Tag: Huon Hooke

Apr 04 2014

What’s Making Wine News

Posted on April 04, 2014 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Robert Parker on the kinky wine world of 1978 

Richard Jennings provides an excellent summary of Robert M. Parker Jr’s recent address at the Professional Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowbrook in the Napa Valley. Here’s a great Parker quip about what the wine world looked like when he just started out:

When I started in 1978, the greatest wine in Spain, Vega Sicilia, wasn’t even imported to the United States. The alleged greatest Australian wine, Penfolds Grange, wasn’t imported to the United States. There were no by-the-glass programs. Sommeliers were intimidating. They had kinky leather aprons with a lot of chains. They looked like they were working in a sex club.

One of the best Margaret River cabernet sauvignons you’ve never heard of!

Huon Hooke wrote a really interesting article for the SMH’s Good Food magazine about a boutique Margaret River winery in the sub-region of Wilyabrup called Cloudburst. Run by American Will Berliner, Cloudburst burst onto the Australian wine radar late last year when the Cloudburst Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 won trophies for Best Cabernet Sauvignon, Best Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Best Red Wine of the Show at the prestigious Margaret River Wine Show.

The tiny, hand-tended vineyard is biodynamically farmed and most of the cabernet sauvignon vines were planted in 2005 and 2006 from Cullen and Moss Wood cuttings. (Berliner does much of the weeding by hand himself!) And up until recently the winery’s small production of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay was only available in top US restaurants like Blue Hill and Eleven Madison Park. Hooke describes the wines are “exceptional, and rare, and very expensive.” But, according to Berliner, he doesn’t cover costs.

Greater scientific understanding of ‘terroir’ is starting to emerge

People think of ‘terroir’ as that sense of place you can find in a … Read the rest

Aug 08 2012

Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot: A “Hall of Fame” Bordeaux Blend

Posted on August 08, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In an article on Australian Bordeaux blends for the May edition of Decanter Magazine, the Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot was among 15 wines to make Huon Hooke’s “Bordeaux Blend Hall of Fame.” (Aussie Bordeaux Blends by Huon Hooke, Decanter May 2012)

Its inclusion on such a prestigious list, which included other Margaret River greats like Cullen Wines Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot, the Vasse Felix Heytesbury and the Brookland Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, should come as no surprise. Since the mid 1990s, the Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot has been one of the most consistently highly rated wines of its style.

Perennial high scores from one vintage to the next is due in part to a winemaking philosophy that believes in leaving nothing to chance. As Voyager Estate states on its website, “We are meticulous in everything we do: from site, varietal and clonal selection to vineyard management and winemaking.”

Indeed, reading about the labour intensive care devoted to each individual block in order to achieve uniformity – meaning “every vine within a specific block will have the same number of buds at pruning, the same number of shoots and the same number of bunches” – reminded me of the approach taken at top Bordeaux estates like Château Haut-Bailly and Château Pape Clément, where everything is done with an eye on perfection.

The goal at Voyager Estate is to give the Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot the absolutely best chance possible of expressing the true essence of its very special terroir.

The original ‘Old Block’ of the Stevens Valley site was first planted with cabernet sauvignon in 1978. Here the terroir of uniform gravelly soils formed from underlying granite and gnessic rock on a stony clay base allows for a slow release of moisture and nutrients to the … Read the rest

Jul 07 2012

Woodlands ‘Margaret’: Sharing the Pedestal with the World’s Top Bordeaux Blends

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

Australian wines don’t often feature on the cover of the prestigious British wine magazine Decanter. So to see the Woodlands ‘Margaret’  grace the cover of the May edition, and to be placed in the company of the acclaimed Ridge Monte Bello from Santa Cruz and Pomeral’s celebrated Château Clinet, is a good sign of the high regard the rest of the world has for Australian Bordeaux blends. Indeed, in the introduction to the feature article, ‘New World classics to cellar,” Stephen Spurrier writes that “The banks of the Gironde aren’t the only places to find quality, ageworthy Bordeaux blends. The US, Australia, Argentina and Chile are all worthy of a spot in any collector’s cellar.”

Huon Hooke, who wrote the section on the Australian wines, states upfront that “Historically, Australia has made a better fist of pure Cabernet Sauvignon than it has Bordeaux-style Cabernet blends.” But he highlights some stand-out wines that prove the exception to the rule: Cullen’s Diana Madeline and Vasse Felix’s Heytesbury from the Margaret River, Mount Mary QuintetYarra Yering’s Dry Red No. 1, Wantirna Estate’s Amelia and Hannah blends and Yeringberg’s five way blend Yerinberg from the Yarra, and the Hunter Valley’s Lake’s Folly Cabernets.

While the Woodlands ‘Margaret’, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec, may not have the stature of Hooke’s top picks, it would undoubtedly be included on a slightly longer list of Australia’s best Bordeaux blends. And Hooke’s observation that “still today, most Australian wineries that produce both pure Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bordeaux blend – usually a Cabernet Melot – reserve their best Cabernet grapes for the pure wine, age it in better oak for longer, and sell it a higher price, often with extra bottle age,” certainly rings true for the Woodlands range. Its … Read the rest

Jun 06 2012

Margaret River Chardonnay: A Look at the Clones!

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

In a recent article for the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Living section Huon Hooke had nothing but praise for Australia’s new generation of chardonnay: “For the past decade, I believe, Australia is second only to Burgundy in chardonnay. We have pared back the fat, oaky, buttercup-yellow, oily, alcoholic chardonnays of yesteryear and we’re making finer, more balanced, more drinkable and age-worthy wines than ever before.” (Cool, calm and respected by Huon Hooke, Sydney Morning Herald 12 June 2012)

The article highlighted the best of the top tier chardonnays, which included great labels from the Margaret River like the 2009 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, the 2010 Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay, the 2010 Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay, the 2010 Xanadu Reserve Chardonnay, the 2009 Voyager Estate Project 95 Chardonnay and the 2009 Devil’s Lair 9th Chamber Chardonnay.

One aspect of the article that I found really interesting was Hooke’s discussion of how winemakers in the Margaret River have started to experiment with different chardonnay grape clones. In wine criticism you read a lot about terroir and winemaking techniques but not a lot about clones. Their importance, however, can’t be discounted. Particular clones can have a very significant influence on the character of the wine, and some clones become closely identified with specific regions because they work particularly well with the soil types and climatic conditions.

The Gingin clone, for example, is the chardonnay clone most associated with the Margaret River. It was first imported by Houghton Winery in 1957 and is also referred to as the Mendoza clone although its origins are unclear. In the warm, maritime climate of the Margaret River, the low yielding Gingin clone endows the wine with complex citrus and tropical fruit flavours and a supple texture. Coupled with the low … Read the rest

Jun 06 2012

Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvigon: Taking Margaret River Cabernet in a New Direction

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

In the June/July 2011 edition of Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine, wine critic Nick Bulleid MW offered the following summary of the general style of Margaret River cabernet sauvignon:

Stylistically I see Margaret River cabernet at its best as intensely varietal, with blackcurrant and other dark fruits plus hints of capsicum and herbal overtones often describes as “bay leaf” or “seaweed”. While some drinkers weaned on cabernet from hotter areas regard capsicum and leaf characters as under-ripe, I disagree: they an essential part of high quality cabernet, with one proviso – that the tannins are ripe. Margaret River cabernet certainly has firm tannins in its youth, but they should be evenly mouth-coating and not grasp you around your lips and then reappear as a green, bitter finish. (Captivating Cabernet by Nick Bulleid MW, Gourmet Traveller Wine, June/July 2011)

Rob Mann, chief winemaker at Cape Mentelle, may not necessarily concur with Bulleid’s assessment of the attractiveness of herbal characters in Margaret River cabernet. Since joining Cape Mentelle in 2005, he has made significant changes both in the vineyard and the winery to minimise the herbaceous notes in the winery’s flagship cabernet sauvignon. As he told the Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman back in 2007:  “The strong herbal, capsicum (bell pepper), bordering on eucalyptus and menthol flavors, is accepted in Australia as a regional trait. I want minimize that and go for ripe, more classical berry flavors.” (Getting the Green Out in Margaret River by Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator, 18 October 2007)

 

 

Working with viculturist Ashley Wood, Mann has introduced new imported clones and rootstocks to create a broader spectrum of flavours in the wines, replanted vineyards at closer density to improve the flavour intensity of the grapes, and minimised as much as possible the use of artificial fertilisers.

In … 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

Apr 04 2012

Cork versus Screwcap: Penfolds re-ignites the debate!

Posted on April 04, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

On the Cellarit Facebook page, I noted that Huon Hooke reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that Penfolds will now give people a choice of cork or screwcap. According to Penfolds’ chief winemaker, Peter Gago, “cork is a barometer of care.” It’s a better indicator of bad handling, heat damage or poor storage conditions, because the cork will leak or, if affected by heat, slightly push up into the seal. (Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 2012)

David Hawkins of One Aussie Wines responded to my Facebook post with the following comment: “Peter Gago may be correct, but I’ve had plenty of wines with corks that were up or down and the wine was fine…unfortunately TCA doesn’t offer any clues and that’s a more relevant fault for most people. I’ve also had heat affected bottles where there was no leakage or cork movement.”

Penfolds’ move is certainly sparking a fair bit of controversy. Hooke followed up on his article in the Herald with a post on his website. He noted that for Penfolds one of the key factors behind the move back to cork is increasing exports to markets like China where expertise on how to store, transport and properly care for wine is still developing.

But whether reverting back to cork is the best answer to gauge whether a wine has been heat damaged is debatable. Ian Riggs, chief winemaker at Brokenwood, was just as skeptical as David about whether cork was a better barometer of care than screwcap. He told Hooke:

Why don’t they just admit that they have buckled to the demands of their export markets and gone back to cork? To state that it is a way of showing up badly stored wine reeks of April Fool’s Day. So now, wine from all over Read the rest

Dec 12 2011

Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio? Great Value Summer Drinking!

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

I’ve been to a few Xmas functions recently where the white wine on offer was a pinot gris?  Have you had the same experience? One of the reasons for this trend, I think, is that a growing number of Australian producers are making great pinot gris or pinot grigio (more on the differences between the two in a moment) at very affordable prices. You can buy excellent quality pinot gris for around $20 a bottle!

Last Friday night, for example I really enjoyed Mount Majura Vineyard’s Pinot Gris 2010 $23. Delicate and fruity (think pears and nectarines), its subtle sweetness was balanced by a crisp lively acidity and delightfully long textured finish. It worked beautifully with the fresh tuna nicoise salad.

The Difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio

Same grape, different styles!

Stylistically, pinot gris is typically richer and more full bodied than pinot grigio. It is made from riper grapes and often has a slight sweetness. Pinot grigio is lighter, drier and less complex in style.

Pinot gris is, of course, the French name for the variety which, after riesling and gewürztraminer, is the third most popular noble grape of the Alsace region in France. Pinot grigio is the Italian name for the same variety. It is typically grown in the northeast of Italy with the best examples coming from Friuli and Alto Adige.

The Pinot G Style Spectrum Label

“Luscious” and “crisp” are two of the most common adjectives used to describe the best examples of the respective styles. Fortunately, Mornington Peninsula winemaker Kevin McCarthy of T’Gallant worked with the Australian Wine Research Institute to devise a Pinot G Style Spectrum, which grades the style of ‘pinot g’ from one to nine, from “crisp” at the beginning of the scale to “luscious” at the other … Read the rest

Dec 12 2011

Reviews for Penfolds Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2008: Australia’s most expensive wine!

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

If you’ve been following Cellarit on Facebook or keeping up with recent wine news, you couldn’t have missed reading about the fanfare around Penfolds official release of the Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2008 in Shaghai, China. The lavish launch was held at the opulent Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where guests were treated to a six course banquet and a spectacular light show with contemporary Chinese dancers.

The reason behind all the fuss was Penfolds’ release of a wine that was last made in 1966. “Special Bin” wines are only produced when the vintage conditions are perfect, and quantities are very limited. As former Penfolds Senior Winemaker and consultant John Bird explains: “In 2008, we tasted several rows of our Coonawarra blocks (5, 10 and 20) and realised that this had something extra, something unique. It transported me back to 1966 and the experimental Bin 620. The fruit profile is classic Penfolds. Having tasted many parcels of Coonawarra fruit it became apparent that we simply had to make this wine.”

The $1,000 price tag, of course, also attracted a fair bit of interest. It made the wine Australia’s priciest release to date, trumping Torbreck’s The Laird Shiraz 2005, which has a $700 price tag.

So, is it worth it? Well, before looking at what the critics have to say, consider for a moment its price in a global context. A 12-bottle case of Château Lafite Rothschild 1982, for example, recently sold for $US57,360 at an Acker Merrall auction in Chicago. That’s $US4,780 a bottle for a vintage of which at least 15,000 cases were made versus less than 1000 cases for the Bin 620 Conawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2008.

To date, critics have been unanimous in their praise for the Bin 620 2008. Langton’s Andrew Caillard said that it is “without … Read the rest

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