Tag: The Wine Advocate

May 05 2011

Château Latour: The Epitome of Great Bordeaux

Posted on May 05, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

This Thursday evening I’m attending a very special tasting of classic Bordeaux wines at Wine Vault in Artarmon. Sponsored by Bordeaux Shippers, our host for the evening is The Wine Front’s Gary Walsh. Thursday’s session is sold out, but I believe tickets may still be available for a second session on Thursday 2 June.

One of the highlights of a very special lineup is the Château Latour 2001. It sells for around $1,000 a bottle, so I’m sure Thursday night will be one of my only chances to sample this great wine. In preparation I thought I would do a little research on one of the world’s most acclaimed drops. While most of us probably can’t entertain the possibility of buying a bottle of Latour, Margaux, Lafite, Mouton or Haut-Brion, these First Growths are the benchmarks for style, character and status, informing the aspirations and direction of some of their best New World competitors, who typically make wines a little gentler on the hip pocket!

Château Latour is one of Bordeaux’s five original First Growth (Premier Cru). Its elevation to First Growth status dates back to the 1855 Bordeaux Wine Official Classification that was done ahead of International Exhibition in Paris. But as early as 1787, one of the world’s greatest connoisseurs of wine, then minister to France, Thomas Jefferson, deemed La Tour de Ségur a vineyard of first quality.

Situated on the banks of the Gironde estuary, Château Latour is at the very southeastern tip of the commune of Pauillac in the Médoc region of Bordeaux. Here 78 hectares are under vine, but only the best grapes from the oldest vines of the 47 hectares surrounding the Chateau, known as L’Enclos, can be used in the production of the Grand Vin. Since 1966 the Latour has also produced … Read the rest

Mar 03 2011

Cullen Wines Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot: An ‘exceptional’ Bordeaux Blend

Posted on March 03, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Of the 17 wines in the ‘Exceptional’ category of Langon’s Classification of Australian Wines only four are cabernets. Cullen Wines’ Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot shares the stage with another Margaret River icon, the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon. Indeed, both wines reflect their respective winemakers’ uncompromising approach to quality and obsessive attention to detail. No wonder these superior talents have lifted their wines to world-class status in a remarkably short period of time!

The Diana Madeline is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Named after Diana Cullen, who founded Cullen Wines with her husband Kevin in 1966, this exceptionally elegant, balanced wine is the product of the consummate winemaking and vigneron skills of the couple’s youngest daughter Vanya.

Vanya Cullen followed in her winemaker mother’s footsteps, taking over as senior winemaker in 1989. Like her parents, she was very interested in applying organic principles in the vineyard, but after attending a workshop on biodynamic viticulture with Anne-Claude Leflaive of Domaine Leflaive and Aubert de Villaine from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, she realised the value of making both the vineyard and winery biodynamic. (The Matriach of Margaret: Cullen Wines by Neal Martin, eRobertParker.com May 2010)

The results of this conversion (the vineyard was certified biodynamic in 2003 and the winery in 2008) is clearly demonstrated in the fresh, elegant style of the Diana Madeline. As a result of the use of biodynamic viticulture, Cullen has seen a marked improvement in the structure and oxygenation of the soil, which in turn has enhanced the tannin ripening of the fruit. Consequently, the grapes can be harvested earlier at lower sugar levels and higher acidity.

Indeed, Lisa Perrotti-Brown of the Wine Advocate cites the 2008 Diana Madeline as “another example of Cullen’s emerging ability to achieve physiological ripeness at lower alcohols … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon: A World Class Wine

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

In 2007 a bottle from the inaugural 1973 vintage of the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon (only 250 cases were made) sold at Langton’s for a record $2,301!

Perhaps not surprising for a wine that is widely considered the benchmark Margaret River cabernet sauvignon and a standout on the world stage. Jancis Robinson reported that the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 was the pick of the night at a blind tasting of eleven 2001 Bordeaux style blend wines organised for 36 wine lovers at the 2008 World Economic Forum. It beat some pretty serious competition, including the Napa Valley’s famed Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate and even Chateau Lafite! (Jancis Robinson MW on the Davos Tasting, JancisRobinson.com reprinted in Moss Wood, Late Autumn News, Issue 66, May 2008)

In my previous post, Margaret River: Australia’s Answer to Bordeaux?, I mentioned that the Margaret River experiences far less vintage variation than Bordeaux due to more reliable weather patterns. But I don’t want you to think that vintage isn’t important or that Margaret River winemakers don’t face serious challenges in the vineyards that require considerable skill and management.

In a very interesting interview with the Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin, Keith Mugford, who has co-owned Moss Wood with his wife Clare since 1985 and first started making wine for Moss Wood back in 1978, singled out the following years as the best vintages: 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 1996, 2001 and 2005. He explained that these were the years that the wines obtain “mulberry and black fruits, cigar and a touch of leafiness.” Cool years, such as the 1982, 1987, 2002 and 2006 vintages, produced wines with a fine texture, less concentration and according to Mugford a ‘gritty astringency’. Hot years, which include the 1976, 2000 and 2007 vintages, have a ‘sumptuous generosity’ … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Vasse Felix Heytesbury: In the Style of the Finest Bordeaux Blends

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

As I mentioned in my previous post, Vasse Felix, established in 1967, is the oldest commercial winery in the Margaret River. Interestingly, Kevin and Diana Cullen, who planted their experimental vineyards a year earlier than Vasse Felix, helped Tom Cullity acquire the 8 acre Wilyabrup estate that forms the core of the Vasse Felix holdings today. The site, with its gravelly loam, well drained soil and cool sea breezes (Vasse Felix is only 4 km from the coast) is considered ideal for growing cabernet sauvignon grapes in particular.

The winery was bought by the Holmes a Court family in 1987 and Virginia Willcock has been directing the winemaking operations for the the last four years. The cabernet, malbec and shiraz from the original vineyard planted in 1967 are still producing beautiful and consistent fruit. Dry irrigated, Willcock’s describes these old vines as having a distinctive peppy leaf character. Both the cabernet and malbec are used in the winery’s top wine, the Heytesbury red blend.

With the 2007 vintage, the Heytesbury moved towards a more typical Bordeaux style blend: 72 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 15 per cent malbec and 13 per cent petit verdot. The fruit for the Heytesbury is hand picked and after the initial fermentation the wine is drained to oak and basket pressed. All batches are vinified separately and following 18 months maturation in the finest French oak barriques, (92 per cent new) each batch undergoes a rigorous appraisal process to identify the best performing barrels for the final blend.

Lisa Perrotti-Brown of The Wine Advocate awarded the 2007 vintage 92 points:

Possessing a very deep garnet purple color, it’s scented of ripe blackberry and crushed blueberries with some graphite, coffee grounds, cedar and a faint whiff of thyme. Big and fruity in the mouth with refreshing 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

Château Haut-Bailly: Reaching New Heights with the 2009 Vintage

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

Like Château Haut-Brion, the fortunes of Château Haut-Bailly have greatly improved under the direction of an American financier. American banker Robert Wilmers bought Haut-Bailly in 1998, and like Clarence Dillon of Haut-Brion, he saw the wisdom of retaining top talent – promoting Veronique Sanders, the granddaughter of the previous owner, to the top job as manager of the estate.

In less than a decade, Sanders has succeeded in elevating Château Haut-Bailly to such a level that the esteemed American critic Robert Parker believes it a worthy contender to the icon wines of Pessac-Leognan: Pape-Clement, La Mission-Haut-Brion, and Haut-Brion.

Here’s Parker’s review of the stunning 2009 vintage:

The greatest Haut-Bailly ever made? One can’t speak enough of the job Veronique Sanders has done in 2009, allied with the owner, the American banker Robert Wilmers, who has given her carte blanche authority. Tiny yields have resulted in the most concentrated Haut-Bailly I have ever tasted. Eclipsing even the 2005, the 2009 (a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc) possesses 13.9% natural alcohol. Dense purple to the rim, it exhibits a precise, nuanced nose of mulberries, black cherries, black currants, graphite, and a singular floral component. A wine of profound intensity and full-bodied power, yet stunningly elegant, and never heavy or massive, it builds incrementally on the palate, and the finish lasts over 45 seconds. Remarkably, there is not a hard edge to be found in this beauty. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were harvested between October 7 and 14, which explains their phenolic maturity. The wine’s extraordinary freshness, elegance, and precision are nearly surreal. This tour de force should age brilliantly for 40+ years. (Tasted two times.) (Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate #188 April 2010 96 to 98+ points. Drink 2010 -2050)

In a sense, Robert … 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

Wolf Blass Black Label: Still Setting the Benchmark for Red Blended Wine

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

Wolf Blass Black Label, a cabernet shiraz blend, has won the coveted Jimmy Watson Trophy four times. The first win was back in 1974 and given to the Wolf Blass Wines Dry Claret 1973, the very first vintage of the wine. Wolf Blass Wines Dry Claret went on to pick up consecutive trophies for the 1974 and 1975 vintages. Twenty-three years later, when the wine had been relabled as Wolf Blass Black Label, the 1998 vintage scored the Jimmy Watson Trophy for an unprecedented fourth time.

Today, the wine is still being lauded as one of Australia’s great expressions of the uniquely Australian cabernet shiraz blend. The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown singled out Wolf Blass Black Label as a highlight of the cabernet shiraz blends presented at last September’s Wine Australia Landmark Tutorial:

Six of the fourteen wines that were presented to us were Cabernet / Shiraz blends. Amongst the most impressive examples were the Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet / Shirazes from 1987 and 2006. I thought these two wines most clearly demonstrated how well these grapes can complement one another in the South Australian context, with Cabernet lending structural backbone and freshness of flavor profile and acidity when combined with Shiraz’s voluptuous richness. (Shiraz and The Great Australian Blend – Landmark Tutorial Day 2 by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, eRobertParker.com, January 2011)

The Black Label Cabernet Shiraz is the benchmark of Wolf Blass’s red wine portfolio. According to the winery, up to 800 different parcels of fruit, typically from super premium Langhorne Creek and Barossa vineyards, are classified (numerous times from vine to post maturation) and the best possible final blend is then constructed. The components of the blend spend a total of 24 months in new and old French and American oak before blending and bottling, … 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

Martinborough Pinot Noir: All about the Terroir

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

In my last post, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: Top Producers Create an Exciting Alternative Style, 14 December 2010, I mentioned that our friends served the sublime Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc 2004 with a magnificent roasted prawn dish. Well, the follow-up course and wine were equally spectacular. This time they chose another New Zealand wine, the Dry River Pinot Noir 2002, to complement beautifully steamed John Dory with Asian flavourings and lightly sauteed greens.

New Zealand’s success with sauvignon blanc is in danger of being eclipsed by the Kiwi’s formidable achievements in creating superlative wines from one of the world’s most difficult noble grapes: pinot noir.

Top producers in the regions of Central Otago, Malborough and Martinborough are making an array of very fine pinot noirs at various price points.

Martinborough is the only one of the three regions on the North Island, but in terms of climate it is significantly cooler than neighbouring wine region Hawkes Bay and, according to the leading winemakers who call it home, the soil type and climate make it New Zealand’s closest approximation to Burgundy – home of the world’s most acclaimed pinot noirs.

Back in 1979 Neil and Dawn McCallum of Dry River recognised that the deep, free-draining gravelly ‘Martinborough Terrace’ was ideally suited to the pinot noir grape. They were very picky about their site selection, as within ten kilometres of where Dry River is located,  rainfall and soil quality vary enormously. Their efforts proved fruitful, and along with other pioneers like Ata Rangi, Chifney, Dry River, Martinborough Vineyard and Te Kairanga they decided they would define and demarcate the terroir they had adopted, just as such areas are described and mapped in France and Germany. From 1986, wines made from within this area were given a seal of origin … Read the rest