Two enjoyable sweeties

2009 ch raymond lafon

2009 Ch Raymond-Lafon 13.5%
Sauternes, 136 g/l residual sugar. Half bottle

80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc, aged in new barrels for three years. Bright deep gold colour, pear-juice meets apricots, white peach and marmalade, backed up with a solid citrus line. Honey and spices resound on the opulent palate with some almond and marzipan. Voluptuous, fresh and morish. A reliable bargain VFM producer. Authentic.

93 points, and drink to 2027 while its fresh. Full bottles will have a longer life span.

2016 tim adams botrytis

2016 Tim Adams botrytis Riesling 11%
Clare Valley. 87 g/l residual sugar. Snapped up this half bottle recently from my local DM for $13.

Light bright clear gold colour; apricot and yellow peach, dusted with cinnamon and ginger; palate is syrupy/viscous but beautifully fresh with a zingy citrus finish. Good mix of botrytis while retaining varietal character. Really doesn’t need more time and will match up a treat with a fresh fruit platter.

Drink to 2027, and 90 points

Musings on Australian grenache – two

Soon after I posted my thoughts about Australian Grenache, I came across a set of youtube postings from Erin Larkin. These very recent episodes are about 10-15 minutes long, and well worth the investment of time.

Part 1– with Toby Bekkers

Part 2– with Giles Cooke (Thistledown)

Part 3– with Pete Fraser (Yangarra) and Stephen Pannell (SC Pannell)

“5 in 5” – five McLaren Vale Grenaches tasted

Read some great insights from Tony Love plus reviews of recent McLaren Vale grenache.

And an older- 90 minute- Wine Australia Webinar moderated by Sarah Ahmed (sept 2020) with Giles Cooke and David Gleave– Thistledown – about new-wave McLaren Vale grenache, as it rattles through tasting twelve wines and talking about the winemakers philosophy. Long, but plenty of educational nuggets here.

There are also some free modules on the Wine Australia education site  about grenache and another on McLaren Vale. You need to sign up, but there is no cost.

If you don’t learn, and see some of the excitement, you are beyond help.

One local, one “near-local”

2013 felton

2013 Felton Road Riesling 9.5%
Bannockburn, Central Otago, New Zealand. Screwcap, 62 g/l residual sugar.
Still a youthful lemon colour; lime and grapefruit with a tropical fruit basket and Germanic petroleum; the palate has plenty of vitality, with a flinty, mineral twang rolling along with apple, talc and lime. Super fun.

Drink to 2030, 92 points

2000 morris vp

2000 Morris Vintage Port 19%
Rutherglen, Victoria
Served blind, no trouble nailing this as Australian, albeit drier than most. Blackcurrant, chalk, fine cocoa, abundant spices and quality spirit.  With a significant proportion of Portuguese grape varieties, I settled on the mid-late 1990s, with Rutherglen as the likely origin…. except the unveiling showed 100% Shiraz. Its label was adorned with credible Australian wine show gold and trophy bling. Delicious, persistent, and no hurry here.

Easily 93 points, and drink to 2032

Catching up with some wines

2012 felton rd riesling

2012 Felton Road Riesling 8.5%
Bannockburn, Central Otago, New Zealand. Screwcap, 64 g/l residual sugar. Lemon/gold colour, lime cordial and nectarine scents, red apple with a dusting of icing sugar; red apple again with some grippiness on the palate; flinty and convincing, even though the sweetness is spatlese-level.

Drink to 2025, 90 points

old ch gilette

1996 and 1997 Ch Gilette Crème de tete  (sauternes)90% semiilon,8% sav blanc, 2% muscadelle.  A curio, as the chateau ages the wines in concrete tanks for around twenty years prior to bottling. I will seek help from the boffins to understand how the wine remains sound under the circumstances. No oak!

These were served as a blind pair, and I was confident that they were Sauternes from the late 1990s. Both gold in colour, I found the 1997 to be a bit cloying, medicinal and varnishy. Relatively light-bodied, grapey with muscat-like overtones, and some stonefruit beneath. The 1996 had more depth, and more acidity, with marzipan, marmalade and mixed nuts over ripe stonefruit and citrus.

Very different wines, with the “other” bottles of the 1997 apparently better. I went in search but found the contents had “evaporated”. Curios certainly, but still an exercise in intrigue.

Drink soon; I rated the 1996 at 92 points; the 1997 at 86 points.

2001 Taylors Vargellas Vintage Port 20%
Served blind, this was obviously Portuguese, with its floral rose, violet, and spice notes, backed up by dark plum and berry flavours and a dry, long, chalky profile on the palate. It didn’t quite have the finesse of a truly serious VP, so my thoughts ran to a “lesser vintage or house”, and I was speculating on a year in the 1980s. Wrong! Much younger, but a terrific result from an undeclared year.

Drink to 2030 and 92 points.

Musings about Australian grenache 1

This is a stray, off-theme post about my recent excitement, fascination, and obsession with modern Australian Grenache. It’s had a huge historical presence within Australia, but setting aside its contribution to fortified wines, there haven’t been many varietal table wines that scaled the heights.

Of course, there have been honourable exceptions; some Hardy’s wines have proven Grenache’s longevity (a recent 1997 showed up well); the 2016 Turkey Flat famously won a Jimmy Watson trophy. Yet until recently, Grenache’s unfortified best seemed to be in rosé- style wines (a la Provence).

I have been a follower of SC Pannells grenache stylings for a few years (the Smart, the Old MacDonald and several blends) but apart from that, there weren’t many thrills. My view is that wineries regarded their red wine Shiraz, and Cabernet as their meal tickets – Grenache was an afterthought –picked when convenient, stored where convenient, treated cursorily.

But only a few years ago, some winemakers and companies realised that they had a treasure. They had the seriously old-vine resources (those that remained after the misguided vine-pull scheme). Earlier picking, treatment in older, larger oak, or concrete, or amphora, extended skin contact etc made a huge difference and the transformation began. Yalumba in the Barossa has many individual grenache releases, but the action really seems to be in McLaren Vale. Here, wines from Blewitt Springs can be world-class, but there’s terrific examples from Clarendon, and the less-known “outliers” Seaview and Onkaparinga Hills, plus the ability to blend across sites.

Stephen Pannell commented ”All I have to do is counteract the two misguided extremes of varietal style: sweet and syrupy at one end, under-ripe, tannin-free giggle juice at the other.  Truly great Grenache is neither.  Truly great Grenache has aromatics and texture with vibrance and energy. It unfurls gradually with air and, most importantly, speaks clearly of soil and season”.

What is the excitement? Red fruits with intrigue not just confined to raspberry, rose-hip, rhubarb, cherry, blood orange, grapefruit, sometimes violets, seaweed, red liquorice, blueberry, saltbush, and other exotics with an array of spices and incense. Fruit abundance not smeared with excessive oak, there’s tannins and longevity, and it’s ultra food-friendly. There’s an instant fruit hit, but easy to forecast equal joy with five-to-eight years cellaring.

My first visit To McLaren Vale for ten years was only a few months ago and I tasted some thrilling Grenache examples; in a rush of enthusiasm many more were purchased with very few disappointments. Plus many of the winemakers freely name acknowledge the growers.

I have not appended tasting notes or scores fore these Grenaches, but the meagre-cropping 2020 vintage was matched in quality by the 2021s I have tasted. I have been impressed enough to purchase (alphabetically, McLaren Vale unless noted) with very approximate prices. There are many more untasted, but there are limits both to my wallet, and drinking capacity.

Adelina (Clare Valley) 2021 $55

Bekkers 2020 (not cheap, $90 but the quality is riveting)

Cirillo “the Vincent”  2021 (Barossa)  $25 – outrageous VFM from old vines, but needs significant time in a decanter to strut

De Bortoli “wizardry” (Heathcote) $20 Bargain, short-term; with a more up-market amphora “Phi”

In Praise of shadows 2021 ($30)

Krondorf Founders View 2020 (Barossa) short-term, but outstanding $25 VFM)

Paralian 2020 and 2021 – Blewitt Springs, special VFM and quality ($45), the Shiraz is a ripper too

SC Pannell 2020 Smart, and Old McDonald ($70); the “Vale” blend is also eminently cellarworthy

Seppeltsfield “village” 2021 (Barossa) $30 intense, and fleshy. Don’t let “joven” deter you.

Thistledown There’s probably 10 grenaches in their kitbag, with the Sands of time well regarded, but thrills aplenty with Vagabond ($60) and I’m working my way through other 2021s

Vanguardist “V” 2020, Blewitt Springs ($50)

Varney 2021 ($35)

Willunga 100 2020 (Blewitt springs) $45; A range of Grenaches made; this stood out

Yangarra Blewitt Springs. The High Sands is admirable, but not immediately hedonistic; the Ovitelli and Hickinbotham (Clarendon  ($75) stir my senses.

I have not canvassed GSM blends; I am torn between the intellectual notion of site/terroir vs the bitter experience that many blends are not an attempt to make a better wine, but odds and ends thrown together, or an effort to “rescue” a batch in an attempt to cover its deficiencies.

I have also not covered the excitement of some of the Spanish Garnache blends nor some of the Southern Rhone (and yes, I have tasted several Ch Rayas).

Curiously, I think that some of the care taken with Grenache in McLaren Vale has benefited the approach taken with Shiraz too. These seem to have more freshness and are not mono-dimensional dark chocolate exemplars. I further speculate that experiences with tannin management with Nebbiolo, Nero etc have infiltrated the approach to Grenache.

But the lesson is – go forth and try some of these wines; my preconceptions were outmoded; I hope my clever and influential readers are encouraged to experiment, gain thrills and spread the word; classy wines are so close, and the prices are more than fair.

One big bottle – 1990 Buller Vintage Port 20.8% (magnum #310)

Rutherglen Shiraz, but possibly with some Swan Hill fruit and perhaps some Portuguese varieties too! Who would know? What crazy person buys a magnum of a fortified (guilty) – yet 10 people over a long lunch left only perhaps 400ml, which is a hearty recommendation of the wine’s drinkability.

Buller’s was an obligatory first stop when visiting Rutherglen – its bird park an irresistible and unfailing attraction for my children, and a welcome chance to stretch out after a long car journey.

1990 bullers vp

The wine was a  bit advanced for its age – and a very ordinary cork- but forgiven for its deliciousness factor. Ultra-clean, likely neutral (SVR) spirit, there’s a wisp of mint/menthol/wintergreen; it’s very sweet and soft and densely packed with mocha and blackberry. Just the wine to soothe over a winter fire with witty conversation or a sparkling comedy.

Drink to 2030, 91 points

1976 Orlando Vintage Port 18.3%

Barossa Valley. “Limited Special release” with “potential for further cellaring”, Shiraz and Carignan, and possibly a better wine than the “unlimited ordinary”. A wizened cork, but no drama after 46 years.

1976 orlando vp new

An auction purchase last year for $20, this was insane buying, and a much better bottle than the previous one. Very dense garnet colour with some bricking on the rim; there’s sweet dark fruit, sweet spices and superior brandy spirit; the palate is plush and engaging, blueberry, blackberry and plum with a bit of mocha and red liquorice, all still fresh and crisp. A winner that looks good for another twenty years – cork permitting. Classic Oz. Exciting.

Drink to 2035, and well deserves 93 points

Two sweet, and two strong

2000 Ch Rieussec (Fargues, Sauternes) 13.5%
1999 Ch Coutet (Barsac, Sauternes) 13%
These were served as a pair (masked). The first wine had more of a copper colour, but with definitive Sauternes character – vanilla, cumquat, wax, honey, bitter orange and citrus rind. It seemed ripe, ready, and enjoyable. 2000 was a wet year with a small crop – 65% Semillon, 24% sav blanc, 11% muscadelle.
Drink to 2025, and 92 points

The second wine also seemed typically Sauternes, albeit with less overt acidity. Pale orange colour, melon and tropical pineapple were its key features. This was also ready, but in a subtler style than the first wine. Sound, correct but few thrills. 75% Semillon, 23% sav blanc, 2% muscadelle.
Drink now, 90 points

I (correctly) guessed both wines were from the mid to late 1990’s, and from “lesser” years.

Continue reading

One sweet, one strong

1996 SA Huet Clos du Bourg Moelleux 1er trie 12.5%
Chenin Blanc, Vouvray, Loire Valley (biodynamic since 1990).

Huet is a famous maker, with a range including sparkling, sec, demi-sec and sweet. Clos du Bourg is regarded as its “top” site. Chenin Blanc is a high acid white wine variety, entirely undistinguished in Australia (although it played an important role in old Houghton White Burgundies, and there are a few brave producers persevering, such as Coriole).

1996 huet

The cork was unremarkable but had performed its task, and the colour was bright gold. Despite its sweetness level (70 g/l?)  this wine was deliberately served with a meal as a savoury white wine. The acidity was completely integrated and concealed the inherent sweetness. Apricot, cumquat, baked apple, honey, marzipan and shortcrust; resoundingly fresh and savoury in intent (regardless of its  analytical sweetness).  Super-complex, it was just a delight to drink and a reminder of the potency of the best wines of the Loire (much harder to find in Australia than they deserve).

Drink to 2030, and 94 points (for surprise value, a higher score is warranted)

1971 Metala Vintage Port
Langhorne Creek, South Australia, likely Shiraz.

Langhorne Creek is not a “renowned” area for VP styles in Australia, but it’s full of surprises. Its longstanding contributions to the red wines of Wolf Blass cannot be ignored. Bleasdale makes an array of excellent Malbecs – and much more- Lake Breeze deserves greater recognition,  as does Bremerton.

The label of this wine had effectively disintegrated, but it’s understood to have been recorked (and possibly tweaked) in 2015. Huon Hooke has an illuminating article on the recent buyback of the Metala brand here.

But it was another knockout to drink – another 51-year-old wine consumed only weeks after the All Saints.

Liquorice, dark fruits, cream and pie crumble, dark berries, dried fruits and the most startling feature was its freshness – a lovely piece of history.

Drink to 2030 and 93 points

1971 All Saints Vintage Port

Australia has a prolific number of wineries and wines with “saint” embedded in their names; St Hallett, St Hugo, St Huberts, and St Leonards are merely some that I have purchased. All Saints (established in the 1860s) is an old winery near Rutherglen that went through complex ownership, marketing and labelling upheavals (it’s now owned independently by members of the Brown family.  Visiting as a youngster, I prowled through the enormous hall where barrels of fortified matured (since mostly sold off), the castle-style main building, and the vast estate grounds full of numerous buildings.

This wine was served blind, and my impressions ran “mocha/toffee/coffee, cherry, then very dense, obviously old, sweet blackberry, traditional in style, but still fresh, lively and delicious”. My conclusions- “Australian vintage Port, likely early 1980’s, and unable to guess origin – if pushed, South Australia”,.

Regardless, it’s special occasion when I taste a wine over fifty years old.

Drink to 2030, with 91 points (higher if history nudges wine appreciation more).