Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blind Tasting

I had a wonderful weekend of wine geek-dom facilitated by my friends at Kiwi Wine Fan Club which is better explained by Craig's description on the website of the same name. Suffice to say it was a marvellous conceit. Ten Chardonnays. Five Australian and five local tasted blind in an effort to rank and file.

I've not shown huge promise yet at blind tasting and this event was no exception. My tasting notes are lucid enough but my ability to separate the ten contenders into Australian vs Kiwi was, without exception, pitiful. I got one right, picking the Giaconda 2004 as an Australian wine (but not actually picking it as the Giaconda; opting instead for the Leeuwin 'Art Series' 2005).

We were called upon to pick our 'top five' and this exercise had a surprise in store for the wine I picked for first place was revealed to be a wine I have traditionally not had a lot of time for, labelling it "overpriced and over-hyped". The Penfolds 'Yattarna' Chardonnay 2005 is certainly expensive at $125 but it, to my mind, it more than held its own in rarefied company.

Brilliant greenish, pale gold. Huge presence on the nose with oyster shell and creme fraiche. The wine explodes in the mouth yet at the same time seems elegant. A seemless integration of citrus, floral and smokey bacon notes make this wine beguiling in more boisterous company. A wine that oozes class.

I have to confess that with 'Grange' in mind I was not expecting such multifaceted restraint from Penfolds flagship Chardonnay and it's certainly not what my taste memory told about it from the past vintages I'd tried. Accordingly I picked it blind as a Kiwi wine; the Kumeu 'Mates' Chardonnay 2006 (I also picked the Kumeu 'Mates' Chardonnay 2006 as the Giaconda Chardonnay 2004 so shows how much I know).

Perhaps, along with much of the New World, the winemakers at Penfolds are searching for subtlety. A refreshing change but a revelation that could cost me a lot of money.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My new favourite game

I'm not sure why but the wine adventurer voice in my head is getting more vociferous. Shopping for wine is always a pleasure but it's getting to be something of an extreme sport also... I can't go past the challenge of a bin end sale and I keep coming home with wine I know nothing about or wine, as in this case, that could be well past its prime. The Wirra Wirra Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2002 at only $21.00 could have been a disaster waiting to happen. Inexpensive Chardonnay from the New World doesn't have a great track record for aging well and the buttery monsters that Australia has been famous for producing tend to go flabby and 'old fridge' in no time flat; even acres of new oak can't keep all that butter from splitting. Still, the cool climate of the Adelaide hills region does produce some of the more elegant wine coming out of Australia.

Deep yellow gold with an aroma of marmalade on hot buttered toast. I felt like a hint of 'old fridge' was hiding underneath the orange zest but then it was gone and I haven't found it since. The palate is layered. Charred caramel and wholemeal. Ripe grapefruit and last of the summer nectarine. Tobacco flower and a leesy almost yoghurt like creaminess at the heart of the wine flowing around a wild funkiness (10% indigenous yeast). So grown up and definitely not overgrown it finishes with caraway spice. Mellow, ample, supple and distinct.

AND this got better and better the more I let it sit in the glass. It loved being room temperature and just kept giving. (Jeez I'm waxing lyrical I know but I'm falling in love with what I thought was a mistake, or perhaps I'm drinking too fast).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sexy German Riesling

What on earth do you do with a tasting note that reads:-

sexy, spicy, lemony ?

That's all I have written down for the Markus Molitor Riesling Kabinett 2006. That, and a big tick in the margin, by which I know that this was one of my stand out wines from the European Wine Experience.

This brings home to me the futility of trying to taste so many wines and have any sense of how they were; apart from fleeting impressions and 'big ticks' to indicate desire to try again. Other, better, more organised souls may have developed a system to attack such events and emerge with notes intact but I, quite clearly, have not.

So lets extrapolate....

I know that the vines that produce this wine grow on very steep slate slopes in the middle Mosel and that the elevage of the wine was managed with lots of care and hands on attention including a long period on fine lees. I remember the smell of the wine evoked the sexy reaction with the balance of sugar and acidity pushing aromas out of the glass and that the palate gave me warmth and spicy tingles with an over-riding sensation of Meyer lemon.

A nose of apricot, lemon and pear, a palate of ginger, fennel and lime zest underlayed with slate. Sweet but sexy with it. Balanced, layered, racy and very fine.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The european wine experience

With a little fast talking I managed to receive a trade entry to a tasting of over 150 wines on Saturday at The Langham Hotel.

Well to be fair I am in the trade and I did do some serious tasting with half an eye to the wine list. But mostly I was interested and excited to try some lesser known European varietals and expand my knowledge and tasting memory.

I also donned my -very- grown up hat and spat. Something that would have been an anathema in times past but I seriously wanted to try as much as possible and I was cautious not to get drunk or reach palate fatigue too quickly.

And that takes some doing.

I've read about the trials of wine judging before but it can be hard to conceive that trying 100 wines in a day would be a hardship. I've been to large tastings before myself but usually they have been convivial affairs when I spat about 'half' the time and only really wanted to try a couple of wines in the whole room.

So this was something different.

I was also feeling out of my depth as Rich has had much more exposure to pricey European wines (and the mind that can remember hundreds of football facts seems pre-disposed to retaining things like tricky Burgundian vineyard names and vintage variations) so I was relying on him to steer me past the dross.

We tackled the whites first, we found ourselves in need of a break quickly, we ate cheese, we re-tackled the whites and ate more cheese and needed another break. It was hard going and it quickly became apparent that we needed to fly past certain tables and push on as palate fatigue loomed before we even approached the red wines.

We approached the red wines. We needed some air. We re-tackled the red wines and ate some cheese and needed some more air and then I gave up and had a Viognier and a glass of Ruinart. I'm not sure I did the reds justice.

There were definitely some stand outs from the day. Wines that are still lingering in my head.

A sexy, spicy Mosel Riesling counterbalanced by a lean one from Alsace. An off-the-wall Chablis and a cracking Vouvray. Some generous yet quirky wines from Languedoc-Rousillon and a Pinot Noir masquerading as a Malbec despite coming from the hallowed ground of Burgundy.

I'll gather my thoughts and notes.....

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Elegant Tropical Fruit

What does an elegant tropical fruit look like?

When I think of tropical fruit it calls to mind Chiquita Banana with a fruity head-dress. It's blowsy, bright, loud, lush and redolent of big, brash flavours.

There's no mistaking the whiff of the tropics in the Coopers Creek Swamp Reserve Chardonnay 2007 but somehow it's elegantly done....

Ripe melon and guava tempered by subtle vanilla and a sweetly sexy palate with enough lemon tang to keep everything balanced.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The other half of the haul

I'd been meaning to try the Elephant Hill Syrah 2007 for a while. We'd driven past the winery every day over our summer in the Hawke's Bay and had worked with one of the winemakers for a bit.

Upfront and 'in-yer-face'. Violet in the glass. Vivid and deep. White pepper and blueberry, blackberry and cocoa with a touch of menthol and sandalwood. Supple with a slight bloody-ness. Generous and approachable but not simple. Pleasing very Hawke's Bay, very Sweeney Todd Syrah.

Long wet weekend

The rain is a constant companion which lends itself to quiet tipples and roast dinners.

And so the weekend was given over to such indulgences. Thanks to the lovely wine shop up the road I had access to an interesting selection. I find it hard to go past a Chenin Blanc and my fondness for the variety is not subject to international boundaries although I was surprised to see one from Australia. The Dowie Doole McLaren Vale Chenin Blanc 2005 was a revelation, although there was something of an Australian Riesling about it... Still from 70 year old vines this is definitely a contender.

Brilliant greeny straw colour. Oyster shells and melon on the nose. Taut and terrific. Overall impression is of crisp autumn. Leafy and slatey. Bayleaf, rosemary and pine combined with green melon, green wood and a slightly smoky character. The beginnings of lanolin overlaying green apple. Still developing, despite displaying interesting characters now. Crisp, modest and intricate.

Friday, May 2, 2008


I've just been prompted by Rich to note this wine down and I don't blame him really. We've enjoyed the Villa Maria Keltern Chardonnay 2004 a number of times over the years. One wet night in Rotorua stands out ( and that was back in 2006 when the wine was fairly young). The 'Keltern' is like a glowing beacon that proves just how good Villla Maria wines can be. Everything, from their standard supermarket range to the elite single vineyard wines (of which Keltern is one) is consistent and well made with occasional flashes of brilliance.

We lucked onto this bottle in the same bin-end sale that offered up the Pinot Blanc and it was "everything and more". The notes are slim but evocative..

Mersault-like almond on the nose. Figs on the palate. With tingling acidity and blow-you-away baking spice.

A very short description of a very evolved, complex wine and utter proof that Nu Zillund can make gorgeous Chardonnay that doesn't tend towards 'old fridge'.


There's such an interesting texture about the Jules Taylor Pinot Gris 2006 but I feel like I'm stealing wine notes because that's exactly what it says on the back of the bottle. Let's plough ahead anyway....

Deep straw gold with a hint of 'onion skin' brown. Interesting texture. The wine starts off suggesting oiliness but then rearranges itself in the mouth as the palate finishes long and clean with shiny citrus underpinned by incense smoke. The ubiquitous pear flavour of Pinot Gris is still apparent with a suggestion of savoury straw. A bit like 'pandan' (the vanilla of the east), which is a savoury aromatic flax, combining with guava and tingling a spiced mandarin finish. REALLY interesting texture.