Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

The 2004 vintage in Bordeaux has been headlined in the November 2007 issue of Decanter as the last good-value or affordable vintage from Bordeaux.  They went on to say:  Amid the atypical richness of 2003,  the wholesale brilliance of 2005,  and the extravagant prices of 2006,  Bordeaux's 2004 vintage has remained largely in the background.  For the last two years,  we have been telling anyone who'll listen that this is the vintage for lovers of classic claret.  ...  The wines had that classic balance –  elegance,  perfume,  distinction ... the Pauillacs were very good indeed ... the accent is on finesse rather than huge power and body.

Vintage conditions were somewhat difficult,  with a tendency for the vines to over-produce.  Green harvesting was commonplace,  if wines of substance and ripeness were desired.  General impressions of the vintage have drifted upwards,  partly because they were seen as desirably affordable once the much higher prices for the very highly rated 2005 vintage became available.  Current assessments of the vintage are:  Wine Advocate:  87 –  88;  Wine Spectator: 88 –  89;  Decanter:  4 stars (out of 5);  and Jancis Robinson provides evocative words (as usual) rather than a score,  here paraphrased:  The best 2004s are just so delicious ... not the intensity of the 2005s ... refreshment rather than opulence ...  The 2004 vintage is also much more uneven than 2005. Only those who could afford to thin the threatened bumper crop and really work hard in the vineyard managed to make characterful wine.

Notwithstanding Decanter's enthusiasm,  the general impression therefore is one of caution,  a vintage needing tasting before investment.  Both Regional Wines (of Wellington) and Glengarry in both Auckland and Wellington have offered small tastings of a cross-section of mostly classed growths,  and Scenic Cellars (Taupo) presented their annual review of the top growths in September.  These notes cover only the first two,  in December and August respectively.  The relative ranking in this account is a best attempt,  but cannot be quite so clearcut as a single tasting.  Current retails prices now look expensive,  for the weight of wine as bottled,  though there were some good values for those who took advantage of the en primeur offers.  But,  as noted,  it was not really a vintage to buy blind.  

In the notes below,  scoring is based on an "investment" interpretation of current best practice for the better New Zealand wine judgings.  That means relatively more emphasis on cellar prospects than the here and now,  with marks not quite as generous as domestic practice.  A couple of current 'gold-medal' local wines are included,  for comparison.  By British Bordeaux-rating standards however,  the marks would be a full point higher,  at least.  Cepage and crop details come from Robert Parker's indispensable Bordeaux book,  now the standard text.

Parker,  Robert M.,  2003:  Bordeaux (Fourth Edition).  Simon & Schuster,  1244 p.


2004  Ch Angelus
2004  Ch Bahans Haut-Brion
2004  Ch Belair
2004  Ch Brane-Cantenac
2004  Ch Calon-Segur
2004  Ch Certan de May
2005  Church Road Merlot / Cabernet Hawkes Bay
2004  Ch Cos d'Estournel
2004  Ch Duhart-Milon
2004  Ch l'Evangile
2004  Ch Giscours
2004  Ch Gruaud Larose
  2004  Ch Hosanna
2004  Ch Lafon-Rochet
2004  Ch Leoville-Barton
2004  Ch Palmer
2004  Ch Pape Clement
2004  Ch Pichon-Lalande
2004  Ch Pichon-Longueville Baron
2004  Ch Poyferre
2005  Sileni Estate Merlot Triangle
2004  Ch Sociando-Mallet
2004  Ch Troplong-Mondot

2004  Ch Cos d'Estournel   19  ()
St Estephe Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $199   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 60%,  Me 38;  CF 2,  average age 35 – 40 years,  planted @ 8 – 10 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2.5 t/ac;  www.estournel.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the second deepest.  Bouquet is exhilarating,  amongst the December bracket of '04s being the only one to be both classical Bordeaux and approaching first growths in beauty,  complexity and depth.  It is almost too deep to be floral,  instead being darkly cassisy,  with huge bottled plum and berry.  Berry is complexed by subtlest charry oak,  a touch of dark chocolate,  but nothing so crass as coffee.  Palate is both rich yet light on the tongue,  intense cassis,  beautiful berryfruit,  chocolatey oak,  lovely.  This has the richness to cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 12/07

2004  Ch Angelus   18 ½  ()
St Emilion Premier Grand Cru,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $306   [ cork;  vineyard cepage Me 50%,  CF 47,  CS 3,  average age 30 – 35 years,  planted @ 7 – 8 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 1.7  t/ac;  www.chateau-angelus.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the deepest.  Bouquet is ample,  plushly dark plummy in a bottled omega plum style rather more than black doris,  but at this stage more international / Napa than most Bordeaux.  Palate introduces some delicacy of fruit,  yet a lot of oak with some chocolate,  in a dramatic merlot-dominant winestyle.  Freshly opened,  it is as rich as the Cos,  but in comparison lacks St Emilion typicity (though consistent with itself).  In 10 years,  it will be much more evocative,  and may rate higher.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 12/07

2004  Ch Pape Clement   18 ½  ()
Pessac-Leognan,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $242   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 58%,  Me 42,  average age 30 – 35 years,  planted @ 8 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2 t/ac;  www.pape-clement.com ]
Ruby,  velvet,  and some carmine,  clearly the densest of the eight August Bordeaux.  Bouquet is dark pure cassis berry,  a lot of new oak and a little char obscuring the dark cassis to a degree,  but the whole bouquet cabernet-aromatic,  and enticing.  Palate is reasonably rich,  the richest of these eight wines,  potentially cedary oak noticeable,  with intense skinsy and cassisy berry,  blackberry and dark plum matching it well.  In this wine everything is ripe,  and there is some concentration.  Classic Medoc-styled Bordeaux.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 08/07

2004  Ch Leoville-Barton   18 +  ()
St Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $128   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 72%,  Me 20,  CF 8,  average age 30 – 35 years,  planted @ 9 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2.5  t/ac;  www.leoville-barton.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  in the middle for weight.  Bouquet is classic cabernet claret,  clear cassis,  cedary oak,  a little brett,  trace VA,  good volume.  Palate is classic too,  fairly rich though a little leaner than the top three wines,  attractive and complex near-velvety flavours with the promise of cigar box complexity to come.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe longer.  GK 12/07

2005  Church Road Merlot / Cabernet Hawkes Bay   18  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $21   [ cork;  Me 73%,  CS 17,  Ma  6,  CF  4;  MLF and 13 months in French oak 47% new;  winemaker Chris Scott;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is sensational,  total violets and darkest roses,  a beautiful expression of a merlot-dominant Hawkes Bay blend.  Seen alongside this set of 2004 Bordeaux blends,  the similarity of style is dramatic,  the florals in this Church Road comparable with the best of them.  On palate it is ripe and elegant,  softer than the average of the Bordeaux,  the florals grading through cassis to dark berry including bottled black doris plums.  It is clearly riper than the 2004 Chateau Palmer,  but not as concentrated.  But then,  this is the standard wine,  for heaven's sake,  and there is a Reserve Merlot / Cabernet above it (and then triumphantly richer again,  the soon-to-be-reviewed preview of 2005 Tom Merlot / Cabernet).  The Church Road standard wine is $20,  give or take,  and the 2004 Palmer is $231.  This is probably the finest $20 Merlot / Cabernet blend ever offered in New Zealand.  It is totally international in its Bordeaux-like styling,  but naturally enough this basic label does not have quite the gravitas of highly-reputed French examples.  Here it wins points on ripeness and balance.  Cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 12/07

2004  Ch Calon-Segur   18  ()
St Estephe Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $134   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 65%,  Me 20,  CF 15,  average age 35 – 40 years,  cropped @ c. 2 t/ac. ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the deeper.  Bouquet on this wine is intensely fragrant,  deep violets,  darkest cassis,  very St Estephe like a fragrant year of Ch Montrose.  But it smells stern.  It tastes much sterner,  but unlike the Brane Cantenac,  the cassis and tannins are ripe,  there aren't green thoughts,  and the weight of fruit is more than the high tannin first leads one to think.  Finish is very dry.  This is what some 1966 Medocs tasted like,  young.  Lovely to have a wine with nearly all the purity of modern techniques,  but none of the braggadocio beloved by new world commentators.  Not as rich as the Pape Clement,  but should cellar into a wonderfully fragrant and totally classical 'intellectual' claret,  over 10 – 20 years.  GK 08/07

2004  Ch Giscours   17 ½ +  ()
Margaux Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $99   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 55%,  Me 40,  CF 5,  average age 30 – 35 years,  planted @ 8 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2.6  t/ac;  www.chateau-giscours.fr ]
Ruby and some velvet,  one of the lightest.  Bouquet is not one of the lightest,  however,  with attractive cassisy cabernet blended with softer merlot,  all fragrant and potentially cedary,  very winey yet brett below my threshold.  Though not a big wine,  this is totally classic claret,  giving nothing away to modern fads.  Cellar 5 – 12 + years.  GK 12/07

2004  Ch Lafon-Rochet   17 ½ +  ()
St Estephe Fourth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $76   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 55%,  Me 40,  CF 5,  average age 30 – 35 years,  planted @ 9 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2.75  t/ac;  www.lafon-rochet.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  in the middle for weight.  Bouquet is a delight,  pure cassis and cedar,  just beautiful,  with violets and rose florals too.  This is heavenly St Estephe.  Palate is immediately sterner and leaner,  but with good physiological maturity.  Not a big wine,  but classical and potentially delicious,  illustrating exactly Jancis Robinson's words.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years.  GK 12/07

2004  Ch Pichon-Longueville Baron    17 ½ +  ()
Pauillac Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $199   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 60%,  Me 35,  CF 4,  PV 1,  average age 30 – 35 years,  planted @ 9 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2.3 t/ac;  www.chateaupichonlongueville.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  the second deepest of the August wines.  This is a much harder bouquet to pin down / characterise.  It is almost in the elusive cassis and black olive presentation of cabernet sauvignon,  yet with a faint aromatic streak reminiscent of ripest red capsicum,  putting one on guard.  Palate however is not stalky,  and shows fair ripeness,  just a hint of plum chutney / VA,  attractive balance to obvious new oak,  more alcohol than the label admits,  yet not quite the stuffing to go with it.  If the Calon is 'intellectual',  there is a much more popular appeal in this wine.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 08/07

2004  Ch l'Evangile   17 ½  ()
Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $272   [ cork;  vineyard cepage Me 75%,  CF 25,  average age 40 – 45 years,  planted @ 6 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2 t/ac;  www.lafite.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the deeper.  Bouquet is in the cynical modern style,  all toasty oak and coffee / mocha,  pandering to populist taste.  What a travesty,  against the classical Evangiles of yesteryear.  On palate there is rich ripe fruit,  high merlot and plummy to the extent one can taste the kind of berry under the prominent oak-related clutter and winemaker artefact,  so it has to score relatively highly.  But the wine totally lacks typicity in any classical sense – it could come from any appropriate temperate merlot climate.  Disappointing.  How Parker can describe the wine as stunning,  showing blackberry,  truffle and acacia flower etc,  is beyond me.  Likewise the World of Fine Wine describes this Evangile as 'the very image of really fine Pomerol'.  I do not share their enthusiasm for this modern vote-catching distortion of the classical Bordeaux flavour spectrum.  Those who do would probably rate this a gold medal wine.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 12/07

2004  Ch Sociando-Mallet   17 ½  ()
Haut Medoc (St Seurin),  Bordeaux,  France:  12.5%;  $125   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 54%,  Me 45,  CF & PV 1,  average age 30 – 35 years,  planted @ 8 800 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2.5 – 2.75 t/ac;  www.pape-clement.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  the youngest in hue of the August wines,  in the middle for weight.  First impression on bouquet is of trace saline,  on a good volume of mixed red fruits,  perhaps trace plum chutney in here too.  Palate is much more representative Medoc of a middling year,  sufficient ripeness so no green notes yet fresh all the same,  not greatly concentrated,  but the oak nicely balanced to the fruit.  Close to the Pichon-Longueville in total style,  just lighter and less new-oaky.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 08/07

2004  Ch Troplong-Mondot   17 ½  ()
St Emilion Grand Cru,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $121   [ cork;  vineyard cepage Me 80%,  CF 10,  CS 10,  average age 50 – 55 years,  planted @ 5 500 – 6 500 vines / ha,  and cropped @ just under 2 t/ac. ]
Ruby and velvet,  about midway in depth.  Bouquet has the soft raspberry fragrance of cabernet franc,  in plum and some cassis,  attractively St Emilion in style.  Oaking is light.  Palate is soft and slightly unfocussed alongside the Medocs,  a trace of retained malolactic fermentation odours persisting,  but the fruits ripe and gentle,  the oak potentially cedary,  the nett impression classical.  This is not as concentrated as the Palmer,  but it is riper – in a faintly buttery way.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 12/07

2005  Sileni Estate Merlot Triangle   17 +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  Me 100%,  100% de-stemmed;  MLF in tank;  14 months in barrel 85% French,  15 American;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is in a slightly pinched merlot style,  some violets florals,  but also some suggestions of the stalks that the less than top-flight 2004 Bordeaux show.  Palate has quite good fruit,  red currants and plums,  but again with not quite the dark plums of full physiological maturity in merlot – the thought of stalks arises here too.  Attractive as far as it goes,  and it sits happily in the middle of the 2004 Bordeaux,  many of which show a thread of green.  Like the riper Church Road,  the similarity of style Hawkes Bay blends show to the international yardstick is delightful,  and in the case of the Church Road the pricing is even moreso.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 12/07

2004  Ch Palmer   17 +  ()
Margaux Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $231   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 47%,  Me 47,  PV 6,  average age 35 – 40 years,  planted @ 10 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2.6  t/ac;  www.chateau-palmer.com ]
Ruby and some velvet,  the second to lightest.  Bouquet is very fragrant,  but this is the first of the wines in the December bracket to also display some leafiness in the cassisy berry.  Palate is pure austere cassis and beautiful finegrain oak with some richness of fruit too,  but there is a little stalkyness creeping in to the classic flavours – clearly the wine of a cool-year.  Parker's suggestion this wine is reminiscent of the 1966 vintage is off-the-mark.  The 1966 was sheer velvet,  amply ripe and plush,  at the same point in its evolution.  This 2004 has no hope of being the great success the 1966 is today.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 12/07

2004  Ch Poyferre   17 +  ()
St Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $102   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 65%,  Me 25,  PV 8,  CF 2,  average age 25 – 30 years,  planted @ 8 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2.5  t/ac;  www.leoville-poyferre.fr ]
Ruby and velvet,  a little carmine,  one of the deeper.  Bouquet is piquant on trace VA,  in cassis and dark plum,  plus subtle oak.  Palate is a little acid and short,  richer than the Palmer but like it a trace of stalk,  all in a fragrant and classical fresh claret style.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 12/07

2004  Ch Brane-Cantenac   17  ()
Margaux Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $108   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 65%,  Me 30,  CF 5,  average age 30 – 35 years,  planted @ an average of 7 600 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2.25 t/ac;  www.brane-cantenac.com ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  tending old for its age.  Bouquet is cool and lean,  a subtle white floral note like dilute wintersweet,  on pure light cassis,  plus subtle oak.  It is like a lean version of the Calon.  Palate does not follow through well,  the wine being immediately lean,  and the smell of cassis almost becoming red currants in flavour,  not black.  It is very fine-grained and elegant old-Margaux in approach,  but in a lean and leafy way.  Yet the total wine is attractive,  in its style.  This is the level of ripeness several New Zealand wines,  such as Babich Patriarch,  and Ngatarawa Alwyn,  have made their own.  A tasting like this puts them in perspective,  relative to optimal Bordeaux ripeness levels.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 08/07

2004  Ch Duhart-Milon   17  ()
Pauillac Fourth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $94   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 70%,  Me 28,  CF 2,  average age 30 – 35 years,  planted @ 7 500 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2.75  t/ac;  www.lafite.com ]
Ruby and some velvet,  the lightest of the 2004 Bordeaux.  Bouquet is a mix of modern charry oak and a little traditional brett,  in cassisy and plummy berry with a hint of pennyroyal.  It could well be a medium-ranking Hawkes Bay blend.  Palate is a little less,  a clear stalky note in the cassis,  fragrant,  attractive,  but short (including on brett),  and not as concentrated as the Palmer.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 12/07

2004  Ch Certan de May   16 ½ +  ()
Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $121   [ cork;  vineyard cepage Me 70,  CF 25,  CS 5%,  average age 25 – 30 years,  planted @ 5 500 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2 t/ac. ]
Ruby and some velvet,  older than most,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet shows a lovely red currants and raspberry cabernet franc fragrance,  which is very evocative,  firmed by new oak.  Palate however is lesser,  fair berry but tending extractive with clearly stalky / under-ripe tannins noticeable,  eloquently illustrating the cool vintage.  There is just a hint of cool-year syrah pepper in this,  interestingly.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 12/07

2004  Ch Gruaud Larose   16 ½ +  ()
St Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $129   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 57%,  Me 31,  CF 7.5,  PV 3,  Ma 1.5,  average age 40 – 45 years,  planted @ an average 9 250 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2.5 – 3 t/ac;  www.gruaud-larose.com ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  old for age.  Bouquet is a mishmash,  with some new-age gimmicks (toasty oak),  yet simple unconvincing berry characters.  The fruit is more just generic Bordeaux,  quite rich,  but a hint of oxidation.  Palate is mellow in one sense,  reasonably ripe,  yet lacks cohesion.  Where is the purity,  the cassis and cedar of yesteryear Gruaud,  I wonder.  It may just need another year to marry up,  so the benefit of the doubt here,  in scoring.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 08/07

2004  Ch Pichon-Lalande   16 ½ +  ()
Pauillac Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $218   [ cork;  vineyard cepage CS 45%,  Me 35,  CF 12,  PV 8,  average age 30 – 35 years,  planted @ 9 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2.3  t/ac;  www.pichon-lalande.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  a little carmine,  above midway in depth.  Bouquet is quite penetrating,  both cassisy and stalky,  lacking in physiological flavour maturity,  and with trace retained fermentation odours.  Palate confirms those indications,  good richness but less ripeness than the Palmer.  This is really quite austere in its flavour profile.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years on the concentration,  to end up quite cedary and old-style cool-year Bordeaux.  I do wonder about the percentage of petite verdot at Pichon Lalande,  which must be near-impossible to ripen in years like 2004.  Noteworthy that in this ranking,  Palmer also has this variety.  GK 12/07

2004  Ch Belair   16 ½  ()
St Emilion Grand Cru,  Bordeaux,  France:  12.5%;  $120   [ cork;  vineyard cepage Me 60%,  CF 40,  average age 35 – 40 years,  planted @ an average 6 600 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2 t/ac. ]
Ruby,  the second lightest.  Bouquet is unequivocally St Emilion,  the red fruits of cabernet franc and gentle merlot,  smelling fragrant and attractive.  Palate then comes as a let-down,  showing reasonable berry yet stalky to a fault.  This is exactly the style we are trying to escape from in New Zealand,  but for the districts beyond Hawkes Bay and Waiheke at best,  it is a difficult task.  Cellar 5 – 12 years to mellow,  in its style.  GK 08/07

2004  Ch Hosanna   16 +  ()
Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $229   [ cork;  vineyard cepage Me 71,  CF 29,  average age 40 – 45 years,  planted @ an average 7 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 1.75 t/ac. ]
Ruby,  old for age.  Initially opened,  and for some time thereafter,  bouquet is muted,  with some reductiveness,  so no merlot charms are on display.  Palate is hard on the retained fermentation odours,  though reasonably ripe and certainly rich and well-fruited.  Those less sensitive to reduced sulphurs will like this more than me,  and certainly in the tasting,  when paired with the Belair,  it was the more popular wine.  Most overseas reviews are more favourable.  It is fair to say though,  that there is astonishing insensitivity to sulphide-related odours particularly in Europe,  and that for these trendy labels,  it is hard to get factual / objective reviews.  Cellar 5 – 15 years, and decant splashily.  GK 08/07

2004  Ch Bahans Haut-Brion   15  ()
Pessac-Leognan,  Bordeaux,  France:  12.5%;  $153   [ cork;  second wine of Haut-Brion;  parent vineyard cepage CS 45%,  Me 37,  CF 18,  average age 35 – 40 years,  planted @ 8 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2  t/ac;  www.haut-brion.com ]
Ruby,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet shows unfocussed berry which is lesser in this company,  plus excess VA relative to the meagre fruit.  In mouth the wine is leathery,  a caricature of the traditional spare Graves flavour profile.  Palate has some berry,  but is short,  stalky,  and again volatile,  a sad return for its NZ$153 cost.  QDR claret,  not worth cellaring.  Again,  the review in the World of Fine Wine is an absolute mystery,  describing this wine as 'One of the greatest second wines this vintage'.  Not this bottle.  GK 12/07