Monday, July 28, 2008


A group of wine industry people reminiscing, with a video with episodes of 'The Winemakers', a TV programme made in 1985, of now iconic N.Z. winemakers, playing in the background, was the setting for looking at a number of wines from 25 years ago. 1983 was a quarter of a lifetime or more, ago. Have things changed that much since then? Has there been progress?

Back in the mid 1980s, Cabernet Sauvignon was hot. There was no other drink for the keen wine and food aficionado. I'd like to think I was one then, but I cringe thinking about how sophisticated I thought I was! It's a shame that Pinot Noir and Syrah have left Cabernet and Merlot in the dust. But something tells me that fads and fashions give way to reality, and I reckon the Bordeaux styles will come back, 'cos they are so stylish and restrained, and great over a meal.

Four Kiwi Cabernets from 1983 were a test. If you gave them a go, you'd get some of the Froggie stuff. First up was the 1983 Cooks Hawke's Bay Cabernet Sauvignon pairing - 'Premium Varietal' alongside the 'Private Bin' red stripe Fernhill label. No contest. The Premium Varietal was all bones, no flesh, and a nothing wine. Herby, thin and faded, but not vinegar. But the Private Bin was still varietal, a little cool on nose, but with real fruit sweetness. Multi-gold and multi-trophy winner in its time. The judges knew good from bad then too. 1983 Te Mata 'Awatea' Cabernet/Merlot alongside 1983 McWilliams Private Bin Cabernet Sauvignon, another super gold medal win in its day. Te Mata ripe and with integrity. But a bit one dimensional. McWilliams with the milky lactic signature and green fruit underneath. But still sweet, but acid. Top wine was Te Mata 'Awatea', picked from the start by SWMBO. Second the Cooks PB Fernhill. She's always right. And John Buck, you certainly knew what you were doing then.

As a reward, on to the clarets, this time from the Right Bank, in honour of our Merlot making friends, the wines also from 1983. Ch. Trotanoy Pomerol, with sweet fruit and tobacco-y interest. Good core and very drinkable. Surprisingly the Ch Latour-a-Pomerol a bit hard, lean and dried out. Both from the Moueix stable, who were on top of their game then. At least these were decent wines, making the Kiwis seem ordinary.

A treat to follow. Ch. Lafaurie Peyraguey Sauternes 1983. Golden, but superb barley sugar, honey, marmalade, Semillon, botrytis and a little VA lift. Full, firmish and mature, this was classic Sauternes in every way. A top year, and this showed it. Drinking well now, but you could come back to it in a decade.

In reminiscing, yes, we have improved and made progress. But in the background, hearing the likes of John Buck, Mate Brajkovich, Denis Irwin and John Hancock talk about their dreams and inspirations, passion and sound ideas remain the same. The same quality parameters still operate and that is why the likes of these originals are worth listening to.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Moment of Glory

With a winemaker of repute in town, and one who loves Riesling, it was proper to open a couple of German wines with him.

The first, a 2002 Maximin Grunhaus Abtsberg Riesling Auslese, from the Ruwer, was full-on stinky from sulphides, but looked brilliant on palate. Refined, cutting, delicate and with a touch of toastiness to cut through the simple sugar sweetness. Excellent acidity too. Breathed up in glass. Its moment of glory would be still to come, maybe a decade away. Funny how Maximin Grunhaus does this - some wines absolutely pure and clean, others of theirs affected by sulphides which stink the wines out.

And an unusual choice to follow, a 1983 Burklin-Wolf Wachenheimer Bohlig Riesling Auslese. Bought from Wilson Neill long ago, at $29.65. Equivalent would need a $90.00 payment? Remember the three 'B's of the Rheinpfalz in those days - Burklin-Wolf, Bassermann-Jordan and von Buhl! Anyway, poured golden in glass, with some oxidation and little fruit interest. Some gentle cream custard aged German Riesling character on the palate, and quite low acid. Not unexpectedly flat, as this is how Rheinpfalz wines show their provenance - warmer climate and heavier soils. But amazingly in a couple of minutes, some of its glory shining with gorgeous honey and toast notes. It faded quickly. It had its moment of glory. That's life.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Demand and Deliver

Well, it was a birthday, but not a significant one. There is a mild demand on one to celebrate it, and this entails a good meal and some good wine. Good company can be easy to find, especially when it is SWMBO and the Young One. So, off to a to eatery with a couple of 'treasures' from the old cellar.

Selecting the wine is not always easy, as the demand is to provide something decent. But you don't know what it's going to be like until you open it. You hope it will deliver the goods and not let the ocassion down. Out came a Drouhin 1983 Meursault1er Cru Perrierers (around $58.00+ from Wilson Neill) and a 1978 Chateau Branaire-Ducru St Julien. The white burgundy was a little ullaged, and the 1978 clarets, described by Michael Broadbent as a 'miracle vintage' at the time, as a cool year was saved by the oft-quoted 'Indian Summer', are showing their true, less-than-spectacular provenance now. So demands were not too high for them. If they delivered, it would have been a bonus.

The Meursault came out of the glass golden, and somewhat oxidised, but with big toastiness and nuttiness on attack, fading to non-descript mouthwash on the finish. Drying out, it was teetering on being shot. In fact, drinking it, it wavered between interesting and unpleasant. SWMBO was more forgiving on it. Food interaction with it was acceptable, especially the Scampi tails and Paua ravioli. The claret came out green, coarse and stinky. Gary, the English sommelier and SWMBO thought it shot. I was prepared to give it time. Bad call. It did not get any better over the course of two hours. Those 1978s have shown their true colour greenness all the more over time. And Branaire-Ducru then was not as flash as it is now. The demands were probably a bit too much for these bottles. Delivery did not happen.

The demand was on to have a couple of glasses of drinking wine. So we ordered a glass each of 2006 Escarpment Chardonnay and 2005 Papa Luna Calatayud from Spain. Larry McKenna's Chardonnay looked very white burgundian - and we had a real white burgundy to compare it to. It delivered beautifully. The Papa Luna was simple, jammy and easy. Nothing wrong, but it did not rise to the call. It didn't deliver.

It was a slightly pressured situation for the Young One, with all this talk on wine, service, flavours etc in a fine dining establishment. Some demands on him to be an adult. He responded well, with humour and personality. He delivered!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Old Spice

The occasion arose to look at a couple of old Kiwi Gewurztraminers last night. Old Spice for sure. Like the famous aftershave, a blast from the past, but would they be past it? Both from 1987. Yes, way too old in theory, but we were prepared to be surprised. First of the pair was a Villa Maria Reserve from Ihumatao. With a good track record going back to the 1970s, Villa Maria was hot in those days. Golden in colour, aged spice and ginger on the nose, but getting a bit decrepit. Not oxidised to buggery, and with depth of fruit detectable. Not enjoyable to drink. Next, the Matawhero 1987, a Denis Irwin and Hatsch Kalberer effort. The big name in Gewurz. Lighter in colour, herbs and spices, but thinner and lacking on the palate. Oxidative elements about to appear. No good as well. But they brought back memories, and we toasted Denis especially, a remarkable man.

To make up for these, we thought we better look at a Left Bank claret, to see if they looked OK, following our experience with the 1983 Ch. La Fleur Petrus Pomerol last week. So out came the cork on a 1983 Ch. Leoville Las Cases St Julien. Bottle stink and funk at first on bouquet, cleaning up to show great precision. Very good for a hot, dry vintage with a compact growing season. A class act that will keep on going. Not spicy, nor old. But it spiced up the evening, especially for our guest who loves old and great wines.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Taste of Age

If we read fine wine magazines, we do so with more than a twinge of jealousy when we hear of these fantastic vertical tastings of clarets (invariably) that cover decades of vintages, including the miracle 1961s, 1945s and from the century before. Wouldn't we give our eye teeth to participate in some of these events? But then again, would we have the experience to be able to appreciate these aged wonders. Often, the circumstances and the running of the vertical tasting provides the much needed background and atmosphere to make these old wines come alive. I sometimes wonder how would we react if given just one of these aged, historical wines in isolation?

Last Thursday, we opened a 1983 Ch. La Fleur Petrus Pomerol and a 1980 Ch. d'Yquem Sauternes, together, or should I say, in isolation, without the support of wines to make a direct and relevant comparison with. I must say, it was hard work trying to come to grips with them. The 1983 Right Bank wine was one-dimensional iron and earth, and quite austere. Lacking fruit sweetness, it had not developed with grace. I thought it might be a typical 1983 that reflected the hot, quick season, and thus had ripeness that faded quickly; a character that seems to indicate quick oxidation, once a bottle is opened. Or so it seemed. Over the next two days, it remained absolutely constant. No deterioration at all. Maybe in a vertical tasting, this 1983 might look awful. Maybe it might look brilliantly fresh? I suppose I could be swayed any and either way!

Likewise, the 1980 Ch. d'Yquem super Sauternes. Gorgeous marmalade, barley sugar, honey and nuts on the nose. Dryish on the palate, but everything Yquem should be. I think. At the time, I wished I had some other Sauternes, such as Rieussec or Lafaurie Peyraguey to give the big one a reference point. And again, some vintages either side to give an indication of the quality of the 1980 vintage (not bad, but not great), and how well it had stood the test of time. I felt a bit lost, and would have been happy to denigrate the sucker if one of the other people drinking it felt it wasn't particularly smart! But again, over the next two days, it looked more and more glorious, though it showed the ill-effects of air and oxidation on an increasingly ullaged bottle.

To appreciate the taste of age is not easy and really is something learned, only from experience it seems. It obviously pays not to make judgements too early!

Monday, July 7, 2008

No Doubts After a Decade

A bit of a treat in looking at a dozen Kiwi reds at a decade of age, the wines from the Library Cellar Man. Some critics say the wines from this extraordinarily hot vintage are on the downhill, but that's Aucklander talk. I don't think they appreciate secondary, let alone tertiary development characters!

First up a 1998 Daniel Schuster Omihi Pinot Noir, beautifully fine and mushroomy with forest floor complexities, really elegant stuff. Harmony here and good to see a Schuster in good form, as his wines do vary. Then a complete contrast with the 1998 Martinborough Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir, a sizeable number with powerful fruit and structure, the oak noticeable. It will still keep. A 1998 regular label Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir was more integrated and classical in forest floor expression.

Suffering from cork taint and brett was the 1998 Sileni 'EV' Merlot/Franc. It was earthy and fully structured. We'll need to check another bottle soon, but I know Grant Edmonds started filtering to avoid any brett problems again. With it, his top wines became more elegant. A good thing? The 1998 Pegasus Bay 'Maestro' Merlot/Cab/Franc was cedary and tobacco-y, and a little crisp, the toasty oak standing out. Good South Island effort. Also surprising was the 1998 Mission Reserve Syrah, more like a gentle and dryish Bordeaux wine. Funny how varietal character becomes less distinct with time. However, one the the best 1998s came next - Te Mata 'Coleraine'. Rich, sweet, plums and berries, juicy and youthful, with plenty of body. This was dark in colour, showing visually its freshness and richness.

A wine of great refinement and rich, concentrated berry fruit, the 1998 Esk Valley Reserve Merlot/Malbec/Cab was one of the top wines too. I was let down by the French 'sighter', the 1998 Chateau Magdelaine St Emilion, as it was sour and lighter in fruit expression. Some of the other tasters loved it! Generally liked was the 1998 Benfield & Delamare Martinborough wine, elegant, distinctly spicy berryish. good acid and extract and with a future. Then came my top, the 1998 CJ Pask Reserve Merlot, showing the typical barrel-ferment moccha coffee oak, with lovely berry fruit depth and a structure to die for. Yum Yum. Too oaky for some, but that's OK.

Of the last two wines, the 1998 Esk Valley 'The Terraces' was sublime. Who says Malbec can't be classy? Well, this was, with seriously fine structure and rich, restrained opulence, if you know what I mean. The final wine was my least. The 1998 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah, faded and with little going for it now. One of John Hancock's earlier efforts, and we know far he has come.

Verdict: The 1998 N.Z. Bordeaux-styled reds from Hawke's Bay are doing just fine. Some are beginning to drink well, with complexity, and others with plenty of time ahead. I have no doubts this is a doozy of a vintage.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Quarter Century Plus Interest

A special visitor was the reason to open a few wines a quarter of a century old and older.

Continuing the success had with the German Auslesen from 1983 earlier in the week, we thought it would be very interesting to look at a pair of Spatlesen, served as aperitif wines. We were not disappointed, as going down to Spatlese level might not have augured well. However the 1983 Thanisch Bernkasteler Lay Spatlese was a testament to the staying power of Riesling as a variety. For a Mosel, this was absolutely fully mature and displayed the power and depth that the Middle Mosel wines of Bernkastel can possess. Honey, toast and kero on nose and palate with pronounced acidity that bordered on hardness, but thankfully not to detraction. Great wine now, and one can imagine it being a bit ugly-duckling sulphur heavy in youth, but now blossomed into a gorgeous swan. This was followed by a 1983 Felix Muller Scharzhofberger Spatlese, more golden, with those overmature cream custard aromas and 'attack', but a wine that faded to plainness and obscurity on the finish. Remnants of its former glory, and a wine that should have been consumed a decade ago. Felix ain't as good as Egon.

An interlude wine consisted of the brand new 2007 Ata Rangi 'Craighall' Chardonnay, shy at first, but developing in glass to show how serious and good this really is in minutes. The girls and guys at Ata Rangi really know how to make the best of top fruit from a great vineyard in the Martinborough Terrace.

Then on to the mandatory clarets, both Haut-Medoc. 1982 Chateau Cantemerle, soft and rich with earth and fruit cake, the Merlot stronger than the Cabernet, and heavily dosed with brettanomyces. However quite sweet and soft, though drying on the finish. Drink up. The great surprise was the 1982 Chateau La Lagune. Darker in colour, with beautifully refined dark berry fruits and shiny oak showing. Lively and refined, and a beauty. However, over dinner (another excellent Ruth Pretty meat-loaf made by SWMBO), the wine became less distinguished, softer, earthier, and dare I say it, the dreaded brett became manifest. Oh dear, a let down in the end. These wines at 25-26 years are proving to be very interesting indeed.

And to finish the night, a bottle of 2004 Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay, outstandingly serious with mealy stonefruit flavours, great concentration and style, and beautifully fresh acidity. As good as the Ata Rangi Craighall was, this was even better. A wine to show the benefits of bottle-age, but primarily the class that Neudorf has proven to possess. Hats off to Tim & Judy Finn.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Great White Hope

It's been a while since the last post. Work, house repairs and the 'flu has gotten in the way. So finally, a few interesting wines to try. Riesling is the great white hope, and to test it, we had the Hohe Domkirche Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese 1983 and Weingut Tobias Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Auslese 1983. Yes, both wines from the Mosel, at a quarter of a century of age. If Riesling ain't the great white hope, I don't think any other white variety can do it as consistently.

The wines, yes, were remarkable. The Scharzhofberger, a Wilson Neill purchase at $24.50, had all the hallmarks of a classic, almost overmature Mosel. Quite golden in appearance. Cream custard, honey, toast and a touch of complexing oxidation. Glorious on nose, but the palate showing more oxidation than preferable. However, great weight and completeness in the mouth, fading in aromatics as the wine warmed up in glass. The Piesporter, a Hancocks buy at $38.64, expensive two decades ago, was lighter in weight and intensity, and initially a little disappointing, as Piesport produces some of the weightiest Mosel wines. But pale in colour, this grew to become a fresh marvel of the Mosel. Classical aged Riesling that will hold still. SWMBO picked this as the best of the two, straight away. Amazingly, both wines had plenty of sugar, but perfectly poised with the zingy acidity. The acidity was a feature of both wines.

There's a few more of these German Rieslings a quarter of a century old, to try. Great white hope - yes.