Domaine Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2010

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Domaine Marcel Deiss Pinot d'Alsace 2010

Domaine Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2010

After the Rhône, Bordeaux,  Languedoc Roussillon, and Burgundy, I’m wrapping up this week of French wines with Alsace.  While it is a classic wine region of France, I must admit it’s not one that normally does much for me.  The varieties for which it is best known, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris, are easily found elsewhere in both the Old and New World, and the lesser varieties such as Pinot Blanc, Chasselas and Sylvaner are often impossible to source in Australia.  However, I couldn’t pass up today’s wine, the Domaine Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2010.

Pinot d’Alsace is not a new variety, but rather a blend of the various Pinots found in Alsace.  I guessed Blanc, Gris and Noir, which earns only partial credit.  This wine apparently also has components of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Auxerrois, which is more widely known as just Auxerrois outside of Alsace.  In terms of covering all the bases, this wine does well, missing out only on Pinot Teinturier and Pinot Noir Précoce.  While none of the grapes are new to this blog, it’s certainly the first time Pinot Blanc and Pinot Auxerrois have turned up in a blend and since I have the new Wine Grapes book, I can tell you a bit about how it says they are related to one another.

While people generally talk about different varieties within the Pinot family of grapes, recent DNA profiling has shown that they are in fact all mutations of the same variety.  When a variety emerges, it is typically through pollination of a flower from one variety with the pollen of another variety, resulting in a grape with seeds.  If one of the seeds then grows into a vine it will be a new variety, distinct from either of the parents.

However, vines are traditionally cultivated through clippings, whereby a small piece of a vine is cut off, planted and grown into another vine.  That it how you can have a vineyard of thousands of essentially the same Chardonnay vine.  However, changes do happen to vines through random mutations.  While they are small, for instance colour, over generations of successive clippings and cultivations, you may end up with vines which have distinct properties but which in terms of DNA are virtually identical except for the accumulation of mutations.

That is exactly what you have in the case of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Pinot Teinturier and Pinot Noir Précoce. They can be identified in the vineyard or in the bottle as different, but at a DNA level they differ only very slightly.  What about Pinot Auxerrois?  Despite the local Alsatian name, it’s not actually a Pinot.  Instead it is the offspring of a Pinot and Gouais Blanc, much like Aligoté, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Melon de Bourgogne, Romorantin and 16 others (at least).

This is the third wine of Alsace to grace these pages, and some information about the region generally can be found along with my notes on the Domaine Mittnacht Freres Riesling I had back in May.

As to the producer, the Deiss family has winemaking roots in Bergheim, Alsace going back to 1744.  The label takes its name from Marcel Deiss, who following 18 years as a professional soldier, returned to his family’s homeland after World War II.  With his son André, they built the family holdings into a company which is now run by the grandson of Marcel, Jean-Michel Deiss.  Wines are organized into three lines, with varietal entry level wines and wines made of late picked grapes being their Vins de Fruits and Vins de Temps respectively.  However, the domaine is best known for its Vins de Terroirs, a range of largely single vineyard wines.

Many people in the wine trade like the expression “wine is made in the vineyard” and while my experiences in both vineyard and winery do not support such an aphorism, the wines of Domaine Marcel Deiss do go a step further than most.  Typically blended wines are the result of separate cultivation and vinification, with Port and some Syrah / Viognier blends being notable exceptions.  The best wines of Marcel Deiss are field blends, meaning vineyards are planted with a number of varieties, which are picked and vinified together.  While many of the varieties in their blends would ripen at different times under other circumstances, Diess believes his ripen together in the vineyard due to a combination of dense planting and deep root systems that make them less influenced by climate and vintage.

This is fairly atypical.  Alsatian wines are frequently varietal, and unlike most of the rest of France, they traditionally feature the grape variety on the front label.  In that context, Jean-Michel Diess had campaign to have the rules of the appellation changed such that he would be able to bottle his Grand Cru designated vineyards as field blends with just the vineyard and appellation on the label.  His vines have been grown organically for 35 years and have been biodynamic since 1997.  Winemaking is with minimal intervention, slow pressing (18-24 hours for a run), natural yeasts and fermentations that can take months, with lots of time on lees and only a very small amount of SO2 at the end.  Wines are filtered, but at very low pressure taking many times longer than conventional filtration.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a medium gold colour that has a hint of orange and slow thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of stone fruit, pear, minerality, and a hint of vanilla.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus body, medium plus intensity, medium plus alcohol, medium acidity, and a medium length.  There are notes of slightly candied pear, a hint of saltiness, sandalwood, some apple – red and green, and a little lime on the finish.

This is a good wine, but a bit weird.  It doesn’t lack for complexity of flavour, and they are certainly distinct but not especially in tune with one another.  I’m not sure if the grapes fit as well together in the glass as they do in the vineyard.  Also the alcohol feels a bit strong, though not completely out of balance.  Certainly worth a try in terms of a somewhat unique offering.

Domaine de la Cadette Melon 2011

Domaine de la Cadette Melon 2011

Domaine de la Cadette Melon 2011

When studying a topic, I’m often drawn to quirky, fringe bits of information rather than the meat of the topic at hand.  For instance, when reviewing Chianti for the Santa Margherita post, I was far more interested to learn that the classic straw covered bottle of the region is called a fiasco than I was about various limits on yields in the vineyard.  I know the latter would be more important on an exam, but the former would be just the sort of smarmy detail to amuse at a wine tasting.  Hence my attraction to this wine, the Domaine de la Cadette Melon 2011.

This is a white wine from Burgundy, which means Chardonnay would be a good guess as to the grape, but wrong.  Failing that, Aligoté is another fairly well known but much less popular white grape of Burgundy, and long time readers of this site will recall there are plantings of Sauvignon Blanc in Saint Bris.  It turns out this is none of the above, and is in fact Melon de Bourgogne.

Melon de Bourgogne certainly has a history in Burgundy, though these days it is more commonly referred to as Muscadet, reflecting its near complete migration to the area of the western Loire around Nantes.  There it is made into Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, an example of this we saw from Guy Bossard.  So even more than I like finding a new example of an unusual variety in the New World, I love finding examples of grapes in unexpected places in the Old World.

While Burgundy is a hugely important region and I’ve only dipped into it here and there, the classification of wine in particular is worth a quick note.  Burgundy values specificity, in that the most sought after wines are from very small areas, often individual, tiny vineyards, and typically from an individual variety.  At the other end of the spectrum is the classification of this wine, Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire, which essentially can be made from any permitted Burgundian grapes, anywhere in the region.  Ordinaire is the operative work, ordinary, and grand refers more to the size of the region rather than the quality level of the wine.

However, it can be quite an interesting classification for at least two reasons.  First, it can represent a good value proposition, in that the wine in question will be of Burgundy and possibly of a reasonable level of quality, but without the price tag that accompanies more specific geography.  The other reason though is that the classification is sometimes used for wines such as this, a permitted but lesser known grape.  So if you’re looking for a Burgundian César, Tressot or Sacy, Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire is likely how it will be bottled.

And so while this wine is officially of no particular place within Burgundy, in truth it’s from somewhere rather special, Bourgogne Vézelay.  While located not far to the south of Chablis, Vézelay has a cooler climate and its soils contain less clay and more limestone.  It is an area with a long history of grape growing, but largely of no great distinction and most of the results have been destined for use in a co-operative.  However, toward the end of the 20th century a number of producers raised their standards and through their efforts the area was granted appellation status for Chardonnay based white wine in 1997.  Pinot Noir and Melon de Bourgogne produced there remain classified as Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire but they represent only a fraction of production.

That timeline coincides with the founding of Domaine de la Cadette.  Jean and Catherine Montanet established the domaine over the course of a decade of vine clearing and replanting from 1987 through to 1997.  Their holdings consists of 13.5HA, mostly Chardonnay with a quarter Pinot Noir / César  and a tiny patch of this Melon de Bourgogne.

They work them organically and were certified such in 2002.  Grapes are hand picked, and their winemaking involves as little intervention as possible.  The produce three different Bourgogne Vézelay varietal Chardonnays, a varietal Pinot Noir and a Pinot Noir / César blend as Bourgogne Rouge and this Melon.

In the glass this wine is clean and bright with a pale lemon yellow colour and slow legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of candle wax, lemon, and vanilla custard.  On the palate it’s dry with medium minus acidity, medium plus body, medium intensity, medium minus alcohol and medium length.  There are notes of lemon, a little asparagus, and some ginger.

I rate this wine as good, possibly very good.  It’s unfamiliar but intriguing.  There are interesting notes across a wide range of flavours – some of which I don’t typically associate with wine – which I find very appealing.  It certainly has complexity though I don’t think the descriptors do it justice.


That’s one year done…

One year ago I put up the first post on this site.  While it went largely unnoticed, it was the focus I needed to get to work studying for my WSET Diploma Unit 3 exam.  Over the weeks that followed, I put together a study plan and practised writing tasting notes in the style that would be required on the exam itself.  While I would have been much better off if I had done that 52 weeks before the exam instead of six, it was a step up from the path I had been following.

I came out of the exam not certain if I had passed.  I felt comfortable with the tasting, but the theory questions were very hit or miss.  While I was very happy with some of the questions, I felt pretty awful about others.  But even before I knew if I had passed or not, I decided to keep writing, and was surprised to find that there were a few people reading.

I set about to put a bit of structure into my writing.  I started keeping track of grapes in a quest to taste 100 varietal wines.  I decided each post should address the grapes, region and producer of the wine in question, and have largely stuck to that.  I even set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account for the site, which saw an incremental increase in readership.

When I found I that I had passed my WSET Diploma, I wrote up a series of posts with tips for other students based on  my experience.  I also decided to ask permission from Jancis Robinson and the WSET to make available a set of links to the Oxford Companion to Wine mirroring Diploma course materials, which allowed me to study without having to flip back and forth between two printed books.  While it turned out to be slightly more work than I had anticipated, I’ve been very pleased with the result and I like to think it’s been useful to other students.

So a year on, I’ve written 240 posts.  That includes 169 wine reviews covering 18 different countries.  I’ve tasted 94 different grapes, 73 of them as varietals.  My most popular review when originally posted was the Marchand & Burch French Collection Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009 where I ranted a bit about biodynamic practices.  For reasons that I can’t explain, my most read overall has been Villa Jolanda Prosecco – people search for the wine every day and end up here.

And while the notes I write here are still largely so I can keep track of what I’ve been drinking, the number of visitors has been ticking over slowly.  I’ve had 35,000 visitors from 160 countries, which I’m sure is less than most sites get in a day, but if each one of them gave me a penny I’d be able to buy a decent bottle of Champagne.

That’s a year, come and gone.  I’ve enjoyed the time and effort that’s gone into this site, so I have every intention of keeping at it.  I don’t have any firm plans for the next year, except of course to finish the quest for a century of varietal wines.  Once that is done, I’m sure I’ll think of something else to do next.  Thank you for reading.


Domaine Matassa Cuvée Nougé 2005

Domaine Matassa Cuvée Nougé 2005

Domaine Matassa Cuvée Nougé 2005

Yesterday was something of a French classic, a white Bordeaux, with a family run producer making wine that has a history in the region dating back generations.  Today, it’s a different take on the concept of heritage from some unlikely characters in the form of this Domaine Matassa Cuvée Nougé 2005.

This is a Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, much like the Domaine Lafage Carignan I wrote about back in July.  However, a quick recap might be useful.  VDP can be wine of three different types of geographic designations, and from largest to smallest they are regional, departmental and local.  The larger the area, the more flexibility a producer has in terms of where they source their grapes.  In addition, some regional designations are both familiar internationally and fairly well regarded such as Vin de Pays d’Oc.

Côtes Catalanes is situated in the south of France near the border with Spain.  When I wrote about the Domaine Lafage Carignan I mentioned the warm, Mediterranean climate and the soils, which vary from a combination of decomposed shale and clay with poor drainage through to schist marble and limestone hills, and gravel as you near the sea.  However, I didn’t say anything about Catalonia.

I prefer to focus on wine and not politics, so I’ll be brief.  Catalonia is at present one of the autonomous communities of Spain.  Historically the Principality of Catalonia included area which is now across the border in France, and the region as a whole has a unique language and culture.  Many producers, such as this one, have chosen therefore to use the Côtes Catalanes designation instead of the more widely known Côtes du Roussillon or  d’Oc.

Speaking of this producer, Domaine Matassa was founded by Tom Lubbbe, Nathalie Gauby and Sam Harrop MW in 2002.  Lubbe, apparently born in New Zealand but brought up in South Africa, worked in Swartland and Bordeaux prior to arriving in the Côtes Catalanes and working at Domaine Gauby where he met Nathalie Gauby.  Her family has run the Domain for generations, selling grapes through a co-operative until 1985 when they started making their own wine.  It is now regarded as a top Roussillon estate.  Harrop is a Master of Wine and consultant winemaker, having previously make wine in his native New Zealand, as well as California and Australia, before working with Marks and Spencer, a hugely influential UK retailer.

After the initial purchase of the Clos Matassa vineyard near Le Vivier at 500-600m altitude on granitic soils, the Domaine expanded with the purchase of a number of neighbouring parcels and additional vineyards near Calce, 20km to the east on schist and marl soils at altitudes of 150-200m.  Most vineyards are between 60 and 120 years old, and consist of traditional Catalan varieties such as Carignan, Grenache, Maccabeu, Grenache Gris, Muscat of Alexandria and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, while the younger vineyards have Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Viognier.  Cabernet Franc, Carignan Blanc, Vermentino, Rolle and Chenin Blanc have also been known to feature in their wines.  Grapes are grown organically, and biodynamic techniques are employed in the vineyard.  Vineyards are plowed, in some cases by mules.

Most wines produced are blends, some co-fermented field blends.  Whites are made by tightly packing whole bunches into a basket press and ageing in 600l old oak barrels.  Reds are fermented as whole bunches with some initial foot crushing, and then transferred to 600l old oak barrels halfway through and kept there for an additional 18-24 months, including malolactic fermentation.

Before I get to this wine itself, a quick note about the grapes.  Maccabeu as it is known in Roussillon and printed on the back label, may be more familiar as Viura in Rioja or Macabeo more generally.  Details can be found in my write up of a varietal example from Borsao, while more information about Muscat is available in my post on the Schild Estate Frontignac and notes about Viognier are given in my Yalumba Virgilius post.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a medium minus lemon green colour and film, not legs, when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity, and notes of lemon and green apple.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium length.  There are notes of lime, mandarin, and a bit of saltiness that made me think of Gatorade.  (Note, I have very fond memories of Gatorade going back 30 years to when I was a child playing soccer, so I mean that in the best of all possible ways.)

This is a good wine.  I was initially worried that I had left this bottle in the cellar for too long but it’s holding up well – still developing on the nose.  I don’t know that I would have wanted to give it another seven years, but the fruit is still fresh.  I didn’t get a great deal of complexity beyond some lively citrus, but it was well balanced with a pleasing flavour profile.

Pin in the map is the village of Calce where the producer’s cellar is based, but I have no street address.

Cheval Quancard Château Fort de Roquetaillade 2011

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Cheval Quancard Château Fort de Roquetaillade 2011

Cheval Quancard Château Fort de Roquetaillade 2011

While I’ve been particularly interested in varietal wines in my quest to taste 100 different grapes, there are some classic blends that deserve attention as well.  There’s been no shortage of posts about red Bordeaux style blends, but it’s time to have a look at a dry white wine of the region, the Cheval Quancard Château Fort de Roquetaillade 2011

Most people learn about Bordeaux on paper from the top down, in that there are the classified growths, then there are the various crus on the other side of the river, and finally the whole collection of lesser wines across the region.  I tend to think it’s the opposite of how one might best learn to appreciate them in the glass, as it’s always more pleasant to experience ever increasing levels of quality.  Generally the bulk of such education focuses on the red wines for which the region is most famous, and while the sweet wines, particularly Sauternes such as Château d’Yquem, will get a mention, the white wines are often neglected.  (Crémant de Bordeaux, sadly, remains largely mythical in my experience.)

While dry white wine in Bordeaux may be varietal, it’s more often a blend, with Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc being the most common grapes, and those two together when found in the New World are typically what is meant when someone refers to a white Bordeaux blend.  Muscadelle is also considered a classic white grape of the region, and a number of other white grapes such as Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Sauvignon Gris and Merlot Blanc may be permitted depending on the particular subregion and quality level of the wine.

Dry white wine is produced in a number of areas of Bordeaux, concentrated in Pessac-Léognan and Graves south of the Garonne, and Entre-Deux-Mers and Graves de Vayres between the Garrone and Dordogne.  It’s also produced in Blaye, on the north bank of the Gironde, though the blend there is not typical in that it is dominated by Ugni Blanc.

Graves takes its name from the French term for gravel, and its vineyards are planted in namesake terraces.  With the exception of areas set apart for sweet wine production in Sauternes, Barsac, and Cérons, historically the area stretched south east from the city of Bordeaux along the Garrone.  The original home of Claret in the Middle Ages, it held the first named château and the first growth classified Château Haut-Brion.  However, in 1987 the appellation Pessac-Léognan was formed from the northernmost section of Graves.  In a stroke Graves lost its most famous château and along with it some of its long established reputation, particularly with respect to red wines.

That said, there are certainly fine wines still produced within the current boundaries of the appellation, with red wines often being good value, if somewhat rustic, relative to their neighbours.  White wines are at least as well regarded and often barrel fermented and/or aged.

Cheval Quancard is a family run company that dates back to 1844 when it began trading as Quancard & fils, founded by Pierre Quancard.  The company dealt in wines of the region and from their estate, and over the century and a half that followed grew to produce red, white, rosé and sweet wine across over a dozen châteaux throughout Bordeaux.  The current name of the company was set in 1985, unifying their holdings but retaining their link to the original founding.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon colour, and very slow thin legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of lime, lemon curd, quince, marigold, and mandarin.  The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, medium body, and medium plus length.  There are notes of lime, mineral, orange peel, and hints of both vanilla and grape.

I categorize this wine as good.  It has a nice array of aromas and flavours but took a little while to tease them out as the glass warmed slightly.  While the nose is almost exclusively fruit and flowers, the minerality on the palate gives it a boost in terms of complexity.  I was surprised by the grape note as I only associate that with Muscat, but it certainly wasn’t pronounced.

Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Les Terres Jaunes 2010

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Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Les Terres Jaunes 2010

Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Les Terres Jaunes 2010

Last week was meant to be an attempt to clear out some of the backlog of Australian wines in my queue, and was at least partially successful, with four interesting wines from two large and two very small producers.  This week I will focus on the French wines that I’ve tasted recently but which haven’t made it onto the site.  Today, it’s the Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Les Terres Jaunes 2010.

This is a wine of Beaume de Venise in the southern Rhône.  It is a warm Mediterranean region, somewhat to the east of the valley through which the river flows, and protected from the mistral.  The area has three main soil types across the different areas being cultivated.  South of the town is a flat with alluvial gravel and silt over sand and cobalt.  Just north of the town on south facing slopes vines are planted on an area of broken rock over sand, and further north on the far side of the peaks is decomposed gravel with concentrations of dolomite over sandstone and marl.

I first became familiar with the region a few years back by way of the style of wine for which the area is historically famous, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, and for which it was given AOC status in 1945 (though backdated to 1943).  It’s a white Muscat based vin doux naturel, a sweet style of wine where the fermentation is stopped by the addition of spirit before all the sugar is converted to alcohol.

However, this wine is neither white, sweet, nor fortified.  In addition to the Muscat VND, the regions is also known for production of dry, red table wine, and was granted AOC status in 2005.  The red wines of Beaumes de Venise are blended from at least 50% Grenache and  25% Syrah and up to 20% being other authorized grapes such as Mourvèdre including at most 5% white grapes.   White and rosé wines are also produced though only as Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC.

Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin is a fairly small producer based in the north of the Beaumes de Venise appellation.  They are certified as organic, and in addition to this wine, they produce red and rosé wines of the Côtes du Ventoux appellation and red and white Côtes du Rhône.  In addition to Syrah and Grenache, they have plantings of Cinsault and Carignan they use in their Côtes du Ventoux and red Côtes du Rhône wines as well as Roussanne and Clairette which go into their white Côtes du Rhône.

This wine, which translates to Yellow Lands, is a blend of 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah.  After fermentation, it is matured in vats and bottled with some sulphur but without filtration.

In the glass, it is clear and bright, with a dark purple colour and some legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of blackberry, coffee, cherry, and plums.  It’s richly fruity but with some secondary characters.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus body, medium plus intensity, medium plus grippy tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium acidity and medium length.  There are notes of chocolate, hazelnut, liquorice, blackberry and cherry.

This is a good wine.  It has an interesting complexity of flavours, which work well together.  It’s strong in most respects, only falling slightly out of balance with less acidity and length than I might have wanted.  However, it does have the potential to get more interesting with cellaring.

Pin in the map is approximate.

Thomas Hardy & Sons Eileen Hardy McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 1972

Thomas Hardy & Sons Eileen Hardy McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 1972

Thomas Hardy & Sons Eileen Hardy McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 1972

There was a tasting scheduled for Saturday and I had been looking forward to it all week.  Alas, it was cancelled at the last minute, leaving me with some unscheduled time that afternoon.  The tasting would have been some high end red wines of Australia, so rather than moping I decided to open up a special bottle of my own and conduct a very small tasting of the Thomas Hardy & Sons Eileen Hardy McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 1972.

I’ve covered both McLaren Vale and Cabernet Sauvignon several times, so today I’m just going to write about Hardy’s and about older bottles in general.  Thomas Hardy & Sons was established in 1853 by Thomas Hardy himself, having arrived from England three years prior.  The family business grew over the generations that followed, and through mergers over the last two decades with BRL and then Constellation, the Hardy Wine Company became the world’s largest international wine business.  More recently though, the group’s name was changed to Constellation Wines Australia, and then again to Accolade Wines with a change of controlling interest.  The Hardys brand though has remained well respected throughout the recent ups and downs, and remains one of the strongest in Australia.

Eileen Hardy OBE is generally referred to as the matriarch of the Hardy family, and a new wine was named after her on her 80th birthday, January 15th, 1973.   The honour was bestowed on the best red wine the company produced, and that year it was the Special Bin 80, McLaren Vale Shiraz 1970.  Two years later in 1975, the Eileen Hardy label graced this wine, a 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Tintara vineyards in McLaren Vale.  The tradition continued over the years that followed, though at some point it was decided that the variety would always be Shiraz instead of possibly fluctuating with each vintage.  With Eileen Hardy firmly established as a flagship brand, a Chardonnay was added to the line up in 1986 and more recently Pinot Noir made its first appearance under the label with the 2008 vintage.

I consider old wine a special treat.  As I’ve only been serious about wine for a few years, most of the bottles in my cellar are relatively recent vintages and I expect many will improve with time.  However, now and again I manage to pick up a back vintage, such as this one I purchased at auction a few years ago.

There are a few things worth keeping in mind when dealing with an older bottle.  If you have the time, it pays to stand the bottle upright and leave undisturbed for up to a day.  If under cork, wine is typically stored on its side to keep the cork from drying out, and so sediment collects on the side of the bottle.  Therefore it’s best to stand it up for a day to allow the sediment to settle at the bottom instead of in your glass.

If your bottle is under cork, here’s where it gets interesting.  After removing the foil, make sure you have a good look at the cork for signs of leakage, and give the cork and mouth of the bottle a good wipe so you can have some sense as to the condition of the cork.  If a cork is at all wet on the exterior of the bottle or especially old, I usually use an Ah-so opener.  It relies on two prongs on opposite sides of the cork instead of a screw that goes through the centre, and can be extremely useful for fragile corks.  Finally, I almost always decant red wines.  For younger wines, the exposure to air can help them to open up.  With older wines it’s more a matter of racking off the clear wine from any sediment that has accrued in the bottle.

With this bottle I managed to get the cork out in one piece, but it was very soft and wet throughout.  I decanted the wine and ended up with roughly 1cm of wine left in the bottle, but the wine in the decanter was fairly clear.  I poured myself a glass, and the cork, though wet, seemed to have done its job.

In the glass this wine was clear and bright with a medium garnet colour but an opaque core.  When swirled there were some slow legs.  On the nose it was clean and fully developed with medium minus intensity and notes of dried red currants, sweet spice, leather, potpuorri and cocoa powder.  On the palate it was dry, with medium minus intensity, medium minus alcohol, medium minus very fine tannins, medium acidity, and medium length.  There were notes of dried red currants and cranberries, black liquorice, tobacco leaf and milk chocolate.

This wine was a real treat.  I’m not sure it’s entirely appropriate to put an evaluation of quality on a wine that’s 40 years old, but I will give it a very good to outstanding.  It very clearly was a fantastic wine and I’m drinking it past its prime.  That said, while the intensity and tannins have faded, the acidity still has a bit of zip, and while the fruit has all progressed to being dried, it’s certainly still there.  The developed characters give it plenty of complexity, and there is no doubt as to its typicity as a Cabernet Sauvignon.

It’s unusual to come across a bottle of Australian wine from the 1970s, and rarer still for it to be neither fortified nor sweet.  Even though I sourced this from a reliable auctioneer, I didn’t fancy my chances of finding anything drinkable inside, but I’m so pleased I did.  It’s reminded me that while there were not only quality dry table wines being produced in Australia in the 1970s, there were some quite capable of ageing gracefully for decades.

Parish Hill Frizzante Lambrusco 2009

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Parish Hill Frizzante Lambrusco 2009

Parish Hill Frizzante Lambrusco 2009

I wrote about a Lambrusco back in August and had very little interest in more of the same.  By “more of the same” I mean I didn’t want another  cheap bottle of mass produced red fizz, particularly when I keep hearing that there is good Lambrusco being made.  I will do a wine tour of Italy at some point, but in the mean time I was able to find an interesting bottle just by heading up to the Adelaide Hills with this Parish Hill Frizzante Lambrusco 2009.

[Apologies for the especially bad photo - the label is essentially red paint on a dark green bottle which looks fine in person but which does not photograph brilliantly.]

First off, as with a number of proper grape and location names, “Lambrusco” has been abused within Australia and generically applied to cheap, low alcohol, somewhat sweet red wine.  However, that is not the case with this bottle.  Not only is it made from grapes of the Lambrusco family, it’s specifically made from Lambrusco Maestri, which is worth a word or two.

Lambrusco, as I mentioned in August, is a collection of Italian grapes which are classed together as a family and not just different clones of the same variety.  Wine Grapes lists twelve distinct varieties, though it’s not clear if there are others yet to be identified.  The word “Lambrusco” apparently means “wild grape” in Italian, and it is believed that all grapes with that name in Italy were domesticated locally from wild grapes.

Lambrusco Maestri is thought to originate around, and take it’s name from, Villa Maestri in Parma, where it is used in both still and frizzante Colli di Parma DOC wines.  However, it is more widely planted in Emilia-Romagna where it is used in the production of a variety of wines at DOC and IGT levels.  In the New World, in addition to a very small number of plantings in Australia, it is grown in Argentina in Mendoza and San Juan.  While neither as popular as Lambrusco Salamino nor as well regarded as Lambrusco di Sorbara, it performs well in the vineyard as far as both growth and yields.  Wines of Lambrusco Maestri are often considered rustic but can have distinct strawberry notes.

Parish Hill Wines was founded in 1998 by Andrew Cottell and Joy Carlisle in the Adelaide Hills, and is somewhat unique in its dedication to Italian varieties.  Production is tiny, with a maximum crush of 15 tonnes and an annual production of roughly 700 cases.  All wines are made on site by Cottell from estate grown fruit.

They liken their site to Piedmont, and worked with noted viticulturist and oneology consultant Dr Alberto Antonini on their selection of vines.  While their wines include Pinot Grigio, Prosecco (Glera?) and Moscato which are fairly well known in the Adelaide Hills, they also have some less often seen varieties such as Arneis and Nebbiolo.  In addition, they have plantings of Dolcetto and Negro Amaro, which according to Vinodiversity are each only used by only a single other local producer, and they may be the sole source of Brachetto and Vermentino in the Adelaide Hills.

In the glass this wine is clear, bright, and frothy when poured, with a slight rim of bubbles after.  It has a deep purple colour and quick stained legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of blackberries, sour cherries, cough syrup, and a little liquorice.  On the palate it is dry with medium acidity, medium body, medium minus fine tannins, medium plus intensity, medium alcohol, and a medium plus length.  There is some slight spritz and notes of sour cherry, liquorice, and some earthiness.  It’s certainly not sweet, nor even overly fruity.

This is a very good wine.  It’s possible I’m being too generous as a result of such a poor first experience with Lambrusco, but objectively this wine has some richness, notes of complexity, and some flavours i can’t quite pin down.  It’s an interesting style, and it gives me hope that I might someday be able to taste a Lambrusco from an Italian producer of similar, high quality.

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005

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Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005

As someone who both studies and enjoys wines, it’s sometimes annoying to be asked if I have a favourite.  The notion that I would pick a single wine and hold it up over all others is a bit silly, as there are so many great wines out there and picking the right one is so often down to the situation.  A perfect wine for a warm summer’s day on the veranda would not be right for a cold night by the fire.  However, if pressed, I will sometimes confess that I actually do have a favourite, and today I will tell you about it with this Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005.

When I arrived in Australia, I was just starting to appreciate wine and Penfolds is one of the biggest names in the business.  While they produce a huge range of wines, many at very low price points, they’re best known for their flagship Grange, widely regarded as the most famous Australian wine.  Over my first few years here, I attended a number of Penfolds tastings as well as some elegant dinners at their Magill Estate restaurant, and eventually decided that if I was going to have a favourite wine, I could do much worse than RWT.  I had tasted the wine on a number of occasions and enjoyed it greatly, so at some point I thought that if I could have just one wine, that would be it.

Given my wine journey over the last few years, it’s turned into something of an contrary choice.  I work vintage with a tiny producer, making Pinot Noir in a cool climate.  I love obscure grapes and lesser known regions.  Penfolds RWT on the other hand, is a wine from a huge producer, made from an extremely popular grape in a prominent, warm region.  However, I’m still happy to call it my favourite because I always enjoy drinking it.

Barossa and Shiraz are well known to this blog, so I’ll move directly to talking about Penfolds.  It was founded in 1844 by an English doctor, Christopher Rawson Penfold, and the wines first produced at Magill were prescribed as tonic.  The business grew quickly, producing both table and fortified wines, and over the century that followed grew to include vineyards throughout South Australia and New South Wales.  The company pioneered fine wine in Australia through the efforts of Max Schubert, with Grange starting as an experiment in 1951, and continued by developing a distinctive house style of red wines through the 1960s.

In 1986 John Duval became the chief winemaker.  Loyal readers will recognize that name not just from his white Rhône blend Plexus but also the Syrah he makes with Viña Ventisquero.  In 1995 he embarked on a project to produce a high quality Shiraz that would be distinct from both Grange and another Penfolds premium wine, St. Henri.  Both of those are multiregional, in that they are made of grapes that can be sourced from across Australia, and each will often have a small component of Cabernet Sauvignon depending on the vintage.  For RWT (from red winemaking trials) Duval stuck exclusively with Barossa Shiraz, and while Grange is distinctively in new American hogsheads and St. Henri sees only old French oak vats, RWT is aged in half new French hogsheads.

Peter Gago took over as chief winemaker in 2002, continuing to this day, and I can’t resist telling a short story.  My wife had met him in London at an international tasting and she was impressed that he turned up in advance and personally opened and tested every bottle of his wine  - far from the norm.  Fast forward to 2007 and my wife and I had reservations for a very small, local wine dinner in Adelaide that he was to be presenting.  It was also the night of a lunar eclipse, and we walked by the restaurant 30 minutes before the dinner, on our way to an open area from which to watch the moon disappear.  As we passed, there he was opening and tasting each of the wines, and it was my turn to be impressed.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a deep brick red colour and very slow, thick legs lining the glass when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium plus intensity and notes of red cherries, boysenberries, cinnamon, and a little bit of leather. If you’ve ever smelled Red Vines, you’ll get that, too.  On the palate it’s clean, with high intensity, medium plus acidity, medium plus mouth coating fine tannins, medium plus body, medium plus alcohol, and long length.  It’s concentrated but not jammy.  There are notes of red cherries, blackberries, black pepper, pomegranate, blood/red meat/iron, liquorice, and a black pudding finish.

This is an outstanding wine.  It’s deeply concentrated, very rich and long lasting.  A joy, but then again, it is my favourite, so I would say that.  More objectively, it is well balanced, particularly for such a big wine.  The range of flavours, both fruit and developed, is impressive and I expect it will gain further complexity with another ten years in cellar.  The typicity is very strong, as is the expression of both the Barossa and Penfolds’ house style. I’m glad I have another half dozen in the cellar, and look forward to tasting through all the vintages at some point.

Olssens Bass Hill Vineyard Carmenère 2006

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Olssens Bass Hill Vineyard Carmenère 2006

Olssens Bass Hill Vineyard Carmenère 2006

I had a run through my backlog of bottles, that is things I’ve drunk but haven’t written up, and I have quite a few wines from Australia, France and Canada to sort.  So in an effort to clear the queue, this week will be exclusively wines of Australia, and next week I’ll tackle the French.  I’ll start with this Olssens Bass Hill Vineyard Carmenère 2006.

I wrote a bit about Carmenère with the Viña Casa Silva Microterroir back in July, but now that I have my copy of Wine Grapes I think it’s worthwhile to dig out a new fact for each variety even if I’ve covered the grape before.  The book makes excellent use of pedigree charts for grapes, and the Cabernet Sauvignon chart is a case in point.  For Carmenère it shows that one parent is Cabernet Franc, and the other is Gros Cabernet, a grape which is no longer cultivated.  What makes that interesting is that Cabernet Franc is a grandparent of Gros Cabernet, meaning that Carmenère has Cabernet Franc as a parent and as a great-grandparent.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot also have Cabernet Franc as a parent, which goes some way to explaining how the varieties can be confused with one another.

This is a wine of the Clare Valley, which I described when I wrote up the a Pikes Riesling back in February.  While I certainly like the wines of Clare, it’s that bit further out from Adelaide such that I don’t get to visit very often and as a result I expect I’m missing out on some interesting wines.  There are plantings of Barbera and Zibibbo which would advance my quest for a century of varietal wines, to say nothing of the Assyrtiko vines that Jim Barry put in a couple of years ago.

Olssens of Watervale has some interesting plantings, though some of them are more to do with trying something old than trying something new.  Founded by Kevin and Helen Olssen in 1986, it is one of very few wineries to produce a red Bordeaux style blend out of the six originally permitted grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenère.  Other wines produced include Riesling, Semillon, and Shiraz, as well as red blends.  This bottling of the 2006 vintage is quite possibly the first commercial release of a varietal Australian Carmenère, though there are now at least a half dozen producers with plantings.  Unfortunately it’s not clear if there will be another Carmenère from Olssens or indeed any other wines.  At present, the Watervale property is listed for sale, and while I’m tempted, I don’t think I’m quite ready to make the move.

In the glass, this wine is dark ruby, with the most narrow of rims and quick dark legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of blueberries, chocolate, cherries, and a slight hint of raisins.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium grippy tannins, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, and notes very similar to the noses – blueberries, chocolate, and cherries, with some coffee and a touch of prunes.  It has a mocha finish and a medium plus length.

This is a solid good, in fact almost a very good.  It lets me down slightly in terms of complexity, in that the nose tells you the whole story, and I would have expected the development over six years to have given more than just a bit of chocolate and coffee.  But that said, there’s nothing out of place, and it has good varietal typicity as far as the cherries and chocolate go.  I attribute the blueberries to the cooler climate of Clare.