Category Archives: New Release – Wine Reviews

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.

Reviewed:

2001

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

2002.

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

2003

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

2004

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

2005

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

2006

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

2007

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

2008

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

2009

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

2010

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

2011

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

2012

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

2013

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

2014

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

2015

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

2016

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

2017

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

2018

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).

2019

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).

2020

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.

Reviewed

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.

Reviewed

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.

Reviewed

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.

BLIND DEVOTION

WINE MUSINGS – BRENDAN JANSEN MW

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.

Reviewed

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.

Reviewed

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. http://shepherdshutwines.com.au/

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.

Sittella Wines: Sparkling Success

Sittella Wines: Sparkling Success

Barry Weinman: 7th May 2020

When I sat down to write this review, my intention was to write about a cross-section of the Sittella’s range, given they make excellent (and great value) white and red wines from Margaret River, Swan Valley, Pemberton and Frankland.

However, the quality and value offered by Sittella’s sparkling wines proved irresistible, and they deserve recognition as a genuine alternative to fine Champagne.

The Berns family were inspired to plant a vineyard and start a winery by several trips to France’s Loire Valley. So it is no surprise that a sparkling Chenin features in the range.

The Sparkling Chenin is the wineries most popular wine, and is a fine drink in its own right. The grapes come from mature vineyards in the Swan Valley and it is made using traditional method.

With up to 2 years on lees and only 7g/l of dosage, this is fresh and vibrant, with decent complexity and excellent length. At $25, this is clearly a bargain.

The Cuvee Blanc is where Colby Quirk and Yuri Berns’ talents really start to shine. With the aim of producing sparkling wines to rival the best of Champagne, they have built a reserve wine program to be used in blending.

The current release includes 24% reserve wine from 2012 – 2017 vintages. Remarkably, this is mainly fermented in old oak barrels.

The ultimate expression of the reserve wine program is the Avant-Garde Blanc de Blancs. Made from 2012, 2013 & 2014 vintages, this is a powerful, age-worthy wine that spent 48 months on lees in bottle.

Reviewed

Sittella – Chenin Blanc – Brut – NV (17.3/20pts $25).  Crunchy Granny Smith apple is the main feature, combine with gentle brioche notes. Fine mousse and excellent attack combine with surprising complexity on the palate, and the finish is dry and refreshing.

Sittella – Cuvee Blanc    – NV (18/20pts – $32). Fine, elegant and refined, with subtle stone fruit and lovely refreshing acidity. The mouthfeel is the highlight, with near seamless palate transition and excellent length and creamy texture. A precise wine that has grace and presence. Great value. (18 months on lees, 7 g/l dosage)

Sittella – Cuvee Rose – NV (18.2/20pts – $34). Very fine mousse in the glass and on the palate. The red fruit is more pronounced here, with fresh strawberry and cherry notes. The palate richer and more rounded, with great length and subtle power. Autolytic characters and gentle grip add depth. (24 months on lees, 6.5 g/l)

Sittella – Grand Vintage – Marie Christien Lugten – 2015 (18.5/20pts – $42). Leaner, finer and more elegant, with citrus-like fruit and subtle yeasty notes. The palate is restrained and taut, with underlying fruit power. As it warmed up, the fruit really built. An incredibly fine wine that deserves a year or two in the cellar. (4 years on lees, 7g/l)

Sittella – Avant-Garde – Blanc de Blancs – NV (18.6/20pts – $45). Extraordinarily fine mousse. Amazing musk and peach-like fruit on the nose. The palate is very complex, with apple-like acidity. Very long, powerful and deep, the texture almost chewy. This has enough weight to serve with a meal, yet is a masterpiece on its own.

Cabernet Sauvignon: April 2020

Cabernet Sauvignon: April 2020

Barry Weinman: 10th April 2020

I hope you and your family are safe and well during this difficult times.

Given everything that is happening globally, it seems a bit irreverent to be reviewing fine wines. But given that we are living in relative isolation, a decent bottle of wine at the end of the week might bring a little consolation.

With the border closures, and their impact on freight, what better time to focus on the great wines made here in WA?

I recently reviewed Chardonnays made by Vanya Cullen, but this week, it was the Diana Madeline that stunned the (socially isolated) panel. Here is a wine that is only 13% alcohol, yet has perfectly ripe fruit.

I can’t remember a better wine under this label.

At a more approachable price level, there were several wines that stood out.

Singlefile has consistently produced high quality wine from a number of varieties, with Cabernet, Chardonnay and Riesling all featuring strongly year after year.

The entry-level Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot is my pick at the moment. Excellent fruit quality and deft winemaking (cold soaked berries, extended maceration, 13 months in French oak, 30% new). A tremendous bargain at only $25.

Marri Wood Park is the run by Julian Wright and his children. There are seven hectares of vines, planted in 1993. There is a very hands-off approach in the vineyard (dry grown, no fertilisers), which are certified biodynamic, resulting in quite low yields.

The wines are made by Nic Peterkin from L.A.S. Vino, and the focus is on Cabernet, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.

Reviewed

Woodlands – Cabernet Sauvignon – Clementine Eloise – 2016 (18.7/20pts). Beautifully fragrant and intense fruit on the nose, with blackcurrant, cassis, menthol and a touch of cedar. On the palate, the perfectly ripe fruit continues, but this is framed by the tannins and supple oak leading to a taut finish. A great wine, but really needs years.

Woodlands – Malbec – 2018 (18.5/20pts). Very drying and firm, a wine with density and gravitas. Bordeaux- like, with leaner fruit and dry, savoury complexity. A serious, intense wine that needs years in the cellar, but with air, the fruit really builds.

Marri Wood Park – Cabernet Sauvignon – Single Block – 2018 (18.5/20pts – $40). This is reserved and taut, yet the berry fruit has lovely mouthfeel and is polished, refined, elegant, and very long. A savoury, textural wine that combines high quality, perfectly ripe fruit with sympathetic winemaking. Approachable, but better with 5 – 10 years in the cellar. Great value!

Woodlands – Cabernet/Merlot – Margaret – 2017 (18.3/20pts). I like that a lot. Fine, elegant and refined, the pristine fruit displaying blueberry, cinnamon and spice. Textured, dense and powerful, this is a bigger, richer style that is full of immediate pleasure, though also worthy of mid-term aging.

The Yard – Cabernet Sauvignon – Riversdale – 2018 (18.4/20pts). More approachable and even delicious, with ripe blueberry fruit that is floral and perfumed. The fruit weight is not overly dense, making for great drinking. Ultimately, there is a degree of restraint that suggest cellaring is in order.

Singlefile – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – 2018 (18.2/20pts – $25). The ripe fruit is rich and intense, with concentrated berry notes. Excellent depth on the palate, with the fruit wrapped in a savoury, textural blanket. Clearly different to the wines from Margaret River, but equally worthy. An all-purpose wine that would be great with food, but even better in 5 -10 years. Bargain!

Cullen – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – Diana Madeline – 2018 (18.8/20pts). Superb fruit has been massaged in the winery to produce a wine that very elegant and refined. The palate is ripe, supple and completely seamless, yet the tannins sneak up on the close, leaving a dusty, textual component that adds depth. A beautiful wine, and perhaps the best yet under this label.

Chardonnay – New Release: March 2020

Chardonnay – New Release

Barry Weinman: 18th March 2020

In recent years, Cullen’s Kevin John has been one of my favourite Chardonnays from Margaret River, holding its own against the region’s best. So the release of the 2018 vintage is eagerly anticipated.

At a recent Chardonnay tasting hosted by John Jens, the 2018 Cullen was put up against some of the region’s best, along with a smattering of Burgundies and iconic wines from other regions in Australia.

Not surprisingly, the wine ranked amongst the best of the blind tasting. Disarmingly accessible, yet worthy of five years in the cellar.

Another highlight was Woodlands’ Chloe, also from 2018. A little richer and more textured than the Cullen, and already drinking superbly.

The tasting also served to highlight just how different the Chardonnays from Burgundy (including Chablis) appear. In this tasting, there was no mistaking the origin of any of these wines, with their nutty minerality and more subdued fruit.

There was also a touch of honey and toast in many of the Burgundies, reflecting the different philosophy to winemaking.

I also opened a few 10 – 15-year-old Chardonnays from Australia and Burgundy, to illustrate the impact of bottle age on Chardonnay. From this, two clear take-aways emerged. Firstly, it was just how well Australian Chardonnays can age under screw cap. Whilst it is no surprise that the likes of Leeuwin Estate age well, others also showed very well indeed.

The second point was the vagaries of the cork used to seal the Burgundies. Random oxidation and cork taint are an ever-present risk.

Reviewed

Cullen – Chardonnay – 2018 (18.8/20pts – $127). Beautifully fragrant nose with floral white peach and subtle nuttiness. The powerful and dense palate shows excellent fruit and superb winemaking. There is gentle spice, creamy, texturing French oak (50% new), citrus and tropical fruit on the mid-palate and a complex mealy nuttiness and great length on the finish. Now to 10 years.

Domaine Oudin – Chablis – 1er Cru – Vaugiraut – 2017 (18/20pts – $80). Pretty, peachy stone fruit on the nose, with subtle minerality adding depth. The palate is supple, textured, creamy and long, with gentle toast on the close. No oak used. Fermentation and aging in stainless steel. A smart wine and very different to what we see from Margaret River.                                                                

Woodlands – Chardonnay – Chloe – 2018 (18.7/20pts – $110). White peach, cashew and grapefruit lead both the nose and palate. The viscosity, mouth-feel, depth and subtle power of the fruit are all highlights, as is the seamless finish. From the Woodlands vineyard, wild yeast fermentation, 10 months in oak. One of Margaret River’s best Cabernet producer demonstrates a deftly crafted Chardonnay.