Monday, 25 March 2013

Johnnie Walker Spice Road

Johnnie Walker Spice Road
March 2013

Launched in late 2012, the Spice Road is the first of three blends in Johnnie Walker's new Trade Routes Series of whiskies. Part of their Explorers' Club Collection, these three whiskies are supposedly only available exclusively on Global Travel Retail (thats duty free shopping in airports, to you and me). I picked up my bottle in March 2012 in Singapore Changi International Airport.

Johnnie Walker Explorers' Club Collection 'The Spice Road'
SGD$52.50 (1 litre) | A-

40% abv. Deep golden amber in colour, its visibly darker than your average JW. Off the bat, sweet oak vanilla aromas coming through; caramel, treacle and fudge also to the fore, then followed by sweet spices (mostly cinnamon and nutmeg); smells quite volatile for its abv (or that could be the rather hot 'room temperature' here in Singapore). Sweetness carries through to the palate, with a satisfying fruity hit in the beginning; the cinnamon/clove-like spice along with slightly woody barbecued but sweet smokiness really kicks in on the mid palate, and is the dominating flavour on the finish. Smooth, very clean on the palate, doesnt have the lingering power or depth but is surprisingly long on the finish. Yes, the name is slightly gimicky but I think its still very well-made, attractive, and relatively good value - I'll be buying another ...  

Note to Johnnie Walker: Whats with the screwtop closures with in-built steady pourers? It doesnt give me the characteristic and very warming 'pop' sound that the cork closures do ... We taste with all our senses, no?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Local Nose, Singapore

The Local Nose tasting
08 March 2013. Le Vigne, Singapore.

A wine tasting organised by The Local Nose group in Singapore. As far as I gathered on the night, they are group of wine enthusiast in Singapore who regularly organise tasting events, showcasing the wines of particular local, independent wine merchants that they support. This tasting featured wines stocked by Le Vigne, a small wine merchant focusing on good value, everyday drinking wines at around the $30-50 range mostly from the new world - though I did spot some rather smart Chataeuneufs lying around on the shelves.

The tasting notes below are in the order I tasted them. The prices indicated are retail in Singapore Dollars by the bottle at Le Vigne, though they do offer 10% discount on all cash and carry purchases.  

Finca Flichman Extra Brut
$41.50 | B

An 80/20 blend of Chardonnay / Malbec made using the Charmat method, more commonly associated with the production of prosecco.
Golden, salmon tinge; strawberry and peach fruity nose, with slight bready / developed characters. Palate is fruit dominated, quite large but feels slightly thin and dilute; medium low acid, its passable as an aperitif. Lacks bit of brightness and zing for my liking.

2008 Bald Hills ‘Last Light’ Riesling. Central Otago, NZ.
$49.90 | B+

Lemon zest and blossoms on the nose, with a hint of petrol / kerosene; slightly waxy lemons too, with candied peel aromas, like air freshener. Gently off dry, perhaps in the 10-20 g/l range; fat lemony flavours with a grapefruit pithiness on the finish. High acidity makes it feel zingy and effectively dry on the finish, its got good fruit concentration to keep things interesting; a pretty, ageworthy wine.      

2011 Mount Brown Sauvignon Blanc. Waipara Valley, NZ.
$41.70 | B+

Served blind. Citrus and green guava, with a touch of tropical fruit sweetness coming through, subtle leafy / grassy undertones. On the palate, the greenness becomes more obvious; flinty, minerally and quite textured in style; not your usual opulent fruit-driven NZSB, more of a mature, ripe Pouilly Fume.

 2009 Mount Brown Pinot Noir. Waipara Valley, NZ.
$49.50 | A-

Dark cherry with sweet prunes, earthy and sweet spices, with star anise dominating; a lick of sweet oak and even cedar / incense woods completes a very polished nose. Fruit is bright, morello cherry and kirsch, with wild strawberries on the palate, nice ripeness of fruit with slight crunchy acidity; hint of blackpepper and sweet spice on the finish. A full bodied style with good flavour concentration and velvety texture. Its complete, very classy & poised.  

Castello Albai Joven. Rioja, Spain.
$26.50 | B

Dark fruit compote, quite sweet and cooked; very apparent oak treatment shows through the prominent sweet vanilla and coconut notes, bit too brash, somewhat unappealing for me. Fruit is sweet and juicy, large on the entry but fades very quickly; feels thin on the mid palate, gritty and rough on the finish. Rather simple flavours on show, somewhat agricultural in approach, not pretty.

2011 Finca Flichman Reserva Malbec. Mendoza, Argentina.
$37.50 | B+

Sweet dark fruit, blackberry and blueberry compote dominates along with fragrant violets and cassis notes; lifted aromas. Fruit shows dark plums and blueberries, its ripe but feels quite heavy and alcoholic; bitter chocolate on the finish. Medium low in acid, theres a rather unpleasant gritty / coal dust note on the finish; over extracted in my opinion, lacks balance.  

2010 Gran Bajoz Vinas Viejas. Toro, Spain.
$47.90 | B+(+)

Part of Pagos del Rey’s operation (same parent company as the Castillo Albai above), Gran Bajoz is their top Toro wine.
Dark fruit, blackberry, dark plums and bramble; dried herbs / garrigue, coffee and dark chocolate; with some hefty sweet oak notes, almost charred / BBQ notes; brooding, makes you expect a huge wine. Prunes and blackberry carry through on the palate; bags of fruit, nice concentration and staying power on the mid palate; obviously extracted, it is trying to be a big wine and just about pulls it off. Medium acid, ripe, sweet but chunky tannins, this will reward medium term cellaring; drink now – 2018+

2010 Vinaceous ‘Red Right Hand’. Multiregion blend, Australia.
$61.50 | B+

A blend of McLaren Vale Shiraz (79%), Grenache (15%) and Western Australia Tempranillo (5%), if not anything else, it is novel.
Sweet blackcurrant and blackberry jam, it is overtly (and intentionally?) sweet and confected in style; fragrant but a bit too brash for me. Fruit shows red plums and blackberry; its ripe, quite alcoholic and sweet; low acid, decent mid palate weight, finishes quickly. Drink young to capture the sweetness.

Overall: Interesting selection of wines, but this being my first review from Singapore, its clear that I must recalibrate my scale for value for money. Wines aren’t cheap here: at the moment, the Finca Flichman Reserva Malbec is being offered by Waitrose in the UK for £6.99 or approx. $14 (down from £8.99, approx. $18). Similarly, the Mount Browns retail in the UK for £10-15; its more than twice that here. That said, it was great getting to know some of the Local Nose crew - it was a fun, convivial occasion all around. I even managed to pick up some interesting bottles from Le Vigne ...

The Local Nose – tasting organisers
Le Vigne – tasting venue and stockists for all the wines above
72 Namly Place, Singapore 267220
T: (65) 64620053 E:
Open 7 days a week 12-18.30

Saturday, 2 March 2013


Some notable wines I tasted in November - December 2012, all of which were enjoyed over dinner.

2009 Pieropan, La Rocca, Soave Classico
A- | Cambridge Wine Merchants £ 23.99

White floral notes with white stone fruits, honey and hints of candied almond; its lifted, fragrant and opulent. Palate is textured almost slightly mealy like oat porridge (in a good way), white fruits dominate, quite sweet with balancing acidity; mouthfilling and shows great presence, leading to a minerally finish. Focused yet generous, excellent stuff.

2005 Condrieu, Les Terrasses du Palat, Francois Villard

Quite heady still, overripe peaches and nectarines mingle with honey on the nose. Palate is rich and full, stone fruit flavours dominate to the fore with a hint of grapefruit; low acidity, sustained mid palate flavours, slight drying grip on the finish. Not the most showy / opulent Condrieu, but shows decent complexity and impressively long finish.

1996 Jim Barry 'The Armagh' Shiraz, Clare Valley

Top of the tree at Jim Barry wines, 'The Armagh' Shiraz is one of the iconic wines of Australia, right up there with Penfolds' Grange and Henschke's Hill of Grace; from a really good vintage too.

Still primary fruits on the nose, blackcurrant cordial and pastilles, still plenty of minty eucalyptus showing; fragrant and lifted, incredibly fresh. On the palate, flavours of blueberries and blackcurrants dominate; still primary but not overwhelming; theres purity and sweetness of fruit at its core; the oak has melded into the wine, tannins are resolved - everything feels together, all supported by the fruit. This is a stunning wine, probably close to its peak, but will continue to evolve, drink now - 2023+.  

1996 Elderton 'Command' Shiraz, Barossa

First made in 1984, this is another iconic Barossa Shiraz with a stellar reputation of being one of the region's best; always a high scoring wine among the wine critics, if you are into point-counting.

Primary fruits on the nose, ribena pastilles, quite sweet and lifted, think cough syrup medication; lovely eucalyptus / mint nose also coming through; very voluptuous and ready to please out of the bottle. Palate is textured, blackcurrant fruit still at its core, but its not brash, its mellowed and rounded; savoury and gamey hints too, has an oiliness like streaky bacon. Great mouthfeel, complex flavours with all components integrated; its probably at its peak, but should still hold for a while, drink now - 2018+. An absolute joy to drink, one of the best Australian Shiraz I have ever tasted.

2004 Magpie Estate 'The Gomersal' Grenache, Barossa
A- | Noel Young £24.99 (for the '09 vintage)

Magpie Estate is a joint venture between Trumpington, Cambridge-based wine merchant Noel Young and winemaker Rolf Binder from the Barossa (who also makes wine under the labels JJ Hahn and Veritas). 'The Gomersal' is their top end Grenache, only made in the best years; typically a small percentage of their premium Shiraz (called 'The Election') is blended into the Gomersal, in 2004 it was 3%.

Warmth on the nose, mulled spices, cloves with red plums and cherries compote, slightly cooked fruit nature to this; theres also secondary notes of game and cured meats, even slightly dirty / earthy characters too. Palate is soft and rounded, fruit is still bright, red cherries and red berries with damsons; medium-high acidity, it feels vivacious and nimble; textured mouthfeel, all components integrated well. Probably at its peak, but should keep yet, drink now - 2018+

Comments: All the wines above are classics, icons even, in their own rights, a short word on each. The Pieropan La Rocca is perhaps the benchmark for quality Soave Classico, the 2009 here is the current vintage which I picked up from Cambridge Wine Merchants. Yes its not cheap, but in my experience, the La Rocca never disappoints; Pieropan also do a basic Soave (less exciting but still good) at about half the price of the La Rocca. The Condrieu and Magpie Estate were acquired from the cellars of a Cambridge College, both ageworthy wines showing the benefits of some cellaring time. The two mature, iconic Australian Shiraz, the Jim Barry Armagh from Clare and the Elderton Command from Barossa were picked up at auction. Both came with huge reputations and correspondingly high expectations, which I am glad to say it met with flying colours - these premium-end Australian reds certainly worth cellaring as much as Cru Classe clarets.