Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010

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Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010

Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010

It’s been a tough week and a half so far working vintage.  Early starts and long days are par for the course, so I can’t complain about them.  Equipment issues are more of a pain, with a pair of pumps needing repairs so far.  The worst for me though is the physical exertion, in stark contrast to my otherwise fairly cushy life, and this year it’s been compounded by an accident (which was completely my fault) involving a forklift, a barrel rack and my head.  Three stitches and a tetanus shot later later I’m fine, albeit with a black eye, but enjoying this (unrelated) day off to do some writing instead of just resting.  And what better way to make the most of it than with this bottle of Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010.

A grape familiar to any student who has covered Champagne, Pinot Meunier is something of a tough nut to crack for those of us interested in varietal wines.  First, within Champagne while it is the second most widely planted variety, it is not as highly regarded as Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.  That means that while many houses use Pinot Meunier in their wines, few draw attention to that fact or produce varietal examples.  There are some exceptions, including Krug, though I have yet to sample one.  Second, as a grape it is not commonly found outside of Champagne.  It is permitted in the Loire, though not widely planted, and can be found in Lorraine near the border with Luxembourg and Germany.  Within Germany itself there are plantings but very few notable examples.  In the New World, there are fewer plantings still, and it’s typically used in blended sparkling wine with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  That makes this wine exceptional, as a still, varietal Pinot Meunier, before I even open the bottle.

As a Pinot, this variety is nearly identical at the genetic level to the other Pinots (Noir, Blanc, Gris, et al) except for the accumulation of mutations over the course of propagation through replanted clippings.  It differs from Pinot Noir in that it buds and ripens later, making it less susceptible to late frosts and therefore gives more reliable yields.  It also does well in clay soils, in addition to limestone, meaning it can be more widely planted throughout Champagne.  Furthermore, it can have higher acidity than Pinot Noir, though it isn’t thought to have as much ageing potential.  It’s easy to see why it would be a popular grape for growers, even if some houses prefer not to acknowledge their use of it.

Best’s Great Western was founded in the 1860s by Henry Best in the Great Western area of Victoria, roughly 180km west by northwest of Melbourne.  Best spent nearly 50 years building the business until his death in 1913.  Soon thereafter, it passed to William Thomson who had been running a neighbouring winery at Rhymney.  He and his family continued to expand the business, which is now in the hands of the fifth Thomson generation.

The company is best known for its Shiraz, with their Thomson Family Shiraz in their Icon Range featuring on the Langton’s Classification as Outstanding and their Bin No. 0 Shiraz as Distinguished.  This Pinot Meunier and a Pinot Noir round out that range, while their Concongella Collection and Great Western Range include more Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and a Dolcetto, in addition to a Champagne produced in a partnership with a small house in L’Aube.

The Great Western is a subregion of the Grampians in Victoria.  While there are a number of subregions described as pending approval or used informally, Great Western is one of only fourteen subregions in Australia officially recognized by the Geographical Indications Committee.  The region is moderate to cool, with a Mediterranean climate and some influence from the Southern Ocean and from altitude that ranges from 240-440m .  The soils are varied, but principally clays and loams with good water retention.

As to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, with a medium minus garnet colour and very slight legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful with medium intensity and notes of black cherries, some Pinot Noir funk, some black pepper, and some forest floor/mushroom scents.  Later, there were additional notes of dark chocolate and coffee.  On the palate it’s dry with high acidity, medium minus body, medium intensity, medium minus fine tannins, medium plus alcohol, and a long length.  There are notes of black cherries, liquorice, cranberries, coffee, star anise, and black pepper.

This is a very interesting wine, and I think very good quality.  If served it blind, my first guess would have been Pinot Noir with punched up acidity.  I was expecting fruitiness but that was not exclusively the case.  Instead it also has a fair number of developed characters despite only being two years old.  I can’t vouch for varietal typicity, but it certainly has complexity and it does linger on the palate.  While I’m drinking it far to young, I’m fairly certain they made more than just this one bottle so I’ll have to secure another.  And also, having now tried my first varietal, still Pinot Meunier, I honestly don’t understand why it isn’t more widely planted.  Apparently it’s also being used for more than just sparkling wine in New Zealand, so I look forward to finding out more.

Morris of Rutherglen Cinsaut (Blue Imperial) 2010

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Morris of Rutherglen Cinsaut (Blue Imperial) 2010

Morris of Rutherglen Cinsaut (Blue Imperial) 2010

Closing in on a century of varietal wines, 76 with this post, it’s starting to be a bit more challenging.  Even though I’ve encountered 98 different grapes, over 20 of them have been only as components in blends.  There are a few that will be relatively easy to find as varietal wines, such as Prosecco and Tempranillo, but others such as Crouchen Blanc and Tibouren are rare enough in blends and nearly impossible to source as varietals.  Today’s wine is a grape that proved more difficult than I had anticipated to find as a varietal, despite it being a relatively common variety.  So I give you the surprisingly rare Morris of Rutherglen Cinsaut (Blue Imperial) 2010.

Whenever I think of Cinsaut I am reminded of the first time I heard it pronounced out loud, which was well after I was familiar with the word on paper.  Unfortunately I was unable to connect how it sounds with the spelling, and came across as something of an idiot as a winemaker told me all about a grape which I had tasted numerous times.  It didn’t help that it can also be spelled Cinsault, and in Australia it can also be known as Blue Imperial or even Black Prince (among many others).

Cinsaut is a red grape of southern France, though there are plantings in the south of Italy going back centuries as well.  It has proven popular in the vineyard for a number of reasons.  First, it does well in heat and under drought conditions, which while generally a good thing, can be an extremely attractive quality in countries or regions where irrigation is not permitted or practical, and goes some way to explain why it is also cultivated in North Africa and Lebanon.  Second, it can produce generous yields of both big bunches and big berries, though there is obviously a trade-off to be maintained between yields and quality.

Outside of the Mediterranean, Cinsault is best known to students of wine as a parent of Pinotage in South Africa, where it was known confusingly as Hermitage.  It was the most widely planted red grape there for decades, only dropping out of the top spot in the 1990s, but not widely appreciated.  There are some plantings of the grape in the USA, particularly on the West Coast in California and Washington, and while not wildly popular within Australia, it is a part of some well respected red blends from Barossa and McLaren Vale.

This is the first wine on this site from Rutherglen.  Being based in South Australia, there’s certainly a local bias against wines from interstate in terms of availability, but Rutherglen has an international reputation and featured prominently in the WSET Diploma, albeit within the section for fortified wine.  Rutherglen is in Victoria, north east of Melbourne, nestled against the border with New South Wales.  It’s a historic region, with a wine industry that dates back to the first half of the 19th century.  The climate is continental with hot summer days but cold nights.  Broadly speaking, there are two main soil types, with a stretch of loam across lower hill slopes being favoured for the production of fortified wines and more widespread sandy soils in which grapes for table wine are grown.  The fortified wines of Rutherglen deserve their own article, so I will save discussion of them for when I have one in front of me.  The table wines though are typically big and red, with Shiraz, Durif and Cabernet Sauvignon being most widely planted for table wines.  Muscat and Muscadelle are widely planted for fortified wines.

Morris Wines was established in 1859 by George Francis Morris and he grew it to over 200 acres by 1885, making it the largest wine producer in the Southern Hemisphere.  However, the region as a whole was hit hard by phylloxera near the turn of the century, resulting in a great downturn and in the sale of the business in 1917.  However, the family remains involved in the operation to this day and the fifth generation, though the company is currently owned by Pernod Ricard Australia.

The company is best known, as is typical of the region, for its fortified wines.  Morris produces over a dozen though I hesitate to list them all as they have names like Vintage Port, Fino, Amontillado and Tokay which are in a state of flux (it’s complicated) and will wait until I’m covering Rutherglen fortified wines.  However, they do produce table wines of the big three red grapes, Shiraz, Durif and Cabernet Sauvignon, in addition to this Cinsaut, as well as a Chardonnay and a sparkling Shiraz / Durif blend.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright with a medium plus ruby colour and slow, thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of black cherry, plums, cranberries, and some sweet spice.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium fine tannins, medium body, medium plus alcohol, medium plus intensity and a medium plus length.  There are notes of plum, cranberries, black cherries, and a hint of liquorice.

I rate this wine as a solid good.  It had a strong fruit profile as befits a young red, and while it is fruit driven, it’s not just a bland collection of simple red fruit – the flavours are fairly distinct and complex.  It has more intensity on the palate than the nose, and the acidity keeps it fresh.  As this is my first varietal Cinsaut, I can’t say much about typicity, but it certainly hasn’t put me off the grape.  I’ll continue to be on the lookout for Cinsaut, even if I only find it in blends.

Port Phillip Estate Quartier Mornington Peninsula Arneis 2006

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Port Phillip Estate Quartier Mornington Peninsula Arneis 2006

Port Phillip Estate Quartier Mornington Peninsula Arneis 2006

After somewhat getting back on track last week, I hope to be firing on all cylinders this week.  I have three new varietal wines lined up for the century, some more tips for those headed into the Unit 3 exam in January, and I’m hoping to be adding a few more bits and bobs to the site beyond just the wine reviews.  But I’m going to start with our A, B, C varietals, this being the A for Arneis, in the form of Port Phillip Estate Quartier Mornington Peninsula Arneis 2006.

Arneis is a white grape from the northwest of Italy, specifically Roero in the north of Alba.  There is not only the sole grape for the DOC white and sparkling wines Roero Arneis and Roere Arneis Spumante, but it also is a small component (2%-5%) in the red wine, which is predominantly Nebbiolo.  It had been used in a similar method to soften the wines of Barolo until that region shifted to varietal Nebbiolo in the 20th century, when plantings of the grape in Italy went into a steep decline.  The grape was near extinction when it saw a resurgence in popularity in the 1980s, and now plantings may be found in California, New Zealand, and of course Australia with nearly 50 producers.

The fall in popularity may have been due to the difficult nature of the grape, evidenced by it’s name which means little rascal in the regional language of Piedmont.  (I do love how grape names can be so evocative.)  In the vineyard it produces low yields of grapes with low acidity, is susceptible to powdery mildew, and can over ripen.  Modern viticulture has been able to address some of those issues, with some success in clonal selection for resistance to powdery mildew and the mapping of clay soil types of clay or chalk to heighten perfume or acidity respectively.  Common descriptors of varietal Arneis include citrus, floral, pear and apricots.

Port Phillip Estate was established in 1987 and covers roughly 10HA on the Mornington Peninsula, but the most recent chapter started in 1999 when it was purchased by Giorgio Gjergja.  An successful businessman in electrical engineering, he set about constructing an impressive rammed-earth building to house the winery, cellar door and a restaurant, half of which is concealed within the hill overlooking vines and the bay.  Then in 2004 he acquired both Kooyong Estate and its winemaker, Sandro Mosele, who now oversees both operations.  Both are known for their boutique single vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, and the operations are intermingled, with fermentation and maceration taking place at Kooyong and the bottling and further maturation at Port Phillip Estate.

Port Phillip Estate has several ranges of wines, including the aforementioned single vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, and estate grown Sauvignon Blanc and a Shiraz rosé, through to a Quartier range, which is made from grapes produced in surrounding vineyard and includes Pinot Gris, Barbera, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and this Arneis.

While I’ve written about the Mornington Peninsula a couple of times, most recently with the Willow Creek Vineyard, the short of it is that it’s a cool (for Australia) climate region with maritime influences from the Port Phillip Bay to the north and west and the Bass Straight to the south.  There are a number of distinct soil types in the region, with those of Port Phillip Estate being red, crumbly, volcanic soil.

I don’t have access to their technical sheet for this vintage, but it appears it is generally made from whole bunch pressings, wild yeast fermentation mostly in stainless steel with some small percentage in French barriques, and then further maturation on lees of four months before bottling.  Also, it’s apparently meant to be drunk within two years, which obviously I failed to do.  However,

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour, and thin quick legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean with medium plus intensity, a developing character and notes of lemon, honeydew melon, some sandalwood, and vanilla custard.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus body, medium plus acidity, medium plus flavour intensity, medium plus alcohol, with notes of lime, melon, pear, green pea, and custard.  It has long length and a bitter lemon finish.

This is an interesting wine.  It does not lack for complexity on the nose or palate, and while there is some overlap, the two are not mirror images of one another.  It’s a very full wine with medium plus ticks across the board on the palate.  I’ll call it very good, but I’m going out on a limb to some extent as I can’t vouch for its typicity – I have only had a few Arneis varietals before, none since I started this blog, and so while I like how it tastes, I can’t say if it’s how it’s meant to taste.  Still, at six years of age it’s still very bright, and the fruit is holding up well, now supplemented by some secondary characters.

Bannockburn Geelong Sauvignon Blanc 2011

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Bannockburn Geelong Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Bannockburn Geelong Sauvignon Blanc 2011

I attended an interesting wine dinner the other night where each person attending brought a bottle of wine they considered to be weird (in a good way) – be it the grape(s), the region, or winemaking.  I brought a Tannat blend from Uruguay that I picked up the last time I was there, others brought unusual wines from Greece, France, and a large collection of alternative varietals from Australia.  This wine would have fit right in, because it’s certainly not ordinary.  Our wine for this post is the Bannockburn Geelong Sauvignon Blanc 2011.

Geelong is an Australian wine region I have not yet visited, but it’s fairly familiar.  If you’re in Melbourne and head southeast you can end up on the Mornington Peninsula.  However, if you head southwest you’re on your way to Geelong.  Vines were first planted in the area in the early 19th century by Swiss settlers, and at one point it was the largest wine region in Victoria.  However, viticulture largely vanished for decades after the arrival of phylloxera.  It wasn’t until 1966 that vines returned, and today the region has more than 60 producers, most operating on small scale, benefiting from their proximity to Melbourne.

The climate is cool and dry, with maritime climates being the norm in coastal areas moderated by proximity to Port Phillip Bay, the large natural harbour south of Melbourne, but shifting to continental more inland.  Elevations also rise from the coast to heights of 400m. Sea breezes keep disease pressure low, and what rain falls is typically in winter and spring.  The soil is largely clay, with red-brown loam over a hard base being the norm, though supplemented with areas of black clay with a cracked surface.  There are also patches of limestone, sand, shale and gravel.  A wide range of varieties are planted, with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling being the most common whites while Pinot Noir and Shiraz are the most common reds.

Bannockburn Vineyards was set up in 1974 by Stuart Hooper with the intention of producing quality wine to rival Burgundy.  All their wines are produced from fruit they grow across 27HA.  They describe their soils as “black brown volcanic loam to dense clay sitting on a limestone base” which again reinforces my belief that I will never find a general description of soils of a region that matches the soils as described by an specific producer.  It’s almost enough to make we want to give up reporting region soils.  Vines are dry grown, which when combined with low fertility in the soil and high winds, means small yields.

While Burgundy was the original inspiration, and Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are at the heart of their range, they also have plantings of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and the Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling that went into this wine.  They produce a range of ten or so wines, including four single vineyard varietals at the top of their range, a red blend and a Saignée style rosé.

Sauvignon Blanc is not a new variety to this blog, and in fact I had a couple of them last month from Sancerre and Marlborough.  However, while the front label proclaims Sauvignon Blanc in big letters, the back label notes that there is a 10% contribution from Riesling in the bottle, which starts to put us in somewhat uncharted territory.  From there, it decreases in familiarity.

Some wines are all about the vineyard, and indeed it’s a commonly expressed sentiment among winemakers that the wine is made there instead of the winery.  I say commonly expressed because that’s what consumers like to hear, but much more happens in the winery than most consumers want (or really need) to know.  Of course it varies from producer to producer, but everything from the skin contact, the duration and temperature of fermentation, oak treatment, malolactic fermentation, and many, many other options at the disposal of the winemaker have an impact on the final wine.  Some winemakers prefer to do as little of the above as possible, and “non-interventionist” winemaking is something of a buzzword, but for some wines it’s appropriate to employ any range of techniques to produce the wine you want to make.

So as I mentioned, the first thing that makes this a bit different is the portion of Riesling.  It’s less than 15% so I don’t think it even needs to be declared on the label.  While Sauvignon Blanc is often part of a blend, it’s typically paired with Semillon and possibly Muscadelle in the manner of white Bordeaux blends.  There are actually another six white grapes permitted in the dry white wines of Bordeaux, but Riesling is not among them, and in fact Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are not even commonly planted in the same regions within Europe.

The fermentation is interesting as well, in that it’s done in barrel using wild yeasts.  That in itself isn’t particularly unusual – barrel fermentation for Chardonnay is quite common, and some of the Sauvignon Blancs of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume have levels of oak treatment.  However, in addition to the 1/4 new French oak, some of the fermentation is done in Italian Acacia puncheons.  I had to double check what a puncheon is, and I’m not sure if the term is being used generically for a barrel, or if they mean specifically the traditional English measure of 318.2 litres versus the 475 litres advertised by a cooperage in Australia .  In either case, Italian Acacia isn’t something I’d come across before.  Also, a fraction (1/3 for this vintage) of the ferments are done with skin contact, something more typical of red wine making.  Finally, after the fermentation is complete, the wine is kept on lees for ten months, which is a technique we’ve encountered before both with Champagne and Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie.

So while all of the things I’ve described are commonly employed techniques in winemaking (with the possible exception of Italian Acacia puncheons), the fact that they’re all being used on a Sauvignon Blanc is what I find intriguing.  When I wrote about the Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc last month, it was a good example of the most popular expression of the variety.  This wine heads in a completely different, and largely unique direction, which is great if you have a sense of adventure when it comes to trying wine.  However, if you want a Kiwi style Sauvignon Blanc you are best off looking elsewhere.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with pale lemon colour and slow thick legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with low flavour intensity.  There really wasn’t much on the nose to start, but I did eventually pick up some citrus, spice, and a hint of cloves.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium acidity, medium plus body, medium alcohol, and medium plus intensity, with notes of asparagus, bell pepper, and grapefruit.  It had a medium plus length and a peppery finish.

I thought this was a good wine, and would have put it in the very good category except for the nose being a bit restrained.  In terms of notes on the palate, it was certainly a varietally typical Sauvignon Blanc, but it was so much more in terms of mouth feel.  The body and intensity on the palate were lovely and the resulting wine was at least as big as a moderately oaked Chardonnay.  I don’t often look to Sauvignon Blanc when I’m after a robust white, but this one certainly fits the bill.

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.

Jasper Hill Vineyard Georgia’s Paddock Nebbiolo 2008

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Jasper Hill Vineyard Georgia's Paddock Nebbiolo 2008

Jasper Hill Vineyard Georgia's Paddock Nebbiolo 2008

As I’ve said before, I drink faster than I write, and as such I have a bit of a backlog of tasting notes and photos awaiting the research and writing to bring them together into a post that I’m willing to publish.  If I were clever, I’d just start at the oldest and work my way through them until I was caught up, possibly not drinking anything new until the backlog was clear.  Instead, I keep finding wines that I absolutely must drink, even when I’m not looking for them, and this is one such wine, Jasper Hill Vineyard Georgia’s Paddock Nebbiolo 2008.

I’m going to start with the producer in this post because they’re the reason I had to have this wine.  Jasper Hill Vineyard is a small producer based in Heathcote, Victoria that is responsible for some of the most highly sought after wines in Australia.  They are best known for two wines that appear in the Outstanding category of the Langton’s Classification, their Emily’s Paddock Shiraz / Cabernet Franc and their Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz.  The quantities produced are very small, with the former producing less than 500 cases and the latter less than 2,500 cases, but their reputation is quite significant.  With even smaller quantities of Grenache, Semillon, Riesling, Viognier, and this Nebbiolo, their total production is roughly 3000 cases.

Established in 1975, they planted the two aforementioned vineyards on a pair of hillsides near Heathcote, roughly 110km north of Melbourne.  They planted the vines on their own roots, rather than grafting onto phylloxera-resistant rootstock.  Organic and biodynamic practices are used in the vineyard, and the vines are not irrigated.  Yes, I have been known to rant about the pseudo-science of biodynamic practices, but since there’s no mention of the word “cosmic” on the entire Jasper Hill Vineyard website, I needn’t say anything more on the topic.  In the winery, they have a minimal intervention philosophy to get the best expression of terroir.  In their case, that takes the form of wild yeast fermentation, maturation for 15 months in oak (French and American, 20% new), no racking, natural malolactic fermentation, and only coarse filtration before bottling.  Their website does mention acid adjustment in the context of something they rarely do, and while it’s certainly preferable to be able to bottle without it, I applaud that they are up front about it possibly being required.  Also, to my mind it makes them seem a bit more pragmatic than dogmatic, another thing I appreciate.

Having enjoyed both Emily’s Paddock Shiraz / Cabernet Franc and Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz, I have now been surprised twice by wines that I didn’t know Jasper Hill Vineyard produced.  First was a year or two ago when I came across a bottle of their Semillon, which was also an excellent wine, but only a few barrels are produced.  Most recently I saw this on a shelf and immediately bought it.  Georgia’s Paddock has one hectare of Nebbiolo which was planted in 1993, from which only 90 cases were produced in 2008.

I’m going to cover Nebbiolo in a bit more depth with a wine from Italy in the near future, but it’s worth laying out the basics now.  It is a red wine grape from the northwest of Italy, native to Piemonte.  It is the grape of Barola and Barbaresco, and produces wines capable of considerable maturation.  It is early budding, late ripening, and susceptible to coulure, or poor fruit set.  Rain during the growing season can adversely impact quality, and it prefers calcareous marl soils.  Its grapes have thin, though unusually tough, skins.  It can typically produce wines of light color, often with an orange tint, high acid, and high tannin.  Tar and roses are the classic descriptors, and there’s at least one producer who has given the name “Tar and Roses” to their Nebbiolo.

Heathcote deserves a quick word.  As I mentioned, it’s in Victoria, north of Melbourne, and west of Nagambie Lakes, home of Tahbilk which I was drinking not so long ago.  It had been grouped with Bendigo as far as wine regions, but has emerged as an independent area capable of producing interesting cool climate Shiraz.  Like the rest of central Victoria, the climate is continental, with warm, dry summers and cool winters.  However, the soil is based on something that makes Heathcote fairly special:  Cambrian basalt.  It’s 500 million year old soil, based on volcanic lava which captured limestone as it flowed and cooled.  The resulting basalt and limestone has become decompressed and red-brown over time.  It’s considered unique within Australia, as other examples of soils based on volcanic material are fairly young and acidic, while the Cambrian soils of Heathcote are old enough that they are fairly pH neutral.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, medium minus garnet colour, with quick, thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean, with medium plus intensity, and notes of perfume, cherries, and sweet spice.  The palate is dry, with notes of sour cherries, a little iodine, some roses, and pomegranate, but I can’t say I picked up any tar.  It had medium plus acidity, medium minus fine tannins, medium minus body, medium plus length, medium alcohol, medium plus flavour intensity, and a sour plum finish.

I really enjoyed this wine and think it’s of very good quality.  It was extremely elegant and refined.  It was very approachable and was drinking very nicely, but the flavour profile consisted of lots of fruit and not many secondary characteristics.  I think it certainly has the acidity to age, but it wasn’t especially tannic, certainly not compared with Nebbiolos of Piemonte.  I’d be interested to see how it looks in a few years because I may have had this far too young.

 

Eldridge Estate Gamay 2010

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Eldridge Estate Gamay 2010

Eldridge Estate Gamay 2010

Back in February I wrote about the Sorrenberg Gamay, which I enjoyed greatly.  However, it let me down in my quest to post about 100 varietal wines in that it’s made with a small percentage of Pinot Noir.  It’s less than 15% so it need not be mentioned on the label, but enough that I cannot in good faith tick the box for having written up a varietal Gamay.  However, today I intend to do just that with the Eldrige Estate Gamay 2010.

First off, I’m not having this wine just to tick a box.  As I’ve said before, Gamay is one of my favourite grape varieties, but suffers from a trio of disadvantages in terms of popularity – being a light red, inevitable comparisons with Pinot Noir, and Beaujolais Nouveau.  None of these are actual disadvantages in terms of the quality of wines produced, and Eldridge Estate, like Sorrenberg, is another Victorian winery that takes the grape seriously.

It is based on the Mornington Peninsula, which I described to some extent when I covered the Point Leo Road Vineyard Lagrein, and I had the pleasure of a brief visit to the Eldridge Estate cellar door back in September.  Unfortunately, they were sold out of their normal Gamay, but I didn’t leave empty handed as they had a special trio of wines in 500ml bottles that were Gamays with different treatments in the winery.  Those three are in the cellar (along with the note detailing how they differ) for a later date, but I was pleased to find that a local merchant still had a bottle of their Gamay for sale even if none was on hand at cellar door.

Eldridge Estate has been owned and run by Wendy and David Lloyd since 1995, and  exclusively produces estate wines, that is wine made from grapes that they themselves grow.  Their property is near the town of Red Hill, and has nearly 3 HA under vines.  Situated on a north-facing slope (this is the Southern Hemisphere), their soils are a red earth volcanic loam (sand, silt and clay) and their vines are dry grown, though there is a dam at the bottom of the hill in case of emergencies.

Most of their plantings are a mix of a half dozen Pinot Noir clones and five Chardonnay clones, with a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc and this Gamay.  They produce varietals (some from single clones), a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier (which I assume they also grow) sparkler, and a Passetoutgrain, which translate to something along the lines of “pass all grapes” and in Burgundy is a co-fermented blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir.  Their Sauvignon Blanc is sold as Fume Blanc, with a 50/50 blend of barrel and steel fermentation, and then ageing in a 50/50 mix of new barriques and older, larger format barrels.  This Gamay is gently destemmed and fermented by wild yeasts with 90% whole grapes, preceded by five days of cold soak and followed by another four days of the same.

This wine is a bright and clear with a medium minus ruby colour – dark for a Gamay.  Very slow legs when swirled in the glass.  The nose is clean with medium plus intensity, and a developing character.  Aromas range from ripe red berries to pencil lead and a bit of black pepper.  It’s not quite perfume on the nose, but certainly some lifted fragrances are there.  The palate is dry, with medium to medium plus acidity, a medium body, medium alcohol, and a medium plus flavour intensity.  I get plum, black fruit (berries, cherries) pencil shavings and a small bit of liquorice.  There is not much in terms of tannins – certainly some from the skins, but there were no stalks in the ferment, and if there’s any oak, I can’t detect it.    It has a medium plus length with more pencil shavings/lead on the finish.

This is an interesting Gamay, and certainly a very good quality wine.  It was all fruit when I first tasted it, but I revisited my notes and the glass a couple of hours later and it was better than just that, with more of the developed characters being evident, especially the liquorice which wasn’t there at all on first taste.  Also, it’s darker and has a fuller body than most other Gamays I’ve had, which is a pleasant surprise.  I like this wine quite a bit (though I thought I might from the outset, so no great surprise).  Served blind, I think I would have guessed Pinot Noir in terms of the variety.  I will have to try the other, better known, Eldridge Estate wines at some point, the Pinot Noir especially, but I’m both thrilled in general that they’re making a Gamay and pleased specifically with the one I have in my glass.

Tahbilk Marsanne 2010

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Tahbilk Marsanne 2010

Tahbilk Marsanne 2010

It’s been a busy couple of weeks.  I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but complain.  First, I complained about a producer calling attention to replanting native trees on their property, which overlooked the fact that grape vines are not native.  Next I complained that Biodynamic practices are at best pseudo-science, and at worst some sort of cult.  Then finally I complained that any use of the term “natural” with regards to wine is a lie.  The funny thing though, in all three cases I liked the wine in question.  So even if I’ve been cranky, at least I’ve been drinking well.  I intend to continue with the drinking bit, and the wine at hand this evening is the Tahbilk Marsanne 2010.

Within Australia, there is some level of identification of varieties with regions.  While it’s nowhere near as strong (or codified in laws) as in the Old World, and the pairings are certainly not exclusive, Barossa Shiraz, Hunter Semillon, Coonawarra Cabernet and Clare Riesling all resonate.  In the same way, there are some grapes, particularly less common white grapes, that are most strongly identified with a single producer, even if they are in fact widely produced.  Chenin Blanc can bring to mind Coriole for some people, Viognier is strongly associated with Yalumba, and the first producer most people think of in Australia when you mention Colombard is Primo Estate.  Tahbilk has that in spades with Marsanne.  There are certainly other producers making excellent Marsannes, but Tahbilk really owns the space.

Tahbilk is one of Australia’s oldest wineries, having been established in 1860 as Chateau Tahbilk, only dropping the Chateau from the name in 2000.  The Purbrick family, who run it, first became involved with Tahbilk during the excavation of a cellar in 1875, which itself is still in use, and purchased operation in 1925.

Across the 1200 HA of holdings, some 200 are under vine.  While Tahbilk is best known for Marsanne, they also have plantings of the other two main Rhône white grapes, Roussanne and Viognier, and a similar trio of Rhône reds in the form of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvedre.  They also have red and white Bourdeaux grapes, Chardonnay, Riesling, Verdelho, Tempranillo, and Savagnin vines.

They have some impressive claims in terms of vine ages, with the oldest Marsanne vines in the world, planted in 1927, and in the largest single acreage at just under 100 acres.  They also have some Shiraz vines that date back to the original pre-phylloxera plantings of 1860, with tiny, but highly concentrated yields.

Tahbilk is based in the Nagambie Lakes region of Victoria, part of the Goulburn Valley, roughly 120km north of Melbourne.  The climate is continental, with warm and dry summers but significant diurnal temperature variation.  However, the region is one of very few where the climate is influenced by an inland body of water.  As a result, the area is cooler than would be otherwise expected.  (On the map, Lake Nagambie is actually quite small, though there are a number of other bodies of water nearby, such as the Goulburn Weir and Reedy Lake, so the impact may be cumulative.)

The soil is described as duplex 2.2, which I had to look up.  It’s apparently a term from an influential 1979 work by Keith Northcote, A Factual Key for the Recognition of Australian Soils and duplex refers to a sandy or loamy surface, with a sharp boundary between the surface and a clay subsoil.  In this instance, the sandy/loamy surface is red due to the oxidized iron content, which is generally thought to be good for grape production.

There was some Marsanne in the Robert Duval Plexus I had back in January, but I didn’t say much about it, other than that it’s a white grape associated with the Rhône and that it’s often found in the company of Roussanne and Viognier.  I mentioned Marsanne again when I covered the Yangarra Roussanne, and described it as a better behaved partner to Roussanne, and that it is.  Capable of full-bodied wine with no shortage of aromas or flavours, it’s relative productivity in the vineyard has made it more favoured than Roussanne of late, though it often needs extra pruning to prevent overcropping.  It buds and ripens relatively late, and can ripen with fairly low sugars.

In addition to the fullness of the wines it can produce, one of the things I like best about Marsanne is that it can handle extended ageing.  Tahbilk release several Marsannes, all unoaked, and while this is their entry level wine with two years of age, they also have the 2006 version of the same wine for sale as a Museum Release, and a premium version called 1927 Vines for which the 2002 vintage is the current release.  Over the years, Marsanne will pick up more colour and complexity, with developed characters of nuts and honey coming to the fore.

In the glass, this wine is clear, bright and a pale lemon green colour.  Upon swirling, there is a thin film/sheeting on the sides of the glass, but no legs develop.  The nose is clean and youthful, with medium plus intensity.  I got aromas of lemon, pear, lime, toast, and sandalwood.  The palate was dry, with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus body, medium plus flavour intensity, and notes of pear, lemon, white pepper, and honeycomb/wax.  It had a long length.

This is a very good wine, with a very full flavour and body.  I liked the complexity on the nose and palate, though I was surprised that it hasn’t seen any oak.  and very affordable young.  If you have space in your cellar, it’s a good value wine to put away and to enjoy over the next decade.

Point Leo Road Vineyard Lagrein 2006

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Point Leo Road Vineyard Lagrein 2006

Point Leo Road Vineyard Lagrein 2006

I’m back in Victoria, Australia, having not only largely neglected it for my first few months of writing, but having added insult to injury by having the pin in the map for the Hunter Semillon turn up near Adelaide because that’s where the producer is based.  I did try to make sure I wouldn’t get stopped in the airport the next time I fly to Melbourne by covering the Sorrenberg Gamay and today I head south from Melbourne itself to the Mornington Peninsula.

The wine in question is the Point Leo Road Vineyard Lagrein 2006, a new producer for me, but a grape I’ve had in its New World form at least once before.  First though, the Mornington Peninsula.  Melbourne sits on  the Port Phillip Bay, and there are two wine regions that separate the Bay from the sea, Geelong to the west of the inlet, or The Rip as it’s called, and the Mornington Peninsula to the east.  It’s known within Australia for being a cool climate, with influences both from the Southern Ocean and the Bay.  It is as far from the equator as the very south of Italy or the lower half of Spain, not exactly Europe’s coolest regions, so everything is relative.  That said, it actually is fairly cool – summer average temperatures are just under roughly 20C/68F with high humidity and some rain, with lots of rain in the winter and spring.  Soils vary widely across the region.

The region as a whole is dominated by Pinot Noir, which makes up nearly half of the plantings, but a much bigger mindshare as the next biggest contender is Chardonnay at only 25%.  In terms of region/grape association, Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir ranks up with Barossa Shiraz or Hunter Semillon.  And while I’ll certainly write about a Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir at some point, today I’m drinking a Lagrein.

Lagrein is an ancient red grape that survives in its Northern Italian homeland on just a few hundred hectares in Alto Adige.  It’s used to make tannic wines on it’s own, as well as a fragrant rosé,  It’s also used to add colour and tannins to blends, including Pinot Nero (Noir).  Plums are a common aroma/taste associated with the variety, as are more savoury notes of tobacco and chocolate.  Before doing some research, I assumed that like many interesting varietals, it arrived in Australia with immigrants from its region of origin.  However, it has a much more specific Australian genesis, having been cultivated by Dr Peter May of the University of Melbourne, Burnley Campus, in 1988 as outlined in an article he wrote, available at Vinodiversity.  At present, there are just two dozen Australian wineries working with Lagrein, and there are apparently plantings in California as well.  I first came into contact with the variety through Domain Day, who produce the Garganega I tasted some months ago.

Point Leo Road Vineyard is a small winery, with the founding family, the Mays Laws,  having started out as contract grape growers in 1996 with plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Their range of wines includes reds, whites, rosé and sparkling from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and this Lagrein.

This wine is a very deep colour in the glass – still ruby even at six years old.  There was fair amount of accumulated sediment when I decanted the bottle, which had been stood up for a few days.  The nose is clean and of medium intensity, showing some development, and notes of black cherry and dark chocolate.  On the palate, the acidity is the first thing that hits you – very tart, with the plums that I was looking for but didn’t find on the nose, as well as some tobacco. It has a fairly light body, and while there are some green tannins evident, they’re well integrated.  It’s a good wine though the tart fruit is somewhat jarring on the first sip.  I can’t say it’s out of balance though, certainly not without having a better idea as to the varietal typicity that comes with more experience.  I’ll have to see about tracking down an Italian Lagrein to see how the Old and New compare.

[This post originally listed the family who founded the label as the Mays.  In fact it was founded by John and Ruth Law and their family.  My apologies for the error.  The post has also been updated with an accurate pin in the map for their address.]

Sorrenberg Gamay 2009

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Sorrenberg Gamay 2009

Sorrenberg Gamay 2009

Looking at the map, there’s been no shortage of Australian wines in this blog, but they’ve all been rather lazily from South Australia.  (To be fair, I did write about a Hunter Semillon but the producer is based in South Australia.)  While it’s true that South Australia does produce the most wine of Australian states, there’s plenty of great wine coming out of the rest of the country.  Today we’ll try an interesting one from Victoria.

I’m having a look at the Sorrenberg Gamay 2009.  They’re based just outside of Beechworth in Victoria, which is a bit over 200km to the northeast of Melbourne, pretty close to the New South Wales border.

Victoria has more than its share of fine wines and wine regions, with Bass Phillip of South Gippsland, Giaconda of Beechworth, and Mount Mary of Yarra Valley all featuring as “Exceptional” in the Langton’s Classification of 2005.  The climate in general tends to be cooler than that of the regions I’ve covered in South Australia, and Beechworth is no exception.  It’s a small and relatively new region, with modern viticulture only going back to the 1970s, and only merits a single line in the OCW.  The climate is described as sub-alpine, that is, quite cool.  The town of Beechworth  itself is at an altitude of over 500m, with some of the surrounding vineyards being higher still.  The soil is varied, with alluvial flats and less fertile but better drained slopes.  Sorrenberg describes their particular patch as granitic.

So Gamay is actually one of my favourite grapes, which makes it strange that I haven’t properly written about one before.  I’m still embarrassed I didn’t pick out the one we were served blind in the tasting section of the WSET Diploma Exam, but such is life.  Gamay is a red, thin skinned grape, best known as being the heart and soul of Beaujolais.  It has been all but cast out of the rest of Burgundy (though generally comprises the bulk of Bourgogne Passetoutgrains), but can certainly be found in the Loire and Savoie.  Outside of France, there are smatterings of it to be found, with California, Canada and Australia have very small plantings, though it is found in Switzerland, frequently blended with Pinot Noir.

Gamay suffers from being unfashionable, for a number of different reasons.  First off, it is a light red.  Obviously there are fashionable light reds, with Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo springing to mind.  However, generally the trend of late has been toward heavier, more full bodied reds.

The second problem is Pinot Noir.  I love Pinot Noir, but Gamay will always be in its shadow.  While they’re both Burgundian, they’re very different grapes, and are generally made into even more different wines, with Pinot Noir heading in the direction of finesse and sophistication capable of extended cellaring, while most Gamay is made into fruity, accessible wine meant to be consumed immediately.  It’s not helped by the fact that the non-Beaujolais part of Burgundy looks down on Beaujolais.  I have a map of the region that I picked up when I was staying in Nuits-St-Georges last year titled La Route Des Vins De Bourgogne.  It stops at the bottom of Mâconnais, as though no one would want to go further south than that, though to be fair it does mention Mâconnais-Beaujolais wine route at the very bottom.

The third problem is Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine released the third Thursday of November, just scant weeks after vintage.  It’s a pleasant enough wine, fruity, light, and aromatic, but not very serious.  However, it was at one time hugely popular, and still makes up a large percentage of Beaujolais production, overshadowing other, more serious Beaujolais.

Despite all this, Gamay can be used to make very fine wine.  Above the basic appellation is Beaujolais-Villages, with the grapes coming from the northern part of the region, and finally there are wines named after specific villages, such as Moulin-à-Vent and Brouilly.  Instead of being rushed into the mouths of consumers at the first opportunity, these wines are made more gently (and expensively) and benefit from ageing.  For their quality, they are typically very good value.

Someday, perhaps in a vintage or two, I would very much like to source a ton of Gamay and try my hand at making some.  No one in my region (that I know of) makes it except for a rosé in McLaren Vale, and while I’ve been involved with a few different styles of winemaking, carbonic maceration would be a new one for me.  I even have a pretty good idea as to how much work it would be and how much it would cost, but I think I’ll be better off waiting another vintage at least before I try.

Sorrenberg is a small producer that traces its family roots back through 500 years of winemaking in the Mosel region of Germany.  They make a handful of premium wines – a red and a white Bordeaux blend, a Chardonnay and this Gamay.  Being a fan of both Gamay and novelty, it is was drew me to them, and I have not as yet had an opportunity to try their other wines.

They apparently do their fermentation in barrel, which left me scratching my head for a few minutes.  With white wines, that’s easy enough as you’re fermenting juice (which I’ve helped do) and you just put an S-shaped bubbler on top to let the CO2 out.  With reds you’re typically fermenting crushed berries, or sometimes whole bunches.  I was trying to imagine how you get berries or bunches efficiently into a barrel when I remembered that when you ferment reds in barrel, it’s typically a barrel turned on its end with the head taken out.  I’ve only helped with red ferments in tanks or tubs, which is why it took me a minute to think that through.

Their website says they also grow Pinot Noir which in their most recently released vintage (2010) constituted 10% of their Gamay, sufficiently small so as not requiring a mention on the label.  While I have had blends of Pinot Noir and Gamay before, I see that as something of a novelty.  I think in general, certainly in Burgundy, Pinot Noir commands such a higher price than Gamay, it rarely makes economic sense to blend them.  With Sorrenberg I would think it’s a matter of wanting to make the best Gamay they can, and that supplementing it with Pinot Noir is more about getting the character they want more than economics.

The wine itself is a treat.  It’s much darker in the glass than I was expecting, though I spent last week working with 2011 Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir so I may just be expecting everything to be pale.  The nose is fragrant – cherries and herbs.  Not a trace of bubblegum or banana that can be evident on lesser Gamays.  I haven’t had enough Gamays produced in this style to have been able to identify it blind – I would have guessed Pinot Noir I think.  On the palate the fruit is very fresh, and the herbs of the nose give way to spice, slightly peppery.  The body is just under medium, as you’d want from a Gamay, but the acidity has zing and the cherries carry through a long finish where they are joined with a bit of dark chocolate.  This wine lives up to the intentions of the winemaker.

And a quick meta – I had this niggling notion that the titles on this blog weren’t quite right.  It turns out they have been completely screwed up for probably quite some time.  I think I did something wrong when I added a plug-in, but it’s fixed now.  Here’s hoping the site gets re-indexed relatively quickly.

Also, I’ve enjoyed the most recent wines a great deal, and rated them highly.  If it seems I haven’t had an ill word for a wine in the past week or two, keep in mind that I’m not tasting a random selection.  Fortunately for me, I get to pick and choose what I’m having, and more often than not it’s drinking, not tasting, so I can get pretty picky.  I try not to spend money on bad wine, and while sometimes I’m happy to throw the dice and take my chances, most of the recent entries seemed reasonably safe bets that all turned out well.  I’m also somewhat insulated in that most of the recent wines were purchased from local wine merchants that likewise have little incentive to stock or recommend bad wine.  If there are aspects of a wine that I think could be better, I’ll certainly point them out, but I’m just pleased to have had a recent string of good performers.