Saturday, May 19, 2012

Faith in the Familiar Not Shaken

A weekend in the Shaken City of the Shaky Isles was a sobering experience.  Our resident hosts, The Engineer and his HOT babe are pragmatic, stoical and resolute people and it took a lot to shake their world.  But the past year did that.  Familiarity and its restoration helps the situation, so we shared some wines that we are close to and that we know always deliver the goods.  The sobriety became a sense of acceptance.  Life carries on…

There’s something so comforting about the colour ‘orange’ – well, actually ‘yellow’ when talking about NV Veuve Clicquot Champagne Brut.  So recognisable is it that they’ve registered it to protect its use.  As soon as the ‘Yellow Label’ appears, it signifies an occasion.  Here, it did too.  This bottle on this occasion was absolutely correct, but a little less autolytic and somewhat softer than what SWMBO and I are familiar with.  Maybe uner the LVMH banner, it has grown too much and bottles acquired ‘sur lattes’ not quite there?  But that’s looking pretty hard at it.  The bubbles went down well and set the mood for the night. 

Even though Van Volxem is ‘out there’, one comes to expect Roman Niewodniscanski’s bold Saar style to deliver quality, and he has done so with greater consistency.  SWMBO particularly enjoyed the base-line 2010 Van Volxem Saar Riesling, 12.0% alc., in wonderful proportion and style.  A touch reduced at first, but clearing up to show purity and growing sweetness with poise.  Ah, Riesling heaven, and one that shows why this vintage is getting rave press.

Oakiness in Chardonnay is generally expected.  What’s the saying: “No wood – no good”?  You shouldn’t say that to the producers of Chablis, but with Saint Clair, they’d lap it up.  In fact, the 2011 Saint Clair ‘Omaka Reserve’ Chardonnay has U.S. oak used.  As if French oak wasn’t strong enough one might wonder?  The American oak they use for this wine is high quality and tight-grained.  It certainly adds richness and sweet nuttiness, certainly the vanilla, but tell-tale coconut.  Not on this showing, and with such a young wine too.  This clearly had much to unfold, but that depth of ripe tropical fruits and sweet oak brought smiles to our faces.

Te Mata is one of New Zealand’s true stalwarts.  While their three decade plus history doesn’t match the century and more of Mission or near-century of Babich, their name is just as well-known.  The ‘Coleraine’ is the star, but joining that status are ‘Elston’, and now ‘Bullnose’ Syrah, the oldest vines around two decades of age.  It’s a leader of its variety, even though it’s not from the Gimblett Gravels.  The 2006 Te Mata ‘Bullnose’ Syrah was intensely striking with its savoury and spicy gamey black fruits and pepper, lifted with violets and bacon.  Smooth, but luscious, making it a wine of notice.  “Look at me!” it said, and you knew you were drinking cool-climate Syrah, modern New World style, and then seeing Te Mata, it all fits in.  You can’t go wrong.      

Yalumba never puts a foot wrong and the 2008 Yalumba FDR1A Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz fits in perfectly, bridging the gap between ‘The Scribbler’ and ‘The Signature’.  More seriously rich than the former, but more accessible than the latter.  And a silky smoothness and texture that builds in weight, depth and power.  The traditional Ocker Cab/Shiraz blend is about as friendly and warming as can be, and this beauty slipped down a treat.  Yalumba has never let us down, and we always think of the congenial, sophisticated and very intelligent Robert Hill Smith, and his team and agents throughout the world, whenever and wherever we drink a Yalumba wine – this time in the Shaken City.

Our faith in these familiar labels has never let us down, as with these wines.       

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Island Drinking

Staying with Island folk, it was appropriate to open some interesting, mainly older wines that some may consider perfect for drinking if one were stranded on an island.  The Left-Brainer and Joyful Janet are a lovely couple and the most accomplished hosts, and we were joined by the Island Man to enjoy an excellent dinner.

The proceedings began with an NV Lanvin & Fils Champagne Brut, a bottle with around five years of age since purchase.  Normally, this is a wine that is opened on purchase, and when fresh, it usually wins gold medals.  Tonight, it was still a pleasure.  Much softer and quite restrained compared with a fresh shipment, the toasty development was quite modest, and the wine with a satisfying, smooth texture.  A little more zip might have been the order of the day, but the mellowness of the wine suited the mood perfectly.  Still with good bubble, this was lively enough to tease the palate.

Two same vintage Chardonnays followed, and worked as well with the fresh oysters as did the Champagne, even though they were well-oaked.  A 2007 Obsidian Waiheke Chardonnay first, and now drinking well with a sense of style.  Showing good body and power, without going over the top or broad.  All the componentry in the right proportion, and some secondary nutty interest appearing, and with hints of flinty complexity.  Altogether an all-round pleaser.  The 2007 Moss Wood Margaret River Chardonnay is a bigger, more powerful and concentrated number.  Huge citrus, mealy flavours with masses of oak toast and a whack of struck match.  This is an out-there wine, but with the oysters, strangely calmed down. 

Older reds preceded the lamb and the heavier, fruitier reds.  Two from the Antipodes.  An historic 1987 Stonyridge ‘Larose’ Waiheke Bordeaux-blend.  This is the wine that set Waiheke Island on the map.  Dark red colour, and very concentrated and packed on nose, with a wonderful core on palate. Dark earthy, red berry fruit with developmental leather and funky game hinted, but really quite fruit focussed.  The tannins have moderated, but the mouthfeel still has structure and line.  And wonderful acidity for elegance and energy.  This developed layers of funky nuances in a very supporting and unobtrusive way in the glass.  This was paired with another illustrious wine, a 1976 Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon.  Black garnet-red in colour, this was still sweet with its ripe, warm-climate fruit.  Less dimension and detail and more of an essence of blackcurrant and earth flavour, especially when comparing it to the Stonyridge.  Quite deliciously juicy in a linear way, and as the wine saw air, the secondary and tertiary notes peeking through a little more.  The tannins were resolved, but the wine had good body and line.  This was a Jimmy Watson Trophy winner.  Those Aussie judges were good in those days.

Claret with lamb is the best combination.  Two second growth wines, led by a 1989 Ch. Gruaud Larose St Julien.  Brettanomyces marked and marred, but underneath it was a plump and grunty wine with breadth and structure.  No shortage of ripeness too.  But the bane of the wine drinkers rearing its ugly head again.  It was a no-brainer for the Left Brainer to tip it down the sink.  The 1990 Ch. Cos d’Estournel St Estephe was the star of the night for me in wine terms.  Dark and looking youthful for a wine over two decades of age.  Beautifully ripe and well-defined black plum and black berry fruit, lifted by shiny, toasty oak that added interest and opulence rather than taking over.  Just hinting at layered secondary complexities, and all supported by the finest tannins.  This is what good Bordeaux is all about.

Another great match is chocolate and liqueur muscat.  Only the Tinklers ‘Usher Gordon’ Muscat is a little different.  From Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley, with the raisin, fig and fruit-cake flavours, along with balanced wood-rancio characters amounting to balance, freshness and decadence.  The Left Brainer and Joyful Janet found this treasure on one of their jaunts, and we all benefitted.  Maybe this could be a wine for being stranded on a desert island?   

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Out of the Way Euro-Whites

A couple of Euro-Whites came our way from out of the way.  It’s always interesting to try such wines as it gives us another perspective on what we’re familiar with.

The Island Man served at lunch a 2010 Matthias Muller Bopparder Hamm Fuerlay Riesling feinherb alte Rebe.  I can’t remember when I last had a Mittelrhein wine, maybe 20 years at least, whereas many German Rieslings from other regions have passed our way regularly.  A little more northerly and it showed in its delicacy and light weight, even though it is 11.5% alc.  It was surprisingly soft; I expected more acid bite, but then global warming is becoming more manifest?  True florals and minerals with an occasional sacky note from the sulphur coming though.  Not pretentious as it is a Qualitatswein, so I shouldn’t be precious!

We had at dinner with The Leaner, a 2010 Bodegas Terras Gauda Rias Baixas O’Rosal we obtained from the Aromatics Ace.  Predominantly Albarino, with some indigenous varieties in the mix.  A super spicy, exotic floral and herbal amalgam with racy acidity and a lusciousness, though really quite dry in the final analysis.  This was a bit of a stunner, and it just got better in the glass.  No Euro-trash here!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stand Alone Stand Outs

We usually love tasting and drinking more than one wine at a time.  It’s about variety and making comparisons.  But sometimes a single wine stands out at a particular time, and you just don’t need to change your glass.  Two such tipples came our way recently.

SWMBO and I were invited to help Just A Sippy celebrate his Hawaii Five-O.  It was a fun and moving affair, and the special whole roasted pig was sensational.  We got started on a 2010 West Brook Marlborough Chardonnay early, and just stayed on it.  It was a cracker with the crackling, and the pork in general.  There’s something about the balance of this wine that gets it just right as a Chardy.  Lively citrussy fruit, excellent acid cut, and really attractive oaking – plenty but not too much.  It has some power, without being too big.  Flavour and personality plus, without taking centre stage all the time.  Why switch to something else?  It reminded us of the 2009 Charles Wiffen Chardonnay, the fruit from the same source.  The 2010 Charles Wiffen Chardonnay seems lighter than the 2009 and this 2010 West Brook, but still good.  Will it get better and take over, as the vintage was a beaut in Marlborough?

A lovely, hearty bangers and mash dinner with Maa and Treasure saw a bottle of 2002 Esk Valley ‘The Terraces’ come out.  A field blend, approximately one-third each of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.  Ripe fruit aromas and flavours filled our glasses.  Black fruits, plums, berries, chocolate and spices.  Very full and round, the wine ultra-soft, plump and seamless.  Maybe a little too accessible?  The acidity seemed low, and the structure not firm enough, but in reality so much packed into it that it’s not going to get too broad and flabby.  Sheer decadence will drive it for years.  But not this bottle.  It slipped down a treat and disappeared.