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This appears on the Sommelier India website and was originally written with a slight Indian slant on it..but tasting notes are tasting notes, so here is the bones of the Sommelier India piece.

One of the joys in the wine-writing malarky is the being invited to tastings. Good tastings. Tastings that not many would be privy to. I’m not going to lie about it. It’s a privilege, and it’s great fun! The view taken by those inviting people like me is that what I write will be read by readers like you. You’ll then have information to make a decision about whether or not to purchase the wines that I write about. Provided you trust what I taste. Which I hope you do.

And so it came to pass that I received an invitation to preview the new releases of the Bin, Icon and Luxury ranges of wines from Penfolds, one of Australia’s oldest and most renowned wine producers from the Barossa Valley. Penfolds celebrates its 170th year anniversary this year. 

Of the Luxury range, Penfolds flagship red, Grange 2009 sits atop magnificently. A dark, brooding wine with fruit and oak power but an underlying tremor and tautness that promises great things, fifteen, twenty, even thirty years down the track. At the post-tasting lunch, one of the wines served was the 1964 Grange, which is fifty years old now, but showing not a whisker more than 15 or 20.  The 2009 Grange promises to be as long-lived if not more than the ‘64. The wine itself has a suggested retail of about AU$785 but I have a feeling that they’ve added a buffer into the retail price to allow for a bit of discounting. Without doubt, if you look for it in the US or UK leading up to Christmas, you’ll get it for cheaper.See my tasting note for the 2009 Grange below.

 

Penfolds has a history of experimentation, Indeed, one of it’s Icon wines, the RWT Shiraz is a result of such a regime. (RWT stands for Red Wine-making Trial). In this spirit, Penfolds has released the Bin 170 Shiraz from their proprietary Kalimna vineyard, from a parcel of vines known as Block 3C, which dates back to the 19th century. The first batch of this was produced in 1973 and even today, this Shiraz goes into the Grange blend in most years. The wine is impressive – there’s no doubt about that. What is astounding, however, is the price: a whopping AU$1,850 suggested retail price, per bottle. It’s difficult to say whether it’s worth it, but it certainly places the wine in the echelons of the great cru from Bordeaux, or Burgundy, or even some of the iconic reds out of Italy or Spain (think Vega Sicilia’s Unico or their Reserva Especial). But I can’t think of many wines this young that would command such a high price. The wine itself is superb. It has wonderful complexity of flavour, melding dark chocolate with dark and purple berries, tobacco spice and cedary, charry oak. The high 14.5% alcohol is well-integrated, and the wine shows impressive balance and freshness which promises more than fifteen years longevity. I certainly can’t afford a bottle of it, but for those who can, it is definitely a wine to cellar and return to in the future.

Penfolds also introduces new Bin wines that show great value and stylistic definition. Alongside Bin 2 (Shiraz Mourvèdre) and Bin 8 (Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz) – both released last year – sits Bin 9 (100% Cabernet Sauvignon), a delicious wine with velvety tannins and typical Cabernet structure and fruit definition (think black currant/cassis) and even some subtle florals. At a suggested retail price of AU$30, this is certainly a wine that I will be stocking up at home to drink over the next year or two.

Highlights of the tasting are below. 

Bin Range

 

Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2013 (13%)

The use of older oak gives this wine a subtle roundness to complement it’s fresh, juicy palate. A hint of creamy texture and minerality lead to a long finish.

 

Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2012 (12.7%)

Wow! A wine under 13% alcohol. Some smoky/mineral notes on the nose along with fresh white peach. Racy acidity and delicate on the palate. Quite a restrained wine that is almost European in style. Very impressive! 8 months in French oak – 55% new, 45% 1-year old.

 

Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2012 (14.5%)

Some minty notes on the nose along with some florals and sweet red fruit. Quite a fruit-heavy, rich wine with a hint of blackcurrant/cassis. No barrel fermentation (lack of creamy characters on the palate). 13 months in new, 1 and 2-year old French oak.

 

Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvèdre 2012 (66/23/11 percent respectively, fermented separately and blended at bottling) (14.5%)

Spicy/earthy undertone, over-arched by sweet dark and red berries on the nose. A hint of vanilla. Fleshy mouthfeel – quite round – along with fruit sweetness without being over the top. A hint of pepper spice/Christmas-cake spice. Quite complex. Could be good for up to 10 years. 12 months in old American oak.

 

Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (14.3%)

A very good wine from a trying vintage (a lot of the other 2011’s showed a slight bitter extraction and a lean-ness. Yields we down and quality of the fruit, I would hazard, was lower than the vintages on either side – 2010 and 2012). Typical Cabernet flavours of blackcurrant/cassis, sweet dark fruit and bell pepper. A light leathery note belying dusty tannins and fresh acidity.

 

Icon and Luxury Range

 

Yattarna Chardonnay 2011 (13%)

The flagship white of Penfolds, with a suggested retail price of AU$150, this showed overt oaky/cedar notes on the nose along with spice and ripe fleshy fruits (peach, melon) along with nutty notes reminiscent of Meursault. Nothing like Meursault on the palate, though: quite a forward style with attractive sweet fruit, creamy/yeasty notes and zesty acidity. Delicious New World Chardonnay!

St. Henri Shiraz 2010 (14.5%)

A blend of Shiraz fruit from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Adelaide Hills, Wrattonbully and Clare Valley.

My favourite wine of the day, next to the 2009 Grange. Inky dark fruit on the nose/ Very silky on the palate with some oaky/cedary notes along with dark berry-fruit. Quite an earthy style and some dried dark fruit. Pleasant tea-leaf notes too. Perfect balance between slightly bitter extraction and concentration of fruit flavours. All of this leads to a long finish. Suggested retail $95 – which is an absolute bargain for this wine, which will certainly reward cellaring for up to twenty years.

 

Magill Estate Shiraz 2011 (13.6%)

Aged in a mix of French and American oak for 14 months

Sweet berries and Christmas cake spice on the nose. A little grapey on the palate, showing dark berries, with slightly chewy tannins. A hint of delicacy, lacking the concentration of St Henri. Very good oak integration – rather seamless on the palate. Finishes a little short, suggesting perhaps time needed in the bottle to settle and integrate more, but also an indicator of the weaker vintage.

 

RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2011 (14.5%)

100% French oak. 51% New; 49% 1-year old

First thing that strikes is the dark colour – almost black/purple promises a wine of pure concentration and intensity. Very attractive purple fruit and florals on the nose. Palate is quite chocolately, synonymous with Barossa Valley Shiraz. Loads of dark berries and kirsch notes. Rather an attractive wine with chewy tannins that hold loads of fruit. Very concentrated with a hint of pepper spice. All very subtle and still buried under the fruit. Finish could be longer, but overall, an excellent wine.

 

Grange 2009 (14.5%)

98% Cabernet Sauvignon 2% Shiraz. 18 months in new American oak. Fruit from Barossa Valley (80%), McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, Magill Estate

Intense, complex nose of dark berries, cedar and peper spice. A hint of lifted purple florals too. Chocolately on the palate with that pepper again, along with ripe dark fruit (plums, berries) and a slight hint of meaty/gamey characters. How DO they get these flavours?! Taut, tight-knit tannins that are intricately poised and really well integrated into the wine. The high alcohol too, is well balanced – it’s only tell is a slight warmth in the finish and a slight sweetness on the nose and palate. A long, dark chocolate finish. Very impressive and undoutedly long-lived, although perhaps not as long as the great great vintages. Drinking ideally from 2020 to 2035 but perhaps a tad longer if stored in perfect conditions.

 

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Perhaps one style of wine that is grossly under-represented in India is fortified wine. Fortified wines aren’t simply Ports and Sherries, but refer also to Madeira from Portugal, Marsala from Sicily in Italy, liqueur Muscats and Tokays from Australia, Vin de Constance from South Africa and of course, the (Muscat de) Rivesaltes from the  Rhône and Banyuls and Maury from Languedoc-Rousillon. South Africa also makes some wonderful fortified wines in the Port style, but now, since the names Port and Sherry are protected and restricted to their original countries of origin, the South African winemakers can only call these wines Fortified <grape varietal> or Liqueur <grape varietal>. This applies to all other countries that are not hte original producers of a fortified wine.

Do wait for the November issue of Sommelier India to read a full article of the details of fortified wine production and the differing terroirs in each area of production, but as a basic introduction, the following are the main grape varieties or cèpages in some of the main fortified wine styles. 

The city of Oporto, Portugal, the hub of the Port trade

The city of Oporto, Portugal, the hub of the Port trade

 

Port is from Portugal, produced in the Duoro Valley, in the areas of Duoro Superior and Cima Corgo, but stored and matured in Oporto and Vila Nova de Gaia . Over 29 grape varieties are recommended and over 80 are permitted, but the main grapes used in the production of Port are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Franca, Tinta Cão and Tinta Barroca. These are all black grapes.

Sherry is produced in Spain, in the southwest city of Jerez and the towns of Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa María. The white varieties Palomino and Pedro Ximénez are used. The dry sherry styles are known as Fino or Amontillado and gain their unique aldehyde and rancio character from their ageing in old oak in the presence of a yeast known as flor. Also unique to sherry production is the solera system (see diagram below).

 

The solera system of fractional blending

The solera system of fractional blending

The solera system is a system of back-blending or fractional blending in which old wine in barrel is constantly refreshed with younger wine. To ensure consistency, wine is taken from each barrel or butt from one row of barrels known as a criadera and is blended into each butt of another row of barrels (criadera). Fortification occurs through mitad y mitad (half and half) mixture of high-strength alcohol and old wine through the solera system. By law, Fino sherry can be fortified to a maximum of between 14.5% and 15.5%. Amotillado is a variation of Fino.(source: Exploring the World of Wines and Spirits [2005] Christopher Fielden)

Madeira is produced on the island of the same name, some 1,000km from Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. The varietals Verdelho, Sercial, Boal and Tinta Negra Mole as well as Malvasía are used in the production of Madeira. Two characters that mark out these wines are their high acidity, and their smoky, burnt sugar aromas.

Marsala is produced on the island of Sicily and is made from the native white varietals of Cataratto, Grillo and Inzolia. The wine is fortified with grape spirit and sweetened with reduced grape must (mosto cotto) or fortified grape juice concentrate. 

Banyuls, perhaps one of the best wines to accompany chocolate

Banyuls, perhaps one of the best wines to accompany chocolate

Vins Doux Naturels (VDNS) refer to the fortified wines made in France. In the Loire, Rhône and Languedoc, the Muscat grape is used to produce sweet, fortified wines. Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (Rhône) and Muscat de Rivesaltes (Languedoc) are examples of this. In the Rhône and Langeudoc-Rousillon, the red varietals Grenache and Carignan are used to produce Banyuls and Maury (from Rousillon) and Rasteau (from the Rhône).

 

   

 

 

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