harvey steiman

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Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

An Australian One-Stop Winery: Innocent Bystander

Yarra Valley favorite shows what a tasting room can be

Posted: May 15, 2014  By Harvey Steiman

Healesville, a Yarra Valley town an hour's drive from Melbourne, attracted me not only for the wines, but also a visit to Innocent Bystander, where Phil Sexton makes Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the steely style currently in vogue. His Giant Steps label, which focuses on single-vineyard Yarra Valley wines, often rates among my leaders for Chardonnay.

More than the wines intrigued me. The modern building is an architectural award winner for its angled placement, green certifications and distinctive long swaths of wooden slats on the exterior. The 70,000-case cellar door (Aussie talk for tasting room) also bakes artisan bread, makes pizza, mongs cheese and pulls some of the better espresso in the neighborhood. Dipping into the lunch menu is rewarding.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

Finding the Strike Zone for Syrah

Onetime baseball player takes a cool (climate) approach in Australia

Posted: May 13, 2014  By Harvey Steiman

Gary Mills of Jamsheed makes modern-style wines that are polar opposite of what most Americans think of as Aussie Shiraz. He even calls them Syrah, to emphasize the difference. They have firm structure, open texture and a savory spiciness around pure fruit at the core. They display tremendous and distinctive personalities, even as alcohol levels seldom exceed 14 percent.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

Whaddya Mean, 'Liquid Rock'?

When tasting notes specify flavors that can seem unpleasant

Posted: May 8, 2014  By Harvey Steiman

The photograph on Twitter showed a lineup of Hermitage bottles. The caption read "Liquid Rock."

This was obviously meant to laud the mineral character that famously runs through great Hermitage reds, made from Syrah on granite slopes. I get it. Minerality is the flavor darling of the moment in wine. We may not agree on exactly what it is—a whiff of the aroma we get off of wet pavement? River stones? That bricklike character that basalt rocks can give off? Or maybe just a vibrancy that comes from high acidity? But wines that have it get extra kudos from many sommeliers and wine writers, including me.

News & Features  :  Tasting Highlights

10 Outstanding Australian Shirazes

New reviews of expressive reds from Down Under

Posted: May 2, 2014  By Harvey Steiman

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

California Comes to Australia

Surprises in Clarendon Hills from Jackson Family

Posted: April 28, 2014  By Harvey Steiman

Australians were worried when Jackson Family, which seems to be all over the California wine world, added a historic vineyard in Clarendon Hills to its voluminous holdings in 2001. A big California wine company taking over 250 acres of vineyards that included some vines that had been producing enviable wines for more than 50 years? Seemed like heresy. The Jacksons renamed it Yangarra Estate and quietly went to work on improving things.

Then, in February 2012, Jackson Family won the bidding for the historic 450-acre Hickinbotham Vineyard, about 2 miles away. Rather than making its own wines, Hickinbotham had been producing grapes for Clarendon Hills' single-vineyard bottlings and material for Penfolds Grange and Eileen Hardy Shiraz. Heady stuff.

On my recent visit to Australia I checked in on some experiments at Yangarra and tasted through the debut vintage of Hickinbotham Clarendon Hills Estate wines, due to be released next year.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

Wines for Oysters

Is it better to be neutral or flavorful? Putting wine-and-oyster pairings to the test

Posted: April 22, 2014  By Harvey Steiman

I can't help it. I am a wine guy. I want my wines to contribute to the conversation on my palate when I drink them with food. That comes to mind when I occasionally participate in fun tastings such as the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition. I joined in on the 20th annual judging as much for unlimited quantities of really good oysters as for the wines, but also to test out a theory.

My brain says, let's find a wine that can stand on its own but also makes nice with the mollusks. Jon Rowley, the tasting's organizer, takes a different approach. "Don't taste the wine first," he admonished us. He wanted us to chew up the oyster first to establish its flavor and texture in our mouths, then wash it down with the wine.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

Dipping into Natural Wines

A snapshot of the scene in Australia

Posted: April 16, 2014  By Harvey Steiman

Winemakers who keep their wineries spotless and hygienic would have been horrified by the sight that greeted me at Jauma, one of the stars of the natural wine movement in Australia. Flies buzzed about a motley assortment of upturned barrels and plastic tanks—any handy vessel large enough to contain a fermentation—the tops draped with old tablecloths and bedsheets.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

Where Is Torbreck Headed?

And what of Dave Powell, the ousted founder?

Posted: April 9, 2014  By Harvey Steiman

Torbreck, which ranks high on anyone's list of modern Australian wine producers, made headlines late last year when Dave Powell, who founded Torbreck in 1994, was summarily fired. Owner Pete Kight, the American entrepreneur who started CheckFree and also owns Quivira winery in Sonoma County, refused to renew Powell's contract.

A crossfire of accusations got ugly, lighting up the Australian press for several weeks. Powell has since been served with court papers invoking a non-compete clause in his contract. He cannot make any wine on his own in 2014, the vintage just wrapping up. The lawsuit goes to trial April 28 in Adelaide.

I recently visited Torbreck to taste the newest vintages, and then sat down with Powell to hear his plans for the future.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

Terroir? What Exactly Do You Mean?

Is it just the place, or how it defines the wine?

Posted: April 7, 2014  By Harvey Steiman

Actually tasting the effects of terroir in a wine can be problematic. This elusiveness makes cynics wave off the idea as nothing but a marketing ploy by French vintners looking for an edge. Although that does happen, I do believe terroir applies not just in France but anywhere in the world serious efforts go into the wine.

We often can't agree on what the word means, however. For some of us, myself included, it comprises all the physical elements of a place that can affect the character of wine made from it. To others it's a specific character, or a cluster of characteristics, they expect to find in the wine at hand, even if introduced by the winemaker.

In other words, is terroir about the basic material, or how it expresses itself in the wine?

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

A Starry Wine from Heathcote

Cluster M45 is looking a lot like a classic

Posted: April 2, 2014  By Harvey Steiman

On my first day in Victoria, the cool-climate capital of Australia, I went up to Heathcote to see what Michel Chapoutier has been up to. Unfortunately, the Rhône-based vintner arrives to check on the 2014 harvest after I must move on to appointments in South Australia. With limited time, I figured to taste a few fermenting 2014s and perhaps a few older bottles, meet the rest of the crew and get back to Melbourne to check in at my hotel before it got to be too late.

To my pleasant surprise, Ron Laughton was there waiting with a nifty vertical of La Pleiade, produced in partnership with Chapoutier. Because the original name is a bit too close to a preexisting California wine, the U.S. label is Cluster M45, the scientific name for Pleiades, the constellation visible to both of the partners from their homes a hemisphere away from each other.

WineSpectator.com members can read my non-blind scores and tasting notes.

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