Portuguese Vintage Ports; and cork problems so far in 2019

Many of the wines I drink are served “blind”; the wines below were briefly and typically presented as “a fortified”. The task? To describe, and determine style, age, origins and sometimes the producer. Encounters with two recent fortifieds left me confused.

I described the first as a vintage port style, showing blueberry and violet fruits, and some spicy notes. This mix of fruit aromas indicated Portuguese origins, but the relative sweetness suggested Australia, as did the spirit hotness and sweetness  The suppleness of the tannins, and a touch of chalk and almond meal however suggested Portugal. I assessed the age as 15-20 years, and the wine as very good but not excellent quality; finally the tannin descriptors made me stray from Portugal. The wine was a 2001 Taylors Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port.  Drink to 2026, and 91 points

The second wine was a 1994 Dow’s Vintage Port– “sweet, ripe, pruney” -were my first descriptors for a wine that didn’t excite me. The lack of elegance (incorrectly) pointed me to an Australian origin. This wine is from a widely declared year in Portugal, and when revealed, I expected better. Hindsight suggests some oxidation, so I have not scored this bottle. It will have another chance!

I have updated the “hall of shame” in the page “corks and statistics” For 2019 so far, issues with TCA or oxidation of wines – under cork-  that I own and have opened unfortunately reached 9.62%.

As usual, I have had no failures with wines under screwcap, diam or crown seal.

EOFY review from Hector Lannible, CEO of Stoney Goose Ridge

Our bean-counters, auditors, accountants have been shedding the necessary blood, sweat, tears, midnight oil and intellectual stringency over the financial records from Stoney Goose Ridge and its allied associated entities throughout our essential domiciles including the Cayman islands, Belize, Cyprus and numerous other tax-effective locales.

We are inflicted with astonishing amounts of taxation imposed by the unthinking, incomprehensible Governments of numerous countries. Just within Australia, these imposts include GST, payroll tax, WET, superannuation, excise, council rates, and land taxes. Taxation at federal, state and local levels! Add unavoidable costs for electricity, gas, water, telecommunications, business travel, sponsorship and contra, assorted insurance levies and fees for membership of professional bodies, personal development seminars, court filing fees, customs and so on ad infinitum. That’s before expenses on salaries, wages and commissions, materials such as grapes, grain, storage, transport, chemicals, processing, packaging, equipment leasing, advertising, promotions, printing, social media- and much more. Then add our Byzantine complex web of financing facilities, depreciation, stock adjustments etc. In passing, I will merely mention the restrictive red-tape regulative legislative compliance burden of occupational health and safety requirements, ISO6000, endless ABS surveys, and the barbarous one-sided industrial relations system. Without my ongoing supreme negotiating talents for extracting concessions, discounts, subsidies and so forth,  and our truly innovative taxation minimisation intricacies, results would be grim.

All this distraction takes away from my innate ability to grow the business of Stoney Goose Ridge – new products, new markets – thereby improving Australia’s economy, the economic and gastronomic satisfaction of our population, as well as all those fortunate consumers of Stoney Goose Ridge’s exciting production portfolio who live beyond our shores. There is, alas, insufficient underappreciated reward and recognition of our monumental achievements.

Nevertheless, as expected, as forecast, as predicted, and inevitably destined inexorably – Stoney Goose Ridge has achieved stupendous record results in all defined category sub-class matrix measurables.

It’s part of my role to have key contact stakeholders on speed-dial; to speak at social and formal meetings with relevant personnel and personalities, lobbyists and maintain my profile and A-list access. My abilities are paramount to the Stoney Goose Ridge ongoing success saga. I am a proud advocate of the healthy benefits of alcohol -in moderation, and ultimately preferably exclusively from the exhaustive array of our products.  What an exciting and challenging business- I love it! As well as beer and spirit line categories, wine is in my DNA and my blood.

Expense minimisation has not been neglected. Thanks to our stringent compliance systems, processes and procedures, I can formally announce no lost-time incidents or compensation issues, again, in the past 12 months. Similarly there have been zero unplanned absences approved for compassionate or sick leave, and all study has been compensated with time-in-lieu. Overtime payment is absent, with voluntary unpaid overtime at record  strata. Advanced facial recognition surveillance, plus inclusive computer and mobile phone software programs have ensured maximum attention to work duties. The corporate culture is especially robust. Stock shrinkage is non-existent.

Looking forward, we have increased the top talent and skills of our lean, mean agile workforce; we have carefully utilised consultants, and outsourced where we require special skills. Our punitive and restrictive contracts ensure we get spectacular efforts- and achievements- from our partners or else. We have also focussed on a variety of “softer targets” including diversity, where our assorted workforces represent a range of language, nationalities, sexes, ages, educational backgrounds, and remuneration differentials.

At your imminent performance review sessions, it’s imperative for you to acknowledge the drive, energy, insights, and assistance  from your top management, and recognise your abysmal shortcomings in execution of their vision. These critical steps may enable partial achievement of nominal bonus remuneration quantum. No-one will be rated as “unsatisfactory” – this category has already departed, and are being pursued for exemplary damages as a matter of principle. To those rated “acceptable”, as you leave we wish you well in future endeavours – if any- and encourage you to comply with the rigorous conditions of your onerous employment contracts with Stoney Goose Ridge, else litigation will be swift and certain in its effects on your mental, physical and financial well-being.

On April 1 we launched the Unicorn, our astonishingly achingly affordably rare ultra-luxury wine release. It sold out within days with the latent demand. Its USP is self-evident, and another triumphant example of the translation of my vision into actuality. And there has been luminous growth in the sales of our wine, beer, and spirit brands, attained through actual, verified, audited sales and consumption. Not by channel-stuffing the distribution chain with mountains of product. And there are plenty of upcoming launches, re-branding, corporate re-organisations, omni-channel disintermediation and tremendous opportunities for all to contribute by enthusiastically working smarter, and harder.

Our brand recognition and social media presence is stratospherically ubiquitous. My TED talks have attracted myriad views and are referenced in numerous business articles, tomes and journals. And we are continuously active with new endeavours – Project Chernobyl will soon reach critical mass and bear fruit, Pegasus will launch and Project Android is beginning to efficiently impact headcount. Succession planning with Project Iron Throne continues.

Based on strategic whistle-blowing information received, I could justly denigrate our competitors – but there is no need; our virtue is obvious. I’m sure that the leadership of our so-called rivals is full of talent – it’s merely hidden, miniscule, incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial.

I am proud of my achievements, and of my underlings at all echelons. Everyone knows that my scrutiny and value-addition is incisive. My PA, PR, media crew, personal legals, stylists, interns, security, transport captains, gofers and wranglers all play a role in my success. As a evangelising creative curating ideator, my endless compelling innovations ensure the long-term success of Stoney Goose Ridge, increase my lock-in bonuses and escalated golden handcuffs linked to the company’s triumphs.

Whether at the BBQ, opera. beach, book launch, dinner party or corporate boxes, you set the example for Stoney Goose Ridge. Never miss the opportunity to promote its product or praise the talents of its executives; this is another measurable observable mission-critical KPI accountability.

Throughout the coming year, strive to emulate your executives, continually exercise your diligence and energy 24/7,  and Stoney Goose Ridge’s sustained success is inevitable.

Your inspirational mentor and role model, Hector.

1998 Stanton and Killeen Vintage (port) 18%, plus other impressions

At 21 years of age, this Rutherglen (Victoria) fortified is still very youthful. It has 1 gold and 5 silver medals to its credit and composition is 26% Shiraz, 26% Touriga, 20% Durif, 13% tinta cao, 13% tinta barocca, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon; a mix of “traditional Australian”, and Portuguese varieties. Remarkably, the wine is still available ($114) – with many other vintages- on the Stanton and Killeen website.

1998 S&K VP

The cork emerged well, and in excellent condition. The colour is outstanding for its age, a very dense dark black crimson,  and there is an exciting range of aromas- dark liqueur cherry, almond-meal, blueberry, mulberry, and spice notes The quality of (brandy) spirit is excellent, and has integrated well. The palate is sweeter than Portuguese versions, but certainly drier than most Australian attempts. The palate is full-bodied but very supple, showing a lingering mix of black and red fruits, red liquorice and fine chalky tannins.  Above all, it is deliciously drinkable.

Drink to 2030, and 93 points.

1986 Stanton and Killeen Vintage Port
Served blind, this wine was bricky in colour, showing sweet mocha notes, dried fruits and citrus peel. The spirit was sweet; the palate was also sweet, soft and mellow, and seemed Australian in style. The milk chocolate and plum flavours suggested Victorian origins, and my conclusion “around 30 years old, Victorian, Shiraz” turned out to be reasonably accurate. (95% Shiraz, 5% durif). The wine is fully mature, and bottle quality may differ!

Drink to 2025, 90 points

2007 JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling AP#22 7.5%
Very pale in colour, this Mosel wine is supremely elegant and needs much more time (still) to reveal more of its charms. It displays smoke, petroleum, crunchy ripe red apple and tropical fruits, particularly just-ripe pineapple. The palate is pebbly, sustained and the acidity really masks the considerable sweetness. This is a mouth-filling, creamy, intense and decadent wine, but it’s not yet resolved, and I recommend a further 5 years aging if you are fortunate to own any.

Drink to 2035, 92 points –  with more in the future.

2007 Dirler(-Cadé) Gewurztraminer Grand cru Spiegel Selection de grains Nobles 12%

From Alsace, with its cork in excellent condition. This wine is from an exceptional year for late-harvest Gewurztraminer in Alsace. Gewurztraminer is unfairly maligned as being a “beginner’s variety” with its overtly aromatic musk, rose and lychee characters (often allied with inappropriate levels of residual sugar) make it instantly recognisable and appealing, with typically minimal ability to improve with bottle age.

In Australia, this stereotype is unfortunately largely true, with some exceptions (Delatite, Lillydale Estate, and occasional surprises from Pipers Brook and other Tasmanian producers come to mind- perhaps we have deployed lesser clones in inappropriate areas?). New Zealand has had more success with the variety with Lawson’s wines readily available.

Alsace sees gewürztraminer’s varietal expression at its fullest, with wines ranging from dry styles through to full-throttle heavily botrytised examples. Some gewürztraminer wines from Hugel, Trimbach, Stirn, Paul Blanck and  Zind-Humbrecht have provided special enjoyment over the years. Alsace, with its mix of German and French speaking residents, history, its all-around scenic prettiness, wines and cuisine should not be neglected in travels – and I have visited several times.

Dirler has an extensive list of wines available, and I have previously written about several different Dirler wines in my blog.

2007 dirler gwt sgn

This wine is a bright and healthy gold colour. It presents wonderfully as fragrant, musky, grapey, spiced, brisk and fresh. This is a full-on, heavily botrytised, powerful dessert-style wine (152 g/l residual sugar) and the palate shows dark honey, icing sugar, yellow peach, spices and lime flavours. There is abundant acidity to balance the substantial residual sugar, and the texture is lush and supple. This is just a fabulous example of an SGN, with a very, very trivial quibble about some minor palate hardness.

Each time I sampled this wine, its score – as a benchmark of this style – improved; it just possesses super drinkability.

Drink to 2025 (it may last much longer but I fear the hardness will become more obvious), and 95 points.

2011 Clonakilla Riesling Auslese 10%

Canberra district, screwcap, half-bottle.2011 clonakilla riesling auslese

From a “small batch release”, perhaps I had some spare cash then, and invested in a few bottles from this notoriously wet year in most of Australia (white wines fared better than red wines).

Clonakilla is famed for its Shiraz-Viognier red wine, but its Rieslings are convincing too (as are those from nearby Helms’s). But a late-harvest Riesling from Clonakilla is a rarity. And a fair amount of botrytis is suspected.

The wine is a light-to-medium gold colour, showing lime florals, white flowers, and some less overt ripe apricot and mango; the quite viscous – and sweet- palate is beautifully fresh and balanced, lime juice and spice notes finish with a cleansing citric twang to add interest to its hedonism. This dessert wine absolutely cries out for a fresh fruit platter.

Plenty of life; drink to 2025 and 93 points.

2015 O’Leary Walker “Wyatt Earp” Fortified Shiraz 18.5%

This is not my typical review, but features detours galore – that I hope will stimulate research by my readers.

Australia produced many “series” of fortified “ports” with racehorses, greyhounds, Prime ministers – and more – adorning labels. “Wyatt Earp” immediately seems to lack any Australian heritage but was a brand launched by Quelltaler, and now this vintage appears from O’Leary Walker.

Wyatt Earp was the gambler and lawman famed for the “shootout at the OK Corral”. He was portrayed by Henry Fonda  in John Ford’s excellent western movie “My Darling Clementine”. Parts of this movie – and many more – were shot in the indelibly scenic Monument Valley – (Utah/Arizona)- which I visited in October 2014 and recently in April 2019. I am a monster fan of these westerns, with Ford’s “Searchers”, “She Wore a yellow Ribbon”, “Stagecoach”, “Fort Apache”, “Rio Grande”,  “Wagon Master”, “Sergeant Rutledge” “Liberty Vallance”, plus more westerns by other directors such as “Red River”, “Shane”, “True Grit” and “Unforgiven” supremely recommended.  A further diversion is that “My Darling Clementine” also features one of my favourite character actors –  Walter Brennan, charismatically irresistible here,as well as in “The Westerner” and with Humphrey Bogart in “To have and have not”.

Google revealed the antipodean connection to Dodge City and Tombstone’s marshall. American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth converted a boat for polar use in 1929 and named it “Wyatt Earp”, after one of his heroes. The boat made several voyages (from Adelaide) to Antarctica until the Australian navy acquired the vessel in 1939 – renaming it “Wongala”.  Several more names changes occurred until the boat ran aground in 1959. A Quelltaler box claimed that the boat’s skipper developed a firm friendship, and made regular copious vintage port purchases for the crew. The fortified was then branded as “Wyatt Earp” in celebration. The earliest Wyatt Earp vintage I found references to was from 1947, with the latest from 1977. But I’m glad it was revived!

It may seem odd to be tasting a fortified Shiraz that is so youthful, with many years before its most rewarding drinking window. The winemaker has to aim a long, long way into the future. However, this drinking decision was inspired by Andrew Jefford’s extraordinarily stimulating column in Decanter, where he describes the winemaking process as  “fruit is pummeled to annihilation as quickly as possible during a break-neck vinification period of extreme if carefully controlled violence (perhaps cage-fighting would be the best metaphor of all)”. Jefford then adds a riveting tasting note, in support of early – and later- drinking of this fascinating wine style.

After these digressions, (finally) I turn to the 2015 O’Leary Walker Fortified Shiraz (screwcap, 500ml, Clare Valley – South Australia, available from the O’Leary Walker website). The back label asserts it’s made from 80y/o Shiraz vines and fortified with brandy spirit.

2015 o'leary walker fortified

It’s a luscious, youthful purple/crimson colour; its perfumed meld includes blackcurrant, dark cherry, plum, light cocoa, and delicious fine, sweet brandy spirit; the palate adds blackberry, blueberry and the emergence of some fig and dark cocoa. By no means a blockbuster, it’s ultra supple, with fine tannins supporting the fruit weight. This wine is surprisingly delicious already, although another 20 years is easily achievable and will increase the variety of characters detectable. I’m very glad Jefford tempted me into trying this youthful wine!

Drink to 2040 and 92 points.

An Alsace VT, and a Portuguese Vp

2001 Louis Sipp Kirchberg de Ribeauville  (grand Cru) Pinot Gris (vendanges tardive) 12.5%
Alsace provides disproportionate disappointments caused by cork- oxidation and TCA. The discard rate should make anyone extremely wary. When the wines behave as intended they can be magnificent (the 1990 Trimbach Clos st Hune Riesling garnered a perfect score from me once; a second bottle a few years later was almost as memorable, and I have tasted awesome bottles from Josmeyer and Zind-Humbrecht).

This Louis Sipp wine was a final gamble– a bottle tried a few months ago was oxidised to undrinkability. Pinot Gris is a low acid, “quiet”  variety (undistinguished in Australia), but if aiming at the “gris style” with sensitivity, ripeness and some residual sugar, it can be a surprisingly adept partner with fish. Obtaining texture without phenolics being too overt is the winemaking key; alcohol, residual sugar and winemaking finesses are important.

2001 louis sipp pg vt

Vendanges tardive indicates late harvest, but the residual sugar level – moderate but an easily discernible amount- is unknown. The wine is golden in colour, displaying tropical notes of pear, baked apple, mango, honey, spice, and glace fruits. The palate is drying out, but still exerts attractive grapey sultana character, mandarine, yellow peach and mixed spices to wrap it up.

Better a few years ago, but a decent, well-chilled bottle will provide considerable enjoyment

Drink now (or via time machine a few years ago), 89 points.

1980 Warre’s Vintage Port 20%
Served blind, and a translucent brick colour, this wine exhibits mocha, almond, vibrancy and is relatively dry for the style; then fig and rose-petal emerge. Uniformly identified as Portuguese by commentators at the table, Warres was the house deemed likely. Its age was assumed as a declared but “lesser” year. This wine is a further triumph for 1980, showing a winning combination of life and mellowness ,with a wholesome, lingering palate.

Drink to 2030, and 92 points.