Archive | October, 2009

St Hallet ’98 (OB) Shiraz

Barossa. Class taste. Superb. Round core of black stonefruits + leather, roast coffee bouquet. Elk on the Barbie!

Bottle-aged Syrah

can be quite special. Old vines from the Barossa Valley make good candidates (Shiraz), and the right food pairing always seals the deal.

Class Tasting

1998 St. Hallett (Old Block) Shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia. Tasted in the monthly Friday night Varietal Series class in Nevada City (California’s Sierra Foothills) – an excellent way to begin a weekend getaway in the mountains. See www.brucecasswinelab.com for the Fall – Winter – Spring schedule.
This wine probably costs a little over $100 in a retail store, but it would be very hard to find. It is from a warm, and highly regarded vintage in Australia. St. Hallett produces three Shiraz wines each year. The one called Faith, and the one called Blackwell, are pleasant enough when young, and should probably be drunk for maximum pleasure then. Old Block is the one built for aging. It comes from 60- to 100-year-old vines. It has an excellent track record, and definitely deserves a spot in the Aussie Top Five for consistently rewarding ten years of bottle age. St. Hallett has existed since 1944, but only upgraded their production facility for fine wines in 1988. Since then the Old Block Shiraz has been the winery’s flagship. It is aged 20 months in French oak barrels. All the St. Hallett grapes are sourced in the Barossa appellation, which is something even Penfolds’ Grange can’t say.
In class we compared the Old Block side-by-side with a 1995 Jaboulet (Les Jumelles) Côte-Rôtie. Both were wonderful, but they could not have been more different. The Jaboulet was all bouquet – roasting pork fat and frying onions. Which works great on my scorecard. The St. Hallett was bigger, darker, rounder. It had plenty of bouquet development – more in the roasting coffee beans and sun-scorched leather department, but most notably the St. Hallett had this gigantic core of mulberry and pomegranate fruit. Not fresh fruit; stone fruit… hammer fruit. The Jaboulet had more acid, but it didn’t have more length. The Jaboulet was friendlier; the Old Block more memorable.

Wine & Food Pairing

I’m tempted to recommend the St. Hallett with wild game, say elk. In fact elk steaks are commonly sold in the supermarket near where this class tasting was held. But I realize access to elk steaks may not be that common. Of course neither is access to a ten-year-old bottle of St. Hallett’s Old Block. So there you have it. Marinate the meat for several hours in soy, plain yogurt, rosemary, garlic, and papaya pulp. Doesn’t hurt to smack the steaks a few times with a 2-ft-long stick before marinating. Sear the steaks quickly over intense heat. Then move them to a low heat section of the grill for slow, indirect, smoky cooking. Serve to a small group. I’d say four people per bottle max.

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Single Vineyard Napa Cabernets

Think you can pick out a Pauillac from a Margaux blind? It’s hard. Most people who think experts should be able to do it, have never tried to do it. Now perform that feat with wines from Napa Valley!
At least three wineries are making Cabernet Sauvignon wines separately from a variety of Napa Valley vineyards in order to illustrate the concept of terroir. It’s an interesting effort, and success or failure will be replete with commentary on the American marketplace. Heretofore it has been Europeans who firmly believed a wine should express the place where it was grown. Hence the role of the winemaker was akin to that of a baby sitter: keep the wine safe, but otherwise get out of the way and let it develop on its own. By contrast Americans put their faith in the artistry of the winemaker, expecting grapes (usually of the same varietal) to be adroitly blended from several different districts in order to achieve a result better than the sum of its parts. Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay would be one huge success story dating from the 1980’s built on that blending model.
California winemakers love to talk about terroir, and they can demonstrate it in their cellar by letting you taste from different fermentation lots residing in barrel. But, at the end of the day, the sales department at most wineries demands all those lots get blended into one or two final products (usually a high-end assemblage, and then maybe a second-string item) for ease of understanding in the marketplace. Continue Reading →

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2005 Cullen ‘Mangan’

Blend Malbec, ML, PV. From Margaret River, Western Australia. Approx. equal blend of Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot. US$60 from an auction. Tasted in Bruce Cass Wine Lab Southern Hemisphere class at Ft. Mason.

Quality-oriented estate on the Indian Ocean where temperatures are remarkably consistent, and moderate, from day to night. Result is noteworthy depth of flavor and juiciness in the mid-palate. Very dark, blue-black color. Effusive nose, with some blueberry, but enormous amount of heather-like, licorice intensity. Whether you enjoy it or not, and I did, there is no argument over this wine’s powerful expression. Perhaps a bit broad in the mouth, but not so as to be a distraction ~ more a relief because the nose implied there could be a serious beat-down hiding in the glass. Serve with something blackened from Louisiana.

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