china daily wine column #33
Friday March 25th 2011, 2:28 am
Filed under: wine
The best of the 2008 Penfolds reds are discussed in this third and final column about Penfolds. The Bin 389 cabernet sauvignon shiraz is a uniquely Australian marriage of grape varieties that are not normally combined: a 52:48 per cent blend of cabernet and shiraz. The cabernet gives the wine structure and the shiraz provides richness.
The wine smells like a freshly baked cake, with touches of dark chocolate and assorted berries. Scents of bread and butter pudding follow, along with a nutty finish. I also detected wafts of pipe tobacco.
In the mouth the wine offered masses of blackcurrant and mulberry fruits and a mix of liquorice and mocha flavours.
Chief winemaker Peter Gago described the Bin 389 as sitting somewhere between the poise of the 1996 vintage and the power of the 1998 vintage, when this blend was first released.
Gago described it as the “star performer in the Penfolds bin line-up, consistently hitting the value and quality sweet spot”. The 1996 and 1998 Bin 389 wines have become very collectible because of their quality and longevity. “Hopefully Bin 389 aficionados do not make the same mistake with the 2008 vintage,” Gago said.
The Bin 389 has a recommended retail price in Australia of $65.
The 2008 vintage of the Bin 28 Kalimna shiraz is the fiftieth commercial release of this wine. Gago said it would rival the outstanding 1998 vintage. Originally Bin 28 was sourced exclusively from the Kalimna vineyard on the northern edge of the Barossa Valley. But demand is so high that the Barossa only provides about 40 per cent of the blend with the rest coming from other parts of South Australia.
The wine is matured in older American oak hogsheads to enhance fruit complexity and structure. This means the tannins are silky yet approachably soft. The colour is intense and the wine has aromas of plums and black olives. A marvelous wine, it has a recommended retail price in Australia of $34.
Grapes for the 2010 Penfolds Bin 311 chardonnay came from the Tumbarumba region in the Snowy Mountains of New South Walkes. This wine is similar to French Chablis. It has elegant flavours of citrus fruits, a mineral texture and great length – the wine feels precise and lingers in one’s mouth.
Kym schroeter, white winemaker for Penfolds, said the 2010 Bin 311 chardonnay had the acidity, balance and structure to be enjoyed in its youth, but also had the potential to develop further complexity after cellaring for three to six years.
The Bin 311 has a recommended retail price in Australia of $40.
All of these wines had screw caps, known as Stelvins. These ensure wines arrive in as fresh a condition as when they left the vineyard. The same cannot be said for corks.
This week I eagerly opened three wines from a South Africa vineyard with a good reputation. All had problems with their corks.
When wines are stored standing up, over time the cork dries and shrinks, and a gap occurs between the cork and the bottle, and wine can develop major problems.
Chemicals used in making the cork can sometimes leaves traces that taint the wine. We often say the wine is “corked”. Various awful things happen: the wine can lose all flavour and aroma and becomes effectively coloured alcoholic water.
In worse cases, the wine develops a horrible aroma, similar to the smell of a wet dog when it comes inside after rain, and the wine also tastes bitter.
Avoid wines with corks, especially when they are stored badly in heated wine shops. Insist on wines with Stelvin screw caps.
* “Best not to put a cork in it” in China Daily, 2 April 2011, page 12. Find a link to the story here.
china daily wine column #32
Sunday March 20th 2011, 12:44 pm
Filed under: wine
We continue this week with more of the glory that is Penfolds, one of Australia’s great wine traditions. Wines reviewed this week ranged from good to great. All are approachable while young, but would improve considerably with time in the cellar.
The 2008 Bin 407 cabernet sauvignon is rich, even regal. It tastes of ripe brambles and blackberries and offers aromas of cinnamon and violets. It could be cellared for up to 20 years, such is the quality of the fruit and winemaking, at which time it would be magnificent.
But keeping this wine for two decades would require a strong will because of the temptation to open it sooner. Its soft tannins make it easy to drink now. It paired wonderfully with grilled steak plus mashed potatoes and fried onions.
Fruit for 2008 was sourced from the southeastern corner of South Australia, which enjoys the cooling influence of the Great Southern Ocean. Sea breezes ensure an extended ripening period. Some fruit also came from the formidable cabernet sauvignon regions of Coonawarra, Robe, Wrattonbully and Padthaway.
Penfolds’ senior red winemaker Steve Lienert predicted the 2008 Bin 407 could be the best since the first release of the wine, the 1990 vintage. “Invest,” Lienert said. “One for the cellar.” Indeed, the Bin 407 has reached a new level of quality. It has a recommended retail price of $55 in Australia.
My first taste of the 2010 Bin 23 pinot noir did not leave much of an impression. But a return visit a week later after a bad cold left me most impressed. It smells of cherries and macaroons, and the cherry motif carries into the mouth, with hints of sour cherry and dark chocolate.
In the mouth the wine has a plush texture with supple and chewy tannins. This wine cries out to be matched with duck. Drink it with Peking duck while young and pair it with roast duck after five years in the cellar.
The wine is beautifully balanced with a captivating nose that offers aromas of roasted coffee and liquorice. The pinot noir has a recommended retail price of $40 in Australia.
We have space for a little more on the 2009 Bin 138 grenache shiraz mourvèdre blend, often shortened to GSM, mentioned briefly last week. It is made from Barossa Valley fruit. The wine is well constructed with each of the grape varieties contributing a range of nuances and flavours, and the wine has pleasant tannins.
But I detected a slightly muddy note in the aftertaste when I returned to the same bottle after a week. Almost all Penfolds wines need time in the cellar. Indeed, probably the best book about Penfolds wines has the subtitle “the rewards of patience”.
But this GSM is probably best drunk while young. The 2009 Penfolds Bin 138 grenache shiraz mourvèdre has a recommended retail price of $30 in Australia.
* “Penfolds, the big sellers for your cellars” in China Daily, 26 March 2011, page 12. Find a link to the story here.
china daily wine column 31
Sunday March 13th 2011, 8:26 am
Filed under: wine
The release of new vintages from Penfolds is always a special moment. News that samples of eight of the 2008 and 2009 special bin wines had arrived for review sent ripples of anticipation among my colleagues. This and later columns will consider those wines.
Penfolds is one of Australia’s most iconic and traditional wine companies. Chief winemaker Peter Gago said the 2008 and 2009 bin wines could be the strongest from the first decade of this century.
Vineyard staff had to tolerate a 15-day heat wave after near-perfect growing conditions in South Australia. “The 2008 harvest is certainly a vintage of two parts – a statement pertaining to the profound differences of fruit picked before and after the extreme heat wave of March 3-16,” Gago said.
Luckily the company picked a large proportion of the best grapes before the heat. “Much of our better fruit comes from older, self-regulating vines of lower yield … vines that ripen earlier. Quite opportune in a year with an ill-timed heat wave.”
The release also marked the launch of a newcomer to the collection, the 2008 Bin 150 Marananga shiraz. Marananga is a sub-region of the Barossa Valley in South Australia, one of the best places to grow shiraz in Australia. The town of Marananga is close to the centre of the valley. Warm and dry conditions and rich red soils provide the backbone for some of the region’s best-known wines.
This shiraz is dark cherry in colour and tastes like ripe blackberries picked on a hot summer’s day. The wine received 12 months in an equal mix of new and old French and American oak, and the quality of the oak shows in the intense vanilla aromas of the wine.
The tannins are seamlessly integrated and the wine is soft and drinkable, though could be cellared for at least five years. This is a bold yet seductive wine that is a tribute to the Penfolds range. It sells for $65 in Australia.
The Bin 128 shiraz from Coonawarra is quite a different wine. Coonawarra is a relatively cool area in South Australia and shiraz from this region differs markedly to shiraz from the Barossa. The 2009 vintage tastes of violets and offers more peppery and spice flavours compared with the sweet spices of the Barossa wine. It has a firmer structure and the tannins are more savoury.
Gago said Bin 128 represented a blend of Penfolds’ mastery of shiraz with the unique climate and growing conditions of Coonawarra, to create a wine that delivers a distinctly regional twist to the classic Penfolds style. This Coonawarra shiraz sells for $40 in Australia.
The 2009 Penfolds Bin 138 is a blend of grenache, shiraz and mourvèdre grapes. Gago described it as a good old-fashioned Barossa red “unencumbered by new oak”.
The soft feel of grenache mixes well with the darker berry fruits of shiraz and the earthiness of mourvèdre. Expect flavours of chocolate and liquorice. This is a food-friendly wine that would match French provincial cooking or barbeque ribs. It sells for $30 in Australia.
* “Arrival of iconic vintage causes ripples of excitement” in China Daily, 19 March 2011, page 12. Find a link here.
china daily wine column #30
Sunday March 13th 2011, 7:27 am
Filed under: China
Time magazine recently described the town of Arniston in South Africa as one of the world’s best-kept secrets. Until a few years ago it was a remote fishing village close to the southernmost tip of Africa, along a jagged and wild coastline.
Arniston’s whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs have attracted generations of artists and photographers who liked the idea of isolation, but also being less than a two-hour drive from Cape Town, one of South Africa’s most charming cities.
The village of Arniston gets its name from a British ship that sank in 1815. Of the 378 passengers, only six survived. Remains of the ship were located in January 1982. In terms of visual splendor, Arniston Bay winery has one of the most beautiful locations in the world.
It’s a pity one cannot use terms related to beauty to describe their entry-level wine, labeled as Arniston Bay. Four bottles of the 2010 vintage arrived for review: a sauvignon blanc, a chenin blanc/chardonnay blend, a pinotage rose, and a cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend.
Sauvignon blanc is not one of my favorite grape varieties, especially when the grapes are picked unripe. These wines tend to offer aromas of cat’s urine and freshly mowed grass.
Wines made from ripe sauvignon blanc grapes smell more like pineapples and tropical fruit, as is the case with this wine. Its high alcohol (13.5 percent) proves the grapes were picked ripe. But this wine lacks any character or flavor and dies almost immediately in the mouth. It reminds me of wine sold in cardboard boxes some years ago in various parts of the world.
The chenin blanc/chardonnay blend had even less to offer. It was almost tasteless. The natural acidity of the chenin blanc was neutered by the chardonnay flavors and the result is a dull and flat wine that I cannot recommend – except perhaps when one needs cheap wine for preparing dishes that require wine, such as some risottos.
The reds were a slight improvement. The rose made from pinotage grapes had a pleasant pink color and a friendly dry taste of strawberries. It appeals as a drink-now quaffer, and is a relatively pleasant wine.
The cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend had a dark cherry color, again the result of ripe fruit, with high alcohol (13.5 percent) and some berry aromas. Soft tannins mean it can be consumed now. But it is bland in the mouth and generally boring as a wine.
Arniston Bay wines can be found at the South African Wine Company in North Road in Fuzhou or purchased via their website at http://www.arniston-bay.com.
* “Price trumps value for Arniston reds” in China Daily, 12 March 2011 page 12. A link to the story can be found here.
china daily wine column #29
Wednesday March 02nd 2011, 8:14 pm
Filed under: wine
Cava is considered the most sophisticated of Spanish sparkling wines. Think of it as Spain’s version of champagne — without the high price tag.
Part of the reason French champagne is so expen- sive is because of the labor involved and the fact that even non-vintage champagne sits in the cellar for at least two years.
Cava is made the same way as champagne. It was originally known as champana.
Spanish producers adopted the term “cava”, meaning cellar, in 1970. It refers to the underground cellars in which the wine ferments and ages in the bottle.
Spanish winemakers, inspired by the success of champagne, planted white grape varieties, such as macabeo and parellada. These are still the main grapes of cava, although some producers are experimenting with the traditional champagne grapes chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.
Use of the term “cava” is limited to specific areas, although about 95 percent of Spain’s total production comes from Catalonia.
Maset del Lleó in the Alt Penedés region in Catalonia is a winery with more than two centuries of history. It makes high-quality, traditionally crafted cavas. Francesc Massana produced the first Maset cava in 1917.
David Pedrol, the company’s head of sales and marketing for Asia, says the word “haste” did not exist in the cellars at the Maset del Lléo winery, “a fact reflected in the infinity of subtle nuances our wines possess”. The company’s culture was based on “knowing the value of waiting” that resulted in wine that was a “genuine delight”.
Their reserve cuvee Lavi Pau is made mainly from chardonnay grapes, with some macabeo and parellada. It has a dry taste with a fine bead, and those bubbles stay in the glass a long time — a sign of quality winemaking. The chardonnay grapes give the wine a yeasty aroma of freshly baked bread or brioche.
The wine tastes of lemon and lime. It would match well with fresh oysters, steamed dumplings or even lightly fried dishes, because the acid tang would cut through the oil. It should be served cold from an ice bucket to fully appreciate the flavors.
I also tasted a 2004 Maset del Lleó 1977 made from tempranillo grapes.
The year 1777 refers to the period when the vineyard belonged to Montserrat Abbey. Back then, the Massana family had to pay taxes for the right to farm. Since then, nine generations have worked the Maset del Lleó estate.
This red wine had aromas of wild blackberries and cassis, the result of aging in French barrels. The tannins are soft, making the wine approachable now, and the wine feels soft and velvety in the mouth.
David Pedrol describes it as his company’s finest red, a “tribute to the founders of the Maset del Lleó bodega”. It is a fine tribute, indeed.
The cava sells for 180 yuan ($27) and the red wine costs 300 yuan in China.
* “Spain sparkles with its take on champagne” in China Daily, 26 February 2011, page 12. A link to the article does not appear to be available on the China Daily web site.