Monday, 31 December 2012

Chapel Hill Chosen Block Gorge Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Chapel Hill The Chosen Cabernet.
Nice signature Mr Fragos
Chapel Hill The Chosen 'Gorge Block' Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $65
Source: Sample

Part of the 'The Chosen' series of single vineyard wines, this comes off the Gorge Block which is effectively right next to the winery. As ever this carries the polish of Michael Fragos' winemaking, balancing tannins and fruit in a rather satisfying mix. My big-red loving uncle would dig this Cabernet.

I tasted this blind and was amazed when it was unveiled as from the Vale - lovely dark plum and currant fruit, as per the Vale norm, but with the most plundering, ballsy tannins around. The sort of tannins that hit you in the mouth like a sock full of cricket balls. Couple such tannins with the trademark McLaren Vale mid palate generosity and you've got a full flavoured, deep and satisfying tannic Cabernet. It's still not going to win any gold medals for truest varietal Cabernet, but the recipe here is a very good one. Looked even better on day two as well.

Drink: 2012-2025+
Score: 18.3/20 93/100
Would I buy it? Probably not, but every single person I'd give this too would want more. For general market appeal this is bang on. A wine you could give to your uncle and say 'here, this is what $65 worth of wine tastes like' and they'll come away happy.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Pepper Tree Elderslee Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Pepper Tree Elderslee Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Wrattonbully, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $42
Source: Sample

I opened this blind with a brace of Cabernets and didn't care for it much at all - it looked hard, minty and little fun. Was surprised when it was unveiled. Popped it back into the fridge hoping that a butterfly would come out. Day 2 and no butterflies but at least a more attractive looking caterpillar and early signs of a cocoon (or in other words, this needs time).

Mint and eucalpyt nose - very regional, though perhaps a little too eucalypty/green bean, which is unusual as the rest of the form here indicates a ripe year wine, replete with some dried fruit characters through the middle. What doesn't quite resolve is the (added) acidity which is very firm and the drying tannins, all of which makes this a tad aggressive.

A minty, structure led red, this certainly has some promise but isn't all that flattering. Perhaps worth a relook with more bottle age, though I didn't enjoy it much now.

Drink: 2014-2020+
Score: 16.5/20 88/100+
Would I buy it? Not at the moment.

Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon

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

McLaren Vale Cabernet can be a juicy and enjoyable beast at times. Hedonism over varietal character perhaps but still enjoyable.

Rather juicy and plummy Cabernet this driven by its mid palate juiciness and good fine tannins. Maybe a fraction too much blackberry fruit bomb going on but undoubtedly attractive and plump and sufficiently drying. A little diffuse but pleasure aplenty here.

Drink: 2012-2018+
Score: 16.8/20 89/100
Would I buy it? Almost. A little expensive for mine.

It's back: Zema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Zema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Zema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Coonawarra, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $28.95
Source: Sample

What a pleasure it is to this this back on form. The 07 and 08 Zema Cabernets didn't move me at all, looking generally warm and lacking in vibrancy. This 09 is back to sleek lines and balance.

Quite fragrant and almost pretty dark fruit and mint nose here. Coonawarra a go-go. Really quite elegant palate is driven by tannins but still carries enough flesh to carry things forward. That acidity is a bit intrusive but otherwise this is age-worthy, contained Coonawarra Cabernet.

Drink: 2012-2022+
Score: 17.7/20 92/100+
Would I buy it? If I saw this on a wine list with about five years on it I'd be tempted.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

BEER: Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA (Nevada, USA)
Source: Retail

'At Sierra Nevada we take hops seriously'.

That they do. Sierra Nevada remains at the pointy end of North American beer production, the beers mainstream, but still as seriously made as ever. In an Australian context, you could probably compare Sierra Nevada to Little Creatures, although Sierra Nevada have 20 years head-start.

I personally first tasted a Sierra Nevada on a visit to San Francisco a decade ago. I had another reminder back in 2010 when I was last in San Fran and pined for more local supplies. Thankfully the beer gods heard me (I think Ninkasi will do) and much of the range - including some of the special releases - can now be easily found in Australia, which makes me very very happy.

This Extra IPA is dry hopped and super powerful, a big, thumping bitter brew that almost falls into astringency thanks to those resinous hops. It's perhaps a little uncompromising to really love but if you're looking for impact this is impressive (and quite long). A single beer only proposition but not without enjoyment.

Would I buy it again? Only if the Pale Ale wasn't available. Still enjoyable.

BEER: Sail & Anchor Boa's Bind Amber Ale

Sail & Anchor Boa's Bind Amber Ale (Australia)
Source: Retail

Now this looks promising! A great Fremantle pub reviving its brewing. Promise? It smells light and a little diffuse, with toasty grain but little else. Less promising. The palate is short, again dominated by toasty grain wih mid palate bitterness and a slightly washed out finish.

As a beer this is generic, simple, mainstream stuff - a fair mimic of a James Squire Amber, but little else. What has become of this pub brewery?

Digging deeper and all is not what it seems. The giveaway is on the back label: 'Beer brewed and bottled in Australia for or under license from ALH Group Limited trading as the Sail & Anchor Brewing Co, Fremantle. 789 Heidelberg Road, Alphington Vic 3078'.

In other words, this wasn't brewed by the Sail & Anchor at all - that Alphington address is for a Dan Murphys outlet (amongst other things) and the ALH Group is Woolworths' hotel and hospitality arm. The Sail & Anchor is owned by ALH and, given the strength of the pub brand, it's obvious that the pub brewery has been revived as one of the Woolworths group own labels (exclusive to ALH pubs and Woolworths retail arms including Dan Murphys, BWS etc.).

From the well informed William Wilson (@wilsonscec) on twitter, it seems that this beer itself is made under license by Gage Roads, a brewer who's products, in my opinion, rarely rise above mediocrity.

Ultimately this beer is clever marketing really from Woolworth's - leverage a strong pub name with a beer focus (the Sail & Anchor once served as a Matilda Bay brewery pub) as the face of a new boutique beer label. Then have an established brewer make it and focus on marketing the stuff. what disappoints is that this is simply ordinary beer. Ordinary beer that does a good pub no favours.

Would I buy it? No.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Hunter Icons Uncovered

Hunter Icons Uncovered

I'm in catch up mode at the moment, working through the backlog of notes that have built up over the course of the year. These wines were served as part of a night long celebration of Hunter wines served up earlier in the year. The calibre of this lot was very high indeed...

Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon 2006 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
A full and powerful Vat 1 and looks to be still finding its feet. I don't think this was the best bottle either. Yellow bean, margarine and yellow apple. Perhaps a little warm actually and buttercup round, yet certainly some power. Needs time to resolve the ripeness and acidity 17.7/20 92/100

Meerea Park Terracotta Semillon 2006 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Classic booze. Quite a green and backward nose, looking almost grassy and neutral in its restraint, over what is a deep and powerful palate. The length here is absolutely superstar, the powerful and still very primary, coupled with just a little toastiness on the edges. Certainly outpoints the Vat 1 here and looks plain sensational. 18.7/20 95/100

Thomas Wines Braemore Semillon 2007 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
This wine started quite a deal of discussion on the evening. Andrew 'Thommo' Thomas much prefers this, his riper year wine, whilst I am more of a fan of the utterly classic 2006. It's a fuller, rounded, more robust wine this one that is more developed and buttery rich through the middle and a general sense of chunky power. I think the acidity is choppier in comparison to the other wines and the whole package looks firmer and less inviting. No doubt it will look good with a few more years on it and it is still a smart Semillon, if not a patch on the 06. 17.5/20 91/100+

De Iuliis Steven Shiraz 2011 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Little wonder this has picked up so much bling. It's so pure and bright and juicy and gentle. A true Hunter Burgundy indeed. Shows lots of glossy redcurrant and raspberry fruit with that flash of boysenberry that the best old vine Hunter Shiraz shows. Very sweet fruited palate is full of red fruit vibrancy, the fruit the most juicy and super fresh ever, the tannins fine. Purity of fruit and depth to burn. It's perhaps a little simple for now but no doubt will live forever and continue to look very pretty indeed. 18/20 93/100+

Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2009 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
A very classic Graveyard that you should not drink now. A dark, firm and mysterious red and a backward wine of dark fruit and smoky overtones. More reduction and smoky bacon and marrow through the palate too, a Hunter Shiraz of density and complexity already. So big and ballsy, a feuding ball of power and fruit. Much to dig, if all ahead. Big yes. 18.1/20 93/100+

BEER: Mountain Goat India Pale Ale

BEER: Mountain Goat India Pale Ale (Richmond, Victoria)
Source: Retail

I've always liked the Mountain Goat beers. I fell in love with the Hightail many years ago, even though it had a habit of refermenting in the early early days. This is my first encounter with the IPA and won't be my last.

Big hoppy nose. Has a beautiful hop flower nose without the harshness. The palate too has a big hop (Citra and Galaxy) hit and a serious alcohol punch, yet the bitterness seems integrated and the palate is long. A big beer but an attractive one, the balance here is almost perfect. Great beer.

Would I buy it again? In a heartbeat

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Delicious Marlborough Sauv: Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Marlborough, NZ)
14%, Cork, $35
Source: Sample

Context is everything in wine. It governs what wines we like, how we like to drink them and how much we are willing to pay for them. Context is king. The single biggest issue with context is that it also gives potential for bias - bias that may cause us to look more favourably at a wine simply because we like how it was made, who made it or it or even the occasion when we first drank it. Potential bias aplenty.

The challenge when tasting then is to balance out context (essentially the subjectivity of approach) with critical objectivity. To balance out what you 'like' with what is 'good'.

With this wine my context is admittedly cloudy. I have tasted nearly every vintage of the Section 94 produced, walked the vineyards, stayed in the estate guest house and had late night beers with winemaker Ivan Sutherland. I like the people, I respect the viticulture and I admire the winemaking. More to the point, I almost universally enjoy the wines.

As a result when I taste the Dog Point wines I feel like I have to be extra critical, to bury the pleasure for a moment simply to counteract any inherent bias.

I can't escape how well constructed this Sauv is though. From what is considered to be a great Marlborough vintage, this is produced from noticeably ripe grapes (particularly for Marlborough) grown on the certified organic Dog Point vineyard,  this was all hand picked (as all the grapes are for the Dog Point wines) with the juice then fermented naturally and matured for 18 months in older oak.

What sets this apart from many worked Sauvs of the genre is its lifted freshness. I opened it up and left the bottle on a table to go and eat more ham (as you do this time of year. There was probably pavlova to follow) yet I could still smell the aromatic vitality it from the other side of the room, the combination of white pepper, creamed herbs, flint and stones with a background of yeast derived richer notes wafting right out.

The further joy of this wine is that it's recognisably Marlborough Sauv - the palate having the snappy, rigid acidity you'd expect, with just the faintest hint of passionfruit to the herbaceous fruit. Actually the palate manages to balance up fruit and winemaking very nicely, the acid driven lines matching up to the yeasty, creamy winemaking to bring both textural weight, fruit weight and intensity, topped off with firm acidity. There is a slight alcohol warmth to finish but it doesn't quite detract.

An excellent example of a textural, Sancerre meets Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, this is really smart wine of supreme power, weight, vitality and freshness. Further, it's only going to get better (longer and more complete) with an extra year or so in bottle. Superb.

Drink: 2012-2015+
Score: 18.5/20 94/100
Would I buy it? If I was looking for a textural white and spotted one of these in the bottle shop fridge I'd be very happy. So yes, I'd buy without hesitation.

Montalto Chardonnay 2010

Montalto Chardonnay 2010 (Mornington Peninsula, Vic)
13.5%, Screwcap, $39
Source: Sample

Low cropping, zero irrigation, well balanced vines, hand tending and harvesting all play a part. Drawn from the 30 acre estate vineyard, this ticks all the boxes nicely.

Briny, almost fishy yeast characters with white peach flavours in there too. Palate is generous and a little obvious but long and quite deftly made. That slightly candied, sherbety edge is a little distracting though acidity is spot on and length is good. Well played. That acidity really cleans things up nicely. Liked this plenty.

Drink: 2012-2015
Score: 17.5/20 91/100
Would I buy it? Possibly yes.

Brands Laira Blockers Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Brands Laira Blockers Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Coonawarra, SA)
14.8%, Cork, $28
Source: Sample

I'm interested to see what happens behind the scenes at Brands for outwardly it looks like it is sitting still. The wines are still admirably concentrated and the top wines can really pack a punch. Still not hitting the real heights though.

This wine probably isn't going to change that either - its solid and varietal and representative, yet still not particularly satisfying. Initially sweet and boozy, this gets drier and tighter through the palate, that mid section grainy and thick cut.

That mid palate is pretty solid actually, the tannins long and generous too. Pity its all punctuated by an alcoholic full stop, a drying, dehydrating endpoint which only serves to detract from what is a nicely curranty flow of fruit. That alcohol warmth is a somewhat common theme in the heatwave 2009 vintage,  usually an indicator of fruit that possibly could have seen more love (and a sorting table).

Almost but not quite, this Cabernet is absolutely going to get better, yet left me just a teensy bit cold (or hot as it may be).

Drink: 2012-2022+
Score: 16.8/20 89/100+
Would I buy it? No.

BEER: Stoke Bomber Kiwi Pale Ale KPA

Stoke Bomber Kiwi Pale Ale KPA (Nelson, NZ)
Source: Retail

This being holiday time and notably warm and steamy, I'm drinking a large quantity of beers this week. The intention is to try and drink as widely as possible, though actually writing down what I drink is harder when you're 3 beers in. Industrial hazard...

Anyway these Stoke beers are exclusive to Dan Murphys (I think). The family behind it are the McCashins, who have been credited with kickstarting the micro-brewery movement in New Zealand with their McCashin's brewery in the 1980s. The original label for this brewery was Mac's, a label that was in turn sold to Lion in 1999, with Lion eventually moving the brewing from Nelson to Wellington. That left the original McCashin's brewery complex empty. until parts of the McCashin family reinvigorated it back in 2009 and hence launched the Stoke label.

What makes this a This Kiwi Pale Ale is the Wai-iti hops, grown only in New Zealand. It's a light and generous sort of number without the overt hoppiness of the American Pale Ale style, the palate more caramel and generous than bitter and the finish soft and gentle. Net result is sessionable beer if perhaps a little non-descript and lightly diffuse for big love. Drinkable if not quite remarkable.

Would I buy it again? Drinkable but not interesting enough to buy a case.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Pinot Noir: The mother of all Hunter grapes

Pinot Noir: The mother of all Hunter grapes

(This article is a rewritten version of a piece written for Hunter Valley Breathe Magazine earlier this year. Hunter Pinot deserves more attention, if only as a blending agent. That old O'Shea demands it)

What is the first red grape that comes to mind when you think of the Hunter Valley?

For most people the answer is a simple one – Shiraz. Maybe a handful of answers for Merlot. Oh and Cabernet Sauvignon for the Lake's Folly drinkers. Yet nobody mentions the one grape that, according to Hunter River Vineyard Association records from the mid 1800s, was ideally suited to the Valley. The one grape that, circa 1960, was the most planted red variety in the Hunter...

I’m taking about Pinot Noir, a variety that seems like nothing more than a curio in the recent Hunter Valley history, a vinous interloper that really belongs in cooler climate Australian vineyards in regions such as the Yarra Valley, Tasmania and Adelaide Hills (or the like).

But dig a little deeper and you’ll find out that the Hunter is more suited to this bitch of a variety than expected. Moreso, the Hunter Valley is actually the (contested) genetic home of most of Australia’s Pinot Noir vines.

To explain that further we need to go back to the 1920s when Leontine O’Shea, at the urging of her then just 24 year old son Maurice, bought the renowned Pokolbin vineyard of Charles King, the purchase a mature plot established on a crown land grant back in the 1880s.

Maurice O’Shea, the 20th century Hunter Valley superwinemaker, then changed the name of this vineyard to ‘Mount Pleasant’, going on to use the property as the backbone of some of the most unique wines in the region’s history, many of which included amounts of Pinot Noir in various forms.

The Pinot Noir context for O’Shea came from his wine education in France, a period during which he developed an appreciation for Burgundy and beyond. It was this appreciation then that spurred O’Shea into sourcing the greatest Pinot Noir vines he could get his hands on, a search which led to the James Busby collection (acknowledged as Australia’s first significant source of grape vine material) and a particular selection of vines thought to be taken from Clos Vougeot in Vosne Romanee (though the lineage itself is a murky one. Some say these magical cuttings were imported by O’Shea himself via the time honoured ‘vine in boot method’).

It wasn’t until the 1960s - after O’Shea’s death - that the true value of these celebrated French Pinot Noir vines were realised, with then NSW Director-General of Agriculture Graham Gregory singling out the vines as having significant genetic importance and worthy of inclusion in a vine propagation scheme setup at the time. Gregory thus took cuttings off the Mount Pleasant vineyard to setup a special grapevine collection, naming the particular clone gathered from the Mt Pleasant vineyard as MV6 (or Mother Vine 6).

This MV6 clone, even now, has gone on to become one of the most important Pinot Noir clones in Australian and New Zealand, with vast swathes of vineyard in regions such as the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Tasmania and throughout Marlborough planted to these clones, in effect making the Hunter Valley the (contentious) real home of Australian Pinot Noir.

 Unsurprisingly the Hunter Valley vignerons love the notion that the Hunter is Australian Pinot Noir ‘ground zero’, with Bruce Tyrrell (of Tyrrell's Wines) recently quoted as saying that:

'This (the Hunter Valley) is the home of modern Australian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir' with Bruce suggesting that 'if you were to say that in the middle of Tasmania or Victoria you may indeed have a fight on your hands’, despite what the local history suggests.

Tyrrell’s too is notable in the context of Hunter Valley Pinot Noir, having produced their first straight Hunter Valley Pinot Noir (though not labelled as such) back in 1972. Even now the Tyrrell’s Vat 6 Hunter Pinot Noir is regarded as one of the enduring classics of the region, renowned for its definitive character and longevity (indeed a late 80’s Tyrrell’s Hunter Pinot Noir tasted recently was still going strong).

Beyond just history, it’s perhaps of little wonder that Pinot Noir is so valued in the Hunter when you talk to the vignerons - as a grape variety it’s theoretically well suited to the region, its early ripening nature enabling it to be picked before the late summer rain hits. The climate of the Hunter is also conducive to the crafting of full bodied Pinot, with the warm summers and extended cloud cover making for ideal ripening conditions. Pinot Noir, too, is classically thought to perform best on limestone rich soils, another element which plenty of spots in the Hunter can offer (which surprised me when I first heard it).

Conversely, the challenge with growing Pinot Noir in the Hunter is that the summer is very warm – perhaps too warm at times - which can lead to wines that can be a touch overripe and lack a little elegance. The thin skins and tight bunches of Pinot Noir also make it more susceptible to rot.

Along with a vigilant spray program there are definitely some secrets to Hunter Pinot winemaking, as Tintilla Estate winemaker James Lusby explains:

'It’s a bit of a delicate wine to make you have to be very gentle.. it’s a labour of love.'
'There are some good tricks I’ve found over the 7 years we have been making Pinot – the most important is the timing of picking. It needs to be watched like a hawk, towards the end it can ripen quickly, almost overnight it can be there and needs picking straight away' he said, also noting that their Four Mary Marys Pinot Noir benefits from finishing off its fermentation in only French oak barrels, helping the wine to get richer and more textural in bottle.

It’s not just James that undertakes this labour of love either, for everywhere you look there seems to be odd plots of old vines planted all over the region.

One producer that has a particular focus on Hunter Pinot Noir – and indeed can’t make enough of it – is Scarborough wines. What Scarborough do (quite uniquely) is to produce an a multi-vintage Pinot Noir alongside their standard vintage wine, an option that Sally Scarborough believes gives ‘versatility & ensure consistency of the style from year to year.’

Scarborough too have just released an updated Pinot Noir based Rose that has a little sweetness and is a lovely bright purple/pink colour, a combination that has seen it achieve instant  popularity at cellar door even if it is admittedly anything but serious.

Perhaps the most important new Hunter Valley Pinot Noir release though comes from Mount Pleasant with their new 2011 Mothervine Pinot Noir. The 2011 vintage is the first release of a straight Pinot Noir at Mount Pleasant since 1996 and, as the name suggests, pays homage to founder Maurice O’Shea’s famous contribution to local Pinot Noir. A genuinely exciting wine that can hold its own amongst more fashionable cool climate Australian Pinot, it is delicious stuff (and only made in small numbers to be largely sold via the cellar door too).

Whilst this new straight Pinot Noir is the one making waves, the wine style that O’Shea himself is most famous for is actually a blend of Hunter Valley Shiraz and Pinot Noir. Indeed some of O’Shea’s wines from the 1940s/50s are regarded as some of the finest Australian wines ever created (I tasted one only recently. View it here), with the best examples still drinking well at 50 years of age. Suitably, Mount Pleasant also craft a Shiraz Pinot Noir blend known as the ‘Mt Henry’ that shows off the style with aplomb, with the clever 2011 version now released (read about that one here).

As ever, the crafty Iain Riggs at Brokenwood is in on the Hunter Shiraz Pinot blend caper too, having made straight Pinot Noir back in the 1980s and now about to plant some more on the Cricket Pitch vineyard. The intention there is to make a ‘Hermitage/Pinot’ wine that taps into the wonderful medium bodied joy that was the old O’Shea Shiraz blends. He’s also working on a ‘field blend’ (ie all harvested at the same time) in the Graveyard vineyard that will include Pinot Noir and Trebbiano amongst the mix.

Iain too describes it best when talking about the future of Pinot Noir in the Hunter Valley.

'Watch this space....'

BEER: Karl Strauss Pintail Pale Ale

Karl Strauss Pintail Pale Ale (San Diego, California)
Source: Retail

Nice to see both a best before with plenty of time to go and a batch number on an import. This too looks well built, hop flower aromatics and bitterness with an extra layer of barley rich richness in three too. The palate is thus both rich and hoppy, if a fraction short. Good American Pale Ale if just a little heavy.

Would I buy it? I'd prefer a Sierra Nevada but this is tasty enough.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas + a good Xmas sparkler

Merry Christmas + a good Xmas sparkler

Firstly, I'd like to wish you a Merry Christmas wherever you are in the world - may your festive period be full of wines that live up to expectations (please cork Gods be nice).

As for something fizzy to drink, I can highly recommend this mornings highlight, the Clover Hill Cuvée Exceptionnelle Blanc de Blancs 2008, the latest rare release of a BdB from Clover Hill.

Clover Hill winemaker Karina Dambergs has expressed to me before how well suited the Clover Hill
site is too Chardonnay - indeed she prefers it to the Pinot Noir - and here that pristine Chardonnay fruit is the star.

Fruit is a big part of this wine actually, the varietal 'fruitiness' letting you know this is from Australia, not Champagne. That shouldn't be a negative though and it certainly isn't in this instance, the purity and perfect lines of cool Chardonnay grapes working to complete advantage giving creamy weight and appropriate mouthfeel without ever feeling fat or clumsy. It looks like a ripe year wine, the palate profile soft and full whilst still supported by stout acidity.

Admittedly this is no Larmandier Blanc de Blancs, but the form, the length and the acid balance is very smart, making for a wine of serious complexity and power to compete very nicely with the over-sweetened and raw industrial big house Champagne at the $55/bottle price point.

Highly recommended Australian fizz (and the 2008 Rosé is very good too - cracking ham wine).

Drink: 2012-2020+
Score: 18/20 93/100
Would I buy it? Yes.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Tulloch Vineyard Selection Verdelho 2012

Tulloch Vineyard Selection Verdelho 2012 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
13%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Sample

Produced from grapes sourced from Denman in the Upper Hunter Valley and the JYT home vineyard in Pokolbin. As usual when I try a juicy, tropical fruit driven Verdelho like this I am amazed that the grape isn't more popular - Verdelho you deserve more love.

It's a whole fruit salad on the nose, tending melon and mango and all things tropical. Yes. That's the perfect Verdelho nose. The palate is much drier than the nose, the acidity a slightly bitter drag on what is otherwise a good example of contained tropical fruit juiciness.

Don't be fooled by the low score - this is a clever example of the genre from a challenging year. Simple but good.

Drink: 2012-2014
Score: 16/20 87/100
Would I buy it? Probably not but I'd recommend it.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Mudgee Gold 2009

Not my photo (thanks Mudgee Tourism) but a correct picture.
Nice blue check shirt.
Mudgee Gold Cabernet Shiraz 2009 (Mudgee, NSW)
13.5%, Screwcap, $60
Source: Sample

Clever concept this. Each year a blend is made of gold medal (or points equivalent) winning Shiraz and Cabernet wines from the Mudgee Wine Show. This vintage sees contributions from Andrew Harris, Broombee, Burnbrae, Frog Rock, Queens Pinch, Robert Oatley and Robert Stein. Plenty of likely producers in that lot. Just one barrel of this wine was produced (which also helps explain the high pricetag).

What I most like is just how distinctively regional it is - Mudgee through and through. It smells exactly like it tastes too, a congruency that is admirable. Medium bodied and structure driven, that distinctive Mudgee earth is all through the wine, the nose more Cabernet, the sweet fruit mid palate more Shiraz. There is an aloof bitterness to the tannins that not everyone is going to like, but the quality of the tannins is unquestioned.

A wine that should make tasty old bones (in a very regional way). Mudgee wine fans get on it.

Score: 17.8/20 92/100+
Would I buy it? I admire this red but don't love it enough to buy it, particularly at the pricepoint.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Old Plains Power of One Shiraz 2010

Old Plains Power of One Shiraz 2010 (Adelaide Plains, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $28
Source: Sample

Dominic Torzi - he of Torzi Matthews fame - is the driver of this wine, a Shiraz dedicated to celebrating a forgotten part of South Australian wine history - the Adelaide Plains.

The joy of the Plains is as much about its forgotten old vine resource than anything else, with small pockets of very old vineyards (this fruit comes off several 50+ year old plots) scattered all around what is now just the outer suburbs of Adelaide. Indeed one of the vineyard sources for the Old Plains wines has been bulldozed to way for a bunch of 300sqm villa blocks...

Perhaps the only challenge with growing fruit on the warm Adelaide Plains is simply containing that ripeness, the resultant wines sometimes looking more like fruit jam than wine. Don't come looking for subtlety in red wines from the Plains.

In 2010 though everything came together nicely, the quite moderate conditions making for the perfect environment to craft something special. Couple these perfectly ripened grapes with winemaking designed to emphasise texture - open fermentation, basket pressing, less plunging and 24 months in French oak - and you've got something tasty.

The net result is positively decadent too, deep, squid ink purple coloured, the nose very open and inviting and loaded with purple berry fruit. The palate follows with a very rich, silken, molten fruit expression that, whilst it emphasises its warm clime origins with a little warmth, seduces with its plump and quite balanced juiciness, capped off with enough light tannins to bring you back for more.

Voluptuous, gentle and bathed in sunny ripe fruit, this is very easy Shiraz to like with nary a desicated edge in sight. It is definitely not a complex beast but it does the pleasure thing very well. 

Drink: 2012-2018
Score: 17.5/20 91/100
Would I buy it? For a fruit hit then definitely. A pizza wine for sure.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Ten Minutes by Tractor Estate Chardonnay 2010

Ten Minutes by Tractor Estate Chardonnay 2010 (Mornington Peninsula, Vic)
13.5%, Screwcap, $42
Source: Sample

No disguising my pleasure for these 2010 Ten Minutes by Tractor wines - they're right up my alley. Authentic, full flavoured Mornington Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with weight and swagger.

This 'Estate' Chardonnay is a blend of McCutcheon and Wallis vineyard fruit that was whole bunch pressed, naturally fermented and spent 10 months in barrel.

You can see that swagger just by picking up the bottle - its heavy. This smells deep and serious too, with very fine almond meal and walnut nose showing layers of mealy oak and rich-but-contained fruit. That sense of overt richness brought back by structure is throughout this wine, the palate immediately full but dry and long too, the mid palate typically honeyed in Mornington style although the finish is dry and clean, if perhaps a little oak edged.

White burgundy meets the Mornington peninsula here - I can't see why anyone would buy a similar priced Bourgogne or even many premier cru Burgs when you can have a Chardonnay as satisfying as this.

Drink: 2012-2016
Score: 18.5/20 94/100
Would I buy it? Yes, definitely. In fact it might be hard to justify the $65 price for the single vineyard wines considering how good this is.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Telmo Rodriguez Lanzaga Tempranillo 2008

Telmo Rodriguez Lanzaga Tempranillo 2008 (Rioja, Spain)
14.5%, Cork, $60
Source: Wine list

Whilst the modernising of the old world has undoubtedly helped to make for more brighter, cleaner and more affable wines, there is a point where the quest to 'modernise' a wine style stops helping it at all.

Witness this Tempranillo (with a little Graciano and Garnacha) as a perfect case in point. The base material is solid - old, bush vine fruit grown biodynamically. Said fruit is hand picked, naturally fermented in big wood and then matured for 14 months in a variety of different sized oak.

Sounds good doesn't it? This looks good too. Ruby red and not too dark. It smells rich and plush too, all coffee power oak and lots of it. It tastes oaky too, all sweet fruit and sweet oak and more sweet fruit and more sweet oak. All good hey?

Ultimately though, the more you dig, the more glasses you drink, the less interesting this becomes. Firstly, the tannins - they're missing. This suffers from that annoying modern aversion to real tannins, the finish tapering off into a sweetly oaked heap. The texture, too, is wrong, the oak covering up for a general lack of vibrancy and a sense of desiccation. Terroir? None distinguishable there either, it could be Tempranillo from anywhere. Heck it might not even be Tempranillo on first glance.

A concocted wine, yet one that if we judge it by a modern scale would probably be classed as a good one. Just not my scale.

Drink: 2012-2020
Score: 16/20 87/100
Would I buy it? No.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Taltarni French Syrah 1983

Taltarni 'French Syrah' 1983 (Pyrenees, Vic)
12.9%, Cork, $125
Source: Dinner guest

I often wonder what wines like this would have looked like in their youth. Sadly, I was a wide-eyed two year old when this Syrah was produced, so I can only take its current form and work backwards, attempting to deduce exactly how a 2 or 3 year old 1983 Taltarni Syrah would taste.

Given just how wonderful this red looks at almost 30 years of age, I think it would have been at least tasty. But was it? Or was it skinny, drying and minty, that lovely rich mid palate still hidden behind a forbidding wall of hefty tannins?

Regardless of how it looked then, it is now, like most of the older Taltarni reds, a delicious mature Australian red wine.

Part of the reason why this particular bottle looked so good was that it came directly from the chilly Taltarni cellars, released as part of the wineries 'dusty bottle library' program that sees small parcels of older wines (back to the '77 vintage) occasionally liberated from the winery.

You can see the benefits of such assured provenance too. The cork is pristine, the label perfect. The colour is still bright dark red too. It smells of old Australian Shiraz, the warm 1983 vintage giving this a South Australian Shiraz-esque richness. Think chocolate, plum, redcurrants and brick dust. It's obviously not inky ripe fruit, but it is generous. The palate too is mid weight and silken. Silken like old Burgundy from a warm year, though perhaps not quite as ethereal as the finest crus, but on a par with old Hunter Shiraz, everything finishing with the last vestiges of residual fruit tannins.

That silken palate, that judicious juiciness is what ultimately brands this as a beautiful wine. It's just a delectable drink.

Wonderful old red.

Drink: 2012-2018+
Score: 18.8/20 95/100
Would I buy it? Without hesitation

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Freeman Vineyards Rondo Rosé 2012

Freeman Vineyards 'Rondo' Rosé 2012 (Hilltops, NSW)
13.5%, Screwcap, $20 from the Freeman website
Source: Sample

'You don’t have to have a Charles Sturt University wine science degree to realise Australian drinkers don’t necessarily need another cool climate peppery Shiraz label'

That sentiment was sourced from the Freeman website and it's a fair one - whilst it's welcome that Australia has a wealth of quality cool climate Shiraz producers,, a little more varietal diversity wouldn't go astray. Which is where the Freeman family come in.

Brian Freeman first started Freeman Vineyards in 1999 after spending 10 years as the Professor of Wine Science & Viticulture at Charles Stuart University, Wagga. His intention with this operation was to grow grapes and make wines with an Italianate (and more) flavour, an approach that entailed planting the red grapes of Valpolicella Rondinella and Corvina alongside Pinot Gris, Viognier alongside the more traditional Cabernet, Shiraz etc.

With daughters Xanthe (winemaking) and Marcelle (sales) now joining Brian, and a whole fruit salad of varieties including Furmint, Prosecco, Tempranillo et al now coming to fruition, Brian's original intention to craft intriguing wines has continued to evolve.

The backbone of the Freeman range though is still the Secco, Australia's only true Amarone style blend of air-dried Rondinella and Corvina. It was the Secco too which ultimately bred this wine - an utterly savoury rosé made from the saignee juice bled from the Secco bound Rondinella grapes, the orange/pink coloured juice then fermented in both oak and stainless steel and then left until bottling in spring.

Like the Secco, this excellent rosé is one of the few 'pink wines' that requires bottle ageing to show its best, with 12 months minimum in bottle required for the wine to show its best. Sadly, rampant demand has required the wine to be released earlier than the Freemans would like, although this 2012 vintage is already undeniably tasty (and better than the 2011 which preceded it).

As you can see in my slightly average photo, this is a very pale orange coloured rosé. Very pale indeed. It smells of onion jam and strawberry and cherry fruit, of restrained red fruit with just a little of the barrel ferment richness to fill things out. It's a very correct nose. Full, dry, textural palate has a bunch of phenolics and acidity driving things, the style taut just 'fruity' enough to make for generosity, giving that all important textural palate richness.

A really clever savoury rose that needs only a little bottle age to fill things out more, I happily finished a bottle of this.

Drink: 2012-2015
Score: 17.5/20 91/100
Would I buy it? Yes

*Caveat: Marcelle is a friend of mine and I have judged with Xanthe. No question about how much I like this wine though.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Montalto Pinot Noir 2010

Montalto Pinot Noir 2010 (Mornington Peninsula, Vic)
14.5%, Screwcap, $48
Source: Sample

What a stunning Mornington Pinot vintage 2010 was. Across the board the wines show an enviable evenness that is both attractive and admirable.

Raspberry, cloves and a hint of stalky pepper on the nose, this has a lovely glacé red fruit palate that is driven by moderate mid palate juiciness, clean acidity and minimal tannins to finish. A lovely flow of Mornington red fruit, if just a little simple and shortish for really big points. Very attractive if just a little lacking in character.

Drink: 2012-2016+
Score 17.5/20 91/100
Would I buy it? I'd drink it though perhaps not buy it.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Lark Hill Chardonnay 2010

Lark Hill Chardonnay 2010 (Canberra District)
13%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

Whether it is biodynamics, vine age or the increased influence of Chris Carpenter, switched on son of founders Sue & David, these Lark Hill wines are looking better than ever. This Chardonnay particularly so.

Lightly coloured and bright this has a fresh picked white peach succulence to it, the sort of snappy minerally freshness of cool fruit in top condition. That freshness extends right through the acid driven palate, the real acidity blending with mango ripe fruit and grapefruit. The barrel characters linger a little too long perhaps but the structure and form is sound to be back it up. Long, clean and very fresh. Will be even greater once it sheds the barrel infuence. Lovely.

Drink: 2012-2018+
Score: 18.5/94
Would I buy it? Yes.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Luna Rosa Rosado 2012

Luna Rosa Rosado 2012 (Central Ranges, NSW)
11.5%, Screwcap, $14.99
Source: Sample

Picked by moonlight, this is a blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre, two grapes which I didn't realise Cumulus were growing. Forget the low score, this is genuinely well made pink wine in a simple, consumer friendly low alcohol style.

Bright pink in colour though with an orange hue to it, this is initially quite dry and chalky before the flood of residual sugar sweetened red fruit takes over. Eventually it ends up way too sweet for me and I could barely make it past the first couple of sips. Clearly I'm not the target market for the intended style however and everything being equal this is pretty fair juice.

Drink: 2012-2013
Score: 15/20 84/100
Would I buy it? No, but my Mum would.

Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2007

Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2007 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
11.5%, Screwcap, $60
Source: Sample

Note the extra alcohol this vintage. A warm year in the Hunter and this looks heavier and thicker because of it, all arms and legs at present. That power will ensure it looks good with more bottle age though it'll never be a classic Lovedale.

Broad and toasty with thick cut lemon lime. A real lemony drive to this wine, big power but ultimately a little short. That fruit hits like a thump, with subtlety missing. and the acidity a jumble. The fruit intensity is unquestioned, but will it integrate?

Drink: 2015-2025+
Score: 17/90++
Would I buy it? I'd prefer the 06, but its still a Lovedale so the quality of the line is assured.

Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra California red 2006

Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra Red 2006 (California, USA)
14.5%. Cork, $35
Source: Sample

Merkin. Smirk.

Putting aside the merkin reference for one moment (who names a wine after a pubic wig anyways), there is intrigue here.

It's not produced by a winemaker for starters. Actually, it's made by Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan (with help from Eric Glomski) who, when not touring and such, rather likes wine. He rather likes Australian wine too and is known to hang out with Penfolds chief wine whisperer Peter Gago when either has some free time here or in the US.

Maynard's wine operation is based near his home in Jerome, Arizona - a dry, dusty, semi-arid spot better known for its copper mining than wine. With his Merkin Vineyards/Caduceus Cellars operation Maynard is attempting to not only craft individual wines but also to push the boundaries a little in the process.

With the Chupacabra label (a reference to a mythical American creature known as 'the goat sucker' that roams Central/North America) Maynard casts his net further afield, picking up grape parcels when and where he can. A vinous opportunist's label is Chupacabra, the 'recipe' changing every year.

This 2006 Chupacabra red has been sourced from California, with Cabernet and Syrah (plus an undisclosed assortment of other varieties) making up the blend. Stylistically, the intention is to craft something 'modelled on the red wines of Australia', which means body and weight and richness.

It fits that mode too, a ferrous and quite forward red with developed, peppery and spice and pan juices black fruited Shiraz along with a bretty, meaty overtone. The brett edges the palate too, a metallic hardness to what is otherwise a rich, and generous earthen red.

Ultimately this looks more Rhonish than Australian, the pepper and spice and wildness more Grenache Shiraz blend than Cab Shiraz. That outré character both makes and breaks the wine, promising complexity and character yet ultimately delivering a slightly hobbled and overly advanced wine that looks brettier and unbalanced every minute it it is open.

Not there.

Drink: 2012-2014
Score 15.5/20 85/100
Would I buy it? No.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

House of Arras Rosé 2004

House of Arras Rosé 2004 (Tasmania)
12.5%, Cork, $79
Source: Sample

Sparkling rosé, whether from Champagne or elsewhere, is easily the most mercurial of 'luxury' wines, the style so hard to get right that even the finest makers (like Bollinger) seem to struggle to produce consistently balanced wines. That mercurial nature is only amplified by the fact that rosé is often more expensive than standard 'white' sparkling wine, making for some expensive dissapointments.

Unlike its older 'white' brother (the E.J.Carr), which more than stood up to a bracket of NV and vintage French fizz earlier in the year, this rosé doesn't quite nail the brief, largely because the sweetness and acidity balance seems well off-kilter.

This starts correctly, all fragrant strawberry Pinot fruit and pink Wizz Fizz. There's more of that sherbety action on the Jekyll & Hyde palate too, the wine starting really quite sweet, frothy and, well, pink, before Mr Hyde comes out with bone crunching grapefruit acidity to finish and dry up all the fun.

Ultimately we've then got a wine of two halves - a sweet entry and a dry finish, with no margin in between. Net result is a hard sparkling to love, which is a shame as beyond the abrupt sugar/acid imbalance this is very sophisticated sparkling, the winemaking and fruit otherwise of the highest calibre. You just know there is goodness here, real quality sparkling winemaking, yet it also feels hobbled (and I couldn't really finish my glass).

Close, but not quite there.  I'm leaving the score as somewhat generous as a nod to potential glory.

Drink: 2013-2020
Score: 16.5/20 88/100
Would I buy it? No.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Mitchell Harris Sabre 2008

Mitchell Harris Sabre 2008 (Macedon and Pyrenees, Vic)
A Sabre in its natural habitat.
Note the Lazy Susan - old school
12.5%, Diam, $40
Source: Sample

I took this for a roadtest at the best place to test crisp white wines in the country - Golden Century. I say best as GC offers a wide range of white wine friendly foods, plus the BYO is dirt cheap, the service is entertainingly haphazard, the food is superb and it is open very late. All of which adds up to my sort of dinner venue.

This particular wine comes to us from the talented hand of John Harris, formerly winemaker at Mount Avoca and, notably, Domaine Chandon, with John now focusing solely on his Mitchell Harris label. The 2008 Sabre is the first sparkling release for Mitchell Harris and is a blend of Macedon Chardonnay, Macedon Pinot Noir and Pyrenees Chardonnay. 3 years on lees, a very low dosage (5g/L) and some very careful handling all add up to a slimline, crystalline sparkling of some style.

At first glance this looked a little too lean, a little too acid driven and angular I thought. There is some lovely biscuity lees character along with strawberry, citrus and white flower fruit but, on initial approach, it looked skinny. More air and, curiously, some fried icecream with strawberry topping (apparently chocolate and caramel also worked well. Strawberry is the correct topping for fried icecream though) had that pure taut fruit singing though and it all came together nicely.

Well formed, tight and driven by grapefruit acidity, this quite a sophisticated Australian sparkling in the lean and clean mould. I'd like to see it with a little more bottle-age, yet the structure and form are tip-top - there is classic lines here, the wine just itching for more time.


Drink: 2013-2018+
Score: 18/20 93/100
Would I buy it? Yes. Well packaged, correctly priced, I'd definitely put it on the fizz shopping list.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Thomas Wines Sweetwater Shiraz 2010

Thomas Wines Sweetwater Shiraz 2010 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
14.5%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

I like the charm of this Sweetwater Shiraz, with its open, Huntery character genuinely worth celebrating. It's often overshadowed by its older brothers (Kiss, Motel Block etc) but the more mid weight flavours make this often the most accessible red in the range.

Sweet by name, sweet by nature, this year it is positively juicy and quite vibrant all purple plum raspberry fruit and a slice of Hunter earth. It's perhaps a little diffuse but the generosity and mouthfeel make it very attractive. I liked this.

Drink: 2012-20120
Score: 17.5/20 91/100
Would I buy it? Definitely. Attractive Hunter Shiraz indeed.

Thomas Wines Motel Block Shiraz 2010

Thomas Wines Motel Block Shiraz 2010 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
13.8%, Screwcap, $50
Source: Sample

Motel Block is always the biggest and blackest of Andrew Thomas' Shiraz with an intensity more akin to the Barossa than the Hunter. This vintage more than ever. I typically have a favourite Thomas Shiraz and this year it is the Kiss (last vintage it was the Motel Block).

Shows a little of the scorched almond warm year character, almost like a 2008 Barossa Shiraz, the intensity and thickness of plush red liquered fruit also akin to something from South Oz, echoed through the warm, dried finish. What rescues this from heaviness is a juicy, richly textured middle and some nice grainy tannins.

Atypical Hunter Shiraz perhaps but still genuinely attractive.

Drink: 2012-2020
Score: 17.7/20 92/100
Would I buy it? I'd prefer the Kiss this vintage. Still drink this though.

Barwang Granite Track Riesling 2010

Barwang Granite Track Riesling 2010 (Tumbarumba, NSW)
10.5%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

A Tumbarumba Riesling you say? Intriguing. Lots of acidity and an undisclosed level of sugar is this wines game, hopefully with a balanced off-dry Riesling the result. Bottle is festooned with gold medals too.

Only problem really is that the sweetness looks a little clumsy. The fruit underneath is lean, minerally and austere, that pH (2.94) suggesting somewhat early picked grapes. Early picked grapes that perhaps don't have the power to match up with the monotone that is residual grape sugar.

I like the freshness through the finish (8g/L of acidity will do that) here and the shape of the wine but ultimately it just looks a little bit too sweet.

Drink: 2012-2018
Score: 16.5/20 88/100
Would I buy it? I'd prefer an entry level QbA Mosel Riesling.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Ducks in a Row Pandora's Amphora 2011

Ducks in a Row Pandora's Amphora 2011 (Heathcote, Vic)
14%, Cork, $80
Source: Kindly dinner companion

Amidst the recent controversy about what exactly is going to happen with the amphora used to make this wine it seems the right time to be publishing this tasting note, if just to remind how much is at stake.

Produced from Vermentino, Fiano and Moscato Giallo handpicked from the Chalmers Heathcote vineyard, this clever white was notably fermented in a single large clay amphora that Ducks in a Row winemaker Glenn James borrowed from Penfolds Nurioopta winery.

Besides the controversy about that amphora itself, what makes the wine so unique (in Australian terms at least) however is as much about the process as anything else, the wine naturally fermented and then 'left on skins' - the skins and seeds not separated from the juice - in the amphora unsulphured for seven months. This white also underwent a malolactic fermentation and, at the end of the 7 months, was pressed out using an old basket press that Glenn also borrowed, the wine then spending a further 6 months in an old puncheon before it was bottled unfined, unfiltered and with minimal sulphur additions.

Whilst some may contend that this is not a 'natural wine' (not that we want to start getting into that long-winded discussion. Ugh) what's not in contention is the validity of these revivalist winemaking methods, many of which mirror the way wine would have been made a millennium or two ago in eastern Europe.

Naturally such methods are not without their dangers and question marks, particularly the 'plain silly' (one of my winemaking lecturers words. He was joking, but you get the drift of how it is viewed by tehcnical winemakers) idea of leaving a white wine on skins - a technique that, amongst other things, leads the wine to pick up grape tannins and colour, two characteristics considered completely undesirable for white wines. Indeed very few red wines spend this long on skins either, largely for fear of the tannins that such a long maceration (to use the correct nomenclature) can deliver.

Grapes, meet amphora
The benefits, however, of such a 'hands-off technique' are wines that can potentially show prodigious levels of texture, fragrance and complexity, the extended skin contact turning simple clean grapey juice into white wines that can compete with reds for impact, depth and intrigue. Indeed the finest wines of this type produced in northern Italy, Slovenia and the Loire are some of the most interesting - and occasionally confronting - white wines out there, particularly those from the likes of Occhipinti, Gravner et al which I really really like (especially Occhipinti). 

In the case of this wine the old world techniques have really worked too, producing a wine that is not only interesting and challenging but a great drink too. Or at least I think so (not all my drinking companions were as enamoured as I was).

Just from appearances alone this is different, with the lack of clarification resulting in a light haze and slightly darker colours than is typical for 1 year old Australian white wine (though quite light considering some of the 'are-you-sure-this-isn't-Fanta' orange wines out there). Beyond the haze the nose on this positively sings with vital aromatics - all fruit loops, sherbet, pink lifesavers, apricots and orange juice. It is a wonderful, almost overwhelming nose of real delight.

Happily the palate delivers too (though the nose is the best part) with vitality and texture,the round layers punctuated by shapely grape tannins. Those tannins are quite integrated considering the long skin contact actually - plenty of Italian whites done with similar maceration come out looking really quite astringent. The wine finishes with some hard, slightly shrill, 2011 vintage acidity but this remains perhaps the only downer.

Ultimately a delicious wine with an intriguing story, I can't help but give this Pandora's Amphora a massive thumbs-up. Will we see a 2013 iteration?

Drink: 2012-2015
Score: 18/20 93/100
Would I buy it? I believe the $80 pricetag is a little high but interest is high too. Restaurant purchase for sure.

Essenze Damkeeper Pinot Noir 2009

Essenze Damkeeper Pinot Noir 2009 (Central Otago, NZ)
14%, Screwcap, $42
Source: Sample

Essenze is one of McWilliams NZ labels, this was crafted by ex Mcwilliams winemaking honcho Corey Ryan (who is now in charge of Woolworths winemaking at the Dorrien winery in the Barossa). This Damkeeper Pinot Noir is drawn from the Bendigo sub-region.

It's every bit a modern Central Otago Pinot too - fruit heavy and polished, the oak chocolatey and a sweet and just a fraction dominant. A nose to wine medals no doubt. That palate is notably rich, choc-cherry mudcake rich, the wine quite sweet through the middle before ending with bitter tannins and a rather warm finish

A very flattering and plush Pinot Noir if just a little stunted and 'crafted', this is pleasant enough.

Drink: 2012-2017
Score: 17/20 90/100
Would I buy it? Probably not.

Willow Bridge Gravel Pit Shiraz 2011

Willow Bridge Gravel Pit Shiraz 2011 (Geographe, WA)
13.8%, Screwcap, $30
Source: Sample

I expected less of this Willow Bridge Shiraz. Something about the etched bottle seemed to suggest a simple, confected sweet commercial wine. Ditto the co-fermented Viognier. The nose is sweet and fruity so I thought I was right too. It's the little details give away that this is no soulless red though, like the additions of whole bunches of Riesling in the ferment, or the very careful 13.8% alcohol. More than meets the eye.

It all kicks off with a blast of modern, ripe, polished dark cherry and plum fruit, all polish and fruit and sweetness, a smell of fruit but not 'wine' if you get my drift. The palate though is dark, bitter-sweet and smacked with very stout, gravelly tannins. Lots of tannins. Lots of sweet tannins, but real tannins. Likeable tannins. There is a quirk through the middle too, that plum fruit has a peachiness to it that may well be the stamp of Viognier and Riesling, but it doesn't scream of either - a vineyard character perhaps? Regardless it adds intrigue. Lingering finish is much better than I expected too. Quality wine here.

Drink: 2012 - 2018+
Score: 17.7/92
Would I buy it? Hmm. Not sure. Not strictly but it does have intrigue. I'd recommend it though.