Author Archives: finewineclub

Penfolds Collection: 2020 Release

Penfolds Collection: 2020 Release

Barry Weinman: 31st  July 2020

Penfolds is a brand that needs no introductions. From the humble Koonunga Hill through to Grange, generations of Australians have built their cellars around these iconic wines.

The wines are reliable year in and year-out, but in the good years, they take on a special quality.

So the launch of a new vintage is something to get excited about, especially when the vintages concerned (2016 – 2018) were all very good years in South Australia.

To celebrate the 2020 release, I tasted a few of the wines, and was left profoundly impressed. The Bin 28 and Bin 389 are excellent, whilst the St Henri is a truly outstanding wine.

The surprise of the tasting was the 2019 Bin 311 Chardonnay – a beautiful expression of cool climate Chardonnay.  The Bin 19A Chardonnay was even better, similar to the profound 2017.

I have a growing respect for McLaren Vale Cabernet, and I was interested to note this featuring in Bin 707, Bin 389 and Bin 407.

Prices for the Bin wines continue to creep up, but, in the context of Australian wine, remain fairly priced.

What about Grange? For the elite few who can afford to buy (and drink) this wine, Peter Gago is comparing it to the great 1986 and 1996. An iconic wine with a price and pedigree to match.


Penfolds – Chardonnay – Bin 311 – 2019 (18.5/20pts – $50).  Perfectly ripe stone fruit aromas are supported by gentle pineapple, lemon pith and grapefruit notes. The palate has laser-like precision, with elegant fruit the star. Oak and lees work add depth and texture without impeding the flavour profile. Develops minerality and complex lees/barrel ferment aromas and curry leaf with air. Quite beautiful.

Penfolds – Shiraz – Bin 28 – 2018 (18.6/20pts – $50).  Intense, powerful and very long, with a degree of suppleness that is irresistible. The plum/berry fruit is vibrant and supple, with fine tannins masking its full effect just now. Savoury, with refreshing acidity, this is quite delicious, but is capable of aging for at least 20 years. The most complete wine in the line-up right now.

Penfolds – Cabernet/Shiraz – Bin 389 – 2018 (18.7/20pts – $100). Vibrant colour and a nose that is supple, succulent and refined, showing perfumed blueberry fruit, with gentle mint highlights. The concentration of fruit is a highlight, as are the very fine savoury notes courtesy of the oak and fine tannins on a long, silky finish that is refined and polished. Needs years yet drinking well now.

Penfolds – Shiraz – St Henri – 2017 (18.8/20pts – $135). Quite closed, with intense fruit and savoury menthol and dried herb notes. With air, the precise fruit gets better and better. The palate is outstanding. The fruit stunningly concentrated, yet remarkably elegant and refined. The velvety tannins build ultimately shutting down the fruit on the close. Balanced, long and extremely age-worthy, this is a great wine!

The Many Faces of Cabernet Sauvignon

The Many Faces of Cabernet Sauvignon

Barry Weinman: 30th July 2020

When I think of versatile red grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon does not normally spring to mind. Shiraz, after all, is the ultimate chameleon, thriving in all but the very coolest vineyards in the country.

Whilst Coonawarra is perhaps the spiritual home of Cabernet in Australia, Margaret River is, for me at least, the reigning king of Cabernet production.

But looking a bit further afield, there are a number of regions producing very fine Cabernet. In South Australia for example, Barossa, Clare Valley and even McLaren Vale can produce excellent wines. Each region has a slightly different take on the style.

This week, I have reviewed a number of quite different styles, including two from the same producer. The Pedestal, Peos Estate and Higher Planes are all notable for offering excellent value. The Higher Planes is also noteworthy for being a 2014 vintage.


Shingleback – Cabernet Sauvignon – Davey Estate – 2018 (18/20pts). Intense blackcurrant fruit with hints of mint and menthol. Very fine and polished tannins and supple oak and silky texture add to the appeal. Now – 10 years+.

Shingleback – Cabernet Sauvignon – D Block Reserve – 2017 (18.5/20pts – $60). Fragrant and attractive, with intrinsic power to the ripe blackcurrant fruit. Souring cherry-like acidity and fine tannins build on the close, complemented by quality oak.  A serious wine that will be long lived, but its immediate appeal makes this hard to resist.

Howard Park – Cabernet Sauvignon – Abercrombie – 2017 (18.5+/20pts). Initially shy and restrained, building bright blueberry fruit and even a touch of violets building with air. The palate is taut, dense and restrained with a core of ripe fruit that slowly builds. The tannins and oak are not obvious but make their presence felt in the way the fruit is shut down on the close. Potential.

Higher Planes – Cabernet Sauvignon – Reserve – 2014 (18.5/20pts – $40). The nose is quite seductive, the fine fruit perfumed and redolent of ripe berries and cassis. The palate is most beguiling, with mint, gentle eucalypt and a hint of dried herbs. The finish is ultimately shut down by the very fine tannins and oak, yet remains near seamless. Good value.

Peos Estate – Cabernet Sauvignon – Four Aces – 2018 (18.5/20pts – $35). A real surprise package that is supple, restrained, elegant and fine. This is tight and dense with very polished tannins and fine-grained French oak (50% new), leaving the fruit a little subdued at first. With air though, the blackcurrant fruit starts to shine. With only two barrels produced, this is a great effort from this Manjimup producer.

Pedestal – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2018 (18.4/20pts – $25). Clearly different to most here, in that this wine is all about immediate pleasure. Builds layers of rich, ripe fruit that are supple and deliciously succulent. Excellent texture and oak to close. Not as serious as the big boys but gets big points for being a great drink.

Chardonnay: July 2020

Chardonnay: July 2020

Barry Weinman: 18th July 2020

I am a huge fan of Riesling, a variety that can also claim the title of best value white wine in Australia. But in the cooler months, Chardonnay is my go-to white.

With the temperature in the cellar approaching fifteen degrees, this is a little too cold to get the most out of a decent Cabernet or Shiraz. The cooler temperatures tend to suppress the fruit characters, which can sometimes make the wines look a little unbalanced.

Worse still, serving them too cold can suck the joy out of the wine, making for a less than ideal experience.  And it is unlikely to warm up much with an hour or two on the kitchen bench.

Fifteen degrees is, however, an excellent temperature to drink Chardonnay. But this comes with a caveat: make it a good one. Lesser quality whites are best served well chilled, as this masks some of the less desirable characters.

Obviously in summer, the wine is going to warm up in the glass, necessitating more time in the fridge, but mid-winter, this is not an issue (in my house at least).

In my experience, better quality Chardonnay can really express its character as it warms up in the glass. If it feels a little too warm, then a short stint in the fridge will do the trick.


Cherubino – Chardonnay – Gingin – Wilyabrup – 2019 – (18.3/20pts – $39). Complexity here is a feature. Creamy lees and barrel work, supple oak and ripe stone fruit all express on the nose. The palate is intense, powerful and very long, with the supple texture a highlight, courtesy of very fine, tight grain oak. Delicious and almost seamless, with grapefruit acidity to close.

Cherubino – Chardonnay – Margaret River – 2019 (18.5/20pts – $60). Pretty floral notes with depth and intensity to the fruit and just a touch of caramel oak and lees. Power builds on the palate and is most impressive. The oak has been subsumed by the fruit contributing to the near seamless palate transition. A potent wine that needs a year or two to settle.

Cherubino – Chardonnay – Laissez Faire – 2019 (18.5/20pts – $39). Pretty, perfumed, focussed, fine and intense. The powerful, yet sublime fruit has clear cool region characters and grapefruit acidity. The clever oak and lees work add to the appeal. Gets extra points for drinkability, as this is delicious straight out of the bottle.

Cherubino – Chardonnay – Dijon – 2019. (18.5+/20pts – $45). Opens with complex, struck match and flint notes courtesy of the vanillin oak and supple lees work. The palate shows ripe stone fruit over complex yet supple worked characters and is very long and intense. Beautiful mouthfeel, with gentle toast from the oak and fine grapefruit acidity. Will be even better with a year or two in bottle.

Forest Hill – Chardonnay – Block 8 – 2016 (18/20pts – $50). A viscous, textured wine, where the toast from the oak is a little more obvious at present but this should settle in the bottle. The intense, pristine fruit is at the core of this wine with impressive depth and power. This is a powerful wine that demands attention.

Howard Park – Chardonnay – Allingham – 2018 (18.3/20pts). Rounded and balanced, with subtlety, elegance and finesse.  Long and very fine with pristine acidity, this is remarkably good drinking right now.  However there is an intensity to the fruit that suggests that this will improve over the next 3 – 5 years at least.

Shingleback – Chardonnay – Red Knot – 2019 (17/20pts – $15). Pristine, fine fruit that is redolent of peach and nectarine, complemented by fragrant vanillin oak notes. The palate is bright, and fresh, with gentle lees and malolactic fermentation notes. Straightforward? Sure, but this is an eminently drinkable wine and great value at $15.

Faber Vineyard: Celebrating 20 years of Riche Shiraz

Faber Vineyard: Celebrating 20 years of Riche Shiraz

Barry Weinman: 16th July 2020

John Griffith established Faber in 1997 after a very successful six-year stint at Houghton.

At Faber, the aim is to craft the best wine possible from grapes most suited to the region in which they are grown. In the Swan Valley, John believes this is Shiraz, Verdelho and Muscat (for fortified wines).

Reflecting the warmer climate, the wines at Faber are rich and generous, with excellent balance and texture. They are not made to meet the whims and fashion of wine show judges, they are made to provide maximum drinking pleasure for the consumer.

The Riche Shiraz typifies this approach yet, as this tasting highlighted, they are also capable of extended aging. The fruit comes from the Faber and Millard vineyard, and interestingly, is also used for the Reserve Shiraz.

On arrival in the winery, a portion of the juice is bled off and sold to others. The remaining juice is fermented on skins in open top fermenters for ten days. At the end of this time, 2/3 of the juice (free run) is taken off for use in the Riche, with the pressings being used for the Reserve.

The Riche spends ten months in oak, of which 25% is new American. This adds supple texture and depth to the delicious fruit. We tasted all 20 vintages ever made, starting with the 2001 and finishing with a barrel sample of the 2020.

The highlights were the 2004, 207, 2009 and 2013 – 2015. And watch out for the 2020!

My points are mainly to rank the wines. It is always a little hard to be totally objective in this type of tasting.



Leather and spice notes, over still ripe, succulent cherry and plum fruit and hints of cinnamon. Succulent, bright, elegant and delicious. The acid balance is a highlight. 18/20pts


Cedar and cinnamon spice. Still shows bright fruit, though the oak sits a little proud on the close. Drying finish. Best with food. 17


Fresh and supple. The fruit almost delicate, with hints of ripe satsuma plum, and fine, feathery acid to close. This is refined and elegant wine drinking at its peak. 17.8 /20pts


A step up in both depth and density of fruit. The berry fruit notes are pristine and primary, with excellent length and mouthfeel. The acid and tannins have softened enough to make this a great drink, but this has years ahead of it. The vanillin oak has been absorbed by the fruit, adding depth and supple texture notes on the close. 18.3/20pts


Firm acidity and tannins a feature here. This is a rich, robust wine that has layers of chocolatey fruit and excellent length. I prefer the balance of the 2004, but this is a good drink all the same. 18/20pts


A very different style that has cooler, more elegant fruit and finer acid structure. Feels like the winemaking has been pared back a little to allow the fruit to be the focus. Great with food now, but will continue to develop for some time. 18/20pts


Wow. Rich, ripe and succulent with layers of dense fruit. Chocolate, plum and hints of liquorice all build. The texture and mouthfeel are a highlight. A cracking wine that has years ahead of it. And delicious to boot. 18.5/20pts


The oak here is a little more apparent, while the palate is defined by dark chocolate and spice. Not sure here. May get better as the fruit opens up. But drying tannins keep the finish subdued. 17.7/20pts


This is a delicious wine. There’s a touch of menthol and pepper, reflective of the cooler year, and pretty, fragrant fruit that is elegant and balanced. This is most approachable, with the fine tannins gradually building on the finish. Yet this is also age worthy. 18.5/20pts


Purple colour. Supple and balanced, with excellent fruit weight and fine tannins. Not overly dense, which adds to the immediate appeal. My pick for a Sunday BBQ lunch. 17.5/20pts


More spice here. Fresh, vibrant, silky, lovely plummy fruit and a touch of menthol. Again, this is not about raw power, but more elegance and refinement, with the oak and tannins supporting the fruit nicely. Very youthful, with a touch of coffee on the close. 18.3/20pts


Wow. This is higher impact, with ripe fruit flooding the palate, combined with cedary oak that adds depth. Long and mouth-filling, yet only medium bodied. A delicious, spicy wine that could be drunk with pleasure now – 10 years. 18/20pts


Chocolate, plum, blueberry and spice. The palate is rich, textured and with greater fruit density than the 2012. The power here is more obvious and, whilst delicious, this is one for the cellar. 18.5/20pts


White pepper, cinnamon: Wow. This is a luscious, powerful and delicious with layers and layers of fruit. Super structure, long, powerful, inherently drinkable, but really needs another 5 – 10 years to really hit its straps. 18.6/20pts


Fine, closed, firm, textured. Everything in place but needs years to come around.  Hints of chocolate and spice. Fine oak, fine tannins, great mouthfeel. Will be a star. 18.5


Lighter style, with more approachable fruit and supple oak. An earlier drinking style that is the perfect mid-week wine. 17.5/20pts


Quite closed initially, but with air, this really builds. Ripe fruit, supple oak, texturing tannins and spicy, vanillin notes. The fruit gains depth and density in the glass, leading to a very long close. Cracking wine 18.5/20pts


Opens with some cooler, almost herbal notes and just a touch of tomato leaf up front. Give it some air though and the ripe, plummy fruit starts to shine. The palate is dense and textured, with spicy oak adding to the appeal. Whilst supple, round and balanced, this needs a few years to hit its straps. (18+/20pts – $27).


Initially very closed on the nose, but gets perfumed, pretty and fragrant with air. The fruit on the palate is a delight, with ripe plum and blueberry, and delicious spicy undertones from the oak. The fine tannins ultimately shut down the fruit, so bottle ageing is recommended. Or try with a juicy steak now. (18.2/20pts – TBC).


Barrel sample. Purple, pretty, powerful, dense and textured, with supple oak already integrated. An amazing wine that may be one of the great bargains when it is released.

Faber – Shiraz – Reserve – 2017 (18.7/20pts – $65). Closed and restrained, but this is clearly a brilliant wine. Dense and textured, with high quality new French oak in support. The balance is a highlight, the mouthfeel aided by supple viscosity. Gets chewy and a bit closed on the finish, yet the tannins never dominate. Sure to age well, but great drinking now

Swan Valley Chenin Blanc – Back to the Future

Swan Valley Chenin Blanc – Back to the Future

Barry Weinman – 2nd July 2020

World Chenin Day last week was an opportunity to move my focus to the Swan Valley. Chenin Blanc, along with Shiraz are the most important grapes grown on Perth’s doorstep. And the panel celebrated with extraordinary tastings.

Firstly, we tasted a cross-section of WA Chenin Blanc, followed by a six-wine vertical from John Kosovich. The later left the panel gob-smacked by the intensity and depth of flavour that Swan Valley Chenin can achieve.

The winery was founded in 1922 as Westfield Wines by Lile (Jack) Kosovich, before his son John took over as winemaker. Fast forward half a century and 2003 saw the winery’s name changed in celebration of John Kosovich’s 50th vintage.

Whilst the vineyard holdings have expanded to Pemberton, Swan Valley remains the focus for Chenin Blanc, fortified wines and some excellent reds.

Third generation winemaker Arch is now firmly at the helm, and Chenin Blanc continues to shine. Whilst they are delicious young, their ability to age is legendary, with the vibrant acidity laying at the heart of this.

The 2011, for example, is still fresh and vibrant with just a touch of honeyed development showing. This has years ahead of it (especially under screw cap).

The brilliant 2013 is still available in limited quantities and is worth a drive to the valley to pick up a bottle or two.

Excellent Chenin Blanc is now produced across the state and deserves more attention.


tripe.Iscariot – Chenin Blanc – Absolution – 2018 (17.4/20pts). Pale straw colour. Neutral nose, with gentle pear aromatics. The palate is textured with a touch of viscosity. Excellent acid balance drives the finish. Hints of lanolin and minerality, with gentle melon and honeysuckle notes.

LAS Vino – Chenin Blanc – CBDB – 2018 (18/20pts). Fresh and pristine, with pear to the fore. The palate is a delightful blend of primary fruit and viscous, mouthcoating texture, with a little lanolin greasiness (phenolics) thrown in for good measure. Vibrant and long, with excellent depth of flavours.

LS Merchants – Chenin Blanc – 2019 (17.5/20pts). Whilst this is relatively neutral, there is a lot to like. Textured and slightly viscous, with the fine acid balance a feature. Textured and intrinsically powerful, with honeysuckle, almond meal and a touch of beeswax. Will be great with food.

Vino Volte – Chenin Blanc – Funky and Fearless – 2019 (17.8/20pts). Very enticing nose, with hints of pear skin, honeysuckle and tropical fruit, balanced by vibrant lime juice acidity. The gentle viscosity is a feature and a touch of phenolics adds depth and mouthfeel. Fine, long and textured, this is drinking a treat.

Corymbia – Chenin Blanc – 2019 (17.5/20pts). From the same vineyard as the Vino Volte, but a different expression. Aromatic and fragrant, with pink lady apple, fine texture and vibrant acidity. Generous, textured and drinkable, the intensity building in the mouth.

Marri Wood Park – Chenin Blanc – 2018 (17.8/20pts). Textural and fragrant, with innate power. Complex and balanced, with supple winemakers’ inputs on the nose and palate. Excellent acidity.

Marc Bredif – Chenin Blanc – Classic – 2016 (18/20pts).  This is a lovely wine. Floral and fragrant, with a touch of residual sugar that adds depth and balance on the palate. Pear, honeysuckle and gentle toast all add to the package. Complex, racy acidity builds on the close. A classic Loire Valley Chenin that will age brilliantly.

John Kosovich – Chenin Blanc – Bottle Aged Reserve – 2010 (17.7/20pts). Lovely gentle toasted notes on the nose. The palate is complex, rich and intense with the honeyed toasty notes carrying the finish. The vibrant acidity keeps things fresh.

John Kosovich – Chenin Blanc – Bottle Aged Reserve – 2011 (18.2/20pts). Fresh and vibrant, with delicious honeysuckle fruit and a touch of toast adding depth. The acidity is a highlight. The length of the palate and persistence of flavours are remarkable. A great drinking wine that has years ahead of it. Perhaps a touch of residual sugar to round out the package.

John Kosovich – Chenin Blanc – Bottle Aged Reserve – 2013 (18.2/20pts – $36). Very long and intense, with honeysuckle, lavender and spice. Supple, textured and delicious, yet complex and focused. The balance is a highlight, with racy acidity on the finish.  No oak used. Great drinking now, but also worthy of 5-10 years in the cellar.

John Kosovich – Chenin Blanc – 2014 (18.6/20pts). With the most intense and powerful fruit in the tasting, this is quite superb. The depth on the palate is amazing, with a delicious saline tang adding to the texture. Brilliant length and balance and, remarkably, still a little closed on the finish. Outstanding!

Grenache and Friends

Barry Weinman: 25th June 2020

Grenache is a most versatile variety. Originating in Spain, but made famous by the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache was the most widely planted red variety in the world until the late 1990s.

Whilst Grenache is the base for many cheap Spanish and French reds, when yields are kept low, and especially when old vines are used, Grenache can make great wine. Styles vary from fresh, pretty wines that have more in common with Pinot Noir, to dense, savoury reds such as those of Priorat in Spain

Originally a key ingredient in fortified wine in Australia, Grenache gradually staked a claim as a serious red wine as part of a blend.

GSM blends are now well known to many wine drinkers, but in recent years Grenache has been making a statement on its own.

Serious, powerful Grenache has been championed for decades by Clarendon Hills in McLaren Vale, but in recent years, we have seen more wines available in the lighter, prettier style suited to earlier consumption.

And because it is not as fashionable as old-vine Shiraz, it is often much better value.

My love affair with Grenache is likely to continue for some time, as long as wines like Yalumba’s Vine Vale are made.

Yalumba are committed to using a cork closure, so. I was pleased to note that if a wine is tainted, that they are happy to be contacted for a replacement. This is not a bad solution, and is one also adopted by Penfolds for their older wines.


Yalumba – Grenache – Vine Vale – 2017 (18/20pts – $35). Somewhat muted nose at first, but with air, this is oh-so-pretty. The palate is an explosion of supple, red berry fruit. Serious enough to make you pay attention, yet delicious enough to wash down some roast duck. From 70 y/o vines. 30% whole bunch fermentation.

Cape Mentelle – Shiraz/Cabernet- Trinders – 2018 (17.8/20pts – $31). Pretty, vibrant and perfumed, with attractive fruit that is a joy to smell. In the mouth, this is supple, fresh and elegant, with a delicious mouthcoating texture. The fruit is quite dense and structured. I have not tried this blend before under this label, but it is worth seeking out.

Shingleback – Shiraz – Red Knot – 2018 (17.5/20pts – $15). Mint, menthol and supple plummy fruit on the nose, with gentle savoury notes. The palate is long, succulent and balanced, with just enough oak to add depth without overwhelming the fruit. A very good drink indeed, and ridiculous value from this perennial over-achiever. From Dan Murphys.

Cherubino: June 2020

Barry Weinman: 14th June 2020

Larry Cherubino first came to attention in the late 1990s as senior winemaker at Houghton. Larry oversaw an expansion of the range, and was responsible for making some brilliant (and great value) wines from across the state. The 1998 Moondah Brook Cabernet is still brilliant drinking for example.

What was even more remarkable though, was the fact that Larry was relatively new to winemaking, having only graduated from horticulture in 1994.

The Cherubino label started in 2005 and expanded rapidly. Larry must surely be one of the most ambitious (and busiest) winemakers in Western Australia, such is the sheer variety of wines that he produces. At last count, there were almost 60 wines for sale on their website, spanning seven different labels.

Labels include:

  • Folklore
  • Apostrophe
  • Ad Hoc
  • Pedestal
  • The Yard
  • Laissez Faire
  • Cherubino

In the Cherubino range alone, there are six different Cabernets spanning the South-West corner of the state. And then there are the wines he makes under contract for other producers.…

Luckily for us, the wines are uniformly excellent. From the $13 Folklore range, right through to the Cherubinos, they also often represent brilliant value.

As the state starts to open up, I would also recommend a visit to the cellar door in Margaret River. Here you can taste a cross- section of the range, including the premium wines, and enjoy a great (value) glass of wine on a sunny afternoon.

Cherubino may not be a household name in Western Australia, but it should be, such is the quality and value of the wines produces.


Folklore – Classic White – 2019 (17.3/20pts – $13). Tropical fruit, with just a touch of oak and gentle lees work adding depth and filling out the finish. Textural and food friendly.

Cherubino – Sauvignon Blanc – Channybearup – 2019 (17.8/20pts – $25). High quality fruit with grassy/herbal notes and even a touch of lantana. The palate is packed with lemony citrus notes over gentle straw and lees/barrel work characters. A compelling wine.

Ad Hoc – Chardonnay – Hen & Chicken – 2019 (17.3/20pts – $). I like that the fresh fruit notes are supported by complex, textural winemaking inputs, but these are not overt features. The palate is dense and textured, with a degree of viscosity. Long and fine.

Apostrophe – Possessive Red – 2018 (17.7/20pts – $16). Pretty, vibrant and quite seductive. The floral notes on the nose and palate are framed by supple, savoury textural components. The oak (new & 1y/o) adds depth, without impeding the fruit’s transition across the palate. Pepper and spice to close. Uncomplicated ,delicious and great value. Now – 5 years.

The Yard – Shiraz – Riversdale – 2018 (18.4/20pts – $35). Aromatic and perfumed, with hints of chocolate and spice on the nose. The palate has chewy plum and cherry-like fruit, supported by supple, savoury oak. A more serious, age-worthy style that has undeniable quality. Firm, textural and dense, this wine is all potential right now. For the patient.

The Yard – Cabernet Sauvignon – Riversdale – 2018            (18.3/20pts – $25). Dense, powerful and taut, with excellent depth. Yet remains elegant, refined and balanced, with hints of mint and eucalypt complementing the berry fruit. Somewhat linear, this really needs 5 – 10 years to open up (or time in a decanter). Shop around for a great bargain!

Ad Hoc – Pinot Noir – Cruel Mistress – 2018 (17.8/20pts – $25). Pretty red fruit and black cherry aromas. The palate is delicious and seductive. The ripe fruit is balanced by supple mouthfeel and gentle earthy, spicy notes that add texture. Not overly complex, but a great drink and good value to boot.



31st May 2020

My friends and I enjoy playing an options game, in which we serve wine to each other blinded, that is with all identifying information about the wine hidden, and then provide options for the taster to guess what the wine is. We might ask about the vintage, the producer, the origin, or the variety, for example. It is important for us that the tasters are totally blinded to the wines – sometimes even hints like the bottle shape and the capsule can offer clues. We have been known to decant bottles under cork into screwcap bottles, and vice versa, just to confuse matters!

Blind tasting is, for me, the ultimate leveller. A good friend jokes that whenever he attends a blind tasting, he brings along an extra tea towel – to wipe the egg off his face! There is no better way to assess a wine than to be free of any preconceptions about it. In fact, I believe that wine scores from critics who do not taste wines “blind” should not be taken as seriously as scores rated by critics who do not know the identity of the wines. Such information, I confess, impacts my own purchasing decisions.

There are some well-known psychological experiments in the area of business and marketing illustrating the perils of being tricked by visual cues. One of the best known is where a white wine is coloured with flavourless colouring and both the “white” and “red” version are presented to unwitting participants. The visual cue leads the taster to describe the white version in typically white wine terms, and likewise the red. So, for example, tannins magically materialise in the red wine!

Blind tasting forms the basis of assessments of candidates in WSET, Institute of Masters of Wine, and the Court of Master Sommeliers examinations. A glass can be filled with wine costing $5 or $5000 – not that price is always an indicator of quality or an individual’s preference – and the wine has to be dissected according to its merits. Of course, at times a context or scope is provided – the wines might all be of the same variety or from the same country – but no other clues are provided.

In the case of assessing wines commercially, knowing what is on the label, I believe, heavily influences the taster about how the wine should taste. Some wines come with fabled back stories, all with very marketable intrigue. In tasting panels I have been on (with wines tasted blind) we have had a few amazing – and amusing – surprises, both with super quality and value of unheralded wines, and (sometimes) disappointing scores for iconic or “well-regarded” wines.

Of course, for a wine writer whose income and standing relies in part upon industry sponsorship, blind tasting carries its risks. What if a wine is rated lower than by other critics? What if a low score places you out of favour with a producer, potentially affecting future samples or even invitations? I think these problems are surmountable. I believe a wine critic who maintains his or her integrity by tasting blind should be accorded the respect deserved.

By way of brief diversion, it is not to say that labels are unimportant in wine. In the commercial spaces of wine store shelves and catalogues, the visual impact that a label can have can be key. Packaging is, of course, important. But a fancy package without quality and price reflected in the product surely does less well, whatever the back story, or story on the back label….

There are some circumstances in which tasting wines unblinded or “open” is, I think, acceptable, even desirable. This would be the case in vertical tastings (that is, looking at multiple vintages of the same wine), or horizontal tastings (that is, where wines from the same variety, same area, same vintage but different producer, are presented). In these situations, the discriminating focus is much narrower, and much can be learned about vintage influences, winemaking influences, and subtle variations in geography.

Another acceptable circumstance is, I believe, “semi-blinded” tastings. By semi-blind tasting I mean where the overall theme might be known (for example, “aromatic whites”, or “Bordeaux varietal reds”), but other details withheld. Here again, the taster can focus on a particular wine style to look for what might be exemplified in each. However, even in these cases, comments such as “goes well with Thai food” or “has the structure to allow long bottle aging” can, I believe, be applied even when wines are tasted completely blind.

Of course we all like to sit down with a bottle of wine that we know and enjoy, and that is, after all, what it is about ultimately!

Enough musings for now. Thoughts, anyone?

Brendan Jansen MW

Picardy and Friends

Picardy and Friends

Barry Weinman: 18th May 2020

I recently wrote about the brilliant value Pinot Noir from Shepherd’s Hut in the Porongorups, a region better known for Riesling.

The heart and soul of Pinot production in WA, however, remains in Pemberton with the charge being led by Picardy.

The Pannell family are stalwarts of the Australian wine industry.  Bill and Sandra founded Moss Wood in 1969, before moving their focus to Pemberton in 1993 with the establishment of Picardy.

Their sons followed in their footsteps.  Dan is in charge at Picardy, whilst Steve is one of the most important winemakers in South Australia, having worked at major wineries before establishing the S.C. Pannell label.

Whilst Picardy makes high quality wines from Chardonnay, Merlot/Cabernet and Shiraz, for me, Pinot is the most significant.  It is a variety that is notoriously hard to get right yet seems to have an affinity to Pemberton.

There are two wines in the range. The Estate Pinot and the Tête de Cuvée.  The later wine is made as a reserve.  In addition to fruit from a special plot, a small part of the Estate vineyard is set aside for this wine and given special treatment.

Interestingly, they use a different section of the Estate vineyard each year.  This has the added effect of improving the overall quality of the vineyards over time, without greatly impacting on production in any given year.

2018 was an excellent year in Pemberton, and the soon to be released Pinots may well be the best wines made by Picardy.

Another cracking 2018 Pinot comes from Sittella. The team there can do no wrong at the moment and the value here is brilliant.


Sittella – Pinot Noir – Grenade Plot – 2018 (18.2/20pts). Depth and complexity on show here.  The pretty fruit on the palate is a treat, with supple, savoury textural notes in support.  There is excellent depth of flavours, supported by supple, texturing tannins.  Really delicious, with superb balance, structure and intrinsic power.  Great value from this underrated producer.

Picardy – Pinot Noir – 2018 (18.5/20pts – $45). Pretty, refined and elegant with the superb fruit the focus.  The balance is a highlight, with silky tannins and fruit that lingers for some time.  The savoury, structural components build on the finish adding depth.  A complete and quite beautiful wine with surprising power.  Now – 5 years.

Picardy – Pinot Noir – Tête de Cuvée – 2018 (18.6/20pts – $70). Whilst pretty and fragrant, there is more power, depth and structure here compared to the Estate.  Made in a Burgundian style, with a focus on texture and length of flavours.  Yet ultimately, the precise fruit is the star.  3 – 5 years cellaring recommended.

Sittella – Cabernet/Malbec – Reserve – 2018 (18.3/20pts – $30). The vibrancy of this wine is a highlight. Opens with blackcurrant fruit, with pretty floral highlights and a touch of mint. The power is more evident on the palate, the balance excellent, and the finish near seamless.  Approachable and delicious now, but also age worthy. A bargain.

A Different Environment

A different environment.

Barry Weinman: 6th November 2019

Given the rapid increase in the number of high-quality wines from Margaret River, Great Southern and Swan Valley, it has never been a better time to “shop local” for all our wine drinking needs. And we need only look to our east coast neighbours to fill in the gaps.

Opening a bottle of wine that has travelled 300km has a much smaller environmental footprint than one that has spent four weeks on a ship travelling half way around the world in refrigerated comfort.

There are exceptions however. For example, there is still no substitute for great Champagne or fine Burgundy, and we are yet to master the textural, savoury nuances associated with the great reds of Italy and Spain.

David Mullin has specialised in importing high quality Italian wine for many years now, and the range has never been better. There are numerous interesting whites in the range, as well as top quality Prosecco, but it is the reds that are of real interest to me.

These are not overly cheap wines, especially given the current exchange rates. They do, however, represent fair value when you consider the care and attention that has gone into producing them and curating the collection. Whilst not widely available, his labels are in some of Perth’s better restaurants and your local fine wine specialist will be able to track them down.

Closer to home, but also hard to track down, are the wines of Shepard’s Hut in the Porongurups. Made by the talented Rob Diletti, the excellent Pinot represents great value indeed.


Shepard’s Hut – Pinot Noir – Porongurup – 2018 (18/20pts – $30). Bright and fresh, with a delicious savoury edge that adds depth to both the nose and palate. This has cherry, plum, spice and supple texture in a medium-bodied wine that deserves to be popular. Not easy to find, but brilliant value. Try Lamont’s in Cottesloe or Steve’s in Nedlands.

Lantieri – Chardonnay/Pinot Noir – Franciacorta – Extra Brut – NV (17.9/20pts – $55). Made in the traditional method, with extended lees aging adding richness and depth. The extra brut indicates a very dry style (dosage 3.5gms/l). The palate is rich and round, with gentle but persistent fruit and obvious autolysis characters. A complex, drier, low pearl style to accompany food.

E.Pira & Figli – Nebbiolo – Langi – 2017 (18.2/20pts – $90). Fine and almost ethereal, with supple, savoury notes adding depth to the pretty, elegant fruit. This is a delightful wine to drink now, such is the immediacy of the fruit on the palate, but the fine tannins that build on the finish will also support medium-term aging. From an excellent producer.