Review Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 1998

89 points

From Barossa Valley (mainly) South Australia.

In 1957 Penfolds created this wine. Long considered on par with their Grange but in a totally different style. An elegant wine, with little oak flavour (only old oak influence).

1998 was a very good vintage for this now pretty unfashionable wine – it sells for an eighth the price of Grange and there is no way you can easily obtain a 1998 Grange retail anymore. I can see why it is unfashionable, it has the flavours of very good, if old fashioned, Barossa Shiraz but it is subtle and elegant, hiding its 14% alcohol very well. This wine is easily overshadowed by today’s blockbusters.

Currently the wine is without much of the characters of age, it is a most enjoyable drink but lacks some excitment. I’d suggest waiting for a couple more years, it should live for a long time.

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Review – Leasingham Classic Clare Sparkling Shiraz 1995

91 points

From Clare Valley, South Australia.

Truly an Australian classic. Sparkling Burgundy as many Australian’s still call it has to be one of Australia’s best kept secrets. This wine is a gorgeous rich spicey sparkling Shiraz. Lovely degree of fruit sweetness still, will obviously live many years. Great balance.

My only criticism is that it is a little straightforward, perhaps others would call this purity. Normally I have this complaint about still Shiraz from Great Western in Victoria – probably the greatest source of sparkling shiraz. Odd that it should be round the other way here.

Review Fairview Beacon Shiraz 2001

73 points

From South Africa – an innovative producer that pioneers Rhone varietals.

The first bottle was flat, ordinary with no mid-palate in spite of 14.5% alcohol, and drying tannins on the finish. Very slight corkageis was enough to do this.

The 2nd bottle was much fresher, but still not an enjoyable wine. Dark, concentrated, dry (non irrigated) shriraz fruit ‘balanced’ by added acidity.

A boring empty wine. Dull dumb and alcoholic. A real lack of character and flavour.

Review Mountadam Chardonnay 2002

81 points

An old favorite, not tasted for some years. This is a wine from a great vintage, great vineyard, and treated with good quality French oak. So it comes across as a wine with good ingredients, and yet is far from top quality.

Goldish coloured, buttery hessian nose, it tastes like a watered down version of a top quality chardonnay. Drink it cold.

The back label talks about it being a concentrated wine subject to barrel ferment etc. I’m sure the wine making techniques were carried out (including too much skin contact) and on fruit that lacked the intensity and concentration needed for these ‘full on’ burgundian techniques. What are Mountadam doing ? Turning the irrigation on their grapes ? I do not recommend this wine even though its price looks lower than chardonnays of similar history and reputation.

Review: Winter Creek Barossa Shiraz 2002

92+ points

This is a new wave Barossa shiraz (of the 3 styles of Barossa shiraz) and very flash. Dark shiny red with purple flashes. Nice acid balance, great concentrated spicy fruit flavour, and restrained French oak. This is a tight concentrated shiraz but lurking within this structure there is deep Barossa richness. It has some lovely traces of liqorice as do many of the best 2002 Barossa shiraz.

92 points and maybe a higher score if it gains further complexity with age. Great wine for about A$25.

It is genuinely enjoyable to drink now but should really hit its potential from 2008.

This concentrated tight modern style reminds me of McWilliams Maurice O’Shea Shiraz from 2000 – not your typlical Hunter shiraz ! The fruit intensity and weight of the Winter Creek makes it more enjoyable though both are top class wines.

My main criticism of the Winter Creek is that they haven’t used a screwcap (Stelvin) enclosure, it’s a pity that such a pure clean wine has to be aged with an bit of tree bark (cork).

I’m told this is a single vineyard wine that is made at a contract winery and then sold almost entirely to the USA; keeps life simple I suppose. The back label features US surgeon general warnings and the name of their agent. Melbourne Street Cellars in Adelaide might be the only retailer that stocks the wine in Australia (I’ve just bought the last bottles they have – maybe they will get more in).

Review: Laurona 2000, Chateau Potensac 2000

90 points

Last night I tried these two wine which I thought might be similar young shiny sophisticated wines of similar weight. I was only a little bit right.

Chateau Potensac is one of the best wines from the humble Medoc appellation of Bordeaux, and run by the Delon family who manage Ch Leoville Las Cases (and have brought it up to 1st growth quality). 2000 was a fantastic vintage. The wine is deep red, with aromas of lead pencil, and tastes very savoury, with metallic and blood like qualities.

Laurona is from Montsant a new appellation from near Taragona (not far from Barcelona) Spain. And made by the people who make Clos Mogodar one of Spain’s best wines. Lighter in colour than the Pontensac there are flashes of purple (it looks younger), and the wine is less concentrated, fresher with higher alcohol, and completely different flavours. Fig and jam hints.

I was surprised how different these similarly priced wines from the same vintage were. Given that they come from different countries and are made from different grapes I probably should have expected this. It was the difference in fruit sweetness that surprised me, I expected the Laurona to be more savoury – and it probably would not have noticed the sweetness except for having it alongside the Pontensac.

Both are very good wines 90 points each, but if you don’t like the flavour of grenache then you might want to steer away from the Laurona, and if you expect your cabernet’s to show fruitiness then the Pontensac will be a surprise. Both wines should really be left until 2007.

Barossa Shiraz – Australia’s most important wine

It would be impossible for me to name my favourite wine, let alone favourite Australian wine. But if I had to leave Australia and were able to take a single case of one wine style it would be Barossa Shiraz (with probably a few bottles of Clare Riesling smuggled along).

Other areas can produce great Shiraz too (like Western Australia and especially Heathcote in Central Victoria) but the Barossa produces a distinctive style, and has produced a great range of great Shiraz for many many years.

Sure I moan about the rapidly escalating prices for Barossa Shiraz but I understand how international demand is growing. People ouside of Australia who hear about Australian Shiraz and buy a bottle will rarely be disappointed. Like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, while they vary in quality, you pretty well always get something distinctive and easy to appreciate. Usually sumptuously rich and full bodied. Some are like vinous ‘chocolate milkshakes’, partly due to creamy vanillan American oak treatment. Maybe not something that you would want to drink everyday, but you’d think every wine store in the world would want to carry at least a few brands. And that’s what’s driving the prices up. Fortunately they’ve also been planting a lot of Shiraz in the Barossa Valley.

At its worst shiraz from the Barossa is a soft wine with 13%+ alcohol, some nasty added tartaric acid and a bit of fake wood (eg from oak chips) flavour, ie a fake tasting commercial concoction. Australia unfortunately does manage to produce quite a bit of red wine like this, mostly not from the Barossa (instead usually simply labelled “South Eastern Australia” a wine region that that covers all the grape growing areas of Australia except Western Australia).

I reckon there are 3 main styles:

1) There is an old fashioned style of Barossa Shiraz that can be quite rich and even tannic balanced by quite a bit of added acid. The best are usually from old non-irrigated vines. I don’t find these wines very approachable when young. When older they pick up quite a bit of leathery flavour (and a greasepaint character), but the limey added acid flavours can take a long time (sometimes forever) to disappear. And these wines tend to throw a crust (and often early). I don’t really like these wines, even the really serious ones like Saltram’s No.1 Barossa Shiraz. Penfold’s Grange Hermitage sort of falls into this category, though Grange really has a distinctive style of its own. I haven’t tried any of Henschke’s Hill of Grace or Mount Edelstone for years (they are so expensive now) but I recall that they were in this style, I’m pretty sure they add a lot of acid ().

2) Then there is a more fruit driven modern style. I say fruit driven but they often have a lot of sweetish American oak, and some of these really are chocolate milkshakes. The best are gorgeous rich wines though, capable of standing up to hot chilli foods. Elderton have been pretty consistent in making a good quality example. Maybe the quality dropped off a bit in the late 1990s but so did the price. The 2002 is certainly on form. Grant Burge has also substantially improved the quality of his well priced Miamba and Filsell wines.

3) Finally, there is a range of new wave Barossa Shiraz. The best of these wines are more elegant, built for aging yet with no more tannin, but better acids. Some are using French oak, others the additon of a tiny amount of Viogner. Needless to say there is a lot of variation as the experimentation continues. It’s great to see that the innovation continues in the Barossa, at least the higher prices are encouraging investment. Examples include Turkey Flat, Winter Creek.