Friday, December 17, 2004

Barossa - December 17
Last day in the Barossa. The only important things to do are to head out to Dutschke Wines to buy a couple of bottles of Wayne’s wonderful Muscat and sign his barrel of Fortified Shiraz. Then its off to Adelaide and the National Wine Centre of Australia. I recommend a visit. After all where else can you get to question Len Evans, Peter Lehmann and other notables of the Aussie wine industry?

Signing the barrel of Fortified Shiraz at Dutschke Wines.

Copyright Miranda Alexander-Pollard

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Barossa - December 16
Only two vineyards on the itinerary today and I’d never heard of either of them.

The first one, Hutton Vale, is on a dirt road miles away from anywhere. It all looks very rustic and so it should because this mixed production farm has been owned by the Angus family since 1842. The farm is now run by John and Jan Angus. Jan makes jams and chutneys while John oversees the vineyards. The tasting room is in part of the lower level of a sprawling farmhouse. The 2003 Rhine Riesling is a deep straw yellow with aromas of citrus and melon. Medium bodied and well balanced it has crisp and refreshing acidity and excellent length to the finish. (2, 2, 3.8, 10.2 = 18/20, 14% alcohol). The 2001 Grenache/Mataro was deep cherry red in color with notes of blackberry, blueberry and spices. Medium weight with evidence of oak vanilla it is well balanced with good acidity across the palate and drying tannins on the finish, and a lengthy finish. (2, 2, 4.1, 10.0 = 18.1/20, 14.5% alcohol). An interesting note with this wine was that John Angus detected some TCA in the first bottle he opened. I’ll admit that I did notice a slight “funk” but I would not have called it corked. However John clearly knows his own wines and immediately opened a second bottle and the difference was obvious. A clear lesson for cellar door staff – it pays to know your wines. The 2002 Grenache/Mataro was again cherry red, but with aromas of spices and lychees. Softer and suppler that the 2001, it was clearly the more elegant wine. Very well balanced with an excellent finish. My notes end simply with “great wine”. (2, 2, 4.2, 10.2 =18.4/20, 14.5% alcohol). The final wine was the 1999 Shiraz. This is a dense cherry red with a red edge and had been opened for several hours before we tasted it. It gave up a bouquet of cedar and fountain pen ink. Well structured it has a solid backbone of tannins and flavors that carried through on retronasal. John Angus in a disappointed tone, said it was still too closed and needed hours more to open. Later my brother John said “If that Shiraz was closed, then its going to be bloody great when it does open”. (2, 2, 4.1, 10.1 = 18.2/20, 14.0% alcohol). After the tasting we took a tour through the farm house and then the vineyards with John Angus and the family dogs. We saw Shiraz vines with their huge anti-frost fan and the co-mixed Grenache and Mataro vineyard; the GM is co-fermented. An interesting bit of wine trivia, although I’m sure it is not trivial to John Angus, is that the Angus Family once owned the Mount Edelstone vineyards. However due to the vagaries of the Agricultural Industry in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s John’s father Colin Angus sold the vineyard to Cyril Henschke in 1974, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Such friendly hospitality is difficult to leave and so we are more than just a little late to the next vineyard, Heathvale. This is another old property that dates back to 1865 and was under vines in the 1880s. However the vines were removed in the 1920s and it has only been since 1987 that the new owners of Heathvale, Trevor and Faye March, have replanted the vineyards. The wines they produce are all single vineyard. The 2004 Eden Valley Rhine Riesling is light straw with light floral and citrus notes. It has good structure and clean acidity. (2, 2, 3.8, 9.9 = 17.7/20). The 2002 Chardonnay (French Oak) was light straw in color with toasted oak, peach and honeysuckle flavors. The palate showed great structure with a creamy richness to the palate one expects from good oak treatment together with clean acidity. (2, 2, 4.1, 10.2 = 18.3/20, 13.5% alcohol). This is one wine I intend to seek out back in the USA. The 2003 Chardonnay was not quite in the same league. Light straw in color with sweeter fruit flavors and honeysuckle. Softer and suppler on the palate with good structure it lacked the richness of the 2002. (2, 2, 3.9, 9.8 = 17.7/20). The 2001 Shiraz was a dense cherry red with an intense note of mulberry jam. The entry was soft and elegant and the wine showed great structure across the palate and a lengthy finish. A very distinctive Shiraz. (2, 2, 4.5, 10.2 = 18.7/20, 14.5% alcohol). The 2002 Shiraz was also dense cherry red. Compared to the 2001 this wine had a less intense initial aroma but showed greater complexity. It opened with blueberries and ripe fruit and those flavors intensified over time. On the palate it had the same soft and supple entry, and covered the palate seamlessly. Beautifully balanced, it had a rich, lengthy finish. (2, 2, 4.5, 10.5 = 19.0 /20). It’s a Classic! I asked Trevor what the Shiraz sells for in the USA, expecting to hear something around the $50 mark. He said about $25USD! (Postscript: I’m back in the USA now and the 2002 Heathvale Shiraz costs less that $25. I know because I bought some. But the interesting thing is that, as part of the 2002 Australian Shiraz tasting I’ve been doing, I already had a bottle in my cellar. I just never realized what I had!) After tasting the Heathvale wines Trevor took us on a walk through the vineyards and explained the ages of the vines and the different trellising methods he is using to gain optimal flavors in the grapes; clearly a knowledgeable and enthusiastic vigneron.

On the way back to Tanunda we dropped into the Eden Valley Hotel for a bite to eat and a taste of some Merlot. In a corner of the main bar we shared mini pizzas and a glass of the three reds scrawled on the chalk board. The Irvine Spring Hill Merlot was a dense cherry red and fragrant with the perfume of violets. Soft and supple on entry, it was well balanced with the flavors carrying well on retronasal. (2, 2, 4.0, 10.0 = 18.0/20). The Irvine Eden Crest Merlot was a bigger, richer and more complex wine with attractive notes of blueberries and black currents. Soft and supple on entry, with vanilla present on retronasal, and a lengthy finish this was quite a nice Merlot. (2, 2, 4.2, 10.4 = 18.6/20). The Irvine Zinfandel was a dense cherry red with a briery, underbrush note and ripe fruit, and just a hint of ethyl acetate (volatile acidity). The mouthfeel was medium weight and the wine was well balanced with pleasing acidity and the flavors carried through on retronasal. (2, 2, 3.9, 9.8 = 17.7/20).

Over dinner at Salters we finished the rest of the opened bottles of the Heathvale 2002 Chardonnay and Shiraz. Both wines had now been open for almost 5 hours. The Chardonnay gave notes of apricot and apple and was rich and full bodied with crisp acidity and a lengthy finish. (2, 2, 4.1, 10.0 = 18.1/20). The Shiraz was rich and jammy with blueberry and chocolate aromas. Soft and supple on entry, it was mouth filling across the palate with unobtrusive tannins and clean acidity to the finish. A wine with great structure, a lengthy finish, and flavors that are pronounced on retronasal. (2, 2, 4.4, 10.3 = 18.7/20). With all the history, hospitality and excellent wines our last full day in the Barossa should have been our best but the staff at Salters seemed determined that it should not be so. Between the air-conditioning noisily blasting out freezing cold air and coffee that took forever to get to the table they almost succeeded.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Barossa - December 14
Kalleske (winemaker)
First on the agenda was a trip out to the winery of rising star Troy Kalleske. The winery is only several years old and much of the operation is still being done in a big tin shed owned by Troy’s brother, and protected by Tyson, a Tyrolean Shepard, who is a monster of a dog; and deserves to be in the Wine Dogs book. The tasting at Kalleske was notable for several reasons. Troy Kallseke is so young, the wines are so good, and Tyson drools so much. After a while I began to wonder if Tyson’s drooling might just be because his sense of smell was letting him “taste” the wines as well. The wines tasted were from barrel samples unless indicated. The 2004 Clarry’s Barossa Red (Grenache/Shiraz) was bright cherry in color and gave aromas of fresh berry fruit. Mouthfilling on the palate it has a core of firm tannins. An attractive wine. (2, 2, 3.8, 9.2 = 17.0/20). The 2004 Old Vines Grenache was cherry red and very open with rich spice and confectionary notes backed up by ripe red berry fruits. Medium bodied with excellent mouthfeel, pronounced but refreshing acidity and a prolonged finish. A lovely wine, but as a barrel sample it can’t go into the Classic Wines section, but watch out for it. (2, 2, 4.6, 10.6 = 19.2/20). The 2003 Old Vines Grenache had more pepper and mint than the 2004 and was softer on the palate. It is another beauty, with great balance and a long finish. (2, 2, 4.4, 10.6 = 19/20). The 2004 Greenock Shiraz was purple and gave off layers of blackberry, anise and chocolate. This is a big Barossa shiraz. Very well balanced but at this stage it still has mouth drying tannins and there is quite a bit of alcohol in there but its going to be an outstanding wine. (2, 2, 4.5, 10.5 = 19/20). The 2003 Greenock Shiraz was from bottle. Dense cherry red in color it was restrained compared to the 2004 with more briar and underbrush notes in addition to its pure Barossa shiraz aromas. With powdery tannins and a prolonged finish it is an excellent, but very young wine. (2, 2, 4.2, 10.3 = 18.5/20). A barrel sample of the 2003 Johann Georg Shiraz was simply remarkable. Incredibly dark in color and very open with complex aromas of savory meats, chocolate, licorice allsorts coming in clouds from the glass. Opulent and seductive on the palate it has great structure, an excellent backbone of firm tannins, and a wonderfully long finish. The fruit comes from a vineyard planted in 1875 and which used to go to Penfolds for Grange. Well move over you overgrown bully there is a new kid in town! (2, 2, 4.6, 10.6 = 19.2/20). Everyone seems to want to make a fortified shiraz. The Kalleske 2002 VP Shiraz was dense cherry red with a prominent anise character on the nose and a big jammy aroma on the palate and soft alcohol on the finish. The alcohol used is a 50/50 mix of brandy and neutral spirit. (2, 2, 4.4, 10.3 = 18.7/20). The final wine was a 1978 Single Vintage Tawny (Shiraz/Grenache) that was the color of motor oil. Extremely rich and luscious with notes of toffee, raisins, and walnts and a clean finish. (2, 2, 4.1, 10.5 = 18.6/20). A great way to finish a fascinating tasting.

Torbreck scored points right off the bat just because they were generous enough to offer all and sundry a taste of their lineup, including Run Rig. Most cellar doors seem to think that there is something special about their top of the line wines and hold them back from most of the folks who walk in their door. To look at us you wouldn’t think that our little group spends quite a lot of money on wine per year. We didn’t really buy all that much at the cellar doors we visited, but I came back with a list that I am chasing down, and I know that John and Chris have been busy getting onto or buying from mailing lists. Torbreck is going to end up doing pretty well, some other places are just not going to get a look in because we didn’t see the wines we expected to see. I’m sure ours is a common experience.

On to the wines. The 2003 Juveniles (60 percent Grenache, 20 percent Shiraz and 20 percent Mataro) was light cherry red in color with lychees and cherries wafting up from the wine. Soft and silky on entry, it is medium bodied and very well balanced with a lengthy finish. This wine does not see any oak so it is very approachable now. (2, 2, 4.0, 10.2 = 18.2/20, 14.25 alcohol). The 2002 The Steading (60 percent Grenache, 20 percent Shiraz and 20 percent Mataro) is essentially an oaked version of the Juveniles. Dense cherry red in color this wine gave up an aroma of the barnyard. Light to medium weight and well balanced with good acidity, it was not as appealing as the Juveniles. (2, 2, 3.8, 10.2 = 18.0/20). The 2003 Woodcutters Red is cherry red and very open with spicy and jammy notes and again an aroma of barnyard. This is a wine with a soft entry, medium weight on the palate and with flavors that carry well on retronasal, but a somewhat abbreviated finish. (2, 2, 3.9, 10.1 = 18.0/20, 14% alcohol). The 2003 The Struie took things up a notch. Dense cherry red it leaps out of the glass with rich, ripe fruit, pepper and chocolate. Real Shiraz! Medium to full bodied with excellent balance, it finishes with drying tannins and a lengthy display of its pure flavors. (2, 2, 4.5, 10.4 = 18.9/20, 14.5% alcohol). The 2003 Descendant was outstanding. Dense cherry red with rich, ripe fruit that envelopes you in aromas of blackberries and the aromatics of the Viognier grape. Soft and elegant on the palate this wine has it all, balance, a solid backbone of drying tannins and an extra-long finish. (2, 2, 4.6, 10.5 = 19.1/20). One for The Classics. The 2002 The Factor was almost as good. Dense cherry red with wonderful notes of chocolate and blackberry backed up by ripe fruit and sweet oak on the palate. Well balanced with flavors that carry well on retronasal and big drying tannins on the finish, it was upset by the alcohol being a little too obvious. (2, 2, 4.5, 10.3 = 18.8/20, 14.5% alcohol). The 2002 Run Rig, the wine we came to taste. Dense cherry red in color and to my nose subdued with just hints of blackberry and perhaps red fruits. Its true nature was revealed on the palate where it is elegant, seductive and complex. There is a lot going on when this wine carresses your tongue, and to get the most from it you would need to spend hours with a bottle all to yourself. It is extremely well balanced and structured with clean acidity and a firm tannic finish. There is a little alcohol there as well, but it scrapes into The Classic Wines. (2, 2, 4.6, 10.4 = 19.0/20, 14.5% alcohol). As we tasted the Run Rig we must have all gone very quite as our server told us that we were experiencing the “Run Rig Silence”. Well in truth it is a great wine, but for me the silence was all about figuring out why I should pay $180USD ($225AUD) for a bottle when the Descendant is going for $90USD!

The next winery is Veritas where we are served by Mrs Binder. When most people would be retired she is busy serving wines quietly but effectively to anyone who walks in the door. Good-onya Mrs Binder! The 2002 Cellar Selection Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon is a dense ruby red with an intense chocolate aroma overlaying an attractive wintergreen mint character. A well structured Cabernet with good balance, acidity and soft tannins. (2, 2, 4.1, 10.2 = 18.3/20). The 2003 Christa Rolf Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache is bright ruby red with an attractive jammy nose. But it lacks any impact across the mid-palate and while the tannins are firm they impart a green stalky character to the finish. Not my cup of tea! (2, 2, 4.0, 9.6 = 17.6/20). The 2003 Cellar Selection Shiraz is cherry red with a subdued nose of Christmas cake. The palate has ripe fruits and is well balanced with clean acidity and firm tannins. (2, 2, 3.8, 9.9 = 17.7/20). The 2002 Binders ‘Bulls Blood’ Shiraz Mataro Pressings is a dense cherry red and a distinct nail polish nose (ethyl acetate, VA). It has a soft entry, is quite well balanced considering and has very firm tannins but there is evident alcohol. A disappointing wine. (2, 2, 3.5, 10.1 = 17.6/20).

Smidge (winemaker) – Two Hands
Matt Wenk must be one of the busiest wine makers in the Barossa! And seeing that a number of the wines he makes use fruit from relatively young vines he’s also a bloody good winemaker. We met Matt at the Branson winery, near Seppeltsfield. The first wines we tried were bottled under his own Smidge label. The 2003 Le Grenouille (Merlot) is a deep cherry red with complex aromas of mint, pepper and other spices. Medium weight and well balanced with well matched acidity and tannins. (2, 2, 3.9, 9.9 = 17.8/20). The 2002 The Tardy (Zinfandel) is cherry red with a big fruit cake nose and the aroma of lychees that (for me) is typical of Zinfandel. The palate displays the ripe fruit and the excellent structure well. But the alcohol is not for the faint of heart. (2, 2, 4,2, 9.8 = 18.0/20, 15.5% alcohol). We then moved into the barrel storage area and the wine tasting got very educational. First we tasted 2004 Zinfandel from Langhorne Creek that had been fermented with different yeast strains. Stored in French oak the first used a Bordeaux yeast and was loaded with rich ripe flavors of blueberries and blackberries. Very well balanced the tannins were just a little hard, but it’s a pup. The second wine was also from French oak but had seen a Rhone yeast and was completely different. Almost closed to me, others said they detected spice notes including nutmeg. But the next wine is the one to look for. From Barossa fruit and again in French oak this 2004 Barossa Zinfandel was all lychees and spice. The entry was soft and very spicy with fragrant floral flavors that cover the palate. Considerably more intense that the Langhorne wines. Matt said that the wine might be called The Donald, but I see on his web site that a 2004 Barossa Zinfandel will be called Rudi. Might be time to email Matt and find out if there is more than one Zin coming from Barossa fruit! The next four wines were from the Two Hands range. The 2003 Ares (Shiraz) was a dense purple and showed great intensity and power of fruit flavors with ripe blackberry, chocolate and sweet oak. Wonderful mouthfeel and beautiful balance with big drying tannins at the finish. (2, 2, 4.5, 10.6 = 19.1/20). The 2003 Aphrodite (Cabernet Sauvignon) from a French oak barrel was a dense ruby red with pure ripe Cabernet fruit and cedar notes. Great intensity of flavor. Medium weight with an excellent marriage of structural components across the palate. If wine can make love to your mouth this may come close! (2, 2, 4.3, 10.4 = 18.7/20). We also tasted from a barrel of the 2004 Aphrodite. (I’m not sure that this is the final blend.) But the wine we tasted was obviously very young, a dense garnet in color and just oozing jam and chocolate aromas from its rich ripe fruit. It has a wonderful mouth feel with sweetness from the oak and solid tannins coming in at the finish. The opulence of the wine, even at this young stage, is amazing. (2, 2, 4.5, 10.6 = 19.1/20). The last barrel sample was a 2004 Shiraz from a vineyard next to that used for Torbreck’s Descendent. This wine has 3% residual sugar and 17% alcohol and is used as a blending component, some of it going into the Ares. It was big in all respects, and while it was not a wine that you could drink in large amounts it was certainly not undrinkable. This just goes to show that a good winemaker can make palatable big wines. Matt Wenk is one winemaker to watch.

Thorn Clarke
Last winery of a very long day and I was content to rest up before dinner and just taste through the line up without making any notes. Although as I expected the best wine was definitely the 2002 William Randell Barossa Valley Shiraz; a previous tasting note is here.

The evening meal was at 1918. We started with The Willows Vineyard The Doctor Sparkling Red. Deep cherry red in color it was almost liqueur-like with a pronounced blueberry aroma. Medium bodied and refreshing across the palate with the flavors persisting on retronasal. A slightly hard alcoholic finish. (2, 2, 3.9, 9.5 = 17.4/20, 13.5% alcohol). Over our entrĂ©es we finished the open bottle of Smidge Wines The Tardy 2002 Zinfandel. The half consumed bottle had been open in the car for about five hours. Dense cherry red with typical lychee and dark fruit jam flavors. On the palate it was rich with ripe fruit, and becoming almost cordial-like. The alcohol was more evident, but there was still a lengthy finish. (2, 2, 3.8, 9.7 = 17.5/20, 15.5% alcohol). (A little side note: I’m not sure when it was but a little discussion broke out between John and I over my use of lychees as a flavor descriptor for Zinfandel. Later, when Miranda and I were back in Adelaide, I bought some canned lychees in syrup and ripe lychee nuts to see if the flavor I had memorized was correct. I’m happy to report that while the flavor is not absolutely identical its close enough for me to continue to use lychee as a descriptor for Zin. So there!). Our main meals were over a comparison between the Greenock Creek 2001 Alices Shiraz and the Torbreck 2003 The Struie. The Alices was dark cherry, almost purple, and very open with ripe fruit, blueberry, vanilla and a hint of alcohol. On the palate it was full bodied and well balanced with firm tannins holding the finish and the flavors carrying through on a lengthy finish. (2, 2, 4.1, 10.5 = 18.6/20, 15.5% alcohol). The Struie was a very dense cherry red with sweet ripe fruit and dusty oak. Full bodied and well balanced. It finished with drying tannins that softened considerably over time. The complexity that we had found earlier in the day just didn’t seem to be there over food. But its still a hell of a nice wine. (2, 2, 4.1, 10.2 = 18.3/20, 14.5% alcohol).

Monday, December 13, 2004

Barossa - December 13
Kellermeister/Trevor Jones
Sunday didn’t slow us down at all and so we arrived early at Kellermeister Wines, so early they were still working on opening up the tasting room. We admired the vineyards in the valley from their lawn while we waited. Being early does create problems, like not getting the actual tasting staff, but someone whose level of perfume says that she just wasn’t expecting to be doing this today. But she was very friendly, knowledgeable, and very ready to open a new bottle if she thought an already open one was not showing well. Kellermeister makes a lot of different types of wines. And being the first winery of the day we tried most of them. Some, like Sable and Pink Mink, most folks probably don’t want to own up to tasting and so I don’t have any notes for them! The 2003 Trevor Jones Virgin Chardonnay was light straw in color, very open with melon and floral notes. Not in the class of the 2002, it is still a very well balanced wine with wonderful freshness and great mouthfeel. (2, 2, 4.0, 10.1 = 18.1/20). The 2001 Vintage Blue Moon Chardonnay was similar in color but with obvious toasted oak and lacking the fruit flavors of the Virgin Chardonnay. (2, 2, 3.6, 9.8 = 17.4/20). The 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon was a dense cherry red with a pink edge. It gave leather and caramel aromas, ripe fruit on the palate and a solid tannic finish. (2, 2, 4.1, 10.1 = 18.2/20). The 1999 Black Sash Shiraz was cherry red and very similar to the Cabernet with a definite caramel flavor and ripe fruit but not a typical shiraz. Well balanced it also finished with solid backbone of tannins. (2, 2, 3.8, 9.8 = 17.6/20).

Well OK, I confess someone did buy a bottle of Sable. But it wasn’t me!

Dutschke Wines
In Lyndoch there is a road called God’s Hill. Just off that road is a new tin shed where the ever affable Wayne Dutschke will let you taste wines that have a true sense of place. When we arrived Wayne was busy testing out a new batch of port-infused coffee beans, but more on that later. After my brother John, who had organized the tasting with Wayne, made our introductions we made our way to the new shed and the wines. First up was the 2004 Ivy Blondina. Made from White Muscat, its almost clear in color with wonderful sweet floral aromatics and a spicy, lusciousness on the palate (2, 2, 4.2, 10.1 = 18.3/20; 15% alcohol). For the red wines Wayne pulled out, and I kid you not, the biggest bowled glasses I have ever tasted wine from. I was seriously concerned that once my nose went into one of these things it would have a hard time finding its way out again, but did they show the wines beautifully! The 2002 St Jakobi Shiraz was a dark cherry, and chocolate just exploded out of that glass! The wine had big rich blackberry flavors, but with a soft and elegant entry and wonderful balance. You didn’t have to wait around for the wine to hit your palate in bits and pieces; it was seamless, wonderfully integrated, with a lengthy finish (2, 2, 4.3, 10.5 = 18.8; 15% alcohol). The 2002 Willow Bend, a blend of Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, was excellent but not in same league. It gave red fruits and vanilla and had good mouth feel and was well balanced with good drying tannins holding the finish. (2, 2, 3.9, 10.0 = 17.9). The next wine, the 2002 Oscar Semmler Shiraz, was one of the best wines tasted all week. This wine is bottled from the best barrels of the shiraz vintage. Very dense cherry red, it also gave off a strong initial chocolate aroma that became a rich blackberry. Similar to the St Jakobi, the Oscar Semmler covered the palate with just a bit more of that wonderful, seamless concentration of flavor and richness. My hand written notes include “long elegant finish” with the long heavily underlined! (2, 2, 4.4, 10.6 = 19.0) One for the Classic Wines section of the Tasting Notes eBlog.

Wayne then took us through a tasting from some of his barrels. This included the 2004 Shiraz. It takes nine days to pick across the vineyard block, going from east to west. Material from the eastern part of the block, in French oak, was heavily influenced by the toast level of the barrel, while material from the middle of the block, also in French oak had much less tannin and very nice fruit. The barrel containing material from the west of the block had an unmistakable chocolate character. Also tasted from barrel were some fortified wines including the base material for Muscat which looked for the world like motor oil, the 2003 Muscat blend (rich and loaded with raisin and toffee), fortified chardonnay stock for Tawny Port, 22 year old Tawny, Tokay base (that smelled like fish oil, as it should), the 2003 Tokay blend (less fishy and a little more nutty). However the most interesting barrel sample was the 2003 Fortified Shiraz. Almost black, it had a strong blackberry jam character and reminded me of a young vintage port. But it was like velvet on the palate with the neutral alcohol spirit not intruding at all. Extremely well balanced, it had a wonderfully long finish. This wine will be extremely limited in availability. Possibly each member of Dutschke Wines mailing list will only be allowed one bottle. I’d suggest you contact Wayne ASAP about getting on that mailing list!

Oh, and the port-infused coffee. Well it is still in the experimental stage, but it was an interesting way to finish off a wonderful morning of tasting. In appreciation John invited Wayne to join us for lunch at 1812 in Tanunda, and there are no prizes for guessing where the wines came from for lunch. Thanks Wayne!

Rockford Wines
With John being a member of the Stonewallers we were ushered into the Stonewall Cellar to taste in relative seclusion away from the usual throng that gathers at Rockford. Well OK, there were just one or two other cars there when we pulled up. Everywhere you look at Rockford there are stone walls. Its all very quaint, and nowhere more so than the Stonewall Cellar. I’m sure in the winter the fireplace is a great attraction, but when was it last cleaned out? The whole room just reeks of smoke. The only way to avoid its influence was to stick your nose deep into your tasting glass. And leave it there! The 2001 Eden valley Rhine Riesling was a light straw and had a slight kerosene aroma. Light to medium bodied, a soft mouthfeel and good crisp acidity. (2, 2, 3.8. 9.9 = 17.7/20). The 2001 Wood Aged Semillion was straw yellow with bright, fresh aromas of lemon/citrus. It showed good mouthfeel, acidity that carried across the palate and flavors that carried the finish. (2, 2, 3.8, 10.0 = 17.8/20). The 2004 White Frontignac was almost clear very open floral and spice aromas, good mouthfeel and a lingering, luscious finish. (2,2, 4.0, 9.8 = 17.8/20). The 2002 Rifle Range Cabernet Sauvignon was cherry red with the wintergreen mint aroma of young Cabernet. Medium weight and well structured with clean acid on the finish. My notes say “beautiful CS character” and I bet I was trying to avoid being influenced by all that smoke! (2, 2, 4.1, 10.2 = 18.3/20). The 2002 Basket Press Shiraz was dense cherry red with blackberry and vanilla notes and rich, ripe fruit. Medium weight and well structured it was a just a little hard at the finish. Its really a baby and needs time. (2, 2, 4.0, 9.8 = 17.8/20). The 1998 Shiraz VP was dark cherry red. Very open with a big blackberry note and very evident alcohol. Medium to full bodied and well balanced, it has some sweetness on the palate and a clean grip to the finish. The alcohol used is Brandy spirit. (2, 2, 4.2, 10.2 = 18.4/20). It was an interesting tasting with Ian Bickford who also provided pointers to some of the better eateries in the area and a very interesting tour of what can only be called the antiquated but clearly effective wine making hardware used at Rockford.

My experience with Glaetzer wines was nil until we rolled up to their cellar door. And the experience started badly when the Pinot Noir bubbles we were served up were corked. It was one of those will we or won’t we moments. And in the end we just couldn’t put the young lady behind the counter through the assault on the wine she was serving. Who knows she may have taken it well. But had she tried the wine? Was she even going to know what corked meant? The day was winding down and we only had one more winery to do. “Let’s just see what the reds are like, and go.” The 2003 Wallace (85% Shiraz/15% Grenache) was cherry red with a pleasant minty nose but big tannins and evident alcohol (2, 2, 3.9, 9.8 = 17.7/20, 14,5% alcohol). The 2001 Bishop Shiraz was dense cherry red with notes of caramel and leather. Medium weight, it was well balanced with a clean acid finish. (2, 2, 4.0, 9.9 = 17.9/20). The 2001 Glaetzer Shiraz was cherry red with aromas of very ripe fruit. Another well balanced wine that finished with clean acidity. (2, 2, 3.7, 9.8 = 17.5/20). Maybe it was that first wine, but I left Glaetzer feeling that I had expected better quality than what we had been offered.

Turkey Flat Vineyards
Some of the oldest shiraz vines in the Barossa are just outside of Tanunda. Actually the advertising says some of the oldest in the world, and I won’t argue with that. The 2002 Shiraz was not available for tasting, but my notes on both the 375 and 750 ml can be found here. The 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon was cherry red and had the unmistakable wintergreen mint aroma of a young Cabernet; no eucalyptus here. Medium weight and very well balanced it finished with a solid display of tannins. (2, 2, 4.1, 10.2 =18.3/20, 14.0% alcohol). In comparison the 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon had a softer, more subtle bouquet of leather and earth. A well structured wine with a solid backbone of tannins but greater acidity carrying the lengthy finish. (2, 2, 3.8, 10.2 = 18.0/20). Seems they make more than just excellent shiraz at Turkey Flat

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Barossa - December 12
Its surprising how the prospect of a day of wine tasting steels the body and focuses the mind. It doesn’t hurt that the owners of the B&B you’ve rented have laid on all the necessary ingredients for a great breakfast, including humongous double-yolk eggs! And bacon. And coffee. And home-made biscuits. “And, jeez, there’s chocolates and a decanter of port!” “Better save those for later.”

An Experiment in Tasting Notes
Wine tasting at cellar doors is not my favorite way to write tasting notes mainly because you almost always end up shoulder-to-shoulder with some old dear who is soaked in perfume and wants to talk your ear off about how much she misses Porphyry Pearl. Or, more likely, you have hardly finished putting your nose into the wine glass before the wait-staff is ready to pour from the next bottle in the line-up. So rather than the usual notepad and pencils I thought I’d be a bit better prepared and brought along, oh about a 100 copies of, Hugh Johnson’s and Michael Broadbent’s Christie’s – Sunday Times Wine Club Tasting Chart. This little chart, copyrighted in 1975, allows you to mark off various aspects of SIGHT, SMELL and TASTE as well as adding your own comments. So for SIGHT, for example, you can very quickly underline a shiraz as being brilliant (clarity), dark (depth of color), purple (color), and normal (viscosity). Appropriate characteristics can be underlined for SMELL and TASTE, leaving the bulk of the tasting time for describing the more ethereal aspects of the wine. At least that was the theory. And I still think it will work, although the chart needs to be modernized in several ways that don’t need to be discussed here. What I didn’t foresee was that Miranda would point out the existence of the chart to all and sundry and even have them supplied with a copy! Of more concern was the scoring system. Even though I tried to change it so that it was similar to the 20 point system I have used for years, it was still subtly different. More than subtly different, sufficiently different, so that I found I was continually checking to make sure I was scoring within the correct range as I tasted each wine. In the end it wasn’t really saving me any time at all. So the Christie’s system was only used in the tasting of the Two Hands wines. All other tasting was done with my old system. Both are based on a 20 point system; Christie‘s - Sight 4, Smell 6, Taste 7, Overall Quality 3; Old system Clarity 2, Color 2, Smell 5, Taste 11 (which includes an assessment of Quality).

Two Hands Wines
When you visit Two Hands, and no visit to the Barossa is complete without a tasting at Two Hands, make sure you visit the loo! When you walk in the door you will know why I make the suggestion.
The 2004 The Wolf Clare Valley Riesling was watery clear with pleasant notes of pineapple and citrus, with tart apple acidity, well balanced and a pleasing finish. (4,5,6,2=17/20). The 2002 Tyre Kickers was garnet in color with an attractive fruitcake and blackberry nose that closed down after a few minutes. The palate was medium weight, very well balanced with reasonable length to the finish. (4, 4.8, 6.5, 2.2=17.5/20, 14.5% alcohol). The 2003 Brave Faces was purple/red with pleasant flavors of red fruits and cherry jam. Medium weight with soft tannins and refreshing acidity, it was very well balanced. (4, 5.1, 6.5, 2.1=17.7/20). The 2003 Gnarly Dudes was a deep purple and loaded with ripe fruit flavors. The flavor complexity married well with the soft entry onto the palate, medium bodied and well balanced, although the tannins were a little hard. (4, 5.2, 6.4 2.4=18.0/20, 14.5% alcohol). I don’t know why a blend of 67% Merlot and 33% Cabernet Franc gets called Shovel Blanc, the 2003 was cherry red and quite closed. Medium bodied but big on tannins it was not a style I liked. (4, 4.8, 6.0, 2.0 =16.8/20, 14,5% alcohol). Things improved with the 2003 Bad Impersonator, a single vineyard Barossa shiraz. Dark purple with ripe jammy fruit, it had overtones of mulberries which I find unusual for shiraz. Medium bodied and very well balanced with evident tannins and clean acidity. (4, 5.2, 6.2, 2.4 =17.8/20, 15% alcohol). The 2003 Lily’s Garden McLaren Vale Shiraz was purple in the glass with a wonderful complex perfumed nose. Medium bodied and very well balanced with refreshing acidity, a solid backbone of tannins and a lengthy finish. (4, 5.4, 6.4, 2.6 = 18.4, 15.5% alcohol). Distinctly different was the 2003 Sophie’s Garden Padthaway Shiraz with pepper, spices and sarsaparilla. Also very well balanced with solid tannins and a lingering finish, there was slightly more acidity to this wine than the Lily’s Garden. (4, 5.2, 6.3, 2.5=18.0, 16.6% alcohol).

We started with their 2002 Original Sparking Shiraz. I was interested to try this wine as we have not seen very much of this wine style at all in the USA. The wine was cherry red with a dominant blackberry aroma. Slightly sweet in the mouth it became somewhat tarry on the finish. A reasonable shiraz with bubbles. (2,2,4.0,9.5=17.5/20). The next wine, the 1994 Show Sparkling Shiraz, which is 10 years old on release, was a complete contrast. Deeper in color, it had developed characters of earth and barnyard and was soft and elegant in the mouth finishing with firm tannins. Surprisingly good! (2,2,4.4,10.2=18.6/20). The 2002 Victorian Premium Shiraz was a dense cherry red with good blackberry notes but with a grapey or vinous character. It was pleasantly soft in the mouth but the acidity was a little raw and out of balance. (2,2,3.8,9.6=17.4/20) However it was the fortified that we were after and although it took $5 per glass (!) we did get to taste some of the “Rare” series. The 21 Year Old Para Liqueur Barossa Valley Tawny (1983) was almost rose in color and slightly closed but opened beautifully in the mouth. Rich and luscious, it had caramel and Christmas cake flavors and a lengthy finish. (2,2,4.3,10.2=18.5/20). The DP 90 Rare Barossa Valley Tawny was hazel brown. Rich, complex and very well balanced, it oozed walnuts and raisins over an extremely long finish. (2,2,4.4,10.5=18.9/20). The DP 59 Rare Rutherglen Tokay looked like treacle, and gave flavors of treacle, molasses and coffee, and a finish that lingered and lingered. (2,2, 4.5,10.6=19.1/20) A Classic Wine! The GR 113 Rare Rutherglen Muscat was not quite as deep in color as the Tokay but was a much richer wine with toffee and caramel and ripe raisins, and a beautifully long finish. (2,2,4.5,10.7=19.2/20) Another entry for the Classic Wines section.

Barossa Valley Estates
We dropped into BV Estates on the off chance that we might get some lunch. And we tried some wines. The only notes I have are for the 2001 Ebenezer Shiraz, which was cherry red and gave aromas of barnyard, pepper, and hint of alcohol. A well balanced wine that finished cleanly. (2,2,3.9,9.8=17.6/20, 14% alcohol). The 1999 E&E Sparkling Shiraz was consumed with lunch. What a treat! Dense cherry red, almost purple it gave off mountains of blueberry/blackberry and pepper notes. A truly mouth-filling wine, that carried its fruit flavors through on retronasal. Very well balanced, with a lengthy finish. The only drawback was that the bubbles just did not last in the glass. (2,2,4.3,10.4=18.7/20, 14.5% alcohol).

Heritage Estate
Some cellar doors are just plain friendly. The young lady serving at Hertiage was all smiles, and willing to chat away about wine and anything else – the cellar cat, the deceased cellar dog, Wine Dogs. I nearly forgot to take notes. The 2003 Barossa Shiraz was a dense cherry red with very ripe fruit, well balanced and finishing with firm tannins (2,2,4.0,9.6=17.6/20). The 2002 Rossco’s Shiraz was also a dense cherry red with ripe fruit and blackberry flavors and very firm tannins. There was a slight confectionary note to the wine and a hint of ethyl acetate. (2,2,4.1,9.8=17.9/20).

Kaesler Wines
There were some high hopes when we pulled into the carpark at Kaesler Wines, but our spot at the tasting bar was right below the air-conditioning unit. Its pretty hard to taste wine while some machine tries to freeze you! I was able to scratch down notes on two reds. The 2003 Stonehorse Shiraz was cherry red. The flavors were almost cherry liqueur-like against a prominent blackberry note. Medium weight and well balanced, it was a pleasant but unimpressive wine. (2,2,3.9,9.6=17.5/20). The 2001 Old Vine Shiraz was darker in color and quite closed, giving just a little dusty oak. Also medium weight and well balanced, it finished with some sharp acidity. (2,2,3.6,9.5=17.1/20)

Gnadenfrei Estate
Viking was closed, and we didn’t hold much hope that Gnadenfrei would be tasting either but they were. The 2003 St Michaels Shiraz is a monster of a wine. Almost purple, it has a big blackberry jam nose and over powering tannins. The flavors carry through on retronasal for a lengthy finish, but this is wine that will need considerable time to soften. (2,2,4.2,10.0=18.2/20, 15.3% alcohol). The 2003 Shiraz Grenache has the same jammy characters but is a softer, less aggressive wine. (2,2,4.2,9.8=18.0/20, 15.3% alcohol).

The Willows
The only wine I wanted to try here was the 2002 Bonesetter Shiraz. It was sold out! We did get some of their Sparkling Shiraz “The Doctor”, and there should be some tasting notes on that around here somewhere! Their Cabernet Sauvignon did generate some discussion that continued for the next few days. Apparently the grapes for this wine come from vines surrounded on three sides by eucalyptus trees, and the eucalyptus is clearly evident in the wine. Its not mint, its eucalyptus. Terroir? You bet! But how does eucalyptus get into the grapes? Why are the Blue Mountains Blue?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Sauce! Where’s The Sauce?
The best way to drink wine is in the company of friends and good food. So it was not a difficult decision to accept an invitation from Mark Wickman to join some of the Auswineforum members for a wine dinner while we were in Adelaide. Date, time and place was December 11, at 6:30pm at The Sauce. Not too difficult if you know your way about Adelaide, that is. But we had just arrived after hopping from San Diego to LA to Honolulu to Sydney, fortunately with a few nights in between. Miranda and I were met at the Adelaide airport by John (brother), and Ngaire (cousin) and Chris (Ngaire’s husband) and whisked away to Penfolds Magill Cellar Door to taste some pretty ordinary wines. Even the Magill Estate Restaurant was closed. So we decided that we would seek out The Sauce and deposit the wines we had brought for the coming evening. Its an interesting experience driving around the back streets of Adelaide. There are quite a few dead-ends and there was a lot of “No, I don’t think we can get there from here” coming from the front seat of the car. But we did eventually get there, opened and checked the wines and then left for a little tour. A minor mistake because we had a lot more of the “No, I don’t think we can get there from here” when we tried to find our way back.

The dinner was an outstanding evening and comments on the wines, as well as pictures have been put up by both Mark (markg) and Ian (n4sir). Thanks also to Steve (707) for organizing The Sauce as a venue. I would put up notes on the wines myself but from a certain point in the evening everything is a complete blank, a few minutes after we arrived! (Apologies to Shelly Berman.)

Our little band of wine merry souls had to leave early to travel out to Tanunda for an early start wine tasting the following day. On our way out to Tanunda we didn’t have a lot of “No, I don’t think we can get there from here”, but we did have a lot of “Are you sure we are on the right road?” For Miranda it was “Are you sure we are driving on the right SIDE of the road?”

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Barossa Bound
This eBlog is going on the road. Well, into the air initially, to Hawaii, then Sydney and finally Adelaide, Australia. We will then be heading out to Tanunda where we will be using Elsie's Cottage and Clara's Cottage as our bases to explore the surrounding wineries. The complete itinerary has not been finalized as yet but Dutschke, Kalleske, Rockford, Tinshed etc. are on an ever growing list. Some initial plans include:-

Sunday 12th
10:00 Two Hands
11:00 Seppeltsfield
1:00 Penfolds
2:00 Kaesler
3:00 The Willows

Monday 13th
9:00 Kellermeister/Trevor Jones
10:00 Dutschke
1:00 Charles Melton
2:00 Rockford
3:00 Glaetzer
4:00 Turkey Flat

Tuesday 14th
10:00 Kalleske
11:00 Torbreck
12:00 Veritas
2:00 Langmeil
3:00 Thorn Clarke
4:00 Peter Lehmann

The 15th and 16th are still being planned. We'll certainly taste our way through some of the fortified wines from Yalumba. Updates and tasting notes will be posted as often as internet access allows.

Burnt offerings
By Jeni Port, December 7, 2004 The Age
The heat and bushfires of 2003 left a terrible mark on life and the landscape of Canberra and north-east Victoria. The conditions also left their mark on some of the wines of that year. As bushfire smoke and haze shrouded the floors of the King and Alpine valleys during January and February - just weeks before vintage - grapevines became a susceptible target, with the smoke somehow entering the plants' system. Maybe it's through the leaves - no one knows for sure until more studies are performed - but one thing is certain, the smoke taint survived the winemaking process and was noticeable in the finished wine. The biggest indicator that something was wrong came after fermentation with a lingering, stale ashtray taste and a hardness on the finish of the wine. MORE->

What a great example of terroir!!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Aussies in Wine Spectator's 2004 Top 100
Australian wines made up 10% of the Top 100. Eight were shiraz and the other two chardonnay. The list is:-

8) Greg Norman Estates Reserve Shiraz 1999 - 96 Points - South Eastern Australia
24) Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay 2001 - 98 Points - Margaret River, WA
27) Elderton Command Shiraz 2000 - 97 Points - Barossa Valley, SA
28) Green Point Shiraz 2002 - 93 Points - Victoria
38) Torbreck The Struie 2002 - 94 Points - Barossa Valley, SA
45) Penfolds RWT Shiraz 2001 - 94 Points - Barossa Valley, SA
51) Two Hands Angel's Share Shiraz 2003 - -92 Points - McLaren Vale, SA
73) Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz 2002 - 91 Points - Barossa Valley, SA
93) Rosemount Hunter Valley Show Reserve Chardonnay 2002 - 90 Points - Hunter Valley, NSW
95) Peter Lehmann Shiraz 2002 - 90 Points - Barossa Valley, SA

Looks like the whites sit on West and East coasts and the reds are firmly planted in the Barossa. Not a lot of news in that!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Wine Grape Varietal Table
Need to know more about your favorite grape, or more about an unusual varietal. Well De Long's WINE GRAPE VARIETAL TABLE might just be what you have been looking for. Its a (2ft by 3ft) poster, suitable for framing, that lists 184 grape varieties organized by body and acidity. The poster comes with The Wine and Grape Indexes, a useful guide that can help sort out just what grapes were used to make the wine you are drinking.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Penfolds Bin 389 2001- Danger, Danger!
Penfolds Bin 389 2001 $18.99USD
Given that Parker has refused to score wines like the Bin 389 "because their acid levels were beyond acceptable ranges" it was with trembling, and fully gloved hand, that I poured this wine into an acid proof glass. Peering through safety glasses I could just make out a dense cherry red with red edge. Initially a promising earthy, gamey nose underscored by a less than medium weight mouthfeel. Mouth drying tannins with refreshing acidity at the finish. Good retronasal. Needed time but opened nicely with plum, pepper and dark berry fruits overlaying a pleasant toasted character. Vigorous agitation revealed sweet vanilla oak. This is a wine that definitely needs some air to soften it. This adds some weight to the mouthfeel and creates a better balance between the structural components. 2, 2, 3.8, 9.8 = 17.6. 14.3% alcohol. 60% Cabernet sauvignon, 40% Shiraz. Tasted December 1-2, 2004.

This is the second bottle of the 2001 I have tried; the first being corked. If you drink the wine as soon as the cork is pulled (as I always do) you will not be impressed at all, at least I was not. The Penfolds description is "a firm base of ripe tannins" - that is putting it mildly! But with time (hours) the wine does loose that harshness and gains complexity and turns into a very nice wine. It tasted much better the next day. I got much more from the wine using an ISO than a Vinum-style of glass.

Whatever excessive acidity Parker is detecting in this wine never materialized in the particular bottle I tried. Am I about to race out and buy more? No, I'm over the poor man's Grange mystique; no I can't afford Grange. The only 389 I have in the cellar is the 1997. Don't ask me why because I don't know. One thing I do know, at less than $20USD, Bin 389 has fallen in price than a few years ago when it was in the mid-20's. It is reasonable value.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Greg Norman Scores 96, Places Eighth
Not the sort of score that the The Shark is used to making, but I'm sure he's more than a little pleased with it. Its the number of points that his Greg Norman Estates 1999 Reserve Shiraz received from Wine Spectator, which helped the wine to place eighth in the Top 100 Wines for 2004. Its also the top Aussie wine for 2004. I'll provide more on how Aussie wines did in the WS Top 100 later. Note. The PDF is up on eBob as we speak but it probably won't last as it is for online subscribers of WS only.
Sideways - Pickett's Hail Mary
Sideways Author Rex Pickett has been interviewed by NPR about his novel Sideways which has been made into a critically acclaimed film starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. It's about two ex-college roommates, now middle-aged, who set off on a week's trip through California's Santa Barbara wine country.

You can also listen to Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan's review. And NPR's Michele Norris talks with filmmaker Alexander Payne about Sideways.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

TORB on the Parkerizing of Australia
Robert Parker Jr. recently released Issue #155 of The Wine Advocate (TWA) with a review of hundreds of Australian wines. As I have noted in previous posts Parker severely criticized much of the Australian wine industry for producing wines with:-

1) “to much American oak obliterating any fruit or charm,
2) chemistry class wines with so much added acidity they were undrinkable because of tart, clipped, and shrill personalities, and
3) industrial, diluted, manufactured wines of no depth, character, or soul”.

Ric Einstein (aka TORB) has recently posted his review of Parker’s assessment of the state of the Aussie wine industry. Ric’s comments have particular value as he has a lengthy experience with Australian wine and is passionate about his subject; who else would spend 3 days tasting their way around Wine Australia 2004? He makes some interesting observations on what may just be the rumblings of journalistic combat between Parker and Australian wine writers. Given the growing importance of Australian wine in the world it makes sense that Parker will try to position himself as the premier taster/writer on Australian wine.

There is also a very sharply focused discussion with Peter Taylor (Executive General Manager, Winemaking) of Southcorp about the criticism Parker leveled at the Penfolds and Rosemount brands. Acidity, anyone!

The most interesting point Ric raises is the one that I’ve obliquely addressed here previously, and that is the identity of the 70% of wines reviewed by Parker that did not make the grade. Ric’s comment on this! “When you knock back 70% of all wines reviewed, it is just as important for a ‘consumer advocate’ who, by definition, is meant to be looking after his customers’ interests, to let them know what should be avoided as well as what they should be looking to purchase. But is Parker all about being a ‘consumer advocate’ or looking after himself first and foremost? I would hazard a guess that his number one priority is selling his publications and being a ‘consumer advocate’ comes a distant second.” TWA #155 does not list how many wines were tasted or recommended. Previous Australian issues of TWA have done so; Issue#143, 535 out of 1,367; Issue #148, 636 out of 1,223. Ric indicates that “about 795” wines were rated in #155. That would mean that over 2,600 wines were tasted. Twice the previous tasting figures!

Ric notes that Parker has a rather limited experience with Aussie wine. “His Australian experience is not very lengthy. It only really surfaced and came to readers’ attention with the fabled 1998 vintage so he has only been reviewing Australian wines for about six years.” I can’t confirm this as I’ve not taken much notice of Mr Parker myself except for the last year or two (and I’ve been seriously collecting wine for over 25 years). However Parker himself does note in TWA #148 that he was buying Petaluma reds 20 years ago. Interestingly he decries those wines for their acid levels and calls them “nearly undrinkable” as they age.

And with that a final note. I'm continually surprised that so many take such single minded notice of one man's palate, irrespective of its consistency, or wealth of experience. In wine tasting class after wine tasting class, at the feet of all the experts, from cellar door and wine shop staff the world over, comes the mantra “don’t worry about what others might say, if you like the wine then that is all that matters”. Even Parker himself says “there can never be any substitute for your own palate nor any better education than tasting the wine yourself.”

I think its getting near time that I go back and review the scientific literature that shows just how variable we all are when it comes to tasting. But before that how about a vist to the Barossa Valley and a little wine tasting? Want to come along?

Friday, November 26, 2004

Thanksgiving - Celebrating with Gay Wine
What did you celebrate Thanksgiving with? We had our turkey with all the fixin's, wonderfully prepared by Miranda, with Russian Hills Estate 2001 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. But before sitting down to that we decided to get just a little bit gay and sample Pansy! Pansy! is a rose produced by Kim Crawford Wines of New Zealand to either thank their gay friends in the hospitality industry, or as a bit of fun, or both. In any event its an interesting little wine the composition of which seems to change from year to year; 2002 was predominately Merlot with Cabernet Franc and a little late harvest chardonnay, 2003 Pinot Noir, and 2004 again predominately Merlot this time with a little Malbec. It has a wonderful cherry soda color and is indeed a fruity little number, giving off aromas of strawberries and sweet candy. It finishes with a hint of sweetness.

Oh, go on! You know you really do want to try it!
Grange - the Flawed Champion of Australian Wine
"Grange is more the product of old vineyards and ultra-ripe Shiraz fruit made in a fashion by Max Schubert, and became a trademark of Penfolds, than it is of the places from whence it is derived", said Petaluma's Brian Croser speaking at the Wine Press Club Sydney, on the eve of Wine Australia 2004.

Croser pointed out, there was a whole generation of ultra-ripe Shiraz wines "riding the wave of high scores with the all-powerful Robert Parker who loves the ultra ripe wines of any part of the world". Croser added: "They are legitimate fine wine expressions, even though not terroir driven.''Croser called on the industry to recognise Australia's great terroir aspects, such as very old geology and soils, long intense sunshine hours and clean, dry air – "don't let the apologists claim those differences as disadvantages in the quest for the world's finest; they are an essential part of our uniqueness". MORE->

Its been my impression that the big push toward fruit forward wines was simply an attempt to Grange-ify Aussie wines; especially after Wine Spectator made it Wine of the Year in 1995. I wonder which Aussie winemakers will sit up and take notice of Croser? More importantly which ones will thumb their noses and argue that their premium wines do express terroir?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Something (Relatively) Old, Something New
Twelve Staves McLaren Vale Shiraz 2002 $29.99USD
Cherry red with pink edge. Initially quite closed. Inky, caromel, earthy notes opening to stewed blackberries. Full bodied, very chewy with persistent tannins. Well balanced with an extra long finish. 2, 2, 3.6, 10.2 = 17.8. 15% alcohol. Tasted November 10.

The inky, earth notes of the Twelve Staves put me in mind of (poorly) aged Penfolds St Henri shiraz and seeing as how I have so much of the stuff sitting in the cellar with the corks crumbling I decided to pull out a bottle to compare. What did I do to the wine Gods? This time the cork comes out in one piece!!

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 1992 $21.99USD
Light cherry red with faint orange edge. Initially faint caromel and kerosene! Developed into minty, resinous, licorice notes. Medium weight but not carrying completely across the palate. Otherwise structurally sound with a solid backbone of tannins and good acidity. Persistent finish. 2, 2, 3.4, 9.5 = 16.9. 13.5% alcohol. Tasted November 10.

Comparisons, comparisons!!
In color the St Henri is not a lighter red hue its a lighter brown hue compared to the Twelve Staves. Up against the St Henri the Twelve Staves is all chocolate and on the palate much richer and more seductive. The inky, earthy notes are still there but now the differences between the two wines are more evident. In contrast the St Henri is clearly lacking the fruit forward character of the Twelve Staves but the palate is full and holding its own. Certainly not as rich, and perhaps a little sour acidity does show through, but not as badly behaved for a 12 year old as I had expected.

The take home message? Whenever you get the chance, compare wines.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Psst, wanna buy Kalleske? Cheap!
Kalleske is probably the best, and certainly the most recent, example in my experience of the consumer being taken to the cleaners by retailers. If you do a search using Wine Searcher you never find very many retailers listed as dealing in Kalleske wines. What you do find is significant price differences. The most reasonable is Cork and Bottle - sold out of the not yet released 2003 shiraz at $45USD/btl. Old Town Wine Co will give you a discount of 1 cent from $100USD for the same wine (presale). And Cripes, I mean, Grapes The Wine Company - "founded in the fall of 1997 with the intention of making the world´s greatest wines more accessible" wants $125USD/btl for the 2003 Kalleske shiraz. Even with the current exchange rates these prices make the $80AUD starting prices on Wickman's Fine Wine Auctions seem reasonable. Additionally you also have to weigh these outrageous USD prices against the simple fact that there is just so much excellent Aussie wine available. Then there is the overwhelming amount of local stuff, and all that French, Italian, German, etc., etc. The supply never really ends here in the USA. The fortunate thing for the retailers who do sell at these high prices is that, especially on the East Coast, the market is a bottomless pit for low production, high scoring wines. They can charge almost anything and someone will pay it.

Whether the folks who buy these wines have a history of buying Aussie wines, whether they will drink the wine, and whether they will then actually talk about it is another matter. Check out Ric Einstein's note about Hill of Grace on his Drops 'n Dregs page at Torb Wine. Ric found very few tasting notes on HoG, most were from the USA, and most from first time drinkers. Its probably reasonable to argue that we may never get a real idea of how some of these new low production wines from Australia, like Kalleske, age simply because they have gone into the cellars of people who are collecting these wines based on points and not for what they represent. Hopefully the winery, or some of the more affluent serious Aussie shiraz drinkers, are laying a good number aside so that they can be assessed in 10, 20, 30, 40 years!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Shiraz, the ideal Christmas (Cake) Wine!
It is their love for both products that inspired a Wellington family to pair fruitcake and Shiraz as perfect partners for a special tasting experience. Their concept was awarded a Cape a la Carte Legend Award 2004 for the most memorable way in which the product was introduced. MORE->

One way to have your cake....and your shiraz!
James Hallidays 2004 Top 100 Australian Wines
From 1258 wines James Halliday has chosen his annual Top 100. And yes, you guess it, the Jim Barry 2002 The Lodge Hill Shiraz has been included in the wines under $20.
The National Wine Show of Australia
Results have been announced for the 2004 National Wine Show with the Trophy Presentation Dinner being held on the 18th of November 2004 in The Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra. The results can be found here. Ric Einstein has also resorted some of the more interesting results on his Drops 'n Dregs page. Check out the awards given for the 2002 and 2003 shiraz, and compare them with the high flyers in Robert Parker, Jr's recent Wine Advocate. What, you don't find any similarities? That's strange! I wonder why that is?

Oh, and that Jim Barry 2002 The Lodge Hill Shiraz keeps on rising to near the top in the important tests, doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

PLoS Biology a peer-reviewed, open-access journal published by the Public Library of Science has had two pieces on taste in recent months. Taste Perception: Cracking the Code by Jane Bradbury looks at how researchers are beginning to unravel the mechanisms and connections that begins with taste buds and ends in the brain. The second article The Human Sense of Smell: Are We Better Than We Think? is by Gordon M. Shepherd. Two paragraphs are especially interesting for us wine lovers.

Being carried in with inhaled air (the orthonasal route) is not the only way for odor molecules to reach the olfactory receptor cells. Odor molecules also reach the olfactory receptor cells via the retronasal route, from the back of the oral cavity through the nasopharynx into the back of the nasal cavity. Although the orthonasal route is the one usually used to test for smell perception, the retronasal route is the main source of the smells we perceive from foods and liquids within our mouths. These are the smells that primarily determine the hedonic (i.e., pleasurable or aversive) qualities of foods, and that, combined with taste and somatosensation, form the complex sensation of fl avor. It is likely, for several reasons, that this is an important route for smell in humans.

So, all you hedonists, remember to breathe out through the nose when tasting wine, or anything for that matter.

Describing a smell or a taste in words is very demanding. A professional wine tasting, for example, requires many steps: analysing both orthonasal and retronasal perception, comparing the two in memory with each other and with all other wines to be compared, identifying the constituent properties separate from the hedonic qualities, and finding the words to describe the process as it unfolds, leading to the final formulation to characterize the quality of the wine and identify it as distinct from all others. It may be characterized as hard cognitive work that only a human, among all the animals with olfactory organs, can do. It may be argued that this is what humans are adapted to do.

We evolved to describe what we taste in wine. Well that's what this eBlog and most especially this one are for.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

There was virtually nothing from ...........Australia.
Robert Parker was recently interviewed by Ed Sands and Tom McKnew for the the Calvert-Woodley Fall 2004 Catalogue (November, 2004). The last question, No. 13, was, "What change in the world of wine in the past 25 years do you think has been the most profound?".

The answer? "There have been many changes over the last 26 years in the wine world, but I think the extraordinary proliferation of quality wines in all price ranges from so many different places in the world is the single greatest change. If you think back, 26 years ago, virtually all of the wines that were represented were from France and California, with only a tiny percentage from Spain and Italy. There was virtually nothing from South America or Australia. Today, there is such an extraordinary number of high quality wines, high quality importers, and educated consumers that it is exciting to realize just how far the world has progressed in a quarter of a century."

Maybe there was virtually nothing from Australia in the USA in 1978, but in Oz there was excellent wine covering both low and high end spectrums. Yes there has been improvement and a significant growth in the number of vineyards and wineries since then. But Oz has been making excellent wine for quite some time, just in case you might not have been aware RMP, Jr. Here are some links to Oz Wine Industry History!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Nov. 11, 2004--The 2004 California-Australia Wine Shootout results can be viewed at Affairs of the Vine. Over 250 wines were critically reviewed. A panel of 14 wine professionals tasted the venerable California and Australian wines. Affairs of the Vine and Wine Works orchestrated this comparative judging.

California took top honors in six of the eleven categories and Australia in five. Australia prevailed in the Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Other Reds, and Dessert categories. California won top honors in Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Red Blends, Sauvignon Blanc, Sparkling Wines, and Other Whites.

Australia was the big winner in the Bang for Your Buck Wines - (72 wines selling for under $15) - the top 3 are Australian!

All results can be found here. I should note that Patrick Melley, Russian Hill Winery, Winemaker was on the Shootout Tasting Panel. Patrick knows his Syrah/Shiraz, no wonder the Aussies won. We won't hold him responsible for our favorite, the 2002 Jim Barry Lodge Hill Shiraz, coming in last in the Syrah/Shiraz group behind such notables as Yellow Tail, Lindemans Bin 50 (the Winner), or even Black Opal. Well, at least not until we've given him another chance to taste it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Gift of the Gods
Gatineau, Quebec, November 4, 2004 — Gift of the Gods: The Art of Wine from the Ancient World to Canadian Vineyards, a sensuous exhibition that explores the remarkable role of wine in culture, art and celebration in Western Europe and the New World, will open at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec on November 5, 2004.

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto organized Gift of the Gods to help visitors learn more about the myths, symbols and traditions associated with wine, wine drinking and their 7,000 year history. This richly textured story is brought to life by 250 outstanding wine-related artifacts, the majority from ROM collections, with additions from the collections of Brock University and Wilfrid Laurier University. The following are highlights of all the areas of the exhibition developed by the ROM. MORE->

Good old Dionysos, the god of wine and its pleasures for the Ancient Greeks, runs rampant throughout the exhibition. Which is only right for a such a sensuous exhibit.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Miles and Jack Wine Tour, AKA The SIDEWAYS Wine Tour
Take a trip through Santa Barbara Wine Country. Follow the path explored by Miles and Jack in SIDEWAYS. Its all here. You also might want to look at Santa Barbara CA, and Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Did You Know?

  • More than 100 new wine producers open their doors in Australia every year. (Even more wine to buy!)
  • The indent you see on the base of most wine bottles is called a punt. (I thought to punt was to kick a football, or place a bet, oh well so much for the Aussie slanguage.)
  • The belief that wine is a living thing is a fallacy. (That takes all the joy out of it, doesn't it?)
  • More than 700 chemical compounds in wine have been identified and named. (Now that's what I call a flavor library.)
  • Moderate wine drinking decreases both the risk of coronary heart disease and mortality rates in people over 40. (Praise be, and pass the bottle.) MORE->

Friday, November 05, 2004

"I like to think about the life of wine -- how it's a living thing"
"I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing, how the sun was shining that summer.... I think about all those people who tended and picked the grapes... I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle it's going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive -- it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity.... And it tastes so f ---ing good." MORE->

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Sideways Clips
Clips for the movie Sideways are available on Yahoo! Movies. There are seven of them. Enjoy!
"May the world go from mines to vines."
This is an apolitical eBlog, but some things in the world of wine cross borders to impact seemingly distant spheres of life, such as this humanitarian effort.

Nov 2, 2004 RUTHERFORD, Calif. (AP) Heidi Kuhn tasted the fruits of her labors in September when she visited Croatia and sampled the first harvest from a vineyard that used to be a minefield. "We ate the grapes," she says. "We tasted peace." Kuhn is the founder of Roots of Peace, a humanitarian organization that is working to clear land mines and turn the earth back into farmland from Cambodia to Croatia -- a project that has drawn the support of several Napa Valley vintners. MORE->

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Wine tasting. Oh the fun, the excitement.

"I think its a Pinot, but it might be Syrah. Let me try my left nostril." Posted by Hello
Acidity in Penfolds Wines
As noted in a previous post Robert Parker, Jr raised the question of excessive levels of acid in Penfolds wines in his latest issue (#155) of The Wine Advocate. It is not the first time he has expressed this concern, comments were also made in Issue #148. Is he correct, or is his palate simply more sensitive to acid? Or are other components lacking in the wines that result in acid levels appearing to be excessive?

As the previous post noted other reviews of the Penfolds line did not note excessive acidity. Additional reviews from Robert Whitely of the San Diego Union Tribune, and Sue Courtney, also do not indicate a problem with acidity in their tasting notes.

Plotting out both pH and titratable acidity for RWT, St Henri, and Bin 389 from information provided on the Penfolds web site does not reveal any dramatic changes over the last 5-8 years. But there has to be an explanation out there somewhere!
Study: Red Wine Slows Lung Cancer, White Raises Risk
Thu Oct 28, 8:43 AM ET
By Mohammed Abbas

LONDON (Reuters) - Drinking red wine could protect against lung cancer, but white wine may increase the risk, Spanish scientists said on Thursday. They examined the effects of different types of wine on lung cancer, the most common and deadly form of the disease.

"Consumption of red wine ... was associated with a slight but statistically significant reduction in the development of lung cancer," Professor Juan Barros-Dios, of the University of Santiago de Compostela, said in a study in the journal Thorax. MORE->

The Thorax site is here but the issue with the article is not up yet. Abstracts to articles are free.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Seventy Percent of Australian Wines Do Not Make The Grade, According to Robert Parker, Jr.
In his comments on Australian wine under the title Australia: Thunder From Down Under Robert Parker Jr. notes in Issue #155 of The Wine Advocate that 70% of the wines he tasted “did not make the grade”. The reasons listed were

1) “to much American oak obliterating any fruit or charm,
2) chemistry class wines with so much added acidity they were undrinkable because of tart, clipped, and shrill personalities, and
3) industrial, diluted, manufactured wines of no depth, character, or soul”.

The winery that bore the brunt of this verbal assault was Penfolds. Parker declined to recommend the 2002 Riesling Reserve Bin, 2001 Bin 407, 2000 St Henri, 2001 Bin 389 and Bin 128 “because their acid levels were beyond acceptable ranges (for my palate)”. In reference to the 2001 Chardonnay Yattarna Penfolds wine makers were accused of producing “muted, acidified, industrial, wine selling at an absurd price”. Penfolds winemakers were described as “oenologists connecting the dots and making wines by the numbers”. The wines that were reviewed, 2001 RWT, Magill, and Bin 707 were also roundly criticized as overly acidic and all received 87 points. Only the 1999 Grange scored above the magical 90 points.

Is Parker correct in his assessment? What do others say of the Penfolds line-up? Wine Spectator gave the 2001 Yattarna a 93, the 2001 RWT a 94, the 2001 Magill a 91, the Bin 707 a 91, the 2000 St Henri a 91, the Bin 389 a 88, the Bin 128 a 89, and the Bin 407 a 87. Now, of course the tired old argument will go up that Wine Spectator always gives higher points than Parker. But that is easily countered by a simple comparison of the numbers. The Kalleske 2002 shiraz received 88 from WS, but 96 from WA, 2002 Clarendon Hill Liandra Syrah received 89 from WS and 93 from WA, 2002 Mitolo Shiraz Jester received 85 from WS and 90 from WA, 2002 Henry’s Drive Shiraz received 88 from WS and 93 from WA. Oh, you want more! OK, how about D’Arenberg 2002 Galvo Garage 82 versus 91, 2002 Sticks and Stones 83 versus 93, 2002 Ironstone Pressings 87 versus 93+.

I could do this all day, but I think the point is made. There are differences in palate preference between the two publications, and that’s why the numbers differ. What is more to the point is that the Wine Spectator tasting notes (Sept 30, 2004) on the Bin 707, RWT, Magill, and St Henri, do not mention excessive acidity. Ric Einstein, who has been tasting Australian red wine for so long that he no longer sees white, recently assessed many of the Penfolds wines and did not come away complaining of overly acidic wines. Having tasted the 2001 RWT myself, I can only echo his assessment of this excellent wine.

So where do these divergent opinions leave the rest of the wine world? Well, the next time you are in your local wine shop and you see those lonely bottles of Australian wines that have been relegated to the corner of the store because they didn't make it into The Wine Advocate, walk on over and pick one or two up and take them home. You make the decision whether they have any depth, character or soul.