In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:
A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it
It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.
The sweet sixteenth contributor to The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series is social media legend Brad Horne, aka Wine Time London. He presents an Instagram show “Wine Social” with a dazzling array of wine guests, often winemakers from the other side of the globe.
Among his musical preferences he mentioned “dad rock” which could actually mean several things, but I took it to mean bands such as Status Quo Oasis from the Brit pop era. Although a total cliché now and definitely overplayed, I was going to pick Wonderwall for him before I twigged the obvious choice of a song with a wine-related title: Champagne Supernova.
The wine pick for Brad was even easier as recently we had both been waxing lyrical about a certain Aussie Riesling: Petaluma’s Hanlin Hill Riesling.
Oasis – Champagne Supernova
The song Frankie chose for me was Champagne Supernova, but the wine I’m going to pair with is not Champagne; I was close to an English Sparkling wine pairing but I’ve gone for something from Down Under: Jansz Premium Cuvée always hits the spot for me, just like Oasis.
Oasis takes me back to my adolescence with friends at gigs and nights out thinking we would ‘live forever’.
This wine with its citrus notes and slight aromas of roasted nuts plus those wonderful hints of strawberry from the Pinot Noir and that lingering creaminess on the finish almost take you ‘half a world away’ or to an Aussie Sparkling Supernova In the sky…
Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling
With its lively acidity and rich palate, Petaluma Hanlin Hill Clare Valley Riesling takes you on a journey, and as this wine ages it evolves like us, developing more character and flavours. To match it I’ve therefore chosen Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Never Going Back Again‘.
Young – with citrus and orange blossom flavours – or aged, with petrol notes – this Riesling (like so many of its Clare Valley counterparts) is wonderful, and like this song you think about Fleetwood at the start young in love and free and as it develops like Riesling it changes and ‘goes it’s own way’.
This vineyard was planted in 1968 and has west-facing slopes 550 meters above sea level. It produces grapes with slatey minerality – this region is perfect for growing great Riesling!
Thanks so much to Frankie; wine and music can go hand in hand, so next time you sit down for a glass of Riesling turn on this song and ‘Dreams’….
Brad(ley) Horne is a Social Media and Marketing consultant for the Wine Industry. He helps wineries and the wine trade with wine events, Social media and Marketing in the UK. He is active on Twitter under both @BradleyHorne and @winetimelondon but his busiest outlet is Instagram under @winetimelondon where his show WineSocial live goes out at 8.00pm UK time.
Our first born child arrived in September 2011, and rather than just buy a case of wine for him (or us) to enjoy when he reached his majority I decided to buy a wine I could enjoy around his birthday every year as a toast to another year on earth. In the end I settled (!) for one of Australia’s iconic white wines, generally regarded as Australia’s best Riesling: Jeffrey Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling. Normally I enjoy the wine so much that I completely forget to make notes, but this year at least I did write a brief tasting note.
Grosset established his eponymous winery in the small town of Auburn in 1981. Auburn lies at the northern end of the Mount Lofty Ranges, a Nelson (111) km north of Adelaide and 25km south of the town of Clare. The Polish Hill vineyard lies at 460 metres, covers eight hectares and is certified organic. The soil is rocky and low in fertility making the vines work hard. Winemaking is straight forward, trying to retain as much of the fruit’s character as it becomes wine.
Famously tight when young, the wine is made from small berries, a stark contrast to the larger grapes which grow in the Watervale sub-region of Clare Valley for Grosset’s other key Riesling, Springvale. Acidity is high and in its youth there are pronounced chalky characteristics. Indeed, you might say that (in most vintages) this is a wine for purists, but given time (and good care) it can blossom into something truly magnificent.
Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2011
Let’s get the obvious question out of the way first: how dry or sweet is this Riesling? Well, Clare Valley Rieslings are nearly always dry – Grosset’s Alea Riesling is an exception to that rule – and by dry I mean technically dry, i.e. the yeast could not ferment any more sugar into alcohol, leaving just 0.9 g/L.
It pours a bright lemon in the glass; I expect that it was paler on release, though I didn’t have a young equivalent to compare it to. The nose is amazing – I could happily sniff it for hours. There are chalky mineral notes, of course, plus lifted lime, quince and grapefruit. There are no real kerosene notes yet, with the TDN¹ compound not present.
The palate is surprisingly soft and juicy, full of citrus with a soft chalky texture. The softness doesn’t mean it’s gone flabby – far from it, with literally mouth-watering acidity – but any austerity it had in its youth is firmly discarded. This is a classy, long and serene wine, nicely into the swing of things at nine years old, but with plenty to go yet. Yes it’s far from cheap, but for this quality and ageability it’s a very fair price to pay.
As Sonny Fodera almost said, “Give Me A Riesling”. Of course that’s a bit silly – who wants just oneRiesling? Riesling is known as one of the most terroir-transparent grapes around, i.e. the aromas, flavours and texture of the wine are very dependent on where it is grown. Wine-making techniques to influence the style of the wine are used sparingly – oak influence is rarely seen, for example – but there is one major decision that winemakers take: to vinify the wine dry or to leave some residual sugar. Here are two excellent Rieslings which showcase different styles:
Disclosure: both bottles were kindly provided as samples, opinions remain my own
Petaluma Hanlin Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2016
Petaluma is a premium wine producer located in the Adelaide Hills, just east of the city of Adelaide. They were founded in 1976 with the aim of making excellent wines from the regions and vineyards most suited to each variety. Their range has expanded gradually and now includes:
Clare Valley is in South Australia, almost due north from Adelaide and at the top of the Mount Lofty Ranges (Australia’s literal naming convention strikes again). Even within this small region there are significant stylistic differences, most easily illustrated by Grosset’s Polish Hill and Springvale Rieslings.
Although Riesling is the king here, there are red wines made from varieties that are more closely associated with warmer climates: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. This apparent departure from the norm is because of the high diurnal range which gives the black grapes enough sun and heat but cools down enough at night to keep the Riesling grapes happy.
This Riesling – as the name suggests – is from the Hanlin Hill single vineyard which sits at 550 metres altitude. At four years from vintage it still pours a pale lemon colour. Lime and slate open the aromas along with grapefruit and peach stone. There’s a very light whiff of kerosene but its lack of intensity shows that this wine is till fairly young.
On the palate this wine is very clean (but not Clean!) and fresh, but still pithy and with some body. It’s very dry (probably technically dry, i.e. as dry as fermentation could take it) as is the norm in the Clare Valley, but the mid-palate has plenty of fruit sweetness with peach and grapefruit joining racy lemon and juicy lime.
This bottle opened up more as I returned to taste it over several days; if consuming in one sitting I would actually recommend decanting it, not something I would usually think of for Rieslings. And I liked it so much, I think I will definitely find some more of this…and hopefully taste it with some more age!
I’ve already explained the subregions of the Mosel in a recent post, so I won’t repeat it all here. You may remember my reference to “the famous sundial vineyards” of the Bernkastel District…well the German for sundial is Sonnenuhr so we have one of those here!
Selbach-Oster is a very traditional producer based in Zeltingen in the Middle Mosel, with a family history in wine spanning four centuries (to date!) The business has two sides: a negociant operation J. & H. Selbach which uses bought in fruit, and the estate proper Weingut Selbach-Oster. Their vineyards amount to 24 hectares in total and are located in Zeltinger itself plus Wehlen and Graach:
The biggest giveaway as to the style of this wine is the alcohol: 8.5% abv. The relatively low alcohol – even for a northerly country such as Germany – indicates that some of the sugar in the grapes has not been fermented and so is present as residual sugar. The trend in Germany is for drier wines, even Rieslings which have usually had some sweetness to them, so this is very much a traditional style.
I was unable to find a residual sugar figure for this wine so my best guess as to its sweetness would be medium – definitely sweeter than off-dry but not into dessert wine territory. However, due to its thrilling acidity, the sweetness is received by the palate as fruitiness more than sugariness. Although sugar isn’t volatile (i.e. smellable) there are sweet notes on the nose of this wine. It isn’t that complex though…just totally delicious!
Tasted back to back these two wines are remarkably different, yet share some vital things in common: citrus aromas and flavours, lifted aromatics and the minerality plus racy acidity that typifies Riesling. The Mosel example is easier to like but the Clare Riesling is more cerebral; pick the one you feel in the mood for!
And for those who might recognise the song alluded to in the title, here’s Sonny Fodera ft. Janai – Give Me A Riesling Reason
“New World” is not a great term as it basically means “outside Europe”, so it includes many different countries which are different in style. Just for convenience, it allows us to look at a selection wines from California, Central Otago, Southern Australia and Ningxia, all available from Liberty Wines.
I’ve been a fan of the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc / Viognier blend for some time (see review here) but as this is Napa then the Cabernet is the real deal. Pine Ridge Vineyards was first established in Stags Leap District in the late 70s with a single vineyard next to a – you guessed it – pine ridge. Their vineyards now number 12 and total 80 hectares over five Napa sub-zones: Stags Leap District, Rutherford, Carneros, Howell Mountain and Oakville. Pine Ridge produce a number of different wines, including several from individual sub-zones, but this is a blend across the five.
This bottle is labelled as a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon but that is 91% of the blend, with the balance made up by 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. 35% of the 2016 was aged in new American oak for 18 months, giving creamy vanilla to go with the blackcurrant, cherry and blackberry notes. This is a big, lush, heady wine that is not light and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s not for those who like racy reds but it’s imposing and delicious.
Ningxia is of course the most important Chinese region for wine. Some years ago I reviewed Château Changyu Moser XV 2008 which had an abv of 12.5% and was reminiscent of old school Bordeaux (think mid ’90s). The Pretty Pony is a very good wine, regardless of origin. It has oak, lovely black fruit and is already showing a nice bit of development. This is not like old school Bordeaux – this is like modern Bordeaux!
When Central Otago Pinot Noir began to enter into the consciousness of wine drinkers it was almost the opposite of Marlborough Pinot – big, bold and powerful – with alcohol to match. It was almost a Pinot Noir for Cabernet drinkers – no bad thing in my eyes as Cab is my favourite black grape – but times, and the wines, have changed. Now elegance and balance are to the fore, without losing the intensity that made them such a hit in the first place. This is a great example of Central Pinot – especially for the relatively modest price. It has a core of ripe red fruit and a slight smoky, savoury edge that gives it some seriousness.
Another Central Pinot, but totally different in style. Burn Cottage has been practising biodynamic since the first vines were planted in 2003, and there is a low intervention approach to winemaking. Whole bunch fermentation allows the wine’s aromas to develop fully – it smells…special, for want of a better term. This is a fine, fine wine which delights all the senses but the mind too.
Like many McLaren Vale vineyards, Mitolo has Italian roots through its founder Frank Mitolo. It also has an influx of German genes through winemaker and business partner Ben Glaetzer, scion of the Barossa producer Glaetzer wines. The Mitolo portfolio is split into three ranges: Jester, Small Batch and Single Vineyard.
The G.A.M. Shiraz was the first wine produced by Mitolo; it’s not an alternative to GSM which is prevalent in the Vale, but actually stands for the initials of Frank’s three children, Gemma, Alex and Marco. The fruit is sourced from a vineyard belonging to family friends and fellow Italian immigrants the Lopresti vineyards, in particular their “Chinese Block”. As it’s located at the bottom end of McLaren Vale, the block benefits from cooling sea breezes. The vines are over 40 years old and are planted on a type of clay. Fermentation is kept on the cool side to preserve fruit flavours and then fermentation is in French oak (30% new, 70% used) for 15 months. Only at that point are barrels given final selection for inclusion in the G.A.M. Shiraz.
Aussie Shiraz is a great crowd-pleaser but this is way above that – it has phenomenal structure and intense, opulent-but-not-jammy black fruit. The Jester Shiraz is a great introduction to the style at a little over half the price of the G.A.M., but I’d argue that the latter is more than twice as good and represents great value at this price point.
Grosset Gaia Clare Valley 2014 (14.0%, RRP €66.99 at good independents nationwide)
Grosset are best known for their Rieslings, especially the Polish Hill and Springvale bottlings, but they also make some great reds too, including a Pinot Noir and this “Gaia” Bordeaux blend. I say Bordeaux blend though its precise proportions of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc would rarely be found in the Gironde. At five years old this 2014 still has bright berry, blackcurrant and plum fruit. It does have a dry leathery side, with grippy tannins and good acidity. As this is Clare there is of course a screwcap closure; a challenge to the Bordelais to catch up? This will be drinking well for years and years.
When DNS Wine Club recently met to taste a few different Rieslings, two significant conclusions presented themselves:
Although Riesling can be very pleasant in the €15 – €20 bracket (in Ireland), it’s at €25+ where the wines start to be special
Despite normally being a 100% varietal, Riesling can taste incredibly different depending on where and how it is made.
Here are the three which really stood out:
Pewsey Vale The Contours Eden Valley Riesling 2010 (12.5%, €24.95 at The Corkscrew)
While the cool Clare Valley is celebrated as the home of most of Australia’s best Riesling, the higher parts of the Eden Valley are also favourable for the variety. Pewsey Vale winery can claim a number of firsts:
It was the first winery founded in (what is now) the Eden Valley in 1847
It was the first winery to plant Riesling in Australia (also in 1847)
It became the first winery in Australia to use the Stelvin screw cap closure in 1977
The Contours is Pewsey’s flagship single vineyard bottling that they only release five years after vintage as a “Museum Release” – so it already shows significant development. And that development shows most on the nose, an amazingly intense cocktail of toast, brioche, lime, sage and petrol. The palate is just a little less intense, but still beautiful.
Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011 (14.0%, €30.00 at Mitchell & Son)
As the DNS Wine Club had already held an Alsace tasting earlier in the year, and given my predilection for the region’s wines, I had intended not to include any Alsace wines in the Riesling tasting. However, I failed! As the Sipp Mack Vieilles Vignes Gewurztraminer showed so well previously I was minded to show the equivalent Riesling, but as stocks of that had not quite arrived in the shops from the docks I was “forced” to step up to the Grand Cru!
Of all the Rieslings we tried this had the highest alcohol at 14.0% – the Grand Cru sites get lots of sun (so the grapes develop lots of sugar) and Sipp Mack’s house style is to ferment until totally dry, so all the sugar is turned into alcohol. This Rosacker is super smooth, with appleand tangylimefruit plus chalky minerality. A profound wine.
Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Mosel Riesling Spätlese 2013 (8.0%, €29.95 at The Corkscrew)
The Mosel is considered by some to be the ultimate region for Riesling, with steep slate-laden vineyards running down to the river. Being relatively far north makes the ripening season longer and so flavours get even more chance to develop. While there is a modern trend toward dry Riesling, for me the beauty still lies in the traditional sweeter wines such as this Spätlese (literally “late harvest”.
Sonnenuhr literally means “sun-hour” or “sun-clock”, but is better translated as sundial! The significance seems to be that the prime south facing sites were the ones where a sundial would work so they made sure to advertise the fact.
Even before pouring it was obvious that this wine was different from the others with its golden hues. Residual sugar is not “volatile” meaning it can’t be detected by the human nose, but the aromas of honey, soft stone fruit and flowerswere phenomenal. I did see one taster look shocked on first sniffing this wine – it’s that good! Although quite sweet on the palate this Spätlese was perfectly balanced with zingy acidity.
All three of these wines were excellent, and well worth the price tags. I would be extremely happy drinking any of them and all were well received by the club, but by a narrow margin the Max Ferd. Richter was declared wine of the night!
And here’s the musical reference from the article title…
This is as close as I’ve ever come to a live blog…
This is the second in a series of festivals run in Dublin this year by Great Irish Beverages, and of course the most relevant to me. After a fantastic launch party last week, this week has five (5) days of interesting and exciting wine-related treats in bars, restaurants, wine merchants and hotels across the city.
So what’s the story?
By purchasing a €5 wristband here, you will receive a 30% discount on at least two festival wines at 32 Dublin bars and restaurants. And to keep things interesting, each venue is offering a unique ‘Dublin Wine Experience’ for the week of the festival. These range from food pairings and post-work aperitivos to wine-based cocktails, flights of wine and self-guided tastings.
To my shame, I didn’t manage to get to any venues on Monday or Tuesday, but I did pop my head into Ely Wine Bar on my way home today as I heard they have Riesling!
Apologies for rubbish photos, my smartphone doesn’t do well with low light:
With a Dublin Wine Fest wristband, a modest sum entitles you to a decent taste of four fantastic Rieslings at Ely’s Georgian Wine Bar. Monday was a flight of sparkling wines which I was gutted to miss
Castell d’Encus DO Costers del Segre Ekam Riesling 2009
Cool climate Riesling from the far north east of Spain (yes, Spain!) into the Pyrenees, with a dash of Albariño. Around 30% of the grapes have noble rot, but everything is fermented to dryness, leaving racy acidity and lots of body without the easy trick of leaving residual sugar. Would be amazing with all sorts of seafood or as an aperitif.
Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2009
From one of my favourite Alsace producers, this is something that I could sip in the sun all day. There may be a hint of sweetness here but it’s not a sweet wine – there are lemons and limes galore in there which keep everything fresh and zippy. Rosacker is one of the best of the best in Alsace, and this vineyard near Hunawihr is home to the wine regarded as the epitome of Alsace wine – Trimbach’s Clos Ste Hune – which would be in the region of €250 on a restaurant wine list.
Mount Horrocks Clare Valley Watervale Riesling 2012
Watervale is regarded as second in the Clare Valley subregions after Polish Hill, but for many people its wines are fruitier and more approachable. Amazingly for such a young wine, this had already started developing some diesel aromas, and was thoroughly delicious.
Weingut Max Fed. Richter Mosel Riesling Spätlese
The Mosel has a strong claim for the best Rieslings in the world. Vines on steep hillsides running down to the river have to be tended and harvested by hand, with several casualties every year. Being so far north means that, even if the grapes reach high enough sugar content, their acidity is on the high side. Traditional winemaking techniques advise leaving some sugar in the finished wine to offset the acidity, making for a refreshing but fruity wine.
My favourite? You’ve got to be kidding! They were all high quality, interesting wines. I’d love to try the same four again but with food…
It was nearly impossible to reduce this list down to 10 reds so there are lots of magnificent wines that didn’t make the cut – some fine Chilean Pinots in particular. Pinot is well represented from numbers 10 to 8…
Very few quality American wines make it to Irish shores, and so discovering Cline Cellars Pinot Noir at the Big Ely Tasting was a revelation. After tasting it again with Fred and Nancy Cline at the James Nicholson Tasting (and some of their other wines) I was definitely a firm fan.
You’d never mistake it for Burgundy, but to be honest it knocks spots off most red Burgundy under €30. It’s on the big side for Pinot but it has poise and balance so that all its components remain in harmony.
9. Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011
This stood out as my favourite Pinot of the whole Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin. While Marlborough wineries are still working out how to get the best out of Pinot Noir, their Wairarapa counterparts across the Cook Strait can already be considered masters of the grape.
One of the top few producers in New Zealand, Ata Rangi is one of the well established Martinborough vineyards making outstanding Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in addition to Pinot Noir. This has fruit and power, but is soooo smooth that a bottle can disappear in a frighteningly short time!
8. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002
Yes, I’ve included a Champagne among my reds of the year! But I have my reasons…
Like many rosé Champagnes, particularly those with some age on them, this was actually closer to a still Pinot Noir than a young white Champagne. And for good reason when you look how it’s made. 70% of the blend is Pinot Noir from Grand Cru villages, of which around 13% from Bouzy is added as red wine. This is then topped off with 30% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger and Chouilly.
I opened this on the day we celebrated my wife’s birthday – something to enjoy while we got ready to go out. My wife wasn’t that impressed by it, but that just meant more for me! The texture is the key for me – it wasn’t that fizzy or zippy, but it had an amazing Pinot nose and soft red fruit on the palate. I don’t tend to drink much rosé but this shows what it can do.
7. Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 2009
The so-called Baron Of The Barossa, who sadly passed away in 2013, Peter Lehmann was the maker of several ranges of Barossa gems. They started above the level of everyday wines but went right up to this flagship – more expensive than most people would spend on a regular basis but nowhere near the price of other Aussie icons such as Hill Of Grace or Grange.
At the Comans silent tasting, the 2009 showed that it’s still young and would reward patient cellaring, but it’s so drinkable now that it’s hard to resist. It’s made in a rich, concentrated old-vine style which is defiantly and definitively Barossa, but there are layers and layers of complexity. It packs a punch but also makes you think.
6. Château Pesquié Ventoux Artemia
I was lucky enough to taste three different vintages of this southern Rhône superstar during the year – the 2012 from bottle and the 2006 from magnum at the Big Rhône Tasting at Ely, and then the 2005 from magnum at a jaw-droppingly excellent food and wine dinner at Belleek Castle (more to come on that!)
Although its home of Ventoux is situated in the southerly reaches of the Rhône, the cool winds coming off the Mont de Ventoux and Valcluse mountains help maintain acidity and freshness. Artemia is Château Pesquié’s premium bottling made of equal parts of Grenache and Syrah, both from low-yielding sites
The wines are rich and unctuous, with dark black fruit and spice competing for your attention. But it’s not all about big fruit, there’s also acidity and minerality there. I’m trying to see if I can get my hands on a few magnums for myself!
5. Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008
Forget Galaxy Chocolate, this is possibly the smoothest thing known to man – pretty unusual for a Chianti!
The biggest producer in Italy, family owned and run Antinoribought the estate in 1987 and set out to create the ultimate expression of Tuscan Sangiovese. Clones were specially selected to give velvet and acidity – hence the smoothness.
It has an amazing nose of red and black fruit, but these are joined on the palate by rich dark chocolate. It has an international sensibility but is unmistakably Chianti Classico. By some distance it’s the best Chianti I have tasted to date!
4. Torres Mas La Plana 2005
When wines are this good, choosing between different vintages much be like choosing between different children, but if a choice has to be made of all the different vintages tasted of Torres’ Cabernet flagship Mas La Plana then 2005 was the chosen one.
Although regarded as an interloper by many in Spain, Cabernet Sauvignon can actually thrive in the right settings. As it’s my favourite black grape I say boo to tradition and enjoy this blackcurrant beauty! Compared to an excellent Rioja there are quite noticeable differences – primarily black fruit rather than Tempranillo’s red strawberries and smokey French oak rather than big vanilla from American oak.
The 2005 still has loads of primary fruit, but has already developed some interesting cedar and tobacco notes. It’s in full bloom but has the structure to last until the end of this decade at least.
3. Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989
I didn’t taste enough sweet wines this year for them to deserve their own category, but this fortified Grenache muscled its way into the Reds list. A Vin Doux Naturel from the Roussillon in South West France, this is similar-ish to Rasteau from the Rhône and Maury close by in Roussillon – and not a million miles away from Port.
Unexpectedly this was my favourite wine from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Age has taken away with one hand – colour has faded significantly – and given back with the other – complexity writ large. It’s definitely a wine for the winter season but it’s something to look forward to. Class in a glass.
This was technically drunk in 2015 as it was popped after midnight on New Year’s Eve, but I love it so much I have to include it. A long time favourite producer since my visit to Coonawarra in 2000, and undoubtedly one of the standout in terms of consistent quality, Katnook Estate makes big cabs that are to die for.
This young example had fresh blackcurrants – so fresh and intense that you would swear you were actually chewing on them – with Coonawarra’s trademark eucalyptus providing additional interest. It’s my go-to red for good reason!
1. Penfolds Grange 2008
I am an unbashed fan of Australia’s first world class wine, and included some older vintages of Grange in my best wines of 2013. Without the 2008 for reference I’m pretty sure I would have picked the 2009 for the top spot this year – the 2009 was very nice indeed – but the 2008 was on another level altogether. Apparently it was awarded the full monty 100 points by both the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator
Only a couple of years after release, it is still an absolute baby of course, but is actually drinkable now. It has tremendous concentration, and although you can find the American oak if you search for it, fruit dominates the nose and palate. Blackberry, blackcurrant and damson are tinged with choca-mocha and liquorice.
It’s an immense wine without being intimidating – At 14.5% the alcohol is fairly middling for an Aussie Shiraz, perhaps tempered by 9% fruit from the cooler Clare Valley. It’s made to last for decades, but unlike some flagship wines I tasted this year its elements are already harmonious.
As a “collectible” wine that has become bought more and more by investors, Grange has now moved firmly out of my price range. I am still tempted nevertheless!!
Many of the producer tastings I’ve been at in the past year have been solely focused on red wines, but as I tend to drink much more white at home that hasn’t been such a hardship. Many of the retailer tastings have been very broad and included a few standout whites, so a few of those are included below.
I haven’t thought too deeply about the order of wines 10 down to 4, but the top 3 are definitely in order!
10. Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
All wines were wild ferment until a few decades ago, but cultured yeast is now the norm for mass produced wines – it’s more reliable and predictable in terms of fermentation performance, flavours and alcohol levels. Wild yeast can often give wilder, but more interesting flavours.
This Greek Assyrtiko from O’Briens is included because it’s just so different from anything else I tasted in the year – it really brings the funk!
9. Bruno Sorg Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg Pinot Gris 2010
One of my favourite Alsace producers, Bruno Sorg have a broad range of varietals at different quality levels, and all are excellent for the price tag. From near their home in Eguisheim this Grand Cru Pinot Gris is silky and rich, off-dry without being sweet, textured without being stuffy. I did try some other countries’ Pinot Gris offerings, but Alsace is still where it’s at in my book.
8. Eric Texier Opâle 2012
This ethereal Mosel-style Rhône white stood out for me at The Big Rhône Tasting at Ely– partly because it was so different from the (delicious) Rhône reds, but mainly because of its sheer audacity and brilliance.
This should be drunk in small sips from a small glass, perhaps with company, but once you taste it you won’t want to share!
7. Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010
The only white varietal tasting I went to all year was Austria’s signature grape Grüner Veltiner. The biggest surprise for me was not the excellent quality, it was the versatility of the grape – it’s such a chameleon, depending on where and how it’s made.
The Lamm Reserve was my overall favourite from the tasting at Wine Workshop – and perhaps it’s no coincidence given my proclivity for Pinot Gris that I preferred an example of Grüner which somewhat resembles Pinot Gris.
6. Dog Point Section 94 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is so ubiquitous on our shelves that it’s often taken for granted, ignored for being old hat or dismissed after tasting the poorer examples churned out at a discount in supermarkets. Even if you are a little bored of regular Savvy, there are alternatives, as I posted back in 2013.
A big differentiator of the alternative Marlborough Sauvignons is that they can age gracefully for several years, becoming more complex and interesting; many regular SBs shine very brightly in the year they are harvested then fade quickly.
And so I was lucky enough to taste the 2010 vintage of Dog Point’s Section 94 at the James Nicholson Xmas Tasting. Dog Point don’t make a duff wine, they range from very good to amazing – and this was now firmly in the latter class.
5. Rolly Gassmann Alsace Planzerreben de Rorschwihr Riesling 2008
A bin-end special from The Wine Society that turned out to be sublime, if difficult to pronounce. Rolly Gassmann is a renowned producer of Alsace and I had hoped to visit on my last trip there, but it wasn’t to be (too many great wineries, too little time!)
Thankfully this Riesling magically transported me to the hills of Rorschwihr. It’s just off-dry, balancing the racy acidity and lifting the fruit. At six years from vintage it had started to develop some really interesting tertiary notes – but it must have the best part of a decade still to go. I doubt my other bottle will last that long!
4. Man O’War Valhalla Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2010
This is one of the wines that was open at several different tastings during the year, but despite having a few bottles in at home I always had a taste, it’s just that good. Not exactly a shy and retiring type, this Chardonnay has loads of tropical fruit, with a little bit of candied pineapple among the fresh.
It’s well oaked, both in the sense of quantity and quality. Chablis lovers might look elsewhere, but Meursault lovers might change allegiance. A perennial favourite.
3. Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2008
Jeffrey Grosset is the King of Australian Riesling. I bought a case of the Polish Hill Riesling with the same vintage as my son, with the intention of drinking a bottle on (or around) his birthday for the next decade or so. This bottle is a few years older, and a few years wiser – the difference in development is noticeable.
Petrol, Diesel, Kerosene – whatever your petroleum spirit of choice, the 2008 has it nicely developing, though the steel backbone of acidity will keep it going for many a year.
2. Shaw + Smith M3 Vineyard Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2012
I was lucky enough to taste Shaw + Smith’s seminal Chardonnay several times during 2014 – with the good folks of Liberty Wines at their portfolio tasting, a bottle with a stunning meal at Ely Bar & Brasserie, and a glass in a small flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar.
The King Is Dead, Long Live The King! Another wine I tried for the first time as part of the flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar, this is perhaps the Californian Chardonnay. After all, in beating some of Burgundy’s best Chardonnays in the Judgement of Paris it really put California on the maps as a producer of top level whites.
And as much as I wanted my beloved M3 to be the best, Montelena eclipsed it for 2014. Even as a young wine it is very approachable but with so much depth. It’s the sort of wine you could happily taste the same vintage of over several decades.