Archive for February, 2012

The taste of wet gravel

Reviewed offers by Artisan Cellars, Crystal Wines, Eve Spirits, The Cellar Door, The Local Nose, Underground Wines, Wine Directions


What a boring bunch of wines on offer! I reviewed over 12 wines but most were simply repeats of offers made late last year or earlier this year. Is this a sign that the Aussie/Sing exchange rate (1.3507 – yikes!) is starting to bite and few new stocks are coming in? I have noticed that some retailers who used to carry a wide range of Australian and New Zealand wines now carry a much smaller selection – they’ve switched to Argentina and Chile and even, dare I say it, France.

So, I ended up with just three Chardonnays to review, and this at a time when you tell me you’ve moved on from Chardonnay. Sorry.

Same as last week, listed in ascending order of comparative value:

2010 / Flametree / Margaret River / Chardonnay / $60 or $57 for members at Crystal Wines. – This is a fine wine indeed if you follow James Halliday or Wine Front. Halliday gives it 96 pts, and Wine Front 93, so right up there with Australia’s best. Long legs too, drinking out to somewhere between 2018 and 2023. But it’s the price again. With a RRP of A$30, the BBI reckons this should pitch here at about S$49 to be comparative with other fine makers who retail at the same price downunder. Bugger.

2009 / Pyramid Valley / Fields of Fire / North Canterbury / Chardonnay / S$101.65 at Artisan Cellars – This wine gets solid reviews (93 pts from Bob Campbell and 91+ from Wine Advocate) and should be good for about another 4 years or so. I’ve seen two RRP on this which really confuses things. One at NZ$65 and one at NZ$97. Pyramid Valley’s own website lists the 2008 at NZ$65 so I’ve gone with that. That puts the price here at the upper end of BBI’s tolerance but still OK. Just. I understand it’s pretty hard to get so no point in discounting I suppose.

2007 / Cloudy Bay / Marlborough / Chardonnay / S$53.90 at EveSpirits – Cloudy Bay’s Chardonnay gets left in the shadow of the Sauvignon Blanc, but according to Bob Campbell at least, it’s a mighty fine drop.   He gives it 95 pts (he doesn’t give out 95s freely) and Gourmet Traveller Wine (for which Bob writes) gives it 97 pts. The Americans are more cautious giving it 88 pts (Wine Spectator) and 85 pts (wine Advocate) who went so far to say that it is “rather anonymous”. To balance things up though, Decanter gave it the equivalent of 5 stars with 18.5 pts. So, you’ll either impress or underwhelm your guests depending on where you serve it. Price-wise, this is a good deal, and the best here today. RRP of NZ$39.


WINESPEAK 101 – How to waffle with the best of them. Today’s word (or words) – WET GRAVEL

I suspect the only time I have even come close to actually tasting wet gravel is as a nipper in a nappy crawling around the backyard.  Makes you wonder what these reviewers do of a weekend. Here’s a description of a shiraz:

“Dark and spicy with a strong licorice note weaving through the persistent  dark berry and wet gravel flavours.” 

Anyone care to offer what wet gravel actually tastes like?



Still around today and still making fine wines…..


“I’ve sometimes wanted to throw people off the [winery] – especially people who chew gum while tasting wine – but I’ve never done it.” – Tony Lee writing in The Age, 20th September 2011

How to make a small fortune? – start with a large one and invest in Australian wine.

Reviewed wines on offer by Artisan Cellars, Crystal Wines, The Local Nose, Underground Wines, Wine Exchange Asia


Just back from a visit to Tassie, catching up with wineries in the north, east and south, and managing to fit in a spot of trout fishing on Woods Lake and Great Lake. The competitors in the Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships had more success than me (i.e they actually caught fish) but the bizarre event of the week was witnessing record breaking Lithuanian swimmer Vidmantas Urbonas  emerge from the 10 degree water of the Great Lake in central Tasmania having just swum its 28 km length in a little over 6 hours. I’m told that when he jumped into the lake at 7:30am his first words were –  “warm”. They breed them tough in Lithuania.

I managed to meet some more wonderful characters in the crazy world of wine that exists in Tassie. Brian Franklin of Apsley Gorge whose winemaking operation sits on a ledge of rock almost jutting into the sea at Bicheno. Not the place you’d usually expect to meet a winemaker, but Brian is a retired abalone and crayfish diver so using the former processing plant makes sense. It’s just not where you’d expect to find a cellar!; Steve Lubiana, whose enthusiasm for biodynamics is infectious. Watch this space to hear more about Stefano Lubiana wines in Singapore; and Nick Glaetzer, who shocked the establishment by winning the Jimmy Watson Trophy with a Tasmanian shiraz. On my visit to Cambridge (where he is winemaker for Frogmore Creek) Nick drew several samples of pinot noir and shiraz from his own Glaetzer-Dixon barrels. I can’t wait to see these wines in the bottle in Singapore. And before you ask, no, I didn’t manage to secure any 2010 Mon Pere shiraz.

Also Loraine Kossmann at Chartley Estate, Dave Cush at Spring Vale, Peter Cameron at Waterton, Kate Hill at er, Kate Hill, and Peter Althaus at Domaine A.  Word is, it’s going to be a tough vintage this year. Too cool and too cloudy so far, but there’s still a few weeks to go before panic sets in.

And here’s a tip – catch the Spirit of Tasmania ferry so that you can enjoy a bottle of 2003 Grand Vintage Arras in the restaurant, or a glass of 2006 Domaine A Stoney Vineyard cabernet at just $8.50 a glass. And you can fill the boot with Tasmanian wine on the way back.


I’m currently reading “The future makers – Australian wines for the 21st century” by Max Allen and what an informative read it is. This is not your usual winery tour guide but a detailed and opinionated analysis of what Australia should be growing for warmer weather (more Italian varietals), and who should be growing them (not big money) with a recurring, almost repetitive emphasis on biodynamics as the key.  It’s a rambling, entertaining, constantly challenging read. I couldn’t put it down. Apsley Gorge gets a mention, as does Stefano Lubiana and Spring Vale. Max Allen writes  under Spring Vale that “the stand-out wine is Spring Vale’s “grown-up” pinot noir: regularly up there with Tasmania’s best, it has uncommon plumy vinosity and warm generous spicy aromatics.”


I’m giving away a copy of the book (RRP A$45) to the first person to buy a case of the 2007 Spring Vale Pinot Noir at Tiger Wines (


Unless you’re new to Singapore, have been studying for your school exams (in which case you shouldn’t be reading this blog), or you don’t get out much, then you’ll know that there’s a lot of wine in Singapore that came here as an investment and is still here – only it isn’t an investment any more. Think of it more like Greek debt.

Did I say a lot? Oh yes, a lot. The word “ocean” seems to be the most popular term. Now, that’s wonderful news for you as a buyer, awful news if you’re the investor (but hardly surprising), and frankly, awful news for wineries trying to get current vintages into Singapore when older vintages are selling for cents in the dollar of their original price.  Example? How about 2006 Grant Burge Meshach which retails in Australia for about A$140. Want the 2002? That’d be A$65 equivalent in Singapore! I’ve seen wines that are A$100 bid at Langton’s being offered here in Singapore for A$38. Did I hear you whisper “arbitrage”?

So, until your cellar fills up, your credit card runs out, or you just get sick of drinking “icon” Australian wines, then you’re going to have the time of your life.  You need to get into the loop of course, and probably the best place to start is to get onto Wine Exchange Asia’s mailing list. They seem to be most active in trying to turn the mountain into a molehill.

But if you do get sick of those icons, please don’t forget the other wine retailers who are being clobbered by the obscene, ill-informed speculation that led to this (in my mind) disaster. And don’t forget that you can always take a different journey for a while by exploring Tasmania’s finest wines too.


A break with tradition. Today I’m listing the wines in order of attractiveness of “the deal”, from the least attractive to the best.

2010 / Flametree / Margaret River / Cabernet Merlot / S$60 ($57 for members) at Crystal Wines – This is a fine wine, 94 pts from Halliday and 90 pts from Wine Front. It’s the price I can’t get excited about. With a RRP of A$30, the BBI reckons this should be closer to S$48-49 than the S$60 being asked here.

2008 / Mahi / Marlborough / Sauvignon Blanc / S$42.80 at Artisan Cellars – This is actually a fair deal price-wise, it’s just clobbered by better ones today. Michael Cooper reckons it’s in the “excellent” category and Bob Campbell gives it “above average”.  Retailed for NZ$20 but worryingly, the winemaker (according to Michael Cooper) reckons this should have been drunk by 2010.

2007 / Kilikanoon / The Covenant / Clare Valley / Shiraz / S$52 at Wine Exchange Asia – Halliday 90 pts, Wine Spectator 93 pts. Solid, drinking out to 2016. I’m looking at the current sale price rather than the initial retail price and the current price shows about A$42. That make S$52 a good buy.

2006 / Kilikanoon / R Reserve / Barossa Valley / Shiraz / S$98 at Wine Exchange Asia – Halliday gave it 95 pts and drinking out to 2025. RRP was A$120, but now selling at around A$110. Things are getting better. Great deal.

2005 / Mount Mary / Quintet/ Yarra Valley / Cabernet / S$105 at Wine Exchange Asia – 95 and 96 pts respectively from Haliday and Oliver. An icon. RRP of A$100 but now selling for A$140 so S$105 is limbo land. A steal

2005 / Dalwhinnie / Moonambel / Pyrenees / Shiraz / S$65, or $60 by the half case at Wine Exchange Asia – How low can you go? Actually, this is line ball with the Mount Mary but sneaks in because the overall price is lower but still 96 pts Halliday. Currently selling at A$70, up from its retail of A$52. Do the maths  – today’s winner!



Alas, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that Bastard Box wine will not appear in bottles anytime soon. It’s impossible to lead vines to wine when you don’t live on the property.  Such is life.


“It is easy to understand the popularity of wine. Our fathers, hundreds and thousands of years ago, had no ice chests and in wine they found a food beverage which by natural fermentation preserved itself. Mostly the ancients drank their wine as soon as it was made. They had no bottles or containers that would protect the wine from the air.  Sometimes they added resin or spice or pitch to preserve their wines for longer periods. But such wine would not be very tasty to drink.” – The Aesthetics of Wine, March 1946

Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio? – Same, same, but different

Reviewed wines on offer by EveSpirits, The Cellar Door, Wine Exchange Asia


A quick one this week as I’m heading down to Tassie to do a spot of fishing and importantly fit in some cellar door visits.  I’m a week late for the International Cool Climate Symposium held in Hobart so you can figure that I wasn’t invited. Maybe next year.


Over the weekend, I gathered with friends to celebrate the end of Chinese New Year with yu sheng, food and wine. I was responsible for the wine selection and, after extensive research on matching wines with Asian food, I decided on a dry-ish Riesling, a Gewurtztraminer and a Pinot Gris for the whites. Red wines with Asian food present more of a challenge so I went with a Pinot Noir and a GSM (or was it an SGM? Or a GMS?). Anyway, the first surprise of the night was how poorly the whites matched the Asian food. OK, it was Asian-ish, more nouveau Asian than traditional but the whites just didn’t stand up. The second surprise was how well the reds stood up.  Myth busted? With the whites, I rejected Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and included the Gewurtztraminer, at some risk I thought as I hadn’t had a Gewurtz for probably oh, 15 years, . Lo and behold, the Gewurtztraminer, whilst not the greatest match, was by far the most popular of the whites.

The other thing I remember was the discussion on Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio. Is it the same grape or different clones of the same grape? Can Gris or Grigio come from the same vine? What should I expect from Grigio and what from Gris?

To answer that, I turned to the Feb/Mar 2012 edition of James Halliday’s Wine Companion where I remembered there was an article on just such subject. Summarising here, the answer is that yes, it’s the same grape, and yes it can be the same vine. According to Judy Robinson of Barringwood Park in Tasmania, quoted in the Wine Companion “the time you elect to pick the grapes dictates the style….pick the grapes early – just as they’ve started to become ripe – and you get the Italian grigio style: lean, tight, all green apples, fresh pears. Pick them later in the season, when the grapes are riper, and you have the Alsation style gris: Textural, luscious, spiced apples, and ripe pears, honey, apricot”

There you have it.


To the wines….

2011 / Cloudy Bay / Marlborough / Sauvignon Blanc / S$44 by the case at EveSpirits – With this savvy, you’re either in love with it, over it, or been lost on a desert island somewhere for the last 25 years and never heard of it. Wine Advocate give this vintage 90 pts (“outstanding”) and Wine Spectator 91 points (ditto “outstanding”). Don’t sit on it, drink now or next year latest. It’s $44 bucks, it’s great value.

2010 / Ten Sisters / Marlborough / Sauvignon Blanc / $30 at Wine Exchange Asia – Interesting (and I think worrying for New Zealand) that it’s easier to find ratings on today’s 2011 New Zealand wines by US raters than by New Zealand raters. C’mon Kiwis, c’mon. 700 wineries and only a couple of recognized raters? Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator put it in their “very good” bracket, and both reckon drink this year.  US$17 in the big smoke so S$30 here looks enticing.

2011 / Wither Hills / Marlborough / Sauvignon Blanc / S$30.40 at The Cellar Door – Yet another US rating for the 2011 Kiwi wine. Just scrapes into Wine Advocate’s “very good” category with 85 pts.  Should be OK till next year. Pricing looks quite good.

2009 / Coal Pit / Tiwha / Central Otago / Pinot Noir / S$65 at Wine Exchange Asia – Bob Campbell gives it 94pts putting it into his “excellent” category. Wine Advocate gives it 88 pts putting it into their “very good” category.  Drinking to 2014. Bob Campbell said it is “very appealing.” With a RRP of NZ$42, the price here is about right but it’s got stiff competition today.

2009 / Sandalford / Reserve / Margaret River / Chardonnay / S$38.80 at EveSpirits – No 95 pointers here today. This is 94 pts from Halliday (“outstanding”) with drinking to 2015. RRP is A$30 so great buying.

There’s a pretty clear winner in the BBI stakes and that’s the Sandalford Chardonnay. It’s followed by the Ten Sisters Sauvignon Blanc which keeps out the Cloudy Bay by its very attractive price for a little drop in quality.


“Good wine is as much about what stays out as it is what goes in.” – Daniel Sogg writing in Wine Spectator, March 2006




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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