Category Archives: Wine Tastings

Jul 07 2013

Are Wine Critics Better Judges of a Wine than You and I?

Posted on July 07, 2013 | By merrill@cellarit.com

A recent article in the Guardian by David Derbyshire, Wine-tasting: it’s junk science 23 June 2013, has caused a bit of a stir in the wine community. It looks at the work of Robert Hodgson, a California winemaker who was so baffled about the inconsistent results his wines achieved in various wine shows from year to year, that for the past six years he’s been conducting experiments with the California State Fair wine competition to find out whether professional judges are any better than you and me at judging wine.

Six years on, the results of his research make for pretty sobering reading. A few highlights from Hodgson’s summary of his work:

“Only about 10% of judges are consistent and those judges who were consistent one year were ordinary the next year.”

“Chance has a great deal to do with the awards that wines win.”

“I think there are individual expert tasters with exceptional abilities sitting alone who have a good sense, but when you sit 100 wines in front of them the task is beyond human ability.”

Before you dismiss the value of wine critics, remember that wine is without doubt the most complex drink in the world. The Guardian cites the work of Dr Bryce Rankine, an Australian wine scientist who identified 27 distinct organic acids in wine, 23 varieties of alcohol in addition to common ethanol, more than 80 esters and aldehydes, 16 sugars, plus a long list of assorted vitamins, minerals and harmless traces of lead and arsenic from the soil!

This cocktail of ingredients creates at least 400 aroma compounds that work on their own and with others to create an incredible complexity of aromas and flavours. And as experienced wine drinkers know, these aromas and flavours are volatile – the temperature that wine is … Read the rest

Nov 11 2012

The Coming of Age of Rosé Champagne: Vintage Cellars Double Bay Champagne Gala 2012

Posted on November 11, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Wine critics’ opinions of rosé Champagne vary widely. Last year Jancis Robinson MW made the following comment: “My tastings suggest that a huge proportion of rosé champagne is a fairly cynical product that does not have any special positive attributes but merely ticks the visual box (sometimes only just) of being pink. In fact I would go so far as to say that the average quality of pink champagne is lower than that of the average white champagne, despite it being more expensive.” (Rosé champagne – the missing ingredient, JancisRobinson.com, 3 September 2011)

The Wine Advocate’s Antonio Galloni has a far rosier (excuse the pun!) opinion of rosé Champagne. In a recent video showcasing grower Champagnes, Galloni commented that the addition of still red wine can bring “amplitude and warmth” to Champagne and metaphorically compared it to a “baritone voice that fills out the concert hall.” (Grower Champagnes – Part 1, by Antonio Galloni, eRobertParker.com, 8 October 2012)

Over the past decade, consumers certainly seemed to have developed a taste for pink. Imports of rosé Champagne to the UK, for example, have more than doubled in the last decade and it now constitutes 8.5% of all Champagne exports.

If last Wednesday’s Vintage Cellars Double Bay Champagne Gala is any guide, the world’s top Champagne houses are definitely committed to making very fine examples of rosé Champagne. Vintage and non vintage rosé Champagnes were on show from Billecart- Salmon, Bollinger,  Dom Pérignon, Laurent-Perrier, Moët & Chandon, G.H. Mumm, Pol Roger and Veuve Clicquot.

 

Typically, the NV rosé Champagnes command a 30 to 50% price premium above the non rosé bottlings. Why the price differentiation you may ask? Well it turns out that the Champagne houses have had to make … Read the rest

Nov 11 2011

Can you tell if a wine is any good just by tasting it? Impressions from a Craggy Range Tasting

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

Have you ever been unimpressed with a wine on first taste, but then fallen in love with it over the course of a meal?

Well, according to a very interesting article by Decanter’s Andrew Jefford “digestibility is as much a hallmark of truly fine wine as is sensorial intricacy and harmony.” Jefford goes on to explain:

Twenty-five years of reading wine assessments, as well as providing assessments of my own, have convinced me that tasting without drinking is, in fact, a monstrous (if inevitable) flaw in all wine criticism. I’d like to see wine critics append a ‘D’ or a ‘*’ to any numeric score or tasting note for a wine which has been drunk rather than merely assessed by tasting. Any critic who claims that they have never had to adjust, after drinking, an initial assessment based on tasting alone is lying. (Jefford on Monday: Thinking about Tasting by Andrew Jefford, Decanter, 7 November 2011)

Jefford’s comments resonated with me when I attended a tasting last night of the Craggy Range lineup hosted by NZ Wine Online. The event was held at the Roof Top Bar of Coast, but the sun hadn’t set so I was hot and thirsty. Not the best state to be in when tasting wines! Fortunately the weather cooled and big plates of antipasto arrived in time to whet our appetites.

All the wines on show were excellent, but the Craggy Range Old Renwick Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (26.95) was definitely an example of a wine that opened up with food. I was initially perplexed by its unusually dry, stoney and mineral character, but over time its delicious lime and grapefruit flavours also shone through.

Initially struck by the dark rich purple red colour of the Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2009 (37.95), … Read the rest

Mar 03 2011

The Return to Terroir Grand Tasting in Melbourne

Posted on March 03, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In a week when a tragic natural disaster in Japan was compounded by the fear of a potential man-made nuclear disaster, I think many of us were grateful for the opportunity to attend the Return to The Terroir Grand Tasting in Melbourne. Here was a group of biodynamic winemakers, passionate about the benefits of working with the land’s natural rhythms and bio-systems, delighting our senses with superb wines and stimulating discussion.

Organised by Castagna Vineyard’s Julian Castagna, the tasting brought together 61 wine producers from around the world and more than 340 wines! Almost all of these wineries are members of La Renaissance des Appellations, an invitation only group of biodynamic winemakers founded by Nicolas Joly of the famed Coulée de Serrant. Members are invited not only on the basis of their farming practices (three years of biodynamic farming across the whole property is the minimum criteria) but are also judged on the quality of their wine and their commitment to a shared philosophy that great wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar.

In the catalogue accompanying the tasting, Australian wine critic Max Allen noted that “A rapidly growing number of the world’s best winegrowers, from Alsace to Australia, have enthusiastically adopted biodyanmics in their vineyards because they believe it helps them produce wines that express a more authentic, more beautiful sense of place in the glass.”

Indeed, some of the most celebrated wineries in the world are members of the group. To name but a few, they include Domaine Zind Humbrecht from Alsace, Araujo Estate from the Napa Valley, Compañía de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez from Spain and Cullen Wines from the Margaret River.

At the panel discussion I attended the audience had a chance to hear first-hand from the winemakers about what … Read the rest

Mar 03 2011

Greystone Wines Sauvignon Blanc: A Waipara Valley Alternative to Marlborough

Posted on March 03, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Another region featured at the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Master Class was Waipara Valley in Canterbury, just north of Christchurch and south of Marlborough. Waipara used to be famous for its Canterbury lamb, but in last 30 years it has become home to around 80 vineyards, and is now the fastest growing wine region in New Zealand.

The Waipara offering was the Greystone Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2010. Greystone Wines is better known for the pure flavours of its riesling and pinot noir, and its sauvignon blanc had more floral aromas and minerality than the other wines we sampled.  A blend of two hand-harvested blocks, the first portion, Block 2, was whole bunch pressed and entirely barrel fermented in seasoned French oak barrels. The later picked Block 3 was settled and fermented in tank. The 2010 vintage won a Gold Medal at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.

 

Greystone takes its name from the grey, fossil rich limestone, which is  a prominent feature of this hill slope vineyard. The northwest facing slopes are known locally as “the golden mile”, as Waipara is one of the few regions in New Zealand that offers genuine limestone sub-soils. Free draining limestone sub-soil is, of course, one of the prized features of the famed Burgundy terroir.

Like Burgundy, the climate of Waipara is also ideal for the growing of two of the world’s most difficult grapes: pinot noir and riesling. The Greystone vineyard soils, which range from free draining limestone to Glasnevin clay, provide a series of micro-terroirs imparting a unique character to the range of varieties grown. Warm sunny days give way to cool nights and autumn is typically dry and warm. The Teviotdale hills provide protection from cool easterly winds off the Pacific ocean but are open to warming from … Read the rest

Mar 03 2011

Giesen August Sauvignon Blanc: ‘Pushing the Boundaries for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc’

Posted on March 03, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In yesterday’s post, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Master Class,  I mentioned how New Zealand winemakers were experimenting with exciting new ways to make the country’s standard bearer sauvignon blanc.

One of the highlights of the evening was the inaugural vintage of the Giesen August Sauvignon Blanc 2009. This handmade wine had a richness and complexity of aromas and flavours that set it apart from the other wines we tasted on the evening. It reminded many of us of the exciting new style of sauvignon blanc exemplified by the sublime Cloudy Bay Te Koko and the acclaimed Dog Point Section 94 .

A look at the Giesen website shows that much thought, experimentation and care went into the making of this limited production wine. A product of the three Giesen brothers (Theo, Alex and Marcel) and their winemaking team, the idea behind this new wine was to “push the boundaries for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.”

Like the Cloudy Bay Te Koko and the Dog Point Section 94, the winemakers used wild yeast and barrel fermentation. The grapes were hand-harvested from low yielding vines grown in seven different areas of the Giesen’s Wairau Valley vineyards. Here the soil ranges from shallow and stony to deep sandy loams – each imparting their own distinct aromas and flavours to the wine.

Three days prior to harvesting each block, a bucket of grapes was picked and crushed to make a wild yeast starter. It was left in the warmth of the pump shed to get the temperature up, and after a couple of days of fermentation more grapes were added. When the vineyard was harvested these yeast starters, indigenous to the different blocks of the vineyard, were brought into the winery, drained off and added to the juice from their respective blocks.

After … Read the rest

Mar 03 2011

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Master Class

Posted on March 03, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Last Friday NZ Wine Online hosted a Sauvignon Blanc Master Class at the Royal Automobile Club in Sydney. I always enjoy evenings when the winemakers are on hand to discuss the wine, so I listened with great interest to winemakers John Hancock from Trinity Hill of the North Island’s Hawkes Bay region and Glenn Thomas from Tupari Wines, which is situated in the Awatere Valley in Marlborough in the north of the South Island.

Of the nine wines we tasted that evening most were from the Marlborough region. Understandable, given that Marlborough is the one region of the world that seems to have taken the noble grape of the Loire and Bordeaux and made it its own. In her book Educating Peter, The Wall Street Journal’s wine writer Lettie Teague argues that Marlborough sauvignon blanc and in particular the iconic Cloudy Bay expression of the style “actually changed the way people thought about Sauvignon Blanc and the way winemakers approached the grape too…From California to South Africa, even in the Loire Valley, the home of Sauvignon Blanc, I’ve seen wine lists that feature ‘New Zealand-style’ Sancerres.”

Interestingly, the Hawkes Bay offering, the Trinity Hill Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2010, is made more in the understated or restrained style of Sancerre, with citrus, melon and stone fruit flavours accented with Sancerre-like mineral notes. The wine spent extended time on lees to give it more body or texture, and the warmer climate of the Hawkes Bay region creates a wine that is slighly lower in both acidity and alcohol than its typical Marlborough peers.

Both Hancock and Thomas talked about the innovations taking place in New Zealand sauvignon blanc. While many of the wines displayed the familiar characteristics of bright fruity aromatics with zesty citrus and tropical fruit flavours … Read the rest

Nov 11 2010

A Brilliant BYO Dinner!

Posted on November 11, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

If you love great wine and food, one of life’s great pleasures is to organise a group dinner at a favourite restaurant that allows BYO, and ask each of the diners to bring one of their best bottles.

On Thursday night we attended such a dinner at the fine French restaurant La Grande Bouffe in Rozelle. Organised by my husband’s Food and Wine Society, I knew the wine selections were going to be pretty good (the table captain had been in touch with key members of our table in advance of the evening) but, wow, what a wonderful night of wine imbibing!

We started with a bottle of Perrier-Jouet Champagne 1998. Fresh and still fruity with delicate citrus and floral aromas and deliciously fine bubbles, it was the perfect accompaniment to the canapes of natural oysters with a champagne vinaigrette, fish tartare on fine toast and pork roulard with celeraic salsa.

Before the entrees arrived, we moved on to the Domain Christian Moreau Pere et Fils Chablis 1er Cru Vaillon 2006. This wine comes from a very young domain: the Christian Moreau family only reclaimed the grand cru-rich acreage for the family in 2002, and Christian and his winemaker son Fabien have already done a very good job in restoring the Domaine’s reputation as a leading producer in the region.

The 2006 Vaillon Chablis is made from vines planted by Guy Moreau in 1932. It was already excellent but will probably benefit with more cellar age, which will soften the slight steely edge. The stone fruit, apricot in particular, and lime citrus flavours were balanced by lanolin in the finish. It worked well with my twice baked wonderfully light leak and goat cheese souflee and my husband’s deliciously succulent bacon wrapped scallops on braised mushrooms with a mustard jus.

Now … Read the rest

Nov 11 2010

Getting Serious about Wine and Food Pairing!

Posted on November 11, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

This week Gary Vaynerchuk looked at what wines go best with hot dogs! (What Wines Pair with a Hot Dog? Episode #944, Wine Library TV, 3 November 2010)

Recently Wine Spectator’s New World Wine Experience brought four of the best chefs in the world together, Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Charlie Trotter, to work with Wine Spectator’s Executive Editor Thomas Matthews on pairing the right wine to their dishes. (2010 New World Wine Experience: The Four Chefs Food and Wine Match by Alison Napjus, Wine Spectator, 2 November 2010)

But the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Competition, the largest wine competition in Asia, has taken food and wine pairing to a whole new level. It has included a world-first Chinese food and wine pairing category in the competition, and it’s proving very popular with both wineries and the public!

Everywhere you look people seem to be getting serious about matching the right wines with the right foods!

And why not? A great meal can become a transcendental experience when married with perfect wine choice. James Halliday gave a wonderful description on his Australian Wine Companion blog of the wine/food pairings at the Annual Clonakilla Dinner at Attica, 28 October 2010. Here’s a sample:

The Grosset (Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2010) was accompanied by ‘snow crab’, one of those dishes that only Shewry (ie. Ben Shewry, co-owner and chef at Attica) could conceive of and execute, in no way derivative, simply coming out of his imagination (and a fair bit of trial and error in the kitchen in the development phase, no doubt). The presentation alluded to a snow-capped mountain, the snow on the outside of the mini-mountain on the plate a profusion of other textures and flavours hidden Read the rest

Oct 10 2010

Champagne: Highlights from a Memorable Tasting!

Posted on October 10, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Talking about a recent dinner at El Bulli, possibly the most famous restaurant on the planet, Eric Asimov, wine writer for New York Times, said, “I would have stuck happily with Champagne throughout the meal. Not ordinary Champagne either, but superb, hard-to-find bottles like Selosse Brut Initiale, which retails for about $US125 but was on the list for $US165, or Jérôme Prévost for $US140, or maybe both.” El Bulli and a Meal for the Ages by Eric Asimov, The New York Times, 21 September 2010.

Too often we don’t think of having Champagne with a meal. The big Champagne houses have done such good job of associating Champagne with celebratory events that we tend to drink it at parties and with hors d’oevres, instead of enjoying it with the main course.

Wednesday evening’s Vintage Celllars Double Bay Champagne tasting at the Botanic Gardens in Sydney certainly had a very festive air. Of course, being in the company of the most famous Champagne Houses in the world happily sharing some of their best bottles created a wonderful sense of occasion – heightened by a pretty elegant and knowledgeable crowd and an excellent array of delicious hors d’oevres!

Almost in hushed tones did we ask each other if we had tasted the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin La Grande Dame 1998 or the Dom Perignon 2002 – my friend Richard’s pick of the evening!

Comparing vintage Champagne to the House style non-vintage cuvee is perhaps the best way to appreciate why spending a couple of hundred dollars more for the vintage is worth it!

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin La Grande Dame 1998 had all the marvelous attributes you associate with fine vintage Champagne: a blend of nearly two thirds pinot noir and one third chardonnay, the wine is crystal clear with very fine bubbles. It … Read the rest