Friday, July 31, 2009

DRAWING A BLANC contd....


Just thought I'd make an addition to my Drawing a Blanc post, a post which may well never end.

Recently I walked into a local, South Australian owned bottle shop (a chain mind you, not a 'true' independent) looking for a bottle of chardonnay. To be more specific, I was after a Margaret River Chardonnay around the $20 mark. To be more specific again, I had Brookland Valley's Verse 1 in mind (it was a chain which tends to stock mass market wines).

Upon entering the aforementioned retail store I quickly noticed chardonnay was by no means their specialty, in fact, they only seemed to stock about 4 or 5 (from memory; Taylor's, Peter Lehmann, Jacob's Creek, you get the idea).

At this point the shop assistant (who was about 15-20 years my senior) approached me. He remarked; "G'day buddy, may I help you?" Even though I'd already noticed they didn't stock what I was after I queried anyway; "Yeah, g'day mate, I was after a decent chardonnay for around $20".

To my comment he replied; "Aw don't worry about chardonnay mate, what you want is sauvignon blanc. It's light, fruity and fresh. In fact, we've got a great range of Kiwi wines over here. Here, let me show you." He was right about the great range of Kiwi savvys, they seemed to stock about 40 or so.

But before he could start pointing out to me how much he loved drinking Secret Stone, Montana or something like that, I quipped; "Well, actually mate, I was looking for a chardonnay. Something with a bit of oak present, you know? A fraction more complexity, texture, something a bit more interesting, know what I mean?".

At this point the shop assistant looked at me with a blank stare (it appeared he'd never considered wine as something with texture); apologised he didn't have the wine style I was after (after pointing out to me the initial 4 or 5 chardonnays I had seen when I walked in) and left me alone, moving as far away from me as he could.

Sometimes not just being young, but looking younger (most people assume I'm 19), has its benefits in wine. People always seem to have the balls to tell me their theories, or impressions (which they wouldn't normally tell a more 'mature' person), because they automatically assume they can educate the shit out of me with their vast knowledge of wine.

I actually appreciate people telling me these novel facts. I find it gives me a unique point of view on the industry, from the bottom up.

I'll be posting some of the more interesting (straight-up bullshit) things I've been told by people working in the wine industry, in the near future. Stay posted.

Oh yeah, back to that shop assistant; and I wondered why Marlborough sauvignon blanc is the biggest selling wine style in Australia.

CROSER 2006

 - Adelaide Hills, SA
 - $29-$42
 - Cork
 - 13.0%alc

Petaluma's Croser is South Australia's premier sparkling white wine. Although the memories are beginning to fade, there was a time when many recognised it as Australia's best. The 2006 combines 63% pinot noir with 37% chardonnay.

Pale straw, with abundant bead and foamy lace, it reveals a fascinating yet fresh blend of honey, nougat and almond meal aromas bound by notes of melon and citrus. It's quite rich and creamy on the palate with good mid-palate weight, but its fast developing, idiosyncratic and forward flavours of meaty cherries and yeast with honeyed nut undertones lack the genuine length, finesse and effervescent drive of the top vintages, finishing with a mild presence of lemony/grapefruit-like acids.

O A different style of Croser by my reckoning; it'll be interesting to see how this label evolves now its namesake has moved on (and with impending Japanese ownership). Drink to 2011.
88 points


Thursday, July 30, 2009

SCORING SYSTEM


Australian Wine Journal uses the 100 point scoring method. Below is a brief explanation of how I interpret this method, which can be confusing at first, especially since 75 effectively equates to zero.

96+ Top Gold/Trophy Exceptional. Wine of the highest standard.
94-95 Gold Medal Extremely good wine. Outstanding expression of variety or style.
92-93 Top Silver Medal Very good wine. Just missed out on Gold Medal.
90-91 Silver Medal Good wine.
87-89 Bronze Medal Wine has achieved a certain standard. Very acceptable.
85-86 - Average wine. Still shows some pleasing features.
82-84 - Below average wine. Showing some undesirable features.
79-81 - Poor wine.
76-78 - Very poor wine.
75 - Effectively zero.
74- - Seriously tainted or faulty wine.

In addition to a score out of 100, I also give wines a recommendation rating in terms of value for money. This rating is done in the way of a small graphic at the beginning of the wine summary. The following graphics indicate as follows:

ü+ Highly Recommended
ü Recommended
O Commendable
X Not Recommended

Wines will be awarded a higher recommendation graphic if they represent something original, or particularly interesting, but their 100 point score will not be altered as such.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

BARRATT SAUVIGNON BLANC 2009

 - Adelaide Hills, SA
 - $19-$24
 - Screwcap
 - 14.0%alc

The Barratts operate an absolutely charming cellar door within the confines of their beautiful family home, near Summertown in the Adelaide Hills. Winemaker Lindsay serves the wine himself, while his wife Carolyn is completely adept at preparing delectable platters for visitors.

Assessed a week prior to its release (thanks Lindsay!), Barratt's 2009 Sauvignon Blanc is fresh and inviting, with ripe, tropical fruit aromas of passionfruit and melon underscored by a light grassy tone. It possesses good, zippy, faintly bitter natural acidity, which stimulates the side and back palates, whilst providing the framework for an inner core of cleanly restrained, juicy varietal fruits laced with distinct notes of lemon citrus.

ü Quite a generous, mouthfilling Adelaide Hills sauvignon blanc; Barratt's 2009 is bound to please any consumer lucky enough to pick one up. Drink to 2010.
90 points


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

O'LEARY WALKER POLISH HILL RIVER RIESLING 2009

 - Clare Valley, SA
 - $15-$24
 - Screwcap
 - 12.0%alc

Established in 2000/01 by a couple of industry veterans, O'Leary Walker is an emergent Clare winery gaining a steady following for its solid reds and refreshingly varietal whites. Their rieslings in particular, are already recognised among the region's best.

Generously scented, the 2009 Polish Hill presents a well defined and floral, yet sweetish fragrance of apricot/peach blossom with nuances of citrus tart and apple. Juicy and forward, with mouthfilling flavours of apricot kernel, lemon, caramelised pear and apples, its rather candied palate is softly lifted by an approachable influence of steely acids, with notes of sweet fruit persisting into the aftertaste. It severely lacks true penetration and lasting impression.

X A massive turnaround from the structured, dry and savoury 2008 (91pts), this is a sweetish, easy drinking riesling which might even appeal to those who don't like the style. It's not for me though. Drink to 2014.
86 points


Monday, July 27, 2009

CORIOLE CHENIN BLANC 2009

 - McLaren Vale, SA
 - $11-$19
 - Screwcap
 - 13.0%alc

Chenin blanc is Coriole's principle white variety. A brave choice, but one which Coriole has executed to great effect for many years now. Their standard release would have to be among Australia's best and most reliable quaffing wines.

Rather pungent and fruit forward for this wine, the 2009 unfolds to ripe aromas of passionfruit, banana and gooseberry, in an unashamedly consumer friendly style. Typically simple and appealing, its soft, generous flavours of tropical fruit salad persist throughout a juicy palate with surprisingly good length of fruit. Although uncomplicated and structurally insignificant, the finish is clean and inviting, with no sign of awkward acidity providing the necessary temptation to continue drinking.

üA totally pleasant, inoffensive and fruit forward quaffing wine of high quality. I'll definitely be pitching this to my sauvignon blanc drinking friends. Drink to 2011. 
90 points


Sunday, July 26, 2009

YALUMBA WILD FERMENT CHARDONNAY 2008

 - Eden Valley, SA
 - $16-$23
 - Screwcap
 - 13.5%alc

I personally believed the elegantly refined, tight and mineral 2007 Wild Ferment Chardonnay (93pts) was one of the real bargains of 2008/09. As 2008 provided some excellent results for Eden Valley whites (riesling most notably), its follow up should also be a success, right?

Like Yalumba's recent chardonnays, the 2008 Wild Ferment is tightly restrained in aroma, showing refined, lemon scented tones of grapefruit and yeast with a hint of vanilla. The forward palate is creamier and bolder than anticipated, offering riper chardonnay fruit flavours of white nectarine and melon with a mineral/herbal thread. It does finish a little loose, lacking the cut and polish of the cleanly driven 2007 wine.

O A bit of a disappointment considering the quality of some Eden Valley 2008 whites, and the brilliance of its precursor. If Yalumba's lucky this young chardonnay will integrate further with a touch more bottle age, becoming fuller, softer and more harmonious. Drink to 2012.
88 points


Saturday, July 25, 2009

A PROUD DAY FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIAN PINOT NOIR, BUT A STAR HAS PASSED

When the Adelaide Hill's two most prestigious makers of pinot noir; Barratt and Ashton Hills, invited participants up to their cellar doors this weekend, for winemaker hosted, vertical tastings of their best wines, it presented an opportunity to better understand South Australian pinot noir, that was simply too good to be missed.

The day, unfortunately, was saddened by the recent passing of Peta; the charismatic, bubbly wife of my South Australian pinot noir making hero Stephen George (pictured with his proud collection of pinot noir), who passed away in her sleep unexpectedly last week. They say behind every good man is a good woman, and in this case, it's particularly true.

Anyone who's ever visited the Ashton Hills cellar door will attest, that Peta was a magnificent, larger than life personality with a genuine heart. In my opinion - and I'm not just saying this - she was the best cellar door hand I've ever encountered. She will be sorely missed by all who knew her.

Peta treated and poured Ashton Hills wines with a passion and flair unmatched by any in the industry. She backed up her considerable personal charm with outstanding wisdom and knowledge of the industry. Even the most novice of wine drinkers couldn't help but walk away from the Ashton Hills cellar door with an enlightening, memorable wine experience, both mentally and spiritually.

Without doubt, Peta left a lasting imprint on all who had the joy of meeting her. I honestly can't recall a more talked about, loved cellar door hand in South Australia.

Peta personally taught me how to spit wine, using the 'dry swallow' technique, the first time I met her. I think I might start using that technique a few more times, just for you Peta.

Massive thanks must go out to Stephen George for bravely pushing on with his pinot noir vertical tasting this weekend, you did an excellent job Stephen.

Tasting notes for the day have been posted below.

ASHTON HILLS PINOT NOIR 2002-2009

This tasting was made all the more enjoyable by Stephen George's superb hosting skills - you would have made Peta very proud Stephen! A very humble and honest man; anyone would be forgiven for forgetting they were dealing with one of Australia's true winemaking legends.

He fantastically greeted tasters to his wine; his tasting, like welcome guests to his own home. His knowledge, understanding and numerous theories always make interesting listening - which made it lovely to hear he was learning as much from us as we were from him!

The 15 bottled pinot noirs on the day, from 7 different vintages, really highlighted what a great job Stephen has done in crafting pinot noir which reflects a consistent, house style across seasons. Almost all wines showed excellent fruit and oak, with perfumed fragrance and genuine texture - it really was a tasting no other South Australian pinot noir producer could possibly match. Also confirmed was how undervalued these wines are in the Australian pinot noir landscape, a point I remember Peta regularly enforcing.

Here are my tasting notes from the day. From memory, current vintage prices are $25 for the Piccadilly Valley, $40 for the Estate and $60 for the Reserve. Ashton Hills cellar door prices are almost always below retail.

ASHTON HILLS PINOT NOIR 2002 Vividly fresh, spearmint influenced fragrance shows some nuances of blackberry fruits and forest floor. Touch simple, light-bodied palate with dry finish. 88

ASHTON HILLS PINOT NOIR 2002 (ESTATE) Murky appearance. Immediately perfumed nose, announces cherry fruits with rich caramel undertones. Beautifully elegant palate, contains good, fresh pinot fruit tones. Fine line and length. 92

ASHTON HILLS PICCADILLY VALLEY PINOT NOIR 2003 Gamey, red fruit nose. Light-bodied but elegant, with a well balanced finish. Quite a pleasant surprise for this label considering its age. 89

ASHTON HILLS ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2003 Ripe, dark fruited, rich and meaty nose, with leather undertones. Lacks textural interest somewhat but shows an intriguing flavour profile. Nice spicy finish. 90

ASHTON HILLS ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2004 Lovely, fresh aromas, with distinct red berry and currant fruit tones. Elegant, understated, balanced wine, offset nicely by ticklish tannins and true structure. 92

ASHTON HILLS RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2004 Uplifting, powerful, intense fragrance. Very aromatic. Raspberry and light spice aromas with cedar/vanilla oak. Exquisite palate. Smooth, supple texture, with a great finish framed by excellent structural lift. Might last 10-15 years. Outstanding South Aussie pinot. 95

ASHTON HILLS ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2005 Clearly my pick of the Estate wines. I now wish I had of bought more of these when they were $37.50 at cellar door 2 years ago. Beautiful, savoury nose. Wonderfully fragrant cedar oak with restrained red fruit profile. Utterly magnificent texture, balance, drive and length. 95

ASHTON HILLS RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2005 Murky appearance, very sexy and natural. Classic Ashton Hills nose; perfumed and fragrant with cedar/vanilla oak beset with small red fruits. Beginning to show some signs of development with caramel/spearmint undertones. Full flavoured and stylish palate. Impeccable texture - fluffy and fragile - I told Stephen George it might be akin to consuming a cloud stained with pinot juices, he liked the comment - said he might even use it on the bottle ;) Exemplary Adelaide Hills pinot noir. 96

ASHTON HILLS ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2006 More restrained aromatics, still relatively tight and closed. Does show woody/cedar tones. Very clean, even palate shows touch of spice. Tight finish with distinct pinot tannins. 92

ASHTON HILLS RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2006 Herbal undertones with red/dark fruits. Fresh, medium-bodied palate shows brightness and length of fruit, finishing with lingering herbal tones. 93

ASHTON HILLS ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2007 Slightly subdued nose. Floral overtones with savoury red fruits and vanilla. Typically smooth, silky texture. Medium-full bodied palate by pinot standards. Pleasant, sweet vanilla oak carries the wine into a tight, dry finish framed by dusty tannins. 93

ASHTON HILLS RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2007 Fragrant, fresh cedar oak and spearmint. Intriguingly complex, yet youthful aromas. Surprisingly simple palate, seems to lack the structure and texture of the better years. Still a good sight better than most Adelaide Hills pinot. 92

ASHTON HILLS PICCADILLY VALLEY PINOT NOIR 2008 Well balanced, forward palate. Typical of label is light-bodied and bit thin, but definitely better than the 07. 88

Stephen George was kind enough to also present bottles of the yet to be released 2008 Estate and Reserve Pinot Noirs. He did make mention of the fact he was feeling a bit unsure about the 2008 Reserve, which might not get released. Either way, these wines won't be ready until this time next year - so the Reserve has a further 12 months to figure itself out.

ASHTON HILLS ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2008 Meaty, sweet fruit characters. Very palatable at this stage. Unsurprisingly, vibrant. Already showing good signs of fruit/oak integration. Will keep an eye out for this one. N/R

ASHTON HILLS RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2008 Bright fruit nose. Palate slightly thin, needs to flesh out more. N/R

Also available for tasting were four different pinot clones from the 2009 vintage. Ashton Hill's clones seemed to show much more individual character than that of Barratt's, whose barrel samples didn't have such distinct variation. These are far from finished wines, so these tasting notes really are just for curiosity's sake.

D5V12 CLONE 2009 Very brisk acidity. Tight line and length. Overtly astringent.

MV6 CLONE 2009 Potent nose. Strong varnishy/solvent aromas. Palate contradicts aroma by being quite bearable and balanced.

MARTINI CLONE 2009 Similar bitey nose to MV6, but much harsher palate.

777 CLONE 2009 Most obviously varietal; plummy/cherry pinot noir fruit nose. Zingy acidity evident.

BARRATT PINOT NOIR 1994-2009

I have to applaud Lindsay Barratt on the generosity and courage shown in his pinot noir vertical tasting. Bringing out 15 year old wines was a brave move, especially when in some cases, he was down to the last two or three bottles in his personal collection. Although some of these bottles appeared to be past their best, they provided an interesting insight into the development process of Adelaide Hills pinot noir.

If anything was apparent from the tasting it was that Barratt's Pinot Noir has steadily improved over time. The last two vintages in particular looking very good indeed, with the depth of fruit and structure to last longer than most of their fore-bearers.

Here are my tasting notes, keeping in mind that Barratt didn't release a Reserve Pinot Noir until 2001. For interest, the current vintage Reserve Pinot Noir sells for $42 a bottle.

BARRATT PINOT NOIR 1994 Red/brown colour. Deep set, rich nose, with suede, spearmint and forest floor aromas evident alongside caramel undertones. Surprisingly rich and smooth, savoury palate with some varnishy aspects. Drinking alright - just. 89

BARRATT PINOT NOIR 1995 Very developed colour. Dirty/suede nose. Palate lacks definition and character, as well as falls apart on finish. N/R

BARRATT PINOT NOIR 1996 Easily the best of the older wines. Still holding good depth of colour. Gamey, still fresh nose shows hints of undergrowth and intriguing, chargrilled capsicum tones. Fluffy, soft palate has good length with a bright, vibrant finish. 92

BARRATT PINOT NOIR 1997 Looks like muscat. Strange; spicy, herbal, dusty, bitey aromas. Bizarre palate, very un-pinot like. N/R

BARRATT PINOT NOIR 1999 Red/brown. Nose still shows strong currant fruits, both red and black. Light bodied, elegant, understated palate. Very clean and polite, just needs to show a little more character and interest. 88

BARRATT RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2002 Complex and inviting bouquet - vibrant, savoury, cured meat and dark cherry aromas. Supple palate with an almost juicy mid-section. Very understated style once again, but this time showing good balance and integration of fruit, oak, tannin and acid. Probably a good indication of when Barratt's pinots would best be drunk. 91

BARRATT RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2005 Distinct, spicy cedar/French oak nose with youthful red and black berry fruits. Good depth of fruit on the palate, supported by fine, sandy tannins. Finishes firm. Probably not even half way into its development. 91

BARRATT RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2006 Perfumed, fragrant French cedar/vanilla oak nose with restrained red fruits and spice. Most full-bodied, luscious palate with a vibrantly fruited core. Good length and tannin. Well balanced; generous fruit and oak. 93

Lindasy Barratt was kind enough to bring out barrel samples of four different pinot noir clones from the 2009 vintage. Far from finished wines, these tasting notes are more for curiosity's sake.

777 CLONE 2009 Strong, pencil shavings like oak alongside lolly fruit profile. Floral, rose petal like flavour with sweet finish.

MV6 CLONE 2009 Vibrant, fuscia colour. Floral aroma with pencil shavings like oak again prominent. Ample depth to both colour and aroma for barrel sample. Very drinkable and smooth, surprisingly balanced, could almost pass for rose.

D5V12 CLONE 2009 Champagne clone, not Burgundy. Oaked nose overlies sweet raspberry fruits. Surprisingly silky texture with bright, sour acidity.

D4V2 CLONE 2009 More complex, with cured meat apparent on the nose. Shows more palate balance and integration than the others.


Friday, July 24, 2009

HARDYS TINTARA 2004 SINGLE VINEYARD SUPER PREMIUM SHIRAZ

This superlative trio of individual vineyard, McLaren Vale wines, would have to be some of the most talked about premium shiraz in Australian today.

As our country gradually moves towards more distinctive, site specific, terroir driven wines which reflect their place of origin; it's bottles like these which future generations will be looking back on with fond memories and recollections (or open wallets maybe?).

These three beauties originate from the McLaren Vale sub-regions of McLaren Flat (45 year old vines), Blewitt Springs (40 Year old vines) and Upper Tintara (105 year old vines).

What's immediately obvious is the high quality, yet distinct individuality all three wines offer despite very similar winemaking techniques (hand-picked, de-stemmed, open top fermenters, basket press, 20 months in French oak barriques for all three). There is really no splitting them on a present quality basis, it's merely a matter of personal taste.

The 2004 McLaren Flat is the most typical, 2004 McLaren Vale shiraz (nothing wrong with that!), although an absolutely prime one at that. It's vibrantly fruited and drinking beautifully (probably better than the others right now), but should easily cellar for another 10 years.

The Blewitt Springs shows a noticeable step up in complexity, concentration, restraint and savoury qualities, but the Upper Tintara really states the benefits of ancient vine material. Whilst tighter and more refined than the others, it'll age effortlessly into the long term (40 years said the Hardys rep!), as it's so obviously just waiting to unfold layer upon layer of complexity, flavour and richness with careful cellaring.

What did surprise me though, is that the Hardys rep told me these wines were one-offs, from the 2004 vintage only - even though I clearly recall Jeremy Oliver naming the 2005 (?!) Blewitt Springs Shiraz in his wines of the year for 2009. I severely hope the rep is wrong and Oliver is right!

Here are my tasting notes based on 100ml pours (in very classy, $45 stemless Riedel glassware). All wines are $80 each from cellar door.

TINTARA MCLAREN FLAT VINEYARD SHIRAZ 2004
Beautiful, bright, perfectly ripened fruit nose overlays fragrant cinnamon tones throughout berry and plum aromas, with chocolate/cedar oak. Shows wonderfully aromatic, regional fruit expression. Palate displays outstanding full mouth flavour, with immaculate texture - like pouring liquid velvet into your mouth. Vibrant fruit characteristics with classic sour edged acidity, finishes incredibly long with a pliant extract of dusty tannin.
96 points

TINTARA BLEWITT SPRINGS VINEYARD SHIRAZ 2004
More restrained, savoury nose than the distinctly youthful McLaren Flat, with intriguing notes of dry crispbread/biscuit, defined by nutty, walnut oak over dark plum, currant and gamey undertones. A concentrated, dense palate is offset majestically by a firm, structural lift of grippy tannins and outstanding length. A real highlight of the palate is its carefully hidden (beneath texture and structure), richly fruited core.
96 points

TINTARA UPPER TINTARA VINEYARD SHIRAZ 2004
Very deep, complex bouquet immediately proclaims its old vine source. Aromas of mushroom, game, hints of menthol and shoe polish, are harmoniously supported by classic cedar/spicy oak. Decidedly more elegant and restrained than the other two wines, with more of a focused, precise and savoury palate. A nicely balanced coating of powdery tannins holds the wine together well. Overall this wine says it needs time to show its best, but is certainly set for the long haul.
96 points


So there we have it. Definitely a trio for Paul Carpenter to hang his hat on. I honestly can't recall being more impressed or educated by a sit down, three wine tasting of Australian shiraz in recent times. Bring on the future!

Oh yeah, I must gratefully thank the Hardys Tintara staff for not even contemplating the $10 tasting fee (for myself or Homer), whilst being polite and informative without being interfering - much appreciated!


WIRRA WIRRA

Ok, now I might offend some people here - but I just don't like what Wirra Wirra has offered over the last few years (since the 2004 reds basically).

Typically I've found their red wines over-ripe, tart, meaty and treacle like - a typical problem in McLaren Vale recently, but one which the better producers have been able to avoid.

When Campbell Mattinson awarded them 'Winery of the Year' last year, it shocked the hell out of me. So I headed to the cellar door (July-2008) to investigate. Funnily enough, I wasn't too impressed.

Curiosity (or media talk up) always gets the better of me with Wirra Wirra, which is why I go there every year. I certainly won't die without trying!

This year I found my usual concerns with their wines, but 2007 was not exactly a dream year for McLaren Vale. The picks of the bunch this year were the 2008 12th Man Chardonnay (Adelaide Hills), which is usually one of my favourite Wirra Wirra wines; the much improved second release of their Pipe Organ Pinot Noir (also Adelaide Hills), and the cellar door only Sparrow's Lodge Mourvedre, which although not terribly varietal, was up front, soft, refreshing and different.

Here's my brief notes.

2008 Hiding Champion Sauvignon Blanc ($22) Adelaide Hills. Pungent goosebery characters evident throughout a juicy palate. Has more flavour than many 2008 Adelaide Hills' savvys. 88

2008 Lost Watch Riesling ($18) Adelaide Hills. Cellar door hand informed me they'd just put this wine into a blind tasting - I'd hate to be the participants, I'd almost never guess this was riesling (or not a true one anyway!) Very ripe nose. Flinty, soft, restrained lime pith/melon aromas. Juicy, overly rounded palate lacks the acidity, drive, line and length which riesling aficionados seek. 85

2008 The 12th Man Chardonnay ($27.50) Adelaide Hills. Well oaked, savoury, nutty nose. Simply textured yet soft palate, shows almost confectionary fruit with pleasing buttery tones. 89

2007 Church Block ($20) Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz /Merlot. Surprisingly spicy nose, with a typically smooth palate which finishes a little awkwardly. 87

2008 Pipe Organ Pinot Noir ($30?) Adelaide Hills. Pleasant, stalky aroma with fresh notes of mint. Much improved texture and balance over the too simple 2007, with some genuine length and brisk acidity. A surprise. 90

2007 Sparrow's Lodge Mourvedre ($25) Fresh, herbal/minty fragrance with some meaty undertones. Unusual but appealing in a simple way. Light-medium bodied palate is fresh/fruit forward. Not terribly varietal or complex yet soft and pleasantly easy drinking. 90

2007 Catapult Shiraz Viognier ($22) Ripe, meaty fragrance with viognier influenced dried apricots evident. Generously fruited, forward palate does show influence of cooked fruit. 86

2007 Woodhenge Shiraz ($30) Perfumed, lifted aromatics. Shows hints of menthol and ripe fruit. Over ripe palate - cooked fruit evident. 86

2007 Sparrow's Lodge Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) McLaren Vale/Coonawarra. Cooked, stewy fruit nose. A light-medium bodied palate is decidedly overdone, with an unbalanced, drying finish. 87

NV Sparrow's Lodge Tawny Port ($25) Rich aromas of date and slight honey. Concentrated palate but lacks depth and complexity. 86

The more Wirra Wirra savvy of you will have noticed no tasting notes for RSW Shiraz or Angelus Cabernet Sauvignon, but I've never seen them available at cellar door. Maybe that's why I always walk away relatively unimpressed and empty handed......


Thursday, July 23, 2009

BEST'S BIN NO.1 SHIRAZ 2006

 - Grampians, VIC
 - $22-$31
 - Screwcap
 - 14.0%alc

Ever since the initial 2004 wine (90pts), I've been very impressed with Best's Bin No.1. It provides an enticing entry point into Best's exquisite portfolio of shiraz, as every release thus far has handsomely displayed the fine line and savoury spice characters I find so appealing in Grampians shiraz.

Pleasantly scented and plush, it reveals an attractive mix of redcurrant, blackberry, licorice and generously spiced cedar/chocolate oak aromas, with even ripeness (of younger vine material) apparent. Driven by fine-grained French/American oak, the justly regional, medium-bodied palate presents savoury, plush red and black berry flavours complemented by the elegance and firmness expected of the maker, finishing with lasting, spicy notes of white pepper and cumin. There are indications of gentle reservation and softness throughout the palate, making it a particularly polite, approachable young Grampians shiraz.

üThe 2006 Bin No.1 is precisely what the Thomson family would've intended; an excellent introduction into the world of Grampians shiraz, Australia's most under-rated shiraz region if you ask me. Drink to 2014.
92 points


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

SEPPELT CHALAMBAR SHIRAZ 2007

 - Bendigo/Grampians, VIC
 - $16-$29
 - Screwcap
 - 14.0%alc

Seppelt's Chalambar is a wine which I eagerly await the release of each year. Apart from the slightly raw edged and blocky 2005, it's delivered some brilliant wines across recent vintages. 2007 did provide some serious headaches for Victorian growers though...

Aromatically subdued, closed even; the 2007 Chalambar presents a generously oaked fragrance overlying stewed plum and currant undertones, with lashings of spicy cedar. Its disappointing palate lacks the concentration and depth of previous vintages, delivering a hollower, syrupy expression of ultra-ripe dark red and black fruit flavours. An assertive extract of sweet, toasty cedar oak easily swallows up its primary fruit, gently pushing the wine into a simple finish devoid of the fine tannins, structure, or length of fruit usually associated with this label.

X A real let down for Chalambar, but 2007 is hardly a vintage that Victorians will look back on with fond memories. Drink to 2013.
85 points


Sunday, July 19, 2009

ST HALLETT OLD BLOCK SHIRAZ 2006

 - Barossa Valley/Eden Valley, SA
 - $68-$90
 - Cork
 - 14.5%alc

The latest St Hallett promotional release proclaims; 'Quintessential Barossa.' There might not be a more apt term for the Old Block Shiraz, which I rate among the region's top half dozen or so wines. The 2006 Old Block combines 79% Barossa shiraz with 21% Eden Valley, grown from vines with a minimum age of 60 years.

A ripe nose of almost sweetly fruited expression announces red plum and blackcurrant overtones, with an emerging presence of meaty chocolate oak and leather providing further interest. Artfully made and measured, its medium-bodied palate drives in a silky smooth fashion, unloading a beautifully natural balance of complex, old vine Barossa shiraz flavours and smoky cedar/chocolate oak with finely powdered, sensuous tannins. It finishes fine, long and precise, with a lingering, fresh note of menthol imparted from its Eden Valley component.

üCertainly at the more elegant, restrained and composed end of premium Barossa shiraz; the deliciously refined  2006 is the best Old Block for years. Drink to 2024.
95 points


RINGBOLT CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2007

 - Margaret River, WA
 - $16-$25
 - Cork
 - 14.5%alc

Little known Margaret River cabernet specialist Ringbolt, earnt some unexpected show success this year with their 2007 release. It surprised many by winning the award for 'Best Cabernet Sauvignon of Show' at the Macquarie Royal Sydney Wine Show.

Dusty and herbaceous, it's scented with mildly aromatic notes of plums, currants and green capsicum with lashings of toasty cedar/vanilla oak and spice. A rather syrupy, ripe palate announces sweetish, forward nuances of blackcurrants and mulberry with olive undertones. It finishes in a distinctly salty, briney, slightly smoky fashion, but lacks the length, depth, generosity of tannin, or structural elements to suggest it'll cellar into the long term.

O Ringbolt's 2007 is a good, affordable example of an earlier drinking Margaret River cabernet intent for food pairing. Fresh Vienna loaf for me thanks. Drink to 2012.
89 points


Saturday, July 18, 2009

DRAWING A BLANC

A vineyard at Nepenthe in the Adelaide Hills, one of Australia's best known makers of sauvignon blanc.

As I gaze over the historical first month of Australian Wine Journal, it occurs to me that sauvignon blanc has the most posts. Don't fret serious wine drinkers - this trend won't last long, things just turned out that way.

What I will do is take this opportunity to discuss the fashionable variety, from a young consumers point of view.

Marlborough (New Zealand of course) Sauvignon Blanc is the number 1 selling bottled wine in Australia today, which saddens me considerably. I like the stuff, I really do, but how or why we let the Kiwis become number 1 in Australia is beyond me.

Why so popular?

I was listening to a radio interview with Adelaide's wine writer in residence Andrew Jefford recently, who suggested a good part of Marlborough' s Savvy popularity was because the wines speak of terroir (honestly though, I wouldn't be surprised if he thought Paris Hilton's popularity was due to terroir). I agree with Mr Jefford that the sauvignon blanc of Marlborough reflects distinct regionality, especially given its easy drinking nature and price, but I have to at least partly disagree that this is why the style is so popular in Australia.

Now I don't know about Andrew Jefford, but most of my friends and associates are either teenagers, twenty-somethings or in their early-mid thirties, and almost all of them choose sauvignon blanc as either their wine of choice, or white of choice. NONE of these people are familiar with the concept of terroir. In fact, if a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was unavailable they'd be just as quick to buy a bottle of Lindemans Bin 95 (not exactly the most site specific wine around, you'd be lucky if it even tasted like sauvignon blanc).

Some of these people aren't even familiar with the concept of vintage (i.e. they think when they buy a bottle of Giesen they're getting the same product year-in, year-out, much like they would with beer or pre-mixed spirits) and some think being familiar with Marlborough sauvignon blanc makes them a sophisticated wine drinker.

The retail industry plays a big part in the popularity of Marlborough's sauvignon blanc, as these wines are very well represented on store shelves.

Over summer, a friend and I were at a Dan Murphy's store looking for a chilled sauvignon blanc for immediate drinking. In Dan's fridge was roughly 20 cold sauvignon blancs, of these, only two or three were Australian, the rest from New Zealand. This trend repeats itself not just in stores across the country, but also in pubs, restaurants and cafes, where a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is virtually mandatory on any modern wine list, more so than any Australian wine style. In fact, just this minute, there's an ad for Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc on TV right now (thanks Sip'n'Save). This aggressive marketing and sales pitching from our own people makes it easy for the average Aussie drinker to grab that bottle of Marlborough at every opportunity.

To me, sauvignon blanc appeals to its fan base for similar reasons as to why low-carb beer and alco-pops do, that is; relatively uncomplicated, forward, fruity flavours which make them easy to drink (especially cold), clever marketing and perceived image. The public's perceived image of New Zealand that is.

When people think of New Zealand they think of snowcapped mountains, lush green countryside, long white clouds, untouched landscapes, sparkling rivers, clean water; and yes, clean, crisp, fresh white wine. Fortunately for the Kiwis, the wines of Marlborough actually do express their beautiful natural environment, and consumers have come to expect it.

In my opinion, the Australian region best suited to match these consumer perceptions of untouched natural beauty is clearly Tasmania.

Many beer drinkers, myself included, already associate the Tasmanian ideals of an isolated land of natural beauty, beset with clean, crisp, clear water, with every mouthful of Cascade, James Boag or Moo Brew we consume. If Tasmanian producers could draw further upon these consumer perceptions, and market it with the already astronomically popular sauvignon blanc, New Zealand's strong market share could face a legitimate threat.

Unfortunately, Tasmanian conditions haven't traditionally favoured the mass production of wine, as anyone trying to take on Marlborough must surely be able to produce large amounts of sauvignon blanc. But the onset of global warming seems to be improving conditions on the island state, where its producers seem to be enjoying glorious vintage after glorious vintage, at a time when Australia's mainland producers continuously contend with issues such as drought, bushfire, frost and excess heat.

The controversial pulp-mill group, Gunns Limited, is one such company which has already attempted to make large scale, affordable Tasmanian wine (75,000 cases annually), with their Tamar Ridge Devil's Corner label. I didn't much like their 2008 Pinot Noir, but their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (90pts) showed exactly what can be achieved in Tasmania given the economies of scale and climatic conditions. For $12 a bottle at some outlets, it's a deliciously clean, fresh and racy example of a grassy, cool climate sauvignon blanc, which outperforms almost all other Australian savvys at the price.

I will continue to watch the development of Devil's Corner with keen interest. A marketplace full of cleverly marketed, fresh and ready, terroir driven Tasmanian sauvignon blanc at generous prices, could see us reclaim our No.1 back from the Kiwis.

I've got a hell of a lot more to say on this issue but I'm going to leave it here. I will however, return to the sauvignon blanc topic at a later date soon.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NEPENTHE SAUVIGNON BLANC 2009

 - Adelaide Hills, SA
 - $16-$24
 - Screwcap
 - 13.5%alc

Even though it's not one of my personal favourites, young wine drinkers regularly ask me; "whaddya think about Nepenthe's Sauvignon Blanc?" Personally I'd prefer it if they'd ask me about Cullen's Mangan, but what this does tell me is that Nepenthe's Sauvignon Blanc is cleverly marketed; or promoted aggressively even.

The 2009 Nepenthe is clean and clear in aroma, showing a greenish, faintly herbal fragrance of passionfruit and banana. Refreshing and uncomplicated, its palate shows surprising concentration for this label, unloading a mineral fruit profile and juicy mid-palate, it just lacks the length, cut and precision required for a higher score.

O Once again Nepenthe's Sauvignon Blanc isn't completely to my liking, but it should still appeal to its army of followers. Drink to 2010.
88 points


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

CORIOLE SANGIOVESE 2008

- McLaren Vale, SA
- $18-$29
- Screwcap
- 14.0%alc

I've long admired Coriole for consistently producing an Australian sangiovese which genuinely expresses both variety and region. As the style grows increasingly popular, it's been more than obvious how many local pubs, dining venues and retail liquor outlets now stock Coriole's Sangiovese; and good on those who do!

Rather ripe, the 2008 announces a polished aroma of cherry, plums and dark chocolate with undertones of cinnamon and clove. Its dark, smooth flavours work in a seductively concentrated and silky; medium-bodied fashion, allowing a lifted extract of dry, dusty tannins to define its finish, with notes of bright fruit and green olive also making a lasting impact.

ü+ Coriole's finely textured 2008 Sangiovese is a smidgeon better than their attractively ripe 2007 (90pts), but not as good as the naturally balanced, more savoury 2004 (92pts). Another success for this very affordable label. Drink to 2014.
91 points


Saturday, July 11, 2009

HOLLICK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006

 - Coonawarra, SA
 - $24-$36
 - Cork (Diam)
 - 14.0%alc

As a winery I've tended to recognise Hollick by their lovely cellar door/restaurant and for being a brave maker of a rare and unusual Coonawarra pinot noir, but after drinking the 2006 Hollick Cabernet Sauvignon, I now consider them capable of producing cabernet of a quality equal to the region's best. Few if any, delivered such a deliciously affordable Coonawarra cabernet from the difficult 2006 season.

Scented with lovely, fresh, nutty, cedar/mocha and walnut oak, its attractive perfume reveals restrained undertones of minty blackcurrants and game meats in an elegant regional manner. Medium bodied yet beautifully concentrated and classy, a natural, savoury palate shows nutty cedar/vanilla oak characters matched by evenly ripened small berry fruits and approachable, supple, creamy tannin. It ends pleasingly long with delightful notes of bright fruit.

üA delicious, immediately approachable, almost un-Coonawarra like cabernet of majestic elegance and natural balance, Hollick's 2006 should still reap considerable rewards for those patient enough to cellar it. Drink to 2018.
94 points


HOWARD PARK SAUVIGNON BLANC 2008

 - Margaret River/Pemberton, WA
 - $20-$29
 - Screwcap
 - 12.5%alc

First released in 2003, sauvignon blanc is the most recent addition to Howard Park's range. Utilising partial oak fermentation and 100% use of free-run juice in the making process, it's destined to become another classic Western Australian savvy.

Somewhat smoky and distinctly herbal, the 2008 reveals dusty scents of lemon butter and green pea, leading into a very soft, generously rounded, juicy palate. Texturally more interesting than most, with genuine mid-palate depth, it offers rich flavours of mineral accented lemon herbs, finishing with a bright extract of chiselled acidity and lasting notes of citrus. Wood fermentation has resulted in a wine with a harmonious interplay of oak and restrained primary fruit characters.

üClearly Western Australia's dominating this category right now, and its fine winemaking pedigree may soon see Howard Park's Sauvignon Blanc rated among the elite. Drink to 2010.
92 points


SEPPELT JALUKA CHARDONNAY 2007

 - Henty, VIC
 - $19-$30
 - Screwcap
 - 13.0%alc

Seppelt is rightfully recognised as a red, or perhaps even a sparkling wine specialist; however, this iconic Victorian producer has upped the ante on our white industry in a big way. Their cool climate Drumborg vineyard in south-west Victoria's Henty region now produces one of Australia's finest, mineral rieslings and pinot gris, as well as one of our most under valued, fresh yet complex chardonnays in the Jaluka.

Laden with aromas of nutty oak, the 2007 Jaluka reveals a light fragrance of grapefruit and nectarine fruits overlying smooth, buttery tones. Beautifully soft and creamy upon entry, its wonderfully restrained nutty French oak extract caresses its gentle, cool climate chardonnay fruit flavours, delivering both refinement and style. Building with focus in a savoury fashion, it works its way into a clean, moderately long finish punctuated by lingering notes of refreshing lemon citrus and soft acidity.

üA first rate, modern Australian chardonnay in an unashamedly cool climate style. Drink to 2012.
94 points


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

STEFANO LUBIANA PRIMAVERA PINOT NOIR 2008

- Southern Tasmania
- $26-$34
- Screwcap
- 14.0%alc

With unqualified success across recent vintages (2006-91pts, 2007-92pts), Stefano Lubiana's deceptively complex, savoury and structured Primavera has proved a much more serious proposition than its price suggests. I find it usually requires at least an hour of decanting to show its best, which typifies the label's exceptional winemaking pedigree.

Nicely perfumed and fruity, the 2008 Primavera's fragrance of ripe strawberries, cherry and sweet, fresh vanilla oak precedes a soft and supple palate bestowed with pleasing depth and brittle, powdery tannins. Marked by flavours of dark cherry and refreshing acidity; a precisely balanced, neat palate indicates this wine has the necessary components to fill out beautifully over the short term.

ü+ Another outstanding Primavera from Steve Lubiana. This guy should be holding masterclasses on pinot production for the rest of Australia. Drink to 2013.
92 points