Monday, April 18, 2011

A Mass of Wine Amassed

After a particularly high powered tasting with The Real Mr Parker, it was time to settle down to a bite to eat. Each of the guests brought out their bottles to consume over the meal. There were too many wines to catch up with, but most of us had a go. I recall a number of them. Here they are in style order:

I never knew that the Rothschild Family had gotten into Champagne, but they have, and poured first was the NV Barons de Rothschild Champagne, in a plain and simply presented bottle, but with all the Pinot Noir and autolysis whistles showing. A full-bodied style that was meaty and food friendly. The other dry white was a 2006 Guigal 'La Doriane' Condrieu, perfectly plateaued now, with incomparable apricotty exoticness, orange blossom and superbly integrated oak. It's amazing how this starts off as a heavily oaked wine then just absorbs all that wood in a few years. These Guigals know a thing or two!

New World reds made a strong showing. There's been a lot of press about 1998 Martinborough Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir beating a DRC 'La Tache' recently. $150 vs $2,000. The Real Mr Parker decided to open his last bottle. Damn - corked! And badly too. The power of the wine could be made out, just! A 1997 Mission 'Jewelstone' Syrah was shy with its spice and pepper. Inoffensive, but without getting anywhere. They do a better job nowadays. And a 1997 Rockford 'Basket Press' Barossa Shiraz. Loads of ripeness, loads of black spicy fruits and lots of sweet oak. But just flat and dull overall. Wanting to be impressive, but never making it because of too much make up.

Then onto a Rhone bracket. Worthwhile comparing the 1997 Jaboulet 'Thalabert' Crozes-Hermitage with the 1997 Jaboulet Cornas. The former light, slightly weedy and plain, but with a finesse. The latter richer, firmer, gutsier and lush in a rough way. The surprise was the 1989 Ch. de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Rich, softly textured, dense with spicy red fruits and complex earth/game, but no brettanomyces! We couldn't believe our luck!

A Bordeaux set brought in a sense of style. A pairing of Chx. Montrose, the second growth from St Estephe. The 1984 was leanish and greenish and modest. Drinkable, but the acidity was elevated. Fruit weight barely there, but a fine-featured wine in the end. Better was the 1983, with fine, tight, classic blackcurrants and cassis showing fair ripeness. Some body, restrained tannin, but good acidity, all there to keep it alive and chugging along for another decade. It wasn't the star it is today. Then onto a 1983 Ch. Raymond-Lafon Sauternes. A great year for most Sauternes, the d'Yquem had last year quite sublime. This was beginning to dry and show the faintest signs of going decrepit. However, oily, rich, lemony lift, botrytis barley sugar and a touch of VA. Should have drunk this a decade ago?

Finishing it all was a little 375 ml Campbells Rutherglen Liqueur Muscat, elegant, harmonious, more fresh material than old, but nicely done. Some warmth and spirit, but really decadent and easy. This was an ideal finisher that gave us a sugar hit!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Good Jobs

It had been a while since we all got together. We had a date lined up, but it got shaken to pieces with events down south. The news was that the blokies had all gotten jobs, good ones too, and were gainfully employed. No longer did The Eventress need to support The New Man, nor did the Bassinet Babe need to look after Brucie, and SWMBO with me! Celebrations all round!

So we kicked off with a fabulous NV Nautilus Cuvee Marlborough Methode. Lot 602 is the Champagne Bollinger look-alike, and it did a great job at opening the proceedings. Search for it, if you can. It's worth it. Then two older Rieslings. A 2005 Craggy Range Te Muna Riesling, rare as hen's teeth, was showing lovely toasty notes, just marred by a hint of reduction. But soft, North Island broad, and beautifully harmonious on palate. Perfect hint of sweetness. Wonder why they haven't kept this label going? This was paired with a 1999 Felton Road Dr Riesling. 11.0% alc. Much more linear, like going down a railway track. Great toasty notes with pronounced acidity, and lush creaming soda and custardy textures as in Mosel with age. I would have liked a whisker more sugar.

Heavy duty whites followed. They always do a good job with food. A 2001 Lowe Family Hunter Valley Semillon was full and waxy-toasty on nose. A portent of what might be on the palate? But alas no, there was nothing home except a nice rounded mouthfeel and vinous weight. Will check out the other bottle soon. The shining star, possibly of the night, was the 2006 Sacred Hill 'Riflemans' Chardonnay. It grew in the glass and showed its class with great complex mealy smoky richness. Wow, blam, pow! A thumpingly great guns wine.

As the antipasto platters dwindled, and the venison meatballs came out, we moved to two new-release Neudorf Moutere Pinot Noirs. Now Tim & Judy Finn, with winemaker John have done more than a good job on these 2009s. The 2009 Moutere was tight, backward, and had great weight, depth and power - just waiting to open out. A Richebourg of a wine! Then the 2009 Home Vineyard Moutere. Opulent, decadent, but with sheer class and style. My La Tache of Nelson Pinot Noir. A brilliant pair.

Then the obligatory oldies. Brucie brought along and served blind a 1990 Villa Maria Reserve HB Cab/Merlot. SWMBO figured it out straight away. Except for the year. She thought it 10 years younger, because while it had the secondary earth, dark berry and cedar, it was fresh and lively from the acidity. Very fine-grained, and drinking really well. What a good job the VM team did on those 1990s. At first the critics said 1989 was the better, hotter, riper year. But I reckon the ripening was slower with a better build up for 1990. These have lasted better than the 1989s. With all the talk of old times, out came the 1975 Ch. de Camensac Haut Medoc. I'd been hanging on to this one, not sure of what to expect. These 1975s were fearsomely tannic and hard in their youth. And a lowly fifth growth to boot. The 1975 Ch. Margaux we had recently gave some good hope. And how good was this? Super! Medium weighted, all in good proportion, full maturity, yet fresh and sweet with life ahead. It didn't have all the complex layers, but it wasn't dirty, grubby or spoiled in any way. Fulsome, round and a pleasure. We played 1970s music to celebrate, and SWMBO trotted around on her platform shoes that made her 6 inches taller (that's 15 cm for young folk).

Capping off the night with the baked, spiced apples was a 2001 Rolly Gassmann Alsace Gewurztraminer 'Brandhurst' Vendanges Tardive. Lovely spices, perfumes and hair oil armas, flavours and textures. Drinking beautifully with richness, kept in check by the 12.5% alc. But exotic and a bit of a standout. We sent our guests packing (voluntarily, of course), satisfied with doing a reasonably good job of the night!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Intensive Analysis

What was to be a light-hearted catch-up with one of The Chairman's old friends turned out to be a night of intensive wine analysis. I suppose we all tend to get complacent about our abilities to taste and guess the origins and qualities of the wines we come across, but it's a big wide world out there, and there are amazing people with enormous reserves of knowledge and experience. Intensive Ian was one such man. Marvellous Marie, SWMBO and I were awe-struck by his palate. Even The Chairman has the greatest respect.

Starters came in the form of a 2002 Moet Vintage Rose, beautifully expressive of red florals and red fruits, soft, plumpish and a touch on the sweetish side, but I called it luscious. What a gorgeous starter indeed. The 2004 Kientzler Alsace Riesling 'Cuvee Francois Alphonse' was a controversial one. Some of us thought oxidised at first, but not Ian. He was adamant it was a 'corker', and as it warmed up, it became more 'waxy' and clean. Great richness, with tightness and wonderfully textured, rather than phenolic. For me I was in the 'hate-it' camp, but could understand its quality. Intensive Ian brought out a 2010 Eden Road 'The Long Road' Canberra Riesling to show the similarity in textures. I like this - clean, fresh, floral, limes and minerals. Bone dry, but nowhere the weight and complexing interest of the Kientzler Alsace.

Star wine of the night was the 2008 Christian Moreau Chablis 1er 'Vaillons'. A complete wine with flinty richness, if that's an oxymoron, but it was just that. Classical racy Chablis, but with everything there. Intensive Ian was also impressed, but also nonchalant, as he has this type of wine on hand all the time! This was followed immediately by the 2003 Ch. Pichon Baron Pauillac. Very modern, full and plummy with sweet roasted red plums and berries, plus earth and game. There was underlying tannin, but initially the fruit had it all over the grip. Air time brought out the drying brettanomyces. Truly a product of the hot, drought vintage. I'd drink this in the next 6-8 years.

The final wines were the pairing of 1985 and 1986 Ch. Grand Puy Lacoste Pauillac fifth growths, brought out from intensive Ian's cellar. The 1985 was Ian's pick at the time of buying. Now extremely horsey and spoilt by brettanomyces, hard and dry, but strangely vinous and I could imagine acceptable for some. There was a breadth and density here. The 1986 was much cleaner, lively, fresher with bright black berry fruits and a hint of resiny oak. Younger seeming than its 25+ years, but I always saw the 1986s more concentrated, acidic and classy over the 1985s which were more accessible and user-friendly.

The evening progressed to serious wine analysis and guessing to seriously funny banter. It turned out light-hearted and lotsa fun in the final analysis.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Comfortable in One's Skin

We're pretty relaxed and mellow with The Chairman and Marvellous Marie. Being taken to new sites and shops, enjoying some good food and drinking nice wines, we are in a comfort zone. When you're like that everything in life seems to be a little better. Certainly our hosts are comfortable in their skin. The wines that have appeared on the table have also been comfortable in their skin - they taste as good as they should, and even better.....

An NV Pol Roger Champagne served, looked as good any bottle from this house I've tasted. There have been a couple of disappointments in recent times, where the NV has been over-elegant. The 2000 Vintage last month was aldehydic and a bit brutish. Not this NV, it was rich, flowing with layers of fruit and autolysis, and showing substance in the nicest way. The Chairman said it was fresh stock too, rather than coming from rested stock in his cellar. It restored my faith in Pol Roger after some niggling doubts.

Then a 2007 Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spatlese #12, supremely pure, subtle, yet with gentle richness and sweetness. The Schaefers are operating at their modern best, everything consistent. When you know what you're doing, there is an extra element of seamlessness, and this bottle was that. Impressive delicacy.

The Chairman has been involved in wine production a very long time, and he can turn out nicely constructed wines or those that can be regarded as super-premium. A 2010 Miner's Folly Chardonnay from the Upper Hunter Valley came out too cold. I thought it a bit hard and distraught. Warming up, it settled into itself, to show a flinty, crisp, dry wine with length. Exactly what The Chairman wanted to create, a value-oriented, modern, Chablis-like style. He was confident and comfortable it would show that way, and it did.

There's always plenty of talk about how Bordeaux varietals overpower Sangiovese in the Super Tuscan genre. One of the originals, Tignanello has been doing it for over three decades and has got the formula down pat. The blend of 85% Sangiovese 15% Cab Sauv. with barrique aging, partly new works well with the fruit. Purists say its gone out of Tuscany, others say it's still there, in another guise. Whatever. It drinks well and is truly at ease with itself. The 2000 Antinori Tignanello was indeed a mix of Bordeaux flavour and tannin with sweetness, savoury cherries and good acidity that was Tuscan. While it was both, it was neither. Deliciously juicy, very approachable, but with restraint for food. The structure built in glass while drinking, keeping it very food-friendly. Its balance meant another decade in bottle was easily possible.

And then to match the after-dinner number we were shown a few nights before, out came a Seppelts 'D62' Museum Muscat. Lighter mahogany but still with green edges, the raisin, grapey, figgy, sultana decadence had a fiery, but fine acid cut, providing elegance, line and length. New material had been blended in, but there was no awkwardness at all. As complex as you'd ever want it to be, but just at another end of the spectrum in mouthfeel from the 'D64' Tokay the other night, with its acid zing and liveliness. We settled into a comfortable evening of sipping and solving the world's problems.....

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Normals

Our catch up with The Chairman and Marvellous Marie as they settle into a new phase of life was very pleasing. New situations become the norm, and it also may be analogous to happenings that may be occurring in the Aussie wine industry. There seem to be questions on how traditional wine styles made are now less in tune with modern life, and the desire to be up-to-date vies with how tradition should be kept. I see both paths important. Wines should be great to drink with contemporary food, and be healthy, but the styles of the past are so characterful.

A good starting point was the NV Mumm 'Cordon Rouge' Champagne Rose. Mumm has cleaned up its act and put some real fruit and yeasty autolysis back into the wines, the Rose deliciously soft and rich with the faintest red wine fruit and texture. Drinking now and great as an aperitif. If they didn't keep up with todays needs, they would have been gobbled up (again).

The Aussie starting point was a 2009 Pikes 'Traditionale' Clare Valley Riesling. Instead of being hard, tight, firm and needing time for full accessibility, this was softer, less acidic and more elegant. Only 12.0% alc., and gently dry. This makes it approachable and broachable. Next in line was the 2008 Shaw+Smith 'M3' Adelaide Hills Chardonnay. Delightfully elegant, and not overly lush, tropical or sweet, but if anything, restrained and with reined-in complexity. Very European in structure, and very food-friendly. And without too much of those 'in-vogue' complex sulphides. I like the 2009 of this too, broader and a little richer, maybe more forward and open. These two seem to be pointing the way to a new norm with the varietal styles, and there is the same movement with Barossa Shiraz.

Maybe the Shiraz and indeed backbone reds need the modern outlook. A Wine Society-made 2008 Razor's Edge McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon was old-fashioned, what used to be consumer-friendly, sweet and jammy and a little to sickly for fresh drinking. Maybe good with heavily reduced sauce and hearty roasted red meat with lots of glaze. We don't eat this type of meat that often nowadays. Don't get me wrong; it was nice, but a relook at the everyday red style here would be a positive?

But to give credit to the unmatchable of tradition, a Seppelt 'D64' Museum Tokay was glorious. Dark mahogany with the prized-green edge. Dense and concentrated with molasses, preserved prunes and balsamic-like character, rather than the tea and fish-oil ethereal style, this could be left to mature in cask another half century to become even more complex and layered. I wouldn't mess with this time-honoured style!