To Cork or Not

It’s been a while since I last opened a corked bottle of wine, and then there were two in two days. One was an Australian pinot noir from 2009, the other a Tuscan red from 2012, and it would be fair to say I was as disappointed in both instances.

Both wines were bought with the express intent to cellar and both were being opened years after purchase to see how they were progressing. Both had what appeared to be premium corks and other than being tainted looked in pristine physical condition. That both wines were only mildly corked made it even more disappointing, as on opening each bottle there was a hint of what would have been the intense fruit and fragrance of each wine.

When it comes to corked wines, there is always that instant where you hope the wine is in fact OK and you seek to apportion blame elsewhere – hayfever or sniffles interrupting your otherwise clear olfactory sensors, maybe it’s just a funky waft or some reductive characters which will blow off after allowing the wine to breathe? Ever hopeful, it usually doesn’t take long for confirmation, as once exposed the wine is either stripped completely of its fruit, or the cork taint intensity increases.

Unlucky to cop two in as many days, but then again maybe I was lucky as prior to this it was at least 12 moths since I opened a corked wine. Then again, the number of wines opened in the past 12 months that were sealed with a cork was a significant minority. Thankfully, there are other bottles of each of these wines to look forward to. Hopefully they will not be corked – but somehow once one bottle is tainted it seems to increase the risk that others from the same 6-pack/dozen/etc from the same maker may be unlucky enough to be sealed with a cork from the same infected batch.

While some wineries/winemakers make a conscious decision to seal some (or all) wine with screwcap some still persist sealing with cork. Where this is done, and the best possible cork is used, some forgiveness can be extended. However, not all wines can be sealed with the best quality, premium corks and I can’t remember the last time I opened a tainted wine that was not sealed with a cork!

Frankland Estate

I can recall the first time I tasted Frankland Estate‘s Isolation Ridge Riesling, and since then have looked forward to tasting each next vintage on release. Certainly there has been vintage variation, but generally over the past eight or so years this single-vineyard wine from the Great Southern area has only continued to improve. The recently released 2016 is probably the best yet showing intensity, purity and complexity. Like it’s earlier vintage siblings, it will age gracefully for those patient enough.

While I’ve come to expect the Isolation Ridge Riesling will show its pedigree on release, surprisingly this was not what impressed me most the the current releases from this winery. It was the general quality of all wines right across board: from the Rocky Gully range to the Estate wines, and the single vineyards. On top of that, the packaging is also first class (I’ve always liked the simple, earthy abstract element to the Rocky Gully labels).

Also impressive is that all the wines are well balanced in terms of price to quality, and if anything they all err on the side of good value irrespective of price. And the best value at the moment seems to be the pigeon-pair of the Estate Chardonnay and the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – both from the 2015 vintage, and both very good wines.

Xmas 2014

Summer, Xmas and New Year celebrations, and for many some down time and a holiday break. Hard to think of a better opportunity for some champagne and other sparkling wines. Langlois-Chateau Cremant Brut de Loire NV would have to be one of the best value sparkling wines available, and I always relish the opportunity to open a bottle (or two) of champagne. So far this year over various Xmas celebrations there have been a few including Laurent-Perrier Brut Rose NV, and Krug Vintage 2000, and I will be looking forward to some Marc Hebrart Cuvee Prestige 1er Cru NV to bring in the new year.

For whites riesling is still the first choice (Muller-Catoir’s Gutswein 2013 and Mitchell Museum Release Riesling 2005), but there are also some lovely chardonnays around (Trapeze Chardonnay 2013, and the outstanding Mount Mary Chardonnay 2012).

And there’s always rose: Capcanes Rosat de Garnacha 2013, Spinifex Rose 2014, Verget de Sud Meditterannee 2013 and Pittacum Tre Obispos 2012.

Winter 2014

Middle of winter  in Melbourne, with some seriously frosty mornings and cold windy days, required some digging into the cellar. Reds with some age provided softer warming characteristics and the opportunity to savour added complexity. Still plenty of room though for recently released reds as well. An impressive pair from Spinifex, both with fruit from the Adelaide Hills (instead of the Barossa Valley) – a 2012 Aglianico and a shiraz called La Colline, from 2010. Both excellent, approachable in their youth but will equally reward some cellaring.

I’ve been particularly enjoying aged nebbiolo-based wines, and this has prompted seeking out some replacements to hide away in the cellar for a few years. While waiting for those though, I will happily drink some SC Pannell By SCP Nebbiolo 2012 and it’s sister wine, By SCP Touriga 2012. Both very good value.

From Spain wines made predominantly from Tempranillo, Garnacha or both have also been impressive, including the Capcanes Lasendal Garnacha 2012 and a pair from Palacios Remondo, the ‘La Vendimia’ 2012 and ‘La Montesa’ 2010.

As for whites, texture has been the key element and wines such as these all have it – Mount Mary Chardonnay 2012, Onannnon Chardonnay Gippsland 2012, Farr Rising Chardonnay 2013, Domaine Paul Blanck Riesling 2013, Heymann-Lowenstein Scheiferterrassen Riesling 2012 and Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Semillon 2006.

Happy drinking.

Germany, Alsace and English Sparkling

As 2013 drew to a hectic close, I was as excited as a kid at Christmas. I was off for my first visit to some German wine regions. I’ve been drinking German riesling for many years, read a lot and seen plenty of pictures. As a lover of riesling, there were high levels of anticipation to see firsthand where some of these world-class rieslings were grown.

The only hesitation was that I was leaving a warm, and ultimately searingly hot, summer in Australia (where a glass of chilled white wine would go perfectly with some barbecued seafood) and heading into the depths of a German winter. An inspiring proposition for drinking white wine? For some, maybe not. But when we got there it made alot of sense. The Germans not only make riesling across many styles from bone dry to intensely sweet, but white wine (and particularly riesling) almost always works perfectly with Germany’s food. That the German winter was milder than expected was an added bonus, and the scenery in the vineyards, particularly in the Mosel, was spectacular. Certainly a start to 2014 that I will never forget.

Drinking highlights from the trip

Unsurprisingly from the trip to Germany and London, there was plenty of beer including the one-off special German Christmas beers, some dark Bavarian and Franconian craft brews, and some traditional English ales. There was also plenty of wine – mainly German, some French and even an English sparkling. Below are some of the highlights.both from the trip and back in Australia.

In Germany …

Two great cellar door tastings in the Pfalz – at Muller-Catoir and Reichstrat von Buhl. The wines and hospitality at both were excellent, with only a personal preference tending toward the wines from Muller-Catoir. A selection of wines from both of these wineries are available in Australia. However, I took full advantage of some of the wines that are not readily available in Australia – such as von Buhl’s sparkling Spatburgunder Rose brut, and Muller-Catoir’s sweet Rieslaner wines.

Then there was the Mosel. Not only was I impressed by the wines – elegance, structure and complexity – but there’s also some wonderful driving and scenery. Unfortunately, the timing of my visit was not ideal in terms of visits to cellar doors, and even the Mosel-Vinothek & Wine Museum in Bernkastel-Kues was closed (good excuses for another visit!). Fortunately, there was a very good selection of local wines available by the glass in the wine bar of the Burgblickhotel in Bernkastel-Kues (the Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr 2007 Riesling Spatlese was excellent).

Berlin offers many good quality wine bars, but the one that I was most impressed with was Weinschenke Weinstein in Prenzlauer Berg (the  Heymann-Lowenstein Rottgen Erste Lage 2008 Riesling was superb). It certainly helped that we were staying around the corner!

In France …

Well, for this trip it was really only confined to the Alsace. But importantly, like Germany, this was my first visit to the Alsace, and some of the scenery and the small walled villages were exceptional. Again, I had a focus on riesling, but was also looking forward to some pinot blanc, pinot gris, gewurtztraminer and the charming ‘field blends’. A new find was the native auxerrois. While I was already familiar with some of the wines from Domaine Paul Blanck a cellar door visit in Keintzheim provided the opportunity to taste the whole range. A new find (for me) was Domaine Leon Beyer in the village of Eguisheim, whose white wines were dry (many wines from the Alsace leave some noticeable residual sugar) and, for me, better for it. For the record, my favourite wines from each of these cellar doors were the 2010 Paul Blanck Schlossberg Riesling and the 2007 Leon Beyer Riesling ‘Les Escalliers’.

English Sparkling …

I had never previously tasted an English sparkling wine, but was suitably impressed by Nyetimber’s 2008 Vintage Blanc des Blanc.