Friday, 30 November 2012

On an Even Keel – unearthing a new Mornington superstar

On an Even Keel – unearthing a new Mornington superstar

(This article appeared in a recent edition of Lattelife. Sam's wines deserve more attention, particularly those 2010s)

Much is made of ‘age’ in the wine industry. Old wines are held up as more prized than younger examples. Ancient old vines are almost uniformly considered superior to younger ones. Old heads are generally expected to make better wines. Maturity, in what is effectively a primary/secondary production process, seems to equal better results.

Given such a context, when you see genuine superstar wines turn up from an unknown young producer, you start digging deeper for the experienced hand behind it. Young guns do pop-up overnight sure, but rarely do serious successes get achieved without a wisened wine guru and some high quality vineyards on the scene.

After tasting the the Polperro and Even Keel Wines I thought this had to be the case. How could a relatively unknown winemaker (Sam Coverdale) manage to craft such profound single vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs without anyone knowing about it?

The answer: it’s all about age and maturity - about an old head, a young body and, particularly, some tip-top experience. That a clever head can make good with anything.

Speaking of experience, whilst Sam’s Even Keel and Polperro labels themselves are less than 6 years old, his journey into wine kicked off fifteen plus years ago, when he took a holiday job as a Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley cellarhand.  This ‘casual job’ - as an eighteen year old - was the catalyst you see, kicking off a process that would ultimately lead him to completing a degree in Wine Science at Charles Stuart University and a life of wine.

For further experience post-degree, Sam notched up a decade in Australian wineries too, with a notable stint at the Canberran young-gun hotbed winery of Kamberra (Hardys famed Canberra sparkling and cool climate wine facility) whilst also completing vintages in Spain, Italy and France along the way too.

One of the more thought provoking stints on Sam’s winemaking resume was the time spent at Burgundian producer Domaine Lafage, a jaunt that not only convinced him that his future would be Chardonnay and Pinot Noir coloured, but also imprinted the idea that great wines need not be overly manipulated to be great.

Given such a winemaking back-story, it’s probably of little surprise that the wines are at least solidly drinkable and varietal. What propels them from ‘good’ into ‘pass me another bottle’ great though is the final piece of the jigsaw – the grapes themselves.

Again maturity plays a part here. Sam has been managing – from 2009 – a set of 18 and 20 year old (respectively) Mornington Peninsula vineyards located in prime grapegrowing country.  These established vineyards are farmed organically, and with Sam cutting the yields again since taking over, the fruit produced is tip-top. A mature vineyard to match that mature head.

Ultimately the proof is in the pudding, and by pudding I mean wines. The 2010 Polperro Landividdy Lane Pinot Noir is a perfect example – a powerful, savoury and intensely flavoured Mornington Pinot Noir with the sort of ethereal power and weight seen in the very best Australian wines. Even the standard Even Keel Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay has a balance between richness and minerality to be admired. All of the wines show a level of evolved savouriness so rarely seen in Australian wines, particularly from a label that is just a few vintages old.

Admittedly Sam is no wunderkind, nor is he just utilising someone else’s experience to his own advantage. He’s just making wine like an old fart and generally doing it better.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

More glorious Italian booze: Quintarelli Rosso Del Bepi 1999

Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi 1999 (Veneto, Italy)
15%, Cork, $270+
Source: Dinner companion

I tried this wine just weeks after that fateful first encounter with a Quintarelli. As a result, when this lobbed on the table I was excited. Not quite misty eyes excited but at least a little jittery with anticipation. Excited, but also half expecting a disappointment - could it really match the Amarone or was this another one-off cult hero?

No disappointment here though. Just glory. Complex, intense, layered glory. That's of little surprise when I discovered that this is essentially a declassified Amarone, a wine produced in those years when (the late) Giuseppe Quintarelli decreed that the wine didn't quite make the Amarone grade. The IGT labelling is a nod to the declassification even though it could qualify as an Amarone under normal labelling laws.

The blend here mirrors the 'standard' Quintarelli Amarone too, being a blend of primarily Corvina and Rondinella, with smaller portions of Cabernet, Nebbiolo, Croatina, Molinara and Negrara.

This is no 'standard' wine though, spending 7 years in oak, an ageing period which is unheard of even amongst most 'normal' Amarones. It is, for all intensive purposes, 99% a Quintarelli Amarone, just at less than half the price. And my lord is it a cracking wine.

Even at 13 years of age it is still such a blindingly youthful wine. There is an evolved, Cabernet meets Amarone nose here that combines the warm (perhaps a little too warm) rich, fruit cake and leather of air dried Corvina and Rondinella but with a cedary, cassis and cigar box aromatic vitality to it that is pure Claret. The palate too is all contrasts, drying fruit and drying tannins but of a shape that again seems more lively and leafy and fresh and pure than I expect to see in Amarone. It's like a middle aged classed growth has met a Amarone and a Super Tuscan (one of the less oaky ones) and they have had a threesome. A sensual threesome at that...

Entrancing, beguiling, intense and just plain wonderful wine. Yes. Yes yes. Yes yes yes.

Drink: 2012-2030+
Score: 19.1/97
Would I buy it? Dear Santa, I've been good this year, could you put one of these in my stocking?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Pepper Tree Tallavera Shiraz 2010

Pepper Tree Tallavera Shiraz 2010 (Hunter Valley, NSW)

14.5%, Screwcap, $45
Source: Sample

Jim Chatto, Pepper Tree Chief Winemaker, believes that the secret to crafting good Shiraz in the stop-start 2010 Hunter vintage was about picking early. Indeed most of the Pepper Tree red grapes were in before my birthday (5th February) which was something of a record I believe. Intriguing to see this single vineyard Shiraz (drawn from the Tallavera vineyard up Mount View way next to Bistro Molines) look so ripe and powerful regardless.

Masculine Shiraz it is. Almost atypically masculine even, the flavours big and plummy and beefy, the tannins firm and the acidity taut. I quite like the penetration actually, the weight and dry tannins indicating some high quality fruit. I'd like to see a fraction more delicacy, though that perhaps isn't what the vintage is going to yield.

A weighty Hunter Shiraz with much scope for improvement in the cellar.

Drink: 2013-2023+
Would I buy it? I do prefer the '11 Hunter reds, though this does have appeal. In other words I would personally hang out for the '11 even if I like this.

Zema Estate Shiraz 2008

Zema Estate Shiraz 2008 (Coonawarra, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $28
Source: Sample

Coonawarra seems to have survived the 2008 heatwave better than most South Australian regions, its cooler southern maritime clime tempering the temps enough to salvage some vibrancy in the wines. If not vibrancy at least some mid palate generosity, often tipped with sweet alcohol heat.

Quite a few of the 2008 Coonawarra wines have more residual sugar too, the wines pressed off earlier than usual to avoid the potential for dehydrated fruit tannins (the dry tannins due to berries with less juice and more skins). This Zema however is dry and still retains some juiciness, if undeniably warmer.

A sweet and oak driven sort of wine to smell, with sweet and generous dark fruit and coffeed oak. It's a slightly diffuse nose and confected nose, if appealing enough. The palate is full through the middle and drying to finish, less elegant and more forceful than some Coonawarra Shiraz and rich, dry and warm all at once.

A bigger Coonawarra Shiraz yet with more than enough heart to carry it off. Good

Drink: 2012-2020+
Score: 17/90
Would I buy it? Not strictly but it is fairly priced and well 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Kellermeister 'The Pilgrimage' Cabernet Shiraz 2009

Kellermeister 'The Pilgrimage' Cabernet Shiraz 2009
14.5%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

A crap picture of a decent wine.
Note the pile of tea-towels in the
background - I live a glamorous life
Whilst I think that the Kellermeister wines can be a little oak heavy at times, when they nail the style there is much hearty goodness to be had. This falls into the latter camp with so much rich dense flavours that you half expect this red to be wearing flannel and cutting things up with an axe (hopefully not a body).

Anyways, the pilgrimage reference comes from the fact this is sourced from the Vale, not Kellermeister's normal Barossa stomping ground. There's a nice feel-good factor with this wine too, with $5 from every bottle sold at cellar door donated to charity. Generous gesture Kellermeisterers.

Generous wine it is too. Perhaps a little oak heavy but savoury oak, the palate dry and firm and dark chocolatey. It's a fraction confected initially but that mid palate is properly dry with a chocolate stout coffeed richness to it that is quite delicious, capped off with real tannins.

A thoroughly genuine, meat-and-potatoes red, this looked good on day one and even better on day two. Easy recommendation.

Drink: 2012-2020
Score: 17.7/92
Would I buy it? No, but I have lots of 'big red' loving friends who would.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Terra Felix La Vie En Rosé 2011

Terra Felix La Vie En Rosé 2011 (Central Victoria, Vic)
14%, Screwcap, $17.50
Source: Sample

'Drink with a range of summer foods'. I'm always intrigued by back label lines like that. What are summer foods anyway (and are there spring foods)?

Anyways this is produced from Mourvèdre, a grape that works quite well with just a little residual sugar, the softening effect of sugar complementing Mourvèdre's natural reductiveness quite well.

A very pink sort of a beast it is too - light but very bright and vital. Nice rosewater nose too. Very clean, quite juicy but quintessentially fresh and savoury palate. Alcohol is little spiky but don't let that stop you. That hint of redcurrant and the sweetness of a little RS and sweet alcohol works a treat here.

Hardly profound rosé but done well.

Drink: 2012-2013
Score: 16.5/88
Would I buy it? I'd drink it at a restaurant. Well priced too.

More English bubbles: Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2006

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2006 (England)
12%, Cork, £40
Source: Gift

Perhaps the only criticism that can be levelled at English sparkling wine is that, given their quality and price expectations, so many examples are released too young and with less time on lees than their equivalent premium sparkling counterparts. Indeed, even many top Australian sparkling wines spend more time on lees than the 2 years this wine does.

Given the rampant demand for the best wines, and the youth of the wineries, we aren't going to see this change in the near future either, with early releases and limited lees ageing still the norm.

As a broad generalisation that results in leaner and less complex wines, a factor compounded by the higher levels of natural acidity of England's cooler, more northerly vineyards.

Still, if the sparklings are as perfectly well structured and balanced as this one, then the English sparkling future is assured - late disgorged or not.

Light yellow in colour, the nose looks to be Pinot dominant and classically so. It's quite perfumed even, with great delineation and delicacy. Delicious smelling wine! After such an auspicious start the palate is just a little neutral and skinny, all acid and a hint of young, green apple fruit.

I put this wine down and came back to it about half an hour later and noticed just how delectable that acidity is - its really fine and unforced and natural. Very classy. All that is required now is for the palate to fill out and catch up with that structure, for underneath this is very very fine wine.

Good wine with hints of greatness.

Score: 18.1/93
Would I buy it? The price is hard to justify but still there is interest here. I wouldn't buy it but enjoyed drinking it.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Cradle of Hills Route Be Bonheur GMS 2010

Cradle of Hills Route de Bonheur GMS 2010 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

Open vats, basket pressing and 18 months in French oak. Good winemaking and authentic wine. Route de Bonheur - Road to Happiness. I think you would be happy drinking this with something steaky.

Sweet, slightly candied raspberry licorice nose, very slick and a little slippery with some Play-doh oak. That palate has a milk solids like fullness to the texture to compete with that vanillin richness. Super polished palate. It's perhaps a fraction too polished but it is very well made. Maybe a little short? Good drinking and obviously quality fruit regardless in a delightfully modern rich plush fruit. Clever.

Drink: 2012-2019
Score: 17.5/91
Would I buy it? I liked it though not sure I'd buy it.

McLeish Estate Semillon 2011

McLeish Estate Semillon 2011 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
$23, Screwcap, 11.1%
Source: Sample

The 2011 Hunter Semillons are an affable lot, typically riper and generous than the norm, forward and already quite open. This fits that bill perfectly, with a roundness that makes it very easy to slam it down fast in true Solo Man style.

Rather aromatic and almost tropical on the nose if still rather classic. A warm year wine indeed, it already looks to be filling out, the palate. full and juicy with rather soft acidity good penetration of flavour.

Perhaps a little mono-dimensional, but otherwise much to like, this is actually a pretty good alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.

Drink: 2012-2019+
Score: 16.8/89
Would I buy it? I'd drink it but wouldn't shell out for a bottle.

Esperanza Tempranillo 2011

Esperanza Tempranillo 2011 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

The companion wine to the Monastrell and just as well packaged. The juice inside suffers thanks to some vintage vagaries but the concept shows much promise.

Sticks + cranberry fruit. Has the 2011 vintag, 'is this Yarra Valley fruit' herbal lift and fragrance underwritten by quite pretty, delicate fruit, if lacking the ripeness you'd expect in Vale Tempranillo. It tastes atypical too, leaner and more soapy textured with pronounced acidity and firm, raspy tannins.

Whilst I like the spice, this really just needs more fruit ripeness to properly impress.

Drink: 2012-2018+
Score: 15.5/85

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Profound Amarone: Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella 2000

Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella 2000 (Verona, Italy)
16.5%, Cork, $650 (if you can find some)
Source: Kindly fellow wine judge

Another wine that had a starring role at the NSW Wine Awards Judges Dinner, and again it was a first for me. My first Quintarelli that is, an estate that has a 'cult following' (particularly in the US), with this Amarone lauded as the one of the bestest Amarones ever in the history of the world. Or at least that is what you'd expect given the hype.

Since this bottle entered my life though I've become a Quintarelli convert, hunting down bottles all over the world to taste and buy, feeling like the wine equivalent of an obsessed One Direction fan buying memorabilia (except with Italian vino).

This wine was, quite simply, the most profound Amarone and indeed one of the finest Italian reds I've ever tasted. An Amarone that is as far from the volatile, dried out and hard standard Amarone style as can be imagined.

Part of the intrigue surely must be from the winemaking itself - the Quintarelli wines spend up to 8 years in large wood, the Amarone only released in certain vintages and only when deemed ready. The late Giuseppe Quintarelli (whom passed earlier this year) was also a famous perfectionist, his winemaking style an exact and uncompromising one.

The grape mix is unique too - largely Corvina and Rondinella with less Molinara, complemented by Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. Such a mix is anything but traditional, even though the big oak and methods are entirely old school.

This contrast - and the aforementioned attention to detail - ultimately adds up to one seriously engaging wine.

It's an evolved and meaty wine at that, the nose heavy with dense caramelised red fruit and that unmissable Amarone concentration. It's a warm nose, but not excessively volatile, the long barrel maturation apparently failing to flatten the nose. That vibrancy connects through to the palate too, the fudge-cake rich and seamless in that 'oak aged forever' style. The oak here gives textural weight, yet it doesn't taste oaky, another paradox to tick off.

Ultimately what makes this so satisfying is the length - it's incredibly long and fresh and long and vibrant. Just the longest, most defined and powerful red with a palate silkiness yet with proper tannins too. I didn't even notice the alcohol on the palate either. What a brilliant, complex and involving wine.

Drink: 2012-2032+
Score: 19.1/97
Would I buy it? If I could find some at a reasonable price I would. Currently having my UK connections investigate...

Friday, 23 November 2012

My first O'Shea - Mount Pleasant red circa 1949-1951

My first O'Shea - Mount Pleasant red circa 1949-1951
Source: Kindly fellow judge

Proper cellar dust too
The details were sketchy. Actually, the wine didn't even have a label. It was a proprietary, date stamped bottle though and several older, wiser heads attested to the authenticity of the style.

It was my first O'Shea. By that, I mean it was my first chance to try a wine made by legendary Hunter winemaker Maurice O'Shea, a man who sits alongside Schubert, Preece et al. amongst the pantheon of the 20th century Australian wine industry gods. He was particularly famous for his offbeat blends combining divergent regions, vintages and varieties, most well known being a Hunter Shiraz Pinot - a wine style which I notably tried to emulate for my never released student wine (with very average results).

Anyways, this particular red was Nick Bulleid MW's contribution to the NSW Wine Awards judges dinner. As is the norm with such events, everyone brings a bottle with the understanding that the better the wine you bring the less scorn is heaped upon you by the other judges. It's good-natured one-upmanship of the best kind and sharing bottles like this (and Nick has a history of bringing genuinely special old wines) almost make you glad that you gave up a day of your time to look at brackets of Chambourcin (I avoided the 'other reds' class this year. Scored plenty of young Shiraz though which was awesome).

But back to the O'Shea. As noted earlier the bottle was unlabelled, yet table consensus suggested that the juice inside was from circa 1949-1951. I say circa as the unlabelled bottle was stamped with 1949 on it, however Maurice was renowned for reusing old bottles so we can only guess the vintage date.

I quite like the mystery of what this wine might be, for it just helped to add another layer to the whole experience. An experience of a red wine that, at circa 61-63 years of age, was still looking good. In fact, good is selling it short, for this Hunter red still had that terracotta bricks, beef and saddles of old Hunter Shiraz, the palate still (still! At 60+ years of age) hanging on to some red fruit, with a hint of chocolate. The palate was soft, very advanced, but recognisably medium bodied and silken, the acid rising up, but still yet to take over the (just) decayed back end.

It was even better than I thought it would be. It was, unequivocally, both a beautiful old Hunter red and a silken old wine. It was decomposing and rustic but I genuinely enjoyed drinking it (which is rare perhaps as plenty of old reds are curios but rubbish to drink).

More than that this was a reverential experience. I was touching history, in the most clichéd form, and even though I'd already warmed up with about 6 beers, several old whites and a Champagne or two, I was swept up in the moment (as was much of the table) and had to have some quiet time.

I can only hope that it wasn't my one and only O'Shea...

Drink: Still going
Score: Curio

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Derwent Estate Pinot Gris 2012

Derwent Estate Pinot Gris 2012 (Tasmania)
Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

If it really wanted to, I think Southern Tasmania could be ground zero for great Australian Pinot Gris. Whether many Tasmanian producers think there is value in such a sport (Grising) is another question all together.

Anyways this is a clean, dry and fragrant Pinot Gris that has just the barest hint of white peach richness, a wine that balances out the white flower prettiness off the variety with some proper acid crunch. I like it. I like the clean lines and the freshness and the balance of it all. Good Gris.

Score: 17.5/91
Would I buy it? Off the list at Golden Century I would buy this without hesitation. Mudcrab me.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Brothers in Arms 6th Generation Cabernet 2010

Brothers in Arms 6th Generation Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Langhorne Creek, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $29
Source: Sample

I'm in university exam mode at the moment (which is why I've been noticeably quiet this week), so tasting wine has been put on the backburner and reading about making it has taken centre stage (want to talk talk about IPM schedules and the solubility of Potassium Bitartrate in juice? Ugh).

Regardless, this wine is worth discussing. It came in a box of mixed Brothers in Arms wines including an older 2007 Brothers in Arms Shiraz, a 2008 'No.8' Shiraz and a mix of other blends and Cabernets and such. I opened them all together and openly struggled with many of them, the two Shiraz in particular. They were hard, boozy, dried out, old school Langhorne reds that I can't imagine actually drinking, let along loving. I no like.

Anyways, I picked up that a few other scribes thought the same way. Jeremy Pringle, Winsor Dobbin and Patrick Haddock all expressed a similar impression on twitter. There was consensus. We no like.

What I didn't expect was Brothers in Arm's GM James Hall to email me and ask to chat about it. He'd heard second-hand at a Hong Kong trade fair (word travels fast) that a bunch of us pesky wine scribes were bitching about his wines and wanted to sort it out.

In situations like that I'm always happy to talk expand on sentiments. Seven times out of ten the producer even tends to half agree 'yeah, I can see why you wouldn't like it' or 'it was a difficult year' or 'I'm not happy with it either... don't print that' etc etc. The other three more times the winemaker just wants to give you a spray and call you a dickhead. That happens too.

What I most like is when you get a straight answer, and James gave that in a suitably pragmatic style. He explained that the wines were a product of the vintage, that they looked riper than he would truly like to see them, yet was still happy to call them Brothers in Arms wines. Further, they (the Brothers in Arms crew) made some significant changes in the vineyard post 2008, changes which should see more freshness in the wines and more even ripeness levels.

As for this Cabernet - well it was the one red in the lineup that I liked. It was the most balanced, the most vibrant and the least overripe of the range, carrying that trademark richness and penetration without the heat and desiccation. It was, as James agreed, a step in the right direction, just needing more detail to be top class.

A great result in the end.

Drink: 2012-2018+
Score: 17/90
Would I buy it? Probably not, though I'd still recommend it.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Salon 1996

Salon 1996 (Champagne, France)
12%, Cork, $700
Source: A gift glass

I've been watching the tweets from the Len Evans tutorial this week (hashtag #LET12), lingering enviously over the pictures of epic, occasionally almost mythical, wines from both Australia and abroad. Why just the other night a 65 Lindemans Hunter River Burgundy made an appearance, one of those wines that is listed amongst the 'greatest Australian wines ever made' and is on my 'must try before I die' list.

Next year will be my Len Evans tutorial year, surely...

Anyways, this Salon, whilst still a recent release, may one day be considered amongst the greatest Champagnes ever made. Or at least that is what the hype around this wine suggests. Happily, I think the hype might be right too...

Now I can't claim the credit for this bottle for it was donated by my colleague Angus Hughson. Angus promised to open it us when he passed at least some of his MW exams you see and he negotiated the 'theory' section successfully this year and duly popped the cork on this puppy. Thanks again and congratulations Angus.

What sets this wine apart is just how vinous it is. That may seem like an odd thing to say for Champagne, particularly given how much levity is given to the winemaking craft, instead of the grapes themselves, in Champagne production, yet this actually smells like grapes. It smells like Chardonnay grapes, that classic 'white flower and brioche' nose of long lees aged Chardonnay based Champagne. Outstanding nose, perfect even.

That perfection is a bit  disarming actually, the fragrance showing underlying latent power as well as layers of whipped cream richness (with a little hint of custard) and then more grapey power. I really didn't expect it to be this pastry-meets-cream meets-acidity-and-they-have-a-beautiful-threesome perfect on the palate either, a wine that is both soft and powerful, the acidity forceful yet entirely balanced and natural. It's vinous in its acidity again too, grapey even but with yeasty richness. So many layers. Sublime Champagne. Sublime. Yes!

Drink: 2012-2026+
Score: 19.2/20 97/100
Would I buy it? Someone lend me $700 and I would

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2002

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2002 (Champagne, France)
12.5%, Cork, $135
Source: A glass from someone else's bottle

The Champagne you're having when you're not having Salon, Delamotte is usually a wine of some intensity, carrying plenty of its older brother's DNA. I think this particular wine was in less than perfect condition, though I wouldn't turn down a glass...

Very correct, clean and slightly sweaty, the yeast work on the nose is excellent. There is a fine balance between richness and inherent freshness and it smells very correct. After that perfect nose the palate is a bit of a dissapointment, a fraction broad and fatty through the middle and flattish through the finish. It's still creamy with classic Champagne Chardonnay characters, though the length doesn't say superstar wine to me. Smart wine, just a fraction short of greatness. I think I'd prefer a Larmandier Bernier for this price but its still high quality wine. Need to see a top bottle really...

Drink: 2012-2022
Score: 18/20 93/100
Would I buy it? No, though a good bottle?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Longview Vineyard Boat Shed Nebbiolo Rosé

Longview Vineyard Boat Shed Nebbiolo Rosé 2012 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
13.5%, Screwcap, $19.50
Source: Sample

Nebbiolo is an excellent grape to make rosé out of, those tannins and that wonderful turkish delight fragrance making for a wine of grip and flavour. This crisp and balanced example does it very well - I helped finish a bottle last night so can vouch for that (wine writers drink wine too you know. Not often mind you, its normally just beer).

What I also like is that orange salmon pink colour - it just says 'proper rosé'. This smells varietal too, with rose water, sap and shows a little fruit sweetness on the nose. The palate is dry, lightly tannic and quite ripe, the wine clean and fresh with raised acidity and a little alcohol warmth. Those tannins are what really clinches the drinkability though, giving an extra sensation of 'grown up wine' to what can be a very unserious wine style. Winner.

Drink: 2012-2013
Score: 17/20 90/100
Would I buy it? On a restaurant list this would be a very natural pick.

Longview Yakka Shiraz 2009

Longview Yakka Shiraz 2009 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
14.5% Screwcap, $27
Source: Sample

Hard yakka this vintage. Looks to have suffered in the vineyard.

The colour is correct - purple red - but look closer and there is just a tint of mahogany at the edges (a telltale sign of premature ageing). It smells big and ripe and heady, the volatility high sitting alongside mint and raspberry strained fruit. All through it is a big minty berry of a wine, carrying the heavy, tarry warmth of overripe fruit clashing with underripe mintiness and finishing with hard minty tannins and alcohol warmth. It's going to flesh out more with bottle age but will always remain a compromised wine.

Drink: 2014-2018
Score: 15/20 84/100
Would I buy it? No.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Woodstock Shiraz 2010

Woodstock Shiraz 2010 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14.9%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

A killer year for Vale Shiraz and this well packaged red does it well.

Seriously Inky coloured - a Bic dark red by my reckoning (the gel inks in the decent Bic pens, not the cheap gooey stuff), this is really rather juicy, flowing with deep blackberry fruit and minimal obvious oak influence. The palate too is all rich fruit in that round, sunny skies Vale style. Strictly speaking there isn't much tannins to speak of and the alcohol stunts the finish a little but that plush mid palate is unquestionably attractive. Good modern Vale red.

Drink: 2012-2018
Score: 17.2/20 90/100
Would I buy it? Maybe not. I'd recommend it though.

Esperanza Monastrell 2010

Esperanza Monastrell 2010 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $35

Source: Sample

Esperanza means 'hope' in Spanish. It's also a Spanish D.O focused on Verdejo, though that doesn't really matter here (can confuse if you type in the wrong URL though). In this context, the name is all part of the message, the 'hope' reflecting a sentiment that many McLaren Vale winemakers hold - that Iberian grapes could well be the way of the future.

The Spanish message is carried beyond just the name too, the grape given the (Spanish) 'Monastrell' tag instead of Mataro (Australian) or Mourvedre (French). Heck, it even comes with a little plastic, Torres-esque bull thingie on the neck too.

Digging a little further and it appears this has been made by the Wirra Wirra crew, although you'd only know that by the R.G Trott reference and the winery address. The winemakers are cheekily listed as 'Dos Pablos' which is apparently a Spanish reference to Wirra Wirra. Cheeky, and a nice tie in too. Fertile minds behind this drink.

As for the juice itself, well, if clever, savoury wines like this are what we are going to look forward to in the new 'Iberian Vale' too then bring it on.

Perhaps the only thing that may hold it back is the inherent reductive and shy nature of Vale Monastrell/Mourvedre/Mataro etc, that withering, brooding personality that makes it so impressively savoury and deep but also anything but seductive. Here that persona is supported by enough concentrated, dense licoricey, black/red fruit to carry everything off, but it'ss still hardly a generous wine by any measure.

Regardless I like. I like it a lot. I like how uncompromised and proudly unsweet and long it is.

Pass the chorizo please.

Drink: 2012-2020+
Score: 17.7/20 92/100
Would I buy it? On a Spanish restaurant wine list this would be an easy pick.

A Shaw thing

A Shaw thing

(The tone here is more 'lifestyle' print media focused than other posts, an approach I feel I almost have to apologise for. The sentiment is absolutely honest though).

It’s hard work being an Australian Sauvignon Blanc producer.

Not only are 1 in 2 bottles of white wines consumed in Australia now made in New Zealand (making Australian white wines a lesser majority for the first time in recent history), but the dominance of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc has forced Australian Sauv makers to change their wines all together.

For examples of this, witness only the proliferation of (delicious) oaked, textural ‘we take our Sauvignon directions from France’ styled Sauvignon Blancs that have come out in recent times, led by wines like De Bortoli’s Reserve Sauvignon and the Mitchell Harris Fumé Blanc alongside the more established labels like Domaine A’s ‘Lady A’ or Geoff Weaver’s Ferus.

One Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc producer really doesn’t need to bother reinventing their Sauvignon wheel. Indeed, they can’t keep up with supply as it is.That producer is Shaw & Smith and, with the 2012 Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc, they have shown that the secret to making quality Sauvignon Blanc lie in the attention to detail.

Said attentiveness naturally starts in the vineyard - unlike many equivalent producers from across the Tasman, the yields are kept deliberately lower on the Shaw & Smith estate and grower vineyards, a move which ultimately delivers flavour concentration and density. They also hand prune the vines and hand harvest the grapes, a process that drives up production costs but also leads to more consistently higher quality fruit making its way the winery.

Speaking of high quality fruit, whilst the focus of Shaw & Smith’s new releases is undoubtedly the Sauv Blanc, the wine that I would most like to have in my cellar is the new 2010 Shaw & Smith Shiraz. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate in calling it the best Shiraz to appear under this label, showing the sort of peppery, meaty aromatics that you’d expect to see in something from Cornas in France’s Northern Rhone but with the sort of polish I expect from Shaw & Smith.

Not only is this Shiraz well made, well packaged and damn tasty it is also very well priced at just $42 from the winery website ( isn’t just the Shiraz and Sauv that look good this vintage either, with the 2010 Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay right up there with the best releases under the label, carrying a balance between power and refreshment that typifies what makes modern Australian Chardonnay.

Perhaps the only blip on the Shaw & Smith horizon is 2010 Shaw & Smith Pinot Noir which, for mine, looks just a little simple and jubey to be really enjoyable. Given that this is the first ever Pinot Noir under the Shaw & Smith 'estate' label it’s probably not surprising to see it looking a little one-dimensional to begin with.

Putting the Pinot aside then there is no hiding the glory of these new Shaw & Smith releases. Top class wines at very fair prices, made with genuine care and attention. A shaw thing?

The wines:

Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
Carries its varietal character from the outset does this wine, the nose all varietal gooseberry and grapefruit. The palate is zippy, vinous and has a fleshy melon edge to it. Generous, yet retains its acid crunch. Really good modern Sauv and a very good vintage for this label. Not profound but perfect for what it is. 17.7/20 92/100

Shaw & Smith Shiraz 2010 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
The best thing about this wine? Every sniff, every sip the wine changes. That is a mark of an intriguing wine in my books and this does it well. It's all black and white pepper, pan juices and redcurrant on the nose, with both fruit and spicy meaty edges. The palate is, wonderfully, properly tannic, the flavours bold and ripe yet still properly even and ripe. It's a little warm through the finish and perhaps a fraction too polished, but the length, the hint of regional eucalpyt and the sturdy acidity are top class. I like the hint of sausage through the finish too, a dose of wildness that keeps you coming back. What's more, this Shiraz is only going to get better in the bottle too. Yes. 18.7/20 95/100

(I'd like to see an even wilder version of this wine, just to see how it looks. No fining, no filtration, longer maceration and no fear. Mr Smith, Mr Shaw, Mr LeMire - how about it? A little 50 dozen trial lot?).

Shaw + Smith Pinot Noir 2010 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
Don't get me wrong, this is a very attractive wine. It's full of glossy, super soft raspberry pie fleshiness, the fruit just a little too plump and generous to be classical. Pleasant and fun, its going to be even better in time, just looks a little simple for the moment. 16.8/20 89/100+

Sunday, 4 November 2012

100 years of Henschke Mt Edelstone - The Century tasting

100 years of Henschke Mt Edelstone - The Century tasting

'2012 has been a year of milestones for us here at Henschke. Not only have we celebrated the 50th vintage of the Hill of Grace with the release of the 2007 vintage, this year also marks the 100th year of the planting of the historic Mount Edelstone vineyard. In addition to the 100 year anniversary we have produced 60 consecutive vintage since 1952 which is possibly the longest consecutive produced single vineyard wine in Australia.' Stephen Henschke

As you can tell it is a milestone year for Henschke, and milestones give you an excuse to look inward. To look back at where you have come from, whilst also looking forward to where you're going (and want to be).

Fittingly, we gathered at Sydney's new 'The Century' restaurant recently to look at a whole suite of both old and new Henschke wines, led by the always thoughtful Stephen Henschke.

The choice of restaurant was also apt considering its context - The Century is the latest iteration of Golden Century, an absolute institution for Sydney BYO eateries. It's a new restaurant, based on an old one. Better still, The Century is located in the base of The Star, the redone and renamed Star City casino.

Undoubtedly though the main feature of this tasting was a look at Mt Edelstone, the Henschke families prized 100 year old Shiraz vineyard. It's a vineyard which, peculiarly for 1912, was planted almost solely to Shiraz (save for a few rogue bastardo vines).

What is most satisfying (for me personally) about Mt Edelstone is that - like Hill of Grace - the fruit from it is so distinctive. Even in the more challenging years - the drier and the wetter years - those fabled Shiraz characters always shine through. It's a quality that should never be underestimated, particularly given how much flak Australia receives on the international scale for its supposed lack of terroir driven wines...

Perhaps the only surprise was just how odd the Cyril Cabernets looked in this tasting, especially considering how much I enjoy the style historically. A string of challenging vintages really hasn't helped it at all. Lets hope that it can recapture that mojo when the better vintages roll around (I'm thinking 09 for that).

First up though, a few whites. Notes in italics are from the winery.

Henschke Julius Riesling 1998 (Eden Valley, SA)
'Excellent' vintage. pH 3.0, TA 6.3g/L, 12.9% alc.
Toasty and properly advanced in a buttery, bottle aged weight and richness sort of mould. This carries some of the 'mothballs and lime juice' middle aged Eden Riesling characters on the nose, but with an extra layer of orange rind ripeness. There is fatter marmalade edges to the citrussy fruit but otherwise its taut and tart, the acidity a little hard tart considering how overt and full flavoured the palate is. Very much a warm and open year wine that is ready to drink now, this is a fraction obvious but certainly of style. Maybe a bit hard through the finish? Enjoyable regardless.
17.7/20 92/100

Henschke Julius Riesling 2006 (Eden Valley, SA)
'Exceptional' vintage. pH 2.99, TA 7.4g/L, 12.5% alc.
Really quite restrained, lemon grass and floral smelling wine which looks quite nuanced really. Lemon, sherbety edges to the palate which again is quite ripe like the 1998 but has the finesse. It's much more composed from start to end actually, the acidity a little spikey but otherwise this is right in the zone. Spot on. 18.5/20 94/100

Henschke Julius Riesling 2012 (Eden Valley, SA)
'Exceptional' vintage. pH 3.05, TA 7.11g/L, 11.5% alc.
Pretty florals, warm year lemon lime splice generosity. Generous and sherbety talc and lemon palate looks open, soft and utterly generous. Already open for business with a softness to. I'd drink this early, it just looks so open and ripe. Much like a younger 1998 if anything. 17.8/20 92/100

Henschke Green's Hill Riesling 2012 (Lenswood, Adelaide Hills, SA)
'Exceptional' vintage. pH 3.09, TA 7.3g/L, 12.5% alc.
Lovely open perfume on this. Very level and even palate too, with a juicy middle and perfectly soft natural acidity. Its just a little broad through the finish but it all looks quite complete and harmonious. Definitely a fragrant and affable Riesling this but with sufficient drive too. I'd quite like to drink a bottle of this with some salt & pepper calamari, such is its undeniable attraction. Yes 18/20 93/100


Henschke Abbotts Prayer Merlot Cabernet 1991 (Lenswood, Adelaide Hills, SA)
'Excellent' vintage. pH 3.18, TA 7.2g/L, 13.7% alc. 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet.
As expected this is fully mature and looks every bit of its 21 years. There's charm in here though, the charm of a mature, leathery Australian red, full of brick dust and the treacled earth of bottle aged Cabernet Merlot. It is a fraction treacled and volatile and coffeed, the oak still lingering all these years later. The acidity is notably raised on this too, the full and meaty palate punctuated by a slightly tart finish. Much of the joy with this style is that mid palate and that bottle aged composure. It's not getting any better but does show some old wine goodness now. 17.3/20 90/100

Henschke Abbotts Prayer Merlot Cabernet 2001 (Lenswood, Adelaide Hills, SA)
'Excellent' vintage. pH 3.46, TA 5.9g/L, 14.5% alc. 86% Merlot, 9% Cabernet, 5% Cabernet Franc.
A decisively Merlot dominated wine, all minty varietal characters, matched up with chocolatey oak and sweet alcohol. It's a quite rounded wine underneath but there is no shaking the under-and-over ripe, 'Merlot is a hard bitch in the vineyard' sensation. Still, there is some chocolatey, warmth to be had. 16.8/20 89/100

Henschke Abbotts Prayer Merlot Cabernet 2008 (Lenswood, Adelaide Hills, SA)
'Excellent' vintage. pH 3.59, TA 6.3 g/L, 14.5% alc. 57% Merlot, 43% Cabernet.
There is a certain level of vintage derived blackberry juiciness to this wine that is quite attractive, even if it all looks roasted and less than varietal, the wine then capped off with firm, raw tannins. I like the caramel chew and condensed milk fruit/oak sweetness but otherwise it remains a lesser, stunted wine. 16.5/20 88/100
(Postcript - I'm not convinced that 2008 is an excellent Eden Valley vintage by any measure. Good for whites, a less even one for reds. There are exceptions, yet it is not my favourite by any stretch).

Tappa Pass Shiraz 2009 (Eden Valley and Barossa Valley, SA)
'Exceptional' vintage. pH 3.65, TA 6.1g/L, 15% alc.
Very sweet choc berry fruit. Very luscious and open and vital if very sweet, concentrated berry juice. Too sweet? Lots of fruit viscosity but certainly too warm and obvious for me to really like. Impressive concentration and certainly quality making, just far too obvious for me. 16.5/20 88/100

Henschke Keyneton Euphonium 2009 (Barossa, SA)
'Excellent' vintage. pH 3.55, TA 6.3g/L, 14.5% alc.
A certain white chocolate lusciousness to this. Sweet red berries and a quite open knit, red fruit style. Perhaps a fraction strained and fruity but on style and solid. Interesting to see this after the Tappa - I'd take this for sure. 17/20 90/100

Henschke Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon 1993 (Eden Valley, SA)
'Exceptional' vintage. pH 3.36, TA 6.8g/L, 14.4% alc. 85% Cabernet, 8% Cab Franc, 7% Merlot.
Brick red but still looking vital. Very classic, if slightly green, nose over a wine that is mid weight and somewhat herbal in an old school, all leaf underripe form. The palate doesn't look unripe but i do find the herbal hints a little distracting. A less than perfect bottle according to Steven (and previous bottles of this have been very smart). 16.3/20 87/100

Henschke Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 (Eden Valley, SA)
'Great' vintage. pH 3.33, TA 6.7g/L, 13.5% alc. 90% Cabernet, 5% Merlot, 5% Cab Franc.
Dropping quite a bit of sediment. Quite a solid cassis driven sort of nose with lovely dark choc fruit and a rather regal composure to the tannins. Slightly sweet and sour, but still those lovely chocolatey tannins work wonders. The mixed ripeness may distract a little, but those tannins are sexy as. 18/20 93/100+

Check that colour!
Henschke Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Eden valley, SA)
'Great' vintage. pH 3.57, TA 6.6g/L, 14% alc. 75% Cabernet, 17% Merlot, 8% Cab Franc.
A very different beast this one, the drought vintage written all over the wine. It's dusty, raisined and curranty on the nose, the palate is quite mouthfilling and full, but nutty and simple. Much more like a Barossa floor wine than Eden Valley and didn't move me much at all. 16/20 87/100

Mount Edelstone 2012 barrel samples

What a pleasure to check out these three barrels samples of Mt Edelstone Shiraz. They're hardly finished wines - and shouldn't be treated as such - but certainly interesting. The colour of these three in particular was absolutely stunning - like all three were coloured in with a purple/red pen. I didn't score these, though there is much promise amongst these samples...

Nursery Vines:
Drawn from the younger, replanted/newer vines. This juice may not make the main blend.
The most berry laden and rounded, pulpy wine of this trio. Almost confected and caramelised young vine simplicity. Skinny finish. Lesser, but still pretty.

Two Wire Vertical trellis
This trellising is the most used in Mt Edelstone and this is probably the most representative wine of these barrel samples.
The most fatty and spicy wine and wild of this lot, but coupled with juicy spicy, black fruit. So much depth and wildness! Superb stuff. Very real and charismatic juice.

Scott Henry trellis
A smaller section of Mt Ed is trellised with Scott Henry system with arched canes and the foliage left to sprawl.
Certainly the densest, firmest component. this has the structure further biased towards the back although looks spicy still. Not as velvety as the Two Wire but may well be the most prized component in time. Stunning promise here!

Henschke Mt Edelstone Shiraz 1992 (Eden Valley, SA)
'Exceptional' vintage. pH 3.39, TA 5.9g/L, 13.5% alc.
Rich and heavy with sediment. Dark chocolate, cinnamon and earth, the palate luscious and properly softened. It's silken and evolved and concentrated, inky and long and satisfyingly cocoa powder sweet. Everything you would want in a 20 year old Australian Shiraz really, looking twenty years old but with a wonderful mid palate drive and fine tannins. Lovely wine! Unexpectedly lovely even considering the unheralded vintage. 18.7/20 95/100

Henschke Mt Edelstone Shiraz 2004 (Eden Valley, SA)
'Great' vintage. pH 3.55, TA 6.4g/L, 14.5% alc. 
Again very sweet and chocolatey nose, truffley and sausage edged too, everything overlaid with noticeably toasty oak. Very oaky! What an odd phase for this superstar wine. It's so brooding and dark and unresponsive, oak the only thing escaping. Leave it in the cellar for as long as you can, this will reward you in time. 18/20 93/100++

Henschke Mt Edelstone 2009 (Eden Valley, SA)
'Excellent' vintage. pH 3.54, TA 5.76g/L, 14.5% alc.
Really quite pretty for a mount Ed. Very primal and quite juicy and open and seductive. Showing lots of vanilla oak, dark berry fruit and fine tannins.  Really quite sweet and juicy and open in the mouth, a warm year wine with a generous heart and loads of appeal. Delicious. 18.7/20 95/100

Friday, 2 November 2012

A flashback: Wynns John Riddoch 1993

A flashback: Wynns John Riddoch 1993

I have fond memories of this John Riddoch Cabernet. Actually, it was more the Wynns Black Label of the same vintage that I have the fondest memories of, the Riddoch only playing a bit part, although an important one.

That 1993 Wynns Black Label, you see, was one of the wines that lured me into the industry at the tender age of just 19. I was in my second year of university and - like many 19 year olds - slightly disillusioned with my undergraduate degree. I was a long haired hooligan with too much time on my hands and a love of drinking, at the time working in a small - but passionate - fine wine store in suburban Sydney. I was young, impressionable and, quite simply, at a perfect stage to become infatuated with wine...

The reason why the 1993 Wynns influenced me so much was largely as it was available and affordable. I could buy it for a similar price as the current vintage (which was the 1997) and it showed all of the interesting secondary flavours that I thought wine should show. It was not profound wine really but it was interesting, and certainly interesting enough to have me thinking more about what happens to wine in general as it ages.

At the time - as an avid Jeremy Oliver's Wine Annual/James Halliday's Wine Companion fan - I knew that the 93 was from an inferior vintage (in the Wynns context at least) which obviously was part of the reason the wine was still around. Again though, it showed enough Coonawarra Cabernet character to have me hooked, even if it was light and green compared to the vintages around it.

When I finally had the chance to try this older brother John Riddoch I remember being even more impressed again by the level of intensity and depth, an intensity that would see me dreaming about Wynns John Riddoch for many years after that.

Fast forward almost 13 years and I must confess to loving John Riddoch less now than I did then, my love affair flattened several years ago by a carefully tended stash of the ridiculously heavily oaked 1998 wines that only looked more like a caricature every time they came out (and killed my buzz in the process).

Just like it did then, this 1993 (from magnum) still looks leafy and light too, although now the fruit is starting to fade whilst the oak and added tannins do not, the palate looking drier and surviving via some mid palate generosity and raspy unripe fruit tannins, added tannins and oak tannins. The signs that this had serious intensity in its day are there, but you can't help but crave more flesh on them bones.

Regardless of the state of the wine itself, it was still a pleasure to see this red around again. Good times, great wines, thanks for the memories.

Drink: 1999-2010
Score: 15/20 84/100
Would I buy it? I did...

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Seppeltsfield Lagrein 2010

Seppeltsfield Lagrein 2010 (Eden Valley, SA)
13%, Screwcap, $39
Source: Sample

Lagrein remains an interesting choice for the Barossa, the variety better known as the grape of choice in cool Alto Aldige where it makes quite pretty, light bodied red wines to complement the regions crisp, textural whites. An inspired choice for the Eden Valley? Not quite yet, though this is certainly pretty enough. That label is fantastic too (which I have said numerous times now. Shut up Andrew).

The methods here are traditional, which means handpicked fruit, open fermenters and 14 months in seasoned French oak. 10% Cabernet Sauvignon is also included in the blend. Picked up the trophy for 'Best Dry Red - Other Varieties' at this years Barossa Wine Show too.

Berries. Lots of fleshy, pretty 'fruits of the forest' berries - that is what this red is all about. Dig underneath the berries and it is all blackberry and raspberry cordial, the fruit all front palate and carrying a little young vine skinniness through the middle before finishing with fine, light tannins.

It's definitely more Barossa than Lagrekn, a wine of flesh and affability but not quite the ethereal juiciness it can show I'd like to see more definition and more length but it certainly has some seduction about it.

Drink: 2012-2016
Score: 16.8/20 89/100
Would I buy it? No. Looks fully priced at $39 too.

Singlefile Cabernet Merlot 2010

Singlefile Cabernet Merlot 2010 (Margaret River, WA)
14.2%, Screwcap, $37
Source: Sample

This is unquestionably the best wine yet under the Singlefile label. I know that Larry 'Super Winemaker' Cherubino has been consulting to Singlefile since 2009 and it certainly shows here. That Larry sure does know how to make this style of WA red! Heck even the typeface on the back label and the bottle looks a lot like Larry's 'Cherubino' wines...

What I like about this Margs dry red is the concentration - its all dark fruit, serious oak and and mulberry, the oak a little raw and the palate looking a smidgen hot, but otherwise carrying a certain intensity and some quite regal Cabernet tannins that suggests good fruit and the right sort of winemaking.

It's very young, a little roasted (like many 2010 Margs Cab Merlots) but I do like the chewy sense of rawness and latent depth here. Worth some cellaring

Drink: 2013-2020+
Score: 17.6/20 92/100
Would I buy it? You'd buy a well cellared bottle off the list for sure.

Balgownie Black Label Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Balgownie Black Label Yarra Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (Yarra Valley, Vic)
12%, Screwcap, $24
Source: Sample

This is drawn from the 'upper reaches of the Yarra Valley'.

Gooseberry and green melon nose is direct, ripe and pure. Very correct and obvious. Simple palate is juicy, musky, very youthful and softly spoken. There is a stunted nature to the palate yet it is sufficiently varietal and ripe enough to work.

Solid. 16/20 87/100