Sunday, December 25, 2011

Grosset 2009 Picadilly Chardonnay

We're not too big on the actual Christmas here in the Little House of Concrete, since being non-believers takes out the Christmas observances and a lack of kids in the vicinity tends to remove Santa Claus from the equstion, but the prospect of an effective two- to four-day long weekend means we tend to stock up, cook up big on the actual day and sup off leftovers until the supermarkets and butchers are open again.

And drink well; Under the circumstances you might as well, at least from where I'm sitting, drink well.

This year's Chrissie lunch was centred around what we could put through the LHoC oven while the air conditioner purred away im the background.

Moreton bay bugs with a bechamel sauce, my favourite roast chicken and a heaping helping of risotto was washed down with a bottle of bubbles I'm not inclined to review because we're not that big on bubbles, and, in any case, it paled beside the sheer magnificence of

Grosset 2009 Picadilly Chardonnay (5* $46)  Clear, almost shimmering pale straw in the glass that drew the briefest of inspections as the vessel made its way to the nose. From the first whiff it was obvious we were in for something special. There's an incisiveness on the nose and across the palate that's simultaneously luscious and austere, with competing elements perfectly balanced. Give it time to open up and there's a buttery richness that wasn't immediately obvious among the citrus and peach notes in the first waves through the nose and across the palate. Textured, focussed, perfectly integrated and a joy to drink. Between this, the SBS, the Springvale and the Polish Hill there's a bit too much to fit into a single box. Looks like we'l be up for the Off-Dry Riesling, Pinot Noir and Gaia next time around...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cullen 2009 Mangan

The invitation that brought Warbo and the Dragon Lady to the LHoC last night was, I must admit, a calculated move to kick off what's intended to be a serious assault on the quality end of the stock on hand in these parts over the Festive Season.

We've got 'em here, and as far as Hughesy's concerned, it's a matter of finding a suitable excuse to drink 'em.

One of the first things I did when we started out on the retirement bit was to start keeping a record of the wine expenditure, since finances weren't exactly tight, but they weren't going to allow massive extravagance either.

I like my bottle of wine at night, don't mind a glass with lunch, want something interesting to sip and was, at the time, working on a $10/bottle budget.

The spreadsheet started with a selection from the Tahbilk Everyday Drinking Range back in March 2007, and now, more than four and a half years later, with the most recent entry $180 for a six pack of Hay Shed Hill 2011 Block 1 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, the long term average per bottle is still under $11.50 ($11.33 if you want to be pernickety).

We end up, in other words, with plenty of budget priced selections in these parts, but we've got a good range of bottles further up the price range, and we need excuses to open same.

Visitors are one, the Festive Season is a second, and there'll be a flurry of blog activity in these parts as Hughesy mounts a valiant attempt to move boxes off the office floor. Along the way there'll be a few wines like this little beauty which, trust me, I would luurve to be able to afford as an everyday drinking prospect.

The 2009, sampled at the winery a bit over a year ago, left me speechless, and that was before I got to the Diana Madeline.

Mangan for everyday drinking, a case of Diana Madeline for special occasions, and unlimited temperature controlled storage…

Well, a man's allowed to dream, isn't he?

Cullen 2009 Mangan (5/5 $45) Malbec (63% for fruit and colour), Petit Verdot (27% for the length and texture) and Merlot (10% for the structure) blend that, according to Mr Halliday, approximates a pre-phylloxera Bordeaux. Deep red in the glass, berries and oak across the sinuses and a palate that runs on and on. There's a characteristic subtlety that runs through the Cullen wines that would have you (or at least me) scrabbling for superlatives if you weren't so busy drinking. A rich, savoury wine that demands far more restraint that Hughesy can deliver. Definite evaporation problem here…

Cullen 2010 Mangan Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Semillon

When it comes down to tin tacks, most of us who drink would have to admit that we do so, at least partially, for the effect. True, there are any number of other considerations that impinge on the matter, including what some might consider minor details like taste and food matching, but when you scrutinise the matter with an intense and totally honest scrute, the desired effect is always lurking in the background.

Reflecting on what we'd sampled when Warbo and the Dragon Lady landed on the Friday night pizza doorstep here at The Little House of Concrete had me casting the mind back to a chance liquor barn encounter with an ex-student who rejoiced in the nickname of Jimbob.

At the I was browsing through the quality end of the operation rather than the cask and el cheapo section and a glance at the pricing had Jimbob suggesting that the price point was a matter of wankery since it was all about getting you off.

That was close to twenty years ago, but the encounter still sticks in my mind for some reason.

Yes, effect is a significant part of the picture, but it's not the only part. Suffice it to say, what we're looking at here aren't aimed at the Jimbob fraternity.

AS far as I'm concerned, however, I want something interesting to drink, and I want variety, which is why we've got a swag of boxes on the floor of the office to go with the contents of the wine rack, the stash in the wine fridge and the selection in chilled storage in the bar fridge.

And if you're after something interesting to sample, you're probably after some details, which explains the statistical and other information cribbed from Mr Halliday and the winery website, since I'm interested in, for example, what makes this one different from the almost identical blend produced by the same producer from the Cullen Vineyard.

Cullen 2010 Mangan Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Semillon (5* $35) 62% Sauvignon Blanc and 38% Semillon from the gravelly (c.f. the loamy Cullen) Mangan vineyard with some French oak (13%) on the SB side. Clear pale straw, with a subtlety through the nose that needed a little time to open up, revealing understated grass and citrus notes and a blend of citrus and minerality on the palate that was poised, balanced and textured to run out to a rounded finish. Subtle and quite superb…

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pfeiffer 2010 Winemakers Selection Tempranillo

Recent samplings have confirmed Tempranillo as a variety to watch and sighting a Winemaker's Selection number in the Spring C2 pack from Pfeiffers had Hughesy licking his lips in anticipation. Took me a while to get to it, since we're leaning towards the curries and pasta dishes rather that the grills and roasts at the moment, but I was determined to give it a try in the near future rather than setting it aside and waiting for winter.

Pfeiffer 2010 Winemakers Selection Tempranillo (4.5* $n/a) Bright reddish-purple in the glass, savoury berries, cherries, spice and hints of leather nose on the nose and firm tannins in a finish that's balanced and runs out nicely. One to watch for next time around and line up with grilled red meat, roasts or hearty casseroles in the notional winter, though it worked well enough on a Bowen summer air-conditioned Saturday night.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Jack Mattinson's 2009 Deluxe Dry Red Shiraz Cabernet

Nostalgia, as someone or other remarked, is not what it used to be, possibly because for Gen X and Y the landscape they can look back to isn't all that different to the one they inhabit.

When you're a bit older than that, however, you can definitely look back to a different time though your mileage may vary when you do so.

Reading the back panel here it's obvious Campbell Mattison has special memories associated with his paternal grandfather. He's lucky. Looking back to my own grandparents brings back memories of sweltering Christmas holidays in Rockhampton and hotels in Redbank where the draconian vagaries of the Queensland licencing laws meant you walked on eggshells through Christmas Day in case your presence on the premises might result in allegations of sly grogging.

Your reactions to the past, in other words, are largely shaped by what you're looking back to.

Here's a rather pleasant exercise in retrospectivity that would have been value at RRP but came in as remarkable value at $10 from the Fo...

And Deluxe. How long is it since I've seen anything described as Deluxe?

Jack Mattinson's 2009 Deluxe Dry Red Shiraz Cabernet (4.5* $18) Spicy berries and blackcurrants on the nose, attractive purple red in the glass and very easy across the palate this medium-bodied easy drinking style was rated 92 by Mr Halliday and when you savour the balance across the palate you can see why. While the fine tannins and chocolatey texture past the tonsils suggest autumn and winter somewhere around the high country on the NSW-Victoria border, stocks will definitely be gone before we hit the notional winter in these parts.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Deep Woods 2010 Jack's Patch Sauvignon Blanc

When it comes to phone calls asking acquaintances if they want to share a case of wine they're usually emanating from the LHoC rather than heading in the opposite direction.

We were almost out the door on the way to collect my brother from Whitsunday Coast Airport when the phone rang and Jimbo put the proposition, and the nature of the surrounding circumstances possibly accounts for the fact that I thought we were talking Cabernet or Cab Merlot rather than Sauvignon Blanc.

Subsequent research from Jimbo suggests this is the Deep Woods export label and the wine, under its official guise, took out the trophy for Best Sauvignon Blanc at the Margaret River Wine Show in 2010.

Deep Woods 2010 Jack's Patch Sauvignon Blanc (4* $n/a) Pale in the glass with green tinges, varietal aromatics on the nose and zingy acidity across the palate, this presents as an ideal summer drinking style without standing up and demanding attention.

Pfeiffer 2006 Museum Release Shiraz

It's always interesting to come back to something you've tried before for another go.

First time around my reaction to the Pfeiffer 2006 Shiraz around two years agowas a note to the effect that

I really liked the '06. 

Maybe not to the point where I'd be looking at a dozen for medium-term cellaring (both the winery and Halliday suggest 2015 as a drink by date) but it's a definite option when it comes to filling out an order for a dozen or two.

Very pleasant fruit notes on the nose, with pepper and spice characters on the palate that delivered a wonderfully warm and rounded style that made for contented savoury sipping once the evening's big hairy T-bone had been demolished. Part of that may well be due to the extra bit of bottle age, and if I'd taken the chance to upgrade to the three-times-a-year C3 option I may well have had more than a single bottle to sample and may have arrived there sooner.

Now it has turned up again as a Museum Release in the most recent C2 pack, and while I was impressed once again, once again I've missed the boat haven't I?

Pfeiffer 2006 Museum Release Shiraz (4.5* $n/a) Deep red with red berries on the nose and leathery tannins across the palate, nicely structured wine that would go well with most red meats or as a medium-term cellaring style, but Museum Release means there's none left (apparently, at the time of writing, may be wrong, but never mind). Another impressive wine from a winery that continues to deliver consistent quality.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Two excellent little numbers

While the retired lifestyle is supposed to deliver plenty of time to do things it doesn't take much to throw a spanner in the works and disrupt the old blogging schedule.

Now, the reader who's familiar with Hughesy's habits will probably leap to a totally unwarranted conclusion when I remark that a recent hiatus in blog activity coincided with a milestone birthday, but the arrival of my brother on the doorstep to assist with the celebrations associated with the milestone had a considerable impact on the publishing schedule.

We collected him from Whitsunday Coast Airport around Friday lunchtime, took a leisurely lap through Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour on the way back, entertained Mr & Mrs Actor over pizzas on Friday night, spent much of Saturday chatting and catching up, took another drive to Airlie for the long lunch on Sunday, took things fairly easy through the actual birthday on Monday and lost a fair chunk of Tuesday dropping him off at Whitsunday Coast, so there was a fair quantity of what might have been writing time gone….

Add to that the decision to acquire and a need to generate some content to start filling it, the start of the process of migrating content from MobileMe to the new site, and you'll see why we've got this backlog of data that needs to be delivered to the various LHoC sites.

There are these two little numbers from the Sunday Long Lunch at Déjà Vu, for example. After some recent experiences I was mildly apprehensive about what I was likely to find on the wine list, since there's nothing about it on the Déjà Vu website, and I suspected we might be finding ourselves in the land of the usual suspects once again.

It only took a brief glance to reassure me, however, and I was in the process of tossing up between a couple of options in the white department before settling on a Tasmanian sauvignon blanc.

Decisions in the rose/red section of the list were a bit more straightforward, since I'd spotted something that had attracted favourable attention during the Rose Revolution promotion earlier in the month and I had suspicions I'd sighted it in Halliday's Hundred the day before.

As far as the Long Lunch was concerned, at $44 for around half a dozen courses it's reasonably good value with one major reservation.

There were three of us at the table, and we found great difficulty demolishing everything on offer. It appears they've catered on the basis of tables of four, since I couldn't detect much difference between what arrived in front of us and what appeared on nearby tables with two and four customers.

Either arrive in a foursome or, if you can't quite muster the numbers, book yourself into overnight accommodation so you can do a carpet snake routine after a big feed rather than climbing back into the car for the homeward journey. I'm not sure whether five or six diners triggers a double helping, but if five doesn't you might find yourself slightly peckish at the end of proceedings.

As far as the food is concerned, the opening antipasto platter was excellent, the calamari that followed it some of the best I'd tried, the mussel dish superfluous and padded out with far more pasta than necessary, the pizza good but not great, the lamb quite excellent and the dessert excellent, though I wasn't able to finish mine (Madam looked after it, however).

And as far as the wine was concerned:

Dalrymple Vineyards 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (4.5* $25) Pale straw in the glass, and from the first whiff of the aromatic herbaceous nose I was firmly on side. Well balanced citrus and passionfruit across the palate, zingy acidity, and a lengthy finish here's a reminder that you don't need to go to New Zealand for high quality cool climate Sauvignon Blanc. One to look for on restaurant wine lists since it doesn't turn up in the local bottle shops (I looked).

Turkey Flat 2011 Barossa Valley Rose (5* $18) Grenache, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, dolcetto blend that's salmon pink in the glass (looked great from the time the bottle arrived) fragrant aromas through the nose, watermelon and berry fruits on the palate and a well-defined balanced finish summer drinking doesn't get much better than this. Consistently at the very top of Australian roses says Mr Halliday, and there won't be any dissent from this quarter..

Madfish Gold Turtle 2007 Tempranillo

Anyone reading this who's familiar with Hughesy's buying habits and recent changes therein will probably grasp my drift when I mumble something about not asking questions about the source of this little six pack.

It is, as it were, a secret, and despite Mr Halliday's less than enthusiastic comments on the wine, it's a secret I hope is repeated, since Hughesy devours regular batches of Chilli con carne and this rustic style goes very well in that company.

Not bad with pizza either...

Madfish Gold Turtle 2007 Tempranillo (4* $25 Wine Club $16) Savoury notes on the nose, leather and chocolate across the palate, nothing to make you sit up and take notice (no Wow Factor here, folks) but a pleasant, rounded style that goes well with a couple of LHoc staples. Sufficiently impressive to have me thinking of signing up for the (apparently no obligation) Wine Club...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pfeiffer 2011 Carlyle Chardonnay Marsanne

It's interesting how rapidly some experiments become part of the mainstream. Take, for instance, Jen Pfeiffer's decision to blend a bit of Marsanne into a batch of unwooded Chardonnay that seemed to be missing something on the way to a clean, fresh, fruit driven wine.

That was in 2008, and there's been a repeat of the blend in each of the subsequent years, because (as I remarked at the time) it works rather well. Clean pale colour, aromatic nose (and you can definitely pick the Marsanne) and a refreshing wine that's easy drinking.

On that basis I'd reordered the '08 and while the '09 was quite acceptable, I thought it didn't work quite as well, and I suspected  that while the '08 was an attempt to tackle a problem, the successor was a case of matching the formula that worked last time rather than approaching a particular issue with a particular batch from a particular vintage. It was still a reasonably attractive unoaked white but it didn't make me sit up and take notice the same way the '08 did.

It seems the 2010 sneaked past through the mid-year C3 pack that I opted not to sign up for (it doesn't seem to have been included in the C2 selections that landed here, and there's nothing in the fairly extensive electronic documentation hereabouts to suggest it was,)so I'd guess that it walked out the door fairly rapidly (otherwise I'd have guessed it would have turned up in the October 2010 box).

And the 2011 suggests that may well have been the case, because both bottles of this crisp, fresh, unwooded style disappeared with extreme rapidity.

Pfeiffer 2011 Carlyle Chardonnay Marsanne (4* $16.50) The Marsanne comes pushing its way through the nose with definite elements of honeysuckle alongside melons and peaches. Pleasantly aromatic, and that impression follows through across the palate with citrusy young Chardonnay characters to produce a refreshing style for summer drinking. Summer in these parts tends to be the time for Rose and Riesling, but there may well be three or four of these lining up in the box with Mr Gamay.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pfeiffer 2009 Carlyle Cabernet Merlot

Given a location around two hundred kilometres from the nearest Dan Murphy's with local liquor outlets tied to the big marketing conglomerates and nary an independent wine merchant on the horizon if you're looking to find something interesting to drink in these parts you've got a bit of a problem.

That point got rammed home fairly firmly about two months ago when our Last Friday of the Month Retirees Lunch Club set out for a go at the fare on offer at Coyotes. They do a quiet line in BYO Wine Only, and when they opened the wine list included items like the 94 Halliday points Capel Vale Cabernet Merlot, Pikes Pinot Grigio, and Tatachilla Growers Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, all of which I'd be quite happy to drink...

Just before we left Madam asked if I was going to head down the BYO Road, and my response was that I was confident there'd be something interesting on the wine list.

When I asked for the list, however, I was dismayed to find an array of the usual big corporate suspects and the initial reaction was that there was nothing on the list I was interested in drinking.

I mean, it's not like I need to have a drink at lunch time, and if I can't find anything interesting I might as well give the liver a slight break n'est ce pas?

Madam helpfully pointed out the Yalumba Y Series Riesling, and I relented to the extent of a glass where otherwise I might have gone an interesting bottle with samples shared around the six person table.

Actually, I should have known something along these lines was likely since Coyotes has gone from a Mexican theme to Steakhouse status with a subscript of We're hot, food's not!

So I'm obviously in the minority as far as food and drink are concerned, and in a landscape dominated by Thirsty Camels, BottleMarts and Liquor Legends I'm obviously going to be looking further afield.

Which is what I've been doing anyway, and with around twenty places I want to buy from I can afford to be a bit selective.

More than that, as I continue to encounter wines that are very bloody good I'm increasingly disinclined to worry about some that may well have been perfectly acceptable a couple of years ago.

Take this one, for example. Back in April 2009 I was looking at the '07 and with a Hungarian Gulyas that I figured needed a hearty full-flavoured red. Berries and a touch of mint (that’s the cabernet, folks) on the nose, more on the medium than the full-bodied end of the spectrum once it gets into the mouth, it wasn’t quite what I was planning on, but turned out to be a rather nice little match-up all the same.

In May last year (before I'd got to the five star rating scheme I'd remarked that the '08 went rather well with that favourite sugo alla bolognese. Definite notes of mint on the nose, along with enough other elements to keep the I'm getting a bit of mob quite happy. I didn't hang about sniffing too long, however, since the first sip revealed a rather elegant wine with plenty of berry fruit flavours, well integrated oak and a long finish. Nice.

That, however, was pre-Margaret River and the subsequent realignment of the Cab Merlot goalposts.

Last night the '09 was the first bottle I cracked out of the October C2 Club pack, and, quite frankly, with 3.5* translating as I could buy this and could changing to might when you drop back half a star, I really don't have much option but to go the three since I found myself wishing they'd doubled up on something else rather than this one.

No, three stars means I might buy this, though the only situation where I can foresee that happening would be on a restaurant wine list or in a bottle shop where everything else was generic, usual suspect mainstream.

There's no way this is going to talk me out of a bottle of Gamay when the order goes in within the next month, though had it turned up in The Wine Society a couple of years ago at an attractive price I could well have been lining up for a box.

Pfeiffer 2009 Carlyle Cabernet Merlot (3* $18.50) Purple red in the glass, rather subdued through the nose and fairly soft across the palate, while it was easy to drink I don't see a need for any more once the two bottles in the October C2 dozen are gone.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ross Estate 2009 Barossa Valley Tempranillo

While I've probably got enough wineries to buy from, and spreading thirty-something cartons across around twenty wineries isn't exactly easy, you do feel like trying something different from time to time don't you?

Then there's the prospect of something substantial for nothing, and the chance of picking up $5000 credit by signing up for a mailing list, not that you'd be holding your breath in a promotion that runs till the end of November.

There mightn't be a myriad out there when it comes to discount wine operations but there's definitely a great wing of 'em and the various ones we deal with (or rather the ones he deals with, I've been known to get a bit sniffy about some of these matters) has been a frequent topic of discussion when I encounter Jimbo on the morning walk, particularly when someone has encountered a new one that operates on a slightly different modus.

I'd noted the existence of VinoMofo, the nom de web for Wine Cru Pty Ltd, part of the cluster of sites operated by The Qwoff Boys that includes and

They seemed to come up with an interesting offer every so often (actually they're coming up with an interesting offer on an almost daily basis) and there's no obligation to buy, so I figured I may as well register, get the daily email and suggested that Jimbo might feel inclined to do likewise. The thinking behind that revolved around (a) the $5000 credit promotion and (b) the thought that I could check with Jimbo when I spotted an interesting offer to see whether he was interested in part of it.

That way, I figured, I could get a few interesting wines onto the premises and still keep buying from the cluster of wineries I've been patronising for the past few years.

Basically VinoMofo sends out one offer per day, usually a dozen or a half-dozen priced somewhere between 40 and 60% off the list price. They charge freight (standard rate nationwide, which suits me fine) and it isn't an arm and a leg, so that's fine as well.

The way it seems to work (and if I'm wrong here feel free to correct me) involves hooking up a winery with a small parcel of wine they're keen to get out the door with enough customers to move all of it, and if there isn't enough interest to move a minimum number of cases (the Tip number) the deal falls through. Deals are open for three days, and the wine is shipped on the fourth, which is when the details appear on your credit card statement.

Occasionally if the day's offer sells out quickly (as happened with a recent Pants Off Friday 2010 Clare Valley Single Vineyard Watervale Riesling $25 > $9.50) they'll throw out another offer along the same lines (in that case 2009 High Scoring Clare Valley Riesling $22 > $8.50) which explains why we're looking at a couple of cases en route to split with Jimbo.

I had, however dipped the big toe in the water the week before for a six pack of this little number ($18 > $10.50) and based on an initial sample maybe I should've ordered a second box...

Ross Estate 2009 Barossa Valley Tempranillo (4.5* $18) From the first whiff of a savoury nose this one had me very firmly on side as I watched the Wallabies v Wales playoff for third at the Rugby World Cup. Brightly coloured, medium bodied, savoury notes on the nose, cherries and spice across the palate and silky tannins with a seductive mouthfeel it's an excellent match for the pasta and chilli dishes that feature on the Little House of Concrete menu. Impressive, and I could definitely have gone back for more. Hopefully there'll be a similar Vinomofo offer somewhere down the track, and if I happen to spot a bottle in a bottle shop when wwe're on the road I'm in!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Paulett 2010 Polish Hill River Riesling

Hindsight, as has frequently been remarked, delivers 20/20 vision, but at least I now know what I'll be doing should similar circumstances arise.

But, as I do so often, I'm getting ahead of myself.

As remarked elsewhere the approach of summer means that I'm turning my thoughts to Rose and Riesling, and there has been a fair bit of deck clearing and space generating in the wine rack as I try to cut down on the cases on the office floor in anticipation of incoming Gamay, Alicante Bouchet, Big Men in Tights and, of course, Riesling.

I'd been giving serious thought to a call to Kilikanoon for a mixed dozen - eight of the Mort's Block and four of the Mort's Reserve seemed like a sound concept - when a phone call from Pauletts had me revising the plans.

Given the $20 RRP for the current Polish Hill River, the $45 they're asking for the 2006 Aged Release and the POA beside the 2009 Antonina $290 a dozen freight free for an eight-two-two mix seemed like a rather good price, and it took all of about ten seconds deliberation before I was providing credit card details.

$250 for the Polish Hill River part of the package, around a notional ninety for the two Antoninas and somewhere between (on prior form) $18 and $24 for freight suggests a probable regular price of around the full $360, so $290 wasn't a bad deal at all.

It took a week or so for the wine to arrive, which was fairly impressive in itself (other shipments from the same post code have taken close to a fortnight) and I was licking my lips in anticipation after I'd had a glance at Mr Halliday when I'd put the phone down.

96s for both Polish Hills and a 97 for the Antonina and a comment that Neil Paulett reckons the Antonina is the finest riesling he has produced tends to do that to you.

There's a regular routine associated with incoming wines involving photographs and data entry into the Bento database, and while I wasn't quite ready to go through all that around three on a Friday afternoon I was inclined to have a look and a quiet gloat over the contents of the package.

I guess the top view that revealed a dozen similarly shaped bottles should have prompted an 'Ullo. 'ullo, what've we got 'ere, given the fact that the Antonina comes in a high-shouldered custom made container rather than the regular Riesling bottle we've come to know and love, but I grabbed random bottles from around the box, only to discover all of 'em sported a 2010 Polish Hill River label.

A quick phone call to the winery resulted in an instruction to take the box back to the Post Office and send it back C.O.D. They would, I was assured, have the right box on the road first thing Monday morning.

Proceeding as instructed I ventured downtown on Monday and did as I was told, noting along the way that there was a cost of around $65 for the shipment!

That is, as you'd note, rather more than the freight I'd been charged previously and suggests the Australia Post predominance in the wine shipping business comes on the back of significant discounts for large volumes. Steve Doyle quoted me a figure in the thirties when I put in an order for a Bloodwood dozen, and that was coming from Orange. Steve sends his stuff through another carrier…

Regardless of all that, and given the expectation that Pauletts wouldn't have been slugged the whole $65 when the box turned up on their doorstep, I was thinking that next time something similar happens I'll be asking them to take me on trust and send me another box containing what I ordered and bill me for what I actually received.

Now, having tried one of the 2010 Polish Hill River I'm wishing that I had. Hindsight, 20/20 and all that.

Paulett 2010 Polish Hill River Riesling (5*  $20) Pale straw that almost gleams in the glass, an abundantly fragrant nose that sits about half way between a firm statement that this is Clare Riesling and standing yelling it from the rooftops. Make that two-thirds of the way towards the rooftops.
Once it hits the palate there are the regulation citrus and lime notes, the characteristic minerality to match what's on offer on the nose and an elegant finish that's all class. Looking at this I should have kept that other box, shouldn't I? This one's up there with the very best the Clare Valley can offer, and I've still got the Antonina and the Aged Release to get to!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rockford 2006 Rod & Spur Cabernet Shiraz

I've remarked previously about the longevity of old habits and still haven't quite got my head around the concept of a fifty-cents-less-than-thirty-bucks red as a  Saturday night dinner for one accompaniment but it's about time to start considering the contents of the annual Rockfoed order.

With a France-Wales Rugby World Cup game on the box and a big old-fashioned lumparump for dinner the idea of a big old-fashioned red had a certain je ne sais quoi.

And, of course, I could make up my mind about including the current vintage  (the 2008) in the order...

Rockford 2006 Rod & Spur Cabernet Shiraz (4.5* $29.50) Cabernet dominant this time around (63/37%), deep red in the glass savoury leathery nose with berries and blackcurrants, not quite full-bodied but not exactly restrained either, rounded mouthfeel and silky tannins that ran all the way along the palate. Both varieties in this classic blend bring their own elements to the party and they've meshed together very nicely after five years. Could well have gone on for around a decade, but with limited cellaring space that five year span looks about right for these parts. Reorder? I definitely think so.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bloodwood 2006 Maurice

The position of the iMac on the desktop means there are frequent distractions from reflected movement across the screen and while I can always keep the curtains closed I prefer the natural light, thanks very much.

Besides, it gives me a chance to keep an eye out for people trying to sneak up on me.

Not that we get too many unannounced callers at The Little House of Concrete.

The most frequent such caller is The Actor, who's usually bringing back a pile of material that'd usually reside on the LHoC Bookshelves. He's about due for another visit, and with 'Er Indoors transformed to 'Er Overseas Dodging the Aftershocks, the air-con on, the volume on the stereo well down to avoid disturbing the indoor feline population we're trying to keep away from the roadworks machinery as they do up the road outside, having the curtains closed would probably be taken to mean that Hughesy was temporarily elsewhere and callers should call back later.

It was just after ten yesterday morning when reflected movement indicated a couple of approaching figures, and a swivel on the Estate Manager Chair revealed an incoming ex-boss and his missus, back in town for a couple of days and checking on old acquaintances.

Given the relatively early hour and a crowded calling schedule\ it was far too early to be opening anything, but after a chat we pencilled in a rendezvous around four in the afternoon, with sampling a few of the better bottles on the premises as the main business on the agenda.

A quick trip to the butcher on the corner produced a variety of sausages (Mexican jalapeno, Mediterranean spice, lamb mint and rosemary, bush tomato and mountain pepper) to run through the oven and provide valuable blotting paper and when The Rifleman arrived on the doorstep just after four and a cleansing ale it was time to sample a few, with the rest of each bottle to be finished over the next few days.

Mrs Rifleman had a number of ex-colleagues to visit, which explains her absence from the next bit.

Tahbilk evangelism meant starting with a sample of the el cheapo cleanskin that's helping to keep the long term average price per bottle down around the $11 mark, followed by the Holm Oak 2005 Riesling and a Tahbilk 2006 Marsanne (which seems to have slipped past inder the reviewing guard) before we headed into red territory.

Matters were complicated slightly when we were half way through a couple of smidgens of the Fermoy Estate 2008 Yallingup Vineyard Cabernet Merlot. Mrs Rifleman appeared on the doorstep, and, momentarily, I thought we wouldn't quite be getting to the already opened and breathing bottle of Bloodwood.

As it turned out, however, the visit was merely intended to deliver an announcement that a change to the original itinerary meant the Rifleman had an extra half hour (at least) to continue tasting and conversing, so I reckoned we might as well have a little go at the Baileys of Glenrowan 2008 1920s Block Shiraz along the way.

Readers who are thinking we're going over the top a little here are reminded that there's an ongoing issue with wine cartons on the floor where they're not supposed to be, incoming deliveries, special offers and the prospect of stocking up for the summer of Riesling and Rose, so at the moment it's all about creating space…

Plus, of course, the secondary consideration that The Rifleman was one of the best bosses I've worked for and did the right thing by Hughesy a couple of times so I figured I owe him a decent sample or two. I'm tapping this out over a post-lunch snifter of the '06 Marsanne, so I'd be a reasonably happy camper if I didn't have three rogue flighty felines who appear to have gone to ground in a storm water drain and probably won't be emerging till around dusk if they reappear at all…

But I, as I frequently do, digress.

The extra half hour turned into a close to extra hour, and that gave us time for a lengthy savouring of what's probably the best red I've sampled this year.

Steve Doyle's explanation for the origin of the blend appears in this unashamed copy and pastage from the Bloodwood website:

As a winemaker you top-up and taste barrels throughout the year, and you get to know some of the better ones on an on-going and quite personal basis. If they make up a parcel of wine which holds together with continuing interest, then we will release them as Bloodwood Maurice.

Which, given the fact that everything else I've tasted from there has been impressive, probably means the extremely impressive 5* rating should come as absolutely no surprise...

Bloodwood 2006 Maurice (5* $30) Deeply hued in the glass, complex berry and chocolate notes on the nose, savoury oak lurking in there as well, silky tannins running all the way along the palate. Sampling this made the perfect conclusion to the tasting session, since I don't think there's anything on the premises that could follow it. We'll be having at least one of the current vintage in each subsequent order…

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hay Shed Hill 2010 Block 6 Chardonnay

 Ah, the joys of a changing palate…

Or, more accurately, developing styles and changes in public perceptions. It's not that long since the drinking public seemed to be pouring vast quantities of Anything But Chardonnay down their collective throats, a shift in consumption that had winemakers scrabbling around for a way back once the big buttery styles I used to like went off the boil out there in Consumerland.

And in the wake of the Kiwi Savalanche, you'd be wondering how anything else was going to get a look in, but here's a perfect example of what's out there for the Savvied-out drinker, assuming you're not getting a bit of Semillon in with the Savvy or haven't rediscovered the joys of Riesling.

Hay Shed Hill 2010 Block 6 Chardonnay (4.5* $35) Early picked fruit from thirty-five-year-old dry-grown vines, free run juice, a total lack of malolactic fermentation (so not even a daub of butter in sight)  and minimal exposure to oak delivers fresh apple, citrus  and stone fruit aromas to the nose, concentrated flavours across the palate in an elegant understated style that's simultaneously vibrant and intensely fruity. Very easy to drink now, and could develop over the short to medium term, but the stocks wi;l, I suspect, be gone by autumn.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cullen 2010 Margaret River White

Well, here's another string to add to the Summer Drinking bow…

We're already looking at a regular mix of light reds and Rose, Riesling and the odd Semillon Sauvigon Blanc or SBS, drawn from Brook Eden, Rockford, Pfeiffer and Pikes, with maybe a bottle or two of the Brook Eden Pinot Gris ond Rockford White Frontignac thrown in for a bit of variation.

There'll be a six pack of the Hay Shed Hill Block 1 SSB thrown in for something towards the premium end of the spectrum and, of course, there's plenty of other wine sitting in the rack that will need to be removed to make room for incoming summer supplies.

Based on a slight degree of disappointment with the Margaret River Red I hung off this one for a bit, but a retry of the red had me sneaking the previoous rating a bit higher, bunping the 3.5 I could buy this up towards a 4* I should buy this. I'm still not !00% there, but if I'm going to line up for more of the White, and given the fact that I don't quite need a dozen of these, I'll probably be in for a couple more of the reds.

Time to whack a bottle of the Red in the fridge to see how it handles that option, and I'd better get a Mangan Vineyard Semillon in there as well.

Cullen 2010 Margaret River White (4.5/5 $19) A variation on the traditional Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon with a splash of Chenin Blanc, a dash of Chardonnay and a touch of Riesling, it's still basically a Margaret River SBS with added complexity from the additional elements. Those extra dimensions come across on the nose, with enough elements in there to keep you sniffing for a while as you have a go at identifying them. They deliver across the palate as well, with a rounded elegance coiled around a core of soft-edged acid. An interesting blend for the short term with depth on the palate that's remarkable in a wine that registers 12.5% alc/vol. I may well be looking for more of this one.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rockford 2006 Handpicked Eden Valley Riesling

Having disposed of the caught them just in time 2003 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling, and continuing with the Thai flavours around dinner time, I was inclined to see how the other cork-closed bottles in the bar fridge were going.

The rediscovery of the Art Series was, as previously recounted, a byproduct of the knowledge that we had at least one bottle of Rockford 2006 Handpicked Eden Valley Riesling in there, and it was a wine we'd tried back in December 2009, with remarks to the effect that it had a very pronounced lemon flavour, a palate that could almost be described as lemon on steroids. Very nice, but very pronounced at the same time. There were still definitely Riesling characteristics lurking behind the lemon, but the expected lime notes were more or less conspicuous by their absence, so I was rather interested to see what another year and a half had done to it.

We are, after all, about to turn the attention to the pre-summer stock up, which will include most of a box of the Alicante Bouchet, so the question's going to be what do we get with it?

Based on this one, there'll definitely be some Riesling in the order.

Rockford 2006 Handpicked Eden Valley Riesling (4.5* $19) Twenty-one more months in the bottle hasn't done much to dim the colour, which was still fairly bright straw yellow, but the lemon on steroids we'd noted back in December '09 had rounded nicely through the nostrils and across the palate, the aged (no, make that mature, five years isn't quite aged) characters are coming to the fore and while there's no rush to knock over t'other one, it'll be lucky to be still sitting in the fridge this time next year. Include the current vintage in the next order? Definitely?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Leeuwin Estate 2003 Art Series Riesling

Well, here's one that underlines the need for accurate records and careful monitoring of stock.

There are excuses, but, really, leaving two bottles of a fondly-remembered favourite to the point where they're starting to slide is, to all intents and purposes, unforgiveable.

I can start by blaming the cork closure, and the care I took to ensure that anything in the bar fridge that boasts one lies on its side.

The shelving in the bar fridge is such that the best way to maximise capacity is by piling everything that's lying horizontal atop a single shelf, which in turn means there are eight or nine bottles lying in a configuration that makes the bottom layer difficult to extract without a complete remove/restack operation.

And while I've been fairly meticulous in keeping track of what I've bought since that $50 box of Tahbilk Everyday Drinking 2004 Sauvignon Blanc back in late March 2007 there's nothing on a spreadsheet that runs down to Row 543 and reveals a long term average per bottle of $11.18 that refers to Leeuwin Estate 2003 Art Series Riesling.

There are a couple of entries for 6 Assorted bottles from Magees from around Christmas 2007 that could be right, but, really, after close to four years there's no way of knowing.

What I do know is there were three cork closed bottles on the bottom of the pile, and at least one of them was a Rockford Eden Valley Riesling that had managed to avoid an entry in the Bento database and would probably have gone rather nicely with last night's Thai curry.

Restacking that section so I could get at the Rockford produced two bottles of 2003 Art Series, and a quick check with Mr Halliday revealed a Drink by 2009, so there was a fairly hasty redrawing of the evening's drinking arrangements. There are leftovers from last night to be consumed this evening, so we'll be waving a not quite teary goodbye to its brother tonight.

Leeuwin Estate 2003 Art Series Riesling (4* $n/a) It might have started out light, delicate and fresh with passionfruit aromas but from the first whilff it was fairly clear that we've caught this one just in time. There was a fair dose of the aged Riesling kero notes on the nose and across the palate, but they were almost muted, as if someone had taken a plane to anything resembling a rough edge. Interesting as an exercise in drinking a Riesling that's reaching the end of its development, but not, once the other bottle's gone, one that I'm keen to repeat.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Brook Eden 2010 Pinot Noir

It may seem, at times, that I'm not overly critical when it comes to wine but when you're buying from around two dozen wineries that are almost invariably Halliday 5* operations I'm not that likely to be running across too many duds, am I?

From time to time, however, there's the odd thing that I don't quite get, and one of them is the make up of the Pinot Noir half of the Winter 2011 Brook Eden Vintage Club pack.

As far as the Chardonnay side of the pack is concerned I've already marked down the '10 as one to watch out for when it goes on sale, and with the '09 currently on sale that may not be so far into the future.

I've still got another bottle of the 2010 on hand, and an '09 for comparative purposes.

It's a bit more difficult with the Pinot Noir.

I'm not the greatest fan of Pinot Noir, since our visit to the Yarra Valley was well before my palate started to veer away from big old-style full-bodied reds. Most of the Pinots I tried while we were there were very light bodied, and I found myself using the term strawberry flavoured lolly water with alarming frequency.

That's probably a case of not going to the right places, an underdeveloped palate, and my bad luck but I was much more impressed when we got to northern Tasmania a bit under a year later.

Still, I'm not entirely convinced, and Brook Eden is about the only place I buy from regularly that does Pinot (Pfeiffers do as well, but I haven't lined up for a reorder) so I don't get to taste a whole lot of them.

With the 2008 currently on sale, you'd assume that it'll be a good eighteen months before the '10 Pinot goes on sale, which seems like a remarkably long lead in time for the two bottles in the pack.

I've got a bottle of the '08 that'll be sampled in the not too distant future, and when I look back into the archives to when the '08 first landed in these parts I noted that pack two years ago had a bottle of the '07 for comparative purposes.

I can't help thinking that single bottles of the '10, the '09 and the currently available '08 might have worked a bit better in a sort of here's the most recent one that won't be out for a while, here's the '09 that'll be on sale shortly, and here's the current release, so you can see how the '10 is likely to be in twelve months time and what to expect when it eventually goes on sale...

Brook Eden 2010 Pinot Noir (4* $32 Vintage Club when it comes out? RRP should be around $39) Deep bright medium red with traces of purple in the glass, savoury bouquet with cherry notes and a medium bodied mouthfeel with asoft tannins and a variety of (probably still under-developed) flavours across the palate. Still very young, but I suspect it has what it takes. Will be interesting to try it again in the 2013 Vintage Club pack…

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hay Shed Hill 2009 Block 2 Cabernet Sauvignon

I like it when someone delivers you a ready made, straightforward but still rather elegant to a potentially thorny problem.

We weren't long back from Western Australia and I was trying to figure out how to include the wineries we'd visited over there into a purchasing schedule that didn't have much room for manoeuvre when the flier about the Hay Shed Hill Four Seasons Club arrived in the P.O. Box.

The beauty of those we'll send you a specified number of bottles at prescribed intervals wine clubs is that the buyer is saved the effort involved in deciding what he or she wants to buy. Someone else makes the decisions, but you've probably got the chance to try what you would have ordered in the first place and, most importantly, it takes the when out of the ordering equation.

In the end it all depends on whether you're interested in what they're offering.

In this case, an arrangement where you receive the Semillon Sauvignon Blanc in summer, their Sangiovese and Tempranillo in the autumn, Cabernet Sauvignon in the winter and Chardonnay in the spring looked pretty attractive at a first glance, though the $180 a throw for half a dozen wines seemed rather steep, so I did a bit of basic research, and a bit was all that was needed.

Apart from the autumn wines, the wines are drawn from their Block Series, wines made from single parcels of fruit from designated blocks that supposedly represent the best grapes on the property.

Fine, so how were they rated?

The SSB consistently rated 84 from Mr Halliday, the Cabernet ranged between 94 and 96, and the Chardonnay was the same.

As far as the pricing went, the autumn wines were $20, the SSSB $30, the Chardonnay $35 and the Cab Sauv $50, so I figured that $135 x 6 was $810, while four times $180 was $720, and the deliveries were freight free, so why not?

The SSB duly arrived, and made for quite sublime summer drinking, the autumn wines were acceptable without being overly impressive, but this one…

Hay Shed Hill 2009 Block 2 Cabernet Sauvignon (5* $50) Bright deep dense red in the glass, intense berry and blackcurrant notes on the nose and a complex palate built from a base of tightly wound tannins this wine provides ample justification for signing up for the Hay Shed Hill Four Seasons. Colour me highly impressed.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tahbilk 2009 Marsanne

I know it was supposed to be Cabernet Day, but the ongoing issues with the continuing cherry tomato glut meant we were down for spaghetti with tuna, cherry tomatoes, olives and capers, which isn't Cabernet-friendly territory.

I'd previously tried the 2009 Tahbilk Marsanne in November '09, noting the change from the darker green bottle to a clear one so right from the start you can see the pale straw colour that you'd usually only get a good look at once it's in the glass and suggesting that while most of the usual suspects were present on the palate, the honeysuckle notes weren't quite as pronounced as I'd expected, though if you were to leave it for twelve months, I was confident Mr Honeysuckle would be making his presence felt.

Presumably it'll continue to figure in the odd vertical tasting half dozen (which is where I found it, a steal at $75) so I won't be buying a box, but will definitely be looking out for more.

Tahbilk 2009 Marsanne (4.5* $13 Web Special) Pale straw, in transition from the previously noted citrus aromas as the honeysuckle increasingly comes to the fore through the nose and across the palate. More, please...

Cullen 2009 Margaret River Red

I'm not sure what motivates the rest of the blogoverse, but as far as I'm concerned the Little House of Concrete family of sites gives me a means of keeping track of what I've drunk, read and listened to, what I thought and, maybe, the chance to interact with people with similar interests.  While there have been over a thousand hits on the Wine Rack and Music blogs, there haven't been too many comments, which is fine, since I haven't been too active in commenting on any of the thirty-something blogs I follow.

Keeping track of things is particularly important where the Wine Rack is concerned, and from time to time there's a bottle which brings all of the major considerations into focus, and although those considerations mightn't apply to anybody else, sorting them out in my own mind is an important part of the whole box and dice.

This little bracket of wines bring a couple of those considerations into fairly clear focus.

For a start, back when we were investigating the economics of retirement and formulating a budget I figured a long term average price of $10 per bottle was about what I could afford. Things have changed over the intervening years, particularly after I'd finished paying off the house, and we're now looking towards $20 as the average, though the sheer quantity of relatively cheap wine I've bought over the years has the average well below $12.

The changed circumstances mean that I can now start looking at wines I wouldn't have considered a couple of years ago, which then becomes a consideration when you're making up your mind about what goes in the box.

Do you, for example, get a dozen selected from the top of the range or do you work across the price points?

That's not such a major consideration when you're looking at Grosset, for example, when the bottom of the range is just under the $30 mark, but when you're looking at Cullens, you can balance some of the $100 top level with a $20 entry level.

Then there's the question of when you're actually going to drink them. I'm hardly likely to be opening a bottle of Rockford Basket Press to go with stak, mashed spuds and peas on a Saturday night, am I?

Actually, it's be nice to think that I could, but the harsh light of reality rules that out.

There's also a definite place for something that's relatively lightly weighted in the Alc/Vol Stakes, particularly wen you're looking at a bottle over lunch that won't leave you totally stonkered for the rest of the afternoon.

Given the northern environment and the relatively limited cellaring capacity, there's a tendency to go for wines that are short- to medium-term prospects rather than something that you might be looking at holding onto until the 2020s.

We get two seasons in these parts (I've labelled them hot and not) and with the temperature starting to climb as we head into September the subject of summer drinking is always lurking in the back of the mind, and we're always looking for reddish wines that are either lighter bodied or will handle a stint in the fridge.

For all those reasons I was particularly looking forward to trying the Cullen 2009 Margaret River Red and White, both sitting on the 12% mark, that I'd thought were eminently drinkable and rated as 4.5* I really need to buy this when we visited the winery about twelve months ago.

Making up the order, I'd used both as the basis of mixed cases, with four of the MR Red and the Cab Merlot, three Mangans and a single Diana Madeleine comprising the red portion of the order. After trying this one, however, I'm not sure I'll be using the same mix next time around. 3.5 on the scale equates to I could buy this though I'm still open to persuasion.

Cullen 2009 Margaret River Red (3.5* $20) Bright red in the glass, fresh aromas through the nose, balanced and medium bodied across the palate, but I felt there was something missing, and it's more than likely something to do with the 12% alc/vol, though the change from the previous year's Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec/Merlot/Petit Verdot/Cabernet Franc blend to 80% Merlot 15% Malbec and a dash of Petit Verdot might account for the disparity between the 4.5* '08 and this one. Still, there are another three bottles left that might change my mind, and one of the little devils will definitely be going in the fridge for a short spell...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tahbilk 2006 Riesling

When I set out to compare and contrast the Gold Medal and Trophy winning Tahbilk 2010 Everyday Drinking Riesling, by grabbing a Special Offer Riesling Vertical 6 Pack back in February I wasn't expecting to find the six pack still there on offer at the end of August, but there it is, large as life and cheap as chips at the bottom of the Web Specials page on the Tahbilk website.

Not, I suspect, for very much longer.

On the morning walk one day last week I was discussing impending wine purchases with Jimbo, and was considering a box of Riesling from Kilikanoon, an exercise that would have set me back around $270 for a mix of Mort's Block and Mort's Reserve (nine of one, three of t'other).

That plan got relegated to the back burner when I sighted that Vertical six-pack still there at Tahbilk.

We're talking everyday drinking here, and the Kilikanoon order would have been working that territory, with the Mort's Reserve as a compare and contrast exercise since I was quite impressed by the difference when we were at the winery back in November 2008.

There's an order for a mix of the latest releases from Grosset going in later this week, so we'll be OK for the premium end of the Riesling market for a while.

For everyday drinking, however, I find it difficult to go past $75 freight free for half a dozen bottles going back this far, which explains why the Tahbilk stocks are about to go down by a couple of boxes, and when I run across Jimbo later this morning I'll be pointing him in the same direction.

Apart from the '09 and this one, the rest of the box slipped by without generating a tasting note, but that's part of the territory when you're talking everyday drinking, isn't it?…

According to the website, this one picked up Gold and Silver medals, though it doesn't indicate where.

When I took a gander at the ubiquitous Wikipedia, I also noted that Riesling (and I quote) is highly "terroir-expressive" … clearly influenced by the wine's place of origin. Well, we knew that, didn't we?

We're not talking Clare, Eden Valley, Tasmania or Great Southern here, but it's a wine that ain't too shabby.

Tahbilk 2006 Riesling (4.5* $n/a) Pale straw in the glass, and from the first sniff there was the familiar petrol notes that you come to expect in quality mature Riesling and the same notes came across when the wine hit the palate. Not, perhaps, in the same bracket as mature examples from premium growers in more highly rated regions, but mature Riesling of this quality at this price point (a notional $12.50 as part of a vertical half-dozen) and this quality underlines extreme value on offer if you know where to look.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Helm 2008 Cabernet Shiraz

When a Facebook friend posted a link to a YouTube video of the old Let's Do the Time Warp from Rocky Horror I found myself thinking, "Yes, that's fine. I remember that, but, seriously, do I really want to go back there?"

Now, I'm probably coming over as hypocritical since I've been known to bang on endlessly about stuff from the late sixties and am currently working on a Rear View of the Small Faces Ogden's Nut Gone Flake.

When that's finished, anyone interested will find it here, but don't hold your breath.

No, that do I really want to go back there refers to something I noted in passing, recognize whenever it re-emerges, but won't have me going out of the way to investigate. I never got around to seeing Rocky Horror, and don't have any intention of going out of my was to remedy a situation that I don't personally see as a problem.

Which is pretty much the way I feel about a wine that comes in a style that seems awfully familiar, decidedly retro, rather pleasant in its own way but several miles removed from the red wines I've been sampling recently. In a world where even north-eastern Victorian Durif is coming through soft and rounded at significantly lower alc/vol levels (I'd point to earlier reviews of the Baileys of Glenrowan Durif and Petit Sirah as rxamples of what I'm talking about) this one comes across as a distinct exercise in retrospect.

Fine if that sort of thing floats your boat, but in this case we're in roughly the same territory as the catamaran that spends most of its time beached about a kilometre from the Little House of Concrete.

Helm 2008 Cabernet Shiraz (3.5* $35) Deep coloured, high alcohol oaky nose with plenty of big fruit across the palate and tannins that take you back to the days before winemakers started using words like feminine to describe a red wine, this comes across as a decided blast from the past which is fine in itself but the price tag won't have me lining up for more. Fine, that means an extra bottle of Riesling (or something else) in the next order.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Brook Eden 2010 Chardonnay

With a little over a month to go before the current newsletter's 10% off or freight free offer (I'll be taking the freight free if and when the order goes in) expires at the end of September it was well and truly time to go looking at the contents of the most recent Brook Eden Vintage Club tasting pack.

I've remarked elsewhere on some of the different approaches to this regular tasting pack concept, like the Hay Shed Hill Four seasons (Chardonnay in the spring, SSB for Summer, Sangiovese and Tempranillo for Autumn and Cabernet Sauvignon in the depths of Winter) and the Pfeiffer three mixed dozens that seem to stretch beyond the regular range and therefore need to be topped up with museum releases.

The Brook Eden version comes in the form of two half-dozens, with wooded styles turning up on the doorstep in the middle of the year and the unwooded styles lobbing in time for the Silly Season, which then translates to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in winter and Pinot Gris, Pinor Rose and Riesling in summer.

We're talking a small operation, so presumably the Vintage Club takes a substantial chunk out of each year's production. As a result I guess it's a question of how you pitch your selection in the guaranteed sales department with a view to maximising the sales further down the line.

With the winter packs, three bottles of Pinot Noir and three bottles of Chardonnay from the current release would probably take a fair chunk out of stocks on hand, but there's also the chance to generate a buzz for the next release by slipping the wines into the Vintage Club pack, which is presumably the thinking behind slipping the 2010 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir into the box when the accompanying price list offers the '09 Chardonnay and '08 Pinot.

This time around there are two bottles of the two '10s, along with an '08 Pinot and an '09 Chardonnay for comparative purposes, an indication of how the babies are likely to develop, and a reminder that the comparisons are still available through the cellar door. Clever.

In any case, issues relating to getting the cases off the office floor by making spaces in the wine rack meant that recently I've been running down the stocks of short term drinking styles, but the need to figure out what we're doing about the Brook Eden matter had me turning to the '10 Chardonnay last night.

It'll be a while before it'll be available for general sale, and while I could hold onto the other bottle till somewhere a bit closer to the actual release as a reminder of a wine that impressed in its infancy, presumably it'll turn up again in the middle of next year for comparative purposes with the 2012.

Brook Eden 2010 Chardonnay (4.5* $? presumably somewhere between $32 and $27) Straw coloured, tightly wound perfumed nose that offered the promise of interesting things to come and opened up quite a lot over time, as did (surprise, surprise) the palate. Soft across the taste buds with peaches and a hint of cream that'll presumably come through increasingly as the wine develops in the bottle. Elegant style with plenty of interest that'll be worth investigating, say, in about three months and again when the Winter 2012 Vintage Club pack arrives on the doorstep. Given the fact that it's not on sale to the public yet, and presumably won't be for a while it's not one for the summer drinking order, but further down the track...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Brook Eden 2009 Pinot Gris

Well, it's not quite spring, but you can see the top of the vernal head lurking around the horizon.

And in spring, they say, a young man's thoughts turn to…

Well, you and I know where they turn, but when you've got a few more ks on the odometer you start thinking in other directions and with summer following spring as certainly as the sight of three scurrying felines follows the sound of footsteps on gravel at the end of the morning walk the Bowen wine drinker's thoughts tend towards the topic of summer drinking.

We're not quite in summer, of course, and knowing we've got two cases from Cullens that should be just about here, considering the possibility of phoning an order for a mixed case of Mort's Block and Mort's Reserve Riesling through to Killikanoon, anticipating news of new releases from that nice Mr Grosset and a six pack of Hay Shed Hill 'Block 6' Chardonnay it's a case of getting those boxes off the floor, creating a bit of space in the wine rack and, coincidentally, framing a few thoughts about what we'll be drinking over summer.

And just to throw the cat in among the pigeons there's the odd freight free till whenever offer like the one I received in the mail from Brook Eden. At the Vintage Club price of $20 freight free till the end of September this little number, along with the dry Riesling and the '10 Pinot Rose (not quite as good as the '09, but still definite summer drinking candidate) looks rather appealing.

Brook Eden 2009 Pinot Gris (4.5/5 $20) Straw-coloured, fragrant nose with loads of pear notes. An impressive subtler style that's quite delicious with plenty of lingering flavour. Definitely one to reorder.

Monday, August 15, 2011

James Halliday 2012 Australian Wine Companion (On-line version)

These things, I remarked to Madam as she reached the front door at the same time I finished opening it just now, are sent to try us.

And, I added, they invariably succeed.

There's a back story to the main part of this blog entry, and it's going to be difficult to make sense of it without the back story, so judicious use of the scroll bar might be indicated if the reader's browser allows it.

I don't have much interaction with wine drinkers outside the house and the wine blogs I follow, which is understandable since I tend to buy directly from the winery, we don't have either a Dan Murphy's ouitlet or a reasonable independent wine merchant within an hour's drive, and the Bowen pub and restaurant scene tends to have lists favouring the obvious suspects or something that's been put together by a hired consultant representing a selected portfolio of brands, which is also one of the reasons we don't eat out too often.

One regular source of wine related discussion is, believe it or not, the morning walk, and if I set out within the five minute window that closes around ten past six I can usually expect to encounter Jimbo somewhere between the Grandview and the Front Beach, When I do vinous matters are almost invariably likely to raise their heads.

However, over the four weeks or so between the time we headed off to catch Randy Newman in concert and this morning I've only managed to catch him two or three times. Various factors account for that, and they're irrelevant here, but much of that pre-RN departure encounter was devoted to the advisability of renewing the subscription to the on-line James Halliday's Australian Wine Companion and there have been few opportunities to follow up on the discussion between that meeting and this morning's mosey past the Skate Bowl, out to the Yacht Club and back through the main street.

We were on the return leg from the Yacht Club when Jimbo ventured the opinion that he was less than impressed by the new and improved Halliday, and the remark came just after I'd pointed out that a full mailbox had bounced my email with the August edition of Hughesy's newsletter attached.

The August edition had, predictably, contained some not entirely favourable comments about the 2012 Halliday, and most of the rest of the walk was dedicated to a detailed analysis of the perceived shortcomings thereof.

Now, since I don't believe in being unnecessarily negative and ending up in flame wars I'd confined my remarks to the newsletter and am in the process of polishing a draft of an email to the recipients of the newsletter that'll be going out shortly after this is posted on the blog site.

The newsletter piece started off with I would love to be proved wrong, and hope that I am, and having gone back to the Halliday site to look at what attracted the adverse commentary it seems that some of the matters I was griping about have been addressed, though one is still inclined to wonder why they happened in the first place.

Given the nature of these things I'm inclined to think there's only room for one encyclopedic reference tome about Australian wine and there isn't anyone who's going to be able to set up a rival site to Mr Halliday's without doing an awful lot of work to duplicate an existing resource and should anyone try there'd be the issue of distinguishing between the competitors.

There's room for any number of annual buyers' guides and guides to different regions, styles or price points, but if you're looking at a one stop reference point covering the whole of the continent with tasting notes that go back a number of years anyone who's looking to duplicate, match or improve on the Halliday source has their work cut out.

That's not to suggest that it couldn't be done, but if you want to produce something that's comprehensive, authoritative and goes back a number of years in the tasting notes you're going to be pushing it…

However, if you're talking comprehensive, authoritative or, dare I suggest, magisterial, the early version of the 2012 Halliday had definite shortcomings, and when I went back earlier today to check that the anomalies were still there it seemed that most of the ones I'd noticed had been fixed but you're still inclined to ask why they were there in the first place, which is where much of the rest of this commentary is headed.

We're talking reference material, so when you bring it down to tin tacks it's down to the ease with which the information you're looking for can be retrieved.

While the on-line version offers possibilities that aren't available in a hard copy, you are still, presumably, looking at a listing of wineries with individual entries that combine information about the winery and tasting notes. You can add bells, whistles and search engines along the way, but it's the summary about the winery and the tasting notes that are the important content.

There's room for entries about Wineries of the year and Best of lists, but, seriously, I'd question how often the average user is going to be consulting that content.

A glance at the Table of Contents in the 2009 edition (my most recent hard copy) has that sort of content taking up the first fifty pages, followed by just under seven hundred pages of Australian wineries and wines.

I wasn't impressed when I flicked through a copy of the 2012 Companion in Dymocks in downtown Brisbane and noted what looked like a significant diminution in tasting note content. In a way, that's understandable. There are a growing number of wineries and a definite limit to the amount of space in a hard copy, so something's got to give.

Actually, that's a good argument for shelling out for the on-line version, isn't it? No page limit constraints, and you can justify the expense by having access to the whole archive of tasting notes dating back to way back when.

Unfortunately, however, you have to find the content, and this is where a few anomalies kick in.

I don't see any reason why the 2012 version needs to look or feel substantially different to the 2011, or, indeed why the online version can't be continually updated as new tasting notes go into the mix.

For that reason, I wasn't impressed when I went looking for information to help me put together an order from Cullen and found, when I looked at the 2010 Margaret River White, a rating of 89 and a note stating:

A full (and longer than usual) tasting note for this wine will be included in an upcoming book by James Halliday titled 1001 Wines Under $20, and will appear on the day of the release of the book, scheduled for 1 November 2011.

There's a similar note under the Bloodwood 2010 Big Men In Tights and, presumably, under the other 999 wines that get a guernsey in the forthcoming volume.

Now, I realize we're talking slightly upmarket everyday drinking wines, but, seriously, having shelled out $55 for a two-year subscription in July last year, you're telling me I have to wait till November to access information to guide purchases in August, September and October this year?

Some time in that period I'll probably be placing an order with Pfeiffers, and that order will undoubtedly include some of the current release Gamay, but go to the Companion and there's that note again. The Pfeiffer website still has the '10 Gamay on offer, and there are still three bottles sitting in my wine rack, so I'm probably going to be looking at the '11 when the order goes in, but still….

Seriously, if you shell out the bucks, and particularly if you've done so more than twelve months in advance, surely you're entitled to get access to everything that's going to be there over the rest of your subscription.

In an operation like this one would have thought that the idea was to build the subscriber base and work on offering a product that'll be good enough to have them re-subbing when the current subscription expires.

I'd hesitate to start talking about cash cows, but you probably get my drift.

If the product is good enough to start with there's no need to do exhaustive redesigns of what's on offer. There isn't too much room for variation, but changing the look, feel and avenues to access the data isn't likely to encourage people who're approaching the end of their current subscription to sign up again.

I'd offer the top level of my current website as proof that I've done a bit of this sort of thing, and while I'm not suggesting that I'd be capable of looking after something like the Halliday site, and that task would require something considerably more advanced that iWeb or RapidWeaver, the fact that I've put together, maintained and started to look at the alternatives I can use when MobileMe goes belly up on 30 June next year suggests I'm not a complete novice when it comes to these things.

Helpful thoughts and constructive observations are, of course, most welcome.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tahbilk 2001 Marsanne

As I remarked the following morning it's good to have an excuse to crack a bottle that's a little above the ordinary.

We knew Adelaide Baker Girl had an affinity for decent wine, and discussions over a welcome to the LHoc glass of Alicante Bouchet revealed she was unfamiliar with both Tahbilk and Marsanne, though when I took a glance at the options in the bar fridge I'd somehow neglected to stow anything from the recent vertical six-pack (remarkable value at $75 freight free, with bottles running back to 2006) so if we were going to do the introduction it was going to be this cork closed bottle of the 2001.

We followed it with the Fermoy 2008 Merlot, a De Bortoli Noble One of uncertain vintage and unrecorded provenance that had been lurking in the back of the bar fridge and a sample of Pfeiffer Topaque in a lengthy sniff, swirl sip, sample and graze session that lasted well past the regular bedtime.

That made a rather impressive little lineup, but there's no doubt that the star of the evening was a ten-year-old wine that probably delivered change out of $12 when we bought it as a current release back before Hughesy was keeping track of the what and how much of the wine purchases.

Tahbilk 2001 Marsanne (4.5* $n/a) It'll be a while before we get another chance to try another bottle along the lines of this ten-year-old number. Given revealed form lines it probably started as a pale almost clear straw, but time has delivered a richer golden depth in the glass, subtle aromatics on the nose and the expected toasty honeysuckle across the palate. A timely reminder that Tahbilk Marsanne's one to lay down for an extended spellbut the problem is keeping your hands off those bottles you've stashed away. Halliday had this as a drink by 2010, but the vintage guide on the back of a recent Wine Club newsletter has it as Improving, with another 7-10 years ahead of it. Pity there's no more on hand...,

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Two whites (Helm 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and Stella Bella Suckfizzle Sauvignon Blanc Semillon)

Visitors to the Little House of Concrete (at least, visitors who will take a drink) provide an excuse to open something that I mightn't be sampling as an everyday drinking line. Those everyday drinking styles tend to arrive in multiples, not always by the dozen but somewhere between three and the box. With a visitor on the premises you can try one of those odd bottles secreted around the rack or lurking at the back of the fridge.

Selecting the appropriate bottle is, of course, a function of whatever is on offer on the food front, and these weren't the best option for a chicken tikka masala but there were other factors that came into the mix.

The visitor, this time around, was the fabulous Staggster, a forty-year acquaintance from Teachers' College days and ex-colleague in Townsville prior to my relocation to beautiful downtown Bowen. She's based in the national capital these days, so I thought it was worth starting with something from her home territory.

Inquiries about Helm while we were assembling the dinner sealed the issue. The winery, I was informed, was a bit on the expensive side (well, given the small winery bit that's par for the course) but I think we might have persuaded someone that the $25 Sauvignon Blanc and the $28 Riesling were worth investigating.

Into sitting around after dinner mode, with Richard Thompson's 1000 Years of Popular Music on the DVD player provided an excuse to crack one of the Stella Bella Suckfizzle SBS.

Helm 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (4.5* $25) Hand picked grapes and free run juice deliver plenty of herbaceous aromatics on the nose and intensity across the palate, a cool climate Sauvignon Blanc with varietal character and a lengthy finish. Will be back for more, most likely for a six-four Riesling-Sauv Blanc blend in the next ten-pack.

Stella Bella 2006 Suckfizzle Sauvignon Blanc Semillon (4.5* $36) Plenty happening on the nose, herbs, grass, berries and talc, with the interaction between Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and oak delivering a complexity across the palate with layers to savour over a lengthy sitting. Won't be waiting too long to open the other bottle on hand and definitely one to throw in the next order from Stella Bella.