Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Juniper Estate 2014

The first winery of our May 2014 Margs trip was Juniper Estate. On arrival at cellar door we were taken to the barrel store where a private tasting table had been set up for us. I think they had mistaken us for someone important.

Clearly they didn't know who I was because they had whites for tasting. What the heck I thought, if they can pretend I'm actually a wine expert, then I can pretend to be one, and I condescended to taste the whites. It turned out to be a win-win, where I did all the winning.

2012 Juniper Estate Semillon
What is this stuff? Semillon can't taste this good! I was so amazed to have a white wine of such complexity and balance that I failed to write any serious notes. I did scribble a score of Highly Recommended+++ and to cellar it for another 5-10 years, if you can.

2012 Juniper Estate Chardonnay (not Crossings)
They make about 400 cases of the Estate, and about 800 cases of the Crossings Chard, so pretty small volumes. Some of the guys by coincidence had the Crossings on the Qantas flight over and thought it must be the top tier Chard it was that good. The Estate Chard is made with wild ferment which adds complexity, it's fairly fully bodied with balanced acidity and a creamy but not oily mouthfeel. Very slurpable now but will be more interesting with time. Recommended++

2007 Higher Plains Chardonnay (museum release)
The best Chard and white wine I've had in a decade. Extremely well balanced with fabulous complexity, exemplary acid, nutty and fruity palate with hints of peach and flint. This wine is an outstanding example of why you need to consider Margaret River a premiere Chardonnay region, and also why you should age them a bit. Excellent++

2011 Shiraz
As the first of the MR Shiraz it completely stood out as quite different to my usual SA Shiraz diet, much more red fruited but still fairly full bodied. Somewhat savoury with hints of mace and nutmeg. Comes from a vineyard near to cellar door, planted in 1973, and 45% new oak barrels. I wouldn't want to drink it all the time, but this turned out to be one of the best Shiraz in the region. Highly Recommended+++

2004 Juniper Estate Shiraz
Showing some of the same regional flavours as the 2011, this wine is far more developed as expected but with plenty of primary fruit still left. Quite powerful flavours and wonderful complexity. Excellent+

2011 Messenger
A first release, blended from Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It wasn't even released officially, and when I asked if I could buy a few, Steve went to check on availability. He came back saying he couldn't find any labelled bottles but did drag winemaker Mark Messenger out to meet us instead. Mark chooses the best barrels to blend this wine from, hence it's name. A very complex wine with power and finesse, lovely tannins and should be brilliant in a decade or so. There's not much made at all, if I can read my scrawls right I think it's only 100 cases, so get in early. Excellent+++

2010 Higher Plains Cabernet Sauvignon
About 90% Cab, a splash of Malbec, and a dash of Petit Verdot and Cab Franc. Savoury, fruit forward, wonderful tannins, long finish and a wine built to age. Highly Recommended++

2010 Juniper Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Typically this wine spends 30 days on skins and then 15 months in French oak. There's a bit more power to it and the finish is impressively long. I slightly preferred this and I reckon it will age exceptionally well. Highly Recommended+++

2004 Juniper Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (museum release)
Despite being 10 years old, it is still very vibrant but with exceptional developed complexity, coupled with power and outright sexiness. This turned out to be one of the best wines of the trip and strongly encouraged me to view MR Cabs as longer term cellaring wines. Outstanding++

Starting at Juniper Estate set the bar so high that I was somewhat concerned that we wouldn't find anything else as good. They were fantastic in giving us a great overview of what MR clearly does best, and how well those wines can age. We did find other great wines, and we certainly continued to experience fantastic hospitality at many other wineries there, and at some point soon I hope to write about those as well.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Margaret River 2014

The actual Margaret River

I've just returned from a week long stay in Margaret River doing wine tasting pretty much all day every day. My liver grumbled at this abuse, but I told it if JH can sit in his office and taste 10,000 wines a year, then surely we can cope with a measly few hundred in a week.

I went with some of the guys from the Australian Wine Tasting Group and we were certainly shown some great hospitality to go with the fantastic wines. In the wine review world we are nobodies, but we felt like rockstars at times, doing barrel tastings and sipping museum wines in the barrel store with winemakers.

Our aim was to get a good overview of what Margs produces and what varieties and styles it does best. We also wanted to know why the big names got famous, and also hunt out the up and coming smaller guys that have trouble getting their wines into the retailers in the east.

It's a beautiful region, and the green fields filled with cows make it pretty clear why a bunch of dairy products hail from there. But the best thing about the place is the friendly people, and I highly recommend a stay in the region.

Over the next few weeks I will be posting some excerpts from the copious notes I took, though it didn't convince my liver I was working. Hold on to your glasses, I may have even tasted a few whites... 

Sculpture at Thompson Estate - they do like their sculptures in Margs

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tait Ball Buster 2010 (Shiraz Cab Merlot)

In case anyone is worried, I drank it and my balls are ok.

However, I must take issue with the back label:

"She's broad shouldered, built like a stallion..."

I really am keen to avoid visualising that.

So, back label rates Unacceptable in my book. In a certain Thai area perhaps it rates higher.

The wine itself is considerably better, black and blue fruit, decent hit of oak, balance is good with a nice blend of Barossa richness and yet still some a savoury undertone.

I want to rate it Recommended but the back label is just so bad in many ways. If you like 'em rich without being overly sweet then this should suit you, and at $18ish ****

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Marius Harvest 2014

This was my fourth Marius harvest, and thankfully the coolest yet.

As always, a good crew, made up of Roger's customers, so there's a bit of self interest here to do a good job. The benefit here is the pickers are also the sorters - it's our job to snip off the under-ripe berries and keep an eye out for bunch stem necrosis.

Adelaide had some wacky weather this year, with record number of days over 45C and then 100mm falling on the CBD a few days later. So not surprisingly there was more fruit variation this year, but the vast bulk of the fruit was very good, and compared to a BV vineyard I saw, still very consistent.

Of course the vineyard's micro-climate means Adelaide's extremes weren't the same here, Roger's babies only got 40mm, and the sea and lake breezes kept the heat down. That rain was pretty much spot on to wake the berries up after they'd gone dormant in the heat, so they could continue to ideal ripeness.

As usual, there's a fair bit of variation across the small vineyard, but the most obvious difference to the last few years was the western rows by the evil pines were slightly more fruitful, yet still had the same wonderful complex flavours.

Our group now holds the record of the longest picking day, well unless the Wed crew beat us. Anyway, we were well rewarded, as the last 2 photos show.

For some crazy reason I've offered to pick again next weekend. It's probably guilt, and feeling like I need to pay up for the aforementioned last 2 pics. Either that, or I'm looking for an escape from the elections being held then.

Enjoy the photos. click for bigger versions.

 Dawn over the vineyard. At 7am you wonder wtf you're doing up on a Saturday, but by the arvo you're bloody glad it's not far off beer oclock.

 Black pearls.

Bit of variation in the bunches this year, still the usual tiny berries but the 45C followed by 40mm of rain confused some vines. The grapes that were ripe were lovely, but more bunch stem necrosis and a few more scattered under-ripe berries needing snipping off this year.

 A tad more foliage than previous years, mostly due to the viticulturist (Roger) almost dying last year with Septicaemia. Thankfully he's a lot healthier now, but his walnut crushing grip needs to build back up yet, so pruning has been a problem.

 Better bring me a bucket
As a goal oriented person I found it somewhat disturbing that my 90% full bucket would often be swapped for an empty one.

 Five 700kg bins was the plan, we got pretty close.

The 07 Simpatico, a very good wine especially considering the difficult vintage, however Roger felt it's probably at or near it's peak and he advised drinking in the short term.

  2007 Symphony is a bit different, more fruit power and will go a few more years yet

 Harry showed us his sausage. It's Boerwors, a Seth Efriken mix of spices and meats, all healthy stuff, which you can tell simply by how tasty it is.

We played a few rounds of options. Apparently brown paper bags are hard to come by in this neck of the woods. 

The only shot I got of the 2012 Symphony. It's a recalcitrant beast that needs to be flogged into giving up it's goodies, as it's only been bottled for a short while. Lovely tannins, shows much promise.

Such fruit power here and yet great balance. Hasn't really changed in the last year that I can notice. Will go many years yet if you have some.
What a sexy creature this is, I believe the first of it's line. If the starts align, there could be a sibling in 2014.

The oldest screwcap wine I've had, and one of the very best wines I've ever tasted. This was the transition to screwcap, with 60% under stelvin and 40% under tree bark. This one was screwcap.

It is simply magnificent! The pessimism about seals and aging under screwcap is clearly unwarranted, as this wine proves brilliantly.

Also, that is not Roger's signature.

The pipe is Rogers. It does not ever contain tobacco, but it does smoke.

Not shown wines tasted were a 2010 Symphony, which Roger feels will go 20 years comfortably. I also absolutely stand by my claim that 2011 Marius are outstanding wines, the Symphony is starting to sing now.

I did a second pick so here's a few more pictures:

Bird's eye view
A fair bit of bird damage across the Vale, some lost half their crops, but only a few small sections of the Marius vineyard was badly pecked out.

 Shady picking
Not a lot of need for shade on that last saturday, was pretty cool all day

Driving up in the morning there was donner und blitzen (not the reindeers), though first flash I though was a speed camera (I was not speeding)

but in the end no rain until the end of the day when we were comfortably inside.

 Only leaves left now, and they'll be gone soon too

Tagine, cous cous, Coq au Vin, mashed taters, beans and crusty bread,
courtesy Peter the chef
Went down perfectly as the rain started and the wines flowed

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thomson Estate Back Blocks Cab Sav 2011

In 2011 it pissintently rained in Clare. Noah was called, but his ark was too small to save much of the rizza from the rivers. So you'd tend to expect ye late ripening variety Cabernet Sauv to not fare thee too well. But the Back Blocks it seems to have been in a rain shadow, or at least yon viticulturist for said vineyard is more savvy than cabby, because this is pretty damned good stuff, and is a wine anyone in 2010 woulda been proud of.

The tannins are beautiful, they are of that dark chocolate coat your tongue variety. It's a wine of finesse and class, but there's also a fair bit of power here, not remotely wimpy at all.

Blackberry, Kalamata olives, bit of 85% Lindt, wild mint from my garden (trust me, it par-tays), cedar and a bit of old Toby.

Good length and lovely balance. However, I regret two things. First is I've opened it about 5 years too soon, and secondly I only bought one bottle.

Recommended++ and ****

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lazy Ballerina Shiraz 2010

James Hook made a fair bit of 2009 Shiraz, he planned to sell some to the US, but then the mining boom gave the Aussie dollar a jolt. So 2009 got an extended tour of duty at Dingabladinga.

The flow on from that is the 2010 got time to age a bit more, at least a year longer than is the norm, and two years longer than most of the industry. This is a particularly good thing for us consumers. It means that on release the wine is almost a four year old. So from the start we get to drink a wine that's been cellared for us, and by the guy who's gonna look after it better than anyone else. I will note he was mildly distracted by nabbing a wife and producing the next generation of LB winemaker in the meantime, so it's not like he had time to bottle it anyway.

I should also add that James' wines aren't the sort than need to be imbibed in the short term. This baby will still learning to walk long after Ms Emmaline (currently age 1) is dancing without the need for dad to provide the locomotion. Thing is, when Ms Twennyten starts dancing I expect she'll be a singing Ballerina. Melba Pavlova perhaps?

One of the side effects of Twennyten taking longer to arrive, is she gestated in the barrel somewhere around 30 months. Thus the first whiff is a decent waft of oak, but fear not, this is good oak, it's not quite as forward as it first seems, and indeed blends in to the other good bits when you get around to noticing them. Bit like Marilyn Monroe walking into a room really.

I said "she" before, and I will stand by that, it seems James is focussed on producing ladies for the present. This is such an elegant wine, it's got such a feminine nose, not exactly perfumed, but just lady-like, and the package is voluptuous, without being more than a handful.

A little bit red fruited on the first day, but went completely black a day later. Quite clever that really, Marilyn does the wicked witch? Belgian chocolate coated blood plums and a sprinkle of spice. No peaches Nellie.

Now, to the tannins, and as you would expect from a lady's ensemble, they are rather silky. I wanted to use the word "firm" too, but felt that analogies can go too far. Acid I didn't notice, by which I mean it was just right.

You could drink this now, but should you wait 10 years, there will be some singing and dancing, and in a tutu too. The you may be in the wrong place there.

Highly Recommended+++ and *****

Monday, February 24, 2014

Cork Crazies

At Adelaide Cellar Door Festival a week back, one winery proudly proclaimed they are moving back to corks. We immediately stopped tasting and moved on. I am baffled the industry is still this crazy and doesn't understand why we hate them, now that we've tried the alternative.

Listen up you wineries persisting with the gambler's seal, and consider what's best for the consumer for a change.

1. Cork sealed bottled are harder to store
They require being laid down, which is fine for your full cases in the winery but it's rather annoying unstable once you take a bottle or two out. They also require a humid environment for good long term seal. Of course every wine enthusiast has their own climate controlled cellar, or incredibly expensive wine fridge, right?

2. Cork sealed wines need a corkscrew
I was at a BYO wedding in the middle of a wine district, and it was both sad and amusing seeing a number of wine industry people wander around trying to borrow a corkscrew.

3. Cork sealed wines can't be resealed easily
This makes taking home half bottles from restaurants/picnics harder, and even at the picnics/parties there no risk of spilling the wine with screwcaps, ignoring the drunkard's pouring skills.

4. Old corks often crumble
I really hate dealing with a crumbling cork, it's messy and likely to end up with me picking bits of cork out of my glass, or teeth.

5. TCA aka cork taint
Oh, good wineries will just replace that corked wine, so no problem right? Wrong. I have carefully cellared your wine for 10+ years, I open it on a special occasion and am I rewarded for that patience?  No, I am actually penalized instead.

5.1 So, if I am going to open a cork sealed wine, particularly an old one, I need to have two wines on hand, and if wise one of them will be a screwcap, because most of us have had 2 corked wines in a row.

5.2 Then I have to go through the hassle of contacting the winery and asking for a replacement, being quizzed about how I stored the wine as though it's my fault. My time is wasted yet again, it wasn't enough that you wasted my time at the opening of the wine, now I have to chase you and justify myself to you because of your bad decision.

5.3 Wineries generally only replace with current vintage. Understandable that they won't be keeping 10% of production back for later replacements, but I've just wasted 10+ years of cellaring and I typically won't be compensated for it. This is an unwanted gamble too, what if current vintage release is poor one?

I will add one more thing, which should be the sole reason you stop using cork. Most people who try your wine will not give you a second chance to impress them.Why would you risk them trying a sub-par bottle? The average wine drinker is more likely to simply assume the wine is made badly, rather than blame the cork, and then ignore your wines from that point.

I could go on, easily, but the point all wineries should have picked up by now is that it's not about you, or your wine, it's about me, the consumer and the problems you're passing on to me. I'm the one not buying your wine, there's already more great wine than I can possibly drink in a lifetime anyway, so thanks for helping reduce my buying list.

At least one American wine magazine publisher, Harvey Steiman of Wine Spectator, is trying to drag the recalcitrants into the modern world.