Tag: The Wine Spectator

Feb 02 2012

Elderton Command Shiraz: A Classic Example of a Single Vineyard Expression

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

When a fine winemaker decides to designate a wine as ‘single vineyard,’ the vineyard typically has at least one attribute that makes it truly exceptional. For Elderton Winery in the Barossa Valley, an eight acre parcel of shiraz, planted in 1894 by Samuel Elderton Tolley, is their jewel in the crown. Since 1984 fruit from this low yielding block has been used to make the highly acclaimed Elderton Command Shiraz.

To have such a large tract of 100+ year old wines on one estate is quite remarkable, as very old vines are, in fact, quite a rare commodity. South Australia was one of the few areas in the world to be spared the full force of the Pylloxera louse, which wiped out a significant portion of the world’s grapes at the turn of the last century. But while South Australia’s old vines were spared the Phylloxera wrath, most unfortunately didn’t survive the onslaught of bulldozers in the 1960s and 1970s, which ripped up most of these undervalued crops.

The Ashmead Family acquired the 72 acre Elderton estate in the late 1970s, and set about bringing the old vines back to health. They joined pioneers like Robert O’Callaghan at Rockford and Dave Powell at Torbreck, who recognised that old vines have the potential to make rich, complex wines of exceptional quality. (See Australia’s Old Vine Wines by Merrill Witt, Cellarit Wine Blog 29 December 2010)

Fruit on old vines tend to ripen more consistently than their younger counterparts and also fare better when dry-farmed. Their mature roots have learned how to dig deep for the necessary moisture and nutrients, a characteristic that also helps to imbue a sense of place or what the French call ‘terroir” in the wine.

“Tremendously aromatic”, “expressive with uncommon depth”, and “seductively rich in texture” … Read the rest

Jul 07 2011

Aussie Wine Icons: Clarendon Hills Astralis Syrah

Posted on July 07, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

You don’t usually hear “big” and “graceful” in the same sentence when reading a review of a McLaren Vale shiraz, but here’s the Wine Spectator’s opinion of the 2006 Clarendon Hills Astralis Syrah:

A big wine, but amazingly supple, graceful and pure, offering cascades of wild blueberry, black cherry and plum fruit that play against spices such as cardamom, clove and black pepper. It’s all seamlessly integrated with fine tannins and enough creamy oak to complete the picture. Syrah. Drink now through 2020. (Harvey Steiman, The Wine Spectator, 15 October 2008)

The Astralis is the flagship wine of Roman Bratasiuk’s Clarendon Hills. When the influential wine critic Robert Parker first tasted the Clarendon Hills wines in 1994, he became an immediate devotee, and his enthusiasm for the wines has only continued to grow.  After a vertical tasting in 2001, Parker remarked: “If Penfolds Grange has been the most legendary wine in Australia, my instincts suggest that in the future, if any wine surpasses Grange, it will be made by Roman Bratasiuk of Clarendon Hills in McLaren Vale.” (Vertical Tasting of Clarendon Hills, Wine Advocate, June 2001)

A number of Australia’s best winemakers benchmark their wines against the great ‘Old World’ examples. Bratasiuk’s style of wines has always been informed by his profound appreciation of the very best French wines.* He was one of the first winemakers to use only French oak – the Astralis spends 18 months in 50% new and 50% seasoned, tightly grained French oak barrels.

Planted in 1920, the Astralis vineyard is on a 45 degree ascending slope. It faces due-east and has a top soil layer of pebble-ridden clay and subsoil layer of pure ironstone. The vineyards are no longer trellised and the wine is fermented with indigenous yeasts. Astralis, like all … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Château Pape Clément: Creating Wine of First-Growth Quality!

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

One man who is considered just as influential in Bordeaux as the legendary American wine critic Robert Parker is the oenologist Michel Rolland. Rolland is a consultant oenologist to hundred of wineries in the Bordeaux and around the world. He is credited with turning around the quality of such famous estates as Château Lascombe and has been a consultant to some of the best estates in California, counting names like Araujo, Harlan Estate and Dalla Vale among his clients.

Bordeaux is all about the blend, and according to wine critic James Suckling, “Rolland’s blending skill is phenomenal… It’s not so much that he is better than other top tasters at evaluating the quality of a wine, or that he knows more tricks as a veteran winemaker. Where he shines is in his ability to taste different lots of wine in a winery and then decide which ones work best together to make a great bottle.” Rolland’s palate is backed up by some formidable science. He has a laboratory in Libourne that employs eight full-time technicians who analyse wine samples from about 800 estates in France each year. (Top Gun: Consulting enologist Michel Rolland makes some of the world’s best red wine by James Suckling, Wine Spectator, 30 June 2006)

At Chateau Pape Clément Rolland works with one of France’s leading businessmen and winemakers Bernard Magrez. Pape Clément is a jewel in the crown of 35 vineyards owned by Magrez in France and around the world.  In 2009 the International Wine and Spirit Competition awarded Magrez the title of French Wine Producer of the Year.

Together, Rolland and Magrez have made numerous improvements in the vineyard and the winery over the last decade. Yields are limited through crop thinning, and de-leafing helps the grapes to ripen by … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Yalumba The Signature: Celebrating Tradition, Culture & The Best of Vintage

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In a sense, Yalumba’s The Signature, a cabernet sauvignon/shiraz blend first released in 1962,  reads like a history of the winery. Each vintage is named in honour of an employee or person who has made a significant contribution to culture and traditions of the company.

The Signature itself holds a very special place not only in the history of Yalumba but in the winemaking history of Australia.  As the winery notes, “In a market largely obsessed with single-varietal wines, Yalumba has remained steadfast in its commitment to that most Australian of wine styles, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz blend.”

Director of Winemaking Brian Walsh is in fact so enthusiastic about the style that a number of years ago he convinced the prestigious Royal Adelaide Wine Show to add cabernet/shiraz and shiraz/cabernet blends as a separate class. Together with The Great Australian Red – a wine competition exclusively limited to Australian examples of the blend,  these shows are lifting the profile of this unique Australian wine style.

The Signature is a consistently high scoring wine. Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate scored the 2002 vintage 96+ points, and The Wine Spectator awarded the 2005 vintage 92 points. Here’s Harvey Steiman’s glowing review:Smooth, velvety and beautifully focused to show the depth of ripe currant, blackberry, grilled meat and smoke notes that don’t quit on the long, deftly balanced finish. Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Drink now through 2015.” (Tasting Note, The Wine Spectator, 30 September 2009).

I have a friend who absolutely raves about the quality and value for money of The Signature. It typically sells for around 30 per cent less than its similarly regarded peers. I think the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown had a point when she remarked that “Yalumba’s top wines should not be overlooked … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Penfolds Bin 389: Perfecting the Art of Blending

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

At Wine Australia’s Landmark Tutorial last September, the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown scored the 1975 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz a very impressive 92 points. Here’s her review:

The 1975 Penfolds Bin 389 has a perfumed nose of dried cherries and pot pourri with some cigar boxes, stewed Ceylon tea and dried mint. Structured with medium-high acid and a low to medium level of grainy tannins, it still gives a lot of dried fruit and savory flavors with a long finish of dried figs and baking spices. The wine has peaked but appears to be at nice plateau. (Shiraz and The Great Australian Blend – Landmark Tutorial Day 2 by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, eRobertParker.com, January 2011)

I had a look at The Wine Advocate’s scores for vintages of Bin 389 dating back to 1993 and up to the 2007 (1993 is the earliest listed review and a few vintages were omitted). 91 points is the highest score, so a score of 92 for a bottle that was 35 years old is a real testament to the wine’s ageability.

Of course, Penfolds Bin 389, first released in 1960, does have a great reputation for ageing well. Its ‘baby Grange’ moniker, in part a testament to the fact that some components of the wine spend part of their time maturing in the oak hogsheads used in the previous vintage of Grange, is also well-earned recognition for the wine’s consistency of style and longevity.

Perrotti-Brown has referred to Penfolds as the ‘Champagne of Australian wine’: “If Champagne is all about the the art of blending, then Penfolds is the Champagne of Australian wine. Those that think large companies producing wines that emphasize blending can’t make great wines need to think about the Champagne model or simply try some of Penfolds top wines … Read the rest

Dec 12 2010

Australia’s Old Vine Wines

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

The list of acclaimed wines made from old vines in Australia are many and would include, to name a few, such renowned names as Henschke Hill of Grace, Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, Torbreck RunRig, Wendouree Shiraz, Chris Ringland Shiraz, Clarendon Hill AstralisD’Arengberg The Dead Arm and Yalumba The Octavius Barossa Old Vine Shiraz.

So what makes old vine wine so special? Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator addressed this very question in his article If it Says “Old Vine,” Will You Buy?: The benefits of old vines are debatable, particularly to those who don’t have them, 15 June 2010.  “Of all the many ambiguities of wine”, Kramer said, ” ‘old vines’ seems to be one of the more troublesome. Every grower I’ve met, everywhere in the world, who has old vines insists that older vines are better. Yet I’ve met a fair number of growers who suggest that “old-vine admiration” is, if not bunk, then certainly overstated and overrated. Not coincidentally, these same scoffers are not in possession of old vines.”

Before launching into a discussion about the merits of older vines over their younger counterparts, here’s a few points about old vines that are beyond dispute.

Old Vines are Fairly Unique

Wine-making is thousands of years old but surprisingly old vines, or at least the really old vines of 60 to 100+ years, are in fact not that common. Their scarcity is due to a number of factors, but most importantly is a consequence of the damage caused by the vine destroying Phylloxera louse, which at the turn of the 20th century wiped out vine stocks throughout Europe and especially in the wine-making centre of France.

Fortunately, Australia was spared the full force of the Phylloxera curse. Phylloxera hit Victoria and New South … Read the rest