Archive for November, 2010

Promises unfulfilled

An interesting excursion to Saigon and surrounds, and an interesting experience with Australian wine in Vietnam. We dined at Shri in Saigon CBD and managed to sample Torbreck Juveniles and Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge at a reasonable price considering the view. We later ventured to Mui Ne, a beach resort about 250kms north of Saigon to stay at the Small Luxury Hotel of L’Anmien. Things looked promising when I checked their wine list, with a good smattering of Australian and New Zealand wines at fair restaurant prices. Even better, the resort had an impressive looking cellar (see below) so it hit all the right buttons. Ah, promises unfulfilled.

We ordered a Hewitson Lulu Sauvignon Blanc, (sorry, out of stock), a Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (out of stock), a Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay (ditto) a d’Arenberg shiraz, a d’Arenberg pinot (ditto) and so it went. Each time we picked something it was met with “but we do have the Berri Estates Shiraz”. I couldn’t – someone might see us – so we opted for pretty much the only other wine on offer, a “vin ordinaire” Beaujolais.

The next day we stocked up on a couple of bottles of Wolf Blass President’s Selection from the shack across the road (screwcap thankfully, given the storing conditions). It was $8 a bottle less than at Cold Storage in Singapore!

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A real mixed bag this weekend. Maybe the sellers are holding off to launch their festive specials. Presumably we’ll see some of those emerge next week – there is one great deal starting on Monday, but it is very limited, case buy only, and cash & carry:

2009 / Cloudy Bay / Marlborough / Sauvignon Blanc / S$39.90 at Bottles & Bottles, Parkway Parade – I’m not going to bore you with the write-up on the wine. If you know it (and who doesn’t), you’ll know this a great deal.

The best of the rest:

2007 / Kumeu River / Estate / Auckland / Chardonnay / S$39 from Wine Exchange Asia – A mixed opinion on this one. Decanter only gives it 4 stars (15.9 points) and it retails in the UK for GBP19. The Kiwi rater Michael Cooper gives it 5 stars, and says drink between now and 2014. It retails in New Zealand for around the NZ$38 mark so the price here of S$39 is excellent, and makes it the best comparative value of the wines reviewed here today by a fairly big margin.

2008 / Pierro / Margaret River / Chardonnay / S$95 from Crystal Wines – Pierro chardonnays are usually outstanding and this vintage is no exception. Jeremy Oliver gives it 96 points, James Halliday gives it 96 points, and Wine Front gives it 95. The lowest rating I have is 4.5 stars from Epicure.  Fairly consistent opinion on the drinking, with 2015 seeming to be the common end date.  The retail price seemed a bit all over the place so a quick check on-line currently gives it at A$75 which makes the asking price here (on special as well) a fair way outside the BBI. I reckon S$82 would be closer to the mark, but you’ll form your own opinion on whether you want to buy.

2007 / Moss Wood / Ribbon Vale / Margaret River / Cabernet Merlot / S$60 from Crystal Wines – A solid 4.5 star wine, with Oliver giving 94 points, Halliday 93, Wine Front 91. Fairly consistent opinion that it’s drinking out to 2017ish.  With a RRP of around A$41, this too is a little outside the BBI. Not much, but still outside.

Two Robert Parker 99 pointers for the Xmas stocking:

2003 / Standish / Barossa Valley / Shiraz / S$155 from Epsilon Wines – To be frank, I’d never heard of Standish, but that doesn’t matter because Robert Parker had, and he gave it 99 points. Recommended drinking between 2018 to 2040. I have no idea of whether this is a good price. I think there is/was only one bottle available but I’m thinking that a Parker 99 point Barossa shiraz at S$155 would be worth a punt.

2003 / Torbreck / Run Rig / Barossa Valley / Shiraz / S$290 from Epsilon Wines – Another Robert Parker 99 point wine, with exactly the same drinking window as the Standish, i.e. 2018-2040.  James Halliday gave it 96 points, Jeremy Oliver 93, and Wine Front 94.  None of them are quite so bullish on the drinking window though, with Oliver suggesting drink within the next couple of years, Wine Front by 2019, and Halliday by 2023. It’s 14.5% alc. You can currently get a bottle on-line in Australia for A$239, so if you’re serious about filling that stocking with an older vintage wine, then you’ll decide on the price without my help.

Hopefully next week, we’ll have a wider range of specials for you that won’t break the bank.

“…..wine is a subject with no practical dimension, in contrast to cooking and gardening. You can’t chop it, steam it, sauté it, plant it or weed it. All you can do is understand it and appreciate it, which are intellectual pursuits with a sensual dimension.” – Andrew Jefford, writing in Decanter, August 2010.

Fair crack of the whip!

Got a flyer this week from a retailer who gets mentioned favourably in this blog fairly often, but this time, well…..

The promotion is a boxed set of six Kilikanoon wines, all reds from 2006 with an asking price of S$930. I’m not going to suggest that I could replicate the complete boxed set, but I could go close, finding four of the six wines on sale in Singapore right now.  Problem is, and it’s a very big one, is that on just three of the wines in the box, I can buy elsewhere and save over S$260 on just those three wines alone!!!!

Here’s the comparison, after allowing the discount from S$1055 a box down to S$930.

2006 / Kilikanoon / Attunga / Clare Valley / Shiraz / In the box, S$335 – on offer now at Wine Exchange Asia for S$185!

2006 / Kilikanoon / R Reserve / Clare Valley / Shiraz / In the box, S$143 –  on offer now at Wine Exchange Asia for S$95!

2006 / Kilikanoon / Oracle / Clare Valley / Shiraz / In the box, S$130 – on offer now at Wine Exchange Asia for S$65!

Something’s not right is it?

On a brighter note, Anna Pooley from Tasmania has just been named Young Winemaker of the Year. Have a look at:  http://www.themercury.com.au/article/2010/11/17/186611_food-wine.html

And, an imperial of 1947 Cheval Blanc has just been sold for US$304,375. See http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6AF4UA20101116

Now to the wine reviews:

2009 / Eradus / Awatere Valley / Marlborough / Sauvignon Blanc / S$32 from Wine Exchange Asia and also from Rubicon Reserve Wines – Tried this for the first time this week and wow, it is different from your usual Marlborough sav blanc. Not quite as spritzig as say Cloudy Bay but full of very interesting fruity flavours. Michael Cooper liked it enough to give it Best White Wine Buy of the Year on his Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wines 2010. Bob Campbell didn’t like it giving it only 83 points. It retails for NZ$19, so the pricing here is fair rather than outstanding but I think it’s worth a try just for the change from the run of the mill.

2009 / The Doctors / Marlborough / Sauvignon Blanc / S$26 at Underground Wines – This wine only gets 3.5 stars from Michael Cooper so it wouldn’t normally appear here, but it’s only 9.5% alcohol, so I reckon it could be perfect to serve to the in-laws staying with you over Xmas.  The pricing is quite keen too as its RRP is NZ$22.

2010 / Kilikanoon / Morts Block / Clare Valley / Riesling / S$33 from Wine Exchange Asia – A Halliday 95 pointer with a RRP of A$35. A no brainer – get some.

2009 / Frankland Estate / Isolation Ridge / Frankland River / Riesling / S$40 from Crystal Wines – To be frank, I’ve struggled to find value in some of Crystal’s recent Aussie offerings but this one hits the mark. 95 points from both James Halliday and Jeremy Oliver and both agree it will last out to 2020 or a smidge beyond. With a RRP of A$30, the pricing is spot on here.

2008 / Ata Rangi / Craighall / Martinborough / Chardonnay / S$52 from Cellar Door – Bob Campbell gives it 93 points, and Michael Cooper gave the 2007 5 stars. Worth a punt. RRP is NZ$38 so the price here is right.

2006 / Leeuwin Estate / Art Series / Margaret River / Chardonnay / S$105 from Crystal Wines – This wine collects ratings like people collect credit card receipts. Lot’s of them. Halliday 95 points, Wine Spectator 94 points, Gourmet Traveller Wine 96 points, Jeremy Oliver 93 points. All agree it should last out to 2017 to 2020. With a RRP of around A$95, the price here is right on the edge of the BBI for value (in fact if you’re prepared to hunt around, I think you’ll find this about S$6 cheaper elsewhere)

2006 / Kilikanoon / The Duke / Clare Valley / Grenache / S$55 from Wine Exchange Asia – Decanter gives it a Silver rating (4.5 stars) as does James Halliday with 93 points. Drinking to 2016. With a RRP of A$69, the price here is a stunner. 15% alc.

2007 / Cape Mentelle / Margaret River / Shiraz / S$48 from Crystal Wines – Cape Mentelle is always a fairly safe bet and this vintage is no exception. Jeremy Oliver 94 points, James Halliday 96 points, with drinking out to 2019 or 2027 depending on who you follow.  RRP of A$39 making S$48 a good buy. 14% alc.

And in case you’ve not kept up with what’s been happening down under:

“Amontillado sherry is now medium dry apera, Oloroso is medium sweet apera, tokay is now topaque, tawny port is now just tawny and vintage port is now vintage fortified red”

Off to Vietnam for a week so expect to see the next posting around 26th November. Happy drinking!

Straits Wine Company sale on right now

The sale started about 30 minutes ago! It’s at 5 Maju Ave, Serangoon Gardens, 556683 from 10:00 to 21:00 today.

I’ve picked just a couple that were included in their flyer. I can’t comment on others as I haven’t seen everything that’s on offer.

2006 / Glaymond / El Abuelo / Barossa Valley / Grenache / S$39 – Decanter gives it a Silver (about 4.5 stars) and said it retailed for US$30. James Halliday gives it 4.5 stars too (92 points) and suggests drinking to 2016. 15.5% alc. With a RRP of A$28, this is a good buy here.

2002 / Peter Lehmann / Reserve / Eden Valley / Riesling / S$39 – No question of its standing. Gourmet Traveller Wine 96 points, Epicure 5 stars, Jeremy Oliver 4.5 stars. Drinking relatively early at 2013 to 2015ish. RRP A$40 so no doubt of the value.

Unbelievable prices (good and bad) on Kilikanoon and Ata Rangi, and a truly exceptional wine from Seppeltsfield

Blown away, simply blown away.

At very short notice, attended a wine dinner for Kilikanoon wines hosted by Wine Exchange Asia during the week (and yes, to remain independent, I do pay my own way) and so glad we did.  It was a terrific night with Nathan Waks from Kilikanoon generously providing tastings of the higher end of their range, such as their R Reserve shiraz and Attunga shiraz. Those wines are currently listed at A$120 and A$250 apiece down-under so thank you Nathan.  The strategy worked as we bought some!

Kilikanoon is a partner in Seppeltsfield, the fortified arm of the Seppelt group that was split out and sold by Fosters back in 2007. Nathan explained that when they purchased Seppeltsfield, one of the incredible things they got was the ability to provide customers with a bottle of port from any year going back 132 years to 1878. The 100 year-old 1910 Para port is currently on sale and as you’d expect, it’s not cheap. Around A$900-$1,000 for a 375ml bottle, but when you consider that the wine has “lived” through two world wars, the Great Depression, tax collectors, auditors, accountants, and the odd corporate raider, then it’s amazing that a continuous series of vintages is there at all, let alone from 1878.

And so the wine of the night, and one of the wines of my lifetime, was a tiny bottle of  1884 Para port that Nathan just happened to have with him. Yep, 1884 – as thick as treacle but with intense mocha, coffee and raisiny flavours beyond anyone’s expectation. In the early 1970s, we used to visit Seppeltsfield and do the winery tour. That wine was in the barrels then, and was already 90 years old; little did we know that we would be tasting it in Singapore 36 years later.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir at S$110 – do I have any more bids?

Singapore really is a remarkable place for selling wine. Where else would you expect to find the same wine for sale at $69 and $110? Well, the new benchmark price for 2008 Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir is S$110 at Oaks Cellars in Tanglin. That’ll take some beating but I won’t declare them the winner just yet. I thought a previous high of S$85 would win, but no.

Just to refresh, the same wine was on special at Cellar Door in VivoCity (and earlier at Wine Exchange Asia) for S$69, and it’s still at Cellar Door at S$72.  “Why so expensive, lah?” elicits the standard reply “oh, it’s the tax and everything”. Well, at 13.5% alcohol, the tax is S$7.08 and the GST is about S$4.50 and that’s the same for Cellar Door too, so I guess the $40 odd difference is well, just “everything”.  Let me know if you can beat this.

Frog wine:

Reading in December’s Decanter about a couple who are suing the UK supermarket Asda for selling them a bottle of Moscatel de Valencia which allegedly contained a decomposing frog. One wag was so unkind as to “blame the incident on the poor judgement of the frog” according to Decanter. “With the wine looking like pond water, it is easy to see how the frog could make the mistake of thinking the bottle was a nice place to be” the magazine quoted.

Off the shelf:

A couple of random picks this week from bricks and mortar retailers:

2007 / Fonty’s Pool / Pemberton / Chardonnay / S$40 from Wine Connection – James Halliday gives it 94 points, suggests drinking out to 2017. With a RRP of A$22, the price here is about right. 13.5% alc.

2008 / Heartland / Stickleback / Langhorne Creek / White / S$49 for 2 from Denise – I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to take a punt on this. Wine Spectator didn’t like it much giving it only 84 points (3.5 stars) and James Halliday could only muster 87 points (4 stars). It had a RRP of A$12 so the BBI would put it at around S$29 a bottle instead of the S$24.50 being asked here, so it’s a balance of price vs quality. If you do buy some, don’t sit on it. I’d drink it straight away. It’s already at the edge of its window if not slightly past. If it hits your button, go for it.

Value (I didn’t say cheap) reds:

2002 / Elderton / Ashmead / Barossa Valley / Cabernet / S$88 from Epsilon Wines – A solid 4.5 star wine from Elderton. Jeremy Oliver gives it 93 points, James Halliday 94 and Robert Parker 92. I know, I know, you don’t follow ratings, but it’s nice to know that three wise men agree.  They don’t agree on cellaring though – Oliver says 2010-2014+, Halliday says out to 2022, and Parker says 2012-2026. Either way, it retailed for A$85 so the price here is attractive.

2006 / Kilikanoon / R Reserve / Clare Valley / Shiraz / S$95 from Wine Exchange Asia – Should I just say I bought some and leave it at that? OK, probably not. James Halliday gives it 95 points, and Decanter gives it the equivalent of 4.5 stars.  It’s drinking out to 2025 but Nathan Waks says you can drink it a fair bit earlier (even now) if you double decant and give it plenty of breathing time. I’ll certainly be drinking mine before 2025.  The RRP was A$120 and I see where it’s still for sale in Australia for that although sometimes a little lower. The price on offer here really is outstanding for a wine of this calibre. 15% alc.

2006 / Kilikanoon / Attunga / Clare Valley / Shiraz / S$185 from Wine Exchange Asia – I only have one rating for this but it’ll do. Halliday 96 points. Drinking out to 2030 but the advice is the same as for the R Reserve.  Retailing in Australia at A$250 (and still on offer for that at on-line retailers), this is another bargain from Robert at Wine Exchange. 15% alc. Yes, I’ve bought some of this too.

The best comparative value wine in this lot today is the R Reserve.

“Unfortunately, there really isn’t a shortcut to gaining an insight into French wine labels other than through some dedicated tasting, preferably with a wine textbook in hand” – Jane Skilton, MW writing in Gourmet Traveller Wine Jan ‘08

Some terrific deals here – especially with the A$/S$ rate at 1.30!

I’ve got some catching up to do on the specials that have floated across my desk whilst touring India. Consequently, the reviews listed below come with a big caveat – please check availability before getting too excited, and like our friends from Zimbabwe said, “the price may have changed”, only with them it was between entering the shop and getting to the checkout. As you’re probably now aware, specials don’t always last long in Singapore. Price it right, and the stuff moves quicker than Mark Webber with Alonso in his rearview mirror.

Let’s start with a Kiwi, and another caveat. I don’t have a rating for the 2008 Mount Edward but I do for the 2007 and the 2009 and I’m going to assume consistency.

2008 / Mount Edward / Central Otago / Pinot Noir / S$54, S$49 by the case from Wine Exchange Asia – The 2007 is rated 5 stars by Michael Cooper and the 2009 is 91 points by Bob Campbell. RRP is NZ$45 so the pricing looks spot on.

Fancy a chardonnay? Then this one is outstanding value:

2008 / Grosset / Piccadilly / Adelaide Hills / Chardonnay / S$49 from Wine Exchange Asia – OK let’s climb up the rating ladder. Jeremy Oliver gives it 88 points (4 stars). Gourmet Traveller Wine gives it 90 points. Wine Front gives it 92 points (both 4.5 stars), and James Halliday gives it 96 points (5 stars).  Oliver says drink by 2013, the rest by about 2015. 13.5% alc. Make up your own mind but with a RRP of A$53, this is a bargain.

Have you been listening on riesling, Australia’s great unsung and underpriced variety? Well, how’s this for confirmation? There was a dinner in Singapore last Friday night at Michelangelos (www.michelangelos.com.sg) to launch Jeremy Oliver’s new 2011 Wine Annual (www.jeremyoliver.com ). I didn’t attend, but by all accounts it was great success both in food and wine. Talking with friends who did attend, some of whom consider drinking white wine to be up there with driving a Volvo or doing the dishes, the wine that blew them away was the 2009 Seppelt Drumborg Riesling. No surprise that it’s good as Jeremy gives it a whopping 98 points, but to get a bunch of confirmed “rouge hommes” to say so is no mean feat. So, let’s have a look at a couple of Rieslings, and for the record the 2010 Polish Hill reviewed here is by far and away the best comparative value wine reviewed here today.  Look at the price, and then look at it again.

2010 / Grosset / Polish Hill / Clare Valley / Riesling / S$45 from Wine Exchange Asia – It’s so new, I’ve only got one rating. Wine Front give it 94 points  and suggest drinking out to 2017. 13% alc. The RRP is the same as Singapore – $45. Only in Australia it’s A$45 and in Singapore it’s S$45 and you don’t have to be told twice that that is a damn good deal. (By the way, you’ll find the 2009 for sale in Singapore at $65 if you shop in the wrong place)

2009 / Grosset / Springvale / Clare Valley / Riesling / S$39 from Wine Exchange Asia – This wine used to be called Watervale, now it’s called Springvale.  Why? Dunno.  What I do know is that this wine blew away the raters. The lowest rating I have is 94 points from Wine Front, Decanter gives it 18.5 points, James Halliday 96, and Jeremy Oliver 97. Zero risk in buying this wine then. It’s 12.5% alc. And with a RRP of A$36, the price here is keen indeed. You could put this away for 5 years or a lazy 20 years.

2010 / Grosset / Springvale / Clare Valley / Riesling / S$39 from Wine Exchange Asia – Same price, same value as the 2009. Hasn’t been in the bottle long enough to collect a swag of ratings so just the one. Wine Front at 93+ points and drinking to 2017.

2006 / Tim Adams / Clare Valley / Riesling / S$32 from Wine Exchange Asia – Clare Valley again (of course) and this one with a bit of age already. 94 points from Jeremy Oliver and 92 from Wine Front make it a safe bet. At its best next year out to 2014. RRP is A$22 so safely fits within the BBI for value.

Time to push an Aussie sauvignon blanc:

2009 / Fermoy Estate / Margaret River / Sauvignon Blanc / S$29, S$25 by the case from Wine Exchange Asia – A solid buy. 93 points from Halliday, 14% alc, drink to 2012 and RRP A$22. Can’t go wrong.

Before we move off the whites, I’m going to give a plug for this one even though you could have bought it for a lot less just a couple of months ago.

2008 / Redheads Studios / Yard Dog / McLaren Vale / White / S$19 from Epsilon Wines – If you followed this blog, you would have seen this wine at offer for S$13.50 when Vineyards Direct closed down. But that was a true liquidation sale, and opportunities like that don’t come around often (and you had to be quick, very quick). Yard Dog retailed in Australia for A$12.50 meaning that at S$19, it’s still a great buy. OK, it’s only 87 points from James Halliday but it’s less than S$20 bucks and you can do a lot worse than Yard Dog at S$20 bucks believe me.

We really are spoilt sometimes. This cabernet comes up time and time again in Singapore, and nearly always at a great price.

2004 & 2005 / Balnaves / The Tally Reserve / Coonawarra / Cabernet Sauvignon / S$88 from Epsilon Wines – Let’s start with the 2004. Oliver 97, Halliday 96, Gourmet Traveller Wine 97, Wine Front 95. One hell of a wine then. The 2005 gets 94 from Oliver, 5 stars from Epicure, 5 from Gourmet Traveller Wine and 95 points from Wine Front. I’m thinking you should have at least one of each of these in your cellar.  But you’ll need to be patient. The drinking range on the 2004 is at its shortest 2010-2020 (Wine Front) but Oliver and Halliday both say 2024 plus, even out to 2034. The 2005 is expected to be a bit less of a stayer with the range being 2013 to 2017 by Oliver, but curiously Wine Front reckons the 2005 will go to 2030. The wine might, I might not. RRP was about A$80-85 so S$88 is spot on value.

A cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot blend from Grosset:

2007 / Grosset / Gaia / Clare Valley / Cabernet Blend / S$54 from Wine Exchange Asia – Compared with Margaret River, Coonawarra or even Yarra Valley, the Clare Valley is not known for its cabernets. Maybe that’s why Jeremy Oliver only gives this wine 87 points but others don’t agree. James Halliday gives it 95 points and Wine Front gives it 93+. Ageing? Big difference here too. Oliver & Wine Front say 2015-2019, Halliday says out to 2027.  There’s no argument on the value though as it retailed for A$60 so S$54 is a solid buy.

And finally, a shiraz:

2005 / Wild Duck Creek / Spring Flat / Heathcote / Shiraz / S$55, or S$49 by the half case from Wine Exchange Asia – I sometimes wonder if Muck Duck was a blessing or a curse for Wild Duck Creek. There was such fanfare and hysteria around a relatively unknown winery that everything since seems in the shadows. This wine can stand on its own two feet though. Robert Parker gives it 94 points with drinking 2012-2025, and Halliday gives it 94 too, drinking to 2020. It’s still a “biggie” though, showing 15.5% on the label which means it could be anywhere between 14% and (gulp) 17% alc. Pricing is very keen as it retailed at A$50.

“All around the world, drinkers are now discovering just how brilliantly Riesling goes with food, adding vibrancy to flavours rather than swamping them with oak or alcohol. The more patient are enjoying Riesling’s capacity to age so intriguingly, while the more intellectual ones are marveling at its ability to express geography as eloquently as the most fastidious pinot noir.”  Jancis Robinson writing in Gourmet Traveller Wine, January 2008

Incredible Classic India

The wine is truly awful, the car we drive is truly awful (an Ambassador), and the roads are just about the worst anywhere in the world – but oh! what a wonderful experience. Just back from 10 days driving ourselves around Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. If you get the chance to do this, just do it!

But a wine trip, it’s not. About the only selection is Indian wine and at times it makes your eyes water at the cost. How does Indian Rupees 2,400 sound (that’s about S$70) for a bottle of very, very ordinary red wine? Well, apparently it’s red wine. It’s enough to make one turn to beer. Or gin and tonic. But not the water.

The Ambassador’s not much different – no handbrake, no air-con, only one windscreen wiper (single speed, no self-park), probably had synchromesh when it was new, but now…….So, when was it new? Our car had a normal life as a taxi, and we found the purchase papers in the boot. Build date? May 2000. Yep, that rusty car with almost no creature comforts, an asthmatic 1.5 litre diesel engine that couldn’t hold second gear going up a 1 in 50 slope, and drum brakes (not all that effective on the 36 downhill hairpin bends out of Ooty) was built just 10 years ago.  But you know what? At the end of the trip, everyone who participated in the drive said they were going to miss their little “Ambi”. Some had even acquired names like Fang and Lewis (of F1 fame).

Go for the food, for the scenery, for the spontaneous interaction with friendly welcoming southern Indians, and go for the drive of your life. Just don’t go for the wine. Go to http://www.classiccarjourneys.co.uk


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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