Archive for June, 2011

White hot whites for the savvy buyer

Reviewed offers by Crystal Wines, Delfi Singapore, Equatorial Wines, Parklands Wines, Rubicon Wines, The Cellar Door, The Local Nose, Underground Wines & Wine Exchange Asia

Of the offers I had ratings for, only these two cut the mustard:

2009 / Astrolabe / Kekerengu Coast / Sauvignon Blanc / S$41 or S$36.90 by the case at Rubicon Reserve Wines – To be honest, I don’t have a rating for this one. I have Bob Campbell’s ratings for the 2007 (95 points), the 2008 (93 points) and the 2010 (94 points) so it’s fair bet, but not a certainty, that this vintage is up there too. Maybe ask Rubicon to confirm. Anyway, it retails for NZ$26 making the asking price here very acceptable.

2008 / Xanadu / Margaret River / Sauvignon Blanc Semillon / S$30 at The Local Nose and Delfi Singapore –  James Halliday and Jeremy Oliver agree with a 4.5 star rating and they also both agree that it’s quickly running out of its drinking window. Oliver says 2010+ and Halliday says 2011. Well, it’s now both of those, so if you are going to buy this (and with a RRP of A$25, it’s terrific value here), don’t stick it in the cupboard.  Stick it straight into the fridge.

I’m tempted to go with the Xanadu simply because of the value. See if you can sample it first, and if it’s fine, it’d truly be a great deal.

“Sometimes collectors and label hunters apparently forget that wine is meant to be drunk. An extreme example of this was the person who forgot about the silver and gold ingots he had stored behind his bottles. It was only when he died and his cellar was removed that the bars were discovered.” – Andrew Caillard MW writing in Gourmet Traveller Wine July 2007


Five reasons why buying wine in Singapore can be so difficult….and not one of them is price!

Reviewed wines on offer by Absolute Blizzard, Barrique Connections, Bottles & Bottles, The Local Nose, The Moomba Wine Store, Wine Directions, and Wine Exchange Asia

Ok, so price can be an issue, but not if you do your homework. Here’s the things that really annoy:

…..Some retailers send out flyers with super-duper deals, but they never answer their e-mails. You would think that orders@…… on an e-mail or website would let you, well, place an order, but there’s little guarantee of that.

…..Websites and e-mails don’t quote vintages. How am I supposed to order a wine unless I know the vintage? Some retailers even have shopping carts that don’t show the vintage. Yep, I’ll take a dozen of whatever you’ve got.  Talk about a lucky dip.

…..Call me old-fashioned, but I like to get a confirmation and an invoice. And not everyone does that before delivery.

…..The biggest sin of all is sending the wrong vintage. Still happens, the wines still go back.

…..The second biggest sin (and illegal to boot) is quoting prices before GST. Still happens. I’m still avoiding those retailers that don’t quote GST inclusive, and frankly I believe, so should you.

There’s retailers out there that get everything right, and there’s quite a few who get bits wrong, and at least one who gets it wrong all the time.

On a brighter note, well done to the person/s who picked up the 3 bottles of 2005 Clarendon Hills Astralis for S$230 each at Wine Exchange’s Consolidated Clearance Sale. You could make a tidy profit by selling it on to one of Singapore’s other retailers for the $416 they are asking for it!

2009 / Penfolds / Koonunga Hill / South Australia / Shiraz Cabernet / S$41 for two at Bottles & Bottles. Called into my local Bottles & Bottles at Parkway Parade and came across this deal. Koonunga Hill gets discounted away fairly viciously down under, but even so, to buy it here at S$20.50 a bottle is quite remarkable. Give them a visit.

2009 / Bouchard Finlayson / Galpin Peak / Walker Bay / Pinot Noir / S$49 at Wine Exchange Asia. OK, so Walker Bay (yes, Walker Bay in South Africa) is a long way from Central Otago or Mornington Peninsula, but what the heck, life’s about trying new things. Platters South African Wines 2011 gives it 3.5 stars which works out at “very good”, a bit of a come down from previous vintages. But it’s the 2009 that’s available here so I’m happy to give it a try and have bought some.  It retails at Bouchard Finlayson’s cellar door for the equivalent of S$43, so I figure my comparative value risk is relatively low. It’s shown on Wine Exchange Asia’s Consolidated Clearance Sale. Go on a journey, try some.

2002 / Tahbilk / Eric Stevens Purbrick / Nagambie Lakes / Shiraz / S$78 at Absolute Blizzard. Another newcomer (in name at least) to the wine scene in Singapore. So what have we got here? An undoubtedly exceptional wine, that’s what. Wine Front gave it 96 points and suggested breaking the budget to buy this wine. All the major raters, from Jeremy Oliver, James Halliday, Gourmet Traveller Wine etc. agree that it is a great wine. The good news is that it’s drinking now, even though it should hold up for another 10 years too. It retailed on release at A$70. A steal here.

2005 / Braydun Hill / Single Vineyard Premium / McLaren Vale / Shiraz / S$70 at The Local Nose and Barrique Connections. I haven’t seen the name Barrique Connections around before so curious to see how they stack up. The wine’s fine with a James Halliday rating of 92 points but it’s the pricing that has me confused. On release, this wine was A$24 and I see it still on sale at around A$28. So, how do you get to S$70? On a pure BBI basis, the Australian RRP equates to a selling price here of around $40-$45. I must be missing something. Again.

The Tahbilk look the pick of the bunch today.

“Per capita consumption of wine has never been higher, while beer consumption slipped to its lowest levels since 1947, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australians aged over 15 now consume an average of 29 litres of wine a year, an increase on the 22 litres recorded in 1979 and 8.5 litres in 1949.” – GrapeGrowers & Vignerons March 2011


Le Boite Batard?

Reviewed offers by Cornerstone Wines, Crystal Wines, Equatorial Wines, The Cellar Door, The Local Nose, Underground Wines, Wine Culture, Wine Exchange Asia,

What’s this? Bastard Box commenting on (go on, say it) – a French wine? Well, yes, but don’t get too excited as it’s an exception not the rule. I just happened to be reading the June issue of Wine & Spirits, having just read one of The Cellar Door’s e-mails and I spied the same wine. So, for what it’s worth, here goes the first journey into new terroir:

2007 / Dauvergne Ranvier / Gigondas Vin Rare / S$40.80 at The Cellar Door.  Now let me see, is that a white or a red? Ah, The Cellar Door were kind enough to put a picture of the bottle in their e-mail, and I can see it’s a red. Whew! Actually, I can now reveal that it’s 85% Grenache, 10% syrah (calling shiraz by the more expensive sounding ‘syrah’ is probably the only thing the French and the Kiwis have in common) with a smattering of Cinsault and Mouvedre. Anyway, Wine & Spirits gives it 91 points which by their rating system comes in at the lower end of “exceptional”. I have absolutely no idea what it should cost here, but it’s selling for US$33 so I reckon it’s worth a try.

Now, a story of two chardonnays:

2009 / Escarpment / Kupe / Martinborough / Chardonnay / S$52 at Wine Exchange Asia. I used to live in Wellington in 1988, and I’d pass through Martinborough on my way to somewhere else. These days, one would definitely stop over. This wine is described by Bob Campbell as “bone-dry and richly textured” so should suit all of you who hate the buttery chards. He gives it a very solid 94 points. The RRP looks about NZ$45 which at S$52 puts it into the BBI “great value” category.

2009 / Te Kairanga / Martinborough / Chardonnay / S$41 at Equatorial Wines. So, here’s a real stand-off fight. Two Martinborough chardonnays going head to head. This one sells for a lot less at home (around NZ$21) but Bob Campbell could only muster up 80 points for it.  That puts it into his “average” bracket. The pricing here is OK, it’s just that the Escarpment is priced so much more keenly, and is a better wine to boot. Technical KO.

Two more whites to consider:

2010 / Forrest / Marlborough / Sauvignon Blanc / S$28.50 at Underground Wines. OK, so it’s not the best sauvignon blanc to come out of Marlborough, but it’s still pretty good. Bob Campbell gives it 85 points (“above average”) and says that it’s “very food-friendly” (?). But look at the price. It retails for the same as the Te Kairanga reviewed above, (NZ$21) but comes in S$12.50 cheaper. This is a super buy.

2009 / Tamar Ridge / Kayena / Tasmania / Riesling / S$46 at Crystal Wines and The Local Nose. I’m a fan of quite  a few Tassie wines, and this one’s right up there. James Halliday gives it 93 points and suggests drinking out to 2020. Hear, hear for aged rieslings. I can’t get so excited by the price though. With a RRP of A$23, the price here of S$46 is OK, but nothing more than OK.

…and a trio of reds to ponder:

2001 / Paringa Estate / Mornington Peninsula / Pinot Noir / S$90 at Wine Culture.  I’m completely stumped by this. Firstly, by my reckoning, this wine is way past its drinking age and I’m not alone in thinking that. Jeremy Oliver says this should have been drunk between 2003 and 2006. Secondly, I can’t understand the pricing. It retailed on release at around A$55 so I can’t rationalize a price of S$90 now. But, it wouldn’t be the first time that someone knows something that I don’t.

2007 / Mitchell / Peppertree / Clare Valley / Shiraz / S$39.90 at The Cellar Door. The raters agree, the raters agree! Oliver and Halliday at 91 points each, and generally the same ageing, namely around the 2016, 2017 mark. RRP of A$26 so the S$ price is good, edging great, value.

2004 / Torbreck / Run Rig / Barossa Valley / Shiraz / S$360 at Cornerstone Wines. To get a selling price on this downunder, you need to go to the specialty shops that sell older vintages. I’m seeing it at the moment at around A$240, which makes the price on offer by Cornerstone Wines seem quite acceptable to me. It’s just that I reviewed it on 12th April 2011, and you could have picked it up from Wine Exchange Asia for S$199. I did say at the time that it was a stunning buy. The quick and the dead, again.

My vote for today? The Forrest sauvignon blanc and the Escarpment chardonnay.

The wine and the place. Jacobsdal pinotage near Ugie, South Africa:

“Spit is an important factor in tasting wine for a variety of reasons: it contains both sodium and potassium chloride that has a buffering effect on flavour and it neutralizes excessively acidic wine through dilution and alkaline buffering.” – Neil Pendock writing in Wine, April 2011


Cork or screwcap? A recent comparison

Reviewed wines on offer by Cornerstone Wines, Equatorial Wines, Wine Culture and Wine Exchange Asia

Had an opportunity to compare wine bottled under screwcap and cork the other day. A friend’s birthday provided the excuse for one of the guests to provide a side by side comparison of 2001 Moss Wood cabernet, (thank you Manfred) one under cork the other under screwcap. Now, my palate is not a patch on those of the illustrious company around the table, but even I could tell the difference. Not immediately, as the nose on both wines was remarkably similar on opening, but as the wines sat in the glass, the journeys took very different directions.  The wine under cork improved, took on softer, mellower and more complex characteristics than the screwcap version of the same wine. The screwcap wine opened relatively harsh, and stayed that way.  I say relatively, because there’s no way that the screwcap was a bad wine, but on a stand off comparison, it didn’t reward as much. The comment was made that one might die before the screwcap reached the same level of subtleness. And maybe therein lies the challenge for winemakers of cellaring wines – to produce a wine that matures like it’s under cork whilst it’s actually under screwcap.  Consumers may not have the patience for the screwcaps to come around. Only time will tell.

If you’re wondering why Wine Exchange Asia gets such prominence in this blog it’s because they are, in my opinion, the most active on-line retailer in the country, pushing out deals, good deals, at a rate that would make a Lucky Plaza hawker blush. I review a lot of offers from retailers during the course of a week, and many get rejected because they either don’t quote GST inclusive, or don’t quote vintages.  If someone’s doing it right and often, and the wine is good, they’ll get into this blog.

The only criticism I have of Wine Exchange Asia (and it applies today) is that if you blink, you miss out. Not a bad problem for them to have, I suspect.

So, here’s today’s effort:

2009 / Dry River / Martinborough / Gewurtztraminer / S$55 at Wine Exchange Asia. I have a rating on this from Decanter at 19.5 points (that’s an award wine by their reckoning) but not a comparative price as it sells in the UK for GBP27. Off the top of the head, the pricing looks pretty good. Oh, it’s drinking out to 2015.

2008 / Dry River / Martinborough / Chardonnay / S$71 at Wine Exchange Asia. Bob Campbell says this is a “serious chardonnay” and gives it 94 points. Michael Cooper gives it 4.5 stars too. I’ve seen the pricing on this ranging from NZ$52 to NZ$70. No matter which one you choose as the basis for comparison, it’s a good deal.

2009 / Dry River / Martinborough / Riesling / S$61 at Wine Exchange Asia. “Pure and powerful” according to Bob Campbell, rewarding it with 94 points.  With a retail price of NZ$45, it’s a good deal here.

2009 / Te Kairanga / Martinborough / Sauvignon Blanc / S$41 at Equatorial Wines. I couldn’t find a specific rating for this year, so if you know the wine, you’ll be more interested in the price. It’s NZ$21, which equates to a BBI of S$41.20. Can’t get closer than that.

2008 / Dry River / Martinborough / Pinot Noir / S$110 at Wine Exchange Asia. This is getting into serious money for an antipodean pinot. But, Bob Campbell says it is “seriously impressive” so what the heck. He gives it 95 points. It retails for about NZ$75 which makes the S$110 pushing the outer limit of comparative value but 95 pointers don’t come along from Bob very often.

2009 / Dry River / Martinborough / Pinot Noir/ S$110 at Wine Exchange Asia. Bob Campbell gives it 93 points calling it a “dense and supple” wine. Dry River probably figured they were on to something with the 2008 as the price apparently went up for the 2009 to NZ$84. That makes it a better comparative value than the 2008, if you ignore the points. What’s a couple of points worth to you?

The wine and the place: 2006 Kevin Arnold shiraz at Malealea, Lesotho. Well done Malealea Lodge! (Have a look at to find out more about this trip):

And finally, I see Cornerstone Wines has 2003 Torbreck Run Rig Barossa Valley shiraz at S$399. No comment on the wine, as I reviewed it on 28th November last year – only then it was S$290 at Epsilon Wines. The quick and the dead it seems.

“Sometimes the French give us a wine word that everyone understands, a consumer-friendly, easy to pronounce term such as “chardonnay” or “appellation”. Sometimes they give us a word that no one can pronounce, like “viognier” or “condrieu”, so we just wing it. And sometimes they give us a word that no one understands, no one can pronounce, and no one can come up with anything better. Such a word is “terroir”. – Paul Gregutt writing in Wine Enthusiast, June 2004


Quality, not quantity – a small selection of wines on offer

Reviewed offers by Cornerstone Wines, Le Vigne, Rubicon, and Wine Exchange Asia.

Buying wine in Singapore is not like dropping in to your local Dan Murphys. If you see a wine for sale here at a decent price, you need to grab it, because it probably won’t be there next week, or in the case of Wine Exchange Asia, even this afternoon. The best thing to do is to get yourself on their e-mail listings (or Facebook/Twitter for the younger or more technologically minded) so that you can grab deals when you see them.  I’m reminded of a story by some Zimbabwean friends that supermarkets in super-inflationary Harare carried a sign that said “the price may have changed by the time you get to the checkout”. Well, with regard to the specials below, the deals may be gone by the time you get to read this.

2003 / Leeuwin Estate / Art Series / Margaret River / Chardonnay – S$99.55 at Cornerstone Wines. In case you’re worried about a 2003 chardonnay, don’t be. My data says that expectations are that you can drink this wine out to 2012 at least and 2015+ if you follow Jeremy Oliver. Really depends on how it’s been stored. It’s a bit pointless comparing initial Australian retail price, but for what it’s worth, it retailed on release for between A$80 to A$100. Wine Front gave it 93 (“excellent”), Gourmet Traveller Wine 5 stars (“outstanding”), Jeremy Oliver 93 (“top silver”) but Winestate could only manage “good”. If you like old Australian chardonnays, this could be worth a try. WineHouse recently had it listed at A$83.

2010 / Dog Point / Marlborough / Sauvignon Blanc – S$36 at Wine Exchange Asia. Bob Campbell called it “mouth-watering” and gave it 87 points (“above average”). Retails for about NZ$25 so price of S$36 is terrific value.

2008 / Seifried / Winemakers Collection / Nelson / Sauvignon Blanc – S$39.90 at Le Vigne. Michael Cooper gives it 4 (“excellent”) with drinking right now. It retails for NZ$23 so the price at Le Vigne is spot on. The Seifried range is a personal favourite, so buy some of this, e-mail me your address, and we’ll be around before it’s had time to go off.

2007 / Dog Point / Marlborough / Pinot Noir – S$52 at Wine Exchange Asia. This wine’s right at the top of the list for Michael Cooper with 5 stars (“outstanding”). Wine Front like it too, giving it 93 (“excellent”) so the risk in buying it is very low indeed. Drinking range looks about 2014-2015. Retails for NZ$39 so the deal here is a great buy.

2002 / Clonakilla / Canberra / Shiraz Viognier – S$88.50 at Le Vigne. Jeremy Oliver has no qualms about this wine giving it 96 points (“top gold medal”) and Wine Front give it 94 (“excellent”). There’s no doubt, it’s a top Australian red. Still drinking 2014 to 2020.  WineHouse in Australia had this (now sold out) listed at A$113 and I saw the 2005 recently in one of the Marina Bay restaurants at S$580. Le Vigne’s price has to be a bargain!

Hard to pick a winner today, but pushed, I’ll go for the Dog Point sauvignon blanc

The wine and the place. A 2007 Durbanville Hills Rhinofields merlot at Katse Dam in Lesotho. There’s nothing at Katse Dam but a hotel converted from the construction crew’s quarters. And a bar with a half-decent wine list!

“James Busby… ..first brought shiraz cuttings from France to Australia in 1832. Known as scyras at the time, it was planted in the Hunter Valley in the 1930s and the Barossa Valley in the 1840s.” – Peter Dry writing in Winestate, October 2008


So long Great Wall Red

It’s been a tough first half of the year. A couple of weeks in South Africa and Lesotho, a week or so in and around Istanbul, and most recently a trip to Tibet visiting Lhasa and Everest Base Camp, and ending in Nepal at Kathmandu. What a variety of wines! Even had a vintage 1997 Great Wall cabernet in Lhasa that we picked up in Xining and carried on the train. How was it? Fairly light as I remember, and not in the greatest of condition, which is no surprise seeing it was stored upright under cork in a busy Xining supermarket.

Which brings me to the photo below. It’s of a wine shop in Kathmandu that is pretty much open to the elements. I checked out the stock and found Lindemans Bin 45 chardonnay, Two Oceans sauvignon blanc and a lot of other run-of-the mill wines that hadn’t moved for a long time. They were all old, around 2003 or 2005. Yep, they’d be in real good condition I don’t think. Our poor guide was astonished by the suggestion that they should be poured down the sink.

There’s a way to go on the wine scene – a waiter graciously placed the removed screwcap on a plate for my inspection and proceeded to pour the red wine into tumblers (the last time that happened was in Bulawayo in 1991, when we were presented with the plastic cork from a bottle of bubbly) but there seems to be a genuine enthusiasm to learn.

It’s now life back to normal for a while, so expect a review of what’s on offer in Singapore in the next day or two.

“I think every [wine] show should include at least one judge with a deep understanding of what goes on in the vineyard.” – Max Allen writing in Gourmet Traveller Wine July 2007


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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