Category Archives: Wine Styles

Nov 11 2011

Wynns Coonawarra Estate: A Back to the Future Approach to Quality Improvement!

Posted on November 11, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Coonawarra, with its famed terra rossa soil on a prized limestone base, has been recognised for decades as one of the world’s best regions for producing cabernet sauvignon. But understanding how to optimise the terroir to produce the best quality fruit has not always been easy.  Coonawarra cabernet sauvignons of the 1980s and 1990s, for example, were often criticised for being too herbal or green in character. Paradoxically, as wine critic Huon Hooke explains, they often tasted herbaceous and overripe at the same time! (Coonawarra on the March by Huon Hooke, HuonHOOKE.com)

The dynamic team at Wynns Coonawarra Estate, led by Chief Winemaker Sue Hodder and Regional Vineyard Manager Allen Jenkins, realised that getting on top of the quality issue meant taking a close look at what was happening in the vineyard.  And the way they approached the problem was interesting because it highlighted the benefits of marrying the latest vineyard management technologies with a return to some old fashioned, traditional practices like hand-pruning and hand-harvesting.

Inspired by the pure, ripe fruit flavours of Wynns cabernet sauvignons from the 1960s, Hodder knew that they needed to bring the older vineyards back into balance. Minimal pruning or imprecise machine pruning was replaced with focused hand-pruning that got rid of the dead wood and positioned the vines for more even fruit ripening. In some cases, radical surgery was required with some vines being chainsawed half way down their roots. (Who dares Wynns by Huon Hooke, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 August 2010)

Sophisticated techniques such as bud dissection analysis have made it possible to predict the next year’s crop load from the current harvest. Consequently, when yields are predicted to be high, the vines are bunch-thinned to improve fruit quality and lower the yields. Other high tech tools like … Read the rest

Oct 10 2011

Krug: The World’s Most Expensive Champagnes

Posted on October 10, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

When Krug released its single-vineyard Clos d’Ambonnay Champagne 1995 in 2008, it caused a sensation. The 100% blanc de noirs, made entirely from pinot noir grapes, became the world’s most expensive Champagne – retailing for around $US 3000 a bottle.

At the time Krug justified the whopping price tag by noting that in comparison with other prestige wines from top estates, the prices for the very best Champagnes were too cheap. Comparatively, the retail price of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s La Romanée-Conti, for example, was up to $US4,300. (Eric Asimov, Effervescent Prices, The New York Times 29 February 2008)

Rarity, perhaps more than quality and reputation, is the main influencer on price. The Clos D’Ambonnay is even rarer than Krug’s other single vineyard offering, the Clos du Mesnil Blanc des Blancs, which normally retails for around $US800, and is also among the world’s highest priced Champagnes.

Clos refers to the fact that the vineyard is entirely ‘closed’ or walled. The Clos du Mesnil is only 1.84 hectares with the Clos d’Ambonnay being less than a third of that size. In a cold region like Champagne, where hail and wind are common hazards, the walls help retain the heat and to some extent protect the vines from the elements. Within the walls, the vines are meticulously tended. The Clos du Mesnil, for example, is farmed and vinified in five or six separate parcels with only the best included in the final assemblage.

So what do these extraordinary wines taste like? Recently the Wine Advocate’s Antonio Galloni attended a complete vertical tasting of the Clos du Mesnil and the Clos d’Ambonnay. Certainly his notes reflect how vintage can affect the character of the wine. The Clos du Mesnil 1989, for example, was from a warmer vintage than the 1989 and  consequently … Read the rest

Sep 09 2011

Jansz Tasmania: The Poor Man’s Krug!

Posted on September 09, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

At the Tasmania Unbottled tasting I bumped into a friend who’s in charge of buying wine for his wine society. I really value his opinion, and he thought the pick of the show was the Jansz Tasmania Vintage Cuvée 2006. I also thought this sparkling was a standout. It was a deliciously textural wine with a finely beaded mousse and a vibrant complex nose of citrus, biscuits, honeysuckle and toasted almonds.

I’m always excited when my impression of a wine is confirmed by a seasoned critic. British wine critic Matthew Jukes said that the 2006 Jansz Tasmania Vintage Cuvée was the finest offering from this specialist producer to date. Tyson Stelzer, author of the Champagne Guide 2011, referred to the Premium Vintage Rosé 2007, which I also enjoyed, as a poor man’s Krug Rosé. (Matthew Jukes, 100 Best Australian Wines – 2011)

The comparison to one of the greatest names in Champagne seems apt given that Jansz was originally launched in 1986 as a specialist sparkling producer by Graham Wiltshire and Bill Fesq of the Tamar Valley’s Heemskerk Winery and the famous Champagne House of Louis Roederer. The head of Louis Roederer, Jean-Claude Rouzard, was personally involved in establishing the vineyard, planting it with the classic varieties of chardonnay and pinot noir. Today Jansz is owned by Yalumba’s Hill Smith family, and since 2001 Natalie Fryar has served as Winemaker.

Heemskerk and Louis Roederer were the first to recognise that the ultra-cool climate of Northern Tasmania’s Tamar Valley was ideal for growing grapes for sparkling wines. The maritime influence of Bass Strait keeps temperatures low and creates enough humidity for a long and gentle ripening period, enabling the wines to develop intense, delicate and refined flavours and a lingering, mouthwatering juicy acidity that is essential … Read the rest

Sep 09 2011

Aussie Wine Icons: Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay

Posted on September 09, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

“Possibly Australia’s greatest modern wine”… “Australia’s finest chardonnay” … “One of the very best chardonnays in the world outside Burgundy.”

Wow!  And that’s just a few examples of the excitement the Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay has generated since the release of the first 1986 vintage in 1987!

Giaconda is a small winery in the foothills and within sight of the Victorian Alps, just outside the town of Beechworth in northern Victoria. It is run by Rick Kinzbrunner, who was named Qantas/Australian Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year in 2003, and is considered one of the most talented, experienced, thoughtful and inspiring winemakers in Australia. As wine critic Huon Hooke remarked, “He knows what great wine is, he knows what he wants to achieve and how to get there.” (Get serious: One of our finest winemakers does things his own way by Huon Hooke, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 2003)

The chardonnay vines were originally planted in 1982 on a cool, south facing slope, which protects the vines from the direct impact of the sun’s rays. Here the soil is granitic loam over decomposed gravel and clay. The nutrient poor gravel keeps yields low, while the clay allows sustained water-release to the vine roots, usually making irrigation unnecessary.

Barrel fermented with wild yeasts in French oak (50 per cent new, 100% Sirugue barrels) the wine is bottled unfiltered after 18 months of barrel maturation. The barrels are now stored in a cool, damp cellar 20 metres beneath the granite hill that was dug out by miners a few years ago. Kinzbrunner told wine critic Max Allen “There’s something very special about turning the fruit from the soil above into wine and then taking it deep into the rock below to mature it.” He believes that the humidity (about 95%) causes the … Read the rest

Sep 09 2011

Tasmania Unbottled: Showcasing Regionally Expressive Wines

Posted on September 09, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Yesterday I attended Tasmania Unbottled 2011 at Dockside in Cockle Bay Sydney. Sam Stosur’s US Open win and the warm sunny weather had put me in a great mood and this positive frame-of-mind was only enhanced by the wonderful wines on show! Of course, I should know by now that three hours was not long enough to properly appreciate 150 wines from 28 top-flight producers, especially when most of the vineyard owners and winemakers are on hand to talk you through the tastings! Anyway, here’s just a taste of some of the great wines I sampled.

Riesling was the stand-out white variety, but I also tried superb pinot gris, chardonnays and sauvignon blancs. The cool Tasmanian climate seems to endow all the white wines, no matter the variety, with a superb mineral acid structure and clean, fresh fruit aromas and flavours.

Pinot Noir is the main red variety grown in Tasmania. Production of other single red varieties is still very small, but the few superb cabernet sauvignon, merlot and shiraz wines on show certainly suggest that these varieties have great potential in Tasmania. Nick Glaetzer’s rich Barossa heritage, for example, informs his Côte-Rôtie style Glaetzer-Dixon Family Winemakers MON PèRE Shiraz 2009 – a wine named in honour of his famous father Colin. Nick explained that the shiraz was co-fermented with 1% pinot gris, just enough to subtly lift the elegant aromas of red berry, cassis and white pepper in this sophisticated cool-climate shiraz. I was also very impressed with the Grey Sands Merlot 2006, which has just enough bottle age to endow the rich black and red fruit bouquet with those prized wonderful savoury overtones.

Because most Tasmanian producers are very small, they are meticulous about vineyard practices and their vines are typically managed and harvested by hand. Many … Read the rest

Sep 09 2011

Wine of the Week: Katnook Estate Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon – A Wine to Benchmark against a Top Bordeaux!

Posted on September 09, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In his review of the Katnook Estate Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 the Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker asks, “Is this Australia’s answer to a top-class Pauillac?

The luxury 1992 Odyssey (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) is Katnook Estate’s top cuvee. The wine spends 30 months in French oak, and comes across as a serious Bordeaux look-alike. The dark ruby/purple color is saturated to the rim. The nose offers up reticent but promising aromas of cigar box, cedar, fruit cake, black currant, and toasty notes. In the mouth, black cherry/black currant flavors are impressive and full-bodied, with nicely integrated acidity and tannin. (Wine Advocate #119, October 1998)

You may not always agree with Parker’s assessments, but you can’t dispute the breadth and depth of his palate. If he compares an Australian Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon to a top Bordeaux you know it’s a very informed opinion, based on years of tasting wines from all over the world.

Aromas of “cigar box, cedar, fruit cake, black currant, and toasty notes” are indeed descriptors frequently used in tasting notes for the best Pauillac wines – an appellation that is home to three of the five First Growths. Pauillac wines are also admired for their concentrated flavours and voluptuous texture, so to compare a Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon to a top Pauillac is very high praise indeed.

Wine critic James Halliday jokes that Coonawarra on South Australia’s Limestone Coast and the Haut Medoc of Bordeaux prove the exception to the rule that almost all of the foremost wine regions of the world are landscapes of great beauty!  Coonawarra is a cigar-shaped strip of land only 12km long and 2km wide that is all but taken up by vineyards. The flat, bleak terrain is subject to cold, wet and windy winters and, like Bordeaux, enough vagaries in … Read the rest

Aug 08 2011

Billecart-Salmon Champagne: All about “Finesse, balance and elegance”

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

According to the Wine Advocate’s Antonio Galloni, Billecart-Salmon makes Champagnes that are all about “timeless elegance,” “crystalline purity” and “supreme balance.”

“Finesse, balance and elegance” is in fact the tag line of Billecart-Salmon, an independent medium-sized Champagne house based in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ that is still run by the descendents of the original 1818 founders Nicolas Francois Billecart and his wife Elisabeth Salmon.

Champagne Billecarte-Salmon produces around 1.7 million bottles annually from fruit sourced from approximately 200 hectares of vineyards in Champagne. More than half the vineyards are in the hands of independent growers, with whom Billecart-Salmon has worked for several generations.

Their top cuvee, the vintage Blanc de Noirs Le Clos Saint-Hilaire is from a family-owned one hectare vineyard of pinot noir that was planted in 1964. Typically, the fruit is fermented at relatively low temperatures to preserve freshness and fruit identity – primary fermentation can take up to six weeks!  The wine may or may not undergo a malolactic fermentation depending on vintage, and in some years no dosage is added to the wine in order to preserve its acidity. Admired for the freshness of its fruit and its delicate, complex aromas, each bottle is numbered and usually no more than 7,000 are made in only top years.

The Cuvée Nicolas Francois Billecart, a blend of 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay, is a more exuberant wine than the Le Clos Saint-Hilaire. Depending on vintage a small percentage of the wine, typically around 20 percent, is aged in French oak barrels. In 1999, the Cuvée Nicolas-Francois Billecart 1959 was voted Champagne of the Millennium at a blind tasting of 150 of the finest 20th century champagnes.

The House’s non-vintage Champagnes, which make up about 60 percent of production, are also very highly regarded. British wine … Read the rest

Aug 08 2011

Wine of the Week: Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Cabernet Merlot 2004

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

Like Edens Valley’s Irvine Wines, Margaret River’s Moss Wood is another Australian winery that has demonstrated its mastery in making first-class merlot and cabernet merlot blends. (See Cellar Picks: Don’t Overlook Australian Merlot, Cellarit Blog, 20 August 2011)

In 2000, Moss Wood’s Keith Mugford purchased the 6.36 hectare Ribbon Vale vineyard in Wilyabrup, the Margaret River sub-region responsible for the area’s best table wines. The vineyard’s gravel-loam soil over clay subsoil is surprisingly similar to the prized terroir of the right bank Bordeaux appellation of Pomerol, so it is perhaps not unexpected that the three wines produced from Moss Wood’s Ribbon Vale vineyard, Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Merlot and Merlot, are all classic Bordeaux styles.

The 2004 Ribbon Vale Cabernet Merlot is a blend of 53% cabernet sauvignon, 37% merlot and 10% cabernet franc. The merlot is added for its intense red and dark fruit characters on both the nose and the palate, and 10% of cabernet franc for its dark berry aromas.

Mugford believes that the 2004 vintage was one of the first to show the benefits of the steps that were taken to revitalise the vineyard, which was originally planted in 1977. These initiatives included re-trellising the vineyard to the “Scott Henry” system to improve fruit exposure to sunlight and facilitate easier pruning and harvesting. Bird nets were also introduced to allow a longer ripening period on the vine.

Vineyards improvements were complemented with several innovations in the winery designed to change the tannin structure of the wine in order to improve its balance and long-term cellaring ability. For example, the riper grapes were exposed to more gentle extraction techniques during fermentation and time on skins was cut from six weeks to two weeks. Only French oak is used and the barrel size … Read the rest

Aug 08 2011

Cellar Picks: Don’t Overlook Australian Merlot!

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

The right bank Bordeaux appellations of Pomerol and St Emilion have built their reputations on merlot dominant wines. Pomerol’s Château Pétrus, for example, is regarded as the penultimate expression of merlot and is one of the world’s most expensive wines. (See Château Pétrus 1990: Is it worth the price?, Cellarit Wine Blog, 11 August 2011)

But what about Australian merlot? I don’t think too many people would have trouble naming Australia’s top shiraz, cabernet sauvignon or even pinot noir wines, but can you name our top merlots? In fact, not a single merlot dominant wine is represented in Langton’s 2010 Classification of Australian Wine V – widely regarded as the definitive list of Australia’s most collectible wines.

Australia has clearly demonstrated its mastery of other Bordeaux styles. Superb cabernet sauvignon blends from the Margaret River, such as the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon for example, have outclassed the very finest competition from Bordeaux in blind tastings and competitions. (See Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon: A World Class Wine, Cellarit Wine Blog, 25 February 20111)

Typically in Australia merlot is blended with cabernet sauvignon, as the generous plummy fruit and soft tannins of merlot fill in cabernet sauvignon’s mid-palate and soften its harder tannins.

Eden Valley’s Irvine Wines stands out in the Australian wine landscape for its absolute commitment to making world class merlot. Its website documents years of research, careful planning and experimentation with the variety.

The real challenge for makers of fine merlot is to add complexity, depth and structure to the variety’s fleshy full fruit characters. For its flagship James Irvine Grand Merlot, Irvine Wines has experimented with various elements, such as ripeness levels, ferment temperatures, extended maturation on skins and oak selection, to create a wine that references the great wines of Pomerol and St Emilion … Read the rest

Aug 08 2011

Bollinger: A Remarkable Champagne for almost all occasions!

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

Bollinger is the only Champagne that can compete with Dom Perignon for star billing in a James Bond film.  To date, it has appeared in five films compared to Dom Perignon’s seven!

No doubt, the consummate marketer Lily Bollinger, who up until her death in 1977 tirelessy travelled the world promoting the brand, would be pleased that her Champagne is a favourite of one of the world’s most sophisticated and stylish spies!

Of course, Lily herself didn’t shy away from the limelight. She is perhaps most famous for the following oft-repeated quote about when to drink Champagne: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.” (Lily Bollinger, 17 October 1961, Daily Mail, The Wine Doctor).

But as Chris Kissack of the Wine Doctor notes, Lily’s marketing prowess was just one of her many skills: “She was a hard taskmaster, personally directing operations in both vineyard and cave, everything from harvest and selection through to fermentation and blending. It is perhaps not surprising that much of Bollinger’s success today is traced back to her exacting methods.” (Bollinger, The Wine Doctor).

Bollinger was founded in 1829 by German businessman Joseph Jacob Placide Bollinger, who partnered with Athanase Hennequin de Villermont and Paul Renaudin. The Germans were huge fans of Champagne in the early 19th century and other famous German nationals, including Johann-Josef Krug and Charles Heidsieck, also founded their own great Champagne Houses during this period.

The individualistic style of Bollinger Champagne is partly due to the fact that it is one of the few Houses to ferment all of … Read the rest