Vagnoni Vernaccia Di San Gimignano 2005

89 points

Vernaccia Di San Gimignano, Toscana, Italy.  13.5%

A region (and grape by the same name) that I have not heard of.  So this is a very pleasant introduction.  Flavoursome with a nice seam of acidity – great finish.

The Oxford Companion to Wine (by Jancis Robinson) says that DOCG status was awarded in 1993 though there are records of wine in this appellation in 1276.  She describes the white wine “at its best, the wine has a crisp, refreshing quality and an attractivenly bitter finish”.  I think Jancis needs to lift her expectation for this region going by this particular bottle.

Great to see serious winemaking attention going to these unique local grape varieties.

Gilles Robin Crozes-Hermitage ‘cuvee Alberic Bouvet’ 2004

85+

Crozes-Hermitage, Rhone, France.

This just isn’t my cup of tea, it’s so young and fruity, with a touch of floral, dandelion character.  It’s a fairly dense, fairly dark wine, well made, in a good vintage.  Perhaps it is simply its age but it tastes to me more like a good Southern Rhone with a strong Grenache influence, though this wine should be 100% shiraz.

If it hangs around on retail shelves I’ll buy another in 1-2 years time.  But for now I can’t get excited about this very youthful, but not inexpensive wine.

Spanish wine tasting

All in all a pretty enjoyable bunch of wines. More successful than last year’s Italian tasting.

spaintasting.jpg
LZ 2006

Rioja. 84 points 14%

The first wine of the night was a young Tempranillo (young vines too). A nice modern interpretation, with clear, clean fruit. Simple, straighforward. Good to see this sort of thing on Australian shelves, perfectly appropriate introduction to Spain. Good cafe wine. Trendy, quite cool label.

Marqués de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2001

91 points 13.5%

Wine of the evening for most people. Marques de Riscal is a very reliable producer and 2001 was an excellent vintage. This was fairly oaky, in a classic Rioja style, with some deep flavours. Plenty of stuffing without high alcohol or extract. Should last a good while (drink over the next 10 years).

Dominio de Tares ‘Baltos’ 2004

81 points 13%

A chance to try the local Mencia grape from the ‘hot’ new area Bierzo. Nice colour, interesting aromas, but pretty disappointing to drink. Commercial style without much concentration, no depth, just a bit of plain sweetish fruit. Glasses were poured out, and the bottle was never finished.

d”Arenberg ‘The Sticks and Stones’ 2002

86 points 14.5%

McLaren vale

A Tempranillo, Grenache, Souzau blend. Very noticeably Australian with greater body, alcohol and sweetness. Surprisingy undeveloped for its 6 years. There are some interesting flavours, but I find this too ‘in your face’, it’s not food friendly, it’s for impressing on the first taste/glass, after that drinking it gets a bit exhausting. That said, it’s a well made wine, a would make a nice change from shiraz – it deserves its position on retail shelves – though I’m not so sure about whether it deserved to be awarded so many wine show medals.

The Souzau is a Spanish and Portugeuse grape that was added for colour stability, acid, and resistance to oxidation. I wonder if this is part of the wine’s slow aging.

see previous review

Condado de Haza 2002

88 points 13.5%

A great effort in a difficult year. From one of the masters of Riberia del Duero (Alejandro Fernandez) this 100% Tempranillo is attractive and juicy with some smoky aromas and savoury flavours. It’s a much more open knit style than in previous, riper vintages. This is a well judged style for the vintage. Food friendly, not heavy, not too intellectually demanding.

Finca la Planeta ‘Pasanau’ 2001 and Orlando ‘St Hugo’ Cabernet 2000

88 points 14% and 13%

A Cabernet from Priorat paired with what I thought might be similar, a Coonawarra Cabernet. Of course these wines tasted different, but I was pleased how comparable they were. Both seemed out of place in this tasting though, in that they were so obviously (pungent even) Cabernet, with real cassis berry flavours. More masculine, structured wines. The St Hugo has more extraneous minty aromas and flavours (eucaplypt ?). It would be more intellectually interesting to see these wines in a Cabernet tasting.

Valminor Albarino 2006

84 points

This white wine from Rias Baixas is a pleasant aromatic white. Nicely made, though not as aromatic as some Albarino.

I can’t see this grape variety stealing much share (from much more racy) Sauvignon Blanc which seems to have become the great alternative (or competitor) to Chardonnay. It has nothing like the depth of flavour of Riesling nor (Loire) Chenin Blanc.
But it is an attractive grape variety, one that Spain should be pleased with having.

Seppelt Sparkling Shiraz 1999

90 points

Shows the benefit of aging this commercial volume wine.  Actually I’m struggling to think of a vintage that didn’t turn out fine after 5+ years, ummm, well this 1999 just adds to the pack.

It doesn’t have a lot of fizz, but has good flavour in a rich, tending towards savoury style.  Unlike many sparkling reds from Oz (one of the great wines of Oz) this doesn’t drink that well by itself, it needs food.

A reminder – buy some of the current vintage and keep it for 3-5 years.   It’s not expensive and you’ll love the result a Summer/Winter Solstice.

Chateau Potensac 2003

90 points

The 2002 Potensac was far more modern (e.g. pristine with a lick of sweet new oak) than previous vintages. I wasn’t sure if this marked a change in style or a reaction to the 2002 vintage.

What would the 2003 be like ? It continues the 2002 style which very much in this vintage is a very pleasant surprise. It is more modern, fresher, with a good dash of sweet oak that reminded me of the McIntosh toffees I ate as a child in New Zealand (both the coconut and the mint ones).

In reaction to the 2003 vintage the Potensac reaction seems to have been, to quote Lightening McQueen “California here I come…” but I in no way mean this is a derogatory way. It’s as if they have learnt a bit from the best Napa wines (yes the ones that in turn benchmark against Bordeaux) and crafted a fresh attractive wine that is perfectly appropriate given the ripe to roasted grapes that were around in 2003.

Like many 2003 then this is a wine that needs little age, in Potensac’s case I don’t think age will harm the wine at all, it has the acid to stay refreshing, but there isn’t much reason to bother waiting. It’s fairly delicious now.

Book Review “Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the historic 1976 Paris tasing that revolutionized wine” by George M Taber

96 points

Most wine books are for reference, being about a region or a producer, or a collection of tasting notes. This book tells a story, and it’s the best such wine book I’ve ever read. Campbell Mattison’s “Wine Hunter” is also a good book but “Judgment of Paris” is less sentimental, and much broader in scope.

I already knew about the 1976 tasting and had recently read the Decanter coverage of the rematch 20 years later. In spite of this I still found the book interesting.

I seldom drink Californian wine, little of the good stuff makes its way outside of the USA and it is usually far overpriced. But still I found the book interesting.

It’s more than a book about the 1976 tasting and how it came about and what happened. It tells the story of the creation of many of the Californian vineyards, winemakers, and specific wines that ended up in the tasting. But the book is more than this. George Taber is a former Time staff writer (who was living in France in 1976 and was the only journalist at the tasting) and his global perspective shows. He covers the implications of the tasting for California and for all of the New World, and for France too.

So I recommend this book not only to those interesting in fine wine but also to wine marketers.

Thankfully the book is absolutely not a rah rah we beat the French jingoistic celebration. Taber correctly points out that the facts that show that it’s a stretch of the data to say that the Californian wines beat the French ones (especially amongst the Cabernets), the more correct summary is that it showed they were very competitive. Which is quite amazing given the youth of the vines, winemakers and general US wine industry. I hadn’t realised that many of the wines were from such new operations.

Today it seems less of a story that very expensive Napa wines are competitive with very expensive French ones, but then there was a price difference and a huge perceptual one.

I was intrigued to read that even back in 1976 many of the winemakers of the ‘Judgment of Paris’ wines were deliberately making wines in a different style to their neighbours. They were seeking elegance and balance, low alcohol wines, that were food friendly. They were quality obsessed and many of them were Francophiles when it came to their taste in wine. Of course, this is partly why the english Steven Spurrier and Patricia Gallagher chose them for the tasting.

I do wonder if these winemakers are still making wines along these lines, or whether they have bowed to the pressure from the Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate (which must be much stronger pressure on US wines that depend on US drinkers than on French winemakers) and upped their alcohol levels and sweetness ?

Yarra Burn ‘cellar release’ Shiraz 2003

90+ points

Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia. 13.5%

I’m not a fan of the hot 2003 vintage in South Australia, but in some other areas of Australia, like some cooler Victorian areas it has, in the right hands, produced some intense wines. This is quite savoury, rather tight, concentrated shiraz with a fine core of ripe sweet fruit. Restrained oak.

It’s a little hard at the moment but looks like it has good potential.

Some will say this is “Rhône-like” but it isn’t really. I understand what they mean, you have to interpret the statement in in a local Australian context, the wine is different from the softer sweeter more alcoholic oaky style that is more typical in Australia. It is though one of the (many) particular styles of Australia, i.e. no Rhone copy-cat. A wine that reflects its terroir.

Chateau Batailley 2002

87 points

Pauillac, Bordeaux, France.  13%

This wine has some depth, and the balance is good.  I’m happy to have a few bottles in my cellar.  However, it lacks the excitement of some of its neighbours.  2002 favoured left bank cabernet oriented areas like Pauillac with some wines showing lovely purity and cleansing acidity, while this is a bit muted.

Balance and high alcohol

In recent interviews with wine journalist Campbell Mattison two Australian winemakers (Iain Riggs and Troy Kalleske) both disagree that high alcohol wines can’t be balanced.  Of course, they are right, but in a narrow (almost tautological) sense.  They can be in balance, if they are balanced, but it’s difficult/rare.  But not the sort of wine I’d want to drink regularly.

If I can use an analogy, a cake completely covered in thick buttery icing can still be balanced if it is a very rich sweet dense cake.  It will be the sort of cake that people generally take thin slices of.  Some won’t like it at all.  Some will cut the icing off.  Others will have regrets after eating it, not because of the calories but because of the feeling in their stomach.  Only the unsophisticated palates of children will be near universally delighted.

Table wines above 14.5% are like this.

There are many superb warm climate wines (like Penfolds Grange and Wendouree reds) that for decades were considered wines of heroic proportions, to be matched carefully to strong flavoured foods and preferably aged for long periods – and these”big reds” were 13% in alcohol.  Today there are winemakers that specialise in syrupy high alcohol wines, and such wines have their place.  I just don’t see the need for many of them, and very few of them can be considered well balanced or fine.  It’s hard to make fine dry wine if you pick grapes that sugary.

Chateau Gloria 2001

88 points

St Julien, Bordeaux, France. 12.5%

This bottle seems a bit prematurely aged, which might be explained by the fact that it was bought off retail shelves this week.

It’s a solid wine, yet slightly dilute (as some 2001 are).  Mocha style oak is a bit over used.  Otherwise nice weight, a touch of minerality.

Seppelt St Peters Shiraz 2004

91+ points

Grampians, Victoria, Australia. 13.5%

I get the sense that Fosters Wine Estates (owners of Penfolds, Seppelts, Lindemans and many other brands) are trying to make the Seppelt brand a Victorian mirror of the SA Penfolds, which seems very sensible – a range of similar quality wines but with a different regional (terrior) stamp.

If so then this wine, St Peters, is prime candidate for the Grange position in the portfolio, and certainly many critics consider it a worthy contender. Except that it has the advantages of being one tenth the price (and screwcap).

This is a wine that smells like pretty classic Australian shiraz of the highest order, while the palate is has plenty of acid (as it should) , is lithe, fresh, with hints of complexity. Yes more Rhone-line than a SA/Penfolds wine but it’s not a Rhone copycat.

One for the cellar, and for worthy scrutiny – this could be the next establishment shiraz from Australia – we’ll know in another 10-20 vintages.

Other vintages

Tain L’Hermitage Hermitage 2003

87 points

Hermitage, Rhone, France. 13%

A bit of a disappointment.

Apparently this wine has done quite well against New World wines in wine competitions, persumably because of the vintage (hot) and the modern winemaking.  I don’t want to suggest that this is dolled up with added acidity and new oak – it isn’t.  But the fruit flavours are raisin like, it isn’t classic Hermitage.

I’m not sure whether to advocate drinking now, or hoping for improvement/complexity.  I think I’d rather recommend buying the next, 2004, vintage.

Cellar Palate

Jancis Robinson, in Gourmet Traveller Wine (Oct/Nov 2007, p.40-41), writes on the phenomenon of palate/taste adjusting to the sort of wine you drink regularly.  It’s an interesting read.

Towards the end she mentions ‘cellar palate’ where winemakers largely only drink the wines they make themselves, or their neighbours/colleagues. Jancis levels this criticism at Californian winemakers, and to a lesser degree South African, but declares that “this is an accusation that could generally not be levelled at the Australian wine industry today”.  I think she is being far far too kind to Australian winemakers.  Perhaps catering a little too much to the sensitivities of readers of this Australian magazine.

Cellar palate is a real problem in Australia, it undermines the New World innovative nature of the industry.  Actually I think our reputation for innovation is slightly over-stated.  Yes, there has been lots of experimentation with grape varieties and regions, but in this matter one could argue that this is just natural catching up to the Old World who did this some centuries ago and have less need to undertake this experimentation today.  Yes, there has been innovation in refrigeration, irrigation and in mass volume production. And there is fashion driven change (such as the current ridiculous alcohol levels of Australian reds). But there is an awful lot of production that goes by the same ‘textbook’.

The formal Roseworthy/Waite winemaking course, and the Australian show system which are two of the (not so secret) secrets of the success of the Australian wine industry, both encourage a cellar palate phenomenon.  Too many wines are made to the same recipe (I use the term recipe in the broadest sense to describe grape growing, sourcing, blending and winemaking).

On a very positive note Steve Webber (of De Bortoli) has been awarded Australian winemaker of the year.  This is a person who says he has been busy unlearning a lot of what he was taught at Roseworthy. He’s even against adding acid to wines (yay !)