Archives for February, 2011

Penley in Coonawarra: Great Oz reds, best soil

Coonawarra dirt-terra rossa

Penley Estate in Coonawarra, South Australia is the red soil-terra rossa property of Kym Tolley: a long time inhabitant of the modern scene since 1988.

During that time, particularly during the 90s when Margaret River reds rose to the almighty, the pulse of Coonawarra quality was often judged by myself on the quality of several wines – one was Penley Estate Reserve Cabernet.

Coonawarra, like Margaret River, is all about cabernet sauvignon, or blended with some of its siblings (franc, merlot and petit verdot, the latter now starting to have some re-vitalisation in its native homeland of Bordeaux).

Penley farms 110 hectares which should provide over 30,000 cases on a normal season, though such a climate called “normal” no longer exists.

The region has received 141 mm during the first two months of 2011 whereas the average rainfall is 44 mm during this period. Rain just ups the disease pressure.

Penley’s main product is the standard reds, being a conservative selection, 2008, a year which gave the South Australians a hiding with elevated and accelerated ripeness with continuous days of 40C or more.

Coonawarra missed these high February temperatures but was the beneficiary of very warm, and early ripening which pushed the red varieties to monumental alcohol levels of 15%, and sometimes a little more.

These Penley reds do not show the baked characters likely to be struck with comparable Barossa or McLarenvale varietals. But they have concentration.

Penley Estate Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (USD 18-23); 15%; 90, has great colour and great nose, reeking of ripe blackcurrants and sweet oak (some must be American); its plump and plush and sweet-fruited despite having that long linear drying palate that cabernet has. It’s good.

Penley Estate Hyland Shiraz 2008 (USD 18-23); 15%; 89, is another plush wine, looks good, smells good-spice, ripe, jammy currants, hints of American oak sweetness just fill out the nose effects, the palate is juicy and soft, not drying but ample tannin. Gives a nice feel.

Penley Estate Gryphon Merlot 2008 (USD 18-23); 15%; 90, has the “merlot” colour, less density than its stable mates cabernet and merlot, a typical Australian thing, but its nose booms out load with ripe honeyed fruits-no leafiness just jam and rich fruitcake, then soft easy drinking, enough tannin to tell you the wine is Australian and not Californian or Bordeaux where grippiness prevails.

Penley Estate Condor Shiraz Cabernet 2008 (USD 18-23); 15%, 89, is a rich, spicy, style, no greenness, just brute strength and ripeness. It achieves the intention to have a filled palate from soft shiraz, but greater length from the cabernet as the tannin will persist, and that is rolled up with the oak aging process.

Nice wine. I mused that it should be cabernet shiraz though to follow the true tradition of this great Aussie two grape style.

Penley Estate Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon 2009(USD 18-23); 14.5%, 92, looks terrific, less perfume than the 2008, fresh and lively vegetal/leaf/currant intensity, nice roundness which comes out as texture before the natural cabernet tannin kicks in, drying but juicy.

Owner Kym Tolley and winemaker Greg Foster

This wine is just released, as is another very successful line of Coonawarra cabernet, that of Leconfield 2009.

Penley Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (USD 44-55); 15%; 94, very contained wine, on the nose responding to longer aging before release in a positive manner, no jam just dust, cedar and the mature plum of cabernet (100%) mid-life. It’s interesting as it dries; long savoury tannin, less heat than expected for 15%, and pleasing as it disappears. Great year (9/10), great wine.

Penley Estate Chertsey 2006 (USD 44-55); 15%; 92; nice to see this wine diverge away from the cabernet stereotype and take on its own personality; spicy, cedary oak, very lifted and aromatic from the franc, powerful but plumped by the merlot, then drying like cabernet does.

Named after an English town, so far three vintage have been released. A great threesome yet the challenge is to use more franc and merlot yet keep the layers of tannin. I expect this will develop into an awesome wine, and it’s had a three years of aging so far as the start.


Oz imported beer tales: Misleading brews, concerned drinkers

The rage has been going for some time now – that of Australian beer drinkers buying and ordering something that is not exactly what it appears to be.

There is a large Peroni advertising billboard exposure happening at present; just at the same time as the social media is saying the stuff being advertised is not the real thing, you know, brewed in Rome and shipped to Australia in bottles.

The beer being advertised is brewed by Pacific Beverages (which is Coca-Cola distributing, SABMiller doing the brewing expertise, although that looks to be unravelling) in Newcastle and sold as a substitute for Peroni across the Australian market.

Of course one can find the real Peroni as the owners do allow parallel imports – that is smaller concerns bring it into the country as imported packaged beer.

But it appears that Pacific Beverages do that too; my Peroni left over from a previous purchase says PRODUCT OF ITALY, Italian original, brewed and bottled in Italy, and imported to either Australia or New Zealand by Coke.

The real Peroni-find one?

When that ran out of stock, no doubt it ceased and was replaced by the local bottle.

The most interesting investigation (though lightweight by this author as a wine writer) was pricing.

I walked into my local restaurant last week, and the owner was most concerned about his beer list, and he had read the fine print on his listed imported beers only to find most were brewed in Australia.

It seems a socially-aware customer had pointed this out; and of course the extra rub was that restaurant charges a dollar extra for “imported” beers; clearly evidence where a little bit of deceptive conduct could be simmering along in the Australian beer industry at the moment.

The three offending beers; Stella Artois, Beck’s and Kronenbourg are all brewed in Australia, yet were listed as imported beers (import means take it from its historical place of production in its packaged, bottled form to the importing country).

So the restaurateur feels conned by his beer representatives and badly over-charged by the brewer for thinking he had imported product when he had mass produced recipe-driven beer from down the road.

I think he will have cause to review his beer supplies.

Then there is Beck’s brewery in Bremen, brewing in the port city since 1873, suggesting in its advertising on its official world-wide website that it’s beer is the “difference by choice”.

Dan Murphy’s (with the lowest liquor price guarantee) go on to say in their push for the good Beck’s hop drop that it is brewed under the German Purity Law of 1516, and other rubbish justifying this product, simply brewed locally by Lion Nathan.

This is a bit of a scam only because the advertising does not stay very truthful, and probably explains why the Millennial generation dismisses the big brewers drinks in preference for “boutique” brews with a sense of place, and authentic origin descriptions.

According to a release Lion Nathan makes Beck’s in Australia under a 10-year deal signed on June 25, 2004.

From reading the dialogue on the industry advice site, Beck’s have also been subjected to similar scrutiny in 2007.

The brewer response trotted out the tired line about the local “Beck’s” brew being fresher and ran down the bottled stock being heated in transit, and being three months old and not being in as good a condition as the “fresh brew”.

Well today’s young drinkers are not really brand supportive; if they wish to drink fresh beer then there is plenty of draft to be had; and as for beers faking their origin, then drinkers just move on to something more original that their mates find.

For a recent media tasting of imported versus locally-brewed same brand “European beers”-read Max Allen’s additional exposure of this caper:

If Max’s assertions are correct, that brewed in Oz European beer is more expensive than the individually-shipped European-made bottle, then the big brewer price gouging needs to be stopped. Customers can simply not buy it (if they become informed!)

And my restaurant friend needs to change his beer brands too, take the choice to the edge and give better value with a beer with the true story. There are heaps from Asia.

Natural wine: What to believe; should we drink it?

Recently I started writing about “natural wine” in an Australian industry publication because I wondering what it really was.

And the Australian and New Zealand health codes which control how wine is defined, labelled and sold has no category for natural wine. Which begs the question; is it an illegal product and is there some misinformation afoot.

Well regardless such wines are on sale around the world whether the regulatory authorities like it or not, and it is probably saying that innovation will always out-strip the establishment in any industry. And their first move is to stamp it out rather than entertain change.

Conservatism reigns.

The best example of this is glaringly obvious where the Portuguese cork lobby (52% of the world cork market and not as much as they would have you believe) has a firm hold on closure decisions in the major DOCG’s of Italy.

This slows the spread of screw caps due to regional prohibition on wines like Soave, Chianti or Barolo despite untreated corks’ deteriorating position when taking wine to the market.

Wikipedia already has the controversial aspects of natural wine explained though:

“The concept of ‘natural wine’ is extremely controversial, particularly in the English-speaking world. Many critics reject it as misleading. There is no established certification body and the term has no legal status. Winemakers who describe themselves (or are described by others) as ‘natural’ often differ in what they consider to be an acceptable level of intervention”, says the noted web-based authority.

Sounds like the position for organic and bio-dynamic producers who have to bludgeon their way in the commercial world against untold odds for the past 20 years; mainly due to different standards of recognition by authorities who regulate the production laws, and to a lesser extent in regimens where free markets apply.

A real innovator in natural wine sales is Natural Wine Selection Theory , a collaborative experiment between four Australians – Sam Hughes, Anton Von Klopper, James Erskine and Tom Shobbrook.

The entire sales pitch hits entirely at the Milliennial drinking demographic (born after 1982) who just love wine to be easy to digest and demystified, simple to find and so uncomplicated when choice is involved (forget wine regions, sometimes varieties, brand means zilch).

And by the way their wine happened to be a natural wine but this was subtlely applied, and most probably went over the heads of the demographic for which it was intended. But the thin edge of the wedge was there, and a marketing ploy sits there for the future I reckon.

So with the Voice of the People Winter 2010 wine (it was red but hardly marketed as wine of any colour) the choice was one wine (because there was no other competition in the 23 litre, olive oil topped, single serve by tap, wine market).

In an ideal world this younger generation should just lo……oove the way this wine is sold to them, and gone viral on Twitter to friends so that it sold out instantly. Good luck to these guys who hopefully have a 2011 edition even though they foreshadowed it was a one-off sales campaign.

It sounds like London’s first natural wine bar was Artisan and Vine which opened in 2009, and subsequently the New York Times ran a story on the chic natural wine bars around the globe last year;

By now these have expanded considerably as more natural wines are “conceived”.

Closer to home for the writer, the historically listed Moreton Rubber building in Brisbane, Queensland which houses 1889 Enoteca , Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine List of the Year, 2010 winner, served Voice of the People red, under its olive oil layer and by-the-glass, with aplomb.

For more European natural wines

Oz Masters of Wine training: Semillon & sauvignons

This week I had the role of setting up eight wines for a group training to be Masters of Wine.

They were gathered in Brisbane, Queensland, a long way, thank goodness, on the same evening from where cyclone Yasi hit our northern neighbours.

The wines in question four sauvignon blancs, two semillons and two blends of the respective varieties.

This might sound a simple exercise, to sort out the sauvignons from the semillons and on the way through detect the two wines blended from the two varieties, and not necessarily in what proportion, more semillon or more sauvignon in the blend.

And remember the wines are served up with label: just eight unlabelled, similar bottles (of course we didn’t wish to give any hints as a couple of wines had corks, the rest the preferred screw caps, and students can easily be biased by seeing the bottle shape).

This becomes an exercise in sorting out the wines by their varietal character, and that can be a confusing task.

I watched same story play out on twitter between two bloggers lamenting the way that Margaret River semillon often smells more obvious in the cut grass and paspalum, herbal characters which we attribute to sauvignon, also grown in the same region, but now often concealing its overt vegetative character.

The same bloggers also debated how one Margaret River semillon, that of Moss Wood, did not have either characters, due mainly to its later harvest date and greater sun exposure in the same region, leading to bees wax and lanolin character.

Climate dictates semillon and sauvignon characters

The semillons in the MW test came from two regions: Hunter Valley and Margaret River, therefore one hot region (former) and one cool region (latter).

Their expression of semillon should be poles apart: Scarborough White Label Semillon 2009 (90); AUD 25, 10.5% was very pale green, dead neutral nose (typical), some lanolin, lean, dry, high acid, bland, austere, a razor sharp palate destined for 20 years in bottle.

Frank Tate’s Miles from Nowhere Semillon 2010 (89); AUD 22, 11.7% was absolutely screaming out its cooler region characters-pale, intense fluorescein-green, fruity, waxy, honied from oak in ferment, riper, dry palate, modest but good richness, drink now or 2-4 years.

The four sauvignons were from the Casablanca Valley Chile; Pouilly-Fume, Loire, France; Marlborough, NZ; and Derwent, Tasmania.

Reported in the same order: the Chilean Castillo Molina 2008, stupidly under natural cork, (88); AUD 20, 13.5%, quite pale but smelt the ripest of them all, alcoholic, peachy from over-ripeness where the vegetal aromas fall off, honied, fat, yet intense vegetal sauvignon on the palate to redeem it, lots of acid, contemplative wine. Owned by Vina San Pedro.

Next was Pierre Brevin “Le Marquisay” Pouilly-Fume 2008, under synthetic cork, (90); AUD 30, 12.5%, intense straw colour, glowing, heavenly ripe, a mix of expressive peachiness and nettles, clearly a vegetal sauvignon, ripe in the mouth, very round, long flinty acidity which holds up the fruit flavour.

Next came Cloudy Bay 2010 (89), AUD 33, 13.5%, very, very pale, lots of green, smells of cut grass, cat’s urine, nettles and herbs, minimal intensity and searingly-high acid. Have to be a Kiwi at this acid level.

Last was Stefano Lubiana 2009 (88); AUD 28, 12.5%, very pale, lean nose, herbal but also reduced, smelly from solids fermentation, also some shaded bunches effect which leads to tomato bush aromas, fruity but herbal palate, very chewy, probably finished in some old oak to de-emphasise the catty character that this variety can offer. A challenging wine to identify blind.

One of the most distinctive wines of the line-up due to sloppy, old-fashioned winemaking was the Bordeaux white wine.

Pierre Lurton’s Chateau Marjosse Entre-Deux-Mers 2005 (semillon-sauvignon blanc), smartly-corked with an aggregate (88), AUD 30, 12.5%, was straw, slight gold from accelerated aging, waxy, oily nose, little freshness, palate oily and bitter, wood dry, ruined by skin phenolics and little exercising of only free run juice, so basically already dried out, not for any more aging either.

A better wine, Fraser Gallop Semillon Sauvignon Blanc (66/34) 2010 (90); AUD 20, 13%, has lots of pale greens, sweet, tropical, herbal nose, fresh, some paspalum aroma to underline the semillon component, austere but drying (a little oak used) and lots of flavour.

The latter wine could easily confuse blind tasters; the semillon is so grassy that it could easily be nominated to be 100% semillon, unless you are an experienced tasters.

It is tasting experience of course that underlines the skill of passing the Master of Wine tasting exam. And being crafty about the different expressions of semillon and sauvignon blanc.


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