Ashbrook Estate Chardonnay 2008

90 points

Margaret River, Western Australia. 14%

Almost old-fashioned in that this is a very full flavoured style. Fine, cool-ish climate style but like Montrachet mixed with Meursault. There is plenty of fruit and oak flavour without it tipping into the ‘Dolly Parton’ styles of the past.

I’d prefer they toned the alcohol down a notch, it’s unfortunately noticeable.

Drink now, best before 2013.

Pesquera Tinto 2005

88 points

Ribera Del Duero. 14%

Ripe Tempranillo, hot climate but with nice touch of acid on the finish. Prior vintages were more savoury bitter and interesting. Perhaps this needs a little longer to open up.

Reminds me of a Southern French wine.

Sevenhill St Ignatius 2006

86 points

Clare Valley, South Australia. 14.5%

A Bordeaux blend of Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec. But without the zest of Bordeaux instead this is a lovely clean old-fashioned red. A worthy substitute to Clare or Barossa Shiraz. Slightly jammy porty,with distinctive sweetness. What’s distinctive is the substantial tannin – a welcome addition making it more food friendly.

Drink now, it already has developed nicely. Or leave it for almost 10 years and it should be an attractive leathery red.

Cullen Cabernet Merlot 2002

85 points

Margaret River, Western Australia. 12.0%

Cullen are leading the charge for lower alcohol wines with their Diana at 12.5% and this at a mere 12%. I applaud them.

This has style though it is a tad ripe and jammy. It’s not very concentrated, soft with low tannin. Clearly made in a drink now style (in contrast to the Diana).

Over priced. There are more serious, more savoury, and older Bordeaux for this price. And others from Margaret River and Hawkes Bay.

Halliday points – ratings of Australian wines compared to French, German and others

In the 2010 list of “James Halliday’s Top 100 Wines” in The Australian newspaper (13th Nov 2010) James Halliday answers the question of whether or not his ratings for Australian sparkling wines are comparable to the point scores he gives for the Champagnes (the only imports featured on the list).  And he says…..

“no they are not.  Nor would points for great red burgundies compare to those for Australian and New Zealand pinot noirs, First Growth Bordeauxs with Margaret River cabernet merlots.”

It’s very good that Halliday makes this clear.  It would be easy to think that the points in his Australian Wine Companion were against some international standard, but like most wine writers based firmly within one market (Halliday is the leading Australian wine writer) he has to give his readers what they want – which is high scores for local wines.  John Platter one year experimented with giving internationally based points for his South African wine annual, and experienced an immediate backlash from his readers (and no doubt the SA wineries).

Halliday’s mention of “great red burgundies” and “First Growth Bordeauxs” (sic)  is truly odd though.  Is he saying that the points aren’t comparable against these pinnacle wines, but would be comparable against lesser French wines?  But that doesn’t make sense because the points he gives for first growths are, of course, comparable against the points he gives for 2nd growths, and 3rd, 4th, 5th and unclassed Bordeaux.

Ah well, all is explained when he writes “points are as subjective as the words in tasting notes….Australian can never make Champagne, a Burgundy or a Bordeaux [nor presumably a Hermitage?  I ask] so direct point comparison is fraught with contradictions and qualifications”.  Hmmmm, indeed, such as the contradiction above.

The only way to make sense of this is to infer that Halliday is saying that his points are very contextual and should only be used to compare like with like, e.g. Champagne with Champagne.  What’s not clear is whether or not Margaret River cabernet can be compared with a less successful region for the variety (say Hunter Valley).  Also is the rating for a $10 wine comparable to a rating for a $50 wine – here Halliday often hints that they can, that he doesn’t factor in price, but I suspect that in reality he does.

Personally I adopt the practice of allocating points against an international standard.  They reflect the excitment the wine gives me – from its quality, not novelty.  But I know I judge the wine within a price level, so I’m not quite so hard on cheap wines and somewhat harder on the very expensive.  In other words, I have certain expectations before tasting a wine which I know I can’t entirely shake off.

Unlike most wine writers I’m not writing for my living, so I don’t have to review “new releases” all the time (in fact I hardly ever review these).  So I can allocate points largely on how the wine tastes like now (not a guess on how great it will be), this means that old wines will usually out-score young wines, as would be expected.  Dishing out 100 points to a barely fermented red seems odd to me – can it not get better (only worse)?

So I think the highest rated wine on this blog currently is the glorious Chateau Rausan-Segla 1985 (rated in 2010, i.e. at 25 years old).

Hardy’s HRB Shiraz 2006

84 points

Clare Valley and Adelaide Hills. 14%

Astonishing dark colour, much more black than red. Already starting to throw a crust.

Slightly malo aromas.

A bland commercial wine if better than most and mercifully not sweet. The dominant flavour seems to me to be the Clare black olive style Shiraz.

This was the surprise joint winner of the Winestate World’s Greatest Shiraz Challenge 2010 along with Auguste Clape’s 2006 Cornas. Unbelievable. I’ve never trusted Winestate.

This is a new regional blend from Hardy’s and in the subsequent vintages the blend changes.

Update: 1 year later, another bottle – my opinion hasn’t changed.