Tag: James Halliday

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

Fraser Gallop: Margaret River’s Most Talked About Winery!

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

For an estate that is only 12 years old, Fraser Gallop has certainly attracted a good deal of attention. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon won two trophies at the Margaret River Wine Show – Best Red Wine of Show and Best Single Vineyard Estate Red, and winemaker Clive Otto was named a finalist in last year’s Gourmet Traveller’s Wine Winemaker of the Year Awards.

Given the pedigree and experience of the team behind the brand, the growing list of accolades for its relatively young wines is probably not surprising.

Founder Nigel Gallop was on a mission to produce premium Bordeaux style cabernets when in 1998 he settled on 17 hectares of land in the Wilyabrup region. The potential of this Bordeaux-like terroir to produce great cabernet had already been proven by the likes of Moss Wood, Cullen, Pierro and Vasse Felix. From the beginning Gallop decided against irrigation, because he wanted to keep yields low and quality high. Today, this intensive, hands-on approach to vineyard management is overseen by vineyard manager Paul Pavlinovich.

As luck or good fortune would have it, in 2006 Gallop secured the services of experienced winemaker Clive Otto. Discussing Otto’s many achievements, wine critic Peter Forrestal observed, “With a hands-on approach to winemaking and a wealth of experience here and abroad, Clive Otto has been crucial to the rise and rise of Margaret River.” (Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year 2011 finalist: Clive Otto, Fraser Gallop by Peter Forrestal, August/September 2011)

Otto joined Fraser Gallop after a long and stellar career at Vasse Felix, where he oversaw the introduction of the flagship Heytesbury wines and insured that the Vasse Felix range was a perennial winner at leading wine shows.

Otto was attracted to Fraser Gallop because it offered … 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

May 05 2012

Balnaves of Coonawarra The Tally Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: In the Style of a Fine Bordeaux

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

Before joining Balnaves of Coonawarra from Wynns Coonawarra in 1995, winemaker Peter Bissell had stints working in New Zealand, Bordeaux, and as a flying winemaker for Penfolds in Russia and the South of France. But it was his time in Bordeaux that most influenced the style of the Balnaves long-ageing premium reserve cabernet sauvignon, The Tally: “One thing I picked up from Bordeaux is that structure and balance are more important than any particular flavour you might see in the wine…When I came to Balnaves we started doing more time on skins and making wines with a more obvious tannin structure. When you taste our wines you get the flavour but also the mouthfeel and texture from the tannin structure.” (Tallying up the Wins by Anthony Madigan, Wine Business Magazine, November 2010)

Bissell’s first task upon joining Balnaves was to design the new winery. It was the first winery in Coonawarra to install stainless steel open-top fermenters and also included eight, eight-tonne static fermenters. According to Bissell, “It’s like something you’d find in a small chateau in France.”

Since the release of the first 1998 vintage, The Tally Reserve has consistently won high praise and a string of awards. James Halliday scored the current 2008 vintage 97 points:

Vivid crimson-purple; Like a rich little boy, has everything he wishes; a fragrant dark berry bouquet with notes of French oak, leather and spice, then a full-bodied palate with a dazzling array of flavours; however, it is in the supple texture, perfect balance and line that the greatness of the wine finally takes shape. (James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion 2011)

Doug Balnaves and his wife Annette were among the earliest to recognise the potential of Coonawarra’s famed terra rossa soil. In 1970, Doug sold his first Coonawarra property to Hungerford … Read the rest

Apr 04 2012

Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz: A Very Special Occasion Wine!

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

Let’s start with a few highlights:

  • Released after only three years of bottle age!
  • Made from near 100 year old vines from the acclaimed Filsell vineyard in the Barossa Valley!
  • Aged for 22 months in American oak and French oak – 70 per cent new!

Few wines in Australia, let alone the world, can match the pedigree of the Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz. First released in 1988, the Meshach is truly one of Australia’s icon wines.

It’s an elegant, beautifully structured wine that is designed to be aged and enjoyed with food. James Halliday scored the most recent 2006 vintage 96 points. Here’s his review:

Good colour retention, as it should be; a very classy combination of a top vintage, high quality fruit, and practised winemaking; blackberry, plum, licorice and cedar are synergistically fused on the long, medium- to full-bodied palate. The cork quality is good, and may allow the wine to complete its journey. Shiraz.  (James Halliday Australian Wine Companion)

The signature style of the Meshach is very much representative of the winemaking philosophy of its maker, Grant Burge. A fifth-generation Barossa vigneron with more than 40 years of winemaking experience under his belt, Burge is a great believer in creating wines with enough structure, depth and complexity to age for a long time.

In an interesting video interview with Langton’s Andrew Caillard, Burge explained that the Meshach is at its best in its second decade. By then the “in your face” flavours and characters of the incredibly concentrated fruit from the old vines have softened. The wine becomes a bit lighter in body and develops complex savoury aromas and characters, which serve to balance the sweetness of the old vine fruit without diminishing its vibrancy.

Grant Burge is an example of a very successful family-owned … Read the rest

Mar 03 2012

Single Vineyard Perfection: A Brief History

Posted on March 03, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

If you’re want to understand the importance of single vineyard wines, a look at the history of winemaking in Burgundy is the best place to start. No other region in the world has studied more closely how grapes perform in different terroirs. Indeed the very concept of terroir – the idea that the micro-climate, soil characteristics, exposure and orientation of each particular site determine the character of the wine – originated in Burgundy.

As the Burghound.com’s Allen Meadows explained at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Masterclass Single Vineyard Perfection, the Catholic religious orders, who managed the Burgundian vineyards from about 600 AD up to the end of the 18th century, noticed that different plots created wines with unique personalities. They believed that these individual expressions were in fact celebrating messages from God. (Meadows also noted that the idea of a single grape variety for a single vineyard came about because the monks didn’t want to muddle God’s message!)

In medieval times the Cistercian Order classified the best vineyard sites of Burgundy’s famous golden slope, the Côte d’Or, laying the foundation for the current classification of five levels, ranging from Grand Crus (only 2% of the Côte d’Or vineyards) at the top of the pyramid to the regional and sub-regional appellations at the bottom.

Today the classification system in Burgundy is firmly entrenched and unlike Bordeaux, where the wines are classified according to the reputation of the producer, the hierarchy in Burgundy is still geographically based. The Grand Crus Côte de Beaune vineyard of Montrachet, for example, is still widely considered the best vineyard in the world for chardonnay. The almost 8 hectare (19 acres) vineyard is home to 18 owners and 26 producers!

In recent years Australian and other New World producers have embraced the idea of single … 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

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

Oct 10 2011

Tasmania Shines at Canberra International Riesling Challenge: Waterton Vineyard Riesling 2009 wins top honours

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

On Saturday I attended a tasting for the 12th annual Canberra International Riesling Challenge at the Albert Hall in Canberra. The tasting was a great excuse to make the trip from Sydney to Canberra with one of my oldest friends and it also gave us an opportunity to squeeze in a visit to the Fred Williams retrospective at the National Gallery. (A quick aside – Fred Williams: Infinite Horizons is on until 6 November 2011. Not only does it confirm Williams’ place as one of Australia’s greatest landscape artists, but also demonstrates his amazing talent as a portraitist!)

Anyway, back to my other great passion – wine. The tasting itself proved to be quite a challenge. Over 440 wines from 10 different countries were available to try. Wow, where to start? With our Riedel riesling glass in hand, we headed over to the winners’ table.

The overall winner this year was the Waterton Vineyard Riesling 2009 from the Tamar Valley in Tasmania. It picked up four awards: Best Wine of the Challenge, Best Riesling From Tasmania, Best in Australia and Best Dry Riesling. Fruit forward with delicate citrus flavours, its lively acidity was balanced by a slightly silky texture and good length.

When I got home I checked James Halliday’s rating for the wine. Interestingly he had only scored the wine 89 points in the 2011 edition of Australian Wine Companion. But as Chairman of the Tasmanian Wine Show, he re-tasted the wine in January of this year. Here’s his glowing review:

This is well composed and balanced; it has smooth lime/citrus flavours of very good length and balance; a complete wine that has improved out of all recognition in the past 12 months. Top Gold Tasmanian Wine Show 2011. 11% alc; screwcap; 
Rating: 96 points Drink: to Read the rest