Saturday, October 31, 2009

SAMUEL'S GORGE GRENACHE 2007

 - McLaren Vale, SA
 - $35
 - Cork
 - 14.5%alc

In just a couple of years Samuel's Gorge has emerged as one of the very best makers of McLaren Vale grenache. With their 2007 release they join McLaren Vale's Cadenzia project; a project created to promote the excitement, energy, individual nature and diversity of the region's grenache.

Attractively presented in a long, thin bottle with mosaic label, the 2007 Samuel's Gorge Grenache opens to lifted, heady spice notes of liqueur cherry and currant fruits, with a more withheld use of seasoned, spicy cedar/chocolate oak. Sumptuous yet supple, its smooth, medium-full bodied palate contains vibrant, ripe and meaty dark red fruit flavours framed by a sensual, gentle extract of silky tannin and bright acidity. Finishing with agreeable floral notes and a lingering fruit sweetness, it's generously ripe and balanced without being over ripe whatsoever. 

ü From a very challenging season Justin McNamee has fashioned a 2007 Grenache which does a wonderful job of reflecting region, variety and vintage. God bless those old vines. Drink to 2015.
91 points


Friday, October 30, 2009

GOOD ADVICE


I've already written a couple of posts on some of my 'lesser' experiences at bottle shops so it's only fair that I write about the better ones as well.

East End Cellars, just off Rundle Street down Adelaide's trendy east end, is one of Adelaide's true independent bottle shops. Alongside the Ed at Mitcham and Melbourne Street Fine Wine, it's easily one of our very best wine retailers. Other than a large, diverse range of outstanding wines, EEC also has excellent staff. They're all genuine experts in the field and they always treat their customers with utmost respect.

Several years ago I was shopping at EEC, in search of a good bottle of Margaret River chardonnay for around $30 (strange, I think I started one of these previous stories on a similar quest). Unfortunately I couldn't find one (which isn't surprising here in Adelaide) and when the store attendant confronted me he also admitted they were unable to meet my direct needs.

The attendant initially tried to point me in the direction of some Adelaide Hills chardonnay, then some Victorians. I told him it wasn't really what I was after, so we proceeded to walk throughout the store together. I sighted a bottle of Cape Mentelle's Sauvignon Blanc Semillon and told him I enjoyed that wine, but it too wasn't what I was after. "Oh", he quipped. "You must try this then".

He then presented to me a bottle of Cullen's 2006 Mangan Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. This was the first vintage of Cullen's just released Mangan SBS and as such I'd never had it before. I was very familiar with the Cullen Vineyard SBS though, so he had me interested. The salesperson correctly informed me it was an oaked SBS and how it should display some similar texture, complexity and style to chardonnay, whilst retaining the regional quality I desired (he also told me it made the Cape Mentelle look very boring by comparison). It was $35 but his very informative and articulated sales pitch had me, so I took one home.

Once home I drunk the bottle and loved it. It contained not just all the features the attendant had told me it would but also all the features I was after (I gave it 95 points for interest). Cullen's Mangan is now arguably my favourite expression of an Australian sauvignon blanc/semillon blend, and I buy 3 bottles of every vintage, including putting one aside for 5-8 years cellaring. In some respect, I feel I owe part of this love to the staff at East End Cellars, without whom I might not have bought the wine in the first place.

To say the least, the information and recommendation from the EEC staff member was a hell of a lot better than that of another, different bottle shop salesperson, who told me I should be drinking New Zealand sauvignon blanc instead of chardonnay (see Drawing a Blanc contd... under my July posts).

Oh yeah, I can guarantee no EEC salesperson would allow a customer to leave the store with a dozen bottles of wine without at least a box! :)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

WOODLANDS 'MARGARET' 2007

(Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Malbec)
 - Margaret River, WA
 - $35-$45
 - Screwcap
 - 13.5%alc

Despite its relatively modest asking price ($39 at cellar door), Woodlands Margaret Reserve is a serious player among top-end Australian cabernet blends. Comprised of 67% cabernet sauvignon, 17% merlot and 16% malbec, the 2007 is another near perfect, long living example of its classic style.

It's simultaneously deeply scented and intensely lifted, opening to reveal dusty aromas of violets, dark plum, blackberry, redcurrants and carefully smoked cedar/mocha/walnut oak with heady spice notes of clove and white pepper followed by eucalypt. With layer upon layer of dripping flavour and character, its silky palate presents a beautifully composed expression of vivid purple fruits and more savoury, gamey, leafy undertones, harmonised by exceptionally tight, fine-grained French oak and an assertive yet ideally balanced influence of velvet-like tannin. The length is magnificent, with a persisting core of ripe fruit pushing deep into the aftertaste alongside rich notes of earth perfectly imparted by its malbec component.

üWoodlands' 2007 Margaret is an essay in depth, complexity and integration through highly skilled blending. With all the boxes handsomely ticked, it's just urging for more time in the bottle to unravel and reveal its limitless potential. A modern day masterpiece. Drink to 2027.
97 points


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

LEEUWIN ESTATE PRELUDE VINEYARDS CHARDONNAY 2007

 - Margaret River, WA
 - $27-$35
 - Screwcap
 - 14.0%alc

In addition to making Australia's most iconic chardonnay, the Art Series, Leeuwin Estate also release a more affordable version of the great white grape under their Prelude label. The 2007 Prelude's back label proudly states; 'Ripening conditions were near perfect with fruit showing exceptional intensity of flavour'.

Scented with ripe, peachy, somewhat candied aromas of tropical fruits and toasty vanilla, it proclaims a juicy palate which presents itself in a round, forward manner, with pungent fruit undertones glossed over by a marginal sweetness and creamy yet edgy acids. Leeuwin's 2007 Prelude isn't a bad drink by any means, but it lacks the refinement, style, precision and balance of numerous other Australian chardonnays in this price range.

O Premium Australian chardonnay is a highly competitive market these days, and this just doesn't quite measure up to the best. Drink to 2012.
89 points


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

SAMUEL'S GORGE TAMAR GEWURZTRAMINER 2008

 - Tamar Valley, TAS
 - $25
 - Screwcap (Stelvin-Lux)
 - 13.2%alc

McLaren Vale red specialist Samuel's Gorge just added a pair of northern Tasmanian whites to their range in the way of a 2009 Riesling and 2008 Gewurztraminer. Winemaker Justin McNamee's first wines are encouraging to say the least, causing me to anticipate his future releases with eager joy.

The 2008 Tamar Gewurztraminer unleashes a strong, definitive whiff of lychee overlying pleasing aromas of lime zest and rose petal. Its clean, youthful palate presents beautifully controlled, slightly juicy flavours of white pear, apple and lychee juice. With a valid yet restrained touch of traminer oiliness, it finishes fine, focused and dry, revealing nuances of mineral, apple peel and gentle spice.

üThis is seriously addictive stuff. It's a truly Tasmanian young traminer with superb restraint, clarity and precision, from a maker that's bound to raise a few eyebrows (and smiles!) Watch this space. Drink to 2014.
94 points


Monday, October 26, 2009

WEST CAPE HOWE CABERNET MERLOT 2007

 - Geographe/ Great Southern/ Blackwood Valley, WA
 - $12-$20
 - Screwcap
 - 14.5%alc

I'm particularly impressed with the consistency and value of West Cape Howe's cross-regional, Western Australian wines. Typically sourced from some of the state's premier districts, these wines offer generously flavoured, fresh and affordable varietal expressions.

Both cabernet sauvignon and merlot make an aromatic statement in West Cape Howe's 2007, with a dusty, leafy, herbal presentation of ripe blackcurrants and smoky cedar/chocolate oak. Surprisingly saturated (for its price) with dark berry/plum fruits and toasty cedar notes, its vivid, well fruited palate delivers genuine mid-palate impact through plush character, finishing with a silky caress of ripe tannin and spice. Although multi-regional this astoundingly cheap cabernet merlot perfectly reflects its place of origin; south-Western Australia.

üA superb buy, this drinks beautifully now but has enough depth and tannic lift to see it mature into the medium term. Yalumba The Scribbler 2007, Wynns Shiraz 2008; you can gladly add West Cape Howe's 2007 Cabernet Merlot to the list of cheap Aussie reds which have genuinely excited me since the inception of this site. Drink to 2016.
92 points


GRANT BURGE THORN RIESLING 2009

 - Eden Valley, SA
 - $14-$21
 - Screwcap
 - 12.5%alc

Grant Burge makes a wide and diverse range of wine styles from his beautiful home base in the Barossa Valley. His best wines usually come from the regional staples of shiraz, cabernet and grenache blends, but Mr. Burge also creates some very acceptable whites from regions such as the Adelaide Hills and Eden Valley.

Rather shy on the nose, the 2009 Thorn Riesling's simple aromas of candied lemon and apples precede a broad, brassy palate which doesn't really possess the clarity or freshness typically associated with Eden Valley riesling. It takes a slight dive towards the back palate, with a sweet/sour acidity revealing traces of cooked fruit and lime juice.

Not the best representation of Eden Valley riesling on the market; in fact, its slightly flabby, uneven fruit profile reminds me more of Barossa riesling. Drink to 2011.
86 points


Saturday, October 24, 2009

SAMUEL'S GORGE

The gorge-ous(!?) view from the Samuel's Gorge cellar door.

Samuel's Gorge is a relatively new (est. 2003), small-sized boutique winery based at the northern end of McLaren Vale. Their wines, which have gathered a sturdy reputation over a short period, usually speak for themselves, but on this day winemaker Justin McNamee invited family, friends and loyal mail order customers to his cellar door for what was a special occasion ably hosted by himself and his close friends.

The special occasion, which included a picnic lunch and fine finger foods, was to celebrate the release of the winery's first two white wines; a riesling and a gewurztraminer, both from Tasmania's Tamar Valley. A lot of people promote the concept of wineries sticking within regional confines, something I normally believe, but if it's high quality riesling and gewurztraminer you want to make, and your winery happens to be located in McLaren Vale, then why not look to Tasmania for your fruit?

Unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with Justin's wines the two Tasmanian whites are brilliant, completely speaking for themselves (as with all his wines). They fully justify the extensive and well travelled fruit sourcing. I remarked that Samuel's Gorge now has the best pair of white wines in McLaren Vale, the irony being they had to go to Tasmania to make them!

By adding these two superlative white wines Samuel's Gorge has severely bolstered a range which already included three of McLaren Vale's best and most underrated reds. Bravo! I now have another two reasons to go there!

I must also make special mention of Justin McNamee himself. It was a delight to finally meet the man; a kind, gracious and down to earth winemaker who is as wonderful to communicate with as it is to drink his wines. Although he had roughly 100 invited guests present at this special release, he did a fantastic job of getting around to, meeting and talking with everyone (as well as pouring some very generous samples!). I congratulated Justin on organising a very fine day, especially the generosity he showed by pouring numerous, free samples of all his wines which were flowing steadily all day. Many wineries invite people to their cellar doors for special events, then pour glasses of their cheapest wines and charge $7 a pop, not Samuel's Gorge! Justin told me the wine industry had been kind to him for a long time and this was his chance to pay it back; "share some booze!" he said. A fine sentiment if ever there was one, and one I've lived by for some time myself...

The look of Samuel's Gorge's bottles, with a lovely mosaic constituting various, smaller pictures which combine to create a picture of 'Samuel's Gorge', is one of my favourite modern wine labels. The modern look usually isn't for me, but the Samuel's Gorge wines are particularly clever and appealling. I'll be posting photos of some in the future as I review their wines.

Wonderfully labelled, with beautifully made, minimal intervention winemaking and a charming winemaker/head man with some outstanding wine principles and philosophies; Samuel's Gorge is a winery whose name deserves to grow with prestige and notoriety in future years in every respect.

THE WINES
Samuel's Gorge Relbia Riesling 2009 ($25)
Tamar Valley, TAS. Very clean, gentle nose, which is lightly floral in aroma with musky scents of grapefruit and lavender overlying that wonderfully crystal clear, Tasmanian riesling fruit profile. The palate shows power through concentration and texture as opposed to acidity, it contains mineral accented pure fruit flavour, with good length and a taut, savoury finish marked by brisk acids. A winner which was well worth Justin's efforts. (full review soon) 94

Samuel's Gorge Tamar Gewurztraminer 2008 ($25)
Tamar Valley, TAS. Strong lychee nose with hints of rose petal and lime zest. Showing notes of apple, pear and lychee, the clean palate shows beautiful restraint of it varietal character, which is neither too pungent nor sweet. With just a touch of traminer oiliness, it's superbly controlled, fresh and delicious with a dry and mineral finish. Some might remark that this lacks varietal punch, but this particularly clean, bell-clear traminer is right up my alley. (full review soon) 93

Samuel's Gorge Grenache 2007 ($35)
McLaren Vale. Floral, ruby red fruit nose with notes of liqueur cherry and dusty chocolate oak. It's surprisingly elegant, medium-bodied, smooth and soft yet vibrant. It sits beautifully within the parameters of region, vintage and variety. A great follow up to the superb 2006 wine. Keep your eyes out for good quality 07 McLaren Vale grenache, given this wine, it could surprise. (full review soon) 92

Samuel's Gorge Shiraz 2007 ($35)
McLaren Vale. Ripe, jammy nose of raspberry, plums, liqueur cherry and currants with hints of meatiness and sweet chocolate oak. It's concentrated and flows well. A texture driven McLaren Vale shiraz which does show a touch of ultra ripe fruit in its finish. The 2006 (94pts) was also available on the day, which I do prefer. Winemaker Justin McNamee said he preferred the 07 as he finds it more tannic from the drought year, but I found the 06 a much more complete, balanced and evenly ripe wine with a more natural tannin extract. 89

Samuel's Gorge Tempranillo 2008 ($35)
McLaren Vale. This is easily one of the better Australian tempranillo I've had, equally so the second time round! Deep, dark plum fruit and cherry nose with wild scents of choc anise and tar. Its palate is deeply laden with dark fruit and cherry flavour, plus smatterings of bitter chocolate/cedar oak, licorice and firm, grippy tannins. A very balanced, complete tempranillo with good weight, depth and texture. 92

ROCKFORD ALICANTE BOUCHET 2009

 - Barossa Valley, SA
 - $16-$24
 - Screwcap
 - 9.5%alc

Famous for being the rose made from the red grape with red juice, Rockford's Alicante Bouchet has reached cult status among Adelaide's rose drinkers.

Simple and confectionary, the 2009 Alicante Bouchet reveals a dirty nose of candied cherries, strawberry and kiwi fruit. Bound by sweet/sour edges its rather one dimensional palate presents predictable, candied red berry fruit flavours, ending short, sweet and dirty.

Sorry, not my style of wine. Drink to 2010.
83 points


YALUMBA THE VIRGILIUS VIOGNIER 2008

 - Eden Valley, SA
 - $35-$48
 - Screwcap
 - 13.5%alc

With the possible exception of Clonakilla's Viognier, Yalumba's Virgilius may just be Australia's best example of a new white varietal. Almost surpassing the magnificent 2004 (95pts), the 2008 Virgilius is everything it should be.

Meaty, musky and perfumed, a layered, floral fragrance of apricot kernel, orange blossom, citrus and mineral entices the nose with underlying tones of lychee oil and spice. Its deeply flavoured, creamy palate is meticulously balanced and bright, announcing a harmonious interweaving of complex flavour, texture and acid. Generous length of fruit pushes this mineral viognier down the palate with restrained stonefruit/nutty undertones, finishing with a clean wash of regional, chalky acids and a fraction of alcoholic warmth. The 2008 Virgilius drinks even better with extended aeration, as it moves closer towards room temperature.

üA beautiful, sumptuous and richly textured Virgilius which completely lives up to its reputation. Drink to 2013.
95 points


Friday, October 23, 2009

BARWANG CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2007

 - Hilltops, NSW
 - $13-$21
 - Screwcap
 - 13.5%alc

From a personal perspective I've never quite enjoyed Barwang's wines as much as others. This isn't always the case though, as two Barwang wines which impressed me recently were their rich, meaty, herbal, structured and long living 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (92pts) and the 2007 Shiraz (91pts). The latter of which I personally nominated for 'Best Wine Under $20' at the 2009 Great Shiraz Challenge.

Scented with meaty redcurrants, cassis and raw oak, the 2007 Barwang Cabernet Sauvignon further reveals faint herbal elements and notes of varnish. Its rather honest palate is surprisingly plush and deeply fruited with bright flavour, but it's also a little angular and raw, while lacking true interaction from its slightly disjointed tannic spine.

O Factoring in the very tasty Barwang Shiraz of the same year, I must admit to expecting more of this inconsistently balanced, shorter term cabernet. I'm not sure if time will see this one through the 10 years stated on its back label. Drink to 2013.
87 points


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

DE BORTOLI DEEN DE BORTOLI VAT 5 BOTRYTIS SEMILLON 2006

 - Riverina, NSW
 - $9-$16
 - Screwcap
 - 11.0%alc

With rational principles and credible ranges such as Deen De Bortoli, Windy Peak and Sacred Hill (and even Gulf Station on a good day!), De Bortoli is fashioning one of Australia's best collections of quaffing wine. Their beautifully affordable Vat 5 Botrytis Semillon is sometimes referred to as 'poor man's Noble One'.

The 2006 Vat 5's fragrance of lemon/orange citrus and apricot is presented in a marmalade-like fashion, with hints of confectionary nuts and sweet pastry providing further interest. Light to medium in weight, the palate contains a similar flavour profile to its aroma but with a touch more oak evident. Its finish is marked by an accentuating sweetness and toasty characters, which grip the back palate without compromising too much in the way of freshness.

ü Just as you'd expect from De Bortoli; a well made, genuine sweet wine which is value plus. Drink to 2011.
88 points


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

AD HOC WALLFLOWER RIESLING 2009

 - Mt Barker, WA
 - $16-$22
 - Screwcap (Stelvin-Lux)
 - 12.3%alc

In a short period of time Larry Cherubino has carved a solid reputation for his own brand. I'm particularly impressed by his 2009 releases of Ad Hoc Straw Man Sauvignon Blanc Semillon (90pts) and Ad Hoc Wallflower Riesling, each of which present clean, crisp and fresh expressions of their respective styles.

A pleasant clear-straw colour, Larry Cherubino's 2009 Wallflower Riesling reveals scents of citrus zest, lavender and talc, preceding a clean and pure palate of zingy freshness and clarity. It finishes in a tangy fashion with persisting mineral, juicy riesling fruit characters scored by a deft touch of clean acids.

ü A very soft, gently structured, cleanly fruited and approachable example of Mount Barker riesling. It's very fair on the hip pocket and makes an ideal entry point into the world of riesling. Drink to 2014.
90 points


Monday, October 19, 2009

PIRRAMIMMA SHIRAZ 2005

 - McLaren Vale, SA
 - $20-$29
 - Cork
 - 14.0%alc

Although popular with certain critics and consumers, I personally didn't think too highly of the 2005 season for South Australia's premier shiraz districts. As these wines have developed over the last few years, my opinion remains the same. There certainly are exceptions to the rule though!

Pirramimma's 2005 Shiraz opens to a lavishly rich, ripe fragrance of juicy plums, plush mulberries, currants and sweet chocolate oak with a touch of vanilla spice. It's quite syrupy and ripe, with a slightly thinning mid-palate which unloads baked red/black fruit flavours with a lasting, sweet finish marked by a port-like aspect.

O For my tastes, this certainly reflects the difficulties of its season. Drink to 2012.
88 points


Sunday, October 18, 2009

BROWN BROTHERS BARBERA 2005

 - Victoria
 - $14-$20
 - Screwcap
 - 14.5%alc

Although Australian examples of barbera are few and far between, I do recall a comment by an old wine lecturer who said; "I've never drunk any good Australian barbera, if anyone knows of any, let me know." Well Stuart, I might have found something...

A winery famous for its ability to make wine out of practically every grape conceivable, Brown Brothers' 2005 Barbera presents a slightly meaty fragrance of peppered red berries and cola. Well made and evenly balanced at this price, its medium-bodied, juicy flavours of savoury red fruits and tobacco reveal a soft influence of vanilla oak. Underlying tangy notes and intensifying spice characters build into its prickly finish with firm, dusty tannins and lively acids. There's good flavour definition and genuine vibrancy throughout the palate, without any over-ripeness.

ü Italian inspired but Australian made, this is a fine red for the BBQ. Drink to 2011.
89 points


Friday, October 16, 2009

ROYAL ADELAIDE WINE SHOW 2009

I was fortunate enough to of picked up an invitation to the Royal Adelaide Wine Show this year, along with an invite to a luncheon coupled with the trophy winning wines. To be quite frank, there was an enormous array of wines. Thousands of bottles, 3-5 deep, covering every Australian wine style, region and price range, opened up and presented to the taster in a 'pour yourself' manner.

Never before had the term, 'so much wine, so little time', been more appropriate.

My own personal tasting notes number over 100, just too much to right down here, so I'll just stick to a basic overview of the trophy winning wines presented to us in bottle form at the luncheon, along with some of my own personal selections. My selections are based on what I though were standout wines, which weren't necessarily judged in the same class as the trophy wining wines they accompany.

If anything, this tasting is always an excellent opportunity to sample unreleased wines (some wines at this event won't be released for 5 years) as well as wines from interstate which never seem to reach South Australian retail shelves. I was extremely pleased to see numerous interstate icons at the Royal Adelaide. Even if they didn't do so well with the professional judges, many of them won me over. Maybe if they were labelled under Wolf Blass they might've picked up some major awards....

It was probably the most intense and frantic wine tasting I can recall. It certainly made me think long and hard about what the judges must go through.

Judges pick:
Crabtree Watervale Riesling 2009 (18.8)
Top scoring wine in 'Riesling 2008 vintage and younger'. To me it suffered at the hands of its vintage a bit. It was quite clean and fresh, but presented undertones of that ripe and pungent, apricot/stonefruit character which seems to be defining many '09 rieslings. Not really my style unfortunately.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Leo Buring Eden Valley Leonay 2009 (95)
The standout '09 riesling of the day for me, which included some interesting, if a bit disappointing wines from the likes of Helm, Howard Park and Seppelt's Drumborg. It's a wonderfully tight, fresh and chalky riesling with the exceptional purity and length of mineral/lemon/apple/citrus characters which consumers have grown to expect from Leonay. Pewsey Vale's 2004 Contours and Leasingham's 2008 Bin 8 K.S. also appealed greatly to me in other riesling classes.

Judges pick:
Elderton Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (18.5)
Who would've thought Elderton make a tasty Adelaide Hills savvy. I wasn't as excited as the judges about this wine, but I did like it. It's quite a plump, juicy sauvignon blanc with a clean and clear fruit profile which strangely displays much of the grassiness and intensity of the wines of Marlborough. It just lacks exceptional backbone for me.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Vasse Felix Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (95)
Another smashing wine under this label. Contains one of the most beautiful, crisp and brisk, crystalline acid structures I've had in an Australian wine of this style, outlining its mineral, lightly herbal and smoky, lemon citrus fruit base. Brilliant.

Judges pick:
Penfolds Thomas Hyland Cool Climate Chardonnay 2008 (18.5)
Picked up award for best white under $20. I like this pick. There's a new look with a new name for the Thomas Hyland, and fortunately the wine quality backs it up. It's a very lightly oaked, fruit expressive style of real clean fruit flavour. Extremely drinkable. A colleague of mine who doesn't like chardonnay remarked how he felt numerous wines in this class were perhaps drawing influence from sauvignon blanc. An interesting observation I thought.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Arras 2004 (94)
Alright, completely unrelated to the Hyland but I had to fit this in somewhere. Sparkling wines were a fairly small collection at the Royal Adelaide (probably only about 40 or so!) but this really took my fancy. Magnificent freshness to lemon/grapefruit and lightly yeasty/cheesy tones are marked by superb length and elegant effervescence. Has great persistence of flavour for an Aussie sparkling. I'll definitely be keeping my eyes out for this whenever it gets released. The judges liked it too (18.5), but it came runner up in its class to the 2001 Hardys Sir James Tumbarumba Cuvee (18.7).

Judges pick:
Wolf Blass White Label Chardonnay 2007 (18.7)
Winner most outstanding red or white wine in show. The 'big' one. Quite amazing really. I honestly didn't want to like this wine, but it's just impossible to fault. It possesses a superb integration of tightly knit, creamy, nutty oak and refined cool climate chardonnay character. It absolutely surprised the hell out of me that Wolf Blass is capable of such immaculate chardonnay. Previously the White Label range consisted of bottle aged whites (usually around 5 years) and retailed for around $20-$40. My colleague who has connections within Wolf Blass told me that this (unreleased) wine will sell for closer to $100, almost like a white version of the Black Label. I find that very hard to believe! Magnificent wine by the way.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Hardys Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2006 (96)
Smashing wine. Judges liked it too (18.5) with a gold medal. Wonderfully savoury, refined and purely fruited chardonnay in that extremely fashionable cool climate style. Superb length, acidity and structure, with a very long, refreshing finish of lingering flavour and impression.

Judges pick:
Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2008 (18.5)
Judges remarked; 'a fine example of fresh varietal fruit', I remark; 'a fine example of the undesirable, dirty, confectionary elements of Barossa grenache'. Not my style of grenache at all. Thin, sweetish and rather unbalanced. In fact the classes which incorporated pinot noir, merlot (especially), grenache and other reds were a real let down at the Royal Adelaide. As such I won't be mentioning any.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Oliver's Taranga HJ Reserve Shiraz 2006 (96)
I find it hard to believe this wine couldn't even muster a bronze at this show (check out what won best red of show though). It's certainly not your typical 'show' style though. It's an exceptional expression of McLaren Vale shiraz with no over ripe or dead fruit character at all. Wonderfully savoury and elegant, with a perfect measure of fresh, nutty vanilla oak overlying a smoothly fruited, red and dark berry and plum fruit base. Layers of flavour and aroma. Should age for a very long time. A genuine standout from McLaren Vale's 06 vintage. As far as I'm aware this has yet to be released, but it shouldn't be far away.

Judges pick:
Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz Viognier 2008 (18.7)
Max Schubert Trophy, Best Red Wine of Show. Oh dear. It's selections like this, especially for what should be South Australia's most prestigious wine trophy, that really make people squirm at the wine show concept. Like the White Label Chardonnay I didn't intend to like this, but unlike the chardonnay I didn't like this. It's easy to see how the judges went for it; it's all up front aroma, perfumed, apricoty and rich, very intense and extremely generously fruited. But savoury, complex, elegant, balanced, seamless, structured or age worthy it ain't. Definitely more of a quaffing/BBQ red. The only good thing this wine achieved in my eyes was stopping Starvedog Lane's Shiraz Viognier from winning three straight Max Schuberts. I still see a trend starting to emerge here though....

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Grant Burge Shadrach Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (94)
A bit of a surprise to me really. For a warm year this shows a lot of cool aspects, probably from its Eden Valley component. It reminded me a lot of some of the better 04 Barossa cabernets, presenting the style of cabernet that's only possible from the Barossa. It's lusciously smooth and rich, with layers of deep fruit and smatterings of finely tuned vanilla/cedar oak, filling out the mid-palate with great depth and satisfaction.

Judges pick:
Yalumba The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (18.7)
Trophy Best Cabernet Sauvignon in Show. Of the four trophy winning reds presented at the lunch this was the only one of any real merit to me. It is quite pleasantly, evenly fruited and lush, with a nice, dry and dusty tannic backbone. I still think 06 Coonawarra's don't quite stand up as well as the two vintages before it.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (95)
I was very excited to see this, which shouldn't be released for another couple of months yet (as told to me by Vasse's staff). Silver medal (17.0) from the judges. The wine completely lived up to expectations for me. It didn't contain the opulent ripeness of many Margaret River 07's, but instead delivered an elegant balance of savoury finesse, complexity and velvet-like mouthfeel, with more of a herbal edge to Vasse's classic smoky, dark, concentrated berry fruit base. Great structure, length and persistence of flavour. Powdery tannins play their part well. As with 2005, I preferred this over the flagship Heytesbury 2007 red.

Judges pick:
Richard Hamilton Gumprs Block Shiraz 2008 (18.7)
Trophy Best Shiraz in Show. There are elements to like here, but I'm not sure how it took out Best Shiraz in Show. It's very youthful, fresh and evenly fruited, with the classic McLaren Vale characters of ripe berry and plum fruits over chocolate/cedar/vanilla oak, but it's a bit simple really, as well as somewhat lacking in intensity and richness through the mid-palate. Good wine at around $20-$25 though.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Balgownie Estate Shiraz 2006 (95)
Magnificent Bendigo shiraz, which managed to pick up a bronze (15.5) from the judges. Top quality Victorian shiraz can be overlooked by South Australia's wine drinking public, and apparently our show judges alike. Beautifully fragrant, it contains fantastic depth of layered flavour, with classic regional dark fruit notes entwined with chocolate/vanilla oak and even a hint of choc-mint. Amazing freshness, perfume and surprising elegance for what was a hot year in Bendigo. Great stuff.

Judges pick:
Morris Old Premium Liqueur Tokay (19.2)
Trophy Best Apera, Topaque or Muscat. Bang on! Bang on! Bang on! I completely agree with this selection. By my calculations this might've been the highest scoring wine of the show, and I'd have to agree. It's absolutely exceptional; thick, thick, thick; luscious and rich. A genuine national treasure. I had a bottle of this at the start of 2009 and absolutely loved it, today was no different. The waitress was kind enough to bring me 3 serves of this - thank you! I also really enjoyed the De Bortoli Black Noble NV as a similar style.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

TIM ADAMS PINOT GRIS 2009

 - Clare Valley, SA
 - $18-$24
 - Screwcap
 - 12.5%alc

Alongside wineries like the Mornington Peninsula's T'Gallant, McLaren Vale's Joseph and northern Tasmania's Grey Sands and Pipers Brook, Tim Adams is a seriously good maker of Australian pinot gris. The Tim Adams style is all about zip and freshness, with a small amount of residual sweetness adding to the wine's overall character.

This salmon pink pinot gris is fresh yet tight on the nose, with clean scents of lightly spiced lemon zest, baked apples and pear. Smoothly textured, its juicy palate displays more weight and concentration than expected, before finishing with a touch of residual sweetness. It's a rather fat and mouthfilling pinot gris underpinned by notes of pear, but it lacks the flavour definition, drive and acid structure which made its predecessor so great (2008-92pts).

O A fuller, smooth and luscious pinot gris from Tim Adams, but its sensory enjoyment is much more pedestrian than his previous release. Drink to 2010.
88 points


Monday, October 12, 2009

CULLEN CABERNET SAUVIGNON MERLOT 2007

 - Margaret River, WA
 - $34-$43
 - Screwcap
 - 12.5%alc

Guided by the esteemed Vanya Cullen, Cullen is a biodynamic producer whose complex, savoury and long living wines easily rate with the new world's best. I can personally attest to Vanya Cullen paying as much attention to the finer details of wine business management as she does her highly skilled winemaking.

Beautifully lifted and herbal, Cullen's 2007 Cabernet Merlot (67%/33%) opens to an unmistakably regional fragrance of dusted blackberries, cherries and violet partnered by fine-grained, toasty cedar oak. Medium to full in body, its palate shows the well judged balance of rich, soft juicy fruits and structure typical of the blend, going on to further reveal savoury undertones of toasty cedar, dry earth and licorice accentuating its dark plum and cherry fruit core. It's perfectly ripened and vibrant, finishing long and dry with the fine length and seamlessly integrated, natural tannins which so define the Cullen style.

üFlawlessly executed from a ripper vintage, this sits exactly where it should in Cullen's impressive arsenal. It's an ideal younger sibling to the Diana Madeline of immense drinkability. Drink to 2017.
93 points


Saturday, October 10, 2009

PETALUMA

Petaluma may well be the most significant of all Adelaide Hills' wineries, but times have changed for this successful brand, easily recognised by its distinct pastel yellow tone.

I was a huge fan of the times when Petaluma revolved around its core wines of Croser, Hanlin Hill Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot and the Coonawarra blend. With great regularity all of these wines would deliver exceptional quality, value and longevity for their reasonable asking price.

Today Petaluma's range now contains newer wines such as the super premium Tiers Chardonnay, an Adelaide Hills' based Shiraz and a Viognier, a Botrytis Semillon from Coonawarra plus a late disgorged release of the Croser. In addition to this Petaluma has been experimenting with a number of newer styles, of which, the pinot noir sounds most interesting to me.

A new Petaluma release at today's tasting was a non-vintage Croser, which holds a RRP of $25. Unfortunately the company representative had a bottle at the tasting but it hadn't been refrigerated, so all we could do was look at it. Although it's still 100% Adelaide Hills based it's made in a different style to the vintage. Its dosage is higher and there's more opulence and richness of fruit to appease the every day drinker (or so I'm told). I'll be keeping my eyes out for this, although it hasn't been officially released yet.

If anything the new non-vintage release answers my concerns as to why the standard Croser has seen a slight increase in price. As little as three years ago I remember seeing Croser as low as $26 at retail, but since that time I haven't seen it below $30. You wouldn't want the prestigious vintage release competing price-wise with the introductory non-vintage wine now, would you?

THE WINES
Unfortunately my recent decline in passion for Petaluma's wines will probably continue after this tasting. Apart from the chardonnay that is, which delivered another sensational wine from 2007 which continues the evolution and refinement of one of the Adelaide Hills' benchmarks. The other Petaluma wines seem to lack the longevity and structure of the glory years, especially the Coonawarra and Hanlin Hill. In fact, the last few releases of Hanlin Hill have all come across as more of an earlier drinking, riper riesling in my eyes. The representative on the day was probably the first rep I've had this year who admitted to me that the January heatwave had a considerable effect on their 2009 Riesling. As for the Coonawarra, I would've loved to see more cabernet sauvignon coming through, as the 2007 is only 48%

Croser 2007 ($34)
Light yeast and lemon/grapefruit nose. The palate is clean and fresh in the aperitif style so typical of young Croser, with a framework of sour edged, lemony acids and brisk effervescence providing ample freshness. Shows some underlying savoury complexity. A noticeable step up over the 2006 wine. 90

Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling 2009 ($25)
Follows the stylistic blueprint of the last 3 releases, which haven't really been my style. It's rather ripe with light apricot/white peach, orange blossom and lemon marmalade aromas. Its fuller, juicy palate is rather lusciously concentrated for Clare riesling with soft acidity, and should make for good short term drinking. 89

Petaluma Chardonnay 2007 ($40)
Far and away my favourite Petaluma wine of recent years and probably one of my favourite Australian wines full stop. Like the other wines it has seen a stylistic change, moving away from the bolder chardonnay it once was to a more refined, elegant and slightly mineral wine. The 2007 succeeds with a bang. It initially announce toasty cedar/vanilla oak on the nose, but with a little aeration it gives way to mineral accented grapefruit and white nectarine, with restraint, elegance and integration. The palate is rich and creamy, with a beautifully refined, savoury fruit profile overlying mineral tones. Bright, brisk grapefruit-like acids draw it out towards a long, penetrating finish. Outstanding. (full review soon) 95

Petaluma Merlot 2005 ($50)
Ripe and plummy with slight licorice and eucalypt on the nose, but no overt green characters. The warmer year played well here, delivering genuinely ripened cherry and plum fruits with smooth, toasty chocolate oak. It's a very smooth, luscious, faintly concentrated, genuinely Australian merlot with medium weight and a good dusting of powdery tannin. 91

Petaluma Shiraz 2006 ($45)
Basically, still not a fan of this. Its viognier says a big hello on the nose, with a jammy, confit-like expression of ripe, almost baked varietal fruits and dried apricot. The juicy, ripe palate would make a good drink for closer to $20 with a slight lick of well extracted spice, but it finishes a bit tart and astringent. 87

Petaluma Coonawarra 2007 ($55)
Only 48% cabernet sauvignon this year with a good dose of merlot and shiraz thrown in (small amount of petit verdot too I think). Its nose is rather ripe, fruity and verging on meaty, announcing plums, blackberry, licorice and chocolate/vanilla oak. Much to my dislike its cabernet component barely makes an influence. The palate is sumptuous, rich and deep on the juicy mid-palate especially, but its ultra-ripe nuances lack the length, structure and elegance of the best years. 89

Friday, October 9, 2009

BARRATT CHARDONNAY 2006

 - Adelaide Hills, SA
 - $25-$32
 - Screwcap
 - 14.0%alc

Barratt may be recognised as a pinot noir specialist but it's usually Lindsay's chardonnay which I most enjoy. Produced from their Uley vineyard in Summertown (planted in the early 80's and now fully mature), Barratt's Chardonnay typically offers a richly flavoured symposium of fruit and oak.

Openly aromatic, an assertive whiff of creamy, toasty oak overlies grapefruit and white nectarine aromas within Barratt's 2006. In true house style its bold and brassy palate leaves little to the imagination, imposing creamy texture and lusciously rich flavours in a forward manner. There's a faint herbal undercarriage, but it just lacks the acid backbone and overt freshness required for a higher score.

ü This is an earlier maturing chardonnay which falls well within Barratt's stylistic parameters. It would be an appropriate selection for anyone in search of a full, luscious and well proportioned white wine. Drink to 2011.
91 points


FROGMORE CREEK FGR RIESLING 2009

 - Tasmania
 - $20-$25
 - Screwcap
 - 9.5%alc

One of southern Tasmania's largest producers, Frogmore Creek, is perhaps best known for their distinct variations of riesling. Made with more than a passing nod to the medium-sweet wines of Germany, the FGR gets its abbreviated name from the forty grams of residual sugar it contains.

Pungently fragrant aromas of gooseberry, kiwifruit, apricot blossom and lime juice precede a moderately luscious, sweet palate with a reserved yet bright presence of acidity providing just enough structure and balance for this style. It's rather essence-like in a rich and concentrated fashion, entwining musk, blossom and citrus marmalade nuances throughout a pleasantly long finish of persevering sweet notes, marred only by a slight tartness.

O With thanks in part to lower alcohol this is very, very easy to drink, however, I would've preferred to see sharper acids with more cut and shape. Drink very cold with Asian food. Drink to 2013.
89 points


Thursday, October 8, 2009

TIM ADAMS SEMILLON 2008

 - Clare Valley, SA
 - $18-$25
 - Screwcap
 - 13.0%alc

Tim Adams is among a small group of Clare Valley producers achieving consistent results with wooded semillon. After fermentation in new French oak hogsheads, his 2008 Semillon spent a further 5 months in oak.

Its rather pungent aromas of restrained gooseberry, lime and lemon zest show a savoury overlay of grilled nut characters, leading into a smooth and rich palate of well rounded, almost rubbery proportions. With ample depth and luxuriously creamed texture, its juicy, mouthfilling palate delivers a careful balance of soft, gentle melon and herb flavours partnered by pronounced yet agreeable winemaker inputs. Mainly through texture its noticeable oak influence plays, allowing a finely controlled presence of chiselled acidity to command the wine towards an extended finish blessed by enduring notes of tobacco and sour citrus.

üAnother skillfully made, superb Tim Adams Semillon with much more flavour and textural interest than one would normally expect from 1 year old Australian semillon. An outstanding example of the oaked style. Superlative value. Drink to 2016.
93 points


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

CURLY FLAT PINOT NOIR 2006

 - Macedon Ranges, VIC
 - $42-$51
 - Screwcap
 - 13.5%alc

Situated in Victoria's cool Macedon Ranges, Curly Flat is a boutique winery whose ultra-chic 2006 Pinot Noir has been receiving a lot of press for all the right reasons.

An ethereal bouquet of genuine pinot sexual attraction greets the nose, laden with musky, perfumed scents of earthy red fruits, currant, game meats, beetroot and cinnamon with a hint of stalky goodness. The palate is absolutely packed with vitality and character, as its seamless marriage of supple, saturated pinot fruit and fine-grained French oak unloads savoury, earthy forest fruit flavours encased in a lively framework of brisk acidity and exotic spice. From within its great depth an undercarriage of meaty garden herb begins to emerge, projecting superb length of fruit onto an already exquisite palate.

üBrilliant, brilliant, brilliant; in every respect. You can happily add my name to its growing list of accolades. Drink to 2015.
96 points


Sunday, October 4, 2009

BAROSSA VALLEY ESTATE E+E SPARKLING SHIRAZ 1998

 - Barossa Valley, SA
 - $43-$61
 - Cork
 - 14.5%alc

For reasons unknown to me BVE's recent E+E wines haven't compared well with those which forged their once supreme reputation. Apart from enforcing the benefits of bottle age for premium sparkling reds, the delicious 1998 E+E Sparkling Shiraz reminds us why this label was once considered a Barossa benchmark.

Holding a flat brick red hue, its appearance foretells a complex bouquet loaded with the clever combination of maturity, freshness and masculine charm which sparkling red enthusiasts so desperately seek. Woody, cigar-boxy, dusted earth and chargrilled capsicum aromas enthrall the nose, leading into a richly flavoured, smooth palate of delightful integration and vitality. It's very sophisticated and dry, pushing forward savoury nuances of cigarbox, cedar, currant and tobacco, which culminate with traces of herbal undergrowth and bitter cocoa.

üA truly mature, complex, dry and savoury sparkling shiraz, which forces me to envision a grandfather reclining in an ornate armchair next to an open fire, smoking a pipe and sipping Cognac whilst reading extracts of Bradman's 1948 Invincibles' Ashes tour as a bedtime story. It's moments like these Australians treasure. Drink now.
94 points


Saturday, October 3, 2009

SHAW AND SMITH M3 CHARDONNAY 2008

- Adelaide Hills, SA
- $35-$49
- Screwcap
- 13.5%alc

After a trio of faultless wines from 2005 (94pts), 2006 (95pts) and 2007 (95pts), Shaw and Smith is now firmly entrenched as a front runner among Australia's chardonnay class. At $40 a bottle the M3 is around half the price of many of its direct competitors.

Funky and complex, Shaw and Smith's 2008 M3 presents a lively fragrance of nectarine, peach, cumquat, melon, spice and paw paw aromas, whose perfectly integrated cheesy, leesy notes and fresh nutty/vanilla/butter oak state something of the wild. Without doubt its compelling bouquet is character laden in an artful fashion. Long and shapely, its fluffy palate offers a wonderfully measured intensity of nutty, toasty, white stonefruit and citrus flavour, which is simultaneously fruity and savoury. Sensuously creamed grapefruit/limey acids coat the brimming palate, leaving a lasting impression of brightness and quirky complexity.

ü Absolutely dripping with character, this flawless chardonnay is a magnificent wine in every sense. Drink to 2014.
92 points


Friday, October 2, 2009

LEEUWIN ESTATE ART SERIES SHIRAZ 2007

 - Margaret River, WA
 - $33-$45
 - Screwcap
 - 14.0%alc

Margaret River shiraz is a bit like Advanced Hair's hair loss treatment for men with hair; it's a little misunderstood, perhaps not even that popular, but it's always there if you need it. In defense of the style there's been a couple of handy wines from the excellent, very early 2007 vintage which have been altering my perceptions.

Lightly spicy, with a well composed expression of redcurrant, cherry and blueberry aromas, the 2007 Art Series' balanced nose reveals a smart influence of French vanilla oak alongside funky undertones of fennel. Medium-bodied, soft and approachable, its genuinely ripened choc-raspberry flavours are bound by sweet oak/fruit edges which altogether contradict its more inviting nose, but it contains enough poise, harmony and concentration to please.

O Vigorously ripened and plush, this is a generously fruited, sweetly oaked red of immediate consumer appeal, which doesn't really play to the strengths of what Margaret River shiraz can achieve. More spicy finesse, tightness and elegance would've gone a long way here. Drink to 2015.
89 points