Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Leeuwin Estate 2007 Art Series Riesling

Back in the days when the Horseshoe Bay Cafe provided some of the best food along this stretch of the Queensland coast I developed a taste for Art Series Riesling, which was a permanent fixture on the wine listand it's a something that has lasted through subsequent encounters with the variety. Things may have moved on over the years, but this one (at the el cheapo end of the Art Series spectrum) remains a favourite.

Leeuwin Estate 2007 Art Series Riesling (4.5* $23) Pale straw in colour, lemons, lime and the developed Riesling hydrocarbons on the nose and apples and minerals across the palate deliver an enjoyable drinking experience that underlines the need for restraint if you're going to enjoy bottle aged Riesling. Would quite possibly go further, though Halliday described it as a Peter Pan (as in may never grow up). If this is eternal youth I could do with a bit more of it…

Coldstream Hills 2004 Limited Release Shiraz

Here's one that takes me back to the trip that shaped Hughesy's drinking habits over the next couple of years. Those habits have been modified, as subsequent trips have added new elements to the LHoC Wine Rack mix, but this week-long sojourn through the Yarra Valley, Tahbilk, Glenrowan, Rutherglen and Beechworth sorted the basic elements for the on-going and ever-evolving mix.

The day after we visited Coldstream Hills, for example, we got to Tahbilk and became aware of phenomenon known as the freight-free wine club, and subsequent visits to Baileys and Pfeiffers added the first of the regular delivered winery-based tasting dozens.

There were others before that, of course, the original incarnation of The Rothbury Estate, the old Hunter Valley Wine Society and The Wine Society, but these were the first winery-specific tasting dozens if you catch my drift.

And much of my reaction as we worked our way through the northeast of the state was, I suspect, shaped by my reaction to what we found as we made our way around a small subset of the hundred and fifty-odd wineries in the valley.

Now, I'm the first to admit that those reactions might have been different if we'd been there some time other than the week between Christmas and New Year, and if we'd done the sort of detailed pre-trip research that preceded visits to northern Tasmania, the Clare Valley and Margaret River.

In any case I was underwhelmed by almost everything I encountered in the Yarra, with the notable exception of Coldstream Hills, where we found an almost deserted tasting area and a range of wines that invariably had Hughesy inserting the hooter for a lengthy savouring of the aromas prior to an actual sip.
I'd been to places where the odd wine or three had a magnificent nose, but this was the first place I'd encountered where everything smelt sublime.

We were flying back, so we weren't going to be carrying too much with us and Madam's birthday provided the excuse to crack the last remaining survivor of that particular trip, which predated  the Wine Purchases spreadsheet that began when the Allocated Pension kicked in in March 2007.

Coldstream Hills 2004 Limited Release Shiraz (4.5* $35) Cherries, plums, pepper and spice on the nose that mightn't be as powerful as I recall it being four and a half years before, but still packed a punch. Elegant across the palate with a rounded mouth feel and a finish that ran on and on. Savoury, balanced and tightly wound around an oaky core that's a rather good example of what cool climate Shiraz is all about.

Bloodwood 2009 Chardonnay

Here's one I've tried a number of times in environments that aren't condusive to producing a tasting note.

After sampling it in the winery, over Chinese in Canberra, with an Idian takeaway in Springfield Lakes and at the Bloodwood dinner at the QB, but when Warbo and the Dragon Lady landed on the doorstep bearing a bottle of Piggs Peake Wiggly Tail Marsanne, which made 2/2 wines favourably comparable to the Tahbilk take on the variety in twenty-four hours. With a price tag in the mid-twenties, however, I'm inclined to repeat the value for money Tahbilk factor as stated here.

I needed something to follow that one, and given the fact that our visitors had missed the Bloodwood dinner...

Bloodwood 2009 Chardonnay (4.5* $27) Clear pale yellow in the glass (Warbo: "Very light for a Chardonnay"), citrus notes on the nose and peaches and grapefruit across the palate and definite varietal character this is an impressive new style Oz Chard that'll be on the reorder list on a semi-permanent basis.

Regulation disclaimer: Given the fact that Steve and Rhonda Doyle are personal acquaintances rediscovered after an almost forty year gap, the reader might think I'm exceeding the bounds of something or other.

On the other hand, Halliday rates them a five star operation, rated this as a 92 and having tried the wine in a number of situations with a variety of people whose tastes probably do not coincide without hearing a negative comment I rest my case.

Pfeiffer 2010 Gamay

With the announcement of Apple's new iCloud throwing huge question marks across my current website arrangements, I've got absolutely no qualms about grabbing some of the content, giving it a working over and recycling it in an environment that'll presumably be there when MobileMe goes bellyup in twelve months' time.

Given the weather conditions outside as I sit tapping away on a pre-dawn June morning summer is distant memory and a vague prospect somewhere down the track but the subject of summer drinking is something that's a recurring theme.

Given our location in the more-or-less Deep North of Australia it should probably come as no surprise to learn that the climate hereabouts has some impact on our drinking habits.

Living where winter days are usually accompanied by clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid-twenties (Celsius) a full bodied red wine is more likely to accompany steak or pasta rather than a roast or a big warming bowl of stew. It’s not that we don’t like roasts and stews, the climate predisposes us to travel in other culinary directions.

Winter 2011, however, has been a rather welcome cracker in the chilly nights department, with weeks rather than days of temperatures hovering over and regularly dipping below the ten degree mark, but we're talking generalities here.

And in summer the bowl of pasta or the steak and salad don’t really work all that well in conjunction with a really hearty red. They can, but the external temperature doesn't predispose you to reds at room temperature, I'm reluctant to kill some of the flavour through over-chilling or playing around with some variation on whack it in the fridge and then give it a chance to crawl back up to the ambient temperature, and Madam's been known to be critical of the overuse of the air-conditioner.

The steaks don’t go that well with whites either, so we’ve got a problem unless we can unearth some red wines in a lighter style that can handle a spell in the fridge.

The most obvious option is to choose a Rosé. Unfortunately there’s no stylistic consistency and the name covers a multitude of possibilities, some of which also coincide with styles that I’ll be mentioning a little later on.

So I could head to Portugal and go for one of the big names like Mateus or Lancers. I’ve tried both in the past and, while they’ve been acceptable, they’re nothing to write home about either. There are probably other Portuguese labels that would turn up in city bottle shops, but we’re not in a big city are we?

Another low-cost option in those circumstances would be a lambrusco, and if we were still buying from the local bottle shops we’d probably have a bottle or two of the De Bortoli’s version in the fridge.

There are other options open as you move up the price brackets, of course, and on visits to Stanthorpe, the South Burnett, the Hunter, the Yarra Valley, north-eastern Victoria, the Tamar Valley, Clare, the Barossa and Margaret River  we’ve been keeping our eyes peeled for anything that fits the general description of light reds you can keep in the fridge.

One of the earliest was a Dusty Chill from Dusty Hill Wines in the South Burnett, and we managed to track down another couple in the Hunter  but we’ve had more success as we headed further south.

We’d encountered the Brown Brothers Tarrango before we headed to the Rutherglen/King Valley area in early 2007, and, while I was there to follow the Muscat Trail, we found a couple of gems at the other end of the spectrum. Most significantly, we ran across Pfeiffer’s Wines just outside Rutherglen and signed up for their Wine Club, which delivers a dozen freight-free to our doorstep twice a year.

One of the main reasons we signed up was the Gamay, a delightful wine made from the grape variety that produces Beaujolais, although their Ensemble Rosé ain’t too shabby either.

And each subsequent excursion has yielded something interesting to add to the list. There's the Rockford Alicante Bouchet for a start, a little number that has the added advantage of being low (9.5%) alcohol, so you can knock over a bottle at lunch without going nye-nyes in mid-afternoon.

There have been a number of others, and they've often turned up on special ex-winery freight free at attractive prices. I'll cite the example of the Lenton Brae No Way Rose (by the dozen @$150) and rest m'case, m'lud.

But regardless of those offers there are a couple of year in, year out staples that you'll find stacked in the LHoC rack and chilling in the bar fridge. The Rockford Alicante Bouchet's a certain starter, and you can more or less count on the Brook Eden Pinot Rose, though the quantity's going to vary there, depending on how much I like the Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and the Pinot Noir.

And then there's this one that went rather well with last night's pasta leftovers...

Pfeiffer 2010 Gamay (4.5/5 $18/ C2 $16.20) Regulation cheery cherry red in the glass, whiff of berries on the nose and the usual fresh fruity style across the palate. They've done it again. Integral ingredient in the Little House of Concrete summer drinking strategy. Would be 5/5 if you rated it on latest expression of almost absolute reliability.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pfeiffer 2009 Marsanne

While there are plenty of cases where a winery is widely associated with a particular varietal or blend I can't think of too many examples where the reverse is true.

One case where it is, of course, is Marsanne, the Rhone varietal that has become almost synonymous with Tahbilk, which continues to set the benchmark for the variety in terms of both quality and price. there's no one else (at least no one I've managed to track down) who does it as well, and as consistently, and at $13 for the current release there aren't too many places that can compete on price either. There's also a vertical six pack with two bottles of the 2010, and singles of the four preceding years for a rather remarkable $75 freight free.

Which possibly explains why, much as I liked this take on the variety from Pfeiffers, it's not likely to be featuring in a reorder.

Pfeiffer 2009 Marsanne (4.5* $18.50) Pale straw green in the glass, stone fruits and citrus on the nose and a strong presence of honeysuckle across the palate and a crisp finish, this is a rather classy full bodied well weighted take on the variety and would probably handle a couple of years bottle age. Label me impressed, but there's the Tahbilk factor, so I'll probably be looking at the other Pfeiffer lines when it comes to filling a reorder.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pfeiffer 2010 The Carson Gewurztraminer

There's no denying the existence of a substantial market out there for semi-sweet or off-dry white wines, but I suspect that many of us are still put off by recollections of the days when someone who turned up on your doorstep for dinner would almost invariably bearing a bottle of the old Ben Ean Moselle.

You can probably see the popularity of the Brown Brothers Crouchen Riesling  as a continuation of those days, and I can't help thinking that the failure of quality Riesling to sell in the quantities it deserves has something to do with the Crouchen Riesling mob sampling a wine from the Clare or Eden Valley and looking for sugar levels that aren't there.

At the same time if you're a Riesling drinker you may well see Crouchen or Traminer Riesling as enemy territory. Sort of east is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet.

That degree of sweetness, on the other hand, definitely goes well with dishes on the spicier end of the spectrum. The key issue, at least from where I'm sitting, is getting the touch of sugar in there without veering off into lolly water.

Experience suggests that varietal Gewurztraminer or something along the lines of the Rockford White Frontignac fits the bill rather well.

Pfeiffer 2010 The Carson Gewurztraminer (4* $16.50 C2 $14.85) Mildly aromatic, musk and rose petals on the nose, there's a slight sweetness across the palate (approaching 7 g/L rather than the thirty you may find in the current wave of off dry Rieslings) and subdued varietal character in a wine that's worth considering, but what's going in the rest of the box is the key factor. Interesting drinking in the right setting without making a persuasive case for actual inclusion.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pikes 2010 Traditionale Riesling

 As remarked elsewhere, if the call from Pikes just after we'd returned to base from points south had been offering something other than the Traditionale Riesling (RRP $23) and the Eastside Shiraz ($25) for an effective $18 a bottle freight free, I may well have been issuing a polite not this time, thanks.

After all, I've subsequently ignored an offer of a reasonable Clare Valley red, marked down from $22 to $10 a bottle (plus freight) and my response to another offer from Margaret River will be tempered by what happens when I encounter a couple of acquaintances later this morning. Possibly two dozen, possibly four, possibly more

On the other hand when Pikes called I knew I was light on for everyday drinking Riesling, and I need at least one bottle every week…

Pikes 2010 Traditionale Riesling (4.5* $23) There's a pale green tinge to the straw in the glass and, as with the 2009 the traditional Clare Valley citrus on the nose along with some apples and stone fruit, lemons and slate on the palate, with a balanced acidity that palate, balanced style that suggests medium-term cellaring, though I expect I'll be looking to restock with this one or something similar by early August. Halliday, incidentally, gave it 94. At $18 on special, that's good buying and has me wishing I'd grabbed a bit more at the price.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pfeiffer 2006 Merlot

Previous comments about the Pfeiffer C2 Club and the reluctance to upgrade to the three-shipment version came back to haunt me when I went looking for pricing details for this very food-friendly little number. I might have been inclined to line up for another bottle or two, but it was nowhere to be found, though I did note that there were Museum Releases of the '08 Merlot and the '06 Cabernet in the July dozen, which I won't be getting.

Given the fact that I write up these notes to help me sort out what I want in the next shipment from the winery you might question the point of carrying out the exercise for a Special Members Only Museum Release that won't be more widely available, but there's an anorak mentality lurking back there that prompts me to keep a record just in case I want to look at one of these from a more recent vintage as a short term cellaring prospect.

Pfeiffer 2006 Merlot (4.5* $n/a) Deep purple red with berry notes across the nose and into the palate, where they're matched by oaky tannins there's a depth to this that made it a versatile style with a lengthy finish that worked well with a steak but would work equally well in other settings.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pikes 2009 Luccio Pinot Grigio

I've been watching the to-ing and fro-ing in the media about alternative grape varieties for a while now, and while I don't have the tasting background to contribute to those conversation about those varieties in their European contexts I'm always looking for something interesting to try.

I may be wrong, but it seems we're looking at an on-going evolution in Australian wine, and there's no way that process is going to grind to a halt any time soon if, indeed, it reaches a conclusion at all.

It also seems fairly obvious that most of the initial plantings were selected from a very small subset of the classic French varieties with a bit of Riesling thrown in, presumably because the German settlers in the Barossa brought it with them.

That's simplifying things, but we're talking about an industry that for years labelled bottles as Claret, Burgundy, Hock and Moselle, so it's fairly obvious that under those circumstances you're going to be using the grapes that traditionally go into those names in their European setting, or, more specifically, the ones that you can get to grow in Australian conditions.

Which means, of course, that you probably wouldn't have been seeing too much Pinot Noir going into something labelled Burgundy.

The growth of the Australian wine industry over the past forty years has, equally predictably, been based on increasing varietal labelling using those standard varietals with new regions and varieties being thrown into the mix as someone gets a bee in their bonnet or a bright idea.

Expanding into cool climate areas offers opportunities to try things that didn't work in more traditional areas, and whether you agree with notions of climate change you'd have to admit that there's a fair chunk of the Australian viticultural landscape that's closer to southern Italy and Sicily than it is to Champagne, Burgundy or the Rhine Valley, so it would seem to make sense to be experimenting with varieties that grow well in those conditions regardless of global warming issues.

While Pinot Gris/Grigio is a cooler climate varietal, and some of those considerations might not seem to apply it has been one of the notable beneficiaries of recent diversification.

It's also obvious why we've tended to go for other varieties along the way since it doesn't quite reach the same heights as Riesling, Chardonnay, Semillon or, more recently, Sauvignon Blanc. At the same time, when you're looking for something that's relatively low in terms of alcohol/volume, and easy food friendly drinking you can't go far wrong with something along the lines of...

Pikes 2009 Luccio Pinot Grigio (4.5* $17) Previously Pinot Grigio Blend, with substantial assistance from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, this 100% Pinot Grigio looked attractive in the glass, and that impression carried across the nose, with evident pears and tropical fruits and the palate, which delivered restrained varietal character. Food-friendly style that's one to bear in mind next time around. Sure, it's not top notch highly memorable five star drinking but there's definitely a spot for something along these lines in the fridge over summer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Helm 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

Since I'm writing these notes (largely) as a personal record of what I've tried that can be used when orders go in to wineries there's a pretty fair argument against posting anything about this one.

Frosts in November 2006 meant that only 380 cases of this one were produced, so you wouldn't expect stocks to last too long. On the other hand, of course, given the fact that Helm ships their wine in boxes of ten rather than a dozen (not sure why, and forgot to ask when we were there) I guess that'll make other decisions a bit easier, won't it.

Helm 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (4.5* $32) Bright red in the glass, with an interesting mix of elements on the nose there's plenty of varietal character across the palate with earthy notes rather than mint character, fine tannins and a rolling lengthy finish. They'll be out of the '07 shortly, but will be watching for the '08.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pfeiffer 2004 Merlot

While I've been tempted to move from the C2 version of the Pfeiffer Wine Club to the C3 equivalent, which means an additional mixed dozen every year, but that extra dozen is a bridge too far as far as quantities from a particular winery is concerned.

Three dozen with a fourth when we stock up on the Gamay and whatever else has caught the eye is, after all, a substantial chunk out of the thirty-something dozen we're looking at buying each year when we're looking to buy from around twenty wineries.

Declining the three shipment option means that there's always going to be the odd wine we miss trying since it has only appeared in that third shipment, but on the other hand if it means that the Pfeiffers need to throw the odd museum release in to fill out the three dozens that's fine with me.

Take this 2004 Merlot for example.

Given the preponderance of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz at the notional quality end of the Australian market we tend to forget that we're talking about the variety that dominates the Bordeaux blends in St. Emilion and Pomerol. That's probably understandable when you look at the quantities of industrially produced Riverland Merlot that ends up on the el cheapo shelves at your local liquor outlet. It tends to be a drinkers' variety rather than one for the collector or connoisseur, so it's always a pleasure to get a reminder of how well the variety can come up when it's handled properly.

Pfeiffer 2004 Merlot (4.5* $n/a) Medium bodied with floral notes on the nose and rounded earthy tannins across the palate there's plenty to savour here and I'd be inclined to grab an extra bottle or two if it was Gamay-ordering time which, unfortunately it isn't (yet). There's a lush mouth feel that works well with a roast (beef in this case, though it'd go well with lamb) and there's a fair dash of leather and cigar box for after dinner as well.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pikes 2008 Eastside Shiraz

Under different circumstances I may well have delivered a polite refusal when the nice people from Pikes called at the end of the week that saw us back at base and contemplating kitchen conversions.

Having arrived home on Tuesday afternoon the unpacking and getting things sorted factor got us through Wednesday and well into Thursday, and there was plenty of catching up to do, so checking wine stocks and looking at reorders was hardly the highest priority.

I knew there was a box coming from Helm, there would be half dozens from Hay Shed Hill, Baileys and Brook Eden in the pipeline between mid-May and the new financial year, and I'd be looking at mixed boxes from Lerida Estate, Lark Hill and Clonakilla over the next month or two. I really need to get something from Cullen in Margaret River as well, so you might think that there wouldn't have been much room for anything else along the way.

I hadn't actually got to the monitoring stock levels side of things, but I couldn't help the sneaking suspicion that we were light on for wine at the everyday drinking end of the spectrum, things that slot in between the el cheapo Tahbilk Everyday Drinking bottles left over after we've resupplied The Barra and the mid- to high-twenties that aren't quite your everyday quaffers but deserve something better than Hughesy's regular curry and pasta staples.

There's still a reluctance to open a really good bottle with the chilli con carne…

And if the call from Pikes had been offering something other than the Traditionale Riesling (RRP $23) and the Eastside Shiraz ($25) for an effective $18 a bottle freight free, I may well have been issuing a polite not this time, thanks.

On the other hand I knew I was light on for everyday drinking Riesling, and I need at least one bottle every week…

The Shiraz would, I reckoned, be handy along the way as well, particularly when the new oven's ability to deliver roasts and pizza was factored in.

In any case, the dozen took a good two and a half weeks to arrive, and if I'd known that I may well have gone to Tahbilk to meet the perceived requirements.

Pikes 2008 Eastside Shiraz (4* $25) Plums and berries on the nose with a touch of peppery spice thrown in for good measure, plenty of fruit and smooth chocolaty tannins across the palate. Very enjoyable  drinking, though I'm not sure I'd be queueing up for a resupply.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Helm 2010 Classic Dry Riesling

The winery part of our recent southern trip was built around two premises - a visit to Bloodwood in Orange and an exploration of some of the wineries in the Canberra District, and with limited windows for sampling and tasting it's hardly surprising that we headed for places that were highly rated.

Given the district's emerging status as a producer of premium Riesling we were always going to include Helm Wines on the very short list of places to visit since I've seen comments ascribing much of that emerging status to Ken Helm's advocacy of the district and the variety, and the fact that his establishment was the first stop on the circuit meant that the bar was set very high.

Number Hughesy among the extremely impressed.

Helm 2010 Classic Dry Riesling (4.5* $28) Apples and pears rather than lemon and lime on the nose, though those elements are there underlying that top layer. Across the palate it's the same, complex expressions of the characters you associate with quality Riesling that combine to produce a floral, structured style that's almost perfectly balanced with a lengthy finish. Precision winemaking that is worth every cent. Will definitely be keeping this one in stock at the LHoC while stocks last.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lerida Estate 2008 Merlot Cabernet Franc

They say you should never look a gift horse in the mouth, but there are times in this wine drinking game when you have to do something very close to it.

An email in the in tray a week ago advised that, having entered my details on the Lerida Estate mailing list I was this month's lucky winner of a complimentary bottle of wine.

Nice, I thought at the time. That'll help me sport out the order when it goes in.

Given the size of the operation (5000 cases according to Halliday) a range of five whites, the same number of reds and three in the Rose style is going to be a bit tricky to fit into a mixed dozen, assuming, of course, that you're looking at one of each.

Having sampled the 2008 Merlot Cabernet Franc has simplified matters.

Lerida Estate 2008 Merlot Cabernet Franc (4* $29.50) The 80% Merlot definitely comes through on the nose, and there's nicely integrated oak and fine tannins across the palate, combining to produce a wine that'seasy to drink and extremely food friendly with savoury notes and a lengthy finish. As a reorder prospect, however, the price tag (at least for my money) doesn't match what's on offer in the glass.