Leoville Barton 2001 (review)

92+ points

St Julien, Bordeaux.

In Australia typically just under A$100, in UK/USA cheaper.

Anthony Barton has a reputation for making fine traditional claret, at near the top of the scale (‘super second’) yet priced sensibly – none of this showy superstar stuff.

I’ve tried several recent vintages, but never under ideal conditions, the wines always seemed very fine which left me wondering what a Leoville Barton would be like given serious attention. Well here is my review:

Staggeringly rich with marzipan oak notes. This is a traditionally flavoured and structured Bordeaux (but not dull or old fashioned), the oak fruit balance is great. Tannins are strong, but again well balanced.

Austere yet rich, the hallmarks of great wine.

The last thing this wine would be called is fruity, already at this young age the flavours are complex; undried black currents are the closest fruit.

Great wine. Too young – try from 2008 onwards.

Personally I’d like much of the fine wine buying world to ignore this chateau so I can afford to buy more.

Nederberg 2001 Private Bin Malbec (review)

87 points

Price unknown, but probably around $15-$20AUD.

This wine is one of a range made for the Nederberg wine auction, so it is not widely available. We had an informal tasting of Malbecs while I was in the US (all from Argentina and a few from Chile) and this one would be one of the better ones. It has a spicy nose and reasonable length with definite mint and earthy flavours. Many of the commerical malbecs we tasted in the US were very short and not complex.

This wine, while not a Bordeaux certainly seems to be in that style and class for its price range. There is evidence of oak, but the fruit handles it well. Like many South Africa wines, it has less overripe characters and more earthy spicy characters, like European wines.

Shild Estate ‘Ben Shild Reserve’ Shiraz 2003 (review)

86 points

Barossa Valley, South Australia. 15%

Bottled in 2005 after 15 months in new French, American and Hungarian oak.

The most noticeable character of this wine, after its dark colour, is the coconut oak. Not super sweet oak, but distinctly coconut.

It’s a huge concentrated and luscious wine, a hedonistic fruit bomb (in Parker parlance) with the oak influence giving it a palate smoothness that balances its youthful tannins. In spite of its weight and youth it is drinkable now. The first glass is very impressive.

But a glass or two later (with food) and the sheer forcefulness and added acidity pall. It’s a wine for wine tasting and wine critics. Lacks style, elegance, too much extract, too much manufacturing.

Not for long aging, in spite of its substance. And bottled with a horrible composite cork so expect higher than usual rates of corkage.

I’m beginning to think there really is little reason to buy 2003 wines from South Australia, not when the superb (long and cool) 2002 vintage is still available.

$30 – not as good value as their non-reserve shiraz

Two Hands Angel’s Share Shiraz 2004 Barossa

75 points

Highly overpriced, over extracted Shiraz from a well-known producer. I would have thought perhaps this wine had been oxidised, since it seemed to be all tannin and no fruit, but it was bottled with a screwcap. I bought some $6 Shiraz cleanskins from McLaren, which tasted pretty much the same. A real disappointment to all 4 of us at the table.

Massena 2004 Grenache Shiraz Mataro Cinsault Barossa Valley

90 points on my tired palate.

This wine was recommended to me at the Wine Underground the other night and it literally blew all our palates away. It has an amazing intensity in the mouth, but a rather normal Grenache Shizar nose- a bit spicy and earthy. I thought it would probably be too strong for the food, but it really wasn’t. There are tannins here, but mainly fine grape tannins, with almost no trace of oak. It probably was aged in old oak. The wine is made by Dan Standish from Torbreck and one of the winemakers from Two Hands in the Barossa. Worth trying, but not cheap, nearly $30.

Winter Creek Barossa Shiraz 2003 (review)

88 points

Barossa Valley, South Australia. around $25

Very well made, well balanced wine. Good oak fruit acid tannin balance – all components noticeable at present but they sit very well together. Hugely ripe, reflecting the very hot vintage. It’s quite honestly like a dry Vintage Port, not ‘porty’ in the sense of sweet or jammy. Like a good Portugeuse VP but without the sweetness, nor (all of) the alcohol.

I think it is pretty impressive winemaking. But I personally don’t consider this anywhere near as enjoyable or complex as the 2002 and I’m not really looking to drink dry port.

Moss Wood Cabernet 2001 (review)

90 points

Margaret River, Western Australia. 14.5%

One of Australia’s very best cabernets. In a great vintage for WA. Bottled with screwcap (stelvin).

This is a sumptuous sexy polished smooth cabernet. Bold but not dull or dumb. It’s a sleek big fruited wine. Warm rich palate but with a substantial Australian mintyness.

Extremely refined wine making, yet ultimately a wine reflects its terrior and this doesn’t have that austerity with richness that great bordeaux has – indeed it just doesn’t seem to have the same physiological ripeness. It reminds me of the statement that the French make wine while New World winemakers bottle fruit.

Tasted against the similarly priced ($70) Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste 2001 and after one gulp everyone wanted to drink the GPL rather than the Moss Wood.

To drink alone the Moss Wood has the edge (soft and sexy), but with food it isn’t a contest. Indeed with food the Moss Wood is overpowering. Even with a tomato and blue cheese pasta it competed rather than complemented. And it is one dimensional compared with the GPL.

There are far cheaper wines, like Grant Burge 2001 Coonawarra (a Melbourne St Wine Cellars cleanskin – and extraordinary value) that provide some of this sumptuousness and mint, but at a one tenth of the price.

The Moss Wood has its place, and it is really excellent in its way, but it has a way to go before it becomes really fine.

Chateau Sociando-Mallet 2001 (review)

89 points

Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux, France.

For at least 20 years this has been a rising star in Bordeaux. Clive Coates now classes it as an “‘Exceptional Growth’ – often as fine as the ‘Outstanding Growths’ (below ‘First Growths’) if not as prestigious or expensive”.

This is a suave, sexy wine. Aromas of sweet French oak, which is quite prominent on the palate. Smells almost New World, but tastes much less sweet. Firm but without great mid palate fruit intensity. Has class but I’d prefer a bit more power or complexity.

Best left for another 3-5 years of age. Expect a wine of sophistication rather than power. Sociando-Mallet used to be more robust, less approachable when young. See the review of the 1986.

Grant Burge Nebuchadnezzar Shiraz Cabernet 2003 (review)

84 points.

Barossa Valley, South Australia. 13.5% $35

Soft old fashioned red, with vanilla leather aromas. Super soft, rich but somewhat dilute palate.

Probably reflects what could be achieved with the vintage. Not unattractive, but not worth cellaring, and over priced – very unusual for Grant Burge who has been on a roll recently.

Not recommended (esp at this price), at least not in this 2003 vintage.

Chandon Z*D 2000 (review)

79 points

Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia. 12.5%

This is a zero dosage wine. Supposed to be a dry aperitif style.

But it is a big parsnipy, fruit salad sparkling. Thank goodness it had no dosage !

Makes one depressed about the ability of Australia to produce really fine sparkling wine. Champagne has nothing to fear.

The World of Wines in One Night

An idea we had for the first Wine Marketing Conference- bring a bottle of your favourite wine to share- was more than doubled at the recent Sonoma Conference. About 100 wine people, each with a bottle of wine from at least 12 countries. I tasted so many, it is hard to recall individual brands and wines. A few I remember: the Torbreck Juveniles 2002 (Grenache Mataro Shiraz with no oak treatment) surpised many people with its finesse and European style. A couple of pinots were will-noted- Sanford Pinot fromk Santa Barbara (near the Sideways area) and Mieze from Russian River in Sonoma showcased excellent American style Pinots. These were earthy and animal (Francois d’Hauteville’s comment) wines with long lasting flavours, a bit more intense than Burgundy in the fruit area and little less in complexity. Very different from some of the more extracted or heavily fruit New Zealand and Australian styles. A Corbiere from the Southwest of France was also a bit funky, but stronger in fruit flavour and almost chewy. The Brown Brothers Patricia late harvest Riesling that Tony brought received tremendous admiration for its intensity, acidity, and length. I tasted a similar late harvest style from the Venice area, but cannot remember the grape or the producer. It was less sweet than the Australian, but with great length and intensity. A 1994 Mouvedre from the Sonoma area was more interesting than great. It had aged well in terms of intensity and smoothness, but like most Mouvedres was lacking in the front palate. Sonoma itself is very interesting in the number of climates available, from chilly coastal areas (day time temperatures around 20-22, and nights at 10C) to northern areas far from the ocean (with day temperatures near 40, but again nights near 12C) and everything in between depending on distance from the ocean, elevation (controls whether fog above or below the vineyard), and soils (mostly deep volcanic, but also some shallow rocky areas).

What is happening to wine alcohol levels ?

Australia seems to be leading the way, but it is happening elsewhere too, alcohol levels are rising. New reds hitting Australian shelves include wines at 16% !

What is happening ? Grapes being left longer on the vine ? Why are winemakers chasing such high alcohols. Is it because of better viticulture and winemaking that they can afford to seek better physiological ripeness without losing acidity ?

Even wine that have been made to recipes for decades are showing higher alcohols. For instance I saw a Penfolds Bin 707 cabernet from 1985 yesterday and the labels said only 11.5% – you’d never see a current vintage near this level. Mind you early 80s was a period where warm climate winemakers were going to the other extreme. I’d just arrived in Australia from New Zealand and was amazed that Australian winemakers were deliberately picking their grapes (too) early in order to retain acids and what they saw as cool climate finesse. Coming from a cool climate I was used to winemakers striving for ripeness.

Alcohol levels used to be a good indicator of quality. Too low and that indicated a poor vintage, under-ripe grapes, or diluted. For example, most cask wine features quite low alcohol due to irrigated (ie diluted) fruit. I’m not sure if cask wine has also dramatically increased in alcohol recently.

This trend to high alcohols seems to cut across cool climate areas like New Zealand and hot like McLaren Vale in 2003.

Is it simply because the market prefers high alcohol reds ? Are winemakers responding to wine writers and buyers ?