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 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.

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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.

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