Sunday, May 15, 2011

2006 Hillcrest ‘Estate’ Cabernet Sauvignon

Since purchasing the property in 1999 David and Tanya Bryant have meticulously set about developing their small Yarra Valley vineyard, and the resulting wines made from it, into a powerhouse of European classical style. The early wines were made by Phillip Jones of Bass Phillip fame, however the more recent wines were made by David, having undertaking his apprenticeship with the big guy. Current production is under 1,000 cases per annum which surely gives the Bryants leave to call themselves “micro-boutique”.

If I’m right, the vineyard produces four levels of quality – Village, Estate, Premium and Reserve. The Village wines come from newer plantings since 2000, while the higher end use the fruit from the original 1970 plantings. Tonight’s wine is under the Estate label and it looks a little like this..

A lively red brick colour, slight browning around the rim. The first whiff and you get a sense for the European style these guys are chasing. It looks classic claret, and the word is ‘black’. Black tar, black olive and blackcurrant. To redress this dark fixation I’ll note a little white pepper on the nose and some juicy redcurrant. Pencilly oak hangs in the background and the wine opens further to reveal some herb and florals – fresh-cut sage, rosebush, rosemary jelly. It’s quite seductive really. You know it’s not a big wine, but all on the nose appears complex and complete. So far, so good.

The palate is soft and plush, plummy. There’s savoury olive again and some rare lamb in its juices. The sweet/savoury balance is finely tuned. Again, old-fashioned claret springs to mind. The wine has the appearance of being quite simple, with medium weight and length, but its seductive powers lie in the flavours and balance. Blackcurrant dominates, cedary oak, fresh herb, silky tannin. A wine of texture and class.

It’s good. I could not find fault with this wine – it’s no orgiastic, hedonistic mind-blower, but there’s a restrained elegance and sophistication that really appeals. We dusted it off with some home-made pizzas and it went down a treat. I guzzled it.
Value: $37 at the time of purchase. It’s up there, and I know my notes are all positive, but I think it’s probably a bit on the high side.
Tasted: May 2011
Closure: Cork (an excellent example)

Producer: Hillcrest Vineyard – – Established in 1970, purchased by the Bryants in 1999. Now farmed as organic and yields are between one and three tonnes per acre.
Region: Yarra Valley, Victoria.
Site: High elevation, grey gravel over yellow-grey loam. The vineyard is reportedly unirrigated.
Vintage: Good spring rains followed by a warm summer and mild Autumn. A very good year with optimum hang time and ripeness.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

2003 Cape Mentelle Zinfandel

Oh my freakin’ goodness. Do these wines still get made today? Apparently so, according to the Cape Mentelle website (quite possibly the most frustrating of any wine producer on the planet). The current vintage is 2008 and makes no mention of alcohol strength, but I’m gonna say right up front this 2003 is badged with 16% and shows every freakin’ bit of that. Read on...

The colour is dense and dark and brooding, with brick red hues and even a slight purpling around the edges. The first thing that hits you on the nose is the alcohol – no surprises there. There’s a whole lot going on in the glass than that, but it’s hard to escape the over-awing sweetness of high-octane rocket fuel. But I’ll have a go. To make it easy I’ll simply list the characters and descriptors that sprung to mind as I took my first look at this beast.

Cracking oak
Cane basket (yeah I know, weird, but I'm guessing oak-derived character)
Brambly red fruit drive
Boysenberry jam
Savoury black olive
Shoe leather
Star anise, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg
Xmas trifle where grandma spilled the entire contents of the sherry bottle in the cake mix

Often when tasting wine I try to delineate the berry fruit characters between black, blue and red but this one covers all of them with equal intensity. You can smell the alcohol, and quite a VA lift. I felt a little woozy after merely smelling this wine in the process of writing the above notes. I sat down to regain my composure.

The palate follows a similar theme, and it’s lush and viscous – full of fruity richness, xmas pudding, candied oak – well-integrated after all this time in bottle. There’s a bit of an ethyl acetate bite. The alcohol and oak drive this animal but thankfully there’s some other stuff going on. Like florals – lavender and violets – and some intense fruit-weight – marzipan, spice, coconut and cherry ripe. In fact imagine a cherry ripe chocolate bar soaked in sherry.

Shit, I really dunno. It’s a brute. Too porty for red wine, too winey for port. I only managed one glass before succumbing. If it was made to look like this, then it was cleverly made. Is it a good drink? I can’t say. Maybe I’ll try it tomorrow night and let you know. With food? Well, the food tamed it slightly.
Value: I don’t know the price because the Cape Mentelle website doesn’t offer such things. And I can't remember where I got this bottle from.
Tasted: May 2011
Closure: Cork (an excellent example)

Producer: Cape Mentelle Vineyards – – Established in 1970 by David Hohnen and friends, the winery is considered one of the elite producers of Margaret River. Hohnen later went on to develop Cloudy Bay in New Zealand and then sold his winery interests to the massive LVMH Group. He now runs pigs and sheep while keeping his toe in the wine industry by way of McHenry Hohnen Vintners.
Region: Margaret River, Western Australia.
Site: Gravelly loam and some sandy soils over a clay base.
Vintage: A dry winter, mild spring and summer. February was hot and sugars accelerated, but a cool change in March created some difficulties with phenolic ripeness. Average year for the region.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

2010 Margaret River Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc Tasting

Is Margaret River the king of Semillon Sauvignon blends? Nah, I’m not buying into those arguments, but the 2010 vintage was a very smart one indeed for the region. These wines represent a good cross-section of producers and styles – some oaked, some not, some pretending not to be oaked. They were tasted blind at an informal gathering a little while back and I finally got around to writing them up.

All wines are from Margaret River. All wines are 2010 vintage. The following are not all the wines tasted, just a snapshot, and not all the 'medal' winners are listed. There’ll be a brief note on each wine lifted straight from my tasting sheet, plus a ‘medal’ rating for those that made the cut. I hate scoring wines, but in the interests of comparison – or rather, ranking – I’ve fallen back on the tried and (un)true format of the 20-point score, and therefore wine-show medal ratings.

Edwards Semillon Sauvignon Blanc - $23
Subdued on nose; herbal, green bean. Under-ripe citrus, tangy grapefruit a with touch of pineapple. Seems tired?

Lenton Brae Semillon Sauvignon Blanc - $22
So2 attacks. Green apples, tangy lime. Crisp, acid bites. Flavours not developed. Has weight but finishes short

Preveli Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc - $19
Touch reductive on opening, some funk. At the greener end of the spectrum – green pea and herb, some zesty lime, peach fuzz and passionfruit/grapefruit. A minerally herbal style.

Flametree Semillon Sauvignon Blanc - $22
Touch of oak? Simple citrus/tropical aromas. Palate lean, underdeveloped. Some grapefruit. Fruit lacking intensity, but wine is sound.

Fraser Gallop Estate Semillon Sauvignon Blanc - $22
Citrus and herb on nose, palate goes tropical. Good complexity, weight and a bit of ‘X’ factor. Bit of oak maybe? Very good wine.

Hamelin Bay ‘Five Ashes’ Semillon Sauvignon Blanc - $22
Grassy, wet straw. Oak evident, yet unassuming. Harmony wine; flavours integrated and complex from tropical to citrus. Very nice.

Redgate Wines Sauvignon Blanc Semillon - $21
Salty dog! (What’s the pH?). Matchstick flint, minerally – like mineral water. Lifted aromas of citrus and passionfruit, but slightly subdued. Lacks weight.

Cullen Sauvignon Blanc Semillon - $35
Lean. Grapefruit tang, lemon/lime. Some drive on palate. Citrussy, plus green tropicals. Some oak too. Uninspiring.

Cape Mentelle Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Semillon - $28
Stalky and lean with some meaty & earthy characters. Grapefruity. Good weight – flavours at herbal and citrus end – nice length. Serious style. A keeper.

Watershed Sauvignon Blanc Semillon - $17
Pungent, ripe tropical fruit salad. Fresh and zesty palate. Crisp, weighty, long, good. Simple, yet fulsome!

Voyager Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon - $24
Grassy, lime zest, passionfruit & pineapple – citrus lemon/lime on palate, nice acid, weight and length. Some dustiness – touch of oak?

Vasse Felix Sauvignon Blanc Semillon - $25
So2 on opening. Minerally, salty seaweed. Cut grass. Fruit in tropical spectrum yet lean oak cools things down. Palate opens in glass. Complex. Good fruit/oak balance. Well made.

Xanadu Sauvignon Blanc Semillon - $26
Exotic! Tropical, wild yeasty aromas. Floral. A steely line and a sweet muskiness. Behind: fuzzy citrus, passionfruit and Asian fruits. Wild!
Gold (An atypical style, but I like a bit of boundary-pushing. An out-there wine)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

2010 Rosily Sauvignon Blanc

Had this wine for dinner a couple of nights after the Woody Nook, and because it’s in the same neighbourhood I thought I’d bang up a couple of notes as a comparison exercise.

Rosily are one of the quiet achievers in the region – you see there wines around the cities a bit so I guess their distribution is good. I’ve often enjoyed the cabernet in good years too. The 2010 Sauvignon Blanc goes something like this:

A punch of gooseberry opens the account with some typical Margaret River minerality, a bit of smoky bacon, and a poke in the eye with a lemongrass stalk. There’s a touch of green pea too but it’s blown away by some lemon sherbet and a jube-like aroma. Yellow jubes to be precise. I even detected a spot of spearmint which caught me off-guard, but hey, I like spearmint.

The palate is all citrussy zest, lemon and lime – crisp, nutty – a few green tropical fruits, lychee, gooseberry and some raw pineapple. There’s a bit of green tea too but the fruitier flavours fill every crevice of the palate and coat the tongue in lovely creamy textures. Looks like a bit of oak influence to give some complexity but not so you’d notice it. Good weight/length. What more could you want?

Yep, I liked it and gave it a more confident thumbs-up than the Woody Nook. Tasted cleaner and fresher and the texture won me over.
Value: $22 at the bottlo. Justified.
Tasted: May 2011
Closure: Screwcap

Producer: Rosily Vineyard – – A relative newcomer with vines established in 1994 by the Allan family. Mike Lemmes is the winemaker.
Region: Margaret River, Western Australia.
Site: Soil specs run from gravelly loam to coarse gravel to light sandy soils over a clay base.
Vintage: Another superb year in the blessed west. Brilliant for whites with warm, dry conditions throughout summer.

2010 Woody Nook Sauvignon Blanc

In days gone by, on visits down south, these guys were a staple – if only for the Nooky Port, which if given as a gift would cause one’s friends to titter and wink and blush. At a more serious level the winery was renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc – trophies and gold medals adorn the walls of the cellar door, alongside a gazillion business cards pasted as wallpaper around the tasting room. And of course the Nookery CafĂ© was always worthy of a stop for a good/big feed. Well time's hurtled on and port’s a little out of fashion and, for many, the Woody Nook wines also fell out of fashion with the onslaught of new producers, new decades, and new tastes.

On a quick visit for lunch recently we hooked into a platter for two – lovingly ‘80’s in style – and a bottle of the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. Here’s what it looked like:

Opening with the struck match flintiness of a little sulphur, the nose turned more pleasantly to some lean minerality, cut grass, lavender and pungent herbs – lemongrass and sage. On the fruit side of things I picked out some banana passionfruit and rockmelon – greener tropical fruits generally – some lemon zest and lime leaf. Overall I kept coming back to a driving core of dried orange peel and a sense that the fruit was perhaps a little attenuated.

On first taste the palate tickled a tad with sherbetty acid before stretching out into paw-paw and passionfruit fruitiness, and that old perennial – tinned pineapple. Some good palate weight but I found a little too much coarseness again, flinty coarseness really, but it rounds out at the end and the length is good.

I kept swinging between like and ambivalent. In the end the good-guy in me won out over the picky, pedantic bad-guy and I’ll give this wine a moderate thumbs-up.
Value: $22 at cellar door. Fair enough.
Tasted: May 2011
Closure: Screwcap

Producer: Woody Nook Wines – – established in 1982 by the Gallagher family but now owned by Peter and Jane Bailey. Neil Gallagher remains as winemaker.
Region: Margaret River, Western Australia.
Site: 17 hectares in total, half of which is non-irrigated. No specific soil profile available, however this part of the region generally contains gravelly loams with underlying clay.
Vintage: Another superb year in the blessed west. Brilliant for whites with warm, dry conditions throughout summer.