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Shiraz the Omnipotent? How about Garnacha the Great?

This week, whilst trawling the tweets of those I follow, I noted that Steve Pannell had considered naming his latest 2014 McLaren Vale Grenache, ‘Garnacha’, the moniker of this grape in its Spanish homeland. Somewhat cryptically Jancis Robinson had replied to this revelation by saying ‘Interesting..’ and whilst I cannot claim to know why Ms Robinson views it as such, I am nonetheless in full agreement; interesting indeed.

Having recently returned from a two-week stay in the Barossa, speaking with the great and good of the region’s wine trade, appreciation of Grenache’s red-fruited charms, along with recognition of its suitability for Barossa’s climate, was palpable. The issue for many of Australia’s vine growers is that received opinion suggests the wine drinking public and too many of its winemakers see Grenache, at best, as ‘poor man’s Pinot.’ This damns Grenache with faint praise and does nothing to challenge the status of Shiraz as omnipotent in the hearts of the average Aussie, a status that for the good of the industry requires a legitimate challenger.

So this brings us back to Jancis’ and her ‘interesting’ comment. My feeling is that calling Grenache, ‘Garnacha’ might be just what the Australians need to help them negotiate an interesting path away from an increasingly unhealthy reliance on Shiraz (particularly in Barossa) with the assistance of this ‘new’ variety. The move towards more perfumed, elegant wines throughout the Garnacha producing world is testament to this variety’s ability to be a stud rather than a workhorse, something I alluded to in an earlier article

Increasingly, over the last two to three years, I have been tasting Garnachas that thrill. Whether they are from Terroir al Limit in Priorat, David and Nadia Sadie in Swartland, or Schwarz Wine Co. in the Barossa, there is no doubt that Garnacha can be arresting; that Garnacha is no poor man’s Pinot; and that Garnacha can be great.

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The Barossa

I love the Barossa. The people are warm, generous, open and thoughtful, the gentle undulations provide a new view of the vineyards at the top of every rise; and I can get a decent Flat White here that Taipei, for all its charms, singularly fails to provide.

The problem with the Barossa is that I meet very few people that manage to say the name without the addition of ‘Shiraz’, almost as if it were a place in its own right. Such a powerful association is a brand manager’s fantasy and whilst it is impossible to argue against Barossa Shiraz, at its robust best, being one of the world’s true icons, this region has so much more to offer. Such powerful associations create a very long and dark shadow from which other wines of the Barossa struggle to escape. There are world-class examples made from Grenache, Cabernet, Mataro (aka Mourvedre) and increasingly Tempranillo and Montepulciano that deserve attention, and let’s not forget the whites, such as the Semillons and Rieslings (particularly in Eden), that can be equally brilliant but are too often depressingly anonymous.

Two days ago I was at ‘Artisans of Barossa’, a restaurant/tasting room where such famous names as Duval, Spinifex, Schwarz, and Sons of Eden share an appealingly airy and polite paean to wine. I was munching my way through a plate of deeply satisfying beef empanadas whilst tasting through all the wines stocked that were not made from Shiraz. The couple beside me were equally clear about what they wanted to try and that did not include the Grenache, Tempranillo, Mataro or Saperavi that I was enjoying. It is not that I am suggesting Shiraz is ill-suited to this region more that I just wish people would treat the Barossa like those other great regions that begin with ‘B’.

When people talk about Bordeaux and Burgundy they say exactly that. They don’t say ‘Ahhh, Bordeaux Cabernet dominated blend’ or ‘Bordeaux Merlot’. The name of the region is enough in itself to describe the expected style of wine, i.e a firm but fresh (and in the best examples), elegant wine that is, well…very Bordeaux-like, whatever the variety(s) used. Barossa should be positioning itself in the same way, selling the style rather than the variety, because the wines betray their Barossan origins as clearly as the wines of Bordeaux do theirs. These are warm, generous and open wines, yet the best require some cogitation, and therefore amply mirror the personality of the people who make them.



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The Concept of Typicity

What is typicity, how do you define the typical nature of something? Blondes are stupid, men are rampant hypochondriacs and women can’t read maps, right? Well, I’m married to a blonde head-teacher (did I mention I’ve got a sore throat?) who is more intelligent than I’ll ever be but she did once take us down the wrong side of a mountain in the Himalayas…

But what about wine, how many wines are truly typical of their place of origin? This is a particularly vexatious topic when one is trying to embed the tell-tale markers of ‘classic’ wines in one’s brain prior to sitting exams. Michael Schuster writes about the defining stylistic traits that separates one region’s wines from another as well as anybody but does that mean he can always divine the subtleties that make Margaux, Margaux and not St. Julien? Margaux is generally more fragrant, more perfumed? Well yes, except of course when it isn’t. What about the vintage, are wines more typical in say Bordeaux in a really good year such as 2010, or are they more representative in a cooler year when you can smell the pungent tang of bell peppers?

This is not just an issue with Old World wines, in fact the scale of many New World ‘appellations’ or viticultural areas is such that to expect any typicity would be foolish. But it is not just geography that has a profound impact on typicity but also that oft forgotten factor; the desire of the wine-maker. This was made abundantly clear when earlier this week I tasted three Chardonnays from Australia. The Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Margaret River are considered ‘cool’ areas of production with Yarra being the coolest of the three and Margaret River the warmest. Yet on tasting, the decisions made in the winery made these wines, however delicious, impossible to place with any surety. Typical!

Yering Station, Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, 2010, 13.5%
Grape: Chardonnay
Winemaking: No or very little malolactic influence, 9 months in barrel.
Note: Leesy with a touch of aniseed adds a little savoury complexity to the nectarine fruit. Bright but not crisp acidity gives the wine requisite line and length.
Price: 1,550NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: 

Shaw & Smith, M3 Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills, 2012, 13%
Grape: Chardonnay
Winemaking: Partial malolactic, 9 months in barrel (but with a greater influence of new oak than the Yering Station)
Note: Pronounced tangerine and nectarine with some toast and yoghurt-like lees influence. Bright and crisp acidity give the wine great definition and the finish is deliciously long. Excellent value.
Price: 1,100NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: 

Clairault, Estate Chardonnay, Margaret River, 2010, 13%
Grape: Chardonnay
Winemaking: No obvious malolactic. 9 months in 40% new oak.
Note: Arguably the best of the three with zesty acidity and a struck match/wet wool character that is distinctly Burgundian. Intense, concentrated and nutty, Margaret River’s answer to Mersault.
Price: 2,500NT
Score: 17/20
Available from:

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Happy Chinese New Year 2015

The final meeting of our tasting group in this year of the Horse, before we welcome in a year of lanolin based loveliness (It’s Sheep time), concerned the merits of New World Pinot Noir. I have already made clear my reticence for much of the world’s Pinot, as too often it tends towards expensive, two-dimensional dullness. In speaking with any ambitious producer of Pinot, the majority recognise the difficulties inherent in crafting something that has the perfume and personality they so desperately seek. Most admit that the reason they cherish Pinot is for its ability to act as a conduit for the soil that it sits in. This is great when the wine is fantastic, leaving the winemaker to talk about the incredible nature of the terroir, but what about when the wine is not so good?

An old cycling adage states that there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing, well unfortunately, if our tasting was proof of anything, the same cannot be said of making wine from Pinot Noir. No amount of fine ‘clothing’ (low yields, whole berry fermentations, ‘hand plunging’, expensive French oak, heavy bottles etc) can make up for the ‘bad weather’ or unsuitable terroir. And the factor most significant for diminishing the suitability of Pinot based terroir? Heat.

Of the four wines tasted all were from ‘cool’ regions with a reputation for producing qualitatively very good and expressive Pinot. Yet there is ‘cool’ and there is…well…cooler. For us, the cooler areas performed the best, retaining more perfume, and achieving a greater level of overall harmony. Please see the reviews below.

If all this talk of Pinot has left you cold and pining for some alternative to share with your flock during the festivities, then why not try a variety that shares some of Pinot’s attributes; Sicily’s Nerello Mascalese: aromatic, elegant and delicious.

Craggy Range, Te Muna Road, Martinborough, 2012, 13%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Winemaking: 10 months in 25% new French Oak
Note: Delicate, cherry stone and wet wool aromas. Supple and silky showing old world restraint with a little new world purity. Full of pleasure now but also promises a degree of improvement over the next 3 years.
Price: Approx $30USD
Score: 16-16.5/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan 

Cristom, Jessie Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2010, 13.5%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Winemaking: 19 months in 61% new French oak
Note: The best wine of the evening and the most ‘old-world’ in style. Complex and engagingly aromatic with bright red fruit combining with truffle, mushroom and floral characters to create a harmonious whole. Sappy and supple, deserving of a nice lamb chop.
Price: 1,850NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Chateau Wine & Spirit 02 25065875 

Marimar Estate, La Masia, Russian River, Sonoma, 2009, 14%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Winemaking: 30% new French Oak
Note: Spicy and full bodied with a herbal element sitting alongside the red and predominantly black fruit on show here. Good, but feels a little hollow in the middle and this causes the alcohol to protrude slightly.
Price: 2,300NT
Score: 15/20
Available from: Finesse 

Moss Wood, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, 2009, 14%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Winemaking: 14 months in 50% new French oak
Note: Along with the Cristom wine from Oregon, this had the finest array of aromatics. Red cherry, tea leaves and pot pourri allied to a satin-like mouth-feel made this very pleasing. Should continue to improve over the next three years.
Price: 1,850NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: 

Tascante, Ghiaia Nera, IGT Sicilia, 2010, 13%
Grape: Nerello Mascalese
Winemaking: Young vines, planted at 600 metres on the slopes of Mount Etna. Matured in large old oak vats.
Note: Smelling of Chinese medicine, cooked red cherries and with no intrusive oak aromas, this wine delivers on purity. Not overly complex, it is nonetheless a good introduction to this elegant Sicilian native.
Price: 1,400NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: Ascent Way 02 2533 3180


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Something for the Weekend 14. 15% Plus: A Barrier to Balance?

A good wine should keep two people entertained and engaged to the bottom of the bottle. More than an inch or two remaining suggests either an abstemious streak on the part of the drinkers or that something is not quite right with the wine.

The sommelier group of which I’m a part meets once a month to discuss and taste on various matters of a vinous nature. Choosing the topic is my responsibility and this month it concerned wines with an alcohol content in excess of 15%. This choice of subject was a response to our warming climate. Increased sugar levels in grapes (a result of greater heat summation) will ultimately result in a preponderance of wines featured in this high alcohol bracket.

Wines with these elevated levels of alcohol can feel unbalanced. Without sufficient fruit concentration, high alcohol gives a sensation of heat, even sweetness that can render the wines hollow. There are of course, exceptions, the perception of the unbalancing effect of alcohol does not follow a linear path so it quite possible for a wine at 13.5% to feel ‘wrong’ whilst a similar example at 15.5% feels ‘right’.

The seven wines selected were tasted blind (by all but the sommelier who chose the wines) and featured examples from France, Italy, Spain, Australia and the USA. The very pleasant, if unexpected conclusion, was that the reason we were tasting these wines was soon forgotten as the alcohol was as it should be; virtually invisible.

Below are the notes for four of the wines, any of which I would be happy to share and finish.

Domaine Giraud, Chateauneuf du Pape Tradition, 2010, 15%
Grape: 60% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre
Wine-making: The Syrah is aged in barriques and the wine is neither filtered or fined.
Note: Super ripe with an almost Port-like chocolate, damson and slightly raisined character. Perfumed, powerful and with good levels of concentration from this excellent vintage. Delicious.
Price: 2,100NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Oriental House

Seghesio, Home Ranch, Zinfandel, Alexander Valley, 2006, 15.7%
Zinfandel with a small portion of Carignane and Petite Sirah
Wine-making: No overt oak evident.
Note: I have not tasted many Zinfandels this old but this was still showing very well. There were some signs of maturity with an oxidative, leathery aroma accompanying the red and black fruit. Even at 15.7% the alcohol was well integrated. Very good.
Available from: A3 Cellar

Domaine Tempier, Cuvee La Tourtine, Bandol, 2001, 15%
70-80% Mourvedre, 10% Grenache, 10% Cinsault
Wine-making: 18-20 months maturation in old oak and bottled without fining or filtration.
Note: This was the only wine out of the seven that I thought tasted a little hot. The mushroom and soy-like aromas indicated that this was no longer young but there remained some balancing sweet and spicy red berry fruit. Good complexity but perhaps slightly cumbersome.
Price: 3,900NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: Oriental House

Mitolo, G.A.M, Shiraz, Mclaren Vale, 2010, 15%
Wine-making: Matured in 70% new French and American Oak for 18 months.
Note: Opaque, tarry and with mouthcoating tannins and great concentration of black fruit, this was quintessential South Australian Shiraz. The power on display was balanced by some sweet and sour acidity and very good length; intense but not wearing.
Price: 2,100NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from:  Wooloomooloo

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Bottles & Gifts Part 2

Dry Reds

Joseph Phelps, Insignia (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Napa Valley, USA, 2010. (I really like this vintage of Insignia) 19/20
Rich, fine and engaging. Insignia at its majestic best.

Catena Alta, Historic Rows Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2009. 18.5/20
This was just about perfect when opened a couple of months ago. Vibrant, pure yet profound.

Ridge, Lytton Springs (predominantly Zinfandel), Sonoma County, USA, 2009. 18/20
Zinfandel that is more than a one trick pony.

Pontet Canet, Pauillac (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Bordeaux, France, 2011. 18/20
I would happily drink this now. Forget the 2009s and 10’s and focus on the more ‘classic’ vintages of the last ten years (04, 06, 08, 11) to accompany the big bird.

Poderi Aldo Conterno, Barolo (Nebbiolo), Piedmont, Italy, 2004 (drinking very well now). 18/20

Jamet, Cote Rotie (Syrah), Northern Rhone, France, 2008. 17/20
I wish I could drink this kind of wine everyday, fresh, delicate and so very elegant.

La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904 (predominantly Tempranillo), Rioja, Spain, 1998. 18/20
This or the 2001 make for perfect drinking now.

Yarra Yering, Dry Red Number 1 (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Yarra Valley, Australia. 18.5/20
The only Australian on the list this year, speaks more of the choice available in Taiwan than the quality coming from Oz.

Duemani, CiFRA (Cabernet Franc), Tuscany, Italy, 2011. 17/20
Like the Jamet, this is very much my kind of wine. Juicy, grippy but charming.

Groot Constantia, Gouverneur’s Reserve (predominantly Cabernet Franc), Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2011. 18/20
South Africa gives you some fruit that has clearly benefited from some warmth but also tannins that remind you of Europe, a winning combination.

Logodaj, Melnik 55 (100% Melnik). Struma Valley, Bulgaria, 2012. 17/20
This really opened my eyes to Bulgaria, I would be more than happy to drink this with my goose.

Chateau de la Font du Loup, Chateauneuf du Pape (predominantly Grenache), Southern Rhone, France, 2012. 18/20
This provides what I want from CNdP, pretty fruit, perfume but with some underlying grunt. Lovely.

Mas Amiel, A Alt 433M (predominantly Grenache), Maury Sec, Roussillon, France. 17/20
Wild, untamed and very good.

Marquis d’Angerville, 1er Cru les Champans, Volnay (Pinot Noir), Burgundy, France, 2008. 18/20
A lesson in what Volnay is meant to be about, delicacy, elegance and that ethereal Pinot charm.

Pieve Santa Restituta, Renina, Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese),
Tuscany, Italy, 2007 (delicious vintage from here). 18.5/20
Powerful but beautifully balanced, I loved this.

Clos Mogador (predominantly Garnacha and Carinena), Priorat, Spain, 2008. 18.5/20
Great wine from great people often tastes…well, great.

Chateau Pichon Baron, Pauillac (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Bordeaux, France, 2008. 17.5/20
I really like the 2008 vintage, sleek and ripe enough and with grainy tannins that help this wine persist on the palate.

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Bottles for your Boy & Gifts for your Girl

If someone asks me what I want for Christmas I hesitate to say wine because I know that people fear getting it ‘wrong’. The problem is that the amateur cannot look at a label and derive much needed information about the quality in the bottle. If, on the other hand, I want to buy my beloved a handbag, whether I know the relative merits of Fendi vs. Fiorelli is immaterial, my judgement on the suitability of the aesthetic is alone, the deciding factor (not that I am pretending that this purchasing decision is free of danger).

What follows therefore is a brief list of some of the wines that I have particularly enjoyed over the last year. I have not listed the wines by price (as typing the name of each into Google will give you a more accurate idea of their cost in your local market) and if you would like more detailed information, many have been reviewed on Sniff in the last few months. It is far from exhaustive and the criteria for appearing on this list was less about the score (I have left out many with similar ratings) and more about those wines that have forced me to engage with them, either as a result of their sheer gustatory pleasure or because of some beguiling complexity. These are, therefore, wines that should make any wine-lover happy (be it your Mum, manager or man-friend) and if you are lucky they may even share their gift with you, ensuring a happy Christmas for all concerned.

One last point – don’t fret too much about the vintage, I state if the vintage is hugely influential to the choice.

Dry Whites

Ken Forrester, The FMC (100% Chenin Blanc) Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2010. 17.5/20
Rich and intense but with a seam of supporting acidity. Chenin at its South African best.

Hans Herzog, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ‘Sur lie’, New Zealand, 2009. 17/20
Quince, pineapple, marzipan and nettle form just part of this complex, very un-Marlborough like, Sauvignon.

Millton, Riverpoint Viognier, Gisborne, New Zealand, 2011. 17.5/20
Warm peach, lemon oil and honey. Vibrant for Viognier and with great length.

Henri Bourgeois, La Bourgeoise, Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc), Loire France, 2010. 18.5/20
My favourite Sauvignon of the year, as elegant as it gets.

Eric Morgat, Cuvee l’Enclos, Savennieres (Chenin Blanc), Loire, France, 2009. 18/20
Weighty but with that special mineral and salty line running through it which separates the great from the good.

Von Buhl, Forster Ungeheuer GG (‘Grosses Gewachs’ meaning a dry wine produced from the best vineyards), Riesling trocken, Pfalz, Germany, 2011. 18/20
Full of tension and vitality.

Cantina Terlan, Winkl, Sauvignon Blanc, Alto Adige/Sudtirol, Italy, 2013. 17.5/20
The best producers of Italian Sauvignon?

Nik Weis, St. Urbans Hof, Laurentiuslay GG, Riesling trocken, Mosel, Germany, 2012 (I love this vintage here). 19/20
Stunning, the most arresting white I tried this year.

Domaine Labet, Fleur de Savagnin ‘en Chalasse’, (100% Savagnin), Jura, France, 2012. 17.5/20
No need to chill this as the driving acidity and persistence make this feel like it is already chilled. Brilliant.

Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon, Clos du Four, (100% Chardonnay) Macon-Milly-Lamartine, Burgundy, France, 2011. (I love this vintage here) 18/20
Delicious, approachable and most importantly, highly affordable Burgundy.

Domaine Ramonet, 1er cru ‘les Caillerets’, Chassagne Montrachet, Burgundy, France, 2008. 18/20
Delicious and approachable but you’ll pay a bit more for this classic than for the Macon.

Jean Bourdy, Chateau Chalon, (100% Savagnin), Jura, France, 2005. 19/20
Flor influenced brilliance. Gob-smackingly fine with an intensity, complexity and persistence rarely found in any other white wine. Outstanding.


Sweet & Sparkling

Rolly Gassmann, Rotleibel de Rorschwihr, Pinot Gris, Alsace, France, 2008. 18/20
A little chubby but only in the most alluring way, I could drink a glass of this every day.

Grahams, The Stone Terraces, Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal, 2011, (special vintage). 19/20
From the spectacular 2011 vintage, this is Graham’s newest addition to their line-up.

Dow’s, Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal, 1994. 18/20
Perfect drinking now.

Chateau Pajzos, Tokaji Essencia, Hungary, 1999. 19.5/20
I had tears in my eyes on tasting this. The most mesmeric wine I tasted this year.

Bruno Paillard, NPU 1999, Champagne, France. 18.5/20
Very complex sparkler that deserves your full attention. Don’t waste this on a celebration, drink with your nearest and dearest.

Camel Valley, Pinot Noir Rose Brut, Cornwall, England, 2012. 17/20
Panettone anyone?

Charles Heidsieck, Brut Reserve NV, Champagne, France. 18/20
Surely the best value Champagne on the market.

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Mclaren Vale, the importance of soil and an afternoon with Chester

Chester d’Arenberg preaches minimalistic interventions in both vineyard and winery…but not apparently when it comes to the number of wines produced, currently standing at a mind-boggling sixty four.

This is a result of his somewhat ‘old-world’ view of things. Soil appears to be the most important factor to Chester, something with which many a Frenchman and woman would heartily concur. This results in a melange of wines that makes Chester and d’Arenberg somewhat of an oddity yet his mildly eccentric nature seems untroubled by how others may view him. Having never tried all sixty-four wines it is impossible for me to attest to a definitive house style, however of the wines I have tasted it is restraint both in fruit concentration, oak and power that makes the reds moreish rather than wearing. Mclaren Vale is traditionally a home of full-throttle, ripe, chocolatey Shiraz that has a sweetness enhanced by maturation in American oak with its overt vanilla and coconut character. Chester’s wines are more meaty, more savoury and made with less emphasis on extraction and new oak influence. Whether this is what you want from Mclaren Vale is up to you, however Chester’s wines should sit more comfortably with your evening meal than most.

For all of the notoriety that d’Arenberg has achieved for its red wines it was the two whites on the tasting table that I appreciated most. The Dry Dam Riesling was much less ‘bony’ than examples often are from Clare Valley further north. This is partly due to the dollop of sugar left in the wine to help balance the acidity and results in either the perfect accompaniment to a summer’s day or pre-prandial aperitif. The Money Spider was also delicious exhibiting Roussanne’s touch of honey, quince and apricot character. Whenever I have Roussanne like this I always wonder why people bother with the blowsier Viognier. Roussanne is what Viognier wants to be when it grows up.

Below are my favourites from the seven wines tried:

The Dry Dam Riesling, Mclaren Vale, 2013, (old vine and low yields), 10.6%
Wine-making: Stainless steel. Very high acidity balanced with 13g/l of residual sugar. Still tastes dry/off dry.
Note: Almost water white and with an intense aroma of lime sherbert and fresh tennis balls. Really delicious with the citrus fruit feeling ripe rather than sweet due to the small amount of residual sugar remaining in the wine. Fresh, vibrant and persistent.
Price: 840NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Creation Wine & Spirit Inc.   02-97918870

The Money Spider Roussanne, Mclaren Vale, 2012, 13%
Wine-making: Stainless Steel fermentation and maturation.
Note: Delicate floral nose accompanied by a little honey, quince and apricot. Moderate-full bodied with enough acidity to support the rich, mouth-filling palate. Harmonious.
Price: 950NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Creation Wine & Spirit Inc.   02-97918870

The Dead Arm Shiraz 2006, Mclaren Vale, 14.5%
Wine-making: 20 months in mixed oak, some French some American with a portion being new.
Note: Beginning to show some signs of maturity, this complex Shiraz has aromas and flavours that encompass spice, meat, fennel, and an earthiness supported by ripe, full and supple tannins. No real overt oak flavour and the mix of sweet and savoury fruit provides a well balanced wine that clearly has the ability to age for another decade. Great length on the finish. Rather fine.
Price: (none left of the 2006) but the 2009 is 2,400
Score: 18/20
Available from: Creation Wine & Spirit Inc.   02-97918870

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The Bordeaux Blend in the New World

There is a reason why Bordeaux is so revered and much of the secret lies in the blend of grapes used. Cabernet Sauvignon may be the grape variety most famously associated and exported from its home on the left bank of the Gironde but Cabernet without the help of its friends (Merlot, Cabernet Franc etc) can feel hollow, edgy and overly herbaceous. Whilst at the Hong Kong wine fair last week I decided to avoid Bordeaux and taste my way through some examples from regions in the new world where Bordeaux blends thrive. It came as no surprise that many of the best were from the ‘cooler’ parts of their respective countries of origin. These wines offered a richness of fruit only found in Bordeaux in the warmest of years but the best were balanced by restraint, elegance, freshness and a textural sophistication that marked these out as fine by anybody’s standard. Cabernet Sauvignon frequently took the lead in these wines but as can be seen below the likes of Cabernet Franc or Merlot provided more than ample support.

When it comes to straight Cabernet Sauvignon I usually prefer wines from a warmer climate such as Napa Valley. This helps plump up the middle of the wine, softening some of the ‘square-ness’ from which this variety can suffer. Yarran, using fruit from Heathcote, produce wines with this added generosity.

So if there is a lesson in any of this it is not to ignore blends in the pursuit of a single varietal; skilful blending adds complexity. Don’t assume that Bordeaux is the only region capable of producing fine quality blended wine featuring the varieties discussed. And don’t dismiss varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from warmer, more Mediterranean climates. Below are two wines that express the sophistication and age-ability possible outside of Bordeaux and from Yarran, a Cabernet Sauvignon that is both plush and a pleasure to drink now.

Yarra Yering, Dry Red Number 1, Yarra Valley, 2008, 13.5%
66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: 100% new oak
Note: Delicate and restrained nose of blackberry, smoke and some red fruit. A touch balsamic, spicy but not overly and there is a brightness on the palate that makes this both persistent and harmonious. This reminded me less of Bordeaux and more of top quality, classic Rioja from the likes of Rioja alta. Truly fine stuff. Anyone who thinks that Australia is all about full-bodied fruit bombs needs to try this.
Price: 2005 is 2970NT in Taiwan. Globally approx. $80USD
Score: 18.5/20, Magnificent
Available from: have the 2005 for 2970NT

Yarran Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Heathcote, 2013, 14.2%
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: Some French oak
Note: Soft, spicy with chocolate and mocha, sweet licorice and dark fruit. Very nicely judged oak (much better than the 2012) and with a persistent finish. Brilliant value.
Price: In Australia this is priced at approx. $12USD
Score: 16/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan but should be.

Groot Constantia, Gouverners Reserve, Constantia, 2011, 14%
54% Cabernet Franc, 36% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: Matured for 18 months in predominantly new French oak
Note: Hailing from Constantia means that this is about as cool a climate as one can experience in South Africa. This provides a wine that is fresh and vibrant but also deep and satisfying. On the nose this could be from Bordeaux with pencil shavings, coffee grounds and both sweet and savoury fruit. Generous in body and again excellent persistence, a bargain that will reward cellaring for another ten years.
Price: Globally available at approximately $40USD
Score: 18/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan but should be.

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