Monday, August 14, 2006

Make me ripe, and don’t forget the acid

A Saturday visit to Vintage Wines of San Diego saw me tasting my way through their $5 Chardonnay offering. Six wines that contained several surprises, soon to be the subject of a future post. I also selected several wines from their Wine Bar, among them the 2004 Massena The Eleventh Hour Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. Massena is a partnership between Dan Standish and Jaysen Collins that has been making wine since the 2000 vintage. The Eleventh Hour is 100% Shiraz that was initially based on 60 year old vines in Greenock that were saved, at the eleventh hour, from destruction. The 2004 wine also includes fruit from 90 year old vines from the Light Pass region of the Barossa. The wine spends 18 months in French oak and is made by Traditional Barossa winemaking of open fermentation, basket pressing and naturally occurring malolactic fermentation ensures purity of fruit, with open and round tannins.

The Massena wines have received acclaim from numerous critics, but this was my first experience with the wines. Just from the color it was clear that this 2004 shiraz was no shrinking violet. And it was not, in fact it smelled very much like a young port. My notes were Very porty, dried tea leaves, blackberry, blueberry, plum, and every other dark fruit you might think you can smell. [No, this has to be port.] The smell was so rich and overripe I just had to take the glass to some others to smell. The opinion was the same, very portish. An expedition was undertaken to explore the wine shop to learn the alcohol content. Fourteen and half percent! That has got to be low?

But how did the wine taste? At this level of ripeness and probably with a good amount of time in oak (I didn’t know it was 18 months at that time) I was expecting a tanninc, flabby monster. Surprise, surprise! It’s a very deceptive wine. The entry onto the palate is soft and supple but once the wine starts to cross the palate the acidity kicks in and you are in for a rocky, disjointed ride with the firm tannins gamely trying to smooth things down at the finish. They fail. The discussion then turned to where did all this acidity come from? The fruit was obviously picked very ripe, the fermentation done to get as much from that fruit as possible. The acidity had to have been added, and a little too liberally it appeared.

Let’s not jump to conclusions. The wine in the Wine Bar comes from bottles that have been opened the previous day. It was possible that the acidity was due to a poor response of the wine to temperature and air during that time. The only thing to do was to purchase a bottle and drink it at my leisure at home.

As we were going to help Miranda’s mother celebrate her birthday on Sunday, we could also drink The Eleventh Hour. Although the wine was better with our meal of spare ribs, green salad and garlic mashed spuds, this wine is not Aussie Shiraz at its finest hour. My notes after consuming much of the bottle, and really trying to see its good sides, it does smell very appealing, were -

Massena The Eleventh Hour Shiraz Barossa Valley 2004 $37.99USD
Deeply colored, almost purple, with red edge. Very portish, ripe and sweet with plum, blackberry, blueberry and smoky oak. Developing aromas of prunes and dried dates. Soft and supple entry but the wine is disjointed due to sharp biting acidity, especially on the finish. The palate lacks balance, depth and complexity. The fruit is simply overripe and the acidification overdone. 2, 2, 4.0, 8.0 = 16.0/20, 80/100. 14.5% alcohol. Tasted August 14, 2006.

I know that its not unusual, nor illegal to acidify wine in Australia. In fact with the ripening conditions in Australia it can be necessary. However in this case it has been overdone and has not provided this wine with any favors at all. The life span of this wine is likely to be short and I cannot recommend it.

The problem is that I am likely to be in the minority is criticizing this wine. I was in the minority on Sunday as both Miranda and her mother did enjoy the wine. But if you take very small sips of the wine, as both Miranda and her mother do when they drink wine, you don’t notice the acidity that much. And it is very easy to be seduced by the opulence of the rich fruit flavors; I was certainly fascinated until I tasted the wine.

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