About Me

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Dublin, Ireland
Hi, I'm a Master of Wine (MW) having passed in 1997. I am about to open a wine shop in DĂșn Laoghaire, Ireland, called The Wine Library and this is my wine blog. There should be no conflict of interest between my work with The Wine Library and the opinions expressed herein but I will do my utmost to be fair and responsible in my posts – please read my Who Pays article. I have worked in wine education, retail, and consultancy. From June 2013 until May 2017 I was the Retail Manager for The Wicklow Wine Company. I was a member of the Council of the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) from 2008 to 2014 and was also a member of the Events, Trips and Governance Committees Having had problems with potentially libellous comments from unidentifiable posters, I now require that if you post a comment, you must identify yourself properly or it won't be published. Please note that I do not review products or services on request so kindly don't ask. I value my independence and I believe my readers (few that they may be) do so also.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

1963 Taylor

Hi, a brief post tonight as I'm in a hot hotel room in Luxembourg and it's hard to sleep. Why am I in Luxembourg? Well, a good friend just turned 80 today and we went out for a lovely meal - myself and my sister Mary, Martin the birthday boy and his partner Cliodhna, plus two other friends of Martin, Jake and Diana. Our dinner was at the Jaegdschlaas, a very reliable restaurant - though not the best for vegetarians - where I had a lovely filet de cheval!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Riesling rant

Last Friday, 19th June, the German Wine Institute held a tasting of riesling and other wines from Germany in the Westbury Hotel in Dublin. I only tasted a few wines as I was under time pressure, but I was impressed by those I tried. However, during some chat the topic of "I don't drink riesling - it's sweet!" came up and I thought it's about time for a rant.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Analysis in Vienna


Well, if you're going to do a spot of analysis you might as well go to Freud's home town :)
So, last Thursday the entire Council of IMW decamped to Vienna as very grateful guests of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. We were there to hold a Strategy Meeting and also to meet with some of our supporters and exchange views on what IMW is, where it should be going etc. Naturally, as this topic is not for public consumption I won't mention it, other than to say that we had a very good three days.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Well, how was it for you?

Well, I'm now in the Qantas Business Lounge in Singapore Changi, finishing off my posts about Landmark. So, I suppose, I have to ask whether it did what I had expected and whether it achieved its objectives.

Heaven, I'm in lickoffable heaven...

By the end of this tasting Kerri Thomson, of K T and the Falcon fame, stated that she was scared of my tasting notes... but what goes on tour stays on tour! This was a great way to finish the week. Even though we were rushed, due to time pressure, the wines shown and their fantastic individual character made this a real treat.

Bubbly personality

Well now, some of us have very bubbly personalities and today was the day for them, We had a great masterclass tasting of the best of Australian sparkling wines from Tony Jordan and Ed Carr. A few interesting things came out of the pre-tasting discussion. In Australia, some 70% of the bottle-fermented wines are made by the transfer method, something of which I had been unaware. This is a method where the yeast sediment is removed by filtration rather than riddling and disgorging. It gives exactly the same quality as the traditional method but adds uniformity across bottles (all the wine is blended then re-bottled) and is very cost effective.

Dinner blues

If I had one complaint about this week it would be two complaints! First, too many wines to taste at dinner - 14 - 16 wines with a meal is an awful lot. Second, big chunky reds with cheese - why not white wines?

So I skipped out of dinner early because that's what I do.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I hate blind tastings!

What? Another blind tasting? We travelled to the Lovely Maggie Beer's Farm (both Maggie and the farm are lovely) to meet with one of the great personalities of the Australian wine industry, Brain Croser AO, who decided to put us through a fiendish blind tasting.

Love is blind

I love pinot noir and Tom Carson decided to test us by putting on an excellent blind tasting of 14 pinots. As a result of the 2001 MW trip I, and many of my colleagues, was convinced that outside of Tasania there was no decent pint noir in Australia. The wines we tasted were generally big, extracted and quite oaky. But this tasting was a real eye-opener and, probably, achieved brilliantly what Landmark is all about - it informed us of the change in styles and the breadth of quality pinot noir available here.

We had 2 flights of seven wines - the first the "Young Guns", the second the "Old Masters". As someone who is approaching 50 I regret to say that the young guns took the day, although there were some fabulous wines in the Old Masters.

A deliciously fruity and soft Holyman 2007 from Tasmania led off, swiftly followed by two equally fruity and smooth wines, the Bindi Growers Block 5 2007 from Macedon and a gorgeous Yabby Lake 2007 from Mornington. These "flighty" styles were soon followed up by the bigger hitters, Stefano Lubiano 2006 from Tasmania becoming firmer in styles, a Kooyong Ferrous 2006 from Mornington showing some muscle but well-balanced, then a superb Tarra Warra MDB 2006 from Yarra, followed by some Kiwi interloper from someplace called Felton Road. Admittedly, a bit like the hard-working P J Charteris, it was super.

Then, we had the Old Masters, a few of which were showing their age. I found the Ashton Hills 2003 from Adelaide Hills to be drying out and would, perhaps, have been better a year or three ago. The Paringa Reserve 2003 was very big and muscular and, for me, should have been tested for performance enhancing drugs. A valid style, I guess, but too big for pinot. The shocker was the 2002 Domaine de la Romane Conti St Vivant which was very old looking. But Tom had saved the best for last - a 1999 Mt Mary from the Yarra was perfectly a point and really good. The Bass Phillip Premium 1997 from Gippsland was lovely and ageing well. Then the two eye-openers: Bannockburn Serre 1997 from Geelong was remarkable. Although almost sherry-like on the nose it had a gorgeous palate and was a beautiful drink. The Coldstream Hills Reserve 1992 was just fantastic - drinking well now but suggesting at leats another 3 to 5 years ahead of it.

I put my hand up and admitted that I was wrong and that Australia really does have great pinot nor. I hope this will help with my parole board meeting later today LOL

Anything but...

I never got the ABC thing - why would you not want to drink chardonnay? A bunch of idiots decided that chardonnay was boring so started Anything But Chardonnay because they were too stupid to see what chardonnay has to offer. Let's examine this. Chardonnay is a grape so, be default, can be no more or less boring than any inarticulate living thing. Ah no, they say, there's a lot of dull, homogeneous chardonnay wines out there. Oh right, so it's the winemakers who are boring then? Well, why didn't you all get up off your backsides and find the good chardonnays, the ones that show the range of styles and flavours this grape offers? Because you're lazy - end of story.
By the way, if my comments offend anyone, good - and don't bother complaining because I won't listen.
Chardonnay comes after riesling, in my opinion, but far exceeds other varieties in the range of wines it can produce. Crisp and lean or broad and round, with or without oak, big and massive or light and delicate they're all possible. Chardonnay is also a very savoury grape - it makes wines that go so well with food. So, if you're the kind of person who finds wine confusing (which it can be) and you're wondering whose opinions to follow in re chardonnay, let me help you. Listen to me - drink more chardonnay. Then learn about wine and drink loads of other wines as well BUT never, ever just follow the herd and stop drinking some of the best wines you can buy.
It's 07:15 here and, as you can see, I'm not an early morning person!
Yesterday we kicked off with chardonnay and had a lovely tasting, all of the 2006 vintage: Tyrell's Vat 47 (Hunter), Cullen Kevin John (Margaret River), Vasse Felix Heytesbury (MR), Leeuwin Estate Art Series (MR), Shaw + Smith M3 (Adelaide Hills), Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard (AH), Giaconda Estate Vineyard (Beechworth), Bindi Wine Growers Quartz (Macedon Ranges), Stonier KBS Vineyard (MOrnington Peninsula), Oakridge 864 (Yarra Valley), Tarra Warra MDB (Yarra), Freycinet Vineyard (Tasmania), Hardy's Eileen hardy (Tasmania, Yarra, Tumbarumba) and Penfold's Yattarna (Tasmania, Adelaide Hills, Henty).
This was a lovely range of wines, from the lemony wines of Margaret River to the classically big Giaconda to an excellent Yattarna. Overall, there were elegant, fresh styles as well as bigger styles but all showed great class. The Giaconda is an interesting wine in light of the ABC nonsense. It's big and fairly in your face (the Leeuwin falls into this category as well) but so what? These are quintessentially Australian in that the average Australian is big and friendly and these wines are like that. They're not big and loud, just generous and welcoming. hen you want a more delicate style (or if that's what you prefer) don't say these are bad, just switch to another wine.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

To BD or not BD...

That is the question; whether tis nobler in the vineyard to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous chemicals, or, to take up preparations 500 and 501 against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them...

Last night's dinner had one great benefit, the chance to talk to Vanya Cullen who is a keen advocate of biodynamics (BD as it's known here) and, as far as I know, runs a carbon neutral winery. We also had Julian Castagna but, forgive me Julian, Vanya's a lot prettier so she gets the limelight! Who says sexism is dead?

BD has a number of principles which include using homeopathic quantities of certain preparations to combat vineyard problems or to encourage vineyard development. Without a doubt, pretty much any vineyard grown BD produces fabulous fruit and the vines appear to be a lot healthier or sturdier than those grown under standard regimes. The question for many is: does BD really make a difference?

In 2007, I attended the annual IMW pilgrimage to Geisenheim where we had a weekend seminar on BD ad organics. We were show a number of trials which being undertaken to measure the efficacy of various BD preps, as well as comparing BD against organic and standard viticulture. Here in Australia Mike Brown of Gemtree is facilitating a similar programme which compares BD against organic against heavy conventional against light conventional. I found these all interesting but as the Scots would say, I hae ma doots!

Some years ago Paul Dolan of Pardcci (ex-Fetzer) said how his compost, which had been sprayed with a BD prep, had a higher earthworm count than an untreated heap and this was "proof" of the benefits of BD. Pondering this later, as an ex-mathematician, I realised that this is nowhere near proof. There is anecdotal evidence and there is statistically significant evidence. Anecdotal evidence is where something happens to you, you mention this to someone else and they adopt whatever position you have recommended on the basis of your recommendation. For wine geeks this means always following Robert Parker or James Halliday or Jancis Robinson MW, for example. Their anecdotal opinions are taken as gospel.

Statistically significant evidence is where you determine, through elimination of variables in the trial and statistical analysis of results whether the result is significant i.e. whether the results show that you have isolated the key determinant of effect and whether it works. For example, if a treatment is no different to a non-treatment then statistical analysis will highlight this. If however, a trial determines that the use of a treatment significantly changed an outcome then that treatment has been shown to be effective. By the way, this effect could be detrimental as much as beneficial.

Now, we know (and we do, regardless of opinions to the contrary) that homeopathy does not do anything - people get better through a placebo effect. For those who say I'm wrong and that their opinion is as valid of mine I should point out that I am not stating an opinion I am reporting medically researched fact. For those of you who want an easy look into this read Ben Goldacre's book "Bad Science" - then stop worrying about getting anti-oxidants into your diet: they are bad for you!

So, given that homeopathy doesn't do anything and that the homeopathic dilutions are only water (check out the BBC Horizon programme with James Randi on the so-called memory of water) what of BD? Well, if Paul Dolan had told me that he had sprayed his other compost heap with water every time he'd sprayed his BD heap, counted the earthworm populations and statistically analysed the results (in any two heaps one will always have more - the question is what difference in the numbers is significant?) and repeated these trials over many years and got consistent results then, and only then, would I take it as proven.

To reiterate the difference between anecdotal and proof bear in mind that a number of people have fallen out of planes with parachutes that didn't work yet survived the fall. That's anecdotal evidence that you might not die if this happens to you. But would you voluntarily jump without a 'chute? No, you have personal experience that falls are dangerous. In areas of life where your experience is limited, though, you tend to rely more heavily on anecdotal evidence because humans value experience highly.

Back to BD. If someone will run a vineyard on BD principles BUT only spray water whenever they would otherwise have sprayed BD preps and then measure that vineyard against a similar BD one, do this over a good many years, do tastings of the wines etc then we might see if the active interventions of BD work.

Finally, who cares? I mean this - if the results (the wine if the bottle) are really all that matters why worry about proof or disproof? Why argue with those mad few who take BD as a religion - a faith? People with faith cannot be shaken by any degree of evidence. if BD makes the happy, why not leave them alone? For those who always seem surprised that scientists use BD, why? They looked at cause and effect (in a broader sense than the narrow viewpoint of BD) and made a logical decision - the results are what I want to achieve so that's what I'll do. Do you know how a computer actually works? If you answer yes then you'd better be a qualified quantum scientist because otherwise you don't! Does it make any difference as to how you use a PC? Of course not.

OK, breakfast has just arrived so sod off you lot and leave me alone LOL

Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow...

Another marathon dinner session - slow food and wines. Jansz Premium Vintage Rose 2005 - my Finnish MW colleague Essi Avellan judged this to be very good. I tried the Avonmore Organic Pale Ale which I judged to be very good. The Pennyweight Woody's Amontillado was, well, hmmmm, not at all like an amontillado Sherry being pale and sweet.
Two roses followed - the Sutton Grange Fairbank 2008 (hardly rose in colour at all) worked very well with the food, while the Lucy Margaux Vino d'Auge 2008 was lovely on its own.
The Gemstone Albarino which cannot be called albarino so is now a grape without a name and this is really getting boring was nice but no match at all for its pork belly and apple dish. The Moonarra Holly's Garden Pinot Gris 2008 was a match, and a very good one at that. The Ngeringa Viognier 2007 was lovely but, again, did not match the dish.
A Bass Phillip Pinot Noir 2007 was simply fantastic. Again, it didn't go well with the quail pie as there was a strong red wine jus but it was gorgeous. The Castagna Genesis Syrah 2007 was a better match having the depth to match both meat and sauce. The Ngeringa Syrah 2006 was good.
Then, to ruin both cheese and wines we had ewes cheeses with a Castagna La Chiave Sangiovese 2002 (gorgeous), a Castagna Un Segreto Sangiovese/Shiraz 2005 (peppery and lovely) and a Cullen Mangan Malbec/Petit Verdot/Merlot 2007 (rich and deep). Any chance we could get some off-dry whites with the cheese, please? Pretty please?
Ooops - two off-dry to sweet rieslings, each destroyed by the intense lemon curd dessert. KT and the Falcon 2008 (nice enough) and a Lethbridge Kabinett 2008 (very nice) but both should have been served one course earlier. A Ngeringa Altus Vin Santo was lovely and the Sutton Grange Ratafianovese 2007 was, well,.... have you ever been dared to drink something and discovered that it wasn't that bad?
Say no more and off to bed.

What's the alternative?

The afternoon session was held in Yalumba's winery in an old, refurbished underground tank. In here, no-one can hear you scream....
Louisa Rose and Max Allen led an extensive tasting of many alternative wines. While a bit long (20 wines) it was interesting and there were some really thought-provoking wines. We started with 2 pinot gris wines (Henschke and Delatite), then 2 viogniers (Yalumba and Castagna) and a roussanne (Giaconda). Then an arneis (Dal Zotto), an albarino which cannot be so-called anymore because it's savagnin or traminer but that takes too long to say (Crittenden), a mad blend (Spinifex's Lola), a friuliano (Quealy) and a fiano (Coriole).
I liked both pinots gris, the Yalumba viognier, the arneis (which would be lovely with prawns) and the fiano. The friuliano was weird and the rest were nice but not great.
Then we had some reds. We started with gamay (R Wines), sangiovese (Greenstone), tempranillo (Gemstone) and mourvedre (Hewitson). I loved the gamay but seemed to be in a minority here. The sangiovese was very good, I found the tempranillo tough and tannic (all Australians say these are classic tempranillo characters but not where I come from!) and the mourvedre was an old-fashioned style but lovely.
Then 3 really good nebbiolos. Arrivo's lungo macerazione (very very good), Luke Lambert (good, fresh style) and Pizzini (rich and complex although, again, the group generally didn't like this one).
Then three oddities - Boireann's Tannat (big, chunky, good), Cobaw Ridge's Lagrein (very good, peppery) and First Drop's Montepulciano (extracted and massive and not like any montepulciano I've ever tasted).
Overall, some hits and some misses but very entertaining indeed.

Call a cab

Under the guidance of Rob Mann, a most temperate young winemaker, we tasted two flights of cabernet wines. These were impressive, and showed that there is some pretty high quality cabernet sauvignon in Australia.
Flight 1 was: Mt Mary Quintet Cabernets 2005 (Yarra Valley), Howard Park Abercrombie Cabernet/merlot/cabernet franc 2005 (Great Southern & Margaret River), Cape Mentelle Cabernet 2005 (Margaret River), Woodlands "Colin" Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Margaret River), Sandalford Prendiville Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Margaret River) and Mouton Rothschild 2005 (Pauillac).
A very successful flight. The Margaret River wines all showed well and both the Cape Mentelle and the Woodlands were lovely wines which would definitely benefit from bottle age. The Mouton stood out for a mineral, lean type of wine in comparison to the other wines, although it was very good to be fair.
Flight 2 was Parker Terra Rossa First Growth 2005 (Coonawarra), Majella The Malleea 2005 (Coonawarra), Henschke Cyril Henschke 2005 (Eden Valley), Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 2005 (Clare Valley), Chateau Reynella Basket Pressed Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (McLaren Vale) and Penfolds Cellar Reserve 2005 (Barossa). I really liked the Henschke and I still don't get this particular Wendouree wine but, again, this flight worked well.

Lean green machine

OK, these exhaustive tasting notes are taking me too long to do so, from here on in, I think these'll be shorter. Wednesday started with Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc and blends of the two. ed by Iain Riggs of Brokenwood we had an interesting morning. The semillon flight was: Tyrell's Vat 1 Semillon 1998 (Hunter), Brokenwood ILR Semillon 1999 (Hunter), Peter Lehmann Margaret Semillon 2002(BArossa), Tempus Two Copper Zenith SEmillon 2003 (Hunter), Vasse Felix Semmilon 2005 (Margaret River), McWilliams Mt Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2006 (Hunter) and Thomas Wines Braemore Individual Vineyard Semillon 2008 (Hunter).
Apart from the Brokenwood which had a cork problem, but still showed some great palate weight, the rest were all very good. The Peter Lehmann was quite a revelation with only 12% abv and a very supple acid style. The Vasse Felix was the most different wine of the flight wit big tropical fruits but well made in it's style.
Then three sauvignons - Shaw & Smith 2009 (Adelaide Hills), Angullong 2008 (Orange) and Logan 2008 (Based in Mudgee but orange fruit). The S + S tank sample showed great depth and promises to be very good. I found the Angullong light and not great but the Logan was excellent.
Next, the moment of truth - five sem/sauv or sau/sem blends. Personally, I didn't like them much at all and, in typical style, said so. I appreciate why these were shown but I thought they were weak and showed nothing that suggested to me that this blend style is going to do well outside Australia. The really good bit is that the winemaker for one of the wines was right beside me, but he took it well. Still, I think I'll check my insurance asap LOL!
Funnily enough, while quite a few defended the wines, one or two agreed with me so maybe I'm not just an arrogant old so-and-so - or maybe I am!

Biker gang invades Barossa

Reuters and AP: Members of the notorious biker gang, the Wine Cobbers, have been spotted in Australia's Barossa wine region. Local police supremo Inspector Brett O'Micees said a number of major figures from this dangerous gang had been spotted in a local dive, well known for criminal activities. "Yeah, witnesses have described a number of individuals which leads us to believe that gang leaders are here, mate", he said. Apparently shady individuals, known only by nicknames, have been spotted. These include The Bald Eagle, The Magpie and The Foghorn. He also mentioned that the witness statements might be slightly unreliable as a number of bald men, not all the Bald Eagle, were mentioned. "Yeah, we're not sure about that one, but there has been drinking on a heavy scale and witnesses have overheard talk of petrol, kerosene, TDN and bombs, mate.", he said. He also pointed out that a number of figures from other bike gangs had been seen such as Eyebrows Jim, a long-standing godfather figure in the biker world. When pressed as to how the situation might develop he said "Yeah, we're worried that a few real nutters might turn up, including Van the Woman and Adelaide Crowser - these are really volatile and are likely to throw acid and stuff around, mate. We're really worried because we also believe that Mad Dog Paddy is already here. With that mad Irishman and this lot together we could be in trouble, mate."
An Interpol Liaison Officer from France, Inspector Vigneron, has pointed out that while he would like to have them all locked up and the keys thrown away this can't be done since they didn't arrive on bikes and, therefore, have not contravened Australia's anti-bike gang laws. "Its so difficult being hampered by legislation, mon ami" he said.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dinner bites

A quickie - mainly because I'm tired and I find I can't really taste wines over dinner that well. These were all good:
2001 Yarrabank Late Disgorged Chardonnay Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley;
1998, 2004 & 2008 Tahbilk Marsanne, from Goulburn;
1996, 2002 & 2006 d'Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings from McLaren Vale;
2006 John Duval Plexus, 2005 John Duval Eligo, 2006 John Duval Entity all Barossa;
1992, 1996 & 2002 Yalumba The Reserve Cabernet/Shiraz from Barossa;
Rockford Black Shiraz Sparkling Shiraz from Barossa.

Dinner gorgeous - we are very well fed. Guests were Iain Riggs of Brokenwood, Chester Osborne of d'Arenberg, John Duval, Jeff Grosset and Stephen Pannell.

Goodnight all!

Jaysus mister, have ya nuttin' younger dan da?

It's very simple, really. Australia has the oldest vines in the world - that's a fact. There are more vines from the mid 19th century here than anywhere else and they're still producing. The oldest cabernet vineyard in the world is here, as are the oldest shiraz vines. This is just one of the fascinating aspects of Australia's wine heritage and our afternoon session took history as its theme.
Andrew Caillard MW introduced us to the best tasting I have ever attended. I have been fortunate to taste many great wines in my time but to get so many in one go was fantastic. I have mentioned before about the generosity of our hosts but this session took that to extremes. Not only did we have the marvellous James Halliday on hand to share his wealth of personal experience of these great wines but we had 50 years to taste through, starting with a 1954 Seppelt Great Western K72 Shiraz. This was a really interesting wine. I have no doubt that it is past its best but, still, it had an astonishing toffee and raisin nose, with sweet flavours on the palate but was drying on the finish. How many of us will be so lively after 50 years?
Then a Penfold's Bin 95 Grange Hermitage 1955. Well, what a wine! Fantastic - incredibly drinkable even now with a superb mocha and dried fruit nose, sweet palate, supple but still with good depth and a lovely elegance.
How do you follow that? Easy - Wynn's Michael Shiraz 1955. A gorgeous wine with a still tight structure and tasting more like cabernet than shiraz! Slightly leafy notes but a long savoury finish.
So, they have some old wines. Well, it gets better. Next up was Penfold's Bin 60A 1962 Cabernet Shiraz from Barossa. I think this is probably the greatest wine I've ever tasted. A complex nose of black fruits, slightly leafy, with back notes of mocha and brown fruits. The palate has a sweet, soft, ripe entry showing rounded shiraz fruit. Middle palate is rich, balanced and complex with an astonishingly clean finish of sweet prunes, raisins, figs and no drying tannins at all. This one, for those of you who need to know, fetches between AUD3,500 and AUD5,500 per bottle at auction. And we tasted two bottles! And they were gorgeous so nyah nyah nyah LOL.
No way to follow that, eh? Well, how about Penfold's Grange Shiraz Cabernet 1971? At only 11.5% alcohol you might think not much hope but, hang on there. Ripe, rich, sweet, chocolate and raisins, spicy oak and a gorgeous finish. I normally can't stand Grange as it takes forever to mature and change but... well, if this is how it turns out then what a wine! It may be a multi-regional blend, it may be one of the most designed wines there is but with this heritage it is truly a greatly important wine.
So, what a first flight of wines. Another 15 to go and getting younger so we can't expect anything that exciting, can we? Well, the next flight of four was well able to stand up and account for itself - no shrinking violets here.
Wynn's John Riddoch 1982 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon - the first vintage of this great wine. Wow and gosh both got into my tasting note as this wine was fantastic. Youthful more than anything, suggesting a great many years before it. Classic cabernet style, even some lifted leaf characters but rich, supple, sweet and gorgeous.
You know, when you have a lot to taste you dehydrate and tire easily but these wines were so good it was easy to keep going. Next, a Wendouree 1985 Shiraz. Words are starting to fail me as they're all so god. This was excellent due to it's fabulously complex nose of spice and chocolate and the amazing balancing act between rich, round, spicy chocolate fruit and still firm but well-structured tannins on the palate. It may be 24 years old but looks and tastes only 10 or so!
Hill of Grace 1986 Shiraz. This is like name-checking all the greats and, to be fair, that's exactly what we were there to do. It was 23 years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play, so let me introduce to you....
A really, really good wine with an amazingly lively palate following from sweet, spicy fruits on the nose. The American oak shows up somewhat but is well balanced by the depth of middle palate fruit.
Now to a classic in the sense of being a great wine from the ur-region: Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 1986. Well, having had two bottles of this yesterday the Hunter style starts to make sense. Rich red fruits, fresh acidity and lively but, at the same time, broad, elegant and long. Excellent wine, going at AUD900 or more at auction.
Then we changed to cooler climes and more cabernet-based wines. We started with Mt Mary Vineyard Lilydale Cabernets Quintet 1990 from Yarra. This was a beautiful cabernet and that's not something you say that often. Still a bit tight but fantastic blackcurrant flavours and a long, long finish.
To follow, a Cullen Cabernet Merlot 1995 from Margaret River. Wow - for such a cool climate what a level of cassis and ripe blackcurrant fruit. Sweet and savoury palate, quite rich middle palate with some merlot plums and fruitcake showing. The finish was long and still tight but with really ripe fruit. Excellent stuff.
Next, Clarendon Hills Astralis Shiraz. A gorgeous wine showing menthol and pepper spice nose but with deep, rich sweet fruit on the palate, some gorgeous prune and chocolate flavours and a long finish.
Next Penfolds Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet Sauvignon 1996. Perhaps overshadowed by so many great wines this fell short for me. It was definitely good, possibly very good but I found it finished slightly green.
Then a Best's Wines Thompson Family Shiraz 1996 from Great Western. Port and liquorice on the nose but big, brawny, spicy palate. Old-fashioned in a way, the kind of wine a bloke would order in a pub in Alice Springs - nothing wimpy there, mate! Just fantastically unreconstructed Australian leathery but ripe shiraz.
Petaluma - it comes up everywhere and why wouldn't it? The 1998 Cabernet merlot from Coonawarra showed such a classic and classy Coonawarra style that you wondered where it all went wrong in the region. This was just gorgeous - classic blackcurrant notes, proper tannins (i.e. supporting rather than hiding the fruit) and really elegant.
Next, a real oddity - and why not? Australia was settled by tough outsiders and this next wine... well, I don't know. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 2001 from south Gippsland. For me, it was interesting, very like a real old Burgundy but utterly weird. Not undrinkable but I'm not sure I'd drink it. Sweet to start, with a sour cherry note coming quickly and then finishing with raisined fruits. If you enjoy gambling...
Clonakilla 2001 Shiraz Viognier: I finally get the whole shiraz viognier thing - and the whole Clonakilla thing, maybe. Amazing stuff - peachy/apricotty nose (this is red, remember) with an astonishingly fragrant palate entry. Spicy and peppery then a rich, dense dark fruit evolves and the wine firms up. It finishes clean, big and almost black in style. Say wow! and repeat. Wow!
A Torbreck Run Rig Shiraz Viognier 1999 was amazingly elegant for this quite typical Barossa wine. Black fruit and violets with a rich, deep, round palate yet supple and elegant.
Finally into the 21st century with Seppelt St Peter Shiraz 2002 from Great Western. A very young wine still and needs time to open up - gorgeous. Then Balnaves of Coonawarra The Tally Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. The youngest of them all and, for me, a really classic Coonawarra wine. Elegant, classy, long - a great end to a fine afternoon.

Shiraz a go go

After the excellent riesling session, we then had a shiraz and blends session with Stephen Pannell. We started with four mature wines - Craiglee 1990 from Sunbury in Victoria, Plantagenet 1991 from mt Barker in Western Australia, Mt Edelstone 1991 from Eden Vally, South Australia and Wendouree 1991 from Clare Valley, also South Australia.
These four were varied; I found the Craiglee to be good but tiring, the Plantagenet to be very mature but lovely, the Mt Edelstone to be superb and the Wendouree to be very youthful still and a super wine.
Then we had a tour d'horizon of shiraz in Australia. To start, a trip down the road to Adelaide Hills with Shaw & Smith's 2006. Lovely and fruity, elegant and long. Then a big run all the way to the Yarra Valley for De Bortoli's Reserve 2006.I didn't think this was that good - it had a lovely nose but was a bit grippy and green on the finish. Then a swing back into west Victoria for Giaconda Warner 2006, from Beechworth. Dense, tight and long. Very very good. Down the road to Grampians and another Mt Langhi Ghiran 2006 - typical pepper and firm palate but elegant. Lovely stuff. A Seppelt Mt Ida 2006 from Heathcote was quite fragrant in style and a good wine. Then, back to SA and a McLaren Vale wine, Clarendon Hills Astralis 2006: classic big, black McLaren fruit, slight black olive note, with a long almost sweet finish. Finally, a Charlie Melton Grains of Paradise 2006 to return us to the Barossa. Brambles and bright berry fruit in a big style with a broad palate and very good.
Finally, a quiz for us - five wines blind, all blends. Does regional character show? Can we spot the blend mates? Eh, no, not really, eh, could we do that one again LOL. To start with the atypical Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2006 from Canberra is not easy - kudos to Sean Razee for spotting viognier. A good wine in an unusual style, but more of this anon. Then, S C Pannell Shiraz Grenache 2006 from McLaren Vale - spicy with red and black fruits, long and fresh. Next, Spinifex Indigene 2006 Shiraz Mourvedre from Barossa. Big and spicy, plums and new oak - good booze! Number 4 was another Wendouree (never tasted it before in my life and I get three in one day - bit like waiting for a bus!), this time a 2005 Shiraz Malbec blend. Why oh why? Nope, didn't like the redcurrant style of the malbec in the blend. Finally, Grange 2004 which is 85% Barossa and 15% McLaren Vale. I guessed Barossa but not Grange. Big, peppery with integrated oak, pretty damn good.
What to learn? That Australian shiraz is not a one size fits all style; rather, there is a range of styles depending on origin, vintage and blend mates, as well as winemakers, giving consumers a really great choice when looking at these wines. So, off you go now and buy some shiraz!

Dry white gems

Riesling, why wouldn't you? It's the finest white grape in the world and makes a fantastic range of wines in Germany, Austria, France and Australia. So, this morning with Jeff Grosset (sans hair!) guiding us we had an excellent dozen rieslings.
We started with Kilikanoon Mort's Reserve 2007 and Mt Horrocks Watervale 2005, both from Clare. These showed very well the classic Clare style with the Mt Horricks slightly broader in style than the Kilikanoon. Then two more mature wines, a Petaluma Hanlin Hill 1992 and a Grosset Polish Hill 1984. I loved the Petaluma but the tutors felt it was interesting, though not great. The Grosset was lovely and soft, well mature but very drinkable. Then, well a Leo Buring DWC15 Watervale 1973. DW = dry white, C = 1973 (for some reason, these Aussie chaps use letters for years even though the years have numbers - how odd!) and 15 = Clare. For me, a stunning wine with an incredible length and liveliness about it, even at 36 years of age. This was direct from John Vickery's personal cellar and is probably one of the last bottles of this wine. The generosity of our hosts (in the broad sense of the Australian industry) is quite astonishing.
We then switched to other regions, starting with a Peter Lehmann Reserve 2002 from Eden. More lemon and floral in style with a wonderful creamy texture. Then, a Pewsey Vale Contours 1999, to follow the 2002 from yesterday. Amazingly fresh in style (ah!, the joy of stelvin) and elegant, this is a fabulous wine. But, in case you thought PV had only the Contours, we had a 1980 (!!!!!) Rhine Riesling, also in (Yaaay!!) screwcap. Wow - the palate was fresh as a daisy with a real lemon curd and cream middle palate, and very long. Great stuff.
Then four wines from cool zones - two from Henty (Victoria) to start, then one from Frankland River (Western Australia) and one from Tasmania. The Seppelt Drumborg 2007 was a pale, crisp style, mineral and Alsace-like - a good wine but rather in the shadow of the previous two. The Crawford River 1996 was excellent, with a pineapple nose and long finish. I liked this though the tutors were not so sure. The Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge 2007 had a real granny smith apple style and the Craigow 2003 was almost like a trocken riesling from Piesport, with earthy, smokey notes, pineapple flavours and long finish.
Mmmmm - that's why we love riesling.It ages, it has great flavours, it varies from site to site but stays riesling, and delivers great wines. Australia has a lot to be proud of and riesling is one.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Tasting delights 2

Well, it's now 7:33 and the mist is lifting. So, back to the wines because our dinner menu was amazing. To get us in the mood a superbly rich yet well balanced Pirie NV Sparking Chardonnay Pinot Noir, with Andrew himself here to dine with us. Then, three vintages of Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling - 1998, 2005, 2009. The 2009 was a tank sample but showed very good depth of fruit with fresh acidity and should be a good wine when finished. The 2005 had a lovely toasty note on the nose and was rich on the palate and was my favourite of the three. The 1998 showed remarkably little toast and was still a lovely fresh wine - really good stuff. Stephen Henschke, who was also dining with us, briefed us on the history of the Steingarten Vineyard, now sadly out of use. Apparently it really was a garden of stones and extremely windy so no surprise it's no longer in use!
Then, we had three McWilliam's Mt Pleasant Lovedale Semillons from 1998, 2003 and 2007. These are classic wines and to get a chance to taste them was fabulous. The 2007 was quite mineral on the palate but with a fresh acidity and a fragrant, floral style. the 2003 was slightly toasty on the nose, with good depth on the palate yet remarkably elegant. The 1998 was my favourite with a lovely toasty nose with a hint of rosemary, and a very youthful and fresh palate even with some lovely toasty evolved fruit characters.
These were then followed by four wines from Yarra Yering - two vintages of Dry Red Number 1 ( a cabernet, merlot, malbec and petit verdot blend) 1989 and 1997 and two vintages of Dry Red Number 2 ( a shiraz, viognier and marsanne blend) 1980 and 1994. James Halliday explained the somewhat mad background to this winery owned by his late friend Dr Bailey Corrodus. The wines were fantastic. The 1980 #2 was a stunningly gorgeous mature red with supple, sweet fruit. The 1997 #1 was, for me, the least good showing some odd characters and a slight oxtail note on the nose. The 1989 #1 was a super wine, slight green notes on the nose but a lovely rich palate. The 1994 #2 elicited some adverse comment as it had a very peppery nose but I really enjoyed it.
At this stage we had four more wines to go but I was feeling the pace and I don't think I was tasting that well. However, the Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 from Tasmania was firm and still youthful but very good, the Dalwhinnie Eagle Series Shiraz 2001 from Pyrenees was quite nice but the 2004 vintage of the same was very good and the "save the best wine for last" All Saints Estate Museum Release Muscat from Rutherglen was just gorgeous.
Today we learn about riesling, from Jeff Grosset (who better?), Shiraz and blends with Stephen Pannell (one of McLaren Vale's top winemakers) and then we get an historical overview from Andrew Caillard MW and James Halliday. Just in case you thought we were taking it easy!

Tasting delights 1

It is currently misty in the Barossa - I can barely see 100 m even at 7:07 am! Yesterday we had a fabulous range of wines to taste - given that we can expect the range to be better today we're in for a treat.
Yesterday afternoon's session was a chance to taste some fairly classic wines from some fairly classic regions. First off were two rieslings - a Clare Valley wine: Grosset Polish Hills 2008, and an Eden Valley wine, Pewsey Vale "The Contours" 2002. Both were very good although in different styles, especially age. The Grosset was typical with lime and mineral notes while the Pewsey Vale was round and supple and as close to perfection as you're likely to taste.
Next up was a fairly mature Tyrell's Vat 1 Semillon from the Hunter. What was interesting here was how little aged character it showed, being still somewhat herbaceous although there were some toasty notes on the palate. It was a really good example of the style. Nest two chardonnays, a Leeuwin Estate Art Series 2005 from Margaret River and a Petaluma Piccadilly 2006 from Adelaide Hills. These were two quite contrasting wines. The first is an "old style" Aussie chardonnay, quite big and ripe yet still very fresh and showing no sign of the 100% new oak in which it was fermented and matured. Lovely stuff and why, oh why do people persist in drinking sauvignon blanc when there are wines like this around? The Petaluma was a more restrained style and absoluely gorgeous - more Burgundian perhaps but very savoury.
Next we had a pinot noir from Geelong, Gary Farr's By Farr Sangreal 2006. This had a lovely, elegant nose and fruity entry but, for me, was slightly tannic on the finish. I gather our pinot nour flight later this week will be blind so we have some arguments ahead, I reckon!
Then two cabernet based wines, Vanya Cullen's 2001 Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot from Margaret River and Wynn's John Riddoch Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. Both were very good wines, with the merlot component in the Cullen wine giving it a slightly rounder feel. The general response to a question as to te perceived supremacy between the regions was that Margaret River was excelling currently but that Coonawarra should be better.
Then a flight of four shiraz. First, a controversial Brokenwood Graveyard 1998 from the Hunter. I found this wine poor but there was a general response that this was Hunter style. However, at dinner we had a second bottle and, for me, it was better - it still had the sort of red fruit style that Hunter shiraz is known for but was also fresher and rounder. Then a Mt Langhi Ghiran Langhi 2004 from Grampians. I was saddened at dinner to learn from James Halliday that the guiding light of Mt Langhi Ghiran, Trevor Mast, has got Alzheimer's and that he is no longer involved at the winery. The wine was a classic Mt Langhi style with subtle pepper spice and a slightly firm palate.
Then Henschke's Mt Edelstone 2006 from Eden Valley - what a wine! Supple and subtle and about as perfect a shiraz as you could want. Stunningly drinkable right now yet with a great potential to age. Then Penfold's RWT 2004 from Barossa. Another elegant style with a bit more chocolate character than the Mt Edelstone yet also drinking well despite being a great wine for ageing. Finally, a Glaetzer Anaperenna Shiraz Cabernet 2006 from the Barossa. A much bigger style than the previous two - I think this is a Glaetzer style - but with great richness and balance. A modern take, perhaps, on the big Barossa style but I always find their wines to be very good.
The last wine of the afternoon was De Bortoli's Noble One Bortytis Semillon 2006 from Riverina. Gorgeously sweet yet with a clean acid structure it was yummy.

We're off to see the wizards...

Those wonderful wizards of Oz - the only question, then, is who is the lion, the scarecrow, the tin man and who is Dorothy? Well, this morning saw us leaving out hotel bright and early for a quick visit to the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) where we did a mini-mini Advanced Wine Assessment Course (AWAC). Normally, an AWAC is a four day tasting calibration session but we did just two short flights of riesling and then shiraz. I had done a one-day version of this earlier this year in Dublin.Today, my red scores were pretty good although the whites were a little variable. Oh well, early morning, perhaps?
Then on to the Barossa where we have been lodged in the sumptuous Louise - check out www.thelouise.com.au to see what sort of place we have been incarcerated in! Cruel and inhuman, I'm sure you'll agree LOL. Our afternoon session was a quick review of Australian regions with an excellent tasting to go with it - Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2008, Clare Valley; Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling 2002, Eden Valley; Tyrell's Vat 1 Semillon 1998, Hunter Valley; Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2005, Margaret River; Petaluma Piccadilly Chardonnay 2006, Adelaide Hills; By Farr Sangreal Pinot Noir 2006, Geelong; Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot 2001, Margaret River; Wynn's John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Coonawarra; Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz 1998, Hunter Valley; Mt Langhi Ghiran Langhi 2004, Grampians; Henschke Mt Edelstone Shiraz 2006, Eden Valley; Penfold's RWT Shiraz 2004, Barossa; Glaetzer Anaperenna Shiraz Cabernet 2006, Barossa; and De Bortoli Noble one Botrytis Semillon 2006.
After such a line up what next? Well, shortly it's off to dinner to not only meet some of Australia's finest but also to taste some mini-verticals including Steingarten rieslings and even some pretty old wines - more on these tomorrow!