Archive for ‘Australia’

March 16, 2019

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay, 2014

There was a time when Wolf Blass defined good taste in wine.  And that time was three decades ago.  And, for me, I can even define it further: 1984 in Sydney when WB was both affordable and astonishingly good.  But now?  Talk about retro blast from the past.

 

This is a totally pleasurable Chardonnay, no strikes against it.  For the person who wants a wine, year after year, to taste pretty much the same, within a very, very narrow range of differentiation, Wolf Blass rules the southern hemisphere.  Perhaps only Beringer comes close with this sort of equilibrium.  But isn’t part of the pleasure of drinking wine that difference vintage to vintage, that variability?  If it is, I suggest you move on.

 

Glass half full: Class act.  Glass half empty: Next. Quickly.

 

Price: Regularly $25, on sale for $20, so extremely good value.

 

Market Liquidity: Like an 80s playlist.

February 23, 2019

Bleasdale Mulberry Tree Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015

There is something about Australian Cab Sauv that’s never 100% as good as you hope regardless of the price.  Shiraz? Out of the park.  Cab Sauv, hit and miss.  This doesn’t miss, but it’s no home run.

 

The Bleasdale scored high with Halliday and we’re not in disagreement, particularly the very palatable tannins, which in Napa would probably choke, and the predominance of cherry and black currant.  Smooth and decent with red meats but also without the depth the label proclaims.  Order it in a restaurant.

 

Price: $18 at BC Liquor.

 

Market Liquidity: Good value but not great value.

September 14, 2018

Leeuwin Estate Siblings Shiraz, 2012

Entry level LE is expensive.  Even in Western Australia.  Even at the vineyard in Margaret River.  It’s just how it goes.  And it’s not always brilliant (witness our rather uninspired taste of the Art Series Riesling).  But most of the time it is brilliant.  It has a modesty and restraint, across most varietals, something you don’t normally get in Oz (home of Punch in the Face Shiraz); this isn’t punching bag red.

 

The entry level Siblings Shiraz has (we think) everything going for it.  Smooth and sweet(ish) like melba sauce, meaning berry forward, palate delightful and deeply nuanced but without the flair of a truly magnificent red.  You can just imagine staff tasting from the barrel and knowing it wouldn’t cut the mustard for an Art Series label but how eloquent and measured nonetheless.  We drank it against an Ottolenghi recipe of braised leeks (with edamame, buffalo mozzarella, lemon zest and a sprinkling of Gran Padano) and it shone.  As a sipper it became instantly addictive.

 

There is something missing, something you find in those towering Penfolds that cost a fortune but you are, of course, at entry level.  $40 entry level.  But still.  A good fit, off the rack.  Thank you Leeuwin.

 

Warm, pleasant, pleasing and delectable.

 

Price: $40 at Kits Wine Cellar (but with a half case take 10% off).

 

Market Liquidity: Like an earworm there’s a repetitive riff and you’re hooked.

August 22, 2018

Penfolds Max’s Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015

(I left the flashy red label on; we are over and through with glam labels, but you can always tear it off and still have a reasonable presentation at the dinner table.)

 

It’s been a while since we corked a wine this forward, assertive and confident.  Less like a Wimbledon semi this is a Davis Cup final; it clamors to be heard and in so doing you can barely hear yourself.  On a scale of one to 10 in subtlety we score this Liberace in concert crossed with Cher at the Oscars.  While it has legs, Usain Bolt legs, we opened our 2015 in 2018 as a sort of witness to things that may.  It may.  Just, do you have the patience?

 

While still (much too) young, and worthy of at least another five years on the down low, it is eminently drinkable in that forward Cab Sauv way.  If this is your thing, rock solid granite determined super masculine Cab Sauvs, then this is really your thing.  Reviews talk about the nuance and balance which to us were not predominant; more like static and assured but monochrome, with mere echoes of oak.  An astringent dark cherry crossed with licorice root on the palate and an earthy finish give it fullness; it has a lot of heft and I guess is “mouth delicious” and delightful but not as a sipper.  A whole bottle over dinner in one sitting feels a bit like a whole movie of just the car chase in The French Connection, no plot.  Yet who in YVR would be serving this by the glass?

 

Dry and red meat friendly and decent value from one of the most prestigious Oz vineyards but for better or worse not our cup of tea.

 

Price: $32 at BC Liquor.

 

Market Liquidity: In the alternative, may I suggest a shot of testosterone.

February 21, 2018

Eileen Hardy Chardonnay, 2014

Drinking wine in Australia, the last post: The best Australian Chardonnay I’ve ever had the privilege to drink.  Much lauded; all the major wine mags/bloggers love this white.  But at the same time a long ways away from what else could be bought in this price category; mid range Burgundy and medium level California Chards and top of the line BC whites; line them all up and we’re hard pressed to see the dollar value.  But it was good, mark my words.

 

Very present.  By which I mean unmistakably Chardonnay, assertive, determined.  It’s like a movie script that had twelve rewrites, each to hone the previous version, but sometimes to the detriment of the end product.

 

It is dry, like mixed nuts in its nuttiness, oak laden with some Bosc pear skin on the palate, rough hewn if you know what I mean.  Rich.  Foie gras rich.  You will not accidentally mistake it for a thin Italian Pinot Grigio.  The majority is Tassie, but a minority South Yarra is blended in (I mean Hardy’s has a lot of grapes, why not?).  But it also speaks to the cool climate conditions of Tasmania and some of the genius bottles emerging from the state which, relatively speaking, is a wine region on the nascent side.  It shows the enormous opportunity and luscious wines you can score with a trip down south.

 

Price: We saw this in a few high end wine shops for between $70 and $90 AUD.  Pass.  Then I picked up some duty free for $55 AUD.  [Editorial comment: I was on my way to Hong Kong from Australia. I asked how much wine I could bring in.  They told me HKG only monitors alcohol; anything under 20% volume there is no limit.  I repeat that, anything under 20% there is no limit.  I felt like an adult.  A real, honest to god adult, living in an adult world, without a nanny state looking over my shoulder determining my every move.  Imagine.  Then a week later I came back to Canada…]

 

Market Liquidity: Like Olympic judging, sometimes the gold doesn’t go to the best of the lot, even if the marks are highest.

February 8, 2018

Jim Barry Assyrtiko, 2017

Drinking wine in Australia 4: So Jim Barry’s son, one of his sons, Peter, Peter and his wife go to Greece and drink some sensational white wine and then they go home and they decide to plant that varietal at the family vineyard in Australia and they do and a few years later they bottle their first vintage and here it is.  Assyrtiko.  Not sure I’ve ever drunk a bottle.  The tricky part is, however, wine in Santorini can be plonk but the experience so divine you might think you’re drinking Burgundy.  Was their venture just a passing interest?  No.  This is a breakthrough in terms of sipping and eating.

 

As an aside, it was not the most interesting wine we drank across four states and umpteen cities and vineyard treks.  It was the second most interesting wine.  The most interesting wine was from Mount Mary, the Middleton family’s vineyard in the Yarra valley; we had, at Cutler and Company, a few glasses of sensational Fume Blanc from Reflexion, their “down market” brand, which was profound with food.  Moving.  Sometimes wine stewards are pretentious and insensitive and at worst trendsetters but sometimes they understand the harmony of food and wine and score big time and that was our experience with the Mt. Mary.

 

That said, the Assyrtiko was definitely the second most interesting wine we drank.  It marries the acid and citrus of the Mediterranean with floral aromas and hints of honey and peach and is aggressively interesting and unique and a breath of fresh air for white varietals.  Again, not to get TOO repetitive, but the likelihood of finding this in BC, let alone Canada, is remote at best.

 

Price: A pricey $45 Australian, if you can find it, and it was hard to find (and even the clerk said to me “this is the first bottle I’ve sold”!).

 

Market Liquidity: The spirit of adventure rewarded.

 

February 7, 2018

Pirie, Tasmanian Sparkling

Drinking wine in Australia 3: In search of a brilliant sparkling we drank glass after glass of Australian sparklers, but mainly Tasmanian wines because, well, it’s almost impossible to find them outside of the state.  The wine industry in Tassie is young, the volume is low, and only a few generic sparklers make it overseas.  Ditto their Pinot.  Plus, restaurants serve them at a low cost and with some cheer.

 

We made the trek deep up country to Jansz and sampled some sensational vintages and bought their limited and very tasty rose.  We had a beautiful regular old non-vintage from Clover Hill.  We drank glass after glass as an aperitif which was uneven but usually fun.  We drank a poorly reviewed Shingleback and found it enormously food friendly and ordered more.  

 

There is a trend, good or bad, for hip Oz restaurants to have five categories on the wine list: Red, White, Sparkling, Orange and Chilled Red.  I can’t see the words “chilled red” without thinking of Lambrusco, and indeed many of the reds we sampled had that cheap fruit tang of L.  The orange category, say a Sem/Sauv Bl left on the skins or a Cab Sauv not left on the skins, were sometimes refreshing sometimes sour.  But perhaps the best thing going on in Australia is bottle after bottle of brilliant sparkling and restaurants that give you a choice per glass, at about $10 per.

 

Of course you can’t return home and buy House of Arras, Clover Hill, Swift, Frogmore Creek, Sittella, Yarrabank, Bay of Fires, or any of the other myriad sparklers we tried.  BC just doesn’t let the consumer choose; they choose for us.  And shelf space, they tell us, is at a premium…

 

When all was said and done there really was no comparison to the generic non-vintage Pirie which was yeasty and aromatic and effervescent and just all round wonderful (and hard to find, even in Melbourne, but worth the effort) and for which, if Canadians were allowed to be adults and buy wine and bring it home in volume the way other nationals were doing we would have ordered several cases.

 

 Of course you can’t buy it and ship it like the rest of the world.  You can’t even contract an agent to get it.  You just have to live with the fact that the BC government is an omniscient beast who not only knows all but acts in our best interest.  Not.

 

Price: Around $34

 

Market Liquidity: Drinking wine in the socialist state of BC sucks. Tassie rocks.

February 6, 2018

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Margaret River Riesling, 2016

Drinking wine in Australia 2: Generally, LE churns out a huge swath of drinkable and sometimes especially eloquent wines.  The Art Series is their upper echelon and, if you can find it in Canada, will set you back significantly.  In Australia you can source the various bottles and a dry WA Riesling spoke to us.  But unfortunately only on the shelf at he bottle shop.  As a sipper or with food this just didn’t work for us.  It was highly acidic, and not in a “succulent” way as the label promised; very lime forward, deeply mineral, and only a nuance of floral notes.  To compare it apples to apples, new world to new world, I was thinking of how spectacular the “simple” Riesling from Sea Star on Pender Island was/is, and thinking about the heft and cache of Leeuwin, and that just made us more discouraged.

 

Price: $30 Australian in Australia.

 

Market Liquidity: Sometimes big stars walk through a matinee performance.

February 6, 2018

Two Wonderful Chards: Devil’s Lair Margaret River Chardonnay & Frogmore Creek Chardonnay, 2016

Drinking wine in Australia 1: We bought the Devil’s Lair because Decanter lauded it with a huge amount of points; we wanted to see what the fuss was.  For us, there wasn’t too much fuss. This is a wonderful Chardonnay, crisp and fruity and with muted oak; it has a decent finish but it wasn’t as wow as anticipated.

 

The Frogmore Creek on the other hand was really lovely, what a sipper.  Delectable; smooth, nutty, light oak, bracing acidity, a Sprite finish. 

 

Prices: Low 30s for both, Australian bucks.

 

Market Liquidity: Not all Oz Chardonnay has to taste like Lindeman’s.

January 19, 2018

Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014

Ah Margaret River.  A retirement pipe dream.

 

Young and fruity and juicy and vibrant.  This is a wine that needs some time, it’s just oozing potential.  We were unsure at first but with a meatball dinner it was sensationally food friendly.  On the initial mouthful it’s assertive and even disappointing but with a bit of air, with a few conscientious sips, it delivers, as VF almost always does.  The oak does not dominate, and the tannins are hardly balanced despite the reviews, but this is a joy to discover.  Like the antithesis of a California Cab Sauv, with none of the weight or drudge or 18% alcohol, it does have the élan of a ride in Tomorrowland.  Zippy and zesty and alluring.  Buy it now for Christmas dinner 2020.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

Price: $30 at BC Liquor.

 

Market Liquidity: A bottle of promise.