Saturday, June 27, 2009

Is Victoria the best wine state?

It’s a lovely Saturday afternoon; one child is having a sleep with his mum, the other is telling our new tenants, Daisy and Walter, about our home and who else lives here (no we are not letting out the shed, these are goldfish). With this I sit myself down to some coffee and ‘The Australian’ for a bit of me time.

Today Max Allen has written a little article about Australia’s best mixed dozen. He pretty much has it on the nose with his selection, but I would like to go further and put together a best of Victoria, for I reckon pound for pound Victoria producers the best wine in this country.

There is a catch however. Instead of a straight mixed dozen, I’m going to put together maybe a mixed two dozenish; these things are just too hard to compile.

· Paradigm Hill – from the Mornington Peninsula, this is a wonderful bone dry wine that has a lip smacking finish.
· Crawford River – from Henty in south west Vic, John Thomson delivers year in and year out a wine that has clean minerality when young and develops into a more Alsace wine when mature.

Chardonnay – this was hard considering Victoria is easily the best producer of Chardonnay, bar Leeuwin Estate and the new Tapanappa from the Adelaide Hills
· Giaconda – the Beechworth gem that never fails to deliver a master-piece of a Chardonnay.
· Bindi Quartz – I could not disagree with Max on this one; simply gorgeous.
· Yabby Lake – from Mornington, one of my favourites, with wonderful citrus notes of grapefruit. With Tom Carson at the helm now, this wine will only get better.

Pinot Noir – as with Chardonnay, I believe Victoria has no peer when it comes to growing and making.
· Punch Close Planted - from the Yarra Valley, the Lance family have been producing their own wine under the ‘Punch’ moniker since selling the ‘Diamond Valley’ label to the Rathbones. A magic wine that even when young has multiple layers of flavours. A wine that will be in short supply due to the recent Vic fires.
· Bindi Block 5 – since the first vintage in 2000, this wine has time and again produced what I believe has no equal when it comes to elegance.
· Merricks Creek Close Planted – like Punch, the vines are planted close to yield low quantities of fruit to maximise the fruit intensity for the wine. Right now this is my personal favourite and the most affordable out of the three.

· By Farr – from Geelong, Gary Farr can do no wrong. I truly believe this is Australia’s best Shiraz; fair dinkum!
· Sutton Grange Estate Syrah – a relative new comer from Bendigo, this wine, in particular the 05’ is all savoury, in mouth feel and flavour. Definitely one to sample next time you see it.
· Jasper Hill ‘Emily’s Paddock’ – a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Franc, this wine delivers a much more appealing drop that the menacing ‘Georgia’s Paddock’

· Yarra Yarra – the ‘Cabernets’ and ‘Yarra Yarra’ are two of the finest wines coming out of the Yarra Valley, with eerily resemblance to Right Bank Bordeaux’s.
· Mount Mary - the Quintet, having the exact breakdown of fruit to that of Chateaux Margaux, delivers wine that is best left for at least 10 years before ripping open.

· Bindi.... again – be it the Blanc de Blanc or the vintage or even the multi vintage, these wines constantly shine and if you see one on a list or at a bottlo’, grab it, cos they are in short supply.
· Seppelt Show Sparkling Shiraz – beautifully crafted with real finesse and without the cloying mouth feel of Barossa Sparkling Reds

· Yarra Yarra – the Bordeaux Blanc blend is the only true wine of this style in Australia. With the February bush fires sweeping through the valley, it will be a quite some time before we see an estate wine from Ian McLean.
· Oakridge Fume Blanc – a great wine that marries Sancerre and Marlborough; clean mineral palate with nutty gooseberry green after taste.
· Limbic – from Gippsland, a lovely light Sauvignon with charm and plenty of food saviness

So there you have it. While I watch the Eagles get absolutely umpired out of the game against Hawthorn (I am actually a born and bred Fremantle boy who still follows the Eagles), I sit here drinking an Adelaide Hills Nebbiolo (a later blog) and still think, with exemption of Semillon, that Victoria is producing our best wines – perhaps the Kosta Tszyu of all wine states; pound for pound the best!

Giaconda Chardonnay 2002 Beechworth

For all of you who have been to The Louvre in Paris and been disappointed with not only the size of ‘The Mona Lisa’, but also having only a short glimpse of the Leonardo’s beauty before being shoved along by some surly French security guard, the Giaconda Chardonnay is for you. Here, however, you will not be moved on, but you will be asked to shell out quite a few bucks.

In Italy, ‘The Mona Lisa’ is lovingly referred to as ‘La Giaconda’, or the beautiful one. In Australia Giaconda is referred to as one of our true great wines which have few peers. Sitting in the foot hills of the Alpine Valley in north-east Victoria, Giaconda has been producing Australia’s best Chardonnay for almost two decades. In this time, there would be only 3 or 4 producers who have challenged Giaconda’s mantle as the best, but these wines cannot claim the consistency of Giaconda.

Crafted with painstakingly precession by winemaker Rick Kinzbrunner, Giaconda wines each year get snapped up in quick time for premium prices. Once on the open market, these wines quite often find themselves on secondary auction sites where once again, these wines demand bids of up to $400 a bottle.

So, onto the wine. The Giaconda Chardonnay 2002. I love it so much!!

In one of my earlier posts in April this year, I wrote on the development in some wines and the flavours that they acquire. This wine is a perfect example of this, with it starting out with fresh acid when I first had this in 2004, to a very sexy Burgundy like gem in 2009.

The colour is a yellow gold, which indicates that this wine has still got plenty of kick into it. The nose is crème brulee custard up front with a sniff of liquorice and stewed pineapple in the end. In the mouth there is so much happening!! Praline, liquorice powder soft acid with a hint of grapefruit, which once again highlights its infancy. Did I say how much I loved this wine; J'aime ce vin

Perfect balance, perfect length and complexity and gorgeous weight – sheer perfection I say.

Drink with Pike quenelles in a white wine sauce
Drink till 2018

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir 2007 Central Otago

This is an absolute belter!

Felton Road is one of my favourite wines easy. Year in and year out these guys from Central Otago in NZ produce some fantastic wine, and not just Pinot Noir – Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and a wonderfully dry Riesling.

Central Otago has unfortunately got a reputation of producing over-ripe berryie Pinot Noir wines. I believe this is unfounded or it is a generalist view held by people who have far too much spare time on their hands.

For me, the wine is near perfect – very Burgundy like I would have to say. The 2007 Block 5 Pinot Noir is fantastic baby, or mucho fantastico for our latin friends!!! This wine shares its name with another one of my favourites, Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir and, like the shared name, this wine is all elegance and lust rolled into one fine vessel.

Onto the wine then. The Felton Road Block 5 2007 Pinot Noir has got a deep red going on which sort of tells me that there was plenty of time on skins to extract both wonderful colour and flavour. The nose is complex with musk stick, rose petal, prickly spice with a little bit of cassia bark and plum after a while. In the mouth there is more musk stick with a little bit of green leaf rhubarb thrown in. The longer in the glass, the wine delivers an elegance that I am used to with this producer; soft spicy acid with a wonderful grainy mouth feel which makes it perfect with food such as spiced duck or rare beef for all of that acid to soak up the blood.

Beautiful balance, plenty of length, wonderfully complex and as said before, great weight to go up against strong flavours on the plate.

Drink till 2020
Drink with roast duckling with Asian spices.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Archer Heathcote Shiraz 2006

arch-err [ahr-cher]
· someone who uses a bow and arrow.
· the horse who won the first two Melbourne Cups.
· the Shiraz from Heathcote.

If you got two out of three you are doing well. If you got all three, well maybe you should be blogging about wine also.

Archer is a sort of side project by one of Australia’s foremost wine critics, Nick Stock. It is a conglomeration of his families wine venture ‘Twofold’ and has been produced under the ‘Archer’ moniker since 2005.

Now Heathcote Shiraz’s to me have been somewhat of an oddity or a misnomer. You see Heathcote Shiraz has got a really good terroir signature of black pepper, eucalypt, mocha and really fine savoury notes. The thing is however, is that Heathcote Shiraz, has for too long been made in the fashion of big fruit and big alcohol which ultimately spells big hangover. All this adds up to JABS! Heathcote is better than that, and I reckon the Archer can be better than that too.

The vintage we tasted is the 2006 Shiraz. On the back of quite a few years of drought, 2006 was no different with high temperatures spanning from early December to March and patchy rain. High winds in December did not help fruit set with quite a few growers commenting on this.

The colour is a ruby colour with the faintest sign of translucency about it. On the nose come spicy plum and dark chocolate with a sting in the nose that belies the 13.5% alcohol on this bad-boy. In the mouth is a full on explosion of more spicy plum with black pepper following in the mid palate. As I stated previous, this wine borders on Barossa.

The balance is sought of there, the length is not. It has semi complexity but this is overshadowed by the massive weight of ripe fruit. A Jack Dyer wine in the end – a good average wine.

Drink with BBQ spare ribs
Drink till 2012

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

McWilliams Riverina Botrytis Semillon 2003

‘The pursuit of perfection, then, is the pursuit of sweetness and light.... he who works for sweetness and light united, works to make reason and the will of God prevail.’
Matthew Arnold 1822-88

Now just for the record, I am not a religious person, though with the surname Cohen I have been known to cast myself as a very orthodox ‘Catholic Jew’.

The inclusion of this poem from Matthew Arnold is not so much about God, but ‘The pursuit of perfection, then, is the pursuit of sweetness and light...’, and with this we have today the wonderful and amazing McWilliams Riverina Botrytis Semillon 2003. To me, this is the most perfect wine I have tasted this year – absolute pure joy!!

In Australia, the most famous or well known Botrytis wine is De Bortoli’s Noble One from Griffith NSW. But it has been McWilliams Winery since the 50’s who have been toying with this wonderful wine style, with the first real wine being the 1958 Pedro Sauternes made from Pedro Ximinez grapes which accidently botrytised.

Botrytis wine comes about when the fungus Botrytis cinera infects the grape when it has been split by the elements. From this a mould is produced, and with the help of the weather and certain vectors, entire rows become infected with this wonderful stuff. The most famous producer of Botrytis wine is Chateau d’Yquem from Sauternes in Bordeaux, with wines fetching thousands of dollars in the best of vintages. What it producers is a heightened sugar content, with a huge feel of ripeness.

Botrytis does not infect all grapes the same, with it having prejudice of those varieties that form tight bunches; Semillon, Savvy B, Chardonnay being the most common, with Shiraz sometimes coming under its spell (get some Wirra Wirra Botrytis Shiraz 1997 if you see it out there).

So, onto our wine. The colour is a gorgeous orange/brown which just screams drink me!!! The nose is quite restrained early with saffron and marmalade; yet the longer in the glass it shows its true intent being more marmalade and burnt orange. In the mouth the wine is warm with treacle, toffee, dried apricot and pure bliss – the length just seemed to go on forever.

This is truly a great Australian wine that should rank with the more famous Granges and Hill of Graces.

Drink with foie gras
Drink till 2016

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hurley Vineyard 'Harcourt' Pinot Noir 2006 Mornington Peninsula

Now you all know that I love my Pinot, there is no dispute there. And I guess through these blogs one thing that I harp on about is terroir and vintage – these two points almost always define the wine. So it is with this I found myself scratching my head with the Hurley Vineyard ‘Harcourt, 2006 Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula.

In 2006, the Mornington Peninsula experienced a cool start to the season and which pretty much described the rest of the season. David Lloyd from Eldridge Estate commented on low sugar levels with lighter colours for red varietals. So how do explain this monster produced by Hurley.

The wine is a massive 14.9% - this is massive for Pinot and the Peninsula.

The colour is deep red with no real translucency. The nose starts out a bit leafy, which would be explained by dense foliage, with a right smack of Turkish delight, which accounts for the high alcohol. In the mouth the wine has an instant spice hit which quickly flows on to unbalanced acid and astringency. After a little while, the mouth mirrors the nose with Turkish delight driving the palate.

This is not my cup of tea. For me Pinot is all about finesse and elegance. This wine has none of that, and is what I would label a ‘Shiraz drinkers Pinot’.

Drink till 2012
Drink with chilli con-carne

Friday, June 12, 2009

Jacob's Creek St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

“What do you mean this wine is $55, I can get this at Dan’s for $30” - but wait, there’s more. “Why don’t you have more wines that I like on the list? Really, a list like this makes me quite angry.”

Now for those restaurant people out there, the first quote is quite common. The second one, however is not, yet one fellow about six months actually said that to me while trolling through my list. It actually made him angry!

People are funny beasts when they have a winelist in their hands; I reckon there are three ways they will go – the safe bet, left field or leave it to the sommelier to choose. And it is the safe bet pick that this blog is about.

The safe bet is the wine on the list that is old school. And this is usually a label from the stables of Fosters, Hardy’s or Orlando. Wines that have been bobbing up for 20-30 years that are more of a house or Domain style rather than that of vintage specific. Now before you start thinking what a snob I am (this is true however), and how I am... well a snob I guess, these wines are what they are because the people who make them know that Bert and Terry and Joyce and Alice will buy them again and again and again. Why you ask? Because they liked it then, they like it now and they’ll like it tomorrow – too easy.

So, onto the wine.

This week, Erin and I opened a bottle of Jacobs Creek St Hugo Coonawarra 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (geez that was a mouthful hey). Now I bought this cos I thought that there was way too much Pinot going in here, and hey, Coonawarra Cab is good.

The wine to look at is big bright red, almost black in the middle with a bright pink hue. The nose is all ripe raspberries with prickly acid. Then the alcohol hits. Big hit – 14.5% to be precise. After that there is not much to pick up other that the booze which goes on for a while. I will say that over time, two hours, and the alcohol sort of blows off with a more eucalypt feel to it. In the mouth it is big, big and big with ripe fruit, quite acidic and in the end very astringent. In the end, just another JABS (see previous blogs).

Drinking old school is something that will happen more often than not considering the almost oligopoly that three producers have in Oz. So when you do, make sure that it is a variety that is suitable for the region, but most of all make sure you like it before you buy! And by the way, when a wine has the bottle number on it, this usually indicates a special release or small number production, but when the bottle number is 400,854, I can rest easy that it is certainly the safe wine that I have been writing about.

Drink till 2014
Drink with anything that has been cooked well! (That’s well done!!!)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Woodside Estate 'Bissy' Merlot 2006, Margaret River

A few years ago the movie ‘Sideways’ almost single headedly wiped out Merlot sales in the US with the lead character Miles stating, ‘... I’ll drink whatever they order, but I’m not drinking f*#@n Merlot’. Here to in Australia, Merlot has long suffered being the safari suit wearing cousin at a wedding (it’s a long story) to that of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Merlot’s traditional home is the right bank in Bordeaux where it is the predominant grape in uber wines like Le Pin, Petrus and Chevel Blanc. On the left bank it is Cabernet Sauvignon that is the predominat grape with wines such as Rothchilds - both Mouton and Lafite, Marguax and Lynch Bages.

Merlot is one of those grapes that are dependent on its growing environment. Long growing seasons with temperate growing conditions are optimal for its development – Margaret River, Yarra Valley and Coonawarra are the best regions here in Australia. Merlot can be very intense with blueberries and cassis being predominant in the mouth and minty or eucalyptus on the nose; similar to that of Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Woodside Estate ‘Bissy’ 2006 Merlot from Margaret River had a very thick and dense colour, something that would have spent plenty of time on skins. The nose is gorgeous with an obvious vegetal hint with eucalyptus the prime focus. As said earlier, blueberries are central here up front with lovely clean acid in the mid palate and long mocha at the end.

Give Merlot a go I reckon. There are a lot of producers out there, but it is the producers from those three regions, Margaret River, Yarra Valley and Coonawarra, that get it right. And one more thing, don’t get sucked in to a Merlot with high alcohol – 14.5% and more; these wines will not give you the true flavour that Merlot is, and all you get is JABS (Just Another Barossa Shiraz).

Drink with mushroom and beef stew
Drink till 2020

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Merricks Creek 'Close Planted' Pinot Noir 2006 Mornington Peninsula

There are some wines that I drink, and drink .... and drink. This is cos’ I like them. A good wine is the one you like, not the one I tell you is good or the wine some celebrity wine-head says is good.

Merricks Creek Close Planted Pinot Noir 2006 is a wine that I like to drink, and it is a wine that I have drunk quite a bit lately, as too have a lot of the diners I have served recently.

Situated down in the Mornington Peninsula on the Western Port Bay side, Merricks Creek wines have been putting out top drops for some time now,but it is the Close Planted wines that are really sexing it up for them.

The term close planted refers to vines being planted at close proximity such as 1m x 1m; this translates to 10,000 vines per hectare (above right). In modern day viticulture vines are spaced at about 3m x1.5m, or 2,222 per hectare. The closer the vines are translates to the vines competing for nutrients and water in the sub-soil which means a smaller berry.

The smaller the berry means more flavour. Flavour is found in the skin of the berry, so the more berry compared to pulp, or greater skin to fruit ratio, means more intense flavour in the wine. This is what happens with close planted vines, and Merricks Creek Close Planted is a perfect example.

The 2006 Close Planted Pinot has a dirty, rusty red colour which looks like it is fading – this is where you don’t judge a book by its cover. The nose is gorgeous spice; cinnamon and cassia bark. Another whiff gives off fresh rhubarb with clean acid the obvious feel. It is a third sniff that more spice comes out, but this time a little dirtier.

But like all good wine, it all happens in the mouth baby! Clean acid up front with game and fat succulent in the mid palate. Sexy stuff this one. But wait, there’s more, more more more. The palate is long and fresh and rich and complex and by far the best Pinot I have had from the Mornington Peninsula. Period!!

Drink with five spiced quail.
Drink till 2020