china daily wine column #44

A tasting this week of three pairs of wines suggests that some vintages are best consumed young instead of waiting for the “optimum” drinking time suggested on the bottle label.

The hosts of my local wine group, Debbie and Rob McDonald, started with the 2005 and 2008 editions of Saltram Mamre Brook shiraz. The wines hail from South Australia’s premier shiraz region, the Barossa Valley.

The 2008 is the current edition, and retails in Australia, where I tasted these wines, for the equivalent of 145 RMB. In the glass it has a bright ruby colour with aromas of plums and black olives. The wine had 22 months in a variety of French and American oak but the tannins are relatively subdued.

The 2005 vintage was fermented on skins in traditional style open containers for up to 10 days. The wine spent 18 months in a combination of new and seasoned American and French oak. This explains the intense dark cherry colour and the tannins.

I enjoyed the sweetness of the fruit plus hints of liquorice and fennel. The tannins are soft, even talcum powder-like, but I found them slightly bitter. Both wines have 15 per cent alcohol, which might not appeal to Chinese palates. Of the two, I preferred the younger wine. The 2005 retails for the equivalent of 170 RMB.

The next pair also came from shiraz grapes: the 2004 and 2008 Seppelt Chalambar. The wine gets its name from Mount Chalambar, just south of the vineyard in the Great Western region of Central Victoria. It has been made every year since 1953 and exhibits a consistent style. Both wines are a blend of fruit from around the region.

The current 2008 vintage is black cherry in colour. It took a while to display its full character, then tasted sweetly of berry fruits with caramel overtones.

The 2004 spent 18 months in a combination of new and used French oak. Tannin from the oak overpowers at first. It is like running one’s tongue over a stick of chalk. With time I detected mulberry fruit aromas and hints of cracked pepper. Winemaker Emma Wood said this vintage had flavours of blueberry fruit, pepper, spice and liquorice.

The 2004 retails in Australia for the equivalent of 235 RMB and the 2008 for 130 RMB. The 2004 is drinking well now and reflects the benefits of patience. But if you can only find the 2008 vintage, enjoy a minor Australian classic.

The last pair were the 2005 and 2008 Wynns black label cabernet sauvignon. These wines come from South Australia’s premier cabernet region, the Coonawarra. Wynns was the first winery established in Coonawarra, in 1896. The pedigree shows.

The 2008 edition was so vibrant it almost vibrates in the glass. It had an intense black cherry colour. At first this wine refused to display its charms, but later it tasted of blackcurrants and mint.

The 2005 was also still developing. Winemaker Sue Hodder wrote on the company’s web site that the wine offered cassis flavours with creamy oak nuances. “The palate is rich and supple with layers of dark plum and marzipan-like fruit.” In Australia these wines sell for the equivalent of 165 and 222 RMB.

Both wines were so relatively young they seemed similar, with high levels of tannin from the 19 and 17 months each spent respectively in new and older French and American oak, plus high levels of alcohol (14 per cent).

In the grand scheme of time, a three-year difference in vintages produced little difference in flavours. Both should ideally be saved for a decade, and both need rich meat dishes to be fully appreciated.

* “Youth beats age on occasion” in China Daily, 13 August 2011, page 12. Find a link here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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