Monday, January 31, 2011


- Big Rivers Zone, NSW
- $11-$18
- Screwcap
- 13.5%alc

Reliable performers among Australia's mass produced, sub-$15 pinot class are so thin on the ground you could count them on one hand. In fact, here we go; De Bortoli's Windy Peak and Trentham Estate's. If anyone has any suggestions for my remaining fingers I'd be very grateful.

Unsurprisingly Trentham's 2009 Pinot Noir smells ripe, with dark cherry and blackberry fruits graced by a meaty edge, but there's also a herbal, sappy and perhaps spicy note that is keenly varietal. The palate drinks fractionally warm and as a result is nothing if not straight forward by pinot noir standards, but that's it - it actually fits within pinot noir standards. Its warm climate fruit has imparted a body that's relatively medium-full for the variety, yet it's beautifully soft in its progression, unravelling true flavours of dark cherries, meats and light spice in the white pepper/cinnamon spectrum. As one should expect its refreshing, acid-based structure won't see this wine into the cellar, but there's definitely a backbone; it's clean in nature, devoid of harshness, with an ease of gentle accessibility that's bound to see streetwise quaffers aching for more.

ü+ A wonderful summertime quaffing red. Smooth, soft, silky and varietal; I continue to be amazed by what Trentham Estate can achieve with a $13, warm climate pinot. Drink now.
89 points

Sunday, January 30, 2011


- Yarra Valley, VIC
- $29-$35
- Cork
- 12.0%alc

If Tasmania's my first port of call for Australian sparklings (which it is), then the Yarra Valley would go pretty close to being my second. The Yarra delivered a trio of top class fizzers from 2004, under the labels of Yarrabank (93pts), Coldstream Hills (92pts from Feb '09) and the late release Yarra Burn Blanc de Blancs (93pts).

Still a youthful looking pale-straw colour, Coldstream Hills' 2004 presents a fresh nose scented with gently honeyed citrus fruits, white nectarines, nougat and creamed nuts in an evenly balanced fashion. Its aroma is fresh and invigorating - sheer delight really. Very creamy and rather sumptuous on entry, yet distinctly medium in weight, its palate pushes through a clean and clear mouthful of mineral and brine flavours with a soft, foamy finish framed by a surprisingly stringy cut of grapefruit-like acids. It could use a bit more effervescent tightness really, as its finish seems fractionally loose and fades away somewhat in structural intensity, but its good length of creamy, texture driven flavour remains a plus.

O Coldstream Hills' 2004 still blooms with the sexy fragrant qualities that made me fall in love with it 2 years ago, but it is starting to look a little loose through the back palate now, so I'd drink up. Drink now.
90 points

Friday, January 28, 2011


- Lower Hunter Valley, NSW
- $20-$35
- Screwcap
- 11.5%alc

Much like the single vineyard Steven's and Belford Semillons, Tyrrell's HVD (vines planted 1908) is a tireless over performer (especially at 20 bucks!), whether the requirements call for something to drink now or something to cellar with confidence. Strangely, it seems like only yesterday the HVD carried a retail tag closer to $50....

Almost looking like it was bottled yesterday, the 2005 HVD initially reveals a nose seemingly stuck in a bad place between youthful vitality and bottle aged complexity, but with a few deep breaths it opens up like a spring flower, shooting forth lemon/lime citrus and apple charged (and I mean charged) aromas laced with a pleasingly herbal, tobacco-like expression of its melon fruit. The palate introduces itself as rather round and smooth but its penetrative extension is perfectly pitched and completely up to task. Its simultaneously powerful, soft and fluffy impression of pure and vibrant, somewhat primary Hunter fruit pushes on with the drive of a sports car, moving to a truly long finish with a chalky, glistening extract of mouth puckering acids that make for an assertive and edgy, yet charming driver. There may be a hint of straw or even toast evident at the climax, but it's pretty hard to look past the HVD's texture, acid structure and persistence; all expressed in the classical style that's only possible in the Hunter.

ü+ Brilliant. For $20 (check Melbourne Street Fine Wine) the 2005 HVD is an absolute steal. In this Summer of Riesling, all of a sudden I feel like making a change to my own personal Summer of Semillon.... Drink to 2019.
94 points

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


- Southern Tasmania
- $29-$40
- Cork (Diam)
- 12.5%alc

Although his range now includes some of Tasmania's finest pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, it was with sparkling wine production that Steve Lubiana first cut his teeth on the island state. The Stefano Lubiana Brut remains one of Australia's best non-vintage styles.

An attractive note of white chocolate coated almonds announce the aromatic arrival of Stefano Lubiana's Brut, which is quite lively and fresh in its aperitif-style make-up, thanks to further suggestions of zingy citrus sherbet and light butter adding fragrant, cocktail party-esque appeal. Its very tight, crisp palate reveals a salty lick of oyster shell and granny smith apple flavour with grapefruit-like acids, driven along by a pulsating, mineral thread which makes its presence felt strongest through a zippy, drying finish marked additionally by a sly note of white cheese/leesy complexity. The only downside is the palate's a touch lean, especially through the middle section, where a fraction more richness and textural interest would've aided its fine structural elements immeasurably.

ü There's so much to like here as an aperitif style Tasmanian fizzer, but, call me boring, because 9 times out of 10 I'd prefer the ever reliable Jansz for $10 less. Drink now.
90 points


(From left to right)
Natural oyster with lime juice, cracked pepper, sliver of avocado , Roma tomato mince and fresh coriander
Natural oyster with lemon juice, cracked pepper, salmon roe and freshly cut chives
Barbecued potato slice with cream cheese, smoked salmon, chives and dill
Lobster tail meat in a white truffle butter sauce

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


- Tamar Valley, TAS
- $22-$25
- Screwcap
- 9.0%alc

Last year's welcomed news of Brown Brothers purchasing Tamar Ridge from Gunns Ltd cast blue skies over what was previously considered a grey cloud on Tasmanian wine. I love Tasmanian wine and I like the move by Brown Brothers, so I wish them all the best with their future endeavours on the Apple Isle.

There's quite a striking, deep golden colour to Tamar Ridge's 2007 Botrytis Riesling, which translates into a nose beset with some real botrytis influence. It's funky and almost rubbery, with an aroma of ultra-ripe stonefruits touched by hints of light honey, fig, faint citrus and something resembling burnt brown sugar/caramel. Any indication of riesling's primary lemon/lime citrus fruits have certainly been modified and developed here. On the palate it pumps a rich and luscious length of flavour, as its mouth-coating, even flow of orange/citrus marmalade characters morph into sticky toffee and apricot-like tones, which cumulatively display a near perfect, essential balance of rich sweetness and refreshing acidity throughout. Despite its substantial richness and impact, the whole package just seems so smooth, effortless and seamless, making it a dessert wine I'm more than happy to go back to after the first glass.

ü+ Made in a rich and ultimately satisfying style, the 2007 Kayena Vineyard is among the best Australian dessert rieslings I've had. It's actually surprised me. For all the hatred, Tamar Ridge certainly made some good wine while under the control of Gunns Limited.... Drink to 2013.
92 points

Sunday, January 23, 2011


- Mudgee, NSW
- $37-$53
- Screwcap
- 14.0%alc

It's such a shame that what could be the Mudgee region's flag bearing wine, Rosemount Mountain Blue, lies in a tangled mess of corporate ownership within one of Australia's least fashionable wine brands. I couldn't help but smile recently when an independent retailer told me; "I get all these guys coming in with black Wynns shirts but if I stock Rosemount they'd hit me in the face with it." Looking beyond these points, the Mountain Blue is actually capable of a standard equal to the very best shiraz cabernet sauvignons.

Brought to life by a complex unison of gravelly earth and boot polish aromas, the 2006 Mountain Blue seems so classically Australian in its old fashioned shiraz cabernet nose. With shiraz clearly in the driver's seat it puts up a bright, evenly ripened yet proudly meaty fragrance of dark currant fruits tickled by light, airy spices; with oak playing a heady yet smoothly courteous role, possibly more suggestive of American wood than French. These aromatic features transfer almost perfectly into its flavour profile, which courses along a very smooth, utterly seamless medium-bodied palate coated by rich chocolate oak and completed with lingering, sour-edged meaty aspects and a surprisingly lithe, fair structure that speaks more of zippy acids than coarse tannin.

ü The 2006 Mountain Blue seems a very good, methodically conceived Aussie red; more than perfect for red meat dishes, but it just lacks that something special in the way of structure, length and finesse. Ye olde warm climate Mudgee can definitely pull this style off though. Drink to 2018.
92 points

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011


- Margaret River, WA
- $12-$21
- Screwcap
- 13.5%alc

Brookland Valley's Margaret River sourced Verse 1 range would have to sit among the quiet over-achievers of Australia's 'heavily discounted brand champions' (I made that last bit up). The chardonnay in particular can excel, just as it did in 2006 (92pts). With some 50,000 wines in Australia, it spins me out to think someone 2,000km away might be drinking the same wine as you.

There's some fairly sweet and simple, peach and melon fruits evident on the nose of Brookland Valley's 2010 Verse 1, which is also graced by an edge of nuts and vanilla suggesting the human touch. The winemaker influence actually appeases me, because the fruit beneath doesn't exactly smell like the Margaret River's best. Its palate follows through with a soft, rounded dollop of straight forward fruit flavour announced in a suitably clean, bright manner, but its loose structural elements are rather lacking and as a result its length of fruit isn't drawn down the palate with enough emphasis. From nose to finish, it's truly a quaffer.

O For its low-end price (around $12-$13) Brookland Valley's 2010 Verse 1 Chardonnay isn't bad value, but its overly simple, clean fruit and uncomplicated structure force me to liken it as a sauvignon blanc drinker's chardonnay. Drink to 2013.
87 points

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Many modern, warm-blooded young males will be familiar with the 'Out of 10' system, yet the perhaps more thorough, astute and less hormonal wine critic typically prefers either a 100 point or 20 point system, or a rating out of 5 stars.

Before this new year gets too old there's just a few points I wanted to raise in regards to wine scoring, in particular how I perceive and relate to it. If it's a personal opinion piece you don't wish to read then read elsewhere.....

To some extent, I score wine because I've always been a numbers and stats man, but I also love having a definitive assessment of wine quality attached to my notes, expressed in a blunt, numerical form which I can look back upon. I guess my love of scoring dates back to the 1980s when I religiously read British video game magazines, who used to break down their game reviews into 5 different criteria for scoring, finalised by the most important score; overall. Even today, when I'm at casual gatherings drinking wine in the most relaxed sense, a numerically scored judgement will subconsciously, or perhaps automatically, enter my mind. This could be a problem!

However, this isn't to say scoring wine is either easy or automatic, as I regularly find designating a score the hardest part of completing a review for Australian Wine Journal. On numerous occasions, long after a 'tasting note' has been completed, I'll find myself going back to a wine, time after time, mouthful after mouthful; racking my brain thinking; 'how good (numerically speaking) is this wine?' In these instances I really understand those who use a scoring range, e.g. 88-91pts or 88/89pts, because this broader style of scoring is starting to make more and more sense to me across a number of wines, even though I've always stuck to a single score evaluation myself.

At present I really respect the approach taken by Wino Sapien, who will issue a single score, a score range or sometimes no score at all, depending on what fits best. I consider it; 'scoring without boundaries'. Personally I continue to issue a single score, largely because I can be a stubborn man stuck in his old ways, but also because I hold concerns a scoring range might confuse or narrow an already confusing and narrow scoring system (almost all my reviews fit within the 85-96 point bracket). Or perhaps it would simplify and widen it...

Additionally, there are also instances where I feel a wine requires no score at all, particularly at the lower end, where I'll often leave a note out altogether. Increasingly, it is the wines I would rate at 84 points or less that I find difficult to pinpoint a single score on. This stems from my lack of experience with sitting down at home evaluating highly unsatisfying wines, which itself is probably a direct result of me buying most of the wines I drink myself. Whether a wine is worth precisely 83, 80 or 77 points can be difficult, or perhaps even pointless to conclude, but the bottom line remains the same; don't buy it again Chris!

Due to my (fortunate) lack of experience with such wines, bottles like Jorgensen Hill's 2008 Shiraz prove as difficult as any for me to score. At time of assessment I quizzed myself; 'should it be 75, 77 or 79 points?', but I also asked; 'at that score range, does anyone; including me, actually care?'

Onto another note. As I see it, there are four types of wine critic who score wine:-
1. Those who overrate wine
2. Those who underrate wine
3. Those whose scores make little sense to me
4. Those whose judgement seems about right (this isn't to say I agree with everything these critics write, it's just that even when I disagree with their scores I can generally see where they're coming from)

Due to the objectivity of wine reviews, almost all critics are capable of traversing 3 of the 4 categories here, but all the same, there are some critics who seem harder to please than others and some who seem easier to please.

I actually appreciate and enjoy reading reviews from critics whom I might consider to be overrating wine (in certain cases of course). The reason being I can almost feel the enjoyment experienced by the writer whilst drinking, and actually enjoying wine is something very important to the root of its consumption. Whether I unanimously agree with these critics or not, on many occasions their unbridled enthusiasm gained through genuine satisfaction of a wine, relayed to me via text, has put a smile on my face. It's pleasing to read positive news from positive people. Most importantly, critics enjoying wine encourages consumers to enjoy wine.

As for those whom I consider to be underrating wine (compared to my tastes of course), I feel they play an important part to the industry, so long as their criticisms or harshness can be justified. If critics went around saying everything was just great and fine all the time, then more producers would be content to rest on their laurels. It is often the critic who puts down, whether fair or not, that stirs up the motivation within us to improve. As humans we have a natural tendency to remember the negative more than the positive. Although I personally draw some form of satisfaction from most of the wines I buy, I have tons of time for the critics who are willing to publish a wine's deficiencies in the face of other's glowing appraisal. So long as it's appropriate and in no way malicious of course.

As much as I try to keep an open mind about all subjective views, I still encounter the occasional assessment which makes little sense to me at all. Generally, these opinions show a collection of results I'd consider to be both under and overrating wine, as well as grouping wines whose quality might be yards apart (in my opinion) under the same score. To be honest, wine rating such as this rarely comes from individual critics. They are usually the results gathered from large tastings where a panel of judges assess hundreds/thousands of wines in just a day or so. I don't for a second believe my inability to comprehend such results relate to a lack of ability by critics (more likely me!). Rather, I believe summarising these tastings reflect the difficulties of not just trying to assess too many wines in too short a time frame, but also the difficulties of merging a group of people's opinions into one.

As for the final category, those who score appropriately, I obviously feel I fall under this category :), as should all proud critics. I imagine most people who read wine reviews would find the writers whose opinions best reflect their own and stick to them. We're quite fortunate in that as many different points of view there are on wine from a consumer side of things, there are almost as many different points of view from the critics themselves. Find whose opinions are right for your tastes and stick with them. Thanks in part to a commonsensical wine scoring system, the team at The Wine Front has done a wonderful job of connecting with Australia's modern wine consumer, with an approach that is at once contemporary, educational and entertaining.

From a blogger point of view, if there's only one critic you believe to be correct, then it has to be yourself. I don't think too many people out there would be knowingly under or overrating wines. If you're constantly disagreeing with your own opinions, then your mind probably isn't too in touch with your senses (or you're the least lucky person in the world when it comes to bottle variation!).

However, the more I read and compare the opinions of experienced critics to my own, the more a little voice tells me I might be on the overrating side of things. I believe there could be two main reasons for this.

Firstly, I personally buy (or pay for) almost all the wines I review on Australian Wine Journal. I've read enough and drunk enough wine over the years now to know what wines I'll probably like (which isn't to say I can tell if I'll like a wine before I drink it) and funnily enough, I tend to buy them. You don't think I'd purposely buy a bad wine do you? It's also fortunate I have fairly broad tastes...

Secondly, although I attempt to begin every note with a blank palate and clear mind, I actually look to extract enjoyment from every bottle of wine I drink, before I drink it. I enjoy drinking wine and sure as hell intend on continuing to enjoy it. This optimism and positivity could sometimes lead to a (slightly?) inflated score, but if I liked it, I liked it, and that's it. If I ever get to a point where the majority of my notes are harshly worded and matched with low scores, then that'll probably mean I'm not enjoying wine, in which case, I would have to ask myself; 'what the hell am I doing?'

Monday, January 17, 2011


- Canberra District
- $40-$50
- Screwcap
- 14.5%alc

After the disappointing 2009 Jack Reidy failed to quench my thirst for a genuine Clonakilla-styled Shiraz Viognier, I rushed out and compulsively bought the next cheapest option. Enter the O'Riada Shiraz, a wine which in years like 2007 (94pts) beautifully illustrates what makes the precise touch of Tim Kirk so special.

Although containing a measly 1% less viognier than the 2009 Jack Reidy (5% here), the O'Riada integrates it significantly better. Lifted by musky qualities and underlined by deep, dark shiraz fruit, its perfume runs a slick balance of ripe blackberries and meat alongside spicy, stalk-like suggestions of clove and ground pepper, with a wafer-like scent of vanilla/cedar oak thrown in as well. It's darker than some might expect from Clonakilla but it's definitely Clonakilla, and this point drives home in the mouth courtesy of a very supple, almost fluffy and barely medium-bodied palate backed by tight structural elements and a spicy aftertaste. In fact, its soft, meaty and sour-edged dark red/dark fruits are assertively wound up by a tight line of grainy, gritty tannins and drying acids, so the wise among us might sit the 2009 O'Riada aside for a few more years, allowing it to unfold and blossom into a superior drink.

ü Perhaps riper and darker from the warm vintage yet in no way more forward or ready to drink, the 2009 O'Riada is a tight-fisted, dark and rustic Clonakilla in need of a decent spell in the cellar or a good decant. Aaaah, that's better; at least my Clonakilla craving has been met now, which nearly gifted this wine an extra point (but it hasn't). Drink 2016-2021.
92 points


- Canberra District
- $29-$36
- Screwcap
- 14.0%alc

Clonakilla's typically floral, spicy, musky, perfumed and absolutely delicious take on Canberra District Shiraz Viognier stands as one of my most treasured interpretations of Australian wine. In that, I'm surely not alone.

In something of a rarity for Clonakilla, the 2009 Jack Reidy shows a rather obvious touch of viognier (6%) expressed via warm, heady scents of apricot and blueberry. Aside from that it also seems a shade riper than I expected (although it might just be the viognier), by presenting an underlying, rounded, generously fruited fragrance of juicy dark plums, cherries and perhaps even licorice backed by smooth, seasoned oak. Fortunately, the maker's trademark floral/spice notes make a statement through a suggestion of cinnamon stick, but it's certainly more reserved and far from defining. Throughout the relatively straight forward, medium-fullish palate it's all very smooth and quaffable, revealing silky, ripe but not over-ripe and sour-edged flavours of juicy dark/purple fruits that initially conceal its viognier quite well, but the white grape makes its presence felt stronger through the back palate in the way of baked apricot-like tones. As its viognier influence extends it finishes too soft, tart and simple, without the tannin/acid structures that typify Clonakilla's best.

O Clonakilla's smooth, pretty and very quaffable 2009 Jack Reidy should provide pleasant enough drinking over the short term, but only if you can handle the taste of viognier in your shiraz. For $35 it isn't exactly an accurate look into what the Clonakilla style is all about. Drink to 2014.
89 points

Sunday, January 16, 2011


- South Australia
- $8-$17
- Screwcap
- 12.5%alc

If the (pale-pink) rosé revolution has begun, then someone forgot to tell Adelaide's larger retail chains. A luminescent selection of hot pink and vivid red styles was all I could find in the fridge section of Australia's best known retailer recently. So when forced to choose, my inner pink drinker swayed towards the generally reliable, fairly priced Angove Nine Vines.

Simultaneously predictable and surprising, yet simple and appealing, Angove's very popular Nine Vines Rosé shows the expected aromas of glacé cherries and sweet raspberry with a less anticipated yet more welcomed touch of spice; perhaps white pepper and clove. Its consumer friendly appearance and aromatic suggestions lead into a smooth, ripe strawberries and cream palate that is bound by some candied aspects, but it's held together by enough genuinely slurpable, mid-weighted textures and a soft, limey acid wash to make for a good quaff. Initially, when pulled straight out of the fridge and drunk with haste, it ends a bit dirty, but some air, slight warmth and a little time in the glass see the finish clarify and smooth out somewhat, making the experience that much better.

ü The better vintages of Angove's Nine Vines remind me of a scaled down version 0f Charles Melton's excellent Rose of Virginia, and the 2010 has done just that. For $12, I wouldn't ask for much more. Drink now.
87 points

Friday, January 14, 2011


- Derwent River Valley/Coal River Valley/East Coast Tasmania, TAS
- $33-$43
- Screwcap
- 13.5%alc

In its early days I wasn't terribly enthused by Bay of Fires Pinot Noir, but the last 3 vintages (since 2007) have conclusively changed my mind, leading me to now consider it among Tasmania's best. Fran Austin's cross-state blend incorporates fruit from Tasmania's south (Derwent River Valley and Coal River Valley) and east in 2009.

Woho! Bay of Fires' 2009 Pinot Noir jumps out with an intensely aromatic, strongly varietal nose that has nothing to hide. A bright, vividly ripened fragrance of dark cherries and blackberry form the base of an aroma that's enriched by an array of meaty, floral, herbal and lightly spiced suggestions, with a smooth measure of clove-like vanilla oak honed in with real class. Extended aeration reveals a charming note of caramel as well. For all its aromatic intensity it's surprisingly supple on the palate, yet in no way short of flavour; as it slides into the mouth with a pleasingly composed, medium-bodied expression of dark forest fruits, cedar/ground coffee-like oak and herbs, all graced by a touch of animal hide to excite. It finishes with true grip, dryness and finesse, as an ideally tuned backbone of fine-grained, dusty tannins and tight acid draws everything into place alongside persisting notes of herb and spice, which become progressively drier as its tannic song plays out.

ü+ Big company ownership, cross-regional blending within one state, larger-scale production, ample distribution, true winemaking polish, genuinely undervalued and becoming consistently brilliant. Do Bay of Fires stand to become the Penfolds of Australian pinot noir? Drink to 2016.
94 points

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Pâté, or more specifically, The Goods 'Fleurieu Fine Foods' Grand Marnier Pâté (my apologies for the product endorsement!)

Ever since I first discovered this smooth, rich, peppery and downright opulent pâté at Minko's Willunga cellar door early last year, I've been hooked, downing bottle after bottle of pinot noir by its side. Some of this pâté's most honourable attributes are no added preservatives and all natural ingredients; a couple of fine production practices which differ from South Australia's 'other', higher profile pâté producer.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


- Margaret River, WA
- $18-$29
- Screwcap
- 13.0%alc

Okay, it seems everyone's had their say on Cape Mentelle's new labels, so here's my two cents worth; I liked the old labels. I always liked the old labels, but the new labels, which can look surprisingly sophisticated in person, are starting to grow on me. That's it. Now onto the wine.

Cape Mentelle's 2010 SBS (54/46) immediately unloads a strong aroma loaded with ample character and definition, but its most pleasing attribute may be a vivid sense of distinct regionality. Its pungent scents of green pea, guava and lemon/lime citrus rise from the glass in expressive fashion, while funked-up hints of sweat and light, airy smoke string the nose together to form a fragrance with as much character as any Cape Mentelle SBS I can recall. A well controlled punch of juicy fruit announces the palate, which moves forward with a wonderfully smooth, even flow of sweaty tropical fruit flavour that is just so devilishly Western Australian. The sweaty, more savoury aspects push on with touches of smoky and mineral complexity, carrying the wine to a cleansing, classically brisk finish helped along by a balancing framework of lively acids.

ü+ For me, Cape Mentelle's 2010 is right on the style button. It beautifully expresses elements of sauvignon blanc, semillon and desirable barrel ferment notes (15%) in a harmonised, truly regional and character laden manner. Well worth the twenty. Drink to 2013.
92 points

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


- Adelaide Hills, SA
- $16-$24
- Screwcap
- 13.0%alc

Having become something of a guilty pleasure of mine, the deliciously fruity Paracombe is one Adelaide Hills sauvignon blanc I'm always happy to recommend. In its two previous incarnations (2008-91pts, 2009-92pts) I picked up gloriously tropical scents of banana and passionfruit, two notes which just seem so right to me for this style of wine.

Sitting right on the style cue for Paracombe, the 2010 unashamedly flaunts a fragrance of passionfruit and light grass with a dollop of banana custard for softness and a zap of mineral infused citrus to cut and refine. It's far from complex or savoury but the aromatic balance works. Its palate is hallmarked by great length (for the style), creamy texture and a zingy, citric, faintly bitter-edged and chalky acid structure which is much more assertive and defined than most from the Hills. These features combine to drive its bright, smoothly textured and pure tropical fruit/gooseberry flavours into a long, more citrus infused climax overrun by a fine combination of refreshing softness and tight acids.

ü+ Yet again Paracombe's Sauvignon Blanc has me singing its praises. There's nothing otherworldly or unexpected here, but as I said before, it's right on the money for a consumer friendly Adelaide Hills sauvignon blanc. Drink to 2012.
91 points

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


- Lower Hunter Valley, NSW
- $40-$59
- Cork (crumbled)
- 10.3%alc

Nearly 4 years ago I reviewed the 1999 Vat 1, awarding it 95 points and finding it one of the finest, most texturally inspiring Hunter sems I've ever had. However, even in 2007 I felt it was near peak, but there was a devilishly curious voice inside my head that told me to sit a bottle aside for another 4 years to see what happens then. Well, 2011 is here now and I just can't wait anymore!

For the third time in 4 years Tyrrell's 1999 Vat 1 has presented me with a busted cork, but once over that minor disappointment it's all uphill from there. Its secondary characters have well and truly nestled in now, with aromas of toast, creamed nuts and honeyed wheat puffs being expressed in a far more exaggerated fashion than in 2007, while its citrus profile makes a statement through a fleeting scent of citric marmalade spread across buttered toast. Despite being rather savoury initially and definitively fluffy, the palate shows a fair amount of tang to progress. Its upfront tones of multi-grain toast, butter and vanilla pod go through a complex transitional stage touching on green capsicum, before emerging with a honey-dipped lemony lift to fly through the back palate. There's a surprisingly tight grip of dry, tangy acids coating the wine as well, but it doesn't quite carry through to a marathon finish.

ü+ Although I hold a miniscule quibble with the length here; the extra degree of complex character gained through bottle age, whilst still retaining freshness and acid structure, has resulted in a wine which is no less brilliant now than it was several years ago. This is why Australians hide Hunter semillon under their beds. Drink now.
95 points

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


- Clare Valley, SA
- $11-$21
- Screwcap
- 12.5%alc

Jim Barry's Watervale resides in the band of readily available, consistently good South Australian reislings whose cheap prices complement the competitive nature of Australia's reisling class. Clearly, Australian riesling lovers should have significantly more spare change than nebbiolo addicts. :)

Without being piercingly aromatic, Jim Barry's 2010 Watervale announces a floral fragrance of juicy limes and gentle paw paw, both of which are succeeded by an assertive whiff of apples intriguingly lifted by a note of cinnamon spice, which adds much appreciated (apple filled cinnamon donut-like?) quirkiness to an otherwise straight forward nose. As soon as it hits the mouth however, there's a noticeable lack of the cut and drive that's benefited Clare's best 2010 rieslings, although this wine is not without its up-sides by any means. There's a faint mineral thread that struts beneath its assertive lemon/lime citrus, apple and delicately spiced flavours, but it progresses with an emerging, broader hint of candied lime that robs it of the clarity I ultimately seek. Length is no highlight for me here either, as its fruit finish drops away slightly to reveal a minor deficiency of acidic grip and authority. Drunk cold it shows much more tightness and shape, so leave it in the fridge.

O I honestly expected more of Jim Barry's 2010 Watervale (especially given some of the positive press), but as I look over my notes on Clare's 2010 rieslings, it appears the better wines generally sit at a higher price point than this. It's still fairly good, if not great value. Drink to 2016.
89 points

Monday, January 3, 2011


- Yarra Valley, VIC
- $20-$29
- Screwcap
- 14.0%alc

If it's a savoury, complex, dry and nutty white you're after, then it's pretty hard to go past the lures of a Rhone blend. However, much like Tahbilk's industry standard marsanne, these wines generally require a few years bottle age to reveal the full extent of their wares.

Yering Station's 5 year old MVR (67/25/8) both surprised and satisfied me on opening, by revealing an appearance and scent indicative of youthful freshness. Lemon teacake, grapefruit and mineral notes highlight the aroma, with a complementary, classy touch of crushed almonds overlaid by suggestions of white flower and ginger. Conclusively, these styles continue to ask me; 'why aren't there more white Rhone blends in Australia?' In the mouth it shows cleanliness, restraint and a sense of calm to commence, allowing its reduced lemon/mineral and brine flavours to build progressively with nutty accents and a trace of viognier phenolics down the palate, before finally finishing with pungent melon-like fruit undertones and a prickly, drying acid balance. Complex yes, complete; perhaps not.

O I'm a bit in two minds about Yering's 2006 MVR. On one hand, I'd love to have another bottle to test in 3 years time, but something else inside of me says; 'why bother?' Drink to 2012.
89 points

Sunday, January 2, 2011


If someone had asked me 3 years ago whose cellar door offers the best selection of wines in the Adelaide Hills, I would've said Petaluma. Today, that pendulum swings towards Shaw and Smith, even though the difficult 2008 season has had its effects on the brand's current release reds.

Thanks to a nationally recognised sauvignon blanc, most South Australian wine drinkers would be familiar enough with Shaw and Smith to feel the need to visit their Balhannah cellar door, but once presented with the full extent of Shaw and Smith's wares, even the most oblivious of drinkers should be able to tell this producer is more than a one trick pony.

Without doubt chardonnay is the trump card in Shaw and Smith's pack. Following a string of successful recent vintages, ranging from good to downright exceptional, Shaw and Smith's M3 Vineyard Chardonnay is now knocking on the door of Australia's finest interpretations of the variety. Perhaps most impressive is how the M3 continues to retail for a very respectable $40, an asking price which is roughly half that of many of its direct competitors.

After its final release in 2003 (I'm told iffy clonal selections had as much to do with its discontinuation as anything), Shaw and Smith's under-rated merlot has been replaced in the range by an Adelaide Hills riesling and pinot noir. I've already sampled about 3 or 4 vintages of each wine, and I hold complete faith that both will sit amongst the Adelaide Hills' best of their respective varieties in due time. The pinot noir vines were planted in 2000 with both MV6 and 777 clones used.

The Shaw and Smith Shiraz needs no introduction to lovers of Adelaide Hills shiraz really. Off the back of truly complete, spicy and savoury wines like the 2006 Shiraz (92pts) and 2007 Shiraz (94pts), I firmly believe Shaw and Smith has established themselves as a benchmark producer of Adelaide Hills shiraz. However, like many in the region, Shaw and Smith experienced some headaches with the production of their 2008 reds, but I'm told the 2009 Shiraz (expect a March 2011 release) should bounce back to a more 2006-like state when it's available.

If I must raise one personal concern with Shaw and Smith, it's my feelings about the ambience I've experienced with their cellar door. From the outside it's pretty as a picture, but once inside it can be a bit cold, neutral and sterile, like the set of a 1970's futuristic sci-fi flick. These feelings have been amplified in the past when I've visited Shaw and Smith on quiet (or even dead) days, especially when our hosts have been near silent, but fortunately on this occasion our hosts were charming and the atmosphere was alive, if perhaps in more of a trendy east-end Rundle Street-like kind of manner.

Shaw and Smith's sit down tastings, complete with sharply dressed young hosts have been a bit too formalised and rigid for me on previous visits. My generally casual approach to fashion usually makes me feel a little underdressed there. I prefer the relaxed, back and forth banter of a winery like Ashton Hills; a nearby cellar door whose laid back, rustic approach to cellar door presentation has won me over time and time again, with their 'wine first, appearances - who cares? ' attitude.

Shaw and Smith cellar door tastings come at the cost of $14 for 4 or 5 wine tastings (depending on seasonal availability) with an accompaniment of a 3 cheese and cracker plate. The tasting pours are generous (probably 3 times that of a 'standard' pour), so I'll leave it up to you as to whether the value is fair or not. The tasting cost is not redeemable with wine purchase.

Trendy Rundle Street venue or Shaw and Smith tasting room? One thing's for sure - sauvignon blanc is a popular choice here.

Shaw and Smith tasting notes are posted below

Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($25) Smells rather more pungent and sweatier than when I last looked at this back in September. Its palate hits a more familiar path though, it's minerals and passionfruit, softly textured up front but more refined to travel, with good length of fruit. I've got another bottle and might hit Casey up one day...91

Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay 2008 ($38) Off the tasting list. This is about the fourth bottle I've had since my initial Oct '09 review (95pts) and admittedly, I'm liking it less and less. Its nose shows plenty of popcorn-like scents, with a toasty, buttered oak nose that pleased Beck aplenty. Although there's ample character, the palate lacks texture and drive when sat next to the '09, and it just seems to fall apart on the finish. A 'nose' wine? Good on those who picked this as not one of Shaw and Smith's better M3s in the first place, shame on me...I'm reconstructing my original score to....92

Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay 2009 ($40) Youthful, tight nose, very refined, more so than other M3 wines. Its character leans towards restrained mineral, grapefruits and lemon with a touch of nutmeg. No pungent fruit present here. It has an unusually crystal-clear chardonnay palate (cold bottle?), yet is deliciously mineral driven. Plenty of light spice/nutmeg flavour and good texture, length and grapefruity acids. Needs time really. All the elements are there, it just needs to fill out with more flavour, which should happen in the bottle, hopefully. (full review soon) 94

Shaw and Smith Riesling 2004 ($35) A special bottle-aged release, off the tasting list. Wonderful youthful colour. Toast, straw and preserved lemon aromas. Beautifully balanced, bright nose. Texturally it's smooth and viscous, with a palate that's bright, clean and clear as day. There are some pungent undertones, but the palate lacks the distinctive character that was apparent on the nose. Hard to judge right now, but I'm impressed with its potential for further development, especially considering it's an Adelaide Hills riesling. 90

Incognito Pinot Noir 2009 ($16) Also off the tasting list. A previously unknown to me, second label of Shaw and Smith's, and after tasting this wine I'm not sure its existence is necessary. It possesses an unusual, dried apricot, viognier and cherry-like nose, that is both skunky and altogether wrong for the style. Its palate doesn't reach pinot noir attractiveness, and its stewy, date-like fruit falls away fast. 82

Shaw and Smith Pinot Noir 2008 ($45) I always thought this wine cost less than this, and given its track record I'd prefer to see it $10 less. The 2008's nose is a bit rough, there's some wet leaf, brandied black cherries, game and licorice, but it's a bit tricky and it hasn't really hit the mark. Palate is soft, chewy and fractionally upfront, and courtesy of a ripe thread that's present throughout it merely straddles the line between a dry red and an average pinot. 86

Shaw and Smith Shiraz 2008 ($40) Licorice, dark fruits and game meat nose, with elements of herb and spice, but loads of fennel. The hot season has produced a rich, fuller Shaw and Smith style with a touch more plump fruit than ideal, but it still finishes with some nice, peppery tannins that close in with regional style, happily contradicting its fuller, dark plum and fennel fore-palate. 90