Friday, March 25, 2011

2006 Koonara 'Ambriel's Gift' Cabernet Sauvignon

A mate of mine gifted this to me. I’d not heard of the label before. So, a little less curiosity and a bit more action saw it cracked open in the fine company of several winemaker buddies. Vibrant blood-red colour. And when I say that... it’s more like the deep, dark, blood-red colour of resting beef than if I cut myself shaving. And, apparently, did you know the juice from resting beef is not even blood – it’s actually proteins and other stuff, so there – I feel better already.

Anyway, I really, really like the bouquet on this wine. You get smacked in the nose with pure, unadulterated, densely-layered, minty, blackcurranty Coonawarra cab sav. Unmistakeable. (Unless you’re from Margaret River and you might be forgiven for getting confused). There’s a leafy/herbal hue to this wine, but show me a Coonawarra that doesn’t have it and I’ll show you a lesser wine. Sticking with the herbal theme: I'm liking the bay leaf, rosemary, thyme and mint (goddamn, I love all them herbs!), and I'm liking a touch of green capsicum and a lovely little flush of rose petal. If we’re talking about the fruity spectrum then we’re talking about blackcurrant, black plum, dark chocolate cherry ripe, and a touch of raisin. The oak is dusty and cedary, yet slightly sappy and varnishy, but not in a negative sense. There’s some enticing brambly, earthy notes too, to add sex appeal. Overall this wine pushes the red, black and blueberry aroma buttons nicely.

The palate shows some decent structure, tannins pretty firm still, acid pretty taut. What it lacks, oh-so marginally, is the weight and power of fruit flavour to match the structure. It’s slatey and there’s some oak showing. It’s medium-bodied, warming and supple enough, with a continuation of the red berry flavours – raspberry, plum, blueberry – but ultimately the tannins are a little drying and the intensity on the palate didn’t quite live up to the promise of the nose. Although, I do love the spicy pepper and meatiness, and it went down pretty well with a chunky beef stew.

I liked this wine. I probably wanted to like it more, but... really, I’m satisfied with how it stacked up against the braised beef and fresh pasta. I don’t know much about the Koonara guys but I think this wine is a decent example of Coonawarra Cab from a pretty good vintage. Thumbs uppish.
Value: The website tells me the current release is 2004 and is priced at $30. Not sure if the site is up to date, but $30 is probably at the upper end of value-for-money. It looks like this wine is the flagship.
Tasted: March 2011
Closure: Screwcap

Producer: Koonara Wines – – the Reschke family have owned the property for over 100 years. The website claims the vineyard is kept to 2 tonnes per acre – no mean feat. A lot of passion here.
Region: Coonawarra, South Australia (Cabernet country)
Vintage: A superb vintage for the 'warra. The third in a row actually. Warm, dry conditions provided low-yielding, yet aromatic wines. Almost as good as it gets.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

2010 Woodlands 'Chloe' Chardonnay

Donated by a kindly mate who graced our warm interiors one weekend and left the guest room pleasingly tidy on departure. It’s mid-week and I can’t be fagged with this alcohol-free school-night twaddle so I’m cracking this sucker with a spicy tomato lamb-shank stew.

The colour is a light straw. I have to say I was momentarily startled on opening this wine – it hit me in the nose with a brazen sweetness and obvious oak (it says subtle on the website!). 'Twas not what I was expecting from this generally reserved producer from Margaret River, although I found it somewhat impressive initially. Greenish fruits and lifted floral notes burst forth, followed by lychee and kiwi-fruit, some obvious oak (new?) that looked a little coarse and ‘chippy’ to be honest. But overall a steeliness pervaded which brought a sense of seriousness to the whole shebang. My additional notes say grapefruit stoniness, lime zest and melon – all the usual suspects from this style and region. There’s also a banana sweetness that you either love or hate – I don’t mind it unless it’s excessively sweet – this was borderline. You know what? It's been bugging me, but I’ve just nailed the aroma – and you have to like your wheatbeer, because that’s what it is. I get yeasty, banana-and-clove, coriander and orange peel. Yep, that’ll do. It's just like a wheatbeer.

The palate had more traditional Margs chardonnay character of peaches and melon and fig, a touch of lemony sweetness and a line of minerality. The acid was wound back and the palate creamy and friendly (despite a little oaky coarseness). I had very few notes on the palate and I must say the wine fell away on the back and failed to hold my interest to the final page. It just seemed.. well, it seemed adequate. Damning with faint praise I know, and I wanted to be more excited, but..

Probably underwhelming on the whole, but I need to remember this is a $23 bottle of Margaret River chardonnay and it did punch the right buttons for flavours with a healthy dose of oak treatment. But I wanted more. As a food accompaniment the wine struggled and ultimately wasn’t strong enough to defend itself against the lamb-shank stew. On face-value it shouldn’t have been a poor match. Too much spice?

Value: $23 via mail order. It is probably priced about right from a producer of this regard. You may get better value around Margaret River but it’s nice to see they haven’t gone stupid with pricing in light of the reputation for their reds.
Tasted: March 2011
Closure: Screwcap

Producer: Woodlands Wines – – a ten hectare property established in 1973 by the current owners: the Watsons. This wine is called ‘Reserve’ on the label and is fermented in French oak for 10 months.
Region: Margaret River, West Australia, located in the famed Wilyabrup Valley.
Vintage: Another superb year in the blessed west. Brilliant for whites with warm, dry conditions throughout summer.

Monday, March 14, 2011

2005 Kay Brothers Block 6 Shiraz

I walked into this one with only one expectation. That the love I once held for very ripe, rich, alcohol-laden, heavily-oaked shiraz from McLaren Vale had probably faded, or at best been superseded by far more fashionable drinking trends.

Two things happened. I realised I was right. And I realised I was wrong.

The colour is just shy of inky black and a swirl of the glass showed she was pretty viscous. Chocolate filled the air on opening, or to be precise – oaky chocolate. Sweet new oak. Caramel fudgy chocolatey oaky chocolateness. And pencilly oak too. You get the picture, but this wine smelled like new clothes, new furniture and new car all rolled into one. The fruit spectrum ranges from the dark spicy plum pudding to intensely aromatic bay leaf, cardamom, star anise, cassis and blackberry. It’s tarry and charry. There’s marzipan and cherry ripe too, and some gorgeous vanilla pod. So much primary fruitiness going on here for a wine of its age. And the peppery character often associated with this variety . It wasn’t completely clean or flawless – I detected a little VA plus a slight burnt toast character, which may have been a sulphide issue, but nothing to get too excited about. Finally, I have to say the alcohol was evident, yet it seemed perfectly at ease in the balance of things and I don’t think it looked in any way excessive.

The palate was like an extension of the nose – an ethereal seamlessness ran from one to the other. By the time the wine reached my open gob I was still heady from the aromas of the bouquet and it all melded into one, filling my senses with bold, rich, juicy shiraz. Flavours? Plum and raisins, and oak(!), sweet blackberry and mocha; black cherry chocolate. Texture? Velvety fine tannins, supple, smooth, long. Despite all of the above, I couldn’t call this wine ‘heavy’ – there was some (dare I say it) elegance to all the richness, and even (No!) some restraint. It finished warm, unsurprisingly, yet I still didn’t think the wine looked overly alcoholic. And then finally I checked the back label and saw ‘Alc: 16%’. What the...?

A classic style, beautifully made in yesterday’s mould. I am right to say I have moved beyond these styles of wine, rarely drink them, and am no longer titillated by them. But I am wrong to say my love for them has faded. I am nostalgic for them and appreciate the style, commitment and artistry. And on the odd occasion I get to spill one into a glass I’m reminded of a time of great learning and development on my way to becoming a fully-fledged boorish wine berk.

As I drank this wine I saw all the elements in balance, all the buttons pushed, all the boxes ticked – and the world stood, for a moment, in harmony.

(I probably cracked this wine a little earlier than I should have, but I do prefer wines on the upward drinking escalator as opposed to the downward. I reckon this is drinking smashingly well and if you enjoy your bigger reds a little fresher with primary characters still to the fore, then get into one now).

Value: Purchased via mail order at $50/bottle. The Block 6 wines were extremely good value in the ‘90’s yet have increased rapidly with demand. I still think this is a pretty good value wine in the scheme if things. I can think of many other equally priced wines that may not be so worthy.
Tasted: March 2011
Closure: Screwcap

Producer: Kay Brothers Wines – – established 1890, family-owned. This wine is the flagship of the company and the fruit from estate-grown 100+ year vines.
Region: McLaren Vale, South Australia.
Vintage: A good year in the Vale. Plenty of winter rains, an even ripening season, a short/hot vintage and high sugars (therefore alcohols).

Friday, March 11, 2011

2004 Mount Pleasant 'Elizabeth' Hunter Valley Semillon

A gift from a winemaker buddy a year or so ago. I guess I had high expectations of this wine, although a quick scroll through the interweb reveals some indifference. There’s some lengthy correspondence on Winefront mostly referring to bottle variability, and the screwcap liner sticking to the top of the bottle – which mine did too – but really means nothing at all. That said...

I’ll begin at the end. This wine looked much better after airing and warming in the glass and with a bloody nice mushroom and chorizo risotto which I will take full credit for. But let’s go back to the beginning.

An impressive vibrant, yet golden, straw colour. It whetted my thirst (somewhat enhanced, I expect, by several alcohol-free days prior to cracking this bott). I was initially unenthused with the opening of damp straw, lanolin and aged kerosene characters (ho-hum). Then there’s minerally lime and green apples, and I guess there’s a little passionfruit, toast and honey, and some zesty aged lemon rind (you know when lemon gets slightly ‘ripe’ and needs to be thrown out, but not in a bad way really). On the greener side I picked up tomato leaf, some bay, a bit of wet balsa wood. Over time in the glass my Lizzie offered kaffir lime leaf, nutmeg, a touch of fairy floss, and one of my favourite childhood memories of spearmint leaves (the lollies!). And finally my notes reveal a fishy aroma – not like the maritime character I quite like from coastal regions – but, well... a fresh lemon-butter pan-fried fishy-ness.

In the mouth this wine is texturally very... well, pleasant. I quite like a white wine with a raw or grainy consistency – short of coarse of course – but just the right amount of interest and layering. I wouldn’t say there’s a crispness to it, but the acid is certainly lingering still. Softish now but would have been pretty steely in its day. Flavour-wise I get lemon & lime, a touch of marmalade and a dollop of mango chutney. There’s zestiness and green apples again, some smokiness, and that lovely natural limey flavour of sparkling mineral water pumped straight from the ground (a favourite past-time of mine in Daylesford). And yeah, just like the Winefront thread discusses, there’s some spritz. No problem.

As explained, this wine got better with food and time in glass. Overall though I was underwhelmed – there was a shortness of finish and a lack of weight and zip, generally speaking. I had to work hard to pull the positives. Drink now is my word.
Value: What, $12 on special? That’s not bad. In fact, despite the above comments I would say it’s pretty good value. But drink it now.
Tasted: March 2011
Closure: Screwcap

Producer: McWilliam’s Wines – – part of the McWilliam family juggernaut. The first release of Semillon (Hunter Riesling) was in 1967. Typically released with four years bottle age.
Region: Hunter Valley, NSW – Pokolbin in the south. Renowned for this variety and for wet summers.
Vintage: A tale of two colours. White = pretty damn fine (if you picked before the late-Feb rains), red = much sadness and disappointment and hand-wringing.