Archives for December, 2010

Penfolds St Henri vertical: classic Australian blend-shiraz and cabernet, 1985-2004

In August this year Penfolds Wines unearthed a half bottle (369 mls, originally 13 ounces) of 1903 St Henri Claret in Brisbane during their annual re-corking series.

This was the oldest known vintage of this venerable style once termed “Australian Claret” in a generic sense, although it is a long time now since Australian makers and Penfolds in particular dropped generic naming for varietal label description.

A private Queensland St Henri collector and passionate drinker of these substantial red wines conducted a St Henri retrospective for 24 eager palates recently; spanning 1985 to 2004 (1986 missing, presumed drunk).

This writer was master of ceremonies and responsible for bottle preparation and service. Three bottles of each vintage were provided.

The inaugural St Henri “Claret” was made at the Auldana Cellars around the 1890s, with the vineyard adjacent to the famous Magill vineyard which spawned the first Granges in the 1950s.

The Penfolds family purchased Auldana Cellars and hence the St Henri brand in 1943 with the first St Henri emerging commercially in 1957.

Though half bottles of experimental St Henri trickled out to those close to the company since 1953 (two years after Grange samples were peddled likewise).

Penfolds Rewards of Patience cellar report now in its sixth edition – 2008, (first in 1985) chronicles tastings of all released St Henri vintages. This is the most recent retrospective tasting of contemporary vintages.

Flight 2004-2000 served with house pate, cornichons and mustard; 2004 (90, 14.5%), juicy fruit, drying, grippy tannin; 2003 (86, 14.5%), light colour, light fruit, trace of aging; 2002 (91,14.5%), jammy and spiced, leafy, minted, dry talc tannin; 2001 (93, 14.5%), very jammy, syrupy, rich in spiced fruits, very good; 2000 (85, 13.5%), colour fading, quite feral and dank, herbal, tough tannins.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz vertical 1985-2004

As winemaker Peter Gago says, “Not so long back this wine was known and labelled as St Henri Claret,” so it is a style not curtailed by the grape blend.But Peter does qualify that by saying the wine is always Shiraz dominant (a lot of Barossa) as with the 1994 -labelled as Shiraz Cabernet with the latter at 15%.

Barossa and like warm region Shiraz hold their primary fruit nose for 4-7 years, depending on the harvest conditions. The fruit attributes to enjoy are berry, blackberry, mocha, licorice, jam, juicy fruits while any cooked aromas from hot seasons will appear as stewed prune or tar).

Flight 1999-1995 served with sage/proscuitto wrapped quail on mushroom risotto; 1999 (90, 14%), sweet, cedar, lovely juiciness; 1998 (94, 14%), layer on layer of flavour, licorice; 1997 (89, 14%), aging nose, leather, green, hot;1996 (94, 14%), mature, tar, juicy, licorice, soft; 1995 (89, 13.5%), earthy, burnt, very tarry now.

Australian red wine making pre the mid-50s when small barrels were slowly introduced, occurred with storage in 2000-5000 litre oak barrels (rounds or ovals depending on their French or Italian origin). New oak uptake was not a feature, but tannin softening over 18-24 months was normal.

Peter Gago reports that the style has never changed nor the wine making, nor the oak maturation. So the Auldana Cellars process of 1890 for red wine aging is the St Henri Shiraz aging process for the 2010 vintage; in 1460 to 2000 litre, old vats (50 years+).

Flight 1994-1990 served with waygu slices topped with caramelised onion and tomato relish; 1994 (91, 13.5%), leathery, full fruit, juicy tannins, licorice; 1993 (89, 13.5%), aging, just crimson, syrupy, very soft and easy; 1992 (90, 13.5%), jammy, sweet, lively palate; 1991 (94, 13.5%), rich and ultra-ripe, jam, great freshness, soft and pliant; 1990 (93, 13.5%), cedary, licorice, leafy, earthy, touch feral now. 1994 was labelled Shiraz Cabernet as was 1992.

Wines at this stage have essentially lost primary fruit and have developed or are developing aromas and flavours that become the backbone of the wine.

The second component of course is how the tannins are tracking. By virtue of its name this wine starts life high in tannin.

And it would be expected during different phases of the wine making over the decades that very tannic pressings components would be added, depending on the winemaker responsible.

Although Australian red wine making has gone through some “softness” phases, and red wine re-modelling, St Henri seems to be left alone of late, and hefty tannins included and allowed to age gently in large oak, then wine is sent to bottling.

My pointings suggest: greater than 90; wine alive and on a long maturing span, 15-30 years; less than 90, wine softened or softening fast (good attribute) but the developed fruit structure will not hold on for the 30 years, expect a shelf life of 10-15 years from such vintage.

Flight 1989-1987,1985, 1971 served with lamb shank, white bean minestrone and ricotta dumpling on a cool and cloudy afternoon; 1989 (90, 13.5%), crimson, sweet cedar, quite jammy, then licorice and soft; 1988 (89, 13.5%), quite mature, very dry, now soft, not silk; 1987 (88, 13%), muddy colour, herbal, very dried, patchy, hollowing; 1985 (92, 12.5%), very juicy-sweet nose, drying but classy; 1971 (90), colour browns and crimson, tar and roses nose, alive, very bright licorice and tar aged fruit, classily soft tannins holding very well.

Penfolds St Henri "Claret" pre-1989

Recorking: 1989 (2 bottles) re-corked at a 2010 clinic earlier in the year; 1988 (1 bottle) 2010 clinic, (1 bottle) 2006 clinic [2006 topped bottle not as fresh but the flavour differences were marginal; participants told which bottle they tasted]; 1987 (1 bottle) 2006 clinic [the aging process had overtaken the freshening, both wines of similar character]; 1985 (1 bottle) 2006 clinic, (1 bottle) 2002 clinic [both wines approximately similar and tasters told which was their bottle].Cork taint, oxidation or wine deterioration was the main focus of the wine preparation. Bottles of 1999 and 1993 were cork tainted and replaced with fresh, untainted bottles. The TCA incidence rate was 4.5% but since 2005 this disappears with the use of screw cap. From 1996 the bottles are laser-etched and from 1997 the corks branded as St Henri with vintage.

The youngest vintages were decanted first and served first within three hours of opening, while older wines had similar breathing times with cork replaced, while extended breathing was deemed not warranted.

All wines from 1989 and older were labelled Claret.

A wonderful private tasting

Of the older wines it was easy to see the ones holding their expected aging trajectory from fruit strength while lesser years decline that strength, concurrently drying out as the tannins show and there is less to taste (1987, 1988, 1993 etc).The wines of the tasting to die for by Peter Gago’s advice were 1971, 1990, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2004, while at this tasting we include 1991.

Touring in Italy: Wine regions, ristorantes and stays

Uncorked and Cultivated took a listening tour of Chianti and its surrounds in advance of our tours starting September 2011.


While there is little wine production around Venezia (Venice), this utmost tourism venue is a magnet for the wines from almost all Italian regions. The closest being Soave, and it is a natural fit with the fishing activities in the Venetian region.

The restaurant of choice in front of the Rialto bridge was Al Pesador, looking quite hip at Rialto on Campo San Giacometo overlooking the tidal Grande Canal which was washing the tiles below. As expected the restaurant featured fish for lunch, and there were three types fresh for inspection.

The starters were encouraging; soft marinated sardines (lemon jest, good salt), mozarella soft in the centre and small spinach, squid in its own ink, jet black, salt cod (bacala) fluffed up as in a cream, all seeking an acidic local white Soave of which there was a choice of three including the popular Pieropan.

The drink was Filippi Brothers Castelcercino 2009 (USD 39); biodynamically-grown, (86), 12.5%, quite skinny and obviously aged on its solids, needing better winemaking but this is covered when drunk with the fish of the day, porgy, a type similar to what we would call bass or bream.

It came simply grilled with peppered waxy potatoes and raddichio.

The Haitian espresso coffee was a marvel; made by a specialist roaster Gianni Frasi (torrefazione) in Verona who draws supply from some unusual and interesting sources in the Carribean.

Meanwhile accommodation was at the ancient Villa Valmarana in via dei Nani, having imposing sights of the city of Vicenza and surrounding vineyards, olive orchards and host to several running tracks, so the Vicenzians look to be a fitter lot.

The property is very imposing; part is open for public inspection with its manicured gardens while our accommodation is simply enormous. A new kitchen at one end of a very large living room is an excuse to visit the local markets to prepare fresh mussels over pasta while the local tomatoes still stay so ripe sitting on their covered trellises with barely any leaves.

Refitted bedrooms intersect the large walls and their beautiful frescos are intersected by new ceilings which cut the room height by half. We found time to enjoy the late and fading afternoon sun from the balcony and drink newly-discovered Proseccos with spiced olives.

This fizz was Desiderio JE10 Prosecco Superiore from Colmei in Valdobbiadene NV 11.5%; 90, termed extra-dry and tasting so, made by the Bisol family.

Across to Alexandria and then Alba takes you to the heart of nebbiolo grape country collectively called Langhe.

After some navigation which by-passed the spiritual city of local winemaking as well as the truffle centre, we located Grinzane Cavour, then a small area on the fringe of Diano D’Alba and accommodation at Tenuta Ottocentro under the steep hill behind the town.

The first encounter with traditional Piedmontese foods was at Trattoria nelle Vigne in via Santa Croce 17; tel 0173 468503 owned by Farioli Sabrina.

Successive courses of tuna sauce over anchovies, salad russe (one of many interpretations combining chicken, cheese, capers and iceberg lettuce), fatty pork belly, veal tartare and gorgonzola frittata, were completed with white rabbit braised in nebbiolo and onions, garnished with parsley.

A good bottle of Vietti Perbacco Nebbiolo 2007 14%; 89 (USD 22) from nearby at Castiglione Falletto soothed the nerves and the angst of such a succession of dishes on the hop. This ristorante was good value.

After a morning of tastings in Barolo town, the GPS was set for via Boschetti to locate Locanda nel Borgo Antico, an old renovated farmhouse, now a ristorante 0173 56355.

A little like taking the back roads, unsealed of course in my home country, quite a deal of navigating resulted in finding our place for a meal.

This did become a little complicated because the entry door is not signed (and there are several, some leading to derelict rooms or the cellar areas, unattended of course), and even more bizarre, the entry is kept locked, and a staff member jumps out the door from upstairs to offer admittance. Strange secrecy.

Food interpretations were quite contemporary; the veal tartare was tiny veal dices, marinated in lime juice and white truffle, dices of cheese, pimento, Dijon mustard and a single chive garnish.

The veal eye fillet was cooked pink, with green vegetable puree garnish, caramelised roasted vegetables kept to the minimum or taglitalle home-made had veal ragout, and canaraoli sauced with melted semi-hard Toma cheese.

La Morra from Locanda nel Borgo Antico

The wine choice Camerano Cannubi Barolo 2005 14%; 85 (USD 72) was simply too pretty to enjoy, so we reverted to a glass of Brezza Bricco Sarmassa 2004, 14%; 92, a wonderful wine showing little age and maximum flavour softness.In summary Locanda nel Borgo Antico scores well (16/20) for great decor, excellent service, “out-there” plate and dish presentation, super food flavours on the minimalist train, great country lunch venue and all-staff attention to detail. Check USD 104 px.

Anselmi: Italian wines, whites with grunt

My recent visit to northern Italy revealed the DOCG of Soave running at two speeds; one is low speed stuff which is decidedly mediocre and the high speed wine is exemplified by Roberto Anselmi.

By their own virtual admission Soave growers say that their prime grape garganega is a rather neutral entity. Therefore it takes some significant rethinking to ignite the palates of international drinkers now bombarded with wines from everywhere; mostly varietally described.

So the Soave DOCG has a challenge ahead in the next decade.

The garganega grape is sparingly planted in Australia, be it in a climate cooler than Soave (the King Valley), and the wine is passable.

Another winemaker and observer just returned from Verona remarked, “I don’t think this Italian variety will take on very much here – Australian drinkers expect more flavour than what this grape offers”. Increasingly Australian winemakers are falling in love with many new Italian varieties, with quite outstanding results.

Well Roberto Anselmi has taken up the challenge and is demonstrating handsomely that if you get garganega completely ripe then the results are quite outstanding. The way to tell quickly, other than tasting, is the bottle alcohol. A figure of 13 or above is a sure sign of ripe grapes.

I found Roberto, and his daughter Lisa, thoroughly engaging family producers who made their wine with a passion. Near their winery in Monteforte d’Alpone is a hectare and a half of experimental cabernet sauvignon just to keep their world view of grape growing (Realda) alive.

The Anselmis practice “green” harvesting where a portion of the garganega crop is dropped on the ground to make way for better and riper development of the remaining grapes. Growth is from the guyot training system and with shoots formed from spurs.

I saw the traditional Soave pergola system practised in some other vineyards; and shuddered at such regressive viticulture. That training method is a cess-pit for the development of grape moulds, difficult to harvest and no doubt cropping higher than what the Anselmis choose.

Grapes would find it difficult to ripen fully with the leaf cover so I can see why many of my past Soave drinks have been such steely, flavourless wines.

The Anselmi whites do not take a DOCG title; they are named after the three vineyards – San Vincenzo (54 hectares), Capitel Foscarino (10 hectares) and Capitel Croce (five hectares), with the latter two being single vineyard wines. The vineyard names are taken from ancient shrines (Veronese dialect) which populated the areas when the vineyards were re-planted since the ’70s.

I was very impressed with Roberto’s whites: they had flavour, intensity, a sort of persistence which I found quite interesting to follow through via the Anselmi winemaking.

A big part of the texture comes with the practice of cold macerating whites on skins, this bumps up the flavour and usually provides additional wine colour. No doubt this is a sensible process on that journey to make the grape more drinkable and garanega responds well.

In Australia we tend to move away from skin contact as this highlights flavour tannins which will over-colour young whites. This effect is seen in part with Anselmi whites yet the process to making the final wine has been positive. Bravo.

Anselmi San Vincenzo 2009 Veneto IGT (89), 13%, (USD 10), is pale green with the most wonderful passionfruit aroma, the supreme fruity example, then great texture, filling, rounded, dry, rich yet slatey with some of the tell-tale acidity of this grape.

The blend is 80% garganega, 15% chardonnay and 5% trebbiano di Soave (a ubiquitous Italian grape which has been flogged mercilessly by overcropping, but when controlled gives the palate a zippy citrus note). The additional texture comes with low temperature aging in stainless on natural yeast for six months.

Anselmi Capitel Foscarino 2009 Veneto IGT (90)13%,(USD 25 ), is straw and green, fuller colour than San Vincenzo, hints of yeast passionfruit but more serious in nose, candy, fresh as a daisy, intriguing the smeller to drink some.

And the wine is first class; lots of aromatic fruit, weighty and juicy texture, crisp, tingly acidity and a pleasant unoaked finish. Is 90% garganega and 10% chardonnay-a very modern blend which has international relevance, likewise wild yeast and stainless yeast lees aging for six months.

Anselmi Capitel Croce 2008 Veneto IGT (95) 13%, (USD 38) is another step up again; it is one serious wine and rides on the back of the platform of winemaking of the two previous wines. Though smelling fresh and juicy, it strikes with a more aged colour then texture and weight, controlled fruit development as a monster wine.

Here the yeast lees aging is extended to allier barriques for eight months which shows up as a creaminess palate shape and a more drying palate.

Anselmi produce 600,000 bottles annually from their 70 hectares of plantings;

Champagne Guide: Latest in-depth review by Tyson Stelzer

It is 10 years since UK writer Andrew Jefford wrote the last book about Champagne, so now Tyson Stelzer’s modernised eBook The Champagne Guide sets the scene.

And what a different scene it is. There has been a proliferation of single grower and biodynamic wines which has changed the mix of Champagnes forever, and Stelzer takes the time to review these.

Of course this flies in the face of the big Champagne brands who blend across villages, regions and appellations which clearly destroys terroir; as blending either covers up faults or creates a mediocrity of taste.

So the new single vineyard grower champagnes stand for pride of place in the site, terroir and an annual celebration that occurs with vintage champagne.

Stelzer has exploited the advantages of eBooks by tasting champagnes released for this Christmas right up to late November (this book was completed on December 6) before publishing.

A traditional text will end up a year out of date and fail to cover recently-disgorged champagnes as a result. This has obviously prompted him to make a greater issue out of staleness in champagnes (disgorged a long time when sold or stored too hot during the intervening period).

What is perceived a luxury product should show well, and at a luxury price should deliver. Tyson names nine light struck/stale champagnes discovered during his tasting survey of just under 200 champagnes.

Also on the way through he names wines which were cork tainted, and the incidence for the Portuguese cork industry’s edification was 5.5 percent.

Houses are rated from 10 down to 1 and all their products available were tasted (1- there were two-Heidsieck Monopole and Joseph Perrier). Houses to rate 10 were Billecart-Salmon, Bollinger, Krug and Salon. Dom and Pol at 9, four small brands at 8, (Pierre Gimmonnet, Lamarndier-Bernier, Chartogner-Tailtet , Jacquesson) plus Laurent Perrier.

Roederer, Taittinger and Veuve made it at 7, and Moet made it only to 4 (the biggest blender in Champagne).

This book has application world-wide as most of the big commercial brands are international. Australia is a very active Champagne importer and stands at number 9 in quantity.

It does not cover BOBs which rarely show much excellence anyway.

The Champagne Guide by Tyson Stelzer Wine Press 2010 USD 24.50 as eBook; ; hard copies by order

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