This section is for brief reviews of wines that I have recently enjoyed drinking. For quick reference I have given a * rating for each wine from one to five stars.
Early on in conversation with Andrew Hoadley, winemaker at La Violetta in the Great Southern region of Western Australia, it becomes apparent that little will be discussed about his own wines. Softly spoken with a quiet, but confident, assurance in his own winemaking skills, Hoadley’s enthusiasm for the idiosyncratic is infectious. A glance at his wine labels, with eye-catching logos and unusual names, hint at an unpredictable approach to everything Hoadley does.
With winemaking experience in various prime locations of the wine-producing world, Hoadley returned to Western Australia to take up a position at Castelli Wines. An insider’s knowledge of the diversity of the Great Southern where he was located gave him the opportunity to pinpoint high quality vineyards and thus exceptional fruit. So it was that La Violetta’s first Riesling labeled ‘Das Sakrileg’ was born as a side project in 2008.
There is certainly no irreverence for the Riesling grape when it comes to the result that Hoadley has achieved with ‘Das Sakrileg’, it is more in the way in which it has been vinified. Contrary to most Australian Riesling production ‘Das Sakrileg’ was barrel fermented using wild yeasts. A few hours of skin contact with some deliberate oxidation the fruit was pressed directly to large (mainly 7-10 year old puncheons of 450 – 500 litres) with some of the pressings retained until racking the next day but reserving some of the lees for an ongoing gentle fermentation. The result is a stunning wine.
Das Sakrileg 2016 is intensely pale in colour with a pretty nose displaying delicate white floral and mineral aromatics. The texture has a wonderful depth to it, undoubtedly achieved by the skin and lees contact during production. The wine slides across the tongue in a silk-like, almost creamy fashion then there is an explosion of ginger, lime and citrus zestiness that builds to an amazing concentration with an extended length of flavour showing its power and finesse simultaneously. *****
There are so many reasons why the Great Southern wine region of Australia should be better known – its size; its diversity; its ‘on trend’ cool climate viticulture; its abundance of small wine producers; and the high standard of winemaking. Yet some of these benefits seem to have conspired against better recognition and understanding of the region.
The Great Southern, located in the most southerly area of Western Australia, is so large that it has been divided into five sub-regions – Frankland River, Mount Barker, Porongurup, Denmark and Albany. Travelling by car from Perth to Albany (the largest city this far south) takes around four and a half hours. The distances between each of the sub-regions are not insignificant. For example, it takes around an hour to drive from Denmark (very much considered as the region’s bustling centre) north to Mount Barker, which was the first part of this region to be pioneered by winemakers in 1965 at Forest Hill. This vastness results in a diversity of landscapes that includes rolling pastures, dramatic coastline, dense forests of towering Karri trees and stark granite outcrops perfectly perched to give fabulous vistas of the whole region when clear skies allow. Such a variety of environments inevitably lead to an array of different ‘terroirs’ and an ability to grow a diversity of grape varieties. The over-riding cool climate of the region has resulted in the production of some pristine Rieslings and aromatic Pinot Noirs. In some pockets, long-lived Cabernets and restrained Shiraz wines have been produced.
The region seems dominated by a plethora of small producers, which means only small volumes of wine are released and not a lot of it has been distributed overseas. Regardless, the quality of winemaking is generally very high. My only criticism would be that there appears to be only a small group of very proficient winemakers whose names appear repeatedly on many different labels across the region. The relative isolation and sparse population of the area must make it difficult to attract new winemaking blood although one would imagine the landscape and, generally, unspoiled environment would enable some excellent winemaking opportunities.
Opportunity was seized in the mid 1960s by the Western Australian Department of Agriculture following a report in 1955 by Californian viticulturist Professor Harold Olmo, which highlighted areas for high-quality grape growing in the region. Working together with the Pearse family, a pioneer vineyard was established at Forest Hill in the Mount Barker sub-region. Ownership has changed hands over the decades but it has retained its family-run status, most recently bought by the Lyons family in 1995. In conversation, Guy Lyons regularly refers to stories that original owner, Betty Pearse, still tells about the property, including the fact that most of the original vineyard needed to be replanted in 1966 as the first cuttings were planted too late in the season.
However, now with such good vine maturity, the owners have been able to highlight different blocks within each vineyard that consistently produce superlative fruit and bottle these as separate offerings. For example, Forest Hill Block 1 Riesling 2013 produced an intensely pale wine with overt minerality and a lime essence nose. The palate has a fabulous intensity with a slightly chalky texture and an amazing minerality. Block 1 Riesling 2014, equally pale in colour, displayed a subtle but attractive floral aroma. The palate offered a wonderful ripe mango with some tart pineapple flavours with the same precision and fine, long fresh length shown in the 2013. These are delicious, mouthwatering wines. Forest Hill Block 8 Chardonnay 2012 is another impressive wine in the producer’s portfolio. The wine is made from the top ten rows of the estate’s Chardonnay vineyard. Extremely pale in colour with a savoury, slightly nutty nose, the palate is very tight with abundant lemon curd flavours. The wine is textural and yet firm with a long length of concentrated citrus characters. Of the 14 wines tasted at Forest Hill, it was the Block 9 Shiraz 2013 that reminded me just how harmonious an Australian Shiraz can be. Aromas of black fruit mingled with floral notes and licorice. The palate had succulent, juicy and fleshy black fruit with fine tannins and refreshing acidity resulting in a gorgeous wine where all the essential elements come together.
Another long-established, family-owned property is that of Alkoomi in the Frankland River sub-region of the Great Southern. Sandy Hallett’s parents, Merve and Judy Lange, established a tiny vineyard in 1971, which has now expanded to more than 104 hectares of vines that Sandy’s viticulturist husband, Rod Hallett, oversees. Although an enormous undertaking it does not mean that quality has been compromised in any way. Highly affable and talented young winemaker, Andrew Cherry, is obviously very much valued as a member of the Alkoomi wine family and, in turn, he recognizes the responsibility he has to uphold the Alkoomi reputation. Alkoomi has an extensive portfolio of wines taking in a host of grape varieties including Viognier (to blend with Shiraz in Alkoomi Black Label Shiraz Viognier, of which the 2013 example showed particularly well during our tasting) and Malbec. Nonetheless, it was the current release Alkoomi Black Label Riesling 2015 and a barrel sample of the 2016 that excited my taste buds. Both wines had classic steely noses with tight, steely, lime intensity on the palate. Andrew Cherry explained that grapes for this label would only ever come from block 7 or 8 – old vines that consistently produced intense Rieslings.
It is easy to understand why the sub-region of Denmark, based around the busy township of the same name, is so popular with tourists. Fine sandy beaches and crystalline, though very cold, water can be found within easy access of stunning Karri forests and rolling pastures. The region has so many natural assets that it attracts year-round tourists as well as longer term inhabitants who prefer country living, including young families and retirees. Along Scotsdale Road (shown above) in Denmark, which Australian wine writer Peter Forrestal refers to as ‘arguably the most beautiful scenery of any winery road in the country’, lies a high concentration of wineries. Some are better known than others, for example long-established Howard Park, recently renamed Burch Family Wines that now has a huge collection of wines including those produced under the Marchand & Burch labels as well as entry-level Madfish.
Newcomers to this beautiful forest enclave include Estate 807 and Rising Star, whose owners purchased existing vineyards and have now stamped their own very different personalities on their respective cellar doors and the wines produced from their properties. Among other recent arrivals to Scotsdale Road is the Snowden family of Singlefile Wines, who have, without a shadow of a doubt raised the benchmark in the region as far as the general quality of marketing their wines is concerned. Where some other wineries don’t seem to understand that the intense competitiveness of the wine industry means they actively need to market their wines, Singlefile Wines have done, with great aplomb. In 2014 Singlefile Wines became James Halliday’s Wine Companion ‘Dark Horse Winery of the Year’. Meeting owners, Viv and Phil Snowden, within the wine community and at their property their professional approach to everything they do has ensured that this accolade, and the many others received, are totally justified. Very successful geologists by profession, this South African couple, sold their Perth-based business in 2004. With a love of fine wine and after significant research into Australian wine regions they purchased an existing vineyard in 2007 where they have removed some varieties and restored the health of others. Friendly and warm-hearted, the Snowdens live in the house adjoining the new cellar door and are often found pouring their wines in the tasting area. I will always remember Viv Snowden as the thoughtful person who offered a weary wine traveller a much appreciated cup of tea and biscuits after a very long day of tasting.
Although I enjoyed the whole portfolio, it was the eponymous The Vivienne Denmark Chardonnay 2013 and The Philip Adrian Frankland River Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 that resonated. The Chardonnay was nutty and savoury on the nose with green mango and grapefruit on the palate giving incisive acidity and concentration. The high-density crimson-coloured Cabernet Sauvignon was quite closed aromatically with just a hint of attractive leafiness. Conversely, the palate was particularly expressive with a plush, voluptuous texture of concentrated cassis fruit followed by fine, yet firm tannins and juicy, mouthwatering acidity. Both wines have long lives ahead of them.
In contrast to the newcomers of Singlefile Wines, is the name Plantagenet. Considered one of the senior wineries with an envious track record of success spanning more than four decades, the relaxed and welcoming cellar door is on the main road from Perth to Albany, just outside the tiny town of Mount Barker. English immigrant Tony Smith planted the north-facing Bouverie vineyard in 1968. The Bouverie covers nine hectares but successive plantings have led to the establishment of almost 130 hectares to include Wyjup, Rocky Horror, Crystal Rock and Rosetta vineyards. The naming of the Rocky Horror vineyard came about after two years of clearing the original land of vast boulders, some as large as cars. Although Plantagenet is now owned by a large corporation and has seen a steady rotation of talented winemakers, Tony Smith still has regular input as far as management is concerned. Plantagenet’s Rieslings and Chardonnays have a strong following, but it is the red wines that caught my attention about a decade ago. These are the classic red varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz that have long been produced in a cool climate style so have always shown a restraint and energy, which, over time has become more refined. Plantagenet Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is a good example with distinct cassis and floral aromas on the nose followed by extremely fine dusty tannins with a dense core of black fruit and dark chocolate, countered by juicy acidity. There was certainly a strong structure to the wine but it also had finesse.
To the east of Mount Barker and away from its rolling green pastures lies the Pororongurup sub-region of the Great Southern. The landscape of the Porongurups is dominated by massive outcrops of granite, considered amongst the oldest in Australia. From this higher ground, panoramic views of the whole region can be seen and are particularly striking on clear days, which are frequent in this part of the world, although a stormier and very dramatic sky is shown in the photo below (courtesy of Castle Rock Estate). In 2015 the prestigious title of ‘Winemaker of the Year’ was bestowed by James Halliday upon one of Australia’s most modest winemakers, Rob Diletti, who grew up on his family’s vineyard at Castle Rock Estate in the Porongurup. Diletti is responsible for the winemaking of several regional labels, including 3 Drops, Zarephath, Abbey Creek and his own Castle Rock Estate. Where other contract winemakers in the area seem to have stamped their own style on their wines, Diletti’s winemaking approach ensures that all his wines express a sense of place as their priority. Diletti has been gaining some traction with the Pinot Noirs produced at Castle Rock Estate but it is his sensitivity to the Riesling produced on this family property that impressed me.
The pristine quality of the environment is echoed in Diletti’s Rieslings, which have precision and purity. Castle Rock Estate produces three Rieslings with 2015 being the current release. Castle Rock Estate Porongurup Riesling 2015 displayed a steely minerality on the nose with mouthwatering citrus intensity. Sourced from about five rows of the vineyard, Castle Rock Estate A & W Reserve Porongurup Riesling 2015 (named after Diletti’s parents Angelo and Wendy who planted the vineyard in 1983), had lovely floral and citrus aromas with more weight on the mid-palate than the previous wine. The beautiful texture and concentrated fruit core is balanced by a long, racy finish. Castle Rock Estate Skywalk Great Southern Riesling 2015 ticked all the boxes as far as a classic Riesling is concerned – delicate floral notes mixed with citrus intensity on the nose, whilst the palate was of a taut citrus concentration with just the right level of fruit ripeness to produce a finesse and elegance not commonly found.
The vast expanse of the Great Southern wine region encompasses, without doubt, an enormous diversity of landscapes, micro-climates and soils. The additional time and effort required to access the region is well worth it. On one hand established vineyards are focusing on distinguishing individual blocks that have shown consistently superior fruit quality as they have matured. On the other hand new players have arrived in the region giving a fresh impetus to existing vineyards. There is much to see and a significant array of high quality wines to taste and enjoy.
Meeting Kevin Judd for the second time, I felt as nervous as I did the first time. Perhaps even more so as this was going to be on his ‘home turf’ in Marlborough, New Zealand, rather than mine. I have long been a fan of this man – not only because of the wonderful wines that he makes but also due to the extraordinary photographs he produces. Economical with his words, Judd expresses so much with his outstanding photography.
Born in England but raised and educated in Australia, Judd moved to New Zealand in 1983 and, within a couple of years, became Cloudy Bay’s founding winemaker. Undeniably, Judd’s work at Cloudy Bay contributed significantly to the rise in New Zealand’s wine profile on the world wine stage, particularly where Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is concerned. The greater region of Marlborough, made up of the broad, flat Wairau Valley and the more southerly Awatere Valley has experienced unrivalled vineyard plantings in the past 15 years, in particular. The area is now covered with such an expanse of vines that it really does look like a vast ocean of beautifully manicured hedges. Nonetheless it hasn’t been all plain sailing for the region as the boom and frantic pace of plantings led to an inevitable bust for some vineyard owners.
With 25 vintages at Cloudy Bay under his belt, Judd knew the region and its vineyards like the back of his hand. Such a grasp of the area has enabled Judd to secure excellent fruit from mature vineyards. Strong bonds within this tightly knit winemaking community mean that he is able to share the winery facilities of longtime colleagues and friends at Dog Point (also ex-Cloudy Bay).
The name ‘Greywacke’, registered as far back as 1993, comes from the rounded river stones of the same name that dominate Kevin, and wife Kimberley’s, first vineyard in Rapaura, in the northern Wairau Valley. With an initial focus on Sauvignon Blanc (made in two styles) and Pinot Noir, the Greywacke portfolio now consists of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and two Rieslings. With such a strong pedigree the wines have inevitably already received widespread critical acclaim. I suspect were Greywacke to double its output they would not struggle to find buyers. However, Judd doesn’t come across as someone driven by the bottom line. His wines speak of place and purity of the healthy, fully ripened fruit used to make them. On the day I visited batches of freshly harvested Sauvignon Blanc bunches were being delivered to the winery. Tasting the intact grapes prior to crushing I could relate to the excitement surrounding the 2015 vintage in the region – everyone is very happy because the fruit quality promises some outstanding wines from this year. Judd commented that the Sauvignon Blanc flavours ‘look superb with ripeness at lower sugar levels and because night time temperatures have suddenly dropped the acids also look great’.
The Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2014 displayed everything expected of a really good example from Marlborough with an extra level of intensity and length. A personal favourite since its first release, the Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc always offers an additional layer of interest on both the nose and the palate. The 2013 has a lovely flinty edge with hints of savory herbs on the nose, whilst the palate exhibited a succulent texture. This combination is the result of spontaneous natural yeast fermentation in French barrels, a portion of lees stirring and also malolactic fermentation for almost two thirds of the barrels. This wine is now also available in half bottles.
Greywacke Chardonnay just keeps getting better and better. Judd gave me the 2012 and 2010 to try alongside each other. Both had a savory, nutty nose whilst the 2010 displayed more biscuity characters denoting that extra evolution. The palate of both wines was just gorgeous – concentrated and ripe with a fine acid structure and long, lingering flavour length.
The other white wines in the Greywacke range are no less impressive. The Pinot Gris 2013 was luscious and exotic whilst the Riesling 2013, produced from a certified 18 year-old organic vineyard and made in a ‘spatlese’ style with 20 g/l of residual sugar was tight and crisp with a lemon sherbet zing. The Late Harvest Riesling 2011 exuded citrus marmalade.
Within the Cloudy Bay portfolio Pinot Noir has always been my firm favourite so I was thrilled when I first tasted Judd’s Pinot Noir under his own label at Greywacke. Quality Marlborough Pinot Noir has always had an attractive fragrance of red berries and a lovely suppleness on the palate.
With vine age the wines are now really starting to build some complexity and the wonderful earthy character, which I’ve always associated with top-notch Martinborough Pinots across the Cook Strait is now coming into play in high quality offerings from Marlborough. Greywacke Pinot Noir exemplifies this beautifully. The 2013 was sourced from Marlborough’s Southern Valleys, 100% organically farmed and mainly from the Yarrum (a Maori word? ‘No, just Murray backwards’) Vineyard. Fifteen year old, closely planted Dijon clones make up a large portion of the fruit with individual parcels of clones aged in barrel separately for 16 months before blending takes place. The resulting wine has a fresh aroma of red currants, cherries, spices and attractive savory earthiness. Concentrated yet elegant the palate displays the same red fruit characters as the nose but with an added generosity that is balanced by fine tannins and fresh acidity. The wine is nothing short of seductive.
It was inevitable that an all female wine seminar (both speakers and audience) was going to be something a little different, but I had not anticipated such a large amount of palpable energy would greet me when I walked into the room. Entitled ‘The Feminine Side of Riesling’ this Wines of Germany-sponsored masterclass took place during Vinexpo Asia-Pacific 2014 in Hong Kong. Moderated by consummate wine educator and Master of Wine, Debra Meiburg, the session was guaranteed to be fun and lively but also deliver key nuggets of information about the Riesling variety in general and, more specifically, about German Riesling.
Supporting Ms Meiburg was a panel of presenters from across the wine industry world including from Germany, the US and Hong Kong – all with varying levels of knowledge on German Riesling, but all with a passion for the style. One of the youngest panellists and one of the most knowledgeable on the subject was Nadine Poss, who in 2013 was crowned the 65th German Wine Queen – a role which involves traveling the globe promoting German wines. Ms Poss comes from the Nahe region where she grew up on her family’s vineyard, Weingut Poss, inevitably learning and studying wine production with the intention of taking over from her parents in due course. The panellists all sported excited smiles, enhanced by their pink lipstick. Additionally Ms Poss wore her crown. I’m not sure who took more photos – the audience of the panel, or the panel of the audience.
Everyone knows that quality winemaking is driven by passion. In the case of top notch German Riesling this is particularly true as the environment in which they are produced is challenging in itself – tiny vineyards on steep gradients where tough climatic conditions prevail making intensive (and often expensive) labour a necessity. Riesling is capable of making an enormous range of styles – from the palest and lightest ‘butterflies in a glass’ examples to the most golden coloured, unctuous ‘essence of honey’ wines; from the driest styles to some of the sweetest. German Riesling, in particular, has been able to produce this vast rainbow of styles but has, for too long, been unable to effectively promote this to the wine drinking public. Having been shackled by it’s own extremely complicated classification system and also a widespread perception that all Riesling is sweet, seminars of this nature are guaranteed to do some significant myth-busting.
With an impeccable pronunciation of names and places, Ms Meiburg took us on a personally guided tour of each of the 13 wine regions of Germany. Each panelist then presented one wine and talked about the personality and emotions they associated with it. Anyone in any doubt about the enthusiasm that exists for Riesling just needed to take a quick peak inside the filled-to-capacity seminar and see the queue outside the door to have their doubts dispelled.
These are the words that immediately spring to mind and remain with me during this, my fifth, trip to Central Otago, in New Zealand’s South Island. Flying into Queenstown airport is always a breath-taking experience as the scenery is spectacular. The Southern Alps and enormous glacial lakes look picture-postcard perfect. The final descent into the airport follows the long valleys so closely that it almost feels like you could put your hand out and touch the snow-capped mountain peaks on either side of the plane’s wings. Once on terra firma, the air is pure and fresh, with vast cloudless blue skies above. It is a landscape that seems to nurture superlatives but it is also a landscape that has given birth to some thrilling wines too.
Central Otago is a region that has witnessed fast growth in vineyard size during the past two decades but also rapid global recognition for the quality of the wines it produces – above all Pinot Noir. At 45 degrees south, the region is isolated and rugged, ensuring that its pioneers were of the hardiest sort, prepared to take on such a challenging environment. Some of the original vineyard plantings in New Zealand occurred as early as 1864 in Central Otago and it’s potential was remarked upon by viticulturist Romeo Bragato in 1895. Leap forward more than a century and a half to when a small group of pioneers in the 1970s and 1980s determined to put wine growing on a commercial footing in Central Otago. Since that time, distinct sub-regions have emerged with Pinot Noir dominated plantings accounting for around 85% of the region’s production with Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris making up much of the rest.
The emergence of fine Pinot Noir production by producers such as Felton Road, Rippon, Valli and Amisfield have gone hand-in-hand with a delineation of separate sub-regions to give four distinct areas – Gibbston (closest to Queenstown); the Cromwell Basin which includes Bannockburn, Lowburn, Pisa and Bendigo and accounts for 70% of the region’s vineyards; the southern most vineyards in Alexandra; and a small area around Wanaka.
Along with the recognition of these sub-regions, there has been real excitement in a move towards single vineyard bottlings. Felton Road has probably produced the most, justifiably, acclaimed Pinot Noir bottlings with Block 3 and Block 5 taken from particularly expressive sections of their Elms Vineyard along with single vineyard offerings from Calvert and Cornish Point. With production of each wine carried out in the same way, Felton Road has re-emphasised to the world that France does not have a monopoly on the concept of ‘terroir’. Tasting across the range of Felton Road’s Pinots, from the excellent 2012 vintage, it was the Calvert that really stood out for me with abundant spice and a great underlay of black fruit on the nose, a finely structured palate with great fruit intensity with a backbone of acidity and oak presence but extremely well integrated giving a long length. The Cornish Point displayed more luscious fruit but again the finish was lingering and seductive.
Still in the Bannockburn sub-region and a mere stone’s throw from Felton Road is Mt Difficulty, whose vineyard ownership and control seems to have expanded enormously in recent years giving rise to several tiers of wines including a less expensive range under the Roaring Meg label. Mt Difficulty produces three single vineyard bottlings – Long Gully, Target Gully and Pipeclay Terrace. I was able to taste the 2010 Pinots from Long Gully and Target Gully (Pipeclay Terrace was not produced in 2010 or 2011). Both displayed attractive fragrance, spice and black cherry aromas. The Long Gully was dense and fleshy yet also had a superb elegance and balance whilst the Target Gully had an extra level of freshness and firm structure but still showing a wonderful harmony.
The southern most sub-region of Central Otago is Alexandra, where small vineyards have emerged in this area which is subject to the extremes of heat and cold, and above all very dry climate. The most well-known of the vineyards is Two Paddocks, owned by actor Sam Neill, whose family ran a wine and spirits import company in Dunedin. Eternally charming and modest but with a very playful sense of humour, Neill relates that his great love of Pinot Noir dates from when the late British actor, James Mason, introduced him to the variety, which was something a little more upmarket than the wines he was accustomed to. Struck by the contents in the glass, Neill asked what the wine was and Mason replied, ‘This, my boy, is Burgundy and don’t ever forget it’. Decades later, Neill planted his first vines in 1993. Eponymously named ‘First Paddock’ is in the Gibbston sub-region whilst two more vineyards were planted at Earnscleugh, near Alexandra – ‘Last Chance’ and ‘Alex Paddocks’. Neill has just recently purchased a fourth vineyard, ‘Desert Heart’, in Bannockburn. It will be interesting to see what characters this vineyard contributes to the Two Paddocks label if it is included in future blends and as a stand-alone vineyard bottling. In the meantime, ‘First Paddock’ and ‘Last Chance’ offer excellent drinking as the 2010 vintage of both has attested. ‘Last Chance’ was voluptuous yet elegant, whilst ‘First Paddock’ was more restrained and Burgundian-like on the nose but with silken tannins and a wonderful concentration on a long, long length. Totally delicious.
The Cromwell Basin is home to the largest amount of vineyards with vines planted on all sides of elongated Lake Dunstan. The wide, open expanses of hills and vast still waters of the lake generate a real wow factor and a touch of green-eyed monster envy by outsiders of those who have chosen to live and work in this environment. One such couple is the owners of Misha’s Vineyard – Misha and Andy Wilkinson.
Seeking out a home to plant and produce top quality Pinot Noir began a journey of ‘no compromise’ and the intention of producing only single vineyard wines. This philosophy has involved the purchase of some spectacularly-placed land on the north-west facing side of Lake Dunstan, hiring one of New Zealand’s leading viticulturalists as well as one of the country’s most respected winemakers. Planting began in 2004 and the first commercial releases were from the 2008 vintage. Recognising that sound commercial practice includes creating a sustainable market for their product, the Wilkinsons pooled their marketing talents to create a visually attractive bottle, linking the motifs to the history of the region, as well as endeavouring to fill it with a high quality wine. Misha’s background in the Performing Arts provided catchy names for their wines, including their first Pinot from 2007 which they named ‘The Audition’. An expanded portfolio of highly acclaimed wines now offers three tiers of Pinot Noir starting out with ‘Impromptu’, then ‘The High Note’ and a limited release, reserve level Pinot called ‘Verismo’, this latter wine generally being made from specific blocks of the vineyard. Like Felton Road, Two Paddocks and Mt Difficulty, Misha’s Vineyard has also had significant success with wines from their aromatic varieties – in particular ‘The Limelight’ Riesling, ‘The Gallery’ Gewurztraminer and ‘The Dress Circle’ Pinot Gris. As the story of Misha’s Vineyard continues it will be fascinating to see whether or not they will create single block bottlings of their Pinot Noirs. The meticulous care and attention that is given to their vineyard already suggests different areas of the site have developed different expressions of the variety. The vineyard shown below is aptly named ‘Ski Slope’ and already produces Pinot and Sauvignon Blanc. The vista from this vineyard location is nothing short of spectacular and a dramatic themed name would be more than appropriate for a wine produced from this amazing location.
Many of us celebrate our birthdays with a special bottle of wine. On reaching landmark birthdays the boat is often pushed out further and wines solely kept for this purpose are opened and enjoyed.
For Singapore’s Dr. NK Yong, celebrating his 85th birthday meant taking this tradition to a different level. As a noted wine authority, not only were dozens of special bottles enjoyed, in most instances they were accompanied by their producer and presented one by one to a large wine-loving audience, which included fellow producers, friends and wine industry colleagues.
Aptly titled ‘Celebration 85’, the weekend of celebration, held in mid January, was kick-started on the Friday evening by a charity dinner and wine auction held for 390 guests at Singapore’s Capella Hotel on Sentosa Island. The aim was to raise money in aid of the Kidney Dialysis Foundation and Singapore Children’s Society. For Dr. Yong and his wife, Melina, “Celebration 85 is simply our way of giving back to the community”.
Longtime friends of the Yong’s, Serena Sutcliffe MW and husband, David Peppercorn MW, had flown to Singapore especially to assist and moderate the weekend of events. As head of Sotheby’s International Wine Department since 1991, Serena Sutcliffe demonstrated her wealth of auction experience to help raise substantial bids for the wines so generously donated by producers. The highest individual bid was awarded for a limited edition Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2000 in Emmanuel Regent Coffret from Reims Cathedral marble, which raised S$20,000. Other charity items included an imperial of Vega Sicilia Unico 2000 and a magnum of Domaine Comtes Lafon Montrachet 2009. The final total raised for the two chosen charities was an impressive S$650,000.
Come Saturday morning, the first of three star-studded wine-tasting sessions began in earnest. With a line-up of 24 wines, which included 15 Bordeaux from the highly lauded 2009 vintage, there was a palpable sense of anticipation amongst the 90 guests in the room. The first group of nine wines included three of only four New World examples that would be tasted during the three tastings – Leeuwin Estate’s Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2007; Araujo Estate’s Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 and Bodega Noemia’s J Alberto 2009 hailing from Patagonia in Argentina, produced from old vine Malbec. Each held their own in a group of wines that included Jaboulet’s Hermitage La Chapelle 2009 and Chateau Beaucastel 2007. Bruno Prats presented his 2009 Afynal, “my last try in the wine world” – this Monastrell displayed a surprising elegance and length of flavour, including cocoa beans.
As the first red Bordeaux of the tasting, Chateau Palmer 2008 set a particularly high benchmark from which the 15 Left and Right Bank examples of 2009 had to follow. Chateau Palmer’s 2009 was unable to be shipped in sufficient time for the tasting as the chateau was implementing a new anti-forgery labelling technique with the current release. The quintessential elegance of Palmer was evident in the 2008 despite the concentrated nose and velvety black fruit intensity, balanced by good structure and refined tannins.
Serena Sutcliffe introduced the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux as not being one of the greatest she had ever seen, citing 2005 as the greatest. However, Ms. Sutcliffe proclaimed 2009 as “more accessible” and that “ perfect, natural beauty” could be found in many of the wines. “Overall balance and harmony” are the characteristics required by David Peppercorn to make a wine successful, which he felt could be found in many of the 2009s. With a procession of wines, which included Cos d’Estournel, Pichon Lalande, Pavillon Rouge, La Mission Haut Brion and Angelus it proved increasingly difficult to pick out favourites.
Nonetheless, four particular examples of the 2009 vintage displayed why Bordeaux remains so highly regarded. With an Anglo-gentleman’s politeness, a touch of French chic and a twinkling Irish wit, Anthony Barton presented his Second Growth Leoville-Barton and Third Growth Langoa-Barton. Both wines shared beautifully fragrant classic aromas and fine, dusty mocha and chocolate tannins. Already superb, the Langoa Barton showed intense, yet complex fruit and a lovely silkiness whilst the Leoville-Barton had wonderful freshness together with a broad structure for ageing. Serena Sutcliffe remarked they were “two exemplary wines from St Julien, both totally harmonious yet totally different”. The two other particularly notable wines came from the Right Bank – Chateau Figeac, introduced by Blandine Manoncourt, and Vieux Chateau Certan also presented by its owner, Alexandre Thienpoint. The textbook Figeac complexity of fragrance and glorious fruit character were already evident whilst Vieux Chateau Certan showed balance and freshness as well as an inherent ability for longevity. Alexandre Thienpoint noted that 2009 was a fantastic year for Merlot and reminded him of the 1948 vintage.
The Saturday afternoon session comprised 26 wines including 10 Rieslings and a “Who’s Who” list of the European wine aristocracy such as Etienne Hugel, Helmut Donnhoff, Katarina Prum, the Marchese di Frescobaldi, Peter Sisseck of Domino di Pingus, Alvaro Palacios and Pablo Alvarez of Bodega Vega Sicilia. Each producer was there to support Dr. Yong and present an exemplary wine for the audience to enjoy.
Riesling Guru Egon Muller personally introduced the first and last wines of the session. Much to the surprise of some in the audience he remarked that “it is easier to make Riesling in Australia than Germany” as he presented the Kanta 2005 from Adelaide Hills. He went on to say how much he admired the professionalism of winemaking in Australia where “every last person working in the winery, even pulling the hose, has some kind of wine training”. Egon Muller’s generosity gave guests the opportunity to finish the session by tasting his Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese 1995 from a wonderful vintage but that was not commercially released as a mere 140 litres were produced. The sheer concentration yet balance of this amber nectar ensured that each guest savoured their sample whilst the spittoons suddenly became redundant.
Italy and Spain were brilliantly represented in the tasting of 14 red wines during the afternoon session. Isole e Olena’s 2006 Cepparello had great depth, yet was finely textured, serious and complex, “a wine of so much breed” according to Serena Sutcliffe. The excellent 2006 vintage throughout much of Italy was also evident in the Marchese di Frescobaldi’s Mormoreto, Castello Nippozano and Pio Cesare’s Barolo Ornato, the latter displaying classic “tar and roses” characters on the nose. From Spain, three cult wines were shown. Bodega Vega Sicilia’s Valbuena 2006 was tasted, whilst longtime friends and colleagues, Peter Sisseck and Alvaro Palacios, individually presented their wines which both vied for pole position. Sisseck’s Pingus 2008 proved that even in a difficult vintage a talented winemaker can produce a classic wine with a velvety centre of glossy bilberry and blueberry fruit with lively acidity to balance. Charismatic Alvaro Palacios explained that L’Ermita 2005 being tasted was the last vintage where a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon was used in the production of this Garnacha dominated wine from Priorat’s very steep, old vineyards.
There were no long Sunday lie-ins for guests attending the final tasting session to celebrate Dr. Yong’s 85th birthday. The thought of tasting 19 Burgundies, including a vertical of 11 vintages of Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru Clos des Reas Monopole was more than ample enticement to ensure every guest was in their seat promptly by 10.30am.
Serena Sutcliffe presented the first three white Burgundies, which included Domaine Leflaive’s Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles 2009. Ms Sutcliffe declared the wine displayed “a very Leflaive nose – just initially a bit tight with a hint of reduction” with a precise palate of linear acidity and tight flavor that will “fill out and amplify over the next 3-5 years”. From Domaine Bonneau du Martray owner Jean-Charles le Bault de la Moriniere humbly agreed with a general comment Ms. Sutcliffe made on winemaking in Burgundy when he said, “quality amongst us is still not as good as it should be”. Nonetheless there was no absence of quality in his Corton Charlemagne 2009 which balanced roundness and weight with a lovely lightness and freshness. The reds included a Comte de Vogue Chambolle-Musigny 2001, which delivered all the perfume, silkiness and freshness one expects from such pedigree.
Michel Gros, from his eponymous Domaine, joined the stage for the final part of ‘Celebration 85’ to present 11 vintages of Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru Clos des Reas Monopole dating back to 1990. A walled triangular vineyard, of 2.12 hectares, Clos des Reas was purchased by the Gros family in 1860. With an earnest and quiet manner Michel Gros explained his respect for the soil and vines, some of which are now 50 years old. Such an opportunity to taste through a vertical of this kind is incredibly rare and really gave guests a chance to learn more about the terroir of this particular site. Starting with the very expressive 2009 vintage, the vertical included the concentrated, precise 2005; an impressive 2004 despite the difficult vintage; a very fresh 2003, which belied the great heat of that year; a very classic 2002; and a relatively youthful 2001. Amongst the older vintages of 2000, 1999, 1996, 1993 and 1990 (from magnum), three wines in particular stood out. Although 2000 was a large crop there was a beautiful sheen of black cherry with lively acidity, which “caresses the palate” according to Serena Sutcliffe. The 1999 vintage was concentrated and powerful, still very youthful with the ability to develop further with age. Michel Gros introduced the 1990 Clos des Reas by noting that 1990 has a tremendous reputation and is now often compared to 2009. Exhibiting a mature, low-density garnet colour and some complex tertiary aromas of mocha and spice, there was still a hint of the original red fruit on the nose. The palate had the finest texture of tannins with chocolate and coffee flavours together with a wonderful freshness – a very special wine indeed.
To have the opportunity to taste all these wonderful wines would in itself have been truly memorable. However, to share the wines in the presence of so many wine luminaries, listen to their anecdotes regularly punctuated by Serena Sutcliffe and David Peppercorn’s comments was an extraordinary experience. It was all made possible by the stalwart generosity of the global wine community and indicative of their respect for Dr. and Mrs. NK Yong who have nurtured long lasting friendships with so many people in the world of wine.
Suzanne Brocklehurst February 2012