there are some new reviews oozing though here, but we're not deckin em up all pretty til we work out an otherwise unborn style for this sleazy rube we call drankster


that's a George Grainger Aldridge cartoon ... obviously a pre-screwcap man

25 January 2012


Krug Vintage 1996
$500; drunk 25 APR 09; 98++ points

Any duffer must agree with the Krug family when they call this vintage “extreme, eccentric champagne”. On another level, it’s that way because it’s so stubbornly, insistently Krug in its style, being a combination of the dogged determination of the Krugs to maintain their house distinction through a unique formula honed consistently since 1843, and one of the most formidably confounding vintages in a century.

1996 was the last Krug vintage to which Paul Krug II contributed: it was blended by him, his sons Rémy and Henri, and his grandson Olivier, who famously reported “Throughout his life, my grandfather shunned exaggeration of every kind. But on this occasion, he looked at us and said ‘I think this may well be the next 1928’.” Which is saying something. While the 1928 was growing ricketty when I last tasted it in the early ’nineties, it still had the whiff of sublimity, a skerrick of its original fruit, and astonishing, living natural acidity holding its old flesh to its austere, rigid skeleton.

1996 was a freak year, weather-wise. The on-off summer alternated between sodding rain-driven humidity and extreme dry heat, which eventually surrendered to a sunny, clear autumn with freezing nights. The Krug system of pressing each parcel of fruit in or near its source vineyard, then fermenting and ageing the must in neutral, old Argonne barrels and taking complexity from deliberate oxidation and extended lees contact, whilst eschewing malo-lactic fermentation, the reserve then stored in chilled stainless steel away down in the chalk until required, always gives wine of character and finesse far beyond the sum of its components. And by deliberate oxidation, I mean it: once the Krugs have decided on the composition of each cuvée, its barrels are drawn from below and tipped on the blending room floor, from whence the wine flows back down through a pipe through the chalk to the blending tank way below. The winery smells very good at assemblage!

The vagaries of 1996 have obviously bowed very low to the Kruggiste method, for this wine is indeed an astonishing, perfectly polished thing of beauty: the typically Krug counterpoint of extreme complexity with unlikely finesse. Chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier have been blended to conjure a wine of such beauty and confidence that it seems almost matter-of-fact. Normal. The done thing. Oh how I wish! Ripe anjou and comice pears seep calmly through the bouquet, with some sort of exquisite honey and ginger brioche, yet to be invented. The palate is creamy and reassuringly smooth in that strangely assertive and matter-of-fact way, and ever-so-gradually tapers off, leaving a rapier of stern acidity and the feeling that something very very rare and special has just happened to your gustatories. The aftertaste is incredibly fresh and enlivening; the bead and mousse ever so fine, gentle, and persistent in its caress. I once asked Henri how much research they’d done into the secret of Krug’s tiny bubbles. He said such information was a highly confidential secret of Krug but admitted he’d spent many years counting them. So. The price? Sell your car.

Krug Champagne 1998
$550; cork; drunk on various occasions, this note on 12JAN10; 97+++ points
There's an apocryphal yarn about the murderer who, upon being strapped into the electric chair, looked at his executioner and said "This'll teach me". This wine always reminds me of that. I don't really know why: the damned thing is so profoundly confronting in its beauty and intensity that the mind does go silly, in a willy nilly, electrocuted sort of way. Thoughts fall to the floor and shatter harmlessly about the drinker: they no longer count. Perhaps it's also the serene expectation that one will soon be found dead in one's chair with a really silly smile and a glass, empty, clutched in a grip that makes Charlton Heston's rifleman speech look like something uttered by a total softcock. The smell of an organic wheatfield, almost ripe, after the lightest rain. The smell of the most delicate brioche. Hazelnut. Wet chalk. Sliced, poached almond being fastidiously placed on a perfect marzipan icing in the kitchen of La Crayere. Oyster mushroom, and enoki. I can smell it for an hour, happy to postpone the execution. But finally, involuntarily, the glass finds its way to the lips, and like all Krug, just seems to evaporate into my organs. My body. The corpuscles, the genes, the chromasomes vibrate in immaculate harmony, and purr. This must send a transmission so powerful it can be received by other life forms, billions of light years away. I remember Remi Krug remarking twenty years ago that he admired the way I guzzled the Grand Cuvee, rather than inhaling common air through it to make that obscene gurgling noise and spitting it like an Englishman. "But I am a Vikin, and Krug comes properly perforated with bubbles installed by the Krug family," I responded. "It needs no other air buggering it up." And so it goes. No need to change the technique. Gulp it down! Have it from a bigger glass! Pour yourself a tumbler! Do it again! Sell your house!

Dom Perignon Œnoteque 1996
$300-$500; 12.5% alcohol; cork; disgorged 2008; 96+++ points
Champagne’s 1996 vintage weather was freakish: hot and cold; wet and dry.  A  sunny autumn with freezing nights finished it, seemingly entrapping the polarised results of those earlier weather extremes forever.  So this sinister black-and-silver label hides a see-sawing range of flavours that covers the wheatfield/brioche/lemon pith characters of the chill, as much as the gently chubby riper umami/glutamate insinuations of the heat and humidity.  Given the elegance of touch chef de cave Dr Richard Geoffroy shows in his blends, these facets here seem more overt than in the more boisterous assemblages of some rivals and neighbours in the same year. In this wine, for the first time, I saw a fatty acid that reminded me of avocado, which occurs at the sunny extreme; the chilly and austere lemon and chalk characters are there to balance, but so far, they remain remote and contrasting.  I won’t say straining to balance, but suggest they are not as harmoniously supportive as they are in, say, the 1998 wines. Which is to be extremely picky.  I’d gurgle away at this anytime, anywhere, and still grin foolishly.  But where to get the money?  Certainly not writing about wine!

Lanson Noble Cuvee Blanc be Blanc 1989
cork; magnum well and truly drunk on 4APR10; 95++ points
As the great evening proceeds, the buttery brioche and Petticoat Tail shortbreads magnify, jumping the gastro ropes into the genteel ring with the toasted hazelnut, the lemon and strawberry pith, through the middle mousse and the perfect richness and that fabbo dry dry tail with all its langorous and perfect tannins into the uncontrollable future zippo. Pass the funnel, Jeeves, I feel like a bit of a lie down.
Romney Park Hahndorf Adelaide Hills Blanc de Blancs 2004
$67.50; 12.5% alcohol; crown seal; 94+ points
It’s been a year since I last drank this scrumptious luxury, and in that time (this particular bottle was on lees until 13th February 2009) it has become much more rare, a lot more expensive, and, well, better. I drank it today at The Victory, with the Domaine de la Romney Parkers, half the Honeymoon Hillers, and none other than Doug Govan himself. Antonio Carluccio sat unrecognised a table away, photographing every dish he ordered while he drank Paxton’s Quangdong Farm Shiraz and Romney Park’s new pinot noir. But the star of the day was this amazing fizz: think of Billecart-Salmon’s Blanc de Blanc without the Avize component. The damned thing does immediately make me think of Mesnil-sur-Oger; even Krug’s Clos de Mesnil BdB nipple polish. Delicate cashew and carambola aromas have joined the dry meadow blooms that were there a year or so ago, and the apples have become slightly poached quince, with maybe just half a clove. I’m waiting for a better Australian fizz. This is now simply exquisite – easily the best South Australian sparkler, ever, and maybe the best Australian. It’s gorgeous, delicate, forceful, elegant: hand disgorged upon order, and best about three months after disgorgement, so I’d be calling Rod Short at Romney Park to ensure your spring and Christmas fizz will be delivered in perfect order, NOW. (International + 61 439 398 366) 25 MAR 09

Kreglinger Tasmania Vintage Brut 2001
$46.50; 12.5% alcohol; cork; 94 points
René Bezemer made this wondrous explosion of titillation and luxury for the private Kreglinger company (founded in Belgium in 1797 it procured Piper’s Brook, founded in 1974, in 2003). It’s a gorgeous drink: all cracker biscuits, brioche and pickled lemons in the prickly bouquet; crunchy terroir-driven gears in the mouth. Increasingly, with wines like this, Tasmania is showing that there’s little point in going all the way to France for fizz. Kreglinger’s Belgian, and they’ve come all the way here. I’m with them. (2.2.8)

Lilbert Fils Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV
$90; ??% alcohol; cork; drunk 6MAY10; 94 points
My money was immediately on this babe coming from Mesnil: it has that cute aroma of paper flowers that usually signifies that ville. But no - it's from further north: 60% Cramant, 30% Chouilly and 10% Oiry, with an abolutely minimal doseage. It has incredible finesse for a wine of this price: so crisp and crunchy it seems almost brittle, like those crunchy Italian almond biscotti. Very stylish indeed, and cheap!

Kreglinger Tasmania Vintage Brut 2002
$50; 12.5% alcohol; cork; 93+ points
Handsome brut, this! Very masculine, like a petit Krug GC, in that it has as much greengrocer as fruiter and haute pâtisserie in its complex, yet very fine and reserved bouquet. The palate’s creamy, full and basically plain sinful; the aftertaste lingering and teasing as much as cleansing and relaxing; and the bead very very tiny once your pour settles, which is a good thing, as we don’t want too many cavities in our drinks now, do we? Seriously, you’re a bit of a boofhead buying anything Champenoise short of $150-$300 cru prestige stuff when this is available, which it is. Which is also good. Very good. Tres bon. See, I’m like Randy Newman! I can speak French! JAN 09

Romney Park Blanc de Blancs 2004
$28; 12.5% alcohol; crown seal; 93+ points
Romney Park is no one trick pony. I was first nailed by the disgorged-to-order sparkling, which I reckon’s in the Kreglinger/Arras/Clover Hill/Yarra Bank league, and given its junior status and kindergarten price, comes scarily close to the Gosset/Krug school. It was whole bunch pressed in a basket, fermented in 6 year old hogsheads, underwent full malo in oak, and was cold-stored in barrel. The aroma of the stuff jumps from the glass to your nose while the glass is still on the table. It’s creamy. With wheat, paperflowers, brioche, cashew and crackers. The palate’s tight and nutty, with faint marzipan, leaf, green apples and chalk. Its 10 g/l of acidity is all natural. There are 800 bottles! While it’s rich and creamy, it’s still precise and tight, and after about twenty minutes air begins to loose delightful chèvre fats from the malo, and all the while there’s that tight swarfy acidity anchoring the foundations. “I wouldn’t use Adelaide Hills pinot for sparkling” said Rod Short. “It’s a bit sort of fat and boring”. (15.2.8)

Gratien & Meyer Cremant de Loire Brut
$25; 12.5% alcohol; cork(!); 92++ points
With recent stunning chenins blanc from Coriole, Dowie Doole and Jardim do Bomfim, it’s a joy to push the chenin barrow all the way from its home in France’s valley of Kings, the Loire, where the natural acidity is very high in this variety – so high, that even the botrytised ones, like Moulin-Touchais, take fifty years to approach. This hyper-cool fizz has a little chardonnay to add cream to the lean acidity of its chenin, making a beautifully smooth, slightly plump seduction that makes me dream of smoked oysters, foie gras, and nightingales in aspic with juniper berries. Or chêvre on rye with capers, if you don’t eat little birdies. Take a bottle to the beach, or a case to Kangaroo Island. Vintage Cellars and 1st Choice. DEC 08

Chandon Cuvée Riche
$37; 12.5% alcohol; cork; 91 points
Next time you plan a hangover, spill a bottle of this rich, sweet, bedside fizz over a bowl of sliced peaches. Plenty of lemon juice, and a splash of kirsch, or good tequila, which doesn’t seem to exist in Australia. (There is mucho in Mexico.) Which is why you might need this healing morning sickness brekky. Leave your bowl in the fridge overnight, add rich cream, and devour before the dog bites you. Or have it neat the night before.

Pirie Tasmania Non-Vintage
$32; 12.5%; Diam cork, 90 points
Many years ago one engaged Dr Brian Croser in a conversation concerning his forthcoming Petaluma fizz. Dr Croser, who wasn’t yet a Doctor, wanted nevertheless to call the wine Croser, a word which, one suggested, was difficult to pronounce without the corners of one's mouth turning down. On the other hand, Piccadilly, being the picturesque Adelaide Hills village in which said wine was grown and manufactured, was a word one couldn't pronounce without one's mouth involuntarily finishing in a smile. And, well, with fizz being a celebratory sort of drink and all ... But Dr Croser retorted that as his wine was destined for international markets, like England, Piccadilly was an inappropriate appellation as many people imagined that part of London to be the sort of place in which prostitutes solicited. Which led one to wonder what in the names of Bacchus and Pan he imagined these people thought went down, or indeed who went down, in Petaluma, the now bankrupt Californian capitol of seedy strip clubs, arm-wrestling and chook-farming after which he had named his Piccadilly winery in 1976. Once bitten twice shy? Anyway, Dr Croser called his wine Croser, leading that wag Harry Ayers to crack in London's The Spectator "at least he didn't call it Brian". As well as fizzmaking ex-partner Dr Tony Jordan (Chandon), a severe rival of Dr Croser's was always Dr Andrew Pirie, a similarly confident, dour and trite sort of cove who quite correctly believed Tasmania was the better site for the growing and manufacture of superior fizz. Having planted the first Pipers Brook vineyards in 1974, Dr Pirie took twenty years to begin laying down the base wines for his superfizz, which of course he named Pirie, a word which is difficult to enounce without leaving one's kisser in a grimace. These cocky doctors never seem to think any of this through. Meanwhile, Croser floated his Petaluma on the stock exchange, to see it consumed in 2004 by, well, a brewer, which was soon producing Croser which tasted like it came from Petaluma, not Piccadilly, gaving him big time sulks. The only reason one relates this is that, perhaps not surprisingly, Dr Pirie had floated Pipers Brook, to see it swallowed up in 2003 by Kreglinger, the Belgian tanning and hide merchant which was established in 1797. While one can only wonder whether it ever made wine skins, Kreglinger, one of the oldest companies on Earth, was soon releasing a very fine wine called Kreglinger, a terrible tangle of a brand name. Even if they’d named it after its maker, René Bezemer, the brand would have felt better in the mouth. But, as one can see, in this business people move along whether they want to or not, and Kreglinger is closer phonetically to Krug, which is hardly a pretty word but most certainly a pretty fine drink and anyway the Krugs can get away with calling their elixir that because they're German and they’re the Krugs and Krug has 36% fewer cavities. One presumes that the embittered Dr Pirie has finally levered his Pirie brand back out of the Kreglinger/Pipers Brook grasp, because the press gumpf that accompanied this bottle claims this non-vintage blend of chardonnay and pinot noir to be a "relaunch of PIRIE". One might suspect Dr Pirie imagines his brand must have run aground to make a relaunch possible or indeed necessary, if one gets one’s drift, but this is quickly replaced by confoundment when one reads that he seems to think it actually sank: "Finally," he writes, "the re-emergence of one of Australia's most highly acclaimed sparkling wine labels and the origins of the brand PIRIE". While syntactically this non-sentence is hardly a triumph, it does say “re-emergence”... “Emerge”, one's trusty Shorter Oxford English Dictionary On Historical Principles states, means "to rise by virtue of buoyancy from or out of a liquid". So unless Dr Pirie thinks his liquid is rising out of the Pirie liquid made by Kreglinger's Bezemer, or he was dreaming of submarines, one might imagine he refers somehow to the Tamar River, which flows through the valley of the same name, past the Tamar Ridge Estates vineyards owned by Gunns, for whom Dr Pirie now works, and from whence this fruit came. Gunns is also the industrial developer which hopes to build the highly contentious A$1.5 billion wood pulp mill there in the Tamar. Its wineries and vineyards presumably help to indicate its faith in its own capacity to keep the environment clean, but it hasn’t gone so far as to call a wine the Gunnslinger, or The Miller’s Tale, or anything along those lines. Or Andrew's Liver Salts, speaking of doctors. That’s mean. Anyway, in relation to Dr Pirie’s syntax climax, one presumes that it's not really a label he’s referring to, but a drink. And it's not a bad drink, although one can't quite see what all the fuss is about. It has the right sort of small spherical cavities vertically emergent - not too big, and persistent - and it smells like wheat, almond biscotti, and the white pith of oranges, lemons, and strawberries. Not their skin, or their fruity juicy flesh, but their pith. One thinks one can sniff some oak, too. Nice. In the mouth, it appears almost complex, but also almost broad, as if it were made after the Krug mould, but never quite got there, which is fair enough. Krug is a pretty big call for anybody not called Krug. It seems to have had perhaps a little too much malo, or pinot, or perhaps Dr Pirie's deliberately oxidative winemaking has overwhelmed the fruit by, well, oxidising it, at the expense of finesse. But there's no need to go into that, whether by running aground or submerging: it is indeed, only a drink, and not a bad drink at that. Especially with almond biscotti. Although the finish, which Dr Pirie's letter calls "strong", is sufficiently abrupt and citric - in a hot lemon juice sort of way - to overwhelm one's recollection of any of the "pleasant richness in the mouth" and "creamy mouth feel" that he obviously feels is there. So maybe it'd better accompany lightly battered humuhumunukunukuapuaa with mayonnaise and plenty of lemon juice. These may eventually appear in the Tamar if the Gunns mill manages to warm its waters sufficiently. 29 MAR 09

Dominic Versace Wines Sparkling Bel Moscato NV
$??; 11.5% alcohol; cork; 89 points
Dominic Versace, and his feisty cousin, Armando Verdiglione, are making a reputation for small-volume, high-quality Italo-Australian wines from the fanatically gardened Versace vineyard on the deep loamy plains north of Adelaide. They bought fronti -- muscat blanc a petits grains -- from other vineyards to make this naughty sweetish fizz. It has the classic grilled pineapple bouquet of a moscato fizzed to champagne levels and maturing sensibly, and a presents a grinning mouthful of juicy sweet exploding joy. “Shit!” my teetotal driver said when I handed him a glass today, “I could drink a bottle of that in two seconds flat!” Which he narrowly avoided doing. I made up for him. I wish somebody in the Adelaide Hills would plant a nice high cool climate frontignac vineyard: in the hotter climes, where the stuff grows like weeds, the wine lacks essential acidity and soon takes on a burnt rubber bouquet, rather than this model’s char-grilled pineapple. MAR 09

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