22 Sep 2011

Voyager Estate Benchmarking Masterclass and More

Although I have now finished at King & Godfree and am frantically making final preparations for my trip, I am still making time to head out to some trade activity around Melbourne. It's good to get out and try some wines before I go as it will be a while before I drink Australian wines again. It's kind of why I'm spending time in South Australia around my graduation ceremony in Adelaide next week. Not having visited the Barossa or Clare I thought it pertinent considering I am about to travel around the world! Posts will follow about the jaunt next week (assuming I have time before I go).

Last week I popped along to the Fesq tasting where several principles were in attendance worth chatting with. The Best's wines have never looked better, and it will be interesting to visit the winery on Friday on the way across to Adelaide tomorrow. The Leconfield wines impressed for their quality for the money, as did the elegant Sons of Eden wines. The 2010 Sorrenberg wines were exceptional; the very definition of elegance and "hands-off" winemaking. Having only heard about and seen it, the Clape Cornas was pretty amazing and also good value compared to some Cote Rotie. It was also nice to chat with the various winemakers, always good to share perspective and insights.

This past Monday gave the opportunity to have a look at some of the new releases of Moor St Wines, Deja Vu and Vintage & Vine. A number of winemakers/owners were in town to show their latest vintages, including Jeffrey Grosset (the 2011 Rieslings were a testament to the vineyards and the winemakers' gift), Patrick Carmody (some back vintage Craiglee wines showed the amazing ageing potential of the somewhat underrated Shiraz), and Ron Laughton (the 2010 Jasper Hill Shiraz wines showed brilliance in power and restraint). Some of the imports showed pretty well, including some Segura Viudas Cava, the Santorini Greek wines, the Pichot Vouvrays and the Chateau Mont Redon is as good as I remember when I visited last year.

Tuesday morning I headed down to Circa for the now annual but my first, Voyager Estate Masterclass. I've been to a few benchmarking tastings before, but they have generally been for one varietal. As champions for Cabernet Merlot blends, Shiraz and Chardonnay, Voyager Estate run their masterclass with all three styles/varietals. The sourcing of wines is very global, and shows the diversity and quality of wine all over the world. Naturally as these are all varieties of French extraction, there were three French examples which unusually showed the weakest of all the wines. The suggestion by Ben Edwards was that this could be partly traced back to cork and brettanomyces, something more uncommon in Australian wine.

Of the 2008 Chardonnay bracket the wines I found the most interesting were the Kistler Mountain Les Noisetiers (although few agreed with me), the Felton Road, and the Voyager Estate. The Kooyong Faultline unfortunately looked weak after the Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne, purely because of the weight and breadth of the previous wine. The 2009 Shiraz/Syrah wine that stood out the most for me was the Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Le Sol, which had elegance and concentration, with beautiful savoury spice undertones. Of the Australian Shiraz the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier showed exceptionally well, but really requires ageing. The 2007 Ornellaia was by far the pick in the Cabernet Blend bracket; power, length, balance and longevity. The Cullen Diana Madeline wasn't what I expected, it looked very supple and seems to be developing kind of quickly. The Voyager showed well in this bracket, but was very youthful and tightly locked up.

This past week I've opened a few treasures that I've been saving with the family. The 1996 Poderi Colla Barbaresco has been cellared amazingly well as it barely looked more than three years old. The cork was also in immaculate condition, as was the 1996 Mount Mary Pinot Noir. There is something very special about great Yarra Valley Pinots at  certain age, this wine took me back to the wine that convinced me to continue in the biz, the 1997 Yeringberg Pinot Noir. The Mount Mary was the best Pinot Noir I've ever tasted, and was perfectly posistioned in the sweet spot of age. The cork in the magnum, of 1992 Hanging Rock Heathcote Shiraz was unfortunately not faring so well, and the wine looked a little oxidised. It was hanging together pretty well though, but aged Australian Shiraz can be a little tough to grasp. Always more to experience I guess.

Interesting to see how two wines of the same age are developing

7 Sep 2011

Stained teeth and dehydration

Late August and September generally means budburst out in the vineyards of Australia, but in the wine trade it generally means one thing; Portfolio Days! The converging factors of slow periods in the winery allowing winemakers to head out on the road, and the beginning of the four month period leading into Christmas means this is the perfect time to invite trade supporters into one location to exhibit one's wares, whilst inviting principles along to spruik. With countless distributors showing hundreds of wines each, it is with great enthusiasm and trepidation that I headed into this period, particularly given I am about to head off on the grand tour in about three weeks. Here are the tastings I've been to in the last two weeks.

Spanish Acquisition 10 year Anniversary Portfolio Tasting
The fact I turned up an hour early because of a typo in the reminder email meant I got the opportunity to try a Bloody Mary for the first time, at 11:00am... I think I'll pass next time, I've never been a fan of tomato juice. 90% of Scott Wasley's Spanish and Portugese range were on show, starting with Cava, moving into whites, reds, fortifieds and finishing with a nice London Dry Gin. Tasting a lot of these wines makes me realise that generally I have yet to come to terms with these varieties and styles, further supporting my intention to spend 6 weeks in the region next year. Some of the highlights were some of Telmo Rodriguez's reds, most of the Portugese wines, and as always, the Romate sherries. Interestingly there were a few bottles of Pingus open (which I have to admit general ignorance of), which would sell for about $1500+ a bottle, but I couldn't quite see what made it so valuable a wine. Oh well...

Negociants and Samuel Smith & Son New Release Tasting
There is always excitement around the Negociants tastings as they have such a huge and diverse portfolio of domestic and imported wines, yet there is always something to disappoint about them. Whilst the wines on show are all great and are important to show in a commercial sense, it is a shame that a lot of the great European stuff isn't on show; Guigal, Hugel, and numerous others. I don't expect first growth Bordeaux or Vega Sicilia, but some interesting stuff would be nice, like some South American wine. They also don't seem particularly interested in holding masterclasses at these tastings, although they did have a few at the Pinot Noir tasting a few months ago which were great. There are however always some surprises, which in this case was the quality of the New Zealand wines in the portfolio (Dry River, Ata Rangi, Valli, Vinoptima, Greywacke, Fromm), Egon Muller being in attendance in a white suit showing his great wines, the quality of Oz producers like Seppeltsfield, Kooyong and Tarrawarra, and the table covered in various cheeses. A few cheeky Hoegardens with some former fellow students to finish with made for a lovely end to the evening.

Bibendum Trade Day
One of the most eclectic ranges of premium small producers, the wines of Bibendum have had a much larger presence in King & Godfree this year thanks to their quality, talkability and a great sales rep. The opportunity to further explore the range and catch up with the lovely people that work for the company are all the incentive I need. Having said that there were a number of wines that didn't really excite, which was a bit disappointing. The wines that did impress are mostly the ones we already stock, suggesting we know what we are doing or we have a really good rep. It was amazing to get the chance to sit in on an Oakridge and Bindi masterclass, especially when there are six vintages of Block Five Pinot to try. The grower champagnes lived up to the hype, my first taste of Tokaji dessert wines was pretty awesome, the Vissoux Beaujolais' were very interesting, the Spanish wines were generally great, and it was nice to finish with some Cognac considering I was brewing a cold up. A chat with some Bibendum folk and the vineyard manager from Mac Forbes finished the evening quite nicely.

These tastings were a nice way to finish up my time at King & Godfree as I prepare for my trip, and they also served to interest me in some of the places I'll be visiting soon.