Penfolds’ Voluptuous Secret: 2008 St. Henri Scores 95 Points

Buy 2008 Penfolds Shiraz St. Henri, South AustraliaSt. Henri is Penfolds’ other icon, a Bordeaux-styled shiraz that is friendlier than Grange and just as old. Darn impressive at one tenth the price. It has always had its own cult: Penfolds lovers seeking elegance saw beautifully good value in a rich shiraz with a lot less waiting. The secret is that Penfolds adds a punch of cabernet to the shiraz and raises it in old wood vats. Naked flavor of grapes, not oak. No better example than the 2008 vintage: WA called the ’08 Grange a 100-point wine, but and you’ll spend 15 to 20 years and $700 to enjoy it. Yet Neal Martin assesses St. Henri as a gorgeous and gregarious 95-pointer. So it’s five points shy of perfection, at 95 still a rare jewel and at my price you can buy enough to get through years of waiting on Grange.

2008 Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz
…copious layers of black cherry, cassis, cedar and just a hint of fresh beetroot. The palate is full-bodied with a dense carapace of primal blackberry and cassis fruit. …well balanced and offers great delineation… Drink 2024-2045.
95 points,

Pure Pyrenees Shiraz from Oz!

Pure Pyrenees Shiraz from Oz! First vineyards were planted in the Pyrenees back in the 1850s. Course we’re not talking about the Spain/France border, but a similar geological formation that separates two very different cultures in Victoria. This region is a great source of more refined shiraz and cabernet. The thin and bony soils yield wines that are more articulated in their nuance and balanced by a cooler climate influence. Barossa or McLaren Vale it ain’t.

Buy 2010 Pyren Broken Quartz Shiraz, PyreneesRegion: Pyrenees
Varietal: 100% Shiraz
Vintage: 2010
Yield: 1.9 tons per acre
Soil Type: Gray & Brown Loam with Shattered Quartz
Alcohol: 13.6%
Oak: 10 months in seasoned French & American barriques
Production: 1,000 cases
Score: 91 points Wine Spectator

As the name suggests, quartzite is a significant component of the soils here in the Pyrenees. What separates this from say a Barossa Shiraz is that it’s grippy, tense, balanced but tight. Cool climate for sure. Nose smells of elephant or bandages, very serious. Brilliant acidity, tangy, cool. Great oak work employing both American and French oak. Serious value.

Rip-Roaring Shiraz Hops on the Scene

The Aussies have a lingo all their own. Same with the wines. Sometimes we Seppos (Aussie speak for Yanks) understand neither. Thankfully, the kind folks over on the edge of Oz in far out Geographe, Western Australia have come to our rescue with their shiraz, “The Ripper.” Pretty easy to deduce the meaning, but for clarity’s sake, ripper means great, and just like Rhett’s beloved dog of the same name, The Ripper is super! Grown in cooler climes than the massively structured wines of Barossa, this beauty lures you in with taut tastes of blackberries, mulberries, and spice balanced in a framework of gorgeous herbes de Provence, Zin-like ripeness, restrained thanks to great cool climate acidity, the finish fresh and long-lasting. You’re gonna want that.


2009 Hope Estate The Ripper Shiraz

…Full bodied, ripe and concentrated, the rich berry and spice flavors are well supported by a medium-firm backbone of chewy tannins and refreshing acidity, finishing with long lasting notes of toast and cedar….

Boxer or Brief? Down Under They Prefer Boxer by 92 Points

Bountiful Boxer, boxes and boxes of 2010 Mollydookers! You’re in luck if you love first class Australia winemaking. I love to do the Mollydooker dance or drink to their success. I get a kick out of their cartoon names and labels (silly even by ‘stralian standards), but it’s the serious wine from Sparky and Sarah that wins me over. Wins over The Wine Advocate as well: Parker’s crew has named the Boxer “Best Value in the World,” and given 99 points to five other Mollys. Jeb Dunnuck, sole author of the Rhone Report publication, and newly appointed reviewer for the Wine Advocate, goes wild for this Boxer. There is no doubt that 2010 is a classic vintage (as is 2012), so stock up. But whatever wine they make, whatever year, you are guaranteed remarkable texture, almost velvet, and twice the flavor for the price. You know that, of course. I don’t need to sell you on Mollydooker. Let me just say that this 2010 is excellent, the reviews are great, and my price better than ever.


2010 Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz

…aromas of espresso roast, charred beef, pepper, and licorice, with a hint of mint providing freshness and lift on the nose… full-bodied, rich texture, it has a surprisingly firm, structured core, with solid acids…

2010 Mother’s Milk Shiraz: 91-pt Aussie Fun

First Drop, a project of two young Aussie wine rats with serious skills and no-fear bottlings. 2010 Mother’s Milk shiraz is intensely Barossa, big bold berries and spicy dark licorice and slate with a dusting of Asian spice and a whiff of incense, with a soft, seamless texture you can’t stop drinking. Comes from very careful sourcing and patient aging in seasoned French oak. Grown-up quality wrapped in a full measure of rowdy Australian waggishness. Matt Gant and John Retsas describe their style as “kick-arse” and call their base Home of the Brave (and they try making anything, from arneis to Portuguese sparkling). Good laughs and impressive wines that please adult palates including Tanzer, Halliday and Steiman as well as kids who love the graphic novel styled label. Bottom line: pleasurable wines and minds set on good time means everyone has fun. You will too. Mother’s Milk will win you over.

2010 First Drop Mother’s Milk Shiraz
…aromas of black raspberry, boysenberry, violet and licorice… Lush and seamless in texture, with deep dark fruit compote flavors… Finishes with strong punch…

Penfold’s Ghost! My Best Aussie Value Is Penley’s Killer 2009 Cabernet.

2009 Penley Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 Penley Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon

…You might have figured that out judging by the way Penley’s Phoenix flies out of here. Cases just disappear as soon as they arrive. It’s grown-up cabernet, plummy rich and smooth, subtly surprising, elegant. Quite a switch from all that shiraz ’round the barbie… not that there’s anything wrong with that. This cabernet is worthy of a good petit chateau. Two good reasons for that. First, it’s from the red-soil terra rossa in Coonawarra, flat out the best cabernet terroir from Down Under. The other is owner Kym Tolley, descendant of the good doctor Penfold himself, and famed winemaker Douglas Tolley, as well as a student of Max Schubert and a first class vigneron in his own right. Tolley has made this cab with medium body and firm tannins that guarantee at least a decade of good cellaring. Always a smart buy, and at our B-21 price I know you’ll want more than one.

Do you want merlot with that?

Fast food and wine
The American Dream

Maybe not. Wine and fast-food pairing is not so easy for some of the national chains that have tried it, the New York Times reports. Problem isn’t blue nosed prohibitionists so much as personnel and logistics issues, like needing older servers and occasionally bouncers. Still, you can more than caffeine, and fizzy sodas at a few Starbucks in Seattle, at Sonic Drive-In in Homestead, and a few of Burger King’s upscale Whopper Bars, like Vegas, New York City and South Beach. Don’t look for beer or wine in Orlando at Florida’s other Whopper Bar Universal’s City Walk, though they do have bourbon burgers.

I won’t argue whether that unoaked chardonnay or an ’09 CdR is best with Double Whopper or Sonic’s Bacon & Blue hot dog (crisp rose?). I do think that prudery and snobbery combine to opposes the idea of wine with everyday food. Beer has it easier. Beer goes with brats at the ballgame and burgers on the grill, but most of us like a cheap red with pizza. And why not? Saying “Europe does it better” is tiresome but sometimes true. In long road trips from Spain to Germany last year I avoided fast food but stopped in plenty of gas stations. Almost all served drink as well as food. Beer, wine, brandy as well as espresso. Nothing fancier than the cellophane sandwiches. Hard to call that wining and dining “sophisticated,” but it does seem …mature.

What Were We Drinking …with Grilled Pork Tenderloin?

2009 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir, Russian River
2009 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir, Russian River

Most wine-foodies talk about pork. The pig still trots a fine line between nutritional demon and meat of the moment. Count me on the side of pork (spare me another boneless, skinless chicken breast). Is pork white meat or red? Such rules are beside the point.

When I grilled one of those long-herbed tenderloins (twenty minutes or so to just shy of medium) it had a taste of flame and was bursting with juice; it called for a medium-bodied red with cherries, berries, and a bit of spice. A little turkey-cranberry action.

Pinot noir, says I, but a tad sweeter than Burgundy so I turned to California. Rodney Strong’s Russian River (91 points, Wine Enthusiast) fills the bill perfectly.

I must qualify that I am talking about modern pork, so lean it could run a triathlon. I dream of fattier days and wish we had an appellation system that would certify old-fashioned pork, the kind with a crust of crispy fat. Then I’d break out the petite sirah.

Spain’s Best CdP: ’07 Casa Castillo Las Gravas. I give it 94 points.

2007 Casa Castillo Las Gravas
2007 Casa Castillo Las Gravas

If you own this, try it. Tonight. If you don’t own it, buy it! This is an incredible wine. Two words: Jumilla Monastrell. That’s Jumilla as not that far from Priorat, and Monastrell as the French call Mourvedre. For me they have never come together better than in Las Gravas, the top cuvee from Casa Castillo. So rich, it makes me think of Chateauneuf du Pape and the great Clio too, except those cost twice and sometimes even thrice the price. Maybe even more.

Las Gravas is my new favorite Spanish red, and I’ve touted Casa Castillo since tasting their entry level red (still a bang of a bargain). I was stunned when they kicked it up a notch with Las Gravas, from their most prized vineyards at the foot of the mountains. You can taste the big fruit of monastrell bolstered by cab and syrah, and something else too: my kind of classy minerality from the heavy gravel and chalky soil of a world class terroir. The winery itself is much older than you might think. It started out 100 years ago when French winemakers discovered how good the area was for the grape they loved in the southern Rhone. That’s clear with the juicy purity of 2007 Las Gravas. Hard to believe you can drink like this at my price. If you haven’t explored Spain yet, now’s the time to do just that. It’s never been easier.

Gigglepot Alert! Mollydookers On Hand!

2010 Mollydooker The Violinist Verdelho
2010 Mollydooker The Violinist Verdelho
2010 Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz
2010 Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz










Gallant Gigglepot, bountiful Boxer, big Blue Eyed Boy and vibrant Violinist have all arrived as an ensemble, the latest vintage of fun! Boxes and boxes of 2010 Mollydookers! You’re in luck if you love first class Australia winemaking. I love to do the Mollydooker dance or drink to the success of fellow southpaws. I get a kick out of their cartoon names and labels (silly even by ‘stralian standards), but it’s the serious wine from Sparky and Sarah that wins me over. Wins over The Wine Advocate as well: Parker’s crew has named the Boxer “Best Value in the World,” and given 99 pts to five other Mollys. Whatever wine they make, whatever year, I can guarantee remarkable texture, almost velvet, and twice the flavor for the price. You know that, of course. I don’t need to sell you on Mollydooker. Let me just say that the 2010s are in, the reviews are great, and my prices are better than ever.

2010 Mollydooker Cabernet Sauvignon Gigglepot
2010 Mollydooker Cabernet Sauvignon Gigglepot
2010 Mollydooker Shiraz Blue Eyed Boy
2010 Mollydooker Shiraz Blue Eyed Boy

Way Down Under with Three Juicy Reds

Penfolds has meant quality Australia wine for more than 100 years. And not just for sumptuous Grange. Take any Penfolds shiraz, there are more than I can count, and they’ll have fair dinkum Aussie character.
That’s Australian for genuine: the taste of ripe fruit and rich spices of wild herbs, coffee, licorice and chocolate. I know you can get lost in those bin numbers, but I’ve narrowed it down to my three favorites. Cheers, mate!

2008 Penfolds Bin 2 Shiraz-Mourvedre
2008 Penfolds Bin 2Shiraz-Mourvedre

Here’s how to sort out those bins. Bin 2 is the wine to open this weekend, a south Australia blend spiked with mourvedre, blueberries and chocolate, it tastes that good. Bin 138 is a wider romp through the southern Rhone, actually old-vine Barossa. Mostly grenache, well aged, meaty and elegant. Worthy of grilled lamb. Bin 128 is the number for pure shiraz, all from Coonawarra, plump and spicy with restraint and good for 15 years in the cellar. You oughta try out James Halliday’s claims of longevity with a few bottles of this to open every five years or so. What a deal. True high-score Australian wines. Not critter wines!

2007 Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz
2007 Penfolds Bin 128Coonawarra Shiraz
2007 Penfolds Bin 138 Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre
2007 Penfolds Bin 138Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre

Wine Lab Wednesdays with the New Kids on the Block

…No, not these guys. ….But we got it: the right stuff.

New Bs Crystal and Zach
New Bs Crystal and Zach

Our Wednesday night taste ‘n’ talk get-togethers and staff tastings are starting to draw a crowd of wine-lovers.

Customers, suppliers and the staff seem to like going through a dozen or so bottles of wines, some of them good deals on our shelves and some we might buy. It gives everyone an inside insight on the process. By everyone, that may mean Bob, Shannon, Rhett, Mark, myself… and now, the shining new faces on the crew, Zach Groseclose and Crystal Farina, two smart young Tampa Bay wine talents.

Zach comes to B-21 from the Beach Bistro, the gourmet center of Anna Maria Island, and also Eli’s in New York. Crystal has a sharply honed palate, spending several years with local wine merchants and restaurants (if you miss her at Gino’s Italian in Carrollwood, she’s here!) before coming to B-21.

Tonight, J.C. Marin, the amiable rep from Winesellers Ltd., will bring out some Lodi reds, an intriguing Aussie shiraz called the Ripper, and new vintages from Argentina, including organic torrontes and bonarda. Help us taste them and make up our minds. Stop by from 5 to 8 p.m. tonight, and every Wednesday, for the latest buzz on the tip of our tongues. Remember, the longer the hang time, the better the wine …and the conversation.

Penfolds Miracle: Lusty 94-Point Shiraz!

2006 Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz
2006 Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz

To understand the bin system at Penfolds, start with Bin 28. That was the first bin Max Schubert blended after Grange 50 years ago and it is still the richest. Best of the bins for Shiraz lovers, I’d say, and the 2006 is a classic that matches the orginal’s very high standards. Very generous stuff. It fills the air with blackberries and cherries and exotic, gamey scents. Unbelievably creamy and jammy, berries and plums as thick as soy sauce, as if Australia made Vegemite with red and black fruits. Wonderful long finish and long in the cellar too. Something we need to learn from Oz: James Halliday, the Down Under Parker, says it’ll keep another 15 years. For those of you Aussie fans who know Penfolds quality, I’ve lowered the price three bucks, below anyone. Get a case to savor year after year. You’re gonna want that.

2006 Penfolds Shiraz Kalimna Bin 28

“In the heartland of Penfolds’ red wine style; blackberry fruit, ripe tannins and vanilla oak; needs time, but everything is in balance…”  94 Points, James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion

Chatting with Chester, Kath and d’Arenberg’s muppets.

Winemaker Chester Osborn, the wizard of d’Arenberg and priest of fine tannins, in South Australia travels with an amazing bag of tricks. 

He opened the black sample case covered with duct tape at the B-21 dinner at Roy’s last month and out poured out more props than a jolly swagman could carry: a tree stump, a bloody arm in flannel sleeve, two feet bolted together, a small tiny garage, a chunk of road paving, a rubber lizard and a stuffed cat, crab, fairy and a fox. 

When airport security asks a long haired bloke in a paisley shirt, red jeans and a big grin, the meaning of the menagerie, he says “I’m a winemaker”.

2008 d'Arenberg Stump Jump Riesling
2008 d'Arenberg Stump Jump Riesling

But we know each item represents one of his wines. (Ministry of Silly Names-approved). Most have a true or even serious reason behind them, like the lucky lizards who managed to survive the first squeezing of Chardonnay grapes. Osborn’s partner Kath opened a portfolio of art commissioned from Australia’s top cartoonists. 

The wines Osborn poured were the real magic, amazing flavors that rolled out endlessly like a clown car at the circus. We tried ten d’Arenberg’s, most of them beyond the famous Stump Jumps, Dead Arm and Footbolt, covering a diversity we didn’t expect.  Who knew that Pinot Noir was once the regions red grape: the 2008 was clean brisk and bright. A 2007 Chard was apples and cream, perfect with the glazed spare rib on Roy’s opening sampler.  Big hit for me was a Mourvedre, dubbed Twenty-Eight Road, symbolized by the bush tarmac, big dense and meaty, earthy, like blueberries bacon and dried herbs, made for the short ribs. 

The stunner, and finale of the evening, was a bold Aussie take on Umbrian Sagrantino, with a touch of Cinsault, a super-Mediterraneran red, the most powerful wine of the show, as dark and rich as the intensely chocolate ganache. That’s the infamous Cenasilicaphobic Cat, named for the fear of empty glasses.

At an in-store tasting, Osborn and partner Kath led us through the current great vintages and the rest of the stable. The 2006 Dead Arm is one of the richest, ripest shiraz I’ve had, deserving of a few years in the cellar  (95 RP, $49.99). The d’Arenberg principles of simple craftsmanship (no fertilizer, no pesticides, no irrigation, no fining, no filtering and yes to foot treading) work as well with Bordeaux varieties. The 2006 Coppermine Road Cab is intense, smooth and full of deep fruits and chocolate (93 RP, $59.99). 

My inner cheapskate was thrilled by the Stump Jump Riesling ($9.99), which had was more apple pie than peach cobber, riesling crisp yet as  round as a ripe chardonnay. This could be the perfect refrigerator white for me. 

Osborn’s visit confirmed that this label is loaded with serious fun. Can’t wait for the clown car to come back.