Archive for July, 2010

Voyager Estate Cab Merlot and an outrageous slander of Australian wine

The quality bargains just keep coming don’t they? This one on offer from Wine Exchange Asia but note, the offer closes this coming Monday at noon, so don’t dilly dally.

2005 / Voyager Estate / Margaret River / Cabernet Merlot / S$53 – Wine Front rates this wine at 95 points and suggests drinking 2012-2020. If you’re not a subscriber to Wine Front, you probably should be. It’s not expensive and you’ll get access to a great range of tasting notes on Australian wines. As a trade subscriber, I’m allowed to quote their notes on this wine as follows:

“Love the smell of it – blackcurrant, red berries, liquorice and chocolate
with a leafy tobacco perfume. Oak lives here too, but it’s an unobtrusive and welcome guest – just the gentle scent of vanilla and wood spice. It’s medium bodied smooth and seamless with clean fresh acidity and exemplary length. Rich, yet discreet and refined – it’s typical of the best wines from this classy Margaret River vintage”

Now here’s the best part. If you were in Australia, you’d expect to pay the RRP of A$60, even at the on-line discounters it’s A$50. Price to you in Singapore S$53! Go for it.

And as it’s Friday, time for another amusing quote, this time from a gentleman (?) Mr. P. Morton Strand, writing in 1929 – “The best use for Australian wine is for the christening of British warships at their launches”.

Time for an appropriate quip in response to the (supposedly) emerging UK wine industry methinks.

Bald Hills, Joseph and some more advice on staying sober

A month or so ago, Le Vigne arranged a wine dinner at Garage to sample wines from the Central Otago maker, Bald Hills. We needed no introduction to Bald Hills being fans of their 2006 pinot noir for some time. Before commenting on the wine, I have to say that it was one of the better wine dinners we’ve attended. Full marks to Garage for the food and the comfortable spacing of tables, and full marks to Bald Hills for the generosity of their tastings. Now to the current offering:

2007 / Bald Hills / Central Otago / Pinot Noir / S$60 (after normal discount) at Le Vigne –

This wine retails for about NZ$44 so at S$60, it’s right on the limit of my BBI (Bastard Box Index) but still acceptable. Bob Campbell gives it 4.5 stars and it’s fair to say that you’ll nearly always find a Bald Hills pinot noir in our cellar. Definitely worth a try.

And from another of our regular and recommended suppliers comes another choice in sparkling red. How lucky are we in Singapore?

NV / Primo Estate / Joseph / Sparkling Red / S$69 at Wine Exchange Asia – If you know your sparkling reds, you’re sure to know this wine already. If not, you’ll find this one a bit different from most that are on offer, perhaps not quite as sweet. It’s got a definite following amongst the bubbly red set. James Halliday likes it giving it 5 stars and Epicure gives it 4.5 stars. The RRP looks about A$67 so at S$69 this is indeed attractive pricing. My wife would say that you need to drink good sparkling reds before, during, or after a meal. My advice is that whenever you drink it, makes sure it’s cold.

And more from those 17th cook-books century on how to stay sober. Nothing new under the sun.

“What quantity soever of new milk you drink first, you may well drink thrise as much wine after, without danger of being drunk”

If you’re ever in the Yarra Valley…….and the importance (or not) of the packaging

Passed through the Yarra Valley yesterday and called in at one of my favourite small wine shops, Barrique, in Healesville to pick up some Vinea Marson syrah. You only have to walk in the door of Barrique to know that you’ve come to the right place – it looks and feels like a proper wine shop, and a quick look at the shelves will reveal a diversity of wines that you won’t get in the big retailers – but I’m not talking obscure, low quality wines here but top quality stuff from smaller makers. There’s an obvious focus on Yarra Valley and Victoria, but also a great selection from other states (I picked up an Ashton Hills riesling) and a good selection of French wines including another favourite, Larmandier-Bernier champagne. If you’re ever in the area, call in and say hello to Sean and the team. And…..

Oh dear! According to consumer research, seven per cent of people in Britain reckon weight is important when they buy a bottle of wine. We wouldn’t fall for that trick, would we?

On the go in Oz

This is only my second time back in Australia since starting BastardBoxWine blog, so I’m using the opportunity to wander through some of the wine shops. Yes, there’s that initial reaction every time you revisit a Dan Murphy’s or Vintage Cellars after being away for a while of “wow, look at the variety, and wow, look at the prices”. No argument on the greater selection of wines, and no argument that the cheaper end are, well, cheaper in Australia. But what surprised me this time was the fantastic buys that we’re getting in Singapore in the mid to upper end (bought from the right people of course – that’s not a generalization). It seems hard to believe that for all the stick that we get in Singapore for crazy wine prices, we’ve been able to by wine cheaper than the folks down-under. Elderton Command, Penfolds St Henri and d’Arenberg Dead Arm have all been offered in Singapore for below equivalent A$ retail, and the 2008 Ata Rangi pinot noir which I bought from Wine Exchange Asia for S$69 is selling for A$80 in Melbourne. So let’s not whinge about wine prices in Singapore, but having done your homework (or letting Bastard Box do it for you) get out there and support those businesses that are giving us such consistently good deals. If you follow the blog, you’ll know who they are. No, you can’t just wander into a Dan’s after work on a Friday night and pick up some steals. In Singapore, you’ll need a little more planning than that, you might have to visit some out of the way places, and often you’ll have to be quick to get the special prices, but your cellar will be the better for it and so will your wallet.

Battles, Dead Arms, Freedom and a 17th century guide to staying sober

It’s Friday so time to scout around and see what you might look out for this weekend.

I’ve started by seeing what’s available in Singapore for Battle of Bosworth wines from McLaren Vale, and the only place I could come up with was Crystal Wines. None of them pass the Bastard Box Index for value so I’ll list them and let you make your own choice.

2007 / Battle of Bosworth / McLaren Vale / Shiraz Viognier / S$46.00 – James Halliday rates this wine at 93 points with drinking now until 2014. But…with a RRP of A$24, the asking price just sneaks outside the BBI for value.

2006 / Battle of Bosworth / McLaren Vale / Cabernet Sauvignon / S$53.00 – Halliday rates this as a 90, also drinking to 2014. Jeremy Oliver gives it 88 points, drink by 2011. Curiously, the price seems more out of whack as the RRP is shown as A$25. Not sure why it commands another S$7 over the shiraz viognier then.

But, don’t despair, there are some truly enticing deals on stalwart wines at Wine Exchange Asia. The Dead Arm and The Freedom are in six bottle lots.

2004 / Cullen / Diana Madeline / Margaret River / Cabernet Merlot / S$100 – Gourmet Traveller Wine and Halliday both rate at 95 points and suggest drinking now to 2019. Jeremy Oliver gives it a whopping 97 points and suggests it will go to 2030+. With a RRP of A$100, the pricing here is spot on for a true icon wine.

2006 / d’Arenberg / The Dead Arm / McLaren Vale / Shiraz / S$60 – A personal favourite, and wow, look at that price. Both Oliver and Halliday rate it 95 points with drinking roughly 2018-2030 so you’ll need to put this one away to truly enjoy it. Not for the BBQ tonight then. RRP is A$60 – need I say more. Get some.

2006 / Langmeil / 1843 Freedom / Barossa Valley / Shiraz / S$90 – Gourmet Traveller Wine gives it 95 points, Halliday gives it 94 and both suggest drinking out to 2020+. Jeremy Oliver is not so sure giving it 89 points and drinking to 2014. RRP is A$100 so this is being offered in Singapore well below equivalent buying in Australia.

And finally, this is a gem isn’t it? There was a write up in the Financial Times of the 11th July about an upcoming sale of 17th century cookbooks at Sothebys. They quoted this advice from 400+ years ago.

““Drink first a good large draught of Sallet Oyl, for that will float upon the wine which you shall drink, and suppress the spirits from ascending into the brain.”

Best’s Shiraz takes the gold, so to speak

Had a wonderful blind tasting with some serious wine enthusiasts earlier in the week. The theme was “the best value wine under $50 available in Singapore” and there was quite a selection ranging from the mid $20 mark all the way up to $49.99.

The clear winner on the night was the Best’s shiraz from Great Western which pleases me no end because the rootstock for Bastard Box is the Best’s shiraz.

Thankfully, the wine is readily available at Le Vigne at S$44.50 shelf price, but 10% discount for payment by cheque or cash (no cards, no Nets) and it ends up at S$40.05.

2008/ Best’s / Bin No. 1 / Great Western / Shiraz / S$40.05 – Epicure (Ralph Kyte-Powell) agreed with the group’s ratings giving it 4.5 stars for the 2008. With a cellar door retail of A$25 and RRP of A$30, the pricing in Singapore looks spot on.

Great Western is a tiny little town (blink, and you’ll miss it – pop.644) in western Victoria on the main road between Melbourne and Adelaide, but its role in Australian wine history far exceeds its modest appearance. Joseph & Henry Best first planted vines here in 1865, a vineyard that was later sold to Hans Irvine in 1888 and then to Benno Seppelt in 1918. Great Western is synonymous with that great Australian wine icon and folly, sparkling shiraz. Best’s current Great Western vineyard was established in 1866.

And just to confuse matters, I think Great Western is now technically considered as part of The Grampians wine region.

A ripper cabernet from Sandalford

Margaret River is one of Australia’s best cabernet areas and Sandalford one of Margaret River’s stalwarts. Their cabernets can be a bit patchy at times and Jeremy Oliver still thinks they’re a bit pricey, but one thing’s for sure, and that is that the wine below has been reviewed and rated by just about everybody and they all like it. It’s on sale at Eve Spirits at Alexandra Park ( or +65 62727627)

2005 / Sandalford / Prendiville Reserve / Margaret River / Cabernet Sauvignon / S$88.80 – WineEstate gives it 4.5 stars, Decanter gives it 4.5 stars and suggest drinking to 2019, Jeremy Oliver gives it 91 points with drinking 2013 – 2017+, James Halliday gives it 96 points drinking to 2025, and finally Wine Front gives it 96 points drinking 2014-2023. Enough said? It’s showing a RRP of A$90 so at S$88.80, there’s no doubting its comparative value.

I usually scout around Singapore for some of the lesser known brands and this week I stumbled across Whitehaven from Marlborough for sale at Underground Wines and at Mojo Wines. It’s the 2008 sauvignon blanc but with a rating of only 3 stars from Bob Campbell (80 points) it’s not one I’ll be recommending. Interesting pricing though. Underground has it advertised at S$33.50 whilst Mojo has it at S$46.00. Benchmark Cloudy Bay is $44.90 at Eve’s. You be the judge.

And finally for this week, had a great dinner at Seven on Club with John Ellis, winemaker and owner of Bellvale Wines in Gippsland. His 2008 Athena’s Vineyard chardonnay was just given 5 stars by Epicure. If you’ve been turned off Australian chardonnays because they’re too buttery and full, then this might be what you’re looking for. It’s not yet available in Singapore but when it is, I’ll let you know.

Spoilt for choice on Kiwi pinot noir – Escarpment from Martinborough

There does seem to be a flood of good value NZ pinots, doesn’t there? Now another one from Martinborough in the North Island. I’m going out on a limb here because I don’t actually have any ratings at all on the actual vintages of the wine I’m about to review. Not from Bob Campbell, not from Wine Tastes in New Zealand, not from Wine Front or anyone else. So why do I think these might be a good deal?

Well, every rating that I do have for earlier vintages suggests that unless something has gone terribly wrong at Escarpment, these wine should be top class. For example, I’ve never seen a lower rating on the Kupe than 94 points
for any of the recent three vintages The ’06 Kupe was rated 5 stars by Epicure and Gourmet Traveller Wine with a RRP of around NZ$60. My sniffing around various retailers in New Zealand also seems to confirm that the prices being offered here are pretty much in line with NZ retail.

Wine Exchange Asia have these on sale as below, and they comment that the Kupe is limited stock.

Over to you to make your own choice.

2008 / Escarpment / Kupe / Martinborough / Pinot Noir / S$65
2008 / Escarpment / Kiwi / Martinborough / Pinot Noir / S$59
2008 / Escarpment / Pahi / Martinborough / Pinot Noir / S$59
2008 / Escarpment / Martinborough / Pinot Noir / S$52 – this wine is listed at the equivalent of S$49 on sale in New Zealand.

A good Central Otago pinot for S$36 and something completely different – Muscat & Tokay from All Saints.

Mount Difficulty:

Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of pinot coming out of New Zealand these days, and like the sauvignon blanc not surprisingly, not all of it’s good. I’ve seen some pretty ordinary NZ pinots priced way, way up, even higher than the 2008 Ata Rangi which rates as one of the best around. I see Wine Exchange Asia still have some of the Ata Rangi on sale at S$72, which is a terrific comparative price. I’ve already got mine.

But if you want an everyday drinker that still rates OK, then have a look at the Mount Difficulty Roaring Meg:

2008 / Mount Difficulty / Roaring Meg / Central Otago / Pinot Noir / S$36 at Wine Exchange Asia – Rated 90 points by Wine Spectator in the US, where it sells for US$23 with recommended drinking now to 2014. In New Zealand its RRP is NZ$35 but it gets discounted down to about NZ$28 or S$27. Add in freight, duty, VAT and you’d be looking at around S$38, so the price at Wine Exchange Asia of S$36 looks a pretty fair deal to me. By the way, unless I’m mistaken, Roaring Meg refers to a six kilometer stretch of whitewater on the Kawarau River that runs through a steep gorge that connects one side of Central Otago (think Chard Farm, Gibbston Valley, Peregrine, Amisfield etc.) with the other side (Felton Road, Bald Hills etc.).

Ride the Rutherglen Red:

Back in the 70s, a “red rattler” train used to leave Spencer Street Station in Melbourne early on a Sunday morning, travel up to Rutherglen, bus the passengers around the various wineries in that area and then back on the train to the sound of flagons of muscat and tokay clinking in the aisles and under the seats. Oh, and a fair degree of snoring.

I didn’t expect to find Rutherglen stickies on offer in Singapore, but they are, and mostly at a reasonable price. They’re available at The Cellar Door at VivoCity and I’ve picked a few to review here:

All Saints / Rutherglen / Muscat / S$29.50 – Epicure gave this 4.5 stars and suggested the RRP is A$35, so the Singapore price looks pretty good.

All Saints / Grand / Rutherglen / Muscat / S$72.50 – Well you’d expect something called grand to be a notch up in price and rating and it is. WineEstate gave this 5 stars and an Australian RRP of A$62, so it just sneaks within my BBI for value.

All Saints / Grand / Rutherglen / Tokay / S$72.50 – Ditto for the tokay. James Halliday gives it 95 points, so 5 stars too.

The folks at Rutherglen have a saying that “Sydney has a great harbour, but Rutherglen has a great port”. But, ports are for another day.

A surprise – Trentham Estate

Trentham Estate’s not a winery that catches my eye very often – good value for sure, but often at the “riverland” end of the market to which I have a distinct negative bias. Every once in a while though a wine does pop up and grabs my attention and today it’s a shiraz available at Wine Directions (to get the price I’m quoting, minimum order 12 bottles of anything)

2006 / Trentham Estate / Heathcote / Shiraz / S$33.50 – James Halliday rates this wine at 94 points, drinking 2010-2016. It has RRP of A$30, which means that it could sell in Singapore for up to S$43 and still fit within my BBI for value. At S$33.50, it’s a comparative bargain. Take 6 of these, and 6 of the Small Gully and enjoy drinking sub -$35!

Announcing the Bastard Box Worst Price Award

The Financial Times has an award for the worst team at the World Cup and despite a strong effort by North Korea, it went unsurprisingly to France. In the same vein, Bastard Box will be awarding a “worst price award” for 2010. I thought we’d kicked it away with the pricing of a 2002 Craneford John Zilm Barossa Valley Merlot , but alas, no. It’s for sale at The Red Wine Shop in Australia at A$32.95, but at one stage a magnum was for sale in Singapore at S$214. Maybe it was a typo as the price has now been halved to S$107 so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. But having established the principle of the award, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for truly horrendous pricing in Singapore and you can help by doing the same. I’m sure there are some players out there that are just busting to win.

And finally, having got as far as “M”, I won’t be reviewing any more of Denise’s GSS specials. Went to the local store on three different occasions to buy some of my own recommendations only to be told on each occasion “out of stock”, “out of stock”, “out of stock”.

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Wine quotations

"A good bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world" - Louis Pasteur

“The unexacting palates of the masses…are content to ask no question [on origin] so long as a florin or half-a-crown will purchase a roomy flagon of strong , full-bodied, fruity wine” – CE Hawker writing in 1907