Happy New Year!
Now that the weather here in Sydney has gone from ‘glorious’ to ‘typically wet January shit’, it’s time for the first look at the laptop in 2023.
Yeah, I’m probably running on 65%…
Meanwhile, we emptied a small ocean of wines and beers here at casa Graham over the past week or so, with a tidy combo of serious stuff and pool-friendly easy drinking in the mix. Aside from the last two days, It’s been gloriously sunny and dry here in Sydney town (so a higher ratio of pool wines), which is a welcome surprise in a La Nina summer…
But enough weather chat, how was your Christmas? Drink anything good?
If I had to pick a single drinking highlight, it’d be the 2004 Lanson Noble Blanc de Blancs. I clearly underrated it last year, and this second bottle was sublime. A Champagne tour de force, with a full kaleidoscope of flavours, spanning leesy opulence thanks to 18 years ageing, then surprisingly snappy citrusy bits plus all sorts of secondary nuttiness. You want the full-tilt Champagne sensual experience? Lanson is calling. Now upgraded to 19/20, 96/100 if we want some scores.
The obligatory Bollinger NV magnum made an appearance at the Graham Christmas too, and it was only good, rather than last year’s great bottle. Still a lovely Champagne, with more textural width than so many equivalent big house NV Champagne.
There was a shedload more than just Champagne too. There was much Hawker West Coast IPA on the beer front, which remains both delicious and a bargain in the grand scheme of decent WCIPA. On the WCIPA theme, I had the east/west duo from Beaches Brewery for interest too, with the West Coast a winner because it was less astringent. I liked the Hawker Dunkel special release too, although more northern hemisphere Xmas vibes than Australia. My brother-in-law slung us two mixed six packs from Eden Brewery, with the Birch Wit my early favourite.
Other than that? So much wines. Let’s dive in:
Howard Park Allingham Chardonnay 2020
Howard Park makes glorious, underrated Chardonnay, and this is the best of them. Allingham is all Margaret River fruit from a south-facing block. What I like is the apparent complexity – plenty of oak, lees etc, in a typically worked style – but it’s airy and so tight and refreshing, with mouthwatering acidity and this unquestioned freshness. You come for the almost old-school waves of flavour layers yet it’s wonderfully vibrant too. Just delicious. Best drinking: now to at six years. 18.7/20, 95/100. 13%, $92. Would I buy it? Yes.
Primo Joseph Sparkling Red 2022
My Christmas staple, with two bottles emptied on different days. July 2022 disgorgement here, and long sold out, sadly. I thought the first bottle looked too youthful – a bit too much chocolatey oak and fruit. A young, brash thing. But the second bottle was marvellous! Hooray! Another glorious advertisement for sparkling red! This is a unique wine too – mainly Shiraz and Cabernet, with Primo’s Moda Cab Merlot & Angel Gully Shiraz at the core. But the real magic is the final addition from an old solera which has a bit of everything in it – including old Grange, Australian vintage fortified back to the 40s and more. This reserve wine gives Joseph Sparkling Red an extra edge of rancio and licorice and whispers of dusty old bricks that feels like Australiana, and when coupled with the opulent base wine, you get quite the experience. A real cascading bold lusciousness here, with layers of dark plum, milk chocolate. It feels lavish and plump, yet the depths hold all sorts of secondary interest to make every glass different. Such complexity! A magnificent thing. Best drinking: good now, but a few years will only enhance the complexity. 18.7/20, 95/100. 13.5%, $90. Would I buy it? Yes.
Kumeu River Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2017
I’d be disappointed if this wasn’t great tbh. From the cellar, and it still looks so tight. There’s an envelope of funk, with a little golden toast, before a palate that leans towards grapefruit tightness with more oak/bottle age/fruit richness at the edges. Where this gets you is the refinement. There’s weight, but coupled with excellent acidity that feels natural and right, with a late preserved lemon character for interest. Why drink 1er Burgundy when this is better + cheaper? Best drinking: good now, maybe even better next year, and five more years no probs. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13.5%, $80 (more like $100 now).
Oakridge Vineyard Series Henk Pinot Noir 2021
I think the ‘21 Oakridge Pinot range might be better than Chardonnay, which almost never happens. Just this perfect ripeness and energy in the ’21s make them compelling drinks. This 2021 Henk Pinot Noir release is a sexy beast, too – all glossy red fruit with a lifted lipstick red fruit and a lift of oak. This has a real essence-of-Yarra-Pinot ripe red fruit mode that is instantly recognisable and attractive. Just a little stemmy influence on the nose and palate (20% whole bunches), but it’s more bright fruit (and quite savoury, too) than anything. It gets a bit stern on the finish, though that should resolve with another year in bottle. High-quality Pinot. Best drinking: good now, likely even better next year. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13.2%, $45. Would I buy it? Absolutely.
Pooley Cooinda Vale Vineyard Pinot Noir 2021
Fascinating to taste this and the Oakridge close together. This Pooley is all about plum fruit, with beetroot and a whiff of spice. It’s principally a ripe, purple-fruited wine, but it’s also cool and subtle, with that coiffed power that Coal River Valley Pinot does so well. Beetroot, raspberry, cloves, with a palate more rounded than tannic. The Oakridge has the powerful right hook, the Pooley a well-timed jab. Silken power and another great wine. Best drinking: great now, and at least five healthy years ahead. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13.5%, $75. Would I buy it? Worth a bottle.
Raymond Lafon Sauternes 2017
The first bottle from my unopened case, and I was nervous. Would it be a bit disappointing, like the last of the 09? It took a while to open up in the glass too, all a bit shy and wound up in structure. Interestingly, it was sublime by late on day one and into day two (so patience is welcome). Quite a sulphur hit when it first opens too. For context, the Raymond Lafon estate shares a boundary with d’Yquem and the wines can be just as impressive, if more variable. This 2017 is a classic wine too, with a golden honey mandarin nose that is so achetypal, even if it lacks some of the lemon curd of some vintages. Plenty of botrytis this year too – this feels like a big whack of a wine, backed by chunky, oak-derived texture. It just feels more compact and more dense this vintage, complete with a bit of warmth on the finish, even if it doesn’t taste ‘sweet’. By day two, there was more marmalade openness too. Hold for the best years. Best drinking: wait two years and then drink over a decade. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14%, I paid $65 for 750ml. Would I buy it? Glad I still have five bottles.
Robert Stein Dry Riesling 2022
The king of NSW Riesling on fire again. Intensity is the story of this Mudgee Riesling with a huge wall of citrus fruit that is so impressive. This vintage is just a little more celery and grapefruit leanness, but it doesn’t detail the grapefruity power. It’s almost chewy in its acid-shaped depth. Park your pretensions; this is more than a Mudgee wine. It’s a great Australian Riesling. Best drinking: now. I like this young, although cellar releases with 3-4 years of age win trophies all the time. 18.5/20, 94/100. 11%, $40. Would I buy it? Yes.
Kirrihill Partner Series Riesling 2022
Kirrihill’s best wines are Riesling, and this doesn’t disappoint. From the Stanway family vineyard in the Clare Valley and it’s a very linear Clare style. Great length, but it’s not an obvious wine – just a subtly intense flow of lime juice. That subtlety perhaps stops if going to gold medal, but the length is top shelf. Genuinely enjoyable (and well-priced). Best drinking: nowish. 18/20, 93/100. 12%, $25. Would I buy it? Yes.
Jansz Late Disgorged 2014
I had this the day after the Bollinger, and it was on the same par for intensity but with more complexity. Really impressive Australian sparkling (and affordable in context). Eight years on lees, and you can see the brioche notes on the nose, but it’s tight and citrusy rather than some big fat leesy thing. Jansz house style is always about delicacy, and here the ageing helps deliver more flavour. Excellent balance and interest. Really smart. Best drinking: good now. 18/20, 93/100. 12.5%, $61. Would I buy it? Yes.
Longview Macclesfield Syrah 2021
Every bit the Syrah it is too. Mid-weight Adelaide Hills red with an ‘I’ve been to Hermitage’ feel to it, with polished plum fruit, plenty of spice, some squishy berries. Lovely lithe palate is pure Syrah with a bunchy influence to give structure. It’s just a little bit jubey and primary, but that just adds to the sensuality. Nice wine. Best drinking: good now, and will be interesting for up to a decade. 18/20, 93/100. 13.5%, $45. Would I buy it? Yes.
Rouleur Pinot Gris et al 2022
The latest skin contact release from Matt East, based around Pinot Gris (90% of the blend) from Woori Yallock in the Yarra. Pinot Gris 90%. 7% Gewurz this year, which is more than last year (with East noting how it gives ‘some lovely mid palate richness’) while the Chardonnay is throttled back a bit because it tends to dominate the blend. 60% of the Gris component spends about 5 days on skins, while the Gewurz and Chard was pressed to barrel and kept on full solids until blending. While the pitch is all about aromatics, this is a textural beast, with gentle tangerine fruit that is creamier and richer than expected before tangy phenolics pickup through the finish. The generous orange juicy palate has all sorts of nuances, with the thrust of chewy acidity on the finish gives zip and freshness too. High quality and interesting Gris this. Best drinking: good now. 18/20, 93/100. $36. Would I buy it? Yes.
Yalumba The Steeple Shiraz 2018
Part of the newer wave of single vineyard Yalumba Shiraz releases. Comes off a biodynamic vineyard in Light Pass planted in 1919. Matured in fancy Sylvain barrels (made from 350yr old oak). The only thing that isn’t modern is the cork seal, but hey, that’s Yalumba. Great purple colour – seriously vibrant. Bright purple bold fruit drives the palate without being fruity – it’s more molten than that. Bold, powerful purple fruit. The finish is just a bit tart, but not to the point of distraction. If anything, this is still coming together. Smart wine. Best drinking: likely next year or the year after as a start. 18/20, 93/100. 14%, $80. Would I buy it? A glass or two.
About Time Echunga Chardonnay 2021
I loved the Woodside Chardonnay, and this isn’t far behind (albeit quite different). All clone 76, the juice is wild fermented, with full malo, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. Great winemaking recipe for Chardonnay flavour! Just 130 cases produced. Less obvious than the Woodside, more green fruit and super snappy green melon with lemon grapefruit acidity. Arguably too tight, but with great acidity. Lovely vitality, but needs more time to come together. Best drinking: next year and for five to eight years (easy) after that. 17.7/20, 92/100. 12.6%, $38. Would I buy it? Share a bottle.
Domaine A Lady A Sauvignon Blanc 2019
Too young by half. This Lady A vintage needs another 3-5 for best results. As ever, this feels like Bordeaux Blanc, the nose asparagus and unripe melon aromatics, but the palate is not singular – it’s about acid and oak layers. Angles, softened up by bottle age and oak maturation, with the cool poise that this unique Tasmanian Sauv is renowned for. It just needs more years to get a little more mouthfilling and delicious. Best drinking: see above. 17.7/20, 92/100+. 13.5%, $80. Would I buy it? Not yet.
Gundog Estate Smoking Barrel Red 2021
Matt Burton loves to blend, and here he has married Hunter Valley & Hilltops Shiraz. It’s a different sort of wine too. Mid-weight, with this purple iodine fruit and a meaty coffee bean edge. Really savoury sort of beast, but also has this cranberry raspberry juiciness, even if it’s a smidgen sweet and sour. Interest here. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13.5%, $35. Would I buy it? A glass or so.
Longview Juno Rosato 2022
One of the finest pink wines in the country, and in good form here. For the ’22 vintage, Nebbiolo is now joined by Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir). Salmon orange, there is a bit more of a watermelon flavour this year too, the palate texture again a high point – it’s generous yet not too ripe, still a pale and savoury style. The acid is a tiny bit raw, but that’s it. Otherwise superior, primary-fruited-yet-textural, drinking rosé. Best drinking: now. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13%, $28. Would I buy it? Yes.
Oakridge Vineyard Series Hazeldene Chardonnay 2021
Pre-pubescent edition of this hero single vineyard Chardonnay. Classy, if slightly raw, the nose is a bit wound up in milk bottle and clay sulphur-based characters, the palate tight and almost crystalline in its lemon tang and understated white peach. History and obvious structure dictates this will come good, but it’s a bit angular now. Best drinking: give it two years and then drink for at least another 5-8 after that. 17.7/20, 92/100+. 13.5%, $45. Would I buy it? Maybe later.
Rouleur Strawberry Fields Pinot Meunier 2022
Bony light red with great summery style – although, don’t chill it as it just looks too spicy and tight. Based on fruit from Clare Burder’s renowned vineyard up on the Whitlands High Plateau. Picked easter weekend (and still sub 13% alc!). Just 10% whole bunches this vintage, yet it looks so spicy and brightly aromatic. It looks like pomegranate juice or cough medicine – very light ruby. The nose is a delight – raspberry and pomegranate with more than a little black spice. Spicy, fine-boned style, light to medium bodied, and then just a bit dry to finish. Maybe a want more fruit, but that might lose the delicacy. It’s not unripe either. Ultimately, highly smashable. Best drinking: nowish. 17.7/20, 92/100. 12.8%, $36. Would I buy it? Worth a bottle.
Coste-Caumartin Pommard 1er Cru Les Fremiers 2016
Proper old-school Burgundy charm. Cool and savoury mid-weight style with light red fruits and a prettiness only tempered by some drying tannins. Tomato leaf, a bit of strawberry, and just enough ripe fruit to be interesting. It’s not going to win trophies, but the mode here is so classic low-key Pommard. Best drinking: over the next five years easy. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.5%, $150. Would I buy it? Worth a glass or two.
Huet Clos du Bourg Premiere Trie Moelleux Vouvray 2015
I had high hopes, but this was a smidgen more forward than I’d wanted. Golden yellow. there’s this opulent honeysuckle and orange rind nose but with a fatty, thick toffee edge. The palate is still full of opulent honeysuckle fruit and then plenty of lemon drop acidity to even things out. Drinkable and enjoyable, It would be a bloody delight if it wasn’t just a bit advanced. Best drinking: now. 17.5/20, 91/100. 11.5%, $150. Would I buy it? Maybe a younger vintage.
Jansz Vintage Rosé 2018
Smart pink fizz this, even if it’s too delicate. There’s some bready red Pinot fruit and some leesy complexity. Very fresh aperitif mode, with red apples. Great freshness and the only thing missing here is a little complexity (which the late disgorged has). 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.5%, $54. Would I buy it? A few glasses.
Longview Macclesfield Gruner Veltliner 2022
Adelaide Hills Gruner continues to power on. This is pretty correct too – lemon, celery and grapefruit. It’s a bit lean but clean and crisp with the flutter of white pepper crunch. Pleasant, fresh drink and varietal, needing only a bit more intensity. Best drinking: nowish. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.5%, $30. Would I buy it? Worth a glass.
Piper Hiedsieck Essentiel NV
Piper was announced as a B Corp company late last year, joining a smorgasbord of producers aiming for the certification. This bottle came as part of the celebration round. Essentiel is an extra brut Piper release, made with 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Meunier & 20% Chardonnay. 20% reserve wine. Disgorged 05/2020 and put down into the cellar in 2016. 5g/L dosage. I love the transparency. It’s a pretty well balanced Pinot dominant style, but just a bit strict, and then falls away on the finish. Solid quality, but overshadowed by the local fizz especially given the price. Best drinking: now. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.5%, $80. Would I buy it? A glass.
Pooley Cooinda Vale Vineyard Rosé 2022
Tassie Pinot rosé on the serious scale. Very pale salmon, it’s all lifted pink fruit, maybe unripe but so crunchy in its acid leanness. Nice bright pink fruit and purity here, lovely softness too. Maybe needs a bit more complexity for the dollars, but v. pleasant. Best drinking: now. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.2%, $50. Would I buy it? A glass.
Tyrrell’s Stevens Semillon 2011
I have a bit of this in the cellar, so it needs a regular check-in. The rest can stay in there a bit longer tbh. Still bright, straw green, there’s a little lanolin creeping in but still more about green apple with just a tiny bit of toast. Still looks very primary, lean, and a bit green-edged. Hold it tight, as it’s in a development hole right now. Best drinking: later. 17.5/20, 91/100+. 11%, I paid $26 back in the day. Still a bargain.
Kientzler Osterberg Riesling 2019
Waxy mid-life Alsace Riesling. It feels so stuck – too lemony and somewhat primary to be complex, but not snappy-edged enough to be truly refreshing. The underpinnings are solid – it’s not a bad wine – but it needs time to come out of the development hole. 16.8/20, 89/100. 13.5%, $65. Would I buy it? Not at the moment.
Bimbadgen Growers Tempranillo Rosé 2022
Hunter Valley fruit. It’s a bit candied and yet tart too. Acidity and sweetness in a clash of elements. I didn’t see the balance here. Best drinking: now. 16/20, 87/100. 11.5%, $28. Would I buy it? No.
Valentina Cubi Meliloto Recioto della Valpolicella 2010
Something of a disappointment, but I probably shouldn’t have left it this long. I dragged this in a suitcase back from Europe and had one of those rosy memories of how it tasted on a sunny day in Valpolicella. But it is gone. Tired, brick brown red, with alcohol sweetness lifting off, all alcohol coffee sweetness. Palate looks too sweet and oxidised. Gone. Best drinking: Forget it. 14.5/20, 80/100. 16%, $ I can’t remember. Would I buy it? Not again.
Marcarini Barolo Brunate 2012
Disappointment two. Not a great vintage, but still, no reason why it should be oxidised (and the last bottle wasn’t). Perfect cork, but completely gone. Tea brown and completely dried-out leather juice. Gross. Corks, eh? Best drinking: years ago. 14.5/20, 80/100. 14%, I think this was circa 30 Euros. Would I buy it? I love Marcarini, but not this one.
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I had the exact same experience with the 2002 Huet CdB Moellux over Xmas.
Very oxidative with a rusty colour, lots of bitter candied orange rind. Sadly a little flabby and just lacking any freshness to really give it some life.
Twas a shame, as I’ve been wowed by older versions of these before.
That 2004 Champers sounds impeccable… Must hunt some down!