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New Zealand 2013
Pinot Noir 2013, the triennial event in Wellington, New Zealand was four days of talk and tasting in January, supplemented by brilliant food by Ruth and Paul Pretty Catering. It was brilliantly organised, with the programme book providing an impressive state-of-the-industry information kit. Every wine we were able to taste or drink is listed, all the menus, all the sponsors.
The theme for this year was regional, so we tasted through Martinborough (or Wairarapa), Nelson, North Canterbury, and Waipara Valley, along with Marlborough, and Central Otago. Sometimes I think the best Australian pinot noirs are being made in New Zealand. Every day delegates went to a different region (some combined) for tastings and discussions.
The main tastings were of 2010 wine, with some additional tastings of older vintages. There were more wines available than I was able to taste, but I got through a fair number. In no particular order, here are my preferred 2010 pinot noirs from New Zealand tastings: Ata Rangi, Martinborough Vineyard, Murdoch James (yes, really, and no connection) all from Martinborough; Pyramid Valley, Greywacke, Spy Valley, Cloudy Bay, Villa Maria (Marlborough), Grasshopper Rock, Matua Valley, Mount Edward, Mud House (Central Otago).
Yes, I think there are regional differences – although those differences and the effects of the personalities of the winemakers were discussed at considerable length. Roughly, I think Martinborough wines are more likely to have savoury notes, Marlborough wines have great fruit balance, and Central Otago have intensity. What winemakers do with that is up to their own perceptions and tastes.
A salute to Ruth Pretty, whose catering was so intelligently planned and well delivered. She made everyone look forward to morning tea, which always consisted on something savoury, a cake, and fresh fruit. Think – only one example – tiny potato and parmesan crusted beef pies, large ginger scones (cut into wedges), and bowls of fresh peaches. Tea made with real tea leaves in a proper pots (yes, it was slow, but delicious), and mint tea made with actual mint leaves. Coffee from an excellent local.
Add to the list of wines some favourites discovered after the Nelson International Aromatics Symposium: Neudorf Moutere 2011 Chardonnay, and Framingham Old Vines 2011 Riesling, Blackenbrook Vineyard 2011 Chardonnay, and Seifried riesling. I came away with a new respect for Austrian riesling - more to come on that.
Box Stallion 2011 sauvignon blanc and Box Stallion 2010 shiraz have both won gold medals at the Rutherglen Wine Show. The judging was held in September 2012. In three years, the sauvignon blancs have won five gold medals. Box Stallion shiraz often wins gold medals: the 2009 shiraz won four gold medals, and the 2010 has won its first at Rutherglen, after winning a couple of silver medals last year.
“The sauvignon blanc from the Box Stallion vineyards on the Mornington Peninsula have really attractive characters, with tropical fruit, delicate herbaceousness, and floral notes. They’re quite complex wines, very good drinking,” says Alex White. “They also bottle age well – for at least four years. I’ve noticed they improve over three years, which is really unusual for sauvignon blanc.”
Drink it as an aperitif, with Greek-style savory cheese pastries, antipasto, with gravlax and grilled fish.
As for the shiraz, he says: “The shiraz usually starts to show well after two years, and then it keeps building. We’ve noticed it becomes fuller and more complex over about six or seven years. The wine comes from two Mornington Peninsula vineyards, and even allowing for vintage variations, they produce a shiraz that is full of fruit – especially black cherry notes – as well as spices and black pepper. They’re medium-bodied and full flavoured wines, and because they are medium-bodied, they are very versatile when it comes to food matching.”
We particularly the shiraz with lamb, Moroccan dishes, and a range of chicken dishes.
A small vintage, reports Alex White, but he says there will be some stunning wines from the Mornington Peninsula, and he is thrilled about the quality of the shiraz from there and Strath Creek (for the Lost Valley label). He says the aromas that have come from the crushed fruit are outstanding.
News from the Box Stallion vineyard: the mob of kangaroos has discovered their favourite grapes. Gewurztraminer and tempranillo are the favoured grapes, and they have been going through the vines, nibbling only the ripest. Nets might deter birds, but kangaroos simply lift them gently with their noses, and move through the rows, picking the tastiest berries.
Another gold medal for Box Stallion shiraz. It won gold at the French-Australian Chamber of Commerce Concours des Vins du Victoria. Alex’s wines usually do well there – and the 2009 shiraz has now won four gold medals. Lost Valley 2011 cortese won a silver medal, which was pretty remarkable for a wine that had only just been bottled. Last year he won the trophy for best aromatic white with the 2010 Box Stallion gewurztraminer - the fourth trophy for gewurz.
I was wrong. And I have rarely been so happy to admit it. I thought I didn’t much like Grange Hermitage. After a dinner that showcased the Granges of the 1980s, I can now say with some confidence that I think Grange is a fabulous wine. Particularly the 1980, 1982, and the 1987 (which isn’t quite typical). The 1983 seems to me to be an absolutely classic Grange: richly fruity, spicy, with all kinds of delicious flavours (coffee, chocolate). 1985 was pretty good, too. I didn’t really care for the 1989, but perhaps that’s not quite old enough.
It seems to me that Grange hits its straps when it’s about 25 years old. Yes, I know it’s a long time to wait for a bottle to mature. But no one used to fuss about Bordeaux taking their time. And we had the particular pleasure recently of drinking a magnum of 1981 Taltarni shiraz to celebrate my older son’s 30th birthday. Dominique Portet gave us the magnum for him: and it drank wonderfully.
Paul Jaboulet once said to me that he thought shiraz, as it aged, reverted to its variety. When the wines are young, he said, you can taste where they are grown. But as they age, they all become shiraz, and it’s almost impossible to pick their place of origin.
I’m not quite sure that’s right for Grange, which I think is one of Australia’s contributions to world wine – along with Hunter Semillon and Rutherglen fortifieds.
The dinner was held at The Point restaurant at Albert Park Lake, where chef Justin Wise created miracles of flavour. He has a remarkable ability to balance meat and vegetables – which means that each of the dishes was a play of flavours that paired with the wines. Shiraz likes meat – we know that. But his use of vegetables highlighted all the nuances of flavour in the wines. For example: Yarra Valley quail with wood ear mushrooms, black garlic, and Alba truffles. Or the peppered kangaroo loin with a carrot and cardamom terrine, with bush tomatoes and a deliciously slightly bitter green. Sweet and savoury and peppery all at once – like the 1986 and 1987 Granges.
And did I mention the 2008 Yattarna Chardonnay? That’s drinking wonderfully. Lovely clean restrained fruit, oak supporting it. Very elegant indeed.
September 2011 GAMAY Here’s the thing about gamay. It likes growing in Beaujolais. The soils in this small area south of Macon (about twice the size of the Yarra Valley) are sandy and granitic, quite acid. Gamay really likes acid soil. The soils further north, in Burgundy, are not acid, and gamay does not grow nearly as well. That was observed centuries ago, most notably by the Duke of Burgundy, Philippe the Bold (le hardi) who ordered that gamay vines be pulled out of Burgundian vineyards.
In its preferred terrain, it makes a range of wonderful wines. There’s Beaujolais nouveau, known as the primeur, fresh and fruity and probably best for the Australian summer than the European winter, in time for which season it is released. Drink it pretty well immediately.
But as for the crus of Beaujolais – Romaneche-Thorins, Brouilly, Cote-de-Brouilly, Julienas, Chenas, St-Amour, Fleurie, Morgon, Chiroubles, Moulin-a-Vent, and the more recent Regnie – we’re in a whole different league. Like the different areas of Burgundy, the areas of Beaujolais each have a particular character. Fleurie is the elegant one, Moulin-a-Vent the more structured.
The good ones (of which there are many) are at their best when they are about four or five years old. That’s the point when the tannins soften, when spicy notes come up and blend with the fruitiness. We tasted a 2003 Moulin-a-Vent from Jean Mortet. It was a difficult year because of the heat wave, and many thought the wines wouldn’t last for more than a year or two. But this 2003 is ready for drinking now, still with plenty of fruit and lots of fine tannins. Normally, said Jean Mortet, after about 10 years, gamay starts to look a bit like pinot. The 2008 and 2009 are extremely good – but he says they will be better in two or three years.
We’ve found a number of wines like that, including the Chante-Terre Fleurie, which is much more – the French word is “voluptuous”, and that will do as well as any descriptor.
The good winemakers are very conscious of what they are doing, and what they do well. One producer is bottling wine with no filtration for his Australian distributor, as the distributor’s request. Some of us in Australia think unfiltered wines are preferable, somehow more “natural”, as wild yeasts are thought to be more “natural”. Jean Mortet has little interest in wild yeasts, or indigenous yeasts, as they are called in French. “It’s too risky,” he said. “Sometimes they behave, sometimes they don’t. But I have to make good wines every year.”
Beaujolais might well be the next favoured wine on restaurant winelists. It’s got everything going for it. It’s not expensive, it keeps for a few years, and it has its own story. Along with Portuguese whites, Beaujolais might become one of the few wines available on smart Melbourne wine lists for less than $60 – which will still leave a nice profit margin for all involved.
I’m pleased to find that Dilmah tea now has an Australian company and on-line store. Dilmah tea came to Melbourne in 1988, and I think I was the first person to interview founder Merrill J. Fernando about his dream. What he wanted to do – what he has done – was to provide top quality tea that would directly benefit his country, Sri Lanka, where the tea is grown.
He grew up with tea merchants and teas stored in London warehouses , he’s seen tea more and more comodified, so it’s bought only on price. I’ve watched other companies pick up on his marketing of tea as a fresh and healthy drink; and I’ve watched as other companies have followed his packaging example (in aluminium foil to maintain its freshness better). A few years ago Alex and I went to Sri Lanka and visited the packaging plant as well as tea plantations – exemplary in social terms as well as tea production. We loved tasting our way through teas grown at various altitudes and on different estates, looking at them in terms of colour, tannins, bitterness, and so on. I'm a mid- to high-grown girl, because I like tea without milk, and I like a tea without too much tannin. Lower grown teas are fuller in flavour, darker and more tannic.
If you didn’t know, the company is called Dilmah after his two sons (Dilhan and Malik), and it’s been unwavering in its support of Sri Lankan industry and people. The Dilmah Foundation has been doing remarkable things for years, always working to provide materials and skills so people can support themselves. A quick example: the Foundation is helping bicycle repairers buy new tools so they can keep repairing the bicycles that are the island’s main (and non-polluting) method of transport.
Things I love on the on-line site: the Afternoon Tea blend, the Ceylon Supreme range, and the glass cups. onlineshop.dilmah.com.au
While we’re on the subject of afternoon tea (and Dilmah’s had a fund-raising series of them), try a good tea with one of the chocolate cakes from 50 Fabulous Chocolate Cakes http://www.penguin.com.au/products/9780143206385/50-fabulous-chocolate-cakes
Drinking in California
So many wineries: about 300 in the Napa Valley alone, and that does not include Sonoma, which is another appellation entirely.
Favourites: Littorai. The area, near Sebastopol, which is not far from Santa Rosa, is counted as Sonoma coast. Ted Lemon, who established the vineyards on the site in 1993, studied at the University of Dijon, and worked with Guy Roulot in Burgundy. The vineyards are farmed biodynamically – down to buried cowhorns and sprays made of herbal infusions – and though I’m sceptical about all of that, I’d have to say the exchange between the farmed land (the vineyards) and the land planted to wildflowers, cover crops, and to re-afforestation is a very fruitful one. As for the quality of the wine: these wines are made with great care and precision. Charles Heintz 2008 chardonnay was one of the favourite wines (it’s a named vineyard). A certain weight to it, mineral and floral notes.
It’s cool enough in this region for pinot noir, and we tasted four single vineyard wines – 2009 Les Larmes, 2007 Cerise, 2007 Hirsch, and 2006 Haven Vineyard, a wonderfully complex wine, very intense. Flavours? The usual, cherries and berries, but with spices and a hint of chocolate, a suggestion of white truffle and white mushrooms, and very very fine tannins.
Chateau St Jean Now owned by Treasury Wine Estates, and an easy place to visit, since the tasting room is so well set up (a good place to buy presents, too, but that’s not the real reason to go there), and the grounds so pleasing. It’s in Sonoma, too, which has escaped the wine-wine-wine everywhere of the Napa. It’s still a real agricultural region, with lamb, beef, dairying (excellent cheeses), and lots of fruit orchards. Sonoma itself is a very attractive town.
Chateau St Jean makes a huge range of wines. We tasted a range with assistant winemaker Bob Coleman, whom we met first at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in 2010. Lots of really good wines. Among the chardonnays - the Robert Young Vineyard (Alexander Valley), and the 2007 Sonoma County reserve. Both excellent wines, rich and full-flavoured, but a lot way from being overblown or over-done. The Robert Young has lovely fruit notes (stone fruit and citrus), the Sonoma County rather spicier, and very long on the palate.
The Cinq Cepages (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec and petit verdot) is a ripper of a blend. We tasted the 2001, where the flavours seemed to dance on the palate), and the 2007, which is a bigger and more open wine. The Chateau St Jean 2006 merlot should be compulsory drinking for anyone who took seriously all that nonsense about merlot in the movie Sideways. And did I mention the 2007 reserve cabernet sauvignon?
Titus, in the Napa Valley, was small – almost cosy, with a tasting room in a 1910 house that has kept its character. “The fact it’s unchanged is unique in the Napa,” said Christophe Smith, who works with the Titus family. So is its size – which means the prices are lower than in many other Napa wineries. There’s no chateau to support, after all.
The wines tend to be high alcohol, but very well balanced. The 2009 zinfandel is 15.9% alcohol, but doesn’t taste that way. Wonderful fruit, very fine tannins. The 2008 cabernet franc is a lovely drink, very attractive, with a really nice astringency at the end. The 2007 petite syrah (not common in the Napa) has rich ripe fruit (black and blue fruits), and the tannins we know from Rutherglen, where the variety is durif.
December 2010 A REPORT ON CHABLIS
More than half the 48 hectares of vineyards owned by the distinguished company of William Fevre are organic. That's not news. According to Alain Marcuello, who welcomed us at William Fevre, most French vineyards are going organic. A growing number are biodynamic, he says with a small shrug. That's not news, either.
"Organic means we are still using sulphur and copper," says Alain Marcuello. He's well aware that the long-term use of copper is not good for soils. There's more to his disdain than the use of copper. Other organic sprays often have to be applied more frequently than conventional treatments. More frequent sprays mean more frequent use of tractors and increased use of fuel. "Organic does not equal ecological," he says.
What's happening in the company's other 40 per cent of the company's vineyards is the ecologically friendly talking point for M. Marcuello.
Half of that - about 20 per cent of the total vineyard area - is now managed by a system called trophobiosis. The theory of trophobiosis was presented by a French agronomist called Francis Chaboussou in 1985, and in essence, it's about ensuring plants are healthy so they are not attacked by pests and diseases. Illness and pests are controlled by managing the nutrition of each vine, rather than by spraying to control pests and diseases. According to the theory, healthy vines are resistant vines (in much the same way that healthy people have good immune systems).
Chaboussou thought that fungicides and pesticides weaken plants and make them more susceptible. (It's slightly different from the 'green' view that pests develop resistance to agricultural chemicals.)
It's an appealing but expensive theory to put into practice. At William Fevre (the brand is now owned by Henriot, they employ nine extra people (24 instead of 15) because of this new system. So far, so good.
The remaining 20 per cent are managed by a system known as lutte raisonnee, or what Australians called integrated management, with minimal chemical intervention.
Integrated management is also used by La Chablisienne, a cooperative that produces some of the best wines in the area. The prize vineyard for La Chablisienne is Grenouilles, a 9.2 hectare grand cru area owned by eight producers. La Chablisienne owns the lion's share, seven hectares. The cooperative bought the flagship estate of Chateau de Grenouilles in 1999, and has been entirely responsible for its management since 2003, says Herve Tucki, spokesman for the group. They changed how the vineyard was managed.
"We're worked the soil and changed the pruning. We don't use herbicides, we work the soil. We don't use insecticides, we use pheromones (insect hormone traps). We have lots of air round the grapes now so we don't use botrytis treatments because we don't need to."
That kind of cleaner, greener vineyard management is familiar to many Australians.
In France, it's an expensive process. There are now three people working in the Grenouilles vineyard alone. But the results show in the bottle - as do all the vineyard efforts - in wines that are elegant, with aromas of honey and flowers, mineral flavours that reflect the ground they come from, and the potential for very long lives.
Alain Marcuello, Herve Tucki and Alain de la Boudonnaye, site director at Domaine Laroche, all speak of the importance of capturing the particular characteristics of each of the vineyard areas, particularly the premier and grand crus. They all want the wines to reflect the minerality of the kimmeridgian limestone soils that date back to the Jurassic period, and to show the qualities of each individual named vineyard. Tasting wines with winemakers in Chablis requires a certain geological knowledge: they talk kimmeridgian, Portland, limestone and clay, and there's often a topographical map spread out on the tasting table.
Chablis is a challenging test of soil, vineyards, and vineyard management. It is the most northern of the four wine regions in Burgundy, and the coolest. This is difficult country for grapes, partly because it can be so cool and damp, and there's not that much wind. It's the recipe for diseases like odium (powdery mildew) and downy mildew, both of which are usually controlled by copper and sulphur sprays, permissable under organic management. Then there's the ever-present threat of botrytis.
The climate used to be very much worse. In the 1950s, there was so much frost that two out of three vintages were lost, according to Alain Marcuello. At its peak, before phylloxera in the late 19th century, there were 8000 hectares of vines in production. By the end of the 1950s, it was down to 630 ha because so many people abandoned viticulture.
Interestingly, William Fevre himself was one of the key figures in saving the area. As a young man in the 1950s, he used water sprays and fires to protect vines against frost. He's now in his 80s, still living in Chablis, and making kosher wine.
By the 1960s, the area was looking more promising. "Since the 1960s, people have been able to live from wine," Denis de la Boudonnaye says.
Since then, clever vineyard management (and perhaps climate change) have enabled growth back to 6500 hectares of vineyards. But frost is still a hazard. In 2003, a third of the crop was lost because of five continuous days of of frost, and another third was lost in the heat wave of that year. In a bad year, the wines are precious. In a good year, they are just as precious.
November 27 2010 marked the celebration of 35 years of Main Ridge Estate on the Mornington Peninsula, with a wonderful sit-down dinner in the winery. Nat and Rosalie White were the first to grow chardonnay commercially, and we were celebrating the establishment of the vineyards. The first vintage was in 1980. What is so remarkable for me about Nat's pinot noirs and chardonnays is their immediacy, the sense of his focus on every year, so that every vintage has its own particular flavours and balance. I particularly loved the 2003 chardonnay, and the 2003 pinots on the night. I also love the way these wines age, becoming richer and more complex, but still retaining their freshness.
Wine writer Sally Gudgeon talked about the wines and Nat's role on the Mornington Peninsula. She called him "visionary", and noted his role in mentoring others. Without him, who knows when and how the Mornington Peninsula would have made its name for chardonnay and pinot noir.
All the wines served were in screw cap. Nat said that was partly because he wanted them all to be in good condition, and on a night like that, it would have been a challenge with cork closures, opening every wine and checking it.
Nat and Alex have known each other since the 1970s, around the time Main Ridge was planted. Despite the surname, they are not related - although many people thought they were because they are both tall, about the same height, with distinctive noses and bushy eyebrows. Alex remembers people coming to the Lillydale Vineyards cellar door (when he owned that) and saying "I saw your brother last week."
They were both part of a wine-tasting group. Alex remembers that it began at the end of 1969 - before any of the participants had planted anything - and ran for about 12 years. It began with Alex, David Lance and Martin Grinbergs (who all worked together in brewery research at Carlton and United) and Alex's then wife Judith, and others came along. Garry Crittenden was part of it, so was Phillip Jones, Nat White, Llew Knight, Pat Carmody and various others. Pretty well all of them established vineyards and wineries.
BURGUNDY REPORT We were mainly tasting lovely bottled wines from 2008, and 2009 barrel tastings. I was a bit anxious about the thought of 10 days in Burgundy because I had drunk a run of pretty ordinary wines over the previous few months -wines that were thin in flavour and too acid. What Alex and I found in October were lots of excellent wines, the kind that give Burgundy a good name. What they had in common was texture, lovely mouth-feel, and complex rich flavours balanced by acid and lots of fine tannins. Many of them for me were medium-bodied, but with big flavours, punching above their weight, so to speak. We always did tastings with maps in front of us, positioning the vineyards exactly. Everyone seems to be attuned to the qualities of particular vineyards, and there's a combination of site, weather and winemaker that makes each wine seem like a piano trio or string quartet. The site has its own flavours, and those can be modified by the weather and reinforced (or spoiled) by vineyard management and winemaking.
Domaine Dubois What the well-dressed winemaker wears in Burgundy: an O'Leary Walker top, with RM Williams boots and a Plunkett vest. It was a chilly morning. Beatrice Duboix, who has lectured at NMIT and - obviously - spent time in Australia, received us at Domaine Dubois at Premeaux-Prissey, one of the villages on the great road that links Beaune and Dijon.
It's a family business, which is to say it's quite large for a family business, but very small compared with the big companies. They own 7 hectares, and buy in other fruit. We did some 2009 barrel tastings, and compared them with 2007 bottled wines. I love the Nuits St Georges Clos des Argillieres. Elegant and supple from barrel (chocolatey, spicy, cherries) and in bottle, it's a wine with lovely fine tannins, almost caressing on the palate, and flavours that dance on the tongue. The Nuits St Georges Les Porets is more powerful, richer and fuller on the nose and in the mouth, and rather more structured.
Domaine Dubois wines are distributed by Norman Tranter in North Melbourne. Norman@bijouxwines.com.
Domaine Taupenot-Merme Another family concern, of many generations, with 13 hectares over 20 different appellations, of which six are premier cru. We met Virginie, who's in charge of sales. Her brother Romain is in the winery, their father is in the vineyard.
Excellent wines all around from 2008, from the rather nice Saint Romain (cote de Beaune) red and white, to the Morey St Denis, especially La Riotte, with its complex fruit, spicy and herbal notes. The Chambolle Musigny premier cru La Combe D'Orveau was a gorgeous wine. The vines are quite old (about 60 years), and it's a wine with lots of red fruit and floral notes, and lovely fine tannins. The Charmes Chambertin 2007 was another beauty, with delicious sweet fruit on the palate, and unusual white pepper and hibiscus aromas.
They were all beautifully textured wines, with lots of complex flavours.
Taupenot-Merme wines are distributed by Cellar Hand. Contact Patrick@cellarhand.com.au
Faiveley is another family company, in its seventh generation. It's a big company with 125ha (which provides 80 per cent of their wines) and an annual production of around 900,000 bottles. We tasted a dozen ones across the range, mostly 2008. I particularly liked three of the whites - Meursault (deliciously spicy, full round palate), Puligny Montrachet premier cru La Garenne (elegant, silky wine with notes of herbs, honey and white stone fruit), and the Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet (rich, full, deep flavours, spicy oak). "Majestic wine" say my notes about the last one.
Of the reds, my favourites were the Nuits St Georges premier cru Les Porets (dark fruit, spicy, full and rich in the mouth), the Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley grand cru (intense flavours, lots of berries, spices and dark roses) and the Mazis Chambertin grand cru (very spicy, with red and black fruits, soft tannins).
Domaine Faiveley is distributed by Negociants Australia. www.negociantsaustralia.com
Albert Bichot More happy discoveries . Unlike many houses, Albert Bichot has vineyards in Chablis, too - and I'd recommend the 2008 Les Lys, premier cru, which has a heavy silky texture, and some minerality on the palate. Other whites I loved: the Beaune Clos des Mouches premier cru 2008 - again, lovely texture, very smooth, with a full rich middle palate, lovely fruit, spice and honey flavours, and a long finish. The Corton-Charlemagne 2007 grand cru is a big and wonderful wine, with all those lovely chardonnay characters of citrus, stone fruit, candied fruit, roasted nuts, even a hint of fig.
Favourite reds: the Volnay premier cru, Les Santenots, very complex in its flavours, almost perfumed on the nose. And the Vosne-Romanee premier cru: rich full and sensual. An exceptional wine.
Albert Bichot is distributed in Australia by Douglas Lamb Wines. www.douglaslambwines.com.au
Bouchard Pere et Fils is housed in the old castle in Beaune, whose history goes back to 1477 and Charles the Bold, who was murdered before he could invade Lorraine. Thereby Burgundy lost its last ruler and became part of France. The Bouchard family settled in Volnay in 1731, branching out from textiles into wine. Bouchard is now owned most sympathetically by Henriot (the champagne house) and produces some of the loveliest wines in the area . Some examples: Volnay Caillerets premier cru 2006, with aromas of dark roses, cherries and walnuts, rich as a meal on the palate, with fabulously good tannins.
The Bouchard family bought the vineyard de l'enfant Jesus in 1791 after the Revolution when church-owned vineyards became state-owned and available for sale. Beaune Greves Vigne de l'enfant Jesus is magic. I've tasted a couple before, and this 2007 was a ripper. Fragrant, dancing, deliciously velvety.
The wines are consistent and reliable: faced with a French wine list full of unknown names, choose Bouchard Pere et Fils.
Or any of the above. What struck me is that with all these producers was the consistency of quality. Of all the wines we tasted, there were very few I wouldn't have drunk with pleasure. Occasionally I tasted a wine I didn't particularly like - but that was to do with my palate rather than the quality of the wine.
Bouchard is distributed in Australia by Domaine Wine Shippers.
BBC Last year, at the 3MBS Chamber Music Feast at Melba Hall, where we matched six wines with six different pieces of music, I introduced a new movement that has nothing to do with music. This movement is BBC. Bring Back Chardonnay.
Many years ago, ABC was all the rage. That was Anything But Chardonnay. I remember it well, because I did a big piece in The Age about all the alternative white wines. Semillon, riesling, gewurtztraminer, verdelho, pinot grigio...this was so many years ago that there was no arneis around, no cortese. None of the Italian whites was around then - no garganega (in Soave), no ribolla gialla (from Friuli, and not one of my favourites), none of the great Sicilian whites. That was the time when chardonnays were so often huge buttery-peachy-woody confections.
But after tasting and drinking the 2008 Box Stallion chardonnay while preparing for Friday night's music matching, I decided chardonnay had been short changed. The Box Stallion is elegant, all restrained fruit and spices, just enough oak to give the wine good definition and structure. On the night, it was paired with Beethoven's trio for clarinet, piano and cello, played by the Ensemble Liaison. They played the first movement - lovely playing, and particularly good with the wine.
Other matches: TinAlley String Quartet playing the first movement of Mozart's string quartet no 465 with Hanging Rock sparkling rose. Flinders Quartet playing the fourth movement of Peter Sculthorpe's string quartet no. 18 matched with Delatite tempranillo (excellent match), and Speak Percussion playing Fritz Hauser's 'As We are Speaking' with Cope Williams' Sparkling. Trio Amina Mundi played Piazzola's Oblivion and Otono Porteno with Yering Station's shiraz viognier. And we finished with Silo String Quartet playing John Peterson's Tallawarra and a glass of Big Shed Muscat. Warm friendly wine and music.
Back to chardonnay. Other chardonnays to drink now include the Heemskerk, Toolangi, Curly Flat, Craiglee, Coldstream Hills. .
PORT The port tasting at Prince Wine Store on Saturday May 29 didn't have a huge range, but the quality was outstanding. 2007 was declared a vintage year in Portugal - not every year is deemed good enough for single vintage port. We tasted the Croft and the Fonseca, slightly different in style. The Fonseca slightly bigger, slightly longer, but both were wonderful. They are both surprisngly approachable at this stage - normally you wouldn't look at vintage ports until they were close to 20 years old. (No wonder it was thought of as an old man's drink - you buy port when you're middle aged and drink it so much later!) Both have similar flavours - black cherries, blueberries, chocolate, vanilla. But the Croft showed some roasted almond and seville orange notes; the Fonseca had hints of roses and coffee, and a long bitter chocolate finish.
Other wines on tasting that day included Australian fortifieds. Five cheers for the 2004 Stanton and Killeen vintage port - purity of fruit and spirit, long finish. A port to buy and to serve at every important occasion. Make the occasion, if you have to. Declare a private Vintage Port Day. The late Chris Killeen was Australia's best port maker, for my money. His style was restrained rather than jammy or heavy. His good work lives on, the Stanton and Killeen fortifieds are remarkable.
So, if it comes to that, are the fortifieds of Rutherglen. The tasting included All Saints Rare Tokay and Muscat, both showing really well. The good news is that Campbells Merchant Prince muscat rated 100 out of 100 in the Wine Spectator. Quite right. I can't imagine a better muscat.
10 favourite wines
We’re chosen wines that are readily available, in no particular order of preference. This list will be changed as often as necessary, or turned into other lists. 10 favourite imported wines. Or special occasion wines. Or champagnes. Keep checking in.
We haven’t included the wines of Box Stallion and Lost Valley, made by Alex. Rita is particularly fond of the Box Stallion sauvignon blanc and the shiraz, and has a very soft spot for Lost Valley cortese (it’s a grape variety from north-west Italy, and the only example made in Australia) and merlot.
Howard Park Riesling
Western Australia produces lovely Rieslings. This is one of them: bright fruit, lime and other citrus, citrus blossom, hint of minerality. Just what we want from a Riesling. The Howard Park cabernet sauvignon is another terrific wine.
Jacobs Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Yes, we know it’s a big company wine. So what? This has all the right cabernet characteristics, well structured, good fruit including cassis, lots of fine tannin, with French oak notes (chocolate, vanilla, toastiness). A very nice wine. Reliably good drinking at a modest price.
Peter Lehmann Eight Songs Shiraz
I don’t normally go for Barossa shiraz, but if more of them were like this, I’d change my mind. This is a beauty. Rich, full-bodied, with lovely plummy fruit, spicy and chocolatey notes, big smooth tannins, really well balanced. Very satisfying.
Craiglee Shiraz 2006
A benchmark cool climate shiraz. (Not that Sunbury is all that cool in summer.) I’m always happy when I see this on a wine list, whatever the vintage. It’s got the spices and pepper notes of cool climate shiraz, with mixed red fruit notes, and French oak tannins and spiciness. The chardonnay is excellent, too.
Tyrrell’s Steven Semillon 2005
Hunter Semillon is one of Australia’s contributions to the international wine world. This is one of the best examples of it: some citrus, some minerality, hint of flintiness, great balance. And just starting to fill out. Beautiful wine.
Curly Flat Pinot Noir 2006
All right, Curly Flat breaks the rules of this list because it is not so readily available. There are many good pinots in Victoria, lots of pleasant ones, but very few really distinguished wines. That’s the nature of pinot noir, of course. What makes this so good is the combination: lovely fruit (cherries in particular), spices, a depth of flavour, lots of fine tannins, silky texture, and a long finish.
Yering Station shiraz viognier 2006
Yering Station produces some excellent wines, and always reliable. The shiraz viognier is rich and ripe, deep colour, lots of fruit and spice, a hint of pepper, and the exuberant perfume that viognier provides. (I think it’s like saffron and salt in cooking, it heightens flavours and aromas.) Fairly high alcohol (14.5) so it needs some solid food.
Heemskerk chardonnay 2007
Heemskerk, named for Abel Tasman’s flagship, is owned by the Fosters group, whose website gives very little information about this brilliant chardonnay. For all of you who think you’re over chardonnay, try this one. Lovely restrained fruit – hints of citrus and peach, rather than a thumping noseful of it. Enough oak to frame the fruit and give structure. Lively acid, but very appealing mouth texture.
Brown Brothers pinot noir, pinot meuniere, chardonnay
Nice acid balance, not too sweet, well-made bubbly, excellent value for the price. We drink a lot of it in Queensland with an aunt who likes to settle down late in the afternoon with some bubbles. We’re drunk our way through most of the lower-priced bubblies, and this is by the far the best.
Campbell’s Rutherglen Muscat
Rutherglen fortifieds are Australia’s other great contribution to world wines. Choose from Campbells, Morris’s, Chambers, Stanton and Killeen for standouts. You’ve got to start somewhere, so Campbell’s Rutherglen Muscat is a great entry point. (Classifications for muscats are Rutherglen, Classic, Grand and Rare.) We buy it at cellar door. It’s fresh and fruity, grapey with roses and apricot notes, sweet but not cloying, easy drinking. Merchant Prince, which is regarded as a Rare Muscat, was named for the ship that brought the Campbells to Australia. It’s a journey in a glass.
Try the Sensory Lab at the back of David Jones city store – the Little Collins Street entrance. It’s an off-shoot of St Ali in South Melbourne, and it’s a coffee education. Espresso or caffe latte are only the beginning here. There are four ways of making coffee, a changing menu of blends and coffees available, and, very often, someone who will come and guide you through what’s available. You want single origin coffee? You’ll have it – maybe an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, or a Colombian Curazao.
I had a cold drip of S1. That was a blend of Brasil De Larrise, Brasil Lagon, Colombian Bachue, and Indonesian Mandeling (from Sumatra). The coffee is ground fairly coarsely, and filtered water drips through very slowly indeed. The resulting cold coffee was fabulous – refreshing, big sweet palate, rather nutty, no bitterness. As much fun as an affogato, but no icecream. The aftertaste lingered for 15 minutes.
No interest in talking about coffee? It’s not compulsory. Have the usual espresso if you like, from the window on to the street, or at a table. A few snacks are available, too, and jars of chocolate coated coffee beans to buy.
297 Little Collins St, Melbourne. Tel. 9643 2222