seduced by central otago pinot

March 1, 2011  |  wine review  |  4 Comments

Firstly, an apology to those who like to follow my wine blogs. Like many others, I had an alcohol free February. By mid-month I could hear my liver softly whispering, “I love you”. So I felt so good by the end of the month that I wonder whether I am allergic to alcohol! Perish the thought – at least as far as wine tasting is concerned.

Anyway, back in the saddle and the first temptation seemed too good to be true! A 2006 Central Otago Pinot for $15.99 featured in the Dan Murphy’s catalogue. Central Otago is the new world Pinot Noir mecca, with some wines seeling upwards of $100. We couldn’t wait to try this entry and arrived at Dan’s where the fine wine manager suggested we buy the Anahera East rather than the Anahera West – both at $15.99, both 2006, and both 14% alcohol.

On March 1 we fought our way through an annoying plastic closure over the screwcap and poured a glass. In the glass the wine looked enticing, bright cherry red in fine condition. I was prepared to give the sharpness on the nose (which continued through on the front palate), the benefit of the doubt, hoping that the wine would breathe nicely and settle down.

The wine was fairly light bodied but there were certainly overtones of ripe plummy berry fruit and even a promise of those mellow, savoury characteristics that I love about Central Otago. Alas, despite a reasonably long finish, the wine never seemed to be in balance. The acidity, sharpness and hot alcohol remained to the last drop. I was disappointed.

I then started to question why a Central Otago pinot noir five years old could sell so cheaply. The answer was there in the glass. The wine has never and will never rise to great heights. I decided to include this in the write ups to provide a balance – they can’t all get 93/100; and also to suggest that you don’t rush to Murphy’s for bargain Central Otago pinots.

This wine is pointed at 85/100, although on the second night it had opened up a little and might sneak 87/100. A lot of the sharpness had disappeared. If you were seduced like me, open it 24 hours ahead!

an amazing larry cherubino wine under hidden label

October 17, 2010  |  wine review  |  No Comments

The acclaimed winemaker, Larry Cherubino, has been making fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River and Frankland River in recent years. Since he escaped the big corporates (where he was winemaker for Houghton’s and Hardy’s Tintara), Larry has offered the market premium wines under three brands – Ad Hoc, The Yard and Cherubino. The Cherubino Cabernet from Margaret River retails from cellar door for $75 and The Yard Cabernet from Frankland River sells for $35,

Imagine my surprise to crack the code at Kemeny’s on a hidden label wine that turns out to be The Yard Cabernet (although they describe it as “Margaret River”)……and even better that the price point is $16 per bottle in a dozen lot. This wine is the Kemeny’s Hidden Label Margaret River Cabernet 2009. I am increasingly impressed with Margaret and Frankland River Cabernet. Despite being a Cabernet grower at Coonawarra, I would have to say that Coonawarra is in danger of losing it’s status as Australia’s premium Cabernet region.

Here are my tasting notes for this wine:

It is bright clear in condition – dark crimson with purple tinges. On the nose, the wine screams green capsicum and herbaceous fruit with overtones of blackcurrants. It is lean and attractive on the front palate showing some complex berry fruits, cedar and cassis. This wine develops in the glass and has a wonderful acid, tannin balance, with finesse and a lingering back palate. It is an outstanding and accessible wine which will cellar beautifully if you can keep your hands off it. I scored it 93/100. It has 14% alcohol by volume. Get some before it runs out!!

a real gem from mclaren vale

October 4, 2010  |  wine review  |  No Comments

After tasting this wine with a sesame beef stir-fry, I couldn’t wait to post the review and get my subscribers out purchasing for Christmas. The wine in question is the 2008 Gemtree Uncut Shiraz from McLaren Vale. It is an absolute pearler, a wonderful example of fine Australian Shiraz.

McLaren Vale has been famous for Australian Shiraz for 150 years and is one of Australia’s oldest wine growing regions. It lies only 30 minutes from Adelaide and is a stunningly beautiful area to visit. If you like a full favoured, oaked peachy chardonnay, there are plenty of examples, but the Shiraz alternatives through the Vale are magnificent.

Gemtree Vineyards is owned and run by third generation grapegrowers, the Buttery Family. The family is dedicated to producing iconic wines of the highest quality from their McLaren Vale vineyards which since 2008 have been farmed 100% biodynamically.

The 2008 Gemtree Uncut Shiraz, comes from a great vintage in McLaren Vale. It sells for between $22 and $26 in retail outlets, but qualifies for my $15 to $20 price bracket on two counts. Refreshingly, here is one cellar door that is cheaper than the big discounters. It’s available at $19 to Gemtree 1851 club members (and $20 by the dozen at Kemeny’s).

My tasting notes follow:

“Succulent sweet fruit on the nose, with blueberries and sweet vanilla overtones with complex cloves and pepper. A magnificent, multilayered wine with savoury oak and generous fruit with hints of violets. It’s beautifully balanced for a young wine but will cellar well for many years. I like the length and seamless finish in this 14.5% gem. 94/100″

So, line up and get a case for Christmas. In fact buy three cases and try one every month for three years! What a marvellous investment.

central otago delivers

September 21, 2010  |  wine review  |  1 Comment

Sweet strawberry and cherry flavoured pinots from heaven! Consistently outstanding evocative pinots only come from Burgundy (if you spend over $150), or from the southern hemisphere’s pinot gift to the world….Central Otago in the south island of NZ, not far from Christchurch. OK, there are some good pinots from Victoria, Tasmania. Oregon, Marlborough and Martinborough, but in my view, nothing rivals Central Otago. The problem is the product is starting to get a reputation and some of the great wines can reach north of $75 a bottle.

When a value Otago comes onto the radar, it’s a cause for celebration. The story around this wine is even better. Made by Wild Rock wines, it was purchased from a retailer in Perth, yes Perth, (having been imported from NZ) and flown back to Sydney where it was landed for $22 a bottle (I know, it falls just outside my target $15 to $20 range, but it is a worthwhile exception). Cheapest I could find on the Eastern seaboard was $27 a bottle. The wine was purchased from the outstanding retail outlet Lamont’s Wine Store, run by Kate Lamont (Deputy Chair of Tourism Australia and celebrated chef, teacher, winemaker, restaurateur) and John Jens (a knowledgeable WA wine person who has been in the game for decades).

Wild Rock is a serious NZ winemaker with vineyards in Hawkes Bay, Martinborough and Central Otago. The pinot in question is the Wild Rock Cupid’s Arrow Pinot Noir 2008.

This wine looks a little like raspberry cordial…..which reminds me of the time I was in transit in the BA/Qantas first class Lounge in LA with Liz Hurley – just the two of us! She had poured a Rosemount Diamond label red for herself and I could see that she was struggling with it (and her hangover). Noticing a Mildara Coonawarra Cabernet on the shelf, I poured two and offered Liz a glass. She accepted, commenting that the first “is like Ribena isn’t it?” and that the Coonawarra was most welcome. There’s more to that story for friends over a glass of Wild Rock!

Despite appearances, this is no Ribena! It is a light, clean thin looking wine that fools grown men who think it’s a quaffer. My tasting notes follow:

“Clean strawberry fruit which is pleasant on the nose and highly approachable. To quote the back label, this is soft, succulent and delicious. The gorgeous sweet fruits become more complex in the glass with delightful savoury, mushroom and white pepper overtones. Lingering sweet berry fruit to the finish, with every mouthful more complex than the last. A cracker! 93/100 (no I don’t give every wine 93!) and 13.5% alcohol”

Get on the Lamonts web site and treat yourself to a case of the best value pinot going around….before it runs out!

nugan – hands in many places

September 14, 2010  |  wine review  |  2 Comments

I must declare some self-interest in this column, as the owner of 12 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in Coonawarra. Since the early 60’s Coonawarra has developed a reputation as Australia’s Bordeaux – a cool climate area in which Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are particularly suited.

Some of the great wines – like the Parker Terra Rossa First Growths – can be quite expensive, so it’s always good to find a good value, accessible, quality wine like the Nugan 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Nugan is an interesting third generation “diversified” farming family company of Griffith origins. The family now boasts vineyards in the Riverina, King Valley, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra (where they are recent entrants). It’s an interesting trend to see winemakers sourcing fruit from, and purchasing vineyards in, Australia’s cooler climate areas. Nugan’s neighbours de Bortoli, entered the Yarra Valley in the late 70’s and have made some stunning wines there.

Before reviewing the Cabernet, let me mention one other Nugan wine under their second label, Cookoothama (aboriginal for “fertile land”). The one I love is the Cookoothama 1997 Botrytis Semillon from Darlington Point (where my father in law took his mates from the Poacher’s Paradise on legendary fishing trips). This 375 ml wine costs about $20 and gives the famous de Bortoli Noble One, a run for its money. It has dried apricots and marmalade characters with luscious lingering length and a dry finish. Yum – a fantastic sticky to serve with  your favourite pudding!

Although the current vintage is 2007, The Nugan 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is still available at Vintage Cellars for between $15 and $20 with volume discounts. 2006 was one of the great vintages for reds in Coonawarra (just as 2007 was brilliant in Margaret River – an area giving Coonawarra a run for its money on Cabernets). My tasting notes follow:

Attractive, lifted berry nose with violets and chocolate overtones. The wine has a good acid fruit balance and should cellar for a few more years. Wild bramble berries, black currant and cassis on the palate, finishing with lovely soft tannins and lingering berry fruit. 14% alcohol. 93/100

Enjoy grazing for some other 2006 Coonawarra cabernets!

an exciting shiraz from the great southern

September 1, 2010  |  wine review  |  No Comments

I’m so excited! Just found a wine that is the epitome of my blog objective. Great drinking, different and top value, in the $15 to $20 segment. The Plantagenet Omrah Shiraz 2006 is the new hero but it won’t be around for long. This one was found in Vintage Cellars at Mosman for $14 in a dozen lot. The current vintage, 2008, is a cracker as well and sells through cellar door at $18.

Plantagenet was the pioneer of the Great Southern area in the late 60′s. The neareast settlement is Mt Barker (which they named a famous subterranean clover variety after) about 350km south of Perth. As we sort out our variety- area strengths in this young Australian industry, Shiraz appears to be to the Great Southern as Cabernet Sauvignon is to Margaret River. Plantagenet is now owned by Lionel Samson and Son, a wine distributor that is exporting as well as distributing nationally. The Omrah is their second label, supported by the emerging Rocky Horror and Rosetta vineyards.

My tasting notes follow:

Attractive sweet plums and cherries on the nose with a delightful mouthful of lifted fruit. Some pleasant rhubarb acidity giving way to sweet sappy savoury tannins with a lingering spicy finish. A wonderful food wine which opens up in the glass. 14.0% alcohol. 93/100, Fantastic value – grab some while you can!

tempranillo and wild oats in harmony

August 16, 2010  |  wine review  |  2 Comments

The Spanish grape variety Tempranillo is used to make the famous wines of Rioja. A black, early ripening variety which makes easy drinking styles, it is challenging Sangiovese as the trendy red varietal in Australia. Tempranillo is used by over 200 wineries in King Valley, Mudgee, Barossa, Margaret River and McLaren Vale. We are starting to understand how to make it, as the 2008 from Robert Oatley at Mudgee has demonstrated.

 Robert Oatley is of course the man who created Rosemount, sold it to Foster’s, bought the old Montrose winery at Mudgee, renamed it and built it up under the new banner Robert Oatley wines. With his spare change he bought Hamilton Island and has poured millions into its refurbishment, as well as creating the fabulous Qualia resort on the Island, and completing the development of Dent Island 18 hole golf course next door to Hamilton. Bob is pretty shrewd – he recently bought back many of his original vineyards from Foster’s at a heavy discount.

I tried the Wild Oats Tempranillo 2008 twice on a recent weekend visit to Mudgee (which is by the way, a much more rewarding experience than a visit to the Hunter). The first was a Friday night in the delightful Roth’s wine bar in Market Street Mudgee. Roth’s is the oldest wine bar in NSW – a delightful venue with log fires, old couches, live music, a broad range of local and other wines and some great tapas and gourmet pizzas at ridiculously accessible prices

The Wild Oats Tempranillo cost $25 for the bottle at Roth’s (or $19 to take away) and next day at cellar door $15, as part of a six pack, so it qualifies for my $15 to $20 value set. It was an effective marriage with the tapas and gourmet pizza. When chatting to the guy at the cellar door the next day, he described it as a “mid-week wine” – I guess that means an easy drinking wine that goes well with food.

My tasting notes:

Vibrant lifted cherry fruit. A lighter style that is soft and silky on the tongue. Dark cherry and five spice on the front palate, opening to attractive mealy, savoury flavours. Quite complex, finishing with soft dusty tannins. Easy drinking style. 14% alcohol. 93/100

hilltops region and another beauty from barwang

August 9, 2010  |  uncategorized, wine review  |  No Comments

The Hilltops Wine Region is one of New South Wales’ most exciting wine regions. Situated around the towns of Young, Boorowa and Harden, the Hilltops is fast gaining recognition as a consistent producer of ultra-premium wine.  Croatian immigrants planted the first vines in this region in the 1860’s. These vines were planted especially for refreshments for the diggers working in the near-by gold fields. The more recent vineyards contributing to today’s viticulture industry were established from the 1970′s. The Southcorp viticulturalists used to say that anywhere you can grow cherries is a good area for quality red wine grapes

Barwang is a part of the McWilliams stable. McWilliams is renowned for presenting wines of great value. This is no exception. I paid $14 in Vintage Cellars at a case rate, but I have noticed it for $13 on line.

Barwang Hlltops Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

My tasting notes follow:

“Bright brick red, vibrant colour. Attractive black currant and blackberry nose with some lifted floral overtones. Powerful berry fruit with licorice and chocolate combined with lovely mocha oak that opens up in the glass. Tongue coating, rich savoury tannins – still a little aggressive – but will rapidly soften with a little more ageing. Lingering mouth full of flavour. 14.0% alcohol. Great wine of outstanding value. 93/100”

chardonnay and the barwang bargain

August 6, 2010  |  wine review  |  1 Comment

Chardonnay in general

It has amused me how the herd flocked to sauvignon blanc and then pinot gris, following what is trendy. Neither of these varieties can offer the complexities and sheer drinking pleasure that a good chardonnay does. The ABC (anything but chardonnay) movement was probably borne as a result of people’s experiences with some pretty dodgy high yielding product, together with slightly higher than acceptable levels of residual sugar in accessible wines.

At the other end of the spectrum, some of the big buttery styles made with malolactic fermentation, were unattractive to many consumers. While some marketers have recently made a virtue out of unwooded chardonnay, complexity that comes from some time in wood makes for attractive styles, as long as the fruit is not overpowered.

Chardonnay is the white variety of burgundy, used to produce some masterpieces that are gob smackingly good. We have an abundance of chardonnay in Australia and seriously good wines are within reach of consumers on $15 to $20 budgets.Today’s discovery is one of these.

Barwang 2008 Chardonnay

Barwang is part of the McWillam’s stable, better known for the red wines sourced from the Young area. This chardonnay is from Tumbaraumba, an exciting emerging wine region from southern NSW.

It represents exceptional value for money. I bought this bottle for $20 at Vintage Cellars but with the current 30% case discount on offer, it came in at a remarkable $14. This is chardonnay that can stand up against the legends like Eileen Hardy, Coldstream Hills, Pierro and Leeuwin Estate – all more than $50 a bottle.

My tasting notes follow:

Restrained and attractive nose with subtle lime overtones. Fresh flavours open to complexity in the glass, which will develop over time. Shows delightful mineral and flinty characteristics that combine with the gentle fruit salad of pears, apples and white peaches. Lovely creamy texture and just enough wood treatment. Balanced and beautiful with limes and sweet fruit to the very last. 94/100

kemeny’s hidden label martinborough pinot 2008

July 30, 2010  |  wine review  |  5 Comments

Kemeny’s really do provide some amazing value with their hidden label wines. This one is a real revelation. If you look closely on the label, it’s possible to identify the source of the wine. In this case, the winemaker is none other than Steve Smith (master of wine) – co-owner and winemaker of Craggy Range winery. This wine has been put together from fruit grown at Te Muna in the Waipara region of the Martinborough – just east of Wellington. The 2008 Craggy Range pinot sells for NZ$33 – a far cry from the $15 I paid at Kemeny’s.

My tasting notes follow:

Good condition and brilliant bright red colour. Seductive nose – all pinot! Cherries and cut flowers. Attacks with intense balck cherries and a little spice with some subtle oak. Silky texture and finishes with great length and finesse. High quality pinot at a ridiculous price.  94/100