This trip is the biggest that I have undertaken; nine days tasting wine have resulted in well over 200 tasting notes as well as lots of stories, interesting anecdotes, the usual array of pictures and lots of new discoveries. As this Tour Diary is so large, it will be broken down into chapters, which will all be published on this site and every tasting note in this chapter has already been individually uploaded for easy searching too. Once all the chapters are complete, the complete diary will be able to be downloaded in PDF format.
Many of the wineries visited were by appointment and I am delighted to advise that a number of them were very generous and allowed me to try unreleased wine. Tasting notes for these wines should prove invaluable when planning future purchases. When the wines are eventually released you will have a ready source of independent reference for them. Most importantly, it would be remiss of me not to thank the many wineries that went to so much trouble and effort to make my visit a memorable one.
Prior to getting into the story proper, itís important to put things in perspective and to do that lets quickly examine the characteristics of the past few vintages. If you havenít read my recently report on vintage perspectives in South Australia, click here now.
The TORB Rating System is used through out these notes so if you are unfamiliar on how it works, click here for details.
Off to the airport for a respectable 9.00 AM flight. Every Virgin Blue flight I have ever taken has been fully booked, but not this one, its about one third empty. Overseas visitors are conspicuous by their absence. Unfortunately the impact from SARS on the economy is going to be big, especially in the vital tourist sector, one that is of critical importance to the Australian economy.
After an uneventful two and a half hour flight my Delta motorised rent a roller skate is waiting. The assistant hands the keys and paperwork over to me showing a plan of the car with loads of little Ďxí notating damaged paint work and suggest I check the car first. That turned out to be good advice as I found three marks in the paint work that were not recorded and no doubt had I not documented them I would have been paying for them!
McLaren Vale is about an hour from the airport so itís an easy drive up into the hills to get there. Knowing that I would be spending a few days with the meat pie king of South Australia (my mate John Davis) when I spotted a Subway and it was lunch time a healthy sandwich was in order. A word of advice, if you are going to be tasting wine and your sense of smell is important, donít get the teriyaki sauce all over your hands, even with washing, the pong tends to hang around, but the sub was finger licking good; hang on, wrong commercial.
First stop in McLaren Vale was the famous Hardyís Tintara Cellars which is located in the middle of the main street. Hardyís are to be congratulated for having made some very sensible changes to their return policy recently. If a wine is deemed to be defective with cork taint by the consumer, all they have to do to get a replacement bottle is to return the bottle to the retailer (business as usual) or the cork direct to BRLH. I had a defective cork to go back and had arranged to drop it off at this location so whilst I was there I had a look around at what was on offer for tasting.
The only one which I wanted to try was the Hardy 1999 Tintara Shiraz.
A fresh bottle needed to be opened so the nose was locked up tighter than a bank vault. After swirling it for about 5 minutes and still getting almost nothing in the way of aroma, whilst there were no nasty or off smelling characters I asked the cellar door manager if the wine was meant to smell like it did. The answer was yes, it was perfect.
In all honest, when I really tried hard, I could find very subtle liquorice, chocolate, and cedar notes on the nose. Tannins are ultra fine grained and silky; the acid is fresh and the fruit medium weight. Itís an elegant wine with a tight structure, agreeable and harmonious complexity that has been well crafted and is ultra clean. On the palate the medium weight fruit is savoury, showing spice, blackberry and dark chocolate that borders on bitter. Those that love refined, clean sophisticated wines will enjoy this one and itís rated as Highly Recommended with ** for vale at $49.
One thing that really surprised with me at Hardyís Tintara was the ďTasting Note Menu SheetĒ and ďBlackboard MenuĒ of available wines did not have vintages listed. Obviously BRL Hardy doesnít think vintage information is important enough to waste their time listing!
This speaks volumes so I need not waste words with my thoughts; the facts do it for me.
Second topic - There is no doubt that in the past Australia has been guilty of producing many wines that have showed huge amounts of American oak characteristics and some that have been so big they have been over the top. So cutting back to a more restrained approach is to be applauded.
During this trip it soon became apparent that many wine makers have got it right and are bang on the money with oak treatment and style. Many are using a combination of French and American oak for their Shiraz, some new and some old. The resulting wines are very good and are a lot smoother and more subtle than many made in the late 90ís.
Unfortunately some have gone too far the other way and whilst wines like the 96 Stonewell and the 99 Tintara are technically perfect to my taste they are so clean and subtle they are boring. If I tasted the 99 Tintara blind, there is no way I would ever guess it came from McLaren Vale. The 95 and 96 Tintara were blockbusters and very enjoyable wines which sold well. The 97 was more sedate which was to be expected based on vintage conditions. The 98 was similar in style to the 95 but not as big as the 96, it was a good balancing act. The 99 swings the pendulum too far the other way. I wonder how long it will take to sell out; itís been available for over 12 months now.
Rant over and back to the wines.
Next stop was Tatachilla which is also located in the main street of McLaren Vale. In the past I have ďgot into troubleĒ when I fronted up without an appointment and asked to try their icon wines so this time I wanted to avoid the wrath of the CD manager (who is scary when mad) so I made one, smart move! The wines were open, decanted and ready for me.
Tatachilla Partners 2002 Cabernet Shiraz showed an attractive nose with sweet cherry and spice. Tannins are unobtrusive and this ample weight wine with soft consistency and a more than agreeable level of complexity for the price is highly quaffable and great value. Sweet berry, savoury blackberry fruit, chocolate and spice combine to form a well-made crowd pleasing wine with a good finish. There are not too many wines that cost $12 that I would be happy to drink but this is one of them and it's rated as Agreeable with **** for value.
Tatachilla 2000 McLaren Vale Merlot exhibits a bouquet that is slightly unusual from Merlot, dark chocolate, dusty French oak, spice and liquorice. On the palate itís a smooth easy drinking wine with chocolate, blackberry/mulberry spectrum fruit showing ample weight with an unusual structure because of the obvious tannins; and for the soft consistency and are very agreeable level of complexity. Unfortunately I found it is slightly disjointed and jarring. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value it should peak over the next couple of years.
Tatachilla 2000 Padthaway Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $20 at cellar door. Aromas of dusty French oak, sweet cassis/strawberry and mint with slightly lifted perfume combine to form a pleasant bouquet. The wine shows a fairly simple complexity with supple consistency and unobtrusive tannins. Medium intensity fruit comes across the palate with savoury upfront fruit, a sweet mid palate tailing off into green spectrum minty flavours bordering on capsicum. The wine is lighter than expected and an early drinking style and whilst it's well-made, there is nothing wrong with it, there are better wines are available at the price. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.
Tatachilla 2000 Shiraz retails for $22 at cellar door. Dusty French oak with reasonably spicy red berry fruit and aniseed on the nose flow through to the palate as spice, savoury berry, chocolate, aniseed and mint with the dusty oak coming through to good effect. The smooth unobtrusive tannins provide a good mouth feel and the medium weight fruit combine to form an ample body weight wine with supple consistency, a solid structure and a well-developed level of complexity (for the price point.) Its a nice wine now with a good length finish and it should get better in the short term, peaking around 2005, it's rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Tatachilla 2000 McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $22 at cellar door. The first thing that strikes you about this wine is the dominance of the dusty oak on the bouquet so it's no surprise that the fruit which comes across the palate as savoury black flavours of liquorice, chocolate and mint and is buried deeply is overshadowed by the tannins. The wine is ample weight, with the firm consistency, solid structure and an intricate level of complexity and whilst itís not exactly a true varietal Cabernet it will improve with time and already has a good length finish. This could well be a sleeper and I would like to try again in three or four years because it should be much better at that stage. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value, this wine demands time and should peak around 2006 or beyond.
Tatachilla 2000 Clarendon Merlot retails for $40 at cellar door. The nose shows typical Tatachilla dusty oak, subtle spice, vanilla and mulberry. Structurally this wine is interesting because whilst it's medium weight with a supple consistency, an elegant structure and an agreeable and refined level of complexity the fruit is lighter than expected. It shows persistent savoury mulberry/sweet cherry spectrum flavours, milk chocolate and a respectable length finish; the tannins are smooth but are still very obvious. It's another wine that demands at least another four years before it should be touched. Currently rated as Recommended with ** for value.
Tatachilla 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon 1901 retails for $40 at cellar door but can often be found for about $33 on the street. Having discovered this wine when the 1998 was first released and also having been impressed enough to purchase the 1999, I was looking forward to tasting the 2000.
The bouquet didn't disappoint with its inviting nose showing good complexity with warm fruit, mint, chocolate, and oak that was not as noticeable as some of the others in the line up. The ample body weight, firm consistency, solid layered structure with some elegance, refined developed complexity combine to form a well crafted wine with an excellent balance that is built to last. The very fine grained drying tannins and persistent fruit provide savoury plum, and rich sweet cassis flavours moving through to savoury milky chocolate and mint on a long finish. Not a monumental wine by any stretch of the imagination, it has all the components and just needs time to show its best. Currently rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value the wine should continue to improve and should peak around 2007+.
Tatachilla 2000 Foundation Shiraz retails for $45 at cellar door and this label has been one of my favourites when I want a rich full-bodied in-your-face McLaren Vale Shiraz so I was also looking forward to trying it.
The bouquet is dominated by drinking cocoa spectrum chocolate with plum and spice. On the palate the first pleasant surprise was the obvious great structure and mouth feel which was ably supported by silky tannins, supple consistency, seamless structure and harmonious complexity. It is very clean wine with ample weight and is much lighter than previous vintages showing much more subtlety and elegance. Whilst itís drinking very well now, it should improve in time and is currently rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
Tatachilla Summary - After tasting through this line-up itís quite obvious that Tatachilla has well and truly got its act together and that the wine makers are building a definitive house style showing consistency right across the range. Generally they are displaying judicious use of oak, especially the French component. 2000 was not great vintage but they managed to put some very credible wines together, especially the Foundation and the 1901.
The next and last stop of this short days tasting was Fox Creek which I have found to be a bit inconsistent since Sparky left so I didnít know what to expect this time. The cellar door manager, Alison Jansson is as bright and bubbly as a good glass of French Champagne and would be able to get a Bedouin to ask to purchase sand.
On the other hand, Dan Hill, the winemaker is a very quietly spoken no nonsense down to earth sort of guy that is now producing some excellent wines. Throughout the whole time we talked, he never stopped referring to the grapes and their importance; viticulture is obviously of paramount importance to this winery and it shows in the finished product.
Fox Creek Vixen sells for $22 at CD. Although this is a non vintage wine, it does vary from batch to batch and some are better than others. The one sampled last year was particularly good. This wine showed sweet and savoury flavours, a no brainer of a wine, slightly simple but quaffable. Itís hard to make great Sparkling Reds at a low price and this is rated as Agreeable with *** for value.
Fox Creek 2001 Duet is a blend of 60% Cabernet and 35% Merlot which sells at CD for 19.00. This is the second vintage of the wine which shows minimal but silky tannins, ample weight obvious fruit that comes across as plum spice and berry. Itís a fruit driven wine thatís low in oak influence, has a soft consistency, a seamless structure and an agreeable level of complexity. This is a good red to give to people that say they donít like red wine, its easy drinking and would be very easy to get drunk on quickly. Rated as Agreeable with *** for vale.
Sitting on the veranda of Fox Creek on a sunny afternoon 1
Fox Creek 2001 JSM is a Shiraz Cabernet Franc blend that retails at CD for $20. It has a spicy plum nose with slight VA lift and a hint of smoke. The ultra fined grained drying tannins provide a firm silky consistency and solid structure that result in a harmonious easy drinking wine thatís good now but will improve over the next three years. Cherry and plums dominate the dark chocolate flavours that also finish with spice and cinnamon, good length. Rated as Recommended with *** for vale its only $18 for club members.
Fox Creek 2000 Reserve Merlot sells for $36 at CD. A perfectly constructed wine with great balance, ample weight, soft consistency, a seamless structure and harmonious complexity with good length that will compliment food, unfortunately itís a grey suit wine. Rated as Recommended with ** for value.
Fox Creek 2001 Reserve Merlot will be released at the end of 2003. This wine has a lifted pleasant smelling perfumed nose and is way better than the 2000. A medium weight wine showing some elegance, its medium weight and harmonious but the almost dusty tannins provide enough backbone to ensure the wine will last for another five years. Tasty sweet upfront musky fruit goes into slightly savoury berry flavours and finishes long. For a straight merlot itís not a bad wine at all and is rated Recommended (room for improvement as it matures) with *** for value.
Fox Creek 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is due for release in August 2003. The wine has a similar bouquet to the 2000 but seems much tighter and more closed down, however it does show some chocolate and has more intense fruit characters. It has a cultured mouth feel with silky drying tannins and the distinct pure persistent fruit tastes of dark chocolate, very savoury black cherry and blackberry which finishes warm and long, very sexy! It has ample weight, a firm silky consistency, solid layered structure and a refined sophisticated complexity thatís very clean and drinks well now but it should get better as it peaks around 2007. Rated as Excellent with **** for value it worth buying.
Fox Creek 2001 Reserve Shiraz sells for $65 at CD. I tried the 2000 totally blind and wasnít very impressed with it although there was nothing wrong with it; it just wasnít worth the money. The 2001 is a different keg of powder so to speak. Bouquet is highly complex and full on with lashing of dark fruit (liquorice plums etc,) vanilla, spice and all things nice.
On the palate there are two things that stick out like canine testicles on this wine. The first is the magnificent mouth feel created by the ultra fine grained unobtrusive dusty tannins and strong deep persistent fruit that flow across the tongue with huge amounts of liquorice, plums, chocolate and spicy flavours without heavy extraction. The second is the rock solid layered structure with full body weight and intricate developed sophisticated complexity. Itís delicious now but should continue to improve till about 2007 and is rated as Excellent (with room to improve as it matures) with **** for value at $58 if you are a cellar door club member.
Fox Creek Summary Ė Dan Hills (wine maker) and his team have things under control here. The wines under his management are starting to show their own character and they are now becoming more consistent and showing better quality. The winery is using more French and older oak; the cleanliness of the wine and the purity of the fruit are obvious and all this has been achieved without the boredom factor gaining hold. In many ways they are better structured wines than Sparky made when he was here and if things keep going in the same direction, this winery will be a solid McLaren Vale performer rather than a skyrocket that explodes once in awhile. In short, they have a winning formula, great fruit, well judged oak, unobtrusive acid, clean wines that have character.
By this time the staff of the wineries were inconsiderate enough to want to all go home so as I had no where else to go it was time to head to the McLaren Vale Davis-Hilton where I would be staying with my good mate John Davis and his saint of a wife Sue (she must a saint to put up with him.)
Their three Chihuahuas were still pleased to see me so it looked like everything would be OK. I was a bit worried about the reception I may receive after my last SA Tour Diary when I exposed Johnís obsessive love of meat pies to the wine world. Never the less, all was well and in his generous way as soon as I walked in the door John asked me what I would like to drink. Malt Scotch was my reply, remembering the cask proof rocket fuel he served me last year.
Donít have any was his response, coffee will have to do. Now being smarter than the average house guest, I remembered that when I was there last year the coffee, not to put to fine a point tasted like camel manure (donít ask me how I know what camel dung tastes like) and there was no way I was going to be sucked in again. So I went and opened up my case, got a small gift for them which just happened to be 500g of fantastic freshly ground coffee and handed it to my host. As it turned out, the camel dung coffee had also been a gift, in that case from Johnís father-out-law who really must hate John.
After a quick and satisfying cuppa and a catch up of past events we uncorked a couple of bottles to take with us. I had sent a case of wine a week previously and John thought the Eileen Hardy in the box would be a good choice, it would have been had it not have been rank with bacterial spoilage. Not a good start to proceeding, no Scotch and now a corked icon wine.
We selected another, did a quick double decant and headed off to the famous Victory Hotel which is renowned for its cellar of hard to get wines. We met Gavin Trott (the Board Dictator of Auswine Forum) and his wife, their daughter and finally Glen Green who manufacturers The Essential Wine Guide and lives in the district. (Never let it be said I didnít give you free publicity Glen.)
My starter of Salt and Pepper Squid was very ordinary indeed but the rest of starters which included dips bread etc were excellent. The main of grilled Whiting and roast potatoes and vegetables was superb although it came with enough ďgreen stuffĒ to start a market garden. Total bill including tip for 8 people $200, very good value indeed. We drank a bit too and here are the tasting vibes.
Houghton 94 Jack Mann Ė grippy tannins, ultra smooth integrated fruit, although very good now the wine will last a lot longer and is still improving. Lovely well balanced wine with wonderful complexity. Rated Excellent and was great value at $40 but still not worth the current $75 asking price. The first bottle of the night finished.
Tatachilla 95 Foundation Shiraz was Johnís contribution. Itís a huge wine with masses of fruit that has come together well and is at its peak. Almost velvety smooth it just glides down but is a bit one dimensional compared to the Jack Mann. Rated as Excellent too.
Gavin brought a yet to be released 2001 Parkers Terra Rossa and if this is a sign of whatís to come from Coonawarra in 2001 it will be a stunning year for the region. The wine is not your quintessential Coonawarra Cabernet by a long shot; it has large amounts of warm rich black fruit and is soft and juggable now. Nothing left of this one at the end of the night either. A full tasting note for this wine is included later.
Glen brought a bottle of some undrinkable Kangaroo Island Crap that was undrinkable; no wonder he wanted us to try it totally blind. I would be ashamed to admit I knew its identity or had tried it previously too. The bottle had 720 ml in it at the end of the night. Universal decision ďits crapĒ except for Glen who stood up for it and though it was just moderately bad but was still sane enough not to drink more than two tastes, one taste more than the rest of us.
We decided to overlook this transgression and not to lynch him because last year he brought two great bottles when we got together, so he is forgiven, (just) even if he is a Kiwi, or possibly because he is a Kiwi.
Up bright and early for the four hour drive to Coonawarra and John must have wet the bed as he was up early too. After a quick cup of excellent coffee and a bowl of cardboard muesli (my daily concession to good health) we were off in Johnís work shagging wagon. Unfortunately the day before some Ďbrain surgeoní had borrowed the car to transport a lawn mower and had spilt petrol in the back, so the smell was revolting, but after half an hour it was mind over matter, we were so high on fumes we didnít mind so it didnít matter.
A picture says 1,000 words 1
Naturally half way there we had to take a small detour through Naracoorte shopping centre for Ďplay lunchí so that John could buy a meat pie for morning tea. If you doubt the veracity, the picture tells the whole story.
The scenery driving to Coonawarra would have to be some of the most boring countryside in the world, so I had no alternative but to listen to another rendition of Johnís Ďmeaning of lifeí which has changed substantially since he got a new job and is in charge of Ďrecreation facilitiesí for his local council rather than looking after disturbed brats for the same organisation. On reflection, the country side was far more riveting.
The first winery on the way into Coonawarra is S Kidman and itís always worth a stop. On this sunny Sunday morning we were met by two very welcoming Border Collies and a very cheery and bubbly Sid Kidman, in fact he seemed like he would have been happy to chat all day, never seen him so relaxed. Sid makes good honest wines, nothing flash but they are good value.
S Kidman 2000 Shiraz sells for $18 at CD. Lifted plummy fruit with a touch of spice and vanilla, very inviting. The muscular weight distinct fruit comes across the palate with good intensity with flavours of plums, spice, black fruit, hints of pepper and lots of bitter chocolate. Also on the plus side, the tannins are unobtrusive ultra fine grained and the consistency supple. The only downside is that it doesnít go all the way to the back of the palate and finishes short on the tongue, never the less itís still very enjoyable and quaffable. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value it should peak soon. John preferred the Shiraz, I preferred the Cabernet.
S Kidman 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $18 at CD. Dusty French oak and leafy tomato notes come across the palate as very savoury mulberry leading to hints of chocolate, back to very savoury flavours and finishing with green, not unripe flavours. Itís an ample weight wine with unobtrusive tannins thatís a good honest drop for the price but not overly complex. Best drunk over the next three years itís rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Balnaves Cellar Door 1
Our first appointment of the day was at Balnaves Winery with Doug Balnaves. The winery had finished picking the day before we arrived and the resulting crop was 1.3 tonnes per acre which is not exactly a great yield but Doug is very happy with the quality of the fruit picked. I really appreciated the fact that Doug stayed in town just so that he could show me around when the rest of his family had departed for a well earned rest.
Doug is very much a quietly spoken gentleman who is as proud of the wineries achievements as he is of his familiesí part in the success. It is also obvious that their winemaker, Peter Bissell is not a lackey winemaker that does what heís told, Peter has a major say in the decisions that affect the wines strategic direction, style as well as the final product. It also quickly becomes evident that Doug is the consummate professional and has is finger on the pulse at all times.
By the time you read this the following wines should just about be ready to hit the streets.
Balnaves 2000 The Blend sells for $19 CD and is a blend of one third (each) Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This is a harmonious, lush, medium bodied, supple fruit driven wine with a good flavour profile of blackberry and liquorice thatís very easy drinking and is perfect for bistro consumption. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, itís a drink now proposition.
Balnaves 2000 Cabernet Merlot sells for $24 at CD. Nose is still reasonably closed and tight but you can tell there is good pure fruit there with some Merlot aromas evident. The excellent balance is provided by muscular body weight, a firm but supple consistency with a solid layered structure and the pure distinct fruit comes across the palate with intense blackberry black cherry spectrum fruit which finishes long.
This wine is very well constructed and has a lovely mouth feel from the smooth, silky dusty tannins; itís currently rated as Highly Recommended (with room for improvement as it matures around 2006) with **** for value.
Balnaves 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $31 at CD. The bouquet shows good complexity with subtle oak, warm typical Coonawarra nose of blue and black fruit and almost minty on the tail end. One of the stand out features is the obvious great fruit which is deeply seated and persistent coming across as warm rich blackcurrant, other black fruit flavours flowing though subtle mint and chocolate. Like all the Balnaves wines, the mouth feel is good, slightly dusty tannins and the muscular weight provides a solid layered structure underpinning a harmonious and diverse complexity. Itís currently rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value but the rating should increase as it reaches its peak around 2007 and beyond. Itís got wonderful length and is great value.
Balnaves summary - After tasting the wines, which were very good, Doug took us for a tour of the winery. Many of you will think you have seen one winery and you have seen them all and in many ways thatís correct. Whatís a little different about this winery is thatís even though they had only finished picking, the winery was so clean that you could happily perform brain surgery there. During my travels in every working winery I went into I checked how clean it was and almost none of them were as spotless as Balnaves. Attention to detail helps make good wine and this attention to detail and exacting demand to do things properly shows up in the end product. All the wines are well made, consistent in style and good value. As an aside, the winery is also playing around with Russian oak.
So clean you can perform brain surgery 1 Keeping a chemical cleaning company in business 1
Time for lunch and there is no prize for guessing Johnís ready for a pie. As we are pulling up to the Penola Bakery John informs you canít get a better pie for 50 kilometres but in spite of that I feel like I have just won the jackpot! Right next door to the bakery is a new gourmet food shop so quick as a flash before John can object I jumped out the car into the new shop and John had no choice but to follow me in. They sold all sorts of baguettes, mine had smoked salmon with all the trimmings and John even had one with ham and double cheese, which he wont admit to enjoying as much as pie but he was seriously considering a second one.
Penley Estate - Penley owned and run by long time winemaker Kym Tolley who founded the winery in 1998 but it has only been in the last two years that a cellar door has been established. Two years ago when I visited the winery for the first wine I was impressed with the quality and value of the range of wines on offer.
On this trip we tried the current range as well as three unreleased wines, (one of which is a new label) and without exception they are all high quality wines that have been well crafted and some offer outstanding value of money. Itís now got to the happy point that when if you see a Penley label you know you can buy the wine with confidence and be happy with the quality and value of whatís in the bottle, something you canít say about a lot of wineries.
Penley Estate 2001 Hyland Shiraz sells for $19.50 at CD. The obvious persistent fruit provides an easy drinking ample weight fruit driven wine showing liquorice and blackcurrant flavours of terrific intensity. Tannins are deceptive but there are there and the wine finishes long but soft on the mid palate making it a great wine for the price. Drinking well now itís rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Penley Estate 2001 Phoenix sells for $21.75 at CD. Very much the traditional Coonawarra bouquet showing dusty oak, cassis, blackberry and mint. The wine is a true varietal Coonawarra cabernet made for early consumption. A good mouth feel is provided by the unobtrusive minimal tannins with pure persistent medium weight fruit flavours of blackberry, blackcurrant and mint. A good honest well made wine that drinks well now but will be better in a year or two its rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Penley Estate 1999 Shiraz Cabernet (75/25%) sells for $29.70 at CD. Whenever I have one of these blends I keep wondering why Australia doesnít do more of them. The wine has a lovely nose of enormous complexity from warm rich berry fruit through hints of oak characteristics tailing off to mint.
On the palate the mouth feel is great and will only get better as the velvety but slightly dusty tannins fully integrate. Itís a full bodied wine with firm but supple consistency, a solid layered structure and a harmonious diverse level of complexity. Black pepper and multiple black berry flavours with a hint of mint finish clean and long. Itís a terrific wine now but will continue to improve for at least another 5 years and is rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, this is worth buying.
Penley Estate 2000 Shiraz Cabernet is another unreleased wine that should be out in July. As you would expect, this wine is very youthful with dusty tannins, fresh acid, which comes across the plate as loads of oak and tannins but the distinct deep strong fruit is there for the long term and provides blackberry, other black fruit flavours, plum, hints of spice and mint to finish. A full body with well developed complexity, itís very enjoyable with a good finish but it needs at least 3 years to become approachable. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value look out for it when itís released.
Penley Estate 1999 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $62 at CD. Tannins are totally and completely unobtrusive but they are there in abundance and in time the wine should become seamless as the ample weight fruit, soaks up the tannins. Although the consistency is firm and the solid with a refined complexity and having some elegance, the wine is anything but wimpy. In fact itís a classy wine that has a lot going for it with its cassis, cherry, smoky oak, anise and spice that build layer upon layer, fills the mouth and finishes long. Rated as Highly Recommended now, the rating should improve as the wine matures and it gets *** for value.
Penley Estate 2000 Reserve Cabernet will sell for $62 at CD when itís released in July This quintessential, archetypical Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and is an excellent example of how good the wines can be in this area in 2000. Loads of very fine grained tannins, youthful acid, and deeply seated pure fruit that is shining through provide the backbone for this well constructed and balanced clean wine. The wine has a great flavour profile with layers of sweet and savoury flavours cascading through the palate in waves with a long finish of chocolate, liquorice and blackcurrant that just keeps going and going.
It has ample weight, a firm consistency, layered structure, a harmonious and sophisticated level of complexity which combine to form another very classy, refined quality wine which had peak around 2007+, it's rated as Excellent with *** for value and this rating may improve as the wine matures.
I must admit that whilst previous vintages of this wine have always been good, they have never grabbed my attention but these two, especially the 2000 vintage made me sit up and take notice.
Penley Estate 2000 Reserve Shiraz is a new release from Penley which is due for release in July and one I was anxious to sample. The wine is dark purple in colour and has an interesting nose showing coffee, oak and black fruit characters with loads of spearmint; it's a very young wine. It's a muscular weight wine with a firm but supple consistency, solid layered and full structure, a refined intricate and well-developed complexity with ultra fine tannins and deep persistent pure fruit.
The palate holds lots of interest with pepper, multiple berry flavours including blackcurrant, coffee, aniseed, and loads of spearmint on the finish which has huge length. Oak is there in abundance but there is sufficient fruit so the wine doesnít seem heavy despite its muscular weight; in fact it's a very fine wine and all class. Rated as Excellent with *** for value at $62 this is a wine worthy of consideration and should peak around 2008+. A very good first effort, well done Kym Tolley.
Penley Summary Ė They have got their act together, I wouldnít hesitate to buy any of their wines if I was in a restaurant situation. They are all well made high quality wines that are building a consistent look and feel that keeps on improving as they gain more experience.
Majella - The next appointment was with the infamous ĎProfí at Majella. The sign says closed because they have run out of wine but ďProfĒ Bryn Lynn was kind enough to come in and open up for us so that we could try the upcoming new releases which should be out any day now. Whilst I had briefly met the Prof on a couple of previous occasions I had never really had the chance to have a conversation with the man.
As soon as I walked in the door the Prof verbally slammed me against the wall with this challenge ďwho the f&^% are you anyway. I have had endless calls from supposed journalists wanting me to send them samples or try my wineÖÖetc etc.Ē
After I had verbally fought my way out of the corner it became obvious that the Prof didnít suffer fools easily or gladly and wanted to know Ďwhatí he was dealing with rather than Ďwhomí. For a Prof heís a smart man.
For those of you wondering what branch of science is the Profís speciality, I am please to be able to tell you with absolute authority, its ďRocket Science.Ē For those of you that have only heard about the man and have never met him, a few words will help to build the picture. The Prof is no shrinking violet or absent minded professor; he is a very confident upfront large as life showman whoís as enthusiastic about his product as he is about living every minute of his life to the full.
When ďLittle ProfĒ was in class two at the local Penola Primary School he was saddled with a pair of rather large lens glasses and his class mates immediately started calling him Prof as besides being very good at talking, he was the class marble king and a pretty good swimmer to; in fact he was regularly known to do all three at the same time, i.e. speak with a mouth full of marbles underwater. So the title ďProfĒ stuck.
As life went on and the little Prof gained lifeís experiences he very quickly learned all about wine making; whatís important and whatís not required. His philosophy is simple. ďWe grow the best grapes that God allows us to and sometimes that means we have to work around his plans but thatís fine too. We then make the wine without any tricked up methods like extended skin maturation etc and barrel ferment everything. You canít over oak wine, you can just under fruit it and we go to great pains to make the sort of wine that we actually like to drink. My objective is to be known as one of the top 20 (quality) wine producers in Australia.Ē
As an aside Brian has some other interesting comments which are worthwhile sharing, for example his philosophy of wine enjoyment. ďThe luckiest wine drinker in the world is the person who goes home and enjoys what they are drinking no matter how good or bad the quality of the wine may be. Imagine the Italian man who goes home and drinks his highly oxidised home made wine from a flagon (which the family finishes with a meal) and they are satisfied with the wine. Thatís what wine is all about, being satisfied with what you have rather than chasing the elusive perfect bottle of wine.Ē
Wine Ďis not rocket scienceí a phrase that the Prof used a number of times during our meeting, so one can only come to the conclusion that if the Prof knows so much about ďRocket ScienceĒ thatís what he must have his degree in.
At one stage he asked me what I was writing and I said ďwhat you have just saidĒ and his comment was ďI get quoted too f***ing much!Ē Perhaps the Prof should be happy he is quoted because it shows the man is an interesting fellow with something worthwhile hearing.
Brian is a self assured eccentric with the skill of ďa rocket scientistĒ when it comes to making and selling his wines. They are all, without exception finely crafted, fault free, well made wine that are a joy to drink. The new releases will happen around the time this Diary comes out so get onto the winery quickly if you want these wines or you will miss out. He is a very personable sort of a guy that you canít help liking despite his no bovine manure sledgehammer approach, or maybe thatís why people like him.
Majella 2001 Shiraz Tannins are velvety smooth with balanced acid and pure distinct fruit. Itís a very clean wine with a lovely soft mouth feel. Body weight is ample, the consistency silky, the structure seamless and a developed and harmonious complexity makes this wine a very easy drink with a long finish; in short its jug-able and classified as a ďGPQ wine.Ē This is not surprising when you have a well crafted wine where the fruit has been able to speak that shows more-ish chocolate, blackcurrant and liquorice. Rated as Highly Recommended, the finish lasts longer than it took to type this tasting note with two fingers and it scores *** for value. Make sure you donít miss this one, it will sell quickly.
Majella 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon The nose was initially closed and didnít show much at all. The mouth feel was interesting and to quote someone else its ďalmost butterscotch smoothĒ with its silky but dusty tannins, balanced acid and high quality obvious but persistent fruit. The wine is ample weight with a firm consistency, solid structure, developed complexity that fills the mouth with blackcurrant, liquorice and a fair wack of varietal green flavours that finishes with a high quality finish that lasts as long as one of Prof Lynís sermons. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value no wonder they are queuing up to buy this wine. About 4,500 cases produced, it should peak in about 2007.
Majella 2000 Malleea sells for around $65 if you are lucky enough to get hold of it. Everyone knows itís a blend of Cabernet and Shiraz but they may not know it spends 29 months in oak. Bouquet is astonishingly complex and as it opened it started to get better and better. This is a well made wine with a big future featuring silky ultra fine tannins, pure distinct deep wonderfully rich sweet and savoury dark fruit with chocolate on an ultra clean (but not boring) finish. The Prof reckons the finish lasts to the front gate and back but I guess that depends on if you are walking, driving or flat on you face after not spitting all day.
The wine has great balance with ample weight, a layered structure and a harmonious sophisticated complexity and is rated as Excellent with *** with room for improvement as it matures about 2009 and beyond. The Prof says ďitís a FGWĒ and I am not about to argue with statement, the only question is how good!
After that the Majella Sparkling 2001 Shiraz was almost a let down. Oak is there but not noticeable and itís a slightly lighter style of Sparkling Shiraz with good fruit showing sweet raspberry and milk chocolate with a drying finish. It would be a good food wine and is rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Majella Summary Ė The Prof took us for a quick look through the winery and everything is barrel fermented which helps explain the very smooth tannin structure. All the wines are of a similar style and the quality is obvious. This was another spotlessly clean winery and that shows right the way through to the wines themselves. There is a lot of hype around this brand, some no doubt caused by the Profís infectious enthusiasm but a lot of it is justly deserved.
Finally during our discussion the Prof had a lot to say about the Jimmy Watson Trophy (Melbourne) and Stodart Trophy (Brisbane) both essentially for one year old unfinished wines. The Prof presented some Ďinterestingí logic in his thoughts on these two trophies. He is dead against the JW because he says the judging conditions are climatically all wrong but is all in favour of the Stodart because Queensland has much warmer judging conditions and the wines show better in Brisbane. I am sure that Majella winning the last two Stodart Trophies has nothing to do with the Profís reasoning. I think the Prof would be an interesting guy to have a quiet drink with, but I imagine it would be anything but quiet.
An 'industrial' sized winery 1
Next stop was the famous Wynns Coonawarra. For some time I was quietly saying (if you believe I ever say anything quietly) that I thought the quality of Wynns wines were very slowly going down and that the wines were appearing to have been stretched. Confirmation of that came when I interviewed Brian Finn, Chairman of Southcorp a couple of months ago. Brian admitted the vineyards had not been at the level they should have been and the company had put a considerable effort in to improve the situation. I look forward to seeing that improvement in the wines in the future.
Wynns 2000 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon sells for ???? how much do you want to pay this week? Initial upfront sweet raspberry fruit goes savoury and into liquorice with an acceptable finish. Itís a good wine but nothing to get excited about with medium weight, firm backbone of dusty tannins, and agreeable complexity. Rated as Recommended it should peak about 2006.
I did try the Wynns 1998 Michael Shiraz but could not get past the heavy char on the oak.
Wynns 1998 John Riddoch sells for about $55 and this is the fourth time I have tried the wine since release, all with very different results and impressions. As a new bottle had just been opened, the nose was closed tighter as a Collins Class Submarine, which means I could still detect some aromas. The wine has copious quantities of dusty tannins and whilst the fruit is strong and concentrated, it buried under about six feet of tannin. Itís a full bodied wine (gees I bet that surprised you) with a firm consistency and solid structure, in short, itís all there but it needs at least five years for the tannins to decompose and the butterfly to emerge from its cocoon. Rated as Excellent with *** for value.
Wynns 1999 John Riddoch SA 2003
This wine was tasted alongside the 1998 and they are remarkably similar. The nose was closed and showed little. It comes across as being ďan old-fashioned wineĒ with huge amounts of dusty drying tannins and strong buried fruit. In terms of flavour profile it could almost be the same wine as the 98 but fruit is slightly lighter and a little less upfront sweetness is noticeable. As expected itís a full-bodied wine, with a firm consistency, solid structure and a well-developed complexity which should not be touched until its 10th birthday. Rated as Excellent with *** for value.
Wynns Summary Ė This winery is not as good as it used to be in the early nineties. The lower end wines all seem to have been stretched and recent pricing shows the inconsistency. The JR and Michael were a stupid $90 when they had delusions of adequacy about these wines relative value but Southcorp eventually woke up and halved it to quit stock. The recent Black Label pricing has been about as steady and consistent as an epileptic having a fit. Its obvious SC have had problems moving the inventory and thatís why there have been unbelievable deals being offered on the wine. This situation does not do the wineryís reputation any favours and SC has its work cut out in catching up to the likes of Penley, Balnaves, Zema and Majella, let alone getting back its Coonawarra Icon status. I am betting they wonít ever reach the heights they did in the past. The others are too far ahead already and whilst industrial manufacturing techniques can make very enjoyable drinking wine, it will never beat quality winemaking and at the $30 mark thatís the class you are competing against.
The tasting time is over, its time to go back to our respective accommodation and do our own thing. John is staying at the local Pub as he like cable TV and I am staying at the Coonawarra Motor Lodge as I like a room that doesnít smell like a used ashtray.
Dinner which is booked at 7.00 PM should be good as we were fortunate enough to have been give the left over sample bottles of the 2000 Majella Malleea and the 2000 Penley Reserve Shiraz and the opportunity of putting these wines through their paces with good food could not be missed.
Dinner was at Cobb and Co. This is decorated in a stylish way consistent with the theme of the era. Although it was a Saturday night the restaurant was very quiet as people were Ďsaving up for motherís day and the following night was predicted to be bedlam.
The menu features many uniquely Australian Game dishes as well as some traditional fare. Service is outstanding; genuinely friendly and very professional. I had Oysters Kilpatrick which were done in the traditional way with a twist of Australian originality and duck with quince for a main. Much to Johnís disgust and as there were no meat pies on the menu so he had a weight watchers almond coated deep fried camembert for a starter and a pork fillet with crusted date and nuts for his main course.
Because we still had some red left over and John hadnít had enough cholesterol, we decided to share a cheese platter. All the food was presented superbly and tasted fantastic. If you are in Coonawarra, Cobb and Co is the go!
In terms of comparing the wines, The Malleea has more complexity but thatís almost expected as itís a Cabernet Shiraz Blend. Itís also more reserved and elegant by comparison. On the plus side to the Penley, the Reserve Shiraz holds up well with strong food flavours and has big flavour concentration without being heavy or jammy. Both great wines but in the longer term the Malleea will go to an Outstanding rating is it improves, the Penley Reserve may get there. The Malleea is technically the better wine by the width of one of my beard hairs but I enjoyed drinking The Penley Reserve Shiraz.
Thatís the end of day two and time to draw a line under chapter one. More to follow soon, I hope you have enjoyed reading this. All feedback is welcome, click here to send comments.
Copyright © Ric Einstein 2003