Thursday, 31 January 2013

Whicher Ridge Riesling 2011

Whicher Ridge Riesling 2011 (Frankland River, WA)
12.5%, Screwcap, $28
Source: Sample

I do love it when a back label gets the tasting notes 'right'. Makes my job easy. 'Lime, grapefruit and freshly cut pear' so says the back label which was about perfect.

I gave this a proper going over at Golden Century with an assortment of fried things. Coped ok, although the acidity is a bit on the teeth enamel stripping side....

There is some sweeter development to that grapefruit actually, but only a tinge. Natural citrussy acidity a highlight on what is a crisp, breadfruit and lemon palate, making for a clean and long citrussy Riesling that teeters between too much acidity and the right sort of lime cordial palate cleanser. Good

Drink: 2014-2020
Score: 17/20 90/100
Would I buy it? Not really

Clover Hill Brut 2008

Clover Hill Brut 2008 (Tasmania)
$47, Diam, 12.5%
Source: Sample

Each of the past few vintages this Clover Hill has looked a little more serious, a little more definitive and a little more age-worthy. Nature hasn't always helped, but the winemaking is unquestioned, supported by a level of detail and care not typically given to under $50 sparkling wines. Think ageing on oak foudres, 3 years on lees and lowish dosage. Serious winemaking...

It smells serious too. Very correct and dry with latent power. It looks a bit lean actually, a wine that needs more time to show its best. Palate too is dry and just a little withdrawn, the Chardonnay more dominant but without the trademark white flower prettiness you'd expect. Too dry and dense? Needs 2 years to show its best and promises much. Very smart.

Drink: 2014-2018+
Score: 17.5/20 91/100+
Would I buy it? I'd go the slightly more expensive blanc de blancs but this is still classy stuff.

A few 2013 vintage musings

A few 2013 vintage musings

What a contrast between take off and landing.

Lifting off in Adelaide on Monday and as far as the eye could see the land was brown. Browner than I've seen it actually, the hills brown, the valleys brown, the lakes.. brown. The South Australian landscape ochre and dry, punctuated only by the odd vineyard, the rows of green sticking out against the brown hills.

Conversely, I landed in Sydney to pouring rain. House flooding, crank-the-windscreen-wipers-to-light-speed, pouring rain. Rain that was turning already green grass, and green gardens, even greener.

Suffice to say that, as ever, Australia is a big place. A big place, with wildly divergent weather, particularly in summer time. Wildly divergent weather that gives wildly divergent vintage conditions.

In South Australia, or at least in the Barossa, Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale (all of which sit in the Adelaide zone, so let's use that) where I spent some time last week, it has been a seriously dry and warm summer. With little significant rain since late winter (which is not strictly unusual), the grass has died off and the land looks dusty and scorched, more so than I can ever remember.

Tiers vineyard. Grass is brown, vineyard is green and healthy
Thankfully the winter rains were good, so soil moisture levels are still ok, and whilst the weather has been 'hot', there has been nothing like the multi-day 40+ degree heatwaves of 2008 or 2009 to really fry those precious grapes, all of which bodes better for quality. Regardless, even the most hardy 'dry grown' vineyards have needed a drink this summer and, as a result, dam levels are well down. A little rain would be very welcome right now, particularly judging by some very dusty vineyards I spotted in the back of the Barossa and Adelaide Hills.

The net effect of these dry conditions however has been a drop in yield. It's not uniform, for some vineyards in the cooler, wetter areas are actually setting big crops, but in many vineyards bunch and berry sizes are down (I was regularly quoted 10-15%).

Tellingly, you can see these yield drops in other fruits too. Apples at several spots in the Adelaide Hills were tiny this year, and peaches by the roadside in Willunga were small and dehydrated. The Shiraz bunches I spotted in Rowland Flat (the southern end of the Barossa) looked small, if well formed as well. All of it points to (potentially) smaller yields.

The good news is that, whilst yields may be down such a dry and hot, but not 'roasting hot', summer, when combined with a 'normal' flowering and solid fruit set, has resulted in some very healthy grapes. The bunches may not be as big but they look healthy and absolutely disease free, if a fraction sunburnt on the western sides. The grapes are already colouring up too, with Primo Estate in McLaren Vale looking to pick Merlot in a week or so, which is very early, whilst some Shiraz grapes I cheekily picked in Grant Burge's Filsell vineyard already full darkened in colour and ripening by the day.

Judging by how ripe those grapes are already looking, and based on feedback from locals and cellar door staff, vintage will be up to two weeks early in many vineyards. Saying that, not everyone is early (or has reduced yields). At the Tiers vineyard, located in the Piccadilly Valley and source of Petaluma and Tapanappa's 'Tiers' Chardonnays, the Chardonnay grapes are only now going through veraison - which is apparently about normal. Yields are about bang on normal too (and the vineyard looks a treat. Just ignore the brown grass).

Beyond just Tiers, what do these weather conditions mean for quality? Cautious optimism at least. If vignerons have managed to control canopies to cope with the heat and, if necessary, kept irrigation water up as required, 2013 could be a very strong 'ripe' vintage, particularly for reds.

Conversely, we could be seeing a repeat of 2007, another hot and dry vintage, where even more prolonged dry conditions dried up everything, those same vines yielding tough little grapes with thick skins and a lack of flesh. Thick skins and a lack of flesh producing tough, dehydrated wines with high alcohols and uncertain fruit to match.

Of course we are only now actually entering the really crucial period, that final post-veraison ripening stage where the grapes darken and soften and sweeten, the acid dropping and the sugars rising. Right now, the vignerons are praying that the weather stays sunny and dry, at least for long enough to keep those grapes healthy enough to get them over the line. Fingers crossed for blue skies, rain that passes quickly and moderate heat over the next month or so.

Speaking of rain, we need only compare the aforementioned Adelaide zone weather conditions to that of the Hunter Valley. The Hunter too has had a dry and warm one, again with limited rain since spring. With dams nice and full, and soil moisture levels excellent, this has been anything but a worry and vignerons have been rubbing their hands together at the early quality of the whites and reds. At least they were until the weekend..
Very healthy Semillon, picked after the rain
Photo: Tyrrells

It's that rain you see, the rain that drenched our suitcases getting off the plane and delayed our flight coming into Sydney (and that's not even talking about the devastation it caused in SE QLD and northern NSW). That pouring rain, which managed to dump up to 150mm in just 18 hours on the Hunter vineyards. It's the sort of pouring rain that potentially could fill berries up with water, which then splits them, which then leads to rot and disease. It's the sort of rain that will destroy whole vintages in, well, 18 hours.

Or at least it could. But then the sun came out, and for the free draining sandy soils that underpin most Hunter Semillon vineyards, this meant the water seeped in quickly and the grapes dried up. For the Semillon still on the vine - which are at that all-important final week or so of ripening - this is a great thing, crucially reducing the disease risk very quickly. Shiraz is still hard and crunchy, and thus at much less risk of splitting, but Semillon is fragile. Seeing the sun come out - and watching that water drain away so quickly - is like a blessing from God.

Naturally it's not all beer and skittles though, as some sunburnt bunches (which are most in danger of splitting) will need to be dropped and picking could be delayed, yet for the large part it is crisis averted. Amazingly.

Such a situation does serve to highlight one thing - whilst I have already generalised earlier in this piece about vintages and vineyard conditions, what this little vintage flight, from south to east, reminded me is that in any one vintage, at any one time, Australia is so large and so climatically diverse that giving straight out vintage declarations is a problematic beast.

Perhaps more importantly, the final conclusion of all this vintage study is one major realisation - growing winegrapes is bloody hard work. More power to the viticulturists!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Tilly Devine Shiraz 2008

Tilly Devine Shiraz 2008 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14.9%, Vinolok, $35
Source: Sample

Like the packaging? It took me a few moments to work out that what looks like a barcode on the label is actually 'Tilly Devine' (click for a closer look).

Firstly the Tilly Devine context - Tilly Devine is the name of a top Sydney wine bar (Love Tilly Divine) and the principal character in a recent series of Underbelly (Underbelly Razor - which was ordinary). Both trace back to Tilly Devine, the 1920 and 30s Sydney madam and bootlegger whom made such a particular reputation as a prohibition era booze peddler that her name became rhyming slang for wine.

Her name has thus been adopted for a brand new Shiraz concept from McLaren Vale started by a group of South Australian families. At this stage the 2008 Shiraz and a follow-up 2009 have been released, alongside a 2009 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon with more wines to follow. All of the wines are produced from an up-to 90 year old, 45 acre McLaren Vale vineyard planted primarily to Shiraz. Wines are made by Matthew Rechner.

From the outset this is something of a firm and ripe beast, that alcohol showing throughout. It spent 2 years in French oak, 30% new, and carries a certain choc-mud fruitcake warm fruit and raisined edge. In some ways that ultra concentrated, inky and ultra ripe warm fruit style is distracting, yet you can taste that there was care, good oak and decent fruit underneath, even if the raised acidity indicates that fruit needed some adjustment in the winery.

Ultimately this reminds me somewhat of the old Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz this, all tarry mid-palate and licoricey flavours in a massive, porty mould. Whilst I found it just a little too much like drinking choc fruit cake initially, there is something to be said for this sort of decadence. Much like one of those ridiculously dense, double choc mud cakes, the sort that you can polish off (and enjoy) half a piece and then need to stop as your arteries have begun to clog...

Drink: 2013-2020
Score: 17/20 91/100
Would I buy it? No, but I like the promise.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Cape Barren Native Goose Shiraz 2010

Cape Barren Native Goose Shiraz 2010 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

A charming McLaren Vale Shiraz this. Unpretentiously good.

Plush and luscious. Has that very open, flattering Milky Bars oak nose and generous plum and boysenberry fruit. You half expect this to be sweeter than what it is, those tannins reminding how serious the package is. Clever, generous and simple. Utterly modern but appealing too. Slurpable but with a serious edge, a pleasurable mid-palate driven Vale red

Drink: 2013-2021
Score: 17.7/20 92/100
Would I buy it? Maybe a little sweet and juicy for me to buy, but I'd drink it nonetheless.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Stunning sweet Chenin: Chateau Pierre-Bise 'Les Rouannières' Coteaux du Layon

Chateau Pierre-Bise 'Les Rouannières' Coteaux du Layon 2010 (Loire Valley, France)
Source: Tasting

What a magical wine this is. A magical wine that showcases just how perfect sweet Loire Chenin can be. Claude Papin, proprietor of Chateau Pierre-Bis, has been called a 'doyen of Anjou viticulture' and this style is really all about the magical fruit at the core.

Produced from a combination of shrivelled, late harvested fruit and some botrytised bunches, this is fermented half in old barrel and half tank. 100% Chenin Blanc. 180g/L of residual sugar.

It's just beautiful cumquat and marmalade juice. Has a beautiful light toffee and toasted caramelised citrus fruit but without actually feeling heavy sweet like a fully botrytised wine. The balance here between sweetness and texture is superb, the finish long and so perfectly weighted. Length and clarity is perfect - you can just taste those slightly shrivelled Chenin Blanc grapes.

Stunning sweet wine. Stunning! I could drink this all day, such is the sweet lightness. Magical.

Drink: 2013-2028+
Score: 18.7/20 95/100
Would I buy it? In a heartbeat

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The most Merlot-esque Penfolds Merlot (and a Mataro)

The most Merlot-esque Penfolds Merlot (and a Mataro)

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Merlot 2010 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $50
Source: Sample

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Merlot + Mataro
I was rather moved by this Merlot. I don't say that lightly, for no matter how much you wish otherwise, the variety doesn't get much love here in Australia (and hence the wines are regularly lacking). But this wine turned my head. It tasted both like a Penfolds red and also like a Merlot, a combination which is both admirable and quite a surprise as Penfolds aren't exactly known for producing especially 'varietal' red wines unless they're made of Shiraz, Cabernet, Grenache or blends thereof. Yet this did actually taste like it was made from Merlot grapes.

I asked Steph Dutton, Penfolds winemaker and perhaps the only pretty face amongst the Penfolds winemaking team (have you seen them? Check out a video I did with Steph a yr or so ago) about exactly how they managed to make this Penfolds Cellar Reserve Merlot taste like Merlot.

'What's the secret? It's probably more in the vintage and vineyard with both aligning in 2010!'

Don't all winemakers say that? Digging further and this is a wine that arrived as a function of process. The vineyard location is 'ripe' for starters:

'This particular grower from the Hills is located in Kersbrook. I don't know how familiar you are with Hills geography but if you drive from the Barossa through to the Hills, it's the first subregion you'll enter in Adelaide Hills territory. In fact, one of the first vineyards that you'll get to. A warmer part of a cooler region.' Steph said.

'In 2010 this particular Merlot parcel really held its own in an A grade Cabernet line up at classification. Something that you'd rarely see, hence why we contemplated capturing the parcel on its own. Blending probably would have diluted what we had in the first place in this instance, and diluted the rarity too. Keeping separate allowed us to track it's individual performance during maturation which seemed to strengthen over the 16 month maturation period.' explained Steph.

What we must wonder is why, given that a wine like this is possible, don't we see more Penfolds Merlots? Again, the limitation is the process. A process that ultimately helps to raise the bar (or homogenise the wines, depending on which way you view it) by only allowing the best, most 'Penfoldian' wines to make it to market.

That process is the Penfolds classification tasting, an event where Penfolds gathers round all its current winemakers (including Steph, Peter Gago, Steve Lienert, Andrew Baldwin and Adam Clay amongst others) along with a few past winemakers (like Don Ditter and John Bird) to decide what goes where.

The benefits of gathering together so much winemaking experience in one place is that consistency of style (and indeed quality) is guaranteed. Don Ditter, for one, is renowned for still being able to blind taste where certain growers parcels have come from (and what that parcel should look like at its best).

Conversely, the obvious challenge is that pushing a new (in a Penfolds context) wine forward is going to be harder. Much like how wine shows tend to give trophies to relatively 'safe' wines, such large tasting panels will consistently lean towards the tried-and-true - ie Merlot as a blending agent.

The mould was obviously broken with this wine though:

'I'd argue that we weren't looking for a single vineyard Merlot, it was more a case of this particular parcel alerting itself to us and demanding enough attention to get to bottle on its own.' stated Steph.

Just how special it was is emphasised by it's possible one-off nature (there was one back in 1993. That's it) as Steph suggests:

'It might be similar to the case of the 2002 Cellar Reserve Grenache. We've aimed to do another in every year since. We've come close, but never quite seen that quality again. Fingers crossed for 2013'

Penfolds Mataro
Given such scrutiny, such an unproven nature it is perhaps of little surprise that this Merlot is so good. It is a bright, rich purple berry coloured Merlot, much like the grapes would have been. It smells of mulberries, of sweet vanilla French oak, yet without smelling obviously sweet. What makes this arresting is the evenness - the palate washes through with waves of plush, faintly minty mulberry fruit in an open, deep, slightly oaky style, supported by typically firm Penfolds brand tannins. The length is there, the finish, whilst a fraction warm, is vibrant and driven by freshness.

Driven by a wonderful combination of grainy Penfolds tannins and beautiful plush fruit this is delicious Merlot, if still a Penfolds red first and foremost, that deserves the praise.

Drink: 2013-2025+
Score: 18.5/20 94/100
Would I buy it? Hmm. If I was in a Penfolds mood definitely. I'd like some in the cellar actually and bring it out in about 6 years time for some glory. Is it interesting enough? Does that matter? As a drinking wine it's an obvious winner, which is surely what counts.

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Kalimna Block 25 Mataro 2010 (Barossa, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $50
Source: Sample

I don't mean for this to be an afterthought, for it's better than that, however the story here is just how impressive the Merlot was.

The first time that a straight Mataro has made it into the Cellar Reserve range and one of the very few times that Penfolds has released a straight Mataro. It may even be the first ever single vineyard Penfolds Mataro (I could be wrong. I've found references to a Bin 158 back in the 50s but not sure if that was a single vineyard wine).

This wine was sourced off the Kalimna Block 25 planted in 1964. It spent 16 months in new and seasoned oak and was produced like much of the Penfolds reds in static fermenters with heading down boards used for plunging (a very manual process!). 

Darkly coloured and brooding, this Mataro, like the Merlot, is a 100% Penfolds red. The only challenge is that, for the moment at least, that means it is dominated by winemaking influences, the oak sitting on top of the slightly reduced fruit. The palate too looks a little baked, that dried black Mataro fruit looking ripe but also drying, firm and firmly varietal yet just a fraction caramelised on the edges.

Whilst this is going to be a more impressive wine with cellar time as that fruit peaks out, it still looks a little sweet and sour to mine. Varietal Mataro nonetheless.

Drink: 2014-2024+
Score: 17/20 90/100+
Would I buy it? Only as a curio.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Katnook Shiraz 2010

Katnook Estate Shiraz 2010
13.5%, Screwcap, $40
Source: Sample

Very much an old fashioned oak driven Australian red this, built in that thick grained, slightly raw, chocolatey American oak driven style that is a flashback to the lavishly oaked wines of the late 90s and early 00s.

Whilst many producers have walked away from such a wine style, there is an unquestionable attractiveness of the better made examples. Wines with heart no doubt.

What's interesting here is that the oak is still noticeable, even though the wine was matured in seasoned barrels. Luckily the fruit underneath is lively, giving a kit-kat and plum fruit character that is well up to the task of competing with the chewy tannins.

I like that richness and the vibrancy of fruit is good, the only further question here is just how recognisably regional it is. Besides the acidity this could be a Barossan red such is the chocolatey style. Think bigger style 128 and you're on the money.

Pleasant and bound to win the hearts and minds of anyone brought up on a diet of Penfolds reds from the 90s, if just a bit raw and raw oaked for big points.

Drink: 2013-2023+
Score: 17/20 90/100
Would I buy it? No, but I know many who would love it (and the fruit is very vibrant). Hence the generous score.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Voyager Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2012

Voyager Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2012 (Margaret River, WA)
13%, Screwcap, $22
Source: Sample

Nailed it again.

There are few more reliable Margaret River SBS/SSBs than the Voyager, and even in the very early (most varieties were picked 2-3 weeks earlier than usual) 2012 vintage Voyager have managed to balance fruit ripeness and acidity.

Cut grass, limes, lemongrass. It's a wine driven by acidity and quite early picked snappy fruit, though with the limes and melon drive of Semillon through the middle. Fresh and grapefruity, this is perhaps a little tighter and leaner (early picked no doubt) than in some other vintages but still refreshes. Hot day satiation with texture to go. Easy recommendation.

Drink: 2013-2015
Score: 17.7/20 92/100
Would I buy it? Yes. Prawns, BBQ, hot day. Yes.

Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2008

Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2008 (Pauillac, Bordeaux)
13%, Cork, $300
Source: Glass from some kindly persons bottle

A blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot and the rest Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.

Like many 08 Bordeaux this has a certain hedonistic warmth and ripeness to it that in some eyes might be more than welcome. I think it just translates into a warmer, more forward wine showing a little heat and a hint of dehydration ala 2003. Horses for courses though as many will love this. I didn't quite.

Dark coloured and still embryonic on the nose, this currently shows a little pencil shavings oak over roasted chocolate dark fruit. Roasted probably isn't correct, more like seared and caramelised a bit. As you'd expect the driver here is the tannins which look rather hulking and drying here, indicating to me small berries and a little cooked fruit.

Hulking, alcohol sweet but quite luscious and jammy I can see the appeal - and no doubt in time this should improve - but for the moment it just looks like a little warmish. Important plus signs regardless, particularly if the tannins settle.

Drink: 2016-2026+
Score: 17.3/20 91/100++
Would I but it? No.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Thomas Wines OC Semillon 2012

Thomas Wines OC Semillon 2012 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
11%, Screwcap, $22
Source: Sample

The only Semillon in the 2012 Thomas Wines lineup that I don't really get.

The challenge here is simply how un-Hunter Semillon it is - blind I'd just as quickly call it a Yarra Sauv than Hunter Sem, such is the dominance of the super aromatic, passionfruit and pyrazine characters of slightly green fruit. Call me a purist but I just don't see that as a character that I want to see in Hunter Sem.

Regardless, once you ignore the slightly sweaty nose the juice underneath is ripe, vital and generous, if even quite fruit-sweet (though the sweetness is a perception thing I'd vouch as this is likely technically bone dry).

Affable and unquestionably distinctive, I can't technically write this off as it is clearly a wine of some length and substance. I just much prefer the quite classic Braemore tasted alongside it and this looked rather odd in comparison

Drink: 2013-2015
Score 16.7/20 89/100
Would I buy it? No.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Thomas Wines Braemore Semillon 2012

Thomas Wines Braemore Semillon 2012 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
10.5%, Screwcap, $28
Source: Sample

Sourced from Ken Bray's famous Hermitage Rd vineyard, of which Andrew Thomas gets first dibs (lucky man), this is typically one of the finest young Semillons in the Hunter, able to show well both in its first 18 months and as a 5yr old+ mature release.

I've had this 2012 Braemore 3 times now and each time it looks better. There is still a hint of the green papaya and lettuce of the cool vintage, but the fleshiness through the middle rather cancels that out.

In fact you'd almost call it quite playful, the textural fullness quite unexpected. As you'd expect of the vintage its briskly acidic though that just contributes to the seriously smart length, a length of flavour and intensity that marks this as a quality wine.

I'm scoring this a little conservatively in the Braemore context, largely as I see the best years some time off yet (much like the 08s have taken longer to come around). Worth sticking some in the cellar methinks.

Drink: 2018-2027+
Score: 18.2/20 93/100+
Would I buy it? Yes, but straight to the cellar it would go.

Thomas Wines Six Degrees Semillon 2012

Thomas Wines Six Degrees Semillon 2012 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
8%, Screwcap, $22
Source: Sample

I may be alone amongst wine writers to say so, but I really think there is a place for this sort of wine. Sure, it's not got that intensity and seriousness of equivalent off-dry Mosel Riesling, but for a simply sweet (but not obtusely so) and juicy white wine this is more than palatable. Fun drinking no question about it.

There is an almost formic, herbal edge to the nose which to me is indicative of slightly underripe fruit. That's the only suggestion for greenness though for the palate is vibrant, lively and very juicy, the acidity so prominent that the sugar matches up pretty nicely indeed. Not profound but the fruit tingles and lime juice style is so impressively fresh and grapey that you can't help but admire it.
I think it is still a fraction too sweet though whether it would be that much better (or sell as well) as a drier wine is an interesting conundrum.

I can see why this sells well (and so should it).

Drink: 2013-2015+
Score: 16.5/20 88/100
Would I buy it? No, but I gave half the bottle to a very attractive ladyfriend who loved it.

Balgownie Black Label Shiraz 2010

Balgownie Black Label Shiraz 2010 (Bendigo & Heathcote, Vic)
14.5%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Sample

Surely a contender for the fabled 'tastiest cool climate Shiraz for $20 or less' trophy, this is admirably well made and affable juice.

At first whiff I thought it was Yarra, such was the black pepper edge to that nose. Black pepper and black jelly babies alongside cola and blackberries. All very alluring. Palate too is silky, ripe and well handled all spice spice and spice. It's perhaps a little bitter and dry towards the back but that also serves as a reminder of how good (and serious this is).

Good, juicy, spicy red this, a real lovely example of modern Victorian Shiraz. It's not profound, or particularly tannic or deep, but the style and texture is spot on.

Drink: 2013-2017
Score: 17.7/20 92/100
Would I buy it? If I was looking for a tasty cool climate Shiarz this would be firmly on the menu.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Delicious Barossan juice: Teusner Joshua GMS 2012

Teusner Joshua GMS 2012 (Barossa, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Someone else's bottle

The 2012 Barossan good news continues. Here the only question is what exactly do you score a wine like this? Technically it is rather light bodied and even simple, eschewing the structural elements of tannins and extract and perhaps sacrificing length in the process. Yet as a drink, as a wine, this is a perfectly delicious, deliciously perfect wine of fruit perfection. A Barossan joven that is as joyful a joven should be.

The technical details - a blend of 63% Grenache, 23% Mataro, 14% Shiraz. Grenache comes from the 70 year old Riebke bush vines, the Mataro from relatively younger plantings near Williamstown with plus a component from Stockwell in the North, with the Shiraz sourced from Koonunga Hill (the district that no-one can name on a label as it is a trademark. Just like Stonewell). pH 3.59. TA 5.8g/L.

The joy here is just the most wonderfully juicy, sweet fruited, freshly picked Grenache, Mataro and Shiraz fruit. It's sweet, yet as a wine it is bone dry, that sweetness all natural and perfectly balanced. All fruit, all the time in the most silky, raspberry, cherries and other assorted red fruits imaginable. The finish is ripe, generous and not hot, despite the 14.5% alcohol. Light tannins, no oak, no worries. A massive yes for me. Oh and did I mention that it looked even better on day 2? Amazing.

Drink: 2013-2016+
Score: 18.2/20 93/100
Would I buy it? Definitely

Friday, 11 January 2013

Top Vale Shiraz: Chapel Hill The Chosen Series duo

Top Vale Shiraz: Chapel Hill The Chosen Series duo

These two single vineyard Shiraz first broke cover in last years Scarce Earth release. At the time - served blind - I gave them both quite divergent scores. Hinting that I might have got at least one wine a little wrong (The Road Block), the kind folk at Chapel Hill sent both for another review. That's service...

I tasted these two single blind again and unsurprisingly the scores came closer together, though the House Block wins again.

I'm going to include my (double blind) tasting notes here from last year too, just for an interesting reference point.

Chapel Hill 'The Chosen' Road Block Shiraz 2010
'Road Block' - 1 Chapel Hill Rd, McLaren Vale. $65. 3480 bottles produced. 14% alc. Region 9.
1.82 hectare, north-east facing Road Block planted in 1993 on own roots and is farmed biodynamically. This spent 20 months in largely older oak.

(April 2012) Sweet purple licorice straightforward richness. In the context of the style its ok but there is some caramelised hardness and weird sweetened fruit on the palate. 16.5/20 88/100+

(Jan 2013) Has a playdoh esque edge to the oak on the nose. Really deep boysenberry with gravelly tannins, can't escape that licoricey overripeness. Still like the outré wildness though. Good at least 17.7/20 92/100

Chapel Hill The Chosen House Block Shiraz 2010
'House Block' - 1 Chapel Hill Rd, McLaren Vale. $65. 2298 bottles produced. 14% alc. Region 9.

0.8 hectare, north facing House Block planted in 1977 on own roots and is farmed biodynamically. This spent 20 months in 16% new oak hogsheads.

(April 2012) Super concentrated but also quite composed. Looks tight and dark and rich. Like the tannins and a sense of lightness. Great tannins and long tannins. Prefer the tannins markedly on this one. Nice wine. 18.7/95

(Jan 2013) Has more composure and a lovely sense of sweetness to match the fine gritty tannins. So plush and rounded on the edges. This has the most beautiful plush fruit and tannic excellence. Yes 18.7/95

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Coriole Lloyd Reserve Shiraz 2009

Coriole Lloyd Reserve Shiraz 2009 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $85
Source: Sample

The top wine in the Coriole tree and typically a long lived beast. Sourced from the original dry-grown 1919 plantings, this spends 18 months in French oak and a further 12 months in bottle before release. Icon Shiraz boxes ticked.

It looks a little liquered and dehydrated this vintage, yet that is complemented by an extra degree of concentration. I'm just picturing tiny little berries on old vines, the Willunga escarpment in the distant background, the beach just down the road. Vale Shiraz to the max. Tastes it too - deep plum fruit, the firm skin tannins (those tiny berries make for a more formidable skin:juice ratio which means more tannins) just adding to the concentration.

Ultimately this Coriole tastes like a proper old vine McLaren vale Shiraz, the structure and form all authentic stuff. It's just a fraction drying and warm, but the heart is true.

Drink: 2013-2025+
Score: 17.5/20 91/100+
Would I buy it? Only as an older wine. Value not quite there for the moment.

Proper Pinot for under $30: Stoney Rise Pinot Noir 2011

Stoney Rise Pinot 2011 (Tasmania)
13.5%, Screwcap, $29
Source: Sample

I'm still yet to meet Stoney Rise's Joe Holyman. I feel like I want to man hug him though and congratulate him on his labels. Some of the word associations on this bottle included 'Pastrami on rye' and 'BBQ Quail' both of which I like the sound of (as food that has characters found in this wine and also food that would work with it). Oh and Joe's wines are ok too....

This Pinot is more than ok. It's a wonderfully serious Pinot for an 'entry level' price. More power to that combination.
Speaking of combinations, this smells and tastes of lovely red cherry fruit that is bright but not sweet. Important distinction that - no red cordial in sight.

Beyond the fruit this smells hammy, spicy and thoroughly Pinoty. It was too meaty and spicy for my Mum, so such pinosity is probably not for everyone. I liked it though. I love the dark, bitter tannins and prominent acidity too - all proper Pinot characters. That acidity is a tad raw at the moment, and coupled with the proper tannins this is a bit firmish, but heck, for anyone who actually likes Pinot this is a winner.

Drink: 2013-2016+
Score: 17.5/20 91/100
Would I buy it? Yes, yes I would.

Woodstock Pilots View Shiraz 2011

Woodstock Pilots View Shiraz 2011 (McLaren Vale, SA)
14%, Screwcap, $38
Source: Sample

Producers, marketers, critics and the like can talk it up as much as they want, but ultimately 2011 was a bloody hard vintage in South Australia, particularly if you're trying to make red wines. Wet, cool, wet and wet, the vintage netted many grapes that didn't quite get ripe, or if they did they often produce wines that don't show much in the way of 'fruit' flavours. Plenty of exceptions, yet plenty of wines that show the challenges all too well. Like this wine.

White pepper and ferns - it smells green, peppery driven and sappy, the plum fruit more of an echo than is normal for Woodstock. The palate too relies on oak and some residual sweetness (or concentrate for that matter) to inject some richness.

Fair winemaking perhaps, but it ultimately results in a simple and concocted wine. Not quite.

Drink: 2013-2015
Score: 15/20 84/100
Would I buy it? No. The 2010 is well worth seeking out if you can find it though.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Matchbox Wine Co. Malbec 2012

Matchbox Wine Co. Malbec 2012
Clever packaging too
14%, Screwcap, $30
Source: Sample

Fun comes in many different shapes and sizes. Here it is delivered via a joven style Clare Valley Malbec, drawn from 30yr old vines and wild fermented in seasoned puncheons. Made by Nav Singh, with a helping hand from his wife Louise Radman, this is a quite joyous expression of ripe fruit.

Love the colour here - bright, technicolour purple. Grimace purple even. The wonders of the '12 Clare Valley vintage (which produced some amazingly bright coloured red wines) on show with this puppy...

The whole wine is about as close to grape hubba bubba as you can get - sweet grape juice (though fruit sweet) aplenty, finished off with a hint of skin tannins to finish. No oak in sight. Perhaps the only challenge is that this is a rather simple wine for the dollars - the purple juiciness is off the scale but you're still searching for a little more structure to fill everything out. Or at least I was. Still a pretty moreish beast all the same.

Drink: 2013-2016+
Score: 16.5/20 88/100
Would I buy it? Probably not. I like the concept but I'm just looking for a little more craft for $30.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

My first Israeli red - Clos de Gat Har'el Syrah 2007

Hello Israeli red!
My first Israeli red - Clos de Gat Har'el Syrah 2007 (Judean Hills, Isreal)
14%, Cork, Circa £20
Source: Gift

Sadly we don't see many Israeli wines here in Australian. We don't see much in the way of Bulgarian, Turkish or Hungarian wines either, but I've never even seen something from Israel. Despite being apparently one of the birthplaces of the wine industry, it seems that the Israeli wine industry has only really flourished within the last 20-30 years, driven by the push into cooler climate regions like the Golan Heights, Upper Galilee and the Judean Hills.

From what I can gather - and like many quite 'new' wine producing nations - the varietal mix in Israel is largely French with a focus on Syrah, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. This Clos de Gat Syrah (with about 15% Cabernet Sauvignon) follows a similar pattern too, the wine made in a modern, fruit forward, sumptuously oaked style.

Dark plum coloured and dark plum flavoured, this is like a peppery Grampians red if anything, though perhaps just missing some of the spice and depth of the old vine Grampians reds. Coffeed oak fills out the middle, a sheen of vanilla sweetness over that bright, chunky fruit, everything finishing with quite light tannins and warm alcohol.

A good new world red from the old world, the depth here and genuine nature of the wine making it a pretty satisfying full bodied modern red.

Drink: 2013-2020
Score: 17.7/20 92/100
Would I buy it? Maybe not, but what an options wine!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Singlefile Pinot Noir 2011

Singlefile Denmark Pinot Noir 2011 (Great Southern, WA)
Pinot for masochists?
14.5%, Screwcap, $30
Source: Sample

Beastly bottle and quite stylish packaging. Denmark Pinots are typically dry reddish so I was particularly interested whether this could manage to retain some delicacy.

It doesn't smell like a delicate Pinot, the nose warm with alcohol along with bacon bits and redcurrant and raspberry fruit. The palate is initially quite sweet and fans out into something concentrated and punchy, the fruit dark and sweetened with oak. No escaping the rasp of heavy alcohol attenuating the finish.

I can't see any delicacy here, that redcurrant punch the only redeeming feature. Am I approaching Great Southern Pinots with the wrong approach I wonder? Surely not, as Castle Rock can seem to make balanced wines. Regardless, it is not my preferred style of Pinot at all, if clearly well made.

Drink: 2013- 2017+
Score: 15.8/20 85/100
Would I buy it? No.

Coriole Mary Kathleen Cabernet Merlot 2009

Coriole Mary Kathleen Cabernet Merlot 2009 (Adelaide Hills, SA)
13.5%, Screwcap, $50
Source: Sample

Produced since 1992 from fruit off the Coriole Estate. Except for this 2009 which was made from Adelaide Hills grapes. Normal service was resumed in 2010 and 11.

It looks like a regal, old school herbal Adelaide Hills red too, all mint and eucalypt aplenty, over a dense and quite chewy long term palate. I like the chew of the back end, the fruit a little compacted but certainly composed and deep. A wine you want to have in the cellar as it will undoubtedly make tasty old bones. Will need a long decant to temper those wooly tannins now.

Drink: 2015-2022+
Score: 17/20 90/100+
Would I buy it? No, but I think I'd like some in the cellar to pull out and see where it goes. 

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Grüner files: 2012 Lark Hill & Hahndorf Hill

The Grüner files: 2012 Lark Hill & Hahndorf Hill

Half of the currently available Australian Gruners
It's been quite satisfying to watch the progression of these two wines over the last few vintages. Kinda like watching two little Austrian kids growing up (with Australian accents). This 2012 vintage release sees both in rich(er) form too, carrying a little more weight than the 2011 iterations. The wines seem to be more divergent this vintage too, which is similarly satisfying.

Because I'm particularly thorough (sometimes) I had these two blind, although from first whiff it's patently obvious which wine was which. The 2012 Hahndorf Hill 'Gru' Grüner Veltliner (12.5% alc, $28) is built in more of a dry, lean and aromatic Federspiel style, the grapes picked over a number of days and fermented with both commercial and wild yeasts in a range of vessels.

Of the two this looks simpler, the nose carrying celery, mushroom, lemon and grapefruit over a pithy palate. It's perhaps a more angular and shorter wine than the Lark Hill but with a sense of vibrancy to it that makes it quite refreshing, and certainly with more balance than many an Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc. Perhaps the biggest criticism is that it is a fraction indistinct, the young vines betrayed by a lack of varietal character. I'd still drink it though (well chilled, with mud crabs). 16.8/20 89/100

Conversely, the 2012 Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner (12.5% alc, $40) is a quite different beast. Rounder and riper smelling with white peach to go with that white pepper, yet also with a palate driven by grapefruit acidity. This tastes, to mine, much more varietal (and Austrian) in its palate profile than the Hahndorf, initially fleshy, texturally peachy and ripe before then getting tighter and more phenolic through the finish. I much preferred this Lark Hill, although it is perhaps looks a little less bouncy and vibrant than the Adelaide Hills wine. From what was a hard 2012 vintage this is a pretty tasty wine. 17.5/20 91/100

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

All I want in 2013.... is more anonymous comments

All I want in 2013.... is more anonymous comments

Admittedly that title is a little bit deceptive. I don't want the anonymous comments to be rude, indeed I'd much prefer if the commenters had names and faces. I'd really love to have the debates in person over a beer or three. But beggars can't be choosers (or such).

What I'm asking for more of in 2013 is something that blogs/online journals/wine review websites/anything with a comments field really needs more of - the anonymous critical comments. Those (ideally) well written questions that are posed by people who, freed from the need to actually put a face behind their comments, feel like they can have a spray at the publisher of the post/article. Those 'your (sic) wrong because' type comments that can be rude, accusatory and plain wrong, yet can also be brutally, deservedly accurate.

The reason for this request is simple really. I need it. Wine writing need it. The whole point of democratising (or whatever you want to call it) wine writing is that we want to remove the boundaries that have existed in traditional media. To encourage a more honest, more critical and more circumspect approach to what constitutes a good/bad wine by forcing us wine writers to justify our opinions and acknowledge our bias. More transparency, more honesty, more often. Less wankers.

Naturally asking for more anonymous comments is like asking to be attacked by bees more often. Grammar Nazi's and trolls live and breathe by anonymous comments, and I'm anything but the most fastidious editor. But the more I think about it the more I think that anonymous comments are what makes discussions happen.

For an example of the sort of comment I'm talking about, this accusatory little paragraph popped up a few weeks ago:

As you can see by my reply I was a little annoyed by the accusations. The more I think about the comment however, the more I realise I needed to flesh out my relationships and make my scoring more transparent. I needed that kick in the head so I could question my own potential bias and confirm whether I've gone too far.

Ultimately we all need a jab to the ribs on occasion, if purely to build up our defences (and fend it off next time). Bring on the jabs I say...