Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

Vineyard Cottage Twin Trees 2001 Shiraz

Wednesday, 2 June, 2010

Vineyard Cottage Twin Trees 2001 Shiraz
The wedding we went to last month was in the Hunter Valley, a few hours drive from Sydney. So we drove up on Friday and stayed the Friday night before the wedding and the Saturday night afterwards, before heading home on Sunday. We stayed at Twin Trees Country Cottages, which was nice. The property had a small vineyard on it, and they make their own wine. We were given this bottle as a complimentary when we checked in.

South Australia is better known for shiraz than is the Hunter Valley, plus this was a freebie, so I wasn’t expecting any great things from it. Although the 2001 vintage could be taken as a good sign, because (as far as my still rudimentary knowledge goes) shiraz tends to age well and improve as it gets older, so 9 years old should theoretically be better than a vintage from just 2 or 3 years ago.

I’m also a bit reticent about shiraz as so far I’ve consistently found it to have a distinct “petrochemical” smell, which also translates across into the taste. Strong and a bit like (what I imagine it would be like) drinking kerosene.

This one, however, was pleasant on the nose, without that sharp, pungent smell. I couldn’t pick anything particularly identifiable in the odour, but I noticed it didn’t smell like what I’ve come to think of as “typically shiraz”. And the taste was amazing. It was smooth and light, with a very distinct flavour of fresh raspberries. Totally not what I was expecting. After a bit of development in the mouth, the distinctive shiraz spiciness came through, though not with the power of some others I’ve tried. I was looking for black pepper, but it wasn’t that – it was more like cinnamon and aniseed.

I have no idea if this would be considered a good shiraz or not, but I really liked it, which is a first for me and shiraz.

Cabernet Merlot by Brad

Monday, 17 May, 2010

Cabernet Merlot by Brad
Here’s one of the wines we bought yesterday – we cracked it for dinner with lasagne. This is an inexpensive cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend from “Brad” in Western Australia’s Margaret River region. M. was drawn to it by the admittedly catchy pop art labels.

The back label claims tastes of dark chocolate and plummy blackcurrant with a touch of mint. I couldn’t detect any chocolate notes at all, but I got plum and blackcurrant, and a faint hint of mint in the aroma, though not the flavour.

Red wines are really difficult to wrap my head around. I’m more confident in picking the differences between various whites and identifying some of the flavour components, but the overwhelming taste I get from most reds is still “red wine flavour”. It’s really hard work dragging out something identifiable as the various fruity flavours that the wines claim to have. I can tell this isn’t spicy, like a shiraz, and that it’s probably one of either cabernet or merlot (or a blend) based on comparison to others I’ve had before, but actually identifying the specific flavour notes is really really hard. I fear I’m a bit biased by the labels on the back of the bottles, which usually claim something like blackcurrant or strawberry or whatever, and I just sip the wine and nod, and go, “uh, huh, yeah, I can taste that.” I’m trying not to, but it’s hard knowing how much that’s influencing me. At least with this one I can positively deny being able to taste anything resembling chocolate!

But anyway, the label art is cool.

1944 Vintage Port

Sunday, 16 May, 2010

Seppelt Para Liqueur Port, Vintage 1944
A few weeks ago I went to a wine shop a couple of suburbs away for the first time. It was an Aladdin’s cave of delights, even to my raw and naive wine skills. It was where I bought my first Beaujolais.

The shop is in an old bank building, and the vault is still in there, now filled with rare and expensive wines. One of the things I spotted in there in that first visit was a bottle of 1944 vintage port. At the time I had no idea if it would be any good, and it was $99 for the bottle, so I left it sitting there in the vault. When I got home, I did some searching and found that this particular brand was the premier Australian vintage port, and the 1944 vintage was supposed to be pretty good. People have drunk bottles form this vintage recently and been most impressed. And everywhere else that offered a scant few bottles for sale were asking the order of $150 each.

Today we went back for the first time, mainly to pick and choose a dozen bottles of wine to store away and work our way through slowly. And the 1944 port was still there. So we made it an uneven 13 bottles. I’ve left the dust on it, to retain the character.

The Seppelt family have been producing vintage ports in Australia since the 1880s. They actually used to have a “100-year vintage” program, where they stored part of each declared vintage (they don’t have a port vintage every year), to release them when they were 100 years old. They still do a 100-year tawny port release. Pretty amazing stuff.

Anyway, I now have this astounding bottle of wine, more than 20 years older than me! I’ll probably try to drink it sooner rather than later – no sense missing out! But I’ll wait for a good occasion, and probably share it with some friends. Something to look forward to!

Southern Highland Wines 2008 Botrytis Semillon

Sunday, 9 May, 2010

Southern Highlands Wines 2008 Botrytis Semillon
Another dessert wine. A few weeks ago we went on a day trip down to Berrima, a historic town on the old highway south from Sydney to Canberra and Melbourne. I remember having to drive through it on the way to Canberra many years ago and it was a nice place to stop for a morning tea of scones and cream. It’s since been bypassed and has reverted to a sleepy little village, but retains many charming features and has the usual sort of mix of antiques, crafts, art galleries, restaurants, and cafes to attract travellers and day-trippers.

As we discovered on this recent trip, it also has a wine shop, specialising in wines local to the southern highlands region of New South Wales. I hadn’t even realised that this was a wine growing region! They cover a scattered area ranging from about Bowral through to Canberra. Being highlands, they are high altitude, cool climate wineries, very different from the classic Australian hot and dry climate wine regions. I don’t know much about them, but presumably they grow stuff like sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. I’ll have to look into them a bit more closely over time.

Anyway, being a sucker for dessert wines, I picked up this bottle of Southern Highland Wines 2008 Botrytis Semillon. It’s very interesting to compare it to the other botrytised wines we’ve had recently. My wife really didn’t like this one as much, whereas I didn’t see much difference at first. It has an orangey aroma and taste, leading into the slight bitterness of marmalade. I quite liked it.

But a second glass brought out the differences. The previous couple of sweet wines we’ve drunk had a tingly prickle of fermentation on the tongue, whereas this one has none whatsoever. It’s a beautiful golden yellow colour, and thick and syrupy and sweet. Really not as much of that balancing marmaladey bitterness. And… simple for that. Not as complex and full of interesting flavours as the Tamburlaine Botrytis Chardonnay, nor particularly the McLeish Estate Jessica’s Botrytis Semillon.

I still like it – I have a real thing for these sweet dessert wines. But I like those other two more.

Riddoch 2006 Coonawarra Chardonnay

Friday, 7 May, 2010

Riddoch 2006 Coonawarra Chardonnay
This is the second of two half-bottles we got in a wine club dozen through my work. We had the first at a local seafood restaurant some weeks ago, and we went back there tonight armed with this one. The first time I wasn’t too impressed – Chardonnay just seems too strong for me with its heavy oaky flavours. I tried hard to recognise anything else in this the first time,and failed.

This time, however, some of its subtleties started to make an impression on me. The back label claimed aromas of peaches and melons. Frankly, the first aroma that hit me was that typical oakiness. But after a few sniffs, I detected hints of rockmelon. I couldn’t get peach out of it though.

The flavour develops rapidly in the mouth. The initial taste is melony fruitiness, quickly giving way to that oak flavour, with a touch of smokiness. But then a tang comes out, like what I imagine gooseberries must be like (I’ve never actually had gooseberries, but I think I have a fair idea of what they must be like, given application of the term to other things I’ve tried.)

So I was unimpressed the first time around, but this time I could appreciate some of the different flavours, and that made it more enjoyable. I had it with a meal of soft-shell crab, served with a spicy Asian sauce and some steamed green vegetables. All very nice.

Purple Hen 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

Sunday, 25 April, 2010

Purple Hen 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
I got this bottle as a birthday gift. It’s from Phillip Island – I didn’t even know they made wine there! I like the label. It reminds me of a purple swamphen – in fact looking at it now, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what it’s meant to be.

Anyway, there was no difficulty in picking the dominant aroma with this one. One big sniff and my wife immediately declared “blackcurrant!” It was like taking a big whiff of Ribena. After a bit more analysis and thought, I also came up with cut grass, which my wife gave a thoughtful nod to.

In the mouth, the first thing that hits you is the oak. I’m not a big fan of oak, and this was pretty strong. Then there was the inevitable fruity flavour, with perhaps a hint of smokiness. And bringing up the rear a slight tang of herbs. I’ve had a Cabernet or two before, but this one was beefy and powerful, a bit too strong and “raw” for my taste. At this point I really don’t know exactly how aging changes the character of a wine, but I get the impression that it can take the hard edge off the strong flavours and give a more rounded mellowness to the result. I think that’s what this needed. Not bad… just a bit too strong, particularly the oak.

During the night after drinking this, I had a strange dream, in which I was examining the bottle, and noticed that it had come in a champagne closure (in reality it was a screwcap), and the bottle bore signs of having been previously used. Removing the Purple Hen label revealed that it was an old Bollinger champagne bottle, apparently recycled. I have no idea what that means, except that I have strange dreams sometimes!

Bernard Metrat Chiroubles 2004 Beaujolais

Tuesday, 13 April, 2010

Bernard Metrat Chiroubles 2004 Beaujolais
French wine is, as I’ve learnt, labelled very differently to Australian wine. In particular, the labels don’t tell you what grape varieties are in the wine. What they have instead is a geographic region of origin, with an appellation name indicating a specific sub-style of wine from that region. The reasoning apparently goes that if you know anything about wine, then you know what sort of wine style each region/appellation makes, and don’t need to be told trivial things like what grapes they actually use.

For my first venture into this mysterious world, I decided to try some Beaujolais, from the Beaujolais region of France, naturally. This region is famous for making light, fruity red wines Рso light they are typically served chilled like a white or ros̩ Рout of gamay grapes. This sounded like a good way to expand my experience with different wine styles.

I visited a wine shop a few suburbs away for the first time, since it looked like it would have a better selection and more expert staff than anything local. This indeed turned out to be the case, with the guy behind the counter very enthusiastic and helpful, and as big a selection of Australian and foreign wines as I’ve seen. There were a few choices from Beaujolais, and I selected this mid-priced one pretty much randomly.

When I got home, I discovered that Chiroubles is one of the ten “Cru Beaujolais” designations, meaning a distinctive recognised sub-style of wine. In particular, Chiroubles is noted for being one of the lighter varieties, with aromas of flowers. Something to look for when tasting.

We took this bottle to a restaurant where I selected a pasta dish with chicken and a light sauce. And now here comes the difficult part. The first impression of the wine from sniffing it was that it smelled very similar to the sangria we sometimes get from a nearby Mexican restaurant. Very fruity – it smelled like red wine mixed with fruit. The problem is, try as hard as I might, I could not identify any particular fruit odour. Possibly raspberries, but equally possibly I was just deluding myself into thinking I could identify something. The first sniff is just not enough for me to really nail an aroma in a wine, and subsequent sniffs just dull the smell receptors in the nose, so that it gets more and more infuriatingly elusive.

The taste? Well, a similar story. Light and fruity at first, and enjoyable. Very much like sangria, in fact. Lots of “fruit”, but I couldn’t tell you what sort of fruit. It was pleasant on a quick swallow, but if you left it swirling in your mouth for a while, some tannin started to assert itself. It got stronger and stronger, until it was really quite strong. In fact, just now I’ve realised what it reminded me of – cold rosehip tea, with some extra tannin. Which is nice and refreshing in summer.

The wine was definitely enjoyable on the first glass. But a second glass became… unexciting. I guess that’s the unsophisticated nature of Beaujolais. I can see why it has a reputation as a light “picnic” wine.

Tamburlaine 2008 Noble Chardonnay

Saturday, 3 April, 2010

Tamburlaine 2008 Noble Chardonnay
Tamburlaine is a certified organic winery in the Hunter Valley. On my trip to the Hunter Valley last year, I popped into this winery because they advertised winery tours, and I was interested to see some of the wine-making process. The tour was indeed very interesting, with a guy who was obviously keen on the whole organic side of the process, showing us the water and organic waste recycling processes used in the vineyard. We got to sample some still-fermenting white wine direct form one of the vats – the guide just opened a spigot at the bottom of a huge vat and let the juice pour into our hands. And there was a very cool fully-equipped chemistry lab, where they do all sorts of chemical analysis of the wines.

After the tour, I bought a bottle of this botrytis chardonnay dessert wine from the winery shop.

It’s sweet and jammy, beginning with apricot flavour, with a hint of banana. It develops into an orange taste, with the same bitterness of peel as the Jessica’s botrytis semillon we had last week. I found a good description for it on a wine site: orange marmalade – that mixture of sweet and bitter orange flavours that you get from really good marmalade. This wine also has a bit of that nutty, almost oaky kick that you’d expect from a chardonnay compared to a semillon, so it’s a bit heavier than a botrytis semillon. Very slight prickle of fermentation. Nice, but I think I prefer the semillon style.

Jessica’s Botrytis Semillon 2008, McLeish Estate

Saturday, 27 March, 2010

Wine & Cheese
Last year we went away for a long weekend in the Hunter Valley. It’s one of Australia’s great wine regions, and only a couple of hour’s drive from home. One of the wineries there is McLeish Estate, which is owned by a friend’s uncle. So of course we popped in for a look around and to taste some of the wines. I bought a bottle of shiraz for a gift and a bottle of this – Jessica’s Botrytis Semillon dessert wine.

Sweet dessert wines are one of my favourite things, even before I started this recent discovery of wine. We tasted this one at the end of our trip, after tasting a bunch of other wines – dry and sweet – and I recall being somewhat unimpressed, but perhaps it was just a jaded palate by that stage.

Trying it again now, it’s a delicious syrupy wine, honey sweet with a tang of oranges and a slight prickliness of fermentation. I think I detected a hint of peach in there too. As it swirls in the mouth, a balanced bitterness of orange peel comes out – not a bad thing at all, since it nicely complements the intense beginning sweetness, toning it down. Think the elegant sophistication of dark chocolate as opposed to the simple sweetness of milk chocolate.

We had it with a selection of cheeses, crackers, and sliced pear. Yum!

Ripe, Fruity, with a Hint of Carbon-14

Tuesday, 23 March, 2010

A story combining wine and nuclear physics… How could I not mention it here?

A group from the University of Adelaide have examined the carbon-14 content of Barossa Valley wines of authenticated vintages ranging from 1958 to 1997. They find a significant correlation between the vintage and the carbon-14 count, strong enough to allow them to date an unknown vintage correctly in a blind test to within a year.

The C-14 levels vary over the timespan tested because of relic atmospheric radiation from open-air atomic testing in the post-WWII years. The proportion of C-14 gets absorbed by the grapes and ends up in the wine. This “bomb pulse” dating technique has been known for some time, but it’s the first time it’s been applied to dating wine vintages.

Lest this be considered a trivial application of science, remember that top end vintage wines are big business. There is concern over forgery or adulteration of expensive wines, and this technique can be used on very small samples to either verify a wine’s vintage or detect tampering. Science to the rescue!

A reference to the original research publication can be found here. Apparently it was published in 2004, so I don’t know why the SMH decided to pick this up and run it as a story today.