Ridgeview Waiheke Island Malbec 2004

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Ridgeview Waiheke Island Malbec 2004

Ridgeview Waiheke Island Malbec 2004

I’ve been to New Zealand a couple of times on holiday, and while one of the aims of the most recent trip was to make it to Hawkes Bay to visit wineries, I didn’t have any winery visits in mind beyond that.  However, with a little unscheduled time in Auckland on our schedule, we hopped on a ferry and spent a lovely day driving around in a hired convertible on Waiheke Island and picked up a few bottles to bring home, including this one from a bottle shop, the Ridgeview Waiheke Island Malbec 2004.

Waiheke Island is a small patch of hills about 18km east of Auckland, just off the North Island.  It has some nice beaches that reminded me of Northern California and there were no shortage of day trippers over on the ferry.  In addition to the beaches, there’s a good collection of roughly 30 small wineries on the island spread across just over 200 HA.

The island enjoys a maritime climate with more moderate conditions than most of the North Island.  Not only are the highs and lows less extreme, the growing season is longer as the seasonal temperature changes are more gradual.  The geology of the island has been fractured multiple times, resulting in abrupt changes in soil types sometimes over very short distances.  Large portion of the island are covered in dark grey-brown soil over a lower layer of brown to yellow subsoil, but there are areas of clay, pumice, sand, decomposed organic bog, and weathered volcanic rock.

Plantings on the island are largely a French greatest hits collection, with vines originally from Bordeaux, Burgudy and the Rhône all doing quite well apparently.  The most common reds are Syrah and Cabernet, though all the red Bourdeaux blending partners seem to be planted as well.  Whites include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier.  Pinot Gris and Montepulciano are also planted in small quantities.

Unfortunately, with most wineries on the island being very small, and having such a vibrant influx of tourists, you’re unlikely to encounter wines from Waiheke Island far from the island itself.  There are certainly some wineries that have international distribution, but only to limited markets, and the quantities are tiny.  So apologies for writing about a region that you’re unlikely to encounter unless you visit, but at the same time it’s certainly worth a visit if you’re ever in Auckland.

I may also have to apologize in terms of what I can tell you about the producer as I can’t tell if it still exists.  The name of the producer in the first paragraph is typically a link to their website, but it is no longer even registered, so the company may not be trading.  They were founded in the 1990s and in addition to red grapes of Bordeaux, also have/had plantings of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.  I did find them on the map, right next to the airport, and their vineyard is among the highest on the island at 500ft.  Also they hosted a big party in 2009.  Fascinating, I know.

This is not our first Malbec, and when I last tasted the Majestic Plough on Malbec World Day I actually wrote something sensible, so for a full run down of the grape please check that out. So that’s the location, producer and grape at least mentioned, so it’s time to have a look at this wine.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with dark garnet colour and quick legs.  On the nose it’s clean, with medium plus intensity, developing, with notes of perfume, scented candle/potpourri, blueberry, raspberry, and a little red meat.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium minus tannins, medium body, medium plus flavour intensity, medium plus length, and medium plus alcohol.  It’s very tart, borderline bitter, with notes of cranberry and iodine, a little bit peppery, with some funk.

I’ll call this wine very good quality.  To my palate it’s very much in the style of an older Bordeaux in terms of being savoury, but not oaky or tannic.  The tannins are soft and well integrated – barely there – but clearly they’ve kept the fruit in check.

As you might have guessed by the fact that I’ve posted about feeling a bit bad and that I’ve missed a couple of days of updates, things have been a bit bleh around here lately, but I’m on the mend I hope and look forward to being back on form next week.  I may even write about a wine that you could find and drink if it sounds interesting.

Willow Creek Vineyard Tulum Pinot Noir 2008

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Willow Creek Vineyard Tulum Pinot Noir 2008

Willow Creek Vineyard Tulum Pinot Noir 2008

I’m feeling pretty miserable at the moment, with a head cold that’s gone south into my throat, so really everything above my shoulders is a serious biohazard zone.  Tasting wine in this state would be miserable, both for me and for anyone who had to read my notes.  Fortunately though, when I’m not sick, I drink faster than I write, so I have a backlog of photos and notes that just need the research and writing to make up my normal format.  So here’s one that I tasted earlier, when I wasn’t completely miserable, the Willow Creek Vineyard Tulum Pinot Noir 2008.

I’m getting to the point that I think my posts are becoming half and half new material and ground that I’ve already covered.  For every Nielluccio from Patrimonio where it’s a new grape and a new region, I write about a Syrah from San Antonio Valley.  I certainly enjoyed both wines, but given a choice between the familliar and the unfamiliar, I’m always keen to try something new.  However, to only write about the obscure gives a very skewed picture of the world of wine, and so while I’ve written about a Gamay and a Lagrein from the Mornington Peninsula, the region is best known for Pinot Noir, both of which are worth a quick recap.

The Mornington Peninsula is the arm of land that extends south from east of Melbourne, curving westward toward Geelong to almost enclose Port Phillip, the large natural harbour immediately south of Melbourne.  I wrote briefly about the region when I covered the Point Leo Road Lagrein, but really only spoke about how it’s a cool(ish) climate, at least when compared with most wine producing regions of Australia.  I wrote that soil types vary, which is certainly true, but I think I can do a bit better, particularly as there’s a fair amount of detail available.

There are three areas of exposed granite along the north and north western edge of the region, extruded volcanic basaltic rocks, quartz stones and pebbles, and various sediments.  These give four distinct soil types, with a two layer yellow soil over clay found near Dromana in the north, red soil from the eroding basalt in the centre around Red Hill and Main Ridge, brown duplex soil near Merricks in the south east, and sandy soils in the central north at Moorooduc.  Where Willow Creek is based is in the middle of a triangle formed by Moorooduc, Red Hill and Merricks, and their soils vary from the volcanic red soils associated with Red Hill to the grey sandy loams of Moorooduc.

As I mentioned, Mornington Peninsula is best know for Pinot Noir.  Chardonnay and Pinot Gris/Grigio are widely planted as well, though with over 200 producers based in the region, there’s a growing collection of alternative varieties as well.  Of those producers, the vast majority are small.  Between the boutique nature of most of the production and the close proximity to Melbourne, the region as a whole does well out of tourism, and is cultivating a fine food culture as well.

I want to write something more about the wine style of the Mornington Peninsula, but beyond small scale, cool climate, and New World, the only thing I can think to add is relatively young.  While there are records of very small scale viticulture going back (on and off) to the 19th century, the industry as it stands today was only founded in the 1970s and is not as yet as well known internationally as many other Australian wine regions.  I put that down in part to the small quantities of wine produced across many producers, and also that the selling point of an Australian cool climate perhaps doesn’t resonate as well on the world stage when globally it’s not difficult to find wine regions that are in fact much cooler.  Still, I think it has a well established reputation within Australia and some key players, such as Ten Minutes by Tractor, Port Phillip Estate and Kooyong (and certainly others) are making waves internationally.

Willow Creek Vineyard is based on a property that was first settled as a farm in 1876, but vines weren’t planted until 1988 when it was acquired by three families who planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.  At close to 25 years old, their vines are apparently among the oldest in the region, which just goes to underscore how young the region is as a whole.  The first vintage was in 1991 and a winery was constructed on the site in 1998, as well as a cellar door and restaurant.  Winemaking it broadly described as non-interventionist, which is one of those terms which I’m sure everyone means when they say it, but what the term itself means can vary a great deal.  In addition to varietal wines of the original varieties planted, they produce a Shiraz, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Noir rosé, and a sparkling wine from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, medium garnet, with slow thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity notes of strawberry, sweet spice, sour cherry, and dried herbs.  On the palate it’s dry, (though somewhat fruit sweet – not residual sugar), with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium plus flavour, medium plus fine tannins, medium plus alcohol, and medium length.  There are notes of sour cherry, some herbs, a bit of oak, some pencil shavings, and black pepper on the finish.

I’ll rate this wine as good, but not without some reservations.  It was very big for a Pinot Noir, even from the New World, both in terms of intensity and alcohol.  I think some of the sweetness I put down to fruit may have also been alcohol.  The bottle says 14% ABV which is on the high side for this grape, particularly from a cool climate.  Then again, compared to a Shiraz from Barossa it’s almost delicate.  The flavours and complexity certainly said Pinot Noir, so it might just have been that 2008 was a hot vintage.  I look forward to trying some other Mornington Peninsula vintages to compare and contrast.

Soave Pieropan 2009

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Soave Pieropan 2009

Soave Pieropan 2009

Regular visitors may have noticed on the homepage a small map on the right sidebar which has a pin in it for the ten articles that feature on the homepage.  Articles that aren’t strictly about a single wine don’t have a pin, but in general it should show the location of the the ten or so most recent producers.  I do try to spread the love as much as possible, and while North America is often not represented, I’m reasonably happy with the spread at the moment, across the Old World, South America, Africa and Australasia.  What’s not on the map though is a wine from Italy, but to correct that I give you the Soave Pieropan 2009.

This is the first Soave I’ve covered, so let’s get right to it.  I have vague recollections of the name from my youth, which makes sense as it was the best selling Italian DOC wine in the USA in the 1970s.  It has since been surpassed, but still remains popular.  It’s a slightly complicated situation in that it’s the name of a commune in the Veneto region in the Province of Verona in northen Italy, but the term is generally used to describe wine from there.  However, the wine situation is slightly more complicated.  Soave was initially given DOC status in 1968, though the area under the the DOC was expanded well beyond the original borders over the following decades.  In 2001 DOCG designation was given to an area which was not exactly the original DOC area, causing great controversy and for some producers to drop out of the DOC/G designation to produce IGT wines.  There is a classico area which was originally designated in 1927, which is an additional descriptor that may be attached to wines produced from vines in the oldest of the original area.

Broadly speaking, the DOCG and classico area consists of plantings on hillsides, where the soil is less fertile than the soils of the flat alluvial plains of the expanded DOC region.  The hilly areas in the west are largely based on limestone which provides retained warmth for ripening, while the eastern hills are more decomposed volcanic igneous rock which provide minerality to wines.  The climate is warm Mediterranean though being in the hills the influence of the Adriatic is somewhat diminished.  However, the mists of the Po Valley in the autumn can bring mould and disease pressure.

Winemaking in Soave is largely centred around the grape variety Garganega, and it is required to make up at least 70% of a blend.  The contents of the other 30% vary depending on DOC or DOCG designation.  For DOGC wines, Trebbiano de Soave, Pinot Bianco or Chardonnay may make up to 30%, but up to 5% cumulatively are permitted of Friulano, Cortese, Riesling Italico, Vespaiolo, and Serprina.  For DOC wines, Trebbiano Toscano, the same rules largely apply with the exception that up to 15% of Trebbiano Toscano is permitted.  As everywhere, the required alcohol levels are higher and permitted yields are lower for DOCG wines than for DOC.

Garganega is a familiar grape for people who have been reading along since the early days.  We had a look at one with the Domain Day, but as with most of my early posts, I hadn’t really found my format and so I didn’t give the grape the coverage it deserves.  It’s a thick skinned white grape, vigourous and late ripening.  In addition to the wines of Soave, it’s also used to form most of the blend in nearby Gambellara.  As with so many grapes, it performs well when it can fully ripen, has it’s yields carefully managed, and particularly when planted on hillsides with poor fertility.  (I need a macro to paste that, I find it being so often the case.)

Outside of the Veneto, it’s not widely planted, or at least it wasn’t thought to be so until recently.  DNA profiling suggests that it is the same grape that is known as Grecanico Dorato (aka Grecanio) in Sicily.  Outside of Italy, the only record I can find of it being planted is with the aforementioned Domain Day.

Pieropan is a fourth generation family business, established in 1890 by Leonildo Pieropan in Soave.  They produce a number of Soaves, from this relatively entry level wine up through some single vineyard bottlings and Passito della Rocca, a barrel fermented and aged blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Trebbiano.  In addition, they expanded into red wines with the purchase of property in the nearby Amarone and Valpolicella area, and they produce at the moment one of each of those wines, as well as a sparkling rosé.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with pale lemon colour and thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium minus intensity and notes of pear, sandalwood, vanilla, and cream.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium flavour intensity, medium acid, medium plus alcohol, and medium body.  There are notes of lime, passion fruit, vanilla, and honeycomb, but with a sour/nail varnish finish.  It had a medium plus length but not in a good way given the sour finish.

I’m torn between this being acceptable and good.  It has an unimpressive nose, but on the palate it hits the marks with intensity, balance, and a reasonably interesting and complex flavour profile.  However, that finish really didn’t agree with me.  I’m going to go with good, particularly as it’s a relatively affordable entry level example, and it was by the glass so it’s possible I wasn’t tasting it at its best.

Matetic Syrah 2006

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Matetic Syrah 2006

Matetic Syrah 2006

When I attended the Shiraz Benchmark Tasting by Sommeliers Australia a couple of weeks back they had a great selection of wines from throughout Australia, the Rhône Valley, and one each from South Africa and New Zealand to round out the flights.  It was a very well organized and presented tasting, with some most excellent wines.  However, since there were no wines from the Americas, and as I happened to have pulled one out of my cellar earlier that week, I brought along a bottle of the Matetic Syrah 2006.

A quick note about the tasting:  it was excellent.  There was a good selection of wines, the information presented to go along with it was top notch, and the environment was well suited to the event in terms of space, lighting, and the size of the flights.  So well done to the organizers!  Also, I brought a bottle not in the spirit of trying to improve the tasting, but rather it was clearly going to be such a good event, and I felt a bit lame turning up empty handed.

So what do we have here?  Matetic is a relatively new producer that I had the pleasure of visiting just over three years ago.  They’re based in Chile, in particular at the west end of the San Antonio Valley.  The company was founded in 1999 by Jorge Matetic, who came to the wine trade already established as a very successful businessman, which is evident in a number of ways.

First, he hired in top international talent to get things going, including Alan York (Biodinamic Consultant), Ken Bernards (Consulting Winemaker), and Ann Kraemer (Viticultural Consultant) – not an inexpensive proposition.  Second, it looks as though they planted their vineyards from scratch on a green field site, which requires not just an initial outlay of cash, but reserves to keep things moving while you wait for vines to mature.  Third, the winery was amazing – gravity fed, huge capacity, new stainless steel and oak everywhere – and beautiful at that, looking out over vineyards with no expense spared.  Finally, they’re organic and biodynamic, and therefore a bit of exposition is required on my part.

Biodynamic agriculture is based on the “spiritual science” of Rudolf Steiner, a self-described clairvoyant, and I’ve had a rant about it before.  While there are certainly some true believers, if you’ve already spent as much money as possible on land, your winery and oak but find you have some left over, by going organic and biodynamic you’re able to charge an additional premium, because for some reason misguided people are prepared to pay it.  Matetic has clearly put a fortune into their production, and it certainly shows in terms of the quality of wine produced, but I wouldn’t put any of the quality down to the phase of the moon or energized water.

They produce a range of varietals from international grapes:  Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer for white wines, with Pinot Noir, and Syrah for reds.  They also produce a red blend each year, with a varying mix of grapes – most recently Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Syrah.  This Syrah is their flagship, and I personally carried it back from their winery.

Matetic is based in the San Antonio Valley, which I covered in February when I wrote about  Casa Marin.  Matetic is specifically in the Rosario Valley subregion, which it describes as temperate Mediterranean climate though like the rest of the region, it has a strong maritime influence from the Pacific and a high diurnal temperature variation.  Their vines are planted across two soil types – thin red clay over decomposed granite on the hillsides, and darker soil with a thicker layer of clay over granite on the valley flats.

I wrote about Syrah, or Shiraz, when I covered another Chilean example last month, the Viña Ventisquero Pangea Syrah, and so with the producer, region and grape covered, it’s time to have a look at the wine itself.

In the glass it is clear and bright with a dark purple colour and coloured legs.  On the nose it’s clean with medium plus intensity, a developing character, and notes of Ribena, concentrated blackberries, violets and a bit of earthy funk.  On the palate is more ripe, juicy fruit, with blackberries, blueberries, perfume, and some more of that funk, though green instead of earthy.  It’s dry and has medium plus acidity, medium plus body, medium plus alcohol, medium fine to green tannins, medium plus flavour intensity, and with medium plus length.

This is a very good quality wine.  It’s a good example of a cool climate Syrah, with a high level of concentration of fruit, even at six years after vintage.  Given the fruit, and the fact that it’s still purple, I think it will continue to improve, and I hope the tannins go from being slightly green to a bit more developed.  I think this is a clear example how a company that has made significant investment in producing quality wine and is on the right track.

 

Antoine Arena Patrimonio 2009

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Antoine Arena Patrimonio 2009

Antoine Arena Patrimonio 2009

When I think of France, I generally stick to the hexagon between Spain and the rest of Europe.  However, that’s forgetting Corsica, home to some interesting grapes and wines.  France without Corsica is like Australia without Tasmania, though sadly I don’t know that there are many carnivorous marsupials on Corsica.  While they do have their own species of Fire Salamander, I’m more interested in their unique wines, such as this Antoine Arena Patrimonio 2009.

Corsica, of course, is a French island in the Mediterranean to the southeast of mainland France and to the north of the Italian island of Sardinia.  While part of France, it has it its own widely spoken language (more like Italian than French), and a unique culture.  Along with that are some grapes that are endemic to Corsica, including the one used to make this wine, Nielluccio.  However, before I get into the grape, a bit more about Corsica and Patrimonio.

Corsica has a long tradition of winemaking, dating back to the Phoceans, who imported grapes to the island.  The wine trade has had its ups and downs over the centuries, with a notable down being when the island was under Islamic rule around 700AD, and a notable up when Napoleon Bonaparte, a native son of Corsica born into a winemaking family, allowed Corsica to export its wine without duty throughout the French Empire.  In more recent history, the second half of the 20th century saw Corsican wine production grow in quantity at the expense of quality, with it being one of the many sources of the European wine lake.  However, since then a combination of vine pulls and the shift toward modern winemaking and application of technology has limited production and improved quality throughout the island.

Corsica has nine AOCs, including a catch-all that geographically covers the entire island.  In addition, there is also vin de pays designation that covers the island, Vin de Pays de l’Île de Beauté, for wines that don’t conform to the AOC requirements which account for the bulk of production.  This wine is from Patrimonio, a nook of a region in the north on the west side of the northernmost outcropping.  The region was the island’s first AOC, established in 1968.  Red wines are predominantly Nielluccio, with Grenache and Sciacarello permitted as minor components, while whites are exclusively Vermentino.  Rosé wines are largely Nielluccio, though in a rare case of red and white grapes in the same wine, some percentage of Vermentino is also allowed.

The climate of Patrimonio is Mediterranean, with very little rainfall leading up to vintage.  With most of the vineyards near the coast, there is very little diurnal temperature variation, as the warmth of the predominantly sunny days is retained by the sea and radiated in the evenings.  There are four main soil types on Corsica, with the west coast having granite, the east coast being more sandy and alluvial, the northern outcropping largely schist, and Patrimonio chalk with clay.

Nielluccio is a new grape for me, in that I had never even heard of it until I came across this bottle.  It is thought to be a Sangiovese clone, brought to the island by the Genoese when they ruled it between the 14th and 18th centuries, though not everyone subscribes to that belief.

I’m having a difficult time pinning down details on the grape itself, as Jancis Robinson describes it as having low colour in her Vines, Grapes & Wines book but as having intense colour in the OCW.  Likewise, it is described as “lacking guts” or structure in the former reference, but having “good, structured tannins” in the latter.  The discrepancy is likely due to the former book being published in 1986, versus the OCW being published in 2006, with 20 years of improvement on the part of Corsican wines in between.  She apparently has a new book on grapes being readied for publication, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

That said, like Sangiovese, it buds early and ripens late, meaning late frosts and autumn rain are both hazards.  It does well in limestone soils, such as those of Patrimonio, but it has not found a home as yet outside of Corsica.

Antoine Arena, the producer, is one of the most renown winemakers of Corsica.  While he left the island as a young man in search of employment in mainland France, he returned with the rise of the Corsican nationalism in the 1970s, determined to make his home in the land of his birth.  Since then, he has been a strong advocate of Patrimonio, particularly for the Paris market.  He now works with his two sons, Antoine-Marie and Jean-Baptiste, producing three each single vineyard Nielluccios and Vermentinos, as well as a blended rosé, a Bianco Gentile (near extinct Corsican grape), and a Muscat à Petit Grains.

The vineyards are organically grown and over the last ten years have shifted to biodynamic.  Most of the work in the vineyard is done by hand, and a bare minimum of sulphur is used on the vines.  Grapes are harvested by hand, aged only in steel, and are bottled unfined and unfiltered, with the use of minimal sulphur (often none).

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, medium ruby in colour, with quick thick legs.  It’s clean on the nose, with medium intensity, a developing character, with herby notes as well as spicy blackberries and cherries.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus tannins – really grippy –  medium plus acidity, medium body, medium plus alcohol, and medium plus length.  It has notes of red berries, some chocolate, a bit of pencil lead, a little spicy meat in the middle, and a mocha finish.

At the bottom of the last glass was a wash of sandy diamonds – I should have decanted.  Interestingly though, what was left behind was all crystal, and not the black deposit normally thrown in red wine.  I know the wine is neither filtered nor fined, but possibly not cold stabilized?

This is a very good wine – interesting and complex – but pehaps not for everyone.  It had a certain spicy character that I enjoyed, but the tannins felt a bit dirty, and I don’t mean just teeth staining.  I don’t know if rustic is the right word, but if it isn’t, it’s not far from it.  The thing is, I know it’s a set of stylistic choices that made this wine the way it is, and in that it’s very good quality and well executed, and while I’d be happy to have another bottle, I can easily imagine people whose opinions I respect not being as keen on its earthiness.

Warwick Estate Old Bush Vines Pinotage 2010

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Warwick Estate Old Bush Vines Pinotage 2010

Warwick Estate Old Bush Vines Pinotage 2010

I know my tastes often run contrary to both the mainstream and to the tastes of people who know wine.  I like wines from out of the way places, or from lesser known varieties.  I’m not a huge fan of Bordeaux, or Burgundy for that matter, but not because I don’t like their wines. I’m just more interested in what else is out there, like forgotten parts of France or emerging areas in the New World.  This wine is indulging my contrarian tastes, in that the grape is fairly well know, just not widely loved.  I give you the Warwick Estate Old Bush Vines Pinotage 2010.

Now let me first clarify that last statement in that it’s the grape, Pinotage, which is held in less that illustrious esteem, irrespective of producer, and secondly, that statement is largely true outside of South Africa, where the grape is a local icon.  Those disclaimers firmly in place, let me tell you about Pinotage, and why I think people should give it a chance.

Pinotage is a modern grape, one of the rare varieties that can be traced to a very specific birthdate.  It was created in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold, a professor at Stellenbosch University, by crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsault (which was known as Hermitage locally).  The notion was to try to combine the fine wine character of Pinot Noir with the reliability in the vineyard of Cinsault.  The resulting vine is relatively easy to grow, both as bush vines or trained.  It ripens early, and can give consistently high yields.  It was first commerically planted at Kanonkop Estate in 1941 and the name Pinotage first appeared on a wine label twenty years later on the Lanzerac brand from the Stellenbosch Farmer’s Winery.

There are a few things to know about Pinotage which are not strictly about the vine.  First, it is completely New World.  While it is a cross between classic grapes of Burgundy and the Rhône, it is identified uniquely with South Africa, though there are some experimental plantings in places such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

Second, this means that as a variety, it is often burdened by whatever people generally think of South Africa and/or South African wine.  While I think most people who have been there in the last ten years will agree that it is a progressive, emerging country with some innovative winemakers, many people still associate South Africa with the oppressive system of government that made it an international pariah, and the cheap and nasty wine that characterized that era.  I believe this can be seen as recently as the burnt rubber criticisms levelled at South African wines over the last few years, despite such character being found in wines from around the world.

And finally, Pinotage, like all varieties, has a unique flavour profile which some people enjoy and some people don’t.  At its best it can produce an intense, long-lasting wine with black fruit and rich tannins, which develops notes of brambles, chocolate and earthiness.  However, it can also develop excessive amounts of isoamyl acetate which can give it flavours ranging from bananas to nail varnish and paint.  And as with every variety, how the grapes are grown and how they are made into wine has at least as much influence as the variety itself, and there are examples of both great and rubbish wine made from Pinotage.

Right, so that’s my take on Pinotage, and there’s scarcely space left to talk about the producer and the region.  Fortunately, we’ve covered this region before, when I took a look at Haute Cabrière, so have a look there for a recap, and now it’s down to talking about Warwick Estate.

The farm on which they’re based, just north of Stellenbosch, was established in 1771, though it only picked up the current name in 1902 when it was purchased by a British officer and renamed in honour of the regiment he commanded in the Anglo Boer war.  Stan and Norma Ratcliffe purchased the property in 1964 and grew Cabernet Sauvignon which they sold to local wineries for twenty years before taking the plunge into making their own wine.  Their first proper vintage was 1984, and two years later they first released Warwick Trilogy, their flagship Bordeaux blend.  To this day the company is still family owned and run, and funnily enough Mike, son of Stan and Norma, attended the University of Adelaide and received a Graduate Diploma in Wine Marketing.  (Small world.)

In addition to Trilogy, the company produces a trio of varietal wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Pinotage branded the Three Cape Ladies, varietal Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and a reserve Bordeaux blend.

For me, this wine was meant to be another ticked box in terms of advancing toward 100 varietal wines from different grapes, and one I which I expected to find most satisfying as Pinotage is somewhat thin on the ground here in Australia. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I discovered that in fact this wine is a blend, with 12% Cabernet Sauvignon.  I have nothing against blends, and certainly nothing against Cabernet Sauvignon, but really, I was after a varietal wine.  This is not the first time it’s happened to me – a certain Gamay and Carignan spring to mind.  I know, there’s no need to mention minor blending partners if they constitute less than 15% of a blend, but still, it means I’m going to have to dig up another Pinotage sometime soon.  There are actually a few Australian producers, so perhaps a compare and contrast is in order.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, medium plus ruby, quick thin legs with some colour to them.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful, with medium plus intensity, black cherries, sweet spice, liquorice, and a hint of tar.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium plus green tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium plus length.  It has notes of sour cherry, a bit of funk, some stem/stalk, cedar, chocolate, and more liquorice.

This is a very good wine – strong fruit, but a certain underlying richness.  It will certainly get better over the short term, though I don’t think it’s destined for decades of ageing.  While young and fresh, it does have a bit of complexity on the palate.  It shows no unfavourable aspects that people commonly (and sometimes wrongly) ascribe to Pinotage, and I’d love to serve this blind to the next person who speaks ill of the variety.

Bodegas Borsao Macabeo 2009

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Bodegas Borsao Macabeo 2009

Bodegas Borsao Macabeo 2009

I buy wine in a number of different places – very nice wine merchants, small specialist importers, and cellar doors.  Every now and again though I pop into one of the big box retailers, and typically it’s because I’m after something that I know the others don’t stock.  On the last such visit, I was after a Pinotage (which I’ll review after I get around to drinking it), which is nigh impossible to find at my regular suppliers. While I was there, I came across this bottle of Bodegas Borsao Macabeo 2009.

There are two reasons I couldn’t resist this wine, and the first is the obvious one – it’s a Macabeo, which I have not has as a varietal wine for the purposes of my century.  (The second reason at the end.)

I have had Macabeo before, and if you’ve ever drunk Cava, there’s a pretty good chance you have as well.  It’s the most widely planted white grape of northern Spain, though known as Viura in Rioja, and possibly in Rudea based on how it was represented in the Basa I had in February.  It buds late, which means it is less prone to frost damage, though it can overproduce with large berries without a great deal of flavour.  Early picking can counter big, bland grapes, though at the risk of not having aromatic ripeness.  Within Rioja it is used to make both varietal wines and blends with the traditional Garnacha Blanc and Malvasia, Maturana Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco (new one for me), and Turruntés, and the international Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  In the sparkling wine Cava it is blended with Xarel-lo and Parellada, as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

If another grape toward my century wasn’t enough, this wine comes from a region, a DO in fact, that is new to me, Campo de Borja.  It’s in the Aragón province, due south of Navarra, and therefore somewhat southeast of Rioja.  The climate is arid continental, though with a cold winter wind from the Atlantic known locally as cierzo.  The soil is limestone and clay with a significant iron component.  The geography is dominated by the mountain massif Moncayo, and vineyards occupy heights between 350 and 750 metres.  Garnacha constitutes more than half of plantings, with Tempranillo, Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot rounding out the top five grapes.  Macabeo is the most popular white variety, with much smaller portions of Moscatel and Chardonnay being the other whites grown.

Bodegas Borsao traces its origins back to 1958 when the Cooperative of Borja was founded.  In 2001 it combined with the cooperatives of Pozuelo and Tabuenca, utilizing the resources of all three under a single brand.  Their constituents number 620 growers across 2,430 HA.  As you would expect for the region, Garnacha constitutes the bulk of their production – 70% – with a number of other permitted reds making up most of the remainder.  Macabeo comprises just a tiny sliver of production with 40 HA planted.  Their winery is extremely modern, and their wines produced with the export market in mind.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour and quick, thin legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium minus intensity, and notes of candied pear, quince and lemon-lime.  On the palate it’s dry with medium acidity, medium minus flavour intensity, medium minus body, and medium minus alcohol. It tastes of a lime drink that has a bit too much water and not enough lime.  There’s a little of the quince and pear from the nose, along with a savoury, almost salty flavour that I can’t quite place, but it’s all a bit feint.  It has a short length with a Gatorade finish.

This is an acceptable wine.  The flavours were restrained, to use polite phrasing, and the texture was very watery.  The flavours were marginally complex, but it did not linger on the palate.  However, when served cold it was refreshing, and it was certainly not unpleasant.  Faced with a choice of drinking nothing (or worse, water) or drinking this wine, I was happy to drink this wine.  Given another option, I likely would have taken it, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with this wine in terms of faults or unpleasantness, therefore I stand by the acceptable assessment.

However, this brings me to the second reaons I had to buy this wine.  This is the least expensive wine I have ever bought, with or without a label.  I don’t normally have much to say about the price of the wines I review, but this one cost less than $5.00 Australian.  For a fiver if it was bad I could tip it out after making a note and move on to something else.  But it wasn’t bad – it was just fine, and given that it cost next to nothing, I have no complaints.  In fact, if there’s a newer vintage when the weather heats up down here I’ll likely buy it again (provided I’m through with this 100 varietals quest).

Domaine Roger Champault Sancerre Le Clos du Roy 2008

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Domaine Roger Champault Sancerre Le Clos du Roy 2008

Domaine Roger Champault Sancerre Le Clos du Roy 2008

Learning about wine has been (and continues to be) an interesting journey.  I think I developed my initial tastes in wine based on what people I knew were drinking, so I can remember exactly who introduced me to oaky, buttery California Chardonnay, white Burgundy, and Sancerre.  (All women I fancied, funnily enough.)  It would be years later that I came to understand anything about those respective wine, such that white Burgundy is also Chardonnay.  I remember a real revelation though when I encountered a bottle of red wine that had Sancerre on the label, and my mind was opened up to the fact it’s a region, not a grape.  And with that memory in mind, today it’s a bottle of the more familiar colour from there, the Domaine Roger Champault Sancerre Le Clos du Roy 2008.

So yes, Sancerre is a region.  I have personally verified that with a visit last July, and it’s well worth the trip.  At the far eastern end of the Loire Valley, it’s arguably the best known of its subregions.  The region stretches out to the north, west and south around the walled town of Sancerre itself, which sits atop a hill overlooking the surrounding area.  To the east is the river, and across it is Pouilly-Fumé.  The climate is continental, though slightly mitigated by the river, and the hillsides can provide favourable aspects.  The soils are generally grouped into three classifications – the vineyard to the west are situated on clays and limestone, those near the town are on flinty soils, and in between is gravel and limestone.

As I alluded to earlier, Sancerre as a region produces more than just white wine – it covers the spectrum with reds and rosés as well.  White wines, which constitute the vast majority of production, are varietal Sauvignon Blanc, while reds and rosés are made from Pinot Noir.

Most of my experience with Sancerre (in terms of drinking it) is in the context of eating shellfish.  For me, there is something about facing a heap of crustaceans and bivalves atop a pile of crushed ice that makes me thirst for white Sancerre.  This is strange for a few reasons.  First, while many of the white wines from Sancerre have a flinty, minerally character that goes very well with the aforementioned heap of tastiness, some of the Sauvignon Blancs of Sancerre see oak treatment, which makes the pairing less obvious.  Second, of all of the regions in the Loire, Sancerre is nearly the most distant from the sea, meaning any salt-water shellfish would be on a truck for hours before making it to a plate in Sancerre.  And finally, the only time I actually had a picture postcard plateau de fruits de mer in France was in Nantes at La Cigale, at the opposite end of the Loire Valley and of course when in Nantes, one drinks Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine.  (It was a wonderful meal, complete with a table full of locals who were happy to act as grandparents to my then eight month old daughter while my wife and I ate.)

I have in fact written up a Sauvignon Blanc recently, the Astrolabe, and I did talk a bit about the variety so I won’t repeat myself so quickly.  However, as varietal Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough and Sancerre are often held up as examples of how a grape can be very different depending on the terroir and the treatment, it’s worth having a quick compare and contrast, though in general terms, not of these wines specifically.  For white wines of Sancerre, Jancis Robinson uses terms like racy, pungent, delicate, and perfumed.  While not exactly austere, fruit is not the main thrust of the wine.  Rather, people claim to be able to taste the limestone of the soil.  Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, can have much more evident fruit, with gooseberry, grass, bell pepper and cat piss being more common descriptors.  Of course these are very broad strokes, and there are certainly winemakers in Marlborough expressing the terroir through their wines as there are those in France who strive to ride on the success of Marlborough with greater expression of fruit in their wines.

This producer was founded (at least in its current form) by the namesake, Roger Champault, though he was the fifth generation to work in the family business of growing vines and more recently producing wine in the Sancerre region.  Now succeeded by his two sons, Laurent and Claude, who in turn are assisted by three workers, production is based on roughly 20 HAs of their estate.  They produce nine wines – four each whites and reds, with a rosé rounding out the mix.  This wine is made from vines based on limestone soil, and after fermentation spends some time on fine lees.  I can’t tell from research if that time is spent in tank or barrel, but my notes suggest barrel.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, pale gold with quick legs, with a fully developed character and medium plus intensity.  It started out with a bit of yoghurt on the nose, which opened up into oak and mineral notes. On the palate it has notes of lemon, mineral, and more oak.  It’s dry, with medium plus acid, medium plus flavour intensity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus length, and an oak finish.  It has a very nice texture.

This is certainly a good wine in that it’s of good quality and well made, but unfortunately I’m drinking it a bit past it’s prime.  As I was tasting it, if I had to guess the variety I would have started thinking it was Sauvignon Blanc but as it opened up it turned into a Chardonnay.  I’m not sure which I liked more.  While I certainly enjoy wines with a bit of age on them, and I don’t shy away from older whites, I’m fairly certain this was better a year or two ago and I wish I had been able to enjoy it then.  So a bit of a shame to be drinking it when I was, but I wouldn’t hesitate to try a younger version in the future.

Paracombe Adelaide Hills Cabernet Franc 2007

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Paracombe Adelaide Hills Cabernet Franc 2007

Paracombe Adelaide Hills Cabernet Franc 2007

As regular readers may know, I’ve worked vintage the past three years in the Adelaide Hills, and a few times in between actual vintages I’ve helped out with bottling.  On more than one of those occasions that’s involved a trip to Paracombe where a mobile bottling line was set up, and the good folks there played host while we put our wines into bottle.  So in terms of full disclosure, I know some of the people at Paracombe and am grateful for their help in bottling, but if I didn’t honestly like this wine, their Paracombe Adelaide Hills Cabernet Franc 2007, I’d just write about something else.

I’ve enjoyed a number of Paracombe wines, particularly their Malbec, but as I’ve not written about a varietal Cabernet Franc before, I was drawn to this wine as I try to finish the second half of a century of varietal wines.  However, this is in fact the seventh wine covered which has had some amount of Cabernet Franc, from the small fractions of the Bordeaux style blends to majority of the Anjou blend.

Cabernet Franc is a red grape, at home both in Bordeaux and the Loire, though generally as a contributing grape in the former and as a dominant grape in the latter.  In the Bordeaux red blend, it buds and ripens before Cabernet Sauvignon, and can provide some insurance for when Cabernet Sauvignon fails to ripen.  It’s the primary grape of Cheval Blanc, and is more commonly found in Libournais than in the Médoc and Graves districts.

In the Loire though is where it is most appreciated as a primary grape.  In the central areas of Anjou-Saumur and Touraine it is the dominant red grape.  In Saumur it is the principle component of their red wines, though Cabernet Sauvignon and Pineau d’Aunis may find their way into a blend as minor components.  The same is largely true in Touraine, though blends are more common, again with Cabernet Sauvignon but also Gamay, and Côt (Malbec).  Semi-carbonic maceration is sometimes used in Touraine, which can soften the wine and reduce some of the green character associated with Cabernet Franc.

This is the tenth wine from the Adelaide Hills to be featured in this blog, so if I haven’t said everything I have to say about the Adelaide Hills, then I’ve just been lazy.  Rather than recap, here’s a retrospective – in terms of wines from the Adelaide Hills, I’ve written about three Chardonnays, two Pinot Noirs, a sparkling blend of the two, as well as a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Fiano and even a Grüner Veltliner.  It’s a diverse region, with a range of climates and altitudes, and more importantly an adventurous set of people growing many different types of grapes and making a similarly diverse collection of wines.  In addition to this Cabernet Franc, I could list another 30 varieties being grown, which means I still have a great deal of work ahead of me.

First, my personal impressions of Paracombe.  The first time I visited, I drove up in a rather low to the ground convertible with the top down and I was greeted by two enormous fluffy white dogs.  (In retrospect, they’re about the size of your average retriever, but they were taller than I was sitting in my car.)  Despite their barking, they were friendly and did not leap into my car and devour me.  On their property as your approach it from the road you drive past vines, but behind the main building winery is a paddock with livestock and sometimes the resident kangaroo family (when they’re not in the vines).  My guess is that the dogs approached the kangaroos with the same not unfriendly barking with which they greeted me, and the kangaroos took that to mean it was safe to stay.

Paracombe is a family run producer established by Paul and Kathy Drogemuller in 1983.  They run what I consider a medium sized winery, and by that I mean they have about ten to twenty times the everything (space, tanks, barrels, staff) of the winery where I’ve worked.  They have a range of roughly 15 wines, from a traditional blend sparkler, through Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay in the white category, a Malbec, Rosé, and then a collection of reds including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Shiraz varietals, a Shiraz / Viogner blend and a red Bordeaux style blend with a dash of Shiraz.

I should write something about their vineyards and their philosophy of producing wine based on what’s on their website, but I can’t really approach what I’m reading there in the same way I would with a producer I didn’t know.  Instead, my personal impression of Paul Drogemuller is that he is a generous man of charm and character who produces (with the help of a very astute team) a collection of wines that are both very good and which do put their patch of the Adelaide Hills terroir in a bottle.  The one thing that is a mystery to me is why his wines don’t cost more.  Everything about the wine and winery is correct, the Adelaide Hills have a certain cache as far as regions go (though I have a bias), and the wines are fashionable varietals/blends.  That said, I think that about more than a few wineries I enjoy, so I should really keep my mouth shut and stock my cellars with bargains.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, dark ruby with visible legs.  On the nose it’s clean, with notes of spicy blackberry and blueberry – cooler climate influence?  There are also elements of cooked meat and violets – a fairly complex nose.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium acidity, medium plus soft tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium plus body, and medium plus flavour intensity.  There are notes of green peppercorn, ripe, fresh blackberry and blueberry, and more of the meat from the nose with a medium length.

This is a good to very good quality wine.  Very drinkable, but it could certainly enjoy some maturation and emerge with a more complex character.  It was almost sweet on the palate, but from the fruit not residual sugar.  One note which can cause complaints in Cabernet Franc wines is a green stem character, but I got none of it in this wine – only the green peppercorns.  I think this will age well, and I hope to revisit a bottle in a few years.

 

Astrolabe Province Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011

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Astrolabe Province Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Astrolabe Province Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011

If all you knew about New Zealand came from this blog, first off I would tell you that you need to do a bit more outside reading.  But second, I would apologize to you because my coverage of my neighbours across the Tasman has been pretty scant, and so far limited to two wines, both from Central Otago.  Today I’m going to try to improve on that slightly, and for a change I’m not going for anything unusual or obscure.  Instead I’m going for something of a benchmark, the Astrolabe Province Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is considered a classic by some, a cliché by others, but it’s indisputably one of if the best known wines of the New World.  It is the wine that put New Zealand on the map, and love it or hate it, it’s not only widely enjoyed but increasingly emulated.

New Zealand has been making wine for almost 200 years, but it is only in the last 40 years that it has produced high quality wine for export.  Vines were first planted in Marlborough only as recently as 1973, but it was in 1985 that Cloudy Bay brought the region and the country to the international stage with their Sauvignon Blanc, and now New Zealand has more Sauvignon Blanc planted than the Loire or Bordeaux, and many time more than Australia.  The more fruit-forward style, combined with gooseberries, bell peppers, and to some palates, cat piss, took the world by storm and advanced New Zealand’s brand as a clean, pristine land producing excellent wines.

Of course wine is a fashion driven industry.  As far as fashion, the world continues to consume no end of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but as a successful industry it has continued to grow and the premium it once commanded for brand New Zealand has been somewhat undermined by the huge increase in supply.  While the wines of New Zealand can still command a premium, it’s not what it once was, and the minimum price you can pay for a bottle continues to drop.

However, I think it’s fair to put most of those concerns behind us for now as we look at Astrolabe, unquestionably one of the premium producers of Marlborough.  Established in 1996 by a group of four friends, the name Astrolabe refers both to the ship of a 19th century French explorer who sailed through the Marlborough Sounds and to the navigational instrument for which it was named.  The A motif on their label is a stylized representation of an actual astrolabe.  Tragically, in October 2011 the company had 4000 cases of wine destined for Ireland on a container ship that was grounded on a reef that shares the company name.

They produce three main types of wines – Province based on regionality of Marlborough in general, Valleys based on subregions within Marlborough, and Vineyards based on single vineyards.  (Until recently, the names for those ranges were Voyage, Discovery and Experience respectively.)  While the majority of their wine is Sauvignon Blanc, they also produce Sauvignon Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir.  Their market is exclusively at the top end, meaning restaurant and fine wine trade.

Marlborough itself is worth a word in addition to its place in bringing New Zealand to the forefront with Sauvignon Blanc.  Located at the north end of the South Island around Blenheim, Montana was the company who made a huge investment (and thus took a huge risk) and first planted vines in 1973.  The area is a flat river valley with alluvial soils of silt and water smoothed stones. The climate is maritime, with dry summers and sometimes frosty winters.  Irrigation is a must throughout most of the region.  The explosion of wine production in the region was accompanied by a growth market in contract winemaking which encouraged many growers with no experience in winemaking to produce their own label wines.  Raupara Vintners (once Vin Tech) is described as “the closest thing that New Zealand has to a co-operative winery.”  While Sauvignon Blanc reigns supreme, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fight for distant second and third, and are sometimes both used in the production of sparkling wine.

So that’s the producer and region, which means I’m home and dry since I certainly have discussed the grape, Sauvignon Blanc, before.  Except that I haven’t.  This is not my first Sauvignon Blanc varietal in this blog, but the other one was a Saint-Bris, and the novelty of that overwhelmed my ability to stick to format.  Therefore, on to the grape itself.

Sauvignon Blanc is a classic white grape, traditionally associated with both Bordeaux where it is typically found blended with Semillon for both dry and sweet wines, and the Loire where it is more commonly a dry varietal wine.  It buds late but ripens early.  Its character is determined to a large extent by climate, with high acidity and crisp flavours being pronounced in cooler climates, but with lower acidity and more tropical fruit characters being evident under warmer conditions.  While likely French in origin, it has certainly emerged as an international variety, with plantings not only in Italy, Spain and parts of Eastern Europe, but especially throughout the New World, with California, Chile, South Africa, and Australia joining New Zealand.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with pale lemon green colour and legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean, youthful, with medium plus intensity, and notes of green pea, asparagus, lemon-lime, and green pepper (capsicum).  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium plus alcohol, medium plus flavour intensity, and notes of green pepper, lemon, sweet pea, and asparagus.  It has a medium plus length and a clean finish.

This is a very good quality wine.  It has some elements of complexity, particularly for such a young wine, but not a huge amount.  What it does have though is intensity.  It’s also well balanced, in that it’s fairly full on throughout.  It’s also strong on typicity – you would not mistake this wine for another variety, nor would you think it was from any other part of the world.

Pin in the map is Blenheim – their office address is a post office box there and that’s the closest I can get for now.