Chuck’s Down Under

Torbreck’s ‘The Laird’ – Pursuing Perfection in One of Australia’s Greatest Wines

Torbreck’s ‘The Laird’ – Pursuing Perfection in One of Australia’s Greatest Wines

Post by Chuck Hayward | May 10th, 2013

Not one, but two (!) vintages of 'The Laird'

Not one, but two (!) vintages of ‘The Laird’

So what is it like to drink perfection? It’s a question frequently asked by consumers and the trade. The following story is about tasting 100-point ‘perfection’. And it begins many years ago…

In the summer of 2010, I heard that Torbreck, one of the Barossa Valley’s leading wineries, had released a new wine from the 2005 vintage called ‘The Laird’. The textured black label stood in stark contrast to the winery’s classic white paper label, indicating a significant departure from Torbreck’s usual range of wines. Indeed, ‘The Laird’ was exactly that, a wine geared for the super-premium market, occupied by legends like Penfolds ‘Grange’ and Henschke’s ‘Hill of Grace’ – with a price to match. I needed to know more. (more…)

For Wine Lovers Down Under, The “Options” Are Endless

For Wine Lovers Down Under, The “Options” Are Endless

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 14th, 2013

The end of the options lunch. Note the small wooden barrel for coins

The end of the options lunch. Note the small wooden barrel for coins

The Sydney Royal Wine Show is one of Australia’s most prestigious wine competitions. Ranking up there with shows based in Adelaide and Melbourne, the organizers have selected an international wine figure to serve as a guest judge since 1986 and this year, I was honored to be selected to fulfill this role. Judging duties kicked-off with one of the show’s most important traditions, the Peter Doyle Options Game.

Leave it to the Australians to take something like blind wine tasting and turn it into a game. Called Wine Options or just plain Options, it was developed by Len Evans, one of Australia’s pioneering wine educators and personalities. Legend has it that he dipped into his cellar after a long lunch and served a bottle blind, asking his mates a series of questions that became ever more specific until the wine was identified. (more…)

Ted Lemon: “The Concept of Noble Place in New World Winegrowing”

Ted Lemon: “The Concept of Noble Place in New World Winegrowing”

Post by Chuck Hayward | February 20th, 2013

Ted Lemon of Littorai Wines

Ted Lemon of Littorai & Burn Cottage

A few weeks ago, I joined a large portion of the wine world that descended on Wellington, New Zealand for Pinot Noir NZ 2013. Held every three years, the four day symposium featured lectures, tastings and seminars, attracting leading winemakers, critics and consumers from around the world.

Wine Spectator critic Matt Kramer delivered an excellent and thought provoking keynote speech that has generated considerable attention. He attempted to answer the question, “Can Atheists Make Great Pinot Noir?” and in his usual eloquent and captivating manner, Matt laid out his ideas regarding how to make superlative pinot. Whether you agree with him or not, Matt made a convincing argument in support of his theories. And, as might be expected, Matt’s arguments provoked some rather spirited discussions and blog posts. To any pinot (or wine) enthusiast, I highly recommend Alder Yarrow’s transcript of Matt’s lecture.

A week after the New Zealand conference concluded, I found myself with a smaller group in Australia to attend the sixth biannual Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir Celebration. As I did, many of those in the audience had also come from the New Zealand conclave, including Ted Lemon, winemaker for Littorai as well as Central Otago’s Burn Cottage Vineyard. (more…)

Pinot Noir NZ 2013 – Notes From Wellington

Pinot Noir NZ 2013 – Notes From Wellington

Post by Chuck Hayward | January 29th, 2013

Jim Robertson of Brancott Estate with Alder Yarrow of vinography.com discuss the vintage

Jim Robertson of Brancott Estate with Alder Yarrow of vinography.com discuss the vintage

Every three years, a large portion of the wine world descends on Wellington, the small capital city of New Zealand. Four days of informative seminars and lectures follow, combined with tastings of current and older vintages of Kiwi pinots. This year sees a large contingent of British wine critics in attendance, including Oz Clarke and Tim Atkin, alongside local representatives such as Matt Kramer and Alder Yarrow, putting forth their observations on New Zealand pinot. Aussies and locals make up most of the rest but there are many other countries represented among the 500 people in attendance.

For many in the trade, Pinot Noir NZ represents a unique opportunity to advance their knowledge about the category and, perhaps, take the steps necessary to place New Zealand’s pinots in a global perspective. I’m here to offer my comments as someone who has worked in the category for twenty years while seeking out exceptional wines for our customers. (more…)

Winery Highlight: Chris Ringland

Winery Highlight: Chris Ringland

Post by Chuck Hayward | February 9nd, 2012

Chris Ringland was surely not prepared for all of this. The popularity, the sudden attention. Working away at a rustic winery where time seemed not only to stand still but actually climbed backwards. He spent that time mentoring young winemakers as they learned the secrets of the Barossa Valley–its vineyards, its people, its history. The last thing he expected was an overflowing fax machine…100 point scores from Parker can do that.

Chris Ringland Surveys his Domain

Justifiably or not, Chris Ringland’s shiraz was catapulted into the global world of wine and things quickly got out of hand. Insane prices. Incessant phone calls. Lots of pot shots. All of this attention resulted in a wine that became bigger than the man and his vines; all thanks to a wine review. The problem is the score regrettably only reflected the wine in the glass. Where was the story? Who was this guy? Where was the information about his plot of dirt? (more…)

From Cloudy to Grey: It’s clear skies for NZ winemaker Kevin Judd

From Cloudy to Grey: It’s clear skies for NZ winemaker Kevin Judd

Post by Chuck Hayward | January 17th, 2012

JJ Buckley is proud to be the first retailer in America to sell the wines from Kevin Judd, the founding winemaker from Cloudy Bay. Named after a local soil type, Greywacke (pronounced gray-wack-y) represents Kevin’s effort to get back to the hands on, intuitive and personal approach to winemaking that had become difficult to pursue as the success of Cloudy Bay grew exponentially. Founded just three years ago, the wines have already received significant international acclaim for being some of the top produced in New Zealand.

In spite of the heaping critical praise and excellent ratings, Kevin was unable to secure an American importer…until now! Connecting with Old

Kevin Judd (c) with his dog and cellar assistant

Kevin Judd (c) with his dog Dixie and cellar assistant Fin

Bridge Cellars (known for their high-end Australian portfolio, including such wineries as d’Arenberg and John Duval Wines), Greywacke has become the first New Zealand wine in their portfolio. Thanks to our relationship with Kevin and Old Bridge, JJ Buckley has been selected to introduce his wines to the American market.

Greywacke’s portfolio resembles the wines he made at Cloudy Bay and, indeed, Kevin is working with particular blocks from the growers he came to prefer in his former job. The wines are made at Dog Point Vineyard, owned by best mates and Cloudy Bay alums, James Healy and Ivan Sutherland. During the time when he could not find an American importer, word about the quality of Kevin’s new venture washed ashore here in America, and a rare opportunity to taste a few sips of his sauvignon blanc a few years ago left me wanting more. Accordingly, I took the opportunity on a recent visit to NZ to catch up with Kevin and taste through his portfolio. It was clear to me that he has raised his game and is now well on the way to establishing one of Marlborough’s top wineries. (more…)

Tastes Like Home: Experimenting With Waipara Riesling

Tastes Like Home: Experimenting with Waipara Riesling

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 28th, 2011

Terroir is a hot topic, no doubt. The idea that winemakers are required to transmit the specific qualities of a plot of land to a finished wine is gaining traction, and for many critics, it is considered bad form for the vigneron to leave an imprint that reflects personal style. That camp believes the winemaker’s role is to act as minimally as possible and take a hands-off approach in order to highlight a wine’s terroir.

However, I think it’s impossible to separate the impact of man from winemaking. We as humans are the ones who recognize superior vs. inferior terroir. Growers decide what grapes to plant and how to grow them. Winemakers make endless judgments about when to pick grapes, what yeast to use, how long to age, and so on. The actual decision to practice minimalist winemaking is probably the most important choice that can be made.

Wine writer Dan Berger inspects a bottle of his favorite varietal

Cut to an interesting tasting recently sponsored by New Zealand Winegrowers, responsible for educating consumers and the trade about kiwi wines. In 2010, twelve New Zealand winemakers agreed to create wine from the same batch of fruit— riesling from the Waipara growing region just outside of Christchurch—and were given four tons of uncrushed fruit from Mud House vineyards. They each produced 250 cases of wine at their own facilities, scattered throughout six of the country’s growing regions. (more…)

Not Just for Cork Dorks: The Penfolds Recorking Clinic

Not Just for Cork Dorks: The Penfolds Recorking Clinic

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 22nd, 2011

Australia’s Penfolds is known worldwide for their wines, especially the iconic shiraz-based Grange. Yet it is their unique service, the Penfolds Recorking Clinic, which sets the standard for what chief winemaker Peter Gago calls “service after the sale.” Given the prices of many wines these days, it is seems almost criminal that other wineries do not follow the lead of Penfolds in this regard.

Matt Lane, Penfolds Ambassador, attacks the cork on an old bottle

Developed by the winery some twenty years ago, the Penfolds Recorking Clinic was, until recently, only conducted in Australia. Administered annually in Sydney and Melbourne along with a rotating schedule between Adelaide and Brisbane, the Recorking Clinic now travels to other markets in Europe and America. This week, Penfolds is visiting Washington DC and New Orleans to provide a service that is performed by no other winery and, amazingly in this day and age, free of charge.

Witnessing a Recorking Clinic, especially in Australia, can be quite emotional. Given the reverence for Penfolds there, many families have tucked away a stash of old wines somewhere in their homes. As consumers bring their wines before the winemakers, the tension and nervousness on their faces are palpable. It’s as if they are bringing loved ones to a doctor’s office, anxiously awaiting the diagnosis. (more…)

Separation of Pinots: New Zealand & More Mt. Difficulty

Separation of Pinots: New Zealand & More Mt. Difficulty

Post by Chuck Hayward | August 25th, 2011

Back when New Zealand pinot noir first entered the US market, our collective knowledge of these wines was infinitesimal. The country’s first serious attempts at producing pinot noir production had begun only a decade earlier, so the 1995/96 vintages that made the initial splash had few reference points. At that time, no one could say how Marlborough differed from Martinborough. Rather, the question was how the pinots of New Zealand compared to those from Burgundy, California and Oregon.

As the pinot noir industry matured, it became easier to understand the unique attributes and qualities among New Zealand’s growing regions, which was important so that customers could purchase the style of wine they prefer. Almost right away, however, it became apparent that not all wines from Central Otago were the same and that Marlborough pinots from the valley floor were markedly different compared to those from the southern hills. The quest to learn about a New Zealand wine appellation’s subregionality became important rather quickly.

In Central Otago, where subregional differences first became apparent to me, there are 6-7 loosely defined districts whose pinot noirs offer their own unique interpretations of the grape. Martinborough, Marlborough and Waipara also see differing pinot styles depending on their site, while Hawkes Bay Bordeaux-style red blends show incredible diversity that can be attributed to subregional differences.

Mt. Difficulty Single Site Pinots from 2009

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No Difficulty Tasting a Vertical of New Zealand Pinot Noirs

No Difficulty Tasting a Vertical of New Zealand Pinot Noir

Post by Chuck Hayward | August 2nd, 2011

New Zealand is a relative newcomer to the wine scene in the United States. Though the arrival of the 2011 vintage will mark my 20th year working with Kiwi wines, their real growth in America has only occurred over the past decade. Given that New Zealand is a Johnny-come-lately to our shores, there aren’t many chances for a retrospective look at older vintages of any wine. Unless someone in the States actually saves multiple vintages of the wine (how would I find them?) or a winery pulls them from their cellar and ships them over (an expensive proposition), the only option is to cross the date line and taste them in New Zealand (even more expensive).

A vertical tasting of Mt. Difficulty arranged horizontally

So when I heard Mt. Difficulty was going to host a vertical tasting of seven vintages of their estate wine, I cleared the calendar. Sourcing fruit from their vineyards located in the Bannockburn subregion of Central Otago, Mt. Difficulty is one of the region’s leading pinot noir producers. Their estate pinots show the rich and concentrated, yet soft, style that comes from that particular appellation. One of the few New Zealand wineries with a long-term history in the United States, sales date back to the 1998, their first-ever release. (more…)