Category Archives: Wine Reviews

Wolf Blass Grey Label Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

IMAG2239Well, it’s been a while since I blogged about wine.  I do have excuses but the real [embarassing] truth is that I simply WENT OFF WINE for a while.  I know; I hardly believe it myself, but for some reason, my palate beat my brain to my middle-age crisis, and slipped back into 18yo status.  I wanted Lambrusco, and sparkling Moscato!  I craved sweet bubbles!  I drank sweet ciders, craft beers and … forgive me … RTD’s!

However, last night, while my ever-indulging-other-half fried up a juicy steak, I was suddenly inspired.  I went to the wine rack, and scanned over the remains of my wine collection from over a decade ago.  Unbelievably, there are still a few gems there:  wines that I accumulated during my years with the Fosters Group, some oddities acquired when I was with Vintage Cellars and we took over an independent boutique wine shop in Yarraville [Read:  Unload anything that is not mass-produced to the level required by Coles], and a couple of pressies that friends had bought over the years.

There, covered in a layer of dust on the bottom row, were a few of my remaining bottles of 1998 Wolf Blass Grey Label.

I have a special place in my heart for this wine.  When I worked with the wine division of Fosters, as part of our salary package, we were allocated a monthly case of our choice from the portfolio.  I quickly developed a taste for Wolf Blass Grey Label.  Being new to Melbourne and living alone, there wasn’t always someone to share a bottle with, so quite often it was used for cooking as well as drinking – but a year or two later I was dating a Swiss boy, and distinctly recall bottles frequently spilled into the spa.  Sacrilege.  I bet Wolf’s bow-tie would spin if he were to read this …

So you understand my surprise that, after 5 further house moves, and an 8 year relationship with a Czech [they can DRINK!], some of the bottles actually survived the debauchery, abuse and callous disregard without so much as a scratch on the label.

IMAG2240I dusted off a bottle and precariously worked on what I expected to be a crumbly cork.  To my surprise, when I peeled back the aluminium foil, the cork looked moist.  There were condensed particles from the wine around the rim of the bottle.

I was relieved, but noticed the crack in the cork.  There was a good chance that it was going to break up when I pulled it – but I was still confident, given the moistness surrounding it, that the cork could still slide out without too much damage.

Well, it did come out quite easily, and almost in one piece.  A small part of the bottom of the cork broke off, but didn’t fall into the wine.  I managed to slide out the remaining section in a few small pieces.IMAG2245

The aromas were so pungent that my chef, dishing up the steak dinner six feet away, commented on them.  He could distinctly smell the fruitiness and jamminess.

Still, the bottle was now 17 years old, and I’ve been caught out before by promising aromas that didn’t follow through on the palate!  I poured a little into a glass, and decided I would wallow in the aromas as much as I could before the taste disappointed me.

IMAG2244The colour was amazingly bright for such an old wine.  The rim was just as vibrant, with only the slightest hint of age-telling brick.  I tried to get a photo, but there wasn’t a white piece of paper around, and I’m just using my phone’s camera.

You might get the idea from my picture – using the white dinner plate as a backdrop.  [Yeah, that steak WAS as good as it looks!!]

The aromas that came out of this wine were dazzling:  intense jammy blackcurrant, black cherries, licorice and sweet blood plums connected by the smoothing influence of vanillan oak.   I swear I heard a choir of angels as these aromas permeated my sleeping olfactory system.  There was not a whiff of oxidation.  This wine had been perfectly sealed. [ALL HAIL CORK!!]

So, with a quick “Dobrou chuť!” I took my first sip.  The intensity of the blackcurrant, plums and a touch of green capsicum continued on the palate, with cedar box and Darrell-Lea-licorice spiciness.  All sign of aggressive, preserving tannin had gone – in fact, there was only the slightest amount of sediment around the punt.  There was a small stump of heat from the alcohol (14%) momentarily, but it gave way to a long, long Christmas cake finish.  The finish didn’t diminish either.  There was no fade to “old wine” taste.

It was so delicious that I wanted to savour it again.  So I vacuumed out the oxygen with my wine-saver plugs and put the bottle in the fridge for the next day (today).  It was a success – the aromas and flavours were just as dominant when I swigged out of the bottle a few minutes ago.

It’s often hard to judge when a Cabernet Sauvignon has reached its peak.  Even the back label advises maturation at 5-8 years.  Going on that, I should have drunk this bottle around 2005 – 10 years ago!  If you ask me, this amazing pedigreed wine is just at its peak now!

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Posted by on February 20, 2015 in Wine Reviews


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Chalkboard Côtes du Rhône

S KThe Côtes du Rhône is a French appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) that trips and spatters  from Vienne to Avignon in South-East France.

Like most French wine regions, it offers considerable variation across the appellation – dependent on the soil the vines are planted in, the vineyard aspect, the grape varietals and the expertise of the winemakers.  Climatic conditions are pretty constant, and sunlight hours pretty average, but don’t think for a minute that this boring consistency results in run-of-the-mill wines.

Broadly speaking, Rhone wines are Grenache blends (usually with Shiraz, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan and others).  The red ones, anyway.  They also come in a white version, but it’s the red, red Rhones you’re likely to come across more frequently in the local liquor store.

 I was looking for something to accompany my recent curry-experimentation period.  The family favourite seems to be curried sausages – by a mile – and my sauce is a complex mixture of curry and pepper spices, enhanced with exquisite home-made sweet chutney, red apples and strawberry jam.  It’s my own invention.  .

I settled on a fresh bottle of Vintage Cellar’s Chalkboard Côtes du Rhône (2012).  Now,  I’m no fan of mass-produced, generic house brands of anything – let alone wine – but the price tag of $12.50 had me sold.  We’re on a pretty tight budget these days.

Côtes du Rhône reds come in anything from a deep crimson or ruby to bright purple, and are usually medium bodied with smooth tannins.  Those from the region’s right bank tend to be lighter in style; and without too much information being disclosed on the label – I’m willing to bet this one comes from there.

The back label tells me it was bottled by the winemakers of L’enclave.  I assume they mean L’Enclave des Papes (the enclave of the popes); the Canton of Valréas – which includes the towns of Valréas, Grillon, Visan and Richerenches.  Definitely right-bank, then.

Surprisingly well-balanced, with subtle plum and cherry notes – and a touch of spice that really didn’t have a chance against my curry’s rich sauce, but was definitely discernible.  The medium body did tend to the weaker end, and the finish was softly dry.  Overall, it really was a good accompaniment to my spicy curried snags.

It’s worth mentioning that L’Enclave des Papes wines could well be worth investigating as a fountain of youth.

During most of the 1300’s there were several (French – of course) popes who figured they wouldn’t lower themselves and live in Rome, and Avignon was appointed prestigious honour as the seat of the Pope.  In 1316, Pope John XXII became the second Avignon pope.  He was pretty old at the time, and had some controversial views – like; Christ and his apostles were not povs at all (as was the belief of the Franciscans) and further; once you’re dead, you don’t see heaven until Judgement Day.  Whoops, that means the whole concept of praying to Saints is pointless – a belief which put him in closer collusion with the Protestants than the Catholics.  It’s a wonder he wasn’t burned at the stake as a heretic!

Regardless, the Cardinals voted him in to what some hoped would be a short papacy.  Unfortunately he was a huge fan of L’enclave wines – and frequent consumption was considered a contributing factor to his extended life.  Despite the wishes and prayers of his opponents, the old bugger hung in there for 18 years, dying at the ripe old age of 89 in 1336.


2010 Bodegas Mas Alta Priorat Els Pics

Els_Pics_Bodegas_Mas_AltaPriorat is a Denominación de Origen Calificada (in Spanish … Denominació d’Origen Qualificada if you’re Catalan …) found in south west Catalonia. Priorat soils contain a combination of black slate and mica, called “llicorella”, and this, in conjunction with some very old Garnacha (Grenache) vines planted on steep slopes, manage to produce pretty spectacular wines from what some say is a pretty wishy-washy grape..

I hardly had the cork (YAY!!! CORK!!!) out of the bottle on this one, and the outstanding bouquet of cherries and floral aromas filled the room. I had to swirl quite vigorously in my giant red glass to dissipate the headiness. I knew then I was in for a treat.

At around $AUD20 a bottle for a Spanish red, I expect something good.  This beautiful Grenache blend is as lively as a spring chicken.  Hard to believe it is four vintages old – but then I am comparing this with a cheap local red in that price bracket, which I wouldn’t expect to impress me much.  In reality, Priorat Grenache is dark, bold and brooding, and really takes a bit of time to settle in.

Fresh, succulent raspberries and aniseed, with quite heavy sweetness for a dry red.  Reminiscent of dried figs. One might expect they would have balanced the sweetness with a little more acidity, but to my palate, it works.  There’s a lovely anise finish that lingers on to dryness, leaving the tongue yearning for another mouthful to cool down the spices.

Magic.  Accompanied my other half’s spag bog beautifully.  Even carried on well with the after-dinner turkish delight mini Easter eggs.  Yeah, unbelievably, I haven’t scoffed them all yet …

Thanks again to Nick’s Wine Merchants in Doncaster, Melbourne. As I’ve said before, it’s worth the trip out to stock up.  Winter is just a hop,skip and a jump away.  I promise you’ll enjoy this one by the fire.

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Posted by on April 4, 2013 in Wine Reviews


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Three Brothers Reunited Shiraz 2010

Three Brothers Reunited Shiraz 2010Geez … you can tell I don’t blog for a living.  It’s been six months.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t been drinking wine.  I have.  Unfortunately I also changed jobs six months ago, and have gone from alcohol retail to wholesale.   So, it’s back to 10 hour corporate days, punctuated by the occasional outing somewhere to visit clients.  That doesn’t leave a whole lot of free evenings to write.

Today I went to see a client who runs a store filled with amazing wines;  some imports (his own), some local stuff.  It really is a wine-lover’s wonderland, and if you haven’t been to Nick’s Wine Merchants in Doncaster, Melbourne yet, you’re really doing yourself a disservice.  Doesn’t really matter, though, because he actually sends wines all over the world via his website – Vintage Direct.

So, apart from some yummy-looking imports in the $20-$30 bracket, I asked Alex (seek him out if you venture there – Alex knows his wines) for a cheapie to scoff tonight with dinner.  He produced a bottle of Three Brothers Reunited Shiraz (2010).

Now, for the past four weeks, I haven’t drunk anything of note, purely due to a nose operation.  As much as I’d like to say I earn enough to chuck big dollars away on a cosmetic procedure, in my case it was to correct a seriously dislocated septum, and rebuild the sides of my nose that were collapsing.  (I know what you’re thinking … my nose doctor also asked several times if I have been doing drugs … but no, I have never snorted cocaine …).

So I have been having trouble even breathing through my nose, let alone really smelling anything complex. So, with my new nose, I dove into the glass.

Loads of rich, ripe dark plums, blackberries, licorice (Wow! The nose is really working!) are the immediate deliveries – however, after leaving the wine to breathe a little, I easily detected some milk chocolate nestling nicely above raspberry jam.

The first sips revealed the expected plums and blackberries, but also an amazing wallop of black peppery spice – the hallmark of McLarenVale Shiraz. In all honesty, I felt the spice actually overpowered the wine initially, but again, with a little air, this settled down, and I don’t know about the other reviewers, but I was left with a finish of Violet Crumble Bar.  That’s right … chocolate-coated honeycomb.

Tannins were modestly smooth and silky, leaving a dry finish with no coarseness.

Drinking this wine, you get a craving for char-grilled lamb cutlets, or a medium-rare barbecued steak.  Unfortunatley, none of these were available to me … so, after the third (small) glass, I settled for Old Gold dark chocolate mini Easter Eggs.  Hey, ’tis the season …

Overall, this is a sensational wine in the sub $20 category.  Even more amazing is that it only costs $9.99!!  My advice – get online and get some in your wine rack for the coming winter. I know I’ll be heading back there to stock up.  So, Alex, if you read this, put a case aside for me. 

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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Wine Reviews


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The Kirche 2007 – Charles Melton

It’s not easy writing a wine review whilst watching Puberty Blues.  There’s a distinct conflict going on in my head.  One side of the brain is trying to concentrate on the wine, and the other – more juvenile – side is far too distracted from serious writing.

If you’re not Australian – Puberty Blues is a side-splitter of laugh-a-minute memories – from Apricot Chicken in Crock Pots to Baby Doll PJ’s and all the crochet bikinis, Sandman panel-vans and ‘You’re dropped!‘ crackers in between.  God bless the 70’s – the last teenage generation to know fun, political incorrectness and a diet rich in Pluto Pups and Redskins.

Nothing to do with wine. Particularly this one, I know. But if you understand my obsession with this series, you’re old enough to know a fine wine when you taste it.  So, here’s one you don’t want to miss out on.

I’ve always been a fan of Charles Melton’s wines.  Ever since I aged a bottle of his Rose of Virginia for seven years to test the theory that you can’t age rose.  Wasn’t that surprising …

The inspiration for this wine probably comes from the former Zum Kripplein Christi Lutheran Church on Krondorf Road, a stone’s throw from Tanunda – which  has been turned into a guest house by the Meltons.  From what I see on their website, it looks like a piece of heaven on earth. Gone are the hardwood pews, replaced by soft queen and king-sized beds draped in 1000 count cotton sheets.  Instead of just breaking bread, there are ‘welcome’ cheese platters and gourmet breakfast provisions.  But I’m willing to bet there’s an abundance of wine around to induce that spiritual feeling.

As for this particular gem from the Melton lineup – This sumptuous Shiraz glistens in deep papal scarlet, and offers gifts of vanilla, liquorice and spice, if not gold, frankincense and myrrh. Juicy flavours slide across your palate in waves, like the watered silkiness of the pope’s choir cassock.  Blackberries, plums, a touch of tar and spicy oak commune with smooth, round tannins.  (I think I’ve used enough corny catholic metaphors here, so I’ll refrain from using the papal belly as an indicator of the roundness of the tannins …)

Yep, another Charles Melton classic.  My apologies to him for crucifying this review with religious puns.

Strangely, I don’t see this wine listed on the Meltons’ website.  So perhaps they aren’t making it anymore. Pity. Some sites out there stocking it recommend drinking to 2013, but my recommendation is get some and drink it now, while it appears to be at its best!  Heaven can wait

 (Sorry, couldn’t resist that last pun … it’s the 70’s frivolous influence …)

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Posted by on October 13, 2012 in Wine Reviews


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Podere Ruggeri Corsini Langhe Nebbiolo 2009

I ♥ tannins.  It’s not everyone’s thing, but my palate loves the tactile, gritty feel of bold, chewy, drying tannins in my reds.  So the other night, I decided to venture into Italy’s own Nebbiolo.

Nebbiolo is apparently problematic to grow  – some growers and winemakers consider it more difficult to manage than Pinot Noir.  In terms of maturity, it requires good exposure, ripens late, is judgemental about soils, and can vary widely in tannin and acidity.  Even after being crafted into a promising wine, it can still get moody and changeable in the cellar.  Sounds like a challenge I’m up for!

I tried Podere Ruggeri Corsini Langhe Nebbiolo DOC – 2009 – heralding from Piedmont, the traditional home of this varietal, if not the original one.  It’s a tad young, but being a tannin lover I was prepared for a woody experience.

On the nose, there were hints of violets, roses and anise intertwining with cherries, licorice, and an almost pungent earthiness.  On the palate, dark, sour cherries dominated the fruit spectrum, with toasty vanillan oak.  To be honest, I didn’t really notice any strong bitterness – which is a trait of Nebbiolo – but I was drinking it with food (pork ribs marinated in terriyaki sauce), which might have masked this.  The promised tannins were certainly grippy, even a touch green, and delivered the experience I was looking for.  The alcohol was quite high (14.5%) but it was well balanced, even unnotable, on the palate.

The next day brought a surprisingly clear head, which I didn’t expect from a wine with such a bold, brooding reputation!

I imagine another 3 years in the cellar would certainly tame the tannins, but for my money ($30-35AUD), I loved it in its young form.  The only thing I might do differently with the next bottle would be to pair it up with some strong, bitey cheese.

Overall, this wine was easy to drink, loved by all who shared the bottle, and something I will look forward to revisiting in another 3-5 years to see if it developed attitude over time.

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Posted by on June 18, 2012 in Wine Reviews


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Spinifex Papillon 2010

The vehemence with which people flick off one white varietal for another could only be considered viticultural vilification. We love them, then hate them, then move on. There can only be one white queen at a time.  Chardonnay was crucified in the name of Sauvigon Blanc … which is now falling prey to Pinot Gris/Grigio, with Riesling experiencing some sort of revival in the background.

We don’t seem to do this with reds.  They’re all in vogue at the same time.  You can choose whichever varietal tickles your fancy, and no-one pooh-poohs it as blasé.  But in recent years, I’ve been seeing a shift in thinking.  People are starting to gravitate towards more blends.

Five years ago, only the enthusiasts knew what a Rhône blend was.  Today, it seems I sell as many of them as I do bottles of Shiraz, or Pinot Noir.  So perhaps a trend is emerging … Rhône is the new red.

I have this thing about butterflies.  There’s a big blue Ulysses tatooed on my left shoulder.  Not long after having it done, I went to Noumea, and on the beach the french people ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ over my “Papillon”.  So, the other night, when a rep came in brandishing a wine of the same name, I had to give it a try.

This one’s not the usual GSM.  It’s made from old vine Grenache, Cinsualt and Mataro. Brilliantly perfumed – like the fresh frangipanis of my home in North Queensland. Delightful raspberry, redcurrant and cherry aromas, some confectionary, woody spices … and just a touch of something earthy.

As I swished the medium-bodied liquid around, I detected the very berries I discovered earlier, along with some liquorice spiciness and the earthiness again.  That was it –  cold borsch!  Suddenly I was back in Russia, and that fabulous borsch restaurant in Saint Petersburg my friends took me to.

The finish was long, mouth-watering and spicy, bedded down with drying, soft tannins.  For less than $30, this is a great wine – light, easy to drink and a great alternative for those diligent Pinot Noir drinkers.

This is a wine I will revisit, for sure.  So many delightful aromas, tastes and memories out of one bottle.

Thanks, Spinifex!

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Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Wine Reviews


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