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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Posted: March 25, 2014 By Harvey Steiman
Several Sydney insiders told me Sepia was the place to go for a great wine-pairing menu, so it was my first stop after arriving in Australia last week. Chef Martin Benn, once a protégé of Marco Pierre White in London, indulges a modernist bent since he left his post as chef de cuisine at Tetsuya's in 1999. His wife, Vicki Wild, once Tetsuya's personal assistant, brings warmth to the sharp-edged dining room on the ground floor of a Darling Harbour high-rise, and sommelier Rodney Setter has built up a broad and knowledgeably chosen international wine list of more than 1,100 selections, mostly current vintages although older wines, especially Bordeaux, Rhône and Australian Shiraz bottlings, scatter throughout.
Posted: March 17, 2014 By Harvey Steiman
Ripeness (and its kissing cousin, alcohol) seems to be the wine issue of the year. So I made it a point to attend winery group In Pursuit of Balance's panel discussion on the subject last week at its San Francisco confab and tasting.
The panel, led by London-based wine writer Jamie Goode, included Justin Willett of Tyler in Santa Barbara, Josh Jensen of Calera in Mt. Harlan, Wells Guthrie of Copaín in Anderson Valley and Katy Wilson of LaRue in Sonoma Coast. Each presented two wines, exploring just how much ripeness matters in determining a Pinot Noir's quality.
Posted: March 11, 2014 By Harvey Steiman
When the perfectly named (for a sommelier) Aldo Sohm went to work at the classic New York French fish restaurant Le Bernardin seven years ago, one of his first special assignments was to select wines for chef Eric Ripert's birthday party.
The entrée was escolar with sauce Bearnaise. Sohm, unaware that Ripert famously loves to drink red Bordeaux with everything and damn the consequences, chose Hubert de Lignier Morey St-Denis Chaffots 2001, a deliciously fragrant and silky red Burgundy. "It was drinking perfect," said the affable sommelier, still with a tinge of his native Austria in his accent.
Ten minutes before the event started, however, the maître d' and two captains approached the new guy. "They started yelling, ‘Didn't they tell you chef only likes Bordeaux?'"
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