Archive for June, 2012

Ata Rangi Pinot gets 98 pts and $49 bucks for an aged Cabernet

Some newsy bits before we get into the wine reviews. Le Vigne are in the throes of shifting from their Holland Park premises to 72 Namly Place 267220. They might be open there by the time you read this. And, it’s been a long time coming but Straits Wine Company has finally revamped its website and it looks fairly comprehensive.



I’ve been hunting down the 2010 Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir in Singapore. Why? Well, I’m a big fan of the 2008 and the 2009 so when I read that the 2010 received 98 pts in Gourmet Traveller Wine, I knew I had to have some.  They said (and the ‘they’ is Bob Campbell) “this is one of Ata Rangi’s best ever wines….I’m not sure how they can improve on a wine like this.” Need more convincing? Wine Spectator gives it 94 pts but Decanter place it top of the tree in their article on New Zealand Pinot Noir 2010 in the July issue, giving it 19/20. Yes, it is in Singapore, and it’s at The Cellar Door for $82.50. I’ve got mine.


Reviewed 11 wines offered by Artisan Cellars, Crystal Wines, Eve Spirits, Straits Wine Company, Underground Cellars, Wine Exchange Asia, reporting on 7.

In ascending order of value:

2008 / Rochford / Macedon Ranges / Pinot Noir / $51 at Straits Wine Company – This wine retails for A$36 so there’s nothing wrong with the pricing here, it’s pretty close to spot on BBI. It just struggles to crack the 90 pt barrier (James Halliday 89, Huon Hooke 86, Jeremy Oliver 87, Wine Front 88) so on a comparative quality/value basis, it loses out here today.

2006 / Massena / Moonlight Run / Barossa Valley / Grenache Blend / $55 at Crystal Wines – Unlike the Rochford, this wine does just break through the 90pt barrier getting just that (90 pts) from Wine Front and 88 from James Halliday. It’s the relative pricing here that puts it in this spot. It retails at A$25, A$11 less than the Rochford but S$4 more by the time it gets here. Pass.

2008 / Majella / Coonawarra / Shiraz / $54 from Crystal Wines – Another wine in that no-man’s land of 87-90 pts (Halliday 90, Oliver 90, Huon Hooke 87), but again, it’s the pricing that’s letting it down. Retails for A$28 so the BBI says it could be coming in a good $9 under the price here to match the value others seem to achieve.

2010 / McHenry Hohnen / Margaret River / Cabernet Merlot / $45 at Straits Wine Company – Finally, a wine in the 90s! Halliday 93, and Wine Front 91, it retails for A$21.60 to be precise so the pricing is just OK, but we’re getting there.

2010 / Glaetzer / Amon Ra / Barossa Valley / Shiraz / $110 at Wine Exchange Asia – It retails for A$90 so the pricing is OK without being startling but it gets a solid 93 pts from Huon Hooke and Wine Front who call it “a big blokey style” and at 15% alc., who’d be surprised by that. Drinking surprisingly early at 2022 to 2030.

2006 / Hewitson / Private Cellar / Barossa Valley / Shiraz Mouvedre / $90 for a magnum at Wine Exchange Asia – A huge jump in value for these last two wines. Halliday gives it 94 pts and reckons it’ll last to 2040. Hmm, maybe for my 89th birthday? Halliday thought the magnum listed at A$170, I reckon A$140 would be a better bet, but either way, this is great value.

And the winner is…

2003 / d’Arenberg / The Coppermine Road / McLaren Vale / Cabernet / $49 at Wine Exchange Asia – Can’t beat this for value. It retailed for A$65, last seen in Melbourne at A$59 and only S$49 here.  Halliday 94 pts, Oliver 93 pts, and Wine Front $91 pts, and still drinking for another 3-4 years if you believe Oliver and Wine Front, although Halliday wouldn’t wait any longer. $49 bucks.  Still want that 2008 Majella at $54?


WINESPEAK 101 – Waffle with the best of them – Today’s word MARSH-MALLOW

‘Rich and full-bodied, with ripe layers of fig, apricot and melon flavours shaded by toasty, smoky roasted marshmallow notes”.

Mmm, I can taste it now. Chardonnay of course. It’s an odd word when you strip it to its essentials. Marsh and mallow. Wonder what the Mandarin is for that.


And it is pleasant to conjecture just how they first discovered wine. The imagination seizes the picture of our forefathers coming hot from the chase, slacking [sic] their thirst at a cool brook, and idly picking sweet berries from a nearby bush.  The wives would take some sweet berries home for the children, they protected in their shelters by the aged folks. And so it would happen that some of the berries, left uneaten and neglected in their containers, would ferment. One day, tasting, our forefathers found that the sweet berries had changed into dry wine. The miracle of the vintage had begun. And from that day to this, the grape marked the progress in the slow civilizing development of man.” – The Aesthetics of Wine, March 1946

Two reasons not to drink cheap wine – as if you needed any

Yes, I’ll say it again – I’m a wine snob. I don’t like cheap wine. But then again, I don’t like cheap cars either and for the same reasons. It’s what goes into them that makes them cheap.  Give me an old Bentley any day over a new Geely. An unfair comparison I hear you say. Then why do people constantly try to find a “Bentley” wine for “Geely” money? There seems to be some impression that making wine is simply growing and picking grapes and then putting the resulting wine in a bottle. Price difference is all a matter of spin and what you can get away with.  That’s true in a few cases, but just like making a Bentley (real walnut in my 1954 model, not plastic), quality costs.

Let me frighten you with a few things that might end up in that bargain bottle. Two 3-letter words that should have you shaking in your wellies – MOG and OAK.

MOG – Matter other than grapes. Well, what else goes into wine other than grapes? Stalks and leaves for one, but they are legitimate, because at least they come from the vine, and many winemakers dabble with the balance between grapes and stalk to drive their expression of the wine. No, we’re talking about stuff that shouldn’t be there – stuff like grubs, caterpillars, snails (let’s not talk about herbicides) but at least they are organic. Other stuff, according to the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine for May 2012 includes “trellis or irrigation parts, harvest tools, buckets……or a mobile phone dropped into a bin” They even talk about a big mechanical harvester collecting a bicycle! If the winery is highly mechanized, the chances of that stuff getting missed increases. If the grapes are hand-picked and hand-sorted, the likelihood of it ending up in the wine is negligible. But hand picking and sorting costs money – get the picture?

OAK – Call me old fashioned, but I like my wine to get its oak from sitting in a barrel. Not from oak sitting in the wine. You can add oak in blocks, staves, oak rice, oak chips, and oak powder and I’m sure it’s a hell of lot cheaper than buying French or American oak barrels. But to me, it’s like plastic walnut. There’s an argument for plastic walnut that says “if you can’t tell the difference, why does it matter?”. And that’s why we have plastic walnut in cheap cars (or cheap cars masquerading as expensive cars) and why wine that is matured in oak barrels costs more to make.

Using expensive processes can still turn out a poor wine, and some mass-produced wine can be exceptionally good.  But a hand-crafted Morgan will always be more expensive than a mass produced Kia (even if the Morgan’s only got three wheels!) You either love the Morgan or you don’t get it. It’s the same with wine.

It’s either a drink or an experience.


Reviewed wines on offer by Artisan Cellars, Beam Global Asia, Underground Wines, Wine Directions, Wine Exchange Asia, Wine Guru.

A disappointing selection this week. I reviewed nine wines but can only bring myself to write about four of them. Why? A disturbing trend that I hope won’t continue…….you see, some of the wines offered should have been drunk a little while ago if you believe the experts.  How about a 2009 Sauvignon Blanc that according to several raters should have been drunk last year latest? Or a 2008 Riesling that some raters reckon should have been polished off two and a half year ago. Are we seeing the impact of the global financial crisis or was it just poor buying that left the stock sitting on the shelf? Either way, as a retailer (and I declare my hand that I’m in the industry), I’d be trying a bottle first, checking if it’s OK and if yes, say so. If not, then pour it down the sink but don’t put it out on special to some unsuspecting consumer. Two wines reviewed today would have come in second and third for price value…..only they’re possibly well past it.

There’s no value in that.

Other wines, like newly arrived 2010 Pyramid Valley Fields of Fire Chardonnay from Artisan Cellars just haven’t been reviewed yet, so when they are, I’ll blog it.

On a more positive note, there was/is some great buying out there in those older “investment portfolio” wines that keep popping up. Take the older vintages of Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock for example. Wine Exchange Asia had the 2003 at $70, the 2004 at $80, and the 2005 for $70. And surprise of all surprises, they were beaten by Cornerstone who listed the 2003 at $66, the 2004 at $75 and the 2005 at $70. Bring it on!

By the way, the 2004 Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock is listed by one respected retailer in Australia at A$105 (S$135 in today’s lingo) so the next time one of your Aussie mates says wine is so expensive in Singapore, offer him a calculator and a tissue.

To the wines, in ascending order of value:

2009 / Neudorf / Brightwater / Nelson / Riesling / S$49 at Wine Guru – A good run-of-the-mill wine with Michael Cooper giving it 4 stars (“silver medal”) and Bob Campbell 83 pts (“bronze medal”). Should be drinking to 2015, but with a RRP of NZ$23-24, the value’s OKish but it gets solidly trounced by others today.

2011 / Soho / Jagger / Marlborough / Pinot Gris / S$32.50 by the case at Underground Wines – Another silver medal wine according to Michael Cooper and slips into “above average” for Bob Campbell at 85 pts. Retails down under for NZ$27. Now you see why it beats the Neudorf by a big margin.

2009 / Wild Duck Creek / Yellow Hammer Hill / Heathcote / Shiraz Malbec / S$38 at Wine Directions – This does look pretty tempting I must admit. With a rating of 92 pts from Lisa Perotti-Brown of Wine Advocate, what’s not to like? It should drink to 2020 and even though it’s been discounted down from its release price of A$40 to around A$32, this is still very solid buying. I’m thinking my cellar could do with some Shiraz Malbec for a change.

2009 / Jackson Estate / Stitch / Marlborough / Sauvignon Blanc / S$30 at Wine Exchange Asia – To be honest, this’ll probably be gone by the time you read this, in which case, my congratulations to the lucky purchaser. This is great value as the wine retailed for NZ$22 and it’s 5 stars from Michael Cooper. But don’t sit on it! It should be drunk now, right now.


WINESPEAK 101 – How to waffle with the best of them. Today’s word is IRON

This wine is very tight now, with a wall of iron-clad structure holding the core of blackberry, cassis and black cherry fruit in check. Notes of tar, iron, and sweet tobacco lurk in the background.”

It’s a Syrah, but I wonder where that iron came from? Could it be MOG?



New arrivals into Tiger Wines this week include a mixture of Tasmanian and small producers from the Yarra Valley. Check the full listing on the website but here’s a sample:

Chartley Estate Tasmania Pinot Gris 2011

Chartley Estate Tasmania Riesling 2011

Glaetzer-Dixon Avance Tasmania Pinot Noir 2011

Glaetzer-Dixon Reveur Tasmania Pinot Noir 2008

Luke Lambert Heathcote Nebbiolo 2010

Mayer Bloody Hill Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2011

Pressing Matters R9 Tasmania Riesling 2010

Thick as Thieves The Show Pony Yarra Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Thick as Thieves Poco Rosso Yarra Valley Nebbiolo 2010

Tiny volumes, some hard to get, most have never been seen in Singapore before. Small producers need to hang on to the WET to survive so the pricing for these wines is not as keen as for big players – but you may never get the opportunity to try otherwise.


Oak is one of the most beautiful, beautiful aromas. It’s a hedonistic, crazy, wonderful smell. When you buy a new barrel and you stick your nose in it, it’s dreamy. Why would you want to move away from that when it’s a beautiful thing?” – Virginia Willcox of Vasse Felix commenting on the possibility of oak staves instead of barrels, in The Age July 5th 2011








Shiraz, serve with meat – doh!

Reviewed wines on offer by Eve Spirits, Goddess Wines, Le Vigne, Underground Wines, Wine Directions, Wine Exchange Asia


Earlier this year, I caught up with Timo Mayer in the Yarra Valley at his “Bloody Hill” property and he mentioned “we don’t do barcodes, we don’t do back labels”. Well, I figured I knew what a barcode was, but was “back label” some industry speak for pushing out more wine of a vintage than you actually made? Not unknown in some parts of Australia. But no, it’s as simple as it looks, meaning the label on the back of the bottle. I’m paraphrasing but Timo essentially said that “most back labels are just full of superfluous crap, so I don’t use them.”

I was reminded of his comments when I went searching for ratings on the 2009 Peterson’s Strikes Hunter Valley Shiraz (available at Goddess Wines for S$75). I couldn’t find a rating anywhere but I did visit the winery’s website and came across this gem, which possibly appears on the back label too. You have to read this in the context that Strikes is a 15.5% alc. shiraz. It says “serve with your favourite meat dish”. It seems that anyone about to spend A$60 on a high alcohol shiraz still needs to be told that it goes well with meat. You favourite meat of course, but is there anything more superfluous than this piece of advice? Perhaps we should be told “best drunk from a glass”. I’m with Timo.


A pretty ordinary selection this week, in fact the highest rated wine is 92 pts. I hope it’s not the beginning of a trend.

Before I jump into the reviews, I should mention one wine separately, only because I COULD find a rating but I couldn’t find a RRP in A$. The wine is the 2006 Small Gully The Formula Roberts Barossa Valley Shiraz which is on sale at Wine Directions for S$32.00. Wine Advocate gives it 90 pts (Lisa Perotti-Brown) and 89 pts (Jay Miller) so not bad for a S$32 wine but Small Gully seems to hide itself very well. It’s website doesn’t appear to have been updated for yonks, you won’t find Small Gully rated by James Halliday, Wine Front, Jeremy Oliver or Huon Hooke either.  I’ll be happy to do a value comparison if someone can find me a rating (Arjen?)

So, over to those for which I do have data (in ascending order of comparative value)

2009 / Sandalford / Element / Margaret River / Shiraz Cabernet / S$32.90 at Eve Spirits – A fair comparative price when you consider RRP of A$15 but the raters weren’t enthused. James Halliday gives it 88 pts and Huon Hooke 81 pts. Ouch!

2009 / TarraWarra / J Block / Yarra Valley / Shiraz / S$48 at Wine Directions – On a pure price standpoint, this wine is good value (RRP A$35) but it’s the ratings that let it down when competing against other offers. Wine Front could only muster 89 pts and Huon Hooke 86 pts so it falls behind the others here today. Drinking out to 2016.

2009 / Domain Road / Central Otago / Pinot Noir / S$49 at Wine Exchange Asia – A big, big jump in comparative quality/value compared to the previous two wines. This wine comes in with great value (RRP NZ$38) and the best rating here today. According to Bob Campbell, it’s a “lovely wine with potential.” But is still misses out, by the tiny, tiniest of margins to……

2007 / Norfolk Rise / Mt Benson / Cabernet Sauvignon / S$29.30 at Le Vigne – 90 pts from Halliday so not the highest rating today but it gets its nose in front by the price comparison. It’s a good wine at a good price. Can’t ask for more than that.  RRP A$16.

I should point out that Le Vigne also have the 2011/2012 Plan B OD Riesling from Great Southern on offer at S$26.30. The 2009 and 2010 vintages scored 90 pts from Halliday but I couldn’t find a rating on the vintages offered here. If the 2011/2012 are also 90 pts, then this wine would have come up trumps today.



Oh yes, definitely the way we were…..


Alas, ours is an unceremonious age.  Not knowing even the most basic forms of good will and proper conduct, men and women of the modern age lack the ability even to break the rules with aplomb. I date the decline of contemporary life directly from the occasion Henry Bolte offered us a choice between the Liberal Party and anarchy. It is my firm belief that many of our number have embraced anarchy. He should not have put the choice so attractively. Or perhaps the evils of the modern age date even further back, to the founding of the first temperance societies. Certainly they were a blight on the land that threatened our most cherished traditions. Few civilities remain in the lives of the gracious. One is the art of toasting. Mendelsohn (1965) defines the toast as ‘an alcoholic salutation to a person, object or sentiment, whose health or advancement is invoked by drinking’. He tells us that in the early 18th century toasting glasses were exceedingly beautiful objects of delicate and elaborate workmanship drawn with a stem so narrow (one eighth of an inch) so that drinkers could snap them between finger and thumb to prevent them ever being used for a lesser toast. Sure beats the Greek habit of dashing your glass in the fireplace.” – On Toasting and Toasts, David Dunstan, Wine & Spirit Buying Guide February 1981

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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