Friday, December 20, 2013

Beauty and The Beast

We’ve been celebrating The Young One’s year of coming of age since February with a number of bottles from his bity year.  Some have been lovely, and some have been not.  The producers have been notable, but the vintage 1992 isn’t.  It really hasn’t mattered, as it’s just fun to think the grapes were harvested and transformed to wine around the same time he made his appearance in the world.  To mark the nearing of the end of this year SWMBO and I led an expedition with The Young One and The Youngette (a.k.a. JoLo) to a favourite local eatery with two more 1992 bottles, this time from the Land of Oz.

It’s a case of The Beauty and The Beast, the title not lost on us as we made a comparison with The Youngette and The Young One.  The Beauty was a 1992 Henschke ‘Hill of Grace’, made from 130 y.o. Shiraz vines from a single site in the Barossa hills, and The Beast a 1992 Penfolds ‘Grange’, a multi-regional blend of the most flavoursome parcels of Shiraz available to the giant of South Australia.  Both are iconic for sure, and the comparison is never fair, and subject to subjectivity.

The 1992 Henschke ‘Hill of Grace’ looking more mature with garnet and brick colour.  The nose concentrated and intense, but aromatic and elegant, quite ethereal initially.  Savoury red fruits, earth, leather, game and cedar, smelling brown and secondary, if not tertiary.  Medium full-bodied now, brown fruits, pepper and brown spices, meat and earth all intermingling.  Somewhat leaner, skinnier, and distinctly acid, and still with tannin structure and line, tending to dryness.  This changed, evolved and opened up, into seamless waves of secondary flavours and sweetness.  Over the evening this epitomised beauty, before the dreaded brett poked it’s head out.  Nothing major, but just enough to cause a little concern.  For a few minutes, this was glorious.

On opening, the 1992 Penfolds ‘Grange' was a behemoth.  All-conquering on nose and palate.  A dense and solid, impenetrable colour, bouquet and palate.  Ripe black fruits, plums liquorice, black pepper, minerals earth and nearly tar.  Hints of some bottle development only.  Masses of cedary oak, vanilla and VA too.  But sweet with it, lusciously so and almost decadent.  Thankfully all held in check by massive extract and structure.  It’s a monolithic monster for sure, but the perfect juxtaposition of components and balance gave it accessibility and drinkability.  Making a statement is Grange’s game and the monolithic dimension is the ultimate.  The unwavering solidness from start to finish and consistency is something to behold.  This will live for decades for sure.  It may dry out, and will definitely become savoury, but it’ll be remarkable all the way.

The Young One and The Youngette agreed with us.  There’s an intriguing fascination with the way The Beauty changed.  And the powerhouse nature of The Beast was undeniable.  Two different wines and both delicious.   

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Success is Sweet

Every year we head out to what is the back of beyond for many people.  But there, we party with the Why New Martians, and sometimes they’re off this planet!  They seem to be a peaceful and sedate group who may be a little older demographically, but there’s a twinkle in many an eye and a razor sharp wit and tongue, all bound with an infectious sense of joy and humour.  That’s why we make the trip.

This time of year brings the end of the year to mind, and it’s a good reason to think about the sweet victories and the successes.  The Why New Martians put on a real spread of food and there’s plenty of bottles open.  This year, SWMBO and I added a couple of older sweet wines to mark the finish of 2013, these having been found in the dark depths of the ‘long left cellar’, and wines which we had consumed recently, knowing they were still in good nick.  Who would think that local sweet wines made over a quarter of a century would still be good?  Sugar is a preservative, as we know, but you’ve got to have everything else there, and not too much of anything corruptive or out of balance.
The 1987 Penfolds ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ Late Pick Riesling, made from Marlborough fruit looked, smelt and tasted of caramel and toffee, honey and figs, and all rich, luscious, rounded and very alive with good acidity.  Late picked fruit with some botrytis?  Definitely raisined, but now well into its tertiary stage of life.  A ‘wahoo wine’.  The 1985 Montana Auslese wasn’t too far off it either.  Similar in all respects, but a little less fruit sweet, maybe beginning to dry, and somewhat more pronounced acidity.  It could have been Muller-Thurgau – or was it Riesling?  Maybe a mix and with other varieties too?  Who knows where from!  It had a feeling of freeze concentration, or maybe I’m guessing, as I think I remember these words used then – 25 plus years ago.  The bottles were sampled tentatively, then a little more gusto.  The sweet wines were a success.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Duo Decade Paradigm Shift

The Apprentice was our host yet again, and there was a host of wines on offer to taste, drink and enjoy.  Among them were two wines, the same label, separated by two decades of age – Te Mata ‘Coleraine’, these being the 2007 and 1987 vintages.  The two years were very good years, but not the greatest.  The appealing thought is that everything about them is the same – the grower, the maker, the philosophy behind them and even how they are talked about and marketed for selling.

For the record, they were both lovely wines, truly elegant in the classical claret style. The 2007 Te Mata ‘Coleaine’ a very finely proportioned Cabernets and Merlot blend, but with good richness and poer.  Dark and almost brooding, countered by a hint of leafiness.  The tannins fine and the acid giving enough of a fresh piquancy.  This will age well, drinking at a peak in 5-6 years and holding more than another decade.  How can I tell?  Because the 1987 Te Mata ‘Coleraine’ was still alive and kicking, and had the presence to hang in there for another 5 years easily.  Sure the 1987 is lighter, even more defined by acidity, and a little greener with currant and leafiness.  The tannins still there, underlining the mouthfeel, and the wine very much a living thing.  It’s an attractive drink.

However the wines aren’t similar.  The fruit sources are different.  1987 was a single vineyard wine.  2007 drew fruit from a much wider area.  The major change must be viticulture.  These days, grapes are much riper, the acidity and tannins taken to a further level.  The modern wine is better than the old in that respect.  A paradigm shift for sure.  Intentional or not?  The goalposts are ever-shifting, and whether Te Mata people like it or not, they must be carried along with it towards a riper, richer style.    

Sunday, November 10, 2013


We had a big afternoon and night with The Class Man tasting through a hoard of wines too numerous to work through here, but when all done and dusted, he opened a bottle of his favourite claret – Ch. Latour.  This has been his special wine and it has always appealed to him on a fundamental and basic level that words and scores can’t convey.  So, over the years, he’s collected it and drank it and shared many, many bottles with many, many people.

This night, he opened and shared with SWMBO and myself a 1995 Ch. Latour.  This was indeed a generous gesture, but I suspect he got a lot more out of it than us, and we did enjoy it thoroughly.  Still youthful looking with its density of black-garnet colour, this was classic Latour, with it’s masculinity and virility.  Plenty of black-fruited Cabernet Sauvignon at the core, but without any austerity.  I expected firm tannins and acidity, but no, it was was much softer, rounder, moutfillingly open, but stylish and elegant.  Elegance and Latour?  They usually don’t go together do they?  Well nearly two decades of age has softened it beautifully and jiven some layers of secondary interest.  This was a gorgeous drop, even if it wasn’t the driven sternness it can be.  I can see why it’s his favourite.

As the bottle neared its demise, he asked me what my favourite claret was.  I don’t drink it regularly now, but still taste plenty, but not to have a current favourite.  I thought hard without success, and then just as I was about to give in without an answer, Ch. Pichon-Lalande popped up.  I fell in love with the elegance and sweet finesse in the 1970s.  Not too far from Latour, it’s an opposite.  Feminine, lighter, easier to approach.  The Class Man brought up the 1982 Ch. Pichon-Lalande, one of my all-time greats, my last bottle shared with the AC Electric Man.  This bottle sensational.  Fully-developed for sure, with secondary and tertiary layers superbly interwoven.  This big and ripe vintage coming through as ripeness and weight.  This is one of the meatier Pichon-Lalandes for sure.  So delicious, and still my favourite.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Maybe I’m a control freak.  I know SWMBO is one.  Relatively so, as we all must know when to let go and be a little spontaneous.  The two bottles of premier cru Chablis had been calling out to be opened, and normally, I’d have waited to open them, at the right time, but what the heck, I took ownership of the issue and out came the corkscrew.  Ownership ensures things happen and happen well.

The two wines demonstrated that too.  Both from the Drouhin-Vaudon stable, Domaine Joseph Drouhin adding the name of the historic mill that straddles the Serein river to the title to announce their ownership of around 40 ha of prime vineyards in the vignoble.  We compared the 2011 Drouhin-Vaudon Chablis 1er ‘Fourchaume’ with the 2011 Drouhin-Vaudon Chablis 1er ‘Montmains’.  The former made from wine and fruit purchased from other growers, whereas the latter from their own vineyards.  The former was broader, more forward, a little nuttier and oxidative, the latter sweeter, more refined and crisper with great delicacy.  Both were typical and were as expected, but the differences were noticeably significant. 

There’s the input of the site at play here, as Fourchaume is the bigger, more robust wine, and the Montmains lighter.  But does ownership of the wines mean greater care in growing the grapes and the handling in the winery?  Ostensibly there shouldn’t be any difference in how the grapes are converted to wine, as the modus operandi philosophy is overarching.  But what about at a subliminal level?  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Relatively Rustic or Refined

Some wines come across rough and rustic, while other refined and rarified.  It’s a matter of relativity and the borders get blurred, depending on where you come from, and what happens with a bot f experience and time.  It’s an odd phenomenon, well at least to me…  With the Prince and HDL around, it was a good cause to open a red or two.  Italy was the country of choice.
The 2010 Georg Ramoser Sudtiroler Lagrein was clearly going to be a rustic one.  Afterall, that’s what Lagrein is.  An up-front, dark and fruity red with flesh, but rustic flavours.  A bit like savoury and funky confectionary with an accessible palate.  This is what it was.  Country wine with a bit of the cool-climate hillside freshness, but an inkiness to let you know it isn’t going to be classy.  But the more you sipped, the more sweet the fruit became, and it softened the roughness,making each glass a more-ish one.  Delicious and I’d be tempted to see it a bit more noble than it really is.

Then a 2011 Rocca delle Macie ‘Sant’Alfonso’ Chianti Classico.  This should be a bit of class, right?  Well it is in a way.  Quite elegant and tight, with fine, but serious structure and tannins.  Quite drying too, as Sangiovese can do, ending up with the taste of leather.  His has a delicious succulence of fruit, which is perfect at first.  Then it grows in aromatic lift and ripeness and sweetness.  A touch of whole berry confectionary, then hints of jam.  Oh no, it’s more modern and New World!  Well, not really, but the more it went down, the juicier it got.  Delicious too, but no longer refinement and class in the traditional sense as I’d learnt over the years.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Affiliations and Associations

We’ve kept in scratchy contact with The Tigger, and why not?  She’s lively and vibrant, really ‘out there’ as few people really are.  New things, especially wine perk her interest, and that’s a bonus for all her friends who she is affiliated and associated with.  And we count ourselves among them.  The Tigger came back to this country after an extended sabbatical, and we promised ourselves a spot of lunch.  She has a special bottle, hard to get hold of, so we put something up to match it. 

Visiting the Hahndorf Hill Winery in the Adelaide Hills, The Tigger was smitten by the idea of their Blaufrankisch, but it was sold out, as it does, very quickly on release.  A frantic search unearthed a bottle of the 2011 in a retail store, and The Tigger snaffled it and dutifully brought it back home.  What to match it with?  SWMBO had a bottle of a 2011 Spade Oak St Laurent.  So two Austrian red varieties associated by origin and affiliated by their Pinot Noir-esque nature!

Onto tasting, firstly the 2011 Hahndorf Hill Winery ‘Blueblood’ Adelaide Hills Blaufrankisch.  Lightish in colour and a little tight on nose and palate.  Somewhat lean and sinewy, with crisp, firm acid and firm, fine grip.  That European dryness and acidity that needed some food.  Not quite hard and harsh.  But beguiling red fruits with a border of herbs and earth.  In the glass developing greater depth and body to become reasonably substantial.  This is a wine you could nurse  a glass and your interest would grow.  No wonder it’s popular.

Then the 2011 Spade Oak ‘Heart of Gold’ Gisborne St Laurent.  A little darker in colour.  Immediately aromatic and lifted with bright fruit.  Seemingly riper, and certainly sweeter and more fleshy and juicy in the mouth.  Supple, rounded tannins and fresh with light acidity.  This has mellowed out over the last year.  Maybe a little softer and plumper now too, making it delicious on its own.  Nice liquorice notes at the heart of it all.  On first impressions, this was the better wine, but in the glass more static, allowing its affiliate grow to match it.  What a wonderful pairing of  Austrian red varietals in Australasia.    

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Going Green

 Going green is a good thing nowadays as we respect the environment, but there’s the negative connotation with unripe fruit.  It’s hard to tell how green that something green starts out on the edge will turn out.  It may take a decade or two of experience and learning to get it right.  I’m still not sure if I can make the correct calls.  Way back, around two decades ago two wines presented themselves to me, and we discovered if the right decision was made
At a super judging competition that I was involved in at the time, I tasted the 1991 Glover’s Moutere Cabernet Sauvignon.  I still remember at the time, it was black as black and massive.  The greatest extraction and tannin I’d seen in a wine of its type.  It was black fruited and absolutely linear and monolithic.  In the competition, I reckon they discarded it because it was too tough and out of balance.  I saw potential and reckoned it needed 20 years of cellaring.
Well, time was up.  We had the Gass-Man in town, and he described it well.  Still very dark, nearly black.  Pea-shoots galore.  Yes, too herbaceous.  The tannins had resolved, but there was still some way to go.  High, almost searing acidity.  I could live with that.  But the greens!  We’ve come a long way since then, and the herbaceousness was too much.  Its 12.5% alcohol might have been a giveaway
In the tiny settlement of Martinborough, Bill Benfield and Sue Delamare were doing it differently.  Most people said Pinot Noir.  They stick to Bordeaux varieties.  Then came Mt Pinatubo, and the cool 1992 and 1993 years sealed the Bordeaux varietal’s fate.  Most other replaced the varieties to Pinot Noir.  Not Bill and Sue, they stuck it out ‘til 2006.  At the time, I picked the 1991 Benfield & Delamare Martinborough Cabernet/Merlot/Franc as very claret-like.  It too was a dark beast, with with elegant acid, and definite blackcurrant flavours.  Not as tannic as the Glovers, still significant.  Many people thought I was making a wrong choice.

Time to drink this one too, to pair with the Glover’s.  Lighter in colour, with more savoury berry, earth and undergrowth notes.  Fine tannins and balanced acidity.  A little plain at first.  Then SWMBO picked up more nuance.  The Gass-Man and I agreed.  Layers of detail emerged.  It became sweeter.  It was very claret like, and I’d imagine a 1989 Margaux or St Julien might not be dissimilar.  This hadn’t gone green.  Lovely.  A decision well made.  Maybe I was lucky, as the alcohol on the label said 12.5%.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Red Wine Markers

The P-Prince has a preference in red wines, but we know he’s open to trying all sorts.  It’s just a matter of opportunities, and he has different ones to us.  We have the access to styles he doesn’t  and never did cellar, so it was a pleasure to open a couple of these markers for SWMBO and I on our vinous journey.  Interestingly enough, we all tended to agree on their condition and status, with respect to how much our industry has advanced.

The first of the markers was a 2005 Te Mata ‘Coleraine’, a great year in Hawke’s Bay, and a great vintage for the Te Mata team.  Regarded as a classic by them, and easy to see why.  Dark in colour, and still very fresh with mainly primary aromas and flavours of blackcurrants, with a suggestion of savoury olives and plums.  Plenty of tannin grip and structure, moderated by fruit sweetness and a line of acidity.  A decade ahead of it.  Looking critically, this is not as dark and ripe as the wonder wines coming out of the region.  The Coleraine looks positively cool, with hints of leaf, and the acidity sticking out.  The Brits would say ‘classic claret’ and the Aussies swoon.  The Americans and avante garde Kiwis would deem it less than ideally ripe.  We all enjoyed it, noting and marking these points.

The other was the 1991 Esk Valley ‘The Terraces’, a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, from the sun-trap hillside behind the winery.  The first of the line and a special wine in its day, pushing the other Bordeaux varieties ahead of Cabernet.  Its plumminess and ripeness the feature.  This bottle over two decades later, still dark and deep, but with bricking.  Rich flavours of savoury plums, dried herbs, cedar and soy sauce, along with a subtle green line.  But also noticeable acidity ahead of the tannin extract, which was becoming resolved.  In today’s terms, certainly not ripe enough.  But easy to drink, especially knowing we were drinking history and a marker for the industry.       

Saturday, September 7, 2013

As Expected and More

Sometimes you look at a label and you know exactly what it’s going to give you.  And if you’re lucky, you get a bit more than what you might expect.  It’s a pleasure when that happens.  You’re happy because you receive all you’d ask for and then a little more.  A nice treat for the day.  Our friend the P-Prince brought along a box of wine, and there were two disasters on opening.  His previous experience was that they’d passed their ‘use by date’.  And sure enough, they had.  He’d been hoping they might be better, but alas no, and they were as he thought they might be.

Then onto the next two whites.  His contribution was a 2010 Hubert Lamy Sainr Aubin 1er ‘Clos de la Chateniere’.  Lamy is based in Saint Aubin, but it ain’t the most prestigious place for white burgundy.  ‘Also-ran’ might be an apt descriptor, or ‘poor man’s Puligny’.  However things are on the up there, and some smart wines are being made there nowadays.  Our thoughts – it could be better than expected, and sure enough it was.  Much better.  Rich and fat, with body and depth.  More Meursault-like, and delicious with white florals, nuts and a hint of creaminess.  The bottle didn’t last long, especially with SWMBO in raptures.

Then a 2011 Salomon Undhof ‘Wieden & Berg’ ‘Tradition’ Gruner Veltliner from Kremstal.  Gruners can be straightforward or really complex.  Unless you go to the higher levels and specifics, GV is usually the former.  This Salomon has the reputation of very smart straightforward.  And indeed it was.  But as you drank it, the classic herb, pepper and waxiness grew and the textures from the phenolics became the feature.  This is the sort of stuff many people strive to achieve, and here it is, all apparent quite naturally.  It delivered more than expected.