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Welcome to Sue Courtney's web log (blog) of vinous ramblings.  One day I'll update it to proper blogger software but right now I haven't the time to research which blogging software is best, nor do I have the time to teach myself how to use it.  I'll stick to archaic html to record my daily events.  It's my on line journal and an adjunct to my website which is for more formal tasting notes and articles.

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Archive: March 1st to March 15th 2007
Mar 15th: Soljans Gisborne Pinotage 2005 with Mexican Spiced Tomatoes and Beans
Mar 14th: Cuisine Top Ten Chardonnay Tasting
Mar 13th: Julicher Martinborough Riesling 2005
Mar 12th: Phylloxera discovered in Martinborough
Mar 10th: Summerhouse Marlborough Chardonnay 2005
Mar 9th: Te Mata Coleraine and Zerrutti tasting glasses
Mar 8th: Micro-oxygenation and Ngatarawa Alwyn Merlot Cabernet 2005
Mar 7th: More than Champion Wine at Saint Clair
Mar 6th: Picking grapes
Mar 5th: Judging Wine at the Easter Show
Mar 2nd: Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 1996
Mar 1st: Penfolds Annual Release Tasting
Other Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 15th 2007

Soljans Gisborne Pinotage 2005 with Mexican Spiced Tomatoes and Beans

What do you drink with a can of cannelloni beans mixed together with a can of Mexican spiced tomatoes? Not the most glamorous of dinners but a quick pantry solution to the dinner problem after visiting a relative in hospital then coming home to an empty fridge.

Something light and fruity," I suggested to Neil who rummaged around and came up with the Soljans Gisborne Pinotage 2005.

"Let's give it a try," I said and he poured the wine.

It's ruby garnet in colour, deep, youthful, almost opaque. Savoury to the taste with cherries, raspberries, red guavas and vanillin oak, it's medium bodied and flavoursome with a firm, smooth texture. There's a richness emanating from its depth and a juicy succulence to the lingering finish with mulled wine-like spices, anise and subtle orange peel. It's dangerously drinkable at first, but there's a touch of sweetness in there and you soon realise that there's just a little too much. That's where the food comes to the rescue.

The heat of the dish overwhelms the fruit but the wine has structure and can stand up to it, and the fruit bounces back too. Actually I think the food brought out more of a richness in the wine. It wasn't a bad match at all.

Soljans Gisborne Pinotage 2005 has 12.5% alc, it's sealed with a screwcap and has an RRP of $18.95. On the Web:

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 14th 2007

Cuisine Top Ten Chardonnay Tasting

I thought the weather last night was bad (a car yard just a few kilometres away bore the brunt of the damage) but today the storm hit right across the country and people in the South Island needed to find more than their cardigans, they needed to find their woolly coats. It even snowed in Queenstown. Here it Auckland, like most other parts of the country, it was just gale force winds and rain.  (Click here for video from TVOne news).

cuisine121.jpg Chardonnay warmed the palate with the First Glass weekly tasting featuring the top nine of the Cuisine Top 10 Chardonnays from the latest magazine (Issue 121, March 2007) plus a five star rated wine that didn't have enough stock to make the Top 10 and a couple of ring-ins to make up the numbers.

I remember the first Cuisine Top 10 Chardonnay tasting I went to, some years ago now. There was a sameness about the wines. It was like they have all been made to the same recipe. Not any longer. Tonight's wines had traits that gave them individual character.

It was a blind tasting but everyone had a copy of the Cuisine tasting notes of the wines being served, to aid in identifying which wine we were tasting. Cuisine's new tasting note writer, Michael Larsen (who was awarded the job when previous incumbent Michael Cooper left) made that job easy with his concise and sometimes witty notes. But one note had me scratching my head. "A fusillade of lime-tinged tropical flavours scatters itself across a creamy palate", I read. But it made sense when someone explained that fusillade was a rapid discharge of firearms. The wine was the Gunn Estate Skeetfield Chardonnay 2005 and, yes, it was limey and creamy.

The top wine, Sacred Hill Rifleman's Chardonnay from Hawkes Bay, was sensational, as to be expected (see my Wine of the Week from two weeks ago) and my other favourite - and one that others were simply raving about too, was Mount Michael Bessie's Block Chardonnay 2005 from Central Otago (one of my Wine of the Weeks in November).

My full set of tasting notes will be posted to the main site on Friday.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 13th 2007

Julicher Martinborough Riesling 2005

It was only a week ago when I was saying how great the weather was after a day in the vineyard picking grapes. But I am sitting here shivering. A cold snap has just hit and hail is pounding against the window next to my desk where I am working. I should get up and get a cardigan - but hey, it's still summer, isn't it? 
It is meant to be still summer because daylight savings time in New Zealand doesn't finish until the weekend and that's when summer really ends. Right now I'm happy that our paddocks are getting a much needed drink and our water tank is being replenished but I glad I am not a grape waiting to be harvested. It's definitely not the weather that winegrowers want, especially here in the north where Chardonnay is going through its last ripening phase.

So I've been drinking this rather tasty Riesling, the Julicher Martinborough Riesling 2005, from the newish Te Muna Road area of Martinborough. Wim Julicher and Sue Darling left Wellington for Martinborough in 1996 and began planting their 20 hectare piece of land, firstly with Pinot Noir - as one does in Martinborough - then with Chardonnay, Riesling and lastly Sauvignon Blanc. I hope they planted with Phylloxera-resistant rootstock so all their hard work doesn't have to be repeated if the phylloxera discovered in Martinborough starts to spread. (see yesterday's story below).

julicher.jpg (12138 bytes)Julicher Martinborough Riesling 2005 has very striking packaging with a bold, gold 'J' on the label. It would be particularly appealing to anyone who has a first name or last name starting with 'J'. The 'J' in this instance is, of course, for Julicher. But it's the wine inside the bottle that's important.

This is a rich weighty riesling, an almost bone dry riesling, a bright zesty riesling with a decent wallop of acidity that makes a striking impact on the palate. It's full of apples and zesty citrus flavours with a suggestion of stonefruit, a warmth to the talcy texture, a honeyed richness to the finish and a zing of spice on the lingering lime-rich aftertaste. With 13.5% alcohol by volume, it's quite a powerful drop and with 6.3 grams per litre of residual sugar it is just on the edge of medium in the sweetness level, but the crisp acidity makes it seems so much drier. It is sealed with a screwcap and costs about $19.95. Just a word of warning - the vintage is on the back label.

Julicher Martinborough Riesling 2005 tastes pretty good just on its own but it was also a fine accompaniment to thin slices of chicken breasts, some topped with fresh peach slices and some with pear, then rolled up and secured with toothpicks and braised in riesling.

Julicher Estate is probably better known for pinot noir, but this riesling is worth pursuing and they also produce a rather tasty sauvignon blanc.
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Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 12th 2007

Phylloxera discovered in Martinborough

The news of phylloxera in Martinborough, the last bastion of our wine regions to succumb to the vine sucking louse, cannot really be too much of a surprise. After all, vines were planted there in the 1980's and for old vines on soils that are not intolerant, (not like the sandy soils of Chile or Australia's Goulbourn Valley), to have survived for thirty-odd years, is quite something.

wellington2.jpg (26963 bytes)So the louse has been discovered but only because the news of phylloxera in twenty-five hectares of vineyard in Masterton, a 40 minute drive north of Martinborough, set alarms bells ringing and some of the Martinborough winegrowers went looking for it. Unfortunately it was found.

Jeff Barber, the president of Wellington Region Wine Growers Association (which includes Martinborough) said that the prolonged dry weather had stressed vineyards. It had exposed the vines that had been attacked by the louse, which sucks nutrients from the roots of vines, depriving the vine of its food, turning the leaves yellow and reducing fruit yield. Unfortunately it can take two years for the tell-tale symptoms to appear.

About 25% of Martinborough vineyards are ungrafted and of course this includes some of the 'home' blocks of some of the most famous estates.

Te Kairanga, who has the oldest vines in Martinborough, has confirmed the presence on phylloxera in a pinot noir vineyard and now it is there, it is likely to spread. The other really old blocks at stake include Ata Rangi, Martinborough Vineyards and Dry River.

But it is not just old blocks. New blocks, too, have been planted on ungrafted vines. Larry McKenna of Escarpment Vineyard has three hectares of ungrafted pinot noir as well as 11 hectares of grafted, phylloxera resistant pinot noir on his Te Muna Road vineyard. With the region being a phylloxera-free at the time he planted, it was a risk he was willing to take.

Now it's a matter of preventing the louse from spreading. It can travel through the soil but most commonly it is transported from place to place by equipment, vehicles and footwear. Some vineyards, like Dry River, have long had precautions in place.

Although our wine industry as we know it is relatively young, phylloxera is not new to New Zealand. It was discovered in New Zealand in Auckland by Romeo Bragato in 1895. He later wrote a book which detailed how to plant vines on phylloxera-resistant American rootstock. Throwing caution to the wind, most people ignored Bragato's advice. It didn't take long for Phylloxera to reach the South Island after the large commercial ungrafted plantings in Marlborough in the mid-1970's. It was discovered in Central Otago in 2002.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 10th 2007

Summerhouse Marlborough Chardonnay 2005

Summerhouse. What a gorgeous sounding name for a summer drink. Or for thoughts of summer if you are reading this in the cooler climes of the Northern Hemisphere. Think of being out in the summerhouse, making the most of the winter sun; out in the summerhouse, sipping on a glass of Marlborough chardonnay.

Summerhouse ChardonnayI first came across the Summerhouse Marlborough Chardonnay 2005 last October in the big tasting hall at Wine New Zealand where hundreds of other wines were trying to get the attention of my palate. I simply can't do chardonnays in that kind of environment. But today I had a chance to try it leisurely, which really is the only way to enjoy wine.

Lightly chilled it seems quite oaky, but that's okay because chardonnay is one variety I expect to find oak - unless, of course, it says 'unoaked' on the label. It's toasty oak on the nose together with lemony leesy characters and a vibrant expression of tropical fruit and crunchy, juicy stonefruit in the palate. It's a ripe, round, medium to full-bodied wine with a creamy spicy finish and a clean, fresh aftertaste that simply radiates flavours of nectarine and lime. Looking at the notes I see it had only 80% oak and the rest was tank fermented - that obviously accounts for the vibrancy. It has 13.5% alcohol according to the label and sports a screwcap closure.

Summerhouse Marlborough Chardonnay 2005 won a Blue-Gold Award and Top 100 ranking in the 2007 Sydney International Wine Competition, the competition that judges wine with food. It was judged in the Full Bodied White Wine class and the food match they came up with was Schnapper Quenelles, Blue Swimmer Crab Beurre Blanc.
Far too fancy a recipe for me, besides I've no idea where to find Blue Swimmer Crabs in NZ. But it went quite nicely, thank you very much, with pan-fried flour-and-curry-powder-coated chicken pieces served with a lightly curried peach and cashew sauce - the last of the fresh peaches off the tree.

Summerhouse is in the inland part of Marlborough's Wairau Valley, heading towards the West Coast from Renwick, along State Highway 63. It's owned by Heather and Meric Davies and they produced their first wines in 2004. The butterfly on the label represents freedom and epitomises the Davies' ideal lifestyle.
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Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 9th 2007

Te Mata Coleraine and Zerrutti tasting glasses

What a difference a glass makes. Point in case was successive tastings of Te Mata Estate's new releases including the very hyped Te Mata Coleraine 2005 which Te Mata is saying is the finest they have ever made, which everyone who has tasted it is saying is the best they have ever tasted. Coleraine is an iconic Hawkes Bay wine, an iconic New Zealand wine, and the 2005 release comes 24 years after the first release.

On Wednesday I went to 'Showcase 2007' for trade and media hosted by Te Mata principals John Buck and Nicholas Buck and Technical Director Peter Cowley. This was held at an Auckland hotel with about 140 people in attendance and here the wines were served in XL5 tasting glasses. I thought some of the wines fairly closed on the nose and tried very hard to get them to release their subtle nuances. I went away feeling a little perplexed about Coleraine in particular, I have to say.

On Thursday evening I went to one of the advertised consumer tastings, hosted by Peter Cowley. It was held at First Glass Wine and Spirits in Takapuna and this time the wines were served in Zerrutti Ultimo tasting glasses.

Oh my gosh, what a difference. The wines opened up beautifully, so beautifully, with aromatic nuances that could not be picked up in the small glass and the Coleraine - well, it could have been a different wine.

XL5 & Zerrutti glassesCompare these tasting notes of Te Mata Coleraine 2005, a blend of 37% cabernet sauvignon, 45% merlot and 18% cabernet franc matured in new and seasoned oak for 20 months. It carries 3.5% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a natural cork.

From the XL5 tasting glass on Wednesday:
Closed on the nose, cedary and savoury. Eventually aromatic spices emerge and a hint of red berries. The French oak and the spicy character of the oak is what overpowers the wine right now in the palate, the fruit is dark, concentrated, hidden, the fine tannins are powerful and focused, and hints of liquorice, spice and cedar emerge on finish. Cedar is the dominant character on the aftertaste. A wine that is such a baby, it has a lot of growing up to do. However Te Mata is confident that this is the best Coleraine they have ever made.

From the Zerrutti tasting glass on Thursday:
A different wine from yesterday, sweet cedar, liquorice, dried rosemary and florals on the nose, it’s rather opulent, so focused, so fine, so harmonious, so intense with cherries, red fruits, tobacco, spice, herbs, cigar box and chocolate box. The plush tannins are meaty and tight knit but very fine and in proportion to the rest of the components. Vanilla emerges with an underlying herbal character that is intrinsic to the cabernet sauvignon component of the wine. Finally I can see why this wine is so hyped. It deserves it.

The Zerrutti Ultimo tasting glasses are simply the best tasting glasses I've used, they are not too small, they are not too big and they are utterly fantastic for young wines. Now I wonder where I can buy some.

As for the rest of the Te Mata tasting notes, they will be posted to in the weekend. Right now it's late and I've got to bed.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 8th 2007

Micro-oxygenation and Ngatarawa Alwyn Merlot Cabernet 2005

I came face to face with a somewhat controversial winemaking process today when I was tasting wine with Alwyn Corban of Ngatarawa Wines, which is in Hawkes Bay. It was micro-oxygenation, MOx for short, and it was kind of mentioned in hushed tones.
"It will be too technical for your readers," said Alwyn.
Well, yes, I thought, maybe for the readers of my community newspaper wine column, perhaps.
"I don’t think so, not for the readers of my blog, so tell me more," I asked.

I found out that it is a process that is carried out after the primary alcohol fermentation but before malolactic fermentation kicks in, and lets small amounts of oxygen into the wine to work on the tannins and make the wines more approachable in their youth. It also helps to stabilise the wine's colour and reduce any green, herbaceous or bitter tasting wine making side effects. (Click here for more.)
Originally developed in France in 1991 to work on the tannins of the aggressively tannic tannat grape, it is now a common-place technique for many red wine grapes both in France and in Italy. But new world wine producing countries have been slower to adopt the technique and MOx is only really now becoming popular as winemakers follow the fashion trend. If you saw the wine documentary, Mondovino, then you will know all about it because it was inferred that wine points man, Robert Parker Jr, bestowed high points to MOx-ed wines.

alwyn merlot cabAlwyn had MOx-ed his top red wine, his signature wine, the about to be released Ngatarawa Alwyn Winemaker's Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 and the tannin structure of the wine is indeed smooth and harmonious.
It's a deep coloured wine with an almost black, opaque core and crimson red rims and smells invitingly aromatic, not overly oaky - just creamy with a fragrance of red fruits and hints of spice. In the mouth it's ripe, rich and concentrated with a lovely infusion of anise spices and soft, sultry, juicy red fruit that reminds me of plums and blackberries with hints of redcurrant. It's very smooth, very harmonious with a firmness to the finish, a touch of acidity and a lovely cedar complexity emerging. It's a wine with a velvety purple cloak and a silken red lining and very inviting already but everything is there for this wine to develop beautifully in the cellar.

There's 95% merlot in the wine and just 5% cabernet sauvignon with half of the merlot from the Bridge Pa Triangle subregion and the other half of the merlot and the cabernet sauvignon from the Gimblett Gravels.
"Bridge Pa adds aromatic lift and produces soft supple tannins while Gimblett Gravels produces denser, black fruit characters and heavier tannins," explained Alwyn. The wine spent 13 months in 95% French oak (30% new) and 5% American, it has 13.8% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a cork.
It's going to be released on the 1st July 2007 and will cost approx. $55 a bottle. I think they are taking 'en primeur' orders.
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Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 7th 2007

More than Champion Wine at Saint Clair

Trivia Question. In what field other than wine has Saint Clair's award winning winemaker, Matt Thomson, made a name for himself?

Clue: It's to do with sport, it's to do with long distances and it's to do with water.

matthamish.jpg (62442 bytes)Matt was in town today with his winemakers hat on, to co-host a wine tasting with Hamish Clark, his right hand man in the winery, and bosses Neal and Judy Ibbitson, owners of Saint Clair Wines. But it was almost a wine tasting with no wine, as the courier failed to deliver. A few frantic phone calls and a wine store raid saw some substitutes eventually procured.

Among the nine wines poured were three sauvignon blancs, all gold medal winners, all very highly regarded. It was a great opportunity to compare and contrast.

Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006 is the most pungent of the three with gorgeous, 'in-your-face' grassy, passionfruit aromas and scintillating tropical fruit and grassy flavours with lots of greens. It's fresh and punchy and served chilled it is deliciously quaffable. But when you compare it two the next two wines, you can see it lacks their intensity, nevertheless I love its everyday drinkability. It's why I acclaimed it as my 'Sauvignon Blanc of the Year', last year.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 3 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006 is more subtle on the nose, a little more in the capsicum mould with a distinctive hint of 'sweat'. It seems a little sweet at first, a little like bubblegum, but it finishes dry. Green spectrum flavours of gooseberry, herbs, capsicum and beans fill the palate with a slightly earthy undercurrent, a touch of spice, a toastiness to the finish and a ripe, pungent, quintessential sauvignon blanc aftertaste.

Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006 is a rich, full wine with piercing lime, passionfruit and gooseberry flavours and hints of stonefruit adding richness to the texture while the flavour building in intensity to a long, powerful finish. Apart from the gorgeous flavours and the beautifully balanced acidity, it is the texture where this wine excels, it is the texture that makes this wine a notch above the previous wine. It is the texture as well as the gorgeous flavours and intensity that make this the top wine in the Saint Clair sauvignon blanc range. It is the champion.

Matt Thomson has not only made name for himself in winemaking circles for producing champion wines for Saint Clair and also for his own label Delta, but he's also a champion on the water.

Matt is a Champion Marathon Kayaker and in 2006, for the second year in a row, he won the premier men's national championship title, the Open Men's K1. He has also represented New Zealand at international kayaking events.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 6th 2007

Picking grapes

pinotpick.jpg (76935 bytes)I've been picking grapes! Yes, the grape harvest is underway and today was simply perfect for the pinot noir pick at Kumeu River Wines north west of Auckland city. Lovely little perfectly ripe, tight, clean bunches, snipped at their umbilical cord by the vintager, the subtle grapey perfume wafting out of the picking bins and the taste of the grapes - well, grapey!

It's been fantastic in Auckland for the lead up to harvest with the hottest, driest February for 60 years and the humidity - um, what humidity? Yields are low, however, due to a colder than normal late spring and early summer and at Kumeu River the pinot noir yield is only about half of what they picked last year. But the quality is simply exceptional, the best any winegrower could hope for - and simply outstanding for Auckland.

Kumeu River will be picking their chardonnay within the next couple of weeks and if the balmy weather continues, then we can expect the best Kumeu River chardonnay, ever - even better than the previous best ever the year before! Can’t wait to taste it!

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 5th 2007

Judging Wine at the Easter Show

It's just another day in paradise when you start the day by tasting 52 sauvignon blancs and 34 rich reds before lunch before wiling away a cruisy afternoon with 32, mostly pretty, pink wines. Another day in paradise? Absolutely, because I'm one of a rare breed of people who actually like doing this kind of thing - and that is judging wine.

judgingwines.jpg (25307 bytes)I stand at my individual table and taste glass after glass of anonymous wine lined up in their numbered squares in front of me. I pull some forward, push some back, taste some of the selected wines again, push more back, taste the remaining wines again and bestow the chosen ones (if any) with a coveted gold medal. The worst get discarded to the 'no award' bin.

Though it's intensely hard work scrutinising and tasting wines, making scores based on varietal character, fruit impression, winemaking complexity, balance, length, finish and aftertaste, never mind the black stained teeth and the purple stained tongues after a flight of rich reds, it's something that wine judges take in their stride.

Yesterday was the second day in paradise in a row because it was day two of the Royal Easter Wine Show Awards 2007, New Zealand's longest running wine show now in its 54th year. And being the second and final day it was definitely less taxing than the first (when our panel tasted 164 wines including riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay). There are less wines on day two so the results can be collated and the repours of the gold medal winning wines made to determine particular trophies, eg. best Sauvignon Blanc. Then at the end of the day all of those trophy winners are repoured in secret so the 'best of the best' - the resulting Champion Wine of the Show - can be chosen.

There were 1375 wines entered this year, slightly more than last year and five panels of judges (three seniors and two associates) presided under the leadership of Chief Judge Bob Campbell MW and Deputy Chief, James Halliday. At the end of the weekend approximately 5.45% of the wines across all of the classes were awarded gold.

Which wines? Well find out yourself by dialling up on after noon (NZ time) on Tuesday 6th March, when all the gold, silver and bronze medal results will be published. But we'll have to wait until the Awards Dinner on 24th March to find out which wines have been acclaimed the Champions.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 2nd 2007

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 1996

At the Penfolds annual release tasting yesterday, two older wines were poured. Firstly the Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 1997 and later the Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 1995. They were interesting wines, but I was surprised these vintages had been picked to showcase. 1995 was touted as an early drinking vintage, although the 1995 Bin 389 belied its drinking prediction. 1997 was a better overall vintage but the 1997 Bin 128, on the day, was at its peak. Nice to taste but I was disappointed as to how mellow these wines were and was glad I had never bought any to cellar as they would have to be consumed soon. The vintage to cellar was, of course, the outstanding 1996. Well it just so happened that tonight a 1996 Bin 389 was procured for a special birthday dinner for Neil and a friend who share their birth date. And the bottom line from those who tasted it was, 'yum, yum, yum'.

1996 Bin 389Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 1996 is deep in colour, dark, brambly, a pool of deep dark red with ruby edges, so youthful looking with no hint of its 11 years of age. Opulent, dreamy aromas of spicy American oak, sultry spices and a concentrated depth of concentrated cherry fruit are backed up by an even more opulent taste. It seems so youthful with bright cherry, plum and mulberry fruit and liquorice/anise spices over a savoury backbone with an earthy richness, a hint of tar and creamy vanillin oak, but there is a hint of mellowing apparent in the long lingering aftertaste. The texture is just a little grainy from the microscopic sediment in solution but this adds another layer of complexity to this already complex wine. Acidity emerges on the finish to tell us this wine is still undergoing the aging process, but it hasn't developed any wrinkles yet. It's the kind of wine you wish you had bought cases of when it was released, after all, 1996 is still 'the vintage' of the last 20 years. Rewards of Patience IV, compiled from a tasting of all the Penfolds wines in 2000, says drink to 2020. I'd go along with that. In a word, "brilliant".

As for the older wines tasted yesterday, here are my notes.

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 1997
Still opaque, mellowing colour with bricky garnet to the edges. Lovely mellow tones with an elevated character, liquorice, and bramble. earthy, mellow, a little funky and savoury, integrated oak, underlying herbal notes, peppery spices and liquorice in spades, purple-red fruits, softening tannins but still quite firm. Fruit is still bright and the underlying acidity will keep the wine on a plateau. But it will not improve. Like the 2004, it leaves a tickly/prickly sensation on lips and tongue. Rewards of Patience IV says "to 2008", and if the wine stays on the plateau, the date will be fine.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 1995 - poured from a magnum.
Dark red, starting to brick (but not as much as the '97 128). Again, mellow, aged, anise and liquorice spice, underlying mellow blackcurrant and plum fruit, lots of purples. The spice profile is excellent, warm alcohol, quite lifted, very dry on the finish, fantastic length. The wine has a nice warm woody glow and that a slightly chicory character on the long, long, mellow finish. Rated excellent.
Rewards of Patience IV says "Now to 2006" for this wine, although here we are in 2007 and the wine still has life ahead of it.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 1st 2007

Penfolds Annual Release Tasting

The Penfolds Annual Bin Release tasting takes place on 1st March each year and this year it's taking place in about 80 venues around the world. But because New Zealand is the first place to see the dawn on release day, tasters in New Zealand were first to taste the wines at an an official 'release day' event. And I was there!

There were six wines in the years' release and in my notes the RRP (recommended retail price) is mentioned but when it comes to Penfolds, I wonder if any stores actually sell at the RRP. Already I've seen Bin 389 with a Penfolds RRP of $44.95 discounted down to $29.95 and the wines were only released today. So take heed, if you are going to shop, it will definitely pay to shop around. Penfolds2007 tasting - photo Sue Courtney

Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2006
Light straw gold. A dry, weighty style with a delicately floral, limey, talcy scent and a crisp, fresh, bracing flavour of apples and limes with an earthy undercurrent and a slightly salty minerality. Fruit sweetness builds in the palate with alcoholic warmth and pineapple penetrates the bright, fresh, lingering finish. 13% alc. Screwcap closure. RRP not supplied.

Penfolds Bin 138 Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2005
Deep crimson red (same colour but not as dense as the 128), perfumed with a pure fruit intensity to the brambly aroma – like ripe blackberries straight off the vine, the fruit carries through to the palate with some intensity and oak plays a supporting role in the background. Hints of (slightly greenish) mint, a touch of liquorice and a rich, dark juicy finish with purple and blackberry jube characters, chocolatey oak and soft spices. It seemed a little metallic on the first taste but that is washed away by intense overall juiciness. Made from 100% Barossa Valley fruit, the wine matured for 16-17 months in seasoned French and American oak and is a blend of Grenache (72%), Shiraz (15%) and Mourvedre (13%). 14.5% alc. Screwcap closure. RRP$28.95.

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2004
Deep purple red, bright and concentrated in its extracted colour. Delicately floral and peppery in the oversized glass (the wine was about 10 inches away from my nose) but the first impression in the mouth is of quite thick tannins, a slightly green, oaky, leathery character, reasonably high acidity and a very tight structure. But it all comes together quite nicely with a concentrated mid palate and a creaminess to the finish with black and red fruits, liquorice, spice, pepper, vanilla, dark cedar and a cool climate floral, peppery Syrah character that leaves a spicy prickle on the tongue and the lips. I like the potential that this wine shows, but it is on the medium side of full-bodied. The grapes are sourced solely from Coonawarra and the wine spent 12 months in French oak, of which 22% was new. 14% alc. Cork closure. RRP$28.95.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2004
Concentrated deep crimson red. There's ripe berry fruit and creamy oak on the nose, but it is not as opulent as the style that made me fall in love with Bin 28 many years ago. The palate is well endowed with plush velvety tannins, spice and cherries though it's quite tightly structured with leather and earth notes pushing through. Then the sweet oak emerges with chocolate-coated red fruits, chicory spices and a cool-climate peppery character (which hasn't really been obvious in Bin 28 before) and a hint of anise on the smoky finish. A true full-bodied wine with warmth, depth and length, the fruit was sourced from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Padthaway and it was matured for 12 months in American oak, none of which was new (which explains the lack of opulence on the nose). 14.5% alc. Cork closure. RRP$28.95.

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Dense crimson red. Ripe and creamy on the nose with blackcurrant, cedar and hints of mint, it's grainy textured in the palate with a funky/leathery backbone, tight acidity, juicy blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, violets, peppery spice, liquorice and hints of anise. Although dark, charry oak dominates the finish, there's a finesse to the lingering aftertaste. Sourced from McLaren Vale, Padthaway, Coonawarra, Bordertown and Langhorne Creek with 12 months in French and American oak (15% new), it's not as dense as some of the Cabernets from the vintage, but it displays its varietal characters well. 14% alc. Cork closure. RRP$38.95.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2004
Deep crimson red in colour but again I ask, "where is the opulent aroma I expect of this wine?" I tip it into a smaller glass and it is so much more concentrated with biscuity oak and red fruits on the nose. Grainy and a little disintegrated first up in the mouth, it's quite dark and savoury for 389 but sweet vanillin oak pushes through with bramble and cherry-like fruit, liquorice, anise and other fragrant spices, while the tannins smooth out and show their finesse. Overall a very polished wine with warmth, complexity, depth and length, the class act of the tasting. Later when the wine was matched to a cheese course - a French Langres cheese which was an excellent example of how a wine and cheese can clash, an accompanying fennel and rhubarb salad was superbly delicious with the spicy character that the wine portrays.
Grapes were sourced from the southern regions, mainly from Langhorne Creek, Bordertown and Padthaway with McLaren Vale and Barossa having only minor contributions. A blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Shiraz, it was matured for 13 months in American oak of which 27% was new. 14.5% alc. Cork closure. RRP $44.95.

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copyright Sue Courtney 2007