Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wolf Blass gold series Shiraz-Viognier

I remember first seeing the name "Wolf Blass" on an Australian wine and thinking "That's a silly name for a winery." I had no idea that there really was a man named Wolf.

   Well there really is a Wolf, and he's been making wine for longer then I've been alive... a long story made short; Wolf Blass was born in what was Eastern Germany in the 1930's and became the youngest person to ever earn the Kellermeister Diploma, or Master's degree in Eonology. He was just past twenty years of age.

   Some might think that he had been born with the grapevine in hand... not so. In fact, Wolfgang fell into the wine industry quite by accident~! Wolf ran away from school as a teenager and was given an ultimatum by his parents: return to school or apprentice under a winemaker. Well, school wasn't really Wolf's thing you see - so there wasn't much of a choice for him, and the world of wine has changed as a result of that ultimatum.

   Wolf Blass winery ( was one of the first wineries in Australia to start commercial production of Shiraz-Viognier. Shiraz, or Syrah as you may know it, has been grown to great success in South Australia for decades but what of Viognier?

   Viognier is a relative newcomer to the Australian wine-scene and the blend of the two is really more then just a blend. Viognier is a white grape varietal that in it's youth has an abundance of floral aromas, and depending on where it's grown - will give rich fruit and floral palate with crisp acids. Aging the wine is a risk though as the floral notes tend to die quite quickly (sometimes under 5 years).

   And then there is the blend which is more-then-a-blend; it's a co-fermentation. Anywhere from 2% to 8% of the grapes used in total production will be Viognier and it is this varietal which ends up preserving the blend's lively colors as well as fundamentally altering the flavor compounds and phenolics.

   It was a risk when it was first conceived, and even today there are winemakers and sommeliers alike who will contest it's merits. To me, there are obvious joys to the co-fermentation and downfalls: a joy would be the lightness that Viognier brings and "tones-down" the South Australia Shiraz' natural inclination to big, bold, jammy characteristics. There are more floral notes of course, and to my palate a richer, more developed fruit profile. On the downside however, there is that tendency for the palate to diminish more quickly than normal... a well made Shiraz can easily last 10 years or more, but I find many Shiraz-Viognier will have lost their flavors in approximately 5.

2005 Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz-Viognier
Adelaide Hills, South Australia
$38   *** Very Good Value ***

varietals:   95% Shiraz, 5% Viognier
maturation:   15 months in oak (18% new oak) with a small amount unoaked to retain freshness
  • visual:   clear; fully intense bruised plum core with slightest brick rim
  • nose:   clean; medium intensity and developed aromas of lifted dark florals (irises, lilies), dark berries (blackberries, black raspberry), light cigar tobacco, savory winter spices (allspice, clove, pepper), background of baked earth
  • palate:   clean, dry, medium+ (red currant) acids, medium- (soft, velvety), tannins, medium body, medium- ABV (surprising considering it's 15%), medium intense and developed flavors mimicking the nose with particular emphasis on crisp red berries (red currant, red raspberry)... light florals mix well with restrained oaking and light spice notes. Very good balance, excellent structure and long length
  • conclusion:   this wine has peaked, and if you still have a bottle - drink it now~! Enjoy 2009-2012
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   crisp, vibrant acids in a red wine with light floral notes and moderate tannins? I can certainly understand people who want to pair it with venison~! consider a Maple glazed venison flank steak (medium-rare) with pure Kentucky bourbon demi-glace, steamed spaghetti squash and wild mushroom ravioli... just a thought :)

  To be honest, this was the first Wolf Blass wine that I've tried in years (and years). I can still remember the 1990's when they absolutely dominated the Canadian wine market and were simply the wine to drink. There was a reason for that: they were great wines for the price. I stopped to show myself that I'd grown beyond the "old favorites"... well maybe I've grown up enough to come back to those old favorites. After all, they became our favorites for a reason:


As always I welcome your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Saint Cosme, Chateauneuf-du-Pape

"Terroir" is a term, originally French, in winemaking that has come to mean all of the environmental impacts on the making of a wine; the land, the wind, the rain... even the winemaker is considered by many to be part of the terroir.

   So my apologies, firstly, for not writing for the past few weeks. Many of you know that my wife and I have a new addition to the family: TheLittlestStudentOfWine. Absolute truth; she smells every wine I taste at home and has her own list of wrinkly noses to explain how much (or how little) she likes a wine. For instance the Hainle ( icewine Riesling or the Summerhill ( late harvest Erenfelser gets a big smile each and every time. Overly cropped Shiraz? Usually a big wrinkly face.

   But I digress.

  Today I was reading the latest Decanter Magazine ( and lo-and-behold, most of the articles on California were about a movement in winemaking back to the concept of terroir... winemakers who are not afraid anymore to allow the land and the grape to express themselves. This may sound like common-sense, but sadly is not the case.

   Many winemakers feel compelled by critics and points to make a wine "that-the-people-will-like", instead of a wine that they themselves will be proud of. There is chemical control, the addition of compounds, and many other "tricks" to manipulate a wine into being something other then what it wants to be. Think of it as plastic surgery for wine.

   But there is that movement that Decanter is talking about, and the movement is growing.

   And where did this concept come from again? France.

   Arguably some of the most devote students to the concept to terroir are Louis and Cherry Barruol of Saint Cosme winery in Gigondas ( Louis is the inheritor of 14 generations of dedication to allowing the southern Rhone terroir express itself through his wines. In fact, his family home has an archaeological site with the oldest wine fermentation tank in southern France, dated at 2000 years old. Serious winemaking on this land~!

   And serious about quality. Louis refutes the use of artificial yeasts during fermentation and is as sparse as can be with SO2 during production/bottling. I personally have seen poor results with winemakers who abhorred SO2 and then ended up with prematurely oxidized wines, but I am a new believer after tasting this vintage from Saint Cosme.

2007 Saint Cosme Chateauneuf-du-Pape
$65   **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****

vines:   average age approximately 60 years
climate:   cool and late-ripening
  • visual:   clear; medium+ bruised plum core with slight cherry/brick rim
  • nose:   clean; medium+ to fully intense; youthful and developing aromas; red and black cherries with definite candied notes, rich, savory winter spice background with lifted floral notes and hints of white pepper
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (young cherry/red currant) acids, moderate+ (fine, silty) tannins, moderate body, moderate+ ABV, moderate+ to fully intense and youthful flavors that mimick the nose; heavy emphasis on the young berry notes throughout. Excellent balance and structure with a long finish
  • conclusion:   already starting to show exceptional promise, this wine will blossom into a superstar given a few more years; enjoy 2015-2028+
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   with the exciting acids and rich complexion, this wine would sing if paired with foie gras and beef... consider an oven roast tenderloin of beef with seared foie gras on Alsatian potato and leek croquette
Louis Barruol in his cellar

   In Louis' own words:

               "At Saint Cosme we usually work “à la main”. I want to make wines which express their terroir with purity and personality"

   And he succeeds. A winery that has very little following outside of France (so far) is becoming known to industry insiders as one of the value wineries in the Southern Rhone. Do they have expensive wines... of course. Are they worth the money? You better believe it.


As always, I look forward to your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!      SLAINTE~!!!      CHEERS~!!!