Category Archives: Wine Varieties

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

Oct 10 2011

Masterclass with New Zealand’s Escarpment and Quartz Reef

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

On Wednesday night I attended a masterclass hosted by two of New Zealand’s leading winemarkers: Larry McKenna of Martinborough’s Escarpment and Rudi Bauer of Central Otago’s Quartz Reef. Organised by nzwineonline.com.au and held at the very picturesque Coast restaurant in Cockle Bay, the evening proved a wonderful opportunity to sample pinot noir from the two most acclaimed wine regions for the variety in New Zealand.

Both winemakers have drawn on Burgundy for inspiration for their pinot noir. Their winemaking practices reflect the very best of Old and New World traditions as characterised by complete respect for their respective terroirs and a willingness to experiment with new ideas to improve the quality of their wines. Austrian born Rudi did several vintages in Burgundy, as well as California and at Rippon in New Zealand before starting Quartz Reef in 1996. Larry grew up in Adelaide, studied at Roseworthy College and worked in Europe and New Zealand before co-founding Escarpment in 1998.

 

Larry talked about how the winemaking philosophy of the renowned Burgundy estate Domaine Dujac has influenced his own approach. Dujac vinifies its pinot noir with little or no de-stemming of the grapes, with winemaker Jacques Seysses being convinced that it gives the wines greater complexity. Larry explained that he includes whole bunches in the fermentation for his pinot noir. The fruit for the 2009 vintage, for example, was a little riper than 2008, so a slightly higher percentage of whole bunches (approximately 40%) were used to enhance the wine’s complexity and tannin structure. The fruitier and more savoury perfume aromas of the Escarpment Pinot Noir 2009 made it our table’s choice over the more subdued but still very good 2008.

The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown recently described Rudi’s winemaking style as “both understated and powerful.” Quartz Reef’s single vineyard … 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

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

Wine of the Week: Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz

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

In his post, Tasting Australian History: Six decades with Peter Lehmann (Wine Spectator 12 October 2010), wine critic Harvey Steiman talks about a recent  tasting of the 1996 Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz. As Steiman notes, 1996 was the best vintage of the 1990s for Barossa Shiraz and this wine certainly didn’t disappoint:

astonishing suppleness, depth and power. Gorgeous stuff, it showed spicy cherry and blackberry flavors that glowed through polished tannins. Has power without excess weight, and it feels like it can go on for decades. Easily 95 points, non-blind.

I always enjoy reading recent reviews of older wines. The best red wines are designed to age, and typically shiraz can take 10 of more years before it starts to fully evolve. Terrific reviews of older bottles are also a testament to the talent and skills of the winemaker and, of course, the quality of the initial raw materials, which is all about insuring the best outcomes in the vineyard.

In the case of Peter Lehmann, the extraordinary talent of the winemaker is already the stuff of legends. Peter Lehmann had already notched up more than 30 years as a winemaker, first at Yalumba and then at Saltram, before starting his eponymous winery in 1979. Steiman comments that “some of the Shiraz wines he made at Saltram in the 1960s are regarded as among the finest Barossa wines every produced. They are still perfectly sound and continue to be used by Barossa winemakers to demonstrate the longevity of Barossa Shiraz at its best.”

Chief Winemaker Andrew Wigan, who has been with Peter Lehmann since its founding, is also one of Australia’s top winemakers; as recently as 2009 he won the coveted  Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine ‘Winemaker of the Year’ award.

The Stonewell Shiraz is regarded as the … Read the rest

Aug 08 2011

Sparkling Shiraz: Australia’s unique take on Bubbly!

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

Australia has made a few significant contributions to the world of wine: the shiraz cabernet/cabernet shiraz blend, the stelvin screw cap and a new take on bubbly with the sparkling shiraz.

While most people tend to drink sparkling wines as an aperitif, the spicy aromas, fine beading and complex flavours of sparkling shiraz make it a perfect accompaniment with dinner.

Seppelt’s Great Western Winery in Victoria has been making sparkling shiraz almost continuously since the 1890s. The highly rated Seppelt Show Sparkling Shiraz is made from 60+ year old grapes from the St. Peter’s and Imperial vineyards, using the traditional methodé Champenoise.  After a break in production, the 1982 Seppelt Show Sparkling Burgundy (as it was then known) was relaunched in 1990. Today, renowned wine critic James Halliday rates Seppelt’s as the best producer of Australian sparkling shiraz. (James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion 2011)

 

 

Peter Lehmann released its first sparkling shiraz in 1999. It was made from the 1994 vintage and spent five years cellaring in the bottle on tirage. Halliday awarded 94 points to the Peter Lehmann Black Queen Sparkling Shiraz 2005. Sourced from small Barossa Valley vineyards, including one owned by Peter and Margaret Lehmann, chief winemaker Andrew Wigan, who created the wine for Peter Lehmann, offered the following tasting notes:

Beautifully deep in colour with a persistent fine bead. The nose is an enticing melange of chocolate, dark cherry, hints of spice, a touch of vanilla. A beautifully integrated and fully harmonious wine offering an explosion of flavour balanced by the complexity resulting from its time in the bottle. (Seppelt website)

Wild Duck Creek makes the dry style, non vintage Sparkling Duck Sparkling Shiraz NV every three vintages. Only 1200 bottles of the wine are produced from a 50% blend of … Read the rest