Wine Blog & Reviews

Aug 08 2017

The wonderful whites of Sicily’s Mount Etna

Posted on August 08, 2017 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Just back from London where even the supermarkets have a decent range of good quality, well-priced wines from around the world!

One of my favourite discoveries was the delicious Mount Etna Bianco, a blend of two indigenous grapes – Carricante (70%) and Catarratto (30%). Graci, one of Mt Etna’s top producers, makes a superb example. The 2014 Graci Etna Bianco, which I tried over lunch with friends, was a revelation. Bright and fresh with mineral and citrus notes, it had just enough phenolics to impart a rich, slightly creamy mouthfeel.

The Wine Advocate’s Monica Larner believes that overall the 2014 vintage sealed the deal for Sicily earning its “ranking as one of the top three most prestigious wine regions of Italy, following Piedmont and Tuscany.” (Italy, Sicily, Class of 2014 by Monica Larner, Wine Advocate 31 December 2015).

In fact, Angelo Gaja, described by the Wine Spectator Magazine’s Robert Camuto as “the Piedmont winemaking legend who for more than 50 years has helped lead Italy’s quality wine movement,” recently teamed up with Alberto Graci to buy 51 acres on the active volcano’s southwest face in Biancavilla. He follows in the footsteps of other great Italian winemakers like Giacomo Tachis, the creator of  Sassicaia, Tignanello and San Leonardo, who have helped Sicilian winemakers position Sicily as a star on the world wine map. (Piedmont Wine Star Angelo Gaja Invests in Sicily’s Mount Etna by Robert Camuto, Wine Spectator, 29 April 2017)

The bottle we enjoyed over lunch comes from the Graci’s Passopisciaro-based winery on Mount Etna’s North face. Here the family cares for 18 hectares of cool northern-facing closely planted vineyards at an elevation of  600 to 1000 metres above sea level.  The Carricante grape thrives in high elevation vineyards, where the loose, well drained volcanic soils … Read the rest

Jun 06 2017

L.A.S. Vino – Forging a new path in Margaret River innovation

Posted on June 06, 2017 | By merrill@cellarit.com

You may recall that Vanya Cullen, the winemaker of Margaret River’s Cullen Wines, took her winery to a new level of international recognition and excellence by embracing innovations like biodynamic viticulture and winemaking. Little wonder perhaps, that her nephew, Nic Peterkin, has shown a similar drive and talent for innovation.

As the grandson of Cullen Wines founders Kevin and Di Cullen and the son of Mike Peterkin, the founder of another celebrated Margaret River winery Pierro, Peterkin was keen to forge his own path, albeit on familiar territory. A few years ago, he started his own label, L.A.S. Vino, partly because he wanted to show that the Margaret River was also capable of making top quality wines from less familiar varieties.

L.A.S. stands for “Luck Art Science”, and the rave reviews for his CBDB Chenin Blanc Dynamic BlendAlbino PNO and The Pirate Blend NV certainly suggest that Peterkin’s instincts, combined with perhaps a bit of luck, were right. Last year, Gourmet Traveller WINE named Peterkin as the Young Winemaker of the Year, noting that the most recent vintages of his wines had “performed exceptionally well at the most recent Gourmet Traveller WINE panel tasting.”

Like me, you’re probably wondering about the Albino PNO? Peterkin describes the wine as “strawberries and cream in a bottle.” It’s a blend of 8 barrels of pinot noir and two barrels of chardonnay, with one barrel of the pinot noir being given a little extra time on skins to add a little colour and complexity to the mix. The Pirate Blend, a blend of the Portuguese varieties touriga nacional, tinta cão and sousão, comes from low yielding, 40 year-old vines in the north of Margaret River, originally planted to make vintage port. According to wine critic Huon Hooke, “the bouquet … Read the rest

May 05 2017

Australia’s famed Margaret River wine region turns 50 years old!

Posted on May 05, 2017 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Not putting a foot wrong when it comes to recent vintages, Margaret River—at the heart of Western Australia—has become one of the most consistently solid regions for producing quality wines in Australia.

                                                        Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Western Australia, The Wine Advocate, 29 October 2016

Western Australia’s Margaret River region is considered one of  Australia’s, if not the world’s, premier wine regions. Coincidentally its birth coincided with the Beatles release of their most celebrated album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – both fitting testaments to the ground-breaking 1960s era!

In its short 50 year history, Margaret River has proven time and again that it can produce some of the best wines in Australia. Wine critic Huon Hooke recently singled out the Vasse Felix Heytesbury Margaret River Chardonnay as “one of the greatest in the country,” and both the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay and the Xanadu Stevens Road Margaret River Chardonnay are perennial favourites on lists of Australia’s top wines.  Indeed, only recently has Margaret River been pipped at the post by the Yarra Valley as the country’s top performer for chardonnay, and to quote James Halliday, the healthy competition has made chardonnay “the most exciting place to be.”

You would also be hard-pressed to go past Margaret River for cabernets and cabernet blends. Six of the 10 wines in James Halliday’s Top 100 wines for 2016 hailed from the Margaret River. While two of these wines, the Cullen Wines Diana Madeline 2014 and the Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 are wine icons, the list includes some less familiar and relatively inexpensive Margaret River wines: Higher Plane Cabernet Merlot 2014, McHenry Hohnen Vintners Rocky Road Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2014, Warner Glen Estate Frog Belly Cabernet Sauvignon 2014,  and the Snake + Herring Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Petit Verdot Read the rest

Apr 04 2017

The seriously delicious Hentley Farm Clos Otto Shiraz

Posted on April 04, 2017 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In the early years of this century, Americans couldn’t seem to get enough of Australia’s top wines, especially the full-bodied and sometimes ridiculously rich shiraz from the Barossa and beyond.

But a spiralling Aussie dollar, changing tastes and some serious competition from both the New and Old Worlds led to an almost sudden collapse in fortune for the Australian wine export market.

As The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown highlights in a recent report, today the South Australian wineries which have continued to make a mark by actively selling internationally “largely fall into one of three categories: 1) those coming from well-established 30+ year-old wineries that, like their ancient vines, have the quality foundations to weather the vagaries of difficult times (think Henschke, Yalumba, Jim Barry, Elderton, etc.); 2) the 10- to 30-year-old wineries that survived the storm by being not just a cut above the rest, but several cuts above the rest (e.g. Torbreck, John Duval, Glaetzer, and Hentley Farm); and 3) a precious few newcomers that have managed to get overseas representation, because they are seriously impressive (e.g. Powell & Son and Sons of Eden).” (South Australia Part 1 – Slow Burn by Lisa Perrotti-Brown, The Wine Advocate 30 June 2016)

Certainly, no-one can deny the pedigree and staying power of The Hentley Farm Clos Otto Shiraz. Made with vines planted by previous owner Otto Kasper using a cutting from an ageing and “secret” shiraz clone, and tended to “with almost antique machinery and a well-practiced hand”, the Clos Otto vineyard (purchased by Hentley Farm in 2004) consistently yields super low quantities with ultra rich flavours. Yet its ability to combine richness and intensity with complexity and elegance has earned it a very loyal following and a serious price tag.

Here’s Perrotti-Brown’s 96+ review of the 2013 … Read the rest

Apr 04 2017

South Africa: Old vine stock discoveries make the Cape Wine Lands one of most exciting places on the planet to make wine

Posted on April 04, 2017 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Viticulturist Rosa Kruger has played a leading role in revitalising South Africa’s wine industry. According to the Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin:

She is to South Africa what Mme Loubat was to Pomerol. Just as the former grande dame of Petrus presciently understood the value of her wine when others dismissed it, so Rosa has awakened South Africa to the value of its vineyard heritage and proselytised a higher level of viticulture amongst its farmers, if not by their owners, then by contracted winemakers. As I have written previously, one cannot understate her importance in revolutionising the South African wine scene, changing winemakers’ mindsets as much as their actual wines. (South Africa: Cape Fearless by Neal Martin, Robert Parker Wine Advocate 30 November 2015)

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Kruger and others who have discovered and cultivated previously neglected old vine stock, South Africa is now one of the most exciting places on the planet to make wine!

The country’s new regard for old vines reminds me of the mid 1980s in South Australia when legendary Rockford winemaker Robert O’Callaghan paid his growers more than twice the going rate for their old vine fruit, which almost looked like an act of defiance as around the same time the South Australian Government was offering growers financial incentives to pull out old vines!

His efforts and those of other foresighted winemakers gave birth to some of Australia’s most renowned old vine wines, including the Rockford Basket Press Shiraz,  Torbreck RunRigHenschke Hill of Grace, Wendouree Shiraz, Chris Ringland Shiraz, Clarendon Hill AstralisD’Arengberg The Dead Arm and Yalumba The Octavius Barossa Old Vine Shiraz.

In South Africa, Kruger lives in the small town of Riebeek-Kasteel in Swartland, a warm inland region of the Cape wine … Read the rest

Feb 02 2017

Newcomer Lisdillon Pinot Noir 2015 – Wins Top Gold at Tasmanian Wine Show

Posted on February 02, 2017 | By merrill@cellarit.com

No fewer than 57 wines entered the 2015 pinot class of the recently judged Tasmanian Wine Show, a testament to the growing reputation and popularity of pinot noir in the island state.

Some familiar names dominated the trophy and gold medal cache. The 2015 Bay of Fires Pinot Noir won the Chairman’s Selection Hazards Ale Trophy and the 2015 Goaty Hill Family Reserve Pinot Noir won the People’s Choice James Halliday Trophy. Gold medals were awarded to the 2015 Home Hill Kelly’s Reserve Pinot Noir, the 2015 Bay of Fires Pinot Noir, the 2015 Goaty Hill Family Reserve Pinot Noir and the 2015 Goaty Hill Pinot Noir.

Interestingly, a wine that I wasn’t familiar with, the Lisdillon Pinot Noir 2015, was awarded a Top Gold – in other words, the standout amongst the gold medal winners!

This modestly priced wine (you can find it for less than $35 a bottle) has been garnering great reviews. The Wine Front’s Mike Bennie scored the 2015 vintage 93 points:

Flavoursome, sappy textured, sticks-to-your-gums pinot noir of purity and quiet power. It’s a delicious wine to settle into, full of black cherry, plummy sweetness, fine, chewy tannins. Has quite a bit of ripeness and concentration yet maintains a freshness and comely drinking. Length is a feature, as is wonderful perfume. Quality stuff here, and plenty for the pinot fancier to get excited about. (The Wine Front, February 2017)

The Lisdillon Vineyard is named after Lisdillon Beach on the Tasmania’s east coast. The picturesque property is close to the town of Swansea and the Freycinet National Park. Owned by the Cotton family since 1971, sheep farmer Crispin Cotton decided to plant vines just seven years ago. Unfortunately, Crispin died in 2014, but his family is continuing to manage the … Read the rest

Feb 02 2017

John Duval Eligo Shiraz 2013 – Named by the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown as one of her favourites for 2016

Posted on February 02, 2017 | By merrill@cellarit.com

I couldn’t help thinking that John Duval would have been chuffed to see his 2013 Eligo Shiraz share company with the 2012 Penfolds Grange and the 2013 Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay as the best current release Australian wines from 2016 according to the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown. (Current Releases: Best of Australia 2016)

After all, Duval started his own boutique label in 2003 after a legendary career as chief winemaker at Penfolds. He was responsible for making the Penfolds Grange and developing the highly successful RWT label. During his reign, the 1990 Penfolds Grange was named Wine of the Year by the Wine Spectator in 1995.

The Eligo Shiraz is made in a style similar to the one Duval created for the Penfolds RWT Shiraz. Matured for 20 months in new (75%) and seasoned fine-grained French hogsheads (300 litres), the French oak helps to create an elegant, opulent and fleshy style that is different to the more masculine and assertive style of Penfolds Grange, which is matured in American oak barrels.

Bottled under cork, the Eligo Shiraz is the reserve bottling of the best bunches from specially selected old vine vineyards in the Barossa and Eden Valleys.

Here’s Perrotti-Brown’s stunning review:

Very deep purple-black in color, the 2013 Eligo has an intoxicating nose of creme de cassis, blueberry tart and violets with underlying menthol, cloves, fenugreek, licorice and dark chocolate hints. The medium to full-bodied palate is youthfully restrained, with taut, muscular blackberry and exotic spice flavors supported by fine-grained, firm tannins and lively acid, finishing with excellent length. This is a very classy 2013 Shiraz! 98+ points (Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, 30 June 2016)

By Merrill Witt, Editor

The Penfolds Grange 2012 and the Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 are both currently available.

 … Read the rest

Feb 02 2017

2016 Wine of the Year: Tyrrell’s Old Patch Shiraz 2014

Posted on February 02, 2017 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Recently wine critic Nick Stock announced his Top 100 Australian Wines for 2016 in a report for JamesSuckling.com. Describing the character of the list, Stock remarked that it “encapsulates the growing divide between the classic wines and producers and the current generation of younger makers who are redefining the notions of great Australian wine.”

Tyrrell’s Old Patch Shiraz 2014, the 2016 Wine of the Year, is a wine that certainly sits in the former category. According to Stock, it’s an example of how “established producers who have custodianship of gifted terroirs are making the most of their land.”

People normally associate the Barossa and McLaren Vale in South Australia with great old vine shiraz, but the Hunter was also spared from the phylloxera epidemic that wiped out the great vineyards of Europe in the 19th century. Stock calls the Tyrrell’s 2014 Old Patch Shiraz “as unique an expression of great old vine Hunter shiraz as you will ever find.”

Stevens_Old_Patch_380_285About 10 years ago, Tyrrell’s proprietor Bruce Tyrrell set about identifying six blocks (one chardonnay, two semillon, and three shiraz) that were over 100 years old and still capable of producing exceptional fruit grown on their own roots.

The Old Patch was isolated in 2007 and is part of the famous Stevens Vineyard. Like the other “sacred sites” it has some of the rarest vines in the world. First planted in 1867, a few of the cuttings may even have their origins in the original James Busby Collection – a selection of some 433 grapevine cuttings from Europe that were originally planted in the Hunter Valley in the 1800s.

The location of the vineyard, set up against the Brokenback Mountain Range, is well protected, and the dark clay soils retain just enough moisture to sustain the vines without the need … Read the rest

Jan 01 2017

McLaren Vale’s Yangarra Estate: Lifting grenache to new heights

Posted on January 01, 2017 | By merrill@cellarit.com

But the old saying ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ seems particularly apt for describing McLaren Vale’s response over the last couple of decades to a changing climate. This South Australia region, framed by Adelaide to the north, the Mt Lofty Ranges to the east and south, and the Gulf St Vincent to the west, has developed a well-earned reputation for innovation. According to the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown “perhaps more so than any other GI in Australia, [McLaren Vale] has made huge strides towards clearly defining and differentiating itself in recent years with remarkable results that can be tasted in the wines.” (Australia’s McLaren Vale: Geological Wines by Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate 28 February 2014)

One of the leaders in a McLaren Vale trend towards specialisation is Yangarra Estate, a single-vineyard estate devoted solely to producing wines from the best grape varieties of the southern Rhone, which lies on the north-west Mediterranean coast. Like many other McLaren Vale wineries Yangarra believes that McLaren Vale has the “the best Mediterranean climate on Earth.”

Purchased by Jackson Family Wines in 2000, an international wine group that also owns the renowned Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard, Yangarra now spans 420 acres with 250 acres of certified biodynamically-farmed vineyards. The rest of the land is preserved as native vegetation, creeks and natural corridors.

Veteran winemaker Peter Fraser, who assisted the Jackson Family with its acquisition of Yangarra, was appointed Head Winemaker in 2001. Last year he received one of Australias most prestigious winemaking awards, the 2016 James Halliday Winemaker of the Year.

Working closely for many years with vineyard manager Michael Lane, the pair have been evaluating the potential of lesser known or rare Rhone red varieties including  cinsaut, carignan, graciano, counoise and muscardin, picpoul noir, terret noir and vaccarese,  and … Read the rest

Dec 12 2016

Penfolds Grange 2012 and Penfolds St Henri 2013 – Make the list of the 20 most “extraordinary”red wines in Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

Posted on December 12, 2016 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Lists of top wines published by Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate always grab headlines. The 2012 Penfolds Grange was featured on The Wine Advocate’s top 20 most “extraordinary” red wines, a list created from wines tasted in the bumper October issue that covered top drops from the USA, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Australia and Greece. It shared company with the 2013 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz.

Reviewer Lisa Perrotti-Brown said that the “2012 Grange and the 2013 St. Henri are right up there with the very best vintages of these wines ever made.”

Given the accolades almost all vintages of the St Henri regularly receive from top Australian and international wine reviewers, I’m impressed that you can continue to find the current vintage for less than $100. (We have the 2012 vintage listed on the Cellarit Wine Market for $89.99). Perrotti-Brown agrees, making the following observation: “St. Henri is where the smart money is these days. The 2013 is right up there in terms of quality with the gorgeous 2010. No, it’s not cheap, but I do believe it thus far remains fairly priced at a fraction of the cost of Grange. An extraordinary wine in its own right, the St. Henri 2012 should reward the patient and cellar for many, many years.”

Of course, each release of Penfolds Grange tests new price points, but given the average price of the Chateau Latour 2012, also on the list, was $2,888 a bottle, you have to keep the price tag for Australia’s most famous wine in perspective!

Here’s Perrotti-Brown’s stunning 99 point review of the 2012 vintage:

The 2012 Grange comes from just two sub-regions of South Australia this year: Barossa Valley (the majority) and McLaren Vale. This makes a lot of sense since 2012 was a cracking year in both Read the rest