Taste Tests: #8

Here is our eighth 2015 report into 8 (plus a sneaky extra 1) wines recently tested.

The intention (failing miserably again today) is to limit the number ofhorizontal storage bright and shiny btls wines in each report, ensuring bite-sized nuggets, released with greater regularity whilst avoiding over-brevity-inducing pointless, vacuous blah-blah (some hope of that!).

Sometimes, a theme reveals itself: Sometimes not. Balancing those themes with depth across price ranges, in geographical diversity or contrasting styles, etc, is a real challenge. Most times I think we do that. Not today.

Rarely do we practically ignore Europe. More rarely do we score any wine 18pts+ (out of 20). Even more rarely (never) have we focussed on 2 grapes: Chardonnay and Cabernet. Never have we left off a Sparkling wine. What’s going on?

In this episode 3x New World Chardonnays from wildly variable price points, 3 (4, really) x New world Cabernets priced quite closely together and 5x 18pt+ wines get the spotlight.

This report might have (legitimately) strayed a tad from the ideal length (and failed miserably to be diverse), but thematically, it certainly journeys: from the ridiculously sublime to the wonderfully delicious‘. Buckle up!

Whites:

Argentina Flag thumb 60x30 Callia Osaado Chardonnay San Juan, Argentina ¥75-¥95 18ptscallia Osaado chardonnay big

Chardonnay is the third most widely planted grape in the world. Its cultivation is a rite of passage for any wine growing region. ‘Osaado’ translates into ‘courage’ in Spanish.

In the Argentine, Chardonnay tends to be planted in cooler Andean regions. You may have heard of Mendoza: now you can discover San Juan.

As far as we are concerned, despite their relatively large operation (as a part of the mighty and renowned Salentein family) Callia is one of the wineries to watch develop into master crafts-folk. We have been quietly promoting this wine amongst friends as good enough to drink on its own, whilst lacking the presentation package I desire. Yet, as I have grown accustomed to its looks, the lovely stuff inside the bottle has won me over. Now, I am a real fan.

Recently, we embarked on a drive to spread the word more earnestly. It’s now to be our flagship brand for some time: it’s that good. I don’t care about the label design any more. I don’t care that ABC’s won’t drink it, either: such attitudes in wine are a smokescreen for ignorance. (Ouch! and we have 9 more wines to get through). So what does it takes like, Wine Man?

…a fresh and fruity wine, lush with intense aromas of citrus and tropical fruits. A delicate, satisfying mouth-feel is enhanced by a lingering finish. It is refreshing, flavoursome and aromatic.

This is the best low price Chardonnay we have. End of. Other’s agree:

A pale gold in colour with green flecks. A nose of green apples and citrus fruits with honeyed notes. Bold and fresh on the palate with underlying notes of ripe grapes. Good minerality and a floral finish makes this a good food wine. Try with salmon steaks with watercress salad, grilled mackerel with a sage sauce or chicken enchiladas.

I may not love the stylised design of the label, but in the glass, this crisp, approachable wine does all I need it to do. It tastes great and the nice price point. Head’s up: so does it’s sibling, Osaado Shiraz. 18pts

usColumbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay 2012 Washington State, US ¥140-¥175 19pts NEW WINEColumbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay 81x288

‘All good things come to he who waits’. It’s rubbish during the waiting, right? I have been waiting patiently for 5 years to be able to provide exactly what this wine represents. And not entirely for pragmatic, business-related reasons. I wanted it for me.

I was not disappointed. All my classic Chardonnay checklist was satisfied. Rich, full, refreshing, vanilla creaminess with a soft cosseting in subtle warm, oak. Check. Yum. Fermenting luscious fruit, partly in in Oak barriques and partly in stainless steel, then blending expertly, will do that to grape juice.

This style isn’t for everyone and is out of fashion, so consequently (being ever the contrarian) I can only sing and jump for joy at being so unfashionable. Unfashionable equals better prices. Demand is reduced. Plain and simple economic theory in practise. Others also opined:

The Grand Estates Chardonnay opens with rich fruit aromas of apples, melons and pears, joined by signature notes of caramelized sugar and butterscotch. Lush orchard fruit flavors are enhanced by buttery characters and lively acidity, creating a vibrant, complex wine.

Wine Spectator – “Silky and seductive, with pear and spicy grapefruit flavors on a taut, polished frame, lingering with intensity and brightness on the glowing finish. Impressive for the price. Drink Now.”

There. You have been told. Stop all that ‘being fashionable’ nonsense. Start being authentic. Reap the rewards that that heralds. We won’t tell ‘the man’ you like proper Chardonnay. Just tell us if you want some. It’s not on the site yet or PDF yet. 19pts

australian-falgTyrrell’s Vat 47 Hunter Valley Chardonnay 2007  ¥687-¥800 19pts Decanter: Silver Medal Winner 2014Tyrrell's Vat 47 Hunter Chardonnay 2007 135x495

This wine was a sumptuous experience: A real treat we undertake twice a year, maybe, when it’s really worth it, we decide with gusto to demolish a rare beast. This time we had a proper wine-loving aficionado friend visiting from overseas, a deliciously matched dinner and this Noble Wine, centre stage, yet significantly bookended by 2 stout others, to act as supporting members; both a prelude and a post-script.

Many’s a time (I will openly argue that) quality does not necessarily rise as prices do. And there is certainly no correlation between prices and personal pleasure (unless you are insane, stupid or vacuous) as we have outlined many times in these articles, but when pedigree, location, climate, vintage, grape-growing and wine-making skills combine…, liquid poetry seeps out of the glass, ruining your taste buds for all future vineous experiences.

Welcome to Hunter Valley Chardonnay. The buck stops here for a certain style of Chardonnay. Only three of Tyrrell’s own vineyards are ever used for the Vat 47 and they share a common alluvial soil (that’s a good thing). Fermentation was finished in French oak barriques for the final six months (so is that). The great and the good have said:

“What a magnificent wine! A pioneer in the modern Australian Chardonnay stakes, the Vat 47 from the Hunter Valley has a silky bouquet of melon stone fruit and creamy oak that is followed by a palate of extraordinary balance and length. An absolute classic and will only get better with some medium term ageing.” Dan Murphy’s, Oz

Wonderful rich Chardonnay brimming with white nectarine and stone fruit character on the nose and throughout the palate with an underlying savoury lift. Balanced and tight with lingering fresh acidity.”  Majestic Wine, UK.

An average score of 94pts (on the 100 point scale) was awarded by the likes of James Halliday, Robert Parker, Wine Front, et al. (Here’s a link to the even more expensive out of our reach and and unreviewed by us 2004). Another wine, another dream…19pts

Rosés:

spain-flag  Baron De Ley Rosado Rioja 2013 Spain ¥130/¥155 16.5pts

Hand on heart I haven’t actually tried this: I just realised I have no notes. No idea. Only the word of mouth ramblings of others to go on. What a situation. I am presenting a wine I don’t even know about. (Chill Wine Man – that’s the norm EVERYWHERE ELSE!). Ok, we’ll keep going but remember I am just telling you what others have told me: Customers and Judges.

In Spain, the term is for rose wine is rosado. Aside: the reality is actually baron-de-ley-rioja-rosadoNOTHING like the colour of the image right, but its the best we could manage. In fact, the label shown right, was recently altered and stylishly updated to a groovy new one (not shown).

We were pretty content to have sourced and introduced this lovely example to a couple of real Rosé fans, last year. They in turn spread the word amongst their friends. In the case of one club; their members joined the throng of followers as one. The reports back are all in agreement: this is a great find. And Baron De Ley’s wines wins international awards year in; year out. True. Here’s what people elsewhere are saying… (which just seems like a load of blah blah blah to me)

…a very light rosé Rioja, often new to many people who associate Rioja with fruity red, full bodied, easy-drinking wines. …made through the traditional Sangrado System, with the musts fermented at 18°C (and what am I gonna do with that nugget, Mr. Wine Man?), to develop a bright rose pink wine with fruity and expressive aromas.

…(in the glass) the wine develops in body to show a richer vibrant fruit flavour, yet maintains the difficult balance between structure and freshness. Easily drinkable on its own, it would work well alongside light canapés or desserts.

Each bottle is uniquely numbered with a small hologram label, again making the wine look more expensive than it is.

–Quoted from www.by-invitation.com

In short: The label design looks very stylish (true). The wine pleases all whose path it crosses, particularly Rose Wine Fans (true) and it is ridiculously well priced (very true). 16.5pts

Reds:DB-shiraz-cab-new

australian-falgI really really wanted to do a review for the (right now) STUNNING De Bortoli Sacred Hill Shiraz Cabernet (¥95/¥110) from Australia, but it was the turn of another wine in their fold; the DB Cab/Merlot. Bugger. I wanted to say…..

“OMG, we just emptied 2 bottles.”

You might think that’s no great feat, but we have literally hundreds of wines to choose from, so yes, it’s no mean feat for this wine to keep us so enthralled through an evening where everything else stayed put on the shelves. I wanted to go on and say that Mrs. Wine Man was ecstatic (which she was) just prior to her then impending, now ongoing, 3 week abstention. If I could, I’d tell you we ate a deliciously appropriate spaghetti and sauce (or whatever it was), but that would be unfair on the wine we should be talking about.

I shouldn’t tell you either that it tasted ‘oh so much better’ than it has before (which is saying something) or that we test it regularly for ‘professional reasons’ of course, it being one of the core brands we stock. Nor, that it is so much better right now than many similarly priced wines cost. As I said, I can’t tell you any of that because I owe it to the next wine which hasn’t had a go yet. 17.5pts

 australian-falg De Bortoli Family Selection Cabernet Merlot 2012 Australia ¥95/¥110 16.5ptsDB-family-cab-merlot

James Halliday made De Bortoli a 5* rated winery. It’s always a pleasure to revisit a Silver Medal winning wine after some bottle age development and this was such a type of experience. Repackaged last year, along with the entire DB range, to applause from me, the improved design appearance of this bottle adds much. However, I don’t really like Merlot, so I did not want to do this review. A mental block overpowering my objective, clinical study.

It’s a worthy, winning wine; recently awarded (Bronze, again) at Decanter Magazine. It wins awards everywhere, every year since we have been offering it. Bortoli= brilliant, I agree! But not this style…not for me, anyway.

You see, this Bordeaux blend wine has one obvious drawback for this taster; and that is the presence of the Merlot in the blend. I just don’t like it. Never have much. Except once; and that was expensive. Very Expensive. At the risk of repeating myself, expensive Merlot okay; low cost Merlot no-kay. I think for an unbiased perspective, I should step to one side and we’ll let others do the talking here:

“Appearance: Vibrant purple, deep crimson.
Bouquet: Sweet fragrant aromas of blackberries with underlying mint and hints of milk chocolate oak.
Palate: A generous wine that shows sweet and vibrant fruit on the fleshy palate with soft mouth coating tannins.
Vintage Conditions: The lead up to the harvest in the Riverina was one of the best on record, with refreshing rains during spring and mild December temperatures. This lead to fruit with flavour intensity and acid structure not seen for a few years. This all changed at the end of January with an unprecedented heat wave of plus 40 degrees for 14 days which saw ripening stall for 3 weeks. Overall the vintage was good to excellent.'”  An anonymous online reviewer at an international site

So, based on the accolades of others we have to award a reluctant…but hey, the Shiraz-Cab is waaaay better. 16.5pts

Chile flag thumbHemisferio Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Chile ¥104/110 17.5ptshemisferio Cabernet S Big Label and bottle

In our first ever TT we mentioned that this wine (2009 vintage) is featured in the Wines and Spirits Education Trust course (WSET) where wannabe wine professionals spend an awfully long time gurgling their way through litres of delicious wines to learn the ‘trade’. That already speaks volumes about it’s worthiness.

Now we are into vintage 2013, a revisit seemed essential, to figure out exactly why the course designers do include it. Hint: It fulfils (and exceeds) a pretty unique set of cool criteria.

Mrs. Wine Man is currently taking a short break from her duties, so I sank the 2012 on my own over 3 nights after discovering a few leftover bottles. A powerhouse of herbals and fresh acidity was still under-pinned by soft, assertive fruit and gentle tannins with a generous silkiness. A subtlety, reeking of a perfect storm of climactic conditions and fruit perfection, hung over proceedings.

So what are the many boxes ticked so well?: A major globally respected Wine family produces it (check), the cabernet name has familiarity (ie the public understands an easy to pronounce name)(check), there’s approachable, soft warm fruit (with a refreshing zip) 9Check), and VERY importantly, a keen price point (check, check). Proceeds even go to support endangered wilderness projects in Patagonia. That’s a Disney moment of pulling on the heartstrings, right there. (Moral high ground check)

Those are some of the reasons why the WSET people include it in their study of Cabernets. Similarly, budget minded cabernet aficionados will find many reasons to look here too.

Our 2012 stocks are pretty much dwindled away now so you might have to ask around. This stunning, recently uncovered, almost all gone delight is at a pinnacle, right now. Trouble is few places offer it and those that might are likely to have said adiós to their 2012 too. I am about to develop an expectation that the 13’s we have in stock are gonna blow me away this Autumn and Winter.

Hemisferio’s Carmenere won a Bronze medal at the Decanter 2013 awards. It won’t be long before this wine gets that recognition too. Once the  accolades start flying internationally, demand rises and then the price. Get a sample now before that happens. 17.5pts

usColumbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Washington State, US ¥140-¥175 19pts. NEW WINEColumbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 77x290

‘Oh Yeah. Oh yes. Yessssssssssssssss’. At last Sub-150 red wine that tastes like a 200+ wine. Maybe it’s a currency rate-affected price. That does happen increasingly at the moment here in SH. Who cares why it’s cheap? (me) What’s it taste like?

Well, to my mind (and I do keep in sight my 10 years or so when I was thoroughly anti-Cabernet) this specimen is delicious. Here’s my notes: ‘Warm, soft, silky, crushed and thickened wine gums with alcohol‘. No, that can’t be right. Who would drink that? Ok. ‘Well ripened damsons with liquorice and hickory framed nectar‘. That’s not it either…

How about the history, neighbourhood, climate, soils, etc? Sure. It’s from way up north west in Washington State; you know, where it’s cold and wet right? Almost. It’s actually cold and dry with plentiful river and ground water irrigation. That combination is what really, really matters.

The soils and climate provide such assistance to the vintner that they could only make bad wine here if they set out to do that. (Really? Well, almost.) The fruit that’s presented to the winemakers is so perfect, so correctly balanced; that even in bad years, what comes out of this region exceeds those where complacency has set in (you know who you are, Bordeaux et al). WINE SPECTATOR awarded this wine/this vintage 90pts. Here’s what the engineer, sorry, wine-maker said of his own handiwork:

“…displays an impressive concentration of dark fruits, black cherry, currant and fig aromas and flavors. The ripe, sweet, okay tannins are balanced by lovely fruit complexity.” and

“This bold style Cabernet displays great complexity and structure…aromas of dark berry fruits and plum on the nose with chocolate and vanilla on the palate…pairs well with beef tenderloin or hearty pasta. Blend: 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 2% Syrah, 2% Other Varietals…

Did you notice that the label says ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’. Yet the wine is a blend. They do that a lot in the US. Sneaky? The Americans don’t always tell us we are drinking a blend unless we look under the hood (on the back label actually- often hidden in China by those confounded stick-on Chinese labels we all hate but are there by law).

One previous vintage blend I noted was 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec. The compositional variation is not unexpected procedure either from US wineries, truth be told; to ‘tweak’ the wine for its own sake or to counter the vagaries of annual climate variation is commonplace.

In fact, personally, I prefer blends (don’t even think it…this is a serious publication). Any gaps inherent in 100% varietal wines can be ironed out by blending complimentary grapes (perhaps more ripened too), leading to deeper flavour profiles, nuances and complexity in blends over varietal wines. But not always.

Anyhow, whatever style of reporting you prefer; be it, as it happens, from the hip musings, or rather generic, in-house speak; buy this wine, drink it and thank me for telling you about it. That beef tenderloin pairing suggestion is absolutely spot on by the way. A steal at this price. It’s not on the site yet, so just tell us if you want some. ITS AVAILABLE for the next MONTH as a buy 5 get 1 free in our GREAT US of Giveaway SALE. 19pts.

spain-flagTorres Celeste Crianza DO 2010 Ribera Del Duero, Spain (Tempranillo) ¥285-¥310 18.5pts. Commended 2013Torres celeste thumb

Absa-Fuxing-Lu-brilliant! (a local reference just for the Shanghai peeps). Apologies for the tiny image.

This wine is characterised by an abundant, yet understated, power; with an elegance pervading it’s rich dark flavours of inky fruit blackness and running through it all a soft tobacco-laced intoxication of warm spice. That’s the place the wine takes me.

When writers mention ‘complexity’ or ‘subtlety, elegance’ or ‘austerity’, some might reach for the virtual remote control. Descriptions can appear arcane; an experience beyond of the grasp of many; maybe an unfathomable wall of knowledge acting as an impenetrable barrier to less worldly explorers. A big keep out sign to ward off the unwelcome pretenders to the world of wine. Pity.

But I don’t see it necessarily as that: that perspective is a misrepresentation of the words we writers use. We (and I think I can speak for many) are instead aiming for a world of greater meaning. It’s as personal an experience to me as I can imagine. The words reflect that. Sometimes a more poetic scene emerges rather than the mere mundane, generic list of fruit flavours, aromas to be expected and unmemorable and often obvious food accompaniments.

There is an argument for encouraging all forms of information communication: scientific, impressionistic, expressionistic and ritualistic. But sometimes just the poetry will do.

After many years of tasting wines, looking for their personalities, their essence, each report is uniquely arrived at: these essence-laden features that come to the mind take the shape they do on first, and then subsequent encounters with a wine, through follow-up/re-appraisals and interaction with other tasters. Thank god its not all arcane unfathomables, known knowables and scientific inevitables.  18.5pts

 That should keep you going for a few weeks.

TWM

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How we do what we do:

Subjective issues like sight cues, emotions and, say, the personalised responses to financial outlay in purchasing said wines, can have profound influences on expectations. Always have; always will. Hence the blind taste test aficionado’s ráison d’être. We don’t blind test (read our views on that pseudo-science here.)

Alongside our standard prices where these exist for the wines we stock; we have also introduced the recommended retail price (sometimes called, rather less helpfully; the Market Price). This should give a better indication of what readers can expect to pay if they go to a City Shop or a Pines for example to locate any of the wines we feature (if listed by them, that is).

Same rules: All wines were paid for, in full. No other agent was involved in our choices or tastings or opinions, nor have they been sought. We don’t care what our suppliers want us to write. zoom black grapes moist

  • Some wines mentioned in these reports; we don’t even sell! But we’d like to mention them anyway for general interest, plus for current and future reference.
  • We are always looking to add value to what we do by building a better picture.
  • The points given at the end of each entry are based on usual tasting criteria (appearance, aroma, taste, cost) and are out of 20.
  • We also take into consideration security of supply, accuracy to type, presentation, versatility, maturity and our ‘Wow versus Price’ view.

Embedded links take you to those wines with their own pages for further detailed descriptions/opinions.

Those without links are either:

  • too new,
  • too niche,
  • we haven’t got around to it,
  • we didn’t think were worthy,  or are
  • not available from us at the moment.

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