Wine Blog & Reviews

Aug 08 2011

Wine of the Week: Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted on August 08, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

The Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon is undoubtedly one of Western Australia’s top cabernet sauvignons. Ray Jordan of the West Australian recently singled out the Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 as the ‘Best of the Best’ of 500 wines from all over Australia selected for tasting. Here’s his review:

An opulent and densely packed cabernet from Margaret River. Just about the best yet under this label, with its deep, black fruits, dark chocolate and black olive aromas. Tannins are slightly chewy and the fine-grained oak lays a long path to a lingering finish. Excellent wine of great power and potential. (Aussie wines back in top form by Ray Jordan, Fresh Best Reds, The West Australian, 7 July 2011)

Howard Park is owned by Jeff and Amy Burch, and is one of the 12 members of Australia’s First Families of Wine. Neal Martin of the Wine Advocate recently spoke about how much he enjoys writing about family-owned wineries:

I can tell you, that as a wine writer, it is infinitely more rewarding composing a piece where an individual and/or a family are the proprietor and not a corporation. That is not to imply that the latter craft inferior wine, but rather that the lifeblood of a vineyard, the soul of a wine, is manifested and enhanced by the personality of the winemaker, the stories they have to tell, their trials and tribulations, their triumphs and disasters. It brings the words of an article to life and hopefully renders the prose more interesting to both write and read. (Keeping It In The (Australian) Family by Neil Martin, The Wine Advocate, August 2010)

What I most enjoy is seeing family wineries go from strength to strength without compromising the integrity or quality of their wines. Since it was … Read the rest

Dec 12 2010

Artisans of the Barossa: Breaking down the Stereotypes!

Posted on December 12, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In my article, Australian and New Zealand Wine: Telling a Complex Story!, 28 September 2010, I mentioned that 12 of the country’s most prestigious wineries have joined forces to create Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW) – an export oriented venture designed to explain and promote the character, heritage and quality of Australia’s family-run wine companies.

In the Barossa region another group of like-minded winemakers formed their own alliance in 2006 with a similar purpose. Today, Artisans of the Barossa consists of 12 wineries that are working together to market their small production, hand-made, high quality wines to the domestic and international markets. Familiar and not-so-familiar names make up the group’s membership: Dutschke Wines, Hobbs of Barossa Ranges, John Duval Wines, Kalleske Wines, Massena, Radford Wines, Schwarz Wine Company, Sons of Eden, Spinifex Wines, The Standish Wine Company, Teusner and Tin Shed. Collectively they represent 11 Barossa subregions: Barossa Ranges, Lyndoch, Ebenezer Moppa, Kalimna, Bethany, Vine Vale, Light Pass, Koonunga and Marananga, as well as the Eden Valley.

What is also interesting about Artisans of the Barossa is that while the winemakers collectively have decades of winemaking experience behind them and share a rich viticultural heritage, most of the wineries in the group are less than 20 years old. Indeed, they represent a new generation of wineries that are dispelling the notion that Barossa is about massively extracted, high alcohol wines. As the American wine critic Alder Yarrow commented in his article, Tasting the Artisans of Barossa Wines, Vinography, 30 March 2010, “I was very happy to find many of them making 13.5% to 14% alcohol, elegant and delicious Shiraz (some from very old, microscopic family vineyards, and lean, low-alcohol Rieslings from the Eden valley).” Yarrow tasted … Read the rest

Sep 09 2010

Australian and New Zealand Wine: Telling a Complex Story!

Posted on September 09, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Even the most dedicated wine student can have a difficult time understanding the wine regions of France and the complex classification system. The Bordeaux classification system of 1855, for example, still dictates the ranking of the chateaux in the Medoc region, dividing the wineries into five different growths according to their value, prestige and quality. Burgundy is even more complicated with hundreds of premier and grand cru vineyards.

But Australian and New Zealand wines seem to be suffering from a perception that is the opposite of complexity, at least in the minds of the wine consuming public in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Due in part to the phenomenal marketing success of Yellow Tail and the legion of “critter brands” that latched onto the tail of Yellow Tail’s cute wallaby logo, American consumers tend to see Australian wine as homogeneous – flavourful but cheap and not very interesting.  According to Mike Steinberger, Not Such a G’Day: How Yellow Tail crushed the Australian wine industry, Slate 8 April 2009, “this perception became a major liability when those same consumers got interested in more serious stuff; rather than looking to Oz, they turned to Spain, Italy, and France.”

New Zealand’s outstanding Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc helped put New Zealand on the international  wine map, but regrettably it spawned inferior export oriented followers who have similarly cheapened the image of New Zealand wines in the US and UK markets.

Two recent initiatives, one from Australia and one from New Zealand, are designed to educate the international consumer about the high quality and viticultural diversity of the respective wine regions.

Complexity is the name of New Zealand’ export venture pitched at the premium and super-premium end of the US market.  As the name connotes, its purpose is to challenge simplistic notions … Read the rest

Mar 03 2014

Kaesler Old Bastard Shiraz 2009 – Stellar Reviews for this Vintage of a Top Rated Shiraz

Posted on March 03, 2014 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Readers of the Wine Advocate may recall that in 2013 Lisa Perrotti-Brown gave perfect 100 scores to two Australian wines: Penfolds Grange 2008 and Torbreck The Laird 2008. But in her year-end report, Guide to the Best of 2013: Current Release Wines, she drew attention to three of her favourite “near perfects:”

Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz Clare Valley 2010

Torbeck Run Rig Barossa Valley 2009

Kaesler Old Bastard Shiraz Barossa Valley 2009

The 2009 Kaesler Old Bastard received a rating of 98 points and, of course, a very impressive review:

Deep garnet-purple in color, the 2009 Shiraz Old Bastard displays a very pretty aromatic melange of red and black fruit, kirsch and mulberries accented with anise, Chinese five spice and black pepper. Medium to full-bodied, it has lovely harmony in the mouth between medium-firm, silky tannins and the natural acid line. It finishes long with layered flavors. Drink it from 2014 to 2025+ (Wine Advocate #205, February 2013)

The Kaesler Old Bastard Shiraz is in fact a relatively young wine made from very old vines of shiraz.

Kaesler Old VinesThe Kaesler family first planted shiraz in the Barossa Valley in 1893, but traditionally they and subsequent vineyard owners sold their grapes to Seppelts.

In 1997, Reid Bosward, a young winemaker at Cellarmaster, recognised the power and intensity of the fruit from the old Kaesler shiraz vines. He made  a special batch from the 1998 vintage for the Kaesler label, which he called the “Old Bastard” – an irreverent reference to tough, gnarled 1893 vines.

In Bosward’s opinion, the 1998 Old Bastard  “was up there in the Grange and Hill of Grace class, but with its own distinctions, its own secrets.”

Fortunately for Bosward, this exceptional vineyard soon came up for sale and with backing from a group … Read the rest

Feb 02 2014

Oregon’s Domaine Drouhin Laurène Pinot Noir 1997 – A Testament to the Cellaring Potential of New World Pinot Noir!

Posted on February 02, 2014 | By merrill@cellarit.com

At a dinner party on Saturday night I enjoyed an extraordinary wine. It was the Domaine Drouhin’s Laurène 1997 – a pinot noir from the Burgundian family’s Dundee Hills vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

The Drouhin family has been making wine in Burgundy since 1880 and in Oregon since the late 1980s. Interestingly Robert Drouhin first “discovered” Oregon as early as 1961. His interest, however, was really piqued in 1980 after David Lett’s 1975 Eyrie South Block Reserve Pinot Noir placed second in a competition organised by Drouhin at Maison Joseph Drouhin in Beaune.

Robert’s daughter, Véronique Drouhin-Boss, worked harvest with three of Willamette Valley’s founding families – the Letts, the Casteels (Bethel Heights) and the Adelsheims (Adelsheim Vineyards) – before taking charge of winemaking at the Oregon winery in 1987. Her brother, Philippe, is in charge of viticulture. The Laurène, named after Véronique’s daughter, is a reserve bottling from specially selected barrels.

The Burgundian character of the Laurène was striking, especially since on the same night I had the unique opportunity to compare it to the Joseph Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny 1999.  (By the way, all wines that night were matched with exquisite Japanese cusine).

The Chambolle Musigny 1999 was more highly perfumed than the 1997 Laurène, but the Laurène’s silky texture, complex flavour profile and remarkable freshness were a revelation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI couldn’t find a tasting note for the 1997 Laurène, but the Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman suggested a drinking window out to 2006 for the 1996. Perhaps another example of how critics have underestimated the ageing potential of New World pinot noirs? (see my post, Cellaring Australian Pinot Noir: How Long Do They Last?)

In a very interesting article, Profiles in Pinot Noir: Domaine Drouhin, Steiman explains that the Drouhins brought a fresh … Read the rest