Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wines of the Week - December 1st

This week we look at three French wines that recently featured on Wine Spectator's Top 100 list, a Gewurztraminer from Alsace, and two Beaujolais

Georges Duboeuf Jean Descombes Morgon 2009

It's easy to like a wine that offers this much charm for only $15. If nothing else, it provides a great entry into Burgundy for those deterred by the complexities of the Burgundian system and cost of the Pinot Noir wines. This wine, made from Gamay, is lighter and fruitier, but with some spice and minerality to give it interest infrequently found at this price point. Morgon wines are typically deeper coloured and richer than other wines from the region. Put down those New World Pinots and try this.
Vincent Girardin Moulin a Vent Domaine de la Tour du Bief Clos de la Tour 2009

Like Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent is one of the ten Beaujolais Cru, representing the best and most distinctive sites in Beaujolais. This village is known for the manganese in the soil here, which can reduce yields, resulting in powerful Gamay wines. Vincent Girardin is a well known Burgundy negociant which has expanded into Beaujolais, to good effect. Although this wine is enjoyable now, a few years in the bottle should see it develop further complexity.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer 2009

Zind Humbrecht is one of my favourite producers, but when I pull a cork it tends to be for one of the luscious dessert wines, as I did three weeks ago. However, this is a timely reminder that in wines significantly cheaper and drier than Grand Cru SGNs, Zind Humbrecht still deliver. This wine has plenty of acidity, typical Gewurztraminer spicy characters, with pepper, burnt orange and tropical fruits, making a robust wine that would pair well with Asian food.

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Wines of the Week - November 24th

Our three wines this week encompass a classic aged Barossa Shiraz, an Austrian specialty and a great value red from Spain.

Torbreck The Factor 2001

Unlike many of the famous names of the Barossa, Torbreck does not have a long history in the region, even if many of the vines that contribute to its wines do. Dave Powell only started the winery in 1994, but his ability to source grapes from old vines in the region, many of which he had helped restore, led to near overnight success for the former lumberjack (Torbreck is named after a Scottish forest where he had worked). Quickly receiving rave reviews for his mostly Rhone-styled reds, the winery makes excellent wines across the price spectrum. The Factor has always been my favourite, and this 100% Shiraz is drinking beautifully at 10 years of age. It's not cheap, but well worth the occasional splurge. Drink The Steading in the meantime.

Fritsch Grüner Veltliner Steinberg 2009

The days of Austrian Grüner Veltliner being the new kid on the block are long gone, but maybe its time to remind ourselves why this wine became so popular. It goes well with food! Plenty of citrus and acidity on this dry wine, but it holds back from being overly punishing - that said, it's better with food, becaiuse, well, it goes with...seafood...prawns if you're asking, to help bring out the subtle mineral notes and provide maximum enjoyment.

Descendientes de J. Palacios Bierzo Petalos 2008

Bierzo is located in the north-west of Spain, and is only slightly better known than the Mencia grape from which this wine is made. The 2009 vintage of this wine finished high up in Wine Spectator's Top 100, but the 2008 is also excellent. It needs a little time to open up, so decanting for an hour or two is a good idea. Plenty of juicy, ripe black fruit, but with some stony minerality adding complexity. Keep your eyes open for the 2009.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is Australia now Austria? WS Top 100 dings Aussies

Wine Spectator have just completed their major marketing release of their annual Top 100 wines, and there was thing I was particularly keen to see. It wasn't the identity of the number one wine (Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2009), or the top ranked Barolo (Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra 2006), but rather how many Australian wines made it on to the list this year. As recently as 2009 there were 10 Australians in the Top 100, and last year there was still six, including two in the top 10. However, something told me that it was going to be ugly this year.

First of all, there's the exchange rate. While the economies of the USA and Europe struggle to maintain a pulse, the Australian economy has kept on truckin' (commodities to China), and the A$ has gone through parity with the US$. Can't be good for Australian exporters. Secondly, there's fashion. Australian wine, and Shiraz in particular, benefited from this for many years, but that phase is over, and the new black is no longer black Shiraz. In the December 15 edition of Wine Spectator there are a number of articles in relation to Argentinian wine, especially Malbec, which is apparently the new black, or has been in recent times at least. In Nathan Wesley's article 'Malbec's Moment' he has this to say about Australian Shiraz,

"Many winemakers are worried Argentina is overinvested in Malbec, as Australia seems to be in Shiraz. During America's recession and Malbec's ascent, Australian Shiraz, the wine-world darling only a few years ago, got caught with a glut of wine priced either too low or too high. As a result, sales declined in the United States from 6.1 million cases in 2006 to 5.2 million cases in 2009"

And there was the third point - Schild Estate. Their 2007 Barossa Shiraz had made the list in 2009 at #43, and then done even better in 2010, finishing at #7 with the 2008 vintage ($20). But then came the scandal. Tipped off by another Barossa winery, Two Hands, it turned out that with demand boosted by their inclusion in the Top 10 of 2010, Schild were running out of stock. So they made some more. It's allowable, but not so ethical when the demand is for one rated bottling, and you make a different batch with the same label. Wine Spectator didn't like it, and it wasn't just bad for Schild, it was bad for the Australian wine export market. The 2009 vintage of the Schild Estate Shiraz has been released, but not reviewed by the Wine Spectator, so i wasn't expecting to see it, but what did I see?

Two wines. The same as Austria, which also got two in 2009 and 2010. Two Hands Barossa Shiraz Bella's Garden 2009 was in at 35 (down from #2 the year before), and at #33 was the Chateau Tanunda Shiraz Grand Barossa 2008. And that was it. It's not just Shiraz that's out of fashion apparently (and both wines are, of course, Shiraz). In 2009, three of the ten Australian wines were whites, and there were certainly whites that could have made the list this year based on the numbers. However, in addition to rating score, price, and availability, there's the mysterious 'Wow Factor'. And for the Australian exporters, that might not be "Wow, this Aussie wine is good", but "Wow, I can't believe they did that".

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wines of the Week - November 17th

There's a lot to like about this week's wines, but for two of them, it's clearly the quality/price ratio. If you can get really good wine at better than a really good price, then you're a long way towards getting over the fact you're not drinking grand Cru Burgundy. Well, I am at least...

Walter Clappis Wine The Hedonist Shiraz 2009

You have to look pretty hard at the back-label to even find out the producer, as it doesn't feature on the front label. "The Hedonist" does, as does a picture of an aussieswine, so we have two things in common right off the bat. Even their website calls themselves "The Hedonist" - I can appreciate that. Walter Clappis is the winemaker, formerly of Ingoldby but now doing his own thing along with daughter Kimberly in the McLaren Vale in Adelaide's south, turning out a series of successful wines from their biodynamic winery. The 2009 Shiraz is a superb wine I picked up for well under $20, offering plenty of spicy, peppery, fruity goodness, while maintaining some refreshing acidity to avoid any fatness, while finishing with soft tannins. The wine saw 70 % new French Oak and 30% one year old American Oak for 18 months, so it has some good structure, but I doubt too many bottles will be kept. It's too yummy now.

Domaine des Heritiers du Comte Lafon Macon Milly Lamartine 2008 

A great sale offering at $20, I'm already wishing I'd bought more than three. Dominique Lafon expanded from his wildly successful 4th generation family run Domaine des Comtes Lafon to explore the potential of the Maconnais, and this is the village wine from where the wines are made. The wine offers some subtle fruit and floral characters on the nose, while the palate shows some good intensity, very clean with some nice minerality .

Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

This week I found myself with an unusual situation - face to face with a series of pretty high octane Californian Cabs. Fortunately, my Adelaide Shiraz upbringing had me prepared for such an eventuality, and I was able to overcome my foes (with the help of a more than serviceable cassoulet), and move on to a wine bar for some cleansing southern French reds. It was hard to pick out a favourite of what was a fairly healthy line up. I enjoyed the Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Altagracia Eisele Vineyard 2007 more than most, enjoying the restraint, and more food-friendly nature of the wine, but it was hard not to love the hedonism (!!) of the Caymus. Perhaps not terribly varietal, and very ripe, it offered plenty of enjoyment on a night that was made to be enjoyed. I have a bottle of the 2008 in the wine fridge, and I think it might be sitting there a few years yet. But I know i'll enjoy it when I get there.

Previous week.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wines of the Week - November 10th

Sometimes you have a night where the wine just clicks, and you enjoy a seamless procession and progression of wines that elevate the food and the evening to something truly memorable. Last Saturday was such an evening, and here are three of the wines that set the stage.

Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec Le Haut-Lieu 2009

The Loire Valley wine region consists of four sub-regions, and given the distance covered, it's no surprise that there is a considerable range of styles produced, from the Sauvignon Blancs of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume in the east, through the Cabernet Francs of Chinon, to the light Muscadets made near the Atlantic. Vouvray lies in the heart of the Touraine, to the north-east of Tours, and the wines are all white, and all made from Chenin Blanc. Domaine Huet has established itself as a leading player in the Loire over the last 80 years, and any of their wines, especially those with age, are worth seeking out. This one is just a baby, but I had to try it. Lovely aromatics, showing honeyed sweetness over some apple and subtle citrus notes. Although there is plenty of honeyed richness on the palate, the high acidity leads it to a dry, minerally finish with excellent balance. A very good example of a young Chenin Blanc - still very taut, this wine will continue to improve and change for many years.

Henri Boillot Volnay 1er Cru Les Chevrets 2007

After leaving the family estate to set up his own negociant business twenty years earlier, Henri Boillot returned to buy out his grandfather's estate in 2005, changing its name, and bringing his negociant business with him, with wines under the Maison Henri Boillot name, whereas the estate wines are under Domaine Henri Boillot. This wine is from a vineyard on the south side of Volnay, bordering on to the better known vineyards of Santenots and Caillerets. The nose is very attractive, showing sweet red fruit and some smoky oak. Upfront there is some lovely, rich fruit sweetness with an underlying minerality on a well integrated palate. Very pretty now, but I'd be keen to revisit this a few years down the track.

Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg Sélection de Grains Nobles 2000

Formed in 1959 by the combining of the estates of Zénon Humbrecht and Emile Zind, Zind-Humbrecht is now one of the leading estates in Alsace under the leadership of Olivier Humbrecht. Their wines tend to be very rich and powerful, and don't necessarily appeal to all, but they work for me! This is certainly a very rich, opulent dessert wine from the Heimbourg vineyard. Extremely luscious and complex, with distinctive spiciness, I would probably prefer a little more acidity, but it's a minor quibble with such a delicious wine!

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wines of the Week - November 3rd

It's getting decidedly cold in New York, but it's getting warmer Down Under, and I'm looking forward to getting back there for a brief blast of Summer next month. For those looking for Summer wines, or for those who love great high acid wines at any time of the year, here's the pick of the Albariños I recently tasted (tasting hosted by snooth and Rias Baixas wine group).

Bodegas Martin Codax Burgáns Albariño 2010

I enjoyed this wine back in Summer, and it was nice to see a familiar face in the line-up. The Bodegas Martin Codax is a co-operative of 285 producers located in the sub-zone of Val do Salnés. The Burgáns bottling underlines the Celtic heritage in the region, and distinguishes it from the wines bottled under the Martin Codax label. The nose hints at the sweetness to come on the palate, but the aromatics are more apple than peach or apricot. Plenty of acidity on the palate, which stops the peach flavours from being overly ripe, and keeps the sweetness in check. Very well balanced and classy wine, with a lovely rounded minerally finish.

Bodegas Santiago Ruíz Santiago Ruíz 2010 

Unlike most of the wines at the tasting, this wine is estate grown in the O Rosal sub-zone, and uniquely for the tasting, this wine is not 100% Albariño, with Loureiro and Treixadura adding to the 70% Albariño. Not surprising, the wine stood out, offering some complexity that is not necessarily a feature of Albariño. The nose combined some floral notes along with some tropical fruit. Plenty of acid was expected, but the wine was also quite drying, without really being astringent. A well structured wine, I'll be trying to find it again, preferably with a plate of shellfish to keep it company.

Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño de Fefiñanes 2010
Probably just edging the Burgáns for my wine of the night, this was another estate bottled wine, also from the Val do Salnés sub-zone. The nose was a little muted compared with some on the night, but there was an intriguing combination of stone fruits and some tarter, almost grassy notes. The palate was consistent, with some sweet stone fruit adding to the mouthfeel, while there was plenty of tart citrus and minerality to like and keep it all elegantly harmonious.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wines of the Week - October 27th

This week we look at two very different reds from Italy, and a beautiful Vouvray from France.

Masciarelli Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2008

Despite the untimely death of Gianni Masciarelli in 2008, the winery continues to put out a strong portfolio of wines, with his daughter Miriam and wife Marina Cvetic involved in running the winery. In addition to the 'classic' range, Gianni, a passionate advocate for Abruzzo wines, introduced some benchmark wines over the years, including the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Villa Gemma and Trebbiano d'Abruzzo Castello di Semivicoli. While these acclaimed wines are certainly worth trying if the occasion presents, the base level Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is well worth having on hand for everyday drinking. Providing a surprising amount of earthy complexity in a quaffer, the wine can be had for close to $10 - cheaper than the pizza with which it pairs so well. Made for early drinking, the 2009 is starting to show up now and is again worth buying.

Eugenio Bocchino Langhe Nebbiolo Roccabella 2009

A new winery by the standards of Piemonte, Eugenio Bocchino is making some very good reds, and this another fine effort. Although it could probably do with another year or two in the bottle to soften the tannins, it's very approachable now and all the better if it can sit in the decanter for a while before drinking. The wine has some good aromatics, with some typical tar and violet on the nose, while there's some good acidity keeping the wine fresh in the mouth. Excellent drinking for around $20.

Domaine d'Orfeuilles Vouvray Les Coudraies 2009

The Les Coudraies is made from old vines on an east-south aspect hill north of Chancay in the Loire Valley. Some lovely perfumed aromatics on this demi-sec white set the stage for an initially quite sweet wine, which manages to finish closer to dry thanks to some very lively acidity. Not one for those who don't like sweetness in wines, this would make a great aperitif for those of us who do. Might be even better with a not-too-sweet dessert. And don't be in a hurry to drink it - with this much acidity, it will last a long time.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wines of the Week - October 20th

I recently had the good fortune to find myself at the Institute of Masters of Wine Annual Champagne Tasting, held in the Christie's auction house. Surrounded by beautiful paintings and buckets of the world's best Champagne, the only drawback was having just two hours to get through over 100 different bottles. Still, when duty calls...

There was a long list of wines I really liked on the day - here are just three of different styles that appealed on the day.

Bruno Paillard Brut Rose NV

It's now 30 years since the young Bruno Paillard famously sold his Jag to help fund the start of his Champagne house in a story that is an inspiration to would be winemakers all over the world. Not deterred by the lack of vineyards, cellar etc, he has created a leading Champagne house, and also owns a large part of the group now known as Lanson-BCC, which includes the Champagne houses of Lanson and Philipponnat. The Brut Rose is a lovely drink, mostly Pinot Noir but some Chardonnay, salmon-pink in colour and with an enchanting nose of  strawberry and floral notes, and a creamy, yet refreshingly tart, palate. 

Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 1999 

As if the imprimatur of Winston Churchill wasn't enough, the house of Pol Roger was recently selected as the Champagne for the Royal Wedding. Their success is well deserved, as they continue to produce fine wines across the spectrum. Both the NV (White Foil) and the Sir Winston Churchill 1999 both showed very well at the tasting, although the latter remains very tight and needs more time. However, the pick of their wines on the day for me was the 100% Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs 1999, made from their Grand Cru vineyards in the Cête des Blancs. Already over a decade old, this wine should continue to improve, although it is great drinking now, with lemon, apple and brioche on the nose, a beautifully balanced palate showing lively fresh fruit and a long finish.

Philipponnat Le Clos des Goisses '98

My first time drinking the Clos des Goisses, although I'm not sure how given the chorus of approval I received from many friends on saying it was my favourite from the tasting. The wine is made from grapes grown in a walled (clos) south facing, sloping vineyard. Pinot Noir dominates this blend, along with Chardonnay, and it shows on the nose with elements of red fruit pushing through the toasty, nutty aromas. The palate is well balanced, with a very complex palate and a long, minerally finish. It was late in the tasting by now, but this wine still jumped out of the pack.

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