Tag: Wine Advocate

Dec 12 2012

50 Wines to Try in 2013: No. 3 Chateau Pontet-Canet – A Brilliant Biodynamic Bordeaux

Posted on December 12, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

You wouldn’t normally think that Château Pontet-Canet, a fifth-growth chateaux in Bordeaux, would be one of the leading examples of what the Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker describes as “profound evolution in quality” in Bordeaux over the past 30 years.

Since proprietor Alfred Tesseron took over the 200 acre Pauillac estate from his father in 1997, he has ushered in a series of innovations in both viticultural and winemaking practices that have led to a remarkable lift in the quality of his wines. Of the 2009 vintage, for example, Robert Parker remarked that it was “A wine of irrefutable purity, laser-like precision, colossal weight and richness, and sensational freshness, this is a tour de force in winemaking that is capable of lasting 50 or more years.”  (Wine Advocate #199 February 2012)

Granted, 2009 was a spectacular vintage, but Parker’s 100 point score was by no means a fluke. The wine has earned ratings of 93 or higher in both Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator tastings since 2000.

Château Pontet-Canet is a neighbour to plots owned by illustrious first-growths Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Latour. Tesseron told the Wine Spectator’s Jo Cooke that “Every morning…we wake up and say, ‘We are a fifth-growth surrounded by first-growths, so we have to do better.’ We want to get as close as we can to the quality of our neighbors.” (Climbing the Pyramid: Alfred Tesseron is raising quality at Bordeaux’s Pontet-Canet by Jo Cooke, Wine Spectator, 30 April 2008).

Tesseron has made significant investments in both the vineyards and the cellar to achieve his lofty goal. Pontet-Canet was one of the first Bordeaux estates to eschew the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Since 2007 both the vineyard and winery have been biodynamic.

At times the natural approach to vineyard management has presented … Read the rest

Nov 11 2012

The Coming of Age of Rosé Champagne: Vintage Cellars Double Bay Champagne Gala 2012

Posted on November 11, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Wine critics’ opinions of rosé Champagne vary widely. Last year Jancis Robinson MW made the following comment: “My tastings suggest that a huge proportion of rosé champagne is a fairly cynical product that does not have any special positive attributes but merely ticks the visual box (sometimes only just) of being pink. In fact I would go so far as to say that the average quality of pink champagne is lower than that of the average white champagne, despite it being more expensive.” (Rosé champagne – the missing ingredient, JancisRobinson.com, 3 September 2011)

The Wine Advocate’s Antonio Galloni has a far rosier (excuse the pun!) opinion of rosé Champagne. In a recent video showcasing grower Champagnes, Galloni commented that the addition of still red wine can bring “amplitude and warmth” to Champagne and metaphorically compared it to a “baritone voice that fills out the concert hall.” (Grower Champagnes – Part 1, by Antonio Galloni, eRobertParker.com, 8 October 2012)

Over the past decade, consumers certainly seemed to have developed a taste for pink. Imports of rosé Champagne to the UK, for example, have more than doubled in the last decade and it now constitutes 8.5% of all Champagne exports.

If last Wednesday’s Vintage Cellars Double Bay Champagne Gala is any guide, the world’s top Champagne houses are definitely committed to making very fine examples of rosé Champagne. Vintage and non vintage rosé Champagnes were on show from Billecart- Salmon, Bollinger,  Dom Pérignon, Laurent-Perrier, Moët & Chandon, G.H. Mumm, Pol Roger and Veuve Clicquot.


Typically, the NV rosé Champagnes command a 30 to 50% price premium above the non rosé bottlings. Why the price differentiation you may ask? Well it turns out that the Champagne houses have had to make … 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

Wine of the Week: Kalleske Greenock Basket Press Shiraz 2003 – the new Rockford!

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

In his review of the Kalleske Greenock Basket Press Shiraz 2003, Campbell Mattinson of The Wine Front referred to Kalleske as the “new Rockford:”

If the first set of Kalleske red releases were good, this release has an element of paydirt about it. From a not-so-great vintage, the statement stands true: Kalleske, from a wine quality viewpoint, is the new Rockford.

The wine it’s got a brooding, dark, slightly volatile nose, which when you sink your mouth into it seems fitting. The palate is weighty, brooding, black and intense, with chewy, strong, muscular tannins and a sandy, stony, minerally draw through the finish. Graphite, vanilla, licorice and chocolate – they have a part here, but as little more than a background echo. It’s the dry, stony finish that’s a killer. This is high quality, special-patch-of-dirt-stuff. It is a powerful wine with intense flavours of dark rose, licorice, cocoa and sweet tobacco supported by fine ripe tannins. A wine with a strong backbone and a long finish that will cellar for a long time. 94 points. (The Wine Front 1 January 2005)

The Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker concurred with Mattinson’s high praise for the wine.  After tasting a barrel sample, Parker remarked that “the 2003 Shiraz Greenock appears to be a virtually perfect wine. If it makes it into the bottle with minimal clarification, it will be one of the leading candidates for Barossa’s “Shiraz of the Vintage” in 2003.” (Robert Parker, Wine Advocate #155 October 2004)

The Kalleske family have been farming and growing grapes since 1853 near the village of Greenock. In the early 2000s seventh generation member and winemaker Troy Kalleske joined forces with his brother Tony to start making wine under the family’s own label. Troy and Tony’s parents John and Lorraine have been tending the vineyards … Read the rest

Jul 07 2012

Decoding the Language of Wine: A Few Terms Explained!

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

In my previous post, The 20 Wines with a Perfect 100 Point Robert Parker Score, I suggested that wine scores were useful because, as the Decanter wine critic Andrew Jefford explained, “the language of wine is, of necessity, highly metaphorical and hence puzzling: these are not plain words.”

So going forward, I thought every week I’d have a look at the meaning of key words that are used to describe wine, so both you and I have a better idea of what the critics are talking about when we see words like ‘bouquet’, ‘body’ or ‘big wine’ bandied about!

Aroma or Bouquet

I’m guessing you’ll look pretty smart if you can tell your friends you know the difference between ‘aroma’ and ‘bouquet’ –  key words used in discussions about the ‘nose’ or smell of wine!

Not surprisingly, aroma and bouquet are often used interchangeably, but according to the Wall Street Journal’s wine critic Lettie Teague, only a young wine has an aroma – that is, scents of primary fruit and oak. In contrast, a bouquet is a smell that develops over time as the wine ages. During this period a wine will develop secondary aromas such as truffles, mushrooms and earth, for example. (Educating Peter: How Anybody Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert by Lettie Teague, New York: Scribner 2007)

Interestingly, according to the Oxford Companion to Wine, Australia has its own take on when and how to use ‘aroma’ to describe how a wine smells. Australian wine critics use the word to refer specifically to varietal characteristics rather than those associated with wine-making! In other words, aroma refers to the fresh and fruity smells that are reminiscent of the grapes used to make the wine.


The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia describes ‘body’ as “the impression of … 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

Jun 06 2012

Mount Mary Quintet: The Quintessential Cabernet Blend

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

When I was reading Jay McInerney’s article on Paso Robles blends, I couldn’t help thinking about Australia’s most renowned blended wine, the Mount Mary Vineyard Quintet Cabernets. Justin Smith of Saxum, one of Paso Robles’ most respected winemakers, told McInerney that “Blends are a great tool for winemakers to be able to bring complexity and balance to their wines, especially when working within a single site.” (Discovering the Beautiful Blends of Paso Robles by Jay McInerney, The Wall Street Journal, 15 June 2012)

Mount Mary has been putting Smith’s approach into practice for over 40 years. Back in the early 70s, Mount Mary’s founder, the late Dr John Middleton, decided that he wanted to make an elegant, low alcohol Bordeaux blend. He settled on a gentle, north facing slope in the heart of the Yarra Valley and planted it to cabernet sauvignon (46%), merlot (26%), cabernet franc (18%), malbec (5%) and petit verdot (5%). These varieties became the basis for his celebrated Mount Mary Quintet Cabernets.

Elegant, structure and complexity are the adjectives most used to describe the Quintet’s style. Middleton preferred the taut, tight and lean flavours of great old red Bordeaux, and modeled the Quintet on the classical proportioned wines he revered. When it was first released in 1979 the Quintet proved a revelation to consumers, more used to a richer style of Australian cabernet. Available only to buyers who gained a spot on the coveted mailing list, it quickly attained a cult-like status.

Today the Mount Mary vineyard is regarded as an exceptional site, and the crops are carefully managed to insure that the integrity of Middleton’s original style is maintained. (Apparently Middleton was very hands-on up until his death in 2006 at age 82.) Each variety, for example, is picked only after … 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

Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz: A Wine that Rewards Cellaring!

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

After tasting 19 vintages of Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz with Chief Winemaker Peter Gago, the Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman remarked, “The sneaky little secret that so many savvy Australian wine collectors know is that, yes, St. Henri can age as long as Grange does.” (Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz: Old School by Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator, 12 May 2008)

Well, I certainly hope that you are one of the savvy ones. At around $75 on release St. Henri is a real bargain compared to its fabled sibling Grange! But as Steiman also notes, “while Grange tastes amazingly good upon release and continues to develop extra nuances in the bottle, St. Henri takes a few years to show what it has.” So properly cellaring a newly released St. Henri is essential if you want to enjoy the wine in its prime.

Determining the optimal drinking window for the St. Henri can in fact prove quite a challenge. Steiman called the phenomonal 1976, which he gave 95 points, “almost under-developed for a 32-year-old wine.” Here’s his glowing review:

Rich and meaty in flavor, with a gamy grace note to the vibrant blackcurrant and plum flavors, riding on a supple frame. Fine tannins, round and generous, with power and elegance. Just now developing an old-wine character…Spectacular.

That is not to say that younger vintages aren’t drinking well. The Wine Advocate has a drinking window of 2013 to 2025+ for the spectacular 2006 vintage. And as Steiman comments, “It’s not that the unready wines are harsh or difficult to drink. On the contrary, they are really pleasant. But they get so much better with longer cellaring.”

So what makes the St Henri such a great wine for ageing?

St Henri was originally made in the 19th century by the Auldana Winery, which was next … Read the rest

Feb 02 2012

What makes ‘single vineyard’ wine so special?

Posted on February 02, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In a recent article on the Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz, the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown gives a great deal of thought to the definition of a ‘single vineyard’. She asks “Is there a limit on how big it can be? Is there an implied uniformity of terroir and vine in these words, and to what extent is that even possible?” She argues that “when taken to its ultimate extreme, the words ‘single vineyard’ should conjure images of miniscule parcels of near mono-geological turfs that have long been married to a single varietal soul-mate, perhaps Romanee-Conti (1.8 ha), Le Montrachet (8 ha) or Clos Sainte Hune (1.67 ha).” (Henschke Hill of Grace: Australia’s Greatest Single Vineyard Wine? by Lisa Perrotti-Brown, eRobertParker.com, 6 February 2012)

But whatever the size of the vineyard or the number of distinct blocks of varying soils, vine ages and varieties (the Hill of Grace Vineyard consists of 8 blocks between a half and one hectare in size), Perrotti-Brown argues that a wine should only be classified as a ‘single vineyard’ wine if it represents a “thoughtfully delineated example of elevated quality that stands apart from that which surrounding vineyards can achieve and expresses something, well, singular.”

The custodians of world’s greatest single vineyard wines certainly devote a great deal of time and attention to yielding the best results from their single vineyards no matter their size.  Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), for example, converted his vineyards to organic in 1986 and more recently biodynamic, because he believes that making wine as naturally as possible is the best way to express the nuances of his fabled terroir. (see Domaine de la Romanée-Conti: The Quintessential Expression of Terroir by Merrill Witt, Cellarit Wine Blog, 12 May 2011)

Perrotti-Brown notes that fifth … Read the rest