Saturday, July 21, 2018

Pioneer and Visionary

I suspect most of us in the wine game see the words ‘Pioneer’ and ‘Visionary’ used so much that their meaning is lost nowadays.  That’s marketing for you.  But every once in a while you come across people who truly are pioneers or visionaries.  If they’re alive, they still have their initial enthusiasm, and always humble.  If they have passed away, they have become stuff of legends, are remain highly respected.  The next generation following on from these pioneers and visionaries often carry on the dream with the same exuberance, but in reality there aren’t many of the children that quite do their forebears justice.

The Taylor family in the Clare Valley is one of these multi-generational inspired groups that seem to continue the earlier work with great fervour.  In fact, I’d say that the current generation are more active than ever and believe more fully in the original inspiration.  The Taylor family were Sydney wine merchants who partnered with the Clare Valley Co-operative in 1950 to make the Chateau Clare label.  It was Bill Taylor who purchased land to establish their family winegrowing estate in the Clare Valley, and the rest is history, as they say.

The third generation of Taylors have given tribute to Bill Taylor in making ‘The Visionary’ Cabernet Sauvignon and recently ‘The Pioneer’ Shiraz.  These are the very best wines that Taylors can make.  The fruit comes from the best parcels in their Clare Valley Estate.  And then it’s a rigorous barrel selection process.  Clearly the barrels with the best fruit make it, but also, the selection team have a nose and palate out for the special qualities of the Vicard coopered French oak.  After a couple of vintages of these wines, I believe I can see what they are seeking out – ethereal beauty!
The 2013 Taylors ‘The Pioneer’ Clare Valley Shiraz 2013 is superb Shiraz with ripe dark and black berried fruits, black plums, Oriental spices, black pepper and pervasive but ethereal oak.  Exoticism for sure.  Beautifully refined on palate, silky even, but make no mistake, there’s plenty of structure.  The fruit richness grows and blossoms, and merges with the oak layering perfectly.  Sheer opulence, exoticism, lusciousness, power with incredible finesse.  I’d be scoring this wine as perfection.  This is only the second release of this label.

What a great comparison of varietal expression was made by having the 2013 Taylors ‘The Visionary’ Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Almost as dark as ‘The Pioneer’, this had intensity depth and a concentration that was up a level.  Then that blackcurranty and cassis edge.  Herbs, mint, but none of the menthol and eucalypt that can accompany the true Cabernet character.  The beautiful ethereal and exotic oak was also there.  To me personally, not quite as a perfect match as it was with the fruit in ‘The Pioneer’.  A little more acidity and a little more firmness.  Cabernet Sauvignon is of course, Taylors signature variety.

As usual, at this level, it’s a matter of personal preference as to which is best.  You can tell I went for the Shiraz. SWMBO voted for the Cabernet.  We shared the wines with the Bassinet Babes, and again a split decision.  One thing was clear to us, these wines were true to and worthy of the labels 'Pioneer' and 'Visionary'.      

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


There are many opportunities to look at pairs of wines which are in essence made identically, varying in maybe only one factor.  It’s how winemakers work in singling out important variable which affect the outcome of the wines they make.  For the consumer, it’s a wonderful exercise in learning more – maybe not quite as focussed as the winemaker, but nevertheless an enjoyable step upwards in the path of wine knowledge.
We had the opportunity to compare vinous twins with the 2015 Sons of Eden ‘Romulus’ Barossa Valley Old Wine Shiraz and 2015 Sons of Eden ‘Remus’ Eden Valley Old Vine Shiraz 2015.  These are among the best wines from Cory Ryan and Simon Cowham who have done wonderful things with specially selected parcels of fruit in the Barossa and Eden Valleys where they cut their teeth in winemaking and viticulture respectively.  Interestingly enough the wines are named after the twins who founded Rome after being suckled and raised by wolves, as legend has it.  Romulus was the stronger and more forceful sibling, and Remus the more refined; Romulus eventually killing Remus.

Cory and Simon have named these twin wines after these mythical twins.  The Romulus is old vine Barossa fruit, 60-80+ y.o., fermented to 14.5% alc. and aged 20 months in French oak, whereas the Remus is old vin Eden Valley fruit, the vine maybe not so old at 50+ years, fermented to 14.5% alc. and aged 22 months in French oak.  The biggest difference is the fruit origin, the Remus from a higher elevation, thus cooler and slower ripening with finer soils.  The 2 months extra oaking is relatively insignificant.  The wines show their regional provenance.  The Romulus the bigger and more powerful wine with blacker fruits, greater ripeness, more richness and structure.  I loved this.  The Remus with more filigree, aromatics, finer textures, fresher mouthfeel, a little eucalypt, but sill very Shiraz,  SWMBO loved this.  As usual, at this level, both wines are great, and it’s a matter of personal preference which one you like the most.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Chateau Palmer – First of The Super Seconds

Chateau Palmer has always had an air of the extraordinary about it.  Officially classified a Third Growth, below Chateau Margaux and a bevy of Second Growths, it has always performed above its station.  Most commentators and critics would place in next to Margaux, and occasionally Palmer would challenge it.  In the 1950s and 1960s it was a ‘Super Second’ before the term became what it is today, referring to the Second Growth such as the Leovilles and Pichons, and of course Ducru came to being on par in quality with the First Growth.  Of course the First Growths would protect their position, and only let Mouton join their ranks.

Chateau Palmer is your quintessential Margaux claret, with a personality of femininity, fragrance and beauty.  But the Palmer name, being English seemed to lend the wine a little more sturdiness to befit the owner and name.  So it was and remains a unique Margaux commune wine.  My familiarity with the wine came with the famous 1959 and 1961, deemed great wines for their vintage.  The 1966 was another fantastic wine.  1967 and then 1970 had their supporters.  However it was 1978 that truly made its mark.  A miracle vintage, cool through the season, saved by the Indian summer.  The wine a much better result than the 1979 which appeared to have a warm and benevolent growing season.
I haven’t had the 1978 Ch. Palmer Margaux for over a decade at least.  My last recollection was of a beautifully sweet-fruited wine with the structure just beginning to resolve.  It was beginning to mature, and after 25+ years, so it should.  So it was a total surprise when The Roaders brought this out, as they are usually Burgundy fanatics.  Black-red, near impenetrable and still with years ahead, judging by the appearance.  Strangely taut and unforgiving on the nose and the palate.  Almost concentrated hard wood and compacted earth with little fruit or aromatics.  Was this corked?  

But over the course of the next hour, this opened up to reveal concentrated blackberry and blackcurrants, a hint of cassis and violets eventually.  Some secondary wood-earth complexity on the edge.  Not sweet, but refined and firm.  This has the structure for another 40 years ahead.  A glorious claret for the intellect rather than the soul, for sure.  A great bottle, still in fabulous condition from a great and nearly mis-understood year, showing that Palmer is one of the greats of the wine world.   

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Nearly There

At any dinner party with The Roaders, one can expect some pretty exciting wines.  They’ve never skimped and no expense is spared.  They have a wonderful cellar that I understand is hard to keep track of, and as with all of us mere mortals, we pluck something out and hope for the best.  I don’t think it was quite like that then The Roader brought out their burgundy, a field which they specialise in.  Usually we can expect fireworks, but even they can be a little surprised.
The wine for drinking was the 2006 Jean Grivot Echezeaux Grand Cru.  Domaine Jeam Grivot, under the management of Etienne is one of the region’s most highly respect producers, making great wine.  The domain has 15 ha over 22 appellations with the Clos de Vougeot, Echezeaux and Richebourg as the super-stars.  Echezeaux is no slouch, though often seen as a ‘second level’ grand cru due to its large 34.8 ha size with considerably variably depending on the position of the wines.  Then the 2006 vintage, a warm finish, giving reds that are maturing earlier than vintages around it.

To be honest, not all the stars are aligned here, and the wine tasted that way.  Still deliciously classy Burgundy, but just missing out on that extra spark.  Now garnet red after over a decade in the bottle, this had smooth and refined presence of red berry fruit and red florals, integrated herbs and earthy complexities, but where’s the spark?  The fruit a little high-toned – an indication of the warmer vintage said The Roader.  And the tannins just beginning to resolve, lending a slippery flow.  This is in name grand cru burgundy from a great name, but tonight, not quite doing the job of delivering pleasure that brings a smile to your mouth.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Clone Wars

This is not the first time this title has been used in the context of wine.  All wine enthusiasts are aware that the clone of a variety is important in how it takes to rootstock, and if it prefers certain soils over others.  They can grow very differently and yield in ways that vary widely from each other.  This is why different clones have been developed in the search for vinous perfection!  However in today’s environment of provenance being one of the most important factors to be aware of in the style of a wine, most consumers will put clones down to the next level of interest.  Not so viticulturists and winegrowers.

Few winegrowers will say that there is one ideal clone, and certainly Kai Schubert and Marion Deimling took the approach of planting 8 different clones of Pinot Noir to make an elegant and sophisticated wine with built-in complexities, partially resulting from the mix of clones.  The planted their ‘Marion’s Vineyard’ near Gladstone over 1999 and 2000, and have had nearly 15 years of experience with the vines, the fruit and the wines.  Their ‘Estate’ Pinot Noir utilises all of the clones planted – as long as all are successful in the growing season.  That’s another aspect to having different clones – insurance for the elements. 

But from the start, Kai and Marion decided to bottle limited amounts of wine based on clonal differences.  The confusingly labelled ‘Marion’s Vineyard’ Pinot Noir is actually a selection of fruit from clone 5 (the Pommard clone), Abel (the gumboot clone) and the 10/5 (one of N.Z.’s originals).  To match this is the ‘Block B’ Pinot Noir is a selection of Dijon clones, 115, 667, 777, 114 and 113, the newer arrivals.  This is from ‘Block B’ in ‘Marion’s Vineyard’.
Kai and Marion, and wine lovers have found consistent differences between the wines, and these are exemplified by the 2016 Schubert ‘Marion’s Vineyard’ Wairarapa Pinot Noir and the 2016 Schubert ‘Block B’ Wairarapa Pinot Noir.  The former is light ruby-red in colour and is redolent of red berry fruits, florals and dark and dried herbs.  The palate has a gorgeous approachability to it.  You could say it was ‘feminine’.  The latter is dark-red and black hued in colour.  It has black fruits, dark herbs, minerals and game.  It is deep and fulsome, with plenty of firm tannin grip.  You could call it ‘masculine’.  The wines are vinified much the same, though the ‘Block B’ deserves and gets a touch more new oak.  Otherwise it’s all down to clonal selection.  Which is your preference?  Most punters love the size and power of the ‘Block B’, hence its dearer price.  Some, such as SWMBO and I love the beauty of the ‘Marions’s Vineyard’.  It’s a tie for us two.  Both are delicious, high quality wines.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Heart of Steel

Some of the world’s greatest wines achieve a balance and juxtaposition of components and characters that seem other-worldly.  I suspect that’s why they are special wines.  They don’t have to be large in dimension or layered with complexity, but their sheer poise and incredible finesse that makes them what they are.  It usually stems from the vineyard in a particularly favoured site and aspect, with the ideal soils and appropriate variety, interpreted by a grower and winemaker in tune with the vintage.  These are a few factors there that are difficult to achieve, already!  Then, there some luck.
SWMBO and I were in luck.  We were invited to dinner with the Bassinett Babes, and they produced a 2004 Egon Muller Scharzhofberger Riesling Spatlese.  This is truly one of those great wines which have all the stars aligned.  The Saar region of the Mosel just doesn’t quite achieve the ripeness that the Middle Mosel does, being tucked down a protected valley.  The wines are generally much more steely and acidic.  But then the Scharzhofberger site is perfectly positioned, its aspect capturing more sunshine and heat than any of the neighbouring vineyards.  It has been proven over time that Riesling performs best in the fine, weathered slate soil.  The 2004 vintage at the time highly rated, but now joined by many more sine – climate change?  And then there’s the work of the undisputed master, Egon Muller.  The Egon Muller Scharzhofbergers have no equal.

This bottle we sipped on was a stunner.  Fully mature now, but with no need to drink it up in a hurry.  Brilliant light golden, and decidedly elegant in proportion.  This was made from healthy fruit which grew richer and richer in degrees, and that’s how this wine unfolded.  Beautifully rich with floral, honey, lime, a touch of toast and cream custard, but still fresh and zesty with its immutable heart of steel.  We had a number of great wines that night, but this was one of the superstars.     

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Dom Perignon Still A Legend

There’s a provocative book ‘Bursting Bubbles’ by Robert Walters who espouses the quality and terroir-expressive character of the best grower-Champagne producers.  And I agree with his sentiments.  He’s not anti-conventional/conservative Champagne per se, but does point out a number of factors which compromise the best expression of the fruit and land which are accepted practice by the vast majority of Champagne producers.  This is not to say that he doesn’t think excellent wine can be made these ways.

The legendary Dom Perignon gets a bit of stick, as he is regarded by the world as the ‘inventor’ of Champagne, and is thus highly revered by most wine people.  Walters brings it all down to earth in describing how Champagne evolved from making wine in extreme conditions and the merchants promoting bubbles as a quality factor, which was not normally seen as the case.  But for the world, Dom Perignon is the maestro, and of course Moet & Chandon name their top deluxe cuvee range after him.  In the context of conventional Champagne, the Cuvee Dom Perignon is a remarkable wine.  There’s loads of it made, and it has enviable consistency.
The Roaders and The Bassinett Babes were celebrating, and SWMBO and I were invited to attend.  The other night, they had opened a well-known grower Champagne, so there was no expense spared in opening a 2004 Dom Perignon Champagne Brut.  The Roaders were quick to point out the difference between the grower Champagne, and is conventional wine, made from fruit picked earlier, and from across many sites and villages.  In essence much lighter and less ‘expressive’.  But like the author of the book, taking the wine in context, it was one of great beauty and finesse.  Sheer elegance, with a very taut and fine core of white and yellow stonefruits, beautifully integrated with bready-yeasty autolysis,  Still a baby with no aldehydic complexity or hideousness, this was refreshing yet satisfying.  A deliciously elegant and refreshing drink with subtle but great character.  Dom Perignon did not create Champagne, but the wine named after him is legendary.