"TORB Terroir-ises SA" – (The 2004 South Australian Tour Diary)
Chapter Eight – Clare – Thursday Chapter Seven can be found here
In previous Tour Diaries I have had a few “Rants” where I have made comment on all sorts of subjects. Because this diary is so long, I have elected to keep the “rants” out of the diary proper but as soon as Chapter Nine, which is the last chapter in this story, is completed, the rants will be compiled into a meaningful format and will be posted on TORBWINE. The “rants” are more than just the deranged tirades of this red bigot; there are also all sorts of observations and comments on the industry and the directions they are taking.
It is a two hour drive from the Davis mansion in McLaren Vale (where I had stayed last night) to the Clare Valley and, as I didn’t want to waste half a day’s tasting time, an early start was on the agenda. After an espresso coffee to kick start my system and a quick breakfast, it was time to say goodbye to the Davis clan for another year. It is always great fun staying with them and I really do appreciate their hospitality. John also has a sense of humour that is drier than our current drought and it is fantastic to have his company during the trip. Sue, also known as The Pie Queen or Her Pieship, is the perfect hostess and one of the kindest people you could ever meet; she must be, to put up with me every year!
Somehow, every year she does manage to get her own back on me. Every three weeks I have to have a horse-syringe sized injection and every year during my visit to SA, the day I need it happens to be when I am staying with John and Sue. As Sue is a RN, every year she gets to have the pleasure (and revenge) of stabbing said horse syringe into my !
As I left, I realised one reason Sue wanted John do to some chores around the house rather than spending all his holiday time tasting wine with me. It looks like the “Day Of the Triffid’s” is coming to the Davis household; it is coming in the form of pumpkin vines which are taking over. John is so tall, he just steps over them without noticing the pumpkins but I did hear Sue say one of the Chihuahuas recently got lost in the vines and was finally rescued by a search party.
It subsequently transpired this stay would be my last one at the McLaren Vale Davis Hilton. All those phone calls and subtle hints when we were in the Barossa have come home to roost. No wonder Sue was so keen to let John come with me. Whilst we were gone, Sue managed to find a new house (without interference) and by the time this chapter is posted, Sue and John will just about be in the Blewitt Springs Davis Hilton which comes with its very own 10 acres of vines. John, being an incredibly strong person and the leader of the household, stuck to his guns when Sue said she wanted to move. John only agreed when Sue said John could build a new below ground cellar. Glad to know John still has his priorities intact!
We said our goodbyes and I piled into the silver bullet for the (under) two hour drive to Clare. I do not have time to go to all the regions in SA every year so I alternate between Coonawarra and Clare, this year was Clare’s turn and I had allowed two days to cover the area. I thought there were two ways to get to Clare from McLaren Vale. The first was through Adelaide facing peak hour traffic and then heading up to Gawler where you turn off and head north. The second, and the way I elected to go, is up through the hills, via Hahndorf, Birdwood, Williamstown and Gawler. There is a third way but I did not find out about that little trick till later when I followed Steve Norman back to Adelaide.
The early morning drive was very easy with almost no traffic on the road. Loads of twists and turns but the drive has lots of interesting scenery, unlike the drive to Coonawarra which is as boring as watching paint dry. I arrived in the Clare region about 9.30. The upcoming weekend was the annual Gourmet Weekend Festival and I had planned to be in and out before the hordes started descending on the place on Friday night. It was easy to tell preparations were in full swing way before I got to Clare, I passed a number of trucks laden to the gunnels with everything from marquees to port-a-loos.
Many of the wineries in Clare only open over the weekend but at least they open, unlike some other small regions. Unfortunately I was not going to be there over the weekend so the number of wines available was very restricted and as a result I did not feel at all pushed for time. After the hectic schedule of the last week, that was a very pleasant feeling. The first winery I came to that was open was Taylors in Auburn. When I arrived, the car park was a mess as the workman were hard at it getting ready for the weekend’s activities.
If you were drinking wine in the 70’s and 80’s you must know all about Taylors. They had a good slice of the market and were well regarded for their Cabernet Sauvignon; a quality everyday drinking wine and many of the better vintages aged well too. They started off in 1969 with about 400 acres most of which was Cabernet Sauvignon. Still a family-owned winery, they now have the largest single holding in Clare with over 1000 acres. They make a fairly broad range of wines including a number of c-throughs. Most of the wines are in the $10-20 bracket but their St Andrews range is substantially more.
When they were establishing the vineyard whilst digging out a dam, they discovered a seahorse fossil which proved that the area had once been covered by seabeds. This seahorse fossil has become the motif for the winery and in many differing ways extends through the marketing of their wines. For example, their newest range has been named after the Aboriginal word for seahorse, it is called Jaraman. This range is bottled under ROTE’s and by 2006 the entire Taylors’ production will be under ROTE.
Taylors 2001 Jaraman Shiraz sells for $29.50 and is a blend of Clare and McLaren Vale fruit. Purple in colour, the bouquet is lifted, ripe, and shows plum, liquorice and menthol. Ultra-fine chalky tannins and pure fruit combine to form a medium-weight, supple wine with a good mouth feel that is harmonious and easy drinking. Off-sweet cherry, contrasts the underlying sweetness from dark chocolate, aniseed and plums. It is ready to be drunk now and is rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Taylors 2000 Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $29.50 and is a blend of Clare (65%) and Coonawarra fruit. Purple in colour, the bouquet is very subtle, almost gentle but does show some cedar and berries. On the palate, ripe fruit rides on top but very leafy “green spectrum” flavours bordering on capsicum, ride the under layer. Medium-weight, the wine is solid but the consistency is approaching hard. Tannins are smooth and dusty; the fruit obvious but there are far better wines around for the price. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Taylors 2000 St Andrews Shiraz sells for $55 at CD. Purple in colour with a bright hue, the mocha from the French oak is obvious but the black berry fruit is attractive and balances the bouquet. Abundant, fine-grained, dusty tannins provide a firm consistency and solid structure for this ample-weight wine. The obvious, distinct fruit delivers somewhat restrained blackberry, mocha, milk chocolate and lots of mint on a very persistent finish. The wine is balanced and should improve with time in the bottle but I personally could not get excited about it. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value, it should peak about 2007.
Taylors 1998 St Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $55 at CD. They saved the best till last! This wine screams varietal cabernet; even from a freshly opened bottle it was attractive with abundant ripe fruit to balance the subtle smoky oak. The deeply seated fruit sits well in the mouth; it is ripe and shows off-sweet blackcurrant, sweet cassis, cigar box and leafy notes that all finish long and dry. Ample-weight, it is firm and solid with a well developed complexity. A smart wine indeed; it is drinking well now but will keep improving and should peak about 2010+. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
The wines I tried varied in quality but then so did the price tags and vintages. Based on limited recent experience with the winery, it would be difficult to sum it up easily but the mid price and top end wines are not exactly enticing value.
The next stop, just up the road is Annies Lane. This winery is owned by Beringer-Blass and the production of the Annies Lane label no longer takes place at this location. Keeping this CD facility open must be a costly exercise but I guess given the volume of Annies Lane Shiraz that is moved, it must warrant a local presence.
The winery started off in life in the 1850’s as the Quelltaler winery. In 1978 it was bought by Wolf Blass and the winemaker is Caroline Dunn. Unfortunately the Copper Trail SGM was sold out and unavailable for tasting.
Annies Lane 2000 Copper Trail Shiraz sells for $40 at CD. Purple in colour, the bouquet showed ripe blackberry fruit. This wine is not for oak-a-phobics! Pure fruit delivers upfront ripe strawberry, off-sweet blackberry, chocolate, liquorice and milk coffee which finishes long. Abundant, dusty-tannins provide a firm backbone and solid structure for this ample-weight wine that has a very well developed consistency and is a good effort for the vintage. It also has excellent power for its weight and is rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value and it should peak about 2008+.
After this incredibly strenuous start to the day, well I had tasted five wines by this time, it was time for morning tea and there is no better place to have it than Skillagalee, a funny name but there is nothing funny about the food they serve. The best single word to describe this winery would be “quaint,” which sums it up perfectly. The staff is friendly; the service is efficient but unhurried. I had scones with homemade berry jam, cream and coffee. The scones are as good as you will find anywhere, scrumptious and cooked to perfection. Living in an area that is very much geared to tourism and one that has more jam makers than John Howard makes political speeches during an election campaign, I know my berry spreads and the jam served at Skillagalee will hold its own against anything made. The coffee is of the plunger variety but drinkable. I spent half an hour working over my notes whilst enjoying the peace and quiet, open fire and above all, Devonshire Coffee. I left with a feeling that the world was indeed, a better place than it was when I walked in.
Right behind Kilikanoon is the Penna Lane winery. Two years ago, I walked in off the street to the then recently opened small operator and was impressed with their early work; the wines were honest, well made and reasonably priced. Ray Klavins and his wife Lynette own and run the business. Ray is the viticulturalist and makes the wine whilst Lynette looks after the CD and helps out in the vineyard when the CD is closed. Lynette hates thinning grape bunches but hates leaf plucking even more, so if you go to the winery and don’t want to be killed with dirty looks, as John Cleese would say, “Don’t mention the war.”
Ray’s winemaking philosophy is simple, “wine is made in the vineyard” (which is not surprising as he was a Southcorp vigneron.) That is why Ray spends so much time making sure the grapes are doing their best and why Lynette gets roped into a load of hand work. They have 8 acres planted with red grapes which yield less than 3.5 tones per acre. They also have some c-through grapes planted, but interestingly they are Semillon and buy in the Riesling. Ray felt the 02 vintage was the best for ages, 03 was “difficult” and 04 was good, but not as good as 02, about 15% behind. There are two other important members of staff I should mention, Panda and Misha, the Bernese Mountain Dogs that form a well-behaved reception committee but one that has selective hearing. (I know that problem with my own reception committee.)
Penna Lane 2002 Cabernet sells for $22 at CD. The wine was aged for twenty months in both new and older French oak. The pure fruit does the talking but there is enough smooth, dusty tannin to provide a supple consistency and hold the wine together. Red and blue berry flavours provide a sweet attack with contrasting savoury characters (and fresh acid) as well as chocolate. A pleasant leafy finish completes a true varietal Cabernet profile that is easy drinking, harmonious wine that would be perfect for bistro dining. Rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Penna Lane 2002 Shiraz sells for $22 at CD. Obviously fruit driven, the inviting bouquet shows spice and ripe berry fruit. Zingy pepper on the uptake drifts into sweet cherry, milk chocolate and cedar, the wine finishes with respectable persistence. Medium-weight, it is clean, attractive and well made. A good food wine that is harmonious, it is rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Penna Lane 2002 The Willsmore Reserve Shiraz sells for $40 at CD. Less than 150 cases of this wine have been produced and it came from the best barrels of 2002 fruit. The wine will only be produced in vintages when the fruit is up to standard. The bouquet is classy, dignified and shows creamy oak, blackberry and spice. The wine comes with a two-pronged attack. The first prong points to the great mouth feel with its tight-grained, creamy, velvety tannins and the second to the fruit purity. Blackberry, mulberry, aniseed, dark chocolate and coffee combine with a long spicy finish. Ample-weight, the structure is almost seamless and the complexity harmonious. A well-made, sexy wine, it is seriously juggable. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it can happily be consumed now.
Three more wines and I am feeling decidedly overworked so it was time for lunch and I headed into the thriving down town metropolis known as Clare. I found a take away/eat in shop that looked busy so figured it was worth a chance. The floor had more undulations in it than the local hills, positively dangerous and not much more dangerous than my choice of focaccia which was about as inspiring as a bottle of $5 plonk. Judging by the number of people eating there and getting take away, either I chose badly or the whole town has no taste.
Next stop was one of the wineries I have a love-hate relationship with, Leasingham. I seem to have been drinking their wines for ever and these guys have been around even longer. The original company, Stanley was started in 1893 and the two well known names associated with it at that time were Knappstein, one of the partners, and Alfred Basedow, who was the General Manager and Winemaker. The Knappstein family had a long history with the company and an interest in it till 1976. Somewhere along the line it became Stanley-Leasingham and the company was also heavily involved in cask wine. (I am guilty of consuming far too much of this product in my youth.) In 1988, Hardys purchased the company and it is still part of the group today.
My love of this winery is because of the product. The Bin 56 and Bin 61 were staples in my cellar for many years and the Classic Clare range is one that I have enjoyed since its inception. The hate part of it comes from the Classic Clare price increases that took place between the 96 and 98 vintages. Sure, lots of wineries have jacked up their prices and that’s a fact of life but, it’s just as much a fact of life that consumers move on to other brands when they see the wines they used to enjoy no longer represent good value. This pricing criticism is not just aimed at Leasingham; it is directed to almost all the Hardy’s top brands which jumped about 60% in one hit.
Unfortunately, the only one of the Classic Clare range I was able to try was the Sparkling as the Cabernet and Shiraz were just about sold out at CD so in some ways, my pricing comments are moot.
Leasingham 1995 Classic Clare Sparkling Shiraz sells for $47 at CD. I have yet to have a vintage of this wine I do not like, even the 1992, which was a pretty ordinary vintage in much of Australia, produced a terrific wine. The only medal not on the bottle appears to be a VC. The fruit is beautiful, the wine is clean and shows mulberry, chocolate, mint and all sorts of other goodies that finishes long with excellent persistence. The mouth-feel is also a real positive aspect. Definitely a case of pass that bottle and I hated spitting it. Rated as Excellent with *** for value at the CD price, or ***** for value at $32 on special. This is a must have for the cellar.
Leasingham 2001 Bin 61 Shiraz sells for $20 at CD. There is a very definite stylistic change at work here. It is one that will please the majority of wine drinkers but displease those that used to buy this wine to cellar with the hope that it will improve. It is much softer and more forward than previous vintages. A fruit-driven, easy drinking wine and whilst the tannins are smooth and unobtrusive, there is well and truly enough of them to provide a solid backbone. The obvious, very ripe fruit delivers blackberry, dark chocolate and mint with ample-weight and a supple consistency. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Leasingham 2001 Bin 56 Cabernet Malbec (80% - 20%) sells for $20 at CD. A lifted bouquet showing typical varietal characteristics, the wine is well balanced with noticeable, powdery tannins and distinct, obvious, ample-weight fruit. Tar, blackberry, dark chocolate, tomato leaf, herbaceous notes, cigar box and a minty finish adds up to a solid, credible wine and a good result for the vintage. It is drinking well now but should improve in the short term and hold. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
The next winery is another long time favourite and a winery, which in my opinion, is overlooked and under-rated. In years gone by, the winery made big, rustic, tannic reds that needed some years to show their best but in the mid 90’s they started to change the way the wines were made and now they are now more approachable when young. They are still big, but they are definitely softer, and are ready to be consumed much earlier. Both the 94 and the 98 Shiraz are drinking superbly now and will not get any better.
The history of Sevenhill Cellars commenced in Prussia in the middle of the 18th century. I had an appointment with Br John May, the Director of Winemaking. We went downstairs into a boardroom where the interview took place. The winery has had seven winemakers since its first vintage in 1856 and Br John is the seventh winemaker since inception. The history of the winery is fascinating so I share some of it with you.
In 1848 there was a revolution in parts of Europe and the place was in turmoil. The Kaiser was heavily into “promoting” the Lutheran religion. A wealthy, Catholic Church supporter, Franz Weikert did not like the situation and planned to rack off. He sold his Silesian holding and decided to migrate to South Australia (he could have chosen NSW but then this story would not have been about that “stuff” they make in the Hunter so it’s just as well he went to SA).
Franz being a generous kind a guy financed the passage of 146 fellow Silesians, half of which were Catholics. In order to keep those unruly layabouts in line during a long sea voyage he asked the Catholic Church to provide two ministers. The timing was good as the Austrian Jesuits had been banned by King Ludwig and were essentially out of a job and were just about to line up outside the dole office. Two Jesuits acted as chaplains on board the boat which arrived in Adelaide in 1848. When they arrived, the two Jesuit ministers called on the new boss, the Bishop of Adelaide who decided that they, along with a third Jesuit should go to Clare and establish a parish.
In 1851 they bought the current property. More Jesuits started to arrive and they started to build the church, the residence and the winery. By 1856 they had a thriving general farm that included some vines and the first vintage was completed. This was no small operation; the Parish was the size of France! They were heavily involved in missionary work and in 1865 a boy’s school was established. The school was the second secondary boarding school in the state and went on to become a novitiate, a study house for Jesuit priests. About 400 boys went through the school between 1865 and 1878 when the Christian Brothers opened up a school in Wakefield Street in Adelaide. Naturally, from a family perspective a school in Adelaide had to be a better option than one in Clare, even in 1878.
A seminary was added as well as a residence. This became the “mother house” for the Jesuits who travelled extensively from here. In the 1880’s they established a number of missions in the Northern Territory for aboriginals and are still doing missionary work there today. The growth of the Church’s activities was primarily financed through the sale of the property’s produce.
In 1880 due to a slight shortage of spuds, some Irish Jesuits arrived. The political situation had settled down in Europe so some of the original Austrian Jesuits returned home.
They started building the winery and underground cellar by hand in 1860. They must have employed the same architect that built the pyramids as it took till 1880 for the cellar to get above ground level. By this time, there were thirteen Brothers and eight or nine Priests living here.
When the first cuttings arrived from Europe they had been brought out by people who were used to drinking wine with meals. The grape varieties were table wine grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, etc. and a few eating grape varieties. Sevenhill initially ran as a small winery, selling table wine to the locals. Around 1880, all the altar wine came from Europe. When the bothers and priests finally finished the cellar, the church hierarchy thought it would be a good idea to put something in it so they made the decision to make altar wine at Clare and have now been doing it for about a hundred and forty years. Between the 1880’s and about 1945 very little table wine was produced and production was centred on religious wine. The altar wine was sold at a fixed price, set by the Church.
In 1945 Br George Downey decided that he wanted to drink some decent red with dinner and started making table wine which was sold in eight gallon barrels. Br John Hanlon expanded red wine production in the early 50’s, aided by demand from the migrant population who drank red with meals and Australians who had returned from overseas and had acquired a taste for red wine and Port.
By 1963 when Br John May arrived they were also making a “Clare Valley Riesling” which in fact was a Crouchen grape. Between 1963 and 1970 Br John received his winemaking training and was then sent to Melbourne for two years (where he didn’t make wine, which is just as well given his location).
In 1972 Br John returned as winemaker but at that stage much of his knowledge was theory as he had never made the decisions. Over the next ten years demand increased and so did production. As money was made, it was spent on new plantings. The varieties made increased from a very limited range to a fairly broad one. They now have six whites and six reds. The range of fortified wines also increased. The chances are that the current range or reds will be reduced over the next few years.
Today, the altar wines are still made here in three styles. The red, which is a blend of Grenache and Pedro Ximenez is the biggest seller and in total 10,000 cases of altar wine are bottled. A large competitor located in Renmark and Sevenhills are the only operations approved to sell altar wine by the Catholic Church. The wine is fortified in a Sherry style to 17.5%. The winery is run as a non profit organisation and any “left-over” funds go to education, mission work and support work for down-and-outs in places like Kings Cross. But they don’t give the down-and-outs their left over wine, just money.
It is a modern winery but not all the good old stuff has been disposed of over the years. The new winemaker, Tim Gniel has been producing some selected batches in the old open slate fermenters. It is labour intensive but the result should be a super premium in a few years time.
Recently they acquired 150 acres of land which was set up about they time the clergy established Sevenhills in the 1850’s. Included in the new property is over 40 acres of grapes and the quality of this fruit is higher than that produced at Sevenhills. Unfortunately they are under contract to Penfold’s for a few years. When the contract expires, the grapes will come back to Sevenhills and Tim can not wait to get his grubby little winemaking fingers on them. Additional new vines will also be planted on the acquired property.
Sevenhills now has 72 hectares under vine and the nineteen varieties of grapes yield an annual crush of 455 tonnes. (This is a far cry from the pioneering days of the first winemaker Br Schreiner. He and Br Schneider built a wine press in 1863 capable of pressing a formidable load of 4 buckets of grapes at a time!). The winery now has two modern membrane presses, a new crusher and even its own bottling line which process about 24,000 cases per annum.
When you listen to Br John talk, even though he is not a young man, (he has been the winemaker here for about 30 years) one cannot help be impressed with his youthful and modern approach to winemaking. By the sounds of things, in his current management role, he is always looking for “a better way” forward for his wines and is not resting on his laurels and taking it easy. He is the driving force behind the modernisation of the winery and its wines. Br John is continually changing things in an endeavour to improve the product. Old unproductive vines are pulled out, out of date varieties disposed of, new varieties planted, changes to wine making process and styles are made and so the list of changes goes on.
Sevenhill Cellars 2001 Merlot sells for $19 at CD. Lifted chocolate, cherry and spice dominate the bouquet. Fleshy fruit produces meat, spice, musk, cherry, milk chocolate which leads to a dark, almost bitter chocolate finish. The mouth feel is good and the smooth tannins do provide a very solid structure and firm consistency. Complexity is developed and the wine is more serious than most other merlot at this price point. Rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Sevenhill Cellars 2000 Shiraz Malbec sells for $15 at CD. Meat, cherry, spice and sawdust dominate the bouquet which leads to a terrific flavour profile of meat, black cherry and mint which finishes with good length and persistence. Consistency is supple and this wine is meant for drinking now. Structure is layered and the complexity is well developed and harmonious. Rated as Recommended with ***** for value, this wine is worth tracking down and one of those super value buys.
Sevenhill Cellars 2001 St Ignatius sells for $24 at CD and is a Bordeaux blend. This used to be one of the lesser price wines but the quality has been improved and it is now at the top of their pricing tree. More mint on the nose than you would find in a box of Minties. An interesting and unusual wine, not what I expected. Tannins are creamy but abundant and drying. The pure, deep fruit is almost lean giving the wine a rustic nature with ample weight that shows meat, blackcurrant, chocolate and mint. Consistency is supple, the structure solid and the complexity agreeable. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating may improve as the wine matures about 2006+.
Sevenhill Cellars 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $19 at CD. This is one of those wines where the bouquet and palate do not match up. The bouquet is huge and rustic with dusty oak, a big whack of tannin, spearmint and faint cigar box characters. On the palate, it is well balanced and nowhere near as big as the nose suggests. It is mid-weight, tannins creamy, good varietal cabernet definition, and not as much mint as expected. The fruit is ripe and the wine has a pleasant dark chocolate finish. Consistency is supple, the structure solid and the complexity both harmonious and well developed. Rated as Recommended with **** for value drink now or over the next five years.
Sevenhill Cellars 2001 Shiraz sells for $19 at CD. A pure, juicy fruit nose with blackcurrant and milk chocolate. This wine is a quantum shift in style from the wines of the early and mid 90’s; it has gone from rustic to modern. Mulberry, cherry, dark chocolate, mint which comes across as off-sweet is countered by sweet underlying red berry fruit, all of which builds slowly across the palate and keeps going for longer than a bad sermon. Ample-weight, the creamy tannins have a supple consistency and provide a solid backbone. There is some refinement to this wine with its knock you over with a feather persistency. It drinks well now but should hold for 5+ years and is rated as Highly Recommended with ***** for value.
In summary, all the wines seem very “Clare-like” and whilst the winery does not make “great wine”, they do make very credible wine that is also well above average value. The style is now more of a drink now style than in previous times but the quality has not suffered. I would be happy to drink any of the wines I tasted anytime I saw them on offer. If you have not tried their wines, it is worth getting a mixed case; I doubt you will be disappointed.
Pikes was the next winery on the list and I had been to twice before. The first time, the 1998’s were available and I was impressed and bought both the Shiraz and Cabernet. The next visit saw the 2000’s being available and it was not an impressive showing so I had no idea what I would find this time but hoped it would be positive.
The winery is located below Pauletts, right near the famous Polish River. Neil Pike started the winery in 1984 and they now produce about 35,000 cases.
Pikes 2001 SMG sells for $22 at CD and showed a touch of VA, spice, bacon and dark chocolate. Nothing wrong with this wine but it is a sneaky and deceptive; I didn’t expect what I found on the palate. Medium-weight, fruit has good depth, the mouth feel is silky, structure is seamless and the complexity harmonious. Meaty bacon flavours, chocolate, spice and mint produce an easy drinking wine with reasonable complexity and depth that will go well with food. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Pikes 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $22 at CD. Earthy forest floor, blackcurrant and milk chocolate combine to form a pleasant bouquet. Pure fruit is somewhat buried by the fine, smooth tannins and it will be a better wine when the tannins and oak have resolved about 2007+. Sweet oak is obvious on the palate but the blackcurrant, mint and dark chocolate that finishes dry with good length and persistence is up to the task. Medium-weight, it has a supple consistency and pleasant mouth feel. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating could improve with time.
Pikes 2001 Shiraz sells for $22 at CD. Earthy, meaty, blackberry and dark chocolate aromas are found on the bouquet. Off sweet, blackberry, prune, dark chocolate and mint with a sweet fruit under layer produces a typical young Clare Shiraz flavour profile. Despite the prune, it does not seem over-ripe and it finishes dry with good persistence. Ample in weight, the mouth feel is attractive, the structure solid and whilst it is approachable now, it should continue to improve in the sort term. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating may increase around 2007.
Pikes 1999 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $55 at CD. This is a long term wine that still needs ageing. The fruit is medium intensity but has enough persistence to keep kicking through the fine-grained abundant tannins. The wine shows true varietal Cabernet definition with black currant, chocolate, mint, cigar box, menthol and leather which finishes long and dry. Ample-weight, there is a solid construction behind the supple consistency and diverse complexity. Rated as Highly Recommended with room for improvement as the wine matures around 2009 and beyond, the value is not terrific at $55 but it is still worthy of consideration.
All the wines tasted were really good, well made and enjoyable so it looks like the disappointment experienced during the last visit was vintage-related. In the last week I opened a 98 Pikes Shiraz and although it is most enjoyable now, it will certainly improve and hold for years. Good, honest, well made wines at reasonable prices and I would not hesitate to buy them.
The last winery for the day is an old favourite, Tim Adams Wines and one where I always get a very warm welcome….. from Tim Adams’ Maremma who seems to remember me and gives me a big tail wag. Tim is the sort of bloke that you feel you have known your whole life and is as honest as the day is long. Always very open and honest, there is no bovine manure about the person and his attitude is fully reflected in his wines which are always consistent, honest and good value.
It was very interesting to discuss alternative closures with Tim. He is in the process of switching the whole line (with one exception) to Stelvin as he believes it is the way of the future. The Aberfeldy cap has been designed and is ready to go at a moment’s notice but Tim feels the majority of his Aberfeldy customers are “not ready for screws caps on the Aberfeldy yet.” Tim does not want to “upset” his loyal Aberfeldy customers, many of whom are long term, by switching yet, but it is likely to happen in a few years. This “concern” for his customers is a common thread and is a foundation stone in the winery’s structure.
Speaking of the Aberfeldy, I have every vintage going back to 1994 and was delighted to find that I had arrived on a fortuitous day. The 2002 was being bottled the next day so I had a chance to try a sample of the finished wine. But first, here are the tasting notes on some of the others.
Tim Adams 2002 Fergus sells for $18 at CD and is a blend of Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. A ripe, spicy, attractive floral nose with perfumed notes. The fruit stand out like dogs who know what in this wine; it is rich and pure and delivers spice, blackcurrant, chocolate, multiple dark berry flavours that flow across the palate in waves that continue to break with excellent persistence. Smooth tannins, fresh acid and a medium-weight body combine to form a good quality, easy drinking wine that will go well with food. Ideal for a bistro setting, it is rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Tim Adams 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $19 at CD. A ripe, fruit rich wine that is ample-weight with a deceptively solid construction and very agreeable complexity. The distinct fruit is off-sweet, with a spicy, cherry, attack with sweet red and blue fruit undertones which is well supported by smooth, dusty, tannins that climb slowly across the palate and finish dry and with very good persistence. A good, honest, solid wine that is rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating may improve as the wine matures about 2008+.
Tim Adams 2002 Shiraz sells for $19 at CD. The wine has a touch of VA and a bouquet that could best be described as black. Great mouth feel and excellent fruit! Strong fruit delivers blackberry, prune, olive and other not sweet flavours that finish long, dry and persistent. Ample in weight, the wine is solid and tight but due to the smooth nature of the tannins, it is drinking well now but should improve over the next few years. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, others would probably rate this higher but the flavour profile, which is a personal thing, does not do it for me; others will love it.
Tim Adams 2001 Aberfeldy Shiraz sells for $39 at CD. I was glad to have an opportunity to try this as I have a six pack in the cellar and didn’t have to sacrifice a bottle to see the starting point and gain a toe hold on the wines profile. This is a babe in arms; do not touch it till about 2009+. A classy ample-weight wine; ultra-fine, chalky drying tannins provide a firm but supple consistency; and pure, deep fruit adds to the balance resulting in a solid structure with a harmonious, sophisticated complexity. Quality fruit is evident and the savoury, blackberry, spice, liquorice and chocolate flavours build slowly across the palate and finish dry and with excellent persistence. Rated as Excellent with **** for value, the rating may improve as the wine matures.
I had the opportunity to try the 2001 and 2002 Aberfeldy side-by side and it was a remarkable comparison. The fruit comes the same block which was first planted in 1904 by the Birks family and is cropped at less than 1.5 tones to the acre. Oak treatment is the same each year.
Tim Adams 2002 Aberfeldy Shiraz sells for $39 at CD. Comparing these wines together was a revelation and the hard part was picking the differences between them. They were incredibly consistent within the flavour profile and it was just the order of flavours which varied. The 02 seemed to have a better structure and mouth feel than the 01. Tannins are smooth and approaching creamy. Ripe blackberry, liquorice, mint, dark chocolate and coffee fruit flavours are juicy and lively. Complexity is harmonious and well developed. It is an ample-weight, solid wine that should continue to improve to 2012 and beyond. Rated as Excellent with **** for value, the rating should increase as the wine matures.
A great way to finish the days tasting and once again confirms that if you see a Tim Adams label, the chances are it is safe to buy, of good quality and above average value. I just hope that Tim keeps on doing what he is doing.
That night, after all the good meals over the past week, I just felt like something easy and simple, so a Pizza was the plan. “Corkers” is located in the main street of Clare and you cannot miss it. It has nothing to do with wine, but has everything to do with take-away food. From fish and chips, through to old fashioned burgers and pizzas, when I saw the number of people waiting and they told me how long I would have to wait for take away, this had to be an all right proposition. As I had plenty of time, I took a walk down the main street and came across the local bottle shop which is now part of the BWS chain (which in turn, is owned by Woolworths.) Last time I was in Clare, this was a privately operated store and had a good selection of Clare produce. Not now! The selection of wine was “very ordinary” and pedestrian. There was a Clare section but it seemed to specialise in the lower cost producers and the selection was not great.
In contrast, I thought back to the liquor store located within the local IGA (Independent Grocers Association, a franchise business) supermarket in Rutherglen which had a complete range of damn near every wine sold in the region, as well as some of the big names and a good variety of premium wines. The IGA operation must have sold a lot of local wine to justify that much floor space and a fair percentage of it was devoted to the more expensive end. The Clare bottle shop, which was the only specialist liquor store I saw in the main street, could have been a BWS store in any small town in Oz and did little to foster and promote the local industry. But then what interest does Woolworths have in promoting a local regional wine industry? None! They are only interested in returns to shareholders.
This typifies what happens when a duopoly controls a huge chunk of wine retailing and the sort of thing we can look forward to as these big two gain a further stranglehold on wine retailing in Australia.
The thin crust pizza was very tasty and had a generous topping, just the way I like it. The first mouthful was dominated by a full frontal assault of oregano which took some getting used too, but once past the first few bites the effect tamed down to almost manageable proportions and it was reasonably enjoyable. Perhaps it did not seem as enjoyable as it could have been because it was an alcohol free night and there was no wine to wash it down. An early night was called for and that’s exactly what happened.
Tomorrow, being the last day will be at a casual pace and Steve Norman will be joining me. The evening will see a contingent of Adelaide wine soaks getting together for a huge night of wine and food, so a quiet night the night before was a great idea. Join me next week for the Chapter Nine, the finale of the 2004 SA Tour Diary.
Copyright © Ric Einstein 2004