Tag: Robert Parker

Dec 12 2012

50 Wines to Try in 2013: No. 3 Chateau Pontet-Canet – A Brilliant Biodynamic Bordeaux

Posted on December 12, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

You wouldn’t normally think that Château Pontet-Canet, a fifth-growth chateaux in Bordeaux, would be one of the leading examples of what the Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker describes as “profound evolution in quality” in Bordeaux over the past 30 years.

Since proprietor Alfred Tesseron took over the 200 acre Pauillac estate from his father in 1997, he has ushered in a series of innovations in both viticultural and winemaking practices that have led to a remarkable lift in the quality of his wines. Of the 2009 vintage, for example, Robert Parker remarked that it was “A wine of irrefutable purity, laser-like precision, colossal weight and richness, and sensational freshness, this is a tour de force in winemaking that is capable of lasting 50 or more years.”  (Wine Advocate #199 February 2012)

Granted, 2009 was a spectacular vintage, but Parker’s 100 point score was by no means a fluke. The wine has earned ratings of 93 or higher in both Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator tastings since 2000.

Château Pontet-Canet is a neighbour to plots owned by illustrious first-growths Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Latour. Tesseron told the Wine Spectator’s Jo Cooke that “Every morning…we wake up and say, ‘We are a fifth-growth surrounded by first-growths, so we have to do better.’ We want to get as close as we can to the quality of our neighbors.” (Climbing the Pyramid: Alfred Tesseron is raising quality at Bordeaux’s Pontet-Canet by Jo Cooke, Wine Spectator, 30 April 2008).

Tesseron has made significant investments in both the vineyards and the cellar to achieve his lofty goal. Pontet-Canet was one of the first Bordeaux estates to eschew the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Since 2007 both the vineyard and winery have been biodynamic.

At times the natural approach to vineyard management has presented … Read the rest

Jul 07 2012

Decoding the Language of Wine: A Few Terms Explained!

Posted on July 07, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In my previous post, The 20 Wines with a Perfect 100 Point Robert Parker Score, I suggested that wine scores were useful because, as the Decanter wine critic Andrew Jefford explained, “the language of wine is, of necessity, highly metaphorical and hence puzzling: these are not plain words.”

So going forward, I thought every week I’d have a look at the meaning of key words that are used to describe wine, so both you and I have a better idea of what the critics are talking about when we see words like ‘bouquet’, ‘body’ or ‘big wine’ bandied about!

Aroma or Bouquet

I’m guessing you’ll look pretty smart if you can tell your friends you know the difference between ‘aroma’ and ‘bouquet’ –  key words used in discussions about the ‘nose’ or smell of wine!

Not surprisingly, aroma and bouquet are often used interchangeably, but according to the Wall Street Journal’s wine critic Lettie Teague, only a young wine has an aroma – that is, scents of primary fruit and oak. In contrast, a bouquet is a smell that develops over time as the wine ages. During this period a wine will develop secondary aromas such as truffles, mushrooms and earth, for example. (Educating Peter: How Anybody Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert by Lettie Teague, New York: Scribner 2007)

Interestingly, according to the Oxford Companion to Wine, Australia has its own take on when and how to use ‘aroma’ to describe how a wine smells. Australian wine critics use the word to refer specifically to varietal characteristics rather than those associated with wine-making! In other words, aroma refers to the fresh and fruity smells that are reminiscent of the grapes used to make the wine.

Body

The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia describes ‘body’ as “the impression of … Read the rest

Jul 07 2012

The 20 Australian Wines with a Perfect 100 point Robert Parker score

Posted on July 07, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

After writing my last post, Can you guess how many wines have received a 100 ‘Parker Points’, I was thinking a lot about the usefulness of wine scores.

I came across a really interesting quote from Decanter critic Andrew Jefford about how “the language of wine is, of necessity, highly metaphorical and hence puzzling: these are not plain words.” He was speaking to the Wine Communicators of Australia, and he urged his audience to “not just think about wine with passionate intensity, but about language too.” (Wine and Astonishment by Andrew Jefford, andrewjefford.com, May 2012)

As an ex-smoker from way back, I can still remember the delicious smell of tobacco – a descriptor often used to describe an element of the bouquet of some mature reds – but I wonder whether young people today are still familiar with it? Ditto for eucalypt, which is used to describe a distinct aroma of some Australian cabernet sauvignon. I’ve seen American wine writers replace menthol for eucalypt, which makes sense because the vast majority of Americans have probably never seen, let alone experienced the smell of a eucalypt forest.

No wonder wine scores are so useful!  While most of us can differentiate over 1,000 aromas, not everyone has the same vocabulary or library of smells to draw on. Wine scores help us to cut-through the jargon. 90 points typically indicates that a wine is very good but 100 points signifies that it must be exceptional. And since wine is very much a sensuous experience, we can feel confident that imbibing a 100 point wine will in all likelihood be quite a remarkable and memorable experience. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to try one of the 100 ‘Parker Point’ wines listed below:

Read the rest
Jul 07 2012

Can you guess how many Australian wines have been awarded 100 ‘Parker Points’?

Posted on July 07, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Wine Scores: What they’re all About?

Before I reveal the magic number, a few observations about wine scores. British wine critic Jancis Robinson MW, who uses a 20 point scale, has commented that she’s “not a great fan of the conjunction of numbers and wine. Once numbers are involved, it is all too easy to reduce wine to a financial commodity rather than keep its precious status as a uniquely stimulating source of sensual pleasure and conviviality.”

Robert Parker Jr invented the 100 point scale for wine

Her view is definitely not shared by Robert Parker Jr, the inventor of the ubiquitous 100 point scale, which was based on the American standardised high school grading system because it was familiar and easy to understand. On his website Parker emphatically states: “While some have suggested that scoring is not well suited to a beverage that has been romantically extolled for centuries, wine is no different from any consumer product. There are specific standards of quality that full-time wine professionals recognize, and there are benchmark wines against which others can be judged.”

While he goes on to say “that the numerical ratings are utilized only to enhance and complement the thorough tasting notes, which are my primary means of communicating my judgments to you,” he acknowledges that “scoring permits rapid communication of information to expert and novice alike.”

The Importance of Wine Scores

Indeed! Parker’s Wine Advocate, together with other influential publications like the Wine Spectator and James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion, which both followed Parker’s lead in embracing the 100 point wine scoring system, have been enormously important in broadening appeal and appreciation for fine wine over the past 30 years. And for Australian wines to be awarded high scores, especially when judged against the world’s best, proved a … Read the rest

Jun 06 2012

Mount Mary Quintet: The Quintessential Cabernet Blend

Posted on June 06, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

When I was reading Jay McInerney’s article on Paso Robles blends, I couldn’t help thinking about Australia’s most renowned blended wine, the Mount Mary Vineyard Quintet Cabernets. Justin Smith of Saxum, one of Paso Robles’ most respected winemakers, told McInerney that “Blends are a great tool for winemakers to be able to bring complexity and balance to their wines, especially when working within a single site.” (Discovering the Beautiful Blends of Paso Robles by Jay McInerney, The Wall Street Journal, 15 June 2012)

Mount Mary has been putting Smith’s approach into practice for over 40 years. Back in the early 70s, Mount Mary’s founder, the late Dr John Middleton, decided that he wanted to make an elegant, low alcohol Bordeaux blend. He settled on a gentle, north facing slope in the heart of the Yarra Valley and planted it to cabernet sauvignon (46%), merlot (26%), cabernet franc (18%), malbec (5%) and petit verdot (5%). These varieties became the basis for his celebrated Mount Mary Quintet Cabernets.

Elegant, structure and complexity are the adjectives most used to describe the Quintet’s style. Middleton preferred the taut, tight and lean flavours of great old red Bordeaux, and modeled the Quintet on the classical proportioned wines he revered. When it was first released in 1979 the Quintet proved a revelation to consumers, more used to a richer style of Australian cabernet. Available only to buyers who gained a spot on the coveted mailing list, it quickly attained a cult-like status.

Today the Mount Mary vineyard is regarded as an exceptional site, and the crops are carefully managed to insure that the integrity of Middleton’s original style is maintained. (Apparently Middleton was very hands-on up until his death in 2006 at age 82.) Each variety, for example, is picked only after … Read the rest

May 05 2012

Reviews for Penfolds Grange 2007

Posted on May 05, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Reviews for the Penfolds Grange 2007 are starting to trickle in. As you may recall, the 2006 Grange was a stellar vintage. Andrew Caillard MW of Langton’s gave the wine a perfect score of 100 points, rating the 2006 Grange as the best vintage since 2004.

2006 was always going to be a hard act to follow, especially since the 2007 vintage was plagued by drought, high summer temperatures and severe frosts early in the growing season. Of course, only the best quality fruit is used for the Grange, and Penfolds has the luxury of being able to source prime material from different sites and regions. The 2007 is a blend of 97 per cent shiraz and 3 per cent cabernet sauvignon.

Grange is definitely not a wine designed to be imbibed upon release, and early reviews and scores are often revised as the wine ages. As the influential American wine critic Robert Parker commented, Grange is a wine that ages at a “glacial pace.” His Wine Advocate regularly re-tastes the wine at 3-7 year intervals, updating reviews and, most importantly, the crucial point scores.

Usually point scores and reviews for Grange tend to improve as the wine ages, but sometimes they dip and then come up again. Like a great Bordeaux, some vintages of Grange have a propensity to ‘close down’ and then ‘re-emerge’ after several more years of cellaring.

The Wine Advocate’s reviews of the celebrated 1990 Grange, for example, are a case in point. (Incidentally, this was the vintage that was named ‘Red Wine of the Year’ by the Wine Spectator magazine in 1995 – the first time it chose a wine outside of France or California!)

In his 1995 review of the 1990 vintage, Parker remarked that “The 1990 is the greatest, most complete and richest … Read the rest

Feb 02 2012

Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz 2005: ‘Surprisingly’ good drinking Seven Years On!

Posted on February 02, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

The reasons for America’s fading love affair with Australian wines in recent years have been much discussed. At the bottom end, the predominance of the so-called ‘critter’ brands unfairly created an image of Australian wine as cheap and cheerful. And at the high end, influential wine critic’s Robert Parker’s trumpeting of a big, rich, full bodied style of South Australian shiraz possibly inflated expectations to a point that it was hard for the wines to live up the glowing praise. As American wine critic and blogger Alder Yarrow observed, “after several years of hype over huge, extracted, high-alcohol wines from the Barossa (Mollydooker was named as a poster child for this excess), collectors were tasting these wines with five or eight years on them and realising that they were falling apart.” (Some Thoughts on Australian Wine by Alder Yarrow, Vinography, 21 May 2010)

I remembered Yarrow’s comments when I was at a dinner party on Saturday night and our friend opened a bottle of Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz 2005.  I should note that our friend is a very astute collector with catholic tastes, so we worked our way through a bottle of Herzog Marlborough Pinot Gris 2006, an Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir 2005 from the Santa Maria Valley in California and a Pintia Tinto de Toro (Tempranillo) 2005, before we approached the 2005 Mollyooker Carnival of Love Shiraz.  I guess you could say my palate was warmed up, but as the designated driver, I was very careful to have no more than a couple of mouthfuls of any of the wines. So for the record, no, I wasn’t drunk when we eventually imbibed the Mollydooker!

And the Carnival of Love wasn’t just good, it was great! More than a worthy competitor in a very strong field of … Read the rest

Dec 12 2011

Harlan Estate Proprietary Red Wine – Close to Immortality in a Glass!

Posted on December 12, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

“Close to Immortality in a glass” was how the Wine Advocate’s critic Robert Parker characterised the critically acclaimed 1994 vintage of the Harlan Estate Proprietary Red Wine. 1994 is one of five vintages (the others being 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2007) that have been awarded 100 points by Parker. Not bad for a wine that only made its debut with the 1990 vintage! (Wine Advocate #114, December 1997)

The success of Napa’s Harlan Estate Proprietary Red Wine over the past twenty years, while remarkable, is perhaps not unexpected given the pedigree of the team behind its exquisitely 19th century inspired ‘engraved’ label.

Bill Harlan was determined to make a ‘first growth’ Bordeaux blend style wine in California. After touring the top wine growing areas in Europe, he realised that most of the world’s best wineries were located on hillsides.

In 1983 he purchased 230 acres of hilly woodlands just west of the famed Heitz Cellar’s Martha’s Vineyard. Thirty six acres of vineyards were planted on the steep hillsides, where the infertile, well drained soils with good sun exposure provided ideal conditions for perfectly ripening the Bordeaux blend varieties of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc.

Working with winemaker Bob Levy and drawing on the talents of superstar Bordeaux consultant Michel Rolland, Harlan left nothing to chance to create a wine that truly captures the essence of its terroir. Everything in both the vineyard and the winery is done with an eye on perfection. The beautifully contoured, hand tendered vineyards are meticulously kept, tiny bins are used for hand picking so the grapes can be hand-sorted, and like at Château Haut-Bailly and Château Pape Clément in Bordeaux, the wine is moved by gravity, rather than pumps, through all the different steps of winemaking.

Jancis Robinson has described the … Read the rest

Oct 10 2011

The Joy of Drinking Aged Wines

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

Before I boarded the bus to Orange, I enjoyed some terrific aged wines over lunch at the Wine and Food Society of NSW. One of my favourites was the Leasingham Classic Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 1992.

What struck me most about this wine was that you couldn’t mistake it for anything but a superbly aged cabernet sauvignon. The bouquet was alluring – blackcurrant fruit subtly enhanced with tobacco, dark chocolate and cedar aromas. The dark stone fruit flavours were still fresh and full, delivering complexity and great length. And while the tannins were now soft and silky, the wine still had excellent body and structure.

In his reviews of first growth Bordeaux wines, the Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker will often remark that the wines need a decade or more of cellaring. Not only does bottle age help to soften the tannins and make the wine more accessible, but cellaring gives the wine time to evolve and, if it’s really good, to transform into something quite extraordinary or even transcendent.

Today, of course, most wines are made for immediate appeal, and well north of 90% are consumed within the first year of their release. Interestingly, Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator argues that, “We must age wines today not merely to tease the genie out of the bottle, but rather, to see if it’s in there at all.” Kramer asks, “Will the modern Argentine Malbecs that are so delicious today, become with 20 years of bottle age as profound as they teasingly suggest? No-one knows.” (Why We Age Wines. And Why it Matters by Matt Kramer, Wine Spectator, 30 April 2010)

In my post, Cellaring Australian Pinot. How long do they last?, I mentioned that the longevity of many great pinot noirs were defying critics’ expectations. Wines expected … Read the rest

Oct 10 2011

Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select: California’s Finest Cabernet Sauvignon?

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

Wine critic James Suckling recalls a very special tasting he attended in Florence in 2006. The 1997 and 2001 vintages of top Californian cult wines, drawn from the cellar of Bordeaux Chateau owner and Swiss collector Silvio Denz, were blind tasted against a group of top Tuscan cult wines from the same vintages.

A dozen tasters, mostly Swiss wine merchants, declared the Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select the overall winner. Quite an accomplishment given that the Californian competition included celebrated names like Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Arajo Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Eisele Vineyard, Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Herb Lamb Vineyard, Dalla Valle Maya Napa Valley and Harlan Estate Napa Valley. (Florence Tasting: Cults Versus Cults or California Versus Tuscany by James Suckling, Wine Spectator, 27 November 2006)

While the result surprised Suckling, the Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select, first released in 1978, has long been making headlines. The Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker calls it one of Napa’s most profound wines.

Exhibiting flavours of black fruit, mocha, black plums, cassis, juicy black and red cherry, black tea, with spice and warm toast, the wine is aged for 32 months in 100% new 60-gallon French oak barrels and bottle aged for about a year before release.

When John Shafer bought Shafer Vineyards in the Stags Leap district in 1972, he was one of the first to cultivate vineyards on the hillsides. With gradients up to 45% and less than 50 centimetres of poor, rocky vocanic soil above weathered bedrock, conditions proved ideal for keeping yields low and creating ripe concentrated fruit.  The vineyards are sustainably managed with a range of vineyard exposures and a diversity of clones ensuring the consistency of the innovative Hillside Select style regardless of the vagaries … Read the rest