Dueling Rieslings

Last weekend, I tweaked my drinking homework a little bit. Instead of blind tasting a single bottle, I tasted 2 wines side by side. The idea was to train myself on differences and help calibrate my “sensors”. It’s easier to say that a wine has medium + acidity when you can compare it with a wine that has medium – acidity. I did that sort of thing before, in a much less structured way with a couple of red burgundies.

The wines were both from the same grape, Riesling. One came from Australia and the other one from Germany, both can be found in retail for between $15 and $20. Those are the common points, now we need to taste the difference

The wines :

  • Pewsey Vale, Eden Valley Dry Resling 2014
  • Nahe, Kreuznacher Knonenberg Auslese Riesling 2013



  • Pewsey Vale : clear, medium lemon with legs
  • Nahe : clear, medium lemon with thicker legs

Similar in color and intensity, the Nahe’s higher sugar shows more legs


  • Pewsey Vale : clean, medium intensity. Notes of citrus (lemon), vegetal, green fruit (pear), white flowers and mineral (rock, with faint petrol notes). The wine is young but developing.
  • Nahe : clean, medium + intensity. Notes of tropical fruit (mango), flowers (elderflower), stone fruit (yellow peach). The wine is developing

First big gap here, with the Nahe showing a very different set of aromas, much riper and exotic compared to the greener, citrusy Pewsey Vale


  • Pewsey Vale : dry, medium + acidity, medium – alcohol, medium body, medium flavor intensity, medium – finish.
  • Nahe : medium sweet, medium + acidity, medium – alcohol, medium + body, medium + flavor intensity, medium + finish.
  • Pewsey Vale : notes of citrus (lime), mineral (rock, oil), green fruit (apple)
  • Nahe : notes of tropical fruit (pineapple), stone fruit (yellow peach), flowers (elderflower)
Delicious homework

Delicious homework


  • Both wines are good. I would give a slight edge to the Nahe but not enough to move it to very good.
  • Both wines can be drunk now but they have potential for ageing

After doing some research, I think I did ok, one big mistake on the alcohol level however because the Nahe is only at 9% ! That’s definitely a low, not a medium -. The whole exercise was fun, I’ll definitely try it again.


Red, white and black : The Chook Shiraz/Viognier

The Chook Shiraz Viognier 2012

Region: MacLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia

Grape: Syrah / Viognier

Price: $18


As I was going through the wine list at a restaurant, my eyes got drawn to an original wine, a red and white blend, this can seem counter-intuitive until you remember that many champagne wines are a blend of white and red grapes, or that white grapes can be blended in Chateauneuf du Pape wines. Contrary to popular belief, mixing red and white will not make a rose! Here the two varieties are Shiraz and Viogner. I love Shiraz, and I love Viognier, so there are chances I will enjoy the blend.

MacLaren Vale in South Australia offers a climate similar to the Mediterranean one with the benefit of cooling breezes from the ocean. The Chook is collaboration between some producers that wanted to make bold wines from the region. They also produce a sparkling Shiraz on which I’d like to put my hands. Oh, and Chook is Australian for “chicken”

Eye: Very deep ruby, are you sure there are some white grapes in there?

Nose: Clean, medium-plus intensity. Blackberries and black pepper notes

Palate: Dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body, round tannins, long finish

At first glance, this wine appears to fall more under the Shiraz than the Viognier blueprint. Dark berries and pepper with a deep ruby color is pretty Shiraz-like. I think the Viognier contributions are on the more subtle side, with the body, smoothness and acidity that help support the Shiraz aromas. I didn’t get any of the traditional Viognier notes such as peach or apricot. It is possible they were there but buried underneath pepper and berries.

Food pairings: I had it with chicken, I mean, there is a chicken on the bottle, what was I supposed to do? It would work great with grilled meat in general.

Overall opinion: I really enjoyed it. The combination of Viognier smoothness and the spicy, flavorful Shiraz made for a great combination. You get the bold Shiraz flavors but the wine remains refreshing and smooth. I will buy a couple bottles and look for the sparkling.

Grade: 7.5/10

Fruits and black pepper : Penfolds Shiraz Cabernet

Penfolds Koonuga Hills Syrah Cabernet 2011

Region: Koonuga Hills, South Australia, Australia

Grape: 77% Shiraz, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: around $12

Once again, I am lucky to date a woman who is willing to eat the results of my cooking efforts and also willing to listen to me ramble about wine while we’re having dinner. I am truly a lucky man. So, this lucky man made some lamb chops with roasted potatoes and opened up an Australian red to go with that.

A few weeks ago I drank the 100% Shiraz Koonuga Hills from Penfolds and I really enjoyed it, fruity and spicy with a nice texture, very easy to drink. I was curious about the addition of Cabernet to this wine, the logic would call for such a blend to have a little more bite and structure due to the addition of Cabernet. The wine spends a year in both American and French oak, so there should be some wood notes to identify.

Yes, I have Game of Thrones coasters...

Yes, I have Game of Thrones coasters…

Eye: Clear, dark ruby

Nose: Clean, medium minus intensity, black fruits (blackberries), spices (pepper), chocolate

Palate: dry, medium-minus body, high acidity. Aggressive tannins when just opened but they soften after 30 minutes or so. Medium length finish. Notes of blackberries, figs, olives and black pepper along with some nice tobacco flavor from the oak

The bottle definitely took a little time to open. The first few sips were pretty bad with high acidity, aggressive tannins and not much fruit. The wine felt really thin and forgettable. After 30 minutes to an hour it was another story, much more rounded, more fruit, and more body. It ended up being perfectly fine to drink after the initial scare. It’s a solid red without too strong a body but with a nice peppery kick.

Lamb chops

Food pairings: Can’t go wrong with lamb, it would work with beef and pork too.

Overall opinion: Good value for money, just give it time to open up or you’ll make a face when first tasting it

Grade : 6/10 or 3/10 right after opening

The Dark (Gre)Knight : Rocland Estate Grenache

Rocland Estate Grenache, 2008

Region: Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia

Grape: Grenache

Price: around $15-$20

I’m dating a girl who is nice enough to eat my cooking on a regular basis which allows me to try more recipes than I normally would, I’m not a fan of cooking for myself. Case in point last weekend, I made some pork piccatas, a very easy way to cook pork, veal or chicken just with some garlic, lemon juice and white wine. I kinda decided on the recipe at the last minute so I had to make do with whatever wine I had available. It had been a long time since I had some Grenache so the decision was somewhat easy.

Grenache is an international grape originating from Spain and that I mostly know from its Southern France examples. It’s a red grape, very light in color (often used for rose wine) with pepper and red fruits aromas. It’s often used in blends with Syrah and Mouvedre because Grenache by itself lacks color, acidity and tannins. This particular wine comes from Australia, the Barossa Valley is probably the top wine region in South Australia (and maybe of all Australia) and is especially known for its Shiraz wines. So basically, what I’m saying is that I had no idea what to expect.

Rocland Estate

Eye: Clear, Deep garnet, very dark for a Grenache

Nose: Clean, medium plus intensity, very earthy nose with thyme notes. Red fruits, strawberries and some leather notes.

Palate: dry, medium-minus body, medium minus acidity, round and low intensity tannins. Medium plus finish (red plum). Aromas of pepper, herbs (thyme), red fruits (strawberry and raspberry).

Food pairings: I made pork piccatas with simple cherry tomatoes pasta. The wine won’t be able to cut the fatness of heavy creamy dishes but it will work well with most meats.

Overall opinion: I had a hard time re-conciliating what I knew about Grenache and what was in my glass. The color was, well unexpected, so dark, maybe from wood ageing? Tannins and acidity were on the lower side, as expected from the varietal and there was an interesting range of aromas from fruity to earthy. To me it feels like an outlier but I don’t have an extensive knowledge of Aussie wines. I definitely enjoyed it though. Maybe it’s not the Grenache Australia deserves but it’s the one it needs right now?

Holy wine glass Batman!

Holy wine glass Batman!

Cicadas and olives, Penley Estate Coonawarra

Penley Estate, Phoenix Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Region: Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia

Grape: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: around $20


All right, first bottle of my Cabernet-Sauvignon learning experiment. I decided to start with an Australian version because I heard of the Coonawarra wines during my WSET level 2 classes and the name stuck for some reason. It’s one of the most known new world terroirs with its principal feature being the distinctive “red soils” more specifically it is called terra rossa and is a special type of clay/limestone soil, it is more common in regions with a Mediterranean climate. Coonawarra produces almost exclusively Cabernet-Sauvignon wines, coincidentally; the climate is often compared to the Bordeaux climate, due to the proximity of the sea, making Cabernet an easy choice of grape

Coonawarra red soil

Coonawarra red soil

Eye: deep ruby

Nose: Clean, medium + intensity, black fruits, plums, blackberries, olives

Palate: Dry, medium – acidity, full body, solid chewy tannins, long finish.

Ok, so Australian Cabernet, very structured, lots of fruit and tannins, long finish and also a really earthy quality that is the thing that really stuck with me. Olive notes on the nose and on the palate contribute to that but the very body of the wine feels chewy and solid. I didn’t get much spice notes as some other reviews mentioned but the red fruit was vibrant and combined with the earthiness, it left a much satisfying and long finish. For some reason, tasting this wine made me think of the Mediterranean. It might be just the olive notes, but I could close my eyes and feel like I was in Southern France listening to cicadas under an olive tree.

Food pairings: Great steak wine. I had it with home cooked steaks and mashed potatoes prepared by my temporary roommate.

Overall opinion: Great wine for the price, as I said earlier, my main takeaway is the earthiness of this wine. I wonder if it is an isolated case or a characteristic of Australian Cabs. I any case my study of Cabernet-Sauvignon is off to a good start.

Exploring my wine database

It’s been a more than month since I arrived in Paris and I’m now a week away from flying home to Boston.  “Back in good old Boston, home of the bean and the cod. Where the Lowells only talk to Cabots, and the Cabots only talk to God.” I apologize for this moment of pretentious culture; I do love my Boston Brahmin lore.

But, as I often do, I digress. Even though I’m more than ready to go back, I had a great time in France. Family-wise, friends-wise and of course, wine-wise, everything went well. I use an app called Vivino to track what I drink, it’s pretty convenient and it helps structure and document my wine journey. I decided to do a little analysis of my Vivino log for the last 30 days. I had more than 45 different wines over that 30 days period. Granted, it covered the holidays period when it is more socially acceptable. I’m not concerned about this overall number.

What is interesting is the fact that, except for one bottle from Lebanon, one from South Africa, and one from the Priorat, 42 wines out of 45 were French. It is not a bad thing but it illustrates a point I made a few months ago, French people, and people in France tend to drink French wine. The offer in foreign wines in basic wine shops remains minimal, with the notable exception of Italian (Chianti) and Spanish (cava, Rioja) wines.


It’s not particularly surprising. It’s also not just an elitist or snobby thing, it might be simple economics. France is either the first or second producer of wine in the world depending on the year (Italy being the other biggest producer). And even though we export a fair amount of wine, roughly a third of our yearly production, we still consume most of it domestically. At this point it’s demographics combined with economics: We produce 20% of the wine in the world and we consume two thirds of this production which means 13% of the wine produced in the world is drunk in France.

By comparison, Australia’s wine industry is geared towards exportation. Only 40% of the wine produced in Australia is sold locally, the remaining 60% are exported (mainly to the UK where Australian wines lead all other countries in terms of sales).

Considering that drinking locally is easier because you avoid transport and importations taxes, it’s often a better bargain to drink local in France. And of course, there is the protectionist and patriotic reflex. Lack of choice however is a real thing.

That’s one of the many reasons I’m ready to go home. I want to drink some Australian Shiraz I read about, I want to try more Napa Cabernet; I want to compare them to French wines from similar varieties. I want variety, I want new things, I want to wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep. Eh, no, scratch the last one, I got carried away in my own rambling. I don’t like New-York that much. Give me an non-rhotic accent over a nasal one, it’s easier on the ears.

Anyway, more wine this weekend, I have a bottle of Hermitage I have to get into. I told you, there is nothing wrong with French wine.