What a treat! Once in a while an unexpected wine is opened that says something about a region and a style. On this particular night, a friend of a friend invited me over near Boston for dinner and good wines. We had some good wines, including a Sancerre, a Burgundy (good but not classic), a Bordeaux (more on that later) and this wine.
A Bordeaux lover would realise upon tasting this, the incredible potential of Napa cab. It was still reddish-purple coloured with hints of brick, a bit of fruit, but mainly secondary characters on the nose and wonderful length on the palate. The classic developed tobacco and a bit of leather, but still some currant like fruits. This was made by a wine maker who was there only a few years.
The wine could live another 5 years at least.
It was not that expensive when it was released compared to other better known Napa producers.
South Australia. 14%
This is (was) an old favourite, I consider it “little Grange” (ahead of Bin 389 which uses old grange barrels) because like Grange it is shiraz, and principally a Barossa shiraz. Typically very good value, though the wine making seems increasingly old fashioned.
I was told 2002 was the best Bin 28 in years, which is perfectly understandable given the quality of the vintage.
But the wine was a disappointment. Nice structure colour, perfect condition. But boring old-fashioned winemaking with obvious added acidity, ripe but straightforward fruit. It’s a pretty good wine, but there are so many better on the market.
Even if this is your sort of thing give it another 3 years before touching it.
McLaren Vale, South Australia. 15%
Wow. Super intense smoky oak (French mainly) aromas herald an absolute giant of a wine. From the super hot 2003 vintage this is masterly wine making in a high alcohol style. I feared overt added acidity, but I can’t taste it. Drinkable – just… match with hearty food.
At less than one tenth the price of Penfold’s Grange this is a flagship for this new style of wines picked for optimum flavour ripeness – which in Australia can mean very big wines indeed.
In spite of the rave above I have very little idea how this wine will age. Personally I don’t trust the 2003 vintage but will be looking out for the 2004 version of this wine – I’m intruiged to see how such a wine will age.
McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14%
A modestly priced super rich intense and heavily oaked shiraz. Pretty much undrinkable at the moment (decant and give it a decent breathing), huge, but tight, and the oak is astringent. Pretty impressive though. Has plenty of potential.
Well priced at around $18.
Paarl, South Africa.
Seems to produce wines of greater elegance and freshness than most South African producers. This is a berry like mid weight shiraz with dusty sweet oak. After a few glasses the astingency becomes a bit much. Fairly commercial by Australian standards.
Heathcote, Victoria, Australia 14%
Heathcote is one of Australia’s greatest shiraz regions. Small in production compared with great regions like Barossa and McLaren Vale, but excitingly different. It tends to produce huge wines but with tighter, finer, more tannic structure than these hot climate regions – I think part of the difference is colder night (in the same way that Clare riesling stands out), but also the soil matters.
This wine is a little more traditional than some. Slightly more mellow, slightly more like Great Western (another great Victorian region), more mild and straightforward. Probably has a long life ahead of it, but lacks character at the moment. Nice balance though.
On Friday Carl asked “what is a good Australian red to buy, one that will keep and improve over the next say 5-10 years ?”
Here are two recommendations:
Both are very substantial wines (15% alcohol), both shiraz, and $17 each (for cellarcard holders) at Melbourne St Wine Cellars.
Brown’s of Padthaway Ernest Shiraz 2002
Tyrrell’s Rufus Stone Heathcote Shiraz 2003
PS if you know of any other wines of similar price/quality ratios let us know.
Heathcote, Central Victoria, Australia. 15.2%
Dark red, with good gylcerol legs. Deep concentrated aromas, warm but not baked. Black pepper and rich berry fruit. This is a hefty wine yet quite tightly structured, certainly not blowsy nor jammy. Nor thankfully reeking of added acidity.
In spite of the very hot vintage, and the high alcohol, this wine is still fresh and well suited to food.
Extremely good value.
Given the hot vintage I have some doubts about how it will develop with age. Yet based on how it appears now I’d predict a long future of good drinking.
The low price is a bonus, as is the screwcap enclosure. Buy now before it disappears.
South African vs. South Australian Shiraz- A comparison…
2001 Ross Estate “Reserve” Shiraz, Lyndoch, Barossa Valley, South Australia
2001 Fairview “Solitude” Shiraz, Paarl Region, Western Cape, South Africa
Both of these wines were rated very well by the tasting group underlying Shiraz’ (Syrah) ability to produce remarkable wines under a number of different conditions, philosophies, and purposes.
The two wines in the glass were poles apart. The Ross Estate was highly extracted- a deep opaque purple to the rim, the FV a bricky, almost tawny rust. The Fair View ironically had more sediment in the bottle- a result of the unabashed French style it was made in.
The nose’s were distinctly different : The FV’s savouriness and spiciness easily bearing the high alcohol. Fine spice said French oak- in stark contrast to the Ross Estate – a very south Australian “vanilla pod” style. The tawny hues of the FV transitioned well over to the palate, with sticky rancio notes countering the 15% alc vol. The richness of the RE did not head into confectionary mode (I find a common experience with Barossa Shiraz) in a seamless, but large fashion. Darker berries (almost in a stewed fashion) dominated this nose in comparison to the heady red berries of the FV.
The palate followed well for both wines- FV offering no surprises besides its extreme ability to cope with its high alcohol, with its savouriness/tobacco base. A lingering finish that was hard to separate between flavour and burn. This wine, with its slight porty notes reminds me of a wine I had recently- Hillstowe Udy;s Hill Pinot (1999- Adelaide Hills South Australia)- that same subtle dirtiness that comes with the combination of fine tannin, spicy/brown fruit and Tawny. A great wine to sit on- its not in a hurry, and did not change much in the glass. I would not leave this one much longer- alcohol I suspect will soon dominate now pleasant linger. RE showed excellent combinations of big round berry fruit, silky vanillin, and tannins that were almost absent. The finish was attractive, but relatively short. A great example of the sweet spiciness of French oak FV vs. the vanilla pod Ross. The Ross, in my opinion will be slightly longer lived.
This wine comes from a series of very small vineyards in the southern Judean Hills, south of Beersheba in what was formerly desert. However, the vineyards are planted at elevations of over 700 meters and subject to cooling winds in the afternoons.
The wine is made by an Adelaide trained Israeli in a state of the art small facility jointly owned by several kibbutim (cooperative farms( in the area. They grow cherries and other stone fruit there as well.
The wine is dark and tends to the cherry and plum spectrum. The oak is well handled French oak that matches the strength of the fruit. There is some depth of provencal herbs on the nose and palate.
A bit clumsy blend of good quality Cabernet (90%) plus some Merlot and Syrah. Good fruit and length, but too tannic and a bit extracted. The flavours do blend wiell with the Cabernet tobacco and green character dominant. Some red fruits from the other grapes on the nose, but not on the palate.
A nicely balanced cool climate cab with a tinge of green capsicum, but mainly red fruits and some tobacco on the nose. Very good length and natural acidity. Perhaps a bit too much new oak, but the fruit will carry it in a few years.
This is a very Australian style Syrah from a lower elevation vineyard (about 400 meters) in the Golan Heights area of Israel. The wine is in the riper vein of Shiraz with an alcohol of about 14.5%, but is not over ripe- no cooked fruit at all. It is definitely in the plum and chocolate range of Syrah, rather than the black pepper vein.
Good acidity and length. This is a small (10,000 case) winery growing all its own grapes with an Israeli winemaker trained in Oregon.
Pretty pricey at about $40 US.
This play on words wine is made from ripe cool climate Gewurtz, which is frozen to -12C and then pressed. The wine is viscous and has strong lychee and floral notes. Good natural acidity and balance with no signs of phenolics at all. very clean and crisp. These grapes are grown at high elevation and are some of the best Gewurtztraminer I have tasted ourside of France or Germany.
A stylish European type Syrah, with red frutis, like raspberries and light pepper. A bit too much new oak for my taste, but undoubtedly will age well. Naturally high acidity and grape tannins are apparent. This is only the second vintage. THe winemaking team is led by a Davis-trained American, now an Israeli citizen and then wines have that California-imitating France style- good extraction and balance, but too much oak.
Golan Heights Winery is considered to be the first high quality winery in modern Israel, ca 1983. THe now crush about 5,000 tons of grapes from 14 vineyards located in what was previously Syrian territory in the Golan area of northern Israel. The vineyards are owned by local cooperative (kibbutz) farms, but managed by Golan Heights; the range from 400 meters to over 1000 meters in elevation (with snow in winter). The top wines like this one come from deep volcanidc soils, which are more like porous gravel than soil. THe wine is very intense with cool capsicum and red currant type fruits. The oak is well handled, not too prominant. Their better vintages form the mid to late 80s are still drinking well. Price is about $30 US
Medoc, Bordeaux. Cru Bourgeois. 13%
A very nice claret. Medium concentration. Enjoyable now. Has a warmth about it that is missing in some 2001 Bordeaux, and is also less tannic. A very well made approachable claret, traditional yet with modern clean winemaking.
A bargain (at least in the Geneva supermarket where I bought it).
Villanyi, Hungary. 13%
A top wine of Hungary. From the South. Expensive by Hungarian standards.
The back label is interesting reading:
“Leader wine of the Cellar. It head been mellowed in barrique barrels for 18 months. Consists of Cab. Sauvignon (65%), Cab. Franc (30%) es Merlot (5%). Heady flavour and high colour intensity are peculiar to this wine. It has a pleasant tobacco scent. Chocolate and vanilla are smack of its flavour. It is a velvety, bulky wine. Recommended to game.”
Well it is strongly flavoured, savoury, tobacco. No chocolate or vanilla – perhaps in its youth. Definitely not a shiny sweet New World style. Somewhat hard despite its age.
Concentrated, but without heroic alcohol. This is very stylish rich Burgundy. Very young, and rather hard to describe – the flavours are complex and changing (with air, food etc). It isn’t a simple fruit and oak wine, in spite of its age this is vinous and complete – with a long life ahead of it.
Nothing is overdone about this wine. Very fine.
Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux, France. 13%
A straightforward claret. Mid weight, savoury lead pencil flavours though there seems little in the way of new oak. Though this is the “primier vin” which Coates says is aged in one third new oak.
A tad too green. A doubt this was a top vintage for this producer.
Parker generally praises this Chateau. It’s seen as one the the very best of Cotes de Castillion – an increasingly important area for budget Bordeaux.
86+ points (Parker rated it something like 89-91)
Vin de Pays de la Principauté d’Orange. France. 14.5%
I came across this wine without knowing anything about it. I bought it for a friend who likes sunshine in his wines, I expected this to fil the bill, due to the very hot 2003 vintage in the South of France. And the 14.5% on the label.
Interesting blend of 60% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah, and 10% Greanche.
Extraordinarily ripe, like dry port – seriously. Yet not unbalanced. Some acid, and definite firm tannin. This might live for many many years. Worth the punt. 7 GBP in London (from Majestic wine warehouse).
Pomerol, Bordeaux, France.
Young powerful, still a bit raw, but enjoyable nevertheless. While it does taste like a Pomerol it certainly isn’t overtly plummy fruitcakey. The structure is full but tight. It is a very good example of the vintage, with considerable potential for age.
Lovely hessian character on the front palate, warm but not sweet oak. Great finish, tannin and length of flavour.
Quite an exciting modern Bordeaux without being flamboyant.
Giblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.
A strongly flavoured dark wine. Sort of bordeaux blend, but with Syrah too. Exotic nose, of ripe fruit, some almost floral notes, and warm good quality oak. Less enjoyable to drink though. They have striven for ripeness and flavour, to the point of having to add acidity. The wine is a bit hard, clumsy and contrived.
Flavoursome, yet even with food it isn’t a delight.
I think many Kiwi winemakers are still struggling to find balance and finesse with the very ripe grapes that are now coming out of good NZ wine sites. Wine judges too are being easily seduced by young raw but ultra concentrated wines, they imagine potential that doesn’t turn out.
Margaret River, Western Australia.
This is a nice Rhone style shiraz. Without much oak, probably old French. It’s a style of wine that is quite new to Australia, and is made here with confidence. A good wine without great pretentions. Designed for quality everyday drinking. Perhaps a little over priced (though low for Leeuwin and Margaret River) at around A$20.
This is a rare wine, though I saw it at East End Cellars. The RBJ stands for Ringland (Chris of Three Rivers and Rockford), Bruce (not sure, but it used to be Ralph Binder, but now is Bruce), and Johnstone (Russell, head of viticulture for Orlando). This wine is kind of their homebrew, in a very simple package with little information except that it is a Mouvedre Grenache blend from the Barossa Valley.
The colour is rather light, as in not opaque, though the hue is on the red brick side. Looking at it and smelling, you could almost mistake it for a typical Aussie Pinot, with a tight vinous nose- no outstanding fruit or tarry characters. But when you taste it- aqgain like a good Pinot- the flavour explodes into your mouth totally belying the light colour. There’s lots of tannin, kind of drying Grenache type tannin and then the tarry fruit of Mouvedre. There is a long linger taste of bith tannin and rich red fruit after swallowing.
The wine is not that expensive for the intensity- about $25, less if you buy it direct. I think it is a bit closed and young and will wait a while before opening the other bottles.
I had to drink a Pinot while watching the movie, Sideways. We have quite a bit of this wine as a gift from Janet’s old job and I like it a lot. Though I think I would like it less if I were paying $40+ a bottle for it! When first opened I was a bit disappointed- the nose was very tight and the flavours muted. I thought maybe there was slight cork taint. After an hour or so (I was busy watching the movie), it really began to open up. It still is quite tannic for a Pinot and certainly not as subtle as the ones Miles was raving about in the film. It has some fruit and a lot of earthiness on the nose, very clean and not very French. It does, however, have incredible length, with the flavours just lasting and lasting. It is definitely an Aussie Pinot, but one with some elegance, a very good structure and natural acidity. It should be very interesting in another 5 years or so.