April 29, 2009

Rutherglen Muscat

Astute Elevage readers will notice a general lack of tasting notes here on Australian wines. One might infer that I'm anti-Australia, in with the "I hate big ass shiraz" crowd. No, not at all. There's so much more to Australia, a place I've visited twice and love dearly.

Sure, some of the larger scaled Aussie reds are way too over the top for me, not to mention overpriced (at least here in the US). Yet there are terrific reds from older producers like Henschke and Tahbilk, and more recent producers like Torbreck.

What I really love about Australia are the lesser known (again, in the US) wines. I'm thinking of the white wines, the rieslings of Clare Valley and semillon of the Hunter, and the stickies.

Ever been to Rutherglen? It's a dusty farm town off the Hume Highway in northern Victoria, a bit closer to Melbourne than Syndey otherwise in the middle of nowhere. It reminds me of what Sonoma might have felt like 50 years ago or more, when you were more likely to see a tractor on main street than a Jaguar.

Rutherglen is also home to some of Australia's most prized and famous wines, namely its dark, rich and intense brown muscats that age seemingly forever. There's history here too -- many of the producers have been around since the 19th century, some with wine stocks going back nearly as far.

On my visits down under, I've managed to stay over in Rutherglen twice. Winery visits included the venerable Chambers, Campbells, All Saints and Morris, the inspiration for tonight's post.

Back in 2002, I brought back a 500ml bottle of NV Morris "Old Premium" Liqueur Muscat, made in the solera style typically used in this region. That's where wines are periodically bottled from partially drained casks, with the casks then filled with young wines, aged, partially drained again for bottling, and filled again. Over time, the casks hold a mix of vintages younger and older, giving wines of great depth, maturity and freshness. Some casks are held longer still, providing blending tools so that younger soleras can be intensified with a bit of an older lot.

The wines themselves are curious in that they aren't fermented very long. Rather, grain alcohol is added early in the fermentation process to kill the yeast and preserve the sweetness, yielding wines with moderate acidity but tremendous residual sugar that apparently provide exceptional ageworthiness.

According to this label, base wines at the time of bottling nearly 10 years ago were more than 25 years old, making this a fairly old wine. The aromas are classic Rutherglen muscat, with floral, raisin, brown sugar and roasted nut notes. The flavors are intense and rich, with raisin, fruit cake and a mild sherry-like nutiness. There's great sweetness but more acidity than you might expect.

These wines are never laser-like with acidic structure. I simply love them for their intensity and uniqueness, with lingering flavors and a delicious taste that I've found in no other wine. Rutherglen muscat is truly original wine, and this Morris bottling from its Mia Mia Vineyard is exceptional. I'll have to go back to Australia and get more. I don't believe this wine makes it to the US, though plenty of others do. Give on a try.

April 20, 2009

Random wines

During my recent time off from this blog, I did manage to drink some wine. Here's a run down of random things I managed to sample.

First, two QPR wine (quality/price ratio for the ungeeky) that I bought in quantity from the Wine House in LA for a family event. The white was the 2008 Maipe Sauvignon Blanc from the Mendoza region of Argentina. For $9, this was a steal. Lively and fresh smelling with nice crispness and varietal character, without excessive grassy or herbal notes. This was a hit. I will admit I bought this purely on the "shelf talker" that compared it to Sancerre. I wouldn't go that far, but indeed this was a no brainer at the price.

Then a red, the 2007 Antinori Santa Cristina Toscana Rosso, mostly sangiovese blended with some merlot and also $9. Call it internationalized and industrial, I find this wine to be a safe bet in lots of places where the pickings are slim. The Wine House has a nice selection, but I needed multiple cases on short notice and interestingly enough, there wasn't much to pick from in this price range. Sweet fruit aromas, but clearly Italian with savory flavors and good acidity. This was another crowd pleaser and is nice on its own and with food.

With lots of family in an LA restaurant, I went with what my dad would have ordered - barbera. Not the 2004 Castello Verduno on the wine list, but the 2007 Damilano Barbera d'Alba was a fine substitute. Again, terrific on its own and with dinner, this was prototypcial barbera with dark color, earthy fruit aroma, and clean, crisp but ripe fruit and spice flavors in the mouth. Nothing fancy, but this was a great pick.

The other highlight in LA was a glass of Yellow Tail Shiraz (vintage irrelevant). It's sweet, syrupy red wine that tastes more like alcoholic fruit punch. But people dig it. What are you going to do?

Then back in Portland, some drinks around the house. The 2004 Lafond Lirac Roc-Epine Blanc was a bit long in the tooth. I guess more viognier or grenache blanc than marsanne or roussane? Some mild walnut smells with dry honey and some gain alcohol, this was more together in the mouth but nothing to write home, or here, about.

2003 Lorinon Rioja Reserva was a bit of a revelation. I bought it on a whim to try something maybe Alice Fiering would decry as modern, horrible Rioja. Lopez y Heredia this wasn't, but neither was it glossy and processed. Some dill notes suggest traditional American oak, with pretty tobacco and plum flavors that seemed medium bodied even in this hot vintage. Not bad at all.

Another bottle of 2002 Cray Cremant de Loire sparkling rose was delicious, just as in the past. I don't care what Marshall Manning says, this is good stuff and worth your time and liver even if it's not as earthmoving as something more fancy. Take that Marshall Manning.

Finally, something I found for $5 on the back table at Pastaworks one Sunday afternoon, a lone half bottle of 2001 Fattoria le Pupille Sol Alto dessert wine from Tuscany. Once in a blue moon Peter di Garmo simply gives something away. Once I found a full bottle of terrific Jurancon. This is a top rate Sauternes clone, with a light gold color, intense but delicate figgy, pineapple, and honey aroma, and a classically balanced sweet fig and pleasantly bitter pith flavors. I have no idea of the blend, but if it's not sauvignon, semillon, and/or muscadelle I'd be shocked. Put a label of Rieussec or Sudiuraut on it and people would pay out the nose for it. The regular price is $20 or $25, not cheap but worth it. For a fiver? Ridiculous. Keep your eyes open. Bargains abound.

April 19, 2009

Seghesio Pinot Noir Costiera

For Easter Sunday, one of my brothers brought a bottle of (I believe) 2006 Seghesio Pinot Noir Costiera from California's Russian River Valley. He's a big fan of Seghesio wines, primarily their zinfandel bottlings, and for good reason. Although I wasn't so fond of the basic 2007 zinfandel bottling, Seghesio has long been a terrific producer of old school, delicious zinfandel from the Dry Creek Vally.

So here was my first taste of Seghesio Pinot Noir, and while I found it perfectly delicious to drink, it tasted like zinfandel. Well, not entirely. This is clearly pinot noir, with the rooty sweetness you only get from this grape. The British call it "beet root" and mean it as a compliment. Some Americans refer to it as "I don't like pinot noir." It's that distinctly earthy, often tantalizing quality of any pinot noir-based wine that some people simply don't like.

At 15% alcohol, this Seghesio Costiera was clearly made from grapes harvested well past what I would call "ripeness." There are raisiny tones that give the wine richness, but to me detract from the varietal nature of pinot noir. The alcohol gives lots of body to the wine's texture, and some burn on the finish. In a zinfandel, that's not entirely a bad thing, in a certain balance. In pinot noir, it's just not right. Call that snobbish or whatever. I'm just being honest.

Yes, I happily tasted and drank the wine. I would have had more if my brother hadn't pounded the rest by himself (joking!). This wine was like an action movie with noise and explosions that satisfied, in that idiom. Not classic film, but highly enjoyable. Thanks bro.

April 18, 2009

South African pinot noir

Back after an unplanned break. Thanks for your patience. Here's a short note to ease back into things.

Recently, a variety of imports from Leucadia Wines showed up at my local discount outlet. Among them were some South African wines from Bouchard Finlayson. I did some internet research on the producer and saw some positive notes. So I grabbed one of the wines to sample for myself.

This 2007 Galpin Peak Pinot Noir from Bouchard Finlayson is interesting enough wine. With a California label, it would surely run $50 or more. I suppose that's what the importer was asking as well, but for $14 on close out, it's a decent bargain.

It has a dark color, but not excessively so. The aroma is pungent, with smoke, root vegetables and black cherries notes that are very attractive. However, in the mouth the acidity sticks out too much, as if these ripe grapes needed a boost of tartaric acid to retain freshness.

The flavors are rich and round, with soft tannin, just the profile so much "high quality" new world pinot noir shows. That prickly acid though just doesn't fit. I suppose there's some alcoholic burn here too, but that's to be expected with such large framed pinot noir.

All told, this isn't horrible wine, and for the money it's going to please a crowd. Sometimes that may be enough.