jamie goode's wine blog

Friday, January 15, 2010

Houghton The Bandit Shiraz Tempranillo

Very impressed by this. It's a western Australian red by Houghton, the 2008 Bandit Tempranillo Shiraz (75%/25% in favour of Shiraz). Lovely vibrant, primary berry fruits with great definition and freshness, as well as a hint of spice and a bit of structure. Beautifully poised between the sweet fruit and the fresh savouriness, without any hint of jamminess. Quite food friendly and with oak playing a background, supporting role at most. It will soon be available at £8.99 from Ocado.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Brilliant Aussie Nebbiolo: Arrivo 2007

Really enjoying this wine. It's an Australian Nebbiolo, produced by Peter Godden of the Australian Wine Research Institute, from grapes grown in the Adelaide Hills. Nebbiolo is a difficult variety that rarely performs well outside Piedmont in Italy, but Peter seems to have found the knack of working with it. As well as this wine, he also produces a rose, and a high-end bottling called Lunga Macerazione (the 2006 version of this was one of the wines in the Landmark Tutorial - it was fantastic - and I have another bottle of this in the tasting queue).

I'm sure Peter wouldn't claim that Arrivo has fully arrived yet; but if this is what he's able to achieve at the outset (2007 is the fourth vintage), then future wines look set to be incredible. The Arrivo website is here.

Arrivo Nebbiolo 2007 Adelaide Hills
14.5% alcohol. This is a beautiful wine, and it's just a baby: as such, it benefits from decanting, and tasted on the second day it shows even more complexity and elegance. Pale cherry coloured, it has a sweetly aromatic nose of ginger, herbs, warm spices and sweet cherry and plum fruit. The palate has intensely spicy sweet cherry fruit with firm tannins, but with some air settles down a bit to show complex, elegant savoury, subtly earthy fruit. Nice smoothness and purity of texture here: a really interesting Australian take on this difficult but beguiling Italian grape variety. I think this will be great in five years time, and it will be interesting to see where it gets to in a decade. 92/100

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

A very important wine: 1999 AWRI Trial Semillon

Really pleased to get a chance to try this wine, because it's an important one.

It's the Clare Valley Semillon 1999, made by Kerri Thompson at Leasingham, which was the wine used in the now famous Australian Wine Research Institute Closures Trial. In this trial, the same wine was bottled using fourteen different closures, including this one - the tin/saran-lined screwcap.

The significance of this trial? In the years that followed, the different bottles were repeatedly analysed by sensory and analytic methods. The results showed that the different closures resulted in very different wines, largely because of their differing oxygen transmission levels.

Those with the synthetic closures available at the time oxidised quite quickly. In comparison, the screwcap-sealed wines stayed fresher for much longer, although some low level struck flint/burnt rubber reduction notes were detected on sensory analysis.

Opponents of screwcaps used this 'reduction' to bash screwcaps, which otherwise seemed to be doing the best job of all the closures. But consider this: when the trial was begun, virtually no Australian wines were screwcap sealed; now the vast majority of them are.

So, some 10 years and eight months after bottling, how does this wine look? It's a full yellow colour, with a minerally, flinty edge to the attractive honeysuckle and citrus fruit nose. The palate has a lovely focused fruit quality to it with pithy citrus fruit and a hint of grapefruit. There are also some subtle toasty notes. Very attractive and amazingly fresh for a 10 year old Clare Semillon.

The reduction? If you look for it you can find it, in terms of the struck match character and a slight hardness on the palate. But it's nowhere close to being a fault. I doubt any of the other bottles in the trial that aren't sealed with a tin/saran-lined screwcap are still drinkable.

Geeky note: this is one of the old fashioned screwcaps without the BVS finish (noticeable around the rim); this was introduced later to make the seal more robust. (Pictured.)

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Beautifully elegant Aussie: De Bortoli Shiraz Viognier 2004

I have a few bottles of this lurking around, purchased a few years ago for around a tenner a bottle. It's just beautiful, and at five years old is starting to hit its stride, but clearly has some distance to go.

De Bortoli Shiraz Viognier 2004 Yarra Valley, Australia
14% alcohol. 11 months ageing in new and used French oak barrels. This is a beautifully expressive, elegant wine. There's a hint of floral, apricotty perfume to the nose which shows slightly peppery dark fruits. The palate is super-fresh with cherry and plum fruit backed up by some spiciness, and a structure which is in part tannin, in part acidity. There's a sweetness to the fruit which is very much Australian, but also a freshness and structure that's much more Northern Rhone. Wonderful stuff that's ageing beautifully. 94/100

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Two brilliant new world Chardonnays

New world Chardonnay is a relatively uncool category for wine geeks. But styles and fashions are changing, and there are some that I really like. Here are two very good, equivalently priced Chardonnays that I really enjoyed. They're both from the 2006 vintage and are ageing beautifully, with good balance.

Clos du Val Chardonnay 2006 Carneros, Napa Valley
13.5% alcohol. Very fresh aromatic nose with subtle toasty notes, bright lemon and melon fruit, as well a subtle creaminess. The palate has a lovely savoury toasty streak to the lively lemon and just-ripe peach and white plum fruit. Complex with a hint of spice on the finish. Fresh, broad and focused, this is a lovely wine with great balance. 92/100 (£18.99 Hennings Wines, £16.50 Caviste)

Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2006 Australia
13.5% alcohol. Lovely bright fresh fruit-driven nose with lemon oil, grapefruit, white peach and pineapple notes. The palate is fresh but rounded with focused bright fruit and subtle toasty, spicy warmth. Fresh, bright and developing in a lovely restrained style with good complexity and very little obvious oak influence. 93/100 (£17.99 Waitrose, Tesco.com)

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Penfolds pair

I grew up with Penfolds. When I was getting into wine, the likes of Bin 369, Bin 28 and Bin 128 were staples. Grange was cheap then (1993 = £35), comparitively speaking, but I wasn't ready to spend this much on wine, so I skipped it. Alas. There was a period when the Penfolds wines seemed to be less impressive, during the late 1990s and early noughties, but they seem to have picked things up a bit.

Two from the current Penfolds portfolio:

Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2005 Coonawarra
14% alcohol, tin-lined screwcap seal, French oak. Cabernet is the variety more normally associated with Coonawarra, but Shiraz can do well here. This is very fresh, bright, a bit minty, meaty and has some spicy oak alongside the fresh blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. I like the fresh dark cool-climate-ish fruit character; I'm less convinced by slightly unresolved nature of the sweet oak and lemony acidity that currently stick out a bit. It's almost as if there's a disconnect between the sweetness of the dark fruit and the brightness of the (added) acidity. Still, it's a very well made, appealing wine that has a degree of seriousness to it. 88/100 (£11.99 Majestic, Tesco.com)

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2006 South Australia
14.5% alcohol, cork seal, American oak. This is quite lovely: a wine that is integrated and at ease with itself. A dark colour, it is concentrated with rich, spicy blackberry and blackcurrant fruit and some cedary complexity. The richness of the fruit works well with the American oak, yielding a dense, bold, spicy wine with some meaty depth to it. It will probably age quite well, although it's drinking now, in its own chunky way. A crowd pleaser, too. 89/100 (£11.99 Majestic, Co-op, Tesco.com)

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Lunch with Peter Gago

Had lunch today with Peter Gago, who since 2002 has been Penfolds Chief Winemaker. This job title makes him the custodian of Grange, Australia's most famous wine, which enjoys true celebrity status. Since its beginnings in the 1950s, Grange has just four of these custodians: Max Schubert, Don Ditter, John Duval and now Peter.

It's the first time I've spent proper time with Peter, who is ideally suited to one of the most fun jobs out. Basically, he gets to travel the world as a Penfolds (and therefore Grange) ambassador, drinking a heck of a lot of back vintages in the process with some very interesting people, including a fair smattering of celebrities.

Our discussions today were broad ranging and quite organic, in the sense that we drifted from one theme to another without much structure. Peter is smart, articulate, and has a rich fund of stories. He's an interviewer's dream, in that you hardly have to ask a question to get a lot of juicy material in return, but much of the discussion was of an off-the-record nature.

Peter is a Champagne nut. It's probably his favourite wine style, outside his own portfolio; he started off as a sparkling wine maker, working closely with Ed Carr. Last night he was staying at the Capital Hotel, and he dined there. On the wine list he found a 1943 Krug, priced at £155, which he promptly ordered. He showed me the bottle, which he had kept and which he had with him: interestingly, it had a bluish tinge to the glass. He'd snagged a bargain (did they miss a zero off?).
I like Peter. While he's an accomplished 'people person', you don't feel like he's trying to 'spin'. We didn't drink any Grange with our lunch (in recent months, I've done a wide range of vintages of this wine) but we did look at several other wines, including two newcomers to the Penfolds portfolio. They're a pair of new releases under the Koonunga Hill label, with wonderful retro labels.

Koonunga Hill used to be quite serious. First released in 1976, it didn't cost much, but it was an ageworthy red that over-delivered. Over time, the brand became a little devalued, but the new releases are raising the game a little. The first is called Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling 2008, and it's just lovely, with a delicate sweet honeyed note to beautifully balanced lime and lemon fruit. The second is the Koonunga Hill Seventy Six Shiraz Cabernet 2008, and it's brilliantly sleek, smooth, well defined and just delicious, and will likely age beautifully over a decade. Both will be priced around £9, and at this level represent fantastic value for money. It's great that this historic old label is being revived in this way. [The current Koonunga Hill releases will remain for the time being, though. These new wines are quite a bit different.]


Friday, September 18, 2009

Apply for the 2010 Landmark Australia Tutorial!

Applications are open today for the 2010 Landmark Australia Tutorial. If you are a wine professional, you should apply! It's an amazing experience.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Clonakilla vertical: one of Australia's new classics

Had lunch today with Tim Kirk of Clonakilla, tasting a vertical of Clonakilla's amazing Shiraz Viognier back to 1997. For those of you unfamiliar with this wine, it's one of Australia's new classics. Clonakilla is based half an hour's drive from Canberra. I visited back in 2006, and I really enjoyed both the wines and also meeting Tim and his father David.

The Shiraz Viognier is a blend of cool-climate Syrah and just a little Viognier - typically 5-6% - and it works perfectly. I found the vertical quite thrilling, because these wines have beautiful floral aromatics, complex red fruit characters and terrific acidity and freshness. They're quite elegant, and they age well.

My favourites included the crazy white pepper infested 1999 (made from a second crop after serious frosts took the first shoots), the brilliant 2001, 2002 and 2005, the amazing rare 2007, and the ethereal 2008.

We're lucky to get any of this wine in the UK (UK agent is Liberty). Tim could happily sell his whole production to his mailing list customers in Australia, and get more for it, too.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A busy day: Chile, Australia, Germany

A brief post at the end of a busy day. It began at China Tang in the Dorchester (fabulous, amazing toilets here - the best I've yet seen, perhaps with the exception of the futuristic pods at Sketch). This was for a tasting lunch celebrating the 20th anniversary of the wonderful wines of Shaw & Smith from Australia's Adelaide Hills.

Then off to the Wines of Chile annual tasting (pictured). Consistency is the key to Chile's success, but I also found excitement with two producers: Vina Leyda and Matetic. This was followed by some socializing over beer at a post-tasting party.

Then it was off to The Mercer in Threadneedle St to have dinner with Lenz Moser and Donatus Prniz von Hessen from the Rheingau. Fabulous mineralic, precise Rieslings here from this now revitalized estate. More later.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay

Here's a brilliant Aussie Chardonnay from the relatively new region of Tumbarumba. It's in New South Wales, in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains of the Australian Alps, with altitudes ranging from 500-800 metres. There are no wineries here: the fruit is all shipped out to be processed elsewhere. Things only got going here in the 1990s, and now there are 25 vineyards with over 300 hectares of vines. Three-quarters of this is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and most is destined for sparkling wine. You can read more about it here.

Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2006 New South Wales, Australia
From a new-ish region at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains that specializes in Chardonnay, this is a superb wine. 13.5% alcohol. Very lively toasty aromatics. The palate is dense yet fresh with lovely crisp lemony, nutty fruit showing pear, peach and oatmeal richness. Delicious. 92/100 (£17.99 Waitrose, 21 branches, and Waitrose Wine Direct)

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 3

Here's a brilliant Aussie Shiraz that costs just £7.99 from Oddbins (here) and is 20% cheaper as part of a mixed case, taking it down to £6.39 a pop.

It's Gemtree Vineyards Tadpole Shiraz 2008 McLaren Vale. Organic grape production, natural winemaking and minimal handling (this is unfiltered; the Oddbins info is wrong here) have resulted in a deep coloured, thick textured wine with lovely richness and generosity to the fruit, as well as good definition and a bit of meaty savouriness. It's one of those bottles that gets finished pretty quickly because it has that quality of deliciousness. Really superb effort, and I rated it as high as 90/100 for its lovely purity and relative complexity that you don't normally find at this price point. Buy some now!

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

To celebrate the Ashes, something uniquely Australian

What to drink to celebrate England's memorable victory over Australia? [Cricket, by the way, for the benefit of those sensible non-sporting types.]

Has to be something uniquely Australian, so I've turned to a sparkling Shiraz. Quite nice it is, too, and fizz is always appropriate for a celebration.

Scarpantoni Black Tempest Sparkling Shiraz NV McLaren Vale, Australia
13.5% alcohol. Deep coloured, this fizzy red has lovely balance, with the fizziness adding bite to the sweet, ripe, chocolatey plum and blackberry fruit. There are also some earthy, spicy notes here, giving a savouriness to what might otherwise be an overly confected style. I reckon this would be quite food friendly, but it's also delicious on its own. Weird but nice: as Sparkling Shiraz goes, this is one of the good ones, and it will age nicely. 89/100 (£15.99 Laithwaites)

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Another lovely Australian Cabernet: Howard Park

Continuing my mini-obsession with Aussie Cabernet, here's a brilliant one from Margaret River producer Howard Park. It's from the Wilyabrub sub region.

Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Margaret River
18 months in French oak; 14% alcohol. Elegant, bright sweet berry and blackcurrant nose with some gravelly, minerally notes adding a savoury dimension. Sweet but spicy, minerally palate with elegant midweight berry fruits. Beautifully proportioned, showing great balance between the fruit and the oak, and with lovely earthy, savoury undertones. A beautiful wine. 92/100 (£14.99 Bibendum)

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Impressive Cab Merlot from Margaret River

Continuing with the Aussie Cab theme, here's a really delicious Margaret River Cabernet Merlot from a producer I'd never heard of before. I suppose this is excusable: Flametree are new kids on the block, and the previous vintage of this wine was their first - it ended up winning the prestigious Jimmy Watson trophy. Flametree wines are being brought into the UK by new online retailer Auswineonline.co.uk.

Flametree Cabernet Merlot 2008 Margaret River
Vibrant aromatic nose with gravelly-edged sweet blackcurrant fruit, and some attractive floral notes. The fresh, bright palate shows sweet blackcurrant and stewed plum fruit with a hint of richness and more of that gravelly character. There's quite a bit of tannic structure here. It's a fresh, perfumed, midweight style with a lovely expressive personality. Very Margaret River in style. 91/100 (£12.50 http://www.auswineonline.co.uk/)

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Coonawarra Cabernet

Australian Cabernet Sauvignon is sometimes underrated. Coonawarra and Margaret River are the two regions acknowledged to do best with this variety, but I'd plead for the inclusion of the Clare Valley into this list, because I just love Clare Cab.

I used to think I could tell the difference between Margaret River and Coonawarra, but after the Landmark Tutorial, where we had a few wines blind, I'm not so sure. Anyway, here's a fairly serious Coonawarra Cabernet. It's beautifully expressive with the Coonawarra character in spades, but for some it may be just a little too extreme and full-on. This level of intensity seems to be the Majella style.

Majella Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
14.5% alcohol. Very sweet brooding blackcurrant and berry fruit nose with some savoury, gravelly, spicy notes. Rich but still distinctly Coonawarra in style. The palate is dense and spicy with fresh lemony acidity under the ripe, sweet fruit, which has a savoury, earthy character. A delicious wine with real impact. 91/100 (£14.99 Oddbins)

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Clare Valley: two good-uns from Mitchell

A few years back Andrew and Jane Mitchell kindly let me stay for a couple of nights at their home, when I visited the Clare Valley (see report here). I missed Andrew on a recent trip he made to the UK, but he left a couple of wines for me to try. These are pretty impressive: a pair of high-end, late-release wines under the McNicol label.

Mitchell McNicol Riesling 2005 Clare Valley
Intense, limey nose with some richer honey and tropical fruit notes. It's quite mineralic, too. The palate is bold and rich with limey, spicy intensity, good concentration, and a lovely minerality. Dry but rich, with wonderful depth of flavour. Clare Valley at its best. 92/100

Mitchell McNicol Shiraz 2001 Clare Valley
Evolving really nicely with a focused nose of sweet blackberry fruit, with some rich tarry notes and a mineral dimension. The palate shows nice balance between the sweet dark fruit and the almost salty, spicy structure. Good concentration with good supporting oak. 91/100 (£15.50 Haynes, Hanson & Clark)

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Stunning Aussie Riesling

I'm on the Riesling trail at the moment. Here's a brilliant Australian Riesling from the Clare Valley that's utterly delicious, with a nice elegance coupled with limey intensity.

Skillogalee Trevarrick Riesling 2008 Clare Valley
11% alcohol, sealed with a Vino Lok. 250 cases made. Amazing stuff: bracing, limey, minerally and quite fine, with lovely elegance to the intense fruit. Thereís a floral edge to the aromatics, as well as a pithy, citrussy depth. Itís one of the very best dry Australian Rieslings Iíve had, with lovely precision, purity and elegance. 93/100 (UK agent: Enotria)

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Grange versus Bin 389, a masterclass

Very interesting tasting this afternoon. It was held at Australia House (where they have the annoying rule that if the invitation says 3.30 pm, you aren't even allowed in the building until 3.30 pm), and it involved a vertical of two Penfolds wines: the iconic Grange, and its sibling the Bin 389. There was a good turnout, including cricketing legend Ian Botham.

Peter Gago presented, and did a very good job in keeping the tasting moving. But when he took questions, he simply avoided answering mine by being horridly, politician-level evasive - I'd asked him about the extent and timing of additions of acid and tannin. His response was that they didn't add tannins, but did tannin finings, and talked about all the other finings that they don't use. He said that they added grape-derived tartaric acid 'which all falls out anyway', and that they have a Barossa Sangiovese which they didn't add any acid to at all.

But it's the wines we were there for, and they were lovely. Penfolds have a distinctive, instantly recognizable house style. Grange is an icon and lasts for ever, as the 1955 and 1971 we enjoyed at the Landmark Tutorial showed. [It's probably partly because of the addition of acid -totally normal in Australia - and tannin that the wines live so long.]

Bin 389 is underrated. It's a great, ageworthy wine in its own right. 1986 389 was fading but complex (not the best bottle, apparently), 1990 was beautiful with lovely pure fruit, 1991 almost as good but more woody, 1996 was weaker, 1998 fantastically fruity and 2004 was brilliantly intense.

As for Grange? 1986 was brilliant, 1990 and 1991 both fantastic but rather different in style, 1996 was very good but has sticky out acid, 1998 was a backward classic, and 2004 was in a league of its own - a truly great Grange with amazingly intense fruit, great focus and real complexity. It's horribly expensive, but a really special wine. Gago and his team truly are custodians of a national treasure.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Two mad dogs from the Barossa

Fellow blogger and Barossa grape grower Matthew Munzberg recently sent me two vintages of his own wine to try. It's a Shiraz called 'Mad Dog', and is brilliantly packaged. I like the wines a lot: typical Barossa style, with lots of character. Matthew makes 400 cases from the best of his 35 hectares of vineyards in the heart of the Barossa, and the wine is available in the UK from Corney & Barrow (here) for £15.99 a bottle.

Mad Dog Shiraz 2006 Barossa, Australia
15.5% alcohol, sealed with a tin-lined screwcap. Very sweet, vibrant nose of plum, spice and blackberry with a hint of vanilla. The palate is rich and lush with dense fruit. It's quite sweet with ripeness and high alcohol, but also some nice spiciness. A rich, generous Barossa Shiraz that's ripe but still well defined. 91/100

Mad Dog Shiraz 2005 Barossa, Australia
14.5% alcohol, cork sealed. Beginning to open out with dense, spicy, tarry herby savouriness as well as sweet fruit. The palate is rich and ripe with blackberry and raspberry fruit. There are hints of menthol, tar and earth, as well as spicy oak. A classic Barossa style with some more evolution and savoury spiciness than the 2006. 89/100

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A nice walk followed by Semillon

We took advantage of our child-free status to walk in the countryside. The walk? One of the Guardian's series on British walks, this one in the Oxfordshire countryside focusing on the white horse of Uffington - here. It was really enjoyable, and the directions were clear and unambiguous. We completed the 10 mile route in 3.5 hours, and for most of the way RTL could be let off the lead.

Tonight's wine? An Australian Semillon, but not from the Hunter Valley. Hunter Semillons are one of Australia's unique contributions to the fine wine scene: they're low in alcohol, high in acidity, and start out life neutral but age into a beautiful toasty maturity. Now this is an exception. It's a top Semillon but it comes from the Barossa.

Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon 2002 Barossa, Australia
A wonderfully intense unoaked Semillon that's different to the classic Hunter style, but has some similarities, too. Powerful, minerally, limey nose with wax and herb notes. The palate is intensely limey with some toasty, honeyed richness. Taut, crisp and citrussy with a grippy, savoury finish. Drinking beautifully now but will probably improve. 92/100 (£11.99 retail, 12% alcohol)

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Saying goodbye to Australia

I'm in the Quantas lounge at Sydney waiting to board a pretty much direct flight back to London. I'm looking forward to some sleep, and a few bad but enjoyable films on the way back, as well as some space to digest the remarkably rich experiences of the last week and a half. And don't be mistaken: I do realize how incredibly lucky and priveliged I have been to take part in the first Landmark Tutorial, and also to have the opportunities I'm offered for travel like this.

Still, my focus is on trying to understand and assess wine as objectively as possible; more than this, also to be able to communicate my experiences in ways that encourage others to explore the wonderful, thrilling diversity of wine that is there for us to enjoy.

Talking of films, I forgot to mention a great one that I saw on the way out - In Bruges. As long as you don't mind the language and violence (it gets a bit gory at the end), then this black comedy is one of the funniest films I've seen for a long time.

I'm missing my 11 fellow Landmark tutees. Being stuck together through an intense experience like this bonded the group into quite a family. It was a really good group of people, from all sorts of backgrounds and nationalities.

Chris and I had dinner last night with Bruce Tyrrell and Rowena from the Hunter Valley Winegrowers Association. It was a low key but jolly event at Chez Pok. Bruce brought along a string of unprintable anecdotes and revelations, as well as some very impressive wines: 1986 Semillon was a bit tired, but the 1998 Vat 1 was singing, and two reds - 1987 Block 5 Shiraz and 1998 Vat 9 Shiraz - were both world class, the first very Burgundian, the second reminiscent of a good Claret. The 2002 Vat 47 Chardonnay was fresh as a daisy and singing. The Hunter may be a challenging place to grow grapes, but it makes wines that last and last.

Pictured above is one of Tyrrell's' venerable Shiraz vineyards, planted with a clone that came from Hermitage in the 19th century.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Good morning from the Hunter

Just woken up for my last day in Australia. I'm in the Hunter, and this is the view from my room at the Sebel Kirkton.

Chris and I had a shocker yesterday - the receptionist at our hotel advised us to take the scenic route from Katoomba to Pokolbin via Mudgee. It took more than 5 hours so we missed our first appointment here in the Hunter.

However, subsequent appointments at Tyrrells and Brokenwood made up for it. Pictured above are Iain Riggs and Chris Coffey. More later.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

R&R in the Blue Mountains

A quick update from the road. For the last couple of days Iíve been having a crazy time in the Blue Mountains, a beautiful national park thatís just a couple of hoursí drive from Sydney.

Iím travelling with Chris Coffey, who is a final year enology student at the University of Adelaide, and who won a South Australian Press Club bursary last year. Wine Australia reckoned I needed a minder/fixer for this leg of the trip, which includes a visit to the Hunter. Weíre having a great time, and Chris is a great guy. The poor bloke has to put up with me for four days, though.
On Satudrday we got here and spent the afternoon abseiling with a local outdoor adventure company (http://www.rdmh.com.au/). Now Iím afraid of heights, so it was a real fear-conquering effort to step backwards over a cliff with just a thin rope attached to my waist.

We started off with a 5 m drop, then went to 15 m, and finally a 30 m cliff face with lots of overhangs. I thought I was going to die. The thing that made it a bit easier was that the two young guys doing it with us were clearly even more scared than me. And, of course, I didnít want to look a prat in front of Brenda, our instructor. But afterwards I felt like I'd achieved something, and I was still alive, and I hadn't smacked my face into the rock, so overall I counclude that it was a great experience, in a beautiful setting.

Then yesterday we did a breathtaking day-long bush walk with another company (http://www.treadlightly.com.au/). Tim, our guide, was incredibly knowledgeable about the geology, flora and fauna of the Blue Mountains, and the walk was sufficiently challenging to be fun without being so hard that we couldnít enjoy the views. It has wetted my appetite: Iíd love to do a three or four day wilderness hike through this remarkable environment. Maybe I'm getting old, but I find being in naturally beautiful places quite uplifting. Spiritual, even.

Today weíre off early to drive to the Hunter.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Day 5 at the Landmark, and some emotional wine

It has been one of the most remarkable wine weeks of my life. After all that had gone before, it was only appropriate that we should finish with two of the most remarkable wines I have ever tasted. James Godfrey from Seppeltsfield presented the final session on Fortifieds, and this started off well and just got better. The list of wines reads:

Morris Show Amontillado, Rutherglen
Seppeltsfield Museum Oloroso DP104, Rutherglen
Seppeltsfield 2005 Vintage, Barossa Valley
Seppeltsfield DP90 Rare Tawny, Barossa Valley
Grant Burge 30 year old Tawny, Barossa Valley
Penfolds Great Grandfather Series 1, Barossa Valley
Campbells Isabella Rare Topaque Muscadelle, Rutherglen
Seppeltsfield Paramount Rare Topaque Muscadelle, Rutherglen
Morris Old Premium Liqueur Topaque Muscadelle, Rutherglen
McWilliam's Show Reserve Muscat, Hunter
Morris Old Premium Liqueur Muscat, Rutherglen
Campbells Merchant Prince Rare Muscat, Rutherglen
Chambers Rare Muscadelle, Rutherglen
1928 Morris Liqueuer Muscat, Rutherglen
Seppeltsfield 1909 100 year old Para, Barossa Valley

The final three on this list were served blind as a separate flight. The Chambers was utterly remarkable. Then came the 1928 Morris Muscat. It was viscous - almost solid, and clearly very old. But when I tasted it I was profoundly moved. I felt quite emotional: this was one of the most incredibly complex and profound wines I've ever been lucky enough to taste. No spitting. Just awe. The room was hushed as clearly many others were similarly moved. As if that was not enough, the Seppeltsfield 1909 Para was also mindblowing: darker, more intense and with a huge weight of sweet and savoury complexity. I've never had two wines quite as amazing as these before, and next to each other, too! A great way to conclude a memorable week.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

It's almost over - final day of Landmark Tutorial

Just about to embark on the final day of the Landmark Tutorial. We have sparkling and fortifieds for this morning's sessions, followed by a presentation lunch at Peter Lehmann. Pictured above is the view from my room this morning at 7 am.

Yesterday we had some really interesting sessions. Chardonnay was first up, with tasting taking us through the evolving styles and regional differences. Then Tom Carson (below) delivered an amazing blind tasting of Pinot Noir, with Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee St Vivant 2002 as a ringer in the second flight (of older wines). No one picked it. It was, in truth, a disappointing wine - the least aromatically interesting DRC I've encountered.
Then in the afternoon, a blind tasting organized by Brian Croser, and held at Maggie Beer's farm. This was a complex yet fascinating exercise where we had to taste 20 high-end Aussie reds blind, and answer a set of questions about winemaking style (varietal/regional wine or a winemaker's wine), variety (Cabernet or Shiraz based), region, acid level (high, balanced, low), alcohol level and residual sugar (high, evident or dry). The results were compiled, and I'll be able to share them in due course.

So the Tutorial finishes today. It has been a fantastic, brilliantly conceived and near-flawlessly executed program. It will be sad to leave - both the lovely Louise (that's the place we're staying in, not a sheila), and also the wonderful tight-knit group of tutors and participants.

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Good evening from the Barossa

After a long day, with some exceptional tastings - including a blind session of Pinot Noir with a DRC RSV 2002 slipped in - I'm too tired to do a proper blog post, so here are some pictures from the Barossa taken earlier today. It's now officially winter here, but it's still comfortable low teens centigrade during the day.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Day 3 at the Landmark Tutorial

Yesterday - day 3 of the Landmark Tutorial - was a bit different.

We began with a session on Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and blends thereof. I can understand why Semillon was included, because Hunter Semillon is one of Australia's unique, and great, wine styles.

But Sauvignon isn't. With the honorable exception of Michael Hill Smith's Adelaide Hills Sauvignon, Australia doesn't do all that well with this variety. The Sem/Sauvs from Western Australia are OK, but they're never great, and some of them have too much methoxy character.

Favourite wines of the tasting? Tyrrels Vat 1 1998 is a beautiful wine, and Peter Lehmann's Margaret Semillon 2002 - from the Barossa - is also thrilling. The Braemore Semillon 2008 is a young Hunter wine that will become a classic with 15 years' bottle age.

Rob Mann (above) then led a session on Cabernet Sauvignon. Normal service is resumed: these were pretty fantastic wines. Mount Mary Quintets 05 rocked in a very restrained, almost Burgundian fashion. From Margaret River, we had Howard Park Abercrombie 05, Cape Mentelle 05, Woodlands 'Colin' 05 and Sandalford Prendiville 05. Very impressive bunch, with the Woodlands shading it for me.

Then a ringer: Mouton Rothschild 2005. Now had this been an Australian wine, we'd have dismissed it for being overoaked. Lots of chocolate and coffee oak here, with very firm tannins and a bit of brett? It's not an enjoyable drink at the moment. There's probably a great Pauillac waiting to emerge in time.

From Coonawarra we had Parker Terra Rossa First Growth 2005 - big and burly, and split opinions - and Majella 'The Malleea' 2005. Henschke Cyril 05 was concentrated, lush and very smooth, and Wendouree Cab Malbec 05 was really unique and quite beguiling. We finished off with the Reynella 05 and Penfolds Cellar Reserve Cab 05.

Then it was on the bus and off to Yalumba for a spot of lunch, and a tasting of alternative varieties, presented by Louisa Rose (above) and Max Allen (below). The tasting was held in a remarkable and beautiful room that was previously an enormous wax-lined cement storage tank (pictured top of page). We looked at 20 different wines chosen by Max and Louisa, showcasing some of the progress made by alternative varieties in Australia.

It was a patchy tasting. There were some really good wines, but also some average wines, and a few poor ones. I think they call this 'a work in progress'. Highlights? Louisa's Yalumba Virgilius Viognier 2008 is world class. Dal Zotto's Arneis 2008 is a really unique and beautifully expressive wine. R Wines Mod Gamay 2008 is made with no additions (not even SO2 at bottling) and is fresh and sappy, with some rhubarb character, but also lovely sweet cherry fruit. Peter Godden's Arrivo Lunga Macerazione Nebbiolo 2006 was the wine of the tasting for me: the first truly stunning Nebbiolo I've seen from outside Piedmont, with incredible tannic structure. And I mustn't forget the lovely Boireann Tannat 2005 from Queensland's Granite Belt. The lowlights? Castagna's Viognier 2006 was oxidized and Coriole's Fiano 2008 had lots of VA. Hewitson's Old Garden Mourvedre 2002 was tired and dried out.

Then dinner. We enjoyed some really lovely wines. Julian Castagna presented some of his reds, and I loved the Castagna Genesis Syrah 2002 and the 2005 Un Segreto Sangiovese Shiraz, which were beautifully expressive, complex wines. Vanya Cullen showed us the truly beautiful 2007 Cullen Mangan, with lovely vivid fruit and good structure. Ngeringa Syrah 2006 from the Adeliade Hills was really elegant and Burgundian, even, and Bass Phillip Estate Pinot Noir 2007 successfully combined intensity and elegance. I was also really taken by the Lethbridge Kabinett Riesling 2007, which showed thrilling acidity and a brilliant limey, spicy intensity - in an off-dry, very Germanic style.
It was a great end to a thought-provoking day. Oh, and Max told us that it was a root day here in the southern hemisphere...

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Good morning from the Barossa (2)

It's another beautiful morning here in the Barossa as we prepare for day 3 of the Landmark Tutorial. This morning: Iain Riggs on Semillon (and blends thereof), then Rob Mann on Cabernet (and blends thereof).

Sat next to Chester Osborn of D'Arenberg last night at dinner, who was great value for money, crazy as hell and really entertaining. He's launching a new fashion label, called Beakus Twisterus. There's be shirts and jeans, retailing at A$300-400 for the shirts and A$500-1000 for the jeans. The designs won't be conservative...

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An incredible second day at the Landmark Tutorial

It has been one of those days that I'll remember for a very long time.

It's day 2 of the Landmark Australia Tutorial, and we've been treated to some very special wines, presented by some remarkable people.

Jeffrey Grosset (above) kicked the day off with a presentation on Riesling that included his stunning 1984 Polish Gill Riesling, which despite coming from an ullaged bottle (all he has left) was almost perfect, and the first Aussie Riesling I've managed to get really, really excited about. We were also treated to a remarkable 1973 Leo Buring DWC15 Riesling, that was still very much alive.

Then Stephen Pannell (above) presented a stunning collection of Shiraz wines from across Australia. I'll be writing this up in depth, but I really enjoyed the diversity of wines on show. There were four 1990/1 wines (including a cracking 1991 Wendouree), then a range of 2006 that illustrated some of the regional styles (Langi Ghiran, De Bortoli Reserve, Giaconda Warner, Shaw & Smith, Astralis all showed really well), and then we tasted some Shiraz-containing blends blind.

But the best was yet to come. Andrew Caillard and James Halliday (above) presented a historical perspective on Australian wine, which included a 20-wine tasting that was among the most remarkable I've ever experienced. So exciting was the line-up that as we sat down to taste, the atmosphere was electrifying. The anticipation in the air was almost tangible - it was like the sense of buzziness you get at a great sporting occassion just before commencement of play.

Some highlights? Seppelt Great Western Hermitage K72 1954, 1955 Grange, 1955 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Michael Shiraz, Penfolds Bin 60A 1962, 1971 Grange, 1982 Wynns John Riddoch, 1985 Wendouree Shiraz, 1986 Brokenwood Graveyard, 1990 Mount Mary Quintet... it was just incredible. And now I've run out of time and have to leave for dinner. More later.