Thursday, 28 February 2013

De Iuliis Shiraz 2011

De Iuliis Shiraz 2011
13.7%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

I like the fact that Mike De Iuliis' website URL is simple Helps save people awkwardly typing in URL's and skipping all those wonderful vowels in big Mike's name...

Anyways, this Shiraz - like so many 2011 Hunter reds - is a lovely, bright and juicy sort of red. It suffers perhaps by the natural comparison with is single vineyard brother, the superstar 2011 Steven Shiraz, yet it's nothing if not tasty.

This leads off with the wonderful purple colours of the vintage, the hue very bright and vibrant. What is most satisfying is that combination of berry juiciness and the meaty, earthen red dirt of the Hunter. A jubey middle that is generous but not sweet and fine tannins to finish make this rather tasty mid-weight Hunter Shiraz in that ageless Hunter form. Will convince the Hunter haters, even if its not an especially complex wine.

Still a pup, this should easily see its 15th birthday. A little extra concentration and definition and it would be in the same league as the aforementioned Steven vineyard for sure.

Drink: 2013-2023
Score: 17.7/20 92/100
Would I buy it? I'd definitely recommend it. Would take the Steven Vineyard though

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

De Iuliis Sunshine Vineyard Semillon 2012

De Iuliis Sunshine Vineyard Semillon 2012
11.5%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

With the 2013 Hunter Semillons now in tank and many now effectively finished wines (though with some settling to be done yet) it's a good time to be looking at the 2012's I haven't written up yet.

This single vineyard wine is typically a quite generous style of Hunter Semillon, if still cut with that typical Hunter Sem acidity. This 2012 white, however, is a very different beast all together.

What makes it stick out (in the context of previous vintages. Typical for the vintage though) is that pyrazine edge to the nose. Much like the Thomas O.C Semillon, this has an overtone of grassiness over green melon and green mango fruit. They're not distracting notes, just atypical. The palate too is both green and sour, with powerful, lime warheads acidity cutting through the palate. Yet this wine is generous through the middle too, ultimately making for a quite affable Semillon yet also a very dry one.

Somewhat unconventional, this is attractive and drinkable but not quite complete.

Drink: 2013-2020
Score: 16.8/20 89/100
Would I buy it? Not really. I'd drink it, but it's just not quite the sort of Hunter Semillon I prefer.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

More good NSW wine: Toppers Mountain Tempranillo 2010

Toppers Mountain Tempranillo 2010 (New England, NSW)
13.5%, Screwcap, $32
Source: Sample

It makes me happy that the two wines that caused me to create a 'New England' tag are both super smart drinks. This Tempranillo is, like its Gewurtz partner, wonderfully authentic, a properly rustic and ferrous Temp that would not be out of step in a similarly priced lineup of Spaniards.

Already bricking at the rim (in true Tempranillo form), this is rather secondary smelling wine with some of the red earth and slow cooked beefiness I'd associate with Mudgee reds (which makes sense geographically). Savoury, darkly earthy palate has slightly raw acidity and dry tannins but backed by mid palate richness.

Like a modem Rioja, this is clever, earthen dry red of savoury appeal.

Drink: 2012-2018
Score: 17.8/20 92/100
Would I buy it? With some bottle age and slow cooked lamb shanks, absolutely.

Robert Oatley Finisterre Mudgee Chardonnay 2011

Robert Oatley Finisterre Mudgee Chardonnay 2011 (Mudgee, NSW)
12.6%, Screwcap, $32.99
Source: Tasting

I had an extensive look at the new premium Finisterre range from Robert Oatley over lunch the other week, with a full line-up of the new release wines open (including a few unreleased wines from the new, unreleased 'Pennant' range).

This Mudgee Chardonnay though, drawn from the famous old Craimoor AC1 block (which is now 40 years old), was easily my favourite white and generally one of my favourites of the wines. Mudgee Chardonnay gets a bit forgotten actually, as does the region as a whole for that matter, yet the best Chardonnays can be disctinctive and quite satisfying.

Handpicked and wild fermented in new and older French oak (where it spent 10 months in total), this carries a TA of 6.96 and a pH of 3.27 with an alcohol of 12.6%, figures suggesting that these are pretty healthily ripe grapes with great natural acidity (Mudgee can do that). The handling looks about right too, just enough oak without being too much.

Macadamia nuts, green melon and acidity. That's this wine's bent, with a lovely balance between creamy oak, a touch of creamy yeast richness and stony, tangy acidity. Great length of flavours and utterly Mudgee Chardonnay with nuts, whipped butter and more melons. Gentle, long and quite full flavoured this is very much a classic Mudgee wine that probably won't appeal to the less-is-better Chardonnay fans, but should satisfy for years to come yet. Liked it.

Drink: 2013-2020
Score: 17.9/20 93/100
Would I buy it? Hmm. I think if I saw this on a list with a few more years on it then I'd have a bottle for sure.

Monday, 25 February 2013

A week of NSW wine starts now: Toppers Mountain Gewurtztraminer 2012

Toppers Gewurtztraminer 2012 (New England, NSW)
12.6%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

This week kicks off the NSW Wine Festival, a month long celebration of all things NSW wine. Considering that it once was a week-long festival, I think its only apt that I dedicate this week to all things NSW wine. Or such.

Kicking off is a wine that I had forgotten was a winner at the NSW Wine Awards (which I judged at, though not this class) and I've curiously never tasted. Suffice to say that, given the quality of this wine, I've been missing out...

Bottle number 605 of 1615 (which makes it about 130 odd cases produced), what makes this so intriguing is just varietal it is. I can't think of a more Gewurtzish Gewurtz, if you get my drift. This was, according to Mark Kirby of Toppers Mountain, picked at the 'peak of pink when the bright pink fruit was displaying its characteristic Turkish delight and lychee flavours.'

Production wise it was crushed, destemmed and wild yeast fermented without temperature control, before then being inoculated with a neutral yeast and then fermented cool over 15 days.

You can smell this wine from literally the other side of the room, with the aromas of musk sticks and intense bath crystals aroma unimaginably, almost overwhelmingly overt. It's an almost comical nose actually, more like walking past one of those Lush soap shops than a winery. Wild crazy aromatic power to be marvelled at. The palate too is ridiculous in its flavour concentration. Soft, dry, musk stick power, made in a crisp, slightly reductively handled form and with a finish that is endless and ripe.

If anything this is almost too overt to drink, a statement wine that simply commands you to take notice of it. But 'too overt' is also ignoring the length and concentration on offer here. I initially scored it lower (as it may be too much to be a great drink) but I think this needs celebrating. Plus I like Gewurtz muchly.

Drink: 2013-2016
Score: 18.5/20 94/100
Would I buy it? Yes, but its not for all occasions. Again, a statement wine to be admired though not quaffed wantonly.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Ashton Hills Reserve Pinot Noir 2010

Ashton Hills Reserve Pinot Noir (Adelaide Hills, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $65CD
Source: Cellar door

It's about time that we acknowledge that this is amongst Australia's finest Pinot Noirs. Domestically we tend to believe that good Pinot Noir is almost exclusively Victorian (or Tasmanian) leaving the best examples from NSW, SA and WA as afterthoughts. That attitude, however, is ignoring just how good those afterthoughts can be...

Stylistically this reminded me of a warm year Pommard if anything, though that is a slight to good Australian Pinot Noir, as this comfortably speaks with a eucalypt edged Australian accent.

It's very dark for an Ashton Pinot Noir actually, a dark ruby colour that is hardly beastly, but suggests ripeness. The nose too is serious and dense, sappy, cherry, ham hock Pinot fruit. A ripe nose, given away by the hint of brandied volatiles. An unequivocally Pinoty one too, full and smoky and secondary with no oak to be found and the most purest, evolved expression of the grape. That is mirrored on the palate too which is firm, grandiose and luscious, a big Ashton Hills (too big?) Pinot and resoundingly convincing in its length and tannins, finishing quite warm.

A bold statement of a wine that is on a whole other level compared to any other South Australian Pinot I can think. A wonderful, slightly warm, drink too. Yes. Drink earlier perhaps but revel in that bombastic Pinosity. I did.

Drink: 2013- 2020
Score: 18.7/20 95/100
Would I buy it? Yes. More for drinking now though.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Ashton Hills Riesling 2012

Ashton Hills Riesling 2012 Ashton Hills Riesling 2012
13%, Screwcap, $30
Source: Cellar Door

The only white variety to escape the recent grafting frenzy at Ashton Hills (that saw the vineyard change to be 2.65ha Pinot Noir and 0.35ha Riesling, with the Chardonnay et al all grafted to Pinot) and in absolute top form here.

This Riesling is picked ripe and fermented to almost dryness (5.5g/l), the wine built with an emphasis on texture, achieved via some extended time on lees.

A wine of contrasts, initially it smells quite green and lean, floral, pretty and cool, the ripe fruit underneath taking a while to show. I like the tension between grapefruit fruit, briny aspiring limey acidity on the palate, the finish just softened by barely perceptible sweetness.

Great restraint and impressive structure, I really like the refreshment here - so much more natural and fresher than some slightly more forced Clare/Eden Rieslings of a similar vein - a floral breath of fresh air. A year or two in the cellar and this should look more expressive too, letting the very linear palate flower through the middle.

Lovely drink.

Drink: 2012-2022+
Score: 18/20 93/100
Would I buy it? Absolutely.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Viognier I actually like: Massena The Surly Muse Viognier 2012

Viognier thats better than bad its good
Massena 'The Surly Muse' Viognier 2012 (Barossa, SA)
13.5%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Tasting

Long time readers will well know my general disregard for Viognier, also known as 'the v weed'. It's a variety that, for a little while there, was a compulsory addition to any Australian Shiraz (God help us all) with a range of either under or overripe white wines to match. There was no Cote Rotie or Condrieu, just apricots. Apricots in Shiraz too, which is so many shades of wrong.

Thankfully the Shirognier craze has well passed, with many of the wines left behind at least mildly drinkable. Maybe.

This Massena too makes no sense. How can it be this good? How can it be that I was almost tempted to buy one? I've changed. Go to bed Andrew you're clearly drunk. Or such.

Even more wildly, this is sourced from Koonunga Hill, ground zero for full bodied Barossan red wines (they call Koonunga Hill 'Grange territory') and a sub-region where white grapes just aren't allowed. The grapes for this were grown adjacent to a tract of old vine Grenache and Mataro too, just to emphasise to the younger Viognier vines how inferior they are.

This Viognier, however, is anything but inferior. It's rather well balanced actually, helped along by supporting viticulture and winemaking. The grapes were picked in two stages, one early pick for freshness and another harvest up to four weeks later for more flavour. It then spent 6 months on lees, in seasoned french oak barriques. A good recipe for flavour and texture.

You can't smell the oak either, which is a great sign. Instead, this has honeysuckle, lemon juice, lime toast and a healthy dose of ginger. No apricot concentrate in sight either. On the palate, the acidity balances out the weighty fruit and sweetness of alcohol, delivering a full and juicy sort of wine but one of refreshment too. Refreshing Viogniers are good Viogniers, and this attractive early drinker is a very tasty rendition for the price. Polite claps all round. 17.8/20 92/100

Singlefile Syrah 2010

Singlefile Syrah 2010 (Mt Barker, WA)
$37, Screwcap, 13.6%
Source: Sample

The Singlefile wines continue to improve each vintage, particularly since Larry Cherubino has come on board as a consultant.

This Syrah is sourced from the Eulup vineyard, with the usage of 'Syrah' a nod to the fact that this is a spicier, more mid-weight number compared to the Frankland River 'Shiraz'. Practical nomenclature or a source of customer confusion? I like the accuracy of the sentiment, but can understand that it might also befuddle anyone who's not across the Syrah/Shiraz divide. Thoughts?

Black pepper over dark plum fruit - eucalypt meets spice and cloves over richer fruit. Underneath its surprisingly ripe and full, minty and roasted all at once, perhaps suggesting uneven fruit ripeness yet not detracting from the whole package. Indeed the tannins are firm, the flavours are long and the end effect is of a spicy, tasty WA Shiraz. Liked it. 17.5/20 91/100.

Stunning WA Riesling: Xabregas Figtree Riesling 2011

Stunning WA Riesling: Xabregas Figtree Riesling 2011 (Mt Barker, WA)
12.8%, Screwcap, $40
Source: Sample

Each year the Xabregas Riesling bottles seem to get taller and the wines get better. This 2011 Figtree may well be the best under the label yet. Again I prefer the driest wine too, proving that just off-dry may well prove to be the winning formula for the vineyard.

This is produced from the Figtree vineyard which is dominated by the local pea gravel. As a result the 'dirt' is almost non-existent, a thin layer of organic matter over the top of the gravel. The resultant soil thus lends itself to dry, fuller bodied Riesling. pH 3.0. TA 8.6. RS 12g/l

As ever this has a nose of density, of extract and power, the ripe and powerful fruit hard to contain. The tingling, nervy palate matches that nose with extractive, phenolic lemon/grapefruit fruit with just enough sweetness to carry things off, the length exceptional and the fruit power more than up to the task. That acidity is just a fraction firm but oh so natural and pure and lemony. A Grosses Gewächs in Mount Barker! 18.7/20 95/100

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

X by Xabregas Spencer Riesling 2011

X by Xabregas Spencer Riesling 2011 (Mt Barker, WA)
10.7%, Screwcap, $40
Source: Sample

Produced from the the Spencer vineyard, which is lower and on richer soils than the Figtree vineyard though the vines here tend to be slower growing and the wines thus carry more acidity. pH 2.95. TA 8.5g/L. RS 22g/l

Dense and concentrated, this is a softer, sweeter wine than the Figtree, that residual sugar taking the edge off the palate precision, though everything pulls up with dry, grapefruit acidity. The balance is a a close run thing actually, the Fruit Loop sweetness balancing with the pithy, lightly lemony, phenolic palate to make for a pretty satisfying off-dry Riesling.

Serve very cold with chilli prawns and you too will be fairly praising the length. 18.3/20 93/100

Monday, 18 February 2013

Rootstock - an Australian wine game changer?

Yours truly in requisite orange shirt

Rootstock - an Australian wine game changer?

Game changer.

Yes it is a clichéd phrase, yet I think 'game changer' might be an apt expression to describe an event that may shape the nature of wine fairs in Australia. A wine fair that, for the first time in years, saw people jetting in from around the globe to attend. Wine people, flying in from far and wide, just to attend a one day Sydney wine fair. Amazing.

That wine fair was called Rootstock, and yesterday was the inaugural edition, held at the similarly aptly named, Italian Forum located in the Multicultural Sydney suburb of Leichhardt.

What set this wine (and food) event apart was its focus. Specifically, Rootstock was all about 'sustainable' wines - biodynamic, organic, natural and the like - with some 45 wineries from France, Italy, Austria, New Zealand and Slovenia (amongst others), joining a strong local contingent to showcase the very best in artisan vino.

What also set this wine fair apart was the calibre of the producers. This wasn't a raggedy collection of usual suspects, we're talking the cream of both Australian and global artisan wineries, including Pyramid Valley, Rippon, Radikon, Bressan, Princic, Phillip Bornard, Terroir al Limit and Bonny Doon along with Lark Hill, Hochkirch, d'meure, Castagna, Sorrenberg, Jauma, Harkham and many more.

Better still, many of these producers were actually manning their stands too - Dirk Meure talking Tasmania; Nick Mills also talking Pinot (with a Kiwi flavour); the unmissable Fulvio Bressan in full camo Bressan outfit, complete with cigar hanging out of mouth; Fruilian cult maker Dario Princic pouring his wonderful Jakot, and many many more.

Couple that with a detailed roster of masterclasses hosted by winemakers, musicians, sommeliers, writers, cheese experts etc, plus an 'orange bar' full of orange wearing (and orange painted) wine peeps drinking and talking about orange wines (white wines made with skin contact, turning them orange) and you have one seriously impressive artisan wine celebration.

More than just a parade of wine folk though, what Rootstock represented was the day when the world of artisan wines went mainstream. As Sue Dyson, of importer Living Wines (who specialise in the sort of wines heavily represented at Rootstock) said to me 'this is incredible. I've only ever seen turnouts like this at European natural wine fairs'.

I had a unique perspective on the volume of interest in the event actually, largely as I spent half of the event in the crucial role of 'door bitch'. A door bitch was required, you see, to control the wine folk who were queuing up 90 minutes before the event begun, including some of whom had travelled from interstate, all in the hope they could get a last-minute ticket to the sold out event. I had friends messaging me in a desperate scramble to get in and twitter was ablaze with rumours of how to get in.

Initial estimates where that 150 tickets would be sold, yet with 400 tickets sold before the event, another 50 or so on the day, plus the 100 or so people that were turned away, there was no doubting that this was a popular event. Admittedly the trade focus was large, and sommeliers and wine writers were particularly thick on the ground, yet the excitement from 'everyday punters' was palpable. This was exciting. The wines were exciting. The food, too, was exciting (I didn't even touch on the food. Kylie Kwong couldn't cook food fast enough apparently). Everything was exciting.

Obviously it was just one event, one day, one long look at a collection of beer, food and handmade booze. But it felt like a shift in perception. No longer was the concept of natural wine something to be sneered at, it was just part of the wine scenery. Or at least that is what the atmosphere of the room suggested.

I'll leave it up to the folks from Living Wines to sum it up best (in a tweet, naturally)
'In Australian wine drinking time will be divided into before @Rootstock_ and after @Rootstock_. Things won't be the same again.'

My Rootstock highlights

Bressan Pignol 1999
Fulvio Bressan was unashamedly the star of the show, his Bressan uniform something to behold. This red wine though, from the Native Fruilian variety Pignol, is as much a star as he is. It spends almost 15 years in barrel and even now the tannins are seriously impressive. This is hearty, yet stylish, utterly Italian red wine built on tannins, yet also with a certain softness and richness. Think old Sangiovese, yet with a rustic edge, more darkness and the most heroic tannins ever. Quite brilliant.

Pyramid Valley Pinot Gris
The scrum to get near tables. Wild scenes
Mike Weersing now does 3 different versions of Pinot Gris, each with differing levels of skin contact. I found the '1 month' on skins the most easily comprehended, the fruit and musk of ripe Marlborough Pinot Gris clearly evident and able to compete with the skin tannins. Interestingly the '5 months on skins' version looked the most challenging, the tannins rougher and the fruit buried below that edge of oxidation. Finally, the '10 months on skins' version looked easily the best out of the lot, a full, rich, wild and drying orange wine of impressive depth and complexity. Profound.

Cantina Giardino Fiano Gaia
If we were to take Fiano and stretch it to its most wild, yet brilliant, extremes, then this would be it. Produced from old vine organic Fiano by what is a cooperative of growers in Campania, southern Italy, this has a four day cold soak on skins before spending a year or so in old barrels with minimal - if any - sulphur. What this wine has is freshness, a freshness that is often missing from orange wines of this nature, the wine carrying a most beautiful array of florals and a luscious - yet dry and complex - palate. Wild, yet still fragrant and vibrant, this stood out for its absolute clarity in a style that sometimes lacks as much.

Blind Corner Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
In the context of the wild and wooly wines around it this wine could be construed as almost 'safe' and 'modern'. Yet such a description is almost a slur, for this is an artisan wine from an artisan maker. That maker is Ben Gould, who crafts a small range of wines from his small, biodynamically grown vineyard in Wilyabrup, Margaret River. With this wine he air dries the grapes, Amarone style, before fermentation before they are foot-crushed and hand plunged then basket pressed into French oak. The challenge for Ben with this wine is that the wild yeasts struggle to deal with the high sugars of the dried grapes as he explains:

'This just wouldn't finish fermenting before our south coast holiday. Being just one barrel I put the barrel on a trailer and took it to the beach. It took about 4 days of fishing and whale watching for the wine to go dry.'

Full flavoured, intensely concentrated and yet with a certain cedary lightness to it, this is rich, dark, air dried Cabernet and carrying the wonderful, thickly grained tannins of the style. Character in abundance, I can't recommend this wine (and the other Blind Corner vinos) enough. With a single barrel made (24 cases) you're going to have to be very very quick. 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Syrah - the future of the Church?

Syrah – the future of the Church?

105 year old wineries are rare in NZ
(A version of this article first appeared in a recent edition of Lattelife. I like the story of this winery - there is a real sense of history here. It also feels like a winery in flux, with lots of tinkering with varieties and methods. Good people too. I like that restlessness, and no question that it is working with the reds, with Syrah obviously the excitement variety. The whites - aside from Chardonnay - are going to take a little longer as they all seem to be works in progress. Actually, the biggest challenge for this winery's white wines is how they fit in the scheme of Pernod Ricard's NZ operations - with Stoneleigh and Brancott in the portfolio, Church Road need to differentiate away from Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris methinks).

Just a mention of the wine lights a spark in Chris Scott’s eyes. A spark - and a knowing smile - shared between all of the Church Road winery staff. They’re onto something you see, onto a ‘new’ variety that represents an exciting new chapter in the 105 year Church Road winery history.

The wine is a Syrah, a cool, juicy, spicy Syrah, grown in the old gravel riverbeds that New Zealand’s Hawke's Bay region is known for. What makes this wine, this ‘newish’ (for New Zealand) grape, so significant is just how much promise it shows.

Here in Australia we almost take Syrah (or Shiraz) for granted – it grows like a weed in our warm climes, and has done so for over 170 years.  It is only in the last decade however that this most famous grape has carved a serious reputation in NZ, the plantings growing from just a single row in 1984 to a (still small, but significant) 300 hectares this year.

For Church Road winemaker Chris Scott, Syrah was originally just a dalliance – an experimental wine to keep the winemaking team on their toes. It took a big win (Champion Wine of Show at the 2008 NZ Wine Awards) for just the second ever Church Road Syrah to provoke a little interest, with the newly released 2010 Reserve Syrah the latest real head-turner.

What Syrah now represents is a third string to the Church Road bow – a third wine to compliment the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon blends that the winery is most famous for.

Indeed just focusing on Church road Syrah is ignoring how good the Cabernet blends are. The 2009 Church Road Reserve Cabernet Merlot ($36) is just the latest example of the fine, savoury, ‘are-you-sure-this-is-not-from-France’ styled medium bodied red that Hawke's Bay does so well.

Given that New Zealand’s first commercial Cabernet Sauvignon was produced by Church Road in 1949, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Cabernet based wines look so good. As far back as the 1960s Kiwis were flocking to Church Road’s historic cellar door to purchase then winemaker Tom McDonald’s renowned red wines. Indeed the 1965 was once referred to as a 'Baby Margaux', which is perhaps of no surprise given that Tom had a serious penchant for Bordeaux.

Tom McDonald himself is still considered one of the pioneers of modern Hawke's Bay winemaking, not only as a winemaker but as a show judge too. He was once the Chief Judge for the NZ wine showand is credited with the push towards varietal wines. His legacy reflected in just how strong the modern Hawke's Bay wine industry is, with Tom celebrated via a wine named in honour of his 60 year reign at the Church Road winemaking helm.

The Church Road Cuve department.
The current release of this wine – affectionately labelled as ‘the TOM’ – is a 2007 Cabernet Merlot sourced exclusively from the famed Hawke's Bay sub-region of Gimblett Gravels. Deliberately built firm, dry and structured, it is a long term wine with a serious level of tannin and power.

The only problem is that the, as yet unreleased, 2009 Church Road TOM Cabernet Merlot is better again (and worth waiting for) with a balance to suggest it will look magnificent in ten years time.

Now all we need is to convince the Church Road team that the Syrahs need to be imported here alongside the Cabernet Merlots...

The Wines

(These were all tasted at the winery in August last year. When a price is quoted the wine is available in Australia).

Church Road Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Hawke's Bay. NZ)
Grown at the Matapiro Vineyard, 40 mins from Napier, which sits at 300m above sea level. Fermentation for this started wild and was then finished off with inoculated with yeast to finish the ferment. This includes a little Sauvignon Gris which the Church Road team are starting to really like.

A decidedly more passionfruit passionfruit driven and less aromatic wine than the Marlborough style, though also well defined on the nose. Think more passionfruit and less herbs. A somewhat lean wine with greenish acidity if a generous middle. Slightly short but pleasant. Correct, if not quite cohesive. 16.3/20 87/100

Church Road Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Hawke's Bay, NZ)
Grown at the Redstone Vineyard, which is located in the Ngatarawa triangle. This vineyard is marked by its shallow silt over red metal soils. The fruit for this was hand picked, whole bunch pressed and fermented wild in 20% new oak.

A worked style that carries its winemaking prominently, the fruit ripe and honeydew melon leaning, the oak and yeast sitting on top of that fruit. Dry finish looks a little raw but still clean and crisp. Less aggressive acidity would work wonders, though that texture is quite attractive. Good and should improve with more bottle age. 17.3/20 90/100+

Church Road Pinot Gris 2011 (Hawke's Bay, NZ) $25.99
Produced largely from Matapiro fruit. Spends 3 months on lees post ferment. RS 11g/L. pH 3.58

Tinned Passionfruit, with some heavier fruit on the nose. Has genuinely varietal, lightly musky fruit  some flab through the finish and a longish finish. Rich and full, if ultimately also blunt and bulky. Fair. 16.8/20 89/100

Church Road Reserve Viognier 2010 (Hawke's Bay, NZ)
Redstone vineyard fruit. Includes an overnight cold soak in the presence of stems which may well amp up the richness even more. pH 3.99.

It's a big - and varied - range laid out this way
Genuinely fat nose. Looks broad and wide. Very full and unctuous palate with low acid and a warmish finish. Clearly a valid attempt though not quite in the zone, looking ultimately a little overwrought and lacking freshness. 15.3/20 85/100

Church Road McDonald Series Verdelho 2011 (Hawke's Bay, NZ)
The McDonald series wines are effectively trial lots, destined for cellar door release only. This particular wine comes from 1 tonne of fruit. Wild ferment in barrel (they love their barrels here at Church Road) though it is all old oak. This also went through malo.

Winemaking without fruit really. Obvious coconut oak. The palate is quite neutral and oak touched. Raw finish. Less varietal and more of an oddity that has texture but little in the way of flavour. 15/20 83/100

Church Road Chardonnay 2010 (Hawke's Bay, NZ) $25.99
A 25,000 case blend and an important wine for Church Road. 70% French, 30% Hungarian oak with 31% new and the balance one and two year old oak used. 70% of this went through malo.

Almost tropical edge to the nose. Slightly overt oak edge, though apparently intended as part of the style. That melon oak is there, the acidity raw, but the slightly old school style certainly attractive. Good traditional style of full bodied Chardonnay that had me thinking of old school Hunter Chardonnay if anything, the style here very much in the big and plentiful style. Certainly a wine that has a place, if anything but modern. 16.5/20 88/100

Church Road Reserve Chardonnay 2009 (Hawke's Bay, NZ)
This is effectively a barrel selection of the standard wine though after the 2010 this definitely looked 'bigger'.

Quite a big, barrel driven style. Nutty, pepper and figs on the nose over a slightly sour, peachy palate. The style here is not lean and minerally but certainly has some refinement, if tempered with that weighty, hay-bales and butterscotch worked warm clime Chardonnay nose. Bottle age quite evident too. A bit big and rough. But old school joy. 16.9/20 89/100

Church Road Reserve Chardonnay 2010 (Hawke's Bay, NZ) $36.99
What a contrast to try this beside the two Chardonnays above. A serious style shift evident with this wine, which I pointed out to winemaker Chris who agreed, believing this wine to be evident of the shift away from 'old-school new-world Chardonnay'.

Considerably leaner and cleaner than the 09, the oak looks better integrated too. Happy to see more minerality and more freshness here the style balancing the generosity of oak and fruit with the acidity. Big step up, if cast in a weighty mould. Good example of the house style. 17.7/20 92/100

Church Road Tom Chardonnay 2009 (Hawke's Bay, NZ) $90-$110
Forget the wine, how about the packaging! Sexy. This is a barrel selection of the best French oak barriques. Still a step back in time after the wine above.

Very sexy oak nose. Honeycomb richness. Top oak. Classic, full tilt honeyed nose, ripe fruit. Gummy, slightly obvious fruit, the acidity looks nice and clean though. Lots of oak and some sulphides driving this. Again it reminds me of a big Hunter style, if clearly classier than the Reserve. Nice oak, but so much of it. 17.5/20 91/100

Church Road Tom Chardonnay 2010 (Hawke's Bay, NZ)
The right stuff! Step forward again with this barrel selected wine.

Much cleaner modern style. Rather lean and Chablis-inspired compared to other wines before it.. Looks neutral and lean and acid driven with sulphides carrying it through to a long finish. Proper carry and finish. Big step up with svelte lines and texture. Serious top end Chardonnay. Still raw oak through the finish. 18/20 93/100+

Church Road McDonald Series Marzemimo 2009 (Hawke's Bay, NZ)
Marzemimo, from northern Italy, is an unusual choice for Hawke's Bay and, indeed, this is the only wine of its kind in NZ. Super reductive so it need to be in cork, and is easily the ripest, darkest wine of this whole lineup. Intriguingly, it is the biggest selling red wine through the cellar door., where it sells for $NZ32. Fruit for this is grown at the Redstone vineyard. 13% Alc. pH 3.81. TA 5.41

Lovely raspberry coulis berry juiciness to this - blackberry and pepper. It's an open and very honest berry nose which is quite a contrast to the palate, which is rustic, tannic and has a slight foxiness. It's still a mid weight wine of fruit, if definitely a little wooly. The fruit of a Zin and with the slightly unripe, hardish tannins of some of the earlier picked examples. Has a place for anyone looking for juicy ripe fruit and should be very long lived. 16.5/20 88/100

Church Road McDonald Series Syrah 2010 (Hawke's Bay, NZ)
A blend of Redstone vineyard and Church Pa fruit. Fermented in those big French oak cuves and then transferred to barrique. 5 weeks on skins. 17 months in oak. 14% alc. pH 3.78. TA 5.8

Really fragrant and pretty. Light and cinnamon driven. Lovely sandy sort of fragrance to it. Acid is a little high but has wonderful sandy tannin What a very pretty, very cool clime style this is! Love the tight, mid weight nature. Excellent juiciness but particularly a finesse to the fine, lovely tannins. Good stuff. Drink: now - 2015
18.5/20 94/100

Church Road Reserve Syrah 2010 (Hawke's Bay, NZ)
A barrel selection of the McDonald series wine yet curiously looks like a very different beast all together - riper, fuller and more confected. Still very promising and stylish.

Deeper and more obvious oak than the McDonald series, this is much richer than the McDonald series. Quite high acid to finish. Lovely blackberry mid palate though also a little hammy. I'd love to see this with just a little more fruit weight. Very attractive wine though. Perhaps a bit fleshy and confected at the edges. 17.7/20 92/100

Church Road Merlot Cabernet 2009 Aus $25.99 (Hawke's Bay, NZ)
50% Mer, 40% Cab, 8% Malbec, 2% Syrah. A blend of 22% Gimblett Gravels, 52% Redstone and 25% Havelock vineyard. New, 1 and 2 yr old French and Hungarian barriques. 30% new oak.

Sweet and juicy nose but just needs more flavour to match that alcohol and acidity.
Pulpy blackberry fruit sort of nose, if a bit skinny too. Greenish tannins, looks a little lean on the palate too. Raw finish. Certainly carries a definite blackberry juiciness, I just wish it didn't finish so raw. 16.5/20 88/100

Church Road Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2009 Aus $36.99 (Hawke's Bay, NZ)
All Gimblett Gravels and Redstone vineyard fruit. 50% new (French) oak and 20 months in barrel. 14.5% alc. pH 3.78. TA 5.7 

Quite a bit more conventional here. Dusty, more curranty fruit, oak driven palate but nice and deep. Very solid example, with big and punchier flavours. A bold, full flavoured and superior structured wine with blackberry fruit aplenty. Proper firm tannins. I liked this muchly - great value too. 18/20 93/100

Church Road TOM Cabernet Merlot 2007 Aus $90-$110 (Hawke's Bay, NZ)
100% Gimblett Gravels fruit. Sexiest packaging around. 71% new French oak. 15 months in barrel for each component and then a further 6 as a full blend. Pumped over a massive 3 times a day! 14.5% alc. TA 5.4g/L. pH 3.71.

Some secondary cedar if just a fraction heady. Perhaps lightly raisined flavours, though the texture and weight is very keen. Red berries meets slightly raisined fruit, a bit heavy through the back palate? Lovely texture silk, just don't love the raisining quite as much. Lovely dark fruit firmness is excellent, even if the hint of dessication sits on the finish. Still top class regardless of that dryness. 18.5/94

Church Road TOM Cabernet Merlot 2009 (Hawke's Bay, NZ)
62% Cabernet, 38% Merlot. Similar handling to the 07 apparently (I have no notes at hand) and all Gimblett Gravels fruit.

Lovely classic sort of style. Looks very composed, mulberry and some sweet fruit fatness. Juicy berries, youthful puppy fat, long and pretty flavours. So elegant compared to the 07! but with a boldness. A much more mid weight style, more fragrant and briary blackness. Just a little leafy thinness. Long and briary and like a modern classified growth Bordeaux.

Seriously composed, this has really perfect mid weight flavours, perhaps juicier and blacker but also deeper and firm. Classic blackness and flavour. Superb Hawke's Bay red. 18.7/95+

(Note - I travelled to NZ as a guest of Church Road)

Thursday, 14 February 2013

More Tassie goodness: Holyman Chardonnay 2010

Holyman Chardonnay 2010 (Tasmania)
$45, Screwcap, 13.5%
Source: Sample

'We are so proud of these wines we put our own name to them! All of the fruit is estate grown, which for our Chardonnay it means not a lot. The block is at the top of the vineyard, so it is the first thing I see when I walk out of the house to go to work every day.'

That's laconic Stoney Rise/Holyman winemaker Joe Holyman at his best.

His wines are much more serious though. The philosophy for this Holyman Chardonnay is actualyl quite simple (in theory) with the stated aim to produce a Chardonnay that balances both acidity and flavour. Interestingly, Joe uses 100% new oak for this wine, yet the oak is bigger and the wine only spends 9 months (on full solids) in said barrels. I'm intrigued to see how it all balances out, for it works nicely.

You can smell the solids through the nose actually, all gumballs and leesy funk. At first I thought that winemaking was dominating things, but as the wine got warmer the fruit stepped up, filling out the wine behind the winemaking. It's still a fine, utterly cool climate and restrained wine that is mealy and funky but so very driven by acidity. I think I'd like to see less obvious oak, but I'm nitpicking on what is a wonderfully clever, finely textured modern Chardonnay, a wine to remind you of the crystalline delicacy of modern Tassie Chardonnay whilst you finish the bottle. Or at least I did.

Drink: 2013-2019
Score: 18.5/20 94/100
Would I buy it? Yes

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Tower Estate Hunter Valley Shiraz 2011

Tower Estate Hunter Valley Shiraz 2011 (Hunter Valley, NSW)
13.5%, Screwcap, $32CD
Source: Sample

Produced when Sam Connew was still at the winemaking helm and looks every bit the 'better' year Hunter red. 16 months in French oak and sourced from unspecified 'old vines' (edit - Ben Ean vineyard. Thanks Chris).

Lovely bright marooon red purple colour like so many good Hunter 2011 reds. Nice colour that. The sweet vanilla oak protrudes through a fraction on the nose but it can't hide that boysenberry Hunter fruit deliciousness. The sweet oak is noticeable through the palate too, though you get the sense it will just become a sweetener with bottle age. Tannins are sandy and dry to finish.

Good Hunter Shiraz in the purple, mid weight, pretty and extremely youthful mould, this should evolve very nicely. The oak is a bit blunt at present though not a deterrent. Good.

Drink: 2013-2025
Score; 17.7/20 92/100+
Would I buy it? Not now, but in 5 years I would.

Mitchell Harris Sauvignon Blanc Fumé 2012

Mitchell Harris Sauvignon Blanc Fumé 2012 (Pyrenees, Vic)
13%, Screwcap, $22.95
Source: Sample

A consistently good example of the fumé style and this looks particularly delicate in 2012. I served it too cold at first and found it rather too neutral and serious. A little air, a little warmth and out came the flavour.

Lemon zest. Lemon zest and milky oak/yeast dominates the nose with more fruit popping out as it warmed. That cream and lemon zest delicacy follows through to the palate too the yeast and oak richness adding bulk to the acid skeleton. It's vital acid at that too, reinforcing the 'dry, lean and just creamy' style that, if anything, is more textural than varietal.

I'd like to see a little more fruit to catch up with the winemaking, but the style and freshness here is spot on.

Drink: 2013-2015+
Score: 17.5/20 91/100
Would I buy it? Not quite yet. Would need more bottle age methinks for me to be really wooed.

Dominique Portet Rosé 2012

Dominique Portet Fontaine Rosé 2012 (Yarra Valley & Pyrenees, Vic)
13%, Screwcap, $25
Source: Sample

Roll on dry rosé!

I never thought I'd say so, but this is actually too dry a dry rosé. Too dry, too serious and too varietal. What is the world coming too when such things are negatives? Maybe they're not, but I was challenged by this pink.

Composed of 50% Cabernet, 30% Merlot and 20% Shiraz, with the Cabernet and Merlot sourced from the Yarra and Shiraz from the Pyrenees this looks every bit the modern, Provence inspired rosé. Or perhaps Loire given the Cabernet leanings (although this is Sauvignon, not Franc). It smells more like a leafy dry Yarra red though - a promising leafy dry Yarra red. That's the rub, it's too herbal and spicy without the fruit sweetness to back it up, leaving a dry and peppery rosé with plenty of acidity but just not enough flesh.

After my initial glass I took half a bottle of this to road test with dinner. Drinking companions though it a little severe too. The word 'bitter' was dropped more than once.

Ultimately I'm not writing this off. There is enough here to suggest that a little more bottle age might fatten out the middle, making for a lovely, savoury, serious rosé. It's just not as much fun now as what it could be. 

Drink: 2014-2016
Score: 16.8/20 89/100+
Would I buy it? Not quite yet.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Clover Hill Cuvée Exceptionnelle Brut Rosé 2008

Clover Hill Cuvée Exceptionnelle Brut Rosé 2008 (Tasmania)
$56, Cork, 13%
Source: Sample

Curiously this is the first time I've seen this rosé. Clearly I've been living under a rock. A Tasmanian bubbly rock (or such).

Anyways, this is nothing if not a serious rosé. Produced exclusively from the Clover Hill vineyard at Pipers River, Tasmania it is a blend of 87% Pinot Noir and 13% Pinot Meunier. That pink colour comes from careful Pinot Noir maceration (skin contact between juice and skins) with a small amount of Pinot Meunier added prior to bottling (after 3 years on lees). That late Meunier addition is somewhat unusual in Australian sparkling circles, yet indicates just how seriously the Clover Hill team take their rosé.

That late fruit addition helps in vitality too, an element which this has in droves. There is an almost candied strawberry red fruit on the nose of this, musky and sweet strawberry fruit. Lovely. Dry but juicy palate has lots of fruit but lots of acid too, making for a quite enjoyable, fully flavoured rosé. What I like is just how well it couples sophisticated, serious winemaking with bright fruit. Admittedly it is probably not as refined as an equivalent vintage Champagne rosé, but what it does have is both richness and acidity.

Very smart juice. Will look even better with a day an extra few years under the belt too.

Score: 18/20 93/100
Would I buy it? Yes.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

New releases from the Primo Joseph range

Super modern Primo cellar door. You like?

New releases from the Primo Joseph range

Primo Estate has come a long way. From the days of being principally an Adelaide Plains producer of Colombard and the odd characterful red, to now being a famous producer of some of Australia's best olive oil and a range of Italian leaning wines..

You can see evidence of this evolution at the Primo Estate McLaren Vale cellar door - it's perhaps the moodiest, most contemporary and most stylish of any cellar in the Vale, the tasting area setup second-to-none in terms of look and feel.

The wines too are more evolved, more interesting and more detailed than ever, still made at the Elizabeth (on the outskirts of Adelaide on the 'Plains') winemaking facility, yet now with fruit from all over McLaren Vale, the Adelaide Plains and the Adelaide Hills. Notably, the Colombard is still an important part of the range, making up a vast proportion of the wineries production. It is a pretty handy, easily refreshing little white to boot.

It is with the more premium 'Joseph' range that the Primo team are best able to showcase their winemaking nous, and these new releases are some of the best iterations I've seen. When I popped by the other week I was even tempted to buy some, even if the terms 'wine cellar' and 'lounge room' appear to be much the same thing in my world at the moment. Need a bigger house, clearly...

Primo Estate Joseph d'Elena Pinot Grigio 2012 ($28)
A blend of Clarendon (McLaren Vale) and Woodside (Adelaide Hills) fruit, this is fermented entirely in tank and bottled early. Alcohol 12.50%. pH 3.24. Total Acidity 6.5 g/l

Apple and pear fruit. Has a careful textural edge to that white fruit, giving an almost barrel fermented richness. Acidity is firm but not hard, suggesting perfectly ripe fruit. Excellent weight for a Grigio and shows a real length of flavour, carrying through the finish. Convincing. 17.7/20 92/100

Primo Estate Joseph Nebbiolo 2007 ($75)
As ever a bitch of a variety in what was a hard, drought year. This is all Clarendon fruit that was produced in open fermenters and spent 20 months in new oak (20% new). Alcohol 13.5%. pH 3.5. TA 6.67 g/L

Raisined edge to the nose. The drought year has sucked up all the fruit, leaving just oak sweetness and loads of tar and acidity. Welcome varietal character if dented by the baked vintage. Hard going. 15.8/20 86/100

Primo Estate Angel Gully Shiraz 2010 ($75)
I reviewed this first in a big blind lineup at the Scarce Earth Shiraz tasting. Looked even better here in context, with cheese. Worthy. All Clarendon fruit with a small amount of air dried grapes. Alc 14%. pH 3.74. Total Acidity 6.0 g/L

Compact. A fraction oaky but attractive, pencil shavings oak. Very firm, dark and backward palate promises much - no show pony this. Lovely restraint and firm, oak drawn tannins. Those drilling, black tannins are a highlight. Great form and worthy of a spot in the cellar. 18.5/20 94/100

Primo Estate Angel Gully Shiraz 2003
Always good to have a reference point with an older wine. This, in many ways, just looked 'older' rather than more wondrous, though an entirely pleasant drink. Another very hot year wine ala the 07 Neb above.

Just a little raisined perhaps, but that slightly caramelised edged and the sweet (American?) oak works to gives a nice richness. Good tannins and still lively on the palate, it is a fraction warm but a nice, mid weight, coffeed plum Shiraz. Pleasure. 17.7/20 92/100

Primo Estate Moda Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($75)
You won't see much resistance from me with this wine. It is the Amarone I wish most Amarones would taste like, if in a McLaren Vale Cabernet Merlot mode. This is the best vintage I've tasted since the 2004 (which I bought). 80% Cabernet, 20% Merlot from Clarendon and Mcmurtrie Road (which you might call 'McLaren Vale' sub-region of McLaren Vale, as confusing as that sounds) with the fruit air-dried for 2 weeks and then crushed and fermented in open fermenters before spending 20 months in 50% new American and French oak.

Welcome hedgerow and pencil shavings varietal nose. Varietal! I think the Merlot was early picked too. This looks rather restrained and less heavy with dried fruit this year, the middle carrying a big cassis punch through the middle, finishing with even and manicured, brown sugar tipped (the joys of air drying!) tannins. Excellent length and real quality. Superb. Perhaps not an easy wine to love, but thoroughly Italianate in its form. Vital too. I want some. 18.7/20 95/100

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Petaluma White Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Petaluma White Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Coonawarra, SA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $27
Source: Tasting

Whilst the attention for this wine has centered largely upon the rather unloved label (for the record I don't think it is that bad. Yes it looks like a sample label over the front of a Petaluma label but I still can see the intention) the wines are pretty solid. Or at least this Cabernet and the Sauv are - I didn't care as much for the 2011 White Label Chardonnay or the 2012 Pinot Gris.

Sourced from the Evans and Sharefarmers vineyards in Coonawarra, this has plenty of the DNA of Petaluma's top red, the 'Coonawarra', if a straight Cabernet instead of a blend. What I like is how distinctly Coonawarra it is - mint, green bean and red dirt in spades. Medium bodied and even, the oak forward, but plump and softening, the tannins slender and shapely.

Aside from the slightly distracting mint, this looks pretty attractive indeed. I'd like a fraction more definition and concentration, but otherwise it's composed, affable and everything you'd want in a $27 Coonawarra Cabernet. It is too even, too straight up and down? That's the only question left to ponder...

Drink: 2013-2020
Score: 17.8/20 92/100
Would I buy it? If looking for a sub $30 Coonawarra Cabernet this should be high on the list.

Bordeaumanian: Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Tasmania)
13%, Cork, $120
Source: Sample

Special wine. Is it special labelling though?
Bordeaumanian. A blend of Tasmania and Bordeaux. The best way to describe this wine.

Borne of old vines and a truly amazing site, this Cabernet is as far removed from the 'Wine by Winemaking Tasmania', 'Tasmania makes pretty Pinot Noir and top sparkling' model as you can get. Yes it is precise, yet it is expensive, yes it is uncompromising. But all of this makes it special. And special wines are what it is all about.

As ever the Domaine A Cabernet is only produced in the better years, with the 'other' vintages released under the Stoney Vineyard Cabernet label. As ever it is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with a dollop of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot respectively. As ever it is, even at 8 years of age, one of the most impressively structured Cabernets in the nation. You likey tannins? You likey Domaine A Cabernet. Like I do.

What marks this as one of the best Domaine A (alongside the 1999 and 2001) Cabernets is the ripeness. Vibrantly leafy with trademark hedgerow cool clime Cabernet, this is still dark fruited - no thin weediness here, it's actually quite dense and has black fruit. What drives everything though is the tannins - long, bitter, firm, smoky, foreboding, unsweetened tannins. So drying! I'm guessing this saw extended time on skins post-ferment to achieve such tannic length. Impressive. They're not hard tannins though, they're quite refreshing.

I won't pretend this is a first growth Bordeaux. It's not quite precise as the very best. But in context, in a Tasmanian context, heck in a whole southern hemisphere context, this is a brilliant, wonderfully tannic, special wine. Just don't drink it now. I had it open for a day and it barely budged.


Drink: 2015-2030
Score: 18.7/20 95/100
Would I buy it? The question should be - how much can I afford?

Pizzini White Roman 2012

Pizzini White Roman 2012 (King Valley, Vic)
12%, Screwcap, $18.50CD
Source: Sample

A blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Grigio. I like the usage of the Italian Grigio in lieu of French Gris. A reflection of Pizzini's outlook itself.

As ever I remain seduced by the florals of Gewurtz and this carries the telltale Gewurtz musk coupled with the acidity of Riesling. Gewurtz is a dominant beast though and you can see that through the wine, that pretty floral stamping itself all over the wine like an elephant in ballet shoes. It is nice and clean and dry, if again broad through the finish, perhaps indicating uncertain ripeness and a hint of rot..

Regardless this is easily the most attractive of these Pizzini 2012 aromatics, the depth of flavour the best of the lot too.

Drink: 2012-2015
Score: 16.8/20 89/100
Would I buy it? Maybe. Maybe with XO pippies actually as the extra weight and acidity would work nicely.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Pizzini Pinot Grigio 2012

Pizzini Pinot Grigio 2012 (King Valley, Vic)
11.7%, Screwcap, $18.50CD
Source: Sample

2012 was a little tough in the King Valley, with a huge downpour near the end of vintage putting, well, a dampener on things. It wasn't vintage destroying but it did make for leaner wines.

Thankfully early picking and Pinot Grigio go hand in hand.

A slightly reductive nose suggesting some quite anaerobic winemaking here. The green apples and softness through the middle is really quite pleasant though and entirely correct. This definitely wouldn't look out of place in the Veneto. Raised acidity to finish and just a little broad but still pleasant.

Authentic Grigio if not exciting.

Drink: 2013-2014
Score: 16.5/20 88/100
Would I buy it? If looking for an authentic simple Grigio this would be a fair pick.

Pizzini Verduzzo 2012

Pizzini Verduzzo 2012 (King Valley, Vic)
12.5%, Screwcap, $22CD
Source: Sample

Who would have thought that phylloxera could be a good thing?

It certainly was for Pizzini, whom in many ways used the shock of phylloxera (which hit the King Valley in the 1990s) as an opportunity to rip out those unsuitable old rootstocks and the bog standard mix of Cabernet, Merlot and Shiraz in favour of more interesting French and Italian varieties. Like Verduzzo

Perhaps the only challenge with wine is its hint of greenness - a hint that the extra texture of lees and barrel fermentation can't quite cover up the very neutral and phenolic palate. There is a nice hint of green frogs, honeysuckle and melon, but otherwise it's just neutral and in need of varietal persistence and concentration to combat the acidity.

Didn't quite float my boat.

Drink: 2013-2015
Score: 16.3/20 87/100
Would I buy it? Not really. I'd prefer the similarly priced Pinot Grigio.

Raidis Estate Pinot Gris 2012

Raidis Estate Pinot Gris 2012 (Coonawarra, SA)
13.9%, Screwcap, $19
Source: Sample

Look at the colour! Like rose water. I'm always intrigued about whether drinkers get confused by a tint of blush in a Pinot Gris? Or does this get sold as a very pale rose (rose is so hot right now).

As the colour suggests this is a pretty flavoursome Pinot Gris too, the edges carrying some fruit tingle candy, lowish acidity and a quite full palate. The alcohol is a bit blunt, which really needs a good chill to help it integrate, but I do like the length of this.

Definitely not an Alsatian Gris but has flavour to go. Good.

Drink: 2013-2015
Score: 16.9/20 89/100
Would I buy it? Not quite my style of Gris but I can see the appeal.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Derwent Estate Pinot Noir 2010

Derwent Estate Pinot Noir 2010 (Derwent Valley, Tas)
13.8%, Screwcap, $35
Source: Sample

This is cast riper this year. Riper, fuller, chunkier, firmer. More of everything actually. Makes it more satisfying as a young wine no doubt, even if I think I'd like it a little lighter. A fine balance though and I'm willing to concede a little weight for length of flavour.

Dark red cherry, mint, eucalpyt and raspy tannins. Less stalks and more fruit (looks largely destemmed I think) this looks rather bold, skinsy and full. Lovely sappy finish, if just a bit raw.

Big style Pinot and extractive with a powerful finish, this is pretty satisfying stuff. Liked it.

Drink: 2014-2019+
Score: 18/20 93/100
Would I buy it? Yes.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Soumah Savarro 2012

Soumah Savarro 2012 (Yarra Valley, Vic)
13.8%, Screwcap, $26
You can't see it properly but this is a lovely
blue colour
Source: Sample

Love the packaging on this. That duck egg blue label, replete with a bottling date, TA, pH, dozen count etc is excellent, all that information just underscoring the serious nature of this wine. It all makes me want to know more (and drink it). Big win for the wine geek market (which you'd have to argue is the target audience of a wine like this. Maybe not geek but at least informed drinker).

Produced from a single plot of Savagnin grown in the Warramate foothills (think Coldstream Hills and you're in the right area) that was tank fermented and then left on lees. Stylistically it has some of the Jura Savagnin varietal texture and length if not quite the complexity - underneath it is a rather neutral sort of a wine. There's some lovely honeysuckle edges though and that spiced pear fruit just builds the more it sits in the glass, the sweetness of alcohol punctuating the long finish.

The product of young vines and still a wine in flux, but I see promise. Would really love to see it done in (old barrel) in something more like a Jura oxidative style too.

Drink: 2013-2016
Score: 17/20 90/100+
Would I buy it? Hmm. I'd like more concentration to really be wooed enough to buy. So much future potential though!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Plantagenet Riesling 2012

Plantagenet Riesling 2012 (Mt Barker, Great Southern, WA)
12.5%, Screwcap, $22
Source: Sample

It's a pretty reliable beast is the Plantagenet Riesling. Interestingly enough if it looks a little softer and sweeter this vintage, though the question remains whether it is a product of the warm year or something of a genuine style shift. More research required. The IRF scale on the back indicates it is closer to off-dry too (when it is historically been a bone-dry wine). Interesting.

Regardless, this is again an expressive Riesling, all lemon bath salts and florals on the nose that also filter through the palate. It tastes of briney, limey fruit with an almost salty edge this year, the fruit softer, more creamy and sweeter than previously. Arguably this softening actually makes it a more palatable wine, however I'd also question whether it might lose a little precision and persistance because of it.

Anyways, I still enjoyed a glass and the more I drank the more I liked. Lovely Riesling.

Drink: 2013 - 2020
Score: 17.7/20 92/100
Would I buy it? Could well be tempted

Our best value dry rosé? De Bortoli La Boheme Act Two Rose 2012

The packaging just 'works'
De Bortoli La Boheme Act Two Rosé 2012 (Yarra Valley, Vic)
13%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Sample

Pinot Noir makes some of the best dry rosé.

There, I said it. Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Mourvedre and the like tend to get the attention in Provence/Loire styles (which the modern dry Australian rosé is edging towards), but I think the best rosé is made from Pinot Noir (Champagne I'm looking a little more in your direction).

Domestically De Bortoli undoubtedly set the bar with this wine (and their more premium Yarra Valley Estate Rose) with both a serious quality step up on most Australian examples. Or at least I think so.

This 2012 La Boheme rose is made with natural yeast fermentation in both tank and older barrels with some judicious lees stirring post ferment.

A light blush colour, the nose has that lovely undertone of strawberry. The palate too has lovely strawberries and cream fullness through the middle before a slap of  gritty acidity and a final whiff of cream on the aftertaste. Aside from that slight coarseness to finish this is very well put together indeed, both full of flavour and convincingly balancced.

Easily amongst the best rose in Australia and firmly on form here.

Drink: 2013-2014
Score: 17.8/20 92/100
Would I buy this? Definitely.

Friday, 1 February 2013

De Bortoli La Boheme Act Three 'Pinot Gris and friends' 2012

De Bortoli La Boheme Act Three 'Pinot Gris and friends' 2012 (Yarra Valley, Vic)
13%, Screwcap, $20
Source: Sample

Label likey

I rather like seeing a fraction more theatrics in my wine, and this theatrically named, theatrically made Pinot Gris/aromatic blend does that well. An Alsatian blend of Pinot Gris and other (unlisted) aromatics (Riesling and Gewurtz is my guess) that was hand picked and fermented in a mix of tank, cask and barrel. Wild fermented and left on lees to gain texture.

'Pinot Gris and friends' in nature and Pinot Gris on nose it is properly varietal which is more than welcome, punctuated by a little sweaty, aftershave fullness. The smell of love?  The palate is full too, a little boozy on the finish but has a wonderful mix of lees weight and ripe pear Pinot Gris mid palate plumpness, if just a little tinny on the finish.

Most importantly, this tastes very 'real' with a certain persistence of flavour that marks it as an actual Pinot Gris, not a half-baked Pinot Grigio. Important distinction that. I'd like it to be even richer and fuller actually, if the acidity can be maintained and the palate delineation can be upped. Regardless this is handy and interesting juice at a very worthy price.

Drink: 2013-2014
Score: 17.5/20 91/100
Would I buy it? Perhaps. With spicy garlic squid it would be a winner. A little more precision and it would be a superstar.

Top WA Chard: Forest Hill Block 8 Chardonnay 2009

Forest Hill Block 8 Chardonnay 2009 (Mt Barker, WA)
14%, Screwcap, $45
Source: Sample

Few acknowledge it, but Forest Hill's original Mt Barker vineyard is still one of the oldest in WA, the Riesling plantings dating all the way back to 1965. I'm often curious as to why more is not made of this outside the wineries own marketing material. Do old vines count for less in WA? Or at least less than they do in SA, where the dogma is 'older = better?

This particular wine is drawn from Chardonnay vines planted in the 1980s. Full wild ferment, 100% malo and 8 months in 50% new oak. Balance looks about right for a full tilt Chardonnay style too.

I thought this had only gone through partial malo actually given the latent acidity (which weighs in at a massive 9.2g/L) although you can see the grapefruit and melon fruit was picked at perfect ripeness. The winemaking is sitting atop that fruit a fraction, giving a butterscotchy edge, but that is perhaps the only qualm, plus it givens flesh to the grapefruit acid bones. Long 'this is Chardonnay!' finish aftertaste too.

A proper rich WA Chardonnay of weight AND acidity. Lovely wine.

Drink: 2013-2018
Score: 18.5/94
Would I buy it? Absolutely. Half the price of Leeuwin Art Series? Yes please.