Sunday, February 01, 2009

Drinking with SHIRAZ on Saturday - New Release Aussies

Held on Saturday Jan 17th at Vintage Wines in San Diego this tasting is one of several during the year to feature Australian wines. The moniker new releases should be taken with some caution as some of the wines might have arrived on the shelves the day after the previous “New Release Aussie” tasting. Still this is always an interesting tasting for me because I have a pretty intimate knowledge of the Aussie wines that are available at Vintage. I might not have tasted them all but I’ve looked at the labels so often that the wines have etched themselves into my subconscious. Those sorts of wine memories are not the best to recall when tasting wine but they can be a great foundation for some hilarious mistakes in identifying what might be in the glass.

This Saturday was to be no exception, although the memory problem was more a failure of remembering a wine that had been tasted rather than one that had not. In such cases you have to confess your folly and hope that some considerate soul will offer sympathy and a tale, or two, of their own foibles when confronted with more wines than commonsense.

First Wine
Dense cherry red with red edge with the faintest orange tinge. Notes of plum, blueberry, and spicy oak. Full bodied with a soft and supple entry opening to juicy acidity. A nicely flavored wine with a lengthy finish.
Score: 2, 2, 3.8, 9.8=17.6/20, 88/100.
Drink: Now to 2014
Wine: 2006 Glaetzer “Wallace” Red Blend, Barossa Valley, South Australia
Closure: Screwcap
Alcohol: 14.5% abv
Price: $19.99USD

Second Wine
Dense, dark cherry red with red edge. Aromas dominated by spicy oak, blueberry, plum with the alcohol poking its way in as well. In the mouth full bodied with some serious oak and alcohol. The flavors carry well but its not a wine to get excited about.
Score: 2, 2, 3.6, 9.5=17.3/20, 86/100.
Drink: Now to 2012
Wine: 2007 R Winery “Strong Arms” Shiraz, South Australia
Closure: Screwcap
Alcohol: 15% abv
Price: $8.99USD

Third Wine
Dense, dark cherry red with red edge. A big, spicy wine with nutmeg over violets and smoky oak. Unusual for an Aussie red. Full bodied and the oak is dominant but still nicely integrated with the exuberant flavors that all mesh together to give excellent length to the finish. Marred only by a little sour note at the end.
Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 9.6=17.5/20, 87/100
Drink: Now to 2016
Wine: 2007 Thorn-Clark “Shotfire Ridge” Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia
Closure: Screwcap
Alcohol: 14% abv
Price: $14.99USD

Fourth Wine
Dense cherry red with red edge. A little closed. Blue- and blackberry with well integrated oak. Full bodied and the first wine to show some expressive tannins but its all dominated by oak notes. Still its an attractive wine and so far the most appealing to quaff.
Score: 2, 2, 4.0, 9.8=17.8/20, 89/100
Drink: Now to 2013
Wine: 2007 R Winery “Luchador” Shiraz, South Australia
Closure: Screwcap
Alcohol: 14.5% abv
Price: $14.99USD

Fifth Wine
Dark, dense cherry red with a slight orange/brown tinge to the red edge. Attractive and complex spicy nose with lead pencil case and blue and mulberry notes. Much nicer wine, much better structure and balance. Needs some time as the acidity does poke out a bit but it has possibilities.
Score: 2, 2, 4.2, 10.1=18.3/20, 92/100
Drink: 2011-2018
Wine: 2006 Slipstream “Fastback” Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.4% abv
Price: $25.99

Sixth Wine
Dense, dark cherry red with red edge. Smoky oak, roasted meats with hints of nutmeg and mocha. Yep this zings. A very well put together wine with excellent mouthfeel and excellent length. But there is a lurking suspicion that the alcohol in this isn’t low!
Score: 2, 2, 4.3, 10.3=18.6/20, 93/100
Drink: Now-2018
Wine: 2006 R Winery “First Class” Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia
Closure: Screwcap
Alcohol: 15.5% abv
Price: $23.99USD

So what is the problem here? It all seems like a pretty typical tasting of the style of Aussie Shiraz that makes its way to the USA; fruity, oaky wines that do have palate appeal but are not true expressions of Aussie Shiraz. The answer is that I have tasted the 2006 R Winery “First Class” Shiraz before and was not all that impressed. The previous tasting was with a single bottle drunk during dinner. My notes then were “Deep, dense cherry red with red edge; got that right! Smoky oak, black pepper, black- and mulberry, and mocha. Rich tending to over ripe but not stewed. Full bodied with fine tannins and juicy acidity. Lacks a mid palate but has good flavor carry and length. Drink: Now to 2012. Score: 2, 2, 3.8, 9.8=17.6/20, 88/100.” Tasted 12/29/2008.

A five point spread on two separate occasions, not as bad as some wine judges, but it’s the differences in the description of how the wine felt in my mouth that are disturbing. As I’ve noted before I try to do the Saturday tasting blind and I can honestly say that I had no idea what this wine was. It was the last wine and so just on experience I know that its likely to be bigger, especially in alcohol, than the others in the flight. But how could I be so effusive over the wine in mixed company when by itself it was so average. It may well be that it’s the company in which it was tasted that has had the biggest influence. The higher alcohol would add weight to the wine and give a rounder, fuller feel in the mouth. I’m a firm believer in tasting wines together rather than as individuals and this does show that the “First Class” does stand up well in company. Its also probably a good example of why this style of wine does so well when reviewers taste multiple wines at one sitting. Now that I have this view of the wine what would happen if it was tasted again by itself? I’m glad you asked.

Deep, dense cherry red with red edge; another perfect repeat. Predominant oak notes over mulberry, blackberry and a little smoke. Full bodied with upfront acidity, excellent flavor carry with tannins firming up on a finish that is just a little too hot. Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 9.6=17.5/20, 87/100. Tasted 1/21/2009.

So there you have it. The 2006 R Winery “First Class” Shiraz, a wine that stands out in company. In fact it really needs company. Don’t drink this alone!

From the Wine Bar
As usual the Wine Bar was replete with offering from all over the wine world. I tasted the wines in bold and all were excellent to outstanding and I’m going to talk about all six!

White: 2007 Alban Viognier, Central Coast, California, 2007 Mount Eden Chardonnay, Wolff Vineyard, California, 2006 Stag's Leap Chardonnay, "Karia", Napa, California, 2005 Puligny-Montrachet les Pucelles, Domaine Jomain, Burgundy, France, 2005 Chassagne-Montrachet le Cailleret, Vincent Girardin, Burgundy, France, 2004 Nittnaus Gruner Veltliner Eiswein, Austria.

Red: 2006 Soter Pinot Noir, North Valley, Oregon, 2006 Chambolle-Musigny AC, Roumier, Burgundy, France, 2003 Gattinara, Travaglini, Italy, 2005 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, California, 2005 Ch. Petit-Village, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France, 2005 Dona Paula Malbec, Seleccion de Bodega, Argentina.

White Burgundy
2005 Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles, Domaine Jomain, Burgundy, France. $55.99USD
Light straw with clear edge. Matchstick, a little beeswax and some citrus. Very typical. Very attractive with a light, crisp freshness that fans out carrying the flavors across the palate to a lengthy finish. The good stuff. Score: 2, 2, 4.2, 10.2=18.4/20, 92/100.

2005 Chassagne-Montrachet Le Cailleret, Vincent Girardin, Burgundy, France. $55.99USD
More of an oxidized note with apricot, cold tea and marmalade. Medium weight with a more luscious texture than the Puligny-Montrachet. Has excellent flavor carry, crisp acidity and great structure coupled with excellent length. A really nice wine. Score: 2, 2, 3.8, 10.3=18.1/20, 91/100.

The two appellations that are the origin of these two white Burgundy wines abut one another with Puligny-Montrachet being more northerly. Both lie in the Côte de Beaune. The Puligny-Montrachet wines are exclusively white and are described as more elegant, nervy wines than those of their southern neighbor. That is evident in the fatter style of the Girardin. Both the Les Pucelles and the Le Cailleret are Premier Cru vineyards and while they cost quite a few dollars they are much more refreshing to drink than many Napa Valley Chardonnays that cost almost as much. There will be a chance to make that comparison in March when Vintage Wines will do back-to-back Saturday tastings of White Burgundy and (California) Chardonnays in March.

Pinot Noir
2006 Soter Pinot Noir, North Valley, Oregon, USA. $31.99USD
Cherry red with pink edge. Aromas in the bramble/earthy spectrum over a mélange of strawberry and cherry. Its attractive, and even has varietal character. Light-medium in weight with expressive and yet delicate flavors on the palate and an excellent, supple mouthfeel. A nice little wine, still young, might grow into something you would want to spend some time with. Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 10.2=18.1/20, 90/100.

2006 Chambolle-Musigny AC, Roumier, Burgundy, France. $69.99USD
Light cherry red with pink edge. Subtle and seductive with violets, and geraniums, opening to licorice/anise. A little firmer and more aggressive on the palate than the Soter but all it needs it some time to soften. Has great length to the finish. Score: 2, 2, 4.1, 10.2=18.3/20, 92/100.

Chambolle-Musigny is one of the Cote-De-Nuits appellations and is devoted to red wine. It lies just south of Morey-St. Denis and is reputed to produce smooth, elegant wines. This commune level wine is not cheap but its quality is obvious. Still the Soter from Oregon stood up well against it. Like many New World pinot noir the Soter achieves its delicacy by being lighter in weight than wines from Burgundy which, in my experience, achieve elegance and depth while still being a solid mouthful of wine, at least when young.

Cabernet/Merlot Blends
2005 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, California, USA. $29.99USD
Deep dense cherry red with red/mahogany tinge to the edge. Slightly all over the place with banana peel, cassis, dusty oak and a little gluey note. Full bodied and very expressive with nice carry of flavors. An attractive, well balanced Cabernet although a little simple in style. Score: 2, 2, 3.7, 10.0=17.7/20, 88/100.

2005 Chateau Petit-Village, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France. $54.99USD
Deep dense cherry red with a red/mahogany tinge to the edge. More spicy notes, cinnamon dusty well integrated oak, and a bottom note of violets. A little lighter in weight that the Whitehall Lane but with better structure and carry of flavors onto the palate. Its also a more drink now style but it has decades ahead of it. Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 10.2=18.1/20, 91/100.

Chateau Petit-Village is an unclassified vineyard in the Pomerol region of Bordeaux; wines from the Pomerol region are not classified. Chateau Petit-Village comprises an 11 hectare vineyard made up of 75%Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc. In contrast the Whitehall Lane Cabernet, while also a blend, is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, and 3% Malbec. So here is a comparison between a Cabernet dominant wine versus one made mostly with Merlot, and of course from different parts of the world. The Whitehall Lane is an entry level wine and their Reserve label might have provided a better comparison but it is possible to see the Cabernet in the wine with cassis and the weight of the wine. In contrast the Ch. Petit-Village is a little lighter and softer in the mouth with less evidence of Cabernet character, and is more drinkable now. And is worth twice the price of the Whitehall Lane as it is definitely a better wine and more likely to reward long term cellaring.

Image © Shane White

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