Thursday, December 31, 2015

Avoiding Storms

Taking refuge in a port to avoid a storm is a safe thing to do.  SWMBO and I aren’t too sure if that is good advice if the port is the liquid type!  The get-together yielded two bottles of port, owned by Lazza, the same wine, kept in storage by Hazza for a few years, and he’d been waiting for the time to broach them.  There were only 7 of us, one a young person and one not drinking much, so one bottle should have been enough.  But we weren’t going anywhere, as we were in a safe haven, so Lazza opened one, which we drank, then the other, which we also drank.  Hmmm….

The port was 1977 Graham’s Vintage Port.  Two bottles of.  A top vintage, but aren’t they all?  And a top house, in the ‘sweeter’ style.  First bottle, getting some tawny hues to the colour.  Quite elegant in expression and proportion.  A little bottle stink needed to blow off.  Then lighter red fruit aromas and flavours with some nutty, tawny-like notes.  Quite silky smooth, and superior spirit, with its finesse.  The sweetness quite in check and in balance.  Not bad, and got more delicious as the decanter emptied.  Drinking well now, and seeming mature, with some more secondary development possible.  Maybe a little more complexity too.  We thought it a tad ‘not as great as it could be’.  Second bottle a darker, deeper and fuller colour.  More volume and density on the nose, and palate.  The fruitiness still prominent, and only beginning to show secondary nuttiness.  Soft textures and extraction, and wonderfully integrated tannins, spirit and acid to the fruit.  A more complete wine with freshness, fruit and youth on its side.  This would mature with much more interest and layers, had we not broached it.  It felt it could have been more of the classic we all expected.  It would have aged another couple of decades nicely, as does good VP does. 
As they say, there are only great bottles.  Bottle variation becomes more of an issue with bottle age.  As noted above, two bottles stored in the same place for the same time.  From the same box, purchased at the same time.  Interestingly, cork No. 1 came out in pieces.  Cork No. 2 fell into the bottle with a lightish push.  Go figure?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Era's End

We see the world changing as it turns, evolving with the fads, fashions, needs and requirements.  It results in survival, and the wine world is no different.  Wine styles adapt and change to what are new norms, and invariably they are better norms.  The big, solid, hearty, dense and super-ripe Barossa red saw its era end over a decade ago, as the makers realised that thick, soupy, solid reds were losing ground to elegance, freshness and accessibility.  With the transition, they’ve managed to retain the expression of place and the wines still grow in complexity, but they are lighter on their feet and more enjoyable, and easier to finish a bottle.

It was fascinating to see a wine of the old era demonstrate exactly the benefits of progress.  I’m not taking anything away from the 1996 Yalumba ‘Signature’ Barossa Cabernet/ShirazIn its time, it was the bee’s knees.  A great growing season and vintage.  One of the vey best.  Beautifully ripened fruit lending great richness and extract.  The wine just superbly put together, the best lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz in approx. equal portions, given lovely oaking.  The result a complete wine in every sense, and one that could and will last for decades. 
But here, tonight, in this current time, almost an anachronism.  A drink of the past.  Hazza raised his eyebrows with a querying “what do you think of that?”  We were on the same wavelength.  It was a great wine, but in today’s context, too big, too dense, too ripe, too soft, too concentrated.  It was recognised as great wine.  But the seam of freshness and elegance that we crave just wasn’t, and never will be in it.  It’s interesting how the greatest Aussie red, Penfolds ‘Grange’ has remained big and stoically the same style it has always been.  But the sweetness and vitality that most of the other big reds just miss out on has kept its classic style alive today.  Today’s Yalumba ‘Signature’ has moved towards sweeter fruit, fresher acid and that balance that lifts the palate, rather than swamp it.  The 2012 is a marvel.  Evolution is truly knife-edge stuff.  One style keeps on going, others fall by the wayside.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Fresh and Still Funky

We have this impression that modern wines are properly clean and fresh, and they should be devoid of faults.  True, especially in the commercial sense.  But the more wise and wily talk about the best wines having a hint of corruption, just to add that edge of intrigue and naughtiness, and to put the wines just slightly out of perfect balance, so they have the tension to get and maintain one’s attention.  The best of the fresh, clean and modern still retain a hint of funkiness that can make them great.

Hazza brought along one such wine. Tthe 2010 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Syrah.  A very modern interpretation of Syrah.  In fact generally clean as a whistle and super sleek with refined tannin and texture.  One could almost say slippery.  And oh so wonderful fruit.  Beautifully ripe black fruits seamlessly melded with florals and complexed by iron-earth and minerals.  The acidity perfect.  Syrah at its purest but with the terroir of the Gimblett Gravels and the regionality of Hawke’s Bay.  But….wait for it….the most subtle emergence and fading of something a little grubby.  Well, grubby is a little too strong.  Funky is too strong.  That suggestion of corruption – yes.  This wine captured our palates and imagination, taking beyond modern Syrah from the Gimblett and Hawke’s Bay.  Maybe a little closer to the Rhone, but not there either.  Wonderful stuff!   

Monday, December 28, 2015

Cruising for a Brunello Bruising

The big Tuscan wine is Brunello di Montalcino – Sangiovese at its greatest or ‘grossest’.  Getting together with Lazza, Cazza, Hazza, Sazza and SWMBO you’d think certain wines would turn up – such as Pinot Noir and Burgundy.  But not so.  Instead there were two Brunellos.  Not Riservas, mind you, but still the genuine articles to be able to make a good comparison.  Tasting the two together, it was hard to find the commonality.  If you were playing wine options, or were a WSET student, you’d be on a cruising for a bruising
The 2008 Frescobaldi ‘CastelGiocondo’ Brunello di Montalcino was thoroughly modern in its message.  Dark red colour at its heart, maybe a little black too, but with a touch of garnet.  Full nd immediately fruity on the nose, with ripe red cherry and berry fruit, savoury and sweet.  Lazza and Hazza noted the prune-like super-ripeness.  On the palate full and rounded, but with structure. Still up-front in style though.  Thoroughly appealing and an accessible wine with immediacy and consistency.  It got a tick of approval, despite the sweetness and warmth, and though its ‘Brunello-ness’ was hard to see.

The 2007 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata was a different beast.  Almost animal and the initial impressions were not great.  TCA?  No, but bottle-stink for ure.  Garnet red, fading with bricking and some vivid orange.  Tight and elegant, but slowing building to show its tight and concentrated core on nose and palate.  Savoury, dried herb, earth, game and bitter cherries.  Euro-funky for sure.  Building in structure, grip, and plenty of acid freshness on the palate.  This got better and better.  True blue Brunello became the conclusion.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Realising Two Riesling Faces

There’s the dry, full-bodied, structured and winemaker complex, food-oriented style of Riesling, and the sugar-graded levels of quality defined style of Riesling which go up the pradikat system from Kabinett to Auslese and beyond, these being high in sugar and acidity, and low in alcohol.  They’re great with Asian fare and sipping on their own, whereas the dry wines are substantial in structure to eat with.  Both styles claim the historical provenance of being the original model, but it doesn’t matter nowadays, as any savvy Riesling drinker accepts both.

Starting with the 2013 Robert Weil Kiedrich Grafenberg GG Riesling from the Rheingau, a wine of great vinosity, in the riper style, yet soft-textured with perfect acid integration.  Plenty of weight and body, and seamless complexities of earth, terroir and winemaker inputs.  You wouldn’t quite guess 13.0% alc.  Structure, extract, lees, all there, lending wonderful presence, and nothing out of place.  I thought it could have been a bit more ‘out there’, but when you’re this good, you don’t need to be!

Then onto the 2013 Ansgar Clusserath Trittenheimer Apotheke RieslingSpatlese from the big bend in the Mosel.  Rich, sweet, luscious and unctuous.  Amazing yellow fruits and honied notes, with real depth and density.  But there’s a lightness of the feet around the edges, and that searing acid cut perfect to balance the sugar.  Delicious sipping, and in reality, just as easy to drink with a range of food on the table.  At 8.0% alc, it should have been a light-weight, but not the case.


Growers Up

Festive times bring out festival bottles, and SWMBO and I caught up with the Lazza, Cazza and Hazza, plus Sazza!  There must be some Aussies in that lot!  We’ve all been party people at some time of our lives, and we all eventually grow up, and show our true personalities.

Two Champers gave an analogy.  The first was NV Pierre Peters Champagne ‘Grand Cru’ Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs, from Mesnil of course.  This grower has quite the reputation now, and it’s the amount of reserve wine that gives the house style of a core of savoury intensity and complexity.  For a Blanc de Blancs and a Mesnil, quite full-bodied and grunty in dimension, but still underneath it all the acid zest, lifted florals and citrus and earthy minerality.  Not only has this producer grown in stature, but the market has grown to see it too.

It initially seemed odd to follow it with the NV Taittinger ‘Folies de la Marquetterie’ Champagne.  Single vineyard, high proportion of Chardonnay, as is the house style.  Much finer in proportion, and a degree and more of finesse and elegance.  Great intensity, yet refined, and a sheer beauty that stood out from the size of the previous wine.  It is fantastic to see the great houses explore these more individual bottlings, this not really new now.  A sign of maturity and growth.

Friday, November 27, 2015


At the start of the year we had as our guests the Ally Pally Helly couple, and they were very generous leaving us bottles of wine to consume at our leisure.  We’ve worked our way through most of them, and one bottle was kept back for a situation which might have appropriately interested whoever we had visiting.  The I-Spy Man was in town and it was time to bring out the residual of our guest’s generosity
Who’d think a 1996 Christophe Vaudoisey Volnay might be holding up well?  After all, it was a village wine at 18 years old, from an appellation better known for beauty and finesse rather than structure and longevity.  But then again the vintage was pretty good.  Out with the cork, and mahogany red.  Interesting and complex tertiary aromas of earth, undergrowth and dried herbs, along with truffle and resinous seasoned oak.  High-toned still and Volnay aromatics for sure.  Then more surly than expected on palate.  This would have been quite a big wine in its youth.  Concentrated, savoury, undergrowth, and resinous with the taste of the mahogany colour.  Smooth flowing for all its substance, the tannins resolved.  A bit gamey and old woody, not decrepit in anyway.   And a wonderful line of acidity keeping it sweet enough for another glass, followed by another glass. 
Ally Pally Helly, you can rest assured that SWMBO, the I-Spy Man and I enjoyed it to the last drop.  No residuals.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Big Three

As time has gone on, the world’s best wines have become luxury commodities.  Such wines are becoming out of the reach of the ‘average’ wine drinker who just wants to try something special, albeit a little more expensive than usual.  Penfolds ‘Grange’ has always been a bit too dear for most wine lovers.  They have to consolidate their resources to buy bottles to share – just to get a taste sometimes.  Mercifully, the other Penfolds wines were more accessible.  However in the late 1990s Penfolds introduced more special wines, and sure enough the prices across the board moved up.  To be fair, the wines are not out of whack against other such highly-rated wines, but buying them makes a dent in the purse or wallet. 

It helps to have friends in the wine trade.  Most years I get invited to taste the Penfolds Luxury and Icon range, and I was lucky to do so this year.  The ‘Big Three’ available were ‘St Henri’ 2012, ‘RWT’ Shiraz 2013 and ‘Grange’ 2011.  The 2012 Penfolds ‘St Henri’ is all about evenness and smooth, unadulterated fruit.  Those who know the wine better saw that 2012 was a perfect year for the wine, with its ripeness, perfectly refined extraction, size, structure and moderate sweetness from well-ripened fruit.  I saw it that way too, but the excitement just wasn’t there to make it special.  

But then the 2013 Penfolds ‘RWT’ Barossa Valley Shiraz is other-worldly.  Sheer richness, sweetness and opulence.  Sleek and super-ripe, the black-fruited Shiraz was matched by the black minerality and iron-earth of the vintage.  This is indeed one of the great vintages, and it's not even an even year!  The decadence of the wine counterpoised to perfection by the structure, power and presence.  I’d fork out my own dollars for this pretty much perfect wine.

 Then the 2011 Penfolds ‘Grange’.  A rare 100% Shiraz wine.  Usually there’s a small amount of Cabernet.  This is always about size, as much as you can cram into the wine without it becoming something else.  2011 was a hard, wet, diseased vintage.  Penfolds ay it isn’t their best Grange for sure.  But they’re adamant it’s the best 2011 South Australian red.  I like that statement.  It’s big wine alright.  And unmistakably Grange with that massiveness and oak.  It just misses out in fruit sweetness and ripe acid vibrancy.  You readers don’t need to bother with it.  Just leave it with me.  I’ll be happy with it.  Some of us have the hard jobs.   

Thursday, November 19, 2015

And Then There Were Two

I’ve followed and been a fan of Te Mata Estate in Hawke’s Bay before they released their Coleraine and Awatea wines in 1982.   Founder John Buck had a persona that was larger than life, and he spoke with great confidence, his European training at the best establishments giving him an edge over other winegrowers at the time of the late 1970s and early 1980s.  His business partners were also highly respected professionals who knew their stuff.  I went to visit the premises in the fields where Havelock North is now urban, and bought Chalino, Rose and Furmint.  The 1980 and 1981 Cabernet Sauvignons were sensational at the time, and the 1982 and 1983 Te Mata Coleraine and Awatea wines as cutting edge as they could be.

I’ve had the opportunity of tasting the 1982 and 1983 Coleraine on a number of occasions, and they are wonderful to compare.  They each have their supporters, the 1982 riper, more even and harmonious, with a beautiful elegant balance, and the 1983 with brighter, seemingly darker berried fruit, more pronounced structure, and vitality.  At some times I’ve preferred the 1982, and others the 1983, and if anything probably more for the latter.  I have slowly whittled away at my bottles, and then I noticed there were two remaining, one of each.

The occasion was a get together at the A-Prentice’s, where some of these older wines go down well.  The 1982 cork disintegrated even with the two-pronged extractor.  The 1983 cork came out in one piece.  Once poured, we could start the analysis.  The 1982 Te Mata ‘Coleraine’ fading brick colour but with a heart.  Soft, gentle and tertiary with dried out red fruits, earth and herbs, but all very integrated and mellow.  Soft and earthy on the palate, faded tannins, and a little acidity.  Totally mellowed out, resolved and past its best now, with drying fruit.  Yet a pleasing balance and only a hint of the decrepit.  This was an easy glass to sip on.  The 1983 Te Mata ‘Coleraine’ darker with hues of red to the mahogany!  Distinctly cool-climate viticulture with blackcurrants, herbaceousness, leaf and stalk.  We’ve come a long way in 30 years.  Intensity to the green and a slight earthy grubbiness.  But still acid, tannic and vigorous.  Just a bit harsh.  Greens can help keep a wine alive, as it had here.  Sure, it was more alive, but sharper and less pleasant.  You take your choices on what ticks your boxes.  Tonight it was the 1982 for most of us.

Here, we were drinking New Zealand wine history.  There were far superior, modern wines on the table, but none quite with this pedigree.  Lucky old us!      

Big Bottles Go Down in a Big Way

The annual pre-festival get-together at the A-Prentice’s turned out to be another grand affair, with plenty of food brought along and even more wine lined up for all to try.  As there’s quite a few of us, ‘small sips’ is the order of the day, so that there’s a bit of every wine available for all to try, and one doesn’t get hammered by drinking too much.  That’s normal etiquette and courtesy, of course!

As a bit of a treat, I brought along a 2005 Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir Magnum.  It was given to me by the Rangis for my 50th birthday.  That was just about a decade ago.  It wasn’t my birthday that night, but it was a good occasion to share it, so that guests could share a bit more than they might normally taste with a single 750 ml bottle…

The wine was glorious and in fantastic condition.  Still dark as dark as red could be.  Beautiful aromatics of savoury red berries wafted from the neck of the bottle and from each glass poured.  Still quite sizeable, even after a decade of age, and vigorous with it.  Sweet fruited, juicy and lush, in the darker spectrum, and plenty of savoury complex dark herbs and a touch of truffle and undergrowth peeking around the corner, but you’d hardly recognise it as such.  The small berry-high skin ratio regime operating, but here there was no greenness, which can appear with time.  Perfect structure and grip with no coarseness and just the right amount of acid liveliness.  It was truly a treat.

The only one unsavoury thing – one greedy couple helped themselves to big pours, not once, but twice, meaning that everyone else had to have the normal smaller serve size.  I’m sure they thought no-one noticed, but many people did…

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

As Cool As Can Be

I’m sure most of us have a go at being cool.  To be fashionable shows you are aware of the popular trends.  But those who have been around a while know that fads come and go, and there are cycles.  The clever path is to be consistently good.  Cool-climate winegrowing is fashionable, but the Eden Valley has always been that way.  Thorn-Clarke own plenty of vineyard there, and their ‘Eden Trail’ wines are designed to showcase cool.

I fell in love with the 2015 Thorn-Clarke ‘Eden Trail’ Eden Valley Riesling.  Pale as pale can be, and delicate with lime flowers and rainwater.  Light bodied and thirst-quenchingly dry, with the finest phenolics.  Lovely fresh acidity to cap it all off.  This is really cool wine!  A little more conventional in taste was the 2014 Thorn-Clarke ‘Eden Trail’ Eden Valley Shiraz.  Blackberries, plums, liquorice and eucalyptus.  Quite a structured wine with a bit of grunt too.  But its stand-out character is its perfume.  Flowers, lavender, herbs and exotics, then that cedary oak kicking in to remind you this is a true-blue Ocker.