Cockburn has changed hands a few times over the years, but since 2010, finds itself part of the quality minded Symington family group of companies. Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port has long been Cockburn’s most important brand. Its style – a reserve ruby Port – is crafted as something better than a “ruby” port which is the simplest and least expensive style of Port, to be a wine with a bit more colour, depth and interest.
The wine itself is clear rather than bright, with a medium intensity hue of ruby in colour, and noticeable tears in the glass. Its aroma speaks of its hot Portuguese origins – baked raisins, baked plums, Christmas cake and sweet spice are all present. On the palate, this fortified style of wine is sweet, with medium acidity, a full body, medium length (perhaps a bit longer) and medium intensity flavours of raisins, currants, baked plums and dried earth.
I suspect that many in the Gen X and Gen Y demographic in the Australian market aren’t particularly familiar with Port wines, and if they are, have probably dabbled more with the more expensive vintage Ports or perhaps tawnys, rather than the other blends. Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port is a well made and well priced and hearty Port wine that has the advantage that it can be consumed immediately without committing infanticide. It thus appears as a smart choice on the quality versus price spectrum. Good to Very Good
I can sometimes be a bit sceptical about the quality of the wines of Bordeaux Supérieur, but this one is a good, solid claret from an outstanding vintage (2009). It’s a blend of 85% merlot and 15% cabernet franc and the vineyard itself is not far from St Emilion. Its regional expression is probably more dominant than its constituent grape varieties.
Bright, it has a medium to pronounced intensity hue of ruby in the glass. Classic aromatics of blackcurrants, cedar and clove feature, with a medium intensity expression. The palate is dry, with medium(-) tannins, short to medium length and dominant cedar and clove flavours, together with black pepper and blackcurrants. The tannins are quite fine grained, and the overall mouthfeel savoury. At $28, it’s not bad value. This is the sort of wine I’d love to see in the low $20s, as I think it would fly out the door. Good Abv: 14% Price: $28 Vendors: http://www.bordeauxshippers.com.au Website: n/a Tasted: August 2012
The wine’s name is kind of humorous for wine geeks I guess, although I suspect it may elicit more than a couple of blank stares. A blend of 91% shiraz and 9% viognier, in name and composition it plainly is aimed at capturing the shiraz viognier market, at the modest price of $11. A deep purple in colour, it opens to an unexpectedly intense aroma, for a Pays d’Oc wine, of plums, spices and apricots. The palate has medium-high acid, medium tannins, some length, plums and apricots. To nit pick, there is a slight sweetness suggesting some residual sugar, and perhaps the viognier is handled a little heavy handedly. For the price, it’s hard to be too fussy. Acceptable to Good
I haven’t tried a Tokaji Aszu for years – since living in London really. This is probably because (a) I don’t drink that much sweet wine and (b) the local Australian versions or Sauternes usually fit the bill. But it is a classic style of the wine world, and of Hungary in particular, and it is worth a look for something different. For those unfamiliar with the style, the reference to Aszu is a reference to a botrytis affected style, and the grape used is mostly the furmint. The number of Puttonyos has a linear relationship with the grams per litre of residual sugar in the wine. 5 Puttonyos, as in this case, corresponds to approximately 120g/l of residual sugar.
What then of the wine, you say. It is golden in colour, with an orange tinge and a pale intensity of expression. The aroma is clean, with pronounced intensity notes of honey, caramel, butterscotch, brown sugar and orange blossom. It is developing. The palate is sweet with medium-high acidity, medium body, and similar butterscotch, honey and caramel flavours, together with some dried apricots, set to medium length. This is a good example of the style. Good to Very Good Abv: 11.5% Price: mid $40s Vendors: check Wine Searcher Website: n/a Tasted: July 2012
There’s a first for everything, and this is the first German pinot noir I’ve reviewed on this website, from the southerly region of Baden. It’s a good one too. A between pale and medium intensity ruby in colour, the wine is bright in the glass. Its aroma is clean, with a quite pronounced intensity aroma of cherries, spice, and some savoury attractive sappy characters.
It is quite youthful at 3 years old. On the palate, it is dry, with trademark high acidity for this quite northerly home for pinot noir, with light tannins, medium body and intensity, notes of cherries and spice, and between medium and long length. This is a great little wine due to the length and balance of its fruit, and I would gladly buy more of it. Very Good Abv: 13.5% Price: n/a Vendors: It may be imported by Cellarhand as it’s in their portfolio. I suggest speaking with them for retail distribution. Website: http://www.weingut-huber.com Tasted: July 2012
The “Arrogant Frog” series of wines hail from the region now known as Pays D’Oc Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP). At $10.99 they are keenly priced and appear designed to be noticed and, I am guessing, to compete with the Yellow Tails of the wine world. It’s even bottled under screwcap.
The “Ribet” cabernet merlot is a blend of 55% cabernet sauvignon and 45% merlot. For $11, it’s not too bad. A medium intensity purple in colour, it is bright in the glass. The aroma had some varietal typicity, and a bit of interest, with notes of clove, black cherry, thyme, dusty earth and bay leaf. The palate presented reasonably well with between short and medium length and some bay leaf and blackcurrant notes. It was more disjointed on the second day, some residual sugar showing a bit more, and the alcohol a little pokey. But for $11, it’s hard to be too critical, and I suspect it’s designed to be drunk “then and there”. Acceptable to Good
The Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Reserva 2006 vintage is a good rather than very good wine. It would have been much better had it not have been beaten quite so severely with the oak stick. A medium to pronounced ruby in appearance, the wine’s aroma is a study in oak, butter, vanilla, oily popcorn kernels, some volatile acidity, vanish, oak and oak. Now, did I mention the oak? On the palate, powdery tannins, vanilla, cola and plums are accompanied by medium length, perhaps even a bit more. With time, and the next day, the oak and lactic characters become more dominant. A slight rawness to the wine is suggestive of a lack of integration between fruit and wood. If it were a school report card, I would write “talented student but could have done better”. Good
Coriole have some of Australia’s oldest plantings of sangiovese, with vineyards dating from 1985. Being partial to sangiovese, a grape variety that Australia has mostly struggled with, the older vine Coriole sangiovese naturally caught my attention.
Unfortunately, and despite wishing that the position were otherwise, I didn’t find this wine particularly commendable. The 2011 vintage is a light to medium intensity ruby in colour, and opens to a medium intensity aroma of packet cherries, earth and what I will describe as “weeds in water”. This latter weedy character is particularly evident. On the palate, this is a lighter style of sangiovese, lacking the structure and tannin profile of the heartier versions that I prefer, with candied cherries to the fore, and only the briefest of length evident. While perfectly adequate, this is not a style of wine I seek out and it is hopefully a victim of the wet 2011 vintage in the McLaren Vale. Acceptable
Phillip White wrote an interesting article the other day on proposed changes to relax rules in South Australia regarding the transport of grape harvesters and other machinery and equipment from Victoria to South Australia, provided that they have come from a “phylloxera exclusion zone”.
For those unacquainted with phylloxera, it is the insect that laid waste to most of the Victorian wine industry in the nineteenth century principally by feeding on the roots of the vitis vinifera vine (the introduced European vine responsible for quality wine). It also laid waste to most of Europe’s wine industry around the same time, including practically all of France’s vineyards. The principal cure has been to graft the vitis vinifera to American vine rootstocks which confer phylloxera resistance. Such is the phylloxera’s longevity and tenacity, and resistance to chemical control, that it remains with us today. The primary form of management for non-phylloxera infested areas has been to quarantine infested regions from non-infested regions.
The Victorian Department of Primary Industries controls phylloxera by three types of management zones:
1. Phylloxera Exclusion Zones (“PEZ“): areas which are declared free of the insect.
2. Phylloxera Infested Zones (“PIZ“): areas where phylloxera has been detected.
3. Phylloxera Risk Zones (“PRZ“): areas that have an undetermined phylloxera status.
The following map (obtained from the Department of Primary Industries) is illustrative:
It is not entirely clear to me the distinction between a phylloxera “control zone”, and a phylloxera “risk zone” per the map. But it is interesting to note, as highlighted in Phillip White’s article, the proximity between the Western Phylloxera Exclusion Zone and nearby Phylloxera Infested Zones. Relaxing transport controls in this circumstance – even just looking at the map alone – seems somewhat eyebrow raising. Phylloxera entered Victoria in the nineteenth century through the port of Geelong, so that area is I expect not unsuitable for the phylloxera either. Victoria also received a reminder of the tenacity of the insect when the previously phylloxera free Yarra Valley was discovered to have phylloxera in 2006. A fresh outbreak was confirmed by the Yarra Valley Wine Growers Assocation in 2010.
Hopefully, the science and methodology in support of any relaxation is right. The stakes are however high. Even today, one occasionally reads of tastings of pre and post phylloxera Bordeaux wines, with the question hanging: were the pre phylloxera wines, from vines planted on their own roots, better? I hope that this question remains unasked for South Australia’s wines. The phylloxera appears both patient and hardy. It seems it can only be countered through similar means.
I attended earlier this week a natural wines dinner hosted by well known Australian wine writer Max Allen at the genial Montague Hotel in South Melbourne. The food and wines were good, and so worth mentioning, as well as the underlying premise of the evening – a practical debate on the merits of natural wines led by probably Australia’s leading advocate of sustainable wine.
While various more formal definitions might be bandied around (of natural wine, not Max), the general idea seems to be that it is wine made with minimal intervention during all steps of the production process. Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop MW cover the issues in detail in their newly released book, Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking (University of California Wine Press, 2011). In their words:
“What is a natural wine in this context? There is no strict definition, but there are common approaches that most growers who align themselves with the [natural wine movement] take. The chief desire shared by all is to make wines with the fewest possible manipulations or additions. Interestingly, the main emphasis among natural wine producers is on what happens in the winery; while many practice organic or biodynamic viticulture, some do work conventionally. Most commonly, though, a natural approach in the winery is coupled with vineyard mangement that seeks to preserve the life and fertility of the soil, eschewing herbicides and widespread use of agrochemicals. Natural wine production relies almost exclusively on yeasts present on the grape skins and in the winery environment to carry out fermentations. Sulfur dioxide additions are kept to a bare minimum or done away with entirely.”
I think the concept of natural wine does not seem objectionable. In fact it seems rather friendly and furry. I suspect that many people, given the choice, would probably prefer their wine without wood chips, excessive sulfur dioxide, non grape tannins, gobs of tartaric acid, bags of sugar and some of the other more obvious non “natural” additives. This is probably because they wouldn’t customarily, at least without phoning ahead, order these items separately on a restaurant menu. But there is a catch. At least in its drinkable format, wine seldomnly will appear (or survive) without human intervention, and chemically and hedonistically, many of these additions may help rather than hinder a wine. Thus, questions of the naturalness of wine, or otherwise, are somewhat fraught, for wine is not particularly natural – assuming, of course, as these debates often do, that humans are unnatural. Fortunately, this catch seems mostly well understood.
These debates, a bit like organics more generally, have a tendency to morph into a quasi political narrative, with good v evil cartoon like caricatures available for the key players (mass market homogenisation v artisinal anyone?) Me? I admit while I’m attracted to some of the fluffy sentiments that go with the territory of keeping products natural for the reasons just mentioned, ultimately, I am governed by the hegemony of taste. My local organic retailer who seems to prefer to prominently display rotten bananas is perhaps a case in point. Rotten bananas are rotten bananas, organic or not, expensive or not. Yet my guess is that few, including me, are close minded to the idea of embracing, or at least letting exist, wines that are a bit different or out there (perhaps nee faulty). So, I remain open minded, and yes, the splinters on the fence do hurt from time to time.
Being somewhat late, I quaffed an unnoted prosecco on arrival that was really quite good, and somehow managed to miss Adam Foster’s (winemaker of Syrahmi) renowned salami, which was hidden in plain sight. So, that is a highly useful start for the reader. Dinner instead commenced for me with an unexpected entree of chicken wings, Thai fish cakes and, I think, a kind of meat dumpling, offset by three really rather interesting white wines. The first wine was close to wine of the night, being a Domaine Meyer-Fonné Alsace Riesling 2009. I wasn’t entirely clear as to what made this wine “natural”, though I see that it was vinified using natural yeasts. Anyway, that didn’t matter, because the wine was glorious. A pure aroma of talc, citrus and honey was accompanied by long length, high acidity and a touch of petillance. Simply an excellent riesling (12.5% abc, Very Good).
The second wine, the Thierry Puzelat Thésée Touraine2009 (a sauvignon blanc) was a bit cloudy, and had, if I am to be frank, a terrible aroma. In polite company, one might call it “flor yeast” like. Another description is a blend of toothpaste and freshly cut grass. I can still smell it now writing several days later. It was certainly distinctive. The palate was better with high acidity, medium length, menthol, but was too funky for me (13.5% abc, Acceptable). I understand from the importer’s website that this wine was made “totally naturally without any chemical additions”.
The third wine wasthe unusually named Dandy in the Clos, Birds … No Boundaries 2011 from the Hunter Valley, a blend I recall (Google reveals little on this occasion) as being of chardonnay and verdelho and macerated on the skins of gewurtztraminer. Somewhat tricky for a “natural wine”, then. It was also somewhat cloudy. This wine kind of worked, if a touch simple in result. An aroma of musk sticks (the candy ones), flowers and lychees. On the palate, nice length and acidity. A generally pleasant drink that doesn’t overly excite (14% abc, Acceptable to Good). I wonder if it is easy to sell wine with this name.
The reds were accompanied, in my case, by a classic steak frites. Though I have never yet been to a restaurant before where I have been asked whether I would like my steak cooked “medium”, “medium-well” or “well done”. Did the “rare” or “medium-rare” get off at the wrong stop? Oddly enough then, I was surprised to see the steak arrive medium-rare. Accompanied were two flights of three reds. The first was the Pierre Gonon Les Iles Feray Vin de Pays de l’Ardeche 2009 (a syrah). Now, one of the more unusual things I have done was to compete a few years ago in an annual bike ride/race call the “Ardechoise“, which introduced me to the possibility that a hill could be so long that you could get cold descending it. The Ardeche however despite its proximity to the Rhone, is not well known for its wine. Adam Foster suggested that this wine was not eligible for the well known St Joseph appellation due to a technicality. Anyway, the wine had an aroma of plums, spices and confectionary like red fruits, and didn’t taste unlike a St Joseph. The power of suggestion. Its natural attributes were not discussed, though I understand from the importer’s website that it is bottled without filtration. On the palate, short of medium length, good acidity, plums and spice were there. This was a lovely balanced wine but is not a vin de garde (12.5% abv, Good). The second wine was the wine of the night, in my opinion. The Syrahmi Heathcote Shiraz 2009. A lovely aroma of plums intermingled with good French oak. The palate was classy and understated, with plums and very good length (15 to 20 seconds) evident. An excellent balanced wine (13.2%, Very Good). Winemaker Adam Foster described his approach as non-interventionalist, if only on the grounds of (an unlikely story) laziness. The third was the Foster e Rocco Heathcote Sangiovese 2010. This wine had a typical aroma of sour cherries, with good length and firm tannins on the palate. There was however some hardness to the tannins (13.5% abv, Good).
Undaunted, the third and final set of three wines arrived. Clos du Tue Boeuf Cheverny 2010 led the charge. For someone who follows French wine fairly closely, Cheverny was a new appellation for me. It is in the Loire Valley, with the reds predominantly a gamay-pinot noir blend. The light strawberry colour was perhaps the giveaway. The aroma was of stalks, cut grass and a touch of that “flor yeast” character again. Interestingly, Clos du Tue Boeuf is made by Jean-Marie and Thierry Puzelat (see above), so this appears a signature of sorts based on these two wines, be it terroir or the winemaking. I thought it handled better though in this wine. The palate had medium plus acidity, length, and cherry flavours (11.5% abv, Good). The wine was made from grapes that are grown biologically and made naturally without any chemical additions.
Next, quite an interesting Cotes du Rhone, namely the Renaud Le Clos de Grillons La Pointue Cotes du Rhone 2010. A typical juby, rasberry fruit aroma with a touch of deli meats. On the palate, medium plus acidity was accompanied by spices, length, medium tannins and a touch of heat (15% abv, Good). Despite its alcohol level, the wine proved quite popular. And finally, and perhaps poetically, we ended with a disaster.
The Bobar Yarra Valley Syrah 2010 (not shiraz …) It had an aroma of Sicilian olives in brine. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Sicilian olives. I just don’t like my wine to smell (and taste) like it. The palate was the same, except that there was also evidence of re-fermentation in the bottle. I understand that the wine is bottled without filtering or fining, made with natural yeasts, and sees minimal sulfur dioxide additions. This bottle, in my opinion, was faulty, naturally made or not (12.5% abv, Faulty).
Overall, what an interesting set of wines! I feel fortunate to have attended a dinner like this, where clearly quite some thought has gone into the wines. Natural wine or not, the vast majority of these wines tasted extremely good.