Monday, March 28, 2016

Vintage 2016 / Final Update

We picked the Cabernet Sauvignon on 24th March.
This was a week earlier than planned but the weather forecast for that coming week was for substantial rain every day (which didn't eventuate in our local area but to the north) so we 'bit the bullet'. The co driver and I got through the rows in about four hours. The yield was about average.
Fruit was in excellent condition. No sign of any disease, a little sunburn on the more exposed bunches and some shrivel in the bunches at the shallower ends of the rows as we have had little rain in the last month.
Baume 12.5° (acceptable)
pH 3.75 (good)
The grapes were immediately crushed/destemmed and DAP (15g/hL), tartaric acid (1g/L) then yeast (20g/hL) added.
The yeast is rehydrated in ten times its volume of water at 40°C for 20 minutes. A little sugar is added to 'get the culture going'. This mixture is then dispersed and thoroughly mixed into the must (juice plus skins).
Fermentation began within 12 hours.

From then it will be the usual process ie. plunging the cap down every 6 hours or so until fermentation is finished (5-7 days), some post fermentation maceration to optimize colour and tannin extraction (a week), pressing, fining (egg white), racking and eventual bottling.
Normally we use oak staves in the ferment and during maturation to impart oak character to red wine.
This year we are revisiting the use of a very concentrated oak powder which is added towards the end of the maturation phase. Our previous experience with this method was not entirely successful but armed with more information on the process we thought we would try again. It is certainly cheaper and easier in a vin de garage operation.
Meanwhile the previously processed  Semillon will soon be ready for filtering and bottling and the Pinot/Tempranillo blend will spend another 9 months or so in the tank "doing its thing" before we bottle.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Another Trip (The Last?) to the Hunter Valley

First day of the trip was from the south coast through Sydney to the central coast to stay overnight at Stirls.
The drive through Sydney is always a pain. Lots of heavy traffic and multiple hold ups. This time it took around 2 hours from the south to the north of the city.
But Stirls had a good dinner and nice wine waiting so all was good in the end.

Next morning we headed for the Hunter and over the next two days visited a few wineries for tastings and wine purchases.
The Hunter is best known for Semillon (both young and aged), Shiraz, Chardonnay and the up and coming Verdelho.
Our main aim was to taste the latest release (2015 vintage) of Semillon and Verdelho.
The samples of both varieties were excellent. We succumbed to some cellar aged Semillon (2007) at Mt. Pleasant as well.
As usual we bought a little bit more than planned.

We visited
McWilliam's Mt. Pleasant
Drayton's Family Wines
We had a very nice long lunch at the Muse Kitchen at the Keith Tulloch Winery and stayed over night at the Grand Mercure Vintage which was very comfortable.

Then it was another night at Stirls before stopping off in Sydney for yet another over-nighter to celebrate the daughter's birthday at Billy Kwong.
This restaurant is run by celebrity chef Kylie Kwong where she showcases her immigrant-Chinese background by marrying traditional Chinese cooking with many native Australian ingredients. This creates an unusual but yummy fusion of flavours.
We decided on the banquet menu which couldn't be faulted. The wine list was also extensive and quite eclectic.
Now why would we consider this to be our last trip to the Hunter area?
The first major plantings in the Valley were established in 1825 when James Busby, widely considered the father of Australian wine, purchased vineyard land between the settlements of Branxton and Singleton.
Stirling and I first visited the Hunter Valley in the early 1970s. We were both members of the now defunct Rothbury Estate established by Len Evans, a Brit who migrated to Australia in 1955 and, who it is said, "advanced the cause of wine in Australia more than any other individual." There we attended wine dinners, pre release tastings and wine education days.
There were fewer wineries about then but some of those that were had been establish for a long time eg. Wyndham Estate (1848), Draytons (1853), Tyrrells (1858), Mt Pleasant (1921).
The Old

In our earlier visits tasting rooms were rustic and the people there were usually family members or old time employees. You got to talk to the viticulturists and winemakers. You stayed in an old fashioned motel or country pub. Wine prices were in general cheaper than you could get in the city for the same bottle.
As time went on the area became more accessible (better roads) and more touristy with many more attractions than just being a wine region eg. golf courses, chocolate factories, olive oil plantations, breweries, themed flower gardens to name a few.
Major hotel chains built luxury accommodation and B&Bs sprung up everywhere. Destination weddings and business conferences became big business.
We really began to notice the change over the last decade or so.
This time round the tasting rooms, even in the older places, were all polished wood, glass and chrome. The people serving the minuscule tastings were sales people with a set patter. Some even want to charge for a tasting. Even where I am a winery member I could buy the same wine cheaper by mail order through companies like Dan Murphy. Prices for food ($25 for a hamburger or $21 for a green leaf salad, anyone?) and accommodation have gone through the roof.
The New
I was looking for a word to describe the vibe we found in the Hunter this time around. I came up with slick:  deftly executed and having surface appeal or sophistication, but shallow or glib in content; polished but superficial; glib.
I try not to be one of those "back in the good old days" people but in the case of Hunter Valley visits I think I am 'done'.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The ALDI Wine Experiment / Part 3 / More Results

-Corte Carista Chianti Classico 2013-
This DOCG wine is made by Castellani Spa and is produced from a blend of Sangiovese (90%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) grapes grown in the vineyards of the Chianti Classico appellation, the most ancient Chianti area.
Tasting Notes: The only wine of the six closed with a cork.
Brick red colour with just a purple tinge. Full varietal aroma of cherry Sangiovese on the nose. Light bodied with hints of the fruit on an earthy background on the palate with well balanced acidity and soft grape and oak tannins. Little if any length.
I would call this wine Chianti Lite.
Probably the least liked wine of the six but still reasonable value at $10.
-Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2014-
I believe this wine comes from the Villebois Wines in the Loire who make Sauvignon Blanc under the appellations of Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, Touraine and IGP Val de Loire.
Sauvignon Blanc is said to have originated in Bordeaux, France. There it is used to make dry and sweet white wines (Sauternes) and is often blended with Semillon.
Wine making in the Loire is characterized by a general avoidance of barrel aging and malolactic fermentation although some winemakers have begun experimenting with both. Chaptaliziation is allowed and can help wine makers compensate for under ripeness of the grapes in some years.
The region is known for its crisp Sauvignon Blancs. 
Tasting Notes: Light golden/green colour. Almost tropical fruit nose with passionfruit coming through. For us more used to (or tired of) New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs with their herbal/green pepper/grassy nose, this was a pleasant surprise.
This promising introduction was followed up on the palate with passionfruit/gooseberry predominating together with a well balanced zesty acidity and lengthy minerally finish.
A REAL bargain at $8.
-Neve Nelson Pinot Gris 2015-
I couldn't track down the source of this wine either.
The Nelson Wine Region lies on the north coast of New Zealand's south island a few hours drive from the Marlborough region.
Pinot Gris is said to be a mutant clone of Pinot Noir. In many cases wine made from it can have a pink hue.
It probably originated in Burgundy.
In Italy the grape is known as Pinot Grigio. There, the grapes are often harvested  early to retain the refreshing acidity and minimize some of the overt-fruitiness of the variety, creating a more neutral flavor profile.
In comparison the Gris style wines tend to have moderate to low acidity, high alcohol and an almost "oily" texture that contributes to a full-bodied nature. This is the style mainly grown in New Zealand.
Tasting Notes: Light golden colour with just a hint of pink. Distinct honeyed nose. Full bodied with a stone fruit (nectarine) flavours evident on the palate with a good medium acid balance and long fruity finish.
Amazing value at $8.
Conclusion: I admit I was surprised. The ALDI wine selection we chose was exceptional value for money.
None of the wine was at 'special occasion' level but for every day drinking paying 50% of what you normally pay for wine can't be sneezed at.
We will continue to work our way through their offerings and even may try the $4s. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Australia has a reputation that all our wildlife is out to kill us and the population survives purely due to good luck.
I am a little bit bemused about this especially when visiting the USA and being confronted with this perception.
We don't have animals which are a danger. No bears, no mountain lions, no bison, no moose, no wolves.
We have crocodiles, they have alligators.
We have nasty spiders (Funnel Web), so do they (Recluse).
We both have the same kinds of sharks (Great White).
We have kangaroos on the roads, they have deer.
They have nasty snakes, so do we.
But wait a minute, when it comes to snakes we do take the prize.
There are around 140 species of snakes in the country. Huffington Post listed the twenty five most dangerous in the world. Australia accounted for twenty one of them
Here is the list in descending order of venom toxicity  (* = non Australian)
Inland taipan
Eastern brown snake
Coastal taipan
Eastern states tiger snake
Reevsby inland tiger snake
Beaked sea snake
Western Australian tiger snake
Chappell Island tiger snake
Death adder
Gwardar or western brown snake
Australian copperhead
Indian cobra*
Black mamba*
Dugite or spotted brown snake
Papuan black snake
Yellow-banded snake
Rough scaled snake
King cobra*
Blue-bellied black snake
Collett’s snake
King brown or mulga snake
Red-bellied black snake
Small-eyed snake
Spotted snake
Eastern diamond-back rattlesnake*

Now, many of these are in specific and remote areas and others have a larger distribution range.
The one we deal with here is the red bellied black snake. They are very common in the south east coastal part of the country and grow up to 2m in length.
The snake primarily preys on frogs, reptiles and small mammals.  They also eat other snakes, including those of their own species.
They are normally timid and try to escape when approached. They only become aggressive when cornered or threatened. They have a habit of thinking they can't be seen in longer grass when escaping and stop and just lie there. This is when you can step on them which provokes a reaction. This is especially common in spring when they are waking up from hibernation and are a bit slow.
Our main 'defence' is keeping the grass short around the house and surrounding areas. We have established a 200m buffer zone. Inside that zone they are "relocated". Anywhere else we just walk around them or wait for them to move on.
I occasionally come across them in the vineyard blocks mainly when they have been entangled in the netting.
When this happens they are humanely dispatched.

When working in the paddocks we normally wear boots and jeans as a precaution. No putting hands down holes or sitting on logs before a thorough check.
But don't think the farm is alive with these creatures. We probably see a dozen a season in various locations and we have learnt to live with them.
And the local hospital has a good supply of anti venom.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The ALDI Wine Experiment / Part 2 / Some Results

-Peter Mertes Mosel Riesling 2014-
Riesling is a white grape variety which originated in the Rhein region of Germany.
This particular wine comes from the nearby Mosel area.
The Peter Mertes Company, based in Bernkastel-Kues, appears to be quite diverse in its wine interests and claims to be Germany's leading winery.
This wine is classified as Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) so is the lowest level of the Gerrman Quality Wine category so can be considered an every day quaffer.
Tasting Notes: Light golden colour. Stone fruit with a slight hint of citrus on the nose. We noticed that Riesling expressed itself this way in Austria. Must be a European climatic influence thing as Riesling in Australia is predominantly citrus especially in the cooler regions.
Despite the low alcohol (11.0%), the wine had good mouth feel, a very slight spritz and reasonable fruit/acid balance. Not a great deal of length however. We found that initially the acidity was dominant but balance improved when the wine was allowed to 'warm up' a little.The back label suggested 12°C. I think we tend to drink white wine too cold in this country (and our reds too warm).
QbA wines are allowed to be chaptalized and one suspects this could be the case here given the high acidity.
Not a stunner, but for $10 a great value summer quaffing wine.
-Baron Amarillo Rioja Reserva 2010-
The Reserva classification in Rioja is the second highest tier. The classifications however are not an indication of wine quality, just how they have been aged. Reservas can vary in price from the teens to the hundreds of dollars
This wine was made by Bodegas Isidro Milagro one of the top 10 wineries in Spain. Their winery is in Alfaro, Rioja. 
Tasting Notes: Deep ruby red colour. Oakey nose with little fruit apparent. Light to medium-bodied, with some hint of cherries and blackcurrants on the palate but the oakiness dominates. Fine tannins and medium length oaky finish. Passable at the price ($10) but not the best Rioja Reserva I have tasted at similar price levels.
-Kaiora Bay Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014-
I was not able to track down the maker of this wine. Central Otago on the south island of New Zealand is the world's southern-most commercial wine growing region. It is best known for Pinot Noir which accounts for about 70% of the plantings.
Tasting Notes: Dense red colour with just a hint of purple. It is still a young wine. The first thing you notice on the nose is a distinct earthy aroma not the usual strawberry fruit driven one normally associated with the cheaper end of the Pinot market. This complexity follows through on the palate with good fruit, fine tannins and reasonable length. An above average Pinot for this price bracket ($15)

Saturday, March 05, 2016

The Milton Show 2016

The annual local rural show has rolled around again.
Nothing much new happening with the usual exhibits and events taking place.
The co driver received one first, two seconds and two highly commended for her quilt entries.

This year it wasn't raining which was a big surprise for everyone.
Instead it was hot and very steamy.
Because of this we didn't last long at the venue. No sitting about enjoying the ring events, horses and cattle.
Autumn is late this year, making up for the summer that never was.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The ALDI Wine Experiment / Part 1

ALDI is the well known German supermarket chain which has over 400 stores in the eastern states of Australia.
It opened its first four stores in Adelaide, South Australia, last month and has plans for up to fifty in South Australia and Western Australia.
There is one in our town.
They are well known for cheap grocery prices and have carved out a 12% market share in that sector. However they have predominantly private brand products and our experience is, apart from commodities, quality can be variable.
They also sell wine, beer and spirits.
Some wine is extremely cheap; down to $4 bottle. They source from all over the world but again, despite coming from recognized regions and having fancy names, they are 'Made for ALDI'.
This is not a unique situation as the other two major supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths, have a myriad of own brands too. Rather than labeling these wines “Woolworths Shiraz” or “Coles Chardonnay”, the wines look like they are a winery owned brands. 
Details of this perceived 'deception' are here
However we have found a few Coles branded wines to our liking but they are certainly not as cheap as ALDI's.
Friends have occasionally brought bottles of ALDI wine for dinners and they have been fine. Some have even won medals at wine shows.

So we thought we would buy a selection and give them 'a go'.
We decided that we should buy by region and select its best known varietal.
Mosel (Germany) Riesling $10
Rioja (Spain) Tempranillo $10
Chianti (Italy) Sangiovese $10
Loire (France) Sauvignon Blanc $8
Central Otago (New Zealand) Pinot Noir $15
Nelson (New Zealand) Pinot Gris $8
Apart from the Pinot Noir the price levels are about half of what we would normally pay for an every day wine. But I just couldn't bring myself to try any of the $4 selection.

We shall do some serious tastings over the next  few weeks.
Results will be posted in due course.