Category Archives: Wine Regions

Nov 11 2011

Wynns Coonawarra Estate: A Back to the Future Approach to Quality Improvement!

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

Coonawarra, with its famed terra rossa soil on a prized limestone base, has been recognised for decades as one of the world’s best regions for producing cabernet sauvignon. But understanding how to optimise the terroir to produce the best quality fruit has not always been easy.  Coonawarra cabernet sauvignons of the 1980s and 1990s, for example, were often criticised for being too herbal or green in character. Paradoxically, as wine critic Huon Hooke explains, they often tasted herbaceous and overripe at the same time! (Coonawarra on the March by Huon Hooke, HuonHOOKE.com)

The dynamic team at Wynns Coonawarra Estate, led by Chief Winemaker Sue Hodder and Regional Vineyard Manager Allen Jenkins, realised that getting on top of the quality issue meant taking a close look at what was happening in the vineyard.  And the way they approached the problem was interesting because it highlighted the benefits of marrying the latest vineyard management technologies with a return to some old fashioned, traditional practices like hand-pruning and hand-harvesting.

Inspired by the pure, ripe fruit flavours of Wynns cabernet sauvignons from the 1960s, Hodder knew that they needed to bring the older vineyards back into balance. Minimal pruning or imprecise machine pruning was replaced with focused hand-pruning that got rid of the dead wood and positioned the vines for more even fruit ripening. In some cases, radical surgery was required with some vines being chainsawed half way down their roots. (Who dares Wynns by Huon Hooke, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 August 2010)

Sophisticated techniques such as bud dissection analysis have made it possible to predict the next year’s crop load from the current harvest. Consequently, when yields are predicted to be high, the vines are bunch-thinned to improve fruit quality and lower the yields. Other high tech tools like … Read the rest

Oct 10 2011

A Weekend Discovering the Wines and Food of Orange: Day 2

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

Day two began with coffee and breakfast at Benson’s Cafe (the best place for coffee in Orange!) and a trip out to Ross Hill. We were greeted by father and son team Peter and James Robson, who took us on a tour of their immaculately kept winery (originally an old apple packing shed), and poured us samples of almost the entire Ross Hill range.

While not certified organic, Peter and James believe that minimising the use of commercial preparations in the vineyard is key to expressing the unique characteristics of their special terroir. Vines are hand-pruned, grapes are hand-picked and insecticides aren’t used. At an elevation of almost 800 metres and with rocky, free-draining soils over a 410 million year old limestone base, the pair believe they have one of the best sites in Orange, especially for red varieties.

Since 2009 the wines have been made by Phil Kerney and his wife Rochelle and marketed under two labels: the higher priced Pinnacle Series and the more moderately priced Family Series. All of the wines were excellent, but for me the stand-outs were the refined, yet full bodied, wild yeast fermented Pinnacle Chardonnay 2010, the rich, savoury and elegant Pinnacle Shiraz 2009 and the Bordeaux blend Isabelle & Jack Cabernet Franc Merlot 2009.

Next we headed down to Fiorini’s where Italian chefs Patrizia Fiorini and Marina Fedeli delighted us with their home-style Italian cooking served on shared plates in a brightly coloured little cottage decorated with exuberant Van Gogh prints. More superb examples of Orange wines were chosen to complement a wide assortment of dishes including warm olives, lightly fried calamari, smoked mozzarella, locally sourced garlic mushrooms and a veal schnitzel topped with a ‘to die for’ truffle and gorgonzola sauce!

Wine selections were the De Salis Wild 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

Billecart-Salmon Champagne: All about “Finesse, balance and elegance”

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

According to the Wine Advocate’s Antonio Galloni, Billecart-Salmon makes Champagnes that are all about “timeless elegance,” “crystalline purity” and “supreme balance.”

“Finesse, balance and elegance” is in fact the tag line of Billecart-Salmon, an independent medium-sized Champagne house based in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ that is still run by the descendents of the original 1818 founders Nicolas Francois Billecart and his wife Elisabeth Salmon.

Champagne Billecarte-Salmon produces around 1.7 million bottles annually from fruit sourced from approximately 200 hectares of vineyards in Champagne. More than half the vineyards are in the hands of independent growers, with whom Billecart-Salmon has worked for several generations.

Their top cuvee, the vintage Blanc de Noirs Le Clos Saint-Hilaire is from a family-owned one hectare vineyard of pinot noir that was planted in 1964. Typically, the fruit is fermented at relatively low temperatures to preserve freshness and fruit identity – primary fermentation can take up to six weeks!  The wine may or may not undergo a malolactic fermentation depending on vintage, and in some years no dosage is added to the wine in order to preserve its acidity. Admired for the freshness of its fruit and its delicate, complex aromas, each bottle is numbered and usually no more than 7,000 are made in only top years.

The Cuvée Nicolas Francois Billecart, a blend of 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay, is a more exuberant wine than the Le Clos Saint-Hilaire. Depending on vintage a small percentage of the wine, typically around 20 percent, is aged in French oak barrels. In 1999, the Cuvée Nicolas-Francois Billecart 1959 was voted Champagne of the Millennium at a blind tasting of 150 of the finest 20th century champagnes.

The House’s non-vintage Champagnes, which make up about 60 percent of production, are also very highly regarded. British wine … 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

Bollinger: A Remarkable Champagne for almost all occasions!

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

Bollinger is the only Champagne that can compete with Dom Perignon for star billing in a James Bond film.  To date, it has appeared in five films compared to Dom Perignon’s seven!

No doubt, the consummate marketer Lily Bollinger, who up until her death in 1977 tirelessy travelled the world promoting the brand, would be pleased that her Champagne is a favourite of one of the world’s most sophisticated and stylish spies!

Of course, Lily herself didn’t shy away from the limelight. She is perhaps most famous for the following oft-repeated quote about when to drink Champagne: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.” (Lily Bollinger, 17 October 1961, Daily Mail, The Wine Doctor).

But as Chris Kissack of the Wine Doctor notes, Lily’s marketing prowess was just one of her many skills: “She was a hard taskmaster, personally directing operations in both vineyard and cave, everything from harvest and selection through to fermentation and blending. It is perhaps not surprising that much of Bollinger’s success today is traced back to her exacting methods.” (Bollinger, The Wine Doctor).

Bollinger was founded in 1829 by German businessman Joseph Jacob Placide Bollinger, who partnered with Athanase Hennequin de Villermont and Paul Renaudin. The Germans were huge fans of Champagne in the early 19th century and other famous German nationals, including Johann-Josef Krug and Charles Heidsieck, also founded their own great Champagne Houses during this period.

The individualistic style of Bollinger Champagne is partly due to the fact that it is one of the few Houses to ferment all of … Read the rest