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.