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The typical Barolo descriptors of tar and roses, and firm dry tannins do not apply in the first instance to the 2010 Elio Grasso Ginestra Casa Maté. Elio Grasso is sometimes referred to as a super star of the region without having this label. And the fact he makes good wine is certainly helped by the terroir he owns.The Ginestra subregion of Monforte is its most famous, and the Casa Maté vineyard highly regarded within.

This wine shows more dark fruit than is typical for Barolo. The wine is elegant as opposed to overly powerful, and the tannins have softened with time. There are lifted aromas as well, and the overall package is very harmonious. The wine has a long and persistent finish.

One peculiar aspect were the little clear crystals, which showed up in the last glass of the bottle. This is tartrate acid, a harmless compound, which can form as part of the winemaking process. Sometimes you see them sticking to the bottom of a cork.

Score: 96/+++   

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In a bad vintage year, many wineries declassify their best fruit and add it to their more basic wines. Their base wines are than marketed as a great opportunity to purchase best vineyard fruit at a reasonable price. Does it work or is the overall fruit composition just not that great? In my experience, it is about 50/50. Sometimes the result is good, sometimes not so much.

With the challenging 2011 vintage, Torbreck did something a little different. It did not make the top wines, but instead of dropping the fruit into, say, the Woodcutter's Red, it created a new brand, The Sporran. I kept it back until now, to give it a good test.

The 2011 Torbreck The Sporran has elements of the typical Torbreck style; there is the sweet plum and blackberry core, there is the high alcohol. But there are also characteristics of this vintage; the fruit weight is less than typical for the Barossa, and certainly Torbreck, and the acidity is higher.

Overall, this is not a bad wine, while not necessarily typical Torbreck. The wine has some freshness, and the structure is good. However, the alcohol is too high for this fruit.
Score: 91/+   
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There was an enormous number of wines on tasting at this very large event. I have a principle to report on good and poor wines when I attend such tastings, but I must make an exception this time. I tasted too many wines to report on them all. It would be very laborious. I will, on this occasion, mention the wines that stood out for me across the four brackets I tasted them in.

In white wines, I was impressed by two Tasmanian Chardonnays. One was the 2018 Pooley Butcher's Hill Chardonnay from the Coal River. The fruit used to go into Penfold's Yattarna. This is an elegant wine, quite big flavoured, with peach, cashew, and cream flavours coming to the fore. The wine has enough drive to keep interesting, despite the big mouthfeel. The 2016 Dawson James Chardonnay could not have been more different. From a cool vintage, this wine is Chablis-like, with citrus and apple flavours and a slightly green tinge. The acidity is nicely keeping the fruit in check.

The two best Pinot Noirs were of very high standard. You would not expect anything less from Bass Phillip. The 2017 Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir has great depth of cherry fruit, but is a little closed right now. When the fruit wakes up, it will blend with the very silky tannins to an elegant style with a long finish. Less known is Levantine Hill from the Yarra Valley. I was most impressed with the 2015 Levantine Hill Colleen's Paddock Pinot Noir. Mushroom flavours dominate the dark cherry flavours in this brooding and harmonious wine. The finish goes on and on. I was not familiar with this producer, but it is worth seeking out. As an aside, both wines are fastidiously made, and you will have to pay for it.

The third category were Italian varieties. Sangiovese was not well represented, and the Nebbiolos from Piedmont were from what I would call second tier producers. There was one Barolo I liked very much, the 2015 Mauro Molino Barolo Gallinotto. This is the family vineyard in Berri, not far from La Morra. Being in the Northern part of Piedmont, you expect a more fragrant wine, and this is what you get. The fruit intensity is good (2015 was a warm vintage), but the highlight is the generous and expanding mouthfeel, not unlike a very good Burgundy. And I need to put the 2017 Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock Nebbiolo in this category. This is the first time I rate an Australian Italian varietal wine on the same level as the outstanding Italian wines, but Ron Laughton has been at this for quite a long time. This is good Nebbiolo. Rose petals and lifted aromas on the nose, an elegant mouthfeel, and a smooth finish. Nothing is out of place here, the tannins not too strong.

In the icon category, I tasted wines from Clonakilla, Castagna and Jasper Hill. Lately, I have  not enjoyed the stylistic development of the Clonakilla flagship wine. The 2017 Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier is quite soft, with the Viognier coming through quite strongly. The wine has silky tannins and great length, but a bit feminine for me. The 2015 Castagna Genesis Syrah is also quite a soft wine, but it has dark fruit flavours at its core, and a smooth finish. The wine of the night, just edging out the Pinots, was the 2017 Jasper Hill Emily's Paddock Shiraz. The Georgia's Paddock is the more voluptuous wine, and often the favorite. But the Emily's had layers and layers of fruit, and a leathery character on top of it. This made for a mysterious flavour, very elegant and long.   
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Woodlands is a good producer, and its vineyards sit on prime terroir in Margaret River. I have previously pronounced it as the worst developer of brands and labels in Australia, but I will not dwell on it this time.

The 2011 Woodlands 'Alex' Cabernet Sauvignon is a beautiful wine. It has a delicious core of black and blue fruits. The mouthfeel experiences a battle between this pure fruit and its dry tannins. The overall impression is one of elegance and balance which carries on to the fresh (still!) finish.

Score: 95/+++
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The third wine in this series of full-bodied reds is the 2008 E. Pira Chiara Boschis Barolo Cannubi from arguably Piedmont's most famous vineyard. This is a balanced wine, but totally different from the previous two - the result of a different variety (Nebbiolo) and terroir.

 

The fruit is largely red cherry, simpler on the palate perhaps than is the case with the previous two wines, but on the nose, rose petals and complex aromatics create an enticing aroma. The tannins are strong, but well rounded, and the wine finishes very dry.

This wine needs protein. I paired it with lamb sausage, which was perfect. The wine drinks very well now, but will remain at this level, maybe increase some savoury notes, over the next 5+ years. 

Score: 95/+++

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If you are asked to name a wine which represents everything that is good about Barossa Shiraz, many would mention Rockford Basket Press. The 2010 is an excellent example.

This is a full-bodied wine. Blackberry, plum, mulberry and mocca flavours fill the mouth. The complexity of flavours is well balanced by smartly applied oak. The wine has energy despite its ripeness. The tannins are surprisingly fine, and really reveal themselves only on the long finish.

How would this wine compare with the Pontet-Canet I reviewed a few days ago? Both great wines, but I would give the Basket Press a slight edge. This is a more generous wine, without feeling too big.
Score: 96/+++
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The 2005 Chateau Pontet-Canet is as full-bodied as they come from Bordeaux. It is only now coming into its own. I last reviewed this wine in 2011, when I said it was too early to drink. I now feel it has entered its maturing phase and is starting to drink well. Yes, you have to be patient with good Bordeaux and need a cellar.

Blackcurrant, plum and cassis flavours deliver a big mouthfeel. Elegance is emerging from under its oak frame. There is no gap on the mid-palate (as many Cabernets have). Firm tannins deliver a solid structure, and the finish is long.

This wine shows many aspects of new world wine. It would have been out of place in Bordeaux in the last century, but warmer vintages and changed winemaking have blurred the boundary, so obvious 20-30 years ago.

If the classification was redone today, this biodynamic estate would at least be 2nd growth. Prices tend to reflect this, but this wine is still a bargain compared with the 1st growth wines.
Score: 95/++ 
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When in Japan, you are likely to drink sake. Yet most people have no clue what to order and how to distinguish different types. I participated in a structured tasting of the Kyoto Insider Sake Experience 
https://kyotosakeexperience.com/. It was an excellent introduction. You learn about the different dimensions, for example the importance of water (20 litres are needed for 1kg of rice), the different rice corns, different polishing levels, added alcohol or not, different sweetness and different acidity. There are now also nonpasteurised and non diluted sakes, a bit similar to natural wines. These cannot easily be exported, as they need to be fresh and chilled. The presentation given was clear and well structured.

There are some surprises. For example, less polished rice does not lead to inferior sake. It just means there are more proteins and minerals in the drink, whereas the more polished ones are of pure starch, leading to more delicate and fruity sake, which the Japanese prefer. I liked the less polished sakes, the  Junmais, for their rice taste and complexity. So did my host.

The different sakes are tasted on their own, and then with food. The differences are striking and the pairings illuminating.

This was an excellent experience, which I can highly recommend. I will now order sake in a much more informed way.
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The 2017 Primaterra Primitivo (Zinfandel for you American folks) is from Puglia, Primitivo’s birthplace, I think. This is a full-bodied wine, yet easy drinking, not heavy. The flavours are of plum and black cherry, lifted by firm acidity. The wine has a sweet core, and licorice and savoury notes on the back palate. It is pleasant to drink, with a straightforward finish.

This wine is less bold and in your face than many American Zinfandels and incredibly good value.
Score: 89/++
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This is a report on a brief tasting of only four wines from the region. I regard the first two at entry level wines, but I was curious how they would look in a vintage such as the great 2016.

The  2016 Font du Vent CDP shows pretty fruit, raspberry and red cherry flavours. There is also some licorice. This is an easy, medium-bodied wine to drink, with a slightly harsh finish (88 points).

The 2016 Pierre Usseglio CDP has a similar fruit profile, but more intensity. There are also some chocolate flavours. This is a fresh wine with a relatively simple finish (91 points).

Frankly, I would prefer to go for a Cote du Rhone blend at a third of the price.

The third wine was the 2016 Vieux Telegraphe CDP. I must admit, I am a big fan of this estate. There is great integrity in the wines, savoury flavours are always prominent, and the wines are never overblown. This wine tastes of red and black cherries, and it is savoury as expected. The wine is very silky and elegant, but the power is evident on the long finish. I rate this wine 95 points now, but it could go higher in a couple of years.

Then there was one wine from the Gigondas, the 2016 Domaine le Pallieres Terrasse du Diable. This wine has quite a different flavour profile. Red and black fruits are wound up in earthy notes, and the acidity is considerable (91 points).
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