certainly helping this wine, for I think it would have looked a little pointed and underripe in its youth. 17.6/91

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
13% alc. 11% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot
Light and minty style. High acid with sticky tannins, looks a fraction short and very minty indeed, though not without some attraction. Rather light and simple though. 16.5/88

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
14% alc.
Finally fully ripe! Plays the mint card rather well this time, with a quite open nose. Long drying tannins are the key to this wines charm, coupled with a little more ripe red/black fruit, bark and more mint. I like this! Almost regal style underneath. Needs a tweed jacket. 18.5/94+

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Immediately more modern, generous and less minty/dust. It's certainly a more open and approachable wine but perhaps a diffuse one. Generous, but still dried and savoury, there's extra baby fat here. Good now, perhaps even very good, but better later. 18/93

Friday, 22 June 2012

Bimbadgen Shiraz 2010

Bimbadgen Shiraz 2010 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
13.5%, Screwcap, $23
Source: Sample

It's a perplexing wine this. A closed and somewhat unforgiving sort of Shiraz really, with very little give for a Hunter Shiraz. I think I see what it is getting at but commercially it seems peculiarly hard.

The nose is shut, all big oak and dried earth. It's a fraction dessicated on the palate too, earthen and a little baked but with some very serious structure behind it. In fact it's probably a little too raw at the moment, presenting as a rather long, firmly structured and even dour Hunter Shiraz in context.

An awkward wine and a real savoury introvert. But that sense of seriousness underneath captured a little bit of intrigue for me. Still not much joy in drinking it though. 16.8/89+

Capital Wines 'The Backbencher' Merlot 2010

Capital Wines 'The Backbencher' Merlot 2010
13.5%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

The notes from Capital Wines mention that this was 'a crappy year on paper' but not necessarily a crappy year in the flesh. I'd tend to agree on that front, as it is certainly more variably than the 2009, but the spicier qualities of the vintage are certainly attractive too.

Rather light colour here, a rather cherry-red sort of beast without that Canberran ink. Herbal, twiggy and slightly meaty nose looks anything but super ripe too, though not underripe. Sits on the edge. Smoky, meaty and rather drying palate looks a bit drawn and herbal hardish in perspective though the sappy, red cherry fruit through the middle thrusts it forward. 

More spice, less flesh with this Merlot but I sort of appreciate that too. It certainly has a place. Variety is the spice of life and all that jazz. 16.5/88

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Hello English fizz! Ridgeview South Ridge Brut 2008

Ridgeview South Ridge Brut 2008 (Sussex, England)
12%, Cork, Approx £17
Source: Gift
'Product of United Kingdom'. Good to see

It saddens me to admit it but this is the first English sparkling wine I've tried. Not for want of trying however, but purely because almost no English bubbles makes its way to Australia. I'm hoping to rectify that in the coming months however, after lining up an English friend with a 'UK sparkling wishlist' for her next round trip home. Incidentally, Ridgeview are said to be distributed here in Australia by respected importers Mezzanine, though I've never seen wines sold locally in any capacity.

As for this particular sparkling, it is made exclusively for UK chain Laithwaite's and is, from what I can gather, a Chardonnnay dominant blend produce from estate fruit, produced with a dosage of circa 8.5-9.5g/L (I know this purely as the mention that I opened it ultimately led to a response from the winery on twitter. Another twitter win).

The style here initially looks a little broad and chubby, the dosage immediately fleshing out the nose and the fruit leaning more to the sherbety citrus meets green apple end of the spectrum. The more you look at this though, the classier it looks, with a chalkiness to the acid profile matched to a linear finish that is more than a little Champagne-esque.

An entry level wine that shows plenty of style, this is promising if nothing else. A question mark perhaps on the value (given that good supermarket NV Champagne is not much more expensive in English supermarkets) but still enough to keep me interested. 17/90

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Wirra Wirra The 12th Man Chardonnay

Wirra Wirra The 12th Man Chardonnay (Adelaide Hills, SA)
12.5%, Screwcap, $31.50
Source: Sample

A tiny production for this very tough vintage. The Wirra Wirra crew literally hand selected everything that went into this, dropping lots of fruit in the process. Who said growing grapes and making wines was easy?

Super fine, coiled nose here, with white peach and very fine, unsalted cashew oak, topped off with a little aftershave sweatiness. It's all very lean, but still has varietal character. That clever, Saos-with-whipped-butter oak melds through the palate too, lifting up what is a very raw and angular thing into something more palatable. It's still a somewhat aneamic wine, as befitting the year, but the style is exceptional.

The Wirra boys worked hard with this wine, using all their nous to craft a well crafted wine out of plain unyielding fruit. 16.8/89

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Grant Burge Filsell Shiraz 2010

Look at the colour! Purple!!
Grant Burge Filsell Shiraz 2010 (Barossa Valley, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $39.95
Source: Sample

Do you know what the appeal of this Filsell is? It is, to my mind, all about just how 'right' it feels, the wine itself made in a style that largely eschews the lighter, more fragrant and less fruit/oak driven modern Barossa mould in favour of classic rich, oaky and dense proportions that are anything but subtle, light or fragrant.

It is a wine that is so sure of what it is trying to be that it sees no need to pander to any sort of fashions, and instead is made in a way that hasn't really changed in years (and doesn't need to either). It is, like Grange or the like, something of its own wine (and deserves recognition for it).

That style is evident from very first appearances too, the wine deep and typically dark in colour. It smells like chocolate cake too, of the sort of well toasted American oak that smells like it should come drizzled in custard. Somehow that sort of richness seems entirely appropriate in a Barossan context too, mingling well with the super rich and sweet fruit to make a sort of amalgam of richness and decadence. Is it too sweet? Entirely possible, but it is also just part of the style.

That unequivocal richness parades right through the palate too, the flavours again all about chocolate truffles, rum 'n' raisin and macerated plums, all packaged up in one seamless flow of richness, the palate then topped off with slightly gruff tannins. Again there is no nuance, just overt flavour and plenty of it.

Ultimately you just can't deny the appeal of a wine like this. It's anything but cool or modern, yet from a typical Australian Shiraz lovers perspective it is just pure seduction material. Top Filsell from a very top year. 18.5/94

Nepenthe Pinot Gris 2011

Nepenthe Pinot Gris 2011 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
13%, Screwcap, $19.95
Source: Sample

Tough year for the Adelaide Hills, with unripe fruit and botrytis a go-go, all of which are writ large in this wine. Fair result perhaps but tough going really.

A particularly neutral nose on this Gris, showing a little green pea and pyrazine unripe fruit edged with lemon grass. Smells rather light on this does, with just a little Pinot Gris varietal character poking through. Similarly, the palate is white-paint-on-a-white-wall, quasi-Grigio territory if saved by the edges of white peach fruit livening things up again, everything topped off with searing acidity.

Fair drink but little joy ultimately. 15.8/85

Monday, 18 June 2012

The problem with Dry July (revisited)

The problem with Dry July (revisited)

A year ago (almost to the day) I wrote a little rant about why I thought that Dry July may be conceptually flawed. Flash forward a year and it is now June (again) and, as the subject isn't going away, I think the whole rant needs a revisit.

Turn away now then if you've got no time to wade through a rant. Otherwise I'd like to hear your feedback.

Firstly then, to establish some context, you should check out the Dry July website to get an idea about what specifically I'm talking about. For the time poor however, I'll just quickly sum up the concept: The idea is that participants agree to go 'dry' - alcohol free - for the month of July, pledging not to drink alcohol and raise money for the aid of cancer patients. Further, participants can opt to purchase (or have purchased for them) 'Golden Tickets' that allow them an 'out' for an evening - an opportunity to drink during said 'dry month'.

Now, before I get into my own thoughts on Dry July, I have to clarify one important position - notably, the issue that I have with Dry July is not about the fundraising aspect of it. Far from it, as I think everyone can agree that the more assistance that cancer patients can receive the better. My issue is entirely separate from the charity side and should be viewed with this in mind.

Instead, what concerns me most is that Dry July (and indeed Febfast and Ocsober, though I'm focusing just on Dry July here) has a stated mission to 'raise awareness of drinking habits and the value of a balanced healthy lifestyle', yet is attempting to achieve that with a mechanism that does nothing of the type. Rather, it just bluntly relies on forced abstinence and its supposed health benefits to get the message across.

The problem that I have with such forced abstinence is that it is, ultimately, just playing lip-service to the mission statement of 'raising awareness of drinking habits'.

Indeed when you break the concept down, Dry July is just guilting people into giving up alcohol for a month under the auspices of a charity, whilst actually just further feeding the very problematic drinking habits that it is attempting to 'raise awareness of'.

These drinking habits are well known - weekend binges, where typically 6 plus drinks are consumed in a single night, with drinkers rather simply 'drinking to get drunk'. Such binges are then typically followed by several days of mid-week abstinence, before the cycle of heavy weekend binging starts again.

What Dry July et al is doing, in my opinion, is actually feeding into this cycle, serving to just extend the aforementioned abstinence out to several weeks before it continues again (with a 'wet August).

Obviously there are no health benefits from such a pattern for all it does is encourage the boom/bust, drink/abstain, Dry July/Wet August binge drinking culture that the scheme is meant to be raising awareness of. Heck, the participants are even allowed (via the 'Golden Tickets') to indulge in a binge in there too, with the whole month even finished off with typically boozy Dry July break-up parties (which are just binges too).

All of which, in my opinion, just points to the fact that Dry July, as a concept, is flawed. That, whilst it may well help to raise money for charity, it's actually not helping our drinking habits at all, and may just be perpetuating the unhealthy ones. Further, what it/we really should be doing instead is encouraging a cycle of 'moderate drinking' - drinking in moderation.

Now I don't want to be drawn too far into a (troll-worthy) conversation about said benefits (or not) of moderate alcohol consumption, particularly given that I'm obviously highly biased about the subject, but I do want to at least point out that several recent studies support the notion that moderate drinking might actually be doing good (read more in the press release from the WFA here).

Beyond just the studies though, you'd have to agree that if we could encourage more moderation and less binges, we could probably avoid the anti-social behaviour and health problems that such risky drinking brings.

Speaking of such risky binge drinking habits, if you want to see evidence of it (and the associated problems) venture in to any major city on on any given Saturday night. There is no escaping that there are problems, perceived or otherwise, that could do with addressing. The problem then is that Dry July is not helping this at all, instead forcing drinkers to go 'cold turkey' for a few weeks before the binging inevitably returns with a bang (hello again 'wet August').

Obviously I'm generalising about said participants behaviour vis-a-vis a wet August, but based on what I've seen from previous years, such actions appear to be the norm. Again, where is the 'healthy lifestyle' in that?

Regardless, what I do want to explore a little further is that concept of moderation, for it probably needs some further context.

Moderation, I think, is the idea that you can have a glass of wine or two with dinner and still be 'healthy'. Moderation is not drinking to excess and not drinking to get drunk. Moderation is recognising that drinking need not be just a drug (alcohol) delivery system, and that wine, in particular, can be a beverage enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle (as Kendall Hill describes amusingly here).

Again, a further problem with Dry July is that, beyond just actively discouraging this beneficial moderation, what its forced abstinence also does is to subtly demonise alcohol, to further perpetuate the notion that alcohol is evil, even though it is only a problem when consumed to excess.

The messages from Dry July don't support that notion though, for all they really do is feed into the (unfounded) fear that the neo-prohibition movement seeks to encourage, a movement one that any moderate wine drinker should be concerned about (for a myriad of reasons)....

All of this begs the question then (or it does for me at least) that if Dry July is so flawed, what is the answer then? How do we raise money for a needy cause without demonising?

In response, I believe that I have come up with a good answer. A great one (or at least I think so) even.

It's called 'Drink Less But Better July' and it is a wine movement that encourages participants to buy a $20 bottle instead of a $10 one (or the like. I'm freestyling here) and share it with 3 people (or such). To drink less wine, but make every glass a good one, with the extra money saved from this moderate approach being sent to a relevant charity.

For the wine industry I can only see positives in such an approach. Sure volume is decreased, but the turnover is not. Drinkers drink better wine, producers make better wine, everyone wins. Obviously it's not quite as cut and dried as that, but surely it's better for more people than just a month of industry-threatening forced abstinence like Dry July?

What do you think? Who is with me?

(Footnote: Kate Giles has also proposed that Dry July be redone as 'Drink Dry in July' that seeks to get drinkers to only drink dry wines in July. It sounds fun. Follow her on twitter for more details)

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Taylors Jaraman Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Taylors Jaraman Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Margaret River, WA & Adelaide Hills, SA)
13%, Screwcap, $24.95
Source: Sample

What do you think of the Jaraman range philosophy of scouring far and wide to make the desired wine style? Does it work (or has it with these Jaraman wines)? I'm interested as it can be a variable range and I do question whether the sourcing has been quite right...

Anyway, this is rather clever (on paper at least) as it uses that 'oh how far I roam' ethos to pick the best from an occasionally troublesome vintage. I think it's been fermented with some particularly aromatic yeasts too (again clever) which just makes it a bit of a riot to smell. Riotous perhaps but something of a polariser too as I'm not sure if I could really drink it. Sure to win hearts (and trophies for that matter) amongst Sauv fans though.

That nose couldn't be anymore 'here, let's add some Essence of Sauvignon Blanc' with mown grass a shedload of passionfruit and lemongrass. It's more grass and passionfruit and less gooseberry which immediately defines it as a non-Marlborough sourced Sauv (is that desirable I wonder? I think it sets this apart but interesting in the context).

No riots to be found anywhere on the palate though which is neutral and a fraction boring, looking very dry but also in need of more palate texture to match that nose. Happily the acidity isn't unripe, which ultimately makes this really quite quaffable in context. I just wish it had more oomph to follow the nose. 16.5/88

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Taylors Winemaker's Project Botrytis Riesling 2011

Taylors Winemaker's Project
Botrytis Rieslins
Taylors Winemaker's Project 2011 Botrytis Riesling (Clare Valley, SA)
10.5%, Screwcap, $22 375ml
Source: Sample

The Taylors Winemaker's Project wines represent the Taylors winemaking teams playthings, with this particular wine being the first ever Taylors botrytis Riesling. Surprisingly, it is also perhaps the most delicious new release Taylors wine I've had in a while (in smart packaging too).

It looks rather innocuous actually, with a colour that is already quite bright yellow in colour and somewhat advanced, the nose here carries a healthy dose of acetic acid volatiles, cardboard and funk, showcasing a whole truckload of bot on the nose. Lots of bot. Has a really concentrated blue-cheese-meet-apricot-funk in there that is mighty interesting.

In contrast, the palate is clean and rather direct, the flow of apricots, peach nectar, red apples all rather juicy and powerful. Has a load of sugar in there too with a rich flow of creamy flavour continuing right through the finish. Not over sweet and concentrated, this is juicy and quite appealing indeed. Nice balance, nice wine. Like. 17.7/92

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Cooks Lot Pinot Gris 2011

Cooks Lot Pinot Gris 2011 (Mudgee, NSW)
11.8%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Sample

I do like Pinot Gris, particularly in the rich and textural Alsatian mould, yet I can't ever get my head around the lean examples. Pinot Gris should be rich. End of story.

Pear, lemon, quite neutral nose, greenness on the nose. Very cool and just ripe. Very raw, acid driven palate with edges of hay bottle development. Super intense malic palate, acid driven palate. Acid acid acid. 14.8

Team ozwinereview at Geoquest - the results

Team ozwinereview at Geoquest - the results

4 happy campers. From l-r: Chris Schulz, Andrew O'Brien, Andrew Renwick and Andrew Graham (me)
After what was one of the toughest races in recent years, I'm happy to report that over the Queens Birthday long weekend Team officially finished the 2012 Geoquest adventure race in 49 hours and 3 minutes, crossing the line in 14th place after time penalties were allocated (we missed a few checkpoints), in front of two other teams and leaving 10 other teams (almost half the field!) that failed to finish.

Given the brutal nature of this years course, and with the last 7 hours of the race taking place in pouring rain whilst the whole team struggled with sleep deprivation (I personally slept just 2 minutes over the 49 hours), it was a plain delight just to finish.

I'd like to thank everyone who sent messages of support before and during the race for we loved receiving them. Massive hugs. The biggest hugs though are reserved for our unwavering support crew who followed us around for the 49 hours literally picking us up and keeping us going. Couldn't of done it without you.

With the race now done for another year the last remaining thing to do is for the sponsor (me) to deliver on the promised sponsorship goodies (ie free wine). Yes, the team didn't let me forget...

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

What I'll be up to this weekend...

What I'll be up to this weekend...

Chance of wet shoes = extremely high indeed

You may have noticed that the blog posts have been a little sporadic of late (or more sporadic perhaps). That's largely because I've been busy. Busy not drinking (or at least drinking less. Or at least trying to drink less) in preparation for an event that lies at an almost polar opposite end of the spectrum than my usual world of wine and food and beer and wine and food.

It's called Geoquest.

Geoquest is a non-stop 48hr adventure race that involves teams of four kayaking, trekking, cycling and more across beautiful landscapes in northern NSW. An annual event, it is considered to be one of the 'premier' adventure races in Australia and typically involves some 40-50 teams attempting to collect checkpoints and complete a course within 48hrs.

For me personally this will be the second time I'll be attempting this particular race and, with an experienced team, will be looking to finish the race well within the 48hr time limit (hopefully. Shit I hope we finish within 48hrs).

Now one of the reasons why I'm particularly banging on about the race here on the blog is because the team itself has the lofty title of Team, making it not only a great team but a great team now sponsored by a wine blog. Of course as sponsor I have offered the rest of the team free wine (they didn't care) and stickers (which they don't appreciate) just to show that the sponsor (me) cares (because I don't actually have anything to give. Just a great name for an adventure racing team).

Of course I realise that this information is not only not wine related but also rather boring for most, particularly those whom think that I'm an idiot for running/riding/paddling for 48hrs without stopping/sleeping/avoiding the forecast heavy rain. If, however, you do wake up in the middle of the night/come home drunk/stay up late watching DVDs in front of the fire and think 'I wonder what Andrew is up to right now' head on over to the Geoquest page to watch our little GPS tracking spot move very slowly across a map of the Great Lakes area of northern NSW. I promise it will at the very least make you glad that you are inside/will be sleeping in a bed.

Otherwise I will be posting a little race rundown of the race on here for all of you to appreciate why normal, (semi) rational people choose not to subject themselves to such peculiar torture in the name of sport.

This is my team. Or at least some of my team + support crew (this photo is from a previous attempt).
We're looking rather sprightly considering we've had 15 minutes sleep in 51 hours.
My shorts, however, are very short indeed...

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Chanson Viré Clessé 2010

Like the new simple labels too
Chanson Viré-Clessé 2010 (Mâconnais, France)
12.5%, Cork, $28 approx
Source: Sample (Importer: Terroir Selections)

Chanson have always had a reputation for value wines, particularly since Bollinger took over in 1999, but this may be one of the best yet. They're still a way off the high notes with the top wines (though a 2010 Chassagne Montrachet 'Les Chenevottes' 1er tasted alongside this wine certainly argues against that) but no arguing with the QPR.

This particular wine is sourced from the SE facing slope between the villages of Viré and Clessé in the middle of the Mâconnais. Unsurprisingly, it looks rather Pouilly Fuisse-esque in style too, cast with the milk/whipped butter richness and briny, waxy lemon citrus Mâcon fruit. It's perhaps a simple wine, the mid palate just a little ill defined, yet the finish is taut, the line is attractive and the acidity quite correct (helped along by the restraint of the vintage).

Village level quality, but with a Bourgogne pricetag, it's hard not to like this wine. I do. 17/90

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The old school joy of the Tulloch 2010 Reds

The old school joy of the Tulloch 2010 reds

3 x Hunter reds. Heritage label looking good front and centre.

 Even in the pampered world of wine scribes, it's a rare occasion indeed that someone opens a famous 50 year old (and some) bottle of Australian red.

That's why I was more than a little excited when the bottle of 1954 Tulloch Pokolbin Dry Red, pictured further below, surfaced at a wine show judges dinner last year. Excited to be tasting a piece of Australian vinous history (and a highly regarded one at that - it won the first prize for 'Claret', first prize for 'Burgundy' and 'Best Red Wine of Show' at the Royal Sydney Wine Show in 1956).

Happily, wonderfully, the wine didn't disappoint either, still carrying enough mid weight, earthen, red-fruit-and-red-dirt Hunteriffic flavours to make it enjoyable.

On the back of that experience (which remains etched in my mind) it is rather satisfying to see that the same DNA appears to be alive and well in these new Tulloch red releases too. The Private Bin in particular has the same elemental structure as the 54 and thus really should evolve in the same fashion.

Speaking of history, the Tulloch 'Pokolbin Dry Red' label itself was awarded the 2012 Heritage Award at the recent Hunter Valley Legends Awards, the award given in recognition of the historical significance of the label itself.

Perhaps the only challenge with wines like this is that, in an Australian wine context, these mid-weight 'Hunter Burgundy' styled reds aren't going to be loved by all. Fair enough too. Skip along if you think that Shiraz must be 'inky' to satisfy (and I say that without condescension).

Personally I love the emphasis on freshness, evenness and vibrancy that such bright low alcohol styles show and this may well colour my judgement. You be the judge.

Like many 2010 reds I think this ranges shows a little dilution and a pre-release sample (tasted post-Legends dinner last week) of the '11 Private Bin shows exactly that. 2010 is still a reasonable vintage for the region, though very much a 'before the rain'/'after the rain'/'we picked at the start of the rain' sort of affair.

The wines:
(I've put the barrel sample tasting in italics. Barrel samples belong in italics methinks).

Tulloch Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz 2010
pH 3.35 TA 7.3 Alc 13.2% $25

This 2010 iteration marks the ninth release of the reinvigorated label. Pretty classic looking wine it is this vintage too...

Limpid red cherry and brambles on the nose. Regional and representative, a dash of ethyl acetate volatiles. Earthen, medium bodied palate looks vaguely herbal and carries seriously high acidity. For its mode it's a very able wine with light cherry fruit and plenty of it. Perhaps lacking a little persistence but certainly attractive enough, finishing with light tannins and freshness. Will develop well. 16.8/89+

Tulloch Pokolbin Dry Red 'Private Bin' Shiraz 2010
pH 3.31 TA 7.6 12.8% $50

Now something of a commemorative release (which may or may not mea, named after a famous Tulloch family member. Older vines, newer oak and more in this wine. Shows it too.

A more lifted and prettier wine than the 'standard Pokolbin Dry Red with an extra lift of red cherry fruit and a twist of herbs, with some red raspberries and a little playdoh oak to sweeten things up. Attractive nose.

The palate then balances slightly sweet, balsamic edged cherry fruit with that pronounced acidity. It all looks like a work in progress actually, lots of acidity but not enough love. Acidity, light tannins, plenty of polish and life but a work in progress. Hunter Burgundy aplenty. I want more (and I think it will come too). 17.5/91++

Tulloch Pokolbin Dry 'Private Bin' Red 2011 (Barrel Sample)

This was tasted last week at a little comparison tasting of new vintage reds and whites and is still 18 months (at least) off release. 2011 was a great vintage for Hunter reds, with the cold and wet conditions that much of SA and Vic experienced only lasting up until December in the Hunter, with very dry conditions continuing into March. The only other impediment being a February heatwave that led to some dessication. The best wines are very bright and vibrant indeed, this notably so.

A lovely juicy style this one. Oak sticks out a fraction (but it's a barrel sample). Length is great. Successfully balances red fruit juiciness with longer fine tannins. Such brightness and richness for the Hunter! Delicious wine in the classic Tulloch mid-weight mould. (18.5)

Tulloch 1954 Private Bin. Magic,
Tulloch JYT Selection Shiraz 2010 
pH 3.31 TA 7.6 Alc 12.9% $40 cellar door.

Includes some Petit Verdot from Rylstone in the blend. A curious addition but can't argue with the results. A much fuller and more modern sort of wine than the Private Bin though not necessarily better. Smart or messing with that Hunter elegance?

You can most see that sturdiness in the tannins actually, which gives grip and weight through the finish. Otherwise it's a classic Hunter red but with a hint of blackberry over that red dirt fruit. Satisfying sort of red I think. 17.6/92

Tulloch Pokolbin Dry Red 'Private Bin' 1954

Kindly provided by Nick Bulleid and brought along to a judges dinner post NSW Wine Awards. The label is torn but the wine itself was in top condition with reasonable levels.

Terracotta red colour. Rich nose. Bacon bits and mushroom development. Still quite thick and red fruited. Smoky sort of overtones. Really quite silken palate though acid is rising uip on the back. Still has that briary, dark red earth sort of Hunter flavours and mid weight sort of red fruit. Still rather drinkable purely due to that red fruit loveliness. A legend...(Don't think I can rate this really).