Archives for July, 2010

Bindi Wine: taut but classic

The Brisbane Hilton Masterclass weekend just passed welcomed a terrific young man who presented the wines of Bindi near Gisborne in Victoria.

Michael Dhillon, son of a Punjabi man who left India in 1958 to attend Ballarat Grammar School and who never returned, is cleverly at the helm of Bindi Winegrowers.

He showed recent chardonnay and pinot noir wines from his single estate planting in one of Victoria’s coolest wine regions to the north west of Melbourne. That’s the only two varieties grown on the property, and the tasting became one focussed on the terrain and soils on one small six hectare vineyard.

As with all Australian vineyards, Bindi has been singled out for an advancement of the harvest, once reliably occurring in April and May, but now much earlier.

European vineyards use the rule of thumb that it takes 100 days from when a vine flowers to when it’s harvested. The standard time at Bindi was 115-120 days but now with global warming the period is closer to 110.

Bindi have water supplied but only water for vine health, and so in a dry season like 2007, water was applied five times. This also means the vines run on light crops; 4-5 tonnes per hectare is the maximum crop load, so the water demand is never that high anyway (big southern vineyards aim for crop loads of 8-12 tonnes per hectare).

Bindi make a vineyard blend wine called Composition, 2009 (93) and 2007 (89) which taste essentially like unwooded chardonnay; restrained nose, a little lemon meringue notes, then very lean, savoury and dominant in steely acid, and most enjoyable. Michael states these grapes have some indigenous yeast, some cultured in ferment, little or no malic acid conversion, aging in old barrels for 11 months, then bottled.

At the top end of the chardonnay planting there is an outcrop of quartz, and wines grown on that section have a different personality. Enter Bindi Quartz 2009 (95) and 2008 (94); still the same restrained nose but a more succulent palate, a touch more persistent but more tension, vibrance and textural feel in the prominant acidity. This is hallmark Bindi. The vineyard is less fertile and the yields even lower.

Michael stresses that his wines need “to taste like they come from somewhere” and that they be wines to contemplate. The best introspection with his chardonnays is to try to taste the oak, as it is so cleverly installed and beautifully tied together as one flavour.

Bindi’s first Pinot Noir is again called Composition, 2009 (94) is a blend of two vineyards, Original and a new planting from 2001 (30% and 70%). It has lots of colour for pinot, smells of dark fruits and finishes off very soft and supple; it’s in balance yet there is lots of acidity making the wine very drinkable.

Bindi Original Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 (95) is a paler wine yet it belies what tastes arise, softness and dryness but a great savouriness on swallowing. Other than a whiff of perfume the nose is also stitched together as one event.

Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir 2009 (94) is showing advanced colour yet a complete nose, great concentration and tingling acidity. Block 5 2008 (96) is totally different, reflecting the year, leafy, closed up nose, big richness on taste, oak and savouriness in many layers, a sleeper.

These are wines to contemplate, capable of 10-15 year life spans and most understated. As such they are wines which grow on you, so drink a few bottles.

As a passing comment, Michael Dhillon had to quickly buy a heat exchanger in 2008, with the big hot, his grapes came into the winery above 20 oC, whereas usually an autumnal harvest would have readings of 10-15oC.

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RNA Wine Show: judging underway

The first wine show of Australian capital cities is underway in Brisbane this week. The RNA means the Royal National Association of Queensland – an agricultural society.

The RNA have hosted this show since the 50s and supported agricultural competitions and exhibits since its inception in the late 1870s.

Of more recent times it’s better known as a part of the Royal Queensland Food and Wine Show because meats, olive oil, cheese and other good digestible morsels are also paraded and tasted.

Twelve judges taste – four panels of three; so each group will taste approximately one quarter of the entries – 1935, over four days. On the fifth all judges taste the wines in trophy contention.

Sharing the same wines lined up in Riedel Magnum Overture glassware were David O’Leary (O’Leary Walker, Clare and Adelaide Hills) and Kevin Glastonbury (red winemaker at Yalumba-Barossa Valley)

Today was a good start. There were 54 commercial chardonnays (commercial means big volume production and holdings of a minimum of 2000 dozen).

Amongst these wines we found two gold medals and wrote a report about the standard in Australia at this time.

“Outstanding class; top gold excellent and sophisticated, the other more funkier. Chardonnay styles are on the rise and show diversity; we were more appreciative of less development and lessening oak but too many wines were prematurely aged or too funky.”

These comments are directed at all the winemakers who exhibited in the class (I will report the actual wines later in the week when these anonymous glasses are identified by their producer names).

One chardonnay in the class was cork finished, the other 53 were screw capped. Guess what happened to the former bottle – it was oxidised, and was discounted.

In today’s era, a faulty cork does not instantly demand the wine be re-poured as a “second chance”. If a cork fails then too bad; the wine is just downpointed to a poor showing.

Such detailed notes give exhibitors quite close indications of where their wine style fell, and how they related to the upwardly rising chardonnay style standard. And we noted, entry 12 was old fashioned.

Australian chardonnay is undergoing a style refit; wines are more steely, less oaky and more sculptured in their texture. You need to taste chardonnay carefully to secrete all the angles and tastes – that’s why it’s such an important world variety.

Then there were 52 cabernet sauvignons in the commercial group to be judged. We found just one gold medal and deduced the cabernets of Australia, made in big volumes, were in poor shape. These were mainly the 2007 and 2008 vintages.

Comments read, “Poor class; one outstanding wine, pure varietal expression. Too many wines were not varietal cabernet – were plummy, over-ripe, minty, lacking ripeness or without character. Some poor wines are the result of the 2007 and 2008 vintages which were not great”.

What we were saying is that many entries did not smell and taste like cabernet sauvignon. That has to be the starting point, but hot and stressful vintages can toy with the ability of vineyards to produce essential cabernet characters. That’s life in agricultural pursuits, and the weather has a bearing.

This year’s numbers were down a little, as exhibitors think closely about their level of entries in tight industry times. This show once had 2500 entries a decade ago.


Hilton Brisbane Masterclass: Foodie weekend

Hilton Brisbane’s Masterclass 2010 weekend draws chefs from around the globe. And this year’s was no exception, a great array of culinary talent.

The best aspect of their demonstrations is that participants taste the same dishes which are demonstrated on stage-the Hilton hotel chefs cook and plate behind the scenes in parallel with the headline chefs.

I was lucky to pair up in the Singapore Airlines sponsored Asian Affairs Room with Vietnamese author and television chef Luke Nguyen (Red Lantern-Sydney) and once Queensland-domiciled Martin Boetz (Longrain-Melbourne and Sydney) cooking two similar dishes in sync-pomelo salad and duck.

To match wines sponsored by the Granite Belt Wine Country with these four dishes I took to dissecting their recipes first.

In my presentation I outlined that these foods contained the four principal taste sensations, SWEET-SOUR-SALTY-BITTER plus the most important aspect-Umami.

From there it was pointed out that Asian food components have certain repressive or emphasising actions on the principal tastes of table wines.

High food sweetness or sugar makes wine taste thin or often sourer. High food sourness or acidity such as lime juice can dominate the taste of light wines. Salty food emphasises wine tannin so wine selection needs to consider less tannic wines (pinot is a no brainer). Food bitterness is good because it creates wine savouriness. And food umami releases wine earthiness.

With that in mind I was anticipating reasonably salty dishes so low tannin reds were on the agenda, and for whites the means for avoiding high tannin was to go unwooded.

Both chef’s pair of dishes have strong flavours, distinct fragrances (they mélange well with aromatic wine smells) and ample fresh herbs.

Luke’s Crab and Pomelo Salad has mint, Vietnamese mint, paddy herb stems and coriander fresh herbs, principal flavours of garlic, garlic chip, peanuts, chilli (twice); leaving aside the crab protein, then umami in the dried shrimp and fish sauce (twice) when accounting for the dressing.

Martin’s Pomelo Ginger and Cashew Nut Salad with green chilli and crisp garlic has mint, coriander, lemon grass, and lime leaf fresh herbs, principal flavours of green chilli, garlic chips and galangal, then umami from the fish sauce.

The pair of wines served was Robert Channon Pinot Gris 2009 (pear-like, dry, medium bodied, on the lighter grigio end, bright acidity, little tannic grip) and Ballandean Estate Family Reserve Viognier 2009 (pale, heady citrus nose, full bodied, a clear palate bitterness to accentuate food flavours).

Luke’s Master Stock Duck with Tamarind and Plum Sauce is a umami bomb from two soy sauces, and oyster sauce plus one whole duck, and has garlic chive, watercress, cassia, anise and cardamon herbal and spice notes, then principal flavours are chilli and poached duck.

Martin’s Steamed Duck, Winter melon and Shitake Mushroom Soup has ginger, chives and Asian celery for the herb and spice pattern, principal flavours of garlic, peppercorns, preserved lime, plus umami from mushrooms, yellow bean soy and chicken stock.

The two red wines served were Symphony Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2008 (earthy, strawberry, mushroom, soft tannins, elegant) and Summit Estate The Pinnacle Premium Red 2007 (shiraz and pinot noir blend, striking spice, pepper and supple tannins in line with the food influence).

Umami can never be under-estimated in Thai and Vietnamese dishes as it makes us salivate as we eat and appreciate the savouriness of wine influenced by food components, mainly salt. It is the spice of our eating lives.

Down to earth: Biodynamic grapes

Negociants Australia conducted their fabulous sommelier training program around Australia this week under the title “Working with Wine” under the byline Down to Earth Viticulture, focussing on vineyard practices.

And this company’s investment in the top end discussions about winespeak are well recorded. This time it was the evangelistic writer and Melbourne-based Max Allen armed with a plethora of biodynamic jargon and fact.

The day’s proceedings got down to tasting biodynamic and organically certified wines of various styles.

From Martinborough NZ, Palister Estate Riesling 2008 (USD 16), lime juice, off-dry, talcum powder acidity (89), a terrific Great Southern Riesling from Howard Park2009 (USD 22); austere nose but oh so wonderful palate, a full, front-palate wine (95), Radford bio-dynamically Grown Riesling 2009 ( USD 33.50) from Eden Valley was more the kero style, warmer fruit and austere and grainy (89); then the real revelation from the Mosel is Egon Muller Riesling Spaetlese 2008 (USD 136) with deliciousness and ripeness written all over it (96).

Yalumba’s Organic Viognier 2010 (USD 13) from Loxton has a great green colour, the telltale Yalumba skills at slippery palate for this variety (89) backed up with the Y Series 2010 (USD 12) ever so good as well, with real interest in the nose and palate structure-juicy (90).

Great biodynamic chardonnays included the standout Cullen Kevin John 2008 (USD 62), pale, restrained, austere now, yet to flower (95), a magnificent Macon-Milly-Lamartine “Clos du Four” 2008 (USD 47), at the nadir of chardonnay style with barrel ferment, solids infusion, super-tight palate belying much oak, owned by Comte Lafon (97), and quite an oaky Domaine Leflaive Pugliny Montrachet “Folatieres” 2007 (USD 210),complex sour lemon nose, closed and tannic, syrupy and lean with a backbone of intensity (94).

Globe-trotting Grant Taylor of Valli in central Otago presented non-organic three pinots under his banner; all terrific 2008s; Gibbston, Bannockburn and Waitaki (all USD 51). It’s amazing to line up three wines of similar provenance but totally different character caused by site and terroir. The Gibbston had the black fruits, brash on intensity, very closed up, quite edgy (93), Bannockburn was more forward from the warmer site, sweet fruit already, very soft with the fishtail tannins (91), and Waitaki powerful in fruit, almost steroidal, a step-up in concentration and a lot of additional winemaking happening, drying tannins, (92).

There was a little discussion about biodynamic nebbiolo, but the wine to cap the day was Gaja Barbaresco 2006 (USD 261), ever some well done, feral nose characters but the great palate combining high acid, high tannin and still finishing flush and chalky (95).

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