Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tasting Australia: Elegance, intensity and value? Absolutely!

I am a huge fan of blind tasting to truly judge the quality of wine. Blind tasting not only allows you to forget about any preconceptions you bring to the table about the producer; it also removes the price tags and the labels that are created to incite reactions in the taster. Some tasters will set these wines into flights of prestige, yet I feel that even that is cheating in a way. In my mind, if a $20 bottle of wine scores “Wine of the Night” over bottles that cost $80 - $100, then so be it.

This week I brought a group of tasters together to help me taste through a sample of wines from Yalumba, an Australian winery, making wines from the Barossa valley and crediting themselves as the oldest family owned winery in Australia. The majority of wines showcased a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. (Yalumba's Website!)

The idea was simple: take the three samples and place them against another three bottles from my cellar… AND pull no punches. From Yalumba we had one of their top bottles, the 2004 Signature, followed by the 2008 Scribbler, which is something of a seconds bottle to the Signature. Lastly from Yalumba, we had the 2008 Patchwork, which is a straight Barossa Shiraz. The competition read like a who’s who of Australian wine starting with Penfolds 2003 RWT, one of my favorite bottles coming out of Australia. Also, there was the 2006 Watcher, a Rolf Binder bottling that delivers amazing value for its price. Lastly, we had none other than Wine Spectator’s runner up for Wine of the Year, Two Hands 2008, Bella’s Garden.

The wines were all served in bottles of similar size and weight and then covered in aluminum foil. One guest was then asked to place them in any random order, at which time they were numbered one through six. The notes are listed in the order these were tasted with a rundown of the taster’s reactions, and yes, the results were surprising…

Flight 1 was an amazing set of wines. Not only did it contain the “Wine of the Night” but it also showed the runner-up of the evening. In the end, it was the Yalumba, Signature 2004 ($40) which beat out what has long been my favorite bottle from Australia, the Penfolds RWT 2003 ($85).

1. Penfolds, RWT Shiraz 2003 – The 2003 RWT opened up with cherry fruits, dusty chocolate cocoa powder, rock dust, licorice and animal fur on the nose. The palate started tight but turned plush and velvety with time in the glass as flavors of red fruits, black pepper, dark chocolate and leather strap washed across the palate. The finish was long and refreshing. (93 Points)

2. Yalumba, The Scribbler 2008 – The nose on the 2008 Scribbler was, at first, baffling but once the initial surprise faded, it turned truly lovely, as aromas of citrus zest, prunes, brown sugar and violet candies formed a gorgeous bouquet. On the palate, I found dark fruit, wild berries and herbs with a plush and palate saturating texture, which led to a very pretty finish. (90 points)

3. Yalumba, The Signature 2004 – The 2004 Signature was utterly captivating with its aromas of cranberry sauce and bright sour cherry with soy, green stems and black pepper. The palate was focused and concentrated, yet fresh with dark chocolate covered cherries which turned to sour berry and savory broth with salty minerals. The finish was smooth and velvety as the dark red fruits slowly faded. (94 Points) - “The Wine of the Night”

Flight 2 was more difficult to judge, as each wine showed individual qualities but completely different styles. However, the best part about this flight was that it put some serious value wines head-to-head and turned out a $20 winner. Fetish, The Watcher 2006 ($20) was the wine of the flight and easily beat the $45 Two Hands Bell’s Garden 2008, which has just recently won runner up to Wine of the Year but on this night almost finished last.

4. Yalumba, Shiraz 2008 – The nose showed sweet cherry candy with animal musk, confectioners sugar, burnt butter, undergrowth and a hint of violets. On the palate, I found dark fruits with cinnamon and butter, which led to a soft red fruit finish. (89 Points)

5. Fetish, The Watcher 2006 – The 2006 Watcher showed to be a beautifully elegant and cerebral wine as aromas of florist shop, animal musk, toasty oak and green stems filled the senses. The creamy, full bodied palate showed red fruit, holiday spice and earthy minerality, which turned to sour fruit on the fresh, gorgeous finish. (92 Points)

6. Two Hands, Bella’s Garden 2008 – I tend to refer to wines like this as a party in a bottle. This wine showed big, rich aromas cherry, clove, cinnamon, chocolate and caramel, yet still came across as fresh. On the palate, I found black cherry jam, plum sauce, cinnamon and dark chocolate, but with a perceptible amount of heat. The finish showed red candied fruit and lingered for well over a minute. (90 points.)

The final results:

1st Place - Yalumba, The Signature 2004 (94 Points) “The Wine of the Night”
Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2nd. Penfolds, RWT Shiraz 2003 (93 Points)
3rd. Fetish, The Watcher 2006 (92 Points)
4th. Yalumba, The Scribbler 2008 (90 Points)
5th. Two Hands, Bella’s Garden 2008 (90 Points)
6th. Yalumba, Shiraz 2008 (89 points)

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