Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wines of the Week - May 3rd

I recently attended Wine Enthusiast's Toast of the Town tasting in New York. These were three of my favourites on the night, and you could happily construct a dinner party around them. Canapes, some simple seafood, and a lamb-rack...

Coincidentally, they are all 19th century, family-owned wineries.

Schramsberg Vineyards Brut Reserve 2004

Schramsberg may have started out in the 19th century, but the modern era started in 1965 when the estate was bought by Jack and Jamie Davies, parents of Hugh Davies who now runs Schramsberg. Phylloxera and Prohibition combined to shutter the business for around half a century, but the last near half century has seen the winery rise to be one of California's leading sparkling wine houses, while also branching into Cabernet through the J. Davies label. The 2004 reserve is a very classy sparkling wine, with a long future ahead of it. Primarily Pinot Noir, with 16% Chardonnay, from various Schramsberg vineyards, the red fruit shines through beautifully, but remains crisp and elegant.

Schramsberg wines at Toast of the Town

Pieropan Soave Calvarino 2009

Leonildo Pieropan's estate in Veneto has long been the standard setter for Soave in the region, and the 2009 Calvarino is yet another tre bicchiere winner - the sixth in a row for this single-vineyard Soave. Made from 90% Garganega with 10% Trebbiano di Soave, the grapes are grown in the Calvarino vineyard at the heart of the estate. Possessing lovely balance and purity of fruit, this is several steps the non-descript wines that make up too much of Soave production. The estate, now passing into the hands of the fourth generation is expanding into red wines under Andrea and Dario, Leonildo's sons.

Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz The Signature 2006

Australia might be the New World for wine, but some of the vines, and the companies, go back a long way. Yalumba proudly claims to be Australia's oldest family-owned winery, and even if there aren't enough old wineries still in family hands, there's no doubting the importance of this company established in 1849. A fifth generation descendant of founder Samuel Smith, Robert Hill Smith has overseen great changes in the company since taking over in 1985, but some things, like The Signature, don't change. Made since 1962, this is a consistently excellent Cabernet-Shiraz that has great aging ability, as this 2009 tasting showed. The 2006 is still very youthful, but already enjoyable, and showing the structure that suggests this will be still going strong after 20 years. Good complexity, with mocha and cedar characters starting to push through the ripe, plush berry fruit.

Previous week.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wines of the Week - April 26th

Terredora di Paolo Greco di Tufo Loggia della Serra 2010

This is a worthy follow up to the excellent 2009 vintage of this wine which featured in the Wines of the Week back in September, and ended up in Wine Spectator's Top 100 of 2011. Some tropical characters give richness at first, balancing the lovely minerality evident, before crisp citrus and apple characters keep it fresh and zingy on the dry finish. As the name suggests, the wines come from the beautiful estate-owned Loggia Della Serra vineyard. Terredora has owned all their grape production since 1994.

Photo from the Terredora website.

Ca' Donini Pinot Grigio Venezie 2010

There's plenty to like about this wine, starting with the price. While a quick internet search reveals there seems to be plenty of price variance, it is widely available sub-$10. Nicely made, and very clean and fresh, this wine combines lively acidity and citrus and apple flavours, perfect for warm days so keep a couple handy in the fridge. Not one for evening contemplation, you won't regret opening one of these when an unexpected guest turns up looking thirsty. 

Paul Jaboulet Aîné Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Cèdres 2007

Jaboulet's red Chateauneuf du Pape in their Les vins des Vignerons range is made from vines around 45 years of age, and is 70% Grenache, with Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvedre making up the rest of this Southern Rhone blend. Although not likely to be confused for a New World wine, it is quite fruit forward with aromas of strawberry, plum and hints of lilac, while the palate is starting to develop nicely with some herb and black tea nuances pushing through plenty of red and black fruit. One to enjoy over the next five years or so.

Previous week.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wines of the Week - April 19th

Rosés continue to pop up on stores' shelves as the weather warms up, while recent auction activity has left me with a few bottles of Aussie Shiraz to work through. Not that I'm complaining...

Bieler Père et Fils Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence Sabine

The 2011 edition of this great value-for-money Rosé from the hills around Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence is a blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. A lovely pale salmon pink despite its constituents, it is an appealing mix of red fruits and herbs on the nose, while the palate is very refreshing with well-balanced acidity keeping it crisp and lively. Named in honour of his daughter, and first made in the year of her birth, Charles Bieler has made another winner here and it looks set to be a popular sight around town this spring and summer.

Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 1994

Apparently several years ago Barossa stalwart Peter Lehmann and his Chief Winemaker Andrew Wigan nicknamed the occasional clusters of the best grapes from the area "little black jewels". Others, like Dave Powell at Torbreck have carved out extraordinary wines from tracking down the best of these jewels, and make wines with bigger reputations and prices. But Stonewell is still made, and old Stonewells pop up to remind us that once they were among the most sought after of Barossa reds. A few years back I knocked off the last of my Australian stash of the '94s as I thought they were getting tired. Perhaps mine were, but this recent auction purchase was not only a steal but a bottle in great condition. Classic Barossa Shiraz with loads of ripe fruit, but without straying close to over-ripe. Velvety soft now, it was a hedonistic pleasure to drink and a great match with lamb grilled on the BBQ.

Kilikanoon McLaren Vale M Reserve Shiraz 2004

For a winery that was only started in 1997, Kilikanoon enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence, boosted by the remarkable six (out of 7 awarded) trophies at the 2002 Clare Valley Wine Show. Aided by high marks from critics as Australia's Shiraz boom surged, Kilikanoon expanded rapidly and now boasts a vast portfolio, far beyond the confines of its original Clare Valley home. This Shiraz is from the McLaren Vale and showcases the skills that helped make the Clare Valley Oracle such a rapid success.Over two years of oak is well hidden by ripe blackcurrant, berry and chocolate notes, in an integrated, plush wine with several years of life left in it.

Previous week.

Wines of the Week - April 12th

Although it can be fun to zip through lots of wines in a larger group, when faced with wines of age and quality, it is nice to have a larger bottle to hand to get a proper assessment of the wine, and how it evolves over time in the decanter or glass. The other benefit of a magnum bottle is the lower air to wine ratio in the bottle slows down the oxidation process as the wine ages in the cellar, resulting in a fresher wine on opening. Similarly, dessert wines frequently come in half bottles, meaning you are occasionally tempted to smash the bottle to lick the last remaining luscious drops from the broken shards...or is that just me? A full bottle, especially of a sweet wine with enough acidity to remain refreshing, gives you time to savour its evolving pleasures, and get another half hour of an evening too good to end. The three bottles making up this week's wines of the week were all entirely worthy of what was a night of celebration.

Vilmart & Cie Champagne Coeur de Cuvée 1993 (magnum)

Established in 1872, Vilmart really sprang to prominence when current owner Laurent Champs (Vilmart on his mother's side) took over in the early '90s. Based in Rilly La Mountain at the foot of Montagne de Reims and at the northern edge of Champagne, the climate lends itself to aromatic purity and the 1993 Couer de Cuvee shows plenty of that. Still very fresh, with laser-like acidity, and a lovely minerality, this wine has plenty of life in front of it, especially for well-stored magnums. 

Torbreck Run Rig 2002 (magnum)

Torbreck's flagship wine Run Rig made from low-yielding old vine Shiraz with 3-5% Viognier added, has been accumulating acclaim for nearly twenty years now, led by the Wine Advocate which lauded the 2002 as such - "it gets my nod as one of the most remarkable wines made in either the Southern or Northern Hemisphere". With such high praise and a series of 98 and 99 scores, first timers used to some similarly scored but overly-extracted Australian reds might be in for a surprise. Although this wine has plenty of power and ripe fruit, it's controlled power, like a luxury car effortlessly cruising, rather than a drag car screaming and smoking. Similarly, the ripe blackberry fruit is tweaked by the Viognier to give it a softness and aromatic lift that keeps it balanced and interesting. Fantastic now, and for decades to come.

Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume 1995

A topical wine as the producers of Quarts de Chaume seek to try and establish grand cru status in the face of opposition from the owner of Baumard, 44 years after the Domaine des Baumard first proposed the idea. Read more from les5duvin.com here.While most consumers would only be vaguely aware, at best, of differences between ice wines, noble rot and passerillage (drying grapes on the vine), the current vogue towards regional differentiation is going to make these proceedings difficult for Baumard from a public relations perspective. Regardless, the '95 Quarts de Chaume was a superbly complex wine to sip and enjoy. Sweet but not luscious, fresh but with prominent aged characters, it was a delight to the last drop.

Previous week.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Wines of the week - April 5th

Barbaresco and Barolo are dry, red wines from Piedmont in the north-west of Italy. Made solely from the Nebbiolo grape, the two wines take their names from the villages around which the best vineyards lie. Nebbiolo is grown throughout the Langhe, a region south-east of Turin, and south west of Asti, but it reaches its pinnacle in the communes of Barolo and Barbaresco. Historically, Barbaresco has lived in the shadow of Barolo, but due to the efforts of various producers, and the market's changing wine tastes, there is less difference now.
This week I look at three excellent Nebbiolo wines from Piedmont, all of similar age as the region enjoyed a succession of great vintages at the turn of the century.
La Spinetta Barbaresco Valeirano 1999

Founded in 1977, the Rivetti family continues to expand their wine empire, with the recent purchase of the Piedmont sparkling house Contratto, following their expansion into Tuscany in recent years. However, they remain best-known for their rhino-decorated bottles containing excellent examples of Piedmont reds, including one of my perennial favourites, their Barbera d'Asti Ca' di Pian. Tonight we enjoyed one of their four Barbarescos, from the Valeirano vineyard in Treiso. Made in a modern style, and lacking some of the Nebbiolo character of the other two wines, this is a well-crafted robust wine, although without any time in a decanter it was a little closed. A lovely wine to drink with some hard cheese, for which the still-firm tannins called.

Bruno Rocca Barbaresco Rabajà 2000

Also established in the late 70's, Bruno Rocca's winery has established him as a leading figure in Piedmont's, even Italy's, wine firmament. His Rabaja 2000 was highly acclaimed on release, and I was excited to finally try it. Opened for some time on the day, but not decanted, the wine was very lively and aromatic from the outset, showing ripe fruit, minerality and wild roses. Very well made, great balance and texture. Over time it perhaps faded a little, whereas the Barolo (below) it was paired with continued to unfold, but it was still a truly beautiful wine.

Gianni Voerzio Barolo La Serra 1998

Although Gianni Voerzio may to some extent be hidden in the shadows of his neighbouring brother Roberto, his consistency and relative affordability make him a producer worth watching out for. His best wine is his La Serra Barolo, and 1998 was yet another superb vintage of this wine. Initially on the evening, the Barolo seemed lackluster by comparison to the brilliant Rabaja Barbaresco, despite having spent over an hour in a decanter. However, with further time in glass the Barolo kicked to a higher plane, exhibiting tar, black cherry and minerality in a way that only great aged Barolo can. Truly a pleasure to the last drop, and a reminder that some wines are hard to assess on a quick visit.

Previous week.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wines of the week - March 29th

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2010

With 350 years of family ownership behind his winery, its safe to say Johannes Selbach has a fairly good idea about extracting the best from their various sites in the Mittelmosel. Of the five vineyards, the steep, slate-ridden Zeltinger Sonnenuhr has the driest soils, which must have made for nervous times during the mid-summer dry spell in 2010. Ultimately, after some ups and downs it was a great vintage for Selbach-Oster from a quality perspective, although yields were lass than half those in 2007. This Kabinett is extremely good value, and worth seeking out, especially for those not afraid of a bit of sweetness, as this wine could easily be confused for a Spatlese with its initial sweet attack. Racy acidity keeps the wine taut and balanced, allowing the apple and honeydew characters to complement the tremendous minerality of the wine.    

Littorai Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2009

Littorai is a family run winery started by Ted and Heidi Lemon in 1993. Following on from Ted's formative wine years in Burgundy, the couple specialize in Burgundian-style wines, making a range of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs using sustainable agricultural techniques. Their focus is on the terroirs to be found in Sonoma and Mendocino, and they make a number of  site-specific wines, as well as this excellent Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Leaner than most Californian Chardonnays, it shows nice restraint while still possessing plenty of bright flavour. Very pure and classy, I look forward to drinking some of the single site wines as they develop in the next few years.

Tyrus Evan Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2008

Although Washington is better known for its Cabernet, there's plenty of Syrah being made these days, and even a fair bit of that classic Australian blend, Shiraz (Syrah) Cabernet. Walla Walla even sounds Australian, and it is also a town in New South Wales. However, the Walla Walla Valley  is decidedly American, even if it can't decide on a state, straddling the Washington-Oregon border. The winery behind Tyrus Evan is actually the renowned Oregon Pinot house, Ken Wright Cellars. When Ken Wright wanted to expand, he decided not to muddy the waters and created a new label for his Syrah and Cabernet bottlings, with the name taken from his two sons' middle names. The 2008 Walla Walla Syrah is still very youthful, offering plenty of rich, ripe fruit, but with more a red fruit cool climate bent than a Barossa equivalent.

Previous week.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wines of the week - March 22nd

This week we focus on some wines that are high in acidity, and while they are all capable of being enjoyed in their youth, they are all built to outlast many red wines.

Lanson Champagne Gold Label Brut 1996

The Lanson Champagne house was founded in 1760 by François Delamotte, eventually changing its name to Lanson in 1837. The late 20th century saw a number of ownership changes, before the eventual creation of Lanson-BCC in 2006, under the control of Bruno Paillard (see October 20th). A rare case purchase of Champagne for me, I've been enjoying this wine for around seven years now, and remain astonished at how youthful it can seem.A bottle at Xmas was quite spiky with bracingly fresh acidity, but this bottle, from a friend's cellar, was considerably more friendly and enjoyable. There was still plenty of acidity and citrus notes, but rounded out by some biscuit and nutty characters that provided a tremendously elegant and refreshing champagne. Hopefully with a few more years in the cellar, my last bottles will end up in such a happy place.

Domaine Huet Clos de Bourg Sec 2009

A few months ago I had Huet's Haut-Lieu 2009, and I've been looking forward to trying the Clos de Bourg ever since. The wine didn't disappoint, although it is still very youthful. There's a slightly sweet attack, but the acidity quickly tames that and the wine finishes dry with good length for a young Vouvray. Shows honey, citrus and minerality characters in abundance, but will only get better in the coming years.

Didier Dagueneau Silex 2004

An early contender for my white wine of the year, this was a reminder of how great a loss Didier Dagueneau's untimely death was back in 2008. For those used to the passionfruit bombs of New World Sauvignon Blancs, it would be hard to reconcile the Silex as being the same grape, although it's almost a world away from run of the mill Pouilly-Fume too. The nose displays lots of grapefruit with some underlying herbaceous characters, while the palate shows great complexity, with grapefruit, lime and melon competing with a tremendous mineral intensity. The mouth feel is rich and powerful for a white wine with so much acidity and focus. Not cheap, but worth he occasional splurge.

Previous week.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wines of the week - March 15th

This week I'm highlighting three wines from a Sicilian wine dinner on Monday. See here for the full write-up at the DeadReds website. The wine industry in Sicily has recently been going through some major upheavals, with plummeting grape prices and huge vine pulls, but increasing quality will hopefully help mitigate reduced quantity. Obviously there will be some winners and losers as things shake out.

Gulfi Nerobaronj 2005

Ragusa-based Gulfi bottle a series of individual cru Nero d’Avolas, each showcasing their own terroir. The Nerobaronj is where the winery believes the “lively tartness of Nero d’Avola is its clearest”, and thus is a good match for food with a bit of fat content. At the dinner it was successfully paired with seared tuna. There was plenty of intense fruit underpinning some earthy complexity which came together well in an enjoyably rustic kind of way.

Palari Faro 2006

This elegant wine is from the tiny Faro DOC in Messina, and is a habitual Tre Biccheri achiever in Gambero Rosso’s Italian wine guide. It is a blend of the idigenous grapes Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Nocera and Acitana. Extremely well made, it encompasses berry and black fruit with licorice and dried herbs, before a long, smooth finish. Well worth seeking out, but not cheap.

De Bartoli Superiore Oro ‘Vigna La Miccia’ 

The last glass of the night was the unfashionable - but surely due for a turn in the spotlight - Sicilian drink, Marsala. This was serious sipping stuff, in the form of a De Bartoli Superiore Oro ‘Vigna La Miccia’. Interesting and enjoyable, quite dry and with oxidised characters, it’s closer to Sherry than my revered sweeter Australian stickies, but I could have easily been persuaded to have a second with another Cannolo. It wasn't to be that night, but it won't be long.

Previous week.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wines of the week - March 8th

The wine world might look look like a big place, but it can be surprisingly small. It doesn't take six degrees of separation to get from a Walla Walla Viognier to an Adelaide red with a twist.

Seven Hills Columbia Valley Viognier 2010
Fourth generation farmer Casey McLellan runs one of the oldest wineries in Washington's Walla Walla region, consistently turning out high quality reds from a number of different sites throughout the region, with a focus on Bordeaux varietals. However, when it comes to whites it's not Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, but Alsace varietals Pinot Gris and Riesling, as well as Viognier from the Rhone that can be found in the downtown Walla Walla tasting room. The 2010 Viognier, made from Columbia Valley fruit, shows nice restraint, avoiding heat and overt floral characters, with spicy notes mingling with pear and peach, before a lovely smooth finish. 

Salomon-Undhof Grüner Veltliner Hochterrassen 2010

There's a link to a different Seven Hills with this wine - based in Austria's Niederosterreich region, Salomon-Undhof's owners are Bert and Gertrud Salomon. Lovers of Australian reds, they founded Salomon Estate in South Australia in 1995, before combining it with running Salomon-Undhof in 2002. Long before they were racking up frequent flyer miles, Bert's great-great uncle Johann Nepomuk Hinteröcker headed to South Australia in 1866, and spent three years at the Seven Hills mission and winery in the Clare Valley. Back to the wine...as the name suggests, this Grüner is grown on high terraces in Stein and Krems. Inviting citrus and pear aromas give way to a more spicy palate, with a refreshing acidity making it an ideal wine for spring picnics. Excellent value at $15.

S.C. Pannell Pronto Tinto 2008

Blends such as these may become an important feature of the Australian wine world as producers seek to overcome a feeling of ho-hum amongst consumers worn down by a procession of well made but too familiar Shiraz and Cabernets. This wine is a blend of Grenache, Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Mourvèdre. There's nothing new in the GSM part, but the introduction of Portuguese hero Touriga Nacional gives it a significant kick along, holding back the ripe red and black fruit characters to allow some dried flower and herb characters to add complexity and interest. Try this, and probably his other reds as well. Stephen Pannell clearly learnt a few tricks in his time in Burgundy, Bordeaux and Barolo.

Previous week.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wines of the week - March 1st

This week, a Piedmont white, an Australian Shiraz as comfortable and affordable as an old pair of slippers, and a wine that looks like it might have had its bottle designed by Prince on a difficult day.

Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis 2009

Bruno Giacosa has been a revered figure in Piedmont for longer than many winemakers have been alive. This wine was made in the year he turned 80, and he's now been running his winery for over 50 years. His reputation has been forged by his amazing Barolo and Barbaresco wines, which these days are mostly made with estate-grown grapes. Way back, he was able to source enough of the best fruit to buy grapes in from growers, but in the early '80s Giacosa started acquiring vineyards.That's not to say he doesn't still buy grapes or make white wines, and the Arneis here is still made from grapes bought from farmers in Roero with which the winery has longstanding relationships. The wine itself has some lovely aromatics, with some quite ripe aromas and flavours, but plenty of crisp acidity, a touch of minerality, and a delicate pear character, keeps it very fresh and lively.

Leasingham Classic Clare Shiraz 1996

Even by the standards of recent years this was a bargain purchase. Listed at a price probably considerably less than a quarter of what a Sydney restaurant would charge, I've gone back to the New York retailer to snap up a second helping. Maybe I should just ring them and lift the lot. A beautiful wine from a stunning vintage, this is, as the name suggests, classic Clare Shiraz, and it's drinking at its mature peak. Goodf enough to hold another five years without trouble, but I doubt they have enough to last me that far. Very round and soft now for a South Australian Shiraz, this wine still has plenty of vibrant red fruit character, and a lovely, long smooth finish.

Telmo Rodríguez Toro Gago 2007

This is another wine from Wine Spectator's Top 100, following on from some December reviews. Compañía de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez are making some sleek and stylish wines from across Spain - and that's just the packaging. In this case, the wine is also pretty sleek and stylish, made from 100% Tinto de Toro, otherwise known as Tempranillo. The region of Toro has taken off in recent years, boosted by the success of Ribero del Duero, further to the east. The Gago - or should I just call it 'g' - exhibits plenty of ripe fruit, but restrained by enough acidity to keep it fresh, while complemented by some cocoa and mineral notes. Good drinking now and over the next five years, but not one for the purists.

Previous week.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Early retirement at Domaine Huët

Widely respected winemaker Noël Pinguet will leave Domaine Huët three years early after agreeing to a short handover period. Pinguet, the son-in-law of the revered Gaston Huët, had joined the winery in 1976 and been in charge of winemaking since 1986. Following the death of Gaston, majority ownership of Huët was purchased by Anthony Hwang, an American who also owns the Hungarian estate Királyudvar in Tokaji. The Domaine will be run by Hwang's children, Sarah (President) and Stefan. Winemaking duties will be shared by Jean-Bernard Berthomé and Benjamin Joliveau, and Sarah Hwang has been keen to emphasise that it will be business as usual under the pair, and that the handover has been underway for some months already.

Additionally, Sarah Hwang has been keen to hose down speculation that Pinguet's departure is due to differences of opinion, with Decanter and Jim Budd reporting that differences in opinion over winemaking matters were behind the surprise departure. Hopefully this important Loire winery will keep up its impeccable standards going forward.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Letting the grapes speak (quietly) for themselves

It occurred to me last night as the silent movie The Artist won Best Picture at the Academy Awards that perhaps there's a theme at work. My first clue came a few months back when I read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald pointing out how under-represented rock music was in the ARIA (Aussie Grammy equivalent) award nominations. This, coupled with the demise of New York's sole FM provider of new rock music101.9 earlier, had led me to the conclusion that mine would be the first generation where parents would be telling their children to "turn the music UP". The second piece in the cultural conundrum was the growing movement in wine circles I crossed away from 'big' wines in favour of more subtle, artisanal or traditional wines. The weekend WSJ article extolling the rise of sommeliers vis-à-vis Robert Parker provided mainstream confirmation.

So whereas the '90s had given us Nirvana and Pearl Jam, a Best Picture winner in Braveheart, and Robert Parker, we now have Adele and Bon Iver, a silent movie, and wine lists where terroir and acid trump the clichéd "iron fist in the velvet glove". With the exception of politics, where the Republican primaries and the Australian Labor Party's poor imitation show that "restraint" is some distance off, are we going through a seismic shift? No doubt the Foo Fighters will keep rocking, Spielberg will keep us awake at the movies/home cinema and Parker will keep on scoring on, with the Chinese easily replacing the subscribers lost elsewhere.

But it seems clear we're through into a new era now. The internet, with its blogs, and producer websites, and Cellartracker make the wine world so much smaller and easy to 'rationalise'. Better educated sommeliers have led to better wine lists, and better food-wine pairings. Wineries have got the joke, adopting organic and biodynamic methods, and searching for unique terroir as points of differentioation. The local wine shop may have picked up as well, and if they haven't, Lot 18 and their competitors are ready to educate and tempt you from your email box. For the most part without the luxury of Parker points to fall back on, they sell the way travel agents used to before lowest price trumped all - tales of exotic lands, colourful history, romantic visions...all this can be yours for $89.99 a half case, free delivery.

Terry Theise may never be as well known as Robert Parker, and given his bagging directly and indirectly of the Australian wine scene it's just as well for many Down Under - on Priorat, "there is another (yet another) source of big-ass reds. I‘m not sure why I should care." However, his message is certainly receiving a wider, more influential audience now than back in 2005 when he published a piece on Globalization, expanded upon in 2010's "Between The Vines". He yearns for, and fears for the preservation of, "the quirky, the asymmetrical, the evocative" while hoping "if we cannot all unite behind the value of diversity". As we found out at the Oscars, quirky is back in vogue, and wine diversity seems to be in ever better hands.


Wines of the Week - February 23rd

Amongst a spate of stew-accompanying heavy, winter reds lately, there have been some lighter wines to provide a counterpoint, especially when duck has been on offer. While its hard to go wrong with a good red Burgundy (eg from last week), there are plenty of other alternatives.

Pecchenino Dolcetto di Dogliani San Luigi 2009

Even if you never try the wine, do yourself a favour and clink on the link to the winery here. If this doesn't make you want to go to Piedmont, there's something wrong with one of us. The Dogliani-based Pecchenino wine estate is over 200 years old and is currently run by brothers Attilio and Orlando. Historically, they have been Dolcetto specialists, but they have recently expanded into Nebbiolo, and are already having considerable success in Barolo, where they own three hectares in Monforte d'Alba. This wine is a lovely lighter-styled Dolcetto, with soft red fruit, good structure and a smooth finish.

Etude Pinot Noir Estate Carneros 1999

Etude's Pinot Noir comes from its Estate Vineyard in the northwest of Carneros.The winery prides itself on its focus on sustainable agriculture, and the vineyard includes "safe passageways through the vineyards" for wildlife. So long as they keep moving - the winery has a falconer, and his trained falcons are charged with keeping peckish starlings at bay. Although this wine came from an impeccably stored magnum, it still surprised with its youthful freshness. I might have been able to correctly guess it was Californian, but I only pegged its age about halfway. The wine is spritely rather than syrupy thanks to well-balanced acidity, with bright red fruit, spice and cola and a soft, round finish.

Jacopo Biondi-Santi Sassoalloro 2004

In recent years many of Italy's oldest wine regions have had their share of debates and controversies as the forces of modernisation and history clash. In the case of the Biondi-Santi family, a name near synonomous with Brunello di Montalcino, the divide split the family back in the 90's when Jacopo Biondi-Santi left the family estate after falling out with his father, Franco, over the future for the winery. Eventually Jacopo set up his own wine estate in the Maremma, and is making three well received red wines, one of which is the 100% Sangiovese, Sassoalloro. The wine, named after nearby volcanic rock, is drinking beautifully right now, showing cherry and spice characters, and a super-smooth, long finish.

Previous week.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Wines of the Week - February 16th

Time to dig up an old favourite, not yet time to discard an old timer, and a classy wine yet to hit its peak.

Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling 2002

As a young Riesling from a stellar Clare valley vintage, this was close to my all-time favourite Australian Riesling. Very fresh and pure, with intense aromatics and zingy acidity, it was great drinking for a year before it started to lose its youth. By that time, I'd had my fair share and then some, including at our wedding, and I wasn't reluctant to let it go. So I bought two cases, and put them down. And now it's time to get them out and party all over again. It's still remarkably youthful, with the acidity still fresh and lively, plenty of lime character mingling with the developing honey and kerosene characters. Well worth keeping, and probably good to drink for another ten years.

Pierre Bise Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu L'Anclaie 1997

A bit of a punt at auction as it was quite cheap for a good wine from a great year, this wine looked past it in the glass, well into brown. However, the nose was more encouraging, and the palate a revelation. The high acidity of the Chenin Blanc has kept this in good shape, and it remains a lovely dessert wine, with baked fruits and honey characters. I'm happy to have a few more of these to drink over the next year. (Two bottles tried - consistent).

Louis Latour Chateau Corton-Grancey Grand Cru 2005

In the best years, Louis Latour makes a Grand Cru blend from the Les Chaumes, Les Pougets, Les Perrières and Les Grèves vineyards in Corton. The wine is named after the old chateau and presshouse bought by Latour at the end of the 19th century. Chateau Grancey lies on the outskirts of the town of Aloxe-Corton. The wine is extremely pretty, with lots of strawberry and raspberry still very forward, but the structure is good and it has underlying hints of minerality and spice that hint at the wine it will become with another five years in bottle.

Previous week.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wines of the Week - February 9th

This week we look at an everyday drinking wine, and two wines that are good enough you wish you could.

Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas 1998

Gigondas has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and prices have risen to match as consumers seek out the best wine value in the Rhone. Fortunately I still have some older bottles from when prices made it more of an everyday wine, and this one from Santa Duc and the1998 vintage is drinking at its peak now. The once ripe fruit is now giving way to garrigue, meaty and earthy characters, resulting in a complex, well balanced and pleasingly rustic wine. Rustic, like in their photos...

Le Cantine di Indie Langhe Rosso Vino Rosso del Popolo 2010

Made by Eugenio Bocchino, this is a wine that rises above its everyday drinking pretensions by a good margin, but only in quality terms, not price. A Piemonte blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto, it combines the fruity frivolity of the Barbera and Dolcetto, while the Nebbiolo brings a structured complexity that makes it an adult party. Probably not a wine for the long haul, but that's Ok, you'll want to drink it everyday - it is a wine of the people (popolo).

Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec Clos du Bourg Sec 2008

Strictly speaking, this should have been in last week's edition, but I wanted to keep that to the Rhone red theme. However, we had this wine prior to cassoulet and the reds, and it was too good to let slip without mention. This is a wine I always love, but I particularly liked this vintage with its higher than usual residual sugar giving it extra weight. High levels of acidity effortlessly balanced out the acidity, leaving a very pure, concentrated Vouvray with a long, clean finish.

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Wines of the Week - February 2nd

It was a long time coming, but I finally committed to making Cassoulet with friends in town heading over for dinner. It was the work of several days, although admittedly most of that was deciding on a recipe. I'm glad to say it came out very well, as did the accompanying Rhone reds.

Domaine de la Pertuisane Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes 2005

Guigal and Chapoutier might need no introduction but Pertuisane might not ring too many bells. Established in 2003, the winery is trying to get the most out of some low-yielding old vines near the village of Maury. According to the label, the wine is 70% Grenache Noir and 30% Carignan Noir, and made in tiny quantities. It struck me as more Spanish than Rhone, but was very enjoyable, with loads of pure, ripe fruit and spice.

Chapoutier Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage 2005

Chapoutier list "conviviality and hospitality" amongst their values, and a communal pot of cassoulet amongst friends from three continents is probably down that path. This classy, elegant wine of promise could do with being a bit more convivial, as it remains very tight in its youth. After some time it did start to open up, but I suspect this needs to be revisited later in the decade to allow the herb and meaty characters to fully develop.

Guigal Côte Rotie Brune et Blonde 2003

Easily my favourite on the night, this wine seems to have hit its peak, and makes me very desirous of the three LaLas from the same vintage. The Brune et Blonde is 96 % Syrah and 4% Viognier, with grapes grown on silicone limestone soil (Côte Blonde) and soil rich in iron oxide (Côte Brune). The 2003 is very rich, reflective of the hot vintage, but is not overdone, showing an enticing mix of bacon fat, leather and cassis. The bnest Bruine et Blonde I've had.

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Wines of the Week - January 26th

It wouldn't be a Happy Australia Day! without some of Australia's finest Shiraz to help the party along, and so we gathered on a cold New York winter's evening to celebrate, several hours after the last Australian pub crawl finished back Down Under. These were my three favourites on the night, not coincidentally, all from excellent vintages in their respective regions.

Glaetzer Amon-Ra Shiraz  2006

Glaetzer were established in 1995 by Colin Glaetzer, who had made his name at Barossa Valley Estate. Since his son Ben joined the business the winery has enjoyed tremendous success, led by the new flagship wine Amon-Ra, first made in 2001. Although initially treated with suspicion due to Amon-Ra's 'cult' status, the winery has now established itself as a serious player with a string of successful wines. Grapes are sourced from long-established producers around the Ebenezer sub-region. The 2006 Amon-Ra is a superb wine, rich and opulent without straying into jammy territory. It is still very youthful, so a couple of hours in a decanter is probably called for, or sitting on it for another 10 years wouldn't hurt either.

Mitolo GAM Shiraz 2002

There are plenty of similarities to Glaetzer at Mitolo, where Frank Mitolo started the winery in 1999 and soon tapped Ben Glaetzer to get his vision off the ground. The G.A.M. Shiraz was first made in 2000, and helped by the budding reputation of Ben, was quickly elevated into the aura of 'cult' wines with the help of some big scores from Robert Parker, along with sibling wines Serpico, Savitar and Reiver.. Named after Frank's children, Gemma, Alexander and Marco, the G.A.M. is made from McLaren Vale grapes from the Chinese Block vineyard. the 2002 vintage benefited from a cool summer, and shows typically pure fruit, even as secondary characters develop with the wine now at full maturity.

Dalwhinnie Moonambel Shiraz 1998

Dalwhinnie is somewhat of a veteran by comparison with the vineyard established back in 1976 in the Pyrenees (named in 1836 after the European range), 200km west of Melbourne. The winery benefits from its elevation, making the Moonambel Shiraz distinctive in the evening's line-up, although the age was also a factor. For those reasons it was probably my favourite on the evening, as the herb and spice complexity married well with most of the food, while the more youthful South Australian wines tended to overshadow proceedings.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wines of the Week - January 19th

One of the things that is clear to me when discussing Australian wine with wine lovers in New York is the lack of understanding about the breadth of Australia's production. Too much focus is put on red wine, Shiraz in particular, where there are some fantastic whites being made in a range of styles. here are three different whites that have impressed me lately.

Turkey Flat Butcher's Block Marsanne Roussanne Viognier 2009

Turkey Flat have long been one of my favourite Shiraz producers, but this white is another reminder that the Barossa can turn out some handy (Northern) Rhone-based white blends as well. Like Torbreck's excellent Steading Blanc, this wine is predominantly Marsanne, with Roussanne and Viognier rounding out the blend. Although there's plenty of richness, there's an underlying restraint provided by the Roussanne that keeps it lively and refreshing.

Savaterre Chardonnay 2004

Savaterre was established by Keppell Smith after a country-wide search led him to the elevated site outside of Beechworth in Victoria. Focusing on the Burgundian grapes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Savaterre quickly established itself as a winery to watch after its initial releases from the 2000 vintage. I was able to try the 2004 Pinot and Chardonnay recently, and both impressed greatly. The vintage was excellent, and the wine has matured nicely into an elegant example of cool-climate winemaking, showing well integrated oak, stone fruit and a crisp finish.

Mcwilliam's Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 1986

It's not often I buy a case of something, but when you come across a wine like this it's a reminder that it is worth doing occasionally. I've been knocking off a bottle of this every year or two for long enough that the last bottle finally got opened. (Fear not, I've just started on the '95s). I'm pleased to say that bottle variation has been fairly minor along the way, and although they are probably past their best, they have been holding on just fine. Fruit character is fairly minimal, with some lime straying into the honey, nutty, petrol characters, along with a slightly oily texture. A reminder that Hunter Valley Semillon makes great value, long-lived whites that are worth the wait.

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Wines of the Week - January 12th

Our wines this week are in fact three vintages of the same wine, as my recent trip to Australia helped facilitate a mini-vertical of Grosset Polish Hill Riesling. The most highly regarded of Australian Rieslings, Jeffrey Grosset's flagship wine is fantastic when young, but it's always worth holding some bottles back to see how they can evolve over 7-10 years, or longer, in bottle.

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 1999, 2000 and 2003

The 1999 vintage was the last bottled under cork and was certainly fully developed, and likely a little past it's best. However, it was a lovely wine, with typical aged Riesling characters of petrol, honey and lime, and some preferred it on the day to the 2000. The Clare Valley 1999 vintage was better for Riesling than the 2000 and 2003s, although not up to the standard of 2002.

The 2000 vintage, bottled under Stelvin, still showed remnants of its youthful zing, which I appreciated, although perhaps its flavours were more subdued than the '99, which is probably explained by the less than stellar vintage. Drink up.

My pick of the three vintages was the 2003, which is probably drinking at, or close to, its (mature) peak. It still has plenty of lively acidity, combined with well developed classic aged Clare flavours and offers plenty of enjoyment now and for the next 2-3 years.

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Wines of the Week - December 15th

There's a lot of amazing wine being produced in California, much of it with amazing price tags to match. So when you get the chance to taste some of the best at a below bargain price, it's time to jump in. These were three highlights out of a great line-up of wines.

Harlan Estate 2007

A wine released for $245, but you might have to add a zero on the end if you want to get a bottle of this hard to find wine. Or perhaps on a normal night you settle for their second label, The Maiden. But not tonight. This is a wine of tremendous power, made from a blend of Bordeaux grapes (the estate is 70% Cabernet) grown on steep slopes of the Mayacamas, west of Oakville in the Napa Valley. The wine is very plush, with plenty of dark fruit and cassis, and a very long finish. I'd love to try it again in 20 years. The style is not for everyone, but then again, everyone can't buy it.

Continuum Proprietary Red 2007

The Mondavi family started this winery in 2005 on Pritchard Hill on the east side of the Napa Valley. Headed by Tim Mondavi (Robert Mondavi's son), the family aims to maintain the "continuum of excellence, innovation and tradition" from Robert's heyday - hence the name. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the 2007 vintage is very fruit forward and enjoyable now, although it's best to give this another five or more years in the bottle.   

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Started by the Golitzin Family in 1979, this Snohomish-based Washington boutique winery makes four highly regarded red wines, led by their flagship Cabernet made from grapes grown in the Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountain AVAs in the Columbia Valley. Incorporating a dash of Merlot, but omitting the dash of Cabernet Franc, the 2007 vintage is another winner for the winery, being the fourth vintage to receive 100 points from Parker. Ripe black currant fruit and some spicy characters. Still very youthful, it did open up a little in the glass, but was still only showing a fraction of its potential at the end of the evening.+

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Wines of the Week - December 8th

This week we have another of Wine Spectator's Top 100 wines, this time an Argentinian red, as well as a classy Alsace Riesling and an old favourite from the Barossa Valley.

Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec 2009

Following on from last month's article referencing the Malbec-Shiraz beauty contest, I've been keen to seek out some of Argentina's Malbecs currently on the shelves. Malbec has long been one of my favourite grapes, although its normally been hidden behind the name Cahors, the area of south-west France that makes Malbec-based reds. Catena's 2009 offering, probably won't live as long as the Cahors reds, but it still needs a little time to open up, so decant for an hour if possible. It's a rich, plummy wine with some floral and chocolate notes, offering plenty of pleasure for the price. 

Trimbach Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile 2004

Trimbach trace their Alsace wimemaking history back to 1626, so it's no surprise they make a decent wine or two as they approach their 400th birthday. Although seven years old now, this wine is only just starting to develop now, and will drink well for another decade or more, in fact it will probably go down OK at the 400th. Very refined and elegant, it lacks the precision of the best years, but still balances its acidity with flavours of lemon, apricot and minerality that makes every glass a pleasure.

Greenock Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Many years ago in Tokyo I hosted the Australian side in a blind-tasting wine challenge against the best of the USA. It was a fairly high budget affair, and I wasn't worried on the Shiraz front with Penfolds Grange 1998 against an overmatched Californian Syrah. However, it left little in the budget to go up against a mighty Napa Cabernet - the Shafer Hillside Select 1997. As you might have guessed, the Greenock Creek won the night - and perhaps neither wine is truly representative Cabernet, but both were beautiful wines. Nearly 10 years on, the Hillside Select is apparently getting better with age, and I'm pleased to say the Greenock Creek is still holding its own, and will for some time to come. They also make an ultra-premium Cabernet (and Shiraz) cuvee called 'Roennfeldt Road'. All wines are made in small/tiny quantities, but are definitely worth a look if you come across one.

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