Yearly Archives: 2010

Beer review — Matso’s and Kiuchi

Matso’s Broome Brewery Ginger Beer 330ml 6-pack $29.90
Have I missed something in this cult beer from Broome? It seems to owe less to brewing and more to those ready-to-drink concoctions of sugar, carbon dioxide and alcohol – in this case saved from complete blandness by the ginger. A flat, headless appearance added to an impression of a soft drink for adults.

Kiuchi Brewery Hitachino Nest Real Ginger Beer 330ml $5.70
This is real beer, with an emphasis on sweet, rich, smooth malty flavour, velvety, creamy texture and abundant, persistent head. The sweet maltiness, high alcohol (seven per cent) and subtle, spicy tang of ginger make it excellent company for Christmas fruitcake. It’s made using fresh ginger in Naka, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Too much chill kills beer flavour

In Australia, ice-cold beer’s a given. From scorching Marble Bar to frosty Thredbo, beer flows from bar taps at a chilly two degrees or so. But too much chill kills flavour. It doesn’t matter so much drinking standard lager. Icy cold hits the spot.
But as you move up the quality ladder, enjoyable aromas and flavours emerge at slightly higher temperatures.

Top-notch lager – for example, Urquell Pilsen, James Squire Pilsener and Weihenstephaner Pilsen –reveal more of their pure, malty richness and delicate hops character at around six to eight degrees than they do at two degrees.

For high quality ales, serving temperatures can be even higher – around ten degrees, say, for English-style real ales where fruitiness adds so much to the rich, underlying malt flavours. These make particularly good, warming winter drinks.

But even our own popular bar ales, like Tooth’s Old and Toohey’s Black – served widely (always arctic cold) at South Coast pubs – deliver more rich, maltiness and fruitiness as they warm up, even by just a few degrees.

There’s be riots if Australian publicans turned beer temperatures up. But over Christmas in our own homes we can get more from our premium beers by letting them warm up a little.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Wine review — Jacob’s Creek Steingarten, Yarrh, Tupari, Riposte, Holm Oak and Stoniers

Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling 2007 $22–$34
Barossa Valley, South Australia

Colin Gramp planted the Steingarten vineyard on a high, exposed, stony east-facing slope in 1962. The tiny vineyard struggled but survived and was extended to two hectares early this decade. Even the 48-year-old vines look spindly. But in tandem with fruit from neighbouring vineyards on similar soil, they produce a unique, intensely limey, green-tinted, piquant dry riesling with great ageing potential. It has Chablis-like dryness and minerality but with riesling’s distinctive flavour. This is a great wine.

Yarrh Riesling 2009 $20
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, New South Wales

This was a star of the recent National Wine Show, earning gold in the new class for individual-vineyard wines. Its cellar mate from the 2010 vintage won bronze. They’re a strong pair, but the still available 2009 has the edge. The extra bottle age really brings out the pure, citrus-like varietal flavour and the natural acidity gives it a racy, refreshing finish. Winemaker Fiona Wholohan writes “riesling is one of the wines we are now very much concentrating on.

Tupari Pinot Gris 2010 $30
Awatere Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand

Tupari vineyard sits at 150–200 metres above sea level in the Awatere Valley,  to the southwest of Marlborough’s better known Wairau Valley. The site’s cool growing season, abundant sunlight and large diurnal temperature range seem to suit pinot gris as this one’s stunning. It’s a big, generous, but vital wine, high in alcohol, richly textured and dripping with vivid, pear-like varietal flavour. Despite its size, the natural high acidity keeps it fresh and invites another sip.

Riposte Dagger Pinot Noir 2010 $20
Adelaide Hills, South Australia

This is the youngest and simplest of three very good pinots recommended here today as medium-bodied company for your Christmas lunch — each a step up in quality from the other. Despite the modest (for pinot) price, Dagger, made by Tim Knappstein, pushes most of the pinot buttons, relying on good fruit rather than winemaker artifice to do the job. We might expect a fruit festival from such a youngster. But it’s richly textured, savoury and has the backbone of a good pinot. Cellaring? No need; lap it up now.

Holm Oak Pinot Noir 2009 $32
Tamar Valley, Tasmania

Rebecca Wilson’s estate-grown and made pinot brings greater intensity of flavour and complexity into the picture. There’s high-toned, red-berry pinot fragrance and flavour. But there’s more grip and structure here than we see in the Riposte wine, as well as the first gamey, earthy notes that just one year in bottle brings. There’s a kiss of oak, but it’s not intrusive. And soft but ample tannins, layered with the fruit flavour, put Holm Oak well into the real-red spectrum.

Stoniers Reserve Pinot Noir 2008 $40–$50
Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Cool Mornington, tempered by Westernport Bay to the east and Port Phillip Bay to the west, is home to perhaps more top-end pinot producers than any other Australian region. Stoniers, founded by Brian Stonier, but now owned by Lion Nathan, sits with the region’s best – a status earned over three vigorous, hard-working decades. The deceptively pale 2008, made from some of the oldest vineyards around the winery, delivers powerful, luxurious flavours within a fine-boned, taut structure. This is full-bore, fine-boned pinot to sip and savour and has the depth and complexity to cellar well for many years.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Wine review — Brown Brothers, Jacob’s Creek and Dal Zatto

Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut 2005 $40–$50
Patricia comes from the cold Whitlands vineyard on a plateau above the southern end of Victoria’s King Valley. It’s cold enough to produce the intense but delicate flavours essential for top-end bubbly. Patricia 2005 is juicy and fresh but very delicate, with the varietal fruit flavour at the core and the patina of flavours derived from extended maturation on yeast lees way off in the background, as it ought to be. This is a class act, a mile ahead of many non-vintage Champagnes, and therefore worthy of the price. This vintage won the best-sparkling-wine trophy at the National Wine Show.

Jacob’s Creek

  • Chardonnay Pinot Noir NV Brut Cuvee $7.99–$12.99
  • Reserve Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2007 $14–$18

The Jacob’s Creek bubblies sit at the top of the quality heap in their price brackets. And because the big retailers chop the prices mercilessly to drive trade, what you pay can vary enormously. But even fully priced they offer very good value for money. Brut Cuvee delivers fresh, lively varietal fruit flavours and is as good as you’ll get for the money. Reserve, though, pushes quality to another level, reflecting the delicacy and purity of chardonnay and pinot noir from the cool Adelaide Hills. Maturation on yeast lees adds a textural richness to the delicate fruit flavours.

Dal Zotto King Valley

  • Pucino Prosecco NV $18.50
  • L’Immigrante Prosecco 2008 $36

For a lighter, more savoury sparkling experience try prosecco, either imported from Italy or one of the local versions. Prosecco’s Italian home is the Valdobbiadene district, near Conegliano in the Veneto region. The variety makes light, delicate aperitif-style sparkling wines, usually tank fermented (Charmat method) and served as young and fresh as possible. Otto Dal Zotto, born in Valdobbiadene, released his first Australian prosecco in 2004 and now offers two versions – the light, delicate, fresh, Charmat-made Pucino NV, with its rush of creamy bubbles; and, with finer bubbles, the more richly textured, but still delicate and fresh, L’Immigrante 2008 ($36).

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Beer review — Weihenstephaner and Hook Norton

Weihenstephaner Pilsner 500ml $5.90
In a world where pilsner means a thousand different things, Bavaria’s Weihenstephaner, from a brewery founded in 1040, remains a glorious standout – my top beer of 2010. It’s a perfect example of complex but subtle lager, featuring lovely hops aroma and flavour, smooth, rich malt and a lingering, dry, perfectly balanced bitter finish. Perfection.

Hook Norton Brewery Old Hooky Ale 500ml $8.00
Old Hooky presents layers of aroma and flavour. It’s fruity, malty, hoppy, bittersweet, brisk and delicious. It’s built on malted barley, but it also contains wheat – presumably source of the pleasant tartness that adds life to the generous malt flavour. This is distinctive ale with lingering, refreshing bitterness.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

My top 10 beers of 2010

For beer drinkers 2010 goes down as a year of contrasts, where bland, insipid brews made for soft drink sippers stand alongside really exciting, complex beers displaying the brewer’s art in all its glory.

Looking back over tasting notes for the year, I’ve pulled out ten brews, across a spectrum of styles, that thrilled on first sip and sustained interest to the end. These are beers to sip and savour. They deserve a place at the Christmas table.

Lighter styles
Weihenstephaner Pilsner (Bavaria)
Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier (Bavaria)
Asahi Super Dry (Japan)
Schneider Weiss Hefe-Weizen (Bavaria)

Medium bodied styles
Sharp’s Special Oak Aged Ale (Rock, Cornwall, England)
Hook Norton Old Hooky Ale (Hook Norton, England)

Full-bodied styles
Cooper’s Vintage Ale 2010 (Adelaide, South Australia)
Bootleg Raging Bull (Margaret River, Western Australia)
Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Tadcaster Taddy Porter (Tadcaster, Yorkshire, England)

Specialty style
Brasserie Caulier Bon Secours Myrtille (Blueberry flavoured, Ghisienghien, Belgium)

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Wine review — Bay of Fires, Howard Park, Vasse Felix, Shaw Vineyard Estate, Heartland and Shingleback

Bay of Fires Tasmania Pinot Noir $35
East Coast, Coal River Valley and Derwent Valley, Tasmania

For a glimpse of Tasmania’s winemaking future, grab a bottle of this beautiful, silk-smooth, trophy-winning pinot before the price heads north. It’s part of Constellation Wine’s portfolio and made at their Bay of Fires Winery, Pipers River. Winemaker Fran Austin sourced fruit for the wine from a variety of clones grown on several vineyards on Tasmania’s East Coast, Coal River Valley and Derwent Valley. Fran’s been tweaking the wine for about a decade, and in that time we’ve seen it evolve from a nice drop to jaw-dropping good. It joins a growing number of distinguished wines destined to make Tassie Australia’s pinot capital. Added gold and trophy to its credits at the recent National Wine Show.

Howard Park Porongurup Riesling 2010 $30
Porongurup, Great Southern, Western Australia

This year Howard Park added a second riesling to its range from Great Southern. The wine, tasted at the Denmark winery and again in Canberra, comes from a pair of 25-year old vineyards in the Porongurup sub-region. In its purity and intensity it’s comparable in some ways to the standard blend (also $30 and principally from Denmark). But there’s an extra dimension and length of flavour to the new wine suggesting that the two will diverge as time emphasise their now subtle differences.

Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2008 $50
Margaret River, Western Australia

The inherent fruit flavour in Margaret River chardonnay is, I suspect, delicate, not powerful; and the greatest examples coming out of the area now reflect this. Cullens is a great example of capturing that delicacy without sacrificing complexity. And next door at Vasse Felix winemaker Virginia Wilcock crafts Heytesbury to a comparable level. It’s all wild-yeast fermented in 70 per cent new oak and matured on yeast lees. While this adds a funky note, and some spicy oak character, the core flavour is intensely, vividly varietal and of great freshness – thanks in part to blocking the malolactic fermentation and maintaining acidity.

Shaw Vineyard Estate Premium Riesling 2009 $22
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, New South Wa
Graeme Shaw’s modestly priced 2009 provides quite a contrast to all the bright new 2010 rieslings arriving on market. It’s remarkable what that extra year in bottle does. Age is already giving the pure riesling varietal aroma an interesting toasty note. And the toastiness comes through in the flavour, too. The texture is slightly thicker than in the younger wines and there’s a little grip in the still fresh and lively palate. The flavour shift and extra weight the wine now has moves it away from the aperitif style – something you might enjoy with a rich terrine.

Heartland Shiraz 2008 $17
Langhorne Creek and Limestone Coast, South Australia

Ben Glaetzer’s Heartland wines are consistently seductive and beautifully made. I’ve never been disappointed. Even in the difficult, hot 2008 vintage, Glaetzer captures shiraz’s clear varietal flavour, generous flavour and soft tannins. And even though it’s fairly big wine it’s tremendously vital and fruity, but not heavy. It’s a blend of about two-thirds Langhorne Creek shiraz and one third from the Limestone Coast, a little to the south. It’s matured in three to five year old barrels, hence the red-wine mellowness without overt oakiness.

Shingleback Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 $24.95
McLaren Vale, South Australia

The drought affected 2007 vintage produced small crops across much of southeastern Australia. The resulting wines tend to show a strong tannin structure, but in general they’re better than the heat-affected 2008s. Shingleback, from the cooler southern end of McLaren Vale shows the flavour concentration of the vintage. But for such a warm area the wine’s not blocky and big. It’s fragrant and varietal, showing a touch of the Vale’s chocolate character. The palate’s generous and ripe and fine tannins give an elegance to the structure.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Wine review — Howard Park, TarraWarra and Ten Minutes by Tractor

Howard Park Great Southern Museum Riesling 2006 $35
Today’s selections are all exceptional wines – special treats to savour over the festive season. First off the rank is this museum release from Howard Park Wines at Denmark, in Western Australia’s Great Southern Region – one of Australia’s great specialty riesling producing areas. And in Howard Park 2006 we experience riesling’s fine, mouth-watering lime-like varietal flavour, subtly overlaid with the toasty depth of bottle age. A screw cap ensures the wine remains vividly fresh as well as delivering mature aromas and flavours. 2006 was the 21st release of this highly regarded wine.

TarraWarra Estate Reserve Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2008 $60
Don’t be put off by the pale colour. This is a sensational, seductive pinot that builds in power and interest as you sip through the bottle. The aroma is all pinot – high toned and pure, combing red berry notes with an underlying gaminess. The palate starts fine boned and delicate, with juicy fruit flavours and soft tannins. But with every glass the flavour volume expands, the texture seems more luxurious and the authoritative structure of the tannins adds to the satisfying drinking experience. It’s really an ideal red wine for Australian Christmas as it’s deeply, excitingly flavoursome, vibrant and not at all heavy.

Ten Minutes by Tractor Mornington Peninsula McCutcheon Chardonnay 2008 $55
McCutcheon is one of two single-vineyard chardonnays, from Mornington’s Main Ridge, produced at Ten Minutes by Tractor. It’s a great example of modern Australian cool-climate chardonnay making. The grapes are hand harvested and whole-bunch pressed, ensuring minimal pick of tannins from the skins. The process preserves the purity of varietal flavour and gives the wine delicacy, despite the intense flavours. Fermentation and maturation in oak barrels (33 per cent new) builds texture and subtle flavours around the core of fruit, creating a brilliant, fresh wine of great complexity. The wine has sufficient body and richness to carry rich Christmas seafood like prawns and lobster.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Wine review — Centennial Vineyards

Centennial Vineyards Southern Highlands
Bong Bong Australian Dry Red 2009 $18.99

The label depicts the joyous atmosphere of a bush race meeting. Appropriately, Bong Bong bounces with vibrant, bright fresh fruit – first in the aroma, then on the lively, fresh palate. But it’s a real red, because the joyous, slurpy fruit flavours gives way to a bite of serious tannin, tweaking the palate, as a red ought to, giving a pleasing savoury dryness. A winner of a gold medal and trophy at Canberra Regional Show and a bronze medal at the National, Bong Bong is predominantly shiraz, with five per cent tempranillo.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Wine review — Marchand & Burch, Jeanneret, Chandon, Vasse Felix, Moppity Vineyards and Mount Pleasant

Marchand and Burch Chardonnay 2009 $70
Porongurup, Great Southern, Western Australia

This glorious chardonnay results from collaboration between Howard Park owner, Jeff Burch, and Canadian-born Burgundy winemaker, Pascal Marchand. It’s from a mature, south-facing (and therefore cool) vineyard at Porongurup, in Western Australia’s Great Southern region. It’s not an area noted for chardonnay, but this one’s so powerful, bright, delicate fresh and balanced, it simply blows away all preconceptions. Its delicacy and purity come from hand-sorting fruit, gentle, whole-bunch pressing and a short period of settling before being racked to oak barrels for a spontaneous primary fermentation.

Jeanneret Watervale Riesling 2010 $25
Watervale, Clare Valley, South Australia

This is the finer and more delicate of two 2010 Clare rieslings just released by Ben Jeanneret. The rich and juicy Big Fine Girl ($19), blended from across the valley, offers delicious value. But the Watervale wine, from Barry Marssons’ vineyard on Watervale’s western slopes, captures the racy acidity, brisk, lime-like flavour and delicate, long dry finish of this distinguished Clare sub region. It delivers big drinking satisfaction at a modest price.

Chandon Vintage Brut 2007 $39.59
Various cool regions in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia

Chandon’s 22nd vintage bubbly, blended from over 40 base wines, continues the soft, subtle, creamy style established with the first in 1986. The blend of 54 per cent chardonnay and 46 per cent pinot noir, aged on yeast lees in bottle for about 30 months, combines the delicacy of chardonnay, the body and structure of pinot and the texture of prolonged ageing. It’s a smart wine and miles ahead of where we were with bubblies twenty years ago. But, alas, it doesn’t yet have the jaw-dropping WOW factor of the best Champagnes.

Vasse Felix Cabernet Merlot 2008 $25
Margaret River, Western Australia

Vasse Felix – founded in 1967 by Dr Tom Cullity and now owned by the Holmes a Court family – remains one of Margaret River’s most exciting producers, across its whole range. But on a recent visit, three cabernet based blends, made by Virginia Wilcock, really won our taste buds. The $25 cabernet merlot blends introduces the refined, elegant style – combining bright berry flavours with a tease of oak, gentle mid palate and edgy cabernet finish. Step up to the $39 cabernet 2008 (with its touch of malbec for more power and authority; and complete the picture with the profound Heytesbury cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec ($80).

Moppity Vineyards Estate Shiraz 2009 $24.99
Hilltops, New South Wales

It’s easy to love shiraz from the neighbouring Hilltops region (Young). A tad warmer than Canberra, the area produces slightly fleshier, though still medium bodied styles – featuring pure, berry and spice varietal flavours, generous mid palate and soft tannins. The wines tend to reveal their charm up front as youngsters, like this one from Jason and Alicia Brown’s Moppity vineyard. Brown says it’s sourced from the estate’s original vines, planted in 1973 – the vine age no doubt contributing to the wine’s depth and complexity. It’s simply scrumptious.

Mount Pleasant Old Paddock and Old Hill Shiraz 2007 $40
Mount Pleasant, Hunter Valley, New South Wales

In 1921, legendary winemaker Maurice O’Shea planted shiraz on the Old Paddock Vineyard, not far from the vines planted 39 years earlier on the Old Hill Vineyard. The venerable old shiraz vines from the two vineyards produced this wonderful, idiosyncratic red. The colour’s limpid and crimson rimmed; the aroma combines ripe, dark berries with the Hunter’s distinctive earthiness and savouriness – characters reflected on the generous, finely structured, tannic but soft palate. A gold medallist in the 2009 Hunter Valley wine show, this is one to cellar for many years.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010