Sunday, October 30, 2011

S.C. PANNELL GRENACHE 2009

- McLaren Vale, SA
- $42-$58
- Screwcap
- 14.5%alc

S.C. Pannell Grenache is a real buzz wine at the moment, racking up high praise from practically anyone fortunate enough to encounter one. Following on from his award winning 2009, Stephen Pannell's 2010 just won 'Best Grenache' at the McLaren Vale Wine Show, making it back to back local victories for this emerging classic.

Softly perfumed, with a vivaciously ripened yet beautifully controlled, wildly open aroma of earthy redcurrants, kirsch, prunes, blueberries, cloves and cinnamon gently backed by older oak, the multi-faceted nose of S.C. Pannell's 2009 Grenache displays a complex combination of pinot-like graciousness with McLaren Vale intensity and sweet fruit. All its elements sing in harmony, with no one trying to steal the show, as it literally revels in the warmth of its season. Its palate is just so soft, silky and unforced, with an ethereal suppleness rare in Australian grenache, yet throughout the movement its gritty, rustic accent of juicy, jammy forest berry flavours are equally checked by an ultra-fine coverage of dry, bony tannins, which deliver the wine to a fine, persistent finish of outstanding focus, marked by both sweet fruit and savoury aspects. It's pointless to pick a high point here; texture, structure, length, impeccable oak handling, they're all winners. Basically, she's downright sexy and about as good as McLaren Vale grenache gets.

ü+ It's eminently justifiable consecutive Stephen Pannell wines have won two straight McLaren Vale grenache trophies, because this increasingly popular style might've just unearthed its new champion. World class. The modern face of traditional McLaren Vale? Drink to 2021.
96 points


Friday, October 28, 2011

HEEMSKERK CHARDONNAY PINOT NOIR 2007

- Coal River Valley, TAS
- $48-$65
- Cork (Diam)
- 12.0%alc

The reinvented Heemskerk brand marks a serious attempt by Treasury Wine Estates to move into high end Tasmanian wine. At present, the Heemskerk range constitutes a southern Tasmanian collection of single region riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir, as well as a new challenger to Australia's super premium sparkling class. From packaging to palate, these wines are looking pretty smart.

Practically as foamy as a bubble bath at Hugh Hefner's place, with a really racy, minute line of bead and fine lace, the Heemskerk begins its display with a pale, youthful colour, depicting a typically classy visual entrance. Its nose is real steely and tight, giving away little in its infancy. There are quiet suggestions of spiced pear, minerals, hazelnut and lemon cake, which precede a palate with more mineral focus than some sparkling mineral waters I've had. It's undoubtedly youthful and tight, with a crystal-clear expression of crisp apples, grapefruits and strawberry driven down a very strict line of tightly coiled flavour, working its way into a bone dry finish marked by brisk effervescence, lingering citric/mineral aspects and a tangy note of sherbet. Its crisp backbone and understated elegance through mineral complexity are fine, sizing it up well as an aperitif, but personally, I was looking for something a bit more outrageous. Patience is definitively recommended.

O TWE Arras? I don't think so. Aside from the obvious, in that it's much younger than any Arras I've had, it appears to be constructed very differently, relying more on restraint, mineral focus and freshness, and altogether looking more like a rather expensive Australian party starter. Time will tell how the two compare. Drink 2015-2019.
92 points


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

JACOB'S CREEK RESERVE CHARDONNAY PINOT NOIR 2008

- Adelaide Hills, SA
- $12-$23
- Cork (Diam)
- 12.0%alc

My first review from the newly branded Jacob's Creek's Reserve range wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the brand's switch to single region wines, but happily, the second one is. Taking things up a notch from the very credible 2007 (90pts), the 2008 Reserve sparkling displays outstanding value for money once again.

A very gentle, elegant fragrance of understated complexity adorns the fragrance of the Jacob's Creek Reserve, as it opens to a clean and classy, floral aroma of buttered white bread, white pears and vanilla, risen by scents of ginger and cinnamon in a fashion that conclusively defies its often discounted price. Charmingly lean and dry, its palate chisels out a foamy effervescence bound by crisp acids, ensconcing a refreshingly mineral driven flavour profile of green apples, lemons and grapefruit trailed by emerging notes of lemon zest and light, savoury spice. For a moment the whole package seems so perfect and almost surreal, as its finish grips to the mouth with a clingy, steely tightness, but then, it just doesn't persist with the authoritative length of better wines. It's a minor quibble though, effectively brought out by someone expecting too much.

ü+ Flaunting some very clever, beautifully conceived winemaking, the 2008 Jacob's Creek Reserve is an ambitious little sparkling that initiates promising signs of true greatness, but just falls short. It's a dry, tight, cheap aperitif, made right in my own personal eyes-to-the-side style. Drink to 2013.
90 points


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

CURRENCY CREEK ESTATE PINOT NOIR CHARDONNAY RESERVE BRUT

- Currency Creek, SA
- $13-$19
- Zork Spk
- 12.5%alc

Currency Creek is a relatively humble South Australian wine region, found some 80km south of Adelaide near the popular tourist town of Goolwa, or about 50km east of Brian Croser's Parawa vineyard in the Southern Fleurieu. Ballast Stone would have to be the best known producer in the region, although a lot of their production comes from nearby McLaren Vale.

Quite simple and sweet-edged, Currency Creek Estate's sparkling rosé reveals a bronzey fragrance of big strawberries and brandied cherries with a hint of honey stick. It's decisively pinot dominant but it lacks outright freshness and complexity, while its stylistic statement doesn't exactly adhere to my personal taste. The palate shows similarly simple, sweet edges to its well filled-out, Christmas cake-like rendition of liqueur cherry flavour, with a trace of vanilla trailing along for comfort, but then, it finishes surprisingly fine, tight and brisk, with a direct line of effervescence and acids marching towards a neatly defined vanishing point, marked by a fizzy, tangy climax that almost turns the wine into my favour - but not quite. Unfortunately, the harmony of its elements never really settles and it's just not my kind of aperitif. It's too sweet and edgy.

O Okay, but not enough finesse. Cellar door spesh? Local pub list? The girls on race day? Whatever the market, it's not my type of fizz. Drink now.
86 points


SO, WHAT'S A ZORK THEN?

Basically, Zork (or Zork Spk in this case) is an alternative closure I've seen predominantly used on some of Australia's not so expensive sparkling wines, where retention of fizz from first glass to last is desired, although there is a Zork available for still wines as well. The idea behind Zork is to deliver a resealable and taint free closure, like the screwcap, albeit one which retains the 'pop' wine drinkers have come to love when extracting cork. As a consumer, I can say the 'pop' is present and it reseals well (almost all my Currency Creek note was scribbled on day two - the freshness and effervescence had barely changed), but I feel the romance has been lost somewhat. It looks rather bold and manufactured compared to the more natural look of cork.

Despite its ungainly appearance, it's actually quite user friendly and serves its purpose well, and I'll probably hold onto mine, because it seems to be reusable and transferable across Australian sparkling wines. Time will tell how long I hold onto it for.

L: Screwed tight and sealed. R: Unscrewed and ready for popping.


Black Shiraz? Zork? Nah, I just put it there. Nice fit though.

And Pol too? Nope. No such luck. Clearly there's some cultural differences at play. Fits like an elephant into a Porsche.

Monday, October 24, 2011

MITCHELL HARRIS ROSÉ 2011

- Pyrenees/Macedon Ranges, VIC
- $21.95
- Screwcap
- 12.5%alc

By conceiving a synergistic blend of early picked Pyrenees pinot noir, Pyrenees sangiovese juice and Macedon pinot sparkling pressings, Mitchell Harris have given birth to one of Australia's most fascinating, dry and savoury rosés. For smart phone users, the 2011 release has a QR code journey waiting to happen on the back label.

There's an interesting, if light mix of sweet, savoury and even sour suggestions on the nose of the 2011 Mitchell Harris Rosé. Glazed cherries, strawberry juice, nuts and lemons make a sharp point; reflecting some degree of its varietal make up, with a dollop of cream riding along to fractionally soften the scent. It's all fairly even and well pitched for the style, leading into a palate that reveals some marginally dirty, sweet 'n' sour edges to its uncomplicated rosé flavour, which I struggle to get past. On the plus side it's brightly flavoured, appropriately weighted and fairly persistent, but ultimately, I feel it lacks the freshness and zing I so adored in its predecessor (2010-89pts).

O Keen rosé drinkers will find a welcomed friend in the 2011 Mitchell Harris, but to me, it looks more like a good Sunday arvo café quaff, rather than the pacesetting, dry and racy rosé the 2010 was. Drink to 2012.
87 points


Friday, October 21, 2011

BINDI COMPOSITION PINOT NOIR 2010

- Macedon Ranges, VIC
- $49-$60
- Cork (Vintage dated Diam)
- 13.5%alc

Honest, informed opinions go a long way in (independent) wine retail. I was about to buy Curly Flat's 2008 Pinot Noir, when I was told; 'It's shit. Consider something else.' So (without having my arm twisted), here I am with a Bindi Macedon fix. Happy too.

Irresistibly funky and savoury, meaty and musky, with a beguiling depth of well ripened pinot fruit, Bindi's 2010 Composition reveals a beautifully floral fragrance of earthy red and blackcurrants with smooth edges of licorice and vanilla oak. By some distance, it's the most interesting Composition I've sniffed. Showing classic Bindi feel; soft, supple and unforced, its palate just graces its way through the mouth, dropping its earthy, cedary and spicy announcement of red berry fruits with real delicacy and fragility. The whole, texturally driven package is appropriately bound by an extremely fine-grained, powdery structure that lingers long into the mouth, depositing real tightness and lasting savoury impression across a taste of red licorice. It's a truly ethereal Bindi pinot noir, with plenty of potential for secondary development.

ü+ Absolutely fantastic. Working its way up a gradual curve to greatness, through increased elegance and complexity, Bindi's Composition Pinot Noir keeps getting better every year. At this rate, you might wanna put your pre-orders in for any Block K pinots now. Drink to 2019.
94 points


Thursday, October 20, 2011

TEN MINUTES BY TRACTOR 10X PINOT NOIR 2010

- Mornington Peninsula, VIC
- $32-$39
- Screwcap
- 14.0%alc

Ever wondered where Ten Minutes by Tractor gets its unique name from? It's derived from the estate's 3 original vineyards, and the 'ten minutes by tractor' separating each of them.

Enhanced by some very fragrant caramel-like oak, notes of spearmint and a spicy high tone of cinnamon, the 2010 10X underpins these leading, sweet and savoury suggestions with a typical yet attractively varietal base of juicy, succulent cherries, rhubarbs and strawberries, to altogether announce a nose of brightly lit charm. Without being too complex or other worldly, it actually smells delicious, in an over achieving style for an entry level pinot. Travelling along a light-medium bodied framework, its satiny palate races into the mouth, releasing an ultimately youthful taste of varietal cherries and clove which persist and evolve with surprising length. As the progression continues, the back palate practically steals the show, by punching out an intensifying and gripping, yet still lithe, structure of succulent acids and fine-boned, powdery tannins, underscored by sour-edged meaty notes and a dry rub of herbs and spice. Its composition is set particularly well for an earlier drinker, yet there's sufficient character to see it improve in the bottle.

ü+ The 2010 10X is a pleasingly varietal yet rather intense, racy little Mornington pinot, guided well by aroma, weight and penetration. It's a wine where I can see development but I'm already liking its youthful aggression. Consequently, it's great value for now or later. Drink to 2016.
92 points


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

YALUMBA EDEN VALLEY VIOGNIER 2010

- Eden Valley, SA
- $16-$25
- Screwcap
- 13.5%alc

Despite being Australia's self appointed champion of viognier, I used to think Yalumba held a single ace in their pack when it came to the white Rhône variety. However, recent years have caused a rethink on my behalf, as Louisa Rose and her team are fashioning more complexity and restrained elegance into their entry level wines. The Eden Valley Viognier in particular, is starting to show flashes of becoming a mini-Virgilius.

Apparently lacking the savoury elegance and charm I'd hoped for, the 2010 Eden Valley Viognier initially opts towards a primary, fruit driven fragrance of tinned peaches, apricot juice and lychees, with a floral, rose petal-like edge contradicted by a spiky, erratic hit of exotic spice. It does flirt with pungency on the nose and I might look over this at a speed tasting, but then, as if right on cue, the palate comes forth and saves the day, by delivering a bright, long and creamy expression of well controlled varietal flavour. It's bold and slightly unctuous, unleashing a real mouthful of white peach, apricot skin and citrus zest characters, before it finishes long with creamy apricot notes and a penetrative framework of glistening, grapefruit-like acids, all washed around the mouth with a touch of phenolic fuzz which dances to a funky beat whilst staying true to the rhythm. For a pungently varietal, fruity viognier, it works.

ü I generally don't go for viogniers like this and on inspection of the nose I thought; 'ooh. Looks like another one of those viogniers Chris.' But amazingly, it's a load of fun to drink. It is quite (stone) fruity and vaguely phenolic in the typical viognier way, but its textural richness, penetrative length and balancing acids complete a fine wine. It ain't no mini-Virgilius though. Drink to 2013.
91 points


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

HAHNDORF HILL WINERY 'GRU' GRÜNER VELTLINER 2011

- Adelaide Hills, SA
- $28
- Screwcap
- 12.0%alc

Larry Jacobs and Marc Dobson started the ball rolling with their first grüner veltliner (2010-90pts), setting the pace for several other Adelaide Hills vignerons who are now keen to adopt the variety as a regional specialty. In coming years, expect to see 'gru-vees' from the likes of Geoff Hardy's K1 label, Henschke, Deviation Road, Nova Vita, Mt Bera and doubtless others.

Hahndorf Hill's 2011 GRU is fresh and simple yet fashionably delicate, with a pristine fragrance of ripe nashi pears lifted by notes of apple blossom and white flower, providing perfumed appeal in an enticingly feminine, youthful manner. Energetically driven and harnessed by a brisk movement of mouth-watering acids, its texturally sound palate delivers a clean accent of white-fleshed fruits and lemons which develop more chalk and pear skin-like flavour down the line, but ultimately, it's about as spotless as a Ferrari with a kilometre on the clock. There's a noted evolution in structure and movement in the 2011, conveyed without sacrificing any purity of character, making this wine a slightly more serious, yet equally as delicious GRU as its predecessor. Excellent.

ü+ Full marks to Larry Jacobs and Marc Dobson for taking a promising wine and making it better, immediately. If the Adelaide Hills savalanche is wearing you a bit thin, then brace yourself for the welcomed sight of an oncoming gru-nami. Drink to 2014.
92 points


Saturday, October 15, 2011

ASHTON HILLS CHARDONNAY 2009

- Adelaide Hills, SA
- $35-$47
- Screwcap
- 13.5%alc

Ashton Hills has long been one of the Adelaide Hills' most underrated makers of a handsomely made and fruited, showy chardonnay, so its followers will be saddened to know 2009 marks the wine's second to last release. As sad as it was to hear of Stephen George grafting all his chardonnay over to pinot noir (from a chardonnay lover's perspective), if one guy in the Adelaide Hills did such a thing, you'd want it to be Stephen. And then I drink this...

Well leesy and cheesy yet contained, with scents of green melons, lemon, apples and minerals rising above a savoury background of nutty oak and cinnamon, Ashton Hills' 2009 unleashes a classically proportioned chardonnay fragrance, by combining delicacy with intensity and weaving clean fruit through its human inputs. The palate doesn't disappoint either, smashing a rich array of white stonefruit and citrus flavours with nutty oak undertones throughout the mouth with a wonderfully nervy, racy energy and stunning length. It doesn't stop there though, as it finishes savoury and funky, with lingering notes of cream cheese and a more buttery, popcorn-like impression of oak polished up beautifully by a seamless, lengthening extract of mouth watering acids. It's far from orthodox or formulaic, reflective of the maker himself.

ü+ A totally convincing expression of a superbly manufactured wine. What a shame the second to last release of Ashton Hills Chardonnay is probably the best I've had. If early indications of the vintage are anything to go by, the final wine from 2010 should be a belter. Drink to 2017.
94 points

Thursday, October 13, 2011

LARRY CHERUBINO THE YARD ACACIA VINEYARD SHIRAZ 2009

- Frankland River, WA
- $26-$37
- Screwcap (Stelvin-Lux)
- 14.9%alc

Great Southern shiraz, in particular that from the Frankland River and Mt Barker sub-regions, is a burgeoning Australian style in need of a champion to sell its wares to the world. Enter Larry Cherubino, a former James Halliday Winery of the Year recipient, whose determination to promote Western Australia's diverse terroir might just fit the bill.

The 2009 Acacia Vineyard is a ripe yet savoury edged shiraz, strongly punctuated by a malty scent of cedar/coffee oak. Those adverse to a bit of wood in their shiraz might wanna proceed with caution here, but it is some classy smelling oak, whilst running through its presence is a simultaneously bright and dark expression of blueberries, plums and licorice, graced by a gentle air of violets, white pepper and clove. Extended aeration definitely helps. The medium-weighted palate begins with a savoury edged taste of sour dark fruits, before its profile becomes more interesting and layered, progressing into a grainier, slightly astringent finish. That's where a beautifully defined, rich notice of licorice emerges from the dark fruit and soothes long into the aftertaste, checked by ground spices and a structural backbone whose crunchy acids and brittle tannins show a slightly nervy edge, suggesting another year or two in the bottle may be of benefit.

O Lingering tastes of licorice and spice charcterise the high points of the 2009 Acacia Vineyard, but a slightly nervy structure and an oaky bouquet reside at the opposite end. If patience is on your side I'd recommend it, but for immediate drinking there are better options available. Drink 2013-2019.
90 points


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

CLIMBING PINOT GRIS 2011

- Orange, NSW
- $21.95
- Screwcap
- 12.0%alc

According to the media release accompanying Climbing's 2011 Pinot Gris, pinot gris/grigio now outsells riesling in Australia. A quick glance towards the Wine Reviews section of this website will show I'm not completely helping that cause, but it pleases me to discover more and more Australian winemakers, like Climbing's Debbie Lauritz, are treating gris with real purpose these days (varied fruit ripeness, a little lees stirring and some barrel fermentation being applied here).

Displaying the grape's pale orange/bronze colours, Climbing's 2011 Pinot Gris releases an aroma of brown nashi pears, jasmine flowers and lemon pith with a faint tone of honeysuckle. It's a little subdued, rising with more of a slow, gentle softness than a piercing intensity. Clean texture and a well controlled richness perform the palate's greatest tricks, unleashing flavours of ripe, juicy nashi pears and apples cleanly checked by a soft acidity that reveals a hint of tang at the finish. If anything, like many Australian gris, you could question its outright clarity or possible blandness (speaking pessimistically), but happily, this one has more than enough going on with its other attributes to rise from the pack, whilst within its own context, there's not a hair out of place such is its balance. It's a good gris with textural focus at its core.

ü Gris lovers (or cafe owners) should really go for Climbing's clean, rich, smartly textured and measured 2011. A bit more length and cut and I might've found myself a real revelation too. It's well made from a challenging year. Drink to 2013.
90 points


SMELL CHECK: PEARS AND PINOT GRIS

Here's the first of what will hopefully become a regular series of posts on this website. It's another idea I've had for a while but a recent comment helped speed up its introduction.

Basically, born out of my personal search for calibration, 'Smell Check' will be spent comparing the scent of various fruits, foods, etc, with a wine style they're commonly associated with. Its purpose is to see whether I can actually draw myself a correlation, whilst getting better tuned to what it is I'm writing about here. There will be nothing scientific about it - no solutions, distillations, titrations - nothing of the sort, just the simple apparatus of my own, human nose. As we know, however, the human nose itself is subject to great subjectivity. Comparison of taste will not come into Smell Check.

Like everything on this blog Smell Check is a work in progress, and any feedback in regards to how it may be improved will be greatly appreciated.

For the first Smell Check I've gone with pears and pinot gris. I've selected a trio of pears; your basic packham, a rather old green nashi pear that seems to have gone yellow and a brown nashi pear. To me, due to their water-like nature, nashi pears are the style I typically associate with pinot gris.

The pears are chopped up into small segments, placed into a wine tasting glass, then if required, they are gently muddled, with a drop of water or two added to help release aroma (neither was required here).

Then, I compare aromas; pear vs gris. For the record, Climbing's 2011 Orange region Pinot Gris is the wine, and yes, it does say on the back label it contains notes of pear.

The comparative results

Packham pear: Were this a blind sniffing I might just call this apple, as there's something rather green and crisp about it. It's clearly pear though, yet it has a much sharper (and livelier) aroma than the softer smelling gris. Honestly, I'm not drawing a huge (if any) correlation here.

Brown nashi pear: Immediately softer and juicier than the packham and conversely, smells much more like the gris. There's also a sweetish edge here, which I also find in the gris. A similar intensity too. The likeness exists, without having to use too much imagination. We could be onto a winner here...

Green nashi pear: Has a funkier edge and not as aromatic as the brown pear, which could just be its age. It does however, have a dirtier scent, robbing it of crystal clear water-like clarity, which is common to the gris. Definitely some similarities here.

In conclusion
I must say colour alone has something to say here (look at the photo), but it's easy to see why people draw a line of similarity between the scent of pinot gris and pears. There's a similar softness, juiciness and intensity, and of course, character. This particular pinot gris drew a far greater resemblance to nashi pears, especially brown, but I can see how other, less worked pinot gris might smell more like other members of the pear family. Nashi pears and gris? It's there for me!

RIESLINGFREAK NO.5 RIESLING 2011

- Clare Valley, SA
- $20-$25
- Screwcap
- 11.5%alc

Long recognised for their blisteringly dry rieslings, many of Clare's winemakers have found a new challenge in adjusting to the oncoming fad of off-dry styles. Rieslingfreak's John Hughes has taken an interesting and perhaps cautious approach to his off-dry riesling, by releasing a wine with relatively modest residual sugar (10.8g/L) checked by a fair T/A of 7.56g/L.

Fruity, rather tropical scents of tinned pineapple, green melon and mango announce the aroma of Rieslingfreak's No. 5, which is more openly expressive than its dry stablemate, without being as pure or direct. Interestingly, there is a faint thread of sweetness that juices through the palate, however, were it not for the labelling, I might not have mentioned it, as it seems to effect the wine's acidic backbone as much as (if not more than) its taste. The acidity actually does well to deliver the wine to the finish, where notes of kiwi-fruit and pineapple join its ripe melon/lemon squash notes, but unfortunately, there remains some softer, sweet edges to the finish, which are never truly zipped up or cleansed by its structure. I must say, as I sit over these off-dry Clare rieslings, my enjoyment of them generally lessens as the bottle empties. Not a good thing in my opinion.

O Although a fair enough interpretation that's well suited to younger drinkers, Rieslingfreak's No. 5 is fairly typical of my recent experiences with off-dry Clare rieslings. My loyalty clearly remains with Clare's dry styles. Drink to 2015.
88 points


Monday, October 10, 2011

PETALUMA BRIDGEWATER MILL CHARDONNAY 2009

- Adelaide Hills, SA
- $17-$25
- Screwcap
- 13.5%alc

Petaluma's second label was once famed for possessing one of the Adelaide Hills' most exciting sauvignon blancs, but personally, I view chardonnay as Bridgewater Mill's trump card. The ludicrously over-achieving 2004 (93pts) was a standout example of what should be a 'mini-Petaluma' chardonnay.

Brightly lit and cleanly scented in a carefully fruited fashion that might lack forthright complexity, Bridgewater Mill's 2009 nonetheless reveals a citrus driven fragrance of nectarines and melons with a slightly spicy touch of nutty vanilla oak and perhaps a note of soap for varietal funk. Palate-wise, it's juicy and fleshy enough to begin, as it softly unfolds a glossy statement of bell-clear white/yellow chardonnay fruits and creamed nuts that develop pungency down the palate, where notes of sweet white peach and grapefruit emerge. It's well backed by a spotless formation of refreshing, balanced acids, making the whole package look remarkably well made and considerately crafted in the winery. Basically, it isn't gonna set the world on fire, but it's exactly the type of 'built-for-the-now' chardonnay that could (and should) muscle in on the pinot grigio/sauvignon blanc obsessed lunchtime crowd. Full marks to Petaluma for hitting the mission statement right on the head here.

ü Charmingly balanced, elegant and subtle, yet proudly varietal, the 2009 is easily the best release since 2004. It's a real step in the right direction for Bridgewater Mill - precisely the sort of chardonnay they should be releasing under this label. Drink to 2013.
90 points


Sunday, October 9, 2011

MITCHELL HARRIS SANGIOVESE 2010

- Pyrenees, VIC
- $24.95
- Screwcap
- 13.0%alc

Much like McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley, Pyrenees reds tend to bare a strong stamp of regional influence that's hard to ignore (concentrated dark fruits, firm tannins and eucalyptus notes instantly come to mind). In paying respect to that, the team at Mitchell Harris have taken a deliberately simple and rustic approach to their first sangiovese (gentle crushing and de-stemming, 8 year old French oak maturation), just to see what the Pyrenees style is all about.

Happily rustic within its winemaker's intentions, the 2010 Mitchell Harris Sangiovese shows an air of savoury quality above its black cherry and currant fruit base. A sly, regional whiff of dry leaf resides without dominating, as it's equally matched by a gentle note of dry spice, expressed in a savoury, twiggy kind of way. There's a commendable litheness to the palate, which shows elements of both regional and varietal influence, however, with time, its place of origin speaks ever so clear. It competently captures the lighter, more supple aspects of sangiovese, merging a dry, dark and savoury taste of black cherries underlined by ripe, juicy fruits into a nuttier finish marked by notes of bay leaf and a curling lick of well controlled, chalky tannins. Its tight structural outline provides much needed discipline, clicking everything into place nicely.

ü A typically ripe, dry and dark fruited Pyrenees red, which shows the region might actually be able to pull off some of the lighter styles (in its own way of course). As ever, the methodical winemaking of John Harris has helped paint a clear picture here. Drink to 2016.
90 points


A MEDITERRANEAN INSPIRED DINNER FOR A DARK, DRY AND RUSTIC VICTORIAN SANGIOVESE

Chicken cacciatore.
This rather intense example is flavoured with cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, onion, anchovies, red wine, tomato paste, oregano, salt, pepper and a bit of orange juice. The rice would come later, of course.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

OZ WINE TOONS


Unbeknown to veteran wine scientist, Edgar, he had just been hit on for the first time in his life.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

PETER LEHMANN STONEWELL SHIRAZ 1996

- Barossa Valley, SA
- $73-$110
- Cork
- 14.0%alc

As Australia evolves to better define its own distinctive terroir through sub-regional definition, we shouldn't forget how many of our very best wines represent a skillfully blended composition of multiple vineyards. Peter Lehmann's magnificent 1996 Stonewell harnesses an appetising combination of predominantly north/north-central Barossa shiraz, drawing fruit from the sub-regions of Greenock, Stonewell, Siegersdorf, Moppa and Koonunga Hill. Whatever's going on here - works in my opinion!

Showing a gorgeous fragrance with ample character, complexity and vibrancy, Peter Lehmann's 1996 Stonewell reveals a balanced, savoury nose underlined by splendid depth of fruit. There's varnish and mushroom scents, maybe a hint of truffle too, with flicks of white pepper and classic cedar/vanilla oak complementing a dry aromatic edge to its wonderfully regional, stained black fruit base. By Barossa standards, its palate is gently weighted and practically medium-bodied in the way it draws out a perfectly elegant, leathery expression of blackcurrant and red cherry flavours; however, an incredibly lively finish really steals the show here. Very long and vivid, its growing leathery and fresh vanilla complexity is kept alive and kicking to the end, courtesy of a binding extract of ultra-fine tannins and slick acid which complement its deliciously persistent flavour without muscling it out. Oh yeah. A 96 for the '96.

ü+ A beautifully complex, seamlessly balanced, somewhat subtle and elegant Barossa shiraz with plenty of fruit richness at its core. It's such a fine example of what the style is capable of with a bit of age. Drink to 2014.
96 points


ST HALLETT OLD BLOCK SHIRAZ 1998

- Barossa Valley/Eden Valley, SA
- $76-$110
- Cork
- 14.0%alc

Call me outdated or boring, but two of my very favourite Barossa shiraz labels remain Peter Lehmann's Stonewell and St Hallett's Old Block. It appears Stuart Blackwell believed the Crows' last premiership season offered some pretty fair fruit quality, as he chose to rest his flagship wine in American oak (new and two year old) for 28 months that year.

Scents of melting chocolate, brown leaf litter and soy reside in the 1998 Old Block's deep, settled fragrance, sparked by blackcurrant and plum fruits with a siding of leather. It's conclusively dark, without being vicious whatsoever. Starting out in a medium weight range, its palate quickly pumps up through the middle section, jumping into a much fuller, juicier framework that moves with good persistence, richness and softness. Its curvaceous shape contains a well directed concoction of earthy dark plum, berry and black olive flavours, which progress with a fine line of sour-edged acids and emerging touches of cedar and spice. It happily personifies the comforting aspects of good Barossa shiraz.

ü A classic regional style that just lacks the forthright complexity to be truly exceptional. Whether it'll develop those characters in coming years is difficult to see, but there's absolutely no denying the immediate drinking pleasure on offer here. Drink to 2018.
94 points


Sunday, October 2, 2011

NEPENTHE THE GOOD DOCTOR PINOT NOIR 2010

- Adelaide Hills, SA
- $34-$47
- Screwcap
- 14.0%alc

Even though I've always cast my doubts over Nepenthe's ability to produce truly great pinot noir, I remain constantly on the lookout for worthy examples of the style from my home state. So, when Nepenthe's 2010 Good Doctor recently grabbed the bling for 'Best Pinot Noir' (judge's choice) at the South Australian Wine of the Year awards, I felt compelled to take a trip back up through Balhannah to investigate.

Quite fragrant and arrestingly varietal for an Adelaide Hills pinot; particularly a Nepenthe, the 2010 Good Doctor opens to a pretty, musky nose scented with bright cherries, rhubarb, cured meats and soft vanilla oak, with side notes of spearmint, caramel and clove providing a lively edge. Its ripeness and handling are pitched about right, making the whole aromatic presentation a shock in the best of ways. Silky, long and wide, the palate doesn't really let the wine down, but I would've loved to have seen more tightness, focus and flesh, as its meaty, juicy strawberry flavours seem to wash around the mouth in an unusually spread, slightly loose fashion, without ever spiralling down the palate with taut direction, or ever commanding the mouth's upper reaches with a definitive structural backbone. Having said that, what is there is composed, balanced and completely ready to drink, while its smooth fruit shows good persistence and a pleasingly herbal, smoked meat and tomato-like aftertaste. Essentially, its quality reminds me of some of Victoria and Tasmania's better second labels, when really, it's an Adelaide Hills reserve label.

ü I'm happy to say Nepenthe's 2010 Good Doctor is the best pinot noir I've had from their stable, however, it might be better suited to the short term. If it's a precursor of what's to come from the Adelaide Hills' 2010 pinot crop, then I'll be waiting with eager anticipation. Drink 2012-2015.
91 points


ASHTON HILLS

Probably the biggest news coming out of Ashton Hills in recent times is that of Stephen George grafting all of his white varieties (with the exception of riesling) over to pinot noir (crazy dude!). So, from the 2011 vintage onwards, the only Adelaide Hills based wines coming out of Ashton Hills will be Stephen's pinot noirs, the Salmon Brut (a pinot noir based sparkling rose) and possibly a riesling.

Now, as much as I love Ashton Hills' pinot noir (and I do!), this news saddens me somewhat. Stephen's toils with the Alsatian trio of gewurztraminer, riesling and pinot gris, whether blended in his 'Three' wine or in single varietal form, typically brandished more varietal punch and flavour than most from the Hills, thanks to Stephen's daring winemaking. His 'Three' wine in particular, has become something of an Asian food classic over here in Adelaide. But the saddest news has to be the loss of Ashton Hills Chardonnay. Over the years Stephen's shown a real knack for producing complex, richly textured, brightly fruited and well worked chardonnay (in my opinion the Adelaide Hills' best performing variety and Ashton Hills' best wine outside of pinot noir). I'm sorry to drop names but if you look to James Halliday, recent Ashton Hills' Chardonnays have regularly scored in the 95-96 point range and been included in his 'Best of the Best' lists. Kicking the point home is the excellent quality of Ashton Hills' current 2009 Chardonnay. Sigh.

Clearly, the wonderfully eccentric Stephen George is just another man lured by the impossible to deny sexual attraction of fine pinot noir. There's no problems from me there and honestly, it's actually good to see an Australian winery fine-tune, or perhaps 'varietally cleanse' their range for once, as opposed to constantly padding it with new wines and styles based on market trends.

At first I was under the opinion Stephen's move to a more pinot-centric Ashton Hills might've been a personal one; the man is a pinot freak, but a conversation with an Adelaide Hills retailer took me to the impression it might've been a commercially motivated one. According to said retailer, Stephen is hounded by retailers, restauranteurs, airlines etc for his pinot noir, not his whites - so, if it's Ashton Hills Pinot Noir everyone wants, then it's more Ashton Hills Pinot Noir everyone gets. Fair enough really.

At the end of all this, I wish Stephen George, one of my true winemaking idols, all the best with the transition. Good luck Stephen!

Ashton Hills tasting notes are posted below

Ashton Hills Salmon Brut 2009 ($35) Indistinct nose. Clean, crisp, relatively savoury palate with some dry biscuit and strawberry flavour. Needs more character but will bottle age help? Maybe, but for $35 I'd be investing my money elsewhere. 87

Ashton Hills Pinot Gris 2010 ($30) Oodles of character for pinot gris, helped along by late picking, residual sugar and the use of oak. Poached pears and barrel ferment notes on the nose, with some cheesy/sweet aspects as well. Palate too reflects plenty of flavour, with winemaking and rich texture at the fore and a clear taste of residual sweetness to finish. A real 'standout' gris. 89

Ashton Hills Gewurztraminer 2010 ($30) The winemaking (barrel fermentation and lees ageing) isn't as obvious in Stephen's traminer as it is his gris, which is immediately bright, expressive and proudly varietal. Check cleanly scented lychees, rose petals and spice for fragrant appeal, as well as a punchy, juicy palate marked by some of that deceptively sweet and savoury, pure traminer fruit. It finishes particularly refreshing and dry and would make a smart drink for a bright, sunny day. 90

Ashton Hills Chardonnay 2009 ($40) Outstanding nose, immediately makes me stand up and take notice. It mimics nuts and butter with clean melons, grapefruit and white peach all living in harmony without any component going to excess. The palate is notably mouthfilling in the classic Ashton Hills style, richly textured and flavoured, bright, complex and full of impact from start to finish, yet still cleanly balanced and utterly spotless. A fine combination of assertive fruit and winemaking. (full review soon) 94

Ashton Hills Piccadilly Valley Pinot Noir 2010 ($30) Has settled down nicely since I first tasted this wine some 5 months ago. Possesses a simple yet correct, ripe red fruit and vanilla oak nose, with a palate whose juicy richness errs towards medium-full bodied territory but remains soft and supple enough to end with balance and a refreshingly clean structure. It's a good all-night quaffing pinot, but I do note the slight increase in price from a few years back moves it slightly further away from 'quaffing' zone for me. 90

Ashton Hills Estate Pinot Noir 2009 ($40) Whereas I noted an improvement in integration of the PV wine from 5 months ago, this I didn't. It still looks a bit baked, ripe and dark fruited with some meaty/raisiny aspects, which effects both the varietal integrity of its perfume and its texture. Finish looks a little rough too. It's a fair enough, lighter weight red, it's just hardly a great pinot in my view. 89

Ashton Hills Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 ($60) Has a sweetly fruited punch of red plums and cherries with fresh and fragrant, spicy vanilla oak coming along for the ride. The palate also looks a bit sweeter fruited than the best vintages, and although it similarly lacks the perfume, delicacy and elegance of those wines, it comes into its own on a long, commanding, agreeably meaty finish, opened up and flared out by an expansive extract of dry, grainy, assertive tannins. So if a proudly structured pinot is your thing then this looks pretty smart, otherwise, it's probably best served in the cellar for a while. 92

Ashton Hills Sparkling Shiraz 2005 ($40) Shows the ripeness of its Clare vintage with a sweetish (dosage?), concentrated, dark fruited and fractionally meaty style that sometimes suits sparkling reds, but this time it just doesn't work for me. Has the structure and depth to age for a while yet, so maybe time will help it integrate and gain further savoury complexity. The 2002 (from a much better vintage) was looking pretty good around this time last year. 89

Ashton Hills: the future is clear (if a slightly hazy red colour)

NEPENTHE

Much like regional neighbours Ashton Hills, Nepenthe seems to have undergone some notable changes since my last visit. But unlike Ashton Hills, notable change seems to be part of the scenery at Nepenthe.

Nepenthe's wine quality continues to remain steady in a middle of the road kind of way, but outside of that, things tend to shift around fairly quickly for this assertively marketed brand. They're certainly unlikely to die standing still.

The last five years have seen a change of ownership, change of head winemaker and a handsomely redeveloped cellar door, but today I'm going to concentrate more on what's going on with the wines. So here's a look at what might've gone through the heads of the people at Nepenthe recently.

- Let's get serious with sauvignon blanc
Although I don't have the official figures, I assume the carload after busload after carload of trendy, sharply dressed Gen-Xers who rock up to Nepenthe's cellar door on sunny days has something to do with their sauvignon blanc. Fortunately for more discerning drinkers, Nepenthe's recently adopted a more grown up approach to tackling the variety. 2009 marked the arrival of Nepenthe's 'Petraea' Sauvignon Blanc, a wood aged rendition of the variety (5 months in 2500L barrels for the 2010) which goes to show Nepenthe does have a vested interest in pleasing the more serious consumer. Going off the current release, I believe Nepenthe has a bit more work to do to perfect the style (like many from the Hills in my opinion), but their extra effort to produce a top class wine is highly commendable. $28 isn't too bad either.

- Let's get serious with pinot gris
From 2012 onwards I'm told Nepenthe will be getting 'serious' with pinot gris. Whether or not that means an addition to their reserve 'Pinnacle' range or sprucing up their standard gris I'm not sure, but there will be a change towards a a more worked style. I was recently informed pinot gris/grigio now outsells riesling in Australia, which might validate the move in some respects, as well as compensate for those estate chardonnay vines I saw grafted over to pinot gris (chardonnay has clearly been Nepenthe's best performer over the last 5 years in my opinion). Let's hope the 2012 vintage plays into their hands.

- Let's do something about our reds
Although Nepenthe has traditionally been associated with one of the the more unusual red wine portfolios in the Adelaide Hills, the company now seems to be moving in a slightly more orthodox direction, with some of the red focus shifting from those erratic cabernet styles to the more regionally accepted shiraz. The 'Gate Block' Shiraz now signifies Nepenthe's efforts to create a high quality, regional take on the variety. Nepenthe's tempranillo actually looked quite smart on my visit, but I wonder how long the winery will persist with their much maligned Adelaide Hills zinfandel.

- Let's take a look at the results
Despite the noted transitions surrounding Nepenthe's savvy, gris and fuller reds, it was two of the brand's mainstays; the Ithaca Chardonnay and Good Doctor Pinot Noir, which recently impressed a few of our country's show judges. The 2010 Ithaca having picked up the 'Best White Wine' Trophy at the 2011 Riverina Wine Show and the 2010 Good Doctor winning judge's choice for 'Best Pinot Noir' at the 2011 South Australian Wine of the Year awards. The 2010 Ithaca looks a cleverly made (in both vineyard and winery), very classy wine for its modest price, and although the 2010 Good Doctor was unavailable for tasting, it was available for purchase and I picked up a bottle for full review soon.

Nepenthe tasting notes posted below

Nepenthe Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($19) A very clean and smart looking, typically regional savvy, with good fragrance, brightness and persistence to its ably textured herbal/gooseberry characters. Nepenthe believe the 2011 is one of the best sauvignon blancs they've made in the last 10 years and I'd have to agree. A proud cafe/pub/sitting and sipping-on-Nepenthe's-lawn wine if ever there was one. 90

Nepenthe Petraea Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($28) I was expecting a big jump from the standard wine but it just never really happened. The relatively passive oak and extra bottle age seems to have dumbed down its fruit without really contributing much in the way of complexity. There's some mineral/banana custard notes and a fair push of smooth texture, but it just lacks the vibrancy, shape and structure I ultimately seek. Still, not bad though, and I'll be keeping my eye on it in the future, particularly given the fine 'standard' wine from 2011. 90

Nepenthe Pinot Gris 2010 ($19) Slightly dull, predictable nose reflecting fairly simple, bland white pears. Clean, straight forward palate would make for fair summertime quaffing if not much else. 86

Nepenthe Chardonnay 2010 ($19) 93% unwooded. Once again bit bland, uninspiring, with not a hell of a lot to pick in the way of fruit or winemaking tricks. It is however, cleaner and fresher than the gris, with a finish that spritzes up at the end. 87

Nepenthe Ithaca Chardonnay 2010 ($25) Outstanding value for a 'reserve' Adelaide Hills chardonnay from a reputed name. It has a very clever, fresh and complex nose with some savoury complexity - touches of mineral, yellow nectarine, flint and matchstick with a buttered popcorn-like oak component, but it's all very refined and in line. The palate begins clean, fresh and tight, before developing flavour and pungency towards the finish. Bright acids. Clean wine. Good stuff. 92

Nepenthe Pinot Noir 2010 ($19) Medicinal, sweet red cherry and herb nose, bit off putting really. I hope it's an aeration issue. The palate's a bit sweet 'n' sour, thin and conclusively lacks stuffing, subsequently revealing an unfortunate edginess. Disappointing. 84

Nepenthe The Good Doctor Pinot Noir 2009 ($38) Immediately more satisfying and varietal than the base range wine, with a nose of dusty, meaty cherry kernels, and although its palate enters with a pleasing silkiness, it quickly drops away towards the finish and that's what's left lingering in my mind. 88

Nepenthe Tempranillo 2008 ($25) A real surprise, particularly fragrantly, with its smooth, musky, mushroomy aromas of varnishy red cherries and well handled oak depicting something of the old world in a convincing manner. The vibrant and well constructed palate's bright and smooth to begin but ends with prickly spices and lithe structure. Good wine. 90

Nepenthe The Sirens Zinfandel 2007 ($35) Thin, green, very herbal nose with some cherry elements. Soupy palate, lacks stuffing and vitality, ends awkward and disjointed. Hard to see what's going on here, especially for $35. 84

Nepenthe Gate Block Shiraz 2008 ($38) Almost anything would look good after that zinfandel, and indeed, the 2008 Gate Block might've benefited. It has a bit of a multi-faceted, ripe Adelaide Hills shiraz nose, with meats, menthol/varnish, red and black plums and blueberries. Although smooth to start, with a creamy oak driven texture, the palate looks a bit baked around the edges and could do with more fruit brightness. 89