Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Bremerton Special Release Malbec 2010

Bremerton Special Release Malbec 2010 (Langhorne Creek, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $24
Source: Sample

Apparently this uses 'Demptos Hungarian oak which adds a complementary refined spice note'. I immediately saw Demptos and thought Demtel, which had me thinking about what has happened to Tim Shaw of late (apparently he's writing books about becoming a sales superhero. Or such).

Regardless of the distinct lack of free steak knives I took quite a shine to this. It a lovely purple sort of a beast full of Ribena, blueberries/boysenberries and some nice, slightly bitter fruit tannins and a warm heart. 

A big wine but a sweet and luscious one, it avoids some of the desiccation of some Langhorne Creek reds and instead surges forward with a mulberry sauce richness and lusciousness. Like a big, rich bowl of berries though not necessarily sweet. I rather like the lusciousness of it all. Very solid. Easy recommendation.

Drink: Now - 2016+
Score: 17.7/92

Monday, 30 July 2012

Battle of Bosworth Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Battle of Bosworth Cabernet. Yes.
Battle of Bosworth Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

What a pleasure it is to open some of these 2010 McLaren Vale reds. From the superstar Scarce Earth Shiraz lineup to the simple joy of what is a 'big blend' in the 2010 Church Block. This too carries a whole bagful of fruit richness, just like Vale reds should be. Like.

Firm, deep set nose on this looks rather masculine. Ballsy even, like the Cabernet has been downing protein shakes. The sweet fruited, if savoury and composed palate which has a splash of cedary varietal character (though not too much. It wouldn't be a Vale Cabernet then) and proper fruit vitality.

It's hardly a minty, leafy Cabernet but is still a lovely blackberry drenched red with positively exuberant fruit. An ad for organics even? Nice stuff.

Drink: Now - 2016+
Score: 17.6/92

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Stoney Rise Chardonnay 2011

Stoney Rise Chardonnay 2011 (Tasmania)
13%, Screwcap, $29
Source: Sample

After spending several hours on Friday looking at 26 Chardonnays - from a spread of price points - I feel like I'm in a bit of a Chardy groove at the moment, hence why I opened this.

On the topic of said tasting (which was blind), what most saddened me was how poor the under $15 bracket was, the lineup littered with Sauvignon Blanc-esque Chardonnays that were dominated by tropical fruit, carried little oak and genuinely looked flat and ordinary. Very dissapointing, though illustrative of a trend that has been continuing for some time now.

Conversely, once the price range crept up to $20 RRP the quality of the wines ramped significantly, signalling again that we are in a great Chardonnay renaissance (but you'll have to pay for it).

Anyways, back to this wine. The Stoney Rise Chardonnay is intended as an entry level wine in the Stoney Rise range, pitched as a lively early drinker that is lighter on the oak and winemaking so you can slam it down fast. Or such.

A lean and grapefruity sort of style, this looks very young and fresh but cleverly kissed by Joe Holyman himself (metaphorically speaking. Mike Bennie has been known to lend some kisses on occasion too). On the palate it is just a fraction unsettled at first, before fleshing out through the middle. It finishes lively too, carrying a fast bowler like good line and length, if cast a little simple (like fast bowlers can be). Love that white-flowers-on-grapefruit, ultra cool style though and it certainly has enough textural richness to carry it off. I'd drink it.

Drink: 2013-2016+
Score: 17.3/90+

Friday, 27 July 2012

Wine Women of the Hunter Valley

Wine Women of the Hunter Valley

(This article first appeared in the Breathe Hunter Valley Magazine Summer edition. I'm republishing it now as I really like the honest comments from the winemakers. Since this story was first published, Sam Connew has parted ways with Tower Estate and is now something of a Hunter gun-for-hire).

In 1966 James Brown wrote a song titled ‘it’s a man’s man’s man’s world’, a classic Brown tune describing an era when traditional sex roles still ruled, an era when the notion of successful females holding key management positions was still largely unheard of (particularly in the wine industry).

But I wonder if Brown would have envisaged that, in the Hunter Valley 45 years later, it could be a woman’s world? A world where being female could often be more advantageous than being male?

That idea may sound ridiculous for some, but considering that the current Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year is female (Liz Jackson), 3 of the biggest wineries (including Tower Estate, Bimbadgen and First Creek) have ladies as their chief winemakers, and a further three are run by women (Sally Scarborough at Scarborough, Christina Tulloch at Tulloch, Bec Poynter at Bimbadgen) that idea may not sound so fanciful.

So what is it that gives women an edge in the Hunter Valley wine industry? Particularly an industry that is historically a male dominated one?

That’s one of the questions I asked recently of several winemaking women of the Hunter Valley, looking to work out whether such an edge exists or if the winemaking glass ceiling still lingers.

For  a relative newcomers response, I talked to upcoming Hunter Valley maker Xanthe Leonard (Assistant Winemaker at Hungerford Hill) who believes that the success of women Hunter winemakers might be a question of communication. 

“Hunter winemakers are very much in the public spotlight and are repeatedly called upon to conduct tours, tastings and generally talk about the products they make. I believe that this ‘coal face’ existence for winemakers makes them more dynamic and valuable to a business, but also works to female strengths of communication and relationship building” she said.

Leonard instead suggests one overlooked (if quirky) suggestion about why women may make better workers in the winery, and it all comes down to physical attributes.  As she explains:“If anything we are perhaps better at doing the work in the lab as we generally have smaller hands that are more suited to the more intricate work, but that’s not really a positive as I would prefer to be out in the cellar!”

Tower Estate Winemaker Sam Connew thinks that this gender division might be overstated though, still suggesting that there might possibly be a timing factor at play here: “I think maybe women are finally starting to get a bit more profile and (move) further up the ladder so maybe it’s ‘our time” she said. 

Don’t go calling Connew a top female winemaker though: “I do get really fired up though at being described - as I was recently - as a ‘leading female winemaker’; I think I’ve earned my stripes and can take a place amongst ALL winemakers, male or female!!  And no-one ever talks about male winemakers, so for me the term ‘female winemaker’ is redundant” she said.

On that note, I also asked the winemakers about what they thought about the International Womens Wine Competition, a wine competition judged entirely by women, for women drinkers. According to Suzanne Little, Winemaker at the Little Wine Company (and a former Senior Winemaker at Rosemount Estate) it’s a bit naff:

“So naff! We all compete on a level playing field and a wine show for women seems a bit patronising I reckon. The only difference between male and female winemakers is that some are male and some are female!”

But for Connew it’s a great initiative. “Anything that makes wine more accessible to people (especially women) is great in my book. And we definitely need to change the perception about who our average consumer is, which if is apparently a male who buys hip flasks and driving gloves and putting!” she said. “You’d be amazed how often it still happens when I am out at a restaurant and the wine list is still handed to the bloke at the table! I don’t think so!!”.

Such sexual discrimination seems to be largely confined to the dinner table though, as all of the women surveyed mentioned that they didn’t see any in the winery.

“It's not a blokes club in terms of shutting women out and I've personally never had a problem. Well I did have a foreman take a swing at me but I think that would have happened even if I was a bloke” Little said. “In some ways I guess I've had to work harder to prove to cellar hands that I'm not asking them to do anything I wouldn't do myself. Working for large wineries I found it was much quicker to get respect from young blokes if they could see that I could swear and throw barrels around too.”

It’s a sentiment echoed too by Sarah Crowe, Senior Winemaker at Bimbadgen:“I’ve never experienced negativity from the ‘good ol’ boys’. I think the mentality in the Hunter Valley is based on having a good work ethic and being community minded” she said.

It’s that final idea that really sums up the reason why the women of the Hunter are making a mark of late – it’s all about community.   

“The Hunter Valley has a reputation for being a difficult place to grow grapes and make wine. All of the Hunter winemaking women are smart, talented, focused and fun. We are all friends and there is no competition between us, only support” she said.

A little more about the winemaking women of the Hunter Valley

Sarah Crowe, Bimbadgen
Sarah Crowe


Did you ever imagine being a winemaker as a kid?
“I grew up on the South Coast of NSW the daughter of a storeman and a housewife. A career in winemaking would have seemed as likely as being the Prime Minister of Australia even though my Gran said I was a bit bossy and said 'you’ll run the country one day'. I studied Horticulture after school and worked as a gardener, that was my doorway into the Vineyard. I tried accountancy for work experience but if I told that to our accountant at work, he’d die of laughter.”

Suzanne Little
Suzanne Little

Little Wine Company

If you weren’t making wine in the Hunter, where would you choose to make wine?
"Anywhere with good surf in walking distance!"
Liz Jackson

First Creek Wines/Monarch Winemaking

Liz’s recent accolades:
Sam Connew
2011 Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year, Finalist Gourmet Traveller WINE winemaker of the Year 2011, named as one of the ’Ten People to Watch in 2011’, produced five wines that made it into the NSW Top 40 wines (including NSW Wine of the Year).

Sam Connew

Tower Estate

Did you ever imagine being a winemaker as a kid?
“I was supposed to be either a diplomat or a rally car driver according to a kooky guidance counsellor I had at high school!  I actually quite like the sound of rally car driving….maybe in the next life.”
Xanthe Leonard

Xanthe Leonard

Hungerford Hill

If you weren’t making wine in the Hunter, where would you choose to make wine:
"I love that the Hunter is so close to the coast. So if I were to make wine anywhere else it would have to be a coastal wine region like Margaret River or McLaren Vale where you can head down to the beach or the fish co-op on the weekends."

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Tapanappa new releases

Tapanappa Chardonnay
Glorious stuff.
Love the screwcaps too...
Tapanappa new releases

I always look forward to the latest Tapanappa releases, purely as they're yet to disappoint. Ever. Even the lesser wines are detailed, structured and thoughtfully made, automatically making them worth highlighting.

These four new 2010 vintage releases however see the label hit new heights, with the Adelaide Hills Chardonnay pair in particular serving to show that modern Australian Chardonnays need not be strictly 'lean' to impress. Kudos Mr Croser...

Before launching into the wines proper, you can find a little context about the Tapanappa project here or here to to work out where I'm coming from.

Actually, giving the concept of fanboy biases some thought, I do wonder sometimes how much my respect for a label - and the people behind it - may well cloud the objectivity. Should I be quelling my enthusiasm in the name of pure objectivity I wonder? Or would that rob wine notes of a little enjoyment?

Tapanappa Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay 2010
I first reviewed this Chardonnay in August last year. Since then the oak has integrated and the fruit has stepped up... For the $39 RRP this is outstanding Chardonnay. 12.8% alc. pH 3.04. TA 6.8g/l. Sugar 05.g/l. VA 0.38g/l. 500 cases produced.

Exceptional oak handling here. Full malo and it shows with a toasty, full richness, yet not a trace of sweetness. Slightly extrovert, almost powdered oak is very attractive. Top shelf oak. Dry, fine, acid driven palate has not a filip of excess. Long! There is just a hint of nougat ripeness and weight through the middle, but finishes cleanly. The very model of modern Chardonnay. Excellent wine.

Drink: 2012-2016+
Score: 18.5/94

Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2010
The older plantings on the Tiers vineyard are - in contrast to the newer plantings - Gin Gin clones, the vines now over 30 years of age. Interestingly, the handling of this wine is largely identical to the Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay. 13.2% alc. pH 3.15. TA 7g/l. VA 0.39g/l. RRP $80. 400 cases produced.

A much more reticent and compact nose than the Piccadilly Chardonnay with a slight whiff of volatiles. Brooding and dense and Puligny-esque. The palate too is a tight wine, toying with you in its flavour profile, both creamy and sweetly oaked whilst dry and chalky through the finish. X factor Chardonnay indeed. Loved it. Loved it so much that I couldn't stop drinking it..

Drink: 2012-2018+
Score: 18.8/95

Tapanappa Fleurieu Peninsula Pinot Noir 2010
Sourced from Block 2, which comprises of 2 hectares of younger plantings on the Foggy Hill vineyard planted to Bernard (Dijon) clones 115 and 777. 12.9% alc. pH 3.65. TA 5.8g/l. VA 0.58g/l. 500 cases produced.

A rather bright and pretty wine this one, with a lifted strawberry and redcurrant perfume making it a model of bright fruit, if just a fraction caramelised around the edges. The palate too is full and polished with more red fruit sweetness, lowish acid and light tannins. A slightly simple sort of Pinot, albeit savoury and genuinely varietal, this is affable and pure.

Drink: 2012-2016
Score: 17.5/91

Tapanappa Foggy Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010
Sourced from the older plantings (7 years old) on the Foggy Hill vineyard, the fruit again treated similarly to the second label, though with 10% whole bunches. 13.2% alc. pH 3.68. TA 5.7g/l. VA 078g/l. 900 cases produced.

A deeper and more complex wine this one, still carrying that redcurrant fruit but with more florals and red cherry. Would be interesting to see more stems in here, though Brian thinks this level is about right. The palate is just medium bodied, polished and rounded with a glacé plum and black cherry fruit profile that is a step up the concentration scale from the cheaper wine. It's again a lovely fleshy wine - sans sweetness - if just wanting a little more structure to tie it all together.

Drink: 2012 - 2017+
Score: 17.8/92

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Chapel Hill Shiraz 2009

Chapel Hill Shiraz 2009 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $30
Source: Sample

A tricky vintage for this style of Vale Shiraz, with many a wine showing a porty, dried fruit edge. Said wines are generally fresher than the 2008s, but cast bigger, more drying and somewhat less fresh. That's a generalisation, like all vintage assessments, but a consistent one (in my opinion).

This suitably smells big and tarry with bitumen and a hint of raspberry liquer. Dry port hints too. Lots of quite purple fruit in there too but just a fraction porty. Nice vanilla oak rescues the palate but no hiding the bitterness of scorched fruit. Firm and gruff tannins but looks just a little hard edged. There is some caramelised rich fruit through the middle but can't escape the bitterness of the finish.

Many will like the depth on offer here - and it's well made - but I just can't escape the sense of desiccated fruit. 16.3/87

Bimbadgen Estate Chardonnay 2011

Bimbadgen Estate Chardonnay 2011 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
13%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Sample

What's the consensus on these Bimbadgen labels? Like? For mine it looks a little dated considering the pricepoint. Interested to hear more opinions though.

A rather simple wine this one which is surprising considering that a portion was barrel and wild fermented. Odd. Have to start questioning the fruit really...

Simple and direct nose. Hay, lemon, white peach openness in that rather easy Hunter style. Palate looks both sweet and sour, without the congruency of either, oak sitting on top of lean palate. Grapefruit and lemon with a finish that looks tart and flat. Didn't feel this at all. 15/84

Monday, 23 July 2012

Mount Pleasant Mount Henry Shiraz Pinot 2011

Mount Henry relabelled. Love the new polish
Mount Pleasant Mount Henry Shiraz Pinot 2011 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
14.5%, Screwcap, $50
Source: Sample

The companion piece to the new Mothervine Pinot Noir mentioned yesterday, this facelifted version of the Mount Henry Shiraz Pinot also looks modern and stylish. You can credit Gwyn Olsen - Mcwilliams dynamic new(ish) senior winemaker - with that fresh new edge.

I tasted this next to the Mothervine Pinot Noir actually and initially thought it was a better wine. A longer look, and a glass or so later, and I'm not quite as convinced. The familiarity and obvious charms of earthen, plum wine-esque Hunter Shiraz do seduce, but the slightly disjointed, freshly-out-of-the-barrel style makes this just a little rough edged. It needs much time to come together. Much.

Regardless, this is nothing it not alluring - there's just a hint of carbonic-like red fruit tingle confection over a big slice of blueberry/plum fruit. Lots of plum essence fruit, but savoury still and dry. Achingly backwards on the palate though, mid-weight, polished and silken but showing dominant alcohol through the finish and a sort of abruptness too.

The best part about this wine is that silken texture, that brightness and that savoury blue fruit flavour. Those harder edges suggest that this begs for time to really satisfy. I think it will get there. 17.8/92+

(Postscript: I just checked my notes and this is not released until Novemberish. All is well perhaps).

Taylors Jaraman Chardonnay 2011

Taylors Jaraman Chardonnay 2011 (Margaret River, WA & Clare Valley, SA)
13%, Screwcap, $24.95

Source: Sample

A blend of Margaret River and Clare Valley fruit.

It smells rather light on the oak this wine, which is something of a departure for the Taylors Chardonnay style. Old oak too, judging by the hint of hessian in there. Not the biggest fan of that oak.

The palate though is like a tin of Golden Circle pineapple juice such is its richness and fruit-forward nature. Super juicy, though with raw, pokey acid edges. A hard wine for me to like perhaps, though that rich fruit will likely attract plenty of shiny medals and such... 15.5/86

Sunday, 22 July 2012

A great Hunter Pinot? Mount Pleasant Mothervine Pinot Noir 2011

Mount Pleasant Mothervine Pinot Noir
Labelling looks great too.
A great Hunter Pinot? Mount Pleasant Mothervine Pinot Noir 2011 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
14.5%, Screwcap, $45
Source: Sample

Great Hunter Pinot Noir. But that's a myth right? The Hunter Valley can't grow great Pinot Noir, surely? This wine is out to prove you wrong...

Firstly, a little personal context - I recently wrote an article about Pinot Noir in the Hunter Valley (pg 16 of this edition of Breathe Hunter Valley) and whilst tasting wines for the article this wine stood out as a prime example of what can be achieved (whilst illustrating just how much importance Mount Pleasant played in the history of Australian Pinot Noir too).

What drew me particularly to this Mothervine red is that it tasted like Pinot Noir. Not dry red wine made from Pinot Noir grapes, but actual proper varietal Pinot Noir. By that I mean that all too many Hunter Pinots taste like Hunter red first and Pinot Noir a distant second, which is fine for Hunter wine fans but is not necessarily interesting for anyone else.

The production techniques used here are quite enlightened too, the fruit drawn from a block on the 60 year old OP & OH vineyard and made using an array of different treatments, including both natural and innoculated ferments, a little whole bunch action and 5 days of cold soaks. Oh and unlike much of Victoria and South Australia, the 2011 vintage was particularly strong for Hunter Valley reds.

It looks pretty good too, all bright ruby though dark enough to suggest 'another dry red'. That pinosity hit comes courtesy of the bold and ripe, black cherry, bark and black pepper flavours, the fruit perhaps a fraction confected and simple, but admirably clean, persistent and varietal sappy.

Those black cherry fruit flavours carry through onto the palate which is also edged with light - yet proper - drying tannins. That's a rare combination for Pinot Noir. Actually, the tannins are rather fine and Hunter-esque, sneaky even (like all good Hunter tannins are).  Like.

Sitting somewhere in between the dry, mid weight 'Hunter Burgundy' style and the high toned plushness of Central Otago, I enjoyed just how genuinely vinous this way. As it ages it will only get more complex and more interesting too. Double like.

Drink: 2012-2021+ (Hunter Pinots have magical ageability)
Score: 18/93

Clairault B79 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Clairault B79 Semillon Sauvignon 2011 (Margaret River, WA)
12%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

 The first in Clairault's new 'Site Series'. The B79 name refers to the fact that this was sourced from the B vineyard planted in 1979. Simple eh? Nice packaging too, with those smart new ridged screwcaps (which are tricky to get right on the bottling line apparently).

Like many Margaret River wineries, the aim with this white is to try and make a more complex and textural version of the standard, simple fruit driven SSB, with the extra layers achieved in this by taking the blend of 60% Semillon and 40% Sauvignon Blanc fruit and giving it time in barrel, perhaps even a little extra yeast work.

Stylistically it's a pristine Sem Sauv underneath it all, all grapefruit and citrus with a kiss of vanilla oak. That fruit is tart and just-ripe and grapefruity, super clean but also razor sharp. The problem is that the oak then sits on top of this purity and brightness, with a net result of a blunt clash and a lack of cohesion to hold together what is some very smart fruit.

The question then is simply - when will it come together? My guess? Well after most of this has been drunk...

Drink: 2013-2016
Score: 17.5/91+

Saturday, 21 July 2012

A beast: Bremerton Old Adam Shiraz 2009

A beast: Bremerton Old Adam Shiraz 2009 (Langhorne Creek, SA)
15%, Screwcap, $50
Source: Sample

Bremerton Old Adam Shiraz. Biggun'
If there is one thing that Langhorne Creek is good at it's intensity. Intensity of tannins, intensity of colour, intensity of fruit richness and intensity of oak to match. That's a stereotype of course, yet one I'd challenge you to argue against.

Mostly such a reputation is a good thing, particularly in the context of a wine market that equates quality with flavour density. Yet such density can also work against the wines too, with the recent movement towards more elegant, less oak driven reds ultimately rendering wines like this as old fashioned.

You can see such conflicts in this Shiraz actually for it is a wine that is both impressive for its concentration as well as burdened by it.

You can see such intensity by colour alone, the wine a deep, almost black red colour that just suggests off the scale beastliness. It certainly smells thick too, with a nose of sweetened, liqueured black fruit, and prunish edges, the ripeness of which points towards grapes picked very late (from a warm season) and further sweetened by chocolatey American oak.

Happily, It's a fresher wine to taste though, the palate looking sweeter, softer and more generous than expected, particularly after a day in the decanter, with the finish punctuated by soft and grainy (somewhat oak derived) tannins.

In many ways this Old Adam Shiraz is exactly what it says it is - a massively concentrated and deep Langhorne Creek red that ripples with intensity, the heatwave vintage delivering a huge and beastly red that many will like. The question is, could it have been a better wine with the volume turned down a few notches? 17/90

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Random Acts of Winemaking Shiraz 01/10

Random Act of Winemaking Shiraz
Random Acts of Winemaking Shiraz 01/10 (Grampians, Vic and Hunter Valley, NSW)
13.8%, Screwcap, $70 (cellar door only)
Source: Sample

It goes against the modern 'single site wines are king' dogma to say so, but I rather like these new generation super blends. Actually, new generation is completely wrong, for multi-district blending has been around since the Bordelaise worked out that a little Rhone Syrah did wonders for their wares. Regardless, I think that well defined multi-regional blends are less celebrated than what they should be (though that is changing too).

As for this wine, well it is a somewhat untried blend composed of one barrel of 2010 Mount Langi Ghiran vineyard Grampians Shiraz and one barrel of 2010 Tallawanta Vineyard Hunter Shiraz. That makes just two barrels of this unique wine (with that rarity reflected in the price).

Perhaps the only thing actually working against this potential supervino is the question of whether these two components actually mesh. Are they too closely aligned to be intriguing together?  Sure, you can see the minerality of the Langi parcel and the texture of the Hunter component, but I'm not sure if it might be a case of two drummers attempting to play the same drumkit.

What is obvious though is that this is a youthful beast. It's almost barrel sample-esque actually, such is that freshness and vibrance. Very promising actually. Immediately that plum essence Grampians Shiraz character shines through on the nose too, underpinned by quite sweet, bright and almost candied plum and red dirt Hunter fruit. Pepper and black cherry sort of modern Shiraz nose, if just slightly chubby.

Following that nose, the palate is initially quite pretty and fleshy. Again that confection is a bit distracting, but otherwise its quite rich and dark fruited if again really quite moderate. If finishes long, and finely tannic with slightly blunt acidity but a quality line.

At every turn you're sort of expecting more fireworks from this wine but it doesn't quite show its fleshy bits just yet. Will it be quite the superstar eventually?

Drink: 2015 - 2025
Score: 17.7/92+

Monday, 16 July 2012

Between Five Bells new release: Even better

This was once two bottles of Between Five Bells.
Hello tissue paper!
Between Five Bells new releases: Even better

Perhaps it is just a deep-seeded love of presents. Maybe it is just because I'm a tactile person (and fancy soft paper feels excellent). Whatever it is, I really dig tissue wrapped bottles of wine.

Of course not any old bottle of tissue paper makes the grade for there are, like everything, rules for such things. The bottle has to be well wrapped for one, and the paper has to be thin - but not 'oh fuck I ripped it' thin. Nor must said paper be overly translucent (or waxy and stiff). Oh and a good print on the paper doesn't go astray. Maybe a shiny sticker on there too. Or racing stripes...

Naturally, tissue paper alone does not maketh a great wine (and it is annoying to good rid of. A bitch when it gets soggy too) and is only one part of the packaging glory that is these new Between Five Bells (or 'B5B' which is the correct acronym. The bottles say so) releases.

On the packaging note, I have to say (again) that I think these are the best wine labels in Australia. The infographics, the colours, the script, all of it - that detail is what makes these special. That white wax on the red too is super sexy (it's specially imported actually. Looks quite similar to the wax on the Patrick Piuze Chablis range).

Anyway, enough waffling about labels and such (which I quite like talking about). I've put a few more images of the bottles and labels (including the Rosé) up on the facebook site now.

Now then, as for these two new wines - well, they're as intriguing as you'd expect. More to the point, they have a certain congruency that makes them even more impressive than the initial releases before them (2010 Red and 2011 Rosé respectively). What's more, the 2012 wines to follow - from a far superior vintage - should be better again.

As ever these wines were made in a non-interventionist style (like everything is these days apparently) which means no additions, minimal fining/filtration and low sulphur regimes. They're also a melange of varieties with whole bunches, natural ferments and extended skin/solids contact.

2011 Between Five Bells White (Geelong, Vic)
12.8%, Screwcap, $29.50 (from the website)

I'm going to quote the PR blurb (which sounds very much like David Fesq's words) directly for this wines inspiration: 'The goal for this inaugural white was to share the delicious and intriguing qualities of the Red. To do this, we had committed to co-fermenting a number of varieties'.

Classy packaging. Red particularly so.
A blend of almost equal qualities of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier all harvested and whole bunch pressed into 1000L cuves for primary fermentation. Extended solids contact and 100% malolactic fermentation to boot. TA 6.48. pH 3.38. 2700 bottles produced.
Much more information on the label!

Super aromatic style this, very much in an Alsace mould, though with a Chablis-esque minerality. All white peach and white flowers aromatics but with mandarin and and a hint of biscuity richness. The stamp of the super cool season is all over it too, but the weight of the winemaking just fills it out. There is much happening on the nose actually, with every whiff providing a new hint - Chardonnay white fruit, Riesling lime juice and the pear of Pinot Gris. Wonderful.

The palate too is a textural wonder. Vanilla bean oak, peachy Chardonnay juiciness, that malo richness softening what would have been rampant acidity. Light but rich, the length here is excellent too. Perhaps the only quibble is that the acidity is a little hard, the winemaking influences not softening things quite enough (a product of the season no doubt).

An Australian version of an Alsace field blend yet cooler and leaner, this is perhaps a little less polarising than previous B5B wines, but is also - in my opinion - the best B5B wine yet. I'd buy it.

Drink: 2012 - 2014+
Score: 18.1/93

Between Five Bells Red 2011 (Geelong, Vic)
13%, Cork, $31.50 (from website)

Again I'm going to quote away: 'The major influence on the flavour profile was the vintage conditions' and it's writ large too. Sangiovese and Zinfandel didn't get ripe in 2011, leaving this blend as mainly Shiraz with lesser amounts of Mourvedre and Grenache, topped off with 5% 2011 White.

40% whole bunch ferment for the Shiraz and differing amounts of whole berry ferments for the different varieties (for more info - lots more - check out the label). Matured in 2nd and 3rd use puncheons, this was bottled unfined and unfiltered. TA 7.2 pH 3.53. 3600 bottles produced.

It's going to be a polarising wine this one. Or it was amongst the non-wine geek (but still informed) drinkers I shared this with. In many ways it's quite Pinot like actually, starting with the bright, light red colour. It smells Pinotesque too - stemmy, and stalky and really rather backward, with tomato leaf and cranberry fruit. There is a certain sort of ripe red fruit on the nose but also hints of rot too.

The palate too is anything but fruity. It's smoky, and spicy and tangy, a bony and fragrant sort of wine with much acidity and a strong line of drying, tea leaf tannins. The challenge with this palate is just how pointed and firm it is - it's just crying out for more fruit sweetness really. Still, much to like about the form and line.

Drink: 2014 - 2018+
Score: 17.2/90+

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Derwent Estate Chardonnay 2010

Derwent Estate Chardonnay
Derwent Estate Chardonnay 2010 (Derwent Valley, Tasmania)
12%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

The roll of modern Chardonnay continues. It's not hard to see why good cool climate Chardonnay is en vogue again (or in wine critic circles it is at least), with wines like this pushing forward the idea that good examples of the grape can be both fresh and textural (as it should be).

Speaking of fresh, this Derwent Estate Chardonnay is exactly that. Actually, fresh might be a bit simplistic, for pure is a better word for it. What I can't believe is that I haven't reviewed one of these before - I've definitely drunk one or two.

Grapefruit, more grapefruit and just ripe white peach. That's what the nose here is all about, with fine vanilla oak on the edges. It's a very reserved but crystalline nose, with just a fillip of buttermilk MLF characters. Lovely. Palate too is dry, lean and oh-so-pure with a shapely, two-steps-above-blanc-de-blancs Champagne sort of style that is both super clear yet not under-ripe.

A lovely wine, with the refinement conjuring up images of women in bodices and hats at jaunty angles and such (I'm thinking Pride & Prejudice). That may sound odd, but there is such a fineness to this white that an English scene lik that just pops in (my brain works in mysterious ways). Top piss (there we go. Normal service returns).

Drink: 2012-2015+
Score: 18.5/94

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Jacobs Creek St Hugo 2008 pair

Jacobs Creek St Hugo 2008 pair

The St Hugo range has grown this year, now encompassing a Barossan Shiraz and two blends - a multi-regional Shiraz Cabernet (a descendant of the Johann Shiraz Cab now?) and a Barossan GSM.

Simply packaged and quite restrained wines, I can't help but wonder where the excitement is meant to come from here. Though maybe that's not the intention, that St Hugo is meant to be about 'elegance' and shouldn't be flashy? Regardless, these will both show their best with some time in the cellar...

Jacobs Creek St Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Coonawarra, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $50

Spearmint and eucalypt on the nose. Lot's of it. It's covered by sweet chocoltey oak and a little volatility but that mintiness is very distinctive. Oak looks rather sweet on the palate too, the fruit ripe and full if a fraction stewed. Upright tannins to finish. Presents as a fresh, simple and minty style that perhaps lacks the layers of previous releases but still carries plenty of dry tannins.

That mintiness is quite polarising though - will it become a 'Peppermint Patty' style or just stay 'not quite there'?

Drink: 2015-2020+ 16.5/88+

St Hugo Shiraz Cabernet 2009 (Barossa/Coonawarra, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $50

A blend of 61% Barossa Shiraz and 30% Coonawarra Cabernet.

Rich and a little varnishy on the nose, cast in a very modern, polished, oak red berry mould. Looks a little plump and dull and chocolatey, if even a little understated actually. Medium bodied, ripe and pulpy through the palate, it is pleasant if unremarkable, finishing with fine tanins. Plenty still to come and quite balanced, this just needs some excitement. Certainly more enjoyable than the Cabernet.

Drink: 2015+ 17.3/90+

Friday, 13 July 2012

Champagne: 30 tasted

Champagne: 30 tasted

I was struggling for inspiration tonight and so, instead of just writing something half-heartedly, decided to attack the pile of papers here on my 'work desk'. Whilst the tidying, rearranging and such didn't actually accomplish much, I did uncover my notebook from the 2011 iteration of the Champagne Bureau annual tasting, a set of notes that had me just that little bit more inspired (bubbles do that).

These tasting notes were thus written last August, at a Champagne tasting that typically showcases a veritable smorgasbord of fine Champagne from both growers and houses.

Just scanning through them I appear to have been particularly hard on the wines. That could be good or bad, though the score range looks about right). Of course judging NV Champagne can be like pissing in the wind, but I think most of the wines looked in reasonable form (except for maybe the Paul Bara range).

I've put my postscript notes in italics, but the rest are largely as written on the day (which I prefer).

I'm also interested to hear what you think the most consistent 'big house' NV Champagne is (mine is Bollinger. As long as you get the non-parallel imported stuff).

The wines:

Ayala Blanc de Blancs 2004

Has been going from strength to strength of late thanks to Bollinger influence. This is relatively well priced too. Sexy packaging to match (or at least I think so).
Creamy, Super creamy. Quick complex and full with clever delineation. Great style. 18.3/93+

Bollinger La Grande Année 2002
So tight, so pure, so fresh. It looked a little reticent on the day but subsequent tastings have shown just how fine it is. Classy as hell. Buy! Buy!
Direct, pure and quite lean nose. Caramel yeasty richness on the edges with a flor like oak richness. Quite a deal of oak but so powerful. Very very serious. 18.5/94++

Bollinger Rosé NV
I'm still not totally swayed by Bollinger's pink bubbles but this looked rather good on the day. Very serious.
Citrus and flowers. Pink fruit and very aromatic but oh so serious and backward on the palate. Too dry? Great structure. 17.7/92

Billecart-Salmon Cuvée "Nicolas François Billecart" 1998

This looked a bit bulky and out of condition methinks (in context). Should be better (it's still good).
Cheesy, complex and full style nose. Looks both broadish and with angular acidity. Complex but also forward and less than super fresh. 17.5/91

René Geoffroy Millésime 2000
I've enjoyed other vintages of this more (from memory) but no doubting the weight and length. Rather advanced and typically 2000 awkward but class in there.
Earthen, complex but a rather advanced wine. A bit disjointed but good intensity. Quite forward.

René Geoffroy Cuvée Rosé de Saigné NV
 Intriguing. Odd wine too. Wouldn't mind another look.
Pink! Strawberry juice. Very vinous and more like a rosé still wine. Super dry finish with a citrus hint. 17.5/91

Delamotte Brut NV
Have had better, richer bottles of this. Looked shortish (in context).
Lovely, classic nose. Clean but slightly tart end. Too much dosage even? 17.3/90

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 1999

Lovely wine really - clean but rich. Rather enjoyed this.
Developing but pure and clean.. Creamy and rather toasty nose, obvious age. Lingering finish. Long. 18/93

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV

Not that for behind the vintage really.
Cheesy Chardonnay richness. All butter and nuts. Pure but generous with creamy weight and power. Slightly dull finish but reasonable length. 17.4/91

Gatinois Tradition NV
Where did this come from eh? Nice wine! 90% Grand cru fruit apparently.
Very dominant Pinot character on the nose. Lifted, vibrant and clean. Tight, vinous and driven palate. Lots of table wine like power. Very long. 17.7/92

Gatinois Millésime 2002
Rather exciting really considering that you can pick this up for $92 a bottle around the traps.
Very dense and powerful. Excellent persistence if a slight hole in the back. Very smart. 18.2/93+

Pascal Doquet Le Mesnil sur Oger Grand Cru NV

Another fantastic (and bargain priced) grower Champagne. Well worth seeking out. A blanc de Blanc I believe (though don't quote me - the book doesn't say).
Very pure! Dry and perfumed. Super tight, almost salty minerality. Next level complexity. 17.7/92

Pascal Doquet Les Mesnil sur Oger Grand Cru 2002

$125 for this? So good. So grown up and serious! 8yrs on lees!
Lifted nose is both creamy and pure. A real lightness to the nose. Full, linear and very powerful. Biscuity palate is clean and complex. Really very good. 18.3/93+

Paul Bara Brut Reserve NV

I've had better bottles of this.
Rather Pinot dominant. A little sweet and sour with green apple acidity. Fleshy simple style. 16.3/87

Paul Bara Brut Reserve
Rosé NV
Didn't enjoy this enough.
Tinny, light and sweet. Sweet and slightly simple. 15.5/85

Paul Bara Grand Rosé De Bouzy NV
Again that sweetness! Blurgh. nice nose though.
Quite fresh, pink fruit and sherbet nose. Tart and slightly overly sweet palate. 16.8/89

Jacquesson Avize Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2000
Wonderful stuff.
Complex, mushroomy development. Really rich mid palate and firm finish. Really decadent palate this - so rich. Top shelf indeed. 18.5/94

Larmandier-Bernier Cramant VV Grand Cru 2005

Astonishingly good. Almost like a whole other realm of Champagne quality here.
Very clean. White flower aromatics and even a little white peach. Lean but still retains a certain fruit signature. Length and purity are spot on. Wonderful white fruit. Superb. 18.9/96

Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus 1er Cru Non-D
osé NV
It's ultimately a bargain this considering that it goes for just $130 a bottle.
Again that purity. So fine and dry. Crystalline acidity but with a certain softness and delicacy. High acid shows due to no dosage. But oh-so-pure! Wow. 18.7/95

Lombard & Cie Brut NV

Brassy and a bit broad. Cheesy, biscuity citrus edges. Full palate is just a bit too flabby. 16.5/88

Lombard & Cie Grand Cru 2004

Creamy, full and overtly cheesy development. Again rather broad and simple. Pleasant enough. 16.8/89

Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV

Apparently this has more dosage now than it used to. Why? Certainly looked odd on this occasion.
Baby sick development is quite odd. Rich and mealy palate is a fraction obvious. 16.8/89

Louis Roederer Brut 2005

My notes include this line 'where is the excitement'
Very lean and obviously too young. Great structure but all angles and no complexity. Again with the baby sick oddness. 17.3/90+

Louis Roederer Rosé 2006
Baby sick meets strawberries. Very firm and talc palate looks vital but also very firm. A little stunted through the finish. 17.4/91

Mumm Cuvée R.Lalou 1999
Just discovered that I reviewed this late last year too (with similar results).
Vibrant nose. Quite full style. Complex palate though with a large hole near the back palate and a little disjointed through the finish. Good, not quite great. 17.9/92

Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque Vintage 2004

I have this written down as 2004 but my writing is, erm, bad (a sign of genius surely? I'll keep telling myself that).
Fresh, floral and lively. All up in the air, this needs to flesh out. Good form underneath but not much generosity or joy yet. 17.5/91

Philipponnat Cuvée 1522 2002

Very dense nose. Not super pure palate palate which muddies the characters, though good penetration. Old school style perhaps but solid. 17.5/91

Pol Roger Brut NV
Again  I've had better bottles than this. Mercurial NV once again...

Quite rich and Pinot dominant. Much more power and length than many but the acidity is sharp and the finish raw. 17/90

Pol Roger Brut 2000

(I'm not rating this as I think this was a bad bottle. No one on the stand at the time though...)

Pol Roger Brut Rosé 2000
I quite liked this. Real vinous character.
Quite a ferrous nose on this, suggesting some serious red Coteaux de Champenois in there, the ferrous, blood and bone notes of those unsual still Pinots showing through on the nose in particular. Very dry and rather mature palate. Has perhaps a little too much tannins but that also makes for character. 17.6/91

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Singlefile Denmark Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Singlefile SSB complete with fingers
Singlefile Denmark Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2011 11.8%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

I don't mind the ornate sort of packaging on this. When presented to non-wine folk they all believed it looked more expensive than the $25 asking price. Win for Singlefile. Sourced from the Howard Road vineyard in Denmark, this is a blend of 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc.

That same group of non-wine people didn't enjoy drinking this much and I can see why - it looks plain unripe. It could just be super varietal Sauv Blanc fruit, but I've seen similar characters in Hunter Semillon picked too early. Those dominant, compacted green pea aromatics would make this stand out in a big lineup though (so expect it to pick up wine show bling perhaps). You'd almost pick it as straight Sauv Blanc actually given just the nose...

Supporting that nose it tastes short and stunted too, if delivered with delicacy. Lemon drop fruit but not all that much follow through. Lacks full phenolic ripeness for mine. 15.6/86

Cumulus Chardonny

Cumulus Chardonnay 2010 (Orange, NSW)
13%, Screwcap, $30
Source: Sample

The third release of this Cumulus Chardonnay, portions of this spent time in those particularly rad 'egg' fermenters before then maturing in French and Hungarian oak (Hungarian oak is often thought to give a little spice. I like spice. Apparently it can be more of an 'overt' oak however).

As a wine, this suffers a fraction under the weight of its winemaking, with rather bold, freshly sawn logs/meets vanilla icing oak characters on the nose. Super cool and fresh but looks more than a little airbrushed with some banana ferment esters. Lean and pineappley palate follows this with just a little creamy richness. It's a contained wine, a polished one but very contained and full of banana cream pie sort of oak and lees characters.

A winemaking led wine (for the moment at least), this has serious scope for the future though looks a little blunt for the moment. 17.3/90++

Scarce Earth: McLaren Vale gets dirtier

Scarce Earth: McLaren Vale gets dirtier

McLaren Vale, like all other Australian wine regions, has no 'cru' classification. It has no classed growths, no 'special sites' and, indeed, no vineyard hierachy system of any kind. Heck, it doesn't even have any subregions. What it does have, however, is terroir, and with the Scarce Earth project the region has an attempt to highlight just how complex and heterogeneous it really is.

What is the Scarce Earth project then? It is an attempt to identify the best sites to grow Shiraz in the Vale, an initiative that takes wine from specific single blocks all across the region and brings them together in what winemaker Michael Fragos, curly haired dynamo from Chapel Hill, describes as a 'celebration of Shiraz' - designed to 'showcase complex subtle parcels that might get lost'.

The origin of this celebration was actually a chat between local grower/producers Adrian Kenny and Dudley Brown, with the pair exploring the very meaning of life whilst installing 40kms of dripper lines in a new vineyard. In amongst the life changing revelations (explored over umpteenth metres of hole digging), what the pair decided was that McLaren Vale had a quality blindspot in its midst - that the whole region was failing to really identify and celebrate its best sites.

How exactly to solve this dilemma though is tricky. How do you identify and lift the best sites whilst avoiding the creation of yet another wine show?

The answer was (theoretically at least) simple - invite any grower/producer with a 'discreet block' of (at least 10yr old) Shiraz vines to make a (100% Shiraz) wine from that block, with these wines then all grouped together according to the particular geology of the site from which they were drawn, largely in a bid to single out what impact such geologies may have on the final wine.

To further ensure that these wines are as 'representative' of their site as possible, the makers are also encouraged to use older oak (to minimise oak influences), pick grapes ripe - but not overripe - and generally build the wines to showcase fruit (and thus site). Indeed even minor wine faults are generally ignored if the wine is judged as 'representative'.

Speaking of representative, what actually drove this forward from a slightly simplistic 'best sites' concept (a concept initially called 'Rare Earth') into a McLaren Vale regional Shiraz 'celebration' was the development of the McLaren Vale Geology map, a wine industry project developed after Scarce (nee Rare) Earth was first conceptualised, with the map designed to be not only the backbone of the project, but also an invaluable resource for local vignerons.

Chester Osborn in classic Vale attire
Unsurprisingly, it was Dudley Brown who was involved in driving the development of the map too, working with SA wine writer Philip White; local geologist Jeff Olliver; ex local geologist Bill Fairburn (who first drew the outline of this map back in the 80s and 90s) and ex MVGWTA Chairman Jock Harvey to get the map redrawn and updated.

What the geology map, when completed in 2010, provides to the Vale is a scientific context, a set of reference points by which the classification could be based, a literal guide to establishing similar sites and building up profiles, whilst also mapping out the potential sub-regions along the way.

Perhaps most intriguingly, the map also went on to become something of a best-seller too (with over 10,000 copies sold) and is recognised as the most detailed geology map of any wine region in the world. Needless to say it was also the final catalyst required to bring the Scarce Earth project into being.

Following the release of the map, it was 2011 when the Scarce Earth project getting the green light. The call went out to McLaren Vale growers for single block Shiraz from the 2009 vintage, and duly quite a number of samples came in, sometimes from growers, sometimes producers, always finished wines. These wines were then tasted by a panel of three local vignerons (which this year included Drew Noon MW, Chester Osborn and Michael Fragos, though the panel will revolve over time) a wine media person (Louise Radman) and an MW (David Le Mire MW). The panel thus assessed the wines for suitablity and expression of site, with 4 votes from the panel required for a wine to pass.

The net result for that initial 2011 intake (drawn from the 2009 vintage) was some 20 different single vineyard Shiraz, all of which were then released on May 1st at McLaren Vale winery cellar doors exclusively before being made available to the wider trade 3 months later.

Of course given that the average make was less than 500 dozen - and quality was so high - many of these special Scarce Earth wines were long gone before the 3 months were up, further adding to the project's reputation.

In this 2012 release then (of 2010 vintage Shiraz) the number of wines to pass the panel rose to 28, with another 15 rejected largely due to excesses of oak character, proving that the project is becoming more popular whilst controls remain tight.

Happily, the makeup of the 2012 wines is various too, drawn from larger producers such as d'Arenberg, Serafino and Wirra Wirra, right down to the smallest parcel which weighed in at just 396 bottles (the Cradle of Hills Row 23 Shiraz 2010).

Geoff Olliver (front) and Drew Noon MW looking at McLaren Vale maps
Looking at the wines as a collective group it is obvious that Scarce Earth, in its latest iteration, isn't just a clever marketing exercise. Far from it. Instead, it presents as an attempt to delineate different terroirs and to pick out what influence latent geology might have on wine styles. Indeed the 'great sites' notion hasn't even been fully explored yet, the project again more of a showcase rather than a pure attempt at findings 'crus' (for now).

The only challenge (actually, there are a few challenges) of this approach is that it is prone to politics. Naturally the tasting is blind, but with local producers both entering and on the panel, there are conflicts of interest vis-a-vis at style. Further, the question has to be raised about whether and what direction (if it ever comes into being) we'll see this classification system head. There is much hope of course, but any sort of process is fraught with danger (hello St Emilion Grand Cru).

On a more personal note, I've got to confess how much enthusiasm I have for the scope of this project (and particularly the geology map). Unsurprising perhaps given that my original undergraduate degree contained than a little geology (I'm a frustrated weather nerd too) but also because the 'terroir, terroir, terroir' dictum being followed - and the degree to which the local wine community are embracing it - is heartening indeed.

Just to stoke my interest, at the media launch of the 2012 Scarce Earth project I had the good fortune of spending a few hours with geologist Jeff Olliver, wandering around the Vale looking at rock formations (which was intriguing), encountering further good luck by being sat next to noted scientist (and genuinely great guy) Drew Noon MW.

What this geological excursion offered was a particular insight into Vale dirt (including just how much limestone is in the region, amongst other things) from Olliver with a further vine and wine context added by Noon (such as this great quote about the wines produced from the warmer, Willunga half of the Vale 'you can really taste the sun in those southern Willunga vineyards').

As for the wines? Well, the standard was high. Very high. I scored the wines (which were served blind) wine-show hard and still came away impressed. Buy with confidence. The cream of a top vintage for McLaren Vale reds.

A further note:

Supporting the project, or, more correctly, another project that the Vale is also working on, is known as 'McLaren Sustainable Winegrowing' and is, to put it simply, a voluntary assessment program for vineyards so they can judge just how sustainable their practices are.

Now I don't want to bore you with the details (you may not be bored by them. I wasn't. You can read them here) but the main principle of this program (which is 2-3 years in now) is to encourage widespread 'triple-bottom-line' reporting (also known as 3BL reporting) within a regional context. In this fashion, growers are provided with a set of 'considerations' for not only economic but also environmental and social factors.

The intention, from what I can see, is to let the program eventually help to set standards for what is expected from a 'best practice' McLaren Vale vineyard. That doesn't necessarily mean biodynamics or even organics, but instead a recognition of how chemical usage can be minimised, how the local community can be related to, how the vineyard workers can be treated... it is something of a holistic project really.
McLaren Vale looking picturesque (and warm).

If all that sounds like some sort of Steiner-esque hippy speak, then bear this in mind: In 2010/11 some 20% of the acreage under vine was effectively part of the project, even though there was no discernible benefits for said vineyards to be a part of the program. In fact, the working group pushing the 'McLaren Vale Sustainable Winegrowing Australia' (MVSWGA) scheme along consists principally of some 20 growers (led by forward thinking viticulturists/growers/producers like James Hook).

Whilst this program is, like Scarce Earth, still in its infancy, the intention eventually is to actually incentivise such a scheme by making it a compulsory component that must be ticked off for entry into the McLaren Vale wine show (just for one hypothetical example).

Again I'm generalising (and possibly getting it all wrong), however you can't help but appreciate such a project. Sustainability, in all its buzzword glory, is actually a concept that any agricultural based industry (like wine) needs to be across, and programs/schemes/projects like this only help in normalising it.

Anyway, enough rambling about programs, it's time to actually talk about the wines.

At the aforementioned media release of the program I tasted through all 27 (one wasn't ready) wines
blind in smallish flights of 7 or 8 wines, with wines roughly matched up according to their relative geologies. We were encouraged to thus compare and contrast within/across geologies to attempt to extrapolate influences.

What was noted most particularly (by Drew Noon MW) was that for all of the geology talk, it must be remembered that there can be 2-3C+ difference in daily maximum temps between the southern end of the Vale (down Willunga way) right up to the higher northern end (in Clarendon) and this has as much an influence as anything.

Regardless, it was ultimately apparent that there was differences, joyous differences, between geologies, even if some of the minute variations were obscured by handling of the wine.

Perhaps most interesting for me was the potential sub-regional differences, to look at the contrasts between the wines from the districts, between wines on the heavier, richer soils in the warmer southern part of the Vale (circa Aldinga and surrounds) which looked the least fresh and most baked (though with some standouts), compared to some in the sands of Blewitt Springs, which had a certain Grenache-esque confection and high tones (that could be either very attractive or plain jubey) and to finally compare them to the slightly minty edges of the Clarendon sourced, 'almost Adelaide Hills' wines.

Finally then, the wines! Again note I scored wine-show hard. You could easily bump up many of these scores methinks. I'm happy with them (the scores) however considering the context. These notes too are completely as written on the day, with no editing to speak of - I prefer it that way.

As for the structure of the notes I've put the block address in italics along with the numbers of the region - which correspond to the proposed districts in the district map, a map which is worth a look in itself. Download it - definitely don't look at it just online - on a big piece of paper.

The Wines

A pack of Scarce Earthers.
Bracket 1

1. Cradle of Hills 'Row 23' Shiraz 2010

'Block 1' - 76 Rogers Rd, Sellicks Hill. $55. 396 bottles produced. Region 1.
Open plum purple fruit. Quite floral plum essence. Chocolatey palate has fine grained tannins. Quite a fine open style with good balance. Graceful for the Vale. Licoricey. Showing Its oak on the second taste but good. 18/93

2. Waywood Wines 'Reserve' Shiraz 2010
'Smith Block' - Lot 3128 Rogers Rd, Sellicks Hill. $45. 700 bottles produced. Region 1.
Slightly more closed, more pepper, less opulence. Some extra caramelised ripeness on the nose, but quite a deal of concentration on the palate, real purple fruit dryness to the back end. Closed and serious tannins. 17/90++

3. Shirvington 'The Redwind' Shiraz 2010
'Redwind Vineyard Blocks 6 and 9' - 28 Bayliss Rd, Whites Valley (Willunga). $85. 450 bottles produced. Region 2.
Real mulberry nose on this, inkier but also oakier too. Shows its ripeness with heft, but still great concentration. 17.8/92

4. Battle of Bosworth 'Chanticleer' Single Vineyard Shiraz 2010

'Chanticleer' - Stout Rd, Willunga. $50. 396 bottles produced. Region 3.
A little simple after the previous wines with a shortness on the palate in comparison. Pleasant but mono dimensional in context, that one dimension carrying through the finish. 17.5/91

5. Halifax Wines 'Per Se Block' Shiraz 2010
'Per Se Block' - 190 Binney Rd, Willunga. $55. 672 bottles produced. Region 3.
Large, glacé fruit nose, dried plums. Big florals though too, lift and violets. Expressive.  Expressive palate too, if more fruit bomb lusciousness. Definitely the most bold fruited wine of the bracket, lighter tannins. Ripe. Seductive. 17.9/92

6. Hugh Hamilton 'Black Blood II' Shiraz 2010

'Original Church Block' - McMurtrie Rd, McLaren Vale. $50. 2100 bottles produced. Region 3.

Choc berry nose. Really quite classic Vale. Again the mulberry expression yet seems more balanced in this vein. Impressive red fruit restraint and real pure tannins. A standout. 18.8/95

7. Battle of Bosworth 'Bradens' Single Vineyard Shiraz 2010

'Bradens' - Main Rdm Willunga. $50. 804 bottles produced. Region 3.
Real obvious wood on this - sawdust oak. The palate too is grainy but tight, underneath that oak is definitely stylish. Will it come out? Should do. 17.8/92+

Bracket 2
All bigger, riper wines. Blacker in colour too

8. Vigna Bottin Wines Shiraz 2010

Lot 2 Plains Rd, Sellicks Hill. $30. 840 bottles produced. Region 4.
Some sulphur on the nose of this one. Bacon fatty, alcoholic and dulled palate. Ordinary. 15.5/84

9. Hugh Hamilton 'Black Blood I' Shiraz 2010

'Cellar Block' - McMurtrie Rd, McLaren Vale. $50. 1500 bottles produced. Region 5.
Borderline overripe strained Licorice nose. Raisined black fruit with drying tannins. Desiccated finish + alcohol max. 16.5/88

10. Shingleback 'Unedited' Shiraz 2010
'The Davey Estate Block' - 377 Little Rd, Willunga. $75. 1900 bottles produced. Region 5.

Much more composed. Again thick tarry fruit, glacé purple fruit but tarry and concentrated. Short and thick palate with awkward acidity. Commercial appeal but little else. 16/87

11. Vinrock Wines 'Vinrock' Shiraz 2010

'Block 8' - Malpas/Bayliss Rds, Willunga. $40. 732 bottles produced. Region 5.
More vanilla sweet oak on this one, more compusure too. Graphite black richness. Tarry and seriously alcoholic with warmth and a certain hollowness through the finish. More composed but still  a way off best. 16.5/88

12. Dowie Doole 'Reserve' Shiraz 2010

'74 Block' - California Rd, Tatachilla. $45. 800 bottles produced. Region 6.
Cocoa spice with more oak but reasonably integrated. Nice sweet berry fruit underneath if just a little simple. Has genuine appeal though. More balance here in the context.  Nice wine really. 17.8/92+

13. Kangarilla Rd 'Scarce Earth Project' Shiraz 2010

'Kildare' - 7 Tuitt Rd, Maslins Beach. $50. 1800 bottles produced. Region 7.
Open ripe straight plum fruit nose. Bacon fat forceful warm ripeness. Huge palate of super ripe fruit though not necessarily OTT. Still a little bold and even bretty. I found appeal of that stinky meaty bacon fat but can understand the turnoff. 17.9/92

14. Chapel Hill 'The Chosen Road Block' Shiraz 2010
'Road Block' - 1 Chapel Hill Rd, McLaren Vale. $65. 3480 bottles produced. Region 9
Sweet purple Licorice straightforward richness. In the context of the style its ok but there is some caramelised hardness and weird sweetened fruit on the palate. 16.5/88+

15. Chapel Hill 'The Chosen House Block' Shiraz 2010

'House Block' - 1 Chapel Hill Rd, McLaren Vale. $65. 2298 bottles produced. Region 9
Super concentrated but also quite composed. Looks tight and dark and rich. Like the tannins and a sense of lightness. Great tannins and long tannins. Prefer the tannins markedly on this one. Nice wine. 18.7/95

Bracket 3
Top wine and impressive packaging from Wirra Wirra
16. Angove Family Winemakers 'Warboys Vineyard' Shiraz 2010
'North West 3' - Crnr Chalk Hill and Oliver Rd, McLaren Vale. $35. 3186 bottles produced. Region 10.
Super ripe sort of berried nose. Showing some Chocolatey oak too. Rather sweet and generous nose leads to sweet and generous palate. Not a whole lot of concentration of tannins but certainly much generous pleasure. Lots more red fruit here. Nice wine in the generous style. I8.5/94

17. d'Arenberg 'The Shipster's Rapture' Shiraz 2010

'OSB(6F)' - Osborn Rd, McLaren Vale. $99. 3000 bottles produced. Region 10.
Slightly stinky nose, a bit reductive. Reductive palate too with the barest hint of raisining. Waiting for something to happen really. 16

18. Serafino 'Terromoto' Syrah 2010
'Rivers Lane' - Caffrey St, McLaren Vale. $110. 6600 bottles produced. Region 10.
Big languid berry nose with volatiles and alcohol to burn. A fraction skinny perhaps? Intriguing sort of palate has this dark Licoricey berry edge to it and v.impressive length. 18.3/93

19. Geoff Merrill Wines 'Reserve' Shiraz 2010
'Rogers Shiraz' - Mt Bold Estate, Mt Bold Rd, Kangarilla. $85. 400 bottles produced. Region 12.
Open and bright, confected nose.  Confected palate too is just a bit simple for higher marks. Nice simple flavours though but it's skinny. 16.5/88

20. d'Arenberg 'Blind Tiger' Shiraz 2010
'BAMBOOS1' - Whiting Rd, Blewitt Springs. $99. 3000 bottles produced. Region 12.
Hot sort of black fruit nose, bitumen and more than a little animal to it. Ferrous as hell. Like that nose, like that long and animal palate too, even of its just a bit warm. Lots of wild sort of stinky joy. Like this muchly but gee it's odd. Ferrous as hell. A bit desiccated. Has some intrigue. 18/93

21. Hastwell and Lightfoot 'Scarce Earth' Shiraz 2010
'Western Block' - Lot 3, Section 507, Foggo Rd, Mclaren Vale. $28. 1400 bottles produced. Region 12.
Black jelly bean and black fruit. Skittish palate with more black fruit and a real smoky wildness to it. A little too much wild and not enough punch. A bit mono dimensional. (on the sands). 16.8/89

22. Wirra Wirra Vineyards 'Patritti Single Vineyard' Shiraz 2010

'Patritti Block' - Whiting Rd, Blewitt Springs. $132. 700 bottles produced. Region 12.
Big and bold and smoky. I like the black kick Licorice choc berry nature to this it's quite open but pretty I find it quite contained but certainly nice lines. Certainly plenty of polish through the finish too. 18.6/94

Bracket 4

23. Primo Estate Wines 'JOSEPH Angel Gully' Shiraz 2010
'Primo Estate Clarendon Angel Gully' - Cnr Angel Gully Rd and Chalk Hill Rd Clarendon. $75. 4200 bottles produced. Region 14.
Just a little raisining on the nose with stressed fruit edges along with mulberry fruit. Palate is generous and mulberried but also minty. Raised acidity. Great freshness here. Real vibrancy. 17

24. Rowley Management Pty Ltd 'Fork in the Road' Shiraz 2010

'Old Oval Estate' - 18 Sand Rd, McLaren Vale. $15. 576 bottles produced. Region 16.
Quite lush charcoal etched nose. Very lush and juicy palate. Very lush choc berry fruit if quite an alcoholic sort of a beast. Sweet and Chocolatey and open but also lots of commercial appeal. Pleasant+. 17.5/91

25. Sabella Vineyards 'J Pertucci & Son' Shiraz 2010
'Oliver Block' - 115 McMurtrie Rd, McLaren Vale. $25. 768 bottles produced. Region 16.
Lovely open knit nose. Real essence of Shiraz stuff. Buzzy raspberry cola palate looks a bit too fruit bomb-esque for big points. Blackberry juice with a warm finish. A more savoury palate would have won me over here. 16.8/89

26. d'Arenberg 'The Garden of Extraordinary Delights' Shiraz 2010

'WILCADS1' - Douglass Gully Rd, McLaren Flat. $99. 2500 bottles produced. Region 17.
Sweetly alcoholic nose. Red fruit ahoy. Linear and super savoury unusual palate. An odd, lighter styled wine. Lots of acidity. 17.3/90+

27. Penny's Hill 'Footprint' Shiraz 2010

'Penny's Hill' - 41 Penny's Hill Rd, McLaren Vale. $60. 3600 bottles produced. Region 18.

Big minty flavours. Lots on the palate. Leafy and stemmy? Nice structure underneath though. Over and underripe. Rich but sour. May improve with time . 17/90+

(Missing - not bottled. Brash Higgins 'SZH' Shiraz 2010).

I travelled to McLaren Vale as a guest of McLaren Grape Wine & Tourism.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Tulloch Cellar Door Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Tulloch Cellar Door Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Hilltops, NSW)
13.4%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

A cellar door only wine drawn from the vineyards around Young.

Super dark colour on this. Carries that dark choc/mint mulberry eucalypt Hilltops Cabernet all over the nose. Minty but red berry jam juicy too. Sappy, minty palate with high pokey acid. Stout tannins and menthol finish. Has a certain freshness to it and structurally sound, if just a bit raw. Would look rather good next to something lamb based.

Drink: 2012-2018. 16.8/89+

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Yarra Yering: 3 wines that remind why I need more

Yarra Yering: 3 wines that remind why I need more

Gee I wish I had more Yarra Yaring in the cellar.

That's a lament I find myself uttering every time I try one of these fabled wines. They are, to put it simply, the sort of wines that I want to drink. That's not to say that everything with a Yarra Yering label on it impresses (they can be rather variable), but the highlights are really fucking high.

These three wines illustrate that point particularly well. The No. 1, in particular, is so long and fine and, well, thoughtful that I find myself instantly attracted to it. All of the wines are detailed actually, even despite their vagaries, forcing you to look at them again and again and again. Great wines should do that methinks.

Thoughtful is a good summary word for the Yarra Yering wine style actually for, as friend (and colleague) Angus Hughson pointed out in an article published in The Australian this week, the wines were made by one of the more intriguing intellects of the wine industry in (the late) Dr Bailey Carrodus, a man who - by nature - was only going to make wines to be contemplated.

Of course Bailey was a complex sort of person too (I had quite good experiences with him though) and Angus alludes to just how many interesting stories about 'the Doc' there are around...

The article is a good one (my bias noted) and is worth a read. Check it out here (subscription may be required. Sometimes a cheeky Google search will uncover a free version though).

The wines:

Yarra Yering Dry Red 1 2005
Claret. Yarra Valley Claret. No other conclusion can be drawn. A blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec and a little Petit Verdot. In every way a classic Yarra Cabernet (from a great vintage too).

Lovely nose of tobacco leafiness (but not underripe character) and black fruit, the nose wavering nicely between the herbs and the red/black fruit. There's an extra sweetness on the nose too, which is both welcome and surprising. The palate has a firm, brackish and darkly leafy sort of style that is much more firm and taught than the nose suggests, even a little hard. My those tannins are long though. Longggg finish.

Fine wine, but also reserved and withdrawn. Intrigue to burn. I have two bottles. Want more. 18.3/93++

Yarra Yering Underhill Shiraz 2006
Drawn exclusively from the original 1974 block of Shiraz. I haven't always loved the Underhill but it is nothing if not a savoury and old world sort of Australian Shiraz.

It's a very meaty, animale cast wine this vintage though with black olives, slow roast beef and black pepper. Hint of Brett? Lovely black fruit but perhaps dulled by the hint of 'the B man'. Quite a sweet middle again, dry finish and fine powdery tannins. I think I'd drink it, but plenty of erm, 'character' in this bottle. 17.5/91

Yarra Yering Agincourt 2007

From what has always been considered to be a rather ordinary red vintage in the Yarra (bushfire affected) I was quite surprised to enjoy this so much.

Bacon hocks and smoky ferrous rusticity on the nose, yet the palate has  a certain sort of line and length to it, long and smoky and willowy. Sweet and sour but not rich. Long. Lovely willowy dark tannins. Has power, has grace, has form. Another wine of character but a character that is working here. 17.9/92

Derwent Estate Pinot Noir 2009

Tassie - so hot right now
Derwent Estate Pinot Noir 2009 (Tasmania)
13.6%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

I've been having a bit of a compare and contrast session with this wine actually, largely just to work out why it is quite different to the 2008. Different in a good way that is, but different all the same. Most particularly, it looks quite a bit firmer than the previous vintage, although on a deeper, not-just-vintage-variation level.

From a production point of view, the differences are somewhat minor, yet could also be important. This 09 spent only 9 months in oak vs 12 for the 08 and it also spent more time cold soaking (4 days versus 2). That could well explain some of the structural change (cold soaks giving colour and extract, less oak can mean tauter wines) but not all. A slice of intrigue.

Regardless, this is another good Pinot Noir from an estate better known for its whites than reds (Chardonnay in particular). It's all dark black cherry fruit in a ripe and dense sort of form with some concentration. Carries that fleshiness of fully destemmed fruit and a certain decadence. Very attractive.

After that lusciousness the raw edge to the palate is a step back. Or to the side maybe. Anyways, it is a big wine, that black cherry fruit again edged with drying tannins and rather a bit of acidity. It all makes for a biggun' Pinot but not a chubby one with proper structure. Plenty of ticks from me. Fair price too. 17.9/92

Friday, 6 July 2012

James Estate Petit Verdot 2010

I like Petit Verdot. A maligned grape
James Estate Petit Verdot 2010 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
13.5%, Screwcap, $16
Source: Sample

The Upper Hunter seems to have been forgotten in recent times, what with Rosemount completely moving out of the region in 2010 (as the Rosemount winery was bought in 2010 by chemical/mining services/explosives company Orica to be used as a storage facility for ammonium nitrate) and others (like Arrowfield) somewhat disappearing.

Like James Estate, most of these Upper Hunter producers have moved their public 'face' (ie cellar door) to the Lower Hunter (though James Estate retains a cellar door in the Upper Hunter).

Still, there remains plenty of Upper Hunter vineyards that are yet to be swallowed up by mining interests, and the wines, generally, remain rather good value indeed (if occasionally rather unremarkable).

This wine, at least,  has character to match the value, presenting as something more like a Hunter-meets-Hilltops style. It's ridiculously darkly coloured for the Hunter too (which I rather like. Maybe I'm a colourist after all. Nahh) and carries a slightly baked, red dirt nose with a super ferrous earthen style whcih is all about less fruit and more savoury leanings.

There is more juicinesss on the palate though, which is more about simple earthen chocolate blackberries with some spirit drenched plum warmth. Sweet and sour and just a little bulky, this certainly has some appeal, again it's very regional though and capped off with very bitter tannins and really great length.

Odd wine this, but no questioning that it has earthen 'I'm from the Hunter Valley' character. 16.5/88+