Sunday, August 31, 2008

You be the Judge

When a group of wine experts get together and provide special bottles for a special dinner, who really is qualified to make a call on how the different wines show, and make a judgement on them? This was the case at the Judges’ Dinner for the personnel at the heart of the 2008 Liquorland Top 100, held at Citron, the wonderful eating establishment of Rex Morgan and Wendy Hiller, at the end of August. Many of the wines were prized possessions, or were the result of personal input by those present. Bottles of wine were circulated among the 26 or so people, everybody allowed a little taste of each wine, served in flights to accompany the food courses. It seems a little unfair that this commentary is made in these circumstances, but that’s what we do. If you were there, you too could be a judge!

Arrival – Amuse Bouche
On arrival, a glass (or two) of Cloudy Bay ‘Pelorus’ Methode Traditionelle NV was served. The perfect palate cleanser, but it was more classy than that description gives. The Cloudy Bay team have got this down to a fine art. Fresh, clean with good autolysis. On being seated, a rarely-seem in this country Mumm Cremant de Cramant NV, with more interest and complexing sulphide/autolysis notes than this 100% Chardonnay wine should have carried. Though with less atmospheres than regular Champagne, this still was an effervescent conversation piece. And then a bit of a star at the other end of the sparkling spectrum, also from the rejuvenated house of Mumm – the 1998 Mumm ‘Cuvee ‘R’ Lalou, a full, toasty bubbles with Pinot Noir power and concentration. This should develop well. The final bubbles we received was the Highfield ‘ZD’ Methode Traditionelle. Unlabelled, it was a bit of a mystery. A bit of an anti-climax after the Mumm. Eye of the Partridge, with fullish, berryish fruit, a little raw and disjointed, not as austere as it might have been.

Crab and Corn Mousseline on Bisque Nage
A subtle dish for aromatics, and a fine group they were. Absolutely delightful and one of the stars of the night, the 2005 Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett was impeccably fresh, yet penetrating with flavour. A star in the Nahe and all of Germany. The Erni Loosen inputted 2006 Ch. Ste Michelle ‘Eroica’ Washington State Riesling at 12% alcohol just didn’t have the same balance and zing, though it was Germanic in expression on bouquet. Another star was the 2001 S.A. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, showing a little more toasty development, but again, that exhilarating balance of fruit, acidity and sugar. And finally, a 2001 Schlumberger Alsace Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Kitterle, wonderfully concentrated and with immense fruit depth of spices, honey and florals.

Cauliflower Scented with Toasted Cumin Soup
Two contrasting wines with the beautifully textured and piquantly flavoured soup. The 2006 Guigal Condrieu ‘La Doriane’ was larger than life with bold Viognier fruit and outlandish new oak. It all worked though, and will come together, as previous vintages have shown. The 1998 Tyrrells ‘HVD’ Semillon was far more restrained, yet took the stage with the Guigal, by way of its remarkable freshness for a wine at a decade of age, and its restrained subtleties. HVD refers to the Hunter Valley Distillery vineyard – so romantic, these Aussies with their names.

Free Range Chicken Galantine with Prawn Ravioli and Celeriac
A Burgundian theme with this more substantial course. The 2005 Ch. de Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru ‘Chalumeaux’ was classic stuff, fine and elegant and a down-the-line white burgundy, without a whisker out of place. Our table never got to try the Carillon Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru. No details on vintage or vineyard, and very little feedback or discussion on it, so it couldn’t have been earth-shattering! However the 2004 Leeuwin Estate ‘Art Series’ Chardonnay did create a few ripples. Bold as a New World wine can be, but as white Burgundian as a New World wine can be, also. Rich, powerful and intense. New oak well-handled and adding to the statement. And of course a Pinot Noir. In fact, surprisingly, the only Pinot Noir, a 2005 Au Bon Climat ‘Isabelle’ Pinot Noir, an unusual wine for Jim Clendenen, being a multi vineyard blend. It was attractively sweet and ripe, the tannins well enveloped by the sweetness of fruit, but overall, not as big as seen a week before by some of the judges present.

Aged Angus Fillet with Muttonbird Butter on Marbled Roasted Root Vegetables
The main course, and a decadent one with high quality produce. The perfect accompaniment for such a dish must be the more austere, and well-structured, drier reds, and this is what was partnered with it: Two St Emilion wines, arguably the best-showing of the night as a pairing. The 2004 Ch. La Serre St Emilion Grand Cru Classe was rich, sweet, plumy and meaty and perfectly structured as an each-way claret. A wine based on its fruit quality and a pointer to where Right Bank wines can be. Alongside it the 2000 Ch. Mangot ‘Quintessence’ St Emilion Grand Cru, was bigger, richer, more concentrated and showing a great deal more new oak. A bit of a caricature really, but in its own way, it was a wine that had soul and satisfied palate and mind. One diner, sitting at our table, actually worked vintage that year at the property, so it had to be good! Unfortunately, the 1997 Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva was dry, leathery and charmless, and the 2004 Coto de Hayas ‘Fagus’ Campo de Borja had a name that was made fun of. But at least this French oak matured old-vine Grenache was tasty and sweetly ripe. Again, one of the attendees had a hand in the making of the wine. It was good for him that it looked pretty good. Wine judges can be a little cruel!

Apple and Mulled Wine Refresher
Spices and ice, this refresher was nice. So spiced wines were the order of the day. To set the scene, a 2005 Francois Villard Cote-Rotie appeared. Sulphides can be subtle and complexing or in reality too much. This was the debate on our table. The framework of the wine was, however, excellent and unable to be criticised in that way. Certainly this was a fuller example. Then came an Aussie set. The 1996 Geoff Merrill ‘Henley’ Shiraz was ‘lifted’ to another class; the fruit was ultra sweet and the richness on another dimension. Wines at that level of extraction and ripeness can always carry a certain amount of extras. More traditional was the 1998 Tatachilla ‘Foundation’ Shiraz. The combination of a very hot year, and as much as one can get out of such fruit showed here. No tricks, just as ripe and rich as possible being the key. Though a ‘cult’ label, the 1993 Mt Langi Ghiran Shiraz showed too much funk. Brettanomyces galore. We understand they have clean up, and this Grampians player is back on track.

Vintage Gouda with Pear, Walnuts and Wafers
A generous serving of cheese and some generous wines to go with it. First up, a medium sized wine, but a big claret, 1990 Ch. Gruaud-Larose St Julien. As is typical, showing plenty of herby Cabernet Sauvignon, and plenty of vitality. Just not in a really refined way. Some judges with their herbaceous meters found it most disappointing, others accepting it as good old-fashioned stuff. Certainly, the Right Bank St Emilions looked better. Then a pair of Barolos, probably the second best pairing of the wines. The 2001 Gaja ‘Sperrs’ Langhe was the modern face of Piedmont. It spoke of Gaja and lovely oaking. Class and finesse with power. Still a baby, though a big baby. And in reality a Barolo. Then a very traditional 2001 Prunotto Barolo ‘Bussia’. Ironically, Prunotto is owned by the innovative Antinori firm. Browner, more evolved, and speaking of Nebbiolo. Tar and dried roses. Fabulous stuff to compare and contrast. Then an Aussie pairing, from the then Southcorp stable at the time. A rather ungainly-looking 1997 Wynns ‘Michael’ Shiraz. Green, sappy, disjointed with fruit, oak and structure all over the place. Whoever brought it. Don’t despair. You probably didn’t make it! Then a special wine, the liqueur-like 1996 Penfolds Grange. Great year, great wine, and a great opportunity. What a most generous donor, who put this wine into the line-up.

Petit Fours
Where else to put up the 1994 Hugel Alsace Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive? Amazingly fresh and unctuous, with freshness of feel. The fruit flavours now developing a curious herb and hair-oil character. Not totally pleasant for all concerned, but a treat for everyone nevertheless.

One of the experienced attendees brought along a couple of ‘treasures’ from the cellar. Just for interest, and without any expectations. I never got to try the 1974 Corbans ‘Claret’ nor the 1973 Seppelts ‘Moyston’ Claret, but I understand they were both OK. It is remarkable how these old commercial New Zealand and Aussie reds can survive. No great distinction in either, but genuinely alive. It never pays to give up on a wine…..

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Hunter Wine Hunter

A special weekend with the main man from the Hunter Valley - The Wine Hunter. He knows wine and he likes to search out and hunt for good tastes from bottles.

In deference to The Wine Hunter, SWMBO and I thought it best to ply him with all sorts - starting with an old Hunter Valley selection. A trio of old Hunter Valley wines, including one that The Wine Hunter had a hand in making would be a good start. First up was a 1989 McWilliams Mount Pleasant 'Homestead' Semillon. Wow, surprisingly OK, with no oxidation or 'past-it' flavours, but it was a bit of a nothing wine, really. Commercial in its day, and less than that now, being weak, watery and plain, though with a touch of toast. Then onto someting older to see if Hunter Valley Semillon can last. The 1979 McWilliams Mount Pleasant 'Elizabeth' Riesling, a Semillon, was 'jiggered'. Oxidised to buggery, and corked on top of it. Blah. However this won't deter us from old Semillons, as we know they can be glorious at over two decades of age. This cost me $8.60 at the end of 1982. The Wine Hunter was responsible for the rarely seen 1986 Tyrrells 'Vat 5' Dry Red, made from Hermitage grapes from the NVC Vineyard. (NVC = New Vine Cuttings - aren't these Aussies so up front and imaginative!) Horses for courses here with brett galore, or the old Hunter 'sweaty saddles'. But dark, rich and sumptuous. Brett can allow wines to work, and this was a super example where it didn't intrude, but added real character. I think The Wine Hunter was happy with it! He brought along a 1997 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon. It was medium weighted and everything it should have been, with savoury complexities to the varietal fruit You can't go wrong with Penfolds, even today.

On to the serious stuff. Two 1982 Right Bank wines, as The Wine Hunter was in Bordeaux a couple of months ago. The 1982 Ch. Beausejour-Duffau St Emilion was elegant, minerally and still with sweet fruit. A moderately expressed wine, and classy with it. Good with food, it came alive and seemed longer on the palate. Lovely, mature wine, quite the opposite of being 'out there', and all the better for it. The 1982 Ch. Nenin Pomerol was bigger, more plummy and weightier, as Pomerols should be when compared with the St Emilions. But brett, with a capital 'B' was there, and got worse with air time. Dried on palate and became extremely difficult to drink, especially with pleasure.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Kiwi Pinot Noir History 101. The 1985 and 1986 St Helena Pinot Noirs to taste. This was a trip down memory lane, but as time passes, the remembering should not be recalled! The 1985 was fresh, fresh, fresh and green, green and green. The 1986 showed caramelised sugar (chaptalisation) on nose and palate. I remember when it was released, and it was rich and sweet then. To taste history is great, but I know we have moved on! Even more ridiculous were the 1989 Montana Marlborough Pinot Noir - oxidised to buggery, the 1983 Montana Marlborough Pinot Noir - seemingly made with dead animals in the ferment! Plus a 1983 Montana Marlborough Pinotage - the best of these older wines. Still green, but still alive and OK, though I wouldn't drink much of it. Good on you, The Wine Hunter, as at least you were game to look at them.

Last, but not least was a 1983 von Kesselstatt Graacher Graben (or was it a Lay vineyard wine? We couldn't tell - damned torn labels) Riesling Auslese 1983. Absolutely stunning with freshness and gorgeously decadent toastiness. At its very best, now, this shows good German wine at one-quarter of a century of age and on a plateau. Broad, even for a Bernkasteler, but then, relativity is hard to find without a comparison. This, we could drink, and it was indeed drunk up!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Big Surprise

Got a call from SWMBO. She was at a favourite eatery, and the boss there, Cafe Gal, was celebrating a big (note the lower case) birthday. So I was given the duty of turning up with the liquid reinforcement. As there was a wee army of people to ply with a shot of wine, it was appropriate to arrive with a bigger bottle. So along came the Redmetal 'The Merlot' 1998 in 1.5 Litre format. This was Grant & Sue Edmonds' first release of 'The Merlot'. And from the ultra hot and ultra-dry year, especially in Hawke's Bay. After tasting a lot of 1998 Kiwi wonders, we could expect something special, as long as it was not afflicted with brett as the Sileni EV tasted earlier was.

Turning up with the aforementioned bigger bottle, the birthday girl put on a big smile. It was a big surprise. The wine became a feature, and everybody more or less ordered their main courses to match the wine. Lamb shanks and steaks abounded. Big food for what might be a mouthful. The wine was big and juicy still, with ripe plumminess and plenty of tannins that were becoming resolved. A touch of the meatiness from funky yeasts, but it was all rather drinkable. SWMBO who has an aversion to horses and wine (brettanomyces) found it more than acceptable. Big surprise. In the final analysis, the wine went down a treat. Delicious stuff and I believe another big bottle may have slipped down easily.

I think we'll need to give Cafe Gal another big bottle as a top-up pressie. Hopefully, it will be another big surprise!