Sunday, February 13, 2011

2006 Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay

I probably don’t need to tell you that Vasse Felix lay claim to the first commercial vineyard planting in Margaret River – that being in 1967. For a wine region of such youth, Margaret River is already held in high esteem, and it’s no wonder the Euros shake their heads dismissively that an upstart young region can take it up to them in the quality stakes, especially with Cabernet and Chardonnay.

I can’t be sure who made the 2006 Vasse Felix wines – I think Clive Otto had left at this point and Dave Dowden was caretaker winemaker. I think. The Heytesbury red and white are the icons of the Vasse Felix line-up and I’m sure no expense is spared in turning them out.

The 2006 Heytesbury Chardonnay has a lovely deep straw colour. It opens with textbook Margaret River cashew and fig, melon and pear, plus a little sweet lemon. Peachy keen. It’s on the minerally side with no obvious signs of fattening through malo or any extended oak usage. The oak is there, of course, and looks stylish and new, but it doesn’t get in the way of the alluring fruit aromas. I get orange blossom and frangipani scents, a hint of marzipan, some yeasty characters, and my all-time favourite tinned peach and custard combo. There’s a slight regional character which I often see in Margaret River wines – I call it ‘maritime’. It’s hard to describe (terroir?) but it’s a slightly salty/beachy/sea-like aroma, and whilst I don’t go looking for it, it often pops up in my notes.

The minerality continues on the palate and is neatly entwined with the lemony sweetness, pear and white peach flavours. It’s generous enough, though certainly no fruit explosion in your mouth. The texture is finely balanced between cream and crisp – in fact there is still a bit of acid zip that dances over your tongue with an airy lightness, adding to the freshness and youthful feel of the wine. The oak envelops all – not overdone or in the way, and not as a backbone – it simply surrounds all the flavours and wraps them up gently as a piece of cupped lettuce does for san choi bao. If pushed to find something critical here I’ll make the small observation that the wine finishes a touch short.

There’s an overarching theme of restraint with this wine. A certain reserve. You can almost see the wine trying to bust out of a straitjacket, bursting forth, frothing over and spilling down the sides of the glass. But I do like wines with restraint. (Margaret River Cabernet can be good like this too). This is not a heavy wine, nor has the winemaking been heavy-handed. It ably combines generosity with restraint and should please all who would sail her.
Value: The current vintage cellar door price is $50. I reckon that’s pretty good when you add a bit of ‘label’ cache to the wine quality. (Let’s face it, you’re paying for a lot of cache with icon wine labels these days)
Tasted: February 2011
Closure: Screwcap

Producer: Vasse Felix – – established 1967, now owned by the Holmes a Court family.
Region: The oft-revered Willyabrup sub-region is where the winery and estate vineyards are located, in the central north section of the Margaret River wine region. There’s no indication where the actual fruit comes from for this wine.
Vintage: 2006 was a tricky year in the region, split along white/red lines basically. A cooler year generally with whites routinely outstanding – leaner and more minerally than usual, but refined and potentially long-lived. Reds were mixed – those growers with ripeness and good sugars who picked before the Autumn rains were rewarded. Those in cooler sub-regions who didn’t/couldn’t pick were punished.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

2007 Bollini Merlot

One of those rogue bottles that suddenly appear in your drinks cabinet and you have no idea where they came from. With no knowledge of this label I went to Googleville and discovered the people behind the brand are a Kiwi and an American – making wine in northern Italy, and looking a lovely couple in the promo material.

Merlot – the poor, unsung, discredited, shabbily-treated variety. Whatever, let's try it. OK, browning colour but purple nose. Meaty aromas greet, almost Cabernet-like blackcurrant, plummy spice, some charry tarry action – black fruits really. I’m fond of brambly earthy reds and this one has a decent dollop of those characters, along with some coffee and choc-cherry. An attractive nose generally.

The palate is certainly smooth and supple: velvety tannins, soft acid, but still retains a bit of uprightness. A mid-weight style with a  touch of black pepper, some herbal spice, coffee and choc. There’s ripeness contrasting with some gorgeous Italian savouriness, but there’s a touch of mintiness which leads me to think I wouldn’t want to see this wine in a cool year. It probably finishes a little short too if I’m pushed to be critical.

The 2007 vintage offered the chance for the cooler regions to attain maximum ripeness and I’m guessing Bollini achieved this, although anything less may have seen me use the word ‘leafy’. It is simple, well-made, generally fault-free, but ultimately left me unsatisfied. And I love to be satisfied.
Value: I think this retails around $20. I reckon there’s better Merlot options around from Australia but it’s good to check what the other guys are doing.
Tasted: February 2011
Closure: Screwcap

Producer: Bollini Wines – – a really, really dull website lacking imagination and information (got that off my chest).
Region: Trentino, North-east Italy – a cool climate area at the northern-most point of Italy.
Vintage: Twas generally a dry winter throughout Italy before the 2007 vintage but rains in June offered some respite. And then the typical warm, dry weather kicked in perfectly for the harvest. Sporadic hailstorms caused havoc here and there. The Indian summer favoured the cooler areas, allowing full ripening and sugars. A very good year indeed.

Friday, February 4, 2011

2007 Kay Brothers Eden Valley Riesling

I’ve been on the Kay Brothers mailing list for some time. The Block 6 Shiraz was the main reason – I tasted it first at a wine club dinner when I was a mere baby, and was impressed by its over-ripe richness and power – a style I was unaccustomed to at the time. As the mailing list has grown and the allocations of this wine have shrunk (and the price has crept up accordingly, although still reasonable) I have in more recent years been buying some of the Kay’s whites and cheaper reds to offset.

In a recent cleanout of the cellar I found three bottles of 2007 Riesling so I chucked one in the icebox to give it a burl. McLaren Vale is not exactly the epicentre of fine Riesling, thus the fruit for this wine is sourced from 60 year-old vines in Eden Valley. I approached this casually and with less-than-the-usual vigour. I’m happy to say I was pleasantly rewarded.

Slightly yellowing straw colour. The nose offered a whole bunch of interesting aromas – from oily kero to damp straw to plummy nashi pear to potpourri and lavender. Probably the wildest descriptor I pencilled down was ‘sweaty vinyl upholstery, crushed ants, balsa-wood, and a handful of pine needles’. I’m smelling it again and I can wholly vouch for that one. There’s a smoky hint, and some citrussy lemon and a little green peach too.

I love an oily palate. This one has it in spades. The acid has been backed off, or diminished with time in bottle, and there’s an enjoyable creaminess going on. Flavour-wise I’m initially hit with salty green peas, giving way to some lovely, sweet grapefruit and lemon juice, and a fine line of minerality. There’s good weight, there’s depth and great length, and with a piece of grilled Snapper and some home-made chippies it went down a treat.

An unexpected pleasure from a producer not renowned for its cooler white varietals. Riesling and fish is usually a good mix, especially if you use ingredients that complement the flavours/aromas of the wine. Like lemon juice, thyme, pepper. I reckon I’ll grab some more Kay’s Riesling next order.
Value: Cellar door price was $20 if I remember. Just about right I reckon.
Tasted: February 2011
Closure: Screwcap

Producer: Kay Brothers – – established 1890, famous for their Block 6 Shiraz produced in small quantities from 100+ year vines.
Region: The fruit came from Eden Valley, South Australia, although the winery and main vineyards are in McLaren Vale (the sometimes poorer cousin of Barossa but a personal favourite of mine)
Vintage: A short, sharp vintage in 2007 due to the warm and dry winter/spring. Some bodgy weather at flowering and a lack of water approaching vintage reduced yields. An average year.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

2009 Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir

The colour is a light garnet, dull-ish - you know from the outset this wine isn’t gonna be big. A touch of VA greets on opening, un-worryingly. A pencilly nose gives way to fruit in the redcurrant and blueberry spectrum, with typical strawberries and cream. It’s a clean (VA aside), fresh, ruby-red style – cedary, floral/spicy, but with little in the way gamey/earth notes of fuller styles.

As expected, the palate is light-ish, soft and simple with red-fruits dominating; sweetish mid-palate with spicy notes, rosewater, bay leaf, and tapers away on the finish. All the usual measures are in good shape: acid balanced to fruit-weight balanced to oak treatment. I have to remember this is only $20 so I need to loosen the pinot-wanker-strings a bit. And so I do.

OK, add a little rare beef fillet soaked in soy/ginger/garlic/chili and the wine gives a little more. The nose looks sweeter and the palate texture broadens and gives the impression of more weight. The floral aromatics kick up a gear and there’s even a few foresty notes poking around. The base flavours also lift and give a new richness to the whole shebang, even if moderately. Texture is pretty slick. A food wine.

Jeni Port of The Age rated this wine in her best for 2010 – albeit for Best Red Under #20. Weeeell... these ratings are always difficult and the trail marked ‘best wines of the year’ lays strewn with the carcasses of wines that simply don’t stack up. Soooo... with a pinch of salt and a shake of pepper. Honestly? I think it’s a pretty tidy wine. It’s probably more than tidy for $20. Pinot at $20 is a tough category and this one nails all the hard bits and comes through smiling. Not grinning, smiling. I’m OK with it. I’m sure they are too. (Note: 2nd night in and I think it delivers a little more. Perhaps worth a decanter, if you’re so inclined).
Value: Cellar door price is $20. As above, it’s hard to do this style well for that price. Easy with Cab and Shiraz, but Pinot is an unforgiving bugger. So, I call it good value.
Tasted: January 2011
Closure: Screwcap

Producer: Josef Chromy –
Region: Tamar Valley, Tasmania – 10 mins south of Launceston at Relbia. A beautiful spot. Go visit.
Vintage: An average year in the Tamar – temperature swings and a cool flowering season didn’t help the cause, although they managed to avoid the frosts experienced in the south. A bit of disease pressure in parts but all up an OK year and some of the better producers got it right.

2009 Printhie Mountain Range Sauvignon Blanc

I don’t know how I ended up with this in the fridge for so long without knocking the top off it. I remember I had a few bottles of this around release time, around the same time it one 7 billion awards. At the time it was punchy, pungent, grassy, lemony and rich and I could’ve sat all day just sipping and smelling. Hey, I probably did.

OK, fast forward to last night. I’m not much chop for writing about wines that are (supposedly) past their ‘best by’ date. I don’t actually subscribe to that theory mind you – I’ve enjoyed many white wines that have been way past best drinking only to find them exquisitely satisfying.

Thus.... on opening I got a little limey sherbet through the nasals, aka grapefruit tang I suspect; with a thread of damp straw and grass. The typical pineapple/passionfruit has ceased to be considered ‘fresh’ yet still linger in a tinned peach and pineapple kind-of theme. I needed a bit of a brain-shift to get behind the aged pea-green savvy character, so I racked up some pork sausages with a fig salad to get me in the mood.

With food most wines take on a new life, especially older white wines, and with a few fatty mouthfuls of pork snags this wine springs up and pops you in the nose with some punchy lift and drive.

What followed was a combo of grapefruit, pineapple and mango juice, lychee and mangosteen characters – and hey, it’s gone all troppo. And yep, there’s still abundant richness and punch. Did I say there was punch? Lemon tart lip-smacking zippy crunchy munchy punch is what I’m sayin’.

1. Big punch on the nose. 2. That aged savvy-ness kicked in and I wavered... slightly. 3. Out with the pork. Brought this baby alive. Got betterer and betterer. Delightful food wine. The moral? Don’t forsake the out-of-date drink now whites – mix them up with some good nosh, sit back and enjoy.
Value: Cellar door price is $17. Bargain. Member price is $14.45. Crazy bargain. Go buy some now. Currently selling 2010 (which I haven’t tasted but would happily buy on the strength of the 2009 providing the vintage was tidy, which it was).
Tasted: January 2011
Closure: Screwcap

Producer: Printhie Wines –
Region: Orange, NSW – the NSW central tablelands east of Sydney – a wine region of high-ish elevation.
Vintage: A super vintage in Orange. Good rains in winter/spring. Mild summer conditions without the heat that affected most of the eastern Australian regions.