As soon as this one came out of the purveyor’s bag, we started to chuckle.  It was part of a new line from Penfolds, a winery that, through their armada of “bin” designated wines, would seem to already have every conceivable wine scenario covered with plenty left over.   Yet here was something dressed in an ‘artsy’ composite coating, the inaugural release it states, of a line dedicated to the memory of Max Schubert, Penfold’s historic winemaker who would have been 100 years old in 2015.

Even the most creative of corporate spin doctors would be challenged to generate a viable yarn about how a (literally) red bottle that sells for under $20 commemorates the guy that created Grange and put Penfolds on the map. But we have seen some pretty far-fetched approaches over the years for ‘stimulating’ interest in a new line of wines.  We were ready to bag on this one as yet another soulless corporate effort in a gimmicky package trying to push its way into the market…that is until we tasted it.

The Penfolds Max’s Shiraz Cabernet South Australia 2015 is legit juice, boysenberry and black cherry with flecks of spice, iron and vanilla, engaging supple texture, well tucked away acidity and ripe tannins.  It brought back memories of some of our early experience with their now coveted (and priced at nearly $60) Bin 389.  The blend on the ‘Max’ is 77% Shiraz and 23% Cabernet Sauvignon (there’s more Cab in the Bin 389) and mostly neutral oak in the process.  The fruit feels a little ‘redder’, but this is a delicious drink that offers quite the pleasing tipple both texturally and flavor-wise for its modest fare, serving much the same purpose as those early Bin 389s.

Sure there are a lot of questions, not the least of which is how will this wine play moving forward over future vintages (‘corporates’ are notorious for over-delivering on brand rollouts, and slacking off later).  As to this wine specifically, there are no concerns thus far.  This wine is one of the tasty surprises of the year thus far. It was good enough to overcome our doubts and then some, even bringing us to endorsing it.  Max Shiraz/Cabernet 2015 is a perfectly engaging and honest red. James Suckling seems to agree with a 92 point review and comments, “Perfumed and delicious with blackberry, blueberry and orange peel character. Medium to full body, firm and silky tannins and a flavorful finish. I like the acid energy to this that gives the wine clarity and tension…”   As to the next vintage, we’ll worry about that when the time comes.


Every once in a while we have to smile when some seriously committed winery bottles something special and gives it a names that sounds like the ‘cease and desist’ order is just a matter of time.  It’s likely that very few in the great big world have experienced the sensational talents of the Michelini brothers through their various wine projects.  Zorzal wines have proven to be a revelation both in demonstrating the exciting ‘next wave’ of South American wines and providing surprising value.

We have had great response to their almost laughably inexpensive Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir Rosé, and what the brothers can do when they pull out all of the stops as they have with their Superuco Malbecs. Here they are doing serious work with what may ultimately prove to be the real ‘great grape’ of Argentina…Cabernet Franc.  With all due respect to Malbec, we have had some surprising experiences with Argentine Francs, though admittedly there haven’t been a ton of examples.  The best Francs have the richness to play with the big kids, but often achieve a certain elegance that Malbec rarely does.

We’d love to talk about how the brothers discovered some ancient and forgotten cache of Cabernet Franc vines but, in fact, this vineyard in Gualtallary, a subregion of the Uco Vally (at over 4200 feet elevation) was only planted in 2007.  The secret, if there is one other than the usual low-yields/hand harvesting mantra you here with so many great producers, is the vessel.

The current weapon of choice for this project, as well as a growing number of winemakers all over the world, is the concrete egg.  The grapes are harvested and fermented with their gross lees, which they stay in contact with for 3-5 months, in the concrete egg.  We aren’t going to get into the biodynamics or voodoo as to why the ‘egg’ works.  But it does seem to.  Concrete somehow causes the reds to be plusher and more integrated, to the point where, in this case, there is no oak used at all.

The 2015 Zorzal Wines Eggo Franco is remarkably complex and layered.  Harmonious texture, lots of stuff going on (earth, fresh tobacco, spice, mineral, and meat) in this mouthful of dark red and black fruits.  Advocate’s Luis Gutierrez gives this one a 93 and suggests ‘Eggo’ shows very much the wild character of Gualtallary.  It’s a lot of wine for the money and it both engages and challenges.

We hope the ‘powers that be’ leave the lads to their ‘eggo’ fun.  This is another creative, dynamic effort from the Michelinis and ‘new’ Argentina and no one is going to confuse this with a breakfast choice anyway.




It seems like only yesterday (it was actually the mid-90s) that we were invited to a very low-keyed tasting that a supplier was hosting. That supplier, who pioneered Oregon wines in the late 80s, long before they really took hold in the broad market, had just come back from a trip to New Zealand. He brought with him bottles of Pinot Noir from New Zealand, something we had been exposed to before. Apparently the wine industry there was just starting to get a feel for the varietal and our geeky Oregon vendor felt compelled to drag a few bottles back (a lot easier to do in those days given current airport security) to test the water. Guess we were curious, too , since we attended this small scale event just to check them out. This was so early in the game, we weren’t even aware that there was a game.

Since we had no expectations, we went simply to do our jobs and taste because, as we have said so often, you just never know. The lineup of eight wines, which included Ata Rangi and Te Kairanga we recall, showed rather well. We were prompted to order small quantities of these, at the time, completely unfamiliar labels from a completely untrested genre. Perhaps more important, our take-away from this little show was “hey, this could turn into something”. Are we saying we were ahead of the curve. Yeah, we often are because we actually take the time to look. But that isn’t the point. Are we saying we could have predicted where Kiwi Pinot would go over the next couple of decades? Not a chance.

As it turned out, that showing proved to be no fluke. Here we are roughly two decades later, and the Kiwis are accepted players on the world stage. Not only are New Zealand Pinot Noirs taken seriously in wine circles these days, their ‘top guns’ have been consistently producing lights-out juice that should be a part of any serious collection. Our subject here is one of those ‘players’, Pegasus Bay. We aren’t going to claim this is the most consistent of the top drawer estates, but they certainly hit ‘higher highs’ when they’re ‘on’. This is one of those times.

The Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir Waipara Valley 2012 also gets a little less visibility because they because of their location. The name Marlborough is certainly more ingrained in the wine buying public’s psyche and Central Otago is the more ‘glam’ locale. Now we aren’t going to mix words. Sometimes Kiwi Pinots in general can be a little too savory for their own good. But when it gets a little warmer, as it did in 2012, the riper fruit component fills in the middle and plays nicely off the cooler notes while there are none of the green edges that can sometimes get in the way. That leaves a pretty compelling drink when all is said and done.

We’re not the only fans. The added ripeness and flesh (think Burgundy not Santa Lucia Highlands) got multiple ‘thumbs up’ from the critics, including a 92 from Wine Advocate and 93 from Wine Enthusiast. The lead cheerleader in this case, besides us putting our money where our mouths (keyboards?) are, was James Suckling. He dropped a ‘96’ score on this one with the comments, “A sense of real depth, soothing dark cherry notes, some forest floor and deeply knitted oak. The palate has noble tannins and the sort of structural complexity and completeness that is the envy of most other NZ Pinot Noir makers”

As a matter of course, Kiwi Pinots can use a good splash in a decanter before serving. Who knew back in the day that New Zealand would become a world player in Pinot Noir?  It is examples like this that drive the point home. As wines with this kind of reviews goes, and compared to most reserve level California Pinots, it’s quite the bargain, too…$34.98



The ‘Land Down Under’ is still a ‘place of wonder’ when it comes to intriguing value reds. You just have to know where to look. Besides all of the widely distributed corporate beverages (Penfolds, Hardys, etc.), there are a number of small, passionate, under the radar producers with old vines and long histories that are doing some exceptional work for pretty easy-to-swallow prices. We sold some of the first Kalleske wines to come into the country back in the mid-00s and have been a fan of Troy Kalleske’s rich-but-sleek style ever since.

The Kalleske Clary’s GSM was a little later to the party but is the best we have tasted from them (though they weren’t in the market for a while). ‘Clarry’, for whom the cuvee is named, was Troy’s grandfather who tended these old vineyards (established in 1838…no that’s not a misprint). Clarry’s is a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro with old vine Grenache from the 1940s and 1960s. The wine is fermented in open-top fermenters and basket pressed. To preserve the superb fresh fruit flavors, it only sees one year in very old oak hogsheads (300 liter barrels) .

Who uses grapes from 40-60 year old vines for an under-$20 go-to red? Well, it’s a short list but that’s the deal here. A 91 from the sometimes stingy Lisa Perotti-Brown with commentary, “…redolent of baked raspberries, kirsch and red currant jelly (we’d add boysenberry, too, but we grew up SoCal… Knotts Berry Farm) with Indian spices, dried oregano and peppercorn hints. Full-bodied, ripe and opulent in the mouth, it coats the palate with plush, velvety tannins and spicy flavors, finishing long.” Does that sound like something that could be had for under a Jackson? We think not…$19.98